• Published 3rd Sep 2021
  • 969 Views, 19 Comments

Definitions - Techno Flare

I was hard on myself during my time as Princess Twilight's student. Nothing but my studies had mattered ever since she saved me from my own magic. When I finally burned out, Equestria was on fire.

  • ...

Chapter IV

An amplified yet muffled stallion voice bounced each which way off the hanging crystal daggers above me, causing a surround sound that echoed and permeated the ponies within the waiting area.

“Next up, Luster Dawn and Rising Loaf. Please be in the arena in three minutes.”

I caught sight of Fleety’s megaphone popping up above the spikey sea of a couple dozen unicorn horns, dimmed by the artificial red and blue lighting in the caves. My post at the fractal, reflective wall would have to be guarded by the stash of granola bars in my bag. I took one last sip of water and slammed the empty plastic onto the foldout table, jostling some of my scrolls with it. The cushion beneath me inhaled as I took my weight off of it. Ponies cluttered the tube-like cavern, since this vein was no wider than Canterlot street and no taller than a school hallway. Finding a way through them would be a process.

I wanted to get in a quick banter with Fleety, but before I could reach the opening to the main artery, the vermillion band on his leg glowed. The light from his horn enveloped him and popped, ending his teleportation spell. He was the one in charge of this shindig, so he was always ferrying people back and forth from his house way above. It was a clever method to avoid detection while we utilized these abandoned mines as our playground, as well as ensuring we weren’t breaking any sound ordinance. Still, my old running captain was one of the only ponies down here who wasn’t engrossed in their own reading or practice of spells, and he always enjoyed our conversations. Postponing my desires, I stepped out into the large corridor.

Pale blue rock laid beneath me, smoothed and sanded from years of miners traversing it. The flat floor extended out to a series of rocky walls and columns which encased the arena, arching up in a semicircle overhead. The crystalline formations unified into serrated edges and the occasional small stalactite hanging from the sides and above, reflecting the spotlights of red and blue from magically imbued crystal lamps standing at each end of the chalk which marked the arena. The main path bended and extended far beyond the chalked boundaries, but in this stretch of fifty meters the chipped remains of rocks were mostly removed from the ground, creating the perfect area for some magical showdowns.

“Feel like going easy on me this week, Luster?” Rising Loaf meandered up next to me, waiting at the white boundary.

I gave a quick side glance to his half-open eyes. “It’s always better to work for the things you want, Loaf, unless you aren’t up to the challenge.” I let the confidence seep out with a giggle, feeling better about my casting than I had in weeks. The judges, including Fleety, were all getting ready at their spot in the wall, preparing their protection spells in case anything went awry. It wouldn’t be long before I could get rid of this moldy bread beside me.

His bulging stomach gave a hearty chuckle before replying, “You really could do to take a load off, Luster. All work and no play — sounds like torture to me.”

“If by ‘torture’ you mean ‘work ethic’, then I guess that’s what separates the top student from the second best.”

For someone who was so laid-back, Rising Loaf had pride enough to start arguments over every detail, some of which I was unfortunate enough to entertain before getting to know the entitled stallion. I could tell he was rustled, but he had no time to let off his steam before that megaphone rang out again.

“Casters, to your positions.” We began our trek to the central circle of the two adjacent white boxes marked out on the ground. While we did, Fleety carried on with the formalities. “Luster, you are the higher seed. What’s the call for the coin flip?”

“Heads!” My heart elevated its pace in order to shout out, and it stayed that way as I found my spot and turned towards my opposition. He levitated back his loose, gray mane out of his face, still giving that same, careless stare.

“The coin toss goes to Luster. Beam first or barrier first?”

I could go for the usual, my stonewall barrier was notoriously immovable, even if I had to expel so much energy first. The Loaf in front of me, however, was not using the optimal barrier spells, and he knew it. I decided to press my mental advantage early. “I’ll beam first, Fleety.”

I tried to tune him out and slow my breathing. “The round will start when I finish my countdown, please do not cast spells early or you will be penalized. You wll have thirty seconds in each half of the round, one half for performing barrier spells and one for performing beam spells. If a pony is pushed out of their side of the arena, the white line behind you, that pony will lose the round. If not, we’ll measure the distance each pony was pushed.”

It was time to get to work. My heart was still beating, but as I closed my eyes I could feel my mind ebbing and flowing in time with my lungs. I was ready to delve into the flow state, clearing away the last remaining deadlines and worries in my mind. Just like I practiced, my mind probed away at my forehead as the magic passed into my system. I exhaled the newfound heat with an open mouth, while also opening my eyes to focus on where I needed to unleash this restless energy coursing around the spirals of my horn.

I didn’t even hear the countdown, I only saw the glare of purple lights off of Loaf’s barrier before I uttered my spell.

Oppugno vi.

A large bass drum paled in comparison to the low boom that erupted from my horn. I saw the reflection of the sunbeam headed towards the barrier before I had to close my eyes. I felt the flow of magic hit resistance as the two spells collided, a feeling similar to a hoof pressed up against my forehead. Yet, during that first contact, the hoof slipped just slightly, and I knew I could win this outright. Twenty meters might seem like a lot, but as long as I could figure out how to pry off that hoofhold, the beam would keep the pony behind it sliding. It’s all momentum.

Rising Loaf had a low center of mass from his party-fed diet, and I could leverage this. Literally, leverage is how I could topple him. Fighting the pushback, I lowered my head and aimed towards the bottom of the shield. A slip, briefly, gave me the instability I needed to catch him. Leg joints ignited as I forced the ether through me at a faster pace.

That last push was just enough to free the floodgates of my effort. My opposition rocked back every so slightly, but it destabilized his grounded nature and sent him tumbling, barrier along with him, until he hit the white chalk and the spells were cutoff. My laser spewed out along the impassible, invisible wall, until I snapped my head back and severed the spell. With my head high, I looked at the sloth, miniscule all the way over there, in his usual position on the ground, hooves in the air.

“That’s new, Luster Dawn,” he called out with a shaky voice crack. “Caught me off guard with that trick.”

I could hear the murmurs of those looking on from the waiting area, awestruck from the way that spell could be felt by the audience – to the point of potential danger. Fleety shared a giggle with the other judges, amused to see a round end with that tumbleweed in the wind, but not surprised by the school’s top student. My opponent laid there, pondering his plan for the next round and grimacing. I stood atop it all, the last pony within these white squares, the lone ruler of these crystal caves.

“Luster!” A comforting voice called after me as I entered the waiting area. Fleety probably had my winnings from the night as well as some gossip he wanted to chat about, judging from his excitement.

“Fleety! I meant to catch you earlier, but you ran off. How’s the business been?”

I caught his smile as he chuckled. “It’s never dull at the company, but I can’t chat much tonight, there’s someone who was looking for you just before the round started, it sounded urgent.” He bobbed his short mane in the direction of a table near the front of the area, completely deserted except for one pony with no saddlebags. “Winter Storm was her name I think, and she called you Dawn. Very shy mare, couldn’t get much else out of her.”

Her opal eyes and newly growing smile assured me that Flurry Heart had found her way here. Her form was a pure white unicorn mare, not too different from the off-pink which defined her. The shape was the same as mine, just shorter than a fully grown mare with a short, smoothed snout. Had she not been pointed out to me, I would’ve guessed that she was one of the students, and I thought that was exactly how she wanted it.

“Yeah, I know her, and she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t have something important.” I turned to face Fleety, and his solid, cyan form towered over me. “Thanks again for hosting these. Not sure what I’d do for cash here in this big city.”

His usually agreeable face did not agree with that particular sentiment. “Even if you didn’t win these, you know I’d support you Luster. Teammates help teammates, and that’s what you’ve been since day one. I couldn’t let you run off on your own again.”

“Quick Flee, please, we’ve been over this a hundred times at least.” I paused. The wrinkles in his face told me he still hadn’t made it through the guilt. I softened my voice and soothed, “It’s not your fault. You were an amazing captain for two long years. You taught me to push my limits and so much more.”

His aura sent the bit pouch in a high arch above me. “I’m glad that you think that way, Dawn, but careless mistakes could end with consequences far worse than what ended up happening that day. Every time I see you it reminds me of when I realized that.” He glanced behind me. “I know you don’t like wasting time, so I won’t take up anymore. Don’t forget, you’re on cleanup this week and food next week.”

I groaned, maybe a bit too loud, but it got a good laugh out of Fleety. “Haha, have a good night, Fleety.” We waved, and I turned around to catch a look that was much too curious for my liking.

Who?” asked Flurry, who witnessed that breathtaking production live.

“Whaddaya mean ‘who?’” I retorted, walking past the row of ponies who were leaving. “He’s my old running captain.”

“No, no,” she shyly smiled, slouching her form against the jewels of the cave. The short, sky blue curls of her mane spread over her turned face. “Just, nevermind. That was an incredible performance out there, Dawn.”

Once again, she was flattering me. I decided to keep an eye on her as I walked past her table. “I gotta start cleaning up, so let’s walk and talk, but thank you. That practice session last week ended up paying off. I don’t think anypony at the school will question my place as top student after that.”

“Wait,” she said, “the ponies here are all from Auntie’s school?”

I lofted the table into the pile at the end of the tunnel as I nodded to the other unicorn helping teleport these back to Fleety’s house. “Yep, and it’s pretty exclusive as well. Only ponies who are in can invite others, and they have to be enrolled in the school. Other than that, it’s exactly as it looks – competing to see who is the best wizard.”

“I can’t imagine the amount of time you spent in order to perform all those spells in mere seconds. I do remember seeing a speed spell and a healing spell on your list last week, and they won you the lightning round. They stuck out to me as spells I myself had trouble with.” When a calm voice like hers trailed off, it was hard to hear over the twangs of metallic table legs. The shadows on her face, outlined by the purples of the caves beneath the castle, were all I needed to see.

“You had trouble controlling your spells at the gym as well. This has been an ongoing thing?”

A slight nod. “Yes. Although I get training from Auntie and her friends, I still haven’t been able to perform spells consistently, to perform spells like you have tonight. The beauty of your spells is a masterpiece to behold, so entwined with the evocations of magical creation.” Her exhale echoed in the now empty room as I retrieved a trash bag. “Although, this spell is something I learned just this week in preparation for our meeting.” She craned her neck, hoping to examine each inch of her deceptive form.

“Well hey, that’s pretty solid. Disguise spells are hard to come by and not easy to master. Just last week I was trying to understand some illusion spell and didn’t quite pin it down.” I expected to look up from my assortment of plastic wrappers to see Flurry’s eyes fueled with ambition.

Instead, I saw her looking deep into the tunnel, far beyond the smooth rock ground. The reflective sheers of quartz and amethyst could only carry the light so far, but still her eyes searched behind them. The bullseye where the blackness covered the shining contents within the cave, that’s where she honed in. Those once hopeful opal eyes longed for the mysterious rocks behind the curtains of shadows. Her heart was discontent with anything the lights beamed forth to her awareness; none of the shining jewels could quell that unhappiness.

“Thanks, Dawn,” she said while searching for the confidence in her statement. “I just need to push past it.”

Again, a lesson from Twilight rang out in my mind. If I helped others, they would help me. “I mean if you ever need any help, I suspect we’ll be spending time together researching things, so you could always bring it up then. Like, during a break or something just ask.”

She paused, gripping the floor beneath her in order to rip her eyes from that listless abyss. She watched me as I tied up the bag and monitored the perimeter for any cunning wrappers which escaped my mighty horn’s grasp. I heard a small chuckle before the breathless reply and quick topic change. “I’m not sure if Auntie wants me getting another tutor, but I appreciate the offer. Let’s talk about the research, though, because I think I found something.”

“Really?” I clamored. Our energies aligned in that moment, but the echoes reminded me that we probably weren’t alone. “Wait, don’t tell me yet. Let’s get outside.”

I ushered her over to the entrance area, a tunnel on the same side of the arena as the waiting area, so that I could teleport us both up. We popped into Fleety’s home, and he thanked me for the help. He laughed as he waved us off. I checked to see if any of the other ponies from the school were around, but among the few ponies still walking around this late, I could recognize none of them in the yellow lines that hung from the open windows.

I began with a whisper. “Sorry, I’ve just been talking to some other unicorns and they wouldn’t have the most objective perspective on this research. I’m sure you heard about the protest at the school.”

She affirmed. “It’s funny, I didn’t hear any ponies chatting about it at any point during the night. Has it all blown over that quickly?”

“I guess so, even the papers shifted to the next ‘big thing’ the morning after.” The protesting used up so much energy just for it to dissipate. A waste of resources, it’s why I never got involved. “Just petered out like most headlines, I would know. I decided to scope out the protest in hopes of a lead. Unfortunately, I came up short, so let’s hear what you found.”

“A name: Comet Tail. This pony authored a paper titled The Shifting Magical Foundation of Equestria.”

A changeling walked by us as we rounded a corner, so Flurry waited for him to pass. In that moment, I could see her focus. We were two rogue detectives with alter egos, finding the pieces to a grand mystery, patrolling the moonlit streets to avoid detection. I laughed at the play as my mind performed it, but instead of leaving it there like usual, I sunk into my role. The backdrop blended the warm orange lights together with the muted gold of the Canterlot domes, and we were at the center of it all.

She leaned in close again to continue. “The paper could not be located anywhere in the library, it was only mentioned in an outdated catalogue from about fifteen years ago.”

Mentally, I scrolled through the names I had picked out in the Canterlot Library. I would’ve taken notice of a scroll like that in my years researching this topic. “I doubt that it’s in the Canterlot Library, but I could ask about the Archives. Are you sure this paper is connected to magical fluctuations?”

“The title seemed pretty convincing, and I couldn’t find any other works by that author. It’s like the pony disappeared, after only writing one piece about a topic that both libraries have nothing about? I can’t come up with another conclusion.” That astute voice could convince a bear to stop eating for a week. “This is a hunch, Dawn, but it’s a hunch I’d bet on, even as an heir to the Empire.”

She convinced me. “I’ll take it and run with it, seeing as we have no other leads. This could be the breakthrough.” Finally, she wore the smiling face of a successful pony, the accomplishment and fulfillment of a job well-done. “I usually have something to propose to Twilight for research write-ups, but perhaps I could convince her to help me find and analyze this specific paper. It’s a win-win.”

Somehow, Flurry made progress. Whether it was dumb luck or not, she put in the time to find a lead. I couldn’t help but smile back. We were on our way, the first step on the staircase to our goals underhoof, thanks to her work. Twilight awaited at the top, the pony who would solidify my career and allow Flurry some breathing room. For the moment, progress was exactly what we needed.

“Let’s get donuts, on me.” She raised an eyebrow in contention, but never uttered a rejection. Must’ve been a princess thing.

We finally found the corner where Donut Joe was closing up for the evening, shooing out the last customer. “Curse the…!”I proclaimed, beginning my walk through the outdoor tables.

Before I could approach Joe, Flurry said, “Ahh, no worries. No need to go making a fuss.” I pursed my lips, debating whether or not defying the princess would result in jail time.

I didn’t need to find out the hard way. “I am hungry, honestly,” I told her. “Granola bars can only sustain a girl for so long.”

“Do you have anything we could make back at your place?”

We began walking until I took a moment to scoff. “What do you mean by ‘make’ exactly?” My fridge had a tendency to contain very few ingredients.

A quick hoof stifled her giggling. “Don’t tell me you don’t know how to cook. After this long at a boarding school, you really haven’t made any meals yourself?”

“Breakfast is easy, lunch at school, and I usually ate out or just had refrigerator meals for dinner.” A smiling jaw hung below its closed resting place. “If that shocks you, I don’t think you should come inside.” I stopped in front of the door, blocking her view.

It was her turn to scoff. “If I’m going to be spending time here, I might as well get used to it.”

The dusty corners glistened as I switched on a lamp. An inundated trash pail spilled plastic wrappers and cardboard boxes into the living space, which barely fit the two of us inside. Besides a picture or two, the barren walls gave way to the pillars of tomes and old assignments, making muted rainbows take over the once homely appearance. A singular brown recliner and green rug, both of which were on sale outside of a house as I passed through Canterlot one day, filled out the apartment’s space.

I grabbed a couple of hay sandwiches from the fridge and returned to see Flurry Heart -- wings and all. Her flowing mane hit the floor as I urged her to sit in the recliner. I took my place on the rug and began chowing down, but Flurry took small bites and swallowed like each piece would get stuck if she weren’t careful.

“This place could use some tuning up and some home-cooked meals, Dawn,” she said between mouthfuls. I nodded, closing my eyes to try and envision a cleaner apartment. “The Princess’s top student should have a comfortable place to study, as well as sufficient nourishment.”

I shrugged. This wasn’t a revelation. “What I have gets the job done.”

“Even for a couple dozen aspiring wizards? I love hay as much as the next pony, really, but this won’t cut it, Dawn.” I stared at the soggy, cold hay, which looked greener than this ancient carpet. “How about this: You help me with some spells, and next week I’ll show you how to bake some food for Wednesday. It’s a win-win, right?”

I smirked, seeing that fire return to Flurry’s eyes. Even through the reflections of this hideous apartment, this pony could see a blooming life here, and she wanted to take full advantage of it. I raised a hoof towards her. “You’ve got yourself a deal,” I declared and sealed with a shake.

On cue, a bright blue light shone through the purple saddlebags near Flurry Heart which she dug out in seconds. The rectangular sky-blue emerald sat between Flurry’s two hooves, but on the white ceiling above I could see formations of black lingering where no shadows resided.

Her stoic mask replaced her face once more. “I’m sorry to be going so soon, but I am needed by my parents. They decided to do an impromptu game night, which I really shouldn’t miss.”

I leaped up to my legs to witness this mysterious jewel for myself. A message in clear Ponish was displayed in black on the surface of the crystal, indicating exactly what Flurry had just relayed. “Since when can crystals show messages like this?”

She replied calmly. “It’s a prototype, entrusted to my family by Twilight herself. It’s the same as the magic of linking journals, just not as heavy. My parents decided it would be best for me to have, to always carry it with me, so that I am never truly alone.” Her hooves began to cover the jewel as I felt her squeeze it even tighter.

“So, let’s figure out a plan quickly.” I started to pace underneath the arch separating my kitchen from the living space. “I have my meeting with Twilight on Friday, so I could send you a letter after that is done. Once we figure out where this paper should be, we can convene there and look together on a night you’re not busy.”

“I do hope your meeting with Auntie goes well.” She carefully sifted through her saddlebags, ensuring that her travel would not harm anything in it. “I look forward to hearing from you.”

At Flurry’s instruction, I cast my barrier spell around her as she prepared to depart. Although this dingy place could use a demolition and remodel, she wanted to preserve it. I waved earnestly as she cast herself away with a muffled pop. Suddenly, the room was empty, and the only light came from a flickering lamp.

Alone I stood in this dull apartment of cobwebs and book pillars, ruler of it all.