• Published 14th Mar 2016
  • 19,722 Views, 463 Comments

Earth Ponies Are Overpowered - Maran

Twilight Sparkle is an expert in unicorn magic, but earth pony magic remains a mystery to her. She's determined to uncover the earth tribe's secrets. What she learns will change her life . . . And it just might change Applejack's life as well.

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My Mind Is Officially Blown

The nice thing about living in a big castle is that you can hide in a corner of your library and it will take a while for anypony – or dragon – to find you.

Not that I want to be a recluse all the time. I mean, I am the Princess of Friendship. It's just that I had a big research project that I'd been putting off for too long.

I'm already an expert in unicorn magic – not to brag, but I've given guest lectures at Celestia's School of Magic. And I think I have a decent grasp of pegasus magic at this point. I can fly at least as well as Fluttershy, and a few days ago Rainbow Dash helped me to form a nice cumulonimbus.

But earth pony magic remains a mystery to me.

Oh, I've noticed how much easier it feels to carry stacks of books on my back now that I'm technically one-third earth pony. And there are times when I forget my new strength and accidentally break something such as a door. But I know there's more to being an earth pony than physical strength.

When it comes to botanurgy, lithurgy, geomancy, and any other “magical connection to the earth,” I've gleaned very little knowledge. The books I saved from Golden Oak Library have only ancillary information and references to older books that have proven to be a challenge to find. Or they mention terms like “capillurgy,” like the reader is supposed to already understand it, and then move on to a different topic.

Although the dean of Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns changed the name to Celestia's School of Magic in an effort to make it sound more inclusive, it still just teaches about unicorn spell-casting. There are appalling gaps in my education. This shouldn't happen. I'm Princess Celestia's student! Why didn't she make sure I knew this, especially if she thought I might become her successor?

I did write to her about it, but she just rhetorically asked if I didn't know any earth ponies I could ask.

Of course I do, it's just . . . I don't know why, but for some reason feel like I should research on my own as much as possible before I go to them about it. I don't want them to think I'm ignorant. Ugh. Maybe Applejack and Rainbow aren't the only ponies who have issues with pride.

“Um, Twilight? Are you okay?” Spike stood in the doorway, his slit pupils wider than usual.

I shook my head to clear it. “Was I thinking out loud again?”

“A little. I'm sure your brain was going a lot faster than your mouth.” He stepped all the way into the study. “You know, if you're worried about something, you should just tell me or one of the girls. None of us will think any less of you.”

A smile tugged at the corner of my lips. “I know Spike. I'll tell you as soon as my mind stops racing.” It was then that I noticed the envelope in his hand. “Is that mail for me?”

He nodded and held it up. “It's from the Manehattan College of Earth Studies.”

My eyes lit up as I snatched the letter with my aura. “I hope it's good news. It looks shorter than I expected.” I tore it open and read the note. As I read, my hopes sank into the pit of my stomach. “What? I don't believe this. They won't even let me set hoof in their library unless I pass an entrance exam. And their exam is a demonstration of magic, like the School for Gifted—Magic!” I corrected myself. “I don't know how to use earth magic besides strength. And their library has the only copies of some ancient earth tribe texts!” With a groan, I walked over to my desk just so I could bang my head against it. “Why are you guarding your secrets, earth ponies? What are you trying to hide?”

“You know, you could just ask some of the earth ponies in Ponyville to help you.” I could almost hear Spike's eyes rolling without even glancing at him.

Raising my head, I took a deep breath. “I will,” I said. “If I have to.”

“Why do you say if you have to?” Spike tapped his claws together. “I know if I was friends with a dragon who wasn't a jerk, I'd ask them everything about dragon magic.”

“Aw Spike. I know. Dragons will be the next subject I research, I promise.” I felt like I hadn't been giving him the attention he deserved. It seemed like all I ever focused on was pony magic or the Elements of Harmony, but I'd spent very little time studying dragons.

My number one assistant and foster brother scratched the back of his head. “I wasn't trying to ask you for that, but . . .” He smiled. “Yeah, I'd like that.”

Wrapping my foreleg around his shoulders, I said, “I will go and talk to my friends, as soon as I calm down a bit more.”

Spike leaned into the half-hug before withdrawing and staring up at me. “Do you want me to make you some chamomile tea before I leave? That usually calms you down.”

“Actually, I'd like to try that red rooibos tea Zecora gave us.” I blinked and frowned. “Wait, you're leaving?”

“Yeah, I'm helping Rarity get some costume supplies. And by costume supplies I mean gems. I told you yesterday.”

“You did?” I winced. “Sorry, I must've been focused on reading at the time. Do you think you and Rarity will be okay on your own?”

As he shuffled toward the door, he waved his hand. “Don't worry, I doubt the diamond dogs will bother Rarity again. I'll be back with the tea.”

After Spike left, I held my foreleg to my chest, filled my lungs to capacity, and let the air back out, sweeping my leg away from my body. And then I thought of something besides tea that would improve my mood. I would start a list of everything I already knew about earth pony abilities. I've always found it comforting to organize my thoughts, and even my life, on paper. Plus, as a bonus, when I was ready to go to Applejack for insight, I could show her at what level I needed to begin my lessons. Or I could go to Pinkie Pie . . . Oh who was I kidding, I'd probably ask Maud to educate me about earth thaumaturgy before I asked Pinkie. I mean, I love her – she's the Element of Laughter, how can you not love her? It's just that any lesson she would teach me was bound to be most confusing. And Pinkie never understood my need to understand everything. So she would be my last last resort.

Taking a quill with my magic, I flipped one of my notepads to a clean sheet and began writing.

Features of earth pony magic

1. Enhanced physical strength and durability
2. Botanurgy (accelerated plant growth)
3. Lithurgy (not sure if this means growing crystals or smashing rocks or both)
4. Capillurgy (literally “working with hair,” grasping with tail and mane)

My quill hovered above the paper as I paused. I didn't see how I would ever need to grab things with my tail when I could simply use my telekinesis. On the other hoof, I had witnessed Pinkie perform amazing feats using capillurgy, which would have been challenging to accomplish with a unicorn's telekinesis. For example, she carried items concealed in her mane on a regular basis, and once I observed her using her tail as a drill to tunnel through the ground. The second ability was likely something that only Pinkie could accomplish, though. I can't imagine how she made her hair hard enough to drill through solid earth. Perhaps not even any of us alicorns could achieve that goal. In fact, when had I ever seen an alicorn making use of any form of capillurgy?

I stared down at my smooth tail for a moment as my mind made a connection. Princess Celestia and Luna didn't use their tails and manes to manipulate things, but they were in constant motion. I'd always assumed that they were being blown by an ethereal wind beyond mortal comprehension. But what if the perpetual motion was caused by an abundance of earth pony magic? It was a partial explanation, but it didn't account for the translucence and luminescence. I added another parenthetical comment to my list.

(The Royal Sisters' manes and tails might be extreme examples of this)

“Here you go, Twilight.” Spike interrupted my notes. Tearing my gaze away from my list, I glimpsed the steaming cup of red tea resting on the desk.

“Thanks, Spike.” When I peered up at him, he was already departing. “Have fun with Rarity. And be careful.”

“I will,” he called over his shoulder with a little wave.

Trusting Spike to make whatever preparations he required, I lifted the cup in my glowing aura and took a small sip. The rooibos tea was unlike anything I'd ever tasted, and very pleasant. As I swallowed, the hot liquid soothed my throat. After allowing myself another sip, I refocused on my list.

5. Extra-sensory perception a.k.a. Geomancy (sensing things not visible such as nutrients and weak spots in minerals, etc.)

I was treading dangerous ground here. My last attempt at trying to understand an earth pony's “ESP” had not gone well at all. Granted, that had been my own fault for not applying the scientific method, but the whole experience soured me on delving into that topic any further. Some of the library books about magic mentioned that many, but not all, earth ponies have ESP, sometimes called geomancy because it often relates to an aspect of the earth. But as usual, there weren't many details about any strengths, limitations, advantages and disadvantages to this ability. I was certain that I had never felt any unusual premonitions, but perhaps it took a while to develop, like a unicorn foal learning telekinesis. Cadance had told me that after she ascended, it took her two years to master unicorn magic. Yet she never mentioned how long it took to master earth magic.

Moving on to the next item on the list, I wrote:

6. Rituals (effecting change by making things “just so”)

The only ponies I knew of who practiced magic rituals were the Apples and most likely the Pies, although my visit with Pinkie's family had been too brief to have any meaningful conversation with them. Just based on what my two earth pony friends had told me, the Pies thought that it was important to do things a certain way even when it didn't make sense to outsiders, such as hiding and finding their Hearthswarming presents, or letting the mysterious “Choosing Stone” select their spouses. On a side note, I'm curious about this Choosing Stone, but I'm almost afraid to ask about it. In any case, maybe these rituals are most suitable for farming on the frontier. It's possible that the wild, natural forces were tamed by being forced into a routine. However, I knew I should be cautious about basing assumptions about the entire earth tribe on two of my best friends' families.

Unfortunately, I couldn't think of any more types of thaumaturgy to add to the list. After drinking my tea to the dregs, I took the cup and notepad in my telekinesis. I'd studied as much as I was able on my own. The only way to progress any further was to speak with an actual earth pony. I had to gain at least enough knowledge to impress the professors at the College of Earth Studies. As I descended the stairs to the kitchen, I began to feel optimistic. Really, I'd been acting silly earlier. Most of the time I would jump at the chance to learn a new type of magic, and here I felt even more reluctant about using it than I had about using my wings. I smiled and shook my head at my apprehension.

Looking down at my hooves, I said aloud, “Okay hooves, are you ready to work some magic?”

I trotted out the front doors, squinting as the brilliant sun struck my face. Soon my eyes adjusted, though, and I began to enjoy the beautiful weather that Rainbow and her team brought. Fluffy cumulus clouds floated in the air, scheduled to be converted to cumulonimbus clouds in a few days. A light breeze ruffled my hair and feathers, as well as the pages of my notepad. Birds sang, butterflies flew, lilies were blooming, and the grass was soft and springy, courtesy of the earth ponies. The sun felt comfortable and warm, its light bringing out the brightest colors contrasting with deep shadows.

In short, I couldn't have asked for a better day to explore the earth ponies' special connection to nature.

I could have flown to Sweet Apple Acres, but my unicorn and earth pony sides preferred to slow down a bit and relish the scenic route on this glorious day. I traveled through the town at a canter most of the way, stopping a few times to exchange pleasantries with the ponies on the street.

“Hi, Twilight!”

It was the one voice I had hoped to avoid hearing that day. Pinkie Pie bounded up behind me, her cotton candy curls bouncing. I froze and hunched my shoulders. Then I straightened and attempted a welcoming smile. I've always been terrible at hiding my emotions, but fortunately for me, Pinkie is just as terrible at picking up on social cues.

“Hi, Pinkie!” I replied with as much fake cheer as I could muster. “How are you?”

She stopped next to me, shaking with barely contained energy. “I'm bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as my Nana Pinkie used to say! Gummy and I are headed down to Froggy Bottom Bog.” Her forelock moved like a snake and lifted the baby alligator out from her voluminous mane, in what would have been a textbook example of capillurgy, if any textbooks on capillurgy were written. “He likes to pretend to be a floating log and contemplate the meaning of life,” she continued. “And don't worry, my Pinkie Sense told me that the hydra won't bother us today! So if you wanna go to the bog, now's your chance.”

I suppressed a shudder at her mention of Pinkie Sense. At least she already had plans, so she wouldn't want to start teaching me right this second. “Actually I need to talk to Applejack about something. But thanks for the heads up.”

“No problem.” She lowered Gummy back into her mane so that he was hidden from view. Her blue eyes strayed to my hovering notepad. “You know, you could probably learn capillurgy now that you're an alicorn. That way you could carry things in your mane and tail and no one would ever know. It's much easier to be sneaky and surprise ponies that way.”

My jaw dropped. Say what you will about Pinkie. Call her random all you want. But sometimes her intuition and perception are nothing short of magical.

“I will definitely consider that.”

Pinkie nodded. “Well, I'd better take Gummy to the bog now so we can get back in time for the afternoon rush at Sugar Cube Corner. Have fun at Applejack's!” She spronged away, disappearing around a curve in the road.

I slowly shook my head. It was looking more like I would be forced to take a lesson in earth magic from Pinkie Pie. But not today. With renewed purpose, I cantered down the street.

As I approached the rolling hills of the farm, I realized that it would be more practical to take to the air. Applejack and her family were no doubt working outside, and it might have taken all morning and into the afternoon for me to search such a vast area on hoof. I flapped my wings and flew over the orchard, and after a minute or two I saw an orange figure. I glided down and landed about forty feet away from her, so that I could observe her work without interrupting her. We were in a part of the farm that I had visited just a few times before. This was where the saplings were planted. The spindly, top-heavy trees were supported by twine stretched across wooden poles sticking up out of the ground. Applejack walked along the row, humming a simple tune. The saplings in front of her were as tall as her belly, but as soon as she started walking past them, they grew up to her neck. Tender green branches shot up and pale leaves opened, ready to turn sunlight and air into sugar.

It was fascinating. Some ponies might have overlooked it just because there were no sparks or flashes, but Applejack was controlling life. Her maturing of these young trees was almost like an age spell, and age spells were impossible without the aid of a highly enchanted item. Granted, plants are simpler lifeforms than ponies, but the magic still impressed me.

I'd been standing there studying Applejack long enough that I started to feel uncomfortable about walking up and interrupting her botanurgical process. Being an introvert, I considered leaving and coming back some other time. Then it occurred to me that I had nothing going for me back at the castle except for my pored-over books, red herbal tea, and an extremely unhelpful letter.

Taking a deep breath, I stepped toward the row of saplings. “Hey Applejack!”

She turned her head calmly. Applejack isn't jumpy like some other ponies I know. I believe the sole pony who could really startle her is Pinkie Pie.

“Howdy, Twilight.” Her mouth curved up in a smile. As she stopped walking, the sapling nearest to her kept growing past her neck and up to her ears. She stretched up and rested her front hoof on the leafy crown, visibly stopping its growth. Her grin widened as she patted the tree like she would her dog.

Then her green eyes focused on a spot next to my head. “Whatcha got there?”

Glancing to the side, I noticed my notepad floating next to me. I'd forgotten I was carrying it. “Oh this? It's a list I made of earth pony abilities. I'd like to find out more details about each one.”

“Uh-huh. And I reckon ya want me to read it?”

“Yes please.” I levitated the notepad toward her outstretched hoof.

After a several seconds of moving her eyes back and forth, she said, “All right, you got the first one down pretty good. Like when you carried all us gals on yer back at the Castle o' the Royal Sisters.” Her eyes twinkled as she peeked up from the list.

I beamed, feeling pleased with myself. I hadn't been certain if anypony noticed or remembered that feat of strength.

“So you wanna learn the rest o' this stuff?” she asked.

“Well, sure, I was hoping you could at least teach me botanurgy. You could start by showing me how to accelerate plant growth.” I pointed at the tallest tree in the line.

Turning her gaze down at the grass, AJ tugged on the brim of her hat. “You make farmin' sound so fancy, Twi.”

I waved my foreleg. “'Farming' makes it sound more simple than it is.”

“I'm a simple pony, sugar cube.”

“Applejack, there's nothing simple about what you do,” I persisted. “Knocking all the apples out of the trees to make them perfectly land in buckets, growing the trees, making sure all the blossoms are pollinated, maintaining the irrigation for when the weather ponies schedule dry spells, keeping animals from eating your crops, infusing the soil with your magic to give the seeds a jump start in spring . . .” I scowled. “I wish I'd known about that for my first Winter Wrap-Up.”

“Sorry 'bout that, Twi,” she said with a wince. “I had no call to lash out at you the way I did. I should've explained that us earth ponies had to plow the ground to put our power into it. I just assumed you would know.”

I sighed. “I didn't know. Canterlot doesn't have any farmland, and besides, I never learned anything about earth pony magic at the School for Gifted Unicorns.”

“I s'pose you wouldn't. And fair's fair, I didn't even think I was usin' magic when I was growin' up. I just thought of it as usin' my strength, same as pullin' a cart.” She shrugged. “It was just somethin' you did.”

Tilting my head, I asked, “So you thought that botanurgy was just a form of earth pony strength?”

“I didn't know the technical word for it, but I reckon so. But it ain't just in yer muscles. It's like–” she placed her foreleg over her chest. “–deeper. I can't rightly describe it.”

“Thauma,” I replied. “That's what you're using.”

“Thauma.” Applejack tried out the word before shaking her head. “I'll just call it strength.” She held the notebook out to me, and I took it back in my magic. “So why did you come to talk to me 'bout all this, Twi? Of course I'd love to help you learn more 'bout earth pony strength, but I ain't the best at explainin' things. I don't even got a proper study method. I might not be much use at helpin' ya learn anythin' more complicated than a friendship lesson.”

“Don't sell yourself short, AJ. I'm sure you taught Apple Bloom a lot about cultivating apple trees. And didn't you say you picked up on things by doing them? Who knows, maybe that's the best way to learn earth pony magic.” And besides, Applejack had to be a better teacher than Pinkie Pie with her incomprehensible rap songs. But I kept that thought to myself.

“You may have a point there.” Then her eyes lit up as she raised her head. “That gives me an idea. Have you tried germinatin' a seed yet?”

“Not without a magic potion. I wanted to read up on it first, but I couldn't find any instructions.” I ducked my head.

“Well, when I went to Camp Friendship when I was a filly, they started us on bean sprouts. C'mon, I'll show you. This is gonna be fun!”

After giving the tallest sapling one last pat, she pivoted and set off at a trot toward the barn, sending grasshoppers leaping to get out of her path. As always, the big red building smelled like hay, dirt, and fresh-cut pine. I followed her to the open doorway and peered inside as she found a paper seed packet, picked it up in her mouth with care, and carried it outdoors. Digging at the ground near the barn, she broke up the hard-packed soil with her hoof. Then she shook a red bean out of the packet and covered it with a thin, loose layer of earth.

“All right, now you gotta watch and feel what I'm doin' here. Put yer hoof next to mine.”

She rested her hoof a few inches away from the legume. On the other side, I set down my hoof.

“Ya feel that?” she asked.

I nodded. It was similar to sensing thaumic surges with my horn, only this was through my hoof. It was an intangible push that the tiny plant couldn't help but react to. The white root emerged and wove into the dirt. A split second later, the stem sprang forth, and the first pair of leaves unfolded. The seedling stretched up to my fetlock and higher as buds and nodules appeared and unfurled, lengthening and dividing. And then it gradually slowed, but it was still visible, weeks of growth condensed into half a minute. The top of the plant reached halfway up Applejack's leg, which was as tall as it could grow before it needed to be staked.

The hard part about all of this was that I couldn't observe exactly what Applejack was doing, other than the impalpable output. She was standing still. When I started watching her face, I realized that she was smiling with a gleam in her eyes.

“You're just like Rarity working on a dress,” I said.

She burst out laughing, her eyes crinkling as she glanced up at me. “I'm like Rarity?

“Sure, you have the same look she gets when she's sewing.”

“I s'pose I can see that,” she replied, still grinning wide. “I look at a seed and see the potential in it and bring it out, just like Rarity does with her materials. I let it know how to be the plant it was meant to be.” Holding the packet toward me, she asked, “Ready to try?”

Reasoning that it would be better not to use my unicorn magic, I took the seed packet with my hoof. I pressed the front of my fore-hoof into the dirt and wiggled it around, breaking up the granules. After shaking one of the beans onto the softened soil, I took a deep breath and shoved thauma out of my right fore-hoof. It felt somewhat similar to lighting up my horn, yet I couldn't direct the magic with any precision. Most unicorn magic is based on mathematics, which is why it has a reputation of being academic. Even telekinesis is best when visualized on a three-dimensional grid, at least in my opinion. But earth magic is more closely related to that of pegasi in that it is based on emotions and instinct. I had to feel my connection to the bean, the same way I sensed a link to the water when I helped make a rain cloud.

The bean quivered as the tip of its root broke through. A smile spread across my face.

“I'm doing it!” It was a premature celebration, but I couldn't help feeling proud.

“Okay, keep it up,” she encouraged.

I zeroed in on the sprout. All right bean sprout, I want you to look like your sibling here.

As I kept driving earth pony strength toward the seed, the stem appeared as a loop before springing up, its pair of leaves forming a 'V'. And even though I couldn't see it, somehow I could just tell that the roots were filling out spreading through the soil.

And then . . .

I didn't know how it happened, but the thaumic flow twisted. Six new leaves emerged, but they turned brown almost as fast as they grew, and shriveled to pathetic husks. Then, to my dismay, Applejack's beanstalk started to droop as well.

“No, no, no . . .” I muttered, even as I felt magic enter my left fore-hoof. It soaked up the ambient thauma like a sponge. Gasping, I lifted my hoof, and the rate of input lessened a little, but the leaves continued to wilt.

“What am I doing? I'm ruining them! I'm a plant killer!” My ears lay flat against my skull.

“Easy, sugar cube.” Applejack reached out and placed her hoof on my whither. “You look more worried than Fluttershy at the vet's office.”

Raising my ears a bit, I asked, “You're not upset?”

“Nope. Shoot, I shoulda warned ya this might happen,” she said with a soft sigh.

“What? Tell me what happened.”

Applejack touched a dry leaf, causing it to break and fall to the ground. “It's called life drain. When you push out with yer strength and you ain't used to it, you draw it back into yerself even if ya don't intend to. And sometimes you take more than you gave out in the first place.”

“Oh.” I blinked. “So I drained the life out of the plants like a – like a vampire fruit bat?”

Her eyes narrowed. “Vampire fruit bats suck out the juice and tree sap. We suck out the life force. Like the first time I tried to grow an apple seed.” She took off her hat and held it to her chest. “A whole acre o' trees looked like they went through a year-long drought after I was finished with 'em. Some of 'em never recovered. Granny Smith said it wasn't my fault, it was just an accident. But I felt just awful 'bout hurtin' the orchard. So Granny taught me a trick to do whenever I started losin' control. She . . .” Applejack paused. “You know what, we oughtta go talk to her. Maybe the two of us'll be able to explain it better together than I could on my lonesome.”

I smiled. “Good idea. Granny Smith has been an earth pony longer than anyone I know. I'm sure she has a lot of experience to share.” Glancing around, I found my notepad where I'd left it in the grass. “By the way, do you have a quill I could borrow? I forgot mine and I have a feeling I'll want to take a lot of notes.”

Granny Smith was sitting in a lawn chair shaded by a tree. A basket provided green yarn for her to knit a blanket that grew almost as fast as the family's orchard.

“Howdy Twilight,” she greeted me. “Can I get ya some lemonade or sweet tea?

“No thank you, Granny Smith. But I do need to borrow a quill.”

She squinted at my notepad before setting aside her knitting and rising to all fours with audible creaks and pops.

“We use ballpoint pens here, honey,” she said with a wink. “I'm sure we can rustle one up for ya.”

“Thanks,” I replied as we walked toward the farmhouse.

“Granny, Twilight's been usin' her earth pony strength more, and she accidentally used life drain,” explained Applejack, bobbing her head toward me.

“Ohhh.” Her grandmother gave a slow nod. “I reckon the damage ain't too bad, else y'all woulda led with that.”

“Oh, no, it was only two bean sprouts,” I said quickly. “Applejack said they were good for practice.”

“Eyup, that's on account of she didn't wanna put the trees in harm's way. And what with you bein' an alicorn, it's a wonder ya didn't drain half the orchard, like Pinkie Pie when she worked her magic.” Granny Smith approached the house door and pushed it open.

I stopped in my tracks, trying to make sense of what I'd just heard. “Are you talking about the time Pinkie had Applejack's cutie mark?”

AJ raised her foreleg in a half shrug. “Sure, what'd ya think?”

“I didn't know what to think at the time. My best guess was that it was part of Star Swirl the Bearded's spell, like the altered memories, and then I became an alicorn and that distracted me from everything else.” I shuffled my hooves and shifted my wings. “So, Pinkie drained the life out of all those trees?”

“Sure as sugar.” The matriarch gazed over her shoulder at me. “Poor filly got caught in sort of a supernatural cycle. The harder she pushed, the more force she drew back into herself.” She stepped into the kitchen, which smelled of apples and wood smoke, and Applejack and I followed. “Took days to get the farm back to a hundred percent. On the bright side, Pinkie Pie will probably live forever.”

I froze again, watching her open a drawer and withdraw a pen. “What do you mean?”

Holding the pen toward me, she asked, “Didn't Applejack tell ya?”

Her granddaughter shook her head. “I hadn't gotten to that part yet.” She pivoted to face me. “See, when ya drain life force and hold it inside ya, it slows down yer aging, or even stops it if ya drain enough.”

My jaw dropped. “Age magic? For ponies?”

“I s'pose it is, in a way.” Applejack bobbed her head.

“But I thought only the most advanced mages could use age magic for ponies, at least without the aid of an enchanted charm like the Alicorn Amulet or the Creator's Tome.”

Granny Smith brought her front hoof to her chin. “Well now, I don't know much about advanced mages or Creator's Tomes, but I do know that not every earth pony can use life drain. It's mostly farmers that eke out a livin' by tendin' the land every day and managin' energy and resources.”

I held up the pen and notepad and scribbled a note. This wasn't one of the thought-out notes with my own theories and questions that I wrote while reading my books. It was a hasty summary of what the Apples had told me that day. I'd review and organize my notes after I got back to the castle.

Life drain – drawing life force through hooves from plants

“Did ya take notes when Rainbow taught ya pegasus stuff?” AJ cocked her head.

I sighed through my nose. “Whenever I tried, she took my notepad and threw it as far as she could.”

Snorting, Applejack covered her mouth with her foreleg. “Sorry, I shouldn't laugh.”

“That's okay. I wrote down everything I could remember as soon as I got home.”

“Well, take all the notes ya need if'n it'll help ya learn, Twilight,” said Granny Smith with a gentle smile.

I glanced at the paper. “So, does life drain only work on plants? Is it just a type of botanurgy?” It worried me to think of ponies draining life force from each other.

“Eyup, plants and minerals and, well, sort of the earth itself. That goes back to the trick I told ya 'bout earlier. Whenever you start to use life drain, you gotta push through the plant down deep into the earth.” Applejack stared at her grandmother for confirmation.

“That's right. The earth itself has life, a bottomless well of energy that circles round.” Granny Smith sat down and closed her eyes. “You can draw from that well for thousands o' years and it'll never run dry. That's how Princess Celestia and Luna have lived as long as they have, and don't look a day over thirty.”

A nagging thought worked its way to the forefront of my mind. About a year ago, Apple Bloom told me that her grandmother was one of Ponyville's founders. But I knew for a fact that this town was over two centuries old. Since the average lifespan was approximately ninety, or so I thought, I could never reconcile Apple Bloom's statement with what I knew to be true. Granted, Star Swirl the Bearded had lived to be 250, but he was a special case. So I had dismissed it as a filly's fanciful imagination. Now, though . . .

“Granny Smith, if you don't mind me asking, how old are you?”

“Well now, let's see, my bicentennial birthday was when this filly was about a year old.” She opened her eyes and pointed at her granddaughter. “So that makes me two hundred and nineteen.”

“Two hundred nineteen!” I exclaimed. “That's amazing! I would've guessed you were about eighty. Why don't ponies talk about this? The only pony who ever mentioned this to me was Apple Bloom, and I assumed she was exaggerating.”

“We talk about it sometimes with other earth ponies.” Applejack frowned in thought. “I can't speak for all earth ponies, but I know I wouldn't like it if a unicorn went on about how she can levitate more weight than I can lift with my hooves and my back. So I figured the other tribes wouldn't wanna hear 'bout how I'm liable to outlive 'em.”

“Oh.” Blinking, I stared out the window. “I guess I can understand that.” Her answer didn't completely satisfy me, however. It did make sense that I wouldn't have heard about life drain while growing up in Canterlot. The population of Canterlot is about seventy percent unicorn, and I had attended an all-unicorn school. The closest individuals to earth ponies that I spent quality time with were Princess Celestia and Cadance, and neither of them ever mentioned that their longevity was due to their earth thaumaturgy. Still, it seemed weird that I'd only heard vague references to earth pony “durability” until recently, even after relocating to Ponyville.

Out loud, I said, “It still seems like you and Pinkie should have mentioned it around me, as much time as we've spent together.” As soon as I thought of Pinkie, something clicked in my mind.

I slapped my hoof to my forehead. “She was serious!”

“What exactly are ya talkin' about, Twi?” asked AJ.

“When we discovered Pinkie's party lair,” I clarified, glancing up at her, “you found her plans for her parents' fiftieth anniversary, and their hundredth, and their five hundredth! I thought it was just Pinkie being Pinkie!”

“Oh, right, I knew she was serious as a parasprite infestation. I was just surprised she planned that far ahead. She always seemed a touch more spontaneous.”

On my notepad, I wrote:

Most common in earth pony farmers. When draining life, ponies can hold it in their bodies to slow or stop aging.

I lifted my head to gaze at Granny Smith. “Are you only Applejack's grandmother?” I asked. “Shouldn't you be her great-great-great–”

Grinning, she held up her hoof. “Beg pardon, lemme stop ya there. I'm her great grandma, no more, no less. When ya know yer gonna live a long time, ya wait a long time to start a family, ya see.”

It was obvious that no one had told that to my sister-in-law. I kept that thought private, though. Cadance had been a pegasus before she ascended, after all. I reasoned that earth ponies had to be as conscientious with breeding as they were with land management, otherwise they would make up the vast majority of the population and deplete our resources.

“I stayed in my prime till I's eighty, then suddenly one plantin' season I push myself too hard and don't hold onto enough life force, and 'fore I know it I's old. I been old most o' my life, did you know that? But sometimes I can still get that spark back.”

She sat up her haunches and brought her front hooves up to her face.

“Brace yerself,” murmured Applejack, leaning toward me.

“What are you – gah!” I shied away as Granny Smith stretched and smooshed her face like putty. A pulse of thauma came from her hooves as she rearranged her flesh. When she lowered her hooves, she appeared to be my age, with large citrine eyes, perky ears, and supple skin beneath a soft green coat. All of this happened in a mere two seconds. Her features stayed in place for a moment before gravity reclaimed the loose sags and folds. I was sure to see that sequence of images in my nightmares.

A grin split her wizened face. “Didn't expect that, did ya?”

Gaping, I shook my head. Applejack gave my shoulder a sympathetic pat.

After collecting my thoughts, I said, “This life drain has so much potential.” I turned to address Applejack. “I'm sure that if we work together, we can figure out how to modify it and improve its efficiency. Then maybe I won't have to watch you and the other girls grow old while I stay young forever!”

AJ's mouth fell open. “Aw sugar cube, I didn't know you were worried about that!”

“I only talked about it with Spike and the princesses. I even considered getting you and the girls to turn into alicorns.”

“What.” Applejack's tone was deadpan, her pupils shrunken.

Granny Smith whipped out a hearing trumpet from . . . her tail, I guess. “My hearin' ain't what it used to be. Did you say alicorns?”

“Yes, I did. It might sound implausible, but it's not impossible. You see, after the coronation, Princess Celestia explained to me that in order to ascend, a pony must first understand true friendship, and then she must be the first to perform a new type of magic with the help of at least one friend. Based on these criteria, I believe any one of you girls could achieve alicornhood. I think you may have been very close when we unlocked the Rainbow Power. It seems like we should have met the qualifications Celestia identified, and our hair waved like hers, and even those of you without wings levitated over long distances!” My mouth curved downward as I thought. “But the conditions must not have been quite right somehow. I've given it a lot of thought, and my best guess is that only one pony at a time can ascend. Like Star Swirl's spell said, 'From one to another, another to one. A mark of one's destiny singled out alone, fulfilled.' None of us were singled out in any way, so the thauma must have gone into the castle instead of one particular pony.”

Applejack blinked a few times and worked her jaw before she spoke. “Why, those are interestin' ideas and all, but I like bein' an earth pony, and I wouldn't wanna change that for nothin'. 'Sides, if I was to uh, ascend, ponies would expect me to be a princess. I ain't exactly princess material.”

“You'd still be an earth pony, just with more power.”

“And a few extra body parts,” she muttered.

“Besides, I didn't think I was princess material either,” I said with a shrug.

“Maybe not at the time, but it makes sense when ya look back, right? You were hoof-picked by Princess Celestia, and yer Element was a crown.” She pointed at her own hat, perhaps without thinking about it.

“Well your family owns a lot of land that the princess gave you, and you have a throne in a castle,” I said with a sly grin. I had prepared arguments in my head for the eventuality of sharing these hypotheses with my friends – particularly AJ, knowing how stubborn she can be.

“She's got a point there, Applejack,” commented her great grandmother.

Applejack's eyebrows leveled; I could tell she was putting up a wall. “Look, I already done tried livin' among high society when I was a filly. It wasn't for me. And there's no point in talkin' about it anymore 'cause it ain't gonna happen.”

It was clear that I needed to try a different tactic. “If it never happens-”

“It won't.”

“Then I'd like to find another way to keep you and the girls healthy for as long as possible. And this life drain is a perfect way to start. Do you think you could help me tap into that life force deep in the earth?”

Applejack's expression softened. “Sure thing Twi. I don't know 'bout anypony else, but Equestria can't get rid o' me that easy.”

Applejack led me to a clearing to show me how to drain life from the earth itself. Granny Smith took up her knitting and observed us from several yards away.

“We probably don't have to worry 'bout hurtin' any trees in this spot,” said Applejack. “I'm gonna do it first so you can watch and feel how it's done.” As she planted her hoof in the grass, she narrowed her eyes in concentration. She gave the strongest burst of thauma I'd felt that day. It delved deep into the soil, fading from my sense the farther down it went. I wondered if I was feeling the most basic earth ESP, this awareness of earth magic. I'd never experienced it until Applejack told me I could, and now the more I tried to perceive it, the easier it became.

The thaumic flow suddenly reversed direction, increasing in power as it returned to Applejack. With a ripple, the grass around her turned a deeper shade of green.

Her great grandmother nodded in approval, her needles still moving. “That oughtta add about a year to yer life if ya hold onto it.”

After the power faded, I asked, “Do you have to reach into the earth in order to pull the magic out?”

“That's a good way o' puttin' it, yeah.” She beamed.

Drawing in a lungful of air, I said, “Okay, I'll try not to murder any of your trees.”

AJ waved her hoof in a gesture that said not to sweat it.

Through my hoof, I channeled thauma into the ground, and the grass grew bit taller around it. I pushed out as much as I could, but my magic didn't go that deep before it rotated and went up into my other hoof.

With a sigh, I said, “How do I delve into the depths of the earth?”

“It's somethin' ya gotta keep workin' at. Like a muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it gets. It might take a while to build it up, just like I expect it took some time to build yer flight muscles and muscle memory for yer wings. I'm sure with enough practice you'll become a pro.”

Author's Note:

I was tired of the “earth pony powers suck” and “Twilight outlives her friends” memes, so I decided to write a story that counters both (although their powers literally suck the life force of things in this fanfic, ha ha). Originally I expected it to be a oneshot about 4k words long, but then I kept thinking of more and more things to write. I promise that I will continue my other two ongoing fics, but I just had to get this idea out of my system.

Also, the Creator's Tome is the name I invented for the book from “Inspiration Manifestation” – IIRC only the spell was named, not the book.

Edit 3/16/16: I removed the AU tag because more than one person said I didn't need it.

Edit 4/8/16: Fixed some punctuation errors and typos.