"Right over here, young lady," said Ms. Flask, the gray-coated science teacher, motioning to an open space at one of the classroom's tables. "And have a seat."
The new student hesitantly shrugged out of her green carryall and sat down in the indicated spot. Forehooves on the table, head lowered, she tried to ignore the look of horrified fascination she was getting from every filly and colt in the class.
Everyone except her table-mate. The lavender filly hadn't taken her nose out of her book for a moment.
"Twilight," said Ms. Flask. "This is Tempest Shadow. She's joining our class today."
"Mm hmm," Twilight said, not even looking up as she turned a page with her magic.
"And Tempest," said Ms. Flask, "this is Twilight Sparkle. She's one of our best students. If you have any questions she should be able to help you."
"Uhm... yes, ma'am." Tempest nervously ran a hoof through her plume-like mane, carefully avoiding the stump of her broken horn. Then she reached out for one of the textbooks stacked in the center of the table. It was a little too far away to grab, and she gritted her teeth angrily, straining to get her hoof onto it, all the while trying to shut out the looks of smug amusement from the unicorns seated at the other tables.
And then the book suddenly gleamed with magenta light and slithered off the pile, falling neatly within her grasp. Thankfully, she grabbed it and pulled it over.
"Page 54," Twilight whispered idly, still not looking up from her book. "We're reading the chapter on the differences between physical and thaumic materials."
"Thanks," Tempest whispered back.
There was no reply.
Flipping open the book, Tempest found the right page. She looked briefly at her seat-mate, but Twilight still hadn't even glanced in her direction. Not wanting to disturb the only pony in the room who seemed to be at least tolerantly indifferent to her presence, Tempest settled in to read.
Standing at the doorway leading out to the corridor, Princess Celestia smiled at Twilight's typical absorption in reading. "I'll leave Tempest in your capable hooves for now, Florence," she said to the teacher. "Give her whatever she needs to get started, but allow her time to settle in first."
"Of course, Your Highness!" Florence gave a respectful bob.
Beside Celestia, the Royal Guard officer who'd accompanied the Princess fidgeted uncomfortably. "Is this wise, Your Highness?" he asked. "That little terror took down three guard ponies twice her size before we could bring her in."
"Has she given you any further trouble?" Celestia asked. "Once we made it clear we merely wished to give her a warm meal and a place to sleep?"
"Well... no," the guard allowed.
"Then indulge me please," Celestia said firmly. "I'm playing a hunch, if you like."
The guard shut his mouth. There was no brooking that tone.
Celestia herself eyed the unusually tall, broken-horned, maroon-coated filly, who every now and then glanced around warily at her surroundings.
Yes, she thought, this just might do it...
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
After a while, Twilight slapped her book closed and dropped it on the table. "All done!" she said, briskly. She looked at Tempest. "You want to go out and play?"
Surprised, Tempest looked around at the other students concentrating furiously on their textbooks. "Aren't we supposed to be studying?"
"I'm Princess Celestia's personal student," Twilight said. The fact was offered bluntly and confidently, as if she was announcing the sky was blue. "When I'm done with the assigned lesson, I'm allowed to amuse myself until everypony else catches up. And it's morning recess next anyways, so I feel like going outside."
"And... I'm allowed to go with you?" Tempest asked cautiously, not wanting to get into any further trouble.
Twilight nodded. "You're a student of Princess Celestia too, right? I heard her at the door when you came in. So the same must apply to you. That is, if you've finished the lesson already."
Tempest gestured at the book before her. "That? I got to the end of the chapter ten minutes ago. I just started over at the beginning because they hadn't said what else to do."
"Really?" For once, Tempest saw interest in Twilight's eyes. "You read fast! Almost as fast as me!"
Tempest grimaced. You'd be surprised, she thought, how quickly you learn to read fast when you have to swipe food from pantries at night.
Twilight got up from the table and trotted over to a carryall with her cutie-mark on it, sitting near the teacher's desk. At Twilight's wordless gesture, Tempest picked up her own carryall and set it down next to Twilight's. Twilight had already dug into a pocket of her carryall and pulled out a thick volume. The book floated along beside her in her magic as she trotted out through the doorway leading to the school grounds.
Outside, Twilight led the way over to a handy shade-tree, plunked down comfortably under it, snapped open the book to a bookmark tucked into its pages... and then simply became lost in reading, with not a word to her startled companion.
Tempest waited for a few moments. When nothing further happened, she shrugged and then looked about for something to do to amuse herself. There was playground equipment nearby, so she headed towards that, more as a destination than because she felt like using it.
As she went she instinctively glanced around, immediately spotting the two obvious guard ponies at the edges of the grounds to the left and right. And the one who likely thought he was well-concealed in the bushes on the far side of the playground. She smirked. The guards probably even thought they could take her down, too. Guards always misjudged Tempest's strength, simply because she was a unicorn. At least there were some compensations for the loss of her horn...
Reaching the playground, she trotted across the play surface, finding it disquietingly springy underhoof. She came across an abandoned buckball, and sat herself down facing it. Princess Celestia had advised her to start small, and at low power, if she wanted to get control over her broken magic again. Setting her attention firmly on the ball, Tempest fired up her horn just a trifle, and focused on nothing more than finding the ball's shape with her magic... if she could only make the shape settle down, she'd be getting somewhere.
She sat there, her magic flickering and crackling around the ball, for several minutes. And then she sighed, and let her horn fall silent. It felt like she was making progress, just a little, though it was depressingly slow. She regarded the ball sadly. It reminded her of another ball... and of friends...
Tempest shut her eyes, forcing the tears back. No. She wasn't going there. Not again. Not ever. She had a chance here. Princess Celestia seemed to care at least. For what reason, Tempest didn't know, but she was determined to make this opportunity work.
Firing up her horn again, she returned to work, feeling for the ball's shape. Round. Like a ball. Geez, she thought. The simplest of perfect forms, and I can't even find the thing! It's magic kindergarten all over again!
She was so determinedly focused on the ball, that for once she let her guard down. She didn't notice the other students who, finally let out for morning recess, were cautiously approaching her.
"Wow!" one of them spoke up, startling her. "Her horn really is broken."
"I'll say! If she can't even lift a buckball," said Silver Plate, a silver-coated filly with an aristocratic air. "Who let you in here, anyway?" She eyed Tempest suspiciously.
"She's probably someone's sister, or cousin," said a curly-maned colt. "They let her in out of kindness."
"You're supposed to lift the thing, sweetie," Silver Plate jeered. "Like this..." Her magic took hold of the ball.
And Tempest's forehoof smacked ringingly down on top of it, pinning it in place.
"No," she growled, her ears laid back.
The fillies and colts looked at each other, amused. "Oh, really?" one of them said. "That's the best you can do?"
And then Tempest felt a nimbus of power enclosing her, lifting her helplessly off the ground. "Oh... my... gosh," Silver Plate said in disgust. "She can't even do a simple charm-blocking shield."
Tempest felt the ball slipping out of her grasp. And something within her screamed bloody murder. She flung out her hooves, scooped the ball up, and hugged it tightly to herself.
No! I won't let go! I won't let you take it away from me, not this time!
She felt multiple magic auras tugging gently at her, trying to peel loose her hooves. The fillies and colts were laughing, clearly enjoying the game.
Tempest shut her eyes, drew in on herself, wrapping herself tightly around the ball, absolutely, utterly determined not to lose her grip on it.
Her temper, though, was another matter entirely.
Her eyes snapped open. Her horn crackled threateningly.
You want to see what I can really do? she thought grimly.
Aiming at the ground, she let loose a thunderous blast of electric fire that spread out in a circle beneath her. Held in midair, she was insulated from it, but the same wasn't true for her tormentors, who shrieked in shock and discomfort as they hurriedly flung up shield spells. And even with that protection, most of them were bowled over by the flood of energy. The plastic safety surface directly beneath Tempest charred, then melted, then exploded outwards. The sand beneath it rapidly congealed into glass.
Tempest dropped to her hooves amidst the smoke and falling plastic fragments, completely unharmed and proudly balancing the ball on a hoof. She laughed at the other students, who were picking themselves up from the ground in astonishment.
"Next time," she sneered at them, "pick on someone your own size."
"Children!" shouted an authoritative voice. It was Ms. Flask, anxiously galloping towards them. "What is going on out here!"
Silver Plate was angrily brushing bits of burnt plastic off her coat. "She attacked us!" she yelled. "With her magic! Students aren't allowed to do that! She should be expelled!"
"Tempest," Ms. Flask demanded, "what's gotten into you! What made you do something like that?"
Tempest just stared at her. Then she hugged the ball close with a hoof, gripping it tightly, her head lowered and her lips pressed tight shut.
"I won't repeat myself, young lady!" Ms. Flask warned. "I want an answer. Right now!"
"They were teasing her," called a voice from under the tree nearby. It was Twilight, still engrossed in her book. She turned a page as she spoke. "They were using their magic to torment her. Tempest was only defending herself. They should be apologizing to her."
"Huh!" Silver turned up her snout. "And what would you know about it, Twilight Bookface? You weren't even looking!"
Twilight slammed the book shut, and stared levelly at her. Her tone was suddenly coldly furious. "I am Princess Celestia's personal protégé! Are you calling me a liar?"
"Well..." Silver's mask of poise slipped just a hair.
"Furthermore," Twilight went on, "Tempest is the Princess's student, too. And do you know what Princess Celestia does to anyone who messes with her students?" She let the implied threat hang in the air. None of the students wanted to envision the many, varied, and terrible possibilities.
Silver Plate finally made a face. "Sorry," she muttered, with extreme reluctance. "We were just having a little fun with you."
The other students offered muttered apologies as well.
"Well." Ms. Flask nodded. "I see that my anger was misplaced, Tempest. So I'm sorry as well. But you really mustn't let your magic boil over like that. We don't have the funds to keep replacing playground equipment, you know!"
Tempest winced, glancing around at the destroyed playground surface. "I'm very sorry about that. I'll try hard not to lose my temper again." She glared around at the other students. "Provided I'm not given reason..."
After a brief lecture from Ms. Flask on playground etiquette, the students moved off to their own activities.
And Tempest trotted over to the tree. "Thanks," she said to Twilight.
The lavender filly had already returned to her book. She shrugged mildly. "It wasn't your fault, so they shouldn't be allowed to blame it on you. And sorry for not lending a hoof myself... but my magic's pretty powerful, even more than yours. Princess Celestia's warned me against using it on other ponies, at least until I've learned better control over it."
Tempest eyed her in puzzlement. Twilight's tone was once again matter-of-fact, calmly dispassionate. She might have been discussing what they were having for lunch that day. Yet clearly there was a history here, which Tempest wasn't privy to.
And she didn't feel like prying.
"It's okay," Tempest said at length. "I can look out for myself."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The second morning session was mostly call-and-response on the chapter everyone had just read, so both Twilight and Tempest were able to handle that with ease. And then Twilight invited Tempest to lunch with her. Which is to say, they sat at the same table in the cafeteria, and they ate their lunches at the same time. Twilight spent most of the meal with her eyes glued to a book lying open on the table, saying nothing.
But Tempest didn't take offense. Out of necessity she'd learned to read ponies, in particular for animosity or duplicity. With Twilight, she got none of that. The lavender filly wasn't intentionally being rude or dismissive. She simply had her own interests and priorities, and she'd long ago decided to stick to them, to the exclusion of all else.
Tempest could understand that. It was how she'd been living herself, the past few months.
When they'd finished lunch, Twilight swept her carryall onto her back, and then looked at Tempest. "I'm only in classes during the morning" she said. "In the afternoons I go back to my room and work on assignments that Princess Celestia gives me. Does she do the same with you?"
Tempest considered. "Well, she did give me an exercise to work on, to help with strengthening my control of my magic..."
"Perfect," Twilight said. "We can study together, if you like."
Tempest was coming to understand what 'together' meant to Twilight. But on the other hoof, she certainly didn't want to go back to that classroom all by herself.
"I'd like that," she said.
"Great. Let's go!"
Leading the way, Twilight trotted steadily through the school's corridors, then into the library annex, and finally across a courtyard to a tall minaret-like tower. Trotting up its spiral staircase to the very top room, Twilight shoved open the doors with a proprietary air and trotted inside. When Tempest followed, she found herself in a penthouse-style room that was equal parts library, laboratory, and observatory.
"You live here?" Tempest asked, looking around in astonishment of the size of the room.
Twilight gave an embarrassed smile. "Well, sort of. I do have a standard student's room in the dorm wing, but I've kinda taken up residence here instead. It's convenient because it's got room for all the books I need, and equipment for the experiments I work on. And almost no one bothers coming all the way up here, so I pretty much have it to myself. That means it's reasonably quiet for studying."
She glanced around for a moment as if looking for something, and then called out to the room in general.
"Spike! Front and center! We've got company!"
Around one of the nearby bookshelves trotted a small purple dragon with green spines. He was carrying a feather duster in one claw and a book in the other. "Aw, you shoulda warned me, Twi," he grumbled. "I would've started with the housecleaning first."
Then he came to a halt, staring wide-eyed at Tempest. "Woah!"
"Spike, this is Tempest Shadow. She's one of Celestia's students. And Tempest, this is Spike. He's my assistant."
"Uh, pleased to meet ya." Spike held out a claw for a shake. "Hey, if you don't mind me asking, what happened to your horn?"
Tempest grimaced, eyes lowered. She really didn't want to go into it. But equally she didn't want to put off the closest thing she had to a friend just now. "I chased a lost ball into an Ursa Minor's den," she said quietly. "And then I was stupid enough to try to take it down with my magic."
"Ooh." Twilight winced. "That couldn't have gone well. Nopony can battle an Ursa on their own. Not even Star Swirl the Bearded. Say, that reminds me, Spike... did we get that book on augmented reality spells I requested from the Archives?"
"Sure did! I put it on your worktable."
"Great! That'll help a lot with my midterm project for class..." The two of them trotted away, across the room, chatting voluably with each other.
And Tempest simply stood where she was, eyes wide. She was used to looks of horror, of insufferable pity -- even to ponies berating her in disgust for her carelessness and foolishness, and then spending the rest of the conversation pretending not to stare at her broken horn.
Nopony could do that.
And thus, by extension:
It wasn't your fault.
And that was it. Her broken horn was completely a non-issue.
No one had ever taken the worst thing that ever happened to Tempest and so thoughtlessly, bluntly negated the one thing about it that made it impossible to face: the near-certainty that in some way, everything that had happened to her was her fault, her mistake.
Feeling stunned, Tempest followed after the pony and the dragon, trying to find words. She realized there weren't any. And that it was perfectly okay. After all, she wasn't the talkative type, and Twilight... well, she wasn't the listening type.
Tempest finally gave it up, and found something else to say. "So... you have a dragon as an assistant?"
"That's me!" Spike said proudly.
"And what does she need you for?" Tempest asked him. "If... you don't mind me asking."
"Not a bit," Spike said, without rancor. "I do a little of everything, really. I take letters, and help Twi with her assignments. And pick up after her, like the books she leaves all over the place."
"Spike," Twilight objected, "I do not!"
"Uh, Exhibit A... through Z?" Spike gestured with his claws at the books stacked and scattered all over: on tables, on the floor, and balanced on just about anything with an upper surface.
Twilight rolled her eyes. "Okay, yeah. I just get so focused on whatever I'm working on, it's easy to lose track."
"So I've noticed," Tempest said dryly.
"Speaking of work," Twilight said, authoritatively. "We should get to it. Now, the Princess wanted me to compile a list of standard transfiguration spells, and determine common components in their construction. What does she have you working on, Tempest?"
Tempest blinked. "Oh, just... a focus exercise. Nothing much, really."
"Well, feel free to use whatever space you need here. And give me or Spike a yell if you need something." And with that, Twilight swung round and vanished into the bookshelves, a pony on a mission.
Spike shrugged helplessly at Tempest. "What she said. Just shout if I can help. That's what I'm here for!" He trotted after Twilight.
Shrugging, Tempest found a clear space in the middle of the room which seemed reasonably out of the way. Dumping off her carryall, she fished in the right-hand pocket.
And brought out the buckball. She hoped no one at the School would miss it. After having held onto it so determinedly, she'd been reluctant to part with it. And more than that, she wasn't done with it, yet...
Setting it on the carpet before her, she lit up her horn and began feeling for its shape once again. It was so tantalizingly there, just out of reach. It always felt like she only needed just a little more power to snap it into focus -- but she knew from experience that adding more power simply turned her horn into a fountain of sparks erupting from her head, threatening to set everything around her on fire.
She shut her eyes, forcing her magic the other way, quieter and quieter, stiller and stiller, until even she wasn't certain her horn was still alight.
It felt like her magic was stabilizing... but it always did. And it always remained stubbornly distorted, blurred, out of focus...
But then she felt something different: a warm tingling about her horn. And she felt her magic suddenly stabilize, snap into focus. She felt it latch onto the ball, find its shape, trace out its perfect form...
And lift it from the carpet.
Her eyes sprang open. She stared at the ball, hovering in the blue electric shimmer of her magic, calmly and placidly -- as if it was nothing at all.
And beyond it was Twilight Sparkle, her own horn lit up and singing gently. But if Twilight wasn't holding the ball, then... Tempest peered upward, at the stump of her horn. And saw the magenta gleam tracing out the outline of her horn and completing it, containing her magic so that it was stable and clean and responding easily to her will.
Tempest gasped. Her horn silenced. The ball hit the floor and rolled aside.
Twilight started back, a shocked look on her face, her own horn falling quiet.
"Woah! I'm sorry!" she said. "Maybe I should've warned you first. It's just that you're a student of Celestia's too, and well... it looked like you could use some help..."
"How are you doing that?" Tempest demanded. "I thought there was nothing anyone could do about my horn!"
"Not about the horn," Twilight agreed. "But I thought I might try a shield spell, with a conic perfect form, to help contain and channel your magic. It's... kinda hard to do, since I have to pay attention all the time and keep shifting the shield phasing around. Like trying to hold onto a hoof-full of marbles. But I figured maybe, if you could see what your magic looks like when it's stable, that'd help you when you work on the exercise by yourself. You'd know what you were looking for, so to speak."
Tempest stared down at the ball, her mouth open, speechless.
Spike trotted over and cautiously put a claw on her foreleg. "Are you okay, Tempest?" he asked.
Tempest shut her mouth, and nodded. "Better than I've been in a long while," she said.
Twilight hesitantly smiled. "So... you wanna go again?"
Tempest stared at her. "Like you really have to ask?"
Twilight nodded, and they set to work again. Tempest gently fired up her horn, and she felt Twilight's magic gently enclose it, like hooves cupped about a candle flame to keep drafts from snuffing it out. Then Tempest found the ball, found its shape with her magic, and lifted it from the carpet...
... and just sat there, staring at it, bobbing gently in the air. She didn't think she'd ever seen anything that so filled her with hope.
Twilight, her tongue between her teeth, was clearly working hard to maintain the shield. Yet every now and then she'd glance at Tempest with a smile. See what I can do? her look said. And: does it make you happy?
Not just any pony could do something like that, Tempest thought. Use her power to contain and stabilize another pony's magic -- particularly mine, which is so out of control even at the best of times.
Twilight wasn't thoughtless, Tempest realized. She wasn't arrogant, she wasn't inattentive. She cared, and wanted to help... but she had so little opportunity to show it. Her magic was so powerful she was forced to keep it to herself. She wanted approval... and had no one to ask for it. And she was so accustomed to being by herself, she'd never really learned how to reach out to others... never really learned how to make friends.
Sounds like somepony I know, Tempest thought sadly. And I wish I could do something about that, to pay her back for all this.
And, quickly enough, an idea occurred to her.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Once Tempest felt she could continue with the focus exercise by herself, Twilight excused herself and headed back to the shelves to continue gathering books. Then she sat reading and scribbling at her worktable for over an hour.
Finally, she downed quill, and sighed. "There! All ready to turn in. Time to take a break!"
"Oh, goody..." Tempest said, giving Twilight a sly look. "''Cause I know the perfect game for us to play."
"A game?" Twilight asked, a little doubtfully. Apparently she wasn't used to activities she didn't come up with herself.
Tempest nodded. "You'll like this one. It's called... Book Hunt."
Twilight's eyes lit up immediately. And Tempest grinned. Gotcha. Lucky for you there aren't any secrets I need you to spill...
"It goes like this," Tempest went on, calmly and languidly. "I name a book, somewhere in your library here. And you have to find it. If you do, you score a point. If you can't find it, I score a point. First pony to twenty wins. How about it?"
"Oh, I am so in!" Twilight agreed. "But..." she looked puzzled, "how do you know what books I have here?"
"Easy. It works like this. First, you need to find the oldest book here."
Twilight nodded, getting it. "Okay... that would be the Annals of the Three Tribes. It's in that glass case over there."
"Okay, point for you. Now, how about the longest book?"
Twilight thought for a bit. "Single volume or multiple?"
"Let's say single, just to keep it simple."
"Okay, that's easy, it's Remembrance of Things Pony, by Faust, and --" Her eyes suddenly went wide. "Spike, where did I put that last?"
"You're asking me?" Spike glared at her. "That thing's a doorstop! It's almost as heavy as I am."
Twilight hurriedly dove into the shelves, hunting around, and then eventually returned, looking embarrassed. "Okay, I give up. I know it's here somewhere. I'll probably trip over it on my way to bed tonight."
"Point for me then," Tempest said archly. "All right, here's an easy one: find me the book that's furthest east."
Twilight stared... and then broke into a grin. "Location or subject matter? If it's subject matter, that would be Art of Counting, by Wun Tzu."
"Location," Tempest replied coolly.
Twilight hunted busily in the bookshelves on the eastern side of the room for a few minutes, and eventually grabbed a ruler to poke into the depths of the shelves. She finally settled on a large-format folio of early Prench impressionist paintings.
Tempest shook her head. And went to her bookbag, sitting by the door, and pulled out the book she'd hidden in it beforehand.
"Ha, ha," she said, waving it in her forehooves.
Twilight frowned at her... but good-naturedly so. "Okay, you sneak..." she said, through gritted teeth. "It is on!"
Half an hour later, Princess Celestia flapped down from the sky and landed lightly on the broad porch outside the tower room. Pausing, she listened at the door, hearing shouting from inside... and laughter, too.
Pushing open the door and peering inside, she saw Twilight dashing across the room, Tempest hot on her heels.
"The most capital letters!" Twilight shouted, yanking a book on typography down from a shelf with her magic and showing it to Tempest.
"A book that never ends!" Tempest called. The two of them charged across the room and Twilight showed her a Classical Era tapestry, the ends of which had been joined together to allow it to be rotated freely around a pair of spindles.
"A book without words!" Twilight shrieked madly, as they raced back across the room toward the fine art section.
"A book without pages!" Tempest called out.
"A book that never should have been written!" Twilight yelled.
"A book only its author could love!" Tempest replied.
"A book about books!"
"A book that never mentions a book!"
"A book I've never read!"
"A book I've never read!"
The two of them went on and on, charging back and forth from pillar to post, laughing harder and harder with every volley. Clearly neither of them was keeping score any longer. The game itself had taken on a life of its own.
Celestia nodded, and quietly shut the door. She'd come by to ask Twilight to present her latest research assignment...
... but it could wait.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, its characters and indicia are the property of Hasbro.
No infringement is intended. This story is a work of fan fiction, written by fans for fans of the series.