• 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 7 - Shadows of the Past

Scion of Chaos - Chapter 7: Shadows of the Past
By: SilentBelle

“So this is it then?” Sweetie Belle asked as she took in the sight before her. The river ran in a shallow crescent around half of the ruined castle wall. The remains were dilapidated to say the least, much of its brickwork had long since slipped from the aged mortar that had held it together for centuries. Most of the roofing was missing and only the thickest of walls still held firm against the years of encroaching forest, though the unicorn doubted that they would provide any sort of deterrent from the local fauna.

“You look rather unimpressed my dear, but perhaps you will change your mind when you get a closer look at the true marvel that these ruins are. These ruins are not only a mere testament to the architects of yore, but they remain here, after all these years, and still perform most of their original function.” Scoddri proclaimed in sullen praise. “A formidable fortress it was, indeed. How sad to see it slowly succumbing to the gentle flow of time.”

“I thought the point of walls was to keep things out. How can a dusty, broken wall still perform its function?” the unicorn asked, not too keen on spending the night where any monster from the forest could just sneak up on her. “I see a bunch of ways to get past the wall, I don't think it's doing a very good job.”

“Well, take a closer look my dear, and perhaps you will be able to figure out what its function actually was,” the voice chided.

Sweetie Belle set a frown upon her face as she approached the dubious wall of stone. Something seemed off about the largest segments of the wall, but she couldn't place her hoof on it, it just felt unnatural; though she never had seen any 'natural' ancient ruins to compare it with. The aged gray stones caught a few patches of stray sunlight, and she was certain they would have glistened, had they not been ground down over the ages of weather. Along the base of the wall were patches of gray sand.

“I don't know,” the filly called out as she raised an eyebrow. “It just looks like an old wall to me.”

“To be entirely honest girl, sometimes you surprise me, but those moments are few and far between. It is far more often that I find myself disappointed, until I remember that you are nothing more than filly,” Scoddri said with a light sigh. “So allow me to phrase the question another way, girl. Tell me what it is that you aren't seeing.”

Sweetie Belle's face displayed a frown once more in the wake of Scoddri's candid insult. “That's not a very nice thing to say,” she muttered to herself as she peered once more at the old gray stone wall before her.

It took her all of half a minute, as well as a glance to the forest behind her, until she let out a small gasp at her realization of what Scoddri wanted her to notice about the stone.

But that should be impossible, Scoddri said that everything has magic in it, the filly thought to herself, and decided that perhaps her eyes were deceiving her. So she reached down to her heart, and willed some magic into her horn. She watched in pleased fixation, as the magic flowed through her so readily. With a light grin now on her lips, she leaned forward to tap her horn against the imposing stone bastion. Just as her horn touched the stone she felt a chill shoot through her horn and her magic suddenly faded from her horn as if it had never existed.

“The stone, it ate my magic,” the filly uttered in surprise, as she leaped back in wary fear, before promptly rubbing her now-tingling horn. “But how's that possible?”

“Ah, so now you notice what it is that makes this place special. It's this type of stone that had been developed by the long-gone ponies that once lived here. Quite the wonder, even to this day,” the voice stated in fondly. “However, it does have a certain magic within it, a negative type of magic, if that makes any sense to you. Their original purpose was to protect against all forms of magic, and it still does so to this day; so well in fact, that the forest is still held at bay.”

The unicorn frowned once again and shot the ancient bulwark a derisive stare. “But that still doesn't answer my original question. How could this wall keep me safe from the creatures in the forest? I mean, they aren't like the plants, that have to grow in one place, what's so special about these rocks that would keep the animals and monsters away too?”

“And now you are back to surprising me with your astuteness, my dear. Though it seems whether you surprise me or not, it's always in the form of a question. I suppose that you won't just take my word that it's safe?” the wry voice asked dolefully, not surprised to see Sweetie Belle shaking her head sternly in response, and he let out a sigh in defeat. “Very well then, I'll try to explain it in a way that won't leave you with too many questions afterward, after all the sun is going to set soon, and there are still things to be done.”

Sweetie Belle opened her mouth, just about to ask what it was that needed to be done before nightfall, when she was interrupted.

“I'll explain after, girl. Just stay quiet and listen,” the voice rebuked her, and so, she sat down and closed her mouth smoothly to form a frown, which was becoming a new popular expression for the filly.

“Now, as I said, this stone is special, it naturally absorbs magic, and with every bit of magic it absorbs, the wall dissolves by a proportional amount. And Sweetie Belle, you know that all things have magic in them, you've seen it all throughout this forest, and inside yourself as well. And this chunk of wall absorbs magic that comes near it. My dear, if any creature were to spend too long near these walls, then they would most certainly feel the effects of their own magic leaving them, which is why touching this wall makes you cold, even in the middle of Summer. That is also why creatures do not enter this ruin unless they have no other choice. And since all the creatures in this area are wild, mindless, beasts, the one thing that they do have in abundance is the freedom of choice.

“And before you ask,” Scoddri interrupted the filly once more, just as she opened her mouth to speak, “It is dangerous to sleep here, but only if you sleep too close to the walls. After all, if a castle that was surrounded by such walls existed, there must have been somewhere inside where it was safe to live, otherwise that defeats the purpose of creating the castle in the first place.

“So please, girl, do me a favour, and think your questions through before you ask them. It has been said that there's no such thing as a bad question, but there are tedious and annoying ones. These are the sort that have answers which you should be able to figure out by yourself.”

“Sorry, I didn't know my question were so annoying,” Sweetie Belle said dejectedly. “I'll be more careful from now on.”

Scoddri gave a dry chuckle in response. “Girl, given your record, you tend to perform better when you aren't trying to be careful.”

The filly wasn't too amused by his mirthful chortling, nor by the implications of his words. A few new questions quickly surfaced in her mind. How does he know about how often I've messed up? How long has he been following me for? Since the day I learned how to use magic, or before that? She was about to voice those exact concerns, but she bit her tongue. That's not important right now, and I don't think Scoddri wants me to ask unimportant questions.

“Hey Scoddri?” Sweetie Belle asked tentatively. She couldn't hold back her smirk as she heard the voice let out an exaggerated sigh.

“Not even a minute, and another question, I'm not a talking history book, you know.”

“No, you're just the voice of one trapped inside my head,” Sweetie Belle countered and stuck her tongue for a more pronounced effect.

“Hah, touché my dear,” he guffawed heartily. “So what was your question then?”

“What do I need to do before nightfall? You made it sound kind of important before.”

“Indeed, if you are done learning the history of this giant hunk of rock, then it is time to get to work, my girl. You know, one of the most glorious things about living in the great outdoors is the freedoms that you are granted, getting to choose your own bedtime, when to eat, for that matter what to eat, and what to do with your day; it's all yours to choose. No adults to interfere with what you want to do,” he began his spiel, “but alas it also comes with a price, my dear. That being the burden of responsibility. And so, young filly, you are faced with a bunch of responsibilities you have never had before.”

Sweetie Belle cocked her head to the side and raised an eyebrow as she listened.

“Are you hungry? If not now, you will be. Then, my dear, this means you have to find some food. You are going to get tired as well, if you aren't already; well, that means you are going to have to find some form of shelter,” he declared in an amused manner. “Luckily for you, it's the middle of summer, and there just so happens to be an ancient abandoned castle for you to hunker down in, so you don't have much to fear when it comes to sleep. So, all that remains is for you to find something to eat, both for tonight and for when you wake up.”

“So then, where should I start looking?” she asked as she peered at the decrepit castle, it looked like a prop that would be used during Nightmare Night, and the sun hadn't even set yet.

“Well, I'd suggest looking in a place where there are actual plants growing,” he quipped snidely. “Unless you believe you will find a picnic basket hidden in amongst the dust and rocks of this place.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes, got to her hooves and turned back toward the forest she had come from. She saw the leaves of the forest's towering trees, they had transformed into blanket of golden-orange under the light of the lowering sun. Meandering beneath the wondrous canopy, the wild snake of a river that she had followed, flowed forth from within its reaches. The now-shadowy waters could be heard whispering off in the distance. Well at least I don't have to worry about being thirsty.

So the unicorn made her way towards the stream before beginning her search for food. The water was fresh, and she drank it thankfully, quenching a thirst she hadn't realized she had.

After an overzealous act of refreshment, followed by a short rest amongst the long grasses of the riverbank, Sweetie Belle's attention quickly became occupied by thoughts of food.

Her hunger had been stowed away since her last meal, hidden beneath the building pain of constant walking, as well as her even more prominent thirst. Now that both those foes had been thwarted, or at least offset, hunger now took center stage.

As if to reinforce the point, her stomach growled loudly enough to make her blush, even alone in the woods, with no other pony for miles, the sound was quite embarrassing. She was just glad that Rarity was nowhere near to hear.

Sweetie Belle was suddenly reminded of the last time she belched after eating her sister's delicious cooking, the whole situation had escalated into an argument about what 'proper etiquette' was and how 'unladylike' it was to behave in such a manner. And as was the norm, the whole debacle ended with Sweetie Belle running out the door and bucking the door closed.

Great, now I'm reminded of sis' good food. The filly looked at the grass around her and let out a bleak sigh and got to her hooves. I am not going to eat any more grass today, unless I have to.

Under the scope of a cloudless sunset the young unicorn forged her way to the outskirts of the forest. She made it her goal for the evening to find something aside from grass for supper. As she walked, she also made sure to stay out of the darkening shadows of the woods.

After nearly a quarter of an hour of traversing the tree line, while keeping an eye trained upon the ruined structure in the distance, Sweetie Belle noticed a glowing light which drew her attention toward a strange plant.

It was a bush unlike any she had ever seen. This wasn't to say that the filly was well-versed in botany, in fact she had very little experience in that field of knowledge; 'Cutie Mark Crusader: Botanists', was a particular venture that the three fillies had never actually gotten around to, and consequently, Sweetie Belle had no idea what the bush in front of her was.

It was a thorny and stiff plant compared to much of the surrounding flora. Beneath the snarl of sprawling thorns she could barely make out numerous white stones. Amidst the low light of the setting sun, as well as the contrastingly bright glow of other plant-life, she couldn't make out some of the finer details. But what did draw her eyes and held them locked in place were the large glowing berries amidst the cage of thorny branches.

In a moment her mouth was watering as she imagined feasting upon the succulent snack; after eating grass, fruit would certainly be the most delectable of desires to grace her palate. There remained only one obstacle between her and certain bliss, that being a few feet of thorns.

Sweetie Belle began pacing around the bush as she looked for a possible route to the desired fruit.

“Oh, if it isn't a bristleberry bush,” Scoddri chimed in, “I haven't seen one of those in ages. The most delicious of fruit to ever touch anypony's lips, and yet one of the hardest to harvest. Be careful girl, it has a subtle aroma that will make you crave the berries over any other food, which could prove problematic because the thorns are poisonous.”

The filly opened her eyes wide in fear and jumped back from the mass of thorns.

“Yes, a strange plant indeed,” the voice continued. “One of the only plants to actually eat the animals that attempt to eat it. But some have claimed, over the years, that the danger is worth it, considering the flavour of the prize.

“Then those small white stones are... bones?” Sweetie Belle asked as the concept of an animal-eating plant began to sink in.

“Yes,” Scoddri said simply. “Mostly just small rodents, considering their size.”

“Why didn't you say anything sooner?” the unicorn accused, “if it had touched me I would have been a goner, I was only a few inches away.”

The voice laughed away at the angered filly before responding to her question, “Perhaps I thought it more amusing to see what you would do. So long as you didn't leap into the snarl of branches, you would have been fine, my dear. There was very little danger in taking a close look at the plant. The poison of the bristleberry bush is not meant for larger creatures, although it would have been quite the sight to see half of your face go numb from the thorns. I can imagine it now, slurred speech and panicked questions; perhaps I shouldn't have told you about the bush. Oh, it would have been so priceless!”

Sweetie Belle merely snorted in derision at Scoddri's taunting, though the annoyance that she felt quickly dissipated. It's not his fault, and nothing bad actually happened, she admitted to herself with a sigh. I shouldn't be mad at somepony who's just looking out for me.

“Ah, a sigh of hunger,” the voice mocked. “Even amidst a veritable wall of thorns, or perhaps because of the thorns, the bristleberry looks even more delicious. Wouldn't you love to savor such a famed delicacy?”

“But the thorns are in the way,” the unicorn complained with a frown. “And I don't want half of my face to go numb just so you can laugh at me.”

“Indeed my dear,” he cooed soothingly, “but you are forgetting something entirely fundamental to your journey thus far.”

“And that is...?” Sweetie Belle asked, waiting for the voice to make his point.

“Why, you are a unicorn of course! Surely you could use your magic to attain the succulent fruit that is barred from your reach.”

“But I can't use magic properly,” the filly complained. “Otherwise I would have tried already.”

“And you never will use it 'properly' unless you try. Girl, I thought you came out into these woods, abandoned everypony you cared about, and ran away from home; I thought you did all of that just so you could learn how to use your magic.”

“I did, but-” she began, shaken by the sudden accusation and bitterness of the memories evoked.

“And here you are now, with the perfect opportunity sitting right before you,” the voice said in a suddenly dark anger, “and you tell me that you've given up, before even trying? Where's your determination? Where's your drive, girl? What happened to the fierce Sweetie Belle that refused to run from an owlbear and blasted the creature from the water?”

“I am determined! I am trying!” she shouted. “But I'm tired, and I'm scared. What if I fail? What if I light the forest on fire? What if I can't control my magic?” With each doubt that she voiced, the filly lowered her gaze toward the ground, as if avoiding eye contact with some unseen pony.

Then that's what happens, girl,” Scoddri spoke, his voice stern and harsh, though his anger had subsided. “But here you are now: alone, the sun is setting, and you are hungry. If you don't try now, if you don't choose to live in the present, you will stay the same and things will never change. You'll just spend the rest of your life running from your regrets and worries, and that's a way of life that nopony wants to live.”

Sweetie Belle blinked a few times before raising her head and fixing her gaze upon the thorny bush before her.

“I'll do it,” she said. “I'll try, but I don't know what to do.”

“But you will figure it out along the way,” the voice said kindly. “I can only offer so much advice, figuring it out and experiencing magic for yourself, that is the only way to truly understand and learn. No number of books or sets of instructions are going to be able to teach you how it truly feels. So start with what you know.”

Sweetie Belle looked ahead at the berries that lay out of reach and her stomach rumbled slightly. With a gulp, the filly closed her eyes to focus. Start with what I know.

She could feel her heart beating and the resonance of magic that emanated from it. As she had done before, she coaxed it into her horn, and it flowed with little effort. Now for the hard part.

Sweetie Belle had only once before, in her desperate panic against the owlbear, managed to send forth her magic from her horn. But that had been a burst with all the magic she could muster, and she couldn't recall exactly what she had done to send it forth. So, tentatively, she 'pushed' at the magic that she had gathered with her will, hoping to send it beyond the confines of her horn, gently and controlled.

As she did so, she felt some of the magic leaving her horn, but she could still sense it beyond her body, she slowly opened her eyes and saw the effect of her effort immediately. Her horn was glowing a soft emerald and she heard the quietest of sounds emanating from it. Before her, in the same coloured glow, only fainter, a shimmer could be seen against the darkening plant-life, just past the tip of her horn. Her eyes opened wide as she watched with fascination and willed for the magic to move forward, slowly, toward the berries.

It took the better half of a minute for the glowing light of her magic to weave its way between the thorny branches and reach the prize. All the while, Sweetie Belle was acutely aware of where her magic was, as if she were looking at her own outstretched hoof before her; only this wasn't her physical body, which made the feeling all the more phenomenal to the filly.

Finally, her distant aura of magic reached the prize. A shiver flowed down her spine as her magic touched upon a single ripe berry. In that moment, she could feel the texture of the berry's skin; it was similar to a blueberry, soft and taut under the pressure of its ripe juices and it felt heavier than the largest strawberries she had ever eaten. She could smell its exotic scent with its slightly citrus zest and she could just imagine the wonderful flavours that were contained within the fruit.

Time passed, but the filly couldn't have known how long she stood there as she came to terms with these new senses she was experiencing. Eventually she just breathed out a sigh and brought her mind back to the original task.

Now that she had her magic touching the berry, she just had to bring it back to her, plain and simple. So she gently willed her magic back towards her; however the berry remained where it was, undisturbed by the movement. Sweetie Belle's frown deepened as she moved the small cloud of magic slowly back and forth in an attempt to move the fruit.

“Why won't it work?” she voiced her frustration.

“Because you aren't grabbing it girl,” Scoddri stated simply. “What you are doing is similar throwing the end of a rope at an object and then puling it back, you won't be able to pull the object to you until you tie it up. Think back to what you were trying to do to that owlbear in the river. You had tried to tie it up, correct? You just need to do something similar here.”

Sweetie Belle nodded at Scoddri's, for once, straightforward analogy. So, with a little effort, she shaped the cloud of magic into a rope-like tendril that slowly snaked around the bristleberry. It was hard to see such a small bit of magic at that distance, especially against the bright reddish glow of the berries themselves, but she could feel the shape of the magic as she curled it around to form a thin band around the center of the small fruit.

Now that she had the magic finely wrapped around the berry, she gave her magic the gentlest of pulls, hoping this time to be able secure the fruit as her own. But instead of the berry being guided away, she felt some resistance, as her magic began to unfurl with her pulling motion.

Hmm, I guess I have to tie it up. She focused on her thread of magic and began to tie a small knot in it. She gave her magic another slight tug. This time her magic was not thwarted by the berry, but with a quiet bursting sound, the bottom half of the hanging fruit was cut free and fell to the maze of thorns below it.

“Ah progress, you've destroyed your first berry,” Scoddri announced chidingly. “Such a beautiful learning experience.”

“Shut up,” Sweetie Belle snapped back, as she began to think of different ways to obtain a bristleberry with her magic.

The voice merely laughed at her crude rebuke, but otherwise kept his silence.

It wasn't until the sun had passed behind the trees, the sky alight with a golden aura, the only indication of its once majestic presence, that the unicorn had finally manage to slip her first berry free of its thorny cage.

With a grin of determination, she repeated the process a dozen times until all the remaining bristleberries were hers. While dealing with the final berry, the magic she was using to guide it faded just as the berry was free of the thorns. At this point, Sweetie Belle was sweating from the stress of using her magic for so long. Even though she had only been using small portions of magic to move the berries; over time, the repetition had taken its toll.

“See? I did it!” she exclaimed, her voice thick with pride. “The trick was to pull on the berry evenly, on all sides, otherwise, the berry would just get cut or slip away.”

“And what about the berry that exploded? Hmm? I seem to remember hearing a terrified shriek when that happened,” Scoddri teased. “At the very least, you managed to avoid burning down the entirety of the Everfree forest. Surely some form of celebration is in order. Enjoy your delicious prize.”

Both Sweetie Belle's embarrassed blush, as well as her protruding tongue, were artfully hidden by the dark shadows that now engulfed the whole scene.

“I just pulled on the berry too hard,” she admitted, “but after that, I got them all.”

Without further ado, she dug into her self-gathered meal with satisfaction. The taste was better than she had imagined, unlike any fruit she had ever eaten before, yet similar enough to still be considered a fruit; she could immediately understand why ponies would be driven to search for this unusual and rare delicacy.

In moments, she had finished her meal, and for the first time since she started her journey, she allowed the feeling of contentment to wash over her as she sat down upon the grasses on the outskirts of the Everfree Forest.

“I do hate to bother a filly that looks as though she is about to enjoy many pleasant dreams on the edge of the Everfree, however, I do believe it is quite prudent that you make your way back to the ruins.”

With a sigh, Sweetie Belle got back onto her tired hooves and made her way back toward the dark sprawling shadow upon the horizon, which marked the ancient ruins.

“You're right,” she agreed, as she began the short walk back to the decrepit castle. “As always.”

“Ah, such innocence," he said whimsically, with a wry chuckle. "Sweetie Belle, if I were always right, then we wouldn't have ever met. Trust me girl, no one can always be right; and sometimes, no one can ever be right.”

End of Chapter 7