Chapter 9: Flashback
"Lemon Chiffon! Lemon, wait up!" Cerulean called, waving to the yellow colt a few pony lengths ahead of him. He was extremely tall and lanky, with freckles and neatly trimmed dark blue mane and tail. His cutie mark was a chef hat, as he had a knack for being able to whip up tasty food from next to nothing. Cerulean was pretty sure that by simply gracing an apple with his presence he could make it taste better.
"Well hurry it up, then!" Lemon responded, grinning. He looked down at Cerulean, nearly a full neck length shorter. They had been childhood friends that were separated when Lemon's parents had moved in the 2nd grade, but ended up being classmates at Manehatten High. It was there that they agreed to enroll together at the Canterlot Magic Academy. Cerulean was going for a master's in magic theory, whereas Lemon just liked to cook, his course lineup nearly entirely made up of cooking classes. He pursued some fashion classes as more of a hobby, which Cerulean gave him grief about to no end.
"What are you up to this afternoon? My next class was canceled so I'm pretty much open the rest of the day. I was thinking we could go into town for a bit." Cerulean said as they strolled through the grounds towards the colt's dorms. Lemon shook his head.
"Nah, I still have two classes left today, won't be out until around four," he apologized.
"Too busy making dresses to hang with your roomy? I see how it is," Cerulean replied with a smirk. Lemon playfully smacked his shoulder, laughing as Cerulean nearly fell over.
"Yeah, I got a really cute pink one planned just for you. I really think it'll bring out your eyes." Cerulean smacked him back.
"Yeah yeah, you know me so well."
"Oh, very well," Lemon said, dropping his voice suggestively. Cerulean made a face before responding.
"Go on, get out of here. Stitch me something pretty, Dazzle McSparklepants." Cerulean quickly galloped out of attack range as his friend grew livid at the nickname, shouting something Cerulean couldn't hear across the quad. It was a beautiful sunny day, though his enjoyment of it was marred as he heard one of his classmates call out to him from down the hall.
“Hey, Snowgleam! Kill anypony with your forbidden magic yet?”
“No, but I’m thinking about it, Levinbolt!” he shouted back, shaking his head. That pony didn’t know the meaning behind the word discretion, or common decency for that matter. Cerulean was well aware that his hobby was less than socially acceptable, but that moron had promptly spread it to anypony who would listen the moment he had found out. Why he saw fit to make it his life’s mission to be a thorn in Cerulean’s side was unknown, just that he did a dang good job of it.
After ten more minutes of walking Cerulean reached the colt's dorms and made his way to his room. It was a small space, especially when shared by two people. Hay, just the bedding alone took up nearly sixty percent of the floor space. Cerulean flopped onto his bed, levitating an apple to his mouth as he pondered what to do with his unexpected free time. He didn't particularly feel like studying at the moment, which was a rarity for him. Magic was a passion of his, so school was often times more fun than it was gruelling, but he couldn’t find the motivation within to go practice.
He glanced down at his cutie mark, a snowflake with dual swords behind it forming a coat of arms, and thought back to when he got it. It was a memory he held onto dearly, an event that taught him to always defend his friends and never betray himself. A snow wolf had been threatening one of his friends, and without thinking he jumped between them and attacked it with ice magic. The superficially injured wolf took the hint and backed off, not having it's pack to back it. The sense of pride he felt at that moment, and any other time he stood up for his friends, became his driving force in life, and ever since he never abandoned a friend in need, or compromised his values.
It was such a nice spring day outside he couldn't stand to be inside. Finishing his reminisce and the apple, he wiped his mouth and made for town. Canterlot was much more refined than the sprawling metropolis of Manehatten, and never ceased to amaze Cerulean. Sure, the ponies had no sense of humor and were far too posh to pay any attention to him, but that suited Cerulean just fine. Spying a second-hand book store, he entered the quaint little building and began to peruse the rows of tomes stacked high, giving a courteous nod to the owner as he entered. It lacked absolutely any kind of organization, but it was still fun to browse, and he was in no particular hurry.
Cerulean turned a curious eye towards the doorway as the little bell affixed to the door rang, signaling the entrance of another. Poking his head around the corner he saw a lavender mare with violet and magenta highlights running mane to tail. She was quite pretty, though her mane was rather unkempt, hairs sticking out at crazy angles. Cerulean quietly made his way closer so he could hear what she was talking about.
"So, do you have it? Is it in yet?" the mare asked excitedly, leaning over the counter and looking intently at the unicorn behind the desk, her anticipation almost palpable. The brown unicorn adjusted the spectacles on his muzzle, a slight grin playing at the corners of his mouth.
"Now, which one was it then? I can't quite seem to recall..."
"Daring Do! Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Stone!" the purple unicorn squealed, bouncing up and down. Cerulean could no longer keep quiet at the name of the long awaited release, the author being one of his favorites.
"What? That's even available? I thought it wasn't out for at least another month!" Cerulean said, excitedly approaching the counter. The owner shook his head sadly.
"Not technically, no, but I know the author personally and Twilight here has been one of my most faithful shoppers, so I pulled some strings and got her an unofficial copy," he explained, giving a rueful smile to the now crestfallen Cerulean. He turned his head and watched the unicorn leave, excitedly running through the streets and bumping into everypony in her haste to return to wherever she lived.
"She's cute, isn't she?" the owner said, eyeing Cerulean as he watched her depart. "She's the princess's star pupil, that one. You're setting your sights pretty high. 'Atta colt," he grinned roguishly, laughing at Cerulean's bewildered state. "I'll tell you what, I'll see if I can get one more copy in for you, be about a week but it's better than waiting a month, yes?"
"Really? Thank you so much, Mr...?" Cerulean faltered, never having asked the store owner's name before.
"Francis Lingua, at your service," he said with a dramatic bow.
"I'm Cerulean Snowgleam. Before I go, you don't happen to have any old tomes on the applications of offensive magic, do you?" He thought intently for a moment, then left the desk and began to trot towards the back of the store. He selected an extremely worn gray tome and handed it to Cerulean. Cerulean, seeing his furrowed brow, realized that the owner was likely wondering just what he was going to be doing with such knowledge. "It's not what you'd think, actually," Cerulean said, motioning to his cutie mark. "I just want to be able to defend anypony in danger, that's all." Francis gave him a nod, returning to the desk. Cerulean scanned the first few pages and, satisfied with the contents, proceeded to pay Francis, thanking him again for the early copy of Daring Do.
Cerulean gave a short cry of surprise upon exiting the shop, nearly colliding a yellow mare who had thrust her face far too close to his. "Bangles, what are you doing here? Don't you have classes?" he said, taking a few steps back to retain his personal space from the mare with a devilish grin pasted on her face. True to her name, she had no fewer than eight emerald bangles around her legs at all times. Cerulean had never bothered to count, but he guessed there were probably more. Her mane was a similar shade of green, accenting her red eyes even more, and her hair was cut short in the back, getting longer as it moved towards the front. There was a bow tied to the end of her tail, and her overall fashion sense was far from anypony else in Canterlot. Ponies generally tried to avoid her as she was known to be quite manipulative and impulsive on top of being the headmaster's daughter, but Cerulean's ever-present desire to help anypony had led them to be friends. Sort of...
"Looking for you, of course! You are my favorite, after all," she said, brushing against his flank. Cerulean ignored it and began to trot away.
"I'm going to enjoy my time out, with or without your consent Bangles," he said as flatly as possible, as anything less would be promptly ignored. It didn't have the desired effect, as she quickly caught up with him and began to trot alongside him.
"You're no fun. All you ever do is read and study! You should try some new things," her ever present grin causing significantly more unease in Cerulean than it normally did.
"Yeah? Like what?" She suddenly jumped in front of him, causing him to stop.
"Promise to play a game with me later." Cerulean blinked twice.
"A game? What kind of game?" Bangles giggled and leaned in close.
"Promise me," she yelled. Cerulean's temper was quickly rising, his patience stretched thin with her overbearing nature and the ringing in his ears.
"Fine, I promise, what do you want to play?" he shouted, causing several other ponies to turn and look at them with disdainful glares.
"Meet me in at the campus garden at nine. If you're late, you'll be sorry. Don't forget, you promised!" she said, cantering away. Cerulean shook his head, a growing sense of unease settling on his heart. Nine was curfew, and the punishment for breaking it could range from petty to excruciating, depending on the situation. He sighed deeply, trying to clear his thoughts. The whole exchange had eliminated any desire to continue shopping, so with nothing left to do Cerulean began the journey back to his dorm. Upon arrival he threw himself on the bed and wondered just what kind of trouble he had gotten himself into.
"Another hour until dinner, huh," Cerulean muttered, pouring himself some water and levitating it to his place on the bed. He was exceptionally hungry, having forgotten to eat lunch, and eagerly awaited Lemon's return, wondering what new recipe was gonna be served that night. With nothing else to do, he pulled the gray tome from his bag and began to read. It felt like a few moments later when Lemon walked through the door, tossing his bag carelessly to the floor and throwing himself onto the bed. Cerulean glanced curiously at the clock, about to ask why he was back so early when he realized an hour and a half had already gone by. A growl from his stomach confirmed the passage of time.
"Hmmm, I suppose that's my cue. No rest for the weary I see," Lemon said with a groan, walking into the kitchen and rifling through the cupboards. Cerulean would have offered to help but Lemon was very particular about how things were done in the kitchen, so he went back to his reading. While Equestria may be at peace with its neighbors, there were still plenty of natural predators, and it was for that reason that Cerulean studied offensive magic. It was generally frowned upon, some people even being put on watch lists for checking out certain books from the Canterlot Academy Library. He had read through most all of them.
"Hey Cerulean, come get it while it's hot!" Cerulean reluctantly put the book down and made his way to the table. The scent of fresh baked bread and freshly sliced vegetables wafted into his nostrils, his hunger coming back full force. Dinner consisted of a simple salad and fresh baked honey oat bread, signalling just how exhausted Lemon must have been. It was nonetheless delicious, the bread's crust was baked to perfection, yielding a most pleasant crunch with each bite while not being too firm, and the dressing was clearly an invention of Lemon's design, it's taste hinting at a combination of lemon, raspberry and ginger. The two friends bantered back and forth about classes and magic, mares and mishaps. At the mention of Bangles, Cerulean fell silent as his previously forgotten apprehensions came back full force. Lemon noticed, as Cerulean wasn't even trying to hide his consternation. "What's up, Snow? Something happen between you and her?"
"She made me promise to play some game with her at nine tonight in the gardens." Lemon's curiosity quickly turned to concern as he rested his head on a hoof.
"Why in Celestia's name did you agree to something like that?" Lemon said, not looking up.
"I didn't know where or when, she just made me promise! She was really pushy..." Cerulean's voice trailed off as Lemon shook his head, his face serious.
"That girl is trouble, you know that. I also know you don't go back on your word, so promise me this. Promise me you won't do anything... stupid." The emphasis on the last word made Cerulean cringe as he nodded his agreement.
"I promise. Trust me, that's the last thing on my mind." This seemed to satisfy Lemon, and dinner resumed in silence. Cerulean cleared the table with his magic and they went about their studies, occasionally asking each other questions. As nine o'clock drew near, the unease had grown nauseatingly strong. As Cerulean turned to leave, he stopped briefly at the door as he heard Lemon call after him.
"Be careful." Cerulean stood inside the doorway, not turning to face him.
"I will." Cerulean made his way to the roof and peered out over the dark campus grounds. He could vaguely make out the gardens, neatly trimmed hedges forming a labyrinth of sorts, with all kinds of exotic fauna arranged within. There was a beautifully sculpted fountain in a shape of the school's founder in the center. Setting his sights on the fountain, Cerulean gathered his magic energies, sprouting two small wings made of ice from his back, just enough to glide there. His blue coat would blend well with the early evening sky, lessening the chances of getting caught. Besides, the school accepted only unicorns, so it wouldn't occur to the security ponies to look up.
Cerulean glided gracefully over the maze of bushes and came to a rest in front of the fountain, his wings melting and falling to the ground like dew. He was secretly envious of the pegasi and the freedom to fly whenever they wished. It took a great amount of magical power for him to fly even a short distance, though he had been practicing the spell for quite some time. The soft jingle of bangles clinking together woke him from his revery as the form of a yellow mare came around the corner.
"So, are you ready to play a game?" she said, her smooth voice causing Cerulean to shiver.
"Let's just get this over with. What are we going to do?" he fumed, fast losing patience as the fear churned in his stomach. She leaned in close, furthering his unease.
"Each other," she murmured, her alluring tone nearly causing his nausea to boil up and out.
"Not on your life," Cerulean responded without hesitation, his voice cold. He turned to leave but stopped dead, stunned by her words.
"If you leave right now, I'll tell everypony you forced yourself on me. Your days as a student here will be over." Cerulean slowly turned. It took all his effort to contain his rage, his whole body shaking violently.
"There are some things more important to me than my enrollment here, and that is one of them. Do what you will," he gritted out, his mind recalling some of the more painful spells he had perused earlier.
"And what about Lemon? I hear he barely managed to make it in. His parents aren't doing well, and their health rides on his obtaining a proper job, is that right?" Bangles sneered, taking a step towards Cerulean. She gasped as an icicle materialized from the ground and stopped at the tip of her throat.
"If you even think about doing something to Lemon..." he growled between clenched teeth, his fury reaching critical limits and sending a red haze over his vision.
"Then lay with me. Or I guarantee that he won't make it another day here as a student." Cerulean's mind whirled; no matter what he chose, he'd be betraying someone, and either way he would be betraying himself by breaking promises, and worse. He couldn't find a solution, no matter how hard he tried. His mind filled with memories of how happy Lemon had been to be accepted, how hard he had studied so he could pass the entrance tests, how he stayed awake day and night studying, right up to the day of the test. "You have ten seconds to decide."
"If somepony has to suffer..." Cerulean said slowly, painfully, "I'm not going to let it be my friends." Bangles trotted over and planted her mouth to his, testing his words. Cerulean's mind slowly shut itself down, his emotions fading as his body took over. He didn't notice the burning sensation in his flank, as the two swords flashed blue before slowly disappearing.