• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar

Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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The Trial of King Hematite's Reliquary

"Ah, M'er Coil, can I borrow a lean ov' an ear fer a word?" The 'pony' speaking was Solemn Vow, who had intercepted me on my way to Gale's side after (I assumed) having discreetly eavesdropped on my conversation with Castle and Chrysoprase. I nodded as he stepped up beside me, where he promptly dropped the horrifying amalgam of accents and let his natural voice drop to a hoarse whisper. "We'll discuss what just happened this evening, but you are not going to make any new agreements or bets or try to play any further 'turns'."


I had the distinct sense that Vow had tried to roll his eyes, before remembering he didn't actually have any in his wooden body. "It's another 'Great Game' metaphor… I wait with bated breath on your literacy reaching a level to handle Eleventeen Wagers of King Malachite."

There, I let out a scoffing breath of a laugh and turned my head fully away from Gale to meet his would-be gaze. "Eleventeen?"

"Ancient unicorns liked lists," Vow snapped with unusual terseness toward me given the dynamic of our usual relationship. When his wooden brow shifted to furrow, I found myself standing up to my full height (a fair bit taller than the androgynous dress form from which he was made). The show of authority did not improve his mood. "Say what you need to say to Her Majesty, get your head in whichever one of you is talking to Diadem, then find a way to blend into the furniture."


"If you want to win Her Majesty's hoof, consider that an order. I will explain in privacy. And when I do, I hope you will suffer me an esophagus and a liver so I can indulge in some kind of alcohol…" Vow made the noise of sighing despite not even having indents where his nostrils might have been and concluded "I am going to attend to more of my espionage now, but if you are in any doubt, speak to me before you take further foolish action. Are we clear?"

With a glare, I muttered "Sure."

"Wellth'n—" (I'm reasonably certain Vow coined that nonsense contraction) "Master Coil, I'll be back to me duties, 'eh? Less'n there's another thing else ya' need?" And without actually waiting for a reply to his other persona, he strode away into the crowd.

With that scalding critique still turning my skin red beneath my coat, I drew in a breath, huffed it out, and finally approached Gale. I knew in an instant she was furious by her choice of snacks from the buffet: the Equestrian Queen had selected a few sticks of celery and a bunch of red grapes. The former snapped like bones directly in front of her eyes before she tossed the bite-sized pieces into her mouth. The latter, she took a grim satisfaction in twisting until their stems gave in rather than merely plucking them from the bunch.

"What the fuck do you want?" she asked after a visible swallow.

"I'm sorry, Gale."

"And I'm the fucking Queen of Equestria," she muttered.

I raised a brow. "Um… you are?"

"Yes, I am." Gale turned toward me with her ears half-folded back, bit down the last of her celery, and bluntly stated "And everypony knows it. Great, whee. Tell ye old town cry-er."

"I… don't know what else to say."

Gale scowled, and then groaned, and then rolled her eyes and stomped a hoof, and finally said "I'm not mad at you… No, that's a lie. I shouldn't be mad at you. And I'm pissed that I am anyway. I know I put you up to this, and I know you and V—the Professor have some kind of plan going. It just… gah! This is stupid!"

"Not it's not," I said, and though the words sounded conciliatory, I was channeling Wintershimmer. "It's never stupid to sort through your emotions; emotions are the source of most stupidity. And I hope you feel like you can talk to me, whatever's bothering you."

"I can," Gale answered heavily, out of the corner of her mouth. "It won't do any good though."

"Try me." I wandered over to Gale's side, grabbed an apple (slightly awkwardly) in the frog of my very much not waxen hoof, took a crunching bite, and leaned against the table.

Gale nervously glanced around the room, and then spoke in a whisper that made her voice husky and raw. "I was seven when I had my first heat; I was in court with Mom when the feeling got strong enough that I realized something was happening. I interrupted her and Ty; I thought I was sick. Some of the nobles said something about the line being 'secure', and how it was only a matter of time until the 'race' started—I didn't know what they meant. But Dad took me home and explained to me what was going on. And then I understood. Ponies had been talking about me—not to me, but about me—literally as long as I can remember. So now when I hear you talk about giving up chasing my hoof and betting and… all of that shit, all I can hear is those seventy-whatever year old assholes commenting on me when I was a foal."

After a pause, I asked "Should I have actually killed Count Halo?"

As grim of a comment as that was (or perhaps because of it), Gale burst out laughing. "I let myself wish you had for a few minutes, but no." Her horn lit, and she adjusted a bit of her mane that had fallen across her muzzle in the course of her laughter. "I just… I don't actually have a lot of real friends, Morty. So I really, really don't want you of all ponies to wind up like that."

"If I do, you can stab me," I told her, to which she gave a good-natured roll of her eyes. "Want to practice?"


"Well, when I was exploring the house and setting up some rooms for a workshop and a library and a seance room and whatever, Angel and the Professor and I found this set of old dueling swords. And I know you're into that sort of thing…"

"Oh fuck yes," said Gale, donning maybe the widest, most unabashed grin I had ever seen. "I guess I should warn you that I'm gonna destroy you, though."

"I don't know," I answered. "I can do an awful lot with magic even when I'm not allowed to use it on you directly."

"Where do you wanna do this?" Gale asked.

I closed my eyes for a few seconds, and then explained "Other-me and Castle should be back with the swords in a couple minutes. In the meantime, there's somepony I should introduce you to. I—"

"Master Coil," interrupted Vow from seemingly out of thin air, speaking with barely constrained urgency in his preferred voice. His arrival was so sudden that I noticeably jumped, and even donned a wince when my instinctual reaction to a surprise of lighting up my horn caused a twinge of pain in my forehead. "There's something we need to discuss," he said, only casting the slightest tilt of his head toward the show of unintended magic, however slight.

"It's urgent?" Vow nodded fiercely, so I briefly offered Gale "Go see Diadem and Grayscale and I. That me should be free."

"Okay," she said, then glanced to Vow. "Is everything okay?"

"Nothing you need to worry about, Your Majesty," said Vow, and then added in parting "I know how to hide a body, if it comes to that."

He wasn't joking either about the knowledge or the implication of its possible application, but for now we'll follow Gale away through the party toward the micro-conclave of several of Equestria's finest wizards.

They still stood where Gale had first observed them; Diadem and Grayscale clad in their pajamas as I entertained them and settled a few notes of business. This Morty was accompanied by Cherry Tomato, looking far more natural in an undersized sleek black coat than Graargh had—even if his own red coat was perhaps a bit too close to the jacket's red trim to form elegant delineations at the fetlocks. Never as fashion-conscious as I, Gale hardly gave it a thought as she climbed the stairs; instead her attention was on the tail end of just one of our many conversations that day, fading into audible definition as her ears grew closer.

"—forcing my way through Tenets of Gravity, but it has been an absolute slog."

Grayscale nodded. "Not something you can cut your way through with your 'Razor', is it, Coil?"

Diadem rolled her eyes. "Grayscale, give Morty some credit. It's incredible he's reading Orbit at all, given where he was only a few weeks ago. Learned anything interesting from your reading, Morty?"

"Mostly, I've just lost most of my respect for Archmage Orbit," I answered. "And—ah, Gale! Come on up, join us."

"Hi, Your Majesty," said Cherry with his big friendly grin.

"Hello, Cherry…" Gale cocked a brow as she fully took in the colt's appearance. "Morty can really get you to do magic?"

"A little, so far," Cherry answered. "Once Lady Celestia teaches him more about other kinds of magic, I won't have to use blood, and then it should be a lot safer to practice."

Gale stared straight into my eyes and stated bluntly "Evil. Cult. Robes." Then, before I could object, she added "Is this you busy too, or just the other one?"

"I'm too busy for you?" I closed my eyes for a moment, then chuckled. "I… oh. Well, that will be fun to deal with. Well… swords. Right. Castle stopped me to talk about some kind of game with wooden mallets, so they might be a moment delayed. But you're welcome to join us here."

"How are you doing that?" Grayscale asked. "Surely even you aren't brave enough to fragment your mind, right? I could imagine a set of really good golem anima, but then you wouldn't be psychically linked…"

"Is that something I can learn?" Cherry asked, piping up.

I considered just answering the question and revealing my necromantic expertise to the other two wizards, but then a wry, teasing challenge snuck its way into my mind. "Archmage Diadem, do you have a guess?"

Diadem bit her cheek for a moment in thought, scrunched up her muzzle, and then raised a hoof frog up in a kind of half-shrug. "If I had to take a stab blind, I'd guess the fact that one of them is your real body is a misdirection, and rather than the three bodies talking directly to each other, they're proxied by a single controlling point… your real soul, set aside somewhere?" I let out a small gasp, and after a pause, she added "Oh, was I close? Wait; please tell me you didn't make yourself a lich for a party trick."

"No, no… I was just testing a hypothesis of how Wintershimmer did it, and I stumbled on this odd little application. Really, it's nothing." Lest a future reader be discouraged, that magic is definitely not 'nothing'. "Just a parlor trick." Also a lie. "I mean, it's fun, and it's occasionally practical to save some time, but you wouldn't want to use it in a battle or anything." Absolutely, patently false. "Part of today is an excuse to see how functional I can be in two places at once; and there are a lot of restrictions. The candlecorns can't still be me if they leave the house, I probably won't remember ninety percent of today's small talk in the morning…" I sighed and finally indulged the question on the tip of my tongue. "Not that it's a huge deal or anything, but… given I was under the impression you weren't much of a necromancer, how did you come to that conclusion?"

Diadem smiled and glanced down at her hooves rather sheepishly. "Well, Morty, I might not be Master Star Swirl—" I interrupted her explanation to spit on my own floor (thus disproving the ancient pegasus philosopher Diogeneighs centuries before the advent of the spitoon) "—but I know my way around magic. And if I might be so bold, well, Clover the Clever is every bit the wizard Wintershimmer was. Plus, I have the advantage of age." Then, looking up and meeting my gaze, she concluded "But it was a guess. An educated guess, but still mostly luck."

I tried my best to refrain from grinding my hoof into the floor in frustration, but the irritation snuck out regardless. "Well, I congratulate you for your insight," I answered, feeling utterly despondent that the senior mage had seen through what I assumed had taken Wintershimmer decades to perfect, and me the better part of three weeks to reproduce despite knowing (or at least strongly suspecting) how he had achieved the effect. "I suppose we can discuss more at our next lesson?"

"Oh, no, actually…" Diadem shook her head. "I was going to tell you then, but might as well save you the walk to the academy; you're done, Morty."

"I beg your pardon?"

"There's nothing more I can teach you. At least, nothing more that you can't just as easily teach yourself. You know your diphthongs and blended phonemes and we even covered all the unusual spellings you get from the loan words Cirran brought back into standard Equiish."

"Sure, but it still takes me minutes slowly sounding out words to get through any kind of sophisticated text. I mean, I'm literate enough to get through a foal's storybook just fine, but I'm nowhere near what I need if I want any kind of success in independent research. Can you imagine me reading the Tourmaline Grimoire at my level?" I let out a disdainful snort, to which Diadem answered with a gentle smile that only served to irritate me more.

"Morty, I'm sorry to have to say this, but the only thing separating your literacy from mine right now is practice. Just like how as foals we learn control of your telekinesis enough that it ceases to require a conscious thought, any kind of speed with reading comes from having seen a word enough that it's familiar. And you don't need me for that. Even if you did meet with me, all I could really offer at this point would be to catch a few words with unusual pronunciations, or to recommend books for your reading level. All you need is to keep investing time in reading. And in that regard, if you want to build up to the level of something like the Tourmaline Grimoire… well, having written my own thesis and read through the old entries, let me warn you that some of the older stuff uses language so archaic it's barely comprehensible as Equiish. But setting that, and King Tourmaline's borderline-illegible script, aside: books like Tenets of Gravity are exactly the sort of thing to keep working through. If you ever feel like dropping by the school after lecture hours, I'd be more than happy to recommend a few other books for you, though."

"But…" I sighed. "Isn't there a better way? Some sort of mnemonic enhancement spell or accelerated… something?"

Diadem shrugged. "You could ask Archmage Hourglass, if she's still around."

It was at this exact moment that my mind jumped to a very particular book and I had perhaps the worst idea in the history of Equestrian magic… but that's a different story.

"Hourglass?" asked Gale—and I took some amusement in the fact that Grayscale also cocked his head in confusion. "Like, King Ardor's wizard? From the stories about Canterlot?"

"She's real, Your Majesty," Diadem confirmed. "She showed up to help clean up the mess after Morty fought Wintershimmer. Given what she says about Canterlot, I'm not sure if it was actually a real place that the stories just exaggerated, or if she's pulling my leg. But near as I can tell, she really does travel through time. Or, at least, Master Star Swirl had met her before, and she's gotten younger since he was in his twenties."

The mention of cleaning up sent a jolt through my mind. "Oh, that reminds me. Does the old stallion still have Wintershimmer's staff?"

"The severed dragon's spine?" Grayscale asked. "Why would you even want to touch that?"

I shot an outright glare Grayscale's way, and felt my ears flick back without me even really thinking about it. "Gale and I are going to visit the Crystal Union, along with a small delegation, and while I'm there I'd like to pick up what Wintershimmer left behind—at least, whatever Star Swirl hasn't already plundered."

"Morty, please," said Diadem. "Can we not revisit this argument?"

"He asked," I replied. "I need the staff to disarm some of the wards and traps; not everything was just spoken passwords."

"Ah." Diadem nodded. "Master Star Swirl offered Celestia to accompany you and help deal with Wintershimmer's vaults, so I'm sure he can bring the staff along then."

"Well, that's very kind of him to offer, but his services won't be necessary. If he wants to take upon himself an independent excavation of Wintershimmer's vaults, I suppose I can't stop him, but I'm not going to help him either. And in the interest of intellectual openness, you should remind the Archmage that he was the specific pony Wintershimmer was thinking of when he installed what I'll call a borderline-paranoid series of traps." Brushing my hoof on my lapel and inspecting it purely in the petty interest of breaking eye contact (it wouldn't do to just stare into Diadem's soul; I wasn't threatening her), I concluded "I'll be up to the academy tomorrow to pick up the staff."

The borderline threat left an ominous silence in the gathering for a moment; one which was eventually filled when, much to everypony else present's surprise, Cherry Tomato added "And…"

I sighed. "Celestia would…" The words didn't feel right; I rubbed my hoof on the floor, and even lowered my gaze to it. "I was wondering…" Still wrong.

"Master Coil, you can do this; it isn't that hard," said Cherry.

I shot the young teen a harsh glance, though it only lasted a second before I had to admit in my mind that he was right. "What does it cost to enroll two students at your school, Archmage Diadem?"

"Hmm?" Diadem had a hint of a smile when I built up the spine to look her in the eye—not a cruel, victorious smile like most of the happiness one would find in social circles like these, but just a plain, friendly, genuine one. "Well… I see. Hear me out before you react to this number, because there is some nuance."

"Alright?" I raised a brow. "You realize money is basically no object to me?"

That got a snort of dis-amusement from Grayscale and even implacably optimistic Diadem rolled her eyes. "Tuition is ten thousand bits a year."

"I'm sorry; ten thousand? I saw the size of Grayscale's class; how can all those parents afford that kind of money? Are they all nobles' kids?"

"No; we offer what I call 'scholarships', based on need and talent. That way, ponies with a true passion or a natural talent can study regardless of their wealth, but… well, it's a bit shameful to admit outright, but at the end of the day, we're only able to offer the education to those ponies because we do accept at least a few ponies from families who have expectations of some magical training, even when they're a bit hopeless." Swallowing, the friendly archmage added "That being said… there is an entry exam. And—I'm assuming you're referring to Cherry as one of the prospective students—while Mr. Tomato here might prove that he's worth making an exception, we do usually require a show of some practical skill. And even if we did make such an exception, grading for courses also requires practical displays, and—"

I interrupted Diadem not by speaking, but simply with an upraised hoof.

"I will bet you his tuition that he can pass your practical exam right now."

Diadem frowned. "Morty, please don't be cruel to the young stallion. I'm sure Mr. Tomato is an exceptional student of magical theory, but he is an earth pony."

"You're not proposing sticking his soul in your body, are you?" Grayscale prodded.

I shook my head firmly, even as I reached my right forehoof into the breast of my jacket. "Nothing so drastic, no." Those words were, at least from the perspective of an outside observer, somewhat undercut when I produced from within my jacket a long, slender stoppered glass decanter, about the length from my knee to my fetlock. Its thick, opaque contents were obviously blood, even at a glance.

"Morty!" Gale shouted. "Is that yours?!"

"Stars no! That much blood loss would give me anemia." I shook my head.

"It's Lady Celestia's," Cherry added, once more making my lack of concern seem very troubling to the assembled group. "Am I really allowed to use your reserve, Master Coil?"

"It's a special case," I replied with a nod, handing him the vessel. "Now, let's see what Archmage Diadem's challenge is, shall we?"

"How is a bottle of blood going to let an earth pony do magic?" Gale asked.

I chuckled. "Just watch."

Diadem took a deep breath, and then nodded. "I'm not certain I'm comfortable taking on a student who's going to have to bleed Lady Celestia before every class…"

"Celestia and I are working on a more practical mechanism. For now, though, this will do."

"Very well… Cherry, before I continue: is this what you want?"

"Oh, yes, absolutely," said Cherry with a grin. "I had to talk Master Coil into teaching me. He didn't think I could do it either."

I nodded. "He saved my life. He's handy in a fight."

At that, Diadem frowned. "He's, what, thirteen?"


"Wintershimmer. Right." Clearing her throat and rising up to what I will call an 'academic' posture, Diadem lit up her horn. "Morty, may I borrow the vase there on the table?" The piece in question sat on a small table at the side of the hall; I dipped my chin to acquiesce to its use. No sooner had I done so than the vase flew violently over to hover beside Diadem—a rather sudden show of telekinetic brutality, given her calm demeanor. In another small surge from her horn, the vase disappeared, and in its place hovered a solid steel box whose face was set with an obvious keyhole, and what one could only conclude was a matching steel key. "I apologize for the lack of showponyship in the box; Master Star Swirl's omniomorphic spell is a vital tool, but I don't have any of his artistry or panache with it."

Cherry looked up in wide-eyed awe. "What's an 'amniomorphic spell'?"

"Omniomorphic," I corrected. "Meaning 'all shapes'. Before Star Swirl's research, you had to know a separate spell if you wanted to transform any object into another object. It was a different spell to turn something into a teacup than it was to turn something into a throwing knife. Being any good at transmutation meant memorizing far more spells than a mage who specialized in any other kind of magic. Now, if you know the omniomorphic spell, you've got the only transmutation magic you'll ever need."

"Well, sort of," corrected Diadem. "Compared to other specific transformational magic, the omniomorphic spell is horribly mana-inefficient, and it takes a lot of concentration so you'd never want to use it under any kind of pressure. It also can't be sealed to make the effect permanent. But in general, yes; it's an incredibly useful tool."

"Can I learn it?" Cherry asked.

"I don't actually know it myself," I answered. "Once I finish my thesis and get my hooves on Tourmaline's Grimoire, though, I'll let you read how it works with me. But for now, focus on your immediate goal."

"Okay," Cherry nodded. "So the key goes to the box?"

Diadem smiled gently. "Yes, it does. But not the way you'd usually lock or unlock a chest." Diadem's magic opened the lid of the box and placed the key inside. She made a show of demonstrating inserting the key into the back side of the lock (where the keyhole was also visible). She then closed the box with the key still in the inner keyhole, and the small group of us present all heard the distinct click of the box locking.

"This exercise is called Hematite's Reliquary. Please open the box."

"Oh," said Cherry. "So I have to get the key out of the box without opening it? Master Coil, can you teach me the glyph of teleportation."

"I can," I admitted. "But I think you know at least a few ways to do this without needing that lesson."

"Oh. Okay. Um… well, am I allowed to just turn the key on the inside lock like you did, Miss Diadem?"

"If you can exert that kind of telekinesis, then—"

"No," I interrupted. Diadem looked at me quizzically at the interruption. "Hematite's Reliquary is supposed to be administered with the chest made of lodestone, and the handle of the key either bolted to the bottom of the chest, or lined with void crystal. Or both."

Diadem shook her head. "That's the challenge Archmage Comet posed to Wintershimmer and Master Star Swirl, but it isn't exactly standard. Comet wasn't known for being a very fair teacher."

"I believe Cherry can do it," I answered. "To explain, Cherry: lodestone is a lesser magical resistor; you can do magic through it, but it requires much stronger exertion, and the more magically complex the spell the more it resists. So with the exception of a few powerful archmagi, it's considered impossible to teleport through lodestone. Void crystal is the same thing on a much, much stronger scale. It actively eats magic, and it's basically impossible to do magic anywhere near it. So for our purposes, you can touch the front of the key but not the handle. And while Celestia's blood is potent enough to work straight through lodestone for most of the spells you can cast, I'd like you to do this using only the raw cantrips we've worked through."

Grayscale blinked heavily at that in disbelief. "Don't you think you're being a bit harsh, Coil? He's still an apprentice."

I shook my head. "Cherry, why don't you tell Grayscale why you want to be a wizard."

"Well, because it feels like a good idea," he offered, prompting me to immediately slap my own hoof into my face. Thankfully, blissfully, unlike how I had grown used to Graargh's social ignorance, Cherry picked up on the fact that I wasn't satisfied with the information in that answer. "Um, I'm special; that's my talent mark. Like, I'm lucky. And I'm supposed to use it to help other ponies. And after I met Morty—er, Master Coil, I had this good good feeling that I was supposed to help him. So that's what I want to do. I want to be like him."

I nodded. "Which is to say: if you want to be a real wizard, who goes out slaying monsters and protecting the populace, you can absolutely beat this challenge with my restrictions."

"I do have an idea," Cherry admitted. "Master, can I use the Animus glyph we practiced? Does that count as a cantrip?"

I raised a brow. "It does... But before you use the blood for that, how are you thinking it will help?"

"Well, I might not know how to open the lock, but the lock itself probably does, right?"

I let out a small laugh, which put a frown on Cherry's face, and I immediately corrected myself. "No, no, Cherry; you didn't do anything wrong. That's a great idea; it won't work without a much more complicated variant of the animus glyph, but what you're proposing is possible. Remember, basic animii are very stupid. I'll teach you a better version next lesson, because that's an excellent use of abstraction."

"Abstraction?" Gale asked.

"Thinking like a wizard," I explained. "Viewing the world in terms of abstract qualities of a thing, and how those can be manipulated, instead of taking the world at its physical face-value."

"I agree," Diadem concurred. "That's a very impressive idea, Cherry."

"Thank you!" Cherry beamed. "But um… oh, that's another idea. Scrying is a cantrip, right?"

I nodded. "It is."

Cherry drew a small basic scrying glyph—lex video upon a circumscribing sigil of hither and thither with three-quarters-ish of a conciliatory adaptation (though I suspect that was less a deliberate choice to maximize the enormous power of Celestia's blood, and more sloppy hoof-writing, given I hadn't taught him anything about adaptations yet). The blood itself soon began to visibly bubble and roil; Grayscale took a small step back in concern, though there was no real danger other than at most a splash of red. Tendrils of dark red reached up from the sigil, and then wrapped together into a sort of helix above the glyph, before the pointed tip of the gathering collapsed in on itself, and what was once a spiral of tendrils became merely an orb. And finally, with a visible ripple, the glossy surface of the head-sized orb of blood went from a vague glossiness to an almost mirror shine. Gazing deeply into it, we watching wizards could observe… the interior of the box.

"I'm impressed you got that to work on your first try," I told Cherry—one reading might regard it as a harsh encouragement, especially when I added "Given your troubles with getting the glyph right when we were practicing earlier."

"I practiced a lot more at home," Cherry answered. When I gave him a concerned look, he added "I had to just use ink; I promise I'm following the rules."

"Ah. Well, good for you, Cherry."

"I have to practice hard if I'm gonna be as good of a wizard as you," he answered, before grabbing onto the orb with his hooves (which sank the barest fraction of an inch into the blood before apparently meeting solid resistance) and dragging it down so that it was hovering just above the floor. Then, pressing inward with the same hooves, he shrunk the ball until the image of the inside of the box, and the key laying on its 'floor' was (presumably) one-to-one scale.

"What's he doing?" Gale whispered to me. "Why make it smaller?"

"I have no idea," I answered, unable to contain my grin as I watched.

Once the size was right, Cherry further pushed the orb down onto the floor, effectively transforming it into a disc, albeit one which still cast the image of the box's interior.

Then, to pretty much everypony watching's shock (and it was at this point I noticed the admittedly grotesque display had gathered a few more watchers from my party), he drove his hoof down onto the image of the key itself. As arcane scholars amongst my readership will no doubt fail to be surprised to hear, this didn't 'pop' the scrying disk. Cherry seemed to be counting on that, however, or at least daring to hope for it. He smiled a bit, and muttered "That's lucky…" to himself, before tucking tongue at the right side of his mouth and pinching it between his lips in focus.

"Did you teach him all of this?"

I shook my head at Gale's question. "The great thing about a young apprentice is that they have no idea why ideas like this shouldn't work."

"He's only like five years younger than us," she observed.

"Yes, but he started magic just a couple weeks ago. He has no idea that he's only getting away with the reshaping because blood is sticky to itself enough to hold a coherent shape, or that once the magic runs out, this is going to be a disgusting mess."

I only noticed that Cherry had very deliberately put his hoof through the depiction of the key in the lock when he began to drag his foreleg through more of Celestia's blood, effectively tracing the shape of the key. Then he removed his hoof, lifted up the disc to hover at about head-height again, and set it aside to hover ominously in the air. The motion revealed that the exact shape and dimensions of the key were now painted in blood on my upper hallway floor, standing out harshly against the polished wooden floorboards.

"Okay… so now, I just need to use a force cantrip and I can make a new key…" Cherry started drawing furiously again.

"Brilliant!" said Diadem.

Grayscale gave a small nod. "I… credit where credit is due, that's quite an elegant solution: just making another key with the same teeth."

Both these comments came too early as to both his own and my embarrassment, Cherry's glyph hoofwriting proved insufficient to invoke the basic cantrip of evocative force three times in a row before, in a huff, he looked up at me. "What am I doing wrong? This worked when we had soup."

I chuckled. "You still have sloppy greater arcs, Cherry. Take a step back, breathe…"

"Oh. Oh!" Cherry slapped a hoof onto his forehead (smearing it with Celestia's blood), and then took about half a step back—not for the purpose of breathing despite my directions, but so that he was far enough away from his glyph that he could create an even arc by holding his foreleg fully extended and only rotating his shoulder, instead of shakily keeping an elegant swipe while manipulating both his fetlock and his knee.

With that motion finally, finally fixed, the sigil began to glow and a distinctly shaky but nevertheless presentable key of blood rose up from the floor, solid not so much because it was frozen as because it was surrounded in a field of magical force that most unicorns, elk, and other horned creatures would call 'telekinesis'. Being from hemomancy instead of a horn, the magical aura around the key was made of the very same blood as the key itself, so to anypony watching who didn't know any better, it looked like there was no aura at all. But when Cherry put the bloody key in the lock and twisted it (with his teeth—an action that made me cringe even despite my pride in my new pupil), the lock audibly clicked, and the lid of the box popped open.

"Bravo, Cherry Tomato," said Diadem. "Congratulations."

A few ponies dared to clap; I was among them. Cherry beamed at the show of approval.

Cutting through the noise, however, was the voice of one pony who had just crested the top of the stairs. "Dear Celestia! What's all this blood everywhere?!" gasped none other than High Castle himself, carrying a pair of long, slender straight-bladed fencing blades. "Did you get started early, Coil?"

"No," said two of my voices in tandem from very different places. One added more quietly "Well done, Cherry."

The other Morty, standing at Gale's side, snatched up one of the blades telekinetically. "Well, since we seem to have the whole party's attention now… Your Majesty, may I have this dance?"

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