Name Rater

by Thought Prism

First published

Have you ever wondered how pony names somehow always accurately relate to the identity of the pony in question? Well, that's all thanks to the efforts of one stallion. And he hates his job.

Have you ever wondered how pony names somehow always accurately relate to the identity of the pony in question? Well, that's all thanks to the efforts of one stallion. And he hates his job.

Name Rater has always had a very unique skill: the ability to gauge the talents of others at a glance. And once this became known, everypony began to depend on his guidance, much to his chagrin. This is his story, a tale of great self-sacrifice and even greater grumpiness.

And no, this has nothing to do with Pokémon, the name is just fitting.

The Whole Story

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Name Rater awoke from his slumber as he always did: quite reluctantly. The day brought with it responsibilities, which included the ever-present pull of his occupation.

Rubbing his eyes, glaring at dawn's light outside his window, he rolled out of bed and trudged over to the bathroom. After going about his business, he washed his hooves and brushed his teeth. As he splashed lukewarm water around his eyes, he took a moment to examine his reflection. Two eyes, which once gleamed silver, were now more of a dull grey. Wrinkles splayed out from their edges in both directions, along with those that had formed near his mouth, on his snout, and betwixt his brow. As he narrowed said brow, filled with overwhelming apathy, the muddy brown fur on his face contorted along with it. His mane had lightened to white over the years, and sagged limply from his head.

Sighing, Name Rater grabbed his chamber pot with weakened muscles and carried it outside on his back, dumping the contents into a deep pit dug a short walk from his house. He took a brief moment to admire his little homestead as he returned. The log cabin in which he lived had seen better days, the wood beginning to peel with its great age, even though he had rebuilt the whole thing previously. It was decorated exactly the way he liked it, ie: not at all. The whole place was completely unadorned, and utterly unremarkable. Only the essentials were needed for his continued existence.

Some would call his lifestyle lonely and hollow, as no other homes, let alone much else, could be seen for miles around. But over the years, he had simply stopped caring about that. All he needed, he had. The vegetable garden provided food, the pump well provided water, and the cabin provided shelter.

All that mattered anymore was his job, and what a job it was.

Once the rest of his morning chores were taken care of, and a breakfast of but one tomato was consumed, he got to work. Entering his office, Name Rater sat on his sturdy oak chair at his plain oak desk, quill in hoof. He then turned his gaze over to the enchanted inbox mounted on the wall in front of him. Its golden form was filled almost all the way to the ceiling with photographs, thousands of them in one huge stack.

Reaching forward with his free hoof, he pulled out the bottom-most image from the slot at the container's base with a practiced motion. Name Rater took a few seconds to gaze at the sleeping earth pony colt in the picture, his coat a bright yellow. Almost as quickly, he knew the exact details of this foal's destiny, as well as a name befitting of him.

Dipping the quill in ink, he wrote 'Top Banana' on the back of the photograph, and deftly placed it in his outbox, whereupon it vanished in a flash of light.

Next was a pegasus foal, who gazed with an uncharacteristic calm at her surroundings. After writing 'Winter Cloud' on her photo, he moved it to the outbox. This was followed by a unicorn filly with a splotchy mane, whom he dubbed 'Brushstroke'. And so the process continued.

This had been Name Rater's existence for quite some time. He would sit down for six straight, tedious hours of mind-numbing repetition every day of the week, naming all the baby ponies from throughout the country. Since a new foal was born somewhere in Equestria around three times a minute these days, he had to cut down his time spent naming to a mere five seconds per pony.

These things used to be so much simpler, he thought to himself as the chime of his clock echoed through the cabin, signaling high noon. Done for the day, he trotted into his living room, leaving the magic box behind even as new pictures steadily appeared inside it.

He was about to start making himself lunch when he heard a strange sound coming from the front of his house. Standing dumbfounded for a while, he failed to identify the sound until it happened again.

Someone was actually knocking at the door. Name Rater never had visitors. He never even wanted any.

The stallion mumbled angrily to himself as he made his way over to the door, hinging open the tiny window to peek outwards.

At first, he thought that he must have been going crazy, as nopony was there. Then, slowly, his eyes angled downwards, and he beheld three fillies, colored yellow, white, and orange.

"You must be very lost. But I can't help you. Go away," he groaned with a gravely voice.

Unperturbed, the white one spoke. "Excuse me, sir, is this where the Name Raters live? We need their help," she asked.

"Yeah, please tell us we didn't come all the way out here for nothing," chimed the orange one.

"Ah recon this might not be the right place, Scootaloo," said the third.

"Oh course it's the right place!" she exclaimed. "This is the only sign of life for miles! They have to be here!"

Ok, so they actually found him somehow, Name Rater thought. But, they were still very confused. Speaking through the door, he reiterated his previous statement. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Leave me alone."

He could almost see their tempers rising. "You have to know something, being all the way out here," stated the first filly. "We need answers. Also, some water would be nice. It's pretty hot out here. Can you let us in?"

"No, I will not let you in, Sweetie Belle," he replied angrily.

Immediately, all three sets of eyes widened. "He knew your name, Sweetie!" pointed out the yellow one. "That means he's one o' them Name Raters!"

Oh Tartarus, he thought.

Scootaloo's wings began to buzz rapidly. "I can't believe it!"

"We're finally here!" Sweetie Belle added.

As the three broke out into cheers of joy at their accomplishment, Name Rater hung his head. "So, you got me. I'm Name Rater. What do ya want from me?"

Their smiling faces morphed into looks of befuddlement. "Wait a minute, that's not right," said Sweetie.

"Yeah," replied Applebloom. "Miz Cheerilee said that there were a whole bunch of Name Raters, and that y'all worked together to name everypony from pictures the hospitals sent."

"Well," he said, "Cheerilee was wrong. It's just me out here. And it's no wonder you were misinformed, I've been keeping my life out here a secret for ages. Apparently, the secret is out." Groaning, he added "Why are you here?"

Applebloom smiled. "We're the Cutie Mark Crusaders, and we wuz wonderin' if you could help us get ours! You know, since you can see destiny or somethin'."

Now it was his turn to be confused. "What the heck's a Cutie Mark?"

They all gasped. "How do you not know what a Cutie Mark is?" asked Scootaloo. "Everypony gets one eventually!"

"Yeah, we just want ours now," added Sweetie Belle. "Oh! Are you a blank flank too?"

Name Rater sighed. "I still have no idea what you're talking about."

"A Cutie Mark pops up on a pony's flank when they discover their special talent!" Applebloom explained. "They're little pictures for representin' skills! Even the Princesses have 'em!"

In response to this new information, Name Rater's mood soured to an extent he had not experienced in years. "Oh, well this is just unbelievable!" His hooves stamped against the floor in indignation. "Not only are ponies these days so lazy and stupid as to require names expressly fitting to their nature, but now they have magic plot stamps for their talents too? This is absolutely ridiculous! Clearly, something needs to be done!"

Rant ended, Name Rater took a single deep breath, a potentially life-changing decision made in but a short moment. So, nothing new for him. "Sit down, you three, and let this old stallion tell you a story. Listen closely now, and don't forget anything I say. Because it's all true, and I need you to spread the word."

The Cutie Mark Crusaders looked to eachother in turn, puzzled. They each plopped down on their haunches, eager gleams in their eyes.

"Many, many moons ago I was but a young foal like yourselves, frolicking about with my friends, not a care in the world," he began. "My parents took good care of me, and as far as I can remember, I was a good little colt. In those days, ponies discovered their passions for themselves, and many never did. But soon, I realized that I could see something within other ponies that nopony else could: their true name. Ones befitting their destinies."

"Wow!" blurted Scootaloo. "That's amazingly cool!"

"No interrupting! Save all questions for the end!" he declared, taking another deep breath. "Anyway, I kept this to myself for a while. Eventually, though, I started to address the ponies I knew by the names I found for them, and they were all gladly accepted as superb nicknames. When everypony caught wind, soon the whole town had started coming on by for me to rename them. No longer were ponies named using nonsense words like 'Bob' or 'Abigail'. Heck, I even changed my own name from George to Name Rater.

"One day, the joy my names brought caught the attention of Princess Susan and Princess Monica, and they tasked me with officially renaming the rest of Equestria. I started with them, and the newly dubbed Celestia and Luna shepherded me across the lands for quite a while, such that I could--."

It was at this point that the fillies could no longer contain themselves. They bombarded him with a chorus of questions. "Wait, how old are you?" "How does that help us get our Cutie Marks?" "You know the princesses?" "Were names really that weird?" "Why is this so important to share?" "How come I've never heard any of this?" "Are you crazy?"

Rather than trying to answer all of the still-forthcoming inquiries, he simply pulled open the door.

Immediately, the flow of words coming from their mouths abruptly ceased.

They just stared at his horn. And his wings.

"YOU'RE A PRINCE?!" they screamed in unison.

This elicited another pained groan. "No, I'm an alicorn. And it wasn't my idea. Everypony became so used to my names, that the princesses feared what would happen once I was gone. So, they just made me immortal. It's terrible, for me and for Equestria.

"As my new names became the norm," he continued, frown deepening, "I noticed that something in the attitudes of the ponies had shifted. No longer would they take the time to get to know eachother, make friends properly. Instead, they would simply exchange names. And if the two ponies were dissimilar, they simply trotted their separate ways. Friendship was dying, young ones. And it was all my fault.

"I wanted to stop, but Celestia refused. And so, I continued, my labels artificially separating everypony. Friendship was supposed to bridge boundaries, not form sealed, self-serving groups. Even if those groups were happier than before. I thought that my death would fix everything, and that all who I had 'helped' would return to normal in time. But the princesses wouldn't let that happen, and here I stand today, resigned to my cruel fate of neverending names, all alone so that I may perform my torturous duties in peace."

His visage took on a sympathetic expression. "Now I see why you three sought me out as you did, braving the long journey here. I'm not sure when this whole 'Cutie Mark' thing happened, but the results must be terrifying to behold, especially for those as young as you."

The Crusaders pondered this new information. Applebloom finished this first. "But that's not true!" she said. "Friendship isn't like that now!"

"Yeah!" added Scootaloo. "Nopony is in the same league as Rainbow Dash, and she has lots of friends!"

Sweetie Belle nodded. "Maybe things were that bad ages ago, but even with Cutie Marks, the ponies back home still get along just fine. Not to mention we have a Princess of Friendship in town now."

"And if what y'all told was true," Applebloom said, "then explain us!"

"We aren't alike at all, and we're best friends! I'm just some pegasus, Applebloom's from a family of farmers, and Sweetie's a fashion designer's sister," finished Scootaloo.

Sweetie smiled. "And we wouldn't have it any other way."

Name Rater's eyes widened as he watched the fillies start to giggle uncontrollably. "Hmm. Perhaps things really have changed between ponies. Let me ask you something now. What year is it? I lost track a while ago."

"1002 A.L.B." Sweetie chimed.


"After Luna's Banishment. You know, the whole Nightmare Moon thing."

"What?" he replied, dumbfounded. "Huh. It's been that long? This 'Nightmare Moon' is news to me."

Applebloom gasped. "You've been livin' way out here all by your lonesome for over a thousand years?"


"Oo, oo, oo!" barked Scootaloo. "I know! You should come back to Ponyville with us! Now that you know you aren't dooming everypony's lives, you have no reason to be ashamed anymore!"

Applebloom jumped in place. "Uh huh! Everypony would love to meet you!"

Name Rater shook his head. "Can't. I'm not sure I could ever go back to that kind of life after all this time out here."

"Why not?" Sweetie asked. "You might not be super grouchy anymore, but I don't think anypony can be happy all by themselves."

He relaxed his brow slightly. "I suppose that makes some sense, but I'm still against the idea. These old bones might break under the stress if I took up residence in a town filled with ponies as 'exuberant' as yourselves. And who knows how they'll react to the sudden arrival of an unknown alicorn in their midst?"

Scootaloo shuffled about nervously. "Well, actually..."

"You might not have a choice," concluded Sweetie.

"What did you do?" he reluctantly asked.

"We sorta crashed our cart into the well on the way here. It's broken now," stated Applebloom.

Name Rater contorted his face once more as he slowly trotted past the fillies to observe what they had done. Where his well-built well once stood, there was now a smoking pile of stones and misshapen wood. A moan of overwhelming disdain escaped his lips.

"I'll pack my things."


The Next Step

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Name Rater pulled his cart forward at a steady pace. The decently fertile scrubland where he had lived for generations was already long behind him. Now, he plodded hoof after hoof over dry, cracked earth, the sun beating mercilessly upon his frame. The white linen shawl draped over his back helped lessen the heat some, but not enough. It's main purpose was to hide his wings and flanks, for he was on his way back to civilization.

The cart, yoked to his neck, was laden with numerous objects, such as pots filled with nuts, water, and seeds. Not to mention the two items for his job, one of which was making the cart heavier with each passing minute as it filled.

Though, the heaviest and most cumbersome pieces of cargo were the three fillies who accompanied him.

Name Rater was conflicted.

On one hoof, he had just learned that, after what was apparently over a thousand years of tedium and regret, his actions were now truly beneficial to Equestria at large. On the other, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle, and Scootaloo were really, really annoying.

"Are we there yet?" asked Scootaloo.

Name Rater swiveled his head around to face her without breaking stride. "No. No we are not there yet. And even if we were, I wouldn't know it, because I have no idea where we're going."

"We already told you," noted Sweetie. "Appaloosa."

He sighed. Outside of still images, he wasn't really a foal stallion. "I am aware, yes. But, my talent is knowing what to call things I see, not picturing things from their names."

"Oh. Right."

The short journey proceeded in relative silence from that point on. For about twenty seconds.

"So, will you tell us what our special talents are now? Pleeeease?" pleaded Applebloom, who wore her patented pouty face.

Name Rater took a deep breath in a vain attempt to maintain his composure. "The answer is the same as it was the last seven times you asked. No."

She slumped to the floor of the cart, dejected. Name Rater simply groaned and continued onwards.

The four ponies proceeded much in this manner for the next few hours. When they weren't talking with eachother, one of the Crusaders would ask Name Rater a question, and he would reply with the appropriate level of enthusiasm. IE: minimal.

So, when the first wooden buildings crested the horizon, Name Rater's mood immediately improved. Relief washed over him, anticipating the presence of mature ponies.

As he approached the settlement with newfound vigor, Name Rater noticed that the architecture was vastly different then what he was used to. Rather than being formed from whole logs, the homes were built of flat planks, and thatched with clay tiles instead of straw. Each was painted in a variety of colors.

"Is this it?" he asked the fillies.

Applebloom nodded. "Yep. This is Appaloosa, home to the hardiest ponies in Equestria! Nothin' but country folk livin' off the land." She smiled. "Kinda like you, Name Rater."

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. "We were expecting a monastery full of monk ponies enlightened to universal secrets, though. These old stories do tend to blow themselves out of proportion through the ages."

"So, what, now you're an enkiko... inpsycho..." Scootaloo added, trailing off.

"Encyclopedia." informed Sweetie.

"An encyclopedia and a dictionary? In a few years, you'll be giving Twilight a run for her money in eggheadedness!" she finished.

While Sweetie fumed, Name Rater, having received confirmation, was already making his way into town, blatantly ignoring them as they started bickering. His gaze turned towards some of the colorful townsponies milling about. Almost all of them wore strange hats of some sort.

However, of more interest to the stallion was the fact that the adults all seemed to have icons on their flanks, true to the words of his traveling companions. No two were alike, and all seemed to match in some way with the destinies of their owners. Mixed emotions welled up inside him. The mood of the place was perfectly jovial, the passerby greeting eachother were all adorned with smiles. His contempt towards these 'cutie marks', harmless they may be, was once more suppressed with a series of deep breaths. Well, that, and the redirection of his negativity onto the crusaders.

"Will you shut up and tell me what in Tartarus we're doing next?" he shouted at them.

Arguments trickling to a stop, the three turned to him and blinked in succession. Sweetie Belle was the first to recover. "Well, we should probably find--"

"Applejack!" Applebloom exclaimed, cutting her off. The yellow pony pointed a shaky hoof dramatically into the distance.

Turning to look at her cause for alarm, Name Rater, squinting his aging eyes, could make out a blur of orange from within a fast-approaching cloud of dust, accompanied by the escalating sound of rapid hoofsteps. Just as it looked like the galloping pony was about to plow right into them, they skidded to a stop.

When the dust cleared, an earth pony mare was standing next to the cart, scowl on her face and apples on her flank. As the fillies' eyes widened in fear, Name Rater stared. She, Applejack, in his professional opinion, was pretty hot. Had she been in a better mood, and he less old and ugly, he probably would have tried flirting with her. Instead, he pushed that thought to the back of his mind and waited in silence for the inevitable angry rant.

"Where in the hay have you three been?! Ah've been searchin' all over for y'all, worried sick!" Applejack fumed.

Applebloom shifted around nervously. "Well, ya see, we were just... uhh..."

Her eyes narrowed. She raised a hoof at Name Rater. "You snuck out of Appaloosa, stumbling through parts unknown, to find a pony who would somehow help y'all get yer cutie marks. Again."

The fillies exchanged glances, then began rubbing the backs of their heads sheepishly.


"That's basically it."


Applejack sighed. "Just what am Ah gonna do with y'all..." she mumbled.

"You can take them with you," Name Rater answered, deadpan.

The mare's head snapped back up, and she turned to face him. "Oh, howdy there, stranger! Almost didn't see ya there! Name's Applejack!" she proclaimed, offering a hoofshake. "Thanks for bringin' these here scamps back safe. Must not have been easy for a stallion of your years."

He groaned, completing the gesture. "No problem. It's not like I had a choice in the matter, or anything. I'm Name Rater."

"Well, it's a mighty fine pleasure, sir," she said.

"Glad to see somepony's happy about this whole thing."

She paused, mouth now in a line. "Oh? What's the matter, sugarcube?"

"Nothing much. It's just that your... sister and her friends literally put me out of house and home."

She gasped. "What?!" She whipped around to the cart again, face quickly contorting into an expression of righteous fury.

Applebloom and Sweetie Belle lunged at Scootaloo for comfort, gripping her tightly as they all started shaking uncontrollably.

Before things got too out of hoof, Name Rater intervened. "Don't worry, Applejack. That's actually a good thing. Mostly."

The Crusaders breathed a collective sigh of relief as she returned to normal. "Well, why didn't ya say so?"

"My social skills are a tad rusty. Figured the fact I towed them all the way here made it obvious."

Applejack shrugged. "Ok then. But I still think they should make it up to ya somehow."

"That's not necessary. They've done quite enough already." he stated, shaking his head.

The Crusaders nodded vigorously.

"Ah'm sure they have, but Ah won't take no for an answer," she confirmed, rolling her eyes. "Ah need to be sure they've learned their lesson."

"They could help me build a new house," he suggested.

"No way, Name Rater; too impersonal. Plus, we've got plenty o' fine ones in town already." Suddenly, as she finished her statement, the spark of an idea flashed behind her eyes. "Say, why don't y'all come back home to Ponyville with us? It's as good a place to put down roots as any." Applejack smiled, gesturing to the cart. "These three can show ya 'round, make it up to ya by makin' y'all feel welcome."

His eyes widened. "What?"

"Great idea, sis!" exclaimed Applebloom.

Scootaloo buzzed her wings in excitement. "Totally! We know our way around Ponyville, and we know how to have a good time!"

Name Rater raised an eyebrow at that, further wrinkling his face. "That depends on your definition of 'good'. Mine is very antiquated." Then, he turned to Applejack. "I'd rather have you do it."

She donned a thoughtful expression. "Ah'd love to, but summertime's startin' up, which means I'm busy and they ain't."

"Why won't they be busy?"

"Umm... because foals don't have school in the summer?"

His brow immediately creased further. "Ponies these days really are crazy," he mumbled under his breath.

"What was that, sugarcube?"


"'K then. Well, guess it's settled." Adressing the fillies, she added "Y'all are gonna take Name Rater on a tour of Ponyville, an' Ah expect your best behavior, ya hear?"

"I never agreed to that!" he blurted.

"Really?" asked Sweetie, oblivious to his disdain. She turned to her friends, and all three were smiling in short order.


Once the ringing in his ears had ceased, Name Rater shot a menacing glare at Applejack, who grinned sheepishly and patted him on the back. "Don't be such as stick-in-the-mud," she said. "They mean well, really."

He groaned, caring not for how sore his throat was getting from its sudden and repeated use. A less wizened stallion probably would have snapped and bucked something. "I got that much. It's what they actually end up doing that worries me."

That brought forth a round of raucous laughter from the mare. Once her episode was over, she wiped her eyes with a fetlock. "Well, nopony's gotten seriously injured from their antics. Not yet, at least."

He put on his best fake smile. "That's very comforting."

During the following awkward silence, somepony coughed.

All eyes turned to Scootaloo. She tapped her hoof impatiently. "Well? Let's go already!"

Realizing there was no turning back now, Name Rater closed his eyes and massaged his temple with a hoof. "Fine..."

The Old and the New

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Name Rater gazed upon the machine before him in awe. Never before had he witnessed a technological marvel of this precision or magnitude. The enormous, pink-painted construct gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. It hissed and thrummed, as if to command attention. He couldn't look away.

Then Applebloom waved a hoof in his face. All sense of whimsy within him sputtered out like a dying squid, and he shook himself out of his stupor.

The filly poked at his leg. "Name Rater? Hello? Sis just finished loading your stuff! If you keep standin' 'round all dazed like that, you'll miss the train!"

Name Rater's brow furrowed in confusion. "Wait, this smoking transport contraption is a train? Aren't those a type of musician's group?"

She blinked up at him. "Why would you think that?"

"Well, I've named many foals recently who'll apparently grow up to be 'train conductors'. Conductors lead orchestras."

Applebloom's expression morphed into a mirror of his own. "Huh. You're right, Name Rater. That is weird. I dunno why the ponies who work in trains are called that."

After glancing around some more, he closed his eyes and nodded. "Ah. That explains all the 'rail' puns."

Then the two of them just stood there for a bit, sharing a rare moment of silence, as they contemplated the mysterious and absurd thing that was modern Equestrian society.

"C'mon, guys! Ponyville's waiting!" an all-too familiar voice shouted from within the train's confines, breaking their reverie.

"We're a' comin'!" replied Applebloom as she bit onto his tail and began dragging him over against his will, plot-first.

As his hooves scraped along the wood of the platform, Name Rater groaned with indignation. He knew better than to try and resist; she'd probably rip his tail off by accident. Once they arrived, Applebloom let go of him and began rifling around in her saddlebags. Name Rater just rolled his eyes and turned around to face the nearby pony. She was annoyingly peppy, a conductor baring the bestowed name of Happy Trails, he confirmed. The mare took the two tickets proffered by Applebloom and ushered them inside.

Scootaloo was waiting for them by the entrance, grinning broadly. Once they crossed the threshold, she scampered further into the train. "Over here!" she said excitedly.

Applebloom giggled and ran after her. In no rush, Name Rater followed at his usual pace.

The interior of the train was just as grandiose as the exterior, he noticed. The window frames were carved expertly, and polished with wax to a high-gloss shine. The green carpet was plush, and the benches were upholstered in a fine, crimson fabric. Sitting on one such bench were Applejack and Sweetie Belle. The other two fillies jumped onto the opposite bench as he looked on.

Name Rater sat next to Applejack without a second thought. She smiled as he tucked his legs under himself, one at a time.

The two of them just watched the fillies for a little while as they whispered among themselves by the window; planning his tour, no doubt.

Applejack gave him a sidelong glance. "So, what exactly did Applebloom and her friends do to y'all?" she asked. "Ya made it seem mighty serious at first."

He angled his head slightly downwards. "They crashed their cart into my well. Without water, I couldn't stay."

Her face became a mix of amusement and disappointment. She sighed. "That does sound like somethin' they'd do. And y'all're ok with movin'?"

"Long story short: yes. They opened my eyes." He paused, taking in a deep breath in and out. "Life in the badlands was... lonely."

Her reply was not what he expected. "Wait, they went out into the badlands? By themselves?" She spun to glare at her sister. "Applebloom's so grounded once ya get settled."

He chuckled. "That's a wonderful idea."

Applejack raised an eyebrow.

"Eh. They're pretty annoying."

She nodded. "Ah reckon that's true for some folks. Fillies can be a lot ta handle."

Understatement of the millennia, he thought.

Suddenly, a shout echoed throughout the car, interrupting the conversation. "ALL ABOARD!"

A loud whistle tooted once, twice, three times. After the third, the train lurched forward, pulling the ponies along with it. Name Rater watched in fascination as the ground outside moved past the window at an accelerating rate. Soon, they were moving far faster than anypony could hope to gallop.

Apparently, he was still for a while, because Applejack tapped him on the back. "This you're first time on a train?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes. Quite the experience, this."

She smiled. "Y'all should see some o' the things Twilight has just lyin' 'round her place. Ah couldn't even begin to tell ya what half o' those doohickeys did."

He snorted. "Tell me about it. Do you know what the most revolutionary new item was when I was growing up?"


"The pulley. Made lifting stuff waaay easier."

She moved a hoof to her mouth, suppressing a laugh. "Y'all should meet my Granny Smith at some point. Ah'm sure ya'd have lots o' stories to share."

Name Rater frowned as old memories intruded into his consciousness from his new acquaintance's prompting. "Oh, I have stories all right..."

Surprised by his sudden change in mood, Applejack turned away. She tried to, but couldn't think of what she should say, and only managed to indecisively open and close her mouth a few times.

His now melancholy gaze redirected out the window, Name Rater stared blankly at the scene before him. The afternoon sun's light beat down on the hills as they rolled by, the wind rustling the tall grasses as the train chugged along.

And so he sat there, oblivious to Applejack's saddened expression as she looked on.

Eventually, she found her words, placing a comforting hoof onto his withers. "Ya know, sometimes it's better to open up to another pony 'bout yer problems than tryin' to deal with 'em all yerself. Ah learned that lesson the hard way."

Name Rater didn't move. "No."

"No? Why not?"

"... It's complicated. I was going to meet this 'Princess Twilight' and discuss things with her first."

"Oh! Well, why didn't ya say so! Twilight's a dear friend o' mine; Ah could help get ya in ta meet her no problem!"

He shifted over to face her, eyebrow raised. "Really? Sure, then. Is Her Highness free tomorrow afternoon?"

"Probably. Just... try not to call her that in her face."

"That shouldn't be too much of a pro--"

Name Rater's reply was interrupted by the screech of metal on metal as the train began decelerating. More toots from the horn heralded the vehicle's newfound lack of motion and subsequent arrival at its destination. Before either pony could get further word in, the other passengers began milling about, eager to depart.

"We're here, we're here! Let's roll!" urged Scootaloo as she tried to get airborne.

Applejack's smiled at the eager filly, then trotted off. However, she turned back, having forgotten to mention something. "Name Rater! Ah'll haul yer things off ta my barn, y'all can stay there until you find yer own place. 'Bloom'll show ya the way."

"Ok. Thanks," he replied.

"Don't mention it!" With that, she merged into the crowd of ponies moving into Ponyville's station. Soon, only Name Rater and the Crusaders were left in the car. He stared down at them, somewhat concerned by the impossibly wide smiles they wore.

"Are you ready to go?" inquired Sweetie Belle.

"We've got all sorts o' places to show ya, an' ponies to meet!" added Applebloom.

Name Rater sighed. "As I'll ever be."

The three giggled at that, as they dashed out of the car, followed by the old stallion. However, Sweetie halted his progress. "Oh, yeah, you wanted us to keep the whole 'wings' thing a secret still, right?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Ok, so, if anyone asks, you're old friends with Cranky Doodle, and feel really bad you couldn't make it to his wedding."

Name Rater rolled his eyes. "Sure, I guess that works."

"Great! Off we go, then!" She smiled at him, then ushered him out.

And so, Name Rater stepped forth out of the train and into the village proper. He was met with a loud chorus that proclaimed: "WELCOME TO PONYVILLE!"

The Crusaders each held a hoof up, gesturing to the scene behind them. Dozens of ponies flitted to and fro between the buildings, which were so brightly colored that Name Rater almost felt nauseated. Grass and flowers sat alongside the grey, well-trod streets, framing each building in the peaceful hues of nature. In the distance, he spotted a plainly absurd structure: a towering tree of crystal, Twilight's castle, no doubt.

He was still in the process of taking it all in when he noticed the fillies were now trotting forward without him. Groaning, he made his way to tail them.

As they walked, the streets grew more and more crowded, and Name Rater couldn't help but notice the numerous walks of life held by the populace. His sudden shepherds had been right about one thing, he thought; the place certainly was a cultural melting pot. It was... nice.

Soon, after crossing a small river on a footbridge, they arrived at what appeared to be the center of town. A circular, multi-tiered structure dominated the surrounding buildings. Once the three had gotten reasonably close, they stopped and turned around, waiting for him to arrive, which he then did.

"So, this here's Town Hall!" informed Applebloom. "It's where all th--"

"I know what a Town Hall is," he interrupted. "We did have them back then too, you know."

"Ah know, but we're s'pposed ta explain stuff to ya. It's a tour!"

He sighed. Again. "Continue."

Applebloom cleared her throat. "Town Hall's where Mayor Mare works to keep Ponyville runnin' smoothly."

"Though she's really just a figurehead now," interjected Sweetie Belle.

Applebloom glared at her, then continued. "It's also where everypony goes when big stuff happens! A few years ago, the Summer Sun Celebration was hosted here. You can still make out the scorch marks from when Nightmare Moon first showed up if you look in the back! Not to mention this was where Applejack got her award for Most Dependable Pony!"

This earned snorts from both Scootaloo and Name Rater. Applebloom replied by grinning sheepishly and moving onwards.

They travelled further away from the station and along a dirt road leading the way out to the far edge of town. As they walked, Name Rater couldn't help but realize that he was learning more by simply ponywatching than listening to his 'tour guides'. At least they weren't asking him questions.

Stopping in the middle of the path, Scootaloo and the others gestured to the side. Training his head over, his eyes beheld a large clocktower, taller and more well-built than other, similar buildings he had seen.

"This is Ponyville Tower," said Scootaloo. "It tells time. You know, for when it's cloudy or when ponies are too lazy to figure out where the sun and moon are. Tourists seem to like the old thing for some reason, though nowadays everypony just wants to see the castle."

He shook his head in disbelief, eyeing the tower. "There's an elegance in simplicity; more ponies should respect it. The fact that it's still standing attests to it's value. In contrast, that castle looked so gaudy and topheavy I'm surprised it hasn't fallen over already."

"Ah know, right?" agreed Applebloom.

"Well, it's magic. That makes it both cooler and stronger," countered Scootaloo.

"Ehem. That's enough of that, I think," stated Sweetie. "Off we go!"

The conversation dropped, they continued trotting down the road. The flora became more lush the further they went. Soon, a thick wood came into view, along with a lone cottage, surrounded by flowers. Further on, the forest took on a decidedly gloomier, foreboding appearance. The butterflies, birds, and other critters frolicking about didn't seem too put off by the latter, though.

"This is Fluttershy's house," proclaimed Sweetie Belle. "She takes care of all the cute animals, and is accordingly the Bearer of Kindness. Even the god of chaos likes her. She also makes really good tea." She gestured a hoof inwards. "Over there is the entrance to the Everfree Forest. There're monsters in there, so nopony really goes in unless the have to. Except Zecora, but she's a zebra."

Name Rater struggled to comprehend all that. "Wait a minute. You mean Discord's free? I thought he was sealed away! Also, Everfree? Are we near the capital? And what in Tartarus is a zebra?"

Sweetie Belle and the others looked perplexed. The unicorn recovered first. "Well, Discord's a good guy now, and zebras are like ponies, only with stripes. And yeah, Canterlot's only a few minutes away by train."

These responses served only to befuddle him further, but he resigned to not knowing the answers he sought for now, much like the other pressing questions he had bottled up. That way, he could ask an actual adult later, preferably Twilight. So, he just shrugged.

By the time they got back within Ponyville proper, it was getting late. The next building they led him to was even more absurd than the rest of them, being styled to look like some sort of exaggerated Hearth's Warming set. The sign hanging from the roof had a picture of something called a 'cupcake' on it, whatever that was.

"So," began Applebloom. "This is Sugarcube Corner. If you're down in the dumps, there's no better place to go!"

"You'll probably be here a lot," noted Sweetie.

"They sell all sorts of yummy stuff here!" said Scootaloo. "We're gonna treat you to dessert before dinner!"

Name Rater let that sink in. "That's... actually pretty thoughtful. Thanks."

Beaming, they pushed the door open, producing a ding, and zipped inside. Entering in afterwards, he beheld numerous ponies sitting and eating, as well as the glass counter filled with all manner of baked goods. Standing in front of it were the Crusaders, and behind it, a mare with an odd manestyle whose name perfectly matched the sign. Pushing past his disdain for the blatant lack of creativity, he approached.

The mare smiled at him. "Oh, hello there. Haven't seen you around town before. What can I get ya?"

Suddenly, a dramatic gasp could be heard from within the kitchen. Almost immediately, a very pink mare popped up next to the first, startling him and nopony else. Her - Pinkie Pie's - smile was far too large in his opinion. Name Rater beheld her destiny and almost gagged at the cloying pointlessness.

"It's true!" she shouted. "You are new here. I'm friends with everypony in Ponyville and I'm not friends with you yet, which means you weren't in Ponyville yet! I'd remember if you were!" She then leaned in uncomfortably close.

Name Rater stuttered in confusion as he attempted to formulate a proper response.

Sweetie Belle replied for him. "This is Name Rater, he's moving into town."

"Hi," he managed.

"Can y'all tell us what's fresh?" asked Applebloom. "We're gettin' him somethin' ta eat."

"Ooh, you have great timing, girls!" Pinkie exclaimed. "The Red Velvet Cupcakes just came out of the oven!"

"What in Tartarus would compel you to eat velvet?" Name Rater questioned, face scrunched.

Pinkie giggled at him. "You silly filly, they aren't actually velvet! They're chocolate flavored!"

Name Rater groaned. "Ok, what's chocolate? And for that matter, what are cupcakes?"

Her eyes suddenly bugged out of their sockets, causing Name Rater to flinch. "You've NEVER heard of chocolate? OR CUPCAKES?"

He shook his head.

Pinkie became a blur as she vanished back into the kitchen. A strange collection of rapid noises could be made out from within said room. Mrs. Cake sighed and patted him on the shoulder.

When Pinkie returned, she shoved something into Name Rater's mouth without warning. He coughed about half of it out and onto the floor before he tasted sugar, inferred that a cupcake was just the same thing as regular cake, and began to chew.

"Weeell?" asked Pinkie, her muzzle practically touching his.

He swallowed. "I don't like it. Too sweet."

She gasped again. "Too sweet? How can anything possibly be too sweet?"

Mrs. Cake and the Crusaders all chuckled a bit.

"It just is." Name Rater stated.

Pinkie let loose a rare scowl. "Explain."

"Hmm... hhhhmm... oh yeah. Do you know Cranky?"

She nodded.

"I make him look as bubbly as you."

She paused, contemplating this. "So, you're just a natural grumpypants, then. Okie-Doki-Loki! Maybe you'll cheer up and be my friend if I find you a wife!"

Name Rater closed his eyes, frowning. "I had one. She's dead."

Her mane somehow spontaneously deflated as her eyes became teary. "Oh. Sorry."

The other four didn't look much better off as Name Rater turned towards the door and trotted slowly away. Unable to say anything to halt him, they all just silently watched him go.

The Return

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Thoughts long left dormant percolated back into Name Rater's mind as he left Sugarcube Corner. Memories of times past, memories that once filled him with joy, now only produced feelings of sorrow. He had moved beyond his grief, but now things had changed, and with these changes came reminders of what should have been.

His life was not his own.

He trudged aimlessly into town, head down, in an attempt to distract himself. Name Rater watched as ponies trotted this way and that, running errands. He spotted foals rolling around in the grass. He saw everypony's smiles. If anything, he felt worse for observing.

"Name Rater, wait!"

The voice came from behind. It was Applebloom. He ceased moving, and the filly soon skidded to a stop next to him, followed by the others. They looked up at him with moistened eyes.

"Ah'm so sorry; Pinkie didn't know," Applebloom said.

Sweetie Belle sniffled. "Please don't be sad."

"Maybe we can get you a bran muffin? A sugar free one?" proposed Scootaloo.

Name Rater stared at the fillies, frowning slightly. Then, he closed his eyes. "It's fine. Let's just go eat dinner."

They each nodded in quick succession, though the looks they were flashing him suggested disbelief. With that, Applebloom, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo each trotted off in silence. He followed, trying to clear his mind by focusing on his breathing and hoofsteps. It didn't work for long; the intrusive thoughts just wouldn't go away.

And so, he walked behind the fillies, helpless as images from within superimposed themselves onto the small figures in his mind's eye. Tears would have come, but his had dried up long ago.

After a time that felt far longer than it took for him to journey to Appaloosa had passed, Name Rater was led to a wooden gate. Through the gap in the fence it provided they stepped, passing rows upon rows of trees. White flowers had blossomed on each, and soon each would transform into a juicy fruit.

Set atop one hill among many, Applebloom opened the door to a bright red farmhouse. "We're back, Granny!"

The mare who replied sounded old, even by his standards. "Come on in, y'all, suppa's almost ready."

Name Rater waited for the others to eagerly zoom inside, lured by the enticing aroma of home cooking, before following. At first glance, the interior of the home was far more reminiscent of those he was used to, and more memories threated to assert themselves before he shook off the feeling and proceeded into the dining room.

Seated at a wooden table with room for eight were three ponies he recognized and a fourth he did not. He was a massive red stallion name Big McIntosh, and the fur around his neck looked scuffed, as if he had recently been yoked to something. The stranger nodded as Name Rater sat down at the end of the table.

A few moments later, Applejack walked in from the other doorway, balancing a tray of steaming dishes on her back, followed by an old, green mare - Granny Smith. She reached over and placed it on the middle of the table with her mouth, and the both of them sat down, the latter with some difficulty.

"So..." led Applebloom.

Applejack's ears perked up a bit. "Oh, right. Name Rater, this here's Granny Smith, and my brother, Big Mac." They smiled at him, and he did his best to return the favor.

"Thanks again for letting me stay here," Name Rater said, with limited enthusiasm.

"Oh, it's no problem at all, sonny," replied a jovial Granny Smith. "We gots plenty o' room here on the farm."

"Eeyup," added Big Mac.

There was an awkward silence. Scootaloo motioned to the food, mouth watering.

Granny Smith rolled her eyes. "Alrighty, y'all, dig in!"

With that, they took turns spooning cheese grits, beans, and steamed carrots onto their plates. Only after the Crusaders claimed their portions did the others serve themselves. Name Rater took about half as much of each dish as everypony else.

He ate in silence, losing himself in the savory goodness. The Apples talked about what they did that day, and the state of the farm, while the fillies bounced awful event ideas off of eachother.

After the amazing apple pie which capped off the meal, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo said their goodbyes to him and the others before running home to be with their own families.

Granny Smith hobbled towards the stairs. "Well, Ah'm off. G'night," she reported.

"'Night, Granny," replied a smiling Applebloom.

"Sleep well," encouraged Applejack.

As she ascended, Name Rater failed to stifle a yawn. "I'm gonna turn in too. It's been a long day."

Applejack chuckled. "No kiddin', go right ahead."

Before he left, Name Rater noticed that Applebloom had lowered her eyes. He placed a hoof under her chin, lifting up her head. Her stoic expression likely matched his own. He sighed.

"What happened at that bakery wasn't your fault, don't beat yourself up anymore over it," he reassured.

The corners of her mouth turned slightly upwards. "O-Ok."

Nodding at her satisfactory reply, Name Rater showed himself out.

The barn seemed cozy enough, not too smelly, and a bed of hay had been prepared for him. A quilt sat folded atop it, and his things were stacked next to a crate on the far wall. Covering himself with it, he snuggled into the hay and closed his eyes. Sleep did not come immediately, but his restless thoughts were eventually quelled as his body succumbed to exhaustion.

Whether he dreamt or not, he couldn't say.

* * *

Name Rater rose at the crack of dawn, as he always did. He awoke mentally reset to his usual, grumpy self. Working the kinks out of his neck and the crud out of his eyes, he took in his unusual surroundings and quickly recalled the hectic circumstances of yesterday. Shawl draped over his back, Name Rater proceeded over to the Apple residence, stopping at the outhouse on the way.

Breakfast went by about the same way as dinner did, but the food had switched to flapjacks and the atmosphere seemed much less tense. Once she had finished eating, Applebloom declared her intent to go crusading with her friends, and was waved goodbye by Granny Smith. As Big Mac set off to work, so too did Name Rater.

Applejack, who was currently clearing the plates, shot a curious glance at him. "Where do ya think you're goin'?"

Without turning back, he replied. "To do my job."

He imagined she raised an eyebrow at that, but nevertheless didn't question him about it as he moved back to the barn to fetch his equipment.

Supplies now on his back, Name Rater looked around the barn for a table, but there wasn't one. So, he just sat himself down next to a stack of wooden boards and placed the necessary items on top. Popping the stopper off of the squat ink bottle, he pulled out the first of many images for the day.

As he settled into his long-established groove of naming foals, something about the task felt different to him from usual, and it wasn't just the surroundings. He hadn't felt this way in quite some time. Perhaps he was... fulfilled. Yes, that was the word.

However, once his work was finished, Name Rater remembered what else he was going to do today, and his mood soured. For today, he was going to meet with royalty.

* * *

The crystalline castle loomed above Name Rater, in all its blue and purple glory. The sun's rays bounced off of its multifaceted surface, producing an annoying glare. A door much taller than necessary was less than a stone's throw from where he stood. And, since he wasn't a rock farmer, this wasn't very far at all.

"Whatcha standin' 'round for, Name Rater?" asked Applejack as she held the massive thing open with her flank. "Y'all aren't one o' them 'genuflecting' types, are ya?"

He snorted. "No, it's just that... I suppose this has been a long time coming."

"Then get a move on, sugarcube!"


Composing himself, Name Rater placed a hoof through the gate, and then another. Soon, he was walking alongside Applejack through the cavernous, extravagant halls. With each step, his expression grew more and more stern. By the time the two of them had reached what looked to be a study, his wrinkled face had adopted a look blending equal parts anger, dread, and resolve.

Beyond the archway, Name Rater spotted Twilight Sparkle. She leaned over an oak table, reading. As well as the book, upon the table sat a candle, a notepad, and no fewer than three quills and three inkwells. The rest of the room appeared to contain nothing but more books, threaded into numerous shelves.

She didn't even notice the two of them had entered until Applejack coughed rather loudly.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, snapping to attention. Twilight turned around, sliding off of the stool to greet them. As the princess approached, Name Rater noticed that she was, indeed, an alicorn. Though, she wasn't nearly as physically imposing as the two sisters were. In fact, Name Rater was nearly sure that her muscle tone was actually worse than his was. Though, her destiny was magic, so he supposed she didn't need it.

She smiled warmly at Applejack, then at him. "So, you must be Name Rater. I'm Twilight Sparkle." This was followed by an offered purple hoof. Name Rater took it, and they shook. Twilight either didn't notice his dour expression, or didn't make a visible fuss about it. "Applejack says you're new in town, and wanted to talk with me about something, correct?" she inquired.

Name Rater paused, then shook his head. "Sort of. I was hoping you could bring me to see Celestia and Luna."

Twilight's brow creased. "Couldn't you have just appealed to her at Day Court like everypony else?"

"And why didn't ya say so earlier?" added an equally confused Applejack.

He groaned. "I didn't know where they'd be these days, and I wasn't sure if..." he trailed off. "Ugh. Forget it. It'll be easier if I just show you."

"Show me what?" Twilight asked.

Name Rater closed his eyes, reached back with a hoof, and ripped off the shawl.

When he opened them, both mare's eyes had nearly doubled in size, and their pupils had shrunk down by a comparable amount.

"WHAT IN TARNATION?" belted Applejack as she leapt backwards in shock.

Twilight had frozen in place, dumbfounded. "I--you--alicorn--why--what--how--huh?" she stammered.

Name Rater sighed. "Well? Can I meet with them or not?"

A single strand of hair popped out of alignment from within Twilight's mane. She blinked. "I'll be right back," she stated. From her tone, she seemed to be trying very hard to keep calm.

Her horn then began to glow brilliantly before she vanished with a shower of sparks.

As Name Rater's eyes lingered on the spot where there stood a mare mere moments ago, Applejack shook her head back and forth quickly. She tentatively approached.

"So..." she started. "You have wings."

He turned to face her. "Yes."

Applejack paused, straitening her stetson. "Did Applebloom know 'bout this?"

Name Rater nodded. "I'm surprised they managed to keep it a secret for a whole day."

"Hmm. 'K then."

For a minute, they both just stood there. Applejack scratched the back of her neck awkwardly.

"Twilight just teleported, right?" he asked her.

"Uh-huh. She'll be back in a bit, Ah reckon."

Name Rater didn't bother to reply, he merely acknowledged with an understanding glance.

Applejack took a deep breath, probably in preparation to ask another question, but she stopped when Name Rater gave her a look. He would bring everything out in the open once the only ponies who knew him were here. Getting the idea, she stepped back.

And so, they waited.

The Reckoning

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Eventually, a second flash of light heralded the return of Twilight Sparkle, causing the pair of ponies to jump a bit from the sudden stimuli. The lavender alicorn now boasted a disheveled mane, a twitching left eye, and an incredibly shaky posture.

However, as Name Rater quickly saw, she wasn't alone. For facing her were two other ponies, one white, the other a deep blue. Their manes both billowed behind them, stirred to motion by some unseen force. Name Rater recognized the pair even before he saw their names in his mind's eye.

"Ok, Twilight. We're here," said Celestia in her usual, motherly tone. "Calm down, please. What's this about an alicorn, now?"

"I hope it is nothing as serious as your demeanor would suggest," stated Luna. They had apparently altered their old royal speech patterns, he noticed.

Twilight's hoof jolted upwards, pointing forwards at Name Rater. "That's him," she said quietly.

The sisters pivoted their heads in the indicated direction. As their eyes fell upon him, they widened in shock. Both just stood there, as motionless as they could get (you know, because of the hair). From what Name Rater understood, If Discord were here, he probably would have cut off a piece of the tension in the air so he could eat it.

Never one to be disrespectful, Applejack bowed slightly. Twilight's ears jerked forwards, in panicked curiosity. Name Rater simply waved a hoof once.

Luna recovered first. "Name Rater, is that you?"

He nodded, expression neutral.

The Princess of the Night smiled, and then practically galloped over to him. "I haven't seen you in ages! Literally! How've you been?"

He couldn't bring himself to smile back. "Fine. Better than I have been in a while, I suppose."

"Wait, what?" interjected Applejack.

"Y-You two know eachother?" finished Twilight.

Celestia, clearly quite confused, remained still.

"Truly?" Luna gasped. "I would have thought that you, of all ponies, would know who this stallion was, considering how well-read you are."

"No, I've never heard anything about him!" Twilight exclaimed. "Princess Celestia, do you know what she's talking about?"

The Princess of the Day opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it.

Name Rater groaned more angrily than usual at the display. "Faust, really? You don't even remember me?" He snorted with indignation. "Well, I certainly remember you." Name Rater then paused, turning to face Celestia directly. He narrowed his eyes. "Hello, Susan."

Celestia blinked in recognition. "Oh. OH! Name Rater, yes. Hello."

He elected to blatantly ignore her awkward reply and turned back to continue his conversation with Luna. Judging by the expressions she and the others presented, he was now the only pony in the room who wasn't confused. "So," he asked. "How've you been? Still keeping the dreamscape in order?"

It took Luna a moment to realize she had been asked a question. "Oh, I've been doing well enough. Still adjusting, as it were. Equestria and I are becoming reacquainted, one step at a time. Everypony has been so kind to me."

Name Rater raised an eyebrow. "Hmm. Reacquainted? Sorry, I'm not very up to date with current events. That wouldn't happen to be related to this whole Nightmare Moon thing I keep hearing about, would it?"

Luna's face paled. She glanced off to the side, rubbing her forelegs together sheepishly. Celestia's ears twitched almost imperceptibly.

Then Twilight spoke up, nervous. "Well, you see, umm..." she paused, looking to Luna, who sighed and then nodded. "Around one thousand years ago," Twilight began, "Luna grew resentful of how ponies seemed to like Celestia much more than they did her. So, she sort-of went mad with power and tried to make the night last forever. Celestia had to banish her to the moon because of it. Then, when she recently freed herself, my friends and I used the Elements of Harmony to snap her out of it."

Name Rater stared at each of the mares in turn. Applejack nodded at him in confirmation of the tale's validity. As he looked into Celestia's ever-so-trained eyes, he finally snapped, losing all pretense of composure.

He let out a sort of hoarse croaking sound. By the time they realized he was laughing, he had already collapsed to the floor, losing himself in the absurdity of it all.

Name Rater rose, and he saw the looks of befuddlement and concern plastered onto all their faces. He met these with a scowl so fierce that his brow could have been used as a whetstone.

"Let me get this straight. I am to believe that Luna thought that she was being underappreciated, and that this caused her to lose her sanity for a while?" he asked.

They stared at him. Twilight nodded. Luna and Applejack stepped back a bit.

He snorted again, facing Luna. "Ok, now that's rich. Because last I checked, you were still a Princess. Meanwhile," he continued, voice oozing with anger as he trained his eyes on Celestia's, "Nopony apparently remembers that I even existed."

The white alicorn opened her mouth again, but Name Rater cut her off, pointing at Luna. "The thing is, I don't even blame her for what she did. In fact, I would probably praise her for her assertiveness and self-confidence. No, Celestia, I blame you."

The jaw of the alicorn in question dropped. "Me?" she exclaimed.

"Yes, you, O' glorious ruler," he confirmed sarcastically. "It took me a while, but now I have come to fully understand that you are the worst kind of pony."

Celestia narrowed her eyes at him. Luna and Applejack stood in stunned silence.

Twilight gasped. "How dare you talk about the Princess like that! She's the wisest of us all, benevolent and just! What do you know?"

"More than you think. Let me ask you something, Twilight Sparkle." Name Rater smirked slightly. "Did Celestia ask you whether or not you wanted to become an alicorn before she turned you into one?"

Twilight tilted her head. "Well... no, but I don't see why that's relevant."

"You do realize that all alicorns are immortal right?" Then, he turned to Celestia. "See, this just proves my point. What sets you apart from your subjects isn't your power, or your bearing, but rather your cold, unfeeling nature."

"What?" she shouted at the accusation, mane flaring briefly.

"Oh, it's true. I've had plenty of time to think about this. See, you may have tricked yourself into believing otherwise, but the truth of the matter is that you don't really care about anypony. Your job as ruler has consumed you utterly, and now you can only see that greater picture." Name Rater scoffed. "Sure, from what I've seen so far, Equestria's in great shape as a whole. And that's probably because you took to heart the old adage that 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few'. So much so that you couldn't even see when your own sister was suffering terribly because of you."

Applejack, Twilight and Luna all turned to an utterly baffled Celestia. Luna had the beginnings of tears in her eyes.

But Name Rater wasn't stopping there, not even close. "And, it wasn't just her who suffered. You also single-hoofedly turned my life into an unending nightmare. Same as with Twilight here, you never thought to ask whether or not I wanted this," he said, gesturing to his horn. He sighed and closed his eyes briefly, apologizing to himself for what he was about to do to this mare he just met. "Now, in her immortal frame, she too will have to watch on in grief as every last friend, cousin, and lover she has ever met perishes before her."

Twilight's eyes widened with realization. When a sullen Celestia refused to meet her shocked gaze, she sniffled. A few seconds later, having fully processed the information, she collapsed to the floor and burst into tears.

Applejack glanced at Name Rater in sadness and pity. She slowly trotted over to drape a comforting hoof over Twilight's shaking withers, whispering assurances into her ear.

This display of sorrow magnified his own pain. "I was forced to trod a path I came to hate, endlessly toiling, and you couldn't even see that much!" Name Rater's wings flared open involuntarily as he practically roared with righteous fury at Celestia, stomping his hooves in rage. "I was born an earth pony, and I wanted to die an earth pony! Instead, I had to bury my own grandchildren!

"But despite all of this, all of this torment you put me through, Celestia, I didn't try to change anything! I thought that maybe, just maybe, you were right, and that what you did to me actually was beneficial somehow, that my sorrows would lead to something better. Oh, I could have tried ending my misery, but I chose not to. Because I cared."

Name Rater took a deep breath, replacing his rage with a long-festering hatred. "What do you have to say for yourself?" he asked, glaring straight into her eyes.

Celestia barely managed to look at him, her brow and cheeks quivering slightly. "I-I'm so, so sorry, Name Rater. I had no idea."

"No," he said simply. "You didn't."

The following silence was only broken by Twilight's sobs and the soft sound of tears striking crystal.

"I never imagined there was anypony alive who had suffered more that I," croaked Luna, fur now matted with tears, "and from events not of their own making, no less. Name Rater, you are so... so..." She trailed off, head sinking slowly to the floor.

Meanwhile, Celestia was comparatively unreadable as she spoke. But the regret was written there on her face. "Is there anything I can do? Anything... Anything at all?"

Name Rater's frown lessened a bit. "You've done quite enough already. And nothing short of rewriting history could possibly convince me to despise you any less." He briefly beheld the state of the others in the room. "Just... learn some rutting empathy. Don't let these ponies go on without your care. Actual care, not feigned emotions solely for furthering your own agendas. Let nopony else suffer as I have."

She stared at Luna and Twilight in turn, blinking back tears. Then, Celestia softly smiled at him with quivering lips. "O-Okay. I can do that."

"You'd better. Otherwise, I might start naming everypony Buttmunch."

Luna snorted. The mood of the room lightened considerably, from depressing to merely glum.

"Honestly though," he continued, "you could probably use a vacation. I know I sure do."

"Hmm. I'd never considered that," said Celestia.

"Maybe you could spend some time with her, or something," Name Rater suggested, pointing at Twilight. Now, she had recovered, and was wiping her tears with a fetlock.

"I'm not sure I'd be up for that," she said. "I... still have trouble seeing Princess Celestia as anything other than my superior."

Celestia blinked. Name Rater rolled his eyes.

"You bear the Elements of Harmony now, right? Then get whoever has the Element of Empathy to keep her company," he said.

Though lacking her usual exuberance, Twilight still corrected him. "Actually, the elements are gone now, the Tree of Harmony took them back. Besides, Empathy isn't one of them, anyway."

Name Rater groaned. "Well, that's stupid. It should be."

Celestia coughed, intent on getting back on track. "At any rate, Name Rater, this was most... enlightening, but I must return to my duties for now. We can finish discussing reparations for your... unjust treatment later."

"Also, how awful you are," added a smirking Luna.

"Yes, that too. Thank you, Lulu," Celestia deadpanned. Then, she turned to him, smiling. "And thank you, Name Rater. Not only for bringing this matter to my attention, but for your many years of peerless service to Equestria. I hope you feel better soon."

His brow raised in surprise. "...Sure."

With that, Celestia teleported out of the room in a golden flash, followed shortly after by Luna, who waved him goodbye before vanishing herself.

Applejack let out a breath it looked like she had been holding in for a while. "Well, that was somethin'."

He let loose a snort. "You have no idea how long I'd been sitting on that rant. I was this close to bucking her in the face."

"Well, Ah'm glad ya didn't. You're better than that. The world needs more honest, hardworkin' ponies like you."

It took him a second to find the right reply. This flattery all of a sudden was a bit much. "Thanks."

Twilight cleared her throat, flexing her wings. "Now then, let's go find something fun to do to clear our heads!"

"Good idea, Twi. Let's go get ourselves out an' about." said Applejack.

Both mares grinned as they began trotting out of the room. As he watched them go, Name Rater felt strange emotions welling up inside him, emotions beyond simple relief. He had thought he would never experience them again. Applejack beckoned him to follow with a hoof.

So, he did.

The Beginning

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"So, how have you been these past few days? Enjoying your time in Ponyville?"

Celestia sat across from Name Rater, cool and composed as she sipped tea daintily from a cup gripped in her golden aura. He was nestled into a cushion that was far too plush, trying his best not to interrupt their fresh conversation to criticize the excess and vanity on display in the marble-laden room. And the rest of the castle. And the city. She had probably been dealt enough of that for a while yet. He could vent about the absurdity of the extravagant, immanent rockslide known as Canterlot at Applejack later.

"I guess it's enjoyable," he replied. "My days have not been this hectic in quite a while."

She nodded. "I can imagine."

"Well, yes. Or I could just tell you."

Celestia grinned. "Alright then. An example it is."

"Where to begin..." Name Rater thought aloud. "So, right after you left, Twilight, Applejack, and I went out to clear our heads. Applejack was shocked when I told them that I preferred Twilight's idea of fun."

"Oh?" Celestia raised an eyebrow. "And what was that?"

"Reading in the park."

She giggled, holding a handkerchief in front of her mouth.

"What's so funny? Is it wrong for ponies to appreciate the simple things?"

"Not at all. I was just thinking that Twilight really never changes."

Name Rater nodded. "Most ponies don't. Which is why I'm still concerned about you."

A hint of the sadness of their previous meeting crept onto her face. "I can assure you, Name Rater, steps have already been taken. Next month, I will take a vacation. One with plenty of mingling involved."

He smirked. "I take it you have some sort of brilliant plan to keep your subjects in the dark about it?"

"Even better, they wont even have a clue I am among them, thanks to a disguise spell. All they will see is a pegasus mare named Sunny Skies."

"Great," he said, smiling. "It's nice to see you finally apply some of that ageless wisdom towards your own problems."

"Indeed. And I thank you again for letting me know. Though, you could have done so a bit more delicately," she added, tone slightly condescending.

"Could have, but didn't. I still don't like you that much," he pointed out bluntly.

"Regardless, you are giving me a chance, and that says something."

"I suppose it does, Celestia."

Celestia took another sip of her tea. Name Rater averted his gaze and exhaled.

"Anyway, have you decided upon housing arrangements yet?" she asked.

"Yeah. I was thinking that a cottage somewhere in Ponyville would be nice."

"Really? A cottage? You would not rather have rooms in the castle?"

"Yes, really. It's fine. I wouldn't know what to do with myself in a place like this. Especially if I'm getting that break from work you promised."

She seemed to consider this. "That is a fair point. And you will have your rest." Celestia leaned forwards a bit. "Though a castle would be more appropriate, considering your coronation. Afterwards, you will have other responsibilities."

He groaned. "Don't remind me. Do I seriously need to go through with that?"

Celestia reached a hoof across the table, placing it on his shoulder. "You should. My little ponies will want to know of your existence and your achievements. Name Rater, you are more than worthy of the title. Did you not want to be appreciated?"

"Of course I did, just not by literally everypony."

She rolled her eyes. "A cottage it is then. Are you sure you there is nothing else you need?"

He gazed out the window, beyond the city to the plains below, searching for an answer. Drawing a blank, he shook his head. "Having friends again is enough."

Celestia blinked twice, then beamed at him.

In all the years he'd known her, Name Rater had never seen Celestia smile genuinely like that before. Maybe she had, in fact, been bettered over the years. She, by her own admission, is imperfect like everypony else, but could very well have learned how true friendships worked. Or maybe he just couldn't remember.

That was when Twilight teleported into the room, along with the sisters Apple.

"Speaking of..." he said.

"Hi Name Rater!" Applebloom exclaimed, all smiles.

"Hello, girls," said Celestia. "What brings you here? You usually are not one to interrupt, Twilight."

She chuckled at that. "Well, Applebloom had a great idea for a present for Name Rater just now, and couldn't wait to share it."

"'Bloom says it's a magic thing, so Ah ran on over to Twilight with her. Knowin' how these things usually turn out 'n all," Applejack explained.

Applebloom pouted. "It'll be great, really! Twilight'll be the one doin' it, so nothing's gonna go wrong this time! No potions, I swear!"

Name Rater loosed a sigh. "You ponies have done quite enough for me already. I'm still overwhelmed by all this 'new life' stuff I've been dealing with. I don't need it right now, whatever it is."

"So... still a no on the magic lessons?" inquired Twilight.

"Still a no."

Applebloom bounced in protest next to a slightly dejected Twilight. "My idea's better, though!"

Celestia turned to Name Rater. "At least hear what she has to say."

"Fine," he grumbled.

"So, Twilight," the filly began, gleefully, "you remember that one time when that Trixie mare went all crazy and put a dome on the town?"


"Well, wasn't there a spell that could make ponies younger? The one we all pitched in ta fake?"

Twilight's eyes widened, followed shortly after by Name Rater's. Celestia gasped in recognition.

"... That's actually great thinkin', sugarcube," said Applejack. "I reckon he'd be a fool not to appreciate somethin' like that."

After her confirmation, all eyes turned to Name Rater. His were now angry, and aimed at Celestia's. "There's a spell that makes ponies younger, and you didn't tell me." The deadpan way he spoke made his apt question come across as a statement of fact.

Celestia retained her posture under his scrutiny. "In my defense, the spell had yet to be invented when you ran off. And I forbade its use shortly after. Unwarranted immortality and all that."

He sighed. Name Rater supposed that made sense. "Well now, that actually sounds like it could be great. Assuming it works."

He never even had the chance to actually agree. For at the other end of the room, Twilight's horn was already glowing, a grin on her face, one that could be considered somewhat manic. "Excellent! I haven't had the chance to perfect new magic in a while! Now that I'm an alicorn myself, this shouldn't be too hard to do!"

Name Rater inferred it would probably be better if he stood up and faced Twilight, for aiming purposes, so he did. Celestia, in a show of confirmation, made no moves to thwart Twilight's spell as the tendrils of pinkish energy whirling around her intensified. Applebloom stomped her hooves in anticipation. Applejack turned and stared at everypony one by one as if her gaze could ensure their safety.

Then, the spell fired, and Name Rater was enveloped in power. The light blinded him, and he shielded his eyes with a hoof. But then he lost sensation in said hoof, as well as the rest of his body. Momentarily fearing for the worst, he was immensely relieved to notice the feeling returning to his frame. After that, the light faded, and it was over.

He shook his head and blinked, eyes readjusting. When he could focus again, the first thing he noticed was Twilight's expression, a strange blend of pride and awe.

"Woah!" said Applebloom suddenly, running up to him. "It worked!"

"Ah'll say," added Applejack, sizing him up. "Ah can barely believe that's the same stallion standin' there."

Celestia stood up and seemed to imitate Applejack, though her eyes were wider. "Me too. He is much taller than I remember. Alicorn biology at work, I suppose."

Now that she mentioned it, he did seem to be taller. Applebloom barely came up past his knees. Taking a closer look, the fur on his legs also seemed brighter.

Twilight saw him examining himself and giggled. "Well? What are you waiting for?" She gestured with a wing at an ornate mirror mounted on the wall next to the door.

"Mmm," he mumbled. Cautiously, he stepped over towards it. The muscles in his legs responded to his call more readily and with more vigor than they had in ages. It stunned him so much that he nearly tripped.

Then he reached the mirror, and saw his reflection.

The first thing he noticed was his mane. No longer grey, it had returned to its former rust-colored glory, and was once again thick enough to form curls. His eyes practically gleamed like the mirror itself, and his facial features were taught and well-defined. looking down, his neck and legs had elongated considerably. Even his wings and horn had grown, all smooth and sharp. In a word, he looked regal.

Though, that wasn't the part he cared about. Name Rater tested a backwards buck against the empty air. It didn't hurt his back at all. Grinning, he performed another at a much higher angle just to be sure. "Amazing," he stated. Even his voice was less scratchy.

Applebloom took this as her cue to run up to him again. She seemed hesitant to speak at first, if her gulp was any indication, but she managed. "So, does this make up for havin' to put up with me an' my friends? Ah know you don't like us all that much, even though we tried ta be nice."

Name Rater was mildly shocked. "You didn't really need to make up for anything, and I actually have another reason for that, but sure, I forgive you." He smiled down at her, messing up her mane with a hoof. "You're a good kid. Even if you are really annoying." Applebloom giggled and rolled her eyes.

"Coming from him, such a statement is probably high praise," elaborated Celestia.

Applejack sighed, grinning. "An' 'Bloom already knows that, it's everypony else who doubts it sometimes. Still, Ah don' think Ah've ever seen y'all as happy as ya're now, Name Rater."

He nodded. "When we met, I wasn't really happy at all. Hopefully, we'll both get used to it."

"That'd be nice," she confirmed.

Name Rater smiled back at Applejack. Nopony could come up with a good followup to that statement, so the group happily stood there on the polished granite floor for a few seconds. That is, except for the singular filly, who's eyes wandered over Name Rater.

"Uhh..." began Applebloom, staring, "Ah couldn't help noticin' that you still don't have your cutie mark, Name Rater."

Name Rater blinked. "Oh, right. Now's as good a time as any to address that." He placed a hoof on his chin. "So, Celestia, what's the deal? Even you and Luna have them now. What possibly could have spawned such a ridiculous thing?"

Celestia tilted her head. "Well, we were surprised too, when it happened. You see, it was actually a massive spell cast by Star Swirl the Bearded's son."

"Mmm. Yeah, why am I not surprised?" Name Rater said. "I figured Merlin's family would be just as crazy as he was, if not more so."

"Wait, Merlin?" interrupted Twilight. "Did you... know the great Star Swirl the Bearded?"

Name Rater caught her starstruck expression and chuckled. "Yes, I did. Lived two houses down, actually. Though, we were both just foals at the time."

Twilight's jaw hit the floor.

Celestia ended the following silence with a polite cough. "At any rate, his son was also quite the spellcaster, and while not nearly as adept, he accomplished much. Known as Sage Basil the Socially Inept, he isolated himself in pursuit of his studies, and rarely spoke. Supposedly, he called forth the cutie marks as way to make his own life easier."

Twilight, who had recovered by now, couldn't resist continuing, now in full-on scholar mode. "It was an enormous wave of energy, rendering visible a pony's native talent, and installing the necessary thaumic circuits to do the same in the makeup of everypony else in the future. I would theorize that since you were outside Equestria at the time, in the badlands, the spell never got to you."

"Huh," he said.

"As luck would have it, I actually memorized how to cast Markforming, as it was so named. Spike asked me to try and use it on him a while back, but I couldn't get the spell to work for dragons." Twilight seemed slightly depressed as she stated this.

Just then, in an instant, Applebloom was hanging off of Twilight's face, glaring with contempt directly into her eyes.

The alicorn emotionlessly blinked her eyes at the filly. "No, I cannot give you your cutie mark. You already have Markforming's effects on you."

She dropped to the floor, pouting. Celestia giggled as Applejack placed a consoling hoof around her sister.

"Come on now," Applejack began, "ya shouldn't get so riled up over this. Isn't this whole crusade o' yers supposed to be the fun part?"

Applebloom sighed. "Yeah, you're right, sis," she admitted. "An' this isn't about me, it's about Name Rater."

"Yes," he said. "And my tea is probably getting cold."

"I could always brew more," stated Celestia as she rolled her eyes.

"It's the principle. And you have work to get back to, right?" he asked, gesturing to both princesses.

"Name Rater, there's always time for conversation!" chided Twilight. "It's a good 27% of what friends do."

"Well, the world doesn't run on friendship, does it? Wait, no, don't answer that. Point is, magic my butt already. Let's get it over with so I can get back to enjoying not being in pain."

Applebloom snorted. Applejack raised an eyebrow, smiling.

Twilight charged her horn again. "Not much for ceremony, are you? Ok, whenever you're ready."

"Hit me," he said.

Another, much less potent, purple spell collided with Name Rater. He didn't really feel anything at first, but then a flash of light from behind his head confirmed its efficacy. Anticipation building, everypony stared with curiosity at his flanks as the light faded.

He had time to take in the completely stupefied expressions the four wore before he realized that he was next to a mirror and could easily see for himself what the fuss was about.

Turning his head, his eyes slowly panned over himself to find that his new, superfluous marking was... a line.

Applejack blinked and shook her head in disbelief. Twilight's mouth was neutral, eyes motionless. Celestia narrowed her brow and opened her mouth slightly.

"What," Applebloom deadpanned. "What."

Applejack rubbed her eyes. "Uhh... Y'all 're seein' what Ah'm seein', right?"

"If what you see is a thin, horizontal, black line, then yes, you are seeing what I'm seeing," said Celestia.

Name Rater groaned. "I knew this was a stupid idea. So much for the new body being presentable."

"No, seriously, what's it mean?" asked Applebloom.

Twilight stepped closer to Name Rater and scanned him again before answering. "Well... Oh! It's like that blank space at the top of tests where you write your name out! That makes sense!"

He shook his head. "I don't think that's right; it's probably symbolic."

"It's a line," said Applejack, bluntly. "What else could it mean?"

"It represents the dull, endless monotony of my existence. Or perhaps the empty void that is my soul," he said.

They were all shocked into a silent stupor.

Name Rater shook his head. "Really? That was a joke. It was supposed be funny. I don't even think those things are true anymore."

The silence, rather than ending, stretched out into what seemed like hours until Applejack spoke up. "Your sense of humor is terrible. Ya'll're much funnier just tryin' ta be serious."

"Apparently," he replied.

"You need to go see Pinkie Pie. Right now," said Twilight. "I didn't even think a joke in such poor taste was scientifically possible."

Name Rater rubbed his left temple. "Ugh, maybe later. Don't I have a coronation to prepare for, or something?"

"It's not for another week!" protested Twilight. "And this is clearly urgent!"

Celestia coughed politely, drawing the attention of the others. "Perhaps Name Rater has had enough excitement for today, Twilight. I believe he wishes to retire to his chambers at the moment."

Huh. That was surprisingly thoughtful of her, he thought. "Yeah, what she said. I'll get to that at some point later, ok? Until then, thanks you three. For everything."

Twilight blinked, then sighed. "No need to thank me yet. Wait until after you're settled in and comfortable with all these changes." She shook her head. "It will certainly be a difficult mental exercise, but I'll try and forget that 'joke' just happened." Turning, she added "Girls, we're heading home."

"Ok!" Applebloom waved her hoof vigorously. "Bye, Name Rater! Don't have too much fun by yourself!"

Name Rater rolled his eyes. Once they were facing forward again, he saw Applejack tip her Stetson at him. "You're most welcome. Take care."

"See you soon," finished Twilight. She smiled, charged her horn, and the three mares vanished with a crackle of energy.

Once he confirmed that they had, in fact, left, Name Rater took a deep breath, reveling in the silence.

It did not last long. "That line really was horrible, Name Rater," said Celestia, who had just sat down again. "And I've heard many poor puns in my lifetime."

Name Rater's brows slowly lowered. "... You ruined it."

Celestia, Diarch of the Sun, smirked at him in a decidedly childish manner.

He groaned. "Goodbye, Celestia." Shaking his head, he walked off towards the door.

* * *

"I look ridiculous," Name Rater stated.

Currently, he was being 'groomed to perfection' by Sweetie's older sister, Rarity, in preparation for his coronation. Not of his own accord, mind you.

Rarity waved a hoof dismissively. "Oh, nonsense, darling. You look very regal."

Name Rater glanced backwards. The garment that was draped upon his barrel gleamed silver. "This cape is literally mirrored."

She nodded. "Why, it matches your eyes!"

He groaned. "Most of the city is waiting outside right now tense with anticipation just to see whatever the royal announcement is. Unless Celestia lowers the sun, somepony is going to go blind in seconds."

Rarity raised her eyes, staring into space as she mulled over this point.

"I can see cracks in the ceiling on my back, Rarity," he added.

"But... this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Don't you want to make a good first impression?"

"No, I don't really care. Honestly, I think you just want everypony to see your work. I didn't even ask for a makeover, you just showed up out of nowhere and insisted."

It was subtle, but Name Rater saw her flinch at that. He raised an eyebrow.

Rarity sighed. "Ok, yes, you're right. However, you still--"

"Yeah, I'm just going to wear the crown. I wasn't going to say anything, but this suit is also really itchy."

She upturned her muzzle, and let out a haughty 'hmph'. "When Applejack said you were--"

"Don't worry, I won't undo my mane," he said, in that high-pitched tone ponies use when reassuring others about something obvious.

The relief in her eyes was clear. "Oh, fine. Who would I be to question the wishes of royalty?"

Name Rater refrained from describing for her in great detail exactly who she would, in fact, be akin to in this situation. Instead, he kept his opinion to himself. For once. Lesson learned.

Rarity took a step back, content. "Well, alright then. I suppose I shall be off."

He nodded. "Bye."

"Ta ta!" She trotted elegantly out of the dressing room, opening and closing the door in one swift, magical flourish.

Once she had left, Name Rater unceremoniously tugged off the tailored cape and suit, and threw them onto a nearby ottoman. He figured a maid would hang them back up properly at some point. In the vanity mirror, he made sure that his new crown, a thick, silver thing studded with huge, dark red garnets, was properly situated atop his finely combed mane. Satisfied, he composed himself and made his way across the carpet to the room's other exit.

Beyond that door was a small atrium, attached to a semicircular balcony. Currently, a red velvet curtain separated the two, though there were paths on each side for those ponies who need not make a dramatic entrance. Upon swiveling his ears, Name Rater could faintly hear impatient murmurs coming from the restless ponies down below in the square. This was quite the welcome observation, as his hearing had not been that clear in quite a while.

Zoned out as he was, Name Rater nearly failed to notice the other ponies actually in the room with him. Celestia and Luna, wearing their full regalia, stood proudly as the looked him over, all smiles. Those royal gaurdsponies privy to the announcement's nature were here as well, including a secretary mare with a clipboard and six trumpeters adorned in ceremonial garb.

Celestia turned to the secretary. "Is everything in order?" she asked.

The mare brushed aside a lock of her mane, scanned her checklist, and nodded. "Yes, your highness."

"Then we begin at once."

Upon hearing their sovereign's confirmation, the trumpeters made their way onto the balcony in two perfect rows, and played a brief, loud fanfare on their ceremonial horns. Immediately afterwards, Canterlot seemed to be completely devoid of sound.

That is, until the two princesses walked through the curtain and onto the balcony, their steps in time, clacking on the marble.

"Citizens of Equestria, we have come before you on this day to convey news of a most momentous occurrence!" Luna proclaimed. Though he couldn't see her, Name Rater assumed she had her forehoof raised dramatically into the air, as that was the usual procedure for the use of the Royal Everfree Voice. Then again, they had probably changed the name by now.

"Indeed, my sister speaks the truth." Celestia was also projecting her speech into the vast crowd with magic. "My little ponies, today marks the official return of a pony of no small import to Equestria at large. Our history had forgotten him as such, and he too, had turned his back to us in doubt. Yet still, he kept working, to ensure that his duty to this nation was not left unfulfilled."

"But this wrong shall be rectified at once," continued Luna. "For his unprecedented record of service, this pony deserves much more than simple acknowledgment. And so, It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to my old friend, and Equestria's newest Prince: Name Rater!"

Taking that as his cue, Name Rater braced himself and stepped onto the balcony. Immediately, striped banners that matched his coat and mane cascaded downwards along the tower walls to his sides. The rest of the area below was packed with ponies, pressed tightly together, as if almost everypony in the city and many from elsewhere had attended. As he continued forward past the others to the parapet, they looked up at him with wide eyes and cheered.

He really hoped the city wouldn't collapse from all the stomping.

In an attempt to distract himself from that, and the emotional gravitas of the whole situation, Name Rater's eyes wandered through the scene as he waved politely. Off to his left, he spotted a VIP section of some sort on another balcony atop a nearby, smaller tower. Seated on said balcony, among others, were Princess Twilight, the other elements of harmony, and their families. He grinned at them.

After a few more seconds of waving, Name Rater bowed and went back inside.

He was going to make his way back to his room, but the stare the secretary was leveling at him made him pause. It was one of intense confusion and subtle dread.

A 'whoosh' from behind him prompted him to stop completely and turn around. Standing next to him was Celestia, pupils slightly shrunken.

"You were supposed to give a speech," she whispered, agitated.

That was news to him. "That's news to me."

She leaned her head in closer. "How could you have not known? Didn't Twilight prepare a checklist on what you needed to do and run through it with you?"

"Yes, she did. It was unnecessarily long, but there was no mention of a speech. She never gave one."

Celestia facehoofed. "She didn't need to! Everypony already knew who she was: the Element of Magic!"

Name Rater groaned. "Well, I didn't write one. Oh well."

She glared at him. "Just ad-lib something!"

"Ugh. Fine."

Name Rater made a point of walking very slowly back onto the balcony. Both to spite Celestia and to come up with what he would say.

He could hear Luna's voice through the curtains as he aproached. "--And then, the squire pulled out his--" She seemed to have been buying time with some tale from their era, but abruptly ended the story with a sheepish chuckle and a step to the side as Name Rater reemerged. The ponies in the audience returned to cheering, though with less volume than before. With his raised hoof, the noise died back down again. Convenient.

Name Rater faced down at them, cleared his throat, and began.

"Hello. I'm Name Rater. I named you all. That's my job. Been doing it for a while. Yes, I am one pony. Yes, I've been an alicorn for most of that time. And yes, I'm now a prince, apparently. Though I probably don't deserve it."

He seemed to have their attention. And the princesses hadn't fried him yet for inappropriate conduct. So far so good.

"So, as a prince, I'll probably have some more responsibilities. I won't like it, and I won't be very good at most of them. But I'll make sure to get them done anyway, because somepony has to, and I don't have much of anything better to do.

"However, being a prince does come with perks. One of those is that other ponies will listen to you. I'd be stupid not to take advantage of that. Though, what I'm about to ask of you now is in no way a degree or proclamation, just a request. Please stop having so many foals. I think there are more ponies in this square right now than there were in all of Equestria when I grew up. It's going to become a problem soon. For me especially, since I have to take the time to name every last one. Or, maybe you could get creative and figure out names for your own kids. Whatever."

Now, a good portion of the ponies seemed to be snickering.

"This isn't funny."

They stopped.

He groaned again. "Rather than the castle, I will be living in Ponyville from now on. Don't bug me about your problems; that's what Twilight is for. However, If I'm out and about, you can say hi. Titles are stupid; just Name Rater is fine. And don't be surprised or flattered when I know who you are. Again, that's my job.

"In short, not much is going to change, really."

All eyes watched him expectantly.

He sighed. "That's it, I'm done. You can go home now."

And so, Name Rater left.

The Epilogue

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~ Two Months Later ~

Name Rater awoke from his slumber only somewhat reluctantly. He stretched the kinks out of his back and hopped out of bed, shoving the soft, downy sheets aside. Walking to the bathroom, he made use of his amazing indoor plumbing, then washed up and brushed. As he left, he took a moment to smile briefly at his reflection.

Arriving in his kitchen, Name Rater reached into his new refrigerator and pulled out a fresh, plump tomato. The convenience of such an invention was second only to his toilet. Even if it did apparently run by sucking up ambient hatred. Too enraptured with the benefits was he to question the nature of the magic which operated it.

Like usual, he ate the tomato by itself. He was used to the taste by now, and his cooking skills were woefully out of practice. As he ate, he admired the view of dawn breaking over Ponyville through the window.

Once that was done, he made his way over to his office. All of Name Rater's old supplies were there, in the same positions. However, his new chair was actually comfortable.

He settled into his old grind with mere indifference, as opposed to resentment. The tedium numbed his mind into a state of apathy as he scrawled name after name onto dozens of photographs.

Before he knew it, the clocktower struck noon; he was finished for today. Name Rater looked forward to what else the day had in store for him. Well, beyond the usual chores. Which he now had fewer of. Yay.

In fact, Name Rater had more free time on his hooves than he expected. It turns out that, according to Celestia, he "lacked the necessary tact and legal knowledge to do basically anything related to governance". She let him try and run the Day Court once when she had to leave Canterlot for a diplomatic meeting, to see how he would fare. Needless to say, he ended up nearly starting a riot. It was not one of his proudest achievements.

He had also been approached by the dean of Pranceton University at one point, who offered him a position as a history professor. Though, as it turns out, ponies don't like it when your curriculum recounts the unvarnished truth. The last straw was when he recounted that Luna used to administer capital punishment to wrongdoers by disemboweling them with her horn. In public. He still stood firm on his views that ponies had a right to know such things.

So, he essentially was just a figurehead now. The most important thing he still did, other than his usual task, was when he would go to the Royal Guard barracks and help toughen up the soldiers as a drill sergeant. Name Rater was a master at ensuring that the exercises they had to do were as brutal and agonizing as possible. And boy, after all this time, they needed it. Couldn't even stop a lousy swarm of bugs; got six fillies to do all the work instead. The old captain had been such a softie that he actually went and married the sovereign ruler of love.

Of course, in order to set a good example, he needed to be in shape. And so, once his meal had been fully digested a few hours later, he unceremoniously left his cottage for his daily workout. It was only a few blocks from the edge of town, and the few ponies he passed were his neighbors, most of whom elected to trade greetings with him. Soon, Name Rater arrived at the jogging trail which circled the town.

After a quick series of stretches -- which he could now perform again and still be able to stand up unassisted afterwards -- he shot off down the path, kicking up dust with his hooves. As he ran, the crisp air whipped through his fur and feathers, offsetting the sun's heat somewhat. Not many other ponies exercised in the afternoon, due to said heat, so the trail was largely clear.

Purging all thoughts from his mind, he focused solely on the feelings of his hooves striking the ground, the blood in his veins, and the sweat building on his skin. It was relaxing, in a way.

In what felt like no time at all, he had passed Twilight's castle and Fluttershy's cottage. Rounding the border fence of Sweet Apple Acres, he couldn't stop his eyes from wandering over to the distant Applejack as she leaned down to plant a sapling.

By the time he had finished his second lap around Ponyville at full gallop, he was nearing the limit of his endurance. When he could go no further, Name Rater skidded to a stop, panting. Looking around, he noticed that he was back at the Apple's place, a new personal best.

However, the homestead seemed deserted now. Odd. Usually, either Applejack or Big Mac would be out in the fields until suppertime.

Wondering if something unusual was taking place, Name Rater wandered off into town in search of answers. While he passed numerous buildings, block by block, there weren't really many ponies out and about. He inferred why the moment he heard the huge racket reverberating from ahead.

After rolling his eyes, he mumbled to himself. "Let's see what this fuss is about."

By the time he arrived at the source of the noise, which turned out to be Sugarcube Corner, it was deafening in volume. However, the other ponies milling about outside seemed to have no problem at all with it. Name Rater approached a pair of mares standing next to eachother: Lyra and Sweetie Drops. The latter was apparently a secret agent, but he wasn't going to point that out for obvious reasons.

"Excuse me, what's going on here?" he asked.

They both turned around, flinching a bit when they saw who he was. Sweetie Drops replied first. "Oh! Name Rater! Yeah, we just got here."

Lyra smiled. "We would be crazy if we missed a Pinkie Party! Especially one this big! Even though it's a Cutecenéra for some ponies we don't know."

The earth pony narrowed her eyes. "I thought it was a Hurray-Ponyville-Is-Finally-Relatively-Safe-Again party."

Lyra nodded. "It is also that."

Name Rater sighed at their antics. "I'll just go in and look around myself. Thanks."

They waved goodbye as he trotted off without another word.

As Name Rater entered the bakery, his ears folded in on themselves in a futile attempt at stifling the noise. It was as if he had passed through the very gates to Tartarus. Yellow, orange, and off-white balloons and streamers were tied and draped to nearly every available surface, making the room seem to be on fire. Ponies were everywhere, flailing about in apparent agony. Either that, or they were dancing, and the notion of restraint had withered away over the centuries. The source of the unholy racket was revealed to be one Vinyl Scratch and her 'Wubmobile'. Said machine was causing the very floor under his hooves to vibrate slightly. With enough power, the thing could probably make earthquakes. Or destroy Canterlot.

The ponies who weren't 'dancing' were standing around and somehow holding conversations near buffet tables loaded with pastries and treats so sweet that they would probably kill them if they weren't all dead already. Notably, a good number of both groups were foals. Name Rater carefully walked up to the largest cluster.

Noticing his approach, two fillies burst through the wall of ponies to greet him: Applebloom and Sweetie Belle.

"Name Rater! You made it!" Applebloom exclaimed.

Sweetie Belle jumped up and down excitedly, gesturing to her flank. "Look, look! We finally got our cutie marks!"

Name Rater's eyebrows raised. "Really?" He leaned his head over to peer at them. Both fillies now bore matching, color-coded shields. "Huh. So you did. Neat."

Applebloom blanched. "Really? That's all ya have to say? No congratulations or anything? Because Ah'm pretty sure Sweetie just pointed out that we got our cutie marks." To emphasize this statement, she started waving her rump in his face in a less-than-appropriate manner.

He groaned. "Why should I? From what I understand, it was inevitable. That would be the equivalent of me praising you for starting your 'monthly cycle'."

Sweetie Belle tilted her head, perplexed. "What's that?"

Name Rater grinned maliciously. "You'll find out in a few years, I'm sure."

This prompted some giggles from a few eavesdroppers. The fillies traded worried glances. There was an awkward silence. Well, the lack of speech. The room wasn't even close to quiet.

Then, just now noticing her unusual absence, Name Rater asked "Where's Scootaloo?"

"Oh, she's out with Rainbow Dash right now, probably getting a celebratory ride," Sweetie replied.

Name Rater nodded. He had indeed noticed that poor Scootaloo seemed incapable of extended flight herself. Though the name was familiar, he had never actually met the mare, for some reason. Probably nopony special, though.

Shaking her head, Applebloom changed the subject. "Anyway, now the three of us are gonna help other ponies find out what they're supposed to do!" she proclaimed.

"That's nice." he said.

At first, Applebloom adopted a peeved look, clearly miffed by his reply, but it soon morphed into one of deep thought. After a moment, her eyes widened. "Hey, wait a minute! Is the reason you aren't surprised or excited about all this because you could tell what our marks would look like beforehoof?"

Sweetie Belle, who had procured herself a cupcake mere seconds ago, spit globules of half-chewed mass onto the floor as she gasped. Realizing her mistake, she blushed and swallowed the rest before speaking. "Hey, Applebloom, you're right! But not just that! He saw what our destines were this whole time! In other words, Name Rater, you knew we would be able to help you, right?"

Name Rater looked down at them and smiled, somewhat proud that they figured it out. "Yes, I knew. I was unsure the three of you had enough experience to undo years of deep-seeded anger and depression. As it turned out, you quite frankly surpassed my expectations. Especially considering that all of you were unaware how much skill you possessed."

"Well, gee, thanks Name--"

His smile abruptly faded as he cut Sweetie off with a hoof. "You honestly thought I would have humored you otherwise? Come on now, I'm terrible with foals, and even by foal standards, the whole lot of you are quite obnoxious. Also, you destroyed my well. Do you know how hard it is for an old stallion to dig a well by hoof?"

Their muzzles became rather scrunched. "How hard?" Applebloom asked.

"A few weeks ago, I ordered a particularly disobedient royal guard recruit to do just that as punishment for slacking off. Didn't let him drink any water; he had to dig for it. Needed to take him over to the hospital when he collapsed from dehydration only halfway down to the aquifer."

Applebloom blinked. "Oh."

He sighed. "Oh, indeed."

Sweetie Belle coughed politely. "Well, we definitely appreciate that you didn't overreact. Rarity's grounded me for less."

He nodded. "If anypony else had done such a thing, I probably would have just blasted them with my horn on the spot."

"But I thought you didn't know any spells?" she asked.

"That's true: I don't know any spells. My raw alicorn magic just sets whatever I hit with it on fire."

Sweetie Belle blinked. "Oh."

He sighed. "Oh, indeed."

Taking a deep breath, Name Rater shook his head. "Anyway, I probably just killed the mood, didn't I? You two should go play with your friends now or something, I think. It is your party, after all."

The slightly shocked pair nodded their heads vigorously and scampered off.

His curiosity sated, Name Rater elected to leave the building, and the party, behind him at once. However, a tap on his left shoulder gave him pause. Turning to confront the pony in question, he met the gaze of none other than Twilight Sparkle. She stared at him, expression neutral-bordering-on-angry.

"... How long were you listening?" he reluctantly asked.

"Long enough."

"... You know I wouldn't actually set a filly on fire, right?"

Her eyes narrowed.

"Ok, maybe I would have, but not anymore. I'm a changed pony now, you know that."

She sighed. "Well, that is true. It was nice to see you express your appreciation for what the crusaders did for you. Then again, I didn't expect to see you here at all. I was under the impression that these types of gatherings aren't really your scene."

"They aren't. I was just wondering where Applejack went, and then what was making all this noise."

Twilight grinned. "You still aren't crushing on her, are you? I know you decided to finally move on, but Applejack already said she wasn't interested."

He rolled his eyes. "Of course not. I know when to give up. To use modern slang, I am quite clearly stuck in the friendzone."

Her grin grew wider. "Oh, that's not so bad. You haven't thrown in the towel, I hope?"

"No, not yet. I'm a prince after all; there're still plenty of mares that would be interested. I fact, I have a date lined up for this weekend."

Twilight leaned in closer. "Really?! With whom?"

An image of the mare projected into his mind's eye. "One Ms. Campari."

She tilted her head. "I'm not familiar."

It was then that Pinkie Pie appeared in between them out of nowhere with her usual level of exuberance, causing the pair to stagger backwards in surprise. "Oh, Ms. Campari! You know, cream-colored coat, short, brown mane, three tomatoes for a Cutie Mark? Sorta grumpy most of the time, sells her produce at unreasonable prices? Yeah, I can see why you'd be into that, Namie."

"Namie?" he said, cringing. "Just... no, Pinkie. No."

Twilight glanced back and forth between them. "Uh, I still don't know who--"

"And her prices are perfectly justified, considering the quality," continued Name Rater. "It's the inflation that's the problem! When I was your age, two whole bits could buy you a top-of-the-line carriage."

Pinkie's eyes widened, and she gave an exaggerated gasp. An instant later, her muzzle was pressed against Twilight's. "You are going to take me back in time, and I am going to buy all the sugar."

Blatantly ignoring Pinkie being Pinkie, Twilight gently pushed her friend aside. "So, Name Rater, what's she actually like?"

Name Rater also refused to acknowledge the pouting pink pony. "Well, she's a mare who knows what she wants from life, and sees the value in simple things. Doesn't mince words either."

"She sounds nice. You're taking her someplace special, I hope?"

"Of course, princess. How else would I spend all those taxpayer bits?" he said, smirking.

Twilight shook her head. "If you feel you're overpaid for your services, you could always appeal to Celestia for a decrease."

He pondered this for a moment. "Ermm... Nah. I'm good."

She sighed. "In any case, I should go check on how Fluttershy's doing. Last I saw, she was standing in the corner, and likely needs another friendly pep-talk. Take care!"

Turning around, Twilight vanished among the crowd, which parted instinctively to grant her passage.

Taking a deep breath, Name Rater pivoted to face Pinkie. She stood next to him, smile impossibly wide, eyes unblinking, around one Plank length away.

"Yes, Pinkie?"

She immediately started bombarding him with words. "So, Namie, how do you like your second ever Pinkie Party? You sure picked a good one to come to, that's for sure! Did you try the cake, the cupcakes, the games, the dancing, the punch, the flugelhorn, the--" Her tirade was cut short as she broke out into pealing fits of laughter, collapsing to the floor.

Name Rater's wing caressing her stomach was the cause. He figured out a little while ago that tickling the pink mare was the best way to get her to shut up, and she didn't seem to mind.

"I'm heading out now," he stated, stepping away a bit.

Her laughter ended with a snort, and she righted herself with a 'sproing', made even more perplexing by the fact that it was audible over the music. "Why?" she asked. "Everypony here is a great friend waiting to happen!"

He paused. "I know that."

"Then what's stopping you?" she asked, her usual smile vanishing.

"I guess... I'm still not ready for quite so many friends. Ponyville accepted me very quickly, which was great. But an old pony like myself just needs a bit more time to adjust to... all of this. Maybe someday, but not today."

Pinkie grinned softly. "Ok, Name Rater. I can wait."

"Thank you, Pinkie. Give my congratulations to Scootaloo for me."

"Will do!" she exclaimed, saluting.

Shaking his head, Name Rater pushed past the throng of bodies and trotted out of Sugarcube Corner, finally making his way back to his house.

No, not my house, he thought. My home.

He closed the door behind him with a grin on his face.

Name Rater will return in...

Antithesis [Tragedy] [Dark]

This is the tale of a mare who has yet to realize her destiny.
Only Name Rater can see what fate has in store for her, and the truth terrifies him.
Now, he must confide with those more wise than he, in hope that together they can make the right decision.
For it is certain that if she lives... Equestria is doomed.