A/N: Since I can't seem to find a good place to bring it up in the story, I'll inform you here that the Carousel Boutique, which was demolished in my previous story, was rebuilt in the time between the end of that story and the start of this one thanks to the donation of time, money, and materials from most of Ponyville with a little financial help from Princess Celestia to cover any shortfalls.
Canterlot was a busy city, with ponies always trotting hither and thither heading to appointments, browsing the many stores with their high-class wares, delivering goods from one place to another, and nodding amiably to the guards who patrolled the streets. The sun shone down, filtered gently by the clouds the weather pegasi were constantly rotating through the area. The great castle of the Princesses, Celestia and Luna, glimmered in the light, a landmark of peace and harmony to all who gazed upon it. The courtiers, staff, and Celestia herself went about their daily tasks inside the castle, blissfully unaware of what was occurring in a large chamber deep in the dimly lit lower levels of the castle. There were two ponies that did know what was happening, and were already on their way to do something about it.
They were almost a matching set these two, both of golden yellow coats and brown manes and tails with cutie marks shaped like complementary halves of a blue fireball. The differences were that one was a male unicorn and the other a female pegasus. Many called them the Impossible Twins, since they were out-worlders, truly brother and sister yet made to inhabit the bodies of two distinct pony breeds when they'd been brought to Equestria. They moved quietly down the hallway, ears open for unusual sounds. Pausing by a door, the unicorn Soul Mage leaned his ear against it and listened. After a few seconds he nodded to Gold Heart, who landed next to him as he gripped the door handle with his magic. It was time to make their move, and to try out a new name for their team. Soul flung the door open and the two ponies charged inside, stopping a few steps inside as Heart took to the air again while Soul wrapped a tendril of his unique ethereal blue magic energy around her. The pair of them were quickly covered in ethereal blue fire as they shouted, "Soul Foals unite!"
Facing them with surprised looks was another pair of ponies- a male unicorn with an ash-grey coat and a mane and tail patterned to look like fire and a brown female earth pony wearing goggles, a protective coat, and holding a screwdriver in her mouth. Next to the earth pony was a machine as tall as one and half ponies, studded with gemstones, and topped by three large diamonds. "So," the unicorn said, "you found us. Good job getting this far, but this is the end."
"Yes it is," Soul said, "the end of your plotting… uh…"
"Smoldermo," the unicorn offered helpfully.
"Smoldermo…" Soul said, picking up steam again, "so, we'll give you this one chance to surrender."
"I think not," Smoldermo said, "Turn it on Gale, let's see how they handle it."
"Aye aye," the earth pony said, pressing a button on the machine. Whirring and electrical sounds came from the machine and the gemstones began blinking until the three diamonds lit up the entire room. Smoldermo laughed as the golden ponies backed up half a step.
"Impressive light show," Heart said, putting on a brave face.
"Oh, it's more than that," Smoldermo said as his horn began to glow, "as you're about to find out." He reared up and two bolts of light shot out of his horn toward the Soul Foals. Heart dodged one while Soul cast a barrier that the other splashed harmlessly against. "Not bad," Smoldermo said, charging another spell. Fireballs materialized around him and flew toward his opponents. Soul and Heart dodged and blocked the attack, never breaking the link of magic between them until a fireball slipped past Soul's defenses and grazed his flank.
"Are you ok?" Heart asked.
"I'm fine," Soul grunted, extending another tendril toward her, "I think it's time to go on the offensive. You ready?"
Heart nodded as the tendril wrapped around her again. She rolled away from another fireball and pointed both front hooves at Smoldermo. "Our turn," she said, "Element Wheel, Fire and Wind!" An energy disk, colored red and yellow, formed between her hooves and shot out toward the grey unicorn. Smoldermo responded by calling up a barrier of his own. The energy disk hit the barrier but remained intact, spinning and flaring as it tried to push through. Blaze reared up and put his hooves against his side of the barrier, starting to sweat with effort.
"Come on, come on," he grunted. Gale simply stood by her machine, watching with bated breath.
The stalemate held for several seconds, and for a moment it seemed like Smoldermo was going to redouble his effort and push the disk away when a voice from the doorway rang out, "What is going on here?"
"Whu?" Smoldermo exclaimed, his concentration broken. His barrier began to buckle, so with a loud groan of effort, he twisted to the right, shifting the barrier and deflecting the disk away from him, sending it in Gale's direction. The earth pony gave a squeak of alarm as she dodged to the side and the disk sailed past her to cut clean through the machine. The gems began flashing erratically as sparks flew out of the breaches.
"No no no!" Gale shouted, running back over and punching a large button. The machine whined as it powered down and the sparking stopped. "Whew, that was close," Gale said. She leveled a silent glare at the ash-grey unicorn, who didn't respond due to staring at the dark purple alicorn who was standing in the doorway looking cross. Soul Mage and Gold Heart broke their link and executed quick bows in her direction.
"Do I need to repeat myself?" Princess Luna asked.
"No Princess," Ashen Blaze said, bowing his head, "I'd say this isn't what it looks like, but I'm not sure what you see."
"I think I'm seeing four friends and heroes fighting amongst themselves," Luna said.
"Then it is indeed not what it looks like," Ash said, "We were simply making a game out of testing this." He pointed toward the ruined machine with a hoof.
"Ah yes," Luna said, looking at it, "Your little experiment with magic fields. How is it going?"
"It's working," Gale said, casting another glare at Ash, "but it would go much faster if somepony would stop bouncing spells into it."
"This is only the second time," Ash retorted, "I told you, I always deflect to my right so placing that machine to my left is the best guarantee for its safety."
"I did place it to your left," Gale said, "You turned around keeping those two in your sights."
Ash looked around himself. The golden-yellow ponies were indeed on the opposite side of the room from the door now. "Ah, so I did," he said, and then gave the earth pony a sheepish grin.
"Well," Luna said, "so long as nothing else is broken?" She looked around, nodding after seeing that the machine was the only damaged item around. "I came down here to tell you that it's almost sunset. My sister and I would like to invite you attend us as we make the change to night."
"It would be an honor," Soul said, "but may I ask why? It's not like you need us around."
"This dusk promises to be particularly beautiful," Luna said, "thanks in part to the clouds in the western sky. Besides, I know how you enjoy seeing us work," she added, nodding to Ash.
"Truth," he said simply, bowing, "We'll join you momentarily, but please don't wait on our account." Luna nodded and left the room. "So, can you fix it Gale?" Ash asked the earth pony.
Gale raised her goggles onto her forehead as she looked the machine over. "Of course I can," she said, "the question is, how hard will it be?" She bent down and picked up her screwdriver and proceeded to remove an access panel. "Let's see," she said, sticking her head inside, "Fortunately you didn't hit any of the critical juncture gems. Heck, you didn't hit any gems in here, only the wiring. I can patch that up in a jiffy once I get the materials."
"Great," Heart said, "That just leaves one question for me." She turned to face the grey, fire-maned unicorn, "Smoldermo? Really?"
"They can't all be winners," Ash said, "What about you two?" His gaze took in Soul as well as Heart, "'Soul Foals?' You two aren't that young."
"Hey, it rhymes," Soul said.
"It's inaccurate!" Ash protested, "I'll admit you can't use 'colt,' 'filly,' or whatever, but you can't call yourselves foals."
"What do you suggest?" Heart asked, "because I'm a bit tired of 'Impossible Twins.'"
"Hmm, 'Soul Siblings,'" Ash said, "then you've got alliteration on your side, which flows better than a simply rhyme."
Heart and Soul exchanged a glance. "Po-tay-to, po-tah-to," Soul said, "but we'll keep working on it if you insist."
"Thank you," Ash said, "now, let's go watch the Princesses do their thing."
The Oder-naries had witnessed the changes between day and night from the lower, public viewing area before, so that was where they made their way after climbing out onto the terraces around the castle. As they neared the viewing area, a pegasus in dress armor stepped into their path, causing them to stop and Ash to prickle slightly. "Come with me," he said, "The princesses have requested your presence in the Night Tower." The four ponies blinked in surprise- the Night Tower was where the Princesses stood while ushering in the night, standing across the castle from the Day Tower where the morning ceremony was accomplished. To witness the ceremonies from either location was a very high honor indeed.
"Ok," Soul said. The guard nodded and led them toward the tower. "So, we save Equestria from an evil we never quite understood," the golden unicorn continued, "and now, a few weeks after the fact, we're invited to the Towers?"
"Hey," Gale said, "The Princesses have been very good to us. They've given us the time and resources we need to find ways to make ourselves useful. That's quite the thank-you, I think."
"Sure," Soul replied, "you and Ash have managed to find your niches working around here, so you can appreciate it in hindsight. Heart and I… not so much."
"You'll find something," Ash said, "If nothing else, I could always use a guinea pi… uh research assistant."
"Har har har," Soul said, completely deadpan. Heart and Gale chuckled, coaxing a smile out of Soul. "You're right," he said, "something will come my way eventually." A pleasant silence fell over the remainder of the walk up to the Night Tower. The top of the tower had a very simple layout- no plants, statuary, or any sort of decorations that could draw the eye away from the two alicorn princesses standing side-by-side in the center, or the third, lavender pony who ran over to hug the first non-guard pony to enter the room: Ash.
"Whoa, hey there Twilight," Ash said, surprised, "what are you doing here?"
"Princess Celestia invited me to watch the sunset with her," Twilight Sparkle explained, "I wasn't expecting to see you four here."
"I thought it would be nice if the five of you had a chance to catch up," Celestia said, coming over to the group. She leaned her head in close and said in a low voice, "Also, you four have been very diligent lately and you should probably take a break. Go spend a few days in Ponyville and relax."
"Yes ma'am," Ash said smartly.
Celestia smiled at them. "Very well," she said, "let's get this night started." She walked back to Luna and asked, "Are you ready sister?"
"I am," Luna answered, "Let's begin." She walked toward the eastern side of the tower while Celestia went to the west. Both of their horns began to glow, almost too bright to look at, as Celestia lowered the sun below the horizon, spreading reds, oranges, and purples across the sky as it passed behind the clouds.
"The day is over," the white alicorn Princess announced.
"And the night begins," Luna responded as the moon rose into its position in the sky and the stars started to appear. Celestia's horn ceased glowing as she nodded to the ponies gathered on the viewing platforms, but Luna continued working until the last of the stars was visible. Scattered cheers rose from the crowds as she stopped her magic and joined her sister at the western window. "I thought you'd asked them to stop doing that," Luna said, "I really don't need such displays of appreciation."
"I did," Celestia said, nuzzling her younger sister's head, "but a lot of them seem to enjoy cheering for you anyway." A small smile crossed Luna's face.
"That was amazing Princess Celestia," Twilight said, "It was easily one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen."
"Thank you Twilight," Celestia said, "now, I'm sure the five of you have a lot of catching up to do. Run along and have fun." The five friends bowed and headed for the exit.
"Oh, before I forget," Gale said, pausing at the top of the stairs, "I'm going to need some more copper wire."
"You know where it is," Celestia said. Gale nodded and ran to catch up with the group.
"So," Twilight was saying, "I haven't heard much from any of you since you decided to live here in Canterlot. What have you been up to?"
"Ah," Ash said, brightening up, "so very much."
"He's become an unofficial student of Celestia's," Gale cut in.
"I am an independent researcher," Ash said, looking down his nose at Gale, "My studies are being supported by the Princesses at the moment, but I could be doing them just as well with different sponsors."
"What are you studying?" the lavender unicorn asked.
"Magic," Ash said, "The only thing I'm good at besides getting into trouble. Specifically, I'm trying to figure out how to adapt this world's latent magic into a form I can use."
"What do you mean?" Twilight asked, "You're a unicorn, you've got a store of personal energy to use."
"That's how y-" Ash started to say, reaching one hoof up to point at Twilight, but since he was still walking he lost his balance and went tumbling down the stairs, slamming the wall at the next turn and ending up on his back, eyes rolling. "Quadruped," he declared as the others ran down to check on him, "still not entirely used to that. I'm fine, nothing broken." He rolled over and stood up, groaning slightly as he discovered a couple bruises and an aching knee.
"You need to have your head checked or something," Heart said, "you were never this clumsy before."
"Bah," Ash said, resuming the downward walk, "As I was saying, that's how you work, not how I work. And not quite how Soul and Heart work for that matter... Anyway, I…" He, Twilight, and Gale slowed to a stop, realizing that the golden-yellow ponies had stopped and were sharing a look of inspiration. "Uh, what's up with you two?" Ash asked.
"Heart and Soul," the twins said at once, smiling. "It's so simple and obvious, yet perfect," Heart finished.
"O…kay…" Ash said, blinking, "congrats, I guess." He caught Twilight's confused look and explained, "They've been trying to come up with a team name for themselves for weeks." Twilight nodded in understanding and the ponies resumed their walk again, nearing the bottom of the tower. "As I was saying," Ash said, "I'm used to drawing power from my environment to fuel my spells, with only a little of my personal energy. For some reason, here in Equestria the land's latent magic won't respond to me and I've barely got enough personal energy for a short-range teleport spell or telekinesis."
"That can't be right," Twilight said, "I saw you throw some pretty impressive attack spells at that Tau'rin demon."
"I had help during those fights," Ash said, "Thanks to the seven Gems I was able to get around whatever's blocking my magic sense, to some degree. But, they're gone now and I'm locked out again. Right now I'm working on a device that can simulate the effect of the Gems, and Gale here's helping me keep it in working order."
"Speaking of which, I should probably go fix it now," Gale said. She ran off into the main castle, heading for the rooms where her materials were produced.
"I'd like to see this device of yours," Twilight said, "If only to better understand what you're trying to do, Ashen."
"It's not wholly selfish," Ash said, "Every time I make a breakthrough, I learn something new about magic and the world in general and supply that information for other researchers to play with."
"Gale's been able to turn some of the failures into useful machines," Soul said, "She's come up with a line of magically-powered adding machines that are in high demand throughout Canterlot, for example. Any pony can use them and they work for months on a single magic charge."
"Wow," Twilight said, impressed, "I could use something like that."
"I'm sure you could talk Gale into getting you one at a discount," Ash said with a smirk.
"How about you two?" Twilight asked, looking at Heart and Soul, "What are you doing with yourselves?"
"Freeloading," Soul said flatly with a grumpy look on his face, "AJ'd kill me if she knew."
"Gloomy Gus," Heart scolded him good-naturedly, "We're still figuring out what we can do. I guess that makes us sort of like the Cutie Mark Crusaders."
"Except we have our cutie marks," Soul said, raising an eyebrow at Heart, "they're just next to useless. So far as I can tell, we're just good at fighting stuff, and that's only if we're together, and I don't like the idea of being a full-time soldier no matter how good the pay and benefits are. No offense," he added, nodding at a guard as they walked past him. The guard simply nodded in reply.
"Well, that research assistant spot's still open," Ash said. Soul just glared at him. "Or, with that Element Wheel of yours could be pretty good lumberjacks or stonecutters."
Soul opened his mouth to protest, but snapped it shut as he processed the idea. "Actually, that's not too bad," he said, "Add that to the list sis."
"Sure, why not?" Heart said, rolling her eyes.