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The Rarest Fruit

by DeltaSierra

Pomme trudged through the park, her head held low and her wings held tight against her body. The sounds of summer drifted around her; laughter, splashes from the young hippogriffs in the park’s pond, the occasional happy shout. The scents of flowers and fresh food wafted through the air, tugging visitors back and forth across the park’s paved paths. But Pomme was lost in her own world, oblivious to everything around her.

Why can’t I do it? Why can’t I transform?

Pomme’s life was normal, for the most part. A stable family, mom and dad and two sisters (one older, one younger). Reasonable if a bit underwhelming performance in her studies, balanced by a substantial circle of friends. She was a bit slow to fully develop, but not unusually so. She actually beat most of her peers into the air – one of her happiest memories was of her parents, watching her from the ground and cheering her on as she took to the skies for the first time.

The trouble had started when she tried (and tried, and tried) to transform from her terrestrial form into her aquatic form. When her peers all passed her up, she tried even harder. The transformation was never forced on children, but after her younger sister managed the transformation on her own for the first time Pomme’s parents were forced to admit their middle daughter had a problem. For her part, Pomme tried until her head swam and her jaw ached from clenching her teeth. She never succeeded.

Initially Pomme’s parents tried to keep the issue private. They took Pomme to several healers, who tried treatments ranging from traditional hippogriff remedies to modern magical treatments. They even engaged a traveling unicorn healer (at a hideous cost, as Pomme discovered later). All were unable to help their daughter. They tried spiritual, magical, and medical approaches, but all were unsuccessful.

Eventually, Pomme could no longer hid her plight from her friends and teachers, and her affliction became known to the general public. Various self-proclaimed experts came forth with suggestions, but of the few that were actually viable none worked. After some time, Pomme’s parents visited Queen Novo’s court, with Pomme in tow. The young hippogriff was a sorry sight; disheveled, ungroomed, eyes bleary with stress and lack of sleep. Queen Novo’s personal healers attended to Pomme, but for all their experience they were no more successful than those who had tried before.

However, another group in Queen Novo’s court had an answer, albeit a partial one. The court’s scholars believe the solution lay in ancient descriptions of hippogriffs with similar afflictions. Although the ability to transform between terrestrial and aquatic forms was the hippogriff birthright, some were occasionally born without the ability – or rather, with the ability suppressed by natural inhibitors. The condition was not common, but it was documented in some of the older texts (the scholars were proud of their ability to read these texts, and were eager to showcase their skills). The cure to Pomme’s affliction seemed to be a rare fruit. Unfortunately, the fruit itself was not described, or rather poorly described. The scholars knew it was red, and hard to find, but they had no other information.

Undeterred, Queen Novo send emissaries to the great nations of Equestria. They left as a great group, dozens strong, with crowds cheering their departure. For weeks the hippogriffs cheered their leader and the concern she showed to even the most ordinary of her citizens. Pomme’s friends assured her she would soon have a cure, and told her not to worry. Her parents, although a bit more guarded, were also optimistic. They tried to maintain a calm facade, but Pomme could see the hope in their expressions when they thought she wasn’t looking.

The emissaries returned in ones and twos. First back was the emissary to the pony lands. He brought back zap apples, harvested fresh and preserved in glass jars. Although they tickled Pomme’s mouth and throat, she didn’t notice any other changes. The zap apples were delicious and the jars were pretty, but as a cure they were ruled ineffective.

Next to return were the two emissaries sent to the dragon lands (for even in those peaceful days, a single hippogriff wandering the dragon lands alone might disappear without a trace). They bore fiery red rubyfruits plucked from scalding magma fields by heavily-armored dragons. The fruits had to be ground into a powder and mixed with water so Pomme could get them down, but they had no effect aside from a slightly gritty aftertaste.

The emissary from Yakyakistan returned missing the tip of her ear due to frostbite. However, she was also successful in finding a rare fruit, in this case a leathery-shelled melon with red and green veins. When the melon was cracked open in Queen Novo’s court, the smell drove the hippogriffs from the room. After that, the queen decreed that future donations should be examined outside the palace. Despite the powerful smell, the melon lacked the power to cure Pomme.

The emissary to the buffalo brought back a small bag of dried red berries. The berries had long been used in traditional healing poultices and potions in the buffalo tribes, and Queen Novo’s scholars were particularly excited about these dried fruits. Pomme dutifully ate the sour red berries, and was rewarded with nothing more than stomach cramps and a rash.

More emissaries returned, and the spirits of the hippogriffs rose and fell with each fruit they presented to Pomme. The zebras, griffons, and kirin all sent various rare fruits, but none of them worked. Even the diamond dogs sent a rare fruit, although after inspecting the strange spongy growth the scholars suggested that ingesting it would be fatal ill-advised and possibly fatal. By now Pomme was known across Equestria; not just among the hippogriffs, but among the other races scattered across the land. Every race wanted to be the one to deliver a cure for the poor young hippogriff.

Eventually, the last emissary returned empty-handed after wandering the Everfree forest for nearly two months. Pomme’s family hadn’t given up hope, but the rest of the nation had. They turned their attention to other matters. It was sad, but nothing could be done for the young hippogriff. Heroic efforts had been made, of course, because hippogriff culture was based around helping others. But everything that could been done, had been done. Pomme, once the center of attention, was largely forgotten. The scholars and healers occasionally dropped in with a new theory or potion or magic ward, but they invariably did nothing.

So Pomme wandered through the park near her home, dejected. She paused for a moment to watch a father and daughter playing at the edge of the pond. The father would scoop the young hippogriff up, launch into the air, and hurl her into the water. Before she hit the water, she would transform effortlessly into her aquatic form, and let the momentum from the drop propel her deep below the pond’s surface. When she resurfaced, laughing, she would swim back to the edge of the pond, transforming back to her four-legged form as she reached the shore. Her father was there to meet her, and the cycle would begin again.

Pomme gritted her teeth as she watched the young hippogriff’s form flick back and forth. Feelings of jealousy swirled at the back of her mind. She tried to transform again, already resigned to her failure. Sure enough, there was the barest flicker and then… nothing.

Sighing loudly, Pomme retreated to a park bench located nearby. Unlike the other benches around the pond, this one faced away from the water and towards a natural hummock near the entrance of the park. Scattered trees dotted the hill, but the eye was drawn towards the ancient ruins near the top of the small hill. Pomme had once heard the scholars talking about the ruins; apparently, they were actually the cellar of an old tower that had once stood on a much taller hill. A hippogriff experimenter had lived there, until one of his experiments went awry and vaporized most of the tower and a good portion of the hill as well. Unable to prosecute the experimenter (who was finely distributed through the atmosphere in the immediate area), the king at the time decreed that the land became the property of the public. The pond was rumored to be a crater formed by the mad experimenter as well, although nobody could verify that claim.

Distracted by her musings, Pomme failed to notice the approach of another hippogriff until he sat on the other end of the bench. Startled, she whipped her head around to glare at the intruder. Expecting an unruly child or condescendingly sympathetic adult, she was surprised to find she was sharing the bench with a hippogriff about her own age. Her glare softened a bit as she locked eyes with the newcomer.

“I hope you don’t mind if I join you. This is my favorite bench.”

Pomme shrugged. “Sure, fine with me. It’s a public park.”

Completely failing to notice her dismissive tone of voice, the newcomer kept on talking.

“I like to come here and look at the tower. Or, well, what’s left of it. You get the idea. Did you know that the foundations are over a hundred years old? Imagine what life was like back then! This whole area was underground, for one thing. Oh, and of course there were more trees. And fewer buildings, but that’s probably for the best since the original owner of the tower was a bit crazy. Things tended to explode or catch on fire in the immediate area. By the way, my name is Darisole, nice to meet you. I don’t think I’ve seen you around this park before, but I’m usually over here by the ruins. Most of the others tend to hang out near the pond, or the food stalls, or the flower beds. Isn’t that funny?”

Pomme managed to keep a straight face, but internally she rolled her eyes. Great, a talker. And he wonders why he never meets anyone at the park. They probably flee as soon as they see him coming. Pushing those uncharitable thoughts aside, Pomme interrupted her new companion with a question.

“So you’re a history buff then?”

“Oh yes, absolutely! I work on rare manuscripts professionally, you know. They have to be cleaned up every so often, and then of course we try to recover and preserve old manuscripts, and they need to be copied so they can be distributed for general use, although funny enough most other hippogriffs don’t really seem interested in reading them so we don’t have to make many copies. I usually spend most of my time reading through the extremely old documents, and I do some manuscript illustration on the side. Just for fun, you know.”

Darisole kept talking, and Pomme felt her eyes glazing over. Mountains rose and crumbled. The sea swallowed up the earth, and then receded. Odd four-finned fish wandered onto the sand, and slowly transformed into things that looked like hippogriffs and ponies and griffons. The sun died and the pony princesses fashioned a new one from spare bits and pieces.

“...and it was odd, I told them the translation for ‘rare fruit’ was incorrect, but they didn’t believe me. And of course you know how it is, when it’s your word against three senior scholars you won’t stand a chance. But then again I--”

“Say that again.”

“What?” Darisole asked, a confused expression on his face.

“The bit about rare fruit. Say that again.”

Pomme’s intensity was making Darisole nervous. He swallowed and cleared his throat.

“Well, uhm, so it was an extremely old manuscript, and the generally accepted translation was ‘rare fruit’. But I knew that couldn’t be correct, because the diphthong was in the wrong place and anyway it’s an older dialect where word order has--”

Pomme held up a claw, and Darisole actually took the hint and shut his mouth. She rummaged around in her bag and came up holding a piece of paper.

“Is this the translation?” Pomme asked. She handed the paper to Darisole, who squinted at the paper for a moment before nodding.

“Sure is! Of course as I said it’s not correct, because the contextual issues here--”

“Then what’s the correct translation?”

Darisole fidgeted for a moment under her gaze before replying.

“Um, it’s… tomato. That phrase translates as tomato.”

Pomme gave him a blank gaze, so he went on.

“You know, tomatoes? They were common in this area decades ago, although they became a lot less popular after we came back out of the ocean. Before that they were a delicacy--”

“But not rare?” asked Pomme.

“No, not rare. See, the confusion here is actually because this is a bit of a joke. Tomatoes are technically a fruit, but most creatures refer to them as a vegetable. So in the context, it would be the rarest fruit, because although it is a fruit nobody ever calls it one. Funny enough, tha--”

“Where can I find a tomato?” interrupted Pomme, who had never tried one.

“Oh, well I actually have one right here!” Darisole beamed, reaching into his bag. “I brought it for my lunch, but if you want to try one you’re welcome to it. They’re not my favorite, but they do have a unique taste that’s quite unlike most of the food we have here."

Pomme reached out with a trembling claw, and took the ripe red fruit from Darisole. She gazed at it for a moment before savagely biting into the strange fruit. Two more bites finished it off, stem and all. Unnoticed, a thin stream of sweet red juice ran out from the corner of her mouth and dripped slowly onto the ground.

Darisole looked a bit perplexed, but rallied. “Uhm, alright. Well I’m glad you enjoyed it. Although usually I cut mine into bits, and savor it. And, ahh, you’re not really supposed to eat the stem. Uhm, hey! What are you doing?”

Pomme flopped onto the ground, her legs and wings replaced with fins. She looked up at Darisole.

“Darisole?”

“Uhm, yes?”

“Shut up and push me into the water.”