Scion of Chaos

by SilentBelle

First published

Sweetie Belle plans on learning the basics of magic, but what she discovers is so much more.

Sweetie Belle is compelled to learn magic after Rarity promises to teach her the finer art of dressmaking, but only once the young filly has learned the basics of magic. However, learning magic comes with its own set of complications and bears an unforeseen gift that will change Sweetie Belle's life forever.

Here's a one-shot sequel that takes place four days after Scion of Chaos: An Emerald Treasure

And this is a Multi-chapter sequel that takes place 5 years after the events of SoC and AET: A Heart of Change

Here's a poem that's based around the character Red Timber. (Not necessary to read for the comprehension of the storyline): Red Timber

Special thanks to SameAsUsual for letting me use his art: And to ShadowBro for adding in the title and cropping the image.

Chapter 1 - The Unknown Voice

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 1: The Unknown Voice
By: SilentBelle

Why did everything she attempt have to end up wrong? Whether it was preparing breakfast, making sets and props, or trying to help her sister with any household chore, she, more often than not, found herself either surrounded by debris or choking in smoke, and always about to face the wrath of her sister. On this fine summer day, the results were very much the same.

Sweetie Belle sat there, on the floor of her sister's workroom, feeling an overwhelming sense of déjà vu settling in. She had done it again: The dress-foals were toppled, utensils had been strewn about, making their way to every corner of the room, and Rarity's dresses littered the floor. Opalescence hissed her indignation from beneath the material chaos that the room had become as she struggled to find a route out of the mess. All of this was merely a momentary prelude to the inevitable outburst which Rarity was sure to unleash.

The small filly braced herself while staying prone, preparing for the storm. She couldn't meet her sister's eyes, so she waited there, focusing on a length of purple fabric tangled around her hoof. However, the explosion never came. Instead, a feeling of queasy unease settled upon her, like dust in the wake of a stampede. Eventually, Sweetie Belle found the nerve to meet her sister's gaze. She flinched, immediately regretting doing so.

Sweetie had seen her sister's anger, and over the course of her childhood had managed to summon it all too often. But ever since the Sisterhooves Social, it seemed Rarity had tried harder than ever to reign her temper in. This was evident in the dark calm that had overtaken her sister's features. Not a single emotion ruffled that regal exterior, save for those icy blue eyes; the glare that the elder unicorn was unleashing terrified Sweetie Belle in a way that made the previous rages pale in comparison.

“Sweetie, dear,” Rarity began, her voice showing obvious signs of strain, “I thought I asked you not to enter my work room when I am not inside of it.”

The older sister began using her magic to efficiently rectify the disaster. In a matter of minutes all the debris was swiftly returned to its proper place. All the while, Sweetie Belle seemed to find her hooves exceedingly important.

Once Rarity had finished with the cleanup, she looked down to her sister and let out a sigh. “Look Sweetie, I'm not angry,” she began tenderly, drawing her sister's eyes to hers, “but would you at least tell me what you were trying to do?”

“I'm sorry Sis,” the young unicorn apologized. “I just wanted to fix up my Crusader's cape. It's gotten frayed and torn over the last few months.” Now it was Sweetie Belle's turn to sigh. “But I'm no good at it. I just ruined it worse than it was before.” She lifted up the mess of red fabric with one of her hooves. “I just can't seem to get a grip on the needle to run the thread through, and the sewing machine won't do the job for the patchwork; the frays are too small. If only I could use magic like you, then I could actually hold the needle.”

“Hmm,” Rarity hummed to herself, her face turning pensive as she examined her sister's displayed cape. The article truly was in bad shape. The golden lining had long since lost its shimmer and was now an unbecoming shade of worn yellow. The outside red was even worse for wear, cuts and nicks from the Crusaders' misadventures were nearly countless, and their club's symbol had tears all across it. Sweetie Belle noticed her sister's eyes bulge at the sight, but she regained her composure quickly. “I'll tell you what, my dear. I will fix your cape for you, so why don't you go and hang out with your friends for the afternoon? It's a beautiful day out, such a shame for a young filly to be spending all her time indoors.”

At this suggestion Sweetie turned her eyes back to the ground. “I appreciate you fixing the cape, I really do, but I don't know what to do. Scootaloo and Apple Bloom are both busy. Scootaloo is learning how to fly from Rainbow Dash, and Apple Bloom is helping her family on the farm. I figured I could fix up my cape today and then help you out with your designing, but I'm just not good enough. I can't even use magic to lift a needle, and I always make a mess of things. If I hung out with my friends, I'd just cause them both trouble. I don't want to distract Scootaloo from learning how to fly, and I'll just make a mess of things on the farm if I go and help out Apple Bloom.” Tears started forming in her eyes as she continued spouting, “Sometimes I think I'm the only one who isn't special. Everything I've tried, all the crusades we've been on, and I messed up on every one of them. Maybe I'll just end up with a disaster cutie mark.”

“Oh Sweetie, don't say that,” Rarity said softly as she pulled he sister into a tight hug. “There are plenty of things you can do.” The mare paused a bit to design a plan before continuing. “I'll tell you what, I'll bring you over to the library and ask Twilight to see if she can teach you the basics of magic.”

“But why don't you teach me, Sis?” Sweetie Belle asked as she blinked the tears out of her eyes.

“Because, my dear, I am going to fix up your cape, and Twilight's special talent is magic. She is far more adequately prepared to deal with its teachings. Besides, once she teaches you the basics, then I will teach you the finesse of my craft,” Rarity promised as a soft smile alighted upon her lips, “and who knows, you might just get your cutie mark in the process.”

“Well, I guess it can't hurt to try,” Sweetie Belle said shakily, her nervousness quite evident. Thoughts of messing up spell-casting began to flow through the filly's mind, she shuddered as she considered what could happen. But maybe there was just a slim chance that under the tutelage of the most prestigious magician in Equestria, she might not mess up.

The two sisters made their way out of the boutique. Rarity strode confidently, purpose and poise in her every move; Sweetie Belle followed, her nervous energy spurring her forward.

The pair passed through the bustling town as ponies made their way to and fro, performing their daily shopping excursions. As busy and colourful as the crowd was, Sweetie Belle couldn't find a way to keep her mind distracted. Her thoughts were caught in a rut as she looked back on every task that she had messed up in the past year. And with every passing moment, she drew closer to the conclusion that she was fated to end up with a 'failure' cutie mark.

With her mind occupied by her own miserable thoughts, she hadn't realized that they had already made their way to the library. Sweetie Belle's attention was quickly grabbed by the sound of Rarity modestly knocking at the front door.

“Oh, Twilight dear, are you in? I have something I wish to ask you,” Rarity's voice called through the heavy front door, carrying a musical quality with it.

The sisters heard a quick response from the other side of the door that sounded eerily similar to a pile of books being knocked over, followed by a flurry of footfalls finding their way to the entrance. With an audible keening the door opened from inside, revealing a petite purple dragon who performed a sweeping bow once the door was fully opened.

“Oh, my Lady Rarity,” Spike began, “that you would grace me with your presence this day. To what do I owe this most wonderful of gifts?”

“Do stop with flattery Spike, although I do appreciate it,” Rarity replied while a small smile played upon her lips. “Is Twilight in? I have a request to make of her.”

“Nah, she's not here today,” Spike responded offhandedly, in sharp contrast to his earlier tones of praise. “She's taking a day away from Ponyville to study some records in the Canterlot archives. It's just the next project she's working on, but she couldn't find any information in here. And of course, she left the library in a mess and asked me to clean it up before dashing off,” the dragon concluded tersely, pointing behind himself.

Sweetie Belle peeked out from behind Rarity to get a look at what Spike was referring to. She was a little shocked to say the least. Books were strewn about the room with no perceivable pattern. In fact, the whole mess of the library was even worse than when the Cutie Mark Crusaders had decided that they should try to get their librarian cutie marks. To think that Twilight, the most organized pony in Ponyville, could leave the library in such a sorry state, it was almost unfathomable. It also gave Sweetie Belle a little more confidence. Maybe I'm not the only pony who makes a big mess of things.

“Well, that is most unfortunate,” Rarity began, “and I do hate to be interrupting you when you have such a large task ahead of you. But perhaps I could ask for your help instead, unless you are too busy of course, in which case, I do entirely understand.”

“For you, Rarity, if it is within my power, I'll do anything,” Spike replied readily. “Besides, the library ends up like this at least once a month, so I'm used to it.”

“Why, thank you Spike, that is most courteous of you,” Rarity said, smiling sincerely at the now-blushing dragon before her. “Now, I was wondering if you could find a book that gives instructions for unicorns on how to start using magic. You see, my darling sister here wants to learn the basics. We think that she might discover what her true talent is once she starts to use her magic. I was going to ask Twilight herself to instruct my dear sister of course, but I do suppose a book will have to do for now.”

“Right," Spike nodded at the explanation. "How about Flawless Magic Fundamentals for Foals? Twilight always told me that it was one of the first books she read on magic theory, and it's how she learned to use her first bit of magic to turn the page of a book. I think I saw it a few minutes ago, I'll go get it.”

Spike proceeded to dive into the cumulus of books and start throwing them every which way. Sweetie Belle was quite certain that he didn't have any method to his searching, but to her surprise, within a minute Spike waddled out of the sea of books, clasping an indigo tome firmly in his claws.

“See? It doesn't take long to find the books when you've memorized the titles and their colours,” Spike claimed as he waddled toward the two unicorns near the entrance. “It was definitely the worst when we first moved here and we had to sort it for the first time. Twilight came up with ten different lists of sorting methods, she spent two whole days with no sleep trying to figure out which was the best way to organize them. She even made another list to sort out which of the lists was best. It wasn't the best two days of my life, I can tell you that, what with her pacing back and forth as she changed her mind over and over,” he finished up while handing the book over to Rarity with a flourish. “Well, here you are, my lady.”

Rarity promptly accepted the book with telekinetic finesse. Sweetie Belle watched as a blue aura sprung to life around the book, and she couldn't help but feel a little envy at her sister's easy display of magic.

“Thank you my dear Spikey-Wikey, you are such a darling,” Rarity said, giving him a soft pat on the head, before turning to leave with her sister. “I'll come back to visit again soon. Best of luck with the books.”

Spike watched Rarity slip out of sight from the open library door. “Goodbye, my sweet.” He closed the door with a sigh. Turning around, he let out a veritable groan and got back to his arduous task.

* * *

Ten minutes later, Sweetie Belle found herself alone at the clubhouse, her only companion was the borrowed book from the library.

Rarity had made her way back to the boutique in order to fulfill her earlier promise and had suggested that her sister read up on how to use her magic. She claimed that if Sweetie Belle did so, she could prepare some questions to ask Twilight when the older unicorn returned.

With that in mind, the young filly placed the well-worn indigo tome upon the lone desk before her. The smell of old parchment filled her nostrils as she turned to the first page. She was a little daunted to see the page filled entirely with text, but not enough to outweigh her enthusiasm. She dug into the first wall of words with her mind ready to learn, for if she could glean some understanding from these pages, then she would be one step closer to working alongside her sister. And then she would earn her cutie mark. Thus, by Celestia, she would read and understand the whole tome before the afternoon was over.

With an even inhalation of breath, Sweetie Belle began reading the book out loud, to herself. This was an exercise that had always helped her remember and understand any other books she ever came across, and this one would be no exception.

“It is of utmost importance, when first learning to use magic, that the unicorn in question has a firm understanding on the laws of Magic Flow, and Magic Permeation. For these two principles are the fundamentals on which all unicorn magic is based.

"The Law of Magic Flow is: Magic moves throughout space as a fundamental base for all things. It is a mass-less and formless matter that carries Potential Energy within it. It travels at the speed of its medium, and it cannot exist outside of a medium, but it can and will flow from one medium to another when placed under enough magical force.

"The Law of Magic Permeation is that all magic will naturally flow from one medium of high magic density to a medium of low magic density."

Why couldn't they have pictures too? This would be a lot easier to understand if the author had included pictures! And what's with all these 'Flow' and 'Permeation' explanation things? What is this, a dictionary? And what does it mean by medium? This doesn't make any sense!

Sweetie Belle was scowling at the thick book as her third attempt at making sense of the first page failed. “Dumb book,” she muttered under her breath as she began leafing through the pages looking for the 'Basic Spells' heading. “I should just do it like the Cutie Mark Crusaders always do: hooves-on. Rarity always tells me that the best way to learn is to try and not be afraid to make mistakes.”

Soon she found the page she was looking for. Beneath the heading, the first line was labeled 'Levitation Spell – (Basic)'. “Aha! This must be the spell that Twilight said was her first spell,” the filly muttered to herself. “Let's see: 'Focus your mind inward and find your inner magic. Then slowly turn that focus outward through your horn and imagine a soft breeze passing over the pages of the book.' Well that doesn't sound too hard.”

With a confident smile, Sweetie Belle closed her eyes and began to focus. After half a minute, her smile suddenly flattened at her realization. “Wait a second... how the hay am I supposed to 'find my inner magic'?” She opened her eyes and began leafing back through the book one page at a time, hoping to find an answer. And after ten more minutes, she ended up back at the first page.

The young unicorn groaned as she planted her face into the frustrating pages. “Flawless Magic Fundamentals For Foals, my hoof! No foal could understand this!” she shouted to nopony in particular.

“Oh, now where's the fun in understanding a book?” a voice replied quietly.

Sweetie Belle yelped in surprise and fell backward in her chair, crashing unceremoniously to the wooden floor. “Who are you?!” she shouted, looking around the empty clubhouse. “Where are you?”

“Ohoho,” the voice laughed harshly, the sound echoing from every direction. “How wonderful, she can actually hear me. Now then, the 'who's and 'where's aren't important, my dear. It is the 'what' that you should be focused on. And what you need to do is cast a spell, correct?”

Sweetie Belle continued to glance around the room warily, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice. She was reluctant to answer the unknown pony, but she needed to find the location this mysterious colt, or whatever he was. “Um, yeah, I suppose. Say are you some kind of... um, ventriloquist?”

Another laugh erupted in response, once again the sound seemed to be coming from all directions and no directions at once. “Oh, how astute you are, Sweetie Belle. A good guess, but sadly incorrect. I am a puppeteer by trade, though I haven't had to perform to make ends meet for longer than I can remember. Really, it's fallen to the wayside now, it's much more of a hobby. My other hobby is magic.”

“Wait, how do you know my name?” the filly responded nervously.

That echoing laugh filled her ears once again. “Oh, you are just too much fun. How about this answer? Magic.” Sweetie Belle could just imagine the smug grin that the voice's owner must have been wearing when he said that. It was a face that deserved a solid bucking.

With an annoyed frown, Sweetie Belle gave up her search for the voice's location and lifted her chair back in its place. She figured that the owner of the voice would only be seen when he wanted to be seen, and not a moment sooner. So, she once again took her place on the chair and started up a new line of conversation.

“So, what do you want from me?” she asked the open air of the clubhouse. “You have better things to do than bugging me all day. Right?”

“Well, would it come as a surprise to you if I told you that I do not?” the voice questioned mockingly. “Here's the spiel: I've been really bored for the last little while, so I figured I would go out of my way and spice up a certain little filly's life with some amusing dialogue and anecdotes.”

“So, you're not going to leave then?” she concluded, sounding quite disappointed.

“Oh, it appears we have a winner. For your astute observation, girl, I'll help you with your magic lesson.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes and groaned. “Fine, just don't interrupt me while I'm reading, it's hard enough to read this dumb book. I won't be able to concentrate with you talking at the same time.”

“Bah! Who needs to read the books about magic when using magic will teach you quickest?” the suave voice replied, clearly reiterating the unicorn's earlier thoughts.

“I know, and I want to, but I don't know where to start. Not to mention there are these laws of magic that it talks about, but I don't understand them,” Sweetie Belle replied with a pout.

“Well, if that's your only problem, then I suppose I can help in that regard. After all, magic is a hobby of mine.”

“Yeah, but listening to the voice of some nopony is not a hobby of mine,” the unicorn retorted acidly.

Raucous laughter filled the club house yet another time. “I haven't had this much fun since the last time I went traveling. Who would have thought that such a small pony could bite so deep? You can call me 'Scoddri', your new magic instructor. Yes, 'Scoddri', that's a fun name.”

“I've never heard of anypony named 'Scoddri' before, it sounds weird. Say what sort of cutie mark do you have? I haven't got mine yet, maybe you can tell me how you got yours.”

“Perhaps I shall grace you with that story when you see what my cutie mark is, but for now, I have some instructing to do. Let's get to it my little pony. First we need you to find the magic inside of you.”

“I know, that's what the book said, but it also said I need to know the first two laws of magic, or something.”

“Oh, Sweetie Belle,” Scoddri said with a laugh, “all laws are changed or are broken over time. When I first used magic, there were no such rules in place. Magic was a wild thing that ponies learned to control by instinct, and nothing more.”

“Oh,” Sweetie Belle said, pausing for a bit, “then what should I do exactly?”

“First close your eyes,” Scoddri instructed. With a shrug Sweetie Belle complied. “Now, focus on yourself. Listen for your heartbeat. Feel the blood within you, running through your body, trace its path from your heart to the base of your horn. Then retrace that path with your mind, and will the magic from your heart to your horn.”

Sweetie Belle focused on herself through closed eyes. She could feel her heart palpitating, even hear it once the voice of Scoddri had stopped talking. To her surprise, she could actually feel the course of her blood as it ran through her body. It lead all the way to the base of her horn and back. “So, now I just have to will the magic from my heart to my horn?” she voiced her thoughts aloud.

“That is indeed correct, my dear.”

With her eyes still shut tight, she turned her focus directly to her heart and felt it. There was something there; it was the energy that drove the whole system. It must be magic that keeps the heart pumping, she concluded.

With a sharp intake of breath, she retraced the path in her mind and imagined the magic slowly flowing up her arteries. Suddenly, she began to feel it, the sensation sent shivers down her spine, as some of her magic began to move from the heart. Over the course of a minute, the magic crept its way up her neck and to the very top of her forehead. Eventually, it reached its apex, and then, with a jolt, the magic jumped all the way back from her horn to her heart, its circuit now complete. With every beat of her heart, she noticed that magic accompanied the blood up to the horn and back.

Suddenly, she could hear sounds that she hadn't heard before, and a faint light permeated her closed lids. It was as if the entire clubhouse had started breathing very quietly, and that sound made ripples across her vision. She could now hear that the world around her was alive. Sweetie Belle let out a breath of exhilaration and opened her eyes.

She immediately gasped. Everything around her was shedding off a very faint light, it wasn't just a sound. It was as if the saturation of the whole room had increased, but not to the point where anything became unclear. In fact, she could see everything in the room more clearly than ever. She leaped from her seat in excitement and bounded around the clubhouse looking at each individual object that littered the room. Two helmets, the map of Ponyville and various other goods that the Crusaders had collected; they all seemed to shine with a soft and gentle glow.

“Oh yes, how wonderful! I wasn't certain you would be able to do it. You do have talent my dear, and what a spectacular talent it is!” the voice, Scoddri, praised the young unicorn sincerely, sounding, for once, genuinely surprised and excited.

“Really?” Sweetie Belle asked beaming in delight as she turned her head to look at her flank. But still there was no cutie mark. “So, what is this then? This sound, it's like everything is humming quietly, and this sight, everything is glowing slightly. But it's not my special talent?”

“Oh, Sweetie Belle, don't sound so dejected,” Scoddri's voice chided, not unkindly. “Don't worry about your cutie mark, you will find it in due time. Right now you have a whole new avenue to explore.”

“Alright,” Sweetie Belle conceded. “So what is this exactly?” she asked again, hoping she would understand the answer.

Though instead of giving her a simple answer, Scoddri gave a hearty laugh before saying, “Hooves-on experience is the quickest way to find out; it's also the most fun. So go up to that book you were trying to read and I'll tell you how to flip the pages.”

Sweetie Belle, once again, sat down at that desk and faced the opened book before her. It was her nemesis. Turning its pages with magic was the only obstacle preventing her from helping her sister make some dresses. And by Celestia, she was determined to turn that page if it killed her. “Okay Scoddri, what do I need to do?”

“Oho, is that confidence I hear? How wonderful,” Scoddri responded with a good-humoured chuckle. “Look at the pages before you. Now tell me, what do you see?”

Sweetie Belle squinted at the book. “You mean the glowing and the humming I mentioned before?”

“Yes, quite correct. What you are seeing, hearing and feeling, that is the magic of the book before you. It's something that even most unicorns are unable to detect without first linking themselves to the object, and even then, it's usually only one sense that is ever affected. But you, my dear, are able to detect the magic through all your senses. And it only follows that you can control the magic as if you were already linked to the object.”

“What really?” the unicorn stuttered, quite amazed by the sudden revelation. “You mean I'll be able to use magic that even Twilight can't? I mean her cutie mark represents magic. That must mean that my talent will be magic too.”

“Ah yes, you will be able to do things that other unicorns could only dream of. But remember, all dreams remain dreams until we move towards them. So move the pages of the book Sweetie Belle. Focus on the magic of the page before you. See its glowing radiance, smell it's latent potential, and hear its hidden song. Then will the magic to move how you want it to. Tell it to 'turn over'.”

Sweetie Belle made an audible gulp as she looked at the daunting book. She could feel the page's glowing magic upon her as if she were drawing near an open flame. She leaned forward in her chair, frowning, as she focused solely upon that first glowing page, willing it to move. Please move, she begged it internally, you have to, please!

But nothing happened. It stood still, as it always had. Its confusing text reminding her of her inability to decipher its meaning. It taunted her; telling her that she was a failure who couldn't even learn the basics of magic: She would be a blank-flank forever.

Sweetie Belle's frown shifted to an all-out scowl as she stared venom at the book. That one page, it was making her a failure, and all she had to do was move it. “I'm not a failure!” she shouted at the book in anger. She hated it; more than she hated the bullies at school, and more than she hated herself for failing so many times. She wanted nothing more than to see the book burn, for all it represented.

Then she felt it, a change in the light from the book before her. It happened suddenly: The page's aura completely vanished, as the whole book, Sweetie Belle and the desk she was sitting in, shot across the room in different directions. The book hit the closest wall with a loud thud and burst into flames, while the desk opted to vault through the clubhouse window. Both the objects were promptly echoed by Sweetie Belle, who met her destination upon the furthest wall. And she met it hard.

Her vision began to fade as she crumpled to the floor. The last sight she saw was the soft glow of flame from the opposing wall. She descended into darkness, with only the sound of the disembodied voice's amused chuckles to guide her to the realm of unconsciousness.

End of Chapter 1

Chapter 2 - Missing Pieces

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 2: Missing Pieces
By: SilentBelle

Sweetie Belle opened her eyes blearily, blinking a few times to free the fuzziness from her vision. The wooden ceiling slowly came into focus as her mind began to swing into motion. “Where -?” she started asking, but was cut short after just the first word by a fit of coughing. Her throat hurt, and her eyes were now watering. Where am I? she continued her thought as she turned her head from side to side.

She had been laid down on her back and neatly bundled within a swath of bedding. The stylish blankets caught a crosshatching of angled sunlight, which accented its floral design. Sweetie Belle instantly recognized the blankets as her sister's hoof-work. She came to that conclusion, not only due to the aesthetic, but also because of the comforting embrace that the fabric held her in. It was a feeling that she would always associate with her sister. The feeling of home.

The rest of the room, however, was not home. It took the young unicorn a few moments to figure out where she was. She managed to hoist herself into a sitting position, an action that was far more taxing than she had anticipated, and scoped out her surroundings. Her eyes darted from one set of fixtures to the next as she tried to make heads or tails of this strange room. There was a wooden circular ceiling held up firmly by the curved wooden walls, a glass and pitcher of water stood guard on a nearby, ornate oaken end-table. With a glance to her side, she noticed the rooftops of other houses peeking up just past the window sill. All of it was bathed in the copper light of the setting sun. I'm in... the library? Why am I here? Wait... what happened?

Over the next few moments, the filly began to recall fragments of the past afternoon she had spent in the clubhouse. Slowly, she began piecing the memories together in her mind. I remember learning how to see magic from that voice. It was Scoddri, right? Sweetie Belle blinked in an attempt to clear her thoughts. That's when she realized what she wasn't seeing.

I can't see the magic anymore, she noted to herself with a feeling of pathos. Even though she had known the sensation for only a short moment, the white unicorn already missed it.

Then a plan quickly began to formulate in the young unicorn's mind. Maybe I just need to connect my magic to my horn again. Sweetie Belle turned her focus inward to her heart and searched for that feeling that she had found in the clubhouse.

It was harder to find this time. The energy driving her beating heart was so faint; when she finally rediscovered it, she had to do a double-take. Why is it so... small compared to last time? This didn't stop the inquisitive filly though, she was determined to see magic once again. So Sweetie Belle ran through the same process to move her magic out of her heart and toward her horn.

To her surprise, the movement of the magic was a lot easier this time. There were no shivers traveling down her spine, and with the merest of willful nudges, the magic soared up to her horn instantly. It flowed along its predetermined path as rainwater flows into a river. It felt natural.

The filly opened her eyes wide in awe as she caught, in the rim of her periphery, the faintest sheen of emerald light shedding from her horn.

Her amazement lasted for only the briefest of moments, when a sudden seizure of pain ripped at her heart. Sweetie Belle let out a gasp, her concentration disintegrating as she doubled over in agony. The pain quickly subsided as she felt her magic return to her heart, leaving her to deal with another fit of coughing.

Eventually, she settled down enough to start recalling the rest of the afternoon she had spent at the clubhouse. So I learned how to see magic, then I tried to turn the book's page and-. Sudden horror tightened her sore throat as she drew to her conclusion. I burned down the clubhouse! The guilt she felt for causing such a calamity was crushing to the young filly. Apple Bloom, Scootaloo, I'm so sorry.

Tears flowed freely from the filly's stinging eyes as she was quickly overcome by an outbreak of sobbing coughs. It only relented for a few moments when her burning lungs ran out of air.

In one such break she heard a muffled chorus of approaching hoof-steps making their way up the library's staircase. If Sweetie Belle wasn't mistaken, it sounded like two sets of hooves. The filly forced herself to take in a breath, in an attempt to compose herself, but it only served to drown her in another billowing wave of coughs.

At the sound of Sweetie Belle's sporadic coughing, one of the approaching ponies broke into a canter and crashed through the door.

“Oh Sweetie, you're awake!” Rarity shouted and rushed over to her sister's side, tears apparent in her eyes. Immediately, the elder proceeded to gently rub her sister's back in an attempt to assuage the filly's coughs. She did this while using her magic to pour a glass of water from the nearby pitcher. She topped the beverage off with a fashionably patterned straw. “Here, Sweetie, drink some water, it will help.” Rarity offered the glass to her sister, now holding it between her two fore-hooves, for her sister's convenience.

The coughing fit abated once Sweetie Belle drained the blissful offering of water. Finally, she noticed the other pony in the room. It was none other than Twilight Sparkle, who remained standing by the door. The lavender unicorn's look of concern had softened and was replaced by a light smile as she observed the tender scene unfolding before her.

Sweetie Belle soon found a soft smile had made its way to her lips as well, as she returned her focus to Rarity. Her sister's mane was a mess, her teary eyes showed obvious signs of weariness, but the smile she held was genuine and true.

“Thanks Sis,” Sweetie said in her raspy voice as she reached out to give her sister a hug. “I'm sorry.”

Rarity reciprocated the motion and embraced her sister gingerly. “There is nothing to be sorry about Sweetie, you've been through a lot, just get some rest now.” With great care the elder unicorn rested her sister back into the canopy of covers upon the bed. And with a loving kiss to Sweetie Belle's cheek, she turned to leave her sister to recuperate.

As if summoned by her sister's words, Sweetie Belle suddenly noticed just how tired she was. But before she would submit to the compulsions of fatigue there was one question that needed an answer.

“Rarity?” the filly called after her sister gently. “What happened-” she swallowed her nervousness, “at the clubhouse?”

A look of concern coloured Rarity's features as she shot a glance at Twilight. “Sweetie,” she began nervously, “we don't know exactly what happened. Applejack said she found you unconscious in the building just as it was burning and falling apart around you. We don't know what started the fire, but that's not important. You are safe darling, that's all that truly matters.”

“Though it is kind of miraculous that she managed to make it through the whole ordeal with only minor smoke inhalation and a few bruises,” Twilight added, from the doorway.

“Now, Twilight,” Rarity said sternly, “we both agreed that Sweetie should get some more rest before we delve further into what happened. She's still recovering from yesterday, we shall figure out the cause in due time. For now we can rest easy with the knowledge that nopony was hurt. And if I may say so, darling, you do need some rest. Why, look at your mane, you haven't had an ounce of sleep since you got back from Canterlot.”

Twilight shook her head softly in disappointed surrender. “Yeah, I know, I Pinkie Promised remember?” she said, as a tired smile traced her lips. “And as much as I want to figure out exactly what is happening, I don't think it would be a good idea to try and solve this problem without proper preparation and a clear mind. I think we all need some sleep, and Rarity if you think my mane is more out of shape than yours, then find a mirror. You've been up even longer than I have.”

“Well, when you put it that way,” the Rarity began, “I believe I am far past overdue for some rest and a shower. Thank you ever so much, Twilight, for offering to take care of my sister.”

“Oh, think nothing of it Rarity, we had to do something. This was really the best option.”

Rarity turned back to look at her little sister. Sweetie Belle's brilliant green eyes were mere slits as she waged a losing war with her fatigue. “Goodnight Sweetie,” the elder mare whispered, placing a light kiss upon her sister's cheek, “may you have sweet dreams.”

At that moment the filly had lost the battle and was overcome by her weariness. Her eyelids gently slid closed in defeat.

* * *

The skyline of Ponyville faded into sight
As Sweetie Belle squinted through the faint light.
Something ahead drew her attention,
She heard her name, just the slightest mention.
Apple Bloom and Scootaloo,
Her friends slipped into view.
And between the young pair
Was an elegant, older mare.
Her sister held a regal pose
Long enough for Sweetie's eyes to close

And then they were gone. Where did they go? Sweetie Belle searched frantically around a vacant Ponyville. She ran to the boutique calling her sister's name as she opened the door, but nopony was inside. The dresses on display were familiar, but the distressed filly couldn't make out the details, though that wasn't important to her. She had to find them. The filly forged ahead and searched the rest of her sister's home.

The last room in the building stood before her. Sweetie Belle hesitantly opened the door to her her sister's workroom. She peeked inside, quietly calling out Rarity's name. To the filly's surprise, there was nothing inside the chamber except for a vacant desk and chair.

She entered the room and examined the scene before her. The desk and chair were placed facing a wall at the far end of the room. A room comprised entirely of wood, the only other fixtures were the windows on the other three walls.

This couldn't be her sister's room; no, she recognized where she was. This was the clubhouse. How did I get here?

Her focus was pulled to the desk. Upon its surface a single piece of parchment was placed, it grew bigger as the filly was drawn over to the curious paper, in a moment she could make out the writing.

She read it aloud, but heard not her own voice.

“Ah'm sorry Sweetie Belle, but Ah gotta help out at the farm fer the summer. Mah sister and mah brother said it's 'bout time that ah learn the family ways. Ah'll see ya when Ah can but Ah'll be kept mighty busy. Sorry,” Apple Bloom's voice emitted from Sweetie's own mouth. But despite the strange circumstances, she felt compelled to read on.

“Hey Sweetie, you'll never believe what happened. Just the other day Rainbow Dash said she'd help me learn how to fly. Can you believe that? Rainbow Dash, the Rainbow Dash, she said she would train me! Sorry Sweetie but I'm gonna be busy this summer. But we can still hang out after I practice, if I'm not too worn out, that is.” This time it was Scootaloo's voice that issued forth as Sweetie Belle read the parchment. As if possessed, she read the final portion of the paper.

“Now, listen here, Sweetie. I will head back to the boutique and fix up your cape for you. So why don't you go on and get a head start on this book? Then once Twilight gets back, I'll take you to her myself. I promise that once Twilight has taught you the basics of magic and you can levitate a needle, I will teach you the fine art of dressmaking. See you in a few hours Sweetie, with a refashioned and exquisite cape.” She finished reading and the last echoes of Rarity's voice faded.

The emotions and conflicted feelings she'd been bottling up since the summer had started now rose to the surface of her thoughts. I just wanted to spend time with you two, like we always have, but you left me alone. I watched as you began moving on. And I was happy for both of you. I truly was, but I also saw that glimmer of light in your eyes as you told me the news. The light of a new dream being realized. So then, what about me? What could I do? How could I keep up with you two? I just didn't want to be left behind.

That's when Rarity gave me the idea. I could learn magic and keep up with you two. I could be equal to you. I could stay as your friends even if we couldn't see each other. And I did it, just yesterday I learned how to see magic. So I decided right then, that this would be my new dream.

Suddenly, a familiar voice rang through the bare room of the clubhouse. “All dreams remain dreams until we move toward them. Can you make this dream real?” In an onslaught of echoing laughter, the clubhouse began to fragment around her as lines of fire erupted from the cracks.

The sweet little filly saw fire and darkness all around
And she fell with a jolt, expecting to hit the ground.
But was instead roused with a touch, ever so soft,
From the silvery light of the moon, held aloft.

* * *

The moon performed its nocturnal dance. It had shone its way across the wooden floor of the library's bedroom, and had managed to climb the fabric of the bed, to rest innocently upon the young filly's pure white coat. With a quiet groan, Sweetie Belle awoke to the soft shades of the night.

The sheen of moonlight was not the only cause for rousing the troubled sleeper. The small unicorn opened her eyes wide in sudden lucidity. I've got to use the washroom!

In a frantic leap from the bed and a flurry of asynchronous hoof-steps, she managed to deposit all of the bedding upon the floor and knock over the table that stood by the door, all in her mad scramble to reach to lavatory.

To her relief, she managed to avoid any further accidents. After a couple of minutes had passed, she sighed contently as she made her way back to the bedroom.

Sweetie Belle paused in the doorway of the room. The bed loomed before her, highlighted by a strip of moonlight, and she considered the fixture for a moment. I really don't feel like sleeping anymore. Although it does feel like I've been outside running around the whole day. But why am I so tired? Was it that dream I had? I just need to figure out what happened.

The white unicorn righted the fallen table and took a seat upon its accompanying chair. A few moments passed in sullen silence, but she couldn't find any answers in her memories, all she found were more questions. Why couldn't she see magic anymore? Why was she at Twilight's library instead of at the hospital or Rarity's boutique? Something was off about this whole situation and the filly couldn't quite place her hoof on it.

The unanswered questions were quickly pulled back into the recesses of the filly's mind as she heard approaching hoof-steps making their way up the stairs. Sweetie Belle turned to face the door, waiting for it to open. With a soft shimmer of magenta magic, barely visible in the darkness, the door gently swung on its hinges, revealing a lavender unicorn centered in the door frame.

Twilight floated a lantern, filled with fireflies, alongside her as she squinted into the room before her. She was also carrying a tray with her. It took her only a moment to notice Sweetie Belle.

“Oh, good morning, Sweetie Belle. I thought I heard you get up so I went ahead and brought you some sandwiches. Are you hungry?” the mare asked pleasantly, as she floated the lantern and platter of food gently upon the table, before making her way into the room.

“Twilight,” Sweetie Belle interjected, a look of worry evident upon her face, “why am I here and not with sis, or at the hospital? What's going on? What happened to me?”

“So, the questions are keeping you awake, huh?” the mare reasoned. “I know that feeling all too well, and to tell you the truth, I am just as curious as you are. So I'll tell you what I know, and you can tell me what you know, and we'll figure this out together. Okay?”

The worried filly nodded in agreement as Twilight began to pace the room. “Alright, so here's what happened. Applejack pulled you out of the clubhouse as it burned down around you. Miraculously, you made it out with little more than a few bruises and some smoke inhalation. Of course AJ brought you straight to the Ponyville hospital and proceeded to let Rarity know immediately afterward. Then the nursing staff at the hospital used a diagnostic spell, which let's them scan their patients for hidden injuries, in order to see if you had any internal damages.

“Now here's where the complication comes in,” Twilight foreshadowed, while Sweetie Belle listened nervously. “As soon as the doctor cast the spell, it was extinguished. He tried multiple times, and every time, the spell dissipated. So just to make sure, he tried the spell out on a different pony, and it worked just fine.”

“Oh, so that's why Rarity wouldn't use her magic to give me water or tuck me into bed like she normally does,” Sweetie Belle figured out loud.

“Yes,” Twilight affirmed, stopping her pacing momentarily, “that's a very astute observation, Sweetie Belle, and that derives exactly from the observations that the medical staff made. They said that no magic seemed to work when it came into contact with you. So, with just this strange condition, and some minor smoke inhalation, the medical staff couldn't find any injuries that would require you to be confined to a hospital. Hence, Rarity decided that it would be best to bring you over to my home so I could try and solve this conundrum.”

“Oh, Rarity brought me here? Well, if she thinks that you can help, then I'm sure you can,” Sweetie Belle concluded. “So did you find out anything since I got here, like why spells won't work?” the anxious filly asked, afraid that she might never be able to use magic again.

The elder unicorn turned and faced the filly. A tired, but comforting, smile formed on her lips. “The last time I tried a diagnostic spell, it dispersed, just as it had at the hospital. Although, there is a chance that the spell could work now that you're awake. Here, let me try this.” Twilight concentrated for a couple seconds and her horn glowed a with a magenta aura. In the next moment, Sweetie Belle felt a shiver run through her body, and for just a second she thought the fireflies' light seemed a bit brighter, though it could just as easily have been a trick of light.

“As I thought,” Twilight concluded, “the magic still dissipates. Now, I do have a few theories on the cause, but I need to know what you did that day at the clubhouse Sweetie. Will you please tell me?”

It was now Sweetie Belle's turn tell her tale. “I didn't do that much, really. I just read some of that book Spike lent me,” she began earnestly. I'm not going to say anything about Scoddri though, I don't even know if he was real or just in my mind. I don't want Twilight to think I'm crazy. “Then I got upset when I didn't understand it, so I tried to flip the pages of the book anyway. The book shot across the room and burst into flames. The next thing I remember is waking up here yesterday. I think that means I burned down the clubhouse.” Scootaloo and Apple Bloom are going to be so mad at me.

“Hmm,” Twilight hummed to herself in contemplation, once again beginning to pace in circles. “I don't think we can draw any conclusions from just that. We need more empirical evidence, and for that I need to run some tests.”

“Tests?” the filly inquired, trying to push the thoughts of guilt from her mind. She would face her friends later, there was no need to worry about that now.

“Yes, in order to get to the bottom of this situation, some testing will be necessary. But first, Sweetie, you should eat something, it has been quite a while since your last meal,” Twilight announced, only to have her own stomach make a growl of protestation.

Sweetie Belle giggled as the lavender unicorn blushed before clarifying her plan of action. “Let's both have some sandwiches.”

The pair ate as efficiently and manner-less as hungry ponies are wont to do. During their meal, the moon had slipped past the western horizon and the glories of a cloudless summer morning quickly brightened up the bedroom. By the time the two finished devouring the sandwiches, the room had no more need for extra illumination.

Twilight levitated the lantern of fireflies, opened the window, and released the imprisoned insects. “Sweetie, let's go down to the basement, we can conduct the tests down there.”

Sweetie Belle felt a familiar sense of nervousness settle itself upon her, like a well-worn cloak. Nonetheless, she donned it, and followed the older unicorn out of the room with grim determination. She would find out what had happened to her. She had to.

End of Chapter 2

Chapter 3 - Awakening

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 3: Awakening

By: SilentBelle

The pair of ponies made their way down the staircase, descending into the library. Sweetie Belle felt her fatigue in every step she took. By the end of the flight of stairs, she could hear her heart's palpitations pulsing in her ears; she was out of breath.

The young filly panted slightly as she leaned against the solid living wall of the library for support. Her green eyes wandered the library before her. It was a disaster, even worse than the other day when she had visited with Rarity. The piles of books were heaped even higher, and nearly no books remained upon the shelves. Sweetie Belle was certain that there was no possible form of organization present in the scene before her.

She was about to voice her observation aloud, when Twilight caught her attention. The lavender unicorn motioned for silence by raising a fore-hoof to her lips. She then directed the open-mouthed filly's gaze to a pile of books on the opposite side of the room. Sweetie Belle could just make out a certain purple-scaled form, resting peaceably upon a makeshift bed of books.

The two unicorns exchanged smiles and shared a bout of silent laughter at Spike's choice of bedding. They then proceeded to tip-hoof between the canyons of literature and made their way to the basement door as silently as possible.

The heavy oaken door seemed to be made out of the very tree itself, for it fit nearly seamlessly with surrounding wall. Sweetie Belle didn't think it would be possible for anypony to open it without the aid of a considerable amount of magic.

Twilight, however, walked right up to the door and lightly pushed upon it. It gave way easily, silently swinging inward, revealing another set of stairs, spiraling downward to the basement. To Sweetie Belle's surprise, the entire room below them was filled with some sort of ambient light, as if they were outdoors on an overcast day instead of inside an enormous tree.

This lighting perplexed the young filly, filling her with a little more unease as she followed the scholar down the new flight of stairs. Her perplexity quickly transformed into a feeling of humbled wonder as she descended from the final step.

The room she was in was very much the same shape as the other floors she had been on. But that was to be expected, given that the whole building was fashioned into a still-living tree. What did give cause for Sweetie Belle to gasp was what filled this room. There were shelves along the wall which contained not only the standard fare of books, scrolls and tomes, but also held numerous potions of varying colours and sizes. A few cabinets were filled with an assortment of chemical ingredients, a few of which Sweetie Belle recalled seeing at Zecora's hut. Some strange, wired apparatuses stood to the side of the room, their purposes Sweetie Belle could only guess at. In the very center of this ring of instruments and ingredients was a section of floor, kept clear of clutter, although various burns and scrapes marred its surface.

Sweetie Belle stood slack-jawed in amazement. She was only just beginning to guess at the reasoning behind some of the fixtures around her. Twilight saw this and chuckled at the filly's wonderment.

“Feel free to look at any of the apparatuses and mixtures, just don't touch them. The burn marks on the ground over there didn't make themselves,” Twilight warned with a smile. “Now, I am going to set up the test. It will take a few minutes of preparation, then we can start.”

Sweetie Belle made her way to the nearby cabinets as Twilight levitated a book over to herself with her magic and quickly flipped through its pages.

The cabinet before the filly held an assortment of beakers and vials. Each one had a label on its side, neatly marked with numerous letters and numbers. They looked to be in some sort of code or abbreviation that she had never seen before. Sweetie Belle felt a genuine curiosity about the mixtures in the case, and, had her friends been with her, even in spite of Twilight's earlier warning about the danger, she was certain she would have been motivated enough to figure out what the properties of the compounds were, in hopes of finding a cutie mark in chemistry; but alas, the other crusaders were not with her. So instead, the filly looked around the room for some other interesting sights with the hope of curtailing her building curiosity of the chemicals.

* * *

Twilight watched from the corner of her eye as she gathered the necessary materials listed in the book, which she levitated before her. The scholar was well aware that the filly could, and often did, get into sticky situations. Twilight was also quite certain that Sweetie Belle would disregard any warnings that were given if it meant she had either the chance of getting her cutie mark, or the chance to figure out how something worked. Both scenarios, however, seemed likely to end up with neither of the intended results; instead, Twilight was quite certain, Sweetie Belle would unintentionally figure out how things broke.

On one hoof, Twilight thought it might have been a better idea to outright forbid the filly from approaching the various instruments, but her sympathetic nature had won out. For the scholar could not find it in her heart to stifle the curiosity of youth; instead, she was determined to keep an eye out for the filly and intervene should natural curiosity get the better of her. Besides, Twilight could procure the necessities for the test as easily with one eye as she could with two.

* * *

Before ten minutes had passed. Sweetie Belle had done a whole circuit of the room and now had more questions than ever before. She had just made it back to the first shelf and began crafting her plans to find some answers to those particular questions. She only needed to find a way to gently slide the glass cabinet door open when Twilight wasn't looking, and see what some of the compounds were.

Her half-baked plan faded from mind as quickly as it had sprung up, when she heard something--multiple 'somethings'--settle to the floor behind her.

A sense of bewilderment befell the filly as she turned to see Twilight standing in the center of the room with numerous books, candles, paint, matches and a small paintbrush.

“Are we making arts and crafts?” Sweetie Belle asked, raising an eyebrow in skepticism. “I thought you said we were going to be running a test.”

Twilight chuckled and smiled kindly. “I know this stuff looks kind of strange for a test, but it is quite necessary. For you see, I am going to put together a ritual.”

“A ritual?” the young unicorn interjected, as she made her way over. She inspected seven identical silver candles spaced equally apart in a circle. The sheen of the sizable wax fixtures was entrancing. She was certain they were magical in some way. “I never heard of rituals before, well other than brushing my teeth.”

“Oh, rituals have been around for quite some time Sweetie,” Twilight responded as she levitated the paintbrush into a vial of silvery liquid. Much like the candles, the paint, if it could be called that, shimmered with some hidden energy. “They were used before Celestia and Luna, before the founding of Equestria even. Unicorns used to be the ones that raised the sun and moon, but that is a feat that takes an incredible amount of magic. So the unicorns of old had developed ways of distributing, focusing, sharing, and manipulating the magic of multiple unicorns. Those age-old techniques have since been modified and improved for many purposes. In fact most recently they are being applied in a practical manner to many new appliances-” Twilight was cut short as the filly interrupted her.

“So, what is this 'ritual' thing going to do?” Sweetie Belle interjected, steering the conversation back to the matter at-hoof.

“Well,” the scholar began, a slight tone of annoyance entering her voice at the interruption, “it's known as a 'Battery Ritual', and the purpose of this ritual is simply to feed any spell a continuous and even source of power so that even as the spell dissipates, it is being continually reinforced. This will, in turn, allow me to fully assess what has happened.”

“But I don't get it. How is this any different from just using the spell normally? Why the candles and the ink?”

* * *

Twilight let out a small sigh as she began marking the simplistic ritual design with the silvered paintbrush. All the while she silently pondered how she could explain the process to a filly who had no prior experience in the field of magic.

Once the pattern was completed and triple checked against the book levitating beside her, Twilight set aside her instruments neatly and began her explanation. “Alright, I'll break it down for you. These candles are specially crafted candles that hold a certain amount of magic within them. They release that magic as they burn, and that's exactly what they are going to be doing. As for the ink, it is also special. It is going to take the magic from the candles and essentially cast the spell continuously and regularly for me. That will, in turn, leave me room to concentrate on the information that the spell brings back; otherwise I would have to be constantly re-casting the spell and couldn't concentrate on the results of the actual spell.”

“Oh, I get it now,” Sweetie Belle chimed in, “it's like you're filling up a bathtub with water for a bath, but if you have to go out to the well and boil the water yourself, one bucket at a time, by the time you fill the tub up completely, all the water will be cold. So the candles and ink are like pipes that bring hot water to the bathtub.”

Twilight was a little taken aback by the filly's comparison, how Sweetie Belle had decided to use a bathtub as an example was a question that the lavender mare was certain she would never find an answer to.

“Well, I suppose that's one way of looking at it. Though there would also have to be a minimum requirement for the volume of water in the bathtub, as well as a minimum temperature for the water, in order for the spell to go off without a hitch.”

“Huh,” the filly responded with a hint of skepticism. “Well, anyway, is this 'battery ritual' thing ready yet? I'm tired of standing around.”

“Don't worry, Sweetie Belle, the ritual is all ready except for one last thing. I am obligated to ask you this before we start,” Twilight said staring directly into the Sweetie Belle's green eyes. “Are you certain you want to take part in this test?”

“Of course I am!” the smaller unicorn shouted, a hurt expression apparent upon her face. “I want to know what's the cause of all this as much as you do.”

Twilight's response was to smile sincerely. “Sorry, Sweetie, it's just a precautionary measure. I promised Rarity that I wouldn't run any tests unless you agreed to them first.”

“I see. I'm sorry I yelled,” Sweetie Belle said as her tension released and her voice carried a suddenly serious tone that Twilight had never heard the filly speak with before. A frightened look became evident in the foal's eyes as she followed up. “Truthfully, I'm scared Twilight. I've been trying not to think about it, trying to distract myself, but the same questions keep coming back. What happened? What if it can't be fixed? And why has this only happened to me?” Sweetie Belle swallowed as she blinked back tears from her eyes. “I'm scared of what the answers might be, but I'm more scared of never knowing. So, I want you to promise me something. Let me know everything you find out about my... condition.” The filly paused as she looked directly into Twilight's eyes. “Even if it's really bad, I want to know.”

Without a second of hesitation Twilight pulled the filly close and held her in a firm and gentle hug. “Sweetie Belle I promise you that I will tell you about all my findings, good or bad,” the lavender unicorn whispered before relaxing the embrace. “And I also promise to find a way to fix whatever the source of this problem is, but to do that we have to get started. Are you ready?”

Sweetie Belle nodded. “Uh huh!”

At Twilight's instruction, Sweetie Belle sat in the center of the seven silvery candles and the spiderweb of ink that ran between them. She watched as the elder unicorn lit up a match and efficiently lit up all the candles in a matter of a few seconds.

As soon as the wicks were lit, Sweetie Belle felt a gentle warmth spilling forth, as if she were laying before a well stoked hearth fire, instead of sitting on a hard wooden floor surrounded by seven candles.

“Okay Sweetie, I am going to begin the spell. It should take about a minute,” Twilight announced as she set the now extinguished match to the side.

The filly simply nodded and closed her eyes lightly as she basked in the comforting warmth of the candles. It was calming, almost enough lull her to sleep.

Suddenly, she felt an eerie tingling sensation travel down her spine. She opened her eyes in surprise. It felt similar to how her legs sometimes got after she spent a whole morning sitting at a desk in Cheerilee's classroom. But never before had the filly felt that same sensation along the core of her being.

With just a few seconds, the feeling quickly faded away. At the same moment, the cloud of exhaustion that had hung over the filly all morning started to dissipate as well. Her muscles felt refreshed and she pulled herself out of a slouching position she hadn't realized she was in.

Before Sweetie Belle could speculate on the cause of the strange, invigorating feeling, she let out a gasp of sheer amazement. Right before her eyes, the area around her was slowly beginning to glow. Gradually the light took shape out of the very air itself, it looked as if an intricate design of a hundred silvery translucent laces were woven around her, billowing softly from some intangible wind.

But that wasn't all, she could suddenly hear the mysterious wind as well, like the softest of whistles. And her sense of smell changed too; the prevalent musty atmosphere of the basement became suddenly subdued in the wake of the strange new scent. It was a scent she had never smelled before. If she had to describe it, she would have conceded to saying it smelled like what the moon looked like on a cloudless night. And all of these senses emanated from the tangle of magic surrounding Sweetie Belle.

In awe, the young filly traced the gentle flow of the shimmering threads before her. They intertwined as they came closer, all of them shifted along with every movement of her head. With open-eyed wonderment, Sweetie Belle discovered that all the strands converged right above her. She could just make it out from the periphery of her vision, her horn was sheathed in a silvery and emerald sheen as the strands were drawn in.

The bands of silvery magic continued to grow in their splendor, until it became too harsh for the young filly. The whistling grew loud and keen, and the smell drowned out the stuffy scent of the library. Her eyes watered as she tried to comprehend her blinding surroundings.

A sense of worry fell upon Sweetie Belle like a wave. But it's not me feeling nervous. Is that... Twilight? she thought in incredulity.

She squinted, trying to see through the flashy display of ever-flowing silver cords. She could just barely make out the mare's expression. Twilight's eyes were closed tightly in concentration, a sharp crease was formed in her brow as she struggled to keep herself from falling.

The feeling of worry was quickly replaced by understanding and dread. “But, that's not possible,” the older unicorn gasped out as she collapsed under the strain of the spell. In the same moment, the silver strands dissipated into a fog that filled the room. The mare's feelings faded from Sweetie Belle's mind as Twilight drifted into unconsciousness.

“Ah, indeed, you are quite correct, Twilight Sparkle. But when have possibilities ever mattered in the wake of the truth?” A condescending voice echoed from every direction.

“Twilight!” Sweetie Belle shouted, as she leaped over a ring of melted wax to land beside the fallen unicorn. Her form was still obscured by the cloud of dissipating fog. “Scoddri! Something's happened to Twilight, what do I do?”

“Oh, it's so wonderful to be heard again Sweetie, you don't know how boring it's been for the last two days.”

“It's nice to hear you too,” Sweetie Belle responded anxiously, “but something happened to Twilight. What do I do?” the distraught filly repeated her question again.

“Why don't you take a look for yourself? After all you are the one who drained her magic.”

“Drained her magic?” the white unicorn asked in sudden horror. “You mean I caused her to collapse?”

“In so many words? Yes, my dear, you took almost all of her magic. And doesn't it feel wonderful?" Scoddri asked in his mocking tone. “To feel the exhaustion leave you in the matter of seconds and to be able to experience the world as it should be, sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing. Truly there is no greater gift in all of Equestria.”

“No,” Sweetie Belle rebuked, “this is not wonderful! It's awful! Twilight's hurt because of me. It's all my fault. So tell me,” she demanded to the faceless voice, as tears welled up in her eyes. “How can I help her?”

“Hmm,” Scoddri hummed, “Perhaps it would be best if you stopped draining her.”

“What?” Sweetie Belle glanced up at her horn and saw a faint emerald light shimmering. As the silvery fog finished clearing, she could make out pale emerald strands protruding from her own horn wrapping tightly around the unconscious mare before her.

The filly let out a shriek in her realization. “How do I stop it?! How do I stop it?!” she begged Scoddri for an answer. But the only answer she got was mirthful chuckle.

Sweetie Belle focused as much as she could, and she felt the magic flowing from her heart, to her horn, and back again. But she had never actually controlled her magic beyond that simple circuit, she didn't know what to do. She tried to will the strands flowing from her horn to stop, but it felt like trying to plug a running hose with a hoof. Her best efforts only caused the slightest of bending in the bands of magic that flowed from her; and in the following moments they would elastically straighten themselves. Nothing she had tried stopped the magic, all it did was summon the beginnings of a headache.

So her struggle quickly turned to panic as she tried formulating a plan out of pure desperation. I can't stay here. If I run far enough away, the spell will stop. It has to!

So the filly charged up the stairs with her now-replenished stamina and opened the door with a buck.

The accompanying crash of the door colliding with a bookcase didn't even cause Sweetie Belle to flinch as she leaped over the sea of unsorted books in the library. When she landed, she sped to the front door, bucked it open as well and scrambled out into the early morning sunlight. She then broke off into a canter, all while keeping an eye on her horn. Pleading for it to stop glowing.

* * *

A certain startled dragon was pulled from his deep slumber by the sudden cacophony that filled the library.

“Twilight?” he groaned his question out from his bed of books, as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and blinked a few times, only to see a white blur flash right above him.

Spike let out a gasp as he fell from his precarious position. “Ow!” he exclaimed, rubbing his head as he looked to see the front door hanging wide open. “Was that Sweetie Belle?”

* * *

Sweetie Belle ran as fast as she could. Blind to the world around her. Shouting ponies chastised her as she barreled past them, but she paid them no heed. Their voices seemed miles away, for she was focusing only on her horn and putting distance between herself and Twilight. She wouldn't stop until she was sure it was safe.

End of Chapter 3

Chapter 4 - Decisions

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 4: Decisions
By: SilentBelle

The numerous buildings of Ponyville fell out of sight behind the crest of a hill as the filly kept up her sprint. With laboured breath and a fresh sheen of sweat covering her coat, her body begged her to stop. Her lungs couldn't keep up with her legs.

Sweetie Bell wanted to comply with her body's request. She had never run so hard in her life, but all it took was a single glance upwards to see the foreboding, faint emerald sheen. Oh no! My horn's still glowing, I have to keep running, for Twilight's sake. Every glance she took gave her a bit of energy that she hadn't known she held within, the energy of desperation.

In the next moment she looked up and what she saw brought her to a sliding stop. Just before her, the nightmarish Everfree Forest loomed. She remembered the terrifying cockatrice that the Crusaders had faced within its dark thickets. And she had heard other stories of dragons, timber wolves, manticores and many others that lurked in those deep woods.

Sweetie Belle stood, conflicted. Her eyes darted back and forth between her horn and the forest as she caught her breath. Can I really go in there? Rarity forbade me from ever entering the woods again. But, can I risk stopping? My horn's glow has gotten much fainter, but it's still there.

“Sweetie Belle!” a voice called from the crest of a hill, thirty feet behind her. “Wait!”

The indecisive filly turned around to see her yellow friend, charging down the hill toward her. Beads of sweat glistened on her fur as they caught the morning sunlight and her pink bow flailed in the wind, having almost come undone. A sense of guilt and dread bore down upon Sweetie Belle as Apple Bloom, one of her truest friends, approached.

“Sweetie Belle, what in the hay are ya doing out here?” Apple Bloom asked breathlessly as she came to a halt in front of the unicorn. “And why didn't ya stop when I called out to ya back in Ponyville? Ya sure gave me a long run, I couldn't hardly keep up,” she continued, panting and blinking sweat out of her eyes. “Woah, are ya okay? Ah've never seen that before, yer eyes are glowin'.”

Sweetie Belle turned her head, lowering her eyes in shame. “I'm sorry, Apple Bloom, but I just can't explain right now, I have to go,” she muttered as she slowly began walking toward the dark wood.

“Now wait just a minute! What in the hay are ya talkin' 'bout?” Apple Bloom questioned with a tone of deep concern. “Surely yer not talkin' bout goin' into the forest. We're only allowed t' take the path to Zecora's hut and that's on th' other side o' town. Sweetie Belle, tell me what's goin' on!”

The unicorn shook her head violently in protest. “I don't have time. If I don't go, Twilight will-” No, I'm not going to think about it. Sweetie Belle cut her sentence short. Blinking firmly to avoid any more tears, she dashed off, away from her fellow crusader and towards the towering trees of the Everfree.

“Sweetie Belle! I told ya to wait!” Apple Bloom shouted as she gave chase. “We ain't done talkin' yet!”

Sweetie Belle got within just a few feet from breaching the vigorous underbrush of the forest, when she felt a sudden impact as her friend collided with her. Apple Bloom brought Sweetie Belle down in a fully body tackle.

The whole maneuver hurt Sweetie Belle and she would have issued a cry, had all the air not been knocked out from her lungs.

After a few moment's of struggling, Apple Bloom had the breathless unicorn pinned securely beneath her. As hard as Sweetie Belle struggled to break free from her friend's grasp, she couldn't out-muscle the earth pony.

“Now listen here,” the yellow filly said as she panted, “we're friends, Sweetie Belle, an' ya can't lie to yer friends. Us Crusaders don't lie to each other remember? So spit it out! What in the hay is goin' on?”

“I'm sorry,” Sweetie Belle began, catching her breath as she ceased her attempts to break free. “It's all my fault. I did... something, to Twilight. I don't know, but now she won't wake up. It's still happening,” she admitted. “See? Look, my horn's still glowing, it means she's being drained, but as I get farther away it starts to fade. If I don't hurry she could-” the filly choked off the rest of her sentence in a fit of hysterics, unable to utter the words aloud.

“But ya can't just run away from Ponyville! What about us, me an' Scootaloo. And yer sister, think o' Rarity, how do ya reckon she'd feel if you just up an' vanished?” Apple Bloom countered fiercely. “Ah know how sad it was when AJ went missing a while back, it feels horrible, not knowin' if you'll ever see yer own sister 'gain. Please, Sweetie Belle, think of how you'll make us feel if ya leave.”

“But if I don't leave now, then it's a regret I'll have for the rest of my life! If Twilight were to-” Sweetie Belle paused as she tried to swallow a knot that seemed to have made a tangle in her throat, “die, then I couldn't live with that. It would all be my fault!”

“But ya can't know that! How do you know that she'll die just by you bein' in town." Apple Bloom shook her head in fierce denial. "That makes no sense!”

“I don't know!” Sweetie Belle shouted back in her friend's face. “If I did know, then this never would have happened! If I knew what would happen to Twilight, then I never would have agreed to the stupid ritual!” Sweetie Belle cried. “But I didn't know, and it already happened. I can't just sit by idly, Apple Bloom, I need to act now before it's too late. So let me go!"

“No, I won't let you go!” the earth pony rebuked. “Ah made mah decision and it's final. Ah'm gonna take ya right back ta Ponyville, an' we're gonna figure this out together.”

“No!” Sweetie Belle refused. “I'm leaving, and you can't stop me!” Anger now filled the unicorn's voice. “Let me go, Apple Bloom, or I'll make you!”

“Then make me!” Apple Bloom shouted back as she got ready for the unicorn to make her move.

Sweetie Belle struggled for a few more moments, trying to shake her friend off, but the earth pony was as sturdy as ever. So, instead she closed her eyes as she turned her focus inward, to her magic. She found it inside her, as a roaring torrent of energy. It 'sounded'? No, not just sounded, but felt so much louder and stronger than it had when she had first found her magic. But she had no time to muse over it, she had to get away from Apple Bloom, away from Ponyville, Twilight's life depended upon it.

The unicorn willed as much of the energy up to her horn as she could. “Let me go!” she shouted as she opened her eyes. The magic coated her horn in a bright emerald veil, coloured as solidly as her eyes, and she willed it forth with the intent of knocking the imposing filly away.

Apple Bloom looked down, eyes wide with shock, as she saw the surging green light issuing forth from Sweetie Belle's horn. Without pause for thought Apple Bloom acted. With a swift strike born from her panic, she whacked the glowing horn with a fore-hoof.

Sweetie Belle felt pain surge into her horn and she quickly lost what little concentration she had, and with it, the tenuous hold she had over the emerald torrent that flowed through her. The strike jolted the unicorn's head to the side as the magic in her horn was released wildly.

A deafening explosion erupted in the next second, as flash of light blinded Sweetie Belle followed by a wave of heat washing over her. A moment later she heard an impacting sound, not nearly as loud as the explosion had been.

She began to blink fiercely, trying to clear her blurred vision.

The filly brought herself up into a sitting position as her sight slowly reformed. “Apple Bloom?” she called out as she began surveying her surroundings, her eyes chased the dark speckles that dotted her vision.

Immediately around her, she discovered patches of grass were torn up at random, their remains strewn all over. Then she gasped as she saw, ten feet away, resting at the base of a tree, was Apple Bloom. Sweetie Belle hurried over to her friend's side, fearing the worst.

The earth pony's ribbon had been lost in the explosion, her tangled red mane draped across her face. As Sweetie Belle approached, she let out a small sigh as much of the tension that had built up in her body was now released. For the unicorn noticed the ruby strands of her friend's hair were swaying rhythmically from the earth pony's own breath.

Even upon seeing her friend in stable condition, the unicorn's sense of panic had not fully abated, for she could still see her horn glowing, even more faintly than before. With a feeling of foreboding, the filly turned all her attention towards her horn. It only took her a moment until she could feel a presence gently entwined with her own magic. She identified it as Twilight, she remembered how strong it had felt before, when she had almost confused Twilight's feelings with her own. At this moment she was still connected with the mare, siphoning off what little magic remained, even with nearly a mile between the two.

With a shake of her head, she brought her focus back to the scene before her. She stood right beside Apple Bloom, guilt filling her at the sight, but she fought down the urge to cry again. I have more important things to do right now. I have to follow through.

“I'm sorry, Apple Bloom,” Sweetie Belle told her friend quietly, “but this is my choice, and I've made it.”

Without looking back, the filly dashed off into the Everfree Forest, praying that she had made the correct decision.

* * *

Even on a warm summer's morning, the eerie forest seemed to hold some sort of hidden chill amongst its creepy canopy of twisted limbs. Having stopped her running shortly after entering the forest, Sweetie Belle now shivered as she made her way through the dense underbrush. She heard only a quiet howling in the distance to accompany her muffled footfalls. Whether in front of her, behind her, or any which way she faced, even if she tried to angle her ears in different directions, she couldn't tell where the persistent sound was coming from.

Is that what timber wolves sound like? Or is it just the wind in the trees? Or maybe it's something else, she wondered to herself, not certain she wanted to know what was making the sounds. Her eyes darted back and forth nervously, her muscles tensed. She fully expected something to leap out at her in the next second.


Sweetie Belle started in an undignified manner. Letting out a small shriek, she burst forth in a short panicked sprint; an action which promptly transformed to an uncontrolled tumble through the wild undergrowth of the woods.

Burrs, harsh thistles, and some sappy plants that held a strange lemony fragrance, all assaulted Sweetie Belle upon her crash-course with the great outdoors. The snapping of numerous twigs and branches were drowned out by the billowing laughter that echoed from all around.

“Scoddri!” Sweetie Belle screamed furiously, as she pulled herself free from the grasp of the surrounding flora. “What did you do that for? That hurt!”

“Why, it's all in good fun, young filly,” Scoddri responded, with a bout of raucous laughter, “and what would be the point of living if you couldn't have fun?”

“Well it's not funny if it's at somepony else's expense,” Sweetie Belle replied bitterly. “It's never fun, being scared...” she trailed off in a mumble, as she tried flicking, with a fore-hoof, at some of the burrs caught in her chaotic snarl of a mane.

She quickly decided to give up the impromptu grooming until she found a clearing in the forest. If she didn't, Sweetie Belle figured, she was more likely to gain burrs than she was to lose them.

“Ah, but my dear, you are missing some of the finer points of being scared,” the voice chided. “To feel the mystery of the unknown, to question, to doubt, and to wonder. Being scared allows us access to such a wonderful point of view, a shift in perspective, if you will. To be pulled from the world as you've always known it, and to suddenly see the countless bits of chaos that comprise every passing moment. And soon, you begin to wonder what parts the pieces play in the outcome of the whole. It's a terrifying, yet wonderful experience, and so very similar to how you view your own abilities.”

“You mean my magic? Of course I'm scared of my magic,” Sweetie Belle reasoned with the hidden voice, not entirely sure what the underlying message of his spiel was, “but there's nothing wonderful about it. Just look at what my magic did to Twilight, and to Apple Bloom. I hurt them both, I wish I hadn't, I wish I never had magic in the first place. I just wish I could go back and change it all.”

“Ah, a common sentiment shared by those in the wake of great misfortune. However, and perhaps quite fortunately, no pony can ever make such wishes become a reality,” Scoddri soothed. “So with our reality set in its proper perspective, I ask this of you child: What are you going to do, now that you've left all you've ever known, and stepped into this primal land, all on your own? After all, your horn has stopped glowing, there's nothing stopping you from going back to Ponyville.”

Sweetie Belle let out a gasp as she looked up to see that Scoddri was telling the truth. Not even the faintest light emanated from her horn. It must have stopped when Scoddri distracted her. I finally got far enough away for Twilight to be safe. She sat down as a feeling of relief washed over her.

The filly's reprieve was short-lived, however, as she soon began weighing her options. After a few minutes of contemplation she jumped back onto her hooves and announce her decision.

“I am not going back to Ponyville yet. My magic is still too dangerous, even I can see that. So, if I can't just get rid of it, then I just need to learn how to control it.”

“Oh, are you so certain that's the reason why you don't want to go back? Aren't we forgetting something else?” Scoddri questioned snidely. “I wonder, if instead, you are worried about telling your friends that you've been talking with a voice inside your head. Surely you understand the stigma that surrounds such an event.

“I do understand, that it might be a difficult subject to bring up in a conversation with your friends,” he commented.“And if you consider the fact that you did burn down the clubhouse, couple that with this morning's dispute, and I dare say a certain friend of yours might have mixed feelings when she sees you again.”

“I never wanted to hurt Apple Bloom! None of that was my fault, it was my magic!” Sweetie retorted, her tone brimming with self-doubt, “Rarity said so herself-”

“Rarity said no such thing, my dear.” Scoddri countered with a chuckle. “She was just comforting you, trying to stop you from worrying. Although we both know that she is certainly smart enough to be able to figure out what happened, if not how it happened. She knows you burned down the clubhouse, she's a clever and tactful pony. She also knows better than to make her sister worry, so she sidestepped your question in favour of letting you rest.

“Yes my dear,” he continued, in a voice of praise, “she certainly is a wonderful and considerate sister to have. Though I must admit, I do wonder what sort of feelings your beloved sister might be facing when she finds out that you ran away from home. Worry? Certainly. Think of the panic she would be pulled into, and after all the care she gave you while you were asleep and recovering. Perhaps she feels something more than just worry; I do believe she might just feel betrayed.”

The filly cringed as she was forced to consider her sister's plight. “I-I-” Sweetie stuttered as tears of shame pooled in her eyes. She didn't know what she could say, it was a harsh truth and it stung more than any lie she had ever heard before.

“Oh and let's not forget Twilight,” Scoddri continued, oblivious to the suffering unicorn's tears. “After all, Rarity is going to feel betrayal, but she would never blame her naïve sister. No, that would defeat the purpose of being a sister, would it not? She will place the focus of her betrayal upon her good friend, Twilight Sparkle, the unicorn who promised to keep her sister safe for the night.

“My dear, do you see what your actions have caused?” the snide voice continued through the tear-burdened filly's silence. “The unforeseen consequences of a single filly's choices, tossing all of Ponyville into a state of chaos. It's just, simply, beautiful.”

“Shut up!” the unicorn shouted, as her sadness became enveloped by her anger. “I know I messed up, but I can still make it better.”

“By running away?” Scoddri countered, with a chuckle. “You sure have done a splendid job of making it better so far. Now this may come as a surprise to a pony so young, but running away has never been the path to an agreeable resolution.”

Sweetie Belle narrowed her eyes, as she reined in her temper. “I'm not running away,” she spoke coldly, “I'm just going to learn how to control my magic before I go back to Ponyville.”

“Ah, such determination,” Scoddri praised in mock-awe. “Very well then. I suppose you've made up your mind and answered my question, or at least most of it. However you must allow me to reiterate. Where are you going to go to learn how to use your magic? Surely you weren't thinking of testing your spells out in the middle of the woods.

“As amusing as the prospect of a mere foal throwing around arcane energies is, even I must express my concern. Think back to the clubhouse, my dear; you wouldn't want to find yourself surrounded in a sea of flaming trees, now would you?”

“I, uh-” Sweetie Belle stammered as her earlier display of confidence left her. “I didn't really plan that far ahead,” she admitted shamefully.

Scoddri's laughter echoed throughout the trees of the Everfree. “Then perhaps you would be willing to take my suggestion.”

“Why should I even listen to you?” the filly questioned. “I can't trust you, all you've ever done is laugh at me!”

“Oh come now, as I said before, it's all in good fun. Besides,” the voice offered, “did I not show you how to use magic? Think about it Sweetie, I have never lied to you. Nor will I ever lie to you.”

“You showed me how to burn down my clubhouse,” she muttered, “though, it is true that you never lied to me.” The filly paused before making her decision. “Fine, tell me your suggestion then.”

“I know a place in this forest,” the voice began, “I discovered it long ago. A place where wild beasts will not enter of their own accord, a place where a pony wouldn't have to worry about burning down a forest when practicing her magic. I can guide you to its location, unless, of course, you would like to wander around the forest in circles for the rest of the day.”

Sweetie Belle glanced at the overwhelming flora of the Everfree and let out a sigh. “Well, tell me where to go, I guess. Anywhere is better than here.”

End of Chapter 4

Chapter 5 - The Wilds

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 5: The Wilds
By: SilentBelle

The white unicorn moved at a slow pace through the forest as she carefully placed each step. Burrs, scratches, and tangles marred her appearance, but now that she had had a moment to collect herself and view her surroundings, she found herself quite surprised at how easily she could forget those trivial facts. In fact, she felt more at ease than she had since she had woken up. Perhaps it was just the scenery distracting her, but after being in the forest for over an hour, the eeriness had all but disappeared.

There were still a few sounds that spooked the filly, but her sense of fear was subdued, she knew she wasn't alone in this endeavor. In a forest as foreboding as the Everfree, it was quite reassuring to be able to have a response to anything she said; with the amount that Scoddri would say when he began to talk, it almost felt as though her fellow crusaders were with her. Sweetie Belle figured that Scoddri must have a cutie mark for going off on tangents with his conversations, for she was quite certain that she would never hear him tell the same tale the same way twice.

“It's amazing,” Sweetie Belle whispered in awe, as she pushed her way past a small bush. “The plants look like they are glowing. I can't believe I didn't notice it earlier, I guess I was too worried about Twilight to think about anything else.” She stopped moving for a moment. "I hope she's alright."

“Oh, I wouldn't worry about her, she's a lot tougher than she looks,” Scoddri responded nonchalantly. “I'm certain it's not the first time that studying has caused her to lose consciousness. Can't you picture it? She must have stayed up countless nights reading until morning, or even past that, letting her eagerness get the better of her. And then she would nod off in the middle of an experiment. It must have been so frustrating for her to wake up to a finished chemical reaction, only to look down and see a blank page of notes and realize that she missed the whole experiment.”

“Huh.” Sweetie Belle considered his words as she passed a nearby leaf, half the size of her. “You know, you sound like you've met Twilight. Did you two meet before?”

“Oh yes,” Scoddri said with a chuckle, “I've met the mare before, though it may not have been on the best of terms. I don't believe we share the same appreciation of humour, her and I.”

“So, you made fun of her then?” Sweetie Belle concluded, as she began inspecting the impressive leaf, the glowing light that ran through it was fascinating. Before her eyes, like all the forest, it shimmered with the strangely beautiful, energetic glow.

“Not quite, Sweetie,” the laughing voice replied. “All we did was play a game with simple rules. She thought that she should have won the game, and when she didn't, she accused me of cheating. But I simply laughed and pointed out how incorrect she was in her assumption. That mare could learn to smile when she's been bested.”

“Oh, so you won the game and gloated about it?” Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes then sighed. “Well, I guess I wouldn't really like it if I lost a game and was laughed at..." the small unicorn trailed off as she quickly became distracted by the plant in front of her.

“Say, Scoddri,” Sweetie Belle began as she turned all her focus to the sizable piece of flora before her, “why are the leaves glowing so brightly? It certainly makes the forest a lot less creepy than the last time I was in it.”

“Magic,” Scoddri responded offhandedly, “and as you can tell, just from its brightness and the size of the plant-life in this forest, there's a formidable amount of magic here.”

“But why does this forest have so much magic in it?” Sweetie Belle asked, as she started walking again, leaving the abnormally sized plant-life behind. “I didn't see nearly as much magic when I was leaving Ponyville, everything just looked a little brighter, that's all. But here, it almost looks like there are small patterns all along the plants.”

“Have you ever asked yourself what makes the Everfree different from other forests?” the voice questioned, “I wonder... what could be the cause of giant trees, dangerous monsters, and weather that moves all on its own?”

“Your saying that magic causes all of this?” Sweetie asked, as she indicated the whole forest with a sweep of her hoof. “The big trees, and plants and stuff? And that If we had magic like this in Ponyville, it would become a forest full of monsters? Then shouldn't places like the Everfree only appear where lots of unicorns live?”

Scoddri chuckled to himself lightly before responding. “As grand as the idea of unicorns creating extremely dense forests and monsters to inhabit them is, I do believe you have misunderstood me. When I was talking about magic, I was talking about true magic, the kind that dwells in this forest. Primal, potent, natural and chaotic, not the controlled energy that unicorns draw out from themselves for their day-to-day chores.

“There's different kinds of magic?” Sweetie Belle asked, stopping in surprise. “I thought only unicorns had magic.”

“Which is understandable, as they are the only things that you have ever seen using magic as you know it,” Scoddri soothed. “But surely you know that magic resides in all things, not just unicorns. After all, that is what you have been seeing in those glowing leaves, and in every plant in this forest, and even in the very soil you are stepping on. My dear, everything has magic in it, even when it's not being used consciously. And magic always has a great effect on its surroundings; whether it causes trees to grow overly-large, gives plant's unusual properties or alters creatures over a long period of time. Magic causes these changes, not the unicorns who play with it every once in a while.

“But regardless of these facts, it's also well known what happens to little fillies who stay in the forest past dark,” Scoddri chided in an amused tone. “It might be wise to keep moving, it's already past noon, and you've barely walked more than a mile.”

“It must have been more than a mile,” the filly reasoned, “my legs are already getting tired. And how would you know how far I've walked anyways? You aren't the one doing all the walking.”

“And right now, you are doing as much walking as me,” the faceless voice countered, “you don't have to stop walking just to hold a conversation.”

“Humph,” was the only response Sweetie Belle gave as she began walking again, her mind now occupied by thoughts of magic, and how everything worked together. It was topic that she never seriously considered before. She had always been fine with the assumption that magic didn't need to be understood, after all it was magic. But that reasoning no longer held the same charm as it had in the past.

* * *

The next half hour of travel passed in a relative silence as Sweetie Belle weaved her way between the thick underbrush and into a small clearing formed around the base of a gathering of towering trees. Despite being within an hour of noon, this dense canopy of branches cast even darker shadows than the previous parts of the forest had. As if for emphasis, the only sound that she could hear, apart from the distant swaying of branches, was an owl's lone hooting off in the distance.

In spite of the dimmer lighting, Sweetie Belle sighed, relieved to have a small reprieve from the obnoxious bushes that had plagued her journey thus far into the Everfree. She wouldn't have to keep her eyes trained to the ground anymore, at least while she stayed within the clearing.

Once she had gotten to the base of the trees, she paused to look up at the towering giants above her. They were ancient trees, fully leafed, their bottom most branches so distant, they would have been lost amidst the green backdrop if the bark didn't glow so brightly with magic. The entirety of the trunk and its enormous limbs shed a light that made the rest of the forest seem dim in comparison.

Before today, the largest tree I knew of was Twilight's library, and now I see a dozen that make the library look like a sapling. I wonder how long it takes for a tree to get that much magic inside of it.

After a moment of reflection, Sweetie Belle found herself quite surprised that Scoddri hadn't piped up about her stopping to gaze at the scenery. In fact it was almost as if the voice had abandoned her altogether.

“Scoddri?” she called out gently, bringing her sights back down to a more horizontal view.

Sweetie Belle began growing frantic and she pivoted sporadically around the glade, as if she could find the bodiless voice. Some of her fears bubbled up to the surface of her mind as her nerves were set on edge. What if Scoddri's gone? I don't know where I am. I don't even know which way I came from.

“Scoddri?” she called, louder this time, as her nervousness betrayed her. “Answer me, please.”

The only answer she received was a resounding hoot of the distant owl, which sparked a suddenly pertinent question.

Where are all the other animals, and why did they stop making sound? Up until this point all of the timid forest fauna had paved her journey with a steady stream of vibrant dissonance. Although now, when all she could hear was the lone echo of an owl's call, did she notice just how much she longed for something to break this new-found eerie silence.

The silence seemed to slip in around her in an engulfing embrace. It's suffocating, she thought, as her breath quickened. “Scoddri say something!” she demanded with a shout.

“Quiet, you foolish girl!” Scoddri's voice rebuked in a harsh whisper; a tone which Sweetie Belle had never heard him use before. “You don't know the danger you're in. You have to get out of this glade now, slowly and calmly. Just head to the nearest thicket and walk through it.”

With those words, the filly only grew more nervous. “What do you mean, I'm in danger?” she whispered back, as her mind began to imagine up what creatures might dwell in the confines of the surrounding shadows. “What's out there? This isn't another one of your pranks, is it?”

“I pull many pranks Sweetie Belle, but I assure you, this is not one of them.” the voice whispered curtly. “Remember, I have never told you a lie. Now walk, girl!”

Sweetie Belle quickly made her way towards the edge of the clearing, as the owl's soft call echoed her every fourth hoof-step. It was getting louder, she turned her head every which way as the hooting continued and she couldn't pinpoint its origin.

She was a mere half-minute away from the thick undergrowth when she saw it off to the side, the sheen of two golden orbs flashed for a moment in the corner of her eye. Something was there, something big. With a jolt of fear she sprang forth and broke into full gallop.

Sweetie Belle tumbled into the thicket, tripping into a prone position as she heard a roar erupt from behind her. She twisted her head around in her panic so see the monster that had given the terrifying bellow, only to wish she hadn't.

The beast stood towering above her, its body a mass of ragged fur and feathers. Its golden eyes glowed ominously as it stood on its hind legs, its fore-claws extended viciously. Framed between those massive claws, and below its eyes was a savage curved beak, so large, Sweetie Belle was certain it would have no trouble eating a small filly like her in a single bite. Strands of saliva glistened as the creature opened its maw.

A resounding bestial roar shook Sweetie Belle to her core. She couldn't move, she couldn't think. Helplessly she shook as she watched the monster preparing its claw for the single swing it would need, all the filly could do was let out an earsplitting shriek.

The monster flinched in mid-swing and settled back onto all fours as Sweetie Belle's shrill voice issued forth. The beast responded by letting loose another roar to drown out the keening noise. In that moment the young unicorn's instincts took over, she rolled away from the beast, and scrambled back onto her hooves.

She ran as fast as she could through the dense, grasping plant-life, just barely avoided being snagged. Sweetie Belle could hear the plants she left in her wake being uprooted and crushed as the massive creature gave chase. The reverberating tremors of the beast charging nearly caused the filly to trip as she tried to stay ahead of the fast monster.

She slipped through tight paths between series of smaller trees just as the beast brought its claws down, severing the saplings at the trunk instead of her.

With wide eyes Sweetie Belle jumped out from a thicket to see her path come to a steep riverbank. Small patches of sunlight fell upon the narrow river's churning waters, revealing an assortment of jagged rocks that broke its surface. Sweetie Belle stopped in her panic, looking left and right, she didn't know what to do.

“Quick girl, downhill! Run downhill!” Scoddri issued. “The beast moves slower down than it does up!”

Blindly she followed his command and slid down the river bank to the shallows of the river. With a gasp, the cool waters immersed her legs, nearly to her underside, and she almost lost her footing to the current as she landed in the shallow churning waters.

A roar drew her attention up to where she had just slid down from. The beast ambled back and forth as it searched for a viable route to reach the filly.

Sweetie Belle knew it was only a matter of time before the creature found a way down to her, and she had nowhere else to run. She couldn't hope to swim across such treacherous waters, she would be pulled under the moment she got any deeper, she could feel the current was strong. I'd have just as good a chance as fighting off that monster. She let out a slight gasp as she found her solution. That's it!

Sweetie Belle's brow formed a frown of concentration as the beast fumbled its way down a less-steep riverbank further upstream. It's now or never! She reached for her magic and sent it up and out of her horn, she willed it forward, to the beast, intent on grabbing it with her magic.

The unicorn watched as her magic soared through the air like an emerald whip, quickly wrapping around the beast, tightly, firmly, and efficiently. It worked, she thought to herself in relief, as the monster gave a low growl. Then, with one simple movement, she felt the magical bindings simply shatter as the beast easily stepped forward. Or not. She watched the shimmering light of the dissipating magic fade as the creature pressed on toward her.

“Scoddri,” she shouted out over the sound of the churning waters, “I need you to tell me how to use this magic! I see it in the water, it's glowing as brightly as the trees were, what do I do?”

“Sweetie, do you remember what you did with the book back in the clubhouse?” Scoddri replied quickly and evenly, and she nodded. “Well, don't do that again. Your magic is not strong enough to move the potential energy that surges through this stream. Such an action would be as futile as stopping the stream itself. Run girl, run!”

“No!” Sweetie Belle cried her rebuke, “I'm tired of running from everything! All it ever does is get me in worse situations! I'm going to stop it here!”

The young unicorn reached out with her senses and felt the torrent of magic that flowed beneath both her and the approaching beast. There was enough magic in these flowing waters to drown out the sense of her own, she knew this energy felt wild and uncontrollable, but she wouldn't give up on her decision, she couldn't. The barreling monster was nearly upon her. In an act of pure instinct she lowered her body into flowing rapids, and with her mind, envisioned herself grabbing all of the magic that flowed by her.

To the filly's utter amazement, she felt the magic surging into her own body. She could feel her own magic disappear beneath the sudden deluge of the river's wilder energy. But before she could even start her next plan of action, she began to feel a sharp pain inside her chest as the mass of magic flowed into her and it burned. With a scream, the magic burst forth from her horn.

She watched through teary eyes as the magic erupted with the chaotic energy of a lightning storm, and it whipped forward with the force of a hurricane. As it arched, flashed and surged forth, it collided with the river's water and its bank; though the brunt of it fell upon the beast still charging toward Sweetie Belle.

The beast let out a terrified squawk as the storm of magic, every colour imaginable, rained down upon it. Many of its feathers were torn from it, and its fur was quickly covered in more than a few singed spots. In the next moment the creature bounded away with fearful hoots as it retreated back up the riverbank it had come from, where it disappeared amongst the thick foliage of the forest.

Sweetie Belle was terrified by the horrific storm of raw magic that was issuing forth from her horn. The river issued pillars of steam where the energies met with its surface, and the plant life on the riverbank blackened with every strike of energy that touched down. So the filly willed, with all her might for the torrent to stop. And it did, but only for a second. With a solid flash of bright light, and an explosive peal of thunder, the filly was launched out of the river.

Amidst the pelting spray of numerous drops of water the unicorn felt the flow of magic abruptly cease as she was tossed free from the cascading waters. And in the next moment she hit the river's surface with a splash.

Panic still held its firm grip upon her as Sweetie Belle struggled to stay afloat in the powerful current, it pulled at her with a motion she had never felt before. She was tossed against numerous stones and boulders uncontrollably, and spun about as she quickly lost any sense of direction.

With enough struggling she was able to break the surface for a single breath before she was sucked under once again. No! I can't give up, she told her body, as her lungs burned for another breath of air.

Kicking out with her legs, the young filly was able to push off the slippery rocks that formed the riverbed. Whether by luck, coincidence, or fate, Sweetie Belle felt her surroundings stabilize as she managed to dislodge herself from the chaotic turbulence of the current. She broke the surface of the river and choked some air into her lungs. Sputtering and coughing, she managed to paddle herself to a nearby, gently sloping bank.

Sweetie Belle pulled herself out of the river and onto the riverbank, and collapsed amongst its soft grasses. Never before had the filly been more glad to be on solid ground and to be able to breath such fresh air.

End of Chapter 5

Chapter 6 - Trials and Tribulations

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Scion of Chaos Chapter 6: Trials and Tribulations

All she did was focus on breathing for a minute as her panting slowly eased back to its normal pattern. She was collapsed, tired, sopping wet, and yet, happier to be alive than she had ever been before.

Truthfully, the filly would have been quite content to just remain there on the bed of grass, partaking in the delicious fresh air; however, the gentle breeze, which played along the snaking river, brought about a chilly reminder of her situation. With a shiver, Sweetie Belle pulled herself upright and gave herself a thorough shaking, doing her best to ignore her drooping mop of a mane. There were other things that the filly could spend her time worrying about.

“Hey Scoddri,” the unicorn called out, now that she was standing up, “what was that monster anyway?”

“That, my dear, was a creature known as an owlbear,” Scoddri stated matter-of-factly. “Quite the ferocious carnivore. The latent magic of this dark forest has changed some of the fauna to better hunt and sneak up on their prey, unfortunately these changes are not only physical, but have rendered many of the creatures here significantly maddened and ferocious. Many of them have lost the ability of speech that their ancestors once had. Such can be the price of survival, I suppose.

“So do tread carefully Sweetie Belle, and be warned that there is no reasoning with something that cannot understand you. There is still quite the distance to cover and the longer you spend out here, the more likely you are to run into another beast.”

“Thanks Scoddri,” Sweetie Belle replied sincerely. “Now which way should I go?”

“To the right, follow the river downstream for a while. Though I am curious, why are you thanking me?” the voice sounded perplexed. “I would have expected you to tell me to stop trying to scare you, or perhaps some sarcastic jest, but thanking me? I never thought to see the day. What brought this about, my dear?”

“You'll still hear plenty of sarcasm from me,” the unicorn stated flatly, as she set out along the gently rolling bank of the river. “But I remember it clearly: when that monster--the owlbear--nearly had me, if it hadn't been for you yelling at me to run, I wouldn't have made it out of there. So, it made me realize something.”

“Oh and what might that be?” Scoddri replied, curiosity still thick in his voice.

“You actually care about me,” Sweetie Belle finished, stopping to smile sincerely. “Thanks for caring about me Scoddri, you're now my friend.”

A mocking flood of laughter met Sweetie Belle's ears, and her smile slipped a bit in her confusion.

“Surely you must be joking Sweetie Belle. You are going to offer your friendship to a voice that you hear in your head?” Scoddri questioned wryly, “You do realize that if other ponies were to know you've been talking to voices, many would call you hurtful things.”

“That couldn't be much worse than already being called a 'blank flank' all the time,” the unicorn reasoned, as she kicked a hoof absentmindedly. “Besides, it would be wrong to not be friends with somepony who just saved my life. If being a crusader has taught me anything, it's that the opinions of your friends are what truly matter, not those other ponies who call you names.”

“Oh, so that means my opinions matter to you?” Scoddri asked sharply, “Then I shall say it just one more time, to be perfectly clear. Sweetie Belle there are far more hurtful things to be said than the teasing of school fillies, but you can only come to understand it when you've lived it. However, if you do so wish it, then you may call me friend, or Scoddri if you prefer; and I however, shall continue calling you girl, idiot and fool.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “Well, that's a roundabout way of saying 'thank you'.”

“Believe me girl, there is plenty of fun to be had in being roundabout about things,” he stated jovially. “Though, if you are too roundabout in getting out of these woods by nightfall, well then, let's just say that I'll be glad I'm just some voice, and not a filly caught in the jaws of some horrendous monstrosity.”

“I'm not being roundabout,” Sweetie Belle muttered, as she spurred herself back into motion once again. “I'm following the river downstream just as you said.”

“You may be facing the right way, but if you stop walking every time you open your mouth, then what's the point?”

Sweetie Belle just frowned as she decided to ignore his jibes and instead decided to take in the scenery as she passed it by. At this point in her venture, the foreign aesthetic of the forest, as well as her interest in the magic glow proliferating from her surroundings, had since dwindled as her mind soon became occupied with more primal issues.

After a mere ten minutes of walking the unicorn let out a moan of exasperation and stopped in her tracks.

“Ugh, I can't take it anymore,” she complained to Scoddri. “I'm really hungry.”

“Well you're a pony, aren't you? Eat some grass,” Scoddri suggested, as if it were the simplest solution in the world. “Just don't eat a plant that you've never seen before and you should be fine.”

“But grass? Nopony eats grass, that's just gross,” Sweetie Belle rebuked, the very thought of performing such an act made her feel queasy.

“Ponies eat hay don't they? It's the same thing girl.”

“But grass is all green, and soggy, and gross, while hay is crispy and only tastes good with syrup.”

“You have some peculiar tastes girl. So tell me, what would you eat then?” Scoddri questioned. “Given the choice of any food in the world.”

“Hmm,” she tapped a hoof lightly as she considered her options, “I think I'd want cake. A blueberry cheesecake with chocolate syrup and whipped cream on top.”

“Cake? Really? After trekking through the Everfree for half a day, you would want cake, of all things?” Scoddri mocked her choice through bouts of laughter. “I do suppose a foal will be a foal, even in the midst of the perils of the Everfree.”

“Oh yeah? Well what would you want then?” Sweetie Belle asked, hoping to turn the tables on him.

“My dear, I'm glad you asked,” the voice began with his teasing, saccharine voice. “It has been a while since I had any choice in the matter. I suppose I'd settle for a nice cool glass of chocolate milk.”

“That sounds even more foalish than cake,” the young filly stated. “Besides, that's not even a food, it's a drink.”

“Those are mere semantics, my dear. it's a consumable source of nutrition, it counts, and for what it's worth, I know it's a foalish choice, but it's my choice to make. And a glass of chocolate milk has no equal in my mind.”

Sweetie Belle just shook her head. Talking to the voice could be tiring, and the conversation only emphasized her growing hunger.

“I give up,” she said. “Maybe I'll just eat the grass then.”

The filly then sat down where she was and reached down with her head to a nearby tuft of wild grass. She hesitantly sniffed at the patch before her. It smelled exactly as could be expected, which is to say, it smelled like grass. Bracing herself for the inevitable revulsion that was to come, she leaned forward and took a bite.

To her surprise, the taste wasn't quite as vulgar as she had imagined it would be. In fact, it had a certain freshness to it that she hadn't quite tasted before in any other foods she had eaten. Behind the freshness however was still an overpowering taste of green, as if the flavours of unripened lettuce, cabbage, and cucumber had all been tossed together into some powerful concoction. It didn't taste too great, but she could eat it.

Over the next ten minutes the filly managed to sate her appetite on a meager portion of the long grasses. It seemed as though eating foods with poor flavour had an unanticipated effect of eroding her hunger before she actually felt full.

“I guess there's a reason why ponies cook, huh? I think I just found a new appreciation for Pinkie Pie's baking,” she admitted to herself as she got back onto her hooves and shook herself free of any grass that had decided to cling to her coat during her impromptu lunch. “Now to wash it all down with some fresh river water.”

After a refreshing drink to rid the vile aftertaste from her mouth, the filly felt replenished enough so as not to drag her hooves as she walked. And to her surprise when she looked down at her own legs, it looked as if the were glowing brighter than they had before.

“Hey Scoddri,” Sweetie Belle wondered aloud as she walked upon the riverbank, “is there a reason why I glow brighter after eating?”

“Oh, so you noticed then? I was certain something as subtle as a slight influx in magic would have slipped past your notice, you surprise me yet again, girl. I suppose I can offer an explanation, so long as you keep up the brisk pace.”

Sweetie Belle nodded in response as she eagerly awaited his explanation, making sure to keep her attention divided between Scoddri's voice and keeping a solid stride.

“As you are well aware, the glowing that you see is your perception of magic, and it's not just sight, but smell, taste, sound, feeling, all of it. It intermingles with all of your other senses, that's why the grass didn't taste as bad as you had thought it would. Your perception of its magic overlaid with the taste, in effect, altering the over-all flavour slightly. It only goes to reason that when everything you see is different, the things you taste will all taste different as well.

“But I'm getting off-track, so I'll get to the point,” Scoddri said, making a sound akin to the clearing of a throat. “What you saw was a change in your own magic levels. You see, the most fundamental way for any creature to replenish their magic is through the consumption of food. Though there are other ways, eating is, by far, the most common.”

“What other ways are there?” Sweetie Belle wondered aloud as she traversed the banks of the river. “It could be useful to know in case of emergency.”

“Hmm, well I suppose the next most common form of replenishing one's own magic levels is through sleep. Although, that's not so much a generation of more magic within the body as it is a reorganization of magic that has become imbalanced due to its overuse.”

“You get an imbalance in magic if you use it too much?” her curiosity spoke freely as she wrapped her mind around the concept that Scoddri had laid out for her. “What does an imbalance do, just make you tired? Is that why we all go to sleep, to fix the imbalance?”

“Ah, sadly you are quite incorrect in that assumption my dear,” Scoddri noted in a chiding fashion, “for you see, the magic imbalance happens only to ponies who are able to move the magic around themselves, so this usually effects only unicorns. While all ponies do indeed need to sleep, what an imbalance does most often, is cause pain in an area of the body that lacks a sufficient amount of magic. More pain if the area of the body is missing a significant amount of magic.

“Quite often this causes headaches for many unicorns who overexert themselves, most unicorns are not even aware that they can draw their magic out from different parts of their body and instead, they tend to use the closest available source. Which would be their heads at the base of their horn, and for most, this is not much of a problem, for the body will accept the flow of higher concentrations of magic to the areas of lower concentrations, thus compensating for any loss, though the process is not instantaneous. Which is why some unicorns have headaches that can last all day long.”

“Huh." The filly raised an eyebrow. “So you're saying that it matters where I take my magic from? Wait, I've been pulling my magic from my heart, isn't that dangerous?”

“Indeed, magic itself is quite dangerous my dear, it's a practice where ignorance and impatience can lead to disaster. Which is why I have told you that you need a safe place to practice magic.”

“So then where is this place anyway? And what makes it so special?”

“My dear little pony, there are some questions that are far easier to explain by experiencing it in the flesh, and both of your questions are prime examples of this. Besides it gives a fitting sense of mystery when you can still wonder: Where is it that I am leading you?”

Sweetie Belle continued her walking in silence as she went over Scoddri's explanations of magic. It appeared the more she learned of it, the more dangerous it all sounded. I wonder if it would have been better to never have learned about magic at all.

* * *

While the scenery did change, it didn't change enough for Sweetie Belle to feel as though she were making any progress on her trek. The river was still to her side, and the plants were still luscious and as overgrown as the rest of the forest. Running out of any striking new flora to capture her imagination, her mind began playing back the memories from earlier that afternoon, of her encounter with the ferocious owlbear.

She could hear its deep breaths uttered from its shadowed maw. She could see its massive body of feathers and fur looming over her once again, poised to strike at her. Its maddened yellow eyes holding her motionless in their gaze.

A shiver ran down the unicorn's spine, and she shook her head sharply in an attempt to stop the onslaught of imagery that crept from the recesses of her mind.

“Hey Scoddri...?” she questioned tentatively. “Do you think you could tell me more about magic? It's boring without someone to talk to.”

“Girl, listen here,” the detached voice commanded, “I am not going to tell you any more about magic until you get to your destination. Knowing your curiosity, if I told you any more about such things, you would make some half-baked plan and burn half of the forest down.”

“Well, can't we talk about anything else then?” Sweetie Belle begged, her nerves still on edge.

Scoddri let loose a quiet sigh, “I suppose it couldn't hurt to keep you entertained a little while. You certainly do seem to move quicker when you aren't looking over your shoulder at every surrounding bush and shadow. And since I have you as my perfect, unwilling audience, I'm going to tell you a story and there is nothing that you can do to stop me. Save for one thing my dear, if you interject before I am done my story, then my story is done.”

The unicorn let a small smile fall upon her lips as she continued her journey, glad to have something to occupy her mind.

“There was a time, long ago, when ponies mistrusted each other, save only for their families. They feared strangers and saw the worst in everypony's every action. Though to survive, the ponies needed to rely on one another, and so they did, begrudgingly.

“The pegasi and unicorns needed the earth ponies' foods, the pegasi and earth ponies needed unicorn magic, and of course the pegasi were needed to serve as stewards of the local weather. They had formed a fragile harmony, though I am certain you know this legend as the tale of 'Hearth's Warming Eve'.

“There was a time after that however, a time of fragile peace, that some ponies began to search for other things in life. Now that they lived more efficiently, they found there was plenty more spare time cropping up in their lives. So some wrote stories, others crafted beautiful pieces of art, and others still pursued innovative new understandings of the world. For the first time in their history, all ponies could have dreams and fulfill them without spending all their time on struggling to keep themselves alive.

“And so it was at that time that one poured himself into the understandings of the nature of magic. He was a magician who dreamed of being greater than any other in the world, to push the boundaries of what magic could be and how it could be used. In his youth he learned and excelled quickly beyond anypony else he had met, so he set out upon the world to seek the fulfillment of his dream.

“Now, while he was traveling about from village to village, city to city, he challenged anypony he came across to a duel in magic. If they declined he just nodded, and walked by, for he only wanted to face the best of the best so that he might improve himself and be that much closer to his dream.

“Soon enough the magician became fairly renowned throughout the land. He was proud of his success, however it did not last long. The fragile peace that held the land of ponies together shattered in an instant, and with it, his chances of fulfilling his dream. For the ponies had began to mistrust each other once again.

“He scorned the ponies who threw themselves into petty conflict for pointless reasons. How could he fulfill his dream if all the world was in conflict? There was no way he could stay focused in his pursuit if he had to grow his own food, control his own weather as well as perform the myriad of other mundane tasks that fill up the day.

“So this magician devised a plan. For you see, at his core he was a master of his own fate, and he believed that there was no greater tragedy in all the world than to be a slave to one's own fate. He looked down upon those other ponies with loathing and pity. How pathetic they were, ignorant and living in fear, unable to remember the beauty of living freely, in the pursuit of dreams.

“'I will change their fates,' he promised. 'I will awaken them to their faults, lead them to a world where dreams can be realized.'

“With his tremendous magical power he was able to pull the disorganized ponies under his rule. One by one they all fell under his dominion. He gave them orders, organized them, and in a rule of tyranny he ordered the ponies to craft a beautiful city, buildings that ponies had only ever dreamed of soon became reality. For with his vision, he led the ponies to making the world so much more than it had been.

“The magician's beautiful city came at a terrible price however, for he was cruel and strict. He worked the ponies hard and awarded them only with enough to eat. Beneath his rule they plotted rebellion, and of this, he was aware.

“But his choice was not as one might think. He did not crush the seeds of rebellion before they took root. No, this rebellion was to be part of the very dream that he sought. For he still remembered those days long past, when he would face worthy adversaries, when he forced himself to push boundaries, and to meet the next challenger with pride and confidence. Those near-forgotten days when he was so close to reaching the pinnacle of understanding all of magic.

“So years passed by under his rule and the rebellion grew while the tyrant played at ignorance and kept his regime strict and heartless. Until the day finally came.

“He heard the uprising erupt from every district in the city. The streets thundered under the hooves of the now-militant ponies of all kinds. They had banded together, and their two leaders lead them right to the tyrant's throne to dispatch the evil ruler once and for all.

“There the tyrant awaited them, every one of his subjects had revolted. After all this time, he finally had a challenger who would push his limits further than ever before. And a battle of magic that ponykind had never seen before erupted in his very chamber.

“The rabble of rebels were quickly routed and told to retreat while the two leaders decided to face down the tyrant themselves. But even those two were eventually bested by his magic.

“So as he had in his younger years, he left the defeated ponies behind, knowing that they would recover and seek him again later, when they were stronger, and perhaps during that conflict he could gain an even finer understanding of magic.

“However, as he was leaving the room, the defeated leaders sprung up in unison, launching a combined, unknown magic upon the tyrant. With that single moment of surprise, the leaders had sealed the tyrant away forever and liberated ponykind from oppression.

“In the following years, the two ruled together and became beloved by their subjects. However, they hadn't noticed that their liberation years ago had caused a massive imbalance in the surrounding area's magic. A forest began encroaching upon the city at a rapid rate, and the creatures within these newly formed woods threatened the livelihoods of their subjects. So the two leaders gathered the ponies together and abandoned one of the greatest cities that had ever been built. To start anew, free from the shackles of the past.

“And that, dear Sweetie Belle, is how the ruined buildings you see before you, came to be.” Scoddri finished, just as the weary unicorn stumbled past a thicket and saw a few crumbled buildings in the distance, which rose out from the surrounding Everfree forest. Their decrepit battlements loomed ominously as they caught a few stray rays of the late afternoon sunlight.

End of Chapter 6

Chapter 7 - Shadows of the Past

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 7: Shadows of the Past
By: SilentBelle

“So this is it then?” Sweetie Belle asked as she took in the sight before her. The river ran in a shallow crescent around half of the ruined castle wall. The remains were dilapidated to say the least, much of its brickwork had long since slipped from the aged mortar that had held it together for centuries. Most of the roofing was missing and only the thickest of walls still held firm against the years of encroaching forest, though the unicorn doubted that they would provide any sort of deterrent from the local fauna.

“You look rather unimpressed my dear, but perhaps you will change your mind when you get a closer look at the true marvel that these ruins are. These ruins are not only a mere testament to the architects of yore, but they remain here, after all these years, and still perform most of their original function.” Scoddri proclaimed in sullen praise. “A formidable fortress it was, indeed. How sad to see it slowly succumbing to the gentle flow of time.”

“I thought the point of walls was to keep things out. How can a dusty, broken wall still perform its function?” the unicorn asked, not too keen on spending the night where any monster from the forest could just sneak up on her. “I see a bunch of ways to get past the wall, I don't think it's doing a very good job.”

“Well, take a closer look my dear, and perhaps you will be able to figure out what its function actually was,” the voice chided.

Sweetie Belle set a frown upon her face as she approached the dubious wall of stone. Something seemed off about the largest segments of the wall, but she couldn't place her hoof on it, it just felt unnatural; though she never had seen any 'natural' ancient ruins to compare it with. The aged gray stones caught a few patches of stray sunlight, and she was certain they would have glistened, had they not been ground down over the ages of weather. Along the base of the wall were patches of gray sand.

“I don't know,” the filly called out as she raised an eyebrow. “It just looks like an old wall to me.”

“To be entirely honest girl, sometimes you surprise me, but those moments are few and far between. It is far more often that I find myself disappointed, until I remember that you are nothing more than filly,” Scoddri said with a light sigh. “So allow me to phrase the question another way, girl. Tell me what it is that you aren't seeing.”

Sweetie Belle's face displayed a frown once more in the wake of Scoddri's candid insult. “That's not a very nice thing to say,” she muttered to herself as she peered once more at the old gray stone wall before her.

It took her all of half a minute, as well as a glance to the forest behind her, until she let out a small gasp at her realization of what Scoddri wanted her to notice about the stone.

But that should be impossible, Scoddri said that everything has magic in it, the filly thought to herself, and decided that perhaps her eyes were deceiving her. So she reached down to her heart, and willed some magic into her horn. She watched in pleased fixation, as the magic flowed through her so readily. With a light grin now on her lips, she leaned forward to tap her horn against the imposing stone bastion. Just as her horn touched the stone she felt a chill shoot through her horn and her magic suddenly faded from her horn as if it had never existed.

“The stone, it ate my magic,” the filly uttered in surprise, as she leaped back in wary fear, before promptly rubbing her now-tingling horn. “But how's that possible?”

“Ah, so now you notice what it is that makes this place special. It's this type of stone that had been developed by the long-gone ponies that once lived here. Quite the wonder, even to this day,” the voice stated in fondly. “However, it does have a certain magic within it, a negative type of magic, if that makes any sense to you. Their original purpose was to protect against all forms of magic, and it still does so to this day; so well in fact, that the forest is still held at bay.”

The unicorn frowned once again and shot the ancient bulwark a derisive stare. “But that still doesn't answer my original question. How could this wall keep me safe from the creatures in the forest? I mean, they aren't like the plants, that have to grow in one place, what's so special about these rocks that would keep the animals and monsters away too?”

“And now you are back to surprising me with your astuteness, my dear. Though it seems whether you surprise me or not, it's always in the form of a question. I suppose that you won't just take my word that it's safe?” the wry voice asked dolefully, not surprised to see Sweetie Belle shaking her head sternly in response, and he let out a sigh in defeat. “Very well then, I'll try to explain it in a way that won't leave you with too many questions afterward, after all the sun is going to set soon, and there are still things to be done.”

Sweetie Belle opened her mouth, just about to ask what it was that needed to be done before nightfall, when she was interrupted.

“I'll explain after, girl. Just stay quiet and listen,” the voice rebuked her, and so, she sat down and closed her mouth smoothly to form a frown, which was becoming a new popular expression for the filly.

“Now, as I said, this stone is special, it naturally absorbs magic, and with every bit of magic it absorbs, the wall dissolves by a proportional amount. And Sweetie Belle, you know that all things have magic in them, you've seen it all throughout this forest, and inside yourself as well. And this chunk of wall absorbs magic that comes near it. My dear, if any creature were to spend too long near these walls, then they would most certainly feel the effects of their own magic leaving them, which is why touching this wall makes you cold, even in the middle of Summer. That is also why creatures do not enter this ruin unless they have no other choice. And since all the creatures in this area are wild, mindless, beasts, the one thing that they do have in abundance is the freedom of choice.

“And before you ask,” Scoddri interrupted the filly once more, just as she opened her mouth to speak, “It is dangerous to sleep here, but only if you sleep too close to the walls. After all, if a castle that was surrounded by such walls existed, there must have been somewhere inside where it was safe to live, otherwise that defeats the purpose of creating the castle in the first place.

“So please, girl, do me a favour, and think your questions through before you ask them. It has been said that there's no such thing as a bad question, but there are tedious and annoying ones. These are the sort that have answers which you should be able to figure out by yourself.”

“Sorry, I didn't know my question were so annoying,” Sweetie Belle said dejectedly. “I'll be more careful from now on.”

Scoddri gave a dry chuckle in response. “Girl, given your record, you tend to perform better when you aren't trying to be careful.”

The filly wasn't too amused by his mirthful chortling, nor by the implications of his words. A few new questions quickly surfaced in her mind. How does he know about how often I've messed up? How long has he been following me for? Since the day I learned how to use magic, or before that? She was about to voice those exact concerns, but she bit her tongue. That's not important right now, and I don't think Scoddri wants me to ask unimportant questions.

“Hey Scoddri?” Sweetie Belle asked tentatively. She couldn't hold back her smirk as she heard the voice let out an exaggerated sigh.

“Not even a minute, and another question, I'm not a talking history book, you know.”

“No, you're just the voice of one trapped inside my head,” Sweetie Belle countered and stuck her tongue for a more pronounced effect.

“Hah, touché my dear,” he guffawed heartily. “So what was your question then?”

“What do I need to do before nightfall? You made it sound kind of important before.”

“Indeed, if you are done learning the history of this giant hunk of rock, then it is time to get to work, my girl. You know, one of the most glorious things about living in the great outdoors is the freedoms that you are granted, getting to choose your own bedtime, when to eat, for that matter what to eat, and what to do with your day; it's all yours to choose. No adults to interfere with what you want to do,” he began his spiel, “but alas it also comes with a price, my dear. That being the burden of responsibility. And so, young filly, you are faced with a bunch of responsibilities you have never had before.”

Sweetie Belle cocked her head to the side and raised an eyebrow as she listened.

“Are you hungry? If not now, you will be. Then, my dear, this means you have to find some food. You are going to get tired as well, if you aren't already; well, that means you are going to have to find some form of shelter,” he declared in an amused manner. “Luckily for you, it's the middle of summer, and there just so happens to be an ancient abandoned castle for you to hunker down in, so you don't have much to fear when it comes to sleep. So, all that remains is for you to find something to eat, both for tonight and for when you wake up.”

“So then, where should I start looking?” she asked as she peered at the decrepit castle, it looked like a prop that would be used during Nightmare Night, and the sun hadn't even set yet.

“Well, I'd suggest looking in a place where there are actual plants growing,” he quipped snidely. “Unless you believe you will find a picnic basket hidden in amongst the dust and rocks of this place.”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes, got to her hooves and turned back toward the forest she had come from. She saw the leaves of the forest's towering trees, they had transformed into blanket of golden-orange under the light of the lowering sun. Meandering beneath the wondrous canopy, the wild snake of a river that she had followed, flowed forth from within its reaches. The now-shadowy waters could be heard whispering off in the distance. Well at least I don't have to worry about being thirsty.

So the unicorn made her way towards the stream before beginning her search for food. The water was fresh, and she drank it thankfully, quenching a thirst she hadn't realized she had.

After an overzealous act of refreshment, followed by a short rest amongst the long grasses of the riverbank, Sweetie Belle's attention quickly became occupied by thoughts of food.

Her hunger had been stowed away since her last meal, hidden beneath the building pain of constant walking, as well as her even more prominent thirst. Now that both those foes had been thwarted, or at least offset, hunger now took center stage.

As if to reinforce the point, her stomach growled loudly enough to make her blush, even alone in the woods, with no other pony for miles, the sound was quite embarrassing. She was just glad that Rarity was nowhere near to hear.

Sweetie Belle was suddenly reminded of the last time she belched after eating her sister's delicious cooking, the whole situation had escalated into an argument about what 'proper etiquette' was and how 'unladylike' it was to behave in such a manner. And as was the norm, the whole debacle ended with Sweetie Belle running out the door and bucking the door closed.

Great, now I'm reminded of sis' good food. The filly looked at the grass around her and let out a bleak sigh and got to her hooves. I am not going to eat any more grass today, unless I have to.

Under the scope of a cloudless sunset the young unicorn forged her way to the outskirts of the forest. She made it her goal for the evening to find something aside from grass for supper. As she walked, she also made sure to stay out of the darkening shadows of the woods.

After nearly a quarter of an hour of traversing the tree line, while keeping an eye trained upon the ruined structure in the distance, Sweetie Belle noticed a glowing light which drew her attention toward a strange plant.

It was a bush unlike any she had ever seen. This wasn't to say that the filly was well-versed in botany, in fact she had very little experience in that field of knowledge; 'Cutie Mark Crusader: Botanists', was a particular venture that the three fillies had never actually gotten around to, and consequently, Sweetie Belle had no idea what the bush in front of her was.

It was a thorny and stiff plant compared to much of the surrounding flora. Beneath the snarl of sprawling thorns she could barely make out numerous white stones. Amidst the low light of the setting sun, as well as the contrastingly bright glow of other plant-life, she couldn't make out some of the finer details. But what did draw her eyes and held them locked in place were the large glowing berries amidst the cage of thorny branches.

In a moment her mouth was watering as she imagined feasting upon the succulent snack; after eating grass, fruit would certainly be the most delectable of desires to grace her palate. There remained only one obstacle between her and certain bliss, that being a few feet of thorns.

Sweetie Belle began pacing around the bush as she looked for a possible route to the desired fruit.

“Oh, if it isn't a bristleberry bush,” Scoddri chimed in, “I haven't seen one of those in ages. The most delicious of fruit to ever touch anypony's lips, and yet one of the hardest to harvest. Be careful girl, it has a subtle aroma that will make you crave the berries over any other food, which could prove problematic because the thorns are poisonous.”

The filly opened her eyes wide in fear and jumped back from the mass of thorns.

“Yes, a strange plant indeed,” the voice continued. “One of the only plants to actually eat the animals that attempt to eat it. But some have claimed, over the years, that the danger is worth it, considering the flavour of the prize.

“Then those small white stones are... bones?” Sweetie Belle asked as the concept of an animal-eating plant began to sink in.

“Yes,” Scoddri said simply. “Mostly just small rodents, considering their size.”

“Why didn't you say anything sooner?” the unicorn accused, “if it had touched me I would have been a goner, I was only a few inches away.”

The voice laughed away at the angered filly before responding to her question, “Perhaps I thought it more amusing to see what you would do. So long as you didn't leap into the snarl of branches, you would have been fine, my dear. There was very little danger in taking a close look at the plant. The poison of the bristleberry bush is not meant for larger creatures, although it would have been quite the sight to see half of your face go numb from the thorns. I can imagine it now, slurred speech and panicked questions; perhaps I shouldn't have told you about the bush. Oh, it would have been so priceless!”

Sweetie Belle merely snorted in derision at Scoddri's taunting, though the annoyance that she felt quickly dissipated. It's not his fault, and nothing bad actually happened, she admitted to herself with a sigh. I shouldn't be mad at somepony who's just looking out for me.

“Ah, a sigh of hunger,” the voice mocked. “Even amidst a veritable wall of thorns, or perhaps because of the thorns, the bristleberry looks even more delicious. Wouldn't you love to savor such a famed delicacy?”

“But the thorns are in the way,” the unicorn complained with a frown. “And I don't want half of my face to go numb just so you can laugh at me.”

“Indeed my dear,” he cooed soothingly, “but you are forgetting something entirely fundamental to your journey thus far.”

“And that is...?” Sweetie Belle asked, waiting for the voice to make his point.

“Why, you are a unicorn of course! Surely you could use your magic to attain the succulent fruit that is barred from your reach.”

“But I can't use magic properly,” the filly complained. “Otherwise I would have tried already.”

“And you never will use it 'properly' unless you try. Girl, I thought you came out into these woods, abandoned everypony you cared about, and ran away from home; I thought you did all of that just so you could learn how to use your magic.”

“I did, but-” she began, shaken by the sudden accusation and bitterness of the memories evoked.

“And here you are now, with the perfect opportunity sitting right before you,” the voice said in a suddenly dark anger, “and you tell me that you've given up, before even trying? Where's your determination? Where's your drive, girl? What happened to the fierce Sweetie Belle that refused to run from an owlbear and blasted the creature from the water?”

“I am determined! I am trying!” she shouted. “But I'm tired, and I'm scared. What if I fail? What if I light the forest on fire? What if I can't control my magic?” With each doubt that she voiced, the filly lowered her gaze toward the ground, as if avoiding eye contact with some unseen pony.

Then that's what happens, girl,” Scoddri spoke, his voice stern and harsh, though his anger had subsided. “But here you are now: alone, the sun is setting, and you are hungry. If you don't try now, if you don't choose to live in the present, you will stay the same and things will never change. You'll just spend the rest of your life running from your regrets and worries, and that's a way of life that nopony wants to live.”

Sweetie Belle blinked a few times before raising her head and fixing her gaze upon the thorny bush before her.

“I'll do it,” she said. “I'll try, but I don't know what to do.”

“But you will figure it out along the way,” the voice said kindly. “I can only offer so much advice, figuring it out and experiencing magic for yourself, that is the only way to truly understand and learn. No number of books or sets of instructions are going to be able to teach you how it truly feels. So start with what you know.”

Sweetie Belle looked ahead at the berries that lay out of reach and her stomach rumbled slightly. With a gulp, the filly closed her eyes to focus. Start with what I know.

She could feel her heart beating and the resonance of magic that emanated from it. As she had done before, she coaxed it into her horn, and it flowed with little effort. Now for the hard part.

Sweetie Belle had only once before, in her desperate panic against the owlbear, managed to send forth her magic from her horn. But that had been a burst with all the magic she could muster, and she couldn't recall exactly what she had done to send it forth. So, tentatively, she 'pushed' at the magic that she had gathered with her will, hoping to send it beyond the confines of her horn, gently and controlled.

As she did so, she felt some of the magic leaving her horn, but she could still sense it beyond her body, she slowly opened her eyes and saw the effect of her effort immediately. Her horn was glowing a soft emerald and she heard the quietest of sounds emanating from it. Before her, in the same coloured glow, only fainter, a shimmer could be seen against the darkening plant-life, just past the tip of her horn. Her eyes opened wide as she watched with fascination and willed for the magic to move forward, slowly, toward the berries.

It took the better half of a minute for the glowing light of her magic to weave its way between the thorny branches and reach the prize. All the while, Sweetie Belle was acutely aware of where her magic was, as if she were looking at her own outstretched hoof before her; only this wasn't her physical body, which made the feeling all the more phenomenal to the filly.

Finally, her distant aura of magic reached the prize. A shiver flowed down her spine as her magic touched upon a single ripe berry. In that moment, she could feel the texture of the berry's skin; it was similar to a blueberry, soft and taut under the pressure of its ripe juices and it felt heavier than the largest strawberries she had ever eaten. She could smell its exotic scent with its slightly citrus zest and she could just imagine the wonderful flavours that were contained within the fruit.

Time passed, but the filly couldn't have known how long she stood there as she came to terms with these new senses she was experiencing. Eventually she just breathed out a sigh and brought her mind back to the original task.

Now that she had her magic touching the berry, she just had to bring it back to her, plain and simple. So she gently willed her magic back towards her; however the berry remained where it was, undisturbed by the movement. Sweetie Belle's frown deepened as she moved the small cloud of magic slowly back and forth in an attempt to move the fruit.

“Why won't it work?” she voiced her frustration.

“Because you aren't grabbing it girl,” Scoddri stated simply. “What you are doing is similar throwing the end of a rope at an object and then puling it back, you won't be able to pull the object to you until you tie it up. Think back to what you were trying to do to that owlbear in the river. You had tried to tie it up, correct? You just need to do something similar here.”

Sweetie Belle nodded at Scoddri's, for once, straightforward analogy. So, with a little effort, she shaped the cloud of magic into a rope-like tendril that slowly snaked around the bristleberry. It was hard to see such a small bit of magic at that distance, especially against the bright reddish glow of the berries themselves, but she could feel the shape of the magic as she curled it around to form a thin band around the center of the small fruit.

Now that she had the magic finely wrapped around the berry, she gave her magic the gentlest of pulls, hoping this time to be able secure the fruit as her own. But instead of the berry being guided away, she felt some resistance, as her magic began to unfurl with her pulling motion.

Hmm, I guess I have to tie it up. She focused on her thread of magic and began to tie a small knot in it. She gave her magic another slight tug. This time her magic was not thwarted by the berry, but with a quiet bursting sound, the bottom half of the hanging fruit was cut free and fell to the maze of thorns below it.

“Ah progress, you've destroyed your first berry,” Scoddri announced chidingly. “Such a beautiful learning experience.”

“Shut up,” Sweetie Belle snapped back, as she began to think of different ways to obtain a bristleberry with her magic.

The voice merely laughed at her crude rebuke, but otherwise kept his silence.

It wasn't until the sun had passed behind the trees, the sky alight with a golden aura, the only indication of its once majestic presence, that the unicorn had finally manage to slip her first berry free of its thorny cage.

With a grin of determination, she repeated the process a dozen times until all the remaining bristleberries were hers. While dealing with the final berry, the magic she was using to guide it faded just as the berry was free of the thorns. At this point, Sweetie Belle was sweating from the stress of using her magic for so long. Even though she had only been using small portions of magic to move the berries; over time, the repetition had taken its toll.

“See? I did it!” she exclaimed, her voice thick with pride. “The trick was to pull on the berry evenly, on all sides, otherwise, the berry would just get cut or slip away.”

“And what about the berry that exploded? Hmm? I seem to remember hearing a terrified shriek when that happened,” Scoddri teased. “At the very least, you managed to avoid burning down the entirety of the Everfree forest. Surely some form of celebration is in order. Enjoy your delicious prize.”

Both Sweetie Belle's embarrassed blush, as well as her protruding tongue, were artfully hidden by the dark shadows that now engulfed the whole scene.

“I just pulled on the berry too hard,” she admitted, “but after that, I got them all.”

Without further ado, she dug into her self-gathered meal with satisfaction. The taste was better than she had imagined, unlike any fruit she had ever eaten before, yet similar enough to still be considered a fruit; she could immediately understand why ponies would be driven to search for this unusual and rare delicacy.

In moments, she had finished her meal, and for the first time since she started her journey, she allowed the feeling of contentment to wash over her as she sat down upon the grasses on the outskirts of the Everfree Forest.

“I do hate to bother a filly that looks as though she is about to enjoy many pleasant dreams on the edge of the Everfree, however, I do believe it is quite prudent that you make your way back to the ruins.”

With a sigh, Sweetie Belle got back onto her tired hooves and made her way back toward the dark sprawling shadow upon the horizon, which marked the ancient ruins.

“You're right,” she agreed, as she began the short walk back to the decrepit castle. “As always.”

“Ah, such innocence," he said whimsically, with a wry chuckle. "Sweetie Belle, if I were always right, then we wouldn't have ever met. Trust me girl, no one can always be right; and sometimes, no one can ever be right.”

End of Chapter 7

Chapter 8 - Step by Step

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Scion of Chaos: Chapter 8 – Step by Step
By: SilentBelle

Amongst the soft sands of the aeons past,
A contented form closed her eyes at last.
In a place where only silence remained,
She had decided to stay, tired and drained,
Awaiting the call of the morning.

* * *

She walked through the forest, vast and endless.
The darkness followed behind her, alone and friendless.
Voices could be heard from behind, echoing through the trees,
But she shook her head, and continued through the Everfree.
Rhythmical and monotonous, her focus held.
As she marched on, the trees began to meld,
Until all that remained, all that could be seen,
Was the path that she forged, marking where she had been

* * *

She blinked a few times and was pulled from her trance. Where am I? All that she could see was the path she was standing on, it glowed with the light of thousands of fireflies. Turning her head back, she could see the path's meandering form fading behind her into the surrounding darkness.

Voices echoed from all around, Sweetie Belle could barely make them out. Anger, disappointment, fear, worry. Apple Bloom's accented words, Scootaloo's harsh calls and Twilight's calm, decisive rhetoric; the words hid behind each other in a confusing onslaught of sound, save for one voice.

“Sweetie Belle, where have you gone?” Rarity's distraught question lingered before all the other noise.

Sweetie Belle turned her head and stared back into the darkness, at the fading path behind her. “Rarity,” nervously, she called her sister's name, as she squinted, searching the surrounding, growing darkness.

Something flashed in the distance, just above the ebbing glow of the path; it was further down the path she had traveled. “Is that you Rarity?”

Slowly, the light began to fade around the stationary filly, yet something approached. Sweetie Belle could begin to make out its form. Just as the path disappeared from sight, two golden eyes hovered right before her. She remembered in a moment.

“Run girl!”

She turned wildly and fled from the eyes. There was nothing in sight to indicate where she was headed. But still she ran.

Suddenly, she felt the ground give way beneath her and she fell. Expecting the harsh rebuttal of the ground, the filly let out a scream.

* * *

With a gasp, Sweetie Belle awoke, her head colliding with a slab of gray stone.

With a wince, the filly pulled herself to an upright sitting position. “Ouch.” the filly stated belatedly as she rubbed her temple with a fore-hoof. “That wasn't a good dream at all.”

“Dare I ask what it was that would shock a brave filly to such an extent that she would be willing to deal herself physical harm?” Scoddri's voice echoed with poorly concealed mirth.

“I wasn't planning on hitting the wall,” Sweetie Belle said dourly, with a roll of her eyes, which shifted into a quick examination of her surroundings. There was very little in this room. It was a three sided structure, three-quarters roofless, filled with nothing but piles of dust and sand, and all of it, illuminated by the soft glow of an early summer's morning. “No wonder I didn't sleep well, I've never slept on stone before. And now I know why most ponies don't.”

“At least you are able to sleep when in contact with stone surfaces,” the voice chimed in pleasantly, “I've known of someone who faced the largest case of insomnia, simply because of contact with the aforementioned material. Now clouds, those are the right material to rest upon.”

“But how would you know? I thought unicorns would just fall right through clouds,” the unicorn said earnestly, as she failed to hold back a yawn. “At least that's what I've always been told.”

“Indeed. However, imagine, if you will, something so light as to dissipated before your very touch, and that substance is now holding you up. It would be like resting in the air; it would provide such a wonderful feeling of freedom and comfort.”

“Hmm, I suppose you do have a point,” she admitted, as her curiosity took form in her pensive stare. “Maybe I should ask Fluttershy what clouds feel like the next time I see her.”

“Ah, so many wonders to be found in this world,” Scoddri mused aloud. “Yet, the largest of them all stands before me unexplained. How can there be so few who actually see the value of these wonders, which are dancing right before their eyes? And why do so many look the other way, gazing upon the sore sights they've seen countless times before?”

Sweetie Belle was at a loss for words, she wasn't entirely sure what, or who the voice was talking about; nor was she sure she would understand even if Scoddri deemed it necessary to explain the situation to her.

“Say, Scoddri,” the filly probed quietly, deciding to break the silence to change the subject. “Now that we're here, you said you would teach me magic, right?”

“Indeed girl, and you may also recall that I do not tell lies,” the prideful voice chided. “So spend your time asking the questions you actually intend to ask. If I said I will teach you, then I will.”

“So... then what are you going to teach me next?” she asked eagerly, getting up on her hooves.

“Well, that's entirely up to you, my dear. What do you want to be taught?” Scoddri replied. “While I do believe that best way to learn anything is through practical experience, it all amounts to nothing if the student in question is uninterested with what is being taught. We learn because we want to, plain and simple. So tell me, Sweetie Belle, ask me a question that you want answered, and I will give you an answer.”

“Hmm,” the filly hummed as she tilted her head to the side and began pacing around the three sided, dilapidated structure. She had a bundle of questions, no doubt, but there was one question pertaining to magic that had been nagging her; there was something about magic that she had already experienced which she couldn't quite comprehend. With a nod, the filly made her decision

“When I faced the monster in the stream yesterday, I panicked,” Sweetie Belle began slowly, trying to lead into the question properly. “I remember seeing the magic shining bright in the water, and I grabbed at it as it flowed below me. I felt it flow through me then, as soon as I touched it, and I felt as though I had been swept away in the flow, yet I was still standing. It was incredible, and scary too, I never felt anything like it. So, I guess my question has to do with that strong current. What is it, and why can no pony else beside me use it or see it?”

“Ah, two questions, that's one more than I agreed to answer by the way, however, since they are related, I suppose it's not too difficult to give an answer to both of your questions. Of course, I should have expected a pony as sharp as yourself to notice some of the nuances of natural magic,” Scoddri mused whimsically. “So, my dear, the magical current you are describing falls under a topic known as 'Chaos Magic'.”

“'Chaos magic'...” Sweetie Belle muttered to herself quietly, as an expression of rapt interest quickly donned itself as a mask upon the filly's face.

“Indeed, it's a silly name, I know, and not a very concise one, considering the usual naming patterns those unicorns come up with,” the voice said wryly. “But, it's the name that it has come to be known by, so let's call it 'Chaos Magic' to make things easier.

“Now, I am quite surprised that you realized just how special you are Sweetie Belle. To be able to see that which cannot be seen naturally by others, and therefore, to be able to use magic which they cannot use. My dear, you have access to a magic that most unicorns have no idea exists. Can you begin to see why it would come to be known as 'Chaos Magic'?"

The voice paused for a moment to let allow the filly to consider, before continuing on to answer his own question. “All things become chaos before those who cannot see the whole picture. Your affinity to see this magic, it will also become something that others will label as 'chaotic' in their ignorance. There is no escaping such a stigma. You may choose to keep it a secret, or even try to explain it to your closest friends, hoping that they'll understand.

“So to answer your second question, no, you are not the only one to have such an ability. Although it certainly is a rarity. Even I cannot begin to fathom all the reasons for anypony's eye colour, cutie marks, gender, or particular talents. However, I accept the fact that they exist, and I know that they are very real. So it matters not why you can see these things, my dear, but rather, what you do with it, now that you know you can.”

Sweetie Belle blinked a few times and paced around a bit as she turned Scoddri's words over in her mind a few times. “So this 'Chaos Magic', could be used by any unicorn then,” she thought aloud as she pieced the information together. “I mean, it's still magic, right? It's there, and it's very real, so others could use it, not just the ponies who can see it.”

“How very perceptive,” Scoddri praised, with a small chuckle, “Although it would be very much akin to a blind and deaf pony exploring the world, with no senses on which to rely. Just the feeling of their gut instincts, and perhaps a sense of faith that everything will turn out alright. Most ponies wouldn't last too long on such a journey, which is why this particular section of magic has rarely been explored by many unicorns, and its validity has been held in question numerous times.”

“I get that Scootaloo and Apple Bloom wouldn't understand it, I mean I can hardly believe it myself. If I couldn't see the glow from the sand or the stone walls, I wouldn't ever believe such a thing could exist,” Sweetie Belle admitted. “But what if I told Twilight, surely she would at least hear me out, if any pony could figure out about 'Chaos Magic' it would be her. My sister says that she might be the most magical unicorn in all of Equestria. And surely Rarity would believe me too.”

“It might be more prudent to reconsider who you talk to about such things. Trying to explain this aspect of magic to one who can never see, no matter how hard they try, will most likely just amount to wasted effort. My dear, sometimes silence is the sensible option,” he said gently, with a softness in his tone that Sweetie Belle hadn't heard him use before. “But in either case, none of your friends or family are out here to tell, so you can spend your time worrying about such things when they matter.”

“Right, and what matters now is learning how to use magic properly,” the unicorn replied. “So let's start.”

“The eagerness and optimism of youth,” the voice said with a light chuckle. “Surely there is no greater treasure in all the world.”

With a raised eyebrow, Sweetie Belle tilted her head slightly. “So where do we begin?”

“Well, as I said before, I do believe that learning requires your full attention, otherwise, distraction will ultimately lead to the loss of information. So why not tackle your first problem right now? You are hungry and thirsty, and there is very little to be done about that in our current location. Unless you enjoy eating dusty stones and washing it down with some dry sand.”

Her stomach growled as an echo to Scoddri's own words, and she let out a sigh. I suppose learning magic can wait until after breakfast.

* * *

Sweetie Belle made her way to same stream that she had visited last evening. After a few minutes of relieving her thirst, as well as the building summer's heat, she sat once again on the riverside, feeling refreshed until she started staring at the lengthy grass that covered the entirety of the banks. With a sigh of defeat she began to munch upon the repulsive grasses.

“I thought you didn't want to eat grass unless you had to,” Scoddri teased, as she chewed away at a mouthful.“You could have gone on an adventure searching for more food.”

With her pinched lips forming a frown, the unicorn slowly swallowed before responding. “Well, I figure that the sooner I finish eating, the sooner I can learn more about magic,” she said simply, as she got to her hooves and began walking towards the forest. "And that's enough eating for me."

“Ah, very true. However, given how taxing the use of magic can be, I don't suspect that you would be able to perform magic for an extended period of time. I remember just last night, a certain filly nearly fell upon her own face as she walked back to find shelter from the beckoning stars of twilight. And all of this fatigue, just because she moved a dozen berries over a few feet.”

Sweetie Belle blushed, her cheeks turning a soft rose in embarrassment. “What if I used the 'Chaos magic',” she offered, tilting her head towards the brightly glowing trees of the distant forest she was heading towards. “Couldn't I have used it instead?”

“And so you make yet another keen observation, my dear,” the voice admitted. “However, because 'Chaos Magic' is indeed magic, there is still the matter that you can only hope to be able to control it as well as you can control your own magic.”

The filly made her way up to the large, looming trees of the Everfree Forest. The darkness of the shadowy woods was completely forgotten to the filly as she looked about. The cascading and vibrant glow of her surroundings brought on a feeling calm, almost as though the trees were gently reaching out to her and embracing her; even when she closed her eyes, she could feel their presence, gentle, stable, and powerful.

“Hmm,” the small unicorn considered, with closed eyes. “What if I used the tree's magic to refill my own as I use it?”

“And now you tread upon the other use of chaos magic,” Scoddri said in amusement. “Of course, it's more fun if you try it yourself. So give it a shot. Even if you were to start a fire, you are close enough to the edge of the forest to get to safety.”

“I'm not going to set the forest on fire,” Sweetie Belle muttered in determination. “It can't be that dangerous.”

With a moment of concentration, she fed a large portion of her magic out of her horn and let it loose into the forest before her, not even attempting to control the wave of magic beyond releasing it from her horn. Before her eyes, the magic dissipated, like rain falling upon already damp soil. In that moment she felt a shiver roll down her spine, and with a downward glance she noticed that her own glow had dimmed slightly.

Now the filly was ready to initiate her plan. She turned her focus to the magic inside of a sizable tree before her. It glowed with an unwavering sheen, which emanated from its core, bound solidly within its sturdy trunk.

She focused, guiding a thin tendril of her own magic through her horn. In a moment, the serpentine reach of her energy touch upon the trunk of the tree. With a smile, she pulled at the magic within the tree; however she was met with resistance, and the glowing within the tree remained undisturbed.

Her smile faded into a frown as she tried again and again. Each time she tugged harder than the last; but she may as well have been trying to uproot the tree from the ground itself. With one last tug, she shook her head with a pout, and reeled her magic back through her horn in defeat.

“Dumb tree! Why didn't it work?” she raised her voice in frustration, it had been the perfect plan. “If it's magic then shouldn't I be able to use it?”

Scoddri's laughter echoed around the filly. “Oh, but didn't it work? Have you not regained your luster from your earlier display of magic?”

Sweetie Belle looked down at herself in surprise, and noticed that she had regained the full glow of her magic. “But when did that happen?” she asked in utter bewilderment. “I didn't even take any magic from the tree.”

“Ah, but look to your feet, look at the ground you are standing upon. See all the plants, bushes, grasses, this place is teeming with magical energy, so your instincts subconsciously pulled at the surrounding magic until you were filled with magic again. All unicorns do this, some believe it's just a matter of resting, however the truth remains that magic is replenished quicker in places where quantities of magic are abundant.”

“But that doesn't explain why I couldn't take the magic from that tree,” Sweetie Belle complained. “I should have still been able to use its magic, or at least interact with it.”

This, my dear, is the very nature of magic. Its properties differ based upon the medium within which it is contained. In this case, the magic in the tree is very sturdy and immobile, therefore quite hard to manipulate.”

“Then the time I was in the river, the river's magic was able to flow through me because the river naturally flows, and because of that, the magic did too?” she reasoned. “Well I guess that makes sense...”

“Indeed. However, the magic within the stream, or even inside that tree, is much more vast than your own magic. To handle such massive amounts of magic is potentially dangerous for anypony, much less a filly with no cutie mark. Usually a pony learns to walk before they run.”

“So I should start small then?” Sweetie Belle asked.

“Only if you want to,” Scoddri said slyly, “I have no power over your choices, my dear. Besides, seeing a pony learning, and exploring all by herself is quite an entertaining sight. I look forward to the numerous blunders that await you.”

“That not very reassuring,” Sweetie Belle said, with a nervous chuckle.

As light as her laughter was, the levity was enough to raise her spirits. Heeding Scoddri's advice, the unicorn focused instead upon a small plant that lay just in front of her hooves, determination once again shining within her fixated emerald eyes.

The plant before her was a green shoot, nearly as tall as her. Its top half sprouted into numerous bell-shaped lavender flowers. She focused upon the gently glowing vegetation and once again sent out a line of magic from her horn.

In an instant she could tell the difference between this plant and the tree she had been focusing on before. This purple blossomed plant felt frail, and when she tried to grab hold of the plant's glowing magic, after a hearty effort, she was able to pull it free.

Sweetie Belle watched in awe as the plant's glow was pulled into her own tendril of magic and it flowed back to her. It felt moist and fresh at first. However, as she reeled the magic in, her fur bristled, the hairs of her mane and tail stood on end, and a sudden feeling of heat fell upon her. She felt beads of sweat forming on her forehead and she turned her head around to see her back leg starting to twitch of its own accord.

She shot a nervous glance to the flower she had drawn the magic from only to see the whole plant had turned stiff and brown; its once vibrant petals now littering the forest floor, two months short of autumn.

“What's happening?!” she shouted in panic as she began nervously prancing around.

A torrent of laughter flowed forth almost in time with Sweetie Belle's impromptu dance of half-controlled movements. She was swaying back and forth like a pony who had too much of Pinkie Pie's party punch.

“Oh, how wonderful, to see the dance of the reckless and over-eager,” the voice praised, as if Sweetie Belle were indeed performing a valid form of entertainment. “Don't worry, it's just your body's way of using up an excess of magic.”

“But how do I stop it?” the filly asked with desperation in her voice.

“Just keep dancing until you've used up enough of your magic. It's quite entertaining to watch.”

“I'm not going to just do nothing until it stops,” she shot back. “I'll stop it myself!”

With a flash of violet and emerald light, Sweetie Belle lashed out with her magic, like a bolt of lightning and an accompanying small peal of thunder, she struck a nearby, towering giant of a tree.

A number of forest animals squawked and squealed their indignation; a few of the birds hidden in the upper branches took wing in surprise.

Panting and blinking her eyes to clear her vision, she noticed her body had stopped betraying her, and the feverish feeling had left her in an instant. She could see a small smoking patch of bark upon the giant tree before her.

“Well, at least you didn't burn the forest down,” the ever-optimistic voice said with a slight snicker.

Sweetie Belle opened her mouth to form a retort when she heard a shout from up above.

“Sweetie Belle! Was that you?” the slightly raspy voice called from above, the distant branches began shaking as the owner of the voice made her way down. “I could have sworn the birds came from around here.”

With eyes opened wide in surprise, Sweetie Belle dove into the thickest bush she could find and rolled into a prone position, hoping against hope that Rainbow Dash wouldn't find her. She couldn't go back to Ponyville, not yet.

End of Chapter 8

Chapter 9 - A Choice Called Destiny

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 9: A Choice Called Destiny
By: SilentBelle

Sweetie Belle hunkered down in her hiding place--a thick shrubbery, whose actual name was a mystery of little significance to the filly, for she had deemed to think of it simply as, 'Annoying Bush'. Its stiff branches prodded at Sweetie Belle, causing multiple itches that she dared not attempt to relieve, lest her cover be blown.

She attempted to swallow her nervousness, but it seemed to remain as a lump in her throat. The filly wondered at how she hadn't been found yet. Her own heartbeat sounded as loud as a shout, her breath echoed like thunder in her eardrums, and she silently cringed at every slight movement she made as she adjusted her position in the bush.

Why is it that only when you need to be quiet, that you become so loud?

From her makeshift refuge, the unicorn looked up at the source of her current dilemma. Not fifteen feet away, she could see Rainbow Dash hovering back and forth, pausing to squint at nearby plants. To Sweetie Belle's eyes the pegasus glowed contrastingly to the surrounding plant life; Rainbow Dash held the form of a pale and refined shadow, that slipped between the wild energies about her, with the natural grace of an athlete.

“I could have sworn I heard something around here,” the pegasus muttered to herself as she landed and looked off into the distance. “How the heck am I supposed to find a filly in here? I can barely see and it's the middle of the day!”

A slight feeling of relief washed over Sweetie Belle, perhaps she wasn't making as much noise as she thought.

“Ah, if it isn't Rainbow Dash,” Scoddri chimed in, much to Sweetie Belle's dismay.

Panic swept over her in an instant. What if other ponies can hear him, what if he tells Rainbow Dash that I'm here? Her thoughts quickly began to flood her mind as she awaited Rainbow Dash's reaction.

“Wait a sec,” the pegasus said in mild excitement, turning about face and sniffing at the air. “What's that smell?”

“Oh, I wonder if she's caught the scent of a travel-stained filly.”

“It smells like,” the cyan mare paused before giving another sniff, “lightning.” She turned her eyes to examine the bark of a nearby tree. “Hmm, no storm clouds out here, even with the freaky, random weather. But this tree was definitely hit by lightning, and that would add up with the sound I heard earlier. Then that must mean, it was a monster. Show yourself! I know you're out there, whoever you are!”

“You make a most terrifying monster, my dear,” the voice mocked with a laugh, as Sweetie Belle's anxiety swiftly turned to irritation, with a single roll of her eyes.

“Won't show yourself, huh? Well, it only makes sense that any monster in this place would be stunned by my sheer awesomeness.”

“Oh, is it true? Are you hiding yourself from her overflowing elegance and poise? Are you so jealous of a pony as perfect as the greatest flier in all of Equestria, that you, a courageous Cutie Mark Crusader, would rather brave the brambles of a bush than be subjected to her stunning superiority?”

“Oh, come on,” the words slipped out from the filly's mouth before she could catch them.

“Woah!” the rainbow-maned mare jumped at the sound, but recovered quickly, and turned directly toward the unicorn's hiding spot. “Sweetie Belle, is that you? What are you doing in a bush?”

The filly huffed her derision as she pulled herself free from the bush, which was a tougher task than entering it had been. With a half minute of scrambling and a few pulled hairs, Sweetie Belle managed to free herself from her impromptu bluff and stared at Rainbow Dash indignantly.

“This is all your fault!” the unicorn said accusingly.

“Must I always be blamed for other ponies' shortcomings?” the voice retorted in good spirit.

“Um, sorry? Sweetie Belle, are you okay?” Rainbow Dash asked, with a quirked eyebrow. “You look kinda... well... messy.”

“I wasn't talking to you!”

“Oh, that's good to hear, for a second I thought that you were angry with me.”

“Uh, we're the only ponies around. Who else would you be talking to? A tree?” A nervous confusion settled into the pegasus' voice.

“I was talking to...” Sweetie Belle let out a sigh of frustration. “You know what? Forget it. You wouldn't understand.”

With that retort, the filly quickly turned and stomped off into the surrounding forest in her frustration.

“Oh, but I do understand, my dear, you just wanted someone else to blame for your own mistake. It's a completely understandable situation.”

Rainbow Dash's look of confusion only deepened as the filly laboriously made her way through the undergrowth. With a rainbow streak, and a rush of wind, Sweetie Belle's path became obstructed in an instant.

“Woah, hold it squirt. Where do you think you're going? I'm here to bring you back to the others, I think you've spent enough time in this creepy forest.”

“And who asked you to bring me back, huh? Oh, wait, let me guess. Could it have been Rarity? 'Oh, Rainbow Dash, please you must bring my sister back, you must, you MUST!' Well did it ever occur to you that I don't want to or even need to be rescued?”

“I do suspect that you wouldn't mind being rescued from Rainbow Dash, though,” the voice quipped in amusement. “Oh, the irony.”

“Look, kid,” Rainbow Dash said levelly, as her gaze darkened. “I don't know what sort of squabble you got into with your sister, or even why you ran away in the first place. But I promised Rarity that I would bring you back,” she said as she flared her wings out in emphasis, “and that's exactly what I intend to do. So come on, I'll take you back to the others.”

“No,” the filly stated, just as levelly. “I made my choice just like you made yours and I'm not going home yet.”

“Oh for the love of- Look, Sweetie Belle, this isn't some kind of game that you think it is. You could get hurt out here, in fact it's a miracle that you're still in one piece after a whole day. Besides, your sister is worried sick, I've never seen Rarity so upset, honestly, it's horrible. How do you think she'll feel if you don't come back?”

“I know how she feels,” Sweetie Belle muttered.

“Oh, do you now?”

Sweetie Belle opted not to respond to the irksome voice and followed up. “But that just means that you can go back and tell her I'm fine, and that I promise I'll be back soon.”

“I'm sorry, but that's not gonna cut it. I made a promise, kid, and I never go back on a promise.”

“And what makes you think I'd go back on mine?!” the filly seethed in indignation. “Is my promise worth less than yours, because I'm still a filly? Because I'm just some dumb kid who doesn't need to keep her promises?”

“Woah, settle down. What promise are you talking about?”

“The promise I made to myself,” she replied fiercely, her emerald eyes gazing directly at the pegasus. “I promised to follow through, and I will. I left for a reason, and I'll be back when I'm done. And not a moment sooner!”

Rainbow Dash looked down at Sweetie Belle. The pegasus' expression turned slightly pensive as she studied Sweetie Belle, but the unicorn only redoubled her resolve and stared her down unflinchingly.

With a bow of her head to the smaller pony, Rainbow Dash brought forth her own look of determination and a small smirk. “It's decided then. I'll just have to bring you back, whether you want to or not.”

Before Sweetie Belle could so much as blink, the pegasus before her sprung into action. In a sweeping dash of colour that swept past her periphery, she felt the mare grab her firmly from behind. With quick and powerful wing-beats, the two rose from the ground. In a mere moment they were amongst the heavy canopy of the forest.

Sweetie Belle felt panic well up inside her with each passing second as they rose in altitude. As soon as she recovered from the moment of surprise, she began acting with nervous energy. She started to flail about in Rainbow Dash's firm grip, attempting to break free from her powerful hold; however it proved to be futile, as the unicorn's bucks and kicks were met with naught but open air and leaves.

“Rainbow Dash, let me go!” she shouted, which seemed to produce the same effect as her flailing did.

I have to escape before we get too high, she thought, as the thick, vibrant, glow of branches and leaves began thinning out. Even if I fall from here it could be too far.

Out of desperation, Sweetie Belle stopped her struggling and hurriedly focused upon her magic. As quickly as she could, the unicorn grasped at the numerous leaves that surrounded her, and pulled at their magic, gathering it and holding it tightly.

Then suddenly, the blinding light of day caught the unicorn in the eyes as they burst through the canopy. In a sea of endless green, the forest stretched on as far as she could see. With a rush of wind, she became suddenly aware that that there was nothing between her and the sea of trees beneath her, and were it not for Rainbow Dash's vice-grip, the filly would have already fallen to her demise.

In that moment, she knew with certainty that she was going to fall. The forest below called up to her as thousands of beckoning spikes. Quivering from the sudden height, Sweetie Belle held tightly upon the only thing she could, the forest's magic that she had gathered just moments before.

“No, put me down,” she demanded weakly.

“I will when we get back to the others, and not a moment sooner.”

Sweetie Belle shut her eyes, hoping she could forget she was hundreds of feet above the ground. But it was no use, the rhythmic pulse of wing-beats only sharpened her keen awareness that she was so far above the ground.

I just want to be on the ground again.

She tried her best, through gritted teeth and tightly pressed eyelids, she told herself that she was on the ground, in the forest. She wasn't hundreds of feet in the air, she was in the shade of the trees, standing amongst the bushes. The sound of thousands of blowing branches and leaves were coming from above her, not below.

In the next moment, a shiver rippled through her body, causing her to gasp and open her eyes. Before her, the world melted and swirled together. The sky, the treeline, the sun and the clouds. They spun around her until she could no longer tell which direction was up or down, and she could no longer be sure of where she was.

Sweetie Belle looked down to her hooves, wondering if she was standing on solid ground, or if she was still in the air. Or she attempted to, but the array of shifting colours before her moved all of their own accord. She couldn't tell the colours apart any more, she could just feel them, as a swirling vortex around her, dizzying and disorienting.

“Girl! Remember where you are!” a voice echoed through her.

Whose voice is that? Where am I?

“The forest, girl, remember the forest!”

The trees, glowing vibrant against the darkness, she began to remember, as the image began building itself around her. The colours reformed, shifting into place as if she were watching a master painter over the course of a month of solid working. More trees, bushes, grasses, the hidden birds, the burble of distant stream. And me, I'm sitting in the grass there, on the edge of the forest looking at a thorny shrub, all of its berries plucked free.

With a gasp, she felt air fill her lungs, as the image around her solidified. The scents, the sounds, the taste of fresh forest air, they all assailed her at once, knocking her off-balance. She lost her footing and rolled onto her side, coming to rest amongst the forest floor.

“Ugh,” the filly groaned as she blinked a few times. “What happened?”

“Hah! That was just priceless, you should have seen the look on Rainbow Dash's face when you teleported away like that.” Scoddri said with a hearty guffaw. “For that matter you should take a look at yourself. Your mane-style is the spitting image of primordial chaos.”

“I teleported? What do you mean?”

“A very practical, and exceedingly dangerous skill. How fortunate that you were able to piece yourself back together.”

“Piece myself back together?” she questioned the voice while rubbing her forehead. A severe sense of dizziness had befallen the filly. “Woah, why's everything spinning so fast?

“It's a minor side-effect of teleportation I am afraid. After all, you did just lose your body for a short while. Having all your senses disappear, then reappear, can prove to be quite the jarring experience. Many who try it are never quite the same afterward.”

“So then, will the spinning stop?” she asked fearfully. She didn't want to think about living the rest of her life feeling like the ground was moving underneath her.

“Oh, that's just vertigo, it will go away soon enough. Though it seems your other problem won't, my dear.”

“What's that supposed to mean?” the unicorn inquired while blinking repeatedly. Blinking seemed to help.

“Well, unless I am mistaken, a certain filly recently declared, quite defiantly, that she was going to stay away from Ponyville until she learned how to control her magic.”

“Yeah, and I just got away from Rainbow. I said I wouldn't return until I've learned how to use my magic properly, and I'm sticking to that.”

“Indeed, and that forms crux of your problem, my dear. Rainbow Dash knows where you were, and it won't take too long for her to lead the rest of her friends over here,” the voice warned in dark amusement. “I do wonder, where are you planning on running to next? You won't be able to stay at the ruins, they'll find you there for sure.”

“Um, I don't know,” Sweetie Belle admitted as she tried to stop her eyes from tracking the movement of the trees. “I don't even know where I am. I mean I know I'm in the Everfree, but if I had to find my way back home all alone, I don't think I could.” With a colouring of shame lighting her cheeks, the filly blinked a few more times before continuing. “But I know that you know where we are, so that means that you can lead us away from Ponyville.”

“So you turn to the voice inside of your head to lead you in the right direction? My girl, you continue to amuse me. Very well then. Once again, I shall guide you with my abundant wisdom and knowledge. I hope you enjoyed your little siesta in the grass, girl, because that's the last bit of rest you'll be getting before sundown. Now on your hooves!”

Sweetie Belle groaned as she pulled herself upright. Though, much to her surprise, the world wasn't spinning nearly as much as it had been only moments ago, and after a few small steps, the feeling all but vanished.

“Well, at least I'm on the ground. I don't think I ever want to go flying again.”

“Could this brave filly, the one who faced down a mighty owlbear, be afraid of heights?” the voice called out in mock-astonishment, “the terrors of gravity truly are terrifying indeed.”

“I'm not afraid of heights, I just don't like flying,” Sweetie Belle clarified. “I'm just fine climbing up a mountain or tree, but with flying, I have no control over it. It just feels like I'm going to fall.” The feeling was still fresh in her mind: her hooves dangling in the open space above the sea of green trees; the tree tops churning in the breeze, ready to swallow her whole. No! She refused to think about it any further.

“Say, Scoddri, which way are we going anyway?” the unicorn asked, trying to distract herself.

“Away from Ponyville,” he said plainly. “I will tell you when you need to change directions, until then, just straight ahead. Oh, and do make sure to keep in mind where the river is, unless you think it prudent that you march onward while facing the plight of dehydration.”

Sweetie Belle simply nodded, though inside, she was secretly glad that she didn't have to figure out where she was headed. She knew that without Scoddri, snide and cruel as he could be, she would be lost and alone. In places like this, she thought to herself, friends make all the difference.

End of Chapter 9

Chapter 10 - A Storm to Come

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Scion of Chaos: Chapter 10 - A Storm to Come
By: SilentBelle

In her travels, the young filly passed the numerous trees at a steady pace, but paid them no heed. In these dark woods she kept her eyes trained to the ground, making certain that she wouldn't trip. Even with the aid of the glowing flora, if she wasn't careful, a root would still cause her to spill over.

The action became rhythmic and thoughtless, and Sweetie Belle quickly became lost in her own thoughts. She imagined all the others making their way through the forest. They would be tracking her hoof-steps, looking for bent branches and crushed twigs that she had left in her wake. Her sister would be wearing a determined scowl, Twilight a look of worry, Applejack and Rainbow Dash would be arguing over something insignificant, just to keep their minds at ease. All of this because she ran away from home.

No, the filly told herself, shaking out her mane in an attempt to clear her mind. I made my decision and I'm sticking to it. If they choose to follow me, then that's their choice, not mine. I need to think of something else.

“Hey Scoddri?” the unicorn called out quietly.

“Yes, girl, I'm still here, if that's what you're wondering,” he quickly quipped. “Although I'm certain you have no idea where exactly 'here' is. One part of this forest looks much like another, and the stream looks very similar to how it has always looked.”

“Hmm,” Sweetie Belle slowed her pace as she considered for a moment. “Say, where are you exactly? I mean, I hear your voice just fine, but where's your body?”

“My body is a very useless thing to me in its current state. It's proven to be naught much more than a deadweight for the past while. So I figured that haunting a little filly would be the best use of my time.”

“So, are you dead?” she questioned skeptically, as she stopped by the riverbank for some refreshments, though she hardly viewed the grasses as 'refreshing'. “I thought only ghosts and spirits could haunt other ponies.”

“Oh, I am far from dead, girl, but you seem to think that spirits have to be dead in order to commune with the living. Know this, girl, only the living can influence the living, the dead are an unknown that even I have never seen.”

“So, you're a spirit?”

“You can call me whatever label you like, but I am what I am, and I don't try to change that,” the voice said, dourly. “Not anymore.”

She stood with her mouth opened for a moment, but before the words could fully form for her next question, the filly decided to bite her tongue; she knew the voice disliked her prying questions. Although surprisingly, it was Scoddri that decided to change the subject first.

“It's going to rain,” he said flatly.

“Oh, how do you know? I thought the Everfree Forest had random weather, how can you know what random weather will be?”

“It's really quite simple, girl,” his voice claimed crudely. “It's really the same idea behind how looking at a bunch of random letters on a page will let you read a sentence. It's truly the epitome of the unknown, well, depending on the author. The weather, however, now that is a story that is far easier to predict.”

Sweetie Belle glance through the thin clearing that snaked its way through the looming boughs of the trees that crowded the river bank. Above, she could see the sky had taken on an entirely bleak demeanor while she had been within the confines of the woods. With a gasp, the filly noticed that she could see something else as well. Some clouds seemed to glow brighter than the others, and some spots seemed entirely subdued. It was as though there was some deep mosaic of magic that patterned the sky. And by no means was this mosaic orderly; it was a snarl of ever-shifting magic that seemed to flow and pulse on unseen currents.

“You see my dear, magic has a role in everything, even in the most mundane and boring parts of life. Some would deny this, refusing to even consider it as plausible, let alone fact. But for a select few, the truth of such matters are revealed quite plainly before them.”

The filly was still light of breath as she watched in wonder, eventually she managed to put a voice to her thoughts. “Scoddri, how many others have there been before me, that can see magic like I can?”

“Sadly, they have been few and far between, even to the point where such a gift can be regarded only as a curse. For the things they see are far too removed from what most others perceive. This eventually places them in a position against the rest of the world, and anyone who decides to throw themselves against the entirety of the world will inevitably be crushed.”

“But what if they chose to never talk about it, what if they chose to never admit that they could see it?”

“Ah Sweetie, you could live the rest of your life telling yourself that, but you would still see it, in every sight you ever saw, in every sound you ever heard, and any other sense as well. Magic is present in everything, once you've seen it, you cannot forget it. To do so would be like pretending that you are blind. Some ponies might buy into it, but it's a charade that's bound to fail at some point. Sweetie Belle, this sense of yours, it's something that belongs to you, as much as your cutie mark will, and your sense of self. You may not want it, but you are stuck with it. And I look forward to seeing just how you deal with it.”

Sullenly, Sweetie Belle got back into motion and followed the serpentine flow of the river. But why me?

* * *

By the time mid-afternoon had settled in, the clouds above cast their subdued gray light down to forest below and Sweetie Belle plodded on, though her legs were starting to ache. She and the other two Crusaders had always had an eye for adventure, but hours of walking had drained the excitement out of the day to the point where she was quite content with the idea of just laying down on a soft carpet of grass until evening.

“Girl, why are you stopping?” the voice asked sharply.

“I can't take it anymore, my hooves hurt, my legs are tired and the scenery always looks the same. I need to rest,” she complained to the voice as she starkly sat down and rolled onto her back.

“Oh, come now, you had a rest two hours ago. Didn't you know that adventures were comprised primarily of monotonous travel? Surely your crusading taught you that,” Scoddri remarked with a chuckle.

“We never got far from Ponyville on our crusades. Our families would never let us, the furthest we ever got to go was to Zecora's hut.”

“And here you are now, two days of travel from Ponyville and you are already tired of such a grand adventure.”

“I never wanted to go on an adventure!”

“Oh?” the snide voice asked. “Then enlighten me, Sweetie Belle. Why did you leave Ponyville?”

“Because I had to! It was the right thing to do! If I didn't leave, Twilight would have been in danger.”

“Hmm, perhaps. But then, why are you still out here? What does this place hold for you? If it's not a sense of adventure, then what is it that drives you away from home?”

“It's more complicated then that and you know it!” Sweetie Belle retorted. “Sure, it sounds simple when you ask it like that, as if you had nothing to do with it! I thought about it, really hard, and I made my decision, and I'm sticking by it. I'm not going back until I learn how to use my magic.”

“Ah, so you just wanted to validate your own mistake. I see how it is. However, if that's what you wish, then I might advise that resting too often can often times prove detrimental when trying to stay ahead of your pursuers.”

With a resigned sigh, the white filly got on her hooves again.

“Or, for that matter, when it starts to rain.”

As if for emphasis, as soon as Scoddri finished the sentence, a peal of thunder split the sky. Sweetie Belle could feel its reverberations echoing throughout her body even while under the cover of the thick canopy.

“Quick girl! You need to find some shelter, before the worst of the storm is upon us.”

* * *

“Are you sure there's shelter up ahead?” Sweetie Belle asked for what seemed like the hundredth time. She nearly had to shout to be heard over the gusting branches and whirling leaves of the trees around her. She spat out as her mane managed to blow right into her mouth. “If we don't find some place soon, a tree is going to fall down on me!”

The only response she got was another rumble of thunder and the ominous tread of raindrops upon the upper canopy. The treading slowly built into a running crescendo.

“Oh, pony feathers! It's raining!” she exclaimed and pulled herself into a full canter, in spite of the abundance of roots that littered the forest floor.

“Just a little further,” the disembodied voice called out over the storm. “Look at the river! See where it leads?”

Sweetie Belle squinted against the lines of rain that obscured her vision, while still running. She could see the glowing river went through the base of what looked like a giant rocky outcropping, but she couldn't make out any further details without some sort of illumination.

With a feeling of relief, washing over her, as assuredly as the rain was, she made a beeline to the cave mouth. On the way, she noticed the river had become much more swollen in a mere few minutes of rain.

She made her way along the river bank, just within the shelter of the surrounding trees. Only yards from her destination, she felt the strongest gust of wind she had ever experienced. She felt as her whole body was nearly pulled from the ground itself. The trees all around her bowed deeper than she had ever seen any tree bend. Then, she heard an audible crack like a thousand bones breaking, which echoed as though it were thunder, a precursor to a new kind of rain.

Left, right and all around, numerous branches fell as Sweetie Belle stumbled in her surprise in a last ditch effort to avoid being hit. With a most ungraceful tumble, the small, soaking filly found herself deposited upon a large bough that had broken off from some distant giant above her.

With a groan, she pulled herself up to untangle herself from the branch and winced. A dull jolt of pain throbbed through her fore-leg as she stood up. With a shake of her mane, and a face narrowed in determination, she continued the rest of the way through, to reach the mouth of the cave.

Thankfully, it wasn't too far, as the ground below her had become increasingly slippery with every passing moment, and her leg wasn't performing as well as she would have liked. With no small amount of effort on her part, she managed to reach her destination.

When she finally limped her way in through the mouth of the cave and stumbled into its depths, she was relieved to find that the river only ran through the lower, middle section of the cave. The cave was divided into two sections of dry stone on either side.

Sweetie Belle breathed a sigh of relief as she tenderly collapsed herself upon the cold, hard stone of the cave floor. At last, she was out of reach of the massive storm. A small pool of water collected around her from her drenched coat as she settled down.

“Yes, you are indeed safer in here, but it's not over yet. Sweetie Belle, get up and look at the river flowing through this cave. Quickly girl, this is important.”

“What is it Scoddri?” she asked with a scowl, as she examined her foreleg. She shivered while she wiped her tangled mop of hair away from her eyes. From what the unicorn could assess, her leg felt bruised and slightly swollen from when she had tripped in the storm. Overall, she was glad that the injury wasn't too bad; she could recall a few times where she'd gotten worse from some of Scootaloo's various crusading ideas.

Her scowl faded to genuine curiosity as she pulled herself up once more and plodded close to the crevice that directed the flowing river, and looked over its side. Amidst the glowing waters, various sized, darker objects flowed by.

“Okay, so why's this important?” she asked with a sniff.

“Because you need to pull out a few of those floating branches from the river.”

“But why?” she asked plainly, hoping for a real answer this time.

“I thought your were sharper than this Sweetie Belle, perhaps the cold water has gotten to you already. Girl, you need a fire before you go to sleep, or you may awake to naught but a dream. And the only thing in this cave that's going to burn is wood.”

Sweetie Belle sniffed once more and nodded. With a moment of concentration she focused her magic through her horn. Which already seemed to come more naturally than it had the evening before. With a quick motion, she lashed her magic out at one of the smaller looking branches.

She wrapped her magic around the branch tightly and efficiently. It's just like picking berries, except I don't have to be delicate. Once she was certain it was secure in her grasp, she gave it a tug, willing it out of the water and up to her.

The branch lifted slowly from the water, wavering as it did so. “Oh, come on, you dumb branch,” she muttered to herself. “Why are you so heavy?”

Half a minute later, panting and sweating despite her chill, a soaking wet tree branch now lay before the unicorn. “Okay, I got the branch, now what?”

“Oh, my dear,” Scoddri said with a gentle chuckle, “Surely you don't think that one single branch is enough to start a fire.”

Sweetie Belle's only response was to groan her dismay as she went back to the arduous task of fishing for wood.

Half an hour passed, while the storm still echoed outside of the cave, and the river flowed more fiercely than it had before, echoing loudly through the entirety of the cave. What little light that had marked the mouth of the cave was now gone. The now-shivering filly had finally gotten enough branches for Scoddri to give his approval, and if it hadn't been for her ability to sense the magic around her, she may as well have been blind to her surroundings.

“Alright girl, now pile them up so they are all together, and then light them on fire.”

“Um,” Sweetie Belle deadpanned, her teeth chattering, but with the emerald glow of her horn she arranged all the branches into a heap. “So how do I light them on fire?”

The first answer she received was nothing short of a storm of laughter. “Why, 'Chaos Magic' of course. I'm surprised you didn't guess that yourself, after all, I do recall a certain clubhouse burning down.”

“But the clubhouse was dry, this wood's wet, it won't burn. Besides the only thing in this cave is the river, and I know what happened the last time I used the river's magic.”

“Indeed, the cold must be dulling your senses, girl. Look up, tell me what you see.”

The unicorn looked up and was surprised to see the faintest of lights filtering from from the cave ceiling. It looked like a firefly under a blanket. Perhaps, it was only because there was no light around her that she could sense its existence at all.

“What is that?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.

“It's a crystal composed entirely of magic; one of the first clues that unicorns found which suggested that magic could be found naturally forming outside of a unicorn's body. Since their initial discovery, many unicorns have forgotten about them. Its structure reacts easier to the touch of magic than it does to a physical touch. Often unicorns will use them as a centerpiece for more complicated spells.”

“I'm going to use a crystal to start a fire?” Sweetie Belle began and sneezed. “Isn't that dangerous?”

“Indeed, however, it's no more dangerous than what you've already been through. You could, of course, just lay down on the damp rock floor and shiver until the morning comes, it's your choice.”

“Alright, I get it. I just hope that this works,” she said with a nervous gulp.

“As do I.”

End of Chapter 10

Chapter 11 - The Weight of a Mountain

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 11: The Weight of a Mountain
By: SilentBelle

Even at a distance, the crystal felt warm and calm to her, not like the chaotic torrent of the river, or the intricately entwined energy of the leaves she had drawn from earlier. Sweetie Belle could feel the crystal's energy, merely through the extension of her own magic towards it.

“So I just grab onto it then?” she voiced her thought process, not needing an answer. After all, she had performed this process a few times before in the past couple of days. “Alright, here it goes.”

With a slight intake of breath, the unicorns' tendril of magic lightly touched the surface of the crystal hidden within the cave roof. In a moment, a smile played upon her lips. Contact with the crystal felt as if she had dipped her hoof into a warm, clean bath; it was relaxing and refreshing. As the tension within her dissipated, she gently began to coax the magic out of the crystal.

“Woah,” she whispered in awe.

“What, may I ask, could conjure such amazement as to take your breath away, my dear?”

“It's just, it's so much easier,” Sweetie Belle tried to explain as she watched the ruby energy of the crystal slip easily into the grasp of her own magic. “The crystal's magic, it just does what I want it to. It doesn't resist or try to drag me around, I don't have to force it at all. It really, feels nice.”

“Indeed, it is but a lump of magic that belongs to nothing else,” Scoddri affirmed. “As such, it will follow your will as readily as your own magic and naturally flow to become one and the same with your own magic. Truly, this is the closest thing to refined unicorn magic that you will find all throughout nature.”

The filly nodded at that, no doubt entered her mind that Scoddri was speaking the truth, even if the greater implications of such a statement fell slightly short of her ken. She could feel a similarity to her own magic, and she watched as the red magic flowed from the crystal and naturally shifted into an emerald hue almost the same as her own magic. She directed the energy to the pile of branches before her and held it suspended, right above the soon-to-be campfire.

“Say, Scoddri,” Sweetie Belle asked sheepishly. “How do I start a fire anyway?”

“Why, it's quite a simple concept my dear,” chimed the sly voice. “Now, think to yourself: What is it that makes fire what it is?”

“It's hot,” she said with a lightly trembling voice as she shivered.

There was a slight pause as she awaited his response. “Is that all that fire is, girl? Surely you must have noticed some other traits, other than it being hot. Remember, understanding how things work is what makes the craft of magic what it is.”

“Well, um, it gives off light too. Oh and it dries things, and it burns things.”

“Aha, now that's more like it. Indeed, it is a dry heat that consumes things. It's the most basic form of all of Chaos Magic. So basic in fact, that most wouldn't view it as any kind of magic. Still, for the fire to start, the wood will need to be dried, and that takes a fair amount of energy. Now take a closer look at the branches before you. What do you see?”

Sweetie Belle frowned into the darkness before her. Perhaps sight wasn't really the best word for what she sensed in the branches before her. She let her focus fall upon the the glowing branches and felt them. Within, she could feel a sturdy and supple stream of energy that seemed tightly bound upon itself. That must be the branches' magic, she determined. But then she realized there was a second energy which was much more subdued; it almost faded into the enveloping darkness, like clouds on a moonless night. It also felt slightly heavier, but far less sturdy than the branches' own energy had. At the border between these two different types of magic she could sense that their energy was shared between them.

“Say, Scoddri what's this heavier and squishy magic all around the branches?” she said in a voice of rapture, forgetting her chill in lieu of this strange, new wonder before her.

“Squishy?” The voice snorted blithely. “That would be the first time I've ever heard water described that way. My dear, you should use the crystal's power, which you are still holding onto by the way, and feed it into the branches.”

Sweetie Belle tilted her head in the darkness as she considered the concept. “What if I try this instead?” she mused aloud as she let go of the energy, which dissipated readily into the air around her. She then directed her own probing tendril of magic at the border between the branch and water. “Can't I separate the border between the two magics?”

Without waiting for an answer, she went ahead and tested the boundary in question. The unicorn pulled at the bond and found it to be very elastic. No matter how hard she pulled at it with her own emerald energy, it would snap back into place the moment she let go.

If Sweetie Belle hadn't been so focused on her task, she might have heard Scoddri's light chuckling.

“Come on, work, you dumb magic,” the unicorn muttered to herself and turned her focus back to the ruby crystal lodged in the ceiling. “Maybe if I use the crystal's magic instead...” her voice trailed off as she began implementing the plan that formed in her mind.

With a quick motion she pulled as much of the crystal's energy as she could and fed it directly into the border of the two magics. As she did so, she was surprised to see that the ruby light could slowly be forced in and the boundary began to glow even brighter than the branch itself.

She kept sending the ruby magic in and watched in awe as the glowing got brighter and brighter. Until suddenly, she felt a snap, like an elastic pulled too tightly, or a branch bent too far. In a decisive explosion, all the water within the branches was launched free.

Sweetie Belle let out a shout of surprise as she got showered by the water droplets.

“Well, I suppose that is one way to dry off the branches,” the amused voice hummed, “far more exciting than just evaporating the water.”

The unicorn shook out her mane and shivered. “Did it work?”

“Indeed, the hard part is over. Now all you need to do is start the fire.”

With a frown that nopony could see in the darkness, Sweetie Belle bit her tongue, determined not to ask for any more help from the voice. She had figured out how to remove the water from the branches, and she was certain she could figure out how to start a fire. After all she had done so before, albeit, by accident.

She turned her focus to the crystal and, in a mere moment, she once again held a cloud of ruby energy firmly in her grasp and watched as it spun around her own magic, changing into the shared green colour. With a gentle movement, she brought it down upon the now-dry branches. Burn, she thought with gritted teeth as she forced the magic into the branch. Be hot and burn!

As she concentrated, she felt her magic respond to her thought. The threads of magic moved following her instinct until they formed a simple pattern, which for some reason she associated with fire. The filly started as she heard a crack and a sudden plume of flame sprung into sight. With a sigh, she sat down before the fire and welcomed its gentle warmth and light.

She was more exhausted from the whole ordeal than she had thought. A fact which was emphasized by an unimpeded yawn as she curled up on the ground shivering in the firelight.

“Aha, so you figured it out. How clever of you, girl. And you didn't even have to ask how to do it. A pleasant surprise, if ever I came across one.”

Sweetie Belle barely heard his words as she closed her eyes, surrendering to a wave of fatigue.

“And so the realm of sleep draws away my entertainment for another night. May your dreams be wild and exciting girl. For dreams are the greatest treasure you can ever know.”

* * *

In the shadows filled of darkest coal.
Under the light of a single feeble star,
She has an understanding of the unknown.
To be content in being lost,
And being lost in contentment.
She passes her time
Musing over the wonders before her,
While listening to those songs she used to sing
Amidst the sound of a fire's light;
A rhythmic flicker of memory

* * *

Sweetie Belle could hear the crackle of wood as it burned away, distant, yet warm. Like the memories of her friends and family. But she left the fire alone in the corner of her thoughts, as she did with her memories. Everypony needed something to keep them going when they were all alone. And to her, the memories of her friends and Scoddri's voice, those were enough to stop her from giving up. So she moved onward, past those thoughts, feeling comfortable and warm.

She looked upward to the dark gray stone above her. Within its deep mass, she could make out only that single ruby gem. It had a single hairline fissure running up its once-perfect surface. I must have done that when I used it to make the fire, she concluded. I wonder how much energy it has left.

The filly spun around the ruby freely and examined it further, but she quickly realized that she had no way of determining any further information about the crystal. Though she could feel that it still shone nearly as brightly as it first had before. So instead, she looked at the rock surrounding the crystal.

Her curiosity was ignited as she noticed just how different these two materials were from the water-soaked branch from earlier. Despite the ruby touching the rock, it wasn't bonded at all to the encompassing gray stone. The gemstone truly was, to Sweetie Belle's limited understanding of magic, entirely free from outside interference; even if it was, physically, nestled snugly under half a mountain of solid stone.

With a mind still full of wonder she turned her full attention to a smaller piece of dark stone. The entirety of the coarse, gray ceiling above her seemed to be composed of thousands of rocks, all varying in size. She then focused on one particularly small chunk of stone in the ceiling. Hmm, I wonder if I could use its energy like I've done with other things. It doesn't seem to have that much, judging by the glow. Maybe it will be easier to use than the plants and the stream, plus it's even smaller than the ruby. After all, the leaves and grass were pretty easy to use, but I couldn't even manage to take any of the magic from a tree. Size is probably important.

With a new goal planned out, and nopony else to consult, she dove right into the task. She pulled at the latent magical energy that glowed dimly from within the small chunk of rock. But it didn't budge, not in the slightest.

Below her, she could feel her sleeping form frown in irritation before she decided to change her tactics. So she reached out to the ruby gemstone, once again, and siphoned away as much energy as she could hold. Now brimming with energy, she focused it upon the small chunk of gray stone which she was looking at before.

She poured all of the energy that she held into the chunk of stone, which accepted the energy quickly. In a moment, the stone shone noticeably brighter than its surroundings. She felt a smug smile form upon the lips of her sleeping body below.

First step of the plan: complete, she told herself. Now, let's see if it worked.

Sweetie Belle tried once again to draw upon the energy of the stone, now that it was readily glowing. However, the energy seemed to be trapped within the rock as strictly as the rock's own energy had been. Maybe if I put enough energy into it... she mused. Drawing upon the crystal once again, she focused even more magic into the stone.

A long time passed, though how much, Sweetie Belle was unsure of. What she was certain of, was that the small chunk of stone now glowed brighter than the crystal. Even so, the stone seemed to absorb any amount of energy that Sweetie Belle could feed it. She was now more curious if there was a limit to how much energy the stone could absorb, than she was about absorbing the stone's initial energy. So she continued on, until something unexpected happened.

* * *

In a cave where day beckons
Through the teeth of an open maw,
A tremor rings through its walls,
As a peal of thunder from within.
With a jolt, she bolts upright.
Echoing all around
Is the outcome of insatiable curiosity,
As she realizes the weight of a mountain,
In a moment of regret.

* * *

“What have you done girl!? Get up! Run! Now!”

Sweetie Belle woke with a start, to the sound an enormous crack as well as Scoddri's shouting. The campfire before her, had long since expired into dark piles of soot and ash. Inside the cave, the darkness had abated slightly as the gentle light of an overcast day could be seen shining in from the mouth of the cave. Nearby, just over the cascading river that flowed through the cave, she saw a series of bright lights, like orange glowing water droplets, falling from the ceiling. She didn't even have a moment to do more than register them, for she suddenly felt tremors coursing through the walls all around her.

“Run deeper into the cave girl, the roof is collapsing at the entrance!”

The unicorn sprung to her hooves and quickly looked to the entrance of the cave. She wasn't particularly keen on the idea of running deeper into a collapsing cave. She saw and heard large chunks of the ceiling falling apart, crashing heavily upon the solid floor. Fissures in the ceiling branched out, from right above her, all the way to the cave entrance. The whole section of the cave looked ready to collapse, in fact she was surprised it hadn't already. With a gulp, she quickly spun around and ran into the darker recesses of the cave, just in time to avoid being crushed under the shattering ceiling.

Sweetie Belle couldn't even hear the sound of her own galloping upon the hard stone of the cave floor. All she could make out was the echoing sound of heavy rock, cascading down upon itself. In the next moment, all light disappeared; the entrance to the cave was blocked.

She almost tripped over her own hooves at the sudden darkness. Luckily, after blinking a few times, she could make out her path using only the glow of the natural magic around her. Not for the first time, she was extremely glad that she could see magic in this manner.

After a minute of running, the rumbling stopped. Sweetie Belle came to a breathless halt. “What happened?” she asked.

“That's what I want to know, girl,” Scoddri said in an irritated voice. “What did you do to the crystal in the ceiling?”

“What do you mean? I was sleeping wasn't I?”

“Indeed, and while you were sleeping you did something with the crystal. Now, I wonder what that could be.”

“So, then the dream was real?”

“You had better believe it girl. After all, you remember it, don't you? Those are best sorts of dreams to have, while your body sleeps, your mind keeps itself entertained. And during it all, you did something with the crystal.”

“Oh, that,” Sweetie Belle said in sudden understanding. “I thought I was asleep, so I didn't really think too hard about what might happen, but I wanted to see if I could pull magic out of a normal rock. Then, since I couldn't, I decided that if I put enough energy into it, then I probably could do it eventually. I don't know why I thought that, but I decided to do it anyway. Then after a while I fed the rock a lot of the crystal's energy and then I woke up to the explosion.”

“That would explain the liquid rock and the cave-in.” Scoddri stated simply and gave a small chuckle. “You almost made yourself into pancakes for breakfast. Just remember, even in your dreams, curiosity is the single greatest trait and downfall of any great magician. Do keep it in check.”

“Wait a second,” Sweetie Belle interjected, as she looked back in the direction where she had run from. “What do you mean? How does that have anything to do with the cave-in?”

“Allow me to enlighten you dear. Surely at this point you are aware that we are beneath what some would call a small mountain,” he paused for no more than a moment, waiting for the filly to nod in acknowledgment, before continuing. “And we had a sizable crystal embedded within the rock. Now these mountains weigh quite a bit, and that crystal was helping to hold up some of the rock above it. However, after using much of its magic energy, the crystal began to fracture and dissipate, which caused much of what it was holding up, to fall down. This in turn caused a release in pressure amongst many other portions of the cave, and in short, caused the cave-in.”

“Huh,” Sweetie Belle said with a voice saturated in skepticism. “I remember taking a brick out of the side of a building once, and nothing collapsed then.”

“Oh, but I can imagine that the brick you took was already loose. Correct? If you took out a brick tightly packed in the middle of the building, you could imagine just how devastating it could be.”

“So then I actually caused the cave-in?” she asked in a frightened voice. “I never meant to do anything like that.”

“Indeed, curiosity can get the best of us, and quite often, the entirety of the consequences are seen only far after the event itself. Don't dwell too hard upon it, Sweetie Belle, everyone makes mistakes, and the best of us laugh at them. Just remember what you've done before and continue on all the wiser.”

“Even you make mistakes?” Sweetie Belle asked in innocent disbelief.

Especially me, it's just that I, unlike many others, see these mistakes as the greatest moments of my life. They are my pride and joy, and I seek to continue in my blunders.”

“You're weird,” the unicorn surmised with a chuckle, as she turned her attention back to the only path available to her.

“So I am,” he said heartily, “and it's a wonderful thing to be.”

Sweetie Belle simply smiled at his optimistic attitude and set forth into the bitter darkness of the cave. Her only companions being the ambiance of the river and a voice in her head.

Maybe I'm weird too, she thought to herself in a moment of levity.

End of Chapter 11

Chapter 12 - A Voice of Rock and Stone

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 12: A Voice of Rock and Stone
By: SilentBelle

In the pitch-dark tunnel, the young unicorn had stopped her walking and was now sitting gingerly upon the hard, cold, rocky, floor, and had been for the last minute. Her eyes were closed firmly in concentration, not that it would have made a difference if they had been open, but it helped her focus. Though if one had the eyes to see, or the ears to hear it, they would be able to sense the emerald aura that now played upon her horn.

“Like this?” Sweetie Belle asked quietly as visible green sparks began shedding furiously from the tip of her horn. “Just a bit more and-”

With a light chiming sound, a sudden, yet gentle light shed from the tip of her horn, which, in the next few moments, brightened considerably as the filly opened her eyes with a light sigh.

“Just as I said, my dear, it's as easy as making a fire.”

“Yeah, it wasn't that hard,” she admitted, as she got to her hooves and began peering around and squinting. “Wow, I've been in here so long, that I've almost forgotten what it was like to see normally.”

“Not even a single day has passed, in which you've seen no light, and you claim to have forgotten the experience of sight?” Scoddri whispered bitterly, as if he were talking to himself. “After more than a few hours, girl, you would begin to remember all too well.”

A few minutes passed awkwardly as Sweetie Belle continued on the lone snaking path of the tunnel. She wasn't entirely sure how she should respond to the voice's comment, or if she should change the subject. Eventually the silence became heavier than the darkness had been to her eyes; she had to say something.

“So, you've been in caves like this before?”

With a sigh of reluctance, the voice began to speak once again, taking his usual mocking tone. “My dear, I am all too experienced in being trapped within the confines of rock and stone for prolonged periods of time.”

“What did you do in the caves then? When you got trapped I mean.”

“I never gave up,” he said quietly. “Even when the darkness was everywhere, and no sign of light remained. Even then I could still recall the sun, I could still imagine the colours of an autumn day, and, perhaps most importantly, I could see magic. As large as any obstacle seems at the beginning, if you choose to persevere then you will overcome it. Although sometimes, more often than not, what lies on the other side of that obstacle is not quite what you had expected.”

With a tilted head and a quirked eyebrow, the filly let silence reign for another moment. She considered his words as she continued her trek forward, at an even pace. Yet, she walked slowly, for the cave floor was uneven, and even by the light of her own horn, a lapse in her attention could cause her to stumble or worse. Walking on such terrain was not something she was used to. Sweetie Belle was quite certain that a cave-delving cutie mark wasn't likely to appear any time soon.

“Say Scoddri,” the filly said, with a hint of unease, “I've noticed for a while now, but you keep giving me advice.”

“Indeed, that's how advice works. It's mine to give, you don't have to listen to it.”

“No, that's not it. I meant to ask you why. Why are you giving me advice?”

“A fine question, young Sweetie Belle,” the voice chimed sincerely, before falling silent.

Sweetie Belle halted her slow progress down the tunnel, waiting for the voice to respond. After a moment, she felt the weight of the mantle of silence press upon her. Scoddri evidently decided not to follow through with an explanation.

“Well, are you going to answer my question?”

“Which one?” the voice spoke with a laugh. “Now, where's the fun in getting all your answers as hand-outs? The answers you obtain through your own means are, by far, the greater treat.”

The unicorn's light flared up a bit as indication of her indignation.

“See, there you go again. I was only asking because I couldn't figure it out,” she spoke, with a slightly acidic tone. “It just doesn't make sense.”

“Oh? Humor me, girl. Tell me, what is it about me giving you advice that doesn't make sense?”

“It's just that when we first met, I thought you just wanted to laugh at me. And sometimes it still seems like that. But then you saved me back when that monster attacked. And since then, you've given me advice out of nowhere. It just doesn't seem to make sense. Wouldn't you have more fun if you didn't give me advice and just watched as I guessed away at everything and my magic messed up?”

“Girl have you ever watched a performance of slapstick comedy?”

“Slapstick?” Sweetie Belle asked simply. “What's that?”

“It's a routine where ponies will pretend to hit each other or get injured for comedic effect. A fundamental principle behind slapstick is that the audience knows the violence is fake, and that no lasting harm will be done. Because of that, they are able to laugh at another pony's misfortune and violence.”

Sweetie Belle nodded in understanding. “Kind of like how at the talent show, the crowd thought that the stage was supposed to fall apart and everypony laughed. Hmm, yeah, I guess I can see how pretend violence can be funny. But what does that have to do with you giving me advice?”

“Perhaps more than you think.” the voice said with a simple laugh.

The white filly only sighed, knowing that she wouldn't be able to wrestle the answer she wanted from the voice.

* * *

Sweetie Belle had no way to be certain, but she had managed to convince herself that, since she started using magic to light her path, she had been walking down the tunnel for longer than an hour. During that time she had managed to keep herself busy by focusing on the treacherous ground and examining in how many ways she could change the light spell she was using.

The filly had managed to change the spell in a few different ways. One time she made it so her horn only shone light in the direction of her choosing. Later on, she also made the light bright enough to cause herself to cry in pain and lose her grasp on her magic for a moment. During that instant of confusion she also managed to trip. The result had been an eruption of laughter from Scoddri, and a dour silence from Sweetie Belle.

As such, she had deemed it prudent not to play around with her light spell any more, and spent the rest of the time squinting at the ground, trying to make certain that she wasn't going to lose her footing again.

Eventually, her sullen expression had melted away as the filly felt a sense of thirst fall upon her. And the echoing lull of the river that ran alongside the tunnel became too much to ignore. Keeping her eye on the small cliff that separated herself from the river, she kept moving on, hoping that her path would dip down for easy access to the water.

“This is a long tunnel,” she voiced her observation aloud. “I wonder how big this mountain could be that I'm still inside it after all this walking.”

“As tall as many mountains are, or as wide as they span, its roots are always the most expansive.”

“That doesn't answer anything,” Sweetie Belle complained to the voice.

“And complaining doesn't answer anything either,” Scoddri replied curtly.

The unicorn simply huffed in response and continued her search for access to the river.

As she moved further down the stone tunnel, the sound of the river seemed to quiet down, and soon she could hear only the gentle sound of water lapping against the stone, in place of its steady surging that had accompanied her up to this point.

With a frown, the filly walked over to the ledge that had been over-looking the steam. She placed her fore-hooves on the edge and cast her light out into the darkness before her. The unicorn let out a gasp as she noticed that the once-flowing river now lay as a stationary lake inside an enormous section of tunnel. It stretched out further than she could see. Below her, the water spanned outward as a serene pool of darkness, save for the reflection of her horn's light upon its surface.

“What is this place?” she asked in a whisper as she continued to gaze out into the darkness.

A cavern, my dear,” the voice supplied offhandedly. “With an underground lake to boot.”

“Wait, we're underground?” the now-dumbfounded filly asked.

“But of course girl, how else could you still be inside such a small mountain, unless you were heading downwards. Besides, following a river's path will always lead you downhill. Surely you know that.”

“Um,” the filly stuttered, she hadn't known that, but she was quite content not admitting that particular fact. “But if we're underground now, then how do we get out? I mean, if I hadn't caused that cave-in, I'd probably go back.” Sweetie Belle said anxiously. “I really hope there's another exit out of this place.”

“There are plenty of exits,” an unfamiliar, grating, voice called, from directly behind her, “but only if one can make their way to it.”

The young filly let off an ear-piercing peal. In a spastic motion of surprise, she spun around and backed up, to get a glance of the speaker behind her. She managed to catch the sight of green eyes just before her hind leg stepped off the edge of the short cliff she had been standing on.

The unicorn's earlier screech transformed into terrified scream as she plummeted uncontrollably off the edge. In that moment, the light from her horn flickered out in perfect unison with the sound of her backside crashing into the dark waters.

Cold! The feeling shot through the filly quicker than ever before. After a moment of disoriented panic, she managed to break the surface of the lake. Good thing I actually know how to swim. All those times we've tried to get swimming cutie marks really paid off, she thought as she gasped a breath of air.

“Ehe, silly pony, why do you jump into the waters? It is cold, you know?” the rough voice called out from the top of the small cliff.

Glancing up from her position in the water, she couldn't see anything save for the glow of magic all around. The brightest source of which was the pool of water she was within. But on the cliff she was surprised to notice just the faintest of outlines, standing stoically perched at the cliff edge, looking down at her. It had a shape she had never seen before; the closest thing she could place it to was Spike, but even that was stretching it. And at the center of dark entity, was a single rhombus ruby that sparkled with its own energy.

“He is quite right, you know,” Scoddri picked up, with a chuckle. “There are plenty of other ways in which you could get a drink of water.”

“It's not like I meant to jump into the water!”

“Well, pony could have fooled me,” the new voice said. “I saw pony jump, and then splash.”

“I fell because you scared me!” Sweetie Belle protested, while treading water and trying to locate a dip in the cliff edge. “It's your fault!”

“Is it my fault to join in a conversation?” he asked. “You were talking for that reason, yes?”

“But I wasn't talking to you!” she retorted as she managed to spot a lowering of the cliff and began slowly making her way towards it.

“Aha, but then who was the pony talking to?” he asked as he slowly kept pace with her. “For no one else is around.”

The floundering unicorn couldn't be certain, however the creature's tone made her imagine a grin spreading quite contently across his face.

“I was talking to-” she began before biting her tongue. I can't mention Scoddri, he'll think I'm crazy. “Um, myself. Yeah, that's right, myself. I didn't even know you were around. I would have talked to you if I did though, it is kind of lonely in this cave.”

“The pony is all alone?” the harsh voice asked as Sweetie Belle pulled herself out of the water.

“Yeah, kinda.”

“Once again, I face the bitter taste of exclusion,” Scoddri piped up, with his overly-dramatic voice, to which Sweetie Belle shook her head slightly.

“Why, little pony travel alone?”

“Well, it's a long story. I kind of don't have a choice at this point, what with the cave-in and all that,” she admitted sheepishly, as she shook herself off. She then peered directly at the creature before her. “Say, what are you anyway?”

With her unmitigated curiosity in full-swing, Sweetie Belle, closed her eyes for but a moment of concentration. Then with a brilliant chime, light spilled forth from her horn in an even glow.

“Gah!” The gravel-voiced individual leaped back in surprise, landing just on the outskirts of her illumination. He nearly slipped off the ledge as he did so. “Don't do that, pony!”

“Oh, I'm sorry,” Sweetie Belle called out earnestly, as she examined the creature as closely as she could. “I should have said something first. I didn't mean to frighten you.”

“Me, scared of a little pony? I think not!”

Sweetie Belle let out a small giggle before calling out to him again. “It's nothing to be ashamed of, everyone gets scared now and then.”

“I did not get scared,” he protested angrily, “just startled. I don't like bright light,” he admitted quietly. “Say something next time, pony!”

“Okay, but you don't have to keep calling me 'pony' all the time. My name's Sweetie Belle, pleased to meet you.” she said, displaying an honest smile.

“I am, Ruben. It is, good to meet Sweetie Belle as well,” he said in his scraping voice. He moved closer to Sweetie Belle and his features becoming more defined as he approached the light source.

He stood on two legs, much as Spike did, but this creature was quite the contrast to the baby dragon. Ruben, was covered in a dark gray fur, and had big hands that could function as fore-legs. He wore a ragged vest of purple, and a black studded collar with a single ruby rhombus that was centered at his throat. He had a short tail that seemed to sway in an arrhythmical manner as he hesitantly waddled into the light. His eyes were downcast, as if the light were painful to him.

The filly had never seen a creature like him before. “What are you?” she asked in wide-eyed wonder.

“I,” he pronounced confidently, despite looking away from the unicorn's horn, “am a diamond dog, and I am here to bring Sweetie Belle back.”

“Back? Back where?”

“Home, down to the others. I do my job, as I am supposed to.”

“What's your job?” Sweetie Belle asked slightly nervous and confused. “And what do I have to do with that?”

“I was given a simple task. To find Sweetie Belle, and now that I have, Sweetie Belle will come with me,” Ruben explained curtly, and suddenly he looked directly at Sweetie Belle, with his own pair of green eyes. “I take Sweetie Belle to the boss, and my job will be done.”

“But, I don't want to go down deeper into the cave, I just want to get out. I mean you already said that there are other ways out of this cave didn't you?”

“Yes, there are exits, but the only way is down first, not up.”

Sweetie Belle took a moment to consider her options. She did not like the idea of going deeper underground, but if there was sure to be an exit, then it was worth it. As much as she dreaded the idea of being deep underground, she held thoughts of wandering aimlessly in these caverns in much deeper contempt.

“So, you know the way out, right?”

“Of course, Sweetie Belle, but the way up from here is blocked by the cave-in,” Ruben said matter-of-factually. “So follow me and I will take Sweetie Belle down, so that Sweetie Belle may later go up.”

The filly let out a soft sigh. “Alright, I'll go with you, but first let me get a drink, I'm still thirsty.”

“Right.” Ruben nodded. “Then after, Sweetie Belle follows me.”

“Haven't you always wanted a pet dog?” Scoddri said with a snicker. “He does seem quite attached your name, doesn't he, girl?”

She simply responded with a roll of her eyes as she finished drinking.

End of Chapter 12

Chapter 13 - Gems in the Darkness

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 13: Gems in the Darkness

By: SilentBelle

“So, you're really sure you know where you are going?” Sweetie Belle asked hesitantly. She looked around at at the tunnel walls as the two walked. Ruben remained ahead, just on the periphery of her horn's glow. The same dull gray and brown colours passed before her eyes, much in the same way that they had since she entered the cave hours ago. At this point she almost preferred the darkness--almost.

“I am sure, Sweetie Belle,” Ruben responded, which brought forth an irritated sigh from the filly. “I have never been lost, not once.”

Maybe I shouldn't have told him my name after all. As much as Sweetie Belle enjoyed not being called 'pony' all the time, she was beginning to feel annoyed whenever she heard her own name crop up in Ruben's every other sentence.

“But how can you know? All these tunnels look the same.”

“This is my home, Sweetie Belle. How can one get lost in their own home?” Ruben replied in honest confusion.

“I'd get lost if I lived in a maze,” she muttered.

“So would I,” he agreed. “Unless I made the maze. But this is no maze, just simple tunnels. Up and down.”

The filly raised an eyebrow skeptically. “Up and down? What's that supposed to mean? We've been winding and turning around randomly, not climbing a staircase.”

“Up is up, down is down. The tunnel is all ups and downs, in between start and end. Simple.”

“Right, simple...” she deadpanned. I have no idea what he's talking about.

“As simple as life!” Scoddri announced smugly, before letting out a slight chuckle. “Either that or he's barking mad.”

“Ugh,” Sweetie Belle groaned. Between these two, it's only a matter of time before I go mad myself.

“Is Sweetie Belle okay?” the diamond dog asked, as an expression of concern fell upon the creature's face.

“Yes, Sweetie B- I mean, yes, I'm fine.” She shook her head in a vain attempt to dispel a gout of Scoddri's laughter. “I'm just kind of tired. How close are we?”

“Not far. Close, very close. But Sweetie Belle must go up before she goes down.”

“Right, that again. Well, I guess that means it's gonna take some time to get there, so I might as well ask some questions.”

“You could just stay quiet and follow the diamond dog, you'd probably get there faster. Especially since you plan on pestering him with questions.”

Not for the first time, Sweetie Belle wished there was some way for her to communicate with Scoddri that wouldn't end with any creature around her--present company or otherwise--thinking she was crazy.

“So, Ruben, what's that gem around your neck?”

“Oh this?” the diamond dog asked as he turned around while tugging at his collar. Its single red gem sparkled brilliantly in the unicorn's light. “This is my ruby. I like rubies best. Their smell, texture, and sound. Rubies are best gem.”

“I see,” Sweetie Belle said as she squinted at the gem and concentrated on it. “So all you diamond dogs dig these tunnels looking for gems?”

Ruben offered a simple nod. “We dig for gems.”

The unicorn remained squinting at the ruby. To her senses, it seemed alive with a calm and passive energy. While the gemstone didn't glow too brightly, she could sense that the stone held a significant amount of energy. Not as much as the one that had caused the collapse at the cave entrance, but certainly more than some of the smaller plants within the Everfree Forest. Upon closer scrutiny, she could just barely distinguish some small strands of magic that reached out from the small gem and tangled lazily amongst Ruben's own subdued glow.

“Wow, that ruby seems special.”

“It is special because it is mine.”

“So then, does every diamond dog have just one gem?” she asked, her curiosity evident upon her voice. She wondered what purpose the gems actually served for the diamond dogs.

“Not just one, but we all have at least one. Though, we also have our favourites. Some say emerald, others sapphires, topaz, or garnet. If there's a gem, one of us has it as their favourite.”

“Hmm, I see,” Sweetie Belle said, accentuating her comment with a nod. “But what do the gems actually do for you? I mean, why do you collect them?”

A look of confusion fell upon the dog's face as if he had never even considered such a question before. “Because we like them, we need them, we have to find more.”

“Huh,” the filly hummed. “But that doesn't really tell me why, just that it's important to you.”

“But that's why we collect gems, because we have to.”

“Well, what happens if you don't?”

“I don't know, Sweetie Belle. Every diamond dog always collects gems. That is what makes us diamond dogs. If we were not digging for gems, then we would just be dogs.”

“But what would happen, I wonder, if they ever ran out of gems?” Scoddri mused aloud, echoing Sweetie Belle's own thoughts.

“Well, there's no way to find out by asking if he doesn't know,” she responded before she could stop herself, forgetting for that small moment, that Ruben could not hear Scoddri at all.

“Yes, Sweetie Belle, no need to think on things that will never happen.” The dog nodded happily and continued walking down the tunnel.

“But how can one ever know what's going to happen?” the voice asked with a light chuckle.

The filly fell back into silence and considered Scoddri's ominous question as she followed Ruben further down the tunnel. She wondered, for just a moment, if she would ever be able to find the answers she sought. Or, for that matter, if there were any answers to be found in the first place.

Soon, the tunnel began a slow climb upward, as she remained lost in her thoughts.

* * *

Much to Sweetie Belle's surprise, the tunnel did eventually reach its destination, but it had gone up for another ten minutes before spiraling downward. She could feel the beginnings of a headache starting to form, which she guessed was caused by the consistent use of her horn as a beacon to light her way.

“And so, up has become down, and you see our home,” Ruben remarked, with a hint of pride. “This is Greystone, home of the Greypaw clan.”

The unicorn looked up ahead to see the tunnel widen into a large cavern. All along the underground walls, in the distance, she could make out the glow of sparkling many-hued stones. They shed a dim light, it wasn't the magic glow that she was accustomed to seeing within typical jewel stones; this was actual light, as if each jewel were a candle.

“Wow, I've never seen a stone glow like that before,” she said in awe, letting go of her own magic and letting her horn's light fade out. “What is it?”

“That is glowcrystal,” the diamond dog stated unreservedly, motioning for her to follow.

“A truly imaginative name.”

“So how does it work?” Sweetie wondered aloud.

Ruben stopped and scratched his head for a moment and cocked his head to the side. “We dig it up, then it glows. It is glowcrystal.”

Sweetie Belle quelled a moan before it even started and instead let out a small sigh.

“Not the answer you were hoping for, I take it?” Scoddri chimed in with a small bout of laughter.

The filly's disappointment was soon forgotten in lieu of the new sights before her. She quickly noticed there was a certain precision to the placement of the glowing colourful stones mounted on the walls. They lit up the whole cavern very subtly, and soon she noticed a few shadowy alcoves peaking in from the walls; they looked like small holes dug right into the stone. Inside, she thought she could make out some stone furniture.

“Oh! Are those your houses?”

“Houses?” the diamond dog seemed puzzled by the word.“No, not 'houses'. Those are sleeping-quarters.”

“I see, so where are we headed then?” she asked, holding out a bit of hope that she might get a more descriptive answer to her question.

“To the Boss.”

Sweetie Belle sighed yet again. I guess I'll get more answers when I talk to the Boss.

Suddenly, a strange sound of quick footfalls caught in her ears and she pulled herself back to attention. Two figures in the distance were running right toward both Sweetie Belle and Ruben. By the shape of their silhouettes, she could determine that they were diamond dogs as well. A feeling of nervousness settled readily upon the filly.

As they came closer she could make out their features. Both of them were smaller than Ruben, though they dressed in much the same manner. The features that stood out most was that their fur was a deep earthy brown colour, except they still had grey paws. And, of course, each one was wearing a different gem from around their collar. One had a topaz, and the other, an amethyst.

“Ah, it's Ruben, just as we thought,” the topaz-bearer spoke as they came to a halt right in front of Sweetie Belle. “But what are you doing bringing a pony down here? It's too small to help dig or carry. What are you thinking, you oaf?”

“I just brought Sweetie Belle here because Boss told me to.”

“What are you talking about, you fool? Boss didn't give you orders to bring a pony back. Boss would never do that!” the amethyst collared mutt piped up.

“You think that I don't follow orders?!” Ruben barked indignantly, his voice suddenly booming, as if it were an avalanche. Standing proudly, the ruby-adorned dog seemed to tower over the other two.

With a quick exchange of nervous glances, the two dogs stepped to the side and lowered their gazes. “Well, that's for Boss to decide. Go ahead, talk to the boss. But I don't care what you say, I'm certain you weren't ordered to abduct a little pony.”

The pair of mutts then turned away and retreated towards the sleeping-quarters.

“What's their problem?” Sweetie Belle asked as she watched them slink away. “I thought, you'd all be friends down here.”

“Friends? No, not friends, just family. They are diggers. They aren't bad, they just don't like Sweetie Belle smell,” Ruben amended and motioned for the pony to follow him.

Sweetie Belle sniffed at herself, and blushed slightly before complying and following the diamond dog's lead. “Yeah, I guess I haven't had a bath or a shower in a while. I kind of stink.”

“It is not a bad smell, just different. They don't like different.”

In another minute, the two made their way to the obvious center of the cavern. It looked to be a structure of some sort, built precisely and solidly from stone. If it weren't for the squarish frame, Sweetie Belle would have thought that it was a naturally forming feature of the cavern. This structure had a few more glowcrystals on its walls than the rest of the cavern. She made a mental note to herself to examine a glowcrystal when she had a chance. She found it strange how the light it emitted seemed brighter than the magic aura that comprised it.

“Here's headquarters. Where boss is. Time to make my report. Follow me.”

Without looking back to see if the small unicorn followed him, Ruben strode on ahead through the opening of the structure. Sweetie Belle followed suit, as her feeling of nervousness began building.

The inside of the chamber was as sparse and bland as the cavern outside had been. There was no décor within, save for a single large stone table at the center of the room, as well as two huge chunks of glowcrystal that flanked the table and lit up the entire chamber.

Sweetie Belle made her way across the room to where Ruben stood, saluting another diamond dog on the other side of the table. The first defining feature that she noticed from this diamond dog, was the collar around its neck. It had the largest garnet she had ever seen hanging from it, as well as a series of other smaller gemstones decorating the rest of the collar.

“Boss, Ruben reporting back from duty. Mission accomplished. I brought back the cause of the collapse.” He proceeded to change his salute into a gesture, pointing to the approaching white unicorn. “Sweetie Belle caused the cave-in.”

“I see. Very good Ruben, you may take your leave for now. But just wait outside until I call you to receive your next assignment, there is much to be done,” the figure from across the room said, in a surprisingly silky voice. Sweetie Belle had expected the boss to be male, but apparently she had been wrong. “And you, little pony, come closer, I would like to talk with you.”

“Um, okay,” she replied nervously, and walked up towards the large table. In the next few seconds, silence dominated the room, with the exception of Ruben's retreating footfalls. Only once the ruby-collared dog had passed the threshold of the chamber did the boss speak again.

“So tell me, little pony, what is your name?”

“Um, Ruben already said it. It's Sweetie Belle, and uh-”

“Hello, Sweetie Belle,” the diamond dog interrupted. “I am Garner, the boss of Greystone, and the Greypaw clan that dwells within it. Now, my subordinate told me that you were responsible for the collapse of the third eastern tunnel entrance. Is that true?”

“Oh, yeah, I didn't mean to cause the cave-in, and I'm sorry if it caused you trouble,” Sweetie Belle replied earnestly.

“I see, and how, if I may ask, did you manage to destroy our tunnel entrance? You hardly seem to be the strongest of ponies out there.”

“Well, I was just practicing with some magic, then the roof caved in. I didn't mean to do it, I'm sorry.”

“Indeed, but it will still take a whole week to fix that area up, and we don't have the dogs to spare for that. This had to happen now of all times, didn't it?” Garner muttered to herself and then her expression softened, “Anyway, pony, answer me this. What are you doing in our caves? Most ponies tend to avoid the underground.”

“Well, I'm actually running away from home.”

“I see. Why?”

“Because I... want to... learn what my special talent is. I want to learn what it is that makes me special,” the unicorn said shakily. She was not about to tell the whole truth, for the truth would sound more radical than any lie that she could come up with.

“Hmm,” the boss hummed as she stoked her chin with one hand. “And why do you have to run away from home to learn who you are? Could you not do that in your home?”

“No, I can't. I don't want them to know, they can't know, they won't understand. I need to figure it out on my own, then I can go back. Otherwise I'll always feel their eyes on me, concern, pity, and fear. That's not the life I want. I want to come back home to Ponyville, then walk to my sister proudly, knowing who I am. I just don't want to involve anypony else in this.”

Garner tilted her head a moment in consideration and stroked her chin a bit more before responding. “Well, I'll tell you what, Sweetie Belle. I know of a place where you won't involve anyone else, and you can do all the soul-searching you want. I'll let Ruben take you to it, just give me a moment to give him his orders. If you would please wait right outside.”

“Really?” she asked, thankful that Garnet was so considerate of her situation. “Thanks for being so understanding.”

“But of course,” she said softly to the unicorn and then raised her voice to bark out an order. “Ruben! Get in here! I have your next assignment.”

Sweetie Belle nodded once to the boss, then took her leave. On the way out she flashed a small smile of appreciation to Ruben. Ruben simply nodded and passed by moving up to the table. With her nervousness now ebbing away, she made her way out of the structure.

“Well, that was quite the meeting, was it not?”

“Yeah, I suppose it was,” she whispered quietly, she wasn't too sure how good the diamond dogs' hearing was, but she didn't want to take any chances. “But at least I learned something.”

“Oh? Enlighten me girl.” Scoddri chuckled.

“Despite how mean some of those diamond dogs appeared, it isn't a good idea to judge all the dogs because of those two. They are all different individuals, just like us ponies. In other words: don't judge a book by its cover.”

“Or the story by a single chapter,” the voice finished smugly.

End of Chapter 13

Chapter 14 - The Chill of Metal and Stone

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 14: The Chill of Metal and Stone

By: SilentBelle

With a sudden jump, and the sound of Ruben clearing his throat, the filly's attention was pulled back to reality.

“Sweetie Belle, follow me. I will take Sweetie Belle to a safe place,” Ruben announced with a curt nod and began to walk without looking to see if she followed. “I am to look after Sweetie Belle and see that all Sweetie Belle's needs are met.”

The unicorn smiled, as she trotted to catch up to him, though she cringed inwardly at the overuse of her name. “Thank you, Ruben, you have been nice to me. So, where are we going?”

“West, not far.”

“Isn't it amazing that he can tell the direction under all this stone?”

But it doesn't help me at all, she thought while shaking her head. Well at least it's not far, I'm tired of walking.

“I mean, what place are we going to?”

“Out of the way, away from sounds of digging and talking. Quiet place, perfect for talking to your mind,” he replied in his slow, grating drawl.

“'Talking to your mind?'” she mused aloud. “What do you mean by that?”

“Hmm?” the diamond dog responded, while scratching his ear. “Talking to thoughts, like Sweetie Belle talks to me, and me to Sweetie Belle, only silent.”

“So, you mean 'thinking', then?”

“No. 'Thinking' is on feet, and moving. 'Thinking' is action. 'Talking to your mind' is quiet, sitting, closed eyes and awake. Very different.”

“Huh,” the white unicorn huffed. But aren't those both 'thinking'? I don't get it.

The rest of the walk passed in a relative silence as the pair made their way to the mouth of a dark tunnel. Sweetie Belle decided to light up her horn once again. She smiled smugly, at the ease with which the light sparked to life. Once within the tunnel, it couldn't have taken more than a few minutes until they reached a small cave.

A single glowcrystal shone dimly from within, mounted snugly upon the far wall. Sweetie Belle couldn't quite make out any details further than a few feet away from herself. That was one of the downsides to the light spell, anything not in the immediate vicinity fell into sheer darkness. After all, the light was shedding from her horn, which was incredibly close to her eyes.

With a pause, just as she entered the room, she focused on her spell and shaped it into a cone before her. In the next moment she was turning her head every which way as she plodded into the room in order to map out the new area.

As she turned her head to the left, in a small indent in the wall, something on the ground suddenly caught in her beam of light, multiple somethings. They looked like three identical blocks of dark stone. Upon a second glance, the stones, almost seemed to eat the light rather than reflect it.

“Wait, haven't I seen this stone before?”

“Girl!” Scoddri's voice called forth in a surprisingly panicked manner. “Remember the ruins! Remember the stone that ate your magic, these are the same! Sweetie Belle, it's a trap!”

But the voice's warnings came too late as Sweetie Belle suddenly felt two firm hands grasp her from behind. With a squeal of surprise, she lost hold of her magic and her light dissipated. The room fell into sudden darkness which only served to spur her into motion.

She kicked and flailed about in her panic. Then, in the next moment, she felt the world spin around her as she was flipped over and firmly dropped upon the ground. It didn't hurt so much as it knocked the wind out of her. Before she could so much as get back onto her hooves, she could hear the sound of metal clicking against metal in a hurried and unmelodious manner. The sound was soon accompanied by something cold and heavy snapping snugly around her neck.

“Ruben, what are you doing?!” she shouted as she maneuvered her forelegs in a futile attempt to pry the metallic collar off.

“I am most sorry, Sweetie Belle,” his rough and apologetic voice sounded from a few feet away. “But I follow my orders faithfully.”

The unicorn quickly sprung to her hooves and made to run away. She got as far as the third step when she felt the force of the collar around her neck.

She fell, landing splayed upon the ground, coughing and sputtering.

“Calm yourself girl,” the voice cried out faintly, she almost couldn't hear it, it sounded so distant, “panic will only serve to cause you more harm. You are chained to the wall, and worse still, you are trapped near a deposit of scavenged stones that will eat your magic.”

Sweetie Belle blinked back some tears and slowly pushed herself off of the dusty stone floor. With a gentle tug, she confirmed that she was indeed chained to the wall. Looking around, her eyes eventually began to adjust to the light from the single glowcrystal in the room. She could just make out the silhouette of Ruben leaning gently against the wall by the mouth of the small cave.

“So, then you lied to me, Ruben?” she asked in a hurt voice. “I thought you were my friend.”

“I never lied to Sweetie Belle. No, and I never called Sweetie Belle friend. I have no friends,” the gravelly voice said mournfully. “All I have is a family and my duty to them. I need nothing more.”

“But, you said you'd help me get out of the caves.”

“No, Sweetie Belle misunderstands. I said you must go down to go up. Sweetie Belle has gone down and will go up. But not yet.”

“Not yet?” Sweetie Belle asked as her predicament became suddenly clear. “But, then how long will I be down here for?”

“I do not know Sweetie Belle. I have not been told.”

“You can't do this to me, I'm just a filly," she protested, pulling the chain taught as she struggled. "I don't even have my cutie mark yet.”

“Denying reality serves Sweetie Belle no purpose, just stay and wait. Talk to your mind, and soon enough I will take Sweetie Belle up, out of the underground.” With that comment, the diamond dog turned to leave.

“Ruben,” Sweetie Belle's voice called out sternly into the darkness. “You can stop calling me Sweetie Belle, only my friends call me that.”

“A pretty name. It is a shame, but if that is what you want, then so be it, pony.”

The unicorn closed her eyes to stop the welling tears as she heard the large dog make his way back through the tunnel. Soon enough, silence bore down upon her with the weight of a mountain, broken only by the gentle sniffles of the lonely girl. Though, in time, even those sounds drifted away as the fatigue of the day drained the last of her strength.

* * *

In a mountain of darkness, I sit here alone.
Tied up and chained to these cold stones.
I wait for your voice but hear no sound,
Just the echoes of caves and tunnels abound.

My voice is fading
Into darkness and cold.
My adventure is ending
With my story untold.

I'm looking for you, my guiding light.
Where are you now? So far from my sight.
I hope and I pray
As it all fades away.

Where are you Scoddri?
And why didn't you stay?

* * *

“That's not the cheerful tune I expect to hear from such a young girl,” a certain voice spoke quietly, in a saccharine tone, awakening the unicorn from her half-asleep state. “While the lyrics could definitely use some work, your voice remains as charming as ever.”

“Scoddri!” she exclaimed and picked herself off the ground. “Where were you? Why did you leave me alone?”

“I never left, my dear,” he said gently. “But my voice could not reach you no matter how loud I shouted. That's why, even now, my voice sounds fleeting to your ears. We don't have much time to talk before I am lost to you once again. But remember girl, I will not leave you alone, even if you can't hear me, I am here.”

“But, then what's causing you to fade away?”

“I'm surprised you haven't figure it out yet, girl. It's those stones, take a look at what they are doing to you.”

Sweetie Belle squinted, and focused upon the three large blocks of stone. She could just barely see three shimmering emerald strands, as thin and pristine as a strand of spider's silk catching the light of the sun. They all converged upon the tip of her horn.

“That's my magic?” she asked in incredulity. “But it's so faint.”

“That is because you have so little magic left my dear, it grows hard for you to see magic if you don't have any magic yourself. The same holds true for hearing my voice.”

“But, how do I stop it?” she asked again, nervousness entering her voice. She didn't like the idea of the stones stealing her magic. “How can I get out?”

In an act of sudden desperation she reached inside to her inner magic and pulled at it, channeling the power to her horn. In the next moment, the three strands flashed brighter for a time, and a shiver traveled through her spine as she felt the power melt away from her grasp.

“There is nothing I can do for you girl,” Scoddri called out in the barest of whispers, which carried a tone of sadness, the likes of which she had never before heard from the voice. “But you have the ability to go far girl, trust your instincts.” His final words faded away as quickly as they had been spoken and somehow Sweetie Belle knew that she would hear no more of his voice so long as she was chained up near these stones.

Shivering, a wave of fatigue washed over her and slumped back down upon the floor, as far from the three stones as the short chain would allow. Closing her eyes, the unicorn welcomed the oblivion of sleep.

* * *

It seemed like only the blink of an eye, then she awoke. She didn't feel any less tired than when she had closed her eyes. In fact, now her entire body had begun to ache and her limbs felt stiff. Not to mention that her throat was feeling extremely dry. She was quick to note that the three strands of energy still glowed lightly from her horn.

She felt even more lethargic than she had on those long summer weekends where she would sleep in until noon. And she knew the reason for it, it was simple enough to guess. These stones had been slowly taking her magic away from her. She knew that magic was a primary component of everything, a pony couldn't be alive if they had no magic. So, as I lose my magic, I lose my energy and slowly stop living, she concluded with a shiver.

A sound echoed from the room's entrance causing the filly to pull herself from her reverie. It was the low, unhurried, yet rhythmic, plodding sound of footsteps. Before the footfalls made their way into the room, Sweetie Belle was already sure of who was approaching. Ruben.

And sure enough the large diamond dog rounded the corner, his ruby sparkling subtly at his neck. He stepped inside the room, and to Sweetie Belle's surprise he was carrying something in each paw, though she couldn't make out what his burden was in the low light of the chamber. Without so much as a pause he walked right up to Sweetie Belle, and gently laid the two items upon the ground before her.

She opened her mouth to voice her curiosity, but all that came forth was a dry cough; Her throat hurt.

Once her small fit of coughing abated, it only took her a moment to register what the items were. Two crudely fashioned metallic bowls, one of which she noticed was filled with water, the other had numerous lumpy brown and white things in it. Slowly, and with a general feeling of soreness, the unicorn reached her head over to the bowl of water and quickly drained its contents.

Clearing her throat, the filly found her voice once again. “Ruben, thank you for the water. Do you know when I'm going to be released from here?”

“Pony is welcome. I do not know when pony is to be released. Boss has not told me. I did not ask; it is not my place to ask.”

“I see,” Sweetie Belle said, too tired to feel upset. “So, then what's in the other bowl?”

“Cave mushroom, food for pony.”

“Is it safe?” she asked dubiously. “Rarity always told me not to eat strange mushrooms, she said they could be exceedingly dangerous.”

“It's a plant, like grass or trees. Ponies eat plants.”

“Well, if you say so,” she replied sullenly, as her stomach growled audibly at the thought of eating. “I've never had mushrooms before, I just hope it doesn't taste as bad as grass does.”

She reached into the bowl and picked out a small mushroom, and chewed on it. A look of uncertainty soon dominated her visage.

Hmm, the texture is weird, and there's not much taste. It's better than grass anyway.

With her stomach guiding her, Sweetie Belle quickly devoured the contents of the second bowl as promptly as she had drained the first.

“Thanks for the food as well, Ruben.”

“Pony's thanks is unnecessary, I do as I am told. Nothing more.”

“And just what have you been told.”

The diamond dog stared at the filly directly for a moment before deciding to speak. “I have been told to take pony down to this safe place," he said motioning to the cave they were in. "Put chain on pony. Make sure pony is safe. Make sure pony's needs are met. Do not take chain off of pony until boss says. Once pony is out of chains, take pony out of underground,” he finished in his slow drawl. “Boss said nothing about not talking.”

“So, once I get these chains off, then you will take me to the surface? Well, I need to get this chain off,” she claimed, hoping that it might work.

“No, pony does not need to remove chain, pony wants to remove chain. I shall not remove the chain until boss says. Only once chain is removed will I take pony out of underground.”

Sweetie Belle frowned, and began to think for a while. Perhaps the food was already giving her more energy, at least her mind seemed a little less foggy. She lay still for a while, trying to think of any way to trick Ruben into letting her out.

While mulling over the possibilities, or lack of them, as the case may be, Sweetie Belle noticed a faint glimmer out of her periphery. Up towards the top of the cave wall, something glowed, a glow that hadn't been there before. It shimmered gently in a magenta hue. After blinking a few times to ensure its validity, she determined that it must be some form of magic, and her gut told her that she knew who the owner was. There was no mistaking that shade of magenta. Twilight. She was certain of it.

Quickly, her mind began to work as she guessed at what the spell could be. It looked like a shallow dome, two feet across and protruding from the wall like an over-sized pimple, and it just sat there, motionless. Tilting her head, she pondered for a while until she recalled a certain voice's words.

“You have the ability to go far girl, trust your instincts.”

Closing her eyes, and focusing solely upon Twilight's magic, she came up with a plan. She just hoped it would work.

She reached deep within herself for the magic that flowed from her heart. Grabbing as much as she dared, she felt a pang from within, but gritted her teeth against the pain, she had been expecting it. In the next moment, she forced the magic to the tip of her horn as fast as she could. She felt the energy quickly melting away, but she didn't back down, she would follow through with her plan. With all of her focus, she shot her magic forth, straight at the magenta blemish upon the cave wall.

She felt it instantly. Twilight's aura, and with it her feelings. Confusion, she felt, and surprise as well. Quickly, she then pulled at the purple unicorn's magic with her own and smiled as she saw the large spell quickly changing colour, into the same emerald glow of her own energy.

In the next moment, she felt panic, Twilight's panic. She knew it wasn't her emotion. I'm sorry Twilight, but I have to steal your magic again.

With a gasp, the filly pulled all of the now-green magic back into her horn. It felt as though she held as much magic as the ruby had contained, or that time she used the flowing river to scare off the owlbear. Even with the three large tendrils of energy siphoning from it, the amount of magic was phenomenal to the filly. This should be enough, but I have to do it fast, before it drains away.

The filly imagined, thought--no, neither of those were strong enough--she knew she wasn't in the alcove by those rocks any more. She knew she was three feet further forward, out of reach of the chain, and facing Ruben.

With a pop she heard it, and felt as the world shifted around her. She heard the clang of the metal collar falling upon the stones of the cave. She opened her eyes to see the new reality she had bestowed upon herself. A new reality that carried the slight scent of singed hair.

Before her, Ruben stood with his jaw dropped. “How? how did pony do that?”

“Magic,” she said with a grin as her knees buckled beneath her.

End of Chapter 14

Chapter 15 - Echoing Whispers

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 15: Echoing Whispers

By: SilentBelle

She felt her legs betrayed her, buckling as a chill seeped into her body and the scent of charred hair made her slightly queasy. She could see Ruben standing stunned just before her. No, Sweetie Belle told herself, as she felt lethargy and dizziness creeping into the entirety of her body. I'm not done yet! She grit her teeth tightly and caught herself, managing to sidestep against the cave wall for support. If I fall now, I won't be able to get back up. Focus!

She blinked, trying to clear her mind. However, her heavy eyelids only drew her attention to how tired she felt. And with the second blink, it became easier to just leave them closed. In a move to rebuke her own fatigue, she reached within once again, drawing out another tendril of her magic. She lashed out with it as quickly as she could, toward her new target. The one bit of magic that stood out in this cave.

With her eyes closed tight, she felt her emerald energy make contact with the ruby around Ruben's neck. It felt a little different from the last time she had pulled at a crystal's energy. The one she had used before had held an energy seemed to naturally change into a pattern similar to her own magic, but this ruby was quite different. It felt sturdy, lasting, and rigid. It took her sluggish mind a moment to figure out exactly where these sensations were coming from.

It's Ruben... his magic. This crystal is his, just like how Twilight's magic feels like her and belongs to her. Sweetie Belle swallowed with a suddenly-dry throat. It's not right taking someone's magic, but if I don't, then I'll just be locked up to those stones again, and I know I won't be able to get out another time. I don't want to take his magic, it's not right. Conflicted, the unicorn hesitated while her magic aura encompassed the ruby. Then she remembered Ruben picking her up in the darkness and chaining her to the wall. She snorted in anger. Any sympathy she had held for Ruben dissipated as if it never existed. What did I ever do to deserve that? He may have said that he was ordered to do it, but he should have been able to see right from wrong!

With her hesitation defeated, she grabbed hold of the ruby and pulled upon the glowing magic within. In a matter of seconds, and with an accompanying cracking sound, the crimson energy flowed back to Sweetie Belle, and it took on a greenish hue as she channeled it through her horn. Without even guiding it, she could feel her energy being replenished as it made its way into her heart. She felt the weight behind her eyes disappear, her legs ceased their quivering and her shivering ceased.

She opened her eyes to see a still-stunned Ruben gazing down at a small pile of red sand that had once been his ruby. Pushing herself off the wall, she got back into a standing position, pleased that she didn't feel wobbly in the slightest. Although she did feel a slight pain in her forehead.

“Pony,” the diamond dog said in disbelief. “What did pony do?”

“I don't have to explain that to you, I am no longer bound by chains, Ruben. You made a promise, now take me out of the underground! Unless your promises mean nothing to you.”

The gray dog emitted a low growl and stared at the young unicorn with a look of contempt before nodding slightly. “As promised, I will take pony to the surface. Follow me.”

“Good,” Sweetie Belle responded, and sparked her horn alight so she wouldn't lose sight of Ruben. She walked slowly, trailing after the dog. Though she kept herself prepared, ready to use her magic should the diamond dog decide to trick her again. I won't be caught off-guard again, she thought with determination. I won't be locked up like that ever again!

“Well done girl, you are quite cunning indeed. Using the dog's own sense of honour against him.”

“It's just not fair,” she responded in a quiet whisper. “I didn't want to destroy his crystal or threaten him, by using his own promise against him. But I had to.”

“Indeed? But he used that very same honour to bind you up in chains only hours ago. Surely if ever there was justice for one's actions, then this is it.”

“He might have deserved it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. I just wish he could have been a friend,” she said with a sad smile on her lips, “like you.”

“Comparing me with a mere dog? Where have your standards gone girl?” the voice asked with a laugh. “I am far more than this dog could ever be.”

“Well, at least Ruben isn't arrogant,” she shot back, not really in the mood to jest with the joking voice.

“I think you are confusing arrogance and pride my dear. My view of self-worth is entirely earned and proven. Not fabricated through self-delusion.”

The pony simply rolled her eyes, but kept her tongue still as she continued following Ruben through the twisting tunnel. Keeping pace with the creature soon became a monotonous task of repetitive hoof-falls. The sound of the beats seemed to slowly crescendo until every step brought a slight throb to her forehead.

She winced as her face tightened in a feeble attempt to accommodate the rising headache. Maybe I just need some fresh air, she decided. It's just a bit longer and I'll be out of this hole in the ground.

“Is the light spell too much effort girl?” the voice called out to her, thick with doubt. “Or perhaps it's something else.”

“It's nothing,” she muttered. “Anyway, Scoddri, I was wondering about something. What was that spell that Twilight was using? I mean, she wasn't anywhere close by, so how could she have cast that spell from so far away?””

“Indeed, most spells require a close range, usually line of sight as well for most ponies to be able to see what it is that they are doing. This, however, was not a typical spell that ponies cast. It's what most would call a 'scrying' spell or an 'augury'. It's a very complex spell used to detect an area from afar and relay certain information to its caster. Usually visual information, as it was in this case. It is a very advanced spell, however Twilight is a unicorn who is quite advanced when compared to most. She has studied magic for her whole life, so casting a spell at that distance is no doubt something she does on a regular basis. Though, to pinpoint your location underground speaks very much to her level of skill and finesse. Quite the unicorn indeed.”

“So then, she was spying on me?” Sweetie Belle asked nervously. “And then I went and took her magic," she said, then paused for a moment as she considered the outcome of her actions. "Say Scoddri, will Twilight be okay? 'Cause last time, I accidentally took her magic and she collapsed.”

“Undoubtedly, she, as well as the others are fine and still searching for you,” he said gently. “Due to the distance, Twilight Sparkle was unable to stop you from taking her spell. It can be quite hard to react quickly when one's spell is over a mile away. That distance, however, also prevented you from taking any more magic from her. Besides, I'm sure that Twilight Sparkle has plans in place to prevent her magic from being channeled out of her once again.” Scoddri paused to hum a bit as he mused. “And now they know where you are, or at least where you were.”

“I see,” she said with a light sigh. “I'm glad she's okay though.”

Ruben's ears picked up at the sound of her soft voice. “Is pony still talking to herself? Why speak aloud when there is no one around. Does pony love the sound of her voice so much?"

“I'm thinking out loud, thank you very much. 'Speaking to my mind', now lead on, you have a promise to keep.”

The diamond dog just growled in response, but led the way, his disdain evident in every step. Soon they re-entered the enormous cavern that housed the Graypaw Clan.

Letting go of her light spell, Sweetie Belle paused at the maw of the tunnel that looked upon the diamond dog's settlement. She couldn't see any other dogs, nor hear the sound of any them nearby. She could only make out the distant echoes of digging, which could be miles away for all she knew about how the sound bounced around in these caves. Once they got about halfway through the eerily empty cavern, Ruben turned, in a seemingly random manner, and headed for one of the dozens of tunnels that intersected with the cavern.

“Why are we going up this tunnel?” she asked while nervously looking around. The filly didn't enjoy the prospect of running into more diamond dogs.

“Pony does not know which tunnel is which. I do. This tunnel leads to the surface, many tunnels do, so I chose this one.”

“It's not the quickest route?”

“No, but it has no other dogs down it. I know because I can smell them. They are all working at the cave-in and new passages,” he said curtly in his harsh voice.

At the maw of the new tunnel, Sweetie Belle lit up her horn once again. It only drew her attention to the fact that her headache had steadily been growing as time went on. She had secretly been hoping that if she had distracted herself with conversation then the ache would go away. Now she winced audibly, and ran a fore-hoof along her forehead, as her horn sparked alive with a soft glow. Her wince turned into a gasp as her white leg came away covered in a bit of soot.

“Oh, so now you realized what condition your hair is in,” Scoddri chimed in on cue. “It's sure to be the talk of any town you visit.”

Sweetie Belle's eyes lit up in horror. “My sister's gonna kill me,” she blurted out as she realized just how much the magic had ruined her mane.

“Heh, I rather like it. Good or bad, it's a mater of opinion, but it certainly speaks volumes for your character.”

“Great, now I'm really worried.”

“Why would pony's sister kill her? Hair is hair, it will just grow back,” the diamond dog stated casually.

“What do you know about hair? You don't even have any.”

“Oh, but I do girl,” Scoddri responded. “Though it's seen better days.”

Ruben shrugged. “Fur is hair. Short hair, but still hair."

“That's not the same thing at all!” she complained as she rubbed at her hair a bit more, her fore-hoof coming away darker each time. “Now everypony is going to laugh at me.”

“Don't worry girl, I'd laugh at you even if you had no hair.”

Ruben scoffed. “Ponies are silly if they laugh at pony's hair. Hair is not important.”

“Not important?!” she asked indignantly. “But what about you Ruben, won't the other diamond dogs laugh at you for not having your ruby anymore?”

“Hmm,” the dog considered for a moment before answering. “The others make fun of me already, losing the ruby won't change anything. Ruby is different from hair.”

Sweetie Belle scowled at the diamond dog. “Oh, how so? Gems are just a fashion choice when you wear them.”

“Fashion? Choice? No. Diamond dogs need gems, pony doesn't need hair,” he countered with certainty.

“But,” Sweetie Belle protested, “then what about now? Don't you need a new ruby to replace the old one?”

“Soon, but I have a promise to fulfill.”

“Ah, honour, what an incredibly powerful, yet silly concept,” Scoddri muttered to himself. “I can never figure out why anyone would put themselves through such ordeals. Unless, of course, it were for the amusement of it all.”

Sweetie Belle only raised an eyebrow at this, unsure if Scoddri was aware that he was musing aloud. And then she pounced at another question that came to her mind. “So, what do your gems do for you anyway?”

“We wear them because we have to, otherwise we become weak and cold.”

“Hmm, I assumed as much.”

“So, it's like food then?” she hazarded a guess.

“No, we don't eat gems, we don't eat anything, not while we have gems. Gems are gems. Nothing is the same as gems," Ruben stated simply. "Anyway, pony should hurry up if she wants to get out of cave soon.”

Sweetie Belle took that as a signal for silence and complied.

* * *

The two forged onward through the tunnels for well over an hour, and Sweetie Belle's attention had drifted away once more to focus on the simmering, persistent headache that plagued her. Her coat was now splotched with sweat and dust, and her breath was coming up short. “Ah, I can't take it anymore,” she whispered, as her light flickered out and she pulled her hoof to her forehead. “It hurts.”

“What is wrong, pony?” Ruben asked, as he stopped to look at the panting unicorn.

“Yes, girl, what is wrong?” Scoddri repeated in a voice of genuine concern.

“It's my head, it hurts. I don't know why.”

“Shoot, you foolish girl! You should have said something sooner. That's what happens when a unicorn uses too much magic; they burn themselves out. Don't use any more magic for now. You've used too much in the past day.”

“Can you keep walking, pony?”

“I'll try,” she said shakily and took a few steps. “When will it go away? It hurts.”

“I don't know pony.”

“After some rest girl, but you can't just rest in the middle of a tunnel.”

“Alright, then I'll try my best to keep walking,” she said as she picked out the low glow of the diamond dog against the surrounding stone, gray against gray.

Perhaps it was the slight ringing sound in her ears, or being lost in the rhythm of walking, but she jumped at a sudden, approaching sound. It came in the echoes of heavy foot falls upon the stone, fast and sporadic, and coming in close. Before the filly could ask what the sound was, a voice boomed through the tunnel.

“Ruben! What do you think you are doing? You know you aren't supposed to bring the pony to the surface until I tell you to!” Sweetie Belle recognized the voice. It was Garner, and it was a far cry from the pleasant and calm tone from when they had last met. The unicorn could barely make out the boss' form against the stone, but at the center of the gray silhouette, a band of twelve gems all sparkled brilliantly. And of them, the garnet glowed most prominently, as the moon amongst a backdrop of stars. “Bring her back now, and we'll still be able to make the trade.”

“I'm sorry, Boss, but I made a promise. I said I would take pony to the surface when pony was removed from chains. Pony was removed from chains, so I am taking pony to the surface. I have to.”

“Ruben,” she said with a sigh. “You see, this is why all the other dogs make fun of you, and why I'm always so careful in what jobs I give you. I knew I shouldn't have trusted you with such a task, but I can't do anything about that now. Give her over now, or I'll take her from you!”

So fiercely were the final words Garner barked, that Sweetie Belle was actually glad her light spell was off and she couldn't see the smaller diamond dog's expression. It was certain to be mask of pure fury.

“Boss, you know I don't break promises, and I intend to keep this one along with all the others I've made.”

“It must have been quite the chore having to deal with Ruben on a regular basis. I'm sure she's had to deal with a string of incidents because of him. Though he must be too big of a resource to actually be rid of.”

“Well then, I'm sorry that it's come to this,” Garner growled her reply.

Sweetie Belle jumped back in surprise at the sudden speed with which the gems darted across the tunnel. Landing on her flank, the unicorn could only watch in awe as the two silhouettes collided and began to struggle, darting back and fourth along the tunnel. She listened to the deep and angry growls of Garner and the heavy grunts of Ruben, and had no idea what was happening. She was glad she couldn't see the details, she just wanted it to end.

Then, as suddenly as the whole affair had started, the filly heard a yelp and saw the gray figure with the band of gems collapse to the ground. Before she could even utter a word, she heard Ruben lope over to her side and felt him lift her up from the ground.

“What are you doing, Ruben?” she exclaimed in her surprise. “Put me down, I can walk.”

“No time, pony. I will bring pony to the surface. Boss won't stay down for long.”

And with a rhythmic and uncomfortable amount of jostling, Sweetie Belle was slung over the dog's shoulder as he bounded down the tunnel. Any rebukes that she came up with had to be saved, unless she wanted to risk accidentally chomping down on her own tongue. So she closed her eyes, grit her teeth, and hoped that the rest of the tunnel wasn't too bumpy.

End of Chapter 15

Chapter 16 - Fresh Air

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 16: Fresh Air
By: SilentBelle

Her hopes had been in vain, it would seem. Even as the unicorn braced herself against the impact of the diamond dog's monotonous motion, she could feel the movement slowly wearing away at her. Every bound that Ruben made with his loping long legs sent a jolt through Sweetie Belle, causing her to wheeze slightly, and she could even feel the throbbing of her headache begin to synchronize with the jostling.

Ow, his shoulder is boney.

Try as she might, she could do little to ignore the irritating movement. But thankfully, the movement was short lived, for a bright light suddenly fell upon her closed eyes, and the plodding motion ceased. But that was not all; she noticed the air as well. A simple intake of breath and she felt a sensation she hadn't ever experienced as strongly before as she did now, but she decided to think of it as 'refreshing', even if it carried the full brunt of summer's heat.

In surprise, the filly opened her eyes and in the next moment, she felt Ruben, with his firm, yet gentle grip, easily lift her from his shoulder. She saw a blue sky and small leafy trees as she was momentarily hung upside-down by one leg, before being deposited upon a soft patch of grass.

“I have brought Pony out of underground. As I said.”

Sweetie Belle smiled softly as she lay there and looked up at the deep blue of the sky. Surely the sky had never been this blue before. Turning her head gingerly, she looked to the diamond dog. His was turned away from her, and he began to plod back to the tunnel.

“You did. And I want to thank you for that Ruben, that was very, um,” she paused while searching for the word she wanted, “chivalrous of you.”

“I don't need thanks, pony.”

“Well I'm still giving them to you. Thanks Ruben. Oh, and you can call me Sweetie Belle again.”

The diamond dog simple turned his head sideways to give the youngster one last look. A small grin tugged at his mouth, otherwise he remained expressionless. “Goodbye, Sweetie Belle,” he said, then promptly turned back to face the tunnel.

“Wait, where are you going?” she called in response, struggling to get up from her prone position. “Why are you leaving?”

“That is a silly question, Sweetie Belle. I am doing as I must, as always. I need a new ruby, so I am going back into the underground,” he said simply and then bounded off into the tunnel.

Sweetie Belle let out a soft sigh as she watched the dog vanish into the darkness. “I wonder if we'll ever see him again.”

“Perhaps you will, one day. Though chances are he'll see you first. But that day is not today, for there is still a certain matter at hand. And that is, you are still being chased. So you must be on your way as well.”

“Right,” she replied and turned from the cave mouth, then took a few unsteady paces. That's when she felt something. A tingly sensation? No, that wasn't quite right. It was as though her eyes didn't want to see anymore. They grew irritated, so she closed her eyes to a welcoming warm darkness and stopped walking. She felt her breaths getting heavier and her knees began to quaver slightly.

This is weird, she thought to herself. What's going on?

Girl! You can't just go to sleep in the middle of a bush-” the faint, chuckling voice echoed to her, as her senses were consumed by that same warm darkness.

* * *

She woke in a bed so soft,
Within her sister's warm loft.
With walls of alabaster,
All plain, white plaster.
Her sister sat across the room,
Brooding with en expression of dark gloom.
Memories of her smile, gone from sight.
Shadows covered the floor, where once there had been light.
How could she have left so much behind?
How could she have been so blind?
She was wrong and she knew it,
Had her chances and she blew it.
Now her statue sister sits alone,
Motionless, with her tears, dry as bone.
Regret falls upon her as she views her sister's face,
Cracks of sadness, carved of shadow and empty space.
She knows that she's to blame
Like the spark that brings forth the flame.
But she remained proud, her anger held tight,
For she caused it all, and so she'll forge ahead with all her might.
So that she may fix what she has broken:
A heart, her friends, and promises unspoken.

She closed her eyes, full of tears,
Whispering a farewell to her statue sister
Bracing herself, to face her fears.
How she knows she'll miss her.

* * *

Where am I? What is this place? She tried to turn her head, but it would not budge, she tried to move her legs but they remained in place, yet her eyes remained opened to see. Before her, the sun was setting in its orange hue. And brilliant green bushes, perfectly sheared, stretched around her as a leafy horizon. She watched the day fade away and the stars begin to fill the sky.

In the next moment, dawn crept up into the sky from behind, only to cycle once again to night, faster this time. And faster and faster still, the cycle repeated. Days passed, weeks, months, seasons, years. Ponies passed by, or at least that's what she thought they were, as a fleeting blur, every now and again, trimming the bushes.

She wanted to blink, to turn her eyes away, but she couldn't do anything other than watch. She saw bushes growing, being trimmed, dying off, and being replaced. Slowly she noticed in the distant skyline, through days of cloud, open blue skies, and star-filled nights. A city was growing the world moved on, with every moment she stood there watching.

How many years had passed? She had no idea, but she suddenly noticed something familiar about the ever-growing city in the distance. She recognized some of the buildings, it was a sight she had seen almost every day of her life as a backdrop to Ponyville. This city was Canterlot.

It was then that she heard a voice, thick with grief, yet lathered with bitter laughter. “Can you understand this feeling? Can you stand here, watching the world change as you are forced to stay the same, forever?” It was the voice of one who was ready to break, or perhaps already had.


* * *

Sweetie Belle woke with tears in her eyes, though she could not remember the precise reason for why she had cried; she just felt some sort of sorrow, deep within her. After letting out a few ragged sobs, the feeling slowly subsided, leaving her feeling oddly refreshed. She never knew that crying could make her feel that way. Blinking her moist eyes, she inhaled, inviting the fresh scent of the outdoors to help her rebuild her composure.

She moved to get onto her hooves, only to realize that her singed mane had managed to get tangled amongst the branches of a nearby bush. The unicorn gave the moonlit plant a cursory glance, its whole entirety softly glowing from its own energy. Well, at least it doesn't have any thorns, she thought with a sigh of relief as she struggled against the branches, eventually managing to sit up.

“Ugh, what happened?” she muttered to herself with a groan, tugging her mane free of the offending plant. “Everything's kind of foggy.” She then attempted to shake some twigs out of her knotted mane to little effect, and rubbed at her eyes with a hoof. “I sure could use a bath right about now.”

“Finally, you are awake girl,” Scoddri said. “You passed out hours ago, you must have had a pretty bad fever. You're quite lucky that no one has come out here in all that time, and for that matter, that no creatures found you either.”

“Oh, right,” she said, pulling herself out of her stupor. “We're still right outside the diamond dog's cave. Wow, it's nighttime already.”

“Indeed, sleeping through the afternoon will do that for you.”

“Say, I'm thirsty Scoddri, where's a river or something to get a drink from?”

“What makes you think I would know, girl? I'm not a geography professor.”

Sweetie Belle chuckled lightly. “Well, you always seem to know which way I should be going.”

“So I do,” the voice replied with some measure of boasting. “And that direction would be to your right.”

Giving her mane one last shake, before lowering her head in defeat, the filly turned to her right, looking at the woods before her. “Wait, this isn't the Everfree anymore, is it?”

“Quite astute of you Sweetie Belle,” the voice called out, in his mildly mocking tone. “What gave it away? Perhaps it was the diminutive trees, or the fact that you can see the moon between the branches and leaves overhead.”

The filly just shook her head, rolling her eyes as she headed out into the brush. She walked slowly so as not to trip over anything that might be hiding in the darkness, but between her eyes and the natural glow of her surroundings, it didn't seem too daunting of a task, she would just need to remain careful.

“So Scoddri, I had a dream just then,” Sweetie Belle said. She was glad she could talk to him normally once again, without having Ruben around. As much as she had enjoyed the dog's company, his presence had made her feel incredibly awkward.

“Oh, this is bound to be precious.” he replied with a snort.

The filly paid no heed to the derisive tone and continued. “I dreamed I was stuck outside, by a beautiful looking garden. Days and years passed by. Ponies did too, sometimes stopping for a moment to point at me. And all I could do was watch. I don't remember much else. Just being stuck, and time passing. But it felt so real, I could feel the world go on and on, I could feel the time crushing me like a heavy stone. It hurt to sit there, unseen by everypony, it was just, so sad to be unknown and ignored.”

“But how would you feel, my dear, if you ended up in that same situation, yet you knew there was even just one pony out there who knew who you were? One pony you could call a friend, who would never forget who you were. A pony who remembered who you were and didnt just see what you have become. Just one pony who was willing to keep your company every now and then, helping to soothe the painful passage of time?”

Sweetie Belle paused to consider for a moment. “I wouldn't be as lonely,” she responded. “But I'd be more sad than anything else, only because I couldn't talk or play with the friend who keeps my company.”

The voice let out a soft chuckle at her reply. “Ah, truly there is nothing nearly as truthful, nor as insightful as a child's point of view.”

The unicorn only offered a frown at that.

“Oh, don't think too hard on it my dear, it was just a dream. After all, all ponies have them from time to time, and sometimes they are scary or sad. But they are still dreams, and they can't actually hurt you.”

“Huh,” the unicorn hummed as she pick her way delicately around some bushes. “If that's true, then what about that dream I had back in the cave. The time when I used the ruby and accidentally caused a cave-in?”

“That was not a dream, that was simply you projecting your magic in your sleep. Kind of like magic sleepwalking. It's nothing entirely unusual, and generally harmless; however, much in the way that having a set of stairs is a poor companion for sleepwalkers, a magic-filled crystal can be just as poor a companion for you.”

“Wait isn't that dangerous? Couldn't I accidentally set the forest on fire in my sleep or something?”

“Much in the same way that you could do so right now,” he replied jovially. “Do you feel in danger of starting a fire right now?”

“Not especially,” she replied with a raised eyebrow. “But why should that matter?”

“Because, you should realize that setting things on fire is not in your nature, girl, as much as your clubhouse may beg to differ.”

“Oh? Well forgive me if I'm not convinced then. I think the clubhouse provides a stronger argument.”

“Regardless, you live but once girl, so why should you spend every night fearful of burning down your surroundings?” he asked and sighed as a worried look made its way across the unicorn's face. “Although, I am sure that you won't follow that line of reasoning. So I'll just say this: Sweetie Belle, you know I have never lied to you, so if nothing else, know that you will be safe from your own magic while you sleep. This, I can promise you.”

Sweetie Belle's expression softened. “Thanks Scoddri."

* * *

A while had passed and the voice had fallen silent. The unicorn was starting to feel more than just a little bit parched. She hoped she would run into a stream soon. As if to answer her unspoken prayer, a soft sound in the distance caught her ear. It sounded like the gentle lap of water rhythmically washing against stones.

“Water!” she announced her suspicions aloud, and forged onward with renewed energy. As she moved between the light foliage, still keeping an eye trained to the ground, she could hear the sound growing in strength.

The forest came to an abrupt end before her, and Sweetie Belle came to a sudden halt as she noticed the ground fall away sharply, just a few feet ahead. Stepping up to the edge of the cliff, she looked down below her. She could hear the waves of the lake lapping against the cliff a hundred feet below her, and see its dark waters span off into the distance. The top half of the setting moon reflected off of its surface creating a line of shimmering silver, leading directly toward her perch on the cliff.

“Wow,” she said, nearly breathless. “It's beautiful.”

“So it is,” the invisible voice replied simply. “Beautiful enough for a filly to forget that she's thirsty.”

Oh right, I actually did forget for a moment. “I need to find a way down there,” she announced as she looked at the length of cliff to either side of her, hoping to see a portion of it sloped a little less steeply. After a moment's consideration, she harrumphed. “How am I supposed to get down there?”

“Unless you choose to jump, you aren't going to make it down into those waters.”

“Huh?” she responded.

“Girl, don't forget that you are a unicorn, and this should prove to be an ample time to test your finesse. Try and bring the water up to you, instead of going down to it.”

“Oh. That's a good idea, why didn't I think of that?”

Sweetie Belle promptly sat down at the edge of the cliff and closed her eyes. From here she could see the glowing waters flowing below her. Although it held no reflection of the moon, it was pretty in its own right. Reaching within herself, an action which came easily to her, she coaxed a thread of her magic out of her horn and willed it down, alongside the cliff.

After a minute, she felt it contact the cool water below. Now to pick some up. She tried grabbing at the mass of liquid, but it quickly slipped out of her magic's grasp. She grit her teeth and tried again, but her efforts yielded the same results.

“Why isn't it working?” she cried out as she kept try to grab the water with varying levels of force and speed.

“You have never lifted a liquid before with your magic. Just think of how you carry water normally without magic, surely you can figure out how to apply it to your magic.”

“Hmm,” she hummed as she formed her tendril of magic into a different shape. I guess a bucket would make sense, like when we pull water out of a well. With the new shape firmly in place, she pulled up. “Woah, that's heavy.”

“Yes, water weighs a lot,” the voice replied in amusement.

Changing the shape of her spell once again, she made it much smaller, the size of one of the Apple Family's cider mugs, and she gave it another yank with her magic.This time the captured bit of water slowly slid up the cliff-side, but she quickly felt her own magic reserves diminishing.

With a grunt she cast a look back to the bushes and trees behind her and cast a second tendril clumsily out of her horn and grabbed at some of the greenery. With a tug, she felt the magic of numerous leaves being channeled into her horn, and she saw the dark green magic gain the sheen of her own emerald magic.

Using this new source of magic, she redoubled her efforts with her impromptu bucket of water. After a couple minutes, she finally drew the water up past the edge of the cliff. “Yay, I got it!” she cheered. The filly was sweating from the exertion and drank her prize greedily.

Once she had finished off her refreshing beverage, she noticed that the sun had begun to rise, lighting up the world, with its faint light. That was the moment when her curiosity bubbled to the forefront of her mind. “Scoddri, why are we headed over here anyway?”

“Look to the other side of the lake girl, look at that distant mountain, that is where I am directing you.”

Sweetie Belle looked out across the lake and saw a mountain on the distant side, but that wasn't all. There was something on that mountain, something familiar.

As she gazed upon it, the sun slowly rose above the horizon, and its beams came forth clear and golden, catching the mountain and what it held on its stoney precipice.

“That's-” she paused while squinting, at the illustrious spires in the distance. “Canterlot?”

End of Chapter 16

Chapter 17 - Reflecting Voices

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 17: Reflecting Voices
By: SilentBelle

“That is indeed Canterlot, girl,” Scoddri said nonchalantly.

“Yeah, I know it is, but why? Why are we going to Canterlot?” Sweetie Belle huffed. “I mean, what was the point of going through the Everfree Forest, of going to the diamond dog's caves, of all of this?” she demanded, as she gestured to the scenery around her. “There's a road that goes directly to Canterlot from Ponyville. If that's where you wanted me to go this whole time, then why didn't you just tell me to go there in the first place?”

Scoddri sighed. “Because, my dear, you weren't ready for Canterlot at that time. And besides, the journey has always been more important than the destination.”

“I've been to Canterlot before, more than once, you know. What do you mean by 'not ready'?”

“Think of your magic, girl. It was only mere days ago when what you needed, more than anything else, was isolation from outside interference. I am certain that the press of hundreds of ponies would have proven to be more of an obstacle than you could have handled on your own.”

Sweetie Belle looked down at the shadowy grasses beneath her for a while, the sun had yet to touch anything other than the tops of the distant mountains on the other side of the lake. Seeing past the shadows--or perhaps alongside the shadows was more accurate--she could easily distinguish each blade of grass by its magic. “So, you think I'm ready now?”

“My girl, you managed to waltz through a den of diamond dogs, and they are all still alive and well, for the most part. I would say you have managed to obtain a great deal of control over your abilities.”

“But, that still leaves me with my original question,” she argued. “Why do you want me to go to Canterlot?

“To meet with me, face to face of course.” Scoddri paused and let out a laugh. “Oh, come now girl, is it really such a surprise to learn that this voice does indeed have a body that matches its splendor?”

“You mean that you have been talking to me from Canterlot this whole time?” Sweetie Belle reasoned. Then that dream I had was actually Scoddri's? Which means that Scoddri is...

“Haven't I told you before? The best way to answer your questions is through hooves-on experience. So, allow me ask you this Sweetie Belle,” the voice countered. “Are you going to seek out the answer to your question, or will you be complacent in your assumptions?”

“I...” she trailed off as she thought back to the dream she'd had, but only for a moment, before nodding to herself. “I'm going to Canterlot, but I'm not going because you told me to. I'm doing this because I want to. Because it's my choice.”

“Ah, and so you realize that the only things worth doing, the only things you won't regret, are those that you decide to do yourself. A fine lesson to learn for one so young.”

“Stop talking as if I can't hear you,” the filly protested, with a hint of anger making its way into her voice. “It's annoying.”

Scoddri simply chuckled in response, but otherwise kept his silence.

Looking out across the lake, Sweetie Belle saw the great city there, nestled amongst the distant mountains, embraced in celestial splendor. It truly was a beautiful sight of golden white and she stared at it for a while. My goal. Where I need to go. With her mind focused on the task at hoof, she brought her gaze back to the forest around her, and began plodding off around the circumference of the lake.

* * *

“Why is it always grass?” the filly asked as she contemplated her new meal before her. It was still a few hours from noon, but she was hungry, hungry enough to eat grass again.

“You tell me, girl. You are the one that keeps eating it, are you not?”

“Well, at least there's water to wash it down with,” she said, looking out over the lake. Canterlot was indeed closer, but still quite distant. The city was halfway obscured by the trees that encompassed the lake. “But Canterlot is still really far away,” she said with a sigh and began her impromptu meal.

“My dear, you just don't realize how much closer you are when you keep looking to it every five minutes. Though, I agree, it will take some time to get there.”

Sweetie Belle swallowed, in what could only be described as a painfully slow fashion. Her expression painted her dissatisfaction quite visibly, had there been any other pony to see her.

In the next moment, the little filly began siphoning off water from the lake, as quickly as she dared.

“You certainly are getting quite good at this, girl. It has only been hours since you learned how to do that particular trick. Quite the natural talent you have.”

Sweetie Belle tilted her head at his praise, not sure if he was mocking her or was being sincere. She found it quite hard to figure out the honesty of his voice sometimes. And she was quite certain that Scoddri did this intentionally, for his own amusement.

Her own interpretation of Scoddri's dialogue was cut short and quickly forgotten when she noticed something streak across the sky. A rainbow trail followed in its wake, and when it stopped, the blue figure in the distance left no question as to who it was.

“Rainbow Dash,” she whispered to herself. Looking up at the figure, she saw the pegasus hovering out over the lake, performing a quick full-circle sweep until she faced Sweetie Belle. The cyan mare only paused for a moment, then she flew off, away from Canterlot, and out of sight from the filly's eyes. “She saw me.”

“So it would seem, and yet she left you alone. That's not what one would normally expect from such an impulsive mare.”

“I wonder why,” the filly said, not expecting to find an answer, as her eyes wandered the sky.

“Why not wonder as you wander towards Canterlot?” the voice asked snidely.

“Oh, be quiet Scoddri,” she said with a roll of her eyes, though she did comply with his request. She moved onward, and the day slowly began to pass as she quickly became lost in thought.

* * *

Is Rainbow following me? Or maybe she didn't see me. Or... I don't know. The cycle of various thoughts and reasons had run through the filly's mind countless times. Eventually she noticed her thoughts were looping and shook her head vigorously to try and clear her mind, and was surprised by an unbidden yawn escaping as she did so. There's no point in randomly guessing at why Rainbow Dash was there. I won't find any answers out here.

Blinking, Sweetie Belle suddenly noticed that it was already early afternoon, and it had been a long time since she had last seen Canterlot, she had no idea how close she was, but at this point she didn't care that much. There was a new thought on her mind: Sleep. And that thought was only reinforced by the silent burning that resided within the now-cramping muscles of her legs.

“Hey, Scoddri,” the filly began sweetly while dropping down the ground to lay amongst the light foliage that covered the forest floor. A cool breeze floated gently up from lake beside her, cutting the edge off of what would have otherwise been an unruly summer day. It soothed the feeling of her knotted muscles.

“Why, hello there Sweetie Belle, have you finished daydreaming?” the voice replied.

“I wasn't daydreaming,” she shot back, but yawned as she did so. “I'm just tired, I don't think I can walk another step.”

“It has been a while since you last woke,” Scoddri mused. “Rest now, if you so choose.”

“Thanks, I will.”

* * *

“Sweetie Belle,” a voice called to her, piercing past her heavy eyelids. “Sweetie Belle.”

“Twilight?” she asked blearily as she opened her eyes. It was darker now, twilight in fact. “Where are you?” she called out quietly, as she wiped at an eye with a fore-hoof and strained her ears to hear that voice again.

A moment later the voice returned, distant and beckoning, “Sweetie Belle.”

There was no mistaking that voice, even distant and shimmering as it was. It is Twilight. She turned her head in the voice's direction. It was coming from the lake.

Getting up onto her hooves, she made her way to the crest of the steep hill that bordered the lake. Gazing down into the placid waters she saw a magenta glow swirling amidst its waters. She was certain she saw something else as well, but she couldn't make it out from this distance. “What is that?” she whispered the thought aloud.

“Scrying magic, and Twilight Sparkle's no doubt. An intricate spell.”

With her curiousity piqued, Sweetie Belle managed to slide her way down the side of the hill to its base by the dark water's surface. With a drawn breath she looked into the waters examining the magenta spell that coursed over its surface. “Twilight?” she asked at the waters dubiously.

“Sweetie Belle!” a distant, yet familiar, voice shouted. “She's there, thank Celestia, she's there!”

“Sis?” the filly responded, dumbfounded.

In the next moment, the tendrils of magic flexed into an intricate weave and snapped together reflexively, forming a large circular pattern upon the water's surface. The center began to glow a dusty silver colour, like a dim full-moon. But then, silhouettes began to form within the pale circle.

She could suddenly make out their features as the image focused before her, gaining a slight semblance of colour.

“Rarity! Twilight! Oh wow, how did you find me?”

“Well that's-” Twilight began but was promptly interrupted by Rarity.

“Sweetie Belle, you're safe! You don't know how much we've been worried about you. Oh, and what happened to your hair, it looks just dreadful. Was it those impudent diamond dogs? I swear if they rose a single paw to hurt you-”

“Rarity!” Sweetie Belle interjected, as she ran a hoof through her mess of a mane. “I'm fine, the diamond dogs didn't do anything to my hair, it was my own fault. But I'm glad to see you, and I'm sorry for running away like I did.”

“But why, Sweetie? Why did you run away from home? Do I mean so little to you? You know you can always come to me with your problems and we'll work them out together, as sisters.”

“I know, but I had to go. It was the only way to save Twilight. I didn't have control of my magic, and I was draining her. So I ran until it stopped.”

“But why didn't you come back, Sweetie Belle?” the lavender unicorn questioned. “Why wouldn't you come back to Ponyville once you got far enough away.”

“Because, I got lost,” the filly replied, turning her eyes away from the watery image.

“But, even then, why didn't you come back with Rainbow Dash when she found you? Why run from her? There must be some other reason.”

“That's...” Sweetie Belle trailed off, feeling entirely conflicted. She had been sure at that time, she had made up her mind. And if I don't follow through now, then there wouldn't have been any point to running away in the first place. With an inhalation of breath the filly found her resolve. “That's true, there's another reason why I left Ponyville. I wanted to learn how to use my magic, to keep it under control so I wouldn't hurt my friends and family. I care too much about you all to risk being near you while my magic was so wild. But then I learned that you were coming after me, it hurt to know that I would put you in danger no matter what did or where I went.”

“Sweetie,” Rarity whispered.

“Still,” Twilight said firmly. “You have managed to get your magic under control, Sweetie Belle. So why are you still running? Why do you want to stay away from us?”

“Want?! I didn't want any of this to happen! I want nothing more than to go back to Ponyville and see everypony again! But I'm still going, because there's one last thing I need to do, one last thing that I need to know, and I need to find it out by myself!”

“And what is that thing?” Twilight asked evenly. “Perhaps I know the answer. I have read a lot books.”

“No.” Sweetie Belle shook her head sadly. “It's not something that another pony can tell me, it's something that I have to do by myself. But I promise, once I do that, I'll come home right away. Honest.”

Twilight's face grew pensive as she considered the problem before her. But a look of surprise took hold as a muffled shout echoed through the scrying spell.

“Get back here, you two!” Sweetie Belle could make out Applejack's shout.

Then two smaller figures ran into periphery of the spell. She recognized her friends instantly.

“Sweetie Belle!” Apple Bloom shouted out, pointing an accusing hoof at her. “Why in hay did you go an' run off like that? How could you do that ta us?”

“Yeah,” Scootaloo piped up. “If you were going on an adventure you should have brought us along too.”

“Apple Bloom! Scootaloo! Why are you with Twilight and Rarity?”

“Well,” Applejack said with a sigh, as she entered the circle as well. “Ah reckon it was a mite foolhardy of us ta leave those two back in Ponyville without supervision. It didn't take too long fer us to realize that they were a followin' us through the Everfree. By that point it just made more sense ta bring 'em with us. Safety in numbers an' all that. 'Sides, we know that they wouldn't just stay put at home when their best friend was in danger."

“Oh,” Sweetie Belle muttered to herself, as the feeling of guilt seemed to increase its weigh upon her heart. “I'm sorry Apple Bloom, Scootaloo. I really am.”

“Hey don't sweat it,” Scootaloo said with a grin. “We got to go on an awesome adventure through the Everfree thanks to you.”

“Well, ah'm still kinda sore 'bout ya not listenin' to me before ya ran off,” Apple Bloom admitted. “But Ah forgive ya. After all, ya had yer reasons, right?”

“Thanks, girls.” Sweetie Belle was astonished to say the least. “You're the best friends ever.”

“Hmm, hmm,” Twilight cleared her throat, gaining everypony's attention. “Now if we can please get back to the matter at hoof. Sweetie Belle, I can tell that you are determined and you intend to keep your promise, but wouldn't it be fine if we tagged along with you to wherever it is you are headed? We just don't want to see you get hurt.”

“No,” she stated her answer firmly. “I have a good reason, but I can't tell you yet. Please just let me go, I promise I'll be back.”

“But-” the lavender unicorn replied, before Rarity interceded.

“Very well,” she stated serenely. “If she wishes to go and her decision is made, then all we can do is let her go.”

“Rarity,” Twilight said with a dumbfounded expression plastered on her face. “Are you sure?”

“Twilight, darling, I most certainly am. She's my little sister, yes. However she is also her own pony, and nopony can decide what she is going to do other than herself. Not even I.”

The purple mare's expression changed from uncertainty to irritated submission. “I suppose you're right,” she agreed, though not before shooting Rarity a discerning look.

“Really Sis? You mean it?” Sweetie Belle asked in utter astonishment.

Rarity smiled and nodded, her eyes a quavering blue, which shone out of the tranquil water. "Just please be careful, Sweetie."

“Thanks, Rarity. Thanks, everypony. I'll see you all real soon,” the filly said with a wave.

In almost perfect synchronicity with her motion, she saw the magic tendrils of the spell dissipate and sink beneath the surface of the dark waters. She thought she heard one last whisper trail from the waters. “Please, be safe.”

“Well, that was quite the spectacle, wasn't it?”

“Huh,” the filly hummed considering the voice for a moment. “You know, I'm surprised you managed keep quiet for the whole thing. And, I guess I want to say thanks for that.”

“Yes, well they say words are made from silver tongues, and silence is golden. Either way, I fancy myself to be a rich fellow,” the voice replied and chuckled to himself.

“Scoddri, sometimes you say the weirdest things,” Sweetie Belle said, shaking her head, but allowing a smirk to reach her lips nonetheless.

End of Chapter 17

Chapter 18 - Aged Wood

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 18: Aged Wood
By: SilentBelle

Walking through a forest, under a loose canopy of moonlit leaves was one thing that the filly had never experienced before. Or if she had, she had certainly never stopped to appreciate it. Beautiful, that was the only word she could think of to describe it. The pale silver light played across the tops of lightly billowing summer leaves and spilled between them forming a shadowy acrostic amongst the grass, moss and dirt of the forest floor. It filled her with a sense of peace that she hadn't known since the last time she, and the rest of the Crusaders, had ended a day of fruitless crusading.

She remembered it vividly: Breathless and grinning, the three of them settled down atop a small, empty hill, out in Sweet Apple Acres. They were sharing company on the hill on a vague premise that they might get their cutie marks in astronomy. The sun had just been setting and the three fillies laid upon their backs and stared wordlessly at the changing twilit sky. They watched as the stars slowly began to make their appearances and the merest sliver of a moon began to peak past the horizon.

Sweetie Belle had spent what felt like hours, gazing at that unfolding scene. She recalled listening the soft sound of her friends' gentle sighs as they closed their eyes tenderly and drifted off to sleep. Eventually, she slipped a glance at her two sleeping friends as she felt a grin on her lips. Letting out one last contented sigh herself, the small unicorn had let the soft embrace of night guide her to sleep as well. It was one of those moments, she knew, that would always stick with her.

Sweetie Belle gently exhaled as she finished wandering in her memories.

“As refreshing as this night air must taste, I must remind you, you do have a place to get to,” Scoddri said, dispelling the mood rather effectively.

She rolled her eyes, as was her typical response to the voice. “Yeah, thanks for reminding me,” the unicorn muttered and began walking again.

“Hah, sarcasm fits you very well, Sweetie Belle.”

“It fits you better,” she mumbled as she shook her head to clear her thoughts.

“Perhaps better than most,” the voice replied in affirmation. The unicorn could imagine him nodding to himself. “But I still enjoy seeing it worn by others. What's the point of biting if no one else bites back?”


“Yes, my dear, biting,” Scoddri chastised. “As in: your biting comment. Do try to keep up.”

“Oh, I get it now,” she replied, and paused to consider. “Hmm, wouldn't it be better if nopony said anything mean at all?”

The voice let out a hearty guffaw. “Oh, such naivety, how refreshing. Sometimes I forget that you are nothing more than a mere foal.”

“A foal?! I'm older than a foal! Maybe I don't have my cutie mark, but I'm not just some foal. I've done more than most ponies my age ever dreamed about!”

“My dear, I meant no offense, quite the opposite in fact. Your youth is a trait I find most endearing. You should cherish it while it remains yours to hold.”

“You just don't get it,” she argued, “you must have forgotten what it's like to not have a cutie mark.”

“A valid point. One can only remember so much, but I do still remember. How can one forget? Those moments of disdain, derision and spite. A childhood I'd rather not dwell upon.”

“Why, what happened?”

“Sometimes, I wonder if you only listen to half the words I speak. I told you girl, I'd rather not dwell upon it.”

“And I'd rather you did,” she retorted smartly. “There's nothing wrong with a story about the past.”

“Unless the story is your own!” the voice snapped coldly.

The filly nearly tripped at the harshness with which the voice had spoken. She had never expected the voice to talk in such a manner. She'd heard his joking tones, his scathing rebuttals, and even rarely, concerned sternness. But never such cold anger. I must have hit a nerve.

“I'm sorry Scoddri. I didn't mean to pry.”

“Oh, but you did, didn't you?” he countered with a light chuckle, and Sweetie Belle relaxed to hear the mirth in his voice, even if it also carried a hollow note of pain with it. “Remember this girl, everyone has their secrets, and they can be dark and powerful. For these secrets form the true face to anyone you meet. It may take years to notice them, but everyone has those secrets.”

“I see...” she said, trailing off.

Scoddri merely laughed to himself as Sweetie Belle continued onward through the moonlit woods.

* * *

The unicorn had wandered through the woods for well over an hour. Scoddri's guiding voice seemed content in offering his objections whenever she managed to turn herself around.

“It's really not so hard to walk in a straight line, girl,” the voice chided.

“It is when there are trees in the way,” she refuted. “And how in the hay am I supposed to be able to tell which direction Canterlot is in if I can't see it?”

“Well, the moon is hanging up in the sky.”

“Yeah, but how's the moon going to help? I wouldn't be able to see the city even if the sun was out right now.”

“How indeed,” the voice muttered in a way that suggested a rolling of his eyes.

Sweetie Belle merely huffed as she wove her way between two small trees. “Well, you're not the one that's doing all the walking.”

“As is evident from your rather stylized path.”

“Oh, be quiet Scoddri, it's not like I'm trying to go in circles. I'm trying to get to Canterlot,” she reiterated, “speaking of which... How much further is it? My hooves feel like they are about to fall off.”

“You've only been walking for a couple hours girl!” Scoddri exclaimed in his none-too-serious, theatrical voice. “Where has your youthful vigor gone? You just woke up a few hours ago.”

“I know, but I didn't get enough sleep,” she claimed, offering a light yawn as punctuation.

It's only a half-day's journey from here. You are quite close girl.”

“Half a day?!” she complained. “But the sun's going to rise by then! I can't walk for that long!”

“Now, my dear, didn't your darling sister ever tell you not to oust your problems upon others?”

“Not in those words exactly, but she has told me not to complain. She says it's unladylike. Although, she does it all the time, so I don't see why I can't too.”

“To not practice what you preach, is to grab at that which is out of reach.”

“Huh, what's that supposed to mean?”

The voice chuckled lightly to himself. “It means you're not close enough,” he offered slyly. “Keep walking.”

* * *

Not even half an hour passed before Sweetie Belle's earlier complaints were actually realized. Her tired legs caught upon a flat tree stump causing her to crash into a series of small bushes. She found herself laying on her back and groaning as she extended a fore-hoof into the open air. She could feel her pulse throbbing through her hoof as she held it extended above her.

“It's too far Scoddri, I need to rest. My hooves hurt.”

“Hmm, perhaps you do, girl,” he admitted. “But may I suggest that you find a better place to collapse before dozing off? A bush is seldom the most comforting of cushions.”

Sweetie Belle frowned as she tried to come up with a biting rebuttal, when something caught her eye in the distance. A light, is that fire?

Springing to her hooves, she scrambled to try to catch sight of the distant light once again. The filly pushed her way through a mess of leaves and small branches to find the source.

Moments later, it reappeared as she made her way into a small clearing. A wooden cabin simply stood there with an unkempt path leading to it from the other side of the clearing. A glowing window lured Sweetie Belle's eyes away from all else. Such a sight was most welcome to the filly; it seemed warm and inviting.

“How quaint, a cabin in the woods and somepony is home, by the looks of it. Unless they decided to stoke the hearth and leave.”

Sweetie Belle approached the window of the small, well-worn building. As she did so, she could make out a quiet tune being hummed from inside. Lifting herself with just her hind legs, and gracing the windowsill with her fore-hooves, she peeked in through the window.

Within the glowing abode, she saw an old earth pony, his white hair and red wrinkled face displaying a sense of weariness that the filly couldn't quite understand. He just looks tired, she decided. A passive expression was worn by the old-timer, as he sat upon an antique wooden rocking-chair with closed eyes, swaying in beat with his off-tune humming.

“Having fun spying, are we?” the voice asked in a mirthful manner.

“Be quiet,” she whispered in irritation. “I think I know that song.” She paused for a moment and strained her ears to hear the melody and nodded to herself. It was a song she remembered hearing, but she could not recall where or when she had heard it.

Unbidden, the lyrics to the song slipped out of her mouth as she listened.

Lay now my love, beneath the silver moon.
Hold not to morning, nor evening, nor noon.
My voice from the waters, the call of the loon,
Lay now and listen, for I'll be home soon.

It's been months since I left, but still I see
These years that we've spent, making memories.
I still hold you dear, deep in my heart,
So listen for my voice, we are not apart.

Lay now my love, beneath the starry sky.
Ask not of where, what, when or why.
Close your eyes now, and listen and try.
Hear in the wind, my sweet lullaby.

Sweetie Belle let the final soft note fade into the darkness. She had been lost in the music, a feeling that she had almost forgotten. With a quiet sigh, she sat down and laid back against the wall of the cabin, its old wood smoothed from years of weather.

For some reason, she felt compelled to strain her ears as she rested, listening for the soft brush of the wind as it crossed the trees. However, there was no wind to be found, instead all she heard was the light tapping of hooves and the protest of floorboards, heralding the old pony's approach to the window.

Her eyes grew wide at the realization. I can't believe I forgot that there was somepony inside! I should run and hide! The filly bore a panicked expression as she scrambled onto her hooves just in time for the window to swing open sharply upon her horn.

“Ouch!” Sweetie Belle exclaimed as she lost her balance, tripping over her own hooves. Laying on her back she gazed up as a wrinkled red face protruded from the window.

“Who's there, singing songs outside my window?” the old pony asked in a rough voice as he squinted into the darkness. His wrinkles seemed fixed into a frown, an expression which softened as his gaze fell upon the unicorn. “Well, I'll be, little filly. What are you doing outside at this hour? Are ye lost?”

“Um, no I'm-” she protested as she tried to regain her footing while rubbing at her horn.

“Oh, where are my manners? Please, do come in,” he interjected as he backed out of the window. Sweetie Belle could hear the sound of floorboards groaning from within as the red stallion lumbered over to the door. He opened it with a gentle push. “Please,” he called out just as gently, “come inside, make yourself at home.”

A little hesitant, the filly paused, before nodding. “Thank you, mister,” she called out as she made her way over to the fire-lit doorway. “I'm sorry for intruding.”

“My, such manners,” the old pony said with a dry chuckle, which turned into a fit of coughing. He proceeded to wave off the filly when she approached with a look of concern in her eyes. “I'm fine,” he coughed. “I'm fine, it never lasts long.” He lumbered shakily over to a set of cupboards as he wheezed.

Sweetie Belle quietly closed the door and made her way into the humble abode. It held very little at her cursory glance; she noticed a bed, a few cupboards, a modest dresser, a small mirror on the wall, the rocking-chair, and leaning in the corner, a well-kept, and equally well-worn axe. It was then that she noticed the red pony's cutie mark. It was an axe with a log cut in twain.

“Say, ye want a bit to eat?” he asked, turning his head to catch the filly's enthusiastic nodding. “Alright, it's nothing much, just porridge. Let me put on some water.”

She watched silently as the old-timer went about preparing the meal as slowly and as steadily as his aged joints would allow. As she watched, she felt a tinge of melancholy descend upon her.

"Nice place, ain't it? Built it myself, I did. Oh, the name's Red Timber by the way, pleased to make your acquaintance my dear...”

“Sweetie Belle,” she said promptly, then tilted her head at a question that came to mind. “What are you doing living out in the woods? It seems kind of lonely.”

“Well, that's a long story, young lady. Written in many reasons, and most of the reasons have long since disappeared, but I still have one reason. But never you mind that, children shouldn't need to listen to an old pony's empty reasons,” Red Timber said with a shake of his head. “Though, I must say, young Sweetie Belle, ye certainly have a beautiful voice. Tell me young'un, where did ye learn that song?”

“I don't know,” she admitted a bit sheepishly. “But I know that somepony must have sung it to me when I was just a foal.”

“I see,” he said with a weary sigh. “So, what where ye up to, young Sweetie Belle, that had ye outside my window singing a lover's lullaby.”

“Well, I'm heading to Canterlot, but I didn't know exactly how far it was when I left. But I'm almost there.”

“Well, ye must have had quite the adventure, with a mane as tangled as that,” he replied and slowly made his way over to his dresser. “Reminds me of all my days I spent in the woods.” Reaching into a drawer he pulled out a hoof-brush and set it on the bed. “Go on girl, sit down, and use the mirror and fix up yer hair, and I'll get the porridge.”

Sweetie Belle smiled appreciatively, glad that the old pony didn't want to pry into her situation, and even more glad that she could finally pry out some of the knots and tangles in her mane. Sitting atop the bed and placing the hoof-brush snugly upon a fore-hoof, she turned to face the mirror.

It was a disaster to say the least, and frankly she was surprised that only a few hours ago, Rarity had handled the sight as well as she had. Well, it has to be done, she thought to herself with resignation. This is gonna hurt.

“Why fix it?” a certain voice asked. “It holds a certain rustic charm to it.”

She merely shook her head and grinned sadly, it had to be done.

She had only just begun, when a hot bowl of porridge and a steaming cup of tea were set upon the nightstand beside her. Progress upon her mane was about as slow as she had expected. Sometimes she envied Scootaloo and Apple Bloom for not having the curls that she did, but the feeling was always fleeting. For even on the most horrendous of hair incidents, she could always imagine hearing her sister complimenting her whenever she finished brushing it out.

Glad for the break, she set aside the brush and dug into the warm meal. “Thanks, Red!” It felt as though ages had passed since she last had a real meal, food had never tasted so delectable to the filly.

The aged stallion offered a simple smile. “My pleasure, little lady,” he said as he made his way back to the rocking-chair. He sat down idly sipping at a cup of tea and started humming.

Sweetie Belle hummed along as she finished off her meal. Warm and sated, all she needed to do was fix up her mane, and catch a bit of sleep, then she would feel whole again. But brushing could be an arduous and boring task, so the filly decided to make a request.

“Hey, Red,” she called to the old pony, as she gabbed a hold of the brush and began working out the toughest of the tangles. “Can you tell me how you got your cutie mark?”

End of Chapter 18

Chapter 19 - Worn Memories

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Scion of Chaos - Chapter 19: Worn Memories
By: SilentBelle

“So ye want to hear how I got my cutie mark, do ye? Well, I suppose you're in for a treat, little lady. Just work away at your mane and listen while an old pony reminisces,” Red Timber said, as he rearranged himself in his chair and let out a small cough. He was now sitting straighter and turned his focus upward, toward the shadowy ceiling, as if looking for something. “Ah, yes, listen well, young Sweetie Belle.

“It all happened long ago, must be nearly seventy years now. Now, seventy years isn't that long of a time to live my dear, but to say you remember back to seventy years ago, that makes all the difference.

“Now, you might not believe it, but I grew up in Canterlot. Not the Canterlot you now know, what with all its fancy buildings reaching up to the sky. No, this was Canterlot, the village of wood. It was the up and coming settlement for all the ponyfolk. For you see, the Princess had just decided to make her home there. And where the princess descended, sure enough, all forms of innovation and culture followed. It seemed like overnight, that all the plans to make the place into an all-out city had been laid.

“But our village was humbled by the princess and was quick to embrace the changes she brought with her. As a young foal, I watched the home I knew fly into a constant form of change. Buildings that I knew all my life had disappeared over the course of the year, only to be replaced by larger, sturdier, stone buildings. Suddenly, there were more ponies than I could ever come to know on a personal basis. It scared me to see everything change so quickly, and to see how everypony else seemed to forget our humble village so easily.

“I think that's when my parents noticed. My father, a diligent worker, and a proud architect, was now forced to change his focus to stone buildings, instead of the wood he was used to. And my mother, the best darned cook you'd ever meet, was, at the time, with foal. With things being the way they were, they decided to send me off to a summer camp. Perhaps they hoped that a smaller setting would allow me time to adjust to the sudden changes. It was either that, or I was being too sulky and they didn't like the atmosphere, but I'd like to think that they had my own well-being as their priority.

“In any case, I was tossed off into a small summer camp where young ponies would learn how to take care of themselves in the wilderness. At first I didn't want to go, I thought my parents had abandoned me in place of my soon-to-be-born baby sister, and because of that I kept to myself. I don't remember much about the first few days, but what I do remember was what happened after the first week.

“We had been bunched off into small groups of three. The idea was that we would use what we learned, along with a bare minimum of supplies, to make a campfire and build a shelter for ourselves. Really, we had enough supplies to not starve or even become dehydrated, so the survival aspect of the whole exercise was only in the minds of the fillies and colts. Regardless, each group had been given a hatchet and some other tools, after the adults were certain that we understood the basics of their use. The idea was that each group was to weather a night out in the bush.

“I, however was still in an awful mood, not really paying attention to anything in particular other than my own loathing of the changes that had taken place in Canterlot, and that my parent, at least in my mind, had disowned me. That's when one of the other ponies in my group called out to me.

“'Hey Red,' he said. He was a dark-coloured pegasus, I can't recall his name or even what colour he was. He even had a cutie mark. Papers? Parchment? I can't remember, but that's not important, I just knew that he came across as something of a lazy fellow who would rather boss other ponies around than have to work himself. 'Go get some fire wood. It's getting cold out here.' he said.

“I complied, as I was glad for the excuse to be alone. So, I carried the hatchet clenched between my teeth and wandered into the woods. It was there, amongst the towering oaks, pines, and elms, that I noticed something. It was a feeling that I had kept inside of me, I hadn't even noticed it before then. But once I stepped into the encompassing embrace of the forest, a feeling of comprehension settled upon me. I sat down there for what must have been half an hour. It became so suddenly clear what it was that I had disliked about the changes in Canterlot. Or perhaps dislike isn't the word, that's not what it was. I didn't dislike Canterlot. No. There was something that was missing from my home, something that I craved.

“It was something small, something special to me, which always lived in my fondest of memories. I had found it again in these woods. In the quiet life that it possessed, the soft calls of insects and birds creating the atmosphere from out of sight, and within all the plants intertwining and living together. That's what had been missing, a sense of belonging. And there in the forest, it was a welcoming embrace.

“So, with a feeling of calming peace I lifted the hatchet and cut free a few low branches from an old dried-out pine tree. I severed them with numerous swings, and after a good long while I had a large collection of varying sizes.

“I trudged back to the camp managing to drag the sappy branches in tow. But the scene I came across wasn't what I expected to find. The other camping partner, a white unicorn filly with the bluest eyes you'd ever seen, she was arguing with the bigger, dark pegasus.

“'We should go search for him, he could be lost,' she said, worriedly.

“'No!' said the dark colt. 'The sun's almost down, I'm not going in the woods when the sun's down.'

“The two argued back and forth for a bit while I slunk into the camp as quietly as I could. In a sudden motion, tossed my haul of branches into the circle of campfire stones, which startled the other two.

“'What the hay, Red! Where were you?' the unicorn demanded, her blue eyes flashed a look that made me cringe, she almost had tears in her eyes. 'We were just about to go into the forest to look for you. You had us scared.'

“'Yeah, why'd you take so long?' Even in the dim light of dusk, the pegasus' relief at not having to enter the forest was quite plain to see.

“I hadn't expected that the two of them would go out, looking for me. It really meant something to me that these two strangers, ponies that I knew nothing about, would have gone into the woods to look for me.

“'I'm sorry,' it was all I could manage to say, and I hoped that it would be enough to stave off the filly's tears.

"'Well, then make the fire,' the dark pegasus replied, trying to hide his nervousness at the encroaching approach of night.

“Using the skills that they had taught us over the last week, I managed to get the fire going just as the sun set. It was strange, seeing their faces, the tension leaving them as the fire sparked to life. With the first few licks of flame something else caught my eye. A shining from my flank as my cutie mark appeared. And her shining blue eyes as she watched from the fireside.” Red Timber fell silent as he concluded his story. Though Sweetie Belle thought she heard him utter a sad whisper. “Silver Lilly...”

Sweetie Belle tilted her head at the conclusion of the story, her freshly brushed mane bounced along with the movement. “But, then why do you have an axe as your cutie mark? Shouldn't it be burning logs? Or a fire, or something?”

The old pony let the creak of the rocking chair fill the room and hummed a bit before answering. “Let me tell ye a secret young'un. The secret about cutie marks. You see anypony'll tell ye that a cutie mark is about finding yer special talent, but that's not entirely true. There's something more to it than that.”

Sweetie Belle opened her eyes wide at that. “What? Really? But everypony's always said that's what a cutie mark is: Your special talent.”

“Consider this, young lady, what if a pony had a special talent fer something that they despised, something that they just couldn't enjoy no matter how hard they tried to. Like it was some sort of fate that shackled us fer the rest of our lives? Would any pony want something like that?”

The filly could hear Scoddri let out a small mirthful chuckle at that point. I was given something that I didn't want: this chaos magic. “No,” she stated, while shaking her head. “Most ponies wouldn't want that, though I'm sure that some might grow to appreciate it.”

“Perhaps they would, but what if they were forced into that one role, no matter what else they wanted to do? Now, young Sweetie Belle, ye have yerself a beautiful voice, and I'm certain that other ponies have said as much, perhaps even going as far as to saying that you'd be getting a cutie mark in singing. But what if that was your special talent, and that was all you would ever been known for? Would that not make ye feel a little sad when ye finally got yer cutie mark? Knowing that ye, after a certain point, had only one possible career to pursue.” Sweetie Belle responded with a nod. “Fortunately, that is not the case,” the old pony continued. “A cutie mark is not some sort of special talent, it's something far more meaningful and fundamental than that.”

“What?” she asked eagerly, trying hard to follow the aged stallion's line of reasoning. “What is it, then?”

“It took me years to actually put it into words. At first, after I got my cutie mark, I knew that being a lumberjack wasn't my special talent, but I couldn't put words to that feeling properly, it just remained a feeling. My cutie mark wasn't something that I had been forced into, but was instead a destiny I was choosing to walk toward. A cutie mark is something that ye have control over, little lady. If I had to describe what a cutie mark is, as simply as I could, I'd call it the permanence of yer first fondest memory, or the dream ye'll always come back to. It's just what ye cherish, and what drives ye as a pony. Talent's got nothing to do with it.”

Sweetie Belle looked at the old-timer with a doubtful gaze, and he offered a simple sigh.

“Well, take my cutie mark for example. An axe, splitting a log. Every time I look back at it, do you know what I see?”

“An axe, splitting a log?”

“What? No!” he said in exasperation. “Darn it girl, no! What I see is that forest in the evening sunlight: all its trees, the cry of the crickets and the voice of the birds. I see my love of the woods, of wooden architecture. And I see Silver Lilly. I always see her, and the way her eyes would catch the firelight as we sat around it.” His voice sounded distant and carried a light tremble as it ebbed into silence.

A lull settled upon the small cottage, not a cold sort of lull either. No, this was the soft hum of a room filled with warmth. The fireplace spoke with a language of sparks and the shifting, blackened logs. While Sweetie Belle played a tune of rhythmic brushing, as she finished up with her tail. Her hair was still in desperate need of a fine washing, but it would do for now, she supposed.

Feeling her eyelids growing heavy, the filly abandoned the brush, setting it upon the nightstand and laid down upon the old pony's bed. “Say, Red,” she called out, with her eyes closed.

“Hmm?” was the response she heard from the rocking-chair.

“Who's Silver Lilly?”

“Hmm, I'm glad ye asked little filly. I'm glad ye asked. Remember how I told you about how I was at that summer camp? Well, Silver Lilly was that unicorn who was in my group as well. She had sapphires for eyes, she did, and with the way they caught the firelight, I was awestruck from the moment I saw her. But with the way I always was, I kept the feeling to m'self. One day though, years later, she did find out, and eventually we got married and lived right in Canterlot. She always loved the city, and she ran a flower shop. I could go on and describe her fer hours, but I won't bore ye with an old pony's recollections.”

“But where is she now?” Sweetie Belle asked in a quiet mumble as sleep slowly took hold of her.

“She's... gone, they both are. Lily, and our daughter Blossom.” Red Timber looked away, toward the nearby wall of his cabin, tears filling his eyes. He began muttering quietly to himself. “Forty years, and it still hurts just as much, I suppose it's a wound that never heals, but I lived enough for all three of us. That's what they would have wanted from me. To live and try to be kind. To help, to love... But I couldn't bear it, living in that city. The memories held me tight like a noose, I had to leave. That's why I built this cabin. So I could remember both of them, their smiles, and their songs.

“Lily,” he called out softly into the firelight. “Blossom was going to be the best songstress in Equestria. It was her dream, and our dream to see her reach it. She loved singing, everyday. I could see it in the joy and smiles she brought to anypony who'd listened. She was supposed to grow old, to get married so we could hold our grandchild.” If anypony had been around to see, they'd have been able to make out two silver streams of tears catching the dimming firelight. “Oh, by the stars, how I miss ye both every day, for I've become a hollow pony of what I once was. Without ye, my dreams have become my memories as I sit here, hoping to pass on quietly and peacefully.”

A soft sigh broke the old earth pony from his reverie. He looked to see the young filly fast asleep, laying upon the covers of the bed. With a small grin to himself, he walked over to the filly and tucked her into bed.

“Well, I'm glad I got to make at least one more friend before I'm gone.” Red Timber made his way back to the chair, wheezing lightly as he settled in to doze for a while.

* * *

Light poured in through the window, golden sunlight. “Ugh, turn it off,” Sweetie Belle mumbled as she buried herself deeper under the covers.

“Good morning, my dear. Is it not brilliant to see sunlight again?”

“Not particularly,” she complained, as she wrapped the bundle of covers tighter around her. “I'm still tired.”

“I'll bet you are, young lady,” Red Timber's voice called out from the other side of the house. “I've prepared some more tea and porridge for ye, young'un. It should perk ye up for yer trip to Canterlot.”

At the mention of Canterlot, Sweetie Belle jumped out of the bed, memories of last night quickly falling into place. She crashed upon the floor as she realized where she was. With a blush, she pulled her way out of the cumbersome cloth and quickly used her magic to deposit it back upon the bed. She tried folding it, but the fabric didn't seem to agree with her choice of folding, so eventually, she just gave up and left it as an unruly swath.

It was just then that she noticed there was something metal around her neck. Looking down, she discovered it was a golden chain, with a golden flower hanging from it.

“Hey Red, where did this come from?”

“That was Blossom's--my daughter's. But I want you to have it, I have no use for trinkets at my age.”

“But I can't take it, it's yours,” Sweetie Belle responded, and reached back to unhook the metal with her magic.

“No, please, Sweetie Belle. Keep it,” Red Timber interjected as he fought back a fit of coughs. “I want you to have it, please.”

“Well, I suppose if you really want me to have it, then I can't say no. Thanks Red,” she said while she walked up to the old timer and gave him a light hug. “I'll cherish it.”

* * *

It was a short time later that the filly found herself standing outside the small cabin's door, sated and back to a suitable state of alertness. She could still feel the fatigue resting within her limbs, but she knew she had it in her to make the rest of the journey to Canterlot, less than half a day's travel, according to Red Timber anyway.

“Good bye, little lady,” the red earth pony said gently from his door. “Be safe, ye hear?”

“I will,” Sweetie Belle called back. “Thank you Red, for everything.” As she walked away, the unicorn couldn't help feeling strangely saddened, but she couldn't figure out why.

Red Timber watched as the young filly disappeared down the overgrown forest path. “It was a privilege to meet ye, and to share my last goodbye with ye,” he whispered with a soft grin on his wrinkled visage. He turned back into his humble abode and he sat down upon his sturdy old chair. He began humming a song from his past as he waited for the future to claim him.

* * *

“A strange old pony, wasn't he?” Scoddri commented as the two entered the forest.

“He was nice,” she said with a huff. “And you calling anypony 'strange' is silly. You're the strangest pony I know.”

“I'll accept that as a compliment, my dear,” he said, throwing out a laugh. “Is not strangeness the spice of life?”

With a single raised brow, the filly let out her own chuckle. “Well, I like my meals without spice.”

“Then perhaps it would be in your best interests to widen your palate, because I'm certain your life is bound to be brimming with more than a few flavours that you've never tasted before.”

End of Chapter 19

Chapter 20 - From Within the Stone

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Scion of Chaos – Chapter 20: From Within the Stone

By: SilentBelle

“Why does it have to be uphill?” the filly asked aloud as she followed the path before her. The forest had all but thinned out, and she could once again make out the city every hundred feet or so, whenever she caught a glimpse from between the sparse branches of the trees. A few miles away, it loomed. Alabaster in its majesty, under a mostly sunny, late-morning sky.

“Perhaps, because you are walking up a mountain,” Scoddri replied. “Mountains are often guilt of such hikes.”

“Well, yeah, but I didn't mean it as a question.”

“Of course you didn't,” he said with a chuckle. “And I didn't mean it as an answer.”

Sweetie Belle shook her head, she was certain that she would never truly understand why Scoddri said half the things he did. “Then what did you mean?” she asked while quirking an eyebrow.

“If you have to ask, then you have missed the point my dear.”

“Right,” she deadpanned. “Sometimes I don't even know why I bother asking.”

“Of course, that hasn't stopped you yet.”

“Oh, be quiet,” she said with a frown, then her eyes caught sight of something new behind a few bushes on the overgrown path. “Oh, look, it's the main road!” she whispered excitedly. “It should be much easier to walk on.”

“And it should also have much more traffic.”

Indeed, the voice had spoken true. Not long after Sweetie Belle had made it onto the well-kept highway, had she noticed a mostly-empty cart heading her way, away from Canterlot. It was pulled by a hefty, mahogany-hued earth pony who was whistling a merry tune as he passed by.

Sweetie Belle began humming the tune herself and picked up her pace. I'm almost there, Canterlot!

Sure enough, the brilliant walls of the city entered into her field of vision once again as she got closer. Other traveling ponies passed her by, more ponies than she had had reason to believe would be leaving Canterlot. All of them were pulling carts or were heavily burdened by bulky saddle bags. Each one had passed her, without offering so much as a second glance. Too busy with their work, she supposed

This came as a fortunate surprise for the filly, since she'd rather not draw any unnecessary attention to herself. However, there was one particular question that she wanted to ask Scoddri, but she was afraid to voice it with all these ponies passing by. As she looked ahead to the open gates of the city, she could see a constant stream of ponies, groups, pairs, and individuals, all trickling out, one after another. It looks like I'll have to keep my questions to myself until I'm inside the city.

She approached the entrance to the city and a nervous energy filled the filly.

Well, here goes, Sweetie Belle thought to herself as she entered the gate. It was a large entrance, beneath the heavy, shining stones of the wall. The spokes of the raised gate reminded the filly of teeth, as if it were a large gaping maw of some dragon.

She spotted a couple guards standing idly on either side of the large, open portcullis. She gulped and lowered her eyes, hoping that the guards wouldn't apprehend her. If they catch me, they'll ask me why I'm here in Canterlot and not back in Ponyville, then they'll drag me back there. I've been through so much already, I can't let them stop me now!

While beneath the stone wall, she tried to mix in with a melange of other ponies, she did her best to stay in the middle of the bustling crowd so that the guards wouldn't notice her.

As fortune would have it, the guards merely nodded as the pony passed through with the mass of others. Sunlight caught her eyes as the throng of ponies quickly dissipated on the other side of the alabaster bulwark. Each pony who entered alongside her seemed to have something incredibly urgent to do, and with nary a pause they scattered down the various streets.

Blinking, Sweetie Belle glanced around trying to figure out where to go. As her sense of nervousness only seemed to intensify, the filly walked forward quickly, looking for a spot where she could talk to Scoddri while out of earshot from the other ponies.

She traveled down the busy streets at her urgent pace, almost frantic. Everywhere she looked, ponies were walking, talking, or otherwise loitering. Did that one just look at me? Does she know Rarity? It seemed as though, with every pony she passed, another question came, unbidden, to the forefront of her mind.

“Is something the matter girl?” Scoddri asked with a light laugh. “You look as though you have a guilty conscience.”

Her eyes darted back and forth before she responded. “All these ponies, they are looking at me,” she whispered as quietly as she could.

“Oh, come now,” the jolly voice responded. “You can't honestly expect these ponies to care about where you're from or why you are here. These are city ponies, they only care about themselves. Unless you go out of your way to trip one of them, they aren't going to do anything to you other than give you a cursory glance.”

“Really?” she asked in a surprised, yet quiet voice.

“Yes, my dear. You know how I dislike repeating myself.”

“So then, where should I go?” she muttered, still feeling the itch of strangers' eyes on her back. “I don't know my way through Canterlot. I've only been here twice before, and both times I came on the train.”

“Your fears are quite unfounded, for your path lays before you. Just raise your eyes from the hoof-beaten roads and look upon your destination.”

She raised her gaze from the cobblestones and saw above her, looming in the distance, the truest eye-catcher of the city, the spires of the castle. “My destination is the castle?”

“The castle is a mere landmark, my dear. Your path, should you choose to follow it, leads to an area near the castle. Although, you cannot see it from here.”

“And that's where you are?” she asked, as she quirked an eyebrow.

“Indeed, one could say that is where I reside.”

“But it's not where you are now?”

“That is a matter of opinion my dear. If I was there, then how could I be talking to you here?”

“Umm, magic?” she offered as she made her way uptown, the buildings she passed seemed to increase in size and grandeur as she went. “Twilight and Rarity talked to me from far away with magic. Aren't you doing the same thing?”

“But have you considered, my dear, that you cannot see any magic when I talk to you?”

“That's...” she looked all around her and was surprised that the thought had never occurred to her before. Why didn't I ever think to look for his magic to find out where his voice was coming from? She felt like such a foal. Glancing about, she strained her senses, looking for some glowing of magic, listening for some light hum and feeling for some gentle warmth, but she found none of them. All that she noticed was the soft glow emanating from the white stone architecture, the warm caress of the sun, and the hubbub of the city ponies going about their business. “Where's your magic?” she asked in a worried whisper. “How can you be talking to me?”

“How, indeed? Imagine my surprise when you actually heard me the first time.” Scoddri let out a light chuckle. “It truly was a moment of reckoning.”

“But there has to be some magic,” she insisted, as she continued onward to the upper echelon of the city.

“Magic, yes there is much to magic, and it can explain the inner workings of almost anything. But there is a reason why magic is called what it is my dear. It's an elusive force that few can understand. It only stands to follow that ponies would decide to call such a thing 'magic', as if to give up on having to explain it.”

Sweetie Belle considered the voice's words for a while, drawing ever closer to the castle walls. “There are some ponies though, like Twilight, who think that magic can and should be explained. They study it.”

“Yes, but she is an exception to the general rule, and likely looked down upon by others for dabbling in the world of magic. Think girl, when was the last time you saw a pegasus or earth pony who was interested in magic?”

“Uh,” she paused, drawing a blank. “I haven't, ever,” she admitted. “I guess it's because they can't use magic that they wouldn't find it worthwhile.”

“It's that misconception which leaves magic in its primitive state to all but a select few, a sad fate for all who study magic.”

“Hmm,” she hummed but otherwise fell silent. She kept her silence until she reached the crest of the final hill before the castle. The crowd had slowly lessened as she had made her way through the increasingly posh areas of the city. There hadn't been another pony in sight that wasn't wearing some form of clothing or garment. She felt uncomfortably noticeable as she approached the open gates of the castle.

Royal guards could be seen patrolling the walls, and a pair played sentinel by the gate, stoically and sternly. Sweetie Belle was certain that entering these gates was sure to do more than evoke a light nod from these guards. This was the castle, they wouldn't let just anypony in. “What should I do?” she whispered, as she darted to a nearby alley and poked her head around the corner, observing the imposing stone obstacle that blocked her path. “They'll stop me for sure. I don't have any reason for being in the castle.”

“If you are so worried about being caught, then just enter the castle without them seeing you,” he offered nonchalantly.

“Oh, that sounds so very simple.” Sarcasm coloured her voice thickly. “Why don't I just go up and ask them to escort me as well?”

“Hah! Now that might take some convincing. Why not give it a shot?”

“Because I don't want to be caught and thrown in a dungeon.”

“Thrown into a dungeon you say?” he questioned with a chuckle. “How very imaginative children can be. Perhaps that imagination can be used to find your way into the castle grounds.”

Sweetie Belle breathed a heavy sigh. “You just enjoy watching me struggle with these things don't you?”

“Oh, very much so.”

With a roll of her eyes, and then a stare of concentration, she studied the large wall that encapsulated the castle from the rest of the city. She blinked in surprise as she noticed a rather potent concentration of magic that resided within the walls. Like roots running through soil, this magic spread between the thick stone of the wall. Then with sudden clarity, a plan sprung to her mind. Maybe I can use that. But I have to get closer.

The filly looked around the upscale neighborhood and found what she was looking for. A manor positioned upon a large, well-maintained yard, with trees, bushes and gardens, many of which ran adjacent to the wall. And most importantly, it was not completely fenced in.

With a quick glance to make sure that nopony was around to see her, she darted into the yard and behind some of the well-groomed bushes, hoping that they would provide enough cover to keep her from sight.

Once inside the yard, Sweetie Belle, paused to view her surroundings, the bushes ran all along the fence, right up to the base of the wall, and would provide sufficient cover for her plans. There was only one immediate problem she faced as she peered through the green summery leaves. Further into the yard and closer to the wall, was an earth pony with a watering can and a rake nearby. He performed his duties as the custodian of the yard and whistled to himself, tunelessly, as he went about his business, watering plants and raking any leaves that had fallen. He even picked out the dead-looking leaves right from the very plants themselves. He was quite meticulous with each plant he worked with.

As the filly made her way toward the wall, the crunch of her hooves stepping on wayward twigs and the shifting of branches sounded overly-loud to her ears. Of course, she realized. He hasn't tidied up these bushes yet. Then that just means I have to do this before he gets over here. Every movement she made caused her heart to beat a little faster, and her breath sound a bit more ragged to her straining ears, despite her best efforts to take each step with more care than the previous one.

Almost there, she told herself. Just a little further. She inched her way onward, as quietly as possible, attempting to avoid tangling any offending branches in her mane. For she was well aware now, of just how close she was to the gardener-pony.

“And to think, after all the time spent traveling through forests, and just yesterday, managing to finally comb out your hair, you crawl into yet more branches and leaves,” the voice observed with a hearty laugh.

Sweetie Belle stifled and exasperated sigh as she continued on her journey through the vegetation. And over the next few excruciating minutes of progress, she finally made it to the base of the large wall.

Now for the next part of the plan. She thought back to the moment when she had struggled to escape the chains within the diamond dogs' cave, and that time when Rainbow Dash had tried to take her away. She remembered that desperation she had felt, the need and urgency.

With those feelings firmly in her mind, she turned her focus to the magic within the whitewashed walls. It was a powerful magic for sure, its yellow glow reminded her of sunlight. The wall held more magic than any of the gemstones she had come across before. Closing her eyes for better focus, she gingerly reached out with a tendril of magic from her own horn, a movement which seemed so natural to her now. She let her magic touch upon the static web of energy before her.

Letting out a breath in preparation, she then tested the strength of the magic. Surprisingly, the magic gave into her coaxing after only a few tugs on her part. A smile spread across her face as she siphoned away the magic into her horn and felt it change to her own emerald sheen. Once she held as much as she figured she could manage, she drew her magic to the tip of her horn.

Delving into her own thoughts, she brought forth those feelings of urgency and desperation to the forefront of her mind and focused. I have to get on to the other side of the wall, she told herself. I have to! She trusted her instincts to use the magic the way it had before. She wasn't going to focus on what would happen if she failed. She wouldn't fail. It was as simple as that.

The unicorn felt the magic begin to flow around her as it responded to her will and urgency. She sensed the magic as it flowed to the other side of the wall, its strands weaving together into a strange intricate pattern that somehow felt 'right' to her. Additional tendrils of light poured from her own horn, and encompassed her whole body in the the same patterned magic.

“Hey, filly!” a voice shouted. “What are you doing over there?! Get out out of the garden, you're hurting the bushes!”

The gardener, her mind told her, jumping at the conclusion. Out of reflex, the filly spun around and opened her eyes to see the tan-coloured earth pony. The sudden addition of sight being added to her other senses gave her an overwhelming feeling of vertigo and she felt the pattern of the spell beginning to shift with her sudden movement.

“I'm sorry,” was all she managed to get out before the spell finalized and took effect. A jolt of pain ran into her horn, as though she had just slammed it against a wall. Her breath left her as the world became a blur of twisting strands of magic. She couldn't see properly or hear beyond a light humming and the piercing sound of fracturing stone. She even realized for a moment that her mouth tasted strangely of stone, or what she imagined stone to taste like had she ever decided to lick a rock. The world became a distorted web of senses that seemed to tangle itself around her.

These strange feelings only lasted for a moment before her senses reawakened to her surroundings. Just in time to hear the echoing boom of a loud crack which pierced the air. Just as suddenly as the sound had come, she felt ground form beneath her hooves, causing her to stumble sideways. She crashing into a sharp bed of hedge branches in a feeble attempt to catch herself.

With a groan, the filly blinked her eyes and tried to get a bearing on her surroundings. Pulling herself out of the hedge she had fallen into, she got to her hooves. “I'm definitely on the other side of the wall,” she said to herself as she looked around.

Her attention was quickly summoned to the top of the wall's ramparts. Some of the guards were shouting and running, further away from her position. When she trained her gaze upon their destination, her mouth fell agape.

“Did I just cause the wall to fall over?”

“I can't imagine that anything else would have caused it.” Scoddri said cheerily.

“Uh, remind me to never try jumping with magic again.”

“The proper term is 'teleportation'.”

“Yeah, but that was dangerous. I hope the gardener didn't get hurt.”

“He's fine,” Scoddri said simply.

Sweetie Belle breathed a sigh of relief, she knew that Scoddri would never lie to her. Just as certainly, she knew that she would never be able to forgive herself if she had hurt somepony else with such reckless use of magic.

“And now the guards are all distracted. You are really close, my dear.”

“Wait, this is, the Canterlot Sculpture Gardens. I've been here before.”

“Indeed, and I'm waiting for you, just around the bend.”

Looking ahead, she knew where he meant, and she knew what lay behind that corner of the hedge, past the sculpture of victory. “So, it's true then, isn't it Scoddri...”

“Ah yes, it has been so very obvious though, hasn't it my dear?”

She trotted forward, silently hoping that she would be wrong. But, how could I be wrong? He's told me all I needed to know to figure it out. He's mentioned being trapped in stone, he knows more about strange magic than even Twilight. He's... Suddenly she recalled the words that they had spoken so many months ago: Confusion! Evil! Chaos! She turned the corner and saw the statue standing before her. Its tongue outstretched in a peculiar fashion, and it pulsated with a deep emerald magic. Misunderstood, she thought to herself.

“Discord,” she said quietly, with a slight look of defeat on her face.

“Indeed. Welcome, dear Sweetie Belle. I'm glad you decided to come here. You know you didn't have to, you still don't have to be here.”

“No!” she interjected. “I've come here by my own choice, because I had to know and because you had to know.”

“I see,” he said with a hint of surprise in his voice. “Perhaps being surprised is something that I have grown unaccustomed to over the years. But it remains, in my eyes at least, a welcoming experience. Perhaps that is why chaos has always been such a joy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Quite simply, you surprise me, girl. Willing to put yourself through such perils just to talk with one such as myself, face to face. I never thought I'd see the day when such a thing would happen.”

“It doesn't matter what you are, a draconequus, or a spirit of disharmony. Scoddri, you're my friend, I said so before, and I meant it. Is it really so strange for me to want to see my friend face to face?”

“Ah, the beautiful simplicity of youth,” he said with a chuckle. “Yes, my dear, it is very hard to wrap one's head around such a simple idea. So I have something I want you to do Sweetie Belle, as the first pony who would ever be willing to call me 'friend', for as long as I care to remember.”

The filly gulped in anticipation. “What do you want me to do?”

“I'm going to ask of you, something that only a cruel adult could ever ask a child to do. This,” he said as his pulsating glow turned into a pure sheen that almost blinded the filly. Blinking her eyes to free her sight, the filly was able to make out a simple shape amongst the glow. It was a glowing heart-shaped crystal emerald. “Take this girl.”

“What is it?” she asked in wonder, squinting at the bright object. “Its overflowing with magic, it almost hurts just looking at it.” Nevertheless, she reached out with her magic and touched the glowing stone. With a spark, similar to a static shock, she let out a small exclamation and the light came rushing toward her channeling into her horn. It lasted only a moment. She felt the intensity of the magic burning at her very being, like being splashed with boiling water, except that, by the time she had registered it, the feeling was gone. Only a light cry of surprise escaped her lips and she panted slightly as the world returned to its somber colours.

“It's an element, my dear. It's the core of my being, and I choose to give it to you. That's right, my friend, I'm being a cruel adult, I'm asking you to make a choice. I've given my very being to you and I'm leaving my fate in your hooves, to the whim of a mere child. I'm forcing you to choose.”

“Sweetie Belle!” a voice called out, and with a pop of magic the filly saw Twilight Sparkle materialize before her. “Stop! You have to leave! Now! Discord, is dangerous!”

“Stand down Twilight Sparkle!” Discord's voice called out deep and regal, it almost didn't sound like him at all. The heart-shaped emerald burst with a wave of magic, and Twilight let out a gasp as the light passed over her.

Sweetie Belle looked at the lavender unicorn, aghast by what she saw. The older unicorn's back legs had greyish weaves of magic crawling up them, and the unicorn in question had turned her head around and was channeling her own magics toward her hindquarters slowing the gray pattern's advance.

“Ah, please do not interrupt Twilight Sparkle, I do hope this petrification spell does the trick. Poetic justice, I do believe.”

A look of pure concentration befell the studious unicorn as she fought with the spell upon her. She couldn't even spare a moment to respond to the voice.

“Scoddri!” the white filly shouted at the glowing emerald heart. “Why did you do that? That's not nice!”

“Nice? Nice?! Dear, Sweetie Belle, I am about to give you one of the hardest decisions you are ever going to make. Of course I'm not being nice. I'm Discord, the spirit of evil and chaos, the being who can only be tolerated when imprisoned within stone.”

“No, you're not!” Sweetie Belle shouted back, her eyes quickly assessing the progression of the petrification spell. Twilight was now half-turned to stone. “You are Scoddri, my teacher, my guide, and my friend! Please, stop the spell!”

“Only if you make your choice first Sweetie Belle.” The emerald core of Discord floated right before the filly. “What will you do with my spirit, my essence? Will you take it?”

“I-I,” she stuttered. No, he can't do that! He'll be gone if he he turns his spirit into crystal, won't he? I won't be able to talk to him ever again. He'll disappear, then he won't be able to teach me, or be my friend. “No! I don't want it! Take it back, Scoddri! I don't want you to leave.”

“And have you ever thought that might be what I want?” he asked in a strained voice. “Do you have any idea what it's like to be forced to stay still, to live motionless and held imprisoned, yet to be conscious of every passing second? To have your dreams erode from your mind over the years, to not have a single creature to talk to and no way to respond to them even if they had decided to talk? Do you know what it feels like to be alone for over a thousand years unable to sleep? I'm tired of it, Sweetie Belle. I ask only for your choice, I ask that you release me from this curse.”

“No, you're my friend, I don't want you to disappear!” she shouted back adamantly as tears formed in her eyes. At that moment she felt something, a tingling sensation upon her flank, but the thought quickly slipped away to the back of her mind. “Take your element back!” She grabbed the emerald with her magic and thrust it toward the statue.

Just as the two objects collided, a series of sparks shot out between the two. Tremors shook the statue as cracks began to form across it's surface and a wailing sound began to call out across the Sculpture Garden. In that same instant, the spell of petrification on Twilight grew wild and shattered.

The older unicorn didn't waste a moment. She charged toward the statue. “No, Discord!” she shouted as she cast out her own complicated weave of magic. “I'm not letting you come back! Equestria isn't your plaything!”

Sweetie Belle could only watch in awe as Twilight's own magic pattern intermingled with the chaotic mess of energy that was already coursing across the statue. With a defiant scream, and an explosion of light, Twilight wrenched the emerald stone away from statue.

Sweetie Belle saw the purple unicorn get tossed away by the burst of magic, and she herself was pushed a few feet backward, even as she braced herself against the wave of energy. But what caught her eye, a sight that would stay with her for the rest of her life, was at the very center of the eruption; the statue of Discord crumbled into pieces and was tossed away like a fine dust sown upon the breeze.

With a light thud, the stunned filly's eye was drawn to what remained of the emerald. Roughly half of the heart rolled to a stop right before her hooves. It looked empty to her eyes, with no trace of magic to be seen.

“Scoddri,” she whispered as her tear-filled eyes widened with shock. “Why?!” She then collapsed to her hooves in a fit of sobs. Her new cutie mark, a heart-shaped emerald, glistened in the sunlight of a nearly-cloudless summer's day, entirely forgotten in the wake of her sorrow.

End of Chapter 20

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End of Scion of Chaos


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Scion of Chaos – Epilogue

By: SilentBelle

She had that dream again. Five years had passed, and she still remembered that scene like it was yesterday. It kept repeating to her, as a reoccurring nightmare. She would see and hear it all: The emerald heart, the explosion, the shattering statue, and Twilight with her own magic, amidst it all.

That was the scene that had haunted her most: Twilight, as she strode forward against the light of the wild magic. She had worn a face of determination.

Sweetie Belle had hated the purple unicorn for what she had done, stopping Discord like that. She had sworn on the next day that she would never forgive the mare. However, she soon came to realize that she couldn't keep up such a grudge. It had started to drain her and had nearly cost her the friendship of her fellow crusaders.

Afterward, Sweetie Belle had come to a conclusion, after much brooding. She realized that it hadn't been Twilight's fault. No, the mare had acted as she had thought was best, and even now, Sweetie Belle was certain that the lavender unicorn would stand by her decision.

Sweetie Belle now knew who was truly responsible for the incident, it was her own fault. She had done nothing and watched it all. She hadn't tried hard enough to save him. With that thought firmly in her mind, the young filly had managed to form a shaky sort of peace with the older mare.

Sighing, Sweetie Belle opened her eyes to look up at the simple wooden ceiling of her room, and along with it, she saw the more intricate and beautiful magic that resided within the wood. The late-morning sunlight caught in her eye as she stared, a stray beam had managed to assault her through the open window. I should get up, she told herself as she pulled the covers tighter around her. Maybe in a minute.

She nearly drifted back to sleep, when a loud knocking came from the front door accompanied by a very familiar voice.

“Sweetie Belle, get up, or yer gonna be late fer Scootaloo's big day! Are ya sleepin' in again?!”

“Oh, geez! I forgot, we were supposed to meet an hour ago!” she shouted and jumped out of her bed, spilling the bedding upon the wooden floorboards haphazardly. Looking around the room, with a sense of panic, she frantically paced about, “Oh where is it, where is it?! Where did I put it?!” Then she spotted the small orange-wrapped box sticking out from beneath the litter of sheets on the floor with its purple lace holding it firmly in place. “Aha!” She picked up the present gracefully, using her magic.

With no more time time to spare, she darted out the door, with her gift in tow. Her hoof-falls faded away as she raced down the stairs and met up with Applebloom at the door. Their cheerful and excited exchange could barely be heard over the wind from the open window.

The room remained a mess, which was nothing new for the young mare, however there was one thing that was out of place. Upon her nightstand, her emerald pendant, roughly half-heart-shaped, lay there, forgotten in the spontaneity of the moment. Had anypony been present, they would have been able to see a light flickering from it's green depths slowly glowing brighter with every pulse, and perhaps they would hear the slightest of chuckles playing alongside the breeze.