Beyond the Star Fissure
Twilight Sparkle had occasionally dreamed of flying among the stars, surrounded by their light and the wondrous magic that made them the way they are. Those dreams were usually fun, with her feeling welcome and in control of her destiny. Sometimes she'd be warm, sometimes cold, sometime the stars would be close enough to touch or else merely a distant backdrop.
She was usually alone in those dreams, and she certainly never dreamed of being locked in a free-fall wrestling match.
The battle she fought with Arcem was only one of the conflicts she was dealing with as the two tumbled through the strange void. Arcem was obviously trying to kill her, but a part of Twilight didn't want to be left utterly alone, and so as she fended off his attempts to strangle her or beat her to a pulp she made no effort to push him away. Besides, the fight helped keep her mind off the questions she wasn't sure she wanted to face.
Am I going to be in this place forever?
Where could I end up going?
Will I survive?
The Star Fissure of Sohndar was a shrinking line of light in the distance, something that at least gave Twilight a sense of direction. All that could be seen in every other direction was pinpricks of light in a black void, occasionally obscured by strange dark clouds. Time started to lose meaning, until another body arrived to interrupt the fight between Twilight and Arcem. Rainbow Dash came diving in, grabbing Twilight in her front legs while lashing out to kick Arcem in the face with her back legs. The Maintainer let out a small grunt as the blow knocked him unconscious, and he spun away from Twilight and Rainbow, quickly becoming an indistinct blot in the distance.
"Hey Twilight, you ok?" Rainbow asked, looking at her friend in concern.
"Oh Rainbow Dash," Twilight exclaimed, hugging her tightly, "You saved me."
"Not quite yet I haven't," Rainbow said, looking up at the rift of light overhead, "I still have to get us out of here. Hold on tight." She positioned herself and Twilight for maximum speed and began flapping as hard as she could to reverse their velocity. It was slow going, as even from their apparent distance the wind being sucked into the fissure from Sohndar was blowing against them, and the swath of light never seemed to grow closer.
"Rainbow," Twilight said after a moment, "Maybe we shouldn't try to go back. Sohndar's being destroyed because I opened the fissure. What if Star Swirl has already left?"
"I'm not giving up Twi," Rainbow said through gritted teeth, "Even if he did leave us for dead, he can't have taken the book with him. It'll still be there, if I can just reach it!"
"Oh yeah, that's right," Twilight said in a low tone.
Several interminable minutes went by and Rainbow Dash's strength began to flag. The light representing the star fissure didn't seem to grow any closer, and as Twilight and Rainbow watched it began to fade away, dispersing into faint wisps until, at last, it was gone. Rainbow groaned in weary defeat and let her wings rest, and she and Twilight pulled each other closer for comfort.
"Now what happens?" the pegasus asked.
"I don't know," the unicorn replied, "I guess we just keep each other company until… wait, what's that?" She lit up her horn and cast out a beam of light, which reflected off a book that was slowly tumbling through the void past them. "Could that be…?" Twilight said incredulously, "Rainbow!"
"On it!" Dash said, turning around and fly toward the book. Once it was close enough for her to get a good look at it, Twilight grabbed it with her magic and reeled it in. The book was bound in a familiar brown cover, embossed with the title Aitran in black ink. "Oh my gosh yes!" Rainbow crowed as Twilight opened the book with near reverence to the linking panel and held it up for her friend. The pegasus wasted no time in laying hoof to panel and vanished from sight.
"Thank you, Star Swirl," Twilight said as she waited to give Rainbow time to move away from the arrival point before linking through herself.
"After casting myself into the fissure, I realized the book would not be destroyed as I originally thought. I often wondered what became of the book over the following Aitran months. Would it continue to tumble through that starry void forever, or was there something beyond those stars that it would eventually reach? The questions faded from my mind after a while, but it later became obvious that that book's story had not yet reached its conclusion." Star Swirl's eyes twinkled as he smiled at his audience in the library of Aitran, particularly the two mares standing right in front of him. "That book happened to be the seventh copy of the link to Aitran I'd ever written."
Twilight's eyes went wide with surprise. "The Aitran book I found in the Royal Archives was the seventh copy!" she exclaimed, "You dropped it into the Star Fissure and it ended up in Equestria, probably hundreds of years ago." Star Swirl nodded.
"Wait," Rainbow said, "are you saying if we'd kept going through that place we'd have ended up back home anyway?"
"Possibly," Star Swirl said, "Knowing what happened to that linking book has led me to theorize that the void beyond the Star Fissure was the space that separates the different worlds. Each star might actually be a world, and if you were to reach one you'd enter it. By chance, the book I dropped into the Fissure to trap Aldro in Sohndar reached Equestria, and because of that Twilight was able to find it, and then you and her came here and resolved my little… problem with Cirrus and Archeon."
"Well, I'm glad everything is finally resolved," Clover said, but then cast a sad look at the mostly empty bookcase at the back of the room, "but so much has been lost because of those two apprentices of yours Star."
"You could always write new books, can't you Father?" Nyx asked, "And Mom has Tay."
"You do?" Twilight asked, surprised.
"After all I went through to save my people, do you really think I'd just leave them?" Clover asked with a slight smile, "I'll have to write a better, proper linking book to it when I get the chance, but I made sure to take the original book and its link crystal with me before meeting you at the Fissure."
"To be honest," Star Swirl said, "after all that's happened, I may have lost my enthusiasm for Writing." Everypony gasped or looked at him wide-eyed, and he put up a forestalling hoof. "I haven't made a final decision yet," he said, "and if I do stop that work I'll likely find something equally troublesome to devote my time to. At any rate, Twilight Sparkle and rainbow Dash, I am deeply in your debt for everything. If there's ever anything I can do for you, feel free to ask."
"There is one thing," Twilight said, "promise me you won't judge Aldro too quickly. Clover might have managed to get something through to him at the end."
Star Swirl exchanged a glance with his wife and then looked at Twilight with a grave expression. "Aldro has a long history to answer for," he said, "what you saw of him was but a drop in the bucket. I'll take your request into account, but I don't have much hope for his changing. Now, the two of you should probably get back home soon and ease Princess Celestia's worrying." He nodded toward the Equestria linking book, which still rested in its alcove in the library's central podium.
"Right, we should," Twilight said quickly, "good-bye Star Swirl, Clover, Nyx. I'll come visit soon."
"Catch you later," Rainbow said with a wave of her wing as she followed Twilight to the book.
After the pair had finished linking out, Nyx turned to her father and asked, "Father, where do you think the Aitran book we used to escape will end up?"
"I couldn't even begin to guess, my little star," Star Swirl said fondly, "The possibilities are infinite."
A Few Weeks Later, San Palomino Desert
Out in the vast wilds, far from the nearest pony settlement and along the ancestral stampede grounds of Chief Thunderhooves's buffalo herd, a small mountain unlike any other rose from the desert floor. Shaped like an irregular cone, its sides were too steep and smooth for casual climbing. The buffalo considered it a sacred site because strange sounds would echo out from its hollow top, and in the past some had attempted to decipher them as omens. Nowadays it was more an interesting landmark on the stampede trail, although the sounds could be unsettling at times.
Braeburn listened with rapt attention as his buffalo friend Little Strongheart explained the mountain's history to him while leading him slowly around the base. The majority of the buffalo herd lay in camp a long walk away. They treated the mountain as a landmark, but didn't normally get too close to it.
"So it makes sounds does it?" Braeburn asked, "Anypony ever been brave or stupid enough ta try and find out what's makin' em?"
"Not so far as Chief Thunderhooves has told," Strongheart replied, "And his memory for our history is very long."
"I'll take your word that partner," Braeburn said, "And I'm mighty glad y'all agreed to bring me out and show me this stuff."
"You are quite welcome my friend," the buffalo said. They continued walking for a moment, until they came upon something quite strange around a curve of the mountain base. "My stars, what is this?" Little Strongheart asked, staring at the mangled remains of some strange metal object bigger than she was.
"I don't rightly know," Braeburn said, scratching his head, "This wasn't here the last time you came round these parts I take it?"
"It wasn't," Strongheart said, getting a closer look, "It looks as if it fell out of the sky from some great height. Could it be something a pegasus team dropped?"
"Doesn't look like anything I've ever seen," Braeburn said, "and I can't think of any reason a bunch of pegasus ponies would be lugging a big ol' metal contraption way out here."
"Here's something else," Little Strongheart said, reaching into the ruined telescope to drag out a thick-bound book. The cover was brown and made of something neither pony nor buffalo could identify and looked to be in fairly good shape, apart from a slight dent on one edge. In the fading light of the setting sun, they could still easily make out the embossed and inked title of the book: Aitran.