• Published 7th Apr 2012
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Scion of Chaos - SilentBelle

Sweetie Belle plans on learning the basics of magic, but what she discovers is so much more.

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Chapter 6 - Trials and Tribulations

Scion of Chaos Chapter 6: Trials and Tribulations

All she did was focus on breathing for a minute as her panting slowly eased back to its normal pattern. She was collapsed, tired, sopping wet, and yet, happier to be alive than she had ever been before.

Truthfully, the filly would have been quite content to just remain there on the bed of grass, partaking in the delicious fresh air; however, the gentle breeze, which played along the snaking river, brought about a chilly reminder of her situation. With a shiver, Sweetie Belle pulled herself upright and gave herself a thorough shaking, doing her best to ignore her drooping mop of a mane. There were other things that the filly could spend her time worrying about.

“Hey Scoddri,” the unicorn called out, now that she was standing up, “what was that monster anyway?”

“That, my dear, was a creature known as an owlbear,” Scoddri stated matter-of-factly. “Quite the ferocious carnivore. The latent magic of this dark forest has changed some of the fauna to better hunt and sneak up on their prey, unfortunately these changes are not only physical, but have rendered many of the creatures here significantly maddened and ferocious. Many of them have lost the ability of speech that their ancestors once had. Such can be the price of survival, I suppose.

“So do tread carefully Sweetie Belle, and be warned that there is no reasoning with something that cannot understand you. There is still quite the distance to cover and the longer you spend out here, the more likely you are to run into another beast.”

“Thanks Scoddri,” Sweetie Belle replied sincerely. “Now which way should I go?”

“To the right, follow the river downstream for a while. Though I am curious, why are you thanking me?” the voice sounded perplexed. “I would have expected you to tell me to stop trying to scare you, or perhaps some sarcastic jest, but thanking me? I never thought to see the day. What brought this about, my dear?”

“You'll still hear plenty of sarcasm from me,” the unicorn stated flatly, as she set out along the gently rolling bank of the river. “But I remember it clearly: when that monster--the owlbear--nearly had me, if it hadn't been for you yelling at me to run, I wouldn't have made it out of there. So, it made me realize something.”

“Oh and what might that be?” Scoddri replied, curiosity still thick in his voice.

“You actually care about me,” Sweetie Belle finished, stopping to smile sincerely. “Thanks for caring about me Scoddri, you're now my friend.”

A mocking flood of laughter met Sweetie Belle's ears, and her smile slipped a bit in her confusion.

“Surely you must be joking Sweetie Belle. You are going to offer your friendship to a voice that you hear in your head?” Scoddri questioned wryly, “You do realize that if other ponies were to know you've been talking to voices, many would call you hurtful things.”

“That couldn't be much worse than already being called a 'blank flank' all the time,” the unicorn reasoned, as she kicked a hoof absentmindedly. “Besides, it would be wrong to not be friends with somepony who just saved my life. If being a crusader has taught me anything, it's that the opinions of your friends are what truly matter, not those other ponies who call you names.”

“Oh, so that means my opinions matter to you?” Scoddri asked sharply, “Then I shall say it just one more time, to be perfectly clear. Sweetie Belle there are far more hurtful things to be said than the teasing of school fillies, but you can only come to understand it when you've lived it. However, if you do so wish it, then you may call me friend, or Scoddri if you prefer; and I however, shall continue calling you girl, idiot and fool.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “Well, that's a roundabout way of saying 'thank you'.”

“Believe me girl, there is plenty of fun to be had in being roundabout about things,” he stated jovially. “Though, if you are too roundabout in getting out of these woods by nightfall, well then, let's just say that I'll be glad I'm just some voice, and not a filly caught in the jaws of some horrendous monstrosity.”

“I'm not being roundabout,” Sweetie Belle muttered, as she spurred herself back into motion once again. “I'm following the river downstream just as you said.”

“You may be facing the right way, but if you stop walking every time you open your mouth, then what's the point?”

Sweetie Belle just frowned as she decided to ignore his jibes and instead decided to take in the scenery as she passed it by. At this point in her venture, the foreign aesthetic of the forest, as well as her interest in the magic glow proliferating from her surroundings, had since dwindled as her mind soon became occupied with more primal issues.

After a mere ten minutes of walking the unicorn let out a moan of exasperation and stopped in her tracks.

“Ugh, I can't take it anymore,” she complained to Scoddri. “I'm really hungry.”

“Well you're a pony, aren't you? Eat some grass,” Scoddri suggested, as if it were the simplest solution in the world. “Just don't eat a plant that you've never seen before and you should be fine.”

“But grass? Nopony eats grass, that's just gross,” Sweetie Belle rebuked, the very thought of performing such an act made her feel queasy.

“Ponies eat hay don't they? It's the same thing girl.”

“But grass is all green, and soggy, and gross, while hay is crispy and only tastes good with syrup.”

“You have some peculiar tastes girl. So tell me, what would you eat then?” Scoddri questioned. “Given the choice of any food in the world.”

“Hmm,” she tapped a hoof lightly as she considered her options, “I think I'd want cake. A blueberry cheesecake with chocolate syrup and whipped cream on top.”

“Cake? Really? After trekking through the Everfree for half a day, you would want cake, of all things?” Scoddri mocked her choice through bouts of laughter. “I do suppose a foal will be a foal, even in the midst of the perils of the Everfree.”

“Oh yeah? Well what would you want then?” Sweetie Belle asked, hoping to turn the tables on him.

“My dear, I'm glad you asked,” the voice began with his teasing, saccharine voice. “It has been a while since I had any choice in the matter. I suppose I'd settle for a nice cool glass of chocolate milk.”

“That sounds even more foalish than cake,” the young filly stated. “Besides, that's not even a food, it's a drink.”

“Those are mere semantics, my dear. it's a consumable source of nutrition, it counts, and for what it's worth, I know it's a foalish choice, but it's my choice to make. And a glass of chocolate milk has no equal in my mind.”

Sweetie Belle just shook her head. Talking to the voice could be tiring, and the conversation only emphasized her growing hunger.

“I give up,” she said. “Maybe I'll just eat the grass then.”

The filly then sat down where she was and reached down with her head to a nearby tuft of wild grass. She hesitantly sniffed at the patch before her. It smelled exactly as could be expected, which is to say, it smelled like grass. Bracing herself for the inevitable revulsion that was to come, she leaned forward and took a bite.

To her surprise, the taste wasn't quite as vulgar as she had imagined it would be. In fact, it had a certain freshness to it that she hadn't quite tasted before in any other foods she had eaten. Behind the freshness however was still an overpowering taste of green, as if the flavours of unripened lettuce, cabbage, and cucumber had all been tossed together into some powerful concoction. It didn't taste too great, but she could eat it.

Over the next ten minutes the filly managed to sate her appetite on a meager portion of the long grasses. It seemed as though eating foods with poor flavour had an unanticipated effect of eroding her hunger before she actually felt full.

“I guess there's a reason why ponies cook, huh? I think I just found a new appreciation for Pinkie Pie's baking,” she admitted to herself as she got back onto her hooves and shook herself free of any grass that had decided to cling to her coat during her impromptu lunch. “Now to wash it all down with some fresh river water.”

After a refreshing drink to rid the vile aftertaste from her mouth, the filly felt replenished enough so as not to drag her hooves as she walked. And to her surprise when she looked down at her own legs, it looked as if the were glowing brighter than they had before.

“Hey Scoddri,” Sweetie Belle wondered aloud as she walked upon the riverbank, “is there a reason why I glow brighter after eating?”

“Oh, so you noticed then? I was certain something as subtle as a slight influx in magic would have slipped past your notice, you surprise me yet again, girl. I suppose I can offer an explanation, so long as you keep up the brisk pace.”

Sweetie Belle nodded in response as she eagerly awaited his explanation, making sure to keep her attention divided between Scoddri's voice and keeping a solid stride.

“As you are well aware, the glowing that you see is your perception of magic, and it's not just sight, but smell, taste, sound, feeling, all of it. It intermingles with all of your other senses, that's why the grass didn't taste as bad as you had thought it would. Your perception of its magic overlaid with the taste, in effect, altering the over-all flavour slightly. It only goes to reason that when everything you see is different, the things you taste will all taste different as well.

“But I'm getting off-track, so I'll get to the point,” Scoddri said, making a sound akin to the clearing of a throat. “What you saw was a change in your own magic levels. You see, the most fundamental way for any creature to replenish their magic is through the consumption of food. Though there are other ways, eating is, by far, the most common.”

“What other ways are there?” Sweetie Belle wondered aloud as she traversed the banks of the river. “It could be useful to know in case of emergency.”

“Hmm, well I suppose the next most common form of replenishing one's own magic levels is through sleep. Although, that's not so much a generation of more magic within the body as it is a reorganization of magic that has become imbalanced due to its overuse.”

“You get an imbalance in magic if you use it too much?” her curiosity spoke freely as she wrapped her mind around the concept that Scoddri had laid out for her. “What does an imbalance do, just make you tired? Is that why we all go to sleep, to fix the imbalance?”

“Ah, sadly you are quite incorrect in that assumption my dear,” Scoddri noted in a chiding fashion, “for you see, the magic imbalance happens only to ponies who are able to move the magic around themselves, so this usually effects only unicorns. While all ponies do indeed need to sleep, what an imbalance does most often, is cause pain in an area of the body that lacks a sufficient amount of magic. More pain if the area of the body is missing a significant amount of magic.

“Quite often this causes headaches for many unicorns who overexert themselves, most unicorns are not even aware that they can draw their magic out from different parts of their body and instead, they tend to use the closest available source. Which would be their heads at the base of their horn, and for most, this is not much of a problem, for the body will accept the flow of higher concentrations of magic to the areas of lower concentrations, thus compensating for any loss, though the process is not instantaneous. Which is why some unicorns have headaches that can last all day long.”

“Huh." The filly raised an eyebrow. “So you're saying that it matters where I take my magic from? Wait, I've been pulling my magic from my heart, isn't that dangerous?”

“Indeed, magic itself is quite dangerous my dear, it's a practice where ignorance and impatience can lead to disaster. Which is why I have told you that you need a safe place to practice magic.”

“So then where is this place anyway? And what makes it so special?”

“My dear little pony, there are some questions that are far easier to explain by experiencing it in the flesh, and both of your questions are prime examples of this. Besides it gives a fitting sense of mystery when you can still wonder: Where is it that I am leading you?”

Sweetie Belle continued her walking in silence as she went over Scoddri's explanations of magic. It appeared the more she learned of it, the more dangerous it all sounded. I wonder if it would have been better to never have learned about magic at all.

* * *

While the scenery did change, it didn't change enough for Sweetie Belle to feel as though she were making any progress on her trek. The river was still to her side, and the plants were still luscious and as overgrown as the rest of the forest. Running out of any striking new flora to capture her imagination, her mind began playing back the memories from earlier that afternoon, of her encounter with the ferocious owlbear.

She could hear its deep breaths uttered from its shadowed maw. She could see its massive body of feathers and fur looming over her once again, poised to strike at her. Its maddened yellow eyes holding her motionless in their gaze.

A shiver ran down the unicorn's spine, and she shook her head sharply in an attempt to stop the onslaught of imagery that crept from the recesses of her mind.

“Hey Scoddri...?” she questioned tentatively. “Do you think you could tell me more about magic? It's boring without someone to talk to.”

“Girl, listen here,” the detached voice commanded, “I am not going to tell you any more about magic until you get to your destination. Knowing your curiosity, if I told you any more about such things, you would make some half-baked plan and burn half of the forest down.”

“Well, can't we talk about anything else then?” Sweetie Belle begged, her nerves still on edge.

Scoddri let loose a quiet sigh, “I suppose it couldn't hurt to keep you entertained a little while. You certainly do seem to move quicker when you aren't looking over your shoulder at every surrounding bush and shadow. And since I have you as my perfect, unwilling audience, I'm going to tell you a story and there is nothing that you can do to stop me. Save for one thing my dear, if you interject before I am done my story, then my story is done.”

The unicorn let a small smile fall upon her lips as she continued her journey, glad to have something to occupy her mind.

“There was a time, long ago, when ponies mistrusted each other, save only for their families. They feared strangers and saw the worst in everypony's every action. Though to survive, the ponies needed to rely on one another, and so they did, begrudgingly.

“The pegasi and unicorns needed the earth ponies' foods, the pegasi and earth ponies needed unicorn magic, and of course the pegasi were needed to serve as stewards of the local weather. They had formed a fragile harmony, though I am certain you know this legend as the tale of 'Hearth's Warming Eve'.

“There was a time after that however, a time of fragile peace, that some ponies began to search for other things in life. Now that they lived more efficiently, they found there was plenty more spare time cropping up in their lives. So some wrote stories, others crafted beautiful pieces of art, and others still pursued innovative new understandings of the world. For the first time in their history, all ponies could have dreams and fulfill them without spending all their time on struggling to keep themselves alive.

“And so it was at that time that one poured himself into the understandings of the nature of magic. He was a magician who dreamed of being greater than any other in the world, to push the boundaries of what magic could be and how it could be used. In his youth he learned and excelled quickly beyond anypony else he had met, so he set out upon the world to seek the fulfillment of his dream.

“Now, while he was traveling about from village to village, city to city, he challenged anypony he came across to a duel in magic. If they declined he just nodded, and walked by, for he only wanted to face the best of the best so that he might improve himself and be that much closer to his dream.

“Soon enough the magician became fairly renowned throughout the land. He was proud of his success, however it did not last long. The fragile peace that held the land of ponies together shattered in an instant, and with it, his chances of fulfilling his dream. For the ponies had began to mistrust each other once again.

“He scorned the ponies who threw themselves into petty conflict for pointless reasons. How could he fulfill his dream if all the world was in conflict? There was no way he could stay focused in his pursuit if he had to grow his own food, control his own weather as well as perform the myriad of other mundane tasks that fill up the day.

“So this magician devised a plan. For you see, at his core he was a master of his own fate, and he believed that there was no greater tragedy in all the world than to be a slave to one's own fate. He looked down upon those other ponies with loathing and pity. How pathetic they were, ignorant and living in fear, unable to remember the beauty of living freely, in the pursuit of dreams.

“'I will change their fates,' he promised. 'I will awaken them to their faults, lead them to a world where dreams can be realized.'

“With his tremendous magical power he was able to pull the disorganized ponies under his rule. One by one they all fell under his dominion. He gave them orders, organized them, and in a rule of tyranny he ordered the ponies to craft a beautiful city, buildings that ponies had only ever dreamed of soon became reality. For with his vision, he led the ponies to making the world so much more than it had been.

“The magician's beautiful city came at a terrible price however, for he was cruel and strict. He worked the ponies hard and awarded them only with enough to eat. Beneath his rule they plotted rebellion, and of this, he was aware.

“But his choice was not as one might think. He did not crush the seeds of rebellion before they took root. No, this rebellion was to be part of the very dream that he sought. For he still remembered those days long past, when he would face worthy adversaries, when he forced himself to push boundaries, and to meet the next challenger with pride and confidence. Those near-forgotten days when he was so close to reaching the pinnacle of understanding all of magic.

“So years passed by under his rule and the rebellion grew while the tyrant played at ignorance and kept his regime strict and heartless. Until the day finally came.

“He heard the uprising erupt from every district in the city. The streets thundered under the hooves of the now-militant ponies of all kinds. They had banded together, and their two leaders lead them right to the tyrant's throne to dispatch the evil ruler once and for all.

“There the tyrant awaited them, every one of his subjects had revolted. After all this time, he finally had a challenger who would push his limits further than ever before. And a battle of magic that ponykind had never seen before erupted in his very chamber.

“The rabble of rebels were quickly routed and told to retreat while the two leaders decided to face down the tyrant themselves. But even those two were eventually bested by his magic.

“So as he had in his younger years, he left the defeated ponies behind, knowing that they would recover and seek him again later, when they were stronger, and perhaps during that conflict he could gain an even finer understanding of magic.

“However, as he was leaving the room, the defeated leaders sprung up in unison, launching a combined, unknown magic upon the tyrant. With that single moment of surprise, the leaders had sealed the tyrant away forever and liberated ponykind from oppression.

“In the following years, the two ruled together and became beloved by their subjects. However, they hadn't noticed that their liberation years ago had caused a massive imbalance in the surrounding area's magic. A forest began encroaching upon the city at a rapid rate, and the creatures within these newly formed woods threatened the livelihoods of their subjects. So the two leaders gathered the ponies together and abandoned one of the greatest cities that had ever been built. To start anew, free from the shackles of the past.

“And that, dear Sweetie Belle, is how the ruined buildings you see before you, came to be.” Scoddri finished, just as the weary unicorn stumbled past a thicket and saw a few crumbled buildings in the distance, which rose out from the surrounding Everfree forest. Their decrepit battlements loomed ominously as they caught a few stray rays of the late afternoon sunlight.

End of Chapter 6