A/N - I don't own Myst. Well, I own a copy of the game. Multiple copies actually; my computer was picky about which version it liked. Anyway, I don't own the intellectual property; that belongs to Cyan and UbiSoft. By the same token, I don't own My Little Pony FiM. Hasbro and Lauren Faust rule!
I owe thanks to Miyajima for helping me brainstorm this idea and pre-reading this chapter.
The Royal Archives of Canterlot was perhaps the biggest depository of rare and ancient manuscripts in all of Equestria. Shelf upon shelf of books filled half of the vast, vault-like chamber carved into the mountain that formed the foundation of the Royal Palace, while scrolls made of everything from parchment to papyrus to shed dragonhide occupied individual cubbies in the other half. Besides the Princesses and the select staff of unicorns charged with maintaining the preservation spells, few ponies were allowed admittance to the archives, and of them even fewer were allowed to remove any of its contents for any length of time. It was a treasure trove of old, nearly forgotten scholarship. It was also the darkest, driest, most boring place in the entire world to be sent on guard patrol.
It figures they'd send the rookie down here, Storm Tail thought to himself grumpily. He'd been at his post – alone, because who'd bother sneaking all the way down here for some old books? – for only an hour or so and he was already falling asleep on his hooves. As he began to weigh the pros and cons of drifting off, he heard the sound of hooves clopping on the stone floor down the hallway. Snapping to attention, Storm Tail blinked furiously to try and drive the sleepy look from his face. Either one of his superiors was coming for a surprise inspection, or Princess Celestia was arriving for an impromptu browsing. In either case, the pegasus guard needed to look like he was at the top of his game, as if he liked nothing better than to stand next to a rarely-used door in a dimly lit hallway and separated from the sky be several feet of solid granite. As the hoofsteps drew closer, Storm tried to guess who they might belong too. They were sounding too close together to belong to Celestia, and they also lacked the chiming ring of the royal shoes. For that matter, they didn't sound like they were wearing guard-issue shoes either. Confused, Storm narrowed his eyes and tensed up; perhaps an intruder had made his way down here after all.
His confusion rose slightly higher as the hoofstep's owner rounded a corner and came into view. She was a lavender unicorn with a slate-blue mane with a pink and purple highlight, a set of light purple saddlebags on her back, and violet eyes shining as she trotted excitedly toward him. "Good day sir," she said, giving him a nod as her horn lit up with a magenta aura. The heavy latch on the archive door took on the same glow, and Storm Tail quickly imposed himself in front of the door. The unicorn came to a stop and looked up at the taller pegasus with a grim frown. "You're new aren't you?" she asked at last. Storm matched her gaze, challenging her to try her luck. "My name is Twilight Sparkle," the unicorn said, "personal student of Princess Celestia. I'm sure you've heard of me."
Storm Tail blinked in surprise, but quickly recovered into stoicism again. "I've heard of Twilight Sparkle," he said, "but that doesn't change the fact that this chamber is restric…ted." He trailed off as Twilight levitated a piece of paper bearing the royal seal in front of his eyes. It was a message written and signed by Celestia herself granting Twilight access to the archives to look for research material. "I… I see," the pegasus said nervously, "My apologies ma'am. This is highly unusual."
"I know," Twilight said, stowing the note away and smiling warmly, "but I'm planning to write a proposal for reviving some ancient spell research, and the Archives are the best place to find long-lost experiments."
"I suppose," Storm said uncertainly, moving aside to let Twilight pull the door open, "Uh, do you need any help?"
"No thank you," Twilight said, patting the pegasus on the shoulder, "you just keep doing a good job out here." She walked inside and closed the door. Storm blew out a disappointed sigh and started counting lines in the wall to keep himself occupied. He fell asleep after thirty-eight.
Twilight could only dimly recall the last time she'd been inside the Royal Archives. It had been a year or so after she had begun studying under Princess Celestia, and the Princess had brought the young filly down to the Archives as a reward for exceeding expectations on a test. From what the unicorn recalled, the only thing that had changed since then was that she could now look at the fourth shelf level without needing to tilt her head. The air was still, dry, and filled with a faint tingling sensation from the preservation spells layered over each and every book and scroll individually by the presently absent caretakers. The vast chamber was illuminated by a sparse network of magic-powered lamps to just above the level needed to comfortably read the titles of the tomes, although there were greater concentrations of the lamps around the desks that occasionally broke up the perfect grid of aisles and bookshelves in order avoid straining the eyes of the rare pony who came in to study the Archive's seemingly endless collection.
"Let's see here," Twilight muttered to herself as she walked down the aisle separating the books from the scrolls, "On the Ascendant Nature of Unicorns. Probably supremacist nonsense. Regarding Our Lady and Mistress?" She gently pulled the book from its place and skimmed through a few pages before slamming it shut and returning it to the shelf. "Nothing but slander," she said crossly as she continued, "Zebras: Harbingers of Night- what is with these books?" She galloped down the aisle for a ways and then went two rows into the book area. A quick glance around showed her that she'd found a collection of published journals written in a number of ancient dialects. With a satisfied and relieved smile, the studious unicorn began browsing the shelves, muttering under her breath as she attempted to decipher the titles through their stylized horn calligraphy and outdated grammatical constructions. Every once in a while, she would remove a book from the shelf and stow it carefully in her saddlebags. When she reached the limit of what she could carry, she turned to trot away and find a desk to study at. As she reached the end of the shelf, however, something caught her eye. On the bottom shelf, sandwiched between Neighton's Theories of the Cosmos and The Ponies of Planet Gallopfrey and their Culture, was a curious-looking volume bound in a material Twilight didn't recognize. Intrigued, Twilight pulled it out and looked it over. The cover was brown and surprisingly unmarked save for the title, which looked like it had been hammered in and then colored with a black ink that had mostly flaked away. There were no other words or symbols to give hints to the book's origin or author. The title simply read Aitran. "Hm," Twilight said, her eyes drifting between the book and her full bags, "Well, why not?" She floated the book behind her as she resumed walking.
After finding a table and organizing her book into nice piles, she sat down and opened the first journal. It was entitled On the Hidden Magic of Terrenes, so Twilight began reading t with the expectation of finding notes on Earth ponies and the varied ways their connection to the land could manifest. Perhaps I'll find something to help make logical sense of Pinkie Pie, she thought, only to frown when she got past the opening paragraphs and into the journal's introduction proper.
'It is clear that the pegasus pony is a breed unto itself,' it read, 'but I am convinced there is a connection between the unicorn and terren breeds. Terrenes, or earth ponies in the common tongue, are separated from unicorns only by the latter's ability to channel magic. It is obvious that something must occur at the moment of birth to infuse a Terren pony with magical power and turn it into a unicorn.'
"What is this?" Twilight said incredulously, skimming quickly through the next few pages, "I don't even… ah, never mind." She closed the journal, set it aside, and pulled the next book off the pile. She quickly realized she had misunderstood its title when it turned out to be little more than a list of rules for magic with frankly ridiculous reasoning behind each. "'Magic must not be used to cut, cook, prepare, or even touch anything intended for pony consumption due to the random and potentially dangerous changes Magic may have on organic substances.' Gah!" she grunted in frustration, shutting the book and pushing it away. She dropped her head to the desk and moaned. "How did ponies get anything done with such ridiculous ideas?" she said, looking up and around at the cavernous Archives, the far walls almost invisible in the sparsely-lit gloom. "Ugh, it'll take me forever to find a valid topic in all this," she mumbled, putting her chin on the table and rolling her eyes. She heaved a sigh, and then her eyes settled on the Aitran book, still resting on the bottom of the to-read pile. Something about the book piqued her interest. She wasn't sure if it was the curious cover material that had aged so well, the modest presentation of the simple title "Aitran," or the fact that whoever had written it had not felt the need to put his or her name on it, but Twilight felt that there was something extra special about the book. Lifting the rest of the pile up in her magic, she slid the book over and opened it to the first page. Old Equestrian words written in an exceptionally tidy, almost geometric manner covered the first page from top to bottom with barely any margins on either side. Twilight's eyes scanned the page quickly without comprehending the words, simply admiring the care that had been taken in writing them. She flipped quickly through the book, revealing each page to be written in the same tight, careful manner and occasionally broken by a detailed sketch that would fill precisely half a page. Returning to the front, Twilight finally noticed a somewhat less tidy note written at the top of the inside front cover. Peering close and squinting as she worked out the Old Equestrian, she read, "Copy the seventh, written personally by Star Swirl, called The Bearded. Eeeee!" Twilight jumped to her feet as she squealed, "Oh my gosh! Have I…?" She thought back over her studies. Star Swirl the Bearded was regarded as the father of the amniomorphic spell and creator of over 200 spells. He had an entire shelf in the public library of magic just for his works, and Twilight had read them all. Her memory wasn't perfect, but she was pretty sure she had never seen a book entitled Aitran attributed to the great unicorn mage. "Oh my," the lavender unicorn said, looking reverently at the book, "you must be the last copy or something. Just what are you though? A journal? A collection of spells he developed but never revealed? Oh, and if I'm the one who can restore some of the knowledge hidden here…" She squealed happily and clapped her hooves. "You're coming home with me," she said as she stowed the book in her saddlebag and galloping toward the exit, "Ponyville's a much nicer place to read in than this old place."
Spike was perched at the top of a ladder taking a feather duster to the highest bookshelves near the front door of the Books and Branches Library. Twilight's normally voracious appetite for reading had been unusually calm lately, leaving the books in peace to gather more dust than usual. Spike didn't mind having to work a little harder, although he had to remember to keep his nose pointed away from the books so that there wouldn't be a repeat of the Astronomical Astronomer's Almanac to All Things Astronomy incident. The sudden sound of the library door slamming open gave the young dragon a start, the duster flying out of his claw as he fought to keep his balance on the ladder. Catching the top rung before he tipped over, Spike gingerly climbed down to the ground before relaxing and turning around to see who had interrupted him. He gulped nervously when he saw Twilight Sparkle standing in the doorway with the feather duster sitting on her head. "Uh, welcome back," Spike said with a sheepish smile, "How was Canterlot?" Twilight gave him a mild scathing look. "Sorry," the dragon said.
"You're forgiven," Twilight said, floating the duster off her head and flinging it aside, "And Canterlot was nice. I had lunch with Mom and Dad, and then found the perfect book in the Royal Archives."
"Only one book?" Spike asked incredulously as Twilight levitated Aitran out of her bag and set it on a reading stand, "It's not like you not to be overloaded with them when you go anywhere."
"Ha ha, very funny," Twilight deadpanned, "The contents of the Royal Archives are extremely rare and valuable, and not just any pony is given permission to remove them. It was hard enough for me to get Princess Celestia's permission to do so, so I didn't want to risk more than two or three."
"But you only took one?" Spike asked, raising an eyebrow.
"This book," Twilight said, patting the cover, "was written by Star Swirl the Bearded himself and is not included in the public record of his works. It's bound to contain more than enough lost knowledge for my report."
"Guess I should leave you to it then," Spike said with a shrug, "Want me to make you a snack or something?"
"Daisy and cucumber sandwich please," Twilight said, opening Aitran and levitating over a ream of paper and a quill to take notes with.
"One daisy and cucumber sandwich coming up," the baby dragon said, marching to the kitchen. He emerged a moment later and marched toward the front door, declaring, "We're out of cucumbers. I'll go see if anypony's got some at the market."
"Have fun," Twilight said distractedly. Once the door closed behind Spike, the lavender unicorn settled into a comfortable stance and began reading the first page. After a few lines, she frowned in confusion and went to find a reference guide to Old Equestrian. Finding one upstairs near her bed, she skimmed through it as she returned to the first floor and approached Aitran again. "Interesting," she mused as she re-read the opening lines of the old book. According to the reference guide, Aitran was written in perfect, proper Old Equestrian, but instead of an introduction or preface like Twilight had expected, the text launched right in to a very detailed description of the composition of rocks. Reading on, Twilight soon found herself being instructed in the topography of a small island located in the middle of an endless ocean in such detail that she felt she would be able to construct a scale model if she had the right materials. The book then went on to detail the weather conditions – comfortably warm with the occasional breeze – followed by the plant life, with each and every pine tree's location marked in relation to the central point of the island. Twilight shook her head at that point and pulled her attention back to the real world for a moment. She glanced at her notes and chuckled when she saw that she'd unconsciously started to sketch the island on a sheet of paper.
"This is certainly fascinating," Twilight said to herself, "but what is the point?" She flipped several pages ahead and saw more of the same detailed description, of a building in this case, and then returned to her original place, trying to deduce the purpose behind the tome. What she had read of Star Swirl's other works had not given her the impression that he was normally this obsessed with details, except perhaps when it came to the structure of a complex spell. There wasn't anything obviously magical about Aitran so far, and yet-
Twilight was pulled out of her pondering by the sadly familiar sound of rapidly approaching wing-beats accompanied by a cry of "Incoming!" Twilight had just enough time to cast a spell to open every window in sight and throw herself into a protective huddle over the ancient book before Rainbow Dash came careening into the library and crashed into the wall, shaking the tree but only dislodging a few book from their places, most of which landed on the prismatic-maned pegasus. "Wow Rainbow," Twilight said flatly, "Do that a few more times and maybe you'll be able to keep all the books in place."
"You think so?" Rainbow asked, hopping to her feet. She caught Twilight's narrow-eyed glare and dropped her gaze. "Sorry about that Twi," she said.
"I've been hearing that a lot today," Twilight said off-handedly as she got up, put Aitran back on the reading stand, and started to clean up the dropped books. "So what happened this time?" she asked, "Miscalculate a vector on another new trick?"
"Huh? No," Rainbow said, "I was looking for a place to hide and… ok, I lost some control in a turn, happy?"
"Who are you hiding from?" Twilight asked.
"Rarity," Rainbow said, "I just played a little prank on her and she took it little too seriously."
"You didn't mess with any of her projects did you?" Twilight asked disapprovingly, "She's been working on that new line of hers for weeks now."
"No," Dash said defensively, "I just snuck some grape juice into her bubble bath."
"The lilac-scented one?"
"Yep," Rainbow proclaimed proudly.
"So," Twilight said, "now she's-"
"Purple all over," Rainbow laughed, and the sobered a little to add, "actually, more of a reddish-purple, but whatever." She shrugged and started laughing again.
"All right, I guess that's harmless enough," Twilight said with an amused smile of her own, "She's probably more mad that you ruined her bubble solution than about the coat-dye job. You can hide out here until she cools down if you want."
"Thanks Twi," the pegasus said, fluttering up to find a niche to recline in. Twilight went back to reading the book, but after a few minutes she noticed a downward draft and looked up to see Rainbow Dash hovering over her and looking down at the book. "So, what are you reading there anyway?" Rainbow asked.
Always eager to share her knowledge, Twilight smiled and patted the book. "This," she said, "was personally written by none other than Star Swirl the Bearded."
"Who?" Dash asked, scratching her head.
"Star Swirl the Bearded," Twilight repeated, "One of the greatest unicorn scholars in the history of Equestria." Seeing Rainbow's blank stare, she sighed and said, "The pony I dressed as for Nightmare Night?"
"Oh, is that what that was?" the pegasus said, "Huh, figures you'd go as some old egghead like yourself." Twilight bit back a retort, knowing that she wasn't likely to convince Dash of anything. "So, you learning any awesome spells from it?" Rainbow asked.
"It's actually not a spell book Rainbow," Twilight said, "I'm starting to think it's something he wrote as a mental exercise, although I haven't found any hints as to what, if anything, he was hoping to gain from it."
"Why don't you just skip to the end and see?" Rainbow suggested.
"Because there might be something between where I left off and –hey!" While Twilight had been explaining, Rainbow reached down and picked the book off the stand. She flew up out of Twilight's reach and started flipping through the book. "Be careful with that!" the unicorn exclaimed, "It's old!"
"Yeah yeah," Dash said flippantly, "Geez, you can read this?"
"It's just Old Equestrian Rainbow," Twilight said huffily, "Now give it back before you rip something." Dash ignored her and continued flipping haphazardly through the book, pausing to look at the sketches whenever they appeared before continuing. She reached the back page and prepared to slam the book shut and drop it before catching a second look and blinking in surprise.
"Whoa," she said, "That's cool."
"What?" Twilight said in exasperation, not sure if Rainbow was seriously intrigued by something or just having fun.
"Moving picture," Dash said simply, "It looks almost real-" she touched the page with a hoof and then froze. Twilight's jaw dropped as a humming noise filled the air and the cyan pegasus vanished from sight, seemingly sucked into the book. Now unsupported, the book gave in to the demands of gravity and began to plummet. Despite the shock, Twilight caught it in her magic and gently brought it down to the floor. A few pages had flipped over the one Dash had touched, so Twilight moved them carefully out of the way with her magic before kneeling down to take a closer look. On the page was a picture that looked more like a window in its detail and color. It showed a wooden dock on the side of a short rocky cliff, with the mast of a submerged ship poking out of the water to the right. In the background was a hill, but that was quickly obscured when Rainbow Dash's head suddenly popped into view, her rose-red eyes wide in shock. Twilight bit her lip to keep from shrieking in fright as the image of her friend looked around in wild confusion and then called out, "Hello?"
"Rainbow Dash, are you ok?" Twilight asked.
"Twilight?" Rainbow said, and Twilight was about to sigh in relief when the pegasus continued, "Anypony? What's going on here? Where am I? Hel-looo?"
"Oh no," Twilight said, worrying, "This is not good. What do I do, what do I do?" Seemingly in answer, the front door opened and Spike came in with a bag full of large cucumbers in his arms. "Spike!" Twilight exclaimed happily, "Thank goodness you're here. Listen, Rainbow Dash is trapped in this book. I'm going to go in after her. If we're not back in an hour, I want you to write to Princess Celestia to tell her what happened and then take this book to Canterlot – do not use dragon-fire; I don't know what that might do to us while we're inside. Got that?"
Spike stared blankly at the lavender unicorn. "Wha?"
"One hour," Twilight said, her mane frizzing as her anxiety reached a peak, "Write to the Princess, hoof-deliver the book to her, ask her for help."
"Uh, ok…" Spike said, utterly confused.
Twilight gave him a huge toothy grin. "Thanks Spike, you're the best," she said, "wish me luck." Without another word, she placed her hoof on the picture and vanished from sight. Cucumbers spilled out and rolled across the floor as Spike dropped the bag and his jaw in shock and surprise. One eye twitched as he tried and failed to comprehend what he had just witnessed: his closest friend and caretaker had just been absorbed by a book.