Three Days Later-
I only remember one of the individual Symbols for the Elements. Long ago I wrote them all down in a book, but it’s in the Millennial Archives and I haven't seen it in many years. As you need your Doctorate to access the Archives, the University would see it as cheating if I were to get it out for you.
However, I doubt that the book I’m thinking of is the only place you’ll find the Symbols. As you’re well aware, knowledge has this odd habit of persisting through the ages by fading into obscurity. Try looking into businesses whose traits exemplify those of the Elements, and see if any of them use symbols with unknown origins or meanings.
The Symbol I remember is your own: the Symbol of Magic. You know it as well, as it’s quite close to you. In fact, it couldn’t be any closer if it were tattooed on your flank.
Twilight laughed and looked down at Spike as he finished reading the letter.
“How good are you at drawing pictures?”
“Pictures?” Spike rubbed his forearm. “Uh, decent, I guess.”
Twilight turned her side to him and struck a dainty pose. “Think you can draw my cutie mark?”
Spike looked at her flank, then met her eyes. “Just your cutie mark?”
She nodded. “As close to perfect as you can get it.”
Spike went upstairs and grabbed a footstool. He came back, plopped it down beside her, and began to draw. “That’s easy.”
Twilight smiled and stood still for him as he worked.
“You should’ve written to her earlier,” Spike muttered.
Twilight shook her head. “I’m not going to run to the Princess every single time I have a problem. You know I like figuring things out for myself.”
“More like making things harder for yourself,” he said wryly. “You only ever go to her as a last resort.”
I don’t want to annoy her. I’d feel stupid if I came to her with a problem that it turns out I could’ve figured out by myself. Twilight straightened her shoulders. “She’s the Princess. She’s busy running the country.”
“And you’re her personal student, with a direct line of communication to her.” Spike turned his head and blew out a tiny jet of green flame. “Isn’t she always telling you to use all the resources available to you?”
“She’s not the only resource I have.” Twilight looked around the library. “I won’t learn anything if I’m always turning to her for advice and not doing anything on my own.”
“But you’re trying to do everything on your own,” Spike pointed out. “I don’t think that’s what she wants.”
Twilight sighed and looked back at him. “Are you done yet?”
“Almost.” Spike finished drawing the twinkles on the sides. He got up and showed it to her. “How’s that?”
Twilight took the paper with her magic and walked over to a mirror. She held it to her side, to compare the two. They were identical. “Nice job,” she said.
Spike nodded and leaned against a stack of books on the floor that was twice as tall as him. “What are you gonna do with it?”
Hmm. It’s good practice to test new information before applying it, especially with something like this. Twilight summoned a book from the bottom of the stack that Spike was leaning on. It wobbled precariously, and he yelped and scrambled to steady it.
“I’m gonna test it with an Identification spell.” Twilight turned to the page she needed. She placed the parchment with the drawing of the Symbol on the table and focused.
Suddenly, a violet spark the size of a marble shot out from her horn, sailing across the room and exploding in midair with a deafening BANG.
Spike jumped and bumped into the stack of books. “What the hay was—ahh!” The tomes toppled over and buried him.
Twilight cringed. She was about to go to him, but stopped as a flicker of movement caught her eye. She looked up to see Blair staring intently at her from his usual spot in the loft.
“Put a little too much into that one, eh?”
Twilight sheepishly put a hoof behind her head. “Heh, sorry, I must still be tired. One sec.”
She closed her eyes and looked inward, searching within herself for her magical font. It wasn’t exactly difficult to find. Twilight beheld a lake of violet, scintillating energy that stretched out as far as her mind’s eye could see. A massive sphere, made of the same violet energy, hovered just above it.
Oh, for crying out loud.
Twilight squinted, and realized she couldn’t even see the other side anymore. With a sigh, she ‘dove’ into her font and ‘swam’ straight down.
Piro said it took him twenty seconds to get to the bottom. Let’s see how long it takes now.
She was in the middle of saying twenty-one when her ‘nose’ encountered a resistance. Twilight turned and looked up to see the surface—far, far above her.
This is getting ridiculous. I’m going to have to start adjusting the spell every day or I’m going to blast a hole in the wall.
She muttered an incantation that Celestia had taught her. The hovering sphere was cut in half, and one of the hemispheres rejoined her font.
Twilight opened her eyes and focused on the now-lessened portion of her magic. “Let me try that again.”
She cast the Identification spell. The Symbol glowed with a magenta light that emanated from the center and spread outward, tickling the edges and beckoning her towards it. Her stomach tensed, and a familiar sensation welled up inside her.
Where have I felt this before? I know it was something recent. It was faint, but nostalgic, and it made her skin prick and her limbs twitch. The air seemed slightly thicker, as if it were filled with a multicolored haze.
The library vanished, and Twilight suddenly stood in a heart of a ruined castle staring down an alicorn with a coat as dark as night. Her eyes were reptilian slits that exuded malevolence and spite, and her mane and tail glinted with cruel, jagged edges. An ornate crown rested on Twilight’s brow, and all her friends stood beside her, wearing familiar jeweled necklaces.
“You’ve lost, Nightmare Moon.” Twilight couldn’t tell who was speaking. Was it her? Was it her friends? Was it all of them at once?
Nightmare Moon sneered. “Foals. Pretty pieces of jewelry will not saveth thee or thy precious Princess!”
Twilight and her friends smiled. “You’re right, they won’t...”
All six of them glowed with the power of their respective Elements, their eyes completely filling with shining light. Twilight’s vision became tinged with white, and she and her friends finished their sentence in an echo-laden whisper that made Nightmare Moon recoil with fear.
“...but this will.”
From that moment, Twilight remembered feeling only one thing: A desire to understand. There was so much she didn't know, so much she wanted to do and see and hear, and there was so little time to do it. She wanted to learn the secrets of the world and everything in it. She wanted to unravel the mysteries of the universe, then transcend all limitations to attain a higher state of existence, but even that was not enough. She wanted more. She wanted everything there was to have, and she knew she always would. That desire was what would always drive her forward, though, and while she knew her quest would never be fulfilled, that wouldn’t stop her from trying.
The desire built up inside Twilight, filling her entire being with a river of raw, raging, electric power. A violet ray shot out at her command, mingling with five other colored rays and surging forth in a rainbow of light. The Elements of Harmony struck Nightmare Moon, her scream of disbelief and defiance rending the air, and as it did, a mysterious voice echoed within Twilight’s mind.
“Balance in all things.”
Twilight shook her head and released the spell. Spike was standing in front of her, waving his claw in her face with a bemused look.
“You’ve been staring off into space for like a minute.”
Twilight frowned. “Was I? It didn’t feel like that long.”
Spike looked down at the Symbol, which had fallen to the floor. He picked it up and put it on the table. “What were you doing?”
What was I doing? It was like I was there again. Was that just a memory, or was it something more? You know… powerful relics from earlier time periods have been said to sometimes leave imprints on the ponies that use them. It’s possible that I just had some kind of response because I've used the Element of Magic. But if that’s true, then that means that the others—I need to talk to them. This might be just what I need.
“Just remembering something,” she said with a smile. “This is definitely the Symbol of Magic.”
“How do you know?” Spike asked.
Twilight maneuvered through the stacks of books and pieces of paper that covered the floor to the large chalkboard. She erased a portion of it and drew out a quick sketch of the Symbol. “It reminded me of how I felt when I used the Element of Magic.”
“Oh yeah?” Spike leaned forward. “What was it like?”
Twilight looked up at the ceiling. “Tingly.”
“How informative.” Spike began to pick up the fallen books. “You should probably get going.”
Twilight stopped writing on the chalkboard. Get going? What is—right, the picnic. She turned to Spike. “Where’d you put the food? I know you set it down when we got the Princess’s letter.”
“Over here.” Spike lifted up a basket from behind the center table.
Twilight walked over and took it, sticking her nose inside. Unfortunately, everything was wrapped so she couldn’t catch a whiff of what he'd made. “Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
Spike widened his stance and put his hands on his hips. “If I don’t clean while you’re gone, it’ll never get done.”
Twilight cringed as she glanced around at the mess that was supposed to be a library. There were more books on the floor than on the shelves. Stacks of parchment, quills, and bottles of ink lay about precariously. Pieces of chalk lay everywhere, and the one part of the floor that wasn’t covered in books was instead filled with a large chalk prototype drawing of her array.
“Sorry about that,” Twilight said. “I’ve been—“
“Busy, yeah, yeah.” Spike shooed her towards the door. “Go already, so I can get started.”
“All right, Mr. Grumpyscales,” Twilight said with a smile. She looked up to Blair, who’d returned his attention to the book he was reading.
“Ready to go?”
He looked over at the clock, then down at her. “We still have fifteen minutes.”
“Well yeah,” Twilight said, “but it's going to take a little while to walk there.”
Blair furrowed his eyebrows. “We're not going to teleport?”
“How can we?” Twilight asked. “You've never been there before.”
Blair blinked several times. “Don't tell me you've never done a multi-pony teleportation.”
“I have, but...” Twilight rubbed her neck and looked away. “It's a little over a mile. I’d be pretty tired if I tried to teleport that far.”
Blair stared at her for a few seconds with an unreadable expression. She shuffled back and forth under his gaze.
“Nothing.” Blair snapped his book shut and got to his hooves. “I'm ready when you are.”
“Are Piro and Ace meeting us at the park?”
Blair nodded as he descended the stairs. “They scouted out the town last week.”
“Okay.” Twilight picked up the picnic basket and put it on her back.
Blair motioned to the door. “After you.”
She waved at Spike as they headed out. ”See you in a few hours!”
“Have fun!” He got out a ladder and began putting books away.
Twilight and Blair arrived at the edge of Ponyville Park around noon. It was a pleasant, sunny day, and the grounds were filled with dozens of ponies who were milling about, relaxing, talking, and simply enjoying the beautiful weather while it lasted. Fillies and colts were everywhere, the sounds of their boisterous laughter filling the park with life as they flew kites, played tag, and ran around aimlessly.
Twilight and Blair passed by Ace and Piro, who were lounging under an oak tree. Ace had brought his easel with him, and was working on a painting of the town. Piro was writing something on a long piece of parchment. He looked up, saw Twilight and Blair pass by from a distance, nodded to them, and returned to his writing.
Blair squinted and looked ahead, pointing something out to Twilight. “I believe those are your friends.”
Twilight looked to see Rainbow and Pinkie waving at her from atop a gentle, grassy hill. Rainbow then rose into the air and flew out to meet them. She smiled genuinely at Twilight, but the smile took on a mischievous twist as she turned to Blair. “So, we finally get to meet your coltfriend.”
A flash of heat spread in Twilight’s face as the word threatened to override control her mind and tongue, but she forcibly retained control and maintained her demeanor. Come on, Twilight, you can take a little teasing.
Blair, to his credit, took the comment in stride, chuckling as he looked up at Rainbow. “I’m afraid Twilight’s not my type. I don’t date mares that are younger than me.”
Twilight was about to comment when Pinkie raced over and hugged her.
“This is so exciting!” she cried. “I never get to be the attendee, I'm always the organizer! Not that I mind of course, but still! It's so interesting and fun and cool!”
“Happy I could... help?” Twilight managed to extricate herself from Pinkie and exchanged introductions between the three.
The four of them then went up to the grassy hill to set up the picnic. Pinkie was hopping instead of walking, and Rainbow was flying backwards in the air just ahead of them.
“I'm sorry I haven't tried to do anything with you guys lately,” Twilight said.
Rainbow shook her head. “You’re doing your thesis thing. We understand if you have to disappear for a while.”
“No!” Twilight said harshly.
They all stopped to look at her, but she continued, undeterred. “Don’t let me make that excuse. I used to hide behind it, and it wound up hurting me. You could sum up my entire social life for the last ten years by replacing 'thesis' with any other project I was working on at the time, so please, if you see me becoming too absorbed in my work, call me on it. That goes for you too, Blair.”
Blair gave her an odd smile. “It’s against my orders to let you to get hurt.”
Pinkie nudged Twilight playfully. “You’re so silly sometimes. It's not going to help you if you ignore your work, either!”
Rainbow did a lazy figure-eight in front of them. “This coming from the mare who thinks that parties are a cure-all.”
“Hey!” Pinkie batted at Rainbow’s tail as she flew past. “I'm working on that!”
Rainbow stopped and spoke in a serious tone. “Don't worry, Twilight. We're not going to let you shut yourself in. At least, I won't. If I think you're pushing your nose too hard to the grindstone, I'll drag you out of that library—kicking and screaming, if I have to.”
Normally, such an idea would unnerve Twilight, but the mental image of Rainbow dragging her out of the library while she clung to a book, shrieking bloody murder, made her snort.
“Thanks. Well, who’s hungry?”
“I am!” Pinkie eyed the picnic basket and licked her lips. “What did you bring, huh? Is it yummy?”
“I'm not actually sure,” Twilight admitted. “Spike made it.”
The four of them set up the picnic. It turned out to be seaweed sandwiches with parsnips and deviled eggs. Rainbow had brought apple juice, and Pinkie had brought fritters for dessert.
“So you're the big bad bodyguard, eh?” Rainbow eyed Blair up and down. “You don't look like anything special.”
“Rainbow!” Twilight snapped. “Don't be rude!”
She shrugged. “I call 'em like I see 'em.”
Blair held up a hoof. “It’s fine, Twilight, I’m no stranger to a little ribbing. And appearances aren't everything, Miss Dash.”
“No,” Rainbow said as she stared at him. “But they help.”
Blair met her fiery gaze, his eyes turning cold and hard. The two stared unblinking at each other, neither one of them willing to back down.
Twilight stepped in between them, speaking loudly and she passed out the wrapped food.
“So, Rainbow,” Twilight said, shooting her a glare of her own. “Are your guards around?”
Rainbow narrowed her eyes, but nodded and pointed a hoof up to the sky. “They're persistent, if nothing else.”
Twilight craned her neck up. High above, she could just barely see a pair of red and blue dots on top of a cloud.
“The light blue one came by a few days ago after that storm we had,” Twilight said. “He looked like he was in a lot of pain.”
Rainbow laughed. “That’d be Tastar. He’s pretty cool, not in that bad of shape. The other one’s Esra. Not a fan of him, but at least he’s got some muscle. Even still, though, my exercise routines have been destroying them.”
“Have they been improving at all?” Blair asked neutrally.
She turned to him and pursed her lips. “They have over the last few days, yeah. Good thing, too. I’m gonna lose my edge if I have to keep slowing down for them.”
Twilight turned to Pinkie. “How about you?”
Pinkie motioned over at a pair of stallions who were playing frisbee nearby. “The dark blue one is Rassy, and the white one is Viggy!”
Blair choked on his juice. He alternated between wet coughing and raspy laughing while Twilight pounded his back.
“Sorry!” Blair croaked after a few seconds. His eyes were now bloodshot as he wiped his mouth. “Go ahead, tell us more.”
Pinkie swallowed her bite of sandwich and continued. “Rassy's relaxed and friendly and nice and funny! He laughs at my jokes and says he knows some really good ones too but Viggy always stops him because he says they’re not appropriate. Speaking of Viggy, I don’t know much about him. He’s usually quiet unless he’s yelling at Rassy or telling me to slow down. Do you know anything about him, Blair?”
Blair shook his head. “He’s not actually part of my platoon. The Princess assigned him to us since we needed a thirteenth. I’ve done a few shifts with him back in the Castle, but that’s about it.”
Pinkie shrugged. “Oh well, I can tell he’s really nice too! He’s always really tense, but he jumps in front of me all the time when we go into the Everfree. It’s really cute.”
“I’ve been wondering how that's been going,” Rainbow said as she dug into her food. “Seeing as how you're still breathing, and all.”
Pinkie blew a raspberry at her. “I don't know why everypony thinks it’s so dangerous. Zecora lives there just fine.”
“I don’t know how she does it either,” Rainbow mumbled. “Fluttershy's told me there are animals in there that'll tear a pony limb from limb. Or worse.”
Pinkie shrugged. “Zecora says she’s used to ‘tiptoeing around giants’, whatever that means.”
“Is this Zecora a zebra, by chance?”
Pinkie turned to Blair. “How’d you know?”
“Ras mentioned it to me a few days ago.” Blair looked to the south. “She was probably referring to living with the other races of the Zhevra Flatlands.”
“Oh yeah,” Pinkie said. “I suppose some of the ponies out there are pretty big, aren’t they?”
“The current Flatlands ambassador is an Elafont,” Blair said. “He’s around four times my size.”
Rainbow whistled. “How does he get around the Castle?”
“Shrinking spell,” Twilight said through a bite of fritter. “Makes him about the size of the Princess.”
They all looked at her in surprise.
“What?” Twilight shrugged. “She asked me to attend court the last time he visited. Scared the living daylights out of me when he released it.”
Rainbow shook her head. “Keep forgetting you used to live there.”
Pinkie laid on her back and looked up to the sun. “I wonder why Celestia doesn’t use something like that? Isn’t she like, mega-ultra-strong anyways? Does she really have to rub it in with the hierarchical scale?”
Now it was Twilight’s turn to stare. “Did you just use that word correctly?”
Pinkie put her hooves behind her head with a smug grin. “I did pay attention in school sometimes, you know.”
Sometimes I wonder if she’s smarter than she lets on. Twilight closed her eyes and manually shifted gears. “I wouldn’t call her ‘mega-ultra-strong.’”
“What would you call her, then?” Blair asked.
She turned and sized him up. “Well, I know she’s wise and an amazing ruler, but I’ve never seen her do any big magic, aside from raise the sun every day. I honestly don’t know how what she can do.”
Blair met her eyes. “The Princess is extremely powerful, Twilight. You need to look no farther than what she’s called in other languages to see that. In Zhevran, she’s Mtawanguvu, the Princess of Might. In Scandi, she’s Mörgenjeter, the Bringer of Tomorrow. Theskafar is her name in Draconic, or, ‘Mistress of Flame.’ The Dromardians call her—”
“Okay, okay, I get it.” Twilight stiffened her neck. “The other races pay homage to her for what she does. Everypony knows that. That doesn’t put it into context, though. I’ve never seen her perform any complicated spells, so I don’t know what she’d define as ‘hard’. Have you ever seen her do something?”
“Not personally,” Blair admitted, “but I’ve read about some of the times in history where she’s used her power. For example, during the War of the Sun and Moon, she single-hoofedly shielded the entire city of Canterlot while Nightmare Moon rained down destruction from the heavens.”
This is why I’m happy Shining taught me how to be patient. Twilight raised her eyebrows. “Where’d you read that? The records at the Canterlot Library don’t—”
“I know, I’ve read them too.” Blair grimaced. “I’m a bit of a war history buff, and I’ve found that things are often missed in recordings made by only one pony. It’s my hobby to collect as many re-tellings of a battle from as many different points of view as I can.”
“So where’d you find that information?”
“That particular piece I got in Trottingham,” Blair said. “The history records from Canterlot are pathetically incomplete, but it’s understandable why.”
“What—“ Twilight’s eyes lit up. “Right, I forgot about that.”
“What? What’d you forget about?” Rainbow was now lying on her stomach, propped up on her elbows.
Twilight turned to her. “Remember the old palace where we found the Elements? That’s where Canterlot originaly was before the War of the Sun and Moon. It was razed in the conflict, and had to be rebuilt later, but unfortunately, some things can’t be replaced.”
“The Library District was hit hardest by the fires,” Blair said sadly. “All the history texts were burnt to ashes.”
“And afterwards, the survivors were concentrating on rebuilding the city where it is now,” Twilight said. “So a lot of stuff got missed.”
Rainbow nodded stonily. “Makes sense.”
“So the Princess really is mega-ultra-strong!” Pinkie rose on her hind legs and made zapping motions with her forehooves. “I’ll bet she can make avalanches and floods and tornadoes and earthquakes! Or maybe she can make a massive ray that burns things and causes huge explosions!”
Blair rested his head on a hoof. “Which Princess are you talking about?”
Pinkie gasped. “Oh, yeah! Once she gets better, I bet Luna can do stuff like that too!”
Rainbow raised her eyebrows and frowned thoughtfully, nodding. “Not gonna lie, that would be pretty awesome to see.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh, please.”
They switched topics, recounting to each other their adventures during the past week. Twilight was surprised to hear that the storm they’d had last week could’ve potentially produced a tornado if Rainbow and the other weatherponies hadn’t weakened it. Pinkie told them of her studies with Zecora, and revealed that she'd managed to make a tasty muffin that was infused with Shanari Root.
“Isn't it great?” She beamed as she held up the pastry from a small box. “It's a muffin that heals sore throats!”
Rainbow eyed the pastry warily. “Can't you make something that isn't loaded with sugar and simple carbs?”
“You and your health stuff!” Pinkie put the muffin away. “What's the point of living if all you eat is bland, healthy things all the time?”
“Hey!” Rainbow sat up. “I make tasty stuff all the time! Remember that barley and carrot salad we had at Rarity's birthday?”
Pinkie looked up at her. “You made that? I thought that was Twilight!”
Twilight shook her head. “I didn’t have time to make anything. I got invited at the last minute, remember?”
“Only thing that makes you fat is if you take in more calories than your body uses,” Rainbow continued with a toss of her mane. “As long as you give your body what it needs and stay away from what it can’t use, you can eat whatever you want.”
Pinkie opened up the box of fritters and held it in front of Rainbow like a tantalizing offering. “Then what's wrong with my sweets?”
Rainbow traced the lid of the box with a hoof, which gained a thin layer of sparkling sugar. She showed it to Pinkie. “That’s all you ever eat. You may not be gaining weight, but you're not eating healthy. That’s just as bad.” She closed the lid and licked off her hoof.
Pinkie laughed and put down the box. “I eat dinner with the Cakes every night, and they eat pretty well...”
She suddenly broke into a huge smile. “Especially,” Pinkie said in a sing-song voice, “now that they know they’re having twins.”
Twilight and Rainbow jerked. “Twins?!”
Pinkie squeed and bounced around the picnic blanket. “Isn’t it great?! They told me just as I was walking out the door!”
“That’s wonderful!” Twilight clapped her hooves. “They must be so excited!”
Pinkie was spinning in a circle. “Mrs. Cake was practically glowing, but Mr. Cake is treating her like she’s made of glass! It’s so cute!”
“It’s always one or the other that gets the nerves,” Blair said sagely. “Probably better that the father has them; it’s not good for the foals if the mother’s on edge all the time.”
“You'll be getting one good meal a day, then,” Rainbow laughed. “Congratulate them for me.”
“Oh, I can't wait!” Pinkie said as she bounced on her hooves. “It's going to be so much fun playing with them!”
Rainbow opened a wing and fanned herself as she turned to Twilight and Blair. “How about you guys? Does Spike cook like this all the time?”
“I think so,” Twilight said.
Rainbow cocked her head. “You think so?”
“I don't pay attention to what he makes,” Twilight admitted with a nervous laugh. “Half the time he has to force me to eat.”
“It’s true,” Blair said. “I’ve seen him do it. His cooking is better than what I’m used to, although military food isn’t a very high bar to clear.”
Rainbow gave him a pitying glance. “That bad, eh?”
Blair stuck out his tongue. “It depends on the chef, but it ranges from moderately edible to gut-wrenchingly awful.”
Rainbow made a face, then looked Twilight over. “Well, you look okay. You should be happy Spike’s watching out for you.”
Twilight giggled. “He’s like a mother hen sometimes.”
“Where is he, anyway?” Pinkie asked, looking around. “He usually comes with you.”
Twilight winced. “The library... doesn't look like a library right now. He wanted to stay so it would actually get cleaned. It's been a while since I've been this intense about a project.”
“And yet three-quarters of Ponyville hasn't blown up,” Rainbow said. She crossed her eyes and rotated her hoof in a circle beside her head. “Maybe you really aren't working hard enough.”
“I know, right?” Twilight said with a laugh. “Maybe the insanity just needs more time to set in. In all seriousness, though,I did need to get out, regardless of the progress I was making.”
Twilight looked down for a moment. “That reminds me. There might be something you guys can help me with.”
“Sure, as long as it doesn't involve magic.” Rainbow bonked her noggin with a hoof. “Kinda lacking in that department.”
Pinkie imitated her. “Behold my awesome Earth Pony powers! Ooooooh!”
Rainbow made the same noise. They turned and wiggled their forehooves at each other.
“Actually, it's about the Elements of Harmony.”
Both of them stopped. They went back down on all fours and looked at her curiously.
Twilight took a deep breath. “I'm trying to track down the magical Symbols for each of the Elements. I wrote to the Princess to see if she knew what any of them were, but she only remembered the Symbol of Magic. I cast an Identification spell on it, and when I did, I got a faint sensation similar to what the Element of Magic felt like. I have a theory that the same will happen for the other Symbols.”
Pinkie’s eyes lit up. “But you don't know what the other Elements feel like because you didn’t use them, so you need us to tell you!”
“Yeah.” Twilight pulled out a quill and parchment from the picnic basket. “Do you remember?”
The two of them were silent as they thought. They both looked at the ground, their eyelids half- closed as they searched for the right words.
Rainbow was the first to speak. “Fire. Hot, fierce, and relentless. The whole world seemed to pulse. I've never felt more alive in my entire life. It was like it took something from within me, and maxed it out. It made me feel like I could do anything.”
Twilight paused for a moment while she wrote down the information. She then turned to Pinkie, who had her gaze downcast. “How about you?”
Pinkie slowly met her eyes. “Wind. Free and warm, yet swirling around me like an embrace. Everything seemed brighter, especially colors. It made me feel really, really happy. Actually, happy doesn't cover it. What's the big word for happy that starts with 'u'?”
“I think you mean ‘euphoria.’” Twilight said. Doesn’t know euphoria, but she knows hierarchical.
“Yeah!” Pinkie said. “It was pure euphoria! Like Dashie said, it felt like it was drawing something from inside me, and then amplified it a thousand-million times! I thought I was gonna explode from being so happy!”
Twilight scribbled furiously. “Anything else?”
Rainbow and Pinkie thought for a while. “There was that imbalance thing we talked about before,” Rainbow said, “but I can't think of anything else.”
“Same,” Pinkie said.
Twilight looked up from the parchment. “All right. Like I said, I've only found one of the Symbols so far, and it was from a fluke.” She glanced back at her flank and chuckled. “But when I do find the others, I'll let you know. Maybe you can stop by and see if you get the same kind of feelings as before?”
“You might get them, too,” Pinkie pointed out.
Twilight shook her head. “I can't rule out that I just had a reaction from the Symbol of Magic because I'm its Bearer. I need to be sure.”
“No problem,” Rainbow said. “Just get ahold of me when you think you’ve found mine. I’ll come right over.”
“Me too!” Pinkie said. “Unless I’m at work or Zecora's, then I’d have to come over after.”
“That’s fine.” Twilight put her writing tools away. “It’s going to take me a while to track them all down, and I don’t even know what order to start with, if any at all. But when I find something, I’ll track you down.”
The four of them finished dessert and decided to go their separate ways. The six guards, noticing that they were packing up, subtly followed suit. Twilight stood and stretched her legs.
“When’s the next time you think we can meet up?” Twilight asked. “I always have something to do, but I can work around your schedules.”
“Ideally whenever the others aren’t busy so we can all do something together.” Rainbow straightened a few ruffled feathers. “I have tickets to a Wonderbolts show next month up in Canterlot, but other than that all I have is work and training.”
“Oh wow, really?” Twilight leaned forward. “Were the tickets expensive?”
Rainbow shrugged. “I get paid pretty well.”
“I’m always free!” Pinkie said. “Except for going to Zecora’s on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and working at Sugarcube Corner on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. And organizing parties on Sundays.”
Twilight facehoofed. “Pinkie, that’s the entire week.”
“Is it?” Pinkie stopped and looked at the sky, silently counting. “I guess it is! Don’t worry, though, my friends take priority. Oh! Speaking of parties, Granny Smith’s birthday is next Friday. You’re all invited to come!”
Rainbow licked her lips. “That’ll be worth it for the pie alone. I’ll be there.”
“I’ll come, so long as I don’t get absorbed in my work.” Twilight looked to Blair. “Think you can pry me away?”
“With a crowbar if I have to,” he replied with a grin.
Twilight turned to Pinkie. “Are you still going to give her that elixir you—”
A pink hoof shot out to cover her mouth.
Secret, right. Twilight nodded.
“Nice meeting you, Blair! See you later, Twilight!” Pinkie gave her a sly wink, a parting hug, and hopped away with Vigil and Ras following behind.
Rainbow rose into the air and looked down at Twilight. “Don't work too hard.” She gave a slight nod to Blair and flew off to the east.
Twilight and Blair headed back to the library in silence. The town was alive with the hustle and bustle of midday, and ponies of all types walked and flew about, selling wares, running errands, or just lounging about. Twilight took in the scene with a deep, contented sigh, the pangs of loneliness fading away as she put away another fond memory of being with her friends.
That was nice. I definitely needed that. Now I just need to meet up with the other three at some point. Maybe I can stop by Rarity’s tomorrow? Wait, she has Sweetie Belle to take care of. Maybe she can still make time if she doesn’t have a lot of work to do? I don’t have a lot of experience with fillies, but this’d certainly be a good time to learn.
Twilight looked back at the market, and her line of thought was abruptly interrupted as she saw Ace and Piro heading in opposite directions, but both staying within eyeshot of her.
This is pointless. it’s just the same old peaceful Ponyville! Nothing has happened out of the ordinary, and nothing ever will. This is exactly what I was afraid of, and yet I still let Shining convince me. And then I somehow convinced the others! Was this all a mistake?
Twilight gave a huffy sight and turned to Blair. “Do you really think all this is necessary?”
Blair continued to look straight ahead. “Think what is necessary?”
“This constant watching and following and guarding,” Twilight tilted her head with each word. “Isn’t it a bit much for six simple mares in a peaceful little town like this?”
“Assassins only care about getting the job done,” Blair said grimly. “A peaceful town just makes it easier for them.”
Twilight looked around skeptically. “And you think that we’re in danger of being assassinated? I mean yeah, we're the Bearers, and we do know the Princess, but we’re in the middle of Equestria, not like we’re on the border of some war-torn country! And besides, I can’t think of the last war that had anything to do with Equestria.”
“There hasn’t been one since Nightmare Moon,” Blair said. “There have been conflicts in countries on our borders that've affected us, though. For example, in Tarandus to the north, the Yakkhari had an inter-tribal conflict that escalated into a holy war. It spilled over into the trade routes through the Yakkhar Mountains, which cut Equestria off from our other northern neighbors. Fortunately, it was quickly ended by the other races of Tarandus: The Mooslen and the Tuktu. Closing off the mountain paths threatened their way of life, so they intervened and stopped the fighting by force. They even took it one step further and dissolved the Yakkhari tribes, unifying them under one banner so it wouldn’t happen again.”
Twilight stared at him. “I thought the Yakkhari stopped fighting on their own and decided to unite without intervention from anypony.”
“That’s the official statement they released,” Blair said with a knowing smirk. “But I have it on good authority that they were muscled into a ceasefire by the other Tarandians.”
Twilight pressed her lips together. “You know, Rainbow did bring up a good point. I know next to nothing about you. Why haven't you told me more about yourself?”
Blair rubbed his head. “Because when I first got here, I was preoccupied with the mother of all headaches. And after that, I was worried that if I was too forward, you'd get the wrong impression.”
“Well apparently you don't like younger mares,” Twilight said with sarcastic note. “So that’s no longer a concern.”
Blair chuckled. “Well then, let’s see here: My special talent is codemaking, or to be more specific, the manipulation of words and letters to mean something else. I like word puzzles and crosswords, and my hobby is reading about past wars and battles to see what happened, why, and how they were resolved. Since Equestria has been peaceful for a millennium, though, I read about the wars of other countries instead.”
“What about magic?” Twilight asked. “You said something last week about having ‘field experience.’”
Blair stopped. He looked around to see if anyone was in earshot, then leaned in close and spoke in a whisper. “Do you know what a Battlemage is?”
Twilight smiled. “That’s what my brother is. It’s a soldier that focuses on specific types of spells instead of generalizing.”
“Captain Shining Armor specializes in Barrier spells, much like yourself,” Blair said with a nod. “I’m dual-specialized in Water and Freezing spells.”
Two? That’s rare. She raised an eyebrow. “You’re either very skilled or you have a pretty big font to have qualifications for a second.”
Blair said nothing for several seconds as he idly scraped a hoof on the ground, and when he spoke, his words were slow, and careful.
“I don’t have any more magic than most ponies. Quantity is what most ponies think of when they measure power, but there are ways to fight that require very little effort—physical, or magical.”
Twilight met his teal eyes with a curious stare. “Such as?”
Blair flinched away from her prying gaze. “You don’t need to know the specifics.”
Twilight lowered her chin. “You really don’t like volunteering information, do you?”
“It’s not that.” Blair sucked on his teeth. ”I’ll tell you about myself if you’re curious, but you’re better off not knowing how to use your magic to hurt other ponies.”
I hate it when others treat me like a filly. He may be trying to protect me, but there’s only so much I’ll be able to learn if I don’t eventually get my hooves dirty. Twilight regarded him evenly. “Have you ever had to? Hurt anypony, I mean.”
Blair slowly turned back to her. The light left his eyes, and he suddenly looked very old. His reply was one word, but it carried an unfathomable weight.
A hole formed in Twilight’s stomach, but her curiosity pressed her on. “Have you ever had to... kill?”
Blair closed his eyes as he lowered his head. His posture slumped, and he shivered as if a chill had swept through his body.
“Do you really want me to answer that question?”
Looking back on it, Twilight never could quite explain why that response unnerved her so much. Maybe it was the way Blair’s forced, strained tone dripped with guilt. Perhaps it was how vulnerable he looked in that moment, or how he was exposing his neck to her. In any case, Twilight immediately regretted the question, and took a step back as she stammered out an apology.
“I-I’m sorry! Forget I asked!”
Blair opened his eyes as he looked at the ground. “I will do what's necessary to protect you, without thought or hesitation. However, I’m not proud of my abilities, so if you’ll grant me this one favor, I ask that you accept that I’m ‘experienced,’ and leave it at that.”
Blair then straightened, and continued on as if nothing had happened.
Twilight blinked as she processed what he’d said, then realized she was leaving him behind. “H-Hey! Wait up!” She rushed to catch back up with him. Blair slowed to let her fall back into step, and they turned down an alleyway that was a shortcut to get back to the library.
Has he really... he could just be putting on an act, for all I know. No, that’s not it. Shining wouldn’t have sent him if he wasn’t the real deal. I guess I don't need to know specifics, but still, it’d be nice if I could see something, anything to give me an idea of what he’s capable of...
Twilight turned to Blair. “I'm sorry, but this is going to bug me. I won’t ask that you tell me anything more, but could you at least show me a little of your magic?”
Blair stopped. He chewed on his lip as he breathed through his nose, his eyes shifting back and forth. Finally, he sighed.
Twilight obeyed, and he turned away from her and lowered his horn. He murmured something intelligible, and there was a swishing sound as the air condensed in the air just before him. The water droplets from all around gathered together before the tip of hsi horn, hovering in a swirling, perfectly clear ball the size of an apple. It bounced back and forth like an amorphous blob before slowing and going perfectly still.
Blair tilted his head, and the orb began to change shape. The bottom narrowed out into a slender stem, the middle branched out into delicate leaves, and the top flared out into full, blooming petals. The features of the flower became more defined as Blair focused, causing intricate lines to form on the stem and leaves, and the petals of the head deepening, gaining individual shape.
There was a teal flash, and a sudden rush of air. Twilight gasped as her hair stood on end, and her breath came out in a fine mist. Blair finished his spell, and looked up and examined his work. The water had been sculpted into the perfect likeness of a rose, and then frozen into pure, solid ice. He revolved it slowly in his magic as he spoke in a whisper.
“Water is everywhere. It’s around us, it’s beneath us, and most importantly of all, it’s within us. If you can learn to feel and control it, you can do some incredible things.”
Blair raised his hoof, and as he did, the rose began to fragment, breaking off into splinters, each the size of a nail. The shards rotated horizontally, and then came to rest behind him in perfectly ordered rows of ten. A few seconds later, the rose was gone, and in its place were dozens of icy needles. Blair then turned to Twilight, taking care not to keep the spikes level as he stared at her with cold, dark eyes.
“Some of which are more dangerous than others.”
Blair held the needles in place for a time, then slowly lowered his hoof, allowing the salvo to melt and absorb into the ground. The dark look in his eyes faded, and he gave her a small bow.
“How was that?”
I never would have guessed he could do something like that! But then again, how could I? He hasn’t used anything other than telekinesis since he got here. Twilight stared at him in shock. “That was an impressive display of control.”
“Thanks.” Blair winked at her. “Maybe next time I’ll let you have the rose.”
“It’d melt, though.”
“I can make it last a few hours,” Blair said with a grin. “Now, I’m curious to see if Spike has finished cleaning, aren’t you?”
“Oh, yeah,” Twilight said. “He must be done by now.”
The two of them walked out of the alley and headed towards the library. Blair seemed to be his normal self again, but the entire exchange had still left her with a vague sense of unease.
Should I be worried? He’s given no indication that he’s unstable, but then again, he hasn’t given much indication about anything at all. I suppose there hasn’t been a reason for him to show me his magic, but that’s just it! He’s got that kind of ability, and he has to sit around all day and watch me work?! What a waste of—stop it. I have a long way to go with figuring out how to stabilize the disjunction effect, and I can’t afford to get distracted. I know now that if something actually does happen, as unlikely as that is, I can rely on him. That’s good enough.
Twilight saw Ace and Piro walking towards the house where they were staying out of the corner of her eye. She and Blair rounded a corner, and the library came into sight. They closed the distance in silence, and Blair held open the door to let her walk inside.
Let’s just hope that I won’t have to.