Giving Love a Helping Hoof
Silence reigned over the Everfree Forest. Ponyville's forbidding neighbour usually held a raucous evening court, the bass rumbles of the manticores punctuated by the high pitched squeaking of the local parasprite clouds. Tonight, however, was quite different.
Tonight, the cockatrice slept easy, its head tucked under a wing. Tonight, the Ursa Minor slumbered peacefully despite the colossal snoring of its mother. Tonight, even the normally unshakeable Zecora unbolted her door and raised her gaze to the stars, dreaming of another time and place.
Tonight was peaceful.
Deep within the silken canopy of the undergrowth one could find a ruined castle, nestled against a cliff-side, all but worn away by the constant ebb and flow of the wind and the wilds. Known as the resting place of the fabled Elements of Harmony, this castle was the ancient home of the Solar Sisters, the rulers of the realm themselves.
Tonight, that castle would bear witness to something most would consider a miracle.
A sleepy parasprite, surprisingly unaccompanied by the usual chattering cloud of relatives, fluttered through a broken window into its temporary abode. To the simple creature, this place was not a relic of times past, nor a sacred resting place, it was merely a home.
The small critter bobbed through empty corridors, slipped through a crack in the crumbling masonry, and found itself in what could only be described as the main chamber. Letting out a contented purr, the parasprite made its way towards the centre of the room, and the tall, five-armed structure resting there. It had constructed a nest at the very top of the sculpture, needing good wind exposure to lift off of a morning and glide great distances using little energy.
Upon arrival, it snuggled down into the small bundle of leaves and sticks it had painstakingly built and stuck to the sculpture. Yawning widely, the small creature wrapped its wings about itself and began to drift off to sleep.
Catching a flicker of movement, the dozing parasprite immediately sprung up and tensed its wings, always ready to retreat in the face of a new predator. Looking left and right, the creature steadily grew more suspicious as it noted the slight brightening of its surroundings. The parasprite's mind worked itself hard, unused to complicated thoughts. Light-time wasn't supposed to be here yet... Where was the bright coming from?
With the barest of creaks, the door on the far side of the chamber shifted, before slowly swinging inward. The parasprite leapt into the air, already beating a hasty retreat, before it got a look at what came through the door and stopped, awestruck.
A wisp of white cloud, as bright as a sunny day, flowed into the room, radiating compassion and peace. The cloud swirled around the parasprite briefly, before cradling the small creature upon its white cushiony-softness, and prompting it into a deep, contented slumber. In the light of the full moon, the little nimbus deposited the parasprite onto a high wall, leaving the creature to its rest.
From within the cloud came a mellifluous, baritone chuckle, bouncing off the walls of the castle.
The cloud continued into the room, flowing over and around the structure at its centre, briefly pausing at the level of the five off-shooting arms, before sliding to the ground. It paused for a moment as if to gather its bearings, before turning a slow circle around the structure, the sculpture that it knew once housed the Elements of Harmony. After a full circle, the cloud stopped, and seemed to sit up on its haunches.
At the centre of the little nimbus, a brilliant gold light pulsed.
Wisps of cloud shot in every direction, pouring over the sculpture, covering it in poofy whiteness. It spread out into the masonry, permeating the very rock it was carved from, centuries and centuries ago. The cloud stayed that way for a moment, flowing aimlessly, before sinking entirely into the core of the structure, leaving no trace of its coming.
Once inside, it began to search.
Leading its awareness to each of the arms one by one, the cloud came to know each of them, feeling them as an extension of itself. It needed to be so, for the plan to work. After some time, once it was content with its level of awareness within the structure, it focused its attention upon the small protrusion at the end of each arm, where the magic was strongest. Where the sympathy was focused.
Sympathy was an ancient magical law, one that only the most powerful and learned of ponies would still study, compared to it being common knowledge back in the cloud's day. The little nimbus felt a touch of nostalgia at the recollection.
Whenever somepony handled an item, they left a part of their own unique magical aura or vibration upon it. With enough skill and practice, it was capable to gain an almost complete understanding of somepony through only the use of sympathy reading. Of course, the magic required to do so was astounding, and something somepony would only be able to do after an almost unfathomable amount of practice. But this particular cloud had the experience of the sun and the moon, and its knowledge of magic was unsurpassed.
The other particular drawback to this technique was that a certain amount of sympathy was needed to do it, otherwise you would simply end up with a fragmented and incomplete version of the pony in question. Thankfully, the more powerful an item was, the more sympathy it tended to gather from whoever touched it.
And the Elements of Harmony were powerful indeed.
The little nimbus prepared itself for the next step, before looking around it with a start, confused. The light was shifting... What was going on?
The cloud twisted, looking up through the crumbling roof. Of course, the moon was going down. Daylight was almost upon it!
Grumbling slightly, the cloud withdrew from the structure, casting a quick glance around it. It would have to come back another time, this was hard work! Wiping a mental hand across a mental sweaty brow, the cloud silently wished the waking parasprite a pleasant day, before twisting in upon itself and disappearing in a dazzling golden flash.
For the briefest of instants, the horn of every unicorn in Ponyville flared, reacting to the monumental surge of magic taking place in the Everfree Forest, so close to the town's borders. Never before had this happened, and normally this would have been the cause of a mild panic, as all the ponies of the town sought to find out exactly what could cause such a reaction.
However, this being the cold darkness of pre-dawn no alarm was raised, and no notice was taken. At this hour, only one unicorn pony was even awake, and she was so engrossed in the tome in front of her that if her horn had shone as brightly as day she would have taken no notice, save that it allowed her to write more easily.
Twilight Sparkle, the dearest and most faithful student of the beloved Princess Celestia, was currently lying in her bed, going over the last few pages of her journal. The intellectual pony found that ideas and thoughts tended to slip her mind more often than she would like, so she had taken to writing down anything she felt was important enough in her journal. Going over the past few days every night simply helped her organise her thoughts.
With a brief pulse of magic, the quill she kept handy beside her bed levitated before her, and began scrawling across the page, not writing anything of great wonder, simply letting the pony get her thoughts out. After a time Twilight Sparkle put aside her journal, and let sleep claim her.
She awoke what seemed an instant later to find herself flying through the air.
With a shriek, the purple mare flung her arms around the pony carrying her, and at that moment realised that a pony was carrying her.
"Mornin' Twilight!", the excited pegasus said. "Sleep well?"
"What the hay are you doing?" squealed the unicorn, her voice rising in pitch with each syllable.
"Oh, well ya see, I just invented a new trick, and I just HAD to show it to somepony. And, ya know, the library kinda stands out, so you were the first pony I thought of!"
"So why didn't you just wake me up and show me?"
"Oh, you seemed so peaceful, I didn't want to! So I figured I'd just fly you out of town myself!"
Twilight's sluggish mind struggled to keep up with her friend's somewhat flawed explanation. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, she asked, "Isn't it a little early to be thinking of new tricks? I always thought you'd be a late sleeper."
The rainbow-maned pony gave her an incredulous look. "Are you crazy? It's never too early to think of new tricks! I can never get to sleep for too long before I wake up because I've thought of another one! Haven't you ever wondered why I have to take naps all the time?"
Twilight Sparkle had to concede that it made sense, in a Rainbow Dash kind of way.
"Please tell me your going to put me on the ground before you show me."
After returning from Rainbow Dash's (admittedly impressive) stunt session, Twilight found herself meandering through the marketplace of Ponyville, idly looking for a good place to eat breakfast. What she did not expect to find, however, was an incredibly more intriguing sight.
Rounding a bend, she found herself across the square from Applejack's Apple Cart, in early on market day. What was interesting about it was the colt standing in front of it, conversing with Applejack. Or rather, how he was conversing.
Twilight had seen the colt around Ponyville before, though didn't know his name, and could tell that he was expressing more than a passing interest in Applejack. The colt stood across from the cowpony, a bright smile on his face. He didn't seem to notice the hoof he was twisting in the dirt.
"Awww", she thought with a smile. "He's nervous!"
Eventually the colt strolled off with a bushel of apples clamped in his mouth, and Applejack turned her attention back to her cart. Though the earth pony was able to keep up a professional image when face-to-face with a potential customer, as soon as the colt passed out of sight she allowed a slight blush to creep onto her cheeks.
Deciding that a little bit of teasing was as good as any breakfast, Twlight headed toward her friend. "Hey Applejack!"
With a slight start the Element of Honesty turned towards the approaching unicorn, a friendly smile on her face. "Well howdy there Twilight! What brings you out here so early?"
"Oh, Rainbow Dash woke me up a while ago to show me her latest trick. But we can talk about that later! Just whoooo," she said, pointing a knowing hoof in the direction the colt had gone, "was he?"
"Oh... Ya saw that didja?" Applejack never had been good at hiding anything. "He was jus', ya know, a customer."
"From the looks of it, I'd say a regular customer."
"Oh, well, he comes by every market day," said the farmer pony, her blush deepening. "Always buys some apples, and stays for a bit o' chit-chat."
"Stop pretending AJ, he likes you!" Twilight said, smiling hugely. "And you know he does! From the looks of that blush you like him too!"
Applejack gasped. "NO! No, it's not like that at all Twi'. I mean, he seems like a nice enough colt and all, but... It's always jus' bin' me, Big Macintosh, Granny Smith and Applebloom over on the farm. I come to town from time t' time, but Ah've never really bin' 'round colts much, 'asides mah brother."
"So why the blush if you don't think of him like that?"
"Well... even a country girl likes to get noticed every now and again," smiled Applejack, looking away.
Twilight realised this was true, and almost absently started thinking back, trying to recall whether she'd ever noticed any colts looking at her in that particular way. Applejack butted in before she reached her inevitable conclusion.
"Now I know that look Twilight, and don't you go gettin' your apples in a bunch! Ah can personally swear that Ah've seen at least one other colt givin' you the look. You've jus' always got your eyes buried in some book or other, ya jus' plum never notice it."
The unicorn gasped. "Who?"
Her question was met with a cheesy grin. "Now that would be tellin', wouldn' it?"
Twilight laughed with her friend, content with the fact that her secret admirer would remain secret. "You know, I can see what your saying Applejack. Looking back, I've always been so engrossed in my studies, I've never really had time for colts. To be honest... I've never even had a coltfriend," Twilight finished with a sad smile.
Applejack was having none of it. "Now don't you worry about it sugarcube," she said, waving a nonchalant hoof through the air. "Ah've never had one either, Ah've never found the time."
Twilight nodded absently for a moment before bursting into giggles. "I don't think we've ever even talked about colts before, but a cute one talks to you and suddenly it's all we can think about."
Applejack smiled. "I suppose that's true Twi', but in our defence it sure has been busy recently, with takin' Bloomberg to Appleloosa, you and Fluttershy takin' care o' that con-founded bird of Princess Celestia and the Gala after that!"
The unicorn nodded in agreement, trying not to think about The Grand Galloping Trainwreck. "It really has been a while since all of us could get together and just have a nice, relaxing time. Even after the gala we couldn't really unwind with Princess Celestia there. Sure, she's a nice pony but she's still a princess!" A twinkle shined in Twilight Sparkle's eyes as she suddenly reared up and clopped her front hooves together. "Ooooh, we should have another slumber party tomorrow night! I had so much fun at our last one! We can get all the girls together, and we can stay up late and have makeovers and pillowfights and play games..."
"...and I'll get Spike to stay over somewhere so it's just us fillies, and play Truth or Dare but properly this time without you and Rarity fighting..."
" and we can tell ghost stories, and in the morning... I'm making waffles!"
With a start, the purple pony broke off her rambling. Smiling sheepishly, she said, "What is it AJ?"
"Well, Ah think that's a wonderful idea sugarcube, but ya gotta promise me jus' one thing," said the farmer pony.
"Oh? What's that?"
"No checklists like last time," Applejack deadpanned.
Twilight Sparkle looked horrified but, after a brief internal struggle, agreed to the terms. "On one condition!" Applejack narrowed her eyes, but nodded for her to continue. "At some point we have to talk about colts!"
The Element of Honesty stared blankly at her fellow Element for a moment before bursting out laughing. Wiping a tear from her eye, she said, "Ah think that's a given, sugarcube."
For the second time in as many nights, a small parasprite in the Everfree Forest found itself enjoying a magically-induced snooze. The cloud had returned, this time determined to finish its task and set the plans of itself and its co-conspirator into motion.
After sinking itself back into the structure and finding where it had left off last night, the cloud attempted something that even it wasn't sure would work, for in all the recorded history of Equestria such a thing had never been attempted. Its magic now fought to transcend both time and space, for it did not search for the sympathy of the Elements that had rested upon the structure, but rather for the sympathy of the ponies that then touched the Elements. For the umpteenth time it cursed the necessity of this circuitous route, but it had been reminded (time and again, it might add) that this was the only way to gain the sympathy of these particular ponies without tipping any of them off.
Deciding to concentrate its efforts to better ensure results, the cloud poured all its will into one of the arms of the sculpture, attempting to find the nebulous magical lines that would lead through the Element and into the sympathy of the pony. It pressed against the wall of time itself, as both the Element and the pony were long gone. For long moments it strained, perfectly still and serene under the light of the moon. Finally, with a golden pulse of light at its core, the little nimbus felt something unravel, and pulled its will back from the arm, a squiggling strand of pink sympathy within its grasp. Tucking the sympathy within itself, the cloud went about repeating the process.
The hours slowly ticked by, as the cloud frayed time again and again, each trip returning with yet more sympathy. Orange... Pure white... A multi-hued, especially vibrant strand... A rather easily obtained yellow strand.
Finally, the cloud enveloped the fifth strand, looking forward to the completion of its task. Even for one such as it there were limits, and reaching through time was not something to be handled lightly. Maintaining each of the strands of sympathy was also becoming quite taxing.
Now turning its will to the room at large, the little nimbus was faced with a challenge: drawing sympathy from a non-specific point. Thankfully, sympathy was at heart a type of magic, and the area was absolutely saturated in two distinct types of it. A somewhat recognisable type, though tainted by evil like a muddy hoof dipped in a bath, and a more... pure type, that was honestly surprising in its intensity. As the cloud broke through the time barrier, and after some searching finally clutched the last strand of sympathy, its moment of triumph was cut short by a spark of pain lancing through it. Immediately, it started losing its grip on all six strands.
Redoubling its efforts, and clenching its mental jaw, the little nimbus consolidated its hold over the strands, pouring its will into the final one. This ultimate, purple strand of sympathy was not coming quietly, fighting with strength that, when compared to the cloud's own was not considerable, but was most definitely surprising, and after such a long struggle, the smoke was more than fatigued.
Finally, the little nimbus was able to envelop the purple strand, holding it within itself as it did the others. Letting out a surprisingly audible sigh, the cloud laughed brightly to itself for a moment, pleased. With a small bow to the parasprite whose hospitality it had now twice imposed upon, the cloud disappeared once again in a flash of golden sunlight.
Alright, here it is ladies and gents, a redo of The Seduction of Harmony. After some awesome reviewing and advice from all around, I've decided to take the story in a much less epic, much less dark, MUCH more shippy direction, which honestly works for me just fine. So here's the new and (hopefully) improved Chapter 1 of Giving Love a Helping Hoof! This'll all probably get changed a little after I get a couple of reviews, but now that I've got my path set, once I work out the beginning kinks I have a much better idea of where I'm going to take this story than my previous one, so hopefully I can churn it out a bit better. In any case, enjoy!
2ND EDIT: Alrighty, thanks once more to the awesomeness that is Seattle_Lite over on Ponychan, I present what is hopefully Chapter 1, new and improved. Again.