• Published 15th Mar 2024
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Izzy Vs. Personal Space - Estee

The Second Age Of Unity is still coming up with historical firsts. For example, Izzy represents the only time when most of a city took out a restraining order.

  • ...

'Bakoff'? Sounds foreign.

Every day, Izzy woke up in Maretime Bay and forced herself to take that first conscious breath of strange salt air. And then she would remember that she had to be happy.

Happiness could be exhausting.

She'd originally tried to set herself up in Bridlewood as a living example: see, we don't have to live like this! It's possible to trot around smiling and singing and just enjoying the forest -- at least to the degree which Bridlewood would allow, because everything had spent centuries steeping within what Onyx liked to describe as 'a fine and pleasant misery', usually while Dapple slowly beat on a drum. That level of constant depression had a certain effect on the environment, to the point where most of the forest clearings defied the rare burst of unfiltered sunlight through finding ways to be dark and gloomy anyway.

Even the majority of the food was at least somewhat bitter, possibly because eating wasn't supposed to be fun either. Alphabittle's tavern benefited right up until the hangovers kicked in. They always did. Unicorns expected no less.

It was like they wanted to be miserable and after the world had changed, Izzy had learned some of them truly did. The majority of those in her home were tentatively exploring the twists and turns of a new path, but... there were those who refused to push a single hoof out of the gloom. They were the new minority, and they weren't happy about it.

...well, of course they weren't. Not being happy about anything was pretty much their whole reason for existing. They wallowed within the bottomless depths of truly refined angst, and it was very much like watching somepony viciously wallow in mud, sending splashes out in all directions. The whole point was to cover everypony else and make them all indistinguishable again. Unified, weighed down, and sort of crusty. The Kickbacks wanted their depression to be both mandatory and universal, and it was another reason not to return.

But they were a recent development or rather, one which hadn't really been noticed until the rest of the protective camouflage had taken a hoofstep back. There were a lot of relatively happy unicorns in the forest these days and in the past, it had just been Izzy.

She'd wanted to show unicorns that there was another way. What she'd mostly wound up demonstrating was all of the myriad means by which somepony could wind up arrested. This included the one where she'd wound up at the bottom of a ten-pony pile, which Izzy considered to be rather hard to do.

The usual charge was recorded in the forest's law books as 30-8: Excessive Public Happiness. Izzy had spent most of her first court day in asking the magistrate how that was even defined, only to be told that the older mare knew it when she saw it and by amazing coincidence, that exact same status applied to Izzy. And then she'd found herself trying to be happy about being in a cell. This was actually easier than doing it in public, mostly because fewer unicorns could stare at her.

(Izzy didn't really have a lot in common with Sunny: having been outcasts in their own communities was most of it. But when all else failed, they could always compare criminal records.)

So ultimately, she'd left the forest.

She'd... left the forest. The place of sorrow for sorrow's sake, where anguish mostly maintained itself through generational inertia. There were still ponies there who wanted everypony to feel that way. Forever.

And she didn't fully understand why so much of her wanted to go back.

She'd paused in her hoof travels, stopping along the boardwalk on a warm, exceptionally breezy spring morning -- well, for Bridlewood, it would have been exceptionally breezy. Wind tended to get broken up as it moved through the trees. Izzy hadn't really known what it felt like to have her mane streaming out behind her until she'd come to Maretime Bay. And, depending on the wind's direction, there was also the option for having the whole thing go left, right, directly into somepony's face -- this happened a lot -- or have most of it wind up stuck in front of her own eyes.

Izzy was starting to suspect that her mane was slightly on the long side. The process of reconciling herself as being 'tall' was taking somewhat longer. It was hard to think of herself as possessing any real size when she'd lived in the same area as Alphabittle and sometimes suspected he'd played a few games to win extra height. Any subsequent collection process was mysterious, but obviously functional.

There were plenty of ponies out and about: locals, mostly. As Sunny had told her, there were ponies who traveled the full length of the boardwalk every day for exercise, while others just liked to look at the sea. Some of them passed behind her, because she had reared herself up in order to plant forelegs over the edge of the railing, being careful to keep her anklet from scraping against the metal. It wouldn't be a comfortable position to hold for long, and it still rendered her into a temporary obstacle for those whose habitual trot left them skidding the safety border between vertical and horizontal. Most of them muttered and scooted around, making a lot of space at the rear because there was no telling what the wind might do with her tail.

The majority were locals, quite a few muttered, and a small number of half-caught syllables blamed her. For... everything.

Izzy didn't feel this was strictly fair. Yes, she'd set things off. But as far as she was concerned, only the first wave of consequences from having entered the city should even partially be hers, and a portion was certainly due to Sunny. Blame needed to lose strength across generations and since there hadn't been time for that yet, it at least really needed to find a different Usual Suspect based on total frequency of incidents. So if you looked at the majority of the most recent events, they really should have been muttering about Pipp.

Some of the earth ponies liked to look at the sea. (If seaponies existed, then Izzy imagined they spent a lot of time gazing at the shore.) Izzy was still getting used to it.

...trying to get used to it.
...failing --

-- Sunny had taught her about the water. How the pounding of the waves was effectively constant. That the impact of liquid could, in time, wear anything away. Very slowly, but -- the cliffs had been further out once, and going down to the beach would discover that the rock had an inward curve near the base.

The sea pushed in. Constantly.

Izzy felt as if it was trying to push her out.

Most days were too bright. Sure, the clouds blew in from the water, but they blew out again just as quickly. Izzy had grown up in a place where light was almost constantly filtered: first by the forest canopy, and then through a general miasma of emotional gloom. There were times when her eyes watered, and she kept sacrificing sunglasses because when she was unicycling, those little screws were just so useful.

The sea breeze was effectively random, except when it was constant. Or constantly random. It shouldn't have been possible to have the air hit her from every direction at once, but she was surrounded by the stuff at all times anyway, so there you go.

There was always salt in the air, and it was disorienting. Izzy understood the scents of the forest: loam and mulch and oak moss. (Especially the oak moss, because that was one of the best scents in the world.) It was possible to get a rough idea of where you were in Bridlewood just by pausing and taking a deep breath. To do so in Maretime Bay could send her reeling, along with renewing a series of questions about why nopony was licking the buildings.

Just about every voice came with a foreign accent. A few familiar words had found new definitions. The struggle to unite three disparate technologies was nothing compared to the collective effort required for figuring out exactly how long a 'moon' was supposed to be.

Everything was new and when everything qualified for that status, when she was constantly under sensory barrage from things she'd never known and the world changed too quickly for the new elements to become familiar...

Strangeness pounded against her from all sides. And there was something in her which wanted the protection of the trees, the familiarity --

-- but when so many of the memories were inextricably linked to the pain of endless solitude, how could you still want the only thing you'd ever truly known?

(Did Misty ever want to seek the castle as a place of final retreat? Those memories were darker, but -- they were all the other unicorn mare had. Izzy lacked the same degree of horrible associations, and was fairly certain she would be able to redecorate. Plus there had to be a lot of interesting old parts lying around.)

Izzy didn't understand the urge to return. There were a lot of things she didn't understand, and she was trying every day. To learn, to get better. To become somepony who could be a good friend.

She'd tried to work out exactly what she was feeling, held an internal debate with the why of it. But the urge to retreat wasn't comprehensible, much less reasoning. It was just... there.

The unicorn gazed down at the sea, and waves pounded against her resolve. Trying to wear it away.

She'd resumed her journey. Multiple ponies looked at her as she went by, some stared, others dodged out of the way of a wind-whipped mane and didn't quite make it. Izzy kept trying to apologize, and most of them scurried on.

Apologizing had the benefit of letting her talk to ponies. Smile. Izzy usually tried to smile with her whole body, typically from a distance of about eight tail strands away. It was a habit picked up from Bridlewood, where nopony would ever believe she was actually happy unless she was doing it from really close up. Well, nopony except the magistrates, who had pretty much stopped questioning her entirely after Round Three.

And being that close let her breathe in their scents.

It was easiest when she encountered another unicorn, because that scent was familiar. It was an anchor of sorts, giving her a brief chance to root within what she knew. Pegasi and earth ponies... they didn't carry the same olfactory signature. There was a certain sweetness around the feathers for the former, and with the locals -- well, they didn't smell fishy at all, obviously. (Izzy had eventually worked out that the rumor had arisen from the air itself: the scents which came from proximity to the sea.) And there wasn't really anything of the soil about them either. Sunny, with whom she had the most experience, smelled -- solid. It probably wasn't the right word, but it was the best one she had.

Still, just being close to anypony (and the closer, the better) told her that she was among a population. There were others around her. She wasn't alone. Going back would --

-- Bridlewood was changing --

-- it hadn't changed that much. Sunny needed her here. Maybe they all did.

Today, they'd mostly needed her to run an errand, and her hooves moved along the old wooden boards to suit.

Her destination was located in what Maretime Bay residents called the Oddtrot: a section of the boardwalk which was filled with small businesses, each catering to its own very narrow specialty. It was supposedly what you got when the only chance to diversify in retail was through focusing ever more finely. Prior to the start of the Second Age, it had been a good day in Bridlewood when a given seller worked up enough motivation to actually unlock a door.

This particular shop was fairly small. A little on the cramped side, to be honest about it, and Izzy was thinking that as a pony whose best arrangement for crafting and repair supplies was Wherever I'm Going To Be Rummaging In The Next Five Minutes. It was almost impossible to move without having her tail brush against something and since the owner treated excessive contact as You Just Bought That, the layout effectively substituted for both sales pitch and charisma.

The yellow mare looked up as the bell over the slow-opening door rang. Her snout wrinkled, and then a pulled-back pink mane tried to sniff. That was normally a further task for the snout, but Posey's disdain was a full-body event.

"Oh," the earth pony said. "You. "

She was reared up on her hind legs -- or rather, that was what Izzy was presuming, because those limbs were hidden behind the elevated, delicate-seeming balsa wood counter. Then again, earth ponies didn't exactly hover or levitate.

Forehooves were busy moving across a carefully-arranged selection of petals, flowers, and twigs. Bits adhered to her frogs here and there, clung until she pressed them against something else. Posey did flower arrangements. Some were created to customer order, others were apparently traditional, and Sunny had said there was at least one which was made from everything which could potentially create an allergic reaction. Just in case.

There was a lot of stock on display. The majority of it consisted of wreaths and garlands. Hitch was of the opinion that Posey liked to make things which could be wrapped around a neck.

The unicorn took a breath. All of the flowers smelled lovely. New. Foreign. Wrong.

'Hi, Posey!" Izzy chirped, because being extremely friendly was a good way to let ponies know you meant it. And she moved closer, as a truly sincere smile had to be presented from close-up --

"Stop breathing."

The earth pony's voice had been cold, and Izzy almost froze.

"Stop what?" came out as something purely curious. Surely Posey hadn't meant to say --

"You're just about right on top of the counter," Posey softly projected, "and I'm working with petals. One strong breath will scatter everything. So if you're going to be that close, stop breathing. Otherwise, back off."

...oh. Izzy took about half a hoofstep back: forelegs only. It left her spine slightly bunched up, and her tail curled in to keep it away from the inventory.

"I'm just here to pick up the centerpiece!" she happily told the shop's owner, and a brief ear tilt indicated an empty, waiting saddlebag.

No answer.

"The one for the dinner party," she helpfully added. "I'm sure you remember. Or you might remember the payment, since that was made in advance."

Light green eyes narrowed.

"By the little princess," Posey eventually said. "Yes. She didn't say it was for a dinner party, though."

"Maybe she forgot," Izzy proposed. "Or she was worried about the consequences, since she's the one who's going to be putting it on the table. Things happen when Pipp puts stuff on display. Like stinky hooves. Or manes going after ponies, even though that's a little after the display part. But this is a centerpiece! So it'll probably just turn everybody's manes green. Unless they're green already, and then how could you tell?"

Posey was staring at her.

"It's nothing you would have done," Izzy quickly added. "You're just the crafter. You're a very good crafter. I can tell! Since we're sort of in the same line of work. Or twigs off the same branch, anyway." Thoughtfully, "I can't really work with flowers. They're too light. But I can work with glitter, and that weighs so much less. I don't understand why my mark is like that. It just is."

The stare came with a certain... pressure.

Izzy smiled. Posey didn't. This wasn't a bad thing. In Izzy's limited experience, Posey didn't smile right. Posey's smiles came with an agenda.

"Is the centerpiece ready?" felt potentially helpful.

There was no immediate answer. Yellow hooves moved. Twigs shifted, bent, almost seemed to work themselves into a springy lattice.

"I wasn't expecting you this early," Posey finally said. "There's still a little ways to go. And I need to finish this first."

Izzy squinted. There was a lot of blue going in.

"What is it? Because it's very pretty. Sort of somber, but --"

The other mare's expression twisted. It was an odd thing to watch. Who didn't like talking about their work?

"An apology bouquet. For cultural misunderstandings." Thin lips didn't quite approach a smile. "It's my bestseller. I go through a lot of blue hyacinth. Or I would, if I couldn't use clippings and seeds to get my own."

Izzy thought about the first part.

"How does it know?"

Posey blinked. "How does it know?"

"To apologize! Do you tell it what went wrong, and then you use your magic to make sure it knows to apologize? How does it figure out what to say?"

This made perfect sense to Izzy, because nopony understood what the rules were in magic and that meant everything was possible. For all the unicorn knew, there was a bird who laid chocolate-shelled eggs. (Which seemed kind of counterproductive, because you couldn't count on every major predator being allergic to chocolate and even if they somehow were, what if the shell melted?) So for an earth pony to enchant wood and flowers into speech? Utterly sensible, right up until it was proven impossible. And then they probably just had to work on it.

The earth pony's features had gone tight. Izzy instinctively unhunched her spine, moved closer to the counter. She needed to see Posey's features exactly. Her snout, which had effectively taken the lead, began to make its way over the counter --

"-- what are you doing?" Posey tensely asked.

"Looking at you!"

"You're almost on top of me! You do this to just about everypony, all of the time! Don't you know what personal space is? And I told you about the petals!"

As far as Izzy was concerned, she had to be close. She'd once heard the term 'microexpressions' and when it came to earth ponies, she'd discarded 'goes with microbrains' fairly early on. But she didn't have her glasses or magnifying lenses with her, and it remained important to work out exactly what strange ponies were feeling. And there were days when just about everypony came across as being somewhat strange. Tones weren't enough, words could lie...

It had been easier in Bridlewood. The other unicorns had mostly felt upset. With her. Because she hadn't been more upset.

Also, space was very big and couldn't possibly belong to just one individual, so now Izzy was somewhat confused. She decided to postpone those questions for later.

"I'm trying to see how it works! The apology part. Do you read them a script?"

"It's just a traditional meaning for these flowers!" was at least half-bark.

"So you're teaching it traditions!" Izzy glanced down. "I like the scent blend. But have you ever thought about adding oak moss? I feel like that would sort of balance out some of the sweetness."

"I don't have oak moss," just barely emerged from between tight-pressed teeth. "This is a coastal city. We don't have oaks. This is my job --"

"-- and it's so fascinating to watch --" Izzy sincerely complimented.

"-- and I don't need supervision, or suggestions, or interference --"

Izzy mostly ignored this, because there was an equally-important source of information trying to make itself known: one which required no effort to figure out at all.

Her mark was trying to suggest something.

She was a unicycler: one of the few ponies who had been capable of maintaining Bridlewood's decaying -- everything. Patch that, fix this, force another thing to limp along for an extra week and, if she was feeling creative and the populace had fizzled off most of their anger from the last attempt, make something new. She wasn't particularly good with electrical items and computers utterly defeated her through the mere act of existing -- but when it came to gears, clockwork, structure and jointing and weight balances... that was where Izzy thrived.

Izzy could, with effort, turn one of Pipp's pass-along phones on, and had something of an anti-talent for opening exactly the wrong app. But she understood wood.

"Those two branches," she thoughtfully said. "The ones you sort of wove around each other. The tips are too free. Enough motion and it'll jar them until they start to spring back."

"I haven't," declared the last unnoticed dram of patience in Posey's body, "gotten the chance to tie them off yet --"

"-- which gives you two more things which could work loose! You know knots and vibrations, right? A lot of the second, and then the first is just gone! But I think that if you just put one more twig in, that one over on the right side, and weave it through like this --"

Words could get away from Izzy. Ponies occasionally scattered. Wood seldom tried to escape and when it did, dead cellulose was a lot easier to chase down.

It was just about always easier to show somepony what she meant than to try and explain herself.

So she reared up.

Afterwards, she would realize that she hadn't needed to. Hornlight could have surrounded her selected twig, carried it into position without a care. But Maretime Bay was still new to her, just about everything within it was foreign and strange, and magic... she'd spent just about the whole of her life without it. Magic wasn't the first resort, and it was just about never her first instinct. She didn't think to ignite her horn because the initial surge of creativity was so seldom about thought at all. Refinement could require focus and concentration, yes -- but the first burst was something which rose from the soul.

All she wanted to do was touch the twig with one hoof, have it adhere, and then weave it through. Demonstrating could work when words didn't.

But she'd reared up. And to effectively hold the position, she needed to brace herself on something. So the right forehoof went for the twig as Posey, mouth already opening for the shout, started to pull back.

The left forehoof planted itself, along with a significant percentage of Izzy's weight, into the counter.

There was a cracking sound.

In the last split-second before Izzy, the counter, everything placed on it, and the soon-to-be-corpse of an apology bouquet tumbled forward, the unicorn's mark belatedly suggested that balsa wood probably hadn't been meant to take the mass of a fairly large mare.

It all fell and because there wasn't very much room behind the counter either, it fell on top of Posey. This very much included Izzy and the earth pony, who was by far the stronger, still hadn't been braced for the weight.

The shout only emerged after they'd both hit the ground, fallen among the splinters. And then it quickly transitioned to a scream.

Izzy, half-splayed across yellow fur and limbs which were already trying to kick her off, didn't really have a good view of Posey's face. (That was where most of her mane had wound up, and she distantly wondered if she needed a trim.) She probably didn't need a direct line of sight, because microexpressions weren't really in play. And the earth pony's scent was pleasant, heavily-overlaid with flowers and woods of all kinds -- but there was another aspect rising quickly. A fully familiar one.

Pegasi and earth ponies could come across as being foreign, strange in ways both small and great... but when it came to emotional states, 'utterly furious' was effectively universal.