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Tropical Paradise

by Admiral_Biscuit

Tropical Paradise
Iron Author 2023

The old stallion nosed his rowboat against the smooth black obsidian sand, leaning back in the stern to let the bow fetch up as far as it would. With practiced ease, he stowed the oars, then slowly walked forward, shifting his weight as the waves rocked the boat.

He took the painter in his teeth and pulled it well ashore, far beyond where the ocean could take it back, and then he started unloading. First, his catch: two buckets full of seawater and oysters. Then, his supplies: two buckets of paint.

He reached into the rowboat a third time, tugging out salt-stained weather-worn saddlebags.

Some ponies had fancy workshops in the city; he had the smooth expanse of the beach, the soothing crash of the waves, the gentle trade winds ruffling the palms, and the jagged mountains behind him.

He pulled a dull knife out of his saddlebags. The original handle had rotted off, and he’d made a new one out of vines. It was more comfortable on the teeth, anyway. One by one, he pulled the oysters out of the bucket and carefully pried their mouths open, revealing a delicate pearl in each.

The pearls were set into a small muslin sack, while he chucked the oysters back into the ocean.

Sometimes he wondered how they felt about that. Dragged up from their home to the surface, piled in a bucket, their mouths pried open, and then they took a brief flight back into the ocean from whence they’d come.

Once the last pearl had been harvested, the stallion got back to his hooves and stretched, then picked up the buckets one-by-one and carried them down the beach, dumping them back out where the sand was soft and water-saturated. He didn’t have to; they water would have soaked into the sand anywhere he’d dumped it out, but he’d always done it that way and there was no reason to change.

He grabbed his boat and pulled it further up the beach, now beyond the reach of tides, as well.

Shoving it over wasn’t as easy as when he’d been young. His hooves slipped on the lap-straked wood several times before the boat finally cooperated and tipped over.

The buckets went underneath, ready for tomorrow. He tucked the muslin bag of pearls into his saddlebags and strapped them on, then he started looking around the beach for a piece of driftwood. There was always some above the high tide line, the bleached bones of trees and ships, tossed about by the ocean until they were spat back out on land.

A shadow crossing the beach caught his attention--a lone pegasus, either on cloud patrol or searching for dinner. He watched her until she’d rounded the corner of the mountain, back towards Shelter Bay.

Both paint cans wobbled precariously as he made his ascent up the mountain, up towards a cluster of buildings. The road had always been winding and full of switchbacks; now the jagged scar of a lava flow cut through some of it.

He snorted and spit at the dried magma as he first encountered it, several hundred feet up the mountain already. The trees and underbrush had grown back all the way to the edge of the rock but it was a barrier they could not cross.

Nor could he easily cross it. After it had happened, some of the townsponies had tried chipping it away, but it dulled pickaxes and was impervious to shovels. Smashing it with hammers knocked chips off but it would take forever to get through it that way.

He cautiously set hoof on it--the rock was slippery and provided almost no purchase. It was nearly as dangerous as it had been when it was still molten.

As he crossed, he thought about The Day. The earth had been rumbling for weeks leading up to The Day, and then the mountain had started spewing forth ash and lava. Some ponies fled; some stayed in their homes to shield themselves, and the flow mercilessly cut through forests, homes, and roads, it fell in waterfalls off ledges and set trees and underbrush aflame and then it spread out on the beach and swallowed the docks until it finally drown in the ocean, hissing and steaming.

Back on the path again, he looked down at his hooves. There were spots where the path was worn to bare rock and others where soil and ash had accumulated. Small plants were growing in the latter sections. Something would need to be done about them before they grew too big--the ash had been a boon for the soil, filling it with nutrients for all the plants to enjoy.

Midway up the mountain, the land leveled out. A trick of ancient geography, with the addition of lava flows piling up before they flowed off the edge. This one had behaved no differently, leaving a pile of glassy rock in its wake.

One day, plants would thrive there again, but the stallion doubted he’d live long enough to see it.

Further up, the palms and underbrush had been cleared, leaving a series of terraced hills. Farms, tended to as well as they could be. Most of them had largely escaped the volcano’s wrath, although there were a few scars here and there from flaming ejecta.

He set down his buckets and sat on a smooth obsidian rock that jutted up from the soil, its surface warmed by the sun. It had always been a popular resting place for ponies making their way up to the village, with room enough for three or four.

He rested until the sun had passed its zenith, and then he continued along the path, past the lush gardens, past a field of flowers that were all in bloom. Bees and butterflies flew around, gathering up the nectar.

A few more switchbacks and he was at the top. Down the main street, past the hardware store and the blacksmith’s, past the bakery and the restaurant, the small green which had been the market, then down the side street to his house.

He loved his house. It perched right on the edge of a drop-off, giving him a pegasus-eye view of the caonopy and the ocean beyond. Every day that wasn’t cloudy or foggy he could watch the sun rise. And on the other side? The volcano.

The stallion set down his paint, neatly arranging the two cans by the door. He took the driftwood back outside and threw it on his woodpile. Sometimes it got cold at night, so he had a little wood stove to warm things up.

He walked out the side door, towards their garden. Right after The Day, most of the crop had been lost, buried under ash. Leaves singed off the plants, and any hope of recovery had been dashed by the dark clouds blotting out the sun.

But the garden had bounced back. Some of the plants had recovered enough to bear fruit once again, and others had been planted in the enriched soil, thriving in what had once been a ruin.

Weeds, too. He took his stirrup hoe and started working the rows, digging out the weeds.

Sometimes he wondered if he should bother; there was enough sun and nutrition for both crops and weeds alike to prosper.

That was the wrong kind of thinking. That was a lazy pony’s way, that would lead to a weed-choked garden. It was better to address problems when they were small.

The sun was already behind the volcano’s peak when he finished. He brushed the dirt off his hoe and put it back in its place, then picked an assortment of vegetables for lunch. Radishes, tomatoes, lettuce, alfalfa, violets.

There wasn’t anything to drink in the pantry cupboard, so he went down the street to the general store and got several bottles of soda. Their stock was getting very low, he noted.

He ate in the market square, as he often did. When he was a colt, it had always been bustling, a vibrant hive of activity. Familiar faces at the booths, hawking their wares, even the occasional wagon full of supplies from the mainland.

Or what everypony had always called ‘Beyond.’

His hunger sated, he dusted off his hooves and walked back to his house. He picked the first paint can and took a brush off the wall and started walking through town, towards the south, towards the--

He tried not to think about ‘The Day,’ but there were always reminders. Every time he looked up and down the side of the mountain, every time he looked along the main street and saw the vexing scar that cut through his town.

He didn’t have a ladder or scaffolding, so he improvised. Empty barrels from the general store, crates from the smithy, boards.

Everypony contributed to keeping their community nice. Sometimes ponies got busy and couldn’t take care of the small stuff, that was something he understood. He would do his part.

He’d been working on the other side of the street, and had left everythihng there. The home was beautiful, a cheerful yellow that caught the sun’s rays and reflected them back onto the street, unto everypony. It stood out from the verdant forest that surrounded it, and it drew the eye, even from the beach.

The palm fronds that covered the roof and awning had faded as they’d dried, going from a lush green to a straw brown. That couldn’t be helped.

Lantana and Daffodil and Hibiscus lived there--it was a small town where everypony knew everypony.

He stacked the crates and barrels, and started to work. A bright orange for this wall. The volcano had stained it with soot and scorched off the original paint and it just looked ugly and forgotten and that wasn’t right.

The stallion painted until the bucket ran dry, then he went home and got the second bucket and painted until that, too, was gone. He hadn’t bought enough.

Still, the unpainted sections were low down on the wall, and they’d soon enough be covered by greenery again.

There was no reason to go home right away, and no reason to clean his paintbrush--he’d just get another one from the general store tomorrow. They still had plenty.

He walked down the street to the market green, and turned around, admiring the fiery orange wall. A perfectly complement to Lantana’s house, he decided. He hadn’t been sure when he’d bought the paint.

Now that it was done, his heart felt lighter. It had long been the ugliest thing in the village, and he hadn’t been sure what to do about it. It was the vestigial remains of Seashell’s house; everything else had been consumed by the lava.

He’d thought about pushing it over, but wasn’t sure how to do that, and even if he managed, he’d have been left with a pile of rubble which would have been worse. From the market, in the fading light of day, it looked like it could still be a complete house.

He sighed and sat down in the center of the market. The grass had grown back--that would need to be tended to soon. And he still had to thatch Starshine’s roof.

Starshine. He stood up and walked across the market green and straightened her marker, and then he took his place back on the green, surrounded by his family and friends.