Four is More
Twilight Sparkle looked up from her book. The scene at the table was a rapidly recurring one. Her scaly little assistant on her right delightfully devouring a dish filled with danishes and pancakes dashed with sticky syrup, the tall grey stallion with a dire need of a mane cut soon with a bowl of simple oatmeal sprinkled with brown sugar. Like Twilight, Ash had an open book with his breakfast, though while she had chosen The Art of Invisibility Spell and Theories by Reinchard Peak Paddock, the white-maned Unicorn settled for See Puff Fly.
Twilight's plate carried a bran muffin and an apple. Neither had been touched and most of the morning had used in an attempt to satisfy the Unicorn's hunger for knowledge.
The process of becoming truly invisible is, as mentioned in detail in chapters 1-3, difficult, though not entirely impossible. Most Unicorns will settle on a simpler blending (or camouflage) spell, in which the user becomes the color of his or her surroundings. While having a similar effect, the blending spell is not the same as the invisibility spell. This chapter will deal with how the two are structural different. *For more information, see Appendix 2_a3...
The clock in the corner began to chime. Twilight looked up from her reading. She turned to Ash who was busy searching for the spoon he had lost control of and was now somewhere deep in his oatmeal. Spike was busy trying not to choke.
"You need to get going, school'll start soon."
Ash gave up his search and wiped his nose. "I don't think I need to go anymore," he said. "I think I've got the basics down."
"Oh?" Ash could tell she wasn't convinced. If her tone was a dead giveaway, her stare definitely was. "Well then, why don't you read a bit for us?"
"Oh, this'll be good," Spike said gleefully.
"Alright then." He flipped the book to the first page. "See...P...uff..."
He looked up. Twilight nodded, encouraging him to continue. She knew the book by heart; it was one of Spike's most favored bedtime stories after all, one of the few actually featuring dragons.
"...Puff...um, fly," Ash looked back look with a triumphant grin that quickly fell as Twilight shook her head.
"Run. See Puff run," she corrected.
"What?" The stallion lifted the book over and presented the page to the purple mare. "Look, the dragon's clearly flying." He jabbed a hoof at the cartoonishly drawn purple dragon gliding in the air.
"You were look at the pictures weren't you? You weren't actually reading."
"Go pack your bags. You did your homework, right."
"Hmm, oh, yeah." Ash tilted his head to the bright purple saddlebag dangling from a chair. "Already packed."
Twilight levitated it over Ash's back and began to tighten the straps despite the stallion's protests. At least this time it was in the privacy of their home. Her home.
"You can find your way there, right?"
Ash rolled his eyes. "Don't worry, I'll be fine."
"Are you sure you don't need me to walk you there?"
"...get lost one time and..." he said under his breath. "No, I think can find my way this time. And you don't need to be there after school to pick me up. I can get back to the library easily."
Twilight shook her head as she followed him to the door. "Sorry to nag you like this. I probably sound like your mother or something, huh?"
The grey Unicorn stiffened. Before Twilight could make note of it however, he relaxed and smiled. "Don't worry so much, you'll end up with wrinkles."
"Are you sure you have everything?"
"Of course I..."
"...forgot my homework."
Cheerilee shook her head and sighed. "I'm sorry Ash but you'll have to stay in during recess to complete it then." She took out a copy of the worksheet which the stallion took awkwardly between his teeth.
"Thankth," he managed to say. Cheerilee struggled not to grimace as the corners of the worksheet became damp with saliva.
Ash ignored the smirks and snickers as he walk back to his seat. He knew he looked like a fool. At least there were a few ponies who were a little more mature and only gave him sympathetic looks.
At least this time his seat was in the back row. Ash could easily see the board without acting as an impediment to anypony else.
Carefully, Ash used magic to pull out a pencil and a piece of paper out of his borrowed saddlebag. Levitation was becoming more and more natural but for the time being Ash would learn to write with his mouth.
Taking the pencil in his mouth and after savoring the wooden taste, he looked up to the board and copied down the white symbols at the top. From what he gathered, the Equestrian language had a series of runes, an alphabet, similar to what Ash was used to. While many, though not all, of symbols were completely different, the process was the same: use letters to make words.
Slowly and with as much grace as an airborne tortoise, the Unicorn managed to transfer the Equestrian alphabet to paper. He grinned. He wouldn't need Cheerilee's help at all.
Something pegged him in the head and fell onto his desk. It was a sheet of paper crumbled into a ball. Ash looked up and saw Sweetie Belle wave at him. He gave a small wave in return and after making sure Cheerilee's attention was elsewhere, straightened the paper out.
It was a note, written in a flowery pencraft that put his chicken scratch to shame.
Taking a deep breath, Ash placed the note next to his own notes. All he had to was translate the note with the alphabet he had made. Simple enough.
It took the grey Unicorn ten long minutes before he realized that while he may have managed to write the alphabet down, he had no idea what the symbols represented, what each letter translated into.
Ash sighed. It was time to start paying attention in class.
"You sure he got the note?"
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle stood in front of the schoolhouse as the other children scrambled out and ran home. Applebloom would meet them later at the clubhouse after she quickly finished her chores. After that, the farm filly would have the rest of the afternoon for herself and her friends.
Tomorrow was a Saturday which meant an entire day free for crusading. That meant plans had to be made today.
"He's not showing up." Scootaloo leaped up and tried to see over the sea of heads.
"Wait, there he is!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed.
Sure enough, a grey head with a messy white mane peaked out of the doorway, towering above the others. With a tired sigh (he sighed a lot, Sweetie Belle noted, almost as much and as gusty as Rarity), a grey neck followed the head and a body came right behind. The purple saddlebag was bulging with borrowed readers and a large dictionary.
Ash turned and turned to the two fillies who fought through the crowd of stragglers and landed in front of him.
"Didn't you get the note?" Scootaloo asked.
"I told you, I saw him read it." The Unicorn filly turned back to the stallion. "What took you? We've got a lot of work to do?"
"We? Work? I thought we weren't assigned any homework?"
"Not homework," Scootaloo groaned. "Crusading."
"Yeah," added Sweetie Belle. "We've got a lot of planning to do before tomorrow."
"I still think we should just wing it."
"How? You're the only one with wings."
"What? No, never mind. Hey, where are you going?"
"Home," Ash answered. He only took a few steps before he almost tripped over the two filly beneath him.
"You can't go home now," Sweetie Belle protested. "You've gotta help us earn our Cutie Marks."
"Yeah, you promised."
Ash brought his hoof to his forehead. "Look, I'd love to play around but...eerrg."
He tried to look away, anywhere but those pleading, quivering eyes. Ash knew the minute he stared into those eyes, what will he had would have been lost. He had to put his foot down; he was much too old to be playing games with little children. But those eyes, those begging eyes. And was Sweetie Belle beginning to sniffle?
With a groan, he surrendered. "I guess I can spare a few hours. I'll have to make sure Twilight's okay with it though...it's not like that!" Ash quickly protested as Scootaloo waved her leg around and imitated a whip crack.
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle giggled as Ash grew red. "Whatever," the young Pegasus said and soon began to run. "Last one to the library is a pile of rotten horse apples!"
"Hey, wait for me!" Sweetie Belle screamed as she tore right behind her friend.
For a second time, Ash wondered what he had gotten himself into. As he ran to catch up with the younger ponies, he silent prayed that Twilight would not give her permission for some reason.
"Whoa, careful there," Applejack exclaimed as she ducked and dodged an incoming apple.
"Sorry, sis," Applebloom replied before sending another fruity missile at the older mare. This time, Applejack managed to catch the apple before it became apple sauce on the ground.
"In a hurry, aren't 'cha?"
"Yeah, me n' the other crusaders gotta plan out the weekend." The little filly paused for a second to examine the next apple. She threw it into the rejection bucket before continuing. "We got a new crusader so we're gonna get 'lot more crusadin' done than usual."
"'Tat so? Funny, Ah don't recall meetin' any new young fillies lately. New student huh?"
"Yup, new student," Applebloom cheerfully answered. "An' it's not a gal."
"A colt, eh?" Applejack pushed her hat back as she chuckled. "Little Applebloom, growin' up so fast. Already takin' a fancy tah boys now. Just wait 'til Big Macintosh n' Granny hear 'bout this."
Her younger sister made a face and stuck out her tongue in response to her teasing. "Yah better not."
Applejack grinned. "Why don't yah tell me 'bout this new guy then?"
Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle dashed between the trees, laughing as they raced and called out to their third. Both stopped in front of the two Apple sisters and fought to regain their breath.
"Hi Applejack!" they managed to gasp out. "Hey Applebloom!"
"Scootaloo! Sweetie Belle!" Applebloom called back as her elder sister shook off the aftershocks of the Crusaders' greeting.
"I totally won that one."
"No way," argued Sweetie Belle. "Applebloom, who won?"
"Who cares? We've got better things to get done. Cutie Mark Crusaders Weekend Planning Session is a go!"
"Yeah!" The trio leaped into the air and slapped each other's hooves.
"Wait a sec." Applejack did some quick calculations in her head. "Ah thought yah said there were four of yah now. Ah only count three."
"Huh, that's strange." Sweetie Belle looked behind her. "I though Ash was right behind us."
As if in answer, the grey Unicorn with a white mane appeared on the dirt road, casually striding along. If he had been aware of the race, it was apparent that winning was not a necessity or even a desire.
"Geez, your so slow," Scootaloo complained. "You'd better not slow us down tomorrow. We've got lots to do."
"Be nice. It's not Mr. Ash's fault he's got art-eye-tus."
"I do not have arthritis. I'm not that old."
"Naw, not that old," Applejack said quietly. "But still...too old."
"Huh, whada mean, sis?"
"Nothing, Applebloom, nothing at all." Applejack attempted to hide behind her smile, an act that the honest farmer was doomed to fail. "Why don' yah three go on ahead. Ah've got a few words tah say tah...Mr. Ash."
"If you say so, sis." Confused, Applebloom turned to the most recent addition to the Crusaders. "Meet ya at the clubhouse."
Applejack and Ash watched as the three filly ran off.
"So what's tha big idea?"
Taken back by the hostile in Applejack's voice that she no longer attempted to cove, the grey stallion hesitated a few moments before deciding that the most appropriate response was: "Eh?"
"Ah hate to jump tah conclusions but Ah don' exactly find a full grown stallion hanging 'round three young fillies half his age all that natural."
"I don't...wait, you think...I'm--"
Applejack threw her hooves into the air. "Ah'm not sayin' anythin'. Jus' this..." The orange farm mare grabbed Ash by the neck. If he hadn't been so surprised, Ash would have marveled at how she managed to get such a grip without fingers. "Don' yah bucking dare touch mah sister," she hissed into his face. "Else Ah'll show yah what happens tah those who buck with tha Apples."
With that final warning, Applejack removed herself from the mentally-shaken Unicorn. "Have a nice day an' give mah regards tah Twilight," she said before shifting her hat and lifting the basket of apples onto her back and left Ash alone on the road.
"Wait, there's been a misunderstanding," he shouted to the rapidly disappearing figure of Applejack. Too late, she was already far out of range. With a sigh and a shrug, Ash began to walk in the direction he saw the Crusaders go.
He could see how one could interpret this situation in such a scandalous manner but the understanding did little to comfort him. Applejack was just one pony but others may also see this in a similar light.
Great. Just great Ash thought as he ran a hoof through his mane. First week here and I'm labeled as a pedophile. I think I preferred being a 'Hairless Ape Monster'.
What disturbed him more, however, was Applejack's sudden change in personality. Just the other day she had been so friendly, so welcoming. She had even trusted him with farm work. What had happened? Why was she so suspicious now?
Also, why hadn't he asked for directions to the clubhouse? Was he going the right way? All these apple trees made it difficult to tell one location from another.
"What's taking him so long," asked Scootaloo to nopony in particular. She leaned on the windowsill and kept lookout.
Her two companions shrugged. Sweetie Belle was busy making a crude map of Ponyville while Applebloom listed off potential talents and where in Ponyville one could practice them.
"Ah wonder what Applejack wanted with Mr. Ash."
Sweetie Belle chewed her pencil thoughtfully, "Hmm, you don't think...nah."
"Huh? Whada thinkin'?" Applebloom asked, her curiosity engaged.
Scootaloo slid down from the window, also interested in the Unicorn filly's theory. "Yeah, what is it? What do you think is going on?"
"Ah've got something tah say."
Applejack was wearing a beautiful red dress that moved gracefully in the breeze. Her blond mane flew back in the wind as well.
The cooling breeze had also brushed Ash's white mane out of his eyes. He was wearing a white suit, similar to his hair. A single red rose adorned his chest.
"Yes?" he asked in a soothing voice. Soothing but strong. It made Applejack feel safe.
The orange mare blushed and tried to hide it beneath her hat. "Consarn it, yah've got me all flustered up."
Ash merely smiled. Applejack's face grew hotter. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself.
"Ah, well, Ah, ah dagnabbit!" Applejack kicked at the dirt. "Why can't Ah get tha words out? Why can't Ah tell yah how Ah feel?" Once more, her orange face became as red as Big Macintosh's.
She turned away, ashamed at her own cowardice. "Ah'm, Ah'm sorry..."
Ash leaned his head on her shoulder. Applejack looked deeply into those dark, dreamy eyes.
"Why don't you show me how you feel then?"
"No, just no." Scootaloo made a disgusted face, almost as bad as ones she had made during that one disastrous Hearts and Hooves Day. She was however taking it a lot better that Applebloom, who had to go outside to vomit. Retching noises could still be heard. "That's just horrible."
"Oh come on, it wasn't that bad."
"The worst." Applebloom had rejoined the group, still looking a bit queasy. "Where in tarnation did yah get that idea? The pits of Tahtarus?"
"No, just a few books I found in Rarity's room. I got some of the details from her diary too."
"What are you, a romance novel?"