Twilight Sparkle was puzzled.

It wasn't a feeling she liked. Confusion? That was a feeling that came naturally in the study of the mostly unknown. Frustration? Yeah, the hard work needed in crafting spells can all be for naught if there's but one mistake in the working. Just plain lack of knowledge? Easily rectified with the right textbook. But puzzlement? All that meant was that, even with the vast amounts of knowledge contained in Twilight's library and, to an extent, in her own brain, she still couldn't figure out exactly what it was sitting in a dusty pile on her desk.

It's just...puzzling, thought Twilight, and then scowled angrily for just repeating to herself the very feeling she was trying to get rid of.

On top of Twilight's desk, there was a pile of soot. At least, that's what she had thought at first. Rarity had burst in to the library not thirty minutes ago with a bagful of it, ranting and raving about a magical substance she had found in the caves during her latest hunt for gems. It looked like soot, it felt like soot, it smelled like soot, and Twilight had made a point to try and tell Rarity that it was probably just soot, but of course, Rarity's train of thought couldn't be broken by anything.

"It was so weird Twilight! I'd found a great vein of purple gems that would've just looked FABULOUS with this dress I'm designing for next year's Grand Galloping Gala! I was thinking some purple with gold trim, and I'd just got my shipment of trim in from that pony with the weird eyes, I don't know her name but she's been DREADFULLY helpful with my supplies getting here right on time...oh dear, I'm blathering on like an old mare aren't I? So yes, I see this BEAUTIFUL vein of purple gems and of course I just had to have them. So I ask Spike, he was with me at the time because he's a DARLING like that, to help me dig them out of the rock and, of course, Spike being the cheeky little dragon he is, he helps himself to a few of them, my gosh Twilight, he wolfed them down so quickly the poor thing almost choked! He coughed up half the gems he'd tried to swallow and sent licks of fire everywhere, and I felt one of them singe my tail! I was getting all ready to shout at the little brat, and what do I see when I turn around? The cave wall had set on fire! A tiny lick of flame had caused a fire which lit up quite a bit of the cavern, and there was no wood or torches to be seen! IT was HORRIBLE, Twilight, I singed my beautifully coiffured hair AND tail, as well as losing a simple FLAWLESS collection of gems..."

After a minute or so more of listening to Rarity's massive fashion crisis, Twilight eventually learned that it was this "soot" that had caused the fire - in Spike's efforts to get to the gems, he'd broken through into a natural gap in the cave wall, filled to the brim with the dusty substance.

This was the reason Twilight was puzzled - as far as she knew, the only way for fire to make its way into a cave was by a wood torch, and yet Rarity had insisted that she hadn't brought any wood to her gem hunt at all, instead lighting the way with her horn, and every book she had on the subject of caves and the materials in them gave no clue as to what the "soot" might be.

It must be a brand new substance altogether, that nopony has discovered up until now, she thought. And for it to be discovered by RARITY of all people. What kind of a world am I living in if people who live in a Boutique make more scientific discoveries than people who live in a library?

Twilight sat among the ever-growing piles of books she had retrieved from the shelves, deep in thought, pondering and wondering what magical (if it were magical at all) properties the strange material had. After some time staring at the pile on her desk, she stood and trotted around what little room was available on the book covered floor, hoping for something in her brain to be jolted by the movement, hoping for some epiphany to strike her, for something she'd forgotten to be remembered and explain the inexplicable substance in front of her. But nothing came.

This is hopeless. Maybe a good night's sleep will help me think more clearly, she thought. She quickly glanced out of the window and found, to her surprise, that it was still at least two hours before sunset. It's still this early? It feels like I've been looking at this blasted pile for an age. Well then, maybe not sleep. Maybe I just need to get out of this library. Yes, a nice trot around Ponyville might get my brain moving better...ugh, that won't work. This pile of...well, whatever it is, it's gonna keep me from doing anything else until I figure it out.

Cursing her obsession to find the answer, Twilight sat back down at her desk. She knew what must be done, and she had known for quite a while, but she was reluctant to try. Going by Rarity's story from the caves, this substance could be quite dangerous if it were experimented on thoughtlessly. Twilight quickly pushed the concerns from her mind, knowing that it was the only way to satisfy her curiosity.

Science only moves forward if you experiment on the unknown, she thought. So let's start experimenting.

"Oh Spiiike!" she called, "I need you for a minute!"

::::::::::::::

The late afternoon sun was slowly descending, but it was still at least an hour before it would dip below the horizon, to signal the beginning of nighttime. The shops in Ponyville were just getting ready to close, and some ponies were already coming out of their houses to light their torches for the oncoming darkness. Tonight was to be a full moon, and, while the threat of Nightmare Moon had long since past, a lot of ponies still saw the full moon as a sign of bad luck. Shops would generally close a bit earlier as a result of this, as well as earlier torch-lighting and just a general lack of ponies wandering the streets at any time after dusk.

Rainbow Dash didn't believe in bad luck. She was relaxing on a custom-made cloud of her own creation, hoping to finally enjoy the view of the setting sun. A trait less
openly known about her than most, Dash enjoyed the sight of the sunset, and enjoyed it even more if it was followed by a full moon. She wasn't going to let a bit of superstition ruin it for her. She quickly readjusted her cloud for maximum comfort, and let herself sink into the fluffy texture, as the sun continued to drop.
A booming horse's call from the ground ruined her relaxation effort: "Hey, Miss Dash! You sure you don't wanna get inside soon? You know the stories about the the full moon, dont'cha?"

Without even turning her head, she called back, "Yeah, and I also know the stories about how eating too much hay can turn you green and how Pinkie Pie lead a twenty-pony brass band, but that don't necessarily mean I believe in them."

"Whatever you say, Miss Dash. You be careful, now."

It was the fourth Ponyville citizen to call up to her in the last thirty minutes, and it was ruining what was an otherwise lovely sunset. Seriously, she thought, it's been three years since Nightmare Moon attacked, and everypony is still running scared from the sight of a full moon? Princess Celestia would probably be a bit peeved if she knew that everyone was still frightened of her little sister. She smirked to herself. Besides, even if, for whatever reason, Nightmare Moon ends up returning, we'll just kick her skinny hind right into the dirt again! There should be no fear in this town while Rainbow Dash is in the skies!

Dash wanted something to fight, regardless. Nearly three years and nothing particularly interesting had happened in the town. Sure, there was the odd random event that generally involved one of her friends, but they happened far less often nowadays, and Dash knew that they were issues she could solve with no problem, even if her wings were clipped. She sighed. Another encounter with Nightmare Moon would be a nice challenge, she thought, but not now that Nightmare Moon is just plain old Princess Luna. Another boring pegasus Princess. I could probably fly circles around her.

Dismissing her want for a good fight, Rainbow Dash tried, for the fifth time, to get herself in a comfortable position for the coming sunset and moonrise. She may not be a good flyer, she thought, but gosh darn it, that Luna can make a good moon rise. And I'll sit here and enjoy it if it kills me.

::::::::::::

The skies above Canterlot were getting ever darker, the sun almost half-swallowed by the far reaching horizon. The market was closed, and the workponies were heading home after a hard day. While the event of a full moon and the bad luck it brings was as much a superstition in Canterlot as it were in Ponyville, the ponies on the streets had a fair amount of security, what with Princess Luna being under lock and key within the chambers of the Royal Palace. Princess Celestia had let Luna continue her duties as the overseer of night-time in Equestria, but she was still keeping a close eye on her once-wayward little sister, and everypony in Canterlot knew that. Still, the stories about the full moon were still common knowledge, and the darkening streets of Canterlot will less busy than usual. Some ponies were even turning the nights of full moons into a monthly celebration of sorts, a time to spend time with families in friends indoors, rather than partying into the night on the streets like with most other city celebrations.

Even though the work day for most of Canterlot was coming to a close, Princess Luna's work was only just getting started. She moved with purpose around her chambers, getting ready for the night to come, a night which only she could make happen.

Celestia had given Luna quite a portion of the Royal Chambers in which to do her work, a space almost the same size as the throne room itself. In comparison to Celestia's bright and cheerful quarters, Luna's rooms were mostly made of darker colours, a request of Luna's which, as she told Celestia, was more befitting of the overseer of the night. A grand, dark-blue walled hall was the biggest area of Luna's space, with a personal reference library to the west and a grand pantry, stuffed full of food and drink, to the north. A massive arched window overlooked all of this, dominating most of the southern wall, and giving an unimpeded view of the ever-darkening sky, above which was a small platform with a luxurious, black-sheeted bed, with a curling staircase leading from the platform to the open platform from which Luna could observe the night sky she was creating, and it was this staircase which Princess Luna was trotting down right now. She was trotting with a sense of purpose, although she was only doing this to fool the two guards stationed at either side of the Great Hall that she felt her work to be of the utmost importance - Luna knew, on the night of a full moon, that this was a delusional fallacy.

A night-sky with a full moon is probably the most beautiful night-sky you can get, Luna thought, and yet barely any pony will be around to witness it. All the work I put into creating a truly fantastic night-time, and everyone runs inside scared from the sight of it. She grinned to herself. Although I must say I do enjoy that I can still strike even the tiniest bit of fear into these stupid foals' hearts.

As she reached the bottom of the stairs, she gave a cursory nod to the guards in the middle of the hall, both of whom dropped to their knees in a polite curtsy at the sight of her. "Good evening, ma'am." the two Royal Stallions said in unison. "No disturbances to report, we look forward to another glorious night sky tonight!"

"Thank you, bodyguards." Luna replied, "I would like to be alone, if you don't mind. Full moon tonight, lots of work to be done."

"Yes ma'am. We'll be just outside your door if you need us, ma'am."

The stallions gave another quick curtsy, and half-trotted, half-marched out of the chamber's main door, quickly closing and locking it. While "bodyguard" was the official title of the two stallions keeping watch over Luna, she knew that they were just glorified wardens. She was either forever in their sights, or locked in some room, be it hers or any other, with their wary vigilant eyes looking straight at the doorknob. Oh big sister, thought Luna, it's been three years since my last attack and you still don't trust me. I would call you paranoid but, well...you have everything to be paranoid about.

She smirked to herself, and turned to look outwards at the setting sun.

It
's ironic, really, that the first stages of my grand plan will occur tonight, on the night of a full moon. Maybe there is something to these foals' superstitions after all.

:::::::::::::::

After two more attempts from Ponyville citizens to ruin her relaxation, Rainbow Dash was finally alone, and unpestered by anyone, so she could finally enjoy the sunset. Her enitre body, however, was almost too relaxed. She was trying hard to not fall asleep in the twilight, but for a pegasus as energetic and easily disinterested as Rainbow Dash, one hour lying on a cloud doing nothing but stare at the sky was enough to make her fall asleep from boredom, not even counting the fact that her self-made cloud was feeling more like a warm bed every second.

It's okay, she thought, sleepily, the moon won't rise for another ten minutes yet, I'll just rest my eyes until then...NO, I'm not gonna fall for that old trick. I'm lying here to see a sunset and moonrise and I'm not going to sleep through it like a foal. Come on, Dash, think exciting thoughts! You know all this waiting around is gonna be worth it once that moon gets here.

For some reason Dash couldn't explain, she wanted to see this full moon more than anything else. Maybe because she wanted to show the ponies of Ponyville that there's nothing to be scared of, or maybe because her own body was now issuing a challenge by trying to fall asleep instead of watching the moon. Hell, it's been a challenge just getting people to stop bothering me. Well, y'know what? I'm not gonna lose this fight. I'm gonna force myself to stay awake for at least ten minutes more so I can see this damn-

"RAIINNNBOW DAAAAAAAASSSH!"

Once Dash had heard the high pitched wail of Pinkie Pie, she knew instantly that the fight was already lost. She poked her head over the edge of the cloud to respond to the Earth pony's cries, only to find that her vision became nothing but bright colours.

What the hay is that? she thought, confused. It looks like...

"BALLOOOOOONS! Don't you just love them Dash? The have SO MANY USES! Like, even though there's no party going on, I CAN STILL USE THESE BALLOONS AND FLY LIKE YOU PEGASI! Hey, is that why pegasi can fly? Because it rhymes? Because you know everything that rhymes is true, right Dash?"

Rainbow Dash rolled back onto her cloud and placed a hoof on her face. Clearly Pinkie Pie was bored of her home-built flying machine and was now choosing to tie a few dozen balloons to herself to help get her to the skyline. Dash knew that any hopes to enjoy the moonrise had now been squashed.

"Like pie rhymes with sky, right? And my name is Pinkie PIE and I am in the SKY right now! And you know why you have blue skin, Dash? It's because BLUE rhymes with YOU! Ohmygosh, I gotta tell Twilight about this, THIS IS A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY WORTHY OF IT'S OWN BOOK! I'VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A WRITER -"

"Pinkie Pie, can you quiet down?" Dash said in desperation. "It's hard to get some shut-eye while you're yelling so much...I mean, watch the moon rise...I mean...hell, I'm not getting either of those things done while you're hovering around here am I?"

"Why would you want to do EITHER of those things?" Pinkie asked, with a quizzical look. "Neither of those things is as EXCITING as what I'm here to tell you now! And it's not even an invite to one of my Equestria-famous parties! IT'S BETTER THAN THAT!"

Pinkie Pie had finally floated up to eye-level with Dash with her balloon powered hovering, and Dash could see the pure excitement in her face. Well, that could mean anything from finding 1000 bits on the floor to Fluttershy finding a new frog.

"Fine Pinkie, I'll bite." said Dash, glancing quickly to the horizon and frowning, having missed the start of the moonrise. "What's the fuss all about?"

"WELL, Rarity was out looking for gems and found something COOL. Well, not cool actually, in fact it's HOT! Ha, get it? Wait, you don't get it because I haven't told you about it yet. BUT IT'S REALLY COOL! BUT HOT AS WELL!" A look of puzzlement crossed Pinkie's face. "Wait, now I don't get it. Well, anyway, Rarity and Spike were out gem hunting and found SOOT. Well, it wasn't soot but something NEW, that's what Twilight said anyways..."

Dash sighed and rolled her eyes, knowing that she was in for at least a five-minute wait before Pinkie got to the point.

:::::::::::::::::

"Are you sure about this Twilight? I mean, just a tiny pile of that stuff nearly turned me and Rarity into roast dinner! And you want me to do it again? Except with a BIGGER pile?" Spike was looking worriedly at the pile of the "soot" Twilight Sparkle had magicked from her desk to her back garden, a pile which was almost five times as big as the one he'd accidentally ignited back in the caves. "And if you ARE sure about this," Spike continued, "Are you sure you want to be doing it quite close to your mostly WOODEN house?"

"Don't worry, Spike." Twilight said. "I've got everything under control. I've got my best shield magic ready to keep the house, and you, safe. Plus I've got Pinkie Pie fetching everyone else to help out if things go wrong, and even then, there's plenty of water in those pails behind you in case things go VERY wrong. But things won't go wrong. Or VERY wrong. I've worked it all out, don't worry."

"But did you have to choose TONIGHT?" Spike replied. "It's a full moon! It's bad luck!"

"Oh please, you haven't been scared by that old mare's superstition as well have you? A full moon doesn't instantly mean things will go wrong. In fact, it's perfect! Since everyone has hurried inside earlier than usual, there's no-one innocent ponies wandering the streets to get hurt if this goes wrong. BUT IT WON'T GO WRONG. Do you not trust me, Spike?"

"Yes..." Spike said, with a grin, "...but when it comes to undiscovered "soot" found in a dark cave that could cause a massive fire, I trust you a bit less."

Twilight giggled, and Spike couldn't help but join in. "Look," Twilight said, pointing her hoof behind Spike. "Here come the girls now, I'll tell you all the plan and maybe you'll feel a bit better. And anyway, what have you got to worry about? Since when is a dragon afraid of fire?"

Spike was about to respond, but was interrupted by Applejack and Fluttershy's arrival.

"Howdy Twilight!" Applejack said, trotting over to Twilight, with Fluttershy at her side. "Sorry we took so long, had some last minute bucking to do before the moonrise, full moon an' all, ya know how it goes. So Pinkie was tellin' me you had summat cool to show us?"

:::::::::::::::

"And so Twilight was all like: "It'd be useful to have Dash here just in case, she could probably just fly past the possible fires at high speed to put them out, should we need to.". Whaddya think of my Twilight impression? I mean, I'm working on it, I know it's not great, it's NOTHING compared to my Pinkie Pie impression! All the other girls say it's UNCANNY."

There was a slight pause for the first time during Pinkie Pie's monologue, and Rainbow Dash wasn't gonna let an opportunity to make her voice heard slip by.
"So, what you're saying Pinkie, is that Twilight needs my help to stop a fire?" she asked, looking confused.

"A POSSIBLE fire. She told me to MAKE SURE you knew that a fire is probably not going to happen, but it might, and that you should be there to make sure there isn't too much fire. Am I the best messenger or WHAT?" Pinkie Pie smiled widely at Dash, waiting for her to agree.

A chance to help a friend AND save helpless ponies from a fire and be a hero? Dash pondered. Sounds like a win/win to me.

"Ok Pinkie, I'll go help. This "experiment" all going on outside her house?" Dash asked.

"Righty roo!" Pinkie replied. "She's in her back garden, Fluttershy and Applejack should be there by now too. OH THIS IS SO EXCITING! I mean, if it all goes wrong it won't be TOO bad, because we can have a party to take our minds off the fact it went wrong! And if it all goes right, we can have a party to celebrate! ALL ROADS LEAD TO PARTY! I mean, I used all the balloons with this balloon wings thing but I CAN GET SOME MORE! And we'll have a balloon shaped cake and..."

Pinkie Pie was too wrapped up in party based thought to notice that she was only addressing a rainbow coloured streak in the sky.

::::::::::::::::

Princess Luna had finished her work for the night, in a sense. She looked at the night sky she had created, and knew it was sub-standard compared to some of the masterpieces she'd created, but she also knew it was good enough to fool any foals looking up at it. She knew there was more important things to be done tonight, and the night-sky would have to take a back seat.

"All done! Bodyguards, you can come back in now!" she called.

The tumblers and handle of the main door rattled as it unlocked and opened, and the guards walked back into the room. "Finished in record time ma'am!" said the larger of the two stallions. "And the sky looks as good as ever. You're getting better at this every day!"

Luna faked a smile. "Oh, you flatter me, anyone can get better at anything with practice you know!" Especially with three years of FORCED practice, she thought, bitterly. As she saw the second guard heading to close the door, she quickly added: "Oh, bodyguard, would you mind so much as to leave the main door open? I'm working on some new constellations and it's an awfully warm night, a draught from the corridors will cool this place right down."

The smaller of the guards stopped, and shifted awkwardly from hoof to hoof. "Well, ah, y'see, ma'am" he stuttered, "Princess Celestia gave us strict orders to keep this door closed at night. All for your security, of course, ma'am."

At this, Luna trotted as gracefully as she could to the guard and flashed him a wide grin. "Oh, come now, I'm sure, should any brigands or assassins get through that door, that you big tough guards should be able to stop him, right? It's just that the constellations are very hard work, I wouldn't want to be overly flustered and not make a night-sky good enough to please Princess Celestia now, would I?" She looked the stallion right in the eye, and batted her eyelids very deliberately, knowing the guard would crumble like chalk.

"Oh well...uh, I suppose it'd be no harm. Wouldn't want to ruin that night-sky that you've put so much work into. And don't worry, no-one's getting in while we're here."

"I would never worry while I've got the most capable bodyguards in all of Equestria." replied Luna, flashing him another wide smile. "I'll be in the library for the rest of the night, and I don't want to be disturbed. Is that clear?"

"Yes ma'am!" the guards shouted in unison.

Luna gave the guards one last forced smile, and made her way towards the library door. Ugh, what kind of foals have they got guarding me if I can do anything just by batting my eyelids? she thought. This'll be easier than I thought. Not that it wasn't easy already.

Luna opened the door to the library and trotted in, leaving its door purposefully open. She headed for her main working desk, and opened one of its many drawers, revealing the item which she had been working on for her last three years of house arrest.

The casual observer would see the object as just a regular red gem, and not a particularly good gem at that. It was full of flaws and imperfections, which was kind of the point. Gems were so common in Equestria that no-one would give this one a second look, which was very befitting of its purpose. Or at least, the purpose for which Luna was planning.

While the gem was nondescript, the magical energies that Luna had been infusing it with certainly weren't. What she had created, using her own knowledge, the knowledge contained in the books around her, and three-years of trial and error, was a magic-blocking gem. A gem which, when activated with a magical pulse, would prevent all unicorns near it from casting any type of magic at all. No telekenisis, no teleporting, the horn on a unicorn's head would just become a useless appendage. It was Luna's brand new invention, something the likes of which Equestria had never seen before, and would be the lynchpin of her eventual plan to rule Equestria once again.

Luna had pondered the idea ever since Celestia had let her back into the castle, when trying to find ways to weaken the strength of her sister's immensely powerful magic. It was a simple logical step that, in order to beat her magic, one should stop it entirely. While the original magic-blocker was actually created and fully operational since two years ago, Luna had been adding, fixing and tinkering with ever since, to make it match her specifications. Now, it had enough range to block most of Canterlot and a lot of the surrounding area, it was clever enough to distinguish Luna from every other unicorn it would block, meaning that Luna would be unaffected by the block, and it's magic was sophisticated enough to be completely untraceable, unless you are looking directly at it.

It's still not perfect, Luna thought. I would've liked the gem to also block pegasi flight, but this will have to do for now. And anyway, I'll have plenty of time to do more tinkering once I'm in charge again. She smirked to herself. This gem, and the new spells I've been working on over the last three years, will all be integral in Celestia's downfall, not to mention it will make mincemeat of those damn fillies from Ponyville.

It was Luna's only worry so far, that the Elements of Harmony would once again foil her plans, but she had an idea to get rid of them. Or, at the very least, make herself strong enough to resist them.

Third time's the charm, after all.

:::::::::::::::::::

"...and so if we all just follow my instructions TO THE LETTER, everything should be fine." Twilight looked at her friends, hoping to see nods of approval, but instead got looks of confusion.

"Er...so Rarity found this 'ere dusty thing which can catch fire better than wood?" Applejack asked.

"Yes. MUCH better." replied Twilight, with a big smile on her face.

"And you're gonna get Spike to light it."

"Yes."

"And y'all gonna have Spike AND your tree house guarded by a magic unicorn shield."

"Yes."

"And in case there's a massive fire, you want us guys to be right ready with the water to sort it out."

"...yes. But that shouldn't be necessary."

Applejack paused for a moment. "...so, what it took both you AND Pinkie Pie ten minutes each to tell me, I could sum up with one sentence: If there's a fire, put it out."

"Well, YES," Twilight said, crestfallen, "but I thought you might all be interested in what could be a crowning moment for all of ponykind! It's a discovery that could affect..."

"All right, all right," interrupted Rainbow Dash, "Can we just get this show on the road? We get the jist. Fire bad."

"Well there's gonna be a BIT of fire. That's the point, I want to see how this damn stuff works. Just...if there's a LOT of fire, as in, enough to POSSIBLY burn down the town, that's when you should step in."

All Twilight received from this statement was a bunch of startled looks from her friends.

"Ok, not the WHOLE town." she revised. "Just a BIT of the town. BUT NOTHING WILL GO WRONG, dear Celestia, does nopony trust me anymore?"

For the first time since her arrival, Fluttershy spoke. "Uh...I trust you Twilight. But this does sound very dangerous. Even you said you don't know what will happen. And I wouldn't want you to set Spike on fire..."

"YES, Fluttershy, very good point! No-one wants that!" Spike interrupted.

"Look, everything will be fine. And if it isn't, I know I can count on you guys to help sort it out. Okay?"

This time, Twilight got exactly what she wanted - nods of approval from all of her friends. Well, almost all of them.

"Hey, Pinkie," said Twilight, looking around. "Where's Rarity? Did you not get her?"

Pinkie instantly looked downhearted. "I TRIED TWILIGHT," she cried, "I really did. But she said she didn't want any part of this. Said her hair and tail still had recovered from...er..."that FRIGHTFUL experience in the caves today, so I shalln't be helping make it happen a second time." " Suddenly, Pinkie's expression brightened. "Ha, my Rarity is getting better too! This is such an awesome day for impressions."

Twilight frowned, sad that she was one friend short for what could've been a really cool experience, but quickly moved on. "Ok then. Fillies, stand back. Wayyyy back. Spike, get in position. I'll get these shields up."

Spike very reluctantly shuffled his way to what now looked like quite an intimidating pile of "soot", standing on the X that Twilight had drawn on the ground. Twilight's horn was already glowing by the time he got there, with thin, wispy waves radiating around Spike, and around the entire visible side of Twilight's tree house. "Ok, it takes quite a bit of energy to keep these shields up, so let's get on with this, shall we? You girls ready?"

She saw three nods, as well as seeing Rainbow Dash starting to hover in readiness.

"Ok Spike. Fire away."

Spike inhaled, and blew a small lick of fire at the pile.

Pinkie Pie couldn't help herself. "FIRE IN THE HOLEEEEEE!"

The pile, when touched by Spike's flame, instantly went white hot and shined a bright, dazzling light, and was followed by a bellowing boom, throwing off a shockwave of magical energy that knocked everypony off their hooves, knocking them out cold. Rainbow Dash, however, was not on her hooves, although the shockwave had pushed her quite far into the sky, high enough to touch the first layer of clouds. The explosion had been strong enough to disorientate her in the sky, with the massive sound of the "soot"'s detenation still ringing in her ears. After a few second, she recovered from the initial knockback, and realise she'd gained more altitude than she'd thought.

Okay, it exploded. Well, that was pretty cool, I suppose. It'd be even more cool if my ears weren't ringing so much! Her thoughts about her ears were quickly cast aside by the realisation that most her friends on the ground below were unmoving, and she quickly descended to the ground to see if they were okay.

"Guys?", she asked, the ringing in her ears blocking most of the sound of her voice. "You all alright? Can you hear me?" She brought a hoof to her face in realisation. Well if I can barely hear me, they won't be able to, now will they? She hovered over to the nearest pony to her, Applejack, and gave her a tentative poke with her hoof. "AJ?" she said, "You alright?" The only reply she received was a grunt, as well as a bit of movement, assuring her that her friend was at least, alive. Shuffling noises from behind her told her that her other friends were also okay. Well, I knew they wouldn't be DEAD. she thought. It was a cool explosion and all, but I doubt it would've killed anyone unless they were stood right next to...uh-oh.

Rainbow Dash quickly glanced around the garden, initially looking for any sign of Spike, when she noticed the small fires that had appeared in the garden, burning slowly, but steadily, towards Twilight's house. She hastily turned back to Applejack and gave her another hard poke. "AJ, get up! You need to help me put out these fires!"

Applejack seemed to stir more at the sound of the word fire. "Ugh..what, fire?" she croaked, unsteadily getting onto her hooves. "Sorry Dash, I can barely hear ya, my ears are ringing somethin' fierce. What in the hay just happened?"

"Explosion, but we'll get to that later, grab a pail from over there." she said, pointing towards Twilight's back door, "I'll see if the other girls are okay and get them to come help." Applejack nodded, and galloped at full speed towards the pails of water. Dash turned to the other ponies, to see that Pinkie Pie and Twilight were also slowly rising to their hooves, and yelled to them the same instructions she had given Applejack. Whether they had heard her yells over the ringing in their ears, Rainbow Dash wasn't sure, but both of them had caught sight of the fires and were already running to the pails. Okay, four ponies for four fires, we should get them put out easily enough. Whew, disaster averted, thanks to me!. She turned back to look at the ground, where one pony, Fluttershy, was still unmoving. "Hey, Fluttershy, wakey wakey! We've got a bit of a situation here!" she shouted.

Fluttershy still didn't move to the sound of Dash's calls, but the steady rise and fall of her breathing told Dash that she was just unconscious. Well, this is Fluttershy, after all. she thought. She'll probably need a bit longer to recover than the rest of us. She turned back to the others, seeing that the last of the fires was just being quenched by Applejack. Again, her thoughts returned to the absence of Spike, and she hovered around the (now mostly burnt) grass in Twilight's back garden, her eyes darting from left to right, searching the ground as fast as she could for the dragon.

Twilight, however, had no thoughts about such things, merely registering that pony-esque shapes were moving around the garden and assuming that all of her friends were fine. She was overjoyed that her experiment had given such explosive results. After making sure the last fire was out, she breathlessly exclaimed, "That was BRILLIANT! I mean, I didn't expect it to react with such magnitude, but that SHOCKWAVE! It was clearly magical, maybe not as strong as a unicorn's magic but still, it makes for some interesting theories. We could harness that energy to help boost a unicorn's power! It wouldn't help all that much but it would be fascinating..."

"Twi', we got a problem." Rainbow Dash tried to snap Twilight out of her train of thought, but she kept on rambling. Applejack had also realised Spike's absence, and was frantically searching.

"...not to mention that Rarity's gem hunts could be MUCH easier if we use this to blast through the walls rather than her having to dig, it's probably make her stop whining about her hooves..."

"Science is fun! But Twilight, we can't find..." This was from Pinkie Pie, who had also joined the search, but her attempts to get Twilight's attention also fell upon deaf ears.

"...of course, I should really thank Rarity for bringing this to my attention, this could really help..."

"TWILIGHT!" Applejack yelled, finally breaking Twilight's monologue, causing her to turn her head angrily, clearly annoyed that she'd been interrupted. "Not that that ain't MIGHTY interesting an' all," continued the ever more worried yellow pony. "But Fluttershy is still face-down in the daises and we can't find hide nor scale of Spike!"

Twilight's look of anger turn to a slight look of worry. "Oh, I'm sure he'll be around here somewhere, he's smaller than the rest of us, that blast will have tossed him a bit further. Spike? Spiiiike!" She trotted around the garden, her eyes darting frantically left and right. Fluttershy will be fine, she was far enough away from the blast, thought Twilight, but Spike was inches away from it, and since I was knocked down, I can't be certain that my shields held. Oh Celestia, if my stupid curiosity has hurt Spike...

"Spike? SPIIKE!" Twilight's movements and speech were becoming more frantic, but with four ponies searching the back garden, she knew that every square inch of grass would be covered - and Spike was not here.

:::::::::::::::::

Princess Luna was sat at her desk, grinning to herself. She'd perfected the spells she'd need to, at the very least, knock Princess Celestia from her throne. And tonight was the night to execute the opening stages of her plan.

Casting any of these spells is forbidden within Equestria. thought Luna. Makes sense, because these are all the good ones. If any of this research gets found, I'll be in hot water. Her horn glowed, Luna preparing to torch all of her work. But she stopped, thinking for a second. Hmm, now that I think about it, if these papers are found, it'll only be a small leap of logic to figure out that I was planning something big. And the charges for experimenting with forbidden magic are a large step from the charges for high treason. No point putting a torch to all of my hard work if all roads to failure also lead to high treason.

She instead used her magic to roll up her papers, open a drawer of her desk, and place them inside. I'll keep a legacy either way, she thought, with a smile, either I'll have them placed in a museum after becoming Queen, or they'll be used by master unicorns to hone their skills while I rot in a jail.

She wasn't worried about being caught, not in the long run. It'd be difficult to overthrow royalty without everypony noticing. But that's exactly the point. Everyone will see me become Queen, and they won't be able to do a damn thing about it.

She rose from her desk, taking deep breaths while slowly walking to the door. She paused for a second, the light from her horn slowly pulsing to the beat of her heart. A minute had passed before she started casting.

If anyone could see Princess Luna at this point, it would almost look like she was melting away. Her entire image shimmered and swayed, slowly becoming translucent, before becoming completely transparent altogether. If anyone could see Princess Luna at this point, then they would be lying, because she had just turned himself invisible.

Forbidden spell number one: she thought. Invisibility. No points for guessing why it's forbidden, wouldn't want to make a thief's job too easy. While the magic-blocking gem took most of her three years of magical work in this library, she had spent any remaining time working on the spell she needed to succeed in her plans. The invisibility spell was one of the hardest. While the initial cast wasn't too difficult to learn, the challenge came in with prolonging the effect of invisibility as long as possible - even a unicorn of high magical skill could only hold it for three minutes. Princess Luna had the time to practice a lot - she could now hold the effect for over an hour before tiring, as well as being able to cast a second spell, of her design, silencing any sounds she made. You could be as unseen as a ghost's shadow, thought Luna, but the clip-clopping of hooves on these marble floors is enough to turn anypony's head. The noise-dampening spell was forbidden spell number two, though still allowed sparingly depending on your line of work - in fact, there was a special branch of the Royal Guard trained in such magic, so as to stay stealthy and keep a low profile, for ambushes and the like.

The two spells had been combined in such a way that nopony could detect Luna in any way, although she still had to be careful of bumping into the patrolling palace guards, or knocking into any free-standing objects. Luckily, the guards in the main hall were well out of the way of the door, which they had kindly left open.
Luna knew she had to act fast. It wasn't a long walk to Princess Celestia's chambers, but she wanted plenty of wiggle room in case of unforseen circumstances. Grabbing the magic-blocking gem in her mouth, she trotted, her magic masking her steps, out of her library door, straight through the eyelines of the two bodyguards, and straight out of her chamber door.

Like a ghost's shadow. she thought, giving one last look at the oblivious guards, cantering casually to the staircase leading to Celestia's chambers.

Half an hour later, Luna had finally reached the chamber door of her sister. The guards were out in full force tonight, effectively blocking her path to her sister. Luckily, there was a guard change, allowing her to find a point to slip past them, but she had wasted twenty minutes waiting for the opportunity, and she could feel the first pangs of tiredness from keeping her invisibility active.

Why are there so many guards tonight? she thought, frustrated. Is Celestia expecting me? Does she know of my plans? Or does the superstition that comes with the full moon now affect the Royal Guard too? Ugh, it doesn't matter. I'm here now, and there's no turning back.

By chance, Celestia had also left her door open for the night. While it was indeed quite a warm night, like Luna had told her guards, it did nothing to help her growing worry. She wouldn't just leave her door open like that. She must know my plan! She must know that I'm going to sneak in there and she's going to catch me in theact! That'd probably explain the high volume of guards, too. In case I resist. She stopped at the door, and took a long, deep, breath, trying to convince herself that her worries were unfounded. The door is open because it's warm tonight, and the Princess got some extra guards to wander around to make up for the lack of magical door-based powers. You've planned this out perfectly, Luna, and you've already wasted enough time playing Blind Pony's Bluff with the guards, so stop wasting more by standing here and worrying. Pulling herself together, Luna walked into the open door of Celestia's chambers.

While Luna's chambers were built to be more like a guest house, this was Celestia's castle, hers to roam free whenever she pleased. For that reason, her own private chambers were smaller than Luna's, without the need to store a library and a pantry in close proximity. What it lacked in size, however, it made up for in grandeur and class. The walls were dark now, but during the day-time, the sun would shine straight through the giant, east facing arched window (a window not unlike Luna's) and match the colour of the sun, going from a dark red at sunrise, to glorious yellow at the sun's peak, before turning back to red at sunset, finally going to a sedate light blue during the night. Celestia herself was sleeping in a grand bed - just as grand, if not moreso, than Luna's herself - resting upon at platform in the center of the room and exactly in line with the middle of the massive arched window. Two spiral staircases lead from this platform down to the deep red carpeted floor, but the path to her sister was not what Luna was interested in. Well, at least not tonight.

Her plan was, in fact, to stay as far away from her sister as possible, and plant the magic-blocking gem in a discreet place. It had to be well hidden, for even the tiniest glance at the gem would give away it's magical powers, and Luna wanted to be sure that it would never be found. She knew she would have to work fast, she was fast approaching forty minutes of straight invisibility, and she could already feel the beads of sweat rolling down her face.

She had already "cased the joint", as it were, during her last visit into this room. Celestia had called Luna for a private discussion, something which had happened each month ever since she had returned to the castle. Celestia had tried to assure her that it was just a friendly chat with her once-estranged sister, but Luna knew exactly what it was - it was a check-up, a monthly interrogation under the guise of a catch-up session, so that Celestia could keep an eye on her, to see if there was any danger of her slipping back into old habits. But Luna had been smart. She'd acted nice, raved on about her joys of being back in the castle, apologising again and again for her past misdeeds, even going so far as to magically remove parts of her overthrow plan from her mind with her own magic, in case Celestia was using her magic to poke around inside her mind, only to later remind herself of them from a quick glance at her notes. Despite playing the part, Luna had already spotted five or six prime positions for the gem to be placed, eventually deciding on the one nearest the entrance. She didn't want to stay in the room any longer than was necessary. She moved quickly, yet carefully, over to the spot she had chosen.

Celestia did not have a personal library, but she did have plenty of bookcases on the borders of her room, and it was here that Luna was planning to hide the magic-blocking gem. The particular shelf she was looking at was filled with books now, but a few months ago it had been bare, after a big studying session by the Princess. During her monthly "chat" with Celestia, Luna had glanced quickly towards it, noticing that the books had concealed a sizable crack in the woodwork. Knowing that the thick wood bookcases were mostly hollow in the middle, she had figured she could hide the gem within the very bookcase itself, using the crack as an entry point.

This was the delicate part of Luna's operation, because it required Luna to cast spells inside Celestia's chambers. Even though Celestia was asleep, and some distance away, a unicorn's ability to sense the casting of spells was an unconscious reaction, and if she wasn't careful she could very easily wake the sleeping Princess. Not only did she have to use magic to open the crack wide enough to fit the gem, she needed to cast her third forbidden spell of the night - soul link.

Despite the fact that soul links had only been theorized by the top magical professors within the walls of the fabled Canterlot University, Princess Celestia had been quick to ban its use, should it ever be able to be used. The basic idea was that any unicorn could link with any object of magical power using their own spell, and in doing so, would be able to apply any spells they knew to the linked object from any range or distance, as well as destroying the object in the result of the original caster's death. Since the magic-blocking gem required a magical pulse to activate, it was the only way for Luna to use the gem discreetly, which would be necessary for the time she was planning to use it. And since the slightest disturbance of a soul linked item could cause the link to break, Luna had to do the link in Celestia's room, to avoid the link becoming broken on her trip to the chambers.

Luna's wasn't too worried about the magic required to widen the crack in the bookcase, but a soul link required far more effort, especially to link to an item of such power, and ESPECIALLY especially while maintaining invisibility. Luna had learned all the tricks she could for masking her powers, but there was no way for any cast of a spell to be completely undetectable. Still, thought Luna, either this works, or I get caught and put to death for high treason. But even death is better than the fake jail I'm being held in now. Can't keep this invisibility up for too much longer, I'd better hurry this up.

Using her hooves instead of her magic, Luna carefully moved three of the books from the bookcase onto the floor, revealing the crack in the bookcase. Using as little magic power as she could, she slowly widened the gap in the bookcase, being careful not to overdo it and break the entire bookcase. Eventually, she realised that the bookcase was not a hollow as she thought - the only way she was going to hide this gem here was to simply wedge it into the crack, meaning that the only thing keeping the gem from being seen would be the books covering it.

Luna scowled. She didn't like the fact that, if Celestia happened to pick up this particular book, she would see her gem as clear as day, and instantly learn its secrets. She didn't like leaving it to chance, but with her time invisible running short, and with the soul link still do do, it was the only choice she had. She worked the gem into the gap, again, with her hooves rather than magic, and readied herself for the soul link.

Moment of truth, thought Luna, nervously. She looked hard at the gem, and visualized the link between her and the gem. As she did, her horn began to glow, a different glow to the one of a normal spell, a more sedate low glow than the shining light of a regular spell. As she did it, she felt her invisible shroud start to wane, but knew she was too far into the link to stop now. She kept her eyes fixed on the gem, still visualizing the bonds between her and it, as they became a few threads before becoming as thick as a tree tree trunk. The glow of her horn stopped, and she closed her eyes - the link had been made.

She made a quick glance behind her to where Celestia slept, and she slept on, unstirring. There was no time for celebration, however. Luna knew that there was only minutes until her energy would be spent, and her invisibility would wear off. She quickly moved the books back from the floor to the bookshelf, and cantered back to the door of Celestia's chamber. Seeing the guards a few yards in front of her door, she knew that she didn't have time to be careful now - she needed to get back to her room as quickly as she could, and she didn't care what guards she had to brush past.

She quickly dashed and darted between the four guards in the hallway, hoping to not cause too much a breeze with her movements, but none of the guards seems to notice it. Halfway back to her chambers, she felt her spell flicker away - she was now completely visible. BLAST! Any of these guards could see me plain as day! I can't get caught now... don't panic Luna, you're clear of the guards near Celestia's room. All you need to do is catch your breath before sneaking back into your chamber.

She stopped five feet from her door, giving herself a moment to regain her composure. After a few deep breaths whilst leaning against the wall, she recast a far weaker version of her invisibility spell, and slipped back through her open door, past her still oblivious guards, and dashed back into her library, practically collapsing next to her desk.

She was sweaty, tired, and panting heavily, but she didn't care. Tonight's plan had worked, paving the way for tomorrow. Unless Celestia found the gem in the bookcase, there was no way she could stop her, and the chances of her wanting to read that exact book in the three hours she would be alone would be quite slim.

Luna lay in her library, panting like a common workhorse, but soon the panting turned into small giggles. The hard part is over. I cut it pretty close, but I got away with it. Everything is in place. Her giggles were replaced by an evil smirk. Sleeptight, Cel'. You'll need your rest for tomorrow. It's going to be a big day for both of us.