• Published 18th Mar 2013
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Princess Sparkle's School for Eccentric Unicorns - ColtClassic



After completing Starswirl's spell, Twilight decides to create a research team to discover new magic for the benefit of Equestria. However, her unorthodox recruiting process leaves her with an eclectic and somewhat dysfunctional group of unicorn

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Prologue

Twilight Sparkle smiled to herself as she gazed across the empty gymnasium. Soon it would be filled with a hectic crowd of ponies, but for now she savored the stillness. The early morning light beamed down from the high windows, and the large hall gave her the same impression as a blank sheet of parchment. A spark had begun dancing in her mind weeks ago, a persistent idea that had burned day and night, and today, she hoped, would mark the beginning of turning that dream into a reality. It was a thrilling prospect, but for just a little while longer, she could hold her breath in anticipation.

Behind her, Rarity sat behind a simple wooden table, humming to herself as she tidied up her papers and quills. Twilight had of course invited her friend to take part in her new project, but Rarity had gracefully declined, declaring that advanced magical theory was simply not her strong suit. She had insisted in helping Twilight organize today's audition process, though, and with the extra set of hooves, the whole thing came together remarkably quickly.

Farther along the wall, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie were putting the finishing touches on their own station. They had come along to help set up, and when they heard that Twilight would likely be rejecting most of her applicants, they took it upon themselves to set up a table to give free hugs and candy to anypony who was turned down.

Suddenly, the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. Strands of magic were coalescing in the air beside her, invisible to the eye but easily detectable to her horn. A tall, dark form stepped out of shadows that had not been their moments before, its hooves ringing against the polished floor. The magic fell away to reveal the Princess of the Night, holding herself with her usual regal poise.

“Princess Luna,” Twilight said over Fluttershy's frightened gasp and Pinkie's applause. “I wasn't expecting you here today.”

“Princess Twilight,” the other alicorn replied. “Celestia informed me that you were holding your auditions this morning. Forgive my bluntness, but I was hoping to talk some sense into you.”

Twilight frowned. “You don't think this project is a good idea? When I completed Starswirl's spell, it was the first time in living memory anypony had created new magic. Equestria runs on magic, and yet sometimes it seems like we barely understand it! Few unicorns learn any magic outside of the their special talent, and fewer still bother to learn the most basic principles of magical theory. If my research team can create new spells, new magic, think of the benefit Equestria could reap!”

“Calm yourself, Twilight Sparkle. I agree that your goal here is a noble one. It is your methods that I question. When Celestia told me how you intend to select the unicorns for your project, at first I thought she was joking.”

“Actually,” Rarity's spoke up, causing both Princesses to turn, “I was hoping to ask you about that as well, Twilight. I was organizing the applications, and I couldn't help but notice—let's see, where is it.” She leafed through her neat stack of papers and pulled one from near the top. “It seems that Prince Blueblood is applying.”

“And?” asked Twilight.

“What do you mean, 'and'?” asked Rarity, losing her composure a bit. “You aren't going to consider accepting that oaf after what he did to me, are you?”

“He's going to get the same test as everypony else, Rarity.”

“But Twilight—”

“I have to be fair about this, Rarity. If he passes the test, then he gets in. But,” she said as reached across the table to lay her hoof over her friend's, “you can rest assured, I really don't have high hopes for the Prince.”

Rarity sighed. “If you say so, Twilight.”

Luna, however, snorted and rolled her eyes. “But really, who's to say? Based on your preposterous little test, Twilight, you may as well be picking names out of a hat!”

“I am a Princess now, Luna,” Twilight said, turning back to stare defiantly at her fellow ruler. “This is my project, and I can run it how I please.”

“I am just saying, the universities of Equestria are filled with scholars of magic, learned ponies with decades of experience that would jump at the chance to work with you. Why not select from their ranks?”

“Those 'learned ponies' couldn't even complete a single spell in over a thousand years. I appreciate the work that goes on at our schools of magic, but the ponies in our academic system are too confined by their framework. They pass down a dogma from generation to generation, without questioning, without exploring, without innovating! If my methods are unorthodox, it's because I'm looking for unorthodox ponies.”

Luna sighed. “You are strange, Twilight Sparkle. I find it difficult to trust in your strangeness. If you were not the pony who had freed me from my nightmare and proved your greatness, I think I would find it impossible.”

“It'll work out, your majesty. You'll see.”

Luna frowned as she surveyed the gymnasium. “You really couldn't find a more appropriate venue for an undertaking of this gravity?”

Twilight shrugged. “We need a lot of room, and Lower Canterlot Elementary was gracious enough to offer us the space. Besides, we're going for unorthodox here, remember?”


The streets of Ponyville were almost never very crowded, but when you were galloping down main street as fast as your hooves could carry you, you still had to dodge and weave to avoid barreling over your fellow ponies. And when your train was scheduled to leave five minutes ago, you had to gallop down main street as fast as your hooves could carry you to have any hope of making it. And when your alarm clock was broken and your roommate forgot to wake you up early on the most important day of your life, you ran out your front door five minutes after your train was scheduled to leave. And when your roommate was a ditzy candy shop clerk who spent every waking minute practicing different funny voices, chances were good she would forget to wake you up early on the most important day of your life.

Lyra Heartstrings was not having a good day.

As she skidded around a corner, narrowly avoiding knocking a pair of fillies over as they ran across the street, Ponyville Station came into view. There was no train waiting at the raised platform, which meant she either still had a chance or was way too late. She rushed down the street, practically leapt up the stairs, and collapsed against the ticket seller's window.

“The... seven... o'clock... Canterlot Express?” she managed.

“Left six minutes ago,” said the gruff earth pony clerk. “At seven o'clock. Passengers are advised to allow plenty of time to catch their trains.”

“Trains are late sometimes,” said Lyra feebly.

“Not the Canterlot Express,” replied the clerk. “Next train is at nine.”

Lyra swallowed hard. Twilight's auditions began at eight. Getting into Twilight's research team had been her last, best hope for getting the most radiant pony in all of Equestria to notice her, and she had already blown it. She slumped against the wooden booth, falling in a heap beneath the window. She magically lifted her namesake instrument out of her saddlebags and stared at it, contemplating how she had once again failed miserably. It was hopeless; she had failed as a student of magic, she had failed as a musician, and she had failed time and again to work up the simple courage to tell Twilight Sparkle how she felt. She wasn't sure if Twilight even knew she existed, and really, she might as well not.

“Miss?”

She strummed a melancholy chord across the lyre's strings, closing her eyes and breathing in deep. The music passed over her, flowing through her. It was always hard to tell where the music ended and the magic began, but playing her lyre always gave her strength. She wouldn't give up. She couldn't give up.

“Miss, I'm going to have to ask you to move. Other ponies are waiting to purchase their tickets.”

Lyra rose to her hooves and turned to the ticket seller. “One for the nine o'clock Canterlot Express, please.”

-

Her setup was simple. The desks had been cleared out of the classroom, and Twilight sat behind the teacher's desk. After almost a lifetime spent as a student, sitting at the head of a classroom, even an empty one, felt somehow stranger to Twilight than being crowned Princess in front of a crowd of thousands. Here, it seemed to here, was real authority, and it unnerved her a little to think about it. At the same time, she had to stifle a giggle at the thought of what she was about to do.

“Our first applicant!” Rarity announced as she pushed open the door. “Mr. Archimedes Fulcrum.”

Twilight smiled as Rarity levitated the application over to her and the dark red stallion in question stepped into the room behind her. It was good to see a familiar face as her first applicant, even if the idea of interviewing one of her old magic professors was more than a little intimidating.

Rarity ducked out, leaving the two of them alone. Archimedes smiled warmly at Twilight as he stood before the desk. He looked the same as she remembered him from her days at Celestia's school; only the flecks of grey in his brown mane and beard spoke of the passage of time.

“It's good to see you again, Miss Sparkle.”

“You too, Mr. Fulcrum. Or can I call you Archimedes now?”

“I suppose a Princess can do as she likes,” the stallion chuckled. “You've come a long way, Twilight.”

“I'm glad you came down today,” said Twilight as she glanced at his application. “I could certainly use a pony with your magical knowledge and experience on my team.”

“How could I say no? When I heard that Twilight Sparkle, my brightest student and the new Princess of Equestria, was looking for talented unicorns for a special research project, I knew that I had to be a part of it. Why, I dare say we will be making history in the coming months!”

“I hope so,” said Twilight with smile. “Now, on to the test...”

“The test?” asked Archimedes, frowning.

“Yes. I'm sorry, didn't Rarity explain it to you? Each applicant must first pass a short, simple test before admission into the project.”

“I, ah. You see, I was assuming that we might dispense with such formalities, given my position and all.”

Twilight shook her head. “It's no formality, Archimedes. Everypony has to be able to pass this test before we can start the project.”

“Now really,” said Archimedes, stomping a hoof. “I am one of the head professors at the largest and most prestigious magical school in Equestria! I have dozens of papers to my name! Do you really mean to tell me, Miss Sparkle, that I have to jump through the same hoops as some pony of the street?”

Twilight gazed levelly at the stallion. “This is non-negotiable, Mr. Fulcrum. You can take the test, or you can leave and stop wasting my time.”

Archimedes snorted. “Fine. What's this test, then?”


The gym was a veritable sea of ponies, unicorns of every size and color milling about, chatting, nervously studying, practicing their magic, or just generally fretting. Rarity attempted to tune out the dull roar as she double-checked her list to prepare the next applicant—Blueblossom, a shy-looking yellow unicorn mare with a blue flower for a cutie mark, who was pacing nervously by the door. Just as Rarity satisfied herself that everything was in order, she was greeted by a familiar voice.

“I daresay this is a pleasant surprise, Miss Rarity.”

A smile grew on Rarity's face as she looked up at the blue-maned stallion approaching her table.

“Fancypants! The pleasure is all mine. I had no idea you were applying for Twilight's project.”

“I'm not, actually, though I do wish I had the time and talent to devote to such an intriguing-sounding endeavor. I'm here in support of my lovely wife, Fleur. She's so modest that she'll hardly admit it, but she's got a bit of a knack for spellwork—much more than I ever have, anyway. It took a bit of encouragement, but I convinced her to come out and see if our new Princess might have a place for her.”

“Well, the best of luck to her, then!”

“Yes, about that,” said Fancypants, leaning across the table and lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, “I don't suppose you could give us a bit of the inside scoop on what to expect? This test is all anypony is talking about, and the tension is starting to affect poor Fleur.”

Rarity shook her head grimly. “I'm as much in the dark as you are, I'm sorry to say. Twilight wouldn't tell me exactly what the test is. All I know is that it must be terribly difficult; every single applicant has come out either livid or in tears. I can't help but feel sorry for the poor ponies.”

This is outrageous!

The room fell silent as the door behind Rarity slammed open and a white-coated, blond-maned stallion stormed out. Apparently unaware that the entire gymnasium was now staring at him, Prince Blueblood continued to shout over his shoulder, his face as red as a beet.

“Your whole setup here is nothing but a farce, Miss Sparkle, and I intend to let my Aunt know precisely how I was mistreated by your joke of a test! I came here expecting to be met with the dignity that my class deserves, not humiliated like some commoner, like a foal, like a, a—”

“Sucker?”

“What?!” screamed Blueblood, whipping his head around to find himself face-to-face with a beaming Pinkie Pie, who was offering him a large red lollipop.

“I'm sure you tried your very bestest, and that even if things didn't go as well as you hoped, you're still a very special pony, and we have plenty of candy and hugs over at that table over there to make sure your day is just super duper!”

Blueblood looked back and forth between the pink pony in front of him and the table where Fluttershy waved meekly. Confusion mixed with anger on his face, as he seemed to be trying to decide if Pinkie Pie was mocking him or not. Pinkie merely held out the sugary treat, her smile never faltering. Finally, Blueblood grabbed the sucker with his magic and shoved it in his mouth with a pout. Without another word, he brushed past Pinkie and made his way through the crowd. Rarity smirked as she watched him retreat.

“I'll amend that, I feel sorry for most of the ponies.”


Lyra was stuck between impatience and anxiety. Her face was pressed against the train's window, and she watched the landscape roar by without really seeing it. She wanted to take out her lyre and practice, but the passenger car was crowded with ponies, so all she could really do was sit and stew. She cursed herself for oversleeping, she concocted horrible scenarios in her head for what the interview might entail, and she counted the seconds until the train was due to arrive in Canterlot.

Most of all, though, she thought about Twilight Sparkle. When she had been kicked out of Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, Lyra had been sure that her life was over. She had crash-landed in Ponyville, moving in with her long-suffering friend Bonbon. Since then she had been living off the bits she picked up as a street musician and Bonbon's goodwill. But another pony had arrived in Ponyville shortly after Lyra had.

Lyra had known Twilight at school, but had never given her any notice. Everypony knew that Celestia's protege was aloof and asocial, and Lyra was too busy partying to give much thought to some bookworm. But when Twilight had stood before the cheering crowds after vanquishing Nightmare Moon, Lyra thought she was looking at a pony transformed. Maybe it was her own recent failure giving her perspective, or maybe it was seeing Twilight surrounded for the first time by warm and loving friends, but Lyra's heart was filled with admiration for the lavender unicorn.

Over the following months, admiration had grown into something more. Barely a day passed in Ponyville where Lyra did not see Twilight trotting down the streets of Ponyville, usually chatting happily with one or more of her friends. Lyra wanted nothing more than to be there beside her, to share in that warmth, to see Twilight's smile turned towards her. But as the months passed, the gap between them only seemed to grow. While Lyra's life stagnated, Twilight's accomplishments only grew. Time and again, Twilight and her friends came to Equestria's aid, gaining fame and recognition that Lyra could never hope to measure up against. If Twilight the personal student of Celestia was difficult to approach, then Twilight the Princess of Equestria was practically untouchable.

Then Lyra had read the ad in the Ponyville Express: an open call for unicorns across Equestria to join in Twilight's research project to discover new magic. Lyra had no idea if she was qualified. She only knew that it was the perfect opportunity to both get closer to Twilight and to impress her, to make her notice her, and she had wasted no time in sending in her application.

The grassy plains outside her window gave way to rocky foothills, and the shimmering city of Canterlot came into view as the train rounded a bend. Lyra lifted her head from the window. She could see her reflection dimly in the glass, and schooled her features into a determined gaze. One way or another, she knew that she was about to meet her destiny.


Twilight chewed her lip as another sobbing unicorn ran out into the hall and she levitated another application into the overflowing trash bin. It had not been an easy day. She had received a tremendous amount of verbal abuse from the many ponies who had failed her test, and had almost nothing to show for it. When she had told her plan to Celestia, her old mentor had given her heartfelt approval. But now Twilight was beginning to wonder if Luna might have been right, that she was going about this the wrong way. But she was looking for exceptional unicorns, she reminded herself. She had to make sure she was getting the best of the best, or her project would have no hope of success.

Her heart rose when Rarity entered the room. Her friend had been working tirelessly all day, and had dealt with as many angry and upset ponies as she had, but Rarity maintained her grace and composure, and it gave Twilight strength to see her warm smile.

“Are you holding out alright? Do you need to take a break?”

“Thank you, Rarity, but I'd rather keep working. If you're okay holding down your end, I'd like to get through this as quickly as possible.”

“Yes, well,” Rarity chuckled and spoke in a whisper, “I don't think you'll have too spend to long on this next one, at any rate.”

Twilight peered at the paper Rarity floated over, and barely held back a groan when she read the name, scrawled in all capital letters in some kind of glittery purple ink, that ran across the top of the sheet. Before she could ask Rarity anything, her friend had slipped out the door, and was soon replaced with a very familiar blue unicorn. She had foregone the pointed hat, but was still wearing her flowing purple cape.

“Hello, Trixie.”

“Greetings, Twilight Sparkle!” said Trixie as she took her place in front of the desk. “You will be delighted to know that the Great and Powerful Trixie has decided to join you in your quest for new magic. You may begin your test whenever you are ready.”

“Uh huh. What's this really about, Trixie?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why are you here? Are you still trying to get back at me? I thought we settled this. Is this some kind of joke?”

Trixie frowned. “Trixie is quite serious, Twilight Sparkle. Trixie wishes to give back to the ponies that she has wronged, as well as prove that she truly is a great magician. Trixie had hoped that she would be given a fair chance at your test; is that not the case?”

Twilight scratched her chin with a hoof. “Huh. Well, I suppose you're right. You deserve the same chance as anypony. At any rate, this should be interesting.”

A hint of worry crossed Trixie's face. “Interesting? Interesting how?”

Twilight smiled and leaned across the desk. “There's no amulet this time, Trixie. No more lies and exaggeration and smoke and mirrors. It's time to show me what you can really do.”


Luna found her sister on her balcony, gazing up at the clear blue sky. In any other pony, such an expression would seem to be nothing but silent meditation, but Luna knew that Celestia was following the magical connection they shared with the heavens. The sun was climbing to its highest point, and though Luna's connection to the moon was different in a thousand subtle ways to Celestia's relationship to the sun, she understood well the simple, driving need that drew her sister's gaze to the heavenly body.

Celestia smiled as Luna landed beside her. “Good morning again, sister. I hope that Princess Twilight was able to settle some of your doubts.”

“Hardly,” replied Luna. “But I left her to her folly. I find it hard to believe that you would allow such a foalish project, though.”

“Twilight is a Princess now, Luna. She makes her own choices.”

“Yes, she reminded me so herself,” said Luna with a huff. The Princess of the Night frowned as she looked over the railing at the city below. “Do you really think she will be able to make new magic, sister?”

“She has already done so once. Why shouldn't she again?”

“That was under extreme circumstances, and as part of the fulfillment of a larger prophecy. Even if she can recreate such a feat, I doubt that recruiting ponies off the street will bring her any closer to her goal. In all my many years, she is the only pony I have meet with such extraordinary talent, and I know that you share my experience.”

“Times are changing, Luna. The Crystal Empire has returned. Discord walks free and reformed, ready to use his magic for the good of all ponies. This is not the Equestria you left all those centuries ago, nor the one I have ruled over since.”

“Is change really so good?”

A look of sadness entered Celestia's eyes as she turned back into her chamber. “Good or bad, it is inevitable. I have always known that Twilight would move beyond my ability to teach her, and I can only hope she will meet with success.”


“Good morning, miss... Vinyl Scratch?”

“Yo.”

The white mare standing before Twilight was one of the more peculiar ponies she had seen that day. Her blue mane was an untidy mess, a pair of magenta shades hung around her neck, and even though she had heavy bags under her eyes, she gave Twilight an easy grin. Twilight searched her application for details.

“It says here you work as a DJ.”

“Best in Canterlot, baby. I guess being a Princess doesn't give you much time to go out to the clubs, huh?”

“Not really, no. Why don't you tell me why you're interesting in joining my research project, Miss Scratch?”

“Hey, call me Vinyl. And I gotta admit, I don't really know too much about 'magical theory' or whatever. But my marefriend is in the Canterlot Fillyharmonic, and they're going on tour for a couple of months, which is awesome for her, you know, but it leaves me without a lot to do. I go a little crazy when I don't have something to occupy my time, and I told her so, so she found that ad you put out, and I thought, 'Hey, this looks kinda neat,' so I figured I'd drop by a give it a shot.”

“You're telling me you want to join an advanced magical research team just because you're bored.”

“Bingo, baby.”

Twilight sighed. “I guess that's not the worst reason I've heard today. If you're ready, we can start the test.”

“Uh, about that test,” Vinyl said with a yawn. “I was out real late last night, and I was hitting the cider pretty hard. I got a fierce hangover, let me tell you, and I'm sure you know how hard that makes using the ol' horn.”

“Not really,” said Twilight. “And if you really believe that you can walk in here and earn a spot on this team without demonstrating your magical aptitude, then I think we're done here.”

“Woah, hey,” said Vinyl, becoming more animated. “I got plenty of magical altitude. I'm up for your test, give me your best shot.”

“It shouldn't take too long. I just need you to cast one spell for me.”

Vinyl Scratch's eyes narrowed. “What sort of spell?”


For a moment, Lyra thought that she had the wrong place. She was surprised when the address she was following led her to an elementary school, and she opened the doors to an almost empty gymnasium. But she recognized Rarity at a table across the room, and Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy were chatting with a grey earth pony mare. Lyra trotted across the gym, praying that she wasn't too late.

“Hi, um, excuse me,” she said as she approached Rarity's table, “I know I'm late, but I sent my application in and I'm, um, here to try out for Twilight's, I mean, for the Princess's project. My name is Lyra Heartstrings.”

“Hmm.” Rarity nodded distractedly as she leafed through a stack of papers. “Ah, yes, I see you here. You'll have to wait a moment; the Princess is finishing up one last interview, and then I think we'll have time for you.”

“Thank you! Thank you so much. I'll, uh, just be waiting over here.”

Lyra walked over to where Pinkie Pie was babbling happily at the bemused earth pony. Fluttershy gave her a smile as she read the cardboard and marker sign they had taped to the wall behind them.

“'Free hugs and candy'?”

“Yeppers!” said Pinkie Pie. “We didn't want anypony to feel too bad if they didn't get picked, so we've been doing our bestest to brighten up everypony's day! We're out of candy, though.”

“I see,” Lyra said, peering into the large empty bowl that sat on the table. “So you've, um, been giving out a lot of hugs and candy, then?”

“Oh man, you have no idea! Pony after pony, coming up to us crying and yelling, all day long! Twilight's test must be super-duper-impossible, because almost nopony's passed it. Oh!” Pinkie started as Fluttershy elbowed her. “But, um, I'm sure you'll do great! You look like a real winner, yesiree!”

“Right,” said Lyra. She could feel her chest begin to tighten with nervousness. She began to fidget with her hooves, searching for something to break the awkward silence, when the door behind Rarity opened and a blue-maned unicorn wearing purple shades stepped into the gym. The newcomer brushed past Rarity and Lyra and made straight for the grey earth pony.

“Hey babe,” she said with a grin, “How often do you tell me that I'm 'the strangest pony in Equestria'?”

“Several times a day, I should think,” said the earth mare with a small smile.

“Well, I've got news for you. I've got nothing on Princess Sparkle.”

Lyra was desperate to try and learn anything about the test that awaited her, but Rarity was gesturing to her to follow her into the hallway, so she reluctantly broke off from the group. They left the gym and walked a short distance down the hall, where Rarity asked her to wait outside while she entered one of the classrooms. In an attempt to calm the butterflies in her stomach, Lyra tried to think of anything but the daunting prospect before her, but being surrounded by lockers, the smell of chalk, and all the other trappings of education only brought back other unpleasant memories of tests failed. When Rarity returned and nodded to her in, it was all she could do to keep her teeth from chattering.

There was something slightly absurd about seeing her old classmate and the object of her affection seated behind a teacher's desk, but it also seemed like Twilight Sparkle's natural habitat. She was looking over Lyra's application as Lyra moved to stand before her, awkwardly shuffling her hooves.

Twilight smiled as she looked up at Lyra. “Well, it's nice to see a fellow Ponyvillite! I think I recognize you—you play your harp in the park sometimes, right?”

“It's a lyre,” said Lyra, “And yeah, I do. A lot, actually. It's kind of, um. I'm sort of a street performer, I guess. And I think I've seen you, too! I mean, I know I've seen you. You're Twilight Sparkle, you're famous. Um, your majesty. But I meant that I watch you when I play. I mean see you! I see you, sometimes, when I play in the park.”

“It's alright, Miss Heartstrings,” Twilight said with a chuckle. “I know it can be intimidating to meet with a Princess, but rest assured I'm just a pony like yourself. Why don't you tell me why you're interested in joining my research team?”

To be near you, thought Lyra. To see your face, to hear you say my name, to pursue the foalish dream that you might one day notice me, might one day see me the same way I see you.

“Uh, I like magic. I mean, I think it's real, um, neat. I went to Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, you know. Well, I dropped out. Got kicked out. But that doesn't mean I'm not good at magic! I mean-”

“I'm not that interested in your credentials, Miss Heartstrings. I'm looking for something different here. Really, it all comes down to the test.”

“Right,” said Lyra, trying to steady her breathing. “The test. What do I need to do?”

“It's perfectly simple. I just need you to cast one spell.”

“That's it? What spell?”

“It can be any spell you want—as long as it's one I've never seen before.”

Lyra gaped in confusion. “But, um, you're probably the greatest magician in Equestria. You must have seen every spell there is to see!”

“Well then,” said Twilight, leaning back. “You'll have to come up with something new then, won't you?”

The floor threatened to fall out from beneath Lyra's hooves. “You want me to create new magic. Right now.”

“And it must be completely new,” said Twilight. “No variations, transformations, or combinations of existing spells. I need you to show me something totally new, something nopony has ever done before.”

“That's impossible,” said Lyra weakly. “Nopony has created new magic in living memory. That's the first thing they teach you in magic kindergarten.”

“I did it,” said Twilight.

“But you—I mean, you're you!”

Twilight's expression turned stern. “Miss Heartstrings, the purpose of this project is to discover and research new magic. I'm only interested in applicants who can prove that they are capable of doing just that.”

“But on the spot? Just like that?”

“If you don't think that you're able to complete the test, then I'm afraid we're finished here.”

Lyra's world was crashing down around her. What had she been thinking? Of course she wasn't qualified for an advanced magical research team. She couldn't pay her own rent, much less make her own magic. Just like that, all her chances, all her hopes were swept away. Her legs began to shake beneath her.

But she had to try. Even if she made a complete foal of herself, she couldn't walk away without giving it a shot. She levitated her lyre out of her saddlebags.

“Is it alright if I use this? It helps me do magic. My teachers called it a, um, focus.”

Twilight nodded, and Lyra took a steadying breath as she brought the instrument before her. She tried to block out the rest of the world as she planned what she was going to do. The problem was, she couldn't think of an actual plan. New magic. How could she do it? How could she create something that nopony had ever created?

With practiced care, she began plucking the strings. Chord followed chord, and a melody began to form. If anything could help her now, it was music. She closed her eyes, focusing on the sound and the flow of magic through her horn. She searched her mind, and recalled the most difficult spell she knew. It wasn't anything new, and she was sure Twilight would be familiar with it, but it was a place to start.

Sonic transformation was one of the most sophisticated tools available to a musician. Physically producing sound with one's instrument was one thing, but to alter the soundwaves as they traveled through the air took incredible precision. Done correctly, it amplified the emotional effects of the music and produced entirely new sounds, allowing a musician to move beyond the confines of their instrument. But one misstep would turn the most moving melody into dissonant screeching. Most unicorn musicians saved it for career-defining performances. If this didn't qualify as such, Lyra didn't know what did.

But it wasn't enough. The music that Lyra was creating was beautiful, but she had to find a way to move it beyond the conventional realm. She opened her eyes as an idea struck her. She could magically alter the music as it flowed through the air, but what if she could alter it in the mind of the listener itself?

Without thinking about it, she reached out to touch Twilight with her magic. The Princess started for a moment, but then relaxed and allowed Lyra to work her magic on her ear and minds. Lyra was hesitant at first, but as she felt Twilight let her into her mind, she realized it worked on the same principles. With a delicate touch, she could shape, change, adjust the music, only now it was Twilight's perception she changed, not the sound itself. She could not hear the changes she was making, only imagine them. But she felt her courage grow, and she the music and magic flowed together in a continuous stream from her lyre, through the air, and into Twilight's mind.

It wasn't until the song reached its peak that Lyra realized how weirdly intimate the spell was. She was touching Twilight's mind, being allowed to enter into Twilight's world and communicate with her in a way she finally was comfortable with. Where words failed her, music could be her alternative. She didn't know what Twilight did and did not understand, but as she strummed the final, rising chords of the song, she tried to imbue them with the thought that she could not speak aloud.

I think I love you, Twilight Sparkle.

The sound fell away, and the magic ceased to flow. Twilight smiled at Lyra, and Lyra dared to allow a measure of hope to grow in her heart.

“That was beautiful,” said Twilight. “And very impressive. A mental extension of sonic transformation. It's very clever, but unfortunately, it doesn't qualify as new magic.”

“What?” asked Lyra.

“You used an existing spell in a new way. I asked you to create a new spell entirely.”

“Wait! I can do it, just- just give me a second!”

She strummed the chords of her lyre again, this time without thought or care. She pushed violently at the sound with her magic, struggling to create something new. What came out was a loud, wailing screech. The windows rattled, and both ponies grimaced.

“Sonic amplification,” said Twilight, rubbing her ear. “A standard musician's spell, if performed very poorly in this instance.”

“One more chance!” cried Lyra. “Just- just let me-”

Without even using her instrument, she flailed wildly with her magic, grasping the first spell that came to her mind. A shower of green sparks shot out of her horn, and twinkled out slowly in the air above the desk.

“Prestidigitation,” said Twilight, looking unimpressed. “Most foals can accomplish that.”

“It's impossible!” yelled Lyra. “You can't expect ponies to come in here and just create new magic on the spot! Nopony can pass your test!”

“Says who?” said Twilight, a small smile growing on her features. “You just did.”

“I- wait,what?”

“I asked a lot of unicorns today to do the same thing I just asked of you, and I got a lot of responses. Ponies yelled at me, argued with me, ran out crying. I was told I was crazy, ridiculous, spoiled, all sorts of nasty things. Most of all, I was told time and again that what I was asking was impossible. But you, Miss Heartstrings, are one of only four ponies who actually tried something. I certainly didn't expect anypony to succeed. But over the course of this project, we're going to be pushing the envelope of Equestrian knowledge. We're going to be trying a great many things that conventional wisdom says are impossible. I wanted ponies who, when faced with the seemingly impossible, didn't back down. I believe that that makes you an exceptional pony, Miss Heartstrings.”

“Does... does that mean...?”

Twilight smiled. “Welcome to the team, Lyra.”