The Young Filly and the Sea
Twilight Sparkle was bored.
Bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, bored, BORED!
She jerked her head up off the beach towel and snapped a look at where Shining Armor and her foalsitter, the nefarious Book-Stealing, Big Brother Borrowing Cadence were chatting, almost nose to nose on their own beach towel. Cadence waved back, a cheery wave of sun-baked joy on the sandy beach, still leaning up against the pile of books she had viciously stolen from their proper purple owner, just because Twilight had happened to let slip that she had planned on spending every single second of their vacation day at the beach reading.
Of course she had planned on meeting ponies while spending eight and three quarters hours out on the sandy beach of Baltimare. There were four and a half minutes scheduled with the ice cream vendor, and seven whole minutes set aside on her schedule for a picnic with Shining Armor and the fiend on the beach.
She had set aside exactly seven bits for a nice, healthy, daisy and daffodil sandwich for their time together, and even had written a few lines to say during lunch on a slip of paper inside Pennyworthington’s Prestidigitations for Powerful Ponies, which was just perfect light lunchtime reading.
She could have been out with mom and dad on the snorkeling boat, exploring the mysteries of the undersea world, if she had not tried so hard to prove that she was a big enough filly by snorkeling with them at the local pool. Stupid pool. What idiot makes a fractal pattern of cracks on the bottom of the pool so interesting that you lose track of time while examining it and forget to go to the surface to get a breath anyway? She was perfectly fine, and had only inhaled part of the pool. In fact, she had not been in any danger at all because Cadence had been right there watching and she had all of her lifesaving credentials and everything.
It was a stupid reason to keep her off the snorkeling boat. Stupid second honeymoon, ha!
Nopony could possibly miss a brightly colored beach towel laid out on a gleaming beach, particularly when it had her in the middle of it, but somehow a pony failed to travel around the clearly demarcated space and tripped over her, winding up buried head-first into the sand on the other side.
“Sorry,” came the muffled reply.
Twilight glared up at the rear end of a young colt around her age, who had his entire head stuck in the sand while his legs waved around in a futile attempt to free himself. Seeing nopony else rushing to help, she got a good grip on his tangled tail and pulled, eventually revealing the rest of the unicorn colt. While Twilight spat out sand, he shook himself off, scattering a large amount of sand out of the curls of his seafoam green coat and over the surrounding ponies, who expressed their displeasure with cross looks.
“Sorry about that. I’m pretty clumsy normally, and with this sand stuck everywhere…” He held up one somewhat large hoof and shook it, scattering more sand around the area.
“Yeah, I know how that is,” grumbled Twilight, picking up her towel with her teeth and giving it a shake. “Why don’t you just go into the water and rinse it out?”
“I’m not supposed to.” He lowered his head and looked out at the ocean waves, a ragged curl of brownish-green mane promptly flopping forward over his eyes.
“Me neither,” she grumbled, trying to find an untrampled part of the beach to put her towel back down. “I wish I had my books.”
“You have books?” The little colt fairly lit up, with both ears perked forward and a bright twinkle in his eyes. Even his tail appeared to be wagging. “Can I borrow one? Just for today. Dad wouldn’t let me bring any of mine.”
Twilight glowered in the direction of her brother and the traitor, both laughing in triumph as they leaned against her pile of books and rummaged around in the ice chest for some snacks. “I wish. My dad let me bring whatever books I really wanted, but my fillysitter took them away from me.” A clump of guilty sand nearby desperately needed punished, and she stomped it a few times to admonish it for its crimes. “She said it was too nice a day to waste reading books.”
“Oh.” Both of his ears drooped back down and he looked out towards the ocean. “Bummer.” As Twilight arranged her beach towel for proper sun exposure, the colt turned away and began to plod down the beach again, lighting his horn with a peculiar spell she had never seen before.
“Excuse me,” she called out. “I’ve been studying for my entrance exam to Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and I don’t remember seeing that spell in any of the Standard Grade One spellbooks, or the Grade Two through Six ones either. Did I miss one? Do you know the original source so I can look it up when I get home? Is it very difficult? Will it be on the test?” Her voice squeaked at the last word, and she slumped down a little at the aggravated looks from the other ponies around her on the beach.
“This spell?” He looked up at his horn in a little cross-eyed fashion, waving his head back and forth to make the silver glow leave a little trail behind it. Trotting back over to her so he would not have to yell over the other beach goers, he continued, “It’s nothing, really. It’s just my special talent.”
“Oh.” Twilight looked at his shaggy flank and brushed a chunk of sandy seaweed off his cutie mark. “Your special talent is finding sea shells?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a big collection of them at home. Everything from cones and conches all the way down to scallops and clams. I trade with other ponies and some ponies bring them as gifts because they know I like them so much. How about you? Do you collect anything?”
“Books,” she replied at once. “When I get my cutie mark, I bet it will have something to do with books. I’ve read books by every famous unicorn like ever, and know all kinds of spells. Except I can’t really cast many of them yet. My horn doesn’t know what its doing yet, and things get kind of explody when I try too hard.”
“I know what you mean.” Looking a little cross-eyed at his own horn, a delicate spiral of seafoam green that seemed a little pointier than ordinary horns, he lit it with a gentle push of his magic and waved it around while closing his eyes. “Dad won’t let me cast anything but my special spell when he’s not around. Well, other than light and levitation. They don’t count.”
He opened his eyes with a bright smile. “I found one. Come on!” Bounding away across the hot sand and leaving a trail of protesting ponies, the little colt dashed down the beach. It took a moment to decide between folding up her towel and leaving it, but when she caught up to the young colt digging in the sand in an open area, she was glad she had left it behind.
“Hey. I don’t even know your name.” She dodged a spray of flying sand as he briefly looked up from his excavation.
“Rex. But my friends call me Corny.”
“My name is—” Twilight spit to one side as a clump of sand showered over her and got in her open mouth. “Yuck. Just call me Sandy, I suppose. My brother calls me Twily.” She glowered at the distant white and pink shapes. “Traitor.”
“I like Sandy,” said Rex, digging down so far that only his tangled brownish tail still showed out of the hole, looking a little like a clump of old seaweed on top of a small hill. “Ha! Found it. Darn.” He backed out of the hole, holding a small glittering collection of blue gems the size of sand grains in his silver magical field.
“What are they?” asked Twilight, peering closely at the beautiful little blue flecks and holding out her hoof.
“Sapphirina copepods. They’re little crustaceans like crabs and lobsters.” He paused before continuing, “That means they’re sea-dwelling creatures who have an exoskeleton, like a little suit of armor around their body.”
“I know what the phylum crustacea is,” she responded with a frown. “They’re a subphylum of arthropods, distinguished by biramous limbs and the nauplius form of the larvae. Ha!” She stuck out her tongue, which turned out to be a bad idea as she then had to spit out more sand.
“But did you know that only the male of the species has this iridescent glitter,” he said, placing the little sparks of blue on her hoof. “Or that the largest these normally get is about this size, except for on very rare occasions when an underwater volcano stirs the Lightless Deep, and a very few of the giant, mega-huge varieties of this creature rise to the surface.”
“Do they come ashore and eat ponies?” she asked.
“Naa, they’re only about the size of your hoof, and they calcify into a solid lump within a day. But they’re beautiful beyond comparison, a perfect sapphire blue that catches the light and reflects it back from a million tiny facets. They’re called Sea Sapphires, and it is said that if any pony finds one, they will also find their heart’s desire.”
“That is soo… sappy.” Twilight tilted her hoof from side to side, watching the way Celestia’s sun reflected off the tiny crustaceans in sharp glints of light. “They’re pretty, though. Have you ever seen a Sea Sapphire?”
“Naaa.” Rex began shoving the sand back into the hole. “Dad says he found one right before he met mom, but she dropped it on a beach one day and they never found it again. He said it was a pretty darned good trade, but I bet if I found it, they’d both be so proud of me.”
“Wow. She lost it on this beach?” Twilight looked around at the hundreds of happy ponies enjoying the sun and the sand. “Seems highly improbable that we could find it before somepony else does.”
“No, she lost it a couple hundred miles that way.” One seafoam green hoof waved in an abstracted way as Rex used his magic to shove the last of the sand into the hole. “I was just looking here because that’s where I am right now.”
“That’s dumb.” Twilight tilted the hoof with the tiny crustaceans towards the sun and watched the glitter. “I mean you could always find another Sea Sapphire here, but the probability of finding one on the beach where your mother lost hers jumps dramatically.”
“But I’m here,” repeated Rex.
“Well…” Twilight prodded the reasoning behind his statement and could find no logical flaw other than a reduction of probability, which still put the possibility of finding a rare Sea Sapphire while looking for one much higher than the possibility if he did not look.
“True,” she admitted, “but your probability nearly doubles if you had somepony helping you search. And I’m bored. You could teach me the spell, and I could help.”
Now it was his turn to look doubtful. “Well, yeah. I suppose. I’ve never taught anypony a spell before. But I’ll try.”
In the end, it was more difficult than Twilight was willing to admit. They found a smooth patch of sand by a tidal pool and a stick, which Rex used to write out most of the spell in standard magical notation, but even after huffing and puffing enough to make sparks scatter across the sand around them, she just could not make the spell work.
“Stupid horn,” she grumbled, sitting down in the sand regardless of how it worked into her coat and made her itch.
“I think you’re trying too hard. It’s really not that difficult of a spell. It’s a lot like the metal detection spells used to find bits in the sand.”
She glared back at him. “I can do it, I just need to try again. Watch.” She closed her eyes and concentrated, feeling the sputter and pop of magic across her forehead. The spell was so close, she could almost feel it. Magic bent and twisted under her command, twisting into a form that it really did not like very much and it was protesting the abuse with a vengeance. There were so many different parts of the spell that if she concentrated on making one of them line up, the others would drift out of alignment, but after applying determined concentration, she could feel the sections organize like papers in a notebook, all in a row with a slight sideways pressure on her horn and a warmth on her nose.
Much like another nose would feel.
“There, I think you got it,” sounded Rex’s voice, from much closer than she expected. Nose length, in fact. “Does the spell let you see the little shells yet, Sandy?”
They were there, in fact, a realization that kept Twilight from yanking her head back in shock. Little blue specks of fire seemed to dance behind her closed eyelids, sitting on Rex’s back where he had put them after the initial discovery. “Yes,” she said, trying not to move her nose away from his. “I can see them.”
“Great. That was so much easier than when I learned this spell. It must have taken me a week. Now I’m going to modify the fourth integral a little so the spell can detect other things, such as cowrie shells and clams.”
It was distracting to feel his breath across her upper lip as they matched their horn vibrations, but it resulted in a much more efficient way to show the variations inside the spell. She did open one eye briefly to peer into the distance at the white and pink blur of her brother and the book-thief to make sure neither of them were misinterpreting the simple learning procedure as something more — ick! — lovey-dovy.
Once he had walked her through a few of the easier permutations of the spell, she cleared her throat and asked, “That’s very… neat, Rex. Can you show me how to use it to detect bits? Because I wanted to buy you ice cream to say thanks, but I only withdrew enough bits for myself from my savings, and using magic always makes me so hungry.” A stentorian counterpoint to her statement was promptly growled out by her stomach, and Twilight stumbled backwards in embarrassment. “Sorry.”
The young colt was grinning when Twilight opened her eyes, and he dug into his sidesaddle to get out a wrapped package. “I can share mom’s kelp and cucumber sandwiches with you. Um. If you like sand, that is.” He turned the lumpy sandwich upside down and let the sand run out of the loose wrappings.
“Then again, maybe we can look for bits in the sand too.”
Hunger proved to be an excellent motivator for magical achievement, although they were only able to find two bits in the sand with his spell. Puppy-dog eyes worked much better when the two of them went by Shining Armor and Cadence to wheedle a few extra bits for a healthy sand-free salad to go with their carrot dogs. But neither of the two older ponies would give up the books, and almost did not look up from their own nose-to-nose whispering that Twilight was positive did not involve something productive such as learning new spells.
After lunch, they found it was more fun to play with the variations on the spell to see what it would detect than to actually use it on what was rapidly becoming a fruitless search for a mythical shell. Bottlecaps turned out to detect nearly the same as bits, and pull-tops from cans wound up being almost totally indistinguishable from gold rings. They even found a number of the old ring-type tabs from really old cans, and celebrated their dozen-th aluminum ring with a banana split, split two ways, of course, from the ten bits they got for finding and returning a lost watch while they were building a sand castle.
The architectural basis for sand-supported structures proved enlightening, although their structure never got more than a story or two high before a careless frisbie or some beach volleyball group would interrupt their construction. It was fun, but after some introspection, they decided it really was not as productive a task as they wanted to do at the moment.
Besides, the tide came in enough while they were eating their banana split that the foundations had washed out and several of the towers were in such bad shape that an insurance adjuster would have called them a total loss.
Giving up on architecture and engineering, they shifted their educational foray into biology, or to be more accurate, marine biology. A low and rocky section of the beach with fewer sunbathers was discovered to be the hiding spot for a tidal pool, filled with starfish, crabs and colorful minnows. They made a game of identifying them by genus and species before releasing them back into the pool for when the upcoming high tide would sweep them all into the ocean. It was deeply discouraging not having reference books to identify just which type of minnow had two yellow stripes or three, but scientific accuracy was somewhat assisted by the sheer number of little creatures that Rex could identify.
He even helped her collect a cross-section of the beach shells, all carefully examined to make sure their previous residents had voluntarily vacated the premises and no new ones had moved in. They sorted them several times by taxonomy, and size, and rarity, and finally by the probability that her mom and dad would let her drag them onto the train and back home, laying out on the hot sand as the sun sank down to the horizon and trying to get just the perfect selection wrapped up in her beach towel for transport back to Canterlot.
Rex did not seem to know the proper procedure for maximizing the total transported yield of vacation items, so as they packed the towel and wrapped her collection up, she showed him how to put the most perfect and psychologically attractive shell at the very top, where it could be removed for parental inspection and approval. The rest of the lumpy towel was neatly tied up with a piece of string they had found on the beach using multiple tight little knots to separate the shells, making them almost impossible to be untied until she was home. They were just putting the last few knots in when they noticed the sun touching the horizon and the increase in traffic on the beach. Umbrellas were being folded, towels rolled up, and little foals gathered together as the rest of the beach goers finished packing up their things and started joining the herd trotting towards the train station.
“Twi-ly!” sounded a soft tenor voice from the direction of the train station, combined with a gentle alto that also called, “Did you want to pick out a book to read on the way home?”
“Drat,” said Twilight, struggling with a last knot. “I wanted to see if we could take home a hermit crab too, and it’s getting too late to pick one out.”
Rex shook his head while helping with the knot. “They probably wouldn’t like it in Canterlot, Sandy. They’re ocean creatures, and Canterlot is up on that tall, dry mountain.”
The explanation of how, with proper spells, a humidity level and temperature-controlled environment could be set to allow hermit crabs to thrive in her bedroom aquarium had just gotten into full swing when Rex twitched at the sound of a deep baritone voice calling out from the other direction, “Corn-neigh! Time to go home!”
“Drat too. I better get going. Dad has a tight schedule.” Rex looked out across the ocean at the long shadows that the sun was casting from behind them and sighed. “I wish we could come back here tomorrow. This was fun, even without any books.”
“Yeah,” agreed Twilight. “My family doesn’t get out to the beach very often, and I’m glad I got to spend today with you instead of just reading books. Although books would have been fun too. We could have shared.”
“Twi-ley!” called out the distant voice of Shining Armor again. “You need to hurry or we’ll be late to the train.”
“Ohmygosh! Help me with the towel!” Twilight heaved one end of the heavy shell-laden towel over her shoulder while Rex caught the other end and pulled, settling the heavy load in the middle of her back for proper weight distribution during transit. She turned to say one last thing before leaving, catching him right across the horn with hers as their heads collided and noses banged together.
She froze in place, feeling his breath across her tender muzzle while looking into his deep blue eyes. “Um.”
“Uh.” The sound of his father’s voice calling out again seemed to make up Rex’s mind, and he leaned forward slightly to give her a brief kiss on the nose. “Sorry about that.”
“That’s okay.” Something came over her, and she leaned forward just a little to return the kiss across the top of his nose, and then spit out the sand that got between her teeth.
“I’ll see you later then, Sandy.” With a broad grin, the little colt kicked up his heels and went running across the sand in the opposite direction, while Twilight began jogging back towards her family and the train back to Canterlot.