Chapter Three: The Working
Lyra examined the pitchfork stuck in the door of the abandoned observatory and wondered if she should be worried.
The observatory’s smooth white roof was blackened and scorched, like an egg hard boiled with a blowtorch. Just beyond the observatory was the beginnings of the Everfree, and notably the spot where the infamous tar pits of Reichenbach Falls flowed into Froggy Bottom Bog. The tarfalls didn’t carry the traditional roaring rush that most waterfalls did, instead producing a single, gloopy dripping splash every minute or so. Reichenbach tar was infamous for its stickiness; it was said that that the last pony who fell into the tar had to be shaved entirely bald to get it all out. Lyra imagined that would be chilly.
Normally, a pitchfork wasn’t much of an omen – its usual significance was that you had broken into a farmer’s shed. But when one was casting a spell as big as the one she would be casting tonight, time got a little fuzzy and Prophecy stepped up her game. A sharp object impaling a piece of wood wasn’t the most subtle or complex of prophetic metaphor but that was probably more reason to worry. “If I do this, I shall be stabbed by farm equipment?” Lyra mused aloud, “If I do this, I shall penetrate the barrier between me and my destination?” Neither seemed particularly resonant. “If I do this, I shall reap a delicious crop of victory?” She probably should have eaten before she came.
“Oh, I remember this place,” Bon Bon said, looking up at the partially burned and collapsed structure. A faint smile crossed her moonlit face.
“Oh? From where?” Lyra said. To tell the truth, she hadn’t done her research into the history of the place. She knew that observatories tended to be fantastic places for large-scale magic, and frequently abandoned because some fool actually tried to use one for some large-scale magic. She had just assumed that the previous occupant had tried to summon Thrackazod or some similarly inadvisable course of action.
“I was part of the mob that burned it down,” said Bon Bon.
“Ah,” Lyra said. Then, “What?”
Bon Bon seemed pleased with knowing something Lyra didn’t. “The last occupant was a total creeper. She turned all of her telescopes down to face the town and spied on everypony all the time. At first we just thought it was weird and tried to ignore it and remember to close our blinds, but then we found out that she was selling photos to the Foal Free Press.”
“Scandalous,” Lyra said, opening the door and looking around inside. Sure enough, the place was filled with dozens of small telescopes, all angled down at the town. The observatory’s main, massive telescope made of brass and gold was aimed up at the night sky. The fire damage was rather minimal, other than the roof being mostly gone. There were a lot of lewd photographs on the walls showing mares and stallions of Ponyville, often bathing. Lyra was surprised by some of the couples she saw together there. “Well, this will save me a lot of preparation,” she murmured, trying to keep her mind on the task at hoof.
“So we all got together to talk about what to do about her, and then somepony started singing and they were having a sale on pitchforks and – what?” While Bon Bon didn’t get a chance to tell stories very often with Lyra around, a deep-seated survival instinct stopped her from ignoring anything the unicorn said completely.
“The telescopes,” Lyra said, “they’re set up perfectly for the spell I had in mind.” Lyra peeked through one. “That’s Sparkle’s house. Perfect.”
“What is this spell? You’re going to grab a comet, right?” Bon Bon said. “I’ve never heard of magic to do something like that.”
“Oh, that type of working is very possible if you have the knack for it. You should see what the Captain of the Guard can do with shields,” Lyra said, going from telescope to telescope and making slight adjustments.
“And a lyre mark specialises you for snatching passing meteors?” Bon Bon asked.
“Oh, heavens no. I’d be completely useless at something like that.” Lyra smiled as she adjusted another telescope. “Why, you’d need a whole town of unicorns to pull something like that off.”
“Spike, take a note. Ten forty five, Tuesday afternoon. Subject is a live fragment of the Nightmare Dimension, recovered by Rainbow M. Dash during the intrusion earlier in the day.”
Twilight Sparkle levitated the glass jar closer to her eye. The black, amorphous entity trapped within grew a sequence of spidery legs and scrabbled at the glass like a silverfish trapped in a bathtub. Spike found the gesture slightly endearing until the creature transformed into a thrashing array of teeth, emitting a high-pitched keening sound. He held the jar as far away from him as he could.
“Subject is live and active,” Twilight noted, peering at it through her glasses. “Some teeth marks but it seems to be recovering. Rainbow Dash is expected to make a full recovery from having the subject extracted from her throat. Assuming she can stop scratching at the scar. I don’t want to make her wear the cone of shame but I will.”
“Twilight, are you sure it’s safe to be studying something like this?” Spike asked. He eyed the ferocious little sin against nature warily. It budded a cluster of additional eyes so it could return the glare.
“Don’t worry, Spike. Small scale intruders like this are extremely easy to contain with magic. As long as I maintain the ward on the jar we’ll be absolutely fine. In fact, Starswirl the Bearded had an Intruder just like this as a familiar!”
“Didn’t you tell me Starswirl the Bearded went insane and tried to teleport the entire planet closer to the sun?” Spike said. He had developed a rather good memory for names, substances and creatures that he didn’t want any part of.
“I didn’t say he went insane, Spike. He just took an unorthodox approach to his personal heating management,” Twilight said, voicing what was considered a fringe opinion amongst respectable academic circles. “Why, without his daring experiment we wouldn’t even know about the Collective Unconsciousness, let alone that a pony could get trapped in it eternally!”
“You’re just saying that because you totally crush on him,” Spike said.
“Spike! I do not crush on eternally imprisoned unicorn archmasters!” was what Twilight’s mouth said, while she mentally checked the wards on her diary. “Stop being gross and get to work. We’ve got an intruder to document.”
“Yeah, all right Twilight,” said Spike, smirking and picking up his pen. Twilight levitated the glass jar up to eye level and started her examination.
“You see, telescopes are magical conduits. In fact, in war-time, unicorns use massive artillery telescopes to apply long range firepower,” said Lyra dreamily, painting the floor with silver paint. An elaborate, circuit-like mural covered the majority of the floor, connecting all the small telescopes to the bag of magnets at the bottom of the massive one. “And these ones are already angled at all the unicorns in town. So all I have to do is borrow their magic using the little telescopes and channel it through the big one to grab the space ship.”
“You’re going to steal the magic of everypony in town?” Bon Bon said in shock. That was both incredibly smart and unutterably lazy.
... Perfect for Lyra, now that she thought about it.
“Borrow. It’s not a difficult thing to defend yourself against. They probably won’t even notice it’s happening,” said Lyra.
A very small part of Twilight’s brain, disconnected from the significantly larger part that was doing all the screaming, was quietly impressed that Rainbow Dash had managed to walk all the way to the library with that little horror in her throat. She was completely losing her mind with it just being in her hair.
“Hold still Twilight!” Spike said. He swung at the Nightmare Fragment on her head with the first thing that came to his claws.
It was a lantern.
“Bon Bon, dear?” Lyra said. She was surrounded by half a dozen floating magnets, each shining with a different colour. The massive primary telescope was starting to sway gently as prismatic magic ran along its length.
“Yes, Lyra?” Bon Bon said. She’d decided to occupy herself while Lyra was busy by cooking them both some dinner.
“Would you check the telescopes for me, make sure nopony in town is having any trouble with their magic gone?” Lyra said. “I wouldn’t want to cause a panic.”
“Sure. I’ll go take a look,” Bon Bon said, surprised and delighted that Lyra had made a suggestion that lowered the chance of them being imprisoned for... what was this? Was this even a crime? Mass Magical Misappropriation? Grand Theft Unicorn? She broke out in a cold sweat despite herself, wondering if she was a conspirator or if she was just aiding and abetting.
She looked through the telescope.
“Hold still, Twilight!” shouted Spike, chasing the galloping unicorn with a bucket of water.
Twilight wasn’t going to fall for that one again. She was going to stick with running and screaming where it was safe.
She was more than a little on fire right now. The Nightmare Fragment was still on her somewhere. In between the screaming and running she slammed herself against the walls hoping she’d squash or dislodge the little alien horror. She was aware that she had set a fair bit of the library on fire by this point, but if it got that thing out of her hair that was a price she was willing to pay.
“It looks like everypony’s going outside to watch the meteor shower,” Bon Bon reported. In her defence, the fire at the library was very small right now.
“Alien colonist fleet,” Lyra corrected.
“Whatever,” said Bon Bon. “Ooh, I think it’s starting.”
“Perfect,” said Lyra.
Outside, far above the clouds, two pegasus ponies soared, doing one final safety sweep to make sure nopony would be flying at this altitude during the storm. They hadn’t had to do this until somepony had decided that it would be “totally awesome” to try and dodge falling asteroids. Now it was an occupational health and safety issue for the entire weather team.
“I don’t see any sign of her, do you?” Shimmer Snowflake asked.
“You know, we’re supposed to be looking for anypony who might be up here, not just Rainbow Dash,” said Cloud Kicker.
“Yeah, but who else would be brave –“ she caught Kicker’s unimpressed stare - “dumb enough to be out here at a time like this?”
“I’m sure there are plenty of ponies who’d like to be Rainbow Dash,” said Cloud Kicker flatly.
“Well, there’s a difference between wanting to be like her and actually having the courage to stand up to a meteor shower,” Shimmer said, a little weakly.
“Shimmer, did you see the X-rays by any chance?” Kicker asked.
“Yep!” Said Shimmer cheerfully. “I’ve got copies on my bedroom wall!”
Cloud Kicker’s train of thought ran headlong into a passing whale, who had been briefly confused about what he was doing on the railroad tracks. “You... what?”
“Rainbow Dash has a really nice bone structure,” said Shimmer in a way that would be endearing if it wasn’t endlessly creepy.
Earnest smile met awkward flopsweat until the conversation was blessedly cut short by a small meteor falling out of the sky and passing Cloud Kicker by inches.
“Right, looks clear, let’s get out of here,” Cloud Kicker said hurriedly. She folded her wings and dove directly downwards.
Above them, the stars themselves began to fall. A distant, haunting sound began to fill the night-time air. Music. A song, sung for nopony. Smooth and sharp, like ice along a razorblade, soft and sweet, like moonlight on a dewdrop. A private song for the moon and stars.
In the library, Twilight sat, soaking wet and smouldering gently. Spike was pinning the little monstrosity underneath his bucket. Every few seconds there was a new dent on the inside of the bucket as the creature hammered itself against the metal. Parts of the library were still on fire.
Her magic was gone. Her home was on fire. She had been doused in ice water. At least this night couldn’t get any worse.
“Come on, Spike,” said Twilight, standing up.
“Where are we going?” Spike asked, clinging to the bucket.
“To blame somepony.”
“FIRE!” shouted Lyra.
The magnets flared. The telescope beamed. A huge line of rainbow light shot up into the heavens, cutting its way through the night time sky.
Bon Bon took her chocolate sauce off the stove top and sipped it calmly as she watched her best friend try to tear the stars from the sky.
“Look! It’s Rainbow Dash!” shouted Shimmer Snowflake, pointing her hoof at the spectacular night-time rainbow. “I knew she could do it!”
“Rainbow Dash is the best!” agreed Scootaloo. “I knew she wasn’t going to let those broken bones from last time stop her from doing this for real!”
“This is insane,” growled Cloud Kicker.
Everypony looked on in awe as the rainbow travelled further and further upwards. As it neared the first comet ponies started cheering. “Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash! Rainbow Dash!”
The rainbow hit the comet and exploded in a spectacular fireball. The comet started spiralling out of control, twisting and spinning down towards earth.
The crowd was stunned, silent, and horrified.
“Woo! Rainbow Dash!” said Cloud Kicker.
“What happened?” Bon Bon shrieked as the observatory shook wildly.
“Oh, right. Fire mana,” Lyra said vaguely, “I had a feeling this felt too safe.”
“Did you just blow up a human spaceship?” Bon Bon said in horror.
“No, I tested it on a real comet first,” said Lyra. “Now I know, I can adjust. I’ll call down the human space ship for real this time, and I’ll dump all the fire mana into the comet I’ve already knocked down. Should be perfectly safe.”
Twilight Sparkle stepped out of her house, sodden wet, freezing cold, badly burned, and entirely angry. She was followed by Spike, who had transferred the horror into a lidded kitchen pot and was struggling to keep it closed.
And then there was an enormous explosion as a meteor hit the roof of her house. It smashed branches to flinders, crashed through the roof, obliterated her bedroom, and then smashed down every floor of the library to leave a massive crater directly in the centre of the floor.
Twilight stared at the ruin in shock.
Then, almost as an afterthought, everything caught fire. All at once. Like somepony had thrown a switch and now her house was on fire.
Twilight only knew one pony who was so bad at dealing with fire mana.
She felt a calm come over her, the calm that came with rage so total that it was intelligent enough to save its strength until the subject of its fury was present to experience every second of it.
“Lyra Heartstrings,” she breathed.
“Take two... FIRE!” Lyra shouted.
The rainbow of light blasted from the lens of the struggling telescope and soared up into the sky, aiming at the very centre of the meteor storm.
It made contact. It wrapped all around the central object. And it pulled. The interstellar object began to accelerate, drawn by the power of those enchanted magnets and that massive telescope, directly towards the observatory.
“And this is the part where we run,” said Lyra.
In the sky above, the mysterious song came to an abrupt, confused halt. There was a second or two where it screamed, but that stopped just as quickly.
Lyra and Bon Bon managed to get a fair distance from the observatory before it, and the top of the hill, were demolished by a massive flaming meteor. Fountains of dirt and smoke exploded up into the air. The meteor had by no means spent all its momentum, and continued to roll down the hill – right into the Reichenbach tar pits. There was an enormous squelch sound as it hit the tar and started to sink. The smoke and fire and stink of burning tar were all far too thick to make out a clear shape of the alien spacecraft.
Lyra and Bon Bon stood and looked at the devastation they had wrought. Flaming fragments of lewd photographs rained down all around them.
After a few moments, there was a crackle of purple magic. Twilight Sparkle appeared directly in front of Lyra. She wore an expression that a sane pony would have started running from.
“Oh hey, Twilight. Long time no see. What happened to your mane?” Lyra asked. “It looks like it got set on f – mmph!”
Twilight shoved a letter wordlessly into Lyra’s open mouth. She held it there for a second, and then she vanished in a burst of magic identical to the one that had brought her there.
“Mph!” Lyra spat out the letter, lifted it up, and opened it. She seemed totally unsurprised by the visit.
“What is it?” Bon Bon asked, completely lost by the exchange.
“My community service,” said Lyra. “I have to build a new library for some reason.”
Bon Bon tried to get a look at what the letter said, but Lyra crumpled it up and threw it onto a pile of burning adult photography before she could see what was on it. “That can wait! We just shot down a human space ship!” Lyra said, as she grinned massively. “And they said I was crazy!”
“Well, what do they know?” said Bon Bon as alarms screamed in the distance.