• Published 10th Dec 2020
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No Longer Alone - NoLongerSober

Sass, science, and surviving shipping! Postage paid! The gruff captain put a certain pegasus professor to the test and learned that she just couldn’t quit. Now come the hard parts: an actual relationship and maybe a villain or two.

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Chapter 22 - The Key of Fields

Canterlot Coliseum rumbled with electricity. 23,500 ponies occupied every single seat in the place—from the floor seats that stretched right up to the stage to the V.I.P. boxes nestled underneath the second balcony. And, as one might expect, the vast majority of those ponies were cheering like tomorrow would never come and they just had to let it all out.

Speakers hanging from the rafters still carried a sustained chord from Barley’s semi-hollow body guitar. The cream-colored earth pony was dripping with sweat at the end of a solo-heavy song, and his blue-striped black mane dangled over his teal eyes in a curly, wild mess.

Above the band, a makeshift arch of steel struts housed dozens of lights that bathed the platform in an ocean of purple, white, and gold. Several smaller stages had been set up atop the main floor for the drum kits, synthesizers, and backup vocalists; and behind it all, a violet tapestry with a circular logo containing an artistic rendition of an old-ponish S&B served as the backdrop.

“Dude!” Sincy spoke into a microphone from one of the synthesizer stations. “You just killed that. Seriously, did you all hear the crazy licks that he just did?” The crowd responded with a cacophonous, resolute roar while the unicorn glanced over his bandmate. “Why don’t you take a break, Barley? I can do that thing where I change the show on the fly for the sake of my own entertainment.”

Still standing on his hind hooves, the earth pony spun around to face Sync. His sunburst-painted guitar twirled around with him until a single teal iris snagged the image of the frost-blue stallion. “What are you up to, Sincerity Chain?” Barley grumbled with the intonation of a skeptical parent scolding a child caught in the cookie jar.

“I’m so glad you asked, Buddy! I think it’s a fair guess that most of our fans out there know what this beautiful baby is.” He reached under the large instrument, carefully retrieved SincyStar from its case, and lovingly set the smaller contraption on the station stand. “I’d bet they also know that my sweet, wonderful sister built this for me when we were kids. What they don’t know is that my sis is here tonight on a date, and what she doesn’t know is that I wrote a song for her.

“See, while we’ve been out on this tour journey together, she’s been mixing it up in the guard, building new skills, and making new relationships. I got to meet her coltfriend. I got to meet her supporters. Super shoutout to Mr. Spooky, Autumn Tea, and little Platinum Blaze! You’re super ‘dorbs. I got to meet her rival!” Sincy waggled his eyebrows and flashed a toothy smile. “You’re super ‘dorbs too, Bonecrusher.

“So! There I was, watching my sister duke it out with her captain in awesome armor on the castle grounds, and the magic just happened. I could see it in her eyes—the reason why he wanted to learn everything he could about who she is. I could see that she just wouldn’t quit, and that’s why you’re all going to get to hear a song I wrote a few hours ago.”

The crowd erupted again once Sincy started alternating between the F keys on the small instrument. “If you want to come in, it’s in F,” he shouted to the slack-jawed, utterly stunned Barley before diving headstrong into the song. His eyes met the blushing pair in the front row, and it was easy for the brother’s smile to linger.

Tail, decked out in some colorful bracelets that were reminiscent of her teenage youth, could barely keep her wings from brushing her neighbors. The splayed feathers twitched, riding the wave of embarrassment that was delightfully painted upon her reddened muzzle. Thankfully for the flustered mare, she only had to contain one of the wandering appendages.

The other was free to seek refuge in Barrier’s charcoal-colored coat. Though, the captain didn’t exactly seem to be doing any better. His grey sport jacket had proven to be completely out of place for this kind of concert. His ears quivered to the relentless cheering that dominated the arena, and he gawked at Sincerity with a diffident expression matched only by the disillusioned, deadpanned question he directed towards his date. “He just set us up, didn’t he?”

What I want, you’ve got, but it might be hard to ponder
how your flame just burns forever — with a passion that’s insane…

Day 83 began with still sore limbs. As one of them had predicted, her first day off was spent recuperating, and Tail had come to both loathe and appreciate the augury. The first afternoon of executor training had been spent trying to break Shining Armor’s ultimate shield—

“Bucking hotshot asshole,” the pegasus muttered under her breath, reflecting on how the Captain of the Royal Guard didn’t even move as she threw every punch, jab, swing, and kick that she could. Eventually, she had gone all-in and deployed her cloud compression techniques, but not even the electrical discharges managed to put a scratch in that unicorn’s field.

Nonetheless, Barrier’s words to her after they finished sparring that morning stuck in her mind. She could remember them in his voice. She could feel the warmth his look brought and the confidence it gave. I know you won’t quit on this. No matter how much it may hurt to keep going, and it will hurt, I know you’ll keep going. We’re going to bring out the absolute best of your abilities, and once we’re done, you’ll be able to defend Equestria. You’ll know how to protect life—and when to take it…

Electricity sizzled as another cloud tuft formed in front of Tail’s hoof. Her brow descended to shape a scowl, and she leapt at Shining’s rosy rampart through a flap of her wings. A bellowing shriek was heaved from her lungs as she rammed the tuft into the barrier. Lightning cracked across its surface in the most energetic rupture that the pegasus had created to date, and ripples could be seen meandering around the sphere like waves in a pool.

“Hot damn,” Tail exclaimed once she processed the sting racing up and down her right foreleg. She hissed, shaking out the limb while her sights wandered to Shining’s silhouette. He stood tall, and his namesake remained unbroken.

In fact, behind his protective cast, the stallion looked truly imposing. An unreadable, stone expression fixed Shining’s physique, and his light-cerulean irides composed icy burrs that challenged the singed pegasus. “That’s not going to work either, Colonel. My magic could handle an entire changeling army even while I was being manipulated. I know Barrier’s first exercise is for you to break this thing while I just stand here and wait, but if you keep thinking that power-leveling is the answer, then I might just get insulted.”

Tail’s ear flicked. Her forehoof was replanted on the ground in a snapping movement that accompanied her sharp exhalation. “I didn’t ask for a crib sheet, Captain Armor. This is the only technique that I’ve got that works on a magical playing field, and I haven’t used it for very long. Knowing the strength limit is good information to gain, especially when a good punching bag is just standing there all day for me.”

From underneath one of the archways, Trigger chortled. He peered at both Amora and Magic Barrier as the tip of his tail skirted over grass and stone. “He pissed her off with that one, Barry, but I guess it was time to give some direction.”

“Yeah,” Amora quietly added. She had locked onto Tail’s smudged hoof and wrist after making a note of the tiny shadows that the noon sun cast on the field. Suddenly, her voice surged in volume, taking advantage of the brief lull. “You’ve hit Q-max, Tail! Definitely not the variable to push anymore. It’s also almost lunchtime, and you can bet your sweet ass that I’m going to use it to look over your leg!”

Contentedly observing the spectacle, Barrier’s lips curled upwards. “Better to be pissed off than pissed on. Though, for the record, I don’t think she’s pissed. I think that we’re about to see some science.”

“You got that right, Captain,” the pegasus growled on cue. She stretched her neck and cracked both of her wrists before her fiery glare pierced Shining Armor’s stubborn obstacle. “You had better prepare yourself for a fun afternoon. I’m going to find the full dynamic range of my weather magic, and the second I find the right frequency, I’m going to wipe all the grins off your face like it’s foals’ night at the comic book store.”

The alabaster unicorn seemed happy to flash such a smug grin for the sassy officer. “Right now, I’d say that’s the only place you’d find the piece of fiction where you best me in under a month.”

Yeah, yeah, what I got: full stock of thoughts and dreams that cater
to the view you won’t surrender…

A groggy Tail stared at the collection of augurite coils still in her workbench test bin. The bright glow of her laboratory presented a misguided conception of time to the pegasus, who had actually snuck out of her home before the sun rose on a much needed weekend.

She idly rolled her forelimbs as she sat and grimaced. Bandages had been wrapped around both of the legs, and she shuddered at the sensation. “Ugh, the goopy stuff is gross,” Tail remarked, referring to the ocean of cream that Amora had rubbed into her coat. She sighed and swiveled in her seat. “But at least the soreness is gone.”

And no weather magic over the weekend! Tail recalled the tone of her roommate’s voice while her memory kindly replayed the aggressive warning. None! Not at all. Not a single bolt. No shaping clouds. No secret tufts. Just recovery. Doctor’s orders.

The physicist puffed her cheeks and blew a pouty gust over the tabletop. “I would love to play with you today,” she spoke to the coils, “but Ams will know. I also have to keep myself at a-hundred percent. I have a Captain of the Royal Guard who needs a strong ego check.”

Tail slouched. Her posture degraded at the behest of the sleepless night until it became necessary for the mare to prop up her head with a bent leg. She leaned over the workbench, dragging clumps of unkempt mane over the surface while her eyelids drooped.

Shining’s untouchable visage haunted her brain’s inner vision. His uncompromising stare, which soared like a phoenix from the ashes of his usual dorkiness, egged her on with the threat of disappointment. “It’s too close to Barrier’s,” she mumbled as the notes congregated to make a dissonant nightmare.

Her namesake slapped against the support frame of her chair after a mechanical clatter echoed from the doorway.

“Fear not, Colonel!” Luna’s boisterous voice filled the cavern. She pushed the large gates open with her magic and beamed at her friend. “Your presence was sensed, and it is merely I.”

“My presence was sensed, huh?” Tail questioned after forcing herself to sit up for the Princess of the Night. “Did Amora pressure you to keep tabs on me too?”

Pursing her lips, the alicorn shrugged. “She might have mentioned it, but in this instance, it was the absence of your dream fabric that was the giveaway.”

Tail silently watched as her patron approached. Tiredness continued to drag on her facial features, and a heaviness built in her chest that felt like a winding spring.

Princess Luna opted to plop her haunches down on the floor, a move which kept her sightline even with that of the pondering pegasus. “One doesn’t have to be asleep for me to see the seeds of a nightmare. Perhaps, I could be of assistance.”

Cheek muscles tensed, wings tucked against the body, and the winding in the chest felt even tighter. Tail glanced away from Luna in a scramble that instinctively sought answers. The pressure mounted, and Tail’s breath hitched before she finally managed to let some words escape.

“They’re investing a lot of time in me, and this week just made me question if I’m worth that investment.” Tail paused, forcing her drifting gaze to finally settle upon Luna as the tension started to lessen.

With her ears pivoted towards the flier, the royal remained silent. Her pupils dilated as she absorbed the scientist’s worn demeanor, and she simply waited for her far younger subject to proceed.

“B.C.T. made sense. Some ponies were coming after my work on valid considerations that I wasn’t qualified. But this? I definitely appreciate Barrier’s input more than most ponies will ever understand. I just don’t know if it’s really okay that Shining Armor is spending three days out of the week standing in a shield that I haven’t figured out how to crack yet. He’s the Guard Captain, and he’s betting his personal resources against my pegasus pride.

“I’m probably already halfway through my frequency sweep, and I haven’t spotted a promising node either. It’s like being back in graduate school—surrounded by titans in Barrier, Trigger, and Shining, who can put your knowledge to shame. And while I would love to keep pushing, because I really don’t want to zap others’ time”—she held up her forelegs—“work pause.”

“Tail, no one expects you to have all the answers after three sessions. Shining Armor has spent his entire career thus far on palace defenses and associated magics. Trust me,” she huffed, rolling her cyan eyes. “He is insufferable when the subject shifts to those techniques. Still, he puts his heart in the place where it is warranted—just as Barrier and Sir Trigger do. You have undoubtedly earned their confidences, and you have earned mine.

“It is also natural to feel uneasy while standing in the presence of someone that you think outshines you. Again, I know this all too well. And perhaps”—Luna lifted and flicked her forehooves in an air-quotes gesture—“this back-to-graduate-school sensation casts an illusion that you’re an imposter. So I ask you, what did you do when faced with the impossible challenge of harnessing alicorn magic without risking corruption?”

“What did I do?” Repeating the question, Tail reclined and lightly tapped her muzzle. “Well, I did research. I believe that most documented cases of magical tampering gone afoul can be explained by direct access to magic or magical artifacts outside a pony’s resonance zone. Sombra and the Crystal Heart, the repeated uses of the Alicorn Amulet over time, Grogar’s Bell—all presented cases where direct magical taps led to extreme psychosis. That’s why I started building augurite coils.”

“Mmhmm,” Luna responded, giving an affirmative nod as she rolled her lifted foreleg. “You learned, Ms. Tail. It’s what you do. You’ve already returned to school at other points in your career and discovered that there was nothing improper when it came to those maneuvers. Sleepless, lonely nights lead to questioning the wrong things. We believe we know just the place to reset your efforts in the right direction.”

Luna had delivered a solid argument. Science naturally brought setbacks, and things could be unravelled in a nanosecond. As Trigger once told her, the Universe would always be the most imaginative bitch in the room. It was sage advice. It was also sage advice that could be tipped on its head. The Universe had to have an answer for Shining’s shield.

Gradually, Tail leaned forward. She relaxed under Luna’s mental light, and the added curiosity prodded the physicist just enough for her to perk her ears and flash a sheepish smile for the Princess of the Night. “Does this place happen to have a bed?”

The alicorn pushed a hoof to her muzzle to stifle an emergent giggle. Again, she nodded at the frazzled mare. “Indeed, it does. The Private Palace Library remains one of two book-based, academic establishments in the City of Canterlot that I’ve managed to keep Twilight Sparkle out of.”

Tail awakened to a philosopher’s paradise. Recovering from the grogginess that seemed to always follow her naps, the scientist didn’t remember much of the trip that brought her from the laboratory to what she presumed to be the fabled Private Palace Library, but she certainly did appreciate the bed.

Wrapped in a quilt of violet and gold, Tail had found the reset she needed between the comfy blanket and firm mattress. The silky bed sheets presented a strong invitation to return to the land of slumber, but given the sunlight that poured through the stained-glass dome above her head, Tail figured that it was probably time to get to work.

Her sights wandered around the lofty panes, catching the rainbow hues that depicted Celestia and Luna swirling about their respective skies. Painted murals reached for the ceiling and captured the likenesses of equine legends—Starswirl, Haycartes, Clover the Clever, a towering thestral, and Discord?

“That’s kind of surprising,” Tail mumbled, examining the utterly strange depiction of the notorious draconequus. Set against the backdrop of solar rays shattering an overcast sky, Discord appeared heroic. Donned in bright Royal Guard armor, he was lunging across the scenery with an outstretched arm and a pointed claw. Something about the design played with Tail’s brain. Perhaps it was the contrast, or maybe it was something else, yet the physicist started to genuinely wonder if the creature was actually pointing at something of merit.

Sitting up, the pegasus followed the line past rows of bookshelves and marble columns until an unusual feature plopped into the center of her vision. The library had a fountain—an honest to goodness working fountain. Similar in size to Princess Celestia, the ornament consisted of a Corinthian column set into the center of a clover-shaped pool. At the top, metal figures of Commander Hurricane, Princess Platinum, and Chancellor Puddinghead had been affixed atop an inscribed golden base.

The bizarre artifact provided enough motivation. Exiting the cozy confines of the bed, Tail rolled onto the tile floor. She shivered from the chill that raked her nerves, but the trickling fountain coaxed the shuffling scientist closer and closer until she could make out the inscription.

It was gibberish.

“What kind of glyphs are these?” Tail asked herself as she observed the unusual markings etched into the gold. She flicked her namesake and puffed—feeling for a brief moment that she was missing out on something important amidst the curved strikes and strange characters. Thankfully, her mind quickly found something else to dote on.

Resting on the ledge of the fountain pool, a note had been laid by Princess Luna. Dear Tail, it read, I had to retire for the morning, but I believe your dreams were sweet. Tia knows that you’re using the library, and I took the liberty of informing Magic Barrier and Amora that you were resting. For what it’s worth, I recommend looking at the books in Section W. You are where you belong. ~Luna

“Section W, eh?” Tail mumbled as a shy smile played upon her lips. As the seconds passed, the pegasus perked even more. Her wings fluttered and her eyes glimmered as she scanned the sides of the stacks and noticed the letter labels. Through the care of her friends, and through those comforting words, Tail found a mission, and it did not take long for the flier to pop off the ground and glide to the appropriate area of the library.

By comparison, Section W was tiny. Nestled between a single set of marble pillars, the collection consisted of just four rows of books that spanned just over the average pony’s length. Most of the manuscripts appeared to be old prints that had all been stuffed into one piece of wooden furniture, while other sections went on for meters.

Still, the titles alone drew a gasp. “By the stars, what?” Tail squeaked as she ran through the list of prominent physics authors. “Dynamic Jack, Farahay, more Starswirl, and even more Clover! Is that first edition from the eccentric Superposed Chat? And a few works from Bundle Bush. These are all legendary—”

But I’ve read all of them. Would anything in these really give me insight into Shining’s magic? Am I forgetting something obvious? She plucked the books of Dynamic Jack and Superposed Chat from the shelf. I guess another look-through couldn’t hurt.

Visually combing through the worn spines for another spark of inspiration, Tail crouched down and scanned the shelves again. Once she reached the bottom row, the scientist spotted something different tucked against the wooden frame of the bookcase. A sole outsider amongst an onslaught of prized relics, one manuscript stood out as looking far newer than its peers. It had no written title or author markings. The only indicator was a gold foil feather printed on its center.

Tail snatched the book and brushed her hoof against the grainy faux-leather surface. Opening the cover, the pegasus immediately felt a chill rush up her limbs. Her wings shot open while the wave rippled through her coat, and her fiery stare soon seized the text on the first page with a stoked intensity that might as well have burned the rest of the study to the ground.

Notes on my U(1)-M Unification Theorem

Greetings future enthusiasts (or my future self)! I have focused some time as of late fussing over the particulars of magic. While the greats have spent lifetimes making progress describing the individual branches of the science, I believe we’re still missing the trunk and root. How can earth ponies possess magical arts? How does the weather magic of pegasi interact with the spells of unicorns? I think the connections are there, but the mathematical framework is not. My postdoctoral life has been grounded too much in the practical for me to fully bring this to light (or to defend it under the scrutiny of peer review). Still, I have left these notes on the potential interactions between the magic, auguric, casting, spell current density, and electric fields in the hopes that one day they might make Equestria shine brighter.

Author's Note:

Happy Tuesday, everyone. The time has come for Chapter 22. It's been a rough week on my end, but hopefully a little NLA action will boost the mood. I warned you all that math would appear in this one, and I wasn't lying. The science side of Tail needs some attention.

Also, there is bonus material! This entire math framework comes from something I presented at BronyCon 2019. If you want some extra entertainment, then head on over to Physicists Invade Equestria and enjoy the show. As always, thank you for your continued readership, time, and awesome comments. See you next week!

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