Name Rater

Have you ever wondered how pony names somehow always accurately relate to the identity of the pony in question? Well, that's all thanks to the efforts of one stallion. And he hates his job.
Name Rater has always had a very unique skill: the ability to gauge the talents of others at a glance. And once this became known, everypony began to depend on his guidance, much to his chagrin. This is his story, a tale of great self-sacrifice and even greater grumpiness.

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6. The Beginning

"So, how have you been these past few days? Enjoying your time in Ponyville?"

Celestia sat across from Name Rater, cool and composed as she sipped tea daintily from a cup gripped in her golden aura. He was nestled into a cushion that was far too plush, trying his best not to interrupt their fresh conversation to criticize the excess and vanity on display in the marble-laden room. And the rest of the castle. And the city. She had probably been dealt enough of that for a while yet. He could vent about the absurdity of the extravagant, immanent rockslide known as Canterlot at Applejack later.

"I guess it's enjoyable," he replied. "My days have not been this hectic in quite a while."

She nodded. "I can imagine."

"Well, yes. Or I could just tell you."

Celestia grinned. "Alright then. An example it is."  

"Where to begin..." Name Rater thought aloud. "So, right after you left, Twilight, Applejack, and I went out to clear our heads. Applejack was shocked when I told them that I preferred Twilight's idea of fun."

"Oh?" Celestia raised an eyebrow. "And what was that?"

"Reading in the park."

She giggled, holding a handkerchief in front of her mouth.

"What's so funny? Is it wrong for ponies to appreciate the simple things?"

"Not at all. I was just thinking that Twilight really never changes."

Name Rater nodded. "Most ponies don't. Which is why I'm still concerned about you."

A hint of the sadness of their previous meeting crept onto her face. "I can assure you, Name Rater, steps have already been taken. Next month, I will take a vacation. One with plenty of mingling involved."

He smirked. "I take it you have some sort of brilliant plan to keep your subjects in the dark about it?"

"Even better, they wont even have a clue I am among them, thanks to a disguise spell. All they will see is a pegasus mare named Sunny Skies."

"Great," he said, smiling. "It's nice to see you finally apply some of that ageless wisdom towards your own problems."

"Indeed. And I thank you again for letting me know. Though, you could have done so a bit more delicately," she added, tone slightly condescending.

"Could have, but didn't. I still don't like you that much," he pointed out bluntly.

"Regardless, you are giving me a chance, and that says something."

"I suppose it does, Celestia."

Celestia took another sip of her tea. Name Rater averted his gaze and exhaled.

"Anyway, have you decided upon housing arrangements yet?" she asked.

"Yeah. I was thinking that a cottage somewhere in Ponyville would be nice."

"Really? A cottage? You would not rather have rooms in the castle?"

"Yes, really. It's fine. I wouldn't know what to do with myself in a place like this. Especially if I'm getting that break from work you promised."

She seemed to consider this. "That is a fair point. And you will have your rest." Celestia leaned forwards a bit. "Though a castle would be more appropriate, considering your coronation. Afterwards, you will have other responsibilities."

He groaned. "Don't remind me. Do I seriously need to go through with that?"

Celestia reached a hoof across the table, placing it on his shoulder. "You should. My little ponies will want to know of your existence and your achievements. Name Rater, you are more than worthy of the title. Did you not want to be appreciated?"

"Of course I did, just not by literally everypony."

She rolled her eyes. "A cottage it is then. Are you sure you there is nothing else you need?"

He gazed out the window, beyond the city to the plains below, searching for an answer. Drawing a blank, he shook his head. "Having friends again is enough."

Celestia blinked twice, then beamed at him.

In all the years he'd known her, Name Rater had never seen Celestia smile genuinely like that before. Maybe she had, in fact, been bettered over the years. She, by her own admission, is imperfect like everypony else, but could very well have learned how true friendships worked. Or maybe he just couldn't remember.

That was when Twilight teleported into the room, along with the sisters Apple.

"Speaking of..." he said.

"Hi Name Rater!" Applebloom exclaimed, all smiles.

"Hello, girls," said Celestia. "What brings you here? You usually are not one to interrupt, Twilight."

She chuckled at that. "Well, Applebloom had a great idea for a present for Name Rater just now, and couldn't wait to share it."

"'Bloom says it's a magic thing, so Ah ran on over to Twilight with her. Knowin' how these things usually turn out 'n all," Applejack explained.

Applebloom pouted. "It'll be great, really! Twilight'll be the one doin' it, so nothing's gonna go wrong this time! No potions, I swear!"

Name Rater loosed a sigh. "You ponies have done quite enough for me already. I'm still overwhelmed by all this 'new life' stuff I've been dealing with. I don't need it right now, whatever it is."

"So... still a no on the magic lessons?" inquired Twilight.

"Still a no."

Applebloom bounced in protest next to a slightly dejected Twilight. "My idea's better, though!"

Celestia turned to Name Rater. "At least hear what she has to say."

"Fine," he grumbled.

"So, Twilight," the filly began, gleefully, "you remember that one time when that Trixie mare went all crazy and put a dome on the town?"

"Yes?"

"Well, wasn't there a spell that could make ponies younger? The one we all pitched in ta fake?"

Twilight's eyes widened, followed shortly after by Name Rater's. Celestia gasped in recognition.

"... That's actually great thinkin', sugarcube," said Applejack. "I reckon he'd be a fool not to appreciate somethin' like that."

After her confirmation, all eyes turned to Name Rater. His were now angry, and aimed at Celestia's. "There's a spell that makes ponies younger, and you didn't tell me." The deadpan way he spoke made his apt question come across as a statement of fact.

Celestia retained her posture under his scrutiny. "In my defense, the spell had yet to be invented when you ran off. And I forbade its use shortly after. Unwarranted immortality and all that."

He sighed. Name Rater supposed that made sense. "Well now, that actually sounds like it could be great. Assuming it works."

He never even had the chance to actually agree. For at the other end of the room, Twilight's horn was already glowing, a grin on her face, one that could be considered somewhat manic. "Excellent! I haven't had the chance to perfect new magic in a while! Now that I'm an alicorn myself, this shouldn't be too hard to do!"

Name Rater inferred it would probably be better if he stood up and faced Twilight, for aiming purposes, so he did. Celestia, in a show of confirmation, made no moves to thwart Twilight's spell as the tendrils of pinkish energy whirling around her intensified. Applebloom stomped her hooves in anticipation. Applejack turned and stared at everypony one by one as if her gaze could ensure their safety.

Then, the spell fired, and Name Rater was enveloped in power. The light blinded him, and he shielded his eyes with a hoof. But then he lost sensation in said hoof, as well as the rest of his body. Momentarily fearing for the worst, he was immensely relieved to notice the feeling returning to his frame. After that, the light faded, and it was over.

He shook his head and blinked, eyes readjusting. When he could focus again, the first thing he noticed was Twilight's expression, a strange blend of pride and awe.

"Woah!" said Applebloom suddenly, running up to him. "It worked!"

"Ah'll say," added Applejack, sizing him up. "Ah can barely believe that's the same stallion standin' there."

Celestia stood up and seemed to imitate Applejack, though her eyes were wider. "Me too. He is much taller than I remember. Alicorn biology at work, I suppose."

Now that she mentioned it, he did seem to be taller. Applebloom barely came up past his knees. Taking a closer look, the fur on his legs also seemed brighter.

Twilight saw him examining himself and giggled. "Well? What are you waiting for?" She gestured with a wing at an ornate mirror mounted on the wall next to the door.

"Mmm," he mumbled. Cautiously, he stepped over towards it. The muscles in his legs responded to his call more readily and with more vigor than they had in ages. It stunned him so much that he nearly tripped.

Then he reached the mirror, and saw his reflection.  

The first thing he noticed was his mane. No longer grey, it had returned to its former rust-colored glory, and was once again thick enough to form curls. His eyes practically gleamed like the mirror itself, and his facial features were taught and well-defined. looking down, his neck and legs had elongated considerably. Even his wings and horn had grown, all smooth and sharp. In a word, he looked regal.

Though, that wasn't the part he cared about. Name Rater tested a backwards buck against the empty air. It didn't hurt his back at all. Grinning, he performed another at a much higher angle just to be sure. "Amazing," he stated. Even his voice was less scratchy.

Applebloom took this as her cue to run up to him again. She seemed hesitant to speak at first, if her gulp was any indication, but she managed. "So, does this make up for havin' to put up with me an' my friends? Ah know you don't like us all that much, even though we tried ta be nice."

Name Rater was mildly shocked. "You didn't really need to make up for anything, and I actually have another reason for that, but sure, I forgive you." He smiled down at her, messing up her mane with a hoof. "You're a good kid. Even if you are really annoying." Applebloom giggled and rolled her eyes.

"Coming from him, such a statement is probably high praise," elaborated Celestia.

Applejack sighed, grinning. "An' 'Bloom already knows that, it's everypony else who doubts it sometimes. Still, Ah don' think Ah've ever seen y'all as happy as ya're now, Name Rater."

He nodded. "When we met, I wasn't really happy at all. Hopefully, we'll both get used to it."

"That'd be nice," she confirmed.

Name Rater smiled back at Applejack. Nopony could come up with a good followup to that statement, so the group happily stood there on the polished granite floor for a few seconds. That is, except for the singular filly, who's eyes wandered over Name Rater.

"Uhh..." began Applebloom, staring, "Ah couldn't help noticin' that you still don't have your cutie mark, Name Rater."

Name Rater blinked. "Oh, right. Now's as good a time as any to address that." He placed a hoof on his chin. "So, Celestia, what's the deal? Even you and Luna have them now. What possibly could have spawned such a ridiculous thing?"

Celestia tilted her head. "Well, we were surprised too, when it happened. You see, it was actually a massive spell cast by Star Swirl the Bearded's son."

"Mmm. Yeah, why am I not surprised?" Name Rater said. "I figured Merlin's family would be just as crazy as he was, if not more so."

"Wait, Merlin?" interrupted Twilight. "Did you... know the great Star Swirl the Bearded?"

Name Rater caught her starstruck expression and chuckled. "Yes, I did. Lived two houses down, actually. Though, we were both just foals at the time."

Twilight's jaw hit the floor.

Celestia ended the following silence with a polite cough. "At any rate, his son was also quite the spellcaster, and while not nearly as adept, he accomplished much. Known as Sage Basil the Socially Inept, he isolated himself in pursuit of his studies, and rarely spoke. Supposedly, he called forth the cutie marks as way to make his own life easier."

Twilight, who had recovered by now, couldn't resist continuing, now in full-on scholar mode. "It was an enormous wave of energy, rendering visible a pony's native talent, and installing the necessary thaumic circuits to do the same in the makeup of everypony else in the future. I would theorize that since you were outside Equestria at the time, in the badlands, the spell never got to you."

"Huh," he said.

"As luck would have it, I actually memorized how to cast Markforming, as it was so named. Spike asked me to try and use it on him a while back, but I couldn't get the spell to work for dragons." Twilight seemed slightly depressed as she stated this.

Just then, in an instant, Applebloom was hanging off of Twilight's face, glaring with contempt directly into her eyes.

The alicorn emotionlessly blinked her eyes at the filly. "No, I cannot give you your cutie mark. You already have Markforming's effects on you."

She dropped to the floor, pouting. Celestia giggled as Applejack placed a consoling hoof around her sister.

"Come on now," Applejack began, "ya shouldn't get so riled up over this. Isn't this whole crusade o' yers supposed to be the fun part?"

Applebloom sighed. "Yeah, you're right, sis," she admitted. "An' this isn't about me, it's about Name Rater."

"Yes," he said. "And my tea is probably getting cold."

"I could always brew more," stated Celestia as she rolled her eyes.

"It's the principle. And you have work to get back to, right?" he asked, gesturing to both princesses.

"Name Rater, there's always time for conversation!" chided Twilight. "It's a good 27% of what friends do."

"Well, the world doesn't run on friendship, does it? Wait, no, don't answer that. Point is, magic my butt already. Let's get it over with so I can get back to enjoying not being in pain."

Applebloom snorted. Applejack raised an eyebrow, smiling.

Twilight charged her horn again. "Not much for ceremony, are you? Ok, whenever you're ready."

"Hit me," he said.

Another, much less potent, purple spell collided with Name Rater. He didn't really feel anything at first, but then a flash of light from behind his head confirmed its efficacy. Anticipation building, everypony stared with curiosity at his flanks as the light faded.

He had time to take in the completely stupefied expressions the four wore before he realized that he was next to a mirror and could easily see for himself what the fuss was about.

Turning his head, his eyes slowly panned over himself to find that his new, superfluous marking was... a line.

Applejack blinked and shook her head in disbelief. Twilight's mouth was neutral, eyes motionless. Celestia narrowed her brow and opened her mouth slightly.

"What," Applebloom deadpanned. "What."

Applejack rubbed her eyes. "Uhh... Y'all 're seein' what Ah'm seein', right?"

"If what you see is a thin, horizontal, black line, then yes, you are seeing what I'm seeing," said Celestia.

Name Rater groaned. "I knew this was a stupid idea. So much for the new body being presentable."

"No, seriously, what's it mean?" asked Applebloom.

Twilight stepped closer to Name Rater and scanned him again before answering. "Well... Oh! It's like that blank space at the top of tests where you write your name out! That makes sense!"

He shook his head. "I don't think that's right; it's probably symbolic."

"It's a line," said Applejack, bluntly. "What else could it mean?"

"It represents the dull, endless monotony of my existence. Or perhaps the empty void that is my soul," he said.

They were all shocked into a silent stupor.

Name Rater shook his head. "Really? That was a joke. It was supposed be funny. I don't even think those things are true anymore."

The silence, rather than ending, stretched out into what seemed like hours until Applejack spoke up. "Your sense of humor is terrible. Ya'll're much funnier just tryin' ta be serious."

"Apparently," he replied.

"You need to go see Pinkie Pie. Right now," said Twilight. "I didn't even think a joke in such poor taste was scientifically possible."

Name Rater rubbed his left temple. "Ugh, maybe later. Don't I have a coronation to prepare for, or something?"

"It's not for another week!" protested Twilight. "And this is clearly urgent!"

Celestia coughed politely, drawing the attention of the others. "Perhaps Name Rater has had enough excitement for today, Twilight. I believe he wishes to retire to his chambers at the moment."

Huh. That was surprisingly thoughtful of her, he thought. "Yeah, what she said. I'll get to that at some point later, ok? Until then, thanks you three. For everything."

Twilight blinked, then sighed. "No need to thank me yet. Wait until after you're settled in and comfortable with all these changes." She shook her head. "It will certainly be a difficult mental exercise, but I'll try and forget that 'joke' just happened." Turning, she added "Girls, we're heading home."

"Ok!" Applebloom waved her hoof vigorously. "Bye, Name Rater! Don't have too much fun by yourself!"

Name Rater rolled his eyes. Once they were facing forward again, he saw Applejack tip her Stetson at him. "You're most welcome. Take care."

"See you soon," finished Twilight. She smiled, charged her horn, and the three mares vanished with a crackle of energy.

Once he confirmed that they had, in fact, left, Name Rater took a deep breath, reveling in the silence.

It did not last long. "That line really was horrible, Name Rater," said Celestia, who had just sat down again. "And I've heard many poor puns in my lifetime."

Name Rater's brows slowly lowered. "... You ruined it."

Celestia, Diarch of the Sun, smirked at him in a decidedly childish manner.

He groaned. "Goodbye, Celestia." Shaking his head, he walked off towards the door.

 

*  *  *

 

"I look ridiculous," Name Rater stated.

Currently, he was being 'groomed to perfection' by Sweetie's older sister, Rarity, in preparation for his coronation. Not of his own accord, mind you.

Rarity waved a hoof dismissively. "Oh, nonsense, darling. You look very regal."

Name Rater glanced backwards. The garment that was draped upon his barrel gleamed silver. "This cape is literally mirrored."

She nodded. "Why, it matches your eyes!"

He groaned. "Most of the city is waiting outside right now tense with anticipation just to see whatever the royal announcement is. Unless Celestia lowers the sun, somepony is going to go blind in seconds."

Rarity raised her eyes, staring into space as she mulled over this point.

"I can see cracks in the ceiling on my back, Rarity," he added.

"But... this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Don't you want to make a good first impression?"

"No, I don't really care. Honestly, I think you just want everypony to see your work. I didn't even ask for a makeover, you just showed up out of nowhere and insisted."

It was subtle, but Name Rater saw her flinch at that. He raised an eyebrow.

Rarity sighed. "Ok, yes, you're right. However, you still--"

"Yeah, I'm just going to wear the crown. I wasn't going to say anything, but this suit is also really itchy."

She upturned her muzzle, and let out a haughty 'hmph'. "When Applejack said you were--"

"Don't worry, I won't undo my mane," he said, in that high-pitched tone ponies use when reassuring others about something obvious.

The relief in her eyes was clear. "Oh, fine. Who would I be to question the wishes of royalty?"

Name Rater refrained from describing for her in great detail exactly who she would, in fact, be akin to in this situation. Instead, he kept his opinion to himself. For once. Lesson learned.

Rarity took a step back, content. "Well, alright then. I suppose I shall be off."

He nodded. "Bye."

"Ta ta!" She trotted elegantly out of the dressing room, opening and closing the door in one swift, magical flourish.

Once she had left, Name Rater unceremoniously tugged off the tailored cape and suit, and threw them onto a nearby ottoman. He figured a maid would hang them back up properly at some point. In the vanity mirror, he made sure that his new crown, a thick, silver thing studded with huge, dark red garnets, was properly situated atop his finely combed mane. Satisfied, he composed himself and made his way across the carpet to the room's other exit.

Beyond that door was a small atrium, attached to a semicircular balcony. Currently, a red velvet curtain separated the two, though there were paths on each side for those ponies who need not make a dramatic entrance. Upon swiveling his ears, Name Rater could faintly hear impatient murmurs coming from the restless ponies down below in the square. This was quite the welcome observation, as his hearing had not been that clear in quite a while.

Zoned out as he was, Name Rater nearly failed to notice the other ponies actually in the room with him. Celestia and Luna, wearing their full regalia, stood proudly as the looked him over, all smiles. Those royal gaurdsponies privy to the announcement's nature were here as well, including a secretary mare with a clipboard and six trumpeters adorned in ceremonial garb.

Celestia turned to the secretary. "Is everything in order?" she asked.

The mare brushed aside a lock of her mane, scanned her checklist, and nodded. "Yes, your highness."

"Then we begin at once."

Upon hearing their sovereign's confirmation, the trumpeters made their way onto the balcony in two perfect rows, and played a brief, loud fanfare on their ceremonial horns. Immediately afterwards, Canterlot seemed to be completely devoid of sound.

That is, until the two princesses walked through the curtain and onto the balcony, their steps in time, clacking on the marble.

"Citizens of Equestria, we have come before you on this day to convey news of a most momentous occurrence!" Luna proclaimed. Though he couldn't see her, Name Rater assumed she had her forehoof raised dramatically into the air, as that was the usual procedure for the use of the Royal Everfree Voice. Then again, they had probably changed the name by now.

"Indeed, my sister speaks the truth." Celestia was also projecting her speech into the vast crowd with magic. "My little ponies, today marks the official return of a pony of no small import to Equestria at large. Our history had forgotten him as such, and he too, had turned his back to us in doubt. Yet still, he kept working, to ensure that his duty to this nation was not left unfulfilled."

"But this wrong shall be rectified at once," continued Luna. "For his unprecedented record of service, this pony deserves much more than simple acknowledgment. And so, It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to my old friend, and Equestria's newest Prince: Name Rater!"

Taking that as his cue, Name Rater braced himself and stepped onto the balcony. Immediately, striped banners that matched his coat and mane cascaded downwards along the tower walls to his sides. The rest of the area below was packed with ponies, pressed tightly together, as if almost everypony in the city and many from elsewhere had attended. As he continued forward past the others to the parapet, they looked up at him with wide eyes and cheered.

He really hoped the city wouldn't collapse from all the stomping.

In an attempt to distract himself from that, and the emotional gravitas of the whole situation, Name Rater's eyes wandered through the scene as he waved politely. Off to his left, he spotted a VIP section of some sort on another balcony atop a nearby, smaller tower. Seated on said balcony, among others, were Princess Twilight, the other elements of harmony, and their families. He grinned at them.

After a few more seconds of waving, Name Rater bowed and went back inside.

He was going to make his way back to his room, but the stare the secretary was leveling at him made him pause. It was one of intense confusion and subtle dread.

A 'whoosh' from behind him prompted him to stop completely and turn around. Standing next to him was Celestia, pupils slightly shrunken.

"You were supposed to give a speech," she whispered, agitated.

That was news to him. "That's news to me."

She leaned her head in closer. "How could you have not known? Didn't Twilight prepare a checklist on what you needed to do and run through it with you?"

"Yes, she did. It was unnecessarily long, but there was no mention of a speech. She never gave one."

Celestia facehoofed. "She didn't need to! Everypony already knew who she was: the Element of Magic!"

Name Rater groaned. "Well, I didn't write one. Oh well."

She glared at him. "Just ad-lib something!"

"Ugh. Fine."

Name Rater made a point of walking very slowly back onto the balcony. Both to spite Celestia and to come up with what he would say.

He could hear Luna's voice through the curtains as he aproached. "--And then, the squire pulled out his--" She seemed to have been buying time with some tale from their era, but abruptly ended the story with a sheepish chuckle and a step to the side as Name Rater reemerged. The ponies in the audience returned to cheering, though with less volume than before. With his raised hoof, the noise died back down again. Convenient.

Name Rater faced down at them, cleared his throat, and began.

"Hello. I'm Name Rater. I named you all. That's my job. Been doing it for a while. Yes, I am one pony. Yes, I've been an alicorn for most of that time. And yes, I'm now a prince, apparently. Though I probably don't deserve it."

He seemed to have their attention. And the princesses hadn't fried him yet for inappropriate conduct. So far so good.

"So, as a prince, I'll probably have some more responsibilities. I won't like it, and I won't be very good at most of them. But I'll make sure to get them done anyway, because somepony has to, and I don't have much of anything better to do.

"However, being a prince does come with perks. One of those is that other ponies will listen to you. I'd be stupid not to take advantage of that. Though, what I'm about to ask of you now is in no way a degree or proclamation, just a request. Please stop having so many foals. I think there are more ponies in this square right now than there were in all of Equestria when I grew up. It's going to become a problem soon. For me especially, since I have to take the time to name every last one. Or, maybe you could get creative and figure out names for your own kids. Whatever."

Now, a good portion of the ponies seemed to be snickering.

"This isn't funny."

They stopped.

He groaned again. "Rather than the castle, I will be living in Ponyville from now on. Don't bug me about your problems; that's what Twilight is for. However, If I'm out and about, you can say hi. Titles are stupid; just Name Rater is fine. And don't be surprised or flattered when I know who you are. Again, that's my job.

"In short, not much is going to change, really."

All eyes watched him expectantly.

He sighed. "That's it, I'm done. You can go home now."

And so, Name Rater left.

 
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