Modern Vortexology

by latte89

Chapter 1: Modern Vortexology


Come to Canterlot as soon as you can, alone. Please consider this an emergency and act in due haste. I will be waiting.

Your friend,


Twilight tucked the note into her saddlebags as she cantered up to a massive golden door emblazoned with Celestia's cutie mark and flanked by two royal guards. The left guard snapped a salute while his partner opened the door.

"Your highness," the guard said.

Twilight checked behind her to see who – ah. Right. The "highness" in question belonged to her.

The guards, thankfully, either did not notice or were excellent actors. Probably the latter. She resisted the urge to flutter her wings, gathered what was left of her tattered dignity and nodded. "Thank you, Steel Wing."

A pleasant wave of heat washed over her, warming the chill from her fur as she trotted inside. The door shut behind her.

Princess Celestia's study remained true to the countless warm memories Twilight had long held dear. A large hearth rug surrounded with pillows dominated the room, upon which Twilight had dove into many a book while the Princess had pored over paperwork. Chalk-written equations filled a mobile blackboard – the same board Twilight had learned the Starswirlian Fundamentals upon. The fire crackled in the fireplace, beating back the night's chill and throwing shadows over the hundreds of knickknacks Celestia had accumulated over the years.

An ornate weapon stand covered in glowing runes loomed in the corner, the only object Twilight didn’t recognize. On one side, Celestia's legendary longsword gleamed. The other side was bare, leaving a dusty outline where – Twilight guessed – Luna's infamous battle axe had resided. Twilight swallowed.

Celestia was leaning over her desk, engrossed in a pile of dusty scrolls and parchments that looked as though they hadn't seen the light of day in centuries. She was so absorbed that she failed to notice Twilight’s entrance. That, fortunately, was somewhat within norms. What dropped Twilight’s jaw was the heavy golden armor Celestia had donned. Thick plates embossed with the royal sun sigil protected her vital areas, supplemented with chainmail for flexibility. An ornate war helm hampered her billowing hair.

"Princess," Twilight said, trying to cover up her breathlessness from her scramble to pack and teleport as quickly as possible. Also, imminent doom. "What's going on?"

"Twilight!" A flash of annoyance crossed Celestia’s features for less than a second, but Twilight knew her well enough to catch it and winced. Celestia must've told her a dozen times not to call her Princess anymore. It was a mark of the seriousness of the situation when Celestia didn’t comment on it. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. Luna wanted to be here, but time is of the essence. She’s mustering our troops as we speak.”

Twilight nodded, gulping. This was big. Changelings? Windigos? A new menace? “If there’s a threat to Equestria, shouldn’t I have brought the other Elements?”

“The Elements can’t help us here, Twilight. But I’m hoping you can. In one way or… or another.” Her lips pressed into a thin, grim line. “I’m afraid I have a lot of information to give you and not a lot of time."

Twilight tossed her saddlebags to the ground and extracted a scroll and quill – a hoof stopped her.

"No record should be made of this meeting. The matter we're about to discuss, it's... sensitive. Dangerous even, if it were to fall into the wrong hooves."

"Alright, Cel – er –," she tried to force out the blasphemous name, failed, then threw in the towel. Get it together, Twilight. This is big league. Try not to mess this up. She straightened her back, ears pointed forward. "Just tell me what I need to do."

Celestia levitated her legendary blade from its resting place. She turned it over, studying the nicks along its edge, and her face hardened. “I won’t mince words. This is going to be hard… but you have a right to know. Especially as the Princess of Friendship.”

Twilight’s ears pinned back.

“Tell me, Twilight, have you ever heard the legend of... the Vortex?” Celestia grimaced as though the mere utterance of the word pained her.

"The Vaxillian Fire Vortex? On the peak of Mount Silverhoof?"

Celestia’s eyebrows shot up. “I – yes. The same. How much do you know about it?"

"Well..." Twilight bit her lip, struggling to recall everything she'd read about the Vortex. "It's the focal point of the world’s harmonic energy. The Elements of Harmony, the magic of friendship, even Discord's powers, in a backwards sort of way, connect to the Vortex. The love and friendship of everyone, everywhere, all feed the flames so it never stops burning. The more friendship, the brighter it burns.”

Celestia stilled. Her sword, which she had been twirling as she paced, had frozen mid rotation.

Panic flashed hot and carried with it the age-old terror of failing a test Twilight hadn’t been warned of.

She barreled on, scouring the dregs of her memory for something, anything. “And every millennium or so, give or take a few decades, it releases built up dark energy. If it's not properly contained, the wave of dark energy can warp life as we know it. Didn't most of the dangerous species in the Everfree forest originate from Vortexian waves? I know manticores, timberwolves, and cockatrices, for sure. Also, it affects compasses? I think? I'm sorry, Princess, I wish I could remember more, I've just been pretty focused on alchemy lately and – well, anyway. That's all I know."

Twilight's gaze dragged to the floor, her wings – traitorous things that they were – fidgeting as she mentally bludgeoned herself with a hoofball bat. How could the Princess of Friendship not be a subject matter expert on the wellsource of the magic of friendship? Had the Princess summoned Twilight in a crisis, assuming her to be the premiere authority? She was sure that if she were to question Celestia about the sun, or Luna about the moon, they could fill entire libraries with their expertise.

This. This was why she simply couldn't put herself on the same level as a real Princess.

Princess Celestia was annoyed that Twilight couldn't call her by her first name? In Twilight's opinion, Celestia should count herself lucky that Twilight hadn't flung herself to the floor in prostration the second that door had swung open. She wouldn’t believe –

"You... know?" Celestia said. Her head tilted as she scrutinized Twilight from head to hoof, as though Twilight had just declared herself Princess of Daffodil Sandwiches. “But… how?”

"Uh... books?"

Celestia squinted at her.

Twilight quailed. "And uh, peer reviewed studies? It was one of the first topics I researched when you tasked me with studying the magic of friendship. I don't understand. Is there some sort of dark secret regarding the Vortex? What exactly is going on?"

Celestia cleared her throat. "Ahem. Not... that is, you seem to have the gist of it." She coughed into her hoof, then chuckled. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that my former faithful student would have scoured the most obscure and ancient tomes searching for forgotten knowledge."

Twilight shifted. She had not, in fact, scoured ancient tomes, as ancient tomes were not, as a rule, known for their strict adherence to the scientific method. Was she supposed to have? "We had to make dioramas of it in magic kindergarten," she said at the lowest possible volume. She had gotten an A.

“I’m impressed,” Celestia said, seeming not to have heard Twilight’s last comment. “This is an unexpected blessing. Perhaps there is yet hope for Equestria.”

Celestia tapped her desk with an armor-shod hoof, resulting in a thud that shook the dust from the scrolls. “I’ve been researching, Twilight, and what I discovered doesn’t bode well. I expect the harmonic tides are roiling as we speak. By my calculations, dark energy will spew across the land in less than a fortnight.” She looked away. “Luna and I have experienced the effects of the Vortex in the past, suffered under the spawn it creates. Yet I’ve been so distracted since Luna’s return, with all that has happened, the Vortex hadn’t even crossed my mind. I became… complacent. We should have had more time. Twilight… I’m so sorry.”

She crossed the room to stare out the lone window. Moonlight glinted off her golden armor. “I need your help, Twilight, as you’ve helped me time and time again. We need to prevent the Vortex from unleashing its dark energy. We have two weeks. Maybe less. And barring that… In the worst case scenario, we shall face what the Vortex dishes out. Together.”

"What?!" Twilight summoned her top five go-to books on the Vaxillian Vortex, flipping them all open simultaneously. As an afterthought, she also summoned her diorama. "The Vortex, about to produce another harmonic rupture? And so soon after the last one? There's nothing I've seen in my studies to indicate it could re-occur this fast!"

"Twilight," Celestia said with the aura of a gentle, albeit heavily armed, schoolteacher, "the last rupture was over a thousand years ago. Everything I know about the Vortex indicates that it is very much due for a harmonic event of catastrophic proportions."

Twilight paused while comparing notes from Vaxillian Numerology and You with a reference page from The Cortex of Your Vortex: A Visual Guide. "Princess... the last one was almost three years ago. Don't you remember?"

“No.” Celestia shook her armored head. "I – no. That's not possible." She tugged forth the equation-ridden blackboard. “My formulae have accurately predicted the last two vortex events. What you’re saying – that shouldn’t be possible. Why isn’t the world consumed by dark magic? It can’t have occurred and escaped my notice, or Luna’s. I would sense it.”

Twilight frowned at the blackboard, running the numbers in her head, then consulted the equations in the books levitating beside her. "Well, the Equestrian Society of Vortexologists dispersed the dark magic with hydrostatic autocleansers, didn't they?" she said, turning the pages of The Magical Math of Friendship. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Celestia making a series of facial expressions that Twilight couldn't interpret and therefore pretended that she didn't see.

There was something odd about Celestia’s numbers that she couldn't put her hoof on. She had followed all the proper equations – in fact, the equations in these modern textbooks may have originated from Celestia herself, if she thought about it – but something wasn't adding up. "Oh! I see. You didn't apply the Friendship Locality Index."

"The Friendship – what?" Celestia’s brow furrowed as she leaned over Twilight's shoulder. Her eyes darted between the blackboard and the multiple open textbooks.

"Well," Twilight tapped her hoof on her chin, "I'm betting no one lived on top of Mount Silverhoof thousands of years ago, what with the giant fiery Vortex and lack of suitable farmland, did they?"

"...No," Celestia said.

"But now the headquarters for the ESV is there, right? And then there's the Museum of Vortexology, and all the novelty shops, and all the workers' families. A lot of friendship near a harmonic epicenter, well, heh, the effects go without saying."

Celestia seized the nearest floating book, levitating a pair of bifocals onto the bridge of her snout. She flipped a page, then the next and the next. She consulted the blackboard, then went back to the book. Her eyes drilled into the text, which was accompanied by a detailed diagram and a helpful “Fun Facts for Foals!” feature box.

They looked at each other.

Twilight looked pointedly in another direction.

"We appear to have been saved," Celestia said. "By the brave ponies of the, ah --"

"Equestrian Society of Vortexologists," Twilight said.

“And… no enemies of Equestria have attempted to quench its flames? To end all harmony on the planet, forever?”

“Scientifically proven to be impossible.” Twilight turned the page to the appropriate diagram for her.

"Right. In that case." Celestia cleared her throat. "Twilight, please remind me to make sure they all receive the proper awards for their services to Equestria."

Twilight opened her mouth, thought the better of it, and nodded.

Celestia removed her gleaming war helm, allowing her colorful hair to fall free. “I suppose I should go send a messenger to Luna.” She levitated her sword across the room, setting it with a thunk onto the stand. Her armor clanked as she traipsed to the door.

Twilight stared at her hooves as Celestia exchanged words with the guard, mentally creating a pros and cons list to whether she should teleport away and never bring up this subject again.

Celestia traipsed back.

Twilight searched for words to make this have never happened. She came up empty.

Celestia broke the silence with a chuckle. "I feel rather silly."

"Ha, yeah. Those are horseshoes I'm extremely familiar with.” Twilight rubbed the back of her head, ruffling her mane in precisely the way Rarity had told her not to. “Still glad there's no world-ending crisis, though. For once."

"Oh, I agree with that, rest assured. And now the royal desk can stop looking like an archaeologist left their trash all over it."

Twilight teleported her literature back to the library in Ponyville, except her copy of Modern Vortexology, which she slipped onto the mantle where it would be visible. She would fill out a library card for Celestia later. Rules were rules, after all.

Celestia busied herself with organizing the scrolls on her desk – a little too busily to be believable. Twilight chewed her lip, debating whether to open her big mouth or not. "You know, I'm kind of glad this happened?"

Celestia’s muzzle scrunched as she tucked the last of the scrolls into a chest. "How so?"

Her cheeks reddened. "Well, it was sort of nice, seeing you so..." She scuffed her hoof, searching for the word. "Fallible. Not in a bad way! I mean –"

"I know what you mean. That's... that's good, Twilight. I am more than willing to sacrifice my pride in the interests of friendship." Celestia barked a laugh that lacked true humor. "Especially our friendship."

Twilight drew circles on the carpet. "So..."

"Don't ask," Celestia said with a laugh that sounded more genuine.

"Sorry." Twilight scooped up her saddlebags and slid them over her head.

"Oh alright, ask me."

Twilight took a deep breath. "So... alright. Okay, how do you miss an entire field of science? I mean, they have a few royal grants, don't they? At some point you must've signed something –"

"No, I take it back," she said with a hurried wave. "Permission to ask questions is revoked."

Twilight huffed, struggling to hide a grin as she pretended not to notice the pink dusting Celestia’s cheeks.

She hesitated at the door, allowing herself one last moment to appreciate the room. Memories of a fillyhood long gone washed over her. It was hard to believe that Twilight's life had changed so drastically, and yet Celestia's study had remained unaltered. She imagined Celestia in her study alone, surrounded by her hundreds of knickknacks.

Celestia leaned in to adjust the straps on Twilight's saddlebags, even though Twilight had already tightened them. "You should come by the palace more often. Luna… she’s always going on about the adventures you two have had together.” Celestia focused on the straps, avoiding her gaze. “She misses you."

Guilt panged. Now that Twilight thought about it, it had been a while since she’d last spent quality time with Luna. She promised herself that she would fix it. "I will."

Celestia hugged Twilight with her wing, giving her a nuzzle. "Thank you for saving the day yet again, Twilight Sparkle."

Twilight shrugged, feeling her cheeks flush. "Glad I could help, Celestia."

At those words Celestia straightened and, for reasons unfathomable, smiled wide. Twilight blinked. It was a happy sort of smile, and it wasn't until that moment that Twilight realized she had seen Celestia smile politely, or patiently, or ruefully, or even mischievously, but never quite like this. Just happy. And young, somehow.

Twilight mentally ran through how a polite glad I could help could have possibly caused such a transformation, then settled on the notion that Celestia was simply an enigma.

Celestia followed her out the door, sending her into the hall with one final, inexplicable nuzzle. As Twilight concentrated on the spell that would teleport her to Ponyville, she almost missed the nigh inaudible murmur.

"Goodnight, Twilight."

"Night, Celestia," she said, and teleported.

Atop the icy peak of Mount Silverhoof, the Vortex burned brighter.

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