Twilight's Odyssey

by DemPonies

First published

In an Equestria without Princess Celestia, Twilight Sparkle gets lost in a crowd during the Summer Sun Celebration. Unbeknownst to her, she will set a series of events into motion that will change the fates of both the nation and her life, forever.

In an Equestria where Discord never was, and the Pony Princesses never came to power, a young Twilight Sparkle loses her family in a crowd during the Summer Sun Celebration. Little does she know that her very existence is about to set a series of events into motion that will take her far beyond the borders of Equestria itself—and change the fates of both her nation and her life, forever.

Chapter 1: Summer Sun

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✶✶✶ Odyssey

An MLP:FiM Fanfic by DemPonies

Chapter One:

Summer Sun.

"Hey, BB! BB!" Twilight Sparkle shouted in her brother's ears. She stood on his shoulders, one forehoof wrapped in his blue mane, the other pointing forward. "Look." It was early morning. Lantern and torch light reflected in her eyes.

"Ouch, Twily, not so loud," said Shining Armor. "Look at what?"

Twilight leaned closer to his left ear and dropped her voice to an excited whisper. "They're drinking!"

"So who's still with me?" called a cyan-coated stallion only a few years older than Shining. His friends—or perhaps rivals—all cheered and raised mugs of cider, crashing them together and hooting with laughter as suds spilled down the sides.

"That they are," said Shining. He shook his head and kept walking. Twilight dropped her free hoof back to his neck and held on tight so she wouldn't fall.

"Well, I am certainly glad you haven't taken up that sort of behaviour," their mother said, her muzzle crunched. She slightly raised her sight. "And you better not absorb any of this, Twilight!"

"Try not to be so preachy, honey," Twilight's father added. "It's a celebration, after all. Besides, we two wouldn't have met if it hadn't been for—"

"Not in front of the children," their mother hissed.

His wife's reaction only served to widen his sidelong grin, but he obliged her nonetheless.

Twilight's family continued its walk through the crowded streets of Canterlot. Strings of colored pennants criss-crossed the night sky and every shop and building flew the white and purple flag of Unicornia, for that dawn would mark the fifteen-hundredth Summer Sun Celebration since the founding of Equestria.

"Look over there, Twily," Shining said, his gaze set on a giant citadel in the distance, resting beneath the shadow of Canterlot Mountain.

"That's the Royal Castle, I know," Twilight replied in a deadpan manner. "I see it pretty much all the time."

Though it does look kinda different today, she thought to herself. The flags flew higher than usual, and a giant banner depicting the royal family's coat-of-arms—the profile view of a unicorn's head of the nation's colour scheme against an indigo background adorned with yellow diamonds—decorated the front of the stone castle.

"There's where the Princess will begin the ceremony to raise the sun later," her brother continued. "Are you excited?"


"I'm glad you are," her father said. "It'd be a shame if you missed such a historic event." The ceremony was a matter of pride for Twilight's parents. They were both moon-movers—ponies who helped to move the moon across the sky every night—and they were adamant to help their sun-mover colleagues. "Besides, it's about time you took part. Raising the celestial bodies is a big part of unicorn culture, and it brings appreciation to those who do it every dusk and dawn!"

"And you accuse me of pulling lectures," her mother quietly retorted.

Twilight managed a forced smile in return. On her part, she wasn't sure if she was ready yet. She sometimes used her magic to get a hold of a good book her parents had purposely put on the higher shelves, or to sneak a cookie from out of the jar. The difference between lifting a sweet and a celestial body, however, was quite profound.

What if I mess it up somehow!?

She sternly pushed the thought of the ceremony away from her mind. Instead, Twilight tried to enjoy the many wondrous things she spied from her brother's back, her head swaying frantically to and fro so as to not miss any of them.

Other than the Princess's castle, she saw the tops of big amusement rides sticking up from above the rooftops. Fillies and colts screamed from the top of their lungs as they rode the fast-paced carousels, and young mares and stallion rode the Ferris wheel against the star-filled night sky.

A mishmash of different groups of ponies walked beside Twilight and her family. Among them, she spotted nobles in fancy clothes, walking with their muzzles high up in the air, a safe distance away from anypony else, and the group of drinking stallions, who had begun to walk unsteadily since last time.

The street teemed with tourists, some of them from the other tribes. They flocked either around the groups of performers—mares who could bend their bodies in incredible manners, stallions who spat fire from their mouths, and ponies who otherwise displayed mastery over the equine body—or the stands. They stood everywhere around them, most selling trinkets and novelties like small figurines of cheap metal or home-made cloths with various sun-motifs, whose proprietors shouted loudly at them as they passed by.

"Come and buy!"

"The best wares in all of Canterlot!"

"You there! You look like a mare with a refined taste!"

Their calls muddled with the much more pleasant sounds of exotic instruments, everything from the lyre to the harmonica, played by various street musicians and accompanied by the beautiful singing voices of a unicorn choir.

Twilight admired all the sights around her for a good while before Shining suddenly stopped. "Hey, Twily," he said, panting. "Would you mind walking for a while? You're getting rather heavy."

"Aww," she complained, but she clambered down anyway, sliding down to the dusty road with a small grunt.

"That's it, Shining?" their father asked, chuckling. "If you can't even carry your own sister, how well will you fare in—"

Shining shot him a glance that promptly made him squelch. Her brother, his eyes firmly set at their father's, made a subtle nod in her direction.

What was that about?

Before Twilight had a chance to ponder it further, her stomach loudly rumbled as an enticing smell reached her nostrils. It smelt of newly baked pastries, sugary treats, and other goodies. Her legs moved by themselves as Twilight sniffed her way past several groups of ponies to the source of the mouth-watering aroma. While Twilight stopped a few times to pick up the scent, she took the opportunity to look back at her family. They were in the middle of a discussion, all three of them speaking in hushed voices.

She eventually reached her destination, a stand filled to the brim with freshly made apple pies, roasted almonds, cotton candy, and more sorts of sweets than Twilight could possibly name. As she leaned over to inhale some of its fragrance, her stomach growled louder than ever before.

Twilight turned around and trotted to the place where she had left her family to ask her parents for some bits to spend. She was confused to find it devoid of any of her family members.

Strange. I could swear this is where I left them...

She looked around, trying to catch a glimpse of her family. When she found none, her heart started to pound. Twilight ran to every place nearby she thought they might be: the street they'd walked up from, the performers, and the stands.

"Mom? Dad? Shining!"

No response. Twilight felt a lump in her throat, and she soon began to sob.

She then determinedly shook her head. No, Twilight! she told herself. This is not how you solve a problem. You just... have to stay calm and rational. You've been out alone before; just last week you went out and bought groceries by yourself. Finding Mom and Dad can't be too hard if you just take it one step at a time, right? You—I can do this! Yeah!

Slowly, Twilight regained control of both her posture and breathing, and before long her eyes started to dry again.

With newfound confidence, she set out to find some other way to get a hold of her family. Systematically scanning for some source of help, she found a pile of abandoned shipping crates standing a short distance from one of the stands.

Perfect, she thought.

Twilight climbed up all the way unto the topmost crate. Her zeal faltered somewhat when, even with her raised view, she still couldn't find any trace of her missing family.

Okay, that's slightly disconcerting—but no matter! I'll just have to shift priorities a bit.

Instead of looking for her family directly, she began to search for other places that stood out. Places her parents might have gone to, or where she could get some help finding them.

A way down the road from which she had come, Twilight spied a small crimson tent standing on the side of the street. What interested her wasn't the tent so much as the sign next to it. It had a picture of an almost perfectly round eye with an unusually large iris in the middle, as if it were spying for something, or somepony.

Maybe there’s some sort of look-out service inside? Twilight mused. Well, it's a long shot, but I've got to try.

She jumped down from the shipping crate and walked towards the tent, pushing through waves of adult unicorns passing in the opposite direction.

The tent was made out of a thick fabric. Twilight tried to peek inside, but a curtain hanging at the entrance prevented her from doing so inconspicuously. However, she noticed golden letters sewn into the fabric above the entrance, which read, "The Magnificent Seer Madame Mirage".

Strange, this doesn't seem like a look-out at all...

At that moment, a unicorn filly about Twilight's age with an azure coat and a light blue mane stepped out through the curtain, gave Twilight a salesmare-like smile and asked, "Can Trixie help you?"

"Um, maybe. I was actually looking for somepony—"

Twilight began to get quick nods from Trixie. "Yes, yes, you have come to the right place. Let the Magnificent Madame Mirage help you find the answers you're looking for!" she cried out while striking a pose, standing on her hind legs with her front hooves high up in the air. Trixie then shoved Twilight into the tent before she had a chance to protest.

It was completely dark inside, and Twilight's eyes took a moment to adjust as she stumbled around blindly inside the—in stark contrast to all the commotion outside—eerily silent tent.

Wow, the fabric must have been much thicker than I thought... or there's some sort of nifty magic going on in here.

The hair on the back of her neck stood on end as a stroke of goose bumps slithered down her spine.

"Hello... Anypony there?" she whispered.

Twilight stood still for a minute, waiting for something to happen. She thought nothing would, but as soon as she lifted a hoof to turn around and leave, a pair of candles suddenly lit up on a table in front of her. Two chairs were set on either side of it. The far chair was occupied by a grown mare, who looked very much like the filly outside but clad in a purple, star-ornamented robe and a long, pointy hat of the same color.

"How may the Magnificent Madame Mirage assist you, dear?" she asked. Her voice was smooth and hypnotic, her tone affable but with a hint of underlying roguery. She smirked as the light from the candles danced across her face.

Twilight gulped. She tentatively approached the table, one step at a time. Once there, Twilight took the liberty of seating herself on the vacant chair and said, as politely as she knew how: "Actually, um, Miss Mirage, I'm looking for my parents..."

"An orphan, hmm? Most unusual, but the Magnificent Madame Mirage gets all sorts of customers. Now look into the crystal ball, and we shall see what it tells us." She levitated a crystal ball, which she had apparently kept behind her back the entire time, over to Twilight. Almost instinctively, she looked into the transparent sphere.

It slowly began to radiate with a bright light that grew stronger the longer she looked into it, until it started to hurt her eyes. She tried to look away, but despite her efforts, Twilight's gaze was inexplicably drawn to the source of the light. It engulfed her vision, and soon the entire tent and its contents had disappeared into the white, including Madame Mirage and her crystal ball.

In their place, images of ponies and other creatures Twilight didn't know flashed rapidly before her eyes.

...Twilight stood in a spacious chamber of stone before a dauntingly tall wooden platform. Situated on top were four important-looking unicorns, two mares and two stallions about her parents' age, all clad in very formal attire. They each looked at her with expressions ranging from disinterest to impatience. "Well, Miss Sparkle?” one of the mares asked...

...Inside the protective lee of a cave, Twilight stood face to face with a pair of young mares, barely old enough to be called such. One was a rainbow-maned pegasus with a deep blue coat, wearing phalanx armor in typical fashion of the pegasi military. The other was an earth pony with an orange coat and, of all things, a Stetson hat on her head. Both smiled warmly at her...

...In the dark of night, in a clearing in the woods, Twilight sat by a crackling campfire, warming herself. On the other side of the fire lay a male creature with the body of a lion and the talons, wings, and head of an eagle. With cold, squinted eyes, he scrutinized her from bottom to top. When their eyes met, he let out a horrified gasp...

...Twilight lay down on her back, strapped to some contraption, as an elderly stallion with a coat with black and white stripes, a ring of iron hanging from his left ear, and the skull of a dead animal as a mask, loomed menacingly over her. He smiled widely at her with a bone saw clenched between his teeth...

...Below a clear blue sky, Twilight stood in a field of smokeless fire—

"There you are, Twily!" a familiar voice shouted, interrupting her trance. The white blur that previously filled Twilight's vision dissipated, and the tent's ordinary features suddenly returned before her eyes. The swift transition left Twilight disoriented, and she immediately started to rub her now-aching head.

What just happened?

She turned towards the voice, only to see Shining Armor standing behind her with a disapproving frown on his face.

"Where have you been!? You know better than to run off like that!" he berated her. "Don't you realize we were worried about you?"

"I'm sorry," Twilight hurriedly responded. "I lost you, and then I went to find help!"

"In a fortune-teller's tent?" Shining asked, with narrowed eyes, before he turned to Madame Mirage. "I'm sorry for any inconvenience my sister has caused. Please tell us what we owe you."

"It was no problem, young colt, and you owe us nothing," Mirage said in return.

"What do you mean we owe you nothing; surely we must compensate you for your time?" Shining asked again.

"Yeah, Mom, what do you mean they owe us nothing?" repeated Trixie, who had left her post outside and now stood next to Twilight's brother inside the tent.

"Hush, Trixie!" the seer told her daughter before she again turned to Shining. "Like I said, it was no problem. And don't be too harsh on her; she did tell me she was looking for her parents when she came in. All I ask," she said, as she fixed her eyes upon Twilight, "is that you remember us, Twilight Sparkle."

That's funny, Twilight thought, I don't remember telling her my name.

While she tried to think of a time she might have introduced herself, Shining replied, "Well, we will certainly recommend you to our friends here at the celebration. Thank you for keeping an eye on Twilight." He promptly took his sister under his shoulder and led her out of Madame Mirage's tent.

Once outside, Shining, still holding her by her shoulders, asked, "You alright, Twily?" His eyes glistened with brotherly concern.

"I'm fine," she responded dismissively. "I'm just sorry I lost track of you..."

Reassured, Shining released his hold of her and said, "Well, you had me—and Mom and Dad—worried there for a while. But you're okay, and that's all that matters."

Twilight's face broke out in a smile and she felt infinitely grateful for her brother's protection.

"How did you find me anyway?" she asked, following Shining away from the tent.

"A simple localization spell. Still, it took some time to pinpoint your exact location."

"Oh, I see." Twilight looked around. "Where's Mom and Dad, by the way?"

"They told me to pick you up and meet them by the castle. The Princess will begin the ceremony soon. We might make it in time, if we hurry." He picked up the pace.

Twilight struggled to keep up with Shining's march. With effort, she ran up next to him. "I'm sorry," she said again.

"Don't beat yourself up, Twily," he consoled her. "We should have kept a better eye on you, but we were... preoccupied."

As he slowed down a bit, Twilight saw her brother smile warmly at her and she felt herself suddenly perk up a bit. "Yeah, what were you three talking about anyway? You acted really weird."

The smile on Shining Armor's face suddenly disappeared. "About that... there's something I've been meaning to tell you, Twilight," he said, looking down at his hooves as he kept walking.

Uh oh, she thought. I don't like the sound of this. The last time he called me Twilight was when my goldfish died. Besides, has the phrase 'there's something I've been meaning to tell you' ever been a part of a fun conversation?

"I have some good and some bad news," he went on.

"Okay... what's the good news?"

"The good news is that I was accepted into Saddle Point! The letter came a few days ago. You're now looking at an official recruit of the Unicornian army and, hopefully, a future Royal Guard," he said, holding his head up high and sticking his chest out.

Twilight already had an idea of what the bad news would be. Saddle Point was the top military academy in Unicornia and, barring a few pegasi training grounds, probably the best in Equestria. Shining Armor had trained hard and waited a long time to get accepted. Twilight knew she should be happy for her brother, and she was, but she also felt sad, and a little bit hurt, that her brother would be leaving them—would be leaving her—to begin a full-time military life, his lifelong dream.

That doesn't make me a bad pony, does it?

"C-congratulations!" she ultimately stuttered.

"Thanks, Twily!" Shining said with a big, proud smile, something immediately exchanged for a much more serious look. "The bad news is that, once I'm there, I won't have any extensive leave for two years—"

"Two years!" Twilight blurted out.

"It's standard procedure!" her brother hastily said. "I don't make the rules!"

"B-but... that's such a long time!"

"Two years isn't that much time! It'll pass quickly, and I'll write to you all the time!" he assured her.

Twilight, still walking, hung her head low. If not for her previous tantrum when she lost hold of her family, Twilight would have broken down right there. Instead, she just whispered, "It won't be the same."

That instant, Shining Armor ran past his sister and blocked her path, forcing Twilight to look up at him. "Listen to me, Twily! You're my little sister, and you always will be! That fact will never change! It doesn't matter how much distance stands between us, or how much time passes. Yes, it might be years, but the bond we share won't be tarnished by something as trivial as time." He spoke with such determination that Twilight had to believe it. She steeled herself, tensing her body to refute his words.

"Okay?" he asked in both an insistent and pleading tone, something Twilight had previously thought impossible.

A deadlock ensued; the two siblings’ eyes staring straight at each other in a battle of wills, neither of them willing to yield. Eventually though, Twilight’s look softened under the gaze of her beloved big brother.

"Okay," she finally assented, with a meekly heartened smile on her face.

"Good.” Shining returned her smile. “I won't be going for a while yet, so there's no need to think about that now. Besides"—he ruffled her mane—"I promise you lots of presents when I get back."

Twilight couldn't help but giggle. "Books?"

He nodded, an expression of relief on his face. "Whatever you want, Twily." With the heavy tension defused, her brother moved aside. "Now, let's keep on going. We have to make haste if we want to catch up with Mom and Dad.”

Twilight wordlessly agreed and followed Shining as he took the lead in their resumed walk to the castle, the structure slowly growing in size as they approached.

Unsurprisingly, Twilight and her brother weren't the only ones about to see the Princess. The entire city seemed to be gravitating towards the castle, the giant unicorn banner specifically, and they followed the flow of the crowds all the way to the castle courtyard beneath.

In the courtyard, their parents caught sight of them as they drew near. Twilight's mother hugged her tightly and then, still holding her in a firm grip, rocked her back and forth.

"Thank goodness you're all right," she said. "Please don't worry your father and me like that again!"

"I'm sorry," Twilight said, still locked in her mother's grasp. "I just sort of lost track of you, and then I couldn't find you again."

"Well, in that case, it's a good thing your brother found you. Good job, son," her father said, as he gave an appreciative nod in Shining's direction. "Where did you find Twily, anyway?"

"In a fortune-teller's tent, of all things," he responded.

"A fortune teller's tent, eh?" He chuckled merrily and shot Twilight, who was now free from her mother's embrace, a humored smile. "I didn't take you for the sort to enjoy that kind of coarse entertainment," he said with feigned accusation.

Twilight never got a chance to respond, for at that moment, a trumpet fanfare announced the arrival of the Princess. Everypony in the courtyard fell silent and turned their gazes towards the source of the sound, a highly situated balcony protruding out from above the massive unicorn banner.

At a dignified pace, out walked a tall unicorn mare with delicate features, a perfectly-kept, snow white coat, and a curled purple mane. She wore the royal mantle across her back and the Platinum Crown on her head, resting behind her horn.

Despite never having seen her before, Twilight instantly recognized her as Princess Guinemare Platinum.

The Princess, accompanied by a pair of Royal Guards, walked out to the ridge of the balcony overlooking her subjects. With a graceful voice befitting royalty, she addressed the crowd. "My dear subjects and fellow unicorns, it is my great honor to officially open the fifteen-hundredth Summer Sun Celebration, a tradition dating back to the founding of not just Unicornia, but of all of Equestria. This day, the longest day of the year, we unicorns come together under our sacred duty to bring forth the sun every morning.

"The celebration is an occasion of remembrance and pride, now more than ever before. I am proud to be your monarch and must say that in the past fifteen centuries, not once has our tribe failed to uphold its promise. Not once have we faltered in our responsibilities. Nopony can say that unicorns lack diligence!"

Loud cheers, applause, and whistles broke out across the castle grounds. Everypony, including Twilight Sparkle and her family, broke into jubilance.

The Princess did her best to finish her speech over the roaring masses. "We gathered here in the castle courtyards will be the first to raise the sun this morning. Know that as you do so, others across Equestria will help you. Now, I won't keep you from the festivities for more than necessary, so arise sun! Grace us with your light!" she exclaimed as her horn started to glow. All the other unicorns present quickly followed the Princess's example, and soon the entire courtyard lit up with a rainbow-colored light.

Blinded by the flash, Twilight almost forgot to fire up her own magic. After a short moment of hesitation, she gathered her magical energies and, with some effort, lit her own horn up, trying to keep up with the adult unicorns.

Well, here goes nothing, she thought as she prepared to combine her magic with that of the rest.

The instant she did so, the collective flow of the magic radiating from all the unicorns in Equestria gripped her, and she lost herself in the stream. It was like the current of a river. She became one with the whole, an indistinguishable part to an infinite mass, all working together for a single purpose. She felt giant and small, strong and weak at the same time.

The maelstrom she had become part of suddenly compressed, as it began to concentrate and reach for the sun. From a flow the size of an ocean, the magic thinned and stretched until it was a single beam the breadth of a needle, finally catching the sun, and slowly causing it to rise.

It felt impossibly heavy yet, with the added support of everypony around her, it almost seemed to move on its own.

As the sun gradually made its way over the horizon, Twilight found that the magic colored her vision. The sun glowed with the same spectral light that had blinded her before, and for the longest time, Twilight stood dumbstruck staring at the sheer beauty of it.

The deafening sound of applause snapped Twilight back to reality. The crowd had begun to recover from the ordeal and now cheered, stomping their hooves against the ground. Meanwhile, Twilight tried to shake off the confusing thoughts and emotions that still stormed within her. She couldn't fathom how her magic, the same thing that allowed her to lift her doll, Smarty Pants, to her bedside, could be used in the same way she had just experienced.

Nevertheless, she felt that something had awakened inside of her, a drive Twilight didn't know she had.

I have to find out more about this, she thought. This has to be investigated!

Chapter 2: Examination

View Online

✶✶✶ Odyssey

An MLP:FiM Fanfic by DemPonies

Chapter Two:


As soon as Twilight and her family came home from the activities of the Summer Sun Celebration, she scurried into her parents' library, bent on reading any material she could find about what she had just experienced. Only a bit of light reading confirmed her suspicion as to what that amazing feeling, that awesome power that had surged through her had been: magic.

Her curiosity piqued, she read about all sorts of amazing things unicorns could do if they took the time to learn: healing the sick, transforming objects, or even teleportation—the true mark of a master magician. The sheer scope and variety of things that could be done with it baffled her.

Mesmerized, Twilight's light reading quickly devolved into heavy reading, which promptly turned into many late nights of studying. Without giving it a second thought, she spent every waking second over the next few weeks learning everything she could about magic.

It wasn't long until she wanted to try some of the tricks she had read about herself. What she soon found out was that magic was hard. Anything more advanced than the simplest act of levitation took a lot of concentration and effort. That didn't discourage her in the slightest, however. If anything, it made her even more determined to learn.

Eventually, she did manage to master a few spells by herself, like an illumination spell, and even the “instill-silence” spell, both of which became very useful in her reading. In a short amount of time, Twilight exhausted her parents' collection of anything useful and soon found her way to the local library. Before long, her room was filled to the brim with borrowed books of various sorts about magic. At that point, her parents couldn't help but take notice of her newfound interest.

One evening, during one of Twilight's usual study sessions, she heard a loud knock coming from her door. Lying on the bedroom floor, engrossed in a very interesting book, she absentmindedly responded, "Come in."

The door creaked from behind her, and a greeting from her father followed shortly thereafter. "Hello, Twily! May we come in?"

"Dad? Mom?"

Twilight stood up and turned around to see both her parents standing by the doorway.

"What are you doing here? Shouldn't you be on your way to work by now?" she asked, arching a single eyebrow, before it struck her that that might have been a bit rude. "N-not that I'm complaining or anything!"

Her parents didn't seem to take offence, however, as their expressions remained reserved. Neither of them responded to her question. Instead, they both shared a sidelong glance, each waiting for the other to start.

"Well, your father and I just wanted to talk to you about something before we left," her mother finally replied, before giving her father a pleading look.

"Yes," he said, rubbing the back of his neck with his hoof. "Shining tells us that you've been reading a lot recently..." A drawn out pause started as he awaited a response.

"I always read a lot, Dad," Twilight said, as if stating the most obvious thing in the world.

"Yes, well," he said, chuckling, "would it be fair to say that your reading has taken up a more... specific subject?"

She nodded. "Mhmm. I've been reading about magic. Right now, I'm reading a book called Mnemonic Magic. It's really fascinating! It's about how you can learn spells by—"

"That's actually what we wanted to talk to you about," her mother said sweetly.

Bemused, Twilight slanted her head to the side. "You came here to talk about magic?"

"Yes. I mean no, not exactly." Her mother looked to the side, a little past Twilight. "Your brother came with the suggestion that... and we discussed... and, well, maybe it's best if you read it yourself."

On cue, her father levitated a piece of paper over to Twilight.

Her eyes grew wider, and a smile slowly spread across her face as she read the title: "Application to the Royal Academy of Magical Arts and Studies".

"You don't have to decide right away," her mother hurried to clarify. "We still have a week to cancel the application, so if you want to think about it—"

"Yes!" Twilight burst out, startling both of her parents. She began to happily skip around the room, knocking over a few piles of books along the way. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

"So, yes, you want to think about it, or..."

"I'm pretty sure that's a 'yes, she wants to go', honey," her father told his wife, before being forcefully embraced by his ecstatic daughter.

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she said in rapid succession.

"You're quite welcome, Twily," he replied, gently patting her head. "It was actually your brother's idea. Don't forget to thank him too, the next time you see him."

"I won't," Twilight promised as she let go of her father.

"Well, I suppose that settles it then," her mother said with a light sigh and drooped head. Her voice sounded dejected, as if some final, irreversible threshold had been passed. "We should probably head for work now. Don't wait up, we'll be home by morning." She kissed Twilight on the forehead and headed for the door. "We'll discuss the details of the application later."

"Goodnight, Twily! Try not to stay up reading for too long," her father said before following his wife out the door.

After her parents left, Twilight quickly reached for the pamphlet they had left behind and read it out loud.

"Dear Twilight Sparkle, thank you for your interest in joining the Royal Academy of Magical Arts and Studies—the most prestigious school for magic in the world. We are happy to inform you that you've met our qualifications for a potential place at our institution. In the event that you wish to withdraw your application, you have until the blah, blah, blah..."

She skimmed through the document and jumped to the parts that caught her interest the most.

" room and board... classes five days a week with some of the most talented magicians alive!... access to the Royal Library!"—her heart skipped a beat there—"an entrance exam... visit to the—"

Wait a minute!

She jumped back a few lines to read a particular section again. "Every applicant has to pass an entrance examination, including both a written and practical test, displaying his or her ability to perform magic to a sufficient degree..."

I have to pass an entrance exam?!


"Twily, you've got to settle down!"

With Shining's hooves and what felt like a spinning head on her shoulders, she jerked her head up and down a few times in an effort to nod.

"I'm calm..." she said, trying to meet at least one of her brother's three pairs of eyes.

With one arched eyebrow, he eyed her up and down, scrutinizing her. "You sure?" he asked.

Twilight gave her best impression of a nod again.

Shining gave her a long, hard look. "Okay..." he finally said, slowly releasing his hold.

Once free, she shook her head vehemently, hoping it would make the world stop spinning. The results were lukewarm. After a few more moments, the effects began to slowly wear off and, with new focus, Twilight turned to her brother.

"What was that for!?" she growled.

Shining jumped slightly in surprise, but quickly recovered. With lowered eyebrows and tensed forelegs, he stared down at her. "Well, what was I supposed to do?" he asked, sharply. "You, storming down the stairs, screaming like a madpony. What choice did I have but to shake some sense into you?"

Twilight kept glaring at him, not offering a response.

Shining's stance relaxed a bit. He snorted, and asked, "What had you so upset anyway? I think I heard something about an 'errant's extermination'?"

Still on edge, she said, "What I said was that I had to do an entrance examination!"

Shining cringed. "What are you talking about?" he asked, tapping the side of his head with his hoof.

"I'm talking about this," she said, levitating a piece of paper over to him. He promptly grabbed it with his own magic and quickly skimmed through it.

"I don't understand,” he said, his ears drooped. “I thought you would be happy to study magic?" His voice sounded strange in her ears, carrying both surprise and a sense of dejection.

This time, Twilight shook her head. "No, that's not it," she said. "I would love to study magic at the Academy!"

Shining breathed a silent sigh of relief.

"It's just... it's just..." Twilight hesitated to say it out loud, afraid that she would jinx it if she did.

Her brother took the hint, however. "It's just that you're nervous about the entrance examination."

Twilight nodded, gulped, and said, "What if I f-fail?"

"I doubt that will happen, Twily," he said, "but it won't be the end of the world if it does." Shining snickered. "What do you have to worry about, anyway? Aren't you the filly whose teacher constantly gave her the same tests as the foals three years above her before she began homeschooling?"

Twilight shot her brother an annoyed look, her eyes squinted. "That's not the point!" she said, stomping her right hoof against the floor. "Besides, it's not the written exam I'm worried about."

"So, it's the practical test then?"

Twilight nodded again. "I’ve only been studying magic for a few weeks now. I'm not ready to stand in front of a group and be graded yet."

"Don't you worry, sis." Shining placed a gentle hoof on her shoulder. "According to the pamphlet, you've still got two more weeks before the exam," he said, glancing at the still-floating piece of paper.

"Just... t-two weeks," she repeated, with a single upraised, twitching eye and a slightly slackened jaw.

"A lot can be done in two weeks," Shining was quick to assure her. Twilight, however, kept staring blankly into the air.

"Tell you what, Twily," he said. "How about I, over the next few weeks, teach you some spells that might come in handy?"

Eyes widened, Twilight gasped, her trance swept away. "Really!? You mean it?" she asked gleefully.


"Even your barrier spells?" Her eyes lit up with excitement at the prospect of learning her brother's trade.

"I'm not sure, Twily..." he said, a hesitant frown on his face. "That's pretty advanced magic."

"Please!" Twilight begged, her head tilted down, lower lip pouting, and with her glistening, wide eyes gazing up at him.

Shining bit his lower lip and looked to the side, obviously unsure what to do. "Tell you what," he finally said. "How about this: after you've studied a bit in the Academy, I'll teach you how to form barriers during my next leave. In the meantime, I'll help you pass your exam."


"I promise," he said, holding his hoof across his heart. "I bet Mom and Dad will help as well. You've got nothing to worry about."

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief, and her posture loosened before she suddenly perked up. "Oh yeah, I almost forgot," she said. "Thank you. For talking to Mom and Dad about the Academy, and now for helping me practice." Her voice had calmed again and her face absolutely beamed.

Shining reciprocated the smile. "Hey, what are BBBFFs for?" he asked before they embraced each other in a tight hug.


From then on, Twilight spent all her time either engrossed in her books—even more so than usual—reading up on magical theory, or with her family, learning various sorts of spells.

Whenever anypony in her family had some time to spare, Twilight practiced with them. When they didn't have the time, she studied. It often happened that she would study the mechanics of a single spell for multiple days in preparation for practice with either her parents or Shining Armor.

Even her dreams weren't entirely free from studies. Once, Twilight's parents found her sleeping on the floor in the middle of the library, clutching both Smarty Pants and a book next to her while mumbling all sorts of magical facts and iterations out loud.

Through tireless dedication and study, using magic slowly became easier for Twilight. Her repertoire of spells began to increase as well, and by the end of the second week, Twilight felt that special kind of joy one can only feel after a very long study session. She finally felt ready.

Then, of course, came the examination day.

"Mom! Dad! This really isn't necessary," Twilight complained, as she and her parents once again made their way to the Royal Castle, where the Academy was housed in one of its outlying wings. "I'm sure none of the other fillies have their parents with them."

"We know, dear," her mother said. "It's just that you sometimes get... erratic when it comes to tests. Do you remember what happened to Miss Hoofer at Magic Kindergarten?"

Twilight looked down sheepishly. "I thought we'd agreed never to speak of that again," she mumbled under her breath.

Meanwhile, the three slowly approached the looming castle. Before long, they stood in front of one of the famous Iron Gates of the castle walls, the indisputable division between the mundane city and the Royal Grounds within. This was the centre of all of unicorn culture, the home of the collective knowledge of all ponydom, where Lords and Ladies from across the realm came together to decide the fate of the nation. Most importantly, this was the residence of the ruler of all of Unicornia, Her Royal Highness Princess Guinemare Platinum.

For the longest time, Twilight stared up at the giant stone structure before her. Its turrets and towers seemed to stretch into infinity, and between its arched windows—each big enough for three ponies in height and two in width to pass through—the walls were decorated with carvings of ponies long since passed. As the stone eyes of gargoyles and statues alike seemed to turn their gaze on her, Twilight gulped and moved ever so slightly closer to her parents.

"Well, here's where we'll part," Twilight's father said.

"What!? You won't come with?" she asked, somehow managing to keep her voice almost completely steady.

"We're not allowed to come with you to the theory test, you know that," he said jokingly, bumping her by the side with his hoof.

Twilight laughed nervously. "Yeah, right..."

"Don't worry, sweetheart," her mother said, calmly running her hoof through Twilight's mane. "We'll see you again at the practical test." She leaned her head down slightly, looking deep into Twilight's eyes. "Are you ready?"

As ready as I'll ever be, she thought. Realizing her parents were waiting for an answer, Twilight nodded woodenly.

"In that case, good luck, sweetie!" her mother said, giving Twilight a quick hug. "We'll see you soon."

She reluctantly let go of her mother's grasp before she felt a light tapping on her shoulder. She turned around to see her father with a folded piece of white paper caught in a magic aura.

"Here, Twily," he said, handing it to her. "Show this to the guards by the gate"—he nodded towards two armored stallions standing by each side of the entrance—"and they'll let you through. Follow the path all the way to the entrance."

"Okay, Dad."

"Also," he went on, "you're supposed to have your test in room one-six-three. Got it?"

"Give the paper to the guards, go to room one-six-three," she repeated. Twilight made a quick nod. "Got it." Eyes closed, she took a deep breath to steady herself, only to jump high when somepony gave her a quick pat on the back.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" her father asked. "Run along, scamp! We're counting on you."

Twilight frowned, but, just as she was about to berate him, she saw his big, warm smile and beaming eyes looking down on her. "Mm-hm," she said, returning the smile. With a straight back, head held high, and chest stuck out—a stance she had often seen her brother make when confident—she decidedly turned around and marched away.

For the first few steps, she determinedly strode forward. However, the further she walked, the more her newly accumulated confidence faltered. Her hooves got heavier, and before she knew it, the pace of her walk began to slack.

"Break a leg, Twily!" her father shouted from a distance.

Determined not to falter, she didn't look back, for fear that she wouldn't be able to carry on if she did.

The air was heavy and her surroundings eerily silent. With nothing else to focus on, a disarming smell slowly began to pervade her nose as she approached the gate.

It smells like the... flower shop?

Before she got the chance to ponder it further, the two guards suddenly stood before her, blocking her path, seemingly out of nowhere. Despite standing right in their shadow, their golden armor appeared to inexplicably glisten, as if they possessed an innate shine of their own. Even in such close proximity, the stallions looked so alike—the same grey coat, the same brown eyes, and the same impressive stature—Twilight couldn't help but wonder if they were twins.

"State your name and business," one of them said in a deep, rigid voice.

She quietly cleared her throat before raising her head high. "My name is Twilight Sparkle," she said as articulately as she could. "I was told to give you—"

That was when the other guard magically pulled the piece of paper from out of her grip. Agape, she could only stand and watch as he gave it a quick read before casually dissipating it in a bright flash the moment after.

"You may pass," he said. And with that, both of them left and returned to their posts.

Twilight blinked. What just happened?

She shook her head slightly, pushing her confusion aside, and pressed forward again. As she kept moving, the smell became more conspicuous until it all but overwhelmed her. And when she caught sight of the source, it did.

Passing under the gate's threshold, Twilight stopped mid-step, stunned by the sheer beauty of the grounds. As before, the castle towered before her, but now lanes of perfectly trimmed green grass surrounded it. The fort looked as if it had naturally grown out of the soil somehow, like a great stone tree. In its turn, the grass was sprinkled with patches of various kinds of carefully groomed bushes and flower gardens, each with its own color scheme.

It took a few moments for her to notice the cobbled path leading through the grounds. Following it, she began to name all the sorts of flowers she spotted. roses... white roses... blue petals... and... chrysanthemums?

Along the path stood the occasional marble statue, all of them depicting unicorns standing in a very grandiose manner. One of them raised a sabre almost its own height up towards the sky while another looked as if it was in the middle of a pirouette, balancing on one leg. The individual hairs in their manes were carefully sculptured, their legs boasted anatomically correct musculature, and a slightly darker shade of marble blushed a few of their cheeks. Even their eyelashes looked real.

In the distance she saw a lone gardener tending to few animal-shaped hedges, as well as what looked like real, exotic birds scurrying through the vegetation. Not allowing herself the distraction, she kept her eyes strictly on the path until she reached the entrance—a simple, door-less ingression. She wasn't there for sight-seeing, after all.

Compared to the grounds outside, the inside was only sparsely decorated. Even to a filly like Twilight, parts of the corridors were surprisingly narrow, and more than once she accidently bumped into the occasional suit of armor, causing a metallic noise to echo down the hallways. Between tapestries and the rare window or candlestick, Twilight passed wooden doors leading to unknown adjacent rooms. She soon noticed that all door-frames had three numbers written on them.

Let's see, I was supposed to go to room... one-six-three, I think. Right. She walked down the corridor, keeping her eyes on the door-frames. zero-five-four... zero-five-five...

Twilight kept on going for a while until she suddenly stopped and made a loud groan. I can't keep going like this. I'm going to be late!

At that moment, she saw two similar-looking guards standing by the end of the corridor, keeping watch next to one of the doors. She looked up and down the hallway real quick, unsure of what to do, before she took a deep breath, bracing herself, and cautiously approached the two stallions.

"Um, excuse me?" she said, sounding as chirpy as she possibly could. "I'm here to take an admittance test in room number... one hundred and sixty three. You don't happen to know where that is, do you?"

Neither of them moved a muscle.

"Hello?" she asked again.

This time, one of them made a barely detectable eye movement towards a section of the wall some distance behind her. Twilight looked between him and the wall a few times before she turned around and walked to where he'd looked. There, inscribed into the wall, it said "100-200" and "200-300", both with arrows pointing to its own passage from the main corridor.

"Thanks!" Twilight waved to the guards.

Neither of them made any effort to reciprocate.

That's alright, she thought, I'm going to assume that's guard-speech for "you're welcome". Still, I hope Shining won't become like that after he's... Twilight stopped for a moment before she promptly picked up the pace.

It wasn't long before she heard chatter coming from down the hallway. There, outside one of the doors, stood at least a few dozen fillies and colts about Twilight's age, some talking in hushed voices to each other, others pacing back and forth or shifting nervously.

She looked at the frame. One-six-three.

The door suddenly slammed open, and everypony in the hallway jumped high. The chatter stopped instantly. Out walked an imposingly big stallion dressed in a green corduroy jacket, with patches on the elbows, and a tie matching his beige coat. His white handlebar moustache twitched as his golden eyes scrutinized them from behind a pair of small, round spectacles, hopping from one pony to the next.

"So, you're today's applicants?" he asked with a burly voice, almost enough to mask its indifferent tone.

A few nodded, but nopony said a word.

"Well, come on in then." He turned around and walked inside the room. After a moment's hesitation, during which the fillies and colts looked back and forth between each other, the others followed suit.

Twilight squinted, her eyes adjusting. Unlike the murky hallways, the room was brightly lit with enormous windows—the same kind she had seen from outside—bathing the room in sunlight. Wooden desks were stacked in rows along the room's stone walls, ending with a big, mahogany desk and an enormous blackboard. Sheets of paper laid on each desk, text down, and a lot of fillies and colts, Twilight among them, stared at a giant hourglass standing in the corner.

"Take a seat," said the stallion.

Twilight, and everypony around her, simultaneously fell to the closest chair with a loud thump.

"I suppose it's best that I introduce myself," he went on. "My name is Pocus—that would be Professor Pocus for the lot of you—world-leading expert in the practice of Henotic Magic and the teacher of Magical Theory here in the Academy since fifteen years back. So, in the unlikely scenario that you pass both of your exams, we will be seeing a lot of each other in the coming years."

While Professor Pocus paused for dramatic effect, Twilight sneak-peeked at her fellow applicants. Most were frozen stiff, like scared deer. At first glance, one could easily mistake them for the life-like statues she'd seen in the gardens.

"With the pleasantries out of the way, there's just one more thing I want to say before the test starts: don't expect anything from these results. Thousands of foals apply to the Academy every year. Out of those, hundreds make it as far as you have today. I suppose that means you aren't complete imbeciles—the Academy does thorough background checks on all its applicants. Still, only a few dozen are chosen each year, which means that even if everypony that will be accepted are from this group, then some would still have to leave empty-hoofed today."

He walked to the corner of the room and placed his left hoof on the top of the hour glass, the class tracing him with their gazes. "I should also remind you that cheating on these tests is a criminal offence, and that it ended very badly for the last foal who tried."

A collective gulp could be heard throughout the classroom.

"You have two hours to finish from... Now." He turned the giant hourglass upside-down, and sand slowly started seeping through it. The rustle of paper echoed through the room as the foals hurried to turn them around. With her pencil in a firm magical grip, Twilight put its tip against the paper and began to write...


For two straight hours, Twilight read and answered dozens of questions. With her tongue sticking out, she filled out her answers and put the papers aside until they had formed a small pile by the edge of her desk. Only once or twice did she stop to look at her fellow applicants. Some of them stared blankly on their sheets of paper, rubbing the back of their heads, while others wiped sweat from their brows—despite the fact that the classroom wasn't very hot—or furiously erased entire answers with the back of their pencils.

While Twilight had to make a few educated guesses, most of the questions were pretty straightforward. "Name and describe the notable properties of magic fire:", "Name the seven uses of telekinesis:", and "How does magic power machinery?". She was in the middle of checking her answers when the last grain of sand hit the bottom of the hour-glass.

"Time's up, applicants!" Professor Pocus shouted. "Drop your pencils and leave your tests to be gathered later."

Twilight heard the collective sound of dozens of pencils, including her own, dropping to the desks of the respective owners. Still, some fervently kept writing.

"Everypony who I find has not dropped their pencils won't be graded."

The last desperate scratching sounds of pencil against paper suddenly stopped.

"That's better," Pocus went on. "As I said, leave your tests behind, go down the corridor and you'll be given the location for your practical exam there."

On command, the foals formed a line out the door, and scuttered down the hallway. Like a single organism, they moved in comfortable silence until they reached the end of the corridor—a big, lit-up room with big tinted windows, and rows of waiting-benches by the sides, where ponies of all ages sat, waiting for the right foals to enter.



Her mom and dad simultaneously rose from the benches further down the room before moving to her end. When they reached each other, Twilight's dad swept his hoof through her mane as he asked, "How did it go, Twily? Is it too early to crack open the champagne bottles yet?"

She giggled, moving her head to keep him from messing up her mane, and said, "I think it went well. It wasn't too hard, at least."

Her father made a burly laugh in response. "I bet you aced it."

"Well, as long as you did the best you could..." Her mother glared at her father, frowning with pursed lips, while she magically straightened out her daughter's mane.

He looked at her mother in return, mouth open in mid-word, before he closed it again.

"...we are very proud of you," she finished, smiling.

Twilight returned the smile, looking back and forth between her parents. "Oh, that reminds me!" she said. "I was supposed to find out where my practical exam is here somewhere."

Her father made a quick nod. "Yes, there's a list on the wall over there of applicants and their place of examination... but we've already checked," he hurriedly added as Twilight began to turn around. "We're supposed to meet up with your examiners in the eastern sentry."

"Oh," she said. "Where's that?"

"Apparently"—he magically pulled out a newspaper-sized map from behind his back and hid his muzzle deep within its contents—"it's in the gardens somewhere. Come, I'll show you."

Twilight exchanged a glance with her mom before they both followed her dad, still with his muzzle down in the map, out the entrance.

Apart from the sun standing lower than Twilight remembered, the gardens looked mostly the same, although she spied a lone tower not far away. On their way there, they passed even more statues, and a hedge maze even bigger than some of Canterlot's living-districts. As they walked down the cobbled road together, Twilight's steps gradually slowed down the further they came.

Eventually, her mom had to go back and nudge her forward. "Don't worry, sweetie," she said. "You don't have to be nervous; just remember that, whatever happens in there, your father and I will always—"

"We're here!" her father exclaimed, pulling his head out from the map for the first time, despite having walked in a straight line most of the way.

True enough, they had reached the giant doorway that lead inside the tower, with another pair of guards standing watch.

Her father waved for her to come closer. "This is Twilight Sparkle," he said, placing his hoof on her back. "She's to have her examination here."

Tacitly, the guards simultaneously lit their horns, and the door slowly creaked open.

"Thank you, gentlestallions." As the three of them walked through the doorway, Twilight's father leaned close to her and whispered, "Remember, we're only here for moral support, we can't actually help you with your exam."

Twilight nodded in response before she caught sight of a tall podium, behind which four ponies—two mares and two stallions with expensive-looking suits, neck- and bow-ties, and one clipboard each magically floating before them—stood. Twilight stared at them, absolutely sure that she had seen them somewhere before...

"Are you Twilight Sparkle?" one of the mares asked.

"Oh! Um..." Twilight turned around to see that both of her parents had left her side and were standing by the wall, nodding. She gulped. "Y-yes, I am."

"In that case,"—the horn of the stallion next to her began to glow—"would you mind telling me which of these gemstones is the illusion?" she asked as a cart full of rubies, emeralds, and sapphires rolled up next to her.

After the first cart came another one, and another one. For the better part of an hour, Twilight performed various tasks and tricks with props arriving on the small wooden carts, all with a drawing by the side detailing what she was meant to do. One came with a pile of twigs and a drawing of a fire, so she lit the twigs ablaze; another came with a wizened flower, and a picture of a blooming one...

After every performance, the examiners acknowledged her by writing a few scribbles on their clipboards. As time went on, more and more carts were laid out behind her. Her confidence growing, Twilight loosened up, and even began to smile, as she breezed through the assignments.

"Well done, Miss Sparkle," said the mare who had spoken to her at the start of the examination, giving her a single nod.

Twilight positively beamed as she looked back at her parents, who waved in return.

"You've done well thus far, and only the final, and most important, test remains," the examiner said as the final cart slowly rolled next to Twilight, carrying a brightly purple egg almost as big as her own head. Its picture illustrated a small dragon emerging triumphantly from the pieces of the shattered eggshell.

They want me to hatch a dragon!? I have no idea how to do that!

She looked over to her parents, who made a gesture as if zipping their mouths. The loud clearing of a throat promptly brought her attention back to the podium. "Well, Miss Sparkle?" the mare asked.

Twilight made an awkward laugh and began to sweat. Okay, Twilight, don't panic. Try the easiest one first. She tried to open the egg, same as she would any other when helping her mom bake. The only difference lies in size... right?

She took a deep breath, summoned her magic, and her horn began to glow. It's working! It's working! It's—and that's when her magic suddenly fizzled out and died—Oh no!

Twilight tried again and again, without results. She tried to lift the egg, she tried to crack it, to change its form, yet nothing. Her breathing sped up as one complicated spell after another failed. It was as if the egg had a slippery surface, and her magic just slid right off.

One of the examiners let out a loud yawn while another checked his hoof-watch.

"We don't have all day," the mare said sharply.

Twilight glared at the egg, tensing her muscles and clenching her teeth. In one last desperate attempt to hatch it, she poured all the magic she could muster into the egg, her horn glowing brightly and small sparks of magic flying out of it. She groaned, trying to force the egg to open, but only succeeding in tiring herself out until her legs wobbled beneath her, and she fell flat to the floor with a loud thump.

While struggling to rise back up, she felt a bitter taste in her mouth. On this, the most important day in her young life, she couldn't get it right. Head hanging, she looked straight down at the stone floor, not bearing to face the gazes of either her parents or the examiners.

"I'm sorry I wasted your time," she said.

The only response was the usual scribbles from the examiners' clipboards. That's it? Was it that obvious that I was going to fail!? She gave a deep sigh. Maybe I wasn't meant to go to the Royal Academy... Maybe it was hopeless to begin with...

Her thoughts dispersed as the strange sound of rattling windows echoed through the room. Everypony, Twilight included, looked around confusedly, the vibrations increasing in volume. Suddenly, the booming sound of a deafening explosion pierced through her, causing her to jump high. A burningly bright flash of spectral light followed, and Twilight quickly shut her eyes.

She was forced to stare into the light, however, when they forcibly blazed up, glowing. Her horn lit, and a purple, magic aura swept through the room.

Losing her hoofing, Twilight frantically flailed her legs as an invisible force ripped her off the floor. Levitating, she saw bursts of magic bolts and flashes all around her. One by one, the windows cracked by the pressure until they each exploded outwards, sharp pieces of glass flying out to the gardens. By now, the entire tower seemed to be moving; chairs and desks shook violently where they stood, and Twilight flinched as a chandelier crashed against the floor in a haze of fractured candles and metal.

Her vision blurred, she desperately looked around for help, only to see the examiners hovering inside an anti-magic bubble. She scanned the room for anypony else, but found nothing. Just a pair of potted plants.

Afraid, she tried to close her eyes, but found herself unable to. It hurt.

She shrieked as large boulders and pieces of debris suddenly smashed against the floor around her. Somehow, a grown dragon of monstrous size stood inside the tower, it's head sticking through the tower's ceiling.

Loud knocks came from the door. "Open up in the name of the Princess!" With a slam, the door split open, revealing half a dozen guards standing behind.

Twilight screamed. "Make it stop!"


"You're going too far, Your Highness!"

The highness in question—Her Serene Celestial Monarch of Unicornia, Duchess of Canterlot, and the ruler of all unicorns, Princess Guinemare Platinum—sat upon her golden throne. Her eyes heavy, she spied across the hall. Through the windows, she could see the sun barely touching the horizon.

Reluctantly, her gaze returned to the stallion before her—a stallion with a flaxen blond mane, so fair only his bleach-white coat surpassed its brightness, slickly combed back so every strand of hair laid perfectly behind his head. In stark contrast to the Princess, who wore nothing but the Platinum Crown and her usual purple robe, he was elegantly dressed in what almost looked like a dark-blue military uniform, with a sash strapped over his chest, decorated with various emblems and medals in both silver and gold that rattled every time he moved. His ice-blue eyes were set squarely on her.

Guinemare sighed. "It's a bill, Duke Blueblood—a proposed one, no less. Why does it bother you so?"

He snorted. "This bill is a direct attack against the nobility, and Fancypants—"

"Lord Minister Fancypants," she corrected him.

His stare hardened, and his stance tensed. "Minister Fancypants," he conceded, "is out of line, and the gentry won't stand for it!"

This old tale again. Despite its necessity, she loathed the times when the two couldn't keep their personal vendetta to themselves. Almost by habit, she said, "The Lord Minister simply looks out for the betterment of Unicornia."

A sound akin to a snarl escaped the Duke's lips. "Minister Fancypants simply tries to strengthen his own political position by caving to populist demands, so much should be obvious! Unicornia, Equestria, even you, Your Highness, if I may be so blunt, owes the noble houses! The Minister tries to take away positions, many of which wouldn't even exist without the nobility, that rightfully belong to us. Not everypony can sit safely on a throne after all!" Blueblood held his head defiantly high, as if it somehow strengthened his position.

"There's no need to get so worked up, my dear duke," the Princess said. "I'm sure that if you just took your concerns to Lord Fancypants himself, he would—"

"Your Highness!"

The throne room's doorway swung open, and a lone guard stormed in, screaming, with pearls of sweat running down his face.

"What is the meaning of this!?" the Duke shouted. "Can't you see that I'm having an audience with the Princess?"

Princess Guinemare raised a single eye-brow. Blueblood obviously needs somepony else to take his aggravations out on. Dismissing his protests, she turned to the guard. "What is the matter, guard?" she asked, calmly.

"There... has... been... an attack..." he wavered, heaving for air. "On the eastern tower. A dragon."

The Princess gave a small, almost silent, gasp, while Blueblood simply snorted in response.

"Are you daft!?" he asked. "There hasn't been a dragon attack for generations, and if there ever was one, we would have prior warning!"

"I'm telling the truth, milord!" the guard replied. "I know what I saw!"

Before Blueblood got a chance to respond, Princess Guinemare rose from her throne. "I, too, think it odd that something so big could find its way to the castle without me knowing," she said. "But I trust you wouldn't barge in here in such a hurry unless something is amiss, so I will give you the benefit of a doubt."

If nothing else, it will be a pleasant distraction from the Duke.

"You said the eastern tower had been attacked?"

The guard bowed his head. "Yes, Your Highness."

"Please, take us to where you found this... dragon."

He saluted the Princess, turned around, and sprinted out the doorway.


By the stars! What has happened here!?

The two noble ponies found the eastern tower absolutely destroyed. It leaned, as if in danger of falling at any moment, with a gaping hole in the ceiling, a trail of smoke seeping out of it.

"Well, the chances of seeing a real-life dragon in my lifetime just shrunk significantly, for better or for worse," Duke Blueblood snidely remarked. "Still, it seems your guardspony wasn't speaking complete nonsense when he so rudely interrupted my audience. Something peculiar definitely took place here. I wonder what it was..."

While the Duke was lost in thought, another stallion closed in from the wrecked tower.

"Your Highness," he said, and bowed before the Princess—the bangs of his flowing, blue mane reaching over his head as he did. He was a well-built stallion, clad in a stylish, black suit and purple bow-tie.

"Lord Minister Fancypants," she acknowledged him, and he raised his head. "It is a good thing you came when you did. Perhaps you might shed us some light as to what has transpired here?"

"For certain, Your Highness."

"Figures His Excellency would be involved in catastrophes outside the government, as well as inside," said the Duke with a diminutive smirk on his face.

"Good day to you too, Duke Blueblood," Fancypants scoffed. "You seem to be in a jolly good mood today, I hear."

Guinemare cleared her throat.

"Of course, Your Highness," Fancypants said hurriedly. "As I was about to say, it just so happens that I was in the vicinity when the incident took place. About an hour ago, I was walking through the statue gardens when..." He went on to tell the two about how he was blinded by the mysterious light and sound-wave, and his surprise of seeing a dragon springing out from the tower's roof once the effects wore off.

"So there really was a dragon?" Guinemare asked.

He visibly shuddered before nodding in response. "Indeed. For a while I thought we all were in great peril..."

"Well, spit it out already!" Blueblood said. "Why doesn't the castle lie in ashes yet; where is this dragon of yours?"

"Oh, I'm sure it's still around here somewhere," Fancypants said dismissively.

"What do you mean it's—"

Princess Guinemare held up her left hoof. "Please, Fancy, tell us. What else do you know?"

Fancypant's face broke out in a smile. "Well," he said, "I talked to witnesses closer to the incident than I was."

"And?" she urged him.

"And it turns out that there was a practical test inside the tower at the time. The examiners told me that the applicant, a filly by the name of Twilight Sparkle, got a perfect score."

"That is most impressive and all," said Blueblood, "but I fail to see what it has to do with the dragon."

"I repeat, my dear duke. She got a perfect score."

Princess Guinemare gasped. "You don't mean... the last test? She actually did it?"

Blueblood shared her disbelief. "That's impossible!"

"I thought the same thing this morning, but evidently not," said Fancypants. "Not only did she successfully hatch the dragon, she made it grow into an enormous size, trapped the examiners inside a force-field, and turned both her parents and half a dozen guardponies into potted plants!"

All the while, the Princess had remained silent, deep in thought. "Twilight Sparkle, you said her name was?"

"Yes, Your Highness. The daughter of the moon-movers Night Light and Twilight Velvet."

"Where is she now?"

"The filly passed out, probably from exertion. Not surprising, considering the massive amounts of magical energy she must have used. I saw her being taken to the infirmary a while ago."

Princess Guinemare Platinum nodded. "Very good. Please tell me when her condition improves. I would like to speak with her."

Chapter 3: Talking with a Princess

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✶✶✶ Odyssey

An MLP:FiM Fanfic by DemPonies

Chapter Three:

Talking with a Princess

A light. Somewhere off in the darkness it shone dimly, slowly growing in intensity until it made her eyes flicker. By instinct, she raised her eyelids, one after the other. She groaned in discomfort as she pulled the fringes of her purple mane away from her eyes. Squinting, her sight slowly adjusted to the light around her, emanating from a chandelier hanging from the roof, a couple of torches on the walls, and a blood-red sun halfway down the horizon from outside the window.

She herself laid in a wide, oversized bed, beneath a layer of white sheets and blankets, feeling sore all over. She tried to sit up, but the weight of her head kept her down. It felt like it had grown to twice its normal size while she'd been out and that it wasn't screwed on quite tight enough. She twitched and started to rub her temples as a sharp pain pierced through her head, shortly followed by a slight pounding.

W-where am I?

Suddenly, the sound of hooves against stone echoed throughout the chamber, and a looming, white figure approached her bedside.

"Ah, you're finally awake," said the silvery voice of what was undoubtedly a young mare. "Good, you've been out for quite some time." The figure spoke with a voice of authority, a magnetic presence. Yet, it sounded strangely akin to what the bedridden filly imagined she herself would sound like if she tried to speak—weary and cautious—but for entirely different reasons. Not just simple exhaustion, the speaker seemed to fear it would not be answered at all.

Stranger still, the filly recognized the voice, its sound resonating inside of her from sometime before. She suddenly gasped as it dawned on her. The Summer Sun Ceremony!

"P-princess Platinum!?" she croaked.

There was no doubt. Her vision was still blurry, and the Princess's lack of a crown was quite peculiar, but there was no mistaking that voice. In spite of her soreness, she jumped in surprise, somehow reaching a sitting position. If not for the numbness of her neck, she might have tried to bow. As it was, however, she risked it snapping like an old twig if she tried.

"Be careful," Guinemare said, stretching a hoof out to the filly's shoulder. "You are in the castle's hospital wing. You passed out from exhaustion a few hours ago, and you really should try to relax."

She nodded in response, leaned her head back against the pillow, and took a few deep breaths.

"That's better," said Princess Platinum while retracting her hoof. "Now, you know me, so I will presume you remember who you are?"

"Um," she said, brows furrowed. "Twilight... Sparkle..."

The Princess let out a light sigh. "That's a relief," she said. "It seems you have not suffered any major injuries. That also means you will most likely be your normal self soon enough, and"—she took a few steps closer to Twilight, a single eyebrow raised—"that you may be able to clear up a few things for me."

Twilight wasn't sure if it was a question, but she nodded nonetheless, unblinkingly. The Princess's steady, blue stare demanded more, however. "Yes, Your Highness," Twilight quickly blurted out.

"Very well," said Princess Platinum. "Now, do you remember what happened during your examination?"

"Hmm..." Twilight thought back. She did remember certain things. As she tried to recall, memories of the exam flooded before her eyes. Images of the tower raining down on her, smashed pieces of glass and furniture ravaging through the room amidst a storm of wanton magic, and her own scream drowning beneath it all. With a squeak, Twilight promptly pulled the bed sheets over her head.

From behind her fabric wall, she heard the muffled voice of the Princess say "I see that you recall"—a hint of amusement bubbling beneath the otherwise reserved tone.

Slightly lowering the top of her sheets, Twilight peeked over it with a single eye. She found Princess Guinemare standing next to her—a slight, calm smile on her lips. "Maybe you wouldn't mind telling me about it?" she asked, reassuringly.

Twilight sighed and, letting the blankets hit the side of the bed, emerged from underneath her make-shift cover. She immediately gazed down, fidgeting with her hooves, at the mere thought of talking about her examination. Even if the Princess hadn't asked so nicely, however, refusing your monarch just wasn't something one did.

So, Twilight told the Princess everything she could, from the day she'd helped raise the sun to her last recollections of the examination. The only thing she left out was her run-in with Madame Mirage, as she didn't quite understand it herself, and her memory of that event remained a bit fuzzy.

"...and that's all I can remember, Your Highness," Twilight finished, slowly turning her gaze up towards the Princess.

Guinemare had stayed silent throughout the story, listening intently. Only now did she close her eyes and breathed in.

"That's an amazing tale, Miss Sparkle," she said, her face breaking out into a sidelong smile. "You must be very special."

Twilight didn't know what to say. Me? Special?

"Me?" she asked, wide-eyed. "Why?"

Before the Princess got a chance to answer, a sound like the cross between a burp and a hiccup came from the other side of the bed.

"Garp!" it said.

Twilight cocked her head to the side. "What was that?" she asked.

"Garp!" A bulk at the end of the bed bounced, a short wave spreading across the sheet.

There it is again! Twilight leaned forward to get a closer look.

The Princess, meanwhile, raised her hoof to suppress a giggle. "I believe it's time I introduced you to your latest admirer," she said. Her horn lit up and a purple aura covered the sheet. Slowly, it moved along the bed, gradually uncovering its hidden possession.

It was a little thing, not even tall enough to reach up to Twilight's eyes despite standing on two sets of scaly claws. The legs held up a small, pinkish body with a head almost the size of the rest of it, balanced by a tail that ended in a sharp, triangular shape. On its back, a ridge of green spikes grew in a straight line from out of its head all the way down its spine.

As Twilight eyed the creature, their gazes suddenly met—its wide, reptilian eyes twinkling like stars as they looked up at her.

"Garp!" it said again, snapping Twilight out from her entrancement. She promptly returned to scrutinizing the critter, her jaw slightly agape while it kept gawking at her.

For a moment, absolute silence reigned as both the filly and the creature eyeballed each other, the Princess quietly observing them both from the sidelines.

As Twilight leaned back and forth, examining the thing from different angles, she found the pink ball of scales mirroring her movements. Still staring.

She scanned every body part—the scales, the eyes, the claws, and more—rapidly checking each off one at a time on a mental checklist. Slowly, it became all the more obvious to her what it was.

"It's a dragon."

Not meaning to say something so painfully obvious out loud, Twilight let out a nervous laugh, trying to suppress the urge to bang her already aching head against something hard.

The Princess, however, simply said "So I see," a humored glint in her eye. "It bears resemblance to a certain dragon egg, does it not?"

Looking over it again, Twilight did find the pinkness of its scales rather familiar. "Is this... the egg from the examination?" she asked. "You mean I did it!?"

Princess Guinemare chuckled and began to nod.

Twilight couldn't help but beam until she realized: It must have been what that big monster that tore down the ceiling was. The smile blew out as quickly as it came, leaving Twilight with a bitter taste in her mouth.

Her glance started to shift awkwardly between the Princess and the dragon. Settling on the Princess, Twilight asked, "Um, why's it looking at me like that?" She could still see it staring at her from out of the corner of her eye.

The Princess gave something akin to a shrug. "I suspect it's just hungry," she replied in a calm, low-key tone.

Twilight, though, reacted quite vigorously. Wide eyed, she rapidly turned her head towards the baby dragon. "Then, w-what's it looking at me for?" she asked again. Its glistening stare suddenly took another meaning when she thought of it being hungry. Returning its unblinking look, she slowly crept backwards until most of her body leaned against the headboard. "I don't have anything," she said before giving a loud gulp.

Guinemare took a step closer. "Don't worry," she said. "I think the reason he looks to you is because you hatched him. He seems somewhat attached to you."

"Garp!" he said again, as if to confirm the fact.

"Really? What gave you that idea?" Twilight said, rolling her eyes slightly. "Your Highness," she hurriedly added, a sheepish smile on her lips.

The Princess, however, did not seem to mind, but rather, returned the smile. "Well," she said, "apart from his undivided advertence thus far, he followed you here and struggled when anypony tried to move him." The Princess suddenly paused, as if catching herself doing something inappropriate. With a clearing of the throat, her face promptly straightened out, and her voice took a more formal tone. "We have since come to the conclusion that it would be the best for all if you took the responsibility to look after the creature."

Twilight's eyes grew wide, her jaw slackened. "Me!? B-but..." she stammered. "I wouldn't know how to take care of a... dragon."

It was true. In all the books she'd read, only a precious few had even mentioned dragons, let alone said anything important about them. Even Dragonology, A Reference Guide contained little but the very obvious.

"Nopony does, really," the Princess said. "We know they prefer a diet rich with jewels, of which you'd be given many, courtesy of the crown." She locked her sight straightly unto Twilight. "We had hoped that you would at least consider it."

"Well..." Twilight rubbed the back of her neck with her hoof. I did hatch the thing, she thought. I suppose I share some of the responsibility. "I guess I could try. What do you usually do when this happens?"

Princess Guinemare raised a single eyebrow in response. "Usually?" she asked. "Miss Sparkle, I've never heard of anything like this happening before. In fact, it wasn't even meant to happen this time."

Twilight shook her head, not sure she'd heard right. "Wait-what!?" she exclaimed. "B-but the examiners told me to—"

The Princess raised a hoof into the air.

"The last test isn't there to measure your magical abilities," she explained. "It's meant to be a test of character; to see what applicants would do when faced with insurmountable odds. Dragons possess a natural resilience to magic. Hatching one would be a task fit for a group of experienced mages, not school-aged foals. Still, what would she try? Would she crack or persevere?" She looked up, past Twilight, and, with a smile on her face, said, "It seems your solution was brute force." She snorted, grinning. "As good a strategy as any."

Not sure what to say, Twilight remained quiet, looking at the Princess whose gaze, with a jolt, returned to Twilight.

"Excuse me, Miss Sparkle," she said in a distant voice, as if her thoughts were occupied elsewhere. "It was not my intention to keep you from your family for this long—"

"My Parents? They're here!? Are they hurt?" Twilight frantically looked around the room for any sign of them.

"No, they're next door and perfectly healthy," Princess Guinemare assured her.

Twilight breathed out a sigh of relief.

"I asked them for some time to speak to you privately," the Princess went on. "I even offered them the chance to see your new quarters while they waited. They insisted on staying close by, however, and now that you've both told me about the exam and agreed to take care of the little dragonling, I'll go send for them."

"My quarters?" Twilight asked, cocking her head to the side before her eyes lit up. "You mean in the school? Did I pass?"

Princess Guinemare gave a half grin. "You could say that," she said. She cleared her throat again and her face turned emotionless. "Well, then. Farewell, Twilight Sparkle. I'm sure we'll meet again." With those words, the Princess turned around and walked away.

Twilight watched silently, following her trail.

As the Princess reached one of the room's wooden doors, she suddenly looked back. "Oh! One more thing," she said. "Congratulations on that mark of yours." The door swung open, encased in a purple glow, and the Princess left the room, leaving a perplexed Twilight behind.

What did she mean by that? Twilight suddenly gasped, shifted and turned—despite her numbness—until she could see the pink six-pointed star, surrounded by five white miniatures, decorating her haunches.

Yes! She flew up from the bed and stretched her hooves into the air. "Ow!" Clutching her left shoulder, she slumped back against the mattress with a light groan.

Staring up at the ceiling, the sudden silence began to lay heavily on her. What a day, she thought, rubbing her eyes. "The exam, explosions, and the Princess herself to boot. Anything else I forgot?"



As the sun slowly made its way past the horizon, the enchanted torches inside the castle came to life, their flames illuminating the otherwise pitch dark corridors for its denizens. One such figure walked down one of the more luxurious ones, the sullen light of the torches throwing the flickering shadow of a lanky stallion—barely more than a colt—up against the busts and tapestries of ancient monarchs, many of which he shared a likeness, that adorned the walls.

His steps echoed through the corridor. Passing many a lesser door, he finally reached his destination: a large, gold embellished doorway at the end of the hall. There, a lone guard stood by its side. Either by his fair coat or the glimmer of the coronet resting behind his horn, the guard recognized and saluted him.

"Prince Regal," he said.

The Prince waved a hoof dismissively. "Yes, yes. At ease, guard."

The armored stallion lowered his hoof and the grip around his lance loosened slightly.

"There, that's better," said Prince Regal. "Now, would you mind opening the door for me? I would like to speak to my sister."

The guard looked forward, far above the much shorter prince. "Her Highness, Princess Guinemare, is not in her chambers at the moment."

At that, the Prince raised an eyebrow, rubbing his chin. "That so?" he muttered, looking slightly to the side before abruptly clearing his throat. "Well then," he said while lowering his hoof to the floor, returning his attention to the guard, "I suppose I will just have to wait for her inside."

The guard blinked a few times, not offering an immediate response. Finally, he said, "It would not be appropriate to let anypony into Her Highness's bedchamber without her permission."

"Guard." Prince Regal raised his short, squared off muzzle as high as he dared without risking his coronet falling off his luscious silver mane, glaring deeply into the stallion's eyes. "Do you mean to say that I—a Prince of Unicornia—cannot go where I please in the Castle of Unicornia?"

Maintaining an emotionless facade, the guard said, "No, Your Highness."

The Prince raised an eye-brow. "Would you suggest that I wait out here, like common plebe?"

"No, Your Highness."

"Well then!" he said in a voice that left no room for argument. "That leaves a single option, doesn't it? If my sister holds any objections, she may tell me so herself."

With another salute, the guard's horn lit up, followed by the rattling sounds of turning keys and the opening of locks. A magic aura suddenly engulfed the door and it slowly turned open, revealing a room shrouded in thick darkness, nothing but a small ray of moonlight shining through a crack between the curtains of a distant window.

The Prince lit up his own horn and walked inside, the spell's azure light guiding him as he made his way through the room. A few steps in, as he placed his hoof on what felt like an expensive Saddle Arabian rug—no doubt the gift of an ambassador or another—he heard the thud and clicking mechanisms of the door closing behind him.

The Prince raised his head slightly. Alone, he thought.

Regal resumed his walk to the one beam of white light by the end of the room, across the rug and past the shining blue star caused by the reflection of his sister's round mirror. He walked around the giant bed with its translucent canopy all the way to the window beside it and pulled its crimson curtains apart.

The moon had risen high by now. Its pale light flooded through the room, uncovering the hidden silhouettes of maps and paintings placed between the bookcases of the delicately adorned stone walls, as well as a dark mahogany desk to the room's left.

Regal walked up to a fireplace by the other side of it, and, with a wave of his horn, set it ablaze. He stared into the sparkling fire for a moment, its dancing flames reflecting in his eyes.

The minutes passing away, waiting for his sister, the Prince inattentively gazed across his sister's bedchamber. Regal suddenly stopped as he came upon a glimmer by the opposite side of the room.

There, among the desk's quills and papers, it rested: The Platinum Crown. A headdress of a not too surprising metal, adorned with sapphires as big as acorns. He'd missed it in both the darkness and the moonshine, but now, with the fire's hot blaze, it glistened like a star.

What is this doing here? he thought. It's not like Gwyn to let it litter like this...

For what felt like an eternity, he stood perfectly still, staring at a relic older than Equestria itself. He quickly scanned the room again and, on a whim, took the coronet off his head and put it next to the crown with a thunk. With both his hooves in a firm grip around it, he raised the crown above his head.

It's heavier than I thought, he mused.

Just as the crown reached the tip of his mane, he heard the locking mechanisms unravel from the door. His eyes widened. He hurried to put the crown back to its place, reached for his coronet and—



Princess Guinemare looked around her room. "What are you doing here?"

"Why, waiting for you, of course," he said, a wry smile on his lips as he adjusted the coronet on his head ever so slightly. "What else would I do?"

She looked back and forth across the room. "Hmm, I suppose." Guinemare quietly stepped inside, the door slowly closing behind her. "You have to excuse my absence," she said. "There was a pressing matter that required my attention."

"The eastern tower?" Regal asked as he slightly moved away from the desk.

His sister raised an eyebrow. "You know of it?"

"Hard to miss when a whole tower is falling apart." He flicked his head, saying, "Honestly, I'm a little hurt that I wasn't called upon."

Guinemare shrugged. "Well, there wasn't much that needed to be done once it was over." She walked further into her room until she stood next to the hearth fire. "I only arrived in the aftermath myself, and I didn't really think of summoning you... Not wanting to waste your time, of course."

Regal broke into a strained, sidelong smile. "Of course," he rasped. He theatrically cleared his throat and said "Well, I trust it's all been looked over?"

Guinemare nodded. "As far as can be done, for now at least. I checked in with the filly."

"In that case"—Regal made a small bow—"I would like to offer my assistance."

"I don't think that will be necessary—"

"But I insist!" He took a step closer. "I know of this pair of mares that could be most helpful. They're reliable, discreet, and can either make it instantaneous, prolonged or—"

"What are you talking about?" Guinemare's brows furrowed.

Regal paused for a moment. "Why, to make this problem... go away, of course." He spoke in the same casual tone most would talk about a slightly embarrassing misdoing. "It's the most obvious answer."

Guinemare wrinkled her muzzle for a moment, raising her upper lip in repulsion. Before long, however, her face tensed and she turned to look straight into Regal's eyes, glaring intensely. Her eyes seemed to glow on their own, the rest of her character cast in shadow as flames from the fireplace whirled behind her.

"Listen, little brother," she said, an electrifying sting in her voice that caused Regal's back-hair to stand on end. "I won't 'make away' with her. She's a filly, and a rather innocent one, at that."

Despite his surprise, Regal managed to snort in indignation. "Oh, please, spare me!" he said. "You saw the devastation she cause. She's a danger. To both herself and others, but, most importantly, to us. You have to be able to make the hard decisions—"

"There is nothing hard about making difficult situations 'go away'!" Guinemare growled. "The hardest, and oftentimes right, decision is to live with and make something good out of them. I talked to her and saw no malice. She could be a great help and asset, given time."

Regal froze stiff, dumbstruck. He started to stammer in an effort to find the words. "B-but... Orphic says—"

"I don't care what your teacher says—"

"Well, you should!"

Ignoring him, Princess Guinemare raised her voice to practically a shout. "I won't hurt foals because of what they might do," she said. "Not in my Unicornia! Not for as long as I am monarch!"

Regal stomped his hoof against the room's rug-covered floor."There you go again!" he said, clenching his teeth. "You've been sitting on the throne for a few years and suddenly you think you're Father!"

At that moment, silence swept across the room. Time slowed down, and he shivered as what felt like a cold breeze passed by him, running down his spine. The tension laid heavy in the air, so thick one could cut it with a kitchen knife.

Guinemare whipped away from her brother. Shoulders raised, she stared into the hearth's fire with a hanging head.

Regal broke the silence. "Gwyn, I—"

"Get out!" Two simple words said, and not a movement made.

Regal didn't move either. He didn't dare. His jaw ajar, he stood there for the longest time, staring in disbelief at his sister.

"Leave!" she finally hissed.

Slowly, he closed his mouth, and his face darkened. He made a mock bow behind her back and said "As you command... Your Majesty." With those parting words, Regal whipped around and started walking towards the door, holding his head up high. In silence, he left the room, unopposed. The door opened quietly from the inside and Regal walked out, past the saluting guard and out the hallway, never looking back.

Sometime later, far away from the prying gaze of his sister's chambers, the Prince stopped in front of an empty stairway, listening to the torches' sparkling flames and staring into the dark abyss. The moment soon passed, however, and Regal snorted, lit up his horn, and descended down the endless gulf of shadows in a steadfast pace.

He had decided it was time to see his teacher...

Chapter 4: From Home to Home

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✶✶✶ Odyssey

An MLP:FiM Fanfic by DemPonies

Chapter Four:

From Home to Home

"Here, boy! Look what I've got."

Twilight dangled a magically enclosed, purple gemstone some hoof-lengths up the air. The newest addition to her family, the little dragonling, laid curled up in a ball in front of her.

He grunted and opened one of his eyes, reluctantly waking from his midday nap—one of many, as Twilight had come to learn. He changed tune, however, the moment he spied the snack. He jumped out of his makeshift bed—an old, repurposed laundry basket—and scurried up to her, his reptilian tongue hanging from out of his mouth. Twilight chuckled as he leapt up the air for his prize, like a cat playing with a piece of string.

It had been nearly two weeks since she hatched Spike, two weeks since her examination and her talk with Princess Guinemare, who had lived up to her promise of providing her with enough gems to keep the baby dragon happy.

It had at first been quite a shock to her parents—Twilight's mother almost fainting where she stood—when a courier from the palace knocked on their door to deliver them a pony sized crate full of jewels. The feelings soon turned to relief, however, the moment they realized that gems weren't all Spike ate. Everything not stowed away was fair game for the little dragon, who happily munched on anything whenever his stomach rumbled. Though the most notable casualty was her mother's favorite rug, Twilight herself hadn't gone away scot-free either, as a few gaping holes in her bookshelves could attest to. Luckily, the gems had proved an effective teaching aid.

Schooling, however, wasn't on Twilight's mind at the moment. She had a much more imperative goal in mind, one that had gnawed on her ever since Spike had crawled next to her in her bed the first night—an affliction that had soon earned him a sleeping place of his very own. That was soon to be rectified, however. Not that she couldn't enjoy herself, meanwhile.

"No brain," she teased, as Spike hypnotically followed the gem swinging back and forth with a wide-eyed gaze. "All you can think about is what you want... No brain."

"Sounds a lot like his master," said a voice behind her, a chuckle bubbling beneath its surface.

Startled, Twilight turned around. "Oh! Hey, Mom!"

"Hello, Twilight!" she replied, stepping into the little filly's room, a light frown on her face as she looked at the mess around her; books and the occasional piece of clothing covering almost every bit of surface. She picked up the volume laying in front of her, the deluxe edition of The Standard Book of Spells, hummed, and said, "I hope you plan to bring along something other than books" while looking over at the next to empty luggage bag resting on Twilight's bed.

Twilight mumbled something incomprehensible in response, trying to keep her annoyance from shining through. "I'm working on it," she said, waving a hoof dismissively. "I'm taking a break right now."

Her mother snorted. "Well, as long as you do it before tonight. We leave early tomorrow morning." She was interrupted by the wailing sounds of the forgotten dragon, who all but drooled staring at the glistening jewel.

"Oops! I'm sorry, Spike!" Twilight said before she tossed the gem towards the dragonling, who effortlessly caught it in the air and started gnawing on it.

Her mother raised an eyebrow. "Spike?" she asked, causing the critter to pause for a moment before he resumed his munching.

"Yeah..." Twilight rolled her eyes slightly. "Not my idea," she said. "I spent a week reading through name books, trying to find something fitting. Then, Shining comes around and happens to call him Spike—'he looks like a Spike' he says—and now the little thing won't answer to any other name." Twilight had already put it on her mental checklist to punish him for his transgression.

"Garp!" Spike said to defend himself. He then took a sizable bite out of the crystal and rolled to his back, suckling the remainder of his snack like a pacifier.

Twilight could not help but crack a smile, even as a slew of bubbles flew out as he burped.

"Here I thought dragons were supposed to breathe fire, not bubbles," her mother said, eyes fixed on Twilight, who scoffed in return.

"I enchanted the gem with a foaming spell," she said, matter-of-factly. "His breath smells like burnt charcoal." Just the thought of it made Twilight wrinkle her muzzle.

Her mother, now sporting a grin of her own, said, "Well, I'll be going then. Dinner will be ready soon."

"What'll it be?"


"Again?" Twilight groaned. "I like daffodils as much as anypony else, but we've had them all week now!"

Her mother shrugged."Well, I've got to do something with them, and having been a houseplant for a while really made me lose my interest in gardening." She scratched her chin thoughtfully before she turned around and walked out the door, muttering "Maybe I should take up knitting instead..." to herself.

Left alone, Twilight breathed out a deep sigh. I suppose I should try packing again, she mused while walking past Spike, who swallowed the remainder of his gem with a loud gulp.

Twilight had already packed the most obvious of her belonging: a set of clothes, a framed picture of her family, her toothbrush, as well as her treasured doll, Smarty Pants. It was, however, the most important thing that also gave Twilight the most difficulty.

Which books should I bring?

Choosing which books to leave behind was as impossible a task as choosing favorites. She ultimately opted for pragmatism, taking magic related books to the Royal Academy of Magic. The problem was that that only narrowed it down slightly. Her room was already littered with the books she'd considered, only to be quickly cast away, to reach this conclusion.

Twilight stood in front of a now half-empty bookcase, lighting up her horn and pulling one book after the other out from the shelves.

"Let's see..." she said, pointing her hoof at the covers. "Numerology and Grammatica: Fun with Numbers." Twilight shook her head. "Don't think so," she said before throwing it behind her back. "Potions of Most Potent Power? Hmm... Nah!" The tome gave a thud landing on Twilight's bed. "Defensive Magical Theory? Ooh... That's a definite maybe." She laid the book next to her.

This process went on for some time, the pile of books next to her, meanwhile, growing greater and greater in size, as did the mess behind her. Finally, she'd gone through her entire collection, the bookcase standing all but empty.

"Phew! Finally..." she whiffed, wiping some sweat off her brow.

Lighting up her horn again, she levitated the stack of books over to her bed and dropped the lot into the vacuous bag. Twilight counted them a final time, raising an eyebrow as she found them to be one less than she intended.

That's strange, she thought. I'm sure I picked the right amount...

Twilight pondered it for a moment until it suddenly hit her. "The Standard Book of Spells!"

While she distinctly remembered her mother picking it up before she left, the memory of where exactly she'd put it remained... nonexistent. Looking around her room, more specifically every book-covered cranny of its floor, she couldn't help but breathe a deep sigh.

Let's get this over with.

She immediately started the arduous task of going through each and every book she could find, hoping it would be the one she looked for. For an absurdly long time, she searched through the mess, turning around and reading binding after binding, her steps growing ever more forceful as time went on until she suddenly let out a loud groan at picking up Encyclopedia Magica for a third time.

"Curse whoever decided every book cover in Equestria should be pastel colored!" she exclaimed, before she thumped down on the floor and buried her face into her hooves.

That's when she felt the light shove of some small figure pushing against her backside.

"Not now, Spike," Twilight said, her voice muffled.

The dragon, who had previously contented himself to sit by the side and watch as his caretaker got more and more embittered, insistently pushed against her back again, harder this time.

"What is it!?" Twilight groaned as she let her hooves fall to the sides, only to be met by the sight of the little dragon standing before her, a book wedged into his mouth.

He promptly dropped it in front of Twilight, pushed it towards her using his head, then stared up at her with big, shining eyes.

She looked at the book, sporting a cover in blue and silver, picked it up and read: "Standard Book of Spells - Deluxe Edition..."

Twilight ogled it for a moment before she looked down to Spike, to the book, and then back to him again. "Did you..." she started to ask, but lost word.

Spike, in response, merely cocked his head to the side, smiling.

Nah! she thought, shaking her head. Coincidence.

"Twily! Food!" she suddenly heard Shining call from downstairs. "No need to hurry, though. It's daffodils again..." His tone perfectly reflected her own feelings on the matter.

Nevertheless, Twilight shoved the final book into her travel bag before she walked out her room and descended down the stairs, Spike following closely in tow.


Early the next morning, with the first rays of murky sunlight shining over the rooftops of Canterlot, Twilight and her family, again, stood outside by the gates of the Royal Castle, waiting.

Having stood in place for nearly an hour, Twilight shuddered slightly, and not just from the touch of nightly chill lurking in the air either. She blinked rapidly for a second, trying desperately to keep alert. She'd been so excited the night before that she'd had trouble sleeping, and her lassitude finally began to take its toll. Spike laying across her back like a stuffed toy, snoring, hardly helped matters either...

Unblinkingly, or close thereof, Twilight stared through the gate's iron bars and into the courtyard, anticipating somepony to come greet her, to welcome her into the Princess's Academy, at any moment now. The minutes kept ticking away, however, with nopony yet in sight.

As Twilight suppressed a yawn, she heard the sound of weighted gravel coming from behind her.

"You know, staring at the entrance won't make whoever you're waiting for come any faster," she heard her brother say, all but seeing the wry smirk on his face.

Twilight rolled her eyes slightly. "I'm perfectly aware of that," she said.

Shining then proceeded to playfully bump his hoof against her side. "Well, why won't you come talk with us then, while you still have the chance?"

Glancing off towards the entrance one last time, Twilight wordlessly agreed, turned around, and followed Shining to their parents some short distance away. Her mother and father, standing next to the pile of trunks and suitcases that was her luggage, were in deep conversation about something, before they suddenly stopped as Twilight and her brother approached.

"Ah, there's the filly of the hour!" her father blurted out, almost leaping towards Twilight to stroke her head, ruffling her mane up and making it stand out in all directions.

While Twilight smiled and giggled, her mother just looked at him, frowned, and said, "I wish you'd stop doing that!" before she magically straightened out her daughter's mane.

"Why would I do that when you love fixing it so much?" he coyed, sporting a small, sidelong grin.

Her mother refused to respond, instead making a point of straightening out Twilight's mane in silence.

And so, she straightened. And straightened. And straightened.

...And straightened.

"Mom!" Twilight finally snapped, reaching a hoof up to the top of her head. "I think it's straight enough now!" As she looked upon her mother's face, however, she saw that her eyes had begun to water.

"Goodbye, sweetie!" her mother suddenly exclaimed as she clung her front legs around Twilight’s neck and clasped. Both she and Spike yelped in surprise and discomfort.

"Don't forget to wash your hooves with soap and magic, or to be polite to your teachers, and, most importantly, don't forget us!"

All this fell to deaf ears, however, as Twilight nearly suffocated as she was pressed against her mother's chest, being rocked back and forth.

Luckily, Shining soon came to her rescue. "Mom, you better let Twily loose before she turns even more purple than usual", he said, a humored smile on his lips.

Their mother, as if Twilight had turned as hot as an oven, suddenly whipped away. "I'm sorry, sweetie!" she said, while Twilight gusted for air. "It's just... you're growing up so fast, we're both so proud of you, and... I'm just not sure if you need us anymore, or when will be the next time we see each other again..." Her voice drifted into silence, her words weighing heavily in the air, until:

"Don't you think you're overreacting a bit," her father suddenly said, shrugging. "We live less than half an hour away—" Abruptly, he stopped and flinched as her mother shot him a sharp, icy stare. "Just a statement of fact..." he muttered to defend himself, turning away so as to avoid his wife's unsettling gaze.

"... And quite a fortunate fact it is," her father resumed, breaking into a smile. "It seems somepony has finally come to greet you after all, Twily."

Sure enough, as Twilight turned her head to look the same direction as her father, she could see, through the gate and from the other side of the castle's garden, a small pony-like figure in black, white, and blue slowly walking towards them from a distance.

"Well, we probably shouldn't stand here and linger," her father said before turning his head towards Twilight. "You think you'll be alright on your own, Twily?"

She slowly nodded in response, vigorously hoping it was true.

Her father's face lit up. "Ha ha! I knew you would!" he said, right before he stopped himself from almost mussing up her mane again. With a low cough and a glance at his wife above his shoulder, he lowered his hoof slightly, and settled for a hug instead. "Good bye, Twily," he said, squeezing her tightly together. "See you soon!" He managed a quick rub against the back of her head and a wink before he let go.

The moment after, her mom walked up to her instead. She beamed at Twilight, a big grin that seemed to contain more than could possibly be said. Then she leaned down, embracing her daughter in a firm grip. "I love you, sweetie," she said, her voice trembling slightly.

"I love you too, Mom."

Reassured by her words, her mother carefully let her go, wiping a single tear away.

Next was her brother, Shining, who walked up to and hugged her, leaned next to her ear and whispered, "You remember what I said about time and distance?"

Twilight did, almost vividly so. Yet, so much had happened since that day at the Summer Sun Celebration that it felt like it might as well have happened to some other filly, in some other lifetime. Still, she gave a near indiscernible nod.

"Good," he said, nodding in return. "Remember that."

He seemed like he was just about to let her go before he suddenly stopped, keeping her at an arm's length distance. Looking at her with bright, chuffed eyes, he said, "One more thing!" as if something had just struck him. "Since I won't be able to look after you anymore, try to make some friends!" His tone, while larky, seemed almost pleading.

I'm here to study magic, not making friends! she wanted to say, but couldn't find it in her. Instead, she just forced a smile and nodded silently.

Satisfied, Shining let loose of his grip, turned around and walked away with their parents.

Twilight stood and watched as her family walked back towards to the city, soon to disappear within the shadows of its crooked, maze-like streets. She felt a lump in her throat as all manner of emotions flooded to her, and she became acutely aware that “home” from now on would be a place she’d visit, not live in.

"I'll miss you!" she screamed after them, but received no reply other than the faint sound of hoof-steps against gravel coming from behind. Before she knew it, a shadow had engulfed her, causing her to turn around and face its source.

"Hello there, young miss!" a warm, cheery voice said to Twilight, the shadow-figure of a stallion standing before her, with the sun behind his back and a crown of light circling around him. "Do I have the pleasure of speaking to Twilight Sparkle?" he asked.

Twilight squinted for a second, trying her best to get a better look. As her eyes adjusted, she could see a blue-maned, white-coated stallion of some build, sporting an expensive-looking black suit and purple bow-tie. He slowly came into view, smiling down at her.

As Twilight realized that she'd spent the last few seconds staring at him, with her mouth hanging open, she felt her face turn warm and she lashed her head away, becoming unusually interested in the stone tile covered ground. "Y-yes," she finally said, forcing the word out as she glanced upwards again. "I'm Twilight."


"That's Spike."

The stallion chuckled slightly, looking at the curled up ball of scales at her back, who himself seemed rather beguiled by his beholder. "Why hello there, little fellow!" he said, addressing Spike. "I'd say you've grown since last time I saw you, but that would be a lie."

His curiosity regarding Spike seemingly sated, the stallion leaned back slightly, his attention entirely turned back unto the filly. "I do apologize, Twilight—may I call you Twilight?" the stallion asked, raising a single eyebrow.

She nodded silently, to which his smile grew even wider.

"In that case, Miss Twilight, it seems that I have yet to introduce myself." The stallion made a quick, gracious bow and, while rising back up again, said, "My name is Lord Minister Fancy Pants, and it is my pleasure to welcome and escort you to your castle-lodgings."

Twilight looked at him blankly for a few seconds. "So... you're not one of the teachers?" she finally asked, cocking her head to the side.

Fancy Pants chuckled, shook his head slightly, and said, "Sadly, I can't take the credit for enriching the lives of our nation's brightest young fillies and colts. No, I'm little more than your run-of-the-mill civil servant who, today, decided to take the time to escort a certain filly to her new home."

Mistakenly taking Twilight's confused silence for a sign of understanding, he smiled, pointed his hoof towards the castle gate, and asked, "Shall we?"

"Oh! Ummm..." Twilight turned her head slightly, looking at her baggage from out of the corner of her eye.

"Don't you worry about that," Fancy Pants said. "It’s already been well taken care of. I sent for Strong Back to come carry your luggage for you. A most dependable stallion, that one. It will be in good hooves, believe me!"

With those words, he slowly made his way to the Royal Palace, Twilight following in tow. Though the two passed through another, larger gate than during Twilight's last visit, the grounds were still the same, with its spread-out flower gardens and marble statues standing along the cobbled pathways.

"Exquisite, aren't they?" Fancy Pants said as they passed one of a mare standing on its hind legs, holding a giant scroll within its hooves while a second scroll opened up and swirled around it. "They represent the greatest of unicorn virtues, you know: Grace, Dignity, Beauty, Honor, and Wisdom can all be found here," he said, his glance jumping from one statue to the other. "No matter how busy I get, I always take a time to stroll through the statue garden every now and then. Brings about a certain... sobriety."

Before long, they reached a great, arched entrance, much larger and grander than any doorway Twilight had ever seen before. A giant carving of the Royal sigil watched them both from above the port's frame, Unicornia's flags waving from either side of it, as if to inform potential incomers, intruders and guests alike, whose roof they were about to stand under.

Walking through the entrance, passing beneath an upped portcullis dangling menacingly above their heads, Twilight could scarcely believe it was the same castle she entered as last time. Unlike the murky hallways of her examination day, the main-entrance corridor was brightly lit, with sconces lined along its sides, and sunlight coming from the windows facing outwards. It was almost entirely made in white marble, with golden embellishments sprawled across its roof and walls, which its well-polished floor made to look like they stretched down into infinity.

It felt almost sacrilege to Twilight to walk there bare-hoofed, yet she soon found herself following Fancy Pants down the hallway, their steps echoing behind them. It didn't take long before theirs joined up with others’, however, as the occasional group of ponies—from guards in shining armor to clerks carrying stacks of papers—either pranced or scurried through the castle halls.

Every now and then, a pony in expensive-looking clothes would walk up to and chat with Fancy Pants for a minute, all bows and smiles, exchanging courtesies and prattling on about something that invariably forced Twilight to suppress a yawn. Fancy Pants, however, gave each of them ample time and attention: listening intently, nodding and smiling at the right places, and even chuckled at the driest of japes.

As Fancy Pants's last acquaintance left, rounding the corner of one of the hall's countless passages, Twilight finally summoned the courage to speak.

"Um, Mr. Fancy Pants?" she asked, her words staggering.

"Please, Twilight, call me Fancy. All the young mares do."

"Uh... okay. Fancy." Given a gentle smile and encouraging nod from the stallion, the knot around Twilight’s tongue loosened slightly. She even managed to keep her voice steady as she asked, "How come you know so many ponies? And why does everypony seem to know you?"

The question made him smirk. "Why, it's what I do," he said, looking down on Twilight. "Knowing the ponies everypony should know is my profession and trade, and my own little way of assisting the Princess."

Then, as he looked back up, his entire posture suddenly changed. His shoulders tensed, his until then near-constant smile turned into a frown, and a certain darkness swept across his face.

"Even those you would prefer not to..." he muttered.

Following Fancy's line of sight, Twilight could see a pair of stallions walking towards them from down the hallway. One was a cotton-white stallion with his muzzle up the air, a flaxen blonde mane and stern face, and a dark blue fabric wrapped around his neck before welling down his back like a mantle, held together by a blue pin that seemed to be the shape of a single water drop. The other was an older stallion, gaunt and tall, with a dull, grey tone to his coat, and whitening edges around his soot-black mane.

They spoke to one another, their voices echoing down the hallway.

"Oh, I'm sure the Lord Minister does his best, Your Grace" the grey stallion said in a raspy voice, to which his companion gave a loud snort.

"Please, Counsel, I know you prefer to play the neutral party, but between the two of us—"

The pair stopped mid-step as they approached and saw both Fancy and Twilight standing before them. A look of surprise briefly swept over the white stallion's face, before it swiftly changed into a sidelong sneer.

"Ah, Minister Fancy Pants!" he said in the mocking of a friendly tone. "We were just talking about you."

Twilight frowned. Something in this stallion’s tone made her wary, as she wasn’t sure if he was giving Fancy Pants an insult or a compliment.

The Lord Minister must have picked it up also, as he made no attempt to reciprocate the smile, but simply replied “So I heard” in a firm manner. "Only nice things, I hope?" he eventually added.

The stallion cocked his head. "Only just things."

With those words, the group turned silent. Twilight's gaze shifted rapidly from one stallion to the other, until it finally landed on the grey-coated one, who, with a cough, took a step off and said, "Well, it's been a pleasure, Your Grace, but, as I said, I have urgent matters that I need attend to."

The white stallion—the one he'd called "You Grace"—didn't respond, and only barely seemed to notice that his companion had bid him farewell. Even Fancy Pants only managed a nod as he was given a cordial "Lord Minister", never taking his eyes off the stallion in front of him, before the grey-coated stallion resumed his walk down the hallway.

With the last echoing sounds of his steps phasing out, silence loomed over them once again, more earnest this time. As the silence dragged on, the tension seemed to rise until, almost by mere happenstance, the white-coated stallion glanced down at her.

"Who's the filly, Fancy Pants?" he asked, smiling narrowly. "This isn't some playhouse for the commoners... unless it's another one of your so-called bills, that is."


"My name is Twilight," she muttered, crossed of being referred to as if she wasn't there.

The stallion waved a hoof dismissively. "Yes, yes, I hardly see how that—"

Suddenly, he stopped. The stallion gave her a long, measuring look; like he'd never seen a filly before. His eyebrows rose as his gaze reached the sight of Spike laying on her back and giving a hiss of a yawn.

"Your name doesn't happen to be Twilight Sparkle, does it?", he asked, an indicative tone to his voice.

"Y...yes. Yes it is," she replied, shying together.

The stallion smiled wide and mischievously again as he turned to Fancy Pants, who, with clenched jaw and narrowed eyes, looked as if he was just about ready to strangle him.

"Well, well, well," the stallion went on, shaking his head slightly. "I suppose you're not one to waste time, are you Fancy?"

Fancy Pants did not respond, other than in hardening his stare.

The stallion-wrapped-in-blue only chuckled at Fancy's loss of words. "Aren't you going to introduce us?" he asked, pointing his hoof at her.

"Twilight," Fancy Pants finally said through gritted teeth, "This is His Grace Blueblood the 39th, Lord of Castle Blueblood and Duke of Whitetail." Every sound seemed a struggle to him, his voice as sharp as a razor.

"Nice to meet you... umm, Your Grace," she mumbled, not sure what else to say.

"Likewise, Miss Sparkle." Duke Blueblood's smile narrowed further. "Tell me," he said, "why is it that you've followed... our most illustrious Lord Minister around the Princess's castle?"

"Well..." Twilight raised an eyebrow, unsure where he was going with this. "He's been showing me the way to my new room."

"Your new room?" he asked before his face lit up in understanding. "Ah!" he said. "Your place at the Academy, of course. I'm sure that's the only reason..."

Twilight having no idea what he meant to infer, and Fancy Pants offering no explanation, the subject seemed firmly exhausted and the group turned silent once again. This time, however, before the awkwardness got unbearable, Duke Blueblood loudly cleared his throat. "Well, as delightful as this has been," he said in a tone ladened with sarcasm, "I am afraid it is time for me to take my leave."

Walking by Twilight and Fancy, Blueblood stopped next to the Lord Minister. "I suppose we'll meet soon again, Fancy Pants. And you, Miss Sparkle" he said, looking towards Twilight, "we will be watching your future career with"—he turned his head back to Fancy, grinning widely—"great interest..."

Only once the Duke was a safe distance away, the rhythmic echo of his striding hooves disappearing down some lateral hallway, did Fancy Pants close his eyes and breath out. "I'm sorry you had to see that, Twilight," he said. "I'm afraid that that stallion hardly brings out the best in me."

Their walk from that point on was mostly similar to before, except that the number of Fancy's acquaintances lowered drastically as they went deeper and deeper into the castle. Which was unfortunate, as the few there was served as a comforting pause to the awkward silence that had formed between the two of them. Twilight's unasked questions hovered above them like some dark cloud.

Who was that stallion, really? How did he know who I was, and what did all those strange things he said mean?

Up and down stairs they went, through corridors and passageways until they finally reached a long, frugal hallway. The polished marble and gold had long since given way for grey stone bricks. Sconces still littered the walls, however, spread between rows of wooden doors to both the hall's left and right side.

"This, Twilight," Fancy said, turning his head towards her, "is the filly dormitory, and here"—he stopped before one of the numbered doors—"is your room." His horn glowing, the door creaked open, allowing Twilight to peek inside.

While simple, the room was surprisingly snug and well-furnished, with a thick carpet on the floor and a bookcase made of oak standing against a wall, its empty rows causing a slight tickle in Twilight's hooves as she thought of her books filling it. Two doors led further inwards into some unknown rooms.

As Twilight walked in—her face flushed by the warm wash of sunlight coming from a crude, square window—Spike jumped off her back onto the crimson carpet. He yawned and stretched, the joints in his back giving a loud crack, before breaking out into a smile and wandering off to explore his new home.

"Well," Fancy said from out the hallway, prompting Twilight to turn around, "as everything seems to be in order, I'll leave you here for now. Your belongings should be here shortly; you could spend the time to befriend your roommate, meanwhile. If there's any kind of problem, don't hesitate to come to me." His horn lit up again, and a glow engulfed the door-handle. "I look forward to our next encounter, Miss Twilight!" And, with those word, Fancy closed the door behind him, leaving Twilight and Spike free to—

Wait! A roommate!? Nopony said anything about a roommate!

Twilight looked around her, quickly scanning the room as if somepony would be hiding in the corner. All the while she pressed her lips together, imagining all the kinds of ponies she could be saddled with: the brutes, the bores, the slobs...

Finally, she calmed herself down, taking deep, soothing breaths.

Don't worry so much, Twilight, she told herself. It's going to be fine! How bad could she possibly be?

The moment she finished that thought, one of the room's doors flung open with a loud bang. Sparks in all manner of different colors flared up as a filly jumped out, striking a dramatic pose.

"Welcome, most honored roommate of the Great and Powerful Trixie!"

Chapter 5: Gatherings

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✶✶✶ Odyssey

An MLP:FiM Fanfic by DemPonies

Chapter Five:


"Welcome, most honored roommate of the Great and Powerful Trixie!"

With those words still ringing in Twilight’s ears, she leaned back, staring with wide eyes and furrowed brows at the colorful hoops and swirls that swept up from behind the familiar-looking filly. She regarded Trixie in the same manner as the other filly’s sudden and dramatic appearance. Both were some sort of misplaced anomaly, like seeing lightning flash from a clear blue sky.

As the magically conjured sounds and colors from the fanfare died down, Trixie began to take short bows, as though she were standing before some roaring mass. “Thank you, thank you,” she said. “You’ve been a terrific audience!”

Twilight could only shake her head in disbelief while Trixie examined her with a quirked brow. “Hey! I know you!” she said, a smirk forming on her lips. “You’re that filly from the celebration—Twinkle, or something.”

“Um, Twilight,” Twilight corrected Trixie.

“No no no.” Trixie held up a hoof. “I’m Trixie, the Great and Powerful.”

It took nearly all of Twilight’s meager self-restraint not to mash her hoof against her forehead, but there was still enough left over to suppress a groan and keep her voice reasonably pleasant. “No, I mean my name is Twilight. We met at the—”

“Yes, yes, Trixie knows.” She gave a contemptuous flick of her head, causing the pointed wizard’s hat she wore to slant to one side. “You were the one who mooched off of Mom.”

“She said she didn’t want our money,” Twilight said, her eyes narrowing as her tail gave a single, sharp swish.

“Whichever. It’s not as though the Great and Powerful Trixie cares,” Trixie insisted as she began to storm off, her muzzle still held high in the air. It wasn’t long before she collided with a small, green-and-purple figure with a curious look on its face.

“Garp!” said Spike. Done exploring his new home, he’d set out to study its occupant, tilting his head to the side as he gazed up at Trixie with his large, infantile eyes.

“Why, who’s this cute little critter?” Trixie asked, smiling as she bent down to scratch Spike about the neck. He rolled onto his back, with one leg twitching fervently as she continued. “Trixie didn’t know we were allowed pets. Is he some kind of salamander?”

Twilight could only perk a brow, watching Trixie cuddle Spike the way she was. Well, she’s nice to Spike, at least. Maybe this won’t be so bad after all, she dared to hope.

“His name is Spike,” she finally replied, “and he’s actually a baby dragon.”

Trixie snorted. "Pfft! Yeah, right," she said, snickering.

Aaaand, she's back to being absolutely obnoxious again.

"Where would you get a dragon?"

“From the entrance exam,” Twilight said plainly, giving the answer no further thought.

Trixie rose like a bolt of lightning. “What?!” she shouted, causing Spike to roll to his side and scamper away. Twilight nearly fell backwards in shock herself.

What’s she… Twilight wondered, steadying herself as the the realization dawned. Oh, right. the final test. Do they… do they always make ponies try to hatch a dragon egg? Princess Guinemare said nopony had ever actually passed the final test, so… Trixie failed that test. Oh, this is perfect! She nearly tapped her hooves together in glee. Finally, some way to shut up the Great and Powerful Ego.

“From the entrance exam, of course,” Twilight repeated once she had straightened her face, a feigned sweetness to her voice. “How come such a great and powerful pony such as yourself doesn’t have one?” She barely contained a smug smirk that attempted to creep onto her lips. Trixie’s stumped expression was a thing of beauty.

Eyes wide and jaw agape, Trixie stared as though she’d just been slapped. Eventually, though, she regained her composure, grunted indignantly, and said with an excessive amount of bravado, “Trixie could have, but it was a stupid test!”

"Uh-huh," Twilight replied flatly.

“Besides,” Trixie went on, “they said Trixie passed the exam with flying colors, so what does the result of one measly test matter…?” She seemed to be addressing herself more than Twilight. Her forced bluster rang hollow as she glanced aside and began to gently rub at her foreleg.

For a moment, Twilight felt a pang of guilt, remembering her own injured pride when she thought that she had failed the exam. Maybe I went a little too far? she asked herself, but it was far too late and a bit too awkward to take her words back now.

The ensuing silence felt beleaguered, though it didn’t last any longer than a few seconds. Neither of the two fillies could manage to look each other in the eyes. Only Spike remained blissfully unaware of the tension in the air, smiling up at the both of them with his oblivious stare.

Eventually, Trixie broke the silence. “...Well, if anypony needs Trixie, she will be attending the class gathering down the hallway,” the azure filly said as she walked towards the door, still refusing to look at Twilight. “Trixie also suggests that Twibright attend, once you have seen to your belongings. It’s what all the important ponies will be doing,” she added, right before she shut the door behind her.

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. She wasn’t even bothered by being misnamed again, or being left out of the loop.

Yet again, she thought, exasperated. Still, Trixie’s advice about attending this “gathering” gave Twilight something to do, at the very least. Her luggage had yet to arrive, so there was really nothing to do for the time being. There was just one thing she needed to take care of.

“Here, Spike!” she called, causing the little green dragon to perk up again and waddle next to her. Twilight leaned down, staring deep into his eyes to firmly graps his attention. “Now listen here,” she said. “I’m going to be away for a bit, and it is very important that you stay here while I’m gone. Do you understand?”

Spike tilted his head to the side.

Twilight intensified her gaze.


"Good!" Twilight beamed and rubbed the top of his scaly head, the same way her father always did to her, before she turned around and walked towards the doorway. "There will be a yummy gemstone in it for you once I get back," she stressed before trotting out into the corridor.

Twilight stood there silently for a moment, glancing down the hallway—opposite to where she and Fancy Pants had come from—sighed, and started to trot at a brisk pace. It was the first time she had left her dragon companion alone since she had hatched him. Still, if Trixie’s reaction had been any indication, it would be for the best to keep Spike in her dormitory room.

The gentle clipping of her own hooves was Twilight’s only company as she walked the corridor. It split into a number of side passages, but it wasn’t difficult for Twilight to choose where to go. She just had to follow the buzz of excited voices.

It wasn’t long before she caught her goal in sight. At the end of her chosen corridor, there was tall set of heavy, oaken doors. They were slightly ajar, warm, faded light streaming between them into the hall. Inside, she saw more than two dozen fillies and colts, all around her own age seated in small groups on mats of colorful fabric, arranged in nearly a full circle that took up most of the room. The earlier buzzing had long since devolved into a full on cacophony.

Seated upon one of those mats was Trixie, alone, and glaring contemptuously at a small group of foals centered around a familiar looking white colt.

Rather suddenly, Twilight’s view was blocked by a looming, citrine figure with a pink ball of curls for a mane, clad in a loose-fitting gray vest. “Why, hello there!” the figure said, a mare by the sounds of it, in a warm, bubbly voice as she smiled down at Twilight.

“Um, h… hello…” Twilight replied cautiously, her brow slightly furrowed.

The mare chuckled. “Well, aren’t you just the cutest little filly,” she said with a broad smile that dimpled her cheeks. “We’re just about to get started, so why don’t you head on in and have a seat?” With the creak of aged wood, one of the doors fully opened at the behest of her magic.

At the mare’s gesture, Twilight tentatively stepped inside, unnoticed by the mass of noise that was the room’s denizens. She stood motionless for a moment, unsure of what to do with herself, before a series of claps caught her attention.

“Okay, my little ponies!” the mare from before cried out, standing beside Twilight. “Now that we’re all finally here, how about we all settle down and get this started.”

Despite—or perhaps because of—her upbeat tone, very few of the other fillies and colts seemed to take notice of her call for attention. As the moments passed, the mare’s smile grew strained and taut, before it quickly shifted back to its previous candor. With a mischievous glint in her eye, she lit her horn again, and a wave of her mint green light spread throughout the room.

The effect was immediate. Everypony fell silent—even though they continued speaking. No matter how they talked, laughed, or shouted, however, not a single whisper could be heard.

"Now, isn't this an improvement?" she asked, chipper as before. "Since you're all just listening anyway, how about you get seated and we try to get this thing going!"

With no way to protest, everypony did as instructed, albeit with a few colts and fillies mouthing silent complaints. Following suit, Twilight sat down on an empty mat, one that was as far away from Trixie as possible.

Once everypony had found a place, the mare continued. “Alright then. Since the purpose of this meeting is for us to get to know one another, I thought that we might start by introducing ourselves. I’ll go first!” She theatrically cleared her throat, closed her eyes, and put a hoof to her chest for a moment, before she burst her eyes open again and continued as if she were addressing them all for the first time. “Hello, everypony! My name is Hocus, and I’m a professor here at the Academy. I teach applied magic alongside my brother, Pocus. Most of you have probably met him already, since he’s in charge of administering all the written entrance exams.”

The collective shiver of more than two dozen students confirmed the statement.

Hocus giggled. "I know; he's got that effect on most students. But don't let it fool you! He's not so bad once you get to know him."

Twilight saw more than a few others around her exchange looks of skepticism, one she herself no doubt mirrored.

“Anyway,” Hocus went on, “I like… Manehattanite food, long walks along the beach, and sitting in front of a warm fireplace reading the latest research paper on advanced theurgy…” She had long since entered a sort of dream-like state but suddenly perked, snapping back to reality, as she remembered the task at hoof. “So! Now that you all know a little bit about me, I want you to replicate the process; tell us your name and something special about yourself.”

From her breast pocket, she magically pulled out a slightly wrinkled piece of paper and tapped it lightly with her hoof. She gave it a quick glance, her brows furrowed slightly, and said, “Let’s see… how about if B. Junior starts, since you’re first on the list?”

At this reveal, the white-coated colt from before sat at attention and began to mine something belligerent. While the finer points of his charade passed Twilight by, the overall crux of it all—gesturing towards his exaggerated mouth movements—got across just fine.

“Oops!” said Hocus sheepishly, giving off a bright flash which emanated from her horn. “I’m sorry.”

The colt in question grunted crossly and brushed aside a golden lock hanging from his flamboyantly styled mane, the marine shimmer of a fine jewel attached to the sleeves of his white frock coat flickering about. With an excessive amount of pre-adolescent voice, he soon said, “I should certainly hope so! Casting spells upon my person; do you have any idea of who I am? Who my father is?” He had tensed considerably during his tirade, sitting up straight and tall as he glared at the teacher with narrowed eyes and clenched teeth.

Meanwhile, Hocus remained unmoved, keeping her calm and pleasant demeanor. “Well, I certainly do, but I’ve also got this cheat sheet here—” She shook the piece of paper in her magic’s grasp. “—so why don’t you tell everypony else about who you are?”

He offered the rest of the group a momentary glance from the corner of his eyes before simply snorting and leaning back onto his haunches. “Well, since you have apologized and given me my rightful position at the top of your list—”

"...It's in alphabetical order..."

“—I will do as you ask.” He scoffed, a smug, lopsided grin appearing on his lips as he said, “Normally I would say that there was no point in attempting to enlighten those so far beyond hope, but… this is a place of learning. I shall do my best to educate the ignorant masses.”

Twilight frowned. Since she could not place who he was, she supposed that she was included amongst the “ignorant masses.”

“First of all, my name is not ‘Junior!’” the colt snapped, a sharp edge to his young voice. “I am Blueblood the Fortieth, ducal heir to Castle Blueblood and the White Tail; scion to an ancestral line so ancient is predates Equestria itself!” If any of the students had reacted to his little speech, he either didn’t notice or didn’t care, and he continued to prattle on without hindrance. The words had rolled easily off his tongue, as though he’d practiced them countless times before. “You would all do well to remember it, since I am so far above you in stature it would take most of you all day to count the ranks between us, provided you even could.” He put an end to his monologue by, with a whip of his mane, swinging his muzzle up into the air.

Twilight felt her jaw unhinge, staring in awe at the sheer amount of pompousness that could radiate from a single pony. Certainly, Trixie had been obnoxious, but here stood a colt that made her seem humble by comparison. It was hard for Twilight to imagine this Blueblood being related to the somewhat strange, yet still dignified noble stallion she’d met before.

Eventually, Hocus, having been at a loss for words, shattered the fragile silence that had overtaken the group. “That was a very… informative introduction,” she said in a tone suggesting she had a very different word in mind.

Blueblood, however, seemed rather satisfied with her diplomatic response, straightening up his pose and sticking his chest out as though he had done some great service to Unicornia.

Hocus proceeded to ignore him. “So—” She clasped her hooves together. “—how about we go clockwise down the circle, hm?” Not waiting for an answer, she immediately pointed a hoof towards the colt to the immediate right of Blueblood. “You look like you’re deep in thought; mind sharing with the rest of us?”

The colt in question, who had hung his head despondently throughout Blueblood’s entire introduction, suddenly snapped to attention. “Me? Umm…” he mumbled, fidgeting with his hooves. With the two of them sitting back to back, it was difficult for Twilight to imagine two colts looking any more different. While one had a coat as white as fallen snow, the other’s was so black it seemed he had crawled through a chimney. Where the first sat upright with a stilted sense of decorum, the second seemed as though he wanted nothing else than to be swallowed by the earth. “I was… wasn’t thinking about… nothing in particular.” With a forced smile, almost as an afterthought, he added, “My name is Sooty, by the way.”

Hocus returned the gesture with a somewhat warmer smile. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Sooty!" she said, prompting his drooped ears to perk up slightly.

And so it continued through the room, everypony saying their name and something special about themselves. As time passed, however, the repetition of it all began to wear on Twilight, until it all blurred together and was pushed to the inner backings of her mind. Even Trixie’s “introduction” did little to awaken Twilight’s interest as she had already been given her own private performance, with only slight variation.

The one interesting thing she did manage to pick up was that an unusual number of the students were nobles, or rather the foals of nobles. Apart from Blueblood, who was the son of a duke, there were also the progenies of marquises, counts, barons, lords, and all other manner of titles, all with important sounding names, many from places Twilight had never even heard of.

She was contemplating the meaning of this when—

"Hellooo! Life to little filly, are you there?" Somepony's muffled voice broke through her state of reverie, waving a single hoof at the edge of Twilight's field of vision.

She looked up, her eyes unfocused. “Huh?” Twilight still felt slightly dazed, as though she had just been woken in the middle of an afternoon nap.

Hocus, the proprietor of the aforementioned voice and hoof, chuckled. "I asked about your name," she said.

“Oh…” A shade of red slowly crept over Twilight’s cheeks as she noticed all the other foals staring at her. Withdrawing within her seat, she said, “Well, my name is Twilight, and… um…” She glanced hesitantly to the side, about to admit that she wasn’t anypony special, when Hocus, rather unexpectedly, spoke up on her behalf.

"Twilight?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Twilight Sparkle?"

“Y-yes…” she replied, shifting uncomfortably. There was only one place this conversation could go.

Hocus, however, gave a rather unexpectant sound, somewhere between a snort and a short laugh. "So, I guess I've got you to blame for Pokey's recent change in behavior then," she said, a sidelong smile on her lips. "Not that he's ever been terribly easy to deal with, but I think you acing his test the way you did tore him up a bit; so much so that he's opted to make things a little more challenging from now on."

The room suddenly seemed to teem with a sense of hostility, sweeping over Twilight like a gust of hot air. Nearly every other student was glaring at her with tilted eyebrows, an intense heat in their eyes. Even when casting her own gaze down, Twilight could still feel the collective frustration of more than two dozen foals drilling into her.

"Still, I guess congratulations are in order; nopony's ever had a perfect score before," Hocus said, the stares intensifying as she did. "We're expecting great things from you."

Not knowing how to answer, Twilight just rubbed the back of her neck, laughing nervously.

Thankfully, after a short moment of awkward silence, Hocus dropped the matter and instead shifted her attention to the next filly, allowing Twilight a much needed pause.

The rest of the introductions dragged by slowly once again. This time, however, Twilight found herself unable to drift away as she had done before, to relax and loosen the tension that had formed about her shoulders. While the stares had long since ceased, she could still feel a sense of general animosity directed towards her.

"... and that's why I'm not allowed at the zoo anymore," said a colt at the opposite side of the circle.

Hocus coughed, her face a strange combination of disgust and morbid fascination. “That was a very… interesting story, Starpoint. I had no idea magnifiers could be used like that.” Then, with a nick of her head, she turned to the group at large. “So, now that we’ve all gotten a sense of one another, I think I can safely proclaim this meeting to be a success.” She stood up, prompting some students to do the same as she stretched her back. “I think I’ll be taking off now, places to be and all that, but, please, by all means, feel free to stay here and mingle. I’ve booked this room for the entirety of the afternoon for you to enjoy.”

Twilight and the others stood and watched in silence as Hocus made for the door. The moment it shut behind her, everypony seemed to move at once, gravitating toward different centers and forming new groups, like shoals of fish. Before long, Twilight was one of the few to remain in place, standing by herself.

Well, I suppose I should give it a shot, thought Twilight, looking from group to group. I did promise Shining, after all. Taking a deep breath, she plastered on the best smile she could manage and walked up to a pair of fillies already in deep conversation. They looked a bit like miniature versions of the mannequins Twilight had seen whenever she went shopping with her parents, their muzzles in the air while still maintaining a stance of impeccable poise. A thin layer of rouge and paint colored both their cheeks and eyelids, respectively, with each having a silver pendant hanging around their neck and a plaid saddle in soft pastel loosely strapped to their backs.

"Can you believe Honey Dew said that?" one of them asked.

“I know!” the other replied. “You’d think she would have learned by now…”

“And did you see what she was wearing? Honestly, I’d rather—”

"Hi there!" Twilight chirped, prompting the two fillies to stop and turn towards her. "I'm Twilight," she introduced herself. Idiot! she immediately chastised herself, her already broad smile forcefully widening. They already knew that.

The pair looked at her for a moment, a measuring stare in their eyes. They seemed to study her with a mild to tenuous interest, like how one might look out the window on a particularly dull, rainy day. In tandem, they veered their heads back towards one another, still with the same, slightly bored expressions on their faces.

"Anyway," one said, "as I was saying..."

Instantly, Twilight’s attempt at a smile blew out, turning into a frown. She slowly walked away, her steps heavy. Perhaps if I tried to fit into a larger group? she mused, spying one such group standing in a circle. She wandered up to it and tried to edge her way in, but every time Twilight got close, somepony moved and blocked her passage. After a few more tries, during which—like some kind of collective consciousness—the circle seemed to tighten wherever she tried to get through, Twilight had had enough.

Fine! she wanted to shout as she made for the door. I know where I’m not wanted…

She left without another word or even a backwards glance. A sigh escaped her lips once she was out in the corridor, the thick, wooden door hushing the chatter from inside. She stood there for a moment, alone, thinking back on what had just happened, before she gave a loud snort.

No matter; I'm not here to make friends anyway, she thought, truthfully. Yet, something she couldn't, or wouldn't, quite put her hoof on still galled at her from the back of her neck. Rather than to analyze it further, she decided to head for her dorm before somepony else walked out the room, and she had to confront one of them again.

As it turned out, walking to the dorm was one thing, finding it another entirely. When not guided by the loud blather of a class of young foals, it proved easy to get lost in the castle's maze-like hallways. Finally, after about half an hour's worth of twists and turns, she finally found her and Trixie's room. She was just about to open the door and walk in when—

"Twilight! Twilight Sparkle!" a squeaky voice called from behind her, quickly followed by the ever increasing sound of running hooves.

Twilight turned around. “Sooty?” she asked, surprised to see the inky black and actually rather lanky colt rush up to stand before her, nearly doubling over, panting heavily with beads of sweat dripping down his face.

"Finally... I... found you..." he said in a raspy voice, trying hard to catch his breath.

Twilight scratched the back of her head. “Sooty,” she repeated, glancing briefly along the empty hallway, “what are you doing here?”

Drawing a single, deep wheeze, he said, "That filly—Trixie—told me to come get you..."

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh… her… Look, if she wants to put on another show, she can—”

"No!" Snooty said, shaking his head. "She said it was important—something about an emergency, and a dragon..."

“A dragon?” Twilight echoed, confused, before her eyes grew wide. She gasped.


She forced open her dormitory’s door as though it were nothing, calling out, “Spike!”

The room was empty; nopony answered.

Twilight turned to Sooty and barked, “Where are they?”

He raised his hooves, as if to shield himself. “They’re back at the meeting room,” he croaked, “but—”

Whatever else he had to say went unsaid as Twilight immediately sprinted down the hallway.

"Hey, wait up!" she heard Sooty plead from behind her.

She didn’t, though. Her legs carried her as fast as they could back the way she came, avoiding any detours. They had already walked the path twice. They knew where they had to go.

As Twilight approached the meeting room’s large wooden doors, ajar once more, she heard the frightened shrieks of colts and fillies alike echo out from inside. Bursting through, she was greeted by a most bizarre scene.

At one end of the room stood Spike, an anxious and agitated look on his face, and at the other stood Blueblood with nearly the entirety of the class—either holding each other tightly or looking over each other’s shoulders—behind him. Between the two, all by her lonesome, stood Trixie, glaring daggers up towards the young lord.

“Why don’t you pick on somepony your own size?” she said with a growl.

Blueblood in turn had drawn himself up tightly. His mane was mussed and there was a stricken look about his eyes and lips, as though somepony had just made a less than flattering remark about his mother. “Why, that little… monster attacked me! You all saw it!” he wailed, pointing an accusatory hoof towards where Spike would be, was Trixie not in the way. The sleeve of his coat was visibly torn, the fine fabric reduced to tatters where his gemstone cufflink should have been.

Spike, meanwhile, had dipped his head low and shook uncontrollably, frightened like a pup in a thunderstorm, until he caught sight of Twilight standing by the doorway. He called out, “Garp!” as a relieved look washed over his face.

Everypony turned towards her immediately thereafter, Blueblood with fury in his eyes. "You!" he shouted, taking a few steps towards Twilight. "I've understood that you're the proprietor of this miscreant."

Twilight raised her head high. "That's right!" she said, defiantly.

"Well, not for long!" Blueblood tapped his hoof towards Twilight in an aggressive manner. "Once I've told my father about this, that little thing will be shipped off to a zoo somewhere the sun doesn't shine, you'll get kicked out of the Academy, and forget all about—Ahhhhh!" he shirked in a voice ten times his size.

From seemingly out of nowhere, Spike had vaulted through the air and latched onto the the colt’s other leg, his growls muffled by cloth.

The room nigh on exploded into chaos and confusion as Blueblood tried to leap away, panicked screams and sprinting hooves raging all around while he jumped, danced, and kicked in an attempt to shake off the small reptile that had taken hold of him. Nopony knew quite how to react. Some wailed, others barked curses, others yet shoved at one another to either get a better view or make a dash toward the door, nearly trampling one another. Eventually, Blueblood shook his leg violently enough to dislodge Spike, and he fell to his back with an audible thump against the solid stone floor.

You little vermin!” Blueblood cried out, raising a single hoof to strike the little dragon in front of him.

Spike yelped, his eyes bulging in terror.

Time seemed to slow to a crawl as Twilight saw her dear Spike in peril, and a breath caught inside her throat. She tensed, a burning sensation coming up from within as a fiery essence spread out to every part of her body, all the way to the tips of her mane. She felt… imposing, leaner and taller, every shadow in the room growing long and daunting before her.

The warm touch of fire embraced her, and, before long, her entire being set itself ablaze. Her coat shone a brilliant, smoldering white, bright as the sun, and her eyes blazoned with the hue of red-hot iron.

You leave him alone!” she roared, her voice seeming to reverberate off the walls like some eldritch demon from the depths of Tartarus.

Blueblood and the other students stood paralyzed for a moment, before they screamed as one collective being as loud as their little lungs could manage, galloping out the door. Only two ponies remained—Trixie and Sooty—clinging desperately to one another while shaking uncontrollably, staring in disbelief.

A moment passed, Twilight merely glaring powerfully at them… until she felt something press up against her leg. Her gaze fell there, eyes still ablaze and her face a dismal glower, to find Spike nuzzling her side.

He pressed his chin up against her smoldering coat, unaffected by the fire’s heat, with a cheerful smile on his face. Opening his tiny maw, he said, “Twi...wight...” each sound an unfamiliar, drawn-out effort on his part.

While the word was guttural, hailing from somewhere deep within his throat, it was clear enough to be unmistakable. Despite herself, Twilight could feel her rage and aggression subside as she let out a quiet gasp. All of a sudden, the flames about her body blew out like a candle in the wind. The power and magic she had summoned did not appear to do any lasting damage to her at all, other than a few singed strands of her mane and tail.

As if having suffered a blow, the world suddenly seemed spin around her. Twilight shook her head and rubbed her temples to try and find her hoofing. That’s when her eyes stumbled upon the little dragonling still standing by her side. “Spike!” she cried out, smiling, every maneuveral difficulty swiftly forgotten about. “You talked! You said my name!” Twilight lifted him up into the air, a few hooflengths before her face. “Could you do it again?” she asked, emphatically.

Spike beamed. “Twi-wight!” he said again, happy to comply.

Just as Twilight was about to let a laugh out, she spied some peculiar shape from out of the edge of her vision and her smile blew out.

As her gaze befell the two foals once more, she saw that they were no longer shaking. Still, they stared at Twilight with round eyes and their jaws unhinged. Only then did the fog permeating her mind lift, and Twilight began to comprehend what she had done, what exactly had just transpired.

“Trixie, Sooty,” she pleaded. “I am so sorr—”

“Twilight,” Trixie interrupted with a somber tone. “That… was… amazing!

Twilight wasn't quite sure she'd heard right. "H-huh?" she stuttered. "You thought that was... amazing?"

Trixie nearly leapt off of Sooty and started to nod fervently. "That was one of the most impressive magic-stunts I've ever seen," she said. "Trixie herself couldn't have done it better!"

Even with the touch of swagger at the end, Twilight couldn’t help but smile at Trixie’s compliment. Her mirth was cut short, however, the moment she recalled why she was back in the meeting room in the first place. “Oh, yeah!” she blurted out, her eyes widening. “I’ve got to thank you, Trixie! For standing up for Spike, I mean. We really appreciate it.”

"Garp!" the little dragonling concurred.

Trixie chuckled behind a raised hoof, lifting her chin high into the air. “You’re both quite welcome,” she said. “Although Trixie certainly doesn’t need much motivation when it comes to sticking it to such pompous little brats. Really, did you hear all those condescending and ego-stroking things he said?”

Said the pot about the kettle, Twilight thought, resisting the urge to vocalize exactly that. She turned to Sooty, who’d only just then risen up and dusted himself down. “And I should thank you, too, Sooty!” Twilight said, giving the colt pause. “If you hadn’t have shown up when you did, I might not have made it in time.” And who knows what might have happened then…

He smiled awkwardly, glancing off to the side as he rubbed at the back of his neck. “Heh, don’t mention it,” he said, a light crimson showing through the dark coat around his cheeks. “Anypony would’ve done the same.”

"Yeah!" Trixie chipped in. "What else are friends for?"

Twilight jolted slightly, her eyebrows raised. "Sure," she finally said once the shock had worn off, a humored smile on her lips. "Friends..." To her own astonishment, she managed to say the word with almost no amount of sarcasm.

Her musings were interrupted by the unmistakable sound of a rumbling dragon-tummy.


The small group of foals laughed as the somber atmosphere burst into a thousand bits.

"Yeah, I'm pretty starved too, Spike," Twilight said truthfully, the long sprint down the dorm and her little magic burst from before having taken a heavy toll on her blood sugar.

"I think I saw a cafeteria not far from here." Sooty tipped his head towards the doorway. "I could take you there if you'd like."

Trixie nodded earnestly, walking up to the two of them. "And we could talk magic-tricks on the way there!"

Twilight looked to each of them—Spike, Sooty, and Trixie—one at a time before she finally caved in and cracked a smile. "Sure, that sounds nice."

And so, the three foals and baby dragon left the room and its vapid ambience behind, together.


For what felt like an indeterminably long time—anywhere between an hour and a lifetime—Prince Regal walked the labyrinthian halls that were Unicornia Castle. Despite his gaze being set down against the stone floor, its tiles repeating an endless pattern of squares and triangles, his hooves moved by themselves, slowly taking him to the usual meeting place. Eventually, though, he stopped short before one of the castle’s countless plain, wooden doors. He stepped through, neglecting to knock. He knew he was expected.

Regal shuddered slightly as he entered the room. It was sparsely furnished with little more than a table and a pair of chairs, each made of unvarnished mahogany. They stood before a wide, open window framed in wispy, crimson curtains. The twinkling of the stars and moon was the room’s only light.

By the table stood a single stallion, tall and light grey. His onyx mane was stricken with the grey of age and fluttered in the night breeze. “Greetings, my prince,” he said, his voice a raspy baritone. “How did your meeting with Her Highness go?”

Regal sighed, closing the door behind him. "I am afraid to say that it was a failure, Orphic." He muttered a silent curse beneath his breath, resisting his newfound urge to set something on fire. "I can't believe her," he sputtered. "It's like she refuses to listen to reason!"

Lord Orphic turned in response, his gaunt face coming into view. “A pity,” he said, calm as the mountain. “She is young, though I had hoped she would have found the wisdom to listen to sound advice.” He approached Regal, a smirk forming on his lips. “A good leader listens to his advisors.” He placed a hoof on Regal’s shoulder. “And you are wise beyond your years, my prince.”

Regal glanced aside, shaking his head. “Only because of what you have taught me, Orphic.”

The older stallion lifted his hoof, chuckling. "I don't think you are giving yourself enough recognition." A sly look on his face, he said, "You are intelligent, altruistic, and foresighted; somepony a stallion can look up to."

Regal raised his head, examining his mentor, a faint smile forming from the praise. “You think so?” he asked.

“I know so.” Orphic returned the affection for a moment before his expression suddenly turned sour. “Which, not to speak ill of those absent, I cannot say of your sister.” There was a cold sting to his words.

"What do you mean?" Regal asked, his brows furrowed.

“A true leader,” Orphic began, speaking solemnly—not just to Regal, but to some ethereal audience. “A true leader does exactly what is needed of him. A true leader does not endanger others due to trifling matters of morality.”

"Like the filly," said Regal.

Orphic smiled. "Yes," he replied. "Yes, exactly like the filly." Already, the castle had been buzzing with the rumor of this young magical prodigy that had moved into the castle. Orphic himself had heard only earlier that day and, even then, all too late. "Your sister knows she's dangerous, yet she lets her walk freely, endangering all those she's sworn to protect."

Regal found himself nodding along. A true leader, he thought.

When their father had died, Regal had been brushed aside, out of sight, as Gwyn took the mantle of monarch. For many lonely nights—lonely weeks which turned to lonely months—he watched his sister take part in the senseless dance of politics with the gentry and the populace, trying to instill her own brand of leadership, her own ethics, her own morality. She continued that dance to this very day.

Frustrated, he turned to glimpse his cutie mark—a three-arched crown. It was a respectable mark, one that signified his divine right to rule, made of gold and crusted with glistening jewels. But not platinum, he thought. Not like Sister’s.

Silently, he stalked past Orphic to the open window and gazed down towards the city below. Even from the heights of the castle, one could clearly see the candlelit homes of thousands, and a few dark silhouettes of the city’s inhabitants still moving about. A gust of chill night air flew in through the window, and Regal inhaled deeply.

"Orphic," he said, not diverting from the landscape. "If you see an injustice, don't you think mending it is the right thing to do?"

"My prince," Lord Orphic said, a light smile on his lips. "I think it is one's duty to do so."

At that, Regal breathed deep once more. His stance grew tense, his entire being braced for what he was about to say. Were I to make this choice, there would be no turning back, he thought, the very idea bringing a cold sweat to his brow. His tongue grew numb. The words died in his throat. He struggled for a time, before finally swallowing hard. “I’ll do it,” he suddenly spat out. Much to his own surprise, especially considering the mere utterance of the words aloud had his heart hammering within his chest, he somehow managed to keep his voice steady, yet he found that the words held a certain power. Simply voicing them had lifted a heavy burden from his shoulders. “I’ll do it!” he repeated, and then added, “For myself, and those below.”

Orphic’s expression remained inscrutable, and he said simply, “I know, my prince. It is in your nature.” He bowed his head slightly, a glimmer in his eye. “It would do me great honor to assist in your endeavor.”

Regal breathed out a silent sigh of relief. I knew I could count on him, he thought.

Orphic leaned closer and said, in a quiet whisper, "But we must be cunning. Do you remember what I've taught you?"

Regal nodded. "Patience."

"Exactly. We strike when we are ready, not a moment sooner."

Orphic slowly walked to the window until he stood next to Regal. "Don't you worry," he said with a smirk, looking over the landscape of Canterlot. "Our time will come."