Pony POV Series
POV Fluttercruel: "Penumbra II"
Written by OracleMask
Okay, so I'd just met the Doc. And I'd just found out about this time-traveling thing, which was totally unfair if you ask me. I mean, I know Mom remembered a lot of stuff about the ponies-turned-foals, and she really hates talking about that stuff. And until today, I didn't question it because I thought it was all bad stuff – and who wants to hear all that depressing junk about ponies hating themselves?
But this? This is a freaking huge deal! Yesterday we were waking up at home. Today? We're waking up a thousand years in the past! In Sunnytown! In not-cursed-yet Sunnytown!
Damn...I don't know if I'm angry at Mom for wanting to come here, or if I'm angry at the Doc for taking us here. Maybe it's a little of both...because you know what? Seeing the Sunnytown ponies alive and happy and not even the tiniest bit cursed, and being stuck knowing what's gonna happen to them? It hurts. It's cruel – too cruel.
Yeah, okay, I guess I'm not mad at Mom for this. Being mad at Mom is like being mad at a bunny rabbit – a non-Angel bunny rabbit, I mean. And maybe this'll do some good. The whole reason Mom wanted to come here was to find out how exactly the Sunnytown curse was cast. She's counting on there being some way to undo it, or an easier way to break it. What Mom has trouble remembering sometimes is that these ponies earned their curse over Ruby's dead body. And they're all gonna poof into dust as soon as we break it in our time anyway...so the sooner Mom breaks the curse, the faster these ponies get a trip to Pony Hell. Good riddance.
…Come to think of it, it's really just the Doc's fault we're here. Mom and I wouldn't be here in Sunnytown in the first place if the Doc didn't have a time-traveling box. Not to mention his choice in fake names: seriously, Buttercup? I guess it would screw up time or something if the Sunnytowners knew Mom's name before she recruited them, but why can't we just use my name? Buttercup is a stupid name! Don't get me started on that 'Butters' clop.
Though the Doc did have a point about how something weird was going on. That wall was long gone in our time, and there were only, what, six Sunnytowners? Maybe seven if you counted Ruby's ghost. But pre-curse Sunnytown was a decent-sized town, and as soon as we stepped out of the guest house this morning, a whole mob was there to meet us. Even back then...back now? In the past, but it's happening right now, which means...UGH! Freaking time travel!
Even when not-cursed, it was obvious these ponies didn't get out much.
Mom was plenty happy to let me take the lead. She's not as terrible as she used to be about meeting strange ponies, but the crowd getting in her face was still too much. I, on the other hoof, was drinking in all their attention. It was kind of obvious why we'd get such a huge welcoming committee when I stretched out our wings and the crowd oohed. Sunnytown didn't have any unicorns or pegasi: the last time they'd seen a pony with wings must've been when Princess Celestia gave them the town.
The Doc was even more in his element than I was with the crowd. Everypony who offered him a hoof-shake was limping away afterward, all shook out. Can't say I saw any familiar faces...I mean, every Sunnytown pony I'd met was a walking blackened corpse. Nothing remotely like the bright and sunny faces watching us.
“Now isn't this nice, a town that really lives up to its name,” the Doc grinned, as the crowd thinned out enough that we could move away from the door of the guest cottage, “Sunny dispositions all around! Don't you agree, Butters?”
The only reason I didn't hit him on the spot was that the ponies were still watching us.
So what if Mom liked the name? It was still a dumb name!
“Possibly the third – no, sixth friendliest town I've ever seen,” the Doc added, “Although two of those were made of math, so they might not count.”
Made of math? What the b-
'Language,' Mom chided.
'But Mom, he's making crazy stuff up!'
'...I don't even wanna know. Let's just look for Grayhoof already.'
Just thinking that left a bad taste in my mouth. Would it damage time or something if I gave that pony a quick buck to the face? Just a little one? Everything that the other cursed ponies had said put the blame for their fate right in Grayhoof's hooves. Ruby's murder was supposedly all his idea. Of course, the other ponies still helped when it came time to murder her, so it wasn't like that made them innocent, but it was still mostly Grayhoof's fault.
We finally found him right back at the front gate. Grayhoof was hanging out with a brown pony, and together they were watching a couple other ponies moving the logs and rolling in some big rocks. Apparently their idea of 'fixing' the gate was to hold the logs in place with a pile of heavy rocks that almost nopony could move without help. That was really sad...but at least it would keep ponies from getting the gate open as easily as the Doc had.
The fact that nopony around had cutie marks made the whole thing kinda creepy to watch. Kinda like watching a village of nothing but foals playing around, only disturbingly wrong in every way possible. Luckily Mom didn't hear me thinking that thought...there was enough going on today to remind her of being a Nightmare without me adding my two bits.
“Ah! Good morning,” Grayhoof said as soon as he saw us, waving a hoof at us, “We were just talking about you. Gladstone, these are Time Turner and Buttercup, the travelers who arrived late last night.”
Mom and I froze. Luckily Gladstone didn't have time to notice our strange reaction, because he'd made the mistake of holding a hoof to shake and now the Doctor was giving Gladstone what had to be the the most teeth-rattling hoofshake of his life. But could you blame us getting surprised? We hadn't expect to run right into another Sunnytown pony who'd still be around in a thousand years! The only thing that would make the situation more awkward right now would be to run right into -
I grunted as a warm body ran right into us from behind. Turning around, we found it it was a filly with a gray coat and yellow mane. And if she'd been any younger, her lack of cutie mark would have seemed perfectly normal.
“Sorry,” the filly said, smiling sheepishly.
“No problem, Ruby,” I said.
...Open mouth, insert hoof. As the filly blinked, clearly confused, I scrambled to cover my flanks. Lie, lie! Think of a good lie! And damn the Old Man for not making me Dishonesty, because my lying skills are pathetic!
“Um, that is...sorry about that. I know this filly, back – back where we come from, and she, well, she kinda looks like you. So I thought it was her! And – and her name is Ruby! Yeah, totally my bad.”
Fortunately for me, Ruby wasn't a thousand years-old ghost filly yet. Right now she was a normal filly who, like the rest of her village, didn't get out much. Even my lame excuse for an excuse was enough for her. It struck me that for somepony growing up so sheltered, it was kinda weird how Ruby had been able to cope with being brutally murdered and then stuck as a ghost.
“That's a funny coincidence! My name's Ruby too!” Ruby said, grinning now.
I managed to swallow my sarcastic retort, but Mom still gave me a mental nudge for it. Yeah, yeah, tragic death and fillies, not a laughing matter, but come on! Was I the only one getting all weirded out today?
“And you must be Miss Buttercup! Everypony in Sunnytown has been talking about you and your friend,” Ruby added.
Must resist...bucking Doc...to Appleloosa!
“Everypony, huh?” I replied through gritted teeth.
“Yup! New ponies walking into town is rare,” Rudy said, smiling and oblivious to my discomfort, “And you're a pegasus! Does that mean you live in the sky? Ooh! Have you met Princess Celestia? Is she nice? Are there lots of pegasus ponies where you live? Do you -”
Quickly, I stuck my hoof out and covered her mouth, cutting off the flood of Ruby's rapid-fire questions. Something about that first part of what Ruby was saying bothered me, but I ignored it. Her expression was just so...ugh, sappy and earnest. I changed my opinion on Sunnytown ponies from 'don't get out much' to 'living under a rock in the middle of Everfree'. And it occurred to me that Ruby's interest in things that were outside of Sunnytown might be the reason she got her cutie mark in the first place. No, it had to be. It wasn't hard to connect the dots: a pony who wanted to know more about the world would notice things others didn't, and that could make her better at finding lost things.
Heck, maybe all the Sunnytown ponies were like this, but Ruby was the reason we were here.
“What makes you think I know Princess Celestia?” I asked.
Ruby (once I remembered to move my hoof) promptly said, “Because she has wings, and she's the sun princess, and the sun is in the sky! And pegasus ponies live in the sky too!”
Oh yeah, this was definitely going to lead to Ruby getting her cutie mark. Mom was thinking the same thing, I could tell: she getting more depressed with every word that came out of Ruby's mouth. At this rate, her cutie mark would appear on her flanks at any moment.
Wouldn't it be cruel to just let Ruby get her cutie mark, knowing it would effectively kill her? I wondered if it would be kinder to do something to convince Ruby to back away from that moment of realization, let her live to a ripe old age. Telling her about the outside world would only wet her curiosity's appetite, bring the end faster.
'We should leave now,' Mom thought at me.
'Right now,' she repeated, 'I...I don't think we should talk to anypony we know in Sunnytown anymore.'
I thought about it. And then I thought what I would want if I were in Ruby's hooves, and I smiled right back at that filly.
“You're one smart filly, Ruby,” I told her, “Yeah, I've met Princess Celestia a whole bunch of times.”
Mom was horrified.
Ruby was delighted.
I glanced over where the Doc was just in time to see him wave at us, having somehow strong-hoofed a puzzled Gladstone and Grayhoof into giving him 'a proper tour of the place'. The ponies who'd been 'repairing' the gate had long since wondered off, leaving me and Mom pretty much alone with Ruby.
“So,” I said, settling down on the grass and waving for Ruby to join me, “What do you want to know about Princess Celestia?”
“Absolutely everything,” Ruby replied.
I thought for a second.
“...Did you know she has a pet phoenix?” I began.
By the time I ran out of things that I was pretty sure were not time-sensitive to tell Ruby about Celestia, pegasi, and Equestria as a whole, my throat was aching. Mom wasn't a big talker, and I didn't usually get so chatty. This was a big exception: Ruby drank up everything I told her like a sponge. Not that she didn't question anything I told her: when I made up a few details here and there about some stuff, Ruby tended to notice and would ask about them minutes later.
So I was exaggerating to a filly to make boring things sound cooler. So what? Who hasn't done that before?
Mom was still kinda mad at me for telling Ruby all that stuff, but as Ruby kept asking questions, she started getting upset for a different reason: it was clear that Ruby had tons of potential that was just going to waste here in Sunnytown. Even if we saved her life this time, Ruby would never get to exercise any of her cleverness unless she left Sunnytown for good.
“Ruby! There you are!” a voice cut in.
A pink filly with a red mane ran up. She was maybe a little bit younger than Ruby.
“Oh, Mitta! Sorry, I lost track of time,” Ruby said, a little sheepishly.
...I tried to connect the bright-eyed pink pony in front of me to the sullen, depressed Mitta of Sunnytown we knew. I couldn't do it.
“Miss Buttercup, can we talk again sometime? I'd love to hear more stories!” Ruby said to me.
“Sure, anytime,” I replied, and watched the two fillies trot off.
Once Ruby and Mitta were out of sight, Mom promptly got our body up and flew it back to the guest house. I winced: she was still a little upset with me, I guess. Maybe it was for the best that the Doc had beaten us there.
“Hello!” he said, “Found anything interesting yet? I certainly have!”
“...Oh yes, Gladstone was going to show you around Sunnytown,” Mom said, “What did you find, Doctor?”
“This and that,” he said, waving a hoof, “For instance, did you know that this town is a disguised enormous mana sink?”
I had the image of a magical kitchen sink. I dunno if Mom let my confusion show, or if the Doc just likes to explain things, because he added, “Every building here is loaded with spells to keep things working just right. Nopony here has to worry about fixing anything. And it's all powered by mana pulled in from the Everfree Forest! Brilliant concept. Couldn't use it anywhere else, but Everfree's got the power to spare.”
“Oh...I suppose that makes sense,” Mom said, “This town was founded so the ponies here could live without ever having to struggle.”
The Doc's ears shot straight up. Apparently, that was news to him.
“That's the catch? I knew this town was too good to be true, they always are, but that's just – just – and just what dunderhead came up with this plan?”
“...and that's why the ponies here, um...did what they did,” Mom said as she finished explaining everything we knew about Sunnytown and it's curse to the Doc.
He looked a little frustrated, which made me happy. See how you like feeling left out of the loop!
“Well...that does explain a few things,” the Doc finally said, “But something's still not right.”
Mom and I were both puzzled as the Doc got up and began pacing.
“You take some traumatized foals and put them in a village where everything hard gets done for them,” the Doc said, “Commendable. Best of intentions. And the foals grow up without having any reason to test themselves, so nopony gets a cutie mark.”
“Yes, that's right.”
“And then those foals have their own foals. Foals who would never have to struggle in their entire lives...except now they believe all cutie marks are signs of a curse and they'll kill anypony they see with one. That's really a stretch, don't you think Fluttershy?”
“A stretch...oh, because they were given this as a safe place by Princess Celestia?” Mom said slowly, not liking where this was going, "And they should know about her cutie mark?"
“Exactly! Why would that change? And second question: where are the rest of them?"
"The rest?" Mom sounded as confused as I was now.
"Yes, the rest of them. I've shaken hooves with over half the ponies in Sunnytown, and they were all Earth Ponies,” the Doc said, “Could see pegasi getting their own little cloud town, maybe, but the unicorns? Celestia's never been one for that separatist nonsense.”
Mom went really still and quiet. I took the chance to ask something that'd been bugging me.
“Wait, that's why you've been shaking hooves like a maniac?”
The Doc beamed a smile at me.
“Exactly right, 'Cruelly! Earth Pony strength's all in the wrist,” he said, waving a hoof at me for emphasis.
“You think the ponies here are hiding something?” Mom said, taking control again.
“Nope! I know they're hiding something,” the Doc replied, “And I have just the place to look for clues. We've even got a bit of luck on our side: Sunnytown will be celebrating their Founding Day in a few days. Perfect time to take a look around unnoticed.”