Princess Celestia looked over the letter, clearly written in Spike's claw-writing. It was an interesting note, dictated by one 'Korrick', an apparent changeling friend of Aurus. But something in the letter was amiss.
Your Majesty Celestia,
My name is Korrick, and I have been banished from the changeling lands for backing my king, Aurus Marz. I pray that you find him well, for news has reached my ears that assassins were sent for him. I will try to keep this missive brief, for there is little time.
I need to meet with my king, and see with my own eyes that he is well. There is dark news that I must deliver to him in person. If it would please your grace, I could use an escort. After everything that has happened, I am not certain that myself and my companion should enter your city on our own.
As for my companion, you may not be pleased to admit her. I leave that to your discretion. For now she resides in Everfree, but she is weak and tired; I feel she would not last long in such a harsh wood on her own. You will recognize her by the name of Chrysalis.
Celestia's magical aura stuttered, nearly dropping the letter. That name; everypony in Equestria knew of it by now. The trouble she had caused, the very instigator of the near war between ponies and changelings. Even Spike knew that name, it seemed, for his penning of the moniker was jagged and spattered, as if he had pressed too hard in panic. Celestia continued the letter.
I know that she has caused your people no small deal of trouble, but you have my assurances that she is no threat. She's been dethroned, and her power is gone. She and I will both follow Aurus' example, and not disguise ourselves in your fair city, should you admit us. I know it was his plan to approach you undisguised. If you would be so inclined, please send someone to meet us outside of Everfree.
With great hope,
She pondered this quietly. Admitting that witch into her city was not on the top of her to-do list, but if what Korrick said was true, she had little choice. The weak didn't last long in Everfree, and the ponies of Ponyville would not be forgiving enough to take her in. Traveling with Korrick was her only real hope, no matter how much Celestia loathed her.
Chrysalis. Celestia's jaw clenched at the mere mention of that name, the villain who had disgraced her in battle. She never could have expected such a defeat. It had been centuries since the last time ponies and changelings had fought, and the princess had forgotten much. Reflecting on it, it was no small wonder that she had lost, but it stung no less.
She had a duty to all things living, though. Her damaged pride was a poor excuse to deny a second chance.
She sighed heavily, sealing her decision. Rolling up the letter, she tucked it into her mane, where it vanished from sight. Without any further delay, she trotted out to the balcony of her bedroom, and launched into the morning air, flying fast to the southwest for Ponyville, and Everfree.
Korrick paced about the edges of the forest, as he had done the previous day. He'd expected it to take some time to not only receive, but respond to his letter. Still, he was eager to be at Aurus' side, and to deliver the dire news he had. He had no way of knowing, of course, that Aurus had already received this information.
"What good does it do you to walk in circles, you old tart?" Chrysalis asked dryly, poking her head out of the foliage long enough to give him a sarcastically curious look. "Walk any faster and you'll wear a ring in the dirt."
"Oh be quiet," Korrick grumbled, continuing his routine pacing. It was an old habit he'd developed a long time ago, and he liked to imagine that it aided his thinking process. "It's not as if there's anything else to do while we wait anyways."
"Well, we could be going over our plans to conquer the city," she said slyly, her smile turning into a wicked smirk.
Korrick whirled on her, scowling fiercely.
"Kidding, kidding," she chimed, laughing warmly at his expression. "Good to know that what they say about old people is true; they really have no sense of humor at all." She pulled herself all the way out of the low brush ringing the woods, meeting him out on the road. "All joking aside, it's been two days. I'm getting the feeling that they don't believe your letter."
Korrick sighed, letting his nerves settle from her tasteless joke. "I'm starting to get that feeling myself. Spike hasn't received any return letters either. If the princess is sending anyone, she's keeping it quiet." He looked at his hooves, deep in thought. "Regardless, it's our duty to wait. If there's even a chance that someone will come, we should be ready to depart."
"Well it's not like we brought anything to pack," she said snidely, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. She trotted a few steps away, scanning the horizon. She might not have as much magic power as the old codger anymore, but her eyesight was still perfect. "Well well," she chuckled, spotting a speck in the direction they had been expecting.
"You see something?" he asked eagerly, for his old eyes would never have made out that little dot.
"Yes, though it appears to be only one escort. It looks like she trusts you more than I thought," she said, wearing her signature twisted smirk. Korrick had learned quickly that it didn't always mean she was plotting something; just that she was a rotten person.
The two of them waited a short while, the speck finally coming into view for even Korrick's old eyes. Whoever it was, they were flying fast, and straight for them. This was certainly the messenger they had been waiting for. As their escort finally came in for a landing, Chrysalis' eyes went wide. She jumped back behind Korrick as quickly as her legs would take her, her ears slapping flat to her skull. Her wide eyes shifted to a hateful scowl as she watched the white alicorn alighting on the road in front of her.
Korrick's reaction was a little more neutral. He simply gawked at the princess, for he had never laid eyes on her. Stories abounded of course, but she far exceeded all rumors he had heard. He bowed his head without thinking, as if the mere pressure of her presence had forced it. "Your majesty Celestia," he said warmly, his voice containing a note of surprise and wonder. "I certainly didn't expect you to come for us personally."
She only smiled at him, though one look at her showed that she was making a significant effort to ignore Chrysalis for the time being. "It would arouse suspicion amongst the guards if you were to enter the city with anypony other than myself. Especially considering our... guest," she finished quietly. Her tone became careful and distrustful, her eyes shifting to Chrysalis.
"Wonderful to see you, too," the downtrodden female replied snidely.
Celestia sighed, doing her best to ignore her rude and easily destructible changeling nemesis. "Charming as always," she grumbled in return, bringing her focus back to Korrick. "You said in your letter that there wasn't much time? Whatever news you have for Aurus, it must be urgent. I suggest we get back to the castle as quickly as possible. Aurus has been training hard in the ways of magic, and it would do his heart good in this troubling time to know that you are alive. He's told me much about you, Korrick, and you are welcome in my city."
"Thank you, your grace," Korrick replied warmly, dipping his head in gratitude.
Celestia turned her most displeased look possible on Chrysalis. "You, however, are not welcome. I'm accommodating you as a personal favor to Aurus, since I know he wouldn't have turned you away. If you cause any trouble at all in my castle, I will not hesitate to bring you down. And judging by the way you look now, I'd imagine things will go a bit differently this time between us if it becomes a fight," she finished darkly, her scowl a clear threat.
Chrysalis just laughed mockingly. "Do I look like I'm capable of causing any trouble? I couldn't pick up a pebble, much less wreck your pretty little city. And in case you haven't noticed, I don't exactly have an army at my back; or if I do, they're not working for me. More likely they'd try to kill me," she said snidely, sneering at Celestia. "You've got nothing to fear from me this time, miss high-and-mighty."
Celestia sighed, stomaching the urge to kick Chrysalis in the teeth. "Very well. Korrick, can she fly?" Celestia asked idly, spreading her wings.
Korrick smiled smugly, thinking he knew where this was going. He spread his own wings, walking up beside Celestia. Neither of them saw the suddenly curious look that came over Chrysalis.
"No, I don't believe she can," he replied with a small laugh. He saw Celestia smile mischievously and turned to watch as a golden aura enveloped the ex-villain.
"What?" Chrysalis asked in panic, flailing about as the magic picked her up off the ground. She eventually gave up though as she realized this was how she would be flying with them. Her legs just dangled limply underneath her as she hung her head low, scowling at Celestia, who was smiling smugly over her shoulder.
"Oh ha ha," Chrysalis snapped, rolling her eyes and looking absolutely ridiculous, hanging there like a ragdoll.
Celestia and Korrick took off, the magical bubble holding Chrysalis following closely behind. The ex-queen gulped, realizing that if the magic failed, it would be a long ways to fall, and her weak wings would never slow her enough to keep her from splattering all over the side of some tree in the woods below, or the rocky foothills below the cliffs of Canterlot.
Celestia didn't miss that, and it only made her mischievous smile deepen. "Oh, don't worry," she said in a sing-song sort of way. "I won't drop you... too far."
Chrysalis wasn't so smug anymore.
"Ha!" Aurus grunted, watching with satisfaction as the boulder in front of him cracked in two. Cleanly, for once. Using air pressure to split rock had been a difficult training exercise to be sure, and one he had thought up himself. Pony magic wasn't built for this kind of 'violent' usage. Anytime the surface of the stone changed angles, the air became hard to control. The 'wind' he was using to try and slice the rock would ricochet wildly, making a very jagged and nasty cut down the center of the boulder. There were infinitely many small corrections that had to be made to keep the air moving in a perfectly straight line. It required continual focus to achieve a cut this clean.
They'd finally outgrown the library room for his training, moving on to larger and more dangerous exercises in the courtyard behind the castle.
"Very impressive!" Twilight called from the side, safe behind a low stone wall. A few of Aurus' attempts had led him to becoming frustrated, and resorting to his old method; brute force. The result had been that the rock blew apart, sending chunks of stone flying about like leaves in a storm. They had just clicked and clacked off of his thick shell, but Twilight had had to warp out of the blast radius to avoid being shredded by the jagged pieces.
She vacated her hiding spot and trotted over, examining it. "A perfectly clean cut; the last two days have really paid off. And you've aced all the other exercises I've given you too," she said proudly, nudging his shoulder. "I think we've finally reached the point where there's nothing else I can teach you. The best thing you can do is continue to practice control. You're already miles ahead of where you were when we started."
Aurus just smiled. His week off from training had worried him. Firstly, he had been out of practice. Secondly, by the time he had recovered completely from his illness, he had a new problem to confront. The energy he had been receiving constantly from home was all but gone, and his once-endless supply of magic now had a very definite limit.
He still had enough to train with though, thanks to his wonderful friends. The love he shared with Applejack was especially potent, constantly filling him. The others also gave him energy, continually supporting him and often coming to watch him train. Even though the love was less in quantity, the quality was far greater than that of mere social love, and it kept him strong enough to continue on.
"I'm glad that you think I'm accomplished and all, but I highly doubt there's nothing else you can teach me," he said modestly.
Twilight just laughed. "I think you're forgetting how young I am. I've had a lot more practice than you, but that's really the only difference. And I've passed that practice on to you. You're ready to move on from the basics and perform spells I couldn't dream of working. Spells that up until now only the princesses could do; even with your people thinking that you're dead, you're still strong enough to be training with them. And I think it's time you did," she said warmly, smiling at him.
Aurus smiled back, and hugged her on a whim. Just a strange urge to embrace his friend who had taught him so much. "Thank you Twilight. I can't begin to explain how much this means to me. You've worked so hard to help me out," he finished, pulling away from the quick hug and keeping his smile in place.
She just laughed, returning the embrace and the smile. "Don't mention it. After all, nopony worked harder than you did to get this far. You should be thanking yourself," she said with a wink.
Aurus opened his mouth to reply, but someone behind him cleared their throat, drawing his attention.
"Good morning Princess," Twilight chimed warmly. Aurus turned to face Celestia, who was a fairly common visitor to his morning training sessions.
"Good morning you two," she replied pleasantly, walking out into the courtyard from the shade of one of the castle's many archways. "Aurus, I've got a little surprise for you," she said with a small, sly laugh.
Aurus was a little puzzled. "A surprise? What do you mean?"
"Come on out," Celestia called over her shoulder, back the way she had come.
Aurus' eyes widened in shock as he gazed upon a countenance he had never expected to see again. There before him stood the old councilor, and his dear friend. "Korrick!" he cried, rushing forward and all but leaping onto the old changeling.
Korrick laughed as Aurus nearly toppled him from his forceful embrace. He returned it warmly, like a grandfather to a grandson he had not seen in ages. "Hello Aurus. It's good to see you, my friend," he said warmly, with gentle tears of joy licking at his eyelids.
Aurus' weren't quite so reined in. "I thought you were dead! When the assassins brought me news of your capture, I thought for certain that Gerd would execute you!" Aurus broke off the hug, wiping away his happy tears, and slapping Korrick solidly on the shoulder, fixing him with an excited smile. "By all that's holy, it's good to see you."
Korrick looked at him in shock. He already knew of Gerd? "The assassins brought you news? But they were sent to kill you!"
Aurus just chuckled. "I managed to capture one, and mastered his heart. I taught him the value of our mission for peace, and now he serves me. With his help, we convinced the other assassins that I was dead, and they returned to Gerd with news of my 'death' only two weeks ago. The assassin I saved is called Malik, and he is the one who told me that Gerd was behind all the trouble back home. I don't know this Gerd person, beyond knowing he's a councilman."
Another form stepped out to greet him, one he barely recognized.
"Well well. The young king is more clever than I thought. Turning a band of assassins away, and creating a friend and spy in the process. Likely your servant Malik is now keeping an eye on Gerd's actions in your name. Who better to watch in secret than a trained assassin?" she chuckled, her eyes full of dark delight. "And here I was worried you would be a disappointment. You really are more devilish than people make you out to be."
"Chrysalis," Aurus said flatly, his face a cautious scowl.
"Your majesty," she replied mockingly, bowing her head in fake respect. "Nice to see you recognize me, though I don't believe we've met before."
"No, we haven't," he replied coldly. "I'd say it's a pleasure to meet you, but I'm not known to be a liar."
"Oh, so cold," she replied with fake hurt. "I didn't expect my presence to be a great source of joy. But my options were here with you, or back home with Gerd. After what you've been through at his hooves, who do you think is more trustworthy, hmm? I'm not here to convince you I've changed. Believe me, if I had the power, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat," she said with a dark chuckle.
"A fair point... Gerd's not a fan of rivals, I know that first hoof," Aurus said gruffly. "Trying to kill me made that plenty clear. But you're not a threat to him, he wouldn't have any reason to try and take your life. If you ask me, you would have been safer in T'rhak Enox. I'm impressed the princess didn't turn you away."
"It's not about being a threat. It's about being useful," she replied evenly, raising a hoof for emphasis. "Whether you can challenge him or not, if Gerd can't step on you to get where he's going, he'll kill you. There's nothing I can or would offer that scumbag. I realize I'm not exactly the brightest light in history, but compared to that rat I'm a saint. You on the other hoof... There's something I can offer you," she said with a smug smile.
"And what's that?" Aurus asked doubtfully. Korrick was eying her curiously, for this was the first he'd heard of it.
"Tell me, how well do you handle the magic when it's pouring into you?" she asked with a knowing smile. "Let me guess... It just sort of explodes out of you doesn't it? You can't contain that much energy, can you?"
Aurus shuffled under her scrutiny. Of course she would know what he was going through. She had gone through it herself once, otherwise she never would have metamorphosed.
She just chuckled at his hesitant reaction. "I thought as much. Well then, that's why you need me. In exchange for my freedom once this little war between you and Gerd is over, I'll teach you the most valuable lesson you'll ever learn as a king. I'll teach you how to control that magic, no matter how much they send at you. I spent years perfecting that art, and though I highly doubt I ever had the energy you did, the principles are the same. I can teach you how to be unstoppable," she chuckled, placing a hoof on his shoulder.
He didn't seem to notice her wretched touch, lost in thought as he was. "You could do that?" he asked quietly. He reflected on all the times that the painful influx of magic had hurt him, or nearly killed those around him. He remembered vividly the time only a week ago where he had been unable to contain the magic and had nearly killed himself and Twilight.
"And more. Between Korrick and I, we can teach you all there is to know about changeling magic. Learning with ponies is all well and good, but believe me, you need to be learning what your body is meant to handle. Those fluffy pony spells aren't going to be enough to stop Gerd. They're great for defense, but you need firepower."
Aurus found himself nodding. To learn to control the magic was one thing, but to be able to direct it in a fight to overpower his opponent was certainly something ponies couldn't teach him. But if he were to receive training from both the princesses and from the old changeling queen, he would be a force to be reckoned with. Perhaps then he could put away his fears of inadequacy, and become the hero his people needed. It was no secret that Chrysalis had been a powerful fighter during her reign, and had put many challengers to the throne to rest... permanently.
Aurus was no killer, but there was no denying the need for an offensive. Using the cover of his death ruse, he would have the luxury of the first strike against Gerd and his minions, and it would need to be a powerful one.
"Define 'in exchange for your freedom'," he said cautiously.
Chrysalis just chuckled. "It's obvious I have no place in T'rahk Enox. All I ask is that, should you come out the victor, you honor our agreement and protect me. I'll live in exile, but I am weak and will need help. When the time comes, I'll trust you to take care of that. All I want is to disappear and live comfortably," she said quietly, extending her hoof. "A small price to pay, I would think. Do we have a deal?"
Her twisted smile made him nervous, and something felt out of place. But if she betrayed her word, she would be little threat to him. Whatever that itching feeling was at the base of his spine, it would have to wait until she revealed whatever she was really up to. He extended a hoof and shook it with her, not returning her smile at all.
Celestia and Twilight looked at each other in confusion. All they had heard was clicking and hissing, and the next thing they knew Aurus was shaking hooves with one of the worst villains Equestria had ever known.
"Do you have any idea what they're talking about?" Celestia whispered to Twilight, leaning closer to her but still looking dumbfounded at the conversation taking place in some otherworldly language.
"I have no clue," she replied, a similar confused look on her face as she too continued to watch the exchange.
"My last report from Malik claims that Gerd has taken your place as high councilor. Apparently he gave quite a rousing speech about removing the throne from power, and calling me a hero. He made me out to be a martyr, and he's hiding in the shadow of my name until he's strong enough to make a move," Aurus said, scowling darkly. "I don't like being used this way, but it's for the better in the end, since the people will still appreciate me. The council thinks they can puppet him, so at the very least he's being watched, and not just by Malik."
Aurus, Korrick, the princesses, and Chrysalis were gathered in the library room they had been using for secret meetings and training. The other six friends were present as well of course, Applejack right by Aurus' side. When they were in the same place, it seemed as though some weird magnetism constantly drew them to stand in the same spot, regardless of what they were doing. In the end, Aurus had given up fighting that pull to stand by her, and she had never fought it to begin with.
"The fact that they put him in the high seat at all shows they're in no position to control him," Korrick scoffed, pacing about. "If they knew even the slightest thing about him or his house, they never would have stumbled into such an obvious trap. It's him who's watching them, I can assure you of that. His family has eyes everywhere."
"What do ya mean 'house'?" Applejack asked. She didn't want to interrupt, but she was glad to see that even the princesses were nodding in agreement to her question.
"A house is like your family. Not everyone is related though; many families come together under a single name to better their chances of gaining power. My family isn't part of any house, which isn't uncommon. Normally only nobility enter into the house system. The fact that Gerd is in one makes him a dangerous enemy; even when I return and the people come back to my side, he will still have many loyal friends," Aurus said with a sad smile. It was grim news, but he had to answer her question. Everyone deserved to know what they were up against.
Korrick nodded, satisfied with that explanation. "We need to come up with a strategy, to deal with the others in his house. If it were a one on one fight, I have no doubt that you could beat Gerd. With the intensive training you'll be receiving, he won't be any match for you, especially when the people flee him to join you. Still, there's no telling what he and his kin have planned; house Gallock has always been tricky, and their magic isn't always their greatest asset."
Aurus was puzzled by this. "What could be more powerful than their magic? I thought all nobility was highly trained."
Korrick nodded. "This is true, but in the case of house Gallock, their true worth lies in something entirely different.
"Resources," Chrysalis replied darkly. "Gerd's father nearly beat me out for claim of the throne by his reputation and the change in his pocket. He certainly wasn't half my equal in a magical battle, but he knew all the right people, and had many devious tricks up his sleeve. I did battle him once, and nearly lost because of an artifact his family possessed. A staff of some sort that could produce lightning at will; highly dangerous, but it had a limit, and I outlasted him. What you should take away from this is that it's not just Gerd that's dangerous. He could have any number of allies or artifacts at his command, things you've never seen before and have no way of knowing how to counter."
Aurus nodded, logging that information away. "Malik says that Gerd is becoming quite well-liked, yet he doesn't seem to be gaining in power significantly. The council hasn't questioned this yet, but it makes me nervous. I know what it's like to be the people's keeper, and the energy that comes with it. Even if they don't love him the way they loved me, he should still be metamorphosing."
Korrick sighed. "True enough; some change should have been noticed by now. Something is not right, and I fear the council may have made their final mistake. If they don't stop him soon, who knows what will happen? There's no telling where this power of his is going if he's not hanging onto it himself."
Applejack shuffled nervously at Aurus' side. He could feel her worry, for every word only made the task ahead of him darker and more treacherous. It was definitely beginning to sound as if his chances of survival were less than sure, and that was enough to set her nerves to burning with concern.
He placed a hoof behind her mane and stroked it gently, a silent signal that he was not worried, and everything would be fine. She did calm down a bit, but the swirling aura of her concern still fluttered about him.
"I think that's enough dark news for one day; for now we know where we stand as best we can," Aurus said politely, smiling around at everyone to show that he wasn't concerned, despite the fact that he certainly was. He couldn't fool his changeling allies, who would be able to sense his worry easily, but the ponies wouldn't know any better.
"Quite right," Korrick replied, returning his smile. The two of them smiling did wonders for the level of calm in the room, relieving stress lines on the faces of nearly everyone present. "For now, we should get to training you. And the very first thing I think you should learn is that magic control method of Chrysalis'," he finished quietly, looking to the ex-queen.
She stood and walked over to Aurus, nodding her agreement that this lesson was the most vital for now. She looked from Aurus to Applejack, and smiled wickedly. "I'd clear out if I were you, little girl. This could be dangerous."
Applejack opened her mouth to retaliate, her face going from cautious to pissed off in the blink of an eye. "Who're ya callin'-" she began, but Aurus cut her off with a gentle touch and a smile.
"Just let it go, AJ," he pleaded quietly. "She's probably right; there's no telling what kind of trick she's going to teach me, and it might not be safe. Don't take it personally, she's a jerk to everyone."
Applejack straightened her hat and pulled away from Aurus, scowling harshly at Chrysalis. "Fine. But if ya hurt him any, I'll buck you up," she said fiercely, trotting a few paces away to stand with her friends.
"Quite the girl you've gotten yourself," Chrysalis said dryly, so that only Aurus could hear.
"The best around. Mind moving this along?" he asked flatly.
"First things first, I need a bit of energy to show you how this works. Give me what you're comfortable with; it doesn't need to be much," she said, watching Aurus' face go skeptical as she asked for magic. "What do you have to worry about anyways? Not like you couldn't stop me," she pointed out, rolling her eyes. "Do you want to learn or not?"
Aurus just sighed and nodded. Transferring magic was a simple enough task; any changeling could give magic to another by way of touch, though it was impossible to do the opposite. Taking energy out of someone couldn't be done, putting some in could. Aurus put a hoof on her shoulder and concentrated quietly for a moment.
Seconds later a green flash sparked to life between his hoof and her shoulder, glowing and pulsing rhythmically until he pulled away. The light vanished immediately. "Will that be enough?" he asked, not seeming drained at all by the exchange.
Chrysalis, on the other hoof, seemed completely rejuvenated, standing straighter and looking more alert. "Plenty. Now then, listen closely; there's a lot for you to memorize about this strategy for controlling the magical energies inside your body."
Aurus nodded, preparing his mind. Twilight readied a quill and notebook off to the side, her expression almost insane with curiosity.
"When magic enters the body, it goes to a very specific place; it gathers near your heart. Of course it doesn't physically take up space, but in this raw state it is dangerous. The changeling body is designed specifically to pass raw magic around, and to handle it in this unstable form. But imagine that you allow all of the magic to pile up around your heart; it's more than that portion of your body can handle by itself. The rest of your body is still waiting to help contain the magic, but if you panic it will just continue to build up until your heart can't take it anymore, and then it becomes wild magic. The most dangerous form of magic there is, nearly impossible to control. Once it's begun, it can't be stopped," she said darkly.
Aurus took an involuntary step back under her scrutinizing gaze. Wild magic. Like what had happened in the valley.
She smiled, the corners of her mouth turned up in a know-it-all grin. "You've cast it before; I can see it in your eyes. The fear and regret. Helpless in the grasp of your own power."
Aurus just nodded, his countenance darkened by those memories. "I never want to experience that again," he said with determination. "Teach me how to control it."
She smiled, her black heart somehow moved by his determination. "The key is flow. Think of magic like water. You are a glass, trying to contain all the flooding of a thunderstorm. You will overflow. But if you move the energy around, you become more like a river. Every drop added to a stream just vanishes in the flow. The energy is always going somewhere in your body, somewhere new. Push it from your heart, to your legs, to your spine and head, and then back again. Create a ring inside yourself, so that your body can handle it drop by drop, instead of forming pools of magic that overflow uncontrollably," she said, eying him carefully. "Try it."
Aurus did as she asked, pushing the magic about inside himself. It took concentration, and the amount he had was comfortable right where it was. But she was right, it was packed in around his heart, and had been for ever since he could recall. He pushed it with ease, first to one point, then another, and then another. The magical pressure inside him weakened, felt as if it were hardly there at all, yet he knew the energy hadn't vanished. The amount was the same, but it was like she had said; it was a river inside him, easing his burden by taking the drops someplace new.
"That's amazing," he said in disbelief. "How could something so simple be so effective?"
She just laughed. "It's our nature to over-think things, especially something as complex and dynamic as magic. Simplifying it, however, is the best way to understand it. Now then, this technique won't always help you. In the end, moving or not, there's a limit to how much energy your body can hold. But I can promise that the ability to regulate the flow of magic inside you will allow you to contain an unthinkable amount of magic. What you held before exploding the last time was nothing, just a drop in the bucket, compared to what you can actually hold. With practice in this method, that amount will only continue to grow."
"And what happens when the magic overflows anyways?" he asked cautiously.
She smiled smugly, as if that were the question she had been waiting for. "Then, you employ changeling kind's greatest secret; the secret of a true king," she said, chuckling darkly. Her hair fluttered madly as if from some breeze, though they were indoors. Aurus hadn't given her enough to do anything significant, but he still remained on his guard.
Her eyes glowed green, much like his own when the magic overflowed. But instead of something uncontrollable or painful, Chrysalis reared up on her hind legs and stomped the floor with her front hooves harshly. Green sparks of lightning arced down her legs, and raced across the carpet a short distance; nearly five feet away from her. The streams of lightning wound around themselves, drawing lines along the floor. When at last the sparks faded, there was an intricate ring of symbols and lines surrounding Chrysalis, pulsing steadily on the floor.
"I've heard of this before!" Korrick gasped, looking at the pattern, which pulsed with power below her. "This is... a rune!"
Aurus looked at the energy-drawing carefully. "You mean as in 'magic rune'? The old power our people used to wield? I've heard of them in history class, but I thought they were a myth."
"This is no myth," Chrysalis replied, breathing heavily.
Korrick did what he could to curb his amazement. "I too thought that they were merely legends. Back when our people first came into being, it is said that we could not contain our magic. Our power was beyond our control, raging out of us as wild magic. Old lore claims that this is why our homeland is so barren; that our ancestors turned it into a wasteland, unable to contain their magic."
"The legend says that our people created runecrafting, an art form which they used to direct the energy as it came out of their being. They could forge the energy into these runes, binding it in place instead of casting it out of control. From there it is said our ancestors could carefully draw the energy from the runes to cast their spells. I've heard the tale many times, but I never believed it," Korrick said in awe, looking upon the pulsing symbol on the floor.
Chrysalis just smiled wickedly, though her breathing was still labored. "Believe it, old codger. This rune is as real as I am."
Aurus just stared at it in disbelief. "How does it work?" he asked in awe, his face lit by the pulsing glow of the rune.
"The rune is an extension of my body. So long as I am standing in this circle, I can pull energy from it, or put more into it. But if I were to leave it, the energy would dissolve back into the floor, and disperse. Now that the symbol is established, pushing or pulling the magic is as easy for me as moving it through my body. But watch," she cautioned. "I am going to pull the magic into my body, and see what happens to the rune."
Aurus watched intently as the radius of her circle began to shrink noticeably. The energy was visible, racing back into her legs, and her eyes glowed as it entered her, the way they had when she had created the rune.
"If I were to pull it all back, the rune would vanish, and I would have to create a new one. Making the rune takes energy; some force has to hold the magic in place, a complex spell. The energy binding the magic is lost during runecrafting, and can't be retrieved. But it's a small price to pay to avoid losing control of your power. And for a king, the energy involved in creating a rune is practically nothing," she said with a laugh.
"Is the size of the rune dependent on how much energy it holds?" Korrick asked sagely, moving as if to touch it. "And what if another changeling were to enter your circle?"
"Yes, the size of the rune indicates its power. The pattern is different for every changeling, and that makes the rune unique to them. Another changeling would have no effect on my rune, and wouldn't be able to use it. If he tried to create a rune inside my own, it would never work, though there are few who would even know how to make one at all. The area around me is saturated with my energy, and my rune can't be destroyed by anyone but myself. It's one of the most powerful methods of magical manipulation in the world, perhaps in all of history. With this, your power will no longer be a burden; you will be as a god," Chrysalis chuckled darkly, absorbing the rest of her rune.
"I have no desire to be a god," Aurus said harshly, as if somehow she had accused him of being power hungry. "All I want is to save my people and protect the ones I love. If this power will help me do that, then I'll gladly take it; but I won't use this to rule them!"
"You and your ideals," she scoffed, but she dropped it at that. "No matter; if that's your goal, you still need this power. I'm interested to see the rune you can create, Aurus Marz. With such a unique mind, I'm sure the pattern will be something to behold. Come then, let me teach you," she chuckled, and though the spark in her eyes was still one of malicious intent, it was also the spark of undisguised and pure curiosity.
"Very well," Aurus said quietly. "Teach me how to forge a rune."
"Envision the flow of the magic inside yourself in your mind. This is the outer circle of the rune; a rune mimics your body's ability to hold and move magic about, so this ring is key."
Aurus nodded, his eyes closed as he focused. He could see it in his mind's eye; a green ring, turning endlessly inside him, with no clear beginning or end.
"Now, imagine a word. Something that you hold dear, something that gives you purpose and strength. Something you desire more than anything," Chrysalis said quietly, pacing around him in a slow circle. "Imagine it not as a word, but as a symbol; something elegant and beautiful, something only you could recognize the meaning of. Envision this symbol inside your ring; the purpose and drive within the flow." She stopped walking, pausing in front of him.
"Do you see it?" she asked quietly. "Can you feel your power-word within the flow inside you? Driving you to your goals? To your desires?"
"Yes," he replied, his voice barely a whisper.
"Hold the picture of the rune in your head; it is time to create it," she said with glee, inching away from him, to give him room. "Grab all the magic you desire, and push it into your heart. When you are ready, and have all the magic you want, rear back and prepare for the casting!" she ordered eagerly. "When your hooves strike the floor, push the magic out with all your might, and think of nothing but the pattern, your rune!"
Aurus spent a few more moments preparing himself. His friends all held their breath, waiting eagerly to see if he could create the rune he so desired. At last he reared back, sucking in a breath. His eyes glowed like Chrysalis' had, the energy already arcing about his front hooves, green lightning shooting between them. In a flash he slammed his hooves down, forcing the energy out with all his will, his mind consumed with the runic pattern.
The energy raced away from him, cutting across the carpeted floor. Two rings formed first, an inner one around Aurus that was only six feet wide. The outer ring was nearly twelve feet across. The ring in the center sprouted jagged fins, six arcing out like the blades of a saw from the ring in the center, their tips meeting the outer circle. Between each blade was a diamond-shaped marking. This all came into being in the blink of an eye, green energy racing to and fro, drawing the needed lines. At last the energy culminated on the outer edge of the circle, then raced back in, drawing a line through each of the six diamonds that connected to the center ring. At the very last, the green lightning drew a shield-shaped emblem inside the center circle where Aurus stood before the sparks faded into the rune itself.
"Astounding," Korrick said in shock, for it was only the second rune he had ever seen, and Aurus' pattern was far different from Chrysalis'.
"Amazing!" Chrysalis hissed, despite herself. "I've never seen a pattern so complicated and beautiful. Truly this is a work of art. Tell me, what is your power word? What is it you desire so strongly that this represents?" she asked eagerly.
Aurus was breathing hard, and had to raise his head, which had dropped from exhaustion. "I only want to do one thing in my life, Chrysalis."
"And what is that?" she asked, impatiently awaiting the answer that would reveal the source of this beautiful rune.