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“Are you sure you'll be okay there? It's going to be six months.” What wasn't fun about spending time in Ponyville? “The Apples are fantastic caretakers, but are you sure they are as understanding of your...needs as the Hamptons?” Without a shred of doubt. “Cousin Applejack is a hero and one of Twilight's advisers. Will she have time for you?” Of course she will! “Well, I suppose you have made your decision, son.” And Valen had known that since they had first brought up the prospect of the international orange tour. He didn't have a shred of desire to spend half a year wasting away advertising oranges, not even for all the bits in the world. He had a goal, a life, and a place he loved to be. Oh, he knew his parents loved him and he loved them back, but he knew as well as they that he wasn't going to be caught dead out there. He wasn't fit for it. Their time amongst the cream of the Manehattan crop had not made them deluded, sickly, or insane. All he would do is moan and complain so they had decided to allow him to stat behind in the care of somepony they trusted. But the Hamptons? Under what mind was sending a foal away from home to some distant, remote mansion, away from friends and a comfortable environment, the proper course of action? A sick one. On the other hoof, under what mind was sending a foal away from home to some distant, remote farm, set up with friends and a comfortable environment, the proper course of action? A great one, so he had argued for him to be sent to Sweet Apple Acres for a long, long time. He had eventually worn them down with his battering ram of logical debate, one of the skills he had been able to harness in the academy that did come in hoofy the majority of the time. Their arguments held little water as far as he was concerned and while he was always polite, Valen was also always outspoken and let them know why he refused their options. The Hamptons? They were a well to do family that was for the most part kind and in no way a terrible place for a colt to land. They lived in a mansion just outside of town with a wonderful view of the city and room aplenty for a colt to find himself. He knew their son well enough and the parents were more or less capable of helping him do everything he needed to do for school while they were gone. Of course, this was all only a true surface reaction. The parents were often away and the son was in some ways cruel and unforgiving, easily capable of emotional cruelty. He had an obsession with Gilded Lilly and had given Valen some looks that seemed inquisitive. There was no doubt that he would put it together and who knows what would happen then, and even if he didn't, Valen knew he couldn't be himself while he was there. What about other Orange farms? No doubt most would be kind and capable and unlike the Apples they had a great deal of mechanization in their farms, so it would be easy. He would get to know his Orange cousins a little bit better. That was a good incentive, and the Oranges would be more than ready to contact his parents if anything came up. Well, in theory. There was a bit of disconnect between the branches of the Orange family and not a little bit of dislike. Those who worked the soil got plenty but not what they considered their share from the members of the family who tended to be administrators and merchants. He would be a symbol of that disconnect, an embodiment of riches and well to do New Manehattan Money off of the backs of the ponies who were now looking out for him. He didn't expect to get mistreated, but it was all so uncomfortable. They had a reservation at a boarding house and for education purposes this was easily the most superior option. In the care of experienced professionals and with a tight schedule, he would be safe and pushed along for academic excellence. All things told, if being the best academy student ever was his priority, this would have been chosen. But it isn't and never was his priority. At the boarding house he wouldn't have an outlet for his creative spirit, he surely couldn't do any shows, and his life would be confined to a series of rules that he would likely find suffocating. There was few things truly appealing about the idea to Valen. It was bad for him emotionally, financially, and friendship wise since communication was somewhat difficult. No, not the boarding house. The answer was easily Sweet Apple Acres. He knew what life was like there- hard work but not necessarily something he couldn’t enjoy somewhat. He knew the ponies there and around Ponyville and had several very dear friends along with incredible relations like Granny Smith and Applejack. The town was laid back and more accepting of ponies who didn't want to press and push every little thing. Rarity and Applejack knew his true self better than most- Rarity approved of it and gave him a career because of it while Applejack was accepting of however he was. Sure, local Ponyville education wasn't as top tier as the Academy, but everything else about it was better. He had made sure that when his parents left Manehattan, he was leaving for Ponyville. It would be for six months, during which Applejack would be his guardian and he would likely attend Ponyville Elementary. Valen was fine. He made sure to pack plenty of books and clothes, lots of those, as well as some kits and supplies for other elements of his work. He had one large box shipped there already and had two large carryons ready to go, these ones of the more immediate requirement. A few outfits for sure, but the bulk was in the stuff he had shipped. More or less what he needed to go on was here with him. The trip there was by coach, and again it was better than last time- the smell was less offensive ad the ride seemed smoother. Maybe this was all just a product of expectations, but everything was turning up better than it had last time. No doubt the same would hold true of his time at SAA. He arrived in Ponyville, exiting the train without issue last time- no head in the back of the seat like last time for this colt! Valen trotted out and took a deep breath- time to face Ponyville's music!
Valen was getting really familiar with the Equestrian Railroad system. They crisscrossed the nation, bisecting and disecting the metropolis and joing them with the most humble hamlets. It wasn't his favored method travelling across the nation in any case. Airships were slower but more comfortable and usually had a greater variety of entertainment options to satisfy a bored colt. It was a far greater expense but it was worthwhile. Trains were better than carriage rides, which were incredibly slow and bare to the worst of the elements. Trains- well, they were better than that. From one end of the nation to another trains were louder than they should be, more rickety than they should be, and too cramped for his tastes. he could afford a private cart but even then when it was a long train ride more often than not the line would demand he share his room. He loved socializing, hated being forced to do it, and was uncomfortable about the arrangement. But in the end it got him where he was going safe and sound, and where he was going, such a thing was of great importance. He was going to the Crystal Empire as the guest and patron of Rarity, a good friend of his that he made in Ponyville. This far off land was recently rediscovered and made part of Equestria. It was still somewhat difficult to get to even with all the time passing as only a single rail line, a single airship station, and a few safe carriage routes existed. Travel was expensive and the trip was often cramped. Not often, all the time! Valen felt like he was a refugee fleeing a terrible regime whenever he went out into the halls, ponies all across the nation stuffed into one little train. But in the end it was worth it, less for the destination and more for the pony he was going to help. Rarity was as beautiful as she was generous, and as good a friend as she was a designer and that was not dull praise. He also believed that she had a keen sense of perception that maybe others missed, her voluptious blue eyes hiding a cutting will and intensity. Maybe he saw it only because they both had similar passions, but she was as intelligent as she was grandiose and when she asked for his help, he didn't give it a second thought. It was time for the Crystal Faire, but it was more than that. By tradition the Faire was only on one day, but the festivities as well as the magic of the heart lasted for several weeks before and a short time afterward. The Crystal Empire litrally sparkled from end to end under the caring hooves of the Crystal Ponies, whose coats and manes owned the legends told of them. As the Empire opened up to Equestria, the amount of activities that occupied the time tripled overnight and quadrupled in the class and standing that went with them. One of the many activites to spring up was the Crystal Fashion Extravaganza, a rather putrid title for a well-thought of venture. The night before the Faire itself, the Great Hall of the North was leased to the Equestrian Organization of Fashion, who put on one of the most impressive fashion shows and open houses ever seen. From across Equestria, models and designers gathered and were given individual spaces to showcase their designs. It was a harsh venture for some, as while the modeling work itself was less intense than any single walk down the aisle, it was a full-day event and changes in wardrobe and setting were common. In the end though it was both a great reputation boost as well as financial boon- not only could you showcase your newest designs, but you could sell whatever you brought with you. So it didn't surprise Valen that Rarity had jumped at the opportunity, but it did surprise him that she had asked him to be her model! It wasn't without some precedence. He had done the same job for her in Manehattan in a pinch and, again, Valen would never turn her down. It was just a bit odd and he would be gone for at least a month, so it was a serious commitment. But in the end his parents knew better than to deny his passion and he knew better than to deny Rarity her success, as he did not know of a pony who deserved it more. She had sent some instructions along with the EOF's ticket, telling him to pack light. That made him giddy- few ponies in Equestria knew fashion as well as she and she knew his personality style better than anypony else. She also sent him a large cylinder of albino gooey substance which she warned him not to open until he arrived in the Empire. Another odd little event, but he could only assume it was some sort of protection against some sort of Crystal disease. He wasn't one to question generosity. So he was packed and sent on his way after confirming the schedule, and spent the rest of the trip preparing himself. He was going to see a good friend in a new land for a decent time period and what was more important is he would repay her kindness with interest. A single suitcase was all he brought with a few required changes of clothes for the bus ride and all required legal documentation, and that mysterious container placed in a secure location. It took four days an three hours, but the train eventually arrived in the Empire. Ponies got off one by one and two by two, pushing past one another onto the packed passenger platform. Most held firm to their coats and jackets as a gentle wind carried with all the small icey swords of the Crystal Empire's weather. A few others just gallopped off into the city and slowed their trot once in. True to form, the train station was just outside of the city gates and buttressed much more viciously than the city itself which was kept warm despite the land surrounding it. It was onto this platform that Valen stepped off of the train, his eyes heavy with baggage as he trudged off. The trip had been utterly draining and he was tired, the sun long ago having been beaten down beneath the stunning mountains around the city. Here he would be picked up by Rarity, which was another sign of her generosity- who else would dare stay up to a little past midnight simply to pick Valen up? Very kind of her. What wasn't so kind was when Valen failed to move from the position directly outside the train, upsetting multiple ponies behind him. "Hey! Get a move on!" They yelled, and Valen obeyed with a small jump into the air due to fright and a mad trot several feet in front of him tripping over a loose nail and nearly falling over. Only a mad dance known only to the clumsy kept him up, sending the saddlebag-slash-suitcase off of his back and around his neck. Top heavy Valen was forced to rebalance himself and only with the great poise and grace of a model was he able to keep upright, hoisting the suitcase directly into his face. This had the effect of funneling the cold weather directly into his nostrils and Valen could swear all the hairs were freezing. He tried to swing the saddlebag back around but didit with too much force and instead of going on his back it did a ful rotation, smacking him in the face again. Frustrated, Valen took the saddlebag-suitcase off and grabbed the handle by his teeth, trotting deeper into the passenger station to find Rarity.
His time at Sweet Apple Acres had been interesting, to say the least. When he had first learned he was to spend a somewhat significant amount of time at the farm, he was apprehensive, nervous, excited in an unkind manner. How would he fare in a world so unlike his? Some told him to use it as an opportunity to learn and appreciate a lifestyle so vividly contrasted against his own, walk a few miles in the horseshoe of another. He had decided after about an hour that the people who said those things were ignorant, as despite the patience and kindness of his hosts, he was reminded almost hourly that he did not belong. Maybe it was when he milked the cows. It was wildly uncomfortable for all parties involved, as he felt as though he was doing something wrong. He knew he was doing *it* wrong, since the cows had no problem telling him so rather forcefully whenever he did. They talked entirely too much and he was blaming that for his consistently small output, as well as the fact that it was naturally difficult for a pony to milk a cow. It required a large degree of trust between cow and pony and while they had that relationship with the other ponies of the farm, they did not have that with Valen. More than a few times, as they sat there gabbing away and he tugged and pulled and squeezed and worked for what seemed like drops of milks, he was reminded by the cows that he wasn't quite ready for it. Maybe it was whenever he went to go feed the chickens, as horrifying as that could be. Savvanahcock and her compadres had established who was the rooster and who was the hen in this specific relationship from the first go. They treated Apple Bloom with such love and affection but for Valen, it was nearly a fight to the death. Getting eggs would end with them knocking him to the ground and pecking them until he couldn't feel it anymore. Feeding them had the same result with the added benefit that feed often got stuck in his mane and they would chase him. He was sure that a few times at night, one of the chickens had been right outside of the window, staring at him. Maybe it was a dream, but as he would lay there the next day covered in welts from the previous day's feed, he knew that he wasn't quite ready for it. Maybe it didn't matter that he wasn't very useful in the art of apple bucking or any form of heavy chore or labor: As long as he could contribute in some way, there would be great benefit all involved? No, wrong, because he had no skills that translated. Even basket weaving didn't really help out as the bushel baskets he made, while wonderfully decorative and pretty, were found wanting in terms of structural integrity and strength. A bushel basket wasn't very useful when it broke into a pile of twigs, as Applejack had with exasperation several times moaned. Another avenue of usefulness, out. Truly a blow as until the basket had broken under the strain of six apples and been rendered useless, he had considered it a fine achievement. Another sign that he wasn't quite ready for farm life. By the time that had failed, it had become clear that aside from his below average bucking and hauling skills, he had few marketable farm abilities. No worry, Applejack had said with a smile. They always needed help at the house. And truth be told, he was more of a help here than he was outside. However, he had started to feel as though Applejack liked having to have a cabana colt to call upon to do everything from washing dishes to scrubbing floors to doing what little laundry they had, and that was often just in the first few hours. It was unskilled labor that didn't really require much in the way of the strength, and sadly was perhaps what he was most qualified for. After all, he wasn't going to be so mean and base as to force an elderly mare to do the work that a fine upstanding healthy colt could do, right? Whether it was their attempts at guilt tripping him, Applejack's sickly sweet manner in which she'd ask, or his own desire to be of some help but he would use the elderly mare as his own fallback excuse. And he was glad to be of some help, to have some things he could do reasonably well, because his hosts were wholly capable in their livelihoods and it made him him feel lazy. Granny Smith, easily the oldest pony aside from the Princesses he had ever seen, knew more about baking and orchard running than the rest of the land put together. It was a shame it was wrapped up in a package of such irregularity and non-linearity that he doubted even a tenth of her wisdom could be articulated, let alone understood. Big Mac lived up to his name, his strength being unrivaled and his work ethic unnervingly solid and unquestioned, free of drama or issue. He was also quiet so often and for such long periods that it spooked Valen terribly. Apple Bloom was a wonderfully sweet filly, but rough, tumble, bursting energy and a contempt for stillness. Having to share a room with her was by itself exhausting as she was wont to flail around and knock him beside the head. Considering all the other head bumps he was taking during his story, he knew to make an appointment to see a doctor. Applejack was the cause of perhaps three-quarters of his head injuries. She was an affable, terribly friendly pony with good work ethic and morals. She also was a walking disaster zone for everypony around her though never her, a fact which as her unofficial cabana colt spelled doom for him. It was all a microcosm of their family unit. They were rough and tumble, dirty, close, dawn to dusk workers, the backbone of Equestria. He admired them. Respected them. Loved them. He also knew he didn't belong and his time in the small country city would have been a punishment had it not been for Rarity. She was a wonderful, wonderful, splendid mare. They shared some of the same interests- fashion, fine personal grooming, being wonderfully generous, avoiding nasty business- and they fared well together. For a colt such as Valen, who lacked that need to test limits, she was pitch-perfect as an older influence. She was kind, gentle, and preferred to be more of a caretaker rather than a playmate. She was more than understanding with his clothing request and stood by his side during his repeated failures during Winter Wrap-Up; Celestia knows that was just the tip of the iceberg. Fact was that in the end, he and Rarity got along, they got along well, and she was an amazing change of pace and breath of old air into Valen's day. So of course when she had offered to take him gem hunting with her, he leapt at it like it was the last orange in the orchard. Not only was it more time with Rarity, but it was about eight hours of light labor as opposed to nearly twelve of heavy or maddening labor. Applejack hadn't seemed that off-put and the night before, he could hardly sleep, packing for the day and imagining all the beautiful, pretty gems they'd find. The morning of, he woke up, ate his breakfast with more excitement than he had ever since the Ponywalk. That generally meant he talked entirely too much. "-And then I made sure to get that really wonderful magicfiber towel to get all the dirt and grime off of any gems we find. I have a red one, a green one, a pink one, a purple one..." He rambled on as he had for the last ten minutes about Rarity, gem hunting, and what he was bringing. It was a pleasant topic.
OOC- -Valen Orange- http://www.canterlot...n-orange-final/ "It is just for a month, son. It will be fun." What was fun about being sent from your home? "The Apples are a fine family, very...err, strong morals. I am absolutely sure you will find it a pleasant experience." Nuh-uh, this is just wrong! "Besides, one of them is an Element. She is a hero, and how can you say no to that?" Quite easily, as it were. "The decision has been made, son." And Valen had known that since the very start of the conversation. Oh, he knew his parents loved him and he loved them with equal fervor. But he often questioned their mindset, wondered if their lifestyles amongst the cream of the Manehattian crop had made them sickly, deluded and insane. Under what mind was sending a foal away from home to some distant, remote farm, away from friends and a comfortable environment, the proper course of action? A sick one. He sighed. He knew what they had said made some sense. He hadn't really ever thought about it, but he hadn't exactly prospered in that megatropolis. The family business had little to no grasp on him. He didn't want to be some bean counter and holding large formal parties so he could pry into somepony's pocket, socialization in the name of business. He also had no desire to be sent to some farm somewhere to oversee the day to day business of orange production. That would have been dull, and since he was never a pony to hide his thoughts, they had manifested themselves quite clearly. Naps when his father tried to teach him about corporate accounting. Daydreaming when his mother tried to teach him about the finer points of oranges. He was focused more on the nice dresses worn by those elegant mares during those large formal sessions that he was in attempting to hawk his family's wares. Never a liability but never an advantage, his lack of interest was one thing that was more apparent than any other facet that his parents could see. They weren't blind to his nature, but rather acutely biased in their perceptions, business and history playing illuminating factors in their every judgement. But in spite of their bias, they did know some things. They knew he was what the Pegasi of old might call a 'weak foal', though they knew his strength of character was not questioned. He disdained physical labor, though he often kept those thoughts to himself and did what he was told. His appearance was kept impeccably maintained and manicured femininely, and his circle of friends(the few he had) were universally similar. He was smart but never focused on his studies, his eyes moving at the speed of his mouth as he gabbed and gabbed and gabbed and- his parents got the picture. They had their opinions on him, their worries about their unusual colt foal. These worries manifested themselves uniquely in different types of ponies. Some would sit there and allow their worries to consume them. Others would attempt to hammer the foal into a certain mold. Valen's parents hadn't done either thing, deciding that the proper, responsible thing was to send their little foal on a little trip to their cousins. Why not the Oranges? Even to Valen, the reasoning seemed weak.There had always been a disconnect between those who lived in the big cities and ran the family business in a corporate sense and the majority who toiled to fulfill the promises of the big wigs. It hadn't created a sense of hate or loathing, but relations could be cold at time. His parents had been worried that the Oranges wouldn't...well, the worry wasn't that he would be mistreated, but that they would use him for some sort of family politicking. It didn't make any sense to Valen that families would fight amongst each other, but such was the case it seemed. Even then, why the Apples? The Oranges didn't necessarily look down at them, but well, their business was ran from a farm by a bunch of farm ponies while the Oranges lived in the lofty heights of Upper Crust. Plus, from everything Valen had been told, oranges were patently superior to apples. But they respected the fact that the Apples were universally hardworking, loyal to the family, helpful, and kind. Plus, one of them was an Element and after the ceremony in Canterlot after their defeat of Discord, they all had a measure of fame that, perhaps, they knew not of. They never played games and at Sweet Apple Acres, they did both the business of business and the work that went into it. Perhaps he would find himself there- and at the very least, it would probably toughen him up and get him more organized. It was- -Valen's head smacked into the front of the seat in front of him, sharply waking him from his sleep as his head staggered back. The train had come to a stop and for reasons explainable only to Celestia, he had been launched forward. Quite rude and little more than annoying, he stood up in the soon-to-be crowded aisle in the train. He sighed. He wished he had been given a room of his own, but the only ticket available had been in...uggh...coach. It wasn't that he was rude, but the other ponies sure did smell. Did all train ponies smell like this? Valen sure hoped not. He had been forced to endure a crazy stallion that had sat next to him when they left Manehattan. He had never once stopped jabbering about cockatrices and some other completely mythical beasts. He had gotten off at a stop not far from the city and Valen had been saved from the encroaching insanity by the swiftness of Equestria's chosen mode of transportation. Still, that had done little to comfort him at night as the train roared across the landscape towards Ponyville. It was cold, too cold for his taste, and the wafer-thin blankets provided by the attendants did little to help him. He had eventually adapted to the cold, but the noise had never quite been settled in his head. Newborn foals crying, the rude unicorns behind him yammering on and on about magic, snoring and generally a lot of unpleasantness abound in coach, and it had taken him nearly all night to fall asleep. And it figured that it seemed like he had slept for but a second when the train came to a screeching halt and sent him flying into the back of the seat up front. As he recovered, he moved into the aisle beside himself and took a step forward just as everyone else seemed to gather themselves and do the same. In this pony wave, he was nothing more than a drop and he found the pace to be slow as Ponies gathered their carry-ons. He had no carry-ons, just a single suitcase in luggage, and was more than a little annoyed when multiple ponies in front of him found within them the contempt for others to fully open up their carry ons and count their belongings. Still, progress was made and even though it took several minutes, he was able to squeeze his way out of the exit and nearly trip onto the train station's cement floor.