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Lost Lily of the Valley

PonySamsa May 11th, 2018 (edited) 140 Never
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  1. Lily was never happy with whatever she grew. Roseluck and Daisy could grow beautiful blossoms that would catch the eye and tickle the nose. Theirs smelled beautiful and tantalizing, and they even tasted delicious. Not so with Lily. Hers were pitiful and small. Dull and bland. They neither smelled as good as she wanted, nor tasted as delicious as others. They were never good enough, never pretty enough, and never as delightfully-scented as they could be.
  2.  
  3. She could do better.
  4.  
  5. It was with a heavy heart that Lily wished her sisters goodbye as she went on her travels. She left Ponyville to cross Equestria in search of better fertilizers, better techniques for growing, and better skills she could bring to the table in her quest for the perfect blossoms. The talents were out there for anypony willing to seize them, she just needed to find them. Surely there was somepony that held such secrets, and there was no price too big for Lily to pay to reach the same level of skill as her sisters. She was going to find it, by hook or by crook.
  6. ________________________________________
  7. The train rattled along the tracks, clacking down its unerring path. It was heading for the a little town she didn’t remember the name of, but was supposed to house one of the foremost minds in the fields of botany. If that was true, Lily would find herself somewhere further along her quest to find the perfect recipe of soil, fertilizer, and a green hoof, and she could make her creations as beautiful as she imagined they should be. She’d be able to show her sisters a thing or two about flowers, and nopony would question her skills ever again.
  8.  
  9. …when she returned home.
  10.  
  11.  
  12. What would she say? She left so rudely, and with barely a message. Just a crudely-scrawled letter on her nightstand for her sisters to find that said, “I’ve gone to learn more about myself and my cutie mark. I will return when I can, and with more to show for it than these few years of adulthood have taught me. I can’t be the sprout in the garden anymore. I need to be my own blossom. I will return when I know what I’m meant to be.
  13.  
  14. With Love, Lily.”
  15.  
  16. It wasn’t easy, but it was necessary.
  17.  
  18. The train screeched slowly to a halt, and the announcer said, “Dozy Cove. All ponies for Dozy Cove.”
  19.  
  20. This was her stop. She picked up her bag from the seat next to her and disembarked. She stepped out onto the platform and into what felt like a wet soup. It smelled briny, and it was covered in a thick fog, blocking her vision from anything but a few feet away. It was the early morning hours, but this was impressive. Maybe she should have been keeping an eye out the window so she would know what she was getting into. Still, she threw her saddlebag on and trotted out of the station into the town, hunting for the pony of botanical repute she was hunting for.
  21.  
  22. When she entered the town the first thing she noticed was how quiet everypony was. There was some chatter she could hear, but it sounded muted, like there was something blocking their words from reaching her as easily as they might have. She chalked it up to the thick fog that covered the ground, but it was still unnerving to be walking through the fog, hearing hoofsteps somewhere that sounded far away, only to nearly bump into a pony walking toward her.
  23.  
  24.  
  25. “Oh! Excuse me, please,” she said, as just that happened. The pony didn’t respond to her, nor did he seem to acknowledge her presence. He hurried through the fog, giving her barely a glance before he disappeared into the fog, seemingly in a hurry.
  26.  
  27. She continued through town, following the repeated lights that glowed dimly in the distance. Streetlamps lit with cool, yellow flames marked her way down what she hoped was main street as the sound of the nearby ocean crashed through it to assail her ears. It made everything else she heard just that much more difficult to discern, but she wasn’t trying to listen to ponies. She was looking for somepony.
  28.  
  29. She finally found her target, lit up near a sputtering lamp with the glass broken out of it. Nearly choked by the fog, it coughed fitfully, but it still illuminated the sign: “Fish Head’s Herbs and Poultices.”
  30.  
  31. The door was closed, and there hung a sign that said the same, and Lily had to take a moment to check her journal. She reached back and flipped open her bags, pulling out a worn and torn book covered in her scratchy writing; yet another thing she wasn’t pleased with. She double checked the name. Two months ago she had heard of the mare named Fish Head. Somewhere on the west coast, she was reported to have lived, off in a corner of some podunk town by the sea. She was supposed to be one of the best herbalists in Equestria, but also one of the oldest. Lily was worried she wouldn’t have made it in time before the old mare kicked it, but she was here, and it looked like the shop still stood. She took that as a sign and rapped on the door with her hoof, then waited.
  32.  
  33. It took a minute, but Lily heard somepony moving within, and she waited. She was rewarded with the door opening to reveal an ancient mare, of indeterminate years, but it was clear they were many. The mare blinked slowly at her.
  34.  
  35. “What is it?” the old mare demanded.
  36.  
  37. “You’re miss Fish Head?”
  38.  
  39. “Aye.”
  40.  
  41. “My name is Lily, and—”
  42.  
  43. “Don’t care who you are. Get to the point.”
  44.  
  45. Lily was taken aback. The old mare’s words stung, but if she let a little thing like words stop her she’d never learn to be better.
  46.  
  47. “I want to learn to grow flowers.”
  48.  
  49. Fish Head leaned to the side and glanced at Lily’s flank. Her own flank was covered by a large cloak, but Lily had heard stories that it was a fish’s head, hence her name.
  50.  
  51. “With a cutie mark like that, what do you need me for?”
  52.  
  53. Lily glanced at her cutie mark and gave Fish Head a small smile. “I can grow flowers, yes, but they’re not enough. There was so many other ponies that do the same thing. Mine need to stand out. They need to be ‘the best’, and if that’s not possible they need to grab attention. Right now they don’t.”
  54.  
  55. “Hmph! With a cutie mark like that I’m not surprised. I’m glad you recognize you still have a lot to learn, though. Come inside.”
  56.  
  57. Lily grinned wide. She was in! She trotted inside after the older mare and shut the door behind her. Once the door was closed, she took a look around the shop.
  58.  
  59. It was small, but it was homey. Fish Head clearly took great pride in it. Everything was organized on the shelves, laid out in an easy-to-access manner, and it was obvious where to find things. Lily may not have known what they were or what they did, but she knew ‘where’ things were.
  60.  
  61. What were they, though?
  62.  
  63.  
  64. “As you might have guessed,” Fish Head began, “I began my trade as a simple fishmonger.”
  65.  
  66. Lily hadn’t guessed that, but it made sense. The smell of fish permeated the entire room.
  67.  
  68. “It isn’t very lucrative on this side of the coast. My customers consisted mostly of griffins. Sometimes I’ll get a few creatures visiting from down south of Equestria, but ponies didn’t make up my customer base until I discovered my talent wasn’t selling fish.”
  69.  
  70. “If it wasn’t fish, how did you figure it out?”
  71.  
  72. Fish head lifted her cloak to reveal her cutie mark. It was exactly as advertised: A fish head with x’s on the eyes. A bit of bone was even sticking out. “Look at that and tell me what you think it might be if not killing fish?”
  73.  
  74. Lily grimaced at the marking, but she shook her head. “I have no idea.”
  75.  
  76. “Exactly! It’s a dead fish, plain and simple. I was destined to kill fish, but for what purpose?” Fish Head lowered herself into a rocking chair by a crackling fire. She motioned for Lily to sit down, but there were no other seats. She came over and just lowered herself onto the rug. “My parents hated it. They thought I enjoyed killing fish.”
  77.  
  78. “They were wrong?’
  79.  
  80. Fish Head barked a laugh. “They were right! I did enjoy it! I loved fishing! I was good at it, too, but how are you going to make a living killing fish in Equestria when nopony wants to buy it?”
  81.  
  82. “Surely there are some ponies who—”
  83.  
  84. “Not enough,” Fish head interrupted. “Not nearly enough, and when there’s competition for a service, too many ponies get involved, and the prices go down. I was floundering.” She sighed heavily. “My parents were mad at me, the town found no use for me, so I left home. I could survive, that wasn’t hard. You ever eaten fish?”
  85.  
  86.  
  87. Lily shook her head.
  88.  
  89. “It’s delicious, but that’s beside the point. You wanted plants, aye?”
  90.  
  91. Lily nodded. “Yes, I want—”
  92.  
  93. “I don’t care what you want, just shut up and listen.”
  94.  
  95. Lily snapped her mouth shut.
  96.  
  97. “Fish are a great source of fertilizer. One of the best, in fact. Most ponies use dung. That’s small time. That’s weak. That barely does anything, and you need the right dung. With fish, you get everything you need all in one easy-to-kill package. Best part is the head. You can eat the rest, grind up the head, and fertilize with that. You waste nothing.”
  98.  
  99. Grind up…? Oh. Lily was going to be sick. She wobbled.
  100.  
  101. Fish Head laughed. “So you get it, aye? You still want to stay?”
  102.  
  103. Lily wanted to say no. She wanted to leave. To forget what she’d just heard. It was disgusting! It was vile!
  104.  
  105. …but did it work?
  106.  
  107. Lily gazed around the room. Anywhere but at Fish Head’s cheerful gaze. Among the bottles of oils and powders, there were growing plants. Vines, herbs, and several flowers. They looked like they were moved regularly, and since Fish Head was an herbalist, many had been cut or trimmed of excess that she could sell. The windowsill was filled with them, all growing green and strong. No matter the plant, it was doing exceedingly well. Even if Fish Head’s technique was macabre, it was effective.
  108.  
  109. “Yes… yes I will. I can’t be a nopony anymore. My flowers have to stand out. I don’t want to just be a pony in the background anymore. For that, I’ll do anything.”
  110.  
  111. “I guess we’ll see about that, won’t we, little filly? Get some sleep, we start first thing in the morning.”
  112.  
  113. Lily was given neither a bed nor a blanket, but she made do. She took what was available in the small shop and positioned herself near the fire while Fish Head went up to a small loft to sleep. It was cold the entire night, and what sleep she got was poor, but she wasn’t going to give up. She couldn’t give up. Not when she was so close to learning something new.
  114.  
  115. Fish head woke her up the next morning with a kick to the ribs. Breakfast was a mess of soggy oats. Fish head said nothing the entire time, and Lily didn’t want to bother her, instead just waiting for her cue to say something or for Fish Head to ask a question.
  116.  
  117. Instead, what happened was that after Breakfast, Fish Head led her around the house to check all the plants. What Fish Head would do was look at the plant, then look at Lily. At first, Lily wasn’t sure what she wanted, but Lily eventually gave her opinion on the plant. The first one, she said was fine, and Fish head cuffed her upside the head.
  118.  
  119. “It needs watered, stupid.”
  120.  
  121. So Lily went to get some water. When she was done, Fish Head pointed at the next one. Lily watered that one, too, and received a smack for her efforts.
  122.  
  123. “That one’s a succulent! It doesn’t need watered! Have you never seen anything but a flower in your life? Dear Celestia I’ve made a mistake.”
  124.  
  125. Lily didn’t water that one, then Fish head pointed to the next plant.
  126.  
  127. Lily studied it for a moment before she volunteered an answer. It looked okay to her. The plant a crawling vine that was set next to the windowsill. It had dragged itself up the side and around the edge of the window to dangle down from above. It looked okay, and she said so.
  128.  
  129.  
  130. “Good, good. I’m not sure if that was just a guess because I take good care of my plants or what, but good. You’re actually studying now instead of agreeing with me.”
  131.  
  132. Hesitantly pleased with her progress, Lily smiled and followed Fish Head around the shop to all the plants, carrying the watering can. She received more cuffs than praise, but she was expecting that. She didn’t know much about plants besides flowers, Fish Head was right about that. That was what she wanted to learn, and by Luna, she’d do it right!
  133.  
  134. After the morning’s rounds of her shop, Fish Head motioned silently for Lily to follow her outside. She obeyed, and Fish Head locked the shop behind them, then took her down the road toward the ocean. The morning light was actually visible. There was still some of that seemingly perpetual mist covering the ground, but it was thinner today than it had been last night. Lily could see the coastline, with the waves crashing up against the shore and a few scattered boats passing by.
  135.  
  136. Fish Head took Lily down to a poorly-kept jetty at the edge of the main wharf. It was crewed by a small group of griffins, and one single pegasus. They all waved as Fish Head approached, and a couple whistled as they eyed Lily.
  137.  
  138. “Ey, Fishy. You got yourself a guppy, eh?” The surliest griffin said with a smile as they approached.
  139.  
  140. “Somewhat, but I’d call her a sprout more than a guppy. Firmly with her hooves on land, this one.”
  141.  
  142. “What’s she comin’ to you fer, then? You’re as much a landlubber as I’m a seagull.”
  143.  
  144. Fish Head tapped the side of her muzzle with a hoof. “Wants to learn my secrets, she does.”
  145.  
  146.  
  147. “Secrets?” He burst out laughing and the others joined him. “You’ve as many secrets as I’ve scars! Good luck, little missy.” He passed Fish Head a smelly sack filled with something that dripped. Fish Head slung it over her back, and Lily retched. The entire crowd laughed uproariously as she did, and her cheeks burned with embarrassment.
  148.  
  149. “Come on, girl. We’re done here,” Fish Head said.
  150.  
  151. “See you later, ladies!” the griffin shouted.
  152.  
  153. They left the group behind, but the smell from the sack kept Lily wheezing.
  154.  
  155. “What is that?” she finally asked.
  156.  
  157. “Fish heads.” Came the curt response.
  158.  
  159. “Fish heads? You mean, like the fertilizer, you said?”
  160.  
  161. Fish Head nodded. “The same. I’m too old to fish them up myself, anymore, so I rely on them for my supply. Ponies pay through the nose for what I make, but I still need the heads to make them.”
  162.  
  163. “And you’ll teach me that?” Lily asked excitedly.
  164.  
  165. “Aye, I might as well. I’m old, and nopony else has ever expressed interest. It would be a terrible shame to allow the secret to die with me.”
  166.  
  167. Lily could hardly contain her excitement, but she tried. She didn’t want Fish Head to know she was so happy to learn, because she might get more belligerent with her. She was already somewhat… acerbic.
  168.  
  169. When they returned to the shop, Lily waited patiently for Fish Head to begin the process, but instead, she sat down at the table and dropped the fish heads on top. She motioned to them, then at a large stone mortar and pestle enarby.
  170.  
  171. “Get grinding, girl.”
  172.  
  173. Lily looked shocked. “What?”
  174.  
  175. “I’m old, you’re young. I know the secret, you don’t. I’m now telling it to you. Get grinding.”
  176.  
  177. Lily obeyed, no matter how disgusting it was. The smell of sun-warmed fish was overpowering, and there were several occasions where she had to stop and retch. She almost vomited into the bowl, but stopped herself in time. She didn’t want to know what Fish Head would have done had she down so. Maybe it would make the fertilizer better? She almost puked again just thinking about it.
  178.  
  179. When the fish heads were ground down to a fine paste, Fish Head had her add several other ingredients, making it thicker, then thinner, then making it smell funny, then adding some other powders to dry it up. The day went with her preparing it, then she was ordered to leave it on an open window sill. Lily noticed when she put the dish up that the neighbors closed their windows. Their houses weren’t too close by, but the smell was powerful enough Lily couldn’t blame them.
  180.  
  181. “It doesn’t smell as bad as all that. They’re all just too sensitive. They don’t like me, but I’m sure you gathered that,” Fish Head said.
  182.  
  183. “I can imagine, yes. Why do you live here if they all hate you? Couldn’t you get a house nearer the ocean? It would save you a walk.”
  184.  
  185. “I’ve lived here most of my life! I’m not moving just because some ponies got houses next to me before they thought about where they were living! Now come on. I have an errand I want to finish before night fall. It’s Friday.”
  186.  
  187. “What does Friday mean?”
  188.  
  189. “It means I have an errand to finish before nightfall, now come along.”
  190.  
  191. Lily followed. They walked out down the street, the fog rolling in heavy as evening closed in. Fish Head brought a lantern with her and they pushed their way through the fog. Ponies gave them a wide berth on the streets as they made their way through town. Lily sniffed herself and realized she smelled terribly of fish. She reminded herself to bathe.
  192.  
  193.  
  194. “Where are we going?” Lily asked.
  195.  
  196. “I was married once, a long time ago. My husband is long dead, but I come out every Friday to give him a gift as a way of telling him I haven’t forgotten him, nor have I forgotten my promise.”
  197.  
  198. “Oh, that’s so sweet!”
  199.  
  200. “Is it? It’s a terrible chore, but I’ve never reneged on a promise, and though I made this one foolishly, I shan’t be reneging on it, either.”
  201.  
  202. “It’s not a good promise?”
  203.  
  204. “You’ll ideally never have to know the answer to that question, but you’re young and strong, and I could use a hoof in case I fall over.”
  205.  
  206. “Is that the only reason I’m here?”
  207.  
  208. “Yes.”
  209.  
  210. Lily shut her mouth after that. She walked with Fish Head out to a small cliff near the ocean. It was heavily beaten by the waves, and at the tip were several graves overlooking the water. There was a break in the fog at the end of the cliff, and they could see the setting sun when they were standing at the top. It was a beautiful, picturesque view, and Lily had to appreciate it, despite her present, gruff company. Fish Head ignored it and walked up to an old gravestone. She sat down in front of it and stared. She didn’t say anything, but just stared at the stone for several minutes. Lily didn’t want to say anything to interrupt, so she sat at the edge, waiting. After some time, Fish Head stood back up with a heavy sigh, and walked back out to the edge of the grave site. She didn’t look Lily in the eye, but just walked past and headed back into town.
  211.  
  212.  
  213. After a while of silence, Lily finally broke down and asked. “Was your husband a nice stallion?”
  214.  
  215. “He wasn’t a stallion.”
  216.  
  217. “Oh!” Lily’s mind raced as she tried to understand what that meant. “Was she a nice mare?”
  218.  
  219. “He wasn’t a mare.”
  220.  
  221. “Uh… was he a nice…” Lily struggled to figure out what Fish Head meant.
  222.  
  223. “He was a nice creature, yes.”
  224.  
  225. “Oh!” She thought about the griffins on the dock. “A griffin?”
  226.  
  227. “No.”
  228.  
  229. “A minotaur?”
  230.  
  231. “No.”
  232.  
  233. Lily couldn’t think of many other creatures that might be acceptable for a pony to have married. Fish Head was old, but in her time, when she was young, it wasn’t common for ponies to marry anything outside their species. Even now it was uncommon. If he wasn’t a stallion, minotaur, or griffin, what was he? Was that why Fish Head was so maligned in her own town?
  234.  
  235. “Was he… nice?”
  236.  
  237. “No.”
  238.  
  239. Lily’s ears fell flat against her head and her eyes widened. That wasn’t what she really expected. How had that turned out, and why would she honor a promise to somepony that she didn’t even like? Did he beat her? Was he emotionally abusive? Did he… did he rape her? What had even happened? Lily’s mind raced with possible answers to her questions, but none of the answers were forthcoming from Fish Head. Her curiosity burned, however.
  240.  
  241. They got back home and Fish Head stepped inside with Lily close behind her. She locked the door and disappeared upstairs without a word, leaving Lily to find herself a comfortable spot by the fire. Lily bedded down and tried to sleep, forgetting entirely that she had wanted to bathe. The smell was forgotten as her mind raced to uncover the mystery behind Fish Head’s late husband.
  242.  
  243. Lily slept fitfully that night. She felt cold, and though she woke up to see the fire still burning and her blankets pulled tight across her body, she still felt it seeping through the covers and into her bones. She shivered, and drifted in and out of consciousness until Fish Head climbed down the stairs to wake her up.
  244.  
  245. “Wake up, girl. Another day, and more work.”
  246.  
  247. Lily pulled herself out of her makeshift bed and ate breakfast. The day was much the same as the last, with Fish Head taking her down to the docks to collect more fish parts and returning to process them into paste. The paste was then dried and collected into bags or little pouches that Fish Head sold to other ponies. Farmers, mostly, with a few coming to get smaller packages for personal use. The process was all very simple and straightforward, surprisingly. Lily had expected there to be more to it, but there wasn’t. She just took the heads, ground them up, then dried them. It really was that easy.
  248.  
  249. “That’s it? That’s the whole secret?” Lily asked.
  250.  
  251. “It is. Good fertilizer is important. How much did you ever use before?”
  252.  
  253. “Well, not much. I let them do whatever they were going to do.”
  254.  
  255. “And that’s why you were an amateur, girl.”
  256.  
  257. Her words stung, but Lily had to admit she was right. Her work was extremely amateur compared to her sisters. She began to wonder how much fertilizer her sisters used, and if they were keeping the secret from her. She knew about fertilizer, but only that it made plants grow faster and stronger.
  258.  
  259. “Can you use anything else as fertilizer? Why just the heads?”
  260.  
  261. “You could use the whole fish, the head has bone, eyes, brains (no matter how small), and some meat.”
  262.  
  263. “That’s interesting. Thank you.” Lily pulled out her notebook and scrawled down the information.
  264.  
  265.  
  266. “Stick around for a while longer and you’ll learn more.”
  267.  
  268. “What?”
  269.  
  270. “Oh, there’s more, but you haven’t been here long enough to learn it all.”
  271.  
  272. “How much more?”
  273.  
  274. “Why not hang about and find out?”
  275.  
  276. Lily didn’t quite get what she was talking about. Her tone seemed a bit off. “How hard is it to learn?”
  277.  
  278. Fish head grinned. “Very hard.”
  279.  
  280. “What benefits do these other methods have over just using fishmeal?”
  281.  
  282. Fish Head’s eyes sparkled. “Imagine the most beautiful flower you’ve ever seen.”
  283.  
  284. “Okay…”
  285.  
  286. “Now imagine that it will never die. You can keep it growing all through the winter. It will be bigger, stronger, and more vibrant than any flower you’ve ever grown before, and you can keep it, forever.”
  287.  
  288. “What, how?”
  289.  
  290. “Secrets, girl! Everypony needs her secrets, and you don’t know nearly all of mine. Did you really think fishmeal was all there was?”
  291.  
  292. “I… don’t know.”
  293.  
  294. “Do you have the stomach and the desire to be better than your peers?”
  295.  
  296. Lily thought about how good Rose and Daisy were at growing things, and her jealousy flared up. “Yes!”
  297.  
  298. “We’ll see about that.” Fish Head picked up a sachet from behind the counter and held it out to Lily. She took it, and Fish Head led the way out of the shop.
  299.  
  300. “We’re delivering this to a pony named Deep Six. In return for what I bring him, he gives me… supplies.”
  301.  
  302. They stopped outside a more public graveyard than the one Fish Head had taken her to on the edge of the coast. This one was further inland, heading onto the mainland. It had poorly-maintained grass covering most things, and the gravestones themselves were overgrown by weeds and vines. Fish Head took her to a small shack on the edge of the yard and knocked on the door.
  303.  
  304. “Deep Six, I have your request.”
  305.  
  306.  
  307. The door opened suddenly and silently. There was nary a creak as a pale, sickly-looking stallion stuck his head out. His neck was unusually long, and he looked at Fish Head, then to the sachet. He saw Lily holding it and immediately shrank back into the door and slammed it shut.
  308.  
  309.  
  310. “Who’s she!?” he shouted through the wood.
  311.  
  312. “That’s my apprentice, uh… Girl.”
  313.  
  314. “My name is Lily.”
  315.  
  316. “Lily,” Fish Head corrected.
  317.  
  318. The door opened again and Deep Six stuck his head out. He reached for the sachet carefully, teeth gingerly taking it from her. He disappeared into the door, then a bag that rattled was tossed out onto the ground in front of Fish Head.
  319.  
  320. “Enjoy, and keep your mouths shut!”
  321.  
  322. “A pleasure, as always, Deep.” Fish Head motioned to the sack and Lily picked it up off the ground. It was heavy, and it clattered with every shift and bump.
  323.  
  324. “What’s in this?”
  325.  
  326. “You think you have the stomach to know?”
  327.  
  328. “I wouldn’t have stayed if I didn’t.”
  329.  
  330. “Bones,” Fish Head said matter-of-factly.
  331.  
  332. Lily went cold. “Bones? Like, pony bones?”
  333.  
  334. Fish Head gave her a cold smile and held her hoof up to her lips.
  335.  
  336. “Are you serious?” Lily demanded.
  337.  
  338. “Getting second thoughts?”
  339.  
  340. “This is… I could… what would… why?”
  341.  
  342. “More fertilizer, girl. You know how to make fishmeal, which is the easiest. Now you’ll learn how to make bone meal. And calm down, it’s’ mostly animal bones but… you never know what Deep Six has dug up,” she said with a dark chuckle.
  343.  
  344. “You pay him in… something to dig up bones?”
  345.  
  346. “Nopony else is using them, and they’re fantastic fertilizer when prepared right. We’re in the business of making things grow properly, aren’t we?”
  347.  
  348. “Well… yes.”
  349.  
  350. “Then don’t get cold hooves just yet, girl. I’ve only just begun. If you want things to grow, you need to be willing to recognize that sometimes, mother nature isn’t enough all alone. You need to give her a boost.”
  351.  
  352. They returned home and Fish Head pointed to a spot on the floor. “Alright, crush ‘em.”
  353.  
  354. “What?”
  355.  
  356. “We can’t use the bones like that. Start stomping.”
  357.  
  358. “You want me to break them?”
  359.  
  360. Fish Head nodded. “It would take too long if we waited for them to be broken down. Smash ‘em, then we can move on to making them into a proper fertilizer.”
  361.  
  362. “But… these might have been somepony!”
  363.  
  364. “And now they’re a pile of bones. It’s not a pony anymore, and we don’t even know if it was. It could have just been somepony’s pet.”
  365.  
  366. Lily gaped at Fish Head, then looked at the sack. She set it on the floor and gingerly stepped on top of it, then began stamping. The bones make a satisfying cracking sound as she pounded her hooves into it. Despite her earlier trepidation, she was actually enjoying herself. With how quickly they broke, and how solid the crunch, it was easy to forget that these used to be pony bones. Before long, she had the sack crushed down to smaller pieces, with a few chunks poking through the ratty sackcloth.
  367.  
  368. Lily looked down at the sack, realizing what she had just done, and once again thinking about how they used to be pony bones, despite the admonishment from earlier. She swallowed. “It’s… it’s done, Fish Head.”
  369.  
  370. “Good, good. Now here.” She thrust a mortar and pestle into Lily’s hooves. “Time to grind again.”
  371.  
  372. “This one too?”
  373.  
  374. “Fertilizer needs to be small. If you want good plants, you need good fertilizer. Most of them need to be ground up.”
  375.  
  376. “Most?”
  377.  
  378. “Yeah, there are some that don’t, but those are even harder to get than bones.”
  379.  
  380. Lily was afraid to ask. “What… what kind is that?”
  381.  
  382. Fish Head looked at her, one eye glaring wider and fiercer than the other. “Blood.”
  383.  
  384.  
  385. Lily felt her heart pounding in her chest, from excitement at the knowledge or terror because of what it was, she didn’t know. “Blood… fertilizer?”
  386.  
  387. Fish Head was completely nonchalant about the whole thing. “Aye, blood meal. Depending on what’s missing in the soil, you need to replace it with something else. Blood compensates for nitrogen, bone for phosphorus, and fish does both. Fishmeal is what I sell the most of, with bonemeal and bloodmeal for more specific needs.”
  388.  
  389. “That’s…”
  390.  
  391. “Horrifying?”
  392.  
  393. “Well, yes. But also very interesting. I never imagined fertilizer was so important.”
  394.  
  395. “Too many ponies just use dung, and that’s missing a lot of important nutrients for proper soil. You can’t keep using nothing but that and expect to get good soil. Gotta be clever! Gotta be smart! Gotta not be squeamish!” Fish Head spat on the floor. “Blood and bones, girl. That’s what plants need. Blood and bones.”
  396.  
  397. “How did you learn all this?” Lily asked as she took a hoofful of crushed bones and dumped them in the mortar.
  398.  
  399. Fish Head looked at her and was silent for a moment. She didn’t answer at first, and walked away, leaving Lily to her work. She didn’t press the issue, as she knew it was a sensitive one. Whatever he had done to her, it had left an indelible mark.  She came back some time later, however. Fish Head brought a bowl of fresh vegetables topped with fancy herbs Lily didn’t recognize.
  400.  
  401. “Why don’t you try to grow something with what we’ve made here today, girl. If you can prove you understand the soil and what it needs, I’ll explain what I learned. How does that sound?”
  402.  
  403. “Oh! That would be lovely! I can get some practice in!”
  404.  
  405. Fish Head nodded. “Don’t let me down, girl. I may be old, but I’m not stupid.” Lily didn’t understand what she meant by that, but she was excited to try.
  406.  
  407.  
  408. She spent the rest of the day preparing the bonemeal, and the two of them had a calm and quiet evening talking about plants. Lily explained how she had been growing her lilies beforehoof, and Fish Head told her what she was doing right, and what she was doing wrong. Fish Head wasn’t kind about it, and she didn’t sugarcoat a single thing she said. She called Lily stupid, foolish, and myriad other names, but she admitted where Lily was right. That pleased Lily a lot, knowing that she hadn’t just been wrong about everything. What she had to admit, though, was that she was doing the bare minimum for her flowers. She had been giving them the least they needed to grow and become flowers, without giving them anything more. They were struggling, and she hadn’t known it, but all that could be fixed by checking the soil beforehoof, and putting in the right fertilizers for the job.
  409.  
  410. Fish Head explained how she was supposed to check the soil, looking to see if it needed one nutrient or another, what to do about it, and what fertilizer was best for the job. If she needed phosphorus, use bone, if she needed nitrogen, use blood, and if she needed both, use fish.
  411.  
  412. “I don’t know how I’m going to get any of those somewhere like Ponyville. It’s such a small town, and there’s no coastline. All we have is an apple farm, and the local animal shelter is run by the most timid, frightened pony imaginable. I doubt she would be able to help me get any of those things.”
  413.  
  414. “Are you going to let that stop you?”
  415.  
  416. “No!”
  417.  
  418. “Glad to hear it, girl. Now get some sleep. I want to see you try to grow flowers tomorrow.”
  419.  
  420. “Yes, ma’am,” answered Lily.
  421.  
  422. They went to sleep, and Lily dreamed fitful dreams.
  423.  
  424. They were surreal, as most dreams are, but this one was more than she had experienced in a very long time. She was standing in the middle of a graveyard, surrounded by gravestones. One of them was the grave of Fish Head’s husband, and another was the grave of Deep Six, the gravedigger. A third was the leader of the griffin crew on the dock. The graves of all three crept closer to her, digging their way through the dirt toward her. They were all three facing her, trapping her in, then the soil covering them began to churn. It boiled like water, but instead of the bodies growing up out of the dirt, instead there were vines, growing strong and vibrante.
  425.  
  426. It started out as a small shoot topped by leaves, but as it grew it carried up with it their bones. It coiled around their leg bones, ribs, and finally their skulls, having grown through their eyeholes. The plant was massive, and showed no signs of stopping, growing powerful, and deep in her heart she knew it was because it was growing off the body of somepony dead.
  427.  
  428. She awoke to the ringing sound of the front door. It was still early in the morning, earlier than Fish Head usually woke her up, and the fire was still going, though it was small. She looked toward the front door and saw Fish Head entering the building. She saw Lily looking and shook her head.
  429.  
  430. “I apologize. I didn’t mean to wake you, girl.”
  431.  
  432. “It’s okay,” Lily said blearily. “Where did you go so early?”
  433.  
  434. “Private business, girl. Never you mind.”
  435.  
  436.  
  437. Accustomed to such brush-offs, Lily obeyed, and dropped another log on the fire before returning to sleep.
  438.  
  439. In the morning, Lily and Fish Head had breakfast and performed what Lily would eventually know as their routine. They would first see if the Griffin (who Lily learned was named Captain Daniel) had any fish heads for them. Then they would usually return home and check her other supplies. If everything was fine and they had fish heads, they would spend the day grinding those and turning them into fertilizer. Not as many came for bone meal, and blood meal was almost never needed by anypony, so that was out. Then they would do whatever they wanted, which Fish Head demanded Lily spend growing plants.
  440.  
  441. She started out with a lily, like usual. She hadn’t gotten so far as putting the seed in the pot before Fish Head cuffed her upside the head. She’d fallen back on her old habits and hadn’t checked the soil at all. Fish Head ordered her to dump it and start from scratch, so she did.
  442.  
  443. The second time she did a lot better. She checked the soil, then added in fish meal, just to be safe, but Fish Head cuffed her again.
  444.  
  445. “Don’t do it ‘just to be safe’, girl! You’re better than that. The plants deserve better than that! KNOW what they need. Don’t guess.”
  446.  
  447. “Ow, okay, okay!” She dumped that out and started again.
  448.  
  449. She checked the soil, tested it, then determined that what he plants needed was bonemeal. She hesitantly poured in some of it and mixed the soil together, then looked at Fish Head before planting the seed.
  450.  
  451. “Was that right?”
  452.  
  453. Fish Head shrugged. “I don’t know.”
  454.  
  455.  
  456. Lily gaped. “But how do you know if I did it right?”
  457.  
  458. “I don’t. Your lily will grow well, or it won’t.”
  459.  
  460. “Then what was the rest of that smacking for? I thought I was doing it wrong!”
  461.  
  462. “You were! You were guessing! Don’t guess! Don’t choose the safest option. That’s more than likely not the best choice, and makes you think you’re doing them a service when you’re actually pushing it too far one way or the other. You can do better than the safest option.” She leaned in and jabbed Lily with a hoof. “Don’t. Guess.”
  463.  
  464. Lily nodded sullenly. Her first lily was planted, and she could only wait to see how it would grow.
  465.  
  466. As days went by, she watched her lily and paid attention to it while it grew. She planted several more, with mixtures of soil presented to her by Fish Head. These were balanced differently than her own choice, and Fish Head expected her to figure out which type of fertilizer she needed to use to make it grow the best. She tried her hardest to make the right choices, and only got a few hits for her trouble. As time went on, however, the soil requirements got stranger and stranger. Some seemed out of place, and Lily wondered how she even got them or why she thought they would be a requirement.
  467.  
  468. “What is this?”
  469.  
  470. “It’s sand.”
  471.  
  472. “Why am I trying to grow anything in sand?”
  473.  
  474. “Do you not want to?’
  475.  
  476. “Not… really? I could do better.”
  477.  
  478. “You could, but are you giving up?”
  479.  
  480. “I guess I shouldn’t?”
  481.  
  482. “Attagirl. Show me what you got.”
  483.  
  484. Lily tried her best, but she had to wonder if maybe Fish Head wasn’t losing it a little bit. It seemed a strange thing to do, to grow something in sand.
  485.  
  486. When her attempt failed miserably at growing anything in the fine grit, Lily presented her wilted and dead plant to Fish Head. Fish Head took one look at the sand and dead plant and cuffed her upside the head.
  487.  
  488. “You left it as normal beach sand?”
  489.  
  490. “Well… yes! You told me to!”
  491.  
  492. “I told you to grow something in it! I didn’t say anything about leaving it as plain beach sand! Where’s the silt? The clay? Something for the plant to grab hold of?” She dug a hoof through the loose grit and scowled.
  493.  
  494. “I didn’t have any. The fertilizer just went through it.”
  495.  
  496. “Ugh…” Fish Head put a hoof to her face. “You’re too honest, Lily. You didn’t even try to cheat. Come with me.” She waved a hoof and walked off through the shop to a large clay pot at the back of the shop with a small tree growing out of it. “What do you see?”
  497.  
  498. Lily looked. It was growing in sandy soil, but the soil was different, somehow. It had a sandy surface, but where her sand was pure and soft, this was flat and oddly-colored. “It’s sand, but there’s something… different about it?”
  499.  
  500. “Yes, yes. Good eye. Let’s finish up the day’s work, and I’ll show you what I mean. This old girl can be transplanted, I’d say.”
  501. ________________________________________
  502. At the end of the day, Fish Head had Lily carry the pot, and they walked to the edge of town. It was foggy yet again, and it clung to her fur, getting her damp despite her best efforts. Fish Head didn’t really seem affected, but her clothes did. They hung, wet and dripping from her outfit. They went out, and Lily recognized the area as not being too far from the bluff where Fish Head’s husband was laid to rest. There were many other trees in the area, all at different stages of growth.
  503.  
  504.  
  505. “These were all your doing?” Lily asked.
  506.  
  507. Fish Head pulled the shovel off her back and looked around. “Aye. Every single one. It’s my promise to my late husband, and my promise to the town. I’ll keep doing it until I die.”
  508.  
  509. “But why?” Lily dropped the pot carefully to the ground, then took the shovel and started digging.
  510.  
  511. “Do you think you’re ready to know, girl?”
  512.  
  513. “I would very much like to.”
  514.  
  515. Fish Head looked at her, her old eyes boring into Lily’s own. “You want to know how I grew a tree is sand?”
  516.  
  517. “Yes.”
  518.  
  519. “How badly do you want to know?”
  520.  
  521. “…really badly?”
  522.  
  523. “Would you kill somepony for the knowledge to grow plants better than anypony else?”
  524.  
  525. “I…”
  526.  
  527. “This is important, girl. How much are you willing to give up to be the best at your craft?”
  528.  
  529. Lily was at a loss, but she looked at the tree that Fish Head had grown—apparently out of sand—and thought back to her time in Ponyville. She’d put out flowers, but they were just flowers. There was nothing special about them, and they certainly didn’t stand out. They just… were. More than anything she would love to be able to return to Ponyville with some of the best damn lilies anypony had ever seen, and with the best possible tips and tricks to share with everypony she chose. She could be great! She could be the best!
  530.  
  531. But she didn’t know what Fish Head was asking of her. Could she abandon the possible knowledge now, when she was scared of what the implications were? She thought about it and realized the choice was made for her. The moment she knew there was a choice, her decision was made. She nodded.
  532.  
  533. “Almost anything,” she finally answered.
  534.  
  535.  
  536. “Good girl.” Fish Head looked around. The fog was thick, and they could see nopony else this time of day, nor hear anything save for the waves breaking on the shore. She walked over to the clay pot the tree was sitting in and kicked it with a hoof. It shattered. Lily’s breath caught.
  537.  
  538. Inside the pot she could see soil, hidden under a thin veneer of sand that was now trickling off the top. Fish Head smirked.
  539.  
  540. “You just made it look like it was growing out of sand?”
  541.  
  542. “Mostly. But there’s more.” She leaned down and scraped away at the dirt. As the soil came away, her hoof hit something white and cracked. She scraped away at the dirt around it, until a chunk of it came off. She picked it up and held it out to Lily.
  543.  
  544. “What is this?”
  545.  
  546. “What do you think it is?”
  547.  
  548. “Bone?”
  549.  
  550. “Good girl! It is bone. What have I taught you so far about growing things?”
  551.  
  552. “Fishmeal, bonemeal, bloodmeal, and other fertilizers can be used to improve the soil. Why didn’t you crush this bone, though?”
  553.  
  554. “Asking the pertinent questions! Good!” She lifted up the compacted dirt and dropped it. More soil shook off, revealing a full pony’s skull. It had been a unicorn, with the stub of a horn sticking out the bottom. The tree’s roots had grown out of the base of the skull, and cracked through the eye sockets and other portions, grasping around the bone as it reached out for more soil.
  555.  
  556. “Wh-what purpose does leaving the bone intact serve?” Lily swallowed hard.
  557.  
  558. “Girl, I don’t think you fully understand. I use EVERYTHING. I didn’t just leave the bone intact.”
  559.  
  560. “Wh-wh-wh…” The implications rushed at her all at once, and Lily never finished. She fainted.
  561.  
  562. When Lily awoke, it was raining.
  563.  
  564. She had been covered with a blanket, though she was still outdoors. And though the sun was low, it was still visible through the low-hanging clouds. The fog had lifted, and as she glanced around, she could see the tree had been planted and Fish Head was gone.
  565.  
  566. She couldn’t blame Fish Head for just giving her a blanket. The mare was old. She probably couldn’t have done anything more than drag Lily back home, and that would have hurt both of them.
  567.  
  568. Lily pulled herself up and folded up the damp blanket, then placed it on her back. She patted the soft dirt beneath the tree Fish Head had planted and thought about what had knocked her out in the first place.
  569.  
  570. Was that really a skull? The image was burned into her mind. She remembered the broken horn, the tiny patch of fur still attached to the bone, and the shard…
  571.  
  572. Lily looked around. The shard of bone that Fish Head had pulled off was still laying on the ground where she had dropped it. She picked it up and looked at her. Her breaths came quick and panicked as she felt revulsion rising up within her once again. She threw it away and looked at the sky, waiting to calm down.
  573.  
  574. As she calmed down, Lily found herself looking uphill at Fish Head’s husband’s grave at the peak of the bluff. She started wondering about whether Fish Head had killed her husband or not. She’d said he wasn’t a nice stallion, and knowing what she did for her livelihood made Lily wonder if perhaps Fish Head hadn’t waited for the pony to die of natural causes. What if she had taken matters into her own hooves?
  575.  
  576.  
  577. Lily turned away and looked down the road back to the shack. The sun was setting, the area was untraveled, and it was rainy. She couldn’t do it now, and when she did, Fish Head would surely know. She visited the spot every week, so she could only do it when it was time to leave.
  578.  
  579. …but would she be allowed to leave?
  580.  
  581. Lily knew more about Fish Head than anypony else, and the secrets she had been privy to would break any normal pony. But Lily wasn’t a normal pony. Not anymore. She was resolved to be the best, and to be the best, even if it meant learning dark secrets, she was resolved to do it. She’d get everything she could from Fish Head and watch her back… or neck, as the case may be. She was ready.
  582.  
  583. She returned to Fish Head’s house and walked right in. The door was unlocked and a fire was lit. She wordlessly stepped inside and walked up to the fire, then hung the blanket on the back of a chair nearby. She sat down and doled herself up a bowl of soup. Fish Head waited until she was done before she spoke.
  584.  
  585. “Good morning, girl. Did you sleep well?”
  586.  
  587. “It was raining and the ground was cold and hard. No.”
  588.  
  589. “Maybe you’ll have a stronger stomach next time.”
  590.  
  591. “I’ll do my best.”
  592.  
  593. “Your best needs to change, girl. Your best so far wasn’t enough to keep you awake. Are you trying to grow the best flowers possible, or are you content being an amateur.”
  594.  
  595. “I’m trying to grow the best possible flowers.”
  596.  
  597. “Then stop falling over when you see something gruesome.”
  598.  
  599. Lily pursed her lips but said nothing. She wanted to ask where Fish Head got a pony’s head, but she didn’t. She could guess, and she suspected if she stuck around, she’d know. For now, she kept her mouth shut and ate her soup.
  600.  
  601.  
  602. “You’re awfully quiet, girl,” Fish Head eventually said. “Thinking about what you’ve learned?”
  603.  
  604. “Yes,” was all Lily said.
  605.  
  606. “To be perfectly honest, I expected you to run off.”
  607.  
  608. “Well, I didn’t.”
  609.  
  610. “And that’s good. I’m proud of you for that.”
  611.  
  612. Lily didn’t want to admit it, but getting praise like that made her feel better about herself. Roseluck and Daisy wouldn’t have been able to handle it, she was sure. She was miles ahead of them in that regard, and she intended to stay there.
  613.  
  614. “So what will we be doing now?”
  615.  
  616. “Now, we’re going to look into procuring more planters.”
  617.  
  618. “Isn’t there a potter in town?”
  619.  
  620. “Not those kind, girl.”
  621.  
  622. Lily looked at Fish Head. The old mare just grinned. Madly—Lily noticed for the first time.
  623.  
  624. “You mean, like…?”
  625.  
  626. “You’re thinking poorly of me. We aren’t going to be the ones to do it. We’re just going to steal one.”
  627.  
  628. “Steal…?”
  629.  
  630. “On the morrow, girl. You’ll understand on the morrow.”
  631. ________________________________________
  632. Lily slept with her head covered that night. She didn’t think Fish Head would take her head just yet, but she was still frightened. Her dreams were full of strange imagery. Things like floating heads, headless bodies, and the sounds of screaming, both silent and loud. She didn’t understand upon waking how a silent scream sounded, but it was present. She slept fitfully when she did, but she woke up with Fish Head and ate upon request. She was just literally and figuratively going to keep her head down for now. There was no telling when a pony like Fish Head might change her mind.
  633.  
  634. She did, however, begin to feel a bit foolish about it all. If Fish Head had wanted her dead, she could have done it much earlier, before Lily even know what her plans were. She wasn’t attacked in her sleep, and Fish Head woke her up to eat breakfast and head out without so much as a threatening word.
  635.  
  636. When they went out, Fish Head was carrying a bag on her back. Lily both wanted to ask and didn’t at the same time. She had the feeling she knew what was in it, and she couldn’t believe she was going to be a part of this. Still, she was following Fish Head, she was carrying her things, and she was headed off into the wilderness with her.
  637.  
  638. “Where are we going?” Lily asked.
  639.  
  640. “Outside of town, where ponies frequently disappear.”
  641.  
  642. “Oh… okay.”
  643.  
  644. “You sound distressed.”
  645.  
  646. “I’ve never done anything like this before. Is it really necessary?”
  647.  
  648. “Necessary? No. Useful? Yes.”
  649.  
  650. “But why?”
  651.  
  652. “Because plants grow best in rich soil, and soil enriched with everything that makes a pony live is the best. Unicorns even give it a little magic, I believe, which helps to give you the greatest greenery you can imagine.”
  653.  
  654. “So we want a unicorn?”
  655.  
  656. “We’ll take what we can get, which will likely be an earth pony, but a unicorn would be best.”
  657.  
  658. Lily swallowed hard. “And… how are we going to go about ‘procuring’ one of these?”
  659.  
  660. “I shall show you. Come.”
  661.  
  662. Lily followed her along the path out of town until they reached the outside edge of the pass where the road forked three different directions. One road traveled back to town, another turned north up to Vanhoover, and the other turned south to go through White Tail woods. Fish Head took her down the road to White Tail woods a short distance and disappeared into the trees. They walked through bushes, brambles, until they hit a small clearing.
  663.  
  664.  
  665. “Damn,” Fish Head said.
  666.  
  667. “What?”
  668.  
  669. “No bodies.”
  670.  
  671. Lily immediately relaxed. She had worried Fish Head was the one doing the killing, but it was more like a delivery. She was probably just waiting for highwayponies or—
  672.  
  673. “Put this on.” Fish Head held out a mask for Lily.
  674.  
  675. “…what?”
  676.  
  677. “The bandits haven’t killed anypony for me, yet. We’re going to see if we can get one ourselves, since you’re young and strong.”
  678.  
  679. Lily panicked. “Wait, what?”
  680.  
  681. Fish Head pressed the mask into Lily’s chest. “I said, put the mask on. I think I hear somepony. Now hurry!”
  682.  
  683. Lily obeyed. She took the mask, slipped it on, and followed Fish Head back out of the trail. They stopped at the edge of the road, and Fish Head looked up the gravel path. There was a single earth pony singing to himself as he traveled down the road, merrily dancing back and forth in the early-morning sunlight.
  684.  
  685. “Okay, so take this.” Fish Head shoved a knife into Lily’s hoof. She looked back at Lily’s flank and quickly draped a blanket over her back to mask her cutie mark. “When he gets close, jump out and use your earth pony strength to overpower him, and cut his throat. I’ll help you drag the body into the trees when you’ve got him.”
  686.  
  687. “I can’t do this!” Lily said, hyperventilating.
  688.  
  689. “You can do this!”
  690.  
  691. “I can’t! I’ve never killed anypony before.”
  692.  
  693. “You’ll do this because you need to! This is how you’ll grow the best plants! You need to do this!”
  694.  
  695. Lily shook her head, tears starting to fall from her eyes. Fish Head grabbed her by the ears.
  696.  
  697. “You will do this, and then you’ll learn the best way to make any plant grow. That’s what you want isn’t it?”
  698.  
  699. Lily nodded.
  700.  
  701. “That’s why you came to me, isn’t it?”
  702.  
  703. Lily nodded again with a sob.
  704.  
  705. “Then you’re going to do this, and you’ll do this quick, and quiet, and then we’ll have soup, understood?”
  706.  
  707.  
  708. Lily nodded, gulping in huge breaths. Fish Head patted her on the withers and pointed at the stallion. He was prancing down the road, kicking gravel back and forth in a stepdance as he sang about somepony named Bonnie Jean and how he was going to go home with her. Lily watched him get close. Shadows began to gather at the edge of her vision as she thought about what she was planning.
  709.  
  710. What in Equestria was she doing? This was horrible! This was monstrous! She was going to murder this random stallion who was just out for a walk to the coast. He was singing and dancing and having the best time, and she was going to jump out of the woods and senselessly murder him so she could use his skull as a planter pot?
  711.  
  712. Lily’s vision tunneled. The stallion suddenly seemed so far away. Her breath was immensely loud in her own ears. She watched, dumbstruck, as the stallion danced his way past, within two ponies’ lengths from her and her knife. She felt something pushing on her flank, and she turned to look at what it was.
  713.  
  714. There was an old mare with an angry look on her face pushing her, trying to get her to go out into the road and kill that poor stallion. Lily stared at her. The old mare started speaking, and she looked angry. She looked livid, in fact. She struck Lily upside the head with her hoof and began berating her. Lily said nothing, but just stared and breathed. The old mare hit her again, and before she knew it, Lily’s hoof swung out and her knife sliced across the old mare’s neck.
  715.  
  716. Fish Head gasped and choked. Lily felt like she should have been shocked or surprised, but she felt nothing. Fish head stumbled forward, and Lily backed away to avoid getting blood on herself. Fish Head stumbled back and forth, cracking through the trees. Lily was afraid she might alert the stallion, but he just pranced on down the road, unaware how close he had come to getting murdered.
  717.  
  718. “Buh… glk!” Fish head choked. She fell to the ground, the light slowly leaving her eyes. She eventually stopped moving, her own blood soaking the front of her clothes and her scarf.
  719.  
  720. Lily stared down at her as she died. When Fish Head stopped moving, she again felt like she should panic or be more shocked, but she was disturbed to find that she was filled with an eerie calm. She knew she couldn’t leave the body where it was. She’d have to dispose of it.
  721.  
  722. Lily grabbed Fish Head by the ears and dragged her back through the trees to the copse they had gone to before. Fish Head had said this was where some brigands or somepony left bodies for her to use, so it seemed fitting her own body should stay here.
  723.  
  724. But… that wouldn’t solve the problem of somepony eventually finding her. The brigands wouldn’t care, but they might wonder who had killed one of their sources of income. Not to mention the townsfolk might wonder where she’d gone. With Lily having been the last pony to enter the shop, and living there, she would be the first pony taken to task about it. But she couldn’t just abandon her journal! That had all her notes from talking to Fish Head! She wasn’t going to leave empty-hooved!
  725.  
  726.  
  727. Lily fished around in Fish Head’s pockets for her keys. She yanked them out and looked down at herself. There were a few spots of blood, but she could get by. Nopony would notice without looking really closely, and she wasn’t on good terms with anypony except the griffins by the docks. She took the keys, and started away.
  728.  
  729. She stopped walking as another thought hit her. Fish Head going missing was one thing, but Fish Head being found dead… they’d know the pony who did it if it looked like a murder! They could track her down to Ponyville, and they’d find her. She was the most likely culprit if she, herself wasn’t found dead, too! She was in trouble!
  730.  
  731. Unless… she could dispose of the evidence somehow.
  732.  
  733. …somehow… Lily would need to dispose of everything.
  734.  
  735. And she knew how.
  736.  
  737. She raced back to Fish Head’s little hut and pulled out a big clay pot. She tested it by sticking her head in it, and was satisfied when her head fit inside, with a little room to spare. She gathered a bunch of sacks and shoved them inside, then hurried back to the copse where Fish Head lay. Her body was still there when Lily got back. Undisturbed, exactly as she had left it. She knelt next to it with her pot, her sacks, and her knife, and tried to psych herself up for the next part.
  738.  
  739. Lily took a deep breath and placed a hoof carefully on Fish Head’s neck. She adjusted the knife in her hoof, inhaled, then brought the knife down to her skin. She touched it there once, twice, then dug it in. It made a horrible, meaty, slicing sound as it cut through Fish Head’s fur and muscle. When she reached the spine she flinched, but sawed at it until it finally gave way and the whole head came off.
  740.  
  741.  
  742. Lily felt bile rising up her throat, but having spent so much time with Fish Head, performing strange works to make fertilizer, this wasn’t that much different. She’d ground up pony bones before. This wasn’t that different, right?
  743.  
  744. The head went straight into the clay pot, and she covered it with a cloth. The rest of the body was the hard part, and it was unavoidable getting blood on herself. She undressed Fish Head and placed her clothes to the side, then chopped off the limbs, removed the dock, segmented the torso and shoved them all into sacks. She double-sacked it all, trying to prevent the blood from seeping too far through, then slung it all over her back. She hurried back to Fish Head’s cabin, carrying every part of Fish Head and her clothes.
  745.  
  746. Thankfully, nopony questioned her when she came running past. They knew her well enough as Fish Head’s apprentice, and most of them wouldn’t even talk to Fish Head, so why ask questions of the apprentice, especially when she had drops of blood on her in broad daylight. Who would possibly be stupid enough to be transporting a murdered pony in the middle of the morning? Lily was hyperventilating when she scurried inside and locked the door. She took a moment to breathe and thought about what she had just done.
  747.  
  748. She had just murdered her mentor and carved her body into pieces. And now she was going to grind her up for fertilizer. What in tartarus was she even doing? What was she thinking? What was she even doing!?
  749.  
  750. She stopped herself from thinking about it too long. She needed to focus. She needed to remove her own implication in this, and the best way to do that was to dispose of the body, and fast.
  751.  
  752. First was the matter of the skull. Everything she needed to handle that was taken care of already. She double-checked the head to be sure all jewelry was removed, and dumped soil into the pot on top of the head. She added a good amount of fertilizer to help with the decay of the flesh, then took one of the saplings Fish head had been growing inside the hut and transplanted it into the pot. She covered it all with a thin layer of sand, then gave it a little water.
  753.  
  754. Satisfied that one was taken care of, she turned to the remaining parts of Fish Head and began her work of processing it all into fertilizer. She boiled off the flesh, began drying the bones, processed the blood and viscera, and burned all the clothing. It took her a full day’s worth of work to get rid of it all, all while trapped inside the stinking, smoky house. She dared not leave without Fish Head, for fear of somepony asking questions. Customers came by, and she gave them their supplies, citing that Fish Head was upstairs sleeping and not well. That would help to deflect any questions when the mare was finally discovered as being missing. Lily would still be somewhat implicated, but she hoped to be long gone by the time anypony suspected Fish Head was dead.
  755.  
  756. Unfortunately it wasn’t going to be that easy. The bones didn’t dry fast enough. The fatty tissues didn’t render quickly enough. The blood didn’t congeal and powder soon enough. Lily had to go down to the docks to collect Fish Head’s daily supply of fish heads, and she went to speak to Deep Six about more bones. She did everything she could to make it seem like Fish Head was still in the business.
  757.  
  758.  
  759. The third day of waiting on Fish Head’s remaining body parts to turn had her going to sleep in frustration that she still had to be here. She had regular customers coming by now, since the cantankerous old Fish Head had stopped handling customer sales, Lily had regulars coming back just to flirt with her. While it was flattering, it was getting in the way of her work. Nopony asked about the bones dangling from the ceiling near the window. She’d made sure they didn’t look particlulary pony-ish. The hooves and head were missing, and most ponies didn’t want to think about it, but it was getting in the way.
  760.  
  761. The worst part of it all was that nopony asked about Fish Head anymore. A full week went by with Lily trying to decide what she should do to leave, and how she might take care of the plants, and not a single pony had asked about Fish Head’s whereabouts. She almost felt sorry for the old mare, but every time she looked at the pot with Fish Head’s skull in it, she lost all remorse for her actions. The mare was crazy. Clearly crazy, and she had needed to be stopped. Lily had just been the pony to do it.
  762.  
  763. Still, she completed her work, but remained for another week because there was this rather attractive stallion who kept coming by to talk. It was the pegasus who spent time with the griffins. Once he’d realized Fish Head wasn’t there anymore, he’d taken the opportunity to flirt with her, and she had to admit she rather liked him. So she stayed.
  764.  
  765. And she kept staying.
  766.  
  767. Nopony asked about Fish Head. Nopony missed her. The broken lamp in front of her shop was fixed.
  768.  
  769. Yes. Her shop.
  770.  
  771. Nopony missed Fish Head. She had gotten away with it, and she hadn’t even needed to leave. She stayed longer. Her work improved. Her plants did, too. The tree planted on Fish Head’s skull grew straight, strong, and beautiful. It was the most beautiful plant she had ever seen.
  772.  
  773. Too beautiful.
  774.  
  775. She planted it with the others during a cold, misty morning near the graves. She didn’t sleep well that night. She married the stallion from the docks. He was lovely. But after the tree, her work was incomplete. Nothing grew as well as it should have. It wasn’t nearly as beautiful.
  776.  
  777. For the first time in a long time, she thought about Ponyville. She thought about showing off her plants to her sisters. They were probably worried about her. Her new husband didn’t want to leave. He started asking too many questions about her work. He was trying to be helpful, but she hadn’t told him how she grew such lovely plants.
  778.  
  779. She’d gotten better at her work by then.
  780.  
  781. It was a cold, wintry night, one when the fishing-griffins wouldn’t go out to work that her husband disappeared. Her wagon left in the middle of the next night, with steam flowing out of the back flaps, and a lovely new tree-planter loaded on it. She arrived in Ponyville some weeks after, and her sisters rushed out to greet her upon news of her arrival.
  782.  
  783. “I love your tree,” they both said. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”
  784.  
  785. “I can teach you how to grow like me,” she said with a satisfied smile.
  786.  
  787. The End.
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