• 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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9. How I Met Your Mother

CE 1988

Night Light ignored the crowds, sights, sounds, and smells of Canterlot; only some automatic part of him was aware of the oncoming pedestrians and warning lights, dodging and stopping as necessary. The top of his mind was busy ruminating on Velvet Rope's invitation. The crescent moon was a symbol from the ancient days of pony history, back when the moon ran free throughout the sky; he had never seen it used for a seal before, and was not quite sure what to expect. He had decided not to open it in public, for reasons that seemed sillier the more he thought about them. Somehow, being silly made them no less compelling.

His curiosity burned brighter and his anticipation grew, his pace unconsciously increasing until he made it back to his small dorm room, on the seventh floor of the student tower. Panting from the climb, he shut his door behind him, locked it, and placed the sealed scroll carefully on his desk. He summoned a glass of water and drank deeply. He loved the view from his room but hated the climb; he eagerly anticipated the class next semester where he would finally learn teleportation. He had found and read a few spellbooks describing it, but the large warnings and emphasis on practice suggested that it probably wasn't a spell he should experiment with on his own. He realized he was stalling, glanced at the door and windows to make sure he was alone, and then broke the seal on the scroll.

The unrolled scroll contained an address, a time and date, and a brief note suggesting he wear something nice. Well, that was underwhelming, he thought.

He had shown up early, unable to contain his excitement. He had dressed about as well as a student on a scholarship could afford, and seeing his reflection in the many plate glass windows of Canterlot, he wondered if he would have looked better with nothing on. Is it better to be thought poor or look poor? he idly mused.

And, unfortunately, he was idle; the address was for a closed shop in a narrow alleyway. He could barely make out its dirty sign; a vial, perhaps, and a pony? He tried the door, only to find it was locked. Placing his ear against it revealed neither sounds nor secrets, and so he settled down to wait. Maybe it’s a front for a subterranean meeting hall?, he wondered, and his suspicions grew progressively more fanciful as he waited.

The sound of hoofsteps coming down the alley interrupted him just as he imagined that they would get put into bottles which would be launched to the Moon, as hinted at by the shop's sign and the scroll's seal. He saw Ever Dependable, Swift Canter, and Glancer rounding the corner, breaking into smiles when they saw him. He smiled back, self-consciously noting that they all wore outfits noticeably fancier than his.

They tapped hooves in greeting, and then Ever Dependable levitated a key out of one of his pockets, opening the door to the shop. They stepped inside, and Night barely noticed the brief quiver of passing through a magical ward, the rest of his senses overwhelmed with the strange sights and stranger smells of the dimly lit shop. The primary impression was one of clutter, with bizarre objects too unique to be categorized scattered wherever they could physically fit, unlabeled jars and books stacked haphazardly on shelves. He noticed what looked like a zebra skull before Ever Dependable closed the door, cutting off most of the light entering the shop. Night heard Ever Dependable lock the door behind him and clear his throat.

"Night Light," he began in his deep voice, "you stand before us a candidate to join our society. The chief of our virtues is silence; you must swear to keep our secrets without even knowing our name."

"Well, if you could tell it to me beforehand, then it wouldn't be very secret, would it?"

Swift muffled a chuckle, and Ever Dependable frowned at him. "This is typically a solemn affair."

Night frowned. "Oh, fine." His frown deepened when he realized that he didn't know where Glancer was anymore.

"Your responsibilities are for life; even if you are expelled from our number, you will still be sworn upon your magic to maintain your silence."

He paused, and Night realized just how quiet the shop was, except for a distant rustling. The lights had grown even softer; somehow, he was still clearly visible, but only Ever's muzzle was softly illuminated, his eyes were just glints in the dark above that, and the rest of his body the faintest suggestion of a shadow. Swift stood to their side, watching the two of them, her eyes the only part of her Night could readily differentiate from the shelves and junk around them. There was still no hint of Glancer.

"Our other virtues are openness, truth, and amity. You will be expected to listen to, advise, and aid any fellow of the society to the best of your ability; and you will be able to expect the same from your fellows."

Night spooked as Glancer's soft voice continued from behind him, "Will you swear yourself to these virtues, of your own free will and accord, on your life, honor, and magic? If so, say I will swear."

Night felt the yes on his tongue, his mind flinching away from even the thought of saying no. But he knew that this was serious, and, by Celestia, he would take fifteen seconds to think about an oath that would last his entire life instead of acting immediately to avoid embarrassment.

What was the worst thing that could happen? His time constantly bled away by people he had sworn to help, his own projects and dreams languishing. Having to choose between doing something illegal or that he disagreed strongly with and losing his magic. How likely were they? Rather unlikely, but possible. What was the best thing that could happen? A constant stream of interesting issues to think about. Connections to implement ideas on a scale larger than he could ever do himself. How likely was that? A bit optimistic, but not too unlikely. What were the median and average cases? Were they worth it? He glanced from Ever to Swift, and if they were impatient, they didn't show it. "I will swear," he said with a firm nod.

Glancer walked from behind him to beside him, the pale glow of his levitation enough to see what he was carrying: two vials, one large and the other small, and an open carrying case, containing a brush, which to Night's horror, he realized was probably made of unicorn horn, with bristles that had the look of pony hair.

Glancer extended the large vial towards him, and Night took it with his magic. "This is a third of the spell to bind your oath to your magic," Glancer explained, "and this," as he shook the small vial, "is another third. Neither will affect you without the last third: your oath, given without equivocation or reservation. Please, drink all of that vial, and stand still; your throat will feel odd, and this will be cold." He unstoppered the small vial, a faint, sharp smell mixing with the smells coming from the rest of the shop.

Night opened his vial, smelling the contents. It was surprisingly pleasant; a deep smell that reminded him of granite and oak, of mountains and tall trees. He drank it with three quick gulps, stoppering the empty bottle, which Swift took from him. It did feel odd, like it had coated his mouth and throat and stuck there, rather than sliding all the way through to his stomach. Glancer dipped the brush in the small vial, and carefully painted his horn from base to tip, moving with the spiral to ensure every ridge was covered. Swift coughed and shifted her position as they waited for Glancer to finish.

Finally, it was all done, and Glancer stoppered the small vial, wiping the brush off on a small cloth and returning it to its case. Ever looked Night in the eyes, and said, "Repeat after me:"

"I, of free mind and spirit, in the presence of these witnesses, do solemnly declare that I shall keep all secrets entrusted to me by my fellows; that I will embody the virtues of silence, openness, truth, and amity towards my fellows; and that I shall do so for as long as I live."

At the conclusion of the oath, Night Light's throat erupted with an electric sensation, and he coughed out a small cloud of deep red smoke, which crackled with sparks. The three ponies stepped into the light, smiling brightly. "Welcome to the Lunar Society, brother," they said, hugging him warmly.

"What is that?" he asked, pointing at the cloud which was rapidly fading.

"The safety precaution," Glancer explained. "The original spell only had the horn ointment and the oath; we added a throat coating that will itch if you are about to reveal any secrets, so you don't do so by accident."

Night burped, a few more sparks escaping his mouth. Swift snorted, then explained "It's also a bit more showy than it needs to be. It helps make it obvious that new members have taken the oath." Night shook his head, causing another burp, and then frowned.

Ever smiled at him. "Don't worry, it'll fade by next morning, and it'll get less frequent as the night goes on." He looked at Swift, "Are we ready to head out?"

She nodded. "Just give me a minute to prepare the circle."

Night's earlier fears (about their mode of locomotion, at least) were unfounded; it turned out that they would use a standard teleportation circle. She drew it carefully, and Night noted many embellishments that he had not seen on circles before. They took their places in the center, the three of them lighting up their horns as they started the joint teleportation spell. Night, not yet practiced in such spells, simply watched.

They stood there for a moment, their magic humming. Night was able to tell by the beat frequencies that the three of them weren't quite harmonized, but couldn't tell if that was on purpose or not. As he was still calculating whether or not to interrupt them to point that out, he felt a push, and then a pull, and then a BANG, and suddenly they were standing in the middle of a large, well-apportioned hall, surrounded by well over a hundred unicorns, ranging from college-aged to those with three hooves in the grave, all dressed well, their horns still glowing slightly from their half of the teleportation spell, clapping their hooves together to applaud the four's arrival.

Velvet Rope melted out of the crowd and sauntered up to them, smiling deeply at Night Light. "Welcome to the Lunar Society!" He gave him a quick hug, causing Night to burp up more sparks, causing widespread smiles and laughter. "Let me introduce you to everyone."

And so he was swept from table to table, meeting too many ponies for all of the names to stick, some of whom he recognized from the newspapers, or from the university, and many which he had never heard of but rapidly became eager to know more about. One mare with a frizzled mane and a cutie mark of happy cattle had just enough time to tantalize him with a description of her research before Velvet gently tugged him away from the table, pulling him towards the next one.

And then they were done. Velvet finally gestured towards two empty seats at a table where Glancer, Ever, and Swift were sitting. Night collapsed into the chair gratefully, and a unicorn immediately appeared by his side to hand him a menu. He realized he was starving, and scanned the menu, realizing quickly that he only recognized half of the dishes, and none of them seemed to have any prices. He ended up ordering something with a three syllable name, and counted Velvet's order; thirty-one in total.

He burped again, and Velvet smiled. "I am sorry about that," Velvet said, "I do wish it were less embarrassing. But it's better than the alternative. Apparently, in the early days a handful of ponies accidentally lost their magic by saying things they didn’t realize were secrets." He shook his head. "How could someone make a binding spell like that and not put a safety on it?" He fixed his gaze back on Night, suddenly looking concerned, "So, Light, are you glad you joined?"

Night Light looked around the room. Over a dozen tables, each with ponies he wanted to talk to, each with a conversation so interesting going on that he could scarce bear to walk away from them. "More than I could have hoped," he said with a smile, which was interrupted by another sparkly burp.

"You know, Light," Velvet said in a sultry voice, "I find that kissing helps those fade faster."

Light looked back at their table, glancing at Swift. She looked at him, then Velvet, then had to cover her mouth with a hoof to stop from laughing. Then Light, confusion evident on his face, looked at Velvet, who had already wiped the disappointment off his, and so Light saw no answers there.

"Or food," Velvet said quickly, "and it looks like ours is about to arrive." He inclined his head towards an approaching waiter with two plates. Light cheerfully dug into his food, which was fantastic, and the conversation sparkled like his occasional burps, dancing from topic to topic like a fire in the night.

As the night stretched on, ponies began to leave, and others to arrive; but the balance was flowing out, and so slowly, the hall emptied; eventually, the lights dimmed and Velvet pointed that out to Light as a sign that the society's meeting was done for the night. They left, chatting with the few others who had stayed until closing, and then Night found himself outside a stately mansion one of the richer sections of Canterlot. He started walking home, and Velvet walked with him, the cloudy skies above hiding the stars from view. They walked in silence, which Night found surprisingly relaxing after a night of talking.

Then they reached the intersection where their paths diverged, and said a quick goodnight. "By the way," Velvet added, "you ought to stop by my place for dinner tomorrow night, if you're free. I've got a sister I'd like you to meet; her name is Twilight Velvet."