Cheerilee came trotting into the classroom, her maroon coat slightly shiny in the morning sunlight. Cheerilee took a certain degree of pride in her appearance; especially at her age, one might find too many mares had utterly and totally abandoned any care for their good looks. But looking good was a part of feeling good, which in turn formed no small part of being good.
Then again, Cheerilee knew that there was no substitute for love and kindness, which she happily poured out upon her students. So now when they all looked up from their desks at her, their eyes alight, their smiles eager, she beamed back at them with truest tenderness. “Okay, class,” she said, “I have a very special surprise for you all today.”
“Ooo! Ooo!” Scootaloo waved up her hoof. “Are we gonna go on a field trip?”
“Not quite,” said Cheerilee with knowing smile. “I thought I'd bring a bit of a field trip to you. Now, we've been studying geography and world cultures recently, right?”
The class made sounds of agreement, accompanied by general nods of heads.
“Well, I thought I would take advantage of Ponyville's new circumstances to introduce you all to members of another culture firsthoof!”
Murmuring rose up amid the students. A handful of them were clever enough to guess their teacher's meaning- including little Apple Bloom, who sat up straight and gasped.
Cheerliee turned toward the door. “Inês, Filipe, you can come in now!”
Now a chorus of gasps filled the air, for two white-tail deer came walking gracefully into the classroom, their eyes glimmering like jewels in the sunlight. The doe of the pair had eyes of light sea green, and her buck companion bore irises of amethyst.
“Mae govannen, little ponies,” said Inês, a kind smile on her face.
“It is a pleasure to see you,” said Filipe, his accent subtle and unceasingly delightful.
“As you know,” Cheerilee began, “many white-tail deer have been staying on the outskirts of Ponyville; they're going to be there until Princess Celestia and Princess Luna find more permanent homes for them all. I thought it would be wonderful for you foals to meet a few of them in pony. Please, feel free to ask them questions!”
“I got one!” Apple Bloom exclaimed, raising high her yellow leg. “Is it true y'all lived in big ol' forest once?”
“We did,” said Felipe. “A large and beautiful forest called the Shimmerwood. Sadly, it burned down.” A ripple of sadness fanned out across the small young ponies. “But I am confident that your princesses, whom we love very much, will find us a new home.”
“Ith it true that you don't get cutie marks?” Twist asked next.
“We do not,” said Inês. “That does not mean we don't have special talents, however. Each buck and doe among us is quite good at one specific task, though of course they've learned many others.”
“Oh! Like making armor!” cried Sweetie Belle, thinking of the captivating silver battle armor she had seen stored deep away in Rarity's dim attic.
“Yes,” said Inês. “We have great smiths among us still, though in olden times their numbers were much larger.”
“Is it true that you do magic with your antlers?” Silver Spoon asked next.
“Yes,” said Felipe. His antlers shimmered, and the papers sitting upon Cheerilee's desk went fluttering skyward, then moving to circle round the room. The students gasped and gaped at the amazing sight.
“I never knew anything besides a unicorn could do magic,” said Snips.
“Unfortunately, because our magic is channeled through our antlers, we do not always have it,” said Inês. “As you may know, antlers fall off in the winter. We then regrow them in the spring.”
“So what do y'all do when you don't have antlers?” Apple Bloom asked.
“We rely upon the magic we have stored away,” said Inês.
“Yes,” said Felipe. “The deerfolk long ago perfected the ability to store magical energy in crystals. When winter comes we use our mastery of crystals to make up for our lack of antlers. We channel all the power we have stored in them.”
“Wait a minute,” Scootaloo said, “you use crystals? Like the Crystal Empire?”
“That's right,” said Inês. “In fact, the Crystal Empire's use of crystals comes from long ago influence by the deer.”
The class gaped and exclaimed at this. Another question next was asked, followed by another, and so the hour crawled by. Inês and Felipe were not bothered by the queries, not even the simple ones about their favorite foods or favorite colors. Cheerilee stood to the side, smiling gratefully at the proceedings. She remained silent til the hour was up, and then she stepped in front of both deer and proclaimed, “Okay, class, I'm afraid that's all the time Inês and Felipe have. Say your goodbyes!”
“Goodbye!” all of the foals exclaimed at once.
“Savo 'lass a lailath, little ponies,” said Inês.
“Take care, young ones,” said Felipe. They started to depart, but Felipe stopped abruptly and glanced back over his shoulder. “Know, little ponies, that we are grateful to you, you and your parents and your siblings, for sheltering us in our time of need. In return, we shall protect you ere the shadows grow long.”
This set the class into a fit of murmurs, including whispers aimed at Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, who tried hard not to think about the escapade their sisters had recently taken part in. It made for a concerned face on Cheerilee when she had closed the door. “I do wish you hadn't added that last part. I don't really want them thinking about the rumors that have been going around.”
“I apologize,” said Felipe, “but I meant it. They surely know that dark things are afoot; children are perceptive in that way. I wished to put them at ease.”
“Though you may have done the opposite,” said Inês with a raised eyebrow. “All told, however, I believe that went quite well.”
“Yes! Thank you both so very much!” cried Cheerilee. “I know the children had a wonderful time.”
“Think nothing of it, Madam Cheerilee,” said Inês. “We are happy to do what we can to make ponies not so afraid of us.”
“Well, I think my students won't be afraid of you ever again,” said Cheerilee. “If you're ever in need of anything, please let me know, and I'll see what I can do.”
“Indeed,” said Felipe. “The same courtesy is extended. Please inform us, or Our Lady, if you are ever in distress, and we shall do our best to help.”
With that, the two deer turned away from Cheerilee and walked with graceful motions down the hall. Cheerilee observed their exit, thinking to herself that even in their normal business, they were supremely elegant. Too bad that's not something they can teach, she thought, considering her many times of clumsiness. Then she loosed a sigh, and turned back toward the door into her classroom.
“You can do it, Fluttershy!” Twilight Sparkle exclaimed.
“Yeah!” cried Pinkie Pie. “You fix that flower! You fix it good!”
“I...” breathed Fluttershy, sitting in the shade just on the outskirts of the forest. A wilted wildflower drooped into the grass in front of her, and Fluttershy had gently gripped it between each front hoof. She was gulping and releasing air in fits, trying hard not to lose her composure.
“I have full faith in you, Quildemal,” said Javier, sitting just left of Twilight and Pinkie. “This is easily within your capabilities. Go on.”
“O-Okay,” Fluttershy stammered, clenching tight the flower in her hooves. She thought upon the wilted plant, trying to imagine it in its full lovely glory. Her hooves were shaking; she labored to steady them. Finally a sort of curious tingle came into the edges of her hooves. She began, almost wholly on instinct, to drag those hooves straight up the flower's stem.
As she did, the flower changed. Its dull, dead green turned bright and vibrant, its wilted stalk grew straight and stiff. The leaves her hooves moved past perked up, turning lovely green and filling up with chlorophyllic veins. At last she reached the flower. Her she paused, cradling the ruined petals in her hooves with all the tenderness of a young mother. She breathed upon the apex of the plant, and that breath was cool and gentle. Her hooves at last went over all the petals- and they revived, turning brilliant yellow and exploding outward. Fluttershy's hooves finally pulled back, leaving what seemed a perfect, brand new flower in their wake, a flower that might have been blooming in the warm fullness of Spring.
“You did it!” Pinkie cried. “And look! Your cutie mark's all shiny!”
“It is?” said Fluttershy, glancing back along her flanks. Indeed, the three pink butterflies that made her cutie mark were gleaming, casting gentle light upon the grass. She gasped. “I did do it.”
“You see?” said Javier. “The strength was always inside you.”
“If you just keep working, I know your Element will get stronger,” Twilight said. She then abruptly sighed. “If only mine would.”
“What are you talking about, Twilight?” Fluttershy asked. “You're so strong in magic already.”
“And Lady Falalauria said you had already gotten strong thanks to becoming a princess!” said Pinkie.
Twilight rose from her seat nestled in the grass and started pacing round the clearing. “I know, I know,” she muttered, “but for some reason I... I can just feel that I'm not using my Element of Magic! Not really. And it's kind of freaking me out, because I've been practicing all the magic I know!”
“You will achieve your goals with further effort, Princess Twilight,” said Javier, “of this I'm certain. You're too skilled to fail. For what it's worth, I or any of my mule deer would be happy to help you train in magic.”
“You would?” Twilight said.
“Of course!” said Javier. “Anything for one of Fluttershy's dear friends. And for the sake of all the world, we should happily lend a hoof.”
Twilight sighed. “I may take you up on that offer.”
“We are quite good at magic, we mule deer,” said Javier. “Of old many sorcerers and mages came from our numbers. This made the Herd Lord's moves against us all the more unbearable.”
“Moves against you?” Fluttershy repeated. “Javier, what did Reiziger do to the mule deer?”
Javier sighed. “I suppose I should not have mentioned anything...” the three ponies looked expectantly upon him. “But now that I've said it, there is no avoiding it. Quildemal, do you recall the rhyme we once taught you? The one on being common?”
“Oh, of course!” said Fluttershy delightedly. “I still say it to myself sometimes. It's a good reminder for my self-esteem.”
“Rhyme?” Pinkie said. “Ooh, I love rhymes! What is it? I wanna hear it!”
Fluttershy nodded. “It goes: It's not a bad thing to be common; no, common's a good thing to be. Though I may not be strongest or fastest or smartest, I'm still very happy I'm me.”
“Oh, that?” Twilight said. “I've heard you saying it under your breath before, usually when we're about to do something frightening. I didn't know the mule deer taught it to you.”
“They taught me to say it when I was feeling sad,” said Fluttershy. “I didn't know it had some special meaning, though. It really cheers me up.”
“Its origins are not so cheery,” said Javier. “It was created by the mule deer and the white-tail deer long ago, when the Herd Lord first began to rise in power.”
“What does it have to do with Reiziger?” Twilight asked.
Javier did not immediately answer. He glanced off deep into the forest, quietly observing as the trees swayed in the wind. “Well... when the Herd Lord first assumed the caribou throne, and began to strive for power over all the deer, he put forward the... idea... that the high deer deserved more privileges and rights among the deerfolk than the common deer did.”
“Bu- huh- wha?” Pinkie's eyes grew huge.
“The Herd Lord argued that because the high deer were more powerfully magical, and also longer lived, they deserved more resources, more wealth, and more authority among the deerfolk. He thought the common deer should surrender their seats on the joint councils of the six species, or at least have them reduced. And he thought there should be a quota system in place concerning how many common deer could attend academies and schools of magic.”
“But that's terrible!” said Twilight. “That would be like- like unicorns and pegasi deciding that earth ponies didn't deserve the same privileges they have, just because they can't do magic or fly!”
“Which is crazy,” said Fluttershy. “Earth ponies are every bit as special and important as pegasi and unicorns.”
“Darn right we are!” said Pinkie cheerfully. “And I bet the common deer thought they were just as important as the high deer, too!”
“They did,” said Javier. “The common deer argued, quite convincingly, that the six species were always meant to be equal. Was there not a mule deer and a white-tail deer among the Comrades? Did their two species not inherit two of the Elements of Harmony, and the Gifts that came with them?”
“Exactly!” Twilight said. “Your civilization's founding history proves that all the six species were meant to be equal! I don't understand how Reiziger could have made arguments against that.”
“Well he did,” said Javier. “The common deer of course opposed him. Many of the high deer did as well. But...” he sighed. “But many other high deer agreed with him. They became his first disciples, and when the Herd Lord's ambitions gave way to war, they joined him in blackness and hunger.”
“So not only did mean ol' Reiziger argue that the common deer shouldn't be equal, some of the high deer believed him?” Pinkie cried, her face contorted in a painful, sad expression. “That's... that's... I don't believe it! I can't believe it! How could a bunch of creatures who had been best friends for so long, who'd lived in love and peace and harmony and happy sunshine times- how could they think that?”
“The deerfolk, by that point, were almost five thousand years old as a civilization,” said Javier. “I suppose after all that time, some of our harmony- our love- had grown frail and brittle. Old things tend to weaken, with time. And thinking on it... there were other signs that we were not as harmonious as we once had been. Losing the Elements was the first sign, though we did not understand that at the time.”
“You lost the Elements of Harmony?” Twilight said. “What happened to them?”
“Lady Falalauria told you about the temples built among each species, yes? The ones to hold their special element, to care for it and display it for veneration?” The three ponies nodded. “Well, one day the gems simply vanished. We at first thought they had been misplaced, but after checking the temples thoroughly, found that they had disappeared into thin air.”
“Didn't you check the Tree of Harmony again?” Fluttershy asked.
“Yes- and that is where they were,” said Javier. “But when the deerfolk attempted to remove the Elements once again, the Tree... repelled us.”
“Sounds like you were unworthy,” said Pinkie.
“That is the truth- we know that now,” said Javier. “At the time, however, we did not. Most of the sorcerers and philosophers believed the Elements had simply run out of energy, that they had returned to the Tree for a sort of recharge. Our civilization still endured, and our fauns and calves were still born with the Gifts of the Elements. So, again, we thought nothing of it. The temples were closed, with the intention of reopening them once the Elements could be restored.”
“But that never happened, did it?” Twilight asked.
“No,” said Javier, “or at least, not in the historical records I have read. All of this was thousands of years before my birth, you must realize. But I know well the history of the deerfolk. Looking back, I can understand the Elements forsaking us. We had developed some... troubling behaviors.”
“Like what?” Fluttershy asked.
“I...” and now there came a twinge of genuine concern in Javier's deep eyes. “There is too much detail to go into now. Let us simply say that, over time, we ceased to be the good neighbors to our fellow creatures that we had been at the beginning.”
Twilight could not guess the meaning behind the mule deer magus' strange words. She knew there was meaning, however, so she glared purposefully at him, violet eyes intense with questions yearning to be asked. Yet Javier's face grew stern and resolute, enough to let the ponies know no answers would be coming. Twilight sighed. “I'm still in shock that any of the high deer bought into ideas of... of... racial supremacy. It's so... so...”
“Ugly,” Fluttershy said quietly.
“Hideous,” said Javier, “and shameful. Particularly because the Herd Lord did not create such feelings- he merely sensed what was already there and exploited it. We were not perfect, my dear ponies. Indeed, I think your kind, so far, are better than us.”
“Ponies? Better than deer?” Twilight said. “But the deerfolk were so wise and graceful and elegant! Your magics were so amazing! Your art was all so beautiful! You were the greatest civilization in the history of the world!”
“But ponies are kind, and loving, and brave, and steadfast,” said Javier. “I think those virtues are more important than ours.” He stood from where he sat. “Now, if you'll pardon an old buck his habits, I am going to go take a nap. I'm sorry to have filled your minds with dark thoughts.”
“Darkness is kinda unavoidable these days, what with a crazy evil black deer running around,” Pinkie said.
“True,” said Javier, “but we should cherish light where we still find it. Farewell for now, young ponies. Keep practicing, Quildemal! You will be a magnificent healer in no time.” His hooves sprung through the tall green grass as he moved further off.
Twilight watched him leave, mindful of the many things he'd told her. And Discord's words from all those weeks ago were ringing in her head. Be wary of dealings with deer, Twilight Sparkle. They are not as nice as you think.
“No, no, no, no!” Twilight bellowed, horn ablaze with violet power that sent all her stacks of books flying apart. The sun had set some hours ago, the sky outside was dark and full of stars.
“Come on, Twilight, you're doing great!” said Spike. “I don't know what you're worried about. Your magic's so strong already.”
“Exactly! My magic, the magic inherent in my spirit!” Twilight growled. “But that's not the Gift of Magic. It's not the power of the Element of Magic!”
“How do you know?”
“I just do!” Twilight said. She paced to and fro across the library's gnarled floor. “It doesn't feel right, Spike. I know I don't trust feelings- I know feelings are silly and aren't real evidence- but I feel that all my efforts aren't working.” Her wings fluttered from nerves. “I need a new method of exercise.”
“Like what?” Spike asked.
“Hay if I know,” Twilight cried, exasperated. She was pacing very swiftly now, nearly making laps around the library. When she realized what she was doing she abruptly halted, but her front right hoof kept moving, digging over and over into the wood. “But I think I need some physical exercise first. This place is too small.” She glanced up at the wooden ceilings.
“It's not that late,” said Spike. “You go take a walk or something, I'll clean up here.”
“Spike, I couldn't ask you to-”
“I insist,” said Spike, moving already to pick up fallen books. “This is really bugging you, isn't it?”
“Then clear your head. Cool your jets. Do whatever you have to! I'll be fine. I've got the owl with me, right?”
“Who?” hooted Owlysious.
“Me,” said Spike. “I've got you.”
Twilight chuckled as the owl and the dragon began their usual conversation. “All right, you two, you win.” She was already at the door. “I won't be gone long, I promise,” she said, pulling free the latch and stepping out into the dark of night.
Ponyville, like many smaller towns, retired early, even on these warmer nights of early summer. There were the ponies of the night watch already patrolling all the streets; they bowed to her as she walked by, a thing Twilight was still adjusting to. She trotted down Mare's Way, made a right onto Mane Street, broke into a canter as she turned towards Apple Junction. All the while she was vexed by her dilemma. She could feel it, for Celestia's sake. She could feel the Element of Magic somewhere in her, and she likewise could feel that it was not being worked as she had hoped. Evidently there was some distinction between the magic she'd been born with and the magic of her Gift. How might she reach it?
Magus Javier!, she suddenly thought. He had offered to instruct her in the ways of deerish magic, and the deer were closer to the nature of the Gifts than ponies had yet gotten. She would go to him tomorrow and ask him to teach her magic, magic as the deerfolk had performed it all those thousands of years ago. It was a good plan- “Huh?”
Twilight stopped her canter. She stood now on the far outskirts of Ponyville, glancing out across the field of grass that served as buffer between her town's edges and the shadows of the Everfree Forest.
I guess I walked faster than I thought, she told herself. Ponyville was also, again, a small town. There was still some expectation in her that a walk should take a while, leftover sensations from her childhood in Canterlot, where she had spent untold hours wandering the streets of the enormous city. But she had reached the end of this one road, and likewise an end to her uncertainty. She'd contact Javier tomorrow. Now she could-
Somewhere in the forest came a flicker out of space. It caused Twilight's horn to twitch, to tingle with the tremor of some magic newly spent. It was not the normal, wild ambiance of Everfree's strange magic. This had been a spell, however small and faint.
It's probably nothing, she told herself. Just one of the mule deer conjuring, or some magical creature expelling its power. Suppose it wasn't nothing, though? What if it was some foul servant of Reiziger's, teleporting in to do them harm? What if it had been some other terrible thing, reaching out its magic to prepare for its attack? The magic she had sensed had not been typical. As a princess of Equestria, the safety of its citizens was her priority. “I'll just take a look,” she said, trotting out into the field.
She crossed the grass in no time and was right before the forest. Stepping slowly underneath the trees, Twilight pulsed her horn in blips of purple, sweeping the surrounding space for signs of magic use. Deeper still she moved into the forest, feeling that the source she had detected was just barely out of reach. She knew it was here- there! She turned sharp on her heels and cantered through a grove of trees. There was a mass of strength just past the oaks she saw. She galloped now, moving faster til she burst out of the trees into a tranquil clearing.
“Huh?” she said. The space was empty. “But I thought... I swore I felt something!”
“Eep!” she jolted backwards, falling on her rump amid the grass. She turned toward the voice that just had spoken, and she gasped. “L-Lord Fëanor!”
It was indeed the mighty elk, stepping from the shadow of a birch. His golden eyes were gleaming in the darkness, while what starlight shone down lit up the silver top of his fur coat. His antlers flickered golden, and the clearing filled with light, showing each to the other with clear vision. “Elen sila lumenn' omentielvo,” he said. “A star shines at the hour of our meeting, Princess Twilight Sparkle. Somewhat literally, as things stand,” he glanced up at the night sky.
“What are you doing here, my lord?” Twilight asked, standing up again, then bowing low.
“I have been teleporting in and out of the area the past few days,” said Fëanor. “My concern is you and your five friends.”
“You're worried about us?”
“How can I not be?” Fëanor said. “You carry the fate of Equestria, perhaps of all the world, upon your backs. Celestia has entrusted you six with the vanquishing of the Herd Lord. The least I can do is make sure good progress has resulted towards that end.”
“Progress... you mean our training, then,” said Twilight.
“Yes,” said Fëanor. “It seems to be going well, from my own observations.”
“It is,” said Twilight, shame creeping intensely through her heart. “Everypony seems to be learning how to use their Element. Some of them are doing amazingly, like Rainbow Dash and Applejack. Others are coming along more slowly, like Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy, but they're getting there. Rarity... I'm having a hard time measuring Rarity's progress. But as a whole, everypony seems to be making great strides. We're... we...”
Fëanor looked down at her, his golden eyes intense and difficult to long endure.
“We... oh, I can't lie,” Twilight's ears drooped in her despair. “Everypony is making progress- everypony except me.”
“You are having difficulty with the Element of Magic?” Fëanor inquired. “I was led to believe you were already an accomplished sorceress.”
“I am, and that's the thing!” said Twilight. “I can feel the Gift of Magic in me- in my spirit! And I can tell it's just not working, not even when I do my magic. It's like.... it's like there's this whole other part of me that I've never used before, or I've only used on accident, and I don't know how to start using it! Like I have this whole other system of magic in my heart that I can't command!”
Fëanor nodded. “That is a complaint I've heard before,” he said, “quite common among the elk calves of my heyday. The Gift of Magic imparts tremendous power, but it lies along a... different track, I suppose, than standard deerish magic. It is like having a whole other bloodstream in your body, a whole other heart, whole different veins and arteries. You must work hard to integrate it into the rest of your self.”
“I was going to ask one of the deer I know... for...” her eyes enlarged, “for... help...”
“Princess?” Fëanor looked down at her, for she now looked at him with eyes the size of dinner plates.
“You!” Twilight said. “I was going to ask one of the mule deer I know, but you can teach me how to use the Gift of Magic! You're an elk! You have tons of experience with the Element of Magic! You'd be the perfect teacher!”
Fëanor turned away. “I am not in the business of taking on students,” he grumbled.
“Please!” Twilight pleaded. “You want us to succeed, so help us! Help me! You taught Princess Celestia- can't you do the same for me, when I need this help so much?” She bowed low. “I have faith that you can do this, Lord Fëanor, and that it will be helpful. Have faith in me, and what I can do! If you help me, I'm sure I can help you!”
Unseen by Twilight, Fëanor's eyebrows rose. A glint came swiftly into his gold eyes, though it just as quickly left. “Hmm...” he rumbled.
“Please,” said Twilight softly. Her eyes were large and eager.
Fëanor turned back to face her, standing tall and proud above her head. Then again he turned away, but this time he glanced upward to the sky. “You want to learn magic?” he cried. “Follow me!”
Twilight did not take his meaning until he put a hoof into the air. Her jaw dropped hard as Fëanor stepped up into the sky, seeming to dissolve into the starry night above. She jumped back as he vanished, wings ruffling as she looked everywhere for him. She wondered-
“Come!” the voice rang out, filling all the air. She glanced up and she gaped again. Fëanor was in the stars, quite literally in the stars. The stars above had rearranged themselves, changing alignment until they formed Fëanor's portrait, which even now shifted and moved to look down at her. Twilight could scarcely believe what she was seeing. The spellwork- the mental skill- impossible! It was impossible!
“I can't!” she cried up at the star-made Fëanor.
“Yes you can!” boomed Fëanor, his shouting causing all the ground to shake. “That is your first lesson in magic: anything is possible. All it requires is will. You can follow me if you will it, Twilight Sparkle!”
“Do it now!” he cried.
Twilight took a deep and shuddering breath. Will, she told herself. Will it. She wished with all her heart to follow Fëanor. She lifted up one hoof above her head, then slowly set it down. She willed with all her might-
And her hoof settled onto empty air. She gasped, and then her hoof fell back to the ground.
“Will,” she whispered. She willed again and stepped up, then kept willing, pulling all her body off the ground. Each step brought her that much higher off the ground, until she took one step- and all the stars became white streaks. Twilight felt herself move forward faster than she ever had conceived, until all of the Everfree, all of Equestria, and all of all the world was far behind.
When at last she stopped, she gasped. She hung amid a symphony of space. Stars were blazing every single spot she looked. Galaxies and nebulae were spinning, swirling, spiraling about her in the darkness, glinting in a rainbow of so many different hues. She spun in all directions, every single spot she looked a source of utter wonder.
“Twilight Sparkle,” came the voice below her. Looking down, she saw Fëanor floating underneath; he was enormous, easily a dragon's size. “What is magic?”
She stared into the giant Fëanor's eyes, thinking back to what she'd learned in school. “Magic is the presence of an energy field of indeterminate size and strength that interlaces with-”
“No!” Fëanor barked, and all the universe was shaking. “I do not care for technical definitions. They are useless. What is magic, Twilight Sparkle? What is it, at its most basic level?”
“I... I...” she stammered, struggling for something strong to say. “Will?”
“Good!” boomed Fëanor. “That is your second lesson. Magic is will made act. And all things use it!”
They suddenly were zooming through the cosmos, whole swaths of space passing by with a flicker. They stopped amid an example of one of Twilight's favorite astronomical phenomena: a binary star system. Planets orbited around the twin stars silently, a belt of asteroids and debris floated also there. One star was huge and cooled down red, the other was much smaller and burned fiercely, brightly blue. As Twilight hovered nearby, the giant Fëanor rose up beneath the stars and caught them in the long tines of his antlers. He moved his head from side to side, rolling blue and red star back and forth like they were rubber balls.
“Magic is in every nook and cranny of creation. It is in every single thing that has and is and will be done. Even when it is not dramatic, it exists! When one of your earth pony friends spends all day building a house, that is magic! When a dragon belches streams of fire, that is magic! When the Herd Lord drains a creature dry, even that, as vile as it is, is magic! Magic need not require spells or flashing lights or brilliant colors! All that matters is that something wills a thing to be, then makes it so! That is magic! It is everywhere, does everything! It makes the tides go in and out! It causes plants to make sugar from sunlight! It keeps the stars hanging in the sky!”
“Um, actually, that's grav-”
“What is gravity but a force? What is a force but the magic of the universe itself?” cried Fëanor, and then they moved again, zooming at such speeds that all the space about them turned a blinding white.
When the light subsided, Twilight whirled around. They were no longer deep in space, indeed, they now were back on Earth, though it was not the Earth she knew. Strange plants sprung up in weird and alien forests. Unfamiliar sounds blared through the sky. A rumbling roar erupted past her shoulder, so she turned- her eyes went wide. An enormous lizard was advancing on them, towering above them, walking on two huge and powerful legs. Its long tail whipped behind it, its small but mighty arms were tucked into its chest. Its head was vast, its snout elongated, and when its mighty mouth was opened Twilight panicked to see rows and rows of massive, sharp white teeth.
“Magic has existed since the dawning of the universe,” said Fëanor, oblivious, it seemed, to danger. “And living things have used it since they first were sketched together by the Wills That Draw The World. It is in everything, and everywhere has felt its touch.”
Another roar came blaring from Twilight's right side. She turned and saw another massive lizard, this one on four legs with a stature and a bearing like an elephant. Its own long tail whipped out behind it, and its head, nearly as big as its torso, was adorned with one great crest to guard the neck, and three horns: one above each eye, and one upon its nose, above its beaklike snout. The two-legged lizard, clearly a meat-eater, roared and then advanced upon the three-horned lizard. But the three-horn stepped forward boldly and- and its two large horns shimmered.
A fallen tree from at the forest's edge was bathed in light, and it was levitated off the ground. The three-horn swung its head in guidance, and the tree came hurtling at the meat-eater, blasting its side, knocking it nearly off its feet. The meat-eater was not so defenseless against this magic, however. Its eyes twinkled, its teeth began to shimmer. Twilight realized just how huge those teeth must be, each one probably twice the length of her own horn, easily large enough and long enough to conduct magic. A spark flashed in the meat-eater's mouth, and suddenly its teeth were burning, its whole mouth immersed in bright orange flames. It exhaled and a wave of fire blasted forth, striking the three-horn and scorching its leathery skin. It staggered backward, but its horns shimmered again, and the earth shook so much that now the meat-eater was knocked off of its feet, toppling to the ground with one huge thud.
“Magic is will made act,” Fëanor repeated, turning now away from the battle of titans. “And if one merely wills it, one can effect great and terrible things.” The world rushed by again, all of space growing dark around Twilight. “However, one can also effect small things... and beautiful ones.”
Now they were in a dark space, though not pitch black. There was a note of faintly smoky gray to their surroundings, as though the world outside were white and that color was filtered dimly through the darkness. They were small, or the thing that now floated beside them was quite large. Twilight found she could move if she kicked her hooves, so she struggled upwards, forwards, closer to the thing that now seemed to have softness and the contours of a creature. There was a large thing with closed tissue- eyes!, she realized. And that massive rounded thing, it was a head. She saw four very stubby legs ending in hooves, but they were softened hooves, hardly sturdy enough to handle rough terrain. The only ponies that had hooves as soft and smooth as those she saw, now far below her, were-
“Newborns,” she whispered, and at last she understood. But the foal that floated here within this womb seemed still and quiet, nothing like the boisterous kicking that so often was the gripe of pregnant mothers. It seemed, indeed, quite dead.
“A mother's love is powerful magic,” said Fëanor as he appeared beside her. “Indeed, love is some of the strongest magic ever, because love keeps on willing after all rational sense has suggested retreat or capitulation. Love endures. Love never fails. And so powerful is love's magic that it can even create... life.”
A shimmer of white light began to travel through the shadowed womb, from somewhere close but also far. It snaked forwards in a single burst, and Twilight realized at length that it was traveling along a line of tissue, like a tube. The light at last reached the unborn pony, where it spread and covered its entire body. Twilight felt a pang of joy within her heart, and realized she was watching something deeply private. She also felt great shame, but not enough to turn away.
The pony stirred. Where once it had seemed lifeless, now it had the sense of something that existed, and sure enough, it started to shift and kick, rolling to and fro within the amniotic fluid. It even opened up its mouth, though of course inside the liquid of the womb there was no sound. Twilight kicked her legs to drive her closer. She had to be close, she was overwhelmed with joy to see the life come into the foal. This is what magic could do? This was what magic did? “I... I don't believe it...” she whispered.
“Yes you do, if you are honest with yourself,” said Fëanor. “All creatures know, within their hearts, that wondrous things do happen. The mind says otherwise, but the heart cannot be fooled. Now come!”
Twilight lingered just before the massive unborn foal. Its eyes slowly came open. She reared away in shock. They were violet, deep, rich purple. Then Twilight cast a glance over the foal's compacted body and saw signs of lavender fur, and the mane and tail were dark. “This... this is....”
“Come!” Fëanor cried, and Twilight was pulled back from the fetus, shooting away into a line of stars. At length, they reappeared amid the swirling, spinning galaxies, where they floated. Twilight sniffled, fighting back the tears that wished to leak out of her eyes.
“I... it's amazing,” she said softly. “I've never... I've never felt magic like this.”
“But you have now,” said Fëanor. “So, as your teacher, I have instructions for you, Twilight Sparkle.”
She looked expectantly at him.
“I command you: will!”
Twilight nodded. She planted hooves upon the black and empty space, as firmly as if she had been on solid ground. She remembered the power of the stars, the fury of the lizards, the tenderness of the unborn foal. She used her mind to note what had connected all of them, and Fëanor was right: it was will. Someone or something had wished a thing to be so, and it was. That was the key of magic. Even earth ponies, who did everything through toil and struggle, wielded magic, for they enacted that which they had willed. So Twilight stood more firm than ever. Her wings extended, wide and sturdy all around her. She raised her head up high. Her horn shimmered. And she willed.
The galaxies went swirling. They rotated in loops and columns all around her, and they did so because she willed them to do it. She felt the hum and pulse of all the universe, and she could move it, pluck it like the strings of some great harp. She rose off of the 'ground,' floating in the abyss with all creation vibrating at her command. Color began to enter the black space, a red that stood for fury, green for growing life, the yellow of the warmest sun, a blue like cool deep water, orange like flames that blazed within her heart, violet like the vastest evening sky- the violet of her eyes. The rainbow of all shades became a vortex, spinning deep and tall beyond infinity, and Twilight made it so. The whole universe was at her beck and call! Her eyes shone white, she raised a hoof and it burned with white flames. There were no spells. There were no tricks. There was no conjuring. There was only will- and it was enough.
“Very good, Twilight Sparkle.”
She felt the ground beneath her once again. Twilight blinked her eyes, and she was standing in the clearing of the forest, just where she had left it. How much time had passed? The moon had moved, but not by much. She glanced up at Fëanor, who stood once more beside her. “That was...” she breathed in and out. “That was amazing, Lord Fëanor.”
“Just 'Fëanor' will do,” he said. “Congratulations, Twilight Sparkle. You have learned your first lesson well.”
He nodded his head off into some distance. “Turn your head and see for yourself.”
Twilight glanced back over her shoulders. Her eyes went wide. Her cutie marks were shining, gleaming like the starbursts that they imitated. They were so bright their brilliance lit the grass around her, as if she had twin lanterns on her flanks. And when Twilight relaxed, she could feel it, she could feel the Element of Magic in her veins, racing through them with a clear, clean power that set her nerves afire. She could taste the magic, smell it on her person. She called it now, and willed-
A flower sprouted up in front of her, rising high then blossoming into a bloom that glowed a blinding white. She sniffed it and it was the most entrancing smell she'd ever known. She cantered all around the forest clearing, bright white flowers sprouting up around her as she moved. The fabric of the universe was itching round her fur. She knew she could but pluck it and nothing would be the same.
“Very good indeed,” said Fëanor.
“Thank you, Fëanor, thank you!” Twilight exclaimed. “I realize I'm probably not as good a student as Princess Celestia-”
“Not as good? Ha!” barked Fëanor. “You're better. Celestia was a terrible student.”
“Really?” Twilight said. “So she wasn't good at magic?”
“No, she was brilliant at it,” said Fëanor, “but everything came so easily to her. So she neglected her hard work, and did not strive, did not struggle to master the nuances of magic. Not as you have, even here in your first lesson. You have a work ethic that she lacked.”
“Th-Thank you, my l- Fëanor! Thank you so much!” Twilight bowed low. Her cutie marks were dimming now, though still there was some shine to them.
“In fact,” said Fëanor, “since you have taken so well to my teaching, perhaps we could continue it?”
Twilight's eyes nearly popped from her head. “Really? You want me to be your student?”
“Nothing so formal,” said Fëanor, “but every few nights, if possible, perhaps we could meet here? I have much more I can teach you, and I can greatly enhance your Gift of Magic.”
“Yes!” Twilight exclaimed. “Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes-” she was hopping gleefully around a circle- “yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes!” Her heart was racing with delight.
“Very well,” said Fëanor. “I am not certain when you'll be free, but when you are, come here. I shall be watching.”
“Oh, thank you, Fëanor! Thank you so much!”
“Now, perhaps you need to get back to Ponyville,” he said.
“Oh, yes, of course!” Twilight cried out. “I don't want Spike and Owlysious to get worried. So I'll see you soon?”
“Absolutely,” Fëanor said.
“All right!” Twilight cried. She turned and galloped back towards the trees. “Thank you again!” she shouted one more time, and then she dove into the forest and was gone.
“Hmm,” murmured Fëanor. “A good start.”
Chuckles suddenly came drifting from the shadows. Fëanor at first was tense, but then relaxed. He knew that laughter. And sure enough came Nona, Decima, and Morta, gliding out from underneath the trees and moving towards him. Their eyes were glowing in the darkness, an eerie sight, though Fëanor was not intimidated. The three red deer began to circle him, around and round and round, and still they chuckled.
“What's so funny?” he asked.
“You, of course,” said Nona.
“After all this time,” said Decima.
“After all your ferocity in battle,” said Morta.
“After all your cunning and fearlessness,” said Nona.
“After all your skill and grace as a leader of deer,” said Decima.
“You are still, at heart, a teacher,” said Morta.
Now it was Fëanor who chuckled. “You see much that is hidden, even in my own heart.”
“It is our business to See.”
“Even so, as pleasant as I found the opportunity, I did not instruct Princess Twilight Sparkle merely from the goodness of my heart.”
“You have a plan?” asked Nona.
“There is a scheme?” asked Decima.
“You have a plot?” asked Morta.
“A contingency,” said Fëanor, “one I am all but certain we shall have to use.”
“You speak of the Herd Lord,” Decima said.
“You do not trust Celestia?” asked Nona.
“I think she is naive,” said Fëanor. “The Elements of Harmony may be strong enough to beat the Herd Lord, but only when they are themselves of sufficient strength within their Bearers. I know this, and in her heart I think Celestia does too.”
“And so does the Herd Lord,” said Nona.
“Of course!” barked Fëanor. “He surely will take steps to counteract the growing strength of the Elements, and he is a better strategist than Celestia. Luna will doubtless be some help, but neither of them has faced a threat like this. It will not surprise me to see the Princesses and all six Bearers outmaneuvered.”
“Our Sight has Seen as such,” said Nona.
“There is a sickness growing in the Elements,” said Decima.
“At least one seems poised to fall into shadow,” said Morta.
“And without all six Bearers, there can be no Divine Rainbow,” said Fëanor. “I am almost certain that the Elements will fail, not because they lack the power, but because I feel they will not get the opportunity to exercise it. And when that happens, we must be prepared to do what must be done.”
“So then what was tonight about?”
Fëanor's lip curled up. “You know that Nordeshang refuses to fight.”
“He has said as much,” said Morta.
“His pacifism is quite strong,” said Decima.
“He feels he's spilled enough blood in his lifetime,” said Nona. “He is tired of it, and he swears to kill no more.”
“Not even the Herd Lord,” said Fëanor, “despite all my efforts to cajole him. So I confess I worried that, for all our power, we would not be sufficient. Now, though, I see a way to bolster our ranks, to make up for the loss of Nordeshang.”
The three red deer glanced at each other, eyebrows raised.
“You speak of the young princess,” said Nona.
“The Bearer of Magic,” said Morta.
“The baby goddess,” said Decima.
“She is young, yes, and new to all her power,” said Fëanor, “but tonight I saw the capacity for her to grow into something immensely strong- and to grow into it quickly. With my further guidance, it will not be long before Twilight Sparkle approaches a high deer's strength.”
“And you think she will consent to fight with us?” asked Decima.
“She will not easily forsake her friends,” said Nona.
“Nor will she readily disobey her beloved princess,” said Morta.
“The imminent failure of Celestia's plan should do much of the convincing,” said Fëanor. His golden eyes were smoldering. “Meanwhile, do not discount my powers of persuasion, dear sisters. I have only just begun to work my will on Twilight Sparkle.”