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Title Drop · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
All the Mortal Remains
“Not much, is it?” Spike said. He wiped his claws on his scaled belly, apparently attempting to clean them, but all he managed to do was smear the ash around a bit more. “Guess it could’ve been worse.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat. It could have been much worse – ponies could have died. The whole world could have fallen to Tirek, and the future would have held nothing but ghosts and entropy, a wasteland named in Tirek’s honor, and an unbroken silence extending on forever. It could have been the end of everything that I or any pony had ever loved.

Seen in that light, the loss of one oak tree wasn’t so bad. Even if that tree was a library filled with thousands of books, or if that tree held almost all my worldly possessions. Even if that tree was my home.

“It’s just things, Spike,” I said. “Things can be replaced. Ponies can’t. Or dragons.” I leaned over to place a quick smooch on his forehead before he could draw away – he hated that mushy stuff, especially in public.

“Who?” Owlowiscious hooted from his perch on a nearby gutter.

“Or owls,” I amended.

Three days had passed since defeating Tirek, and I hadn’t slept a single hour in any of them. It was starting to wear me down, and I knew if I looked in a mirror, the image peering back at me would be a real fright. Bloodshot and baggy eyes, feathers sticking every which way out of my wings, and a mane all askew. In other circumstances, my friends would have dragged me to my bed, or to the spa in Rarity’s case.

But these were unique circumstances. Three days had passed, and my tree – my library and my home – was still smouldering in the town square. A bluish haze hung over it whenever the breeze died down, and I couldn’t get the stink of ashes out of my nose. My coat was no longer lavender; it had long since turned an ugly, mottled gray from digging through the ruin.

But, hey, I had a new castle. Can’t complain when you have a new castle!

“You okay?” Spike asked.

“I’m fine.” I swiped a fetlock across my cheek. “Sorry, this stuff, you know, stings my eyes.”

“Yeah.” He cleared his throat. “So, you wanna keep digging or head to the castle?”

I gave the wood crates lined up behind us a glance. Virtually the entire town had turned out to help us pick through the wreckage of the tree the first morning after the battle, but all those hours had yielded barely more than a cartful of salvage. The second day yielded even less – a hoofful of books with charred covers but otherwise fine pages. I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried a few times, and that must’ve been the town’s cue to let me grieve in peace. Now, three days later, it was down to just Spike and me.

So much was still missing. The photograph on my bedside table of my parents and brother the day before he left for guard training. The glass hairpin Celestia gave me on my sixteenth birthday. The small cardboard box where I kept the fragments of Spike’s eggshell. All my papers, my letters to Celestia, and of course the books. The library’s public collection had held ten-thousand, four-hundred and fifty-four books, of which fewer than two dozen survived the fire.

I wasn’t going to find any of those things, I realized. They were gone, and I was just fooling myself by staying out here, poking through the debris. I was, apparently, the last pony in town to realize this.

Things can be replaced. I squeezed my eyes shut. I had cried enough – it was time to move on.

“I think we’re done,” I said. I lifted the crates with my magic and floated them into position behind us. “Come on, let’s go home.”

One long bath, two plates of honey-roasted oats with sorrel garnish, and fourteen hours of unbroken, dreamless sleep later, the world felt like a better place. The sun was up – I could see it streaming through the gap in the curtains drawn across my bedroom window – but I had no idea what time it was. Not that I particularly cared, either. The bed was just too comfy.

Sadly, the universe didn’t let me sleep in. A loud crash echoed through the castle, followed by what sounded like an argument. The stone walls seemed to carry sound much better than my old wood home, and I could pick out Rainbow Dash and Spike’s voices.

That probably deserved investigating. I mumbled under my breath and dragged my still-sleepy body out from under the warm, soft, inviting blankets, promising them that I’d be back soon.

Sure enough, Spike and Dash were in the main hall, bickering about something or other. Spike had a crowbar in his claws, and the top of one of the wooden crates lay on the stone floor beside him in several pieces. Bent nails jutted up from the frame.

“I’m just saying, make sure I’m ready before you do that,” Dash said. She was perched on the edge of the crate, the front half of her body and head lowered within, so that all I could see of her was a pale blue rump and multihued tail. The crate rattled as she rummaged through its contents. “I didn’t beat Tirek just to get squished cleaning up afterward.”

“You said you were ready! You said, ‘Okay Spike, I’m ready, go ahead and open it.’ Those were your words!” Spike seemed flustered – Rainbow Dash was not always the easiest mare to work with.

“Yeah, well, next time make sure I’m really ready.” Rainbow Dash rummaged around some more. “No clothes? Seriously? What’s Twilight supposed to wear?”

That was as good a time as any to make my presence known. “Rarity’s making me a new wardrobe, actually. There was too much smoke damage to my things.”

Spike spun around, and Rainbow Dash’s head popped up from the crate. Both looked surprised to see me, but Spike recovered first.

“Hey, Twilight. Sleep well?”

“Very.” I gave him a nuzzle, ignoring his whine of protest. “I feel like a pony again. Now, what are you two up to?”

“Spike told us you were done looking for stuff from the tree,” Dash said. “I figured I’d help you unpack.”

That made me smile.  “That was very nice of you, Dash, but if you really want to help, we could use a little bit of rain in Ponyville. That should put out the last of the embers.” It would also knock the acrid, ashen haze out of the air. Even in the castle I could still smell a hint of the library’s ashes drifting in the windows.

“I can do that!” She had barely finished speaking and she was already gone. The wind thrown off by her wings tossed my mane askew again.

Spike raised an eyebrow.

“What?” I said. “It’s true.”

He tapped his foot.

“Okay, fine. It’s just… This is our stuff, Spike. I know she means well, but this is going to be hard enough without explaining every broken thing we found and why it’s important.” I reached into the crate with my magic and grabbed the first thing I felt: a marble bookend in the shape of a deer. It was blackened and chipped, but it would still hold books upright on a shelf. My mother had given it to me when I started keeping books in my room.

Spike must have seen that in my face. His expression softened. “Yeah, I guess. It is pretty personal. So, uh, how do you want to do this?”

I let out a shaky breath. As usual, my neurotic need for organization came galloping to the rescue. “Let’s sort it into three piles. One for stuff that’s fine or just needs cleaning, one for stuff that needs repaired, and then one for the things that are broken beyond repair. We can subdivide them after that.”

The job wasn’t as melancholy as I feared. Not painless, no, but after so much was already lost, those few fragments were like a single leaf in the autumn forest.

By midday even that slight sting had begun to fade, and I realized after some time that I was actually smiling. And why shouldn’t I? Everypony had survived, I’d discovered the purpose behind my ascension, and hey – once again – new castle. My eyes watered, but I didn’t care. I was too busy being happy.

Spike apparently noticed. “You okay, Twilight?”

“You know, I am. I really think I am.” I looked over to see how he was coming along. “You?”

“I’m good. I don’t recognize some of these things, though.” He held up a spectacles case carved from a dark wood and polished to a shine. “Are these yours?”

“Hm? I don’t think so.” I floated the case over and popped it open. Inside was a set of old-fashioned reading glasses, not unlike my grandfather had worn. “It might’ve been in the basement.”

Before I’d turned it into a makeshift laboratory, the library basement had been used for storage. When Spike and I first moved in it was a disorganized heap, filled with ledgers and books and boxes full of what I assumed were the personal belongings of whomever had lived there before us. Judging by the amount of dust we also encountered, they’d been sitting down there a long time. One of our first great tasks had been to organize the mess, which was to say we shoved all the boxes into a disused corner and forgot about them.

“Just put them aside for now. We’ll figure out what to do with them later,” I said, setting the case down.

The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. We made rapid work of the crates, and soon almost all their contents were spread out in piles on the floor. There were depressingly few books in them, but Celestia had already promised to restock the library with treasury funds.

Improbably enough, the horsehead sculpture from downstairs had survived the explosion. It was a bit charred on one side but otherwise intact. “A little bit of sandpaper, some stain, and you’ll be fine,” I whispered.

“Hey, Twilight?” Spike called. “Is this yours?”

I looked over to see him holding some sort of pottery up for me to see. “What is it?”

“A vase, I think. Lid’s stuck.”

I considered just telling him to put it in the pile, but something about his words tugged at my ears. I frowned and trotted over to see what he’d found.

It was indeed a vase, painted a faded yellow with brownish-red filigree. There’d been a handle on it once, but now only cracked stubs remained, revealing a fine white porcelain beneath. I spun it around, curious, and felt something like sand shifting within. On the other side, somepony had painted the image of an open book, one page lifted in the process of turning.

It was a cutie mark. I gasped and dropped the vase, my magic flickering out in a moment of shock, and I caught it with my hooves just a few inches above the stone floor. A cold sweat broke out under my coat as I realized what I’d almost done.

Spike blinked at my display. “What is it?”

“It’s an urn,” I mumbled. I set the vase down with shaking hooves and backed up a step. “It’s a pony.”

An hour later we were in the castle’s kitchen, which was about five times too large for my needs. Spike brewed some coffee, which I gulped down thankfully while he sat across the table, eyeing the urn between us skeptically.

“So, let me get this straight. This has a pony’s ashes in it?”

I nodded and took another sip of my coffee. “Ashes and powdered bones.”

He glance between the urn and me. “So we’ve had a dead pony in our house for the past four years? That doesn’t sound right.”

“It’s not.” I rubbed my muzzle, hoping to forestall a headache. “The ashes should be scattered somewhere of emotional significance to the deceased or interred in a shrine. They definitely should not be in a box in the basement.”

I may have yelled that last part. Spike leaned away, his eyes wide.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “This is just... Unexpected. Really unexpected.”

He waved a claw. “It’s okay. Stupid question: who?”

“I’ll have to check the vital records in the town hall to be sure, but I think I already know the answer.” I traced the tip of my hoof over the cutie mark emblazoned on the urn. “Page Turner. He was the previous librarian. Passed away a few years before we arrived.”

Sometimes it was easy to forget that Spike and I were newcomers in Ponyville. For all that its residents had accepted us with open hearts, Ponyville had existed long before we arrived. There was a history here we weren’t privy to.

“His will should have specified how he wanted his ashes disposed,” I continued. “Otherwise, it’s up to his family. We’ll find them and hand the urn over.”

It was a plan. I let out a little breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and took a nice, long sip from my coffee. Good stuff.

Of course, Spike had to ruin it for me. “If he had a will or a family, how did his ashes end up in our basement?”

“I don’t know, Spike.” Another sip. “I don’t know.”

I didn’t sleep as well that night.

I brought the urn upstairs for safekeeping and set it on my writing desk, just below the window overlooking Ponyville. It was a nice view, and in a brief fit of sentimentality I turned the urn so the cutie mark faced outward. It hadn’t seen moonlight or the stars or anything but the inside of a dusty cardboard box in the better part of a decade. Tonight we would start to fix that.

“We’ll get you home soon,” I said. Silly of me, I know – the urn was nothing more than a vessel containing the ashes of another vessel, one that had long since ceased to hold the spark of life. Page Turner’s soul was gone, and he cared nothing for how we poor mortals managed his remains.

Still, I made sure the curtains were wide open for him.

Perhaps it was inevitable that the events of the past few days would finally catch up with me, but my sleep that night was haunted by what-ifs and apprehensions. What if we had not defeated Tirek? What if I had been just a hair slower, fighting him? What if he had smashed me to the ground like a fly and crushed me with his hoof? What if we had failed, and Celestia and Luna and Cadence had never learned why we left them to rot in Tartarus?

The result was that I barely slept. Every time I drifted off, some hazy fear, a gray and melancholy shroud, fell over my thoughts, and I kicked and tossed beneath comfy blankets. I could not escape the weight of the shadow of death.

I must have fallen asleep at some point, otherwise I wouldn’t have been so cranky when the sunlight pouring through the window landed on my face. I groaned and rolled over. It was no use, though; the town was awake, and it wanted me awake as well.

“Rise and shine, princess,” I mumbled. What I needed was a hot shower, twenty minutes with a mane brush, and a decent breakfast, preferably in that order.

After a few stumbles and banged hooves, I found my way into the ridiculously oversized shower stall. It was supposedly designed for alicorns, but I was pretty sure it could fit every princess ever at the same time with room to spare. And wouldn’t that be a sight? A nightmare to schedule, though.

Spike was nowhere to be seen when I made it downstairs. A note written in his neat script said he was out running errands and that there was a pot of cinnamon sugar oatmeal warming on the stove for me. Ah, best number-one assistant ever.

The town hall was practically deserted at that hour of the morning. Red Tape waved as I passed his desk on the way to the archives.

The Vital Records department of the town hall contained every birth, death and marriage certificate filed in Ponyville going back to the town’s founding nearly a century ago. It was a lot of records, but earth ponies were famously meticulous when it came to paperwork, and so everything was neatly arranged in a series of tall filing cabinets. It took less than a minute to find every official document with Page Turner’s name on it.

Which is to say, I found exactly one: a death certificate, filed nine years ago. A pencil sketch of his cutie mark – an open book with one page being turned – filled a large box beside his name. The line for “Next of Kin” was conspicuously blank.

That couldn’t be right. “Mister Tape!” I yelled out through the door. “Can you help me with something?”

A few seconds later he stuck his head in. “Of course, Princess. What do you need?”

“I’m looking for anything about Page Turner, the old librarian. All I can find is a death certificate.”

He trotted over. “Oh yes, I remember him. Moved to Ponyville a few years before I was born. I doubt you’ll find anything else, though. Never married, and I don’t think he kept a will.”

I blinked. “What happened to his house? All his stuff?”

“He didn’t really have one.” Red Tape slid the death certificate toward him and peered at it. “He lived in the library, like you do. Did, I mean. Very sorry about that, by the way.”

I shrugged. “It’s fine. New castle, and all. So, what happened to his, uh… You know, his body?”

Red Tape shook his head. “I’m sorry, princess, I can’t say I recall. There’s no next of kin listed, so I assume his friends took care of him. Why do you ask?”

“Just…” I realized I didn’t have a good answer to that. The sensible thing to do, upon finding a corpse in one’s home, would be to call the authorities and let them deal with it. There was a cemetery in Ponyville, and the Town Hall could use a public plot to inter Page Turner’s ashes. He was beyond caring about such things.

But if he’d wanted a public burial, he would have gotten one after his death. Instead he – or, actually, somepony acting on his behalf – went through the trouble of cremating him and placing his ashes in a custom urn. There was an intention there. Something was supposed to happen that hadn’t, and he’d ended up in a box in our basement. Something had gone wrong. His story was incomplete, like a sentence without a period at its end.

I realized Red Tape was staring at me. “Sorry, just trying to chase down some details about the library.”

“It’s quite alright, ma’am.” He took the death certificate from the table. “Do you need a copy of this?”

“No, that’s fine. I think I have to look elsewhere for answers.”

I’m a bit ashamed to admit I got distracted after that. Funny thing about being a princess – everypony wants a piece of your time. They all meant well, but it also meant I could barely walk down the streets without somepony coming up to me to ask if I could help their colt write a university application, or do something about the weather for next weekend when they had a picnic planned, or add a railroad connecting Ponyville or Baltimare, or even just complain about how there were too many carts on the roads these days, and young fillies and colts didn’t respect their elders, and they played their music too loud.

That sort of thing.

The result was that Page Turner continued to sit on my writing desk for the next several days. Every morning when I woke, I felt a brief flash of guilt, and just as quickly I realized how silly I was being. He’d sat in a box in our basement for years – a few mornings with a nice view in a castle was hardly disrespectful after that.

And yet… my writing desk wasn’t where he belonged. There was a place for him, somewhere out there. I just needed to find it. More and more, I found my thoughts circling back to that urn.

As usual, a blow to the head was sufficient to bring me back into the present. “Ow! What the heck, Dash?”

“You zoned out again,” Rainbow Dash said. She hovered next to me, a few hundred feet above the meadows outside Ponyville where we held our weekly flying practices. “You know what happens to pegasi who don’t pay attention when they’re flying?”

I hazarded a guess. “They crash?”

“Yeah, and if they’re lucky, they’re the only one who gets hurt. If they’re unlucky they might land on somepony, or hit a house or a school.” Her frown softened after a moment. “Are you okay? You seem a little out of it.”

“I’ve had some stuff on my mind.” I paused as another thought occurred to me. “Hey, do you mind if I ask you something?”

“Sure.” She flapped effortlessly over to a nearby cloud, plopping down on it and rolling around to get comfortable. “What’s up?”

I followed with significantly less grace and nearly fell off the cloud trying to land. Hopefully nopony on the ground saw that. “Do you remember Page Turner?”

Dash’s face was blank for a moment, but then her eyes widened. “The old librarian?”

“Mhm. Can you describe him?”

“I guess. Yellow coat, kind of a brownish mane. I think his cutie mark was a book.”

I knew that already, but I nodded. “What about him, as a pony?”

“Oh.” Dash leaned back on the cloud. “Beats me. He was old, Twilight. I don’t hang out with old ponies.”

“You must’ve seen him around town, though.”

“Not really. I never saw him outside the library, unless he was at the store or something. He never did the Running of the Leaves or Winter Wrap-Up. He didn’t even give out candy at Nightmare Night! Who doesn’t give out candy at Nightmare Night, Twilight? Bad ponies, that’s who.”

I rolled my eyes. “You don’t give out candy at Nightmare Night.”

“Yeah, ‘cause I’m busy!”

“That’s debatable. What else?”

She shrugged. “I dunno. He didn’t go out, didn’t hang out with friends. All he cared about was his books. Oh man, he got so mad when somepony hurt his books. Kind of like you, I guess.”

“That’s a normal reaction for a librarian,” I said, managing to keep my voice level. “And how would you know about hurting books?”

“Uh, well, you know.” Dash rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof, suddenly unable to meet my eyes. “I may have flown into the library a few times. Knocked over shelves and stuff. It happens.”

I groaned. Cleaning up the library after Dash’s visits was hard enough with my magic – I couldn’t imagine an elderly earth pony having to do it. “Did you at least help him pick up?”

“Nah, he wouldn’t let me. Kept trying to give me books instead.” She snorted. “As if, right?”

“Dash, you love books.”

“Well, uh…” She paused. “Now I do, yeah. But Daring Do wasn’t around back then. He had, uh, the Wizard of something-sea.”

“The Wizard of Earth Pony Sea?” I perked up. “That’s a classic. If you like Daring Do, I think you’ll love it.”

Now she looked interested. “Really? Do you have a copy?”

I opened my mouth to say that of course I had a copy, that I had a personal signed first edition as well as two copies in the young adult section of the library proper, when I remembered that all those things were gone. My throat closed, and it was all I could do to whisper an answer. “I’ll have to check.”

Dash must have realized the same thing. She bit her lip and crawled across the cloud to give me a pat on the back. “Sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”

“It’s fine.” I cleared my throat. “Let’s try some more flying, huh?”

“You’re looking much better these days.” It wasn’t so much directed toward me as the ceiling, but then, Rarity couldn’t see me with those cucumber slices covering her eyes. “I admit, I was a little worried for you those first few days after the fight.”

I shrugged, which sent a shallow wave across the surface of the hot bath. “I’m still getting used to it. I miss the tree sometimes, but hey, new castle. Always wanted one of my own.”

She peeled one of the cucumber slices away with her magic and peered at me. “That sounded a bit rehearsed.”

“Well, ponies keep asking.”

“Fair enough.” She replaced the cucumber slice and leaned back against the side of the tub. It wasn’t even the largest bath in the spa, but there was more than enough room for the two of us to soak in peace.

After that, silence. Blessed, uninterrupted silence. No princess-y duties, no ponies asking me for royal favors, no reporters shouting questions. Just the soft burble of water through the pipes and the sound of my breath.

At some unheard signal, Rarity sighed and pulled herself out of the tub. I took that as a sign and crawled out after her, giving my waterlogged wings a shake. The hot water had thoroughly stripped the oils from them, and I knew they’d be damp and soggy for the rest of the day.

Rarity must have noticed my discomfort. “You should ask Aloe to oil them, darling. Fluttershy does whenever she’s here.”

“Really? They do that?”

“They certainly do! Aloe!” Rarity waited for the pink spa pony to pop in. “Would you mind treating the princess with that, ah… You know, the wing oil you use on pegasi?”

“Ze feather shimmer? Oui, please, lie on ze mats. I will be right back.” She indicated the massage tables with a hoof and disappeared back out the door.

We settled down and bantered a bit, waiting for the spa sisters to return. I don’t even remember what we talked about – silly stuff, probably. Gossiping, which I had scorned for so much of my life but devoured like a salty, guilty, delicious snack when I was alone with my closest friends. We turned to more mundane topics when the spa ponies arrived, and the conversation stretched out, with long pauses between quips and responses. It was hard to talk when getting a massage from an earth pony.

That was Rarity’s fate, anyway. I got my wings preened and oiled with a little brush while she groaned on the other mat. I waited until it sounded like she had her breath back before speaking.

“Hey, Rarity? You’ve lived in Ponyville your whole life, right?”

“Hm? I have.”

“Do you remember Page Turner?”

She turned her head on the mat to look at me. “The librarian? Of course. He was my first magic tutor.”

That… what? I stared at her for a solid ten seconds before responding. “He was an earth pony.”

“Page Turner? Saffron coat, cinnamon mane? Open book cutie mark?” She waited for me to nod. “He was a unicorn, darling. Believe me, that’s the kind of thing you notice when you take magic lessons from somepony for years. Aloe, do you remember him?”

The spa pony looked up from my wings, the little brush still held in her lips. “Oui, he was ze unicorn. But he never came to our spa.”

“There you go,” Rarity said. “Unicorn.”

Why had I thought he was an earth pony? No reason, I suppose – unicorns were just an oddity in Ponyville, especially among the older generations. It must have even been marked on his death certificate next to his name, and yet I had overlooked it. I gave a little huff of annoyance at my inattentiveness.

“What do you remember about him?”

“Well, he was a kind pony. Quiet, like you’d expect from a librarian.” She gave me a look. “Not unlike yourself, I’d imagine. He loved to teach and share his books, but he didn’t really open up to other ponies.”

“I open up to ponies.”

Rarity sighed. “Twilight, you didn’t tell us you had a brother until you were invited to his wedding. To a princess.” She reached a hoof across the empty space between our mats, resting it on mine. “There’s nothing wrong with that, dear. You’re a private pony, and that’s entirely respectable. You’re also, if I do say so, blessed with some outstanding friends who help you open up sometimes.”

Well, she had me there. “What about him? Did he have friends?”

“He…” She frowned. “Well, I assume he did. Who doesn’t? I never met them, though.”

“Dash said he kept to himself. Never did anything with other ponies. Never even gave out candy at Nightmare Night.”

The frown deepened. “You know I love that mare, Twilight, but she’s not the best judge of ponies. Not only was he my magic tutor for years, but I can safely report that the reason he didn’t pass out candy on Nightmare Night was because he was busy holding a spooky story circle for foals at the library. No surprise Rainbow Dash wasn’t aware of that.”

As much as I hated to admit it, that was correct. Dash’s interests were deep but narrow and did not include librarians. I sighed. “You’re right, Rarity. What about… do you know what happened to him?”

“You mean, when he passed?” She turned her eyes down to the floor. “He fell ill and declined rapidly. As I understand it, there was nothing that could be done. Buried in Canterlot, if I recall.”

I pondered those last words of hers for a long while. The massage and feather-oiling was nearly complete before I spoke again, more to myself than anypony else. “Buried in Canterlot?”

“Hm?” Rarity’s eyes popped open, and I got the impression she had dozed off. “I believe so. At least, there wasn’t any funeral in Ponyville. I always assumed he was returned to some family crypt.”

“You don’t know for sure?”

Rarity shifted her weight. “He was a tutor, Twilight, and a good pony, but not really a friend. I’m sorry.”

I brushed her shoulder with a wingtip. The gesture left a faint shine on her coat where my newly oiled wings touched. “It’s fine. Let’s talk about other things.”

And we did, but I could not stop thinking about the urn waiting in my room.

I stood on the far side of the kitchen as Fluttershy worked. Her kitchen wasn’t very large, so I still got to see pretty much everything.

Ponyville did not have a full-time veterinarian. There was Dr. Mane Goodall, of course, but her area of practice covered several towns, and she only opened the clinic in Ponyville on Mondays and Thursdays, with appointments available in special circumstances. The other five days of the week, ponies had to wait or travel if they had a sick pet.

Or there was Fluttershy. And Mane Goodall usually referred cases like this to her anyway – the doctor preferred to work on pets, not wild animals.

The manticore cub on Fluttershy’s table hadn’t moved in some time. Its chest still rose and fell with each breath, and the thin membrane in its wings vibrated in time with its rapid heartbeat, but otherwise it lay motionless. Fluttershy had long since undone its restraints, even the one on its tail, in order to reach all the wounds.

Snails, of all ponies, had found it outside town lying in the tall weeds on the border of the Everfree. He immediately ran for an adult, the first time in my memory that a filly or colt in this town had actually done something sensible on the first try. I made a mental note to write a letter to his parents commending him for his action.

The cub mewled as Fluttershy slid a pair of forceps into a deep gouge running the length of its ribs. She was slow and gentle, and after a moment she pulled the instrument out of the wound. A long, wicked thorn, more like a claw than a piece of wood, came out with it. She set the bloody thing down in a bowl and pressed a clean gauze pad against the cub’s side.

“Timberwolf?” I kept my voice low, just above a whisper.

Fluttershy nodded. “They’re competitors. They’ll kill each others’ cubs if they can, but adults won’t usually fight each other. Can you fill up a hot water bottle?”

I did as she asked and brought the rubber bottle over to the table. She had transferred the cub into a cardboard box lined with soft blankets, and she set the bottle in with it. The cub twitched and wriggled toward the heat.

“Good boy.” Fluttershy brushed her hoof against its tufted ears, and then trotted over to her icebox, pulling out a bottle of milk. She poured a bit into a saucer, replaced the milk, and reached for a small vial nestled on a tray with the rest of her medicines. The fluid within was dark and thick, and she very carefully twisted off the cap before letting two drops fall into the milk.

Curious, I plucked the vial from the tray while she placed the saucer beside the cub. The vial was unlabeled, but a quick sniff was enough to confirm my suspicions. I nearly gagged on the bitter scent. Laudanum.

“That’s strong stuff. Does it really need it?” I asked.

“I’d give him something stronger if I had it. He’s still hurting.”

I followed her to the bathroom. It wasn’t big enough for the both of us, so I stood outside while she washed her hooves. They were flecked with blood – not much, but it stood out against her yellow coat and turned the water pink as she rinsed it away.

“Will it be okay?” I turned back to the box.

Fluttershy shook her head. “No, he’ll die tonight. But he’ll be warm and comfortable. I think that counts for something.”

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel about that. Manticores were wild animals, and they weren’t exactly friendly toward ponies. If that one had grown up, it could have posed a real danger to the town at some point. But that was hard to reconcile with the mewling, wounded cub I just helped tuck in for the night. I took a deep breath, and then another.

Fluttershy’s eyes flicked toward me as she dried her hooves. “Would you like some tea, Twilight? I’ve found it helps me relax after… after days like this.”

I glanced at the window. The sun had already set, and the warm glow of a distant streetlight painted the edges of the trees outside. “That sounds wonderful.”

A few minutes later we were settled on her couch. She sipped her tea with closed eyes. I stared down into my cup, lost in the swirling leaves.

She spoke first. “You’ve seemed distracted lately.”

“Well, you know.” Sip. “It’s been one of those weeks.”

“Would you like to talk about it?”

Another sip. “Maybe. Have you ever felt like you had to do something, but weren’t sure why?”

Fluttershy’s eyes opened, and her head turned just a fraction of an inch, back toward the kitchen. “I think I know what you mean, yes.”

“That’s good to hear.” I waited until her eyes returned to mine before continuing. “What do you remember about Page Turner?”

She stared at me for an uncomfortably long time before answering. “I’m sorry, Twilight, I don’t remember much about him. He seemed like a nice pony, though. Very bookish.”

“How did he die?” Was he warm and comfortable?

“Pneumonia. He was very old. It isn’t, um, uncommon.”

“And was he buried in Canterlot?”

Fluttershy tilted her head and spent a moment in apparent thought. “I don’t think… No, he was cremated. I remember that. It surprised a lot of ponies here.”

I could see that – cremation was rare among earth ponies, and uncommon for unicorns. Only pegasi routinely burned their dead. “Do you know why?”

“His family requested it, I assumed. I can’t imagine why else they would have.”

I nodded and went to take another sip of my tea, but the little cup had somehow grown empty while I wasn’t paying attention. “Did you know any of them? Friends, I mean. Or family. Anypony.”

She shook her head. “I didn’t. But he must have…” She lowered her eyes to the couch, and her mouth fell open. The silence extended between us, and when she spoke again her voice was soft. “He must have had family. Everypony does. He did, didn’t he, Twilight?”

“I…” I glanced back at the kitchen. “Yeah, he did. Everypony does.”

I’m not sure she believed me. I’m not sure I did, either.

The pillow was soft beneath my head, and the room around me dark and still. Page Turner’s urn sat where I had placed it, on my writing desk beneath the wide picture window overlooking Ponyville. Moonlight rimmed it in silver. His peace seemed deeper than mine.

“I’m still looking,” I whispered. “I haven’t given up yet.”

In time, I rolled onto my other side and slept.

I never really grasped why Applejack sold apples from a booth in Ponyville’s square.

Don’t get me wrong – it was a fine place to sell produce. Dozens of other vendors worked the same square. Roseluck’s roses, Carrot Top’s carrots, Junebug’s june bugs; everypony who wanted to sell something was free to do so in the central square, and it formed the heart of the weekly farmer’s market.

But Sweet Apple Acres produced thousands of tons of apples every year. The most I’d ever seen Applejack sell from her little stand was a bushel. The rest she boxed up and put on trains for the big cities or turned into cider or made into jam or did whatever else it was the Apple clan did with all those apples. Her booth couldn’t have sold more than one tenth of one percent of her yearly crop.

“Tradition” was all she had said when I asked. Apples had always sold apples in the town square, and it seemed they would until the world ended, if Applejack had any say in it. Which, given how many times she’d helped me save the world, I suppose she did.

“Page Turner? Course I remember him. Good pony.” Applejack leaned against the front of her booth. There hadn’t been any customers in the past ten minutes or so.

“Did he have any family?” I asked. I’d asked dozens of ponies that same question. It didn’t matter what my business was with them, but the conversation always seemed to bend toward Page Turner and the old library. The results were underwhelming; Page Turner had been old when he died, and few of his contemporaries remained. They all knew something about him, it seemed, but no two stories added up. It was like there were a dozen different Page Turners, one for every pony he knew.

I sat on the shady side of the booth. It wasn’t a hot day yet, but the sun would soon be a sweltering presence, and I didn’t feel like giving it a head start.

“Course he did,” Applejack said. “Came to Ponyville to get away from them.”

I blinked. That was a new story. “Come again?”

“They were unicorns, right? Not nobles, I hear, but still pretty hoity-toity.” She glanced at my forehead and cleared her throat. “Anyway, I guess they didn’t approve of his choice in mates. So they came here.”

“Ah.” I looked down at my hooves. “He loved an earth pony?”

“Yup. Nothing wrong with that nowadays, of course, but this was… gosh, at least fifty years ago. Not all ponies back then approved of such things. Especially unicorns. No offense.”

I wave a hoof. It was, sad to say, true. “None taken. So, what happened to them?”

“Not rightly sure. He left her, or she left him. By the time I was born, it was just him. That was before library moved into your old tree.”

My ears perked up at that. I’d just assumed the library had always been in the tree, though now that I thought about it, that was obviously not possible. “Where was it before?”

“Didn’t have one. Library was just a bookshelf in the town hall. Was his idea to have a real building for it. Well, a real tree, anyway.”

I turned toward the center of the town, just a block away. From here, I would normally have seen the huge crown of the library tree, towering above the thatched roofs all around. Its absence was like a missing tooth, and I felt a twinge in my heart.

“That was his idea?” I asked.

“Yup. Mayor was gonna have the tree torn down, make some space for new buildings, but he convinced the town council to let him use it. Worked out pretty good, I guess.”

“Yeah.” I looked down at the cobblestones. “I think it did.”

“So then he says, ‘I’ll have what she’s having!’” Pinkie Pie finished the joke and burst into laughter. She clutched her forelegs around her barrel and tipped onto her side, rolling onto the ground, and finally finishing with a snorty giggle.

At least, I’m pretty sure she did. I was lost in the depths of my hot chocolate. They make the best hot chocolate at Sugar Cube Corner, with real chocolate and cream, and those little marshmallows that float on top until they slowly dissolve.

I stared into my hot chocolate, and eventually I felt her warm, soft body press against mine. She peered down into my cup.

“See something you like?”

I smiled. “Sorry. Just thinking about something.”

“Mm. You’ve been through a lot lately, haven’t you? Want to talk with Aunt Pinkie about it?”

“Depends.” I took a sip of the hot chocolate – just a small one. It was still hot and nearly scalded my tongue. “Do you remember Page Turner?”

She nodded. “Yup. He was weird. A librarian who didn’t like books!”

I turned my head toward her. “What do you mean?”

“His special talent was books, right? Like mine is parties?” She gave her cutie mark a slap, sending a ripple through her whole body. “But did he share books? No! He made people check them out! And return them!”

“That’s how libraries work, Pinkie.”

“Well, libraries are doing it wrong.” She gave a firm nod, as if that settled the matter. “But otherwise he was a great pony. Liked to bake, too. I spent a lot of time helping him.”

I sat up. “You did?”

“Mhm! Why?”

“Did he have any family?” My question must have come across more intently than I thought. Pinkie leaned away, her ears perked.

She shook her head, and I felt my hopes deflate. “He didn’t like to talk about his family. I guess he didn’t like them too much. After Golden Oaks died, he was all alone.” Her ears flopped down to her cheeks, and she turned away, her eyes tracing the lines in the wood grain of the table.

“Golden Oaks?”

“His special somepony. They moved here together, but she passed away before I was born. He said she was beautiful and kind, and he didn’t know why she had to go.” Pinkie’s voice was soft, absent its normal exuberance.

I closed my eyes. I already knew the answer, but something demanded I ask anyway. “What was… what was her special talent?”

“She loved trees. She could make them grow in any shape she wanted.” Pinkie rubbed the table with her hoof, buffing away an imagined speck of dirt. “He said the library tree was her idea. So their two passions would always be together.”

Ah. For a moment, the scent of ashes was back, and I shook my head to clear away the memory.

Eventually, I finished my hot chocolate and left.

“So, yeah. They say it’s not really crazy to talk to graves or shrines. Or urns, I guess. Because  even though I know there’s nopony listening and I’m really just talking to myself, it’s socially and psychologically acceptable to hold this conversation. That it’s a way to provide closure.”

The urn holding Page Turner’s ashes said nothing in response. I didn’t really expect it to, of course – that would be crazy.

I cleared my throat. “I guess I’m saying this as much for me as for you, but I want you to know that I tried. I checked every record, I asked dozens of ponies. I’m starting to wonder if maybe you wanted it this way. To be as private in death as you were in life.

“If that’s the case, I don’t know that you’ll necessarily approve of what I’m doing, but this isn’t really for you. It’s for the rest of us, the living, so we don’t forget. I think that matters.”

I reached up and turned the urn a fraction of a fraction of an inch, making sure the cutie mark painted on its side faced directly outward from its niche. Below it, on the wall beside the door of the largest room in my new castle, a silver plaque proclaimed this to be the Page Turner Memorial Library.

“I still don’t know how you ended up in my basement, or who put you there. Maybe that was your plan all along. If it was, I hope you don’t mind these new arrangements.”

There was a loud thud from somewhere near the castle’s entry. Probably another shipment of books. The shelves around me were slowly starting to fill. In a few weeks, the library would be ready to open.

But for now it was just me, my thoughts, and a small porcelain vase. An urn containing all the mortal remains of a pony who sounded a lot like me. A pony I would have liked to have called a friend.

I heard another thud from the entryway, and the muffled voices of my friends. They were probably waiting for me to arrive and tell them where all the books should go. I smiled at that; a small smile, but a true one. A smile I hadn’t worn since losing my old home.

My old home. I imagined the library tree as I loved it: the leaves rustling in the wind, bright green in summer, or all in brilliant reds and yellows with autumn’s touch. The scent of wood and books and sap and earth. The little squeak the front door made when the weather turned cold.

That was how I would remember it. Not the charred ruin or the stench of ashes, but a place full of life. A place, hopefully, like this would someday be.

I think Page Turner would like that.
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