The shaft of sunlight had been moving inexorably across the pillow all morning, advancing upon its blissfully sound asleep target. After an arduous journey it finally alighted upon the purple unicorn, the unforgiving brightness pushed through tightly closed eyelids, pierced the veil of her dreams and brought her, quite unwillingly, back into the real world. With a groan Twilight Sparkle rolled over and buried her face in the pillow, desperately trying to reclaim the wonderful dream she had been having. During the motion, an errant hoof caught a book that had been resting on the end of the bed, sending it careening over the edge. The heavy tome impacted the floor with a solid thud. The noise, so completely unexpected in her sleep addled state, caused Twilight to shoot upright in bed, a wild look in her eyes as she searched for the source of the startling sound. Finding it, her shoulders slumped as she relaxed and let out an exasperated sigh. Glancing over at her clock she noted the time as just coming up to 9:30.
Now quite wide awake, and without any hope of returning to the mental wonderland her sleeping mind had conjured, Twilight dragged herself out of bed, being careful not to knock over any more of the precariously balanced books that were weighing down the sheets. As her hooves touched the floor however, she heard a crunch. Wincing slightly, she gingerly lifted a hoof to see the crumpled and broken remains of some quills. Worse was the pot of ink that she had also managed to knock over. A puddle of quickly spreading ink engulfed her hooves and spread across several pages of notes, rendering the tightly packed, impeccably neat rows of script unreadable. Another sigh, this one irritated, sprang from her lips.
Blowing some wayward mane out of her eyes, she paid close attention to the floor this time before going another step. It was littered with books, notes, blank scrolls, balled up paper, quills, empty mugs, and now a puddle of ink. Looking back down at the mess of ink and spoiled notes, she decided she would deal with it later when she was fully awake. Some precise application of magic would restore the notes and perhaps she would be able to persuade Spike to help her tidy up the health hazard that was her bedroom. Glancing to the end of her bed, she saw his basket was empty. His beloved blue ‘blanky’ lay in a dishevelled heap where he had thrown it off this morning.
Paying close attention to her route, Twilight Sparkle negotiated her way through the room to the door. She didn’t do too badly, managing to knock over only one pile of books. A trail of inky hoofprints followed her all the way to the bathroom. The unicorn's ubiquitous horn flared with a purple nimbus as she marshalled her magic, pulling back the shower curtain and turning the taps. A present from Pinkie Pie, Ponyville's resident party enthusiast, the curtain was adorned with cupcakes and candy canes. Pinkie had proclaimed the shower’s original plain white curtain "Boring and un-shower-rific", turning up the next day with its replacement. Shaking her head slightly and smiling at the memory of her unfathomable friend, she tested the stream of hot water before gratefully stepping in.
The ink off her hooves curled away down the plug hole as it drifted smokily through the water. The downpour of steamy water gently massaged her back as she swayed back and forth, ensuring total coverage of the warm liquid. Twilight unceremoniously shoved her head under the shower, completely soaking her mane in a few seconds. The water pulled it down so it fell over her face and shoulders, removing any evidence of the horrible bed hair she had possessed only a few moments previously. With her tail likewise soaked, the violet and pink highlights than ran through both tail and mane mingled with each other and the dominant dark sapphire blue of her hair, becoming a spectrum of colour rather than the discrete blocks they usually were.
Her horn glowing once more, two bottles of shampoo and two brushes levitated over from a shelf wreathed in a matching aura. With a thought, Twilight commanded the bottles empty some of their contents onto her coat and mane. She then set the brushes to work, lathering up the sweet smelling soap. With a contented smile and half lidded eyes, Twilight glanced over at the mirror and contemplated her reflection. Deciding she looked silly covered in bubbles, she let lose a childish giggle before stepping under the water again to wash it all off.
The bathroom door opened releasing a wave of steam and out stepped a refreshed and revitalised Twilight Sparkle. Her mane and tail set in their usual style, coat brushed, and a bright gleam in her eyes signalled the unicorn’s readiness for the day. Deciding it was high time he she got some breakfast down her neck, Twilight summoned forth her magic and disappeared with a loud pop and a flash of purple light.
In the kitchen, a young purple and green dragon by the name of Spike was desperately reaching for a jar that remained a torturously small distance out of his clawed grasp. Every muscle in his body was held taunt as he strove to balance atop his structurally questionable tower. He extended a claw, attempting to reach the object of his desire: a large jar with a hand written sticker that read "Gems". They were usually only doled out as a treat or a reward. It sat atop a cupboard normally well out of his reach, so while Twilight was sleeping in, he had constructed an elaborate scaffold to reach the prize. His scaffold had a chair as its foundation, with a second, slightly smaller chair on top of that, then a stool, and then some books. Needless to say it was dangerously unstable.
With a look of intense concentration he stretched forward, balanced only on the toes of one foot. He swiped for the jar; the tips of his claws just brushed it. He stretched a little more. Then just a little more. The tower creaked and wobbled.
"Come on!" Spike wheezed.
Just as he was about to hook his claws behind it, there was a loud pop and a flash of purple light. He knew who that heralded and quickly pulled back in fright. Too quickly. The sudden shift in weight unbalanced the tower and with a yell Spike and his creation went tumbling down. Expecting to hit the floor he scrunched up his eyes. There was plenty of crashing as the various pieces of furniture hit the floor but he remained steadfastly aloft, hovering a few feet in the air. Slowly and carefully he opened one eye, swiftly opening the other once he realised what had happened. He was safely cradled in the soft purple aura of Twilights magic.
"Spike! What were you doing up there?" demanded a cross-looking Twilight. She knew very well what he had been doing. When she had teleported in she had had just enough time to register the incriminating situation before the tower had collapsed. However, she wanted to give Spike the opportunity to come clean.
"Errr....erm...you see Twilight...er..." the baby dragon stammered. Twilight raised an eyebrow. "...Rarity! Rarity needed a...a...a sapphire! That's what she needed! A sapphire! For a dress! And - er - I knew we had some, so I thought I would get one to give to her!" Spike was pretty proud of himself for that quickly thought up and eminently believable lie. Twilight however, was not convinced.
With a deadpan look Twilight asked "Do you really expect me to believe that? I'll admit it's an almost-believable lie, but a lie nonetheless." She lowered him gently to the floor and, using her best 'disappointed parent' voice continued, "It's sad that you would lie to me Spike." The expression on the little dragons face went from smug to ashamed. He looked at the floor, wringing his hands, unable to meet the unicorn’s stern gaze. Twilight continued, "What do you have to say for yourself mister?"
He looked pleadingly up at his de facto Mother and began, "Twilight, I'm so so so SOOO sorry! I shouldn't have lied! I just - I just really wanted some gems. I didn't get to have any yesterday and I had a dream that was ALL about gems and..." He trailed off and looked at the floor again, scuffing a foot back and forth.
Twilight softened slightly seeing how genuinely sorry Spike was, but he still wasn't getting off that easily. "Well congratulations, you've successfully ensured that you won't be getting any today either. Now, you can make some breakfast for both of us while I tidy up this mess." Spike dejectedly set about preparing a meal for both of them while Twilight levitated all the furniture back to their proper places. Once this was done she set about cleaning up the spilled cereal that Spike had managed to send flying when he fell.
Ten minutes later the kitchen had been returned to its usual state and Spike was serving them both oatmeal. He was still looking sorry for himself; he knew he wasn't going to have a fun day. He played with his oatmeal, pushing it around the bowl wondering what sort of things Twilight was going to make him do in order to make up for the earlier incident.
"Come on Spike, stop playing with your food and eat up. How do you expect to grow into a big, strong dragon if you don't eat your breakfast?" Twilight admonished. She had almost finished hers, whereas Spike had barely touched his. Seeing the look on his face she added, "Spike I'm not mad at you, okay? Just so long as you don't lie to me again, I don't like it."
"Alright Twi. I really am sorry, I just thought you'd be mad at me for trying to steal the gems, you know?" the dragon explained.
"Well, I would have been and for good reason, but that's no reason to lie. I like lying even less than the odd stolen cookie, or gem in your case." Twilight explained. "I'll admit when I was a foal I dipped my hoof into the cookie jar a few times. Magic made it a bit easier to reach of course," she chuckled.
Spike brightened at the thought of a filly Twilight Sparkle stealing cookies. "Twilight Sparkle? A thief? Never!" he teased. A cheeky grin spreading across his face.
"Don't think you've got away with it though. You're going to help me clean my disaster area of a room today. There're books everywhere and they all need to go back to their proper places."
Spike Frowned slightly at this but dived into his oatmeal. He was determined to redeem himself; he hated disappointing Twilight and wanted to get back in her good books. If he did a good enough job maybe he could still score some of those delectable gems!
Outside and above the hollow tree that served both as Ponyville's library and Twilight Sparkle's home, a cyan pegasus with a rainbow mane sat on a cloud watching the approach to the building/tree. She was attempting to be stealthy; just poking her head out far enough to be able to see. The rest of her body was buried in the cloud to keep her out of sight. The fact that it was a windy day and the cloud was stationary didn't seem to bother the pegasus or strike her as being particularly suspicious.
Rainbow Dash had been here for nearly two hours now and she was bored out of her skull. This was the earliest she had gotten up in recent memory and it was taking its toll. Keeping her eyes open had become a battle. Maybe she shouldn't have stayed up till 3 a.m. last night. As her eyes began to drift shut again she shook her head. Today was going to be an awesome day, she had to stay awake. Where was that darn mail-mare?
Ditzy Doo looked down into the cavernous mailbag slung around her neck, checking what she had left. The bag was almost empty, only a few letters and large brown paper wrapped package remained. Taking out the package she struggled to focus on the address for a few seconds before finally making it out. It was for the library, Twilight Sparkle to be precise. Ditzy liked Twilight; she was always friendly and talkative. Twilight liked what the arrival of the mail-mare heralded and was always excited to see her. It was normally a package like this one and these packages where, more often than not, books. That mare sure loved reading, she thought. Taking wing, the pale grey pegasus headed for the library.
There! The mail-mare was flying low towards the front door of the library. Rainbow Dash ducked back onto the cloud and waited for her to deposit the package. After a minute or so she peeked over the edge again to check where Ditzy was, only to find she was staring directly into a pair of golden eyes. Rainbow Dash almost fell off the cloud as she jerked back in surprise.
"Hey Dash! What you doin' up here?" Ditzy asked cheerfully.
"No - Nothing! Er...I mean...napping! You know, like I do. I nap," Rainbow stammered out defensively.
"You kinda looked like you were hiding. You know clouds are s’posed to move in the wind right?"
Dash winced at her blunder but quickly regained her composure. Deciding not to acknowledge the observation, Dash instead asked, "Did I have any mail today?"
Ditzy thought briefly before replying, "You had a couple of things; they mostly looked like bills though. Oh! You also had a poster tube."
"Awww sweet, that'll be my new Wonderbolts poster. Thanks Ditz."
"No worries Rainbow. I'll catch you later, I gotta finish my round." With a wave she flew off.
Waiting until she was sure Ditzy wasn't coming back, Rainbow dived off the cloud did a couple of loops and headed for an open library window. As she came out of the second loop, the tip of a wing caught a protruding branch and sent her tumbling. With a yell she flew out of control, managing to stabilise her flight just enough to get through the window unharmed.
Spike had answered the door to the mail-mare, taking the package off her hooves. Spike liked Ditzy; she was funny and kind. He had just handed it over to Twilight when they heard a yell. It was close, the sound seemingly emanating from right outside and heading their way. Before Twilight could even think anything else - let alone do anything else - there was a colossal crash and the unmistakable sound of a bookcase being knocked over, closely followed by the sound of a small avalanche as books tumbled down. This is going to be one of those days, Twilight thought, when I'm never going to be able to keep the library tidy.
It was an all too familiar series of events and without even turning round Twilight said resignedly, "You know most ponies just use the door, Dash."
With a rather dazed look on her face, Rainbow's head popped out of pile of books that almost completely concealed her. "I'm not most ponies; I'm much too cool to use doors."
"You know you're helping me tidy that up, right?"
"Yeah, yeah. Anyway, IS IT HERE!?" The pegasus said this as she bounded forward with a powerful thrust of her wings. This sent a wave of books flying in every direction as she burst out of the pile that had buried her.
Wearing an overly innocent look on her face, Twilight started, "Oh, do you mean..." She teasingly raised the package in a magical glow, "...this?" She smiled at the almost-instant reaction her friend had towards the innocuous-looking package.
"OHMYGOSHOHMYGOSHOHMYGOSH!" This outburst was immediately followed by a painfully loud fan girl squeal.
Twilight winced. "Dash, this is a library you know, try and keep it down a bit."
"Aww come on Twi, it's not like there's anyone else here. And do you know how long I've been waiting for this!? Weeks Twilight, Weeks!" At this exclamation she rose into the air and spread her fore-hooves wide as if to demonstrate the sheer volume of time.
"I know Rainbow, I've been waiting to, remember?"
"Come ON, open it already!"
"Okay, okay." With that Twilight peeled away the brown paper, revealing a brand new book. The colourful illustration on the cover showed a standing stone made of gold in the depths of the deepest, darkest jungle. A pony explorer stood before it with a look of awe on her face. The title read "Daring Doo and the Search for the Midas Menhir".
Since Twilight had managed to get Rainbow into books, the prismatic maned mare had been spending more and more time at the library. She’d even adopted a favourite spot: a couch in the dark recess under the stairs, lit by candles. She said it made everything more dramatic. One weekend when both Rainbow and Twilight had been reading the latest Daring Doo, Twilight had read out a particularly awesome paragraph for Rainbow and in turn Rainbow had read out a paragraph she had ear marked as being especially radical for Twilight. They both loved the way each other had given life to the various characters and described the events. Rainbow especially enjoyed the voice Twilight used for Daring. Since then it had become a ritual to read a book together every month, each pony taking turns to read a page or two out loud. This month the book they had decided to read was the latest novel in the Daring Doo saga. Although Rainbow had read several books outside this series, it had been these books that had got her into reading in the first place, so she maintained a soft spot for them and had been eagerly anticipating the release of the latest book.
The two ponies curled up in Dash’s favourite spot, cocoa in hoof and candle light flickering, as Twilight opened the book to the first page. The Pegasus could hardly contain herself; her attention was riveted to Twilight as she started to read.
“Daring Doo and the Search for the Midas Menhir!” Twilight began in a serious tone. “Chapter one.”
With the arrival of her reading buddy, Twilight had quite thoroughly forgotten about Spike and his earlier misdeeds. The two ponies were deeply engrossed in their story, and had been trying to theatrically out-do each other with each successive reading.
It was currently Rainbow Dash’s turn and she was in the middle of acting out a particularly action-packed fight scene. Her wildly exaggerated ducks and punches, as well as the absurd faces she was pulling, was sending Twilight into convulsive fits of giggles. In the confined space of the alcove, Rainbow’s swirling hooves and flying wingtips nearly knocked over candles and spilled hot cocoa. The gusts of wind her enthusiastic movements produced made the candlelight flicker, sending shadows dancing across the walls. It was only when Spike popped his head in did Twilight remember what had happened earlier, and that she was supposed to be cross with him.
“Yes, Spike?” Twilight questioned, her voice carried a harsher tone than she had intended. Spike ducked back a little before answering.
“I was wondering if you ladies would like to take a break, you’ve been in here for over three hours already. It’s lunchtime!”
Rainbow had frozen mid-pose when Spike had appeared. She was currently balanced on her hind legs, wings flared and forelegs thrown up in front of her to fend off imaginary blows. However, at the mention of food she immediately began to salivate. She hadn’t eaten for hours, having got up early to get into position, and her extremely active pegasus metabolism was screaming for some fuel. As if in conformation of this fact, her stomach let out a long shuddering growl. Smiling sheepishly, she dropped down to all four hooves and neatly folded her wings back into place.
“Hehe...yeah Twi, let’s get some food. I’m starving now that you mention it.”
“But, I don’t know if we have anything,” Twilight began, “we might have to go out to get something.”
“Do you really think your number one assistant would leave you hangin’, Twilight?” Spike asked nonchalantly. He repositioned himself as he spoke and was now leaning coolly against the door frame, pretending to examine the nails of one hand. “I’ve got you covered on the lunch front, don’t you worry about that. All you have to do is come and sit down!”
Raising a questioning eyebrow at the dragon, Twilight extinguished those candles that Rainbow’s theatrics hadn’t already blown out before advancing out into the libraries main room after her assistant. Suppressing a snicker at Spike’s suave manner, Dash followed suit, trotting behind Twilight as they made their way to the dining room.
As they exited the reading cubby and moved through the libraries main room, Twilight was pleasantly surprised to find that the books Rainbow Dash had scattered everywhere, with her exuberant entrance that morning, were been picked up and neatly stacked up on a table. The bookcase still remained where it had fallen, Spike lacking the strength to raise the heavy piece of oak furniture back to its proper position.
As they entered the dining area, their noses were engulfed by a tidal wave of mouth-watering smells.
“Wow Spike, have you been cooking and cleaning all morning?” inquired Twilight.
“I’ve been keeping busy. I cooked a few of your favourites and did a bit of tidying up!” He replied, trying to keep his smooth demeanour and downplay the effort he had put in. Rainbow bore a pleased smile; Spike had saved her the trouble of having to help Twilight tidy up later.
Twilight, well aware of the thought process behind her assistant’s actions, was nonetheless impressed with how much he had managed to accomplish in such a short time frame.
“Maybe I should make you feel guilty more often if it results in...” she sniffed the air before guessing, "...your famous dandelion and wild rocket quiche?"
"Got it in one!"
"Forget the quiche! I smell cookies!" exclaimed Dash as she rushed ahead, "er - no offense to the quiche." She added quickly, looking apologetically over her shoulder at Spike.
"It's cool, I cooked a batch of my patented triple-decker-nut-crazy-vanilla-cream-cookies! I know you love them Rainbow!" he exclaimed, gesturing with a claw towards the table as they all entered the kitchen.
Arrayed before them was a lunch that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Canterlot Garden Party. Alongside the quiche and cookies was a salad so fresh, the leaves and flowers looked liked they were still growing. There was also a stack of sumptuously filled sandwiches, a bowl of crispy hay fries, a wild rice risotto and a pot of gently steaming tea. The two awestruck ponies just stood in the doorway, gaping. Rainbow's tongue lolled rather inelegantly out of her mouth.
"Um...exactly how many ponies are you expecting for lunch, Spike?" Twilight asked.
"You know one of the ponies that we'll be sharing lunch with is Rainbow Dash, right?" Spike replied, "I've never seen any pony eat quite as much in one sitting as she does. Honestly, I don't understand where she puts it all."
"Well duh, I'm a pegasus; we need plenty of food!" the pony in question replied. "These babies take a lot to power, y' know." She briefly shuffled her wings to indicate what she meant.
"Besides,” Spike continued as the trio sat down at the table, “she must have had breakfast ages ago. Ditzy Doo said she'd been hiding in a cloud over the library all morning." As Spike let this piece of information slip, Rainbow Dash blushed guiltily.
"Oh, reeeally?" Twilight inquired, directing her gaze towards her friend and raising her eyebrow for the second time in as many minutes.
“Heh...” was all Dash could manage.
“You’re not still embarrassed about being an ‘egg head’ are you?” Twilight asked, sounding slightly hurt.
“I don’t mind that ponies know I - how did AJ put it?” she thought briefly, “oh yeah, ‘read a bang-up tale every once in a while’, but not even you camp out the post box waiting for a book. How lame is that!?”
“Actually, I have done that before...once or twice...”
Rainbow clamped a hoof over her mouth as she realised she had managed to insult her friend.
“It’s not so bad for you though!” she hastily reassured, waving her forehooves back and forth. “Everypony expects YOU to do stuff like that. If they knew I did it as well...they – they’d just make fun of me! Remember what happened when the cutie mark crusaders did that article about me getting a hooficure?” She shuddered slightly as she remembered the incident.
Rainbow Dash had been one of the unfortunate ponies to fall prey to ‘Gabby Gums’, the alias the three mischievous fillies - Applebloom, Scootaloo, and Sweetie Bell - had used while writing a gossip column for their school paper.
“You did get teased quite a lot for that,” mused Twilight.
“HAH, that’s the understatement of the year,” Dash groused, “it was merciless! And it went on for weeks!”
“Fine, fine. I can understand your want to avoid that sort of thing again; it’s never nice to be made fun of like that.” Twilight accepted, seeing the logic behind her friend’s actions. “Although, next time you decide to go all ‘Wonderbolts fan girl’ over a book, why don’t you just wait inside the library with me? I’d appreciate your company,” Twilight suggested, “and there’d be even less chance of you being outed as the egg head you truly are,” she teased.
Dash opened her mouth to object, but closed it again when she realised that Twilight was right. She WAS an egghead, at least a little anyways.
“Hey, I may be an egg head, but I’ve got nothing on you!” she joked, “you’ll always be ‘Queen Egg Head’. I’ll just have to accept that this is the one thing you’ve got me beat in.” This statement elicited a giggle and a roll of the eyes from Twilight.
“Now can we PLEASE eat some of Spike’s awesome cooking?” the pegasus pleaded, “I’m wasting away here!”
“Good idea!” said Twilight, as she proceeded to levitate food onto their plates.
The on-duty weather pegasi were watching a wild storm burgeon over the Everfree Forest with a growing sense of unease. It had been steadily swelling in size for the last twenty four hours; starting off as a small, inoffensive gathering of cloud, which quickly coalesced into something far more worrisome. The wind had really picked up in the last few hours.
Although, it hadn't yet strayed in the direction of Ponyville, the possibility was always there. Consequently, a contingency plan was in place should just such a scenario occur. Everypony was rather hoping they wouldn’t have to put it into action; dealing with a wild storm, rather than a pegasi created one, was dangerous and unpredictable.
The dark clouds boiled angrily as the storm continued to mount, illuminating itself with internal flashes of lighting. The accompanying rumbles of thunder rolled outward, announcing its growing power.
In a building on the edge of Ponyville that functioned as a field office for the local weather team, a strong looking pegasus by the name of Cloudburst, was addressing the small gathering assembled before him. He had asked the best endurance fliers to meet him there.
“Now listen up,” he began in curt voice, “that storm’s getting bigger by the minute and it could start moving towards Ponyville at any time. We’ve been observing it closely, but we still have no idea what we’re really dealing with. That’s why I’ve called you gentlecolts here. You five are the best endurance fliers we have, and we’re going to need that.” Cloudburst looked pointedly into each face as he talked.
The listening pegasi shifted and fidgeted with a mixture of pride and apprehension.
“We need to get a better idea of what we’re dealing with,” he continued, looking around seriously. “That means somepony’s going to have to do a flyby...”
The small gathering now stood stock still, the silence broken only by a distant rumble of thunder. The storm was not going to let its presence be forgotten.
“There’s a lot of wind’s coming off that thing, so it’s going to be a real struggle all the way. It being a wild storm means it’s also unpredictable...it could get dangerous. I’m not going to order any of you do it, but we need proper readings.”
There was a pregnant pause once Cloudburst finished his explanation.
“...I well understand your reluctance in this matter. If no one volunteers, I’ll go mysel–”
“I’ll go,” a dark blue, almost black, Pegasus cut him off abruptly.
With a sigh of relief the Cloudburst replied, “Thank you, Midnight. Now, you four,” he indicated the remaining pegasi with his hoof, “get him suited up.”
The food had been decimated. Only a few sandwiches, some hay fries, and a couple of lonely looking salad leaves remained. The table was littered with the remnants of a thoroughly enjoyed meal. Two extraordinarily full ponies, and a small dragon that felt like he was bursting at the seams, lay dozing on sofas in front of the cosy fire Twilight Sparkle had managed to light before she collapsed.
“I think I might fall into a food coma,” Rainbow Dash sighed.
“Uh-huh,” was all Twilight could manage by way of a response.
Spike failed to reply, having already fallen asleep.
“I think I might just...sleep here,” mumbled Dash, burying her face further into the soft cushion she was using as a pillow.
“Good...idea,” Twilight answered lazily, “you don’t want to fly on such a full stomach in this weather.”
A crack of thunder vibrated the library tree slightly and the wind seemed to redouble its efforts to penetrate the windows. Glancing up, Twilight half-expected to see the glass bulging inward under the pressure.
“How long is this scheduled to last anyways?”
“I dunno...I took the week off so I don’t know what they’ve got planned,” this reply was muffled slightly by the pillow, “I don’t pay much attention to the weather when I’m not working.”
A half formed response failed to make the trip from Twilight’s brain to her mouth; replaced instead with dreams of Dash valiantly fighting off a group of henchponies, as she drifted off into a relaxed sleep.
Midnight shrugged his shoulders, trying to get the harness to sit more comfortably on his well-muscled frame. It had not been designed with comfort in mind; the thick canvas was rough and utilitarian with wire woven through it for added support and strength. Various complicated looking pieces of meteorological equipment were also attached wherever it wouldn't interfere with his wings. The machines were covered in blinking lights and readouts that lit him up like a Hearths Warming Eve decoration, making him feel slightly ridiculous. Then he remembered what he was about to do and sobered up almost immediately.
Cloudburst moved around him, poking and prodding at the machines, checking they were working and calibrated. He also inspected the harness, making sure it had been fitted properly. After a few experimental tugs, he proclaimed it ready.
“Good luck,” he said firmly, “you’re going to need it.”
Midnight only nodded solemnly before spreading his powerful wings and launching himself into the heavy gale. The wind that rushed through Ponyville was, for the moment at least, strong but not unusually so. Midnight’s powerful wings pushed him steadily through it, his well toned muscles rippled underneath his dark skin as they worked to keep him moving.
It should have been a short flight to the Everfree Forest, but the closer he got, the stronger the wind grew. Each stroke of his wings seemed to cost him greater effort. Sweat soon sheathed his hide, darkening it further. He had been flying directly at the storm, but he couldn’t keep battling the storms power head on. Midnight was forced to reduce his angle of attack and instead zig-zag towards his target. This had the effect of increasing the distance he had to travel, but also meant he didn’t have to fight the vicious wind head on.
Midnight had been given a very specific list of operations and flight patterns to carry out once he got into position. Some of these operations, like cloud sampling, required him to actually be IN the cloud. He didn’t fancy that idea, although at this rate, it didn’t look like he would be able to get that close.
A bead of sweat ran down his brow and into his right eye. The salty droplet stung, making Midnight squint and hesitate briefly. He was tiring quickly, the storm’s victory seemed inevitable, and the only question that remained was whether or not he could get some good data before his muscles gave out.
He doggedly continued, pushing closer and closer to the looming thunderhead. Some of the bizarre instruments began to beep and whir as they entered their operational ranges. The rest remained inert. He would have to get closer.
The front of the storm bulged outwards, and suddenly disgorging a sheet of lightning that leapt across the sky. The forked bolt came perilously close to the struggling pegasus, it was almost as if the storm had aimed for him. Surely that was impossible, right?
Cloudburst and the other gathered pegasi were watching Midnight’s valiant journey. The ponies that hadn’t volunteered were feeling an odd mixture of emotions. They felt relief; they did not have to undergo the hardship that Midnight was suffering, or face the possible dangers. This fuelled shame and guilt; they had failed to step forward when the situation had demanded that they must, instead letting the burden fall on another. In the face of Midnight’s bravery, they were made to feel like cowards. Tempering this though, was pride; pride that they had the privilege to work alongside such a pony, and could call him friend.
After fitting the harness onto Midnight, the four pegasi had decided they would each sacrifice a portion of this month’s paycheque to show their admiration and respect. He deserved it; above and beyond the call of duty and all that. He would refuse of course, saying he was just doing what needed to be done, but they would be adamant. By unspoken consent they were also ready to leap into action the moment Midnight hit trouble, so when the lightning struck, four sets of hooves almost left the ground, stopping only once they realised he was still in the air.
“...Now, that isn’t normal,” the forepony commented. His voice was dark, and he sounded even more unsettled than he had been previously.
The four glanced at his worried face.
“This isn’t a normal storm, even by Everfree standards. Lightning doesn’t arc to AIR. You boys need to go and get him before he gets too close!”
Almost simultaneously, four sets of powerful wings thrust downwards, pushing their owner’s skyward. The backwash of air nearly knocked Cloudburst over.
Once aloft, the four entered a diamond formation; the lead pegasus cutting through the wind, making it easier for the ones behind. They swapped positions at regular intervals, so no one got overly exhausted.
The formation quickly gained on their beleaguered colleague, steely determination filled their eyes.
Midnight began to lose altitude, his endurance flagging. He knew he couldn’t keep this up much longer or get much closer. He was barely gaining ground, and was almost stationary in the air.
The near miss from the lightning had also shaken him considerably. A lightning strike was a pegasus’ worst nightmare. The strike didn’t even seem to make sense; it hadn’t seemed to arc to anywhere like it should have. There were no clouds behind him and he was too high for trees or the like. The lighting had come for him, he was sure of it; the storm had tried to swat him out of the sky and it scared him.
The storm front bulged outwards again, just like last time. Would the same thing happen again? Was it worth risking it?
His courage broke and he finally gave in to the wind. He turned and dove, his fatigued muscles desperately fought to maintain control as the powerful swells of wind filled his wings.
Behind him, the bulging storm glowed with a telltale illumination. A bolt of lightning spider webbed-across the sky faster than the eye could follow; the deep roar of thunder accompanied it. It headed straight for the fleeing pegasus.
The formation flying had served the four well. Sharing the burden, they had closed the gap between themselves and their friend. Had there been no wind, they could have easily shouted for him. However, the storm whipped their words away long before they reached Midnight’s ears.
They could only watch as the clouds reached out towards him. They strove to close the final distance as their friend broke off and headed back towards them. Then, with horror-filled eyes, they could only watch as the savage electricity struck Midnight! It speared an outstretched wing, passing straight through it without a moment’s hesitation. Midnight lit up like a candle as the bolt pierced him. Once it dissipated, the pegasus plummeted ground ward, trailing smoke and singed feathers as he fell.
Twilight Sparkle was in a jungle. The heat and humidity were intense, and a gentle pitter-patter of condensation, or rain, she couldn't tell which, dampened her coat. Animals and insects squeaked, squawked, buzzed, growled, or otherwise vocalised themselves all around her. It formed a not-unpleasant backing track perfectly suited to her surroundings.
The centuries old trees towered on either side, their dense canopy allowing only dappled light to reach beneath their leaves. Her hooves sunk into the thick leaf litter as she turned around to survey her surroundings. She couldn’t see very far; the thick undergrowth and eerie lighting made it all but impossible to see more than a few metres. Craning her head back to follow the ascending trunk of a massive buttress tree, Twilight’s eyes grew wide as it just kept on going. This particular tree stretched out past the main canopy making it impossible for her estimate its true height. Having read about it in a book (naturally), Twilight knew that such a tree - part of the emergent layer - could be as much as eighty metres tall.
As she gazed upward, still attempting to see the top the colossal tree, the sound of something crashing through the ground level flora reached her ears. Twilight quickly turned to face the sound which, now that she paid close attention, was definitely coming towards her. A list of the various predators that inhabited the rainforest streamed through her head, each worse than the last. She backed nervously up against the tree, and prepared to defend herself with magic.
With a fierce laugh, Rainbow Dash burst out of the dense foliage in front of Twilight. She skidded to a halt in front of her, leaves flying everywhere. Standing proud with wings flared, she wore an immeasurably cocky grin on her face.
"C'mon Twi, they're coming again!" Angry voices echoed through the dense jungle now, the source was quite clearly behind the pegasus. "My surprises won't keep 'em for long."
Twilight was about to ask exactly what Rainbow Dash meant by 'surprises', when there was a loud "TWANG" from behind her, swiftly followed by the sounds of panic.
"HA, that'll be one of the traps! Come on Twi let’s go!" with that she disappeared off into the jungle again.
Twilight's initial fear vanished the moment the Rainbow appeared. She felt reassured and almost immeasurably pleased to see her friend. Without stopping to think, she dived after Dash, her own laughter echoing the pegasus'.
She followed Rainbow Dash by sound as much as by sight, the dim lighting conditions and the dense ground level brush meant that half the time she couldn't see her at all, despite her being only metres in front.
As Twilight came around a bush with leaves nearly as big as her, she saw rainbow had stopped and was rapidly gathering up vines.
"Come on Twi, help me set this trip line," Rainbow Dash managed through a mouthful of vine.
Twilight grabbed one end of the vine with magic, the telltale diffuse purple glow girdled the length of vine, and deftly wound it between two trees, just at ankle level.
"Not a bad trap Dash, but a little simple. Now, let me show you how it's really done!" the gleeful unicorn declared.
Concentrating briefly, the glow around her horn intensified and a perfect cylinder of soil, two metres across and five metres tall, lifted itself out of the ground. It was like when Pinkie Pie pressed a cutter into pastry. All the roots in the soil were cleanly cut and the magic maintained the structural integrity of the cylinder, not letting so much as a speck fall.
Her frown deepening, Twilight summoned several branches and laid them across the top of the newly created hole, embedding them slightly below ground level. Then Twilight cut off a slice of the cylinder she held and placed the circle of earth back in its original position over the hole, neatly resting it on the branches. It was as if the ground had never been disturbed. The remaining cylinder of earth vanished in a purple flash. The whole process took less than a minute. Rainbow stood gaping at the perfectly normal looking piece of ground that she knew concealed the trap.
"There!" Twilight declared, a satisfied smirk on her face.
"Woah..." Rainbow managed after a few seconds of staring. "...Now that's what I call a trap! It's like you never even touched it!" she marvelled, still examining the ground for any sign of the pit she knew was there.
"Magic does give me a bit of a leg up on you," Twilight teased as she carefully walked around the invisible pit.
"Wait a sec'," Rainbow called, struck by a sudden thought. "Where did the rest of the dirt go?"
"Oh, I just teleported it a couple of hundred metres in that direction," she explained, indicating left with a hoof as she did so.
"Ooooof course you did."
"Weren't we running from somepony?" Twilight queried suddenly.
"Oh right, that." Rainbow suddenly jerked upright as she remembered why they were laying traps in the first place. "Ahuitzotl's henchponies are trying to stop us getting to the Midas Menhir! Twilight, I know where it is!"
"Well why didn't you say so!" Twilight exclaimed. "Let's get moving!"
With that they both set off into the jungle again, Rainbow leading the way. They'd barely gone a dozen steps before they heard the unmistakable sound of a small pony pile up as the lead chaser caught his hoof on the trip wire. More angry shouting followed, and Twilight distinctly heard the words 'clumsy idiot'. A few more steps and they would hit the pitfall trap. She listened eagerly for the telltale sounds. Before long was rewarded with the crack of branches and cries of several ponies as the false floor gave way. Rainbow obviously heard as well, because she turned her head to look at Twilight, a mischievous grin gracing her lips.
Before she realised what was happening Twilight ran straight into the back of her friend who had stopped dead. Before them stood another collection of henchponies and several of Ahuitzotl's pet predators. All of them were growling menacingly.
"Your journey ends here, Daring Do!" the lead pony stated with a tone of utmost confidence.
"HA, you bunch of incompetents haven't been able to stop us yet. What makes you think you can now?" Rainbow declared, every bit her usual confident self.
Twilight couldn't help but smile at this. The pegasus' confidence and self-assurance was infectious.
Talking out the side of her mouth, Rainbow asked, "you ready Twi?"
"Of course," Twilight replied eagerly.
The two groups stood sizing each other up for a few more seconds, although the time seemed to stretch to minutes as Twilights blood thrummed with adrenaline. Her magic was straining at the bit, ready to be unleashed on the ponies who dared stand in their way. As one, the two groups pounced.
Twilight took the predators first. A purple shroud encompassed them and unceremoniously flung them back into the jungle to heavily strike trees. They crumpled to the ground. She spun and bucked just in time to catch a charging earth pony in the jaw. He cried out in pain and fell to the side, dealt with for now.
Rainbow had leapt into the air as soon as the fight kicked off, her powerful wings swiftly taking her clear of the ponies that charged at her. Before the henchponies could get their bearings again, she dived back down hooves first, like a comet from on high, and landed right on a unicorn mare that was trying to focus her magic on the pegasus. She never stood a chance. The impact drove her into the ground with a sickening crunch. She did not get back up. Twilight was half expecting dash to blow out a crater when she hit the floor. Dash proceeded to spring off her downed opponent and somersaulted over another earth pony, kicking out as she did so to catch him just on the back of his head. He staggered forward and tripped over a branch, sending him sprawling.
Twilight couldn't afford to stand and stare at the acrobatic pegasus for long though, more opponents were advancing on her. Planting her hooves, she concentrated her magic and the vines and branches around her sprang to life. The surprised ponies tried to dodge and dive out of the way. One unicorn summoned a shield to deflect the marauding foliage, while another swung a telekinetically held machete, trying to slice the vines before they reached her. It was no use though, the vines grabbed the unicorn mare and pulled her up into the branches to entomb her in leaves and vines. The earth ponies didn't stand a chance against such magic and were quickly brought down.
Rainbow kicked out left and right, fending off blow after blow and bringing down several of her opponents in return. She tried to leap into the air again, only to be immediately tackled by a flying pegasus. The two ponies slammed to the ground and rolled through the leaf litter, throwing blows at each other. With a flick of magic, Twilight griped the other pegasus and flung him across the small clearing. He landed heavily and rolled through a large bush before coming to rest, stunned.
"Nice one Twi!" Rainbow yelled as she jumped to her hooves and dived back into the fray.
Twilight quickly turned back to her own encroaching enemies. She was just in time to throw up a shield which two dive-bombing pegasi slammed painfully into. A shove of magic sent the prone ponies rolling along the floor, tripping two charging earth ponies.
Behind her, a grass green unicorn stallion shimmered back into the visible spectrum and, having levitated a huge log, flung it at the purple unicorn that was causing so much havoc. Twilight, being quite thoroughly distracted by the foes in front of her, and already coordinating several different spells at once, completely failed to notice.
"TWILIGHT!" Rainbow Dash yelled as she dived and tackled her to the ground.
The log smashed into a tree just behind the space Twilight had occupied only seconds before. By the time the two ponies where back on their feet, a lot of their enemies had gathered around them. Even some of the big cats had recovered. The two ponies, unicorn and pegasus, stood back to back, ringed by opponents. They looked back at each other, smirks on their faces.
"Enjoying yourself, Twi?"
"Oh, you have no idea."
The ring of enemies charged. Twilight’s considerable mental discipline was pushed to its absolute limit as she battled against the unicorns of the group. Jabbing this way and that with magic, countering spells, shielding both Dash and herself. Sweat beaded on her brow, her horn was incandescent. She still managed to find a sliver of spare attention to pay to Rainbow Dash. Her sleek, athletic body was poetry in motion. Dodging like a weasel, striking like a cobra, every blow precise. It was like a scene from the best action movie that Twilight had ever seen, only she was starring in it.
Just as that thought crossed her mind, the pair pulled of a move that she felt sure should have been the sole province of choreographed fight scenes. Dash made a flying leap over her head to slam into an earth pony that was getting a bit too close. At the exact same moment, Twilight spun round blasted away a leaping jaguar that was mere inches from tearing open Rainbow's flanks. They turned to look at each, having reversed their positions; adrenaline fuelled laughter burst forth as they realised just how incredibly awesome that had been. They really made a grea-
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
Twilight fell off the sofa and hit the floor of the library. She let out a small groan. The storm still raged outside, if anything it was worse than when the three of them had fallen asleep. Rainbow still lay sprawled across her own sofa, the knocking completely failing to reach through her own dreams. Spike lay curled up on the rug in front of the now dwindling fire. She smiled at his peacefully dozing form. She glanced at the clock, noting they had been asleep for a little over three hours.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK.
She jumped, and realised that the sound that had roused her from her dreams had, in fact, been someone knocking on the front door. It sounded rather urgent so she scrambled to her feet and quickly went to answer it. As she opened the door a ferocious blast of wind blew into the library quickly followed by a sopping wet pegasus stallion.
"What's going on?" a startled Twilight asked.
"This storm, it's not ours. It's from the Everfree, and it's infused with wild magic. You're the Element of Magic and Rainbow Dash is always saying you're an egghead, no offense, so you're the only pony any of us thought would be able to help!" the stallion said rather breathlessly.
"A wild storm infused with free magic?!" Twilight almost shouted. "Oh, this can't be good."
She beckoned the yellow pegasus inside and hurriedly closed the door, once again shutting out the storm. He nodded gratefully and jumped as he noticed Rainbow asleep on the sofa.
"Rainbow Dash was here? We've been looking everywhere for her!" he exclaimed as he went over to her. "We need every weather pony we've got for this, and she's one of the best."
He roughly shook her awake, while Twilight darted from shelf to shelf, pulling down a multitude of books.
"Wha-what, I'm awake, I'm awake, stop shaking me," Dash said sleepily, as she looked up at her tormentor.
"Squall? What the hay are you doing here?" she asked when she noticed who it was that had awoken her.
"Emergency call up, Dash. You and your friend," he explained.
"What? Why?" Dash demanded.
"This storm isn't ours. Blew off of the Everfree," he explained yet again.
At this revelation, Rainbow jerked awake quite suddenly. This was an unusual occurrence at the best of times and, from Twilights frantic activities behind her, this must have been an extraordinary event.
"SPIIIKE!" Twilight shouted behind them, causing the little dragon to jerk awake.
"Huh, what?" he drawled sleepily.
"Spike, where's that copy of 'Meteorological Magic' that I was reading last week?" she called over distractedly, still furiously scanning shelves.
"Oh, er..." he thought for a few seconds. "Oh! I didn't get around to re-shelving it, so it's still in that pile on the table." He gestured over to a corner, eyes half lidded.
Twilight grabbed the whole pile in her telekinetic grip, running them past her eyes one by one as she continued over to yet another book shelf. Finding the one she wanted, the others were haphazardly discarded. Twilight would no doubt berate him later for not keeping the library clean, Spike thought.
"Ponyfeathers! How could I forget!?" Squall suddenly shouted. "The storm targeted a pegasus with lightning; it blew him clean out the sky! Nurse Redheart requested your aid as well, Twilight! Something about magic in the wounds."
At this, Twilight practically fell over.
"Why did you not say that first?!" she exclaimed, her face contorting into a horrified expression.
"I don't have time to gather books! Spike, get any and all material that pertains to free magic and wild weather and place them in the middle of the floor in a neat pile, I'll get them later. Now," she turned to the Squall, "tell me precisely where this pony is!"
"Er, we managed to get him back to the weather headquarters on the edge of town. Do you know the one?" Squall managed, startled somewhat by the unicorns almost ferocious look.
"Yes, I know the weather headquarters. Right, you two stand close and lay a hoof on my back," Twilight ordered.
The two pegasi looked like they wanted to ask questions, but the expression on Twilight's face brokered no argument. They both nervously did so, not sure quite what to expect. Rainbow had a suspicion and braced herself accordingly. She had no time warn Squall though, as Twilight immediately concentrated her magic and the trio disappeared in a bright purple flash.
On the Origin and Properties of Free Magic
By Prof. Close Scrutiny
Before discussion of free magic can begin, one must have a good understanding of aligned magic, sometimes called harnessed magic. That is, magic bound and utilized by a pony or some other creature. Many of the fully sentient races in Equestria and surrounding countries possess their own unique brands of magic. For example, after the recent Changeling invasion, many citizens will be familiar with that particular races magical abilities. They are by no means alone in possessing such gifts though; Griffons, Zebra, Dragons and many others all have their own brands of magic. For ease and brevity, this paper compares and contrasts pony magic and free magic.
All of ponykind is at least aware of the magic deeply ingrained within our species, even if they do not know the particulars. It comes in four distinct forms, each unique to a particular racial division.
Alicorn (Equus Aurae) Magic
This is the most powerful variant of actively wielded magic, channelled through a horn atop their heads. Only two known Alicorns exist in the world today, though ancient and fragmentary documents suggest that the race was once more prolific. The two known surviving Alicorns (Princesses Celestia and Luna) do not readily share knowledge concerning their history or abilities, consequently any theories concerning the source and scope of their powers is speculation at best. The most credible theories suggest that their powers stem from, or are associated with, the celestial bodies they are so closely connected to: The Moon and stars for Luna, and the Sun for Celestia. Because of the uncertainty surrounding the magic of Alicorns, this paper will mostly ignore it.
Unicorn (Equus Magia) Magic
This is the other variant of actively wielded magic. It is channelled through the Unicorns ubiquitous horn, similar in appearance to the horn of an Alicorn, though smaller in proportion. A Unicorns power stems from the reservoir of magical energy that resides within them, it is this energy that they wield when casting a spell.
The energy itself is obtained from food - much the same way that any other nutrient is - and the local environment. A malnourished or starving Unicorn has a significantly limited pool of energy to cast spells with. This results in weak or failed spells, and rules out many high energy spells. The exact mechanism that liberates magic from food is not entirely understood. It is thought to be a specific process that derives magic from food rather than directly extracting it, as the food we eat is not innately magical. The general environment is awash with latent energy and a Unicorn's body naturally attracts and absorbs this readily available resource. A learned Unicorn can even cast spells by directly using this latent energy rather than their own energy, although this carries its own risks.
When newborn, a Unicorn foal has no magical reserve at all, and totally lacks the ability to retain or produce magic. The body's ability to retain magic increases relative to the growth of the foal. In fact, the growth of their magical reservoir increases almost exponentially before levelling off when they hit puberty. During their development, there comes a stage where they have a great deal of magic residing within them, but lack the cognitive development to properly retain and control the energy. This results in strange and unpredictable bursts of magic from the foal as they unconsciously bend their internal energy to their whims.
The final size of a Unicorn's reservoir differs from pony to pony; the distribution throughout the adult population conforms to a traditional bell curve. On the far left side of the bell curve we have Unicorns whose magical power is almost non-existent, possessing only the most rudimentary telekinesis. On the far right, we have Unicorns whose powers rival that of the Alicorns, and are capable of truly extraordinary feats of magic. One notable example of such a Unicorn in current times is Princess Celestia's personal protégé, and bearer of the Element of Magic, Twilight Sparkle. Notable historical examples include such great mages as Starswirl the Bearded.
Pegasus (Equus Pennata) Magic
Unlike Alicorn and Unicorn magic, Pegasus magic is not actively channelled. Rather, it is a passive ability, requiring no thought on behalf of the user. It is responsible for the Pegasus's many abilities surrounding their flight and mastery of weather.
The passive magic of a Pegasus grants them many abilities naturally denied to the other races, although some may be granted temporarily by the consciously channelled magic of Unicorns or Alicorns. Of these abilities, the most widely known are the ability to walk on clouds, and the ability to manipulate and control the weather. These are the most physically obvious gifts granted by their magic.
Of the less visible, but no less important abilities, few outside of academia or the medical professions are aware of them. The list is as follows:
Durability - Pegasus, or specifically their bones, are far more durable than they should be. Like most flying creatures, they have a hollow bone structure to dramatically reduce their weight. This normally results in a much weaker bone structure. However, a Pegasus' bones are magically reinforced and able to withstand pressures many times greater than they would naturally be able to.
Temperature sustention - A Pegasus' body temperature drops no lower than one or two degrees below their standard body temperature. This threshold, maintained by magic, makes them all but immune to the cold. This means they remain unaffected by the freezing temperatures in the upper atmosphere and need not worry about wind chill when flying. This also renders them all but immune to cold related maladies such as frostbite and hypothermia.
Enhanced muscle endurance - Specifically the wing muscles. They do not tire or suffer the same debilitating build up of lactic acid as does regular muscle. This is despite the lack of any mechanism or adaptation to account for the difference in behaviour. That's not to say that they don't suffer from these affects at all, rather they suffer them to a much smaller degree than does any other muscle in the body. The benefits to such an affect are obvious.
This combination of attributes make Pegasus undisputed masters of the sky.
These abilities are all normally magically intensive, though in Pegasus the processes seem to be extremely efficient. Still, the demand is huge. Much like Unicorns, Pegasus derive their magic from food and it is this high demand for energy that accounts for the incredible appetite and complete lack of body fat that Pegasus are well known for. The constant energy usage means any fat that does form is burnt off incredibly quickly. Their ability to magically sustain their body temperature also means they have no use for fat as an insulator. A Pegasus lacks the Unicorns ability to absorb the naturally occurring energy of their surrounding environments.
As their pool of magic begins to wane, so to do the gifts it fuels. A sure sign that a Pegasus is malnourished or starving is a dip in body temperature. A malnourished Pegasus is also far more likely to break a bone should they suffer an accident, and their ability to control the weather lessens and becomes more erratic. The ability to walk on clouds evidently requires almost no energy to operate; even a near dead Pegasus can still traverse cloud.
Earth Pony (Equus Terra) Magic
Earth pony magic operates in a somewhat different manner to the rest of pony kind's magic. It is much more subtle; its effects aren't immediate which make direct observation difficult. As such, it is perhaps the least studied form of racial magic. From what limited studies of Earth Pony magic there have been, it has at least been established that it is perhaps the most complicated and intricate form of racial magic. Contrary to popular belief, it is not their innate magic that is responsible for Earth Ponies strength, durability, and general physical domination. Baseline Earth Ponies are simply physiologically superior to both Unicorns and Pegasus. Under the correct circumstances however, their magic can improve on what they already have.
Earth Pony magic ties them directly to the world and the natural environment. This link is a remarkably close one, bordering on a dependence. It has a huge effect on their well-being, both mental and physical. An Earth pony in a healthy environment will be healthier than one in damaged or dying environment. In a thriving environment, an Earth Pony's already formidable physical attributes can be accentuated and improved even further. The environments natural energy appears to fuel them, much it does for Unicorns, though this is unconfirmed.
A healthy ecosystem brings other benefits to Earth Ponies as well. Injuries heal faster, the pony is less likely to suffer from mental illness, the immune system is strengthened, endurance is enhanced, and strength is increased. These are just some of many small changes to the body and mind that empower Earth ponies. Rather astonishingly, it seems that all of these changes are purely biological as opposed to magically powered as with Pegasus. The biochemistry within the cells is actually altered to be more efficient across the board, the white cell count goes up, neural conductivity increases etc. All of this is somehow triggered by the absorption of ambient energy from the local environment. How this works is currently a mystery; Earth Pony magic is tragically understudied.
Earth ponies do not simply leech off the local environment; it is a reciprocal, almost symbiotic, relationship. Earth ponies give back as much as they take. Every Earth pony exudes an invisible field, reaching out an indeterminate yet lengthy distance from them. The further from the pony you travel, the weaker the field becomes. It seems to follow general field theory principals, behaving in a similar manner to magnetic fields. These fields strengthen when combined with the fields of other Earth Ponies. The field produced by a large concentration of Earth Ponies is sizeable and can extend for many miles.
Living creatures - be it plant, animal, insect, or microbe - that reside within these fields seem to experience similar, though less pronounced, strengthening effects that Earth ponies themselves experience from their passive absorption of ambient energy. When looking at high altitude aerial photos, one can easily see the effect on the landscape. The areas immediately surrounding Earth Pony settlements are significantly greener than almost anywhere else. It is thanks in no small part to this effect that Earth Ponies make such good farmers.
A loud 'crack' and a purple flash heralded the arrival of the three ponies just outside Ponyville's weather centre. Twilight, being well used to the effects of her teleportation spell by now, was completely unfazed. The same could not be said for the two pegasi. Rainbow Dash swayed unsteadily on her hooves, left disorientated and dizzy by their magically assisted trip. Squall outright collapsed, his knees giving way.
"I think I'm gunna hurl," he complained weakly, looking rather green in the face.
Twilight ignored them both and dashed inside to seek her patient. He wasn't hard to find; the smell of charred meat and burning feathers lead her straight to where he lay - mercifully unconscious - on a table. The items that had previously occupied the table lay scattered on the floor, having been hastily swept aside to make room for the downed pony. The various charts, timetables, and maps were trampled underhoof as frantic ponies circulated through the room.
Midnight was not a pretty sight. The lightning had caught him on the wing near the base; the feathers all along the limb were almost completely absent, and the skin and flesh itself was horribly burnt and blistered. His side had obviously caught a dose of the lightning as well, a cauterised furrow had been carved along his chest laying bare the odd patch of stark white rib. These injuries were serious enough on their own, but the intense heat had also melted several pieces of the weather equipment he had been wearing into his fur and flesh. The smell of burning plastic intermingled with that of cooked flesh was a sensory experience that Twilight fervently hoped she never had to experience again.
Nurse Redheart, along with a collection of other nurses and doctors were already busily working away. They had several IV bags set up, replacing vital fluids, and had begun cutting away the pieces of fused weather equipment. Midnight was also receiving numerous injections, and a portable defibrillator lay on a nearby table. Nurse Redheart turned as Twilight entered.
"Twilight, thank day and night!" she cried out. "We could really use your expertise on this one. The base injuries we can deal with and we've already got his heart going again, but we need you to siphon off the wild magic before we can deal with anything properly. It's already flung Dr. Kendrick across the room and burnt out the defib! If his heart stops again we won't be able to get it going this time."
Twilight just nodded stoically and closed her eyes as she stepped up to the table, everyone else instinctually stepped away. She focused her magic on the pegasusl, the purple glow enveloping him.
When focused, a unicorns magic is like another sense organ, but with an acuity that puts their purely biological ones to shame. Twilight's magic, being so much more potent than the average unicorns, gave her a level of insight and detail, orders of magnitude greater than normal. It had taken years of Celestia's strict and rigorous tutelage to properly use and interpret everything. When she had been just a foal, the sheer quantity of information she received had been too much for her. She had been able to understand only a tiny fraction of the data she received. She never liked to talk about it, always fearing to boast about her abilities, but her time as Princess Celestia's protégé had left her with, arguably, one of the most finely honed, and frighteningly powerful minds in all of Equestria. This considerable mental capacity was even now filtering through the data concerning the pegasus before her.
She immediately noted the wild magic's presence. She could see the microscopic arcs flickering across the craggy, scabbed landscape of Midnight's burns, felt as they penetrated the skin, and pierced cell membranes, smelt them as they proliferated in the blood, and heard the sickening tearing as they ripped into the pegasus' fragile DNA.
The sparks were mostly centred around the injuries, like bacteria infecting a wound, but were beginning to spread throughout his body. She noted each of their locations, and willed them all to the surface, stopping their rampage of wanton destruction throughout Midnight's body. They flowed like oil across his skin, congealing in a mass about the size of a tennis ball before lifting off and floating dead centre above the table.
The magic had not put up a fight thus far, but having been removed from its playground, it decided it wanted back in. It lashed out at the one who had contained it, a bolt of magic shooting out at Twilight. Having felt the build up of power though, Twilight was well prepared. A shimmering bubble appeared around the angry ball of magic, negating any attempts it made to break free.
Now the hard part had been done, she simply had to nullify it. This was far easier than extracting it, all she had to do was eat it. Or at least the magical equivalent of eating it. She had thought enough to spare to think that mundane words like 'eat' were never quite suitable for describing magical events. They could never seem to captured what was actually happening. The writhing ball of magic, still safely encased, floated serenely towards Twilight's horn. Upon contact, her horn absorbed the sparks, leaving only an empty sphere, which popped like a bubble. Twilight's considerable reservoirs of her own internal magic would overwhelmed and impose order on the wild magic, simply adding it to her reserves of power. The process complete, she exhaled heavily and opened her eyes. To the surrounding ponies, the entire process had lasted only seconds.
"There, the magic had been neutralised. He is now free of its influence and I was able to limit any damage it was able to do," Twilight explained.
The surrounding ponies gave a sigh of relief and the medical personnel immediately set back to work. Twilight waited around just long enough to take the weather harness off the nurses hands, so she and the weather team could begin analyzing the data. It was a gory trophy, encrusted as it was with dried blood and melted flesh. She tried not to think about it as she left the room. Across the corridor, several weather ponies, including Rainbow Dash and Squall, were gathered around a chart table.
"I've got the instruments," Twilight announced to the room at large, before depositing the rig on the table.
The pegasi stiffened at the sight of the damaged and soiled artifact laying before them. Squall, still barely recovered from the unsuspected teleport, began to grow green again. No one moved to inspect the instruments.
With a resigned sigh, Cloudburst stepped forward to undertake the task. He had commissioned the fly-by, he should be the one to collect the data, he reasoned. He started gingerly removing the still functioning devices, deliberately averted his eyes from the damage the storm had inflicted. There was nothing he could do about the smell. It was pungent mixture; the smell of burnt feathers, mixed with the metallic smell of fused metal, all overlaid with the sickly sweet scent of cooked flesh. The slight tang of ozone, evidence of the fateful lightning strike, still lingered.
Guilt wracked him; after all, it had been him who sent Midnight out into the storm. He had left it too late, any storm coalescing over the Everfree should have been scouted almost immediately. By the time he sent a pony out there, it was already too powerful. True, Midnight had volunteered knowing it was dangerous, even a foal could have seen that, but had he asked the same question a few hours earlier...
"I-I'm going to...to lay down in the other room," he choked out when he had finished, noticeably pale. "Rainbow, you know how to read the machines, but call me if you need anything."
With their forepony gone, everyone looked to Twilight for instructions, automatically affording her seniority. While often looked to for advice or knowledge, Twilight was unused to being the one outright calling the shots. She wasn't quite sure how to handle it and, for a moment, froze up. A poke in the ribs from Rainbow Dash brought her back to reality. Being the personal protégé to Princess Celestia did grant her authority in the eyes of other ponies, she supposed. To be honest she never really thought about it, and had certainly never used it. But she was getting off topic.
"Er, right. Rainbow, can you gather the information from the equipment. Squall, can you keep an eye on the weather station on the roof and tell me if there is any drastic changes. And can a couple of you go outside and keep an eye on the storm, I want to know the moment it starts moving. Everybody else, er...just stand ready," Twilight rattled off.
The gathered pegasi immediately went about their appointed tasks, much to Twilight's amazement. She still found it odd that they did as she asked without question. Blinking away the thought, she adjusted her stance and concentrated. She envisaged the circle she had drawn in the middle of library floor, ready for just such an occasion. The space was always kept clear, Spike occasionally renewing the circle if it got scuffed or worn. Twilight knew the precise dimensions and position of the circle, which made it that much easier to transport material from within the circle to her current location, providing she was in range of course. If Spike had done as she had asked, there should now be a pile of relevant books ready for transport.
Her horn flared with power, heralding a crack and flash of light. A stack of books, nearly as tall as she was appeared on the ground in front of her. Much to her surprise, there was there was also a groggy, and slightly smoking, baby dragon, a book grasped in his claws. He swayed briefly on his feet before toppling over backwards with a groan.
"Oh, sorry Spike!" said Twilight, quickly moving forward to see if he was alright. "I was in such a hurry that I forgot to send the warning spark first. Are you okay?"
"That was...unexpected," he groaned, rubbing his head as he pushed himself into a sitting position.
"Are you okay?" Twilight asked again.
"I think so," he said as he quickly eyed his body and felt for his spines. "Yeah, I think I'm all here. That was rougher than your usual teleportation spell."
"Hehe," Twilight laughed sheepishly, "I wasn't really expecting any living passengers. Books tend not to complain if it's a bit of a bumpy ride."
She couldn't see any obviously missing or misplaced body parts, but just to be on the safe side Twilight gave her draconic charge a quick once over with magic. She was relieved to find that he really was fine.
"Did you get all the books then?" she asked, scanning the spines of the stack in front of her.
"This was the last one," Spike replied, holding up the book he had dropped.
"Thanks Spike," she smiled gratefully at her assistant. "Now that you're here, you can help me sift through these books for information concerning free magic induced storms. And we need to be quick about it, who knows when that storm will start moving or what it'll do to Ponyville."
The pair started pulling books from the pile, both being seasoned readers, they were able to breeze through a book rather quickly. They scanned the pages for keywords, only stopping to read a passage if it seemed relevant. Twilight was quickly amassing notes about free magic and weather, but so far no book mentioned what happened when the two were one and the same. After ten minutes or so of frantic reading and scribbling, Rainbow Dash came over with the list of readings.
"Here you go Twi," she said as she handed them over, "from what I can tell this is a seriously powerful storm, but some of the readings don't really make sense."
"That may well be the magic interfering with the equipment," Twilight guessed, "or it could be the magic is altering the way the storm is forming. It needn't conform to the usual rules due to the magic's influence."
"What is free magic, anyways?" Dash asked. "I've never heard of it."
"It's naturally occurring magic, it doesn't need a unicorn, alicorn, or other magical entity to cast it. It's unpredictable, and theoretically doesn't have an upper limit to its power. When magic is usually cast, the limiting factor is whomever is casting it, with free magic this obviously isn't the case," Twilight explained as she scanned the list of figures Rainbow had handed her, comparing them to her notes. "It's not always dangerous though; there are several cases of completely benign free magic. The Dream Caves under Canterlot, or The Floating Crystals in the desert beyond Appleloosa for example."
Twilight stopped reading abruptly, eyes widening and mouth dropping open. She checked the numbers again, repeatedly glancing between the readouts and her notes.
"Nononono, this can't be right!" she looked Dash in the eyes, fear evident in her own. "Are you sure you read these all correctly!?" She pointed at the readings for electric charge and current.
Dash read the numbers, turning round to double check the apparatus that measured them.
"Yeah, that's right. Is that bad?" she said, as she turned back. Lightning was not something many pegasi wanted to deal with, for obvious reasons. As such, Rainbow had only minimal training in the area.
"These figures are a factor of ten higher than they have any right to be!" Twilight said incredulously. "This storm is going to be producing a lot of EXTREMELY powerful bolts of lightning. The one that hit Midnight can't have been anywhere near as powerful as that or..." she trailed off. Rainbow had grown very pale.
"W-well, what do we do about it?" Rainbow asked uneasily.
That was an excellent question. How did you deal with a storm powered by unknowably powerful free magic that actively targeted approaching ponies with unnaturally strong lightning? Targeted ponies...Squall was on the roof!
"Oh Celestia! We have to get Squall inside, NOW! And anypony else for that matter!"
A pegasus dashed into the room then, looking windblown and dishevelled.
"The storm has started moving, and it's coming right this way!" he blurted out before he had come to a complete halt.
"Oh Celestia! Cover your ears everypony!" Twilight cried, before she concentrated and summoned her magic. After a second of concentration, a choker of translucent lavender magic appeared around her neck.
"EVERYPONY GET INSIDE NOW!" she yelled with her magically amplified voice. Motes of dust spiralled down from the ceiling and Rainbow Dash felt her teeth shake.
This was immediately followed by the sounds of hooves clattering on the floor and the door swinging open and slamming shut several times. There was also a series of sounds from the roof which sounded suspiciously like a pony rolling down the shingles. Less than a minute later, the room was jammed with ponies, Squall bringing up the rear rubbing a bruise on his head. Everybody was looking expectantly at Twilight. She swallowed nervously.
"The storm has some very worrying properties, first and foremost is extremely powerful lightning. Far more powerful than anything a natural storm would produce. And, er, it seems the lightning is deliberately aiming for ponies."
This last piece of information was met with fear and consternation by the assembled weather ponies. Only those that had been witness to Midnight's accident had been aware that the storm seemed to be able to target anything it wanted. Twilight called for quiet before continuing.
“We obviously can’t risk any flights given this knowledge. One casualty is more than enough. I will try and deal with this from the ground, and failing that we will just have to sit it out and hope for the best.”
A mixture of relief and frustration rippled around the room. The magical nature of the storm had rendered the weather ponies impotent, but they no longer had to risk life and limb to combat the storm. Twilight turned to leave, but a hoof on her shoulder stopped her.
"No way you are going out there on your own," said a very vehement Rainbow Dash. "I'm coming with you!"
"What? No! You can't come with me, the storm will swat you out the sky!" Twilight replied, shocked at her friends recklessness. Surely she knew what lightning did to a pony.
"Well then, I guess I'll just have to stay on the ground. There's no way you're going out there without me Twi, Element of Loyalty and all that. I didn't get it just because I look awesome."
A flat stare did nothing to discourage the brash pegasus; the determined glint in her eyes shone bright and true.
"Nuh uh," Rainbow interrupted. "No excuses, you can't go expecting to save the town all by yourself. You need somepony to watch your back and I just happen to be the pony for the job."
"...Fine, but you've got to do exactly what I tell you or you could get hurt," Twilight finally replied, looking serious.
She was actually glad that the pegasus was coming with her, she didn't relish the prospect of combating the storm all by herself. The almost stern expression dropped, to be replaced with a warm and sincere smile.
"Right, I’m assuming you have a plan?” Rainbow queried as they made their way through the weather centre. “How do you fight a magic storm anyway?”
Several of the other weather pegasi had tried to volunteer to accompany Dash and Twilight, but the unicorn had turned them all down, explaining that it was going to be hard enough protecting just herself and Dash. If she managed to diffuse the free magic, the weather ponies would then need to take over to deal with what would no doubt still be a powerful, but mundane, storm. They needed to be well rested for that.
“Well,” Twilight began uncertainly. “I won’t be fighting the storm per se; I’ll be focusing on the free magic that’s powering it. Before I can do anything though, I need to get a better read on it. I’ve got some base information regarding the specific type of magic from the sample I pulled out of Midnight, but I need more data before I can formulate a plan.”
“Let’s get you some more data then!” Rainbow enthused. “...How do we do that exactly?”
“I need to cast a few detection and diagnostic spells. Ideally I need to be closer to get more accurate readings,” Twilight explained.
“Do we really need to get closer to that thing?” Rainbow sounded apprehensive.
“Yes, but hopefully not within lightning range. With it already moving towards us, the edge of town nearest the Everfree Forest should put us close enough.” Twilight explained.
Rainbow Dash nodded her understanding, and looked visibly relieved. Rainbow Dash did not want to end up like Midnight, and she certainly didn’t want Twilight to end up like Midnight. The two ponies pushed out into the storm, bracing themselves against the viscous wind and stinging rain. Twilight would have liked to warn the rest of the town to stay indoors, but she didn’t think they could afford the time. Besides, no pony in their right mind was going to come out in this storm anyway.
The two sodden ponies arrived at the edge of town. Twilight had refrained from using magic to protect them from the rain in an attempt to preserve her power for combating the storm. If her suspicions were correct, she would need every drop of magic she had to beat the thing off.
“This should do,” she said to Rainbow Dash, having to shout above the wind to make herself heard.
This close, the storm seemed even more threatening; the danger was that much more imminent. The storm was very obviously creeping closing, the dark clouds bubbling angrily towards them. Every few seconds they would illuminate with internal lightning, the wave of thunder rolling out a few seconds afterwards. Rainbow swore she could see subtle faces forming and melting away in the patterns of the clouds. Each one wore a hideous grin.
Twilight closed her eyes and began to concentrate. Before she could cast a single spell however, a frighteningly large blast of lightning arced down and struck the top of a huge oak tree. The top half of the tree shattered like glass, the shards of flaming wood exploding out in every direction. The bottom half of the three was split neatly in half and burst into flames. Twilight jumped so much she fell over. Dash, with a powerful and instinctual thrust of her wings, shot several metres backwards along the ground. To say she looked startled would be an understatement. Twilight quickly picked herself up and set about casting the spells before she could be interrupted again. The glow around her horn intensified before giving forth what looked like a large dragonfly composed entirely of her lavender magic. It zipped playfully around her head for a few seconds before darting off towards the storm. It moved at such a speed that had it not left a purple trail behind it, it would have been almost impossible to follow.
Rainbow, having recovered from her shock, leaned in and yelled to Twilight, “I’ve never seen you cast a spell like that before; usually it’s just all glowey.”
“Well, I thought it might be dangerous to interact with the storm directly, so I sent a probe instead. It’s more complicated but much safer for the user. There’s no chance of feedback or any other side effects,” Twilight explained.
“How long will it take?”
“It should only take about a minute to gather all the data I need,” Twilight responded. “That’s assuming of course, that it doesn’t just get torn asunder by the free magic,” Twilight added with a nonchalance that Rainbow felt the statement did not deserve. That sounded like a very bad thing.
Despite Twilights apparent indifference to the plight of her magical probe, she became increasingly restless the longer they stood waiting for its return. The pair stood, staring intently at the approaching violent storm, looking for any sign of the probes purple contrail. The predicted minute passed without any sign of the magically summoned insect: Twilight started pacing. She would have felt its destruction she was sure of it, she hoped that the storm was merely providing difficult working conditions for her probe thus slowing its progress.
“There!” Rainbow cried, pointing with a hoof as she yelled.
“Where? I don’t see...” Twilight frantically scanned the area of sky Rainbow was indicating. “...I see it!” she cried after a few seconds. She could just make out the purple trail as the probe zipped towards them. “Good eyes, Dash.”
The translucent dragonfly quickly returned, heading straight for Twilight. It repeated its circuit of Twilight’s head before diving forward and embracing her horn. The probe sunk into the horn and Twilight’s eyes glazed over as she examined the data it had delivered. She stood, slack jawed, deep in thought for so long that Rainbow started to worry.
Twilight suddenly gasped, her eyes widening with fear.
“Ohdearohdearohdearohdear, that’s an awful lot of magic,” Twilight blurted, her voice almost breaking.
“You can stop it, right?” Rainbow asked, having to shout over the wind and thunder. The statement was half confident encouragement, half worried question.
“I don’t think so, not at its current strength,” Twilight said, pacing worriedly again. “As it is now, I think there’s a very real chance that it would overpower me. We need to weaken it before I directly confront it.”
“Well how the hay do we do that?!”
Before Twilight could answer, another bolt of lightning struck a tree. It had much the same effect as on the first tree to be struck. Then, abruptly, another dagger of light blasted a third tree. The concussion from the explosions as well as the deep rumble of the thunder rolled across them. They both felt the vibrations through their hooves.
“We have to get to the library! I think I have an idea!” Twilight shouted over the rumble of another lightning strike. She turned back towards the town, galloping hard for her home. Dash followed unquestioningly, the athletic pegasus rapidly caught up with the unicorn.
After a few minutes of hard running, the pair reached the library tree, barging through the door. Twilight was desperately gasping for breath while Dash was hardly phased; Twilight was extremely envious of the pegasus’ finely honed body in that instance. The lightning had grown more frequent as they made their journey. The storm seemed to be lashing out at anything that reached more than half a dozen metres off the ground.
“What’s this plan then, Twi?” Rainbow asked, in a normal voice now that they were out of the screaming wind.
“Lightning...drain power...rods,” she gasped out in between breaths.
Rainbow raised an eyebrow at the stricken mare, and waited for her to try again. Twilight took a few more steadying breaths then started afresh.
“The probe revealed that the storm is no longer gaining in strength, so it must be expending power to use the lightning.”
“So it’s getting weaker on its own?” Rainbow asked.
“Yes, but not quickly enough. We need to accelerate the loss of power to limit the damage it can do. I plan to do that using a slightly modified version of the magical lightning rod that protects this library. I’ll enchant them to actively attract the lightning rather than just passively channel it,” she explained, moving deeper into the library.
“Good plan!” Dash exclaimed. “Where are we going to the get the lightning rods from though, do you have to make them? Do you have time to do that?”
“I actually have a few spare ones in the basement. The mayor asked me to put one on the town hall, Applejack wanted one for the hay barn, and a few of the more nervous ponies sometimes borrow one from me when a big storm is scheduled. Because I get asked about them so much, I made a batch of them,” she explained.
“Well, that saves some time.”
“Yes it does. I just need to modify the enchantments on them. Once they have been altered, we need to strategically place them around Ponyville so they gather up as much lightning as possible.”
“I’m guessing the best places would be ones that are high up,” Rainbow suggested.
Twilight looked slightly surprised at the completely correct guess from Dash. Dash in turn looked somewhat offended.
“Duh, hello,” Rainbow said in a rather aggravated voice, pointing to herself with a hoof. “Expert weather mare here. I may not know all the numbers, but I know how lightning behaves.”
“Oh right, yes I forgot that, sorry,” Twilight said rather sheepishly. “While I go and make the necessary modifications to the lightning rods, you can mark out the best places for them. There is a very detailed map of Ponyville in one of the books in the cartography section which is right...over...there.” Twilight trailed off as she pointed in the direction of the cartography section. She found herself pointing directly at the bookcase Rainbow had knocked over that morning, the contents of which was piled on a nearby table. In no particular order.
“I’m going to have to search through all of those aren’t I?” Rainbow asked resignedly.
A crack of lightning sounded outside; it had sounded uncomfortably close.
“Yes, so you’d better get going!” Twilight urged, already rushing towards the basement stairs.
Some ten minutes later, Twilight came back up from the basement, a stack of lightning rods following close behind, wreathed in the purple glow of her magic. As she came out onto the library floor, she saw Dash hunched over a table. Several large books were open in front of her and a large scroll of parchment was pinned flat as well, a weight at each corner. She held a quill in her mouth and was furiously scribbling, occasionally glancing at one of the books for reference. The previously neat pile of books had been knocked onto the floor to make room for her operation. Normally, Twilight would be livid at the mistreatment of the texts, but given the circumstances, she could forgive the neglect.
"Are you ready Rainbow? Have you found good spots?"
Rainbow spit the quill out, and glanced at the hastily drawn map and notes.
"Yeah, I think so," she replied sounding a bit unsure. "I depends how well those things will attract the lightning."
"I'm not sure on the exact range but it should be a fair distance. I was rushing so I didn't have time to be precise," Twilight explained. "I've got six though, plus the ones already set up in the town."
She moved over to look at the map Rainbow had drawn. It was rough and obviously hastily done, but showed the required detail. There were several big crosses to indicate the possible sites for the lightning rods, each on labelled with a height.
“Nice work Rainbow,” Twilight complimented. “This is perfect. There are already rods here, here, and here,” Twilight lifted the quill as she spoke and marked the sites of the already in place rods; one on the library, one on the town hall, and one on the weather centre. She briefly scanned the map again before circling the six spots they would place their modified rods.
“And I think these spots will give us the best distribution. We'll place the ones closest to the storm first. I'll also have to modify the already placed rods with the new enchantment. I've already done the library, so let's get moving!”
Just as they were about to exit the library, Twilight stopped suddenly.
"Wait, I have an idea that should protect us from the lightning. Hold still."
Her horn lit as she concentrated and Rainbow was encompassed in a purple glow for a few seconds. When it subsided, the hair of her coat stood on end and her mane was even wilder than usual.
"Whoa, that feels weird Twi. What did you do?" Dash asked, waving a hoof through her gently swaying mane.
“I gave you a shield that should repel or redirect the lightning. Hopefully, that should protect you from the worst,” she said with a smile. “Hang on I've got to do it to myself now."
The same purple glow shone around Twilight for a few seconds, and then her hair all started to stand on end as well. Rainbow stifled a giggle at the ridiculous sight.
"Ha, you look silly."
Twilight smirked at her friend, before continuing with her explanation.
“If we stay close together the effect will be stronger as the shields merge.”
"Right, right, basically stay together. Remember we're in a hurry, so no time for a lecture!" Rainbow reprimanded.
Wasting no more time the pair pushed back out into the storm, heading for their first objective; a hill on the edge of town. The wind and rain worsened as they travelled, slowing their progress as they fought against its unrelenting pressure. The lightning from the storm was striking out at increasingly regular intervals now, with no less violent results. Barely had a rumble of thunder died away before it was replaced with another. The storms leading edge was almost at Ponyville now. They were running out of time.
Once atop the hill, Twilight raised the first lightning rod and drove it into the soil of the hill. She then seized the guide ropes and held them in place while Dash hammered the pegs home with her hooves. Twilight would have done it, but she needed to save her energy to confront the storm. She had already cast a lot of magic today and she feared if she used it frivolously now, she might not be able to best the free magic later, weakened or not. Once satisfied that it was in place the pair moved to the next position.
With a flutter of wings, Dash gracefully jumped from windowsill, to ledge, then to the roof of the three story building that she had earmarked as the position for the third rod. She stayed as close to the building as possible and went no higher than was necessary, not wanting to tempt down any lightning. Twilight was confident her defence would work, but she didn't want to put it to the test. The collateral damage from a redirected lightning strike could still prove devastating. Once Rainbow reached the top, Twilight hefted up the rod and Rainbow set about securing it in position.
She finished just in time to see the storm come into contact with the first rod they placed on the hill. Lightning immediately and repeatedly started to arc down to the enchanted metal, the constant roar of thunder boomed across the town. The lightning struck nowhere else around the rod for a radius of nearly fifty metres, or so Twilight estimated from where she stood.
"It looks like its working!" she exclaimed.
"Yeah, but I think it's moving faster now Twilight. We better get our flanks moving if we're going to get the rest of these up," Rainbow called down from the roof.
They swiftly moved on to their next objective. On their way to the fourth site, Sugar Cube Corner, Twilight stopped to alter the enchantment on the lightning rod installed on the town hall. It only took a minute or so, but it was time they didn't have. The storm was now noticeably over Ponyville and repeatedly striking the first three lightning rods.
"Twilight, the storm is gaining on us," Rainbow said with a hint of panic, as she looked over her shoulder.
"We're going as fast as we can!" Twilight replied, a note of fear starting to creep into her voice.
"No we're not!" Rainbow retorted, skidding to a halt. "Gimme one of those rods, I'll do Sugar Cube Corner, you go alter the weather centre and set up the fifth. Then we'll meet up and do the final spot."
“No Dash, if we split up-“
“Yes, yes the shields will be weaker, but we are running out of time!”
As if in agreement with Rainbow Dash’s assessment of the situation, a bolt of lightning struck down at them. At the last second, the lighting seemed to glance off something just above their heads as the shield did it's job, striking the cobbled street mere metres away. The stones exploded, sending shards of rock - sharp as razors - out in all directions.
“TWILIGHT!” Rainbow screamed.
Before Twilight could react, Rainbow Dash flung herself at her knocking them to the ground and shielding Twilight from the speeding projectiles. Twilight heard a cry of pain and felt hot blood splash across her.