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New Horizon

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Indianapoloosa was not one of the most prominent cities in Equestria, what little fame it had coming from the various races held there from late spring to early summer and one successful hosting of the National Hoofball League Finals. It was, however, something of an economic boom town, with many businesses having branches and facilities there, prominent among them Amazing Booksellers, which had its largest fulfillment center on its outskirts. And, on this particular spring day, said fulfillment center was playing host to a very distinguished guest.

“Princess Twilight Sparkle, it’s a genuine honor having you here at Amazing Bookseller’s IND-1 facility. I can’t begin to tell you how happy we all are to have you here today…” The burly stallion halted and gave his guest a surprised look. “Your Highness?”

Twilight’s attention snapped away from the various metal shelves and all the books and miscellaneous products standing in them and back to the building manager, a sheepish grin on her face. “Sorry, Mister Big Chief. You’re going to have to forgive me. Libraries excluded, it’s been a while since I’ve been anywhere with this many books.” She trotted up alongside him and added, “Besides, I’ve been a customer for Amazing Booksellers for a while. Getting a look at how you work is kind of a treat for me.”

Her escorts from the Royal Guard exchanged small laughs, and Big Chief managed a forgiving smile as he went on with the tour. “Well, I hope you stick with us for future purchases. Amazing’s first priority is always to satisfy the customers like yourself, and if we can’t get you what you want, then we just aren’t doing our job right.”

“And if you don’t have customer satisfaction, then they won’t order from you, and you won’t be able to hire so many ponies.” Twilight’s words were underscored as a mare went past them with a cart trailing behind her, turning out of one aisle and into another.

“Exactly. On a day like this, we have something like a thousand ponies working on the main floor, and the numbers only go up during our peak seasons; late summer, when ponies are buying up textbooks for school, and of course the Hearthwarming Season. That’s when we bring in the vast majority of our temporary workers.”

“And how long do they stay employed?”

“It depends, but most end up leaving for one reason or another before they have a chance to convert. The few that stay, however, are happy to be…”

It was at that point that a terrible crash was heard from nearby, followed by an inarticulate yell that prompted the two to pause. The guards did a quick survey, one moving forward to protect the princess if need be, but no pony came charging out at them and the yell descended into inarticulate sounds of a different sort.

A brief expression of worry passed over Big Chief’s face; he had no idea what the outcry was about, but all of the possible reasons that sprang to mind were unpleasant, ranging from workplace violence to workplace injury to anything else that could potentially ruin the visit. “Sorry, Princess, it sounds like…”

“Please excuse me, sir.” Waving off her guard, Twilight broke off from the tour and made her way towards the source of the sound, driven both by curiosity and by general concern. Her pace hastened as she approached the sound and realized that whatever was going on, the pony that was making them was in trouble. And even if she hadn’t been a princess, it was her obligation to help.

It didn’t take long for her to find the source of the cries. A mess of books and party supplies and even the odd pet toy strewn on the floor before him was a stallion, closer in age to her brother Shining Armor than her, with a light tan coat and a slightly messy brown mane. He’d collapsed to the ground, a cart between him and the shelving unit suggesting some accident, but that wasn’t what caught Twilight’s attention the most about the scene. It was the fact that the stallion, while showing no sign of physical injury, was in the midst of tears, a sight that prompted further concern. She wasn’t sure what she could do to help as she approached the stallion, but she’d do her best. “Sir, are you alright?”

The stallion stopped, and looked up at her with deep brown eyes, surprise clear in them but quickly overtaken by sorrow as he sobbed an answer. “No! I’m not alright! I’m a failure! A screw up! I can’t do a single thing right!” He tried to recover himself as he continued, “Every day I come in here and try to do a good job, and I do the best I can, really, but it’s never good enough! There’s always something, like a glitchy magic list or lousy picks or whatever, but no pony cares about that! They don’t even care enough to get my name right! All they care about is making rate, and I can never make rate! And it’s only a matter of time before I’m fired, and I don’t want that! But it’s going to happen, because I’m a miserable! Little! Failure!” After that outburst, he gave up and collapsed back into a heap with frustrated sobs.

A small part of Twilight looked at this stallion and, as much as she hated to admit it, thought him a little bit pathetic. But another part of her wondered how he could end up like this, a miserable tearful mess, and she couldn’t simply leave him in such a state. Besides, there were times where she thought of herself as being on the edge of failure. Others had pulled her from the abyss; it would be wrong if she didn’t try to do the same. “What is your name, sir?”

A sniffle, and the stallion calmed himself down as best he could and answered as he tried to look her in the eye. “Quiver Quill, ma’am.”

A smile crossed her face. “My name is Twilight Sparkle, and believe it or not, I know exactly how you feel.” The stallion slowly got back to his hooves, tears having been replaced with awe, and she glanced around. “Looks like you’ve got a bit of a mess here.”

“Yeah.” He quickly cleared his throat and amended, “Yes, sorry, that’s my fault.” The quavering, tearful tone had calmed and given way to a more relaxed, almost casual one, and if Twilight was right, the stallion was trying to hold back nervous laughter as he wiped away the remaining tears. “I’m still getting used to the carts and I banged it against the shelves and, well, it all sorta speaks for itself.”

“Well Quiver Quill, what do we need to do to clean this up?”

-

Weeks had passed since that visit, but for Quiver Quill, it had been the highlight of his employment at Amazing Booksellers, far better than the day when he’d been converted from temporary to permanent employment with the company. But that was then, and today was a typical early Thursday afternoon for the facility. Lunch was over, and Quiver and the various other ponies who worked the site’s outbound shifts – those who sent product out rather than brought it in – were getting ready to get back to work for the afternoon, taking a moment to check and see if they had received positive feedback for their work for the previous week. A cursory glance at the sheets of paper that had been laid out to be signed, and he realized that once more, he hadn’t merited positive feedback for his work, and he turned and went on his way to wait for the afternoon pep-talk from the managers.

“Hey! Aren’t you going to sign your form?”

The stallion turned back to find one of the assistant managers holding up a positive feedback form, looking at him with a smile. He approached and checked the name and picture on the form, and groaned. “That isn’t me. My name isn’t Faithful Step; it’s Quiver Quill.” He idly pointed to another stallion that bore a slight resemblance to him, but was taller and bulkier and had a bushier mane cut. “Faithful’s over there.”

“Oh.” The assistant looked at the form again but kept up their smile. “Sorry!”

A small part of the stallion wanted to accept his apology, but the same assistant had confused Quiver with his coworker twice before this past month. It frustrated him to no end, but he kept himself under control, sighed and nodded, and turned away. He hated the fact that this was continuing to happen; he’d been with Amazing for roughly a year now, and he’d think that his superiors would be able to actually tell the difference between him and Faithful Step at this point. A part of him feared that they simply didn’t care, a feeling that was far-too-common in his life and still lingered despite the day he’d met Princess Twilight. That she’d taken a little time to help him made him feel better, but there were times where it took everything he had to remember that day, and between not meriting positive feedback and once more being confused for a coworker, it was even more of a strain.

“Good afternoon, Pickers!” Quiver put his thoughts aside and turned his attention to his supervisor. “First off, great work everypony, we are officially going at one hundred and four percent to plan!”

“AAAAAAYYYYYY-OOOOOOHHHHHH-KAY!” Quiver winced and rubbed his ear as he turned in the direction of the all-too-familiar call. Sure enough, there was Loudmouth. An older stallion with a great, bellowing voice and wiry, well-defined muscles, his loud pronouncements were recognized throughout the building and carried quite a distance. He didn’t do it to purposely annoy anypony or be cruel; his shouts tended to be in friendly greeting towards others. Nonetheless, Quiver wished that Loudmouth would be a little less true to his name. Simply thinking of certain words instantly reminded him of the old stallion, which did little to improve things.

The meeting continued on with the usual routine, discussion of things related to the workplace and reminders to stay hydrated and be safety-conscious, with a specific warning about the number of baskets they were supposed to have on their carts at a given time. The same things that had been said before several times, with one change towards the end. “Now, one more announcement before we get back to work; Amazing has new facilities opening throughout Equestria, and they’re looking for experienced ponies to help them get the ball rolling, so check the board if you’re interested. Any questions? Alright then, let’s finish the day strong!”

Quiver was many things, among them a creature of habit. When he was comfortable with a routine, he stuck to it. That said, however, there were occasions where his curiosity got the better of him, and he idly wondered if a different location might be better for him, so he checked the listings about the new facilities opening, if only to get a look at their locations. The Crystal Empire, Appaloosa…

Ponyville!

-

“Hello!” The two stallions took a step back in surprise as she greeted them with her usual enthusiasm. Didn’t new visitors to Ponyville deserve anything less than a friendly welcome with a big bright smile? “Welcome to Ponyville, I’m…!” Her eyes took in the younger of the two and a description of a young stallion with a fancy cutie mark flashed through her mind. “Are you Quiver Quill?! Twilight told me to keep an eye out for you! Of course, I couldn’t keep a literal eye out for you, because taking an eye out of my head would just be gross and impossible for a pony, but I could look out for you, and I did, and here you are! Follow me; I’ll take you to the library lickety-split!”

A grin crossed Quiver’s face. “Thanks miss!”

“No problem, and the name is Pinkie Pie!” She led them off the platform and out of the station, skipping merrily as she went. “I make a habit of greeting newcomers to town anyway; I’m kind of Ponyville’s unofficial welcome wagon! I’d give you the whole treatment, but I can’t get my actual welcome wagon onto the platform. That, and I haven’t cleaned out the confetti cannons yet – I keep on filling them with cake batter.” She heard a slight grumble and turned about curiously. “Are you okay, mister? You sound like you have a tummy ache.”

Quiver’s father glowered at the mare for a split second before putting on his best neutral expression. “Something like that.”

The younger stallion quickly tried to change the subject. “So, you and Princess Twilight are friends?”

“Uh-huh! We met a long time ago, back before she was a princess and when she first moved to Ponyville! Princess Celestia sent her and Spike here to supervise the Summer Sun Celebration, and I was the first pony she met when she came to town! I trotted up to her and she said ‘Hi’ and I was like –” She let out a massive, theatrical gasp “– and then I went off and put together a ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party for them! And then everything with Nightmare Moon happened and she decided to stay and we all became friends!” The whirlwind explanation finished with a grin and a squeal of glee.

Slightly bewildered by the rapid-fire explanation, Quiver found himself asking, “Who’s Spike?”

“Oh, he’s Twilight’s number-one assistant! He’s also family to her, either an adopted little brother or an adopted son; I’ve never really been clear one way or another. You can’t miss him – he’s a baby dragon! ” She stopped, her tail twitched, and she backed the two up seconds before a potted plant fell from the sky. She looked up and wondered, “Where do those things keep coming from?” Satisfied that nothing else was going to fall from the sky, she continued leading them on. “Anywho, that was just when we met! We’ve had all sorts of adventures together since then, and loads and loads of fun! And today isn’t going to be any different! We’ve got lots of stories, but it’s nice to hear other ponies’ stories, you know?”

A smile crossed his face. “Yeah, it is. I just hope folks like the one I’ve written.”

“Why wouldn’t they? You seem nice to me.” Another gasp and she pointed with a pink hoof at a tree in the distance. “We’re almost there, the Golden Oak Library! Twilight’s been running it since she moved to Ponyville, and it’s where she and Spike live! It’s really fun, and there’re lots of really good books there! And I’m sure Twilight will love to see you!”

-

“Well son, have you been fired yet?”

Quiver’s expression soured as he looked up from his dinner of tofu, rice and steamed broccoli at the expression on the russet face of his father. Directly opposite him at the table, Bitterhoof was grinning through his greying black beard. He tried to keep to an even tone as he answered, “No.”

“Well good. But don’t get comfortable; you take one hoof out of line, make one mistake, and they’ll fire you. Maker knows you’ve made mistakes in the past, after all.”

“Bits.” The old stallion’s face turned from his son to that of the mare seated to his left. Her greying brown mane in a conservative cut and her voice in a gentle tone, Constant Heart quietly noted, “Quiver’s gotten a permanent position with Amazing. I doubt they’ll go through all that trouble just to fire him out of hoof.” Ever the diplomat, she turned conversation elsewhere. “Speaking of, anything interesting at work today? Did you see anything that caught your attention on the shelves?”

A smile came up on his face as he thought about work earlier in the day. “No, but picks were good. I ended up getting lots of copies of the new Daring Do book. I still think you should…”

“I can wait for the movie,” was Bitterhoof’s unimpressed response.

Quiver rolled his eyes at his father’s dismissive attitude. While he had some issues with the books, the feature films were mixed at best, with so many important details left out. And they never got Ahuizotl’s accent right. “Anyway, they made an announcement at work. Amazing’s opening up new fulfillment centers, and they want volunteers to transfer out to them to help get things going. One of them is in Ponyville, and I want to take part.”

His mother’s response was curious and wary. “Really? Quiver, I…”

His father’s was another matter. “You what?”

“I want to transfer to the new Ponyville facility.”

Bitterhoof gave an infuriated glare. “And how are you supposed to get there? Take a train every day?”

“No, I thought I’d move to Ponyville and walk to the facility there.”

Move there? And what are you going to do, just move in with that princess you met?”

“What? No! I thought she might be able to help me find my own place there.”

“Oh, like a princess is actually going to take time out of her busy schedule to help somepony like you! Besides, you have obligations here! Work to do here! Have you just forgotten about the condition of this house?! The bills that need paid?! The work that needs done?!”

He could feel himself shrinking as he answered in the negative. Quiver would’ve needed to be a blind amnesiac to forget, and even that would be temporary. The room they were eating in was their living room; their dining room had been occupied by a mess of odds and ends since before he was born, and the room they’d eaten in instead, their sun room, was closed off due to a long-delayed do-it-yourself renovation that neither his mother or father had applied much time to. And that was ignoring the metaphorical elephant in the room that was the gaping hole in the ceiling above their heads, leaving exposed struts and pipes for the upstairs bathroom that had lacked a working toilet since before he’d earned his cutie mark, and a working shower since before his birth. And those were just the issues that immediately sprang to mind with the house, and ignored the debt his family was in as well as regular housework.

“And now you want to move out to some hick backwater town just because some stupid princess happens to live there and decided to make herself look better by being nice to you?! It’s not happening!”

“But Dad…”

“Oh, inconvenient, is it? Well, life’s filled with minor inconveniences! Get used to it!”

Bitterhoof turned silent and went back to his food, Quiver sadly doing the same and thinking to himself, Congratulations, Quiver. You’ve gone and done it again.

-

“Sir, your son spoke with such passion about being a writer. You must be very proud of him.”

Bitterhoof shot his son a quick glance before admitting, “Of course I’m proud of him. He’s my son. I just want him to write his own stuff and earn money for it is all.”

“Um, excuse me sir?” A bright yellow pegasus approached, slightly unnerved by the severe older stallion’s tone and expression and not helped by his beard. “I don’t mean to pry, but…maybe your son doesn’t think he’s ready. I mean, I’m not saying he isn’t, but it should be his own choice about when he tries to publish his works. At least, that’s what I think.”

The stallion regarded her for a moment before turning to address the princess. “Can you point me towards the restroom?”

Twilight directed him, and Quiver sighed in relief and turned to face his supporter. “Thanks for that. My dad’s got a tendency to be stubborn about how he looks at things.” He noticed the uneasy expression on the pegasus’ face and added, “And sometimes he scares me too.”

“Oh, it isn’t your father. I’m just nervous around ponies I haven’t met before.” She smiled and added reassuringly, “But Twilight had such nice things to say about you, and you seem like a very nice pony. I’m Fluttershy, by the way.”

“Quiver Quill, but you already know that.” He managed a nervous laugh before he continued with small talk. “So Pinkie Pie was telling me when she met Princess Twilight on the way over. What about you?”

“Oh, I met her the same day. I direct a choir of birds here in Ponyville, and we were asked to perform for the Summer Sun Celebration. We were doing some last minute practice when Twilight came by to check on us, but she was a little loud and scared the poor things off. I was a little nervous too, but meeting Spike helped to smooth things over.”

“So you love animals then.”

“Oh yes. Well, most. Full-grown dragons scare me, and I really don’t like dealing with cockatrices.”

“I can’t blame you. Between us being bite-sized compared to the former and the latter turning whatever looks them in the eye into stone, neither’s really pleasant. Better them than a basilisk though, right?” She shuttered, and he turned nervous. “Sorry, don’t tell me…”

“Oh no, I’ve never had to worry about one of them. I was just agreeing with you. I really hope I never have to deal with one of them; not even The Stare would work on a basilisk.”

A puzzled expression crossed the stallion’s face. “The Stare?”

She nervously explained, “It’s something I do sometimes, I can’t really help it. I look directly into the eyes of someone opposite me, and they’re suddenly intimidated into submission. But it’s reliant on looking right into the eyes of another pony or an animal, and you can’t do that with a basilisk.”

A nervous expression and Quiver noted, “And here I thought only my father could do something like that.”

-

In comparison to the living room, Quiver’s bedroom was in a far better state, and was the closest thing he had to refuge to the various problems and frustrations that struck him at other points in his life. When he was younger, he’d lie down on his bed, either attempting to fight back tears or just letting them loose. Older and supposedly wiser now, he found himself seated at his desk, trying his best to put aside his own anger and frustration. He wasn’t in any condition or mood to write, so he instead tried to read, but found himself going over the same paragraph for the third time in a row. He groaned and rubbed his forehead with one hoof, only to be distracted from both as he heard a knock at his open door, turning to find his mother there with a comforting smile on her face. “Good book?”

He shook his head and pushed his book aside. “It’s as dense as a tree stump and three times more boring.” He scooted his stool back to better face his mother as she entered. “Mom, you and Dad don’t want me to live here forever, do you?”

“No, of course not. It’s just, well…”

“It’s just that Dad doesn’t have any faith in me being able to do anything right.”

“No, nothing like that.” She paused for a moment to think of the right words, settling after a few seconds. “I don’t think your father has quite accepted the fact that you’ve grown up and gotten a job yet, is all. You coming right out and saying that you wanted to move out and go to Ponyville of all places seemed a little sudden too. After all, you’ve only been there once, and you barely know Princess Twilight.”

“Mom, we exchange letters.” He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a manila folder, opening it as his mother approached. “We’ve written to each other regularly since that trip. See for yourself.” He pointed out one in particular and explained, “She sent me this one less than a week after I told her about getting converted, and there’s others here talking about what she and her friends have been doing throughout Equestria. You remember that friend of hers that I mentioned, Rarity? She’s a growing name in the fashion world; caught it in the paper.”

“That’s the same mare you met at the prose reading?” Constant managed an impressed smile. “I guess being a princess means you run in high circles.”

“They met long before Twi…” He quickly corrected himself. “Before Princess Twilight became a princess, and the same goes for the rest of her friends.” He closed the folder and explained, “Listen, I’m not saying I’m doing it. I just saw the announcement and thought this might be a good idea for me. And all I was going to do was send her a letter asking if she could help me find a place, that’s it. I wouldn’t even start the paperwork for the transfer if I didn’t have some guarantee of a place waiting for me in Ponyville, and if Princess Twilight can’t, then I’ll drop the whole thing. But we both know I can’t say here forever.”

His mother considered his words, her brown eyes locked on his, and smiled. “You really think she can help?”

He smiled back encouragingly. “It can’t hurt to ask.”

-

“You lookin’ fer sumthin’? Seem kinda lost.”

“Not lost, really, just at loose ends is all.” A shrug, and he noted, “A little nervous, too. The last time I read a story in front of an audience didn’t really go well for me.”

The orange mare made a dismissive wave with one hoof. “Wouldn’t worry too much if I was you, fella. Ponyville’s one of the friendliest places in Equestria, and we ain’t the sort to be rude.” A raised eyebrow, and she relented, “Okay, we ain’t perfect, but we ain’t about to be mean to somepony who just came inta town fer a day fer no good reason. Just relax and enjoy yerself.”

“Easier said than done.” He picked up a waiting mug of apple cider and sampled it, pausing a second to glance at it with awe. “Sweet Celestia, where did Princess Twilight get this cider? It’s the best I’ve ever tasted!”

“Well, not to toot mah own horn or nuthin’, but she’s got me to thank for it.” She made an introductory nod of her head. “Name’s Applejack. Me and my family run Sweet Apple Acres, and our cider? Best of the bunch, without a doubt.”

“I can believe that.” He took another blissful sip as a thought occurred to him. “Wait, Sweet Apple Acres? As in the only place that makes Zap Apple Jam?”

“That’s the one.”

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to have some of that!” He rolled his eyes and noted, “But Barnyard Bargains always sells through its stock faster than a Wonderbolt goes down a straightaway, and anypony else that sells it has it at absurd prices. Between that and the cider, your family must be loaded.”

Applejack chuckled nervously. “Ain’t quite as simple as that, but we make it through best we can. Still, helps to have a big family supportin’ ya and lots a’ friends at your back.”

A sad smile crossed the stallion’s face as he added in a low voice, “Must be nice having that.”

“Come again?”

He shook his head. “Nothing, just thinking aloud. So, big family?”

“Spread across all Equestria, but the only immediate folks are me, mah siblin’s and Granny Smith. Plenty a’ work fer the four a’ us, though.”

“And sometimes a little extra.” The little dragon that Quiver had noticed and heard of strode up, looking him over with approval. “So you’re the struggling writer Twilight met at an Amazing warehouse.”

“And you’re Spike. Pinkie Pie mentioned you on the way over.” He offered a hoof. “So what’s it like living with a princess?”

“Not as glamorous as you’d think, but pretty awesome.” The two shared a hoof bump before Spike turned attention elsewhere, “Between you and me, us moving here to Ponyville was the best thing that ever happened to me and Twilight. We’ve had a couple rough patches, but I like to think we’ve settled in okay.”

“’Specially considerin’ a certain dragon’s gone and gotten himself a crush.”

“Attention everypony, attention!” The stallion was prevented from inquiring further about the farm mare’s tease as they turned their heads to the lectern that was set up in one corner of the library, Princess Twilight standing behind it. “If I could have your attention please? I’d like to welcome you all to the first annual Ponyville Prose Reading!” She enthusiastically clapped her hooves together, others gently stomping theirs on the ground to applaud. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Princess Twilight Sparkle, stu…ahem, associate of Princess Celestia and proprietor of the Golden Oak Library. I’d like to thank all the authors who came by today, both local and from abroad, to share their craft. Now please give a warm welcome to our first speaker, Miss Bitta Luck!”

Quiver was inwardly glad that they were doing the readings in alphabetical order; it gave him plenty of time to relax and prepare himself, as well as fight off the memories of the last time he read a story he’d written aloud. Granted, some good had come from the experience, his cutie mark among it, but still, the less he thought of it, the better, and he was very glad that this wasn’t a competition.

-

“I don’t know about you, Twilight, but I’m so very much looking forward to Manehattan Fashion Week.” Absentmindedly sorting through books to be reshelved in Golden Oak Library, Rarity was quick to point out, “I will admit to being a little anxious, but still, this is a fantastic opportunity!”

“And we all know you’ll wow the judges.” Twilight magically lifted the sorted books and returned them to their proper shelves. “So don’t worry too much. Whatever happens, you’ll do great, and we’ll all be there for you.”

“Plus there’s no question you’ll be the obvious winner, but that goes without saying.” Spike approached, carrying a small basket of letters. While some bits of mail arrived via his flames, the vast majority of the letters and packages that Twilight received came via traditional methods, and it was up to him to sort it out. “Here’s the mail, Twilight. Haven’t sorted it all yet.”

“That’s alright, Spike, won’t take a minute.” Twilight turned her attention away from her books and to the letters, magically lifting them up and giving them a quick glance before sorting through them, putting aside the odd catalog and official letter and sending junk mail off to Spike to be disposed of. Finally, one remained, the address catching her attention. “Ooh!”

Her ears perked up at her friend’s eager response to the letter, and Rarity wondered aloud, “And what might this be? A letter from an admirer? A sweet something from a certain sweetheart pegasus, perhaps?”

A slight blush arose on her cheeks as Twilight admonished, “Rarity!”

“Oh, do forgive my teasing darling, but you are the first among us to have a mutual romantic interest, my efforts on the matter notwithstanding.” She rolled her eyes and elaborated, “Not that anypony else among our circle seems eager for a relationship. It’s no wonder the gossip columns claim that Rainbow Dash and Applejack are an item.”

“Yeah, like that’s got any truth to it.” The junk mail deposited in its specified wastebasket, Spike dutifully spat a small burst of green flame and incinerated the letters in short order. “Besides, this one didn’t come from the Crystal Empire.”

“Oh?” Her interest piqued further, Rarity turned back to Twilight and prodded further, “Another admirer for Equestria’s newest princess then?”

Twilight rolled her eyes and deadpanned, “Rarity, it’s from Quiver Quill.”

“Quiver…?” It took a second, but her memory caught up with her. “Oh yes, I remember him! Charming fellow, marvelously polite. It’s good that you’ve kept in touch, darling; the poor fellow seemed so nervous and lonesome. Almost like Fluttershy, really.”

“Well, I get the feeling he doesn’t really have a lot of friends.” Twilight’s somber report turned to a more interested one as she related, “But it looks like he’s trying to get out on his own. Amazing Booksellers is opening a fulfillment center here in town, and he’s thinking about transferring out here as part of its launch. He’s asked if I can help find him a place to stay here in Ponyville.”

“Well good for him!” The fashionista thoughtfully considered this news and wondered aloud, “Hmm, well, I suppose I can ask around, check the classifieds in the local newspapers…”

“I’ve got an idea!” The two ponies and one dragon jumped slightly as Pinkie Pie made her presence known, surprising each of them. “And he won’t even need to look through the papers!”

Rarity took a quick second to catch her breath before commenting, “Pinkie Pie, I can appreciate your enthusiasm, but Quiver Quill comes across as the sensitive artist type. You can’t simply toss him in with anypony. After all, there’s a reason I don’t have a permanent housemate. Yet.”

“Don’t you worry, Rarity, I’ve got it all covered!” Pinkie instantly pulled out a small black book and began looking through it. “Ponyville’s gotten a few new ponies in it since Twilight became a princess, and I’m sure one of them will be willing to take in a nice, hard-working roomie, especially if they happen to be a smarty-pants writer like Quiver! And if they don’t, then I can check with everypony else!” She gasped as her search came to one of the very last ponies on her list, a grin crossing her face as she declared, “Found them!”

Twilight looked over the name, which appeared to have been hastily written in crayon, and gave her party planning pal a perplexed expression. “Pinkie, the two don’t even know each other.”

“Nopony knew anypony before they met, and when they do, they become best friends, especially when they have something in common! And trust me, this pony and Quiver have plenty in common!”

-

Waiting to speak had been the worst part of the day, as it had only allowed what anxiety he’d had left to restore itself. When his time came, Quiver stepped up to the lectern, set up his papers, looked out at the faces of the gathered ponies (as well as Spike and what looked like a zebra that had found herself among the crowd), took a deep breath, and started his story. He’d come this far, and he wasn’t about to choke on the final stretch.

“It was a cold Saturday night, the regular crowd having shuffled into the bar. From my place at the piano, I could see them all, and each had a story. It may have only mattered to them, but it was theirs. And this was mine…”

He continued to read, his eyes darting every couple seconds from the pages before him to the audience. Their expressions remained unchanged, his father's that of neutrality and the crowd’s polite interest. He cast his father out of his mind and continued on as he found his way to the end of the story.

“As I finished my tune, the two stallions, their argument forgotten, slumped into gleeful unconscious, and my boss turned to me with a smile. ‘Well done, Wild’.” He looked up from his papers one last time with relief and smiled. “Thank you.”

Enthusiastic applause greeted him as he sorted his papers out, only for them to sort themselves. “Let me help you with that, dear.” They were neatly stacked and returned to his folder, and he turned to find a unicorn mare looking upon him with approval, her purple mane styled in an elegant manner and her voice and attitude regal and polite. “There you are.”

“Thanks ma’am.”

“Oh, you needn’t be that formal. Please, my name is Rarity.” He tucked the folder into his saddlebag as she continued, “Forgive me for noticing this, but you seemed rather nervous before you started.”

“I was. The last time I recited something I wrote in public, well, it had mixed results.”

“Harsh criticism, I take it?” She smiled sympathetically and assured him as he stepped away from the lectern, “Darling, all artists face criticism. The important thing is how you face that criticism. That you were brave enough to come here is something to be proud of.”

“Well thank you, Rarity, but…”

Quiver was instantly interrupted as another mare, this time a rainbow-maned pegasus, stepped in. “Man, you need to start publishing!”

“Rainbow Dash!” Rarity tutted and turned back to the stallion as she continued, “Do forgive my friend’s manners. Her enthusiasm often gets the better of her.”

“Eh, it’s alright. I’m used to it.” The name clicked in his memory as he faced the pegasus and exclaimed, “Wait, Rainbow Dash? As in the only mare in recorded history to pull off a Sonic Rainboom?”

“You see any other pegasi as awesome as me around here?” She put aside her own grand-standing and went back to her earlier train of thought. “Seriously though, you’re not half bad. Definitely good enough to get published somewhere. I mean, your stuff isn’t Daring Do, but it’s still pretty good! You should try it!”

“Oh trust me, I want to get published. I’ve been working on a novel off and on for a year now but I can’t quite seem to find the time to get it done.”

Dash flashed an encouraging grin. “Well what are you waiting for? Get it done already!”

“Quiver.” His attention was turned from the encouraging mare to his father, who was already well on his way to the door. “We have a train to catch.”

The young stallion’s tone grew restrained as he obliged. “Coming!” He looked back as he made his way out at the gathered ponies, offering a friendly wave as he followed his father out. “Thanks everypony!”

His father remained silent as they exited the library, and kept his silence as they continued along until they were a small distance from the library. “Well done, Quiver.” The brief bit of joy he had at hearing his father’s praise was crushed as Bitterhoof amended, “Next time, however, make sure that if you submit something, it has a cash prize to go along with it. A job isn’t worth doing unless you get paid for it.”

“But they liked it.”

A dismissive snort. “They’re being polite. If anypony acts this nice, they’re either insane or trying to get something out of you. Sometimes both. Remember that, and your life will be easier in the long run.”

They continued in silence, but Quiver found himself reflecting on how his father had been wrong in the past, even if he’d never admit it. He quietly hoped to himself that his father was wrong again; after all, not every pony was out to get him, were they?

-

The train ride to Ponyville from Indianapoloosa was much the same as it was the first time, Quiver spending much of the first leg of the trip relaxing and reading a book, only to do the same on the second leg of the trip. The only difference was that his father wasn’t present, which was a comfort. He’d gone traveling without his father before, of course; his time earning his degree at college, for example, was as much thanks to his desire for independence as it was an unexpected (and very suspect by his father’s reckoning) scholarship. It also helped that he’d taken the trip before; the familiar was always more comfortable than the unfamiliar, after all.

As the train came to a stop, he got to his hooves, packed away his things and retrieved his saddlebags and luggage, and made his way out of the carriage and onto the platform, remembering the last letter that he’d received from Princess Twilight and keeping an eye out for…

“QUIVER! OVER HERE!”

His eyes turned to the end of the platform, and they instantly lit up with glee as he caught sight of his welcoming party. Awaiting him were Princess Twilight and her friends, Fluttershy and Rainbow Dash holding up a banner above the rest that proudly read “Welcome to Ponyville!” in bright letters. He rushed forward then, remembering himself, paused and bowed politely as the banner was rolled up. “Princess Twilight Sparkle. Thank you for the warm welcome.” He rose back to his full height and, noticing that Pinkie Pie’s face had turned noticeably sad as she finished spiriting away the banner, gleefully smiled and exclaimed, “Aw, come here, Pinkie!”

She gasped and tackle-hugged him. “You remembered me!”

“Of course! How could I forget the first mare I met in Ponyville?” He warmly hugged her and then took in the rest of the group. “Or any of you. It’s great seeing you all again. Oh, Rarity, congratulations on stealing the show at Manehattan Fashion Week. I read all about it in the Indianapoloosa Star.”

The violet-maned unicorn made a polite laugh. “An ironic turn of phrase, dear, but I’m not one to turn away praise.” She glanced over his saddlebags and the small load of luggage dragging behind him and noted, “This is all you packed?”

“All I thought I needed to bring immediately. It’s not much, just books and personal things, stuff I can’t get here in Ponyville easy enough. I’m going to write back to my folks once I settle in and have them ship the rest of my things over.” Turning attention back to the matter at hoof, he asked, “So, you all managed to find a place for me?”

Twilight smiled and indicated her excited friend. “Pinkie Pie deserves the credit really. Come on, we’ll show you the way.”

With Pinkie Pie leading the way, the group made their way through town, Rarity starting off the conversation. “While we’re on the way darling, please, elaborate a bit. Why transfer out here?”

“Well duh, of course he transferred out here!” Rainbow Dash confidently explained, “He got a taste of the awesomeness of Ponyville and just couldn’t get enough!”

“That was part of it, yeah, but another part was just wanting to get out on my own. I’m a little old to still be living with my folks, and besides, as much as I enjoy my job, I’ve been having headaches there from day one.” At the mares’ curious looks, he explained, “Issues with my coworkers. Minor things, but still, they get to you after a while. None of them transferred out here with me, so I’m thinking that working out here will go a little easier than back in Indianapoloosa.”

“Well no offense to ya, it ain’t like we don’t mind you movin’ out here, but why didn’t ya go to yer bosses about yer troubles?”

“Partly because they were contributing to them, partly because they weren’t doing anything about them.” Surprised expressions went his way as he elaborated, “I had a coworker back there named Faithful Step. He and I vaguely look alike, but for some crazy reason, several of my coworkers and supervisors kept on confusing me with him.” He sighed glumly. “Repeatedly. You’d think they’d notice us having different cutie marks at least.”

“Well darling, I would put those thoughts aside were I in your horseshoes. I doubt that anyone in Ponyville will be mistaken for you.” Rarity thought for a moment as she realized, “Perhaps Caramel, but he does have a radically different cutie mark. Three blue horseshoes. Look at the two of you side by side, and I doubt anyone could accidentally confuse you.”

Quiver Quill gave a relieved smile at this as he thought of his own mark, a black and red quill overlaying a blank white scroll. He then caught sight of another earth pony stallion, colored slightly darker than him but with a spikier mane, as he exited a store and remarked, “Tell you the truth, there’s a few I wouldn’t mind getting mistaken for. Still, when it happens once I can understand, but three or four times? By several different ponies in positions of authority? Makes me think of that quote from the Jay Link novels – once is happenstance, twice is coincidence…”

“And three times is enemy action,” the princess, Rarity and Spike chimed in as one.

“Exactly.” He huffed and noted, “I hate being paranoid.”

“Oh, I doubt anypony’s really out to get you, Quiver Quill.” Fluttershy gave him an encouraging smile and reassured him, “It’s probably just an honest mistake on their part.”

“Still, you work at a place for close to a year, and you’d think they’d at least bother to learn your name. And besides, that was just the tip of the iceberg.”

“Well, ah’m sure things’ll go diff’rent for ya here in Ponyville. What day are ya startin’ work?”

“This Monday. Long enough to get settled in, stock up on whatever I need to and get the lay of the land. I just hope the new housemate likes me. Speaking of, anything you can tell me about her?”

“Oh, don’t worry! You two should get along great! She’s a writer too, just moved here to Ponyville from Vanhoover!” The group reached a small, one-story building, a mailbox perched to one side of the front door and the windows draped, concealing the inside. Pinkie knocked on the door and explained, “I told her all about you, and she’s looking forward to meeting you and making friends!”

Quiver took a deep breath as the door opened to reveal a pale grey unicorn mare, her yellow mane cut short and her cutie mark a heart fading from pink to black. She looked him over and made a small grin. “You’re Quiver Quill? The name’s Luster Drain. Come in.” He smiled and followed, the door softly closing behind him, leaving the gathered mares and dragon to exchange hopeful looks.

-

“So, what do you think of the place?”

Quiver took a quick look about; the one-story dwelling looked sturdy enough from the outside, and the furnishings inside were nice. He smiled. “I like what I see so far.”

“Yeah, most of this is courtesy of the land-mare. Gilded Lily’s decent enough, but she’s pretty insistent on the rent getting paid on time, y’know?” She leaned in close and asked, “Speaking of, you said you had a job, right? No trouble paying your share of the rent?”

“Yep, gainfully employed, no trouble pulling my weight. Speaking of, is she going to be by to discuss the rental agreement, or are we going to her offices?”

“Neither; I’ve got the paperwork here filled out and ready for you.” Luster directed him to a table, documentation laid out. “All you need to do is sign, and you’re ready to go.”

Quiver approached and looked over the contract, checking over the fine points. It wasn’t all that different from the contract he had with Amazing, or the agreements he’d made with his lodgings during college; there were stipulations about damages and such, notices that their land-mare could terminate their agreement when she chose or for whatever reason but had to give notice within a period of time, agreed-upon rental costs and the like. Satisfied, he plucked up a pen from the table and signed his name, then spat it out. “Is there a copy I can keep for my records?”

“That is the copy to keep for your records.”

“Excellent.” He carefully folded up the document and tucked it into his saddlebags, pulling out a small bag afterwards. “Now, that agreement said the rent was what, six hundred bits a month? That’s three hundred from each of us.” He deposited the bag on the table and explained, “And that’s my half of the rent for the next two months.” He noticed a shocked look on the mare’s face and asked, “What?”

“You had six hundred bits ready to go?”

He shrugged. “I try to be prepared. So, assuming there aren’t any other problems, where’s my room?”

Luster smiled and beckoned him onwards. “Right this way.”

-

“Do you think things are okay?”

“If’n they weren’t, he’d’ve come out by now.”

“I’m sure things are…” The door to the small dwelling opened, and Quiver Quill emerged, prompting Twilight to ask. “So, how’d it go?”

He smiled. “I think this’ll work.”