• Published 9th Feb 2013
  • 11,261 Views, 43 Comments

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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4. A Star Rises

CE 1188

"My name," Night Light would say whenever he was feeling poetic, "comes from my habit for looking for light in the darkness." Most ponies would ask what they would expect if an idea were true, but he would ask what he would expect if that idea were false. Paired with his swift intellect, that approach rapidly gave him a reputation for sharpness, which he took a bit more pride in than he would care to admit.

Professors at the University of Canterlot soon grew to recognize the blue unicorn who would ask insightful questions which required awkward answers. The moment that entrenched his reputation, though, was when he presented a counterexample to a theorem after five minutes of thought, while still a sophomore.

The next day, he was approached by a light grey unicorn stallion with a dark red mane and the sort of body Night Light had only seen on overly fashionable mares who introduced himself as Velvet Rope, which was both his name and cutie mark. They walked and talked about math for hours, then went to a coffee shop and talked about science for more hours, and then headed to Griffon and Foal, a pub favored by students, to talk about politics for even more hours. When the lighter stallion finally had to stagger home to collapse of exhaustion, Night Light, still wired from their conversation, went walking through the gardens of Canterlot.

That was the less poetic reason for his name. He liked to go to bed when the sun rose and get up in the early afternoon, begrudgingly making an allowance for classes. (The professors would have complained more about his frequent absences if they weren't often a relief.) For some reason, he felt more alive at night, more focused; though perhaps it was just less distracted. There were less ponies around, and more time to think, and he vastly preferred the glittering night sky, with its thousands of stars (with many more, he knew, too small to see without a telescope), to the day with its single bright star, too bright to directly observe.

Perhaps there was a metaphor there, he mused to himself as he nodded to the guard patrolling the entrance of the river garden. He had walked this path--past willows and ferns--more times than he could count, and his hooves knew the way without his mind having to take the reins. Velvet--he already thought of him as a good enough friend to abbreviate his name--had suggested some rather interesting political ideas. He had been unable--or perhaps just reluctant--to elaborate on them, and so Night Light could not be sure which of the holes he saw were empty patches of sky and which hid stars he could not yet see.

Most interesting of Velvet's ideas was the carefully hinted intimation that Princess Celestia's rule might have downsides. As soon as Night Light saw Velvet's point, he was embarrassed that he hadn't thought of it himself. Veneration of Celestia went so deep that even he, so committed to rooting out falsehoods elsewhere, hadn't even thought to question it.

He passed underneath the boughs of an ancient willow. Planted over a millennium ago, its branches formed a canopy for the path that wove above, around, and even under some of the roots.

He walked out from under the tree and saw the stars again above him, concepts crystallizing around them like supercooled fluid around a bubble. It took a few minutes to get the rhymes and meter right, but after more pacing he said to the sky,

"We are ponies, like stars in the night;

We are clusters of sparkling light.

But her presence is Day.

Are we visible? Neigh!

For Celestia's simply too bright!"

The next day, he went to classes as usual, though he was preoccupied by thoughts of Velvet Rope and his ideas. Worse, he didn't know where to find his new friend. He had been so excited by their conversation that he had forgotten to ask for any details like that, and Velvet had not volunteered them.

He needn't have worried, though, as a smiling grey stallion met him outside of his last class for the day. “Light!” he exclaimed, “I have some friends I'd like you to meet,” and turned to trot off, swishing his tail playfully. Light smiled, and chased after him.

They swiftly arrived at a coffeeshop, where both coffee and company were waiting. Night Light was seated in a booth in the back, his standard order of quadruple shot espresso already at his place. Velvet introduced him to Ever Dependable, a tan unicorn stallion studying engineering and whose cutie mark was a rolled blueprint, Swift Canter, a yellow unicorn mare studying mathematics, whose cutie mark was a matrix of ones and zeros, the diagonal elements colored red, and Glancer, a pale green unicorn studying psychology, whose cutie mark was a scroll. He had seen the mathematician in the halls of the math building, and the psychologist walking around campus, but had never learned their names. They rapidly fell into easy conversation, darting from one topic to another.

The coffee flowed and the conversation sparkled well throughout the afternoon. Eventually, Velvet stood up and smiled sadly at the other ponies. "As much as I'd like to stay, I'm meeting someone for dinner and would rather not be late." Night Light glanced at the clock, surprised at just how late it was, noting that he hadn't had a chance to share his verse yet. In fact, Velvet had stayed mostly silent throughout the afternoon, listening and watching, and they had mostly talked about the other pony's specialties and Night Light's interests, never touching politics.

"Before you go," Night Light said, "I've got something I'd like to share with you." He delivered his limerick, the other ponies smiling and clapping their hooves together when he finished.

They all stood up, the others sharing a glance. "Quite a find, Velvet," Glancer said. "You could have put together an opposite committee and he still would have passed." Night Light's ears perked up, and he saw the other two nodding their heads in agreement.

Velvet, still smiling, looked a bit surprised. "No need for deliberation?" The others nodded, and then Velvet looked at Night Light. "Walk with me, Night, and I'll tell you what all that was about."

They stepped out into the street, Velvet Rope's horn glowing and the air around them starting to shimmer. Night Light immediately recognized it as a sound-cancellation spell, noting the sounds of Canterlot diminishing, their hoofsteps and breaths the only background for their conversations.

“Everyone at the table today was a member of a society of carefully selected ponies,” Velvet began. “We look for ponies that are clever and open; interesting to talk to and fun to be around. I do the primary screening, and then I put together a committee of ponies that I think can fairly judge that pony's talents. If pleased, we extend an invitation.”

Night Light looked at the ponies they passed on the street, their conversations inaudible inside Velvet's spell. “An invitation?”

“We meet regularly at a private location,” Velvet continued, “and talk about whatever we like.” He looked back, smiling. “I ensure you you'll find many conversations more interesting than our first one there.”

Night Light felt his excitement growing. Velvet was one of the best conversationalists he had ever met, and he was still deeply curious about his political musings. Discussing mathematics and science with the ponies at the cafe today had been electrifying, but little different from discussing it with his professors; he doubted that he could get that sort of concentrated social interaction about other topics anywhere else.“Should I say yes now, or do you need to sell it some more?” he asked jokingly.

“Well, a drawback of talking about whatever we like is that every member is sworn to secrecy on their magic.” Velvet looked back ahead, and Night Light considered that condition. That was the most serious oath a unicorn could give; breaking it meant one's magic would fade away, which almost always resulted in suicide. “To my knowledge, no unicorn has ever betrayed the society, so it's not that much of a drawback.”

“Well,” Night Light said, “that also means it must also be only unicorns there.”

Velvet paused, then deliberately said “Yes.” He looked back at Night Light. “Though, while I'm sure that excludes some quality company in the Manehattan branch, it doesn't constrict recruitment all that much here in Canterlot.” He gestured to the passing crowd, almost all unicorns.

Velvet stopped, dropping the spell, the sounds of the city rushing back to their awareness. “Well, this is my stop,” he said with a smile, levitating a small scroll to Night Light. “Here's your invitation. If you're interested, show up; if not, it was great to get to know you.” Night Light picked up the scroll with his magic, looking at it.

“Thanks!” he called out. Velvet nodded, then walked into the restaurant, greeting one of the stallions waiting there. Night Light began to slowly walk home, looking at the scroll again, noticing the crescent moon on its seal.

Author's Note:

Many thanks to majus for the limerick.