A unicorn inept at using more than remedial-level spells tackles the challenges of life in Equestria - with science! His story may just take him through the wildest places and situations imaginable.
Journal: Day Thirteen,
I find myself ever more daunted by the concept of magic, seeking refuge in what I do know. A little hoof-grease and well deployed machines could solve any problem. I swear it!
A unicorn inept at using more than remedial-level spells tackles the challenges of life in Equestria - with science! His story may just take him through the wildest or strangest places - or situations - imaginable.
There is always something infinitely curious about beginnings. They start without warning - no fanfare or blazing trumpets to warn their hapless victims. Nor is there any hiding from such a change. You are simply swept away by them...
"Are you sure, then, that it will come? You know, I can already conjure light." This came from across the study, to where I sat. Silver wandered his way through the room, poking into the stacks of books around me. My brother, the fiend, started his way through the mess around me. Tomes of magic and history formed a treacherous, musty landscape that had become a feature of the room. I had long lost sight of the floor. Its stained wood was now covered by crumpled notes
My brother's always carried a hint of smugness now that he outstripped me. I set my latest book down, ears flattening with humiliation.
Of the many known races and creatures that roamed throughout our land of Equestria, the Unicorn is a race of sorcery. Most are limited to parlor tricks or spells dedicated to our profession, but many could keep on getting more and more skilled through study and practice. Certain families and pedigrees had power thrumming through their bloodlines, and ours' traced back almost a thousand years.
All of this made my situation more vexing. My magic was limited: almost anypony with a horn and a stray thought could best me at casting spells. I could do simple levitation of small objects but not much more. The journal in front of me demanded all of my focus to unshelve.
My brother, years younger, was catching up too quickly; he would pass my ability soon, and never missed an opportunity to rub it in.
"...and what will the Toities think?"
The insolent whelp's words hit my nerves like a riding crop. Two could play this game...
"Why must you be so concerned about appearances? It is a great thing to have a horn - but you lack the head behind it, foal!"
I almost regretted my words, but his mood was shared by too many around me. Condescension seemed like my companion on rare trips outward. In a family renowned for being powerful wizards and sages, I was best known for my inability. Even Father, whom I once felt would best understand, pressed harder with my lessons.
I could appreciate the extra time in the study - if I were alone!
"Better watch that temper! Mom says that's bad for concentration - and you need all the help you can get. You've got that exam-thing tomorrow, and you might be the first in hundreds of years who might fail!"
My eyes shot up from the desk, across the papers and books. It scorched past alchemical reagents and vials, to his impish face. It didn't help he was right, albeit partially. Image was everything to a proud family like mine. They pressured me to succeed not because I needed that future, but they did.
Silver's last cut dealt, I saw the colt leave through the oaken doors. Just like his namesake: he was flashy, quick to show you your faults, and slightly toxic. He wasn't always a pest, but the recent attention I had attracted set him off. Knowing that just ground at me worse.
Trying to bring my anger in check, I turned to a source of inspiration. Across a stack of spell-books and atlases, a small turbine sat mounted on display. Its myriad of tubes and hosing snaked their way inside, where delicately crafted fans lined up in perfect stages.
My eyes sparked upon first seeing this machine. Back then, wear and corrosion had seized it up its moving parts. Days were spent researching it, taking it apart, and restoring it. The turbine was now practically mine. In my head, I could see every part fitting together. Like me, it was a tool; we were both designed for a purpose. Neither of us could magic that fact away.
I shook my head. Unlike the steady rules that governed turbines, the arcane was a hopeless knot. The convolutions of its rules made just as little sense as the incantations I was being forced to learn. Sighing, I headed of to bed, dreading the coming dawn.
The next day came with the test Silver was all to happy to point out. To prove I was competent enough in magic to "defend the household", I had to impress the family heads. Another who-knows-how-old tradition, I was to freeze water, then boil it off - but manipulate the steam produced. Father had, as a colt, forged armor out of frost and weapons of hissing vapor. I would be lucky to bring the water past lukewarm.
Even with all of my study, I knew that I would fail. I wanted to run or find any excuse to avoid the saddest fall of my life. I gritted my teeth against the the inevitable, and made my way to the ballroom.
The whole household watched me enter. Quiet stares told me nothing, but I felt the thrum of their anxiety. A low, metal dais had been moved into the room; its bowl-shaped top held a pool of water that reflected my silent desperation. I played my part, throwing my magic at the liquid. Spare snippets of what I had learned were all me to cling to. My efforts fell short.
I bungled the spells to the point where I could no longer muster energy from my horn. Disappointment hung in the air like fog, as I racked my brains for anything I could do. If not with brute force enchantment, perhaps something else. Just as they had turned to leave, images of the turbine went through my mind.
The spark of hope I saw as they slowly spun to face me cleared away all doubt.
"I wish to try again. I can do this without magic."
I requested the turbine from the study, a lamp, a broom, and a gas burner. The old machine used to power the lights of the estate - before the Ever-lit spell made it an expensive curiosity. Old magnets and ruddy coils hardly needed maintaining, and they'd be enough for this.
Assembling the project was swift. In moments, I had water boiling into the machine. High-pressure steam swirled the fans with a rising shriek. This device, now pointed towards the ceiling, was sending off an invisible (though very loud) jet. The lamp's wires took some work to attach, but the bulb shone with the power I was calling - not from a horn, either!
They still weren't "wowed". For this, I had to give them a little scare.
"Magic is fairly easy for a trained Unicorn to detect. However, this is a weapon that is invisible, and deadly..."
I strained to levitate the broom, bringing it closer to the focused blast of exhaust. Like a shot, it embedded in the frescoed ceiling. All of us were shaken by the suddenness of it - I myself expected it to be sliced.
Even so, the test was over. Without magic, I had won!
While I waited, the family consulted itself with quiet murmurs. Uneasy muttering and muted discussion filtered through a magical privacy screen. I counted each long minute of their talk; it took several score for them to finally decide. Each pony filed out, with the exception of Father. His face was unreadable.
I sat down, expectant. I had done it. I was saved by the science I knew, and could understan-
"You are no mage. It is apparent that you lack the talent."
I could feel my chest constricting. I knew what this meant. To prevent an embarrassment, I would be sent away from Canterlot. Exiled. Tight lipped, but strangely calm, I turned to go. The weight of his hoof on my shoulder stopped me.
"You are an engineer, something Equestria is always short of. Perhaps one day, you'll be a fine one too." - here he cut off any chance of protest - "I cannot allow you to stay though. You would be helpless against the pernicious here."
His look softened as he saw my dejection. "There, now. I can tell you of a way back, if you wish. Make a name for yourself. Go outward, into the world, at have it quake at your presence. Do things never done by ponykind! Then you could return not to the scoffing glares, but the awe-struck visages of the Canterlot Elite."
I took heart at this. Throughout the history of my family, individuals were known to spread through Equestria; they struck out across the land to find themselves, develop innate talents, or to simply go on adventures. These diaspora gave this fair city much of its cultural and magical wealth. I now could count myself as one of them. Having no home, no family nearby, seemed impossible. I had to fight for it back.
Father's gaze then shifted. "A fine symbol for you, I think." Craning my neck, I let my eyes travel along to find what he was talking about.
There. An image lay embossed on my hide. My flank was adorned with a set of concentric circles, four blades radiating out form the center-most. A stylized turbine.
My fate was set that day. From then on, I kept a journal, and wrote letters, to report my work and experiences. In my lifetime, I would later travel all across Equestria, but my first destination was a small town. You see, Father spoke of a talented mind, one who could help me with my "new" studies. She was a unicorn filly just older than I: a Miss Twilight Sparkle.
I have arrived by train to the town of Ponyville. The small, rural, area seems like a perfect place to start. My letter of credit so far has been enough to get me here safely, but an income will be much appreciated. Even so, I will prioritize finding Twilight Sparkle first then set off to find suitable lodgings.
Nestled in the many hills of this region, the town was a fairly quiet place - at first glance. Anypony with just a hint of curiosity would hear all sorts of stories circulating around this little town. Nightma- Princess Luna had struck at that town first on her escape. The great beast Discord was also supposedly defeated in the area: Canterlot rumor mongers still speculated a year later! For a long time, I had thought that was why a student of the Princess would go there. In such a small place, I soon discovered that Ponyville was much more pivotal in history - and why.
Ponyville Station offered a great view of the surrounding landscape. Lush forest predominated to the south, bordered by careful rows of trees - the Apple Family Farm. Nestled on and within some low hills were houses and shops almost too rustic for a city colt like me. It all felt small. A quick question to the Stationmaster confirmed this: only about three thousand ponies lived in the area.
Upwards, Pegasi circled as a storm bank approached - a scheduled shower.
I trotted off for town square - perhaps someone could direct me from there? I wondered how to introduce myself. As an ex-resident of Canterlot, would Twilight hold to the same level of refinery? No, she left for a small town: perhaps a more modes -
Just like that, I was on my back, facing the sky. I felt a weight descend upon me, and a shadow filled my vision.
"Hiya! I haven't seen your face around here before. Are you new, gonna stay long? What about that cutie mark? Are you a fan salespony? I could always use some more fans; especially the ones with streamers that glitter while..."
I tried to gather my wits long enough to focus. The shadow resolved into a pony, a mare, pinning me down. She was...
"You're right mister, I'm Pinkie Pie!" GASP "You must have heard of me somewhere..." She frowned with these words. Her face drew nearer to mine in a squint. "Who are you, anyway?"
If I were not on my back, gibbering in absolute terror, with a madpony interrogating me, I would have noticed another pony's approach.
"Oh, Pinkie, not another one! You'll frighten the poor dearie."
Pinkie Pie bounced off sheepishly. "Oooh, sorry Mrs. Cakes!" Those blue eyes caught mine again. "I get carried away sometimes, but if you come on over to SugarCube Corner, I'll make it up to you!"
With that, she was gone.
Forces of nature like that take a while to recover from. With some help from the newcomer, I found my hooves. No broken bones - almost a surprise at this point - kept me from trotting with her.
"Well, I'll help you get your bearings. New folk like you just need a few landmarks. Straight ahead is the town square, and that's a short trot from the Sugarcube Corner - our business. The library is that tree over there.."
The town was simple enough to grasp, and I filed away much of what she said to mull over later. As for Pinkie...
The kindly mare sensed my thoughts. "She can be a little much for all of us. That mare means well - just give her time."
That's fair enough. Sensing an opportunity here, I spoke up. "Would you happen to know where Twilight Sparkle lives? I came to meet her."
This brought a reaction. Her lips tucked into a disapproving frown. In haste, I clarified.
"Just a request, Ma'am. I was sent here to seek her help in my studies." That was enough to settle her down. Giving careful directions to a library, she dismissed herself. Work seemed to keep a pony like her always busy.
When I reached the... well, the tree, I paused. A muted series of crashes shook the door's frame. Sounds of a struggle brought a nervous energy. Though I had heard much of her copious magic talents, any danger to her also jeopardized my quest. I rushed in lend a hoof. Twilight Sparkle must be saved!
Apparently, I would "save" her from re-shelving. I saw what could only have been Twilight herself on a mound of fallen books, using magic to empty another wall. Far from the Canterlot fashion, she wore her mane simply cut but kept clean. The hum of magic surrounded her as hundreds of volumes wove through the air. She had yet to see me, talking to a sort of drake - no - a dragon?! My ears perked forwards.
"Come on, Spike, the letter said he'd be here any minute, and I still don't have his reading list finished!" At this she hoisted up a roll of parchment. The dragon burrowed into a fresh pile of books, surfacing with a rather dusty tome.
"I know, I know! Wait, here's a copy of Ancient Devices: Speculation and History. And, check. Do you remember where..."
My attention was diverted to the titles about my hooves. The pages held anything from Romantic Fiction, to guides, do-it-yourself instructions, and technical manuals on telescopes. Many were worn, but all seemed cared-for. A report by Mendelehoof caught my eye: On the Properties of Matter.
It was not sound that brought me out from reading - it was the lack of it. Somepony was holding their breath. I looked up to see two sets of eyes staring back.
Twilight awkwardly broke the silence: "Hello? Can I help you?"
"Well... possibly, I mean.." My voice trailed away as I realized my faux pas. I had ruined my first impression with Celestia's student. Still, this was my chance. I related to them the story of my leaving, and the nature of my quest. I spoke of the threat of banishment, and my plan to overcome it. In the end, Twilight questioned me at length on my abilities with machines.
Seeming satisfied, Spike resumed hunting for books. He carefully sorted out tomes as he went along with practiced grace. Lost in thought, Twilight Sparkle sat atop her mound of hardbacks. Time ticked by.
"So," I said, "Is there anything you can show me or teach me?"
She looked up from a set of notes she levitated near eye-level. Equine features clouded momentarily. "Stay in Ponyville for a while. When I'm not away, I can probably give some of my time to help you study. You can get plenty of work fixing stuff up otherwise. Ponyfolk here are always in need of somepony who can repair and maintain. " She smiled as my countenance fell. "Don't worry about missing out on any adventures in Ponyville. Just be careful not to go looking for trouble."
"Yeah, it'll come to you!" This from the dragon. I had no clue to what their in-joke might mean, so I shrugged it off.
I helped the two straighten the library together, then settled in for lunch. Over a plate of greens, we discussed the town, plans, and our views on various theories. Twilight was often kept busy being with her friends, but scheduling a small chunk of time to study wasn't too difficult.
Feeling that I had learned a good bit about the town, I asked about the forest beyond.
"Everfree? That place is best avoided, and only one pony has managed to settle in. It's dangerous enough, but something doesn't feel right about those woods. Equestria is full of magic, such that it is possible to feel it everywhere. Not there though, as if it was taken away..."
That sounded fitting. What better place was there for a unicorn of my condition?
I took my leave as the conversation wound down, thanking her graciously. She handed me a schedule, and the first book: an encyclopedia of common machines. The town limits were a good trot away, but I did want to take a look. From what I heard, it is possible for somepony to make or find shelter in the Everfree. As for potential danger... I shifted my saddlebags, loaded with supplies and tools. If I was careful, I could "fix" that problem, too.
Whether it was the fact that things finally seemed to go right, or the foolishness of youth, I ignored the warnings of common sense. I entered the Everfree Forest.
It was a shock to me, how quickly I became lost. I ventured down trails sunlight never seemed to touch, lit only by softly glowing herbs. I was sore, exhausted, but something beckoned me forward. I stepped out onto the edge of a cliff, shocked to see sunset-bathed ruins. Mossy and vine-covered stones shaped what looked like massive walls and towers. A castle, it seemed, had once stood watch over this land. A cool breeze drifted my direction from it. I had no idea how long it had stood, or how long it had been since.
I tested the air: first with my nose, then my horn. No scent of any beast, nor pony. I could feel a sense of emptiness, but not so strongly as to be dispiriting. Mist that clung along the cliff shifted enough to reveal a rope bridge.
Well, with such a welcoming gesture as this, I would be rude to leave now. A few planks were missing as I crossed, but each board I tested held. The structure still stood (here and there) despite perhaps hundreds of years of neglect. Many rooms lacked a ceiling, or a wall. I came to a long hall - no, a throne room or audience chamber. Arched windows, lacking glass, cast iron torch mounts, and shards of a mosaic - presumably remnants of a long-gone roof.
I slung my saddlebags off my back. These ruins were in terrible disrepair. It would take weeks to clean out, and repair. My breath left me slowly, and I closed my eyes to a vision of the castle - for that's what it was - restored. A quiet place of study. A shelter against the forest's dangers. A base of operations. A home.
My lids opened again, heralding a broad grin. I had plenty of time.
The quiet stillness of this Everfree morning is a refreshing change to the bustle of Canterlot. I slept well, although the intact bedchamber I did find suffers from a slight draft. As for rebuilding, I see now it will be a slow consolidation: one room taken back at a time. Out behind the ruins, I uncovered a garden gone feral, and a small grove of fruit-bearing trees.
Today, it's off to the hardware store in town. I'll also scrounge around in-town for a decent generator. I haven't the bits for machining tools, to my shame... I'll check on that work Twilight talked about.
Discovering those ruins became the turning point for me. I would, as time went by, convert many of the castle rooms into storage for engines, fuel, and batteries. I crafted others into workshops, and libraries. It would continue to hold some of its secrets, though - as some sections were too far gone to restore. Still, I quickly found reasons to stay a little longer through this work.
It wasn't just the castle though. I found good friends in the town of Ponyville. Even Pinkie Pie, who had unintentionally terrified me at first, broke through my walls. I didn't make it easy for her, though
I found my way back with incredible ease. Darkness had hidden a small trail from me, one that wound it's way back north. Shopping went similarly - without incident. A line of credit Father extended helped. I asked around for potential jobs before I left with a wagon loaded with mortar and a few odds-and-ends I planned to scrap for parts.
From what I heard, a local seamstress (and rather eccentric fashonista) just had her sewing machine fail. Though perhaps not the most glamorous of jobs, it was a great way to get my name out.
I was glad I took it. The mare who answered the door was simply... breathtaking. Describing her fully would require me to delve into poetry, reflect in deep philosophy, and cease drooling. Ahem. I generally abhor the mentality of loving an image skin-deep - but this was art.
Lead to the second floor, I arrived in a room which looked out over the town with more window than wall. Various fabrics hung from racks, or stuck out of cubbies. I'm fairly certain she started talking at this point, but I couldn't recall her discussion if I tried. The machine itself sat on a desk against the wall. From the first glance inside, I cringed.
Wear had weakened and warped several of the components. Lack of any lubrication had only worsened this, and shoddy work went into the finer parts. The sight of it burned a vision into my mind - I saw the reels and gears moving rhythmically, and how the belts spun. Perhaps I did have a fix for this...
It took some effort to face the fair 'corn. "Ma'am, this machine was made to break down. You see, the belt from your pedal chafes against a rim here - and who ever made these gears did a shameful job of it. However," I smiled as I pulled a items from my saddlebags, and began to replace parts from the old table-top "these gears from these fishing reels fit the size. I've got a little oil, too."
A look of shock and dejection melted into a soft smile. "Why, how could I repay you, darling?
This couldn't have been her main machine, I realized. The cost to her business would have been terrible otherwise, and this smelled like a setup. This was likely Twilight's work, helping find work for me. For this seamstress to offer felt a little like charity... that I needed.
Time for some quick math. The cost of materials, and the time it took were almost negligible. Charging anything over five bits would be downright theft. I shook my head.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous. I simply must repay you - I must!" She eyed me critically, then trotted around, before retreating into another room. I was afraid to enter - sounds of laughter, sighs, shouting, and even a few sobs emanated before she returned with a band of thick, light-grey fabric.
"It is rather simple, darling, but it would look quite smart on you." She waved away my objections with a hoof. "Nonsense, this is nothing after what you have done."
Her magic wrapped the band around my chest, and spliced the ends into each other. I felt the fabric - and my jaw dropped. Wyvern skin, though not as resilient as dragon scale, was much lighter. It was tough and partially elastic too - a band like this would distribute weight of increased loads wonderfully. The beasts shed their old skins once every decade. It had plenty of uses despite being so rare. That, and it was far more valuable than an acre of real-estate in uptown Canterlot! Everything told me I should not accept the gift, but her eyes would not accept a no.
I stumbled out of the Boutique in a daze, still stammering thanks.
My next job lay in Sugarcube Corner. I knew that Pinkie was still set on "making up", but my nerves could not handle five more minutes like yesterday's exposure. Perhaps I could finish the job quickly, and be off.
The bakery had an "Open" sign out, but the building was very quiet. Good, perhaps she was away. I stepped up to the door, and pushed my way in - only to face an out-pour of balloons.
It was sometime after that I heard about the "Pinkie Sense". She knew I was coming long before I did.
Well, it did look like an inviting party. All sorts of glazed, powdered, or frosted confections lay invitingly on tables pushed against the far walls. A took a breath to gather courage, then ducked inside. Several ponies stood in groups or danced around. Pinkie zipped between and through, checking up on friends and arranging dates for later occasions. She called each by name, and seemed to know all but the very latest developments for each.
She came up to me too, bouncing with ill-contained joy. "I said I'd make it up! Whaddaya think?" She extended a hoof. I couldn't hold in the smile. Taking her offer, she spun me into the dance. Quite the welcoming party! The manic twirls of the dance flew into a change of partners, then again, and again. I lost the count, and any sense of time. I was paired back up with Pinkie, when she suddenly stopped, shaking.
You see, that's when the kitchens caught fire.
It wasn't that slow smolder of an oven left on, but a burst. The gas line had corroded. I could see the rushing flames, and smell the odored propane. Quick action might save the building, but I had to act. The hostess was still in danger.
"Pinkie, out back, shut off the gas line!" She was already on her way, and counting the guests as they left.
Good, now the fire. Any combustion reaction requires three things. It needs enough heat for ignition - too late to anything about that now, and I don't carry around gallons of water. Fuel was too plenty to limit. Air was another problem. I couldn't just suck the...
Oh, but I could.
I braved the flames to make it to the pantry. The flames beat at my sides, and I was thankful for the Wyvern skin more than ever. Smoke blinded me, but I found the fine cloth of a flour bag with my teeth. Through the fire I went again, stumbling for the door and fresh air. Pain arced through were skin had been exposed, but I made a desperate toss with a neck twist. As I slammed the kitchen door shut behind me, I prayed Pinkie had shut off the gas.
The sack of flour, all 6 kilograms of it, spun into the inferno. Back to the door, I could feel the heat through its surface. My eyes glazed over, as a vision of the bomb I just made went off.
The shock of the blast unhinged the door, sending me flying. Disoriented by a sheer wall of sound, I could only see double images of the ceiling. I faded out.
I was told that, when the explosion hit, everypony in the party had made it safely away. The flour sack burst open in just the right way, in just the right amounts, they said. They told me what I already knew, that all the oxygen in the room had been sucked up. I came by the confectionery shop later, after my burns had been treated. The walls had held solely because the doors gave out first. The kitchen was a blackened box, but the fire had yet to reach the stores of food (and worse, more flour) one floor down. I felt sick when Fireponies told me how little time the fire would have taken to engulf the entire block. I stayed through the night to help rebuild
Even I, though, broke down in tears when - before I was carried to the hospital - I had heard the Cakes' newborns were found safe in their room
I've spent the days thinking - in two weeks, I've been through more "Adventure" than my family has experienced in years. It's changing me - I know it is.
About yesterday... I am reminded about White Lace. Between my work and tired nights, I had not had a chance to think of her. She was told about my journey, and released from prior "arrangements". Memories of her are the last vestige of homesickness I have left. For my sake though, I must place thoughts of her farthest from my mind.
I have to continue. Machines will continue to fail, and perhaps fail critically. Magic makes life convenient, but it also means that there are only a few ponies who can do what I do.
Well, the castle is coming along. All of the main hallways had new stone mortared in. Many of the rooms now were safe enough to store more valuable machines. I have also (finally!) fixed that leak thirty-five paces from the stair in the western wing. The grounds are being kept, much to my nourishment, and the old garden has reached a semblance of order. The bridge took a good while longer, as I had to hew stone blocks for construction. I can safely travel across with a loaded wagon.
I do need to head back for some more chisels, pulleys, and chain. The caved-in chambers needed to be cleared before I could get much farther.
Every small fillie and colt in Ponyville are warned about the Forest's dangers. I was completely oblivious. The Canterlot upbringing in me simply dismissed said dangers; I hadn't even seen signs of beasts. No pony, however, can travel the forest long before encountering danger - often certain doom. Even when danger found me, I couldn't leave. It would later be my duty to be a steward of the Everfree.
Under Twilight's tutelage, I knew many of the the flora along the trail. What kept my trail generally safe was the fact it cut through a very large patch of an insidiousness herb. The low, spreading weed bloomed into phosphorescent blue flowers - any part of which housed a potent magical poison. Twilight stressed maintaining a safe distance. I can only imagine what contact would do to me...
Something about the trees tonight were foreboding. I chalked it up to nervous thinking - as this area always inspired the imagination. A slight rustle here, a branch snapping there, made me question this judgement. The very silence seemed to clutch at me. I raised a hoof to wipe my brow - but a long, low howl froze my spine.
I could smell them, too: Timberwolves.
Canterlot ponies would laugh at tales of sticks and twigs coming alive like some Nightmare Night tale. I had dismissed the stories of their savagery, but these were monsters! The wooden beasts had to be twice my size...
I didn't want to leave my wagon, but I could not escape with it. While I rummaged in my bag for a few tools, six of the beasts leaped from the shadows. A quick duck and swing brought me to face them, draining my little magic to levitate a four-and-four tenths pipe wrench. It wasn't my heaviest but it had the best reach. The Timberwolves surrounded me, moving ever closer.
I wasn't here to destroy the forest, or any part of it. If I could, I would discourage them to protect myself. I glanced at each, trying to find the Alpha. He was just to my left, old enough to start growing moss. He signaled to the others, then settled in to pounce.
Well, I pounced first.
My wrench's swing depleted the rest of horn, but drove the grizzled sticks back. Just before the rest of the pack could close on me, I brandished another tool - a cutting torch. The intense flame bought me some distance, and - hopefully - time to reason. Perhaps thew could understand me.
"I would rather have this end less violently. I have no quarrel with you beasts, as it is your land, but this is a road to mine." Here I gestured with the torch strapped to a hoof, towards the forest around me."Now, before I start playing with fire - Shoo!"
After triggering a small burst of even more intense flame, the Timberwolves retreated. I had no doubts that I would see them, or another pack later on, but I won some precious safety from them now.
I was shaking when I caught sight of town. Bravery is easy with hot blood, but I had escaped serious harm. I felt exhausted, and more than a little hungry. The dangers of the Everfree could wait until I had a full belly.
Above me, the weather teams ordered clouds in the sky. Pegasai finished their morning work in clockwork grace, but a few turned to play. My own eyes boggled as I watched them zip around. Their aerial agility was astounding! I watched in awe as some raced through graceful loops and reckless dives. These ponies had likely been training all their lives for this work. Someday, I too would thrive in my element.
I observed through lunch. I had to peel my eyes away though, as it was time for more study.
Twilight Sparkle had a guest though. Of all the ponies, a zebra I knew only as the other resident of the Everfree Forest. Curious, I trotted in. This "Zecora" was apparently an herbalist and guide. She spoke in hushed tones as she handed over a bundle of odd flowers and herbs.
"For a pony like me, it does not care; but you, Twilight, must beware! The Wraith will seek a unicorn - feasting on magic within the horn."
Something about her metered lines struck me oddly, as if I had heard of a wraith before. Father's study held plenty of books about several types of ghouls. As I mused, Zecora hurried past me toward the door. It was the zebra's phrasing that triggered my memory; a poem drifted to my mind.
Darkness comes to magic homes Fear the terror as it roams A presence dark and will malign reaps it's bounty, leaves no sign but chill winds and chiller cackling - Fallen 'corns with magic lacking To one with horn, with me flee! The Wraith has come, the end of thee
I came to, realizing I had recited a piece of my ancestor's, Storm Grey's, eulogy. His was a darker time in Equestria, several hundred years ago. A prodigy my family used as a role-model (and ammunition for my brother), his stand ultimately failed against the Wraith. It took the Princess's solar magic to bind the thing in Tartarus. I thought aloud:
"How would a creature escape Tartarus, though? Cerberus keeps an eye out for that sort of thing."
Twilight waved away my concern. "Zecora was just bringing up a potential danger. I already sent a letter to Princess Celestia. Besides, these herbs..." She stepped up to a earthenware brazier, coals hot. After placing a few herbs inside, a heady vapor arose. My senses sharpened, and I felt aches and pains melt with the aroma of exotic spice. I developed a small urge to run through a brick wall.
My tutor explained that this sent was anathema to the beast, and would keep the town safe until the Princess arrived. Yet, even though the threat was downplayed, I felt there was something wrong. Why was Zecora bent out of shape if she had these herbs and no pony was in danger? She sighed as I voiced these concerns.
"She cannot use the herbs in the forest - she could drive the Wraith into hiding, or to another town. While it is in the forest though," her countenance fell, " it is eating the life of the Everfree."
Though I had little love for Manticores, Cockatrice, or Timberwolves, I knew Twilight had a friend who must be heartbroken over this event. Beyond that, the forest was now my home; running away from my problems would drive me away from that. Mix in the bitter family history - a generation of fear - and I knew I had to take down the Wraith.
There remained the question of how I could go about that.
I finished a study session that day, then drifted home with a wagon load of parts and a head full of ideas. A voice in my head was absolutely certain that what had defeated a wizard of legend could easily do the same to me. Even so, its tiny buzz was lost as I thought of all I had recently learned. Perhaps my skills and confidence in them had grown enough. If not that, then Zecora's potpourri was getting to me.