To Bring Light to Eternal Darkness

by scifipony


I stood behind my baby brother who knelt in front of a book.  He grumbled about how silly it was that I wasn't allowed to be seen reading a book in public, but he played the game, reviewing topics aloud while I illuminated his book with my horn and scanned the growing crowd.

A few stallions had brought their wives to serve them while they awaited the start of the event, but only I provided light for my charge.  You would barely believe the High Desert was considered a hot desert region considering how cold it was.  The wool smock I'd dressed Summer Daze in was barely enough.  Another day without sun and we'd suffer a hard frost.

Dozens of stallions arrived.  It was a night-time parade of glowing orbs of light at the tips of pony horns, like flower petals of pink, blue, amber, and green floating on a steady breeze.  Despite the wan light, I could recognize some ponies.  Only Windell was younger (by a month) than Summer.  A couple of colts a year older talked together.  The rest were adults, with a third being elders whose Illuminate flickered as much as their arthritic gait hesitated.  Thousands and thousands of unicorns lived in town.  Half were mares; obviously most of the remaining stallions didn't consider they had "magic strong".  I snorted.  A passing brown stallion looked.

To Summer, I said, "I wonder how many decided they weren't unicorns."

His brow furrowed.

"The broadside invited almost anypony."  Even mares.  "Never mind.  Most everypony here I've heard has either a reputation for magic or one for a big ego."

Summer Daze said, "Or both."

Startled, I studied my baby brother.  He never seemed to notice other ponies, but then I could not attend school with him to see how different he was in class because, naturally, mares aren't schooled.  Maybe Catseye had socialized him more than I knew.  He was indeed studying the crowd, and now looking down the road toward town where I saw a cyan pony with a golden mane and tail, and a matching gold stripe that meandered around his neck and underside.  The stallion trotted up notably without students in tow.  His golden eyes lingered on my brother and he gave him a puzzled look—but Catseye didn't deign to look at me as he passed, which was proper, of course, but subtly infuriating all the same.

I'd made the right decision to keep Summer Daze from school today.

Not five minutes later, more than a dozen stallions in pale blue robes and conical blue hats decorated with stars and comets marched up as a group.

Two propoli accompanied them, one of whom was Umbra.  The dark gray, shaggy black-maned stallion had the hood of his red robe up, but he turned and smiled directly at me.  Crimson magic illuminated his face, making his black horn glow red.  Locks of black hair that pushed up his hood, together with black sideburns that framed his face, gave him a stately malevolence.  "The Twins," he remarked in his deep voice.

Didn't he realize that he was supposed to enforce propriety, not break it?  His magenta gaze made me shudder.


When the "contestants" began to file in, I shoved Summer Daze's books into his saddle bags and lifted him to dash to the end of the queue, which, since I'd arrived early enough to camp near the entrance, put us fifth behind Windell's minty-green flank.  The pale-blue cloaked "mages" that together composed a "collegiate" formed a gauntlet of evaluating eyes with the first, a young blue-green stallion taking notes on a parchment scroll with a quill that had a blue metallic sheen resembling that of a moth's wing.

"This is Summer Daze, colt of Snow Frost," I offered when it was our turn.  Never timid, I added, "I'm Sunny Daze, filly of—"

"No," said Umbra, stepping out from the amphitheater and marching through the gauntlet toward me.  "That is improper!"

The mages looked at him.  A blue stallion with a small waggling white beard produced what I instantly recognized as the Queen's broadside.  "The Queen's—"

"Just no," said the propoli.  "No mares allowed."

At least I was a "mare," not a filly.

The chief mage's voice lowered.  "It reads 'all with magic strong' not 'stallions with magic strong.'"

A chill shot up my spine.  I'd been right!

The mage turned the broadside about, highlighting the phrase in a blue glow, finishing with "—and this is the signature of Her Majesty Queen Platinum XI of the Crystal Hoof Dynasty in Her own magic."  With his last word, the curlicue script at the bottom ignited with a crackling pop into a silver-white True Words flames.

Of course, I thought, all Umbra had to assert was that mares could not have "magic strong."  He didn't, which was terrifying in retrospect.  What did he know about me?

Instead, he planted his hooves in a not-to-be-budged stance and said, "Unmarried mares are not allowed to associate in public with stallions.  It breaks the laws of propriety."

"Dare you publicly defy the will of the Queen?"

The crowd behind me gasped and began muttering.

One of the other mages nudged the leader as Umbra replied, "Never.  It is written in the dowager Queen's Treaty of the High Desert that as an autonomous region we may make certain laws as peers of crown."

Umbra turned and grinned at me.

Reflexively, I scoffed.  "Propriety indeed!"

I immediately regretted it.  My horse brain if not my intellect instantly recognized I'd publicly shamed and insulted a propoli—were all proprieties equally enforced, of course.  They weren't.  Which made it worse for me.

I started to shake, which I tried to hide by speaking to Summer Daze.  "Do what you are asked.  Ask questions if you don't understand.  My brother, you have no excuse for impolite behavior today, which means that you will eat that carob-cinnamon treat I gave you the moment you feel hungry."

"Yes, Sunny Daze."

The Collegiate and Umbra had argued while I spoke, but when I lifted my head, the leader's sad deep blue eyes met mine.  He said, "I'm sorry."  His sincere tone and the anguish etched in his face jarred me.

In the sudden isolating quiet that took over the scene, silent but for the sound of crickets, I whispered, "Don't be.  It doesn't matter that I have 'magic strong.'  I'm a mare."

I turned and walked through a different gauntlet.  This one wasn't silent, but with the propoli present it was just barely audible.

"Stupid mare," and "Doesn't know her place," were their favorites.  Less favorite were, "Who would marry her?"  But the "Why didn't Snow Frost lose that useless foal in the desert when she was born?" almost made me cry.


Instead it made me stupidly angry.  I glanced back up the queue and found Summer Daze standing defiant.  His unusual brown eyes met mine, his longer-than-most horn looking sharp.  I still had my horn lit so he could read my face.  He nodded, as if acknowledging my anger, and entered the Council Paddock.

I loved my brother, more so now than ever, but I also knew his limits.  It would have been best that I could have accompanied him; I wasn't surprised I couldn't.

I'd already done things I would regret today.  I hoped nopony saw my sly smile.  Maybe I could do more.

I didn't intend to be caught, though.