The words of the young dragon Pitchblende, personal assistant of (and sole witness to the demise of) Boltzmane, the great unicorn scholar and librarian of Equestria. These words were delivered to me in a scroll in the Principality of Cygnia, during the year of the Great Return of Spring. I, Albirion, entrust them to you my heirs, whose right eyes be a different color from your left. They are to be kept sealed with your lives until the day that the Gryphon Principalities and Equestria join hoof in talon and live as one in peace and harmony.
To Albirion, dear friend of my master, Boltzmane:
I have written for you in this report a summary of recent events, as instructed to me by my master. The following is a truthful account of the events of the Great Return of Spring, and the role that Boltzmane had played in them:
During the imprisonment of Nightmare Moon, Celestia, Princess of Equestria and goddess of the day, had been ailed by a sickness that lasted many years. The sun's light had grown feeble, and planting season had become difficult under the reluctance of the snow to thaw in time for planting season. A famine had spread throughout Equestria, and the task of finding the cause of Celestia’s illness had been given to the elder unicorn scholar Boltzmane, appointed Curator of the Royal Library in those years. For long he had searched the books of the library, but was unable to find an explanation or produce a diagnosis from all the medical knowledge of Equestria. He had given up, and blamed the illness of the Princess on fatigue; she had for three centuries presided over both night and day in the absence of Princess Luna, goddess of the night. Thus, it was decided that Princess Celestia should rest.
However, the years grew colder, and one harsh winter, the coldest ever in Equestrian history, this explanation no longer satisfied the royal council nor the leaders of the cities of Equestria. Their citizens had grown thin and perished in great numbers, and they demanded that he find a way to bring warmth back to the land. Seeing their desperation, and fearing they would have him executed if he failed, the Curator abandoned all sense and trespassed into the forbidden crypt of the alicorn gods, deep within the innermost cloister of the palace of Canterlot. To hide his absence, he conjured a doppelganger to dwell in the library in his stead, while he sought in the crypt the secrets of the magic of the alicorns. He had hoped to practice the same magic which Princess Celestia performed by virtue of her birthright, and restore warmth to Equestria.
There in the crypt he found an ancient tome that gave an overview of the secret workings of the universe, and began to study its contents. But it contained many disenchanting secrets about the universe, about Equestria, and about his beloved ruler, the Princess. As he read the words of its treatise on alicorn magic, his countenance fell. He surrendered hope of bringing back the sun, for there was no magic that would restore it. Madness consumed him, and he resolved to know all of the volume’s tempting secrets before his lamp oil ran dry and he would face death before the leaders of Equestria.
Three days passed, and on the morning of the third day he had studied the volume’s treatise on light and heat. It was then that the knowledge of the tome brought to him an idea that would restore warmth to the land. So great was his excitement that for an instant his mane turned to fire, and this flame leaped from his neck and consumed the pages of the tome. He cursed himself and wept bitterly, for he knew what such a great volume represented to Equestria. As he restored the empty tome to its place, he hoped that his trespass and the desecration of the tome would never be discovered, but also that its precious knowledge was written elsewhere than in his notes.
As the Curator left the crypt, he imagined his plan. He knew that he would not be able to enlist the help of the haughty and powerful unicorns of Canterlot, aware of how they would not have the humility to listen to what would sound to them like a foolish plan, and may inquire about the source of the knowledge on which he based it. Thus, he sent forth messengers to every city far and near, to enlist earth and pegasus ponies from across Equestria. Two days later, the laborers, which numbered six hundred and forty-two, had been gathered in Canterlot. From the final reserves of Canterlot’s granaries, they were given enough oats to feed themselves for twenty days. Boltzmane led the ponies into the late winter’s cold, each bearing nothing but paltry warm garments and the food they would eat. From Canterlot they marched west into a snow-covered valley. (This valley had been home to a small clan of ponies before the snow of this particular winter had buried them alive.)
When they had arrived, and they had set their burdens down, Boltzmane revealed his plan to them. He spoke these words: “The earth ponies shall work to move the snow, to expose the dark soil beneath. The pegasus ponies shall clear the clouds from the sky during the day, and restore them to the valley at dusk. Thus, the ground shall take the sun’s warmth by day, and the veil of clouds shall keep it by night. For you see, heat and light are as water and vapor, and we shall make this valley a catch-still.”
One pony spoke up, and asked: “why must we let the dirt eat the warmth of the sun? And why must the snow be moved by our toil?”
And another, this one a pegasus, asked “why should we hide the stars of the night?”
Seeing their confusion, he thus spoke to them in a parable: “The dirt is not as the snow. Like a good friend’s heart, all of the warmth it receives, it also gives. The snow is as a poor friend’s heart, which takes from the warmth it receives and gives little in return, and doing this, it slowly melts. That is why the grass grows in the dirt but dies in the snow. The clouds are as the forelimbs of this valley, for when they are open wide, the ground may embrace the sun to receive its warmth, whether it be snow or dirt. But at night, we must close them so that the ground does not give its warmth to the greater emptiness of the night. And now, we shall dig and melt to the true heart of this valley.”
The ponies received and heeded his words, moving the snow and rolling the clouds in the sky back and forth. Boltzmane ate sparingly in those days, giving two-thirds of his daily ration to the meekest among them. He reserved his strength and magic only to stand and lead them, and to goad the reluctant. The oats ran out as the laborers toiled on for twenty-five days, and they began to die; pegasi fell from the sky, while their earthbound brethren collapsed under their great burdens of snow. The laborers implored him to let them rest, and to mourn the dead, but he would not allow them a day of rest. The bodies of the dead lay where they had fallen in the snow as the living continued to toil around them, adding to their numbers.
On the thirtieth day of their labor, when the mud beneath the snow had finally been uncovered, a great miasma began to rise from the bodies of the dead. Seeing the misery of the faithful under the stench that covered the valley, Boltzmane relented, and gave them a day to gather the bodies into one place and to mourn. And when the sun rose on the morning of the next day, blades of grass came forth from the mud, and apple trees sprouted from the bodies of the ponies who had fallen. The living saw it, and were filled with new hope, knowing that their travail had not been in vain.
While the laborers continued to toil, moving the last of the snow, a pegasus filly named Kitalpha was given the task of bearing the report of this progress to Canterlot. She was the meekest of the surviving pegasi, and she flew very slowly, for she was famished and her wings ached from moving the icy clouds. When she had reached the royal city, the sun had begun to set, and all saw her flying to the palace. When they saw how her thin hide was stretched across her bones, they feared, and cried out, “it is one of the ancient spirits, that has come to bring death to our Princess!” But once the guards and royal council had stopped her, and saw how she bore the seal of the Curator, they carried her into the bedchamber of the Princess.
There, Kitalpha stood and gave the full account of what the ponies in the valley to the west had done, and that spring had returned there. After she had finished, and the Princess and all present had received her words, she collapsed to the chamber floor and died. At that moment, a mighty storm brewed in the depths of the sun, and Princess Celestia wept. She declared a memorial to be held, and sent her audience away from her chamber bearing the body of Kitalpha. The Princess mourned throughout the night, for the faithful ponies who had died to restore spring, and the filly who had borne the news of their sacrifice with her own life.
When dawn arrived, and her tears had dried, Princess Celestia leaped from her sickbed and into the sky, and the restored sun shone brilliantly upon the land. She flew all across Equestria, and delivered in person the news of the few and faithful ponies who with their own hooves and wings and lives had restored life to a desolate valley. By day, as she flew, the warm presence of spring touched the land in her wake, and by night, a brilliant aurora covered the skies over Equestria. The aurora transformed her mane and tail as she flew through it, so that in generations to come, all who looked upon her would be reminded of those nights of hope requited and the Great Return of Spring.
Thus the events of the Great Return of Spring took place. Know that this account you have received contradicts the partial record that I had produced for the Equestrian historical archives, which I wrote before the messenger was sent. Being privy to my master’s true motivations and actions, I resolved to reveal nothing of them in written or spoken word. This is because, before leaving Canterlot, he had told me: “The revelation and avowal of my deeds is my duty, and mine alone.” Thus, I had attributed his ideas to mere madness. The events that followed the report of Kitalpha I can only detail by personal account, due to the nature of their circumstances and my limited knowledge.
During the report, as I was present to record her words, I overheard a few members of the Royal Council murmuring: “why did the Curator not summon unicorns to use magic?” Celestia too seemed distraught by this question as she gave audience to the pitiable creature standing before her, and I began to fear that my master’s actions were being called into question. After the Princess had sent us away, I tried to recover the Curator’s seal from the body of the messenger. However, the porters would not let me near her body, and they said: “she shall be buried with it.” I then returned to the Curator’s chamber and immolated the doppelganger, as my master had instructed me to do should anyone begin to suspect him during his absence. Unbeknownst to me, a member of the council had followed me into the chamber, having fooled my senses with his powerful magic. When I had finished disposing of my master’s likeness, this unicorn revealed himself for a brief moment. The flash of white light that immediately followed was the last that I remember of that night.
When I awoke in the chamber, Boltzmane was standing beside me, praising divine providence that I had come alive. His hide was stretched across his bones in the same manner as Kitalpha’s, yet he was also covered from nose to hindquarters in gray lesions, and his voice was a thin husk of the commanding voice it had once been. I feared for him and inquired as to the time and circumstances of his illness’s inception. But he interrupted me with a frantic chain of questions: “It is the sixth morning since the messenger was sent. When do you last remember being awake? Where are my research notes? Why was the chamber door sealed with a powerful spell?” and, “What happened to your spines?”
After that final question, I reached to the back of my head, and felt that they had been worn down to my scales, as if by centuries of sandstorms. I then remembered the intruder, and recounted the events to him, beginning with Kitalpha. After I finished, there was a pause between us, and he smiled at me.
He then began to speak: “Thank you, dear Pitchblende, for your faithfulness. I noticed the first signs of the illness when I saw my reflection in a puddle on the fourth morning after Kitalpha was sent. Thus, I bid the laborers farewell, and separated myself from among them. At a safe distance from them, I ate my fill of the tender new grass of the valley, and began my journey back to Canterlot. On the morning of the next day, I arrived at the gates of the city, and asked to see an apothecary. But the guards threatened to strike me down if I drew nearer, lest I bring pestilence into the city. They did not recognize who I was.”
I then told him about his hoof-signet, of which he said: “That, and my position as Curator, are no longer important.”
He continued: “I retreated from sight, and rested beside a waterfall. For the remainder of that day, I meditated, and with all of my concentration, I recalled the forbidden treatise on alicorn magic. As the sun began to set, I poured out my magic and embedded an enchantment within my cloak. Then, under nightfall, and with a garment that would hide me from even Celestia’s gaze, I passed through the gate as it was closing and made my way through the city. I was fortunate that few stirred in the streets, despite the splendor of the night’s aurora. Thus, I am confident that no one else has been infected.”
I asked him: “What of yourself, and what if I am infected? Can this illness be cured? And why, master, did you risk your life, travelling back to Canterlot in your condition?”
He answered me thus: “Oh Pitchblende, this is a well-known illness. It only afflicts the lesser three equine races, its contagion does not last long outside of the body, and with proper medicine it can be stopped. But for the old and weary, of which I am both, it can only be delayed. I returned to Canterlot to give you your final task and instructions, and to see you one last time, dear friend.”
I embraced him, and wept into his mane. After I had dried my tears, I asked him: “What can I do for you, master?”
He then gave me these instructions: “I wish for you to perform a duty that you do well: write. Write a truthful account of the events of our time, record my words, and take note of all that you witness happening in this palace. When you have finished making note of them, write a compendium of all these things, and send it to a childhood friend of mine, whose name and locale I will soon relate. But you will need assistance, for I fear that the Princess and the council may suspect the use of dragonfyre to send messages. On the morning after I die, go to the high balcony of the palace keep, and Noctua will come. She will bear your written words.” (My master spoke of his familiar, a great owl.) “You will also take this and cover yourself with it, while you remain in the palace and its city.” He then presented his folded cloak to me, and said: “Canterlot is no longer a safe place for you.”
I assisted the weary Boltzmane into his bed, and brought him food and water. After he had finished eating and drinking, he recited to me a short excerpt from the forbidden treatise on alicorn magic, and he gave me your name and location in the Gryphon Principalities. He then began to reminisce fondly about days spent with you as a friend, and about how other gryphons had teased you for the appearance of your eyes. As he spoke of these things, he faded into slumber, and I continued following his instructions. While he slept I searched the chamber for my own notes, but could not find them. Thus, for the rest of that day, I wrote them anew to the full extent of my memory.
As the sun was setting in the chamber window, there came a knock on the door, and in my panic I covered my master in his cloak and wrapped a cloth around my head before answering. It was Saddlebari, a dwarf pegasus of the royal courtiers. I stepped out into the library and closed the door behind me, so as to not disturb my master, and to conceal the rattling of his breath. Saddlebari then addressed me, and interrogated me:
“Where have you been these past six days and six nights? Where were you during the previous six times I knocked? Are you not aware of the historic events that have taken place since I last saw you? The Princess will be very displeased if you are derelict in your duty to record them! Furthermore, have you not heard that your master has gone missing? He was not found among the laborers in the valley when they were given invitation to Canterlot for a reception! What’s more, a leper claiming to be him was spotted outside the city yesterday, but departed shortly thereafter, and is nowhere to be found! What say you? Why have you written nothing of these events? Are you listening to me? Is there still a dragon’s brain beneath that towel and your black-and-brown scales?”
While he prattled, my instincts told me it was better that he remain ignorant of the intrusion and my incapacitation, and of the Curator’s return. I hence lied to him, and said: “This is all a surprise to me! I was very ill, and was resting. Now that I am finally awake, please tell me more of what I have missed.” He chided me, and then proceeded to give an account of Celestia’s journey as was told by messengers from the cities of Equestria. Before departing the library, he said to me: “Princess Celestia will return to Canterlot at midnight, and will arrive at the Balcony of The Keep. Make yourself more presentable!”
I prepared to be present yet unseen at Celestia’s entrance to the palace, and made my way up to the high balcony of the palace’s keep before midnight. As I walked, I wondered why the dwarf was unaware of what had transpired in the chamber; Saddlebari was an overflowing well of news and gossip from which I occasionally drew, and few events escaped him. I also thought of the missing notes, which contained dangerous secrets similar to those that had permitted my master to pass into the city unnoticed. Before midnight, I arrived at the high balcony and began waiting in a corner. To my surprise, no courtiers were present, not even Saddlebari.
Only minutes after I first saw the Princess’s light in the distance did someone else march out to welcome her, alone. When the Princess had alighted, and her presence illuminated the balcony, I recognized the unicorn as the member of the Royal Council who had attacked me. He gave his salutation, and said: “Your Royal Highness, there is a matter of grave concern I must discuss with you, immediately, and in private. I have ordered that no courtiers be present to welcome you due to the severity of the issue.” Though she seemed bothered by this, she nodded her approval. I followed them as they made their way to his chamber, and entered behind them as the door began to close. What I then witnessed required a summoning of all my discipline to contain my fear, my sadness, and my anger.
The council member spoke thus: “Your Highness: Boltzmane, Curator of the Royal Library, has trespassed into the forbidden crypt. This was the source of the knowledge that restored spring.” He then produced the tome that my master had desecrated, and he said: “I found this in his chamber. I surmise that he had ordered his dragon to send its pages far and wide, but the incompetent Pitchblende destroyed it instead, for there was no trace of magic in it. Rest assured, Your Highness, I have taken the spines from her head, and have removed the magic from her fiery breath. She will not divulge its dangerous secrets in her master’s stead, and your reign will continue unchallenged. As for the poor souls that perished in the valley to the West, which were numbered at over three hundred, I’m afraid the reason that Boltzmane chose them instead of unicorns was the unfortunate foolishness of the lesser ponies. Being naïve, they did not question the authority of his knowledge. Your Highness, I too have grieved and mourned for them. For you see, their deaths were in vain. They died only to conceal his sins, and I pity them as you do.”
A golden fire ignited in the eyes of the Princess, and she asked: “what else have you learned?”
He replied: “the Curator was unwise, and took many notes on the secrets of the tome.” He then gestured to his nightstand, where, in a pile, lay the sum of my master’s research. He then continued to speak: “Pitchblende also wrote many private accounts of his transgressions, but they proved inconsequential and superfluous, so I disposed of them. Your Highness, I have kept all of these things as carefully guarded a secret as any, and have not indulged in the forbidden knowledge. I present them to you as evidence for my testimony. You need not thank me, for it was my solemn duty to you, as one of the Council.” With his magic, the notes and the empty tome then levitated before the Princess.
She, however, was not deceived; she declared to him: “Rasalhoof Blueblood: for your acts of hubris and unfathomable treachery, and for your trespass of the forbidden crypt, you are hereby expelled from the Royal Council and sentenced to permanent exile. Your land assets are henceforth public property of Equestria, and the foals of your deceased wife will be placed in my custody. You will no longer speak, nor practice any manner of magic, while your hooves are in my domain.” I trembled beneath my master’s cloak as she spoke these words, for (as I believed) in her glowing eyes all thoughts were lain bare! And then, with a bat of her eyelashes, the empty tome and my master’s hard work burst into blue-white flame and vanished.
Princess Celestia turned away from him and marched from the chamber. When the aurora of her tail had passed the threshold, I could no longer contain myself. I acted foolishly, revealing myself to Rasalhoof, so that he might see the contempt in my face and the white of my teeth. But he said nothing, and he could not even make a sound, for Celestia’s words had rendered him mute! He charged at me, but I concealed myself and evaded him. Having seen me vanish, he fled the chamber to pursue the Princess and beseech her without words. I followed and suppressed my mirth, watching Celestia ignore him as though he did not exist.
My thoughts then returned to Boltzmane, and I desired to be by his side; I knew that I would soon be summoned and searched for in the library and the Curator’s chamber, and that he would then be discovered. Fearing that word would travel faster than the Princess herself, and another would go before her to search for me, I entered a portal in the wall of the corridor and folded my master’s cloak. With it held between my teeth, I illegally climbed through the private stone ducts within the palace walls (that had been built for diminutive couriers and courtiers) so as to shorten my return to the library. I was very fortunate that Saddlebari had not chosen that time to use them, and I wished for a chance to thank him. When I arrived in the library, none were present, and it was illuminated only by moonlight.
My master was still alone, and asleep. While I stood in silent vigil by his side, I heard stirring and shouting elsewhere in the palace above the soft rattle of his breath. For long I waited and fought sleep, but no Princess, no council member and no courtiers arrived. Then, as the first light of dawn appeared in the sky, Princess Celestia entered, alone. The same golden fire burned in her eyes, and her mane illuminated the chamber with its glow. She looked upon the sleeping Boltzmane with anger in her countenance, and I cowered away. But as she drew near to him, the fire left her eyes, and her anger departed. She stood over him and examined his sleeping body for a moment. Then, she lowered her head and kissed his horn, and at that instant, his breath stopped.
The Princess left the chamber in the same quiet manner that she had entered, and the door closed behind her. I then rushed to my master’s side and felt his neck, his horn, and his forelegs. Boltzmane, Curator of the Royal Library of Canterlot, had died. Thus, with the cessation of one old unicorn’s heartbeat, the words of the forbidden treatise were completely and finally expunged from Equestria. Once more I embraced his neck and wept into his mane. But the light of dawn grew brighter, and I remembered the final duty I had promised him. Thus, I gathered all of my new notes together, and began writing this report for you in haste as the sun began to rise. Before finishing, I paused and tore off a piece of the cloak Boltzmane had given me, which I would later use to conceal this scroll. This remnant I hence bequeath to you.
The excerpt from the Treatise on Alicorn Magic, which Boltzmane had wished me to preserve: The will of the alicorns does not shape all of pony civilization or the universe beyond. Rather, as consummate rulers, the alicorns are involuntarily shaped by the will of the lesser equines and of the universe, so that they may become the perfect masters and embodiments of both. Beyond the limitations of their powerful magic, a system of static and immutable principles governs the sun, the planets, the stars and everything. The greatest power of the alicorns is the foretelling and awareness of every event, from solar flare to solar eclipse, as manifested in the their actions, their words, their infirmities, and even the twitching of their every muscle. What grants them this gift is their perfect and consummate surrender to the grand design, and the power of the love they hold for every one of their subjects.
It was from these words that Boltzmane had formed a firm belief: the magic to change the sun and moon and stars was a myth that substituted effects for causes. This myth, he had said, was created and maintained by the alicorns as part of a royal tradition forged by the conceit of generations across the eons. The words of this forbidden treatise continue: However, the universe and thus the alicorns, are merciful to their constituents, for to a greater extent, the future is not perfectly written in stone. This guards against the greater death where all thoughts, words and deeds of life may be known, and life becomes meaningless. It is in this ironic manner that balance and harmony in the universe are maintained; the future remains in a perpetual state of liberty, such that an act of love may ever change it.
It was my master’s wish that Equestria would one day come to know these secrets, and that all would have the wisdom to live peacefully with them. Now that I am being sought after for questioning, I must enter hiding if I am to live, and am no longer a reliable vessel for this knowledge. Hence, I hereupon entrust it, provided that Noctua successfully bears this scroll, to you, the gryphon whose name is Albirion.
Thus were written the words of the young dragon Pitchblende, servant of Boltzmane. Since the events of this writing, she has reported to me that Boltzmane’s surreptitious return to the library has remained a mystery, and that he was buried next to Kitalpha in the royal cemetery. In her subsequent reports, she has informed me that the brave ponies who labored in the valley west of Canterlot settled permanently in that land, tilling and planting, reaping bountiful harvests, and raising strong fillies and colts. Furthermore, from the land on which the dead had been lain, there grew a great orchard of apple trees. Thus was born the agrarian town of Ponyville, which became Princess Celestia's favorite city in all of Equestria. Each year, and to this day, its citizens repeat the tradition they call "Winter Wrap-up", in which the snow is rolled away from the soil and the clouds are rolled away from the sky. However, since the passing of the great librarian, the workforce of Ponyville has been without a leader or coordinator.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Midnight Shadow for kindly going out of his way to inquire of my progress, but also for his patient review and helpful suggestions despite my stubbornness. I would also like to thank Nick Nack for pointing out where the story deserved more attention and detail, and BrianBlessedPony for confirming Nick's assessments and being a generally nice person to work with.
Author's notes: Of all the things I've seen in the universe of “Friendship is Magic”, few have struck me as more silly or pointless than Winter Wrap-up and the manual interchange of night and day. So, I attempted to come up with a possible scenario where finagling the end of winter instead of letting it come naturally might be of use, for an "origins" thread on /pony/ that I had created. I made that thread in order to share some of my wacky ideas on how species, cities, traditions, legends, etc. of Equestria came to be (and to get other peoples' ideas). In that thread, we covered the parasprites, the first sonic rainboom, the ursas and Pinkie’s indefatigability with sub-paragraph blurbs. On the other hand, my Winter Wrap-up idea came out as a two-paragraph "story". In this story, none of the characters even had names. However, when I revisited the thread and thought about it more, I began to think that it would be an interesting experiment to flesh it out into an actual fanfic. So, I deleted the thread and began work on this story. Although I mostly retained its original narrative style (a quasi-Biblical terseness) reviewers had pointed out that the events after Celestia’s journey were not sufficiently explained, and thus constituted plot holes. I then set my mind to rewriting the aftermath into a more well-rounded story. I began by expanding the narrator’s role, and then decided to write the aftermath in a manner closer to ordinary prose, and less “Biblical” (it being a personal account). The largest motivation for including the aftermath in the first place was to fill the plot hole of how the story itself had become one of Equestria's secrets, yet survived. Then, after two weeks of off-and-on writing and editing, and compulsive proofreading, I left my keyboard and took a midnight walk on the beach.
Thus was born my first (and perhaps my only) fanfic.