• Published 3rd Sep 2021
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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.

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Chapter V

The Guard in front of the Princess’s chambers remembered me.

She didn’t speak a word nor move a muscle, but that eyeing suspicion on her face filled in the equation. In fact, the stallion that went in to relay my arrival was also there at the marketplace last week. The two were cordial then, so I figured I could squeeze out some information with quick coaxing. I was on a timer.

While clearing my throat, I prepared my professionalism. “Officer, sorry again for all the trouble. I never got your name last week.”

She hurled a flurry of looks at my messy mane and lax pose. Again, she held her pose. I was already looking at one of the glass windows when she grated out, “My name is Rough House.” The statue stayed put, no outward emotions.

“Whatever happened to that vendor?”

A thrown question slowed down time, dangling in the air above that motionless figure, begging for a nod or a hoof movement. As the heavy sunbeams crawled across the room, I waited for an opening door or some sign of change. The vast hallway perpetuated the stillness and stiffness of the air, and this air permeated every carpet, flower, pillar, and the two ponies within. Within me, the sludge of that viscous air threatened to overtake my bloodstream and mental presence. I rolled my hoof back and forth along the pristine, stainless marble because it seemed to stimulate the environment around me just enough to jostle the gears of time. A slow shadow meandered across the windows, dousing the tension of the pressing sunlight.

Finally, my ears perked. “I can’t tell you anything about charged creatures.” The Guard was full of loopholes like that, but to know that the pony who called the Guard himself was the one in trouble, that fact confused me.

Before my musings could continue, the unreasonably tall door in front of me opened. “The Princess is ready for you, Luster Dawn.”

“Thanks, officer.” The stallion returned to his post at the door frame.

I peered through the open door while a round of apprehension clutched at my innards. I could barely make out the blurry forms in the room. Breathing deeply, I attempted to stabilize my everything. I would need a solid base in order to perform the mental acrobatics of a confusing lesson, not to mention asking about an author that fell off the face of Equestria. I looked towards Rough House briefly — still steadfast, unaffected by the outside world, completely grounded in her values and discipline. She shared it with me, even though she didn’t know it.

I looked up towards Princess Twilight as I made a half-hastened trot towards her dais. Sunlight streamed through the stained glass which retold her past trials. Two streams trickled beside me, persistently present, like the magical signature my horn picked up incessantly. The red carpet swelled above me, and cresting it was Equestria’s ruler. Her regal purples, both within her mane and coat, sparkled in the evening light. Even with all this distance, her compressed form towered above me, and she could easily unleash a rainbow of potential energies with flared wings and ignited horn. Yet, upon her face she wore a stoic, analytic stare that anypony would approach with their most pressing concern.

Reaching my place at the foot of the throne, I bowed and addressed, “Your Majesty.”

I could feel her roll her eyes at this point. “Luster, it’s good to see you.” Her motherly voice rang out in the empty throne room, and her stoicism relaxed into content. “Your report last week was precise and succinct. Well done as usual. I am especially impressed with how you implemented history and magic together in your friendship lesson. I’m glad to hear that those classes served you well.”

“The school’s curriculum is dense, Princess Twilight. Most of those lessons will yield great utility sooner or later.” She was used to hearing precursory flattery from her political ventures, I was sure, but those statements weren’t completely fabricated. Buttering up this conversation was an unfortunate necessity. “I’m happy to impress you with my work, it’s an honor. I hope to do so again this week, but I may need some help.”

Her wings and a singular eyebrow nearly left Twilight’s body. “My help?”

I could nearly taste the fresh water of the streams from a sharp nasal inhale. “Yes,” I answered, ready to recite the script I had rehearsed. “In my perusing of some different literature, I began gravitating towards topics of ambient magic and how it worked. I discovered a potential paper in a dated catalog that seemed to be essential to the discussion, and it would be the focus of my next report. The title was The Shifting Magical Foundation of Equestria.”

The echoes of that title bounced around the hung tapestries as I waited for any hint of recognition. “Perhaps you might know the author, Comet Tail.”

The Princess needed to mask her facial reactions as best she could, but I spotted that slight bulging of her eyes and tension in her cheek. “That name, it is familiar.” A weight shift was the first movement that Princess Twilight made during this session, besides the flowing of her hair. “How dated was the catalog you referenced?”

“It was dated fifteen years ago, Princess.” Sources tended to lose relevance over time, so I thought that was her consideration for the paper. Her concentration yielded a different conversation, however.

With dismay, she told me, “Then, it would not be in the Archives, I’m afraid.” Her eyes darted from the windows to the walls, as if overwhelmed by the memories of her past, just as my eyes once did. No, those fleeting eyes were focused on the mind’s visions. She was scheming.

“Luster,” she stated, “I have a hunch about where you may find the study you’re looking for. I know this time of year is busy for you, as it is for me, and the only way to uncover the whereabouts of this paper is one that will take time — potentially wasted time. I know from past conversations that you would not normally take that risk.”

The Princess could pinpoint the exact moment where she would dumbfound me with a simple sentence. Just like that, she dropped the scroll of my life to the floor and spelled it out in front of me. Sometimes, she learned things about me that I would never have picked up on. (I’d need to learn that skill from her sometime, it seemed to come in handy for her.) Because of her dissection, an important decision split and scattered within my mind, so I used one of my meeting fallbacks to gain insight and time in order to make that decision. “What do you think, Princess Twilight?”

She rose up from her seat with one quick motion, batting the wind into my mane and descending to the floor. In a much quieter voice, she said, “This is not my decision, but the fact that you are even debating this shows a shift in your priorities, my student.” She parked her haunches on the carpet. I matched her.

School responsibilities and potential award-winning research didn’t exactly weigh up in my mind. “You’re right. I’m internally invested in these findings, much more than my general schoolwork. It could not only help my spellcasting, but also it could be some of my finest work yet.” I put down my wandering hoof, putting a stop to mere gesturing. “I’ll take that risk, Princess.”

“Very well.” With a head lean and a bright horn, she found the scrolls and quill she kept behind her throne. “I’m making a note to send to the pony who will help you find this paper. Her name is Moondancer, the librarian in the School of Friendship.”

Before I could even utter a question, she broke into my line of thought. “You must find the paper yourself, Luster. And, yes, that would be in Ponyville.”

“I’m prepared to do the work, Princess.” When she signed and rolled up the scroll, she tossed it towards me, revealing that resting smile again. “You seem to have the logistics already worked out.”

She covered her chuckling snout before spewing out a lengthy series of instructions. If anywhere, the paper was either in the two Ponyville libraries or in the Time Tower here in Canterlot, but the only key to the tower was kept by Moondancer when she left for Ponyville. Because school was out for the weekend, Twilight suggested flying out after our meetings, but I decided to do so in the morning after my run. The Mayor in Ponyville as well as the Headmare of the Friendship School saw to it that I was housed in the castle during my stay under their hospitality.

There was also copious encouragement for me to visit the school and explore Ponyville. Already, piles of stories about the town had been shared with me. The journal she published was required reading in some of my classes, and that first entry was riddled with squandered apprehension from the student of a princess. It would’ve been harder to be any more obvious.

Apprehensive thoughts never came, however. Ponyville did seem like a quaint, abundant, and unfamiliar place, so learning was bound to come my way – learning without the adrenaline of a deadline or the pressure of a grade. To me, it seemed like an overall positive thing, and it had the potential to restore my energy. Although the friendship propaganda had been branded into everypony’s mind in that place at that point, it didn’t dissuade me. Instead, I wondered about writing my own journal in a tree-library surrounded by others.

A checklist swirling down to my hooves paused my thoughts. “And finally, I will give notice to your teachers that any assignments due Monday are extended.” The lines of muscle in my neck were swelling as I gave one last nod. “That should cover all of your concerns, but if there is anything else I can do for you, let me know.”

Twilight retreated her focus from our conversation, and I took the time to readjust my posture. She followed the filtered light, sparkling the dust as it flowed along the air. The low sun notified her of the time. “Come, let’s take a walk to the towers of the castle. Along the way, we can do our usual activity.”

Ethereal blobs of hair magic tickled my sides as I turned to follow Twilight’s long strides. Catching up to her, I noticed the similarities to the start of my journey through Canterlot last week. Passing by Rough House, I remembered the vendor and his contraband wares. The protesters and their ‘truth’ rang out in the vast hall of my mind. “Princess Twilight, I’d like to go first this week.”

She paused before the door to the castle hallway, allowing me to open it and lead. “Ask away, my faithful student.”

“Well.” I swallowed, absently opening the door and avoiding her motherly gaze. “I’m sure you know about the protest that occurred at the school last week. I was there.” Admitting that made my lungs squeeze. “A-a friend took me there, it was the first I’d heard of such a group. So, I took the opportunity to learn their perspective on things. They talked about the danger of spellcasting, its unpredictability, and its unregulated use. Magic has become widespread, and ponies seem to be concerned for their own wellbeing.” I navigated this maze of a castle with hesitancy, looking back to my teacher constantly just to confirm my decisions.

The windows and tapestries and carpets all blended together. “You have studied magic far longer than myself, Princess Twilight. I have to know what you think, but be completely honest with me. I have my own experience to claim the contrary to what I assume is your answer. Is magic safe?”

My one question for the evening was not met with any trace of worry nor intrigue. The long shadows of the low sun hung across her long snout. The corridor was empty, save for some Guards, but the Princess waited for even those creatures to pass. Scanning around again, she slowed her pace to a shuffle before answering.

“Before I ruled, the study of magic was decentralized. Wizards were scattered across the land, reading findings for hours upon hours, only to maybe expand upon these works by sheer luck or incredible ingenuity. What they could accomplish, they would write down, adding to the massive piles. It was inconvenient at best and inaccessible at worst.

“The only times of true collaboration occurred either through chance friendships or the School of Magic, where Princess Celestia was able to gather the most knowledgeable minds as teachers in order to forge connections between the talented minds of the future. When I ascended the throne, I began expanding upon what Celestia built because I discovered the power of coordinating the study of magic under one roof. Building upon the foundations at the school, I instituted a peer-review system similar to what I saw in the human world. This coordination took a bit to get going, but through the teamwork of great minds, the innovation of magic has been booming. I preface my answer with that because of how it has shaped my view of magical study.

“Scientific endeavors always encounter potential dangers, either by producing technology that others can use for their own purposes or by delving into unknown areas and taking calculated risks. Under our review boards, anything deemed too dangerous to study has been denied. The progress of magic has produced improvements for everypony’s lives, like our medicinal potion production or the crystal technology that we’ve been trailblazing. Not only that, but refining older spells have increased their accuracy and reliability.

“Because of this, and because of the advancements in literature distribution, ponies everywhere are more involved with magic than ever. I am not worried about this, however, because while magic can be dangerous in the wrong hooves, that has always been the case, and Equestria has yet to fall to the hooves of another. Magic itself is safer than it ever has been, and will only grow safer under my rule. I know that the spell you never meant to cast scared you, Luster, but I assure you that anything like that has been avoided ever since.”

Princess Twilight gave her lungs and my brain some time to breathe, to process. I knew that she was right before I even asked the question, but some reassurance never hurts. I hadn’t realized how recent these scientific developments were, and it was interesting the route she took to establish the scientific conglomerate as a credible source. It solidified my faith in the system. It solidified my faith in her.

That wouldn’t stop my research with Flurry Heart, however.

As we rounded the last turn towards the Princess Quarters, she asked me her question for the evening. “Luster, you have done consistent work thus far as my protégé. I hope that I express my gratitude towards you often. This mentorship, however, will not last forever.”

If the wind weren’t completely knocked out of me, I would’ve broken our only rule and interrupted her. Before I could pick up the pieces, she continued. “You have accelerated your schedule to finish this curriculum far earlier than your peers. Sooner than you might think, there will be nothing left that we at the school could teach you.

“I do not expect you to have a plan. In fact, I suspect that any plan you make will be twisted by circumstance. You know this, and it has always been your style to take things as they come. Yet, the passionate drive within you must be able to find a goal, a benchmark, a point to consider as an achievement. Otherwise, you may not be able to appreciate all that you have done. There’s so much time left to spend living your life. Where do you see yourself in ten years, Luster?”

“I’ll be doing research, Princess!” We stopped at the tower’s entrance. “Perhaps I could even be a teacher here at the school. After all, I know these curricula like the back of my hoof, and you have complimented my presentations before. I had also hoped I could still work with you…”

I noticed the longing look in Princess Twilight’s large, glassy eyes. “I must be off, Luster, but I think you missed my point. There’s much more to your future than simply your occupation. Where will you live? What research will you be doing? What hobbies will you have? Who will you spend your time with?”

Leveling with me, she held her gaze so I didn’t wind up distracted by all the pounding thoughts. For a moment, I saw the student, Twilight Sparkle. “What is your heart telling you? Please, consider this question while you are in Ponyville.”

She pulled me in quickly and firmly with two forelegs encasing me. “Oh! Y-yes Princess Twilight.” The embrace was quickly returned, and the warmth shared between us was not just a polite parting. She saw the anxiousness in my eyes when she began this topic. Yet, this was for her as well. Reality reared its ugly head during our discussion, and although she may have rehearsed this, the impact was only just hitting her. This hug was comfort, a comfort which the both of us desperately needed in this rapidly changing world.

This hug was my first in a long time.

“Best of luck in your research.” She nuzzled me as she pulled away and squared up with the door. “I eagerly await your report.”

I sat down, drained from today’s meetings. From my left, a box of tissues was presented by a teal foreleg. “You need one?” Rough House asked.

“No, I think I’ll be okay,” I said with a dismissing hoof. “Thank you.”

The Guardsmare simply nodded, opened the door to the tower, and left me to wonder what I would do without Princess Twilight’s guidance.

Lime green saddlebags slumped patiently against my chipped, grayed door frame. Usually, I packed them in the mornings before school. My nightly routine started and ended with my bed spread. The stars and the moon were only part of my momentary lapses from work. This time, however, the still night air hung around me, inviting me to take in the atmosphere. Explorers found similar scenes every day, but the precursory feeling that sight gave me was something I only experienced once before. Memories of when I left for the School of Magic came flooding in after being pushed to the side for so long.

My father stuffed those same bags as if they were made of rubber. He carried them with a delicate hoof past the thin ascending steps into the entryway. In the kitchen, my mother doted on me, becoming an uncomfortable coat in the summer night’s humid heat. While they graced my ears with words of longing and concern, what caught my attention was their insurmountable giddiness.

It made sense. They were sending their little filly off to the Princess Twilight’s school of magic. The princess they thanked endlessly.

The one who my father saw saved the world on that fateful day in Ponyville.

Individual words and memories rarely left meaningful impacts on me. My horn dodged his horn as we nuzzled, and he said, ‘If you could even be one bit the pony that Princess Twilight Sparkle is, I wouldn’t be happier. So go out there, you don’t have to worry about us. Chase down that dream with everything you’ve got!’

Glancing past him, the white door frame remained closed for just that night. No hooves would stomp past it, and no greetings or goodbyes would bounce by it. The saddlebags lay stagnant, an inevitable omen of change. On the other side of that door, I had no idea there would be a tiny apartment within which I would toil until candles burned up. I couldn’t see it then, and so it wasn’t real. Instead, I focused on hugging my parents, and in return they prepared me as best they could for the future. That kitchen fed me wisdom a la carte, dimly lit but lively all the same.

Things didn’t change all too much. Packed saddlebags, words of wisdom, and hugs marked today as a day to remember. Most importantly, it was a day where the scrambling and scratching no longer filled the room. I couldn’t remember if that had ever been the case before. I chased and chased, just like my father said, but now another door shrouded the beyond. The predictability of routine left a vacancy in my brain, and whether that’s what prevented me from falling asleep or not, I didn’t know how to fill it in.

A sluggish journey to the kitchen for a glass of water was all I could come up with. The slow sips reflected the soft moonlight onto the light brown wood of the cabinets. Even in the dark, my brain finally picked up on the jarring clashes of color between the dull blue walls and the cabinets. I hadn’t noticed it before.

Still, my brain tried following different neural pathways of potential problems. Each one led to a dead end, but after years of threatening deadlines constantly foreboding, one day without them was almost even more nerve-wracking. Constant progression was my state of being. After each unfounded worry was disputed, however, I finally loosened my muscles and kept my hooves on the ground. Another sip emptied out the glass, and so I put it in the sink which was more empty than normal. There was nothing to do but sleep, it was optimal. Finally, it was a good use of my time.

On the old mattress, creaky and dented, I laid there smiling. Staring at that door wouldn’t have removed the impending change or revealed the future behind it. And besides, that mystery was exciting as well. The only preparation left was to go unconscious and bring tomorrow closer. In this situation, a breath of air and the quiet within it could help me progress.

Tomorrow, the door opens, and those lime green saddlebags resume their chase.