Chapter Three - Growing Up
“Don’t expect too much,” Twinkleshine said. “And it’s a bit messy. I share my room with–”
“It’s fine,” I said, resisting the urge to growl the words. I’d been feeling a little off since last afternoon, and all of the little things had been irritating me more than usual. “Just open the door, and let’s get set up.”
Nodding, Twinkleshine opened the door with her mulberry magic, which was only a shade or two off from my own. Inside was, as forewarned, quite the mess. I didn’t know if the dorms made fillies do their own laundry, but from the giant piles of clothes scattered around – some personal, but from a casual glance, mostly for school purposes – I wouldn’t bet otherwise.
But that was just the regular, innocent part of the mess, the kind of mess that foals and adults alike produced. No, the inexcusable part was lying perfectly in the center of the room so as to deliver the maximum possible insult.
“Who did this to this poor book?” I shouted, rushing over and unbending the hardcover spine which had been cruelly shaped to make the covers meet. Stars! The book was even a two-century-old first edition of Mirdin’s treatise on elemental magic. The poor thing would never be the same again.
Well, not without magic. But it was the spirit of the problem that mattered.
I whirled back towards Twinkleshine with the book held protectively in my foreleg. I demanded my answer silently with the sheer force of my gaze.
“M-Moondancer!” Twinkleshine eeped.
“Where is she.”
“P-probably a-at classes.”
I would have liked nothing better than to track down this Moondancer to give her a piece of my mind, but Twinkleshine had said something even more unforgivable.
“You’re skipping classes?” I hissed.
I could feel my magic building up withing me, wanting to lash out at the world as if it had a mind of its own, only for it to be dammed by the suppressor I wore for the last day. And yet I knew it was trickling out all the same as it swirled and grew within me. What little that escaped instinctively reached for magic outside of me to supplement itself in a way I’d never been able to replicate purposefully.
Before I could say anything else or calm myself, Twinkleshine shook her head vigorously as she took a step away from me.
I demanded, “Explain,” with the same anger in my voice. However, seeing Twinkleshine practically faint under the sheer pressure I was exerting on her was like being thrown into a pool of cold water. There weren’t many foals that were mentally equipped to deal with a raging Twilight Sparkle, and I knew for a fact that Twinkleshine wasn’t among them.
All my irritation and rage vanished as quickly as it’d come. My magic was still begging to be released, but it had stopped expanding wildly and unchecked as the suppressor finally managed to keep pace with me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t quite stop in time to avoid getting at least a cubic meter of water dumped on me.
Sighing, I looked down at the book I held. It was slightly charred in places and waterlogged to the point of practically falling apart. I’d caused it more damage in less than a minute than anything Moondancer had done.
“I’m sorry,” I said, half to the book as I gently lowered it to the soggy carpet and half to Twinkleshine.
The water having knocked her down, Twinkleshine shakily returned to her hooves. The next words out of her mouth spoke wonders to her character.
“Are you okay, Twilight? The campus hospital isn’t far from here. Are you able to move? Or maybe we shouldn’t move you. Or–”
“I’m fine, Twinkleshine,” I said. I held no illusion that she would drop the issue there, but it was an automatic response, the kind that got drilled into a pony’s head from a very early age.
“But you were on fire! And your coat is pure whi – well, a bit more purple now. It’s fading. But it was snow white!”
I sighed again. I just couldn’t help it. Was it really too much to ask just to watch a comet in peace, Life?
“Listen, Twinkleshine, I really am fine. And sorry for getting mad. I can explain, but if I do, then I want you to promise me not to tell anypony.”
Without hesitation, Twinkleshine said, “I promise.”
With a small smile, I said, “Okay, the first thing to understand is you won’t get in trouble for knowing this or if you tell anypony else. It’s just…very personal for me, and I’d rather it not become common knowledge.”
After Twinkleshine nodded, I continued, “My special talent isn’t magical theory. It’s just magic.”
“What kind of magic?” Twinkleshine interrupted.
I managed a laugh at Twinkleshine’s confusion. “Just magic.”
Eyes wide, Twinkleshine asked, “You – you mean all of it?”
“That’s – I mean, Moondancer is – and Trixie–”
Knowing that she wasn’t getting anywhere fast, I stepped in. “That wasn’t the main point, just a clarification so the rest makes sense. Do you remember there being an incident at the exams three-ish years ago?”
“My parents said something about that, but we’d already left. We – wait! Did something happen to you then?”
“Other way around,” I said with more good humor than I was expecting. “I happened to Canterlot.”
Enjoying another good laugh at Twinkleshine’s expression, I added, “I’m a Flare: a pony with access to huge, outrageous amounts of magic. And I keep getting stronger as I grow. Sometimes it gets overwhelming, and I lose control. That was the incident. I caused a lot of damage that day.
“Anyway, Ce–” Catching myself before I spat her name, I restarted my sentence. “Princess Celestia put this ring on my horn which keeps my magic in check. Mostly. I’m strong enough right now to leak out enough power to turn a couple of pages in a book, and my flares die down quickly with it on, but not before leaking out some semi-wild magic. It usually takes cues from my mood or intentions, but only cues.
“Hence why I was on fire. Angry flares are the most predictable and tend to last until I calm down. I’m rarely not on fire when I flare while mad. Not that I flare every time I’m upset, just that if I flare and am upset, then I usually turn white and fiery and pull in additional magic to supplement my own, which is why the ring doesn’t do it’s job as well when I’m mad.”
I licked my dry lips and caught my breath. I’d been talking far too much today.
I was about to ask for questions when Twinkleshine said, “I’m really not skipping classes, Twilight. Moondancer is just in more advanced ones than me. I’m…not that good at magic.”
Befuddled was too strong a word to describe me. I just didn’t do befuddlement. Baffled was too strong as well, but it was a step in the right direction. I didn’t see the connection at all between what I’d said and what Twinkleshine had said.
Unless…she thought I was upset because she thought I thought she was wasting her good fortune to be in school instead of my being upset because classes were not to be skipped.
Ugh, that thought needed revising.
I took a cold, squishy step and remembered that I’d caused the dorm’s fire alarm to flood the room.
“Does anypony come to clean this up and repair damages?” I asked, letting the issue before go.
Twinkleshine nodded. “Eventually. Definitely before bedtime, but I don’t know when they’ll show up.”
“I see. Perhaps we should take our business elsewhere, then,” I said, looking towards the fortunately undamaged telescope near the window. “You’re not going to get in trouble for this, are you?”
“No, this kind of stuff happens here all the time,” Twinkleshine laughed. She actually laughed. Not just her weak giggle, but a real laugh. It was really endearing in the strangest way.
Regardless, we quickly packed up Twinkleshine’s telescope and saddlebags and then made our way outside. The school campus was remarkably large and roomy for the tightly packed city of Canterlot, and Twinkleshine claimed to know all of the best hiding places to sit and watch the celestial bodies.
Along the way, we enjoyed some small talk over constellations and eventually got sidetracked with discussing star beasts. I’d once asked Luna what they were, but she’d said they were older than both her and Discord. In particular, she’d said that any wild theories I came up with were as good as any of her own and then had regaled me with what it was like to be eaten by an ursa major. I probably would’ve had nightmares after that story if Luna hadn’t been around to deal with them.
Anyway, after sneaking into a restricted area – a surprisingly bold move on Twinkleshine’s part – we reached our destination. We were at the top floor of the clock tower where all of the bells hung directly above. There was no physical railing, but Twinkleshine assured me there were enchantments in place in case anypony fell off. Aside from the bells, then, it was no more than a large, elevated platform with a roof. No good for lying down and gazing up, but perfect for using a telescope.
Twinkleshine quickly reassembled her telescope with her magic. She was so fast at it that I almost suspected she’d developed a spell specifically to do the task, but the telltale signs of telekinesis were obvious to me.
After she finished, Twinkleshine lit up her horn one last time and placed a nifty illusion on the telescope to make it project what it was looking at onto the floor.
Seeing Twinkleshine practically begging for a compliment, even if she was trying to hide it, I said, “Interesting spellwork. You’re not as bad as you claimed.”
“T-thanks. But it’s not really that great.” Twinkleshine’s voice soured. “Moondancer took one look at it and figured out how to cast it herself.”
Ouch, that must have hurt. Something similar happened between Shining and I when I was four. I drove him to near desperation when he was trying to make amends with me. Of course, Twinkleshine didn’t need an overture of apologies right now. She needed a heavy dose of confidence.
“Ink and parchment,” I said. To Twinkleshine’s confusion, I added, “You brought some with, right?”
With a nod, Twinkleshine retrieved a notebook – fortunately the kind that would stay open without effort – a stoppered vial of ink, and a quill. She then placed the implements in front of me and stood back.
And now I found myself in a rather embarrassing position. I’d been given a stoppered vial of ink. I wasn’t going to be able to fix that anytime soon without taking the suppressor off. Well, I might have been able to with two steady hooves and my mouth, but I’d just as likely end up with ink on my face as not.
But to both my relief and indignation, Twinkleshine noticed my distress and solved the problem for me without a word. In the end, I decided to pretend the entire thing had never happened.
Forgoing the quill, which I wasn’t sure I could pick up and didn’t want to try, I pulled a small amount of ink from the vial and formed it into effectively the same shape it would’ve had in the quill. This was a very early trick I’d learned when developing my telekinetic control to surgical precision, and it still made me smile every time a pony saw me doing it, even if it required far more focus than simply using an especially light quill.
As I started writing, I noticed Twinkleshine staring at me. I knew she’d been impressed when I told her what my special talent really was, but I also knew she hadn’t really appreciated what that meant. Not until now, that was.
Still writing, I said, “You can learn to do this, too, Twinkleshine.”
Incoherent stuttering was all the reply I received.
“Not that I would recommend it. This is a very low power substitute for a quill or for simply magicking words onto parchment.”
“I don’t think–”
“Why do you like astronomy?” I interrupted. I didn’t need Twinkleshine losing even more self-confidence before my surprise was done, and astronomy was the only thing I knew that was sure to distract her.
“Why do you like astronomy?” I repeated. “What initially drew your interest?”
“Oh. Um… I don’t really know. Sorry. It’s just…fun. And everything… It’s all so beautiful. Almost as if it were a painting ready to come to life at the slightest touch. If – if that makes any sense.”
It made more sense than you knew. I stopped writing for a few seconds to look up at her and nod. I doubted she noticed, though. She was in her own little world.
“Sometimes… Sometimes I gaze up at the night sky and… I don’t know. I feel like it’s gazing back. But not like those horror stories of seaponies and the depths. It’s…gentle and loving. Like getting lost and finally finding your mother after crying your heart out. And–”
Twinkleshine blushed and tried to hid her face behind her hooves. “Oh, Celestia, that was the most foalish thing I’ve ever said.”
“Maybe you’re right,” I said, barely keeping the jealousy out of my voice.
I had no real evidence and only a vague notion of how alicorns worked to go on, but just listening to Twinkleshine talk made it sound like she did have some special connection to Luna that I’d never have or even understand. Her special talent was astronomy, after all, and the stars fell under Luna’s domain just as much as the moon did.
What would happen if she ascended? Would Twinkleshine rip a part of Luna away from her? Maybe the two would fuse somehow. Perhaps Twinkleshine would get the short end of the stick and get nothing. Maybe they would share control of the stars.
Too many questions and too little information.
I noticed I’d stopped writing at some point and started up again before Twinkleshine also noticed. At least I hadn’t let the ink drop all over the parchment.
Not pursuing the matter, Twinkleshine returned my own question back to me, “So why do you like astronomy?”
“Well, I didn’t used to like it so much. I liked the night more in general. It was quiet, and I really liked the low levels of light and lying down with a book illuminated by my magic. I was always a night owl, and my parents constantly fought me on it until…external factors came into play.
“I don’t really have much appreciation for art, but even then I had to admit the stars were a wonderful backdrop to the world. Canterlot lighting ruins the effect, though. But what really made me interested was meeting somepony who…really liked stargazing. Now when I look up at the stars, I think of her and get a warm feeling inside.”
I sighed and noticed that I’d stopped writing once again. I really shouldn’t have said that. All I wanted to do now was go to sleep.
“That’s really sweet,” said Twinkleshine. Unless I was hearing things, I thought I heard a tinge of disappointment in her words.
Letting her remark pass unchallenged as she had mine, I put the final touches on my work and returned the remaining ink to its vial. I resisted the urge to proofread it a couple times for grammar and typography issues, then gestured for Twinkleshine to take a look.
“I’m pretty sure this will work as intended, but there may be a few bugs you’ll have to find yourself.”
Barely into the first page, Twinkleshine said, “This – Twilight, this is brilliant! Where did you learn this?”
“I cobbled it together just now from a double application of the classic mirror scrying spell and a simple illusion spell that’s probably very similar to the one you just used. If I spent more time on it, I could come up with a much more elegant solution, and I’m sure professional astronomers have something higher quality already, but this will probably be a lot easier for you to learn. I’ll leave it to you to make the improvements.”
Apparently, it took Twinkleshine this long to figure out that I gave her the spell for her to learn, use, and improve, as she said, “I can’t do this, Twilight. This is too–”
“Yes you can,” I asserted. “This kind of magic is right up your alley. If you have trouble, try learning the regular and the mirror scrying spell first in that order.”
“But the range–”
“Is petty. Look, I understand what it’s like to not have an endless supply of magic. I really do. But scrying is a low power spell, as are illusions. Sure, you probably can’t sustain this spell indefinitely without building up your magical reserves, but you can keep it going for at least few minutes.
“And just think about what you’ll get to see! The stars completely unfiltered by lights or by the atmosphere. You could be making original discoveries and be heralded as a prodigy if you’d only have more confidence in yourself.”
The bait was set, and I waited with bated breath to see if Twinkleshine would take it and reach for greatness.
That didn’t bode well, but I didn’t give up. I kept up the most expecting yet supportive face I could and hoped it would be enough.
“I – I suppose outer space isn’t that far…”
I let out the breath I’d been holding. It wasn’t exactly a shout of passion to the heavens, but Twinkleshine had taken a small step forward, and that was enough for now.
And I had to admit, I felt pretty good for the part I’d played in that step. Perhaps this was how Luna felt when she’d pulled me out of the gutter. Maybe when I’m one- or two-hundred years old, I would enjoy having a proper student of my own.
For now, though, it seemed I’d walked into tutoring Twinkleshine all on my own – cantered, really, if not galloped.
“It’s really not. Ponies scry across the world, which is hundreds of times farther than space. I’ll come see how you’re doing when I visit Canterlot, and if you’re having problems, I can help you work them out. Okay?”
Twinkleshine nodded and smiled.
“Great. Now let’s actually do what we came here to do.”
The deafening sound of the train’s whistle echoed through Canterlot Station. The Ponyville Express was making its last call for passengers and was set to leave in less than a minute.
And with that call, Cadance released me from her hug. “I’m really going to miss you, Twilight.”
“Me, too. But I’ll come visit often, I promise.”
Cadance smiled and pushed me toward Shining, who was waiting for me at the train door. “I’ll hold you to that. And I’m sure Shining will want to see you, too.” Then whispering in my ear, Cadance said, “And Twinkleshine as well.”
“I swear, if you say ‘I told you so’ one more time, I won’t be held responsible for what happens.”
Completely ignoring me, Cadance said, “I told you so.”
Seething, I stomped away from her and jumped onto the train. I briefly turned around and blew a raspberry at her. I left before she could respond. Super foalish, yes. But Cadance was being just as foalish herself.
The Ponyville Express whistled once more and suddenly lurched forward before settling into a slow pace as it left the station. Shining joined me as soon as the car we were in pulled out of sight of the platform.
“That was pretty rude, you know,” Shining said as we walked. We were heading toward the very last car in the train: the royal box. Cadance had given us permission to use it whenever we wanted.
Well, except when it was occupied during a state of war, but Equestria was never at war anymore. Nopony was stupid enough to attack the only known being who could cycle day and night, and even that disregarded the overwhelming power she could bring to bear against her foes.
“Cadance started it.”
Laughing, Shining said, “Yes, I can certainly imagine she did. But you could have tried being the bigger pony.”
“Maybe next time,” I mumbled.
We arrived at the royal box, and Shining took out one of the key copies Cadance had given us to unlock the door. Inside was not exactly what I had expected. Sure, there were the trappings of office and a number of luxuries, including a large cloud bed, but it didn’t scream, ‘This is the property of immortal goddess royals, and you are lucky to be given the briefest of glimpses’ the way I’d thought it would. I could imagine Cadance having a hoof in that.
“So how was your visit with Twinkleshine?”
“Oh, not you, too, Shining,” I moaned. And I’d just found a comfortable spot on a chair that wasn’t made of clouds. “Please, Cadance was bad enough.”
“How so?” Shining asked. His face showed that his confusion was honest. Maybe Cadance hadn’t shared her opinions with him. If that was the case…
“Nevermind. It was fun. And I got to experience a new side of myself.” Not that I had any plans to do any real teaching for a long time, especially considering I was very much still a student myself.
Shining nodded approvingly. “I’m glad you’re finally making friends, even if they’re kind of out-of-the-way.”
“No, no, no. Just stop there. I don’t need or want to hear Cadance’s lecture again coming from you.” I paused for a moment, then giving Shining the benefit of the doubt, I added, “Whether she’s putting you up to it or not.”
Having the sheer gall to laugh, Shining said, “Very well, Twily. But please promise me you’ll make friends in Ponyville. Cadance and I won’t be able to be there for you like we were in Canterlot.”
Just to put an end to the conversation – hopefully a permanent end with a gruesome death – I said, “Fine, I will.”
To pass the time, I thought about reading one of the books I’d picked up from the archives between visiting Twinkleshine and catching the train, but I thought better of it. I wasn’t going to see Shining as often anymore, so I asked him to play a game of poker with me.
Long ago, Shining had initially been very mad when one of his fellow guards had taught me the game, but after I’d given him a humiliating defeat, he’d quickly changed his tune.
It was one of the saddest, yet funniest, things. Shining had some sort of stallion pride thing going on that made him unable to refuse my invitations despite my continuous winning streak. Honestly, we’d lost track of how many games I’d won, but we both knew Shining was sitting at solid zero. Still, it was good practice for me.
I could read Shining like a book. And as for his point of view, well, Luna’s lessons had a lot of mundane, practical uses, too. Really, he should’ve given up trying to read me and played as statistically as possible long ago, but I wasn’t going to point that out.
“All in,” Shining bluffed. It looked like he’d been practicing, but it was still obvious he had nothing.
I turned over my measly pair of twos, and Shining let his head fall onto the table in defeat.
“Ugh, why are you so good at this?” Shining moaned. “Has dad been coaching you? Or one of my friends? I could see them doing that.”
“Both wrong,” I answered. Then to rub salt in the wound as usual, I said, “Perhaps you’d like some coaching yourself?”
To my great surprise, Shining whispered, “Yes. Teach me your ways.”
Ha! Shining had finally truly admitted defeat! As for teaching him, well, nopony could say I wasn’t generous in my own way.
“Alright, protip one. If your opponent is easy to frustrate” – I gave Shining a knowing look – “disrespect her at every opportunity underneath a calm, dignified manner.”
“That’s horrible! Who taught you that?”
“It’s not horrible, Shining. It’s how you play the game. Poker is stupid and boring until you pay attention to the ponies playing. That’s where the game really takes place. Ponies are very stupid when they’re upset, and it makes it very easy to win. As a soldier, that’s something you should really work on, unless you want to get yourself injured.”
After a moment, I whispered, “Or worse,” letting my own worries for him slip out.
Shining let his head fall back onto the table and buried it under his hooves. “Great, now my little sister is telling me how to do my job.”
“Speaking of, did you ever look at that list of spells I gave you?”
I waited for Shining to add something, but apparently that was all he had to report.
“And? Did you start learning any of them?”
Shaking his head, Shining said, “I don’t see the point. If a unicorn strong enough to cast something actually requiring that level of defense wanted me dead, I’d be dead one way or another.”
I sighed. Shining just didn’t understand. I didn’t really have a tactful way to put it, either, so I decided to say it as bluntly as possible.
“Shining, guards are like…like wallpaper. You remember the point I made last season, right?”
Face contorting in disgust, Shining said, “Yes.” I really couldn’t blame him. It wasn’t every night a filly with essentially no magic dropped a fellow guard and a friend in less than a second. Despite the squick of the incident, it’d been a necessary flaw I’d had to point out to the guard. You just didn’t send in unwarded ponies against a unicorn regardless of how cute and innocent she appeared.
Although, I mostly had been trying to make a point to Mom and Dad about letting me walk the streets at night alone, as well as making sure I was doing what Luna had taught me correctly. Not that Mom or Dad accepted the argument when they heard about it.
“You all have an important job,” I continued. “You keep order. You don’t need to protect alicorns. That’s a job for the ancient, romanticised idea of a knight. You’re just not equipped to deal with the really serious problems, and those problems know that. If you survive the room clearing attack meant to remove annoyances, you’ll be just fine if you don’t do anything stupid and let somepony like Celestia deal with whatever is happening.”
“Hiding behind my princess isn’t why I joined the guard, Twilight.”
“Neither is getting yourself killed for no reason!” I countered. I really wished I had all of the evidence I wanted to throw at him right now, but I didn’t generally carry around history books even I thought were dry.
“Shining, I mean this in the least offensive way when I say this, but history doesn’t lie. If you read through all of the records of major incidents in Equestrian history, it’s always Celestia or some great heroine who solves the problem. If you dig a little deeper, you can find a list of” – I had to hold back a sniff after imagining Shining’s name among them – “of names. All dead guards who died for nothing.”
My hooves slammed on the table as well as I could make them. “Nothing, Shining! They didn’t hold the line or save the day by delaying their foe. They just died senselessly. Please don’t add your name to those lists. Mom and Dad would be heartbroken. Cadance would be heartbroken.” Whispering once more, I finished, “I’d be heartbroken.”
I felt Shining pick me up with his magic and float me over for a hug. I struggled a bit, but he wasn’t going to let go.
I didn’t want a hug. I wanted him to promise me he wasn’t going to get himself killed. It would be all too easy to happen by accident if Luna or I didn’t realize he’d gotten in our way.
“I’m not going to die so easily, Twily. You don’t have to worry so much.”
“You don’t understand. It’s not just me. We’re all worried about you. Your special talent is protecting ponies, and you sometimes take that too far. No. You often take that too far. We’re terrified that with only Cadance around, you’ll do something crazy.” Crazy like trying over and over to beat up Luna; even her patience had its limits.
This was the point where I wanted to stare Shining down silently, but his hugging was getting in the way of that.
“Even Cadance?” Shining finally asked.
That was a stupid question. Of course Cadance was worried, too, and I told him as much.
“And you know what?” I asked. “I was going to have you buy me a bag of treats from a new bakery I heard of in Ponyville for my winnings this time. Instead, I’m going to force you to actually try learning every spell on that list I gave you. And you have to really try. No halfhearted attempts.”
“I…” Shining hesitated for a moment, but in the end, he said the words Cadance, Mom, Dad, and I all wanted to hear. “I promise I will.”
“Good.” This time I managed to struggle out of his hug and returned to my side of the table. “Now, if memory serves, you’ve finally humbled yourself enough to ask your little sister for help.”
I laughed as Shining’s face flipped from terribly serious to foalishly indignant in an instant. Still, he didn’t object, and I spent the rest of the train ride giving him a few pointers. Some he didn’t approve of, but considering the game was based on lying to begin with, he didn’t really have any valid arguments against them. It was oh so delicious to watch him squirm, because he knew it, too.
Eventually, the train finally pulled into Ponyville. From the windows, I could make out a huge number of thatched roof cottages and some sort of crazy tree home. Although, it looked like there was a balcony on top for star gazing, so whoever lived in that tree couldn’t be completely crazy.
I didn’t get a better view once we were off the train. Rather than heading into town, we veered off immediately for the countryside. We passed by several farms, as we were taking a path in-between them. The largest one by far was an apple orchard, but there were also flower fields and a wheat field. In the distance, I spied an apiary and made a note either to give it a wide berth or to put up a shield in the future.
So far, I was rather unimpressed with Ponyville. But really, that was the point of moving here. I needed to be somewhere uninteresting and inconvenient, but not somewhere crazy like inside a volcano. Although…it would be pretty cool and magically challenging to make that work. Maybe that could be something to do in the future.
Finally, we arrived at a short winding road that led to a sizable estate somewhat near the Everfree Forest. In Canterlot, ponies would look at a grassy yard half the size of the attached house and consider it prime real estate. But if the open field behind our house were anything to judge by, I had to come up with a new standard for what it meant to be a large backyard.
Shining whistled. “I knew our parents were well-off, but I never knew they had this kind of money to throw around.”
I was vaguely aware of that myself, but considering we had kept our Canterlot home, I wondered if we had dipped – legitimately, since this move was for my education – into Luna’s money. It was possible Cadance had lent a bit or two as well, but I considered that less likely.
The house itself was a rather impressive two story building. Although it was made of wood with a thatched roof, it at least looked as sturdy as the stone and brick buildings of Canterlot. It probably had to be, too. The wild weather of the Everfree was well-known across Equestria, and it was painfully obvious we were going to be on intimate terms with it in the coming years.
Stepping inside, the first and only word that come to mind was boxes. There were so many boxes. Unpacking apparently either had not been an easy process or had been low priority. My guess was on the latter. Mom and Dad would almost certainly be getting to know the town and its residents first.
Not that they weren’t home to welcome Shining and I. We barely made it one step inside before both of us were pulled into a group hug with Mom.
“Oh, I’ve missed you both so much! How was the train ride?”
A bit lacking in air, I answered, “I beat Shining at poker again.”
From the back of the house we heard a large thump and a laugh from Dad. Apparently sound carried well in here. Very good to know.
Mom frowned a bit but didn’t say anything. She didn’t think it was proper for a filly to play such games, but she also never tried to put a stop to it. Anything to get me to be a little more social, probably, even if that usually meant playing games with ponies two or three decades my senior.
“Anyway, how was spending time with Twinkleshine?”
“Um…” Shining said. Apparently he hadn’t picked up on the fact that I was fine talking about making friends so long as I wasn’t being lectured about it. Kind of annoying. I wasn’t exactly being subtle about it. Whatever.
Before Shining could say anything else, I told Mom the same thing I’d told him.
“That’s great, Twilight! I imagine you’ll be wanting to visit her on archive runs, right?”
I nodded. “I did promise to help her with something. I’m not really sure how long the visits would last, though.”
“That’s perfectly fine,” Dad said as he entered the room and gave us both his own hug. “Velvet and I have occasional business in Canterlot that will require overnight visits.”
“That’ll make Cadance happy,” Shining commented and gave me an annoying nudge.
“Ah, but what are we standing around for?” Mom asked. She had a smile that said mischief, and everypony knew it. After all, I’d inherited most of her looks and mannerisms. “There’s a lot of work to be done here, and we’ve saved both of you your fair shares.”
I got a small laugh seeing Shining gulp and take a step back. “I – Uh… I need to be getting back to Canterlot. Twilight wants me to do some stuff.”
“I’m afraid not, my little knight in shining armor.”
Shining groaned at Mom’s, quite frankly, horrible pun.
“You arrived on the last train to or from Ponyville today. There won’t be another until tomorrow morning when Canterlot’s next produce shipment leaves.”
“Oh,” Shining said weakly.
“Yes, we have a lot of very heavy things that need moving. Do come along. The sooner we finish, the sooner we can get you supper.”
Head hung low in defeat, Shining sighed, “Yes, Mom.”
After those two had left, Dad and I gave each other a knowing glance. Mostly likely we were thinking the same thing: where was the evil laugh?
“He’s been kind of busy with his work lately…” Dad mused. It was true. Mom might have just been missing Shining more than either of us had thought. “Anyway, I’ll show you to your new room.”
My room! I’d completely forgotten. This was going to be fantastic! With Shining grown and in Canterlot, I was going to be treated to all the comforts of an only foal, and that meant a huge room with all the associated amenities, like my own bathroom.
Dad led me upstairs and opened a door. My parents had not let me down. Even buried in unopened boxes, it was obvious my room was huge. Probably three times the size of the one I had in Canterlot.
But there was one thing troubling me. My eyes scanned the room for the most important of my belongings, but I couldn’t find hide nor hair of them.
“Dad, where are–”
As I looked up at my dad’s face, he had a smile no less mischievous than Mom’s and motioned for me to follow. He led me down the hall to the next room over and said in a corny stage voice, “Prepare yourself for the unveiling of secrets not meant for mortal eyes.”
The anticipation was killing me, and he was purposefully delaying even longer. Equally irritated and eager, I took matters into my own hoof and pushed open the knobless door.
Now I know I had one before in the abandoned mine, but having one properly in my own home and right next to my room was just the best thing ever.
“Oh. My. Gosh!” I shouted as I ran into the library. Words failed me as I explored the shelves. I didn’t even recognize half the titles present. My parents must’ve added an enormous number of books to my already substantial collection.
“After the basics for us to live,” Dad began, “this was the first thing we unpacked. Consider it an early Hearth’s–”
Dad didn’t get another word out as I tackled him with a hug. In addition to the best thing ever, this was the best present ever.
Whispering the first word, Dad said, “Luna suggested a few titles herself. We put those” – he gestured towards a half-filled shelf of books next to the door – “right there. She said you might want to take a look at the ones about tracking and magical signatures in particular. She didn’t say why, though.”
The reason was obvious enough knowing what I was looking for. “I think I know why. But all this, I just – I don’t know what to say. This is just so amazing! Thank you so much!”
I squeezed Dad a little too tightly and forced the air out of him, sending him into a bout of coughing.
“I’m glad you like it,” wheezed Dad, “but not so tight, please, Sweetie.” After embarrassingly loosening my grip, he added, “Be sure to thank Velvet, too. Just…maybe not so passionately.”
I giggled as I headed out the door to do just that.
Having lessons in my dream gave me certain advantages over Luna, advantages which I just plain wouldn’t have in the real world. To put it simply, she never saw me coming as I knocked her down.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
Recovering from her daze, Luna wrapped a wing around me and returned my nuzzle. “I take it you arrived in Ponyville last night.”
“Uh-huh. Your book picks were wonderful.”
“I actually have another dozen or so to give you, but they’re currently stored in my – at the old castle in the Everfree. I imagine you’ll be taking a trip there once you master teleporting. Let me know before you do, and I’ll tell you how to find them.”
Still sitting on top of Luna’s barrel, I broke my embrace and looked her in the eyes. With barely contained enthusiasm, I asked, “What are they about?”
“Well,” Luna said playfully, “so far we’ve been working solely with regular magic, but I think it’s time for you to begin your study on dark magic.”
I nearly gasped. There was a lot of propaganda against dark magic in the world. But so far as I knew, it was just that: propaganda. I, and everypony I knew except Luna, knew about as much about dark magic as the common pony knew about Luna. If Luna thought it was safe, then it was safe.
And besides, even if Luna thought it was dangerous and that I shouldn’t study it, I probably wouldn’t listen. My curiosity would’ve gotten the better of me sooner or later.
“The books I want to give you are actually my own personal notes on the subject.”
This time I did gasp. That was like giving somepony not just a first edition, signed copy of the first Daring Do book, but the original manuscript and multiplied by a million. It was a good thing I was sleeping, or I probably would’ve fainted on the spot.
“I – thank you. I mean, what can I possibly say?”
“Thank you more than suffices, Twilight. I have little need for them anymore myself. Oh, and how was spending time with Twinkleshine?”
“It was fun. The comet was nice, but I had more fun putting together a real star gazing spell for her to learn and work on. I’m definitely not ready yet, but someday I think I’d like to try teaching for real and not just tutoring.”
“It is a rather pleasant experience,” Luna said, probably with a smile, if her tone were anything to go by. I was still curled up comfortably on her barrel with her face was out of sight. “To be honest, teaching was always more my sister’s thing.” Rubbing my mane, she added, “But I completely understand why she does it now.”
After an indefinite silence, Luna asked, “Has everything else been going well for you?”
“Ye – yes.”
“Hmm? Why the hesitation?”
“It’s nothing important,” I said, not wanting to spoil the mood.
“Well, now I have to ask if you put it like that.”
“What? Why?” I said it was nothing important. How in Equus does that make it high priority?
“Twilight, it’s the little things that cause the biggest problems. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
“It’s really nothing. I’ve just been a little moody lately.”
“Moody?” Luna asked, clearly a bit confused. She hummed thoughtfully and asked, “Has this happened before? Perhaps just before or just after Nightmare Night?”
I thought back a couple weeks. Was I moody? I was definitely not happy, but I was unenthused around Nightmare Night every year.
Hmm… I may have been a bit more sulky this year, but there was too much noise to really draw a meaningful conclusion. How annoying.
“Maybe?” I answered. “I’d put slightly more probability on yes than no, but not by much.”
“Excellent!” Luna exclaimed, getting up and sending me tumbling off her. “I was so hoping to catch this before your parents did, and it would seem luck is on my side.”
“Catch what?” I asked. I was a bit worried now despite how benign Luna made whatever my problem was sound. I wasn’t prone to illness – I’d never even gotten the standard once-in-a-lifetime foalhood diseases – but when I got sick, I got sick. It was always something doctors didn’t know how to cure instantly. And seriously, high fevers were the worst.
“In due time, Twilight. In due time. First, I need to gather my thoughts a bit. I only get one chance to expose you to this the right way. It’s really unfortunate that you get moody from it though. It’s not exactly a rare side-effect, but it’s not common either. Either way, I’ll direct you to some spells that will get rid of your mood swings for you later.”
Leaving my question unanswered and my curiosity unsated, Luna plunged deep into her own thoughts. After several excruciating minutes, she finally spoke, although, what she said wasn’t particularly helpful.
“Congratulations. You’re a mare, Twilight.”
I sat staring at Luna with a blank look. After a few moments to recover from the sheer unhelpfulness of her response, I deadpanned, “What?”
“You’ve had your first two – perhaps more – estrus cycles. It’s not unusual for a mare to not notice for quite a while. The most common way a mare finds out is when a colt does something incredibly stupid around her when her parents are nearby.”
That didn’t exactly help either, Luna. “And that means…”
“Well, from a purely academic perspective, it means you are now capable of both intercourse and conceiving a foal of your own. The former is, of course, the process by which the latter is performed.”
“Um… I don’t really want a foal,” I hazarded. Luna seemed really psyched about this for some reason, and I didn’t want to let her down, but I simply wasn’t interested in being a mom.
“Nor should you. You are far too young to pursue either option right now. But you are now able to understand intercourse, and as it is a fundamentally important part of nightly culture, so much so that even my sister partakes in it, I want to make sure you are introduced to it from the right perspective.”
I cocked my head to the side and asked, “As opposed to?” Luna still hadn’t explained what intercourse was, but I was sure that she’d get to it in her own sweet time, regardless of how much or little I inquired or whined.
“Society’s,” Luna answered, her disdain not well-hidden. “You see, ponies – and everyone else in the world – have a tendency to view sex–” Luna stopped to explain that was another word for intercourse before I could ask. “They have a tendency to view sex as something shameful and prop it up as something that should only be done between married couples or lovers in steady relationships.
“And before you ask, a steady relationship essentially means married without the paperwork, considering how easy divorce is. And I suppose you now want to know what divorce is.”
“It just means a married couple going their separate ways, usually permanently, although they may remain friends.
“Anyway, as paragons of the night and as its greatest supporters, we are under no such delusions. We embrace our feelings and passions but do not let the flames grow out of control. For us, sex is not something we dance around or shackle to odd traditions. It is an expression of deep friendship and trust, as well as pleasure.”
Luna shivered as though she were cold and said, “And believe me when I say that it is pleasurable, Twilight. Even my prudish sister cannot resist its call, though she has the world believe she does.” Sighing, Luna said, “Ah, it has been so long since I had a partner.”
Luna cut me off before I started my second word. “I already said you are too young, Twilight. Both physically and emotionally.”
I couldn’t help but be upset at that. Luna was the only pony that didn’t truly treat me like a filly, and I hated that she was now. Doubly so given that she’d just said I was a mare now.
Still, as grating as it was, this was obviously a lesson, and Luna always knew when I was ready for something and when I wasn’t. I’d just have to trust her judgment on this one.
“Just because you can,” Luna continued, “doesn’t mean you should. Experiment on your own when you’re a few years older, and wait until you really understand what you’re getting into before you ask anypony to lay with you. Understood?”
I nodded, and Luna made me promise that I wouldn’t try anything until I was at least fourteen, and preferably not until sixteen or later with another pony.
“One other thing to mention,” Luna began. “I said that few, if any, ponies will be coming from the same cultural viewpoint as us on this subject. It is incredibly important that you explain our perspective first, or you risk causing serious emotional damage to your partner. Jealousy and betrayal are not feelings to be taken lightly. Understood?”
I nodded again and idly wondered if Shining and Cadance were having sex. They did seem awfully close, and Luna would approve of their ages. I made a note to ask Shining this evening after I woke up. If not, I might be able to push them into it. If it was really everything Luna made it sound like, I didn’t see why they wouldn’t want to.
“Alright. Now that we’ve covered the significantly more important cultural aspect – and don’t let anypony tell you otherwise, not even your parents or Cadance – let’s move on to anatomy and mechanics, beginning with the female side of things.”
Almost as an afterthought, Luna added, “I will warn you in advance that this might seem gross and make you squeamish until you get comfortable with the ideas.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I huffed. Luna just smirked.
“Now it all begins with the estrus cycle. There are two main phases you want to be concerned with: the estrus phase and the diestrus phase. The former usually lasts half a week to a week, and the latter is fairly predictable at about a week and a half. The two repeat one after another endlessly for much of your life – or forever for us. Remind me afterward to direct you to a few spells that will force your body to remain in the diestrus phase. That will deal with your moodiness.
“The estrus phase is when a mare is capable of conceiving a foal. It’s also when you may experience unpleasant side effects. In your case, this would be moodiness. Stallions are usually able to tell when you’re in this phase, and it leads to…some pretty stupid behavior on their end if they find you attractive.”
I laughed as I remembered some really dumb things Shining had done around Cadance. In hindsight, they made a lot more sense to me now.
“There are rumors that sex is more pleasurable for females during this phase, but it’s complete nonsense.
“On a historical note, since I know you love them” – Luna got a smile out of me; I did love trivia – “there is a third important phase called the anestrus phase. In the distant past, in the later half of fall and all through winter, mares would enter this phase and be unable to conceive a foal. In the present day, entering this phase is often surprising and scary for a mare. The biological mechanism for entering this phase is quite simple: reduced exposure to light.”
“But we have so much artificial lighting now that it’s irrelevant,” I finished for Luna and got a brief rub of my mane for the trouble.
“Exactly. Now stallions, on the other hoof, are able to reproduce all year, regardless of external circumstances. By the way, this is where things might get awkward for you.”
“I’m fine,” I reassured Luna again. Whatever she was going to say couldn’t be so weird that she needed to warn me so much.
“First, I should mention that there’s no reason for sex to be restricted to male on female, especially not when shapeshifters like myself – or you in perhaps four years or so – get involved. However, we’re just considering this from the academic standpoint and how the biology works, so we’ll discuss that some other time.
“Anyway, I’m sure you’ve seen a penis before, even with the prepuce concealing them. Stallions don’t exactly make a strong attempt to hide them in pony culture, and at your height, you have a rather low view. Now at it’s simplest, intercourse is performed by…”
As Luna went on, I blushed hard enough and then some for my cheeks to appear red through my coat. Things got awkward.