• Published 9th Feb 2013
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The Next Level Of Your Studies - cleversuggestion

Twilight Sparkle gets a letter from Celestia that sets her on a quest for knowledge which will transform her more deeply and completely than she ever imagined was possible.

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1.The First Question

1215 CE, shortly after Twilight moved to Ponyville

Even though she could see the gleaming spires of Canterlot from her new home in Ponyville, even though she had made more friends here in one day than she had in two decades there, and even though Spike had joined her on this adventure, Twilight still felt a twinge of homesickness. No more practicing magic in Celestia’s garden, no more reading textbooks at the Griffon and Foal, no more study sessions at Pony Joe’s. Spike seemed pleased with the new bakery, but cupcakes weren’t quite the same as donuts, and it seemed tremendously unwise to introduce Pinkie Pie to coffee.

She ran a hoof along a shelf of books, inhaling deeply. The feel of leather on her hoof, its smell mixing with paper, glue, and wood, reminded her of her earliest memories and called up deep parts of her that she thought of as home. She silently thanked the Princess for her attention to detail. Celestia must have known this would be Twilight's first extended stay away from her family, and known that living in a library would make the transition less abrupt.

A knock on the door interrupted her musing, and she hurried over to open it, inviting Rarity inside. She quickly pulled off her hat and opened up her saddlebags, revealing many carefully organized swatches of colorful fabric. "Twilight, darling," Rarity began, "We simply must do something about this library."

"Why?" Twilight had asked, glancing around. She had just reshelved, and while she had noticed on her first visit to the Boutique that Rarity sorted her shelf of patterns, catalogs, and romance novels by color and height, Twilight much preferred sorting books by their subject, author, and title.

"Because it doesn't look homey enough!" Rarity declared, gesturing with a carefully groomed hoof. Twilight's experienced eye noticed Rarity’s dust repellant enchantment, and made a mental note to ask her how to cast it. Swapping spells had been one of the few pastimes she had shared with unicorns in Canterlot. "It's just books everywhere!"

Twilight laughed, then described her childhood home to Rarity. Twilight had lived with her parents and brother in a three-story brownstone in a respectable neighborhood in Canterlot, near the university where her mother was a professor of astronomy. On the roof were a handful of telescopes where her mother would show them planets, stars, meteors, and comets. Outside the windows were flower boxes, blooming year-round with an ever-changing variety of blossoms.

But inside the house? From bottom to top the building was crammed full of books. In the cellar, there were as many books on wine as bottles. In the kitchen, there were more shelves devoted to cookbooks than to cooking supplies. In the dining room, each of them had a shelf within easy reach, so they could swap out any books they finished midmeal. ("Midmeal?" Rarity had mouthed, astonished.) The sitting room on the second floor had a few comfortable couches hidden in a maze of bookshelves, and stacks of overflowing books occupied any spare space on the floor.

Any other colt would have had put his posters of the Royal Guard on the wall, but Shining Armor’s bookshelves had forced them to the ceiling and door. (They had briefly experimented with putting shelves on the doors, but that had ended poorly.) One wall was devoted to military history, from the exploits of Bucephalus the Great to Commander Hurricane, another wall was devoted to Equestrian history and law, another devoted to abjuration and magical protection, and the fourth wall was devoted to adventure stories, a complete collection of the Daring Do books occupying a place of pride at eye level.

The house, in fact, had four such collections- Night Light and Twilight Velvet had decided to buy each pony their own copy to forestall arguments over who would get to read it first on release day.

Twilight's personal library had overflowed her room and extended into the hallway. Magical theory and spellbooks took up half the wallspace, as well as a few stacks in the room, but the rest of the room was varied. Economics books rested next to history books, psychology next to biology, philosophy next to fiction, art next to poetry. Her narrow bed was almost a cot, with even more books stored underneath it. Her large oaken desk was the focus of the room, and its top was the only part guaranteed to be clear of clutter; everything else was ordered but not quite tidy.

Rarity grudgingly admitted that the library had a certain charm, and so they compromised on replacing the curtains. As Rarity measured and hummed to herself, Twilight looked at one of the books she had brought with her from home (an old favorite: Theoretical Research in Neuroponynomic Decision-Making) and drifted back.

Books were the first sensations she could remember, but her first memories of events were of the game that she would play with her parents. Every night, the four of them would nestle onto the couches in the sitting room and they would ask her and her brother, "What did you see?" or "What did you notice?" and she would happily chat on, telling them about her day, her experiences, and her thoughts.

They would listen carefully and ask questions. When she said she saw a tree in the park, they would ask what kind of tree it was, or why it was where it was, or what it was doing.

Oftentimes, she would discover she knew answers she did not expect to know, as a line of questions would lead her attention to something she could figure out. Sometimes, the questions stumped her, and those were the ones she grew to love best. What was the tree doing? At first, she thought "nothing," but knew that could not be the answer, and so she said "I'll find out." The next day, she went to the park again, looking carefully at the tree. She noted the shape of its leaves, how its branches spread over the path, how its roots ran down to the stream. She observed that ponies would sometimes stop under the branches, hiding from the sun while enjoying the breeze of the park and sound of the stream. That night, nestled next to her father on the couches hidden by a maze of books, they started the game again. "What did you notice?"

She mentioned the tree, its leaves, all of the things she noticed about it. Then came another question: "Why could that be?"

"The tree could be there to shade the path."

Her father nodded. "How would you know?" This was itself many questions, as she learned from the game over the years. It was "what would you see if this were true?" and "what would you see if this were false?" and "what could you observe to learn more?"

In this way, she learned about the planning of parks, about photosynthesis and transpiration, delighting in her curiosity and growing mastery every step of the way. What was the tree doing? Why? She learned to watch, remember, and ask herself, "What is the significance of what I am looking at? What questions will my father or mother or brother ask me? How will I answer them?"

And as she listened to her brother answer questions, and grew old enough to ask them herself, she noticed that they would ask different questions. Her father would ask about processes and purposes; her mother would ask about things and types; her brother ask about people and potentials. On many occasions, each would ask a different question that would stump her, and then, laying in her narrow bed, looking at the moon through her narrow window, closed flowers peeking above the sill, she would stump herself: "What questions am I not being asked?"