• Published 10th Jun 2020
  • 765 Views, 31 Comments

Splintershard - TheMajorTechie



Once upon a time, Equestria flourished. That time is now long-gone.

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2|2 ◈ The Ice

And so, the frigid beasts were banished once and for all,

Never to return again.

But in their place,

Came the flames of sun.


"C'mon, you gotta buck those trees harder! Even mah frail ol' legs can hit 'em harder than you!"

Emily rolled her eyes, winding up to kick again. What a way to start the morning.

Thump.

"Harder! Again!" Ambrosia barked. This side of her was far scarier than the pleasant granny that took her in a couple of nights back. To be honest, the old mare reminded her of a gym teacher.

Thump.

An apple dropped from the branches. Emily grinned, picking it up in her mouth. "I gothf onge! Looth, I gig ith!"

"Good, good!" Granny Ambrosia clapped her hooves. "Now, do it again. One apple ain't gonna be enough for a hearty breakfast, y'know."

Emily groaned.


Thump.

"Only five more to go!" Granny Ambrosia picked up a filled basket. "Ah'ma take these inside and get started. You just keep on pickin'."

"Here. Star--" Emily took a step back--"What if I try picking the apples using my telekinesis?"

Starlight piped up almost immediately after she said that. "Emi, are you sure that's a good idea? You could only barely lift a pillow last night. What makes you think you can--"

The mare grunted, already tugging on a nearby apple with her flickering aura.

"--Oh."

The flame was already burning, right? Emily focused harder. The spark was definitely there already, given how she was already using the spell and all... she just needed more fuel.

"Star, gimme your mana. I'm gonna make these apples rain down."

"Emily, I can't just give you mana!"

Fine then. She turned her focus to the branch. There were... three--no, four apples on it. She sucked in a breath, reaching out for the three other apples. She could feel the shape of each one. This one was plump and round. The next one was a little more elongated, as were the last two. Wherever it was that she drew her mana from, she could feel its energy flowing through her body now. The faint aura surrounding her misshapen horn strengthened, growing in brightness as wispy tendrils reached out to the other apples.

She could feel them now. It was like... like she was physically grabbing them with her hands...back when she still had them, that is. Either way--the apples were in her grasp. She began tugging downward. Gravity already lent some assistance to the action, so at the very least it was a little easier.

But wait. Pulling them down wouldn't be enough, would it? She'd probably break the stems off before ever actually picking these things.

Think. The stems are--

"Grab the branch, pull the apple up, and twist."

Oh. Okay.

The first apple began to lift as she dropped her hold on the others, shifting instead to the branch itself. A good jerk of a twist would probably do well here.

Thump. The apple fell from her grasp almost immediately after it came off the branch. Emily grinned, turning her focus to the next apple.

Thump.

And the next.

Thump.

Thump.

"That... took an unnecessarily long time for you to pick five apples. You could've just asked, y'know."

Emily shook her head. This was an opportunity to practice her magic. And there was one more apple anyway.

Thump.

Now then. All she had to do now was pick them up and bring them in. She reached out with her aura again, enveloping one of the apples that dropped. It already felt far easier to manipulate than the pillow last night, so carrying a few more at once wouldn't be that hard, right?

Emily dropped the apple.

"Emi, I think you might be taking this a little too fast. You literally just started using magic last night. Shouldn't you take a brea--"

"No."

"Fine then. Be that way."

The door slammed open. "Emily!" Ambrosia shouted, "What's takin' ya so long? Ah've been waiting minutes for you to bring those last apples in!"

Emily looked at the apple she'd dropped, then the four others on the ground. "Yeah, fine. Starlight, you can take these."


So, breakfast was just as apple-filled as she'd expected. Not like there was anything else to expect anyway.

Emily pulled another textbook from her backpack, sliding it under the bed. For all the drill-seargent-ness Ambrosia showed off this morning, at least she let her keep her stuff here. Things like books and what was left of her tattered clothing were definitely gonna stay behind.

She slid her phone out next, lifting it with her magic. This was light enough to pick up without trouble at least. Not that she'd be able to use it anyway. She set it down on top of the second textbook.

"Would you like a new saddlebag, dear?" Granny Ambrosia shuffled up behind her with a musty sack dangling from her mouth. "My son left some of his belongings behind when he moved to the city. Ah'm sure he'd understand if Ah gave them to you."

The old mare set the surprisingly-lightweight bags on Emily's back. "You're headin' up to the Crystal Empire, right? You'll need a warm cloak, too. Ah'll getcha one."

Before Emily could respond, Granny Ambrosia had already left again. She looked back to her backpack. To be honest, there really wasn't much that she should bring with her. The notepad and pencils might be useful, as would the cash... she flipped her backpack over, shaking out the remainder of its contents. The second shard from the Tree of Harmony could be useful, too, though what use it could have was lost on her. Chances are she'd probably need it for some high-level magical shenanigans or something. Speaking of magic--what were Starlight's thoughts on stuff to bring?

"Food would be a wise idea. Both of us still need to recharge our mana, after all."

Right. Emily picked up the smashed granola bars that'd been sitting for who-knows-how-long at the bottom of the backpack, setting them alongside the notepad and crystal. She did the same with the remaining tins of candied apples. Even if she did grow tired of the stuff several cans ago, food was still food. Though, something felt... missing.

"My spoon--" the mare gasped, grabbing her old pants by a leg. She checked the pockets. "Where'd that spoon go?"

"'Dunno. Probably got obliterated in the blast alongside that stick you found."

Fair enough. It was a nice spoon, though.

"Here's the cloak!" Granny Ambrosia chirped, setting another bundle of fabric down beside Emily. "Is there anything else that you'd like to bring? Maybe some more food, or a canteen for drinks?"

"Nah, I think I'm good. Thanks, though!"

The old mare smiled, turning around and leaving again.

"Now then--" Emily craned her neck in a feeble attempt to reach the flap of the saddlebags--"how the heck do I get stuff into this thing?"

After several unsuccessful attempts at nipping the flap, Emily rolled her eyes and shook the bags off her back. "Hey Star, how 'bout we head out and practice my walking for a bit? I don't think we're gonna be able to leave by today like I hoped we would."

"Sure. We should have lunch first, though."

...Wasn't breakfast only half an hour ago?


Emily pushed herself off the ground.

"'Kay, that was good! You're improving very quickly for someone who hasn't been in their body for even a week yet. Let's get some practice in on your magic now."

"Heh. Thanks," she sat down. "Though, since I'm on all fours, I'm pretty sure it's more a matter of figuring out how to walk than to stand. The hard part's already over. Anyway, I'm guessing we're gonna do more levitation and stuff?"

"Yup. Now then. You see that pebble next to the tree there?"

Emily nodded.

"I want you to pick it up and place it in front of yourself without ever touching it."

Another nod. Emily took a deep breath, mentally reaching for the stone. It wasn't so much a pebble as it was a decently-sized cobblestone. Hopefully, that'd make it easier to pick up. Her horn burst to life with pulsing mana. Just like with the apples, grabbing onto the stone felt hardly any different from picking something up with her hands. The only difference was the effort it took to do it.

Short to say, not only was the rock heavier than the apples, but her strength in comparison to her human body was far lower in the first place.

Her hold on the cobblestone fizzled out. "Star," Emily groaned, "how do you control your mana? I hardly feel anything when I'm casting spells. It's just this... this wave that washes over me. I don't know where it comes from. I just know that it's there."

"Well, I like to think of it as a sort of pressure inside you, for starters. You can tell when you're running out when your spells begin to weaken. As far as casting spells go, it's sort of like opening a valve in a way. Yes, we do have dedicated organs that generate and hold thaumic energy, but there's really no real way to control it. Controlling mana usage is up to the user. When casting a spell, you normally make available your entire mana reserve at the beginning, but place a limit on how much of it is actually going to be used."

"So you're saying I'm just weak."

She chuckled as Starlight's voice fell into a panic. "No no--I'm not saying you're weak at all! I'm saying that you're wasting energy on other things. Or holding back. But with how hard you've been trying, you might be overthinking the spell. Start with the absolute basics: look at your target, and imagine where it needs to go. If your mana pool is active, then that should result in the spell being cast. You get what I'm saying?"

"I... guess?" Emily turned her focus back to the stone.

The cobblestone was there, under the tree. She wanted it to go up, through the air, and down again in front of her.

"Yes, continue."

Now then. The rock was pretty flat as far as rocks go, being more a rounded slab than anything, really. If she were to pick it up with her hands, she'd grab it with her thumb on the to--

"No, no!" Starlight burst, "You're overthinking it again! You're treating magic like a physical extension of your body. You need to stop thinking about what you would've done, and think more about what you are doing."

"So live in the now."

"If that's what you're gonna call it, then I'm fine by that."

Alright. Live in the now. Don't think about how she would've done it before. Got it. Emily craned her neck for a better view of the stone. Sure enough, it was still sitting there, still as ever. Once again, it needed to come up, over and down. Ignore her painful lack of hands, and focus on the magic. Her aura didn't necessarily act like a hand, more... sort of something like oobleck. A non-Newtonian fluid. Whatever it's called. Either way--from the past few times she'd used it, it tended to wrap around an object, whether it be the whole thing or just a part of it.

And in this case, it would be best to envelop the entire rock. She watched her aura spread over the surface of the cobblestone. Now, she had to lift it. Surprisingly enough, she could now feel the weight of the thing. Didn't Starlight say that magic isn't a physical extension?

Emily banished the thought. What mattered now was that in feeling its weight, she now knew exactly where the rock was. She sucked in a breath, holding it as the rock began to lift. Without the ground supporting it from underneath, it felt noticeably heavier than before, though it wasn't unmanageable just yet.

She let out a sigh. It actually worked! Now... how did this need to happen? The cobblestone was still there, hovering just above the ground. Did she just have to will it to move now? She took in the surrounding environment. From where it hovered, the rock could just take a direct path to its destination.

Now. She clenched her eyes shut, gritting her teeth as she mentally began to move the rock. She could feel its weight approaching her now; a looming mass of stone, occasionally brushing against the grass underneath.

A wide grin formed on the mare's face as she felt something cool and hard brush past her hoof. Emily's eyes shot open.

"I did it! Look Star, I levitated the rock! It was a heckuvalot harder than the pillow last night no thanks to how far away it was, but I did it!"

"Hm. That's great, Emi. You did well."

Emily cut the spell and let the stone drop to her side. "Something wrong, Star?"

"No, it's just... I'm genuinely surprised at how quickly you changed after you got... well, transformed. Before then, half the time it felt like you were always doing everything in your power to get on my nerves, but now?" Emily could feel a shrug coming from the mare living in her head. "I honestly don't know. I'm just surprised, that's all."

"I mean, realizing I'd be stuck in this place for good in this body without your help probably made a difference."

"Yeah, I guess so. C'mon now, it's getting late already. Want me to teach you a light spell on the way back?"

Already? Emily peered at the sky. Sure enough, she could see the glowing yellow and orange hues of sunset forming on the horizon.

Also, yes.


"How'd your walkin' practice go?" Ambrosia set some mashed potatoes on the table. "Ah suppose it went well since you're here in one piece! You were in such a rush after finishing lunch that Ah thought you'd slam yourself on the door before Ah could open it for ya!"

Emily banished that memory from her head again. "Yup! I think I'm starting to get the hang of it now! I also practiced some magic out by the edge of the orchard, too. Watch--" she lit her horn, letting the off-white light emanating from the tip brighten a little bit more. "I learned how to create light on the way back! I only burned myself once while doing it, too!"

"Yeah," Starlight grumbled, "and it took me taking control and leading you to the hose to put you out. You're welcome for that, by the way. Just be glad that light fires don't actually burn anything."

...There was absolutely a joke about leading a horse to water in that. She could feel it.

The sound of Starlight's facehoof came as expected.

"Hm. Ah suppose a spell like that'd be useful in a pinch. Guessing you're leavin' tomorrow?"

Emily nodded, lifting her spoon with her magic. She set it down again, grinning. Up, down, up, down, up, do--

"Stop playin' with your food!" Ambrosia scolded. "Ah know you just learnt yourself some magics today, but now ain't the time to practice it."

Fine then. Emily stuck the spoon in her mouth, crossing her forelegs. Arms? Hooves? She didn't know anymore. She swallowed her food, scooping up another spoonful of potatoes. It was probably best to go straight to bed after dinner, with what she'd planned for tomorrow.


Well, today's the day, dreamless sleep be darned. Emily stretched on her bed. At least she didn't have to wake up confused again.

"Hey Star, you ready to travel north?"

"Yes."

The mare nodded. "Good, 'cause we're leaving today." she lit her horn, tugging on her saddlebags by their strap. "Actually... uh, Starlight?"

The color of the aura enveloping the strap shifted color as Starlight hoisted the bags up.

"Thanks. Still need to get better at picking things up without intense concentration."

"Eh, you'll get around to it. It's only been a couple days anyway."

Emily nodded. She'd get better with some more practice. For now though, she had a mission to accomplish. Taking a final, cursory look at her old belongings, she left the room.

Try not to fall down the stairs, wave goodbye to Ambrosia, head out the door, and go straight to Aero's place. Considering how she only tripped twice the entire journey, she was making great progress on her walking!

Now then. Emily raised a hoof to knock on the door. Aero did say that he'd be willing to take her, right? It was still pretty early. Maybe he was still asleep?

"Well, why don't you knock and find out then? Standing there isn't going to tell you anything."

Yeah. Knocking. She stared at her hoof. She didn't exactly have knuckles anymore, so... was she just supposed to punch the door or something? Was that how ponies knocked?

Aero opened the door before she could make up her mind. "Oh, hey. You're here."

"Yup. You ready to go to the Crystal Empire?"

"Yeah, I guess. Come in. I've already forged some papers for you."

...Wait, he can do that? Emily pushed the thought aside. There were more important matters.

"So--" Aero held up a manila folder... somehow. "I've got papers in here and an ID card saying that you're my niece. If anyone asks, tell 'em that I'm giving you a tour of Whirlwind Company's Crystal Empire research center. I may be retired, but I've got good enough connections to back up our little fib. I've got Tornado in on the loop, so if we need him to call in, then he'll call in."

"So... that means we can leave now?"

"Yeah, I guess." Aero wandered into the kitchen. "Lemme just finish my coffee first. Drowsy driving ain't a joke."


Emily sat her chin on the windowsill. From here on for however more hours, it was just going to be waiting. No exciting spell practice, no exploring, nothing. Just waiting. She could feel her heart pounding in her chest. Was she really going to be ready for this? What if the scroll wasn't in the Crystal Empire either? What happens if she's caught and sent back to Ponyville?

"Woah. Calm down there, Emi, it's just a train ride. We'll deal with those things when we get to them. There's nothing more we can do to prepare anyway."

She felt the train lurch forward. Slowly, the scenery outside began to move as the train eased out of the station. She raised her head at the sound of Aero's voice on the intercom.

"Alrighty. Thank you for riding the Aero Express. Our current destination, per the request of our one and only passenger, is Canterlot City. We will make no stops or slowdowns. If you feel hungry along the way, feel free to visit the snack stand at the front of the car. Again, thank you for riding!"

So that happened, apparently. Also, Canterlot? Weren't they heading for--

"We're probably transferring to a different line there. Chances are the Ponyville line doesn't go all the way to the Crystal Empire."

"Oh." Emily set her chin on the windowsill again. "Okay."

So this is what it's come to, hasn't it? She--Emily Ashton, the queen of sass and screwups--was stuck here in Equestria. Jumped into a portal, got herself wrapped up in international conflicts, lost her freakin' body, of all things... and now, here she was, on a train to a third nation, on a quest to sabotage ongoing research to prevent the use of a who-knows-how-old scroll written by the actual voice in her head as a superweapon.

Weird.

Then again, this was what she asked for, wasn't it? She wanted something exciting to happen. Or at least, something different. Somewhere out there, somehow, the universe must've heard. It's not like Starlight could've careened into her head completely by chance, after all. She could've very well gotten stuck in a bug, of all things, and that'd be the end of her for good.

"Hey!"

Still--she had a point. Why her? It could've been just about anyone or anything else, and yet she was the one that discovered Starlight. She was the one that made the decision to hop into the portal in that bathroom stall. She--

"Alright, Emi, I think you're getting a little ahead of yourself. The last thing we need while we look for that scroll is an existential crisis."

"Yeah, I guess..." the mare watched a tree pass by the window. "Honestly, I don't know what to say anymore. It's like something just clicked in me. I just... I don't know how to say it... realized, I guess--that all of this is happening. That it's all real. Deep down, I'm still not sure if I can believe it." She sighed. "Well, I'm going to try and sleep off these thoughts for now. It's not like there's anything else to do while we're heading to Canterlot, anyway."

"Alright."


This dream again.

She could feel it.

Emily sat up, flexing her fingers. It felt good to have them again.

"Hey, you're finally awake." Her duplicate sat down beside her. "What's new?"

"Learned some magic. Hey, I've got a question--" Emily gestured at the monolithic crystal before them. "What do you know about that? You said you didn't know why there's another me stuck in there, but what about the thing itself? And what about that voice from last ti--"

"Again, I don't know. That's for you to find out."

The girl sighed. "Of course it is. So anyway, why am I here again? Couldn't you have showed up or something last time I slept?"

Her clone shrugged.

"Then what's the point of me even having these weird dreams? Yeah, they're interesting and all, but what do they mean?"

Another shrug. Another sigh.

"Well... I guess you wouldn't know, either. And neither would the me stuck in the crystal. It's still my dream, so all of you... me?-- are still only projections of myself."

"Yes."

Man. Lucid dreaming was weird. Emily stood up, brushing off her shorts. "So, I'm guessing you've got something to tell me then. Is that why I'm in this dream again?"

The other her shook her head. "No, actually. I wasn't expecting you, either."

"Oh."

"But--" the other Emily added, "I think you might want to see this--" she stood up and walked a little closer to the giant crystal--"look a little closer. Doesn't it look like she's moved since the last time you were here?"

Emily narrowed her eyes. It wasn't all that noticeable, but something had definitely shifted. As a whole, the Emily within the crystal was still curled up, her closed eyes barely visible behind her arms. But one of her hands... had it always been facing that direction? She placed a hand on the crystal's surface.

"Emm... i... llly--" that same disembodied voice wheezed again when she pulled her hand away. The ground shuddered for a moment before ceasing again.

"Well then. I guess I shouldn't be disturbing her sleep agai--"

An ear-splitting crackle burst through the air.

"Ack--what was that?" Emily glanced again at the crystal. "Oh."

"You... you cracked it."

Before she could respond, the world plunged into darkness.


"Ugh. I need to stop waking up like this." Emily sat up, rubbing an eye. Yup, she had hooves again. And from the looks of it, they weren't quite there yet either. "Star... did you catch any of that this time around?"

"Nope. Like you said, I wasn't in it, so I couldn't see it."

Fair enough. Emily turned her attention back to the window. The rolling hills and pastures of Ponyville had long-since given way to the patches of suburb lining the edges of Canterlot City. It'd only be a few more minutes before they arrived, most likely.

Soon enough, just as she'd predicted, the train rolled into the station in Canterlot. She watched the ponies outside the window file past, going about their business as they boarded and got off of other trains.

"Emily," Aero poked his head in. "You ready to transfer lines? I've got your documentation ready to present, but it'll be useless if you're not there yourself, y'know."

"Y-yeah, I'm coming."

The station was crowded. The mare trailed Aero by some distance, dodging and weaving through the crowds of various creatures.

The train to the Crystal Empire? Not so much. There were... what, five... six others besides her and Aero? At least it wouldn't be as stuffy as the station while they traveled.

"Welcome to the Crystal line," the conductor droned over the intercom. "Our current destination is the Crystal Empire. Travel time at the moment is estimated to take about half an hour at top speeds, so long as the weather permits."

Half an hour. That wasn't all that bad. Though, sooner or later the view outside was likely going to change from the sprawling cityscape visible now to a frozen wasteland. Or something. All the talk about the Crystal Empire being "up north" and it being isolated enough to be considered a safe place for a freakin' superweapons research center certainly pushed the image as well. Either way, watching the view didn't sounds nearly as interesting as it did when she'd been traveling from Ponyville to Canterlot.

She turned her attention instead to the other passengers. What were they on the train for? Aero obviously was here to smuggle her into the Crystal Empire, for one. There was also a stranger-looking creature that looked almost like a pony, save for the fact that in place of hair or fur, they were covered from head to hoof in some sort of smooth, shiny--

"It's chitin, Emily. You're looking at a changeling. They're a race of shapeshifters that were once enemies with Equestria."

"Guessing they're not enemies anymore then," Emily muttered, "right?"

"Correct. The changelings eventually made peace with Equestria, and in the midst of war, aligned themselves with the Ashen like many other nations did."

Interesting. So... Emily cocked her head, her eyes still set on the changeling reading a newspaper. Maybe he too--assuming they're a he, based on looks--was coming to the Crystal Empire with a mission. Being a shapeshifter, he'd probably be a great choice for an actor... or even an assassin.

...

...

Was he an assassin?

"No, Emi, he probably isn't an assassin. Looks to me that he's here for some corporate business, based on how he's dressed."

Fine then. Emily turned to another passenger--this one was a unicorn, like herself. She was beginning to nod off, occasionally hitting her head on the top of the seat. Probably some poor employee being sent to negotiate a deal or something.

Would've been nice to feel sleepy herself at the moment, to be honest. There really wasn't much to see on this ride. Three more creatures sat together near the back, playing some sort of card game from the look of it. Two were clearly ponies, while the third looked to be... what were they? A griffin? Didn't look much like the griffins she'd Based on how casually they were interacting, they were most likely coming as a grou--

"Emi, since when were you into analyzing others?"

"Since today," Emily rolled her eyes. "Besides, what else is there to do? I don't exactly have my phone on me anymore, and even if I did, I don't have the fingers to use it!"

"...Also, the third one's a hippogriff."

The mare sighed, glancing at the last creature on the train: a pegasus. They looked far older than just about everyone else onboard, for one. She was pretty sure they were a dude, too. Ponies could be differentiated by the shape of their muzzle, right?

"Yes."

Right. He, like the changeling, was minding his own business. No fuss, no noise like the trio at the back; just another passenger reading a book.

He flipped a page.

"Okay, Emily, you don't need to narrate them now. We get it, you're bored."


Well that was a good chunk of her life well-wasted. At least it was only half an hour like the conductor said. Emily stepped onto the station platform, following closely behind Aero.

"Hold it right there."

Aero immediately froze at the sound of the voice.

"Aero. That's your name, right? From the Whirlwind company. I recognize you from company photos," a slender mare with both wings and a horn stepped up beside Emily. "What are you doing up here, and who's other mare with you?"

"I--Flurry Heart, I didn't expect--"

"Papers. I decided to personally see to it that none of the travelers are of any risk to the Empire's security."

Welp, here goes nothing.