• Published 16th Nov 2011
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My(stara's) Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring - JohnBiles



The Mane Six. Typical D&D Adventurer Hijinx. As told by an adventurer rescued by them.

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Short Story 3: Lyra Heartstrings of Vanya

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

I found Lyra in the backyard, rearing up on her hind legs, holding her forelegs up towards Vanya in the sky; Vanya is one of the planets, where one of her favorite book series is set. I tried to read one of them but it was too ridiculous.

“Lyra, no matter how many times you try, you won’t be wooshed up into the sky to visit Vanya and save the potato people from the desert raiders, you know,” I told her flatly. “And if you were, I’d be quite cross.”

Lyra wants excitement and I want peace and quiet. Now, anyway. I tried adventure… sort of adventure, but I’m too old to be running around getting in trouble. I guess I’ve turned into my mother, like she told me.

Though she still nags me about grandchildren.

I helped save Equestria and she nags me about grandchildren.

That’s a mother for you.

“They’re not potato people,” Lyra said irritably, then sighed. “I’m trying to write a song for the Running of the Leaves and it’s just… there’s a million songs about it and I can’t figure out anything original.” Lyra now flopped down in the grass on her side, legs splayed, and I settled down next to her. “I mean, I know at least twenty songs but I wanted to open it with something that everyone hasn’t heard so many times their heads will explode from boredom.”

Lyra would be long dead if that could happen. That being said, a new song would be nice. “What do you have? I can try and help you,” I told her.

She idly ate a chunk of the lawn. She does that when she’s frustrated. She chewed slowly and finally swallowed. “It’s all junk. Pedestrian junk that any pony at all could produce.”

She always says this; Lyra expects every song to be perfect gold and it’s usually silver. See, if I made a song, it would be brass at best.

“Try me,” I told her. “Let me decide.”

She rose to her hooves and summoned her lyre with a flourish. Swirls of green energy surrounded it and she began to sing, accompanying herself with the lyre.

o/~ Running in the leaves

o/~ Ain’t never been my idea of gettin’ it on

o/~ But my job demands that you make new songs

o/~ Before the snows can come.

“Lyra, is this a song about the running of the leaves or about how you can’t come up with a good new song for it?” I asked her.

She slumped. “Pretty much.”

“Hey, nice song!” Dinky said cheerfully, trotting into our yard. She concentrated and scrolls flew over to us, marked with a blue dragon, rearing up. Hopefully *not* trying to whoosh itself to Vanya.

I began trying to get the case open with my mouth and one leg; Lyra popped the seal and opened hers with ease with her magic. Dinky said, “It’s from Prince Jaggar!”

I nearly choked on it while Lyra said, “Wow, he wants us to come visit in Glantri! SWEET!”

Dinky jumped on my back. “Breathe, breathe!” I spat out the scroll and nearly fell down.

Lyra now popped the seal on mine and opened it, holding it in place for me. She’s pretty good at telekinesing several things at once, though she doesn’t have the raw strength I’ve seen Twilight display.

{Greetings and Salutations to you, Lady Bon-Bon of Ponyville,

I humbly request that you and your swain come to Glantri at your convenience to give a talk on cross-species shapeshifting and its dangers for a group of my associates. We have a mutual interest in matters draconic but my recent experiences have made me more keenly aware of certain problems inherent in shapeshifting. I have also extended an invitation to your friend Twilight’s manservant, Spike, for I wish to discuss various matters draconic with him; I hope it would not be too much trouble for him to accompany you.

Please reply to me at your earliest convenience so we can discuss scheduling.

Your friend,

Prince Jaggar of Aalbaan.}

What’s a swain?

“Man, Princes of Glantri never invite me to anything,” Dinky said mournfully. “You two are lucky! Anyway, I have to get home for dinner. See you!”

She rushed off and I stared.

I hardly even… I mean, I did…

Glantri?

Lyra looked at me with the ‘PLEASE’ eyes.

I am too weak for my own good. “Okay,” I told her.

Time to make another batch of the candy.

And turning into seaponies for our beach trip was kind of fun.

I still don’t know why Applejack freaked out when we told her about it, though.

She’s really too old to hide under a bed.

*******************

Lyra Heartstrings of Vanya
(a Lyra, Bon-Bon, and Spike story)

By John Biles

Part of the Mystara’s Little Ponies: Friendship is Adventuring canon.


*******************

Lyra’s Lyric:

“I need a complete outfit… two… maybe three,” I told Rarity, whose eyes lit up. “Suitable for the court of Prince Jaggar. And maybe… I don’t know if I’ll need one suit of armor or two.”

“Darling, I don’t make armor,” Rarity said. “But I would *love* to design… you’re going to Prince Jaggar’s court?” she said, suddenly realizing, her eyes widening.

I reared in excitement. “Yeah! This should be a great adventure. Bon-Bon’s really excited about it.” Well, freaking out, anyway, but you don’t tell people that about your fillyfriend.

“Well, she must come in for a nice outfit or three also. How many formal occasions will there be?” Rarity asked, suddenly all business, though her legs were quivering.

“I have no idea, but at least one formal dinner and Bon-Bon will be giving a talk on shapeshifting to a bunch of students of dragon lore,” I told her. “At least two, so maybe three outfits in case one gets torn by a rampaging golem or something. Maybe something that works over chainmail for the inevitable fight to the death too.” You know, I have no idea how to actually clean chainmail.

“Fight to the death?” she said in confusion.

“You know, the stuff that happens on adventures like you and I have,” I told her. That she has. My only real adventure was helping out her gang in Canterlot and then on the Moonraker.

I had been planning to go to Darokin and other places, but I got sick here and met Bon-Bon and things didn’t go according to plan.

Not that I regret meeting her but she’s so… I can’t imagine being happy to just live in one town forever.

“I suppose there may be complications. How are you travelling?” Rarity asked.

“I haven’t figured it out but I was hoping to borrow Twilight’s balloon,” I told Rarity.

She circled me, studying me. “Sweetie!” she shouted.

Sweetie now ran out, a tape measure flying in the air over her and she began to measure me, while Rarity began fiddling with pieces of cloth.

“I want suits,” I told her. “Bon-Bon said to tell you they should be red.”

“If that’s what you want,” Rarity said with the tone which my mother uses when she’s giving me what I want and it then will explode in my face.

But I still refuse to surrender to threats! Tom Wagonmaker never gives up! Or Vanya would still be enslaved by the Thri-Kreen.

Okay, they’re totally fictional but man, I’d love to see a giant insect man, anyway.

You know, I have no idea where to get chainmail in this town. Maybe I can make it.

I watched Sweetie measure me. “Nice job, Sweetie,” I told her and she smiled brightly. She’s such a good little filly. I thought she used to be shorter, though.

She now tripped and fell on me and I nearly fell down. “I’m sorry!” Sweetie said urgently.

Oh, she’s going through *that*.

Poor kid, that last growth spurt is a pain in the ass.

“Don’t trip onto clients,” Rarity said, now making images of clothing in the air and frowning at it. “When you say red, what shade?”

“I… um… the one Bon-Bon wants…,” I mumbled. I kind of favor yellow myself but Bon-Bon doesn’t want me to wear clothing that looks like it’s made of her coat, which I can’t really blame her for.

Rarity sighed. “Go home, tell Bon-Bon to come see me. She will need dresses, anyway.”

“Will do,” I told her.

I am going to Glantri! I am so excited, I can probably cause earthquakes by standing still.

*******************

Spike’s Saga:

“Is the top hat too much?” I asked Dinky, who was helping Owlicious to put books away.

I was making sure my suit still fits me, which it does. It’s weird, dragons don’t grow continuously like people; we only grow when we undergo Dragon Sleep. So really, I had nothing to fear, but I’m not a normal dragon.

I think my parents did something or maybe Twilight did when she hatched me. I’d almost think I was really a lizard-man but my proportions are wrong and I don’t have a snout.

“Top hats are never too much,” Twilight shouted from upstairs and I laughed softly. Her dad gave me this one.

I struck a pose in front of the mirror with my cane. Yeah, I’m looking good.

I wonder how many dragons will be there.

A sudden hideous noise ripped through the library; I fell clutching my ears and Owlicious made a horrible noise and I heard him crash into something and now Twilight was shouting and Dinky was apologizing and I rolled around until there was a loud *crack* and then silence.

“Dinky, what were you doing with this wand?” Twilight asked, frowning at her.

Dinky sighed, looking at the oaken rod. “It was supposed to use sonics to augment my telekinesis to put books away faster.”

“Dinky, you cannot solve every problem with sonics and bubbles,” Twilight said chidingly.

“Mom’s boyfriend does,” Dinky grumbled. “It’s our family trademarks.”

“Neither are very healthy for the books,” Twilight said. “Also, the proper way to get more telekinesis is to make a Bigby’s Lifting Hand and to do exercises to build your own strength.”

She soon had Dinky lifting the same book over and over and over.

I’d go crazy doing that.

Twilight now came over to me. “You three can borrow my balloon. I’d go with you but I have too much to catch up on from my last trip.”

“I’ll be okay,” I told her. I feel a little weird. I’m used to going places with Twilight, but not on my own. I’m excited but a little nervous.

I want to know more about myself but I don’t know if I’ll like the answers.

She nuzzled me gently. “It’ll be okay. Lyra and Bon-Bon are good mares and they’ll watch over you.”

“I’m just worried about you getting by without me,” I told her.

“Dinky and Owlicious will help me. And all my friends are here,” Twilight said, then sighed. “I wish I could tell you more but I’m sure Prince Jaggar can help you. He’s a leading expert on dragons.”

He also hunts dragons. Which makes me nervous. They’re all evil dragons but some humans think all dragons are evil.

On the other hand, anyone who Bon-Bon could talk down can’t be a real threat, right?

I hope so.

*******************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

“You are *so* lucky,” Rarity said to me, talking at 3000 words a minute. I’d picked out good colors for Lyra’s outfits and now she was taking measurements and trying to figure out what I should wear. I leave it to her judgment; she knows her work like I know mine.

“I’m nervous; I am not really an expert on this subject,” I told her. “You probably know as much as I do.”

“Well, you need to practice,” Rarity said. “Marcus can tell you some things too.” She giggled like a schoolfilly. “You are so lucky, attending a grand Glantrian ball, speaking to the assembled nobles, living the high life.” She sighed enviously.

Grand ball? I don’t remember a grand ball! All the dances I know are for drunk ponies in bars.

I’m not like that any more, but I know nothing of high culture!

I felt like I was going to come unglued.

Or maybe become glue.

“I wish I could go but I would hate to butt in uninvited,” Rarity said, stalking around me, cloth flying in to lie on my body then departing; briefly I had a crown too.

I’d be happy to let you go but I already said yes and we got Spike to send the letter.

“Though Lady Aendyr has been talking about visiting with her family,” she said gleefully. “Maybe for the Running of the Leaves.”

I wondered who that was. “I’m sure you’ll show her a good time,” I told Rarity.

“I haven’t anything to wear. Not for a visit by a fine lady of Glantri!” Rarity suddenly wailed and pulled out her couch and writhed around on it as if ants were biting her.

I waited patiently, trapped in a tangle of cloth which had now fallen on me as she abandoned the magics. I think a tiara was hanging off my right ear.

“I’m sure you’ll make something nice for her,” I told her. “Is she a human or a Pony?”

“Oh, she’s human, she’s an old friend of Marcus,” Rarity said, brightening back up and going back to work. “And now she’s a princess of Glantri.”

Hopefully more dignified than the princess in Lyra’s favorite series.

“Does your family have heraldry?” Rarity asked me.

“No, we’re commoners,” I told her. Lyra has distant noble ancestors but they’re commoners now.

“Hmm, we shall have to design you something. What sort of animals do you like?”

We were soon deep into heraldry, which is, I’ll tell you, very confusing.

********************

Lyra’s Lyric:

“Do not touch anything or even look at it for too long. But especially, most importantly, never, ever volunteer to babysit anyone’s familiar,” Marcus said to me urgently. “Especially not salamanders.” He shivered.

I’d asked him for some tips on dealing with Glantrians. I know what it’s like from classes and books, but I haven’t any firsthand experience.

We were at Twist’s family’s café; they’re Earth ponies and they sell soup, salad, and sandwiches.

Marcus had a Belcadizian style flatbread wrap and onion soup and a plate of beans; I was trying this really delicious Careunzian soup with a lot of mushrooms and broccoli and cheese. He stared dolefully at the beans, sighed, and started eating.

“Why are you eating beans you don’t want?” I asked.

“Because I need protein and a lot of what I eat here has no meat in it. And I can’t just eat eggs and fish constantly,” he said. “Not when I eat out, anyway.”

Soup and Salad Café (not the most original name) has no meat at all other than things made with eggs, like their cakes and so on.

“So if we eat while human, we need meat or beans,” I said.

He rattled off some other protein sources as well.

I wonder what protein is. But it must be important to humans.

“The big thing really is this. Glantrians tend to be touchy about showing they’re a great wizard and they often got beat up by non-wizards as kids.” He frowned. “I hope Bon-Bon will be okay but she has less rights than you and so does Spike. Since he can’t actually cast any spells.”

“He can’t?” I said, surprised. “I thought Dragons… I mean, he’s Twilight’s apprentice, right?”

“Or son or maybe younger brother,” Marcus paused, concentrating. “I’m not sure of the best term but if you can’t do even a single spell, then you’re a commoner. On the other hand, with Jaggar actually inviting you, anyone who messes with Bon-Bon or Spike will have to deal with Jaggar. And I know enough about Jaggar to know that no one angers Jaggar deliberately. He’s the head of their army and a tough man.”

I don’t like the idea of anyone looking down on Bon-Bon for not being a wizard; it’s not like she doesn’t have magic; I can’t even operate her candy machines without ending up wrapped in candy. And she has the usual Earth pony benefits as I learned when I foolishly tried to race her at the beach.

“So why doesn’t Spike know any spells?”

“I think he’s too young,” Marcus said. “I think he has to go through Dragonsleep two or three more times to cast spells.”

Hmm, there has to be some way to ensure that Bon-Bon gets the respect she deserves. This will take some thought.

*******************

Spike’s Saga:

“Azkaban Metatron Zincos!” I shouted and made the gesture, just like in the book. The book flew over Sweetie’s head as she dodged desperately and I cursed in frustration.

Having a filly trying to tutor you in magic is embarrassing enough without it *not working*.

Also, I don’t understand why the cover of the book has been coated with black paint; Marcus is crazy anyway but what was he trying to hide?

I checked the art credit page and it indicated the cover was titled ‘The rewards of magic’ by Master Alabasos. Who was a Glantrian painter in the tenth century AC. See, this is the kind of trick you learn when you live in a library. Unfortunately the library only has a biography of him with a handful of pictures, all of which show wizards doing wizardy things.

So what is he hiding from Sweetie and I?

Dinky thinks there’s a message from the Oards to their servants under the paint but I doubt it.

“Still no luck?” Twilight said sympathetically, looking down from the upper level where she and Dinky were shelving new books. “Also, it’s ‘Azarath Metrion Zinthos’. That spell’s too complex to *start* with, anyway.” Her voice sounded kind of odd when she said it, like she was someone else. I probably imagined it, though.

“Maybe Marcus can tell you, since he uses his hands too,” Sweetie said hesitantly.

“I’d rather *die*,” I said, scowling and she frowned at me and began talking about how nice he is; I think he put a charm spell on her and Rarity too.

Twilight appeared by us. “Don’t your aunt and uncle cast spells? Maybe they can help you.”

“They’re busy with their work, and my time is short,” I said, frustrated.

“Maybe we could turn Spike into a unicorn with the candy,” Sweetie said hesitantly.

“It isn’t strong enough to grant magical abilities and it wears off and they’d see through it, I’m sure,” Twilight said. “You may be stuck until your next dragonsleep.”

“Next two,” I mumbled. “You’ll probably both be married with children by then.”

Twilight turned red and Sweetie said, “Wow, that’s a while.” She sounded amazed at the thought.

“With enough training, he ought to be able to learn something the normal way long before that,” Dinky shouted down. “You should study anyway so you can be a *great* Dragon wizard and better than the others!”

I couldn’t help but smile a little. “Thanks, Dinky.”

“I’m sure you could learn if we had more… time…,” Twilight said, starting to get that look.

The dangerous look.

Dinky studied us with the look of someone who knows something.

Sweetie did a card reading now, then said, “If you try to take Spike back in time, he’ll miss the trip to Glantri.”

I can never tell if she’s telling the truth or using the cards as an excuse to push what she thinks is best. “Dammit,” I said.

“Maybe if we go to Canterlot, I can tap into the hourglass and…” Twilight began.

“Take me!” Dinky said excitedly.

“It’s dangerous to mess with that,” Sweetie said urgently, sounding worried. “Maybe I could shrink down and ride in Spike’s pocket and cast spells for him.”

“The Glantrians will know,” Twilight said, waving a hoof. “They’re expert wizards.”

“You could build a spell matrix, insert it into his brain and let him cast that spell through it, using his life force,” Dinky suggested from up above.

That sounds too dangerous to me.

“Maybe you can do something with the Element of Magic to help him?” Sweetie suggested.

I now felt all tingly as Twilight summoned her Element from its storage in the safe and then began studying me with it, looking intent. I could feel magic all over me.

Dinky brought some books down and Twilight, Sweetie, and Dinky consulted them but I don’t think anyone but Twilight actually understood them.

Lyra and Bon-Bon came in, wearing fancy outfits; Lyra wore a red suit with green trim and a nice fedora; Bon-Bon had a big floppy sun hat and a purple dress with gold trim with a swirly translucent ribbon through her hair which changed color to contrast with the different colors in her hair. “Ta da!” Lyra said; I noticed she had a sword for some reason, though it kept dragging the ground and she had to synch it back up with telekinesis. They each had a pendant; Bon-Bon’s had four long, wrapped candies forming an ‘X’ over a yellow background; Lyra’s showed a green pony rampant on purple, reaching towards a star. “You need to get Rarity to pretty you up,” Lyra said excitedly to me.

I want to but I will die.

Then Bon-Bon whispered to her urgently and she looked embarrassed.

“Sorry, Spike. I bet Bon-Bon can make you something nice, though,” Lyra said apologetically.

“Fluttershy is a great seamstress and she could pretty you up some,” Twilight said kindly to me.

I could live with Fluttershy helping me. “I’ll go see her right now,” I said, so I could cry in peace on the way there.

*********************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

“Spike has the same problem,” Twilight said to me; we were all seated on our haunches around a low table which Dinky had put some snacks on for us. “You should ask Prince Jaggar for a badge. Or maybe… I know Pinkie can do bardic spells, even if she forgets half the time. So maybe she and Lyra could teach you enough to do just one and qualify.”

“Oh yeah!,” Lyra said excitedly.

“I’m not a great musician,” I confessed, then nibbled on a corn chip.

“I just want them to respect you,” Lyra said urgently. “We should at least try.”

Well, it can’t hurt to try. I hope.

*******************

Lyra’s Lyric:

“Grannie taught me,” Pinkie said. “And I think my cutie mark helps me be able to be a bard.”

Bon-Bon looked at her own cutie mark and frowned. “Mine isn’t really like that.”

“Your cutie mark makes people *happy*,” Pinkie said. “And so does mine! We’re like cutie-sisters!” she said excitedly.

Bon-Bon laughed nervously.

We were in Pinkie’s room in Sugarcube Corner. There’s a painting of her family on the wall; it must be new because it shows Pinkie as she is now and her father has wings. I wonder who did it. She has a nice bed with pink sheets and long shelves on the walls full of gag items. “Any of those magical?” I asked Pinkie curiously.

“I have *no* idea,” Pinkie said. “I guess, maybe… what are you thinking?”

I scanned them and identified four magical things. There was an empty potion bottle, stoppered shut and labeled ‘invisible ink’. There was a pair of glasses. There was a small box with a switch on the side. And there was a snow globe which showed Canterlot; if you looked carefully, you could see a tiny Ditzy Doo inside, standing on a balcony with her mailbag. “What is the box with the switch for?”

“I don’t know but if you flip the switch, an efreeti shows up and kicks you in the flank,” Pinkie said, trying to twist around and rub her behind as if she’d just been kicked.

“Why would you even keep something like that?” Bon-Bon asked, confused.

“If all else fails, having an efreeti appear and kick you in the butt can generally get a laugh,” Pinkie said. “The snowglobe used to let me time travel but it doesn’t work now,” she said, noticing me studying it. “But I can’t throw away something Grandma Pie gave me.”

“But how could it have Ditzy in it as she is now if your grandmother gave it to you?” I asked, confused.

“It does not have…” Pinkie paused, eyes wide. “Wait, when did Ditzy get in there?”

“Let’s get back to bard training,” Bon-Bon said firmly.

“I need to go talk to…,” Pinkie began.

“Please, we need to try this,” I told Pinkie, knowing she’d lose the whole day on this somehow and we have limited time.

“Can you sing?” she asked Bon-Bon, settling down in front of her.

“Not very well,” Bon-Bon said. She sighed. “I’m not very musical.”

“You were great at the big song and dance in Canterlot!,” Pinkie said. “Have some confidence. We believe in you, Bon-Bon.”

“Yeah. I need a star for my musical, after all!” I’m still working on it. The first… second… the last draft had issues, like how I can’t afford a 200 piece orchestra.

Bon-Bon smiled nervously. “Well, I’ll do my best.”

She began singing and I played my harp and Pinkie strapped on her mobile-one-pony-band thing. Having watched her put it on, I’m still not sure how she puts it on.

Pinkie led us down the stairs and out of Sugarcube Corner, as Bon-Bon belted out a song about how she was going to get drunk and she sure did regret it but it was just how it was going to be. Pretty soon, Berry Punch came out and joined us and a lot of other people and everyone was passing bottles around.

To make a long story short, we basically blew the afternoon leading half the town in getting progressively more drunk and dancing and singing. This was the day I learned that you should never, ever singing ninety nine bottles of beer on the wall with Berry Punch. *Ever*.

By the end, we were all out of action and Berry Punch was moaning about how she was a terrible mother and it was all Bon-Bon’s fault and Bon-Bon was as green as I am and I resolved to pick the music next time.

“See, you can do it. You enchanted the whole town!” Pinkie said excitedly; she was the only person still functional out of the whole group. Though she kept belching.

“Mom, what did you do this time?” Pinchy, her daughter, said to Berry Punch, who covered her eyes with one leg and said, “If I can’t see you, you can’t see me.”

“I don’t think it would be wise to get a town full of wizards drunk,” Bon-Bon said.

“Yes, but you did it! It’s all about learning ways to channel your Earth Pony power into your art!,” Pinkie said, bouncing around as if she hadn’t had enough liquor to kill an elephant. “Look, you make your magic candy with your Earth pony powers, right?”

“Right, it’s all made of things which come from the Earth, so I can use my Cutie mark to enchant it,” Bon-Bon said, then moaned. “I haven’t drunk this much in months.”

“You just draw the power up to your mouth and put it into your words. And your dance. It’s how being a Bard works, it’s why I can do it,” Pinkie said. “Though my cutie mark helps. I mean, if you can make magic things, doesn’t that make you a magic-user?”

“Yeah,” I said. “We can figure out some kinds of magic candy… I mean, it would be silly to say someone who makes magic items isn’t magical, right?”

“Couldn’t you have thought of this before I got this sick?” Bon-Bon moaned.

“No,” Pinkie said.

I should have really thought about it, but yeah, I think it’s candy making time.

*******************

Spike’s Saga:

Fluttershy was kind enough to make me a black cape to go with my tuxedo; it had a red satin lining and she put Twilight’s cutie mark and a rearing dragon in gold on the black outer side, to show off both my connection to Twilight and my status as a proud dragon.

“This is awesome,” I said excitedly. “Thanks so much, Fluttershy!”

Angel gave me two paws up, but then he began pointing out in the chicken yard and jumping wildly.

“Oh dear, we’d better check on the chickens,” Fluttershy said, clearly worried.

We found Slither curled up between the chickens and their house, sleeping in the sunlight. The chickens were all pressed against the fence, panicking, while Angel stood in the door of the house and looked smug.

“Oh, Slither, I know you need your sunlight but you’re scaring the chickens,” Fluttershy said gently to him; he slowly stirred and his head rose to study hers. “Spike, can you take him up on the roof?”

I twirled my cape. “The Incredible Spike can do anything!”

First lesson: giant snakes are not the same as rope. I tried slinging him in a series of loops around my shoulder and he grappled my mid-section and wouldn’t let go until Fluttershy sang him to sleep.

Second lesson: I am not strong enough to throw a giant snake on the roof or strong enough to catch him when he falls on me.

Third lesson: I can throw Angel a long way when he laughs at me.

Fourth lesson: Having Angel throw things at me when I try to climb a ladder while fireman carrying a huge snake makes me fall down.

Fifth lesson: Capes can blow in your face while trying to climb a ladder. I can’t blame that one on Angel but I know he *hoped* it would happen.

The good news was that Slither lashed out and grabbed around a tree branch, so I just swung over instead of falling down. The bad was that it trapped me, hanging from the tree branch, while Angel rolled around laughing.

The worst was that *Marcus* of all people ambled up the road, saw me, and laughed at me.

No choice but to DESTROY HIM with magic! “Azkaroth Metric Zinc Oxide!” I shouted. I felt huge amounts of magic surge through me and…

White powder and something that resembled liquid fat poured down on me and Slither, who lost his grip on the branch and we fell down… down…

Marcus shouted something and a purple glowing disc appeared and caught us gently, before we could splat; the powder and the fat now mixed together into some sort of gooey but colorless liquid that smelled terrible.

“What exactly were you trying to cast?” Marcus asked curiously. “I don’t know this spell.”

Fluttershy came out, sniffing the air. “Oh dear. I think we may have a problem.”

“What?” Marcus asked nervously.

“How did you cover yourself in insect pheromones, Spike?” Fluttershy asked. “That’s going to signal nearby bees and ants you’re a dead worker and they need to come dispose of your body.”

Marcus’ jaw dropped lower than I thought a jaw could drop. So did mine.

A distant buzzing grew louder and now I could see forces of ants approaching my position, though I was in the air.

Then Marcus took off running in a panic, with us dragged after him and the bees and ants making chase as Fluttershy tried to keep up. “I don’t understand, I keep my supply of it sealed,” Fluttershy said. “Where did it come from?”

“I fumbled a spell,” I said miserably.

Marcus started to say something, looked at me, then said, “I think he was trying to levitate Slither onto the roof.”

Slither was crawling all over me, trying to rub off the liquid onto me; I couldn’t tell if it was working but I tried to get him to stop. Unfortunately, grappling a snake rarely goes well.

We now ran into the middle of town where everyone was lying around moaning and the air smelled like berries and beer and I prayed I had not done this. Fluttershy stared and Marcus buried his face in his hands as he ran.

We’d lost the ants, but the bees were coming on relentlessly and now Twilight came out of the library, saw us and cast her wings spell, then joined us in the air. “Spike, why are you doused in Oleic Acid?” she asked; she had some kind of magic glowing stuff in front of her eyes.

“I don’t know! I tried to cast a spell and it didn’t work and it dumped stuff on me which turned into this stuff and now the bees want to bury me!” I shouted.

Marcus wiggled his nose and stared at Twilight and she nodded.

“I’ll be right back!” She flew off into the library.

Dammit, he probably told her something… I wonder if I could… I guess Fluttershy wouldn’t like me frying the bees.

We ran out of road at the river and Fluttershy had to grab Marcus by his shirt and lift him up and carry him downstream as the bees chased us, staying just ahead of the horde.

“Can’t you make the bees chill out or something?” I shouted to Fluttershy.

“Oh wait, water! Dump them in the river, Marcus,” Fluttershy said.

DAMMIT!

“It won’t attract sharks or something, right?” Marcus said warily.

“There are no sharks in the freshwater here,” Fluttershy. “Unless someone dumped a bull shark here, I suppose. The odds of that are very low.”

A fin now broke the surface.

“Oh my.”

Marcus’ shirt now began to slowly tear. I couldn’t help laughing at him.

“Oh dear,” Fluttershy said, trying to wiggle around to use her legs to hold on as the shirt shredded completely. The end result was that ALL of us got dragged into the water; to my horror, the spell followed Marcus’ trajectory and I now was pulled down with them.

As I fumbled for air, I soon surfaced now tied to the shark by Slither, who was trying to crush it. It flailed around and I kept going under and coming up.

The next time, I could see that Slither’s tail was tangled around Marcus’ foot and so the shark was dragging Fluttershy and Marcus behind him as he raced down the river because… damned if I know. Wise people run away from Marcus. I guess if Marcus is tied to you, this goes on for a looong time.

I heard Twilight shouting our names and I shouted, “TWILIGHT!” then went under again.

ANOTHER snake now lashed out from the side of the river.

At that point, my brain just gave up, unable to believe any of this was real. Stuff happened, I think, but I only recovered functioning when I was lying in the grass as Applejack coiled a rope and Twilight stood by her, casting a spell that dried us all off.

Slither now… slithered… over to Fluttershy and wrapped himself around her like a belt, while she gently stroked his head and made soothing noises.

Marcus, now down to his underwear, laid in the grass, staring at the sky. Well, he did have his boots on too. “I… how did I lose my pants?” he mumbled.

“They snagged on some weeds, I think,” Fluttershy said, then began checking us over.

My outfit had been COMPLETELY destroyed to my dismay.

“Oh dear, I think you’re going to need to go see Ra…,” Fluttershy began, then sighed. “We’ll go back to my place and I’ll fix everything.”

“Thank you,” I said weakly.

“Does anyone know why half the town is down for the count downtown?” Twilight asked.

Don’t know, don’t want to know.

*********************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

I tossed the last of the saddlebags into the balloon, then walked up the ramp into it; part of the side opens down into an entrance ramp. Twilight had spent two hours going over how to operate the balloon with Lyra, since she’s the only one of us who can actually engage with the control mechanisms.

“Don’t worry, once you reach the Broken Lands, Crash is going to meet you and escort you to the border. Once you reach Belcadiz, you can follow the river upstream,” Rainbow Dash told Spike. “I wish I could go with you but I have to get ready to… teach.” She laughed nervously.

I consulted the map Twilight made for us. That made sense. I just hope Crash doesn’t get lost.

The nice thing about flying by balloon is that it’s peaceful and calm and kind of amazing to see the world go by under you. The bad part is that there isn’t much to do and slowly, you begin to go stir-crazy.

Around the end of the first day of ballooning, Lyra was tired from keeping us on course, I was bored out of my skull, and Spike had nearly blown the balloon up four times trying to cast some spell he’s obsessed with.

I had taken his book and was sitting on it, while he pouted.

We were somewhere over Darokin; Lyra was pretty sure we were on course and it looked like the river we wanted was ahead of us. Ideally, we can follow this all the way to Glantri.

Assuming we don’t go mad first.

*****************

Lyra’s Lyric:

This is the part of the story that generally gets summed up in three sentences, which is why I was going crazy. I couldn’t even work on my musical because I had to periodically readjust our course and I had to listen to Spike mumbling some phrase under his breath, which he says differently EVERY TIME. “Spike, what does that spell even do?”

“It summons tentacles of dark energy from the seventh layer of the Well of Thanatos to destroy Marcus,” Spike said and I sighed.

“Rarity wouldn’t be happy if you succeeded. Also, isn’t that too hard a spell to *start* with?” I asked him.

“It’s one of the starter spells in the book,” he said, stubbornly sitting with his back to the heater; I guess that’s comfy to a dragon.

“Bon-Bon, can I see the book?” I asked.

“What if the balloon blows up?” she asked.

“I am a professional, I won’t blow up the balloon,” I assured her, then scratched her ears telekinetically.

She made happy noises and rose, then kicked the book to me. Someone had dumped black paint in the cover for some reason but the inside made it clear this was an introductory spellbook from Glantri.

About half of it was a series of short stories about magic use and discussion of magical theory. “Spike, that phrase is just part of an example,” I told him. “Without the correct gestures, it’s useless.”

Spike now stared at me, mouth wide open.

See, in the story, Magister Klarath encounters a dwarf who tries to rob him, so he declaims the verbal component, makes gestures which are only detailed in a picture and then sprinkles a black powder, the material component. And then the tentacles rise up and grapple the dwarf.

I paged to the detect magic page, then carefully cast a simple spell to make my horn glow. Then I coached Spike through the detect magic spell, making him do each syllable over and over and the hand gestures independently. Bon-Bon watched all this, looking nervous.

Spike then tried to do the whole thing in order. The first time, he fumbled the gestures and nothing happened. The second time, he ended with ‘ham sandwich’ instead of ‘hamsa vico’. The third time he got it right and I felt magic but nothing happened. “Can you see the magic in the glow?” I asked Spike.

“The air is glowing purple and I can hardly see anything, like there’s magic EVERYWHERE,” Spike said frantically.

He tried again and now he shrank down to one inch tall.

I stared. “What the…”

Bon-Bon grabbed the book. “No more experiments,” she said, once she’d spat it out and sat on it.

“I don’t get it! Why can’t I get it to work right?” Spike said frantically.

Fortunately, he turned back to normal before long. I tried studying him with magic but I didn’t pay much attention in my theory classes and he seemed basically normal to me. “Well, you should be able to learn because if you weren’t, the spell wouldn’t do anything at all. Here, Bon-Bon, I need you to demonstrate.”

“I am not monkeying around with more magic,” Bon-Bon said. “I have my magic candies and if they won’t accept that as magic, then I will just deal with it.” She tossed her head and I sighed. She can be really stubborn.

“Anyway, there has to be some kind of solution,” I told him.

And some way to keep us from going mad from boredom. Can’t we just cut to something exciting?

********************

Spike’s Saga:

I had to re-route EIGHT messages from Celestia to Twilight. And four to Celestia Twilight sent to me by mistake; this was my one break from slowly going mad of boredom. The night sky, at least, was beautiful as we hovered over the river; Lyra had ‘tethered’ the balloon so she could rest and so we wouldn’t get lost in our sleep. There was some city nearby.

Just as we were about to have dinner (sandwiches which I made and Twilight packed and sealed for freshness), a flying boat approached us; it had huge glowing signs ‘Zankavee’s Flying Dinner Show’. “Hello, gentlemares and gentlelizard,” one of the men on the ship said; he wore a tuxedo like mine and had a violin. “We can serenade you for only fifty gold! Throw in fifty more and we’ll do a fireworks show too!”

Lyra threw them the money and then she and Bon-Bon whispered fiercely and finally Bon-Bon sighed. I have to say, they were really good but watching Lyra and Bon-Bon be all snuggly while they ate their sandwiches made me want to puke. I sat on the other side of the balloon, watching the stars and wishing I could get a stupid spell to work!

Also, seeing them sleeping side by side later reminded me of Rarity.

Dammit.

I finally went to sleep and dreamed of blowing up Marcus.

*******************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

I really thought Crash was going to live up to her name but instead she swerved at the last second and simply made my mane get all frizzy from the air wash. “Hey, gals and Spike,” Rainbow Crash said cheerfully; she looks just like Dash until you realize her rainbow is backwards. “Trollhattan and the Red Orcs have gone to war, but we should be able to just fly over them without any trouble. I’ll drum up a good wind and we should have you to Glantri in no time at all!”

In fact, soon we were making good time; we flew over the battle; you could see hordes of orcs on horses busy circling trolls and firing arrows into them; then the trolls would eat the arrows, get bigger and charge the orcs. Mostly the orcs evaded them but sometimes, they got caught.

I tried not to watch, while Lyra observed and began composing a song about it.

I was kind of surprised when Crash hustled me around to one side of the balloon and began whispering to me. “You’ve been seeing Lyra for a while, right?”

“Right,” I whispered back.

“And it looks like Chief Red Rock just shoved his sacred stone axe down that troll’s throat, and now the guy’s choking on it! Time to consult the referees on if this is a legal move,” Spike said to… I don’t know. When Spike is bored, he begins color commenting things.

“Does she ever… I mean…” Crash started to get agitated. Given Crash is dating a stallion, I’m not sure why she’s asking me about Lyra.

“You’re dating a… he’s like Soarin’, right?” I said. Who I just barely know beyond him being a Wonderbolt and Dash having a thing for him.

“It’s fine when we’re at the base, but he starts flirting with everything female when we leave it,” Crash mumbled. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Dump his ass like a ton of bricks,” I said firmly.

She winced. “But I love him.”

“But he doesn’t love you. Burn whatever he loves most and give him the hoof,” I told her firmly.

I spent the next HALF HOUR having to tell her this over and over and it didn’t sink in.

Clearly, she wants to save this but I expect if he can’t even hide it in front of her, they’re doomed.

Lyra kindly saved me from insanity by saying, “Hey, does Spikey cast spells?”

Spike froze.

“He can do a little magic but mostly he’s just really good with his breath weapon,” Rainbow Crash said, cheering up and rising; we’d been sitting down. “Dawn Gleaming taught him some tricks, I think.”

“Spike can’t seem to get spells to work right… do you think Dawn Gleaming would mind if we dropped in on her to have her take a quick look at him?” Lyra asked.

“Will we have time for that?” I asked Lyra.

“Hmm, we can try. Might make you late, though,” Crash said, then looked at Spike. “You want to give it a shot?”

“Yes,” Spike said. “I just… I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.” He sounded frustrated.

“Then diversion time! Bind your manes, it’s high wind time!” Crash said.

I quickly found out my mane tastes terrible but I already knew that. Lyra had to hold my hair down and laughed like a maniac all the way there.

This had better not make us late.

******************

Lyra’s Lyric:

“Oh hoh, so the great Twilight Sparkle couldn’t figure this out?” Dawn Gleaming said. “I’ll get to this easily!”

We were in her lab with ‘Sammy’ and Spikey. It was full of tables and beakers and flasks and racks of chemicals and books and open spaces with symbols drawn on the floor.

She cast spells of a complexity I could only dream of, then studied Spike, circling around him, while Spikey and Sammy held up various books or conversed with her in dense arcane jargon. Most of it flew over my head, since I kind of neglected theory in favor of song lyrics.

However, I now began weaving the jargon into a song in my head, singing softly to myself.

However, I don’t know anything that rhymes with ‘octyllic’ or ‘nemoidic’. It would be cheating to just use the ‘ic’.

“Okay, Spike, try this,” Dawn Gleaming said, floating a book in front of him. It was the same spell as before, but this time, adapted for only four fingers. I hadn’t even NOTICED. No wonder he had trouble! Spike has a thumb and *three* fingers instead of four fingers, and I never noticed until now!

“Is that a book for dragons?” I asked.

“It’s spells I adapted for Spikey,” Dawn Gleaming said proudly. “I took the methods used for horn to hand conversion and then adjusted them.” Then a five minute lecture ensued, during which Crash and Bon-Bon were busy pushing and pulling these giant panes of glass on wheels which they now fenced in a corner with and sat behind for some reason.

Maybe they wanted to chat about Crash’s tragic love for Soarin’ some more; I have a song about it but I can’t finish it until I know *how* it all ends in flames.

Hmm, maybe Act two of my musical could end with a lover’s spat, setting everything on fire!

“Okay, this is a light spell,” Dawn Gleaming said. “Follow the instructions.”

Spike followed them while I mused on the question of how to get the ashes off the stage fast enough.

Then Spike floated up into the air and I stared at him in confusion. “That’s not right.”

“I can’t get down!”

Crash came out and sat on him until it stopped.

“Thanks, Crash,” Spike mumbled.

“Chaos magic,” Sammy said.

“I concur,” Dawn Gleaming said, frowning. “Spike, tell me about your hatching. What kind of potion did your foolish mistress use on you?”

“I think she cast a spell,” Spike said hesitantly. “It also turned her parents into plants.”

“…” Man, my parents would never forgive me if I did that.

“Didn’t she study the past tests before seeking admission?” Dawn Gleaming said, mouth wide open.

“Don’t they change them so you can’t?” Spike said hesitantly.

“I think your parents stole the records,” Spikey said to Dawn. “To ensure your success.”

“Lyra, what was your admission test like?” Bon-Bon shouted from behind the glass.

Maybe the glass is some kind of performance piece? Representing the barriers to communication which can hang invisibly between people? Oooh, subtle, Crash. She hid behind it, showing her troubles in communicating with Cruisin’! That’s *brilliant*.

“Spike, headbutt Lyra back to reality,” Bon-Bon said, sighing.

Spike headbutted me. “Wake up!”

I feel down in surprise. “I played some instruments, did some singing, then I had to sing a song in eight octaves.”

Dawn Gleaming blinked. “How on earth is a filly supposed to do that? I could do that now with magic, but even someone as ingenious as myself couldn’t have done it at that age. I had a hard enough time with the hatching potion.”

“That was the point; they wanted to see how you dealt with something impossible,” I told her.

“That’s ludicrous,” Dawn Gleaming said, frowning. “And kind of mean.”

“So what did you do, Lyra?” Spike asked curiously.

“I made up a song about how it was impossible to fulfill their request and accompanied myself on the harp, covering as many octaves as I could,” I said proudly. “It’s how I got my cutie mark!”

“A test that can’t be passed… ludicrous,” Dawn Gleaming grumbled. “I passed mine, I just had to be *prepared*. Which I was, after enough study. Anyway, the potion hatched Spikey without any problems.”

“She must have had a wild surge,” Sammy said thoughtfully. “And now he has wild surges when he tries to cast spells.”

Spike grimaced. “Well, great.” He sat down and buried his face in his hands.

“I’m sorry, Spike,” Bon-Bon said softly. She dug in her pack.

“Well, the good news is that wild mages are recognized as mages in Glantri,” Dawn Gleaming said. “Just warn the border guards so they don’t blow up.” She came over and nuzzled Spike hesitantly. “Don’t be sad, you have a rare and powerful talent if you can learn to control it.”

“Most wild mages blow…” Spikey began, but Sammy put a hand over his mouth and they began wrestling around.

Dawn Gleaming winced. “Wild magic is dangerous but powerful if you know what you’re doing. But it’s best not to try it too much until you finish your trip.”

“Hey, there you are, Crash,” Cruisin’ said from the doorway.

My ‘Bon-Bon Wall of Hate’ sense suddenly triggered; given I hadn’t done anything wrong, I felt a sense of total panic because any time I don’t know how it got set off, it’s even worse than when it *is* my fault.

Crash now flew out from behind the glass panes, laughing nervously as she approached Cruisin’. “Hey, honey, I brought in some friends to consult with Dawn Gleaming.”

“Hi, Spike,” Cruisin’ said cheerfully to Spike. “Hey, Lyra,” he said, but when he turned to Bon-Bon, he got a smile that I recognized as a stallion on the prowl. Oh hell no!

“This is my *marefriend*, Bon-Bon,” I said very firmly to Cruisin’ as he slinked in.

“Can you please take your booty-chasing out of my lab?” Dawn Gleaming snapped at him. “Your pheromones make my potions go flat.”

‘Flat’? I must have slept through those classes too. How does a potion go ‘flat’?

Bon-Bon flicked a brush out of her bag with her tail. She began brushing Rainbow Crash’s mane. “You have to look good for our date, dear,” she *purred* to Crash, who froze up. I think I froze up too, while Spike stared in confusion and Spikey scratched his head and Sammy… Sammy grinned. What the hay does he know that I don’t???

“Bon-Bon, what is going on?” I whispered to her.

Crash said something incoherent about oatmeal and Belcadizian silver.

Cruisin’ froze. “Date?”

“She knows a wonderful little café in Fort Monteleone she’s taking us to for dinner,” Bon-Bon purred and I shivered; there was something different about how she stood, but it made me shiver.

“I… she is?” he said in shock.

“Oh yes, we’re looking forward to a nice evening with her,” I said, trying to back Bon-Bon up though I have *no clue* what she is doing but Bon-Bon doesn’t do crazy things, so…

“Oh yes, it will be very nice,” Crash said, her voice strained, shivering as Bon-Bon brushed her mane.

“But…” he said weakly and now Bon-Bon hustled us out the door past him.

“Thanks for the help, Dawn Gleaming! We’ll make sure we don’t wear out Rainbow Crash too much.” Bon-Bon continued hustling us along.

Cruisin’ tried to rally. “Well, I could come with you,” he began.

“I think Dawn needs to test her new fire spell and you’d make a good target,” Sammy said cheerfully. “So we need you to stay here.”

Cruisin’ was still talking his way out of that when we got out the door and fled.

I’m still not sure what’s going on.

*****************

Spike’s Saga:

“The goal is to make him jealous and show him what it feels like when he hits on other mares in front of Crash,” Bon-Bon said to Lyra.

“But you were so… you just… vavoom!,” Lyra said, looking stunned.

Crash was pushing us up out of the base with winds at high speed. She circled us and the balloon rose as she rose.

Bon-Bon turned red. “I had to make it believable.” She nuzzled Lyra shyly. “I just had to teach him a lesson.”

The last thing I want is to listen to mushy stuff, so I tried to ignore them and thought about what Dawn Gleaming had told me.

Was I broken because of how I got hatched? What am I going to do about it? I now wish I’d studied magical theory harder; I know more than most people or I couldn’t even try to cast those spells, but I’m not as versed as Twilight or Dawn.

Wild magic taps raw chaos. I know you can use it to control certain kinds of random magical items, like Decks of Many Things or Wands of Wonder. If you know what you’re doing, you can sometimes boost your magic with it but it can also mean your spells fizzle. And sometimes, you just get random stuff.

But I’m getting random stuff *all the time*.

It could be because I’m too young for it, I guess. I’m smart enough but my body can’t handle it.

I went round inside my head until we reached the border and had to land to go through customs at this little border fort. Belcadizians manned the fort. I showed them our invitations from Jaggar and they stared in shock, cast some spells, then looked more shocked.

“I see,” the guard captain said; he had dark skin (the human kind, I was darker than he was) and long flowing black hair bound into two braids and wore a Glantrian military uniform. “Okay, you will need to be certified.”

Lyra moved her harp around and got a pass indicating she is an Arcaner, certified in the use of magic. Crash already had a pass certifying her as an Arcaner, which I wonder how she got, given she doesn’t cast spells. But it was officially stamped and everything.

I stepped up and cast light. Nothing happened but just as I was about to give up, a ball of light appeared. HAH! Maybe I just needed practice. Yeah!

Bon-Bon and Lyra both applauded me by stamping their hooves. I bowed and adjusted my hat and cape.

I got an Arcaner pass. HAH!

Bon-Bon stepped up, then showed them her cookbook of magical candies and proceeded to flip a redhot into her mouth and breathe fire.

“Hey, can I have one?” I asked her. I bet I could make SUPER fire with that.

She flicked me one, then pulled a cape out of her bags and put it on, then flicked out another candy and turned into a Belcadizian Elf, quickly wrapping the cape around herself to hide her body. “So, does that qualify?”

“So you make these,” the guard captain said, studying the cookbook. “We’ll need to see some proof you can do this.”

To my surprise, she had a small cauldron and soon mixed stuff in it and cooked it while the guards cast spells and studied what she was doing. They looked amazed, so I decided to try a magic detection spell.

This turned me invisible.

Aaargh!

Finally, the stuff in the cauldron became gooey and she dipped out some and shaped it with little tools she held with her mouth and tail and then it cooled and one of the guards tried one and his hair turned purple.

“Hmm, this is unusual, but alchemy IS magic use, so I will give you provisional Arcaner status,” the guard said. “If you stay more than thirty days, you should go to the Great School of Magic for full certification.”

Bon-Bon smiled brightly and gave a huge sigh of relief.

“You’ll probably have less trouble if you stay in Elven form,” the captain continued.

One of his men said something about mountains and got elbowed by another.

I don’t get it.

“I’ll be all sorts of things, I am going to give a lecture on shapeshifting,” Bon-Bon said nervously. “To some of Prince Jaggar’s allies.”

“Good luck,” the captain said very seriously. “You’re free to go.”

“I’d best head back,” Crash said.

“Let’s hit that café,” Bon-Bon said. “We need dinner and we can find an inn.”

Lyra now got a grin and I knew this would end in fire.

***************

Bon-Bon’s Story:

Crash had to buy us some clothing and find a place for us to park our balloon; fortunately, Glantri seems the kind of place where you *can* find an inn with balloon parking spaces. We got a room, downed the candy and took on Elven forms and got dressed in proper clothing. I was nervous but I should practice for my lecture.

I’m going to become a bird, a fish, a human, a wolf, and a dragon during it. If it all works right. I did practice all those but I keep worrying about the aquarium.

Animal forms are hard, I have to say. Humans and Elves aren’t so bad, though I can’t smell anything. But I now learned Elves had pretty good hearing, which helped.

“Spike, I have to say you look great,” Lyra said to Spike; I have to agree, his suit and hat fit him perfectly, and his purple and green striped hair made a good contrast. He was kind of short, though.

“I look like a kid,” he grumbled, studying himself in the mirror.

You are a kid, I thought. But he wants so much to be grown up like I did; I got in tons of trouble with Berry Punch because of that. And had fun, but I was young and foolish and had no thought for tomorrow.

Like Lyra still is sometimes.

We all got dressed up and headed out to eat; Crash and I struggled with the super-elaborate dresses she’d bought (to my surprise). “Your dress is very nice,” I told her. It was blue and black; mine was cream and green. Lyra had a dark blue suit which was quite nice on her.

Everyone kept staring at my mane as we walked through the streets to a café. I don’t know why. It’s perfectly normal. I guess it was not in a normal Belcadizian style, though. Lyra also got stares, but that was because she had a horn in the middle of her forehead.

We reached the café and sat down to eat, studying the menu, which was full of things I had never ever heard of. Fortunately, Lyra could translate for us all, so I decided to try a Belcadizian omlette; it’s made with eggs, potatos, onions, and sliced peppers.

Lyra got a shrimp stew, Crash got gazpacho, which turned out to be a tomato soup, and Spike got battered, fried flatfish. It smelled wonderful and I had a little of Crash’s soup and she tried my omlette, which was a little hot but quite good.

“I… Bon-Bon… thanks for trying to help me,” Crash finally said to me.

“I’m glad to help. But if he doesn’t shape up, *dump him* like a Roc laying an egg,” I told her.

“Rocs don’t really lay eggs from high above their nests and then let the ones that break die,” Spike said chidingly. “That’s an old mares’ tale. They’d all die out if they did that; even a Roc’s egg can’t take a long fall.”

I should have paid more attention in school, really. I was usually thinking about some cute guy. Lyra’s actually the first *mare* I have gone trotting with. But she… stupid Octavia, thinks she’s so classy and elegant and high class and…

Sometimes, I wonder what Lyra sees in me. Though I try not to get down on myself. Here I am, on my way to visit a Prince who wants *my* advice.

I just wish I had more useful advice. I did talk to Fluttershy and did some reading but I am so in over my head.

I don’t know how Lyra handles being in over her head all the time. She was scarfing down food so easily; I was fumbling with my silverware, trying to keep my dress clean; this thing is pretty but it’s so easy to spill things on it.

The waiter now brought us desserts. “Seniors and Senoritas,” he said gravely. “Enjoy!” Dessert smelled like peaches; it was a kind of cake with orange frosting which the waiter now set on fire! I stared, eyes wide; the frosting now turned blue as it burned and the smoke smelled like blueberries.

“How did you do this?” I asked; I have to know the trick.

“House secret,” he said, and we dug into it; it was wonderful; I had to remind myself to use my fork and not just stick my face in it.

Crash DID stick her face in it and everyone in the place stared and I turned red and Spike and Lyra laughed.

“Now that is enthusiasm,” the waiter said smoothly. Then he wiped her face and cut her a slice without further comment.

I made sure to leave him a large tip when we finished.

“You should probably sleep here,” Lyra told Crash. “Don’t try and fly back at night.”

We got a double room, so Crash had to share a bed with Spike, but I agreed with Lyra; it was too dangerous and I felt proud of Lyra for being sensible for once.

“Thank you,” Crash said as we got ready for bed, having turned back to normal.

“You’ve been a huge help to us, so we had to pay you back,” I told her. “You can keep the dress; it should impress Cruisin’. Even if you should dump him.”

“I don’t know if I can,” she mumbled. “I was made to love him.”

“You have free will now, though,” Lyra said hesitantly.

I went over to her and touched her face with a hoof. “Crash, you can be anything you want to be. You are your own person now, not a puppet, not a slave, not a tool. You can do anything you want. You just have to want it.” She shivered, staring at me, eyes not quite meeting mine.

I let go. “I had a coltfriend once, I thought… he was terrible, but I thought I loved him, that it was my fault when he was bad. Berry had to get rid of him to save me,” I told her urgently. “So either get him to shape up or dump him but I doubt you can change him, whatever his origins. People don’t change easily.” I didn’t.

Lyra frowned; I’d never told her this story; it was over before I met her. “Who was this?” she said angrily.

“No one you know, dear; he left town,” I told Lyra. I don’t know what Berry did… probably don’t want to know… but she drove him out of town somehow. Because she’s my friend.

Now I felt guilty I don’t see her so much any more.

I should have asked her to come.

Too late now, though. Mistakes are like that.

Hey, she knew a flaming dessert thing… maybe she knows the cake secret!

I know it involved alcohol somehow.

“Anyway, let’s sleep,” Crash mumbled.

Spike had already clonked out and I hope he doesn’t snore all night.

******************

Spike’s Saga:

I was fast asleep when I woke up.

Shut up!

I… Look, I woke up because there was an intruder in the room. Hovering over the bed.

So I set him on fire, which woke everyone up.

“AAAAAA!!!!!” he howled as he fled for the now open window. Which he didn’t reach because now a Bronze Dragon was blocking it.

What? Where did that come from?

Rainbow Crash woke up groggily. “What’s going…”

That was when a huge ringing alarm went off and rain began to pour down from the ceiling.

This washed the soot off Cruisin’, who now turned for the door only to find Lyra blocking it. Lyra had tried to put her armor on and now was tangled up in it, lying in front of the door thrashing, but this effectively blocked escape, since the door opens inwards. “You’ll never escape!” she said bravely but pointlessly.

“Oh, it’s *you*,” the Bronze Dragon said, irritated. “You shouldn’t break into people’s rooms! Now I’m stuck in this form for nothing.”

Only now did I notice the Dragon had Bon-Bon’s eyes. “You look great,” I said, giving her a thumbs up.

“I just wanted to see my dear Rainbow Crash,” Cruisin’ said, trying to sound smooth.

“You came all this way for me?” Rainbow Crash said hopefully.

Lyra finally rose to her hooves. “I can see why Knight-ponies had squires,” she said ruefully. “Why is it raining inside?”

Elves now broke through the door and hosed down everything with white foam.

“Dragon!” one of them said, pointing.

“That’s just Bon-Bon,” Lyra said. “I’m sorry, this guy broke in and everything went haywire.”

“Hey, I just…” he began.

Then they hosed him down with more foam and dragged him off.

“Cruisin’!” Crash said frantically.

The foam began to dissolve into the smell of roses. “Sorry, we thought there was a fire,” one of the staff people said.

I kept my mouth shut nervously.

“Here’s a candy,” Lyra said to Bon-Bon, fishing one out of her bags.

“I can’t afford to waste them as I only have limited supplies,” Bon-Bon said mournfully. “I’ll sleep on the floor, I guess.” Fortunately, she was only about the size of Celestia and not the size of, say, a Grand Wyrm.

She laid down on the floor and Lyra got her armor off and cuddled up to her and we went back to bed, though I could tell Crash was just lying there, staring at the ceiling and mumbling to herself.

“You need to give up and move on; he’s a jerk,” I told her.

“I can’t give up any more than you can,” she mumbled.

“Rarity isn’t a jerk, she’s just been suckered by someone charming.” Like you have, I thought.

“I was made to love him,” she mumbled.

“And he was made to cheat on you,” I told her.

She made a noise and turned on her side and curled up in a ball.

I didn’t know what to do. Beyond maybe find some way to get Marcus and Cruisin’ to get exiled to the outer reaches of the Solar System or something.

Stupid playboys think they’re so big.

I finally fell asleep and slept until morning. We said goodbye to Crash, who flew off home, probably to make up with Cruisin’ and get suckered again.

Dammit.

We got the balloon going and headed up the river; there was more air traffic than I’m used to: flying chariots, people riding griffons, hippogriffs, manticores, flying carpets, blimps, flying ships, all cruising up and down the river; basically this river has cut a huge valley through the mountains which rise everywhere there isn’t a river. And the river valley is thick with farms and villages.

Lyra had to dodge a few which didn’t know how to steer very well; we also got a lot of people shouting at us for some reason, though we never did figure out why.

As we passed over Glantri city, a half dozen humans came flying up on a flying carpet; they wore official looking robes and one of them presented his badge, indicating he was a Flying Device Inspector. “Do you have a piloting license? Has this been inspected? I need to see your papers.”

Lyra got fined fifty gold for flying without a license, but fortunately, they accepted the Equestrian Safety Inspection certification. She got fined another ten because she didn’t have a license for her sword and another twenty for her chainmail, which basically left her broke.

I wish someone had mentioned all this! Lyra looked utterly embarrassed and pouted for the next two hours. “I should have known,” she kept mumbling.

The whole area north of Glantri City is pretty heavily settled too with many little villages along the river and endless farms and pastures. Then, for some reason, the number of farms plummeted but you could see giant herds of horses and ponies and every so often, camps of tents, some of them quite huge. And sometimes you could see Ponies down there, helping humans to herd the horses.

“This is Krondahar, where Ethengars settled and took on some aspects of Glantrian culture,” Lyra told us, sounding excited. “They face a lot of prejudice, but they’re a big help to Glantri in defending against the wild Ethengars of the steppes to the east of those mountains.” She pointed east to a huge wall of mountains which ran roughly north-south.

We watched them run and eventually reached a fork in the river; more precisely, where two rivers came together to form the one we’d been following; we turned northwest over Bergdhovern, which is mostly home to ruddy-skinned and haired humans, the Flaemish. Their homeland is naturally swampy, so they use extensive dikes to turn it into a mix of lakes and fertile farmland and canals and streams. We watched a unicorn and three humans repairing a dike; all the Ponies in Bergdhovern have red coats and manes in various shades.

“You know, I only saw Earth Ponies in Krondahar and only Unicorns here,” Bon-Bon said thoughtfully.

“And there’s Pegasi who live with the Alphatians in Blackhill. And there’s a Pony Princesspality in the west,” I said, pointing off vaguely west. “A loooong time ago, there were a ton of Ponies here, but most of them fled the monsters which ravaged the area and headed south; only the most magical or stubborn stayed behind.”

“Yeah, the Elves here blew up some ancient artifact, right? And it rained down dark magic that mutated everything, turning it into a giant death trap, pretty much?” Lyra said.

“Yeah. There was some business with trolls and fillies and something…” I hadn’t paid enough attention when Twilight was talking about it; anyway, it was over a thousand years ago.

“It looks safe now,” Bon-Bon said hesitantly.

“The lowlands are mostly safe, especially around here,” I told her. “That happened over a thousand years ago. The Dream Valley ponies were the only group that stuck it out here, which is why they have a Princesspality.”

We kept going and gradually the land rose, though it was still lower than the mountains. The rice farms of Bergdhovern gave way to fields of wheat and potatoes and cabbages and pastures of cattle and sheep. We left the river behind and headed west to Rittenberg, the fortress home of Prince Jaggar.

Something began closing on us from behind; it was a huge chariot pulled by griffons; one rode in the chariot, holding the reins, while a huge muscular dark haired man sat on a throne, wearing a lionskin outfit. I knew the driver: it was Gilda. Well, this is going to be ugly.

Lyra steered left to let it go by; Gilda stared at us in that ‘you look tasty’ way that Griffons have. But she and her boss said nothing and just kept going.

Stupid Griffon. She’s a meanie. And a jerk.

Then dragons began passing us. I tried to wave but they ignored me. *More jerks*.

Bon-Bon was scared at first, while Lyra was very excited. But gradually, we got used to it. I had never seen this many dragons at once; there must have been over a dozen!

The most baffling thing was that a Red Dragon and a Gold Dragon were flying together, having a race. A *race*. Okay, you may not know this but colored dragons and metallic dragons generally try to slaughter each other on sight. They certainly don’t have friendly races.

The last dragon was an Amethyst Dragon like me! He circled us and then suddenly turned into a human, caught the edge of the basket, and flipped into it. “Hello, I am Sir Tarquinus from Caurenze,” he said to me. “You look draconic, young lad, may I ask what you are?”

“Do you normally jump into other people’s balloons without asking?” Bon-Bon said, frowning.

“Oh wow, are you a human who turns into a dragon or a dragon who turns into a human?” Lyra asked excitedly.

“I’m an Amethyst Dragon,” I said proudly.

“Really? You’re rather bipedal for a dragon,” he said and now cast a spell.

“Hey, I’m talking to you,” Bon-Bon said, frowning.

“I was hatched with wild magic,” I mumbled.

“Interesting. Are you coming to the conference?” He continued to study me.

“Yes, I am giving a major speech,” Bon-Bon said irritably.

“Bon-Bon’s giving a major speech,” I said, pointing to her.

He glanced briefly at her, then turned back to me. “Nice to meet you, then. I’ll see you there!” He leaped out of the basket and sprouted dragon wings, while remaining otherwise human and flew off.

“Oh wow, partial shifting!” Lyra said, amazed.

“What a rude little monkey,” Bon-Bon said irritably.

I had a feeling he knew something I didn’t but needed to know.

Rittenberg is carved out of the side of a mountain, high above the plains; there was a large plateau we landed the balloon on; you could see a winding road down to a village at the base of the mountain; west and south of here, endless mountains rose, while north and east of here were the farmlands of Aalban, Jaggar’s principality.

The sun was setting and you could see Vanya on the horizon, slowly rising, red against the darkening blue sky.

“Wow, this reminds me of Canterlot,” Lyra said as she landed us.

“Well, it’s a good design for a lair,” I told her. “Very secure against assault.”

The guards checked our papers and ushered us into the castle; we quickly went down a side hallway connected to the entrance hall and past endless rooms, then up two staircases to a nice suite of rooms with a double bed for them and a single for me in a little side room. For some reason, the closet for my room was full of maid costumes. For humans.

But I didn’t bring a lot of luggage. We soon got everything squared away and they delivered us a bale of hay and a steak for dinner, so we all dug in and then laid down for some sleep.

********************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

In the morning, a servant came and took us to dine with Prince Jaggar. I put on the best of my dresses which Rarity had made for me and got Lyra all suited up. Spike put on his tuxedo, which I guess he is going to just wear until this is all over.

I had an odd feeling as we went through the castle; there’s something strange about the rock here and it got stranger as we got closer to the Prince’s quarters; maybe it was just the plush carpeting, which is a little awkward to walk on with hooves; it slides under you if you’re not careful.

The dining room was small with a long but narrow table with benches suitable for us and chairs at the ends for Jaggar and Spike; it was a low table, perfectly suited for dining with ponies but probably somewhat awkward for humans. Jaggar wore a white suit and a monocle and had put out a potato and tomato soup for Lyra and I, while Spike had pancakes and scrambled eggs and sausage and Jaggar had a steak and fried eggs with some pancakes.

That weird feeling in the floor was even more intense now, but I decided it must be enchantments or something.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Lady Bon-Bon, Lady Lyra, Master Spike,” Prince Jaggar said solemnly. “I hope you did not have too much trouble on the way here.”

“I forgot a bunch of things had to be licensed and I had to pay out a lot of fines,” Lyra said ruefully. “I’m surprised they don’t license the air you breathe.”

“You had best stay out of Blackhill,” Jaggar said, then laughed, so I laughed to be polite, while Spike just stuffed his face and Lyra looked confused.

“Oh, the Alphatians… right,” Lyra said finally, then laughed and looked more embarrassed.

We ate and chatted about our trip and the conference. It’s a collection of people with interests in dragons and shapeshifting, and I got the impression there was something he wasn’t talking about, which worried me. But I laid out my plans while Lyra and Spike ate and he sounded approving, so I hoped I wasn’t getting into the middle of something messy.

Right as Spike was about to ask something, the doors flew open and an old human woman in brown robes stormed in, followed by a walking statue which carried a huge book for her. She had darkish skin… not as dark as a Tanagoro but about the same as Marcus. Like a Thyatian. “Jaggie, that insufferable woman is at it again! I insist you must send her out of my house FOREVER.” She pounded on the table, which caused Lyra’s soup to jump up as she bent down, and now Lyra’s face was covered with soup.

“Hey!” Lyra said angrily.

“Jaggie?” Spike said, then laughed until Jaggar glared at him.

Jaggar then turned to the woman. “Mother, do not call me ‘Jaggie’ and that woman is my *wife*.”

I suddenly wondered why his wife wasn’t eating with us.

“She sat at the head of the table! She won’t pass the salt fast enough! And she sent away my Gregor!” Jaggar’s mother said, pounding on the table again.

“Mother, as the Princess Consort of Aalban, she has the right to sit at the head of the table; you are now Dowager Princess Consort and she takes precedence, as is clearly laid out in the Blue Book,” Jaggar said firmly. “While you sit to her right. And Gregor is no longer allowed to serve at meals since he added olive oil to my wife’s tea.” He sighed. “Lady Bon-Bon, this is my mother, Frau Hildegard, Dowager Princess Consort of Aalban. Mother, this is Lady Bon-Bon of Ponyville, an Alchemist who will be speaking at our Conference. To her right is Master Spike, familiar to Duchess Twilight Sparkle and to his right is Lady Lyra, Consort of Lady Bon-Bon.”

Frau Hildegard made a brief nod of her head to myself and Lyra and basically ignored Spike, who frowned. “Gregor was innocent of all malice! It was not his fault that she misplaced the various flasks in the incorrect positions!”

“Mother, a colorblind elemental should not be serving at meals,” Prince Jaggar said firmly, his moustache twitching. “I know Gregor has served you for many years, but I think it is long past time you allowed him to return to his home plane before he completely falls apart.”

“I don’t tell you what to do with your pets,” she said, glancing at Spike, who now frowned deeply. “I will not abandon him. And anyway, the real problem is you married a woman unworthy of you!”

“I married the woman Father chose for me,” Jaggar said, moustache now twitching furiously.

“Against my advice,” Frau Hildegard said angrily.

I could hear someone approaching, probably the wife. Maybe I should have let Lyra talk me into buying armor after all.

Though Lyra’s armor is in our room; she clanks too much when she wears it. And I’d assumed you wouldn’t need armor at breakfast.

Two people came in; one was a balding human male with a thick moustache but a bald head; he had an odd green blotch roughly the shape of… well, just a blotch, really. The other was a woman in her early forties, with long black hair and very pale skin. Her eyes were silver irised, which made her eyes kind of creepy. Her long trailing dress somehow floated just a little above the floor despite being so long it should have dragged, and the man was followed by a clanking metallic human who was carrying two large satchels, one in each hand. “Ahh, there you are,” the woman said to Frau Hildegard; her eyes looked almost made of ice as she studied the woman. “Frau Ingrid is quite worried about you, mother.”

Wait, he married his sister? Or is that just a custom?

“Don’t you have guests to attend to, Gertrud?” Frau Hildegard said irritably.

“They’re all looking for you, worried you might have hurt yourself in your rage; you’re not getting any younger, *Frau* Hildegard,” Frau Gertrud said cooly.

“Wow, are you an air elementalist?” Lyra asked Frau Gertrud excitedly. “I can tell something magical is holding your dress up and I think it’s an elemental!”

“I am versed in those arts, yes,” she said to Lyra, a touch less cooly, then turned back to Frau Hildegard, taking her arm. “Come, Mother, we have guests and we’re disturbing Jaggar.”

“I’m sure Jaggie doesn’t mind us being here,” Frau Hildegard said, wrenching her arm loose.

“Mother, the guests will worry if you do not return,” Jaggar said; his moustache was threatening to take flight now. “And I only have enough food for my current guests.”

I now noticed that the man who came with Frau Hildegard had just been standing there silently the whole time. He now said, “Did I come too early, Prince Jaggar?”

“Yes,” Jaggar told him. “Lady Bon-Bon, this is my friend Herr Rolf Graustein, Viscount of Blofeld; he is an alchemist like you and wished to speak with you after breakfast. Herr Rolf, this is Lady Bon-Bon of Ponyville, who I told you about, and her consort Lady Lyra and Master Spike, who serves Duchess Twilight Sparkle.”

Spike rose and bowed to him and Herr Rolf nodded his head to Spike. But then he turned to me and bowed more. “A pleasure to meet you, Lady Bon-Bon.”

“Nice to meet you,” Lyra said cheerfully and I rose and curtseyed as best I could in this dress. Then I got back on the bench.

“I refuse to go back until she apologizes,” Frau Hildegard said angrily, looking at Jaggar.

“I did nothing which is not within my rights as laid out in the Blue Book,” Frau Gertrud said coolly, also looking at Jaggar.

I felt badly for Jaggar; few things are worse than being caught between your family and your lover; my parents complain constantly because they want grandchildren and that’s not happening with Lyra and I. But I love her and that’s that.

But I don’t like fighting with them.

“Frau Hildegard, where are you…..” a voice echoed distantly and Frau Gertrud sighed. “Did you forget your medication this morning…” Now Frau Hildegard grimaced. “Also, Gregor is trying to fly again...”

Frau Hildegard grimaced more and said, “I had best go see to Gregor.” She now stalked off with her elemental book-carrier. The book was not blue, so I wondered what book they’d been talking about.

Frau Gertrud walked over, kissed her husband on the cheek and said, “I take leave, husband.”

“I give leave, wife,” he said to her. “I will see you at lunch.”

“Of course,” she said coolly and then glided out of the room.

Herr Rolf laid down a map by my bowl. “You can find me at the lab; I’ll leave you to finish your meal.”

I wonder how many times a day this happens.

***************

Lyra’s Lyric:

Bon-Bon went to see Herr Rolf, Prince Jaggar took Spike for a private talk, and I decided to explore. To my surprise, you could see Vanya, large in the sky. It must be some special conjunction; it’s normally invisible in the day.

Trying to whoosh myself to it didn’t work. Given my armor and sword were in my room, that’s probably for the best. I only did it out of habit.

A human walked up to me, very pale skinned, even more than Frau Gertrud, with short spikey white hair, sunglasses, and an elegant black tuxedo like Spike’s. He had a wand in a holster on his hip. “Good day, young lady,” he said cheerfully; I noticed he looked too young for a human to have white hair. “I am Baron Malachie du Marais, at your service.”

He bowed to me, so I bowed to him. “I am Lady Lyra of Ponyville, here for the conference.” I summoned my harp. “I am a Bard.”

He now spoke magical syllables and became a white coated and maned Pony in a tuxedo. To my surprise, he had a cutie mark, though it was hard to see because it was a white wolf; you could only see one yellow eye and the black outlines of its features easily. “I am a wizard and the Baron de Morlay.”

“Ooooh, from New Averoigne?” I asked, excited. “I knew a man, Jacques, from there, back home, when I was a child.”

He said something about the moon over the river in New Averoignean; I know a smattering but it’s mostly romantic catch phrases. There’s a ton of languages in Glantri spoken by the micro-cultures and nowhere else; Master Five Star claimed many of these cultures came from other worlds or even other dimensions. It’s certainly unusual for its diversity. Each of the four Principalities of the Quad-Province area has its own language! Fortunately, most people also speak Thyatian. As we had been doing.

“I’m sorry, I only speak a little, though I do know a song,” I told him. So I got my lyre and played ‘The Moon Rises Over the River’ for him, which he clearly appreciated, stamping his hooves to the beat. I was surprised he could do it so well if he’s normally a biped.

“Very good,” I told him. “Used to four-legged forms?”

He smiled a lazy smile. “Yes,” he told me, then stretched. “Have you been here before?”

“No,” I confessed to him.

“Well, let me give you a little tour; I have been here several times,” he said and began showing me around. It was a lot more interesting with a guide, I have to say.

***************

Spike’s Saga:

Prince Jaggar had an entire library dedicated to dragons; he had models of dragons, pictures, charts, books, even an actual skeleton of an unfortunate kid dragon who died. I spent a few minutes just wandering around, looking at things. Then I found a model of two Amethyst Dragons, standing protectively over a little baby coming out of his shell. They were indicated as ‘Winter Rime’ and ‘Gleaming Dusk’. “Who were they?” I asked.

“Probably your ancestors by about 2000 years. They perished in the fall of Blackmoor,” he said. “They had some two dozen children and you are descended from their eighth child, Agate Eater.” Jaggar was carefully polishing a golden statue of a red dragon with a cloth; I think that statue would piss off both red and gold dragons.

Agate Eater. What an undignified name.

“I don’t… Twilight named me Spike, I don’t know what my real name is,” I said softly, half hoping he’d know but also wondering how he knew about my ancestors.

“You would have been named some time between hatching and your first Dragonsleep,” Jaggar said, continuing to polish the statue. “Dragons wait and see what you are like before giving you a name.” He then studied me through his monocle, which made me nervous.

“Twilight named me because of my ridges,” I said thoughtfully. “They were like spikes on my tail.”

“Perfectly natural. They’ll become sharper with time,” Prince Jaggar said, coming over and studying them intently through his monocle. “And become more backwards sloping. They discourage attack from behind and above, which is one of the gravest weaknesses of any dragon. For all the stories about soft underbellies, a foe who lands, say, here,” he said, tapping the back of my neck at the base, “is very hard to attack.”

“I guess… you’ve studied dragons a lot and I know you can turn into one,” I said hesitantly.

“I am a dracologist. The head of the order, in fact,” he said. “You are a great mystery to us, which is why I invited you. May I have one of your scales?”

“Okay,” I said nervously, not sure if I would like the answer. “Do you know anything about… wild magic?” I asked hesitantly.

He grimaced. “It’s terribly dangerous and foolish to monkey around with.” I cringed at that. “I’m surprised more unicorns don’t blow themselves to bits when they’re little.”

“What?” I asked in confusion.

“The ability of unicorns to generate power generally outraces their ability to control it when they are young,” Jaggar said. “A definite flaw in the Blackmoorian research which gave them power. The end result is wild magic. I understand your mistress struggled for a long time to control her magic.”

“Yes,” I said. I have dim memories of awakening stuck to the ceiling; it took Celestia two hours to get me free. “But she is very good at it now.”

“Wild magic is dangerous because it relies on emotion instead of the logic and reason of proper arcane methods,” Jaggar said, beginning to stride back and forth across the room, past the table with most of the models on it. “Emotions can be kindled or doused but not easily controlled. The best emotion for proper control of magic is calm. If you become excited or depressed or angry, you can lose control. Wild Magic is too chaotic, too wild, too dangerous. So it is good that your mistress has learned proper control of magic. Still, from what I know of your story, I would not be surprised if you were changed by what happened when you were hatched.”

I wondered how much Jaggar knew and how he found out.

“So I am not a normal dragon,” I said softly.

“You are something new,” he said excitedly, smiling for the first time I had seen him. “I know your parents were gravely concerned with the future of dragonkind. Your numbers have been slowly dwindling since the fall of the Dragon Empires and the imprisonment of the Carnifex. I fear that if that trend continues, one day there will be no more real dragons,” he finished, then sighed. “That would be a tragedy. Some dragons are menaces which need to be eliminated, but there are others who are benevolent.”

Carniflex… I heard Twilight… I was eating ice cream. “What were the Carnifex?” I asked.

“Relatives of dragons and dinosaurs and modern lizard men, they arose in the decadent phase of the Draconic empires and took over, then tried to conquer the world. They were devoted to Chaos and the Immortals imprisoned them forever,” Prince Jaggar said. “A story which I’ve always wondered about, because normally the Sphere of Entropy would have vetoed that. So there must be more which we have forgotten.” He sounded oddly like Twilight for a moment. “Anyway, your parents made several trips to the ruins of the Draconic Empires which survive on Davania, but I don’t know their exact interest. What happened to their hoards?”

“My aunt and uncle have them until I am old enough to have my own lair,” I told him.

He nodded thoughtfully. “I must attend to other business, but feel free to read anything.” He nodded to me and I nodded back and was soon kneedeep in books, feeling weirdly like I was Twilight.

But when will I get a chance like this again?

***************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

Viscount Graustein had a huge lab; apparently he often stayed here at Jaggar’s home, making golems with alchemy. And other experiments too; he showed me around and I discussed my methods with him, which my mother had passed on to me. We blew most of the morning trying to get troll-flavored candy to work; it kept trying to come to life and had to be burned.

I wish I was joking.

Or that I understood why he wanted troll-flavored candy. But after hours of work, including missing lunch, we finally had a troll flavored candy. It was dark green and had a hard shell with a gooey light green center and he loved it; I thought it tasted terrible.

And then he showed me some of his golems. His best one is his clockwork assistant, but he’s developed a powder which animates them; getting them to obey is the hard part. And to actually function.

I’m not much good with stone work, but I tried to help him with a project which wasn’t working; the limbs kept falling off. I tapped it, trying to read it through my hooves. “There’s too many impurities in the stone, I think, but I’m not an expert,” I told him. “The result is that your powder’s magic doesn’t penetrate the impurities and it malfunctions.”

I probably would have missed dinner too but I was getting very hungry and a servant came for us. Everyone should be here now; there will be dinner and a dance and then tomorrow, the presentations start. Herr Time, Viscount Graustein’s mechanical man, was kind enough to hold my note cards; I was going to speak briefly at the dinner. The words scooted off the surface of my mind and I wondered how exactly I, an ordinary Earth Pony, had ended up in a Prince’s castle, giving speeches to wizards who are older than I am.

Lyra, I hope you are enjoying yourself, because I am going to die of nerves.

**************

Lyra’s Lyric:

One of the things I learned today is that waterskiing is HARD when you’re a pony. There’s this hidden LAKE and you can get actual dragon turtles to pull you and go skiing! But it’s very hard to hold on when you don’t have hands. You can stick things to your hooves, but any kind of rapid turn and you may lose your grip.

But Malachie wiped out all the time too, so it was fun anyway, even when one of the dragonturtles mistook him for dinner. Lunch. You know what I mean.

Fortunately, I was able to get my suit laundered by dinner time and I changed and went to head into the dining hall, when four mares in very fancy blue and green dresses stopped me. One of them had a long pink mane and sky blue coat, though her dress hid most of it. “I am Countess Royal Blue. You must be Lady Lyra.”

But she wasn’t royal blue at all. She was clearly sky blue, which is a much lighter color. My mother would have been very cross.

Maybe her coat changed over time; that happens to some fillies. “A pleasure to meet you,” I told her, bowing.

“You should be more careful in your dealings with the White Wolf. He is not a stallion to be trusted,” she said, sounding angry. “As a consort, you should have more discretion, especially when your lady is present.”

The last thing I need is snooty Glantrian ponies telling me what to do. “I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.

“Never trust a wolf,” she said darkly, then raised her nose and stalked off with her handmaidens.

I now wondered again what his cutie mark meant.

So then I went to dinner; Bon-Bon looked a bit frazzled, so I nuzzled her gently, which got some whispers and then we ate. Jaggar’s whole family was at his table, along with nobles I didn’t know. I had seen Herr Sigisimund, the older son, at Canterlot, but Herr Roderick, the younger one (a teenager), was busy moping next to him; he was dark haired like both of his parents, but as pale as his mother Gertrud. His Grandma Hildegard was busy pontificating at Gertrud and pointing at Roderick, who squirmed. Gertrud glared at Hildegard and Jaggar clearly wished someone would invade from Vanya to get him out of this.

Or at least, *I* would have wished that in his place.

“But I am good at fighting,” Roderick protested loudly.

“Swords are for the weak and ignorant,” Grandma Hildegard said angrily.

I touched mine and frowned; hardly anyone here has one except the guards, I had noticed.

Jaggar’s moustache twitched and he said, “Enough. We can discuss this later.” He now rose and the speeches began while I ate asparagus, sliced carrots, and potato pancakes with lots of jam and honey.

Bon-Bon’s turn to speechify came and I played an opening riff on my harp; that got everyone’s attention. She touched her dress, then got a candy out and began talking about the problems of shapeshifting and keeping your sense of self. Then she ate the candy and became a human, talking about how she couldn’t smell anyone now and her vision was different.

I also became aware a dozen of the guests were looking at her chest instead of her face and I frowned; the last thing I need is everyone making moves on my marefriend. She’s so beautiful and she doesn’t realize it, and she looks so graceful and elegant in that dress.

Some redheaded bastard was really leering at Bon-Bon, like he wanted to… do things… just the look on his face made me want to smack him. But I kept my mouth shut; I won’t ruin her moment in the sun and Bon-Bon probably doesn’t even know how to read human faces well enough to tell.

Then he looked at me and seemed ready to laugh.

Kiss my flank, bastard, I thought, grimacing.

A soldier ran in and whispered to Jaggar as Bon-Bon continued her speech; Bon-Bon now tossed me a candy and I ate it, trying to remember what she wanted me to turn into. Oh, right. I became a Belcadizian Elf; I could now hear that redhead drumming his fingers on the table to a beat; I couldn’t figure out the song from that but now I began trying to.

I also noticed myself studying Bon-Bon more and tried to stop as it was not part of the plan. Bon-Bon said, “Behavioral changes can be subtle or quite huge; if I became a deer, I would likely panic and run. And the more you leave the general neighborhood of beings like yourself, the more you may be surprised by what happens. But I’ll expand on this tomorrow when I give my main talk.”

More speeches ensued and most of the people staring at her now stared at the new speakers and I relaxed. I guess it is normal for humans to look straight at whoever they’re talking to all the time.

When we all went off to the ballroom, the redhead went off with Frau Hildegard; hopefully, he will do something foolish with her and Jaggar will lock him up before he causes Bon-Bon any trouble.

Bon-Bon licked her lips nervously. “I didn’t think about this; this won’t wear off for hours and I don’t want to deplete my candy supply, though Herr Graustein told me I could use his lab if I needed to.”

“It’s fine, we can dance like this,” I told her and in fact, soon we were dancing and having fun. Thankfully, the candy supplies the instincts.

The problem was the huge number of men who wanted to dance with her and Bon-Bon was too polite to say no and they ignored my best death glares; there were plenty of women to dance with, and I even danced with some actual mares, which amused me.

And I danced with Malachie; he was in human form and I have to say, quite a skilled dancer. He dipped me low and said, “You dance well outside your normal form.” He was impressed.

I laughed as he raised me up and spun me. “I got top grades in all my bardic classes.”

“Ahh,” he said knowingly. “You should play with the band at some point.” They were a mix of humans and elves and one Pony with a tuba.

Maybe I will, I thought.

“And keep an eye on that redheaded fellow, Emrikol. He’s rather a dangerous man, from what I hear,” Malachie said softly as he dipped me again, whispering in my ear.

I resolved to do so.

****************

Spike’s Saga:

I got some serious dancing in but then I noticed Prince Jaggar’s son moping around the edge of the room and I went over to him; I know just how he feels. “Hey, Prince Roderick,” I said to him, holding a hand out. “I’m Spike. Nice to meet you.”

He pushed his hair back. “Nice to meet you,” he said softly. “You’re Duchess Sparkle’s familiar, right?”

“I’m her handler,” I told him. “I make sure she doesn’t decide to do research until 4 AM when she has to be somewhere at seven, make sure she remembers to eat, and so on.”

He laughed, then nearly fell down; we scooted over a little to a clump of chairs and sat down. “Father can be like that, when he gets obsessed. My big brother too.” He sighed, studying his brother, who was dancing with some blonde lady. “So what kind of wizard are you?” he asked wearily.

“All my spells go wild,” I grumbled and his eyes widened. “I can’t get them to work right.”

“All mine either fizzle or go crazy too,” he confessed. “Mother and Grandmother fight about whose fault it is all the time.” He looked at his brother again. “I’ll never be a great wizard like Sigisimund is.”

“He’s good?” I said softly. I’ll never be as great a wizard as Twilight, but I’m a dragon. In the end, spells are gravy compared to that.

“He’s great. I don’t know if I could live up to that even if I *could* cast magic.” I could tell he was getting more jumpy.

“Let’s go take a walk,” I told him. I felt terrible for him, so we went out to the gardens; Vanya was huge in the sky and I briefly worried it was on a collision course with Mystara. Twilight is probably observing this right now.

It has something to do with spatial distortions or something. Anyway, it only *looks* close.

I rambled on about some of my adventures, trying to cheer him up; the time I ate two tubs of ice cream got a laugh. We flopped out on the beach, looking at the stars. “You’re the nicest dragon I’ve met; most of them are kind of rude,” Herr Roderick said.

“I’m pretty cool,” I said, stretching out and relaxing. “I’m surprised they’d be rude to you, given your Dad.”

He sighed. “Dad has enough power they have to respect him, but most of them aren’t as… well, they sit alone and count their coins instead of talking to people, but you live a normal life.”

“Living with Twilight is anything but normal,” I told him, but now I wondered. Were my parents trying to make me more social? As civilization recovers, there’s going to be a lot less wild space for dragons to live in. Either we’ll have to live with and around Ponies and humans and so on or we’ll die.

I thought about Marjorie and how being in Pony form had shown her things she never knew and she hadn’t even done it for long.

I should have talked to her when we were at the fortress.

“Dad doesn’t rag on me like Grandma does, but he’s just kind of given up, I think,” Roderick said, sounding frustrated.

“You’re still young. I think you’ll find something to make him proud,” I told Roderick, who sighed.

I wish I could do something for him but I can’t even get spells to work right, dammit.

*****************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

I turned back into a pony RIGHT in the middle of dancing with some lord, who then fell down as I got heavier. I helped him up and tossed him one of my painkiller candies. I was very embarrassed.

I heard “AAAAQ!!!” as Lyra did the same thing and another lord went down.

I bowed to Henri and galloped over to serve them both a painkiller, just to be sure, then tried to help the fellow up. “Fixed durations are terrible,” the man mumbled and wandered off to get some wine.

“I’m sorry!” Lyra shouted after him, then we nuzzled each other and went to get a little wine ourselves.

Just a little.

I’m not like that anymore.

Then we danced together for a while and then a herd of Ponies descended on us and I somehow ended up dancing with Countess Royal Blue. Who is more like sky blue, with a kind of pinkish-purple pie with a chunk missing as her cutie mark. You can hardly see it under her dress.

She looked hugely amused by something, but then turned serious as we knocked hooves and then retreated in step with each other; like many pony dances, this one involves mirroring your partner.

For a while, she made idle chit-chat, but I had the feeling she wanted to talk to me about something. I’m not sure what.

Maybe she expected me to raise the topic, but I barely know anything about her; I think I could find Dream Valley on a map but that’s about it.

Maybe she’s wondering how I can do magic candy when I’m an Earth pony?

I let her ramble on and danced; she’s a good dancer, I have to say. It was very easy to follow her lead and she has a good sense of rhythm.

Lyra joined the band now and they moved into a slower, romantic piece; a lot of people cleared off the floor and it was just couples; I got some cookies with the Countess and she said, “Your consort is a fine musician.”

“I first met her when she was sitting on a bench and playing music while I was working in the gardens.” Candymaking is one of my jobs, but Ponyville isn’t big enough to support me and Sugarcube Corner, so I sell them my candies and I also work in the town gardens. It isn’t my Cutie Mark but ponies have a natural talent for growing things.

“Garden work helps me relax too during a long day,” the Countess said happily and we talked about flowers and gardening for a while. Then she pointed out a white haired human. “You should keep an eye on him. I fear he may have be hoping to draw your consort into one of his schemes. He is not a man to be trusted.”

I frowned. He did look like the slick type, all elegant and graceful. Like Octavia. Surely he wouldn’t… but Marcus…

I resolved to keep my eyes on him. And ask Spike to as well.

Oh Lyra, the things you get me into.

****************

Lyra’s Lyric:

Playing with the band was fun, but eventually, it was time to go dance with Bon-Bon, who was busy eating donuts and sipping what I hope was apple juice, because this is not a safe place to get drunk.

Though really, she doesn’t get drunk anymore. I guess we’re getting too old for that. She works every day and I have my duties too. It’s kind of strange, really.

“You should be careful about that guy with the white hair,” Bon-Bon said urgently to me, wobbling a little on her hooves. Maybe it wasn’t apple juice. “He’s dangerous.”

“Hungry like the wolf?” I joked.

“Don’t mock me,” she said angrily as we retreated from each other, then advanced and knocked both our forehooves together. “I don’t like how he looks at you.”

Oh, she’s jealous. “He’s just a guy; he’s not a pony and not even female,” I told her. “Don’t worry about it.”

But I could tell she was and I didn’t know what to do; Malachie was off dancing with a Belcadizian woman whose dress was covered with silver dragon motifs. Maybe she is a dragon. Or turns into one; this is dragon-fan central after all. I’m surprised Spike isn’t in the middle of all this.

I suddenly wondered if Marjorie was here and twitched. There was a pink pony that looked oddly familiar but from what I have seen, Marjorie’s pony form is not pink.

I studied the pink pony; she wore a white and yellow dress and did not appear to be a Cutie Mark Crusader or Pinkie in disguise. She was some sort of unicorn, it looked like.

I couldn’t see Spike anywhere. “I think Spike is lost; I’d better find him,” I told Bon-Bon.

She nodded and we split to search but couldn’t find him, nor had anyone seen where he went.

That’s not good.

***************

Spike’s Saga:

There’s something awesome about waterskiing at night, even if it gets cloudy and dark; the lights from the palace lit up the hidden lake enough for us to see, so I rode around on skiis, pulled by a dragon turtle with Roderick riding alongside me; they’re so big, they can pull two skiiers easy.

We were laughing and having a good time when there was a huge boom of thunder and then lightning began striking. “Make for shore!” Roderick shouted.

Instead, the dragon turtles dove and nearly pulled us under; Roderick and I bobbed to the surface just in time for a lightning bolt to strike the surface; I screamed and coughed up flame as Roderick hurled me into the air and then lightning *hit him*. It was like the world was going in slow motion and then I came down and the lightning crackled and struck one of the towers of the palace.

I could hear Bon-Bon shouting my name and I knew we were so dead, assuming Roderick was alive to be killed. “Roderick!” I shouted frantically.

He grabbed me and swam for shore, throwing me onto the beach when another bolt came down. Then he managed to flop up onto the beach.

Holy cow, he’s tough! Bon-Bon was coming towards us as the rain began to pour, her dress plastered to her, her hooves driving dirt into the air. “What are you two idiots doing?” she said angrily. “Even Pinkie has more sense than going on the lake in a rainstorm.”

“I wouldn’t bet on that,” I mumbled.

“I’m sorry, Lady Bon-Bon,” Roderick said, bowing. “It was my idea; I talked Spike into it.” He tried to look dignified, but you can’t when you’re soaking wet.

She sighed. “I know it’s easy to feel invincible at your age but…”

*Lightning hit him AGAIN*.

Bon-Bon and I stared and he sighed. “It’s my only trick. I’m pretty much immune to lightning.”

“Thanks for helping me,” I told him, feeling embarrassed. I wish I had a trick beyond making spells malfunction! “We’d better go in.”

“Yes,” Bon-Bon said, though now she looked thoughtful as she herded us inside.

Well, it was fun *until* the storm.

***************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

I had an idea, so I steered Roderick to the kitchen and had him make us all sandwiches, observing him carefully, my hooves to the ground, feeling out the furniture and the cutlery and utensils he was using. I had a feeling. Beyond the weird feeling the floor of this whole palace gives me.

The sandwiches were exceptionally good and I smiled a little and engaged him about his cooking. Which he isn’t supposed to do because it’s for servants. But he’s good at it.

I told him to meet me in the morning, before breakfast. I had ideas.

I slept well and met Roderick in the gardens and did some work with him; he was good at that too and I felt a growing sense of certainty.

I don’t really understand human biology but I think maybe something happened to him the way happens to pony families; sometimes two Earth Ponies will have a Unicorn or a Pegasus because of past ancestors who mixed the three groups. It happens to the other Ponies too.

He must be some kind of ‘Earth Human’ where his magic flows into what he makes instead of normal spells. I’ll have to see if he can make something special.

I don’t know if his parents will like this, but he’ll never be happy trying to be a unicorn when he’s not. But this way, he can be happy. And doesn’t everyone deserve that?

But first, I had to go to the conference.

We had a breakfast speech by Prince Jaggar and then a series of sessions; I attended one with Spike on young dragons which was very informative, done by Frau Elise, a Flaemish sorceress who used illusions to illustrate her points. Lyra went to the session on draconic music; I actually heard her playing at one point, which surprised me.

Spike went up to ask Frau Elise questions, while I galloped to the room where my session would happen. I passed Frau Hildegard, taking a moment to curtsey to her; she nodded to me and I galloped on, wondering why she looked so smug.

I reached the room where my session would happen; I had to struggle against a press of people coming out, then got myself set up; Lyra finally managed to push through to join me. One of the first people to come in and sit down was the man we had seen on our way here, the man in the lion skin outfit and he had Gilda with him, which didn’t make me happy; the last thing I need is a Griffon staring at me angrily the whole time. I tried to ignore her, but she had her head turned, one eye staring right at me the whole time.

Well…

People gradually drifted in; watching people jockey for the seats closest to Prince Jaggar was amusing; I’d noticed everyone had tried to sit near his wife in the first session; it must be a human thing.

I double-checked the aquarium and set out my candies. I checked my notes four times and drank some water, trying to avoid getting even more tense. I was glad Rarity had made me an extra dress; my other one is in the castle laundry thanks to me having to stop Spike and Prince Roderick killing themselves being young and foolish.

Okay. I talked to Fluttershy, did some reading and practicing, and now I’m ready. I have to be ready. Really, it ought to be her; I don’t understand why Jaggar wanted *me* of all people.

I started off by talking about how I make my candies and all the things I can do with them, and then I took one and turned myself into an eagle; I flew around the room, and then landed on a perch I had set up and talked about how my eyes were set forward, changing how I see the world from when I am a pony with eyes set more to the sides; the eagle’s eyes look forward to focus on prey and…

Lyra threw a mouse into the air and I took flight and caught it, then gobbled it up instinctively. Gilda twitched and I smiled a tiny hawk smile. “I couldn’t eat that as a pony, not so easily; my pony teeth are for chewing plants, not meat and the bones would be a problem.” I spat them back up. “And this would make me feel gross, but like this, it’s natural.”

I saw Hildegard herding Roderick past the entrance to the room and wondered where they were going.

But I had other things to do.

Then I flew over to the fish tank. Lyra tossed me another candy and I became a fish and fell into the tank, while Lyra delivered this part of the speech for me, about the way a fish body feels, the way the water is like air, like flying, the need to keep moving so water goes through your gills, and everything.

Lyra nailed it, to my relief; when she’s serious, she’s really good, a better public speaker than I am.

Then I swam deep and pushed myself to leap into the air, right as I ate another candy I’d suspended in the water; I came out of the water and turned into a wolf in mid-leap. I shook myself dry, trying to avoid wetting the front row too much, then gave a great howl and dogs came flooding into the room; I talked about pack instincts while most of the wizards instinctively panicked. Except the guy in the wolf skin, who laughed very loudly and looked approving. Gilda laughed as well, watching wizards scurry. Jaggar, I noticed, didn’t panic, but did look a little worried.

I quickly organized the dogs and led them through the room, spreading more panic then got them to howl together, and sent them out and took on human shape.

“Changing shape is more than just a change of your flesh. Senses, how you think, what you want… it all can change. It’s easy to lose yourself.” I wanted to talk about what happened with Jaggar, but I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of everyone, just glanced at him, then got ready to give my example by becoming a dragon myself.

I was right about to take another candy when suddenly Lyra said, “Prince Jaggar, something hugely magical has happened outside in the gardens. It’s still going on.”

Jaggar frowned and rose, casting a spell and his eyes widened. “We are under attack! Some sort of strange Mantis-men are pouring through a shimmering gateway in the gardens and… MY SON!” He cast a spell and teleported.

“Mantis… The Thri-Kreen are invading!” Lyra said excitedly. “Someone opened a Dragon Line! HAHAHAHAH!” And then she galloped off towards the gardens.

Utter chaos now ensued with wizards taking off flying, shapechanging, teleporting, casting defensive spells and generally running around like chickens with their heads cut off, though I could see guards flooding towards the gardens.

I didn’t know what to do; I had to help but I’m not a warrior or a great mage.

And then I realized what to do.

******************

Lyra’s Lyric:

I cast a spell on my sword, covering it in shimmering lights that will confuse people. Being a bard is awesome.

The gardens were in chaos; you could see a kind of huge glowing tunnel in the air, arching upwards towards Vanya, huge in the sky; evergrowing hordes of Thri-Kreen, huge mantis-men warriors, were pouring out of it, facing the shieldwall of Jaggar’s guards. The gardens were being trampled… Bon-Bon won’t be happy. Various wizards were flying around, blasting things, turning things into other things, getting shot out of the sky; it was very exciting.

Prince Jaggar was flying, trying to study the portal and figure out how to close it. So I pitched into the fray, attacking people just coming out of the Dragon Line with my sword, held remotely, throwing chaos into them and slowing their entrance. Confused Thri-Kreen bumbled around, and now Jaggar’s guards began pushing the others back. Oh yeah!

Jaggar continued doing fancy glowy things that didn’t actually… oh, he’s divining where it connects to! Divination magic can tell you all kinds of stuff if you actually pay attention in class instead of thinking about kissing Octavia.

Ahahaha.

But I didn’t need magic; this was clearly a Dragon Line; you basically activate these special stones and they become connected by a portal. Which means someone from Vanya must have brought one here!

“Prince Jaggar! This thing was opened with a Portal Stone!” I shouted to him. “If you destroy it, the gate will close!”

He nodded and began scanning with this rushing wall of blue energy; you could see all sorts of runes briefly appear in it as it washed over people.

But then something I had worried about came to pass. A huge six armed stone statue came rumbling out of the Dragon Line; it’s a Thri-Kreen Juggernaut! They can kill six of the poor Pishkaro at a time! (The Pishkaro are the peaceful original inhabitants of Vanya, before the Thri-Kreen invaded from another world. They are NOT Potato People, whatever Bon-Bon says!)

More wizards were coming out and they opened up on it, but Juggernauts are made of magic-resistant stone and it ignored them and began tossing guards around.

See, Tom Wagonmaker can fight these things, because he has a sword made of the same stuff, and it can cut them but my sword is just a sword.

I began trying to think of a plan.

*****************

Spike’s Saga:

I’d been following Baron Du Marais after the first session, when he’d slipped off deep into the palace; I lost him when he went down a dumbwaiter but I managed to find him again, just after he’d broken into Prince Jaggar’s library.

He had a big book on the table and it was sitting next to another book, busy copying the other book onto its own pages; it was kind of cool and Twilight would love this. But I had to stop him.

“Stop, thief!” I said angrily.

“Now, now, it’s not theft if you leave the original,” he said, waggling a finger. Then he cast a spell at me, so I breathed on his book, sending it to Celestia; I ended up frozen in place, but he lost his prize! HAH!

He stared in shock, then sighed and extracted several pieces of paper from his pocket. “Well, I did not expect that. You are full of tricks, young man.”

I tried to laugh but I was paralyzed to my frustration.

He worked on copying things, but it was much slower this way and then alarms went off and a voice began announcing the castle was under attack.

“Dammit,” he said, frowning. “I fear I must make my exit now. Please tell Lady Lyra that I enjoyed meeting her and she will always be welcome at my castle.” Then he gestured and vanished in a burst of flame.

And me? Still paralyzed! Aaargh!

*****************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

Herr Graustein was busy rallying his golems when I ran in. “Hello, Frau Bon-Bon,” he said. “I am about to lead my functional golems to battle.” He looked wistfully at his malfunctioning stone golem.

I licked my lips. I have an idea, but it involves me having to go into battle and I’m not a fighter. But Lyra is out there risking her life and so is everyone else, and I can’t hide.

But I still had to take a few seconds to muster the strength to even make the suggestion. This could be dangerous. Even drunk, I rarely got into fights. And I’m stone cold sober right now.

They need me. “I have an idea.” I clambered up onto the one which keeps breaking and I extended my Earth Pony senses into it. One of the nice things about my candies is that while I don’t get the magical abilities of anything I turn into, I keep my Earth Pony magical abilities. “I think I can adjust for its flaws and keep it going.” And this human body can go places my pony body would struggle with (and vice versa, mind you.) I basically sat on its shoulders, legs around its neck and arms around its head.

Slowly, Stony lurched forwards; I kept pushing as best I could, to overcome his flaws and together, we marched forwards into the fray. Herr Graustein cast some kind of spell on me, putting a glowing field around me; this soon turned out to be intended to protect very squishable me from attacks; hurled javelins bounced off as we plowed into the fray. I relaxed a little after that.

I had not counted on having to go head to head with a six-armed giant stone statue monstrosity. It was huge and dangerous and I was screaming THE WHOLE TIME while Stony whaled away at it and it tried to pull Stony apart while the other golems pounded on it.

Then Jaggar turned into a Sapphire Dragon and pounced on the monstrosity and held it still while Stony gradually pounded it into small bits.

Once the monstrosity died, Jaggar-Dragon was enraged, utterly enraged and began bashing mantis-men everywhere, just running wild in an angry frenzy.

“Prince Jaggar, be careful before you lose control completely!” I shouted to him.

Instead of listening, he plunged into the huge glowy sky tunnel thing the mantis-men were coming out of. “Wait, come back, don’t let the dragon-anger rule you!” I shouted.

There was a sudden BANG and the ground exploded nearby and suddenly the glowy tunnel collapsed.

“Oh no!” Lyra shouted. “I think that was the portal stone!”

I don’t know what that is but it can’t be good.

*****************

Lyra’s Lyric:

There was worse news; Frau Hildegard and Prince Roderick were missing. And to my embarrassment, Malachie had apparently tried to steal secrets from the library and gotten away with some of them. He seemed like a nice guy, dammit.

“Someone planted that, and we must assume it was Baron Du Marais,” Frau Gertrud said grimly.

“Do you know why Frau Hildegard took Prince Roderick there before it happened? They must have been there when it went off,” Bon-Bon said, still riding on the golem.

Frau Gertrud grimaced. “Probably another crazy scheme to try to enable him to cast spells properly.” She sighed, looking down at the ground. “I will study this stone and try to trace it back, so we can attempt a rescue.”

She got everything organized and I grabbed one of the larger juggernaut chunks, taking it to the smithy. I want a proper sword. So I’ll be ready next time I run into one of these things.

Because I am definitely going on the rescue.

I wonder if we’ll see Tom Wagonmaker.

**************

Spike’s Saga:

Frau Gertrud was quite unhappy when I told her what happened. “My husband will be quite cross with the Baron when he returns. Thank you for your valiant effort to stop him; at least now we’ll know what he wanted.” She sent Celestia a message via me, and Celestia sent back the book, also via me. Which was a little rough; it was big.

It was information relating to the Carnifex, it looked like; I took a look at it but it was kind of complicated blather about ancient high priests and stuff and I had to struggle to stay awake.

Something about how the dragons made them as an experiment, after some vision of the future.

Anyway, I trailed around after Frau Gertrud, trying to help her out; she must be pretty shaken up but she was putting on a brave… well, okay, she was kind of cold and unfriendly and calm all the time but I think that’s just how she is.

“Hey, do you know a mage named Darien?” I asked her. “Darien Aendyr?” I’d like to meet someone who hates Marcus as much as I do.

“He is my cousin, the son of my father’s brother,” Frau Gertrud said, then frowned. “Married some crazy gorilla of a Karameikan for reasons I don’t understand.”

Sounds like the kind of person Marcus would be friends with.

“So why is your husband into dragons so much?” I asked her.

“It is a family tradition,” she said to me. “Two dragons who had fled their own kind had a lair here once, and when refugees from Thyatis and Alphatia came here, they convinced them to intermarry and become my husband’s people, the Aalbanese. They died long ago, but they passed down secrets to my husband’s ancestors, secrets of Dragon lore and Dragon magic, which they have guarded ever since.”

“So… wait, does that book talk about how the Carnifex were made? The one he was copying?”

“Yes,” she said softly. “And it would be a great horror if they were made again, for they were so evil that even Entropy itself consented to their imprisonment. Only twice has a civilization been wiped out like that.”

I wondered how on Mystara anything could be that evil and I shivered.

I watched her studying the broken stone, wishing that I could help but afraid to try anything magical for fear of another crazy magic surge. “Do you know, is there any way for a dragon to learn magic before he gets the magic he gets from aging?” I asked her.

Maybe it’s just me because of how I was hatched. When she gave me the same spiel that Dawn Gleaming did, I winced. It is me. “But a human couldn’t do it that way… why does the number of fingers matter?”

“Keratin,” Frau Gertrud said, tapping her fingernails and then my claws, “conducts magical energies. This is why Ponies can do magic through their hooves or horns or wings, why humans do hand gestures and why spells adapted for five fingers must change for dragons or griffons or other sentients,” she said. “If you tried to do spells adapted for a human, the result would be unpredictable at best.”

But I couldn’t even make spells adapted for Spikey work. But he was hatched differently… Dammit. “Hey, that’s what my scales are made of, right?”

“Oh yes, it’s among the reasons Dragons are so powerful; as you age, you will channel more and more magic into your scales all the time, making you harder and harder to hurt.” Her voice was getting a little excited as she spoke, which was strange. She gently ran a finger along my crest, then pulled her hand back. “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

“It’s okay,” I said, shivering a little. It had felt almost like a current of power, while she touched my crest.

“Hmm, something odd about the flow of power there,” she said. “May I?”

“Okay,” I said, dreading the answer. “Hmm, ponies have hair all over their bodies too… I guess humans do too but it’s less obvious.”

“Hair is too diffuse. The energy dissipates. Unlike a scale or a fingernail or a claw or a horn,” she said. She now studied me with a glowing circle in front of her eye. I shuffled nervously on my feet. “Have you been exposed to chaos magic?” she asked.

“At my hatching,” I said, feeling as if I might suddenly burst into flame at any time.

“Interesting.” She shook her head. “I must focus. Before they do something terrible to my husband or my son.”

“Or your mother in law,” I said hesitantly.

She snorted, then turned back to studying the portal stone. “Please bring me some wine.”

That I could handle.

**************

Bon-Bon’s Tale:

I’ve never worn armor before; Herr Graustein got me actual enchanted chainmail armor from the armory; it had spells that made it as light as my dress. I’d be more comfortable in pony form but I can ride the golem more easily as a human, though it’s harder to use my abilities that way. I also brewed up some more of my special candies, which he assisted me with. Now I understand why my family saved some of these crazy flavors.

Lyra got them to make her this humongous stone sword out of the remains of that dead golem. Then she discovered she couldn’t actually pick it up because it resists her magic. So they had to lock a gauntlet onto it and she lifts the gauntlet with magic, which lets her swing the sword.

She is so excited and I am scared out of my mind. “Armor!” she said excitedly. “MAGIC armor!” She pranced about as if it was some kind of expensive dress to show off. She did something and it shimmered, making her hard to see. “Oh yeah!”

“Lyra, this is going to be dangerous,” I said urgently. “It’s not one of your books where you can just read it and never get hurt.”

“We’ll be fine,” she told me.

I wish I could be so sure.

War.

Me in a war.

This makes the time Berry and I woke up on top of a train headed for Dagwood, North Dacoata look sensible.

But I can’t let Lyra and Spike go alone and I want to be a good guest. You shouldn’t leave your hostess in the lurch when she needs you.

I am so nervous, I don’t have words for it. I gave Lyra an assortment of candies and Spike as well, then explained them. I’d color coded the wrappings and prayed they would remember but they were both busy being excited about going into battle.

I can’t understand that.

But I will do my part to help out.

**************


Lyra’s Lyric:

I offered to carry Bon-Bon into battle, but Spike was going to ride me instead, since Bon-Bon has to stay human and ride the golem. Man, a giant war golem at your command. That’s cool incarnate, but she seems kind of cranky she has to even do it.

I would totally love to do that but I can’t. Hmm, I wonder if Bon-Bon could control a golem made of nullstone…

A lot of the convention guests fled; that seems kind of rude to me, but I guess a lot of them weren’t armed with combat magic and their spellbooks are at home. Or maybe they just don’t have any manners. Our warparty looked like it was going to be myself, Spike, Gertrud, Rolf, his golems, Bon-Bon, Jaggar’s sister Brunhilde, Franz (the wizard in the lion skin) and his bodyguard Gilda. Gilda eyed me like I had eaten her eggs or something. Franz had enlarged her and rode on her; Brunhilde turned into a white dragon and Rolf rode her, while Bon-Bon rode her stone golem and Spike rode me. Gertrud summoned an air elemental and rode on it, appearing to ride a mini-tornado. She cast a spell and the stone reformed and then the Dragon Line formed and we plunged into it; the stone stayed behind with Herr Sigisimund, who had to stay to avoid risking losing the entire family in one day.

We landed in a temple; I recognized it from the huge statue of a six-limbed Thri-Kreen warrior standing over a fallen foe. Pak-cha is an Immortal of the sphere of Time, who leads the Thri-Kreen in war against their foes and enslaves their enemies. He’s important to their survival in the harsh desert environment of Vanya. Ever since the doom gates opened at the poles, the world has been overheated and dried up; water flows only in oases and the grand canals and along their shores. It’s a dangerous place.

The temple was heavily damaged and smashed up and they’d somehow chained up Dragon-Jaggar with null-stone and were using him to haul stones; you could see Frau Hildegard and Roderick in shackles of the null-stone, doing the same work.

“The chains neutralize magic,” I said. “But I can cut them with this sword!” Bon-Bon, Rolf, Franz (the lion skin mage), and Gilda lead the golem charge, pinning down the main body of warriors in the temple, while Brunhild took on the priests in a duel of dragon against cleric, scattering them with arctic blasts of cold.

And I circled around the fight with Spike, charging in to hack Jaggar free, but he pointed at his mother and Roderick, to my surprise; they can’t do half as much as he can, but… but it’s his mother and his son.

I nodded and Dragon-Jaggar began thrashing, keeping his keepers busy, while I hacked loose Frau Hildegard and Roderick, Spike driving back their guards with bursts of flame.

Then Frau Hildegard gave a cry of anger like a lion on fire and gestures, runes appearing around her hands, and four of the support pillars for the roof formed into huge angry earth elementals.

“When I get back, I am burning Baron Du Marais’ estate to the ground for lying to me about how that thing worked!” she shouted; I felt my stomach curdle. “The way he laughed at me when the thing opened the portal and then he teleported away… HE WILL REGRET THAT!”

“Roderick!” I said and threw him my normal sword. He now began fending off Thri-Kreen charging us as the temple began to fall apart around us. In fact, his blows sent Thri-Kreen flying; he’s stronger than I realized.

Spike frowned and scratched his head, looking confused about something.

I could see Bon-Bon on the golem she’d named Stoney, going toe to toe with the Pak-cha statue, which had come to life. But it was driving her back; it was even stronger than the one they’d sent through to the estate.

While Frau Hildegard began scattering our foes in the larger fray, she didn’t seem to even notice the danger to her right here and right now. Spike had to guard me while I hacked Jaggar free.

“RETREAT!” Dragon-Jaggar shouted.

“I am not leaving until I destroy them all!” Hildegard shouted, gesturing at her golems, which began smashing the other pillars; the whole temple ceiling is going to fall on us at this rate; the part her golems had held up now came crashing down and bright sunlight shone brightly into the temple, making it hotter.

That’s when a giant sand-worm came through the wall, trying to swallow Dragon-Jaggar, but he was too big for it; now they thrashed and wrestled around; another pillar fell and part of the ceiling collapsed, taking out the Thri-Kreen riding on it. So now it went TOTALLY berserk.

Roderick was knocking Thri-Kreen about, but there was only one of him and more closed in on him and Hildegard, who only cared about destroying EVERYTHING. Rolf got clocked and went flying and his golems now ringed him for defense while he laid stunned on the ground.

Brunhilde had flown up through the hole in the roof and was busy fighting some kind of giant winged bat creature… bat creature? I don’t remember any bat-creatures in the books. Gertrud and her elementals were now fighting the priests, while the warriors came at the golems around Rolf.

Pak-Cha struck Stoney in the chest and he broke into pieces and Bon-Bon went tumbling and laid there, stunned. For a few seconds, I could only stare in absolute horror. She didn’t even want to be involved in all this and now she’s hurt.

I felt utterly sick to my stomach. Bon-Bon! I tried to charge over, but a half-dozen warriors cut me off and drove me back as I desperately fended them off and Spike spat flame at them. And now Frau Hildegard had been grabbed by some of the Thri-Kreen too, while Roderick was pinned down fighting three others. I didn’t know what to do! BON-BON!!!!!

****************

Spike’s Saga:

Only one choice. “AZKABIBBLE BOBBETY BOO!” I shouted, gesturing wildly and praying for something useful to happen. I hadn’t planned to mess up the words, it just happened.

A huge wall of sound hit both our foes and ourselves; we went tumbling across the temple but so did the warriors in front of us.

I couldn’t hear; Lyra said something to me, trying to get up but I couldn’t hear her. Then I had an idea; I made a gesture like a person cracking a whip, then I grabbed the yellow candy and turned into a huge snake like Slither.

Lyra somehow got this right and let me lash onto her, then extended the front of me to the rafters with her magic; I lashed onto it and we swung OVER our foes to land by Bon-Bon; the good news was that the statue had moved on to attacking Gertrud and her elementals; the bad news was that two mantis-men had grabbed Bon-Bon and were carrying her to the altar.

I know what happens on altars. We charged after them, snake-whipping over another wall of foes, but now they had a priest trying to figure out how to get her armor off to sacrifice her; she was tied down and now EVEN MORE Mantis-men came at us. How many of these things are here, anyway???

But I had a plan; Bon-Bon was stirring, trying to get free. So I reached into the bag she gave Lyra, pulled the lemon candy and hurled it into her mouth.

Then I ate one of the red-hots and drove back our foes with SUPER FIRE.

And that’s when Bon-Bon turned into a bronze dragon and broke the altar under her weight.

******************

Bon-Bon’s Berserkergang:

You really can’t imagine the power of a dragon until you become one; I could feel the power in the ground, in the air, in the sunlight, flowing into me and I laughed, scattering the priests with a swipe of the tail. Then I took to the air, seizing a candy with my tail and popping it into my mouth. The warriors looked quite confused when I breathed fire at them. That’s a red-hot for you!

I took out another pillar, trapping more of our foes below rubble, then bomb-dived warriors trying to pull down Gertrud, who leaped onto my back and directed her elementals from there. I just started smashing everything, determined to punish them all for attacking us, for tying me to an altar, for RUINING my presentation!!!

I was busy popping candy and smashing things when Gertrud said to me, “I think we’ve won.”

But that wasn’t enough, I had to level this whole damn place so they never attack us again!

There was a whole city here, I could see now. This was going to take a while.

Jaggar had turned back to human form for some reason. He was shouting something but I couldn’t hear him.

“We need to retreat,” Gertrud said to me; she’d clambered up my neck to whisper in my ear.

“They tried to sacrifice me!” I said angrily.

“We can’t fight a whole city; we have to go now while we still can,” she said urgently. “You should turn back.”

“I can’t change unless I eat another one,” I told her. “And I can take them,” I said confidently. “I’m a dragon.”

“I’ve been a dragon,” she whispered to me. “You feel so powerful, like you can do anything. But even dragons have their limits, as many evil ones have found at my husband’s hands. Look down.”

I could see Lyra; she looked utterly mortified and was trying to shout to me, with Spike shouting too; but there was so much noise, I couldn’t hear them.

A dragon, I thought. And her husband too.

My brain put two and two together and got four.

Now I really understood. I landed and Gertrud hopped off me, landing by her son, who was breathing hard and watching more warriors pour in.

“There’s thousands of them,” Gilda said to Prince Jaggar. “You can stay but it’s my duty to get Herr Franz out of here.”

“I will cover the retreat,” I said. “Lyra, I need a vanilla snowflake.”

“Bon-Bon, I’m so sorry, I didn’t think…” She looked very shaken up. “You could have died and it would all be my fault,” she said miserably.

“I’m just an ordinary pony,” I said softly to her. “But you make me extraordinary. It’s okay, I’m not mad at you.” I chose to get into this.

Then she flung me the vanilla snowflake. I make these for the weather ponies normally; but it will do.

Lyra passed the portal stone to me. “It will close up behind you as you go.”

I nodded and tucked it into my saddlebags, which now clung to one leg.

They fled down the tunnel and I stood, ready for the onrushing horde. Then I showed them something they’d never seen. I could feel the coldness inside me from the candy and I let it out, powerful dragon lungs expelling cold that froze everything in its path, turning moisture inside me into snow that covered everything in white.

And when they all fell down or retreated in confusion, I fled down the tunnel.

You know, they’ve probably never even seen snow before.

**************

Lyra’s Lyric:

We were all gathered in the gardens; Jagger had used his magic to dispel the polymorph candy, so Bon-Bon and Spike were back to normal.

The portal stone had a rune on it which I recognized from the books. “This is the rune of Tch-Tchi’ka. He’s a trickster immortal of fire and deceit and turning your enemies against each other,” I said. “The whole plot of _Master Mind of Vanya_ revolves around his followers trying to trick three city-states to fight each other so the Thri-Kreen who follow him will then conquer them all.”

“Isn’t that fiction?” Bon-Bon asked, frowning.

“Fiction based on a real place as we just saw!,” I protested. “Anyway, we studied the planets at Celestia’s School for Talented Unicorns and I learned enough to know that Edmund Wheatfurrows is a very accurate author!” He claims that Tom Wagonmaker is real and sends these accounts to him, which he rewrites. I don’t know if that’s true, though I hope it is. But I am a Bard, and I have to know these things!

“It could be a double-bluff,” Gilda said. “Intended to make you hunt down the followers of Tch-Tchi’ka, while the real guilty party laughs at having suckered you.” She scratched the dirt with a claw, forming a crude image of a rearing horse ridden by an archer. “Look, the Krondaharians did it!”

“Given time, I can study it and try to determine exactly how this thing got here and how it was activated; I may be able to read its timeline or perhaps consult an astral sage,” Jaggar said.

“Doesn’t Contact Other Plane sometimes get lies?” I asked, a little worried.

“No divination is perfect,” Jaggar said. “Mother, what exactly were you and Roderick doing here when the stone activated?”

“I know who did this,” Hildegard said angrily. “Baron Malachie du Marais! He gave me the stone and showed us what to do and then he left us to die!”

“He can’t have,” Spike said. “I was following him after the first session and he went to rob Jaggar’s library! He couldn’t have been giving you the stone during that.”

“You took a magical artifact and blindly activated it without divining it first to be sure it was safe,” Jaggar said flatly, moustache twitching.

“He demonstrated it on one of the servants! Her kind can’t use magic either,” Hildegard said flatly. “But she can now, so I suppose she’ll want to move out now.” The last sentence came with a sense of growing surprise. Then she frowned. “But she’s probably a con-woman and it was all some trick!”

Bon-Bon pursed her lips and made a noise and I glanced at her, but she didn’t say anything.

Jagger muttered a few words and sent a tiny dragon flying off into the castle and then looked around the gardens. “Tell me exactly what happened, Mother.”

******************

Dowager-Princess Hildegard’s Entirely Accurate and Honest Account Which Proves She Is Innocent of All But Malice Against Gertrud, Who Has It Coming:

Malachie du Marais, Baron de Morlay, is a very charming man when he chooses to be. He approached me about the problem and demonstrated in my quarters on one of the servants that this artifact my son is holding could give magical ability to someone who could not possibly have it.

How, you ask? She was an Earth Pony, and as all know, they cannot use magic.

**************

Bon-Bon’s Rebuttal:

“I most certainly use magic and have been certified an Arcaner by your own government,” I said, flashing my temporary magic license. “I believe you’ve seen examples of my arts today. Because we had to rescue *you*.”

Spike laughed very loudly; Gilda glared at him and he caved in on himself as he continued to ride Lyra.

“Fine. But you don’t cast actual *spells* like we do,” Frau Hildegard said angrily. “Out of a book, not a wand, before you challenge me again. I know an Earth Pony can use a wand if a real wizard charges it up for them.”

“Applebloom *made* a wand and a giant flying treehouse. I make magical candy. Pinkie makes magical desserts. I *am* a real wizard,” I said angrily, flashing my license. “As recognized by your own government.”

I was not sure why Lyra was smiling so much at me but… why am I complaining? It was nice to have her support.

“Applebloom made a wand?” Lyra said, amazed.

“Yeah, but she’s studying under Keraptis, even calls him ‘Uncle K’,” Spike said.

Jagger’s moustache vibrated and half the people present twitched, tugged their hair, or rubbed their forehead.

“I could take him,” Gilda said confidently.

“I am not sure if anyone here but Prince Jaggar could take him,” her boss, Herr Franz, said. “Perhaps if we all rushed him at once, somehow luring him out of the mountain…” He clearly was planning this inside his head.

I see why he hired Gilda.

“Look, Father,” Roderick suddenly said. “Grandmother and the Baron or whoever it was brought me out here with that stone and he told me to say ‘Asharak Gorkaras Minyanastho’ while standing by it and the portal opened and people charged out and grabbed us.” He sighed and stared at the ground. “I just wanted to be like everyone else in the family and not the freak. I should have thought things through but we were stupid and listened to him. I just wanted to be normal,” he said weakly.

“You’re not a freak,” I told him firmly. “There’s more than one way to be a wizard. And I think I understand why you can’t use spellbook magic. But I think first we had better find that servant and see what was going on. Assuming she wasn’t a unicorn in disguise who has teleported to Darokin by now or something.”

“Yes,” Jaggar said. “My friends, thank you for your support. You can come with us, but anyone who wishes a rest, they can go to their quarters while I investigate this.”

“I had best get my golems taken care of. Lady Bon-Bon, can you come by my lab later? We should talk,” Herr Rolf said to her.

“Of course,” I told him and then we all headed into the castle.

*************

Spike’s Saga:

The investigation posse turned out to be me, Prince Jaggar, his mother and his wife, Roderick, Bon-Bon, and Lyra. Everyone else went to handle the clean up, rest, etc.

The maid in question turned out to be named Shimmer Shine; she was an Earth pony with a Cutie Mark of a really clean window. However, she was oddly translucent, like she was made out of glass; her coat was a sparkling blue and her mane a vibrant green. It was styled in this kind of weird way, like I saw in some book of Twilight’s a while back, all piled up and pinned in place; she had a Von Drachenfels badge pinned to one of her black boots, which went up to her knees; all the servants wore high boots, but she was otherwise unclad, except for a bandage around her chest and another over her right eye socket.

“She was injured in the fighting, sir,” a cat-headed human… maybe he was a Rakasta… said. He was dressed like a doctor, white coat and all. He idly licked his hands to get blood off them and I made a face.

“I have healing saliva,” he said curtly to me.

“Prince Jaggar, I am sorry,” Shimmer Shine said, tears in her eyes. “I didn’t realize… I don’t understand… it worked for me.”

“Holy… you’re a Crystal Pony! I thought they were extinct!” Lyra said.

“I just thought I must have enchanted myself,” she mumbled. “I’m a normal pony from Dream Valley.”

“She turned that way when she used the artifact,” Frau Hildegard said curtly.

Frau Gertrud frowned at Frau Hildegard, but said nothing.

“What’s a Crystal Pony?” Bon-Bon asked curiously.

“The Crystal Ponies were Earth Ponies who were transformed when Glantri got blown up way back and they fled to the Adri Varma Plateau instead of fleeing south to modern Equestria or east to Ethengar or the Northern Reaches,” Lyra said. She concentrated and an Earth Pony village appeared; purple glowing ash rained down on the village; many died and the survivors became creatures made of crystal and fled because the land could not be tilled.

The image flickered and the Crystal Ponies crafted a beautiful city of crystal, formed like a pentagon with a star inside it; there were palaces at each corner and in the center. “They dwelt there for a very long time. But when Nightmare Moon eclipsed the Sun back in 1 AC, General Sombra, the head of their armies, betrayed them and led an army of Hydrax to conquer the city.” The image changed and you could see Sombra, a shadow in the shape of a pony with red eyes and dark blue armor set with opals. Unlike the earlier images, he was weirdly two-dimensional and flat. He led a horde of monsters and Shadow Ponies into the city.

“Sorry, that’s the only surviving picture; it’s from a book,” Lyra said apologetically. “The princess fled to the Silver Palace and it vanished before Sombra could storm it. Then the city itself vanished when the eclipse ended. A few Crystal Ponies escaped this but everyone thought they had died out,” Lyra said, continuing to stare at Shimmer Shine in amazement. As she said this, you could see the city and then one of the palaces, made of silver and crystal vanished. When it vanished, the rest of the city started to fade, and then the sun came out and it evaporated entirely.

Lyra finished by saying, “They had all sorts of strange magics, and it’s said that during her rule of the Empire, the Princess would become an Alicorn.”

“That’s impossible,” Bon-Bon said, frowning. “Alicorns are divine; you can’t turn into one just by being crowned.”

“Well, Sombra planned to crown himself and become an Alicorn and then it all went poof, so maybe you could but the Immortals shut down whatever did it,” Lyra said hesitantly. “But I totally had to answer a test question on this.”

Jaggar now cast detect magic; I know because it’s one of the spells I messed up. He cast another spell and a spellbook appeared, which he made float in the air by her. “Cast this spell,” he told her.

“Okay, this becomes that and that thing is this, so this goes this way…” she said. I could feel my scales tingling.

“What are you doing?” Jaggar said. “There’s a lot of magic around your hooves but it’s very emphemeral.”

“I don’t have any fingers, so I have to convert it to hooves and I’m not very experienced, sir,” Shimmer Shine said nervously. “Okay, here we go.” She kneeled on her haunches and waved her hooves in the air and chanted and now a tiny dragon appeared like the one Jaggar had summoned earlier; it circled her head and she whispered to it. It flew over to Jaggar and whispered to him, then vanished.

Roderick sighed and Bon-Bon whispered to him and his eyes widened.

“Lady Lyra, if you will cast a spell?” Jaggar said thoughtfully.

I wanted so much to help but I would probably break Shimmer Shine or turn her into a duck.

The cat licked his hands again, making me nervous.

Lyra began to sing and play her harp and now roses rained down from the sky, though they soon vanished.

“Your forehooves have been altered to resemble the functioning of Lady Lyra’s horn,” Jaggar said, frowning. “It would take tremendous power to do that and make it permanent. Your very nature has changed.”

Gertrud, Hildegard, Roderick, and Lyra all shivered in unison, then looked at each other.

“That’s big, I take it,” I said.

“The Crystal Ponies could work gemstone and rock and crystal magic through their hooves even more potently than a normal Earth Pony but were weak with green and growing things,” Lyra said. “Only the Princess, who had the powers of every kind of pony, could cast book magic… spell magic… at all. Though if the legends are true, Sombra somehow gained the powers of a Shadow Pony with the help of Thanatos.”

“Who?” Bon-Bon asked.

“The head of the Sphere of Entropy, one of the few Immortals to walk alive out of the Immortal Storm at the end of the Godswar that killed off most of the previous ‘generation’ of Immortals,” Lyra said. “The Karameikans believe he’s one of the Five Fiends of the Five Hells.”

“Your Cutie Mark is related to window cleaning, right?” Frau Gertrud asked, suddenly changing the subject.

Lyra blinked, looking confused. “It’s music.”

“I meant Shimmer Shine,” Frau Gertrud said.

“Oh yes, I clean glass easily and perfectly,” Shimmer Shine said more cheerfully. She turned and picked up her saddlebags, which hung over one of the ends of the bed she’d been on when we arrived. She flicked out a bottle and a sponge, sprayed the window with the bottle held in her tail and then put it away and did a single wipe with the sponge and the whole window was clean.

“So that is still the same,” Frau Gertrud said thoughtfully.

Further tests showed, however, that she had lost the physical strength of an Earth Pony and the agility as well, unless she was cleaning, though she could still feel the ground as Bon-Bon did. In fact…

“Prince Jaggar, there’s some sort of strange field in the stone,” she said urgently.

“You felt it too? I asked one of the Glantrian ponies and they didn’t notice anything,” Bon-Bon said hesitantly.

“It’s probably the enchantments on the castle,” Prince Jaggar said. “This place was heavily shaped by spell magic, Earth Ponies, elementals and many other things.”

Frau Hildegard frowned. “Hold on.” She kneeled down, placing her hands on the stone and chanting softly. Some of the stone formed into a little man who said, “Hello, Princess.”

“Has anything happened to change you recently?”

“I suffered some damage this morning but otherwise, all is normal,” he said.

She patted his head and he melded back into the floor. “You must be feeling the magics, but…”

They called in the castle’s mason and his entire staff, which included an Earth pony. “Glantri has so much magic, it can confuse visitors,” Hard Hat said. “I went to Equestria once and it all felt really weird. I guess every country has its own kind of flavor of magic down in the Earth.”

“We are on a tangent, anyway,” Jaggar said, sending the masons back to their work. “I know nothing of the Crystal Ponies, so it may be that he somehow turned you into one, which could mean anything. Given it did not turn Roderick into a Crystal Pony, however, I assume that whoever impersonated the Baron actually used some other means of magic to transform Shimmer Shine and they are responsible for the artifact, whatever immortal they may serve.”

“Why turn her into a Crystal Pony and not a Unicorn if you have that kind of power?” I asked. “Also, didn’t you see her change? I’d worry about turning to crystal myself.”

“Her spell worked. I just thought this was some sort of Pony thing,” Hildegard said, waving vaguely. “Also, she didn’t turn that way instantly, it kind of crept up on her and by that time it was too late.”

“I thought I’d done something wrong but I also got it to work,” Shimmer Shine said weakly.

“And I was desperate,” Roderick sighed, face in his hands.

“So, we’re more or less stuck at this point, unless we can track the fake Baron,” I said.

“Gertrud and I will go to my library and see what we can figure out; you should all rest. Mother, never, ever try something like that again,” Jaggar said firmly. “Roderick, I understand your desperation but you have to be more careful.” He sighed. “You can at least use some items for self-defense. You were suckered by a cunning enemy, but remember, people got hurt over this.”

Roderick now looked like he just wanted to die and I felt terrible for him. I know I’ve done some stupid things, trying to prove myself.

“Prince Jaggar, I have a theory about why your son cannot use magic,” Bon-Bon said hesitantly.

“It’s because of the tainted blood of the Alphatian witch,” Hildegard grumbled; Gertrud stared coldly at her, clearly not happy to be called that and I can’t blame her.

“Mother, do not refer to my wife as tainted,” Jaggar said, moustache twitching.

“Prince Jaggar, how long has your family practiced Dragon magics?” Bon-Bon asked.

“Over a century,” he said hesitantly, studying Bon-Bon curiously.

“So generation after generation of Von Drachenfels have saturated themselves with the power of dragons,” Bon-Bon continued.

“Yes,” he said.

“And you have mastered it so greatly that you can become a dragon,” Bon-Bon went on. “As has your wife. Spike, how old can you expect to be when you learn spells?” Bon-Bon said.

“Well, we get a natural talent for it after the second Dragonsleep, around fifteen to twenty years of age,” he said. “I can produce wild magic now but I can’t get it right.”

Roderick is around fifteen or sixteen, I think.

“Roderick, pick up Lyra,” Bon-Bon said more confidently.

He did so easily. I remembered him knocking around Thri-Kreen as if they were children’s toys as he held me over his head.

“Let’s go to the lab,” Bon-Bon said. We went to Herr Rolf’s lab where he was busy repairing his golems. After saying hello to him, she coached Roderick through making one of her magical candies, then ate it and spat fire like Spike. “He couldn’t make these successfully if he couldn’t channel magic. I am not a spellcaster, but I command magic through my chemical arts. Through physical things. Frau Hildegard, who activated the portal stone?”

“Roderick did,” she said, frustrated. “Which we’ve already established.”

“Lyra, can anyone use a Portal Stone?” Bon-Bon asked.

“You have to be able to channel magic in some way,” Lyra said. “They aren’t charged items.”

“I don’t know if he’ll eventually learn formal spells, but he is a user of magic, just in different ways,” Bon-Bon said, then suddenly turned back into her pony form. “He may be able to work wonders none of us can, with the dragon magic that must have coursed through him since… maybe even since before he was born.”

Prince Jaggar teleported out and returned with a pair of rings and passed them to his son. The rings began to glow and his eyes widened. “I never even thought… Spike, try these on.”

They glowed for Spike too, and then Jaggar collected them. “It seems whenever we meet, I learn something new, Lady Bon-Bon.” He looked almost abnormally calm.

“It’s still her fault,” Frau Hildegard said petulantly.

“Mother, if you were not my mother, I would send you to the dungeons,” Prince Jaggar said calmly. “Roderick, tomorrow, you will need to come to my library; we have many things to test together.”

Roderick shook and his eyes misted and then he smiled. “Of course, father.”

I have to wonder why Jaggar never figured this out himself. It seems like a logical theory, right? I guess since this didn’t happen with their elder son, they didn’t think of it.

“We will go to study my library,” Jaggar said. The rest of you should go rest.

“I will come with you,” Hildegard insisted. “I can make the walls speak.”

Gertrud frowned but Jaggar nodded. “A good point, Mother, thank you.”

We all scattered, though Bon-Bon stayed in the lab and I went with Prince Jaggar because I was a witness. Also, I sent Celestia a letter from Jaggar about the robbery, Crystal Ponies, Shimmer Shine, and the Baron.

Hopefully, she’ll reply soon.

**************************

Bon-Bon’s Meeting:

I helped Herr Rolf work on repairing his golems for a while; it’s not my strong point but I am an Earth Pony and we have a knack for such things. They were all torn up and I felt sorry for them; it’s fortunate they can’t feel pain.

He thanked me, then said, “I am a member of a society of alchemists; you have demonstrated a great degree of skill in this art in a way previously unknown to us, so I would like to offer you membership.”

“Me? Really?” I said in surprise.

“We could use more members who have your skill and...” He laughed nervously. “Anyway, I can call a meeting if you are interested.”

We talked about the group for a while and I said yes. I could use membership in a trade organization and I’m always looking for more ideas I can use to make new candy so I don’t just rely on what Mother passed down to me.

Though I am worried about what he cut himself off on. But it won’t hurt to meet them.

****************

Lyra’s Lyric:

I ended up talking to Shimmer Shine in my quarters; I was curious about her abilities, as we only know a little about Crystal Ponies, and I wanted to tell her the rest of what I know about them, since she may now be the only one.

“How do you know how to convert spells made for hands to your hooves?” I asked her.

“I… isn’t it instinctive? I just *knew* as soon as I used the artifact… or whatever exactly happened to me,” she said.

Like the candy but with magic… Bon-Bon’s candy, you keep your normal magic but gain the *body* of your new form, so you can get stronger but a unicorn’s horn won’t give you magic.

It wasn’t the same as having a hoof somehow function AS a horn, either. For one thing…

I did a light spell, which floated in the air. “Okay, did you see how I did that?”

“No,” she said, frowning. “I can kind of feel there is magic there but I couldn’t tell what or how.”

I got Spike’s spellbook and had her try the light spell in that and she did it on the first try; she tried to explain how she knew, but it was like she was trying to explain how you tell your legs to move.

Was this a Crystal Pony thing? We only know scraps of information, really. They fell right around the time civilization was finally recovering from the fall of Blackmoor and then Nithia.

But Unicorns aren’t born understanding the use of our horn; that’s why we have Magic Kindergarden. Otherwise, we just make a mess if we try to do magic.

Someone did something really powerful and this bothers me a lot. I hope Princess Celestia can get to the bottom of this.

**********************

Spike’s Saga:

Okay, Prince Jaggar has these crystals hidden in his library that record everything that happens, so he was able to see what all the Baron looked at and confirmed my report. I bet they’re like those spheres Dash has.

Also I got to wear a crown that belonged to a dragon king 3000 years ago!

Admittedly, on me, it’s not even a belt, more like a loopty-loop. Which I am pretty good at if I say so myself.

He looked fairly disturbed by the things which the Baron had been trying to copy. “This is about the Carnifex, right?”

“Yes. No one knows where the Castle of Twilight stands which is their prison,” he said. “Beyond ‘the Pit of Banishment’.”

My eyes widened.

He blinked at me, then smiled. “No connection to Duchess Sparkle, of course.”

I gave a sigh of relief. “I’ll tell you some time about that stupid Staff of Twilight and why you shouldn’t grab the first book with a friend’s name on it for a birthday present.” But not this time, because I don’t want to remember that.

Gertrud was busy poking around, looking for something and then I remembered. “If Countess Royal Blue hasn’t left, she was trying to warn us against trusting Baron Malachie for some reason,” I told him.

“She is a friend of Dame Genevieve de Saphora, the great enemy of the Baron; they’ve been sparring ever since Castle Amber re-appeared,” Gertrud said, sighing. “The Baron is a rogue, but I did not think he would go this far. But I will go see her.” She kissed her husband’s cheek and departed.

“He’s not crazy enough to try to bust out the Carnifex, right?” I said weakly.

“He’s not powerful enough; he would die,” Jaggar said flatly. “Steal information and sell it to someone else, that he could do. But then, I thought he was not powerful enough to pierce my defenses or to somehow turn an Earth Pony into… whatever she is now. Crystal Pony with spell hooves…” He rubbed his forehead.

“If you can do that, why not make her a unicorn?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” Jaggar said, frowning. “But hopefully your mistress or Princess Celestia will know something about it.”

********************

Bon-Bon’s Greeting:

Princess Luna made a grand appearance that night after sunset with echoing music rolling across the mountains as she descended out of the sky in a chariot pulled by Bat-Pony guards. I am not sure if they’re a special kind of Pegasus or if it’s just special armor and things. A pink unicorn accompanied her; she has red, yellow, and purple streaks in her mane and tail and she wore a countess coronet and yellow hoof-guards. She had purple saddlebags with Twilight’s Cutie Mark on it… is that Twilight? But Twilight is a Duchess. The music came from the rig of a white DJ Unicorn pony crammed into the back of the chariot and from a cellist pony, Octavia.

I felt my bile rise. Why did Princess Luna bring that *waste of oxygen*?

“Her most regal highness Princess Luna has arrived,” one of the guards said in a deep voice as the chariot circled over the courtyard.

“Prince Jaggar of Glantri greets and welcomes Princess Luna. Permission to Land is given from one Prince to another,” Jaggar said formally.

“Spikey! You look so cute in your tuxedo!” the pink unicorn shouted, just before the guard or Luna could reply. “I’m going to have to hug you a lot!”

I stared, Octavia stared, Luna twitched and Prince Jaggar’s moustache twitched too. But the DJ and Lyra laughed loudly. Most of the assembled court just stared in amazement. And Spike buried his face in his hands.

“Oh Cadence, never change,” Lyra said cheerfully.

“Who is she?” I asked as the ceremony *tried* to continue.

“A very prestigious graduate from Celestia’s school; she sometimes taught classes there and I think she foalsat half the class when we were little, all the ones from Canterlot. I guess she’s Countess Cadence now,” Lyra told me quickly.

Cadence was vibrating, clearly eager to hug Spike to death; I couldn’t help but smile as Octavia stared at her in shock and the DJ smirked and Luna tried to pretend she was alone on her chariot.

The chariot finally landed and Cadence basically trampled Spike, hugging him while he flailed and squealed, though he did hug her back eventually. The greeting ceremony went on another twenty minutes, ending with everyone having a glass of wine; Lyra was kind enough to hold my glass for me.

Then most of the people went to their rooms and duties and we were taken to a meeting room with plush velvet covers on the chairs and scenes of battle between wizards and monsters on the walls. Prince Jaggar laid out the story and presented Shimmer Shine to Princess Luna.

“Octavia, play the note I taught you,” Cadence said more calmly to her. “Vinyl, you must duplicate and adjust the tone up one octave and down one octave.”

“Can I help? I am a bard,” Lyra said.

Octavia looked at me and smirked; I avoided eye contact, but I could *feel* her smirking. She thinks she’s so big.

Lyra soon was worked into this and a series of notes which made me feel strange floated through the air; Shimmer Shine glowed in various ways and looked discombobulated. Cadence circled her, now looking very serious and rather surprised. “She is a Crystal Pony,” Cadence said softly. “I am not sure what has awakened her heritage beyond very powerful magic, however.”

“Shapeshifting magic of extremely high caliber,” Princess Luna said, studying the portal key. “There are traces of it on the portal key. And I can confirm that the power of Tch-Tchi’ka was used to make this portal stone but that the shapeshifting came from some other source, which is to say, someone stole this and then rigged the spell they used to transform Shimmer Shine to it, so it would go off in place of the portal. Once it fired off, then the portal could be used normally.”

“I am so sorry,” Shimmer Shine said, looking miserable. “I failed the Prince through my desire to rise above my station.”

“There is nothing wrong with aspiring to rise to greater things,” Cadence said firmly. “We are made to lack and to seek to overcome that lack and become more than we are. You had no way to know.”

Prince Jaggar sighed. “You were injured in defense of my people and paid for your mistake in blood. I consider things settled between us. Good luck studying and qualifying for Arcaner status,” he said solemnly.

She bowed to him. “Thank you, sire.”

Hmm, I will have to see about getting my license made permanent if I join the trade association. We meet tomorrow.

“So how many people are on the short list for who could have done this?” I asked.

“I would suspect an Alphatian,” Princess Luna said. “Simply because it has a lot of very powerful wizards. I will have to do some research.”

I could feel Octavia being smug without even looking at her, but I tried to ignore it. She thinks her bow-tie somehow makes her high class.

*Bow-tie*.

“Lady Bon-Bon,” Prince Jaggar asked. “Am I correct in thinking your shifting candy does not convey magical abilities?”

“You are correct, you retain your native ones; I have Earth Pony strength in human form, for example,” I told them.

Now Octavia looked displeased, and I smiled. I am a Lady. And you can only play your instrument because of your cutie mark, so there.

“I have sent a request to Prince Etienne,” Prince Jaggar said. “Some of his vassals have a great deal of knowledge of such matters.”

There was a sudden whooshing sound and a spiraling pillar of smoke appeared and out of it stepped an old man, dressed in fancy burgundy and green robes with a pointed hat on his head covered with stars; he had a staff in one hand and something about him made my body twitch. He positively reeked of that weird feeling of ‘Glantrian magic’. “Good evening. Princess Luna, from one exile to another, it is a pleasure to see you,” he said, taking her hoof and kissing it. “I see you remain the most beautiful of the children of the night.” She smiled at that. He took his hat off and nodded his head to Prince Jaggar, then put it on. “Good evening to you, Jaggar, it’s good to see your moustache has not achieved independent life yet but is still working on it.” Said moustache twitched furiously.

“Prince Etienne, it is customary to appear at the gate or above the castle and signal for proper entrance,” Prince Jaggar said firmly.

“Now, now, we need two more Princes or Princesses so we have enough to pose for a proper card deck, Jaggar. Perhaps Dona Carnelia or Prince Volospin…” Prince Etienne said, then began studying Spike. “Hello, young fellow, it’s a pleasure to meet you, I am Prince Etienne d’Amberville, Prince of New Averoigne.”

Spike shook his hand; Prince Jaggar’s moustache twitched. Princess Luna said, “Prince Etienne, we need to confer about shapeshifters.” She explained about Shimmer Shine.

“Since this person raided a fellow Prince of Glantri, I will see about producing a list for you, though it won’t be very long,” Prince Etienne said.

I suddenly wondered how he had known to suddenly show up and frowned. Had he been scrying us?

“Do you have time to tell us about why your castle vanished and reappeared?” Lyra suddenly asked excitedly.

“I’m sorry, young lady, if I told the whole story, Jaggar might be forced to smile and that would destroy the universe, I fear,” Prince Etienne said ruefully. “I think he swore an oath.”

Jaggar sighed. “It is not relevant to the investigation and too long a tale.”

“I will send Dame Sephora your way as well; she’s skilled in counter-agents against werecreatures and a skilled alchemist. I think she was coming this way anyway,” Prince Etienne said vaguely.

Oooh, that could be useful. She must be in the Trade Association.

“Anyway, I should go before Jaggar is forced to have the ceremony of kicking out a guest who overstayed his welcome,” Prince Etienne said. “Shimmer Shine, you should think about attending the Great School for training now. I would be most interested to work with you and your unique style of magic. Everyone, have a pleasant evening!” And then he vanished in a puff of smoke.

“Great School?” I asked.

“He is the head of the Great School of Magic, equivalent to Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns,” Lyra said.

“Larger and for many sorts of magic users,” Jaggar said. “And uses his age as an excuse to bypass formalities, like being invited.” He sighed. “Luna, I will arrange quarters and show you around. Everyone, thank you for coming and rest well tonight.”

Formalities ensued; Cadence took Spike with her as she went with Luna and crew; I decided to get some sleep and Lyra did too.

****************

Lyra’s Lyric:

Bon-Bon went off to meet with some alchemy group she wants to join, while I had breakfast with Princess Luna and her group. “Hi, everyone,” I said excitedly. “Did you figure out who to stomp while I was sleeping?”

“We are going to have to go to the Adri Varna plateau and investigate if anything is going on,” Princess Luna told me as one of the servants laid out a bowl of oats for me. I dug in as she continued. “Vinyl’s abilities should enable us to find any traces of Crystal Power.”

“Really?” I said curiously; we were in school together, but I don’t remember her having any interest in such matters.

Vinyl looked up from her oats. “It’s all a matter of vibrational harmonics,” she said with a more serious voice than usual. “Crystals vibrate; I can produce the deep vibrations which trigger responses by converting Tavi’s music. If someone is monkeying around with what’s left of their power, then we’ll find it.”

I waited for Octavia to kill Vinyl for using a nickname for her, but nothing happened.

What? She hated the nicknames I tried to give her.

I want to go, but Bon-Bon is going to want to go back to Ponyville, and I do need to get that stupid song written, even if the festival isn’t for nearly another month.

“Is Shimmer Shine using Crystal Magic?” I asked.

“No, though she should be able to learn how to use it,” Luna said, frowning. “It may prove impossible to be sure who actually did this. Prince Jaggar’s major enemies are not known to be able to do this. And I keep wondering why not just set off the stone without risking someone being able to stop you…” She frowned. “There’s some elaborate bluff and double-bluff going on.”

“Could it be Cunning Thought?” Spike asked, looking up from his plate of sausages and pancakes.

“It could be, but Mother would normally show up and gloat; it’s one of her weaknesses. She can’t *just* be clever, she has to shove it in your face and get recognition,” Princess Luna said, frowning.

“Couldn’t we go after the Baron, though?” Spike asked.

“Attacking Glantrian nobles is a good way to cause a diplomatic incident, since he committed no crime against Equestria except for paralyzing you,” Princess Luna said to Spike apologetically. “I have no authority here beyond the respect I command for my power and rank in Equestria. Jaggar hopes to prod Etienne into action. One of Glantri’s major problems is the difficulty of enforcing the law against those with the power to cause the most trouble.” Princess Luna sighed.

Spike sighed. “So basically, diplomatic immunity.”

“Yes. He is a Baron,” Princess Luna said.

Maybe I could sedu… no, I have a fillyfriend.

I spent the rest of breakfast in search of a plan.

*****************

Spike’s Saga:

Prince Jaggar wanted to see me after breakfast; he took Roderick and I down a hidden staircase in the library. I’m kind of stunned he’s showing this to me. But I felt proud too!

We descended to a huge laboratory. “I am going to see if each of you can perform a secret art, one of the foundations of our studies.”

Roderick shuffled on his feet, nervous but excited.

“I’m born ready!” I said eagerly.

Okay, I can’t *tell you* the secret, but what it does is you generate a circle around you which bans Dragons from entering! I got it on the first try; Roderick flung himself out of the circle the first three times, including landing on me, but he finally got it up (and stayed in it) and I tried getting into it and just bounced off.

“Very good,” Jagger said, then looked thoughtful and did it himself; we couldn’t get inside it to save our lives.

We practiced this until lunch; I had lunch and instantly fell asleep, utterly wiped out.

*Totally worth it*.

****************

Bon-Bon’s Initiation:

I would like to tell you about the meeting, but it was a secret! Suffice it to say, I decided to sign up with the Alchemy Society, and traded lots of information. I also got a magical labcoat, which seems to be more or less the standard garb of the society. I also spent some time working with Herr Rolf on repairing his golems and making some batches of candy.

“You will need to go to the Great School for a permanent license valid anywhere, though I’m sure Jaggar would certify you for Aalban,” he told me.

Having joined this society, I should have enough business in Glantri to make it worth it, so we discussed that for a while, until lunch time; I then went to have lunch with Prince Jaggar, his family, and Princess Luna and her followers, and of course, Spike and Lyra.

“We are heading to the Adri Varna Plateau to make sure there’s not some evil overlord of the like building a fortress there and turning people into Crystal Ponies and the like,” Cadence said cheerfully. “If you’d like to join us.”

Octavia was busy eating a rather nice looking tomato salad and being her usual smug self. Ugh. I’d have to deal with her but I can tell Lyra wants to go and if Princess Luna needs me…

“If you need us, Princess Luna, we will go. I take it everything’s stalled out on the question of who is behind this?” I said.

“For now, I will have to do some intelligence work once I have a better list of who could have done it,” Princess Luna said. “And I wish to be sure nothing strange is going on where the Crystal Empire once stood.”

I am a little nervous about this; I’m not a country girl, despite being an Earth Pony and part of me worries that Shimmer Shine was turned into a Crystal Pony to lure us into a trap.

But I trust Princess Luna’s judgement.

She is a princess and I am an ordinary Earth Pony who doesn’t deal with this sort of thing all the time.

***************

Lyra’s Lyric:

I have to say that Vinyl has a *sweet* soundboard. We spent the first few hours of the flight just monkeying around with it (with headphones on so we didn’t deafen everyone). You could simulate lots of instruments, so Vinyl, Octavia and I did all sorts of musical pieces with just the board; you can tell they’re fake, though. Or at least, I could; Spike couldn’t tell the difference and Bon-Bon spent the whole time shrunk down by Luna so she could ride in her own saddlebags and study ‘secret texts’ she got from her new Alchemy club buddies. I am *very curious* but I guess I shouldn’t complain since we were Music Clubbing it up out here.

Spike was asleep, having had too much for lunch, cuddled up to Cadence, who was just doting on him like he was her own kid. I guess once a foalsitter, always a foalsitter. And then, as we flew over the mountains west of Prince Jaggar’s territories, she began to sing a low, sad song in a language I didn’t know; we all just listened, though I could see Vinyl was recording it. Princess Luna started in surprise, then joined the song and I felt the urge to sing it but I didn’t know the words; I joined the chorus, at least, and so did Octavia and now we began to play it as we picked up the tune. Vinyl just listened, her eyes hidden behind those goggles she wears, her hooves tapping the beat.

“What song was that?” I asked.

You could now see dry hills to the west of us, rising towards a high plateau, though not as high as the Equestrian Plateau; this one looked a lot dryer and rocky than ours.

“One of the refugees from the Crystal Empire wrote a song about its fall,” Cadence said, patting Spike as he slept.

“It didn’t just vanish to the Hollow World, did it?” Vinyl suddenly asked. “I know some places about to be destroyed get moved like that.”

Princess Luna made an unhappy noise. “That requires some foresight that doom was coming; it happened so fast no one could respond to it, as other things were going on elsewhere,” she said softly.

Like the Nightmare Moon crisis, I know. I didn’t pay as much attention to Equestrian history as I should have, as it wasn’t as cool as the weird exotic stuff in the rest of the world. I know the most important stuff, but I was more interested in new places.

Like this freaky plateau; the air got colder and dryer as we went upwards and the whole place was a wasteland of scrub grass, sand, rocks and cacti forests. I got a weird feeling from the local magic that made me uncomfortable; Vinyl began fidgeting even more than usual too. I wonder if what Bon-Bon was feeling was like this to her.

“What’s this weird feeling?” I asked.

“Entropy is strong here,” Luna said softly. “The fall of the Crystal Empire devastated this land, which had been made green and beautiful by its power. The powerful bonds of friendship and love between the Crystal Ponies generated huge amounts of magic, with which they reshaped the land. But when Sombra betrayed them and the city vanished, then came the night.”

We flew over a lake covered with green scum and I stared at it. “What’s that weird… That isn’t a giant green slime patch, is it?” That thing could eat Ponyville if it’s green slime.

“The Crystal Ponies defeated a horrible monster there long ago,” Luna said softly. “But that is just algae.”

“What is algae?” Octavia asked hesitantly. “It looks dangerous.”

“Isn’t it some kind of swamp monster?” Vinyl asked hesitantly. “I’m pretty sure the Death of Alestair Pennydown talks about how it grew on the trees and corrupted them.”

Cadence stared at us. “None of you know what algae is?” Her eyes were wide and her voice was full of shock.

“This is the first time I’ve been outside a city,” Octavia suddenly confessed. “Other than train rides.”

I knew that but it *still boggles me*. What kind of Earth Pony has never touched real dirt???

“Does it grow in Equestria? I thought it was one of those things our magic keeps out,” Vinyl said hesitantly.

Luna… I looked at Luna and she looked like we didn’t know what hooves were or that we had four legs. “So much has changed,” she said softly.

“We’re all city girls,” Vinyl said. “I’ve never left Equestria before, and I’ve been to the countryside, but they didn’t have this stuff either.”

“Didn’t you pay any attention in Biology?” Cadence finally said weakly.

Okay, now I feel like the biggest idiot in the universe. “I might have had other things on my mind,” I mumbled. “I only paid attention in Sapient Biology.” Any species that can talk has this thing on their throat called Noumena’s Apple, allegedly from when he ate the Apple of Wisdom. In some species, like humans, it’s bigger on men for some reason I no longer remember. It’s one of the ways to identify sapient creatures!

Which is to say, your audience!

Spike yawned and sat up. “Did someone say something about dinner?”

“After we land,” Cadence said. “You can nap more if you want.”

“Did you know about algae, Spike?” Vinyl asked curiously.

“Yeah, Black Dragons let it grow around their lairs because they can actually eat it; a lot of dragons are mainly meat eaters, but Black Dragons can eat algae and some other things that grow in the stagnant water they prefer,” Spike said, then looked over the side of the chariot. “Wow, that’s a lot of algae.”

Vinyl covered her face with her hooves. Octavia blinked in surprise, and I said, “Okay, Spike, you win.”

“What did I win?” he asked excitedly.

“HUGS,” Cadence said and hugged him, while he turned red. “You must stay small and cute forever.”

“I need to grow up,” Spike mumbled.

“If you try to never change, you end up like that lake,” Luna said softly. “It is good and right that a child wish to grow.” Cadence sighed.

“Growing up too fast isn’t good either,” Cadence said softly.

“I know, I know,” Luna said, staring out across the landscape.

After that, we travelled in silence; as it started to get dark, Luna directed the charioteers to descend; we’d left the creepy lake behind, thankfully.

The air was cold and this place felt wrong and it felt *more* wrong as we descended. Vinyl and I both shuffled about and Octavia’s eyes widened and she shied away from the edge of the chariot, trying to get into the center.

Bon-Bon finally came out, blinked and retreated back into the saddlebag. “What is going on?” she said anxiously.

Luna frowned, looking around. “Make for that,” she said; scraggly trees grew on a hill with some grass; a spring bubbled up water near the peak and I felt a little less like the world was going to eat me as we approached.

“I am sorry, I have not been here in a thousand years,” Luna said softly. “I did not realize it was this bad.”

She dug in her saddlebags and extracted ebony and opal hoof-guards which she fitted onto our hooves; it made everything feel a little less terrible; she also turned Bon-Bon back to normal and we got out. “This isn’t too bad but I can feel everything is twisted and wrong beyond this,” she said softly.

“I know,” Octavia said. “It shouldn’t be like this. The Earth cries out.” Her voice wobbled. “I’ve never felt anything like this.”

“It shouldn’t be this bad, I think,” Luna said hesitantly. “Moon Bat, Cadence, ensure everyone is fed; I must contact Celestia.”

Moon Bat was one of the Bat Pony Guards, the Night Guard; he and the other guardsmen set up a pavilion; well, we all helped and then they poured out bags of oats and rye for everyone; Spike ate another of his sealed sandwiches Twilight made him.

Octavia and Bon-Bon were still somewhat agitated and kept glancing at each other, not in a ‘I hate you’ way but more ‘What the hell is this?’ I ate quickly and cuddled up to Bon-Bon, which I think helped.

“Maybe we should retreat to the mountains instead of camping out here,” Vinyl said, looking around after dinner. “This seems like the kind of place undead would like.”

“Wraith-slug,” Cadence and Spike said in unison in a creepy voice.

Octavia shivered. “Wraith… slug?” she said hesitantly.

“I’ll save that for when we tell ghost stories,” Cadence said cheerfully.

“I do not wish to tell ghost stories in a place like this,” Octavia said, shivering.

“It’ll be okay, Tavi,” Vinyl said, patting her back with a hoof and Octavia moved closer to her.

Holy shit, are they…

My brain exploded.

Bon-Bon either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

I mean, Vinyl’s cool to party with, but… And maybe we did make out at that one party before I got with Octavia… but she’s…

I began wondering if all this ancient evil was making me hallucinate.

Why does she get to use a nickname when I never did????

******************

Spike’s Saga:

I wandered around just a little; not going out of sight of everyone but I was curious why this hill is less tainted. Maybe there’s a druid working here? “Hey, any druids around?” I shouted. “I have a friend who is a druid!”

I could feel the bass levels; for some reason, DJ Pon-3 had fired up her rig and was busy pumping deep bass into everything; it felt kind of strange and she kept changing it, sending it ever lower.

“Hello, druids?” I hope they like deep bass.

I heard Luna say loudly, “Cadence, this is not the time for ghost stories,” so I ran back to see what she found out.

“You can’t tell the wraith-slug story without me,” I said urgently.

“I won’t,” she said, smiling that ‘hehe’ smile of hers.

“Celestia is worried; it wasn’t this bad the last time she checked in on the area. But it was three years ago,” Princess Luna said, glancing up at the stars; the moon was mostly full, only slightly declining. The visible moon, that is; there’s an invisible one full of cat-people.

I don’t remember any more why it’s invisible, though.

“Before your return from your journeys, before the second Nightmare Moon attack,” Vinyl said thoughtfully. “Are there any prophecies about the Crystal Empire?”

“They’re lost too,” Lyra said, laughing nervously. “Princess Luna, does every place’s magic feel different? I don’t remember them teaching us that at the School. But I didn’t take any advanced arcane theory.”

“Your majesty, I strongly recommend we evacuate this area. I don’t like it,” Moon Bat said, surprising us all; the Bat Ponies don’t seem to talk much.

“Yes. I think we had better load up and go; I had not planned to bring any of you here when we left Canterlot.” Princess Luna glanced at Cadence.

“I have been so busy with everything,” she said softly, looking embarrassed. “Pack up,” she said with her foalsitter voice. “Let’s get out of here.”

“We’ll set a course southeast back into Glantrian territory; we should be able to make it to Dream Valley,” Princess Luna said.

“Isn’t it constantly being ravaged by monsters?” Vinyl asked.

“Not so much these days,” Princess Luna said, though she frowned.

We began packing and she said to Lyra, “To finally answer your question, there is a distinct flavor but it is usually less… powerful or disgusting than this.”

Octavia helped Vinyl get her rig back on the chariot; Vinyl set it up to play backwards, behind the chariot. I guess in case we’re pursued.

Yeah, I am getting the definite feeling we’ve been suckered into something. I helped get everything loaded and then I suddenly coughed up a letter to Luna which turned out to be a map of the area. She passed that to her charioteers.

We got airborne and began heading what we hoped was southeast, towards Dream Valley. They say the local pegasi all have butterfly wings; I was curious to see if this was true.

Octavia was the first to hear it. “I hear hoofbeats,” she said softly.

It was hard to tell if anything was on the ground; it was rather dark despite the moon and starlight and the ground was mostly gravel and dark colored dirt. Then I saw the shadows of Ponies… with no Ponies attached. I could hear the hoofbeats, but I couldn’t *see* anyone. This was even creepier than the wraith-slug.

Then we started hearing wingbeats too, but you couldn’t see any kind of flying Ponies, just shadows of them on the ground, trying to catch up to us.

The charioteers sped up, but so did our foes, assuming anyone is there and this isn’t some kind of illusion. “This could be an illusion. Can Shadow Ponies even fly?” I asked.

“Shadow Ponies bargain service to the Entropics to gain special blessings; some gain the power of flight,” Princess Luna said tensely.

“I know what to do,” Lyra suddenly said, gently striking her forehead with a hoof. “Bon-Bon, you have some of your sparklers, right?”

“Those are dangerous for non-Earth Ponies to use; it’s really easy to burn your mouth trying to spit them if you’re not one of us,” Bon-Bon said. “But… hmm, I bet Spike could use them safely too. You’re immune to fire, right?”

“I can swim in lava!” I said proudly.

“Spike’s even better than my idea,” Lyra said. “He could spit them up and then we three bards will combine our power to augment the spark bursts into a giant light show. That should discourage the Shadow Ponies, right?”

The fact that Princess Luna is actually running away from these things worries me.

Bon-Bon dug out her sparkler candies; she sells them at festivals; you basically can spit up a firework! They’re really cool but you have to be careful the sparks don’t land on someone. Or your parents don’t kill you. She tossed them to me.

“And I will boost Spikey,” Cadence said confidently.

Octavia looked at Bon-Bon, who looked at her. They both nodded and Octavia said, “Fire on the Mountain?”

“Fire on the Mountain,” Lyra said, her harp floating up by her head.

“Laying down bass line NOW,” DJ Pon-3 said, beginning to vibrate her speakers.

“Spike, do you mind if I stand on your head?” Bon-Bon asked.

….

“I mean, I think I can turn into a phoenix and that will make more light, right?” she said hesitantly, looking at Princess Luna.

Princess Luna blinked, then smiled. “Yes. And I will strengthen the moon’s light.” She began a song.

Bon-Bon transformed and now perched on my head; it actually felt weirdly nice; she was so warm. Phoenix-Bon began to shine brighter; I could feel Cadence giving us power as I spat up the sparklers.

Each one exploded like a star going nova, shimmering with lights; you could see solid shadows behind and below us, shadow ponies, who now whinnied in fear and began to break off in all directions as I sent up ‘rocket’ after ‘rocket’ and Phoenix-Bon sang about burning down houses.

Where did Bon-Bon learn a song about burning houses???

Also, all that bass was making my body vibrate.

You could see the ground clearly now and the Shadow Ponies were gone; I guess we showed we weren’t easy targets. “They don’t… eat people… right?” I said weakly.

“We are fortunate; some of them are as brave as any of you,” Princess Luna said. “If they had served Orcus or Alphaks or someone similar, we would have likely had to fight them.”

We ended our light show, though now all the sparklers were gone. I hoped we wouldn’t need them again.

Distantly, you could barely make out the mountains; hopefully we’d drop off the plateau and it would get warmer and we’d be beyond reach of our foes. Then the chanting started.

It was far away, in some strange tongue that made Cadence and Princess Luna squirm and the rest of us feel uncomfortable. Phoenix-Bon, still perched on my head, since she can’t actually turn back without either more candy or a unicorn’s help or it wearing off, made unhappy noises and tried to plug her ears with her wings.

“They’re summoning a Shadow Dragon; they must have decided they are not strong enough to take us,” Princess Luna said, frowning. “We’re going to have to land because the first breath will likely destroy the chariot.”

“We can’t get off the plateau on foot,” Lyra said, frowning. “It’s a pretty sharp drop for hundreds of feet and only you can fly, Princess.”

A dragon. Maybe I can talk… hey! “Hah! Spike is here to save the day!” I said proudly. “I know a trick to ward off dragons!” And I don’t ward myself off any more with it either!

Princess Luna blinked. “You do?”

“Ooooh,” Cadence said. “Did Twilight figure it out and teach you?”

“Prince Jaggar taught me,” I said proudly. “Okay, here it goes.”

I waved my arms and chanted and the field formed… about two feet around me.

That’s not enough. “Maybe if Princess Luna shrinks everyone,” I mumbled.

“We can all strengthen you with our power,” Cadence said, now serious again. “Friendship is magic and we’re all friends, right?”

Phoenix-Bon made a bird noise and looked at Octavia. Octavia shuffled on her hooves and looked at Bon-Bon.

“Come on, I’m the one who screwed things up,” Lyra said desperately. “You shouldn’t hate each other. You can hate me instead. And you like Spike, right?”

“She’s so smug and thinks she’s special because of her fancy clothing and her manners and her hair and hobnobbing with nobles all the time,” Phoenix-Bon squawked, sounding aggravated. “She makes me wonder what you see in me.” Then her eyes widened as she’d clearly said WAY more than she intended.

“I wear this bow-tie because my mother gave it to me,” Octavia said angrily.

I could hear the chanting getting louder. “I think this is the *worst* possible time for a fight,” I said, worried.

“And I seem to remembering seeing *you* all excited about hobnobbing with nobles and wearing fancy dresses and being *Lady* Bon-Bon when I’m just the hired help!,” Octavia continued, getting angrier.

Princess Luna kept opening and shutting her mouth and struggling for words.

Diplomacy is really not her strong point.

“Octavia, you’re a wonderful pony,” Cadence said. “I may love tiaras a lot…. A whole lot…”

“Focus,” I stage-whispered to her.

Cadence’s eyes refocused. “I could never be as good a musician as you. Whatever the Glantrians may think, you are a Pony, and Ponies are noble creatures.”

Made in a laboratory, I thought, but I kept my mouth shut.

“Bon-Bon, don’t say that,” Lyra said, sounding wounded. “I love you because you anchor me; I lift you to the skies and you keep me from floating off into space. Please don’t hate Octavia; she’s a wonderful pony, and I’m sure you could be good friends.”

I’ve seen enough to know Lyra will probably spend the rest of her life regretting urging her fillyfriend to be friends with her ex. If it works.

“Come on, Tavi, you remember what we saw at the club that night,” Vinyl said urgently to Octavia. “Also, if we all die because you two can’t let go, we won’t make the rent payments and we’ll be evicted.”

“You *live together*?” Lyra said, jaw dropping.

Princess Luna was starting to look ill and her eyes were unfocused and she was shivering and I could hear the chanting getting louder. “The clock to us all becoming dinner is ticking!” I said urgently. “I need all your help!”

“They’ll probably wallpaper a house with your sheet music or something to get our missed payments,” Vinyl continued.

Octavia’s eyes turned into balls of flame, or so it seemed.

Lyra now ate a candy and turned into a phoenix as well (with a horn), then flew over to embrace Phoenix-Bon. “I love you, now and for always,” she said softly. “Don’t be afraid.”

And then I heard a great cry of triumph. The charioteers were… burning wing… I guess… but we were not even going to make it to the edge of the plateau without my shield. “Come on, everyone!” I said desperately.

Phoenix-Bon closed her eyes and stroked Phoenix-Lyra with a wing. “A lady does not insult others to make herself feel better. I am sorry, Octavia. You are a magnificent musician and have the right to be proud of your skills. I am sorry.”

Octavia said, “No one is burning my precious sheet music collection!” For a second, I thought she was going to burst into flame. She put out a hoof to touch my leg and Vinyl to touch my other one.

“You need to forgive her,” Cadence told Octavia, though she now lit up her horn and lines of light began to connect us all.

“Hey, Luna, you okay?” I asked her, starting to worry.

“No,” she said softly but she tied herself into the network. “I am proud of you, Spike. You will be a great dragon one day.”

YEAH!

Octavia looked at Phoenix-Bon, then at Phoenix-Lyra, then at Vinyl. “My parents scrimped and saved to send me to Madame Silver Fountain's School For Young Fillies of Distinction. I graduated with honors and soon became part of the Royal Orchestra as I’ve always dreamed.” Her voice was soft. “But no one sees me as a lady.”

“I always did,” Lyra mumbled.

“You’re a lot more of a gentlewoman than I’ll ever be,” Vinyl said. “I’m sure Cadence can give you a tiara and make you a Baroness if you want, though. But you don’t need a title to be a wonderful person. And if we die, we’ll miss another rent payment.”

I’m kind of surprised they struggle to pay the rent, given one is a popular DJ and the other is in the Royal Orchestra.

Luna said something incoherent about rent; she looks like Twilight the time Twilight accidentally invented a new kind of vomit.

Actually, let’s forget that ever happened.

“I will never be a musician as good as you, no matter how much candy I eat,” Phoenix-Bon said, holding out a wing.

“You are the most elegant of us here,” Cadence said. “Sorry, Looney.”

“Apology accepted,” Luna said, making a gurgling noise.

“We have to do this before either Luna throws up or the DRAGON EATS US,” I shouted.

I could hear it getting closer, circling and trying to decide on a line of attack.

Maybe Luna has motion sickness. It’s really terrible but I stopped getting it after my last Dragonsleep.

“Okay,” Octavia said. “I’m sorry I yelled at you, Lady Bon-Bon.”

“Accepted, Lady Octavia,” Phoenix-Bon said and Octavia smiled a little smile.

Candace wove everyone’s power into me JUST as I heard the dragon closing in. I felt stronger than I had since the unfortunate hoarding incident… let’s not think about that either.

I extended the sphere and it glowed like fire around us, protecting everyone. Oh yeah, SPIKE THE MIGHTY DRAGON IS HERE! Four lights sparkled on the eastern horizon, above the green vale of Dream Valley, which sits in… well, a valley… which connects Glantri to the Adri Varma Plateau.

You could see the Shadow Dragon and hear it howl as it bounced off and had to retreat and come around. I blocked it three times and now we were over the edge of the plateau and beginning to descend.

Then it SAT ON MY FIELD. Bastard!

We began losing height rapidly; this thing was hard to see, being made of black shadows, but it was huge, bigger than my aunt and uncle. Luna was still gibbering and moaning, though she added power to my shield and the three bards were singing some song together and playing as they shared power with me.

The distant lights got closer even as we sank quickly towards the ground. They were Ponies! In fact, it was Rainbow Crash, followed by Cruisin’, Fire Swallow, and Dragonfly!

Man, being rescued by the Elements of Power is VERY embarrassing.

But how did they even know to find us?

I was sweating like a pig; even with everyone helping me, this was way too much. It was hard to think about anything but keeping the sphere up. And the dragon jumping up and down on it.

“You can do it, Spikey,” Cadence said warmly, and I concentrated harder, though I felt like I would die.

The Shadow Dragon hammered at my field with his head, but it bounced off; before it could try and breathe on us, lightning spiked down from the sky, striking it in the head and it fell off the sphere; though it recovered, now it made for the four onrushing ponies, who split in four directions.

Luna finally rose to her feet and shook like a dog shaking off water. And I chose this moment to faint from exhaustion.

***************

Bon-Bon’s Burning:

I tried to get one of my candies but set my saddlebags, lying on the floor of the chariot, on fire. Cadence stamped it out and dug out the candy I had been making on the way here for me and threw one each to Lyra and I. Then we took off, still in Phoenix form, after the dragon as it turned to chase Dragonshy, who was laughing in a very disturbing way.

I could see the other three starting to peel around, Fire Swallow coming down from above and Cruisin’ and Rainbow Crash rising up from below. Lyra and I arched around the right side of him; our goal was to get near his face. I continued frantically chewing the bubblegum.

The shadow dragon grew closer and closer to Dragonshy and we tried to get closer to it, but it was so fast and we weren’t half as big as it was.

“Fool! Face the wrath of mother nature!” Dragonshy shouted and began to shapeshift into another dragon…

Except something went wrong and she ended up as a huge lizard the size of a pony, maybe even a full sized horse… but with no wings. She immediately began to plummet. “Dammit, that girl makes it look so easy!!!!!!”

Ironically, the Shadow Dragon missed biting her as she plunged right out of the range of his teeth. Or hers. I have no idea how to tell dragon gender.

Lyra and I plunged downwards to try and save her from splatting.

And then Fire Swallow spat flame into the face of the Shadow Dragon, temporarily blinding it; as it fumbled around, I could now see that Rainbow Crash and Cruisin’ were carrying a long chain in their mouths and they now began flying intricately around the dragon’s wings, tangling them up and sending it flying around erratically as it struggled to remain skyborne. They dodged nimbly between beating wings and the thrashing tail with a grace I know I couldn’t match. They’re so nimble!

Then I saw Luna point one hoof and shout “PETTY MORTAL, BOW BEFORE THE PRINCESS OF THE NIGHT!”; Vinyl’s speakers amplified this humongously and the dragon shook like an earthquake had hit him. Cello notes thundered like meteors striking the earth and I could see Cadence glowing brightly, her light shining onto Luna, Vinyl, and Octavia.

We plunged down towards Dragonshy, who now turned into a small brown dog and coughed up bees.

She shifted again, becoming a large cow, and then into a small fluffy blue cat. At that point, we reached her and each spat bubblegum onto her legs and caught her, carefully biting the bubblegum so we didn’t end up cutting her leg with our sharp beaks; I had *planned* to spit it in the Dragon’s eyes.

Only now did it sink in that I had just been planning to CHARGE A DRAGON and spit in its eyes.

Shifting really does affect your mind if you’re not careful.

We hauled her around to the chariot and she turned back to normal, still with bubblegum on two legs. She also looked slightly charred for some reason, the tips of her coat hairs all blackened.

Then I remembered I am *on fire*.

There were stars in the east, coming our way, hundreds of them. The dragon thrashed and now began to plummet, too tangled up to fly and Rainbow Crash and Cruisin’ flew upwards and slapped hooves in triumph. The lights grew closer, hundreds of butterfly-winged ponies, all of them wearing softly glowing armor, led by… Fluttershy? No, this pony, though it had the same coat and mane as Fluttershy, was a touch larger than Fluttershy and also wore a crown and had butterfly wings with pink roses and green rose petals and rosebuds on a white background. She wore a crown of red gold set with pink gems and wore a necklace with two golden rings on it.

“HELLO, COUNTESS ROSEDUST,” Princess Luna said through the speakers; Flutterponies went tumbling in the wave of sound. The Duchess weathered the storm unbowed, however. Vinyl frantically worked the equipment. “My apologies,” she said, still amplified. “We request permission to enter the Fluttermarch of Dream Valley.”

Several other ponies whispered to Countess Rosedust; one of them was a regular Pegasus, blue with a pink mane and her cutie mark was two blue whistles and one pink. “Permission is granted,” Countess Rosedust said regally, as loud as Princess Luna without needing an amplifier.

The dragon hit the ground and dissolved. It just broke into shadowy clouds of smoke which dispersed in the wind; soon it was as if it had never existed.

“Are these yours?” Countess Rosedust asked, pointing at Crash and Cruisin’. “They invaded our airspace without asking permission and we were coming to deal with them and then I got a report of a dragon coming this way.”

Cruisin’ seemed to only now actually notice Countess Rosedust and his eyes lit up.

What a jerk he is.

“I serve Mother Nature, who MADE the air!” Dragonfly said angrily, waving her staff with her tail.

“Princess Celestia asked Princess Marjorie to send us to help you and no one said anything about ‘airspace’,” Rainbow Crash said frantically.

They got all the way from the Broken Lands this fast? Wow.

I can ‘t fly that fast.

I’m flying! I suddenly was reminded I was flying. I can see why Pegasi love this.

Cadence whispered frantically to Dragonfly.

Cruisin’ flew down to Countess Rosedust and bowed. “Wise and beautiful Countess Rosedust, please forgive us for our intrusion; we were so frantic to prevent Princess Luna being devoured by a fearsome Shadow Dragon that we could think of nothing else, not even you and your lovely lady warriors.”

Fire Swallow had a hoof over her mouth, to suppress laughter, I think; she was making her way back to the chariot.

“I’m sure that works on all the ladies back home, but you will find us more clear eyed here,” Countess Rosedust said firmly and Crusin’ looked stunned. “That being said, I see the urgency of your mission. This will be the fourth time I have seen that dragon ‘die’.”

Princess Luna frowned. “When did it first appear?”

“After the eclipse at the Summer Solstice in 1000 AC,” Countess Rosedust said. “Ever since then, the Adri Varna Plateau has increasingly been a place of shadow and darkness. Princess Emerald has sent some of her Pegasi Guard to assist us in patrolling the border.” She nodded to her Pegasus advisor and I could now see some Pegasi in groups among the Flutterponies.

Princess Luna frowned and I wondered how the news of this hadn’t gotten around… though I guess even before this, no one wise went to the Adri Varna Plateau; it’s kind of hostile.

“But now it looks even worse; the darkness grows,” Countess Rosedust continued. “But our homeland is too fractious and self-absorbed to do anything about it.” She sounded quite frustrated. “Half the Princes and Princesses spend their time plotting against each other and the other half want to conquer one of our neighbors for no reason at all.”

“All three of our neighbors raid us regularly, that would constitute a valid reason for wishing to bring a cessation of such activities,” the Pegasus next to Countess Rosedust said firmly. “Though a study of the financial cost of conquest would require a very long term period of control in order for it to not cost more than simply accepting the raids as a cost of business, so to speak. And of course, it is hard to predict the cost of actual occupation and rule in the face of local resistance.” Countess Rosedust simply looked at her. “It’s also not very nice.”

“Enemies are for killing,” Dragonshy said; she sounds like Fluttershy, so having her say that is kind of creepy.

Lyra and I continued to circle the chariot because now I was worried about setting it on fire. I hope I can keep this up. “Doesn’t Glantri also border Darokin? They’re not raiding you, are they?”

“Darokin does technically border us,” the Pegasus said. “However, the Silver Sierras block trade, and in practice, our real neighbors are Wendar, which is full of wild, unstable fey, the Broken Lands, full of insane maniac monsters, and the Ethengars, who believe theft is both holy and obligatory.”

“That’s a bit of an oversimplification of the Ethengars,” Lyra said, flying over and now arguing about Ethengarian culture with the Pegasus, who still hasn’t introduced herself!

Luna whispered to Dragonshy, who looked aggravated and now began trying to groom herself with Cadence’s help.

Countess Rosedust now came over to talk to Luna privately and we all made for the aeries of the Flutterponies.

****************

Lyra’s Lyric:

Her name is Wind Whistler and she’s really smart, but kind of stubborn. I can tell I’ve studied more Humanics than her, but she’s a great arguer, so we had a good time discussing Glantri’s situation, while everyone else stretched out in the aerie. Basically, Dream Valley is the region between the Kurish Massif mountains in the south and east and the Adri Varna Plateau to the north and west of it; the Flutterponies patrol the border, but their homes are carved in to the mountainsides on the southern and eastern border. So we were in a town carved in a series of tiers into the side of a mountain.

It was *very cool*. I’ve always wanted to see one but the Flutterponies are pretty picky about visitors.

“I’ve never seen a Phoenix with a Unicorn horn before,” Wind Whistler said solemnly. “Are there different kind of phoenixes? Or are you a transformed Flame Unicorn?”

The candy, as if on cue, now wore off and I turned into my normal self. “I am a Unicorn,” I told her and bowed. “Transformed by my fair lady love, Lady Bon-Bon. I am Lady Lyra, her consort.”

“An Earth Pony Arcaner?” she said, amazed, and studying Bon-Bon, who was busy talking to Cadence about something, while Cadence held the snoozing Spike.

I smiled broadly. “No one will look down on my lady love.”

Princess Luna and Countess Rosedust had gone to a private chamber; we were in a reception room, having food and drink and talking to lots of other ponies; none of us had ever met a Flutterpony, so other than Dragonshy, who had gone off for a bath, we were all talking to our hosts.

I’m kind of worried about what happened to Luna; she was a mess, but she’s divine and I wish I knew what happened. What could do that to her?

Maybe she just has keener senses for entropy?

I now asked Wind Whistler about the hill we’d landed on.

“Some spots resist the shadow and we don’t know why,” Wind Whistler said. “We think they must have been especially strong in the power of Law before the fall of the Crystal Empire.”

This bothers me; why hadn’t I heard of this before? I guess I just never hear much about stuff up here because it’s all wilderness, but still…

“We hadn’t heard of it,” I said, frowning.

“Well, you don’t border it and even most Glantrians and Sindhi aren’t anywhere near it,” Wind Whistler said. “And it is strangely uncomfortable to discuss.” She shuffled a bit on her hooves. “Sometimes I almost forget the problem until I am on patrol again.”

Or maybe something is *making* people not notice or think about it.

I got as much information about this as I could from Wind Whistler and began racking my brain, trying to solve the problem. And trying to reduce Wind Whistler-ese to simpler terms. She reminds me of Twilight. Who probably would already know the problem and be solving it.

But I have a hard time with any kind of knowledge that isn’t music or behavior or stories. Which is why I majored in music and minored in cultural studies and acting.

“Hmm, Equestria, Rockhome, Alfheim… you know, until Thyatis got its independence, there were no real human states of significance around the time that the Crystal Empire vanished,” I said hesitantly. “Oh, and the Five Shires. But Darokin, Glantri, Sindh, Karameikos, Ylarum, the Northern Reaches… they were all just big messes with petty states and so on.”

“Or Alphatian colonies,” Wind Whistler pointed out. “But of course, Alphatia was a mighty human nation, though I guess it did have a little of everything.”

“A lot of Elves, especially,” I pointed out. “Something strange has to be going on here. I guess we’re just grasping at straws right now, though.”

Then it hit me. “Maybe the Shadow Dragon isn’t real at all. Maybe they’re making a giant shadow monster of one. And that’s why they were all chanting and why it went poof.”

“That has been my theory,” Wind Whistler said. “I don’t know much about arcane magic works, but I know there are ways to cooperate, and friendship is magic.”

Evil friendship. Do Shadow Ponies even have friends? How can you be evil and care about people?

Princess Luna now came out with the Countess. “We will stay here the rest of tonight; you receive a rare honor in this. Spike, I need to talk to you about sending some messages.”

“Of course!” he said. He’d revived from earlier by now.

The bed was nice and soft, and even with Bon-Bon mumbling recipes in her sleep, I soon fell asleep, more exhausted than I had realized.

*********************

Spike’s Saga:

I felt all weird when I woke up, kind of wobbly and hollow. I ate like a pig, then got bloated from eating too much. I hate my stomach sometimes.

People had meetings and consulted libraries and things, I think, while I laid around moaning in the reception room and coughing up gas. Cadence was kind enough to stay with me and soothe my suffering. She’s a real sweetie. I’d think she had a thing for me but I thought that… I hoped Rarity liked me and… now I don’t trust my judgment. It’s probably just foalsitter instincts, because she still thinks I’m a little kid.

“Have you ever had your heart broken?” I asked her, then wished I hadn’t said that.

“Oh yes, the second colt I ever fell in love with was in love with someone else,” she said mournfully. “I thought I’d be alone forever.”

“Wait, what happened to the first one?” I asked.

“His family moved and I never saw him again; I moped around magic kindergarden for days,” she said, sighing wistfully.

“I mean, when you were old enough to not just have a little kid crush,” I said weakly.

“That never stops,” she said softly. “You just get better at recognizing and shutting it down if it’s a bad idea. But it’s a difference of degree, not kind.” A little louder, she said, “I am sorry for you, Spike. Rarity is a wonderful mare. But she was both too young and too old for you.”

“Too… young…?” I said in confusion.

“A pony’s life is measured in decades and a dragon’s in centuries or more, even now. For the moment, you are too young for her, but the time would come when you were just barely being considered an adult by other dragons and Rarity would be ready for burial,” she said softly, her eyes unfocused and a little wet.

My stomach churned at that. “Yes, but I’d have to be alone forever if I worried about that. It’s better to have those decades than nothing. Twilight agrees with me.” Or she wouldn’t be seeing West Wind; I like him. I dunno if it’ll come to anything if he’s always gone and so is she, though.

She studied me with an odd look on her face. If she’s about to confess to me… I have *no* idea what to do.

But I’m probably being vain.

“So tell me about Big Macintosh,” she said slowly.

Why is she… does she… oh wait, she’s likely thinking in terms of him dropping dead while Celestia has to go on. One of Cadence’s cutie mark tricks is that she’s really good at telling how people feel about someone else. Her big one is that she can literally turn friendship and other kinds of love into magic; this lets her amplify people’s powers when they work together. It’s a big part of how everyone pooled their power to me to save everyone.

Hey, *I* got to save everyone!

That made me smile. “He’s a hard working, kind of quiet farmpony; he loves his family very much but he’s not the type to talk about it… or anything else… too much,” I told her. “But he’s very, very honest. And…” I tried to think how to say it. “He’s farm-educated.”

Her eyebrows moved oddly and her face crunched. “I don’t understand what you mean.”

“It’s like… he couldn’t tell you who Hanno was or what the plot of Fifth Night was, but he knows twenty kinds of soil and what they’re good for and he can read the weather and tell how something will grow when he plants it. Not just because he’s an Earth Pony but because he is part of his family’s lore and their ongoing experiments to be the best farmers,” I told her. “I dunno, him and Celestia seems like personality wise, it’s fine, but it’s like they’re from different planets socially and in how they live. She can’t be a farm girl and he’s no prince. Not in the ‘evil nasty’ way but he’s totally… I mean, I guess Celestia at least has touched dirt…” What kind of Earth Pony has never been in the countryside??? I know more about the countryside than Octavia does. That’s just so wrong.

Cadence sighed, then said, “So what about these ‘Cutie Mark Crusaders’? Twilight mentions them in her letters, but I haven’t met them.”

“They’re the Immortality Mark Crusaders now,” I said, laughing softly. “Thinking about them because of the whole Big Mac thing?”

“Among other reasons,” she said, oddly with her naughty voice, which worried me because when Cadence thinks she is being wicked, I somehow end up covered in honey and chased by angry bees.

She apologized, but not something I want to do again.

“Scootaloo basically is Rainbow Dash at a younger age,” I said. “I think Ivan is training her and so is Dash. *Now*.” Everyone had basically chewed on her head to get her to do it.

“Sweetie Belle is kind of like you, if you were a dimwit,” I continued.

She frowned at me. “Spike, that’s very mean.”

“She’s kind and gentle but all she knows is card tricks that bastard Marcus taught her.” I could feel my voice heating up. “Which she then uses to manipulate people. Like him.” My hands were clenching and unclenching.

“Spikey, it’s not healthy to hate people,” Cadence said gently. “You’re just saying that because she likes Marcus and you hate him because Rarity loves him.”

“And what he did to Twilight! Who forgave him!” I shouted. People stared, but I didn’t care. I felt this knot in my chest; it hurt, but I couldn’t stop.

“Twilight has a good heart,” Cadence said. Cadence is too trusting and kind; she’d say that to a monster eating her leg. “But… oh wait, he was Erik.”

“Yes, he lied to you too!” I said, pointing at her.

People were whispering but I didn’t care. The more people who know, the faster his past catches up with him.

“Spikey, that’s a state secret,” she said very softly. She sighed. “You need to let go, because hate gives darkness a hold into you. And that can destroy you.”

Dragons are good at hating. As Marjorie demonstrated.

Not the example I want.

“I can never forgive him,” I said stubbornly.

“So tell me about the rest of the Crusaders,” she said sadly.

“Apple Bloom’s like a mechanical genius. She’s fairly practical and probably the smartest of the group. She built a giant flying warship treehouse! And a really cool blimp. Twist is probably going to be like Bon-Bon with glasses in the future. She has really nice hair. And Dinky… is kind of weird,” I concluded.

“Weird?” Cadence asked curiously.

“She’s full of conspiracy theories and probably thinks you’re controlled by evil tiaras from the future, but she’s a pretty good wizard for her age. A lot better than Sweetie.” Admittedly, a lot of kids in magic Kindergarden aren’t big suckers like Sweetie.

“I’m controlled by evil tiaras from the *past*,” Cadence said, laughing, and I now noticed she’d changed headgear since yesterday. She probably likes Marcus because they both want to put things on their head.

Okay, I love my hat but not like Marcus loves hats.

Cadence continued catching up on things with me as gradually my body adjusted, and finally, I felt like I was really functional. I get the impression she’s digging for something, but I don’t know what.

But talking to her is fun, so it’s okay.

*****************

Bon-Bon’s Flying Lesson:

“Thank you for coming to our aid,” I told Rainbow Crash; we’d gone outside to look at Dream Valley; you could see a lot of it from here, endless plains and forests and hills, nestled between the distant plateau, a dark horizon smear from here, and the mountains we were in. “I see Cruisin’ still needs a beating, though.”

Crash sighed. “It’s weird. Attacking the dragon, we were in such perfect synch with each other.”

“It was amazing,” I told her. Because it was. “You really are an incredible precision flyer.”

“Dash is faster than me, but I’m more nimble,” she said, perking up a little. “You were the phoenix, right?”

“Yeah,” I told her. “It’s kind of incredible, being a phoenix. Being able to fly,” I said softly.

“Yeah, that’s why Pegasi are the best ponies,” she said with an amount of pride that reminded me she is a clone of Rainbow Dash after all. “If you turn into one, we could go flying together, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, so I got one and we took to the air, flying around the mountain and exploring. The one thing that worries me is that these things don’t have a warning they’re going to wear off. I need to get some kind of magic timer that will change with me; my cooking timers would be hard for some forms to carry.

A half-dozen pegasi and flutterponies soon joined us, flying merrily around the mountain. There really is something magical in flight. One of the flutterponies asked me, “Are you a doppleganger?”

I laughed. “No, I use magical candy to transform myself.”

She looked greatly relieved and glanced off towards the distant plateau; you could see it raining heavily there now and tiny distant streaks of lightning. The thunder was hardly any louder than if you dropped a spoon on the floor.

“Are we likely to get hit by the storm?” I asked.

“There’s a pretty good chance we’ll get overrun by the storm around sunset,” Rainbow Crash said. “I assume the weather patrol will deal with it.”

“The what?” one of the flutterponies asked.

“You know, the people who control the weather,” Rainbow Crash said very hesitantly.

“We lost our weather control powers when we became Flutterponies, but gained power over light,” the flutterpony said, now dancing in a circle and creating a rainbow as she danced; butterflies flew around her and birds took flight, then all dissolved as she stopped. “I think the Pegasi Corps can do stuff like that.” She had a colorwheel as her cutie mark.

One of the pegasi with us said, “We don’t have enough ponypower to cover all of Dream Valley, though. It takes a huge number of us to control really big weather patterns.” She studied the storm. “I don’t know if every Pegasus in Dream Valley combined could stop that.” He was blue with a black mane and his cutie mark was a golden eagle.

Rainbow Crash said, “Isn’t this like super-magic-kingdom place?”

“I’ve heard that our powers are much stronger here,” the flutterpony said thoughtfully. “Because we tap the magic of Glantri but the Pegasi are not adapted to the magic of Glantri.”

“Hey, we’re an important part of this land too, Light Show!” the Pegasus said angrily.

“Nothing personal, Keen Eye,” Light Show said, waving her hooves and looking apologetic. “That’s just what we learned in school.”

Rainbow Crash frowned, then said, “What exactly is the magic of Glantri?”

“Secret knowledge, hidden lore, the joy of discovery of new things,” Light Show said. “It’s why there are so many secret societies and the people who join them become more powerful.”

Like the one I joined, I realized. I need to finish reading the books they gave me.

“Are you in a secret society?” Rainbow Crash asked Light Show. “And why wouldn’t that work for pegasi?”

“It wouldn’t be a *secret* if I told you,” Light Show said cheerfully, circling us all with a trail of stars.

This must have to do with the weird magic I felt in the ground in the palace and here too. Does each country have its own magic? We didn’t get much into magical theory in school and I wouldn’t have paid attention, not being a Unicorn.

“But why not Pegasi?” Rainbow Crash said, flapping her wings and looking thoughtful.

Eagle Eyes mumbled something incoherent.

“Pegasi aren’t much into books, studying, lore, and all that,” Light Show said. “They want *action*.”

“In Equestria, the power of friendship drives our magic,” I said.

Everyone looked at me like I was a small child and I frowned. “It does!”

It suddenly struck me that the Flutterponies, with their light powers, are the ideal people to fend off the shadowy entropy stuff of the Adri Varna. Which is no doubt why they have the job.

Rainbow Crash mumbled something about skill and hard work.

“What was that?” I asked her. At least she didn’t mock me with her eyes.

“I am the Element of Excellence, and my power comes from my hard work and my building my skills by practice, practice, practice,” Rainbow Crash said louder.

The other ponies nodded approvingly; I felt good for Crash but more annoyed they had looked at me so skeptically.

“You were really incredible,” Eagle Eyes said, coming a little closer to Crash as we flew around. “And you’re so fast too.”

“Yeah, we don’t have the raw speed of a Pegasus,” Light Show confessed. “Our wings aren’t sturdy enough to sustain that high a speed.”

I wonder how fast I could go.

We ended up having a race; I was ahead of the flutterponies, but while I kept up with the pegasi at first, around the time I hit the best speed I could do, they all suddenly fired off like rockets at high speed with Crash as much ahead of them as they were ahead of me. I was amazed by it.

Eagle Eyes circled back to me. “I guess you don’t know how to slipstream because you’ve never been a Pegasus before,” he said hesitantly. “You were keeping up until we hit the slip barrier.”

“I can’t use the magics of my form, just the physical.” I told him. “I’m probably stronger than you like this but I can’t do Pegasus magic like that.”

“I guess you couldn’t do dragon breath as a dragon, then,” he said thoughtfully.

“Yes. Though I have a few candy that could fake it once or twice.”

Rainbow Crash now studied me in an odd way, circling me slowly. “Eagle Eyes, Rock Lobster, come here.”

Rock Lobster was a male Pegasus with a pink coat and a red mane and a cutie mark of a lobster playing a guitar. I have no idea what his cutie mark *does*.

They hurriedly whispered, then they flew into a triangle formation around me. “Bon-Bon, I’m going to need you to fly as fast as you can,” Rainbow Crash said very seriously. “Put all your Earth Pony strength into it.”

I licked my lips nervously. “Okay.”

Then we began zooming forward, faster, faster, faster; I could feel air pile up in front of me; this has to be the slip barrier. But now they began to spin like turbines; I felt the air churn and wash across me and suddenly, the barrier was gone; I could see rainbow streaks of light glowing along the edge of the triangle and inside it, the air was clear and easy to move through and we blazed over Dream Valley at incredible speed, passing over a huge fortress/palace, which I assume is where the Princess lives and heading onwards towards another fortress, which guards the mountain pass that lets you enter the rest of Glantri from Dream Valley.

It was maybe the most incredible thing I’ve ever done in my life and I suddenly understood why Pegasi love being Pegasi. This sense of freedom is so incredible.

The fortress, oddly, was staffed with people who looked rather Thyatian. Why would Thyatians be working in a fortress in Glantri?

Whatever the reason, they panicked as we circled the fortress and turned around to go back, but by the time they go do anything, we were long gone.

To our surprise, Countess Rosedust and Princess Luna were out on the edge of the aerie, watching us, as we returned. I hoped we were not in trouble.

We coasted to a halt in front of them and Rainbow Crash said, “Hey, ladies,” nervously.

“I just got a complaint about you from the Castellan of Fortress Ylourgne,” Countess Rosedust said sternly. “Eagle Eyes, Rock Lobster, harassing the Caurenzians is strictly forbidden!”

“Yeah, but we figured out a new trick!” Rock Lobster said proudly. “I bet we could move a bunch of Flutterponies quickly with it.”

“It was my idea,” Rainbow Crash said, moving up close to her. “The rest of them were just helping me out. I figured out how to make a joint slipstream so flyers who can’t make one could fly along with us.”

“That could be useful,” Countess Rosedust said thoughtfully. “But avoid the fortress. I do not need more trouble with the Caurenzians.”

“Yes, Countess,” Rock Lobster said and saluted.

But she soon had her people executing this move on various scales while I went to rest and Rainbow Crash talked to Princess Luna.

************************

Lyra’s Lyric:

Caurenzians? Fortress Ylourgne is right next to New Averoigne on the other side of the pass; Caurenze is over 100 miles away! I felt quite confused by why it would be full of them; the Caurenzians are exiles from Thyatis who fled here after losing out in a civil war. They’re not very nice people at all, prone to things like poisoning you for looking at them funny.

Man, I missed out on something really cool; I was just hanging out and talking to people. Which was fun, but it wasn’t ‘let’s invent something new!’

“So what’s the plan?” I asked Luna eagerly.

“We will return to Equestria,” she said. “Strange things are afoot and I must go where I cannot take you.”

To Pandius, where the Immortals have a hidden city on the moon! I would give my left foreleg to see that!

“I do have work calling but we can stay if you need us,” Bon-Bon said.

“I have asked enough of you, my little ponies,” Princess Luna said, sounding a little sad. “I may need to call upon you again, but for now, you need to rest and recover.” She shivered, glancing off towards the plateau, though we were all inside in her guest room.

“And I should report on this to Princess Marjorie,” Rainbow Crash said.

Dragonfly was now whispering to Bon-Bon about something and they talked quietly.

Damn, I was ready for more adventure, creepy as that place is.

Spike, who was riding on Cadence, said, “Should I tell Twilight to expect you, Princess?”

“Yes,” Princess Luna said.

Spike wrote a quick note and burned it.

Well, I do need to try and get some decent songs written; it’s less than a month to the Running of the Leaves, after all.

*******************

Spike’s Saga:

Right when Princess Luna, Cadence and I walked into the library in Ponyville, I suddenly realized we had left Twilight’s balloon in GLANTRI.

“The BALLOON!”

“I have it,” Luna said, magicking a tiny balloon out of her bags. “Twilight can just dispel this when she needs to use it again.”

“Hi! Twilight’s having a conniption fit and Rarity’s trying to help her shop while I library it up,” Dinky said cheerfully. She was wearing a professor mortarboard hat for some reason. “Watch this!” She made a cloud of bubbles, stepped onto it and rode it up to the high shelves. “Now I can get any book down!” she said proudly.

I sighed. “Twilight doesn’t even know where half the stores in town are, since I do the shopping more than her.”

“I’ve been trying to help her but I kind of got buried under the paper order,” Dinky said, landing her cloud, which I could see Cadence was studying. “It was so heavy,” she mumbled.

“Twilight needs at least one ream of paper every three days,” I told Dinky. “Or she starts writing on anything flat. And that’s if she’s only doing light writing.”

I woke up with notes on the soles of my feet one time, though she was admittedly drunk.

“She ordered one hundred reams,” Dinky mumbled.

OWW. “What bond strength?”

“Bond what?” Dinky asked.

“Reams come in a bond strength which is their weight,” I said patiently. Don’t they teach kids anything in school? “Thicker, tougher paper has a higher bond rating.”

“It was all… papery,” she said vaguely, waving a hoof about.

Probably 24-bond; that’s Twilight’s usual. 20-bond sometimes gets rent if she writes furiously.

“Cadence, you should go find Twilight and help her. Spike, we need to talk in your room,” Luna said to me.

I’m not sure how Cadence is going to find her here when she’s only visited once and that was months ago… Well, Luna knows what she’s doing.

We went up to the bedroom; Twilight and I sleep in the same room, different beds. I will need a bigger one soon, after my next dragonsleep.

I sat on my bed, Luna laid out on the floor, stretching, then sat up. “Spike, I understand how you feel about Marcus and Rarity, but you need to let go of that or it will destroy you. I know all about hating someone so much that it consumes you,” she said softly, studying the wall and her voice toned very low and soft without its usual power.

I squirmed uncomfortably. I know… sort of… about how she became Nightmare Moon but this is totally different because Marcus is a horrible serial seducer and abandoner! Whereas Celestia was just… you know, I’m not sure how anyone could get that mad at Celestia.

“He’s a terrible person who is going to hurt Rarity,” I said angrily, squirming on my bed.

“That’s for Rarity to deal with, not you; you can’t live other people’s lives for them,” Luna said firmly to me. “And when you hold onto anger, you let entropy have a hold on you.” She shivered. “I’m going to tell you a story that hardly anyone knows, because I want you to understand, Spike.”

My eyes widened. “I… I don’t know if that’s wise, I have a big mouth sometimes.”

“I trust you to keep a secret,” she said, and then she started.

***************

Luna’s Secret:

In the sixth and fifth century BC, Orcs and other monsters ruled a huge swathe of land from here all the way to Karameikos and they only narrowly failed to conquer Karameikos. Celestia and I came to what is now Equestria to liberate it and we found the Elements of Harmony with the help of the Crystal Ponies, who had founded their empire with the help of the Elements. Celestia and I were not Immortals yet, but we were… not normal either. Our kingdom flourished and we achieved Immortality but the original element bearers died; every so often, a new group would be chosen by the elements. We remained strongly allied to the Crystal Ponies, though the distances and dangers of travel kept contact low for most Ponies.

Celestia and I developed a system where she ran the public side of government and I controlled the ‘Night Court’ which handled things out of the sight of the public, from bureaucratic work to espionage. I am no diplomat, unfortunately, but I am cunning in ways Celestia still is not, for all she tries.

But I began to resent that she received all the love and affection of the public and I did not, for no one saw what I did. Further, at times, I had to do terrible things to protect Equestria. Or so I told myself at the time.

I became bitter and frustrated; Celestia could keep her hooves clean and I could not. She was loved and I scared people.

That’s how Mother was able to get me to join Entropy. She loved me, though Mother’s love can be more dangerous than her hate. She always comforted me when I was frustrated and angry and eventually, I succumbed. I wanted to be loved, needed it, and she offered me that.

She played me like a violin.

And she did it because I held on to hate. I nurtured it and watered it. I associated only with people like Sombra, who fed my anger. He was frustrated with his Queen for the same reasons I was with Celestia. Counterpoint was kind and gentle and beloved, in part because people like him took care of the dirty work in the shadows.

We spent a lot of time being resentful together. He was no immortal, but he understood me and I understood him.

Or so I told myself.

We planned a double coup. His people would reinforce mine and then once Celestia was down and we’d seized all the Elements of Harmony, we’d seize the Crystal Empire too and unite them.

Mother told me that I had to be careful, that if I went beyond mortal power, the Council of Intrusion would come down on me like a bug. But I was overconfident; Sombra had allied himself to Thanatos as I had to Mother and we thought that Thanatos would keep the council off us. If only as revenge for what happened to his followers in Nithia.

I was wrong and I spent a thousand years sleeping in prison on the Moon as a result. Thanatos and Sombra betrayed me. Hule was invaded at the same time by Boreans and Mother was busy trying to save her people there when I was defeated by Celestia and the Elements and then tried and imprisoned.

I spent 1000 years sleeping and plotting revenge and Celestia spent 1000 years feeling guilty and trying to find a way to bring me back. And she did. She could have, should have hated me for what I did, betraying everything we worked for and turning on her, but she loved me.

But we can’t count on people loving us that much to save us from ourselves. I know Twilight would never give up on you Spike, but I don’t want you to end up like I did.

****************

Spike’s Saga The Return:

“What happened to Sombra?” I asked softly.

“I don’t know, for sure,” Luna told me. “Something went wrong, the Silver Palace vanished and then somehow, the Crystal Empire vanished. Uncle doesn’t know what happened to it; it wasn’t any direct act of the Immortals as a whole, though someone must know.” She frowned. “And now this business with spreading entropy and people often forgetting about it… Something is wrong and I have to find out.”

“You got really sick,” I told her.

Luna grimaced. “I know. Which means I can’t go in there myself as I should. But I will figure out something.” She rose. “The best thing for you is to move on. There are plenty of people your age who I am sure would find you a wonderful companion. Let go of your hate, before it devours you.”

I flopped onto my back, legs in the air. “It’s not so easy.”

“I know,” she said softly. “All my words are just words; Even Mother told me I needed to calm down in the end.” She sighed.

“Hey, Luna, you here?” Ivan shouted distantly.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” she shouted back, then smiled a sad smile.

“So… you and Ivan…” I said hesitantly.

“Fire is pretty, but when you’ve burned yourself on it, you get wary. Yet the beauty remains,” she said softly. “I don’t know. We shall see.”

That sounds like that stupid Ochelean book Twilight made me read. ‘The grass is green and the skies blue, yet water cannot fly and you cannot spend the grass.’ If that guy wasn’t stoned 24-7 on opium, I’ll eat my hat.

Then she headed downstairs, while I laid on my bed, lost in thought.

******************

Lyra’s Lyric:

“Another year turns / another cake burns / the leaves fall down / all over town,” Pinkie sang.

This was not great, but it STILL was better than anything I had thought of.

We were up in her room over Sugar Cube Corner. Then Pound Cake began chewing on Pinkie’s leg. I think he’s teething and he keeps mistaking Pinkie for food. She laughed, then pried him off; he’s a Pegasus, even though the Cakes are Earth Ponies. Their daughter, his twin, is a Unicorn! Magical genetics are messy. “Hey, eat this,” Pinkie said, shoving a cookie in his mouth and massaging her leg back into shape.

“You’re so patient. I think I’d go mad with kids,” I confessed.

“You’ll be a fine father,” Pinkie said, smiling.

“I’m a *mare*,” I told her. A little androgynous but Bon-Bon likes that.

Pinkie just smiled at me and now Pound Cake tried to crawl into her saddlebags. I pulled him out gently with magic. “So did you enjoy your adventure?”

“I had a great time, but now I have to work,” I said, then flopped out on the floor, legs in the air.

“I know, I know,” she said, gently patting Pound Cake and tucking him between a leg and her body. “But you have a cute fillyfriend to share it with.”

“I’m surprised you don’t have a coltfriend,” I told her.

“Oh, there was this soldier, but he couldn’t stay around…” She sighed. “I’m good at friendship but I never… my family was all ‘no touching anyone until marriage or even looking, really’, and I kind of never learned how to deal with stallions. I either hint and they don’t notice or I come on too strong and they move to Alphatia.” She paused. “That’s what his family said, anyway.”

Pound Cake began toddling towards Pinkie’s shelf of weird stuff and she pulled him back.

“Well, I do know some stallions,” I said hesitantly. I have to know everyone as the bard, and I get on well with stallions even if I’m not into them like that. Maybe *because*, so there’s no messy business between us about who may or may not sleep with who.

“Or was it Norwold…” Pinkie mused, then pulled Pound Cake away from her bookshelf. Not that he… well, he is a Pegasus, but I don’t think they can fly until later.

“So who is watching Pumpkin Cake?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m watching bo…”

There was a great and terrible silence.

“PUMPKIN CAKE WHERE ARE YOU!” Pinkie shouted and ran off to find her, while I followed, keeping Pound Cake suspended in the air.

If you have ever wondered, a baby Unicorn can try to eat ten pounds of sugar, but it won’t actually *work* very well.

Pinkie and I worked on my music for a while once we had both kids; I had to meet Bon-Bon later for dinner, but I had time to wander around; you can’t see Vanya this time of day but I looked up at the sky and wondered how much of the books are true and how much is false and if I will ever find out one day.

I want to go there for a long visit. See if he’s real. I want to sail the canals and cross the deserts and fight angry fire-lion-scorpion beetles in an arena.

And I think one day I will. With Bon-Bon by my side. Whatever happens, we’ll face it together.

But she *has* to stop calling them Potato People!

At least Pinkie believes it too. Admittedly, she also believes the Seaponies only sing Do-Wop and I had to try to explain otherwise to her.

Man, I do admit this.

I am totally going to enjoy sitting… I almost forgot!

This poses a problem, as it was unwise of me to accept a letter to deliver to Rainbow Dash, when she lives up in a flying house.

So I had to go to plan B, where I bought a paper cup and filled it with water, lifted it up to her house and dumped it on her head as she slept on her front porch.

“Dash, I have a letter for you!” I shouted.

She flew down and shook herself off on me while I laughed. “Since when did you deliver mail?”

“Since I ran into Gilda in Glantri,” I said softly.

Dash froze and I tossed her the letter.

Dash finally breathed out. “So she’s working as a bodyguard. Is she… okay?”

“Well, I’d say the people we fought together were a lot less okay than her in the end,” I told Dash.

“You fought… you and Gilda fought…” Dash was vibrating, producing small chaotic puffs of wind.

So I told her the whole story.

“You going back any time soon?” Dash asked hesitantly.

“I think Bon-Bon is going to study for a permanent license from the Great School to facilitate selling her candies there and things,” I told Dash. “We’ll have to go at some point. So what exactly happened, anyway?”

Then Dash told me *her* story.

“And now you’re a teacher and she’s a bodyguard,” I said.

“And you’re teaching too, you know,” Dash said.

“….” I totally forgot about that; they want better music training and I am the Town Bard.

Dash began rolling around laughing and pointing.

I think I had better get to work.

******************

Bon-Bon’s Becoming:

It was nice to be home; When Lyra came back from the library, we simply went out to eat for dinner, since we had nothing fresh to cook with; I’ll have to go shopping tomorrow. Lyra was going to work on her songs and prepare for teaching soon, but I had a mission.

I headed over to Berry’s house and knocked on the door.

Pinchy answered; her proper name is Ruby Pinch, but it’s her nickname. The same way Dinky is short for some thirty syllable long name I cannot even pronounce, or so Time Turner claims. She looked larger than I remembered her. But it’s been… it hasn’t been that long, has it?

Anyway, Pinchy’s a good kid. “Aunt Bon-Bon, you’re back!” she said, hugging me tightly.

“This is for you,” I said, pulling a badly wrapped present out of my saddlebags. Herr Rolf is a great alchemist and golem maker but even with hands, he is no good at wrapping.

Neither am I, so she probably thought I wrapped it.

“Oh wow!” she said excitedly and tore it open with her magic; it was a little golem-pony, made of red gold. “What’s his name?”

“You get to name him,” I told her.

“Then I name him Iron Pony!” she said excitedly.

He whinnied and she smiled and let me in, running around the living room with him; he’s really scaled more for a foal to play with but there wasn’t time to make something bigger. But Pinchy had fun anyway.

“Pinchy, what are you…” Berry Punch began, galloping out from the kitchen to the living room. She lives over her shop, which is down below us; I came in the back way. She also has a farm house for her, well, farm, where she grows her berries and grapes.

“Hi, Berry,” I said, laying out the present I got her. “This is magically preserved, but only until you open it.” Prince Jaggar said it was laid down by a dragon who made wine!

She opened it and stared. “I could buy half the farms in Ponyville for the cost of this!”

She has to be exaggerating; Prince Jaggar wouldn’t even let me pay for it.

“Well, you can keep it in case of fiscal crisis, then,” I said hesitantly.

“Come in, I’ll open something for you,” she said. We sat in the kitchen and had grape juice with Pinchy; she’s brewing up some huge stewpot of something, though it’s kind of late for dinner and enough for ten ponies.

I told her about my adventures and she shared the latest town gossip. Berry hears just about everything that happens. “The oddest thing is that some mare in a leather jacket with badges all over it came into town, beat up Ponet and then left. No one knows who she is, why she came here, what she wanted, what he did to her, nothing. Then some stallion with an umbrella dragged her off and they were never seen again. Not that he didn’t have it coming,” Berry said, grimacing.

“Oh yeah,” I agreed.

Pinchy began running amok with her toy and ran right out of the room.

“I was worried that was too young for her; she’s growing up so fast,” I said softly.

“She may hate it tomorrow. She’s at that stage where you kind of bounce back and forth and today you want to be an adult and tomorrow, you want to be a little kid,” Berry said softly, staring into her cup.

“Is there a colt?” I asked softly.

“Not yet, but she’ll likely have colts all over her soon; you can see how big she’s getting,” Berry said, sounding worried. Berry was the first one of our class to get a cutie mark and then she just grew like crazy.

“Is she old enough to be alone for an hour or two?” I asked thoughtfully.

“I wish I could go out but I have to be responsible, because when I’m not some disaster happens,” Berry said, sounding frustrated. “You were lucky, Bon-Bon.”

I know. I know. “Come outside with me,” I told her.

“Pinchy!” she shouted.

Pinchy skidded into the room with Iron Pony trying to keep up. “Yeah, Mom?”

“We’re going outside,” she told Pinchy.

“Okay!” Pinchy said and went running off.

We went outside and down the back ramp, through the alley behind some houses to the street.

“Does everyone dress like that in Glantri?” she asked softly.

“They often dress fancier than this,” I told her, suddenly realizing I was still in one of the dresses Rarity had made for me; I need to find out how to wash them properly; I’m not used to fancy materials.

You know how you hear a train coming and then it passes you and then it goes past you and the whistle sound it makes changes? This happened to us just as Berry was about to say something. But it wasn’t a train, it was Rarity wailing incoherently. She was chasing what appeared to be some sort of high speed mobile bundle of cloth, roughly the size and shape of a filly, which was somehow flying just above the ground at high speed and also screaming.

Distantly, I heard Sweetie shouting something incoherent too but she couldn’t keep up with either of these things.

Berry just stared, and I decided to wait for them to pass; I think maybe Scootaloo had somehow become swaddled in cloth and was fleeing that way.

I never found out what happened.

That’s okay.

Once they were gone, I said to her softly, “Ever wondered what it’s like to fly?”

“Pegasi make it look awesome,” Berry said. “I rode a Pegasus one time, it was pretty cool and terrifying at once.” She looked up at the sky; clouds gently drifted on an east wind but you could see the declining moon and the stars.

I pulled out two lemon candies. “Want to find out?”

Her eyes widened. “What’s this?”

“Earth pony magic,” I said, smiling. Then I ate one and turned into a Pegasus.

She stared, eyes wide.

“Just think about turning into a Pegasus,” I told her.

Blam, Pegasus Berry!

So I took her up to Rainbow Dash’s house and told her about what Crash had figured out. “Oh wow,” she said thoughtfully. “We do use a variation on that for formation flying but of course, normally anyone we fly with wouldn’t *need* it. But I bet that would help anyone using Twilight’s spell or your candy or…”

Pretty soon, she got two other pegasi and we all did it together, so Berry could see what speed is REALLY like.

It’s a rush, I have to confess.

Then I took her home; she was utterly wiped out but it felt wonderful. “If people had tried to kill us, that would be my whole trip in a nutshell.”

“Alchemy society, hmm, well, I am a chemist, one could say…” She said hesitantly.

“We’ll see,” I told her. “I’m just an initiate, but I expect we’ll have a branch in Equestria as it comes along.” I gave her a hug. “I have a ton of work to catch up on, but it was worth it.”

A while back, Lyra forced me to read the first Tom Wagonmaker book, potato-people and all. Though I guess maybe I misread something as that world looked terrible for potatoes. But there was one bit I liked, the end.

No, not… okay, because it was the end. But also, I thought it was kind of wise. It said that every time you go on a journey, you can never return, because the ‘you’ that comes back is different.

Edmund Wheatfurrows was right. I am Bon-Bon the ordinary pony, and I am Bon-Bon the party girl, even if she mostly has to sleep for now, and I am Lady Bon-Bon of Ponyville, who gives lectures to wizards and Lady Bon-Bon of the First Circle of Alchemy and Phoenix-Bon and Bon-Bon the Pegasus and many other things besides. I have changed, I am changing, and I will change in the future. Everything changes.

My candy art always changes and now it lets me change my form as I need, while time and trial change what lies inside me. I was never ‘just’ an ordinary pony. Maybe no one is. And that’s why Celestia sent Lyra and I on that trip in the Moonraker. She saw what we could become.

Does that make us special? Or does it just mean we chose to step up to the plate when we had to? I don’t know.

I thought about that plateau and the evil stirring there. Not my problem for now, but I doubt we have seen the last of that. But I leave it to the Princess. I may not be ordinary but I’m not up to dealing with something like that under my own initiative.

Yet.

The End For Now

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