Prelude - Creativity
A brilliant multichromatic streak filled the sky, and something somewhere stirred.
Today was the summer solstice and thus the final day of the Summer Sun Celebration. Canterlot was, as it frequently was, the host for the festival this year.
The usual attractions had invaded the city for the last few days, hosting a wide variety of treats for the young at heart and stomach-turning rides upon which to lose that food. The entire center of the city had been closed off for dancing and music, and if a pony listened carefully, every song would melt together into one fast-paced, tone-deaf extravaganza.
For many, the festival was a time to relax and unwind with something different from the daily grind. For a four-year-old Twilight Sparkle, it was an opportunity.
Only a few weeks ago, Twilight had made her first clumsy attempts at telekinesis and had found herself enthralled immediately. She had, of course, seen her parents and brother casting spells before, but the surge of power exiting her own horn for the first time had exhilarated her in ways mere observation could never compare.
She wanted more.
Twilight hadn’t bothered her preschool teacher with her burning desire to learn; the poor mare already had enough trouble controlling the foals under her care. Twilight’s own parents were often just as busy, as was her brother, who would graduate from school this year. Her foalsitter, Cadance, while very nice, couldn’t teach unicorn magic at a respectable level as a pegasus.
Thus Twilight had turned to books. And then she’d quickly found that her reading skills wanting, not yet up to par to parse the dense texts she’d stolen from her brother’s room. Frustrated and embarrassed, she’d eventually asked her parents for simpler tomes. They had, fortunately, enthusiastically obliged.
Despite this, problems remained. Twilight had eagerly opened the first of many books with which she would begin her journey only for her age and inexperience to thwart her once more. This time her magic had proven the primary source of her frustrations. Even the simplest of spells, when cast, had exhausted her still developing magic.
And yet Twilight had read and learned what she could, eagerly awaiting the moment when her daily training would make her strong enough to cast a real spell rather than dawdle with telekinesis. Of the dozens of books that Twilight had read, one in particular, simply entitled The Alicorn, had drawn her attention. It’d clearly been a foals’ book, containing more illustrations than words. Still, if it were to be believed, there existed a princess like Cadance who could move the sun and moon and had both wings and a horn.
Twilight had known she knew little about the world, but that had still stretched her willing suspension of disbelief. When asked, her brother, Shining Armor, had laughed and said that not only was it true, he attended that very princess’s school. Her brother had then gone on to clarify that she could watch the princess, Princess Celestia, raise the sun at the festival in a few days’ time.
So Twilight had waited. Perhaps not patiently, but she had waited nonetheless. When her family had finally gone to the festival, she’d tried to enjoy it. She really had. But her uncompromising curiosity had gotten the better of her. When it was announced that Princess Celestia would raise the sun in ten minutes, Twilight had bolted off unthinkingly into the crowd. It’d not been long before she realized that she was, assuredly, lost.
Twilight had never been more than a room away from somepony she knew before. Even with hundreds upon hundreds of other ponies around her, they were no replacement for her family.
Calm down. Mom told me to find help if I get lost.
“Excuse me,” Twilight began, only to have the mare ignore her or perhaps simply not hear her.
“Um,” Twilight said, trying to get a stallion’s attention, but he was otherwise occupied in conversation and moving faster than Twilight could keep up with.
Okay, Twilight. Don’t cry. So what if nopony cares? Mom told me to find somepony to help me if I-I get lost. I… I can…
Twilight cried as the crowd continued to shuffle around her. Not with the intense, attention drawing bawling of a lost foal but the softer tears and sobs of somepony desperately trying to act grown up.
After what felt like hours but was probably seconds, help arrived in the form of a black cloaked unicorn. Although she wore a hood over her head, Twilight saw her features clearly. Her mane was a fiery yellow and red like the sun in contrast to the darker yellow of her coat. For a few moments, she seemed to engage in some internal debate and then sighed once it ended.
“Hey, kid. You lost?”
Twilight sniffed and nodded.
“Do you know where your family is?”
Twilight shook her head and forced out, “I w-was headed to the c-cere – ceremony and–”
“Don’t worry. I’ll take you there,” the mare said. Her horn emitted an amaranth light as she raised Twilight to her back with her magic. She twisted to speak directly with Twilight. “We’ll head right over and get you a good view of the crowd and Sunbu – er, Princess Celestia. We might be able to find your family there once the sun comes up.”
Twilight managed to bring her tears down to a mere runny nose and thanked her savior as they set out.
“Who are you?” Twilight asked.
After a few moments, the mare replied, “Eventide. And you?”
Although a little bemused at the surprise in Eventide’s voice, Twilight nodded. Then she remembered that she had to answer aloud and so repeated her answer.
“Ha! We’re the best. Hoof bump.” Eventide stopped walking to twist an arm around to present a hoof to Twilight.
Curious as to the purpose of the gesture, Twilight cautiously tapped her own much smaller hoof against Eventide’s, careful not to fall off in the process. “Why?” she asked. Perhaps she could have phrased that with greater specificity, but it got the point across.
“Our names mean the same thing, Twi. Best time of the day.”
Twilight logged away a new word into her vocabulary with a smile. But the other thing? “Twi? Cadance calls me that.”
Eventide stumbled over a step. “Cadance?” she echoed. Hesitantly, she asked, “Are you talking about Princess Mi Amore Cadenza?”
“Pegasus? Pink? Heart shaped cutie mark?”
Twilight nodded, but when she again realized Eventide couldn’t see it, she verbally replied, “Yes.”
Too quiet to hear over the noise of the crowd, Eventide muttered something. Twilight considered asking her to repeat what she’d said but thought better of it. She seemed deep in thought at the moment as she scanned her surroundings.
Before too long, Eventide broke the lull in conversation. “Are you a princess?”
Twilight denied her alleged royal status. Although Eventide made no response to that, she felt the tension release in the shoulders below her. She knew ponies tended to act peculiarly around royalty, however, so she paid the odd response no further attention.
Canterlot’s central plaza was breathtaking even in the middle of the night. Twilight, having never been, let out a gasp at the sight. A massive fountain sat at its heart, a work of art drawn in flows and streams of water with further decorative embellishments in the stonework too far away to see in detail. Statues and foliage ringed the centerpiece, and ponies filled nearly every bit of empty space. Nearest the castle, a large stage filled with important looking ponies sat ready and waiting for Princess Celestia.
Upon arrival, Eventide stopped outside the throng of ponies and looked around for a way in. Obviously discouraged, she said, “Hold on tight.”
Before Twilight could ask why, the amaranth glow of Eventide’s magic enveloped them both. She felt her weight leave her, and then they rose high above the crowd. In her surprise, Twilight nearly lost her grip in her brief panic, but she regained it as she realized they were flying. They were actually flying! The hovering pegasi nearby gave the pair a few odd looks but soon returned to their own business.
All too soon, it came to an end. Eventide found an unoccupied roof nearby and landed atop it. They now had a full view of the crowd and, more importantly, the ceremony to come.
“That was amazing!” Twilight shouted as Eventide set her down on the rooftop. “I’ve never seen a unicorn fly! How did you do that?”
“Well,” Eventide began, pride clear in her voice, “I graduated at the top of my class at Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.”
“Really! My brother goes there, too!”
Eventide again muttered something under her breath. This time, however, she quickly replied with, “Yep. I was no match for the real monsters–”
“Monsters?” Twilight interrupted. “Princess Celestia accepts monsters at her school?” She had thought she would go there herself since her brother said it was the best place to learn magic in Equestria, but if it had monsters…
“No, no. That’s just an expression. What I meant is that there were some very powerful ponies I couldn’t compete with via conventional means. At least not at the time.”
Twilight wasn’t quite sure she understood, and it must have shown on her face.
“Look, Twi, some ponies are just born lucky.” Veering away from what sounded like a bitter topic, Eventide asked, “Can you do any magic yet?”
Twilight looked down, ashamed, and rubbed the roof with her hoof. “Not really. I can barely open a book.”
“That’s pretty good, actually,” Eventide said to Twilight’s surprise. Sure, her family had told her the same thing, but they didn’t count. They were obligated to be supportive. “I imagine you feel other foals are outshining you?”
Tentatively, Twilight nodded as she parsed what Eventide had said. Most other foals could at least do something with their magic already, even if not on demand.
“You could do more as well. If you let yourself go. It’s a matter of control. Those other foals are acting on impulse. They let their magic act on their whims. It’s sloppy. Unreliable. Convenient but wasteful. You don’t want that, do you? You want to cast spells.”
Twilight nodded eagerly.
“I had the same problem. When I was your age, I couldn’t so much as move a balloon. Of course, now I can easily lift myself up onto roofs with a passenger.”
“So that’s how you did it!” Once her initial excitement died down, Twilight realized there was a problem with that conclusion. “But if it’s that easy, why don’t other unicorns fly around?”
“Because they’re fools,” Eventide replied. “It doesn’t really matter how many spells you know or how powerful you are. A little creativity goes a long, long way. Even cantrips can be used in hundreds of different ways beyond the main reason behind their development. Most ponies never look outside the box to see what they can really do. Take telekinesis. Most unicorns see everypony else using it solely for moving other things and never think to turn it onto themselves. The same is true of nearly every other spell, and every other magic, and…well, everything really. Rarely does a pony see something and repurpose it for a different task or try to improve it.”
Eventide turned to Twilight and booped her on the nose. “You’d better not grow up to be so foolish after I took the time to lecture you on this.”
Twilight’s eyes positively glowed with admiration. Nothing in her books had even hinted at anything near what Eventide had told her. “Do you really think I can be that smart?”
“It’s not about being smart or even powerful. Just keep looking for alternate solutions to problems and different ways to use magic.”
Twilight hummed in thought as she stared off toward the stage, trying to think of how she could use her weak telekinesis for something useful.
“Even with your magic still developing, I’m sure you can think of other uses for it besides turning book pages. Perhaps not right away or right now, but maybe tomorrow, or the day after, or next week. The important part is not to be discouraged if nothing comes to mind or if you come up with an idea that doesn’t work. Even bad ideas should be treated as a step in the right direction.”
“Because you want to encourage yourself to think of ideas at all, not punish yourself for being creative and having things not work out.”
“Oh, it is. But unfortunately, we’re all pretty foalish inside.”
Twilight adopted a skeptical look, but Eventide just laughed.
“Just remember what I’ve said. You’ll understand in time. Oh, and here’s another secret. Don’t make a habit of using telekinesis to move yourself around. Walk most of the time.”
“Because,” Eventide began. She then moved closer to Twilight to whisper, “You’ll get fat.”
Twilight gasped and then looked questioningly at Eventide but was too polite to ask.
“I see that look you have. It’s true. Those were…not my better years.” Eventide offered Twilight a conspiratorial smirk, and she couldn’t help but giggle in return.
A fanfare of trumpets called out announcing the arrival of Princess Celestia. The alicorn seemed to glow in these early hours as she approached the stage at a regal pace. This being the first time Twilight had ever seen the princess, she found herself gaping. The princess was easily twice the size of any other pony, and she possessed both enormous wings and a horn, just like Shining had claimed and The Alicorn had depicted.
Twilight heard Eventide snicker and so quickly shut her mouth, but her stare remained.
Princess Celestia gave a long speech that Twilight barely paid any attention to and was soon banished from her memory by the splendor that followed. With a mighty thrust of her wings, the princess truly glowed as she rose into the sky above the stage. With her ascension, the sun rose above the horizon. Its rays outlined her in the air as her horn grew ever brighter, practically becoming a second sun in its own right. The sky moved from black, to purple, to red, to yellow, and then finally took on a familiar blue, each shade complementing her in its own special way.
When the princess returned to the stage, the crowd cheered, and Twilight cheered with them. She had doubted, but what she’d seen was too beautiful to question a moment longer.
Twilight had just finished her cheer when a thought took her. “Will I be able to raise the sun someday?”
A pregnant silence fell on their little rooftop retreat.
“Maybe,” Eventide replied. Twilight didn’t know what, but some strange emotion lingered in the air. But then, in an instant, it was gone. “I can’t say it’s impossible, but I think Princess Celestia would probably be upset with you.”
“Oh…” Twilight couldn’t imagine upsetting the princess, not after today.
“Perhaps if you ask permission first. But hey, look. I found Cadance.” Eventide pointed toward the stage. Twilight followed the hoof until her gaze landed upon the pegasus in question. As soon as it had, she felt Eventide’s magic pick her up and once more deposit her onto the mare’s back. “I’ll take you down there. Just…don’t mention me.”
Night Light lugged two stacks of eleven thick books into his home, his flickering, light-blue magic clearly showing the strain he’d put it through during the journey. Setting them down at the bottom of the stairs, he took a break to ease his weary horn. It was at times like these that he wished his little filly was strong enough to make her own library runs – and on second thought, old enough as well. Five was a tad too young to send somepony, even a prodigy of her level, out alone into the world.
Picking up the books once more, Night Light finished the last leg of his errand and ascended the stairs. He then knocked on Twilight’s door, which was, quite fortunately, just at the top.
“Come in.” The door swung open in time with the words, a faint raspberry glow pulling at its handle.
Night Light stepped inside with the library books trailing behind him. “Hey, Twilight. I picked up everything you asked for.”
Twilight let out a small squee from her desk. She crossed the room in a blink and then leapt up to hug Night Light, dangling from his neck by her hooves. “Thank you so much!” she said as he wrapped an arm around her to support her weight. Her magic took over for his the moment he set the books down, carrying them one by one to their new home for the next few weeks.
“It’s no problem. We’re always happy to get you any books you want. Although if you could spread your requests out into smaller batches…”
Twilight looked up from her hug and said, “I’ll try.”
“Oh, and your mother wants you to wash the dishes if you’re feeling up to the task.”
Thinking for a moment, Twilight nodded. “I can manage it.”
Breaking apart from each other, Night Light and Twilight walked downstairs and into the living room. She continued on into the kitchen while Night Light diverted to the study where he found his wife at work.
“I still can’t believe it,” Night Light said, causing his wife to glance up from her desk. “What are the chances we get two geniuses out of two foals?”
Twilight Velvet shrugged. “Either really good, or really bad, but I suspect the former. It’s a lot easier when we know what to do. It also helps that Shining is both willing to lend a hoof and already grown and out of our manes.” She paused a moment to nibble on the end of her quill. “I still suspect something important happened at the last Summer Sun Celebration.”
Night Light considered that as he always did. It was readily apparent that seeing Princess Celestia raise the sun had fanned the flames of Twilight’s interest in magic. Anypony could see that. But beyond the obvious, there was something subtly different in how she behaved that neither Night Light nor Velvet had ever quite been able to put their magic on.
“I still worry about her,” said Night Light.
“We’ve had this conversation before, dear. Several times.”
“I know, I know. It’s just, Shining had trouble making friends in school. He was smart, and studious, and sort of a show off. A lot of his peers ended up resenting and bullying him or just pretended he didn’t exist. But Twilight…” Night Light pursed his lips. While he didn’t like to think there was something wrong with his daughter, lying to himself helped nopony. “She doesn’t even seem to care. It’s like she doesn’t even notice other ponies exist. She was like that even before the festival, but…more shy than oblivious?”
“She took to Cadance quickly enough.”
That hardly needed any explanation. “Cadance stepped up and helped her learn to read. There’s no way she wouldn’t like her after that.” It was one of the many reasons Night Light had all but welcomed the mare into the family. He still didn’t understand how the universe had aligned such that Shining had ended up dating royalty – they were, after all, still trying to pretend they could hide their affections – but so long as she didn’t break his son’s heart, he wished them well.
Velvet sighed. Night Light recognized that particular brand of sigh as the one she made when she tired of arguing a point. “I think Shining may have put it best. He does have a much better understanding of her mentality than we do.” Performing her best imitation her son, she quoted, “‘It doesn’t matter if she never has a single friend in her life so long as she’s happy.’” She paused a moment to massage her throat. “I know it’s unusual, but who are we to question what she enjoys?”
“That doesn’t mean we should try to change who she is. Forcibly altering her utility function would be tantamount to killing her, never mind that we’d then have a new filly running around the house.”
Night Light rolled his eyes and collapsed onto the sofa in the room. “Why did I ever marry a philosopher?” Velvet didn’t even use her degree. She was a writer, for Celestia’s sake.
But then Velvet purred, “You know why.” A knowing smirk crept up her face as Night Light caught her meaning. With a foreboding click, the study door locked.
The faint sound of tableware shattering filtered into the room. The mood broke in an instant. Alas, such were the perils of having children.
“Oh dear,” Velvet said, worried. “Could you take care of that, Nighty?”
With a nod and a reluctant sigh, Night Light left the study. Apparently it’s too soon to ask Twilight to do the dishes.
A second crash, this one louder, came from the kitchen and was followed by a barely audible grinding sound.
Odd… I would have expected Twilight to stop trying after the first accident. She’s not the kind of filly who can’t recognize her limi–
Walking into the kitchen, Night Light saw Twilight smash a third plate on the floor. So puzzled by her behavior was he that he said nothing and just watched as Twilight further broke the plate into smaller pieces. Once she finished, her horn glowed a brilliant raspberry. Her face clearly showed the strain she put on it. Then the spell was cast. A small skittering sound came from the scattered pieces of the smashed plate as they slowly came together back into their original form looking brand new and, more interestingly, spotless.
Twilight took a deep breath before grabbing another plate in her magic and smashing it to the ground as she had the previous one.
“Any particular reason you’re…washing the dishes like that?” asked Night Light.
Looking up, surprised, Twilight answered, “It’s faster this way. And they get cleaner.”
“But it’s not easier, I’d imagine. You look like you’re pushing yourself too hard.”
Shrugging, Twilight continued her work.
“When did you even learn a repair spell?”
Twilight only answered after she placed another newly re-minted plate with the others in her output pile. “I dropped a book in a puddle. There was water damage even with magic helping.” She broke another plate. “I needed a way to fix it. The basic repair spell is…vers…versi… versatile–” The latest plate joined the rest after a few seconds of magic dancing to her whim. “–but tiring.”
“I see… You’re learning at an incredible rate.”
A huge smile greeted the complement.
Oh, she’s so cute! If only Night Light had a camera at hoof. “What were you planning to do with the silverware?”
“I don’t need to break them. It just makes it easier” – another plate broke against the ground – “to see the spell as ‘repairing’ them if they’re really broken. It’s a matter of visualization.” Twilight carefully sounded the last word out. “It’s unnecessary, but it helps.”
Not knowing any repair magic himself, Night Light waited until Twilight finished with her latest spell to interrupt her. “If you’re in such a rush to get back to reading, why don’t you let me finish these for you.”
“Yep. Go have fun.”
“Thanks!” After a quick hug, Twilight bounded out of the kitchen, presumably destined for her room upstairs.
Night Light watched his daughter run off and then turned to examine her spellcraft. Levitating the plate up to examine every angle, he found absolutely nothing to complain about.
It’d been almost a year since Shining Armor moved out of his parents’ home and joined the Royal Guard. Since then, what little free time he had, he mostly spent with Cadance. But today she was busy doing ‘princess stuff’. However regretful, this left Shining free to spend the day with his precious little sister.
Speaking of whom, Shining always knew where to find her. He had no need of a tracking spell, neither a magical version nor a parental one. If Twily was not with his best friend – and secretly his mare friend – Cadance or out with the family, then she was in her room reading or practicing magic.
Bursting into said space, Shining shouted, “LSBFF!”
“BBBFF!” Twily replied, jumping into his ready and waiting arms for a hug. “What brings you here, Shining?”
“I had some free time and wanted to see my adorable little sister now that she’s six years old.”
The smallest and subtlest frown passed over Twily’s face before returning to a smile. “Oh? So what should we do?”
“Hey, I saw that.”
“Oh, you little liar,” Shining said as he gave Twily a gentle noogie. “I should throw you in jail for lying to a royal guardspony. I saw that frown. What’s wrong?”
Twily avoided Shining’s eyes for a while, but he had no intention of letting her out of answering.
“I was just…at a bad point to stop reading. But it’s no problem! Let’s go have some fun together.”
Velvet and Night Light returned home late at night and found Cadance with a wing draped over a sleeping Twilight, now seven years old, whose face was firmly planted in a book with notes littered around her. This had happened several times before, but each new occurrence was just as adorable as the last.
“Thanks for foalsitting Twilight again, Cadance,” Velvet said.
“It’s no trouble. All I have to do is give Twi something new to read, and she entertains herself.”
Night Light smiled and looked down at what Twilight had written. The vast majority of her notes bore outrageously large numbers – with units. A sizable collection of diagrams accompanied the math, all of which went right over his head. The only thing he could decipher from the mess was a vague, general intent to move something.
Something big, apparently.
At the bottom of one parchment, Twilight had scrawled, “Even bad ideas are a step in the right direction.” It had more than a few underlines beneath it. It was the kind of emphasis a pony made when they were frustrated and wanted to give up but too stubborn to actually do so. Or maybe that was just Night Light.
“What book did you give her?”
“Hmm?” Cadance turned her attention from Twilight to Night Light. “Oh, Twi asked me to bring an astronomy text last time. No clue why.”
“Mom? Dad?” Twilight sat down at the table across from her parents with a serious expression upon her face. “Could you look over my application for me?”
“Application?” Velvet looked on questioningly, put down her morning coffee, and took the papers Twilight placed on the table. “This is an application to Princess Celestia’s school. And the scholarship application as well.” For some reason, she sounded a little disappointed.
Night Light quickly stepped in to explain. “We were going to fill these out for you and surprise you next week just after your birthday.”
“Oh. Sorry about that.” Twilight almost immediately realized she had an irreplaceable opportunity. Putting on the best pleading eyes she could, Twilight asked, “You don’t suppose I could get a different surprise, could I?”
“I’m sure we can come up with something,” Night Light mused.
“Hmm…” Velvet tapped a hoof to her jaw in thought. “I suppose I have an idea.”
“What is it?” Twilight eagerly asked.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you, now would it?”
“I suppose not…”
“You’ll just have to wait. And when you least expect it…”
After a brief pause, Night Light continued, “Wham! Surprise and happy times!”
Twilight jumped in surprise. A few moments later, she recovered and then laughed. Her parents were not as interesting as magic – what could be? – but they certainly knew how to deliver a joke.
Twilight. T. Why can’t ponies pick names like…Zel…or Xyn…um…Water Lilly? That one is good. All this waiting is so. Very. Stressful. What’s the point of having a great name like Twilight if you just get shuffled to the back of every single alphabetized list?
Twilight sighed. Her written exams had gone perfectly. Or at least it was her opinion that they had. She put considerable stock in her ability to judge herself, so she’d already erased the simplistic exam designed for eight-year-olds from her mind. All that remained was the practical test, a test that, for some bizarre reasoning, the proctors had decided needed to be done one applicant at a time.
A proctor approached Twilight where she sat with a sweet smile. “Twilight Sparkle?” she asked as a formality despite Twilight being the only other pony in the room. Once she had confirmation, she said, “If you would follow me, we’re ready to start your practical examination.”
Twilight followed the mare down a couple hallways into a large lecture hall. An entire panel of proctors – or what Twilight referred to as judges – waited with clipboards and quills at the ready to decide her fate. At the front of the room stood a small cart filled past overflowing with straw upon which resided a large, polka-dotted egg. Upon review, only one species fit its appearance.
“Is that a dragon egg?” Twilight asked. For what possible reason could such a thing be present?
“Yes, it is,” the center judge replied with some surprise. He was an old stallion with a small white beard growing from his jaw. His dark gray coat did nothing to help him look younger, nor did his weary smile. No doubt he’d been worn down from dealing with more foals than anypony his age should. “I’m glad to see an applicant who’s so knowledgeable.”
Twilight quickly offered her thanks for the compliment.
“I am Dean Weatherby,” the stallion continued. “This year’s practical exam is for you to hatch this dragon egg.”
Twilight stood struck speechless.
“Not all applicants are successful, and not all successful applicants will successfully hatch their egg. If their written exams are outstanding.”
Eyes narrowing in suspicion, Twilight’s gaze turned toward her exam. Not all applicants successfully hatch the egg? How about, ‘no applicants are successful.’ Hatching a dragon egg is hard enough, and I can already tell that they have additional spells preventing it.
“That said, do try your best. Your brother was very talented and spoke highly of you, so we expect great things from you as well.”
Well, that certainly makes a filly less nervous. Twilight breathed deep as Cadance had taught her minus the arm movements to keep herself centered.
“You have up to twenty minutes to try any approach you wish. You may begin.”
With permission given, Twilight set to work. Not by casting spells, of course. That would be daft. She already knew that wasn’t the point of this exam. The question then became what was?
All right, it’s obvious they don’t expect anypony to actually hatch the egg. They probably don’t even have a backup since they’re doing the practicals one at a time. So what do they want to see? Creative approaches? Raw power? Knowledge that this shouldn’t be possible? Maybe some combination of the three? Do they want me to try even knowing?
I suppose I should at least see what spells they put on the egg before I make any hasty decisions.
Twilight sat down next to the egg and directed small-scale probing spells at it. After a few minutes of sitting completely still staring at it and having done nothing apparently interesting – for the proctors were not yet monitoring what spells she was using – her audience looked a bit bored. Dean Weatherby, she noticed, gave them a stern glare but proved unable to get them to focus on her after a long day of examinations.
Not that it mattered. Most of her worries and respect for them flew out the window as Twilight pieced together the information her probing spells gave her.
This is some of the laziest spellcraft I have ever seen. I suppose I can’t expect anypony my age to notice, let alone be able to pick it apart, but still. I’m insulted. They could have at least tried. What if somepony actually managed to hatch the egg and mother or father a dragon? I can only imagine what…
What if that pony was me? The only worry is that pesky time limit. I’m not strong enough to brute force this.
Weatherby watched his current examinee with a careful eye. The filly hadn’t yet done anything particularly interesting. She’d kept herself busy attempting something so far, but her magical output had been too low to affect the egg in the slightest. Perhaps she had a smaller than average pool to draw from for her age. It would certainly explain her hesitance to make any larger scale attempt.
Still, this Twilight Sparkle was the younger sister of perhaps the school’s best student in recent years. While Weatherby would not dream of judging a candidate by their family or their connections, he could make predictions. It certainly helped her case that her genius older brother had, on far more than one occasion, referred to her as the family prodigy.
A glint came into Twilight’s eye. Weatherby, who had decades of experience dealing with trouble making foals, noticed it immediately while his fellow proctors watched on unaware. He channeled magic into his horn and investigated her activities without interfering. The moment the results came back, they staggered him so hard that he almost feared a heart attack.
She’s picking at the protection spells’ weak points! She’s already knocked out two of them! That shouldn’t be possible. How is she… A few quick spells gave Weatherby all the information he needed. I see. I’ll need to have a talk with Prism later about quality spellcraft on exam materials.
Weatherby watched Twilight pick away another pair of spells from the egg in less than a minute.
Dear Celestia, that filly is talented. She’ll have them all off a few minutes before time is called at this rate.
Weatherby considered how he should respond to this revelation. He could call the test, just in case. There really was no need to continue. But at the same time, his curiosity compelled him. He had to know how far Twilight could get. The foals at his school caused all manner of trouble and wacky hijinks – most of which he secretly laughed at as he scolded the perpetrators – but this one promised to take the cake. He could just imagine the priceless expressions he’d see when he told the other proctors what the little filly was doing while they sat bored and mostly ignoring her. Ah, it would be glorious.
Weatherby was finally called back to the room from his imaginings, much to his regret, when Twilight stomped the ground in apparent frustration. Quickly checking the clock, he noticed he’d let ten minutes pass by while he’d laughed at his thoughts and colleagues.
Twilight shifted her weight lower to the ground and pointed her horn directly at the egg. It seemed somepony had placed a particularly good protective spell on it. Reaching out with his senses, Weatherby probed the magic surrounding Twilight to determine what was giving her so much trouble. It might turn out to be a weakness they’d have to incorporate into her lesson plan. All he found, however, was raw magical power. It poured forth from her horn at a shocking rate for a pony so young. What could she possibly–
No… The faint hint of worry set in. She couldn’t already be…
With an encroaching panic, Weatherby checked the egg posthaste to determine what spells were left on it. Finding none, he jumped out of his chair and startled the other proctors who’d finally begun paying attention to Twilight – Twilight, but not the egg.
Twilight stomped the ground as hard as she could. It would do nothing useful, but it released a bit of her irritation. She’d removed the last spell – far ahead of her original estimated time, in fact – and started pushing raw magic into the egg. She’d known going into this that dragon eggs required a notorious amount of magic to hatch, but this was ridiculous. She’d been at this for well over a minute now. If she were any other foal, she’d have long since collapsed from exhaustion.
Why! Don’t! You! Hatch!
The egg, of course, had no answer for her.
Fine! I’ll put everything I have into you, and forget how tired it makes me!
Centering herself, Twilight lowered her horn to aim straight at her target. No fancy tricks. No control. Just power. She thought she heard somepony shout something, but it was too early for time to be called, so she ignored it. Instead, she threw as much magic as she possibly could into the dragon egg. The stress on her horn was outrageous, far beyond anything she’d ever experienced before. It almost felt like it was breaking, but her determination to see this to the end got her through the pain. She bit her tongue to keep herself from screaming as her magic and her will both began to waver. With a quick breath, she put what remained of herself into one last push.
The world stopped.
Everypony heard it, the sound of an eggshell splitting.
Seconds passed in silence, broken only by further cracks and snaps from the new life escaping its confinement. After a full minute went by, the newly born dragon rolled out of its egg. It yawned, unconcerned with the weight of its birth, before settling down for a nap.
As if to punctuate this event, a deafening boom resounded with no discernible source. A small wave of power came with the noise. The incompatible magic irritated Twilight’s horn after the abuse she’d put it through. She was, at this point, nearly ready to pass out from the combined magical exhaustion and physical trauma.
On her last breath, Twilight struggled to sit up from where she’d collapsed. She stammered out, “There. I did it. Now don’t give any – any impossible – tests any – anymore,” before falling back onto her barrel and letting herself lose consciousness.
Weatherby sat with his fellow proctors, patiently waiting to continue deciding which applicants they would accept and which they would be forced to turn away. As usual, their headmare had joined them. Princess Celestia took it as her personal responsibility to make sure merit and ability were always the deciding factors at her school. Not as usual, she’d shown up late today, thus the delay while she quickly reviewed every decision made prior to her arrival with disturbing speed, as if shedding any pretense of mortality the alicorn put on to keep her subjects at ease in her presence.
First, she reviewed the rejections. Weatherby could see the hurt every time his princess had to agree with the verdict and wondered why she subjected herself to this and wouldn’t simply trust his judgment. It would be so much easier for everypony involved. As the Dean of Students, admissions was part of his job. Besides, she’d only overruled a rejection he’d made once in his five decades of service for one Sunset Shimmer. He knew better than to gloat after what that mare had done, but he still wanted to even a decade later.
After she finished reviewing the rejections, Princess Celestia moved on to the accepted applicants. Each appeared to heal some of the hurt, although not all.
Then finally, once Princess Celestia had caught up, the meeting continued. They were about halfway through the stack of hopefuls, and although Weatherby was eager to see how she would react to the one at the very bottom, they proceeded at their usual careful mortal pace.
Each application came and went. As much as Weatherby hated to admit it, few, if any, of his possible students showed real potential. But this wasn’t Princess Celestia’s School for Future Legendary Mages, so he admitted many of them anyway. Not every pony needed to be a great hero or the next Star Swirl the Bearded to do some good in the world.
Finally, at long last, they reached the bottom of the pile. “So,” said Weatherby. “Does anypony have any objections to Twilight Sparkle?”
Nopony said a word, but Princess Celestia’s brow noticeably furrowed to everypony’s surprise except Weatherby. He’d spent enough time in his very long life with her to see her drop the eternally calm smile she wore like a dress.
“Dean Weatherby?” Princess Celestia began.
“Yes?” Weatherby responded, thinking, This is going to be good.
“One of my guards is Shining Armor, and I often hear him speak of his sister and how gifted she is. I see that she even managed a perfect score on the written exams. But please tell me why the only comment on her practical section is ‘a mother’.”
“Oh, I’d have expected you to know by now if Shining Armor won’t stop talking about her,” Weatherby began with a playful delight he’d not had a chance for in years. “It’s recent, however, so I can understand if you haven’t heard, but she is a mother.”
“Please elaborate on how an eight-year-old filly manages to give birth to anything.”
“It’s not as difficult as it sounds. All you need is a dragon egg.”
Princess Celestia’s blank look was priceless. Weatherby had seen her in several odd situations she was no doubt glad were not public, but this was the first time she appeared completely lost for words.
“Did you change the practical exam without notifying me?”
“So you’re saying–”
“She stripped off the protections and hatched it properly, yes.”
Princess Celestia opened her mouth and then shut it again, words failing her once more. Finally, she said, “Please reject Twilight.”
“Excuse me?” Weatherby said incredulously, accompanying the gasps and cries of anger from the rest of the room. “Why on Equus would we do that?”
“Because there’s no class we can put her in that could possibly keep pace with her.”
“You can’t tell her to teach herself!”
“Of course not.” Princess Celestia smiled again, but unlike the usual one, Weatherby noted that this instance was expectant and eager.
Miss Twilight Sparkle,
Please excuse the hoofwritten letter. I fear we don’t have a standard response printed for your case. I very much regret to inform you that Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns is unable to accept you as a student despite your outstanding written and practical examinations.
That said, another offer is being prepared for you (if you have not already received it by mail) that you should find very exciting.
Dean of Students for Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns
Defeater of Ralarth, Lord of Fire
Twilight hadn’t even finished the letter from Dean Weatherby before she decided that this was, in fact, the worst day of her life. She’d been so sure she’d not only passed both exams but even outsmarted the proctors on the practical portion. She’d even gotten her starburst cutie mark in the process, the very symbol of magic! It’s appearance had been expected someday but still exciting. Now it felt like a brand marking her as a failure at the one thing she was supposed to be good at.
But surely it counted for something. She had potential, at least, right? She must. She had to. It was destiny! Something else must have gone wrong.
Is it because I passed out at the end of the practical? Are they upset that I actually hatched the dragon? What about the taunt? I remember saying something rude, but I don’t remember what.
It became all too clear that there were far too many reasons they could give for failing her.
Twilight tried to convince herself that this other offer was something to look forward to – and she was confused they were even bothering – but she wasn’t able to keep up the sheer optimism required for more than a few seconds.
Night Light and Velvet looked on sadly, but apparently neither could think of the right words to say. “Twilight,” the latter hazarded, “I know this meant a lot to you, but they did say they were preparing something special for you. I’m sure it’s something good.”
“Your mother’s right. It was even hoofwritten. That has to mean something.”
“I already know that,” Twilight whimpered. “I know. I just… I think I need to be alone for a while.”
Night Light and Velvet looked to each other and then sighed. The few times they’d tried to force her to open up early had not ended well, and Twilight was sure that by now they knew she could deal with this on her own.
“We understand,” Velvet said, an actually understanding tone, not one resigned to the inevitable, hanging in her voice. It was just what Twilight wanted to hear. “Just try not to cry your heart out too much.”
“Thank you,” Twilight mumbled as she left for her room.
Dear Twilight Sparkle,
I hope this letter reaches you before the one from Dean Weatherby. He likes to play pranks, and I would hate to cause you any undue distress. If not, I apologize for the delay.
Every year I admit young ponies to my school who could do better in a less structured environment (your brother was one of them). In an ideal world, each student’s curriculum would be fully individualized with hoofpicked instructors. Sadly, the funding required for such a school would be astronomical. While I do mint the money, I am certainly not made of it!
Now as I was saying, you have clearly demonstrated magical talent and a gift for learning far beyond my school’s ability to nurture. Should you choose to attend it (or any other), I suspect the teaching curriculum would constantly constrain you. This would, at best, frustrate you as you continue your own private studies or, at worst, destroy your potential. I would not see your talent lost to the bureaucracies necessary to run a school or a country.
As such, although it has been well over three centuries since I last accepted a personal student, I would be honored if you would permit me to instruct you personally. If I have erred in my opinion on your wishes, I will arrange for you to attend my school (or any other of your choice) instead should you desire. You need not be concerned for my feelings on the matter. However, I do hope you accept my offer.
A few particulars to note. Due to my dense and erratic schedule, I would require that you live in the castle with me. I suspect neither of us would be satisfied or happy if I had to send for you at random for lessons. It will, of course, be permitted for you to leave to visit family and for family to come visit you. If your parents have any objections, we can try to arrange something else. However, if so, you may wish to remind them that your brother would be nearby often.
Lastly, although I doubt that this is close to your mind right now, any choice you make will be fully funded.
Diarch of Equestria
Defeater of Discord
Alicorn of the Sun
P.S. Rumor has it you got your cutie mark during your practical exam. Congratulations!
With flickering, unstable magic, Twilight read the letter from Princess Celestia.
Well over three centuries? My school? C-could it be? T-this is!
Night Light and Velvet grew increasingly worried as Twilight read more of the letter, her face contorting in odd ways they were unable to place. Both were thinking the exact same thing: What could possibly be written in that, and why didn’t we read it first?
Finally Twilight fainted on the spot and dropped her letter.
“Twilight!” The pair called out together.
Night Light rushed to grab his daughter in his arms. While they were not unskilled with magic, telekinesis especially, and though it would have been better to catch her so, neither parent’s reflexes were hooked up to their horn the way their daughter’s was. Even so, he managed to catch her and laid her down gently on the sofa. Both wished to have paid more attention in their basic medical magic class. Fainting was easy to reverse in theory. One merely had to know what spell to cast.
“What could possibly…” Velvet began, picking up and reading the letter.
Soon after, she fainted too.
This time Night Light was ready and managed to gently lower Velvet to the floor with telekinesis. Concern lined his face.
Is the letter dangerous? I don’t notice any spells active on it, and I don’t think any triggered when they fainted. They’re both okay, for certain definitions of okay. There’s no ongoing spells on them. At least none that I can detect. Curious, he brought the letter up from the floor to eye level.
And soon, he, too, fainted with nopony to catch him.
“Hey, everypony!” Shining shouted as he stormed through his family’s front door. “I hear my LSBFF is depressed! Well, I know just what to–” He stopped to observe the two bodies on the ground and one on the sofa only to then remind himself that he was off duty. They were ponies, not bodies. “Why is everypony sleeping on the floor?”
Shining noticed a dropped letter nearby and picked it up.
“Is this the culprit? Seems ordinary enough.”
He read through the letter and laughed.
“If you’re defeated by something like this, you’d never make it in the Royal Guard, much less as the vice-captain.”
After putting down the letter, Shining carried the three sleeping ponies to their beds with a wish in his heart.
I hope Twily will need some royal guarding.