Nyx had begun contemplating the incomplete portrait on the wall when the elevator returned to the room. She watched out of the corner of her eye as the cage the elevator car dropped into spun halfway around and snapped back before Twilight emerged and came around, looking mildly frustrated. "No luck?" Nyx asked in affected boredom. Twilight shook her head and then cast a puzzling look up at the elevator shaft. "I think the elevator is supposed to turn before going up," Nyx continued in the same tone, "There's probably something that needs to be fixed."
"And would you happen to know what, Ms. Smarty-pants?" Twilight asked grumpily.
"No," Nyx snapped, "I haven't had much time to look around." As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she noticed the pain and worry in Twilight's eyes and felt guilty. "Sorry," she said, "What happened up there? Is Spike ok?"
"She's got him all tied up, but he's alive," Twilight said, walking up to Nyx's side, "She's got the Materan linking book too, and by the way she was talking I think she wants us to try and take them back from her. Ugh, this is…" She trailed off as she got a good look at the portrait on the wall and rubbed her eyes in disbelief. The portrait was of a strong-looking red stallion with a short orange mane, almost life-like in its details except for the fact that the eyes had not been painted in yet, and it gave Twilight a strong sense of déjà vu. "I'm going crazy," she muttered, "First Pinkie Pie and now Big Macintosh!"
Nyx cocked her head to the side. "Huh? You know this pony?"
"I don't, but," Twilight said shakily, "Well, the pony holding Spike looks just like a good friend of mine, and this painting could easily be of another pony I know real well. I wonder why it hasn't been finished yet…"
"Wow," Nyx said, "No wonder you're freaking out. How about you take it easy while I find a way to get that elevator turned around right? See if Father wrote something about it in his journal."
"Hm. I don't remember seeing anything like that," Twilight said as she levitated the journal out of her bag, "but it won't hurt to take a second look." She laid down on the floor next to the wall and set the journal in front of her, opened to the first page of the entry on I'strukun.
Satisfied, Nyx started looking around the room in closer detail. The curved desk held some large items of particular note. First, on the right end, was a crude but effective-looking stone hammer. To the left of that was a tall balancing scale with a black metal ball hanging off one arm while on the other was a small basket containing four balls made of a foggy blue-white glass-like substance. Left of that, near the center of the desk, was a glass tube set into the middle of a spoked gear to keep it upright and two metal wires coming down from the top and connected to item number four: a larger version of the glass ball inside a metal lattice cage and capped with an inverted dish of metal attached to a crank. Nyx gave the crank an experimental turn with her magic and the contraption started to pop and crackle with electricity. Intrigued, she turned the crank faster and soon had a decent current going, judging by the fact that in the glass tube small chips of rock started to rise up and spin around. "Cool," she said, causing Twilight to glance up in curiosity.
"An electromagnet," the lavender pony noted, watching Nyx's demonstration, "and rock that floats in magnetic fields. That is interesting." She watched for a second longer and then went back to her reading. Nyx let go of the crank and continued her investigation. On the left end of the desk, a large snail shell was being used as the pot for a pitcher plant with a thick leaf covering the mouth to prevent any captive insects from escaping. Nyx started to move on, judging the plant to be a simple curiosity, until she noticed there were wines hanging over the edge of the shell's opening, with a particularly long and thick one trailing across the desk to end close to the electromagnet. Overcome with what she would fervently declare "scientific curiosity" if she got called out, she laid the root across the wires coming off the electromagnet and turned the crank. As the electricity started to flow, the leaf covering the pitcher plant jerked up and quivered, and a little black fly caught inside took the lucky break given to it and escaped, buzzing around in circles for a bit before finding its way toward the door. Nyx noted the plant's reaction with silent interest and then moved on.
Three short, hexagonal posts of dark-colored stone of various heights were arranged against the wall between the hammock and the elevator alcove. On the tallest stood another balance scale, this one balancing one of the blue-white glass balls with four wooden balls, and additional balls of both materials lay around the base. Glass isn't that heavy, Nyx thought, trying to lift one of the glass balls with her magic, only to find it was heavier than it looked. Maybe not glass after all, she mused as she set it down. She then turned to look at the hammock, which had a large, thick green leaf curled up at one end like a blanket or pillow and a book sitting in the middle. As Nyx levitated it, she discovered it wasn't so much a book as the cover of a book with unbound papers stuck inside it, and the cover itself was marked only by a brown pressed leaf. "Hey Twilight," Nyx said, "You having any luck?"
"Not really," Twilight answered, "Star Swirl mentioned having to make some repairs to the elevator, but he seems to have expected it to turn around by default afterward. How about you?"
"I found this," the filly answered, bringing her book over to Twilight. Twilight took it and looked it over critically.
"Shoddy," she concluded, "but it's something at least." She set it down on the ground and flipped it open to the first page. It looked to be a journal, written in Equestrian save for a strange little symbol in the top corner that likely stood in for a date. The writing was amazingly tidy, but the words were slightly disturbing.
I've done it. I've opened the swirly linking book to take me back home, and I used it. That was a bad idea. Maybe it would've been better to remain lost in the fog, to have died and become one of the ghosts. I arrived to find myself inside the shield, unable to see what I hoped and dreaded to find, and then they came. The voices, calling my name, low and loathsome name, but belonging to nopony I could see.
Oh Staid, did I hear your voices among them? The voices of the lost. I couldn't dare hope, couldn't stay.
I was about to give up today, to surrender myself to the fog again. It would have been easy, to let it make me forget, to not care anymore. But then I felt it, that old itch in my wings, the shiver down my spine. He's coming back. Star Swirl. Or maybe they are coming back. Cirrus, Archeon, his students. Devils in pony form.
I must be mistaken. Why would they come back?
I can't deny any longer. It won't go away, that sense that somepony is about to enter my worlds again. Why Star Swirl? Was it not enough that your followers destroyed my home? Tortured me, left me to die! Will it be those two again, come to finish the job? Or maybe you'll come yourself?
Ha. Don't delude yourself Margent. He doesn't care. He'll send others. Cirrus, Archeon, new followers maybe? Another generation of Star Swirly betrayers.
I think not!
I still have time, I think. Time to prepare. I will take my revenge on the Star-swirlies, find a way to lure the head in and bring them all down, pay them back for the dead of Naboreal. I've already long since opened his other worlds, and now I've begun to make changes to them and to I'strukun. I'll force them to go through the worlds, make them see what Cirrus and Archeon did to me. Finally I'll lead them to Naboreal, and there…
There is much to be done, but for now I'll concentrate on the orbiter. I must try to understand it, and the materials that make it up. They remind me somewhat of the shield. If so, there's nothing I can do to alter it. I may be able to change the other devices though.
This entry was written around little diagrams of things neither Twilight or Nyx could make sense of: sticks, loops, and a large gear on a track.
I have managed to reconfigure the scanner, but to do so I had to scavenge parts from another mechanism in the tusk. The remaining components should allow it to operate but may need to be configured by hoof.
This was followed by four pictures of gears, counterweights, and similar mechanisms, each in a particular, well-detailed state. Nyx and Twilight contemplated the pictures for a moment, and then exchanged a look. "Wanna bet the kidnapper wrote this?" Nyx asked.
"I can't think of anypony else who could have," Twilight answered, "and it appears she's gone mad with grief thanks to Cirrus and Archeon. We have to get up to her and explain. I'm willing to bet the mechanism she mentioned in this last entry is the elevator. We just need to figure out where she took the parts from."
"There's a space under the elevator," Nyx said, "I'd look there." She trotted around to the back of the elevator alcove without waiting for a response and pulled the lever. The cage did its rotating thing, the elevator was winched up the shaft, and Nyx hopped down into the hole it had vacated. There were four spots where the wall had been broken away to reveal some of the mechanisms underlying the rotating cage. "These look about right," Nyx reported, "Pass me down those pages Twilight; I'll get everything set right." Twilight removed the two pages with the appropriate diagrams, taking a mental note of where they were supposed to be in the journal, and levitated them down into Nyx's waiting hooves, and then sat back and waited, her mind drifting with worry over Spike. She could only hope that she and Nyx were moving quickly enough to stop Margent, assuming that was the Pinkie-double's name, before she did something drastic.
Although something tells me she's not in a state of mind that can be reasoned with…
"Ok, I'm – oof – done!" Nyx announced as she pulled herself up out of the hole, "Everything down there matches the pictures, so here's hoping it works." She pulled the lever to bring the elevator down. When the cage whipped back to its resting position, the ponies heard something catch, loudly, and shared a satisfied look. It was a bit of a tight fit for both of them to get into the elevator, but they managed to squeeze in without causing any undue discomfort. Twilight reached out with her magic and pulled the lever, and this time the elevator turned around with the cage and was left facing the opposite direction as the mechanism reset itself and the winch started up.
As soon as the elevator came to a stop, Twilight flung the door aside and found herself confronted with one last door between her and her number one assistant. Through the window she could see that the golden lattice bud in the center of the room had opened up, and the pink bat-winged pony was pressing Spike's snout onto an open book contained within. The dragon vanished from sight in the characteristic manner of Linking Books, and the pink mare quickly followed him, casting a wicked smirk towards Twilight before disappearing. With a wordless cry, Twilight burst through the door and right up to the railing around the pit, reaching out with her magic to grab the book, but to no avail. Before she could form a solid telekinetic grip on the book, the bud-shaped cage closed up and sank down into the pit, while at the same time a short bridge retracted into the floor and covers closed over three lensed devices on the walls. "No!" Twilight cried, tearing up, "Spike!" She sank to the floor dejectedly, staring mournfully down at the book now locked away from her grasp.
"Please don't tell me you're giving up," Nyx said, "It's not over yet; she's backed herself into a corner now. None of the Lesson Worlds have links to anywhere except here in I'strukun."
"Until now," Twilight replied dully, "She took our link back to Materan, remember? What's to stop her from linking there?"
"Well, if she does then my parents will deal with her and then come looking for us," Nyx answered confidently, "but are you just going to sit around moping and waiting for what might or might not happen, or are you going to get up and do something to save Spike and the book?"
Twilight's ears lay flat as the filly's chastisement struck home, and then filled her with renewed resolve. "You're right Nyx," she said, standing up, "I'd probably still be stranded on Aitran with Rainbow Dash right now if I'd just sat around waiting for a rescue, and I've faced down a lot worse than a crazy friend-stealing pony. Let's get to that book."
It took the pair all of ten seconds to find the button that activated the room, located across the gap in the railing from the light table. When Nyx pressed it, the covers on the wall opened up and each of the three devices behind them emitted a beam of colored light up toward the ceiling, converging to form an image of Star Swirl's head.
"Cirrus, Archeon," the image said, "welcome to I'strukun. This world will be your first stop on your journey to learn the secrets of my Writing. Search the island and you'll find three Linking books. Each connects to a world where you…" The voice faded away as the image distorted and was replaced by Margent's face. As Twilight watched the image as it began speaking, she realized that although the pony was remarkably similar to Pinkie Pie in coat, mane, and eye coloring, she had several noticeable differences, mainly the bedraggled and ill-kempt rat's nest of a mane, rather than a deliberately curled mess, and the coldness in her eyes.
The Margent image started out muttering, as if unsure of itself, "Ok, ok, working now… uh… right." She cleared her throat and then looked down at Twilight and Nyx condescendingly and said, "Hello there star-swirlies, do you know who I am? Do you remember? Well let me tell you a little story to remind you. Once upon a time there were two nasty, mean, naughty little colts who came into my home pretending to be friends with great secrets to share and then proceeded to destroy everything that I loved. Your apprentices, Star Swirl the Bearded, Cirrus and Archeon. They took all that I held precious, and now, it's time I returned the favor. I've taken something very important to you; a book, a follower, something you want back very badly. If you do, you'll have to open to this device, but there's one little problem: I've changed the three symbols that do that. So, if you want to catch me, you're going to have to take your own class!" Margent broke down into laughter for a moment at that, appreciating a bit of irony she obviously felt, and then sobered quickly. "Find the three symbols little star-swirlies," she said darkly, "and don't keep me waiting."