Izuku sat down on his bed. The numbness was overwhelming to the point he couldn’t feel anything, even his own breathing. But the longer he sat there and the more into focus the All Might memorabilia became, the more his carefully composed wall keeping his emotions back chipped.
And then finally he noticed one of All Might’s favourite phrases - “Be the hero you want to be!” - and he cracked, standing up and ripping the stupid poster off the wall with a yell. Nobody heard it, of course. His mom was out shopping. She wouldn’t be back for several more hours. So Izuku screamed again, tearing the next poster off the wall with a wrenching ripping noise as the glossy paper split in the middle.
In his rage, Izuku didn’t care. Not anymore. So he kept ripping and tearing all those stupid posters until they were in shreds on the floor, but he didn’t stop there. Screaming and crying, he snatched one of the All Might figures and hurled it at the wall with all his might.
It smashed, but Izuku was almost triumphant at how much pleasure seeing the shards explode all over his room. So he threw another, and another, lunging at his shelves and tossing those empty plastic coloured figures until they broke. He then reached for his Hero study books, the ones he’d pored over and written in until his fingers cramped, and reread so many times the spines were worn down, and his hand stopped for a split second.
He sobbed, before sweeping the pile of books onto the floor, and ripping out the pages. He kept tearing them out until he was on the latest one, the one that still had empty pages, and ripped that one clean in half, tossing it onto the floor in the remains of its brothers.
He sat there for a few more minutes, tears running down his face, before he finally stood up. Despite destroying everything, he still felt numb. So Izuku slowly and painstakingly began cleaning it up, sweeping up all the paper shreds and plastic shards and putting them in the bin.
It would be less for his mom to clean up later.
And when his room was clean, Izuku turned his attention to his desk drawer, opening it to see the serval stacks of pain-killing medication he’d stored there for months now. Finally they were going to see some use, he thought with a watery sigh, taking a small white box and holding it in his hand.
Nobody would miss him. Not Iida, not Uraraka, not Todoroki. Especially not Kacchan.
So he quickly wrote out a note to his mom.
I know you’ve always told me I’m special - it’s a mom’s job to do that. But I know I’m not. I don’t want you to lie for me anymore, because I’ve lied to myself so much because I was just blind to the truth. It was there, but I didn’t want to see it because I’m so ignorant. I can’t be a hero. I never can be - not after what I did today.
My quirk is artificial. There’s nothing special about me. He wrote, tears dropping down his face. And I know you’ll get this phone call later but it won’t matter by then. I did attack Yaoyorozu. It was unprovoked and I was wrong. So wrong. I didn’t mean to hurt her that much.
That much was true, at least.
I’m a coward. I wish I could tell them all I’m sorry myself, but you’re gonna have to do that for me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I love you.
He lay back, and began tossing pills onto the back of his tongue, and swallowing them before he could change his mind. But as he felt himself becoming drowsier, there was a sudden yank in his chest and Izuku choked, hands flitting to his heart, thinking this was it - this was the moment -
And he was standing up. He blinked, looking down to try and find his hands, but there was nothing there. When he turned, he saw his own body - face twisted up as he clutched at his throat.
And then She was there. Izuku didn’t know who or what it was, but one second he didn’t know, and the next he did. Her name was She. There was nothing else to it but Her.
“Izuku.” She said, and he turned, trying to find Her.
“Are you - wait - I don’t understand - am I dead?” He whispered, gazing down at himself. The room was frozen - a moment in time preserved - yet Izuku stood there outside of his body whilst She surrounded him.
“Not yet.” She replied, her soothing voice washing over him.
“But this is what I want.” Izuku tried to explain to her, having to tear his eyes away from his own body. “Let me go. Please.”
“Is it?” She asked, and Izuku was silent.
He thought about it. Was it what he wanted? Was death truly what he desired above all else?
“You know not, my dear.” She said gently, and Izuku started, unsure of how She had known. But She knew all. Nothing was a secret from Her.
“Why are you asking me, She?” He said to Her, and She watched him with curiosity. “Do you do this for everyone?”
She was silent for a second. “No. This One does not question the choices of all of This One’s subjects.”
“Then why me?” Izuku asked Her.
“This One sees a lot of things.” She’s voice was soft. “But This One notices when the Multiverse does not flow as it should.”
“Multiverse?” Izuku whispered, turning back to his frozen body, which was still paralysed in what looked like himself clawing onto life.
“Alas, my dear child, This One has said too much.” She sighed, and Izuku felt Her arm wrap around his shoulders as they both looked down at his frozen body. “But This One shall tell you what This One is here for.”
Izuku turned to her, and although She was invisible, She was everywhere at all times, and although She did not have a face, Izuku could feel Her gentle smile.
“My dear Izuku.” She said to him, and Izuku was silent, flicking his eyes back onto his body. “The Multiverse flows jaggedly for you, my dear, does it not?”
He nodded, despite the fact Her words were foreign, but they made sense despite his lack of understanding.
“So, This One is here to offer you a choice. First, allow This One to take a Form that you are able to understand.” She said, and Izuku had to close his eyes as light began to gather in the centre of his room.
Finally, he managed to open his eyes, and She sat delicately on his floor in the Form of an owl. Her light was so bright and full of divinity he could barely look at Her. Her feathers shined with gold and shimmering soul-like material wisped off her as She opened her eyes, and for a second Izuku swore he could see into an abyss of stars and shining tendrils of matter he could not understand.
“This One has three options for you, Izuku.” She said, turning her crested head towards Izuku’s frozen body. “The First - return, and let the Multiverse take its course, if this is what you truly desire.”
She is saying I can go back and let myself die, Izuku realised with widened eyes, and although he did not speak these words, She heard, and dipped Her head in agreement. They both knew that this was something that deep down Izuku did not want.
“The Second.” She continued, opening her wings. “This One can return you to your body, and remove the poison from it.”
A second chance, but Izuku looked up at her, and She already knew that this wasn’t what he wanted either. He didn’t need to say anything, because She knew all.
“The Third.” She whispered, her shining feathers causing Izuku to blink rapidly. “This One can return you to a different body in a different branch of the Multiverse.”
“What are you saying, She?” Izuku asked her, falling to his knees in front of her glowing avian Form.
“The Multiverse is many a-Branch, my dear.” Her voice was gentle, there was simply compassion and patience flowing from it. “A great Tree of existence. Your Universe is not the only one there is, my child.”
“Are you saying you can move me to a different one, She?” Izuku breathed, gazing up at Her, and she blinked her massive astral eyes as She dipped her head in acknowledgement.
“If this is what you desire.” She said, brushing a wing against his cheek so very gently and it filled him with sudden light and a feeling he couldn’t understand or interpret at all.
“It is.” He breathed, looking up at Her with tears in her eyes. “It really is.”
“This One knows.” She smiled, despite the fact She did not smile physically. “Dost thou have any preferences, my child?”
Izuku blinked, gazing back at his body as he clutched at his throat with pain in his eyes. “I don’t know.”
“You must.” She replied, and there was compassion in Her galaxy eyes which told Izuku that deep down he already knew.
“Somewhere -” He trailed off, flicking his eyes around his room where a shred of All Might poster was still poking out of his bin. “Somewhere with quirks.”
She blinked at him. “My dear, this Branch is the only Branch in which ‘quirks’ exist - but This One is aware of alternatives.”
Izuku shook his head. “I don’t mind, She. As long as it is somewhere where I won’t get slandered for being - for being - ‘less’.”
“A Branch of Equality. This One sees.” She said to him, tilting Her feathered head.
“Where I can be a hero. Where I can have a second chance with -” He was crying, looking back at the photograph of his friends on his desk. “Where I can have a second chance with them.”
“This One understands. A Parallel Branch.” She dipped Her head again.
“Yes. That’s what I want.” He said to Her, and She smiled again, and Izuku knew that She had known this all along; Her knowledge was unlimited.
“This One must warn you, however.” She said to him, opening Her wings and flying down to Izuku’s frozen body. “This One cannot simply remove you from this Branch. This One must either allow your body to perish here, or This One must replace you.”
“Replace me?” He asked Her, and She nodded.
“This One can create a second child. Remove your existence from this Branch.” She explained, brushing her feathers across Izuku’s body’s face, and he felt the burning heat across his own face. “This second child will live as you once did.”
“So - you can change things? Make it so my mom had a different kid? A kid who has a quirk?” Izuku whispered, and She suddenly looked forlorn.
“Yes, my dear.” She said. “But This One will not be so careless. As This One was with you.” She dipped her head. “This One is incredibly sorry. No apology is enough.”
Izuku blinked at her, suddenly understanding. “Was it an accident? That I didn’t get a quirk? It was you?”
She nodded, looking up at him with her wide, omnibenevolent eyes. “Alas, my child, This One’s job is great. This One cannot possibly tend to millions of Branches in the Multiverse without making a mistake.” She opened Her wings and flew over to him so She was floating in front of his face, and touched Her beak to his cheek gently. “So, This One always attempts to fix the flaws This One has created.”
“Did you know this would happen, She?” He whispered, and the look She gave him was enough. After all, She knows everything.
“This One cannot change this Branch so you were born with a quirk. This One fears it could affect the mere matter of this Branch. Perhaps even the entire Multiverse.” She said to him gently. “This One hopes you understand.”
“I do, She.” Izuku whispered, and it was true. “And that’s okay. My mom deserves someone better than me. I’m sorry too.”
“Do not be sorry, my dear. This One shall fix it all. You shall meet your friends and your mother again -” She stopped short suddenly, and Izuku’s eyes widened as a hint of mischief edged into She’s voice. “ But perhaps not in the way you might expect.”
“She? What do you mean? I don’t understand -” He began saying, but then She opened Her wings and Izuku was suddenly blinded.
He tried to shut his eyes but how could he? He had no body, and even though he tried to turn away there was nothing. He was floating - simply consciousness suspended in engulfing light that She was wrapping him up in.
And then for a second, Izuku saw a hint of She pulling him away and there was a sudden jolt as Izuku felt himself be snapped away from the Branch. And then - he saw Her flying ahead, Her massive golden wings stretched so wide as She pulled him along in Her claws and Izuku saw a hint of the Multiverse - thousands of silver strands and branches stretching from the main trunk of the Tree, before She dropped him.
And then there was nothing.
And finally, when Izuku opened his eyes, having to struggle to keep them open because they were so sticky and the light was hurting his eyes. And then, he saw a greenish blur that was so fuzzy and he couldn’t focus on it, as much as he tried.
“Mom.” He tried to say to her, and for a second he was convinced his whole encounter with She was a dream. He really had tried to kill himself - he’d taken the pills and he was probably now in hospital. For a second, Izuku cursed, thinking he’d just been hallucinating because of his suicide attempt.
But She was with him. He felt Her presence and his eyes snapped open fully but his body was all sluggish and wrapped up. His mom held him tightly and he let out a sigh, snuggling into it, because he felt exactly like he had as a baby and it was so warm and comforting to be so close to her.
His mom was talking so, so gently to him as she held him gently and rocked him from side to side. Izuku shut his eyes again with a sigh, instead pricking his ears to try and interpret the conversation.
“Well done, Leaf. Well done. I’m so proud.” He heard a soft male voice, and his mom clutched him tighter as Izuku tried to wriggle.
Leaf? He wondered, and there was another female voice that wasn’t his mom’s.
“One healthy pegasus colt.” She said with joy in her voice, and Izuku’s eyes snapped open suddenly at her words.
“Beautiful.” His mom breathed, and although she smelt like his mom, and held him so gently like his mom - heck, even looked like his mom - Izuku finally managed to focus on her face and realise that it was in fact not his mom.
“He’s got your eyes, Leaf.” The male said, looking down at Izuku with such adoration in his own face that Izuku could barely comprehend it.
“He looks like you.” Leaf - his mom - breathed, holding Izuku even tighter. “Look at his mane -”
“Like a forest, huh?” The male said, dipping his muzzle down to Izuku’s face to kiss him gently.
“Forest. Yeah, it really does.” His mom whispered.
And as Izuku struggled to piece together exactly what was happening, She let out a soft laugh, and Izuku knew She was here somewhere.
What did you do, She? He asked her.
Exactly what you asked for, my dear. She replied, and disappeared. Izuku never heard from Her again, but deep down, he knew She was always there and would never abandon him or any of Her subjects.
And so, Izuku quickly forgot about his old life, because he knew that his mom - his human mom - wasn’t technically his anymore - although Leaf, his new mom, was so much like her. If anything, Izuku felt like this was his mom, but just in a different form, just like She in Her owl Form. Izuku didn’t feel crushing despair at the idea of his old life being whisked away and his mere existence being replaced by someone else, because his mom was here - but maybe not quite in the same way as before.
He recalled She’s words to him before. Izuku had been reborn. He had a second chance for everything. Even though Izuku, still snuggled up with his mom and dad - his dad! - knew that he was a baby, freshly born, he still carried all this wisdom that no child should ever know. So he quickly made a pact to himself. This was his new life, and he vowed to protect his old memories of a different life and his knowledge of the Multiverse and She to himself.
“What are you going to name him?” The other female asked. Izuku realised she must be a nurse or midwife of some sort, perhaps even the doctor that had delivered him.
His mom and dad exchanged a look, seemingly unable to even tear their eyes off their new son.
“Forest - hm - what do you think, Branch?” His mom asked her husband, and Izuku gazed at his father with wide eyes, wanting to say something, but his tiny mouth couldn’t form any words.
“Forest Flash.” His father whispered, dipping his head down to brush his muzzle against Izuku’s. He sneezed, jolting a laugh out of his dad. “Forest Flash, my son.”
“Oh, my darling.” His mom breathed, kissing Izuku on the head again. “You’re destined for great things, Forest.”
So, this was Izuku’s new name. He was no longer Izuku, and he quickly got absorbed into his new life alongside both parents.
Forest quickly grew to the point he no longer needed his mom or dad to carry him, and was quite relieved at this, because he wanted to try walking. Although it had taken a while for Forest to realise that he was no longer a human, he soon found out he rather liked walking on four legs like a - like a -
Forest had to plonk himself down on the floor and move his head around to look at his parents.
Pony, he realised. His mom and dad were ponies, and so was he.
His mom’s name was Briar Leaf. A slim pegasus mare with a light green coat and even darker green mane and tail, she constantly showered Forest in adoration. Forest utterly adored his mom. Forest found great joy in tottering around on tiny legs and too-big hooves and giggling as his mom chased him. There was an image of leaves falling down his mom’s flank that Forest quickly learnt was what ponies called a cutie mark. They were completely unique to the pony and demonstrated what their special talent was - for his mom, it was her ability to mix up herbal remedies and grow different types of herbs and spices for food and medicine.
His dad’s name was Burning Branch. He was a dark brown pegasus stallion with a much shorter mane and tail which was more like Forest’s own mane, he realised. His father’s cutie mark was of a twisted branch which was alight with red flame, which was about the same colour as his mane. Branch was very busy for most of the day once his paternal leave had elapsed, and Forest’s mom explained to him that his father was away for so long because he had to fly all the way down to the other towns and cities to do his firefighting duties there. Cloudsdale did not have a fire service, Forest was told, because almost everything in his home town was made of cloud, which could obviously not be set alight.
Forest knew he took more after his mom in terms of soft, light-green coat and darker green mane colour, but he had his father’s mane in terms of its short fluffiness. He looked himself down in the mirror at the first chance he got since waking up in his new body to get a better overall look.
He was very clearly a young pegasus, from the light-green feathered wings he always had folded at his sides. Forest tried opening them, and then shutting them, getting a feel for the muscles. The feeling of a foreign limb was very strange to him, but he got used to it slowly. As he got a better look at himself, he clearly did resemble his old human self. In his green coat there was soft white fur lining his belly and neck and going over his nose, where, Forest noticed with amusement, he still had freckles. His hooves were also white, like he had socks on.
Forest hadn’t dared trying to fly yet, finding the sight of his tiny wings very daunting, but his mom promised him one day his dad would help him learn. He often looked at his own flank, which did not have a picture of a cutie mark, and asked his mom where his own was, and Leaf would always laugh gently and gather Forest up in her lap with her hooves.
“Now, my little pony, even your father and I didn’t have a cutie mark when we were your age.” His mom said to him, and Forest looked up at her with wide eyes.
“How did you get yours?” He’d ask, and his mom smile and ruffle his mane gently with a hoof so he’d squeak.
“You wait, my sweet. You’ll discover your special talent and I guarantee it’ll be amazing!” His mom would say, and he’d grin back, but really, Forest’s thoughts were whirling.
A special talent? Much like his mom’s knack for herbs or his father’s job in firefighting? But obviously, younger ponies like Forest did not have their cutie marks, and would get them later, much like -
“- a quirk.” He whispered to himself.
“Yes, I guess that’s a way of putting it.” He jumped as his mom put a hoof to her chin as if in thought, suddenly afraid that she’d heard him. “A special talent is kind of like a special quirk - wait, how did you know that word, Forest?”
Forest shrugged, forcing himself to remain calm. “I think I heard Dad say it once.”
And that was the end of it, since that answer seemed to satisfy his mom. However, this still worried Forest endlessly. This conversation was uncomfortably similar to the same one he’d had in his old life - the conversation about quirks with his old mom and her saying his would be amazing and then it never arrived -
Forest swallowed hard, shaking his head and fluttering his wings slightly to try and dispel some of that uncomfortable energy.
“Hey - Mom?” He asked her timidly, and she looked down at him with concern in her green eyes.
“Yes, my darling?” She replied, and Forest coughed, wanting to ask the question before began crying.
“Has - has a pony ever not gotten their cutie mark?” He whispered, beginning to tear up because, no - he didn’t want to end up being a repeat of the failure he was before despite all of She’s promises that She would fix everything -
His mom looked distressed at his sudden tears and embraced him gently. “Nopony. I promise. It’s impossible for a pony to not have a cutie mark.” She wiped at his tears with a hoof and smiled gently. “Okay, sweet? I promise you’ll get yours when you’re ready.”
Forest nodded, suddenly lightening up when he recalled She’s words.
“A Branch of Equality.”
And then he knew he was going to be okay.
It was the first day of school eventually. Forest was initially worried that everypony was going to judge him for being a blank-flank, but his mom reassured him constantly that it was rare for young ponies to have cutie marks at this stage in life. He’d be totally fine.
The school was a small local one in the centre of Cloudsdale, where the weather factory overlooked the entire village. Forest often liked to watch the weather-ponies leaving the factory for their lunch breaks through the window of the classroom in their white uniforms. He often wondered what they did to make the rainbows, or how long it took to hoof-make a single snowflake, but those answers weren’t nearly as interesting when they were answered by the teacher in the classroom.
The lessons were mainly focused on the factory and the history of weather, because it was mostly expected that once most young pegasi passed their flight tests, they would work in the factory producing weather for the rest of Equestria. However, Forest really had no interest in doing this at all, as intriguing the factory process of producing each colour in a rainbow was.
Sometimes, a unicorn inspector for the factory would walk down the streets and he’d watch eyes wide and jaw open as they disappeared inside the building. Any other visitors aside from pegasi were increasingly rare. Forest had never seen an earth pony before, but knew they didn’t have wings or a horn - he was a little relieved that he had a slight leg-up from them, and silently thanked She for putting him in a body where he wasn’t disadvantaged.
But actually, Forest thought as he watched the unicorn inspector vanish, he wondered what it would be like to have magic. The reason unicorns were able to walk on the clouds was because of a simple spell that would give them the ability for a short while. Forest found the concept of this intriguing and wondered how many amazing spells there were that could be studied. He thought about how much magical study it would take to become a master in order to become one who had learnt everything known to ponykind and wrote new spells, creating books and artefacts with powers he could only imagine.
But unfortunately, pegasus study did not include magic, which was of great disappointment to Forest. Yes, he wouldn’t be able to use magic, but this didn’t stop him from immersing himself in as much study as possible outside of school, flicking through books on magic and writing notes upon notes on magical technique and spells.
He thought with a pang as he shut his notebook and slid it under his flying textbook as the teacher pointed to diagrams of wing angles on the board, this reminded him of his old life. Not having a quirk, but still finding them the most interesting thing in the world. However, Forest vowed that he wouldn’t let an absence of magic stop him from learning as much as possible about it. He knew She had chosen this world for him for a reason, and She had picked it because She was going to fix the mistake She had made. So all Forest could do was keep learning, and trust that She would make things go according to the way the Multiverse wanted it.
Lots of the pegasi quickly picked up flying but it took a long time before Forest was comfortable keeping himself in the air. His dad always flew just underneath him to catch him if he panicked or maybe got caught by a breeze which he wasn’t strong enough to fight against.
However, as Forest reached his tenth birthday, his flank was still blank, and his mom and dad had to sit him down to have a conversation. He was rather afraid at this, thinking they were going to chastise him for not discovering his talent yet, but the news was something rather different.
“Forest - I haven’t told you this, but I’m being promoted.” Burning Branch announced to his son, looking thrilled at this information.
Forest gasped and stood up, eyes wide in happiness. “Really?”
“Yes.” His mom replied, looking relieved at Forest’s reaction to the news, before nudging her husband again. “Tell him where.”
“Ahem - oh, yes.” His father said, looking excited. “The Royal Guard noticed me, and they want to promote me to Lieutenant -”
“The Royal Guard?” Forest spluttered, eyes wide. “Like - the Royal Royal Guard?” He gawked as his father nodded, looking highly impressed with himself. “You’ll be protecting the princesses?”
“Maybe not personally, Forest - I’m not a high enough rank for that.” His father rumbled, ruffling Forest’s mane with a massive hoof. “After all, the Captain said that not enough things are bursting into flame for me anymore - not that I’m complaining, of course -” He coughed, finally exchanging a look with his wife that Forest noticed immediately.
“What? What is it?” Forest suddenly demanded, standing up sharply. They didn’t answer right away, which began to make him very anxious. “Please - I’m not a foal anymore -”
His mom looked slightly anxious as she opened her mouth to speak. “Forest - you know that if your father takes this job he’s going to be away in Canterlot for - um - quite a while -” Her words were hushed and she was averting her gaze, like she couldn’t meet Forest’s eyes. “And I know that you and I can’t possible stay here in Cloudsdale by ourselves -”
“We’re moving to Canterlot?” Forest asked, and his mom and dad glanced at each other again, obviously surprised that he’d picked up on it so quickly. “But - Canterlot - it’s the unicorn city -”
Canterlot was home to the majority of Equestria’s unicorns. Forest had actually been paying attention in his Equestrian history classes when the teacher had been focusing on it. Although other towns such as Ponyville and Saddle Arabia were a general mix of all three tribes, even after the unification of the tribes each group of ponies had still gravitated to their own places, choosing to socialise and build in their own tribes. Just like how Appleoosa was majorly earth ponies, and how Cloudsdale was pegasi (even if other tribes wanted to live there, only winged ponies had the ability to walk on clouds), Canterlot was the unicorn-built city on the mountain.
It was rich with culture and history - that which was treasured by unicorns, just like how the weather factory was the life-force of pegasi. Forest would be lying if he said he wasn’t curious about exploring other lands - considering how he’d never left Cloudsdale in his life. Sometimes he’d poke his head through the floor of the cloud and just gaze down in wonder at all of the beautiful clusters of villages and roads stretching as far as he could possibly see. Forest often watched these with a pang and couldn’t help comparing Equestria to his old life.
It was sort of like when he’d glance around his home town in Japan and maybe look out onto the sea from the beach and think about how much was out there. How much he hadn’t discovered yet.
“Pegasi still live in Canterlot.” His father said hastily, seeing the obviously conflicting emotions on Forest’s face. “There are lots of pegasi guards who will have families -”
“Yeah, but there’s not that many.” He replied, looking up at his father.
But actually, Forest’s thoughts suddenly flew back to his interaction with She before she’d whisked him from his old life into this new one.
“Somewhere where I can have a second chance with them.” He recalled his old words as he looked at the old photograph of him with his classmates. When they were happy, and his life hadn’t taken a turn for the worse.
Maybe - if he left Cloudsdale, Forest might find one of them again. She had spoken of a parallel Branch. Perhaps She had chosen this particular Branch - this one with ponies - because it ran alongside his own, and maybe people he used to know would be here too. But maybe, Forest suddenly thought with a jolt - “Not in the same way as before.”
His father obviously looked ready to try and tell him that maybe a change of scenery wouldn’t be so bad, but Forest stood up, folding his wings at his sides.
Maybe I can find them again. Uraraka, Iida, Todoroki -
“Actually, it’s okay. I’d like to see some new things. Maybe even make some new friends.” Forest said before he could change his mind.
His mom looked suddenly forlorn at that. “Forest - did you not even try to make some friends in school?”
He shrugged, suddenly looking down at his hooves in shame. The answer was no. His classmates didn’t really pay attention to him, and Forest knew that really, his only interests were finding people - ponies - that he’d known before in another life. In another universe.
Anyway, Forest didn’t really mind that the other young pegasi in his class didn’t have much of an interest with interacting with him. He rather enjoyed learning and scribbling notes as the teacher talked - another thing that hadn’t changed about him even when whisked away from everything he’d ever known.
And his blank flank still bothered him. Forest knew that he wasn’t going to be getting a cutie mark in weather-making or flying, since his grades in the former were average and his ability in the latter certainly wasn’t exceptional. Perhaps he could find his talent in Canterlot - it was certainly possible -
“I don’t mind.” Forest said genuinely. “Dad’s job obviously means a lot to you two. If it means we’ll be closer to each other, I’m okay with moving.”
“That’s my son.” His mom said with a smile, leaning over to kiss him gently on the head. “We’ll work on getting you into a good school -” She trailed off suddenly, and although Forest glanced up at that, the conversation was over, and suddenly things got very chaotic.
Over the next few days, as his mom and dad got very busy, arranging for possessions and other furniture to be transported to Canterlot and putting the house up for sale, Forest retreated to his room and decided to focus on writing in his notebooks. His parents and the delivery pegasi worked around him, taking things out and trotting around, Forest kept writing, the pencil held firmly between his teeth as he scribbled away, mostly drawing wobbly diagrams on horn movements and ancient runes that held magical powers from the book in front of him.
And then the delivery pegasi needed to take the desk away, so he obliged, moving onto the floor and simply lying down on the cloud carpet and writing in the bare room. He was honestly surprised at how quickly his parents were prepared into leaving, and they’d obviously planned way ahead for this before telling Forest about it. Oh well - even if a shock like this was expected to have worse effects on a young pegasus, Forest didn’t really react much to it at all - mostly because he already had fifteen years of human wisdom locked in his new, pony skull.
The furniture was getting delivered to Canterlot before them, but Briar and Branch decided against hiring a chariot to get them there. His mom popped her head around the door saying it was time to say goodbye to the house, and Forest hopped to his hooves, putting the pencil, magic book, and notebook into his saddlebags with the few possessions he’d kept on him, and shrugging them over his shoulders.
“Goodbye house!” He chanted at his mom’s request, and the three shut the door, opening their wings and taking off.
Cloudsdale vanished away from the three pegasi as Forest stuck very close to his father’s flank, being careful to remember all his flying lessons to stop himself from being too afraid and falling. His mom was multitasking, struggling with a paper map from her own saddlebags as they flew.
“Okay - so, if we’re fast, we might be able to catch the windstream east and save ourselves some wingpower.” His mom muttered, the map flapping in her face as she squinted at it.
“Sounds good.” Forest’s father said.
For an average pegasus, it would have taken maybe about two hours for them to get from Cloudsdale to Canterlot without any weather complications. However, Forest found himself cursing his tiny wings for having to flap three times for every one of his parents’, and as they caught the windstream, he had to rest on his father’s back for the rest of the journey.
Forest was too exhausted to want to explore the town after they’d arrived at their new house, which wasn’t too far from the castle. But the next day he was feeling refreshed and wanting to look around. His father had already gone to do his guard duties in the castle.
“Okay, sweet.” His mom said from the other room where she was putting up pictures. “Just be back before Celestia lowers the sun, all right?”
“I’ll see you then!” Forest piped up, before putting his notebook into his saddlebags and trotting down the street.
Canterlot was breathtaking - the explosion of colours from the decorated turrets and wonderful expensive shops and restaurants were making his eyes sparkle. Lavishly dressed ponies strutted up and down with their muzzles in the air and paying no attention whatsoever to the young pegasi wandering up and down with his eyes wide in wonder.
There really were unicorns everywhere, he thought slightly with a pang as he glanced from each pony to another. For the time he’d been here, he’d only seen one pegasus flying above him - and even that one had been a Guard. No ordinary pegasi citizens had revealed themselves yet, so Forest shrugged and decided to keep wandering. He made an aim to make at least one friend today, so he could go home feeling accomplished.
As he did so, Forest skidded to a halt, peeping through the massive gates and into a beautiful garden. The gates were shut, but curiosity overwhelmed him and he opened his wings to quickly fly over it.
He trotted down the path, eyes wide as he gazed at all the flowers and all the birds who were chirping and flitting across the trees. The grass was perfectly trimmed and so soft too, Forest thought, brushing a hoof over it as a test.
“Sweet Celestia.” He heard a voice grumble from behind the undergrowth and he jumped, ducking out of sight.
As Forest peeked out, he heard a new voice joining the other one.
“Keep calm. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this.” The other voice was female, and Forest glanced over to see a young unicorn with a black coat trot past his hiding place.
Forest watched her with curiosity. She was a pure black unicorn - and she looked about his age! - with a iridescent sheen to her hooves, mane and tail. Her mane draped and curled and was shimmering with blue and purple that glittered like galaxies. She had her cutie mark - he realised with a jolt - a white star with a trailing blue and purple comet trail. He looked at it with envy.
“No - there can’t be! I asked for clear weather today.” The male said, and Forest followed the voice to see another unicorn of the same age trailing the other one.
He was a light grey, with white markings across his hooves, belly and muzzle. His lighter grey mane had soft blue streaks in them - and he was a blank-flank! - Forest thought with sudden elation. A potential friend? Maybe -
He followed the grey and black unicorns with his eyes from his hiding place as the two jerked their heads up to glance at the sky. Forest noticed that they were looking at a dark grey storm cloud that was on its own, and casting its shadow across the green grass of the garden.
“Did you, though, Slate?” The black one said in exasperation as she glanced at the grey unicorn. “Or did you stutter and stammer and give up?”
“Um.” Slate said, suddenly looking very anxious.
“For the love of - sometimes it sucks being a unicorn - where are pegasi when you need them?” The other one began saying, still craning her neck to glance up at the cloud.
Forest flapped his wings and hopped out of his hiding place, deciding to finally reveal himself to the young unicorns. They jumped, turning to face him suddenly. Slate gasped and shot behind the black unicorn, who didn’t even flinch.
“Hey.” Forest said, glancing up at the cloud. “Can I ask what’s wrong?”
“It’s not a big deal -” Slate began spluttering, and the black unicorn rolled her eyes, nudging him with a hoof.
“Yes, it is.” She said, shooting a sympathetic look at Forest. “Can we tell him?”
“Um -” Slate began, before he was promptly interrupted by his friend.
“You’re right. He can help us.” She said, pointing a hoof at the cloud. “We’ve got a practical lesson today and our professor said we were going to do it outside, but look at this!” She waved her hoof at the cloud with an annoyed sigh. “Outside lessons aren’t fun when we don’t have the sun - what is up with the weather-ponies? This cloud’s covering the one part of Canterlot where we don’t need rain -”
“I’m sure it’s just a mistake.” Forest explained, still examining the cloud. “Sometimes when the weather-ponies are moving a large shipment of clouds, slivers of cloud can just fly away unnoticed.” He looked back at the other unicorns. “It’s just bad luck that it’s rested in the place where your lesson is.”
“Hey - this guy’s cool -” The black unicorn said with a grin, smiling at him as she held out a glimmering dark hoof. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before -”
“You haven’t.” Forest smiled, shaking her hoof. “I just moved here. My dad’s been promoted in the Royal Guard.” He added, puffing out his chest in pride.
“The Royal Guard?” She gasped, widening her blue eyes. “That’s awesome - wait, what’s your name?”
“My name’s Forest Flash.” He answered with a grin, elated at the fact he’d made a friend already.
“I’m Coal Comet. This is my friend, Slate - Slate, c’mon idiot, he’s cool -” Coal said to her friend, nudging him again with a back hoof.
“S-Slate Cyclone.” Slate muttered, averting his gaze from Forest.
“Now we’ve formally introduced ourselves, that makes us friends.” Coal announced, slinging a hoof around Forest’s neck.
“That’s awesome - thank you!” Forest stuttered slightly, feeling embarrassed at the bouncy nature of the black unicorn. “Do you live near here?”
“Slate and I are students at Celestia’s school of magic.” Coal answered, pointing to the massive school building that overlooked the gardens. “And you’re trespassing.” She then pointed to the ‘Private’ sign on the gate he must have missed earlier.
Forest choked. “No! Oh Celestia - I’ll go right away - I didn’t realise -”
Coal laughed, winking at him. “It’s okay. Don’t worry, nopony ever comes down here anyway. I won’t tell if you don’t.”
“Deal.” Forest breathed, suddenly relieved. “Wait - did you say Celestia’s school of magic?”
“Yup!” Coal puffed out her chest. “The best magic school in Canterlot - in Equestria, even.”
“Amazing.” Forest breathed, eyes wide as he rummaged in his saddlebags for his notebook and began writing, his words distorted past the pencil in his mouth. “You must be incredibly talented at magic to be here - what are your lessons like? Do you ever get taught by Celestia? Does your cutie mark have anything to do with magic? What -”
“I’ve never seen a pegasus so interested in Celestia’s school of magic.” Slate admitted, finally looking at Forest.
Forest blushed slightly and shrugged his shoulders. “Magic interests me.”
“I love magic.” Coal breathed, glancing down at her cutie mark. “My cutie mark symbolises astronomy mixed with star magic. It appeared on my flank and my parents submitted me for the school right away!”
“That’s so cool!” Forest gasped, eyes wide in wonder as he drew a quick sketch of her cutie mark in his notes and jotted down ‘astronomy’ and ‘star magic’.
“I’m okay at magic.” Slate muttered, scuffing a hoof in the ground.
Coal rolled her eyes. “Slate, you’re great at it - otherwise you wouldn’t be in the school. And you know what’s great about being a blank flank? You still have a lot of types of magic to explore to find out which one is yours.”
“Lucky.” Forest sighed, turning his head away to put his notebook back in his saddlebags. “Sometimes I wish I could do magic.”
“You’ve got wings, right? That’s more than what Slate or I have - wait, can you fly up and give that dumb cloud a kick?” Coal asked, craning her neck to look up at it again.
Forest gulped, shaking his head slightly. “That’s a black cloud. If I kick it, it might electrocute me - I’m not a strong enough flier to dodge any thunderbolts -”
“Augh! This sucks.” Coal groaned, stamping a hoof on the ground. “I just wanted a nice day to do our practical lesson outside -”
Forest sighed. “I wish I could help you, but - can’t you try a spell or something?”
Coal shook her galaxy head. “It won’t work -”
“Can’t we try, Coal?” Slate suddenly pressed, determination edging onto his face.
She shook her head, more forcefully this time. “No. We can’t do anything with magic -”
Slate’s face set, and he stood in front of Coal and Forest as his horn ignited with blue magic.
“Slate! Come on, you know unicorn magic won’t work on pegasus weather -”
Slate’s horn lit up to the point the blue colour vanished and white light poured from it, and Forest and Coal had to cover their eyes to shield them from it as a sudden breeze whipped Slate’s mane as the grey unicorn he bared his teeth. And then, Forest watched in shock with his jaw dropped open as a blue aura surrounded the cloud and it whirled, shrinking as Slate spun it with his magic before it exploded, breaking into tiny little puffs of cloud which then dissipated from existence.
The sun shone back into the garden as Coal and Forest finally moved their hooves away from their eyes. Coal’s jaw was so wide it could have hit the ground. Slate groaned, finally managing to wobble to his hooves from where he’d collapsed from sudden exhaustion.
“Slate! Your cutie mark!” Forest finally gasped, since Coal was so speechless she couldn’t form words.
Slate grunted, eyes wide as he glanced at his rump. “What in Equestria happened?”
“It’s amazing - almost as cool as mine!” Coal began boasting, gazing at Slate’s new cutie mark with wonder and joy in her eyes.
A blue and grey cyclone had appeared on Slate’s flank, made up of whirling winds that looked like they were speeding in motion despite the fact it was a still image. Slate couldn’t seem to believe that it was on his flank and only gawked at it, not even blinking, as if he was afraid if he closed his eyes it would vanish.
Forest squeaked in excitement, whipping out his notebook again and writing at lightning speed so he was sure he wouldn’t miss a single detail.
“Yes! Okay - so even though Coal was insistent unicorn magic won’t work on pegasi-manufactured weather, which I can confirm is true, as stated in ‘Weather and the Pegasi Factory: Volume Five’ - which I would know, because I’ve read that book, like, a million times - but even so, there have been rare exceptions of unicorns being able to interact with weather in a similar way to pegasi - usually those with a very strong magical signature, like Starswirl the Bearded or the Princesses - and looking at Slate’s cutie mark - which is of a weather pattern - a cyclone, my goodness - maybe a hurricane? Or a maybe a tornado from a bird’s eye view? Let me just draw that super quickly - okay, that’s done - I’ll take a better look at it later and compare it to the weather encyclopedia at home - maybe the cutie mark books in the library will help me figure it out? Either way it doesn’t matter because weather patterns for cutie marks in non-pegasi are incredibly rare -”
Coal tapped him on the muzzle with a hoof, causing him to jump with a gasp. “You’re mumbling, Forest -”
He flushed, laughing nervously as he shut the notebook and dropped it into his bag. “S-Sorry. I do that a lot.” He internally sighed good-humouredly, amused that his mumbling and note taking seemed to have followed him into this universe.
“We need to tell everyone right away!” Coal chirped, bouncing up and down on all four hooves.
“I don’t really want all of the attention.” Slate muttered, looking like that was the last thing he wanted. “It’s just a cutie mark -”
“I don’t have mine yet, Slate.” Forest said, indicating to his flank. “Cutie marks are a big deal, right?”
“Especially if it means your talent includes weather magic, Slate.” Coal said, smiling at her friend.
“I guess.” Slate replied, and Forest glanced at him sympathetically, seeing how socially anxious the introverted unicorn was. He reminded Forest of himself in some ways.
“I wish I could see your lesson.” Forest admitted, scuffing a hoof in the ground. “I’d love to get some notes on what they teach here - Mom said there were lots of magic schools in Canterlot but there’s no school better than Celestia’s -”
Coal exchanged a look with Slate. “Well, I guess there’s no harm in you watching as long as you hide somewhere -”
“Yes! Okay, I will then - are the bushes okay?” Forest yelped, scrambling back into the undergrowth as he said the words.
“Sure. Just don’t let yourself be caught.” Slate said, looking alarmed at Forest peeking out from inside the hedge.
The next few hours were so exciting for Forest and it was taking all of his willpower to not squeak in excitement as the rest of the unicorn students eventually arrived in the garden. He watched in happiness as Slate’s classmates oohed and ahed over his new cutie mark, causing a flush to go over Slate’s cheeks in embarrassment at all the attention.
And then the teacher arrived, a male unicorn who seemed very serious despite the fact they were in a lovely garden in the sun, and warned all the students to behave because a change of scenery was not an excuse for poor results. Forest poised in the bush, watching events unfold with his pencil ready in his teeth.
The lesson was on colour changing spells, and the students were assigned to pick a blue flower from the garden and by the end of the lesson they were expected to have changed the petals to red. Forest’s pencil whirled as fast as he could as he wrote down as much as he could about techniques and what Coal was reading out loud from her textbook. Coal and Slate were partnered up and seemed to have forgotten about him as they focused on their lesson.
Slate picked up his flower and poised, glaring at it as he shot a blue ray at it. The flower was engulfed in blue sparkles before all the petals shot off it, making the stem bare. Forest watched this with interest before writing down - ‘Petals falling off - could be due to stance.’
He watched Slate sag as he dipped his head and wandered off to get a new flower. Forest poked his head out and shot a quick ‘psst’ at the unicorn to draw his attention to him.
“What?” Slate asked as he pretended to look in the bush for another flower.
“I think it’s your stance, Slate.” Forest explained, indicating to Coal, who wasn’t having much luck either. “If you’re all tight and unrelaxed then your magic won’t flow as easily. It’s okay to be determined but stressing out won’t work.”
“So what should I do?” Slate asked, suddenly looking surprised at Forest’s notes.
“Try spreading your hooves, and when you’re about to cast the spell take a nice deep breath and just let the magic flow out. Keeping your eyes at level with the flower might help too.” He added, and Slate nodded, excitement entering his eyes.
“Okay. I’ll try that.” Slate said, picking a new flower up with his horn and taking it back to Coal.
Slate cast the spell again and the flower didn’t disintegrate this time. Forest internally rejoiced as the flower writhed a bit under the magic, before the petals turned a light, washed out pink. It wasn’t red, but there was a clear colour change. Still work to be done, Forest quickly scribbled next to his notes, but there had been some progress.
“What’s happening out here today, Professor?” A new voice floated through the garden and Forest shrank back into the bush as four white and gold hooves passed him. The voice rang clearly, and was soft with compassion and a wisdom he found his heart speeding out of control because of.
There were lots of thrilled gasps of shock and delight from the other unicorns as they realised who the newcomer was. By the time Forest dared to poke an eye out and check, he saw who had just arrived and it took all of his willpower not to make a noise of sudden shock.
Princess Celestia dipped her head with a smile at her students as they bowed before her, before shaking her head gently. “There is no need for that here, my little ponies.”
“Ah! Princess.” The professor said, bowing his head respectfully at her as the other unicorns emerged from their crouches. “The students are simply doing a colour changing exercise with the flowers. A wonderful day calls for an outdoor lesson, wouldn’t you say?”
“I would certainly agree with your logic, Professor.” Celestia laughed, her soft voice tinkling out as Forest gawked in awe, unable to even blink or breathe as he watched her.
The princess - the ruler of all of Equestria - the most powerful unicorn in all of the land (an alicorn, Forest gawked in shock as he saw Celestia’s pure white wings folded at her sides) was mere meters away from him and all he could do was watch her from the bush. He wanted to approach her so awfully - speak to her, ask her questions, maybe, if he was lucky, get an autograph - but he didn’t dare. He was, of course, trespassing on Her Majesty’s property, and didn’t want to risk going to prison for fanboying.
So he simply sighed, and watched with wide, sparkling eyes as the Princess’s interaction with her class continued. She talked with the professor and watched her students as they continued with the exercise and often talked to them about their results and Forest watched in barely contained envy as the compliments from Celestia made her student’s flush and smile and thank her. He noticed how Slate was being praised by Celestia for his amazing result and sighed again, wishing he could bein Slate’s place.
The lesson ended, with Slate’s flower being the best result out of the class, and Forest sighed contentedly as he watched Coal and Slate disappear inside the school with their teacher. Slate turned around, mouthing a quick ‘thank you’ to Forest’s hiding place, before the door slammed shut.
Celestia remained where she was, silent as she watched the students disappear. Her tri-coloured mane flowed infinitely, like a waterfall that never ended. Forest suddenly froze in his hiding place, seeing that the Princess wasn’t moving. He couldn’t leave until she was gone - and he didn’t know how long that was going to be.
Suddenly, she spoke.
“Come on out, my little pony. There is no need to hide.” Celestia laughed softly, and Forest inhaled so sharply he inhaled a scrap of leaf. He choked, trying to hide his coughing, but couldn’t help it as he spluttered and choked, throwing his hooves over his mouth
Celestia’s light tinkling laugh echoed out again as she held a hoof out to the bush. “It is all right. You are not in trouble, my dear.”
Forest hesitated, seeing Celestia’s gleaming golden hoof mere inches away from himself, but decided there was no point in pretending he wasn’t there. Celestia obviously knew he was there - maybe she had known the entire time. So he timidly took her hoof with his, and she drew him out carefully.
“I am so so so so sorry!” Forest began gushing, his pencil dropping out of his mouth as he scrabbled around for his saddle bags. “Um - your Majesty.” He added hastily, bowing quickly, which caused the notebook to slip from the bag.
It flipped open to the page on the lesson, and Forest, still gurgling and spluttering incoherent words as he tried to snatch it up, was suddenly silent as Celestia beat him to it, her horn igniting with gold as she picked it up with her magic and started reading through it.
“I promise I wasn’t spying!” Forest began grovelling, almost in tears. “I just - I love magic so much - and I made friends with two ponies here and I was just so curious -”
“My goodness. You certainly have an eye for magic.” Celestia said, her eyes widening in what seemed to be shock as her pupils flicked from the book to Forest’s wings. He folded them, flicking his eyes away as his cheeks flushed in embarrassment. “And these notes on - cutie marks?”
“That was - um - Slate’s cutie mark.” Forest explained timidly, pointing to the diagram. “He got it soon after I met him. The -”
“‘Weather patterns in unicorn cutie marks is a clear demonstration of increased magical ability in meteorological manipulation, greater than that of the physical interactions of an average winged pony.’” Celestia read aloud, before moving the book down so she gazed down in awe at Forest, who was still spluttering in embarrassment. “Did you write this?”
“Um. No?” He tried, but Celestia raised an eyebrow, and Forest sagged, averting his gaze. “Yes. I did.”
“This is quite incredible, my dear.” Celestia said, flicking through the notebook, her eyes widening on every page. “All of these are your own studies?”
“Um - yes, Princess.” He whispered, shuffling his hooves. “I just love magic so much that I want to learn as much about it as possible. Even if I never get to try it.” He added, trailing off on his last words.
Celestia observed him with her wise, knowing eyes. “Young Slate is incredibly talented. He is one of my best students.” She said, flicking back to the page with the notes on the flower changing lesson and turning the book around to face him again. “But I was not expecting anypony to get a result on the first lesson - not even him. This is an incredibly advanced spell for ponies of your age.”
“I noticed what was going wrong with all the students, and why they were getting the results they were.” Forest explained, pointing to the notes. “Ones who were getting no result had several things wrong - but I managed to narrow it down to the fact that if the petals fell off, like Slate’s - it was something wrong with their stance or maybe something psychological. Errors with the spell itself resulted in the flower maybe shrivelling up or dying -” He stopped suddenly, averting his eyes because the Princess’s gaze was so intense he could barely look at her. “I’m sorry. I tend to mumble a lot -”
“It is fine, my dear.” Celestia laughed gently, casting her eyes across the notebook one more time before shutting it and floating it down to his saddlebags, where she put it in and shut the bag with her magic. “I am incredibly impressed.”
“R-Really?” Forest gawked, flushing and beginning to stutter increasingly at her praise.
“Yes. What is your name, my sweet?” Celestia asked, and he flushed again.
The princess wants my name! She wants my name! The Princess asked for my name! Don’t mess it up! Don’t mess this up -
“F-F-Forest.” He coughed, cursing internally when his voice cracked horribly. “Forest Flash.”
“Forest? I believe one of my Lieutenants has a colt named that -”
“Burning Branch? You know my father?” Forest gasped, and Celestia’s eyes widened in understanding.
“Burning Branch, of course. I always make an effort to know all of my Guards.” Celestia smiled at him with a soft laugh. “He speaks of you greatly.”
Dad spoke to the Princess about me?!
“I really am sorry.” He dipped his head in shame, suddenly feeling truly awful. “I didn’t mean for you to find out. I just wanted to see real magic. All I have are my books, and even those are super hard to find in Cloudsdale -”
“If you require more books, I think you’ll find that the Canterlot School Library will be a good place to start.” Celestia said, indicating to the school building with her horn.
He glanced at it with wide, confused eyes. “But - aren’t only students allowed in there?”
“I am sure I can make an exception for you, Forest.” Celestia smiled, and her horn glowed for a second as she summoned a gold and purple library card, and floated it down to Forest’s outstretched hoof. “You may study as much as you like there.”
He was gobsmacked, barely able to summon words as he gazed at the shining card, which already had his name engraved in it in gold cursive letters.
“Princess.” Forest whispered, looking up at her, and she suddenly seemed startled at the tears in his eyes. “Thank you so much.”
“I am yet to meet a young pony with as much passion for magic as you, my dear.” Celestia said softly, wiping the tears from his face with a gentle hoof. “Horn or no horn, I speak the truth of you.”
He put the card in his bag as he watched Celestia start disappearing into the building. The sudden sadness and despair in his heart suddenly welled up and all Forest could think about was his old life. Watching All Might walk away from him after saving him from that sludge villain. Even after he’d obtained One for All - that self-worth never appeared -
“Wait.” He blurted, unable to stop himself as Celestia turned around to face him again.
“Yes, my dear?” Celestia asked, and there was genuine concern in her eyes as Forest started crying.
“Is it possible? For a pegasus to turn into a unicorn?” He whispered, and sudden sadness entered Celestia’s eyes as she embraced him gently.
“That level of magic exceeds even my knowledge.” She sighed, looking down at him with gentle eyes. “Alas, I do not even know if such a feat is even possible.”
“So you can’t? Not even you?” He whispered, and Celestia shook her shimmering head slowly.
“I can’t. I’m sorry.” Celestia whispered, before she lowered her head down so her white muzzle was near his ear. “Even though I have known you for a short time, I am certain of one thing.”
“What?” Forest breathed, and Celestia drew her head back, her mane glistening and glowing with the light of the sun.
“Your destiny is bright, young one.” Celestia replied. “Do not let lack of a horn stop you from being the most talented magic student in Equestria.”
“But how? It isn’t possible.” He whispered, and Celestia turned to face him before she disappeared through the door of the building.
“Then make it possible. Not all magic requires a horn, Forest.” She said, and the door shut with a clunk, obscuring her from sight.
At home, Forest took out his notebook and placed it on the desk of his new room, seeing the library card poking out from between the pages. As he smiled wistfully at it and flicked the book open to the page, he was amused (and extremely excited) to see that on the next blank page, Celestia must have magically signed the page so her royal signature shimmered a bright gold. He snorted, feeling a mixture of emotions as he shut the book and put it to the side so he could lean on his hooves.
This world seemed to mirror events that happened in his old life. If he was here, and his mom was here - maybe in different bodies, but the same in personality - then it was highly possible all his friends were as well. A parallel Branch, he remembered She’s words. Maybe this was what She meant by that.
So quickly, Forest snatched down a fresh notebook from his shelf and scribbled a new title on it.
Friendship, he noted down with satisfaction, before flipping over onto a new page.
He wrote about Coal. Somehow, he didn’t think his new unicorn friend was one of his old ones. Deep down, Forest had decided that when he met one of them, it would be like deja vu - he’d know who it was immediately, whether that be from their physical looks or something else. Anyway, he and his mom replicated their other-Branch selves, so Forest had an idea that his friends would as well. If anything, Coal replicated Tokoyami the most, but their personalities were so different he doubted that she was the avian boy.
He felt the same about Slate. Forest didn’t think that Slate could be anyone he already knew from a different life, but he honestly was pleased he’d picked these two ponies to be his friends. They were kind and although they varied a lot in personality, Forest felt he could relate to them a lot.
But aside from those two pages, Forest had drawn a blank. He’d already analysed the pegasi in his old class within an inch of their lives and concluded they weren’t his old friends, but it was okay. One day in Canterlot was never going to unearth much. He had lots of time to get to learn his surroundings and try and track down more ponies.
As one young blank-flank continued writing and studying and poring over magic books late into the night, on the other side of Canterlot, on the highest balcony of the royal castle, another pony was deep in thought.
Celestia glanced up at the moon, where a shadow of her sister ghosted across its surface.
“It’s a shame, Luna.” The golden and white alicorn whispered, letting the night air whip her flowing mane and tail. “Looking at that colt’s notes, I never would have guessed in a million moons that he was not a highly talented unicorn, but a pegasus.” She sighed again. “Just when I was thinking about taking on a new personal student.”
Her sister did not reply, of course, but Celestia suddenly stamped a hoof firmly on the ground as she looked back up at the moon.
“No. You’re right.” She said, determination edging into her voice. “I can’t take him on - but I shall keep a very close eye on him. Just in case.”
Celestia bade the moon goodnight, just as she did every time before she retired to the royal quarters, and exited the balcony, but her thoughts were loud.
If Forest’s destiny is truly as bright as I predict it to be, then fate shall decide what happens to him.
Life in Canterlot flourished. Forest thoroughly enjoyed his new school, despite the fact he was one pegasus in an entire class of unicorns. The school was not a magic school, but there was still a lot more focus on magic than there had been back at Cloudsdale.
There was general teasing about the ‘pegasus in a unicorn school’ but Forest kept his chin up and didn’t take any of it to heart. If anything, he was the best student in that class, with his assignments always being of the highest grade and his projects always being the best in the class.
But Forest’s favourite part of any day was when the bell rang, and all the ponies would rush outside with loud, excited chatter as their hooves clattered against the floor and they discussed what they were going to do once they got home. But Forest made an immediate beeline for Celestia’s school of magic, and was always let in by the guards once he showed his card. He chose to ignore the exchanged looks of confusion between the guards at the fact a pegasus was trying to get into a magic school, but they eventually stopped asking for ID when they became quite used to the arrival of Forest every day without fail.
He always met up with Slate and Coal there, and they would always study together, with Forest usually being the one who helped them with their homework. Coal and Slate stopped questioning how Forest’s knowledge on magic was better than theirs, and began asking him for help regardless of how strange it was that a unicorn needed help on magic from a pegasus.
And one night, when the library was empty and he was studying on his own, Forest had finished another book on notes simply containing his research and utter passion for magic. He shut it with his hooves and as he did so, he glanced out of the window of the library just as an explosion of pure colour shot across the sky so fast and so bright he yelped, flinching back as he was blinded momentarily.
His flailing hooves and wings caused his notes to go flying everywhere as the shockwave of the rainbow explosion sent the entire building shuddering. The only thing going through his mind in that panicked moment as he cried out and tried to grab his notes was ‘No! Not these - I need them! They’re my everything! They’re my LIFE!’
The second the last word entered his brain, Forest suddenly convulsed, heat running through his body as his body left the ground, despite the fact he wasn’t using his wings.
And then, when he came to, he was on the cold floor, a gentle hoof nudging at his face. He groaned, his eyes rolling around in his skull as Forest tried to stop his vision from blurring and his stomach from lurching.
“Are you all right, my dear?” Celestia asked, her voice so soothing and gentle as she nudged Forest to his very wobbly hooves.
“U- Uh - Oh - what - huh? Princess?” He finally managed to slur out, and she smiled at him, still holding him up gently. “I think I passed out - I’m not sure why though - I’m sorry -”
“Or maybe -” Celestia lowered her head with an amused flicker in her eyes. “Maybe it’s your cutie mark.”
“My -” Forest gawked, the words not registering in his brain for a second, before he turned his head around painfully slowly to see -
On his previously blank flank, there was an image - a dark green six pointed star, surrounded by crackling green electricity and smaller sparks. His jaw dropped so low he was sure it would have hit the floor, had Princess Celestia not laughed and shut it for him with a hoof.
“Congratulations, Forest.” Her voice floated out of the door as she disappeared from the library, still chuckling gently to herself.
He barely saw her leave, still unable to tear his eyes off his new cutie mark. Forest rubbed his eyes with his hooves and looked at his flank again, but it was still there.
“If I still had fingers, I’d pinch myself.” He muttered to himself, rubbing a hoof across his cutie mark, slightly afraid that he’d rub it away if he pressed too hard, but it remained, strong and sharp as ever.
He had a cutie mark - his fears in that area were gone, at least - but still, Forest found himself being unsure and confused. Things were supposed to magically make sense once a pony got their cutie mark - all their doubts and insecurities would vanish once they saw what their true destiny was meant to be. But Forest did not feel like that, still swallowing hard as he gazed at his cutie mark.
His thoughts only got louder as he packed up his notes and books into his saddlebags, and began making his way home. Forest’s mom was ecstatic, sweeping her son up with whoops of delight as she swung him around, chattering about how proud she was. His father arrived home from his Guard shift a few hours later. It was always a little strange seeing the pure white pegasus enter the house, and when he took his magically enchanted helmet off, the illusion would flicker off and reveal his father’s deep brown coat and burnt red mane. Forest had read about this before - in order to achieve uniformity across the lower ranking guards, they had to wear magical armour that would cast this illusion, so all the Guards were identical in terms of coat colour and armour. Burning Branch was just as delighted as his wife to see his son’s cutie mark, and swept Forest up in a massive bear hug.
Finally retreating to his room, as Forest dumped his bags on his bed and glanced up at his cutie mark encyclopedia, he found he did not want to look in it, because he was afraid of what he might find in it.He took one more look at his cutie mark, and then the book, before sighing and rolling over, curling up on his bed.
Somepony was looking in the book, however. Celestia sighed, reading the words one more time to check her eyes weren’t deceiving her.
“Strange.” She muttered, before she moved the red bookmark into the page and put it back onto the shelf. “But expected.” She let loose an amused laugh before glancing back up at the moon.
Her sister’s dull grey moon eyes glistened, and Celestia said goodnight to her, as always, before shutting the curtains and disappearing inside the palace.
The next morning, Forest was shocked to see a scroll in the postbox that the mailpony must have delivered earlier, and as he pulled it out, he almost forgot to breathe as he saw the royal seal planted in red wax.
“Princess Celestia is delighted to inform the bearer of this scroll that - HOLY CRAP!” He cried out, eyes wide in shock as he spluttered and choked, barely able to decipher the rest of the letter.
“She’s invited me to take part in lessons.” He breathed, still gazing at the scroll. “In her school. Celestia’s school of magic. Magic.”
He was in Slate and Coal’s class too, he realised with complete, uncontained joy at this information. Celestia had written that she had seen he was an exceptional magic student, and was not going to allow valuable learning for such a capable pony to be missed due to physical ailments. She did add, however, that she did not expect Forest to be graded in the practical magic lessons, which Forest took a sigh of relief at. As much as he wanted to do them, he knew he couldn’t without a horn, so he’d learn as much as he could without actually doing the magic.
And he’d finally get inside the school, further than the library doors. And maybe, just maybe, somepony he used to know before might be there. In another life.
Forest knew that as Izuku, he’d done stuff wrong. A lot of things had gone wrong and it was his fault, and he wasn’t going to pretend he wasn’t the cause of it, because he knew he was. He deserved every shocked gasp and uncomfortable stare and glare of disgust and comment of hatred. So now, Forest knew that his friends were here, he had a second chance with them, and he vowed he wasn’t going to let the different Branch, bodies and names stop him from finding those people he loved most in the world again.
He wasn’t going to let pride and anger take control of him - because Izuku wasn’t here anymore - Forest was, and he was going to find his friends again, even if it took years.
“I promise.” He breathed as the breeze whipped his words away, and one little pony stood there in silence and wondered if somehow, somewhere, they’d heard him.