• Published 1st Mar 2019
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Magisight: Thaumaturgical Ocularity - PsychicKid

A series of strange dreams and a new, burgeoning power sends Twilight on an adventure that will change her life forever.

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Chapter 15: Unveils the Garden

The ancient wooden steps creaked beneath Twilight’s hooves as she descended down, down, down into the earth. As the pair climbed deeper, the wooden walls gave way to a rough-packed soil. A rumble from above sounded as the light from the foyer faded. A thud echoed through the stairway and they were enveloped in darkness; the entry had sealed.

“Ya think Ivy knows about this place?” Applejack asked, her voice wavering as they approached the bottom of the staircase, stepping onto a damp loam floor.

“I’m not sure. I can still sense faint traces of… something. Whatever it is, it knew the secrets needed to get down here,” Twilight said, bringing her horn close to the ground. The magical illumination revealed a set of small hoofprints in the soil, leading down a long, dark corridor. “Ah-hah! I knew I felt somepony!” She dropped closer to the ground, her muzzle barely an inch above the dirt as the light dimmed.

“Uh, Twi,” Applejack said, “What in the hay are you doin’?”

“These hoofprints have the same magic signature as the entity I felt through the aether. Whoever they are, they’re definitely the same pony we’ve been tracking,” Twilight said, standing straight as her horn shone brilliantly once more. “I just hope our elusive friend is Hopeseed.”

Grassy vines snaked along the walls and floor as they followed the hoofprints, hampering their progress. Twilight spotted the occasional glowing mushroom growing from the cracks in the walls, giving the tunnel an eerie tint.

Oooh!” Twilight squealed, stepping close to one of the mushrooms. “These are dusk-caps! You don’t see too many of these around Ponyville.” The lavender hue of her horn’s magic mingled with the pale blue light of the mushroom, casting a dusky purple across her face. Faint swirls of magic wisped around the dusk-cap.

“Come on now, Twi, let’s not dawdle. We can always come back later,” Applejack said, cocking her head down the hall. “Besides, your horn’s the only useful light down here.” A chuckle escaped her lips. “Gotta keep them eyes forward, Twi.”

“Okay, mom,” Twilight muttered. “I’ll be careful.” She pursed her lips in irritation, grumbling as she carefully picked her way down the tunnel with her friend in tow.

After what felt like hours, Twilight spotted a dim light shining in the distance. She perked up, calling back, “We’re almost there, AJ!” Twilight reared back gleefully and broke into a gallop.

Applejack picked up behind, crying out, “Now hold your horses, I can’t see nothin’ without you!”

The two barreled out into a cavernous grotto, screeching to a halt as iridescent plant life shone brightly all around. As Twilight’s vision cleared, she gasped in awe: flowers with towering stalks overlooked shrubbery with massive bulbous bases; giant boulders covered in brightly-colored moss and vines peppered the landscape; bugs and insects of unreal size skittered about among the foliage and into hidden cracks. A gentle vapor wafted through the air, permeating this strange place with a scent not entirely unfamiliar, but which could not be placed.

Twilight stared across the expanse, her mouth working wordlessly. Magic emanated from the multitude of plants, their aetherial signatures blending with their natural glow. Pink, blue, orange, green, red—Twilight struggled to think of a hue she didn’t see. “I’ve never seen so much bioluminescent flora in one place before!”

“Bio—whozit?” Applejack asked softly, captivated by the enormity of the space.

“It means they give off their own light,” Twilight said as she let her own illumination spell flicker out. “Some plants use it to attract pollinators. Others can indicate a magical property that might be useful for things like potion brewing or alchemy.”

“Right,” Applejack murmured, nervously walking across a small patch of indigo grass. She approached a large flower, its stem soaring over her and terminating in a broad, flat head with sky-blue petals. “Still, they sure are pretty.” She cocked her head, as if listening. “Twi, I think there’s somethin’ out there…” she said, poking through a patch of tall grass as she meandered off.
Looking upward, Twilight spotted giant tree roots piercing the high ceiling, weaving through each other in every direction imaginable. She slowly walked beneath one, her gaze following its contours as she realized its scale. “Some of these roots are nearly as big around as your work wagon, AJ!” she said. Lush vines snaked along the roots, flowers blooming throughout their length.

“Oh my gosh! A soil scarab! Come look at this, Applejack!” Twilight said, fluttering quickly to get a closer look at a minuscule golden insect resting on a root. It flew off with a rapid buzzing as she neared. “And over there! An igneous iguana!” She bounded ahead a few paces. A mottled grey-and-green lizard scampered out from a crack in one of the boulders, disappearing into the grass.

“Applejack, are you seeing this?” Twilight said, glancing behind her. “AJ?” Her ears lowered and she scanned her surroundings nervously. “Applejack!”

“I’m over here, Twi!” came a voice from the thicket. “Quick, you gotta see this!”

Twilight sighed with relief, cantering past a small cluster of fireflies into the brush. “I’m coming! Did you find her?”

“Look!” Applejack said, pushing the thick grass aside as Twilight popped into view. Twilight looked through the opening and gasped, her eyes widening.

A shimmering blue pond was nestled among the grass, glowing with a faint light rivalling the plants around it. Warped images of insects reflected off its surface, their own magical glow creating an aurora mingling with the lights around. Lotus blossoms floated alongside lilies drifting aimlessly along the surface. A gentle trickle of water—decidedly not glowing, Twilight noted—fell from the ceiling soundlessly into the pond.

“I’d never imagine findin’ somethin’ like this underground…” Applejack said, gingerly taking a few steps out of the underbrush. Twilight spotted a twinkle in her friend’s eyes (From the water? She thought).

“Oh!” Twilight breathed, pointing across the water to a cluster of flowers seemingly hanging in midair. “Those are air lilies!” She waded through the grass, carefully stepping around the mass of vines carpeting the ground, until she stood beneath an enormous blossom. The smooth petals curved gracefully downward, nearly within hoof’s reach. Some of them idly floated to and fro, while others had their root systems spread out above and mingling with the tangle of vines and roots above. She spotted a few more around the clearing, gently bobbing up and down despite the still air.

“Feels like a swarm of jellyfish is after us,” Applejack said with a chuckle as she struggled through the grass.

“I’ve never seen them in them in the wild before. The only known specimens are being kept in Canterlot for preservation. They’re supposed to be nearly extinct! So how…” Twilight said, her voice lowering to a whisper. She unclasped her saddlebag to fetch her notes, balking as a shiver washed over her.

“Gettin’ chilly? It ain’t that cold down here.” Applejack said.

Twilight’s whole body shuddered, the sensation running along her spine from head to tail. As she regained her composure, she shook her head. “No… not exactly. It feels like a chill, but—this is different. It’s… Sad.” Twilight said with a frown, looking up at the floating flowers. Despite their splendor, she couldn’t muster up a smile.

As if on queue, Applejack yelped as she felt her own shiver creep down her back. “You ain’t kiddin’! That ain’t right.”

Twilight took a breath, closing her eyes. She grimaced as the white aura flared into her mind’s eye without prompting. Something about it felt different—no, wrong. It felt more complete in her perception, yet the finer details were still muted and shaking. Her ears twitched as a familiar sound drifted across the water.

“Applejack!” She whispered. “Do you hear… crying?”

Applejack put her hoof to her ear. “Yeah, I do.”

Twilight started as she caught a flicker of light from across the pond. She could feel this was not the light a bioluminant flower gave off—this was purely magical. “Over there, in the reeds!” A dozen or so air lilies drifted idly over the pond, seeming to congregate over the opposite shore. The two looked at one another, then took off around the lake. Twilight noted that the closer they got to the far side, the less vibrantly the grass glowed. As they struggled through the brush, the grass began to crackle, pieces of the dying plants falling to the ground as they brushed against them. The light from these leaves—both biological and magical—gradually dimmed. Their pace slowed as the sound grew louder: they were close.

Twilight peeked through a bare thistle cluster and spotted the source: a young filly, small even for yearling standards stood by the pond’s edge, rinsing a green-and-white bandana in the water. Her pale white coat was dirty and her bushy brown mane and tail seemed to be covered in needles, branches, and dead leaves.

Twilight approached carefully, stepping around the dry twigs and leaves to move in quietly. “Hello there, little one. Are you Hopeseed?” she asked, pausing a few steps away.

The filly yelped and jumped into the air, tumbling over herself and landing in the grass. The bandana fluttered through the air into the grass beside her.

“Hey now, it’s okay, don’t be scared! We’re here to help!” Applejack said with a smile.

The filly struggled out of the grass, staring at the two with wide, emerald eyes. She hastily tied the bandana around her neck. “Who… Who are you?” she stammered.

“I’m Twilight Sparkle,”

“And I’m Applejack!”

“And you’re Hopeseed, aren’t you? The other villagers have been looking all over for you.” Twilight said, taking a delicate step closer.

The young earth pony nodded with a timid murmur. “Yes, I’m Hopeseed… But I don’t want to go back to the village! They’re just gonna… gonna make me…” She sniffled, her legs quaking as she slowly stepped out of the reeds.

Twilight and Applejack quickly exchanged looks. “You mean the festival, right?” Twilight asked.

Hopeseed recoiled at her words, a hoof reflexively reaching for her bandana.

Applejack smiled. “What’s that you got there?” She asked warmly.

“Oh!” Hopeseed squeaked, perking up. “You mean my bandana? My mom made it for me a real long time ago. I got it all dirty so I was washing it.”

Twilight caught a faint glint on the filly. A brief pulse of light radiated from Hopeseed—no, from the bandana. How curious, she thought. “It must be very special to you then,” she said aloud.

Hopeseed nodded silently, flicking its free corner. “I’m not scared of this cave ‘cause I know I’m not alone when it’s with me.” She fidgeted with its knot, and a second sparkle flashed. Not just the bandana, Twilight noted—a nearby plant stalk brightened for the briefest of moments. The ephemeral lights shined in a color she had a hard time identifying.

Applejack reached out to touch one of the many wilting flowers, flinching as it broke free of its stem and fell to the ground with a soft crack. “Hey uh, y’all know what’s goin’ on with the plants? They ain’t seemin’ too lively.”

Twilight stared at the deceased flower, petals breaking off easily as Hopeseed prodded it idly. Everything around here is dead or dying, but why? The soil next to a pond of this size should more than suffice to feed them.

“I don’t know,” Hopeseed said, grinding the dry pistil underhoof. “They’ve been like this for a long time. Even the plants in my garden are getting sick.”

“Your garden?” Twilight asked. The dead grass around the filly seemed to sway, but they couldn’t have—this far underground, even the strongest gale would have trouble getting down here. I must have gotten less sleep than I thought.

“Yeah!” Hopeseed’s voice rose as she hopped excitedly in place. “I’ve been working really hard on it for forever. But ever since Ivy Bramble started nagging me about that dumb festival, it’s all getting sick,” she said with a sniffle, her muzzle twisting into a frown.

Twilight and Applejack exchanged a quick glance again. “Could we see your garden?” Twilight asked.

“If you can help me fix it. All the plants are really sick, ’specially the big one in the middle,” Hopeseed said. She kicked the last of the dying flower into the water and shuddered.

“We’ll do what we can,” Twilight said with a reassuring smile.

Hopeseed nodded slowly, eyes darting between the intruders as she considered. She untied her bandana and slung it around the back of her head, swiftly tying her mane back into it. “Alright. Follow me and stay close. I’m not going out to find you if you get lost.”

Hopeseed led Twilight and Applejack through the grotto, taking them further away from the entrance and down a tunnel on the far side. Much to their surprise, the flora began to thin out the further they went. Not dead or dying plants, but simply no plants at all lined the tunnel. Applejack nervously strayed away from the occasional stalk plants—she didn’t want to harm the only living things growing this far into the cave.

“Here it is!” Hopeseed said with a touch of pride in her voice. The tunnel widened and rows of dulled flowers flanked the path leading down the center of the garden. Though each plant was dimmed from their condition, the pair had no trouble seeing just from the sheer volume of glowing plants. Tall, short, round, square, star, flowering, stalked, leafy, brambly—Twilight squealed with joy as they trotted through this veritable encyclopedia of rare plant life. Her enthusiasm, however, waned like the surrounding plants, for as she approached she noticed that many plants were predominantly brown and dying—most in far worse shape.

“Land’s sake…” Applejack muttered, equal parts impressed and concerned. A cold chill came over her, making her shiver.

“Wow,” Twilight said, gaze darting about as she tried to take in every little detail. “Hopeseed, did you grow all of this? There’s a lot here for just one pony to manage all by herself.” She looked around—no flourish of colors, either mundane or magical. Just a bare baseline of bioluminescence casting dim light around the grove. The scope of the garden was indeed impressive, but the health of the plants made her heart twinge.

Hopeseed nodded—a small, fleeting smile briefly crossed her lips. “It used to be all bright and alive, but that stupid festival…” she kicked at the dirt and sighed. “My plants got sicker and sicker the closer we got to it. Now I don’t know what to do with them.”

Twilight examined the rows of flowers, her heart dropping as a sense of dread draped itself on her like a coat made for Big Macintosh. There’s something definitely wrong here, but what? If it was magical in nature, she couldn’t sense it. Hopeseed’s voice broke through her pondering.

“There’s a special one I wanna to show you. It’s really pretty and really important to me, and I don’t know what I’m gonna do if it ends up… like the rest,” Hopeseed said, her voice trailing off. Without waiting for Twilight or Applejack, she made her way further down the trail.

Applejack grimaced as they passed row after row of wilted flowerbeds. She looked to Twilight, opening her mouth to speak, but found her words suddenly difficult to recall as she followed her gaze. The duo stopped in their tracks, riveted by the centerpiece: atop a small mound lay rooted a towering stalk—three fillies high, in Applejack’s estimate—with at least a dozen golden blooms, each notably bearing a single silvery heart-topped stamen sprouting from the center. Despite their impressive size, the flowers seemed… tarnished somehow.

“This is the best one!” Hopeseed beamed as she leapt up to its side. “But no matter what I do, it keeps getting sicker. Every time I come down here—” She gently nudged the lowest bloom, letting out a whimper as all but one petal fell to the ground.

Applejack moved closer—craning her neck to get a look at the tallest blooms—and prodded the remaining petal. It crinkled like paper, threatening to break off like the rest. “Somethin’ ain’t right here. This ain’t like any blight I’ve ever seen at the farm. What do you make of it, Twi?”

Twilight did not respond, her attention entirely fixated on the plant. She spotted a small, almost invisible veil of magic surrounding each flower, but it faded in time. She felt something stir in her mind.

“Twi? You okay?” Applejack asked nervously.

Another moment of silence hung over the group before Twilight suddenly exclaimed, “I’ve seen this before!” Her eyes screwed shut as she skimmed her memory for a long-forgotten piece of research from her early days as Celestia’s pupil. “Hopeseed, do you have any idea what this is?”

“Well—I—uhm…” Hopeseed stammered, staring at her hooves. “I saw some buds sprouting here, so I just started taking care of them. It used to look a lot brighter, I promise!”

Twilight smiled gently, the image from her books finally solidifying in her mind. “This is a Royal Gladiolus.”

Applejack raised an eyebrow. “I’ve seen gladioluses, heck, we grow a bunch of ‘em for Rose back on the farm. But I ain’t never heard of a royal gladiolus,” she said.

Twilight cleared her throat. “It’s an extinct flower—or was an extinct flower,” she said, carefully examining one of the blooms. “They haven’t been seen since the banishment of Nightmare Moon over a thousand years ago.”

Hopeseed gulped, her ears folding back with dismay. “A thousand years?” She squeaked. “And I just… killed it?” She started to whimper, tears welling up.

“No, we can fix this!” Twilight said brightly. At least, I hope we can. “We just need to—”

Twilight’s breath caught in her throat as a sudden aura surged from Hopeseed, filling the air with an inky blackness. When it came into contact with the surrounding flowers, they shriveled up even further. A few of them dried and cracked, dropping to the ground.

Hopeseed sniffled, fighting back tears. “See? They’re all dying, and I can’t fix it! They used to be so bright and colorful but now they’re…” she coughed, a loud and wracking sound causing her whole body to convulse. “I hate it!”

That’s it! Twilight thought, all of the pieces of the puzzle finally dropping into place. Hopeseed is causing this, but not in the way she thinks. She moved closer to Hopeseed, the dried grass crunching under her hooves as more plants wilted and died.

“You’re worried about the festival, aren’t you?” Twilight asked as she crouched by Hopeseed’s side and draped a wing over her back.

Hopeseed perked up in surprise, a choked sob escaping her lips. “Yes,” came the weak reply. She idly traced a hoof in the dirt, a tear rolling down her cheek. “I can’t do it. I can’t find a silver-gold blossom. I’m not good enough.”

“Hopeseed, you’ve grown a very rare plant, one everypony thought went extinct over a millennium ago. Even if it’s sick, I think that’s proof that you are good enough,” Twilight said, flashing a beaming smile down at Hopeseed.

“But it shouldn’t even be sick!” Hopeseed wailed. “It was doing fine until everypony started getting ready for that dumb festival! I just… I just…”

Applejack cleared her throat. “Hey now, let’s not get all fussy. I know you’re worried about your garden, but you ain’t being real honest with yourself right now.”

Hopeseed fidgeted against Twilight, shrugging off her wing.“What’s that supposed to mean?” She asked with a quiver in her voice.

“Your mom made that for you, right?” Applejack asked, pointing at the bandana.

Hopeseed nodded, sniffling.

“Y’all don’t wanna leave her, or leave the village, so you holed up down here. But all that worryin’ about the festival is makin’ your garden suffer!”

Hopeseed, tilted her head in confusion, mumbling under her breath. Twilight glanced at her, nodding as a smile spread over her face.

“My orchard back home needs more’n just rain and sunshine to grow. Sure, those are the important bits everypony knows, but more than that you need love and integrity. Where we’re from, the Apple family is the best when it comes to growin’ apples. It ain’t no family secret—ya can’t just pull this stuff outta the sky. Carin’ for the trees comes from the heart!” Applejack said proudly, holding her head high as she struck a confident pose.

“AJ’s onto something,” Twilight said, kneeling to look Hopeseed in the eyes. “I have a very special gift that lets me see magic, and I’ve been seeing a lot of magic coming from you, Hopeseed. Your feelings help guide the plants all around, and when you’re upset…” she drifted off, her gaze drifting toward the gladiolus petals lying on the ground.

Hopeseed gulped nervously as she looked up at Twilight. “That doesn’t…” she stammered, “What’re you talking about? I can’t—I mean, I don’t think—”

“I know it’s confusing,” Twilight interrupted. She tapped her chin, rolling the words around in her head. How can I say this so she’ll understand? I barely understand it myself! “Think of it like this,” she began, “have you ever been so sad that someone close to you felt sad too?”

Hopeseed nervously rubbed one foreleg against the other. “Th-there was one time I was playing with my friends, and I tripped and fell and I scraped my leg up and started crying a whole bunch, ‘cause it really hurt! My friends started crying too until Mom showed up.”

“I think the same kind of empathetic response is what’s happening to your garden… The plants feel bad because you’re feeling down,” Twilight said. She gingerly touched Hopeseed’s shoulder, gazing out over the wilted flora.

“Huh,” Applejack grunted, “Y’mean all the love an’ care I give the orchard is actually magic?”

“That’s my working hypothesis, at least!” Twilight said, beaming.

“Well I’ll be a pig’s uncle,” Applejack muttered, dropping to her haunches as her mouth hung agape.

Hopeseed gulped nervously, looking up to Twilight. “W-what do…” she stammered, “What can I do to stop it?”

“You’ve come this far, sugarcube, ain’t ya?” Applejack said, playfully ruffling Hopeseed’s mane. “Well, maybe with a lil’ help from your mom,” she chuckled.

Twilight unconsciously bit her lip as she carefully watched flecks of magic float from Hopeseed’s bandana, weaving their way up and into the dying blooms. A spark of positivity, she decided. The gentle swirling blend of the filly’s white aura mingling with wisps of grey flowing from the fabric. The stem of the royal gladiolus shivered as the magic seeped into it, the flowers ever so slightly shining brighter.

It all adds up… Twilight thought. “Hopeseed, how long have you been down here?”

“A-a while,” Hopeseed whimpered. “I hid when they started putting up the festival stuff.”

“And when did you start working on this garden?”

“About… six moons ago?” Hopeseed said, her voice shaky.

“You weren’t worried about the festival six moons ago, were you?” Twilight said, smiling as she gently touched a healthier bloom.

“I-I don’t think so… Six moons is a long time!” Hopeseed said.

“And your garden was doing so well then! The festival wasn’t on your mind back then, but a little bit of doubt started to creep in as it got closer, didn’t it?” Twilight said, holding open an inviting wing.

“I—uhm—well, I…” Hopeseed stammered. She instinctively took a few steps into Twilight’s embrace, her eyes unfocused as thoughts tumbled through her mind.

“The very fact that you could grow something so rare and precious on your own speaks volumes about your love for plants,” Twilight said. She touched Hopeseed’s bandana with a hoof. “I can tell your mom put a lot of love for you into this. Love is a very powerful source of magic. It even has its very own Princess,” she said with a gentle giggle.

“If you can take all of your love for this garden and put it into the ceremony tonight, you’ll lick it for sure!” Applejack said with a wink.

Hopeseed looked up at her gladiolus, a small tendril of magic swirling into a flower. The petals regained a little of their intended shine, and she smiled. The bloom straightened itself as the petals slowly curled open. Twilight could only watch as a sudden burst of magic emanated from the filly, washing over the entire garden. The plants rocked as if struck by a gust of wind, swaying as Hopeseed’s love fed into them. One by one, the decrepit flowers perked up, a gentle glow filling the grotto.

“I know it’s scary. Coming of age, I mean,” Twilight said, pulling Hopeseed close under her wing. “Your garden is scared too. But I know if you show the village what you just showed us, the tree will have to let you stay.”

Hopeseed gulped, faint gray wisps tinting the flow of magic. “I still don’t want to do it… And I’m not sure I want Ivy to know about the garden yet.”

“I know, sugarcube. But if you don’t face your fears, it’s gonna eat at you forever. Much as I hate to say it, if you stay cooped up down here I reckon they ain’t gonna let you back up,” Applejack said. She walked around the base of the mound, nodding as each flower started to shimmer dimly. “An’ if you let that happen, your garden ain’t never gonna get better.”

Hopeseed looked out over her garden. She stood still in thought as her flowers grew, each one adding their color to the walls. With a sigh, she kicked at a small rock and watched as it tumbled down the hill into the grass below.

“You really think so?” Hopeseed asked, looking at Twilight and Applejack. “I want to help my garden, but I’m just so…” she hesitated. “I’m so scared. If I leave it might get worse, a-and I don’t want anypony to be mad at me for being down here!”

“Nopony is going to be mad at you, Hopeseed,” Twilight said, smiling warmly. “But we need to let everypony know you’re safe. Trust me, this is something you can do.”

Hopeseed looked around—first to Applejack, then to Twilight, her gaze finally coming to rest on the Royal Gladiolus looming above. “Okay,” she said with certainty. “I’ll do it.”

Twilight grinned as another pulse of white magic flowed from Hopeseed. It was gentle and thin, lingering in the air and covering the plants like early morning’s dew. The trio made their way out of the garden, Hopeseed confidently striding ahead. As the darkness of the tunnel enveloped her, Twilight took one last look at the garden. Her heart swelled, knowing this young filly would succeed; standing proud, the Royal Gladiolus shined in full glory as every flower blossomed and cast prismatic light all around.

“Hey, Twi!” Applejack yelled. “You comin’? Hopeseed here reckons it’s almost time for the festival, and I—”

“Of course,” Twilight chuckled, rejoining her friends. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”