by Foxxy Hooves
My hooves creaked on each plank as I descended the steps down into the cellar, where it's always cool and dark and earthy-musty and there's a faint trickle of an old stream running down out of Canterlot's mountains, tinkling endessly just off out there in the dark. It adds a certain dramatic urgency to my cellar. The dancing light of the candle I floated beside me caught drips and drops from the trickle, where it passed through my mesh filter and down into a water barrel. It was getting time to bring it upstairs, I thought to myself. It's the best and cleanest water in all of Equestria. I smiled and swung my lit taper around to the side where a number of barrels of clay were incubating alongside a disused old wood potter's wheel, awaiting another day I felt like taking a pass, on which I was enthusiastic but sloppy. I stepped carefully around these and floated the candle aloft, where row after row of dark brown gleaming bottles with their wonderful sweet-musty corks and gilt wire hoods sparkled in the half-light.
I was almost about to choose the one with the three stallions silhouetted on the white label when I remembered another bottle, one that was full of ale that was dark and rich and strong and tasted like gingerbread and molasses and coffee and chocolate and winter spices at midnight. I bought it about five winters ago in that little old cellar shop downtown on a whim and it should be ready now. Smiling proudly, I floated the glistening black bottle off its shelf, blowing some dust off and looking at it lovingly there in the darkness. She should like this one, I thought, it'll be like her special chocolate malts in her ice cream shop. I trotted back upstairs, feeling especially proud of myself.
In the blue afternoon winter's light which stole from between Canterlot's stabbing tall towers, my parlour was a sheltered harbour of copper and gold glow. The Hearth's Warming pine sat twinkling merrily in the corner, awash in flickering candles and scarlet bows and draped in tinsel icicles. They were a poor match for the real icicles which lurked just beyond my window like reaching fingers, but the tree and the candles were fake anyway courtesy my parents' attic and I had scented candles burning constantly to replicate the smell. Some things just couldn't be bought in Canterlot, and a real tree in a real barn full of real hay was one of them. Yes, one could assemble all of those things, but the essence of those gifting days of my youth continued to elide me and probably always will.
Now I was nosing around under my fake tree amidst all those neatly wrapped parcels for Rosie and Fyre and Heart Healer and others, emerging victorious with a spool of red ribbon with gilt edging. I tied a triple bow carefully around the neck of that beautiful black glistening bottle of ale which looked strong and black enough sitting there on the mantle of my fireplace to melt away all the icicles outside without ever leaving its bottle. She was a beautiful bottle sitting there in the half light amidst all the gingerbread colts and glittery glass snowflakes and all the other Hearth's Eve trappings. I placed her directly next to a scroll.
I thought of letting the scroll alone but then I unraveled it scroll and pressed it to my nose, and t smelled like flowers and sugar and makeup and polished chrome. I read it again, tucked it away nearby, then rolled onto my back and floated a book over to rest on my belly. It was a date, I thought, and I shall not disappoint.
The Air Coach station in Canterlot is always a mess. Pegasus flying in and out, packages, chariots, feathers, and hay, and families and luggage, and musty air and hazy sunlight, and comings and goings and goings and comings and a mess everywhere you look. There's an old coffee bar on one end and three big arched doors at the other that never quite seem to let in enough light to make the place feel like more than a big messy barn. But such places, too, have their romance. I sat and waited and had my three cups of coffee and waited and wished I'd brought some paper with me to draw.
The coffee bar was old, and old fashioned. Simple cold sandwiches appeared from below the counter, one suspected direct from a dispenser, and some absurd gleaming brass contraption stood along the back wall, which was obviously so outmoded and broken down that it had been many long years since coffee had flowed from her glittered spout, but she had passed on as one of those thing which Canterlot Simply Would Not Be Canterlot Without, and so was kept polished in proud retirement.
It was the deco lace which caught my imagination, just as it had in my fillyhood. Polished silver beams jutted this way and that, and circles and lines and curved glass windows and black felt seats and chipped green paint and coffee cups cracked with age spoke to me of home. It was a long thin strip of life at the back of that big old stone barn, a cookie box of wonder with cellophane windows and ponies peering out past espressos and lattes towards those three distant arches that opened up to stark blue sky, thousands of feet above ground level. It is the only part of the whole place I can have said to love.
I thought to retrace those vertical ceiling struts for perhaps the hundredth time when there was a general tittering that swelled and began at the back of the great old stone hall and moved towards the front like a wave, towards me, and I looked out the center arch where a rapidly spreading black dot on the blue sky appeared to be dancing about rather alarmingly. It was actually lurching - up, down, to the left and the right, like it driver had broken her wing. And flying from its top, a flittering gold pennant and a purple one below it it was Ponyville's pegasus coach.
I thought it would make a clean landing, but at the last moment the coach shot up, danced in the air, lurched to its side and then fell rapidly back down where it crashed into the floor, bouncing on one wheel, then another, until the tough cobblestones slowed it sufficiently that it settled on all four wheels and slowly grinded to a halt. At the front, a happy grey pegasus with golden hued eyes beamed proudly, folding her wings under a brown mailbag. She looked one way and another, apparently totally nonplussed, and I noted with amusement her ocular peculiarity. But her eyes were beautiful none-the-less.
"Canterlot Staaaation!" she chirped with an unbearably sweet voice, turned on a hoof, and opened the door of her coach from which emerged instantly a torrent of white snow. The flakes flitted and fluttered until it became clear it was actually a torrent of paper
. And as the letters pooled on the ground, inside the coach I suddenly saw a flash of marigold.
Butterscotch Sundae shook the letters out of her mane as her head and her beaming golden eyes appeared from the cascade of mail, then a bright yellow forehoof as she stepped gingerly out of the coach admidst a pooling stream of paper, flicking her tail expectantly.
I ran forward happily and threw my pink legs around her neck as the grey mare pulled envelopes from Butters' mane and mumbled distractedly "Sorry, Miss Butters..".
"Oh Foxxy, I can see I made a bit of an entrance!" she mumbled to herself, but I sighed and breathed in the sound of her voice deep, her beautiful South Island accent, so luscious and exotic to my middle-Equestrian ears. "Don't be too dramatic, hon... you'll set a precedent." I whispered back to her, and she smiled and floated her overnight bag off the top of the coach.
"Huh?" both the mailmare and myself looked up, just in time to see Butters blush through her milk chocolate coat. "Oh, um Miss Foxxy, meet Miss.. um.."
"Ditzy! Er.. Derpy.. uh, Hooves." The golden-gray mare beamed and wildly waved her forehoof at me. I smiled and stepped towards her extending my own as daintily as I could. "I'm Foxxy Hooves."
Ditzy smiled happily and shook my hoof. "We share part of a name! How did you get yours? I earned mine because I'm fleet-hooved, which is why I'm the mailmare!"
Butters sauntered up behind and bumped my flank with hers playfully. "Oh no, Miss Foxxy here earned the name 'hooves' for a different reason!" I blushed happily and looked at the cobblestoned floor, sneakily admiring Derpy's satiny grey hooves.
I began to feel tingly-swirly in my tummy so I made a quick step to my left not at all worthy of me and levitated Butters' overnight case onto my back. Butters had now moved in close confidence with Derpy and was mumbling something in her ear as Derpy smiled and nodded approvingly. I tried to feign interest in a group of fillies across the dusty old terminal huddled in a herd counting off numbers, but somehow Butters' chocolatey voice was only amplified. I craned my head up and studied the old rafters of the station. They had irregular little notches all the way up and down their sides that reminded me of the teeth of saw blades, and I could just imagine those old lumber ponies going at the timbers with axes how ever many centuries ago. Finally I heard Butters drop a few bits in Derpy's mailbag and then she was up quite close to me, her brown sides rubbing mine.
"You spent quite some time with her, dear."
"Well I had to you should hardly expect me to spend the entire flight from Ponyville with that lovely girl's caboose waving at me through the window like a flag and let her get away with only a Thank You."
"Of course! Take a look and see
I turned just in time to see that cute little grey mare turning her coach around, and her grey hindquarters flashed at me merrily for just a moment, like a wink as her tail swept on past. Butters was right, the coach driver was a gorgeous creature. From behind, the bubbles living her flanks all seemed to be pointing towards the cleft of her rump like a ring of arrows.
We kept walking coolly, but I nodded my head at Derpy's rear, and Butters giggled and nudged me. "When you're blushing you've got almost enough pink on your body to match your mane."
"She is lovely, isn't she." I felt Butters' mane move so vigorously up and down against my own I didn't even need to see her nod. I felt like our conversation had skipped a groove and searched for a meaningful quip. What badly came out was "Pity about her eyes."
Butters wrinkled and tilted her nose up slightly. "It only makes her more beautiful."
"I had to suppress a giggle. "Oh, so that's what turns you on, is it?"
I crossed my eyes so one pointed one way and one the other. "Oh Butters, your belly is so soft!"
A look of embarrassment and indignity came across her face. "Fox-xy!" Her tone hit that familiar tenor of reprimanding a third grader, but her face was all smiles around the edges.
"Please, Butters, come to bed!" I said in my best approximation of Derpy's adorable pitch. We both broke out giggling and, as we crossed out of the Air Coach terminal and into the bright winter sunlight, my heart skipped a beat because just then Butters chose to rest her head on my shoulder. "It's been too long, Foxxy."
I smiled at the candy-colored lovely at my side. "I- I missed you too, Butterscotch."
I tagged along behind Butters for a ways, and the sun seemed to light up every snowdrift and icicle from within until I realized she was leading us in the wrong direction, and then she followed me. I took the long way towards home. We passed through the Old Peddler's Alley, where the plaster was crumbling away from those brown Canterlot bricks and the little fountain was frozen solid in the wintry breeze and the old wrought iron lamps hung at odd angles, rusted into place after decades of neglect.
Then we crossed a side square of the Royal Market, where I showed her the little patch of old cobblestone that I found after the pavers were torn up last season; I stood on it and clicked my hooves up and down on it happily and told her it was four hundred years old and she laughed at me.
And I brought her down the Petit Rue to show her the Sage and Saddle Tavern, which I discovered last Spring Day when I got lost coming home, and then led her back into the Secret Garden courtyard, where the big nut tree in the center was perfectly coated in ice, every branch and square inch of bark, like she had been dipped in crystal, the afternoon light beaming through her branches like beautiful clear glass. And I led Butterscotch round and round, never getting anywhere near my house on Hilltop Avenue.
It was not too long before we tired of clopping about in the cold Canterlot streets even colder than Ponyville, where the town was spared the worst of Canterlot's high mountain winds and brought our conversation inside, to a small café which we had come across quite unexpectedly. But soon we were inside, in a cozy nook between an old pot bellied stove and a dapple-glass window, where just beyond the café's awning and stacks of newspapers we could see snow gently starting to fall.
Butters' golden eyes watched flakes falling one after another while I poured over the list of casks, made a displeased snort, and ordered plenty of coffee. I looked around the interior, which was cheating towards a rustic simplicity rare in Canterlot here was a ceramic old teapot in the shape of the barn, and there was a checked kitchen towel like your mother mighnt hang up in the summer. The dried herbs dangling down from the rafters betwixt the lanterns and lamps were real, and were so thick one nearly felt she had discovered Equestria's first indoor forest. And the waning blue winter light and the snow fell down and down outside, just starting to fill in the crannies and nooks of those old cobbled streets.
After a long while, Butters spoke. "I really am a warm-weather pony."
"I'm not surprised." I had tried to live further south, but the colors of autumn had stained by heart so badly I eventually had to return to colder climates. "But then Ponyville is somewhat milder, isn't it?"
I bought a scarf the other day. It's the first scarf I've ever owned."
I nodded at the direction of it hanging on the wall behind her. "It's quite beautiful!" And it was, it was long and thin and covered with purple and yellow bands, ending in a fringe and a tassled heart.
Butters nodded happily and floated it near to me. "It's lovely, isn't it? It's wool! And the yellow bands come from yarn stained with rare saffron strands
At that moment Butters' magic slipped and I picked the scarf up with my own, but the feel of it shocked me.
Many pony clothes designers, and especially unicorns, leave a bit of magic behind in their products, but this scarf was absolutely slick with it. It was gentle, and blue, and
comfortable. "My darling, where did you get this scarf?" My voice had perhaps a bit too much disbelief in it. Butters blushed and stirred the tip of her hoof along the rim of her wine glass.
"Oh, just a local in Ponyv
"Oh yes.. what's her name again?" I lied and tried my best to imply unfamiliarity. Butters stirred a bit uncomfortably. "Rarity, I think." I was a terrible liar., but I pressed on. "We've been seeing a lot of her in Canterlot recently, I think
"Sorry, Foxxy, I know your feelings for Rarity
"You do?" Now it was my turn to blush pink.
"Now Foxxy, don't forget I do read all your letters."
I smiled at Butters gently and wrapped the scarf around my neck. Rarity's magic coursed all around my neck and shoulders and seemed to envelop me like a hot bath. The magic was gentle but firm and soft and sapphire and beautiful. The idea of wearing an entire gown by Rarity made my cutie mark tingle embarrassingly.
"I think on our next get together I'm coming to Ponyville for some clothes shopping
" Butters smiled at me expectantly and deep down inside I knew I'd have to hide all the pictures of Rarity I'd cut out of Fashion Horse and Canterlot Herald's Social section.
"I would very much like that" the chocolate-caramel mare across from me said simply and at that moment our salads arrived, and my coffee with them. I noticed from the glow in Butters' eyes that she wasn't going to ask me to take off Rarity's scarf. Then her goldenrod eyes turned back to the window where the snow was falling heavier now, so heavy one could look out and through the descending flakes, each larger than the other, falling the flying and spinning the tumbling down to the old cobblestone streets. We ate in silence for some time, watching the snowflakes, as the afternoon light inched onwards towards the deep beautiful blue it often takes on this time of year.
After a long moment where the flakes seemed to pause as if the flurry were catching her breath, I gently asked Butters: "So what have you done with yourself since moving to Ponyville?"
She sighed into her wine glass. "Oh- the same old."
"I thought you wanted to get back into teaching."
"Well, Ponyville only really has a grade school and, well, it's a one room schoolhouse. One teacher for each room."
I giggled. "Don't sound so dire. You have a wonderful way with a sundae."
She sighed. "Yes, well, that's all thanks to my family the parlour's only good for the summer anyway. The rest of the time I'm writing."
I nodded, pushing the conversation on a bit too enthusiastically. "But you must do well by that!"
"Oh, Foxxy you know what I really want to do is write my novel and be published."
"Butters, you are published."
She didn't respond but went back to staring out the window, turning a radish matchstick over and over between her chocolate brown lips, perhaps expecting her response to be at the end of it. I smiled.
"You cannot still upset about "
"I mean I want to be really published, Foxxy. I want to be a respected author. Not just some lurid soft
." She bit the radish baton in two with a crack instead of finishing the thought aloud.
Butters had been published in scroll form by a small publisher out of Saddlebury working in what is called with decorum in some circles 'specialist market editions'. These were often rolled tight and stuffed sideways into open bins at the very bottom of book-house shelves, with simply a title and a two-letter abbreviation of the author's name printed on the side. These tended to be the parts of the shelf your parents pushed you by quickly when you were a foal.
I reached out across the table and touched the tip of her extended forehoof reassuringly. "You don't have anything to apologize for."
She smiled weakly but bounced her head around for a few moments, a thought caught on her lips. "You know what that sort of attention can be like."
I did. In my student years my art had been very successful in special interest circuits and I remembered the heavy atmosphere of some of the letters I'd received. I can't imagine Butterscotch's fan mail often seemed too different, so thick with
implication. It's good for your ego but bad for your soul.
"You wouldn't take it back, would you?"
"I don't think so. But writing has been hard for me lately. I'm sure you know."
She stuck her little pink tounge out at me. "Oh Foxxy you're a tease."
I crossed my eyes again. "That means Butters loves me!" Butters laughed, and her teeth flashed in the blue light and her mane framed her face so beautifully, I simply had to act, I leaned over and kissed her chastely on the nose. Butters blinked and for a moment seemed to think of kissing me back, but she didn't.
And then it didn't seem too long after that that we were back out on the street, clipping along close beside each other for warmth as I led the way to my little book store. The exterior was one of those wooden rectangular boxes so popular five or seven generations past, with the room laid out end to end, like railroad flats. It sat between the roads and a tree too big for it, and it was so old and rickety that a visible crease had formed in the peaked roof where some shingles fell away and the floor rumbled and writhed, refusing to stay flat, the foundations sinking unevenly back into Canterlot mountain. But it was warm and simple and the atmosphere was heavy with dust and use and there were always plenty of cats.
It was a plain square room into which an astonishing volume of material had been stuffed, hanging out the sides of crude little wood shelves to which there were here or there often still old fruit packing labels, or else in boxes and crates neatly stacked up to shoulder height on the floor. I nosed along cheerfully through the old records along one wall while Butters stood close behind me, craning for a look at some obscurity or another or whole bound albums which emerged from their shelves in a flurry of dust, their spines cracked and threadbare with age.
"What inspires you, Foxxy?"
" I let the question linger in the air for a moment while I perused Maretin Music: EXOTICA. "
"But what else?"
I giggled and shot her a sideways glance with what was my idea of Rarity-eyes. "I didn't know you were serious."
Butters stamped her hoof impatiently. I put down EXOTICA and began looking closely at EXOTICA TWO.
"Art hasn't changed much in four thousand years, you know. It's still firmly in the hooves of amateurs. Sappy, sappy amateurs."
"Well, not all of them."
I snorted. I knew just who she was talking about. "Ponies delude themselves. Even those who choose to write distastefully, they write for love too, right?"
"Public love. Mass market passion. Sex with bags of bits."
"That could be pretty sexy. Some of them just want attention
I slid EXOTICA TWO back into its sleeve. "Bush league. Junior artists. They'll figure themselves out some day."
Butters tapped her rear hoof a few times, finding the right words. "Well
"Sex is just a kind of love."
"But the really naughty stuff."
I turned to look at Butterscotch. In the harsh glare of the bookshop's lights, those unimaginative ones made of jars of trapped sunlight pointed straight down, she blushed a little as I turned to her abruptly. Was she baiting me?
In her sunset eyes, I doubted it. I phrased the question carefully, hardly believing I was saying it. "Are you asking me if I think pornography is art?"
"Please tell me, Foxxy!" Butters' low island voice was filled to the brim with coy reserve.
"I don't. But I don't draw pornography. I draw erotica. Pornography is
Butters smiled gently. "Tactless?"
Passionless. Strap on fun."
She nodded simply. I rambled on. "There's
there's nothing special about genitals. Everypony has them. It's just about the most common thing in Equestria outside of eyes, ears and hooves." Butters giggled, and I stumbled over myself and badly added "
Or so I always say."
Her eyes glittered like sunstones. "I love when you get indignant about art. It's hot."
"Art Matters!" My practiced slogan felt a little too desperately practiced. Butters nudged my side playfully. "So says the art teacher."
"Well it does." I mumbled and picked up a dusty old record of post-Griffonian jazz, blowing a thick layer of grime off its lacquer surface.
"Do you ever think of them?"
"The pornographers of the world. The ones for whom sex is just
"What about them?"
"Well, what do you think they love?"
I thought for a moment, tapping the record on my nose. "Long walks in summer rain."
"And flowers on little clay pots and hot Burdock soup and letters from friends on Saturday and the mist in the morning. Nothing different than us."
"So what makes pornographers different than artists?"
I thought for a long moment. I looked up at the bookshop's skylights, their pitched gabled roof already heavy with snow. For the first time noticed that the ceiling beams were covered with very faded little painted hearts and flowers, and the beams of the roof too, and that this was an old house.
The ugly lights had transformed the feel of the place so much so that I had never known but now the sad old steps rising up the back wall, totally impassible now that they were covered with stacks of books and boxes of records, they seemed to gain powerful relevance, and I thought that maybe above those steps was a room and inside that room was the memory of a mare, long dust, who looked downstairs each day and never saw us or our books or records or ugly lights down here in her beautiful front parlour of a thousand Hearth Warmings ago.
artists can't stop even making art. Even when they're sick. Even when they're not making money. Even when they're dying. Because the artist dies when she's without her art."
I glanced at Butters. "Good enough?" The chocolate blonde mare shook her head happily.
I glanced at the Griffonian jazz record floating in front of my face and then up the old rambling staircase at the back of the shop. For just a moment, I thought I had seen a flash of purple or blue just at the top there, one in the shape of a pretty young filly in a bonnet all in white, perhaps smiling or flashing a wink at me. And it gave me shudders, talking about pornography in her front parlor.
"Let's get out of here."
My hooves skidded across the great expanse of smooth marble floor around a particularly sharp corner. It was a corner I knew all too well; it was the quick left turn out of the gallery and into the vestibule antechamber, and it has a fat pegasus-style column with a plinth at the bottom with inlaid gold oak leaves all along the base, four of them, tawny like autumn leaves.
I got a pretty good look at it for a second or two as I slid helplessly by, carried by my own inertia, and in a moment I suddenly knew that my trajectory was headed direct into the alcove across the way where a particularly heavy bust of some scowling general from a century ago sat, marking off generations till his name was totally obscure. I knew I was about to side right into it and tried to stop myself weakly with my bare left forehoof, but in another moment, there it was, right on top of me, and the world flipped one hundred degrees to the right.
Then she was on top of me with a flash, and I could feel the heat in her coat and smell the sweat in her mane as I squealed helplessly.
"I want to see
now!" Butters snorted. Then with a flash that blue pegasus feather shot out from behind her and made a beeline direct for my side. I screamed in delight as it slipped easily under my foreleg and found a sensitive spot. I tried to squirm away out of the alcove around the general, but the feather found another spot, and I slid helplessly along the floor, skidding into the vestibule. "I'll feel silly!!"
"You won't feel as silly as you look now!" Butters' feather found another delicate spot and I shrieked, panting as I tried to right myself on the slippery marble. My voice carried up into the great stone dome, up into the place where all that darkness was gathered. I tried to get up once or twice, but my socked hooves could find no purchase on the slick marble floor, and I rolled there until Butters' golden forehoof was right near my face. I stuck out my tounge impishly, giggling, but she rolled me over and loomed over me, our chests heaving together.
"I want to see the tour pony act!"
I panted. 'I'm
"Won't talk, then?" Butters giggling and reached into her sidepack with a mischievous flash of golden hued light. "We'll have to go for leg number four!"
A long, silky sock with alternating bands of blue, purple, and pink slid out and dangled in front of my nose.
"Extend your leg, dear.."
I wriggled helplessly. "STOP EXPLOITING MY FETISHES!"
Butters stifled a laugh as she slid the sock onto the crown of my hoof. That was enough for me. "Fine.. FINE! Just STOP!" I shrieked, and the blue pegasus feather and the sock immediately fell limp on the floor.
I panted and stared up into that dark dome. It was so different during the day, so clear the bright and full of sky and arches and gilt. But in the middle of the night, that dome just seemed empty and lonely.
As I caught my breath I kicked Butters' socks off my hind legs. "Naughty mare.." I muttered under my breath, pulling the third off my right foreleg with my mouth. Butters, meanwhile, had laid down on the marble and was watching me with interest. Her blue pegasus-quill pen floated right nearby.
I rolled over to face her. "Where did you get that thing anyway?" I snorted.
"This? Oh, just some pegasus friend of mine." She smiled big.
Uh huh. I doubted that story but did not press. "Okay
where do we start
the library? Rotuna?"
"How about right here?" She nodded around at the vestibule.
"This old thing? Well
sure, I guess."
"I want to see the outfit, too!"
"I want to see the outfit!" she jabbed her blue quill at me teasingly. I sighed in exasperation. "Fine. I'll put it on when we get back home."
Butters clopped her hooves together happily. "Excellent!"
I stood up and looked up in thought for a moment. Then I cleared my throat and raised my voice to its highest, syrupiest, sugar sweetened pitch I used while on my tours and projected my voice up and out above Butters' head. The trick wasn't to be loud, it was to project out into the room, especially in the rotunda and vestibule, where my voice bounced off those corniced arches and tree-adorned panels effortlessly. My voice filled the room, and my spirit did too.
"This is the east vestibule of the Canterlot Diet, which was built in the eighth century of the reign of Celestia following the successful negotiations with King Griswold the Griffon in celebration. In its day it was a magnificent showplace, and in fact prior to the construction of the Great Rotunda spanning the two chambers in the twelfth century this very room was considered the most socially prominent single structure in Canterlot. It was here in 924 that Princess Luna received the news of the succession of Lucient the Eighth, which began to Equestrian southward expansion, and this was also the site of the infamous Canterlot Vestibule Party in year 1012 when the first public performance of the Old Equestrian National Anthem was held. This party, in fact, was so successful that renovations had to be begun immediately."
I glanced at Butters in the midst of my spiel and from the shine in her eye I knew I had her. It was that wide eyed, glassy stare I knew so well from my more successful audiences. I magically plucked her blue quill out of her hair and used it as a baton, pointing up into the darkness where I projected some light from my own shining horn. The pink light caught the gilt figures high up in the darkness of night perfectly, like a rose-tinted spotlight.
"Every component of the vestibule is symbolic. The inlaid floor was built from sandstone and limerock brought from the west, the only settled outpost in that region at the time, the current city of Las Plumas. The columns and plinths were donated by Griswold the Griffon and feature typical griffonian elemental motifs of fire and rain. The inlaid panels high above us represent the twenty realms of the land. The golden elm for the shire of Trottingham, the mountain stream for the shire of Canterlot, the silver plough for the shire of Yoke
I swept the quill around above her head, the pink heart-light from my horn sweeping from one panel to the next, their inlaid gilt and occasional gemstones glittering as I caught each shining line in the dark.
the chisel and hammer for the shire of Fillydelphia, the copper band for the shire of Hoofington
The light swept onto the next panel, but I floated the turqoise quill away at her head turned, bringing it close to her belly.
"And the silly pony for a the shire of Butterbutt.."
But it was too late, the feather darted forward and in an instant Butters had fallen to the floor under the merciless tickle attack. I bounded over to her and bit my lip, raising a pink hoof to join in the fray.
" she giggled between squirms "
But my revenge was already at hoof.
We trotted along down one of the long, dark corridors that linked the first and second houses of the Diet, and while I relayed the history of the old place, I tried to keep my mind from wandering too far afeild from the topic of the moment and pretended not to hear that distinctive third set of hooves trotting a few meters behind us. Even during the day, sunlight often fails to penetrate this particular hall when the sun starts to sink low in the west sky, and the aged stallion who tends to such matters often goes around in the late afternoon lighting and extinguishing candles here before any other part of the old place slips into night's lament.
Four Hooves was omnipresent, but it was easier to pretend you didn't hear It in the blazing mid-day sun or when the corridors were bustling with ponies. It was easier to pretend that you believed it was just an echo or an old mare's tale. But at night and with just my lonely tour group of one, I was feeling trapped by the distinctive clicking of those four hooves on the old inlaid floor. I usually told a real corker of a ghost tale here, one I had found tucked into an old Canterlotian Chronicle scroll that chilled my blood like an icy griffon claw had my spine in its grip. I didn't feel much like it tonight. In fact, my thoughts inevitably began to turn to a story an old guardpony had told me one interview when I was first writing about the Diet Chambers, where he had seen A Thing that sent him galloping off into the night, never to return to these halls again. Four Hooves was part of all that, too, and tonight It was getting under my skin.
I instead directed Butters to a side gallery which shortcut a group of offices and a mane-and-tail parlour to bring us direct to the Rotunda. It was cozy and quiet and well lit. As soon as I stepped onto the plush red gallery carpet, the sound of Four Hooves cut off like a sliding panel, only to begin, I knew, all over again in a corridor far off in the distance. Click click click click. I didn't like it and never had.
Butters seemed undisturbed. "What is this, Foxxy?"
My spiel seemed to miss a step and tripped and I had nothing to say, so I wavered and then quietly admitted: "I
I just like it here."
I sat down for the first time in a while and my rear legs stretched out, the cushy carpet feeling quite nice on my haunches. The carpet was still soft and plush, so untraveled was this little side gallery. There were a few busts of the Princess, a lovely carved frieze of the first Arbor Day, and several large canvases of North Equestrian naturalists.
Butters sat down to rest too. We found ourselves in front of a particularly white and square piece showing snowdrifts and icicles and flocked trees along the Shamrock Height mountain range near the Griffonian border. She studied it for a long time while I looked at my hooves and pondered.
Finally she spoke up. "Foxxy, what do you think of this?"
I had seen it many times but I looked up then and saw it looked different at night, in the dim light, than perhaps I had remembered it. Under the subdued artificial illumination, it seemed somewhat washed out, yellowed, and tawdry, like those cheap prints you buy framed and find out they'd been clipped off old calendars.
"I think the artist was bored by it." I cautiously replied.
"Why do you saw that?"
Why did I say that? I looked again. "Well look at the snow
it's all the same bands of cream, blue and pink over and over again. Like pinstripes. They probably had high hopes for it, but how long would you want to sit out in the snow for?"
"So you think it's bad?"
"Huh? Oh, no, not at all
it's accomplished, but
mechanical. I don't think the artist was at all interested in it once she painted the trees there in the back
see how the sun there coming through the branches alternates red, orange, yellow and pink? But then the snow
cream, blue, pink, same order, over and over again. She got bored of it."
"So it isn't good
." Butters seemed a little hurt.
"No, but it is professional. I'd love to see the porn she painted. That horizon line is beautiful, and the dapple light there on the right
imagine that technique applied to something you'd actually want to look at, like the soft haunch of a tempting filly, or the graceful curve of a stallions back
but then again, government buildings are not known for their displays of personal art. That it's here is a huge feather in her mane."
"Do you not like professional art?"
"Art is only made up of two kinds of ponies: amateur professionals and professional amateurs. Sod off the respectful public art, the middlebrow scenic, I'll take the five to seven doodler, the apartment watercolorist, the hobbyist pornographer, that's where all the sweat and blood is. That's the real stuff, the authentic stuff. That's what life is
that's real art."
In the quiet after the din of my rant I felt the walls of the gallery pressing especially close, and I suspected I had gone too far, but I simply could not worry about formality with Butters in town for the weekend. Somewhere, far off down the endless marble halls, Four Hooves clipped away incessantly. Butters nosed me gently.
I'd suspect this artist agrees." I lied to myself, aloud. Butters nosed me along. We passed a bass relief of Celestia that I liked and a painted vase that I didn't, finally reaching the opposite end of the short, twisty corridor, with all its dusky dim bronze and scarlet. There, by the door, was an old painting of Princess Luna.
"She looks so young!" Butters marveled. I nodded. It was from 850 or 860, thereabouts. Then I heard Four Hooves clicking away off in the dark and I remembered something strange.
"After Luna was banished
ponies kept seeing her. Here, actually."
"In the moon?"
"Right here in this very building
as a ghost or something. They'd assume she had escaped, and chase her. She'd turn and walk through a wall, her green cat eyes flashing in the dark
"But she's not a ghost. She's still alive... and she came back." Butters and I stared up at the carved wood visage of our moon queen silently. Then I finished the thought left in the air all around us: "But how can you be alive and be seen as a ghost at the same time?"
. I don't want to write anymore."
Butters' simple statement lingered in the flickering orange air of my apartment studio, somewhere between my Hearth Warming tree lit up like the hub of the solar system on the left and the blazing furnace of my fireplace on the right. I looked cautiously around the edge of my canvas at her toffee body spread out across my old pink seatee. Her eyes were closed and her mane a tousled mess spread across the pink cushioned seat.
"Don't say that."
"Maybe I don't, Foxxy. But I feel it. I feel it all the time
." she spoke carefully, like each word was a tentative hoof finding purchase on an icy plain. I set down my brushes and lifted my goblet, floating it with me as I crossed over towards her.
I noticed that she had finished off the black shiney bottle with the red and gold bow on her own, and it lay on its side near her head, her own goblet sitting nearby, ringed with the malty residue. She wasn't used to drinking ale this strong.
I sipped some of the oily concoction myself before carefully floating my glass down to a pile of anatomy books over by the fireplace. Butters looked especially soft and golden in the light, her mane and eyes modeling the firelight in the darkness, her chocolate coat fading away to almost a dark pony-shaped void with just her eyes and her smile floating inside. I rested my head on her belly and listened to her heartbeat.
"Why would you say a silly thing like that? You love to write! And you love the attention, too."
"But I'm a nopony."
"No you aren't." That was a firm no coming from my lips. "You are Butterscotch Sundae, beloved author of romantic stories."
"All they want is sex and sex and sex and sex. What about that lovely one I wrote about Star Song and Emerald Sky? Totally rejected. I had to publish it myself."
"That is a beautiful story, honey."
"It sold nothing. But Fun in a Clydesdale Laundry? Six thousand copies! Going for a second run now! All they want is porn."
I felt her heart beating faster. "All they want is porn, Foxxy!" I tried to calm her down. "Butters, you know that sort of stuff will always
Butters flung a yellow hoof towards my ceiling beams. "I, who only ever wanted to write romance fiction! You should see their letters, Foxxy.. Sometimes I think they don't even love my stories. They're in love with my name on the page No! the idea of my name. Butterscotch Sundae. A messy, delicious
"I think you're making a fuss over nothing."
Butters inhaled sharply and for a moment I thought she wasn't going to respond, but she did after a few moments of deliberation. "Maybe. I mean probably
But it's true. If it wasn't true, why would I feel this way so often?"
"Because art requires a sensitive soul, which you have, and by nature we doubt ourselves constantly."
"It's no fun writing about sex, Foxxy. It's boring. Inadequate. It requires delay. Misdirection
"I think you need to stop listening to what ponies tell you and write what you feel like writing. If it's nice, it's nice, if it's naughty, it's naughty, but it should never stop being
Butters rolled over and looked at me for a long time. Then her horn sparked in the darkness there and lifted my goblet of ale to her lips. "And damn paying the rent, huh?"
don't be that way. All it is, is a hobby that got out of control anyway. Maybe someday you'll be able to close that ice cream parlour and write full time, but that takes a lot of time, and it takes an audience, and
"It's easy for you to says, Miss Hooves
"It's easy for me to say because I've been there. You know what else it takes? Audacity. Tenacity. As your writing grows your audience will grow. They will come to expect and appreciate and understand that a Butterscotch Sundae story means more than just clop and pinkness. But that takes time, and a willingness to be different and take chances and cultivate that audience."
"Foxxy, what inspires you?"
I blushed. "You already asked me that question, hun."
"And you didn't really answer it. What inspires you?"
you, for one."
"Of course." I rubbed my nose against her side. "Which is another reason you can't give up on me."
"You inspire me too, Foxxy." Her words slurred together sleepily.
I hopped up on the seatee and curled up next to Butters, seating myself beside her reclining body. She rolled over and then the crook of her back was flush with my left side. All four yellow hooves shot out in a long stretch, and she yawned. "Talk to me, Foxxy
"Talk to me about something. I want to hear your
"..What should I talk about?"
I searched around the room until my eyes laid to rest on the Hearth's Warming Tree. There, amidst all the other ornaments, I saw a star-shaped glitter ball Mom had given me for Hearth's Warming some time ago. It may have been the light or the night or the snow falling outside the arch of my window or Butters' back against my side, but I closed my eyes and imagined.
"Once upon a time, Princess Celestia
"Celestia?" Butters giggled at me and heaved a long breath.
"Okay.. Luna. This is a story about Princess Luna, and it happened to her a long time ago."
"Now this isn't a story that you or I would be told by our parents, innocent though it may be. This story hasn't been told in centuries now, the words used for the telling of it almost were forgotten. It all happened a long long time ago, when Luna was sitting up there in the sky on her crescent moon."
"When the moon is a crescent it's fun to sit in, you know, and Luna liked to flap up there every so often and sit with her long blue legs danging over both sides of the crescent, because all this time you thought that was a shadow on the moon, when you and I both know it's one of Luna's oldest pranks. She goes up there and collects the glittery moondust every few evenings and spreads it out amongst the stars so they can beam bright at night."
"Anyway one night Luna was resting up on her crescent moon and looking down at the ways of the world and gigging to herself and swinging her hooves back and forth, when she thought she saw a light way down in Equestria once all the good fillies and colts had gone to sleep."
"So Luna bounced along and landed on a nearby cloud, then another, then flapped her graceful wings and sailed across the sky, almost invisible against the stars
I looked down at Butters and saw she had already nodded off to sleep. Just as well, I didn't know where that story was going to go anyway.
I rose, stretched my legs, nimbly hoofed around her, and walked over to my canvas in a daze. I had a fleeting impulse to paint her while she was sleeping there, but it seemed indecent. Instead I swirled the water around in my paint glass and watched the flowing colors swirl 'round and 'round, I found my chalice of beer and gulped the rest of the velvety liquid down and straightened items and cut tapers' wicks and moved books into neat piles and poked and prodded around the room in agitation.
I was used to being art's rah-rah cheerleader, I was, but my discussions with Butters over the course of the night had left me exhausted. There's only so far I can go. Truthfully nopony should ever be paid to be an art teacher because you can't teach art to anyone ever. There's no simple arithemetic equation for art. I can stand there and poke and prod and nudge it one direction or another, but all I am, in the end, is an officiator of drawing times, a living "silence please" sign, and a passive witness to everypony else's artistic journey.
Everypony thinks, Ms. Foxxy, you always seem so happy, Ms. Foxxy, it must be so nice to feel as good about art as you do.
I turned my canvas of its side. It didn't look any better than it had the last few nights. I didn't feel any better about any of it than they did. Maybe one day it would be hanging in the gallery of the Canterlot Diet.
Butters mumbled and rolled over to face the wall. I thought of her alone here in the front parlor tonight and brought her a blanket, carefully tucking it in around the edges of the seatee. I dimmed the Hearth Warming tree, resealed the caps on my paints, refilled the water in my paint glass, put out the fire in the fireplace and trotted off to bed, taking one last moment to watch Butters sleeping there in the dim blue moonlight streaming in through my window past the icicle-teeth and gently making her look at blue as Luna there in the dark.
On my way towards bed I found myself detouring, and my hooves slowly found one step after another as I slowly ascended to my loft, a little niche above part of my bedroom I had found papered over several springs ago. I hid a candle and a bottle of cider and a little table up there by the circular window to sit out and watch the sky on summer nights, but I found myself up there now with the cold blue shadows and the darkness.
I opened up the round window and the chill Canterlot air filled the loft at once.
I sat there and looked out across Canterlot's erratic snow-coated peaks and gables bright white in the winter light and out across the chimneys and smoke stacks and past the turrets and the dead ivy through the swimming silvery clouds towards the stars. I looked out into the stars there for a long time until my eyelids were heavy. I slid the window shut, trotted downstairs, dampened the fire in my room's fireplace, then cozied up amidst my pillows there in the night. And I pretended I could feel Butters' heart beating through the wall, beating in time with mine.
I awoke the next morning with a distinct feeling of being alone, that unique feeling when you know that another pony or ponies which had been sharing your living space had now departed. I wriggled around in the tangle of sheets and pillows, and did not make my way to the studio or kitchen very enthusiastically, knowing that Butters would be out on business until later tonight. Opening a few curtains in the kitchen I found her saddlebags and some of her books, and read her note tucked underneath one just where I was meant to find it, with its pensive time of return, carefully but beautifully scribbled on a sheet of rose red.
I was about to go off to the bathing room when I spied something tiny and red sitting in the hallway by my bedroom door, something which was too deliberately placed to have fallen off Butters' mane in her haste. It was her signature red rose. I lifted it and smelt it and it was full of that silly honey-lavender smell her mane always has.
I turned it over in space a few times, as if it might stand up and speak for itself, but its message was most eloquent unspoken. I returned to my easel and knocked aside the canvas I was working at last night, tearing off a fresh sheet of paper and clipping that rose hairpiece to the top, right near my brushes.
What inspires you, Foxxy?
I looked into the white space of the paper and saw Butters bounding about in there, prancing in circles, waggling her cutie mark at me like an ice cream vendor. I picked up my carbonite pencil resolutely and traced her butt, her tail, her impish smile and her flowing mane. I traced her dancing body out beautifully, freezing her in time there on my easel, and with each line of her that filled my paper, her spirit filled and warmed and filled my living room in the morning light.