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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3. The Old and the New

Name Rater gazed upon the machine before him in awe. Never before had he witnessed a technological marvel of this precision or magnitude. The enormous, pink-painted construct gleamed in the afternoon sunlight. It hissed and thrummed, as if to command attention. He couldn't look away.

Then Applebloom waved a hoof in his face. All sense of whimsy within him sputtered out like a dying squid, and he shook himself out of his stupor.

The filly poked at his leg. "Name Rater? Hello? Sis just finished loading your stuff! If you keep standin' 'round all dazed like that, you'll miss the train!"

Name Rater's brow furrowed in confusion. "Wait, this smoking transport contraption is a train? Aren't those a type of musician's group?"

She blinked up at him. "Why would you think that?"

"Well, I've named many foals recently who'll apparently grow up to be 'train conductors'. Conductors lead orchestras."

Applebloom's expression morphed into a mirror of his own. "Huh. You're right, Name Rater. That is weird. I dunno why the ponies who work in trains are called that."

After glancing around some more, he closed his eyes and nodded. "Ah. That explains all the 'rail' puns."

Then the two of them just stood there for a bit, sharing a rare moment of silence, as they contemplated the mysterious and absurd thing that was modern Equestrian society.

"C'mon, guys! Ponyville's waiting!" an all-too familiar voice shouted from within the train's confines, breaking their reverie.

"We're a' comin'!" replied Applebloom as she bit onto his tail and began dragging him over against his will, plot-first.

As his hooves scraped along the wood of the platform, Name Rater groaned with indignation. He knew better than to try and resist; she'd probably rip his tail off by accident. Once they arrived, Applebloom let go of him and began rifling around in her saddlebags. Name Rater just rolled his eyes and turned around to face the nearby pony. She was annoyingly peppy, a conductor baring the bestowed name of Happy Trails, he confirmed. The mare took the two tickets proffered by Applebloom and ushered them inside.

Scootaloo was waiting for them by the entrance, grinning broadly. Once they crossed the threshold, she scampered further into the train. "Over here!" she said excitedly.

Applebloom giggled and ran after her. In no rush, Name Rater followed at his usual pace.

The interior of the train was just as grandiose as the exterior, he noticed. The window frames were carved expertly, and polished with wax to a high-gloss shine. The green carpet was plush, and the benches were upholstered in a fine, crimson fabric. Sitting on one such bench were Applejack and Sweetie Belle. The other two fillies jumped onto the opposite bench as he looked on.

Name Rater sat next to Applejack without a second thought. She smiled as he tucked his legs under himself, one at a time.

The two of them just watched the fillies for a little while as they whispered among themselves by the window; planning his tour, no doubt.

Applejack gave him a sidelong glance. "So, what exactly did Applebloom and her friends do to y'all?" she asked. "Ya made it seem mighty serious at first."

He angled his head slightly downwards. "They crashed their cart into my well. Without water, I couldn't stay."

Her face became a mix of amusement and disappointment. She sighed. "That does sound like somethin' they'd do. And y'all're ok with movin'?"

"Long story short: yes. They opened my eyes." He paused, taking in a deep breath in and out. "Life in the badlands was... lonely."

Her reply was not what he expected. "Wait, they went out into the badlands? By themselves?" She spun to glare at her sister. "Applebloom's so grounded once ya get settled."

He chuckled. "That's a wonderful idea."

Applejack raised an eyebrow.

"Eh. They're pretty annoying."

She nodded. "Ah reckon that's true for some folks. Fillies can be a lot ta handle."

Understatement of the millennia, he thought.

Suddenly, a shout echoed throughout the car, interrupting the conversation. "ALL ABOARD!"

A loud whistle tooted once, twice, three times. After the third, the train lurched forward, pulling the ponies along with it. Name Rater watched in fascination as the ground outside moved past the window at an accelerating rate. Soon, they were moving far faster than anypony could hope to gallop.

Apparently, he was still for a while, because Applejack tapped him on the back. "This you're first time on a train?"

"Hmm? Oh, yes. Quite the experience, this."

She smiled. "Y'all should see some o' the things Twilight has just lyin' 'round her place. Ah couldn't even begin to tell ya what half o' those doohickeys did."

He snorted. "Tell me about it. Do you know what the most revolutionary new item was when I was growing up?"

"What?"

"The pulley. Made lifting stuff waaay easier."

She moved a hoof to her mouth, suppressing a laugh. "Y'all should meet my Granny Smith at some point. Ah'm sure ya'd have lots o' stories to share."

Name Rater frowned as old memories intruded into his consciousness from his new acquaintance's prompting. "Oh, I have stories all right..."

Surprised by his sudden change in mood, Applejack turned away. She tried to, but couldn't think of what she should say, and only managed to indecisively open and close her mouth a few times.

His now melancholy gaze redirected out the window, Name Rater stared blankly at the scene before him. The afternoon sun's light beat down on the hills as they rolled by, the wind rustling the tall grasses as the train chugged along.

And so he sat there, oblivious to Applejack's saddened expression as she looked on.

Eventually, she found her words, placing a comforting hoof onto his withers. "Ya know, sometimes it's better to open up to another pony 'bout yer problems than tryin' to deal with 'em all yerself. Ah learned that lesson the hard way."

Name Rater didn't move. "No."

"No? Why not?"

"... It's complicated. I was going to meet this 'Princess Twilight' and discuss things with her first."

"Oh! Well, why didn't ya say so! Twilight's a dear friend o' mine; Ah could help get ya in ta meet her no problem!"

He shifted over to face her, eyebrow raised. "Really? Sure, then. Is Her Highness free tomorrow afternoon?"

"Probably. Just... try not to call her that in her face."

"That shouldn't be too much of a pro--"

Name Rater's reply was interrupted by the screech of metal on metal as the train began decelerating. More toots from the horn heralded the vehicle's newfound lack of motion and subsequent arrival at its destination. Before either pony could get further word in, the other passengers began milling about, eager to depart.

"We're here, we're here! Let's roll!" urged Scootaloo as she tried to get airborne.

Applejack's smiled at the eager filly, then trotted off. However, she turned back, having forgotten to mention something. "Name Rater! Ah'll haul yer things off ta my barn, y'all can stay there until you find yer own place. 'Bloom'll show ya the way."

"Ok. Thanks," he replied.

"Don't mention it!" With that, she merged into the crowd of ponies moving into Ponyville's station. Soon, only Name Rater and the Crusaders were left in the car. He stared down at them, somewhat concerned by the impossibly wide smiles they wore.

"Are you ready to go?" inquired Sweetie Belle.

"We've got all sorts o' places to show ya, an' ponies to meet!" added Applebloom.

Name Rater sighed. "As I'll ever be."

The three giggled at that, as they dashed out of the car, followed by the old stallion. However, Sweetie halted his progress. "Oh, yeah, you wanted us to keep the whole 'wings' thing a secret still, right?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Ok, so, if anyone asks, you're old friends with Cranky Doodle, and feel really bad you couldn't make it to his wedding."

Name Rater rolled his eyes. "Sure, I guess that works."

"Great! Off we go, then!" She smiled at him, then ushered him out.

And so, Name Rater stepped forth out of the train and into the village proper. He was met with a loud chorus that proclaimed: "WELCOME TO PONYVILLE!"

The Crusaders each held a hoof up, gesturing to the scene behind them. Dozens of ponies flitted to and fro between the buildings, which were so brightly colored that Name Rater almost felt nauseated. Grass and flowers sat alongside the grey, well-trod streets, framing each building in the peaceful hues of nature. In the distance, he spotted a plainly absurd structure: a towering tree of crystal, Twilight's castle, no doubt.

He was still in the process of taking it all in when he noticed the fillies were now trotting forward without him. Groaning, he made his way to tail them.

As they walked, the streets grew more and more crowded, and Name Rater couldn't help but notice the numerous walks of life held by the populace. His sudden shepherds had been right about one thing, he thought; the place certainly was a cultural melting pot. It was... nice.

Soon, after crossing a small river on a footbridge, they arrived at what appeared to be the center of town. A circular, multi-tiered structure dominated the surrounding buildings. Once the three had gotten reasonably close, they stopped and turned around, waiting for him to arrive, which he then did.

"So, this here's Town Hall!" informed Applebloom. "It's where all th--"

"I know what a Town Hall is," he interrupted. "We did have them back then too, you know."

"Ah know, but we're s'pposed ta explain stuff to ya. It's a tour!"

He sighed. Again. "Continue."

Applebloom cleared her throat. "Town Hall's where Mayor Mare works to keep Ponyville runnin' smoothly."

"Though she's really just a figurehead now," interjected Sweetie Belle.

Applebloom glared at her, then continued. "It's also where everypony goes when big stuff happens! A few years ago, the Summer Sun Celebration was hosted here. You can still make out the scorch marks from when Nightmare Moon first showed up if you look in the back! Not to mention this was where Applejack got her award for Most Dependable Pony!"

This earned snorts from both Scootaloo and Name Rater. Applebloom replied by grinning sheepishly and moving onwards.

They travelled further away from the station and along a dirt road leading the way out to the far edge of town. As they walked, Name Rater couldn't help but realize that he was learning more by simply ponywatching than listening to his 'tour guides'. At least they weren't asking him questions.

Stopping in the middle of the path, Scootaloo and the others gestured to the side. Training his head over, his eyes beheld a large clocktower, taller and more well-built than other, similar buildings he had seen.

"This is Ponyville Tower," said Scootaloo. "It tells time. You know, for when it's cloudy or when ponies are too lazy to figure out where the sun and moon are. Tourists seem to like the old thing for some reason, though nowadays everypony just wants to see the castle."

He shook his head in disbelief, eyeing the tower. "There's an elegance in simplicity; more ponies should respect it. The fact that it's still standing attests to it's value. In contrast, that castle looked so gaudy and topheavy I'm surprised it hasn't fallen over already."

"Ah know, right?" agreed Applebloom.

"Well, it's magic. That makes it both cooler and stronger," countered Scootaloo.

"Ehem. That's enough of that, I think," stated Sweetie. "Off we go!"

The conversation dropped, they continued trotting down the road. The flora became more lush the further they went. Soon, a thick wood came into view, along with a lone cottage, surrounded by flowers. Further on, the forest took on a decidedly gloomier, foreboding appearance. The butterflies, birds, and other critters frolicking about didn't seem too put off by the latter, though.

"This is Fluttershy's house," proclaimed Sweetie Belle. "She takes care of all the cute animals, and is accordingly the Bearer of Kindness. Even the god of chaos likes her. She also makes really good tea." She gestured a hoof inwards. "Over there is the entrance to the Everfree Forest. There're monsters in there, so nopony really goes in unless the have to. Except Zecora, but she's a zebra."

Name Rater struggled to comprehend all that. "Wait a minute. You mean Discord's free? I thought he was sealed away! Also, Everfree? Are we near the capital? And what in Tartarus is a zebra?"

Sweetie Belle and the others looked perplexed. The unicorn recovered first. "Well, Discord's a good guy now, and zebras are like ponies, only with stripes. And yeah, Canterlot's only a few minutes away by train."

These responses served only to befuddle him further, but he resigned to not knowing the answers he sought for now, much like the other pressing questions he had bottled up. That way, he could ask an actual adult later, preferably Twilight. So, he just shrugged.

By the time they got back within Ponyville proper, it was getting late. The next building they led him to was even more absurd than the rest of them, being styled to look like some sort of exaggerated Hearth's Warming set. The sign hanging from the roof had a picture of something called a 'cupcake' on it, whatever that was.

"So," began Applebloom. "This is Sugarcube Corner. If you're down in the dumps, there's no better place to go!"

"You'll probably be here a lot," noted Sweetie.

"They sell all sorts of yummy stuff here!" said Scootaloo. "We're gonna treat you to dessert before dinner!"

Name Rater let that sink in. "That's... actually pretty thoughtful. Thanks."

Beaming, they pushed the door open, producing a ding, and zipped inside. Entering in afterwards, he beheld numerous ponies sitting and eating, as well as the glass counter filled with all manner of baked goods. Standing in front of it were the Crusaders, and behind it, a mare with an odd manestyle whose name perfectly matched the sign. Pushing past his disdain for the blatant lack of creativity, he approached.

The mare smiled at him. "Oh, hello there. Haven't seen you around town before. What can I get ya?"

Suddenly, a dramatic gasp could be heard from within the kitchen. Almost immediately, a very pink mare popped up next to the first, startling him and nopony else. Her - Pinkie Pie's - smile was far too large in his opinion. Name Rater beheld her destiny and almost gagged at the cloying pointlessness.

"It's true!" she shouted. "You are new here. I'm friends with everypony in Ponyville and I'm not friends with you yet, which means you weren't in Ponyville yet! I'd remember if you were!" She then leaned in uncomfortably close.

Name Rater stuttered in confusion as he attempted to formulate a proper response.

Sweetie Belle replied for him. "This is Name Rater, he's moving into town."

"Hi," he managed.

"Can y'all tell us what's fresh?" asked Applebloom. "We're gettin' him somethin' ta eat."

"Ooh, you have great timing, girls!" Pinkie exclaimed. "The Red Velvet Cupcakes just came out of the oven!"

"What in Tartarus would compel you to eat velvet?" Name Rater questioned, face scrunched.

Pinkie giggled at him. "You silly filly, they aren't actually velvet! They're chocolate flavored!"

Name Rater groaned. "Ok, what's chocolate? And for that matter, what are cupcakes?"

Her eyes suddenly bugged out of their sockets, causing Name Rater to flinch. "You've NEVER heard of chocolate? OR CUPCAKES?"

He shook his head.

Pinkie became a blur as she vanished back into the kitchen. A strange collection of rapid noises could be made out from within said room. Mrs. Cake sighed and patted him on the shoulder.

When Pinkie returned, she shoved something into Name Rater's mouth without warning. He coughed about half of it out and onto the floor before he tasted sugar, inferred that a cupcake was just the same thing as regular cake, and began to chew.

"Weeell?" asked Pinkie, her muzzle practically touching his.

He swallowed. "I don't like it. Too sweet."

She gasped again. "Too sweet? How can anything possibly be too sweet?"

Mrs. Cake and the Crusaders all chuckled a bit.

"It just is." Name Rater stated.

Pinkie let loose a rare scowl. "Explain."

"Hmm... hhhhmm... oh yeah. Do you know Cranky?"

She nodded.

"I make him look as bubbly as you."

She paused, contemplating this. "So, you're just a natural grumpypants, then. Okie-Doki-Loki! Maybe you'll cheer up and be my friend if I find you a wife!"

Name Rater closed his eyes, frowning. "I had one. She's dead."

Her mane somehow spontaneously deflated as her eyes became teary. "Oh. Sorry."

The other four didn't look much better off as Name Rater turned towards the door and trotted slowly away. Unable to say anything to halt him, they all just silently watched him go.

 
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