Princess Twilight Sparkle perched on a small stool in the Wizard's study – wrapping up a midnight snack he had prepared in advance. A silent pride flickered in her eyes as news of the previous day proved her right. An illusion was a petty trick, though neither of them could have initially expected Eventide to be be able to communicate with Silver String.
The filly seemed to be anchoring herself ever more deeply into the past each time, making an even larger impression in the past. Twilight had been browsing records: now monitoring the changes the young filly's forays had precipitated.
“I still believe that many of the 'effects' have yet to reach us. The very spell that protects her seems to be holding back the majority of it.” The Wizard shook his head as he mulled his words over. “Small things are trickling through, but time travel that far back should be causing more than what we have been seeing.”
In the city, ponies began to report odd occurrences. Houses changed – architecture completely different overnight. Many scholars swore they knew a history slightly different than what the scrolls said. Subtle magic fields now spilled from the journal. Old Grey could feel an... anticipation emanating from it.
“How much more can the spell hold? If it breaks now we won't know what will happen to us.” Twilight's voice was steady, though a hint of fear showed in the stiff, defensive shuffling of her wings.
“The anchor will most likely not break, but separate from Eventide. With this in mind, it may be possible to alter it to slow down the flux generated by temporal disturbance. As it progresses through one thousand years of existence, it will bleed off some of it's power to rectify time.”
Twilight objected: “This won't 'rectify' time, it will change it forever!" She took a calming breath, more unsettled than she had been in centuries. Her millennium of peace potentially ruined, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. "It is up to you to steer her in the right direction. If she makes a mistake, we may not exist anymore."
"It surprises me, how little trust you have for her."
A glare icy enough to freeze rivers hit the old stallion. Placing Equestria's fate into the hands of such a young filly was dangerous for everypony. This was more than a trust issue: she had lives to consider. Still, the Wizard continued.
"She has talent and a heart that continually amazes me. For so young, she has a natural sense of what is right. Eventide may not fully understand the impact of her actions, but she is not selfish. Silver String will live a better life because of her - and may better Equestria because of it."
"You told me," Twilight replied after a brief silence, "about a young colt who wished to change his past, making a spell to manipulate time. What kind of life would he have lived had he been able to make it work?"
"I do not know...but we may soon find out."
Eventide could not sleep. Her blankets lay in a churned mess to the side, while her mind spun around a riddle. Why would the identity of Silver String be kept hidden? Was she not supposed to know? Another set of questions bombarded her from another front: there had to be a reason for her lessons to be centered around him.
Old Grey had been acting strangely as well. Though he was never very social, his recent silence felt uneasy. Brooding thoughts seemed to darken the air in the study. She was clueless, though - and she hoped that soon he would tell her on his own. The restless filly was sick of being left out-of-the-loop.
Her curiosity only grew, and she soon found herself moving through the oaken study doors. He was there, pouring over various texts and scribbling little notes. Seeing her, the Wizard lifted his head from the scrolls on his desk, and waited silently. After a moment, Eventide summoned the will to ask.
"Teacher, why did you...."
Nodding with comprehension, the stallion got to his hooves. "Why did I lie about the colt? The question has haunted me for quite some time. He was only supposed to be a learning aid - somepony you could watch and learn from as he made mistakes. Due to your ability to talk with him, I suppose there is no more hiding."
With this, he removed his hat and cloak, channeling magic power. White hairs changed into a chrome coat, lustrous in undulating waves. The Wizard stood taller, and the age melted off of proud features. Eventide stood shocked though - for she saw herself reflected in his eyes - irises like mirrors regarded her back.
"The colt from a thousand years back became your teacher, Eventide." His voice lost much of the huskiness it once held, now its bass rattled the breath in her lungs.
"I hid him, as I hid myself - to turn from a past of shame that you would not have to repeat. Unstable, irredeemable, and impetuous, I served as the perfect example of everything undesirable in a mage." Disgust filled these last words with a caustic bite. Still, this only served to confuse her more.
"I don't get it - the colt I met wasn't evil. He just needed a little help. Bad things kept on happening to him, and nopony could lend a hoof."
Silver String knelt down so they both shared eye-level. "That, my student, is what makes you special. Each time you 'lend a hoof', you change the fate he is destined to meet. Without you, he would have lost hope already - but he may still. He is finding a much happier life, a life I could not live, thanks to you."
It would be terrifying to her if she knew the other consequences. If his past self had decided not to teach a filly named "Eventide"... No, that paradox would only shatter the small pony. She was now inexplicably tied to rewriting destiny, and he could not interfere. Bowing his head, he dispelled the anxiety she had been feeling.
"Eventide, be at peace knowing you have made a pony's life better. Rest, and be ready for another lesson. Oh," A stern frown creased the Wizard's brow, "remember that your learning needs top priority from now on - even if it means that I would take a fall."
As she left, Silver String knew this to be true: nopony ever got the chance to "redo" life. Those who forgot this wasted their lives - as he had.
Still, the Wizard had to wonder. What would he have been if he was given a second chance?
Student and teacher sat together again. In one moment, the study walls and it's assorted tables, desks, and shelves. Old wood shone dully; every surface had been buried under layers of dust. For one moment they existed, but gave way to another view. An ancient Canterlot stood proud around them.
"There is a dark day in each pony's life," the old unicorn began, "where he or she finds that inspiration fades. Passion wilts like last week's clipped flowers, and creativity atrophies. Today, I learned this lesson harshly."
With a gesture, the city blurred in intense motion. Buildings streaked by and through them, as ethereal as thought itself. Colors mixed in splashes of brilliant hues - then it was over.
A classroom came into focus around them, with young Silver String readying a spell for a small audience of fillies and colts. The young crowd gathered in a circle of cleared-away desks, standing around a tray of black lumps. It was coal - Eventide realized, as the mirror-eyed pony broke a piece apart to demonstrate. His words slowly gained volume - finally audible to her.
"A friend showed me that, deep within something so simple or ordinary as this, there lies an item of inestimable value. With patience and effort, anypony can see it."
With this, he channeled intense magic through the room. Strong wards built up slowly, lifting one of the lumps into the air between them. Runes appeared in small clouds of symbols, floating in a spinning circle around the inside. Static crackled through the charged air, and the whole thing began to constrict.
She watched as the coal began to glow with extreme temperature. The massive wards shuddered under the pressure, but held against the fury. The glow brightened into a beacon, then a star as it shrank in size. Bright flashes of released energy dissipated slowly through, and the barriers degraded. The finishing spell fizzled lightly as a stone dropped to the floor.
It was a hideous mess. Flaws ran through what could not be called a gem - flecks of black filled a yellowed mass. The sight of it was enough to turn the ponies' gazes. Young Silver String himself stood dumbstruck: the product of his work such a shocking failure.
One of the other colts nearby picked up the rock with a dark twist to his mouth. "Silver, is this all you've got? I'm not sure I see anything pretty in this at all. What'd you expect, trying out another "experimental" spell?"
He tossed it back into the pile, leaving the room with a crowd that anxiously peeled away from the crushed pony. Eventide watched as he trembled under the echoing laughter from down the hall. Wood walls shaped the sound into mocking jeers - and bounced back and forth through the large room. She leaped forward to comfort Silver String, but an old hoof barred her.
"Do not do this! Talking to him now would only cause him more pain. Besides, this is a lesson he must learn. Failure is inevitable; one must be able to cope. There are the weak, and there are -"
"That's not true! You can't just bring me here to help him, then turn around and leave him." She looked back to see his head downcast - eyes hidden in shadow. "He's you! Why do you have to be so hard on yourself?"
The Wizard would not be moved. "Eventide, these are my lessons: I pick what is in your best interest to learn, and you will accept tha—"
Again, he was interrupted. Eventide's horn sparked in the anger that sparked within her. Channeling her power, she cut through the illusion that hid her. The auburn filly knew that she shouldn't argue with him - that Twilight would be mad - but what he wanted was wrong.
"Teacher, I can't watch this. Even for the sake of learning, nopony should have to go through this alone." With her words came a quick flux of magic - forcing the old stallion out of the spell.
The Wizard sat in his study again, slightly surprised at his pupil's growing ability. Her outburst there, though - that spoke of a character that let him hope. Altruism was something more than a lesson he could give. Eventide would fight to help the young pony he used to be regardless of his direction.
A small smile lit his face. At the cost of his authority, he had confirmed her good spirit. What would Twilight think?
"What went wrong?" Silver String's whisper fell flat as he stared at the stone. What should have been a diamond was nothing more than another failure. His ability, his supposed talent with magic, were nothing against his chronic mistakes. After so much effort...
"Hey, I saw what happened. You spent a long time on that spell, didn't you?"
Blood turned to ice as he placed the sound of that voice. He spun to face her sitting next to him, looking at the object of his shame. No words came to him; he stood silent as she examined it.
"Perhaps not all of it had changed, and I think I see some stuff that made it's way in, but it's still a diamond. You shouldn't give up just yet."
Silver shook his head. "That looks nothing like the diamonds I've seen - or what the spell is supposed to make. I... I just can't..."
Eventide looked across at him. "Silly - you've only tried once, right? Nopony gets a spell like this right at first . Try again, you still have more coal."
The colt looked down at his hooves. He had gone through the components of the spell, just like the instructions were written. Almost everything had gone like it should have - even the coal was of a special density. All to no avail. He looked into her eyes as he held the stone.
"It was for you, you know. What you had taught me was that a pony could bring out the best in another. I wanted to surprise you when I saw you again..." He snorted as he spoke. "Though that wasn't the kind of surprise I wanted you to have."
Eventide smiled as she took it. "Thank you, but I think you've given up a little too early. Let's try the spell again - both of us - so you can see that you can do it. C'mon, now."
Together, they formed the wards that would contain the immense forces. They drew figures and signs with glowing horns, preparing another lump of coal to be transformed. Magic flashed through the room again, now lit with red-orange and grey fields of energy...
When all was said and done, the second diamond was only just a little bit better. Round, it was ashen in color - with many of the same flaws as the first. Still, none of this was so important to either of them. Throughout the evening, laughter again filled the room.