Conflagration: Contagion

by GearMane


What Dreams Shouldn't Become

The beginning of the day, same as always. The sun blared it's harsh rays inside the window down onto the bed. It was time to get up. The mare rolled from the bed and onto the floor, remembering to make the bed and she trotted slowly to the window in her room. There were no bars, no guards outside, no tether to keep her in this place, but still she was here.

Ponyville was beginning to look better though the window. Slowly rebuilding itself to it's former glory. Even if it was a little empty. The wooden houses were getting an update, and everypony's new choice was stone and metal, nothing that would burn as easily as it did before.

Twilight's monster, her dirty little secret. It was the looks she got when passing the other ponies in town. The quiet muttered breath, cold stares and shuttered doors, it all began to become too much to bear. Nopony would talk with her, colts and fillies hiding behind their parent's hooves. Even though the situation had been fully explained, she was still wearing the skin of a monster.

Three months. It only took twenty one days to form a habit, to make a change for the better or fall into a deep rut where the sun wasn't able to shine. After that period of time, things would flow naturally. No matter how uncomfortable that habit was. Everything became a habit.

The weight of everything she bore felt heavier today. She didn't want to go outside anymore, it was too painful to wander around, not welcome anywhere. No place in town would have her, and the Golden Oaks library where she now lived had become that of a guided cage. A reminder that even though the mater had been resolved, the decision to come here was a selfish mistake.

Those couple of days lingered still. Her arrival in Equestria and the events that followed. Imprisonment and the treatment inside, though it was made lighter from a special visit from a stallion, though in hindsight, it was probably not the best idea. The 'execution' though, the rope tight around her neck. She shuddered at the thought.

After Ember had been dealt with, the new mare was faced with two choices: Stay in Canterlot under the guidance of the Princesses, or stay with Twilight in Ponyville. Neither seemed like the better choice, but chose Ponyville as it felt more like a familiar place.

Even in the clear, there were restrictions. She wasn't allowed to leave Ponyville proper without Twilight as an escort. She was also given a specially crafted horn ring, similar to the suppressive studding from prison, however this one was more decorative, lighter and limited magic, not suppressed it. It's limit was that of simple manipulation, allowing her to practice levitation without risk of turning everything nearby into ashy carbon. It was a better instructor than the private lessons with Twilight, as she was able to practice and use it anytime.

She now peered out the window from her third story bedroom. It had been emptied and cleaned when she arrived in Ponyville. Now it's wooden walls were barren, the bed sat in the center wall and an empty nightstand with a single half burnt candle and stacks of books were the only indications that anypony lived in here.

The bed was stacked with blankets. Though it was the early fall, the nights were not cold enough to merit such a stockpile. As time went on from her arrival, her body became colder and colder, warming just slightly when by a fire. There was no answer as to why this was, Twilight didn't even know, but her hooves were almost always cold.

From the height vantage she was able to see most of the town. Stores and homes already rebuilt near the tree and the blackened earth of the bare ground where construction was not yet started, where homes had once stood.

From between two buildings, roughly a hundred feet away was a figure bathed in shadow. From the direction of the body, and the way the head was angled, it was looking directly at her, in the window. The sun bathed the area in light, defining the figure a bit more. It had no mane to speak of, it looked as if it was shaved to be level with the rest of the form. It's tail was a large mass, the sun didn't pierce it. The entire body of the pony was grey, no indicating marks anywhere, entirely grey.

The mysterious pony, who's gender couldn't be identified at this distance, turned tail and started off between the two structures. Sunlight glinted off it's body in an odd fashion. It was wearing armor of some kind, still, the distance was hindering. She thought nothing of the shape as it disappeared around the corner. Every pony in town knew where she lived, and accusing glares from were often cast into her window. Now a guard was glaring at her.

"Anya?"

It was Twilight, she always was up before her, making breakfast and tea for the morning. Coffee apparently didn't exist here. Eggs as a meal item themselves were out of the question and the cinnamon cereal squares were definitely out of the question. Breakfast in Equestria was always sub-par in comparison.

"Anya?" She asked again, moving closer to the mare staring out the window.

It wasn't the best pony name. but then again she was never that creative to begin with. However, it was simple and stood out in a world full of face-palm obvious names that could be figured out with little thought. It was far flung from her created character though, a headstrong pony, capable of everything thrown at them. She was quite the opposite.

"Yes?" Anya replied, quite timidly, turning her body as the tone her name was said sounded as if she was in trouble. She didn't want to admit it, but Twilight scared her, something seemed off. The lengths she was willing to go, in blind rage months ago. Things were different, but she was still capable. At times her temper would flare, and Anya would watch as Twilight had to stop herself from swinging at her with a hoof.

"Later on today, we are going out for your weekly training. For now, breakfast is ready." Twilight informed her.

"Ok." she said simply.

Every Sunday,(or what passed as Sunday here) Twilight took them both to a vacant desert, somewhere in Equestria where nopony would get hurt. There she had the ring removed and began to slowly learn how to control the power she now possessed. Every failed spell became more glassed sand in the wastes, creating a rather large area that looked like a war zone. It went to prove that the problem wasn't a mental one, rather that something was wired backwards in her brain, as other unicorns' failed attempts at spells just fizzled out. Her's exploded in a fireball. It would have been useful elsewhere, being able to turn rocks into magma, sand into glass and metal into a boiling pool of slag.

Truth be told, she hated the training. It was always nerve racking, Twilight becoming visually frustrated every time one of the higher level spells failed. As much apprehension as Anya had, Twilight seemed to carry more, and her vocal reaction to each track of blackened and glassed sand made it obvious.

Despite the amount of study, and control of simple spells, every time she felt the higher tier spells slipping away when she called upon them, casting the gathered energy out in the form of flames and searing temperature. However decimating the burned land was when she was done, there was a small upside. Flames, summoned or not never seemed to be able to touch her, squelching fires and dimming candles when she was near.

Anya followed Twilight down the wooden stairs and to the additional kitchen that was built at Twilight's request. It was a stone walled structure with a soapstone floor and a large cast iron stove flanked with a pile of split timber. Lower level branches that had grown out became cabinets, the branch cut into and a door shaped to put the utensils in. The roof was thatched with reeds and every summer they were replaced, leaving the kitchen area open during the hottest months. Eating at a table with the sky clear above must have been an experience.

Today they were having croissants, tea and a small bowl of butter. It was a dainty serving, however in a land where eighty percent of the countryside was edible, there was no starving. However, eating flowers from somepony's window box was frowned upon.

During breakfast, a question popped up into Anya's mind. She didn't know how old her body was. The question had slipped her mind, and now that it was three months in, the reminder of time passing had brought it to the forefront.

"Twilight," she paused, letting the unicorn finish her sip of tea.

"Yes?"

"How old was she, Ember?"

"She was twenty two, if I remember correctly haw you calculate your years. Pony-wise, she was eleven."

"And how old are you?"

"That's not really a question you should ask other ponies, as it's very impolite. But you didn't know. I am going to be fourteen this year." she nodded.

"And how long is the general life span of a pony?"

"Living to the end of natural life, we generally live to be eighty. That's in pony years."

Anya quickly doubled that, to make a hundred sixty human years. Though Equestria had nearly an additional month to it's calendar year, that was still a very long time. It took two cycles of a year for them to age an actual year, with what Twilight called a 'Midway' party on the non-marked birth years. Still, she had the better part of a century and a half in front of her. And why they calculated every other year for age was a mystery, Twilight didn't even know it's origins.

"When is a pony considered an adult?" She continued the line of inquiry.

"It all depends on the pony. We don't put emphasis of specific age ranges here. Some are more capable when they are eight than many ponies who are thirteen. I believe I remember you saying that there are three transitional ages. At twelve you are taught about procreation and genders, at eighteen you are considered an adult and are legally capable of several things, and the final stage at twenty one when you would have access to everything legally." Twilight smiled, showing her ability to retain information quite well.

"That is a general overview of my world yes."

"Odd that your society has age marks like that. There is very little standing in anypony's way once they prove they are capable."

"So a colt or a filly can walk into a bar and order a drink?"

"I don't see why not. In a general fashion, they know what alcohol is and what it does to a body. I don't see why they would though, I'm sure their parents have several bottles around the house for cooking and consumption. In addition that it doesn't have the stigma here as your question would indicate."

Anya sighed heavily. Learning things that should take several years, in the span of three months, was incredibly taxing.

"Don't worry. There are only two written laws of any precedence: Do not steal and do not murder. Those are the base laws, but as a unicorn, there are a few more. The Dispensation of Spells and Interference of Spells. The Dispensation is that each unicorn wanting to learn a higher level spell must receive authorization to use such. The Interference is meant to keep unicorns from changing property or other ponies with magic. First offense is a two month period in studding, and continued offense will result in horn removal."

Anya had just grasped the ability to move objects without flattening them, and began to use levitation to help her from the lack of hands she now had. Having that removed would be unthinkable. From the disgusted look on Anya's muzzle, Twilight spoke again,

"The horn grows back, it just takes the better part of a decade. However it is a very stifling, but quite called for in certain circumstances."

Breakfast was over, and even though Twilight's enlightenment was just that, as much as she tended to drone on after each bit of information, Anya just didn't feel like listening today. Normally she would have sat for hours, taking in everything she could.

Her stomach still growled, even after three cups of tea and two heavily buttered croissants. The park on the edge of town was always a great place to visit. The grass near the edge of the field was left mostly un-cut, and the longer it seemed to stand in the sun, the sweeter it became.

"Twilight, can I go to the park?" Anya asked, she always had to let her know where she was headed, just another thing she had gotten used to.

"That's fine with me, just remember that after lunch we are headed to the desert for a few hours." Twilight reminder her again.

Anya washed out her cup and set it back on the table. Most of the dished were never used, just a few cups for tea, the kettle and a single large serving plate. Other than the special call from Celestia, Twilight was a bit of a homebody, spending her time reading and helping other ponies select books.

She trotted to the door and jumped in shock as something crawled between her legs. It was a lengthy lizard creature almost four feet long, small stubby wings on his body and a long snout full of razor sharp teeth with twin small horns jutting from the rear of his head. It's color pallet was friendly, but the rippling muscles that could strangle anypony to death in seconds once wrapped around them. Smoke billowed out it's nose and she shouted.

"Jesus Christ! Spike, you scared the shit out of me!"

Twilight ran into the main floor of the library to see what the cause for alarm was. Spike moved like a snake and darted up her leg and coiled himself around her torso and neck. She shot a look at her, one that stated 'Nopony yells at my dragon'.

"Sorry..." he squeaked, rather timid for a dragon.

"It's just... Christ. You just scared me, that's all." The dark blue mare pushed a hoof to her chest, feeling her heart pounding out of her rib cage. It was one thing to imagine creatures like that, but the less-than-friendly appearance of Spike in reality was enough to make the mare piss herself, and she nearly did.

The birds were ok, landing near or on her when she was outside, but a smaller version of something out of that dragon slaying game darting about made her feel tense. No matter how gaily colored he was. The fully grown ones must have been soul shattering. She shivered.

Twilight continued her gaze, being the protective mother that she was had become. After all, she was the first one he saw and had been taking care of him since then. For what end that would serve, nopony knew, but it was something and it wasn't going to change.

Lowering her head and ears, she stated, "I'll just be going then."

She went to the door and slipped on her satchel, a single shoulder mounted bag. It was much easier to put on than saddlebags, though had a vastly smaller storage space. Inside it was a thick folder with a document from Princess Celestia, explaining who she was for anypony that hadn't yet been told, and a thick book entitled "Spells for Advanced Unicorns: Vol 2".

Last night she had found a pair of scissors and attacker her mane and tail. She didn't like the long hair that Ember had sported, it was always getting in her way. Instead she snipped the length of her tail in half and clipped her mane back to no taller than her horn. It would have been called dyke-ish, but that word didn't exist here, and she wasn't going to start using it. She already looked dramatically different, and once outside it's effects showed immediately.

Trotting down one of the main veins of the city, no pony turned tail to run. They didn't hide their children or cast accusing stares. Everypony else carried on as normal. If she had any Bits, she was confidant enough to walk into any of the shops without fear of being run out. It would seem that the ponies were superficial, or just used to how each one looked considering they almost didn't change that at all.

The park was almost full. On a nice day such as this, everypony was out with their family and enjoying the outdoors while it lasted. It was late in the year and the weather was going to change soon. Anya walked across the neatly kept grass to the line of trees, the limit of where she could go. Settling under the tall grass of a tree at the edge of the park and loosing the satchel. She began to eat away the grass in front of her, eventually making a hollow area to settle in.

Settling in the sun, she began to feel warmer. The day was fair and nopony else seemed to need any clothing to keep them warm, but Anya still felt cold even in direct sunlight. It was still better than being away from it, but not enough to stave off the cold that seemed to creep inside constantly.

It was laughably odd. She was now living in a tree and eating grass because of hunger. Back home this was psychotic behavior. Anya sighed, remembering again what she had lost in the transition. It was eating at her to keep these comparisons going. It was torture to hold the faintest hope that she was going to be able to get back. If Celestia was true to her word, her parents would at least know what happened, even if they never understood it. She turned her attention to the spell book.

Spells were drawn out in parts, or a Scrawl as they were known here. Some of them were a mere symbol surrounded by a circle. Others were master works of art in themselves, comprised of several symbols, surrounded by masterful line work that feathered out.

They were broken up into four pieces as a direction on a clock. The top was elemental attributes, what each spell had as it's requirement, it any. The right side was physical attributes, left side was mental attributes, and the lower portion was magical. Each had their own need to fulfill the spell successfully. A large portion of the time was spent decoding these images, as to what they meant.

There was one that caught her attention. It was a spell that altered the coat and mane permanently. While she recognized several of the symbols, clarity, that was in most of the spells. There was also vision, seeing what you want and right below that was a symbol she had never seen before. It also contained body and shift. That unknown symbol had to have been color, or shade. The final one was ability, the required knowledge and proper power to cast the spell, and it indicated a meager level of skill.

With an abrupt look skyward, she knew it was high noon or just about there. Anya marked the book with the envelope on that spell and stuffed it quickly inside her bag. With a second thought, more of her stomach speaking, she grabbed a magic wisp full of the grass and broke it from the stalks, shoving it in her bag she thundered off back to the Golden Oaks Library.

Luck was on her side, and Twilight had just pulled the kettel from the stove for tea and sat it on the table after pouring a cup for herself. The table was set with a plate of muffins, their contents unknown, but they appeared to be blueberry. A small box of tea bags besides that.

She had already shed the satchel, but withdrew the book and set it on the table. Twilight saw the book mark, but remained silent, letting the mare pour her tea and carve into a muffin greedily before she asked.

"What did you find?" Twilight motioned to the envelope between the pages of the book.

Instead of vocalizing, she merely opened the book and floated it to the table in front of her. There was a pause as she glanced over the symbols.

"I don't know what that symbol is..." she said, pointing towards the shaded roundish block in the mental grouping of the spell.

"That means spectrum. It refers to light and color, visible waves of light as seen by the eye. It's quite simple for colors, but much harder to grasp as it relates to invisibility. That is something you can try later on today."

"You won't help me with it?" Anya asked, surprised.

"I will provide information on anything in relation to spells, however you need to learn to cast them yourself. Ember was a more capable mage than you are. She would have no problem with a spell of that low magnitude."

"I'm doing the best I can. For three months I've been stretching myself to understand everything I can." Anya tried her best to avert Twilight's anger, as she was seconds away from having 'an episode'.

Anya didn't know the Princesses that well, but from her observations the unicorns that possessed quite a higher level of power tended to be a bit mentally unstable. What pony would burn an entire town to the ground to prove a point, get what she wanted? From all accounts, and her limited understanding, Ember was a psychopath. Twilight's violent mood swings could be just stress, but as frequently as they happened, it was beginning to look like a problem.

Problem with that potential mus-diagnosis was that she herself was now one of them. But she didn't feel off, she felt exactly the same mentally as the day she came here. Did someone know they were crazy? Is it possible to tell? Hopefully it was a product of nurture, not nature. Just thinking about potentially being insane was going to drive her to exactly that.

"I'll try better." she added.

"You had better." she replied venomously.

Give her some space. That was the best idea. Anya retreated to her room with the satchel and book, intent on reading over the spell and it's hoof notes while bundling up the grass she picked into small cake like bundles.

She stripped the outer leaves of long grass and broke the stems into four inch long lengths. The heads that had gone to seed were packed in the center, stems around and bound together with the flexible leaves.

Spectrum. She contemplated the word. It meant a range as it pertains to sight. The light spectrum, light and dark in regards to lumen. The sun and the moon, night and day. It meant colors, and their diffusional in the oxygen atmosphere. All the colors of the rainbow, from white to red to black. This is what she knew about it.

Unfortunately she was unable to explore the colors through magic, the studding ring kept her from reaching out to feel them. It was part of the spell casting, to understand completely the Scrawl and it's parts. Mentally she understood the rest of the portions, but needed to understand color as regards to how magic understood it. And in the end, the real bottle neck was casting it.

The mare hung her head, realizing that it was a physical impedance stopping her. The body that was now hers, was flawed. However, she had learned to control it, to wrangle it's power under control. It needed to be, more for everypony else than her sake. She knew something was wrong, but didn't have the where with all to say what it was.

Twilight wasn't long in coming to her room.

"Time for more training." she stated, plodding into the bedroom with saddlebags stuffed to the gills with the usual supplies. Plenty of potions, aloes and ingredients should they need more.

The two stood side by side, and Twilight shroud them in a glow, speeding them the distance of several thousand miles in the blink of an eye.


Each unicorn was different in their ability, both in performance and endurance. Most cast magic was inside, in something like a reservoir, varying on it's natural capacity from pony to pony. While it could be used as a muscle and increase in size, a unicorn with a smaller reserve wasn't capable of more powerful spells, even after years of practice. Aside from internal power, they had the ability to channel magic that was nearby and in the air, however this was limited by the area one was in.

Spells were divided into four tiers. Basic, the spells that were either naturally learned or smaller power ones that pose no threat to anypony. For the most part these spells are manipulation based, allowing a unicorn to move and use objects that are out of reach.

The intermediate spells are transformative. Allowing the users to change the matter around them, expend energy to change objects. Illusion spells, alteration and creation spells fall under this realm. These spells are not blacklisted, but rather skill oriented. Teleportation is a skill that falls under this set. Once the unicorns can provide a sufficient example that they are ready for these spells, they can have access to them.

The expert level spells are restricted. These are far more powerful ones that rely on manipulation of emotions and body, and will. Love, sleep, making one vulnerable to suggestion. Most of these change free will or subjugate ponies into the caster's will. These are not readily available for general use and can be punishable if they are cast without authorization.

The Black spells are forbidden to but a few members of Equestria. The princesses, Twilight, Ember and select few other mages are the only ones that . These spells are extremely dangerous. Destruction, death, resurrection, protection and time manipulation are just a few of these spells. They are kept locked away in Canterlot, as if they would fall into the wrong hooves, it would be extremely dangerous.

There was still so much to learn and so far to go. It felt insurmountable, as she was alone most of the time. Left to herself in the library and to mill about town aimlessly. Twilight seemed distant, distracted and at times, a bit rough with her. Events as she knew them were a fifty-fifty chance that it never happened, and more than half that time, how they transpired was wrong as well. So keeping her muzzle shut about what she thought she knew was the best idea. It would seem that the television show was able to see mere snapshots of this world, gleaming information to build a world that imagination was used to fill in the holes. With everything learned so far, she realized that she knew next to nothing.

If there was one spell that Anya wanted to learn more than any other, it was teleportation. The ability to blink around space would prove more than useful, it would allow her to explore Equestria with ease, when and if she was ever left to roam free.

Teleporting was like walking through an open door way. If you had a clear sight of the area you wanted to travel into, it was merely a step away. The components for mastering the spell were complexly simple. Body, mind and speed were the main components, bend was also acceptable, though added in complications.

They arrived at the same stretch of land as the previous months. Scorched, ruined and utterly unusable. The hills reflected sunlight from the glassed surfaces, stretching out in every direction and in what seemed even past the horizon. The only landmark was a single lone cactus, untouched on it's own patch of sand.

Twilight loosed her saddlebags and deposited them at the base of the cactus. The mare then raised her horn to the sky and blanketed herself in a soft glow, a warding. Once she was protected, the studding ring came off Anya's horn.

Now free to feel the ebb and flow of the magic around her, Anya's internal reserve began to replenish, drained from the month of manipulation of objects. It wasn't long before she was full, topped off and the cool infiltration down her horn subsided.

"Today we are going to try something different." Twilight announced, "Today you are going to focus, and try to return the desert to it's un-blemished state. Rather than try for some of the advanced magic, I've decided to keep it simple for today."

"Terra-forming?" Anya asked, alarmed that she had never that before.

"Regression, alteration, shift." Twilight recited, reminding the mare of the parts needed. "You have all you need out before you. The sand left untouched, and the glass. A proper comparison between the two is here."

"O...kay." Anya said with hesitation.

Carefully reaching out, she picked up a ball of sand in magic and rolled it around. When she was allowed to feel the materials of the world in this way, it was adding, very slowly albeit, to a codex of sorts in her mind. Understanding everything down to it's base was the key to complex unicorn magic. The more one understood about everything, the more they were able to do when highly complex spells were created.

Sand was dust. Dust from thousands of year ago that settled on a surface. It collected in layers, millions of layers of dust that became covered with more dust, plant fibers, fallen tress and the bodies of those that passed on. Over a millennia the weight on top of the first layers crushed it together, creating giant slabs of rock. Eventually the slabs broke up and the rocks became smaller and smaller, until sand was made. Even to this day, the sand was still breaking down. becoming dust. The circle was unbroken.

The sand was turned into glass from heat, a heat that bound the atoms together. Anya knew what happened when one should split an atom, and didn't want to try. That was a new kind of fire, one this world should never know.

She focused and broke off a small piece of the glassed sand. Regression. It was heat that made this, and to regress back would require the heat to be removed. It was still noticeable, the mark she had left on it these past months. It was still in there, a small amount of heat, stored. It was easy to access, perhaps because of the nature of how it was made.

The heat energy was drawn out with ease, streaming out with a small beam of light that wisped out of the glass and into the air. The glass lost it's shine, becoming dull. She dropped it to the ground and the shard's shape fell apart, becoming black sand.

Twilight's eyes lit up with anticipation. The color was wrong, but none the less, she was able to remove the damage. "Now, fix everything."

That command seemed to have a clandestine undertone. Anya gulped. Take it slow and easy, bit by bit it would be done. With renewed vigor that slowly things were being wrestled to her control, she lit up her horn and began to touch the glassed sand.

Like seeping water, the pink haze cast from her horn crept all along the blackened earth, removing the energy from the sand and crumbling it into small black hills. With most of the glass in eye-shot now back into sand, she realized that it was almost done, however looking up to see the massive glowing orb of fire over the center of the desert.

Her heart sank, having not anticipated this. Normally it would have been absorbed back into the atmosphere into usable magic, but the amount that was being drawn out didn't have time. It was going to flare back out and ruin everything.

"Damnit, damnit, damnit..." she muttered.

Twilight sensed that she was going to panic, loose control. "Steady." she voiced with a calm tone.

"What do I do with it?" Anya squealed, looking around for somewhere to send the massive ball.

"Dissipate the energy." Twilight answered, "Calm, you can control it. Feed it into the air slowly."

With the ball of flame in her grasp, she contained it and began to squeeze it into a smaller shape to concentrate the energy. The ball began to squelch, hissing out small jets of fire as it didn't seem to like being contained. Quickly the ball rebelled, spinning into a sphere of flame within her grasp.

The ball bounced, bucked in her aura, moving in any random direction where here energy felt the weakest. It was beginning to jump out of her control.

"Steady!" Twilight yelled, taking a defensive step back and raising a secondary shield visibly around her. She knew that it was going to get bad.

Anya ignored her, sending any mental power towards the mare would have broken concentration. She needed to deal with this, control it. This was the only way to prove to Twilight that she was making real progress.

She brought the ball closer, condensing it more. She could feel the heat as it was pulled in closer, gently warming her.

"DISSIPATE IT!" Twilight shouted, a tinge of fear in her voice, seeing the ball ready to spiral out of her control.

Still no attention was payed to her, the ball was under her control now, completely. It was the first time she was able to feel the flames, study them for what they are, understand what Ember had felt.

Fire was excited molecules, using a source to continue it's burn. Turning energy into light and heat. In most cases it was wood, or other flammable materials, this time it was magic feeding it into the frenzy. She felt more than her energy to control the ball leave her body, it was feeding off her.

Anya closed her eyes and instead of focusing more energy to keep it contained, she began to draw energy from it. Slowly the fiery orb shrank, cut off from oxygen and fuel it withered out and smoked away. When it was over she felt a massive surge pulse through her body, drawing in a gritted toothed breath. The cold she had felt, the mind numbing shivers all vanished as warmth spread through her body.

She turned to Twilight with a soft smile.

"I'm beginning to understand."