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An echoes of the hurried hoof-steps could be heard across the empty halls of the School of FriendshipTM . The late evening hours left the building near empty, especially since Heartswarming Eve break was coming near - most students already left to reunite with their families for the holiday.

 

These facts wasn't in the mind of the unicorn visitor. He was there to meet with the Principal herself, bearing the most exciting news - the discovery that would certainly interest Princess Twilight Sparkle greatly. Enough that he came here all the way from the Itaily without a moment of rest. And how could he rest? He was exited himself, at the prospect of discovery and adventure.

 

Swift Squall was sure that by now Sparkle had studied the journal of Rye Wind that he presented her with very thoroughly. Or at least he hoped she did. For where they were going, the knowledge present in that book may turn very needed indeed.

 

His search led his to Principals Office quickly, even though he never was in the building before. Noblepony paused to take a deep breath and composure himself. Seconds later he knocked at the door, and without waiting for permission he entered.

"Good evening Miss Sparkle. It's been a while." he greeted the lavender mare.

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The School of Friendship was unusually quiet this time of year. An active hub for young minds to explore the emotional bonds that underpinned the world around them. it usually echoed and rang sharply with the din of young voices laughing, chattering, and learning through joy what Twilight had been forced to understand under duress. She was happy to provide such a service. The School was working to provide a better future for not just Equestria but the entire world, and it was something that could only have been spawned by the revelations and work that she and her friends had endured and undertaken over the years. Soon it would be up to the next generation to bring the world ever closer to the ideals that she believed in. To be the Headmare at such an institution was perhaps her greatest source of pride- even more than her accomplishments as a Princess. 

 

That was why she was always willing to put in the extra work required to keep the School operating at peak efficiency. She was working on a restructuring of Applejack's Honesty Class due to the mare's extra busy schedule when she started to hear the panicked- no, determined- galloping of a stallion. Had to be. Sounded heavier than other options and nopony she knew to expect was supposed to be here. She finished writing for the moment and put the quill away, her face wearing an expectant smile as she looked at the door. She would rather be allowed to work in her spare time but if somepony needed help, that would always come first for her. Hopefully nothing serious. She didn't want to As if on cue, it opened. She was shocked by who it was...if only because she was sure he would normally wait for her at the Castle for the sense of importance of it.

 

For all of her jokes, she liked Swift Squall. He was a good stallion and was always doing something he thought was best for Equestria. Made him an excellent member of EPIC and a truly great Equestrian citizen. He may sometimes be a little dramatic but at the end of the day everything he did helped Equestria. Not a pony she would ever ignore, even here. "Swift Squall! Happy to see you," she said as she trotted over and gave him a courtesy hug. A mug of cocoa was floating. "Want something to drink? Please, take a seat."

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"Thanks. I wouldn't mind." unicorn said with gratitude while near-slumping onto offered chair. Squall then proceeded to take his shades, revealing puffed eye-bags, before taking a big gulp of cocoa, all in complete silence. After emptying his mug stallion gave a sight of relief, before turning his gaze - now much more focused - gaze at the mare before him.

 

"We found one of Mycus Thrice-Blessed workshop-labs." Swift said, getting straight to the point, unlike the last time when they discussed the subject.

"I assume you know about weather order mix-up in Itaily. Funny how one wrong comma could cause so much trouble." swordpony mused.

"But I digress. As a result, Roam and it's close vicinity got much more snowfall than it got in prior two dozen centuries. Normally the weather ponies would take care of these, but since they got their hooves full with clearing the rest of the region - even with reinforcements from rest of the realm - they just cleared the skies and let the sun do the job. Predictibly that much water caused few landslides in the hillsides surrounding the city." Squall explained.

 

"Now, I happened to be in Roam for business reasons. My company was negotiating a contract of renovating St. Freesia Cathedral. In the middle of the negotiations one of my employees brought to me the information that one of those landslides uncovered something unusual. So I excused myself, and left wrapping up the meeting to my assistants." noblepony kept going.

"The place happened to be five miles out of the city. At first I thought that it was a simple sinkhole caused by the earth movements. But when I got closer I realized why I was called. It was too smooth in it's shape, and the walls were laid down with stone. Also the remains of the stairs at the edge helped." he added, his words getting quicker, and quicker.

"But it wasn't until I inspected the pair of obelisk-shaped newels that I realized what we found. On each one was engraved a sigil. Mycus's sigil, way too specific for anypony else. Because I studied Rye Wind journal so thoroughly before giving it to you, I recognized it right away. Realizing what it meant, I left Itaily at once." Squall said. Before reaching to his pocket. "While I hurried here, on the transfer I got report of scanning that survey team did in my absence." He said while hoofing the document to Twilight, so she could read the results.

"Bizarre isn't it? If I have to guess the whole place is magically sealed. Probably have a aeather screening against scrying as well, but , again, is just my assumption, I am no specialist." Swift said before pausing to catch a breath.

 

"But You are Miss Sparkle. So that's pretty much it. Now, we have to leave as quickly as possible. I already contacted my other employees. One of my airships will pick us up, while as we speak, others are transporting necessary equipment from depot in Germaney." he announced while standing up.

"Common Miss Sparkle, I help you pack up. We have no time to lose."

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Twilight sat down and listened to Swift Squall as he explained the situation. He got to the point this time, rapidly catching her up on what seemed like a potentially exciting discovery. Unlike Swift Squall, Twilight had her reservations about the modern-day importance of the projected discovery outside of the scholarly realm. Much of what had been discussed by Rye Wind and Mycus Thrice-Blessed were known in the modern-day thanks to the increasing influence of scholarly trade with Unyasi. Still, there were mysteries that surrounded both of them. Exciting, too. Somewhat tragic. But scholarly nonetheless. And the fact it was hidden away only made it all the more appealing. Sift Squall needed somepony with Twilight's arcanic knowledge and skill to help, and she was more than happy to help. The mysteries were simply too...mysterious to say no to!

 

"Hmm, if I had to guess based on this..." she muttered mostly to herself, her eyes scanning what information was laid before her, "Sarcana's Runic Time spell mixed with Latticed Shielding? No, no- there would be cracks in the lattice regardless, even if the strength of the barrier at large was kept up. Durango Aetheric Tide? Maybe, no residual evidence to show the ebb and flow. Starswirl's Arcanic lock? That could be it. Very powerful, but rather basic," she said as she popped several books nearby and started reading. "If it is though...and it has been revealed, then we actually don't have a lot of time. The Arcanic Lock, if not upkept, grows weaker with exposure to the sun. And while it was well hidden before, that weakening will only grow worse over time. Knowing what te Arcanic Lock is all about, however, this means a path won't just open up- it will open up and then parts of the area will start to rapidly age. So we need to get work with some speed," she said as she got up, placed the books way, and then teleported a small saddlebag onto her back.
"I'm ready, Swift Squall. Lead the way!" She said energetically, excited to see what magic awaited her.

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"See. That's what I was talking about Miss Sparkle. You see lines and numbers and you already could make hypothesis of what magic was used. I know the spells by name, but math behind them? My own studies focused on mathematical economics. What I know of arcane comes more from first-hoof experience than scholarly text." unicorn pointed out.

 

"Well then, let us hope that you analysis is incorrect - no offense to your knowledge. Miss Sparkle. We have little time as it is, without having to race against degradation of some ancient spell." Squall said while raising from the seat, only for his legs to start wobbling dangerously. Noblepony only saved himself from the fall by using his sheathed blade as a makeshift cane to lean on.

"I am....fine. Just tired. Didn't had much to sleep." swordpony said to concerned Princess while he straightened up. "I will catch some sleep when we will be  aboard the skyship." he added as they left Twilight's office.

 

As they were walking the School of Friendship's empty halls, Squall did his best to keep conversation going.

"My haste wasn't just because of the excitement of the discovery Miss Sparkle. While you analysis only adds to our need for urgency, I had much more prosaic reason for my quickness...." unicorn mused. "....Politics." he said, with a clear loathing in his voice.

"It was no coincidence that St. Freesia Cathedral that is getting renovated just now. That is idea that came from the Mayor of Roam you see...." Swift started his explanation.

"As you may know......he isn't very popular with his electorate. Some really poor decisions on his part, his management of public money being lacking...that sort of thing." stallion said.

"And of course, so it happens that his current term is coming to an end rather soon. So of course he is desperate for a opportunity to score some popularity points. What's better way to do so, then restoring  Roam's landmark, and Equestria's Site of Heritage to it's former glory? So he launched a call for tenders, and Tempest Corporation, My corporation, happened to win this one."  Squall added.

 

"Keeping this in mind, know that the survey site is at the very edge of Mayor's administrative power. If he knew a real reason why I left the meeting, he without the doubt would try to take control of both the survey and the excavation. All to earn a few more votes, competence be damned." businesspony snarled. "He would probably end up breaking something in his chase after higher PR score. And since this isn't the land I own, I couldn't sic my lawyers to keep him at bay. I needed somepony with authority big enough to put him in place. You being a specialist for the arcane, and already being familiar with Mycus's work made you natural choice." Swift revealed while they walked through the school's front door.

 

The last tether's of sunlight died out on the edge of horizon, and orange glow of dusk was replaced by the glow of the stars. The lights in the surrounding buildings indicated however, that it wasn't time for rest just yet.

"It should be here any minute now." Squall said into night sky before turning to lavender mare.

"You may wish to cast something sound dampening Sparkle. Bevel's latest creation can't really be called  'subtle'." he warned, just as the roar of engines started to be heard, still far away, but fast approaching.

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Twilight saw the slip and momentarily moved to help, but he had it under control. Of course, control was an overestimate of it. He was clearly tired and at the end of his rope. As he spoke, her face showed clear concern. Less for what he was telling her and more for his own well being. She had carefully selected each and every member of EPIC for their skills, abilities, and character. A certain level of grating tenaciousness was present in any of them, Swift Squall included, and she wouldn't disabuse her agents from pushing themselves until they felt they couldn't go any further. Especially one as prideful and forward-facing as the gentlecolt next to her. She would allow his physical issues to take a backseat for now, though she wasn't one to forget such matters. They would need to be addressed later.

 

For now, she simply ran over what he had said. The internal politics of Roam were certainly more intriguing than nations outside of the Provinces of Itaily, since there were actual elections there. She had heard about the mismanagement of the Mayor there, not that it was all that unique. Roam had a long history of incompetence in civil administration that it proudly upheld despite all of its great advantages. Tempest Corporation responding to such a tender was not a surprise, nor did it feel anything other than fated that they had done so. Maybe none of this happens if another company is at the helm of the project. She wouldn't have been called this early, that much was for certain.

 

"If it comes to it leave the Mayor to me. The limits of his administrative power end where the interests of Equestria as a whole begin, and this is certainly within the interests of Equestria. Most importantly, he wouldn't be able to get through the barrier, even weakened. At least not for a while. Mundane efforts won't drain the barrier not breach it, and even more advanced magical unsealing techniques won't do much. It requires an excessively inane knowledge of such matters," she said with a bit of a laugh at her own experience, "and somepony with the time to devote to very specific disciplines. Or somepony with even more time to devote to studying every discipline. Few ponies exist with those qualifications, and I know where they all are right now," she said as they breached the castle doors and waited outside.

 

She picked it up early, her Alicorn hearing being a few shades superior. It also kept the sound below a harmful level, but she knew better than most that it was likely to be an issue for others. Her horn lit up and a small beam fired off towards the source of the noise, enveloping it and dampening the sound many octaves. You could still hear it, but only faintly unless it was right on top of you. "I'm always excited by what Bevel has made. Such engineering creativity!" 

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"Thank you." Squall said gratefully when Twilight offered to take the political burden on herself. "I myself know how to play this 'game' but I take no joy from it. I guess it makes me an odd kind of noble, isn't it?" he asked.

 

"..........Not for a while you say. Does that means that somepony could brute-force thought the spell-fields after a while? And this aeather decay....if the sunlight is the cause, can we stop it by blocking further exposure to sunlight? Casing Reldar's Looming Shadow, Sphaera Tenebrae, Shield of Winter's Night or.....setting a giant tent over the shaft?" Squall inquired.

 

Twilight joked about how obscure some of the information she gathered was. Swift however, didn't found anything funny about it.

"There is no such thing as 'useless knowledge'. Only poorly utilized." he commented.

 

Unicorn nodded in agreement on Princesses comment about Gear's inventive skill.

"Creative she is, although I wish half of the things she make wouldn't roar like thunder. Thunder....." he repeated before giggling against himself as the boarding ramp extended down from still airborne vessel.

 

The insides of the aircraft were surprisingly quiet despite of the noise that the engines were making outside. There also shown that while it's owner was not above the luxuries that his fortunes brought, the practical uses were far more important than that. The pair were welcomed by spectacle wearing earth pony mare in uniform resembling a military one. There was something familiar about her....

"Welcome back Sir. And Welcome Princes Twilight aboard 'Découverte'. Please enjoy yourself during voyage." she said before raising an eyebrow at the poor state Squall was in.

"Long day, Sir?" the mare asked.

"Make that two. I will take a leave after this. Take a trip to Saddle Arabia with Moto...." he answered before realizing that he wasn't alone.

"Miss Sparkle, this is Alexandrite Annurca. One of most trusted and competent ponies under my employ."

 

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Twilight laughed, though it was a mirthless one. "You're more normal than you'd like to believe. I tend to take on a lot of the political side of things when I'm involved. Not because I like it, but because I can do more, and do it quicker. Efficiency always trumps desire," she sighed as the subject came back to the barrier and how it could be breached. "Almost anything can be brute forced, given time. It would take years for any appreciable progress to show itself, and I doubt he'd waste the time and effort," she said while doing quick theorcrafting in her head. "He'd need to contact very specific people, pay a very specific amount of bits, do it in a very specific time frame, and do it in a specifically underhoofed fashion. It willbe fine, Swift."

Discussion of the ways and means of reducing the collapse of the barrier- an issue she was sure would be better-solved in-pony, though she did have a few thoughts onthe matter. "Any of those could help, but once a food begins to spoil, it is impossible to fully stop the process. Same here. The barrier will fall now and while efforts can be made to slow it they will, in the long run, prove fruitless. The decay will also increase with time, exponentially so. By the time anypony with a passing knowledge on the subject notices it has weakened appreciably, it will be moments from complete collapse. That will take time- it'll be fine when we get there."

Of course it would be, though listening to Swift, one would assume everything was constantly on the knife-edge of disaster. It made him look to place things in their places, create a sense of order where none was needed. She smiled and shook her head when he spoke about knowledge. "No one said it was useless. It is, however, inane if you consider the amount of time and effort that goes into it, and the exacting nature of the requirements that preclude most extensive studies. Useless implies it has no utility; inane does not. Know your words, Swift. If there are traps inside they will be of a curiously fixated variety, and care will need to be taken."


The ship was, of course, magnificent. The pony who came out was in faux military garb. Competent? Good. Twilight was a fan of competence. "Hello, Alexandrite Annurca. Pleasure to make your acquaintance," she said while offering her hoof for a shake. In time they were inside and she took her seat across from Swift. She looked around with a smile.
"Very nice. I presume she managed to fix the energy less issue she was having when transferring power sources?"

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"Nopony who wants power for power's sake is fit to wield it." Squall mused, along with the acknowledging nod when Twilight revealed that she herself was far from fond of politics.

"That's.....good.....Good that we don't have to worry about it. I just hope that Roam will get a competent mayor for a change once his term is over." he added. "History tends to repeat itself, but when it comes to this city, it's wheel need to be replaced."

 

 

"Fruitless or not, we can cheat entropy for more precious time to explore Mycus's lab if we ever need it. And I recall, a pony with 'passing' knowledge' is standing next to me. If anything you are overqualified." noblepony pointed out before pausing. "Although......if Mycus himself could stave off his own aging for so long, how we can say if he didn't found a way to do the same for his sorcery?" he asked.

 

Squall could only roll his eyes when Sparkle nitpicked his choice of words.

"But you DID study those disciplines, did you?" he asked on reflex before dismissing the subject with wave of the hoof. "Nevermind, have it your way Princess Thesaurus." stallion conceded while borrowing one of MANY nicknames that Pathfinder gave to the purple mare. "I am quite familiar with tomb raiding myself. Used to have a few scars to proved it before Fire pressed me to get rid off them." he added. While physically gone without trace, he still had phantom pains form a wounds long gone, especially on his back.

 

When they boarded the ship, and Annurca left to the vessel's bridge, Squall leaned towards Sparkle and whispered to her ear.

"Just don't mention Applejack when near her. She doesn't like to be compared to her cousin. Also mentioning REA higher command is another Big No." he warned Twilight. Apparently his subordinate was very touchy when it came to those subjects.

 

Squall gave yet another affirmative nod.

"I kept sending her various materials, end eventually she found much better atherical conductor. I think she remedied the leakage too, although if you want details you have to press Bevel herself. On our part, we worked on how we could make more efficient battery. Neighponese golemmu and their power cores were very...educational in that regard. After some search we found manufacturer who was more willing than others to part with their trade secrets, so we could improve on them." unicorn explained.

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"It would certainly be very interesting if he managed to do that. Extending a lifespan with powerful magic is possible, though rare. Rejuvenating one's own aetheric energies to help forestall ageing is a known spell quality, if very difficult to pull off. And there are many spells designed to be long-lasting as a base element, and anything we encounter of the sort may very well remain. But artificially lengthening the life of a spell if it isn't a major component of the spell requires one of two things. Either the area needs to be kept isolated from other aetheric fields and you create what is called an aetheric tiding loop. Gusty the Great's spellwork around Mount Everhoof is the greatest example of this. 

The enchanted winds create a self-regenerating magical loop that powers itself and powers a barrier spell nearby that is connected to it. It can only do this because there are no other active auras within a certain distance of the originating points. If there were other active auras within range, then it would prove dangerous as one's own aetheric aura could be affected by the spells.

Of course, that leaves it open to the other possibility. Spells that can drain small amounts of aether from around them, usually from sentient auras. This can lead to a rash of illnesses though if the originating point isn't discovered. I wonder if we looked into the city blocks around the site if we'd find a lot of aether illnesses over the years? Or, as you suggested, he found another method. So many possibilities!"
Twilight spoke breathlessly, geeking out over the possibilities. What an exciting time to be alive, with all of these magical relics, theorems, and elements being discovered, rediscovered, understood, and applied. She knew better than most to be both skeptical but to never say no to a possibility, no matter how absurd it was. Much of her life had become absurd, why not everything else?

One thing that she knew for certain was rather silly, however, was tomb raiding. It usually meant disturbing elements of rest and peace for little cause- rarely providing new and bold insights. "Tomb raiding is a silly pony's game. I think we're both familiar with a pegasus mare who would be well served if she stayed home with her wife and out of the various hotspots she finds herself in. Fire has the right idea," She joked, wondering if Squall would take it in the intended manner. Hopefully he would, and would continue to concur with his wife's sound logic.

The explanation of how they had conquered some of the problems that faced the vessel were interesting, to say the least. "Good, good! Neighponese golemmu though...that could prove tricky over time. They tend to overload Equestrian aetheric circuits due to their natural anti-grav flux auras impeding most protective elements of natural aetherium. I hope she compensated for it with a less severe transference mechanism," Twilight said as she levitated a drink up to her and to her companion.
"A drink to success?"

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"We would have to access medical records of every hospital in Roam, and even those go so far back. Perhaps Archives of Biblioteca Gloria Augusta could shed some light..." Squall said before stopping, realizing he got carried away by Princess enthusiasm. "Well maybe after we search the site, and if our appraisal proves inconclusive." he added.

 

 

Swift couldn't help by Twilight dismissal of his prior occupation. As such his following words were said in much colder tone, the prior one, even if they were still respectful.

"We are, the difference is I used to do what she still does. And so I understand her while you....don't." he glanced at the Princess and she could see fire in his eyes.

"Pathfinder and I are cut from the same cloth, even if tailor is different. We may stay at home, but sooner or later a howl in our hearts calls us. And so we go, seeking new experiences, new adventures, new horizons. There are many ponies and beings like us, some do it for glory, some for a challenge, and others for sheer thrill of it. We don't die in our beds." he explained with fiery passion.

"Dismiss what she does as silly, or as vandalism or whatever Miss Sparkle, but if not for restless spirits like ours that dare to leap in unknown, we still would live in caves and smash each other heads with clubs." Swift said with conviction. Moment's later he slumped on his seat with depressed expression however, as he often did.

"I love my Fire, more than anything. And I know she's tired and just wishes for some stability. But sometimes I miss that burning look in her eyes, when she would jump into adventure without second thought, just so she could have another amazing story to tell at the bar." noblpony confessed. "Is it wrong for me to think such way?" he asked.

 

 

 

 

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By the afternoon of the day 'Découverte' and it's passengers were already over the rolling hills of Itaily. Vineyards and ancient ruins passed below them, while the sparkling of the sea already lit the horizon.

"We are almost there....." Squall said as he emerged from his cabin. A little rest - short as it was- rejuvenated him, and no swordpony looked much better, hsi step firmer and his gaze sharper.

"By now my employees must have finished construction of the survey camp." he mused to the purple alicorn. "Again, don't worry if you forgot something in hurry Miss Sparkle. The equipment they brought with them should prove more then satisfactory if you need it." Squall reassured his royal companion.

Soon enough he was proven correct. Situated around a large 'sinkhole' was something that could only be be compared to a military base. How TEMPEST managed to this just overnight was...well, a trade secret. The signals from the sky-control tower soon directed them to land along with dozne other airships. No doubt it was them that brought all of those materials and equipment.

"And here we are. Hmmm?" he murmured while they departed. Almost immediately some corpulent stallion, surrounded by what looked bunch of clerks begun approaching their landing site. "Oh, this is going to be good."

"Count Squallcoast this is outragous!" Mayor Beronccolo wasted no time in laying his complaints with thick Itailian accent. "This land is under Roam's jurisdiction! I ask, no DEMAND that you and your employees end this unsanctioned occupation.....!"

"I have my sanctionist right here Mayor." Swift said while stepping aside to reveal his companion

"....Right noftfhwyspp--Princess...Y-Y-You Highness..." other stallion eyes opened wide upon seeing WHO Squallcoast brought with him.

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Squall decided to take her comment and went on one of his patented, famous half-rants. You could say many things about the Count but that he lacked passion would never be one of them, even when it was misdirected and misunderstood. Still, she knew better than to interrupt him when he was a role. She often wondered why he didn't commit himself to stage acting at some point. He had all the details in facial expression and body language to succeed rather wildly at it, she believed. After he spoke she shook her head.

"No, it isn't wrong for you to think in such a way, Count,” she said softly, not allowing his fire to unsettle her. Then she herself looked sternly at him.
“But you need to understand that more often than not, the greater good of Equestria is served in a decidedly more boring fashion than in an adventure. Losing ponies of quality such as yourself or Pathfinder not because of danger, but because of thrill, is a disservice to those who love you as much as it is a disservice to Equestria," she said as she took a drink.

“I study magic. I study very dangerous magic. When I was younger, even a few years ago, I would do so simply because I could and wanted to. But I am a Princess now and I realize that I can't do it alone, and I can't do it simply because I want to. I do so because I have to, and I go into it with a clear idea of the risks. One such risk is that I am incapacitated in some manner and cannot fulfil my duties to Equestria. It would be irresponsible of me to become incapacitated because I am committing myself to dangerous study on account of personal desire, so I try to ensure that I take such larger risks only when what I am doing is important.

“It is irresponsible of adventurers such as Pathfinder when, after making the obligations they make to something larger than themselves, they decide that their personal thrill-seeking overrides those obligations,”
she added, looking out into the skies. “We are all free to do as we wish, but there are responsibilities we are born with, ones we grow into, and those we choose. The truly great are cognizant of them and act accordingly. Pathfinder often isn't. You normally are. Fire always is. That is the difference.”

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Twilight hadn't rested on the way. Indeed, she had other pieces to work on. She brought out a notebook and carved a very particular spell into it. Unlikely to be needed but better safe than sorry. She looked over her schedule and the new tax code for the itinerants of Mustangia, as well as the establishment of the new Equestrian Diplomatic Corp. So many small tasks to take up the time! The trip was in all actuality perfect. Free from the Castle, free from the School, able to just accomplish work. Indeed, she felt like she got more done in a few short hours than she would have over the course of days back in Ponyville. It was grand!

In time they were over the target. Itaily was a unique province of Equestria. It had an established state before Equestrians found their way to the region. While Equestria easily could have conquered it or forced it to join, it did nothing. Over years it was Itaily that slowly moved into union with the larger pony nation. It still had its own armed forces, though they were simply a few regiments under Equestria's control, and administered itself in most matters. She had been to Roam a few times and found it a fascinating place. It was the only location she knew of on the continent with its unique mixture of Acroneighsian and Kastroti architecture.

Squall awoke after a short nap. “I'm sure your organization has it well in hoof!” She said with a jolt, getting off of her rump and ready to go. In due time they were on the ground. Indeed, the TEMPEST corporation had done a great job. She would have everything she'd need no doubt. And speaking of no doubt- on queue, the Mayor. Not a bad stallion, but the wrong stallion today. Squall allowed her to take it and she approached him with a smile, and offered her hoof.

"Mayor Beronccolo, a pleasure. Thank you for keeping the perimeter safe. Your help has been appreciated and noted when this is made public. If you could continue to assure that nopony enters the perimeter while Tempest, Count Squallcoast, and myself handle this matter, that would be very helpful. We'll speak later, Mayor," she said politely, slowly but surely manoeuvring to help gently lead the Mayor away while not overtly doing so.

When he was gone she turned around smiling.
"Alright! To work."
 

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Twilight make quick work of Beronccolo, so much that he didn't had to interrupt. So he didn't , instead opting to wait before Roam official was away from the earshot.

"......I just can't muster myself to like him you know Sparkle. That selfishness of his and...." Swift paused as he walked past the purple alicorn "...we had a talk resolving around this last night didn't we? What's the difference between the Beronccolo and Pathfinder then? Hear earnest, infectious joy from doing what does? Her honesty in her commitment to it.....?" Squall asked, as much himself as his companion before pausing again,, this time for longer.

"......Sorry. I usually not hang-up on one topic like this. That it hardly a place to do so...." noblepony apologized for his poor timing before leading the way towards......

 

SF Fedora Regular

 

"........you know, now that I said it out loud...it sounded better in my head. Not like a title of flick of a certain kind." Squall mused to Twilight, now that they were standing on the edge of the giant sinkhole, big enough to swallow Crystaller Building whole. "Did anything new came up while we were still getting here?" he asked, turning towards couple of TEMPEST employees that were bustling around aetherical measuring devices.

In response to the question, a bookish looking mare trotted towards the pair. She shot the Princess a quick look and blushed fiercely before focusing her attentionon her boss.

"A-Actually I have a ton of new data Sir! We still s-s-sieving through it, but this is what we got so far." she said before hoofing the Squall a printout a hurrying away, his face still furiously crimson.

"Thank you Vanilla. Somepony has a fan." Swift thanked the bespecteled mare before teasing royal one. The business-stallion then turned his gaze  at the document. As he did this his amused smile slowly disappeared to be replaced by a troubled frown. He was no specialist on obscure wizardry or alchemy - a reason he asked Twilight for help in a first place -  but he had enough experience with sorcery, curses and enchantments to have broad idea what they were against.

 He quickly gave Sparkle the document so she could have a look herself. "This...this is problematic. I only once saw something like this - in ancient tomb at Pharaoh's Vale - and it wasn't as vitriolic as this. Whatever Mycus was doing down there, it made and artificial lay-line, and now it's bleeding out now that the cork was pulled. If we don't deal with this, Roam can have a new Everfree at it's doorstep. From where in Tartarus he got all of that excess aeather from?!" Swift spoke aloud the question both of them were having.

"We will need some very special equipment for this." he added.

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Twilight responded only once the Mayor had completely departed. "The difference is that the Mayor can be handled with a few words, and his interference was never going to be a threat. He is a paper concern at most, and not even that. Pathfinder is infinitely better than the Mayor and infinitely more dangerous to herself and those who care for her. She is worthy of far more respect than the Mayor. It doesn't maker her occupation needlessly dangerous for the sake of her own thrills. Juxtaposition of two opposites does not infer upon one or the other a measure of correctness by the nature of the comparison. It only highlights the strengths and the weaknesses of both- with the weakness of the Mayor not being a strength for Pathfinder, nor her foibles," she replied, eyeing up the area around her. They approached and she nodded approvingly at the work in front of her as her horn lit up.


She was silent for a moment or three, smiling politely at the obviously starstruck mare. It came with the position. She found it strange still but she saw no reason to be rude about it, nor any reason to make a big deal about it. After the mare left, Twilight's eyes went all white as she investigated the aether. After he spoke, she replied in an even, inquisitive tone.
"I doubt we're looking at something at the next Everfree, actually. The aether that is leaking out is not antithetical to Equestrian magic by itself. It does not create what is known as a Free-Standing Void, a state in which magic is not bound and reactive to normal laws as it fills a vaccum with random aether. With the seal damaged, it is likely sucking very minute traces of aether from ponies in the area with active auras. It is actually a rather elegant design, if you're trying to sustain a magical containment without any overt damage being done. Of course it has entered a rather...terminal phase of its life-cycle. The real danger is that it will attempt to accelerate this leeching until it reaches a critical stage, and creates a magical blowback," she said as she started scraping her horn on the ground. 

 

Like flicks of nothingness, elements of the dirt vanished as if they had never existed. She frowned.
"In that case we wouldn't be looking at a new Everfree Forest. We'd be looking at...well, a magical, low-level equivalent of a supernova. The aether in this area would go off the charts. Instead of magical powers simply not obeying normal laws, they'd be rewriting laws in a certain radius," she said as her horn started shifting the color, casting dark where color may not exist. The wall seemed to shimmer, and whisps of impossible energy seemed to vibrate off. She stepped back and everything set itself back to normal, her horn and eyes following. She shook her head and turned to Swift Squall, equal parts excited and concerned.

 

"Of course, that won't happen for some time. The spell was only meant to intake enough aether to keep the containment spell up. While it will grow in need and desire, it won't do so exponentially. A hazard of a guess of course, but...carry the six...to the power," she looked up, eyes closed. Then she turned back around, touching the area. "We have enough time. At least until we do something to destablize it. You're right that we need something special for it. I assume you have an aetherage slipping mechanism? If anypoy would have one, it'd be you. Combined with the proper spell and we will be safe while we go inside."

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"Hmphh....I wonder if you ever find question you can't answer." he pondered before deciding to drop the topic for now.

 

"The question is what broke the seal. Certainly not some sinking of dirt and rocks mixed with water, I refuse to believe Mycus didn't foreseen that. Especially since his time didn't had an unified weather control as it is today, to prevent that sort of thing." Squall pointed out.

 

All the questions about reason of that phenomenon had to take a backseat in the face of very discouraging, even explosive evaluation done by Twilight.

".........I think I prefer to have Everfree 2 spontaneously sprouting around us." he answered in deadpan tone. Right, another location in danger of exploding. For Swift it seemed like a rerun of that one adventure in Unyasi....

"....At least there is no lava this time around. Or insane cultists...." he mused aloud as he begun to lead Purple Princess to where his staff kept more unusual equipment in.

".......In regards to your question - I actually have three....." he said while opening the massive container. What Princess witnessed was perhaps the most expensive collection of gadgetry in Equestria.

"Oh don't give me that look. I am sitting on 57 billion bits Sparkle, and that's only counting liquid assets." he commented while rummaging through gathering of magical gizmos.

That took several minutes.

 

"...THERE we go...." noblepony finally exlaimed while he laid two Aetherage Slippers on the table.

"We may as well take additional one, just in case. And speaking of precautions...." Squall took another quick look at the report they received earlier.

"I am worried how high aeather saturation supposedly is down there. Don't get me wrong, I have full faith in you spellcraft Miss Twilight, protective or otherwise. However if something goes wrong, you alicorn physiology will allow you to shrug aeather pressure...at least for a while. I on the other hoof am but an unicorn, and for all that we know, Mycus could kept something with properties of Chrysalis's throne in his lab. Thankfully I have something that will act as additional layer of protection..." he mused as he walked to what was a circular metal container.....

 

The metallic casket opened at stallion's touch, to unveil a suit of full body armor - a very advenced, high tech armor judging from it's looks. What followed was a lengthy rundown made by the Swift.

"This is something that Bevel and Zelda cooperated to make, the XA Suit. Flexible enchanted adamantite plates overlay a liquid crystal from the Crystal Empire with sungold particles and powdered Whitescar wood added in. Underneath that is moonsliver dipped tri-weave mesh made from Laval Moth silk. The crystalline layer absorb all unwelcome aeather which also power's up suit's enchantments and any additional equipment I decide to bring with it, thanks to modular construction. The liquid also harden in response to impact granting unrivaled shock absorption without limiting mobility. Not only that, but in unlikely case the adamantite will be pierced the liquid fully crystallizes around the wound to stop the bleeding, while moonsliver acts as the dis-infectious and antivenom dressing. The metal parts are each enchanted individually, with strength increasing spells and were submerged in alchemical formulas to enhance their durability without adding weight. The muzzle-plates act as the filters to all harmful gaseous substances, and dragon jade lenses...." Squall could kept talking about capabilities of this armor, but meaningful look from purple mare made him pause in his tracks.

"R-Right. I guess you get the idea. So ummm, feel free to take anything else you could judge as helpful..." swordstallion added while waving his hoof at he container insides. "On the house."

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She didn't have to wait more than a few seconds for him to produce the goods. You could always count on Squall to be prepared! Or to overdo it. Twilight was impressed, sure. But three of the devices were overkill. Nice that he was thinking ahead, though. "Three will work. Well, one will work. If we need a second, then we have likely been reduced to atomic particles. A third and it is doubtful that reality is still folded in a stable manner. But a backup in case the aetheric inductor system starts to overwork itself is always appreciated," She said excitedly as it was set up. As this was happening he unveiled his suit. And what a suit it was. And what a sales pitch she was being given!

It was a lot to take in, especially since he ran over the details in...well, detail. A nice suit to be sure, though overdesigned. Of course when you got Squall, who only knew how to go 150% on everything- Bevel, whose only real joy in life was mechanical and inventive- and Zelda, who could solve any problem, you'd get something equal parts great and overdesigned.

She'd keep her comments to herself, if only because he seemed so desperately pleased with the suit. It as a heck of a design, to be sure. Always impressive, what he made.

As he ran down the details her horn lit up and her eyes went white. An astral version of herself, invisible to everypony else, popped into existence. Through her eyes, the area was a roiling sea of aether, leaking and contained in equal parts yet endlessly pouring out. She frowned. Far more raw aether than she had thought. She travelled along the edges of the enclosure, detailed as it was by the elder spells arranged in certain manners. She needed an entrance. Not a physical entrance. That much was easy. But the tides of aether could cause damage to her company for the day if she were to allow him to pass carelessly through. His suit- the details of which were still filtering in- would help only so much if they chose the wrong path. But this was...almost too much.
 

She sighed in the aether. Okay. The magic was not lethal or entirely dangerous on its own, but the sheer amount of it was too much to really handle in any single go. Yet they didn't have the time needed to really dispel or rotate the aetheric ley lines. So the path needed to be of least resistance, not free of it. Her incorporeal form took flight and observed the outside of the structure from above and to the side, with the city being little more than small aetheric construction signatures and pinpricks of individual signatures.

There were cracks, but the cracks were the worst places to make an entrance. Too much going on. The rest of the aetheric structure was intact. Tough, something she could dispel- GIVEN TIME. Too much time. They were in no immediate danger but they didn't want to dawdle. Time passed. Squall continued talking about his suit. She continued searching. It felt..fruitless...
 

Something seemed to catch her vision. She looked around and saw...another mare? She tried to read the face but almost had to pull out of the spell entirely when she tried. The aetheric afterimage was so intense it felt like...like the mare was a simple pile of aether. But she, it, smiled? Where had she seen that smile before- back with Daedalus, in the- had to be, but-
Twilight focused. When she had, the creature, the mare, the being vanished. Not vanished. Sunk? Beneath, no she was diving beneath. And when she finally focused on where it was...yes, under. Her eyes followed a natural trail, a fracture in the spell matrix. It went down, around the barrier, and finished inside. Her eyes lit up-
 

-And in real life, her eyes finally went dull, as Squall finished speaking. She chuckled, half nervously, half impishly. “You're a walking tech demonstration at times, Squall,” she said as a friendly jab, trying to push the many questions about that magical being away. She had first encountered it, her, it, her, whatever it was, back in the frozen north. She didn't know what it was, and that concerned her. She wouldn't deal with that now. Important thing was to ensure they completed this task.
"Your suit should protect you, but we'll be as safe as we can be," she said as wandered around before finding her position on the ground. "Aha, here," she said, marking it with her horn. Once she was done, she lit it up. For about ten seconds she cast a spell, eventually pulling away from the ground. A purple-tinged portal was on the ground, barely large enough for two hooves.
 

"It'll be less than pleasant, but I've opened a portal through the fracture I found in the structure of the aether. That should give us the least amount of direct contact with the active elements of the spell. Once we're on the other side, the portal will close so as to not allow a leakage cascade to start. Once we're in the structure we shouldn't have too much in terms of retrograde aetheric recurrence or disentanglement. Ready? Two hooves first, then wiggle." 

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"Less savvy when it comes to it then I sound." Squall admitted "I am but an eternal learner you see - because I have policy to know about what I am spending my money on Sparkle." noblepony added. "That's why my TEMPEST actions are not on on Stock Market, and why I don't have anyone from Sales or Marketing on my board of directors. Also why I am not reaching for monopoly on certain markets. Although I have a feeling you would have something to tell about it if I ever tried." Swift said with a smirk. What followed were his musings about managing a business.

"Here's what so many companies don't get - Competition. Is. Good. This arms race to bring new contractors, new customers. And it makes you know what you are selling. Imagine you are a product pony in a company that makes, say, instruments. So you make a new, better flute. So what? When you have monopoly market share, the company is not anymore successful because of that. And as such, the ponies that rise the sales are from sales and marketing, with them ending up running said companies. Product ponies are driven out of decision making forums. And so product sensibilities, that genius that made them make great product is rotted out - by ponies that have no clue what is good product or bad product is, and have no idea how to turn craftsmanship into profit." Squall summed this short lesson up before he started donning his suit while Twilight worked on her sorcery.

 

When Twilight managed to conjure the portal, Swift grimaced under the helmet. Couldn't it be a little bit bigger? She was messing with him, wasn't she?

"The last time I saw a portal, a very angry, and very malicious oni tired to squash me like a grape." swordstallion recalled a certain secret mission to Neighpon where he and his EPIC teammates stopped WRAITH nefarious scheme. The suit also added quite impressive reverb to noblepony's already very deep voice.

"Fine...." unicorn spoke after a pregnant pause "But I swear to Aeather, if you mention this part to Fire, you will be smeared in newspapers all around Equestria for a whole week." Squall threatened the purple princess.

 

"..........Audentes fortuna iuvat." noblpony mumbled before leaping into the air and diving down into magical passage. And as expected he got initially stuck. Well, no surprise there. After all, this armor bulked him out considerably, even if it's build didn't limit his agility at all. What followed wat a rather impressive display of contortions. Few knew that Swift had skills rivaling those of Equestria Games gymnasts - with only Fire Walker having regular insight into Squallcoast capabilities in that regard. Businesspony was certainly glad that his hindquarters were heavily armored right now.

After a minute of energetic.....wiggling.....Squall manged to squeeze through the portal. Luckily Sparkle had enough insight to open the other end high - giving swordstallion enough time to twist midair and land on his hooves. Even before his armored limbs touched the floor, four swords of his were already drawn, with stallion ready to face any potential guardian ready to intercept the intruder.

 

Luckily his caution proved unnecessary - at least for the time being. The light given by two of his spellsabers revealed that he was in what could only be a massive antechamber.  The enormous relief the stone walls depicted cloaked ponies, their robes covered in alchemy symbols, as they worked over various apparatuses. The enormous door that was on his left far overshadowed the much smaller one on his right. It surely had to lead further into Mycuses laboratory. While he had no idea what was behind the door that Twilight magic allowed them to skip, all of his instincts told him that opening it would be a very poor idea.

"It's alright Sparkle, it's safe." Swift said, certain that royal pony can hear him. "As safe as it could be for two ponies diving neck first into the unknown that is."

 

 

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