Chapter 3: Fractal Display
Summer Solo releases a stressful sigh from his chest. He was finding it difficult to enjoy the magical performances of the other ponies. His turn would be up soon and he had difficulty quieting his performance anxiety. Try as he might to keep it to himself, Summer Solo supposed he was radiating fear because Autumn Arioso bumped his shoulder.
“Hey, it’s all for fun,” the older unicorn tried to remind him, “It’s not like this is a test that’ll determine if you have to retake a class again.”
Summer Solo inhaled deeply, held his breath, and slowly released it. He repeated this a few more times. Between the breathing exercise and his brother’s words, he managed to ease his fears into something more manageable. He gave Autumn Arioso a wordless nod to show that he was better.
“It’s interesting seeing what non-unicorns and non-magically inclined changelings are doing.” Autumn Arioso mused. “I think the merit of them trying magic for possibly the first time makes their performances special.”
Summer Solo and Autumn Arioso watched as a bat pony used a focus to have a darkness roll into the Challenge of Intelligence area. It came with a thick fog, rumbles, and flashes of ominous red light. The clouds twisted into a funnel shape that grew larger and larger. Suddenly the shadows dispersed in a swarm of shrieking bats, leaving the bat pony exposed in a dramatic and evil-looking pose.
Summer Solo backed away as the bat pony finished their performance. the crowd cheered and parents who weren’t warned of the scary act had to comfort their young foals.
“I should get ready. I’ll be up after the next one.”
Summer Solo’s name was introduced and he nervously stepped out from behind the archway wings. In his mouth, he carried a somewhat hefty sack, in which were dozens of hoof-selected glass gemstones. He and Autumn Arioso had spent several nights sorting through them to arrange them by color, size, and shape. When he reached the center of the field, Summer Solo dropped the sack by his feet and released one last sigh.
He took a dramatic and elegant bow. As he raised his head and body, he used his magic to begin pulling out the glass gems. He kept his movements slow and fluid, graceful and exaggerated. Once all of the gems were out of the bag, he had them all circle around him in a pattern of crossing rings.
The sun hit the gems and refracted light, creating a dazzling display of color. He gave the audience a moment to enjoy the light show, allowing them just long enough to believe that might be the extent of his magical ability. But then he shot the gems skyward, hanging over the entirety of the field. The act was quick and could have easily been seen as something that was done without much thought, but Summer Solo had carefully arranged each gem.
Currently, the gems were all angled in such a way as to make the audience not see them very well. But slowly, he began to rotate them on their axes as he simultaneously began to orbit them. The gems caught the sun’s light once more and bounced their brilliant light back down, showering the field and the audience in a kaleidoscope of color. Summer Solo shifted through different patterns, becoming not only faster, but more complex.
Exhaustion began to hit and it was time for the finale. He reared onto his hindlegs to prepare and drew his eyes skyward. But something caught his attention in the audience. A tall unicorn draped in a cloak that covered all of their body, only their chest and legs beneath the hocks and elbows easily visible. They had a hood that was drawn over their head barely hiding what Summer Solo knew to be a broken horn.
Shock and magical fatigue hit him at once and he lost concentration on his spell. Simultaneously, every glass gem fell to the ground in a gemstone shower. He dropped to all fours and stared out into the audience as he watched the figure shuffle their way out of the crowd. Remembering where he was, Summer Solo made a bow to the audience, hastily collected most of his props, and rushed to get out of the performance ring.
“What was that about?” Summer Solo couldn’t tell if his brother was concerned or angry at him.
“I think I saw our father out there…” the younger unicorn answered, his knees trembling.
“Mom said he and Winter Ossia would still be out in the wilds for a few more months at least,” Autumn Arioso relayed with a furrowed brow, “That couldn’t have been Dad.”
“I don’t know why, I just… felt it. I know it was him.” Summer Solo was firm.
“Well, you seem to believe it, at least.” the older unicorn scratched at his neck and looked to the ground. “I guess we’ll bring it up to Mom and Spring to be on the lookout.”