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Good Intentions · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–25000
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Let Me Be Your Armor
A noontime spring sun shines in the cloudless sky, but the breeze retains the biting chill that rarely leaves these northern climes. The last of the snow melted weeks ago, and the fields are filled with fresh greenery and young critters eager to shake off cabin fever. Despite that restlessness, the alicorn standing on top of the hill finds herself briefly content to merely let the sun try to warm her upturned face, to enjoy the heat and pressure against her eyelids.

The moment passes quickly: her leisure time is far too constrained to squander it so. She flexes the wings that have seen too little use of late, breathes deeply, and takes a running leap into the face of the wind. She powers for altitude, knowing she’ll pay later for the sudden exertion, but it’s worth it to be free, to feel the air rushing through her feathers and mane, to move unhindered by any will but her own. Eyes still closed, she smiles as she indulges in this small escape, banks to her left. . .

. . . and finds herself quite suddenly back on the ground as a heavy tome hits the table in front of her.

“One might think,” intones the frowning unicorn, “That you had no interest in using that horn of yours.”

The alicorn stays silent and tries to suppress her embarrassment at being caught daydreaming, though concealing a blush on her pale coat is an exercise in futility.

“One might further speculate that you’d rather waste your time frolicking like some pegasus foal, than learn to control your magic before you set another fire in your sleep.”

Her face burns with a greater heat than the sun, shining through the high narrow window, could ever hope for, but caring is a distant memory.

“I am a pegasus, sir! And a unicorn, and fully entitled to the heritage of each! And-”

“Spare me, child. I know who your parents are,” the stallion cuts her off. “That heritage of yours is all the more reason to learn proper focus. Magical or otherwise, you cannot afford distraction. You must always be focused and in the moment. So long as you remain a member of your family, you do not have the option of shirking that responsibility.”

She glares at the book, perversely wishing that she’d learned the control to set the thing on fire by will alone. Then again, that might raise even her father’s ire.

“Perhaps it would ease your long, hard suffering to know that you are not the only one wishing to be outside of this room. Perhaps Her Majesty might find Herself more at ease with this injustice were She to be reminded that I myself am here at the behest of Her esteemed Father. Perhaps such a reminder should not be necessary for someone of Her station.

“Perhaps She has overheard that I am also engaged in some rather fundamental magical research, again, at her Father’s express request. And perhaps, if She truly makes the effort, She might understand how valuable my ti-”

“Enough, Star Swirl. You’ve made your point.” Every word from her mouth is clipped, every muscle taut with rage.

“Of that, I have my doubts.” His appraising stare fails to penetrate the sea-green mane which hides her glare, but does nothing to hide her emotions. “Still, the lack of argument is a step in the right direction.”

The room fills with the jingling of the bells on the hem his robe as he walks back towards the chalkboard. Supposedly, the sound of the Conjurer’s Bells serves to remind their wearer that every action has greater consequences than the unicorn intends, and are worn in number proportional to rank and skill.

Privately, certain alicorns suspect that they’re worn simply to annoy others.

“Since you are apparently uninterested in listening to me, the book is now in your hooves,” Star Swirl says. His magic grasps a piece of chalk and he begins to sketch geometric shapes on the board. “My dearest Princess Celestia, you may begin with the title.”

She presses a hoof against the near edge of the book to incline it to her eyes.

Structure and the Basis of Magick.” Celestia frowns. “Star Swirl, even I know this stuff! Magic comes from the seven elements of harmony, and if you aren’t in tune with at least some of them you can’t do magic!”

The chalk stops moving.

“That . . .” Star Swirl sets down the chalk and turns back to her. “That is a very. . . post-modern interpretation of magical theory. It is an interesting idea, but lacks evidence. Its proponents cannot even agree on the number of so-called ‘elements of harmony’ there are! They cite honesty, and loyalty, and inspiration, and any other positive quality you care to name. And they get away with it, because they can claim that harmony means having all of them, and so they settle into bickering over which elements are more fundamental than the rest!

“Much as I appreciate the irony in that, the theory is unsound, and unproven, and I’ll not hear it again from you. Unless, of course, you’d care to prove that you deserve that horn on your head and make your way through a proper course in real magical theory. Such as the book in front of you.”

With something between a snort and a sigh, she noses the cover to the side. Compact text with alien serifs and strange punctuation greets her. Many of the words are almost familiar, but misspelled, and a riot of colors provides levels of emphasis which escape her entirely. Hopeless confusion overtakes her anger.

“Star Swirl. I can’t read this.”

“Ignore the colors for now.”

“No, I mean, I don’t recognize the script.”

The book floats off the table and levitates in front of Star Swirl.

“It’s only just over three hundred years old. If you ignore the extra vowels and treat the intra-word dashes. . .” He looks over at her. “Have you really not been taught this?”

She shakes her head, and he grimaces.

“Then in the interests of saving each of us the added time, we’ll set the book aside. Provided, of course, that you can manage to listen.”

Star Swirl’s drone is a heavy price, but for one fewer book to study, worthwhile. With any luck, he might gloss over the inevitable tedious details in his impatience. Celesia nods.

“So be it. The fundamental tenet of crafting a magical spell is to choose a subset of the objects in the world around you to affect, and while recognizing the structure or structures of that external reality, hold it in your mind while also enforcing a structure closer to your desires, but with a minimal thaumic delta so as to reduce the force of will necessary to create or maintain the change. Retaining those structures may be aided by mnemonics such as incantations or runic sketches...” He turns and begins embellishing his diagrams on the board.

Celestia glances at the window, but the sun has already dropped below the sill.

“Mother, why am I different?”

“Is this about your cutie mark again?” The pegasus offers a slow, wry smile that betrays the tiredness of a pony old beyond her years.

“No. Why am I the only alicorn? Why is everyone else a pegasus or a unicorn or an earth pony?” An afterthought: “And I don’t mean the birds and the bees, mother.”

A shadow crosses the pegasus’ face. She’s avoided the subject for years, hoping in vain that her daughter would somehow be blind to the issue. But Celestia is no foal, and the mother knows well enough that little can distract her daughter once her mind is set. In that, she takes after her father.

“You aren’t the only alicorn, Tia. Just the only one here, and now. You aren’t a freak, or-”

“That’s not what I asked, mother.”

“Regardless of how different you might feel, your father and I love you very much.”

Mother. . . “

“It’s not a comfortable subject, Tia.”

“Which is all the more reason to learn it from someone who ‘loves me very much.’”

“You think you’re being clever now?”

“You think you’re changing the subject?”

The pegasus sighs.

“Tia, what can you tell me about our city? Who lives here? What kinds of ponies, and since when?”

“It used to be an outpost when more ponies lived in the north, but almost nopony lives up there now. Back then it was mostly unicorns, and earth ponies, especially out in the countryside. But there have been pegasi here, too, since before I was born!”

“But not for all too long before you were born. Within my lifetime, you might recall.”

“Yes, I know how you and father met.”

“Do you now?”

“When everypony was leaving the north, your flight was grounded by a blizzard. You had too many young fliers to risk slipping out between storms, but some farmers found you and told you you’d be welcome here. Father took you in and helped everypony and a bunch of other things happened and you fell in love and got married.”

“That’s glossing over quite a bit.”

“I’m not worried about ancient history, mother.”

“That ‘ancient history’ has the answer to your question. We left the north because the entire region was locked in a winter that didn’t end and kept growing deeper. We didn’t know why, but nothing we pegasi did to the weather seemed to help, so we did what we thought best. We gathered up our loved ones and flew south.

“Everypony else came to the same conclusion. The unicorns and earth ponies left before us, to tell the truth. I suppose we thought we just needed to figure out why the weather was misbehaving, so we stayed longer to prove ourselves.

“Your father had lived here in this border town for all his life. He met with each group coming down from the mountains, especially the other unicorns. Some of them doubted that the winter was at all natural, and your father asked them to remain behind and build the town into a refuge for everypony coming south. Some stayed, and many of those who kept running left behind things that were weighing them down. Books, instruments of music and science, things that they had no time for on the road.

“Your father and the other unicorns here finally figured it out. Somewhere in those musty old books, they read about creatures called wendigoes. The wendigoes froze the air around them, and that was the cause of the impossible weather.”

“Nopony knew about them? Nopony saw them?”

“Somepony must have dealt with them before, but no, nopony remembered. And I have never seen one, nor has your father, but we know they must be the cause of that winter.”

“How can you possibly say that? How do you know the book they were from isn’t just a bunch of filly-”

“Because they fed on hate!”

The strange exclamation momentarily shocks Celestia to silence. “They. . . what?”

“Hatred. Anger, suspicion, disgust. All of it.”

“But. . . hate? How could they feed on hate? Where did it come from?”

The pegasus screws her eyes shut against the memories. “We gave it to them, Tia. Who knows what small hoofhold they first found, but once the winter started, we hated each other. We blamed each other for imagined faults. We blamed each other for creating the winter itself. We did, in a sense. We gave them the opportunity, and they bred quickly and overwhelmed us.

“And by ‘we,’ I mean the races of ponies. Back then, the unicorns lived apart from the pegasi, and each lived apart from the earth ponies. We knew each other, and we traded, but rarely would anypony spend much time with the other races.

“When the winter began, we didn’t trust another. The pegasi were first blamed, of course, because we’d always kept the weather reasonable. We couldn’t find cause for the cold, so we accused the unicorns of creating it with some spell gone wrong. Some even accused the earth ponies of exaggerating the harm the chill did to the crops, though that never made much sense.

“So we blamed each other, and when our accusations failed to solve the matter, we foalishly insisted even louder that they must be true. We nurtured out grudges, and the wendigoes grew in number until they eventually chased us from the north entirely.”

“Then why did they ever stop?”

“In part, because of your father. He had always been too far away from the cities of the north to be much impressed by such foalish bickering and choosing of sides. Especially once his researchers learned of the wendigoes, he made a point of giving anypony a home here. That’s how his border town became this city, and how his humble town hall was replaced by this castle, as small as it is.

“The other ponies ran too far south for us to hear much from them. Our pegasi scouts never report unusual weather from there, so we know that the wendigoes gave up the chase. That, or perhaps those ponies finally learned to live alongside each other like we do, and the wendigoes wasted away.”

Celestia sits silently, wrestling with the implications of this new history. She’d known the events, in abstract, but that ponies could have been so divided is an novel concept.

Memories of Star Swirl’s tutelage take on an unpleasant light, in retrospect. How often had he accused her of not deserving her horn? Had her flight instructors given her leeway she had earned, or did her parentage count for more than ability? Did she receive deference based on her rank, or were other ponies simply put off by the hybrid creature in front of them? Was she shielded from harsher treatment by fear of wendigoes? Or did it come back to her parents?

Thoughts indistinct, the alicorn rises to her hooves and makes for the door.

“Tia. . .”

But the princess refuses to hear.

The nursery is calm, silent save for the occasional pop from the fireplace and the low moan of the wind echoing down the chimney. Sheltered by the surrounding rooms, the walls have no need for the shuttered windows that rattle against the winter storm that shrouds the castle.

Celestia stands next to the crib and looks upon its tiny inhabitant. A sister. Years too late for them to really play as equals, once she was grown, but a sister nonetheless. She could tell her stories, at least. Help her learn to fly. Maybe even teach her some simple magic, so that she’d suffer less at the hooves of the stubborn old unicorn their father would surely send for.

A murmur from below interrupts her thoughts. Celestia conjures a dim light to help her see into the crib and holds her breath, watching her sister’s legs twitch in response to some dream. As the foal finally settles down, Celestia exhales, grateful to have dodged at least one round of coaxing her back to sleep. With tired eyes, she continues to study the newborn.

Luna is her name. Her coat is much darker than Celestia’s, and more like their father’s. There’s an even darker, mottled patch on her flank, but the doctors promise that it can’t possibly be a cutie mark, for which Celestia is overwhelmingly grateful. Luna has inherited their father’s darker mane as well, though there are blueish hints from their mother’s side.

And, of course, she’s an alicorn.

It was never in doubt, from the moment the impending birth was announced, but Celestia is still ill at ease with the fact.

Alicorns are not hated or feared. In the years since she came to understand her exceptional heritage, Celestia has learned this. They are, however, held apart. The unicorns distrust their pegasus side for their capriciousness, their willingness to follow their gut and fly by instinct. The pegasi understand the desire to play with the unseen, but generally fail to grasp any desire to tinker with magic so long as the wind can fill the role while remaining fully tangible. Earth ponies tend to be too agreeable to object much, but Celestia knows that a penchant for honesty does not preclude hiding uncomfortable opinions.

And she knows that she wants none of this for her sister.

I’ll protect you, Luna. When you struggle, I will be there to help you along. When they doubt you, I will be there to prove that alicorns are just as capable as they are. I’ll make sure you understand why we’re different. I won’t hide that history from you, but I won’t let it hurt you. I won’t let anything hurt you.

She holds that thought in her mind as she slowly leans against the crib and drifts to sleep.
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