Cultural Artifacts

by Dan_s Comments

31) From the Ancient Greek Meaning Lead

Cultural Artifacts - From the Ancient Greek Meaning Lead
Dan's Comments

DISCLAIMER: My Little Pony is the property of Hasbro, Inc.

Day 53

        "Applejack, how could you?" Twilight whimpered as her last pieces were removed from the board.

        "I said I would do what's best fer ya," Applejack said.

        "I never pinkie promised," Pinkie Pie added when Twilight looked at her. "Well, Miss Applejack."

        "Yes, Pinkamena Diane Pie?" Applejack replied.

        "Draw?" Pinkie asked as she spat on her hoof and offered it.

        "Draw," Applejack said and spat on her own hoof and shook Pinkie's. She looked at the Sand Cobra and Zecora. "Unless there's any objections?"

        Zecora and the griffon looked at their few, isolated islands amid a sea of Pinkie and Applejack's holdings and armies. "None," they said.

        "I'll transmit a letter to the High Command," Sunrise said as he fluffed his feathers, "Ponyville is no longer on the invasion route."

        "Agreed," Mystery said, "How did either of you two know?"

        "I've had to negotiate against Applejack to buy supplies for the Cakes," Pinkie explained, "Even as my friend, she was tough."

        "This was fun, gettin' ta go all out. Instead of havin' to remember that we needed the customer to stay happy," Applejack said and stretched, "I might even like ta play the Big Guy and Discord."

        "Is dropping extra pieces on the board legal?" Fluttershy asked.

        "Until ya get caught," Applejack said, "Right here in the rules."

        Fluttershy nodded. "That was fun. I wonder if we could make a version of the game for Equestria."

        "Fun?" Twilight said. "We watched Applejack and Pinkie Pie ruthlessly annihilate everypony else on the board, and you call it fun?"

        Fluttershy smiled. "Sure, I got Pinkie to tell me what was in her shed, and Applejack to tell me about how she really got Winona," Fluttershy said.

        Twilight stared. "You mean if I'd told you about . . . you would have supported me?"

        "Yes," Fluttershy said and grinned, "Without that game, I never would have found the courage to actually ask about it."

        "You were playing 'Truth or Dare' to decide which deals to honor!?" Rainbow asked.

        "I couldn't think of another way, and Pinkie offered first," Fluttershy said.

        Rainbow collapsed to the floor and did an impression of a spider having a seizure.

        Zecora and Rarity started with ladylike chuckles, but soon were guffawing at everyone's expression. The griffons just shook their heads at the 'crazy ponies'.

        Pinkie was walking beside Glorious Sunrise. She smiled at him occasionally.

        "You seem troubled," he pointed out.

        "I did something that was necessary," Pinkie admitted, "But it wasn't very nice, and I'm afraid you'll hate me for it."

        "I've done a fair number of things that I hope you never find out about," the old griffon said, "It was to help your friends, or your nations?"

        "Both, and the rest of Equestria, I hope," Pinkie admitted.

        "Then let the effects speak for themselves. No matter what you do, there will always be someone who thinks you should have done things another, 'better' way. Their way, even if it was impossible with the tools you had in hand."

        "Thank you," Pinkie said, "And sorry about knocking you out of the game like that."

        "Believe me, I've had worse," he said, "It's good you know how to play the 'game of kings'. There's some people who seem to have forgotten."

        "You mean Celestia," Pinkie said, "I can't figure out why she can't just let him alone and let the rest of us handle him. He likes Derpy and Fluttershy. He gets along with Applejack. We could have handled it."

        "You would have been writing reports on everything his did for the rest of his life," the griffon said, "And no one would have believed you."

        Pinkie nodded. "I guess a big part of it is how complicated he is."

        Sunrise nodded.

        "It's very simple," Derpy explained to the Sphinx as they watched the others search the library. "Let him think so fast he'll fly off the planet, but when he starts making a plan, then he needs us. To see any flaws, and to remind him that he is cared for. He likes cuddling as much as any pony, but you have to let him know you're coming. Now Dinky usually just shouts 'Daddy' or 'hugs', so he knows, and she charges in. Celly lets her shadow fall on him and what he's working on. You're tall enough, it could work for you."

        The Sphinx nodded.

        "Woona and I get on the other side of the table, or the counter and just look at him until he notices us. Then give him a cuddle. He likes it. It's the time it takes he isn't happy about, so a short one is always good. When he starts letting go, that's the signal to stop. You can give him a final squeeze, or a kiss, but when he lets go, start thinking about ending it. Doing that keeps him thinking about other people, and it makes his plans more tender."

        "Is that why you like playing bolster?" the Sphinx asked.

        Derpy blushed and nodded. "I'd love for him to give me more foals. But I'd have to be a human for him to be comfortable, and he'd have to be a pony for me to be comfortable, so we're kind of stuck. So I like to cuddle, and get hugs. It's nice."

        The Sphinx nodded. "It seems so simple," she admitted.

        "It is. But because it's simple, too many ponies have to complicate it. Decent stallions always are simple. A happy mare, healthy foals, enough to eat, lots of snuggling and some time to himself. That's all it takes. It's the clever stallions who - who talk a lot that are the bad ones."

        "I guess you and Dinky's not father, but the stallion who got you pregnant," the Sphinx said.

        Derpy nodded. She pointed a hoof at the Big Guy cataloging the entries against the magic from his books. "That creature from an alien world, who never saw a pony before he saw Dinky has been a better father than her sire. But he needs to know that and a gentle nudge when he does wrong."

        The Sphinx hugged the mare. "And you've helped him a lot too."

        Derpy sniffled a bit as she hugged the Sphinx.

        Celly looked over the pair of books, and frowned. "One says it's possible, the other says it isn't."

        "Then we test it experimentally," the Big Guy said, "The details of the two experiments are subtle, but they may make all the difference."

        Celly nodded, and smiled before gesturing with her nose over to Woona who was surrounded by a sphere of books and was taking at least three sets of notes.

        "Now I understand Twilight's fascination," the Big Guy said.

        Celly snorted.

        The Big Guy walked over to Discord. "How's she doing?"

        The draconequus looked at the sleeping pony on his lap. "Getting some food and real sleep without nightmares seems to be helping. But I'd prefer if we hurry. And before you say 'why don't you help' all that isn't my style, and I don't think now is the time to start learning."

        "You'll need to learn eventually," the Big Guy told him.

        "I don't 'understand' my powers. I just want something and it happens. If you're doing something like this, it's just a question of power, of forcing the world to change. All this subtle stuff isn't my style," Discord admitted.

        "You're going to have to learn to do a little studying, just to learn how a pony grows up," the Big Guy warned.

        Discord nodded. The Big Guy left him to his calming ministrations and headed towards Derpy.

        "Not the most relaxing vacation," he said and sat down to scratch her behind the ears.

        She leaned into his hand, he scratched harder. "I just am glad I can help a little. Big things I usually just live with. I can't change them. You all can change them, so I just have to keep you eating and sleeping regularly."

        "If the process works, you may suddenly be one of those big things people. I'm only learning the jargon, but from what I understand, the little one has not only tremendous control, as well as tremendous power. You should get a portion of that."

        "As long as it helps," Derpy said, "That's what I care about. What was it you said? 'I don't care if I'm the best, I just care if I am better than yesterday.'"

        "Yes," he said.

        Zecora, Fluttershy and Twilight walked out into the grove Zecora had found earlier. The trees looked like Zecora's hut, or Twilight's library.

        "You found them," Twilight breathed as she looked at the small cluster of trees. "How do we lay a root line from the library to here?"

        "Maybe we find, if speak with their own kind," Zecora suggested.

        Twilight nodded sheepishly. "I think we'll have to do that."

        Fluttershy's ears had been up, switching between right and left. "Do you hear anything?" she asked.

        Zecora listened and looked at the ground. "No birds, no bees, make a noise near those trees."

        "Is that a good or a bad thing?" Fluttershy asked as she watched the few insects Zecora had spotted. They seemed to be eager to be on their way, and didn't want to chat. "Bad thing," she concluded, "I don't think they want us here."

        "Now you can talk to trees?" Twilight said.

        "I always wanted to be a tree," Fluttershy said then bowed her head at Twilight's aghast expression.

        "I think I have our solution," Zecora said and grinned.

        The Big Guy had the amulet out and was sitting in the middle of a sports stadium. None of them wanted to speculate if it was for gladiatorial games, or something more benign that entertained the crowds.

        The circles had been scribed, and the others watched intently. Woona and Discord had made the place within the circle as malleable as a dream would be. Sapphire had brought a number of changelings to watch and understand the process. Dinky and Discord had remained with the library's denizen.

        Woona and Celly nodded their readiness, and the Big Guy began to concentrate, not to master the amulet, but to communicate with it.

        The sudden appearance of a nightmare tree towering over even the nearby buildings shocked everyone and sent some of the changelings fleeing.

        "You cannot conceive of the evil I am capable of, nor what I shall do to the ponies for their crimes!" the soul of the Alicorn Amulet screamed.

        The Big Guy noted that the image had not stepped out of the circle. "I can, and I beg you to reconsider. We've found at least two of your colleagues, there may be more. There is no need for this," the Big Guy shouted back. Hotaru shrugged and laid down to await developments.

        "You are a fool, my powers are nigh on to infinite! And what are you?" the spirit asked as it took a more menacing form bending down over the Big Guy.

        "Your redeemer, I had hoped. Now your executioner. The walls are far thinner here than anywhere else, and you aren't the only one who has faced darkness and not blinked."

        The figure who rose out of the ground looked like what you'd get if George Romero used Chaplin's The Great Dictator as the inspiration for his next movie. The figure straightened his tie, smoothed the hair still attached to the scraps of flesh on its skull and focused on the mad plant monster.

        "Dunkle diener, schwebt für den Meister! Leuchte, Höllenschein!" (1) the nearly skeletal figure shouted. From the ground burst war machines marked with the black, balk cross. Huge vehicles on tracks, on wheels, and both. The skeletal figures crewing the vehicles had differing uniforms, but the skull and crossed bones, or the twin lightning bolts were most prominent.

        "You expect metal boxes and skeletons to harm me?" the plant monster said.

        The Leader skeleton was incensed. "Ich war einst der gefährlichste Mann in ganz Deutschland!"(2) The assembled force roared various oaths and affirmations.

        "Ihr seid in meiner Welt nicht eurer. Und ich hab Freunde im Schattenreich!"(3) the near skeleton called, and gestured for the vehicles to open fire.

        Trixie looked down from the top of the 'Cabinet of Death' and facehooved to the audience as her partner shouted into her hat. "Hello, Great and Powerful Trixie!"

        "I can hear you!" she told him.

        He danced a happy jig. "We have reached de spirit vorld!"

        As Trixie shook her head the audience laughed.

        "Please I must hav resolute silence for dis trick to vork," he told the audience, "Great and Powerful Trixie, do you know vhere you are?"

        "I'm above you!" she called.

        He smiled happily. "I always knew she was a good pony!"

        The audience 'aww'ed as Trixie got misty eyed.

        "I'm not dead," Trixie said, "Turn around."

        Blueblood turned around and looked up. He gasped, then sprinted into the Cabinet of Death.

        "What are you doing?" she shouted at him.

        "Is better to face the cabinet, then tell you I singed you hat," he called back from inside the cabinet.

        "You WHAT?!" she called as the curtain went down to raucous laughter.

        Blueblood collected Trixie's hat and brushed it off as they moved their props off stage. "You vouldn't really kill me for singing you hat? Vould you?" he asked.

        "Of course not, when there are so many unpleasant things you can live through," she said and grinned widely. Both chuckled as they headed up to their dressing room.

        Dandelion and Snowflower and a horde of their followers charged across the gap into the ancient city. Almost immediately, they began dropping like flies. Some crawled forward after their tottering leaders. Within a few hundred yards all had fallen. They lay there unable to move, unable to call out their distress.

        Dinky frowned at her new friend. "Next time I get to play the Ogre!" she said as she moved the lone cybertank off the board for a decisive victory, for her friend.

        "I want to try the four-howitzer defense anyway," she said quietly.

        Dinky set the tray with the pieces where the filly could see it and pick her force. Dinky set up the defense as directed and then set her Ogre. "This is such a simple game, why didn't any pony think it up."

        "Steve Jackson did what no one else ever did," Discord said as he looked over the rule book. "I play winner."

        Dinky looked at the strategy article and the combined-arms defense. "Okay, I'm gonna win this one." She advanced her piece across the board.

        Sapphire and the other changelings were trudging back to the border of the city.

        "I think I should be terrified of him," one of the infiltrators said.

        "Just don't try to be him," Sapphire warned, "It doesn't go well."

        The changelings nodded. None of them were certain if the amulet had capitulated or succumbed. And neither of the alicorns had been in a mood to answer. The changelings were glad they'd escaped with their hides.

        Sapphire was trying to put on a brave face, implying that she was used to this. Truth is, that's bigger magic than I've heard even Celestia casting. Can she do it and doesn't, or is Celly growing more powerful than the native Celestia? she wondered as they approached another spectacle that defied logic.

        They saw Dinky tossing another changeling across the border onto the pile of around a dozen changelings. With a last horn 'heave' she dropped Dandelion on top of Snowflower.

        "And don't come back!" she shouted at them as some few tried to crawl away.

        Sapphire stared at the angry, little unicorn glaring at the platoon of changelings piled in several, squirming heaps.

        Dinky seemed to notice them. "No, Discord stayed with her. I did this myself," Dinky told them and stalked off.

        The changelings stared at her, and the piles of their run-down brethren. "I'm not going to fight her," one of the other changelings said, there was hushed agreement among the collected mass.

        "And she follows your orders?" one of the changelings asked worriedly.

        Sapphire shrugged. "Well, she loves me, so she gives me a bit more latitude," Sapphire said, "Let's go drag those idiots back to the hive."

        The worried muttering continued.

        "What happened?" Sapphire asked Snowflower.

        The would-be queen sneered, "I am not talking about it to you."

        Sapphire smiled and walked off to help a changeling willing to accept her help.
Day 54

        The sphinx woke amid the 'ponypile'. Celly was the Big Guy's bolster, but Woona had snuggled up against the Sphinx using her as a bolster. Dinky was covering his feet, with Derpy and Hotaru sandwiching him in. Sapphire was at a slight distance dozing and watching.

        I could get used to this, the Sphinx thought as she glanced at the clock. She woke Woona and indicated the time, before placing the alicorn on her back and silently padding out to the kitchen. Woona was asleep again when they got there. She frowned at that, and began carefully scratching behind Luna's ears. The sensation disturbed the little alicorn's slumber and she woke.

        "Dirty pool," Woona said.

        "There are other ways," the Sphinx said, "I could have tickled your hooves."

        "You would have woken the entire house," Woona admitted and lifted off her back. "Know why he slept on your back, you're so warm and fuzzy."

        The Sphinx frowned at that, but looked around the kitchen. "So what's for breakfast?"

        "Something substantial. After the battle with the amulet, and how we won, I think everyone will want a good breakfast."

        The Sphinx nodded.

        The Sphinx weathered Derpy's grin with good humor. The Big Guy clung to her human back with one arm and both legs. It was enjoyable in ways that Derpy understood perfectly.

        Dinky rode on her mother's back, and there was a completely different paradigm there. The little unicorn watched the Big Guy with a worshipful expression as they hovered near the top of the library.

        "A dome at the top is compressive, the dome is trying to collapse inward," he indicated the heavy stone pieces. "The ring prevents that, it also provides the base for the glass window."

        "The ring is huge," Dinky said as she looked around the circumference of the window.

        "It is. I never said these people weren't genius engineers," he said, "The ring is nearly a meter, sorry, three feet thick. It's in segments, but it's still extremely heavy."

        "I doubt even Twilight could lift those all," Dinky said.

        "They used teams of unicorns to do this," the Big Guy explained, "Then they thought they were better than the Earth Ponies. My people did the same as this, with no magic at all. The Earth Ponies could have built this dome. If they'd known how. It's the knowledge that made the difference." The Big Guy leaned close. "To the center of the dome, please."

        She carried him there, with Derpy staying close.

        The echo from the glass dome distorted his voice. "While the inner edge sits on the ring, the outer edge is beyond the stone. So the rain can't undermine the stone ring, or let the weather leak in," the Big Guy said.

        "Wow," Derpy said, "They thought of everything."

        "They probably knew what to worry about, these books contain the lessons that taught them," he said, "You can imagine what else is in those books."

        "I can imagine what Twilight would do with those books," Derpy said.

        The Big Guy nodded. "I'd suggest you not mention it for just that reason. Hopefully she's letting Celestia or the Apples take care of the house."

        Dinky and Derpy laughed as they fluttered all the way to the ground.

        Spike raised his eyes from the book he'd been given, and was eagerly rereading as Twilight dashed in and threw herself against the door. Then she looked around and sank to her knees. Her expression of terror at what had been their home for the past months disturbed him. I know I'm going to regret this, he thought as Owlicious roused himself.

        "What's wrong?" he asked.

        "Who," Owlicious added.

        "I was getting to that," Spike told Twilight's number-two assistant.

        "It's, alive," Twilight said, as if she'd forgotten to get Celestia a birthday present.

        "We've discussed that," Spike said, "Didn't you and Zecora, and Fluttershy have a plan to contact the trees you sent Celestia the note about?"

        Twilight blinked, stared at him. "What are you talking about?"

        "The library, Zecora's hut, and the trees in the forest," Spike said, sighed and placed a bookmark in his book before setting it aside. "Why, what are you talking about?"

        "Boxes," Twilight hissed, "They stole a freight wagon and are hiding out behind the post office!"

        Upper limbs covered faces as her two assistants proved that face-palms crossed species boundaries. "They aren't 'hiding', they're due to be shipped back to Canterlot. The freight car was full, so they'll have to wait for the next one. They'll be gone in a couple days." Spike giggled. "Did you think they were after you, like the headless horse?" he asked and started laughing harder. He stopped the instant he realized he was laughing alone.

        "This is very serious!" Twilight insisted.

        Spike let out a breath and decided it was serious. She wasn't over her obsession yet. "Look, you aren't the one in charge of his home, or his library. Until she appoints an overseer, it's Celestia's responsibility. Right?"

        Twilight nodded as she poked her head up so she could peek out the window. Mystery came out of his room, and Spike signaled him to stay quiet, or withdraw. Seeing Twilight's condition, he slipped back into his room.

        "So, if the boxes are headed to Canterlot, they're Princess Celestia's problem too, right?" Spike asked.

        The mad gaze he got told him it wasn't right, and wouldn't be for some time.

        "They're going to ambush Celestia?" Twilight said and rubbed her hooves, "Then maybe we can save her."

        Spike glanced at Owlicious, who shrugged, then at his book, and remembered the lesson on dragon word play. "Twilight, be quiet," he ordered.

        "Spike!" Twilight snapped, more than she'd already snapped. "Those -"

        "Shh!" he said and clamped a claw around her mouth. "Luna knows about it, so Celestia knows about it, and Captain Armor knows about it. And they have to come in on the railroad. That's one path. If an invader is coming up one, narrow, twisty path, and you know they're coming, but they don't know you know. You know what that means, don't you?" Spike grinned evilly.

        "Oh my gosh!" Twilight exclaimed, easing the burden on Spike's mind, "They're going to sneak up and ambush Celestia! We have to warn her! I'll pack, and you get us some train tickets."

        Spike beat his head against a wall. So much for dragon wordplay and cunning.

        The others had almost completed their work in the ancient library, but Dinky and Hotaru were off to the side watching. Dinky stared at Hotaru. "Um, I apologize. I don't know how to ask this politely, but how did he beat you?"

        Hotaru woofed at the question. She glared at the filly, who winced and shied. Hotaru blew out a breath. "You ask how I, Nightmare Moon, incarnation of every fear and terror that ponies will ever know, could be brought down?"

        Dinky fearfully nodded. Then she scooped a handful of candy out of the saddle bags she wore. Hotaru stared at her, her ears back. Dinky pulled out a second offering. "Ah, I don't think this is thawed out." She held out a frozen, hamburger patty.

        Hotaru took it. "It's likes a lollipop," she said, and set it on her upraised paw, "It is simple, my naive little friend. Discord trapped me in a memory in his mind. A place where horrors that ponies cannot even imagine, occurred every day."

        Dinky whimpered and shuffled her hooves.

        "Where even my dreams and nightmares about the place, cruel, and hopeless and terrifying as they were, could not compare with the waking reality."

        Dinky cowered on the ground.

        "And amid all this. A terror even if I described it in intricate detail, you could still not comprehend it," Hotaru said, almost wistfully, "There came a force even these monsters feared. They spoke of it in whispers, they feared their wrath, they spoke of destroying 'all evidence'. That meant me, and all the other prisoners, the buildings, everything."

        Dinky was too frightened to even shiver.

        "Then they came, they came in their thousands and our tormentors looked at them, each and every one, as you would an angry god," Hotaru told her, "Yet to us, they brought salvation beyond the dreams of paradise. Not just the cessation of terror and cruelty, but food, decent blankets, cleansing us of vermin, and they cared. No longer were we things to be slowly destroyed, we were people again."

        Dinky raised her head, thinking about how she'd feel and realizing she had nothing in her experience that could compare.

        "And that man," Hotaru said, "Was one of them. Maybe Celestial and Luna are right to feel intimidated by him, but they are very foolish to keep provoking him."

        Spike looked down at the gently snoring figure. Twilight finally looked peaceful as she laid in her bed. "She'll wake up eventually," he asked the Sand Cobra, "Right?"

        "I didn't expect her to fall asleep, it was just to calm her down," the griffon replied.

        "The Royal Guard gave her enough sleeping potion to fell a hydra once," Spike admitted, "I guess once she calmed down, she just ran out of steam."

        "Makes sense," the griffon said, "What was she worried about?"

        "The freight wagon of boxes was coming to get her," Spike said.

        "I - see," the Sand Cobra said.
Day 55

        Pinkie looked through the tool bins. She looked through her spare parts bin. She looked at the rafters of the shed. Where could my flier be hiding? she thought worriedly.

        "Oolie-oolie-oxen free," she called quietly, "You're better at hiding than I am at seeking." She looked around worriedly, then stuck her head out of the shed. She didn't feel her usual self. "I think I understand how Twilight feels, just before she goes crazy." She spotted the multiple sets of tracks, and followed them. As she crested a small rise, she dropped onto her belly and watched the goings on.

        Her griffon friend was there, with the Crusaders. Scootaloo was at the controls as he explained what each of them did. Applebloom and Sweetie Belle each stood on a pedal, ready to set the aircraft soaring on the old griffon's command. The pair started the pedals, and then the blades turning, but far too slowly. Meanwhile, Scootaloo moved the controls as the griffon ordered. Pinkie lay on the crest of the hill and watched. Watched her griffon friend do what she'd never had the courage to do, show her toys to someone who could appreciate or condemn them.

        She watched for several minutes as the two Crusaders pumped the pedals and Scootaloo moved the controls. Then the griffon called a halt and signaled they'd have to take the flier back. None of the Crusaders liked it, but they complied as they loaded the flier onto the cart and began hauling it back to Pinkie's shed.

        Pinkie momentarily panicked as she looked for somewhere to hide. She concealed herself behind a tree and kept out of sight as they carefully returned the flier to its place and they closed up the shed.

        "When can we take her flying?" Scootaloo asked, the little pegasus' eyes shining at the thought of flight.

        "When you are fully trained to my standards," the old griffon said, then added coldly, "If you sneak in there to steal it, borrow it, or just sit on it without my direct and personal supervision, the lessons will end."

        All the Crusaders flinched as if the near whisper was the full Royal Canterlot Voice. They nodded worriedly before he gave them a nod.

        As they headed off, she slipped out from behind the tree. "Uh, thank you."

        "I thought it was a good fit, and if they'd laughed at the whole idea, it would have been mine, not yours," he said quietly, "I might not understand your fears, but I can adapt to them."

        "They liked it?" she asked as she looked after the Crusaders and back at the shed.

        "It would need a major redesign not to require all three of them, but their friendship and promise of flight should let us get your idea out to a receptive audience." The old griffon looked around the yard. "Where the hay were you hiding anyway?"

        "Behind the tree," Pinkie said.

        The old griffon walked over and wrapped both forepaws around the tree until they were overlapping. He glanced at Pinkie then back at the rather skinny tree, and shrugged.

        Derpy was concerned how haggard the team looked. "Okay, I'm putting my hoof down. You've got the research done, right?"

        Several tired nods answered her.

        "Okay, then you all need a day of rest. If this is as difficult and dangerous as you all say, then doing it all strung out won't help anypony. Especially that foal or each other."

        "She'll put something in the food if you don't agree," Hotaru said, scandalizing the pegasus, until everyone chuckled.

        "After that crack, maybe you should spend the night with Discord," the Big Guy said, "I don't need another rug."

        Hotaru woofed and trotted back towards the library.

        "What about seeing Trixie's show?!" Woona asked.

        "Fine, I'll sleep in," the Big Guy said.

        "Oh, right," Woona said as her ears flattened.

        "No, the rest of you go. I've got a few things I'd like to cook without nauseating all my other housemates," the Big Guy said.

        "Save some for Discord and Hotaru," Derpy said, then she thought, "What are you going to do when your refrigerator and freezer are empty?"

        "I can refill them partially from what's in the house the Apples are staying in," the Big Guy said, "After that, I can survive on eggs and cheese. I think Fluttershy fishes for some of her animals."

        They nodded.

        "Maybe we could invite Twilight to watch the spell," Dinky said, and listened to everyone burst out laughing. "What's so funny?"

        "Trixie maybe," Celly said, "But Twilight would be an endless stream of questions, and arguments that what we were doing was impossible."

        "There's two levels of expert degrees in my world," the Big Guy said as he knelt down near Dinky, "The Masters where someone takes existing ideas and combines them into something new, and the Doctorate, where the student adds something completely new to the existing knowledge base. Twilight is firmly in the Masters' level, she looks at what others have done and tries to duplicate it and do it herself. What we've been doing is Doctorate level. We're advancing the frontiers of knowledge. We don' have time for a thesis defense in the middle of proving the concept." He considered as he stood up. "But Trixie and Blueblood might appreciate watching."

        "You're cruel," Celly said, and they laughed.
Day 56

        "This will really make me a tree?" Fluttershy said excitedly as she and Zecora stood among the grove of trees. Twilight had missed the meeting yesterday and looked to be missing the meeting today.

        Zecora wasn't sure if the potion would retain its potency if delayed another day. "Yes," she said, "Are you sure about this?" Zecora had expected Fluttershy to be averse about such a change, but she found herself having to curb the pegasus' enthusiasm.

        "Oh yes," Fluttershy said, "I've always wondered about being a tree. Now I have a chance to find out, and talk to some other poor trees." Now the more familiar Fluttershy appeared as she nervously pawed the ground. "And I think I'll be the best ambassador. They might be hurt and need a helping hoof. I think Twilight would want too many answers too fast."

        Zecora smiled. "Yes, I remember my first meeting with Miss Sparkle when she wanted something from me. It was rather overwhelming."

        "Sorry," Fluttershy said.

        "I survived," she said and hoofed over the potion. "All, one drink and get it all. You'll have an hour before the call. I have one more dose, if your time is close."

        Fluttershy nodded, breathed deeply several times, then drank the potion down as Zecora had commanded.

        Zecora stepped back as Fluttershy took root and her branches reached for the sky.

        Fluttershy could feel nothing outside herself. Within, she felt the flow of sap and nutrients. She felt her roots questing through the soil, and in their quest, they bound with the great root system that was there.

        "Hello," she 'said' into the vast emptiness. She listened, listened as hard as she could. She heard nothing, but her instincts told her it wasn't that there wasn't anything to hear, but what would have been making noise was hiding it. "My name is Fluttershy, I think I can help you. If you'll let me."

        Please, just talk to me, she wanted to shout, We know we did wrong. Let us make it right!

        Suddenly she was facing Zecora. "The second dose, please," she nearly shouted. The stunned Zebra gave her the potion and in an instant she was back. She heard the vague sounds of speech dying away. Like a child realizing he might get caught talking out of turn.

        She felt for once that her patience wouldn't serve her. The potion would wear off before she could wait them into talking with her. Please just talk to me, she thought as she listened as hard as she ever listened before. She knew she was passed over, ignored, that ponies would talk as if she wasn't there. Now she tried to wrap that around herself and listen or feel any change.

        She would have facehoofed if she could have. She felt the power of the sun, and of her friends and others around her, and the nutrients in the soil. She sent much of that into the roots tangled with the others.

        Get them food, she thought, Show them I mean no harm. The smiled inwardly as she gave them as much strength as she could.

        "Uh, ze Great und Powerful Trixie is under ze veather," the white unicorn stallion wearing the wizard's hat said to the audience.

        "That's because you hit me with a storm backdrop," came the irritated reply from the wings.

        "Und she is bedridden," the stallion said, and began sweating as the audience laughed.

        "That's because a mattress fell on me," came the reply.

        "Zo I the Assertive and Amazing Alligator Sandwich will perform feats of -"

        "Igor! Where'd you get that name?" Trixie asked as she limped on stage with several strategic bandages wrapped around her.

        "Trixie!" the stallion yelped, "How did you escape, I mean are you feeling better?"

        "Igor, why are you calling yourself Alligator Sandwich?" Trixie asked.

        "To honor my grandsire," Igor said and put a hoof over his heart.

        "Your grandsire was named sandwiches made of alligator?"

        "Non," Igor said, "Is not ingredient, is who sandwich belongs to. See if caught between two bread kiosks, and giant alligator eats you."

        Trixie took off her hat. "I am sorry, I share the pain of your loss."

        "Vat you talkin 'bout? Grandsire not get eaten by alligator. Grandsire have to shovel up after him," Igor said.

        Trixie put her hat back on her head and glared at Igor. "You're Igor again, I'm doing the show. Now for my first trick, I need a volunteer. You the unicorn filly with the pegasus."

        Applejack and Granny Smith sat around the lunch table with Johnny and Jonny. Each had a pad of paper, the written word being faster than charades.

        'Have you had problems with people trying to get the books?' Applejack wrote.

        The Apple couple looked at each other and Jonathan wrote, 'No, although we expect trouble when Her Highness selects a guardian though.'

        'Twilight's been carrying on like she was,' Granny Smith wrote.

        Applejack noted that the margin of Granny's paper also contained a list of ingredients and their amounts, which Jonny Cake started filling in. Finally got her fritter-batter recipe, Applejack thought and nearly guffawed with laughter at the returned sheet with 'MINE' or 'SECRET' written in all the blanks and the sweetest smile from Jonny to Granny.

        'First thing I'd heard of it. It's been quiet, except for Pinkie Pie,' Jonathan wrote.

        All the Apples domestic and imported started sweating about that.

        'DON'T' and Applejack underlined it three times, 'tell Twilight. Or the fruit bats won't be the only crazy thing hanging upside down in the trees.'

        All four Apples winced and nodded.

        'So, how well does Applebloom think her tree is doing?' Jonny asked in writing

        "Uh, help?" Dinky asked Blueblood as Igor. As she struggled with the rings that had nearly enveloped her.

        'Igor' looked at the crowd. "Iz der boltcutter in de houze?"

        The crowd roared as the hapless unicorn untangled Dinky from the 'magic ring' trick, and wound up on his back struggling to escape them himself. "Uh, help?" Igor said almost exactly as Dinky had.

        Trixie escorted Dinky back to her group and facehoofed at the trapped stallion. She cast a bright flash around him. He was up and the ring hung from one arm. The audience applauded.

        Dinky leaned over to Celly. "After the spell, will I be able to do that?"

        "Not immediately, that act takes a lot of training and rehearsing," Celly whispered back as the curtain came down. They sat through several more acts, enjoying themselves. Sapphire was disguised as a pony, so was the Changeling Queen, and her entourage. All of them felt the flows among the ponies as the entertainers performed.

        "A rich feeding ground," the Princess' seneschal said, "I can see how Queen Chrysalis would be confused."

        "Better if that is directed at you, as who you are, or an original seeming," Sapphire said, and then saw the 'amateur hour' sign go up. "Our turn." A half-dozen changelings in pony disguises went to the front, including both Princesses. They'd signed up earlier as a dance group, and passed their auditions. Now they waited for a beginning singer, screechier really, a comic and a ventriloquist to have their turn. The singer was pulled quickly. The comic was halfway funny and completed his act to applause. The poor ventriloquist couldn't seem to do anything right, getting thoroughly heckled by his dummy, which seemed to be the point.

        Then the changeling band took the stage. The dancing wasn't particularly innovative or complicated, but the synchronization was perfect, as it should be between a Changeling Queen and her inner circle. Sapphire looked at her fellow princess across the line as they finished.

        Then the audience stood up and cheered. Sapphire looked at the stunned expression of the changelings being the recipient of love not stolen or tricked, but intentionally directed straight at them. The drunken ecstacy on most of the faces heralded the torrent of nectar that would appear in the hive's reserves.

        Then Sapphire realized she wasn't being engorged as she was by her friends' affection. She could feel the hive absorbing the energy she received from the crowd. She's accepted me, she thought happily, The old queen has accepted me. Is she going to follow Dinky's mad plan of becoming Empress, so she can have many queens below her? Sapphire felt the sense of belonging and appreciation from the hive as she fed them the bounty of her efforts.

        The group headed back down to the audience as the next act came on. Some of the ponies still 'fed' the changelings as she returned to their seats. Sapphire enjoyed the bewildered looks among the changelings.

        "You must be very proud of your daughters," one pony matron whispered to the older queen.

        "You have no idea," she replied as she grinned at the team.

        Zecora paced nervously. Flutter-tree should have returned to her normal state when the potion wore off, four hours ago. I can't imagine what might have gone wrong, Zecora thought as she went over and over the manufacture of the potions. The first dose worked perfectly. I can't imagine what happened with the second, she thought as she again considered her options, I can run to Ponyville for help, but that would leave Fluttershy alone if she transformed. What to do, what to do?

        She paced nervously, more like Twilight than her normally nonchalant attitude. Every movement of Flutter-tree brought her attention around. So far, only the wind through the limbs had moved her.

        Zecora had begun to despair when the tree moved without a breath of wind. She moved up to catch the reeling pegasus and lower her gently to the ground.

        "I won," Fluttershy said, "Still Shhh champion, they talked first!" she said proudly. "I beat trees!" she said with manic intensity, before snuggling against Zecora and falling asleep.

        "The more I stay at Ponyville, the more insanity comes over hill," Zecora said as she lifted Fluttershy to carry her back to her hut.

        "Dinner," the Big Guy called as he entered the library. "I brought you three something to eat." He held the basket up in front of him. He set it on a table near cenotaph. "For Discord, an extra special mushroom and Swiss burger with wasabi, tabasco and ginger pickles." He handed the draconequus the wrapped food.

        "For Hotaru, a fair amount of suet and grease with plenty of garlic on a rice base." He set down the bowl in front of the salivating dog.

        "Just tell me it's delicious," she complained, "Telling me the ingredients detracts."

        "Will do. Another burger without the nuclear option for me," he said and set his plate on the table. "And a thin broth for the lady. I don't know if you can handle solid foods, but we should get you used to them." He set a thermos beside Discord.

        "Thank you," the bright-red draconequus said, steam pouring out of his ears, "Good burger."

        "Celly tells me that you are afraid of research," he said.

        "I never had to do it, so I didn't want to mess it up on something this delicate," Discord said.

        "Well, I think you might need to learn." He walked over to a small cache of books he'd located as they searched the library. He picked them up and carried them over to Discord. "You might want to read through these. If what I read about the genealogies is true, the lady's father wasn't the most active parent."

        Discord stared at him, then glanced at the filly snuggled against his chest. "Can you get my eyebrows off the dome? I think I'm going to need them."

        "Sure," the Big Guy said, "Oh." He pointed to himself. "Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, great-grandchildren." He returned to his sandwich as Discord began reading through the stack of books.

        Trixie facehoofed. "Let me get this straight, you are ready to perform the greatest act of magic ever recorded, and you want us losers to help? As thespians we are superb, but I don't do academician." She turned to Prince Blueblood. "No offense."

        "None taken, I've been told I was a loser by none other than Celestia herself. That practically makes me unique on this planet."

        "I'm sorry about that," Celly said, in disguise as an 'ordinary' unicorn.

        Blueblood shrugged. "I've encouraged it. Everypony needs a whipping post."

        Celly shied at that. "That doesn't make it right," Celly said.

        "Let's shift this to more reasonable ground. Tonight was our last performance. We had planned on taking two weeks to walk to Los Pegasus," Blueblood said.

        "Two weeks, a pony could be there in two days," Woona 'the pegasus' said. Her Trixie hat hiding her horn, and occasionally slipping over her eyes, making her more adorable.

        "Not if that pony wanted to enjoy the trip, and actually wanted to feel the earth beneath his hooves, smell the roses along the way." He grinned. "Maybe even thrash a bandit or two."

        "I'm going to be asleep the whole time," Trixie said, "For once I don't have to haul my wagon myself. I just have to wake up in time for the rescue."

        "Him from the bandits, or the bandits from him?" Derpy asked.


        "I would be pleased to witness this," Trixie said, "If only for the tales to tell afterwards."

        "I do have one question," Blueblood said, "How are you going to get the library out of there? Once the lady is gone, the preservation spell will fade."

        The others looked at each other and facehoofed. "Why didn't we think of that?" Dinky asked.

        "I beat trees," Fluttershy murmured in her sleep.

        Zecora, Applebloom and Nurse Redheart looked at the sleeping pegasus curled up in a spare bunk in Zecora's hut.

        "I think it's just exhaustion," the nurse told the others, "Let her rest and bring her in first thing when she wakes up."

        "Ah just wish we knew if she talked ta them or not," Applebloom said.

        "Both you and me, seek that answer tree," Zecora said, relaxing after the medic had given Fluttershy a clean bill of health. "Her remaining as a tree, is at the moment what baffles me."

        "Willpower," Redheart said, "She needed to get something done, and she did it." The nurse pony glanced around. "You didn't think that a pony nearly scared of her own shadow, wouldn't need heroic reserves to just stay here and look after her animal friends?"

        "Ignorance of that, I must confess, thank you for uncovering that mess," Zecora told her.

        "Okay Applebloom," Redheart said, "The sun will be going and I'd like someone who knows the path to lead me back to town."

        "Okay!" Applebloom said cheerfully.

        "I beat trees," Fluttershy murmured as her caretakers smiled.

        Sapphire watched Trixie as the showmare felt the ponies snuggling up all around her. She could see the currents among them and was surprised by the depth and vibrancy of them. She wondered if Trixie realized that she had a home here.

        "I missed this," Trixie told them.

        "You can take my spot, if you want," Derpy told her.

        Trixie shook her head. "No, as you said, it's your spot. I'm just a guest." She leaned close and whispered, "I see the way he looks at you."

        Derpy stammered and blushed as Trixie giggled. Sapphire watched as the currents like webs bound the group together. Even the sphinx had been added and the web shifted to fulling incorporate those who hadn't met earlier.

        Sapphire noted that Blueblood had excused himself and left. Sapphire followed him.

        "Don't you want to stay with the others?" he asked as he bedded down in the guest room.

        "Don't you?" Sapphire asked.

        "Lets say I don't have the species barrier that he does," Blueblood said. He didn't start as Sapphire returned to her native form.

        "Better?" she asked.

        "Why?" he asked.

        "You seem disconnected, lonely even," she said, "Yet you don't try to join the web of connections that surround them. I know for a fact you'd be welcomed."

        "I've been trapped by that web too many times. I relish the idea of being alone. Truly alone, for just a little while. If there's trouble I can get help. But I've been 'cuddled' about as much as I can stand. One reason I wanted to walk the trail. Ponies tend to prize what they've always been denied. I've been at the center of the web, as you put it, and all I felt was tugged in all directions. Here, they are willing to include me, but I don't have to be included. If you understand."

        Sapphire nodded. "I think I can understand. That doesn't stop me from thinking it's insane. They stuffed me so full of love I thought I'd burst at the seams. I even had a few nightmares about it. But I'd still stay with them."

        "That's love. Imagine being in that room, and instead starving to death. That's what I've been through. If I'm going to feel lonely, I've rather do it without a dozen people cuddling up against me," Blueblood said, "I might eventually come to see it your way, but I need to cleanse my palate sort of speak, before I can simply enjoy it."

        Sapphire nodded and left him alone.
Day 57

        Blueblood helped draw the base circle, from which all the others would germinate. Trixie stayed close to the filly and Discord, doing little magic tricks to keep the little one laughing. Celly, Woona and Dinky laid out the secondary circles. Although Celly or Woona supervised Dinky closely. The Big Guy went over the bundles of herb, candles, braziers, incense and other tools that he'd guided Discord and Tom through the creation of. The other reason he'd let the others go. No 'regular' magic would touch these until they were ready.

        He checked the computer printouts from the flow diagrams and finite element analysis charts that he'd cobbled together, mapping the flows of magic into tensor and vector fields. "I'm glad we have Blueblood and Trixie here," The Big Guy said to Hotaru and the Sphinx, "As sure as I am of my calculation, and our experiments show that power flows as our alicorns' description, even the laws of physics break down when high-enough energies are in play."

        "You are expecting a problem?" the Sphinx asked.

        "There's always a problem. The question is, can we solve it in time?" he said and watched as the laptop ran the projection again. "I wish I could bring one of the desktops out here. The laptop can't run the full suite, and what it can run is dreadfully slow."

        "We'll do fine," the Sphinx said, "What's the worst thing that could happen?"

        "We all get converted into insane gods and blow up the universe," he replied, "That's if things go insanely right and we can't compensate."

        "Are you always this negative?" Hotaru asked.

        "Only before the test firing," he replied, "Too many things have to act as you predict, not too well and not too badly."

        The Sphinx and Hotaru exchanged frowns. Then Derpy arrived leading a huge contingent of Changelings.

        "That's more than in the whole hive," Hotaru said.

        The old Queen arrived. "Chrysalis is moving. My two daughters have already left with their followers, good riddance, if they think Chrysalis will share power. As if. But many other hives have fled here."

        "You told them what we're doing, and for whom?" the Sphinx asked.

        The Queen nodded. "They are very eager to help the progenitor. Our Legends speak of us being created. That we were created not as parasites but as helpmates has been a near heresy. That it is the truth has had a very profound affect on our people."

        "How many are you bringing?" the Big Guy asked.

        "Seated in the stadium, about 70,000 with another 35,000 outside." The Queen looked at the stunned expressions. "You said you wanted as many as could be spared to help the ceremony."

        "We did, and we are honored that so many are here to give so willingly," the Big Guy said, "Go ahead and have them take their seats."

        The Queen and Derpy left.

        Hotaru looked at the sphinx as the Big Guy's fingers flew over the keyboard.

        "Don't say anything," Hotaru warned.

        "I don't have time to," he said then grimaced, "This thing is going to take forever to run that calculation. Look, call me when that box clears. I've got to go talked to Celly. She and Discord are going to love this."

        "What was he saying about things going too well?" the Sphinx asked.

        "Oh shut up!" Hotaru replied as she watched the numbers dance across the screen.

        Fluttershy woke and looked around Zecora's home. A note beside the bed read 'out feeding your animals, back soon. Zecora'. Fluttershy relaxed and let the events of the past day wash over her. The seemingly endless waiting for the trees to speak, and listening to their slow and deliberate discussion, before interjecting that Zecora's hut and Twilight's home still lived. Then waited longer for them to begin speaking before repeating her message. She grinned when they had finally responded to her, and asked for time to think. A few days, but she had granted it. Enough time to tell the others what she'd learned and get ready for whatever their next step was.

        She stretched, enjoyed the feeling of sleeping in for once. She loved caring for her animal friends, but unlike the others, she couldn't easily arrange a day off. She thought about the trees and their slow and deliberate way of thinking. Everyone else is always in such a hurry, she thought, I'd like to be able to take some time to think about something, as others and have time to actually listen. Yet they didn't waste time on boasts or frippery. They were as deliberate as Applejack, but not as hasty, as courteous as Rarity, but without all the flourishes. And people wonder why I'd like to be a tree. Direct talk, but enough politeness that no one gets their feelings hurt.

        She sighed and considered if she could have stayed that way for a while, and if her power to 'hear' animals would extend to trees that could actually talk.

        Celly facehoofed. Woona's expression of screwed up concentration marked her attempt to understand the effect. Blueblood looked at the diagram and seemed a step from breaking out in laughter or tears. The Big Guy was unhappy with the absolute lack of answers the experts were providing. "Will it work or not?" he asked.

        Celly stared at him. "You act like this is something we've ever seen before," Celly retorted, "That seventy-thousand -"

        "Hundred and five," Woona commented as she stared at the diagram.

        "Yes, thank you," Celly said, her exasperation turning her pink as she struggled with her temper, "That many participants, not spectators, has never been done. If they do venerate her as the creator, progenitor, big momma of all, the energy flows become large but more erratic. If this stayed in the realm of ordinary magic, yes it would work, but these flows are maybe big enough to rewrite the laws of magic in their field of effect."

        "That may be how my power works, a strong enough field and the laws of reality break down and just give you what you want," Discord said as he stroked his beard, "If it does that, Tom and I and the rest of you should be able to handle it. But we should get the crowd in line with exactly what we want."

        Derpy popped up among them. "Great thing we have Trixie then. She knows how to work a crowd."

        Celly returned to being white and got even paler. Woona, even Hotaru paled and stared at the Big Guy. "You're going to do it, aren't you?"

        "Take control out of our hands and into Discord's?" the Big Guy said, "If it gives us an expert on manipulating the effects, instead of a bunch of us just guessing, or worse, some of one and the rest of the other, you better believe I'm shoving this into the realm of 'we have an expert here.'"

        Discord stared at them. "You're trusting . . . me?"

        "And Tom," Hotaru said, "You won't do anything to hurt the filly. Letting her friends and saviors get crispy-crittered would go in the 'hurt' column."

        "Point of Order," Blueblood said, and raised a hoof, "You are going to be setting off a magical flare so big that your three favorite ponies are bound to detect it. Let alone half the dragons, and untold numbers of others. Not counting the residents of Tartarus."

        "Maybe not," Discord said, "My powers aren't detectable that way. This may be too big to see with magic. Celly, sorry, Tia didn't know I was loose until her guards reported my statue was broken. And if Chrysalis is on the move, she's the one who'd get blamed."

        "Why do I get worried when just thinking about this?" Woona asked.

        " 'We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.' - J. Robert Oppenheimer. The world he destroyed was one where the loss of tens of millions of people, one of every twenty-five then alive, could be tolerated by anyone with the merest pretensions of civilization," he said, "That's what this really means. Once we do this, that djinni can never go back into the bottle. Even if replicating it is impossible, everyone will know it was done at least once."

        The alicorns and Discord moved off to discuss the details among themselves. Hotaru stared at him. "One of these days you're going to have to comprehend just how terrifying you are. On that day, maybe you'll forgive Celestia for how she's reacted to you. And she's that scared of the little part she understands." The dog trotted over to join the other discussion.

        "I am the Great and Powerful Trixie!" Trixie announced to the crowd.

        "I am the Great and Powerful Trixie!" Sapphire as Trixie announced.

        "I am the Great and Powerful Trixie!" Another changeling as Trixie announced.

        "I'm the Grated and Powderized Trixie!" one changeling in the most awful Trixie mask and wig shouted.

        "There's always one in every crowd," Sapphire and Trixie said.

        Within moments the entire stadium had proclaimed and appeared to be Trixie, or a close approximation.

        Before she could blow her stack, Blueblood shouted, "By the Hearth! The franchise rights would make you rich beyond the dreams of avarice!"

        All the Trixies facehoofed. Then the Trixie on the field spoke up. "Then you should understand what shall be asked of you," RealTrixie called to the throng of ChangelingTrixies.

        "Of course, are we not The Great and Powerful Trixie?" The Changelings called back.

        "Am I really that irritating?" Trixie asked Blueblood quietly.

        "No, but you could be," Blueblood said, "Study with the Master and becomes as consummately irritating as I am." He posed with a hoof on his chest.

        Trixie shook her head then looked back at the stands, and literally thousands of Bluebloods staring back at her, posing, grinning, and generally being the magnificent stallion Blueblood was. She tore her eyes away and looked at the original. He was facing away from them.

        "I always wanted to see the back of my head," Blueblood explained.

        "But, you're . . . " Trixie stopped as she saw the crowd. Half were Bluebloods, half were Trixies. Half of the pairs had Blueblood with a hoof under Trixie's chin, and Trixie all a tremble. The other half were Trixie hoofing Blueblood's chin and he was all a tremble.

        "KNOCK IT OFF!" Trixie told them in the most reasonable tone possible.

        With the entire stadium back to being full of bug ponies, Trixie and Blueblood explained what was expected, and how best they could help their progenitor. The bug ponies shouted and screamed to beat any pack of fillies at a popstar's concert.

        "We're gonna get vaporized," Blueblood whispered, "You do know that don't you?"

        The circles thrummed with power, but the huge number and excitement of the changelings reinforced the outermost circle and held the terrible forces within. While her horn glowed like a star, Celly concentrated on the spell that carefully removed the girls terrifying magical potential from her, while Woona carefully distributed it to the others. She could feel her sister mirroring her own awe and horror at the vastness of the girl's magic potential, and her relief that the outer protection spells were as powerful as they were.

        No wonder the girl's powers were killing her, she thought as she carefully pared them down to something she could live with, and at the same time dipped into power to strengthen the girl's body to survive the power they were leaving her. She felt the residue of the spells that had been used on this child in the womb. So 'Molly Be Damned' did that to her child on purpose. If she was that unethical why didn't she imprint unquestioning loyalty in her as well?

        The others were absorbing the increase without trouble. Woona strained to build the abilities up slowly in each, but all but the Big Guy reveled in their growing strength. He was hunched over staring at his palms. She put it out of her mind. He'd call a halt if he couldn't handle it.

        Most disturbing was Blueblood, walking the area between the inner and outer circle, surveying the progress and protection. How could I have been so blind? she wondered, Easy, he is as good an actor as Trixie, and he masterfully played the role.

        She didn't want to think the spell was going 'too smoothly', Discord and Tom were manipulating another level of energy beyond magic, and everything was reaching a climax. She had fortified herself and Woona first, feeding samples to the others as they grew ready for them, and giving Discord and Tom the balance or denying them the deficit. So they alone received the erratic power flows.

        The spell to set all their new powers, higher or lower, began and she could feel the spirit of wonder in most ponies, the spirit of relief in the girl and Discord. But neither the Big Guy nor Tom were reacting, they simply were. Not even boundless curiosity flowed from them. Celly was concerned, but she'd ask later.

        Without any disasters, any hiccups or slips, she closed the spell. As the lines of the inner circles and sigils faded, she relaxed onto the ground. She had regained all her size and power, and then some. Wittle Woona stood as proud and tall as she did, and then decided, as she also had, that lying down was the better option. Derpy preened her wings, apparently unchanged, although Celly knew better. Dinky proved the wisdom of youth by curling her tail around herself and taking a nap. Sapphire looked around with new eyes. She was no longer a princess, but a queen as powerful as an alicorn. Neither the Sphinx nor the Big Guy seemed different, she took Dinky's route, while he followed Sapphire's, looking at everything.

        The first sour note formed as the flaming head appeared outside the containment. Celly tried to stand, but exhaustion had finally caught up with her, Woona, Discord and even Tom. She was stunned when Blueblood touched the inner wall of the outer circle, and directed the energy at the flaming head.

        The girl let out a yelp as Blueblood with an actinic flash of light, once and forever banished the worm in her mind. Celly was going to congratulate him as her vision returned, when she realized the meadow she was lying in had no resemblance to the sports stadium, and that only Woona was with her.

        "Whaaaaaa?!" Woona shouted as she shot to her hooves, only to totter and collapse a moment later, "Hppn?" she asked after spitting out a mouthful of grass.

        "I think we have a problem," Celly said, "Besides exhaustion."

        Trixie marched up to a horrified Blueblood. "Please tell me this is one of your 'Igor improvisations'," she said as the changelings stormed the field to buoy up their magna mater.

        Blueblood glanced at the Sphinx and Hotaru who shrugged helplessly and proceeded to the filly they'd rescued. "I don't know what went wrong," Blueblood admitted.

        Trixie facehooved. "They are going to kill us for this," she said.

        "I certainly hope they can try," Blueblood said.

        The implication descended on Trixie like a thunderbolt.

        Discord looked down at the hard gray surface beneath him, then over at Tom. "Is this what I think this is?" he asked, peering close so he could make out the tiny Discord figure on Tom's surface.

        "Yes," Tom replied.

        "I love it!" Discord shouted.

        The ice and cold weather was no worse than what they had been dressed for. Dinky clung to the ice and grinned. Derpy stretched out her wings and gave them an experimental flap. Then folded them back into her cold weather clothes. The Big Guy stood to stretch, and immediately dropped to the ground and motioned for the mother and daughter to do the same and remain quiet. The Big Guy carefully lifted Dinky over himself and set her beside Derpy as he mentally wrestled with the glimpse of what he'd seen, and where he remembered it from. My Little Pony, idiot, that's where you saw it, he told himself.

        He motioned for the pair to stay put. Dinky had already taken shelter under her mother's wing as the Big Guy crawled along the icy surface. A short distance was a large crack in the ice that would let him get a better look without poking his head above the ridgeline. An absolute no-no when scouting.

        He saw it, the huge mass barely visible under the sheet of ice. But if the ice is translucent, something is illuminating it from below, he thought. He hadn't brought binoculars, but the two immense patches of actual white amid the sea of white tinged purple suggested eyes. Open eyes. Whatever massive object it was it had either died with its eyes open, or it was awake.

        He crawled back to Derpy. "We have to get out of her but staying low enough it can't see us," he said.

        "It?" Derpy asked. Dinky snuggled against her mother, frightened, but trying to stay quiet and brave.

        "Maybe it's a natural feature or a huge ice sculpture, but I'm not betting our lives on it." He scratched Dinky behind the ears to calm her down. "I'll take a look at the other side to see if there's a way down."

        Derpy caught him with a leg. "If there's a long drop, I can fly us out of here," she told him.

        "All three of us?" he asked.

        "I'm sure," she told him, "This morning I couldn't have, but after the ceremony, I'm sure I can."

        He nodded and crawled to the edge. There were other crags of ice, but in one place was a free passage down several hundred feet to the plains. He marked it and crawled back. "Right there. We should be able to make it," he said and unzipped his heavy overcoat to stuff Dinky inside. "Are you sure about this?"

        "Absolutely," she said as she crawled over to the launch site.

        The Big guy got Dinky situated and seated between them as Derpy stuffed her coat under him and he sat on Derpy's back. He wrapped his legs around her barrel to clear her wings and wrapped his arms around her neck.

        "Oh so that's what you feel like on my back," Derpy said seriously, then giggled. While the Big Guy grumbled, she leapt off the cliff. A moment later he clutched her tight as the ice wall raced by and the field of ice boulders approached.

        She popped er wings out and they were racing along near the ground. She flapped occasionally as she built speed. She continued racing along near the ground, climbing ever so slowly. The Big Guy noted that despite the cold and the speed, there was no wind chill.

        They flew that way for a while, then Derpy started climbing sharply. "Face forward and keep your mouth open," Derpy told them, "Breathe out through your nose."

        The Big guy got Dinky situated so she could do the same as they climbed. He noticed the sky darkening despite the sun being visible in the clear sky. He decided not to mention that the air had remained comfortable and breathable during her accent and cruise. And that Derpy seemed able to fly that distance, at high speed clearly overloaded and unbalanced. He let her enjoy the flight and her feeling of protecting her foal and friend. He glanced back and could barely make out where they'd started from, but could see bits of the purple field through the ice. He kept the size of the target to himself for the moment.