• Published 10th Jul 2020
  • 1,087 Views, 147 Comments

Three-act Play - Dave Bryant



Wallflower Blush didn’t show up for graduation. Sunset Shimmer is worried—but luckily she knows just the person to consult about it. If Rose Brass can’t help, no one can. • A Twin Canterlots story

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Curtain

Wallflower Blush raised the plastic bottle in one hand, aimed carefully at arm’s length, and spritzed a fine mist. With a careful eye and the aid of a hobby magnifier she examined the results, then nodded in satisfaction and readjusted the spray head back to stream. The magnifier was released to swing on its lanyard around her neck; the bottle went back into a plastic caddy tray full of gardening tools. She shuffled forward a couple of steps, keeping a firm grip on the handlebars of a bright green rollator, then pushed the brake levers back down to lock the wheels again. The caddy swayed a little on the small cargo net of elastic cords holding it like a hammock at handlebar level.

The greenhouse was almost never crowded, but on this clear and chilly late-autumn afternoon it was emptier than usual. Wallflower barely recalled any details of the papers she’d plowed through in the hospital, signing and initialing here there and everywhere, but she definitely remembered the features listed in the clinic’s brochure. The greenhouse practically jumped out at her, though at the time she pessimistically assumed it was one of those little do-it-yourself wood-framed backyard kits. After Sunset had convinced her to . . . keep going, she had been pleased to discover it was instead a mid-size, mid-range commercial-grade model. The installers had gone the extra mile, brushing the concrete slab foundation that doubled as floor, the pattern of scale-like marks clearly visible.

It was mild inside, of course, so T-shirt, jeans, and slip-on shoes were just fine; a newish fuzzy sweater was rolled up in the cargo basket under the walker’s seat. During a recent visit, Rarity and Fluttershy had given her the latter garment as an early holiday present. It was much more stylish than anything Wallflower had before, hand-knitted by the fashionista from yarns bought by the rest of the Rainbooms. Even now thinking of the gift brought a smile to Wallflower’s face before it faded away as she concentrated on what she was doing.

Along one side of the building, sections of bleacher-like risers sat in a row, interrupted by gaps for access from the sides. Wallflower could squeeze the rollater into those gaps, but she shouldn’t need to for this routine visit, watering, feeding, and inspecting the vegetation arranged in pots and planters on the riser shelves.

Behind her, the rest of the greenhouse was left open for a row of round patio tables, surrounded by matching chairs and shaded by market parasols. In each of the corners on that side was a glassed-off entryway with two sets of double doors, to keep the cold—or hot—outside air from affecting the inside temperature too much.

A voice came to her from the only other person in the place, sitting at one of those tables. “Everything still okay, Wallflower?”

“Yeah, Mom.” In spite of Wallflower’s best efforts she sounded a little impatient. In a more positive tone she added, “Thanks.” Her mom was just checking in, after all, as a mother and caregiver should. It could feel stifling sometimes, but Mom was trying, and Wallflower had to admit it was an improvement over years of neglect. At least Mom had stopped hovering all the time. Of course, Wallflower graduating from wheelchair to walker as a result of the ongoing PT probably helped as much as the continuing joint sessions with Even Keel and other therapists.

Some advice from one of those sessions crossed her mind. “And, uh, everything still okay there too?”

“It’s pretty complicated, but I think so.” The answer didn’t sound completely certain. “Maybe you can help me with it later.” Was Mom thinking about the same advice? The wry humor sounded real, at least.

Wallflower felt a flash of half-unwilling sympathy. For her it was exhausting, often painful physical therapy; for her mother it was endless tons of homework, picking up some continuing education to improve job skills and general knowledge. She didn’t need to look back to imagine the books and papers spread across the table, Mom poring over them. “Sure. If you really do need some help, we can figure it out together after I finish up here.”

“No rush . . . dear.” The term of affection sounded kind of shy, as if Mom still wasn’t sure whether it was okay.

Wallflower pretended not to notice. She’d learned a lot of lessons over the last several months, not all of them in therapy, and two came to mind now. One was the real meaning of the old cliché silence is golden—not everything needed an answer, and sometimes it was better not to answer. The other was the truth of the old saying slow but steady wins the race; sometimes inching along was the only way to make any progress. Even Keel had told her, when she felt discouraged because things didn’t seem to change much from one day to the next, it could help to look back months rather than days to see how far she’d come.

That also meant looking ahead months instead of days for more change, but as Ms. Harshwhinny had said once, what felt like a lifetime ago, they lived in a less than perfect world. Wallflower let out a sigh, quietly so Mom wouldn’t hear and think her daughter was upset with her, and turned to the next batch of plants waiting for a little attention. She wanted to finish before her next appointment later in the afternoon.


Wallflower was near the end of the row, tending to the plants on the last riser assembly, when a muffled mechanical thump sounded from the far entryway. She stopped working and frowned a little in puzzlement. By now she knew that sound pretty well; the outer pneumatic door just shut behind someone on their way into the greenhouse. She turned in place, steadying herself with a hand on one of the rollator’s goosenecks, to see who in the world had braved the cold to come out to the greenhouse.

When the partly obscured figure stepped through the inner doorway, Wallflower’s eyes and mouth opened wide. After a shocked moment she burst out, “Rose!”

Rose had been gone for months, but only now did Wallflower realize just how much she’d missed the older woman. Tears blurred her vision until she could blink them away and make sure she wasn’t seeing things.

No, Rose really was there, somehow looking taller and straighter than ever. Instead of a pastel business suit, the long, lean body wore a sharp blue uniform. The artificial hand had removed a black beret with some sort of light-blue patch on it, tucking it neatly under the other elbow. A dark-blue jacket shone with bits of bright metal and colored cloth, like a whole garden of flowers, over a white shirt and black necktie. Trim slacks were a lighter blue, and a sunflower-gold stripe ran up the outside of each leg. Below were shiny black shoes.

The biggest difference of all, though, was a broad grin that made the scarred face light up like the sun. Wallflower couldn’t remember seeing Rose smile very much, and even then it usually wasn’t a big or happy smile. Now Rose looked like a flower in full bloom as she started walking—marching—toward Wallflower. “Hey, kiddo! You look great, up and around on your own two feet.”

A blush heated Wallflower’s cheeks, but rather than argue over the flattery she fiddled with the walker, getting it turned around so she could go meet Rose. When she raised her head again, Rose had stopped by the table where Mom sat wearing another of those flower-print dresses and surrounded by books and papers.

“Holly.” Rose’s tone was brisk and courteous, but that was about it.

Mom looked up at Rose, her eyes shifting back and forth as she tried to figure out all the stuff on the uniform. “Uh—”

Rose’s brow went up for a second, then came back down. “Major,” she said helpfully.

“—Major Brass.” Mom’s voice was polite too. “It’s good to see you. Wallflower was worried about you.”

“Mom!” Wallflower protested in embarrassment.

Rose’s grin flashed on again. “That’s fair. I was worried about Wallflower too.”

Mom actually smiled back before looking down at the table and starting to shuffle her papers together. “I guess I should let you two have some time to chat, since you haven’t seen each other in so long.” It didn’t sound quite as cheerful as she probably wanted it to, but that was okay. “I’ll come back before your next appointment, Wallflower.”

Wallflower nodded. “That sounds like a good plan.”

Rose stood by quietly as Mom finished putting everything in the same green backpack Wallflower had used at school. It was cheaper than buying a new one, after all. A minute later she was gone, headed out the same door Rose had come in through. Rose put her beret on the now-empty table surprisingly carefully, as if it were a bouquet or something.

Neither of them said anything as they looked at each other. Wallflower wondered if Rose was feeling the same sudden shyness that made her own tongue feel like it was twice as big as usual. She should say something.

“You, uh, you look pretty good too, Rose,” she managed to blurt out. “Sunset said you were back in the army and you got a promotion, but she couldn’t tell me a lot else. She said she didn’t know everything about it, and what she did know was pretty complicated.”

The smile twisted a little. “That’s putting it mildly. I won’t go into the boring details—and they really are boring, trust me—but there’s a lot of paperwork involved in returning to active duty, especially for someone coming off the permanent disability list. Among other things. It’s all kept me . . . pretty busy, or I’d have been here sooner. I’m glad Sunset was able to get here, though.”

“She also told me about how you two and that Mister Cook guy were stuck in Equestria.” Wallflower made a face. “It sounded really scary.”

The smile disappeared. “Parts of it were, yeah.” Suddenly Rose glanced around. “Hey, look, do you want to sit down?”

Wallflower shook her head. “Standing or sitting isn’t too bad, but getting up or sitting down still hurts a lot.” Which was why Mister Gracilis had suggested the magnifier, so she could get a good look at the plants on the risers without leaning forward or bending over. “I’m fine for now.”

“If you say so.” Rose looked a little doubtful, but didn’t push it. “Anyway, while we’re on the subject, I can’t stay long. All the hoopla is finished now, and I have new orders. I’m being sent back through the portal. They didn’t tell me why, but apparently it’s some weird specialized job they can’t find someone else—anyone else—to fill. I have no idea when I’ll be back, so I wanted to squeeze in this visit before I left.”

“You—you’re leaving again? Already?” The words flew from Wallflower’s mouth before she could stop them. “But—”

“I know, honey. I’ll miss you too.” The smile was a little sad this time. “That’s part of the price for a military career. Besides, you’ve got a lot on your plate as well.” The artificial hand waved up and down as if trying to measure all the changes in Wallflower’s life. “You really do look a lot better, by the way. I wasn’t just blowing smoke.”

Wallflower’s phone buzzed. “Uh, sorry. Hang on a sec.” She pulled it out of the cargo bag strapped to the side of the rollator and glanced at the screen, then tapped out an answer as quickly as she could before putting it back and looking up again. “That was Twilight. She just wanted to see how things were going. I told her you were visiting.”

Rose rubbed her forehead with her good hand. Some things hadn’t changed. “I didn’t mean to interrupt anything—”

“It’s okay,” Wallflower said hastily. “While you and Sunset were gone, they took turns coming to visit, and when I got permission to use my phone again they started sending messages once in a while to chat and stuff. At least one of them does it every day, so it’s no big deal. I’ll send another message later.”

“All right.” Rose took a breath and went on. “Ah, anyway, you seem to be doing pretty well with the physical therapy, but how’s the rest of it going?”

That took some thinking, more to find the words than anything else, but wasn’t that what “the rest of it” was supposed to be? “It’s tough. Even Keel said it would be. I mean, they used fancier words, but that’s what they meant. I guess they have to be encouraging even when things aren’t good.”

“Probably.” The word sounded muffled, the same hand that rubbed Rose’s forehead now rubbing her lips. She lowered the hand and cleared her throat. “Go on.”

“Some days are better’n others. I still have trouble with bad thoughts and feelings, but I’m getting better at figuring out when they’re happening and trying to push ’em back. It doesn’t always work, but now I know I can do it.” She waved both arms vigorously, then grabbed the walker handles again before she could lose her balance. “That helped a lot, ’cause now I don’t feel so, so helpless all the time.”

“Two steps forward, one step back?” Rose suggested. “Hey, it sounds like you’re making progress, anyway. That’s what matters.”

“I just wish it wasn’t so slow.” Wallflower sighed, then brightened. “Mom and I are doing a little better now. That feels kinda weird, but in a good way.” She bit her lip. “I did some yelling at first. Well, a lot of yelling. Mom didn’t like it, and she cried, but she stayed.”

Rose looked off into the distance. She sounded far away when she said, “After I first talked to her and . . . your father, I was so angry at them. I thought it was a shame you used the Stone on them instead of—well, never mind. Shooting their memories full of holes was horrible, even if you needed to do it, but—now I wonder if it was a blessing in disguise.” She came back and looked Wallflower in the eye. “Do you think your mom would be making such an effort now if she still had all those memories?”

It felt as if Wallflower’s brain was being turned upside-down, the same way it did when Even Keel or one of the other therapists said something that changed everything. “Uh—wow. N-no, I don’t think so.” She blinked at Rose. “Nobody else knows about the Stone or the magic, so I don’t think anybody else coulda told me that.”

That reminded her. “Oh! A while ago, I guess Even Keel finally got kind of annoyed I wouldn’t talk about that and started going on about how much easier it would be to help me if I’d be more honest.” She looked down and poked at some of the tools in the caddy. “I don’t think they believed me at first when I said it was a real secret, y’know, like in a spy movie or something, and I couldn’t talk about it.”

“I’ll bet.” Rose looked and sounded like she was trying not to laugh. “So what happened?”

“Later, they said they were sorry for doubting me, and they were proud of me for ‘setting boundaries’.” She shrugged, then winced as a stab of pain. “They must’ve asked around and found out it really was a secret.”

“Yeah, probably.” Rose was back to forehead-rubbing again, and now it was Wallflower who was trying not to laugh. “After all, why would a high-school student know anything about classified material?” The hand dropped. “Did Keel leave it alone after that?”

Wallflower nodded. “They made me promise not to use the secret as an excuse for not talking about something, but yeah. Sometimes I have to think about whether something is okay to talk about, but most of the time it actually isn’t that hard to decide. I mean, magic rock, right? Well, okay, and big rips opening up another world, and a girl band trying to take over the world, and—”

Now Rose did laugh. More of a snort, really. “Most classified compartments—ah, secrets—are like that.” After a pause she added in a completely serious tone, “I’m proud of you too. It’s not easy at the best of times to maintain the kind of honor and discretion required to hold something like that in confidence. Balancing it against dealing with everything you’re going through is a real challenge, and you’re doing a great job.”

That sounded like Rose was talking to one of her soldiers, or someone her own age. Wallflower couldn’t stand as straight as Rose because it still hurt a little too much, but she smiled and felt better than she expected to. Even so, she had to try a couple of times before she could work up the courage to speak again, and when she did her voice started out a little squeaky. “You did too—you and Sunset both. Even when I didn’t want to do anything, or I hurt too much, or something wasn’t working out right, you two kept trying to push me to keep going.”

Another memory popped up, and she kept talking in a rush. “Like, one time after I had a bad day in PT, I remember Sunset telling me over and over I could do it, and listed all the people who were helping me do it. I didn’t wanna listen, but then she mentioned you. For some reason I thought about all your scars and your eyepatch and your arm, and how you never made a big deal about ’em. You just did what you hadda do, no matter how hard it was, and I bet sometimes it hurt, too.”

She stopped to think for a second, then went on more slowly. “You got hurt so bad you couldn’t be in the army any more, but it didn’t stop you. Even though you were, uh, disabled, you got another job helping people. And I figured, if you could do that—”

Rose’s smile turned into a huge grin as she listened. “—You can do anything, Wallflower. Anything you want. I know you can.”

Wallflower started blinking because the tears were back. She pushed the walker awkwardly out of the way and staggered forward a couple of steps, hardly able to see, until she was close enough to give Rose the biggest hug she could—the first time either of them had touched the other.

Caught by surprise, it took Rose a second to hug her back, unscarred brass cheek resting on the top of Wallflower’s green-haired head. Rose said nothing, just rocked Wallflower a little, but it sounded like maybe she swallowed. Was she crying too?

“Thank you, Rose.” It was a raspy whisper, but Wallflower got the words out. “Thank you for everything. Thank you for saving my life.”

Author's Note:

End Act III.

Baron Engel’s twenty years of retail experience have generated many anecdotes—some humorous, some not so much. One was the surprising observation that cold, more than rain, kept customers away. It seems counterintuitive, but the difference was truly notable. It became hair-tearing when people would dash across the parking lot through the rain, trying to protect the precious artwork they were coming to get framed, rather than wait until a clear day even if it meant bundling up a little.

This epilogue takes place just before the very last chapter of Virga; rest assured all of Rose’s questions about her new orders are answered there, but I won’t spoil them here. Rose, by the way, doesn’t want to worry Wallflower, so she glosses over a lot, such as enduring two different boards of inquiry. Her own service convened one; the Earth Unicorn Pegasus Guard convened the other. Fortunately for her, both proceedings ruled in her favor with glowing praise.

Comments ( 9 )

Yay for Wallflower. Glad that she got a happy ending.

Those final six paragraphs, especially... What a great way to wrap up.

"To all the children, Congratulations!"

Welp, I'm a weepy mess. I knew it was hard for Wallflower, and got reminded that this took place during Virga, but *dang*, I didn't know just how bad I needed to see Rose come back and give Wallflower comfort too. It's so great to see the other side of it!

"I mean, magic rock, right? Well, okay, and big rips opening up another world, and a girl band trying to take over the world, and—”

Now Rose did laugh. More of a snort, really. “Most classified compartments—ah, secrets—are like that.”

Ridiculous on the surface and nightmare-inducing once you dig deeper?

In any case, magnificent work from both you and Scampy. It was a rough road, but just about everyone on it came out stronger than when they started. Thank you for a grueling but deeply engaging journey.

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Classified material—

Ridiculous on the surface and nightmare-inducing once you dig deeper?

Yeah, pretty much. Look up Project Pluto some time for a prime example.

This definitely was a very difficult journey for everyone involved. Right now I feel burnt to a crisp, but eventually I hope I will view the story with more equanimity.

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Rose needed it just as much, though I’m not sure she realized that until she got there.

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It all works out in the end. There will be a little follow-up with Wallflower in The Campus.

Now this was a stellar finish to a great story. From start to finish this has been a rollercoaster of emotion. Wally’s recovery to the point where she can confidently thank Rose was the cherry on top.

(This was originally written before posting all these comments, so I apologise for the redundant parts that have already been answered by your previous responses)

I don’t know if I’m reading too far into this, but I can’t help but link together Sunset’s last journal entry in Journal, Rose’s coming out of retirement and uniform here, and the fact that this is a prequel to Virga, and figure that they’re all linked somehow. While I’m eager to find out in due time, it neatly ties into one of the most noteworthy things I’ve found with your writing style throughout the whole story.

You have an astounding knack for weaving subtle hints and clues into your words, which you then bring to light and explain fully later on. I honestly can’t tell if you intend it as a natural narrative build-up, if you’re explaining something subtly then explicitly to ensure that the reader understands it, or even if you’re deliberately dropping hints to let the reader feel like they’re smarter than they actually are when the ‘secret’ is finally revealed.

And then you bloody well go and do that exact thing in the authors’ notes to this chapter I’M LOSING MY CHUFFING MIND OVER HERE

Hopefully the fact that I’m this, uh, enthusiastic about this detail is testament to its quality – Three-act Play was one of the stories I was really looking forward to getting stuck into, and there’s just so much here that’s worthy of praise. But if there’s anything that Amphorae showed me, it’s that the actual story part of the story is just the tip of the iceberg of the oodles of care & attention you cram into your narratives. So on that note, I guess I’m off to scour the comments section and stalk your blog for your various authors’ commentaries, just so I can wrap myself a little deeper up in this expertly-crafted world that you’ve built. Absolutely top stuff.

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Sunset wrote the last entry in “Journal” late morning of the day she, Cook, and Rose jumped through the portal at the start of Virga. My guess is she hadn’t been home from the inpatient clinic more than a few days or maybe a week. Making sure the story fit properly in Twin Canterlots was one of my conditions for writing Three-act Play, and I could not have asked for a more cooperative and respectful collaborator in Scampy.

The two of us absolutely did drop hints to be followed up with later exploration or explication for all the reasons you list, though I would characterize the last more as resolution and validation for the observant reader. In some cases, such as explaining why Wallflower climbed out of the window rather than simply ejecting herself from it, the explanation was ex post facto, but I was able to do that because we had set up the story and the narrative to support that one-two punch style even when we hadn’t planned for it in advance.

I’ve made an effort in the Twin Canterlots group to collect links to various relevant posts both here and on Deviantart so interested folks like you don’t have to scour them one by one. In particular, I’ve added a clearinghouse of links in the group forum.

On behalf of myself and Scampy I thank you for the copious and enthusiastic praise! I think one of the reasons we collaborated so smoothly is that we both are firm believers in the old adage of a story being like an iceberg. We built on the foundation I already had established with the existing characters and stories of Twin Canterlots—Scampy lobbied so hard for a sequel to Amphorae precisely because she liked Rose as a character so much. To be honest I can’t imagine not putting as much care and attention as I can into any story I write, and I like to think I am pretty good at it. Indeed, I think that care and attention is one of the hallmarks that distinguishes good fiction from bad.

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