My name is Twilight Sparkle...as I write this, my friends and I, the spirits of the Elements of Harmony, are preparing for the most difficult battle of our lives, a battle for the fate of the world and all of ponykind. I'm writing because our story deserves to be told, because ponies everywhere deserve to know what has happened. If we succeed, everypony can know what we've done for them. If we fail...then at least everypony can prepare for what is to come. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I suppose I should start where and when this all began...
To Faraway Times
June 1st, 1501 Y.E.
The baby dragon rubbed his eyes and let out a giant yawn. "Twilight?" His eyes drooped.
I prodded him gently with my hoof. "Come on, Spike, wake up! It's already nine o'clock."
He grumbled incoherently, shifting his posture and resting his head back down upon his pillow.
Oh for Pete's sake. "Spike, I need you up right now! Don't you want to see Rarity?"
His eyes shot open. "Rarity? Where?"
Gotcha. "She's going to be here in just a few minutes. We're headed out today, remember? And you," I said, poking him in the chest, "still need to get things ready for me."
Spike exploded into a frenzy of activity. "Don't worry, Twilight, I've got everything under control!"
"Don't forget the sleeping bag!" I said as I trotted downstairs into the main room of the library. I breathed in, savouring the musty smell of books piled high on the shelves all around me. I awoke to this smell every morning, and it never failed to make me smile.
A light rapping at the door interrupted my reverie. "Come on in," I said.
The door cracked open and in slunk a butter yellow Pegasus, hiding her face in her mane, saddlebags jostling at her sides. "Oh, hello Twilight..." she mumbled. She plopped down on her haunches next to one of the bookshelves and gave me a slight grin.
"Hiya, Fluttershy! You're a bit early."
Her grin widened. "Oh, yes, I made sure to get up extra early this morning so I could see to all my animals, and make sure Cheerilee was ready to take over for me." Fluttershy's grin vanished. "Are you sure we're going to be gone all night?"
"Probably," I said with a shrug. "It'll depend on what we find." My friend blinked at me quizzically. "I'll explain when-"
The next thing I knew, I was on the floor, almost crushed beneath the weight of the pink Earth Pony gripping me in an enthusiastic hug. "Hi Twilight!" she cheered with a smile that nearly split her muzzle in half.
I grimaced. "Pinkie, ya mind getting off?"
"Oh, sorry!" She hopped off. "I'm just so excited to see you again! You were in Canterlot for waaaay too long!" As if in afterthought, she waved a hoof at Fluttershy.
I used a nearby table to help myself to my hooves. "It was only a few days."
"A few days? A few days?" Pinkie Pie shook her head vigorously, nearly spilling the contents of her saddlebags all over the floor. I caught a whiff of baked goods. "It was way longer than that. More like a week!"
"Okay, fine, a week," I said, rolling my eyes and eliciting another giggle from Fluttershy. "Did you at least bring what I asked you to?"
"Uh huh!" Pinkie chortled. "I packed so many goodies, you wouldn't believe how many goodies I've got!" She gasped. "Oh, I almost forgot!" Pinkie tucked her head into her saddlebags and withdrew a book that had somehow stayed pristine despite the food surrounding it. She set it on the table. "I finished the book you lent me! It was so fun and awesome and I just loved it and can't wait to read the next one!"
"Pinkie?" Fluttershy spoke up. "You read books?"
"Oh I read all the time! Just ask Twilight!"
Fluttershy favoured me with a disbelieving look. "It's true. Pinkie, I think the next one is in the back...room..."I trailed off as Pinkie bounced away in a flash.
Spike lumbered down the stairs, cradling my saddlebags in his arms, barely able to keep from collapsing under their weight. "I got the stuff together," he groaned.
I lifted the saddlebags with my magic and set them on my back. "Thanks, Spike."
"Hello?" asked a cultured voice from outside. The owner of the voice, a Unicorn, poked her head in through the door, smiling from underneath a lime green sunhat. "Twilight, may I come in?"
Before I could say anything, Spike was at the door, beaming and fluttering his eyes. "Of course, Lady Rarity! Can I take your bags? Get you something to drink? Maybe something to eat?"
"No, no, Spike, that's quite all right, but thank you," Rarity said as she trotted in with her usual elegance and flair, flashing Fluttershy and me a radiant smile. "Hello, Twilight, so very good to see you again! I do hope you'll fill us in on all the juicy details from your trip."
"Not till Applejack and Rainbow Dash get here," I said while I adjusted the strap to my saddlebags, making sure it was just right.
Rarity pouted. "Oh, but Twilight..."
Oh please. "I said no, Rarity, and I meant it. I don't want to have to explain myself more than once."
"Hmph!" Rarity flicked one of her immaculately coiffed curls with her hoof.
"Howdy, girls!" said an orange Earth Pony, bursting into the library. She tipped her Stetson in my general direction.
My Unicorn friend smiled warmly at the farmmare. "Applejack, hello! Is Rainbow Dash with you?"
Applejack frowned. "Well I thought she was right behind me..."
I ducked down as the last of my friends flew far too fast into the room, somehow coming to a stop before slamming into a bookshelf. She blew her rainbow-colored mane out of her face and waved a wing at me. "Sorry I'm late, Twi!" she said.
Fluttershy smiled. "Oh hi, Rainbow Dash!"
"Oooh, is everypony here now?" said Pinkie Pie, bouncing back in.
Applejack said, "Sure looks like it."
I cleared my throat. "Spike, would you please go get the chest?"
Spike broke away from his admiring of Rarity to give me a look of confusion. "What chest?"
I glared at him. "The chest, Spike. The one I brought from Canterlot?"
He snapped a claw. "Oh, right! Back in a sec!" He zoomed up the stairs.
Rarity pursed her muzzle at me quizzically. "What chest, Twilight?"
Spike emerged from upstairs, carrying a large ornate chest decorated with glittering gemstones arranged like a five sided star surrounding the lock on the chest. I couldn't help but chuckle when my friends gasped in recognition.
"Twilight, are those..."
I smirked. "Yep! The Elements of Harmony!"
"But what the hay are they doing here?" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, gesturing wildly with her hooves. "I thought the Princess was keeping them locked up after our battle with Discord!"
"They're the reason I was in Canterlot," I said, taking the chest with my magic and opening it, revealing the Elements inside. "I've been doing some research on them recently."
Fluttershy said, "What kind of research?"
"Trying to figure out where they came from, their history, their origins, stuff like that, basically." I passed out the necklaces to their owners. My own Element, the Element of Magic, was a golden tiara topped with a magenta gemstone that resembled my Cutie Mark. I placed gently on my head. As always when I wore the Element, it tingled where it touched my skin, sensations coursing through my body as if I'd just downed a gallon of coffee. I giggled a little from the rush of power.
"Ya mean the Princess didn't know?" Applejack asked.
I took a moment to compose myself, then answered, "No, actually. Princess Celestia said that she and Princess Luna found them where we did, that old castle in the Everfree Forest. After they used the Elements against Discord, and after Princess Celestia was forced to use them against Nightmare Moon, she put them back. She said something about not feeling worthy of them after having fought her own sister." I frowned deeply. "I don't think she was being completely honest with me, though."
"What do you mean?" asked Spike.
I sighed and gestured with my hoof. "It's...I'm not sure. It just didn't feel like she was telling me everything when I asked her...I don't know if she was lying, or just leaving out information, but whichever it was, I know I didn't get the whole truth."
"Oh come now, Twilight, you can't seriously believe the Princess would lie to you," Rarity said with a warm smile.
It'd hardly be the first time. I flashed Rarity a cheeky grin. "No, I guess not."
"Okay, so I get the research thing," Rainbow Dash said, "but what's that got to do with us?"
My eyes twinkled. "Well, after my audience with the Princess, I did some digging in the Canterlot archives to find out more about that old castle. Turns out it used to be part of an old Earth Pony nation-state centered around modern-day Hoofington about two thousand years ago. About seventeen hundred years ago or so, it was destroyed in some kind of accident. I had to piece this together from a lot of different books, but it seems that whatever the accident was, it ended up turning the whole area wild, transforming it into the Everfree Forest we know today."
"But what about the Elements?" Fluttershy asked.
"That's just it...there wasn't anything about them. Even Princess Celestia said she didn't know why they were there...she went looking for them there because she 'felt' them with her magic."
"Then where did the Reference Guide to the Elements of Harmony come from?" said Pinkie with a giggle. "I mean, somepony had to've written it, right?"
"Yeah, about that..." I let out a dry chuckle. "That was actually written by Princess Celestia herself, under a pen name. I got more information out of her than I did out of that book." Not that I got much out of her either...
Rainbow Dash snorted. "Uh, Twilight? You didn't answer my question. What does any of this have to do with us?"
"I'm getting to that!" I said, stomping my hoof on the floor for emphasis. "Ahem. After I finished with the archives, I asked the Princess if I could arrange an expedition into the Everfree Forest with some of Canterlot University's history department, to perform an archaeological dig on the site.
"But," I added with a smirk, "she suggested I take you guys with me instead, along with the Elements themselves. She thinks we'd have a better chance of finding something if we have the Elements along, and I agreed." My grin spread across my muzzle. "Doesn't this sound exciting?" Spike slapped a paw to his face.
"Oh, er, uh..." Rainbow Dash said, scratching behind her ears with a hoof. "Sure, Twilight...sounds like...fun..."
"Yes...lots and lotsa fun..." Applejack added with a smile so cheesy and fake I felt like I could have written three shelves worth of Rarity's trashy romance novels with it.
"But, Twilight, the Everfree Forest is really dangerous," Fluttershy said, pawing at the floor.
"Not to mention dirty!" Rarity added with a pout. "If I'd known we were going to venture in there, I'd have worn something a little more practical."
Pinkie Pie snorted and threw up a hoof. "Oh, come on, you guys, this'll be fun! We're gonna poke around a dark and dusty castle." She bounced in place. "Who knows what we'll find!" she said with a wink.
"That's the spirit!" I said, patting Pinkie on the back with my hoof. "And don't worry, Fluttershy. The Everfree isn't nearly as dangerous during the day, and we've got the Elements. We'll be fine."
"If you say so..." Fluttershy mumbled.
Applejack blew out a puff of air. "Well, all right then, Twi. If you wanna do this, then I'm in."
Rainbow Dash let out her own sigh and added, "Yeah, guess I'm in too. I'm not gonna leaving you hanging."
I looked at Rarity. "What?" she said. "Of course I'm coming along. You don't even have to ask."
I clopped my forehooves together in glee. "Great! Then let's get going. We've got no time to waste!"
In my haste, I threw open the door, and heard a loud thump and a cry of pain. Uh-oh. I stepped around the door, to see a little Pegasus filly laying on her rump, rubbing a bruise on her head. "Oh, jeez, are you okay, Scootaloo?"
Scootaloo shook her head and winced. "Yeah, I'm okay," she said with a laugh.
"What were you doing at the door anyway?" Spike asked as he stepped out, followed by the rest of my friends.
A cocky grin appeared on the filly's face. "I wanted to talk to Rainbow Dash, of course! I was waitin' outside for her." Her grin intensified when she saw her idol. "Heya Rainbow Dash! Wow, that's an awesome necklace! What's it for?"
Rainbow Dash scooped Scootaloo up and ruffled her hair playfully. "Sorry squirt, but I don't got time to talk today."
The little filly's face scrunched up. "Aww...why?"
"I'm helpin' Twi with stuff in the Everfree Forest." Dash set the little filly down on her hooves. "I won't be back till tomorrow, prolly."
Scootaloo's lower lip quivered. "Do ya think maybe I could come along?" She stomped once at the ground. "Oooh, or maybe I could go get Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom and we can-"
"No!" Rarity and Applejack interrupted with frantic and furious gestures.
Applejack added, "It's not going to be all that fun or interestin'."
"Yes," said Rarity, "I'd rather Sweetie Belle stay in town, where it's safe."
With pleading eyes, Scootaloo begged me, "Come on, please, Twilight? I'm so bored!"
I shook my head. "I'm sorry, Scootaloo, but no. Even if we weren't going into the Everfree Forest, I'm not about to just take you along on a trip that might end up going overnight. At least not without speaking to your parents first."
Scootaloo puffed out a disgusted sigh. "Yeah, fat lot a good that'd do you," she mumbled. Fluttershy stroked the little filly's mane gingerly.
"Aw, don't be sad, Scoots!" Pinkie Pie said, hopping about. "I'm sure you can still have fun with the other Crusaders!"
"Fun with my friends, huh?" Scootaloo grimaced, holding her chin in her forehoof. Then with a sudden burst she leapt into the air, her grimace replaced by ecstatic glee. "Of course! I know what to do now! Oh Apple Bloom! Sweetie Belle!" Her cries echoed in the distance as she cantered away as fast her hooves would take her.
I shared a confused look with the others. "What was that about?" Spike asked.
"I dunno," Applejack answered, "but I'm thinkin' we should keep an eye out while we're walking. You know, in case she's thinkin' of following us or something like that."
Rainbow Dash laughed derisively. "Oh come on, Applejack, she wouldn't do that!" The weather pony paused for a moment, the merriment vanishing from her face. "Would she?"
Despite our worries, the journey through the forest was uneventful. After the first hour, when we caught not a peep from any pursuer, we gave up on our lookout, instead enjoying idle chit-chat and a number of Pinkie's sing-alongs. The forest for its part remained aloof and mysterious, quiet in the daytime without hint nor sign of any wildlife apart from the occasional bird. As the sun poured down directly overhead, we finally reached the gorge that separated us from where the castle lay. We paused to take in the view.
A massive crack in the earth, the gorge hid its own secrets beneath a cloud of dense fog, wisps wafting up in the breeze. What could be seen of its cliffs were like the sharp jagged teeth of a manticore, eager to rip and tear. A rickety bridge covered in rotting planks of ancient wood rocked back and forth precariously on threadbare ropes.
Oh dear sweet Sun in the sky... I thought with a loud gulp.
"Woah..." said Spike, mouth agape. "This is so cool!"
"If you think this is grand, Spike, wait until you see the castle!" said Rarity with a friendly wink. "Rainbow Dash, would you be a dear and watch us as we cross? We wouldn't want to fall."
"Sure thing!" answered the weathermare, swooping away in a spiralling arc, settling just below the bridge, flapping to keep aloft.
We started to cross, one at a time, first Pinkie, then Fluttershy, then Spike. But as Applejack stepped onto the bridge, I heard an odd sound from a nearby bush. "Wait a sec, AJ," I said.
I stepped carefully over to the bush, my horn aglow with magic, a Shielding Spell prepared. As I neared the bush, the sounds I heard grew louder, then ceased as my hoof rested atop the leaves. I took in a breath, then pushed down the bush, and gasped.
Instead of a monster or some spooked woodland creature, I found three little fillies, each with a massive abashed look on their faces. "Oh, uh, hi Twilight!" said Scootaloo, her voice cracking a little with the strained cheerful tone she forced into it.
I felt my mane frizz a little, a hair or two popping out of place. "I don't believe this!" I shouted.
"Sweetie Belle?" said Rarity. She strode over and glared, her eyes steely and cold. "What are you doing here?"
"Hehe...surprise?" squeaked Sweetie Belle.
"And how in tarnation did you three manage to sneak by us?" snarled Applejack.
Apple Bloom flashed the farmmare a cheeky grin. "We've been practicin', sis! Ya see, Scootaloo told us all about how she ran inta you guys, and yer necklaces!"
Sweetie Belle added, "Scootaloo might not have known what they were, but we sure did!"
"And since we've been bored out of our skulls thanks to summer break," said Scootaloo, pantomiming vomiting, "I figured we could try and earn our Cutie Marks in a new way, by being..."
"CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS NINJAS!" the three exclaimed in unison, nearly shattering my eardrums.
"Horseapples!" Applejack spat. "I know you three and I know you're not sneaky at all!"
"Crude as she may be, Applejack has a point," Rarity added. "You've never been all that subtle."
Apple Bloom snorted. "I just told you that we've been practicin', didn't I?"
"Woah, woah, hold up!" shouted Rainbow Dash, flapping over and settling to the ground next to Scootaloo. "You actually snuck by us? All of us?" To my dismay, Rainbow Dash's muzzle burst into a wide smile. "That's awesome!"
"Rainbow!" Applejack chided, aiming eyes ablaze with anger at the weathermare.
"AJ, pal, lighten up a bit, wouldja?" said Rainbow, elbowing the farmmare playfully in the chest. "It's not like they got hurt or anything."
Rarity harrumphed. "That's not the point and you know it!" Her gaze on Sweetie Belle intensified, causing the little Unicorn to shrink down as if attempting to hide. "We will be going straight home!"
"Oh, no!" I finally spoke up, feeling my mane tangle and frizzle again. "Nuh-uh! I am not wasting quality research time just because these three decided to be nuisances!"
Applejack groaned, rolling her eyes. "Then what're we going to do with them, Twi?"
I sighed. "Spike!"
Spike arrived, carried by Fluttershy. "Oh dear," mumbled the Pegasus.
With a paw resting firmly on his face, the dragon asked, "Yes, Twilight?"
"You," I said, pushing him in front of the Crusaders with my hooves, "are going to keep a very, very close eye on them. I don't want them out of your sight for a second, got it?"
Spike glowered at the fillies, all three hunched down in shame. "Sure," he grumbled.
"And as for you three," I said, turning my attention to the Crusaders, "I expect you to help out. If you're going to be here with us, you might as well pitch in."
"You will be getting a stern talking to when we get home, Sweetie Belle," added Rarity.
Applejack shot a final glare at her little sister. "And I'm sure Granny Smith's gonna want to tan your hide," she threatened, causing Apple Bloom to whimper.
Rarity, Applejack, and I stared at Rainbow Dash expectantly. With a sigh, she said, "I'll make sure Scoots is punished too."
"Aw man..." Scootaloo groused.
Pinkie Pie bounced over, grinning widely. "Oh goody, all that nasty yelling is over. Come on, everypony! Let's get to exploring!"
We crossed the bridge without incident and strode up to the ruins of the castle. It was a massive structure, towering over the forest, made of ageing, decrepit stone, vines snaking all over it like they were trying to pull it down into the dirt, trees growing atop parts of the foundation. At the front of the ruin lay an stone staircase, cracked and broken but still standing solid. Two enormous oaken doors, splintered and creaky with age, guarded the way. They opened easily with an application of magic.
The interior was dominated by a single cavernous room, shaped like a large oval, with barred half-oval windows all along the wall, their glass long since shattered into dust. Though intricately carved pillars stood all around the room, the roof they had once held had vanished some time ago. Sunlight poured down, illuminating the dust scattered everywhere. At the center of the room lay a stone pedestal that towered far over our heads, made from carved granite worn down by time, with six stone spokes upon which the Elements of Harmony had once laid, as dormant stone spheres. On the far side of the room, we could see through the window a tower with a large spiralling stone staircase, that led up to the room where my friends and I had faced down and defeated Nightmare Moon.
"Spread out, everyone," I ordered, waving with my hoof around the room. "We're going to be here awhile. Be careful with what you touch!"
"Um, Twilight, what are we looking for?" Fluttershy inquired, hovering nearby, stirring up dust with the slow flap of her wings.
I coughed, summoning up my magic to banish most of the nearby dust elsewhere. "Basically? Anything odd or interesting, like writings or paintings, or anything else that might shed some light on the history of this place."
Fluttershy giggled. "You mean, like this?" She waved a hoof at the massive pedestal.
I withdrew a pencil and notebook from my saddlebags. "Yes, but I was already going to look at it myself. Actually," I added, "can you poke around at the top of it, see if there's anything written up there?"
She glanced down at me, worry darkening her face. "Are you sure it's safe?"
I gestured distractedly, already busy sketching the pedestal in my notebook. "Yeah yeah, it'll be fine."
"Okay then...if you say so..."
I tuned out everything around me, focusing. As I sketched, I examined the pedestal closely, looking for anything out of place, any sort of clue. After a few moments, I spotted an odd protrusion near the base, along a pattern of boxy white lines. Without thinking, I reached forward and pushed it in, triggering a loud click.
The entire castle started rumbling and shaking, dust blowing everywhere, everypony screaming or gasping. I backed away from the pedestal as fast as my hooves would take me.
"Twilight!" Fluttershy shrieked, flapping with all her might to escape the now mobile pedestal. "What'd you do?"
I stammered incoherently, too busy watching the pedestal shift backwards with an ear-piercing whine as ancient machinery struggled, grinding stone against stone, aching for every foot of distance. The pedestal suddenly stopped, the rumbling ceasing.
"Everypony okay?" asked Applejack, who I could see out the corner of my eye cradling Apple Bloom closely. I heard a chorus of affirmations, and gave my own mumbled one.
I moved over to where the pedestal once stood. In the floor a gaping maw of a hole revealed a marble staircase. Once polished, gleaming, covered in what I assume was a beautifully embroidered carpet, it now stood barren, cracked, covered in only the barest hints of threads.
Scootaloo gaped in astonishment. "Where's it go?"
"I'm not sure," I said, snatching up my fallen journal and placing it back in my saddlebags. "Nothing I read in Canterlot said anything about secret passages."
"Oooh, let's go down, let's go down!" Pinkie Pie said, bouncing over and hopping in place gleefully.
"B-b-but is it...safe?" asked a quivering Fluttershy, her eyes covered by her hooves.
"Only one way to find out!" declared Rainbow Dash.
"Right," I said, brushing off the remaining dust. "Stay close and be careful. I have no idea how stable this staircase is." I stepped up to the edge of the hole and placed one hoof down gently on the top stair, testing my weight on the marble. It held firm. With a nod to the others, I started making my way down, lighting our way with my horn.
The staircase wound and weaved in circles, the walls around us made of carved granite lined with more of the polished marble, a tunnel that kept out any dirt or debris apart from a thin layer of dust. The further down we went, the more preserved the staircase became. When we reached the bottom, the plush rug reappeared in full splendour, now clearly a rich burgundy lined with golden tassels. The staircase emptied us out into a small room where a lone door made from carved mahogany, painted a beautiful periwinkle blue barred the way. Upon it lay a symbol, a five pointed star, painted silver, surrounded by a spiral of red flames.
"Oh my gosh," I gasped.
"What? What is it?" Apple Bloom said, shoving her way forward and poking her head around. "I wanna see!"
I couldn't help but hop up and down with glee. "That's Starswirl the Bearded's symbol!"I said.
I groaned. "Starswirl the Bearded!" Blank looks met me. "The stallion I dressed up as for Nightmare Night?"
"Oh, you mean the clown!" Pinkie Pie said, giggling.
"No, he—ugh, never mind. Look, the point is, this place was probably built by him, if his symbol is on the door."
"Does that mean he might've had something to do with making the Elements of Harmony?" asked Rarity.
I frowned and rubbed my chin with my hoof. "I suppose it's possible. According to the history books, Starswirl the Bearded lived at around the same time the castle was destroyed, but he didn't live anywhere near this area. He was the High Mage of Destriacus, a Unicorn kingdom far to the east." I prodded my head to try to force myself to remember more facts. "But, late in his life, he withdrew into seclusion, and then vanished. I guess he could have come here and built a home in secret...but why?"
"Well what are we waiting for?" asked Rainbow Dash as she shoved her way forward and took the handle of the door in her mouth. "Lesh gfo!" With a grunt, she pulled the door open, and we stepped inside.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of an overwhelming amount of dust and debris; despite the many centuries that had surely passed since Starswirl last lived here, the place looked as if it had been abandoned only yesterday. Even the air smelled as fresh as the air in the forest above. The room we had entered was a foyer, decorated with paintings of various landscapes, covering walls of more marble. Three hallways, one directly ahead, two to either side led off to several other rooms. A saddle rack stood in one corner, with not one saddle but four, including two that looked far too small to be worn by a stallion. Next to the saddle rack, a complex pentacle was inscribed on the floor. Even without using a Sensing Spell, I could feel the magic radiating off the symbol in waves, like heat from a roasting bonfire.
"Okay, everypony, spread out in teams of two," I ordered. "Pinkie, you're with me. Spike, stay with the Crusaders. And everyone? Be very careful with what you touch. There are enchantments all over the place and we don't want the air supply cut off or something."
"That can happen?" Fluttershy screamed, curling into a ball.
Rainbow Dash slapped her on the back with her foreleg. "Relax, Fluttershy. Jeez."
I smiled in what I hoped would be taken as comforting. "No, don't worry. If something like that happens, I'll be able to fix it." Maybe.
Fluttershy whimpered, "Okay..."
"Oooh, what're we gonna look at first, Twilight?" Pinkie asked as everyone started heading in different directions.
"Erm...this way," I said, heading down the central corridor. Like everywhere else in Starswirl's home, the walls were made of marble, lined with various paintings. Not too far down, it split into three hallways: the one on the right was barren, empty, ending in a blank wall, covered by a thin tapestry depicting a scene from Destriacan history. The center led into a large kitchen and accompanying dining area, which I ignored. The one on the left ended in a black oak door with a simple label in silver lettering, written in an older Equestrian dialect, that said "Library."
"In here, Pinkie," I said, pushing the door open. My mouth fell open in shock as I beheld the room. It was far larger than I would have expected, with shelves lining every wall going up fifty feet or more, filled to the brim with books of all kinds. Stepladders for easy access lay along the shelves on rails. A massive desk carved from pine stood dead center, several books and scrolls laying atop it, an inkwell knocked over, long dried ink splattered all over every surface.
"Uh, Twilight?" Pinkie spoke up with a giggle. "You're drooling."
I slammed my muzzle shut, a fiery blush warming my cheeks.
Pinkie bounced over to the desk. "Are we gonna read the books? Oooh, which one do I read first?"
"No, wait," I said, shaking my head. "These books are too old. We need to handle them delicately, which isn't exactly your strong suit, Pinkie."
Pinkie's face scrunched up in a rather pathetic looking pout. "Aww."
I patted her on the shoulder. "Just stay close and try to read over my shoulder, okay?" She nodded sorrowfully. "Okie dokie lokie."
I examined the desk more closely. Upon it, three large tomes rested underneath a note that read 'For Cadence.' "Cadence?" I pondered. "Who the heck is Cadence?"
"Not anypony I've ever heard of," Pinkie answered.
Setting the note aside, I cast a spell upon the first tome, to get a feel for how sensitive it was to age. To my surprise, and my relief, the tome glowed a dull orange, signifying a strong protective enchantment, one powerful enough to keep it safe from both the elements and the forces of ageing.
I popped open the cover and began to read. "The Basics of Battle Magic...by Clover the Clever?"
"Ooh, wasn't that the character you played for the Hearth's Warming Eve Pageant?" Pinkie said.
I raised an eyebrow. "Yes," I answered. Though I had no idea he really existed. I always thought he was fictional.
I read on, skimming the contents. Within, the book contained lurid descriptions of how to cast roasting fireballs, chilling ice, electrifying bolts, and a vast number of other spells designed to kill or maim, all based around what a Unicorn's special talent might grant them access to. "Wow," Pinkie murmured upon hearing the descriptions, her face turning an odd shade of green.
I said, "I know. You can't really find books like these anymore in Equestria. They're all locked up deep in the royal archives where even I have a hard time getting access." I smiled wistfully. "The price of peace."
We read through the other two books together. The second, like the first, was authored by Clover the Clever, a tome on advanced battle magic that built upon the lessons learned in the first. The third, however, was one I had seen before in Canterlot, "The Art of Healing," by Aloe Heart, a valuable manual of healing magic that still formed the basis of medical knowledge in modern Equestria.
I slipped the other two books into my bags next to the first. At Pinkie's newly inquiring glance, I said, "I'm just going to make sure they get put in the royal archives."
Pinkie shrugged. "If you say so, Twilight."
I turned my attention to the other object on the desk, a sheet of vellum that appeared to be a journal entry, mostly covered by the splattered ink. I read what I could make out:
Journal Entry, June 26th, -
Today will-final te- though Cadence is worried I might b-fast with -a want to watch the ex-The -y still needs its enchant-rea-st-and yet, I think that-im-don't want to ris-but I-
"Oh, Twilight, there you are!"
"What?" I grumbled, glaring up at Rarity, who was standing at the front of the desk, an object of some sort hovering around her glowing horn.
Rarity pouted. "I'm sorry, Twilight, but I thought you'd want to take a look at this." She hovered the object closer so I could take hold with my own magic.
It was a long, slender rod about a foot long, made of polished obsidian, with two carved wings jutting out near the top, surrounding a spherical gemstone, iridescent and shining with every color of the rainbow. "It's a focusing rod," I said, using the Sensing Spell on it. The gem laid dormant. "Doesn't seem to be keyed to anything though." Is this what Starswirl mentioned in his journal?
Rarity flipped her curled hair with a hoof. "I know that much, Twilight. It's the gem I was pointing out. Is it what I think it is?"
I peered closer at the rainbow gem. "Wait a minute...Rarity, this isn't just any kind of gem. This is Dreamstone!"
"That's what I thought!" Rarity beamed.
Pinkie looked back and forth between me and the rod. "What's Dreamstone?"
Rarity trembled with excitement. "It's rare and priceless, beautiful beyond measure. I've only ever seen it in books until now!"
I added, "Dreamstone is precious for its ability to channel powerful magic. Thousands of years ago it was as common as other gemstones, but over time the natural reserves were drained dry. Even in Starswirl's time Dreamstone was almost impossible to obtain." I stared at the rod. "This is getting weirder by the minute. What was so important that he needed to make a Dreamstone focusing rod for?"
Pinkie glanced up at the ceiling quizzically. "Maybe it was to protect whoever Cadence was?"
I gestured at Rarity with the rod. "Where did you find this?"
"It was in a big lab," said Applejack, trotting in, glaring daggers at the alabaster Unicorn. "I told Rarity not to touch it, but you know her and gems."
I slipped the rod into my saddlebags. "Show me this lab. I need to take a closer look at what Starswirl was researching be-"
"TWILIGHT!" came a sudden shout from outside as the entire room started shaking, books falling off the shelves. Rainbow Dash galloped into the room, her whole body shaking from her laboured breathing. "Follow me, quick!"
"What'd you do?" I inquired as we galloped after the weathermare. The scent of smoke filled the air as we hurtled down the hall towards the foyer. I gasped, barely able to breathe past the choking cloud that obscured my vision, unbidden tears streaming down my face.
"I didn't do anything!" Dash exclaimed. She lead us down another corridor, lined with several rooms I didn't have time to examine. "Fluttershy and I were checking out these bedrooms, when we heard this click at the wall! It opened up and we heard screams, from Spike and the kids!" We stepped into the room at the end of the hall. On the far wall was an opening halfway covered by another tapestry. "Fluttershy went to check it out and I came to get you!"
"Oh Heavens to Betsy, is Apple Bloom okay?" Applejack cried.
"And Sweetie Belle, what about Sweetie Belle?" pleaded Rarity.
Rainbow Dash flailed her wings, slowing down to a trot due to the cramped nature of the secret passage. "I don't know!"
Pinkie cried out, "Fluttershy! Can you hear us?"
"In here, Pinkie!"
We emerged from the secret passage into an antechamber adjourning a large laboratory. Fluttershy, the Crusaders, and Spike huddled together, holding on for dear life while smoke swirled and puffed in circles into the lab at incredible speeds. A bizarre hum buzzed in the room beyond, echoing against the walls. I braced myself on a nearby table, feeling drawn in by the same force that suckled on the smoke.
"What's happening?" Rarity shrieked, clambering against a nearby wall and gripping onto a hanging piece of wood. Applejack clung to Rarity's hind legs, Pinkie to Applejack's.
Spike, seeing me, let go of Fluttershy and gripped onto my legs instead, almost sinking his claws into my flesh. "It was them!" he said, pointing an accusing claw at the Crusaders. "They touched something in there!"
The humming grew louder, the force drawing on us stronger. "What did you touch? Describe it!" I shouted.
"I didn't mean ta do it!" Apple Bloom cried desperately, her voice trembling and shaking. "We just found our way inside, and there was this bright and shiny thing layin' on a table, and I touched it! It started makin' all kinds of weird noises!"
"Then what happened?"
Sweetie Belle answered, "We tried to run away, but it was pulling us in!"
"Twilight!" Scootaloo pleaded. "Can you turn it off?"
I peered into the lab, trying to see past all the smoke, but I couldn't make anything out except for a swirling pattern of light. Growling in frustration, I attempted to banish the smoke with my magic. The smoke scattered, and my jaw dropped open. "What is that thing?"
We beheld a massive tear, as if the air itself had been ripped open, revealing a cascade of colors whirling around a central funnel, infinitely deep, behind which I could see nothing but a chaotic swarm of light. The vortex hovered over a glowing pedestal formed, like the rod, from obsidian with many Dreamstone gems sunk into its structure. As I watched it, the tear grew ever larger, drawing smoke within like a twisted version of a cotton candy spinner.
"Twilight, do something!" Pinkie Pie shouted.
"I don't know how to stop it!" I screamed. "I don't even know what it is!"
"Twilight, if you don't do something now, we're all dead!" Rainbow Dash cried, the hums from the vortex ramping up in volume, becoming an ear shattering squeal.
Oh no oh no oh no...Think, Twilight! THINK!
"I've got it!" I said, withdrawing the focusing rod from my saddlebags. "Girls, I think we can use this and the Elements of Harmony to stabilize it!"
"You sure that's gonna work, Twi?" yelled Applejack.
"No, but do you have any better ideas?"
"Just do it!" Scootaloo ordered.
"Hurry!" added Sweetie Belle.
With as much magical force as I could bring to bear, I summoned up a force shield, just large enough to buy us the time we needed to focus. The Crusaders gripped together more tightly, while Spike hopped up onto my back and clung with all his might to my neck.
"Together, girls, on three!" I concentrated deeply on the Element of Magic, summoning up its powers. "One...two...three!"
The Elements of Harmony glowed as bright as the sun, drawing my friends and I up into the air into bubbles of magic, hovering in place as the energies gathered within swirled into a rainbow of light that I directed through the Dreamstone Rod into the vortex.
The vortex imploded into a sphere of light that erupted with tendrils of energy lashing out everywhere, scorching the walls, before it exploded into a new even more powerful vortex. I could only watch, horrified, as the three little fillies were sucked into it, screaming in panic until their cries were snuffed out.
"No!" I howled.
The magics of the Elements sheered under the strain. Fluttershy's was the first to shatter, the Element of Kindness ripped from her neck and swallowed up by the gaping maw of the vortex, with my friend following so fast she didn't even have time to scream. Pinkie Pie's broke next, then Rarity, then Applejack, and finally Rainbow Dash, all hurtled in while I was forced to watch, unable to act, unable to save my friends.
My own bubble finally burst. I thought I saw the Element of Magic zip in at the last moment, before finally the vortex collapsed. One last tendril of energy hurtled our way, surging through mine and Spike's body, painful beyond belief. The color fled from my sight until everything went black, and then...
Author's Note: I want to thank Jamusio EMP and Rainbow Sparkle both for pre-reading, as well as thanking Jamusio EMP for his contribution of the name Destriacus.