Chrysalis's Tale - Entrance Exams


Dear Ruby,

How have you been? I’ve been alright, but it’s been so lonely in Manehattan since you and your parents moved away. I’d gotten so used to hearing the sound of little hooves running around again, I keep imagining we’re playing a game of hide and seek.

Ah, but don’t worry about an old mare like me. Your mother tells me that you were going to try taking the entrance exam for Princess Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. I’m so proud of you for trying. I know the stories about it can scare off a lot of young fillies before they even get that far.

Let me tell you something my mother told me: keep calm! It’s the worst kept secret in Equestria that you don’t need to answer a lot of questions right to pass. A far better kept secret is exactly how you pass. My mother used to be the vice-headmistress, and in all her time there, Princess Celestia never once changed the admission criteria.

Of course, I bet you want to know what you have to do to get in, don’t you? Well to be honest, I don’t actually know. Mother went on about professionalism and never told me, the stingy old mare.

Ah! You didn’t hear that from me.

Anyway, keep calm and do your best. The written exams are difficult, and the practical exam is downright impossible.

Or at least I think it is. Princess Celestia has been known to take on personal students. Maybe they were the little fillies who actually completed the practical test.

Which is why you should try your hardest on that part too. That’s important. If you aren’t trying, you won’t pass. I guarantee that. So honestly, just do your best, don’t feel bad if you can’t answer too many questions, and above all, don’t guess.

I know public schools encourage you to use process of elimination, deductive reasoning, and all that. Don’t. Princess Celestia’s school teaches very advanced magic, and they have a huge emphasis on safety. That means knowing what you don’t know and not getting anypony hurt or worse. The proctors will surely warn you about this, but every year there are plenty of young colts and fillies who don’t listen. Don’t be one of them.

Anyway, I should wrap this up before I begin to ramble. I’m entirely too young to be rambling yet.

Your loving grandma,

Rose

P.S. I’ll make cookies every time you can get your parents to come visit. Let’s keep that our little secret.

–Letter from Rose to her granddaughter Ruby, circa Winter 958 CE


This…is a lot harder than I thought it’d be.

One hour into the test with two remaining, Caelan had about a fifth of the questions on her exam filled in. Worse, they were all the easiest ones. The remaining eighty percent of the test was insane.

Caelan was significantly older than all of the other applicants, and if she was having this hard of a time, what must the other foals be thinking? What must Myth be thinking?

No, she can do this. I believe in her. She should be able to answer nearly everything I did. Mostly…

Glancing over the questions Caelan had already written answers for, she confirmed that it only, in fact, required information that she had crammed for with Myth.

The math questions though, those could be dangerous. Equestrian mathematics looked nothing like Glescan mathematics. If Myth showed her work and forgot to erase it, that act alone could spell disaster. Both systems used base ten though, thankfully. Caelan was a bit suspicious of how that little quirk of culture had occurred, but she let it slide. There were worse things to be worrying about.

And Caelan was worried. For perhaps the fortieth time, she let her empathy sense expand out over the room. Besides the yellow bastion of confidence a few seats away, everyone else in the room was just as nervous as or more nervous than her. That combined with the rather infrequent scratching of pencils suggested no one else was having much luck either.

Caelan let out an uneasy breath, thankful that the proctor either was unable to notice her empathy sense or let it slide as ‘harmless’.

A few pages rustled from the yellow filly’s direction. Caelan could feel a vein in her forehead throbbing at the unfairness of it all. She was a princess. She had the best education in all of Glesca, second to none. She had survived a journey through Ævintýri with Myth alone largely on their combined wits.

But in Equestria, that meant nothing. Caelan had found out that she was below average at everything. Everything except spellcasting, that was. As far as she was concerned, Equestrians coddled their foals in that subject.

Caelan glanced up to glare at the yellow filly. No doubt there would be a smug smile on her face as she went from one page to the next.

Oh… Not that Caelan felt her jealousy leave her, but it seemed the yellow filly was still stuck on a problem. It was her neighbour that was busy flipping pages.

Still, with all the cramming Caelan had done with Myth, she knew she could do better than she was. She had to do better. She had to be outstanding. Scholarships, like bits, did not grow on trees, as the locals would say.

Caelan breathed deep, once in and once out. She was letting her thoughts wander from where they needed to be. With renewed vigour, she read over one of the word problems she had marked as easy, which in context meant ‘perhaps possible’.

It is a well known fact that the cost of telekinesis scales approximately linearly with the force induced on the target, Caelan read, hoping she knew the correct definition of every word. Equestrians, for some inexplicable reason, expected their foals to all be natural philosophers, or at least to have a passing knowledge of basic vocabulary in the field.

Then again, Caelan was fairly sure that the first sentence of this problem was just for flavor. Nothing that followed actually seemed to be relevant to it.

However, distance also plays a factor in the magical cost, as does the volume affected.

a) Describe a method for determining how the distance (d) and volume (V) affect the magical energy expended.

b) Give a formula for the total energy expended (E) in terms of d, V, and the force exerted (F). (Your answer need not include constant factors with the variables)

c) Explain how you arrived at your answer to part b.

d*) For extra credit, try to determine how the surface area (A) affects the magical energy expended, if at all. Explain your approach and conclusions.

Caelan wanted to bang her head on her desk. Part of her wanted to just leave and never come back. Even if she and Myth passed, received scholarships, and she was not exposed as a changeling, Caelan had to wonder if this was worth it. Their potential headmistress, princess, and goddess was clearly sadistic to give these kinds of problems to foals. She was thirteen. Myth was nine. All of the other foals were supposed to be eight.

What kind of person expected this of foals? It was bad enough Princess Celestia asked the question in the first place, but she did it in a high stress testing environment where magic was forbidden. And only part d was marked as a hard problem!

I guess I’ll just write something down for b. I can at least pretend I know what I’m doing there.

Caelan lifted her pencil.

A moment passed as the pencil hovered, glowing green in the grasp of her telekinesis. Her spare pencil sat at the top of her desk. And if she wanted, she was allowed to ask for more.

Eyes unblinking and fixed upon her pencil, Caelan moved it twice as far away from the tip of her horn.

Oh.


Done with another page, Sunset Shimmer set her pencil down to let her horn rest.

This test was absurdly long. That was the one thought that continually resurfaced in her mind. Holding a book still or anchored right in front of her face for hours was one thing, but writing was an entirely different story.

Telekinesis was an easy spell. It was almost instinctual; foals frequently learnt how to use it without any formal – or even informal – magical education. Precision, however, was not instinctual, and that was what writing required. It was almost like casting a new spell every half-second with the focus it required.

Sunset had plenty of focus. Nopony could deny that. If this were any other test, she would have no problems.

But this gargantuan monster was something else entirely.

I feel like my horn is cramping, Sunset complained to herself. This should be the practical part of the exam.

Using her hooves, Sunset turned the page, not bothering to fold the finished sheet behind the rest of the exam. Once that was done, she brought her forehooves up to massage the base of her horn where all of the irritation was building.

And she was still too slow. She was a third of the way done with the test, and she had less than two hours left. She needed more time.

Or I need to go faster.

Sighing briefly first, Sunset picked up her discarded pencil and turned her attention to the first problem on the next page.

Historically, spells were divided into groups by effect: illusions, transmutations – blah, blah, blah. Sunset skimmed over the part of the question that was not a question. List as many of the modern divisions as possible, and briefly describe the division.

Sunset immediately set her pencil to writing on autopilot. She had known this kind of stuff since before she was in diapers.

Reconfiguration, Sunset wrote, spells that work with things that already exist, like telekinesis or a magnification spell.

Pausing, Sunset tapped her pencil against her paper. Telekinesis created a force over a time from magic, which was energy.

Specifically it’s either gravitational or ele…elect…something about electrical energy, Sunset thought to herself, more than a little peeved that the word she wanted escaped her, depending on implementation.

Either way, that was technically not a reconfiguration spell. Sunset went to erase her example, but she thought better of it before even the first word was gone. The tricky thing about the modern system was that the line between reconfiguration and synthesis was blurred. She had the ideal opportunity here to demonstrate that she understood that.

Well, telekinesis is, strictly speaking, synthesis. It creates kinetic energy as its end goal, rather than using that energy to do something else. But the intuitive idea of moving things around is reconfiguration.

Synthesis, spells that create things or energy from magic, like a summon water spell or a heat spell. The former creates matter from magical energy and the latter just transforms magical energy into heat.

Metaphysical, spells that change the rules of reality, like a proper shield spell or pretty much the entire field of dimensional magic, including portals and, if it were possible, teleportation.

Metamagic, spells that interact with other spells or magic directly, like a counter spell or a trigger spell. Or on a lower level, the framework for almost all non-trivial spells.

It should be noted that complex spells, such as a spell to mend a cut or bruise, are almost always a complex arrangement of multiple types of spells interwoven into each other into a coherent whole. Only the simplest, most basic spells are in exactly one school of spell design.

As such, when the modern system was first developed, it was argued that the classical system was obviously superior. After all, the modern system didn’t divide spells at all.

But that wasn’t the point. Spells are like – Sunset tapped her pencil to her cheek, trying to think of the perfect simile – molecules. They’re made of small parts that work together to make something bigger. The modern divisions are an (mostly successful) attempt to separate spells into their atomic components. The old system is still commonly used, mostly by the laypony, while the modern system finds the most use in scientific communities.

Sunset nodded to herself, extremely satisfied with her answer.

Oh, she knew her response was far from perfect, but perfect was absolutely not what she was looking for. No doubt there were dozens of ‘perfect’ students that came through the school every year.

A scowl accidentally escaped Sunset as her thoughts turned toward the idiots at her prep school. There were three kinds of foals at those kinds of schools.

There were the hopeless cases who memorised answers. Sunset barely acknowledged they existed.

There were the students who could recognise what a question was asking for and apply what they had learned. They were tolerable but uninteresting.

Both were the kind of foals that might score perfects on this exam, at least if they ever had enough time.

Then there was Sunset Shimmer, who understood that there were scores beyond one-hundred percent. Today was not about getting into a good school. For all that her special talent was magic, today was not about getting into a good magical school either.

Today was about attracting attention as the brightest young mind in Equestria in the right way. Sunset was brilliant and self-motivated. Sunset would go on to great things. Sunset thrived in the educational system.

And that was utterly the wrong thing to demonstrate. If Sunset thrived in the educational system, there was no reason to take her out of it. If she was already set to do great things, she hardly needed any guidance or direction. If she was independent, why saddle her with unnecessary special attention?

She had to be different. Her genius had to be unignorable and untempered. It needed to need special care.

It was a fine line Sunset was walking, and she knew it. But if she did it just right, just perfectly…

Sunset’s face melted into a hopeful smile.

Princess Celestia might notice me.

It had happened before. Princess Celestia rarely took on personal students, but it happened.

Thinking about a happy future as Princess Celestia’s student with a giddy smile, Sunset returned to her test and started the next question.


The crunching sound Shining Armor occasionally made drew an odd look from the foals around him, but he barely noticed anymore. His pencil was gnawed to death at the eraser end, and still he kept chewing and biting.

This test was unfair.

Of course, Shining expected that going in. There were horror stories circulating among his older friends of how impossible it was. “You have to be some kind of super nerd,” they said.

Shining thought of himself as a bit of a nerd. He got good grades. He played Ogres and Oubliettes. He was picked on in school. It was only fair that this should have been easy, or at least moderately achievable.

Below are the instructions for casting a brute force counterspell.

a*) Describe how it interacts with other spells to cancel their effects.

b) Give a situation in which a brute force counterspell would be dangerous to use.

Shining vacantly stared at the question, his eyes long since glazed over. It was one of the few remaining questions that he actually understood what was being asked of him. The others required vocabulary that he could only guess at, and guessing on this test was bad. Wrong answers could be graded with an arbitrary number of negative points, depending on how wrong they were.

Having sat through most of the test now, Shining wondered if that other story was true. It was said that a filly had once provided an answer that would kill not only herself, but everypony around her. Supposedly she had received negative infinity points.

And had a proctor personally deliver the test results to her and insist she never use magic again, Shining thought, remembering the rest of the tale, among other things.

It had to be a tall tale. It was absurd. Princess Celestia would never hire a teacher that sadistic. Nonetheless, myths tended to have some truth to them somewhere. Shining did not want to be the next colt to pass into urban legend.

Maybe… Maybe if I only answer things I know the answers to, I’ll pass by virtue of having one of the few positive scores.

It was a fool’s hope, but it was the only hope Shining had.

And with this question, at least, Shining was confident he could answer at least close to correctly. By chance, he had held a pencil in his magic at the start of the exam when the proctor had used a brute force counterspell to prevent cheating. The feeling of the counterspell disrupting his telekinesis still resonated in his horn.

It intertwined, separated, created noise, broke the spell apart. If a spell were solid, a brute force counterspell would be like throwing it into a volcano. It was still magic, but any form or structure it once held would have evaporated forever, never to be seen again.

Like tossing it into a volcano… Shining idly though to himself. On the sun.

Shining just needed to figure out how to translate that vague feeling into words, hopefully words that made him sound smart. But whoever was going to grade this question probably wanted him to appeal to the actual spell description given. That could prove to be his undoing. It was hardly a simple spell to even read, let alone understand.

The question was marked as hard too.

“Hmm…” The dispirited hum came out muted through the pencil Shining continued to gnaw on, but it still drew some attention. He tried to put on an apologetic smile and put pencil to paper to make amends.

If only the pencil had started writing too. But it just sat there, waiting for Shining to actually instruct it to write something.

Well…I can answer part b, Shining reluctantly admitted. He could come back to part a if he had time leftover later. For the second half of the question, however, he had the perfect example.

If you set yourself on fire with a spell, ending it wrongly would also remove the protection from fire effect. The remaining flames would sear your whole body before they went away.

Shining felt a smile and a frown fighting for control of his face at the memory.

On the one hoof, his new little sister, Twilight Sparkle, was the most adorable thing ever. Even mean old Wild Hooves down the street agreed. There was just a certain special something about her that induced cavities into even the surliest of stallions.

But on the other hoof, things happened around Twily.

Heh. There was a question Shining knew he could answer. He could just imagine turning the page and reading, Describe the effects of wild magic in newborn foals. He had a veritable essay of information to provide on the subject.

Even so, Twily was so sweet. The way she would just watch you with rapt attention, silently pleading for you to play with her – Shining had no words for it except, “Of course.” The valiant knight would always be there to rescue his princess. No manticore, no dragon, not even Nightmare Moon herself could stop Sir Shining from storming the–

“Ah!” whispered Shining, having caught himself daydreaming of castles, knights, and princesses. Now was not the time for that.

Shining flipped the page over to the next set of questions. The first question caught his eye for a moment, before he noticed that all of its parts were listed as hard problems. He was about to move on when a few keywords caught his eye.

‘Wild magic’ is a common phenomenon observed in very young foals, in which a newborn foal will consciously use magic.

Shining raised his eyebrows. What were the chances?

But then on second thought, he probably only thought of Twily’s wild magic for the last question because he had skimmed over this question once before.

Shrugging his shoulders, Shining read through the rest of the question. He had claimed to be an expert, after all.

a*) Explain in general terms how newborn foals are able to use telekinesis in short bursts.

b*) Why is telekinesis the only form of ‘wild magic’?

For a moment, Shining got stuck on part b and read it over and over again to make sure he was reading it right.

Is this a trick question? It has to be. Twily does a lot more than just telekinesis.

Even though he knew he was right, Shining kept his pencil still, unable to blatantly state that whoever wrote this was wrong. There was no doubt in his mind that doing so would result in a failure.

Or worse, if Princess Celestia herself wrote it, maybe she would sue Shining for slander.

But what if this is like The Princess’s New Clothes, where the right thing to do is tell the princess she was swindled? Then the entire point of the question would be pointing out the mistake.

“One hour left!” the proctor called out.

Shining ran his forehooves rapidly back and forth through his mane in frustration, wanting to scream. What was he supposed to do?


Don’t cry. Crying attracts attention. Attention brings disaster. Don’t cry. Crying attracts attention. Attention brings disaster.

Myth repeated that mantra to herself every other thought. Her shaking hoof fiddled with her mane to make sure her left ear was still hidden. It was safe and out of sight, just as it was the last hundred times she had checked.

Her eyes glanced around at the ponies nearby. None of them were staring, so far as she could tell. But her search was hampered by the proctor at the front of the room. She could not afford for the stallion to say, “Keep her eyes on your own paper,” again. He would call her on cheating.

He would come over.

He would see.

Don’t cry. Crying attracts attention. Attention brings disaster, Myth repeated to herself again. She checked her breathing before she began to hyperventilate, but her body still trembled against her wishes.

Gulping, Myth hunched down even further until her head was almost level with her desk. Her right leg was safely hidden between her hindlegs, where it would stay, even if holding the position was beginning to hurt. She regretted not claiming a medical exception at the start of the test so very much. The proctor had asked before his counterspell magic had washed away her glamour. She should have said something.

But that would have given her away. That could not – would not happen. She had to be perfect. No one wanted a crippled pony, no one except Chrysalis.

And Chrome and Nasonov would, Myth reminded herself. Her muscles relaxed somewhat as her thoughts wandered to warmer memories. Just for the moment, she knew she could do what she came here to do.

Myth took up her pencil. Still hunched over, she lifted her head up enough to read a question on her exam.

Below is a two-dimensional picture of a spell. Circle the area(s) where magical input is required to power the spell.

For once and without hesitation, Myth’s pencil went to work. She and Chrysalis had spent a whole day on how Equestrians recorded spells, both with drawings and with words. A circle here, a circle there, she could see exactly how to cast the spell, despite having no idea what it–

Wha… Myth’s eyes were drawn to the wet spot on her paper. It was small and somewhat circular. More of a blob than anything, and – and now there was another one.

Her breath caught, her heart racing, Myth raised her left hoof up to dab at her eyes.

You stupid bairn, Myth rebuked herself. Why are you crying? It’s just one question. You have to answer a lot more. And now you’ve stained your test.

The damage was done though. Chrysalis always said there was no point in crying over mistakes, so Myth did her best to ignore the tear stains. There was no turning back time, after all.

Not for anything.

At the thought, Myth bent her hindlegs upward a little more and let what was left of her right foreleg sink lower. She told herself, Don’t cry. But realising she already had, she added, Again. It was surely luck that she had caught herself before anyone else had noticed.

And yet the evidence was staring straight at her still.

Myth shook her head, hoping to shake her thoughts away. As Chrysalis would tell her, they were not productive. The mistake was made. There was nothing left to learn from it. Beating herself up over it was pointless.

Eyes closed, Myth took a deep breath to calm herself, then repeated the action. It was enough to make her light-headed feeling go away, but her heart still refused to rest easy.

The sound of a pencil being dropped nearby sent an electrifying jolt through Myth’s spine. Her eyes focused in on the colt who had dropped it, and she let out a relieved sigh to find him not looking in her direction.

Everything was okay.

Myth read the next question ever increasingly faster. She knew this one too!

A popular, although rarely effective, example of spell used in self-defence is the classic ‘magic missile’, a barely ordered burst of kinetic energy delivered to whatever it impacts. Explain why it does not dissipate on contact with air. The spell description is given below, if necessary.

Skipping over the spell description with a smile, Myth knew just what to write. Practically every unicorn could cast the spell, if it could even be called that. It was even more basic than telekinesis, and even less structured. This was a trick question.

It does affect air, Myth wrote, but the spell is consumed over time. The air is blown away in the direction of the kinetic force – she erased the Glescan equivalent phrase for ‘kinetic force’ and replaced it with the given Equestrian in the problem – and uses up a small part of the magical energy stored in the spell. The spell will reach its destination so long as it doesn’t have to travel too far.

That’s actually why it’s easy to dodge the spell. It doesn’t travel as fast as other spells, so a person can – frustrated, Myth erased the less commonly used ‘person’ and replaced it with ‘pony’ – feel the burst of air headed in their direction, whether or not they can sense the magic itself.

Myth wiggled in her seat, and for once it was not from nerves. A giant smile had grown on her face.

Two questions in a row!

Even as that thought ran through Myth, she knew it was almost too good to be true. She checked over her answers, and they were right. They were definitely right. Even a third pass revealed no errors.

So satisfied, Myth went on to the next question.

Suppose you have a perfectly hemispherical lake…

Lake…

Myth gasped, her lungs demanding more air. Her hoof shot to her chest, as if it could stop it from exploding.

The room reeled about. Figures bent and warped.

Myth saw her breath escaping her. It bubbled to the ceiling of the classroom.

Water roared and filled her lungs. She was drowning, gasping desperately for air.

But there was just more water. There was nothing but water, except–

Myth thrashed about, but her right forehoof was stuck. The gray colt next to her, he wanted to eat her.

He wanted to eat her!

“Help,” Myth croaked out.

Without warning, the room went spinning, and the colt made a horrible screeching sound. Myth’s chair and desk flew away from her, but her hoof was free. She was free.

Somehow Myth knew she had more breath. She screamed for help at the top of her lungs as she fell.

“Cuidich!”

Myth’s back hit the floor of the room. Unprepared for the impact, her neck whipped back. There was a brief flash of pain.

Then the world went black.


“Time is up!” Caelan’s proctor called out. “Pencils down!”

Immediately, Caelan did just that, not risking the mare’s wrath. Her test flew forward along with everyone else’s, caught in the proctor’s magic. The tests congregated together just above the desk at the front of the room before settling into a neat pile atop the desk.

It was finally over.

“There will be a fifteen minute break before we start the practical exams.”

Caelan let out a quiet groan.

“Those will be given five foals at a time, so please bear with us. You are free to chat among yourselves or to visit your parents in the waiting room, but do not wander anywhere else.”

When it became clear that there would be no further announcements, the room burst into chatter. As far as Caelan could tell, it was mostly complaints shared between those who shared a common struggle. Yet judging by the feelings being passed around, there were more than a few friends in the room together too.

The door swung shut. The proctor had left without Caelan noticing, which did not surprise her. She was just as exhausted as every other foal in the room. With any luck, she would be one of the last foals to go through her practical exam.

Caelan sighed, sluggishly swinging her legs out onto the floor. As much as she wanted to just collapse and nap, that hardly would be a productive use of her time. Princesses had to be held to a higher standard than that.

And indeed, Caelan held herself to the highest of standards. She had the free time to make some acquaintances, and she would prevail herself of it.

“Hello,” Caelan said, taking one of the many empty seats around the filly most worth speaking to.

“Get lost.”

‘Get lost’? That must be an Equestrian idiom. I suppose the intent is clear enough though.

“Worried about the practical?” Caelan asked. With any luck, she would find something to get the filly talking.

“No, and I won’t help you. Now go away.”

Wow, this filly is as rude as Scilla with all the subtlety of Nasonov. Part of Caelan hoped that the yellow filly was just wildly overconfident and not actually intelligent.

“I think introductions are in order.” Caelan offer a hoof in the Equestrian manner. “My name is Caelan.”

The yellow filly just glared at Caelan, as if she thought herself more terrifying than half of what Caelan had dealt with on her journey to Equestria.

“And yours?” Caelan asked, fighting off the urge to roll her eyes.

The yellow filly raised her eyebrows questioningly. “You don’t know?”

“I wouldn’t be asking if I did.”

“Then you’re talking to me why?”

Taking the risk of appearing paranoid, Caelan said, “I kept tabs on how everypony else was doing. You never know when that information might be useful.”

Now the filly looked interested. “Sunset Shimmer,” she said. She held out her own hoof, bumping it against Caelan’s. “What question didn’t I answer?”

Caelan felt a smirk rising on her face. This Sunset Shimmer was at least smart enough to ask for proof.

“I’m not sure, but it would either be on the fifth, twelfth, or last page. You stopped writing for a while on the former two, and time was called on the latter, obviously.”

“Question thirty, page twelve,” Sunset said, a smirk rising on her own face. “Even if you’re lying about everypony else, I’m impressed. So what is it you want?”

Caelan shrugged. “Nothing really. If it’s not obvious, I’m not from Equestria, so I don’t have any friends here yet.” Sweet, delicious friends – Myth could certainly stand to skip a meal or two with how much Caelan had needed to take from her for them to survive, even after the risks Caelan had taken to minimise the drain.

“Trottingham?” Sunset guessed.

“Yeah. You?” Judging by her own accent, Sunset was likely a local.

“Canterlot. So,” Sunset said, dropping the smirk and narrowing her eyes in challenge, “if you were falling off a cliff, how would you save yourself?”

Fly, was the first thought that came to mind. Instead, Caelan gave the solution she had drilled into Myth after the first time Myth fell off a mountain.

“Cast a cloudwalking spell, then create a cloud. Telekinesis would work too, if you’re not otherwise distracted.”

Sunset nodded slightly. “How would you cannibalise telekinesis to find a metal needle in a haystack?”

“I, um…” Even with seasons of cramming and immersion in the culture, there was only so much Equestrian science Caelan knew, and what she did know was mostly an overview. “You could make an…an… It starts with an e.”

No help came from Sunset, who merely looked on skeptically.

“Sorry, I don’t know the language that well. It involves a loop” – Caelan spun her hoof in small circles for emphasis – “like a donut.”

Sighing, Sunset said, “Electromagnet, I think is the word you’re looking for.”

“Yes! That!” Caelan exclaimed. Her memories of reading a textbook Myth had pulled from a school dumpster resurfaced. There was an s word that fit the question perfectly hovering at the tip of her tongue, but for the life of her, Caelan could not recall it.

“Air is hardly the right medium for it, but you get points for trying, I suppose.” Sunset hummed, tapping a hoof to her muzzle. “What if I wanted to…say…take a cookie out of a jar without opening it?”

Frustrated again at her lack of vocabulary, Caelan said, “I don’t know the Equestrian for it, but this.”

Horn glowing, Caelan ran through the terribly useful spell that had saved her and Myth’s lives more times than she could count. Two small holes in the world opened up between her and Sunset, nearly invisible with how they were placed. When looking straight through them, nothing appeared odd, but at the edges, discrepancies emerged.

“You can create portals?” Sunset shouted, nearly jumping to her hooves.

Just to be sure, Sunset tossed a pencil through one end. It bounced off the edge of the portal, hanging there for a moment, teetering, before gravity tilted it out the other side closer to Caelan.

“I’ve never met somepony else my age who can do that!”

Caelan felt more than a little guilty at that, but Myth’s well-being came before such petty things as fairness.

“How did you cast it so fast?” Sunset asked.

Because it had to be combat capable, Caelan thought to herself. Queen Ocellus was adamant that every princess learnt to create portals reflexively. According to her, there was no excuse for getting injured when you could learn to ‘just leave’. Not that it’s foolproof…

Shaking away her darker thoughts, Caelan finally replied, “Lots of practice.”

On the bright side, it seemed Sunset’s interrogation was finished. Caelan had no doubts on how well she would answer more theory-based questions. Or worse, Sunset might have asked a question about anything but magic.

“No doubt,” Sunset said with a nod. “Some of it was pretty sloppy, but with that casting time, that’s to be expected. Who taught you?”

Caelan paused for a moment. Sunset probably would disbelieve any claim that she was self-taught, but the truth ran the risk of an errant word from Sunset to an adult exposing her.

But lies where so hard to keep straight, especially when coordinating with Myth. Bless her, she tries, but she isn’t very good at it. Truth then.

“Mostly tutors, but one of my older sisters taught me the best spells.”

“One of? How many are there?”

Tens of thousands, but only eight princesses. Myth counted as well, at least as far as her and Caelan’s Equestrian cover went. “Eight older, one younger.”

Sunset whistled, impressed, if perhaps not in a good way. “Makes me appreciate being an only foal.”

Caelan merely shrugged in response. It would have been nice if a number of the older princesses were never born, but not all of them.

“Well anyway,” Sunset began, “why are you here? In Equestria, that is.”

Because I didn’t get my head on straight until we were halfway here.

Caelan sighed. “My mother came here forty-seven years ago.” Graduated, actually, but that would leave her way too old a pony to have me. “I’m following in her hoofsteps.”

And that was apparently the wrong answer to give. Sunset looked thoroughly uninterested, even, one might say, entirely bored.

I wonder what she’d think if I told her my mother is a warlord queen. She’d probably call me daft and blootered. Heh.

“What about you? What’s your big plan?”

“I’m going to be a princess.”

Ironic. “As an alicorn?” Caelan was reasonably certain that goddesses were born, not made. At the very least, no story she had heard contradicted it, nor did Queen Ocellus’s travel diary.

Even so, Equestrians never struck Caelan as the ‘conquer land to become a royal’ type, and Sunset was no exception.

And yet Sunset nodded, overflowing with as much confidence as ever. However, underneath it, Caelan sensed more than a little unspoken worry.

But some of that worry was distinctly of a social flavor, a taste permanently etched onto Caelan’s tongue; Myth oozed with it whenever they were in public, and even sometimes when they were alone. Unlike with Myth, Caelan could hope to do some good here.

“Small dreams aren’t worth following, they say.”

Sunset’s momentary confusion rapidly melted into delicious joy. It took more than a little effort for Caelan not to steal some of it; as magically gifted as this Sunset no doubt was, she would notice.

“Hmph. Of course they’re not,” Sunset said, forelegs crossed. Then in a voice not quite so haughty, she said, “I’m glad you understand that.”

A moment passed with the two fillies sharing smiles.

“I don’t suppose you’ve read the serial Daring Do and the Sapphire Stone, have you?” Sunset asked. “I don’t think it’s being published outside Equestria.”

“I’ve read two chapters. My little sister begs me to read them to her over and over all the time.”

As much as Myth begs for anything. Caelan giggled at the image of Myth silently pleading to hear about Daring Do and trying fruitlessly to feign disinterest. And if not reading, she would want to make up the rest of the story together.

I wish she’d stop idolising Daring Do though. The eejit has courage enough to wrestle a manticore if she had to – far more than a pegasus without fear.

“You wouldn’t happen to have the rest, would you?” Caelan asked. She knew Myth would never forgive her if she let this opportunity pass. “We only found used copies of the forth and seventh chapter by chance.”

Sunset shook her head. “No, but you can borrow them when school starts. I’d love to swap theories on what’s going to happen next.”

“Isn’t Daring Do just going to win?” Equestrian tales tended toward happier endings more than Ævintýri stories, or at least that was the impression Caelan had.

“Well yeah,” Sunset said disdainfully, “but it’s the how that matters. Adventure stories are about the adventure, not the ending.”

Mumbling somewhat, Caelan said, “I like what comes after the adventure more. At least when it’s happy.”

“Well, that’s what fan fiction is for, I guess.”

“Fan…fiction?” A fan is one of those spinning things on the ceiling, right?

Sunset nodded. “It’s where you write another story in the same setting.”

“Oh!” That was an enormously popular activity back home in Glesca, although it was mostly done orally, not on paper. “Myth, my little sister, that is, loves making up stories. She hasn’t quite gotten character creation down though. I swear, whenever I hear something like ‘Uisnech the Barbarian and his Germanian hordes’, I know I’m in for a rough night.”

Sunset raised a hoof to point behind Caelan.

“Please don’t tell me she’s behind me,” Caelan whimpered.

Rolling her eyes, Sunset said, “Of course not. How would I even know what she looks like? You’re being called for your practical, I think.”

“Ah, thank you.” Caelan rose from her chair, uttering a quick, “See you later.” She grabbed her tattered saddlebags from the floor before finding her way toward the door.

At the exit, there was a light-grey mare waiting for Caelan who wore a strange white coat. As she approached, the mare asked, “Are you Caelan?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Do you happen to know where your parents are right now?”

Suddenly very nervous, Caelan weakly said, “There was a family emergency.”

That set the mare to frowning even more than she already was. “I see. Would you please step outside with me for a moment?”

“Sure…”

This was not a good situation. It was never a good situation when someone wanted to isolate you from a crowd. But at least in Equestria, no one would want to eat you when you were away from the hive.

Caelan started at the sound of the classroom door closing behind her. No idea was more appealing right now than finding Myth, who upon inspection, was not also in the hallway. That was either a good sign or a really, really bad sign.

“My name is Doctor Asclepius. I’m sorry that this happened on the same day as another emergency, but there was an incident with your sister.”

Pupils shrinking to pinpricks, Caelan checked her urge to bolt off in search of Myth. She could be anywhere.

Instead, Caelan demanded, “Where is she!”

“Please calm down,” Doctor Asclepius said. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

“Where is she?” Caelan repeated her demand.

Sighing somewhat, Doctor Asclepius said, “In my office, resting. I can take you there if you–”

“Yes!”

“Very well. Please follow me.”

Caelan did just that. Her hooves itched to burst into full gallop with every step she took.

“What happened?”

Doctor Asclepius hesitated for a second before answering. “We believe she suffered a panic attack during the exam.”

“What’s a panic attack?”

Slowing down her pace, her voice noticeably less stressed, Doctor Asclepius asked, “Tell me: has your sister ever had times when she would hyperventilate, feel dizzy, nauseous, tremble, or experience chest pains for no obvious reason?”

“Yes…” Caelan answered, her own panic turning into distress. There was no question that Equestrians knew more about healing than anyone in Ævintýri. Was there something wrong with Myth?

As if to confirm that, the worry emanating from Doctor Asclepius redoubled.

“Those are common symptoms of a panic attack. Has she received any treatment or counselling for it?”

Caelan had a feeling that ‘no’ was a disastrously wrong answer to give, whatever the question meant, so she said, “Yes.”

There was an awkward pause where Caelan felt Doctor Asclepius was expecting more of an answer.

“Does she take any medications for either it or her other condition?”

And the panic was back. Caelan cursed herself for stuttering, but she asked, “W-what other condition?”

Right after she said those words, Caelan realised what she should have known the moment the exam began.

The counterspell! Myth’s glamour was dispelled. Oh no…

Doctor Asclepius was uncomfortably silent. She halted just outside a doorway, apparently deep in thought.

Worse, Caelan had been so distracted, she had no idea what turns to take to get back outside, and there was no telling if she would be able to portal to the roof.

What if this is a jail cell?

The door in front of Caelan opened at Doctor Asclepius’s command. Caelan tensed, ready to spring into action.

That tension drained away when Caelan saw what was inside. There were a few beds, a thousand things and devices she failed to recognise, several chairs, a few other doorways, and curtains surrounding what Caelan assumed was another bed. It hardly seemed like a prison. If it were not for the odd smell, she might even call it comforting.

“Your sister is resting over there.” Doctor Asclepius pointed toward the bed with drawn curtains in the room. “She hit her head fairly hard, so please let her rest.”

Caelan rushed over to the bed, the doctor no longer of interest to her. Apparently, Doctor Asclepius took no offence, as she immediately redirected her attention elsewhere.

“Nurse Ivy?” she called out.

“Yes?” another feminine voice called back from another room.

Doctor Asclepius disappeared in the direction the voice had come from. The last thing Caelan heard from her was, “I need you to run an errand for me.”

Meanwhile, Caelan quietly swept the curtain away. Myth was, in fact, sleeping atop a bed there, and it took everything Caelan had to not embrace her.

The only question was what to do now. This situation could turn ugly very quickly, but leaving would guarantee Caelan and Myth would be back on the streets.

Caelan gazed down at Myth, a deep frown on her face. Even in her sleep, Myth was emanating distress. She tossed and turned at times, sweating profusely.

I need help.

It was a thought Caelan could not deny. Myth was in a bad way, and healing was not something Caelan was any good at. Doctor Asclepius at least seemed willing to aid Myth, if her emotions were a fair reflection of her intentions.

But there was the fundamental problem that no parents would be coming. At best, Caelan could sneak away and come back as an adult pony, but she knew her chances of bluffing her way through the inevitable conversation that would follow were terribly low.

Although perhaps she could trick the information she would need out of Doctor Asclepius first, then slip away with the knowledge in tow.

It was an idea.

But Caelan needed a decision.


Slumped over at Myth’s bedside, Caelan let out a sigh. Doctor Asclepius was as informative and helpful as she had expected.

And yet the mare was also more watchful than expected. For whatever reason, she refused to take her eyes off of Caelan. Even when Caelan claimed to need the bathroom, she stood guard at the door.

Granted Doctor Asclepius clearly was attempting to be subtle about it, but Caelan knew when she was being watched.

A knock came at the front door to the doctor’s office. Caelan perked up as the emotions behind the door swept over the room. She absorbed a full meal and then some with zero effort, almost to the point of drunkenness. The world spun about her for a moment before she shook the sensation away.

Whoever had arrived was happy, cheerful, exuberant, and any other word for joyful that Caelan could recall.

The door opened with a slight creak. Doctor Asclepius, for once not watching Caelan out of the corner of her eye, said, “Good evening, Headmistress.”

Headmistress? Caelan thought, her mind still a bit sluggish from her meal. Isn’t that the goddess Bel?

“Are they still here?” a feminine voice said, one which could only be described as majestic.

“They’re right over there. The younger one is still resting, so please be quiet.”

And then the goddess Bel, the Alicorn of the Sun, the Lightbearer, Princess Celestia, Slayer of the Mad God entered the room.

Caelan’s eyes snapped open, her mind racing with a single thought.

We are so dead.

Princess Celestia approached, eyes locked with Caelan. An otherworldly power radiated from her, one Caelan had only felt once before between worlds, between Ævintýri and Equus in the Realm Between.

Refraining from prostrating herself on the ground – why Equestrians did not, she would never understand – Caelan stuttered, “G-good e-even-evening, Your M-Majesty.”

“God æftenn, Caelan,” Princess Celestia said.

Caelan’s heart felt like it wanted to leap from her chest. For a moment, she stopped breathing.

She could not speak the language her accent supposedly came from, not a single word. But Princess Celestia could.

Lie, lie, lie! Curbing the panic in her voice, Caelan said, “I speak Equestrian as well as Bridlish, Your Majesty. Please don’t bother on my account, Your Majesty.”

“Headmistress, please.”

“E-excuse me, Your Majesty?”

“In this school,” Princess Celestia clarified, “and to the ponies here, I like to be nothing more than the headmistress. Please, be at ease.”

At first, Caelan’s brain locked up, unable to decide what to do. But then Princess Celestia sat down on the floor, bringing her almost to eye level. When she was that close, it was impossible to deny her anything, even disrespect.

“O-of course, Headmistress.”

“You say that like a headmistress rules the universe.”

Caelan shrunk into herself, hooves trembling. “My apologies for displeasing you, Headmistress.”

Princess Celestia giggled, and Caelan swore she could hear the faint echo of small bells or chimes.

“So, this is your little sister, Myth.”

It was not a question, but Caelan nodded anyway.

For a while, Princess Celestia said nothing, merely watching Myth sleep with the same easy smile that had never left her face. Despite that, Caelan could feel her growing less and less happy with each passing moment. A small spark of frustration smoldered within her.

Desperate to stop that – a happy goddess was a peaceful goddess – Caelan quickly asked, “Have you had a good day, Headmistress?”

Princess Celestia turned her gaze back to Caelan, confusion etched upon her face. Caelan had only stoked that spark of frustration in her.

Just put me in my tomb and carry me off to Tir na Marbh now.

But no divine retribution came. The small hint of frustration in the room was even quenched, strangely enough.

Princess Celestia took a moment to close the curtains surrounding the two of them. When she turned back, her smile felt, in some strange sense, more real.

“Can you keep a secret?”

In any other company, Caelan might have taken the time to indulge in dramatic irony, but not here, not now.

“On my life, Headmistress.”

“Well, I was browsing the written exams earlier, and I found two which drew my attention.”

Does she mean us? Caelan thought, equal parts surprise, dread, and what might be charitably called anticipation twitching through her limbs.

“Oh.” Princess Celestia paused a moment, a fair amount of shame rolling off her. “Please forgive me if I offend, but neither was yours nor your sister’s.”

Caelan sighed inwardly. Myth might be only slightly too old, but Caelan herself was far too old to take the entrance exam. Being caught cheating by the goddess Bel herself would have been a disaster, but it sounded like they were safe.

Although in hindsight, it occurred to Caelan that Princess Celestia would be more gleeful or angry to catch cheaters than happy. And she knew that if anyone were gifted enough to draw attention, it would more likely be Sunset Shimmer than herself.

“No apology needed, Headmistress,” Caelan said.

“But I am sorry,” Princess Celestia insisted. From nowhere, a small, flat pastry appeared. It glowed, suspended in her near-white magic. “Would you care for a sugar cookie, perhaps?”

Caelan eyed the sugar cookie – whatever that was – carefully. After being poisoned by a friendly smile once before, she always checked any food given to her, especially free food.

But this is the goddess Bel. She could have just placed it within me without notice.

And besides, any course of action but accepting the offer could result in a lightning bolt to the face.

“Thank you, Headmistress,” Caelan said, taking the cookie in her own magic. She took a tentative bite into it.

“Mmm! What is this!” Manners forgotten, Caelan scarfed down the cookie, spewing crumbs everywhere.

Halfway through, Caelan froze mid bite. She swallowed what was in her mouth. “I-I mean, thank you, Headmistress. It’s delicious.”

For a moment, Caelan swore she saw Princess Celestia frown, but it passed in the blink of an eye. Not wanting Princess Celestia to dwell on whatever may have caused that, she asked, “Is Sunset Shimmer one of the ponies, Headmistress? The ones that caught your attention.”

“Yes, actually. Do you know her?”

Caelan shook her head. “I only met her today, Headmistress.”

“Well then you must have an excellent eye for ponies too.”

Unable to help herself, Caelan blushed at the goddess’s complement.

“Did you know I sometimes take on personal students?”

Again, Caelan shook her head. She might have tried less hard if she had known on the off chance she was chosen; being so close to Princess Celestia was dangerous. That near the princess, who knew where there might be a ward that would reveal her original form, or age, or something equally disastrous.

“Part of why I act as the headmistress of this school is because I love teaching.” Princess Celestia tapped a hoof to her muzzle. “Well, I love tutoring. I enjoy working with one or two colts or fillies, helping them learn and grow. In the past, I used to do so frequently, but my free time grows ever scarcer these days. That said, I would like to work with Sunset Shimmer, if she will have me.”

Thinking back to her short conversation with Sunset, Caelan knew Sunset would accept. In no conceivable world would she decline.

“I’m sure she will, Headmistress.”

“I do hope so.”

There was a terribly awkward silence while Princess Celestia simply sat there, watching. Caelan could feel herself sweating underneath that gaze.

Squirming and unable to take it any longer, Caelan asked, “Yes, Headmistress?”

Princess Celestia hummed, somehow disappointed, as if Caelan had failed some test or betrayed some expectation.

“I was waiting for you to ask how you did.”

“O-oh.”

Was that expected of foals in Equestria? Had Caelan given herself away somehow?

Shaking the worries from her head – Princess Celestia had not acted on it, if so – Caelan asked, “How did I do on my written test, Headmistress?”

Princess Celestia actually rolled her eyes. “Very well, although that is no official grade. This is just a guess, mind you, but you likely placed in the top five. Very impressive.”

Not for my age… It was hardly the first time Caelan felt bad about cheating some other foal out of their spot here, but she and Myth needed a home.

Gulping – from what Doctor Asclepius had told her, Myth likely did poorly – Caelan whispered, “What about Myth?”

“Extraordinarily well, considering the circumstances.”

So she failed. Caelan’s shoulders slumped. It only confirmed what she already had known deep inside, but there was no denying it anymore.

“If I may ask an impertinent question,” Princess Celestia began, waiting for Caelan to nod, “will you be attending if Myth does not?”

Caelan shook her head vigorously, repulsed by the mere thought.

A small, barely audible sigh escaped Princess Celestia. That was all it took to make Caelan realize she had essentially just spat in Princess Celestia’s face.

“I-I-I d-didn’t mean–”

Princess Celestia held up a hoof, forestalling Caelan’s panicked, rambling apology.

“I understand the bond between sisters very well.”

As Princess Celestia said those words, a gag-inducing blanket of despair flooded the room, completely displacing the sweet happiness that had been there before.

With some horror, a thought occurred to Caelan. Is Cerridwen…dead? Can goddesses die?

Desperate to change the topic to literally anything else, Caelan asked, “W-who was the other pony with the excellent exam?”

Slowly, terribly slowly, the despair burned off. A faint echo of Princess Celestia’s earlier joy suffused the room.

“‘Excellent’ might not be the right word to use, I’m afraid. Certainly ‘good’, but it was a particular answer that this foal provided to a question that drew my attention. I must ask you again to remember that this does not leave this room.”

Nodding, Caelan said, “Of course, Headmistress.”

“I think I may have found one of my estranged…nieces, I suppose.”

The implications of that one sentence hit Caelan harder than any mace or war hammer. That was the answer to the question Caelan had held ever since leaving Ævintýri behind…


A thunderous roar pierced the air. The firestorm Chrysalis had just hit the monster in front of her with smoldered out harmlessly, leaving behind only a noxious smell and a few charred patches of fur as evidence of the blow.

Why doesn’t it burn? Why doesn’t it burn!

The beast reared up on it’s hindlegs, threatening to crash down atop both her and Myth.

Thinking quick and casting faster, Chrysalis opened a portal beneath the two of them. They fell through it just as one of the bear-bee-monster-thing’s claws swiped at them.

Chrysalis bit her teeth. She turned her head away from Myth and put a hoof over the bleeding on her muzzle.

As quick as Chrysalis had needed to cast the portal for what must have been the thirtieth time now, it only took them as far as she could see. Anything else might have left them attempting to portal into a tree, which would be impossible unless the portal sliced the entire tree in half.

Even then, the delay for the tree to fall would prove fatal. Already the monster was upon them again, tearing through trees like they were twigs.

Chrysalis urged Myth back into as quick of a gallop as she could manage on three legs. While fleeing, she managed to cobble together a vaguely remembered sleep spell and hurled it at the beast.

Like everything else so far, the spell dissipated harmlessly.

Next to her, Myth lit up her own horn.

“Don’t!” Chrysalis interrupted. “Just look for the faerie ring!”

“But–”

“No buts!” Chrysalis screamed. “We’re not dying this close!”

It happened again. Myth tripped on a root and fell muzzle first into the dirt. Bless her but she tried, yet this was not helping.

Chrysalis immediately fired off another portal. A tree fell on top of them before she could finish. Even if it was only the crown, the impact ruined her concentration.

Worse, blinded, she had no idea where Myth was.

“Myth!”

Myth did just what Chrysalis hoped she would and called back. “I’m here!”

But that hardly helped. The tree lurched with the two of them still trapped in it. Chrysalis just barley made out the monster shaking the tree, no doubt expecting its meal to drop from the branches.

Now that the tree was back in the air, Chrysalis could see Myth barely clinging to a branch.

“Myth, count to five, then let go!”

With the monster busy with the tree, Chrysalis had time to cast a more precise portal. She scryed a quieter area nearby, as far away as she trusted herself to make a safe portal at the moment.

Myth called out, “Five!” then let go as instructed.

Chrysalis watched Myth’s painful descent through the moving branches with sympathy, cringing. Just as she emerged from the tree into free fall, Chrysalis cast a portal and whisked her away to relative safety.

A few second later, Chrysalis let go too. She braced herself for the coming impacts, holding onto another portal construct for her own escape.

Chrysalis tumbled downward, bumping into branch after branch. For a horrible moment, she felt a branch get caught in one of the holes in her wings.

And then there was a sickening rip.

Chrysalis bit down on her lip. She would not scream. She would not give her plan away. She would not lose her spell charge.

She was a changeling. She could live without that part of her wing.

Emerging from the branches, Chrysalis fired off her portal. Moments later, she was at the edge of a small clearing.

In an instant, Myth latched onto her with a hug, which was the wrong thing to do right now.

Chrysalis shrugged Myth off, fighting down her urge to scream and curse back toward the monster. The monster that was not making much noise.

“Oh, come on,” Chrysalis complained. It can’t have noticed we’re gone already. “Is the faerie ring nearby?”

Chrysalis nearly kissed Myth for the news she bore. “It’s over there, I think.”

There was a rustling crash, one suspiciously like the sound of a tree being dropped.

Chrysalis followed the glamour placed on Myth’s right leg to a small hill in the clearing. At the crest was a circle of mushrooms. If Queen Ocellus’s travel diary could be believed, this particular species of magical fungus held open a rift between worlds.

The cracking and whining sound of trees being split apart thundered over the forest again.

No time to prepare. Wincing, Chrysalis shapeshifted into a unicorn form. She patted the saddlebags thankfully still attached to her; the one thing they had to have, the diary, was still there.

Chrysalis spared the time to sigh. The searing pain in her wing was gone, the book was safe, and the portal was in sight: for once, things were going right.

“Let’s go.”

Myth nodded, and they trotted the distance up to the edge of the mushroom ring. There, they hesitated, staring at the very nonmagical-looking ground in front of them.

Shaking away her doubts, Chrysalis said, “Remember, this is an unprotected portal. We’ll be exposed to all the power of the goddesses Bel and Cerridwen in the Realm Between. We have to move fast.”

Myth nodded just as Chrysalis heard the monster crash into the clearing behind them.

Holding what remained of Myth’s right foreleg in her left, they stepped forward together.

Ævintýri disappeared. Part of Chrysalis had dreaded that she had chased nothing more than a myth, but relief flooded through her.

In place of her home plane, Chrysalis found herself in a strange void, almost as if she were in the heavens among the stars. Millions – billions – an uncountable number of small lights hung in the air, each of which might be right in front of her as easily as it might be beyond the reach of any mortal. Off in the distance, a nebulous blue glow hung in the sky, just as lacking in proportion as anything else.

But right at her hooves was something of a road of wisps extending forward, just as Queen Ocellus had written.

Also as written, this world burned. There was no fire, no blinding light, yet it was akin to standing in the sun. It hurt, but not cripplingly so.

And yet Chrysalis collapsed to what passed for ground.

“Chrysalis!” Myth sprung into panicked action, propping Chrysalis back up. “What’s wrong?”

Chrysalis giggled, her vision dancing. “Don’t you feel it?”

“My horn really hurts,” Myth said hesitantly, urging Chrysalis forward.

At the prompting, Chrysalis wobbled on her hooves, mumbling drunkenly. “Joy. Fear. Hate. Ennui. Sadness.” She giggled again. “Love.”

“Wha… Chrysalis, we have to hurry. Please!”

“Mmm.”

Myth cried in pain. For a moment, Chrysalis found herself blinded by the light of Myth’s magic, but it passed.

Soon after, Chrysalis felt herself being almost dragged forward, at least as far as anything felt like anything anymore.

Chrysalis laughed at some unspoken joke. She felt big. Like a whaaaaale. She waved a hoof at a whale that swum through the sky. It sang such a pretty song.

Then as if she had surfaced from an ocean – or perhaps been thrown into one; Chrysalis could not decide – the giddy high she felt vanished, like waking from a sweet dream into cruel, hard reality.

“Chrysalis! Chrysalis!” Myth cried, shaking the nymph in question. “Please tell me you’re okay! Please! I – I can’t do this alone.”

Still unsteady on her hooves, Chrysalis looked about. They were back in a forest, except this one was more…

Swampy, Chrysalis complained to herself. She hated swamps. Mud always got caught in her frog and chitin, and it took weeks to get it out.

“I’m okay,” Chrysalis finally said, at last almost completely lucid. She wiped Myth’s tears away with a hoof, only to realise her entire leg was slightly seared, as was the rest of her. Myth was just as bad. “Run first, then talk.”

Chrysalis took her first few shaky steps forward to test her balance when she heard a voice.

“Centurio! Duobus liberis trans porta! Curam habe de eis!”

Turning around slowly, Chrysalis spotted a young, light yellow earth pony mare with a purple and pink mane. She had some sort of black goggles over her eyes, wore full armour, and held a long, exceedingly well-crafted spear practically humming with magic.

Beside her was another mare and a stallion, similarly equipped.

Screaming in time with Myth, Chrysalis tried to cast a portal in her panic.

Her horn screamed back at her, protesting the very idea. It was unresponsive at best, broken at worst.

A second passed. My horn doesn’t work.

A second passed. Ponies with magical spears.

A second passed. Ponies stationed at the faerie ring.

A second passed. Guards!

“Run!” Chrysalis whispered.

At her word, both Chrysalis and Myth bolted forward at full gallop. Voices were raised in their wake; it sounded like an argument.

They galloped, stumbled, tripped, and galloped again, wandering aimlessly through the forest.

For once, for perhaps the first time ever, Chrysalis and Myth were running from nothing. As far as she could tell, nothing was following them. There were no bushes rustling behind them. There were no trees snapping. There were no battle cries or drums, not even the rattle of armor.

They were alone. Even the birds were silent.

Unless Equus has no birds?

Chrysalis shook her head, her breathing still ragged. Not important.

“Heh. Heh heh.”

“Chrysalis?” Myth’s own lungs must have been burning the way she said the word. “Please tell me you’re not…that you’re okay.”

Thinking back to the Realm Between, Chrysalis vaguely remembered giggling and laughing at nothing. The experience was much akin to being drunk and high at the same time, or at least she imagined it so. She had never actually tried.

“I’m fine. Just…we made it.”

Myth smiled, still crying. Mid nod, she gasped.

Chrysalis spun around, jumping in front of Myth. Her muscles screamed at her, but it hardly mat–

In the distance, just barely visible through the swamp’s canopy, was a mountain of such size the no other mountain would rise near it from shame. Growing out of the mountainside was a city with more palaces of marble and gold than Glesca had huts made of mere wattle and daub.

“Equestria.” Chrysalis’s voice echoed in unison with Myth’s. The sheer enormity and grandeur before them was like a wild fantasy given life. Even Queen Ocellus’s travel diary could not prepare them for this.

Chrysalis fought herself to escape the trance the city had placed upon her. It was beautiful, divine even, but it meant nothing if they never reached it.

“How does your horn feel?”

Myth instantly broke her gaze and turned her attention toward Chrysalis. A deep sense of shame came off of her, worsening every second.

“None of that, Myth. Whatever is wrong, it’s not your fault.”

Whispering, each word with a gross mucusy sound, Myth said, “I-I tried to carry you through–”

Chrysalis wrapped her hooves around Myth, hugging her close. Myth winced at the touch – no doubt from the burns; Chrysalis’s hurt too – so she was forced to let go.

“You got me through, Myth. I… There was so much…emotion there. If I were alone, I would be in the hooves of Cailleach on my way to Tir na Marbh by now. You saved me, with or without magic.

There was still depression in her, but Myth perked up a little at the praise. It would have to do for now.

“I can’t feel my horn,” Myth whispered.

Chrysalis had to restrain herself from hugging Myth and petting her mane. That would just hurt both of them again, however comforting it might be for Myth.

“It’ll be okay,” Chrysalis cooed. “I can’t feel mine either.”

Like a particularly poor brand of magic, Myth’s emotions quickly shifted to concern for Chrysalis, leaving little for herself.

“I’m sure we’ll both be fine,” Chrysalis said. “I think we just experienced a magical overload. We’ll heal.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

It took quite a bit of effort thereafter, but Chrysalis eventually managed to convince Myth that they would, in fact, be okay – even if Chrysalis herself had no grounds to believe that.

Still, that left the question of what happened in the Realm Between unanswered. Queen Ocellus’s diary made no mention of there being that much magical or emotional energy there. There was just supposed to be light, and heat, and burning. A fried horn was not supposed to be a cost of passage, and Chrysalis was honestly surprised she stayed conscious the whole way through with that much ambient emotion – for lack of a better description – in the air.

Did the queen simply leave out important information as a trap for any thief? It would be just like her. She always said not to write anything down unless it was okay for everyone everywhere to read it.

But why would she do that? The travel diary was already a special exception, apparently. It had been hard enough for Chrysalis to get her hooves on it, let alone to steal it.

Why bother to write any of it down if she has to remember the important details?

Chrysalis’s brow furrowed in thought.

Unless…something changed?

Was it even possible for the Realm Between to change? It was supposed to be the home plane of the goddesses, the place where they truly dwelled. The plane was them as much as they were it. The forms they took on in other planes – great six-legged horses, alicorns, or whatever – were mere physical incarnations.

But what could change the very essence of the goddesses?

Shaking away the thought – they had no time for it right now – Chrysalis rose back to her hooves.

“Come on, Myth. We need to get out of this forest before something eats us.”


There are more goddesses. That thought alone was revolutionary, but it was the next one that nearly sent Caelan over the edge. There’s a goddess of emotion. An Alicorn of Love!

That was huge. If Caelan could find her – and Princess Celestia had implied it was a her – then she could…

I could what?

The last time Caelan had gotten a ‘bright idea’ in her head, she stole the queen’s diary, left Glesca, and nearly got Myth and herself killed at least a dozen times, permanently injuring both of them along the way.

This time is different.

But was it really? Equestria was safer to travel through, no doubt, and one of the two other goddesses must be nearby – at least right now – but what would she say? Would she even want to help? And what if Princess Celestia decided to intervene violently?

I can’t just ignore this!

But Caelan knew her world was perfectly capable of continuing if she simply pretended to have heard nothing, to have had no revelation.

I’d be doing a disservice to my people!

An Alicorn of Love, just the name alone put thousands of ideas to fighting in Caelan’s head for attention.

In front of Caelan, in the here and now, Myth let out a pained whine. Thoughts of honour and glory, conquests and kingdoms abandoned, Caelan stared down at the person who meant the most to her in any world.

Myth was no leader. She was no warrior. She was no tactician. Their journey had made that abundantly clear. At best she might be a healer.

I can’t leave her behind.

And if Myth had to stay in relative safety, Caelan would, too. Maybe – maybe – when they were fully grown, they could adventure again together, and she could go back to being the Eighth Princess of Glesca, Chrysalis.

But not now. There’s so much to learn here in Equestria anyway. I don’t have time for this.

Sighing, Caelan stopped fussing over Myth. She was about as comfortable in the bed as Caelan thought possible, nor was she sleeping on her bad leg. She probably just bumped her head against the obvious sore spot earlier: nothing to worry about.

Caelan froze. Myth was fine, but she had just inexcusably ignored a goddess.

And yet when Caelan turned her attention back to Princess Celestia, the alicorn was all smiles and soft waves of sympathy.

“Caelan,” Princess Celestia began, the indignation Caelan had expected completely absent from her voice, “I would like to make a deal with you.”

Caelan blinked. What could she possibly have to offer Princess Celestia, the ruler of Equestria, a goddess? “A…deal, Headmistress?”

“Yes. I accept both you and your sister, Myth, into my school with a full scholarship.”

But – but that’s… What could she possibly – “In – in exchange for what, Headmistress?”

“Only two things. As with any scholarship, you will both need to keep your grades up.”

“O-of course! Headmistress, I – we – we’re here to learn.”

A small giggle escaped Princess Celestia. Just like the last time, Caelan swore there were bells, or chimes, or something otherworldly accompanying the sound, but it was just on the edge of her hearing, impossible to make out.

“The only other thing I ask is that you try to be Sunset Shimmer’s friend. From what little I have heard of her so far, she could really use a few good friends.”

Was that really it? Caelan had planned to do both anyway.

Is this… Is this really happening?

Not wanting to dispel the illusion, Caelan spoke with a weak voice, “T-thank you, H-Headmistress. I – I promise I will.”

“Very well.” Princess Celestia rose gracefully to her hooves, seemingly flowing. “I hope to hear good things about the two of you.”

Caelan nodded dumbly, sniffling, watching Princess Celestia recede back to the other side of the curtain. The steady sound of her hooves carried her away to another room in the office where Doctor Asclepius awaited.

The door to the side office closed momentarily, and Caelan could make out only muffled fragments of Princess Celestia’s words.

“…stay…re toni…obser…dorm tomor…”

The door opened again, and Caelan felt Princess Celestia leave the doctor’s office behind, her mostly joyful emotions slowly withdrawing in her wake.

Only then, with the princess gone and when she was alone, did it hit Caelan all at once. She slumped over onto Myth’s bed, her muscles giving out on her.

“We made it,” Caelan whispered between muted sobs. It was too wonderful, Princess Celestia too kind to be believed. “We really made it.”