• Published 3rd Oct 2012
  • 3,833 Views, 263 Comments

The Eternal Song - Stereo_Sub

I'm Vinyl Scratch. DJ, producer, lover, borderline alcoholic... and now, apparently, savior of the universe. Yeah, I don't really know either.

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Chapter Five: Animandosi

When you’ve been living in the world for a certain amount of time, there are certain fundamental rules you come to appreciate. You know, ‘what goes up must come down’, ‘using spells you don’t know the purpose of will always end badly’, and ‘vodka and chocolate sauce should not mix ever under any circumstances’. Basic stuff.

‘Octavia does not fight’ was another one of those rules. Short of the occasional well-deserved smack to my head, I had never seen her lift a hoof towards anything in a way that could possibly be considered ‘confrontational’. Granted, most of the time, she wouldn’t have had to, since yours truly would’ve stepped in and kicked flank long before she would’ve had to get a hair out of place, but still. It was just something I had accepted about her. Octavia, for all intents and purposes, was not a combative mare.

Of course, apparently jumping a dimension or two just throws all that out the window, since Octavia wasn’t just fighting: she was winning.

There was a of hum of steel as my marefriend leapt away from the closest of a duo of pale, shimmering forms, her silky tail wrapped tightly around a long, curved blade that shone brightly in the chamber’s dim blue light. One of the wispy things lashed out with a tendril of bluish flame, and she parried it before leaping up and slicing its creator neatly in two.

There was a screech and a sound like a hiss of air escaping, and the wisp faded away into nothingness. Its partner didn’t notice, shooting towards Octavia and nearly scorching her mane. She rolled to the side, dodging the fire and retaliating with a spinning leap that sheared off a good portion of the wisp’s ‘body’. It screeched again, setting my teeth on edge, and Octavia took the opportunity to stab her blade straight through it.

With another hiss and screech , the wisp disappeared, leaving Octavia panting in the middle of the chamber, oblivious to the fact that three dumbfounded pairs of eyes were staring at her from its entrance.

“Uh... ‘Tavi?”

Octavia spun around, tail swinging up into a combat stance. “What?” Her eyes widened as she realized who she was talking to, then her face lit up in a relieved grin.

“Oh my Celestia... Vinyl, Lyra, Redheart! You’re all right!” She laughed, sheathing her weapon into a leather strap that looped underneath her saddlebags and bounding across the room to envelope all three of us in a bone-crushing hug. “You had no idea how worried I was... ”

“I can kinda imagine by the way you’re squeezing the life out of me,” Lyra gasped, pushing Octavia back slightly. I smiled. ‘Tavi was surprisingly strong when she wanted to be.

She blushed. “Sorry. I’m just... when I woke up, everypony else was gone, and I had no idea where I was. I tried staying in one place for a while, but eventually I decided to head out across the fields and look for you. It was getting dark when I found... whatever this place is,” she said, gesturing at the temple around us, “and I decided to come in here to wait out the night. I didn’t expect it to be already occupied, much less by malevolent spirits.”

“Neither did we,” I replied. “But, ‘Tavi... what was that? I’ve never seen you so much as squash a fly, and now you’re spinning around the room like a regular freakin’ warrior princess.”

She laughed softly. “Contrary to popular belief, I’m not quite as helpless as I look. Oh, and Vinyl, take those goggles off. It’s the middle of the night and you look ridiculous.”

I rolled my eyes and pulled my goggles back around my neck. “That wasn’t what I—”

“I know,” Octavia replied. “But really, Vinyl, I’ve told you this before. Remember? In Stalliongrad, starting at a very young age, all Russani families teach their daughters the art of cuenvidi. Tail fencing. I held the top spot in my district’s league for six years running.” She hopped backwards, unsheathing the weapon from her side with her tail and spinning it slowly through the air. Little shards of bluish light caught the blade as it rotated, throwing strange, shimmering designs on the chamber wall. Then, with a sharp exhalation of breath, she leapt, spun, and sliced the air with a flurry of quick, precise, strokes.

My eyes widened at the demonstration, and beside me I saw Lyra’s and Redheart’s do the same.

“See?” Octavia said, stopping short and spinning her blade with her tail before bringing it flat against her side with a snap. “I’ve mentioned it before, you know. Mostly when we were visiting my parents.”

I snorted. “That explains why I don’t remember it. I was too busy sweating bullets in the corner and hoping your dad wouldn’t decide to stuff me and mount me on his wall.” Octavia’s father was a huge, slate-grey brick wall of a stallion that glared at everything and barely spoke a word of Equestrian. The few times I had visited her parent’s tiny cottage in the chilly outskirts of Stalliongrad, he had glowered at me the whole time before glancing pointedly the various swords and other implements of death mounted on the wall. I vaguely remembered seeing one that looked a lot like the blade ‘Tavi was wielding, but I wasn’t sure.

“Wait, hold on a second,” I asked, frowning. “Tail fencing? How does that even work?” I attempted to swing my tail in a passable imitation of what Octavia had done, but only managed a halfhearted wiggle.

“It’s an earth pony thing,” said Redheart. “We don’t have magic or wings, so we evolved to compensate with regular old manual dexterity.” She twirled her tail around as if to accentuate her point. “Of course, I’m sure Octavia’s had extensive training as well.”

Octavia nodded. “Three hours a day since I was seven years old. The whole regimen: Sweeps, spins, blade-lock holds, strength training, mock duels... My father was a bit of a fanatic about it, but I suppose it payed off in the long run.”

I grinned. “I always thought you couldn’t have gotten those flanks of yours from just playing the cello.”

She blushed and continued, “Anyway. When I came in here, the kvirza and its sheath were just laying there.” She, pointed to a small altar-like construction in the chamber’s center. “I picked them up, and then those things appeared.”

“So they were linked it somehow?” asked Lyra, trotting over to the altar and poking it experimentally. Octavia nodded.

“Yes. As soon as I touched it, there was a noise, like a gigantic rush of air, and then they appeared out of nowhere in a flash of light.”

“So the lesson here is ‘don’t touch anything that’s shiny and tempting, because it’s most likely a trap that’ll get us all killed,” muttered Redheart. I ignored her and turned to Octavia.

“Hang on. You called the sword something. Kve... Kver..” I said, tongue stumbling over the Russani.

Kvirza,” finished Octavia. “A tail foil. They’re the weapon of choice for Russani mares, and this one is the nicest I’ve ever seen,” she said, eyeing the weapon and stroking it almost lovingly with a hoof. “It almost reminds me of one of the Dvedosk thousand-layer blades, but it’s tempered well enough that you can’t even see the individual sheets. And this lettering...” she turned it over, and I saw a line of Cyrilian script flowing down the blade. It was all gibberish to me, but Octavia scanned it and smiled. “It has a name. Udyenr. ‘Grace and Elegance’.”

I smiled back. “Perfect for you.”

“Thank you, Vinyl. But really, this forgework and quality... I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” she continued, moving her head around to examine the blade from every angle. “The curve, the hilt bracing, the weighting... everything is perfect. It would take a master smith to craft something like this, and even then, I would expect at least some tiny flaw, or even a signature, but there’s nothing. And why is it here? As far as I know, we’re nowhere near Russani territory, we have a very strict ban on non-native export. It could be a forgery, but I doubt it.” She held the weapon closer to her face, squinting and inspecting it.

“Er, Octavia?” Lyra asked, walking back over to us with a confused expression. “Not to pry... but when exactly did you become the authority on sharp stabby things?”

Octavia laughed again. “Lyra, I’m a smith’s daughter,” she said. “My talent might be for the cello, but from the first day I could hold a hammer, my father had me working in his forge alongside him. You pick up quite a bit doing that for twelve years or so, believe me.”

My mouth opened, shut, then opened again as I attempted to process the words coming out of Octavia’s mouth. Apparently, not only could she fight, but she also knew more about blades and steel than the rest of us put together. The news wasn’t entirely unwelcome, but still. The idea of my marefriend as a blacksmith and weapons expert was just... weird.

“I... uh... okay. Why didn’t I know about this?” I asked. Octavia shrugged.

“It never really came up, I suppose. Not much opportunity for smithing in Manehatten.” The reply was casual, but something in it sounded off.

I frowned. “I guess... but still, that seems like kind of a big thing to just, ya know, not mention for all the time we’ve been together.” I didn’t bring up how amazingly useful it would’ve been to have a trained fencer alongside me in all the various scraps we’d gotten into over the years. Expert or not, I knew she still wouldn’t want to fight unless she absolutely had to.

Octavia sighed, swishing her tail back and forth agitatedly. “It... well, to be honest, I didn’t want to tell you. I mean, you’ve always seen me as this sort of picture of elegance and class, and... well, I suppose I thought...” She kicked the rubble-strewn floor awkwardly with a hoof.

I snorted in disbelief. “Seriously? You thought I would have a problem with you knowing how to kick complete ass and knowing how to make your own weapons? ‘Tavi, that fight was literally the coolest thing I’ve ever seen you do. Ever. Er, no offense.”

Octavia blushed and smiled, looking both slightly embarrassed and incredibly cute. “Oh. Well, I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunities for using both my talents from now on, if what I found here was any indication. I haven’t dueled properly in ages, so this will be a nice refresher.” She twirled the blade around once more before slipping it back into its sheath with a quiet snickt. “ I still think it’s very odd that a kvirza of this quality would just be sitting here, but I’m not going to complain.”

I had been wondering about that myself. Aura? Any ideas about what’s happening here? My resident thoughtpony had been exceptionally quiet over the last few minutes (not that I minded), but if there was anyone who could give us the slightest inkling of what was going on, it was her.

There was a second’s pause, then the reply came:

One, but I don’t like it.

I sighed inwardly. Great. Hit me.

Your friend’s found a relic.

What’s that? I replied. Short version, please.

All right. Because Sonus is the center off all dimensions, it tends to collect a lot of ‘runoff’ magic from various areas of the multiverse. That’s part of the reason sonomancy works, among other things. Especially thick pockets of magic will actually physically manifest themselves as relics. A relic can be anything: a weapon, a set of armor, a flower or a crystal ball. The only thing they have in common is their latent magical power. This whole temple is made entirely of pure magic, and I’d be willing to guess that the blade your friend found will never dull or rust, and probably is much stronger, physically, than all others like it. The two wisp-like things were probably guardians of some sort, created to stop the magic from being siphoned off.

I frowned. Okay... and this is bad how? I had been expecting the sword to be a trap for everyone, or maybe carry some kind of horrible curse, but ‘enchanted and really powerful’ didn’t exactly strike me as things to be worried about.

In theory, it’s not. But owning a relic is definitely going to get you a lot of unwanted attention. They’re rare and powerful enough that almost anyone you meet is going to try and angle for it. Sometimes fatally.

I snorted. Let ‘em try. They’ll be a pile of ash before they even try to lay a hoof on ‘Tavi. Who are you even talking about, anyway? This whole world seems like one big chunk of empty space.

It’s definitely not as populated as it used to be, but there’s still plenty of rogue sonomancers, cultists, and various other marauding nasties that would love to get their hooves, claws, or whatever appendages they can on a relic. That’s the main reason that the attuned make the trip to Sonus in the first place: to find a relic that they can take to their dimension for power, prestige or profit. And considering you know a grand total of one effective sonomancy spell so far, I’m not exactly optimistic about your chances of fending them off.

So we just keep the sword in a blanket or something and be fine. I’m not giving up an awesome magical weapon just because some idiots might want to try and steal it.

I’m not suggesting getting rid of it. I’m just telling you to be careful.

I smiled. Aren’t I always?

Another thought-sigh. I’m not going to answer that.

I was snapped back to reality by the gentle touch of Octavia’s hoof on my cheek. “Vinyl?” she asked, her face concerned. “Are you all right? You seemed like you were somewhere else just now.”

“I’m fine,” I said, brushing the hoof away. “It’s just... wow. We’re getting to be a hell of a team, huh? First an amateur lightning mage, now a duelist... If this keeps up, we’ll be finding out Redheart’s a retired member of the Equestrian Special Forces who can break bones with a blink.”

“Don’t count on it,” the white mare replied, rolling her eyes. Octavia chuckled and turned back to me.

“Wait, you said something about lightning mages? What exactly have you all been up to?”

I grinned. “And you thought your day was crazy...”

Fifteen minutes of explaining and one explosive demonstration later, Octavia was more or less up to date on the rest of the party’s adventures. My mention of Aura had raised an eyebrow, but after reassurance by Redheart and Lyra, she seemed to accept it. My sonomancy powers had provoked a slightly more extreme reaction, and by ‘extreme’ I mean ‘screaming and diving back across the room’. To be fair, I hadn’t given her much warning before I released the bolt, and I hadn't expected it to ricochet back over her head and singe the wall, either.

“Really, Vinyl,” Octavia said, getting shakily to her hooves and leaning against a chunk of stone. “A simple description would have been just as effective.”

“But definitely not as cool,” I replied. She rolled her eyes and gave me a good-natured smack with her tail.

“Well, the next time you’re about to do something cool, a little warning would be much appreciated.”

“Sure thing,” I said, slinging off my saddlebags and opening one with my magic. “Now, unless anyone has a better idea, I’m declaring this room interdimensional adventure camp site number one.” I telekinetically rummaged through the bag, levitating out a package of dried apples and some cheesy pretzels out onto the altar. “Dinner, anyone?”

Lyra nodded. “I’m starving. Here, I brought stuff too.” She opened her bags, taking a large metal tin out and setting it on the ground. “Bon said she packed me a ‘variety box', but I don’t know what she... oh sweet mother of Celestia.” Her face lit up in a wide grin. “Bon, I freakin’ love you.”

“What’d she do?” I asked, walking over to Lyra and peering inside the tin. I quickly figured out exactly what Bon-Bon had done when I saw its contents: a large assortment of cookies, tarts, chocolates, and miniature pies. “Oh, sweet. Guess that’s dessert figured out.”

“No kidding,” she replied. “Red, you have anything to add?”

“Not much,” Redheart said, sticking her muzzle into her saddlebags and emerging with a bag of carrots. “This is about a quarter of what I’ve got total. A nurse’s budget doesn’t allow much room for splurges.”

“Hey, no worries,” I said, taking the bag and putting it on the altar with the rest of the food. “Dinner of champions right here. Dig in, everypony.”

Lyra laughed. “Perks of being on an adventure: eat what you want.”

The food wasn’t exactly five-star fare, but it was filling and tasted good enough, and soon the atmosphere in the room was warm and friendly, despite only being a few degrees above the fields outside. Lyra and I bantered and traded jokes, Redheart recounted her experiences waking up and running from the thralls, and Octavia simply sat, smiling and quietly taking it all in.

I scooted closer to Octavia, a half-eaten cookie trailing crumbs as I held it in my mouth. I gulped it down and wrapped a hoof around her torso. “How’s it going, love?”

She shrugged. “All right, I suppose. Everything’s happened so fast... I guess I’m just a little overwhelmed.”

“I know what you mean. I don’t really think any of us woke up this morning knowing we would be in a different dimension by the end of the day,” I said. “But hey. As far as adventuring goes, we could be doing a lot worse. I mean, you’ve already found a crazy-powerful magical artifact, and we’re, what, eight hours in? If this keeps up, we’ll have the world saved by tomorrow afternoon.”

Octavia smiled. “One can only hope. But wait. What artifact are you talking about? Udyenr?” She ran a hoof over the blade in question. “I knew it was high quality, but magical as well?”

“Yup,” I replied. “Aura says it’s a relic. Basically a blob of pure magic that got thick enough to melt down into something real. In this case, a sweet-ass sword. It’ll be more powerful than a normal weapon, but it’s also kind of an attention-getter.”

She nodded. “Negative attention, I assume.”

"Mhm. Relics are apparently a pretty big deal around here. Big enough to kill over. But as long as you keep it on the down-low and don’t go showing it off, we’ll be fine.”

“Don’t worry. It’s considered a horrible breach of cuenvidi etiquette to boast about your blade. I don’t think I’ll have too much trouble remembering,” she said, stroking the sword again fondly.

“Sweet,” I replied, levitating another cookie out of Lyra’s rapidly-diminishing tin. “Here, you want one?”

“Please.” She took the offered cookie in her mouth and crunched off a bite, eyes closing in an expression of pure bliss. “Oh, these are fantastic. I wish I could thank Bon-Bon from across a dimension.”

“You and me both.”

A few minutes later, Lyra, Redheart, ‘Tavi and I had made a sizeable dent in the group supplies, and most of the idle banter had been replaced by yawns and the occasional burp. The near-constant walking combined with my sonomancy and the overall stress of the day had hit me like a train, and it was all I could do to keep my eyes open as I laid out my sleeping bag on the temple’s floor.

“Red, what are you doing?” Lyra asked, telekinetically fluffing out her large green sleeping bag with a fwoomf.

The mare in question turned around and frowned, positioning her body so it blocked most of the object behind it. “What does it look like?”

Lyra hopped up onto her hind legs, peering over Redheart’s shoulder. “I dunno, you seemed kinda... what is that?”

Redheart mumbled something and turned away, cheeks reddening.

“Sorry, didn’t catch that.”

“It’s an urgent care blanket. They trap in heat and they’re enchanted to repel disease,” she said defensively. “Look, it was the only thing I could find, all right? The hospital has plenty of extras, and I don’t have a sleeping bag or the bits to buy one. Besides, if one of you gets injured, Celestia forbid, I bet you’re not going to want me doing field surgery on top of your sleeping bags.”

“Hey, it’s fine with me,” said Lyra. “Why’s it all shiny, though?”

“Insulation. The coating reflects heat back inside,” replied Redheart. “Which is good, since it’s not exactly balmy even in here.” She shivered, shaking out the odd-looking blanket with a crinkling sound.

Hmm. Insulating or not, there was no way that flimsy blanket was warm enough to fully stave off the cold that permeated the room. A fire would be the obvious solution, but there wasn’t anything in the stone chamber we could use for fuel, and I definitely didn’t like the idea of heading back outside at night.

Wait a minute.

Aura? There isn’t a way to start a fire using sonomancy, is there?

There is, but something tells me you trying it wouldn’t end well.

I rolled my eyes and snorted in frustration. Hilarious. Now tell me before we all freeze to death in our sleep.

Think of a chord. C major will work. Do the same thing you did before, but with all four notes this time. Be careful, though. Put too much charge in it and I wouldn’t be surprised if you incinerate the whole temple.

I nodded. Got it. Let’s light this sucker up.

“Hey guys?” I said, taking a step back. “You might wanna watch out.” Redheart made a face that seemed to say you better know what you’re doing, but scooted away towards the wall. A second later, Lyra and Octavia followed suit.

Closing my eyes, I imagined the chord, all four notes intermingling and pulsing in harmony. The warm, prickly feeling came again, but it was different this time, more complex. I felt little eddies and flows of power rippling around just under my skin, flitting between my hooves, horn and tail like minnows.

The chord grew stronger, the heat increased, and I smiled as the power hummed through my veins.

Good. All right, release!

I snapped my eyes open, exhaling sharply, and letting the chord shoot out from me in a brilliant azure bolt. It struck the middle of the floor with a CRACK, and a second later, a sparking, bluish flame flickered to life on the stone.

I pumped a hoof in the air. “Hell yeah! One fire, ordered and delivered, baby.”

Redheart trotted back over, holding a hoof out towards the fire experimentally before sighing in relief. “You know, I had my doubts about this whole thing at first, but I’m starting to see how sonomancy can be useful. Thanks, Vinyl.” She trotted back over to her blanket, wrapping it around herself and settling down near the flame. Lyra, already cocooned in her sleeping bag, gave a mumble of agreement.

I managed to get the ‘no’ in ‘no problem’ out before the rest of the sentence was consumed in a gigantic yawn. Creating the fire had sapped whatever last reserves of strength I had left, and I flopped down into my sleeping bag, utterly exhausted.

“I assume we’ll be sharing?” Octavia asked, kneeling down next to me with a smile.

“Mmph,” I murmured. “Get in here. ‘S cold.”

She laughed softly before wriggling her way in beside me and pecking me on the cheek. “Good night, my little heroine.”

I smiled and closed my eyes.

For my first day in a dimension I knew nothing about, filled with things that most likely wanted me dead and dismembered, today could’ve gone a lot worse.

The next morning was relatively uneventful, at least compared to yesterday. After some repacking and a light breakfast of apples and carrots, we were more or less ready to continue our quest.

Whatever that quest actually was.

So, I thought, telekinetically scrunching ‘Tavi and I’s sleeping bag into a passable facsimile of ‘folded’, what exactly are we supposed to do now? I mean, ‘save the world’ isn’t really descriptive. Should I be killing thralls? Roaming the land searching for ponies to join the cause? Retrieving the Magical Muffin of Might from the top of Mount Snooble? What?

None of the above. You’ve still got one step left before you can start on saving the word proper.

Oh joy. And that would be?

Sonus is big, and strange, and mysterious. I’ve spent most of my life living in it, and even I only know a fraction of what’s out there. For you to have any hope of surviving, you’ll need a guide.

I frowned. Isn’t that what you’re for? If you’re not supposed to guide me, why are you in my head?

I’m a mentor. I’m here to teach you sonomancy and give you counsel and advice, not be a live-in encyclopedia. If you want that, you’re going to have to find one instead of badgering me every few minutes. Luckily, that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Oh? I finished folding the sleeping bag and stuffed it back into my saddlebags, and turned to the rest of the party. “Just a second, guys. Aura’s doing one of her information dumps.” Go on...

There’s a book. The Sonomancer’s Guide. It’s a sort of manual for everything worth knowing here: the gods, the history, the mythology, the flora and fauna, you get the idea. There’s a limited amount of them, around a hundred and fifty or so, but they’re some of the most powerful relics around, so they don’t break easily. You’ll either have to find one that’s abandoned or undiscovered, or, more likely, get it off someone else.

I’m not robbing or killing anypony, if that’s what you’re suggesting.

Not at all. The easiest way would be to find another sonomancer and trade or duel them for it.

Dueling? I already said I’m not killing anypony.

You won’t have to. Sonomancer dueling doesn’t have to be lethal, though it can be. It’s more a battle of wills then anything else.

I nodded slowly. All right. So, I just have to find someone who’s willing to give me or fight me for this book, and I’m good to go?

More or less. You might have to travel a ways before you find anyone, but I know a way to make that easier.

You do? I gave a sharp gasp as the base of my horn flared up in pain. A second later, it faded, and I realized I could hear a new melody trailing off to somewhere outside of the temple. Ugh. Warn me next time, would you?

Think of it as payback for the finesse comment. Anyway, what I’ve just done is integrate your unique rhythm into the world at large. You’ll be able to detect other nearby sonomancers, but they’ll be able to find you as well. I would suggest heading towards the one you can hear now.

Blindly walking towards something that may or may not be dangerous or deadly? Great, I would love a change of pace. Rolling my eyes, I shut my saddlebags with my magic and turned to the center of the room, where the magical flame still sparked and flickered. What about that? Should I dump some water on it or anything?

No. It’ll fade by itself once you get far enough away from it.

Gotcha. “All right,” I said, doing my best to put on my Confident Leader Face despite my own misgivings, “Let’s roll, everpony.”

“Where exactly are we going?” asked Octavia. “I mean, do we have any concrete direction besides ‘save the world?’”

“Surprisingly, yes,” I said, turning around and beginning to walk out the arch. “Follow me. I’ll tell you on the way.”

The Elrinian Fields were just as idyllic as they had been the previous day, and I sighed as I set off at a trot across the vast expanse of grass. The melody was slightly stronger out here, but I still had no way to gauge its actual distance, and I was beginning to resent the peaceful tranquility that permeated the windswept meadow.

“Nothing so relaxing-looking should involve so much walking,” I muttered, hopping over a stray stone fragment and glaring at the grass. “It’s like being on vacation, except you have to walk to the island and back.”

“Oh, hush,” said Octavia. “A little exercise never hurt anypony.”

“My hooves beg to differ,” I replied, but I dropped the topic after that. No use in whining when the rest of the party was probably just as annoyed as I was. “The sooner we’ve gotten that book, the better.”

“So what is it, anyway?” asked Lyra, bouncing up beside me with an inquisitive look. “You said it was some kind of encyclopedia?”

“I guess. Aura said it was basically a guide to the world and everything in it. Seems pretty useful to have.”

She nodded. “Definitely. I wouldn’t mind taking a look at that myself. This place is too weird for me not to want more about it.”

“As soon as I get my hooves on one, I’ll let you,” I replied, smiling. “For now, let’s just keep walking and hope that we don’t run into anything that wants to kill us.”

Three hours that felt closer to days later, I finally saw the first thing in the fields that wasn’t grass, flowers, or old chunks of rock: A tiny yellowish speck on the horizon, with the melody leading straight to it.

“Freakin’ finally,” I muttered. “All right, there’s our friend out on the horizon. Now, I want everypony on their best diplomatic behavior. Redheart, that means no snapping necks or crushing ribs.”

She stared and me, utterly nonplussed. I rolled my eyes. “It’s a joke, Red. You know? ‘Humor’? The thing ponies do to other ponies to make them laugh?” A quick glance to the rest of the party showed similar states of bemusement, and I sighed. “I thought it was funny. Let’s get moving before we lose them again.”

I picked up my pace and set off at a gallop across the fields, letting the melody of the mystery sonomancer guide me. The speck on the horizon gradually increased in size until I could identify it as a vaguely pony-shaped silhouette. That was good, at least. I wa already unsure how I was going to handle chatting it up with someone from a different dimension without them being a different species too.

“Uh... hey there!” I yelled, trying to sound as non-threatening as possible as I trotted towards the figure. It appeared not to hear me, so I tried again. “Hello? We’re not bandits or anything. Promise!” I was nearly at the crest of the hill it was standing on now, way too close for my voice to have gone unnoticed.

The mystery pony turned, revealing a youngish-looking earth pony stallion with a golden coat, a scruffy brown mane, and a knotted scar over his left eye. He regarded our group with an easy smile, shrugging off his saddlebags and saying, in a voice like mellow honey, “Hello. What do you want from me?”

I blinked, blurting out the first thing that came to mind. “Wow. Very blunt, aren’t you?”

The smile grew. “It helps, I’ve found. Now, what’ll it be? Trade, advice, aid? Or maybe you’re here to kill me. In that case, make it fast. I don’t particularly like pain.”

“I... er...” My tongue seemed to stick in my mouth as I tried to come up with a suitable response to that. One thing was for sure: this pony was weird.

“I guess I’m here for... trade?” I said, still slightly taken aback. Behind me, I saw Lyra nod vigorously in agreement. “Yeah. Trade sounds good.”

The golden stallion nodded. “I figured as much. None of you look injured, and if you were here to kill me, I’m fairly sure I would already be dead. Now, I’m afraid I don’t have too much in the way of wares, but feel free to peruse my meager assortment.” He kicked the saddlebags open, revealing a small assortment of odd-looking fruits, spices, and a couple shards of multicolored crystal that sparkled in the sunlight like tiny stars. “Nothing too interesting, I know, but the life of an explorer leaves little time for collecting.”

I frowned at the pile below me. The crystals were pretty, and some of the weird fruit looked like it could taste pretty good, but none of them looked close to any kind of book, magical or otherwise.

“Uh... you wouldn’t happen to have a copy of The Sonomancer’s Guide for sale, would you?” I asked, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. “Not that your other stuff isn’t appealing.”

The stallion regarded me for a long second, as if trying to confirm whether I was serious. Then he threw back his head and laughed, long and loud. I frowned, face reddening. I’d probably just displayed my ignorance more obviously than a boldface sign, but I didn’t care. I needed that book, and if asking for one didn’t work, I had a backup plan.

“Oh, gods above... you’re serious, aren’t you?” the stallion said, still chuckling. “I had a hunch you were a new one, but if you’re going around asking for Guides...” His smile faded for a moment, and he locked his golden eyes with mine. “I’m sorry, young mare. I do happen to own a copy myself, but it’s not up for trade. If there’s anything else you require, however, feel free to ask.”

“I’ll duel you for it.” The words came out of my mouth almost before I realized what I had said. I saw Octavia and Redheart’s eyes widen, while Lyra just grinned.

The stallion stared at me, looking as if he hadn’t even considered that possibility. “I suppose that would be an option,” he said. “However, the general etiquette for a sonomancer’s duel requires each party to wager something of equal value. Unless you have something that could match a Guide in both utility and power, I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline.”

“You know, I just might. Give me a second to check in with the party.”

He smiled and turned around, revealing a cutie mark of a worn-looking map with a golden line meandering across it. “Of course. I look forward to your verdict.”

Vinyl, I know what you’re thinking, and I’m telling you that it would be an incredibly stupid thing to do.

Smiling, I turned around and looked at Octavia. When has that ever stopped me?

Oh for the love of...

“Octavia, can I see Ellie for a minute?”

She frowned. “Ellie?”

“You know. Your sword thing. ‘Grace and Elegance’ is a mouthful, and I can’t pronounce Russani. Anyway, I was wondering if-”

“Absolutely not!” she said, wrapping her tail protectively over where I knew her blade was sheathed underneath her saddlebags. “This is a cultural artifact, not a gambling chip!”

I sighed. “Please, ‘Tavi? If I’m going to have any idea of what I’m doing, I need one of those books, and this is probably the easiest shot I’m going to have at getting one.”

“Yeah,” Lyra chimed in. “She does have a point, although I dunno if we really want to bet Octavia’s awesome sword for a book.”

Octavia glanced from me to the sheath and back again, looking torn. “I... I don’t know, Vinyl. I mean, you said yourself you still need training, and-”

“Octavia, I can shoot lightning bolts. Lightning bolts. By this point, I’m pretty sure I’m overqualified for kicking ass. Pretty please?” I pleaded. “You trust me, right?”

“Oh, fine,” she said, sighing. “But so help me Celestia, if you lose this, it’s by the book from now on. No more stupid risks or high-stakes wagers. We have enough excitement without you plunging us into dangerous situations every few minutes.”

Why couldn’t I have been soulbound with her?

Shut up before I decide to bet the amulet instead, I thought, before turning to Octavia and nodding. “Deal.”

She unsheathed Ellie with a metallic shink and held it out to me with her tail. I took it with my magic and turned back towards the golden stallion, smiling broadly. “Does this work?”

He peered closer at the blade, eyes widening as he took the smooth, almost crystalline steel. “A relic blade? I can’t say I would have much use for one, but it will most likely fetch quite a price from those more inclined. You have yourself a deal, miss...”

“Vinyl,” I said, extending a hoof. “Vinyl Scratch.” I levitated Ellie back over towards Octavia, and she sheathed it carefully away. If everything turned out right, It would be staying there.

He shook it vigorously and smiled. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Vinyl Scratch. I am Windsor. Now, shall we begin?” He took several large steps back, leaving a space of around twenty feet of open grass between us.

I nodded, motioning for the rest of the party to back away. “Let’s do this. Guys, you might wanna stand back.”

“You go, Vi!” Lyra shouted, retreating to what looked like a relatively safe distance. Octavia smiled and blew a kiss in my direction, and I felt myself redden slightly.

“Now,” Windsor said, looking amused. “Since you’re the challenger, I will announce when the duel begins. It will end when the losing party says cesura, as is the custom. So, without further ado: Three...”

Hey Aura? If you have any tips on what I’m supposed to do, now would be a great time to spill ‘em.


Oh, gods... all right. This is hundreds of times more complicated than notes and chords, and you’re going to have to learn it as you go. Start with a rhythm.


I focused, letting my mind drift to the hazy place it went when I was composing my best tunes. A few seconds later, I stamped a hoof on the ground and snapped my goggles onto my face with my magic. The rhythm was here now, pulsing through my head, waiting to be set free, and I smiled.

“Got it.”


Oh that was a rush! As soon as I heard Windsor’s words, I let the rhythm free, spinning it into a hard, punchy melody that sparked through my veins like lightning. Even though it was all improvisation, it felt good, natural, like it had always been lurking just underneath my brain. I concentrated, adding a new layer of synths to the pounding beat, and felt the now-familiar warm glow inside me intensify.

All right, what now? I thought, hopping from hoof to hoof in as the song radiated out from my hoovetips. Windsor was slowly circling me, a faint golden aura shining around him, and I followed suit, eyeing him warily. I could hear snatches of his song as he wove in and out, a strange, classical-sounding composition with lots of low, flowing notes.

Keep developing it. Don’t overextend, but if he attacks you, try to dodge it.

I nodded, continuing my circle and never taking my eyes off of Windsor, coaxing my song out ever further all the while. Then, with a flurry of quick, plucking notes, he disappeared, materializing in front of me in a flash of golden light. I yelped and rolled out the way, narrowly managing to avoid the wave of glowing daggers he threw out in a strange, disjointed chord.

Holycrap! I thought, leaping to my hooves and struggling to keep the melody building steadily as I ducked to avoid a second volley. This one nearly clipped my ear, and I gritted my teeth as he wound up for a third.

Shit. Can I fry him now? I though, leaping out of range of the daggers and bringing the harsh rhythm down to a low, pulsing synth.

No. You need to take him out all in one burst, since you don’t have the stamina for a sustained fight yet. Build it more, play defensive. Trust me.

I nodded, morphing the song into a twisting, flowing synth lead backed by a simple low bass. The sparky feeling faded to a slow, steady burn, and I noticed trails of blueish light following my hooves as I hopped and dodged.

Windsor seemed to not want to give up on the dagger strategy just yet, and I used the opportunity to gather the song back together, slowly building it ever closer towards the inevitable climax.

Be careful. He could try something soon. If you lose all the power you’ve stored up now, that’s it. Game over.

I nodded, jumping forward and smiling in satisfaction as he feinted away, throwing another fast but predictable wave of daggers at my head. For my first duel, this wasn’t going so bad.

Don’t get cocky—

There was another flash of light, and then Windsor was next to me with a net of golden chains in his hoof. I yelped, kicking out instinctively and jerking back in surprise as my hoof connected with his chest with a thump of bass and an arc of light.

Windsor flew back, winded from the unexpected attack, and lay on the ground, twitching slightly as the lightning sparked off his body.


Press your advantage! Jump and build it until he gets up!

Without asking why jumping would make any kind of difference, I leapt in the air, starting slightly as I remained there, slowly floating higher and higher. The inner pulse inside me grew louder, higher, stronger, and the prickly feeling grew an almost unbearable level. I saw arcs of azure lightning radiating off my hooves in huge, glowing tendrils, and closed my eyes. Whatever was about to happen, it was gonna be big.


Now! Don’t do it all at once, or—

I never heard the rest. With a half-scream, half-roar, I unleashed the stored power in an unstoppable torrent, gasping as a burning, flickering mass of bolts and sparks tore itself out of my chest and flew in all directions. The song rocked and twisted wildly, but I was powerless to stop it, an acorn in a river. There was nothing I could do but yell and convulse as burst after burst of brilliant energy shot away from my core. This was nothing like the powers I had used before. This was a force of nature.

Through eyes dimmed by tears of pain and exertion, I glimpsed a flash of grey, green, and red as three forms that I hoped were my friends dove for cover underneath a nearby stone. I tried to shout something, tried to warn them, but my tongue was burning, all the moisture sucked away by the raging storm. The bursts only seemed to intensify, and I managed a strangled scream as my entire body felt like it was going to burn itself to a crisp.


And then, with a sudden yanking sensation in my gut, I was facedown on the ground, the storm reduced to a dull roar of synths and drums. I gasped, holding a hoof to my stomach. My entire body felt scalded, hollow, like everything important inside it had been burned away.

Fuck,” I wheezed, trying and failing to stagger back up onto my hooves. “Wha... wha was—” My query was cut off by a fit of choking coughs.

Overload. Too much power, too fast. I tried to warn you, but it was too late. You’re done. Surrender now before you kill yourself.

Blinking my tears away, I saw the Windsor slowly getting to his hooves, looking dazed. My display might not have done too much damage, but it had definitely bought me some time.

I forced a grim smile onto my face, got to my hooves, and shook my head. I’ve got one more in me. Let’s do this right.

Gods, you’re stubborn. Fine. Let’s see it.

I wove the song back into the same twisting melody it had been before, letting the occasional arcs that still sparked from my hooves keep the dazed Windsor at bay. Then, with a deep breath, I leapt back into the air, closed my eyes, and began to build the pulse again.

I did it differently this time, forcing each waiting glow of power to a different part of my body until I was nothing but a glowing, sparking mass of warm energy.

This is your last shot. Remember. Short controlled bursts!

There was a moment of near-silence as I cut the song short, the air itself warping around me as I drew in the last dregs of everything I had.

Still holding my breath, I opened my eyes, exhaled...

And unleashed.

Oh, this was more like it! The storm came again, but this time, I was its master. Every pulse of the bass was another brilliant arc of lightning, striking directly at the spot where Windsor stood. He took the first one straight on, flying back a couple feet before teleporting into the air and throwing up a glistening golden bubble. I laughed, smacking my hooves together, and two pillars of energy shot down from the sky. They hit the ground with twin CRACKS, shattering the bubble but leaving Windsor unscathed. He tried to retaliate with a wave of daggers, but I swatted them away with a pulse of bass and lightning.

And I wasn’t done yet. With another laugh, I released the charge that had been keeping me floating, smacking into the ground in a ring of discharged energy. I began to advance towards Windsor, each beat drawing another bolt from the darkening rings of clouds that had formed above, before stopped to admire them for a minute. I had done that. By myself. With a song.

This was sonomacy. This was power. This was awesome.

Windsor teleported away and threw his shield up again, trying to get behind me, but I released another pulse and blasted him to the ground, shattering it. Then, with a final gigantic burst, I smashed a lightning-charged forehoof into his chest, sending him rocketing across the field until he finally skidded to a stop around fifty feet away.

“Oh, crap...” With the final strains of the song lightening my hooves, I galloped towards him, closing the distance in a matter of seconds. I had meant to hit him pretty hard, sure, but, well... not that hard.

Windsor groaned, slowly opening his eyes as I stood over him. “Ugh... cesura. Cesura. No more. I surrender.”

I was on the verge of doing a happy little victory dance before I remembered I had probably just severely injured an innocent pony, and a friendly one, no less. “Oh, crap. I’m sorry. Are you okay?” There weren’t any visible injuries, but I did see what looked like a line of scorch marks leading down underneath his chest.

Those things tend to happen when you blast somepony straight on with a full-force burst of sonatic lightning. Not that I’m complaining about your methods. They’re a little flashy for my taste, but they seem to be effective.

I raised my eyebrows. Was that... a compliment?

There was no reply. Well, I would take what I could get.

I heard a weak laugh from the ground below and turned to see Windsor slowly getting up, holding a forehoof to his head. “That was definitely something,” he said, smiling despite his obvious discomfort. “It was my mistake, underestimating you in your newness. I’ll make sure to not make it again if we ever cross paths. And to answer your question, yes, I’ll be all right. We sonomancers are made of sterner stuff than we first appear. A few days of rest and a bite to eat, and I’ll be good as new.” He pointed back across the field where the duel had started. “Now, let me get my saddlebags, and I’ll honor my bet. I’m sure your friends will want to see that you’re all right as well.”

I nodded, and we set off together back towards the area where the duel had started. I had to stop to catch my breath a couple times, but Windsor waited patiently, smiling and saying nothing.

Note to self: lightning storms, while fun, are also really freaking exhausting, I thought, struggling to keep myself on my hooves as we walked. Is it always gonna be like this?

No. You’ll build up stamina over time, like any other skill, but for now, you’re pretty much relegated to short bursts.

I sighed. Guess you can’t have everything.

Around a minute of arduous walking later, we reached the spot of the duel. My eyes widened as I took in the various giant scorch marks, shattered stones, and patches of burnt grass that surrounded the area.

“Holy... was that me?”

Windsor nodded. “That was quite a show you put on. I’d heard tales of what a true sonatic overload could look like, but I had never seen one for myself until today. I wasn’t disappointed.” He chuckled. “But where are your friends? I saw them dive for cover, but after that...”

I frowned, glancing around. The rest of the party was nowhere to be found. “I’m not su—”

“OHMYGOSH VI!” There was a squeal, and suddenly I was on my back against the grass, a grinning, mint-green muzzle inches from my own. “Vi, that... that was... just... holy shit.

I cocked an eyebrow. Lyra hardly ever swore, a trait that had been ingrained into her by years of living in the snob-filled snoozefest that was Canterlot. Curse words were generally only reserved for the most epic or insane of occasions, and I grinned.

“I know, right?”

She jumped off my chest, hopping from hoof to hoof and motormouthing ecstatically.

“When you jumped up in the air and it was all like ftcheew and then the clouds and the lightning, and you could hover, and that drop was so freaking sick, like seriously, and then—”

“Lyra,” I said, getting up and calmly putting a forehoof to her mouth. “I know. I was there.”

She stopped, looking sheepish. “Oh. Yeah. Sorry. But seriously, that was so... so COOL!” Her ears flicked up in sudden realization, and she turned around, calling out, “Hey! Octavia, Redheart! It’s okay! Vi’s fine, and she won!” She turned back to me, whispering, “you did win, right?”

I nodded. “Sure did. Windsor put up a hell of a fight, though.”

The golden stallion dipped his head modestly. “You give me far too much credit,” he said. “I was never skilled in the combative arts, and I was a fool to take you on without first gauging your strength. It was a mistake I payed for with my pride, and, of course, this.” He turned to his saddlebags, still laying open on the ground, and retrieved a small, battered, very normal-looking book from one of them. “Here you are, Vinyl. One Sonomancer’s Guide, slightly used. I’m going to miss it quite a bit, but it’s yours, fair and square, as the saying goes.” He sighed. “I suppose I’ll just have to learn to rely on my memory, spotty as it may be.”

I took it with my magic, and glanced at it dubiously. ‘The Sonomancer’s Guide’ was written in faded golden lettering on the front, with a subtitle written in some indecipherable collection of runes. The jacket and spine were both made of worn leather in the same incredibly boring color: a faded brown, worn almost beige with age. It looked like something you would find in the reference section of a library, not a magical guide to a different dimension.

I said as much, and Windsor laughed. “At the risk of sounding cliche, looks can be deceiving. Try opening it up.”

I complied, cracking it open to the very first page. There wasn’t much, just a line with “Property of Windsor Goldenhoof” was written in greenish ink. As I watched, the ink seemed to twist and ripple, rearranging itself until the letters became ‘Property of Vinyl Scratch”. I heard Lyra’s breath catch in suprise.

Well, so much for ‘normal’.

“It’s yours now,” said Windsor. “I suggest a quick skim at the least before you begin your travels again, just to get an idea of what to expect. I would also ask you to take good care of it, but the Guides have an odd way of taking care of themselves.”

I nodded. “Thanks, Windsor. Uh, and sorry about the burns.”

He laughed. “Don’t be. Like I said, they’ll heal. Now, I’m afraid I must be off. Places to go, people to meet, all of that. I hope we’ll meet again, Vinyl Scratch.” He picked up his saddlebags and tossed them on. “May your path be smooth and your hoofsteps sure.”

There was a flurry of strings, a flash of golden light, and he was gone.

Note to self number two: learn how to do that at some point.

“Wow,” said Lyra, looking slightly dazed from the whole encounter. “You think everypony here is as weird as he was?”

“No idea.” Are they?

There was a strange sound in my head, like a gentle ringing, and I started as I realized it was coming from Aura. Was that... laughter?

Most of them, give or take. Welcome to Sonus. Please check all expectations of normalcy at the door and enjoy your stay.

The thought sounded like she was about to say something more, but I was distracted by by a familiar Russani-accented voice.

“Vinyl? You’re all right? You’re all right!” Octavia galloped towards me, throwing her hooves around my neck and nearly crushing my windpipe in the process. She frowned as she noticed my burn marks and shaking hooves. “Are you all right?”

I nodded, gasping, “I’ll be even better if you could stop strangling me.”

She released her grip and blushed. “Of course. Sorry. But, Vinyl...” she stepped back, giving me a once-over, and her frowned deepened. “Are you sure you aren’t hurt? You look pale, and are those burn marks?” She reached out a hoof, and I pushed it away, shaking my head.

“‘Tavi, seriously. I’m fine. Just a little tired. That’s it,” I said, then nearly ended up eating my words as I overbalanced and fell straight on my flank. Lyra offered me a hoof, and I took it gratefully, standing back up as straight as I could. “See? Look. Fine.”

“I’ll see about that.” Redheart had walked up from wherever she had been hiding without me noticing, and I nearly cringed as I noticed the expression on her face. She was in No-Nonsense Nurse Mode, and no amount of whining, protesting, or witty retorts would stop her from giving me a complete and thorough check-up.

“Sit,” she said, pointing to a spot on the ground. I complied, sighing in resignation. Wordlessly, Redheart began to circle me, poking and prodding every inch of my body with a carefully-practiced touch. Occasionally, she would issue a command: ‘open your mouth’, or ‘turn around’, and I would obey it as quickly as I could. Just Red was one thing, but I knew better to try and cross Nurse Redheart.

After a couple excruciatingly boring minutes, Redheart stepped back, nodding in satisfaction. “You’re in much better shape than I expected after that amount of lightning, I’ll say that much. Those burn marks look only skin-deep, and the only thing you seem to be actually suffering from is a case of extreme fatigue. You need sleep, Vinyl. Lots of it. Whatever you did during that duel must have drained your body’s energy like a Celestia-damned sieve.”

“Sleep would be good right now,” I agreed, “but it’s barely even sunset yet. I wanna at least get a little more trekking in before we bed down for the night. Okay?”

She sighed. “No, it’s not okay, but I know better than to argue with you. Lead on, and try not to drop dead from exhaustion while you do it. Where are we headed, anyway?”

“Wish I knew,” I replied. All right, Aura, where to?

The Guide has a map. I’ll need to see it first.

Sure. I levitated the old book up to eye level, pretending not to notice Lyra peering over my shoulder at it. I flicked to the first page, expecting a table of contents, or maybe a prologue...

“It’s blank.”

I really hope I didn’t nearly kill myself just to get my hooves on a forgery, I thought, flipping through a couple more pages with similar results.

You didn’t. The Guide is... unique. You have to ask it what you want.

I shrugged. After what I’d been through so far, asking a book for directions seemed totally plausible. Clearing my throat, I looked down at the blank page and said, “All right, Guide. Show me a map.”

There was a rustle of paper as the book’s pages began to turn. Faster and faster they went, pages flapping like they were caught in some invisible wind, until they settled a few moments later on a brilliant, full-color map entitled ‘Sonus and Surrounding Territories.

I whistled softly as my eyes scanned the page. The map was incredibly detailed, with forests full of individually-drawn trees and winding, snaking rivers and streams that seemed to flow and ripple across the pages. The names of the places on it sounded like they had come out of a fantasy novel: Taurun’s Forge. The Shattered Sea. Riftshire. The Morter Wastes. And in the middle, a large blob of green dotted with red-and-yellow specks: The Elrinian Fields.

“Holy...” murmured Lyra, eyes widening. “Vi, can I see?”

I nodded. “Go ahead.”

She took the book almost reverently, slowly tracing a hoof across the map as Octavia and Redheart watching curiously over her shoulder. It came to rest near the eastern edge of the Elrinian Fields, near something I hadn’t noticed before: a small blue arrow facing north and pulsing slowly with a faint light.

“Is that...” I took the book from Lyra and turned in place experimentally. Sure enough, the arrow turned with me. “Whoa.”

Lyra grinned. “Sweet! It’s like a ‘you-are-here’, except ancient-magical book style.”

“Pretty much,” I said, chuckling. All right, Aura. Here’s your map. Now what?

You’re lucky. We’re only a couple hours east of the Wildwood, our next stop.

Can I ask why we’re going there? And is the answer going to be short?

Yes, you can, but no, it won’t.

I groaned, holding a hoof to my already-aching head. The rest of the party all shot me concerned looks, but I was too tired and frazzled to care. In that case, let’s just go, and you can tell me in the morning.

Best idea you’ve had all day.

I was too exhausted to formulate a witty response. “C’mon, guys. This way.”

“Why?” asked Redheart, tapping a hoof.

“Because the little pony in my head said so,” I snapped. “Now let’s get moving before I fall asleep on my hooves.”

She seemed to realize I wasn’t in the best shape to be argued with and nodded. Lyra and ‘Tavi joined her.

I turned, stifling a yawn, and began the long trek east.

It was nearing sunset when my hooves finally decided they were done carrying my exhausted meatsack of a body around any longer and dumped me unceremoniously on the ground. The grass felt cool and comforting as I laid in it, and I had to fight the urge to drift off right then and there.

“Okay,” I murmured, stopping halfway through to release a gigantic yawn. “We’re done for today. Uh, set up camp, I guess. I dunno. Neesleep.”

Octavia laughed softly, removing my saddlebags and rummaging around in them. A few seconds later, she had pulled out the sleeping bag and had pulled it around me before snuggling in alongside. I wriggled in delight at the warm touch of her body and sighed contentedly, glancing around as Lyra and Redheart prepared their respective beddings.

“No fire tonight, Vi?” Lyra asked half-jokingly as she fluffed out her bag.

I groaned. There was no way in hell I had the strength to conjure up something as big as the fire chord, not after nearly burning myself out a few hours earlier.“Make it yourself.”

She grinned deviously. “Fine.” There was the sound of rummaging, then she emerged levitating a small jar labeled ‘Lil’ Ignis’ Firestarting Spell Seals.’ “I totally forgot I had even packed these until just now. Crazy, huh?”

“I didn’t know you were a Lil’ Enchantress,” I said, yawning again even as the sentence finished. “I mean, I know you love the outdoors and all, but I always thought the whole ‘organized environment’ thing would just be too much lame to handle.”

Lyra laughed. “It was. Quit after my first year. Didn’t even get my Conjurer badge. Kept the fun stuff, though.” She twisted the top on the jar, levitating out a flat, black, cookie-sized disk with a rune carved on it. Then, with a flourish, she threw it hard against the ground, leaping back as it exploded into a ball of orange flame.

I smiled sleepily. “Ahhh. Thanks, Lyra. ‘S nice.”

“Don’t mention it, Vi,” she replied, settling down into her sleeping bag. “‘Night.”

“‘Night.” I rolled over and saw that Octavia was already asleep, an adorable little bubble of drool visible between the edge of her lips. Apparently walking all those miles and the stress of nearly getting accidentally incinerated had gotten to her more than she had let on. I rolled back over and shut my own eyes.

Good night, Vinyl.

Night, thoughtpo... er, Aura. Our relationship had slowly been improving over the last couple hours, and I didn’t entirely want it to go to waste.

And I thank you for it. This will go much better for the both of us if we can cooperate without wanting to kill each other doing it. Sleep well.

I giggled slightly in my exhaustion, closing my eyes and letting that comforting blanket of nothingness whisk me away.

Will do, Aura. Will do.