Twilight and Applejack stood in the entrance of the tree, heads turned high as they looked around the tree’s massive interior. Twilight found herself enamored by the incredible heights of the balconies and criss-crossing walkways adorning the walls. A complex series of wooden troughs meandered from one of the the upper branches, water trickling down before cascading in a miniature waterfall that fed a pond in the center of the room.
“It’s just like…” Twilight murmured with a soft whimper. Rows of books were stored in hollowed-out crannies surrounding open-air lofts carved out of the walls not unlike the loft in her former bedroom. Some of the lofts even had ornate windowed doors leading to what Twilight could only assume were observation balconies. The volume of books didn’t quite approach the average library, but she knew there were many more secrets higher up in the boughs.
“The library back home?” Applejack finished. She slung a foreleg around Twilight and pulled her into a gentle hug. Twilight sighed, closing her eyes and leaning against her friend.
“Mmhmm…” Twilight mumbled softly, nodding. “Come on, AJ. Let’s find a place to get cleaned up,” she said, breaking free of the hug.
“Just don’t push yourself too hard, y’hear? We’ve got plenty of time,” Applejack said, glancing around the colossal space. Her legs wobbled as a wave of mild vertigo washed over her, leaning against a chair as it passed.
Twilight climbed the nearest staircase leading up to a walkway that seemed promising. She stretched a wing, groaning with fatigue. No flying for me, she thought. Contrasting with the excitement outside, the tree was silent save for their hoofsteps and the bubbling of the waterfall.
“How ya holdin’ up, Twi?” Applejack asked, catching up to her friend with ease.
“Oh… I’m okay,” Twilight forced out. “I guess. I’m just tired. This place is giving me…” she raised a foreleg and fidgeted, searching for words. “Mixed feelings.”
“Well, a shower and a good night’s rest will do you a world of good,” Applejack said, giving Twilight a playful nudge as they passed by a long series of bookcases. “An’ in a place like this, I think you’ll feel right as rain in no time.” Applejack looked around and chuckled. “It’s a maze in here, ain’t it?”
Sure enough, Twilight could barely remember which way they had come in. The walkways and stairs and books and balconies and more stairs and vines and… They all blurred together in her weary mind. After a myriad of plant sculptures, waterways, and even another tree growing within the tree, they finally came across a series of doors marked with red and green signs hanging from the handles.
“Looks like we’ve found those guest rooms!” Applejack said with delight. “An’ check it out, nearly all of ‘em are green. We’ve got our pick of the litter right here!”
Twilight breathed a loud sigh of relief, smiling at Applejack as she cricked her neck. “Thank Celestia… I needed a bath yesterday…” Twilight mumbled, her lack of enunciation betraying her exhaustion. Applejack smirked and swung open one of the doors, saving her friend the trouble of making a decision. Heck knows she ain’t in any condition to freak out over a bedroom.
“Now, ain’t this just a treat?” Applejack said as she trotted into the surprisingly spacious quarters. A short flight of stairs led into an orderly study space, desks arranged in a manner most fitting for long nights. A pair of soft pillows rested in the corner of the room, each large enough for a fully-grown stallion to rest comfortably. Accenting it all was a small exposed waterway running from the ceiling, feeding a pool on the far side of the room, flanked by a pair of beds. Evening light shone through a pair of windows set high in the far wall, providing ample illumination to wash with. As Applejack made her way through, dropping her saddlebags by the nearest study desk, she spotted a cluster of firefly lanterns resting along one wall.
Twilight meandered slowly into the room. She stumbled down the stairs and looked up, her ears perking up gently as she blinked away her fatigue. “I had that same style of firefly lamp before…” she murmured, a small smile cracking her lips. As her gaze drifted upward, her breath caught. “AJ, look at that!”
She trotted up to a large wooden relief carved out of the wall. As she got closer, more and more details realized themselves. In the center, a spire pointed out a few inches, cutting off at an oblique angle. “I think… It’s a carving of the village. It’s so complex! Look, here’s the elder’s home, and the tree here is cut off—”
Applejack touched Twilight’s shoulder, interrupting. “Whoa-nelly. That’s one impressive piece of work. That the river?” she asked, pointing to a large crack through what could only be trees.
“No doubt, and this must be where Peacegrove was originally settled,” Twilight said, pointing to a clearing just beneath the tree. “And over here is the same sun carving we saw on the door. It’s likely in honor of the Aurum Sun festival.”
Applejack glanced over her shoulder, then spun around with a gasp. “Twi! There’s one on the other wall too! Looks like that one’s got the moon instead.” Indeed, a nearly identical carving adorned the other wall, complete with its own lunar carving.
“I’d say we picked a good enough room as any to rest in, yeah?” Applejack said, giving Twilight’s side a playful poke.
“Wha’dja mean?” Twilight asked, her eyelids drooping.
“It’s a big ol’ study room. You’ve got desks, bookshelves, fancy artwork… heck, you’ve even got some uh… what d’ya call it…” she nickered with annoyance. “Fancy atmosphere,” she finished, gesturing toward the fountain.
“Yeah… studying…” Twilight mumbled with a heavy sigh as she shuffled to the back of the room, unceremoniously dropping her saddlebag in front of one of the beds. With a gentle thuff, Twilight collapsed face-first onto the bed.
“You alright there, Twi?” Applejack asked, trotting up to the bed.
Twilight let out a combination grumble-sigh into the pillow.
“Come on now, let’s get cleaned up,” Applejack said while prodding her back. “Don’t wanna get these beds all messy now do we?”
Twilight let out another muffled something-or-other in response with a flare of her wings, slowly retracting them as her voice drifted off.
Applejack smiled warmly down at her friend, gently rubbing her back. She dipped a hoof into the water, finding it surprisingly warm. “C’mon, Twi. It’ll perk you right up!”
“Five more minutes…” Twilight mumbled in a sleepy daze, rolling away from AJ.
“Come on now, you'll rest better after washin’!” Applejack said, squeezing her way under Twilight. With a stern “Hup!” Applejack flipped her friend up into the air, catching her belly-up on her back.
“Hey! What are y—!” Twilight yelled in surprise, squirming like a turtle on its back, wings flared for balance.
“C’mon now, you fuss more ‘n Apple Bloom!” Applejack said with a cocky smirk as she effortlessly tumbled the princess into the water with a gentle splash.
Twilight fell into the water, churning it in protest. She made contact with the bottom—not as deep as she’d thought—and surged out of the water, coughing as she hovered just above the surface. “AJ! You shouldn’t have—”
“Made ya do what needed doing?” Applejack interrupted. “I know the water ain’t that deep. You’d know that too if ya weren’t so out of it. Heck, y’all could probably stand pretty easy,” she said, shaking some water out of her hat. “Go on now. I’m just as muddy as you, an’ I’d like to be less muddy real darn soon.”
Twilight grumbled for a moment, slowly sinking back into the water. Her friend was right: Standing on the bottom of the pool, her head and neck were comfortably above the surface. “I’m… I’m sorry,” Twilight said quietly. “I didn’t mean to yell at you like that.”
“Think nothin’ of it, sugarcube. You weren’t gonna crawl out of that bed on your own!” Applejack said with a chuckle. She flipped her hat off, catching it in her mouth. With a quick flick, she tossed it in a high arc onto the other bed. With a none-too-careful hop, she plopped into the water. “Whoo-ee!” Applejack whooped as she settled into the pool. “Goodness that’s warm! Shower at home takes days to heat up!”
Twilight murmured in response, sinking into the water until only her snout could be seen. Her horn glowed softly, a shimmering aura forming around her as she gently plucked the muck from her mane, letting it drift off into the tub. The constant flow of water kept the water fresh, and Twilight intended to take full advantage of it.
“Seems you're feelin’ better, Twi,” Applejack said, scrubbing grime from her coat.
Twilight burbled under the water, raising herself up so she could speak. “Much better. I really needed a break. Between spending days running all over Equestria, Celestia knows how long in Amethyst Hollow, and now stumbling around what is essentially a sub-tropical jungle posing as a deciduous forest, I'm positively…”
“Pooped?” Applejack asked, a lopsided grin quirking the corner of her mouth.
“Exactly! Although I don’t think I’d have put it quite like that,” Twilight said as she idly waved her forelegs around under the water. She stared at the ripples that formed, idly letting her thoughts wander. Her gaze drifted toward the waterfall feeding the pool. If this is rainwater… she thought, something must be heating it. She let her eyes close partially, her vision blurring in their half-lidded state. As she let out a long breath, she focused on the sound of the water, pushing all of her other perceptions aside. The warmth of the water, the safety of the room, and Applejack’s presence allowed her to let go of her stress—at least for a time.
A wisp began to glow in her mind’s eye, the faint blue aura fighting against the flow of the water. Twilight’s perception meandered up through the ceiling, the supply conduits snaking throughout the tree. Each branch threatened to distract her away, but she held firm: she would satisfy her curiosity. At long last, she found herself in an exceptionally large pool on a branch near the top of the tree. Muted shapes floated around the edges of the pool, just out of focus to her farsight.
Cold! Twilight shivered as her perception neared the other end of the pool. She carefully followed the wisp from one end of the pool to the other. She had no doubt: Whatever was heating the water acted on this branch. Taking a long, deep breath, she pushed her vision up out of the water, straining her mind’s eye.
Twilight gasped softly. As her vision came into focus, she spotted a large frame suspended above the pool, a cascade of evening sunlight mingling with more magical wisps streaming into the water. The frame’s gentle curves flowed smoothly into the wood of the branch, fusing with it on six sturdy legs. Twilight felt a wave of nausea as she looked up, but she pushed on, reaching with an aetherial hoof to touch the frame. Her vision started to fade, darkness creeping into the corners of her sight. Almost!
She strained against this new invisible force, struggling for air as her perception crept ever closer. Twilight knew if she could just—
“Twilight!” Applejack bellowed, flinging her friend as hard as she could out of the water. She surged out of the pool, galloping across the room to Twilight.
With a hacking cough, Twilight landed on her belly, pulling a series of strained gasps. Her eyes rolled as her perception zipped along the water back to her physical space. She blinked her eyes, shaking her head to clear the haze. “Applej… why?” she forced out.
“Why?” Applejack said incredulously. “For pony’s sake, Twi, you were drownin’! I don’t know what you think you were doin’, but you sure as hay weren’t swimmin’!” She touched Twilight’s shoulder, a concerned scowl spreading across her face. “What in the world were you thinkin’?”
“I just wanted to see… to understand…” Twilight began, pausing to cough up another mouthful of water. “I’m so sorry, Applejack. I’m really grateful you were here to help,” she said as she levitated a towel over. She ran it all over herself, touseling her wet mane and tail as she felt a throbbing headache thud its way into her mind. She lobbed one to Applejack, giggling weakly as it draped across her face.
“Think nothin’ of it, darlin’. I’m here for you.” Applejack’s muffled voice emanated through the towel. “I think it’s best we both got some rest. Who knows what this Angry Moon or whatever festival’s gonna be like.”
“It’s ‘Argent,’ AJ,” Twilight giggled. “It comes from the Old Ponish word for silver. La arĝenta luno sounds like it made a big impact on this community.” The mares finished drying themselves, tossing the towels onto an unused work table. Applejack leapt into the further of the two beds, while Twilight collapsed onto the closer one with another pillowy thuff.
“You’ve been through a heck of a lot the last few days, haven’t ya?” Applejack asked as she rolled up in the covers, staring up at the wooden ceiling. The ambient light was dimming rapidly, heralding the oncoming night.
Twilight was silent for a moment, watching dust motes drifting through the remaining light. “I don’t think the map sending me here was a coincidence.”
“When is it ever?” Applejack said, rolling to look over at Twilight.
“I meant beyond that,” Twilight said as she floated her saddlebag up to the bed, systematically removing its contents and arranging them in an orderly manner. Applejack rolled her eyes with a smirk as Twilight began to flip through pages of notes.
“There’ll be time for all that later, sugarcube,” Applejack said. “It’s gettin’ late and you need your rest. Heck, even I need a breather after saving your darn flank.”
“Just a few minutes,” Twilight said, her focus locked on her notes. Applejack watched as Twilight floated her quill out and began to write, and could swear she heard her friend mumble something about “magical water heaters” and “drowning hazards.”
“Twilight,” Applejack said flatly.
“Ah-huh,” Twilight responded, seemingly ignoring her. “It’s probably not unicorn-based, but…”
Applejack snorted. She grabbed a pillows with her mouth and flung it at Twilight. With a startled yell, the glow on her horn sputtered out and the notes fluttered to the floor. Twilight’s latest entry landed on Applejack’s bed, ink still wet.
“Hey!” Twilight yelled, “What was that for?”
Applejack looked down at the paper, mumbling as she read it to herself. She squinted, leaning closer as if looking at it from a different angle would somehow produce a different result. “Y’almost drowned and you’re writin’ an essay on it!?”
Twilight frowned, cheeks flushing. She looked away sheepishly as the absurdity of her note-taking habits dawned on her.
“Look,” Applejack said, “I know it’s important to you, but you’re way too roped up in your own head. We need to get some rest then check with Ivy first thing in the morning an’ see if they’ve found Hopeseed yet.”
Twilight sighed, reaching out with her magic to collect her notes. “You’re right. I don’t know what came over me. I’m sorry.”
Applejack gazed at Twilight with a slight smile. “It’s okay, Twi. Just get some sleep, an’ we’ll wrap all this up before the festival, an’ then you’ll have all the time in Equestria to figure out… whatever it is you’re figurin’ out.”
Twilight simply nodded in response. She sorted her notes into an orderly row and ever-so-carefully slid them back into her saddlebag. She closed the flap, setting it down on the floor. By the time she rolled back around, Applejack was already curled up in a cocoon of blankets.
“Goodnight, Applejack,” Twilight said with a smile as she slipped under her covers.
“‘Night, Twi,” Applejack said with a yawn.
Twilight groaned softly as she rolled around in the bed covers. Try as she might, she just couldn’t shut her brain off—not with her notes unfinished. She sat up in bed, glancing across the pool to the other bed. Applejack was snoring peacefully in the adjacent bed.
“Just a few minutes,” Twilight whispered, “I promise.”. She dragged her saddlebag up to the bed and pulled the sheets over her head to avoid disturbing Applejack. Twilight pulled her her notes and parchment from the saddlebag and started to look them over. She cringed when she got to one in particular. I really did start to write an essay on drowning, didn’t I? She thought to herself.
Stashing that one away with a blush, she pulled out a notebook and paged through it it to her Amethyst Hollow notes. She took a quill to the header and amended it to read Amethyst Hollow Expedition Notes: On Unicorn Magic. She turned to the next blank section and penned Silverglade Forest Expedition Notes: On Earth Pony Magic in its header. Closing her eyes to help her remember, she began writing.
Earth pony magic is instinctual in nature, in contrast to unicorn magic being deliberate—methodical, even. The sensations are typically attributed to a “gut feeling” or “intuition.” From my own personal observations, this can be tapped into, but only to a point. Further experimentation is needed.
Field testing and anecdotal evidence from Applejack has demonstrated earth pony magic allowing its wielder to “sense” aspects of nature—flora, fauna, water, minerals, rocks, soil, etc. Prior research documented in various (unicorn-authored) textbooks only mentions heightened physical attributes and affinity for agriculture (farming, crop yield, etc). These other aspects of earth pony magic appear to be entirely unexplored, or perhaps misattributed to other non-magical abilities.
I have gained the ability to visualize earth pony magic in action in a manner similar to my observations of alicorn and unicorn magic (see prev. section). A key difference with my perception of earth pony magic is that it appears to be less bound to arcane theory; i.e. runic matrices and spells.
Based on my observations during our encounter with the python and my experiences while manifesting earth pony magic in a body of water, current emotional state can highly influence the outcome of the earth pony “spell.”
Twilight studied her hoofwork for a moment, cheek resting on her hoof as she idled in thought. After a brief proof, she slipped her papers away and finally closed her eyes, snuggling comfortably into the mattress as she drifted off to sleep.