• Published 6th Apr 2013
  • 5,374 Views, 192 Comments

The Seventh - Arvaus

An impossible creature finds herself in a world which already knows everything about her. Slowly, she learns about the true nature of her own reality, her world's place in the cosmos, and herself.

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8 - Vulnerability

About an hour later, a full rucksack on his back and a small tent under his arm, Aaron was making his way back across the starlit fields. As luck would have it he was a member of the university’s outdoor society, so he already had everything he needed to be able to spend a few nights in the woods.

Hopefully Celestia would be there already. There was a chance that she may not have arrived back yet, but if it took her more than an hour to get back that would be cause for concern in itself.

This was definitely not how he would have liked their next meeting to have happened, but was having mixed feelings about their conversation. On the one hand she had still been hiding things from him, staying reserved and enigmatic, but at the end she had finally accepted his offer of help. Maybe he was finally getting through to her. It was a shame that it took her getting shot for this to happen, though.

And then there was a chance that she was actually hurt, despite her insistence otherwise. He couldn’t say exactly what, but something had sounded off in her voice this night had clearly had an effect on her.

When he reached the tree-line, he pulled out a torch and started looking around between the trees for signs of Celestia. It didn’t take long for him to give up on that method; whether she had arrived back before him or not there was no way he was going to be able to find anything in the dark.

“Celestia?” he called. The sound was quickly swallowed up by the trees, drowned out by the rustling of leaves in the breeze. There wasn’t any response at first, but after a few moments there was a faint pulse of light deeper into the woods.

Keeping the torch out to avoid tripping on any roots, Aaron made his way towards the source of the light. Half a minute later he passed under a hole in the canopy. The hole looked unnervingly recent, as if something had fallen through the trees not long before. The twigs and leaves scattered across the ground gave a similar impression.

The trail of debris led Aaron a little way further into the woods until he found a small clearing, and Celestia.

She looked awful. she was lying on the ground on her side, visibly exhausted, her wings lying limp and her chest rising and falling as she drew deep breaths. Her once flowing mane was now just a mess of tangled pink hair, and the feathers on her wings were bent out of place with leaves and bits of mud clinging to them. She looked even worse for wear than she had after arriving at the lab.

For a good minute Aaron just stood and stared, dumbfounded. Given that she had been shot less than two hours ago she could have been in a much worse condition, but he still wasn’t quite prepared to see Celestia in such a sorry state. He knelt down next to her, placing a hand gently on her neck.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Celestia opened an eye and looked up at him.

“I have felt better,” she said, laughing weakly. “I had assumed my magic would protect me from injury, but it appears that some of my flight feathers were damaged. A number broke off as I was landing, and I lost control.”

Aaron glanced back to the damaged trees, then at Celestia’s wing. There was quite a large gap visible where a number of feathers were missing.

“Is there anything I can do?” he asked. “I brought the first aid kit, just in case.”

Celestia closed her eye again, and with a groan moved her wing to the side. Aaron stood up and walked round to get a better view of her; just by the wing’s joint there was a patch of grazed skin, still red and sore.

“That’s where it hit?” he asked. Celestia nodded. Aaron knelt down and looked more closely at the exposed skin.

“I guess you were at least part right about your magic,” he said. “This could have been a lot worse. I think I should clean this up a bit, though,” he added. "In case it gets infected."

Celestia raised her head and opened her mouth as if to protest, then closed it and lay down again.

“If that will help, then please do,” she said instead.

Aaron pulled the rucksack off his back and removed the first-aid kit. It was a fairly small kit, but it did include a bottle of rubbing alcohol and some sterile cloths.

“I’m sorry, but this is going to sting a bit,” he said as he unscrewed the cap on the bottle. He poured a small amount onto a cloth and placed it as lightly as he could onto the wound.

Celestia immediately tensed up, whinnying loudly. Her wing reflexively flared out, knocking Aaron backwards onto the ground.

“Sorry,” Celestia said. “It’s a long time since I was properly injured last, and I wasn’t quite prepared.”

“Er, that’s okay,” Aaron said as he picked himself up, rubbing his chin where the wing had made contact. “Maybe we should talk about something,” he suggested, “to take your mind off the pain?”

Celestia shrugged. “Anything in particular?”

“Well, what exactly happened to you?” he asked as he moved slowly back towards Celestia and started brushing dirt away from the wound before starting again.

“I was asleep and two poachers shot me,” Celestia replied. “I don’t think there’s much more to say.”

“What happened after, though?” Aaron asked, trying to keep the conversation going. “What about the poachers?”

“I did not hurt them, if that is what you are wondering,” Celestia replied. “But I… I panicked and wiped their memories of the entire night. I seem to be making a habit of this. After that, I left to return here and made contact with you.”

“Even though you didn’t want my help?”

Celestia chuckled. “I guess my subconscious is somewhat more sensible than I am,” she said. “But could we talk about something else, please?”

Aaron nodded, but his mind immediately drew a blank. He scanned around the area to try and think of something else to talk about, and his eyes eventually found Celestia’s regalia, lying in a pile by one of the trees. The horseshoes looked rather scuffed and dented from the combination of two weeks’ continual use and the crash, but the tiara and peytral were still in immaculate condition, just like after the explosion.

“Your tiara,” he said, latching on to the thought. “It doesn’t look like the fall damaged it at all.”

“Enchanted dragon-forged alloy,” Celestia explained. “It’s the toughest – and most expensive – material known to ponies. Nothing less than a fully-grown dragon would even be able to scratch it.”

Aaron paused and raised his eyebrows. “That’s… impressive,” he said.

“When you live as long as I do, durability is something of a necessity,” she commented, before hissing in pain as Aaron placed the cloth on her again.

“Sorry,” he said hastily, moving back in case she lashed out again, but the princess managed to keep her limbs under control this time. “It doesn’t seem to have worked for your shoes, though,” he mused as he returned to his work.

“They are made of a softer material,” Celestia replied. “If my horseshoes had no give there would be no point in wearing them.”

Aaron thought about this for a while. Although, or perhaps because, it was all just minutiae, he realised once again that he was probably the only person in the world who knew these facts about the world of Equestria. These details had likely not even crossed the writers’ minds, not being important to the plot in any way, so the knowledge had effectively never existed in this world before now. But as far as he could tell it all fitted in, as if it had always been true.

“So the tiara’s protected by magic?” he asked. “Is that permanent, or does it have to be renewed?”

“Eventually, yes,” Celestia said. “But unless I’m planning on fighting any wars in them the spells will likely last a long time yet.”

“I was wondering about that,” Aaron said. “The part about spells not lasting forever, I mean. It sounded like you were expecting your magic to protect you completely, but apparently it hasn’t. If magic doesn’t last forever, can your own supply run out?”

Celestia gave a pained chuckle. “Until today I would have said no,” she replied, “because it never has before. But you can see my current state better than I can. I wasn’t able to deflect the attack completely, and it’s taking all I have just to keep these small wounds safe. I doubt this will drain me completely, but until the wound heals I will be severely limited. I have even had to let my mane down to compensate.”

Aaron looked over at her tail, which was lying across the ground a few feet from him. He ran his hand across it, but it just felt like normal hair, not the strange ethereal flow he had felt last time.

His scientists’ instincts took over, and questions immediately started forming in his head as he considered these new points. Instead of getting lost in all the details though, he decided to start with more general questions.

“So why would it run out now?” he asked. “Where does the magic even come from?”

Celestia shifted a bit on the ground, lifting her head up so she could see Aaron to give him a weary look.

“We could talk about something else if you prefer,” he said, raising his hands defensively.

“No, it’s okay,” she said, laying her head on the ground again. “While I would much prefer to have conversations like this with a clear head, the questions need to be answered now more than ever.

“But these are not easy questions,” she continued. “We have struggled to find answers to them for many centuries.”

“Why is it that hard?” Aaron asked, surprised.

“Studying the flow of magic in Equestria is a remarkably delicate process,” Celestia explained. “It would be like trying to follow the path of a single raindrop during a hurricane; there is simply too much happening in the background.

“We have managed to make some progress, however,” she continued. “It is clear that everything in the wor… in my world has some magic in it, and nopony is completely certain where it comes from. But we do know that when a pony uses magic it comes from within them, and is not drawn in from the outside world.”

“But surely it has to come from somewhere,” Aaron said.

“What makes you say that?”

Aaron shrugged. “I guess it just feels right,” he said. “Like energy and momentum and things like that are conserved, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some sort of law of conservation of magic. So all magic that a pony produces would have to have come from somewhere… Food,” he finished, the idea falling together in his head.

“That was my guess as well,” Celestia said. “Like everything else in the world, plants contain magic. When we eat them we absorb that magic so it can be used later.”

“But there’s no magic in the plants here,” Aaron added.

Celestia nodded. “Exactly,” she said. “I’ve been surviving off what I had when I arrived, but it would appear that my reserves have been running down over time. Eventually I will run out entirely.”

“I think I’m done here,” Aaron said as he started packing the first aid kit away. Celestia started to pick herself up, rolling into a sitting position and letting her wings lie across the ground at her sides.

Aaron put the rolled-up tent down on the ground in front of Celesta, using it as a makeshift seat. “What happens when it does run out?” he asked.

Celestia shrugged again, raising her head in thought. “I am not certain,” she said. “Magic deficiency is not unheard of, but it is always as the result of some other condition. Obviously I will lose the ability to cast spells, and I will likely be unable to fly as well.”

“Why not?” Aaron asked, looking round at Celestia’s wings. “The damage doesn’t look good, but it doesn’t look permanent either. Won’t it heal?”

Celestia shook her head. “Unfortunately it takes more than just wings for a pony to fly,” she said. “For a normal pegasus like Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash to create enough lift to get off the ground, they would need wings rivalling my own. And as for me and my sister…”

She shifted her weight again, moving round to give a clearer view of her torso and wings.

“I am a little above something which scholars refer to as a ‘loading threshold’,” she continued. “If I had wings large enough to carry my entire weight, they would be too heavy for me to use. Without pegasus magic to reduce my weight while in flight I would be effectively grounded.”

“Wow,” Aaron said, staring blankly into the distance. Feeling restless as his mind swam with even more questions, he occupied himself unpacking the tent and putting the frame together. “Does that ever happen?” he asked.

“Occasionally,” Celestia said. “Sometimes a severe illness or injury can end up taking all of a pony’s magic to heal. Until it passes, the pony is left unable to use their magic for anything else. Cloudsdale’s hospital in fact needs to have a reinforced floor to stop patients falling through,” she added.

Aaron nodded, but continued to put the tent up in silence as he thought. Celestia, meanwhile, just sat and waited patiently. Once the tent was finished, Aaron went back and sat on the ground in front of her.

“You know, the way you describe it, it almost feels like magic is there to fill in the gaps in your world,” he said.

Celestia turned her head sideways in confusion. “What do you mean?” she asked.

“Er, I’m not sure how best to put it,” Aaron continued. “But it sort of feels like pegasi were designed with undersized wings, and then magic was used in to explain how they can still fly.”

Celestia nodded, considering the idea for a while. “I think I understand,” she said. “Certainly some aspects of magic were always part of the writers’ intent, but the concept has expanded to cover any additional inconsistencies – to fill in the gaps, as you say.”

“Yeah, something like that,” Aaron replied. “I’m not sure I’d call them inconsistencies, though; that feels a bit unfair. Artistic license, maybe?"

Celestia nodded, but didn't respond. Aaron could see that she was deep in thought as well.

“I guess this must be quite strange for you,” he continued. “From your point of view all this has been true for thousands of years, if not more, but from my point of view nothing in your world has existed for more than a few years. A few decades at most.”

“It has indeed taken some getting used to,” Celestia said with a nod. “But at the same time it has been a fascinating experience. I have learned a lot about my own world just from studying this one.”

She then yawned. As he watched her, Aaron smiled as the sheer surreality of the situation dawned on him again, before being overcome by the irresistible urge to yawn as well.

“I think I could do with getting some more sleep,” Celestia said. “My night so far has been disturbed, to say the least.”

“Yeah, me too,” Aaron said as he stood and went back over to where his bag was lying. “Well, I’ll be right here if you need anything,” he continued. “If not, I’ll see you in the morning, I guess.”

Celestia nodded, then started moving round into a sleeping position. Aaron threw the bag into the tent and started to crawl into the cramped space.

“Aaron,” Celestia said from behind him. He paused and turned round, finding her with her head raised up, looking back at him.

“Thank you,” she said.

They looked at each other in silence for a few seconds, then Aaron nodded his head in response and turned back to enter the tent.