My Little Pony: "Black Equinox"
The Everfree Forest was never a welcoming place for the ponies of Equestria. Those who lived nearest it's borders knew to expect the unexpected if they ventured in. Even given this, something was distinctly off. The forest became silent as it's residents too sensed this, just before the earth trembled. Startled flocks of birds roosting in the mist-shrouded trees flew off at once. The quake had not been strong, but it was enough to draw the attention of anypony nearby. Dawn was coming. Purple and red kissed the horizon, but the brighter stars had not faded. Here, as one ruler of this land made way for the coming of the other, two ponies traveled the old mountain path from Stalliongrad.
"You feel that?" said the stallion, an earth-pony with a mint-green coat, his mane and tail white and touched with blue.
"Yes," replied the other; a unicorn mare a shade of faint violet, her blood-red hair tipped orange.
"...Do you think it was a landslide?"
The stallion seemed to shrug, eying his surroundings with a deep mistrust.
"Could've been anything in this place. I'm never exactly thrilled when it comes to these trips."
Few traveled the old path between Stalliongrad and Ponyville these days. The creatures were no less dangerous in the old times than now, but the roads had improved since then. They were longer routes, circumventing the forest entirely. Still the old path was quicker, and the young mare wasn't much for patience, nor her stallion friend for winning arguments.
"But I thought you liked my cousin?" whimpered the unicorn, who had scarcely stared at her surroundings since the quake.
"Well, generally if I could choose between missing a visit and skirting through these woods, I'd opt-out, Plume' ," The stallion countered, which soured her expression further.
"I thought we agreed not to use that nickname...I'm not a column of smoke, Peppermint."
"Alright, Plumeria, though four syllables does get a bit wearing. Really though," he turned to the gnarled trees below. "why would anyone build a village that bordered this place, least of all earth ponies? Earth ponies who can't simply fly away, conjure a defense, or fight off half of the things living in here. Unlike crazy unicorn girls who apparently think it's no big deal." Plumeria smirked at him, but did not argue. Peppermint continued. "These trees can hide anything. The way I hear it, Ponyville suffered from a Parasprite plague AND a rampaging Ursa-Minor, all in the same summer."
"Well, maybe some people LIKE a little excitement in their lives, Pep?" Plumeria offered, face glowing at the idea of a town where things weren't as boring as Stalliongrad, home to Equestria's biggest mine and forge.
"Hey, watch it!" shouted Peppermint, putting a hoof out to stop Plumeria, who's head was still locked in his direction, heedless to the earth beneath her hooves.
"What-? Oh..." exclaimed Plumeria, looking over the sudden distinct lack of road. It looked like a great chunk of the cliff had broken loose and smashed into the forest below, taking their path with it.
"I guess there WAS a landslide." said Plumeria, gawking at the mess before them, eyes still wide.
"Well, that's great," fumed Peppermint, who kicked a few loose stones into the chasm. "There's no way we're crossing that gap."
"Maybe there's a way down?"
"Down?? Oh no, no deal. I'm not trudging through these woods blind and off the path." Peppermint retreated a few paces, as if she'd threatened to push him off.
"We won't strike out at random, we'll just follow the cliff. The path drops back down into the woods anyway" Plumeria reasoned. "If we can just-"
A sudden, rocky "crack" shot out into the air. Plumeria had leaned over, looking for an easy grade or series of hoof-holds, but the bit of path they'd been standing on finally gave under their weight. Both shouted in surprise and fear as they slid down atop their modest chunk of mountain at an alarming rate of speed. Plumeria's horn lit up as her magic shrouded the rock they were sliding on. Over a good fifty feet, their speed reduced, but the rock still shattered upon hitting bottom and sent them tumbling over the hard ground, a few smaller rocks tumbling after them.
"Ulgh...what a ride." groaned Plumeria, getting back on her hooves, visibly fazed by the ordeal. Though not nearly to the extent of her friend.
"Ah, no..." Peppermint glanced around, seeing no immediate way back to the safety of the path. "Just perfect. You got your wish; now we both get to run screaming from whatever's lurking in there."
But Plumeria, who had only partially heard him, let out a small gasp, looking past Peppermint to the side of the cliff. The latter whipped his head around, seeing nothing. He looked panicked, even a little angry.
"What, I don't see anything?! Don't just do that! I'm already freaked out over here!"
"There was something there, something with one little yellow eye. It poked out from the cliff and then darted back in!"
Plumeria cantered over to inspect the loose mound of rocks, lifting some with her magic and casting them aside.
"Hey- we already caused ONE pigmy-landslide by foaling around; we don't need to bury ourselves-" He stopped talking as he realized there WAS something behind the rocks. "...too..." he finished. It was narrow, but it was still a negotiable space, a faint blue light gleaming within what ought to have been a pitch-black cave.
"Oh wow!" cried the young mare. "The landslide unearthed an old cave! Wanna check this out with me, Pep?"
The stallion glared at her. "No! I'm not going in some freaky cave! I want to get back on the path as quickly as possible!"
"Fine, go scout us a way back. I'm checking this out." With that, she trotted inside, Peppermint giving the Everfree Forest one long look before realizing how much worse he'd feel navigating those woods alone. With a groan, he too darted inside.
What both soon realized was that the cave wasn't natural. Rough rocks hewn straight from the mountain bore white marks from whatever had gouged them out. Less than a minute of walking into the bowels of the cliff and they came upon a flat, metallic wall, a large blue bulb glowing from near the top.
"It's so pretty...I've heard of stuff like this; bioluminescence." the unicorn mused, extending a hoof.
"No no no, don't touch-!" cried Peppermint, attempting to stop her, but too late.
Instantly the light turned white at her touch, and below it, six pill-shaped lights flashed before lighting in a sequence. From the left, the second light lit, before the fourth light. It continued this pattern, all the lights flashing between the restart of the cycle.
"Whatever that is, it's not glowing moss." Peppermint said, as they realized the surface was a hard glass.
Plumeria has a shrewd idea, and hit the sixth light when the lights all flashed.
Plumeria was rewarded with a beeping noise, that rang with an air of encouragement.
"It's a test...! Maybe it's some sort of vault?" she said, hopefully.
Now the lights ran light one, then two, then three, and then all flashed again, expecting an answer.
"Four?" Peppermint offered, fascinated and terrified at this development. But Plumeria shook her head.
"No, that's too easy. Any school-filly could get that. I wonder though..." The only thing Plumeria noticed about all the numbers lighting up was their prime value. She pressed the light that would be next if she were right: light number five.
All light was suddenly extinguished with a deep clicking sound, thrusting them into total darkness before odd mechanical noises emanated from somewhere deep within the mountain. A moment later, the wall sank into the floor with another positive tone from the machine, light from within granting them sight as both ponies sat transfixed, their eyes locked upon the new space they had revealed.
It had been nearly a year since Twilight Sparkle had first arrived in Ponyville; it was March, the 20th. Spring was in full bloom now, and the day of the Vernal Equinox had arrived. Twilight and her friends had been specially invited by Princess Celestia to attend a ceremonial celebration in Canterlot. Nearly a year since the defeat of NightMare Moon, Princess Luna was to join her sister in celebrating their reclaimed unity.
The six mares (and one pint-sized dragon) were wearing their stunning clothes from last year's disastrous Gala, patched up to their former glory after the abuse they'd undergone. The walk towards the palace was long, but it offered ample time for conversation.
"I swear, I'll never get tired of seeing those marvelous ivory towers," cooed Rarity, entranced by the ornate spires of the grandest Equestrian city. Set into the side of a towering mountain, it seemed to defy gravity. "I shiver every time I even think of visiting Canterlot. I'll always envy your fillyhood, Twilight Sparkle."
"It was a nice place to grow up," confirmed Twilight. "Bit formal though."
"So, I'm still a bit confused" said Spike. "I mean, didn't we celebrate Luna's return as soon as she got back?"
"Yeah, I don't much get it either." Added Rainbow Dash, who hovered restlessly. "Spring Equinox or not, seems kinda' pointless."
"It's supposed to give it a little more meaning." answered Twilight. "The Equinox marks the point at the exact middle between the longest and shortest days of the year: the Summer Sun Celebration and the Winter Moon Celebration. A point where the night and the day can be deemed equals. Also, it's called the 'Vernal' Equinox, not the 'Spring' Equinox."
"But I thought there was an Equinox in the fall too; why didn't they do this back then?" Dash wondered.
"Easy-peazy!" came the high, excitable tones of Pinkie Pie, trotting up behind them. "Who wants to celebrate NEW stuff when all the OLD stuff is withering away?"
"It's also when all the animals need to find shelter, migrate or hibernate to escape the cold." Added Fluttershy, who also advanced towards the head of the ranks.
"Actually," chimed Twilight, "that's pretty much it. The latter seasons of the year are representative of endings. Not the best tone to set. But Spring is about-"
"Birds singing, and flowers growing, and bells ringing and the Sun a' glowing!" versed Pinkie Pie.
"Yeah," agreed Twilight. "New beginnings and new life. And besides, our celebration in Ponyville was informal. This celebration will be to celebrate the princess' partnership with all of Equestria."
The group walked in step up the well-kept path to the palace. The brilliant emerald lawn was crowded with excited ponies from every corner of Equestria, but only VIPs would have access to the palace itself. Once at the gates, Twilight approached the doorpony, a unicorn.
"Your party, miss?"
"Twilight Sparkle, seven?" she inquired.
"Twa...twi...Ah yes. Welcome!" He checked off a name on his list, and his magic unlatched the velvet rope, ushering them inside.
Twilight led them, ecstatic, to a tall tower not far from the entrance. They ascended a flight of out-door stairs to a door Twilight was all too familiar with. The door surrounded itself with her magic and opened.
"I present..." Twilight began. "The Royal Archives!"
Within was a room of white and blue marble, stacked with bookshelves stretching to the ceiling. Ornate furnishings and a magnificent hourglass adorned the cavernous space, fitted with a great multi-pane window in place of a wall, allowing natural light to fill all but the darkest corners. Through a door set into this window was a balcony, a perfect viewing spot.
"Whoo-wee! Aint that a heap a' readin'!" exclaimed Applejack, who marveled despite a general lack of interest in reading.
"This'd keep anypony busy for-" Rainbow Dash paused, leering at Twilight knowingly.
"Pretty much my entire life. Actually, I'm STILL not familiar with everything here. This place was home away from home for me. Eventually I worked as the Librarian of the Archives as my first real job." Twilight beamed as her friends casually looked over the spines of so many works.
"Till to Chill: A Beginners Guide to Agriculture'?" read Applejack, almost regretting she had. "Now what kind a' pony'd think she'd learn farmin' by readin' some dust-ridden old book? Why don't we just give foals written instructions on how ta' blink, if we're doin' this?"
"Oh, you mean like that chapter from 'Coltman's Optometry', about maintaining an even frequency to maintain lustrous, sparkling eyes?" gushed Twilight, receiving a blank stare from the cowfilly as her question answered itself.
"So" began Spike "what are we meant to be seeing here? I know it's a ceremony and all, but are the princesses just gonna be passing some sacred items between each other or something? I know it's important and all, but I kinda' hoped there'd be more to this than symbolism." he finished, making some grimace.
"Oh, you'll see Spike. I received a hint from the Princess. I don't think you'll be disappointed." Twilight assured, suppressing the urge to share the secret she was in on.
Even through the windows, the fanfare erupting from below got the attention of every foal, filly and stallion. A few of them gasped as they cantered swiftly out the door onto the balcony. They stared down at the walkway beneath them, where a stallion in a black vest spoke into the mouth of a horn that was spread like a great brass vine to the tops of several towers, amplifying his voice to the benefit of everypony near the palace.
"Fillies and Gentlecolts," he began. "On this, the day of the Vernal Equinox, we celebrate the unity of our most esteemed rulers. Having returned from her place of exile, Princess Luna, Keeper of The Night, has since reclaimed her unity with our beloved Princess Celestia, restoring the cycle of night and day to it's former harmony."
He paused, as the crowd cheered in approval.
"Now, residents of Equestria, I present your Princesses!" And with a flourish, he gestured towards the tallest of Canterlot's towers, as the blue streaks and smoke trails of the Wonderbolts soared towards it. The figures of Celestia and the significantly smaller Luna stood upon the tower, lights from their horns glowing like beacons for all to see. Suddenly, the sky itself seemed to glow, as several pointed over the horizon to a glorious white orb sailing across the expanse of sky overhead. A white noise of excited mumbling broke out, as it slowly dawned upon them that the Moon was coasting majestically towards the Sun, a shadow on its far side growing ever larger the closer it approached.
"They're gonna crash!!" shouted Spike, who's extending hand was gently pushed back down by Twilight.
"Shhh...they're not going to crash; watch..." she whispered, not taking her eyes off the Moon.
Finally, the Moon and Sun met, the Moon's shadow consuming it entirely so it became pitch black against the brilliance of the other. As it slowly blocked out the Sun, the surrounding sky turned blackish-red as though the heavens themselves were on fire. Finally, a great flash erupted from the Sun's edges as the Moon overtook it entirely, great tendrils of stellar flame dancing outward along its borders. The stars could be easily seen in the sky, and a brilliant aurora of every color danced overhead. The ponies watching underneath oohed, aahed and even cheered, until the Moon relinquished its place with the Sun and kept soaring along it's path, the spell of the eclipse breaking as the sky returned to a brilliant blue. The Moon eventually met the opposite horizon, sinking out of sight.
"An eclipse! A REAL solar eclipse!" Pinkie Pie bounced up and down as they made their way back down the stairway, talking rapid-fire.
"Oh my gosh, it was so amazing! I never thought I'd see a real eclipse! Well, I never thought I'd see a real sonic rainboom, or an evil mare of darkness, or Twilight single-handedly fend off a super-colossa-gantic-stellar-baby-bear either, but I REALLY never thought I'd see a solar eclipse! There hasn't been a one of those in-"
Incredibly, Pinkie actually managed to trip herself up and land with her back legs in the air and her chin on the floor.
"Over a thousand years." Twilight finished for her. "Wow Pinkie, no twitchy-tail?"
Not having moved from her position, Pinkie seemed entirely un-phased. "Nah, I can't Pinkie-Sense myself, silly! What sense would THAT make?" Twilight only smirked as she rolled her eyes.
"I've only heard of eclipses in stories." Breathed Fluttershy.
"But I'm rather puzzled, dear." said Rarity. "Why has it been so long?"
"A fair question, Rarity." Came an authoritative, yet youthful voice. The group turned towards Princess Celestia, who was standing at the bottom of the steps, her multicolored hair drifting in an absent breeze, as always. Princess Luna was a short ways behind, smiling, but remaining in the background, like a shadow to her elder sister.
"Princess- er, Princesses..." Twilight knelt, the others following suit. Celestia smiled and bowed her head.
"It once was that eclipses were occasional events. In times of great hardship or great prosperity, Luna and I would adjoin the Sun and Moon, to offer our best wishes or our solace. But after the day my hooves were forced by NightMare Moon..." Celestia barely paused, but Luna visibly shifted uncomfortably where she stood. "...though I had the power to achieve it, I couldn't bear to take this last thing. Not while my dear Luna was alive and well, even if she was trapped where I might never have seen her again." Luna seemed touched, smiling warmly up at Celestia. "Though I assumed command of the Moon as well as the Sun, I did so with a heavy heart. I didn't for a moment let myself revel in or enjoy the control I was forced to assume."
"Oh sister!" cried Luna, her face full of affection. She trotted next to Celestia and nuzzled against her.
Luna turned to the group. "Thank you all so much for coming! It means a lot. I know I caused you all such trouble as NightMare..."
"Aw, don't sweat it." Said Rainbow Dash. "That was some of the best excitement I've been a part of..."
"And besides, " came Applejack. "you were hardly yourself now, were yeh'?"
Luna just seemed to shrug uncomfortably.
"We're glad you came, but I actually had hoped to speak to you in person, Twilight." Said Celestia.
"Oh..." Twilight fidgeted, not quite meeting the eyes of her mentor. "I really don't have anything to report right now..." Celestia merely waved her down.
"Oh no, no, that's fine. Actually, I wanted to extend to you an invitation to take a course in some more advanced magic here in Canterlot, " she paused. "under me."
There were a few short gasps as Twilight's face went blank.
"U-under you?" Celestia nodded politely.
"Princess...I-I don't know what to say...it would be an honor, but-"
"'But?' Twilight Sparkle, surely you're not declining such an opportunity for our benefit?" exclaimed Rarity, aghast.
"I'm not, it's just-" Twilight spluttered.
"We would never dream of holding you back, Twilight. You should really do this for yourself." Said Fluttershy, who recoiled the instant attention turned to her, mumbling "I mean, if you want to..."
"It wouldn't be forever, Twilight; only a few months, really. And I wouldn't ask you to cut yourself off from your friends." Offered Celestia, kindly. "And I'm sure it would be fine if any of them wanted to accompany you."
Twilight visibly warmed up to these prospects. She turned to her friends, who didn't need words to know what she was asking.
"Aw, sorry Twi'. Granny n' Macintosh're gonna need me on hand this early in the season. And besides, Ah'm not sure ah'd last uh week here before these high-falutin' folk wore down mah' last apple-buckin' nerve- No a'ffense, yer' Highness..."
"How about you, Rarity?" inquired Twilight. The white unicorn seemed torturously torn.
"Oh, it's always been such a dream...but what about the shop?" Rarity seemed to have entered an argument with herself.
"Well, I suppose I could run a small operation here- oh how exciting!" negotiated Rarity.
"But what about Sweetie Belle?" the sensible side of Rarity asked. "Mother and Father went vacationing in Manehattan and left her with me for the month! I couldn't just uproot her from HER friends, after all; it was the very reason she declined to join them."
"Well heck, Rare', we can look after yer' sis' if you want. I bet Apple Bloom'd be pleased as punch! It'd be like havin' a sleepover, every..." Suddenly, Applejack's smile slid off her face entirely. A moment's pause and the smile returned, as fake as zirconium."...every night..."
"OH, thankyouthankyouthankyou-so-much, Applejack!" gasped Rarity, hugging the reluctant mare so tightly that it seemed like she were being fitted for a corset. She released Applejack from her iron grip before putting a hoof to her mouth and giving and dignified cough. Still, she whispered to herself. "Easy, Rarity, old girl. Oh be still, my heart..."
"Well I can come!" exclaimed Pinkie Pie, instantly beside Twilight. "Mr. and Mrs. Cake are really understanding."
"I'd come too, but I just can't leave my animal friends behind. They depend on me, y'know..." declined Fluttershy.
"Uh...I could transfer here for a while. I bet the weather patrol could benefit from my expert touch..." said Rainbow Dash, the slightest smugness coating her voice as usual.
"Well" began Twilight, "I guess that settles it! I accept."
Celestia nodded in approval. Very well, my faithful student. You'll have until tomorrow night to be ready, and by sundown an escort will arrive for you."
Twilight had almost burst through her front door.
"Ooh, Spike! Can you believe this! I'm going to be taught higher magic, personally, by the Princess herself!" she paused suddenly as her brain churned, smile not leaving her face. "Oh, I need to let Owlowiscious know about this. Spike, have you seen him anywhere?"
"No." bristled Spike. "But I guess it's cool to finally be spoken to by the 'great' Twilight Sparkle..." It was as though Spike had just thrown a bucket of ice water over Twilight's head. She turned, confused.
"Wh-what are you talking about, Spike? Is something wrong; are you feeling okay?" she spoke as though wounded, not understanding why this anger had sprung suddenly into existence inside her living room.
"Oh, so NOW you care how I'm feeling? Took you long enough, I guess." Seethed Spike, whose anger only felt unfounded to Twilight, who had begun to grow irritated herself.
"Spike, we don't have a lot of time, so could you please just tell me what you're trying to say so we can get busy packing?" Spike only seemed to be further incensed by this.
"Jeez, isn't that just typical; you STILL don't get it! He paused only a moment. It wasn't difficult for Twilight to imagine smoke streaming from his nostrils. "WE can get busy packing. Ha! I don't think I ever recall agreeing to ANY of this. I don't even recall being ASKED! You just assume that wherever YOU go, I'll be following along. Just another piece of luggage, dangling like a saddlebag!" Twilight's frustration lessened significantly as her face registered a polite interest despite both brows remaining slightly furrowed.
"Spike, I'm so sorry...I guess I was just so excited-" Spike cut across her.
"You were excited; fine, good for you! And y'know what? I'd have happily come with you. I'd have supported you, like I always do; but you went and made a decision for both of us. You asked everypony else what they wanted, but it never occurred to you that you might want to ask your so-called 'best friend' too..."
Spike had never spoken to her with such venom. The words cut deep. Unable to argue for her mistake, she visibly slumped where she stood.
"Spike, I said I was sorry! But you've got to understand, you're just a baby!" pled Twilight. This only fanned the flames.
"I'm also a DRAGON, Twilight. Remember? We stay 'babies' for decades. The day you're an old mare, I'll barely be any different. When we're adults we can sleep for a century. I'm not a baby the way you're used to, and YOU'RE not my MOTHER!"
"I-I-" spluttered Twilight, who seemed closer and closer to tears.
"Yeah, you hatched me from an egg in some entrance exam. Yeah, Celestia let you take care of me...But I'm not some pet, or some little helpless foal you have to make decisions for." He finally had quieted down, but Twilight might have preferred him to keep yelling. At least the yelling made it seem like he cared. "You go. But I'm staying here...Maybe I'll be here when you're done, and maybe I won't..."
Twilight approached Spike cautiously; he'd turned his back on her. "Alright Spike. I know you can make your own decisions...and I'm so sorry I...I..." Twilight sped to her room, barely making it inside as she finally burst into tears.
Pinkie, Rarity and Rainbow Dash arranged to meet in front of Twilight's house the following day. Each of them were packed for the long haul. Twilight had moved slowly as she packed and was so distracted that she barely realized she'd been trying to stuff her telescope into a full bag. She finally made it downstairs. She'd been dreading this all day. Spike was sitting at the dining room table. He'd barely moved. Staying angry overnight didn't seem easy, for Spike had long since downgraded to a sulk.
"Well...they're waiting for me outside." Said Twilight, hesitantly.
The response wasn't angry, but it was no less disheartening. "If you need anything, you know how to reach me."
Twilight took a step or two towards the door, but stopped herself and walked right up to him from behind, taking one hoof and wrapping Spike in a small, but fierce hug.
"I love you, Spike...and if you're not here when I'm back, I'll still love you. You'll always have a home with me. Just please, take care of yourself." Spike barely moved. Twilight was on the verge of tears again as she finally made her way out the door. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself before meeting the others outside. Try as she might, she couldn't hide her feelings from the others, especially Pinkie Pie. It was a short tale to tell, but by the time Canterlot was close enough to see individual windows, Rarity was still consoling her.
"Oh, don't you worry dear. Spike will come around. He may be rather peeved, but really he's a sweetheart."
"He wouldn't even look at me when I left." sulked Twilight.
"Aw, Rarity's right Twilight. He just got his iddy-biddy-baby dragon feelings hurt. He's just pretending he doesn't want anything to do with you." Pinkie Pie said, hardly making Twilight feel any better.
"Little old Spike just needs time to simmer down." Offered Rainbow Dash, who felt weird about being airborne without using her wings. "I'm betting you'll get a letter from him in no time."
Things went pretty much swimmingly upon their arrival. Celestia had fixed things so that the group shared a space near the palace walls. Pinkie Pie was hired on as seasonal help by the donut shop Spike had introduced at the Gala, while Rarity was able to run her seamstress operation out of the bottom floor of the building. Rainbow Dash's reputation preceded her, and she was able to join in with the local weather team.
Twilight's new studies proved challenging and exhilarating. Within the first few lessons, she had added a few more spells to her repertoire. It was basic, but she was able to ignite targets now (though given her limited practice, she'd only achieved the level of a lit match) and was capable of producing a spell that allowed her to cut through objects with a focused ray of magical power. Celestia noted that these abilities had numerous applications both as defenses and as general tools.
Meanwhile, back in Ponyville, Spike came into the Library after a long walk. Night had fallen, and Spike saw a small, rather adorable owl perched on the windowsill.
"Oh, hey Owlowiscious." Spike said, greeting the owl, seeming tired and somewhat worn down. "I've just been...thinking. I know Twilight was inconsiderate and that she can turn a little bossy, but am I being too hard on her?"
"Twilight...Oh wait, right. But I mean...she did say she was sorry..." Spike muttered under his breath.
"Yeah, and she did really seem like she meant it..."
"I made her cry..." Finally, Spike seemed to slump where he stood. "Oh...I really did blow this out of proportion, didn't I?"
"Heh...I know you're not really saying anything, but it still helps me think." Spike smiled at the little featherball. "Y'know what I'm gonna do? I'm gonna hitch a ride straight to Canterlot! And-" Spike opened the door, only to see something he certainly wasn't expecting.
"Uh...h-hello?" said Spike to the figures shrouded in darkness outside, who stood three feet taller than the door. One of them spoke in a smooth male voice.
"Is this the home of Twilight Sparkle?"
In the middle of a grassy courtyard of Canterlot, Twilight Sparkle was in the midst of learning a shield spell. As her horn glowed with power, a fluorescing purple mass spread out in front of her.
"Excellent, Twilight" encouraged Celestia "but try not to strain more than your magical reserves. You seem tense."
Twilight followed her advice, trying to maintain the shield without flexing from the effort. But in that moment, something whirled in from above Celestia's horn and fell to the floor with a smash. It was a vase, still slightly smoking.
"Spike?" Twilight whispered. As if in answer, more items emerged. A singed book. A table. A red-hot metal joint attached to a slender pipe- which emitted numerous, loud bursts of light from the open end. Twilight could have sworn she felt the noise in her chest. At first it only startled the two, but they soon realized that wherever the loud, spastic thing pointed was struck by something thin, fast and seemingly invisible, cracking some sections of the opposite wall. Celestia managed to grab the curious object with her magic before it managed to flail towards her student. Eventually though, the noise and flashing stopped, replaced with a series of loud clicks as the open-end of the pipe sat smoking. In a few moments though, even this ceased, and the silence was deafening.
"Princess..." Twilight hesitantly asked. "what IS that...?" Celestia wore an expression Twilight hadn't seen since the night of the Gala, when they both stumbled upon the chaos that had consumed the ballroom.
"I don't know...Guards!" she commanded, and a pair of golden-armored pegasai entered the room.
"Princess..." they bowed.
"I need you to assemble a squad and make your way to the Ponyville Library with all haste." She ordered. "Search for anything out of the ordinary, anything out of place. And find the young dragon who answers to the name 'Spike'. Bring him here if you find him. Go now!" Twilight's expression grew more and more anxious, until she was forced to speak.
"Princess, what do you mean 'IF they find him'? What's happening, is Spike in trouble?" Twilight's eyes pleaded with her mentor. Celestia stared for a moment in contemplation.
"I haven't been entirely honest with you Twilight...When Luna and I cause an eclipse, the energies coursing between us have occasionally opened our eyes to glimpses of events that haven't happened yet. The last time, I saw NightMare Moon. I never guessed it would be my own sister."
Twilight's face filled with fear. It felt like time had sped up around them.
"This time" she continued "I saw you, consumed by a strange darkness. I wanted you safe Twilight, so I asked you to stay here, where it would be harder for somepony, or...something to harm you."
Twilight's fears seemed confirmed rather than alleviated. "But...why didn't you just tell me this from the start?"
"The future is always changing. There was no certainty in the threat, and I didn't want to frighten you if I didn't have to."
"But if it doesn't know I'm here, then it would start looking for me at home! Oh please, no...! It's my fault he's still there! I can't let this happen!" Twilight began racing from the yard.
"Twilight, NO!" Twilight stopped at the concern in her voice. "This will all have been in vain, and any danger Spike is in will only be increased if whatever responsible is still there waiting for you!"
Twilight stared at Celestia, never so uncertain in her life, and yet only one thing could quell the terror in her heart. Her horn began to glow. "I'm sorry Princess..."
"Twilight Sparkle!" Cried Celestia, as her student vanished in a great flash.
Twilight rematerialized just outside the gates of the palace. Despite her efforts, her jumps were constrained by distance, and she had to know where she was going. On the main road, she could only transport herself a modest distance each time. Already worn from the lesson, it cost her more and more effort to make each jump.
Finally, she found herself on the outskirts of Ponyville. She looked around wildly, readying herself for whatever threat might be coming. But her tense vigilance turned instantly to gut-wrenching horror as she looked towards the village. A fierce orange glow was coming from the place she called home: the library was on fire.
"No..." she breathed, disbelieving, before galloping as fast as her legs could carry her, past shops and homes. Past the ajar doors of concerned ponies who watched on. Twilight wondered why they weren't helping, before she realized the Ponyville Fire Brigade was on the scene. Great hoses led by earth ponies fought a losing battle against the massive hollow tree, which at this point had lost nearly all of it's leaves to the flames by then. Embers from burnt paper soared through the windows as unicorn ponies utilized a giant version of Twilight's same shield spell to prevent other buildings nearby from catching fire. Twilight heard shouts confirming that the town pegasi were on their way as well, presumably to hit the Library with a rainstorm.
"Whoa, Ma'am! I'm sorry, but this is an emergency situation! We can't have anypony too close to the building." Shouted a stallion firefighter, over the roar of the inferno.
"Have you seen a baby dragon anywhere? Did he come out of the library?" Twilight asked, hoping against hope, not even caring about the loss of her home and her books in light of the situation. The stallion merely shook his head.
"Nothing's come out and nothing's gone in; too dangerous in there. Paramedics are en-route, but we haven't heard a thing about anypony inside- HEY! Where are you going?!" bellowed the stallion in surprise as Twilight shot past him and magically forced the front door open like a cannon in spite of her exhaustion. It fell off it's hinges, having barely held on in the first place from previous trauma. Scorch marks littered the room, seeming not merely burnt, but to have damaged the surface with what must have been impressive force. Even built into the wall, shelves had collapsed and dumped their payloads onto the floor to smolder.
"Spike!" she shouted, smoke stinging her eyes and throat. "Where are you?" Twilight could barely hear her own voice above the terrifying sound. If Spike were in here, he'd never hear her. She threw objects off the floor and to the side as she looked. Cracking noises from the tree added to the already cruel sense of urgency as she rifled through rubble.
"Please Spike..." she spoke to herself, spirit falling with every piece of furniture that did not yield the diminutive dragon. "Please be okay..."
"...Twilight...!" came a young, weak voice that terrified Twilight. It barely carried above the sound of the rushing flames, but it was too loud to be her imagination. She found the source of the noise, beneath a stack of shelves and proceeded to lift them off. "Don't worry Spike, I'm here, I'm coming to get you!"
Finally, she could see his face, and with one final heave he was free. "Never again, Spike" said Twilight, hugging him between her cheek and fore-hoof. "I won't leave you like this ever again, I swear." Twilight traded on fear for another, as she realized Spike was having trouble moving on his own, and his reactions seemed tepid given the dire nature of the situation. She got him onto her back with difficulty, and used her remaining power to transport them both away from the blaze.
"Twilight...you came back..." Spike murmured. They had appeared in the middle of a road in the middle of town. Twilight knew the hospital was three blocks from where they stood, but she was worn down. She'd exhausted her magic, and could only trot down the road at a steady pace.
"Of course I came back for you!" Twilight assured him, deeply unsettled that he seemed so weak. She kept up her pace. "I'm getting you to a doctor, just hold on tight!"
"You shouldn't have...they were looking for you..." said Spike.
"Who was looking for me?" said Twilight, anxious both for his answer, and to keep hearing Spike's voice. She was almost less frightened in the burning library.
"Tall, really tall...most were metal, but one had skin. I only saw his face..." Spike sounded more lucid as he concentrated. "Twilight...I'm so tired..." Twilight felt Spike's weight lift from her back as his grip slackened and he slipped off onto the hard, cold earth.
"Spike!" cried Twilight, who turned around to find her friend lying on his back in the dirt. She could see he was still breathing, but it seemed labored. She got down on the ground next to him.
"Spike, come on, we need to move! I need you to grab hold, I can't lift you with magic this time, and you're too big any other way." Twilight finished, feeling powerless. Spike's hand reached for her withers, but he couldn't quite haul himself on. He soon gave up, lying on his back again.
"Twilight...I'm sorry I-" began Spike.
"No, I'M sorry! It's my fault you were still here! If I hadn't been so selfish, we wouldn't have fought, but I STILL should never have left you!" Twilight was on the verge of hysterics. She called out to the darkness, desperate. "HELP! PLEASE, MY FRIEND IS HURT! SOMEPONY, HELP!"
"Twilight...let Rarity know-" but Twilight cut him off again.
"Don't you DARE start saying goodbyes!" she bawled. "Don't you start giving up! You're a DRAGON, you're FIREPROOF! Why would the bravest, toughest dragon I ever knew be beaten by a fire?" She choked as her eyes watered.
It was true. Spike was bruised in a number of places, but he was not bleeding. It only amplified how helpless Twilight felt that she couldn't understand what was wrong with her friend.
"He did something...all these can things all over the floor...something flashed, a-and it felt like something was hitting me harder than I-" Spike stopped as something flew onto the roof of a building near them. Twilight called to it.
"Owlowiscious! Spike's hurt bad, please, get help!"
"Who!" and with that, the bird set off once more into the night.
"Twilight...I'm scared..." groaned Spike. Tears streamed from Twilight's fear-stricken eyes as she lied next to him and nuzzled him.
"I'm right here, I won't let anything happen to you..."
"The wind...it's just blowing through me...why do I feel so cold...?" Twilight betrayed a sob. All she could do was hold him tighter against her. She couldn't let him go. The world would end if she ever let him go...
"Twilight...I know you're not my mother...but I wouldn't have minded..." Twilight's face scrunched up in anguish.
"Neither would I...you're my best friend, Spike... I love you so much...!" she buried her head into his shoulder, beginning at long last to lose control as Spike's eyes were slowly shutting. "Spike?! NO! You need to stay awake! You've GOT TO fight!"
Twilight shuddered as she despaired.
"Please...don't leave me..." she wept.
"Twi...light..." the last syllable was but a breath, as Twilight saw his eyelids meet, and felt her best friend's body slacken.
And Spike was gone...
Twilight Sparkle let out a scream of suffering that shot out through the dark streets of Ponyville. And from that moment, something in her seemed to break. She felt numbed to the world around her. Rain from the village pegasi streamed down from above, as the orange glow of the Library became fainter and fainter, but she felt none of it. Applejack and Fluttershy arrived, but their voices sounded like they were underwater. It was as though the world had slowed down. For a long while, nothing happened, as Applejack kept her distance and bowed her head sadly, putting a hoof around Fluttershy who was instantly a mess. Nobody seemed capable of saying a word on seeing Spike lying still on the ground, Twilight, covered in mud and her coat stained from ash in the fire, tenderly curled up next to him. And for what felt like an eternity, that was how it stayed.
Harry intentionally used the occlumantic link to see Voldemort's thoughts. He was flicking lit matches at Lucius Malfoy.
"Your pain bores me," said Darth Nonose. "Go fetch Severus. I have some death for him."
Wazit_Blade: "Gah! J-Dude just invaded the thread!"