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The Book of Monsters · 1:50am Jun 10th, 2018

“You know,” Celestia said, “there’s no such thing as ‘dark magic.’”

They walked through the forbidden section of the Royal Library, where the stones themselves were black and the books were bound with ponies’ skin. Their hoofsteps echoed into what seemed an infinite distance. Starlight looked all around them, waiting for the punchline that never came.

“Ha ha,” she finally said. After a moment, she added, “So uh… how would you describe all this, then? Princess.”

“Impractical.” Celestia paused in their walk to approach a display case, indicating it with a hoof. Contained within was thin book, as well as a wicked looking knife that ended in a serrated barb.  “Take this, for instance: The Meditation on Ashes. It contains a ritual that grants a pony the ability to breathe fire with all the strength of a dragon. But to complete the ritual, they must cut the living heart from a baby dragon and devour it.”

“That uh…” Starlight cleared her throat. “Seems pretty dark to me.”

“Does it?” Celestia asked. “Tell me, Starlight, how many times during a typical day do you encounter a problem that could be made easier by lighting another pony on fire?”

“Not many, I guess.”

“And how often,” Celestia’s tone pressed, “do you encounter a problem that is made easier by Spike’s assistance?”

“Oh, well. Every day.” Starlight looked around the archive once again, struggling to read the little labels in the gloom. “I get it. So you’re saying that even if I didn’t care about Spike’s life at all, I still wouldn’t use it.”

“Well you might, but if you did, I have to say it would represent very poor judgement.” Celestia tittered, then trotting over to another display case. “Or take this, for instance.”

Inside the case was a crude necklace made from twine and animal fangs. Tiny rows of writing were carved onto each tooth, so small they could barely be seen by the naked eye. “The Key to the Staghorn Gate. The spells recorded on its surface grant overwhelming physical strength, but drive the caster to eat the flesh of their fellow pony.”

“Right. And how many problems do I encounter that would be solved if only I could bench-press a thousand pounds?” Starlight sighed. “Plus I’d miss restaurants.”

Celestia giggled. “Precisely.”

“So that’s it?” Starlight looked around the darkened library. “I’m allowed to tour the forbidden section, but there’s no point because it’s all useless?”

“Well, not all of it is useless.” Celestia strode several steps ahead, indicating one more case. Inside it was a book bound in cheap blue fabric. The colors were fading and the binding was coming apart. It looked nothing like an eldritch tome should.

You Can Be More,” Starlight read the title aloud off the spine. “What’s this do?”

“It contains a ritual that allows the caster to perceive the souls of ponies: to know others’ pain and struggles like their own. It requires the sacrifice of a single drop of blood, taken directly from within the caster’s still beating heart.” Celestia smiled. “How your heart bleeds for them.”

“Huh. I guess that could be useful. Not that I’m not already a great guidance counselor, but… Princess?”

Starlight looked around the empty hallway. “Princess Celestia?”

Starlight sniffed the air. It smelled like anxiety. There were other scents of course: happiness, sadness, joy, petty betrayal, puppy love romance, and boredom just to name a few. But mostly anxiety.

Teenagers would be teenagers, after all. She took a deep breath, and let the smell fill her lungs.

She let the breath out with a sigh, smiled, and opened her eyes. She stood in the main entrance to the school, students flowing around her like a stream flowing around a rock.

There was a young filly, who heard her parents fight that morning, and worried it was her fault. There was a colt, fretting that he was indeed a colt, not a ‘young stallion’ like ponies kept calling him. Something flashed in the corner of her vision—something more serious.

“Oh, Yona!” she called, before the young yak could pass out of her sight. Yona froze in the hall, turning back towards Starlight. “Stop by my office in second period, would you? Here, I’ll write a note for your teacher.” Starlight did so at once, pulling the pad and quill from her morning saddlebags.

“Uh…” Yona froze. “Is yak in trouble?”

“No!” Starlight said, her voice all sing-song as she filled out the note. Yak listened to older colt who told her she was a little ‘big’ for a mare. Yak needs to learn what ‘negging’ is. Yak gets friendly invitation to see school guidance counselor. Colt gets unfriendly invitation. “I just wanted to catch up with how you were doing.”


“Run along now!” She stuck the note to Yona’s side. “You don’t want to be late for class.”

Yona made her excuses and ran off. Starlight made her way to her office, in no great hurry. Her course was not the most efficient, but instead took her through the school’s busiest hallways. Three other students got notes. One of them got a hug.

Starlight was nearly floating by the time she actually reached her office. She pulled the door open, waltzed in on two hooves, and then gracefully shut it behind her as she fell to all fours. “Ah. I love my job.”


Starlight shrieked and lept nearly a foot into the air. Her heart raced, and when she finally did recover her wits, Twilight was laughing.

“Sorry! I didn’t mean to scare you.” She was seated behind Starlight’s desk, hidden by the chair’s back when it was turned to face the window. She lifted a hoof to hide her bright smile. “You okay?”

“Oh… fine!” Starlight’s lip curled, and she wrinkled her nose. The smell of her own fright was thick on the air, like she’d just pissed herself. And there was Twilight.

Starlight narrowed her eyes, and peered into Twilight’s soul. It was not a casual visit that brought her.

“Starlight?” Twilight asked. Starlight’s head snapped up. “Sorry, am I interrupting? I wanted to have a quick word.”

“Well, you’re not interrupting,” Starlight said, forcing her voice back to something casual and light. “But you are in my chair.” She decided to drop one of her little gems. “And while we’re on the subject, are you the one that’s been stealing my empathy coco?”

“No!” Twilight quickly rose from Starlight’s chair, and they switched places around the desk. “Even if it is delicious and Rainbow keeps using up all the regular coco,” she grumbled.

“Right.” Starlight settled back in her chair and sighed. “So what is up then?”

“I just wanted to talk. See how you’re feeling.” Twilight lied. “You’ve been doing really well as a guidance counselor you know. Like, really well. Really well. Not a day goes by I don’t hear from one of the students about how you helped them when they were down. And I heard one of the little fillies actually got her cutie mark in your office?”

“Nusha, yes. She likes gemcutting.”

Twilight looked around the office, which had a notable lack of either gems or gemcutting tools. “And… how did she come to realize that?”

“Talking things out.” Starlight shrugged. “I’m glad to hear I’m doing well.”

“Oh, you are. You totally are.” Twilight sat forward, putting her hooves on Starlight’s desk. “And I’m happy that you totally are! I’m just wondering. Because, it feels like you weren’t doing this well at first? I know, sometimes when you start a few job it takes a while to settle in. So sometimes a pony gets better at things after the first month or two! But it feels like in the last few weeks you’ve gone from being a kind of awkward but well-meaning… you know. Maybe B+ guidance counselor to, uh…”

Twilight cleared her throat. “To being so good at your job parents feel threatened you’re stealing their children’s love.”

“Oh.” Starlight paused. “Do guidance counselors qualify for the ‘Best Teacher’ award then?”

“Seriously, Starlight.” Twilight cleared her throat. “And there’s other things. Ponies say you stare at them.”

“Well,” Starlight leaned back. “I have been known to stare now and again.”

“And I heard you sniffed a student?”

“I sniffed his collar,” Starlight corrected. “It had this really strong cheese smell.”

“In the education profession, sniffing students is what we call a ‘no no.’” Twilight lifted her hooves to make air quotes.

“Well, I’ll keep that in mind.” Starlight sighed and sat forward.

Twilight knew nothing. Starlight could see that. But Twilight did have enough information to suspect. She knew Starlight was not the most empathetic of ponies, that she was prone to using magic to solve interpersonal problems, and that her judgement tended towards drastic action. That was enough for her to be suspicious. Suspicious and worried -- Starlight could smell that.

Twilight wasn’t out to get her. Twilight was worried for her. That made Starlight smile.

“Something on your mind?” Twilight asked.

“This isn’t really about me, is it, Twilight?” Starlight decided to drop another one of her little gems. “Something else on your mind? Some other reason you might feel a little mistrustful of your friends right now?”

“No.” Twilight frowned. “No, there’s no reason why I would…” She snorted. “Don’t try to change the subject.”

“I’m not changing the subject. You wanted to know how I’m such a good counselor to students, and I’m showing you.” Starlight’s horn glowed. She filled a mug with empathy coco, and set it across the desk for Twilight. “Because I heard you felt a little betrayed when you found Applejack was selling some of her apples as ‘Princess Twilight’s Personal Stash.’”

“That has nothing to do with this.” Twilight waved the matter off. But after a moment, she took a step of her coco. “I mean, she could have asked my permission first. I would have said yes!”

An hour later, the bell rang. Starlight told Twilight a student would arrive soon, and wished Twilight good luck chatting with Applejack about their feelings. The two hugged, and Starlight knew Twilight’s relief like it was her own. She could feel it, smell it, see it. It made her feel warm, and all seemed right in the world.

Twilight didn’t suspect a thing.

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Comments ( 40 )

This was good. And Starlight really is the perfect pony for this.

It requires the sacrifice of a single drop of blood, taken directly from within the caster’s still beating heart.

Until one day, the caster runs out.


:rainbowderp: :pinkiegasp: *speechless*


Twilight doesn't suspect anything, but Celestia might...

And how did all these spells get made? ... I guess by magical researchers with too much motivation and not enough sense??

"Contained within was thin book"
"Contained within was a thin book"?

"when you start a few job it takes"
"when you start a new job it takes"?

"she took a step of her coco"
"she took a sip of her coco"?

Interesting. Any particular inspiration for this?
And I wonder what Celestia's plan is... and why that book looked as it did and was where it was.

Cost-benefit analysis is a critical skill for any aspiring dark mage, yet so few seem to have it. But Celestia's been running a country for centuries. She knows exactly how much many priceless things are worth.


*nods sagely*

It contains a ritual that allows the caster to perceive the souls of ponies: to know others’ pain and struggles like their own

This reminds me of Stanisław Lem's Cyberiad and the chapter where Trurl and Klapaucius are given the formula for Altruizine (a chemical that allows people in a large radius to perceive the feelings and emotions of others around them) to humourlessly disastrous results.

Uhh... Just curious why Starlight doesn't want Twilight to know. Plus I'm not sure that Celestia understands the actual meaning of 'Dark Magic'.

Other than that, pretty neat little snippet.

“Right. And how many problems do I encounter that would be solved if only I could bench-press a thousand pounds?” Starlight sighed. “Plus I’d miss restaurants.”

At least as many as number of recent invasions, most likely.

It requires the sacrifice of a single drop of blood, taken directly from within the caster’s still beating heart.

And how long it could be powered using one Glimmy?

If it weren't for the sniffing, I'd say it's as if she were becoming a sort of Changeling...curious. I'd love to see this further develop!

I think Celestia actually understands better than most what "dark magic" is, really. I mean, look at what's contained in the forbidden section; all the materials and means involve really, really gruesome stuff. Yet there is this one spell in there that, while still pretty gruesome, doesn't exactly sound all that bad. Don't get me wrong, you could probably run some pretty impressive cons with it.

And that's exactly the point: Intent.

There is no dark magic; only dark magicians.

People regrow blood cells rather rapidly; that’s why it’s safe to donate blood, after all.

Ponies can't donate blood, then? Or is this one of those magical "it doesn't count as a sacrifice if you can regenerate it" deals?

According to google, 1 drop = 0.05 mL. Humans have a blood volume of 5L, so 100,000 drops. Most of this is just fluid, not blood cells. If we assume the magic eats blood volume, you can use the spell about 15,000 times (so assuming Glimmer is a youngish adult with a human lifespan, about once a day for the rest of her life) before suffering effects. If it eats blood cells, (using average hemoglobin counts and the threshold for transfusions) you can use the spell about 40,000 times (or 2-3 times per day). If she's willing to have health problems when she's older, she can increase the rate of use.

Anyway, it sounds more like this spell slowly turns you into a Changeling.

I rather suspect that the spell is restricted/"dark" not due to the costs, but due to the potential side effects and privacy violations that it can cause.

>but Celestia might [suspect]

Celestia all but told Starlight to use it. Saying exactly what it is and then suddenly disappearing? That's just maintaining plausible deniability.


Cold in Gardez-Today at 7:16 PM

ooh a blog post
man, Starlight's just the best character in the show
they should just rename the show for her
"Starlight & Friends Magical Half-Hour"
"Featuring friendship and thoughtful discourses on the will to power."


Dark! But not quite where I was going with this.

After all, the title is The Book of Monsters and there's another kind of creature in the setting that is strongly affiliated with the feelings of others.

Maybe I'll finish this story one day, but for now it was fun just to do the intro.


Interesting. Any particular inspiration for this?

A conversation over dinner with coworkers: "You have a button you can push that will make you a much better person -- smarter, kinder, harder working, etc. But it will also change your personality so much you'll basically be a different person. Do you press it?"


You're actually spot on. There are some interim steps. That's where the name, The Book of Monsters comes from.

Poor Glim-Glam will end up as a changeling queen if this goes on!

As I choose to understand it, it's a one-and-done sorta deal. After the initial casting, it just works forever. In which case, no problems with running out :)

Ah, thanks. :)

...And then we find out that Celestia's great secret plan here, the one that involves leading another pony to use forbidden magic, is really just shipping Starlight and Thorax.
edit: Though I'm rather curious it those "interim steps" are so innocuous. And what it might mean that the book looks as it does.

That was also how I understood it.

Initially, I had gotten the sense that Celestia had been a previous user of the spell, which would explain why she was guiding Starlight to the book.

The changeling interpretation suggest that may not have been Celestia in the first place.

But why does Celestia feel the need to add another changeling queen to the mix?


That totally wasn't Celestia.

I'm just saying, Starlight was wandering around a room full of cursed artifacts and heard "Celestia" encourage her to use one of them, only for her to suddenly vanish without a word.

I tried to hint that it wasn't her with this exchange:

“It contains a ritual that allows the caster to perceive the souls of ponies: to know others’ pain and struggles like their own. It requires the sacrifice of a single drop of blood, taken directly from within the caster’s still beating heart.” Celestia smiled. “How your heart bleeds for them.”

That little mean twist at the end isn't how Celestia talks!


Initially, I had gotten the sense that Celestia had been a previous user of the spell, which would explain why she was guiding Starlight to the book.

That's what I was leaning toward at first.

Ah, heh. Yeah, good point (to you and those who thought of it); I didn't think of it not being her.

I'm not sure how much that isn't how Celestia talks, though. In a context where she's already talking so lightly about various dire and unwise spells in the room, I can see her adding on that little joke*. As for whether she'd be having that conversation in the first place, well, that varies with universe, I think; there are a variety of different interpretations out there with various shades of morality and/or humor.**

*...And even making a deliberate effort with what you said in mind, I'm just not having much success reading that as mean, it seems. I mean, she's making a play on words at no one's expense. None of the words involved are even expletives or risqué or anything. Where does the meanness come from?
(Not a rhetorical question; I'm curious how you see it.)

**You know, it just occurred to me that getting a reputation for complex but usually successful plans you maneuver people into without telling them the details, and thus a reputation for opaque motives that leads your underlings to often just shrug and try and follow directions from you without understanding what they're supposed to accomplish, is a bit of a potential security hole with shapeshifters about.
I mean, it worked on me here; some still-not-positively-identified entity waltzes into a secure area of the palace, disseminates dark magic to sensitive personnel, and vanishes again, and I'm scratching my head and tentatively wondering if maybe the Princess is trying to matchmake.

To be fair, you do have a recent history of writing amusingly out-of-character princesses in these blog posts.

Ohhh this has some amazing story potential. It was a great story and thank you for doing it,

I assume ponies regenerate platelets normally. I was going for the "dark magic always has a price" angle.

Its short but honestly could be its own short story.

4879920 Well, intent is one of the components of the traditional "dark magic" (also known as "technology") narrative.

The Western storytelling traditions about "dark magic" come from the Middle Ages, after Christianity introduced the idea that miracles and magic came either from God or from Satan. They were directed by conservatives against theological heterodoxy ("heresy"), innovative thinking, belief in the senses ("sensuality"), and scientific thought. In the Middle Ages, thinking independently, having original ideas, empiricism (believing one's own eyes and ears), heresy, and Satanism were seen as different manifestations of the same sin of pride. From the time of the early Church fathers in the 2nd century, proto-Orthodox Christians (eg Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian) attributed any disagreements with them to deliberate submission to and possession by demons. The word "heretic" actually meant "one who decides/reasons for himself" (from the Greek hairesis). The story of Faust, a late-medieval alchemist / astrologer / proto-scientist who sells his soul to Satan for knowledge but quickly turns to abusing it for power and sensual pleasure and ends up in Hell, is a prototypical "dark magic" narrative which shows that those who told such stories thought individualism, selfishness, knowledge of the physical world, belief in the senses, sinful sensuality, ambition, and Satanism were all inseparably tied together.

Different versions of the conservative "dark magic" argument are:
- People with original ideas may have good intent, but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Also phrased as, "There is a way that seems right to men, but in the end it leads to death" (Proverbs 14:12). So no matter how good it seems to put a gene to make vitamin A into rice plants and save billions of people from malnutrition, it's a willful violation of the natural order and thus a deviation from God's plan, and will lead to disaster and the damnation of the innovator.
- People may begin with good intent, but once people begin making decisions for themselves rather than following tradition, the power to do so will corrupt them and they will no longer have good intentions.
- The slippery-slope argument: Once you start curing genetic diseases, it's only a matter of time before you're genetically engineering a race of slaves to use for replacement body parts.

Today, these arguments are made most often by conservative Christians and radical leftist intellectuals, who are both Platonists and believe they possess the key to attaining the one perfect eternal society, by returning to a medieval philosophy.


it's only a matter of time before you're genetically engineering a race of slaves to use for replacement body parts

This part of the argument is lost on me, because this sounds like a pretty good idea.

By the way, have you any idea yet how likely you are to make it to this year's Bronycon?


Tickets and hotel are already booked. I'll be there. :twilightsmile:

4879867 Celestia seems like she's really good at reading people, doesn't she?

Ah, excellent! :D
Though I hope you've better luck healthwise this year.

“TheKey to the Staghorn Gate. The spells recorded on its surface grant overwhelming physical strength, but drive the caster to eat the flesh of their fellow pony.”

Hey now, that's unfair.

They could also grant overwhelming physical resilience, but drive the caster to plate themselves in metal and leap into a forge, or grant piercing insights, but drive the caster to slough off their wasting body and exist beyond consciousness as a creature of pure thought.


It seems like Starlight's intent at the beginning is good. Going forward, I wonder how well will she resist the temptation to abuse this power?

A very good pony of very strong character could use this spell to enact tremendous good. A pony with good discipline but poor morals might use it to gain tremendous political power. A foolish or weak-willed pony might just get into a huge amount of trouble.

It's too early to tell which path Starlight will take over the long run, which is why I'd love to see more to this story. :pinkiehappy:


It seems to me that any person who's trying to improve themselves is on this path already - the button just makes it faster and more sudden. Can I get a "self-improvement knob" that I can turn up at a comfortable rate? If so, sign me up. :-)

She better be, she bluffed her way through the last millennium without her strongest weapons.

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