Chapter Twenty Three - The Elements - Ascension
I threw the elements into the floor with a scream that might as well have been a battle cry. I’d like to think it was the scream that sent them flying fast enough to cower in the new dents in the floor, but I’d just thrown them way too hard. Each element produced a distinct thud and a couple clattering sounds. Even as upset as I was, I turned to where the elements had landed to make sure I hadn’t damaged the Nebulous in some way potentially fatal to myself.
Everything looked fine – I didn’t even see what had made the clattering noise – but just in case, I lifted the elements up and scryed beneath them to check if the bridge was in danger of depressurizing. The floor looked intact, if not unharmed. Out of curiosity, I turned my scrying spell to glance up at the elements. I hadn’t expected anything else at this point, but their shells weren’t even scratched.
It’d been five weeks – five weeks! – and I still had nothing! Every single plan Luna or I had come up with to awaken the elements had failed. Even Chrysalis had lent a hoof and hadn’t come up with anything that worked.
Luna was starting to get worried that I wouldn’t be able to get the elements up and running in time to ascend and properly break them. We were well into spring by this point, and there was no telling when Celestia would come to tear the elements from my hooves. Luna had once even suggested I give up and run, but for once in my life, I simply would not listen to her. There was no way I was going to abandon Luna to Celestia’s ‘mercy’.
Although, somewhere in the darkest part of my heart, I really, really wanted to. I hadn’t slept properly in days. Without Luna around to suppress my nightmares… I could only hope that today was also not the day Celestia would appear on my ship.
I – one time I really had given up. It’d taken the combined efforts of Twinkleshine, Fluttershy, and Pinkie Pie to cheer me up enough to continue working.
I never told Luna.
Still, everything was beginning to look hopeless again. Or rather it’d never stopped looking hopeless. I’d only buried my fears under frivolities and hugs.
I heard the door open behind me, and a weak voice called out, “Twilight?”
First taking a deep breath, which might have been a sigh, I turned around. “What is it, Twinkleshine? I’m busy.”
“I was just coming to tell you that Pinkie has supper…” Twinkleshine stopped a few meters short of me. “Have you not slept, or have you been up here crying the whole time?”
Quickly, before Twinkleshine could notice, I cast an illusion spell over my eyes which apparently had decided to betray me.
“I’m fine. I just – just had a little dust in my eyes.”
Twinkleshine looked over at where the elements lay, once more embedded into the floor where I’d let them fall.
“Come on, Twilight.” Twinkleshine lifted my hoof with hers. “Pinkie made a soufflé for everypony for dessert. You should eat with us tonight.”
“I…” I wasn’t getting anything done. I wasn’t getting anywhere with these stupid elements. “Okay…”
I allowed Twinkleshine to lead me by the hoof out of the bridge and down the halls of the Nebulous, my head barely high enough to make sure I wasn’t going to step on her hooves.
“You know, Twilight, I don’t think any of us would mind taking the long way home. If you can’t get the elements working to magic us back, we’ll all understand.”
I managed a weak smile and a token thank you. There was no going back for me if I couldn’t get the elements to work. Space would be safer, and I had everything and everypony I needed to continue surviving. Maybe we could even start a proper space colony, a new world. We’d just drift endlessly through space going wherever gravity took us.
How long would the ship be able to last before nopony could produce offspring anymore? A dozen generations? More? I could make the first generation last a couple centuries, and maybe my own foals could take my place after I was gone.
No, I couldn’t do that to everypony. Twinkleshine might stay with me, and Chamomile would have nowhere else to go anyway, but everypony else I could take back to Equus. Chrysalis would likely need to lay low, but everypony else was safe. Spike… We’d have to make the ship bigger for him. A lot bigger.
“If,” Twinkleshine whispered, “you don’t get them to work, we can always wait for Luna to give us a ride home. Even a Flare isn’t a worth much in a fight between alicorns, right? And the elements already don’t work.”
I sighed the slowest sigh of my life. “They’re not broken, Twinkleshine. They can still be used. Eventually, Celestia is going to show up and take them, whether I have them in my possession or not.”
“Can’t you just smash them?”
“If they can be smashed, it’s not by any power I possess.”
That probably wouldn’t render them useless, either. The Elements of Harmony were just a conduit for the Tree of Harmony’s power…probably. Smashing the ones I had might not do anything, or in the worst case, it would cause the tree to ‘grow’ new ones back on Equus.
And who knew, maybe Luna was wrong. Maybe the elements were just too far from the tree to function, and I was simply doomed.
“This…is probably not the safest idea, but maybe you could make a small black hole or a miniature sun and toss them in?”
Those weren’t the worst ideas ever, but they had a fundamental flaw. “If that doesn’t work, I have no way of checking, and Celestia can probably extract the elements from either.”
“Well…maybe Pinkie’s cooking will cheer you up. I know it always does for me! I heard she and Dash were planning Berry Pinch’s birthday party together this year! Her birthday is in five days. They’ll probably want to use the bridge again for it, if that’s okay.”
I nodded just enough to answer.
“Great! I’ll see if I can get on the planning committee this time. Maybe I can get them to have more stuff you like to do this time.”
“Thanks for trying…” I mumbled. It was hard not to feel like a miserable failure when I couldn’t do the one thing I was practically born and raised to do.
Well, I couldn’t say I was in a better mood, but at least I wasn’t feeling any worse. Supper had been good, and nopony had pestered me too much beyond Pinkie Pie.
Maybe I needed a little pestering right now, though. Twinkleshine was trying so hard to help, but I was in too deep for her to pick me back up. I got a small smile when Spike asked if I wanted his dessert, but ice cream topped with gemstone sprinkles wasn’t really my idea of fine cuisine.
Sigh… I rolled the dice to a trivial little board game Twinkleshine and Spike had brought out to take my mind off of everything, but it wasn’t helping. Perhaps a more complicated game that would require actual thought would have, but whatever.
I’d tried everything I, Chrysalis, and Luna combined could think of, but nothing had worked. And the only real ideas I had left were worthless variations on old ideas.
I rolled the dice again, seeing that it was probably my turn. Twinkleshine hadn’t moved her pieces in a while, and neither had Spike.
“Twilight, you’ve already won…”
“Oh.” I looked back up from the board to Twinkleshine. “I’m sorry. I really appreciate what you two are trying to do, but it’s not working.”
I tried not to look at Spike, but I couldn’t help it. He looked about ready to cry himself. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t manage to hold a smile for him.
“Spike, do you think I could get a hug?”
There was only a moment’s hesitation before he jumped into my hooves. I’d grown so much, and he’d grown so little. Hugging him was like snuggling with a very warm teddy bear. It was nice, but it didn’t help much. Still, I could pretend it did.
“Thanks, Spike. I think I’ll make it through another night now.” Twinkleshine looked at me skeptically, a look I returned with a shrug as I rose. “I’ll be fine. I promise. I need to get back to work, though; I’m running out of time.”
“I was thinking of heading to bed soon,” Twinkleshine said. “Do you want to join me at all?”
My eye twitched and my legs wobbled, but I managed to stay on all four hooves.
“Are you sure you’re alright?” Twinkleshine asked, her magic already extended to help keep me upright.
I didn’t smile. “Yes, I’m perfectly alright. I just remembered something silly. Anyway, I’m going to go say goodnight to everypony who’s still awake, and then I’m going to head back to the bridge to keep working. Sweet dreams, you two.”
I walked out the door without a skip in my step after Twinkleshine and Spike had said their good nights as well. Immediately after, I made my usual rounds at night. I wished everypony a good night’s rest and told them where I’d likely be in case of an emergency. Tonight, as it had been for the past several weeks, I was going to be sequestered up in the bridge.
Finally reaching the bridge in question, most of my worries left behind me, I finally allowed a little bounce into my step. The situation wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t nearly as bad at night when there were only two ponies awake.
“Alright, did any of the plans work today?”
I rather doubted it. Today had been pretty unproductive, but it was possible. Maybe Generosity would think Spike’s heroic sacrifice of his dessert to cheer me up was generous enough for a dragon his age. Actually, that was pretty generous for a dragon of any age. Spike was such a little sweetheart compared to the dragons in the stories Luna had told the two of us.
Trotting over to where I’d abandoned the elements, I was both unsurprised and disappointed to find myself with four stone spheres and two golden necklaces.
“You know,” I began, talking to Generosity, “you should be really impressed with Spike. He has an instinctive urge to never give anything up, especially treasure. I, at least, am immensely proud of how he’s grown up. It’s not how much somepony can afford to give that counts, it’s about how hard they try. No, it’s even more fundamental than that. It’s about the altruistic impulse to give, something Spike has ingrained in his heart.”
Generosity just floated in my magic.
“Don’t give me that look. You know perfectly well that Spike is an exemplar of Generosity. He may prioritize me, but that’s to be expected. I’m his mother. But even then, he’s no less giving with others.”
Generosity just floated in my magic.
“Fine, you’re no good for conversation, anyway.”
I let Generosity fall back down to the floor to rest along with the other elements. I was still pretty irked that Kindness had awakened for Fluttershy. I mean, Laughter for Pinkie Pie made plenty of sense, although I could see Kindness for her, too. Anyway, Fluttershy was a dear, but Twinkleshine has been nothing but kind, and caring, and supportive ever since I’d recovered the elements from the comet floating next to us.
Oh well. The elements appeared to operate on a first come, first serve basis, so it wasn’t as if Kindness had rejected Twinkleshine. And either way, in the end, it was hard to argue with the pink, butterfly-shaped gem affixed at the base of the necklace. The elements did what they wanted, and I had no control over them.
And then there was Magic. I felt like kicking the stupid element around like a ball again. I’d all but given up on getting the blasted thing to awaken, despite how easy it should have been. The only reason I hadn’t tossed it out into deep space in frustration was that it might require all of the other elements to be working before it could do anything. It was the big, important element that made everything else function, after all. From an engineering perspective, there was no reason for it to work without the supporting elements working first.
It was at this point that Chrysalis finally joined me. Her own geas – which prevented her from thinking about our real plan, from detecting the geas, and from noticing the elements awakening – had expired when I’d said good night to her, just like the same one on myself had worn off when Twinkleshine had decided to go to sleep. Fortunately, the ‘we’re doomed, end the geas, run for your lives’ emergency clause which would break the two geases hadn’t activated on either of us yet.
“Any troubles to report?” I asked. I asked this to a geased Chrysalis everyday, too, but it was always good to see if she came up with anything new at night.
“Nothing important, just internal hive squabbles. Any changes with the elements?”
“No,” I answered automatically. Even if I had a lot more hope than my daytime self, every day that passed without a third element awakening still hurt. “Laughter and Kindness are still the only two awake. I really cannot fathom why Loyalty hasn’t responded to somepony yet; this ship is filled to the brim with ponies that have an unusually strong sense of loyalty.”
“And I cannot fathom why you won’t just knight Chamomile.”
I bit my lip and averted my gaze. Chrysalis had been getting more and more insistent about this as the weeks came and went.
“I…wouldn’t normally do that, and–”
“‘And Luna was adamant that we not try to fool the elements under any circumstances, hence the geases to make the two of us behave normally during the day’,” Chrysalis interrupted, reciting the same excuse I’d given every single time. “That’s not your real reason – not anymore, at least – and you know it.”
Urgh… That didn’t mean it wasn’t a good excuse anyway. We could nudge events the way we wanted them to go, we could make situations where the crew would be inclined to show exemplary character traits, but we couldn’t force anypony to act out of character: the elements wouldn’t be fooled.
Stupid proto-will. The elements weren’t even sentient. They had no business judging us.
“You’re just worried it won’t work,” Chrysalis continued, “and that Chamomile will follow you to her death.”
I cringed in anticipation of what I knew Chrysalis was going to say next.
“Well, guess what. She’s going to follow you and Princess Luna to her death anyway, so you might as well–”
Chrysalis caught the element I threw at her with her magic.
“Oh, look at that,” I began, “you’ve just awakened the Element of Brutal Honesty.”
“Oh?” A terrible smirk grew on Chrysalis’s face. “So you’re admitting I’m right?”
My shoulders slumped along with my head. “If we don’t have a third element by the end of the week, I’ll ask her. And if that doesn’t work…”
I turned toward the two awakened elements sitting next to me. Luna thought I was at the point where the elements would simply ascend me if I got near them if I had enough of them awakened. Two elements might be enough if I kick-started my ascension, but I’d rather not try it if I had any other choice.
The problem was we were really pushing the limits of how long we could stay here. I was beginning to share the worry and panic of my daytime self, but eight more days should be safe, and maybe another week after that would be, too.
“I’ll start making preparations for protecting you all from a Twilight-sized explosion and, as best I can, from Celestia’s wrath. If we don’t get another element by the fiftieth, I’ll try to ascend with the two we have. If Celestia notices, or if I don’t return within a couple hours, you’ll need to take over for me.”
“Have you taught Twinkleshine how to cast shields?”
There was no nice way to answer that, unfortunately. “I tried, but she’s terrible with them. If Celestia strands you on the ship, you’ll have to manage all the life support and safety spells. Sorry.”
“Fantastic,” Chrysalis muttered.
“I once read a book that said sleeping in short power naps is actually better–”
Chrysalis’s glare cut me off. I hadn’t thought that was going to work, but it’d been worth a try. Still, maybe she would get used to sleeping for fifteen minutes at a time in-between refreshing the life support spells. Maybe.
“Anyway,” I began, “we still have plenty of time to try other plans. Have you had any other ‘strokes of genius’? Letting me fall into depression did work out, after all.”
Chuckling first, Chrysalis said, “Yes, yes it did. I thought it would, but a big part of me was just satisfied with revenge for all the trouble you’ve put me to.”
“What a wonderful friend you are.” Why couldn’t Chrysalis just keep her mouth shut once in a while? “What’s next? Are you going to try to kill me and see if somepony is loyal enough to throw herself into the line of fire?”
Chrysalis tapped a hoof to her cheek and wore an obviously fake contemplative look.
I sighed in exasperation.
“In all seriousness,” Chrysalis said, “I did not come up with anything particularly interesting during the day by chance, but we have all night to toss ideas back and forth. There is one thing that I might do to distract Celestia, though.”
“Oh?” I said, eyebrow raised. “Do share.”
“It’s nothing too important. I just thought she might be interested in locating Sunset Shimmer.”
A second passed as I stared at Chrysalis’s smirk, my jaw hanging wide open.
“You found Sunset Shimmer?” I shouted. “How? Luna and Celestia both couldn’t find her!”
“I’m afraid that would be telling.”
Chrysalis’s smile only grew when I stomped my hoof.
“You’re insufferable. You know that, right?”
“My daughter has told me that on occasion, but I had always assumed she was lying.”
Ugh. I facehoofed. “Will you at least tell me where she is? That seems like the kind of thing that might save my life at some point.”
“Oh, indeed, but I will be keeping that information to myself. It is my last resort to save my hive, although I suppose it would cost me little to ask for your life as well.”
“Gee, thanks. I feel so well-loved. So what are you going to tell Celestia? ‘I know where your previous student is, but I don’t feel like saying.’ I know exactly how well that will go over.”
“I haven’t decided yet. It’s a rather difficult problem to give away enough information to keep her interest without giving her enough to immediately discover the solution, but I’m sure I can come up with a reasonable clue. But this is something I’ve been working on during the daytime and will continue to work on then. For now, let’s speak of the elements.”
“I…suppose that’s a fair point. That is more of a task for daytime us. Anyway” – I picked up Generosity and held it between the two of us – “I think I still want to try giving Spike Generosity. In theory, as a dragon and as a foal, he should have a lower requirement to awaken it, hopefully low enough that it can, you know, actually work.”
“In theory,” Chrysalis echoed. “Still, it is a point well raised. There are few enough opportunities to demonstrate generosity on this ship. All any of us really have to give each other is our time.”
“You could give me a break once in a while.”
Chrysalis rolled her eyes but otherwise ignored my comment. “Did you have any particular plan in mind?”
“Well, yes, but I feel kind of bad about it. I can see a dozen ways it could go wrong and hurt Spike.”
“Hurt him worse than losing his mother?”
I liked to think the answer to that was no, but that didn’t mean I was okay with hurting Spike less. I didn’t want him to be hurt period.
Sighing first, I said, “Feel free to critique this, but I think it’s a reasonable idea. You know how close Berry Pinch and Spike are, right?”
“Well, a few years ago, I gave Spike a Hearth’s Warming gift that, well, Berry Pinch has had her eye on it for different reasons. I think if I–”
“Stop.” Chrysalis pulled my head with her magic to lock me into eye contact. “What gift did you give him?”
“Before you freak out–”
“You gave him a fire ruby!” Chrysalis interrupted again. “What were you thinking? Fire rubies explode if they’re not carefully looked after. They’re practically giant magical bombs!”
“That’s nothing I don’t know. I gave him the original crystal cores to grow under the express conditions that he would only do so under my supervision and that he wouldn’t try to do anything with one until it was fully grown and stabilized.”
Chrysalis released me, but her scowl didn’t fade. “You at least placed shields around them, right?”
“Of course. I’m not stupid.”
“Fine. Are there any other dangerous items aboard this ship I should be aware of.”
“Well,” I began, still rubbing my neck to ease the minor pain Chrysalis had caused, “there’s me, naturally. And then there’s the elements. And half the stuff Chamomile brought aboard, I’m sure.”
I shrugged. Those were all very dangerous things aboard the ship, each in their own way.
“I suppose, then,” Chrysalis began, “that one of those fire rubies has finished growing, and Spike is waiting for a special occasion to eat it.”
“And I might venture to guess that a certain little filly thinks it’s pretty.”
I nodded again.
“And I might dare to suggest that she would even appreciate some jewelry as a gift from her beau.”
“That’s the thought. I just hope she hasn’t reached puberty yet and that it really is just a foalish crush on her friend. Spike is a long way off from thinking about fillies that way, regardless of the whole dragon and unicorn issue.”
“Which really isn’t an issue,” Chrysalis added, gesturing to my wings.
“Well, yes. But I’m not going to dump Spike into a teenage pony’s body filled with hormones he doesn’t understand how to deal with. The other way around doesn’t really help either; it’d just cut off the hormones for Berry Pinch.”
“Ah, what tragic star-crossed lovers,” Chrysalis lamented, her tone at odds with her licking her lips.
“I forbid you from encouraging anything which could break Spike’s heart.”
Well, maybe that wasn’t the right way to phrase that. Spike wouldn’t be able to go through life without ever putting himself in an emotionally vulnerable position. But still, I didn’t quite trust Chrysalis where her food was concerned. She had once claimed to be a connoisseur of love, which boded poorly for anypony foolish enough to go to her for advice about it.
“Tch. Anyway, I thought of another idea, although it is a tab bit tasteless.”
Tasteless for Chrysalis, the Queen of Practicality? Now this I had to hear.
“We could move Fluttershy to another’s bed and wait to see what happens.”
“Let me guess, Loyalty for Dash, or maybe Fluttershy?” As Luna and Celestia had proven, there was no reason why one pony couldn’t have more than one element.
Shrugging, Chrysalis added, “Or perhaps Honesty, depending on how the situation developed. Who knows what the elements might find suitable in a bearer.”
“You’re right. That is rather crass.” After a sigh, I added, “Though I can’t find it in me to say it’s actually a bad idea. Still, we should probably shuffle that back until late next week.”
“Agreed. It could create a lot of drama and interfere with other plans.”
That wasn’t quite the reason I would’ve given to delay implementing a fake tryst, but it was a solid enough argument all on its own. Of course, it was also entirely possible that Dash would just think it was a prank, which would make the whole idea fail spectacularly as she set off revenge pranks.
After approximately a minute of silence, I said, “I wish I could think of something useful to do with Cherry Berry. She knows – in some vague terms – I’m supposed to ascend, and I can’t help but think there should be something we could do with that. But aside from continuing to keep the secret from the crew not in the know, I don’t see how we could set her up to awaken Loyalty. And she’s already been doing that, and Loyalty hasn’t responded. Generosity doesn’t make sense, either, but surely there’s some way to awaken Honesty with secrets. It doesn’t even have to be Cherry Berry; there are plenty of secrets on this ship.”
“We’ve wasted our time on Honesty too often,” Chrysalis said, shaking her head. “Princess Luna agreed that Honesty is a tricky element.”
I sighed. “I suppose you’re right. It’d be nice if Honesty could just see that I have a deep-seated desire to report the truth when I do science.”
“I’m far more concerned that you’ve been unable to awaken Magic. That is rather distressing.”
I certainly didn’t need to be reminded of that. It was grating to think Celestia might have abandoned me because I actually wasn’t good enough, unlikely though it was. I must have been doing something wrong, but whatever it was, Luna wouldn’t tell me – either because she didn’t know or because my knowing would make awakening Magic impossible, even with memory spells.
Well, anyway, what else hadn’t we tried? As much as I hated to admit it, we were really starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel for ideas. We’d gone through well over a hundred already, although I’d guess we’d only had six or seven actually good ideas so far.
Nopony on this ship was particularly attached to Celestia as a ruler, so maybe we could implement some sort of loyalty test if I told everypony why we were really here.
Hmm… No, that didn’t sound like the kind of thing that would awaken Loyalty. When it came down to it, the choice they would be making would just be between two heads of state, between the status quo and the princess they knew firsthoof. That might be hard, but whatever choice everypony made, it wouldn’t really be exemplary of loyalty.
Really, just in general, situations that involved a conflict of loyalties didn’t seem like the right approach, nor had we had any success with such plans. Perhaps if we had an independent external threat, awakening Loyalty might be easy. But the only one we could summon would be Celestia, which would be a bad, awful, horrible, disastrous plan to enact.
Well actually, we had a comet – no, that was silly. If everypony woke up one day to find the comet ‘mysteriously’ heading right for us, they’d just ask me to solve the problem and get on with their lives. The comet wouldn’t be able to pass as a credible danger, especially not when everypony on the Nebulous has had at least one picnic on it by this point.
“What is it?” Chrysalis asked over my giggling.
“No, it’s dumb and silly. I was just thinking about Mona growing angry with our picnics and trying to kill us out of revenge.”
Clearly choosing each word very carefully, Chrysalis replied, “I am concerned you are not taking this seriously.”
“I am, I am. But I need to get my laughs while I can; daytime is pretty brutal for me.”
So, if Loyalty was out, I should focus my attention on… Hmm… There was actually one pony we could provide an external threat for, but I had no clue how I could do it without it counting as fooling the elements. The way putting a bandage on a filly you’d kicked into the ground didn’t count as kindness, if we had Chrysalis set up a threat to her own hive, or even if she just knowingly relayed a request to do so from me to Luna, nothing she did would really count as loyalty.
It was times like this that I wish Luna and I had a secret code of some kind. Sadly, encryption was pointless when she and I were alone in my dreams, and there was no way anypony, especially my parents, would be able to memorize a random string of thousands of characters on a daily basis. Let alone how annoying it would be for Luna to decrypt by hoof.
Maybe Luna would realize she could set up such a plan herself. Actually, maybe she already had and was merely waiting until we were nearly out of time to implement it. There was no need to risk Chrysalis’s ire unless we had no other choice, after all.
I nodded to myself. If I’d thought of the idea, then of course Luna would have, too.
Right then. So Loyalty was probably the second most difficult element to awaken of the three non-Magic ones left. That meant I should turn most of my attention toward Generosity. Looking back on it now, the Spike plan still seemed solid, but I wasn’t going to put all my eggs in that basket.
This was going to be another long night.
I awoke with a strange headache again, but the feeling went away quickly enough. Still, the brief pain had disrupted the blissful half-awake state I usually had when waking up. It was probably time to go see if Fluttershy knew what the cause was, but not right now.
Right now, I saw Spike fiddling with something shiny nearby. My vision was still too blurry to figure out exactly what.
“Ugh, good afternoon, Spike,” I moaned. After I managed to rise zombie-like to my rump, I unfolded my wings and began my daily preening, a nearly automatic action by this point.
“Good afternoon, Mom. I was wondering if – if you’d help me with something.”
I pulled my muzzle out from under my wing and glanced in Spike’s direction. After I’d blinked enough to get my vision to focus, I found out what the shiny thing Spike had was.
“Spike,” I began, “you know you’re not supposed to touch your fire rubies without my supervision.”
“I know, but you said this one was finished growing.”
“Yes, it is, and that’s why I’m not as mad as I should be. If you want to eat it, go put it back in containment and save it for dessert.”
I returned to my preening, but when it became clear that Spike wasn’t going to say anything or leave, I looked back up again. He was staring at his feet, still fiddling with the fire ruby in his claws. It was at that point that my sleep addled mind remembered that Spike had asked for help.
“Did you have something else in mind for that?” I asked.
Mumbling to the floor, Spike said “I was wondering if…”
“I didn’t hear that. What–”
“Would you turn this into a necklace!” Spike thrust his fire ruby toward me and held it in the palms of his claws.
“Hmm? Unless you’re giving it to Chrysalis or Luna, that gem is way too big for a necklace. Maybe you could make it into a manepin, although even then we’d have to do a considerable amount of cutting. I should be able to do that safely for you, but I might break it into tiny pieces.” Before I went off on a huge tangent, lecturing on all of the implementation details, I remembered to ask, “Why do you ask?”
“Well, you said I should make a birthday present for Pinch, and she likes this kind of fillyish stuff.”
Spike’s blush only deepened when I said, “Aww.” I’d completely forgotten I’d mentioned that to him yesterday, but that wasn’t too surprising; I’d written a note to myself the night before yesterday to make sure I actually remembered to do that. Giggling, I added, “Are you sure you want to do this though? No regrets even if I accidentally break your gift?”
Just for a moment, Spike hesitated and licked his lips, but in the end, he nodded.
“Alright then, but I did mean it when I said that’s too big for a necklace, especially for Berry Pinch. Do you want to make a bunch of smaller things, or do you want to make one really big manepin?”
“Um…maybe a manepin? I don’t know what they look like, though.”
Ah, that was a good point. I couldn’t really expect Spike to know much about the design of jewelery, nor was I a good reference. Chrysalis should know, but she and I had too much work to do right now. Maybe…
One teleport later, and I stood next to Twinkleshine in the library. She didn’t even jump at my sudden appearance, having grown far too used to my teleports.
“Good afternoon, Twilight.”
“Good afternoon. Would you be willing to help Spike with a little arts and crafts project?”
“Arts and crafts? I don’t see why not, although I still think you need to take a long break from the elements. Why don’t you help him instead? It’ll be good for you.”
I sighed. Barely out of bed and I was already having this argument again. Just because the situation looked hopeless didn’t mean it was okay to give up…again. Well, there was an easy way to subvert the argument this time. “For your information, I will be helping him with it, but he’ll need your advice for the arty part.”
Twinkleshine looked at me skeptically. “Really?”
“Yes, I really will be helping. Anyway, the sooner he gets started, the better. Are you free now?”
After Twinkleshine had placed a bookmark and closed her book, I teleported the two of us back to my room.
“Alright, you two,” I began. “I have other things to do today, but I’ll start making a lump of silver from the comet. I think I need to extract some copper, too. Silver is supposed to be easily malleable if not alloyed with another metal; I think copper works, but I’ll have to consult a reference book.”
“Can’t I use gold?” Spike asked, bringing my attention back to why I was here. “It’d match Pinch’s cutie mark that way.”
“Wait, what? Silver? Gold?”
“In a moment, Twinkleshine,” I said. “Please stick to silver, Spike. The only way I know how to make gold right now requires a lot of additional processing to make sure none of it’s radioactive. Er, that is, the gold I can make will make Berry Pinch really sick, so please stick with silver, okay?”
Spike and I engaged in a brief battle of wills, but his puppy dog eyes were no match for me. He had used them far too often, and I’d built up quite the immunity.
“Okay?” I repeated myself, putting more emphasis into the question.
Shoulders sagging in defeat, Spike said, “Okay…”
“Great.” To be fair, making silver was going to be a huge pain, too, but I could actually finish producing guaranteed safe – and stable – silver in the three days before the party with enough time left to work with it. “Now, I’ll leave you in the capable hooves of Twinkleshine. Be sure to explain to her exactly what it is you want to do.”
“Alright. Should I just draw what I want?”
I shrugged. “Anything that is sufficiently detailed is fine. I think Pinkie Pie has the art supplies right now. I can send her your way, if you want.”
“Hmm… Yeah, that’d work.”
Nodding, I teleported to the kitchen, which was the most likely place to find Pinkie Pie. And if not there – which looking around, I found she was not – then the site of her next party was a good second choice. Today, that meant the bridge. I teleported straight there, feeling useful for the first time in weeks.
“Do you think she’ll like it?” Spike asked, putting the finishing touches on the ridiculously over-elaborate bow on his gift to Berry Pinch.
“Well, she is a foal,” I said offhoofedly. “I would say she’ll like anything you give her, but that’s not true at all. That said, I’m sure she’ll love your gift.”
“Mom, are you all right?”
No, I wasn’t all right. I still hadn’t gotten anywhere with the elements, and now everypony but Chrysalis was dragging me to a party. Even if it wasn’t my party, I still hadn’t earned a party. If I could get just one of those stupid rocks to give me an Element of Harmony, maybe then I wouldn’t mind wasting time and letting myself have some fun.
“Yes, I’m fine,” I lied. “I’m just tired. Anyway, it’s time for one last review. What are the three enchantments I put on that manepin?”
“Um… One, it’ll remember the last way it was used, to make using it easier.”
I resisted rubbing my forehead at the reminder of the book I’d had to read to learn that spell.
“Two,” Spike continued, “it stops her from getting wet or building up static charge.”
Well, that was what it did, but at its core, the enchantment was designed to prevent the wearer’s mane from frizzing.
“Three, it can only be removed by whoever is wearing it, so she doesn’t have to worry about it being stolen.”
Now that was an actually interesting enchantment. Luna had said she’d first discovered it from reverse engineering some artifact called the Alicorn Amulet.
“And the magic to power the enchantments comes from?” I asked.
I nodded. “Except there is no ambient magic out here, so until she returns to Equus” – or the moon – “she’ll have to provide the magic herself.” Which left the third enchantment of questionable utility at the moment. Pretty much anypony on the Nebulous could overpower her and take her manepin, although I was sure nopony actually would.
“Alright,” I began, levitating Spike up onto my back, “let’s head up to the bridge. I heard Pinkie Pie made a quadruple chocolate cake, and I could really use some comfort food right now.”
“Whoa, that sounds tasty!”
Ah, how comparatively easy it was to be a parent to a dragon. There was literally no need to worry about what he ate so long as he didn’t put anything sentient into his mouth.
“Just don’t eat all of it. It’s Berry Pinch’s birthday, so between you, me, and especially Pinkie Pie, she’ll still expect to get a slice.” I turned my head back toward him to give him a grin, and I got a laugh for my trouble.
As I stepped through the second door that led onto the bridge, the usual blare of music courtesy of Pinkie Pie came at us. For whatever reason, she’d chosen a swing album this time. Pinkie Pie herself had pulled out her saxophone and was playing along atop a table, somehow vibrating up and down. I watched her for a moment longer as she repeated the action several seconds later. Maybe it was some kind of Pinkie Sense?
“Ah, Twinkleshine said she’d try to get on board with the party planning,” I whispered to myself, my hooves tapping to the beat. “That explains the atmosphere.”
I really should learn how to play an instrument. If I lived past the summer solstice, Pinkie Pie and I could start a jazz band. That could be a lot of fun. Maybe I could play the drums. No, if my dancing skills were any indication, my rhythm was probably abysmal. The trumpet was probably relatively easy to pick up. There were only three buttons to press, after all. Twinkleshine could sing, and maybe Luna would even join us. And Cadance played the bass. Or was it the cello?
I shook my head as Spike hopped off my back. As amusing of a diversion as that could be in the future, there was a whole lot of stuff to do between then and now – too much stuff, even. What was I doing at a party? I should–
“Hey, Twilight!” Twinkleshine shouted. “Hey, Spike. You can put your present over there on the table with the others.” Gesturing to the opposite side of the room, she added, “The cake and punch is over there.”
I turned my gaze to where Twinkleshine was pointing and, immediately after, levitated a rather large slice of cake over to myself. I took a large bite out of it, everything Luna had ever taught me about table manners forgotten.
“Well?” Twinkleshine asked, smiling and slapping me on the back. “What do you think?”
“You’ve done well. I’m pretty sure I can guess where your influence is at work.” I sighed as I caught sight of the elements tucked away in a corner. “Still, I’m not sure how long I’m going to stay. I have stuff to do, and I’ll just bring the party down around me.”
“Will you at least stay for a game of cards? Berry Pinch said she wanted to play with you, Spike, and Berry Punch.”
“What game?” I asked hesitantly. This felt like a trap.
“She asked for Spades.”
Hmm, that wasn’t the longest card game played on the Nebulous. Perhaps it wasn’t a trap, then.
“Alright, I’ll oblige the birthday filly for one game, but I think I’m going to leave after that. I assume my partner is Spike.”
“Nope! It’s Berry Punch.”
I raised an eyebrow. It wouldn’t hurt too much to go easy on the foals, I supposed.
“Maybe I should have gone easier on them,” I mused.
Spike and Berry Pinch had been pretty upset after getting not quite curb stomped, but something pretty close to that. Honestly, they’d actually played pretty well, even though they were still learning. I’d known she and Spike had started playing cards together often, but their teamwork was incredible enough to make up for what they were lacking in skill.
Oh well. I was sure that when Spike finally got around to giving Berry Pinch her present, she’d forget all about it. Or at least get over it enough to plot how she would win a revenge game later.
I looked back down at the notebook I was reading. It was filled with failed idea after failed idea. I really didn’t know what I hadn’t tried yet to awaken the elements. It really felt like there was a good idea just waiting for me to put into words, but every time I tried, it eluded me like trying to catch the wind.
I’d checked on the off chance that Chrysalis was intentionally sabotaging us, but I couldn’t find any untoward spells on me that would prevent me from…what? Thinking of good ideas? Spells – at least no known spells had the kind of processing power necessary to determine if something was a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ idea.
Maybe a geas could prevent somepony from thinking about something specific, but I couldn’t find one on me. And I was positive I was casting the detection spells right, so I was just utterly failing to do the one thing Luna had ever asked of me all on my own.
Sigh. Maybe I should just shoot a bolt of lightning at the elements, or throw some raw magic at them. That was certainly something I hadn’t tried, although I couldn’t think of any reason why that would work or even make sense. I was getting desperate enough to try some of the more exotic ideas about magic that a pony could find in fiction written by authors that didn’t understand how it worked.
Like virgin sacrifices. What even was the reasoning there? Magic didn’t care if you’d ever had sex or not. There wasn’t some fundamental change that occurred in ponies when reproductive organs got within a certain radius. Even in the realm of fiction, that was a ridiculous idea which would need an even more outrageous premise to make sense contextually.
And then there were those stories where reading a book could drive a pony insane. If the information was actually so shocking that it was impossible to cope with it, the obvious solution was to just forget the last hour or so. Or if there were a magical curse of some kind on the book, then the obvious answer was to dispel the curse. If that were impossible, just throw the book into a volcano, and the whole problem would sort itself out.
Well, whatever. If ponies liked those stories, they were welcome to them. Maybe I just had an innate distaste for high fantasy.
And I’d gotten horribly off topic. So the elements–
An overwhelming burst of magic flew across the room, a thousand million billion times more intense than the last occasion I’d felt anything remotely familiar, all the way back on the day I’d earned my cutie mark.
I toppled out of my chair.
“No, not now!”
I could feel a flare coming. Whatever disaster had just happened, it would have to wait.
I teleported into my flaring chamber, pleasantly surprised to find that the enchantments were still working.
I spotted my…my…my memories came back. The geas lifted. This was an emergency if anything ever qualified.
What had just happened? It had to have involved the Elements of Harmony. There was nopony on the ship who could generate that much magic, and it hadn’t felt like Celestia’s, or Luna’s, or Cadance’s magic.
A horrible, gut wrenching feeling grew inside of me. While it was just barely possible the elements had misfired, there was an awful, terrible alternative explanation: somepony had ascended.
Somepony with familiar magic had ascended. Geased Me had thought the magic had felt just the tiniest bit familiar underneath the sheer raw power.
The momentary flash of pride I had for Spike was drowned out completely as my coat turned white and my mane and tail burst into flames. I gritted my teeth painfully hard, trying to stay just the slightest bit in control of my righteous fury. My entire life’s work had just been ruined.
In my head, I chanted over and over to myself, “Remember what happened to Luna.” The last time she had grown overwhelmingly angry was the moment she’d been banished. I couldn’t afford to repeat her mistake. Luna would be disappointed if I repeated her mistake. Untempered fury was a handicap, not a strength.
My suppressor, I had to get to it. I needed to end this flare now. If there was anything I could do to salvage this situation, anything at all, it wasn’t going to happen mid-flare.
Even through the magic searing my horn, even while I tried to stay calm, the words escaped me.
“Dash! I am going to throw you into the sun!”