In Need of Sound Advice
“Er, can I help ya, sugarcube?
As Applejack stood in the barn, pitchfork ready to toss another bale of hay, the freckled cowgirl noticed that her little sister was behaving mighty peculiarly. In a very uncharacteristic manner, Apple Bloom just stood there, not saying a word as she stared at her sister with considering eyes and a slightly pensive frown.
Apparently, the answer was no because the little girl simply sighed, drooped her head, and trudged out of the barn.
“Uh, alright then,” Applejack called out, completely perplexed. “Glad I could help.”
Apple Bloom’s posture didn’t improve much as she aimlessly shuffled into Ponyville. She was in a bind. A conundrum, if you will, and daresay even a right pickle of a problem.
See, the littlest Apple had a sort of… issue that had been bothering her recently. Fortunately, it wasn’t one of those “Sweet mother of Discord, Ponyville is going to be destroyed” issues, thank Celestia. Rather, it was one of those things that just sort of bothers you, like an itch you can’t scratch and the only solution is to talk to somebody about it.
Problem was, Apple Bloom didn’t exactly know who to talk to. On personal questions like this one, she’d usually just go and ask Applejack. However, this seemed to be one case where she couldn’t do it without hurting her big sister’s feelings. Her big brother was nice and all, but he wasn’t exactly one for conversation, and Granny Smith would probably just launch into a hit-or-miss story about the old days: probably miss. That just left Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo, her fellow Crusaders and best friends. Only, she couldn’t talk to them because, well… they were sort of part of the problem.
And so she wandered, idly kicking a pebble along as she tried to figure out what to do about her predicament.
“Maybe Twilight could help me,” she thought aloud. “Eh, nah. She’d probably jess point me tah one o’ them big ol’ books that never makes much sense anyhow. Hmm. Rainbow Dash? Maybe not; she’d never understand what I’m talkin’ about anyways. Pinkie Pie?” Apple Bloom stopped and blinked. “… Why’d I even think that?”
Kicking the stone again, the small rock bounced away erratically, which prompted the bow-bedecked girl to chase after it. Once she caught up, however, it wasn’t the pebble that held her attention, but the place it had landed.
“Of course!” she grinned and slapped her forehead. “Why didn’t ah think ah this before?”
Graves was seated at his kitchen table, a cleaning rag in one hand and bottle of solution in the other when a series of quick knocks from his front door drew his attention.
“Come in,” he called. The hinges creaked as a large, pink bow popped through the crack, followed by the cherry-colored head of a somewhat nervously smiling Apple Bloom.
“Hey there, Mister Graves,” she greeted as she edged in through the door. “Are you busy?”
“Not really,” he shrugged as he dabbed the cloth with liquid. “What can I do for you?”
“Well,” the little girl began, shuffling from foot to foot in a self-conscious manner. “It’s nothin’ important. Ah was just hopin’ that maybe I could, you know, ask you somethin’?” The marshal’s silvery-grey eyes met her big, hopeful ones. He smiled. Hardly more than a slight, upward curve of the mouth, but a smile nonetheless as he gestured to the open space across from him.
“Pull up a seat. Let’s hear it.”
Grinning from ear to ear, Apple Bloom bounded across the room and hopped onto the proffered chair. However, just as she opened her mouth to begin, her childishly short attention span was waylaid by an incredible and unexpected sight.
“Whoa,” she gasped as she stared at the kitchen table. “What’s that?”
Obviously, she wasn’t commenting on the table itself, which by and large was a very nice, but ordinary everyday table. Rather, what had caught her wide-eyed attention was the vast assortment of odd items strewn across its surface. Pieces of metal ranging in colors from bronze to gold to iron grey, carved glowing crystals, sparkling gemstones, and chunks of age-worn wood lay spread out in a precise grid across the table’s surface.
“That?” Graves repeated as he picked up a shining silver spinel and began polishing its glittering facets. “That’s my spell gun.”
“Whu?” Apple Bloom gaped before returning to stare at the table. There was a long tube of metal that looked sort of familiar, and the big chunk of wood kind of resembled the bottom half of the gun, but everything else? That was just crazy.
“But I thought that your spell gun was important,” the little girl asked in dismay. “Why’d you go and break it?”
“It is important,” the marshal agreed as he held the stone up to the light. “That’s why I’m taking care of it.”
“By bustin’ it up inta little pieces?” she frowned.
“By cleaning it.”
“Ooohh, that makes more sense,” the little girl nodded as she finally caught on. “But shoot, with so many bits tah worry about, how’re you ever gonna put it back together again?”
Graves looked down at the pink-bowed girl and rather than answering her, showed her. With the ease of countless repetitions of practice, the marshal’s hands flew across the table and quickly reassembled the rifle. Gemstones were encased in rune-engraved crystal casings. Casings were mounted in lattice frames of gold and bronze. Frames were housed in the solid iron and steel shell, which he joined with stock, handle, and barrel. Everything clicked into place like a massive puzzle till mere moments later, the cleaned and polished rifle was fully reassembled in his hands.
“Wooooooow,” Apple Bloom gasped in awe. “That was amazin’! You were faster ‘n Big Macintosh hogtyin’ a piglet!”
“It’s nothing,” Graves replied, trying to act nonchalant despite the faint flush of pride in his face. “Basic training for all marshals. Don’t even teach us magic till we can do it in our sleep.”
“Really? That much work before you can even learn any of the good stuff?” When the young soldier nodded his head in assent, Apple Bloom’s eyes narrowed with sharp-eyed intent. “So I guess that means you know a good bit about magic then, don’t yah?”
“A bit,” he agreed hesitantly as he caught sight of the child’s very focused gaze. “Twilight knows a lot more though.”
“Yeah, but she’s too hard to understand, what with her fancy learnin’ an’ all,” the child dismissed. “I jess need someone who can explain it plain.”
“I see,” Graves murmured. “And you figured I’d be good to ask.” From her very large grin and wide eyes shining with anticipation, he would garner that as a yes. “Well… alright then,” he agreed, folding his arms and settling into his seat. “What exactly did you want to know?”
“Everythin'!” she gushed. At the sight of her eagerness, the marshal couldn't help but let out a small chuckle.
“That’s a lot to cover,” he rumbled. "Might wanna narrow it down a bit.”
“Oh, right,” Apple Bloom said with a sheepish smile. “Alright then. Um… Okay, let’s start at the beginnin’ then. How exactly does magic work?”
“How does it work?” Graves repeated.
“Yeah,” the little girl nodded. “Like, you point your gun at somethin’, pull the trigger, and ‘boom’, fire n’ brimstone comes spittin’ out the other end. How’d you make that happen?”
“Ah, I see,” the marshal nodded, finally understanding. “Well, the first thing you do is draw in the energy.”
“Draw it in?” Apple Bloom asked in cockeyed confusion. “You mean like a bucket o’ water?”
“Something like that,” Graves nodded. “Some creatures like dragons, phoenix, unicorns, etcetera, have innate magical energy. People don’t. Instead, we take in energy that exists in nature like, as you said, drawing a bucket of water. When we have enough, we channel it out in what’s known as magic.”
“That’s it?” the little girl asked dubiously. “That seems awful easy.”
“How it works is easy,“ Graves agreed, “but making it work’s a whole other story. See, moving that energy’s not exactly a walk in the park. The stuff’s almost got a mind of its own, and to make it do what you want, you have to have to control it. Most often that’s done with spells or runes, things that help you concentrate and direct the energy into how you want it to work.”
“But you don’t do that,” Apple Bloom pointed out. “You just point n’ shoot.”
“That's because I’ve practiced a few spells a lot. It’s like memorizing something. Do it enough and it’ll stick.”
“So, if I practice a lot and work real hard,” the pink-bowed girl continued, “does that mean I’ll be able to shoot lightnin’ like you do?”
“Depends,” Graves answered as thumbed his nose. “You a burst or aura user?”
“You do know what those are… don’t you?” Apple Bloom’s blank stare was answer enough.
“Ah. I see.” Looks like he was going to have to backtrack even further.
“So there are two types of magic, burst and aura," Graves began. "Burst is when you gather energy and release it all at once for spells: that’s what people like Twilight and me do. Aura’s the other, where you constantly release energy to power magic artifacts, like how Rainbow Dash runs her spell wings.”
“So how do you find out which one you are?” the little girl pressed on.
“That’s the easy part,” the marshal answered. “Magic runs in the family, so there's a good chance that whatever your parents or grandparents could do is what you'll be able to do as well.”
“Then…” here Apple Bloom paused, unsure of how to continue. “What if nobody in your family can do it? What then?”
“Well, it’s possible for magic to skip a few generations, but…” Graves paused as well, uncertain of how to break the news. “Magic is something you’re born with. If you don’t have it, you just… don’t.”
Apple Bloom blinked.
That was it. No protests, no complaints, no loud rants. Just a little “oh,” like the last puff of air from a deflating balloon.
“Are… you alright?” the marshal tentatively asked. Apple Bloom shook her head.
“You wanna talk about it?” he offered. Apple Bloom nodded.
“It’s just not fair,” she pouted as her big eyes began brimming with tears. “Sweetie Belle’s already learnin’ her first spells from Rarity, and Scootaloo’s gettin’ flyin’ lessons from Rainbow Dash. I mean, they’re not that good yet, but one day they’re both gonna be able to do some really neat things. So why is it that they get to be all special, while I’m just… not?”
Ah, there it was.
Despite all her questions, Apple Bloom probably didn’t really didn’t care about whether or not she could use magic; she just wanted to know why, when compared to her friends, she had to be the ordinary one.
Graves leaned forward onto the table, his brow furrowed in thought. He, like most adults, had gone through a stage where he’d asked the same thing. Question was, how could he use that to help the little bundle of dejection sitting before him? He was no expert at talking to kids, and just telling her the answer probably wouldn’t solve a thing; after all, when did kids ever listen to a thing you told them? No, just saying it wouldn’t work. He needed something different, something to help her get to the conclusion herself. Something…
… something, he realized in a sudden moment of clarity, a lot like what Rarity had once done to him. Would it work? Fail, and it could all blow up horribly in his face, though he was reasonably sure it wouldn’t. Was it worth taking the chance? A second look at the little girl, who looked so forlorn that even her bow seemed to wilt, quickly answered that question.
“Come on Apple Bloom ,” Graves said with his most encouraging smile. “Just because you can’t you use magic, doesn’t mean you’re not special.”
“Yeah, sure,” Apple Bloom said sulkily. That was just what Applejack would have said.
“No,” the marshal continued, his smile now taking on an impish color. “You’re not special because you’re a girl.”
“… Say what?!”
“It’s true,” Graves continued as he gave her his most obnoxiously condescending smile, which was really quite obnoxiously condescending indeed. “Sure, magic and stuff makes them more special than you, but that’s molehills to mountains when you figure that you’re all girls anyways.”
“And jess what is that supposed to mean?” Apple Bloom challenged, the heat clearly rising in her voice as she confronted the silver-eye soldier who replied with the utmost of cool aplomb.
“Simple. Guys are just better than girls.”
“They are not!” the little girl shot back, which prompted Graves to arch an eyebrow in question.
“No? Then tell me. Who’s the strongest person in your family?”
“Well… Big Macintosh is,” Apple Bloom admitted reluctantly.
“And who does the most work on the farm?”
“Big Macintosh,” she conceded again.
“And who’s the one that takes care of all the business for the farm too?”
“That would be Big Macintosh,” Apple Bloom admitted once more. Applejack just didn’t have a head for numbers, which is why her older brother was the one who dealt with all the ‘fancy mathematics’.
“See?” Graves smirked. “Guys are just bigger, stronger, smarter, and overall better than girls in every way, and that’s what makes us special.”
“That… that’s the biggest load ah hooey I’ve ever heard!” the little girl sputtered. “So what if Big Mac does all those things? There’s plenty ah things girls can do better ‘n guys!” The marshal simply sniffed.
“I don’t believe you.”
“It’s true!” she cried out in pure exasperation. “Granny Smith’s the best cook ever, and nobody can ride a buckin’ bronco like Applejack! Just because they don’t do the same thing doesn’t mean Big Macintosh or any guy’s better or any more special! They’re just different!”
Graves said nothing as Apple Bloom stood in her seat, hands braced on the table as she positively bristled in the aftermath of her forceful tirade. And that’s when the marshal smiled, not a mocking grin or an obnoxious smirk, but the slow, easy smile that always appeared after a job well done.
“Now,” he began in his usual calm, gravelly tones, “take what you just said, replace it with magic, and say it again.”
The bow-bedecked child just blinked, somewhat thrown off by the sudden change in tone. It took a bit, but after a few moments, the light of realization dawned.
“Figure something out?” Graves grinned as silver grey eyes flashed in amusement. The litle girl nodded, brow knit as she worked to put her sudden epiphany into words.
“I think so... Basically, what yer sayin’ is–”
“Uh uh,” the marshal halted. “I never said anything. That was you.”
“Right,” Apple Bloom grinned. “So, the point was, jess because someone else can do something I can’t, doesn’t make ‘em more special ‘n me. It jess makes ‘em different. Right?” Graves chuckled.
“You catch on pretty quick.”
“But, why didn’t you jess tell me that in the first place?” the ruby-haired girl asked. “It woulda save you a lot of time, you know.”
“True,” the marshal nodded. “But if I’d told you, would you have listened?”
“Er… probably not,” Apple Bloom confessed with a sheepish grin. Graves just smiled.
“So, feeling better about yourself?” the young soldier inquired, which got a bright smile in response.
“Yup! Heaps better, Mister Graves. Thanks!” At that, the little girl jumped up and grabbed the marshal around the waist in a tight hug. He froze for a moment, unsure of what to do, but eventually settled for awkwardly patting her on her pink-bowed head. Her smile just grew bigger.
“Well, I gotta run now,” Apple Bloom called, instantly releasing him and bounding for the door. “Sweetie Belle and Scoot both got a head start on me, so I gotta figure out what makes me special – er, different – and quick. Who knows, maybe it’ll even help me get my cutie mark!”
“Sounds good,” Graves nodded. “You go do that.” And with one last big, beaming look back, Apple Bloom leaped out the door, with considerably more pep in her step than when she’d entered, and took off.
From where he sat, Graves just smiled, a chuckle forming deep in his chest. She’d probably known the answer all along. It had just taken a little antagonism and a little nudge from an unexpected direction to make her realize it. Rarity would have approved.
“Kids,” he murmured to himself with a fond little smile. “Nothing but a heap of trouble.”