Sparks Catch

by Tale Swapper

Chapter 1: Strike a Match

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Crystal Prep Academy had multiple laboratories scattered throughout its corridors and basements. While most of those spaces were intended for use by any student during routine science classes, some of the labs tucked away in hidden corners were intended for the best and brightest of the student population. Once "awarded" to one of the high-performers, no staff member, student, or outsider was to be permitted without the express permission of the principal herself.

Now, this setup would have raised the eyebrows of any taxpayer or alumni to the school- most of whom would likewise have strong words to that selfsame principal about the harsh competitive spirit she'd foisted on the academy. Sadly, the school's test scores and college acceptance rates had never been higher, so no one thought to investigate the school's unorthodox teaching methods. And more importantly, none would think to investigate the recently occupied "Private Exotic Energy Observation Lab".

Although the dismissal bell had sounded an hour past, one person still occupied this hidden lab. That person, one Twilight Sparkle, was pouring over her notes and figures, when she heard the clack of the door opening behind her. Turning, she came face-to-face with none other than Principal Cinch herself.

"Mrs. Cinch! I wasn't expecting you- I mean, you have every right to be here, and I'm grateful that you're here, and I was just wrapping up-"

"Ms. Sparkle." Cinch could be amiable if she really put her mind to it, and she almost pulled it off here. Almost. "Do not worry. I was just checking to see how our brightest student was doing on that project of hers." Walking past Twilight and inspecting the odd tackboard placed up behind her, she suddenly frowned. "Although- correct me if I'm wrong- I thought you were working on observing some new form of energy, correct?"

"Yes ma'am." Twilight said brightly. "I mean, the interactions with the testing material are abnormal on-"

"Then why-" Cinch cut her off, raising one manicured hail to tap a photograph attached to the board "-is there a picture of Canterlot High School right here?"

Twilight looked puzzled for a moment, then let out a quiet "oh" and shrank in on herself a bit. "Um- well, early last month, I caught several sustained bursts of the new energy from midtown. I wasn't able to pin down exactly where, though, so I set up several more detectors off campus. I just retrieved the data from those sensors a few days ago, and they confirmed my suspicions. Although not all the energy is coming from the school, most of the larger spikes are centered on Canterlot High's main building."

Cinch's face contorted with disgust for a bare millisecond before she smoothed it back out. "So- Canterlot high is experimenting with this new energy?"

Twilight paused. "Well- no. Probably not. There's none of the hallmarks of experimentation- it's too random. I mean, I sensed a few spikes during the last weeks of their classes, when they would all be studying for finals. And other spikes have occurred father afield. In fact-"

Whatever she was going to say was cut off by a insistent beeping from her desktop computer. Twilight jerked towards it, then glanced back at Cinch, who gave an affirming nod. With a grateful smile, Twilight dove to the computer, quickly turning off the alarm. "Oh- another spike!"

"Dash, this song is takin' way too long to perfect." Applejack leaned back over a chair, idly strumming her base guitar as she sat in repose. "Ah know Ah said we had time for a quick practice session, but we've got some work to do back on the farm before it gets dark."

"Come on, AJ! I promise this'll be the last rewrite!" Rainbow Dash sat hunched over a desk, writing madly in a small notebook. Torn out sheets of paper littered the ground around her, and considering how hard she was bearing down on the paper, she was in danger of breaking her third pencil of the afternoon. "If I can just make this verse a little punchier, we'll rock the house at our next concert!"

Rarity leaned over, and regraded the notebook with curiosity. "Well, at least you've given Fluttershy and I proper parts this time. That last song had me as mere background."

"Hey, it's kinda hard to add a tambourine to a rock piece. I'm just glad Fluttershy picked up another instrument- works way better with the slower portions."

"Angel Bunny is much happier about he flute." Fluttershy gripped the metal instrument in both hands. "He says it doesn't hurt his ears as much as the clatter does."

Pinkie looked up from where she'd been tapping her drumsticks on the drum, making a M&M bounce. "Wait- since when can Angel talk?"

As Fluttershy stammered an explanation to her slip of the tongue, the last member of the Rainbooms hunched over her guitar, idly picking out a melody on the strings. Sunset Shimmer looked much better than she had in months- morning runs with Rainbow Dash and work with Applejack having given some tone to her arms, and a proper diet had filled out her formerly scrawny ribs. She would look the picture of health were it not for the slight bags under her eyes and the occasional wince as she sat alone.

Applejack, noting her sister's discomfort, disengaged from Rainbow Dash's (hopefully) final rewrite of their newest song and came to stand beside her. "Headaches again, sugarcube?"

"Yeah." Sunset stopped picking at her guitar strings and instead began to knead her forehead. "I don't know what's causing them, either. Kept me up late last night."

"I'm sorry to hear that, darling." Sunset looked up to see looks of concern from both Fluttershy and Rarity. Rarity continued "Is thee anything I can do? I suppose I might have some aspirin in my backpack, but I don't think I carry them around anymore."

Sunset shook her head, even as Pinkie finally bounced the chocolate off her drums and into her waiting mouth. "I don't think an aspirin would help this. It's- it's like there's something in my head, trying to get out. Not a normal headache."

Rainbow Dash put down her pencil, then spoke up. "Okay, yeah. No more practice today, then." Everyone turned to look at the normally determined athlete. Rainbow shrugged. "I'm not gonna ask her to play with a headache. That's stupid. Hell, she had a headache the last three times we played- maybe the noise is making it worse."

Sunset's face softened. "Thanks for that, Dash, but I think we can continue. Let me just get a drink of water," she said, motioning to the bottle behind her, then turning back to the group. "And we can keep going. I don't think the music is-" She blinked twice. The cessation of pain- and the surge of something familiar deep inside her- made her smile. "Hey, the headache's gone!"

Everyone else in the room stared at Sunset- or rather, she realized, stared past her. Blinking twice, Sunset was about to ask what was wrong when she felt something tap her shoulder. Looking behind her, she found her water bottle held in a red glow, floating a few feet above the ground. Speechless, she raised her hand to take the bottle, only to discover the same glow around her hand.

Many people, upon realization that they are succeeding in a task they thought extremely difficult, have a moment of giddiness which wrecks their concentration. Rookie surfers stop focusing for the briefest moments and wipe out, novice pianists find themselves missing notes in the midst of otherwise perfect performances, and gamers often lose their place as they complete impossibly challenging platformers. While all these things can lead to moderate failures, they're rarely dangerous missteps. After all, for most dangerous tasks, training is done in a safe environment, where possible failures are mitigated.

Equestrian mages have something similar. Young unicorns often have magical surges as they're halfway through their first created spells. Pegasus children will sometimes lock up for a brief moment as they learn to fly. Even earth ponies suffer from occasional misfires of magic due to youthful exuberance and shock, which have been responsible for the creation of timberwolves (Princess Luna, age 7), poison joke (Princess Celestia, age 9), and the Sap Monster of last Tuesday (Apple Bloom, age 12). Like human missteps, these are usually handled by nearby teachers- or, in the case of the Sap Monster, a politely irate Fluttershy and frantic Twilight Sparkle who were visiting Applejack for a picnic.

For Sunset Shimmer, her realization invoked similar effects- with slightly more dynamic results, as there was no one there to help contain her sudden flare of magic.

Sunset's yelp of surprise coincided with a massive burst of red light, quickly resolving itself into an aura of red flames surrounding her hands. Far more disconcertingly, the flames quickly reached outward, quickly brushing over objects scattered across the room. Though the flames didn't set anything alight, any object stuck by the swirling magical morass
was quickly dragged into the air, coming to spin around Sunset even as the glow of the red flames slowly grew in intensity.

Applejack staggered backwards as a loose drum missed her head by a few spare inches. Fluttershy quickly ducked under a desk- which would have been a prudent decision, save for the fact that seconds later, the desk itself rose into the air, depriving her of cover. Pinkie and Rainbow caught a fainting Rarity, gently lowering her towards the floor- until Sunset's magic grabbed her from their grasp, sending her to orbit their friend.

At first, Sunset merely shrieked helplessly, but her mind quickly reasserted itself. Remembering her old training, she tried to focus on her horn- only to belatedly remember that it wasn't there. Instead, she shifted her focus to her hands, and a few seconds later, managed to cut the flow of outward magic.

As objects crashed to the floor (Rarity coming down atop a dazed Applejack), Sunset discovered that although her hands were no longer projecting the force she'd harnessed, they were still burning with magic- and that burning was increasing with intensity. As seconds passed, the dull red flames surrounding each hand slowly grew in brightness, shifting through red to orange and into a brilliant gold.

Sunset gritted her teeth. She could tell she'd be unable to hold her magic much longer. In her desperation, she recalled a trick Celestia had taught her to use after her last magic surge- and dumped the entirety of her magic back into the magical field.

Moments later, she remembered that this world had no magical field.

There was a loud sound akin to the peal of a bell, meshed with the blast of a subwoofer. The energy gathered in Sunset's hands burst outward, reverberating through the room- and washing through the other five teens scattered across it. Some of the energy grounded out in each of the girls knocking each to the floor, while the rest slowly dispersed through the walls of the music room. Soon, nothing was left of the magical surge but a massive mess.

And six distinct glows surrounding each of the six girls.

Twilight Sparkle's jaw dropped. While initially the surge had seemed much like the ones which had occurred before, this one had grown to exponentially greater heights than any she'd observed over the last few months. Many of the instruments which had not been calibrated to sense the new energy source had detected something- even if, for most of them, there was no frame of reference for what they'd sensed.

Principal Cinch watched the data scrawl across the monitor in front of her. "I assume that your equipment detected another one of those spikes, Ms. Sparkle?"

Twilight nodded. Cinch continued, "What has you so shocked, Ms. Sparkle? And was this- particular event centered on Canterlot High?"

Twilight took a few seconds to respond. "Yes, ma'am to the second. And as to the first-" she looked at her readouts. "-this has been orders of magnitude greater than any surge I'd caught before."

"And what does that mean, Ms. Sparkle?"

Twilight glanced up at her principal. "I don't know. But I intend to find out."

Author's Notes:

Yes, the flute is a heavy metal instrument. If you disagree, please listen to "Thick as a Brick" all the way through. (I suggest using it as background music for an hour.)

In other news, interquel one! I'm planning on writing this story and another concurrently, and will be updating sporadically. Seriously- real life is picking up for me- I'll write when I have the time, but I would advise you not to expect the daily updates Myriad thoughts received.

Next Chapter: Igniting Tinder Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours, 29 Minutes
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