Table of Contents
"Are you sure it's not too much trouble, Mrs. Cake?"
"Of course not, Twilight," the older earth pony said. "Just keep an eye out for Pinkie Pie, she's been acting a bit strange."
The unicorn glanced at her, startled.
"…er," she finished.
Mollified, Twilight turned to the books she'd laid out on the table. Rarity had dropped off the Crusaders at the library without any warning, and the fillies had immediately proceeded to turn the place upside down. It was all she could do to get away without tripping over one of them. So she had taken refuge at Sugarcube Corner. Sure, here she had to deal with Pinkie Pie, but at least there was only one of her.
She felt a little guilty for leaving Spike alone with them. She thought for a moment, then decided to bring him some rubies as an apology.
She opened the book: Alternate Dimensions: Theory and Practice. She only got as far as the second page when a pair of blue eyes suddenly appeared in front of her own.
"Hi Twilight! Guess what?"
"What?!" Twilight said.
"I just heard Lyra saying that Aloe told her that Blues overheard the mayor saying there were three new houses being built in Ponyville!"
Twilight struggled to keep up. "Huh?"
Pinkie didn't seem to hear her. "Do you know what that means?"
"It means that there're new ponies moving into Ponyville!"
Twilight blinked. "Really?"
"Yup! Oh, I wonder if it's a colt or a filly? I wonder what she's like, will she be friendly, is she an earth pony like me or a unicorn like you or maybe--"
"Er, shouldn't you be planning the party?"
"--and then we can--what? No, silly. I have to meet them first. How weird would it be to throw a party for somepony you didn't even know?"
"Um," Twilight said, pulling herself back up to table, "Isn't that what you do all the time?"
Pinkie giggled. "I didn't say it would be weird for me, Twilight."
Twilight considered that. "That's an excellent point, Pinkie. Why don't you keep a lookout for them?"
"Great idea! You stay here in case they come in for a snack!" With that, the pink party pony hopped away, babbling about Celestia-knows-what. Probably parties.
"Finally," she sighed, levitating the book in front of her. "Maybe now I can get some work done."
"Don't you work at the library?"
Twilight felt her eye twitch. Staying behind the book, she said, "Yes. Yes I do, Mr.…?"
"Flash. Morphic Flash, master of dimensions. Sorry to bother you reading, but I can't help but notice that book you're reading…"
Twilight lowered the book to see a gangly white unicorn stallion with a scruffy blonde mane. He looked somewhat taller than her, but it was all leg. He had a gold compass rose as a cutie mark.
"Yes? What about it?"
"It's utter crock."
Twilight slammed the book closed. "What?!"
"It bears little to no resemblance to the truth whatsoever."
"It's a widely regarded text written by a renowned expert!"
"Who doesn't know what he's talking about. It's much easier to come up with complicated falsehoods than simple truths. In all Equestria, the only two ponies who know anything about the true nature of Reality are Celestia and myself. And I know it better."
Twilight gawked at him. Whatever she was about to say, though, was lost as a thought struck her. "Oh. Wait. Are you the new pony in town?"
"Me?" he asked, surprised. "Technically. Of the three ponies moving here, no, I'm not one of them. I'm just vacationing here."
"Weren't you listening? Pinkie said there were three houses being built. Why would anyone build three houses for one pony?"
Twilight had nothing to say to that.
The colt's head swung towards the door. "Incoming. Exit, stage… here!"
There was a flash, and suddenly the colt was gone. It felt like a teleport spell, only… not. Twilight couldn't explain it.
Shaking her head, she looked at the door. A very tall unicorn stallion with a dark grey coat and a black mane with a dull gold streak through it was dragging himself through the door. His eyes were half-closed and unfocused. He wore a dark gold, pinstriped vest. His mane and tail were in such a tangled bird's-nest it would probably have given Rarity a heart attack. The stallion sat himself at a table in the far corner of the room and stared at the wall, mouth moving silently for a moment before he gritted his teeth and banged his head on the table.
Twilight winced on his behalf. She looked around. The Cakes were somewhere in the back, and she was the only other customer. It was a little late, after all.
Twilight trotted over to the stallion's table, noting that his cutie mark was a violet quill.
"Are you alright sir?"
The pony's eyes shot open. They were a dull yellow. He looked around wildly for a moment before focusing on her. "What ho? A foe?!"
"What? N-No! I just asked if you were alright!"
He calmed down, slightly. "Ah, yes. Let me redress. No, I'm not fine, in fact I am bad."
Twilight paused at his strange speech patterns. "Anything you'd like to talk about?"
He smiled for a moment. "I suppose a friend might make me glad."
Twilight gathered her books, sighing as she put them in her saddlebags; so much for reading.
The stallion eyed the books warily. "Methinks an avid reader you be; any good stories you've read recently?"
Twilight frowned as she ran this through her head. "Oh, no, I don't read much fiction."
He grunted, looking disappointed.
Twilight took advantage of the moment of silence to take a look at him. He was very, very tall; at least head and shoulders above Big Macintosh, though this pony wasn't nearly as muscular. He looked like he might have been once, but had let himself go for a bit. His horn, Twilight noticed, was at least twice as long as hers. It was also very sharp, judging from the cork stuck on the end of it.
He noticed her gaze. "Yes, it is needed. You see, last time I went without this cork, I walked into a wall. It got stuck, you see, just bad luck for me. Don't want stab anyone, after all."
Twilight was beginning to understand that he was speaking in rhyme. It surprised her, though it wasn’t too odd. Zecora always spoke in couplets, after all.
"Well, let me introduce myself. I'm Twilight Sparkle. Who're you?"
The stallion's eyes flew wide open in horror. "I deserve the tanner for such lapse in manner! Pinto Meter is my name." He smiled at Twilight's gasp. "Ah. Perhaps you know it? I'm a poet, and one of great acclaim."
Twilight fumbled with the clasp on her bag before remembering her powers, then yanked out a thick, hardback book with the title: They're All Mad. She looked at the picture on the book jacket. She looked at her companion. There were differences, to be sure. The pony on the cover was much more well-groomed and looked friendly, if not cheerful, but they were very clearly the same pony.
"You… you…" The name on the spine read: Beck P. Meter.
"I thought you didn't read much fiction. Perhaps you wish to change your diction?"
"But this says you live in Canterlot! You're one of my favorite authors, what are you doing here?"
Beck sighed, eyeing his book with sorrow with a look full of bitterness. "Wallowing in my own self-pity. I simply had to get away from the city."
Beck looked her in the eye for the first time. He had dark bags under his eyes. "If an answer, miss, is what you crave, then I won't tell you no. However, first, please let us start; at the beginning of the show."
His horn glowed, and the restaurant changed to a dark, Victorian-style bedroom.
"What is this?" Twilight asked, startled.
"A simple illusion spell. I thought that it would help me tell."
The writer took a deep breath, steeling himself. "Twas a dark and stormy night, the hailstones all a'clatter. The thunder set the beasts afright, the rain on rooftops pattered. And as I slept with curtains drawn, the storm snuck in my dreams, and transformed scattered visions to a most horrific scene. Ursa Majors, manticores, screams that pierced the night; had such profound effect on me, I woke in purest fright.
I calmed myself, 'twas just a dream, though I knew I'd not had worse. Imagination struck a chord, and so began my curse."
The scene around them changed to follow the story. Twilight watched, rapt.
"I wrote down all I could recall, embellished here and there. Add a hero, happy ending; then? A tale beyond compare!"
Beck stood on his hind legs, spreading his hooves in a grand sweeping motion as he banished the illusion.
"Come dawn I rushed to show my friends, who marveled at my work." He sat back down, his eyes now bright with memory. "The book was shown to publishers--"
He paused, then frowned. Lowering his voice, he said, "Wherefore does the pink one lurk?" Seeing Twilight's confusion, he pointed behind her.
Pinkie Pie was standing right behind her. "You found him!"
Twilight jumped. "Pinkie! How long have you been there?"
"Oh, since the beginning! Keep going!"
Twilight grinned despite herself and turned to Beck. "Sorry. It's just Pinkie Pie. You'll get used to it, trust me."
Beck's mouth twitched at the corners. "Oh yes; I see, I guess. Silly me."
"As you were saying, Mister Meter?"
Beck cleared his throat. "My book was printed and spread far and wide, and I felt a strange kind of warmth deep inside. That was the day I stopped being blank. I got this here mark that you see on my flank. I wrote other stories and poems galore, and signed ponies' copies right there in the store. I loved all their praise, and sometimes critique, for how to improve if the critics don't speak? And now I am famous, and frankly quite rich; back home I was mobbed every day. It's all been quite fun; now my history's done, so I'll tell why I'm running away."
Pinkie frowned. "Running away?"
"He's just trying to keep up the rhyme, Pinkie."
Beck blinked. "Rhyme?"
Twilight tilted her head. "Yeah, you know--"
"I never rhyme. I flub it almost every time."
The two fillies stared at him, incredulous. "…Oookay."
"Is something wrong? Or may I go on?"
"*ahem* Six months ago, oh sorrow and woe! Oh why won't it go away!" he wailed. "From day into night, I try all my might; but it seems that it's here to stay!"
"What? What is it?"
"For the very first time in my flawless career, I've encountered that thing which all writers fear!" He took a breath. "My imagination's stuck; the dreaded writer's block has struck!"
Twilight blinked. "Writer's block? That's it?"
"Foal! You do not understand! Six-- SIX months I've not written a word, because of Fate's cruel hand! Writing is my life, the only reason I live. Without my muse, my soul is lost; oh, what I wouldn't give…"
The poet banged his head on the table.
Pinkie frowned disapprovingly at her friend. "Yeah, Twilight. What would you do if you couldn't use your magic anymore?"
Twilight considered this, but before she could ponder it much Beck suddenly raised his head and stood as though nothing had happened.
"It is getting late, I fear, and I wish to see my new home. My first night in Ponyville; I hope the building's done."
Twilight looked outside and gasped. "Spike! Oh no, I left him with the Crusaders! I didn't mean to be gone so long." She rose and gathered her things. "It's been a pleasure meeting you, Mister Meter, I hope you get to feeling better, see you round!"
She galloped out, Pinkie shaking her head. The earth pony brightened. "Oh yeah! I have to get your party ready!"
Beck raised an eyebrow, then grunted and walked outside, dragging his hooves.
He started as he walked into the night. There was a rustle of flapping wings, and then a weight landed on his back. He turned his head. There was a large black bird perched on his back.
Beck smiled. "Ah. Quill, my loyal friend; has our home's construction come to an end?"
The raven rolled his eyes. "Yeah, it's done. The Pegasus says he'll come back and finish up tomorrow, but he's got all the essentials done."
"Wonderful, great. Now let's see this house; it's getting late."
The bird groaned at the rhyme.
Their dark colors making them almost invisible in the night, the two moved slowly through the night.
Beck approached the wrought iron gate behind the boutique with appraising eyes. A black pegasus touched down beside him.
"What do you think?" the pegasus asked.
Beck looked past the gate. It was a three-story house, not including attic and basement, with Victorian and gothic elements. The lawn guarded by the metal fence had been torn up, leaving bare dirt, and a dark cobblestone path led up to the front porch. A dead tree stood off to the left. The house itself was colored gray and dark brown, and the roof tiles were midnight blue. Under the moonlight, it looked very much like a haunted house, minus the broken windows and neglect.
Beck smiled. "What wonderful work, a wonderful home! You're a gifted craftsman, Monochrome."
Quill squawked from his perch. "Yeah, nice work, kid. You'd never know it was brand new. Looks like it's been here forever!"
Monochrome smirked, his white mane glowing in the moonlight. "Thanks, brony. Woulda done more, but I had to move all your stuff in, wire the lights, not to mention the other house I had to build…"
Beck raised an eyebrow and walked through the gate. Quill's beak hung open.
"Another house?! How in Poe's name did you build two houses, electrical wiring, landscaping, everything, from the ground up in one day?!"
The pegasus frowned. "Let's see… well, you commissioned me six days ago… started 'round midnight…had lunch and dinner breaks on-site, and some locals helped for a while… then I got asked to build somepony else's house, I did that this morning and it was only a tiny, four-room thing, so…" He shrugged. “Yesterday, two days ago?
The raven hopped to the ground as his master trotted up to the door. "So you’ve barely slept?! Aren't you tired?"
Monochrome paused, deep in thought as though he'd been given a deep philosophical question. "…yyyyes… now that you mention it, I guess I could sleep."
"Crow's feet! Thanks for the work and all, but you need to rest! Go! Off with you!"
Monochrome blinked, then nodded. "I'll be back to finish up tomorrow--"
He caught the bird's eye.
"--around noon," he amended. He turned and got a running start, then lifted off with a massive flap of his wings.
Monochrome was mildly annoyed with himself; he'd been so busy with the poet's house, he'd forgotten to build his own.
He landed on a low-lying cloud, a leftover from a recent rain shower. He tested it with a few hops. Stratus. Ideal. Gears started turning, and he pushed his find towards the edge of Ponyville so he didn't accidentally rain on anypony. Thank Luna it was a full moon, or he wouldn't have been able to see what he was doing.
Monochrome stopped near another cloud-house, sat down on his sizeable stratus, and started sculpting.
When the princess raised the sun the next morning, there were three new houses in Ponyville.
A forbidding, gothic mansion sat behind the Carousel Boutique, where a week before had been an empty patch of grass. A draconic weathercock sat on the highest roof, twisting and creaking in the meager wind.
A small, bamboo hut with a grass roof sits near the edge of Everfree Forest, within sight of Fluttershy's cabin. The hut's occupant, an early riser, watched the sunrise for a moment, then returned to furnishing his newfound acre of land to with a beautiful garden. His yard was already beautiful, and he was only halfway done. At his feet, a potted flytrap twists to face the sun, a little too fast for a plant.
A storm cloud, paling next to the grand cloud castle next door, floated just outside town. The tiny, single-room cube had a window in the center of each of its walls, with the fourth holding the doorway. Not a door, just the hole. A single, white cloud in the exact center of the room was clearly a bed, and the only furniture. A black pegasus with a white and silver-streaked, windswept mane had gotten as far as the template house before looking out the window at the local weather-pony's house and giving up. He collapsed onto the bed, exhausted.
"Great. Wonderful. How can I possibly compete with that?"
He tried to get up, but the cloud was so soft…
His Spartan little home filled with gentle snoring.
Lemon Lime woke suddenly. Something was brushing his face. He grunted, and a weight lifted off his chest so he could get up. Sitting up, Lemon yawned and rubbed his eyes. Looking outside the window, the sun had yet to rise, but it was light enough to see. He swung himself off the bed, nearly knocking over a flowerpot with a flytrap in it. There was an angry, strangled noise.
"Sorry, Snap," he said blearily. He ran a comb carelessly through his mane, blonde with a forest-green streak through it, then plopped on a straw hat. He paused briefly to wonder how he'd held the comb when he had hooves. Almost immediately the comb fell from his hoof to the carpet.
He stared at it for a second before shaking his head and trotting outside, pausing to slip on a brown vest with pockets all over it. His wagon was still piled with flowers and vegetables, awaiting transfer to healthy soil.
Lemon took a moment to observe his new lawn. A breeze blew through his green coat, and he smiled. That pegasus that built his house had even taken time to pull up the weeds, though only time would tell if he'd done it right.
Grabbing a trowel (and taking care not to question it), he started with the pair of trees he'd brought with him: one bore lemons, the other bore limes. Lemon smailed and glanced at his cutie mark: a whole lime over a lemon slice.
The plant from his room appeared in the doorway, then hopped towards him with a thunk, thunk, thunk as the clay pot struck the ground, and its occupant grabbed the trowel, shoveling dirt into the hole while the earth pony held the tree upright.
"Thank you, Snaptrap."
The flytrap growled a response. It had a pair of leaves on its stem, about halfway between the soil and the head. The leaves each had four sharp points, arranged so as to suggest and even function as fingers and a thumb.
The plant flashed him a thorns-up as they moved on to the next tree.
The trees taken care of, Snaptrap moved out of the way, assuming the absolute, unnerving stillness that can only be achieved by something that is both plant and a predator.
Lemon pushed his hat back and moved on to the vegetables, burying the carrots and potatoes. As he reached the last carrot, he paused, finding it half-eaten.
Green eyes narrowed, he pushed back the foliage on the wagon to find a white rabbit sitting in his azaleas, devouring the flowers. The rabbit eyed him with a look that contained equal parts smugness and contempt, then took an extra-large bite, chewing with exaggerated slowness. The message was obvious: Yeah, I'm eating your flowers. What are you going to do about it?
Lemon stared levelly at the rabbit for a moment before glancing to the side and smirking. He reached into the depths of the wagon. The rabbit tensed, then watched confusedly as, instead of trying to pick him up, the gardener instead lifted one of six beautiful red flowers in full bloom. The petals were a vibrant mix of reds and oranges; even the stem and leaves were a vivid crimson.
The rabbit watched warily. Lemon put on a look of relief. "You should be glad you didn't try and eat these." Lemon carefully took a single petal between his teeth and yanked, hastily distancing himself.
The flower burst into flames, quickly disintegrating until nothing remained. Nothing except a hoofful of ash-gray seeds, sitting in soot.
"Those are Pyroses. Also known as Red Phoenixes. Quite the natural defense, eh?"
The rabbit stared, open-mouthed, and, after a panicked look at the remaining Pyroses, hastily extracted himself from the cart and sprinted towards the cozy-looking cottage down the road.
Lemon felt guilty for scaring the poor creature, but at least it would know better than to munch on his garden again.
Lemon and Snaptrap turned as the sun rose, the first shaft of light appearing over the horizon. There was a rustle as some of the more magical plants turned to face the sunlight, a little faster than a plant should reasonably be able to move. And Lemon, for the first time in years, felt himself relax.
It was well past noon when Lemon finished. He took a moment to admire his garden. There were two large plots, one filled with regular plants, a short fence cutting it in half to separate the flowers and the produce. The other plot held plants of a more magical nature. There were also a few much smaller plots set aside for the more dangerous plants that shouldn't be kept near the others.
"Ooh, what's this?" a very soft voice mused behind him.
"Don't touch that," Lemon said, his voice raised. He reached into his saddlebags and pulled out a fish, then suddenly whipped about and threw it at the voice's owner.
The new pony leaped back with an "Eep!" as the flower she'd been observing snapped the fish out of the air. It stood in one of the special plots, with three more of its kind: large, thick green stems covered in thorns, topped by big blue and purple flower buds nearly half the size of a pony.
The flowers all stirred into motion, fighting over the scrap of meat with furious snarls.
Lemon sighed in relief, getting a look at the stranger. A yellow pegasus mare with a flowing pink mane. She was staring at the flowers, terrified.
Lemon chuckled humorously, poking her. "Hey. You should be more careful. Snapdragons are very tempermental."
She jumped, finally facing him. "Is…is that what th-those are?" Her voice was so quiet he had to strain to hear it.
The two stared at each other for what seemed an uncomfortably long time. Lemon couldn't think of anything else to say, and she seemed nervous. Well, welcome to the club, sister.
Lemon cleared his throat. "Miss? Are you alright?"
She nodded, lowering her gaze.
Lemon frowned. He didn't like dealing with others, and when he did he usually let them supply most of the conversation. This was getting frustrating.
"Any particular reason you're here, Miss…?" he asked, drawing out the last word.
"Oh, um. I just wanted to, um… welcome you to Ponyville. I-I mean, we're neighbors now, so…" she stammered, shuffling her hooves. "I'm F-Fluttershy. Pleased to meet you. I mean, if you--"
Lemon cut her off by offering a hoof. "Lemony Lyman. I'm from Manehattan. Everypony calls me Lemon Lime." When they bother to talk to me at all, he added under his breath. He glanced at the cottage down the road. "That your house?"
Lemony hesitated. "Nice place." A thought struck him. "Did you see a rabbit go by your home earlier?"
He nodded. "Yeah. I scared the poor guy off a few hours ago, and I was just, you know… guilty."
Fluttershy's eyes widened. "So you're why Angel was so frightened?"
Lemony frowned. "Angel?"
She picked herself up and gave him a stern look. "My little Angel Bunny. He came through the door and wouldn't come out from under the sofa!"
Lemony felt a bead of sweat roll down his neck. He lowered his hat over his eyes. "Well, he was munching my flowers. You saw just now how dangerous that can be, so I just gave him a--" He faltered under her glare. "--demonstration."
She held her gaze for a few more moments, then seemed to catch herself and looked away, still slightly upset. "Well, thank you, but I still don't--"
A strangled growl cut her off. She jumped and looked side-to-side. She yelped as something pricked her side, making her look down.
Snaptrap was growling at her, thorns bared like claws, his not-at-all-plantlike teeth showing in an angry snarl.
Fluttershy quickly backed up. "W-what is that?"
Lemony scowled and tipped the potted plant over. "Bad Snaptrap! No scaring guests!"
The plant rasped indignantly, pointing at him and then at her.
"Just because I don't like company doesn't mean I want you chasing them off," the green pony snapped.
Snaptrap warbled a long string of guttural growls, which slowly degenerated into whining.
When he was done, Lemony stared at him, blushing slightly. He glanced at the Pegasus, who was watching them in utter bewilderment. He leaned down and whispered at the flytrap. "Well, she is pretty… pretty," he managed, tripping over the words, "but I only just met her and we didn't exactly hit it off well."
Dear Celestia, why am I talking to a plant about this?!
Fluttershy started backing down the road. "M-maybe I should just go. I mean, you didn't mean any harm, after all, and, well…"
Lemony sighed. "Yeah, you should probably go. I'm still getting sorted." He brightened. "Still, let me get you something for your trouble." He nodded at Snaptrap, who grumbled and hopped back into the house.
Lemony trotted into his vegetable garden and pulled a few carrots out of the ground. There were nearly ready to harvest anyway. Snaptrap hopped back out carrying a picnic basket. Lemony tossed the carrots into the basket along with a few other veggies and handed it to Fluttershy.
"Here, take this. Give those carrots to--" C'mon, what was the name… "--Angel and tell him I'm sorry, okay?"
Fluttershy hesitated, then smiled and took the basket. "Alright. Sorry to bother you." She turned and walked back home.
Lemony watched her go with a smile, then frowned. Why had she apologized?
Monochrome opened his eyes and rose like a lever. He stretched his wings with a creak. No matter what position he went to bed in, he always wound up on his back. Not good for the wings, that.
The pegasus stretched briefly and trotted outside his little home and observed. The stratus clouds gave him a pleasant, sizeable yard. A circle, his house at the center, and a radius of… something. Too early for architectural calculations.
Monochrome jogged along the edge of his little cloud. Four laps around equaled a mile, he figured.
He ran several more laps before finally settling down and looking at his home.
It was a box. A black box with a door in one wall and a window in each of the others. Utterly Spartan.
He liked it. It had a sort of charm.
A slight breeze through his mane made him frown. The wind was so calm here, nothing like back home. He glanced at his flank with a sliver of pride breaking through his stoic expression.
His cutie mark was a twisting, grey tornado. It symbolized his skill at reading the winds. A pegasus might control clouds, precipitation, and even lightning to a certain degree, but the wind was still a variable. Yeah, a fast enough flier could stir up a breeze, to be sure, but the gusts and gales that flowed through the air were still left to their own devices. And Monochrome Gale was a master at seeing where those slipstreams went, and more importantly, where they were going next.
The wind picked up slightly. Monochrome closed his eyes and lost himself in the draft.
A feeling of warmth jolted him out of his reverie. Peeking upwards, he saw from the sun that it was a little past noon.
"Oh yeah," he said out loud, "the writer's home. I should finish."
With that he leaped off his yard and glided off. He was disappointed by the meager breeze.
Rarity had spent the better part of the morning in a bad mood. The air was rather humid today, and her hair simply refused to stay put.
And of course the dreadful manor that sprung up next door clashed awfully with her own boutique.
She glanced out the window in time to see a black pony fiddling with some stones in the manor's yard.
She debated briefly-- she was in the middle of a dress, but then again it was only a personal project; she had just finished off a recent order and had no truly pressing tasks to deal with at the moment…
Rarity put on her best smile and a filled her saddlebags with a few treats and leftovers. Time to greet the neighbors.
Monochrome was standing in front of a large slab of granite. Sitting, actually, while he held some plans in his front hooves.
"Pardon me," a voice behind him asked, "are you the owner of this…er, lovely home?"
"No," he said flatly.
"Oh. Well, do you know if he or she is in?"
"Well, I must ask what you're doing on this unsightly plot then."
Unsightly? Monochrome turned and faced the speaker. She was a white unicorn with curly violet hair possessed of a magnificent sheen. She had a trio of diamonds as her cutie mark.
Monochrome raised an eyebrow. "I'm only building it to the guy's orders." His voice carried only the slightest hint of warning.
Rarity realized her mistake and backtracked. "Oh! I'm terribly sorry, sir! I didn't know you were this lovely home's architect! A thousand apologies!"
Monochrome blinked. "You're a unicorn."
"I mean, if I'd known you--what?"
"Unicorn. Magic and stuff."
"Yes…?" she said, bewildered by the change in topic.
"Can you give me hoof? I need a witty epitaph for these gag tombstones. Here, tell me what you think." He hoofed her a slip of paper and pointed at the largest slab.
Rarity read the slip's message and gagged. "This is just awful!"
Monochrome shrugged. "Dark humor. Guy's a horror writer, thought he'd get a kick out of it."
Rarity grimaced, but didn’t object as he set about carving the message:
He got a job at a glue factory.
Monochrome frowned. "Yeah, I suppose it's in poor taste, but hey. Takes all kinds, right?"
As Rarity set about with the other two stones, Monochrome busied himself with tying a hangman's noose onto one of the dead tree's overhanging branches. As an afterthought, he loosened it so anypony tempted to try it would just pull the knot untied.
Rarity finished with the last epitaph, a look of distaste painting her features. Her eyes widened at a sudden realization. "Oh my! I do believe I've neglected to introduce myself." She drew herself up. "I, good sir, am Rarity, owner of the Carousel Boutique, where everything is chic, unique, and magnifique!"
Monochrome looked down from the manor's weathercock. "Monochrome Gale, former resident of Stormburgh. Pleasure to meet you." He flashed a genuine smile before returning his attention to the roof.
"Whatever are you looking at, Mister Gale?"
"Please, just Monochrome." Something clicked. "Wait. You said you owned a boutique?"
"So you're a pony who understands style."
Rarity assumed a regal pose. "I like to think so."
Monochrome spread his arms to indicate the whole mansion. "Does it look to you like something's… off?"
Rarity huffed. "I should say so. For one thing, this whole thing clashes just awfully with the surrounding buildings, not to mention all those sharp angles--"
Monochrome cut her off with a wave of his hoof. "No no no, you're not getting me. I'm not concerned with fashion, I'm concerned with style. The two go together but they're not the same thing. Look, look…" He flew up and perched on the roof over the porch. "This guy writes horror stories and I can guarantee, if you turned his house inside out it wouldn't look any different. Seriously, dude has some creepy knick-knacks. No, I mean this place is supposed to look spooky and haunted, 'cause that's the guy's whole shtick. But something's just… missing."
Rarity frowned, scanning the place once more. "Well… if dark and scary's what you want, I suppose it's a bit too bright--"
Immediately Monochrome shot off, followed seconds later by a gale that threatened Rarity's hair.
Rarity blinked. "Well… well." That seemed to cover it.
A creak distracted her. The front door opened, revealing a tired-looking grey unicorn with a tangled mane and a yellow vest. His cutie mark was a midnight-purple writing quill.
Rarity suddenly remembered what brought her here and trotted up to the stallion, her cheery air once more intact.
"Why hello! I am Rarity, your next-door neighbor. I'd like to welcome you to Ponyville--oh my."
He was simply enormous. The colt was slouching rather severely, and she still had to crane her neck to see his eyes!
He chuckled at her. "And a fine day to you as well; what's that in your bags I smell?" He straightened, drawing himself up to something approaching his full height. "Let me name me; I am Beck. I apologize if I look like a wreck."
Beck trotted fully outside, closing the door behind him and sitting on his stoop.
Now that he was somewhat level with her, Rarity gasped at the state of his mane. "You poor dear! When was the last time you combed?"
There was a flutter, and a mass of feathers perched on the porch rail. "Combed? Ha!" The bird croaked. "It's all I can do to get him to bathe these days!"
Rarity blinked again. "And you are?"
The bird stood up on his perch and bowed, one wing extended and the other on his chest. "Quill, milady. Mr. Pinto Meter's companion." He shot a glance at the tall, skinny stallion. "I keep him out of trouble."
Beck snorted. "Lies and slander, you gothic gander!"
"Take that back, you overgrown inkblot! Some of the most pretentious birds I've ever met were geese!"
"Ha! And again, ha! You twit--"
"Don't take that tone of voice with me, you hack!"
Beck's dull eyes flared with anger. "Why you little piece of--"
Rarity stepped away from the argument. First the pegasus, and now this?
There was another sudden gale. Speak of the devil…
Monochrome was arranging dark clouds just a few feet over the weathervane, setting them spinning over the estate. The effect was a shadow cast over the whole house. Monochrome landed next to her.
"Better?" he asked, slightly out of breath.
Glad for the distraction, Rarity immediately slipped into designer-mode as she backed up to the gate and scanned the premises. After a moment she smiled. "Not my cup of tea, I admit, but you've done a sterling job here, Monochrome.”
The architect smiled. "Thanks, miss." He noticed the mansion's feuding residents. "Yo, guys! Whattaya think?"
The two instantly broke away from their senseless argument and looked around. Beck stared at the hanging tree perhaps a second too long, then laughed out loud at the tombstones.
Monochrome nudged the dressmaker. "Takes all kinds," he whispered.
Rarity stifled a grin, despite herself.
Finally the poet smiled. "Excellent work, young Monochrome! As I said before, it's a wonderful home!"
Monochrome's grin fell. "Dude, stop calling me 'young.' You're only a year or two older than me."
Beck's eye twitched at this comment, and for a moment, there seemed to be some sort of internal struggle going on. After that moment, though, his eyes resumed their dull stare and he nodded. "Of course, won't happen again, silly me. He turned to Rarity. "What were you saying, Miss Rarity?"
"Uh… Oh yes! Sorry, but so many… distractions, yes. Hold on." She reached inside her saddlebags with her magic and drew out a plate of assorted sweets. "These are a few takeaways from one of Pinkie Pie's parties."
"Pinkie Pie?" Beck mused. "I remember that name. Is she the one with the curly pink mane?"
Rarity beamed. "Ah, so you've already met. Here, you have some too," she said to the pegasus, who gladly took a cookie. "Fair warning: Pinkie Pie throws a party for every new pony she meets, so the two of you should expect one very soon."
Beck lifted a chocolate cupcake with his magic and gazed at it forlornly. Quill flapped over and perched on his back.
"Is something wrong, Mister Meter?" Rarity asked.
"No," the poet answered distantly. "It's just… my sister used to love these." Quill raised a comforting wing and laid it on is master's shoulder.
Monochrome looked away.
"Well why not invite her over? Pinkie Pie is always happy to share and--"
Quill silenced her with a look, pointed a wing at the tombstones in the yard.
Rarity raised a hoof to her mouth. "…Oh."
An uncomfortable silence reigned as Beck peeled the wrapper off and ate the confection.
As he finished, Rarity coughed. "Well!" she said with a suspicious amount of cheerfulness. "If neither of you gentlecolts are busy, how would you like me to show you around town?"
Monochrome shrugged. "Sure."
Rarity beamed. "Marvelous! Follow me!"
She spun around and immediately started narrating. "First, since we're right next door and all, let me show you my boutique! Mister Meter, you don't mind if I tend to that mane of yours, do you? It has such a lovely luster to it, and that gold streak adds just the right splash of color. But that vest of yours is simply atrocious. It clashes with your eyes in the worst possible way! And Monochrome, I bet you'd look simply dashing in a nice white suit, don't you agree?"
Quill croaked a laugh at the colts' faces.
"And of course I can come up with something for you too, Quill. Mister Meter, he'd look nice with a red velvet fez, don't you think?"
Quill stopped laughing.
Monochrome was mildly impressed with the poet. He'd stayed completely still after Rarity put him on her little stage and took measurements. He hadn't reacted beyond a small smirk when she started fixing his mane, breaking two combs in the process. Not only was his hair tangled, it was thick.
And now the writer's eyelids had drooped, and he'd fallen asleep standing up.
Rarity had been slightly irked at this, but he wasn't fidgeting at least.
She had a large stepladder out. It was needed to get a proper fitting. Beck was tall. And while he looked thin at a glance, it turned out that was only in proportion to his size. He wasn't buff, but he wasn't flabby either.
"So, Monochrome," Rarity said, breaking the silence. "Where did you say you were from?"
Monochrome focused his gaze on her. "Stormburgh."
"I don't believe I've heard of that place."
"Can't say I'm surprised, miss. It's way out on the plains. Only place anywhere near it is Appleloosa, and it's only been around for a few months."
Rarity grunted as she untied the last knot in Beck's tail with her magic. She allowed herself a smile of victory before taking up another comb and returning to his hair.
"Still, I've never heard of it. I'm always paying attention to recent events, so I just think it's odd."
Monochrome stood and trotted over to stand by the stepladder. "Maybe so, but you're a dressmaker. A fashionista."
"Up in Stormburgh? We don't care about fashion. None of us. There's no point."
Rarity gasped. "No point is fashion?" she exclaimed.
Beck woke with a start. "What? Who? Where am I?" He blinked. "Did I fall asleep?"
"Sorry to wake you, sir," Rarity said. "Please, keep holding still."
Beck froze up again. "I'm sorry awake I couldn't keep. I'll hold still, do what you will."
"Thank you. What do you mean 'no point?'" she asked.
Monochrome shrugged. "Don't take it the wrong way. You gotta understand, Stormburgh is a wild place to live. If Cloudsdale makes the weather, Stormburgh makes disasters. Tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning bolts--" He hesitated. "--wildfires."
Rarity noticed, but said nothing.
Monochrome continued. "The process's main byproduct is wind, and lots of it. You can't step outside without a fifty-mile-per-hour gale trying to bowl you over. If you live in the cloud houses, you can't step inside without fifty-mile-per-hour winds blowing every which way. We don't wear accessories or what have you because they'd just be blown away. Most of us don't even bother with our mane because it's a mess the second you're outside. There's no point in even trying."
Rarity had paused in her styling to listen, her jaw hanging open in shock. Monochrome continued to give her a completely emotionless stare. "My. You--"
Quill flew in from the other room, squawking. "Bad kitty! Bad bad bad!" Rarity's cat Opal was hanging from his talons, swiping at the raven with her own claws while the bird desperately tried to dislodge her. The two knocked over several mannequins and materials in their flight.
Rarity jumped down from her ladder and chased after them. "Opal! Get down this instant! Let him go! Opal, you--Ah!" she shrieked, the cat swiping at her as she passed.
Beck snorted, his horn glowing gold as the two animals froze in midair, an identical aura surrounding them. The stallion glared at the cat.
"Extricate thy claws, feline!" he thundered. "On this bird you shall not dine!"
The cat immediately let go and fell to the floor, sprinting away.
Quill croaked as the magic released him and flapped to regain his balance. "She was trying to eat me?" he said in disbelief. "We're the same size! Is she stupid?"
Rarity patted her mane down where a few hairs had come loose. She sighed. "That cat is going to be the death of me one of these days." She brightened as Beck's aura surrounded the scattered objects, returning them to their places. "Let's continue, shall we?"
After about half an hour, Rarity had gotten measurements from both colts and even the bird. Beck's mane had been properly brushed, and pulled back into a ponytail.
Beck inspected the change in a mirror. He had to admit, it looked much better. "Yes, I think that this will work." He glanced up. "Er, did you do something with my cork?"
"Why of course, darling. I simply couldn't let you go around with that unsightly thing on your horn, after all. Are you sure you won't let me get rid of that horrible vest? Pinstripes look good on you, to be sure, but that awful yellow…"
Beck glanced at the garment on his chest. "I suppose it is a bit…off, but I assure you it once looked quite posh. Perhaps…" He straightened and looked at the bird on his back. "Quill, might you know when this coat was last washed?"
Quill gave him a reproachful look. "Several months, Pinto." He grimaced at the unicorn's look of shock. "You've really let things go, you know."
Beck frowned and stared out the window. "Hmm… I have, haven't I…?"
Lemon Lime leaned against his lemon tree, relaxing at last. The Snapdragons were fed, the Pyroses had been set on fire, and the more mundane plants had been watered. Now what?
The green pony jumped to his hooves and plucked a few lemons before trotting inside.
Thunk, thunk, thunk…
Snaptrap peeked out from behind a curious blue cactus with flimsy spines as the gardener disappeared inside. The potted plant rubbed his leaves together with a snicker, his maw stretched into a most unplantlike grin.
He hopped down the road to the quaint little cottage surrounded by animal shelters of all shapes and sizes, from chicken coops to dens to birdfeeders and everything in between. A faint rustle of feathers led the flytrap around back to the chicken enclosure, where his target was feeding the residents, a rabbit lying on her back.
Snaptrap recognized that rabbit.
Snap eased open the fence and snuck inside. The chickens were completely focused on the feed, the rabbit's eyes were closed, and the pegasus had her back to him.
The plant eyed the seeds the chickens were eating with distaste. Snaptrap didn't have a 'avenging fallen brothers' mindset towards other plants, or anything like that. He was a flytrap, a predator, and so he had no anger whatsoever towards the many plant-eating animals in the world. Besides, most plants didn't even begin to approach sentience. They were just plants.
But that rabbit… Snaptrap was, despite everything else, incredibly loyal, and that blasted rabbit had the gall to go and eat Lemony's flowers. Vegetarianism was one thing, but theft and spite were inexcusable.
Snaptrap slid his way closer, getting low and pulling himself along the ground so as not to make any noise. As he got closer, however, the houseplant started to hear something over the clucking.
Snap froze as the pegasus's humming reached his… whatever he had instead of ears. Her voice was beautiful.
The flytrap straightened and started swaying to the music as he fell into a trance, because plants love music. Having the intelligence to actually appreciate it only strengthened its effect.
And such was the scene for the next few minutes, when Fluttershy coaxed the hens back into the coop and sat down with a contented sigh. Angel fell off the pony’s back with a stumble, and normally he would have gotten angry. However, the bunny was still a bit shaken from that morning. Exploding flowers… he shuddered.
Then he noticed Snaptrap, still in a daze from the song.
With a squeak, Angel backed into Fluttershy, who jumped and swung around.
"Oh! …Oh Angel! It's you! Hmm?" she asked, bewildered by the animal's frantic gestures. "Is something wrong?"
With an exasperated sigh, the rabbit grabbed her by the cheeks and twisted her head so it was facing the plant.
Just as Lemony had finished juicing the lemons, somepony knocked at the door. He groaned.
He stomped into the main room, grumbling. "I just moved in for Luna's sake, can't a guy get any peace? What's with all these ponies trying to be friendly? I've had it up to here with--"
He threw the door open and smiled manically at the offending party. His smile fell into something halfway genuine when he saw who it was. "Ah. Miss Fluttershy. Did you forget something?"
Fluttershy turned her head so her face was hidden by her hair. "N-no, I didn't… but I think you might have." She turned to the side. There was a potted plant on her back, which despite lacking a face, managed to look very annoyed. "Not that it's your fault or anything," she added hastily, "but this thing--"
"Right, Snaptrap--well, Angel said it was lurking around the chicken coop, and, um…"
The named rabbit stepped into view and shook a paw at the earth pony. Lemony struggled not to laugh. He picked the flowerpot up off her back and glared at it sternly. After a moment or two, the plant twisted around and begrudgingly rasped a mangled growl on the theme of ‘sorry.’
Satisfied, Lemony threw the flytrap over his shoulder, a muffled *whump* indicating he had landed on something soft.
The two ponies shared an uncomfortable silence, Fluttershy nervously scraping at the ground, Lemony struggling not to let his frustration show on his face. After a few moments, Lemony sighed and leaned against the doorframe. Fluttershy opened her mouth, no doubt to apologize, but Lemony silenced her with a raised hoof.
"No. You have nothing to be sorry about, so don't even try to apologize."
Lemony tried to look annoyed, but couldn't keep his face from trying to twist into a mirthful grin. The result left him looking constipated.
"Stop it! Gah! Three things I can't stand: Two or more different songs playing at the same time, bullies, and ponies who apologize for things that aren't their fault. If anything, I should be apologizing to you."
Fluttershy's eyes widened. "Oh no, you don't have to--"
"Upupupupup!" He sat down and held up a hoof. "My Snapdragons almost ate you." He lifted a another one. "I scared your rabbit; sorry about that by the way." He said, addressing Angel, who huffed and crossed his arms. Lemony held up a third hoof. "My houseplant trespassed on your property. And--Ack!"
Lemony fell over backwards, having raised his last hoof and running out of limbs with which to keep steady. His hat made that scrunch sound as his head hit the floor. "…I meant to do that."
"Oh my goodness!" Fluttershy rolled him over and helped him up. "Are you alright?"
Lemony waved her away. "Yeah, yeah, I'm good." He rubbed the back of his head. A thought struck him. "Say, Since you're here and all, how about I treat you to a glass of lemonade?" He grinned and put a hoof to his chest. "I don't like to brag, but I make the best lemonade you'll ever taste!"
He slipped off his hat and hung it on the arm of his couch before trotting into his tiny kitchen. "Have a seat, if you like. You want a glass, bunny boy?" Lemony laughed tossed his vest onto a hook by the kitchen door.
Fluttershy, grateful albeit slightly confused, sat down in a forest green armchair. Just about everything in this house was a shade of green or yellow. The window frame was a shade not too far from her own coat; the walls were a bright spring green, like that nice unicorn Lyra; the carpet was the exact same yellow as dead grass. The various other furniture was left the same color as the wood it was made. The overall effect left the shy pegasus with the feeling of being in a forest.
Angel, slightly shocked that they were still here, begrudgingly jumped onto the couch opposite Fluttershy and sat down next to Snaptrap, who despite still being upside down from his landing, had managed not to spill any dirt onto the cushion.
The two pets immediately started growling at each other, stopping only after an *aHEM* from Fluttershy.
"Now you play nice, Angel. Leave the poor plant alone."
Angel took on a look of outraged disbelief, gesturing with both arms at the flowerpot as if to say, Leave him alone?
Snaptrap snickered as he righted himself.
The rabbit pulled a fist back--
--And was interrupted as Lemony burst from the kitchen with a three glasses on a tray: two regular-sized, one with a straw, and a shot glass, all filled with lemonade.
Lemony set the tray on the end table with a grand flourish, handing the shot glass to Angel (just the right size) and the glass with the straw Fluttershy, who took it in both hooves. The gardener grabbed his own glass and plopped down on the sofa between the dueling pets.
He took a pull at his cup and looked at Fluttershy expectantly. She shied away for a moment, then took a tentative sip.
Her eyes flew open and she stared at the drink for a split second before having herself a much bigger gulp.
Lemony laughed out loud, and his smile only broadened when he felt a poke in his side and looked down to see Angel up his empty glass as if asking for more. The pleading look in his eyes supported that. Snaptrap folded his leaves and smirked at the rabbit. Angel looked torn for a second: get even and potentially lose his chance at more, or continue begging?
After a minute of contemplation, Angel looked back at the gardener with the biggest, saddest eyes he'd ever seen.
Lemony grinned and whistled. Snaptrap stopped and saluted before hopping into the kitchen, bouncing out seconds later with a full pitcher.
Their guests cheered.
"Wow, Lemony," Fluttershy said after her second glass, "this is as good as one of Pinkie Pie's cupcakes, or Applejack's apple pies."
Lemony blinked. "Who and who now?" he asked, glad that the mare was more willing to talk now. He was much more comfortable having a conversation with somepony and getting an answer in return.
"Oh, sorry. They're two of my good friends." She paused a moment. "I think you'd get along with Applejack. She's a farmer, like you."
Lemony nodded, understanding. "Ah, an Apple Family farm, I'd wager? I've always wanted to visit one of their farms. Maybe you can show me around later."
Fluttershy smiled. "As for Pinkie Pie… she's a bit weird."
"I'm guessing she's pink?"
The pegasus giggled. "Well, yes…"
"Never seen a pony with a pink coat before. Manes, sure, rather common, but coat?" He shook his head. "I can relate with that."
"What do you mean? I've seen other green ponies before. We have at least two here in Ponyville."
"Maybe so, but I've yet to encounter somepony with a coat the exact same color as mine."
Fluttershy had to admit it was strange. His coat was the same bright green as cut grass,, the streak of green through his blonde mane was the color of spinach, and his eyes were like emeralds.
She shook herself. "Anyway, I don't think you'd get along well with Pinkie Pie. She's… well, you know."
Lemony gave her a flat look. "We're not that familiar yet, are we? I'm new, remember? You're the only pony I've met since I moved here."
Fluttershy found herself unable to begin describing her friend. She shrugged, embarrassed. "Well, you'll see. She can be a bit… much. Don't worry, you'll meet her," she said ominously. "She knows every pony in Ponyville."
A fresh silence fell over them. They watched Angel and Snaptrap make faces at each other. Snaptrap, lacking a face per se, was making use of a black marker, which thankfully rubbed right off his waxy flesh.
"Where did you get a Venus flytrap? And why--"
"Hold up. First, he's not a Venus flytrap. Those things are just stupid plants. No, he's an Eris flytrap. My uncle's an adventurer, and he got me Snap for my birthday a few years ago. Found him in the Everfree Forest, he said."
He gave Fluttershy a sideways look. "I suppose your next question is going to be something along the lines of how he can see with no eyes or hear with no ears or something?"
Fluttershy nodded furiously.
"Not a clue. No stinkin' idea. It's probably magic, but I haven't got the slightest idea, and I've learned not to question these things. Case in point…"
He picked his (empty) glass up and held it out at arm's length. "Ask me how I'm holding this with no fingers."
Fluttershy frowned in thought. "How are you--"
The glass fell onto the carpet.
Lemony shrugged. "Doesn't make any sense, but I've heard it said that if you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you get is non-working cat." He winced at the look Fluttershy gave him. "Bad turn of phrase. Sorry."
Snaptrap blew a raspberry at the bunny. Angel retaliated by snatching the marker from his leaves and writing something vulgar on the plant's bulb.
"Angel!" the pegasus gasped, blushing furiously. The rabbit had the decency to look ashamed, though he flashed a rude gesture at his foe before Fluttershy picked him up.
"I'm sorry, Lemony, I don't know what's gotten into him," she apologized. Angel huffed and squirmed in her hooves. "I've never seen him act so rude."
"If that's true, then I've got a feeling you must not keep a very close eye on him then," he murmured.
Crap! Did I say that out loud? "Nothing! Say, do you think you can show me around now?" he said hastily.
"Are you sure?"
"Oh, yes. I procrastinate. The later I wait to do it, the less willing I'll be when the time comes."
"Oh. W-well, if you want. I just need to take Angel back home, so…"
Lemony put his hat back on. "No prob. I'm still a little dusty from the garden work. You take your little rabble-rouser home, I'll wash up. Just wait by the road for me, and then we'll go."
Fluttershy nodded. "O-okay."
"And please stay away from any plants you don't recognize."
"And this is Sugarcube Corner!" Rarity announced.
"…it's a sugar high made of drywall and wood." Monochrome responded after a pause.
Beck's eyes scanned the bakery curiously. He hadn't gotten a good look at it last night in the dark. In the daylight, it reminded him of a fairy tale his mother used to read him where an old witch lured two foals into her home with sweets. This shop, minus the cupcake-shaped second storey, looked more or less exactly as he'd imagined the witch's gingerbread cottage.
Beck ducked under the hanging sign as Rarity led them inside.
Rarity gave the black pegasus an admonishing look. "Monochrome! How rude! Just because--"
"I didn't say I didn't like it. It's a candy store. I think," he added, sniffing the air. "Bakery maybe? Anyway." He nodded at the candy-striped columns just outside the door. "I personally think it's got too much pink, but then bright colors in general tend to bug me."
"Well, darling, I can understand that I suppose. You said your old home was made of storm clouds? Still, ponies expect a sweets shop to be bright and colorful. After all--"
Beck rolled his eyes as the two walked inside, debating the aesthetics of design. He followed them in, lowering his head again at the door. Rarity led them to an empty table, where Monochrome and Rarity each took a seat, while Quill perched on a windowsill nearby. Beck pushed his chair away and elected to just sit on the floor, allowing him to stay eye-to-eye with the others.
The little group waited a moment. Monochrome coughed. "So…"
The pegasus closed his mouth, turning to the mass of pink that seemed to have snuck up on him. "Ah. Never mind."
"Hi Rarity! I see you met Mr. Beck, and *GASP* who'reyouareyounewI'venever seenyoubeforewhereareyoufromisthataTORNADOit'ssocoolwhatdoesitmean?!"
Monochrome's eyebrows shot up about an inch at Pinkie's sudden questions. He waited a few moments as her tirade continued. After a few moments he glanced at Rarity. "And this would be?"
Rarity smiled apologetically. "Ah, that would be Pinkie Pie, a dear friend of mine. She tends to get excited at meeting new friends."
The corners of Monochrome's mouth twitched upwards for a second. "You don't say."
He refocused on the pony in front of him, still going a mile a minute.
"…areyouafastfliermybestestbestfriendisRainbowDashshe'sthebestestbestflierI'veeverseenareyou--mmph!" She was forced to stop as Monochrome put a hoof over her mouth.
He took a deep breath. "My name is Monochrome Gale, I just moved here from Stormburgh, where I helped the weather factory by trying to direct the excess wind away from the workers. Yes, my cutie mark is a tornado, and it signifies that my talent is riding the wind." He let go of her face and smirked. "Your turn."
Pinkie's eyes lit up. "Oooooh, now I've got two parties to plan! Stay here!"
She vanished into the kitchen. Monochrome blinked, then turned back to the table.
Beck chuckled. "Methinks that one gets oft excited. I wonder just who is invited," he added, thoughtful.
"Oh, don't worry about that, Mr. Meter," Rarity said. "She's just being Pinkie Pie. Now, Monochrome," she said, turning to the pegasus. "why don't you tell me about yourself. You've hardly spoken a word, darling, and I can't help but get curious."
Monochrome stared off into the distance. "I come from the Storm family."
"No, I hate that band."
"Nothing. The Storms. Imagine the Apple family as pegasi and you've got the Storm family. We've been running Stormburgh for generations, but a few of us are scattered all over. My uncle Firestorm is one of Princess Celestia's royal guards, and my cousin Tidal Wave is a Wonderbolt."
Rarity's eyes widened. "A Wonderbolt?"
"Oh yeah. There's always been a Storm on the roster. Wave took over the position from my second cousin Avalanche… what, five years ago?"
Rarity smiled. "Oh, I have a friend who would absolutely love to meet you, darling."
"Sure. Anyway, my dad Storm Warning is the chief foreman in charge of winds at Stormburgh."
Quill turned his head and focused one eye on the pegasus. "Winds?"
Monochrome settled an elbow on the table and leaned against his hoof. "Yes," he sighed. "Like, there are different wings of Cloudsdale. One makes clouds, one makes snow, so on and so forth. In Stormburgh, we make disasters. One faction makes earthquakes. That one's headed by great uncle Richter VIII." Monochrome smiled faintly. "The old buzzard's totally mad, thinks he's a king. He's the oldest member of the family though, and he does a good job, so we humor him. Grandpa Ash runs the volcanic activity and--" he shivered, "--wildfires, and Dad's in charge of winds, which basically means that we handle all the cloud activity. You know, tornadoes, lightning, blizzards, blah blah blah."
"You don't sound as though you enjoyed it so," Beck offered.
"Well, the processes involved in making this stuff have all kinds of side effects. I think I already mentioned wind? I can tell you don't get a lot of that here."
He looked out the window with disgust. "Look at this place. Seriously, when was the last time you ran a twister through this place?"
Rarity looked at him with alarm. "A twister? Why ever would we do such a thing?"
Monochrome gave her a look of genuine astonishment. "What do you mean 'why?' You can't make new buildings if the old ones are in the way, now can you? Out with the old, in with the new. Isn't that how things work?"
The bell over the shop door dinged in the background, unnoticed.
Quill gave a noisy flap; a bird's equivalent of a nervous cough. "No, Mono, it isn't. Ponies around here like to make things last, you see."
Monochrome looked up at the ceiling, frowning in confusion. "Huh. Back home, most pegasi live on the ground below Stormburgh, since the cloud houses up above don't usually survive the winds for long. The current record for a building is three weeks before the winds tear it apart. My family lived in Stormburgh proper, though."
Beck laughed. "Ah, now it all makes sense! And here I thought you were just dense."
Monochrome raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
"Your home never lasted more than a few days, so you're constantly moving around. While most ponies have somewhere they can stay, you had a strange hometown."
Beck grimaced. "Gah! I lack the words to convey what I mean." He held his hooves to his head. "Wait, no… I… words…"
"Perhaps if you stopped speaking in rhyme, darling--" Rarity began.
Beck cut her off by pounding his hoof on the table. "It's bad enough I have this curse without you insisting that I speak in verse! Accusations pour forth from thy mouth like a hose; I'll say it once more! I do not speak in prose!"
Monochrome edged his seat away from the poet while Rarity stared at him in shock, mouth hanging open.
Quill covered his face with a wing. "Listen, miss, I'm real sorry. Pinto isn't in the best shape, mentally speaking. You shouldn't draw attention to his quirks," he added in a whisper, "or the shock might just sever whatever ties to sanity he has left."
Rarity shook herself and looked away, avoiding eye contact. Beck, anger suddenly forgotten, amused himself by summoning an illusion of an Ursa Minor and a hydra fighting to the death. Rarity craned her neck further away as the miniature star bear started graphically mauling its victim--sound included!
Quill watched the poet for a minute before something seemed to occur to him. He brightened considerably and, with a quick wink at Rarity, turned and fluttered away. He perched at the register, where Pinkie was filling orders, and started whispering in her ear.
Rarity frowned but shook her head. A few moments passed.
"So," she tried again, "Well, if you say so, but I--”
A sudden movement drew Rarity's eyes to a table in a secluded corner of the shop. Specifically, its occupants. Her jaw fell open again.
Elsewhere, something stirred...
The dragon opened his eyes. A quick glance around and he grimaced; he'd been out longer than he'd anticipated.
He picked himself up out of his chair, dusting cobwebs off his robe. Cobwebs? Really? Even in sleep he never stopped moving! His point was punctuated by the constant thump, thump, thump of his tail as it smacked against the ground with the regularity of a metronome.
He wasn't nearly as large as a dragon his age should have been, though considering just how vast his age was though, it should be said that he wasn't nearly as dead, either. He was just a hand over six feet tall, and his build was different, too.
He was completely bipedal, standing plantigrade, like most dragons do before their wings grow in. The difference was that he did have wings; they were very large, stretching down to the ground when limp, as he so often had them. They poked out of special holes cut into his robe, and when he wasn't using them they flowed like a cape.
His scales were completely black, save for his chest and the underside of his tail, which were the same bright red of the spikes that began on top of his head and down his spine. His robe was just as black, and tied with a dark red rope around his waist. The robe stretched all the way to the ground with only his tail poking out from underneath it, and so gave the impression that he was gliding across the ground rather than walking. His hood was up, hiding his crocodile-like features, save for his yellow eyes, which glowed of their own accord. On the right breast of his robe was a red omega, a symbol repeated on various banners hanging from the walls of his cavern.
Banners, he noticed, which looked decidedly clean despite his absence. How…
Ah yes. He smiled slightly. With a voice filled with music, he called, "Orion!"
There was a sudden scrabbling of hooves on stone, and a hidden door in the wall burst open to reveal a small blue unicorn colt, young enough to not yet have earned his cutie mark. He blew his sky blue mane out of his face and grinned up at the much taller dragon.
"You're awake!" he cheered. "I was starting to think you weren't ever gonna wake up!" He suddenly grew more somber. "It was starting to get lonely here."
The dragon's eyes softened slightly. "I am sorry, Orion," he said, his voice carrying the intonations of a mournful violin, "but I had to put myself to sleep to escape Discord's influence. All of Equestria was driven insane, and one as powerful as I could not afford to lose control of myself." He turned and left through a different door, which seemed to carve itself from the rock as he passed through.
The colt followed, jumping every few steps to keep up with the dragon's much longer strides. "I didn't. That nice Zecora lady came by chanting nonsense, but I felt just fine."
The dragon glanced down at the little colt. "You are a special case." Hmm… I could have sworn that his cuts hadn't healed yet… oh no… "Orion?" he asked, coming to a sudden stop.
"How long was I asleep?"
His face scrunched up in a frenzy of calculation. "Umm… there was… and then Zecora came by…" he murmured, pointing a hoof in random directions. "I think it's been… about three months since Discord came back and the Elements turned him back to stone."
An angry chord filled the long hall as the dragon gasped. "Three months?!" He paused, and then the chord was replaced by the fiercely beating drums that always meant he was very, very mad. "Turned him back to STONE?!"
Lemony stifled a yawn, incredibly thankful that Fluttershy was too preoccupied to notice.
It wasn't that Ponyville was a boring town, or that Fluttershy was a lousy guide, because they weren't either. It was just that Fluttershy's voice was so soft and calming, and she seemed to be trying to point out even the smallest details, and the effect was putting him to sleep.
"…and this is Mr. Tock's clock shop. You know, Doctor Whooves?"
That woke him up. "Doctor Whooves?" he asked incredulously. "You can't be trying to tell me that crock is real."
"Oh, it isn't. He hates being called that, but nearly everypony does, so I thought I'd make that clear for if you ever run into him. So--" she started to apologize, then caught herself.
Lemony smiled encouragingly.
She turned away rather quickly. Lemony's mind, the traitor that it was, instantly assumed that it was because--
"And this is my friend Rarity's boutique, but it doesn't look like she's in now."
"Rarity? There was a stir about that name in Manehattan last year. Something about Hoity Toity and his latest discovery, and had a bunch of dresses made by a pony of that name. My mom really liked the pink one with the candy on, 'cause she owns a candy store you see, but we couldn't really afford it at the time." He took a breath and glanced at the building. "And you're saying she's a friend of yours?"
"She ever make suits?"
Fluttershy frowned in thought. "Not usually, but I'm sure she will if you ask."
Lemony smiled and nodded, then frowned as something caught his eye. "What's with the big rock?"
Fluttershy looked at the boulder sitting beside a nearby tree. It had a notice taped to it, saying:
“The management of Carousel Boutique would like to request that you not look at this rock, not talk about this rock, not think about this rock or even acknowledge that it exists.
Fluttershy's eyes widened. "N-nothing! I mean… I don't want to talk about it." She hid behind her hair, looking away again.
Lemony felt his eye start twitching and sighed. "Ooookay then. Next?" A rumble from directly underneath him answered. "Ah," he said brightly. "Lunch then." He nudged her to get her attention. "Where can a guy get a meal around here?"
Fluttershy thought a moment, then smiled. "Well, you'll have to meet Pinkie sooner or later, so why don't I show you Sugarcube Corner?"
And now they were at Sugarcube Corner. Lemony stared at it. "Oh dear. I hope you have a dentist here."
Fluttershy led him inside, the bell over the door dinging. There were quite a few ponies seated here and there already. One had a young white unicorn sitting alone, though he seemed content to just watch everypony else. Another table had a black pegasus and a huge gray unicorn who blocked out the rest of the table. Fluttershy looked away. It was rude to stare.
Lemony glanced suspiciously around at the patrons. The white unicorn, who didn't look much older than him, flashed him a knowing smile when he caught his gaze, and managed, by way of eyebrow motions alone, to make it clear that he was congratulating Lemony on his date.
Lemony scowled at him, which only seemed to make the unicorn's grin widen. He didn't like other ponies. Fluttershy was different. Something about her just radiated calm, and plus there was the fact that compared to her, Lemony was the social one. He took a moment to consider that and winced. Well… maybe I wouldn't go that far…
He spotted an empty table in a far corner by the door into the kitchens, with a few shipping crates leaning against the wall by it. They headed towards it and sat down opposite each other.
Barely a second passed before a rush of wind accompanied by a loud gasp and a blur of pink blew Lemony's hat off.
"Fluttershy!" the pink blur squealed (or so it sounded to Lemon), "You found him!"
"Yeah! The last new pony! I met the other two but not the last one but now I have!"
Lemony, utterly bewildered, suddenly found a pink hoof in his face. "Hi! I'm Pinkie Pie! What's your name?"
Lemony stared levelly at her, then reached down and put his hat back on his head. He returned to staring at her. Pinkie's hoof remained exactly where it was, and the manically friendly look on her face was completely static.
One couldn't tell by looking at him, but underneath his stoic expression, Lemony was terrified. The verbal onslaught defied any and all attempts to seize the situation, and even if an opening had presented itself Lemony was at a total loss as to what he could’ve said. What do I do?! I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings; not Pinkie's, and since she's Fluttershy's friend I don't want to hurt hers either. But she's a talker. I can tell by the smile. If I encourage her, she'll never shut up! But she's just trying to be nice…
While this battle was going on in his head, Fluttershy built up the courage to step in.
"Um… his name is Lemony. He's living next door to me now."
Pinkie's ear twitched, signifying she had heard, but she continued her frozen gesture.
Finally, Lemony snapped out of his mental war with a sigh and elected to take a third option. He gingerly pushed Pinkie's hoof away and said, "You can call me Lemon Lime."
"Okey dokey lokey!" Pinkie said. She turned towards one of the crates behind her and frowned at it. "Stupid crates!"
Lemony and Fluttershy blinked, thrown by the change in subject. "What?" Lemony asked.
Pinkie's smile returned. "Oh! Nothing. We got a shipment of flour and other stuff we need for the cakes and muffins and stuff, but they didn't leave me a crowbar!"
(Across the room, at the word "crow," a black bird's head shot towards the sound, eyes narrowing.)
Pinkie shook the box. "I've got to open it somehow…"
Fluttershy rolled her eyes. The action was so shocking to the gardener that he actually felt his jaw drop. "Is something wrong?" she asked a moment later.
Lemony shook himself. "No! Nothing." He glanced over his shoulder at the pink pony, still struggling with the box. "That's Pinkie, huh? Don't know why you were so certain I wouldn't like her," he lied. "She's got some problems with personal space, sure, but I rather prefer letting somepony do all the talking for me."
Fluttershy looked down. "Well, I just thought… I mean…"
"AHA!" the party pony yelled. What followed was a sound like a crack of splitting wood, which wasn't so odd considering what she'd been doing. What was odd was that at the same time there was a sound like what you get when you rub balloons together, along with the screech of a monkey .
Lemony whirled around. Pinkie was standing next to an open crate with a crowbar in her mouth, looking pleased with herself.
"I thought you didn't have a crowbar?" he asked.
Pinkie spat the blunt instrument out beamed. "I didn't!"
"Then where'd that come from?"
"It was inside the crate!"
Lemony frowned. "The crate you just opened?"
"How did you open the crate?"
"With the crowbar, silly," she said, giving him a duh look.
"But you didn't have the crowbar."
"Well, I had to get it out first of course."
"And you did this… how?"
"I opened it with the crowbar."
Lemony stared at her for a second, eye twitching, then turned around, whipped his hat off his head, and bit down hard on the brim, shouting muffled nothings through his teeth. After a moment, he replaced the hat, which now had a hunk of straw missing, took a deep breath, and turned back around to face Pinkie with a manic smile on his face.
"Let me make sure I understand. You didn't have a crowbar."
"There was a crowbar in the box."
"So you took the crowbar out of the box, so you could open the box, so you could get to the crowbar, which you then used to open the box?!" he finished with a shout.
Pinkie frowned for a moment as she deciphered this statement. Then her face lit up, and she patted the green pony on the head. "Now you're just talking crazy, Limey!"
She pulled a bag of flour from the open crate and bounced away with a giggle.
Lemony stared after her, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. Fluttershy quickly rose and gently coaxed him back into his chair in time for him to start gibbering.
"But!…She! It! Crowbar! Box! Inside, it doesn't! It--But it…!"
Lemon's eyes locked with hers. They were slightly glazed.
"You really shouldn't try to think too hard about Pinkie Pie. It isn't healthy."
Abruptly, Lemon's face stopped twitching and just fell. "Yeah. That's probably a good idea."
As Fluttershy took her seat again, a voice rang out across the store that caused them both to jump.
A white unicorn was trotting briskly towards them.
"Why didn't you tell me you had a colt friend, darling?"
Lemony dropped his face into his hooves.
"Oh no…" he moaned.
He was an author whose novels had inspired a whole range of emotion, from fear to joy. He was an editor who had saved many scripts from being bland, dry wastes of paper. He was rich, he was born into nobility, and, currently, he was depressed to the point of delerium. But Beck was no foal.
The unicorn seamstress had pulled another two ponies into their little tour group, and they had migrated around town, eventually settling at the town library. Monochrome had made it clear that he approved of it being in a tree, although he had also voiced the opinion that it would make it hard to spot termites until it was too late.
The pink mare had followed them, and it had turned out that Twilight lived in the town library. At some point--though exactly when Beck was not sure--they had run into an orange mare wearing a Stetson, with whom the green colt was now conversing excitedly on various agriculture-related subjects. A rainbow-maned mare who had been noticed them from above had also joined them. Or rather, she had crashed into them.
Beck scowled, rubbing his side. Oh, yes. He remembered meeting her, the incompetent klutz. She was talking with Monochrome at the moment, or rather talking at him, since he was quite obviously tuning her out.
Back to the previous point. Beck was no foal.
He was vaguely aware that he was not at his best, nor had he been for a long while. He was also aware of a certain melodious quality to his speech, but only in the same way one is aware of the back of their own head, that is, you know it's there, but you can't see it, you can't do anything about it, and you don't really think about it very much, if at all.
He could feel himself beginning to think more clearly. He was able to acknowledge the filthy state of his favorite vest, his mane felt much better now that it was clean and combed, and all these voices gave him something to focus on, which was good because he was out of practice as far as focus was concerned.
But as dazed and confused as he still was, he was no foal. He saw the pink one and that bird conspiring against him. Right now, while everypony was just sitting around the library, mingling, Quill and the baker were flitting from group to group. A certain repetition in their hushed whispering and the pink mare's pantomiming clearly meant they were telling the same story each time, and the conclusion was consistently met with their audience shooting a split-second glance in his direction. Their eyes were filled with pity.
Beck felt himself getting angry, and dark notions and darker voices swirled just beneath his consciousness. How dare they pity him!
His father was a famous actor. His mother was a slightly less famous pianist, a talent that even among unicorns is revered. His brother was, though not famous, a very talented entertainer. His blank was a blank blank blankety blank-
Beck's thought process, such as it was, came to a grinding halt.
Even in his current state, that caused him some concern. He was dimly aware that, for the past few weeks, every so often his mind would lock up and force itself onto a different topic. The latter wasn't happening now, perhaps because of the newfound clarity this company seemed to be giving him, but this was still disturbing. It seemed to occur whenever he thought of his family…
The voice shook him out of his reverie, much to his annoyance. He spent a few seconds desperately trying to hold onto the string of thoughts before he could lose them, but lost them entirely as the speaker shook his foreleg.
Beck, suddenly unsure as to what he'd just been thinking, attempted to focus on the tiny (to him) purple form before him. A biped. This caught his attention.
Beck leaned down and peered curiously at the little reptile. "A dragon? That's new."
The creature gulped nervously. "Uh… yeah. I'm Spike."
Beck nodded. "Pleased to meet you."
"Right. Uh, you seemed like you were kind of out of it, so I thought I'd warn you about-"
The blue pegasus suddenly rose into the air. (Beck couldn't help but notice that the ceiling suddenly seemed much higher than before. And when you're as tall as the poet was, you tend to notice things like that.)
"Alright, Monochrome." She said the name with such distaste that Beck couldn't help but grin. "You think you're so hot? Well, what do you think of this?"
She started flying intricate patterns inside the small space at breakneck speed.
Monochrome watched for a moment, then turned to Rarity with a bored look. "I don't recall saying anything like that, did I." It wasn't a question.
Rainbow let out a yell as her wing clipped the top of a shelf, sending her out of control.
Beck, being a writer, was incredibly familiar with all forms of irony and convention, and was adept at spotting when a running gag was in the works. Therefore, he jumped aside the second Dash lost control, and despite having his great size working against him he successfully managed to avoid being body slammed a second time.
Instead, she hit a bookshelf, causing all the books to tumble off and bury both him and her.
A moment later, Rainbow extricated herself from the pile, groaning.
"Perhaps you shouldn't fly indoors," Monochrome suggested mildly. Dash shot him a glare.
Quill was fluttering frantically over where Beck had been. "Pinto! Are you alright?!"
"Relax, my friend," a muffled voice said blearily. "I'm just fine."
The stallion raised his head out of the pile. "Sorry to disappoint you," he added.
Quill perched on a table and sighed. "Oh, good. I was worried you'd hit your head."
"So what?" Dash snapped. "I hit my head all the time, and it never hurt me!"
Quill gave her a Look fully deserving of the capital letter. "Yes, I'm sure that no one knows more about concussions than you, miss." He rolled his eyes. "Perhaps you can handle it, but Beck--"
A final book fell from the top shelf, landing--because fate has a terrible and slightly sadistic sense of humor--squarely between the poet's ears.
The unicorn's only reaction to the blow was his eyes going off in separate directions for a split second, coupled with a goofy smile.
Then his eyes snapped into sharp focus.
And now it was later. Now, as the sun set outside, Beck sat in his study, staring at the wall. The others had told him what had happened, and though most of them were quick to forgive him once Quill had explained things, the writer still felt awful.
He reviewed the day's events in his mind. He woke to the sound of conversation outside, and went to investigate. This had somehow wound up with him receiving some admittedly much-needed mane-tenance care, aha.
Beck glanced down at the vest he was wearing, and it suddenly dawned on him that he'd not taken it off in days, and if Quill was to be believed, it had been even longer since it was washed. Beck slipped it off and went to correct that.
After Rarity's styling, Beck's mind had started to clear up a bit. They had met the enigmatic Pinkie Pie; Rarity had talked the ears off a pair of ponies and dragged them along for the ride; Miss Rainbow Dash crashed into him, his ribs still hurt from that blow… Beck frowned. He wasn't honestly sure when or how Miss Applejack joined them. He'd returned to his muttering at that point and had been oblivious.
Then, at the library, he'd noticed what appeared to be everyone talking about him. Beck was not unused to the feeling, for he was a famous writer whose face was known throughout Canterlot… and being taller than the Princess might have had something to add to the deliberate hush that tended to ensue whenever he entered a crowded room.
What unnerved him was when his own pet started to do it as well.
Beck frowned as he placed the vest in the washer. The poet could not escape the feeling that he was forgetting something important, something very, very vital. Something about tomorrow was special, but he simply could not remember. Something to do with his family, and… a promise…it--
Beck's mind once more cut through his train of thought like scissors through the construction paper of his mind.
He was distracted by the simile. What color? I suppose I could make a little arts-and-craft thing to help apologize for the trouble I caused. Perhaps a pop-up thing, with bright water colors, maybe an endearing message or an image of kittens, some glitter… NO.
Beck glanced out the window again, just in time to see the sun's last rays before it disappeared over the horizon.
Quill had left with Pinkie. Most of them had left with Pinkie, to do… something. The way they all kept glancing at him led him to believe it had something to do with him, whatever it was. Perhaps they were planning a prank to get back at him for the evening’s rather unfortunate debacle, or they simply were watching him to ensure they weren't caught off guard if it happened again.
Beck's frown deepened. Wait… what was it that happened again?
The poet hoped the raven would return soon. The house and its various horrors did not faze him in the slightest, but that didn't keep him from being lonely.
Beck Pinto Meter made his way to his bedroom and shifted into a comfortable position under the covers.
He stared at the ceiling for a while. He felt the need to say something.
"I hate glitter."
And with that he fell asleep.
"Alright," Rainbow Dash began, "What was about?"
The eight ponies and one bird were in Sugarcube Corner, and were sitting around one big table. Quill paced the table's center.
The raven croaked nervously. "What do you mean?"
"Ya'll know what she means," Applejack said bluntly. "That Beck fella took a blow to the head, an' suddenly he's hoppin' all over the place, attackin' Twilight and callin' himself Shining Cutlass! Then when Ah tried to lasso 'im, he picked me up like it were nothin' an' slammed me into a wall! What the hay's goin' on?"
Quill wavered under the intensity of their stares. He glanced at Twilight, who'd been staring off into space, wearing a thoughtful expression.
"Would you like to offer any guesses, miss?"
Twilight frowned. "Well… I've most of Mr. Meter's less… er--"
She blushed slightly. "…right… his less frightening books, and if I remember right, Shining Cutlass is the name of one of his recurring protagonists."
The silence deepened as the gathered ponies digested this.
Quill made a face, or at least as much of a face as one can make with a beak. "Protagonist? Nooo… Cutlass is more of a heroic antagonist; that is, he thinks he's the good guy, but he's a total idiot who always messes things up for the real heroes. He's what Prince Blueblood would be if the guy could be bothered to get off his rump and do something. Now, I see where you might get confused, but--"
"What does that have to do with anything?!" Rainbow yelled.
Pinkie Pie frowned in puzzlement. "Sounds like he thought he was in one of his stories."
The bird beamed at her. "Very good!" He turned back to the librarian. "And he attacked you because he mistook you for one of his villains: an enchantress called Bubbling Brew, I believe."
He heaved a whistling sigh. "Ladies… and gents, of course… Pinto Meter is not in his right mind, nor has he been since the day he first experienced writer's block."
Rarity huffed. "Surely you don't expect us to believe that he's having such a fit over that, do you?"
Quill glared at her. "Oh? And I suppose that if every dress you made suddenly ranged from ugly to bland, you'd just shrug it off and find something else to do with your time, yeah?" He turned to face each of them in turn. "It happens sometimes. A pony perceives a failure regarding their talent, and they go mad trying to correct it, or they just get depressed and sulk."
(The mares around the tables shuffled uncomfortably, especially Twilight and Pinkie. Quill took note of this.)
"Modern psychology has a name for it, but frankly I thank it's rather sadistically detached from the serious nature of the condition. Traditionally, it is called Talent Slipping.
"A musician who gets heckled at an important performance may suddenly forget how to play or read music, while a chef whose meal is scorned may starve themselves. Or, say, a workaholic who misses an assignment may do anything to make it up."
(Several pairs of eyes flitted towards Twilight. Aha… Quill thought.)
"Unfortunately," he went on, "this phenomenon is actually rather distressingly common. You may be familiar with it."
To the raven's surprise, the hoof that went up was not Twilight's or Pinkie's, but in fact belonged to Monochrome.
The black pegasus took a deep breath. "I had something like that happen to me once. First time I ever left Stormburgh, I freaked out. My dad took me with him on a business trip to Canterlot, and the pegasi up there do their job a little too well if you ask me. There was hardly any wind at all." He turned in his seat to reveal the twisting tornado that was his cutie mark. "My talent is wind. Reading it, riding it, making it… but that was the first time in my life that I'd ever been in a place with no wind at all. The occasional breeze just didn't cut it, and after only an hour or so I flipped out."
Monochrome grimaced. "Twilight, I think I heard you say earlier that you were from Canterlot?"
"You wouldn't happen to remember… a few years ago, this hurricane that nearly tore the city apart…?"
Twilight frowned. "Yes…"
Monochrome closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "…I got in so much trouble for that, you just have no idea…"
Lemony and Rainbow scooted their chairs a few inches away from him. The rest of the group mumbled various lines on the theme of "yeah, me too…"
Quill, for his part, continued unabated. "Well, that's the kind of thing I'm talking about. Also, another thing about Talent Slipping? The stronger the pony's talent, the harder a failure hits them. And Beck is, by Celestia's own admission, quite possibly the most talented novelist Equestria's ever had."
The bird started pacing again. "The symptoms of Talent Slipping are almost purely psychological, and they get worse the longer the condition continues. Most ponies only get it from a day to two weeks, and some cases have been known to last only a few seconds, but Beck's had it for six. Months. And a word of encouragement or a bit of praise isn't going to snap him out of it, because it's writer's block. You can't just magic up some ideas for him. And I see the look in your eye, Twilight. If you try to do just that, it'll probably make him feel even worse. He doesn't like using magic where all you need is your own skill."
"Magic is a skill!" Twilight objected.
Quill ignored her. "Anyway. Beck's been getting worse and worse. First came the speaking in rhyme, though thankfully he hasn't been doing that as often recently. Then he started hallucinating he was one of his own creations, and it was always a different one." the bird shuddered. "Be thankful it was only Shining Cutlass. Last month we had to deal with one of his more… vindictive villains, Fear Factor."
Quill waved it away with a wing. "Don't worry, we got it sorted out, though I'll admit he gave the Royal Guard quite a workout. I can't even begin to tell you how difficult it was to convince them not to have him institutionalized."
"How hard was it?" Pinkie asked.
"Not very hard at all, actually. He'd been in the asylum before, and they didn't want him back."
Pinkie considered this. "Then do you think your plan is safe?"
Quill cleared his throat. "Yes well… it occurred to me that a very important date is coming up, and it's a good opportunity to try and shock him out of his self-inflicted misery."
Lemony massaged his temples. "And you think the best way to do this is by throwing the jumpy, borderline psychotic unicorn with powerful magic, and who can easily overpower an earth pony--no offense Applejack--a party. Can't see that going wrong!"
Quill gave them an avian smile. "Ah, but you see, the party isn't going to be for him."
Pinkie's coat darkened almost imperceptibly.
There was a resounding chorus of "What?"
Twilight's brow creased. "Who's it for, then?"
Quill told them.
The silence afterward was deafening.
Then: "Are you sure that will work?" Surprisingly enough, it came from Fluttershy.
Quill shook his head. "No, but it's the only thing I haven't tried. I'd get him to look outside at all the wonders of the world, but he can barely see through the fog of his own mind. This is all I've got left to try. If it doesn't work, I don't think anything will."
The dragon walked briskly back through the cave, a large stone statue hovering behind him, encased in a blood-red aura of magic.
He walked past a conspicuous steel door. Through the barred window, a purple, star-studded cloud of feral magic writhed in the cell, held in place by curiously dull chains the same color as an overcast sky. The cloud snarled at him as he passed.
The dragon snapped his fingers, and the chains tightened. The cloud's snarl turned into an ethereal scream.
The dragon paused by the door and wiped the grime off the metal plate in the wall beside it. It read: THE NIGHTMARE.
The black dragon stopped by a similar door. With a snap of his fingers, this new door took on a coppery finish to differentiate it from the Nightmare's cell. A copper plate appeared on the wall next to it.
He opened the door and the statue floated inside. With a sound like a bongo drum, the dragon chuckled at the statue's expression.
He waved his hand, and gold chains sprang from the stone floor of the cell. Shackles wrapped around each limb, and a collar jumped from the stone like a dolphin from water and latched around its neck.
Tail tapping like a metronome, the dragon nodded and left the cell, locking the door behind him. As he left, the statue's stone skin melted into fur, feathers and scales. The statue-turned-flesh collapsed, unconscious, and the copper plate outside started etching a single word into itself, it dark, forbidding letters: DISCORD.
From the Journal of Beck:
Date: June-ish Weather: Sunny Mood: Confused
The clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Why does it tick? Can it not tock? Can it not gong or twitch or sproing?
Today many things happened. I do not know what they are, but I believe they are important. But then I would remember them, surely? Don't call me Shirley.
My mind is caving in on itself, I can feel it happening even as I write. My memories are sluggish, and I see the world as through a veil. Whenever I think about my family
[Here there is a sudden scribble, as though something pushed him while he was writing.]
It happened again. I began writing about that thing and my mind locked up. It worries me. Surely this shouldn't be? Don't call me Shirley!
Who am I talking to? No one, because I am writing. What was I writing about?
Tick, tock, tick, tock.
Whenever I try to think about my family, especially [Here several words are crossed out in an erratic fashion, as though the writer had a sudden spasm.] the fact that I met several new ponies today. All mares, strangely enough, except for two. The clock is ticking. The gender ratio in Equestria is strange, isn't it? At times it seems like one must strain themselves to see any stallions in a crowd.
I believe it would be best to abandon that train of thought, as words have power. The impossible is self-conscious, and shies away when put on the spot.
Quite like the yellow pegasus. The clock is ticking.
Today many things happened, though what I cannot recall.
I have just read over tonight's entry. The clock is ticking.
I am deeply disturbed.
A Heart and Black Rose
By Beck Pinto Meter
I would scale the highest peak,
I would walk the farthest mile,
I would do just anything
To once more see your smile.
To once more see you in that bed.
To once more hear you speak.
To once more hug your sickly frame,
And kiss you on the cheek.
I told you stories every night,
And always stayed up til the end.
Our brother showed you magic tricks
Of his own special blend.
And now you're gone, passed on, goodbye,
And my heart is aching.
But you won't like it if I mope,
And life is for the taking!
So little Nina, rest in peace, she
Off to Heaven goes.
And in my heart, I'll always see
A heart and a black rose.
Untold eons ago…
There was nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
There was only emptiness. Darkness. Blackness. A space without space. A time without time.
The nothing saw.
It saw nothing.
Who can say how long it was this way? After all, time did not exist. It was a space that was simultaneously beyond the farthest reaches of infinity and so small that it might as well have not existed at all. In fact it didn't exist at all, because it was nothing. Not just nothing, but Nothing, capital enn.
And then there was Something.
The Nothing reeled at the light. ‘What was this strange thing? What were these words? It was thinking? What is light? What is this feeling? What IS feeling?’
The Nothing in the nothing was afraid. For what had been effectively eons, the Nothing had known… nothing. And now there was Something. Something in the Nothing.
Images and words flowed from the Something into the Nothing, filling the spirit of the void with knowledge.
The Something was an alicorn. A milk-white coat and dark red hair. As the light faded, the alicorn created. The Nothing, neither heeded or even noticed, watched as she summoned pen and paper and Wrote the World into being.
The void filled. Earth and air, water and fire, Sun and Moon, Day and Night.
The World was made. The Nothing… no. Not Nothing. The alicorn, the Writer, had Written the Nothing as well. It was the spirit of the void. It was Abyss.
The World thus Written, Abyss watched as the Writer finished. Her scroll, now longer than the longest river, rolled itself and hid away. The Story was recorded, the script had been set. A glow appeared upon the alicorn's flank, and when it faded, there was a picture: the same white quill she had Written with, and a simple black inkwell.
Casting a final look upon creation, the Writer left.
Abyss floated among the World, watching as it matured around it.
Abyss witnessed the first creature rise from the depths. Miles long, even in adolescence, the mighty Drakon lived.
Then dragons, and gargoyles, and flora and fauna.
Millennia passed, and Abyss became curious. And so the shadows gathered, darkness became solid, and Abyss, spirit of the void, became incarnate, as a small (for the time), black--
"Whatcha reading Mr. Dragon?"
The dragon carefully closed the ancient tome. "Just some memories, Orion." He smiled at the colt, then rose from his chair and replaced the tome upon its shelf. The shelf creaked as the other books pushed themselves away from it, despite there being no room to move. Nevertheless, the tome had a full inch of space on either side of it.
Orion blinked. "Why's it do that?"
The dragon tapped the tome with a claw. "It is a powerful book, young unicorn. Words have power, and none more so than the ones in here."
The music of the dragon's voice slowed, and became mournful. "Some things are told, some things are thought, and some things are true. The overlap is less common than most think." He moved away from the shelf, the unicorn following. "That book is truth that has been forgotten. More accurately, truth that was never known."
Orion was silent at this. Then, "Oh right. Corona sent a message. She said Crunch isn't doing too well."
"Oh dear. What happened?"
"Sweet Apple Massacre."
The dragon froze. "That can't be good," he whispered, his voice carrying the urgency of a piccolo. "Crunch has been unstable ever since Cupcakes. Don't tell me Applejack--"
"Nuh-uh. Big Mac."
"That's… probably worse, in fact. I was told that Matt--sorry, Morphic Flash," he snorted to himself, "is visiting our humble universe. Perhaps he can help. Is his vacation over yet?" He paused, though the tapping of his tail continued. "Ah. Orion?"
"Has our guest woken yet?"
"He was groaning earlier. He should come to any moment now."
The dragon tapped a wall, and a door slid into existence. "Good. I want to talk to him."
The bed creaked as Beck sat up. He glanced around. The light from the window suggested that he had overslept. The writing desk on the other side of the room had a sheet of paper resting on it-- blank, as it always was.
A dark feeling came over the poet, and he turned his head. The raven's perch was empty.
Beck frowned and stood up, a flick of his horn fixing the bed sheets.
There was a noise from down the hall.
Beck kicked open a small chest at the foot of his bed and used his magic to pull a wooden sword from under a pile of folded clothes.
Beck was well aware that Ponyville had a nearly nonexistent crime rate, due to a fascinating combination of everypony knowing each other, the town being small and fairly out of the way, and the generally relaxed nature of the countryside. That said, Canterlot didn't have a very large crime rate either, but Beck had grown up in a house that held not one, but two famous celebrities, and if it wasn't a thief, then there was still some crazy fan of his father's trying to raid the house at least once a month.
Beck paused at that thought. Wait. If they steal something, that makes them a thief. Being a criminal and a fanatic aren't mutually exclusive, right?
Either way, Beck was used to somepony sneaking into his home. It didn't occur to him how unlikely it was that a robber would invade the premises in the middle of the afternoon. Nor did it even occur to him that no criminal would come anywhere near his house, not after what he did to the intruder two months ago back in Canterlot.
Beck, sword held aloft in a sickly golden aura, edged down the hallway towards the foyer where the noise appeared to be coming from. As he drew closer, the noise dissolved into a babble of voices. Quite a lot of them, in fact.
The foyer was typical for such a house: a large room with only a few tables with picture frames on them and the walls, an armchair or two, and maybe a large potted plant. The main purpose of the foyer, of course, lay in the eight doors lining its walls, leading to the rest of the rooms. There were two staircases, naturally, on either side of the space opposite the front door, with three doors on the second-story landing. There were two doors each on the side walls, and one set of double doors between the staircases.
This last door, Beck reflected, mind wandering again, killed the mood cast by the rest of the room. While nearly everything was the basic brown wood, with a little color provided by the covers for the small tables and the huge red rug that covered most of the floor, the doors between the stairs had a polished gold frame. The doors themselves were bright white, and each had a massive black treble clef on them. The handles looked like eighth notes.
Beck enjoyed music, and the room beyond those doors was where he kept his instruments.
A clang from the end of the foyer reminded Beck of what he had been doing. He braced himself and crept to the door. A little magic, and the knob turned. The writer slowly pushed it open…
Beck was met with the sight of a roomful of ponies. Quickly spotting Pinkie, his mind leafed through various scenarios: A) They were here to welcome him to town, B) they were--
A movement on the edge of his vision caused him to whirl around toward the source.
Twilight said this because there was suddenly a wooden sword stuck in the wall beside her.
The green colt from yesterday scowled and muttered, "Told you so…"
Beck composed himself quickly. "What goes on here?" he demanded.
Pinkie hopped into view a few feet away. "It's your 'Welcome to Ponyville' party, silly!"
Beck blinked. "So soon?"
"Well, it's actually a 'Welcome Three New Ponies to Ponyville' slash 'Cheer Up Mister Gloom-and-Doom' party!" she finished, beaming.
Beck scanned the room. Yes, there was a large cake on a table in the center of the room. It had three layers: the bottom was easily twice the size of the next one up and had purple icing feathers, the next had icing that had been spread in such a way as to suggest a very strong wind had been blowing on it, and the top layer was bright green and had lemon slices on it.
Beck whistled appreciatively. "My, my, Miss Pie, I have to say, you really don't skimp on detail. I mean, that it seems that you go all the way, with parties and what they entail."
"Well of course! Ponyville's resident party planner pony, present and pleased to prepare perfect parties!"
Beck smiled. "Ah. Alliteration. That's always a favorite."
"Come on! You're a guest of honor after all!"
With that she dragged him to the center table, pushing him between Lemony and Monochrome.
Beck was bewildered. "Er. Hello?"
Monochrome nodded. Lemony grunted.
"I'm afraid I've only just woken up, I'm… egad, I'm not even wearing my vest!"
Lemony grimaced. Rarity had made him hang up his hat when he'd come in. He looked uncomfortable without it.
"Where is that blasted bird? Yes, thank you miss, pleased to meet you," he said, shaking hooves with a mare who had greeted him. "This is really quite absurd!" He frowned at his own voice, but couldn't put his hoof on what was wrong. He rallied. "Throwing a party here is one thing, but without my permission, and while I'm still asleep? How did you all even get in?"
"Quill let us in," Monochrome answered.
Lemony coughed. "Listen Beck, it's a party. Moreover, it's a party for you. Well, us, actually, but still. Me, I don't like parties myself, but you should still try to enjoy yourself, right?"
If Beck had been in a better frame of mind, he might have noticed that the gardener had a cautious tone to his voice, and was clearly taking great care in choosing his words. Were he more mentally sound, the poet might have concluded that Lemony was keeping something from him.
As it was: "Yes. Yes, you're absolutely right… er…"
"Mr. Lime. Yes, it was unexpected, but life is full of such moments, yes?" He stood abruptly. A couple of mares nearby started at seeing his height, and quickly backed away. "But first, I think this room could use some lightening up, right?"
His horn glowed once more, this time with a few strands of violet coiling through the dull gold aura. The whole room glowed, and then the dull, dark brown was suddenly a much livelier shade that matched the colorful streamers perfectly.
Beck staggered for a second from the spell, then smiled at the buzz of conversation the effect caused around him. He pulled the chairs out from under the other two. "C'mon, don't just sit there! I think I saw a piñata!"
Monochrome raised an eyebrow. "Piñata? Aren't you a bit old for that?"
Beck scoffed. "Oh, well, yes, of course. I still enjoy watching the kids go at it though. Funny stuff." His expression suddenly darkened. "Before that, I believe I need to talk to Quill. That bird has been going behind my back about something, and I intend to find out what. Work before pleasure."
The three colts split up into the crowd.
Monochrome gravitated toward the punch bowl and sat down, staring into space. At some point he realized somepony was talking to him.
"…and when I saw Rarity falling I knew that I was the only one who could save her. So I dove faster than I'd ever gone before and BAM! Sonic Rainboom!"
Monochrome turned to find the speaker and was rewarded with a whole ghastly faceful of bright colors.
"You're that Rainbow mare that set Beck off last night."
"--And so I… whuh? Uh, yeah, I guess. Anyway, I--"
"When did you get there?"
Rainbow Dash deflated for a second. Then she got angry. "Weren't you listening?"
"No, not really. I only just realized you were there. Sonic Rainboom?"
Dash smirked. "You bet. There I was--"
"I was there."
"You were? I don't remember seeing you."
"I like to stay in the shade, and my coat makes it hard to see me in the dark." Monochrome waved his hoof in a circle over the punch bowl. After a moment, the drink started spinning in a tiny whirlpool. "You and Miss Rarity were… interesting."
"You saw Rarity's performance?"
"Oh yes. That makeup was hideous. Who did she think she was, Pony Gaga?"
Rainbow snorted. "I know, right? What ab--"
"About you? Meh."
"Meh? Meh? I pulled off the Sonic Rainboom!"
"Yes. As visually impressive as that is, it's all down to a matter of speed, and speed doesn't impress me."
"What do you mean?" Rainbow spat.
Monochrome stopped waving his hoof and a tiny, white, purple-tinged cloud lifted up from the punch bowl. He guided it to float in front of him and started shaping it.
"It's getting annoying, always saying the same things over and over again. In Stormburgh, for the umpteenth time, it is very, very windy. If you fly too fast, a sudden change in the wind could pluck every feather off you wings."
He paused and seemed to think for a moment. "Not that cousin Smog has to worry about that, since he has bat wings. Anyway."
His little cloud started spinning, shaping it with the press of his hooves as if he had a potter's wheel.
"Hmm? Oh. In Stormburgh, we focus on control. Speed is dangerous. One of the workers once, when I was a foal? He was a Wonderbolt's kid, always thought he was the best thing since sliced bread. He was like you, always going on about being the fastest flyer in Equestria, and y'know? He had a bright future ahead of him. He actually wasn't half bad, and while he talked a lot, he could just about back it up. His dad sent him to work in Stormburgh for a while to learn control."
Rainbow found herself curious, despite herself. She waited, but Monochrome had his tongue sticking out to the side, concentrating on his little cloud sculpture.
"Huh?" He looked up. "Oh, I thought you'd left while I was talking. You seemed the type."
Rainbow scowled. "Well? What happened?"
"Oh. Well, one day a twister got loose before Dad and them could get it fully wrapped, and this kid said he'd take care of it."
Dash felt like there was more to it than that. "And…?"
A ghost of a smile flickered on Monochrome's face. "You know that thing where meteors and asteroids can use a planet's gravity to boost their speed?"
"Yeah," she lied.
"Well that's what happened with him. He flew at breakneck speed at the thing and it flung him at the ground. Note that when I say 'breakneck speed,' it's not just a colorful way of saying 'really really fast.' He never flew again."
He glanced up and noted Dash's horrified look. "And anyway, that's why speed doesn't impress me. Now that there's not so much wind to worry about, maybe tomorrow I'll experiment and see how fast I can fly. Need practice flapping my wings."
Rainbow blinked. "Flapping your wings?"
"I usually just glide. But as I keep saying, I don't have much wind to work with here. It's very annoying. Not too annoying though, because I am perfectly fine with an utter lack of convection currents and am in no way close to a nervous breakdown resulting in my crafting a massive storm with which to assault Ponyville, because that was a long time ago and Dad made me promise I would never do it again. Yes."
Rainbow stared at him. It's the voice, she decided; it's not the eerily blank stare that feels like he's looking through you or the way he doesn't react to anything, it's the fact that he says everything, no matter the subject, in the exact same calm monotone.
She shook herself and changed the subject. "So what's that you got there?"
Monochrome stopped, then held up the cloud he'd been shaping.
"I was bored."
It was an exact replica of Rainbow Dash in flight, wings spread and everything. She swore she could make out feathers, and it even had the right colors, albeit muted ones.
"How'd you do that?"
"Oh, a little attention to detail. If I can keep track of every little draft back home, I can focus on one little sculpture."
"And the colors?"
He pointed a hoof over his shoulder. Several cupcakes had rather lopsided helpings of icing.
"I've been watching you this whole time! There's no way you could have snuck those away without me seeing you!"
Monochrome looked her in the eyes for the first time and flashed a smug smile. "So you say, miss."
Lemon Lime, meanwhile, had problems of his own to deal with.
"Beck turned the lights on, you can come out from under the table."
Fluttershy peeked from under the floor-length tablecloth and then slowly emerged.
"Why were you hiding there anyway? Wouldn't it have been even darker under there?"
Fluttershy murmured something.
Lemony scowled, then forced a smile on his face. "Right, so…"
Lemony tapped a hoof.
"Yeah." Lemony struggled to keep his temper in check. His gut told him Fluttershy was exactly the kind of mare who cried easily, but the awkward quiet was getting on his last nerve.
"So…," he offered, "The rabbit wasn't too upset about Snap shaving his tail, was he?"
Fluttershy stifled a giggled and tried to look stern. "It really wasn't nice, you know."
"Don't look at me like it's my fault. We were both gone all day! Besides, that bunny gave Snap his revenge and then some. It'll be weeks before Snaptrap grows those teeth back!"
"Oh, well… Angel didn't mention that…"
"This surprises you?" he hissed.
Fluttershy jumped and backed up.
Lemony shook himself and hung his head. "Sorry. I just… really don't like parties." His ears twitched at the word green and his eyes swiveled to follow a passing pair of mares he identified as the speakers. "Makes me self-conscious."
"I know what you mean…"
"I don't think you do. If you don't mind me saying, and I can't imagine you would, you've got being beautiful going for you--in fact, now that I think about it, you look like a model that was big in Manehatten last spring. A dead ringer, in fact."
Fluttershy blushed and murmured something that sounded like, "I'd rather not talk about that."
Lemony went on. "Me? Not so much. My mom always said I was handsome, but she's my mom and so I can't take her word for it, now can I? I've been made fun of for my green coat all my life, and crowds just make me paranoid."
Fluttershy opened her mouth, then seemed to think better of what she was about to say. Instead she said, "You don't have to worry about that, Lemony. Almost everyone in Ponyville is really nice. They wouldn't make fun of you just because of your coat."
"It only takes one," the gardener muttered bitterly.
After a moment he realized what he was saying and stood straight up, plastering a smile on. "But hey! Why don't go see if Pinkie's finished with whatever it is she and Quill are up to?"
"No need," the bird in question croaked.
Fluttershy squeaked and dove back under the table.
Lemony sighed and looked around. Quill was perched on the back of a chair nearby.
"Miss Pinkie's finishing up just now. She'll find Pinto and pull him aside, and with any luck good ol' Beck'll be back again."
Lemony looked at the bird curiously. "I don't suppose you're any more willing to say what exactly it is you plan on doing."
"No. It's a very private, personal matter for Pinto, and Pinkie is the only one I trust to keep it secret."
Lemony gave him a flat look. "Really. I could give you at least three different reasons why that's a bad idea, and I barely know her."
"Actually," Fluttershy squeaked, poking her head out, "Pinkie never gives away a secret. She may not seem like it, but she's the most trustworthy pony I know."
Lemony rolled his eyes. "Right. Sure." He trotted off. "I'm gonna go see if we're out of lemonade."
Quill took an opportunity to preen.
Fluttershy prodded his chair. "Um… pardon me, but…"
"I've never had to take care of a raven before."
"We're not too common in Equestria, no."
"I was just wondering… can all ravens talk?"
"Never seen another raven, couldn't tell you. We're a magical breed, though."
"Oh. Well, um, what do ravens eat?"
Quill's eyes twinkled in sudden amusement.
"The rotting carcasses of dead animals."
He laughed at her expression.
"I'd like to say sorry, Miss Sparkle," Beck said, "for that thing with the sword. I promise, I did not intend to try and impale you."
"It's… it's alright," the lavender unicorn said carefully. "What was that spell you did just a moment ago?"
"A simple illusion. All an illusion is is playing with light to make an image. Take away the image and you are left with light. It'll last a few hours before fading back to normal."
"Can you show it to me sometime?"
"Why certainly! And why stop there? I have many spell books, most of them rare."
The poet turned to see Pinkie Pie smiling up at him.
"I've got a surprise for you!"
"Follow me!" With that she turned and hopped towards a far door.
Twilight stared quizzically after her. Something seemed off.
Beck smiled bemusedly and trailed after her through an open door and into a corridor. Pinkie trotted over to a door that opened into the kitchen. "Monochrome showed me around," she said by way of explanation.
Beck nodded. It made as much sense as anything did for him at the moment.
The kitchen didn't bear any resemblance to the mansion's haunted house theme. Hygiene was important, and not even Beck, with all his dedication to his craft, liked cobwebs all over the food.
The kitchen was as suitably enormous as the rest of the mansion, and still hadn't been used yet. So, there was nothing else to draw Beck's eye away from the box on the counter.
"What is that?"
"Your cake! Open it up!"
Beck chuckled. "Very well, if you insist. Now let's see…"
The poet opened the box with a gold-and-violet flash of magic…
Then stopped and stared at the cake inside.
He stood there for a while, his amused expression rapidly shifting to confusion, then realization, horror, despair, and anger, before finally settling on a completely blank look. This blankness was different from that employed by Monochrome in that instead of hiding something, in his case there nothing to show. It gave the impression of all of his higher mental functions having shut down.
The cake was a simple, one-layer chocolate cake, with twelve burning candles on it: five white, seven black. The icing was a basic white with pink letters that spelled out a single message: Happy Birthday Nina. There were black rose petals decorating it.
Pinkie waited anxiously for some kind of reaction. Quill had said it might be a delayed response, but she was worried for Beck.
She started. "Yes Mr. Beck?"
"Could you give me a moment to myself?"
"Oh…sure! Just call if you need some--"
"Please just go. I need a moment."
Pinkie crept out of the kitchen and gently closed the door behind her. She put her ear to the door. After a moment, she could hear Beck reciting a poem, his voice cracking a bit.
It continued for a few seconds before the whole thing degraded into sobs.
The party broke up a few hours later. It was much quicker than most of Pinkie's parties, and so a lot of the guests left early to go about their day. Eventually only Quill and Pinkie remained.
"Do you think we should check up on him?"
"No, no. Pinto is strong. He took six whole months of psychosis and could still function in society, he'll be fine."
The two fell quiet. Silence filled the hallway.
"…it doesn't sound like he's in there."
"Hmm. No, it doesn't, does it."
"You don't think he ran away, do you?"
"No, if anything he's--"
"Or maybe fell asleep?"
"Well, if I had to guess--"
"Oh no! Maybe he was ponynapped! Just like that time those nasty Diamond Dogs stole Rarity and made her dig up a bunch of gems and we had to go rescue her that whole slide through the tunnels was really fun by the way and when we got there it turned out that the dogs couldn't stand her and begged us to take her back--"
"Are you quite finished?"
"Good." The bird coughed into his wing. "As I was trying to say, if Beck is back to normal, he'll probably be outside now. He has this thing he does every year to celebrate Nina's birthday."
"Oh, nothing. Just a little something..."
Beck had retrieved his vest, which had once more gained its fantastic gold sheen from its wash.
He'd put a dark black suit on over it and had a yellow rose on his lapel. His hair had been combed back into a ponytail.
He'd snuck out the back way of his house and found himself in Ponyville's park. He found a nice big tree and set a slice of the cake down by it next to a picture he'd also brought with him.
It was a family photo. His parents stood in the back. His father, Crash Pinto, a yellow earth pony with a shock of orange-streaked black hair and a cutie mark of a round bomb with a fizzing fuse. He wore a brown fedora and a matching jacket, and he was giving the camera the same roguish smile that graced every one of his movie posters. Beside him stood Beck's mother, Melodia Meter, a unicorn whose off-white coat and blue hair were perfectly complemented by her dress. Her mark was a cyan treble clef.
Next were the children. Most obvious was Beck himself, who despite being only eleven at the time was already as tall as his parents. His flank still blank, he shared his father's golden eyes. The tiny puff of black feathers that was baby Quill perched on his back and stared at the camera with big, wide eyes. Beck's younger brother was a golden-eyed unicorn as well. Jacky Spades had a sea-blue coat and a navy mane, and had the same sparkle in his eyes as Crash. Jack's cutie mark was a stack of four playing cards: all jacks, one of each suit, with the topmost naturally being the jack of spades.
At the front was a tiny little filly. While Beck was eleven here and Jack was seven, the last sibling was barely four years old. She smiled at the camera, and despite her thin, tiny frame, one could see the joy in the pink eyes, just like her mother's. She had a dull gray coat and a brown mane.
Beck lifted the frame with the violet aura of his magic and smiled sadly at the picture. He set it down and spoke.
"Hello Nina. I don't know if you can hear me since I can't visit you in person this year. I'm…" he lowered his voice to a pained whisper. "…I'm sorry. I let you down. You told me to share my stories with the world, and when I couldn't write, I thought I'd failed you."
He looked up and directed his voice at the sky.
"I let myself become a train wreck. Well, never again. I swear, by Celestia's sun, by Luna's moon, by any deity or constellation anyone can name."
He relit the cake's candle with a flash of his horn and turned to walk back home.
"Happy birthday, sister."
Behind him,a breeze stirred, playing with the flame for a brief moment before blowing it out.
End of Part 1
Discord sat up and stretched, yawning.
Great, he thought. Countless centuries of imprisonment, put on display like a trophy, and when I finally manage to escape? He rested his chin on his talon and sulked. I'm barely out for a day and those blasted Elements turn me back to… stone…
Discord frowned for a moment before it clicked.
He inspected himself all over, just to be sure.
It was too good to be true.
He leaped to his feet and cheered. "I'm free! Free!" He threw his arms in the air.
It was too good to be true.
The sound caught his attention, and he finally noticed the gold chains binding his arms and legs. The chains were attached to the floor of what he now saw was a small, dark stone room, and there was a collar around his neck as well.
He immediately had his back up against the wall, checking the scene. The room was empty except for him and his chains. The metal shined a faint gold despite the darkness of the room, but of more immediate interest was their weight. They didn’t drag him down--not physically, at least--but there was still a sort of... ponderous...ness... about them.
"…I'm sorta free." He faltered for moment, then smirked. "I'm free enough."
He snapped his talons, fully expecting the chain links to turn into a string of sausages.
Eyes widening, he tried again. Nothing continued to happen. Again. Again, and again, and again.
Discord's smile fell away completely, replaced by a look of near panic.
"Oh good, you're awake."
The draconequus whirled around to find the speaker. The voice had a musical quality to it, in that there was actual music in the voice. It seemed to come from everywhere at once.
Discord composed himself. "Alright, who are you? What's going on?"
"Who am I? My original name would be meaningless to you. You are old, Discord, but my true name was lost to history long before you were even born. It's been so long since anyone's used it, even I sometimes forget…"
Discord sat down and crossed his arms. So my powers aren't working. So what? I tricked those Elements into being jerks, most of them anyway. I can just think my way out of this--
"As to what's going on," the voice went on, taking on the toll of a brass gong, "I should think it is obvious. You are here to be punished."
The speaker stepped out of the shadows. Literally, out of the shadows. Discord felt the air shift to accommodate his arrival.
His black robe hid most of him, but his yellow eyes glowed in the darkness. His hands were hidden in his long sleeves, and his face was hidden by his hood. A constant thumping noise drew his eyes to the source: the tail of a dragon, trailing from the hem, tapping a steady beat against the ground. A pair of large red wings hung limply over his back, flowing like a cape.
What captured his attention most, however, was the red omega emblazoned on the dragon's chest:
The dragon glowered at him with slitted pupils. He moved towards, seeming to glide across the ground.
"You are chaotic," he said. Now his voice sounded like an angry tuba. "You are sadistic, and you are cruel. And, as you appear to have been utterly unfazed by millennia of stone imprisonment, I have elected to make sure you don't get off so easily this time around."
Discord gaped at him. "Easy? Easy?! Do you have any idea what it's like, just sitting there, not able to do anything? I couldn't move, I couldn't sleep, I couldn't even close my eyes. All I had was a statue garden and its visitors, and don't even talk to me about pigeons! Do you have any idea--"
"Yes." The tone of the voice stopped the chaos spirit dead. "Yes, I do. I can remember a time before time, Discord. You had nothing but a garden. I had nothing at all. Nothing. Not so much as a rock that I could watch erode. And of course it wasn't so bad at the time, considering it was all I'd ever known, but then things appeared. I began to experience. And as time passed and space expanded, and I gained a sense of time, I eventually realized just how long I was in that state."
The dragon was suddenly in front of Discord, staring him straight in the eyes with the full intensity of a million years of emptiness.
If looks could kill, then by all rights Discord would have been a smear on the wall.
The dragon exhaled and backed up. "Time did not exist then, so it is hard to judge, but from my perspective I had been in the void for at least half as long as the whole sum of time since then." He folded his arms behind his back. "I have gotten off topic. We were discussing your punishment. Unfortunately, Celestia has made me promise not to kill you. She needn't have bothered. Your death would cause a massive upset in the balance between Order and Chaos."
He pushed back his sleeves and popped his knuckles. In the tones of a pipe organ, he said, "But while I cannot kill you, you'd be surprised what you can live through."
Discord's collar and chains glowed as sinister red runes appeared all over them.
Discord's calm broke. "What? What's going on?! Who are you?!"
The dragon pulled back his hood, revealing red spikes, black scales and a severe, stoic expression.
"I am the order to your chaos. Once upon a time I was the perfect order that came with absolute nothingness. I have protected ponies since there were ponies, from themselves and from threats like you."
Discord's fur and feathers started smoking from the chains' sudden heat.
"You may call me Eclipse."
The light of the runes intensified, and Discord screamed in pain.
Monochrome curled up on his cloud. It had been a long day. He hadn't really done much after the party, but that was probably what made it so long.
It hadn't been half bad, though. Dash had told him that the Everfree Forest had automatic weather, and when he went to check it out he'd found an absolutely amazing updraft. It was the first good flight he'd had in nearly two weeks.
He was distracted from his thought for a moment when the cloud beneath him suddenly turned pink.
Monochrome didn't like pink. As a color, it just got on his nerves. It was red's whiny little sister, always crying out for attention. When it appeared in Celestia's sunsets, it was beautiful, but anywhere else and the pegasus thought it just looked unnatural.
He inspected the cloud, and was annoyed that the thunder he'd put in it was broken. Instead of the lovely rumble, it kept blaring like an air horn.
And it smelled like cotton candy.
That gave him reason to pause. Discord's influence hadn't reached Stormburgh, since it was way out of the way and already plenty chaotic enough, but he'd heard that most of Equestria's rain clouds had turned to cotton candy. He leaned down to taste it…
…And got a mouthful of rain as it abruptly turned back to normal.
Monochrome reflected on his, then shrugged and went back to sleep.
Beck wrote in his journal. He'd bought the book shortly after… shortly after he began acting strangely. He'd read through it, hoping to gain some insight. Several memories had become crystal clear now that he'd regained his senses, but most of the past few months were still a blur. The entries were all legible, though most were rambling, and what coherent thoughts there were had been hidden in a labyrinth of non sequitur, repetition and word salad.
A sigh behind him gave him cause to turn and find that Quill had fallen asleep on his roost.
Beck smiled. He'd have to thank him properly. The bird had never given up on him, despite all the hardship he must have been put through by the whole ordeal…
Quill's feathers turned blue.
Beck stared for a moment, then rubbed his eyes and looked again.
Now they were plaid. Now paisley. And now the patterns made Beck's head hurt, due to a combination of being incapable of being described in terms of geometry, and Beck's poetic spirit trying to describe it anyway.
At length he was forced to look away or else risk having his head explode. When his headache faded enough for him to look again, the raven had returned to normal.
Beck frowned. His horn glowed violet for a moment, confirming his thought.
There was powerful magic at work here. Familiar, too.
Beck's eyes narrowed.
He pulled a thick book off a nearby shelf and searched the index for “chaos.”
Lemony stormed outside, furious. Who in their right mind comes to a pony's house at midnight in order to sing show tunes? he silently fumed.
Of course, when he saw who it was that was singing, his jaw hit the ground.
The Snapdragons were singing in four-part harmony. They'd somehow grown luxurious handlebar mustaches, striped shirts (no idea how they were wearing them, what with not having shoulders and everything) and bow ties, all topped with little flat-looking hats.
Lemony smacked himself, but his eyes did not deceive him; the garden's most dangerous and certainly most vicious flowers were dressed as a barbershop quartet, and were singing Farewell My Poney Island Baby.
Lemon stood there, dumbstruck.
After a few minutes, their singing faded into confused silence, as though they'd forgotten the rest of the song. Then they started growling again and ripped their outfits to shreds.
A faint clapping at his feet led Lemony to look down. Snaptrap sheepishly stopped his applause at the earth pony's look.
Lemony sighed. "It's too late for this."
Discord slumped to the ground, twitching.
Eclipse watched him for a moment, then reached into his sleeve and pulled out a small device. He placed it on the ground just far enough from Discord that the chains would keep it out of his reach.
It was a metronome. He set it to a slow andante, and let it tick away in synch with his tail.
Discord's one open eye swiveled to land on the metronome, then up to the dragon's face. He grunted and pulled himself into a sitting position.
Eclipse spoke. "You will remain in here. The collar will only be used again if you misbehave."
Discord scowled. "Oh, so I'm grounded am I?"
Eclipse was suddenly in his face. "Yes."
The black dragon whirled around and glided towards the cell door. He stopped in the door frame and looked at the draconequus over his shoulder. "Oh yes. Discord?"
There was an edge to his tone. "…yes?" he answered carefully.
"I was paying attention, all those years ago, when you first encountered Celestia. And again, when you spoke to her more recently. I would not have thought much of it, but I am older than time itself. I can see all the myriad pathways of time, all the little twists and turns that history makes, and so I can see how things could have gone, not just how they went. So I have just one last message for you…"
"...Yes?" Discord hazarded, not sure where he was going.
The door slammed so hard that dust fell from the stone ceiling. Like a rolling cymbal, the dragon's voice hissed: "Stay away from my daughter."
When the sun rose that morning, it shined into the face of Monochrome Gale, as he sat on his small dark cloud.
Monochrome’s silver eyes watched the first few beams of sunlight spread over the mountains. A few seconds later a rooster crowed, echoing from Sweet Apple Acres. He closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. He wondered briefly how his family was doing, then dismissed the thought. It wouldn’t do to dwell on the past.
A small breeze played with his mane, and Monochrome’s eyes snapped open. He caught the breeze and rolled it between his hooves, building up speed. The clouds around him swirled, caught in the forming vortex. He released the gale, and it roared away from him and spread throughout the sky. It would be a very windy day in Ponyville today.
Monochrome smiled. He threw himself off the cloud and shot forward as he caught the gust with his wings.
Beck strolled through the streets, his golden vest gleaming in the sunlight. Quill perched on his back and watched passers-by with a steely eye.
“So. What’s the plan for today?” the bird croaked.
Beck didn’t answer, humming to himself. He scanned the market with bright eyes, watching for anything of interest.
Quill balled his wing into something resembling a fist and knocked on the unicorn’s head. “Beck! It’s noon! You should be awake by now!”
Beck chuckled. “Apologies, my fine, feathered friend. I am observing.”
Quill waited a moment. “Observing.”
“Yes. Oh, look at that. The mailmare has just crashed into a vegetable stand.”
Quill raised what must for simplicity’s sake be called an eyebrow. “So she has.”
“And not a single reaction from anypony more than ten feet from the impact. Hmm.”
Quill rubbed an approximation of a chin. “You’d almost think it’s a regular occurrence, wouldn’t you?”
Beck nodded, eyes closed. “I would indeed.”
The two looked at each other and broke into huge grins.
Beck laughed and pulled a notepad out of his saddlebags. “I like this town!”
Quill squawked as a flash of magic yanked a feather from his tail. Beck wrote a few notes and smiled. The veggie vendor whose stall the mare had wrecked looked more resigned or annoyed than angry. The grey pegasus had a sheepish look on her face, whereas the vendor had a look of strained patience. Yes, clearly this had happened before.
“Excuse me mister?”
Beck looked down and then further down to find three small fillies. He put up his notes and smiled. “Yes, my fine young strangers?”
The white unicorn with the striped mane stared up at him. “Are you the Mister Meter my sister was talking about?”
Beck’s smile shrank a bit. “That depends on who your sister is, miss.”
Quill, who’d been more fit to mingle the past few days, whispered in his ear. Beck’s relief was tangible. “Oh! Rarity! I see it now, yes, thank you.”
Quill’s eyes narrowed. “Pinto, who’d you think she was--”
“Shh not in front of little fillies shh!” the writer hissed at him.
The three fillies watched in confusion as Beck and Quill started off into what would have been a flaming row had they not been whispering so as to keep anyone else from hearing. Their gestures, however, were both informative and highly entertaining.
Something about a rhesus monkey playing drums with a plunger, they decided. Hooves are not good for hand gestures.
At length the raven suddenly said, still whispering but now audible, “What were we talking about in the first place?”
“I don’t know. Fudge, I think.”
“Then why are we whispering?”
“I’m… not sure.”
The pair turned back to the fillies, smiles once more. “Terribly sorry, got a bit sidetracked. Prone to that,” Beck offered. “What did you need me for, miss… er, name?”
“I’m Sweetie Belle!” the little unicorn said.
“I’m Scootaloo!” the orange pegasus seconded.
“And Ah’m Applebloom!” the yellow filly finished.
Beck squinted at the last one’s accent. “You’d be… what was it, Applejack’s sister, yes?”
“Wow, yeah! How’d ya guess?”
“The word ‘apple’ was a clue, methinks. And what can I do for you three?”
Sweetie Bell tilted her head. “What did we want… Oh yeah! Rarity went to check on you a while ago, but you weren’t home, so she came back all worried, and so we decided to look for you.” She finished with a huge breath.
Beck took a moment to look the three over. Small fillies, not quite teenagers but getting there, all without cutie marks, the orange one’s cape was tangled and--
“Oh ho? I hadn’t noticed that before.”
“What?” Scootaloo asked. Beck ignored her and turned his body so Quill could get a better look.
“See those capes they’re wearing, Quill?”
“Oh yes, so I do.”
“Marvelous gold, isn’t it?”
“Surely is, though I can’t imagine why anypony would waste it coating the inside.”
“Yes. A shame, that.”
Sweetie Bell looked at the cape on her back in confusion. Judging from her expression, it was apparent that she hadn’t thought about that.
She brightened in recollection. “Oh yeah!” The three twisted around to inspect their flanks. Blank.
They sighed as one pony. “What’s wrong? Quill asked, concerned.
Applebloom sighed again. “We were hopin’ to get our cutie marks, but no luck.”
Beck blinked. Exchanging a glance with the bird, he asked, “Were you? At what, might I ask?”
“At--um, at--what was it again, Scoot?”
“Retrieve and rescue, I think.”
Beck fought back a laugh. “Retrieve and rescue, you say? Ah. Well, I could have told you that would have got you nowhere.”
The little pegasus jumped up, indignant. “We’ve got to try! We’ve tried everything else!”
Beck raised a brow. “Have you now?”
Sweetie Bell stuck put a hoof to her chin. “Yeah, yesterday we tried to get demolition cutie marks, but we just blew a pothole in the road.”
“I told ya we should have set ’em up somewhere else.”
“It’s not my fault! It was the only place somepony didn’t drive us off!”
“Then there was the time we went paragliding.”
“Yeah, that was a bad idea from the start. I don’t know who thought it would work, but--
“It was your idea!”
“…and it was awesome.”
“And what about that time we tried dragon slaying?”
“Ooh, yeah… Spike wouldn’t go near us after that.”
“Can ya blame him? After all, we were chasing him with swords.”
“It was only a stick.”
“It was a sword!”
Beck slowly pulled out his notebook and feather and started writing. Overhead, something black shot past, and a gust of wind nearly knocked Quill from his perch.
Monochrome shot over the town, coasting on the airstream he’d set in motion that morning. He flapped his wings a few times to get used to the feeling; he usually just kept them stiff as a board, but the Ponyville skies required a little more push than back home.
He alighted on a cloud and gave a satisfied sigh. It wasn’t his best work, but it was pretty good considering what he’d had to work with. Pegasi could not actually make wind, per se, they merely amplified it. Wind sort of happened on its own. It could be repressed if a pegasus set up the right safeguards, and it could be directed if you were fast enough, but otherwise, it just… happened. Most places in Equestria had been under the influence of scheduled weather for so long that barely a breeze would form on its own, but their was always some wind. Trying to get rid of it was like trying to get rid of the air. Exactly like it, in fact.
Monochrome stirred as the wind blew through his mane. Slight irregularity, he noted. Wind current behind me is slightly distorted, distortion is moving…
The cloud wobbled slightly as somepony landed behind him. “Hello, Dash,” he greeted without turning.
“Thought I saw you up here. Windy today, huh?”
“Took me twice as long usual to put all the clouds in place.”
“Don’t be. It was only like--”
“Twenty seconds flat, haha, good joke.”
Monochrome felt the cloud shift as she sagged. “Go ahead and suck the fun out of it, why don’t you?”
He didn’t think this warranted a response, so he waited. He heard the scowl in her voice as she said, “What’s going on with this cloud, anyway?”
The cloud had a growing patch of grey spreading from where Monochrome sat. Monochrome glanced at it and shrugged. “I’m a Storm.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means I’m a Storm.”
With that, the black pegasus stood and trotted off the edge. Dash ran to the edge and looked over.
Monochrome’s wings snapped open, their angles sending him into a tailspin. He adjusted his left wing and made a ninety degree turn, dragging the air behind him.
Grandpa Ash can’t be touched by flame, Monochrome thought. Cousin Cold Front doesn’t start bundling up until it’s forty degrees below. Tidal Wave can hold his breath for a long time, and swim just even better than he can fly.
He glanced back and smirked. Every pegasi has their own take to the air, Dash. Let’s see if we can find yours.
Monochrome flew up and hovered for a moment, then spun in place. After a moment a small twister faded into existence around him. As it tapered into a complete funnel, he dove down, dragging the tornado with him. Pieces of debris followed him as well, pulled in by his twister.
He suddenly became aware of colors. He looked behind him. Rainbow Dash was matching his every move perfectly. She stumbled a bit on the turns, clearly not used to gliding, but she kept up with him, riding his slipstream almost flawlessly. She smirked at him and said something, her words stripped away by the gale.
Monochrome grinned. “Is this what they call a challenge?” he shouted back at her. “Never had one before. Let’s see if I like it!”
He dove down close to the ground, corkscrewing to build up his twister’s strength, and flew over a small lake. He glanced back. Rainbow was completely focused, and so she didn’t seem to notice the water being pulled up behind her.
He pulled up and angled himself towards Ponyville, pulling Rainbow and most of the lake behind him.
Beck was beaming by the time the Crusaders were done. “Splendid! Absolutely amazing! You girls get in a lot of mischief, don’t you?”
Applebloom dragged a hoof in the dirt. “Yeah, well… Most’a the time we get in trouble for it.”
Scootaloo grinned. “This is the first time somepony’s wanted to hear about all that!”
“I’m sure, I’m sure,” Beck said vaguely, reading over his notes. “Girls, I may well be able to make a series out of this! ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders?’ I like it!”
He passed the notebook and pen to Quill, who took it in his feathers. “Write for me, I need to talk to myself.”
Sweetie Bell looked at him strangely. “Why?”
“So I can have an intelligent conversation.”
Quill pecked him.
“Ow! What was that for?”
“Intelligent conversation my claw,” the bird mumbled.
There was a sound overhead like a waterfall.
The group looked straight up. A black streak and a rainbow line were being followed by a stream of water at least ten yards long.
Scootaloo gasped. “That’s Rainbow Dash! Is she trying out a new trick? And who’s the other guy?”
Beck squinted. “Quill, you have better eyes, can you see…?”
“It’s Monochrome. Only black pony I know. Looks like he’s enjoying himself.”
“Good for him.”
Scootaloo was buzzing with excitement. “C’mon! We just gotta see this! Come on!”
“I say, miss!” Beck protested. “You don’t need to shove! I admit I’m curious to see where he’s going with this--oh look, he’s writing!”
Monochrome was indeed weaving through the sky, writing out words with the water stream behind him. The transparency of water made it difficult to see, but it could be read as:
Ponies all over the market did just that. Monochrome, with Rainbow Dash zipping right along behind him, corkscrewed again and flew in ascending circles, leaving a spring-shaped mass of water in the air. At the top of his spin, he suddenly dove straight down inside the coils.
He flipped over as he reached the ground and landed on his feet, twister dissipating immediately. He flung himself a few feet away from his landing point and turned to watch, grinning, as Rainbow copied him, touching down right where he had.
She flashed a smile at him. “Not bad, Mono, but you’ll have to do more than that to get the better of Rainbow Dash!”
At which point the water hit her point-blank.
Monochrome watched with a wry smile as the mare was completely and utterly soaked. When the water ran out, Rainbow stood, looking much thinner with her coat plastered down, and looked steadily at the ground through her bangs.
Beck watched the scene with vague disinterest, moving slightly to avoid the splash. He looked at Quill and whispered, in an offhand manner, “Oh, I forgot to mention. You turned paisley last night.”
Rainbow turned her gaze upward until she met Monochrome eyes. He raised an eyebrow. Rainbow glared at him…
…then snorted and burst out laughing. Monochrome’s mouth twitched into a grin, and he joined in. “Not bad, huh?” Monochrome asked.
Rainbow fought to calm herself. “Hah, n-no, but I gotta give you props for that! Never would’a stuck you as a prankster!”
“Me neither. What’s a prankster?”
That set Dash off again. Monochrome gave her a look of confusion.
“Wait. You’re… you’re not serious, are you?”
“You don’t know what pranking is? After that beauty?”
“Nooo… First time I’ve ever done something like that. Tomfoolery gets you crippled, killed or worse in Stormburgh.”
Quill, watching with the others a few yards away, felt the need to interject. “Worse? How can anything be worse than that?”
Monochrome stared into the distance, thinking. “Well, for starters, you could come out of it just fine and get in trouble with the foreman.”
“How is that worse?”
“Ever met my dad?”
Beck chuckled to himself. “Yes, this is all well and good, but perhaps Miss Dash should dry herself before she takes ill, hmm?”
Monochrome stared at him for a second, then at Rainbow. A wind started blowing…
Rainbow caught on more quickly this time. “NO! No, I think I’ll just find a towel, thanks.”
The wind stopped. Monochrome folded his wings and shrugged. “If you insist.” The excitement was over, and Monochrome felt the energy drain from him. After a few moments he could feel his face stiffening up again.
Rainbow flew off and Monochrome settled himself down on the side of the road, staring at nothing.
Beck observed this for a moment, then turned back to the confused crusaders.
“Right. Now that all that’s done, tell me more about yourselves. If I’m going to use your likenesses, I need to get it right, yes?”
Monochrome watched for a few minutes, then tuned them out in favor of examining his own thoughts.
Today had been a good day. He’d stirred up a refreshing breeze that had offered a wonderful flight. He’d pulled a few tricks and had some fun at the expense of an annoying mare who, all things considered, took it rather well.
He sighed contentedly. This had been a good day.
One’s living space can speak wonders about them. This room, for instance, is dark.
It looks as much like a living room as a section of far-too-perfectly-carved grey rock can. There’s a doorway on each side of the room. One leads to a long hall that stretches out of sight in both directions, the other leads to another, smaller room, from which an eerie blue glow radiates. Off to the side are bookshelves, each and every one holding books bound in various colors. Most of them are black, but some are blue or yellow or red. In the space where the author‘s name would usually go on the spine, there is instead a symbol. Black books have red omegas or, less commonly, Venus symbols. There is a desk and an armchair and even wall hangings here and there, mostly black banners with the omega on them.
The room is lit by an golden glow, and the light’s source is quite possibly the strangest thing there.
The centerpiece of the room is set into a pedestal rising out of the floor at about table-height. It has the same omega motif as the rest of the room, and it is mirrored by an identical platform hanging down from the ceiling.
Set into these are a hideously complex series of golden strings and threads running from top to bottom, some at absurd angles. The center of it all is a thick rope as wide as a pony’s leg.
Some of the threads are thicker than others. Some have small pieces of colored string wrapped around them. Some intersect with each other. Towards the edge of the construct there are five or six strings tangled together in such a hideous knot that it could put the Gordian Knot to shame. The light come from the middle rope and several dozen cords surrounding it.
As the room’s one occupant watched, one of the thinnest flashed once, then snapped of its own accord.
Eclipse tsked and held the snapped thread between two claws. “Such a shame.” He pulled the string taut and twanged it. As the note rang, it glowed a deep violet. He turned to a shelf, where a purple-bound book glowed the same.
Eclipse dropped the thread and pulled the book down. It didn’t even have cover art. He leafed through the book until he reached the last page. Then he flipped through it in the other direction until he found where the writing stopped. He read the page down to where it ended abruptly mid-paragraph.
“Hmph. That’ll do it.”
“What’ll do it?”
Eclipse had existed for eons. He was not startled by Orion’s sudden appearance from nowhere. He regarded the colt carefully. “A world is dying, Orion. Too many things went wrong and it couldn’t support itself any longer.”
“Nothing. The story didn’t go anywhere, ponies were out of character, and nothing of import happened at all,” he said, holding the book up. The title of the book was fading already. “You see Orion, the world was written into existence. All of the timelines that sprout from it are simply reflections of what could have been, rather than what was. And if a timeline doesn’t lead anywhere, it can’t hold itself together. It falls apart.”
Eclipse entered the other room with the blue glow. The light came from a water basin in the center of the otherwise bare room. It looked like a birdbath, all things considered, albeit a very solemn one. Eclipse dipped a finger into the glowing water, and the light turned violet for an instant before an image appeared in the basin.
The basin looked out onto a room that was in many respects identical to Eclipse’s. However, the gray walls had a purple tint to them, and the mass of strings seen in the water glowed in different places.
“Quasar!” Eclipse called, voice like a fanfare. “Attend!”
There was a shuffling, and then the steady 4/4 beat of Eclipse’s tail was joined by different beat:
The two beats matched tempo with each other, and another dragon appeared in the basin. His scales were a deep violet and his drooping spines were black, and his blue eyes were big and sad. His robe was a darker shade of purple and the symbol on his chest was a simple black circle. In all aspects other than color, however, he looked exactly like Eclipse.
The sad-looking dragon hummed a few bars before speaking, and when he did he spoke in a string quartet. “Hello, Eclipse. What is it that you need from me?”
“Quasar, one of the worlds under your jurisdiction has failed,” Eclipse said, intoning a brass orchestra.
Quasar glanced over his shoulder at his strings. A pitifully thin thread snapped audibly, its purple glowed fading gradually. “So it has. Oh dear,” he sighed. “I suppose you want me to save them?”
Eclipse glared at him. Orion suspected that Quasar would have burst into flames if they had been face-to-face. “Yes, Quasar. You must save those who were unfortunate enough to be born in a doomed world. Now go and save what you can.”
Quasar nodded, and the image faded. The room filled with a blue glow once more.
Eclipse glided back into the strings room and laid the book in one of the desk drawers.
“What happens to the book, sir?”
“Originality is hard to come by, and ideas never truly fade completely away. Maybe someday someone will make the story work, and the world will spring into existence again.”
Orion frowned. Such concepts as were being discussed do not come easily to a child.
Eclipse glanced at him. “Please take Discord his dinner. I must attend to matters of great importance.” A piece of glowing black paper resolved from the shadows around him and he began writing in sharp white letters. His handwriting had serifs.