by Mysterious Stranger

Chapter 1: Chapter 1: Observational Study

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Twilight Sparkle's eyes felt like they were on fire. Performing scientific experiments while sleep-deprived was a combination begging for disaster, and disaster had obliged. Twilight stomped on the broken shards of glass vials, but the pain caused by her reckless staggering was nothing compared to the flaming sensation in her eyes.

What the experiment was she could no longer recall; her agony made everything else irrelevant. Instead of her study, she could only see bright and colorful lights, exploding in her vision like rainbow firecrackers. Distantly she heard a voice, frantically speaking words she didn't understand. Perhaps if the lights weren't so bright and her eyes didn't hurt so much, she would have a chance of comprehending the speaker.

Slowly yet miserably, the pain in her eyes subsided to a dull ache, but the sea of colors remained the same. Finally, she identified the speaker.

"Twilight! Please, answer me! What happened?" Spike said.

Twilight blinked rapidly, but the colors stayed in her vision. They were no longer exploding, but were instead flowing about and glowing brightly.

"I did something wrong," Twilight said with a wince. "I... I think I've blinded myself. Sort of."

"Can you see anything at all?" Spike said. "How many claws am I holding up?"

Twilight turned her head towards the sound of Spike's voice. But before she could guess or start to explain anything, the swirling colors slowed, conforming into the shapes of things in her study. Spike was visible before her, his body a canvas for the colors along with everything else. His arm was stretched out towards Twilight, but she was still unable to answer his question.

"Give me a moment," Twilight said. "I think my vision is getting better."

Gradually the colors stopped moving completely, and Twilight was able to see that purple was the most prominent among them. A large amount of green was concentrated on Spike's face. Although his arms were not yet their usual purple, Twilight was now able to see how many claws he was holding up.

"Two. You're holding up two claws," Twilight said. "But they're really colorful, along with everything else in the room."

"Not from where I'm standing," Spike replied. "Are you all right now?"

The colors slowly faded to reveal the world as Twilight normally saw it. Spike was watching her anxiously. A microscope was on her desk with the slide still on it. Her books, notes, and vials were on the floor. Tentatively Twilight stepped over the jagged shards and reached out with her magic to retrieve a broom from the other side of the room.

"I'm all right," she said as she began to sweep. "I was trying to learn a new spell and it backfired on me. It did something to my vision, made me see some strange mishmash of colors."

"W-what was it supposed to do?" Spike inquired.

"Basically, grant me the ability to see things at the microscopic level. I was using this ordinary microscope to see if it showed me the same things as the spell," Twilight said. "I'm not sure why I got the colors instead." She tilted her head to the side as a thought occurred to her. "I wonder if the colors would reappear if I cast the spell on the room instead of myself?"

"At two in the morning, I can't really say that I care," Spike said with a yawn as he rubbed his eyes. "If you're fine, I'm going back to sleep."

Spike departed from the room as Twilight levitated her books and notes back up onto her desk. Part of her wanted to go to bed herself, but the other part of her knew she wouldn't be able to sleep if her curiosity was piqued. She closed her eyes as she tried to recall the exact thoughts that had triggered the wayward spell.

Her horn flashed; a beam of light lit up the floor to create a glowing white disc, rapidly expanding and covering the room with a multitude of colors.

Twilight gave a short squeal at her success. Instinctively she squinted to protect her eyes, but it proved to be unnecessary. With the spell working on the study room itself, it did her no harm. She levitated her quill and notebook to take notes.

They promptly turned purple. The exact same shade of purple as the rest of the items on her desk.

Twilight glanced around. Not every surface in the room was colored. The ceiling was completely normal, and the floor was too except for a few splotches of green and light blue. Intrigued, probing, she reached out with her magic to touch the ceiling. The part directly affected by her mental touch blossomed into purple.

"No way," Twilight whispered in awe as repeated the trial on the ceiling again, creating a second purple smudge.

Twilight giggled as she drew an arc under the two smudges, creating a smiley face. Next came a heart, followed by another two hearts before signing her name.

"Spike!" Twilight called out. "You need to come see this!"

"Do I have to?" came Spike’s groan from the upstairs bedroom.

"Yes! Yes you do—it's the discovery of a lifetime!"

After a few moments Spike trudged back in, rubbing his eyes with one arm. Twilight couldn't help but notice that the lower half of his face turned green as he entered the study room. Spike glanced around the mostly purple room.

"What, did you discover how to paint with light?" he said.

"I'm not entirely sure what I've discovered," Twilight admitted.

"You said it was ‘the discovery of a lifetime’." Spike folded his arms.

"It still could be!" Twilight trotted on the spot. "When I recast the spell on the room instead of myself, all these colors showed up. And I discovered that everything I touch with magic turns purple."

"I see a few other colors in here too," Spike said. "There's green and blue on the floor."

"Those were already there. At least, they appeared after I cast the spell."

"So any time you or someone else uses magic, it leaves behind a mark?"

"It can't be that," Twilight said, shaking her head. "I've never seen anything about that in any magic textbook I've ever read. Magic vanishes completely after being cast. The only thing it adds to the physical plane besides the alteration of the target is light, but that disappears after the spell is complete too. It's scientific fact."

"Well, maybe all those textbooks are wrong," Spike suggested. "Maybe they all assumed magic was traceless because they couldn't see it without the spell you just came up with. It’d be like before molecules and atoms were first discovered, right?"

Twilight looked up at her doodles on the ceiling. "Could I… really have discovered something that no one else ever has before? Something that makes every textbook on magic I've ever read inaccurate? I… I just don’t know, Spike. Magic has existed since the beginning of time—it just doesn't seem feasible."

"Suppose someone who had never read any of those books came in here and saw you smearing everything with magic," Spike said. "What would it look like to them?"

"It would look like magic leaves a mark," Twilight conceded. "But if that's the case, it means that everyone has the wrong idea on how magic works. I’d have to write a book—publish a proper thesis with trials and results—to make them see the truth."

"So what's stopping you?"

"Well… I-I've… never written a book before," Twilight stuttered. "How should I even begin?"

"You’ve written essays before, right?" Spike said.

Twilight nodded. "Of course."

"Then just do that, but make it longer."

Twilight blinked twice, taken aback by how simple Spike made the idea sound. She grinned as her mental gears began to turn.

"I'll need sources, data, witnesses to back this up," she said thoughtfully as she began to pace around the study room. "Lots of evidence—the scientific community will reject my ideas unless I make a really strong argument. Oh, but I need to study this more first! I need to know what I'm talking about!"

Twilight snatched up a piece of glass with magic, turning it purple. Turning back to her desk, she set the shard beneath the microscope.

“Great.” Spike yawned again. “I'm going back to bed—again. Have fun with that.”

"I honestly can't comprehend how you could sleep at a time like this," Twilight said as she adjusted her microscope.

"Yeah, well, if you ever discover an infinite source of energy or something in the middle of the night, I still want you to wait until morning to tell me about it all right?"

Twilight smiled and rolled her eyes. "Have it your way, Spike."

"I’m serious. The only thing worth waking me up for is threat of injury or death," Spike said adamantly.

"All right, all right, I get the message!" Twilight said with mock exasperation. "You can go back to bed now."

"Oh I will, just try not to stay up all night over this, all right?" Spike requested.

Twilight scoffed. "I'm an adult, Spike. I can take care of myself."

"Oh please, you wouldn't last a week without me. You'd starve to death while reading a book."

"Did you miss the part where I said you could go back to bed?" Twilight hinted.

Spike threw up his claws in a gesture of surrender and backed out of the room. His footsteps faded as the door slammed behind him.

Still smiling to herself, Twilight turned her attention back to her microscope. The hours flew by as she studied. A note here, a simple experiment there. Eventually, her vision began to blur, so she pulled her head away from the microscope and closed her eyes.

Twilight awoke to bright sunlight streaming in through the window above her desk, and an irritating soreness in her neck and back. Wearily she leaned back in her chair to relieve the soreness as she skimmed over her notes.

"I knew you wouldn’t make it to bed," Spike said as he walked into the room with a dustpan. "I really hope you weren't up all night."

Twilight rubbed the back of her neck, already regretting her decision. "No, I eventually fell asleep, but not before I made some progress with this."

"Such as?" Spike prompted as he began sweeping up the pieces of glass from the night before.

"I think I've determined some of the properties of what I saw last night," Twilight answered. "Spike, those lights we saw might actually be particles that exist in two different planes."


"It's just a theory, but I'm fairly sure that the lights were coming from particles that somehow exist in both the physical plane and the magical plane," Twilight clarified, her voice rising with excitement. "Even with a microscope they're completely invisible. However, the spell I invented causes them to glow, so I can see where they are, even if I can never see the particles themselves."

"So why are there different colors?" Spike said.

"That I don't know. Like I said, it's just a theory. I still need to do a lot more research before I can even think about starting that book. I should probably get back to it right now."

"Twilight, I realize you're excited about this, but you really need to slow down," Spike said. "If you keep going like this you're going to make yourself sick. If you're not sleeping enough, will you at least pause long enough to eat something?"

As if agreeing with Spike's plea, Twilight's stomach rumbled.

"I suppose it wouldn't set me too far behind to get a quick breakfast," Twilight said sheepishly.

"You say that as if there's some sort of deadline. You literally just discovered this last night," Spike said.

"You're right, Spike," Twilight admitted. "I'm putting way too much pressure on myself again, aren't I?"

"To be fair, it sounds like the discovery of a lifetime. So a little relapse is understandable," Spike replied.

Twilight smiled and got up from her chair, only to wince as her spine protested. Most assuredly, no scientific breakthrough was worth this misery if it could be helped.

She made her way through the library’s upper levels before reaching the kitchen. Something with no preparation required would be ideal so she could back to her research as soon as possible.

Twilight opened the fridge and glanced inside. "Spike?" she called out. "Did you eat the last apple?"

"I had it with my lunch, like, an hour ago!" Spike called back.

Twilight scowled at the open fridge. Although it wasn't lacking in food, there wasn't anything else that could eaten without preparation. A quick examination of the freezer and the pantry yielded the same results.

She wondered if it would be quicker to just make something or run out and buy more apples from the market. She bounced between the two ideas in her head before settling on the latter. Besides, if Applejack was running the stand, Twilight would get the chance to say hello.

Twilight went to retrieve her saddlebags and some bits from her bedroom before quickly trotting down the stairs. "I'm running out to buy some apples!" she announced to Spike as she went out the front door.

Without even taking the time to see if Spike had heard her, Twilight briskly galloped down the road towards the Ponyville market. Despite herself, a guilty grin appeared on Twilight's face when she noticed how high up in the cloudless sky the sun was. She really had woken up in the middle of the afternoon. Even compared to her days when she was really bad at maintaining healthy sleeping patterns, this was extraordinarily bad.

Twilight promised herself it would never happen again as the dirt road widened into the crowded and colorful hustle bustle of the Ponyville market. As was usual for that time of day, the market was in a shopping frenzy: vendors proclaimed their wares to passersby while customers either silently paid for their purchases or haggled loudly to be heard over the din. Twilight weaved her way through the crowd until she found Applejack behind her stand.

"Afternoon, Twilight!" Applejack said. "Here to buy some apples?"

"Yes, and also to say hello," Twilight replied. "Seven bits for a large bag, right?"

Applejack's friendly grin fell away instantaneously. "Nine bits."

Twilight balked at Applejack's sudden shift in demeanor. "Oh. Uh, I'm sorry, I honestly thought your going price was seven," she said. "Did you not have as good a harvest this year?"

"Actually, we did even better than last year's harvest," Applejack said bitterly. "We could have gotten by with six bits per bag if we'd wanted."

"Then why the price rise?" Twilight said. "You're not, um, mad at me are you?"

"What? No, no, I ain't mad at you all, Twilight," Applejack said quickly. "We've just had to raise the prices for everypony 'cause we got robbed."

"Robbed?" Twilight repeated.

"Shoot, no, that's not the word. We were... ah, burglarized," Applejack said. "I went out to harvest the apples this mornin’ but a lot of ’em were already gone."

"Are you sure Big McIntosh didn't already harvest them?"

"He said he hadn't. I even asked little Apple Bloom and Granny Smith. We got to pokin' around and we saw that some of the buckets we used to collect the apples were gone too.”

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry to hear that," Twilight said. She placed a hoof on Applejack’s shoulder.

"You and me both," Applejack said with a sigh. "Just wish I had some way to find the rascal so I could give ’em a piece of my mind."

Righteous anger swelled up in Twilight at whoever had caused harm to Applejack's business. It was a frustrating thing to know that someone out there was responsible, and there was no way to give the Apples justice. Even the Elements of Harmony, for all their power, couldn’t be used against an enemy whose identity was unknown.


The idea struck Twilight so hard she stiffened. Was it possible that her new discovery could help? Theoretically, a unicorn could have been the culprit, magicking the apples out of the trees without the noise caused by bucking them. If that was the case, could the unicorn by traced by her or his magic? Or, at the very least, could the apples be traced?

Twilight knew her odds were slim. Her new science was still in the infantile stage, after all. But what better way to work out its kinks than to start applying it? A grin crept onto her face as plans and theories began to form in her mind.

"You know what, Applejack? I think I just might be able to grant that wish."

Next Chapter: Chapter 2: Hypothesis Testing Estimated time remaining: 1 Hour, 28 Minutes
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