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Legends of Magic - Chapter ThreeChapter Three: Favor the Brave The halls of the castle never lost their awe no matter how many times Twilight made her way through them. She suspected it was much the same for her friends, though in their cases, they likely didn’t pass through them nearly as often as she did. A part of her wondered if she should envy them, given the number of times she’d walked these halls due to a crisis facing Equestria. This time, at least, was for now a much more pleasant affair. The doors to the throne room swung open before their party, and a fanfare sounded before a mare clad in the armor of the Night Guard called, “Presenting Princess Twilight Sparkle and her party.” “Thank you, Lieutenant.” Celestia stepped down from her throne and approached them, with Luna at her side. “It’s good to see you, all of you.” Her gaze focused on the two unicorns. “Lyra Heartstrings, Moondancer, you have our thanks for lending your assistance to these efforts.” “Indeed.” The Princess of the Night looked exhausted, and carried a cup of coffee in the crook of her hoof, but her smile made clear her gratitude. “It pleases us to see that our sister’s former students are quick to support one another.” Lyra tried her best to not be nervous as she ventured, “Well, forgive my being frank, but isn’t that what friends are for?” Celestia laughed. “Indeed. And no forgiveness is necessary, Lyra. You and Moondancer may not have been my personal students, but you were nonetheless my students all the same, and I’m glad that we can be at least a little casual.” She then turned her attention back to Twilight. “Though speaking of friends, I’m glad that your research led you to discovering the truth about Mage Meadowbrook.” “I am too, but I think Luna deserves more credit than I do.” Twilight tried to steer conversation back to the matter at hoof and continued, “In any case, I think we’re in a good position to bring to light much more than the facts behind Mage Meadowbrook. I haven’t had nearly as much time as I’d like to go over her journals, but what little I’ve found so far has been very promising.” “I’m glad to hear that, Twilight, but I would refrain from elaborating before the rest of your research team arrives.” At her former pupil’s confusion, the elder alicorn explained, “Once Luna informed me about what had been uncovered in Neigh Orleans, I thought it sensible to contact another pony who I thought could be of some assistance in your efforts.” “And that’s ignoring the potential treasure trove of information that we have yet to dive into here.” Luna smirked in her sister’s direction and snarked, “If only some pony had seen fit to share this information sooner.” Celestia barely had time to roll her eyes before another fanfare sounded, and the same Night Guard mare called out further new arrivals. “Presenting First Lieutenant Flash Sentry of the Crystal Guard, and Mister Sunburst.” Twilight and her party turned about in surprise, with the young princess’s attention naturally upon her coltfriend before Lyra’s voice cried out in elated surprise. “Oh my gosh, Sunburst!” Even Moondancer looked surprised. “Wow! It’s been forever!” She laughed. “I like the beard. And the cloak.” The stallion who approached them managed a nervous smile, the unease in his blue eyes magnified by his glasses. “Thanks. I’m just surprised that you all remember me.” “How could we forget you?” Lyra turned back to Twilight and prompted her. “C’mon Twilight, it’s Sunburst! Remember him?” At the young princess’s clear unease, the minty green mare suddenly became anxious. “Twilight?” “Don’t be too hard on her, Lyra. Twilight had a lot on her plate during her early days of being my personal student.” Celestia turned regretful as she admitted, “And for quite a while afterwards, no thanks to me.” She then turned to her young mentee and explained, “Sunburst became a student at the School for Gifted Unicorns at the same time as you and your friends, Twilight. Though I’m afraid your path and his didn’t cross very often.” “And they didn’t have a long time during which to cross.” The stallion managed a nervous laugh before he offered a hoof. “Good to meet you again, Princess Twilight.” The mare gave an apologetic smile as she accepted the hoof. “And you, Sunburst. I hope that you’ve been okay since you left school.” “I have, for the most part.” The stallion laughed as he explained. “Ended up in the Crystal Empire eventually. Working in their library, helping to integrate it into the modern systems.” As Twilight’s eyes lit up with interest, he added, “It’s fascinating work.” “And he helped to keep all the residents of the Crystal Empire that weren’t native crystal ponies safe during that recent magical anomaly.” Flash Sentry smiled. “Saved a lot of lives.” Twilight laughed. “Well, that’s a pretty good résumé. Glad to have you onboard.” “And given the fact that three of you have an assigned member of the Royal Guard for your security, it’s only fair that the fourth does as well.” Luna turned to the very mare that had announced their arrival and declared, “First Lieutenant Sunny Flare.” The mare stood at attention. “Until such time as we declare otherwise, you are to act as escort and security to Miss Lyra Heartstrings and assist in the efforts of this research mission.” The mare nodded and removed her helmet. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am.” She then shared a brief smile with her comrades before she turned to Princess Twilight. “Now, if you’ll forgive my ignorance, what is the purpose behind this research mission?” “I’m curious about that myself.” Sunburst gestured to Flash and explained, “All the lieutenant told me on the way was that my help was needed on a research project here in Canterlot involving the princesses.” Celestia nodded, and with a gesture, the remaining guards departed the throne room. “What is about to be discussed here is to be kept in the strictest of confidences. Talk of it is to be kept in private as much as possible, for reasons that I hope will become clear.” She then turned to Twilight, and nodded. The young princess took a breath. “Some of you already know about what’s going on, in part if not in full, but now, you all need to be brought into the picture. I assume you all remember what happened during the recent Summer Sun Celebration?” At the nervous nods of the three civilians and the curt nod of the one Guardsmare, Twilight explained, “Well, something very important happened that day, and it played a big part in why we’re all here.”- Deep bangs sounded against the door, and Rockhoof braced himself against the bookcase he’d used as a barricade. “For a bunch of wee little furballs, they push pretty hard!” “Well, this sickness is making them more aggressive than usual!” As Meadowbrook and her mother worked feverishly upon the potion that would end their current calamity, she idly noted, “Usually you don’t have to worry about being headbutted by a bunny!” That prompted a laugh from the mighty stallion. “Now you’re just encouraging me to go out there and face them myself!” “Darlin’, this potion should be purple, not pink!” The elder healer looked to her daughter as the cauldron before her boiled and bubbled. “We’re missin’ something!” “On it, Mama!” She plucked a potion from the shelf and poured it into the cauldron. “We’re almost there, Rockhoof!” “Good, because – !” Rockhoof’s response was interrupted as one bunny tore through the door. The rabbit had somehow garbed itself in blue war paint and a strap of leather as a makeshift bandolier, and screamed out in rage before Rockhoof headbutted it. The concussed rabbit was then tossed back outside as he continued, “Because we’re reachin’ the breakin’ point! Stygian, I could some help!” “Right, sorry!” Upstairs, Stygian looked over the various potions and considered his options. He found one labeled with a picture of a tree, then tossed it and hoped for the best. “Have a taste of whatever this is, vermin!” The bottle landed and cracked a small distance into the horde of approaching critters, its green contents bubbling into the ground. Seconds later, the ground rumbled, and a tree erupted out of the earth and became full-grown in a matter of seconds. Several of the attacking critters were trapped in its branches, and were too far away to climb into the window, so Stygian considered it a victory. He then pulled another potion from the racks and tossed it out a little closer to home. This potion steamed once it reached the ground, and as the critters breathed in its fumes, they began to teeter and sway about in confusion. “I think I’ve got the hang of this!” Stygian laughed and tossed out another potion, which conjured up illusory images of butterflies. These served to distract more of the onrushing horde, and the scholar took another go at it by tossing a fourth potion, this one marked with a bull’s head. He suddenly realized that he’d made a terrible mistake as he saw the results of the potion, and rushed down the stairs. “Everypony, I fear I’ve just made things a lot worse!” “Stygian, I doubt very much that anything you’ve done has – !” Rockhoof’s reassurances were interrupted as the door was banged open, he and the bookcase barricade sent flying in the other direction. Standing on the other side of the door, the freshly-grown tree now an improvised battering ram, were a number of squirrels and rabbits, enlarged and granted musculature of almost cartoonish proportions. The mighty earth pony regained his senses. “Alright, perhaps you did make things more difficult, but not to worry, I…” “It’s ready! Out of the way!” Neither stallion needed to be told twice as Meadowbrook and her mother dumped the cauldron in the direction of the attacking horde. Fumes from it wafted into the air as the liquid splashed over the afflicted critters, and many shook their heads in surprise before fleeing into the forest. Meadowbrook herself heaved a sigh of relief. “If that potion worked the way it’s supposed to, then all those critters should be coming to their senses now. All the fungus was already collected, so they can’t eat more. All that’s left is for us to wait for nature to take its course and the last traces of it to get flushed from their bodies.” “And maybe make more of this potion, just in case a few critters out there still need a dose of it.” Meadowbrook’s mother frowned at the state of her door. “Now as for this…” “Oh, perhaps I can help with that.” Stygian’s horn glowed, and the door was almost instantly mended. “That’s a temporary fix at least.” Rockhoof, meanwhile, busied himself with resetting the bookcase. “Aye, an’ perhaps while we clean up the mess we’ve made, Stygian and I can tell you of his plight.” Meadowbrook had already reset her cauldron even as her mother had found a mop and bucket. “Ah would be more than happy to hear it. Ah only hope that ah can help.” Stygian smiled. “I’ve no doubt that you can, my lady.” - All things considered, those ponies who had been metaphorically read into the secrets regarding the Elements of Harmony, the Tree of Harmony and Twilight’s research into its origins were taking things well. It helped that three of the four had at least a little knowledge of the surrounding events, though as for the relative newcomer… Sunburst splashed himself with another cup of water, then took a second to dry his face before replacing his glasses and cloak. “I’m sorry, this is a lot to take in.” He turned back to the rest of the group and admitted, “I mean, a research project is one thing, but the fate of Equestria could very well depend upon what we’re able to discover. It’s… well, more than a little daunting.” “And I would not have asked for your presence if I didn’t think you capable of providing assistance, Sunburst.” The scholar bowed his head slightly in embarrassment at Celestia’s reassurance. “And even if it doesn’t lead to the Chest being opened, these efforts have and will shed light on parts of Equestrian history that have been all but forgotten. That alone makes these efforts worthwhile.” “To say nothing of what has already been discovered.” Luna turned to Twilight and smiled. “I assume that you brought with you copies of Meadowbrook’s journals?” “Among other things yes, but I haven’t had a chance to go over them in depth. One edition had something in it that I thought would be very relevant, though.” At the dark-colored alicorn’s raised eyebrow, Twilight explained, “It mentioned her meeting Rockhoof and a pony named…” “Stygian?” At the younger mare’s nod, Luna laughed. “I remember the aftermath of that little adventure!” Celestia managed an enigmatic smile. “As do I. The scolding Star Swirl gave us for following after them.” She laughed. “But I think we’re getting sidetracked. The reason I summoned you here was that, in addition to Star Swirl’s athenaeum, he also kept a small study here in the castle. After some discussion with Princess Luna, I decided that it might well be time to investigate it, in the hopes that it would help further the research efforts.” “Star Swirl had a study here in the castle?!” The youngest of the three alicorns looked between her two fellow royals in shock. “Why didn’t you mention this sooner?!” “My sister didn’t mention it because up until this point, she didn’t believe that anything within it was of immediate concern.” Luna gestured to Moondancer and explained, “As you and your classmate are aware, Star Swirl kept the details regarding his magical research and the artifacts he crafted in his athenaeum. He reserved his study for other projects.” “And my hesitance to bring it up was partly a desire to respect his privacy and partly due to my not having had a chance to examine it since his disappearance.” Celestia gestured to her sister and explained, “I had a great deal on my mind at the time.” “That’s right, Star Swirl vanished within weeks of…” Sunrunner caught herself. “Excuse me for speaking out of turn, your Highnesses.” “Your apologies are unnecessary, Lieutenant, and please, feel free to contribute your thoughts.” She looked over the other Guardsponies. “That goes for all of you.” Celestia then turned back to Twilight and explained, “In any case, now may well be the time to finally open his study. I’m certain he would protest were he here, but given the fate of Equestria may well depend upon what we find, he would likely understand.” She produced a set of keys and held them aloft with her magic. “Please, follow us.” The two elder alicorns then led the gathered research team through the castle to one of its towers, where they found a locked wooden door. It was swiftly opened, for the first time in perhaps a thousand years, and stale air briefly mixed with fresh. The group briefly coughed as the unicorns among them cast air freshening spells. Once the fit ended, however, the more academically-minded among them gasped. The study wasn’t nearly as grandiose as Star Swirl’s athenaeum had been, but the walls were packed with shelves filled with books and artifacts of all sorts, with closed chests sitting on the floor. Hanging from the ceiling was a globe ringed with models of the moon in its varying phases. On the opposite end of the room from the door was a writing desk adorned by a globe, a single circular window hanging above it. “This is amazing!” What unease he had earlier was forgotten, and Sunburst eagerly looked over the chamber before he spied a mouse scurrying about. He let out a small gasp in shock as the mouse vanished, then turned squeamish. “That’s…not a good sign.” “Hang on, let me try something.” Twilight’s horn glowed, and a soft light swept through the room. Cobwebs vanished, and all obvious traces of vermin or pests or anything that didn’t belong in the study vanished. “Now, let’s just hope that Star Swirl had the good sense to put in preservation spells.” Twilight entered, and the rest of the group followed her in. Celestia and Luna brought up the rear, with the latter closing the door behind them as the former explained, “Star Swirl would often retire to these chambers, either to collect his thoughts at the end of the day or to simply ease his nerves after dealing with his two wayward charges.” Lyra’s eyes went to one shelf marked by a placard. She frowned as the recognized the language, but couldn’t read it herself. “Hey guys, this looks important! Important enough to label in Old Ponish, anyway!” Sunburst approached and read aloud the translation. “‘Legends of Magic’.” Celestia smiled. “Star Swirl was quite fond of myths and legends regarding ponies of exceptional power. When he came across a story or song or legend, he would transcribe it. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was his collection.” Luna laughed. “I recall him telling us some of them as entertainment. Most were tall tales, but a few had kernels of truth to them.” “Looks like there’s a…” Sunburst paused as he took note of what was transcribed on the bindings. “Princess Twilight, you mentioned that Meadowbrook’s journals had her meeting Rockhoof, didn’t you?” “Yes, why?” “Well, both of them have entries here on the shelf.” Twilight approached as the scholar continued, “I’m also seeing ones for Mistmane, Somnambula and Flash Magnus, as well as Star Swirl himself.” “Sounds like some of those stories weren’t tall tales or legends, but proper transcribed accounts.” Sunny Flare turned to the two elder princesses. “We do know that he met and worked with at least a couple of them, after all.” “Indeed Lieutenant, he met all of them.” Luna yawned. “Now, if everypony will excuse me, I must return to my slumber, so that I may be rested for my duties this evening.” “Of course, Luna. We’ll see you at breakfast tomorrow?” At her sister’s nod, Celestia smiled. “Good. Enjoy your rest.” As her sister opened the door behind her and departed, the elder alicorn noted, “And I fear that I must return to my duties as well. I’ll be back to check on you all in two hours’ time. If you need anything, you know what to do.” “Reach out over the radio.” Her mentor nodded at her summation before she departed and closed the door behind her, and Twilight turned to her gathered team. “Alright everypony, let’s get to work. Sunburst, how about you, Lyra, Flash and Lieutenant Flare go over those volumes you pointed out? The rest of us will check over the rest of the room.” Sour Sweet turned to her charge and asked, “We aren’t forgetting about Mage Meadowbrook’s journals, are we?” “No, but I want to wait before diving back into them, at least until we have a better idea of what’s in here.” The gathered ponies nodded, and the group set to work. - After an evening spent enjoying the hospitality of Meadowbrook and her community, the newly-expanded party set forth with full bellies and raised spirits. Rockhoof, in particular, was of bright mood as their journey continued. “I hope that you don’t take this the wrong way, lass, but never have I seen so hearty an appetite in so fair a mare as yourself!” The mighty stallion laughed as he reasoned, “You must lead a very active life!” Meadowbrook took the compliment as it was meant. “Well, Ah’m not quite as active as Ah once was. After Mama and Ah stopped an outbreak of swamp fever, Ah set out across the land to expand mah knowledge and help whoever Ah could. At least, until that village of zombie ponies encouraged me to be more of a homebody.” Stygian’s face lit up with both shock and interest. “Zombie ponies?” The mare laughed. “A legend for another time.” Rockhoof joined her. “Aye, I can understand wantin’ to return home.” He briefly turned back as he admitted, “Should I be fortunate enough to live that long, I could see myself retirin’ to a place like this, away from the hustle and bustle.” “Not to your own home?” The mighty stallion frowned. “Lass, as much as I wish otherwise, my home is at the foot of a volcano. It may not happen today or tomorrow or for a hundred moons hence, but one day, the village I grew up in will be gone. I’ll fight tooth and hoof to hold that day off as long as I can, mind, but time comes for us all. And a peaceful end is hardly a terrible one. Better to do it surrounded by nature’s splendor than its fury.” “I can relate to that, given the number of storms my village has seen.” Stygian bowed his head. “The day all of this started, I was supposed to help one of my neighbors with preparations for a harvest. Weeds needed to be pulled, baskets woven…” He sighed. “They may not even be there by the time this is done.” A gentle hoof found itself upon his shoulder, and the scholar turned to the healer. “Don’t fret over what’s beyond your ability to change, Stygian. You’re here, acting to save your village. And it will be there waiting for you.” “Aye, and we’ll trounce this beastie before it attacks anywhere else!” Rockhoof’s enthusiasm was infectious, and Stygian’s mood brightened. “Indeed we shall, but we’ll need the help of others yet. Ponies who are swift and brave, and I know of one who fits that description perfectly.” The party continued onwards, days passing by. Much like Rockhoof, Meadowbrook made for pleasant company, but more and more, it felt as though Stygian was less of a presence. He had mixed feelings about that, never having really wanted to stand out and glad that the two were getting on so well, but still… In any case, some weeks after their departure from the Hayseed Swamps, the group closed in on their destination, Stygian at the head even as his compatriots continued on their latest topic. “You really haven’t given thought to your own children?” Meadowbrook smiled in a teasing way at Rockhoof. “You seem to me the sort to enjoy being a grandpappy.” The mighty stallion blushed. “Well, a life like mine…” Stygian cleared his throat at the trio crested a hill. “Sorry to interrupt, but we’ve arrived at last!” “Ah, excellent!” Rockhoof sounded relieved at the change in subject. He then looked about and groused, “This is the training grounds for the Cloudsdale Royal Legion? I don’t see a single soldier here! What sort of lax discipline is this?!” Meadowbrook tapped his shoulder, and he followed her raised hoof upwards. “Ah. Never mind then.” High above them in the sky were barracks and buildings comprised of cloud, with many armored pegasi flying about among them. Some were in formation, clearly on exercises of one sort or another, while others moved individually between one building or another. Before any of them could ask how to get somepony’s attention, a voice called out from above. “Halt!” One of the pegasi swooped down to regard them, “Who goes there?! State your business!” Stygian was too intimidated to speak, so Rockhoof stepped forward. “Who goes there?! I should be asking that question of you!” The pegasus turned indignant. “I am Grimhoof! Fifth-fastest flyer in the Royal Legion and Watch Commander for Headquarters!” “Oh, you’re a guard then!” The mighty stallion snorted. “Did the wind blow away all the scarecrows?! Look at you, skin and bones! You cannae guard a secret!” Grimhoof scowled and barked, “Who in the Maker’s name do you think you are?!” “Rockhoof! Hero of the North and a soldier of the Mighty Helm!” “Oh, some big shot from the backwater, huh?!” “Backwater?! The Mighty Helm is the wall that keeps this nation safe!” “And you look like you’d fly about as well as a wall!” “Stallions, please!” Stygian’s shout caught their attention, and he calmed down as he continued, “We aren’t here to start a fight!” Grimhoof regarded the scholar with a blank look before a laugh escaped his muzzle. Rockhoof joined in as the pegasus asked, “Not soldiers, are they?” “Nay! A scholar and a healer, but as brave as any soldiers I’ve met!” The mighty stallion regained himself and shook his head. “No Stygian, I’m just giving Buckethead here a hard time.” “Yeah, if we were going to fight, we wouldn’t have spent so much time talking!” At their confused expressions, the pegasus sighed. “Don’t worry about it. Anyway, I do need to know what business brings you here.” “Aye, of course. We’re here to ask for the assistance of one of your comrades. Flash…something or other.” “Flash Magnus.” “Aye, that fellow. Do ye know him?” Grimhoof nodded. “I’ve served alongside him. He’s perhaps the bravest stallion born in Cloudsdale, and an inspiration for all of us.” His tone turned curt. “But I’m afraid you can’t speak with him. Flash has gone to the front.” “The front?” Meadowbrook approached. “But Equestria’s at peace.” “For now, ma’am, yes, but war’s right on the horizon, and we need every able soldier in the air to head off the start of it.” Stygian shrank nervously. “This can’t be happening! We can’t…!” Rockhoof flashed an eager smile. “Fret not. We’ll have this won before it even starts.” Rockhoof turned back to Grimhoof. “Point us to where this war’s going to start, lad. I’ll take care of it.” The pegasus looked less than confident at the mighty stallion’s boast. “With all due respect, I doubt that.” Rockhoof laughed. “Lad, have ye even heard of me? I fought a volcano and won! I’ve shifted the course of rivers! I’ve fought lumber bears, Ursa Majors, and even normal ones! I’ve eaten an entire boat’s worth of oats in one sitting! Whatever’s threatening Equestria, I can handle it!”- “So I guess scuttlebutt was right after all.” Flash Sentry gave Sunny Flare a surprised look, and she responded with a grin. “You and Princess Twilight?” Twilight briefly paused as Flash blushed. “I don’t see a problem with it.” “Nor do I.” She then turned to the princess and remarked, “You take care of him, ma’am. He’s a rare breed.” Sunburst looked at the pair in confusion before Flash clarified, “We went to the Academy together.” He then tipped his head to the other two Guardsponies in the room and explained, “All four of us did, just like all four of you went to Princess Celestia’s school.” The scholar turned, and the lone unarmored Guardspony turned. “First Lieutenant Sour Sweet. I was assigned to Princess Twilight’s security detail some weeks ago.” She then turned her attention to Sunny and noted, “Speaking of assignments, looks like someone’s fulfilling the family legacy after all.” Sunny Flare rolled her eyes. “I suppose it was a no-brainer, me ending up in the Night Guard. Still, if I ever get the chance to transfer, I will.” Sunburst shook his head. “No offense, but I think that’s enough surprises to drop on me for now.” He opened a tome and inspected the contents. “Anyway, it looks like Star Swirl put some very strong protection spells on these books. I’m not seeing any degradation to the elements.” “That’s a relief.” Twilight’s attention turned to a chest that rested near the opposite wall to the bookshelf that Sunburst had been inspecting, one that Moondancer was already looking over. “What’s wrong?” “Star Swirl had no problem leaving those books out in the open, right?” The mare’s horn was already glowing as she magically swept over the lock. “Well, what do you think that implies about the contents of this chest?” “Step back and let me handle that, ma’am.” Moondancer complied as Sour Sweet approached the chest. As the rest of her group busied themselves with the chest, Sunrunner slipped off her helmet and tucked it into one of her panniers. “All of a sudden, I feel as useful as the ‘g’ in lasagna.” She noticed a sympathetic sigh from Sunburst, before the scholar gave her a quick double-take. “Something wrong?” “Oh, nothing. Sorry.” Sunburst turned his attention back to the books before him and remarked, “Anyway, these are amazing. This volume here, the one Star Swirl transcribed about himself? I’m seeing entries here about experiences he had both before and after the founding of Equestria. There’s even entries here about his time instructing Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.” “Really?!” Twilight stomped her hooves gleefully. “I’ll need to make a copy of that! If we can corroborate it with the journal Celestia and Luna left in their castle…eee!” Moondancer raised an eyebrow in Twilight’s direction. “I thought that you’d lost that hero worship for Star Swirl.” The young princess’s enthusiasm ebbed. “A little, somewhat.” One of her hooves brushed against the floor as she admitted, “I’m well aware of Star Swirl’s faults and flaws. But the fact remains that he was still a genius when it came to magic, and learning about his life and how he touched those of other ponies? I can’t pass that up, now can I? Besides, Equestria deserves to know the complete truth behind the ponies who helped to found it, warts and all.” Sour smiled as she unlocked the chest and gently opened it. “Well, for all his faults, he knew how to protect records. Scrolls like these would’ve easily been food for moths and rats.” She stepped aside as Moondancer pulled one such scroll from the chest and unfurled it. “Any idea what’s on them?” “They look like genealogical charts.” Moondancer pressed the scroll flat as she could and gestured with one hoof. “Names, date markers, tribes, everything.” “Whose family is the chart for?” “It doesn’t name a family, but it’s marked ‘Lineage of the Pillar of Hope’, and I’m seeing Somnambula’s name here.” The scroll was rolled back up as Moondancer surmised, “These could very well be the recorded family trees of each of the ponies Stygian gathered to fight Basso Profundo.” “I’m going to want a look at those too.” Twilight grinned with a blush as she admitted, “I’ve put together genealogical records for myself and as many ponies as I know going back as far as I can. For all I know, somepony here might be among their descendants.” That caught Sunburst by surprise. “You mean one of us could be related to Star Swirl?” Twilight shook her head. “That’s probably not the case. From what Celestia told me about him, Star Swirl didn’t have any sort of romantic inclinations. He might well have been asexual.” “Well, there’s seven scrolls in here, so we’ll see.” Sour Sweet shut the chest, then turned to Twilight. “With all due respect, ma’am, I think we might be getting sidetracked. All of these are no doubt of great historical value, but we need to tighten our focus. Otherwise, we won’t find anything relevant to the Tree of Harmony.” Twilight frowned, then nodded. “You’re right. One rabbit hole at a time.” “Well, maybe we should start with what we know is relevant?” Sunburst plucked a trio of books from the shelf and explained, “These two are the entries for Rockhoof and Meadowbrook, and this third one is regarding Mistmane. And if you’ll give me a second…” His horn glowed with a light yellow aura, and not only did the selected volumes take on a similar glow, so did the remaining ones on the shelf. “There we go. Magic highlighter spell. It won’t have any lasting effects on the books and it can be removed without any trouble, but they should help us find any relevant words or phrases for the search.” “Nice thinking, Sunburst!” Twilight claimed the entry for Meadowbrook as the other two selected tomes went to Moondancer and Lyra. “Was that an adaptation of the Googleplex Search spell?” “Yes! Oh, and…” Another bit of spellwork, and the volumes glowed once more. “Maybe combined with the Wicker Speedy enchantment, that might point us to collaborative evidence. I’m surprised you recognized them on sight.” He caught himself and admitted, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t be…” “I live in and run a library. And after the trouble I had finding the one book I needed on the Elements of Harmony when I needed it, I figured knowing spells like that would come in handy.” Twilight smiled. “And I’m not surprised that you know about them. You did attend Princess Celestia’s school, and you probably continued your magical training at whatever other school you transferred to.” That caused the stallion to shrink slightly. “Right. Transferred, yes.” That prompted some interest from the other ponies present, particularly Lyra and Sunrunner. The former approached and gently prodded, “Sunburst? You did transfer schools, didn’t you?” Embarrassment became clear on the scholar’s face as he admitted, “No. I flunked out.” As his former classmates looked at him in shock, he explained, “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got all sorts of magical knowledge. Learning spells, recognizing them based on their intended effects, reconstructing them, I can do all of that easy. You ask me to write an essay, no problem, but practical applications beyond the basics? That’s way out of my league.” “But how did you get into Celestia’s school in the first place?” Moondancer gestured around as she explained, “I mean, we all took a written test, but there was a practical too. We all had to try and hatch a dragon egg.” She turned to Twilight. “And some of us did more than just ‘try’.” Sunburst shrugged. “I managed to generate a little bit of heat around the dragon egg. That seemed to be enough to satisfy the ponies overseeing the test.” He slumped and admitted, “Beyond that, I didn’t manage much. Couldn’t manage much. Eventually, I just couldn’t keep up anymore and went home. I’m just glad that Princess Celestia pointed me towards a different school shortly afterwards, one where I could get a library studies degree. Thank the Maker for that.” Sunrunner tilted her head to one side. “Let me guess, your family was less than thrilled about what happened?” “Actually, my father was pretty supportive. My mother…” The scholar frowned. “Don’t get me wrong, I love her, but my mom can be…driven. And controlling.” “Kind of a Type-A personality?” Sunburst nodded. “It was her decision that I go to the School for Gifted Unicorns. And after I came back, she went crazy over what I was going to do next. ‘You have to have a plan, Sunburst! You can’t just bury your nose in books, Sunburst!’ She still sends me letters, trying to micromanage my life!” He groaned. “If it wasn’t for my grandparents, I’d think she was trying to have me live up to some crazy family legacy, or stack up against my cousin.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry. You don’t need to hear about my family drama.” Twilight flashed a reassuring smile. “It’s alright, we don’t mind.” “In fact, your story sounds more than a little familiar.” Lyra giggled at Sunrunner’s summation as the mare continued, “Next thing you’re going to tell us is that you had a childhood friend that you lost track… of…” She recognized the look on Sunburst’s face, groaned and face-hoofed. “Don’t tell me.” “Her name was Starlight Glimmer. What I lacked in spellcasting talent, she had in spades. We did everything together. I hardly remember us ever being apart, until the day I got my cutie mark.” Sunburst turned somber as he admitted, “We were playing together in her house. You guys know that game with the blocks? You take one out of the stack and put it on top, and keep doing that until the tower falls? We were doing that with books, until the tower fell.” He lifted the hem of his cloak to reveal his cutie mark, a sun with rays shining forth to the right and dotted with small four-pointed stars. “I acted on instinct, caught every book in my magic before the tower could fall on her and put all the books back on the empty shelves. Got this in the process.” The cloak fell as he continued, “And the first thing I did was rush right past her, find my parents and show off my new cutie mark, never mind even checking to make sure that she was okay.” Flash laid a hoof on his shoulder. “You were young, a kid. Kids make mistakes.” “Maybe, but I didn’t even get a chance to see her again before I got whisked off to the SfGU. I tried to reconnect after I came back, but by then, she’d gotten her own cutie mark and left for parts unknown.” The scholar sighed. “She’d already been through enough before then. Her mother had died, her father was distant, and then I was gone. She must’ve thought that I’d abandoned her.” “Maybe, maybe not.” Flash tried to give the other stallion a supportive smile. “Regardless, what she did or didn’t do is on her, not on you.” “That’s what I keep telling myself. Still, if either of us should’ve gone to Canterlot…” Sunburst sighed and shook his head, then turned to Sunrunner. “How did you know that was coming? My life story isn’t that clichéd, is it?” Sunrunner managed a half-smile. “No, but my coltfriend and I lived through something similar. You and he have a lot in common.” She laughed. “Still, he and I found each other again. Maybe you and her will too.” A sad smile formed on Sunburst’s muzzle before Sunny Flare coughed. “Well, if we’re done with this impromptu sharing session, perhaps we can get back to work?” “Yeah, let’s do that before the coincidences add up even more.” Lyra laughed. “Next thing we know, that cousin’s gonna be Sunset Shimmer.” At the surprised expression on Sunburst’s face, she and Sunrunner cried out in unison, “OH COME ON!”- Rockhoof’s bluster faded as he faced the challenge before them. “You know, I may have spoken too soon.” The trio, now joined by Grimhoof, looked up at the sight before them. Pegasi of the Royal Legion were arrayed in the air, their numbers growing with every passing second. Opposite them, however, were at least a dozen dragons. Some looked little different from winged serpents at this distance, but the one that appeared to be leading them clearly had arms and legs in addition to wings, so bulky were they compared to his serpentine body that they couldn’t be noticed. “The treaty is clear!” High above, an amber-colored pegasus shouted loud enough to be heard. “If dragons cross this line, then they are at war with Equestria and her allies! The Royal Legion will allow you to go no further!” “HUZZAH!” roared the gathered pegasi. The lead dragon seemed less than impressed. “Listen to you! Flash Magnus thinks he’s some kind of hero just for surviving going up against the dragons! You may have wings, pony, but the skies belong to us! You get in our way, and you get burned!” “YEAH!” roared the gathered dragon horde. Stygian’s eyes darted between the two forces. He doubted very much that either Grimhoof or Rockhoof would be able to claim Flash Magnus’s attention, especially with several fire-breathing dragons right on the verge of attacking. But they had to do something to put a stop to this. The danger posed by Basso Profundo was perhaps greater than the dragons. If only there was a dragon who could… “If that’s your answer, then so be it!” An idea flashed through the scholar’s mind, and he prayed that it would work as he dashed forward. “Prepare to burn, little…!” “KNUCKERBOCKER!” Both Flash Magnus and the lead dragon halted their advance and turned their attention to Stygian as he called out, “I invoke the name of Knuckerbocker to request a temporary cease in hostilities between the Royal Legion and the dragons!” Both the pegasus and the dragon looked perplexed, though the latter recovered enough to respond. “How do you know of Knuckerbocker, unicorn?” “He provided aid to me in my quest, and I am here to ask for that of Flash Magnus in order to defeat a terrible evil which may threaten both our races!” The dragon rolled his eyes. “That sounds unlikely.” By this point, Flash Magnus was sufficiently de-perplexed to respond. “Now is not the time to be making requests, unicorn! This place is about to become a battlefield! Head home before you get hurt!” “Now listen here you hard-headed, fancy-feathered, sky-trotting, glorified cloud-pusher!” Rockhoof stepped forward, stood at his friend’s side and bellowed, “You’ve got a lot of nerve shouting down a pony half your size! D’you think you’re big enough to shout me down?!” The dragon turned to Flash Magnus in disbelief. “Do you know these ponies?” “No.” The pegasus then turned his attention back to Stygian and Rockhoof and noticed his comrade among them. “Grimhoof, kindly explain to these earthbound ponies how unwise it is to meddle in an argument between pegasi and dragons!” “Oi! I’m not talkin’ to him or the oversized iguana! I’m talkin’ to you, you namby-pamby pretty colt!” Rockhoof’s shouts were clear as day as he continued, “And you want to talk about unwise?! Ignoring Rockhoof, Hero of the North, is about the most unwise thing a pony can do! Now get your feathered flank down here, or I’ll drag you down here myself!” The dragon quirked an eyebrow at Rockhoof. “There are only two things keeping me from incinerating that pony right now. The first is that I’m actually impressed with his sheer audacity, and the second is that his friend invoked Knuckerbocker’s name. It’s the rare dragon that doesn’t treat him with respect, and the few who don’t are all too young to know better.” Flash Magnus groaned. “Then I guess I’ll have to handle this. I won’t be long.” “Of course. Take your time, we’ll be waiting.” Flash Magnus then flew down to address the group properly. “Alright then, state your business.” Rockhoof gave his friend and encouraging push, and Stygian stepped forward. “My name is Stygian, sir. I seek your aid against a creature that has attacked my home village.” “What kind of creature exactly?” As his two associated conversed with one another, Stygian explained. “We’ve come to call it a ‘Siren’. It’s like a kelpie, but vastly more powerful. It’s placed the entire population of my village under its hypnotic spell and is causing them to fight one another whilst simultaneously draining them of their magic.” Flash Magnus landed. “Like a kelpie? So you think it came from the sea?” “Yes, and it entranced my friends and neighbors in hardly any time at all, just by singing.” The pegasus pondered that. “Well, that does sound like it could be a threat to Equestria. That being said, the Royal Legion is dedicated to protecting Equestria’s skies. Belligerent dragons, rogue griffons, the occasional roc, all of those are in my purview. How close to the coast is your village?” “About an hour’s trot. And the Siren can fly.” “Alright then, but why me specifically? Why not the whole legion?” “Lad, sendin’ an entire army of pegasi against this thing, best case scenario, is going to see a lot of ponies killed.” Rockhoof stepped to Stygian’s side and elaborated, “Worst case, they’ll be put under the monster’s spell. Either way, they’ll fuel that thing’s appetite and be of no help. And that’s assumin’ somepony higher up the chain doesn’t interfere. A small group of heroes is what’s needed here, and the three of us fit that description.” “Alright, fine, but how did you escape? For all I know, you could be under that thing’s influence and leading us into a trap.” “I had beeswax stuffed in my ears. The song couldn’t affect me because I couldn’t hear it.” “And if’n the lad were under the creature’s spell, then he wouldn’t have helped myself and Meadowbrook with our troubles. Speaking of, if we were to propose a peaceful solution to this matter with the dragons, would ye be willing to lend your aid to the quest?” Flash Magnus considered that. “Well, better no fight and everypony going home whole than a lot of dead and injured any day.” He turned to Stygian and noted, “And you invoking the name of one of them seemed to help set a truce. But…” Then something clicked in his mind. “Wait, Meadowbrook? As in Mage Meadowbrook, the healer?!” He turned to the mare. “That’s you?!” The mare nodded. “Indeed, and Ah believe if you give me the chance to talk to the dragons’ leader, Ah might be able to solve all of this.” Flash Magnus thoughtfully rubbed his chin with one hoof, then turned about and called, “Hey, you mind coming down here for a second? The mare here would like to talk with you!” The lead dragon did as requested, then turned to the mare. “Explain yourself, earth pony.” “Sir, Ah noticed that the membranes of your wings appear to be thinning.” The dragon blinked in surprise. “You have exceptionally keen eyesight.” He then spread one wing and gestured with his claw. “Indeed. I and my clan are afflicted with a disease we call ‘wingbreak’. It causes the scales in our wings to rot away. Without the membranes, we cannot fly.” Flash Magnus and Grimhoof both looked at one another in surprise before the former turned back to the dragon. “Wait, you came here because you’re sick? Why here?!” “Because the only cure for wingbreak is a plant which only grows in this area. We’re fully aware the treaty bans dragons from passing through this region save for specific circumstances, migrations and the like, but we hoped to collect what we needed and be gone before we could be noticed.” “Okay, fine, but why not just explain yourselves? We could’ve saved a great deal of trouble!” The dragon scowled. “Because we didn’t think you ponies would be crazy enough to fight a horde of dragons! Our wings might be infected, but we still have claws, teeth, and we can still breath fire hot enough to reduce a pony to ash!” The scowl deepened as he admitted, “And if the infection is present too long, then the wings don’t grow back. Time wasn’t on our side, at least not enough to make a proper diplomatic request.” Rockhoof rolled his eyes. “Bureaucracy. It’s the bane of all our lives.” The dragon nodded as Meadowbrook continued, “Well, Ah admit that Ah’ve never treated a dragon before, but Ah’ve seen similar symptoms in other creatures. Crocodiles, for example, sometimes get a condition that Ah know as ‘scalerot’. It’s possible that the two conditions are one and the same, or at least within the same family.” She reached into her bags and produced a vial. “This potion cures it in them practically overnight, and the ingredients are easier to grow than weeds.” The dragon claimed the vial and inspected it. “Do we drink it, or rub it on the membranes?” “You drink it. One dose is usually enough for a crocodile, though Ah’ll admit, Ah don’t know the exact dosage for a dragon.” The dragon studied the vial, then turned and whistled. “Skar!” One of the other dragons, thin and reed-like compared to the leader and clearly further along in their condition, landed. “Drink this. If this works as well as the pony says, then you’re cured.” Skar did as told, popped the cork from the vial and downed it in one gulp. The skinny dragon then shivered and commented in a feminine voice, “Chilly going down…” Her attention then turned to her wings as she stretched them, then flapped them. The dead scales sloughed off, and new, healthy flesh emerged underneath. “Holy fewmets! My wings haven’t looked this good since my molt!” At his companion’s gleeful inspection of her wings, the lead dragon then turned to Meadowbrook and asked, “I don’t suppose you have a recipe on you?” As Meadowbrook set about transcribing the inscription, Flash Magnus then turned to Stygian with some relief. “It seems my issue has been dealt with. So where exactly is your village?” “Near the South Luna Ocean, but we aren’t heading there yet. Our next stop is New Anugypt.” The pegasus shrugged. “Fine, but we’re going to need to stock up.” “That dry desert country? No joke, lad.” Rockhoof turned to Grimhoof and asked, “I dinnae suppose you can point me to a merchant who sells water pouches?” As Grimhoof gave him directions, Flash Magnus turned back to Stygian and asked, “Finally, how did you know that invoking another dragon’s name would work?” “Truthfully, I didn’t. It was the only thing that I could think to do.” Magnus smiled. “Well, I’m glad that it did. Better a laugh over this than a funeral any day.”- After a round of laughs, especially from Lyra and Sunrunner, the group finally calmed down and dove into their work. Twilight carefully extracted the materials that she’d brought with her from Ponyville from her panniers and those of Sour Sweet and Lyra, and replicated the spells that Sunburst had performed on their new resources upon them. She turned to the Guardsponies among them and offered, “There’s plenty to go around if anypony wants to step in.” “Thank you, ma’am.” Sunny Flare pulled the remaining entries from the shelf, then passed the one dedicated to Flash Magnus off to the two pegasi among them before joining Sour Sweet with the remaining volume. “That being said, we’re soldiers, not scholars.” “Scholars don’t know everything, Lieutenant. You might find something that we miss.” That satisfied the other mare, and work proceeded in silence until a voice called forth. “Halt, you reading this book!” Heads turned to the Mistmane volume as the unfamiliar voice continued, “Yes, you! Do not read the tales of Mistmane in your cramped study surrounded by spiders and dust!” Lyra frowned and turned the volume about to reveal a picture of Star Swirl. “Twilight, I think Star Swirl might’ve enchanted this volume.” Twilight and Sunburst gasped and approached the book as the illustration continued, “Honor the memory of the great sorceress. Take this book into the gardens and read in the beauty that reflects her own.” That caused the two ponies to balk. “But we can’t! Ultraviolet radiation will damage the book!” “Not to mention the bugs, and lying in the grass…” Sunburst whined. “Do we have to?” Twilight flipped a page in her magic, only to flip several more and see a picture of Star Swirl scowling at her and the text replaced with a perfectly legible “Go Outside”. She groaned. “I guess.” She then pouted and declared, “But not right this second! We’ll do it when we’re good and ready!” Lyra frowned, but closed the book without further protest. “You’d almost think that Star Swirl didn’t want any of this found.” “Well ma’am, he does seem the secretive sort.” The volume was placed back on the shelf, and Sunny Flare suggested, “Maybe you can continue where Princess Twilight left off with Meadowbrook’s journals instead for now?” Lyra nodded. “That’s a compromise I can work with.” “You might want to start with this one.” Sour gently set one volume down in front of the minty green unicorn and explained, “That’s the journal that elaborates on when Meadowbrook met Stygian and Rockhoof.” The mare sighed in relief. “Thanks.” Fortunately, none of the other entries had similar enchantments in place, but as time passed, the scholars and soldiers halted one by one and closed their volumes. Sunburst was the first to do so as he looked up from the volume on Star Swirl and Twilight’s copy of the Journal of the Two Sisters. “Well, the good news is that there are entries in these two books that line up with one another, but there’s nothing in Star Swirl’s accounts of his exploits about the Tree of Harmony.” “And I never found anything about it in his athenaeum either.” Moondancer idly went through the pages of the volume before her. “I think these might just be entries regarding their solo adventures, rather than anything about their meetings or collaborations. We already know that Rockhoof met Meadowbrook, but I’m not seeing any mention of her here in the stories Star Swirl collected about him.” “Same here with the entries he wrote about Meadowbrook. No mention of Rockhoof or anypony else.” Twilight turned to the Guardsponies. “What about all of you?” “Well, nothing about anypony else in Somnambula’s book, but none of these stories are ones that I’ve read before.” Sour shrugged. “Admittedly, she’s probably the most obscure of the ponies we’re researching here, other than Stygian.” “And Flash Magnus’s book isn’t…” Sunrunner tilted her head curiously, then looked to Twilight. “Princess, you said that chest had genealogical records in it, right?” At Twilight’s nod, she asked, “Can you cast those same spells you used on the books with those records, and the ones you brought with you?” Flash gave her a puzzled look. “Even if this was a good time, Warbler, I don’t think digging through family trees is going to get us anything.” “Maybe not, but…” The flame-haired pegasus flashed a hopeful smile. “Humor me?” Twilight shrugged, then opened the chest and repeated her spell work on the scrolls therein. “What’s brought this on?” “Well, I saw a name come up in one of the stories recorded here, one I’d never heard about Flash Magnus, and that got me curious.” Sunrunner approached the chest and carefully extracted the scrolls until she found the one she was looking for, then went to the records Twilight brought with her. “I’m guessing all of you know who Flash Prance was?” “The unicorn general who defeated a horde of dragons when they attacked Baltimare?” Sunburst adjusted his glasses. “Of course, a spell was named after him. But he lived and died long after Star Swirl and everypony else we’re researching vanished.” “I know, but there’s a line from a movie I saw when I was a filly.” She found two more scrolls among those Twilight brought and smiled. “They all have families.” She then looked about and asked, “Can somepony put these up against the wall? Flash Magnus’s scroll in the middle, the other two on each side.” Sour did as her comrade asked, and Flash Sentry sat up and took interest. “Hey, one of those is my family tree!” He then shrugged and admitted, “Well, part of it anyway.” Sunrunner grinned as she explained, “There’s a pony mentioned in one of Flash Magnus’s recorded tales, a mare in the Cloudsdale Royal Legion named Nimbus Dash.” She gestured to the genealogical record for Flash Magnus to details recorded for a pony to his right. “My Old Ponish probably isn’t as good as anypony else’s here, but…” Twilight gasped. “Oh my gosh! They got married!” She followed the lines and realized, “And they had children! And that’s ignoring Flash Magnus’s siblings and their children!” “And when this record ends, four generations have passed. That’s, what, a hundred years or so?” “And generational spans have grown since then along with pony lifespans.” Moondancer tilted her head as she studied the chart. “But I’m not seeing where you’re going with this.” “Here.” Sunrunner gestured with one wing to the lowest listings. “Among Flash Magnus’s great-grandfoals is a male unicorn, born 101 UE.” Moondancer’s eyes widened briefly as she translated the entry. “Flash Prance.” She then turned to Sunrunner and offered, “Don’t you think you’re reaching a bit?” “Hey, reaching got us this far. If nothing else, the timeframe fits.” She then gestured with a wing back to the top. “Anyway, there wasn’t a single line of descent. Another line produced a pegasus stallion named Stratus Dash.” She gestured to the chart to the left of Flash Magnus’s and pointed to one of the ponies near the top. “Now, I can buy that more than one ponies could have the words ‘Stratus’ and ‘Dash’ in their names, but two ponies born on the same day of the same year, with that same name? Both stallions? Both pegasi? That’s stretching coincidence just a little too far.” “Okay, fine, but…” Moondancer’s eyes drifted to the bottom of the scroll. “Wait a second, this is Rainbow Dash’s family tree! You’re not saying…!” “That she and Flash Magnus are related.” Sunrunner gestured to the other chart and grinned at her fellow pegasus Guardspony. “And she’s not the only one.” “Really?” Flash Sentry looked over the dates as he admitted, “I mean, it’s not impossible, but I don’t have as much information to go on as Rainbow Dash did, and besides, the pegasi in my mom’s family are rare. Same with unicorns.” “Genetics is a very complicated science, Hopper.” Sunrunner grinned. “Just saying.” The stallion considered that, then nervously laughed. “Well, I guess it is possible, but it’s not like we could do a DNA test.” A knock sounded at the door before it opened to reveal Princess Celestia. “Hello everypony. Any progress?” “Less than we’d like.” Twilight turned nervous as she admitted, “We’ve found some interesting information, even come up with some theories regarding family lines, but…” “Family lines?” Celestia’s eyes went from the genealogical charts to the chest. She pulled the remaining scrolls from it and examined them until she found one in particular. “Oh my stars, I can’t believe…” At the curious expressions on her subjects’ faces, she smiled and unfurled the scroll so that all could see. “Star Swirl didn’t just keep family records for his fellow heroes. He kept them for my sister and I as well.” Sunburst looked at the scroll’s header, and translated from Old Ponish. “The House of Everstar?” “Mine and Luna’s ancestral house, our family line among the alicorns.” The elder alicorn turned wistful as she admitted, “We were the youngest of eight siblings. I think that made things easier for our tribe politically when Star Swirl came and sought us out to assume the throne of Equestria. Even easier when our two next-oldest brothers came with us.” She gestured to pictograms depicting two alicorn stallions parallel to those depicting herself and Luna. “Cosmos and Astron have long since passed, but their legacies live on. Most of you have even met one of Astron’s heirs.” Sunrunner grinned. “Let me guess, Prince Blueblood?” “The very same. Astron and Princess Platinum made for quite a pair.” “It’s good that you remember them.” Celestia turned to Lyra to find her looking conflicted. “Sorry, it’s just been so long and…” “And there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?” At her former student’s nod, Celestia frowned. “Do you wish to speak to me about it? In private?” Lyra stood up and asked, “Could Twilight accompany us? Please?” Celestia noticed the hopeful look on her fellow alicorn’s face, and nodded. “Of course.” She then noticed the lone tome left on the shelves and sighed. “Star Swirl put an enchantment on that one, didn’t he?” Moondancer nodded. “We can’t read it unless we’re outside.” The Princess of the Sun sighed. “Him and his enchantments.” She then turned to her former students and explained, “I’m afraid the enchantment will only allow you to read the book’s contents once its conditions are met.” Sunburst plucked the book from the shelf with some frustration. “Out in the sunshine then.” He turned to Twilight with an anxious look. “You’ll catch up with us later?” “Of course. Go ahead.” Twilight then turned to Sour Sweet and Sunny Flare. “Could the two of you wait outside please?” The two Guardsponies briefly regarded her, but acquiesced at Celestia’s nod. Once the door closed behind them, Celestia turned to face the remaining pair and asked, “Now, what’s all this about?” “Princess, I…” Lyra mustered what courage she could and explained, “Recently, I found out that somepony tampered with my memories. I told Twilight about it, and we were hoping that you might know something about it.” “Not that you were responsible or anything, of course.” Celestia shook her head. “I know what she meant, Twilight. Don’t worry.” She grew reserved as she admitted, “And unfortunately, I don’t think this is the place to discuss it. We need to head somewhere else, the Restricted Section of the Canterlot Library.” That caught Twilight’s attention. “Restricted section?” “Yes. I have a theory that I want to test first, but if I’m right, there’s something there that will shed light on Lyra’s condition.” Twilight nodded and packed up the research material that she’d brought with her. “Then let’s go.” be continued...
Legends of Magic - Chapter FourChapter Four: Hold Onto Hope The journey from Cloudsdale to New Anugypt was a long one, something that weighed heavily on Stygian’s mind as the party continued on its way. Those thoughts gained even more weight, however, due to their newest party member. “If it’s so important that this Siren be defeated, then why aren’t we going after it now?” Flash Magnus had deigned to walk among them rather than fly, though he was doing a poor job of hiding his frustration. “I think that between the four of us, we can defeat it.” Stygian frowned as he led the party onward. “As much as I want to save my home and my friends, I don’t think that we should rush into this. If we only go in half-prepared, we might fall under Basso’s spell as well. And if that happens, who will save us?” “Lad’s right, fancy feathers.” Rockhoof’s tone was firm as he explained, “I’ve learned time an’ again that thinkin’ things through and takin’ your time to do the job right is always the best course of action. You cannae just go chargin’ in and hope for the best.” He nodded towards Meadowbrook. “If’n you’re lucky, you might even be able to avoid some trouble that way.” Magnus chose to relent. “Apologies. Patience isn’t a virtue that I’m very good at practicing.” He looked to Stygian and remarked, “You must be worried about them.” The unicorn nodded. “The day Basso Profundo arrived, I was supposed to help a neighbor with preparations for an apple harvest. Miss Malus is an old mare, and what family she has is spread far and wide.” He bowed his head. “I only hope that she and everypony else is alright.” The pegasus offered an encouraging grin. “She will be.” The group found themselves approaching a village as Magnus prodded, “So who are we looking for here? What do they have to offer?” “Well, all heroes have some elements or skills that allow them to be of aid to others. Rockhoof is strong, while you’re fast.” “Perhaps, but I don’t think that’s my defining trait.” “Still, it takes a lot of speed to outfly dragons, or rescue griffon cubs from an oncoming storm.” He gestured back to the lone mare among them. “And Meadowbrook has a connection with nature. That isn’t an obvious strength, but it’s vital. The ponies still to come will provide us with wisdom and… well, magic of the spirit or the soul, I suppose.” Magnus smiled. “I’d think you had the wisdom covered.” Stygian shook his head. “I’m no hero. At best I’m a scholar.” He got back on subject and continued, “The pony we’re here for will hopefully give us something we need to keep our spirits up. Something vital.” “Braaaaaains…” “Well, yes, that’s vital, but I meant…” “Braaaaaains…” The group stopped in its tracks as it found itself surrounded by a growing crowd of creatures, pony-shaped and wrapped in linen bandages. The mass shambled about and approached them, moaning that one word over and over again. “Ah’m not hallucinatin’, am Ah?” Meadowbrook checked over her pouch of potions. “Ah’ve still got water, an’ none of mah bottles are leakin’…” Rockhoof readied his shovel at the sight of the shambling mass. “Lass, either we’re all hallucinatin’, or we’re in a heap of trouble!” - It took everything that Twilight had to maintain her composure as she, Lyra and Celestia approached the Canterlot Library. She’d visited it more times in her life than she could count, been the Best Book Borrower for a very long time (and hadn’t her breaking that record been an embarrassing experience), but never had she realized that the library could have a restricted section. Then again, perhaps it should’ve been obvious. After all, rare books and… “Twilight?” She was shaken from her wool-gathering as Lyra beckoned, “Eyes on the prize, remember?” The young alicorn took a deep breath as the three reached the end of a set of bookshelves. “Right. Sorry.” Celestia smiled. “It’s alright to be enthusiastic, Twilight. And I applaud your restraint. There’s a lot in here to get lost in, after all.” Her magic took hold of two books and pulled them out, only to reveal a hidden door. “Still, coming here will give us privacy, and perhaps some answers.” The two younger mares nodded as the elder alicorn led them further inside. Bats chittered and flew about overhead as the three approached a set of doors. Celestia pushed open the doors with her hoof, and gestured for the two to enter ahead of her. They did so, and she followed them inside before closing the doors behind them. They found themselves inside of a circular cavern, one that had clearly seen some construction work inside to allow it to function as part of the library. Books were placed on shelves and in alcoves carved from the cavern walls, and looked pristine despite the cave conditions. “Quite a few preservation and protection spells have been put in place here to protect the contents of this chamber. Those same spells should protect us from prying eyes.” She then turned to her former student. “Are you ready, Lyra?” The mare nodded. “Very well. I apologize, this may hurt.” The tip of Celestia’s horn glowed as she leaned forward towards her former student, and as the tips of their horns touched, a flash of light occurred. The spell faded almost instantly, and Celestia reared back in shock. Twilight sat up in alarm at what happened, particularly the horrified look on her mentor’s face. “Celestia? What’s wrong?” The elder alicorn recovered herself, but it was clear her reaction to what she’d seen in Lyra’s mind had disturbed her. “I’m sorry. I…” The minty green unicorn frowned. “You can’t tell me anything.” “No, no, I can, but I need a moment.” She sat down, still taking deep breaths as she finished collecting herself. After a few moments, she finally asked, “Have either of you ever wondered what prompted Equestria going from an absolute diarchy to a constitutional one?” Twilight and Lyra exchanged glances before they turned back to the princess and the latter answered. “No, but I thought it might have something to do with what happened to Princess Luna.” “It did, for a number of reasons.” Celestia took a deep breath and admitted, “Luna and I were always intended to rule Equestria together, and even with the increasing prominence of the old unicorn nobility, that intention remained. With her loss, however, it became clearer to me that the work of managing a government was far too large and important a task to leave in the hooves of one pony. Establishing Equestria’s first constitution, and founding its elected government, helped to take the weight off my back immensely and make things better for the citizenry. But there were other reasons behind my actions, ones that never made it into common knowledge. The first was that I had long wondered if I or Luna even deserved such power, which by then I had decided that we deserved it no more or less than any other pony. The second was that I was afraid.” “What would you have to…?” The realization slowly came to Lyra. “Oh. Nightmare Moon.” “I had no way of knowing then how I lost my sister, and certainly no way of knowing that she had been possessed. But even then, I speculated that it was due to bitterness on her part over my increasing prominence in ponies’ lives, and feared that my neglect of her had led to envy and desire for greater power. And there I was, the single most powerful pony in Equestria. How long before I allowed that power to go to my head, and corrupt me? I feared that instead of a Nightmare, Equestria would have a far greater peril facing it, a monster of fire unbound by morality or virtue. A Daybreaker.” Celestia frowned as she bowed her head. “I was both relieved and ashamed to realize that it was equal parts her state of mind and outside possession that turned Luna into Nightmare Moon, but the fact remained that if she could fall, then so could I.” “And the less power you have, the less likely that it will go to your head.” Twilight shook her head. “Celestia, there was no guarantee that something like that would happen.” “But I had no way of knowing it at the time, and it was a risk I didn’t dare take. Besides, divesting myself of my power meant there was a better chance that ponies would be able to look after themselves and not rely upon me to solve all of their problems.” The elder alicorn shrugged and admitted, “How successful that’s gone is a matter of debate, but I don’t regret the action itself.” “And you shouldn’t, but what does that have to do with my memories?” Celestia frowned. “As I’ve said, regrets. A number of organizations and groups were formed in the wake of Equestria gaining a constitution, meant to help keep the weight off any one group. Many have done good work, but others…” She sat up again and made her way to the nearby table, where she enveloped a chest in her magic and opened it. “I assume that both of you remember The Seven Trials of Clover the Clever?” “Of course, but those predate the founding of Equestria!” The two smaller ponies approached the table as Celestia opened the chest and withdrew a scroll from within. “What does that have to do with what happened to Lyra after the changelings invaded?” “I fear they have a very clear connection.” Celestia unfurled the scroll and explained, “As you know from the story, there lived a sorceress during that time. Her name is long lost to history, but her actions were one of the factors that helped to further the divisions between the three tribes. She terrorized unicorns, earth ponies and pegasi alike using, among other things, an artifact of her creation.” The scroll reached an illustration of a pony with an egg-shaped stone. “Using memory spells and a great many bits of arcane knowledge, she crafted the Memory Stone. With it, she could erase the memories of any pony, even fragments of them.” Another bit of scroll, this one ripped off from the rest, was raised in Celestia’s magic as she continued, “The one bit of good news was that the effects could be reversed, but Clover didn’t realize this until it was far too late, and it could only be done under specific circumstances. Regardless, he knew that the sorceress was a danger to ponykind, Memory Stone or no, and pursued them across land and sea.” “Must not have been easy.” Lyra turned to the princess and asked, “But how did Clover even find them? I mean, the sorceress could have used the Stone to just erase his memories of her.” “Clover had a plan for that.” Celestia produced a number of small parchments. “He wrote these to remind himself of what was going on, and where he needed to go next.” The scroll shifted again to show an illustration of two ponies, a swirling portal separating the pair. “Clover eventually chased the sorceress through a portal to another world. Exactly what happened, again, is lost to history, but Clover returned and neither his opponent nor the Stone were with him.” The two younger ponies looked at one another in fright, before Twilight took a calming breath. “Okay, obviously Clover remembered all of this and was able to write it down, so he didn’t get hit with the Stone again. But what happened to it and the sorceress?” “So far as the sorceress is concerned, I cannot say. But history never mentioned them again, so that leaves very few options. As for the Stone, I know exactly what happened to it.” Celestia rolled the scroll back up and set it within the chest. “Clover buried it, and the stone remained undisturbed for over a millennium since.” She turned back to Twilight and explained, “As it turns out, the portal led to the human world, the same one linked to this world by the Crystal Mirror. Some twenty years ago, my counterpart and Luna’s found the Stone through sheer luck and returned it to me. I personally destroyed it, and it’s been no more than dust and ash ever since.” She frowned as she turned to Lyra. “But Clover eventually found and recovered the sorceress’s notes, as well as all of the spellwork that went into crafting the Stone itself. What he didn’t ultimately destroy was locked away, and I fear they were the foundation for what was used on you after the changelings invaded.” “But they weren’t permanent. I got my memories back.” “Through very specific circumstances, ones that I doubt those responsible for altering your memories ever saw coming.” Lyra bowed her head as she considered this, while Twilight scowled. “We can’t ignore this. Mind alteration spells like this are illegal, immoral. I’m still ashamed over what happened with Smarty Pants, and if other ponies are doing this, for whatever reason, then something has to be done about it.” “Such as?” Celestia frowned as she admitted, “Twilight, I’m as disgusted by this as you. Unfortunately, for the time being, this is beyond my ability to punish, and dangerous for the three of us to discuss outside of this location.” “Why not?!” “Because those responsible are agents of the Equestrian government, acting according to the belief that they pursue a greater good. Agents with the means to cover their tracks and hide themselves away.” Celestia scowled. “We need proof, concrete evidence that can be presented within a court of law. I’ve no doubt it exists, but for now, it’s beyond even mine or Luna’s ability to obtain.” “She’s right, Twilight.” Lyra raised her head with a defeated look on her face. “This isn’t a battle we can fight. Not right now, anyway. If I talked about this with anyone else, I’d be dismissed as crazy, or worse, silenced.” Twilight’s eyes widened in fear before she turned to Celestia, who sadly nodded in confirmation. “A great many evils have been done in the name of the greater good, Twilight. That’s a sad truth to our world. Facing this danger will come, but not today.” The young princess nodded. “Alright. I’ve got enough on my plate as it is, I guess.” As the trio departed the restricted section, Twilight silently resolved that the danger would be faced, and she would do all that she could to be ready for it. Researching what happened with Stygian and this Siren came first, but afterwards, she needed to meet with the rest of her friends. Lyra very likely wasn’t alone, and even if nopony else close to her had been attacked like this, she had to confirm it one way or another. And the sooner she did, the better. - As the shambling mass approached the group, Stygian looked about. “Something about this isn’t right!” Flash Magnus suddenly found himself wishing that he had a spear in addition to his famous shield. “Stygian, you’ve an impressive grasp of the obvious!” “That’s not what I meant!” He gestured to the creatures before him. “These things look like mummies! They aren’t actual creatures, they’re…well, they’re deceased ponies! Prepared for the next life in accordance with local customs!” “You mean these are the walking dead?” Rockhoof was at the ready with his shovel. “Meadowbrook, I dinnae suppose you have a potion ready to combat something like this?!” “The last time Ah dealt with zombies, it was a different sort all together!” The healer looked about at the approaching mob of mummies and declared, “Ah don’t have anything that can handle this!” “Well, I guess that leaves us with the direct approach!” Flash readied his shield and called, “You ready, Rockhoof?” “Aye lad! Try to keep up!” The two soldiers then charged into battle and bashed their way though the oncoming crowd. Stygian and Meadowbrook kept close, and while the latter did what she could to aid her companions using what potions she had, the former surveyed the situation. “There’s still something wrong here! You can’t reanimate mummies, and the organs needed for speech are removed as part of the process! As much as they’d want brains, they wouldn’t be able to vocalize it!” As the mass just seemed to grow and none of the ones that got knocked back stayed knocked down, Stygian continued, “These aren’t mummies, or zombies!” “Then what are they?!” “I can answer that question!” The mass of zombies was knocked aside by what looked like a shooting star of light, one which was successful in halting their advance and giving the party some breathing room. The shooting star came to a halt and faded to reveal a pegasus mare in native garb, the gemstones on her necklace going from a brilliant orange to a more placid bright green. “Forgive me if I startled you friends, but you seemed to be in a bind!” She gestured to a nearby rooftop as two local earth ponies dropped a makeshift ladder. “Quickly, they can’t follow us there!” “Aye lass!” Rockhoof found himself in the grasp of their new friend and Flash Magnus as Meadowbrook and Stygian scrambled up the ladder. Once all five were on the roof, the ladder was pulled back, and the shambling mass recovered and continued as if nothing had occurred. “My thanks. Excellent timing.” “And impressive work!” Flash gestured to the necklace and asked, “Where did you get that?” “Glowpaz is common in our region, though it seems to have an uncommon reaction to me.” She then paused and made a small bow. “Oh, forgive my manners. I am Somnambula, advisor to the royal family of New Anugypt. Once this situation is resolved, I will be more than happy to join you in your quest.” Stygian laughed. “So I had hoped!” He then paused. “But how did you know…?” “Four different ponies, garbed from different regions and belonging to different tribes? A quest worthy of epic tales seemed the most likely explanation.” “Somnambula, can they do it?” One of the ponies that had aided in their escape, a young filly with a curly mane, stepped forward. “Can they help you save the prince?” The mare laughed. “They can, and they will.” She then turned back to Stygian and continued, “Anyway, you were correct. They aren’t mummies, or zombies, or any sort of undead.” “Then what exactly are they?” Flash glanced over the side of the building and took note of the continued shambling. “Aside from not very bright.” “They are nothing.” At the stallion’s perplexed look, she elaborated, “They are projections, nightmares brought into the waking world. Prince Hisan received a broach which, unfortunately, turned out to be cursed. He passed out immediately upon donning it, and is now one of the false mummies in that great shambling mass.” Stygian nodded in understanding. “So they work on dream logic then! That explains a great deal!” “Aye, that’s well and good, but we still need to put an end to this!” Rockhoof turned to Somnambula and reasoned, “Now I assume that if we are to destroy this broach, the problem will be solved?” “Oh, we don’t need to destroy it. Just the emerald incorporated into it.” “Ah, that simplifies things. Gemstones are hard, but they’re brittle. Have you tried hitting it really hard with a rock or piece of hard metal?” Somnambula nodded. “Indeed, but I couldn’t risk serious harm to the prince, so I was forced to restrain myself. I like your approach, however, it’s very direct.” “Some ceremonial armor in the Legion incorporates gemstones.” Flash Magnus approached the mare and explained, “Those gemstones cracked when we got too high up in the air. Maybe we can scoop him up and carry him into the sky?” The pegasus mare shook her head. “The prince may struggle in our grasp and fall, unfortunately. We need to stay close to the ground.” The scholar soon found himself thinking out loud. “The gemstones shattering is likely the result of temperature changes. Many gemstones crack when exposed to extreme heat or cold.” Meadowbrook brightened up at Stygian’s suggestion. “Oh! Ah have a potion that can create extreme cold over a very small area!” She produced a small blue bottle from her bag. “Ah’d be very careful with it, though!” Somnambula laughed. “Indeed! That’s exactly what we need!”- “Well, I don’t think this is quite what we needed.” Sunburst closed the tome before him and frowned. “Star Swirl is mentioned on occasion in Mistmane’s volume, but there’s nothing about anypony else. I’m beginning to think the best resource we have right now is Meadowbrook’s journals.” “I agree, but still, it would be nice to have something to corroborate it.” Moondancer’s attention turned from her fellow scholar back to the other half of their research team as they returned to the palace grounds. “Twilight! Any good news?” “Maybe, but nothing related to our research project.” The young alicorn looked among the rest of their group as Sunburst stood up. “And I’m guessing Mistmane’s volume hasn’t provided anything.” “Not nearly as much as I’d like, unfortunately, though we do have confirmation that Star Swirl met Mistmane.” The bespectacled stallion bowed and sheepishly smiled. “Beyond yours and Princess Luna’s testimony, of course.” Celestia gave her former student a forgiving smile. “I’m not offended, Sunburst. Luna and I both have stories to tell about attempting to convince academics about something from a particular point in that time.” The smile faded as she noted, “Still, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Star Swirl was not only very organized, but more than a little secretive.” “Then maybe there’s a volume that we’re missing?” Sunrunner stepped forward to address the group. “I read comic books when I was younger. Individual comic book heroes would have their own books, but there’d also be team books where groups of heroes would come together. It looks like we’ve got the collected solo series, but not the team book.” She shrugged and amended, “At least, not a team book that Star Swirl transcribed, or had transcribed.” “If that’s the case, then we’ll be lucky if we find it.” Twilight turned to her mentor. “Just because you stayed out of Star Swirl’s study doesn’t mean that nopony else did.” “True, unfortunately.” Celestia’s gaze turned skyward for a moment. “And I fear that further research might have to wait until tomorrow morning. It’s very nearly time for sunset.” She then turned to the group and offered, “Would all of you like to join me for dinner? If nothing else, we can have a decent meal together before we retire for the night. And that invitation applies to each of you in the Guard as well, of course. No need for formalwear.” The four Guardsponies looked among one another in surprise, before breaking out in pleased smiles. “We’re honored to join you for dinner, ma’am.” “And hopefully breakfast in the morning as well.” The elder alicorn gestured for the group to follow her. “For now, I think we all need a chance to freshen up.” Nopony argued, and the group made their way back into the castle. As they went, however, Sunburst found himself unable to resist bringing something up with one of the Guardsponies. “So, Lieutenant Sunrunner. You’re a cousin to Sunset Shimmer too?” “Yep. Her mother and mine were sisters.” “Huh. Well, that explains why I never saw you at the family reunions.” The stallion chuckled as he explained, “Her father was my mother’s older brother. Did you ever meet her?” “She came to live with my family after her parents passed away. Did you ever meet her?” Sunburst shook his head. “There was talk about her family visiting mine in Sire’s Hollow, but the plans never went beyond talk before… well, you know what happened. I didn’t hear more about her until I was admitted as a student at the SfGU. I wouldn’t even know what she looked like if Princess Celestia hadn’t shown me a picture of her.” He laughed nervously. “That’s part of why I reacted to you the way I did. You and her are practically twins.” Sunrunner extended a wing. “Save for the obvious.” She turned somber as she ventured, “Then I guess you know that she didn’t leave under the best of circumstances.” The unicorn nodded. “That’s the funny thing. I never actually met her, but I’m still wondering what happened to her. Is that weird?” “No. She’s family. Being curious or worried is natural.” The mare smiled reassuringly. “And she’s doing okay. Princess Twilight helped me and her to get back in touch.” That caught Sunburst by surprise. “Really?” “Really.” The pair looked up as Twilight looked back on them. “And if you’re interested, I can try to arrange a meeting.” Sunburst bowed his head uneasily for a moment before he asked, “Can I have a little while to think it over?” “Of course.” Celestia smiled as she listened to her former students talk among themselves, happy that they were connecting and reconnecting. If nothing else came from this venture, then at least some connections had been strengthened. And perhaps with time, those connections would lead to greater things. - Flash Magnus was a soldier. Young, certainly. Known for his bravery, most definitely, with some even calling him reckless. Still, real soldiers knew that going into action without a plan was dangerous, and he was not inclined to argue. And as plans went, the one they had right now was not a bad one. “I see him!” The stallion fluttered over the rooftops and pointed out their target, one shambling mummy among dozens. The only thing that marked him unique was the glowing emerald dangling from his neck. “Ten o’clock low and surrounded by some ten projections!” Somnambula nodded from her position. “Then we will need the element of surprise, lest they attempt to cluster around him.” “Ah’m still not sure this is the safest way.” Meadowbrook carefully passed the bottle of freezing potion to her fellow mare. “Ah mean, if the bottle breaks while you’re holdin’ it…” The local mare flashed a reassuring smile. “Have hope, my friend. This will be successful. All I need is a boost.” “Which is where I come in.” Somnambula daintily perched herself upon his shovel as Rockhoof got into position. “Can’t say that I’ve ever used my shovel to throw a pony before, though. Still, nothing ventured! Just say when!” “Now!” At the signal, Rockhoof tossed his head with all his might and sent Somnambula flying. Aided by the extra velocity, the mare shot forward and extended her wings as she approached the oncoming mass. Before any of them could react, she dropped her cargo, and it landed with a crash upon its target. The bottle smashed into glass shards, and its contents coated the bright emerald almost instantly and covered it in bright blue frost. The gemstone cracked, then shattered into dust. Somnambula crashed and rolled to a halt in the dust as the shambling hordes unraveled. Most revealed nothing within their wrappings before said wrappings vanished into thin air, but one revealed a dark blue Pegasus who dropped to his front hooves in confusion. “Wha-?!” At the sound of a familiar groan, he turned about in surprise. “Somnambula!” He moved to aid her just as Stygian and his party caught up to them. “What happened? Why aren’t we in the palace?” He then noticed the destroyed brooch about his neck and asked, “And what happened to…?” “I’m afraid that your gift was a curse in disguise, my friend.” Somnambula trotted on slightly unsteady hooves to join Stygian’s party as she explained, “You’ve spent the last few hours transformed into a nightmare mummy. But do not worry. My new friends and I were able to end the curse.” Prince Hisan looked over the gathered band of ponies, still confused but nonetheless cognizant enough to grasp the essentials. “You have my thanks then. Now, however, we must discover who sent this to me in the first place.” “Indeed, but I fear that I cannot help you with that. At least, not right this moment.” Somnambula turned to the party and explained, “They have need of my help, but when I return, we shall investigate.” Hisan looked as though he wished to argue, but as his guards and doctors approached, he nodded. “Very well. The stars be with you and your friends, Somnambula.” He then turned to the doctors and asked, “I don’t suppose I could get something to drink? I fear that I have a headache coming on.” As the prince went out of earshot, Rockhoof laughed. “Well done, lassie! Glad to have you with us!” He then managed a nervous chuckle as introductions were made. “And please, forgive my manners. I’m Rockhoof, and this is Flash Magnus, Mage Meadowbrook, and Stygian. He’s the one who gathered us for this quest.” “Indeed.” The scholar approached and explained, “My village is under attack from a creature with terrible powers, and if left unchecked, they could threaten all of Equestria.” “Ah, so this is a gathering of the land’s mightiest heroes to face a common threat?” At Stygian’s shrug and half-nod, Somnambula laughed. “Oh, this has such promise! Has the party been completed then, or do we still seek others?” “Two more, actually, but I don’t feel comfortable seeking out the second until we meet the first.” Stygian turned ashamed as he explained, “And I’m not sure where to find the first. Her name is Mistmane, and…” “Wait, Mistmane the Fair?” Flash Magnus laughed. “I can tell you where she might be. She’s built a greenhouse near the new capital.” Stygian sighed in relief. “That’s good news.” “And very pleasant.” Somnambula smiled placidly. “I have a fondness for plants and all things green.” “As do Ah!” Meadowbrook laughed. “And Ah think that we’re off to a great start.” - Twilight sighed as dinner was laid out before her, her friends, and Celestia, and absentmindedly picked up her salad fork with her magic. Her former pupil’s sour demeanor wasn’t lost on the elder alicorn. “Why so glum, Twilight?”“It’s nothing.” At her mentor’s raised eyebrow, the young princess explained, “Okay, it isn’t nothing. It’s just that I can’t help but feel like nothing’s really been accomplished.” “That’s hardly true, Twilight.” Sunburst, by contrast, was in much better spirits. “I mean, we found genealogical records for ponies that were previously thought to be a myth, and that’s ignoring the transcriptions of previously-unknown tales involving them. What little we’ve found is enough to rewrite the history books.” “I know, and I’m thrilled about all of that, but it feels like we still aren’t any closer to discovering any sort of connection between the Tree of Harmony and any of the ponies we’ve been researching.” She bowed her head. “For all we know, there might not be one.” “And for all we know, we just haven’t found it yet.” She turned to Flash as he gave her an encouraging smile. “Roam wasn’t built in a day.” “Nor was Canterlot, for that matter.” Heads turned as another alicorn joined them. “Good evening, everypony.” “Hello Luna. Care to join us?” “Please, assuming there is some coffee available.” Luna claimed an empty chair as her requested beverage was poured and a salad deposited before her by the waitstaff. She then laughed. “One would almost think that mine presence was expected.” “Less expected, more hoped for.” Celestia then turned back to her former pupil and explained, “Anyway, they’re perfectly right, Twilight. No use giving up at this point, and besides, you and your research team did find quite a bit of information.” “Including a little bit about the two of you.” Heads turned back to Sunburst as he asked, “Forgive me if this is a little out of turn, but…” “Yes, Sunburst, we truly did squabble like foals amongst ourselves when we were younger.” Luna half-smiled. “I’m guessing you came across something about my accidental trip to another world?” Now it was Celestia’s turn to slump. “Oh dear…” That caught the attention of the rest of the ponies at the table, with Twilight giving her mentor a curious look. “Celestia?” The elder alicorn sighed. “It’s a very long and embarrassing story.” “One which took place early in our reign.” Luna took a sip of her coffee and elaborated, “Star Swirl was not only an advisor, but also our tutor in magic. Much to my chagrin, however, my sister was often far more of an apt pupil than I, despite my best efforts.” “And my needling her certainly didn’t help things.” Celestia gave her sister a pleading look. “Do they really need all of the details?” “This is a research project. They are supposed to be sharing their findings with one another, are they not? Better to come clean about it now than be questioned over it later.” At her sister’s reluctant nod, Luna continued, “In any case, in an effort to prove myself to Star Swirl and put an end to my sister’s bullying…” “It wasn’t…” The protest went flat as Celestia admitted, “Alright, it was bullying.” “I spirited away a spellbook and attempted to practice some of the more advanced spells, including one which opened portals to alternate worlds.” Now it was Luna’s turn to be embarrassed as she admitted, “On the positive side, I did successfully perform the spell. On the negative side, however, I was dragged through to the other realm by the shadowy creatures which inhabited it.” “Where they attempted to coerce her into becoming Nightmare Moon, or something like her, much sooner than it actually did.” Celestia groaned. “And had I heeded the lesson there…” “Wait, hold on.” Twilight looked at Celestia in disbelief. “You bullied Luna?” “In my sister’s defense, she was young and foolish. And she never did so again after that incident.” Luna offered her sister a comforting smile. “Perhaps you stumbled later, Celie, but you did take away a valuable lesson from that incident. That leaders must act with compassion for those who follow them.” She then managed a rueful smile of her own and added, “Besides, I think we both failed to heed lessons learned from that day.” Celestia nodded. “We never did stop having disagreements.” “Well, that’s normal for siblings.” Moondancer gave the pair a sympathetic smile as she admitted, “I mean, my sister and I never exactly had any spats like you two did, but still, there’s times where we haven’t seen eye to eye.” She looked to Twilight. “And you can say the same about Shining Armor, right?” “Well, not really.” Twilight nervously admitted, “We never really fought. Disagreed, sure, had a healthy rivalry, definitely, but no outright fighting. Mom and Dad always made sure that at the end of the day, we didn’t stop talking to each other. Or loving one another.” “Not all ponies had it that lucky, however.” Sunrunner opted to turn attention to other topics as she admitted to Luna, “Anyway, we did find something a little less embarrassing for the two of you.” The Princess of the Night gave her subject a curious look before Celestia explained, “They found our family tree, Luna. Star Swirl kept records of our descendants, as well as those of our siblings, up until his disappearance.” “Oh.” Luna bowed her head sadly. “How very nice of him.” Their young subjects looked among themselves curiously before Celestia explained, “One thing that became abundantly clear to myself and Luna as time passed was that, while there were many benefits to our apparent immortality due to our bonds with the sun and moon, there was one terrible downside. A growing distance between ourselves and those closest to us, friends and family alike. One that became apparent as we lost more of them over time.” “Even putting aside our blessings as keepers of the sun and moon, alicorns are naturally longer-lived than the other tribes were in those dark times. Nonetheless, we wed and had children, knowing that we might well outlive them. Many of those children had children, and so forth, but try as we might, over time, the distance grew too deep.” Luna frowned as she admitted, “I’m ashamed to say that revelation helped to fuel my feelings of loneliness, and my fall to darkness. Were it not for the friendships we had with the Pillars, it might well have happened sooner.” “The Pillars?” Lyra asked. “Who were they?” Celestia smiled. “The Pillars of Equestria. Star Swirl’s name for the group of ponies whom you are researching. He felt that they each embodied an element that could be found in all of us.” She turned to Twilight and smiled. “In many ways, they were the spiritual predecessors to you and your fellow Bearers.” “Though the Bearers appear to lack an equivalent to Stygian, with the possible exception of young Spike.” Luna turned to Twilight and asked, “Was there by chance anything about him within Star Swirl’s study?” “Not that we could find. Either Star Swirl never recorded anything about him, or some of the volumes have gone missing.” The Princess of the Night scowled. “Either is possible, alas. Still, perhaps tomorrow shall shed further light upon the Pillars and their adventures.” She smiled eagerly. “For now, please tell me of what you have discovered.” Flash Sentry smiled. “Well, we did find a slightly more positive story involving you and Mistmane.” That prompted a laugh. “Huzzah! I was hoping that such tales had been recounted! Please, continue!” As discussion continued, Twilight found her spirits lifted. Her mentor and her coltfriend were both right, and their work was only beginning. Much had already been learned, for good and for ill, and tomorrow would hopefully help them to find the answers they sought.- As night settled over Canterlot and the moon took its place in the sky, ponies in the city went about their business. Some enjoyed the city’s night life, while others scurried to their homes after a long day at work, or scurried from said homes for a long night at work. Even in the nation’s capital, there were ponies who had to work hard to make ends meet. Ivory Tower didn’t have that problem, as she silently trotted her way home from the offices of the EEA. She took home quite a tidy salary, and could look forward to a healthy pension once her retirement came. That day, fortunately, was long in coming, which would only cause said pension to grow. A small light blinked in one corner of her vision, a familiar indicator that she was being summoned, and she turned off into a quiet alley. “I’d rather this be done in private.” “Well, we can’t always get what we want, can we?” From the shadows stepped forth another unicorn stallion, his mane cut short and a smirk on his face. “Ivory Tower.” “Sterling Aide. I assume that this conversation will go unnoticed?” “Well, obviously.” The stallion laughed. “I assume you’re aware that FROWN-Magic is here in Canterlot?” The mare’s eyes narrowed. “Perfectly aware. It’s a miracle that the rest of FROWN is still in Ponyville going about their proper business given what’s happened. I’ve no doubt that she’s here to follow up on whatever leads have come in the wake of her discoveries in Neigh Orleans.” She scowled. “How did Subject Moon even have the time to chance across those records?” Sterling waved a hoof. “That’s water under the bridge. No use worrying about it. I just hope that you’ve done something on your end regarding it.” The mare regarded her colleague with a deepened scowl. “Obviously. While I’ve no doubt that FROWN-Magic would want to pursue her research to the fullest extent, the odds are that she will put it aside once sufficiently discouraged. A lack of concrete information, combined with discouragement from a figure of authority, should give her that needed discouragement. It will involve her coming into contact with somepony earlier than expected, but needs must.” The scowl eased as she amended, “In any case, the wheels are in motion. She and her party will depart Canterlot by the end of the day tomorrow.” “I’d certainly hope so. After all, harmony must be maintained.” “Indeed.” Ivory Tower gave her colleague a curt nod, then turned away to continue home. One way or another, the issue would be dealt with. be continued...
Contemplating ChaosContemplating Chaos It was a warm late-summer day in Ponyville, a few odd clouds lazily drifting through the sky and a general sense of peace and ease present throughout the town. Nowhere was this more present than Fluttershy’s cottage, where birds happily chirped and one critter or another went about their business. The inside of the cottage was no exception. “Wait, so Twilight’s spell to get the vampire fruit bats to not go after Applejack’s harvest led to you turning into a vampire bat-pony?” Quiver Quill let out a low exhale and shook his head as he accepted a refill of his tea. “Wow. Even by Ponyville standards, that’s something.” “I know. Twilight’s still amazed it even happened in the first place.” Fluttershy refilled her own cup and continued, “She thinks it was due to very unique circumstances, including me having some thestrals in my family tree and my own innate magic, that led to it. I’m just glad everypony got me back to my senses.” “Same here, and that there weren’t any lingering effects.” At his host’s embarrassed smile, he ventured, “Fluttershy?” “Well, something did linger.” The pegasus opened her mouth and rubbed her tongue along one of two fangs along her upper jaw. “Whoa. And you’ve still got them?” Fluttershy giggled as she admitted, “I’ve considered having them removed, but they really aren’t hurting anything, so why get rid of them?” She smiled nervously and added, “Anyway, enough about me. Quiver…” A knock sounded at her door, and she called, “Oh! Come in!” The cottage door opened to reveal three familiar little fillies. “Hi Fluttershy!” Apple Bloom entered the cottage, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo following in her wake. “Howdy, Mister Quiver!” “Hey girls, and you don’t need to be that formal anymore.” As the trio joined them, Quiver asked, “What brings you three by?” “Actually, I think I was just about to get to that.” Fluttershy turned nervous as she asked, “Quiver, you’re aware that Applejack, Rarity and I will be visiting Manehattan this week, aren’t you?” At his nod, she continued, “Well, Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle were invited along.” “Except I’m opting out,” the unicorn filly explained. “We were gearing up for our first meeting of the expanded Cutie Mark Crusaders here in Ponyville on Saturday, and given who all’s going to be there, it didn’t feel right to leave Scootaloo alone to manage everything.” Quiver nodded, all too aware of who was likely to be joining in on this particular gathering. “And I’m guessing this particular gathering is why I’ve been asked here?” “We were hoping you could come and help out.” Scootaloo winced. “Sorry to spring this on you on short notice.” The stallion shrugged. “I’ve been hit with worse on shorter notice than this. And I’m fine with helping out.” He sat up straight and proud as he added, “I’d be remiss in my duties as an honorary Cutie Mark Crusader if I didn’t lend a hoof to proceedings. What all do you need of me?” “Just some adult supervision startin’ round noon, no crazy adventures or whatever.” Apple Bloom laughed. “We’ve had our fill’a that kinda thing fer a while.” Quiver chuckled. “Likewise. Anyway, I’ll be there assuming nothing…” A rapping sounded at the door to the cottage, and it was slowly pried open to reveal a familiar feathered form. “Edgar?” The raven cawed and fluttered inside, then landed atop his caretaker’s head. “Trouble! Stream!” That got everypony’s attention, and the group emerged from the cottage, the two adults going first to investigate. They saw a vortex form in the stream, rapidly going faster and faster and looking like a miniature whirlpool until a large, serpentine form shot its way out of the water and gave out a jubilant cry. “Oh, I do love to make an entrance!” Everypony recognized the creature before them, and the three fillies charged forth to greet him as they cheered, “Discord!” “Hello, hello, Cutie Mark Crusaders!” Discord scooped up the trio in a welcoming hug. “Oh it feels like it’s been so long since I’ve seen the three of you!” Whereas the rest of his friends were thrilled at the newcomer’s presence, Quiver was another matter, while the raven perched upon his head shared his sentiments with an annoyed caw. “Well this is wonderful!” If she had any awareness of Quiver’s mood, Fluttershy ignored it as she approached her friend. “And a little unexpected. What brings you to Ponyville?” “Well, what’s the point of being me if I act in a way that’s expected?” He gently put the Crusaders down and moved in to hug Fluttershy. “Besides, do I really need an excuse to stop in and visit with my friends?” “Well, no.” Remembering her manners, the Pegasus continued, “Oh, speaking of, there’s somepony I’d like you to meet. This is Quiver Quill.” “Ah, the pony you’ve mentioned in your letters… Ack!” The draconequus gagged and recoiled dramatically at the sight before him. “Good heavens, she’s hideous! How absolutely…!” The false shock wore off, and he doubled back. “Oh wait, you’re a stallion, nevermind.” He then produced a business card and offered it. “Discord, Spirit of Chaos. At your service.” Quiver’s eyes were tabled and lacking in amusement at the sight before him. “Charmed.” He nonetheless accepted the business card. “Do excuse me, I need to be going.” He turned to his friends and politely smiled. “Fluttershy, Apple Bloom, if I don’t see you before you leave, I hope you enjoy your trip to Manehattan. Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, I’ll see you on Saturday.” Quiver went on his way, and Discord huffed. “Well, that was rude.” “That joke was kinda mean, though.” The draconequus scoffed at Scootaloo’s remark. “Oh pish-posh, if he can’t take that sort of joke, then that’s his fault. Anyway, let’s sit down and have some tea, and you can tell me all about this trip to Manehattan and whatever it is that’s going on come Saturday.” “Of course, come on inside.” Fluttershy ushered her friend and the Crusaders back inside, and discussion soon turned to events to come.- Quiver smiled contentedly as he idly pecked away at his typewriter, glad for the chance to get some quality time done with his writing. He had precious little of it, between work and his assorted bits of fun and entertainment around town, but what little he got felt worth it as his creative juices flowed. With a few choice taps, his work was done, and he pulled the paper free from his typewriter to examine his work. He then frowned. “Edgar, take a look at this.” The raven fluttered onto his head as the stallion asked, “Does that flow right to you?” Edgar tilted his head, then cawed, “Reads neutral.” “You’re right. I should adjust my word choice in a few places, make it more interesting.”“Need this?” “Thanks.” Quiver absentmindedly reached for the offered thesaurus before scowling at the one who offered it. “I don’t remember inviting you in.” Discord grinned. “Well, you did accept my card.” The draconequus then flashed away from the stallion’s side and onto his sofa, one leg crossed over another as he regarded the stallion. “Besides, we really didn’t get a chance to chat earlier. Fluttershy’s mentioned you in her letters from time to time, and I can’t help but be a little curious about Ponyville’s new writer in residence.” Quiver did his best to ignore his unwanted houseguest as he went through his book. “Good for you.” “Especially considering you can’t really call yourself a writer, can you?” Discord had decided to recline on the sofa as he continued, “I mean yes, you write, but are you published? Are you making any money off of it? I haven’t seen anything of yours in books or magazines or whatever. You’ve spent most of your time since you arrived here in Ponyville following Fluttershy and Twilight and the rest of the important ponies about, or doing things other than writing.” “Things happen. Life happens.” Having realized where this was going, Quiver folded his paper and used it as an impromptu bookmark in his thesaurus before turning his attention towards his newest distraction. “You know, if I wanted to have someone criticize me over my life choices, there are other candidates.” “Ah, but I doubt any of them would be nearly as entertaining as yours truly.” Discord oozed off his perch and took up position beside Quiver once more and noted, “Besides, I couldn’t help but note a bit of hostility earlier.” “You’re an unrepentant, mean-spirited prankster with a cruel sense of humor. The last time you were in town, I got chased around by a hat for a half-hour, and today, you just invited yourself into my home without even so much as a knock on the door.” “And yet, we have so much in common!” Discord produced the scarf that Quiver had received only a few weeks earlier, and made a point of emphasizing the emblem upon it. “We are, after all, both honorary Cutie Mark Crusaders.” “Yes, they’ve mentioned something about that.” Quiver scowled as he realized the implications of that statement. “I guess this means that you’ll be joining us for our little get-together this weekend.” “Well obviously. After all, it would be rude of me to simply not bother to take part, and besides, it might well be fun. If a little crowded.” Quiver had tried his best not to focus too much on that little detail, as the Crusaders had grown in number over the last few weeks. While they hadn’t had a dramatic increase, the group’s membership had nonetheless tripled, with most of the new members already having cutie marks of their own. While most of the foals tended to be rather well-behaved, he was a little anxious about having to ride herd on a bunch of school-age children, particularly given the fact that two of the new members had something of a history. And having Discord along for the ride was not promising. Still, he was a stallion who did at least try to keep his promises. “Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo are surprisingly organized, though, and they aren’t expecting me to do any of the heavy lifting.” Quiver kept an even tone. “And hey, I know how to roll with the punches, so to speak.” Now Discord scowled, but before he could get another word out, the front door opened. “Hope you’re up for something different, Quiver. I caught sight of something at…” The unicorn looked up at the draconequus and scowled. “What are you doing here?” “Merely getting to know one of Ponyville’s colorful new residents. Speaking of.” Discord snaked over to the mare and pulled out a measuring tape before going over her dimensions. “Just as I thought. Sour Sweet, Twilight’s not-so-secret new bodyguard. A little surprising that Celestia chose you for the job, but then again, it’s a little surprising that it took her this long to get Twilight a security detail, given all the shenanigans she gets up to.” He stretched out the tape, and it rolled up into his eagle talon before vanishing in a flash. “Anyway, I have places to be.” He raised one mismatched appendage to his right eye in a sort of salute and said before vanishing, “Be seeing you.” Edgar cawed as Discord vanished. “Jerk!” “You said it.” Sour closed the door behind her. “I guess we’ve caught his attention now.” “Guess we have. Rough day?” “Not really.” She gave a half-grin. “Wanna fight?”- Quiver groaned as he found himself slammed against the earth, certain that he was going to feel that in the morning. A hoof was offered, and he accepted it. “Please tell me that I’m at least getting better.” “You are.” Sour helped him back to his hooves. “You shouldn’t expect to be able to out-fight me with just a few lessons, though. I’ve been training in this for years, after all.” “I’m not, for exactly that reason.” Quiver rolled one shoulder to help work out the soreness, and then another. “Ten thousand hours and all that. I’ve had, what, five? Maybe six? And getting some fighting lessons headbutted into me only worked with a different sort of anatomy.” “Well, we both knew that going in.” The mare frowned as she regarded her cousin. “I’m guessing Discord’s visit is still bugging you.” The stallion laughed. “Jarring transition there, Sour.” He sat down and admitted, “But yeah, it is. Putting aside him just barging in like that, well, what he said kinda got to me.” Sour frowned. “You know that what the whole point, right? He did all that to get your goat.” “Doesn’t change the fact that he has a point.” He sighed. “I’m spinning my wheels, Sour. Running in circles. I mean yeah, my life’s better since I moved here to Ponyville, especially since you moved in and I reunited with Runnie, but still…” Quiver looked to his cutie mark and explained, “Awful hard to call yourself a writer when you don’t really write, do you?” “You write.” “I don’t publish. Don’t make a living off of it.” Sour rolled her eyes. “Now you’re sounding like your father.” She sat down and laid a hoof on his shoulder. “Quiver, you know Discord’s a plothole, right?” Quiver cringed. “Don’t let Fluttershy hear you say things like that.” “Let me worry about what Fluttershy thinks about my opinions. That’s my problem.” Her expression was firm as she continued, “In any case, Discord is an immature brat with too much power and no sense of responsibility. Give a foal power like his, any foal, and they’d act the exact same way as him. That he’s willing to play nice with Fluttershy and the Crusaders shows that he has at least a little decency in him, but that doesn’t change what he’s done or who he is. So screw him.” Her expression softened as she added, “And don’t let him get to you.” “I’ll do my best, but I’m still going to have to deal with him this weekend.” “And that’s a problem for this weekend. Tonight, dinner and a shower. Tomorrow and Friday, you work your day job. And Saturday, you play chaperone to a rowdy, immature brat with the help of the Cutie Mark Crusaders.” Quiver laughed. “Knowing my luck, that’s exactly what’ll happen.” The two stood back up. “Thanks, Sour.” “Hey, we gotta look out for each other, right?” The two went back into their home, and Quiver found himself hoping for a good meal and a reasonably decent time at work over the next few days. - Amazing Booksellers was, as always, a busy place to work. Quiver was used to that, and had long gotten accustomed to the daily routine. Come in, clock in, work until the morning break, work again until the half-hour lunch, work some more until the mid-afternoon break, and then work until the end of his shift and go home. Ten hours a day, four days a week, assuming overtime hadn’t been called. The work he could deal with. “Quiver! Hey, Qui-VERRRR!” His coworkers were often another matter. “Yes?” Leading Rose approached with his usual lazy-looking half-smile, half-leer. “Nuthin’.” The expression seemed to widen as he remarked, “So, that mare you’re livin’ with. Sour Sweet.” He leaned in. “She’s hot.” “You’re not her type.” That didn’t seem to dissuade the pudgy stallion in the slightest. “You sure about that?” Quiver restrained himself as the bell sounded to start the afternoon shift. Bright Star and an unfamiliar mare stood before him and his gathered coworkers. “Afternoon everypony. We’ve had a good morning so far, and productivity is moving at a great pace. Keep at it, and we’ll finish the day strong.” Bright Star then gestured to the new mare and said, “Before we get started, we have a couple announcements. First, this is Dew Grass. She’ll be partnering with me supervising shifts here for the next few weeks, and filling in when I’m out.” Dew Grass gave an enthusiastic wave and shouted cheerfully, “Glad to meet y’all! Let’s make that money!” Quiver frowned. Despite a firm awareness that money was needed to get by, he didn’t think that its pursuit was the most important thing for a pony to follow. “Second, we have sign-up sheets up for cross-training for different departments. If you’re interested in volunteering, please sign them.” Bright Star then stomped a hoof and called, “Alright everypony, let’s get to work!” Duly dismissed to his duties, Quiver went off to find a scanner and cart, with Leading Rose following close. “So you gonna sign up for cross-training? Replenishin’s always good.” “I’m good where I am, thanks. Please excuse me.” Quiver took a deep breath, then went on his way to get to work. With any luck, things would go smoothly, and… “AGH!” Too fast for him to react, Quiver found himself buried under a small avalanche of bouncy balls. They were lightweight, made of thin rubber and not likely to cause severe injury, but still, the combination of surprise and the large number was more than irritating. He pulled himself out of the pile and looked up to notice that they had fallen from a higher floor, and he grumbled and tossed what balls he could into a waiting tote intended for lost items for later restoration to their proper places. So much for things going smoothly.- “And the rest of the day pretty much went like that. Made rate, at least, but still.” Quiver huffed as he prodded at his meal. “I have to wonder why so many ponies seem to think that money is the most important motivator.” “Well, in their defense, having money does make your life easier, if only a little.” Sour gestured around them and noted, “Gotta pay the rent, y’know.” Her cousin nodded, and she opted to gently shift the subject. “So that coworker of yours…” “Leading Rose. Trust me, he’s not your type.” Sour quirked an eyebrow. “And you know what my type is since when?” “I don’t, but I’m pretty sure your type isn’t obnoxious, pudgy and smarmy.” The mare couldn’t help but agree. “Maker knows I had to deal with enough of those folks when I was younger. Now at least I can beat them up if they don’t get the message.” “Just hope that you don’t meet him personally. And that he isn’t into that kind of thing.” At his cousin’s alarmed look, he added, “Hey, he might be. Some ponies are sick like that.” Sour grimaced. “Sadly true, but let’s not elaborate on that, shall we? I don’t want to lose my appetite.” “Me either.” - The rest of his work week, unfortunately, went by with little difference for Quiver, though he had the small comfort of it being a short one. Saturday, consequently, came very quickly, and Quiver soon found himself on his way to Sweet Apple Acres and the Crusader Clubhouse, where the newly-expanded Crusaders were gathering. There was some brief surprise, however, as he realized the group was gathered outside of the clubhouse, rather than within it. Then again, when your group triples in number and one of the honorary members is simply too big to fit, perhaps meeting outside of the clubhouse is a better idea than meeting inside of it. “Mister Quiver!” The stallion smiled as the gathered group noticed him approach, two fillies in particular looking very pleased to see him. “You made it!” “I’d be remiss in my duties as an honorary Crusader if I wasn’t here, wouldn’t I?” Sweetie Belle gave him an appreciative grin, and he surveyed the gathered group of foals. “Everypony here?” “I think we’re thtill waiting on a couple thragglerth.” Twist stood with the three other new recruits, and was seemingly the least nervous about being present. “I hope they’re okay.” “Wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t show up.” At the harsh looks thrown his way, Rumble elaborated, “What? They might still be grounded.” “Or… we could… just…” Quiver turned to see a pair of familiar fillies pulling a cart loaded down with a chest towards the clubhouse, then moved to assist them by gently taking up their slack. “Whew. Thank you, Mister Quiver.” Diamond Tiara panted with exhaustion as she recovered. “Sorry everypony. I’m kinda getting used to carrying my own weight, so to speak.” “Same here.” Silver Spoon wiped some sweat from her brow before Scootaloo brought over bottles of water for the pair. “Thanks.” The two fillies carried themselves much differently than they had when Quiver had first met them, much to his delight and the relief of their classmates. Diamond Tiara had continued her good behavior, and even now continued to present herself as less haughty than before. Her former trademark tiara still not having been replaced only seemed to help. Silver Spoon, while she didn’t have nearly as far to go, nonetheless was trying to show herself as less of an elitist at least for this occasion, her normal pearl necklace replaced with a much less ostentatious bandanna about her neck. “So what’s all this then?” The tiniest foal amongst them eyed the chest. “It’s a surprise, for when we’re all here.” Diamond took a worried look around as she asked in a slightly hopeful tone, “Unless, someone decided not to come…?” “Oh, I wouldn’t miss this for the world!” In a dramatic flash of light, Discord appeared and shouted, “Salutations, Cutie Mark Crusaders new and old!” His appearance was met with fewer cheers than expected, and he frowned at the assorted newcomers. He then slithered next to the one remaining colt and whispered in his ear, “Those things rot your brains, you know.” Button Mash barely noticed as he continued to fiddle with his Joy Boy. “Uh-huh, almost done.” The draconequus rolled his eyes and snapped his talons. The screen on the small gaming device flashed, and a cheery tune played as the colt’s eyes grew wide. “High score! Awe-SAIEEE!” The Joy Boy flew from Button’s hooves, only to be caught in Sweetie Belle’s magic before Discord turned everyone’s attention back to the chest. “Now then, if we’re all done being distracted, I’d like to see what Diamond Tiara has brought along in an attempt to bribe everyone into being her friend this time.” “It’s not a bribe. It’s an apology.” The young filly opened the chest to reveal a number of Crusader capes, then pulled one out to demonstrate. “I commissioned Rarity to make new capes for all of the Crusdaders, not just the new ones. Instead of tying these around your neck, they have these little breakaway clasps that you can hook on and off.” She passed the first one off to an impressed Scootaloo, then turned apologetic. “They’re probably a little big for Pipsqueak, though, so I commissioned an alternative for him.” She then produced something else marked with the Crusader emblem. “It’s a scarf, like the one Mister Quiver has.” “Aw, brilliant!” The piebald colt accepted it gleefully, then wrapped it about his neck. “Thank you!” Discord gagged until another scarf was produced from the chest. “For me?” At Diamond’s timid nod, he accepted it, then tied it about his neck as one would an ascot. “Well, how thoughtful of you, but don’t expect this to just magically make up for all the trouble you’ve caused.” Quiver scowled, then gestured to the two senior Crusaders. “Sweetie Belle, how about you take Diamond Tiara into the Clubhouse for a minute? Scootaloo, how about you take the rest of the Crusaders aside, let them know what the itinerary is?” He then turned to Discord. “You. With me. Now.” The draconequus raised an eyebrow, then smirked.- Sweetie Belle was very swift with her instructions, and she soon got Diamond Tiara into the Clubhouse. The latter filly let out a deep breath in relief as the door closed behind them. “Thanks.” “I think Mister Quiver deserves more than I do. This was his idea.” “Still, thanks.” She glanced around the inside of the Clubhouse. “You guys really haven’t redecorated in here, have you? I mean, not that it needs redecorating, I’m just…” “It’s okay, I know what you meant.” The unicorn filly turned sad as she realized, “What Discord said got to you, didn’t it?” The other filly nodded. “I know that I’ve done a lot of bad stuff to you and your friends, and I’m trying to make up for it, I really am.” “Of course! And you’re doing great!” Sweetie Belle gently hugged the mare and assured her, “Apple Bloom would tell you the same thing if she were here!” That prompted a smile. “Thanks, but…” A mirthless laugh escaped her lips. “Do you remember when Discord first got loose, and made his way to Ponyville?” That gave the filly pause, and she admitted, “Not really. It was all kinda hazy, like I slept through it or something.” “Well, I didn’t.” She ran a hoof through her mane where her tiara had been and explained, “I was out shopping with some of the housestaff and…her…when Discord came to town. He enchanted some of the stuff she was going to buy, used it to create more chaos, and, well…she didn’t take it well, and started telling him off.” Sweetie Belle suddenly found herself with very conflicted feelings about a clash between Discord and Spoiled Milk. “What happened?” “He pulled her up with his magic, said something about how if she was going to object to his fun that she needed to lighten up, and then put this hat on her. Like the one Button Mash always wears. Next thing that happens, her eyes go weird, her coat and mane change colors, her cutie mark changes, and she’s floating around town until it’s all done.” Diamond shook suddenly, then admitted, “I can get you giving me a chance after giving him a chance, but…why give him a chance at all?” “Well, he did try to help us find our cutie marks, which is more than most ponies did.” Sweetie Belle mulled things over and realized aloud, “Still, I think I get where you’re coming from. That’s probably what Mister Quiver…” A loud smack sounded from outside, and the clear sounds of a fight soon started. “What the…?!” Diamond Tiara suddenly went pale. “Oh no…”- Quiver had barely moved just to the edge of earshot of the Crusaders when he rounded on Discord. “Where do you get off?” “I beg your pardon?” “You know what I’m talking about! Those jabs at Diamond Tiara! Who gave you the right to give her grief?” Discord rolled his eyes. “And I’m supposed to genuinely believe that she’s turned over a new leaf? You’re new here, so I’ll forgive you for not being aware of a few details, but that little brat’s been nothing but a burr in the Crusaders’ saddle for as long as I’ve known them.” “Oh, I’m well aware that she bullied them. I’m also well aware that she’s doing her damnedest to not be that sort of pony anymore, and having guilt slathered onto her at every possible opportunity isn’t going to do her any favors. And that’s ignoring how hypocritical you’re being.” The draconequus glowered at the stallion. “I don’t think that I like your tone.” Quiver glowered right back. “And I certainly don’t like you. Like I said, unrepentant, mean-spirited, cruel, and hypocritical.” Discord stared at the stallion before him, then sneered. “You know, I have a very hard time understanding why Fluttershy or anypony else would consider you to be a friend. I can only assume that it’s pity, given how you’ve grown up.” He conjured up a recording of Quiver bawling his eyes out and mockingly continued, “Oh woe is me! My daddy doesn’t love me and I was bullied all the way through school!” The recording vanished. “How pathetic.” “At least I’m not an immature brat like you.” The stony expression on Quiver’s face stayed constant even as Discord’s full attention shot back onto him. “It’s a miracle that anypony’s willing to give you even a sliver of a chance. I’ve read about you, about the havoc you caused and the chaos you created. About how you were imprisoned, locked away in stone for a thousand years. Awake. Aware. Totally cognizant of the outside world, and unable to influence it.” A snort. “Don’t tell me you think I didn’t deserve it.” “No, but you sure as rut didn’t learn from it. Say what you like about my old stallion, but the first time he punished me over something was the last time he punished me over it. Fear and the assurance that I would get what was coming to me kept me in line, every time. You, though? When you got freed from your prison, what did you do? Did you learn from your experiences, resolve to do what was obvious to avoid repeating them? No. You did everything you could to go back to having your fun, and woe be unto anyone or anything that got in your way. You twisted the landscape according to your mad whims, you played cruel pranks on hapless ponies, you…” Quiver growled a pause. “To Tartarus with delicacy, you mind-raped Twilight’s friends and broke her spirit, all so you could keep having your jollies. Even getting locked in stone again didn’t teach you anything. Anypony ever tell you what the definition of insanity is? Because you’ve certainly demonstrated it.” Fury soon found itself on Discord’s face as he glared right into the stallion’s eyes. “I’d be careful about my next words if I were you. There’s no telling what I might do.” “Other than prove my point? You might call Fluttershy and the original three Crusaders your friends, but the rest of us? We’re little more than toys to you, and…” Discord’s talon struck fast as a cobra as he poked Quiver right above the eyes. The stallion staggered back and shook his head as Discord laughed. “Toys, eh? Well, let’s see how much you enjoy being played…with…?” Quiver recovered, seemingly unaffected by whatever Discord had done, and locked his eyes back on the draconequus. “What…was that?” Something was off, and Discord could tell. He leaned forward and said, “That was supposed to render you a gibbering idiot! You would’ve envied your brother in a state like…!” Quiver’s hoof striking his jaws came as a complete surprise. Discord’s head spun about like a top, and his neck twisted in a comical manner that the stallion had long been accustomed to seeing with Pinkie Pie until it snapped back. The draconequus then shook his head in surprise and declared, “You hit me! Twilight never hit… wait a minute, that –!” He failed to finish his statement before Quiver jumped from the ground with a roar and tackled him to the ground. Discord’s head was soon held tight by the stallion’s hoof and then repeatedly banged hard into the earth, each collision causing his eyes to bulge from their sockets like some squeeze-toy and his body to shift in color. Discord tried to defend himself, but as he raised a limb to snap his digits and turn the fight in his favor, Quiver bit down on the limb and popped it off his body with all the ease of a lizard losing its tail. The offending limb was then pinned down, digits splayed out beneath the stallion’s rear hoof as Quiver continued his attack. Even as this went on, the pair were watched by Scootaloo and the gathered junior Crusaders with amazement and more than a little fright. They stood uncertain of what to do as Sweetie Belle and Diamond Tiara returned. “What the heck’s going on?!” “Mister Quiver is fighting with Discord!” Pipsqueak reported. “And I think he’s winning!” The question that immediately crossed both fillies’ minds was ‘for how long’, and the two senior Crusaders immediately stepped in. “Mister Quiver, stop! That’s enough!” It took a second for Quiver to register Scootaloo’s words, but that was enough for Discord to ooze out from under him and pull himself together. “Oh, what fortuitous timing! Thank you, both of you! Clearly this is all the proof that’s necessary to show that one of us needs to go, and quickly!” “Yeah, and it’s not him.” That caught the draconequus off guard as he turned in surprise to the gathered foals. Despite having seen the grown stallion attack him, they were gathering around him, Diamond Tiara even sticking close to Quiver as Sweetie Belle stepped forward. “Leave, Discord. Please.” Discord frowned. “And here I thought you all knew how to have fun.” He then snapped his talons and vanished. Quiver exhaled as Diamond Tiara looked up at him with concern. “Are you okay?” “I think so.” His gaze swept over the gathered foals. “I’m sorry that all of you saw that. Something tells me that Fluttershy’s going to read me the riot act once she gets back.” “Maybe, but Discord kinda had it coming, the way he was acting.” Rumble stepped forward and added, “What he was doing? That wasn’t cool.” “And maybe we’ve done enough for the day.” Scootaloo raised a hoof. “All in favor of going home?” The raised hooves made it unanimous. - “Ah don’t know about the rest a’ y’all, but Ah’m glad to be gettin’ home.” Applejack slouched with exhaustion in her bench on the train, her hat slightly askew and her baby sister snoozing at her side. “That little trip to Manehattan was way more eventful than Ah’d’ve liked.” “I agree, but it wasn’t all that terrible.” Fluttershy was in a similar state, but maintained a pleasant smile. “After all, you and Rarity have made peace with Trixie.” “Well, circumstances like those we shared do make holding onto grudges rather difficult.” Rarity, in comparison to her friends, barely had a visible trace of any exhaustion. “And if Rainbow Dash can make peace with her, well, how would we look if we didn’t?” “An’ that talkin’ to Twilight gave us a while back certainly didn’t hurt.” The train was beginning to slow, and Applejack gently nudged her sister. “Apple Bloom, time to wake up. We’re almost back in Ponyville.” The filly barely moved and mumbled, “Jus’ five more minutes…” The three mares laughed as the train came to a halt, and Rarity took a moment to help Applejack sling the latter’s sister onto her back. They collected their luggage and stepped onto the platform, only to soon find themselves with a welcoming committee. “Rarity!” Sweetie Belle all but tackled her sister in greeting, and received a resigned but happy hug in return. “Welcome back! How was Manehattan?” “Quite an adventure, dear, one that I’ll tell you about once I get home and unpack.” “An’ have yourself a spa visit?” The elegant unicorn flashed a smile that made clear Applejack’s guess wasn’t far off before her attention turned to the rest of their friends. “I hope nothing too exciting happened while we were away.” The two conscious Crusaders gave one another nervous looks as Rainbow Dash scowled. “Yeah, we’re gonna have to disappoint you.” The prismatic pegasus eyed Fluttershy as she added, “And you’re really not going to like this.”- The house was quiet. Not the normal sort of peaceful quiet, however, but the sort of quiet that spoke of unhappy moods. Sour knew that sort of quiet all too well, despite having barely interacted with her cousin growing up. Quiver was down, so down that he lacked the energy to do anything beyond normal daily necessities. It was a dour mood that he would argue was akin to a prisoner on death row awaiting his execution. Sour wasn’t inclined to be so dramatic, but she could understand him dreading the inevitable. He’d long been accustomed to getting lashed upon, so on some level, he expected the worst over the smallest slights. The only saving grace was that he tended to face it with as much dignity as he could, but little else. Were she in his position, however, she would do what any sane individual would and fight like Tartarus. That she knew he was able to do the same was galling, but for now, there was little she could do. A knock sounded at the door, and Sour moved to answer it. The pony she found on the other side did little to please her. “Fluttershy?” The yellow pegasus looked as though she was attempting to psyche herself up for something even as she kept eye contact with the mare before her. “Hello, Sour. May I come in?” The unicorn nodded, and gestured for her guest to enter. “Just got back from Manehatten, I take it.” “Yes.” Fluttershy was without any sort of luggage or personal belongings, but Sour could think of several explanations for that. “Rainbow Dash met us at the station with Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, and they told me about what happened between Quiver and Discord. I need to talk with him.” Sour scowled. “Why am I not surprised.” Fluttershy’s response was both hurt and defensive. “Excuse me?” “I had a feeling that something like this was coming.” Sour turned and locked eyes on the mare before her. “Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions, but I’m a little worried that you’re about to try and defend Discord’s actions.” What hesitation Fluttershy had vanished in an instant. “What Quiver did to him wasn’t right.” “Oh, and what Discord did to him was?” The soldier was clearly working to keep her composure as she recounted, “When I was assigned to bodyguard Princess Twilight, I was given dossiers on everypony that was in her orbit as well as everyone that I might encounter as part of my duties, along with very detailed notes about critical events regarding those individuals. One such event was when Discord was freed from stone shortly before Princess Twilight’s ascension, and frankly, I’m not happy about what I read.” “Discord fixed the damage he caused.” “He hexed some beavers into flooding Sweet Apple Acres, and then made you promise never to use your Element of Harmony against him in order to undo the damage! And after he got that, snap! He froze the flood waters!” “And he valued his friendship with me enough to…!” “If he valued his friendship with you at all, he’d have undone the damage before it had even gotten that bad in the first place! No strings attached! Instead, he offered a deal, you fulfilled your end, and he didn’t! If he wouldn’t follow his end, why should you have followed yours?! Principles? The moral high ground? Oh yes, the Spirit of Chaos can go back to turning Equestria into his personal playground, but that’s fine because the bearer of the Element of Kindness and the world’s biggest doormat showed that she was good and noble and just! I feel so thrilled to know that bleeding hearts like you are keeping us safe!” “Now wait just a minute…!” “Oh spare me! The more you talk, the more you sound like a victim trying to defend their abuser! And trust me, I know exactly what that sounds like! Yeah, sure, fine, he put everything back to normal eventually, but that doesn’t change the fact that you were willing to let him win! Frankly, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense that he’d even be willing to change his ways, given how he acted the last time he broke free, and the horseshit he’s pulled since has shown he hasn’t changed all that much!” “That’s not true!” “He warped your brain! He warped your friends’ brains! He kicked Twilight while she was down and celebrated his victory! And since he’s broken loose, he’s twisted reality like taffy trying to get the Cutie Mark Crusaders their cutie marks, you’ve had to deal with plundervines that he couldn’t bother to clean up, and then he faked being sick and caused all sorts of trouble in the bargain! And now, he tried to sabotage Quiver’s relationship with the Crusaders just to hog their attention, and tried to warp his brain in the bargain! And never once has he shown any sort of remorse!” One hoof was raised to emphasize her point as Sour continued, “Here’s something that I think a pony like you should consider – kindness to the unrepentant is cruelty to their victims! And last I checked…!” “Sour.” Both mares turned to see Quiver standing off to the side. “I think that I can speak for myself, thanks.” The unicorn gave a small nod, then turned back to Fluttershy and gestured with one hoof to make clear that she’d keep an eye on the pegasus before stepping out of the room. Satisfied that his cousin was out of earshot, Quiver turned to his guest. “Obviously you’ve heard about what happened with Discord.” “Yes, I have. And I’m disappointed.” “I’m not proud of what I did, Fluttershy, but I’m not ashamed of it either.” “Actually, I’m disappointed in both of you. Discord for acting the way he did, and you for taking his bait.” Fluttershy stepped forward and admitted, “I’m not going to apologize for his actions. That’s something that he should do, after all. And it might be too much to ask for you to apologize for what you did in response.” She then noticed the grim, uncertain look on her friend’s face and asked, “Quiver?” The stallion sighed. “I’m sorry. I’m just trying to think of a way to say this that won’t result in a shouting match, or me losing you as a friend.” Fluttershy gently draped a wing over his shoulder. “I’m a big mare, Quiver. I can take it.” He then sat down. “Has he ever apologized for anything he’s done? Ever shown guilt, acknowledged his wrongdoing and attempted to do better? I mean, it’s hard for me to reconcile him befriending you with everything else that he’s done. He could have run for the hills, gone to the opposite corner of the cosmos when he stopped being taken for granite, but instead, he goes back to wreaking havoc and hurting ponies. He manipulated and twisted your friends into the exact opposite of the elements they represent, he reduced Twilight to a broken wreck in a way that would make the cruelest monster proud, he… he mind-raped you. And you being willing to give him a chance, let alone befriend him...” He raised a hoof. “I know that friendship shouldn’t be denied to others. I know that everypony deserves a chance to be better, to be shown another way. But…” “But why do all that for someone like him?” Quiver looked into her eyes as Fluttershy explained, “I know that there are beings out there who are terrible, and cruel, and mean. I’ve met a few. But do I have the right to just act like there’s no hope for somepony like Discord, when I know I can help him to be the best possible version of himself?” “And how do you know he does want to be the best possible version of himself? Or that your idea of the best possible version of himself and his are the same thing?” “I don’t. But that doesn’t mean I should just give up on him. He can be better. And I have faith that he will.” Shame then appeared on her face as she admitted, “Besides, I don’t need Discord to act like a cruel monster to my friends. Sometimes, I can do that all by myself.” At Quiver’s alarmed expression, Fluttershy explained, “I once took some assertiveness training, and I took it too far. The way I acted then, it wasn’t much different from how I acted under Discord’s influence. How can I be hard on him over making me act in a way that I already could, all on my own?” “You still felt bad about it.” “Yes, and keeping that in mind is something that helps me to be a better pony.” She turned a little embarrassed as she admitted, “And as much as I hate to say it, I think he probably needed what happened to him after meeting you. What he went through, hopefully, might help him to be better too. I just hope that it doesn’t happen again.” Quiver managed a weak smile. “I hope it doesn’t either. I still feel like he was treating me with kid gloves.” He relaxed slightly. “And I’m really glad we aren’t having a shouting match.” Fluttershy took him into a hug. “Me too. Neither of us like things like that.” She then smiled reassuringly. “But I think our friendship can survive a disagreement or two.” “Good. Not that I want to have them in the first place, but you know me. Always afraid that I’ll say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, get someone mad at me, all that.” Now more genuinely relaxed, he opted to change the subject. “So, how was the trip to Manehatten?” Fluttershy laughed. “Oh, that’s a very long story…”- “How did he do it?” Discord was not normally one for pacing about in his residence in the Chaos Realm. Normally, he was the one who caused others to pace about, and he didn’t enjoy the shoe being on the other foot. Still, the situation that he found himself in was amazingly vexing. Quiver had hurt him. Hurt him. A mere, simple earth pony, fueled by nothing but rage, had hurt him. Not to mention his not being at all effected by his mind-warping magic. Nevermind the tongue-lashing that he’d received from that one little filly, this was far more important. “There has to be an explanation.” With a snap from his paw, Discord conjured up charts and graphs. “Some reason for this.” Another snap from his talon, and further charts appeared. “Some random pony shouldn’t just be able to shrug off my magic! Even Fluttershy couldn’t do that! And he certainly shouldn’t be able to beat me around like a rag doll! I’m Discord! Spirit of Chaos! Reality is putty in my hands! I’ve warped ponies’ bodies and minds and…” A lightbulb flashed into existence above his head, and Discord promptly clicked it off as he grabbed three charts. “Of course. They always come in threes. He’s not an Observer, and he’s nothing like Pinkie Pie… he’s somewhere in between.” He tossed the charts away. “And this was my own fault. Poopy.” Despite his annoyance, however, Discord couldn’t help but grin a little. If Quiver could throw him for a loop, well, who knows what that stallion could do under the right circumstances? “Oh, this could be fun.” That was for later, however. Right now, he had other things to do. - Fluttershy sighed contentedly as she finished putting away the last of her luggage and souvenirs from Manehatten. It had been far too eventful a trip for her taste, even if it had all ended well enough. Maker only knew how Twilight would react to hearing about their adventure with Trixie. A knock sounded at her door and distracted her from her thoughts. “Come in!” A flash of light, and Discord appeared before her. “Fluttershy, how are you? I heard that you’d gotten home from Manehatten, and I just had to hear all about your trip!” He quickly noticed the saddened expression on her face. “Oh. Was it that terrible?” “No, no, the trip went well enough. It’s just…” The draconequus rolled his eyes. “Oh, of course, you’ve already heard about what happened while you were away.” “Yes, I have. And I’ve spoken with Quiver about the incident.” “Ah, good. In that case, you know full well what he did and…” “Do you regret it, Discord?” The question caught him completely off-guard. “Excuse me?” “Do you regret it? Any of the bad things that you’ve done? Upending ponies’ lives, messing with their minds, twisting the world around them?” Discord stared at her for a moment. “What sort of a question is that?” “The sort of question that I’d ask any of my friends if they did something bad, and expected everyone to simply forgive them for it.” Fluttershy stepped forward. “I’ve forgiven you, but that’s mostly because I know that I had it in me to do what I did under your influence all on my own without your help.” “And Applejack doesn’t have it in her to lie? Rarity to be greedy? Rainbow Dash to be selfish or…?” “I’m not saying that they don’t. Nopony is without their flaws or their failings, but acknowledging those faults and failings is the first step towards being better. And the actions you took weren’t done to point out those faults or try to help them to be better ponies, but done so that you could continue to enjoy yourself at the expense of others. You did it to hurt them. And I have to ask again… do you regret it?” Discord stared at her in silence, then closed his eyes and vanished in a flash of light. Fluttershy sighed sadly, and hoped that she had at least given him something to think about. Doing this had hurt, but much like with the Breezies, it needed to be done. With any luck, something good would come from it. At least, that was her hope....
Quiververse Bonus Reel - Vignette ThirteenTwilight smiled with contentment as she tucked Spike into bed. The young drake needed his rest, if only to help fight off that brief cold he’d found himself dealing with. Between staying up through the night to help with Winter Wrap-Up and falling asleep on a chunk of ice, it was no surprise he was under the weather. She also tried her best not to think about how she was inevitably going to be blamed for Spike falling asleep where he did as she went back down to the library proper. Something told her the only reason Spike wasn’t blaming her, at least not out loud, was because of the inevitable comeback that she’d make regarding his flip-flopping on using her magic. A knock sounded on the door, and Twilight quickly moved to answer. “Applejack?” “Howdy, Twilight. Got a minute?” The unicorn stepped outside the library and closed the door behind her as her friend collected herself. “Came by to see how you were doin’. An’ apologize fer that outburst yesterday.” Twilight gave a reassuring smile. “Applejack, you don’t have to apologize for that. You were under a lot of stress trying to get everything done.” “Ain’t no excuse, though. You were tryin’ to help, an’ a certain someone went an’ pushed ya in a way that made things worse.” At her friend’s surprised expression, the farmpony explained, “Ah encouraged Spike to give me the full story after you ran off. Ah’d’ve called him a weasel, but somethin’ tells me Fluttershy would’ve protested on behalf of the weasels.” Twilight nodded in agreement. This conversation, however, was leading her towards very uncomfortable territory. “Applejack, as much as I can forgive what you did, I have to ask something. Is there…” She turned uneasy, as if she were unsure of how to proceed. “Do Ah have an issue with unicorns an’ magic?” The unicorn sighed. “Yes. Sorry, I didn’t want to accuse you of something you aren’t.” “Ah know, an’ Ah appreciate the gesture, but Ah’m a big mare an’ Ah can handle havin’ mah feelin’s hurt, ‘specially when it’s unintentional.” Applejack sat down on her rear to get comfortable. “Ah don’t have issue with unicorns in general, or magic in general. That reaction of mine came from a lotta diff’rent places, an’ not just the fact that it’d been ages since we got the job done anywhere near on time an’ Ah had that hangin’ over me.” She took off her hat and asked, “Ya remember the Hearth’s Warmin’ story?” “I’m going to assume that’s a rhetorical question.” The farmpony nodded. “Ah got this relative, an old great-uncle Maker knows how many places removed. Tends to say a lotta stuff that most ponies would dismiss as tribist, ‘specially concernin’ that time’a year. Talk about how unicorns an’ pegasi had unfair advantages over us earth ponies. Asked Granny once why she didn’t stop him from sayin’ that stuff, an’ ya’ know what she said?” “That he wasn’t wrong?” At Applejack’s surprised expression, Twilight explained, “There’s more than a few unicorns who’ve discussed the Hearth’s Warming story, and brought up how contemporary attitudes among the unicorn nobles contributed to unjust conditions for the earth pony tribes. Those attitudes didn’t really fade after everything happened with the Windigoes, but they were dealt pretty hard blows.” “No kiddin’.” Applejack shook her head and continued her story. “Granny continued on with her life experiences, how she had to work hard an’ survive dealin’ with all sorts’a dangers both before an’ after settlin’ down an’ foundin’ Sweet Apple Acres. An’ how a lot’ve ‘em involved magic in some way. Taught her that magic was somethin’ to be wary of at best, an’ if’n a pony can avoid usin’ it, then they should.” She shrugged and admitted, “Colored mah viewpoint a bit. All the stuff Ah do ‘round the farm, plus everythin’ for Winter Wrap-Up an' the Runnin’ of the Leaves an’ other stuff, Ah do it with my own four hooves. No wings, no horn, jus’ old-fashioned pony-power. Point of pride for me, too.” “And there’s nothing wrong with that.” “Ain’t sayin’ there is, an’ Ah’m glad you agree.” She lifted a hoof and explained, “Ah ain’t stupid, Twilight. Ah know earth ponies have magic too. That what we do ain’t nearly as flashy or impressive as movin’ stuff without touchin’ it or makin’ lightnin’ bolts or whatever, but what we do is plenty important. A farm run by an earth pony is gonna out-perform a farm run by a unicorn or a pegasus, everythin’ else bein’ equal, simply because our magic works better ‘fer farmin’. An’ seein’ that get put down…” “It hurts.” “An’ like Ah said, Ah know you weren’t tryin’ to do that. Ah lashed out on instinct, an’ that was wrong.” “Especially considering there are ponies out there who would put you down just because you’re an earth pony, Hearth’s Warming or no Hearth’s Warming.” Applejack nodded, and Twilight smiled. “I’m glad that you know I’m not one of them.” The farmpony grinned. “Sugarcube, you got yer flaws, but arrogance ain’t one of ‘em. Buck, even Rainbow Dash ain’t got a head that big.” The two shared a short giggle before she continued, “Anyway, you got us organized. No magic, jus’ you usin’ yer head and playin’ to yer strengths. That ain’t somethin’ to sneeze at.” “Thanks.” Twilight relaxed, glad to have that weight lifted. “Anyway, now that’s out of the way, there’s something I’d like to talk with you about concerning Winter Wrap-Up. I might have some ideas for streamlining things next year. No magic, just working smarter rather than harder.” That got Applejack’s attention. “Streamlinin’, huh? Tell me more.”...
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Hello everyone! As you may have noticed, DeviantBroniesElite has not been active as of late. I've realized that I've come to be the only admin here. Unfortunately, while I do still love producing art here and there, I just simply don't have the time to maintain and run a group of this scale anymore.
The group deserves a staff that can devote time and effort to making sure art is submitted and sorted, as well as have ideas for how to bring new life to DeviantBroniesElite.
Therefore, I'm looking for new admins and a new founder! If you're interested, please note the group with the following information:
~Are you applying to be a mod or the new founder? ~What makes you interested in being a mod/founder?
~Do you have any experience being an admin in another group? If so, what were your responsibilities and how did you handle them? If not, what are some ideas you have to revitalize DeviantBroniesElite?
~How much time per week do you expect to be able to devote to the group?
Thank you all, I look forward to hearing from you.
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EchoWing Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2022  Hobbyist Writer
Resubmitting yet again! I'm at the point where I want to start nagging the folks in charge of the group!
Siayris Featured By Owner Aug 9, 2022  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Can i post art?
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EchoWing Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2022  Hobbyist Writer
Resubmitting again.
EchoWing Featured By Owner Jul 26, 2022  Hobbyist Writer
Two submissions this time around. Do people not like my stuff here anymore?
EchoWing Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2022  Hobbyist Writer
Submitted the same piece for three weeks in a row. Getting a little worried.
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