It wasn’t Morning Glory’s fault that she missed something obvious.
She’d spent all of her life around pegasai, not earth ponies, and certainly not unicorns. As such, she took the fact that Goldie seemed less… manic, and no longer vibrating with energy, as a reaction to Glory’s story, and nothing else. Most older unicorns would have immediately recognized it for it was, and would have been a bit worried…
Still, while she couldn’t put a name to it, some instinct told Glory that something was wrong. Not world-ending disaster wrong, just… slightly wrong, like a portrait hanging slightly crooked, but so slightly that it almost appeared to be straight until you took a moment to look at it. Sadly, that instinct, being an instinct, couldn’t be more specific. Instincts are annoying like that.
As the two ponies sat, waiting as unicorn after unicorn filed in and took their places, they talked about themselves. The things they liked, the things they didn’t, their lives… and of course, their conversation hit one of Glory’s favorite topics.
In particular, Glory’s favorite book: ‘Magic For Beginners’, written by Galaxy, the principal of Princess Celestia’s School for gifted unicorns.
“Yeah,” Golden Glow smiled, and said, “my mommy had a lot of fun writing that book.”
While her jaw did not quite hit the floor (Glory may have been an earth pony, but she was no Pinkie Pie), the young earth pony’s jaw certainly made an admirable effort at trying to reach the ground. “Wait,” Glory began, wide-eyed, “your mommy is Galaxy? Principal Galaxy? Former student of Princess Celestia, Galaxy? Three time winner of the Starswirl Award For Magical Advancement, Galaxy? THE Galaxy?”
“Yes, yes, yes, yes, and probably, unless there’s another Galaxy out there that I don’t know about who is even more famous,” Goldie answered with a smile. She didn’t look smug. Proud, maybe, but not smug. Goldie was not the kind of pony who would look smug, even if you dumped a bucket full of smug over her head.
‘Geez’, Glory thought to herself, ‘no wonder she’s the top candidate to be Celestia’s next student. And no wonder she’s already so far ahead of other ponies her age: She’s probably gotten all kinds of tutoring about magic from her mom that most of the other colts and fillies here could only dream of.’
Glory reached down to her backpack, which she’d set down on the floor beside her chair, and then pulled out her copy of Magic For Beginners. She turned it over to the photograph on the back of the cover, then showed it to Goldie, and pointed to it, mutely.
Goldie giggled, then nodded, and said, “Yup, that’s the one.”
Glory turned the book back around, and looked at the photo. She’d seen it a dozen times if she’d seen it even once, but it wasn’t one that she’d really studied before. She was a pretty mare, with a pink coat that matched her bright pink eyes. Her mane was tri-colored, red pink and white, with a pair of spectacles perched upon her muzzle. Her mark was a set of seven dark pink stars in the shape of a constellation.
While she may not have been a mystical powerhouse on the level of Twilight Sparkle, Galaxy was well-known through much of Equestria, especially for her works in the field of applied magical theory: Until Twilight, there had not been a new magical spell developed in Equestria for more than a thousand years, but that did not mean that magical research was dead. Instead, researchers had dedicated their efforts to finding how to use old spells in new ways.
And Galaxy had been the pony to discover dozens, neigh, hundreds, of new ways that currently existing spells might be used, a record that had not been reached since the days of Starswirl The Bearded himself.
Glory flipped open the book, and read the introduction again, something she’d read a thousand times before…
‘Anyone can be a wizard.’
‘These were words spoken by Starswirl the Bearded himself, long, long ago. Many fail to actually understand their meaning. He did not mean that everyone can be a wizard. No, sadly, not everyone who embarks on the path of magical mastery will be able to reach their destination: Not everyone has the drive, the focus, or the talent for becoming a wizard. What Starswirl meant was that you can find wizards in the most unlikely of places.’
‘Starswirl himself was, in fact, living proof of that: Historians often forget to mention his first nickname, one that many of his peers would use as an insult: The Potter’s Son. Starswirl was the son of a peasant earth pony potter and a unicorn seamstress, in an age where such pairings were extremely rare, and those that did occur were often looked upon with distaste by others. Starswirl is often called the father of the amniomorphic spell, but few remember that this spell was something he developed as a colt, to help his father in his work, and make cups, bowls, and sundry other household items faster. However, it was when he began combining this spell with other spells, including ones that allowed for the rapid creation of ceramic materials, that the young colt began to become famous.’
‘In those days, it was rare for anypony outside of the aristocracy to become a wizard, and there were many who tried to hinder Starswirl’s advancement to that lofty rank. However, when Starswirl presented to the magical community as a whole a combination of spells that could allow a complete fortress to be created in under an hour, and one made of ceramic materials so sturdy that even catapults and cannonfire were hard-pressed to damage it, nopony could deny that he was, even at only sixteen years old, as much a wizard, if not more so, than the most nobly born of the peerage of the age. Dozens of variations to that spell have since been developed, for everything from simple fortifications to building housing quickly in an emergency. Ponies may sometimes boast about their ancestors, about their wealth and status, and that this makes them a superior wizard. They often forget that the greatest wizard in Equestrian history was the son of a peasant, without any sign of real magical power anywhere in his ancestry, and spent much of his early years without two bits to rub together.’
‘What makes a pony a wizard is not a noble lineage, nor wealth, nor anything one is born with, but instead the will, the drive to work hard and dedicate one’s efforts to the mystic arts. Anyone can be a wizard… including you.’
“You know,” Goldie began, a small smile on her face, “if you want, I could get that autographed for you?”
For the second time today, Glory’s jaw tried to unhinge itself in order to strike the floor. It kinda hurt. She’d have to watch that…
“I’d love her autograph!” Glory exclaimed, happily. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, after all: When was she likely to ever have a chance like that again?
Goldie smoothly took Glory’s copy of Magic For Beginners, and said, “Okay,I’ll go get it signed. I’ll get it back to you after the test is over.”
Confused, Glory asked, “You’re leaving?
“I’ve seen whose showed up for the test,” Goldie said, as the last chair in the hallway was occupied. “I know these ponies, more or less: I’ve attended enough parties with my mommy to know them all by name. Half of them are only here because their parents are somepony special. The other half… well, I don’t expect anything surprising from any of them, but we’ll see. The only surprise today was you, and if there’s any justice in the world, you’ll be Luna’s student, and not any of them.”
Glory smiled, and said, “Thank you.”
Goldie giggled, then gave Glory a hug. “I’ll see you when the test is done.” With that, Goldie slipped from her chair, and walked out of the hallway.
Goldie sighed internally as her mommy, who had a lifetime’s worth of experience with unicorns, and was especially good at reading her daughter, gave that one look that mothers on every world, in every universe, perfect by the time that their first child is three. Yeah, that look, the one that’s the equivalent of saying their full name.
“You overreached again, didn’t you?” Galaxy asked, an eyebrow raised.
“I… wanted to show off to a new friend,” the young filly admitted as her mommy drew her a little bit away from the assembled parents in the room. “I didn’t do anything all that difficult, just a double teleport.”
“Golden Glow,” her mommy stated, her expression stern, “I’ve told you time and time again, you need to give your body some time to catch up with your talent. You may have the skill to cast high level magic, and the magical energy necessary to fuel it, but your horn is still growing, and it’s only barely able to handle spells like that. If you keep using magic above your level, you could crack your horn, or worse!”
This was not the first time that her mommy had voiced that concern, and not without good reason: Young unicorns with strong magical potential had a bad habit of trying to pushing themselves too hard, and until a unicorn’s horn has reached its full growth, it may not be up to whatever spell the young unicorn may be trying to cast. It is like trying to fire a cannonball through a cannon whose barrel wasn’t wide enough. If the difference was small, then while the cannonball may fire, it can damage the cannon on the way out. If the cannonball is much too large for the barrel… well, a cannon is a lot easier to replace and/or repair than a unicorn’s horn, so it was best not to push one’s self too far too soon.
“Sorry, mommy,” Goldie said, looking suitably ashamed of herself.
After a moment, her mommy nodded and said, “It’s alright, just try to avoid doing that again in the future.” After a moment, she smiled and said, “Your mother would be so proud of you.”
Right. It sometimes confused ponies when they heard stuff like that. Technically, Galaxy wasn’t Goldie’s mother, but her aunt. Still, mommy was the only mommy Goldie had ever known, so of course she was mommy.
Remembering why she’d come out here in the first place, Goldie said, “Oh, I need you to autograph something, mommy!” Holding up Morning Glory’s book, she added, “I made a new friend today, and she said this is her favorite book, so I told her I’d get you to autograph it.”
Galaxy chuckled, and said, “Well, if it’s for a friend of yours, not to mention a fan, I can hardly say no.” Pulling a quill and an inkwell from her purse, she asked, “What’s her name?”
“Morning Glory,” Golden Glow said, grinning.
Suddenly, Goldie’s mother went very still…
Glory watched the first applicant walk into the room where Princess Luna was waiting to administer the test, escorted by a guard. The young colt in question had his head held high, and seemed so full of himself that it seemed almost comical. He stepped into the room and out of sight. After a moment, there was a sound that Glory didn’t recognize (Having been born in Cloudsdale, where everything is clouds, she’d never had an opportunity to hear a wooden door be opened before). Within a minute afterwards, the youngster was marched out, an almost exaggerated expression of distress and confusion on his features.
“But I don’t understand, what did I do wrong?” he almost whined to the guard.
Glory was only five years old, and while certainly much brighter than most youngsters her age, she wasn’t quite jaded enough yet for this all to seem suspicious to her, but, once again, some instinct told her that something wasn’t quite right, and that she should pay attention to what was going on here.
Perhaps more importantly, she’d come to an immediate conclusion about the nature of the test: Whatever the test was, it was very easy to fail, given that the youngster had been in the room less than a minute. Maybe it was related in some way to that noise she’d heard before the youth was marched out…
Then in marched the second applicant, as proud and confident as the first. He stepped in, and after a moment, there was that noise again, and then a moment afterwards, the applicant was escorted out, his complaints almost identical to the first.
Glory looked around the room at the other applicants, and saw that not even one of them looked the slightest bit concerned about this display. This was no act: They weren’t putting on a brave face to keep from showing weakness to the other applicants, but rather they were all completely unconcerned about the fact that the first two to take the test had failed almost instantly. This wasn’t self-assurance like Goldie had, but rather total and absolute arrogance and overconfidence. The unicorns in this room all believed that they were the ones destined to be Luna’s student, so of course everypony else would fail, until it was their turn.
They all believed that they were the ones who deserved to be Luna’s student, in spite of not having done anything to actually deserve it yet…
Glory sighed, and settled in to watch the other applicants march in and out of the room. It was almost guaranteed now that every other applicant was going to fail. She resolved herself, however, to make sure not to repeat their mistake: There was no guarantee she would pass, but Glory was determined not to fail the same way everypony else was failing.
Two hours later…
After watching the final applicant ahead of her take what Glory had come to consider ‘The Walk Of Shame’, the young earth pony sighed as the guard looked, first at her, and then around the room, as if searching for other applicants who might, in fact, be ninjas and as such be difficult to see right away. Admittedly, there was always the possibility that there were, in fact, ninja ponies in the room: Equestria was just strange enough for that to happen, but it was unlikely that, if any ninjas were here in this room, they were here to take Luna’s test. After all, if somepony was already a ninja, why would somepony want to be a wizard too? Just being a ninja was certain to be a lot of work: Piling that on top of the work needed to become a wizard would just be absurd.
Still, as no prospective ninja-wizards stepped forward, the guard looked back to Glory. Glory, to her credit, didn’t say anything, but rather just gave the guard a look that said, ‘I know exactly what you’re thinking of asking, and if you do ask that question, then you will drop about twenty pegs in my estimation of your intelligence. So please, by all means, ask me if I’m in the right place, and if I know what this test is for. I’ve only been sitting here two hours, after all.’
When you’re angry and have had a pretty bad day, you can say a lot with just a look.
After a moment, the guard said, “Give me a moment while I check with the Princess?”
Glory nodded. She didn’t trust herself, in that moment, to say anything.
The guard walked into the room, and after a moment, walked out and said, “Come this way.”