Gravel crunched under their hooves as the group trotted down the mountain path towards Ponyville. Artemis was deeply immersed in explaining to Flicker the finer points of moonscript and the civilization that used it, and Flicker (for the most part) seemed to be listening.
"You see, before even Princess Celestia had begun her rule about two millenia ago, there was a tribe of alicorns who had descended from the stars." Artemis explained. His face was lit up like a child finding his presents on hearthwarming eve's day.
"They were considered gods by the earthpony tribes of old, and soon the two races interacted. The star alicorns shared their magic and wisdom, while the earth ponies shared their strength and hardiness. When the two races interbred, it lead to the creation of two other species - pegasi and unicorns. Under the guidance of the star alicorns, the pony races of pre-Equestria advanced in science and knowledge, as well as healing and fighting. However, for reasons unknown to this day, the star alicorns were mysteriously wiped off the face of the planet, leaving the earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns to fend for themselves. The three pony tribes..." Artemis was in the 'zone' again, and he was just barely conscious of his surroundings as he went deeper and deeper about the history of the star alicorns.
Flicker tilted her head, listening to Artemis as he carried on with his history lesson. For some reason, she had just noticed that Artemis' face took on a strange new quality when he talked of ancient things like civilizations of the past. It made him appear more alive than he usually was. It also caused Flicker's heart beat to slightly raise a tick, though she herself was not aware of it while enjoying learning more about what the beautiful moonscript was.
Orion was at the head of the group in a deep conversation with Charger. "I just don't understand, why the hell would that door be so secretly hidden if it didn't have anything more important than casks of aging wine behind it!" He fumed with frustration - the entire treasure hunt had been a wild goosechase, regardless of whatever knowledge Artemis might have obtained. "It just doesn't make any sense to me. I'm sorry for leading you out here for nothing."
"Don't blame yourself too harshly. You saw a chance, and you took it. Nopony else would have acted much differently from you." As usual, Charger remained the stoic, but his face seemed to have a little warmth as he spoke. After all, it wasn't every day Orion admitted he was wrong about something.
"Ugh. I just want to get home and put this entire business behind us." Glancing back at Artemis, who was still animatedly talking with Flicker, he rolled his eyes. "I don't get how he does it."
"Does what?" Charger raised his eyes, one of the few facial emotions he allowed himself to have.
"Does that thing with his history stuff. He always gets so excited over a bunch of old events that happened thousands of years ago. You'd almost think he would rather live in those times than now." Orion sighed inwardly. Sometimes he wondered how he was brothers with that egghead. The differences between the two were almost insurmountable.
Charger nodded. "You'll figure him out eventually. Brothers always do."
"I sure hope so." Orion looked towards the skies, which darkened as the minutes passed. "We'd better start moving faster," he muttered to himself. "We're going to get caught by the shadowguard at this rate."
Meanwhile, silently observing from the clouds, the shadowguard get ready to sweep down on their prey as the group trudged down the gravel path towards Ponyville.
"Shall we punish them now?" The shadowguard closest to Commander Silverfang had a wolfish grin on his face, one not too different of the predator waiting for the right moment to strike.
"Yes. On my mark. Remember, men, these are dangerous criminals who have committed acts of treason against her Lunar highness. They must be apprehended swiftly and silently so that the knowledge they have obtained does not spread to the general public." The Shadowguard Commander eyed the group once more, then held his hoof up. "Go."
At his command, a full regiment of shadowguard pegasi dropped from the skies and headed straight for the unsuspecting 6 that were on the ground. Silverfang pursed his lips in displeasure. He did not enjoy forcing ponies into the quarries, but he had to do everything he could to keep his family safe from the wrath of Nightmare Moon.
They might all have been knocked out and captured by the shadowguard had Mishap not taken an opportune moment to look up at the moon and jump in surprise as he saw 15 shadow guards headed straight for them. "Run! Its the shadowguard, they've found us!" Mishap used his magic to create a miasma of poisonjoke fog that confused the shadowguard as they flew into it. "Don't mind my awesomness, lets go!" He started running down the path alongside Autumn, Charger, and Flicker as they made for Ponyville's boundaries. Orion had started to follow them when he noticed that Artemis was missing.
"Artie!" He ran back into the fog only to narrowly avoid capture by a slightly woozy shadowguard. Bucking his way through the fog, he found traces of Artemis' footprints on the floor, but no Artemis. "Where have you gone, you stupid brother of mine," Orion feared the worst, but remembered the plan of action he and Artemis had agreed on years ago. 'If ever we are separated in a time of danger, find a safe place to sleep till dusknight and make your way to the storm cellar.' Heeding these words, Orion quickly hightailed it back to Ponyville, managing to make it back into his house within detection. "Damn it, Artie. I swear on Celestia's name, if you let anything bad happen to you, I'll kill you." Trodding over to his bed, Orion fell into an uneasy half sleep riddled with worry and nightmares of Artemis being caught by the shadowguard.
When Mishap had thrown up the poisonjoke fog as a diversion, Artemis snapped from his academic haze and re-entered a reality of blue clouds surrounding him. At first, he though he was dreaming until he almost bumped into a shadowguard.
"Oh sweet Celestia!" Artemis grabs a nearby stick with his magic and knocks the shadowguard out without a second thought. The guard crumpled with a groan, and Artemis quickly ran down the path towards Ponyville to make his escape. Unfortunately, two shadowguards had spotted him as he exited the fog and quickly gave pursuit.
"Stop right there, criminal scum!" The guards yelled out after him as they gave chase.
After recounting the days events, Artemis finally decided to explore his surroundings. Apart from a strange bluish light that was being emanated from crystals growing off the walls, the cave seemed fairly normal. That is, until he found a tablet at the end of the cave that held moonscript on it. Dusting off the tablet, Artemis used magic to light up the room a bit more to read it properly when the tablet starting glowing. Yelping, Artemis dropped the tablet, which levitated in the air instead of falling towards the ground. The words inscribed started floating off the stone and making an outline at the back of the cavern that look slightly like a portal, then fizzled out.
Intrigued, Artemis applied magic to his horn once again and pushed against where the outline had formed. Suddenly, Artemis was blasted by a corona of light as a marble box engraved in more moonscript floated through the now transparent wall. By the time he was able to see again, the box lay at his hooves, ready to be opened. He hesitated. What if this was a trap? But his hooves moved faster than his common sense, and he found himself opening the box before he could stop himself. Inside the box was a set of 5 different scrolls, each one sealed shut with a different colored ribbon. Puzzled, he started to read the inscription that was on the box.
'Ye who hath been chosen: thou art the successor of our knowledge and our wisdom. Use them well, for in your hooves will lie the fate of a nation, and the world.' Below this inscription, a title read "The Celestial Tomes".
"Interesting." Artemis was, of course, puzzled by the existence of such scrolls in the first place, as well as the meaning of the inscription. While the moonscript made it clearly evident that this box had been prepared by the star alicorns millenia ago, he was not certain as to why they went through such lengths to keep it hidden, nor why he was chosen as the successor of such knowledge after all these years had gone by. Ignoring his common sense, he reached for the first scroll, one sealed with a blue ribbon.
As Artemis began to translate the moonscript written on the first scroll, his brow furrowed deeper into his face. He began to frantically skim through the other scrolls until his suspicions were proven correct. "These scrolls...how can this be possible..."
The scrolls were a complete history of Equestria, from past to future. But they had been written by the star alicorns, before Equestria even existed! "This can't be happening."
He read the beginning, of how Celestia and Luna had originally ruled Equestria dually in peace. How Luna grew jealous of the citizen's love for her sister Celestia. How she became Nightmare Moon and was ousted by the Elements of Harmony to the moon. And how she had come back after 1,000 years to take over Equestria and spread the elements of Harmony all throughout the land, never to be used again. The scoll also had some script on the beginnings of how Equestria had formed between the three pony tribes, but Artemis disregarded that, thinking that he already knew the full Hearthwarming Eve's tale by heart. Little did he know that held within that one paragraph was information he would so desperately need in the future only to curse himself for not reading it sooner.
By the time he had reached the end of the scroll, Artemis had sifted through thousands of years of history, ending at the beginning of Nightmare Moon's Darke reign. Reaching over for the other four scrolls, he found that he was only able to open the second one tied with a crimson red ribbon. When he attempted to open the third, a magical energy forced his hooves to burn and drop the scroll.
"Curious." He thought. "If I am indeed the chosen, why am I only allowed to read the first and second scrolls?" He unsealed the scroll of red ribbon, jumping back in shock as a magical message of moonscript flew off the page and hovered in air.
'Artemis. These scrolls contain the entire fate of all that is Equestria, including dark events of the future and Equestria's eventual fall. Whilst thou art the successor of our knowledge, as it was with the previous successor who had lived 100 years ago, thou must acquire more wisdom before being able to gaze upon the rest of the scrolls. Gaze upon Nightmare Moon's first 100 years in power, and the next 900 years afterwards'
Artemis' mind was suddenly flooded with the information contained in the scroll, blacking out from the overload of magic entering his head.
It is dusknight now. Artemis awoke with a start, woozily taking in his surroundings before realizing he was still in the small cavern. The Celestial Tomes lay on the cavern floor, 2 of them left open from his readings. Sighing, he re-sealed the two and placed all 5 scrolls back within their marble box, then resealed the box itself. As he did so, the box sank through the floor and was replaced by an iron sword. At its hilt was a piece of moonstone.
Artemis jaw dropped in awe. "A-a sword from the time of the star alicorns!" He excitedly picked it up and examined it. Though old, it had still kept its quality and felt strong to the touch. He admired the carvings along the hilt, as well as the wavy patterns on the blade. "Its beautiful..." Alongside the sword, a sheath had appeared. Artemis placed the sword into its sheath, then strapped it around his body. "Almost as if it were made for me." When he turned to exit the cave, however, more flashes of light appeared at the spot where the sword had appeared. Artemis stared at the new objects for a moment before deciding that he must bring them back to his friends. Struggling to pack them all into his saddle bags and failing, he muttered a spell and stuffed all the items into a transdimensional space that acted as a magical storage locker. Panting from the effort, he made his way out of the cave and headed towards the guard tower, the rendevous point where he and his brother Orion had set many years in the past when they had been separated.
Orion, managing to have wasted his entire night away with worrying, had finally managed to fall asleep when he heard a knock on the door. Groaning, he forced himself off the bed and shuffled off to the door. His body was a mass of aches and sores from the bucking he had done yesternight, and he had not made it any better by trying many new weird sleeping positions in an attempt to drift away from reality. As he opened the door, he yawned. "Artie, is that you...?" As the light of dusknight hit his eyes, he squinted. The figure before him was obviously not his brother. In fact, the more he stared at the outline, the more it looked like-
"Good dusknight, Orion." Flicker was standing shyly at his door, trying not to stare at Orion's disheveled appearance. She peered around him into the darkness of his home. "I just came wondering if Artemis and you had arrived safely back. I already checked up on Autumn, and she's now checking up on Mishap and Charger."
Shaking his head, his face took on a more serious tone. "We got separated in the poisonjoke fog yesterday. I don't know where he is, but if he's safe he should be at the guard tower. That's where we agreed to meet if ever we got separated, like we did many years ago..." Orion had not realized that he was zoning out until Flicker shook him gently.
"Did you sleep well? You seem exhausted." Flicker's face had a shade of worry. "Maybe I shouldn't have woken you up. I can come back later." She started to leave before Orion put a hoof on her shoulder.
"No. Stay. I'll enjoy the company. Plus I'll need somepony to come with me to check the guardtower for my egghead brother of mine. Come on in. I just need to get washed up, and then we'll be on our way." Orion gestured into the house, and Flicker gladly complied. In truth, she had never entered the home of the brothers before, and she had been curious for the longest time what secrets the house concealed.
"Don't mind the mess, most of it is Artemis' and his 'knowledge seeking'" Orion's voice emanated from the bathroom as he started up a shower. Any other words he could have said were drowned out as a torrent of water fell out of the showerhead.
Flicker sat awkwardly in the living room, trying not to listen as Orion washed himself in the shower. Looking around, she began to see why Orion blamed Artemis for the state of their house. Every corner of the room was covered with scrolls that stretched from floor to ceiling. She could make out scrolls on every type of subject, from gourmet cooking to ancient sword arts and even the early fashions of Equestria.
"As expected of Artie, he sure can't keep his hooves off any kind of scroll." Flicker smiled to herself, remembering a time when she had chanced upon Artemis in the storm cellar some time in the past only to find him surrounded by scrolls. He had been so concentrated on his studies that he nearly jumped out of his seat when she nudged him in the back to get him to notice her. Returning to the present, she noticed a strange light creeping in from the outside and looked out from a nearby window to see something of the most peculiar nature.
When Orion had emerged fresh and ready to go, he found Flicker examining something closely from a window in the living room.
"I hope I didn't take too long." Orion flashed a smile at Flicker, who turned to eyeball him.
She chucked. "You certainly didn't, not with your tail looking like that."
Turning his head around quickly, he noticed that his tail still had bedhair sticking up in random spots. "Rats," he muttered. "I can never manage to get the tail." Trying to hide his embarassment, he quickly shifted the topic of conversation. "What were you staring at?"
"Oh, nothing." Flicker turned her gaze back outside the window. "There was just some weird light in the sky earlier, and it looked pretty. It was a cerulean blue, almost as if there's still a daytime sky above all this dusknight..." Her face seemed sad, as if her ancestral memory remembered what a sunlit sky looked like and wept that it could not see it anymore.
"Oh...I see." For the first time in his life, Orion felt awkward around Flicker. Him, the most awesome, confident pegasus around who was undoubtedly humble ((author: snicker)) did not quite know how to react to her. It's not like he ever wondered about those types of immaterial things like if there was a daylit sky above the night. He left those to his intellectual brother as he was completely inept at this sort of thing. Shaking away this awkwardness with force, he asked "We should get to the tower. I want to know if my brother is safe or not."
Hearing Orion's voice shook Flicker from her daze. She had been imagining what it would be like to feel the sun on her feathers while flying through a beautiful blue sky and did not realize that she had drifted away into her own little world. "Oh...right. Of course." Determined not to reveal that she had been zoning out, she quickly left the house with Orion following, heading for the tower.
Struggling under the weight of his saddlebags, Artemis carried onward towards the guardtower. Although he had unsconscious for at least several hours, he felt no better rested than if he had stayed up all night. Magically implanted memories danced around the edge of his mind, maddening him with their proximity and how they managed to escape each time he tried to focus on them. Probably because the entire while his stomach protested at it's lack of food. He had not eaten anything since the cinnamon bun Flicker had given him, and now his entire body craved a good apple pie.
"Damn. I knew I should have included snacks in my saddlepack when I headed out yesterday." His stomach growled at the thought, and Artemis shook his head. "I hope 'rions waiting at the tower when I get there. I'm not sure I can make it back home without having a bite to eat." Resigning himself to the long trek, he continued walking the distance from the mountains to the cellar, where hopefully some food awaited his consumption.
Autumn and Mishap were leisurely trotting through the market street. It was a relatively beautiful dusknight, and a cool breeze blew, making Autumn's reddish mane streaked with white move attractively in a windswept sort of way.
Mishap's mane just blew into his face. Spitting out his hair, he asked, " Where exactly are we going again, Autumn?" He was annoyed that she had not spoken to him since she had rudely woken him up to see if he was alright from yesternight's adventure. "How could she resist talking to a pony like me? I'm generally amazing!" He thought to himself. "Maybe its because of that one time when I slipped itchingpowder into her saddlebags and it got all over her makeup." He suppressed a snicker.
Autumn kept walking, seemingly oblivious to Mishap's question. "Alright, thats cool. Just keep ignoring me, Autumn, I'm fine with that." His eyes were suddenly attracted to the Ponyville Jokes and Gags shop. "She's so far in space that she couldn't notice me missing for a couple minutes," he thought. "Hey Autumn, I'm just going to go check out that shop for a couple minutes, that fine with you?" After getting no response once again, he said "Alright, I'll be back. Just don't get lost without me." Winking, he trotted happily over to the Jokes and Gags store where they were selling their newest creation, the stink grenade.
Autumn was deep in thought, which was unusual because what she was thinking about was something she normally didn't care for at all - the moonscript. When she thought back to the shapes and how each character was written, something nagged at the back of her mind that she had seen the language before. But where? She'd never touched a scroll in her lifetime that she didn't have to, rather spending her time out with friends drinking shakes or doing shopping. "Hey Mishap, do you remember the writing that was all over the walls at the ruins yesternight?" When no response was made, she turned around. "Mishap?" Suddenly, she found herself all alone in the middle of Ponyville's market street in the middle of the dusknight, with Mishap nowhere to be seen. "Where did he go?" Peering over the crowd, she spotted his wild blue mane over at the Jokes and Gags shop. "You have got to be kidding me." She quickly started walking over to Mishap to try and stop him before he decided to purchase anymore gags for his future pranks.
Charger was not at his home, instead choosing to spend the beginning of his day in the Zen garden of Master Silent Breath . "Breath through the nostrils and let the air completely rejuvenate your body." Silent tutored his pupil carefully through the higher exercises of Zen. Knodding his approval, he returned to his meditative pillow and sipped tea, being careful not to make any noises to disrupt Charger's thoughts.
Charger's mind was in a state of complete peace. All the troubles of yesternight had been pushed from his mind, leaving only a rejuvenative pool of mind energy for his consciousness to take a dip in and recharge itself. Exhaling deeply, he shivered in bliss as a breeze of wind blew across his electric blue mane. "That felt nice," he thought to himself. After sitting in the same, humid corner of the garden for over an hour, any type of reprieve was appreciated. After sitting there for a couple more minutes, he finally started to get up and stretch out his body, now aching from the rigors of the exercises.
"Thank you for your time, Master Silent." Charger bowed deeply to his master, who returned the gesture.
"Go, and may the stars guide your path, young earth pony." The old unicorn closed his eyes and resumed his meditative state, moving occasionally only to sip his cup of tea.
As Charger left the garden, he caught sight of Orion and Flicker as they walked towards the guardtower. Wondering what could be wrong, he started after them, his powerful earthpony legs carrying him over the land has easily as wings could carry a pegasus through the air. As he got closer, he noticed that Orion had a rather grim look on his face and Flicker's movements were slightly tinged with sadness. "This can't be good." Charger started to run faster to catch up with them before they turned a corner and left his sight.
"I'm...finally...here." Exhausted, Artemis collapsed at the base of the tower. He had been walking without food or water for over an hour, and now his body could take no more punishment. "ugh. Just a little further..." Cursing that he did not have more endurance, Artemis starting inching towards the door of the cellar, the pack on his body weighing heavier by the moment. Finally, he managed to open the door and slip in, struggling to get to his feet as he did so. As he closed the door behind him and entered the cellar, his worst fears had been confirmed: there was nopony there, and definitely not any food or water to quench his desire. Groaning, Artemis shed off his saddlebag and sword, plopping himself on the nearest couch.
"I hope you get here soon, 'rion. I can't move anymore..." He tried not to fall asleep, but his eyes wouldn't listen as he slowly succumbed to his exhaustion.