Chapter Five - Investigations
Weary Hoof Hotel, Ponyville, Equestria
April 5, 2183
"But Shaeli. We can never be together. I have my duty, and you, you have your people."
Twilight woke to the sound of some alien program playing quietly on the hotel room's display. Even while she was sleeping, her omni-tool had faithfully been translating every single word spoken. It was easily recognizable from the dual languages playing in her ears, the alien overpowered by the far more familiar Equestrian.
The introduction of the omni-tool had done wonders for the galactic entertainment industry. Long gone were the days that films and TV shows were poorly dubbed by uncaring voice actors. The universal translator that came standard with every omni-tool could translate in real time and with the speakers own voice.
Sitting up, Twilight found Gilda sitting on the couch, watching a quarian movie quietly on the display. Twilight recognized the film from her own brief foray into multicultural studies as Fleet and Fotilla. She had found that it actually provided more of what the galaxy thought of quarian culture than of quarian culture itself.
"Tonight, I'm as free as the dust on the solar wind."
"Are you alright?" Twilight asked, her voice cracking with grogginess.
"Oh!" Gilda startled, looking over to find Twilight smiling at her. She blushed, sinking a little deeper into the couch cushions. "I didn't wake you, did I?"
"Nope." Twilight shook her head, getting out of the bed. "You're fine."
Coming over to the couch, Twilight nuzzled Gilda lovingly. The griffin leaned into her touch, a slight purr coming from her throat.
"I'm fine," Gilda murmured. "I just... couldn't sleep."
"What do you think?" Twilight nodded at the TV.
"It's some romance." Gilda giggled. "Five-thousand channels, and it's was the only thing worth watching."
"That good?" Twilight felt no need to go into her own thoughts of the film. If Gilda liked it, that was perfectly fine.
"Not really." Gilda shook her head, clacking her beak. "It's rather hilarious though."
"I'm going to take a shower." Standing up from the couch, Twilight giggled as she trotted towards the bathroom. Pausing, she looked over her shoulder and gave Gilda a coy look. "You could come join me…"
Gilda met Twilight's gaze with her own seductive grin. She nodded, her eyes lighting up. The remnants of her wings fluttering, she leapt off the couch and followed after Twilight. "I'd like that…"
Together, they headed into the shower.
Twilight and Gilda emerged from the Weary Hoof Hotel with a spring in their steps. Breakfast was on their thoughts, and they hoped to find a nice little restaurant to dine at before continuing on their journey.
Twilight was wearing a pair of over-sized saddle-bags, ready for anything. She had meticulously packed everything that she could imagine needing, from her detective kit to an emergency tent she had pilfered from the Royal Guard barracks.
Griffins weren't a normal sight in most Equestrian cities, and neither were horrible injuries that left visible marks. As they walked through the center of Ponyville, Gilda shrunk under pitiful looks from the ponies going about their day, and she slunk closer to Twilight's side.
Seeing their looks, Twilight glared at the ponies, who quickly realized that they had been caught and looked away in shame and embarrassment.
"Don't pay any attention to them," Twilight said, giving a quick nuzzle to Gilda's cheek.
"Let's just get to the forest." Gilda clacked her beak, keeping her eyes lowered to the ground, avoiding everypony's gaze. "I'm not hungry."
Twilight nodded her acceptance, and they passed right on by several restaurants that were just beginning their day. Twilight gave an odd look to a pastry shop that looked like it was completely made out of gingerbread.
"That's certainly a little tacky." Twilight wondered what pony in their right mind decided to allow the shop to be built.
"I wonder who'd be crazy enough to work there…" Gilda wasn't sure that she'd want to meet them.
They paused, a feeling passing through them. Something was supposed to happen, and they weren't quite sure whether or not that was a good thing.
A minute passed, and nothing happened. Slowly, they continued walking, feeling oddly unfulfilled.
"Right…" Twilight glanced back at the shop. "That was weird… Let's get to the castle."
Gilda nodded. They hurried through the rest of Ponyville to the forest that loomed darkly beyond.
The Everfree Forest was an anomaly to the peaceful planet of Equestria. It was the home to some of the most dangerous creatures and beings to be found across the galaxy, and almost nopony dared to ever venture inside. There was a small path that led to the Everfree Castle that was maintained by the Royal Guard, but very few ever dared to use it.
Twilight and Gilda followed the map that Princess Celestia gave to Twilight just before they departed. The trees loomed over them, the air heavy with a feeling of dark, ancient things.
"I don't like this forest," Gilda whispered. She watched the trees warily, her steps quiet and nervous.
"I don't think anypony does." Twilight spoke softly. There was something about the atmosphere that made you want to go unnoticed by all of the inhabitants. Twilight nudged up against Gilda encouragingly, the contact helping both of them relax, even just a little. "All the books I read yesterday confirmed the stories that I remember mom telling me as a filly."
"I can see why…" Gilda shivered. She felt eyes watching her.
"As long as we stick to the path, we'll be fine." Twilight grinned, standing taller, proud of herself. "And don't worry! I'll protect you."
"I feel much better," Gilda said with a giggle.
"You should." Twilight nodded once, her eyes closed and her head lifted high.
Twilight and Gilda emerged from the forest, seeing the hulking skeleton of the Everfree Castle. A large gorge sat between them and the castle, and a rickety looking bridge spanned across it.
"Well…" Twilight had never imagined the castle would be in such a state of disrepair, even after what Celestia had told her. "That's certainly a sight."
The castle bore the scars of a horrendous battle. Entire chunks of the castle appeared to have been melted away, the stone cooled in strange formations that almost made the castle look like it was bleeding.
"Let's get started!" Turning to Gilda, Twilight bounced eagerly. Who knew just what secrets the castle held within that nopony else had seen for a thousand years!
"Over that?" Gilda eyed the bridge suspiciously.
"Oh!" Twilight blinked, noticing just how unsafe the bridge looked. "Right. Yes. That doesn't look safe at all."
Stepping up to the edge of the gorge next to the bridge, Twilight bit her lip. Turning back to face Gilda, she grinned proudly.
"I can certainly do better!" Turning back to the gorge, Twilight ignited her horn and casts a spell. Forming a solid surface with magic was a rather simple thing to do, but it could be manipulated in thousands of ways. It was only ever limited by imagination. Gilda watched wide-eyed as a magical bridge sprung into existence, purple and see through. "There! You won't find a better bridge in Equestria!"
"If I die…" Gilda stepped up to the bridge. Putting out a claw, she touched the magical surface. It doesn't so much as give an inch. "I'm going to come back and haunt you."
"At least we'll still be together." Twilight moved to start across but flinched when she realized how horrible that sounded. She should probably do something to reassure the skittish griffin. Embarrassed, she turned back to Gilda. "Right! It's perfectly safe. I promise."
"You promise?" Gilda asked.
Leaning forward, Twilight kissed her. "I promise."
That was enough for her. Gilda stepped out onto the bridge and started crossing over. She looked back over her shoulder at Twilight. "Well, come on. The day is wasting."
Twilight giggled, trotting after Gilda. As promised, the bridge held and in no time they were on the other side.
"I told you there wouldn't be a problem." Twilight trotted to the entrance of the castle.
Together, they entered the castle. They paused just inside the entrance, the doors having long since rotted away. Twilight's mouth fell open as she truly began to understand just how incredible Celestia really was. She had lived here one-thousand years ago, and she still looked young and beautiful today as she did then.
"Whoa…" Twilight murmured.
"What?" Gilda asked, looking over at Twilight, trying to see what she was thinking. She didn't have any luck. "Twilight… What?"
Twilight didn't answer for a long moment, taking in everything with wide eyes and an open jaw. Finally, she looked over at Gilda. "It's just... It's just hitting me…"
Gilda waited patiently for her marefriend to continue.
"I've never really understood just how... how powerful they are." Twilight had spent a little over a decade practically living with the Princesses, seeing their every foible and problem. She had lost sight of so much. "How ancient!"
"This…" She waved a hoof around the castle. "This just drives it home. Princess Celestia has lived more lifetimes than I can really even comprehend, and…"
She laughed, giggling, amused. There was more of a touch of madness to her voice. "And she chose me! Out of all of the others, she chose me to be her student."
Gilda wrapped Twilight in a loose hug, holding her as she came to an understanding.
"I guess I've never really understood…"
They sat there for a moment before Twilight nodded, ready to get going.
"Well, let's get started," Twilight said, her voice slightly shaky.
Lifting her hoof, Twilight activated her omni-tool and set it to record, wanting a record of things that looked like they might be of interest to her. She started walking into the castle, and Gilda followed after her several seconds later.
As they walked deeper into the castle, the signs of battle became more and more evident.
"What happened here?" Gilda asked, taking everything in.
"A battle." Twilight's voice was quiet at that. The conversation that she had with Celestia had weighed heavily on her mind. "A fight between sisters."
"The Princesses?" Gilda paused, looking at Twilight in amazement.
"Yes," Twilight murmured. She stopped in front of a large doorway that led to another hall. Two massive tapestries hung on either side of the door. On the right, the cutie mark of Princess Celestia. On the left, the cutie mark of Princess Luna. Twilight's eyes lit up excitedly, her despondence of moments ago forgotten. "Oh! Look at how well preserved these are!"
"I think I can still…" Twilight darted up to the one with Princess Celestia's mark, recording it with her omni-tool. The fabric was thick and beautifully crafted. It was the work of a master, and Twilight didn't want to miss a thing. "Yes! There is still magic in this castle. That must be what preserved everything. It's the only explanation I can think of."
Gilda watched Twilight, amused. She let her go and play the scientist for several more minutes before she stepped up and placed a claw on her shoulder. "Twilight, we should get going."
Twilight looked at Gilda, pouting, but finally relented with a nod. "Yeah."
She took a final look at the tapestries before continuing on through the doorway.
Twilight looked back over her shoulder, longing to study the tapestries more. She turned her attention to Gilda, excitement still coursing through her. "Did you see how remarkable those were! They were fascinating examples of post classical Equestrian thread work."
"They were very nice." Gilda indulged Twilight.
"I know!" Twilight giggled, excited. There was so much that she could study here, and it was simply overwhelming! She paused as she looked down a doorway they were passing. "Hold up for a minute, Gilda. I want to take a look in here."
Gilda rolled her eyes, but she followed Twilight through the door into a massive library.
"Books!" Twilight's eyes widened excitedly. She was a bibliophile through and through. She darted to the bookshelves, giggling like a schoolfilly. "So many books!"
Using her magic, Twilight lifted the first book she saw off of its shelf. Eyes wide, she was eager to take a look inside the book, the first pony to do so in one-thousand years. The cover had long since lost whatever gold stamping that had marked its name. What it held inside was a complete mystery. It could be a study in ancient Equestrian law, or a book of plays from a forgotten playwright, or maybe it was even the Princesses own journal!
Opening it, Twilight squealed. The book literally crumbled to dust in her magic and Twilight's excited gaze turned to horror. "What?"
"But…" She looked over the rest of the library. "But... The books…"
Twilight looked over to Gilda, a pitifully sad expression on her face, her lower lip sticking out. That expression turned to one of indignation.
"The books!" She stomped her hoof on the ground. Trotting up to Gilda, she looked her in the eyes with a passion that only a librarian could muster. "Princess Celestia left all the books here to rot!"
"We should really keep looking for the throne room." Gilda tried to get Twilight back on task.
"That's criminal!" Twilight didn't even hear Gilda, her anger building inside. "To let all of this knowledge go to waste."
Taking Twilight by the hoof, Gilda dragged the unicorn out of the library while the mare continued her rant. She paid no mind to the fact that she was being pulled through the Everfree Castle. Nothing would stop Twilight during a good rant.
"We could have learned so much! There are thousands of books in there. Think of all of the knowledge that we've lost." Twilight pouted. "I am going to have a very stern talking to with Princess Celestia when I get back."
"I'm sure that'll go very well." Gilda rolled her eyes.
"You bet it will!" Twilight completely missed the point.
"I think we're here, Twilight." Gilda stopped dragging Twilight when she found herself in front of what looked to be the Throne Room.
"What?" That drew Twilight out of her own little world. She looked around, realizing that she didn't recognize where she was. "Where are we? Why aren't we in the library anymore?"
"I think we're here, Twilight." Gilda rolled her eyes.
"Oh? Are we?" She saw the door in front of them, somehow managing to have survived the passage of time. "I suppose we are."
"Let's go in then!" Twilight grinned at Gilda.
Twilight pushed open the doors to the throne room.
Twilight and Gilda paused in the doorway of the throne room, taking it all in with wide eyes. It was the most badly damaged part of the castle that they had seen so far.
"That is incredible." Twilight stepped a hoof into the throne room, but immediately froze as the room went completely dark. The door slammed behind them, forcing Gilda into the room with a yelp.
"Twilight," Gilda scampered to Twilight's side, the after-image of the unicorn still burned in her vision. She bumped into her, grabbing onto her with a hug. "What's happening? I can't see anything."
"I don't know!" Twilight ignited her horn and sat back on her haunches. She wrapped Twilight in a hug.
Out of the darkness, the room suddenly lit up. Tangling webs of neon blue light spread out across the floor, all coming to a point in the center of the room.
"What is that?"
"I don't know." Twilight watched with wide eyes. "But I don't think we're in danger."
From the point in the floor, a pedestal rose up. Twilight recognized it as the holder of the Elements of Harmony. Celestia had added a small drawing of what it looked like with her map.
"Why not?" Gilda asked, staying behind Twilight.
"We must have triggered something by stepping into the room. I don't think it's meant to harm us." She wasn't sure, but she felt pretty sure about that.
Twilight stepped forward towards the pedestal. Her hoofsteps were met by the blue light, seeming to jump up from the floor to meet her. It seemed to be eager, happy even.
Reaching out a hoof, Twilight touched the pedestal hesitantly, backing up a bit when it chimed, producing a ringing note, perfectly clear and beautiful.
"Oh, Celestia…" Twilight swore. She took another step back as the pedestal started to spin.
The top of the pedestal lowered down, petals opening to reveal a journal bound in purple leather. It settled with a quiet, mechanical clunk, the blue light pulsing around it.
"What is it?" Gilda asked, stepping forward to join Twilight.
"It's a journal…" Stepping forward, Twilight ignited her magic and lifted the journal off of the pedestal. Opening it, Twilight dropped back onto her haunches in surprise. "What?"
"What is it?" Gilda peered over Twilight's shoulder, trying to see what was so startling.
"This doesn't make any sense!" Twilight flipped through the journal, getting more and more confused by what she saw. "This doesn't make any sense."
"What is it?" Gilda asked, louder.
"This journal." She held it up for Gilda to see. She scanned over the journal's writing, hoof-written, not printed. Looking back up at Twilight, Gilda shrugged. She didn't see whatever it was that Twilight saw. "What about it?"
"That's my hoof-writing," Twilight said, her voice shaky.
"You wrote this?" Gilda looked back at the journal with renewed interest. Now that she knew, she did recognize Twilight's tight and concise writing.
"Yes!" Twilight cried, more confused than she had ever felt before in her entire life. She shook her head, trotting in place. "No! I've never seen this journal before in my life, but that is clearly my writing. I'd recognize it anywhere."
"If you didn't write this…" Gilda reached out a claw and touched the journal, as if expecting it to disappear. "Then who did?"
"I don't know!" Twilight stomped a hoof against the floor, growling in agitation.
The pedestal started lowering back into the floor, drawing both of their attention at the deep sound of gears crashing against each other. The floor started to shudder, forcing Twilight and Gilda to spread their legs to stay stable.
"What's happening?" Gilda rushed to Twilight's side. If the castle was going to fall apart, it was better to be with the unicorn who could teleport wherever she wanted.
"I don't know!" Twilight drew comfort from Gilda.
The floor started to separate, and the blue light dimmed. Through the ever widening crack in the floor, an even brighter illumination revealed itself. The floor of the entire throne room retracted, revealing an absolutely intricate and beautiful map underneath.
"That's impossible…" Twilight stared at the map with wide eyes, her jaw dropping. She made the small jump down off of the upper floor to mural beneath, and Gilda followed after. The floor finished completely retracting and the room was now about a foot lower than it was before. "No. That's completely impossible. There is no way…"
Despite all impossibility, the map was a nearly complete and accurate rendering of the Milky Way galaxy. Tiny mass relays dotted the entire map, and Twilight easily recognized that the Arcturus Relay was in its correct place.
On the surface of the map, five planets had been rendered in such large detail that the eye couldn't help but be drawn to it. They were so beautifully made that it almost seemed as if Twilight could reach a hoof out and pluck it out of the sky. Thessia. Earth. Tuchanka. Illium. Equestria.
Beyond the planets, larger than the rest, was the Citadel.
Twilight stares at the map in confusion and awe.
Thinking, Twilight opened her omni-tool, pulling up a galaxy map. She compared the locations as best she could before turning to Gilda with wide eyes. "It's accurate. As near as I can tell, it's... completely accurate."
"What's so important about that?" Gilda asked, trying to understand.
"One-thousand years ago, whenever this castle was built... somepony made this map before we even knew that there was anything else out there beyond the sun and the moon." Twilight shook her head, dropping back onto her haunches. "The sphere was already in place by then. There's no way that it was outside contact. Somepony on Equestria knew how the galaxy would look nearly two-million years ago."
Standing, Twilight placed to put a hoof on the Citadel. "That shouldn't be possible. There's no way. It's not just improbable, it's impossible! The time-scale involved is just too vast for anyone to know how the galaxy would turn out!"
"Then…" Gilda looked at the map with new understanding. "Who did this?"
"I don't know." Twilight really didn't She didn't know how Celestia could have missed whoever had built this when she was at the castle. Twilight looked over to her journal, still floating next to her in her magic. "These two have to be connected in some way…"
"Dear Diary," Opening the journal, Twilight started to read. "This is the first entry of of the Journal of Friendship being entered by Twilight Sparkle. Well, Princess Twilight Sparkle, I should say. And hasn't that been making me nervous, feeling so much pressure. The Tree of Harmony had my cutie mark on it, and when we put the Elements of Harmony in the tree, it revealed this mysterious chest with six keyholes. I've started searching, but so far I can't find any information on how to open it or where to find those keys."
Gilda dropped back to her haunches, listening to what Twilight was saying.
"But I know it's important and vital to helping me discover who I am as a princess." Twilight continued reading. "Hopefully, reading the Journal of the Two Sisters will help me be less scared of this whole Princess thing. After all, Celestia and Luna became princesses of Equestria and had to tackle really big problems. So if they could do it, then so can I. Right? My friends will also be contributing to the Journal of Friendship so we can learn from one another. And maybe someday, other ponies will read it and learn from out experiences as well. After all, we ponies have some really amazing adventures…"
Twilight looked up at Gilda, her mouth hanging open. "I don't understand."