Twilight trotted back into Ponyville, Spike again floating alongside her as she returned to the library. "I'm going to make you as comfortable as I can, Spike, but then I have to leave."
She frowned. "Yeah. There's not much chance of that now."
Back inside the library, she headed directly upstairs to the bedroom, looking straight ahead as she passed between the many shelves of books. It wasn't that she questioned her safety—she was sure the spell had worked—but it was almost painful to look at all those spines head-on and not be able to—
Twilight sighed heavily as she tucked the mumbling Spike into his bed, securing him once more with the ribbon of magic. Confident that he was as comfortable as his restraints would allow, she went back downstairs into the library proper.
Her eyes slid over the shelves of books, noting their different sizes, thicknesses, and colors—but not their titles. The spines had interesting designs, marks she knew intellectually were words, but the spell—the "curse"—was thorough, and no comprehension remained. Every trace of literary knowledge had been wiped from her mind.
"I guess I'm stuck with what's already in my head." Twilight said it out loud because the room seemed so much... quieter without the words. She shivered in the warm air.
Stop moping, Twilight! This was the only way to fix the situation... that I could think of. Whatever this situation is. She drew herself up and took a deep breath. Time to find out.
She set off for Sugarcube Corner.
Neither Mr. Cake nor the twins and their crib were where Twilight had left them. That worried her, but there was no time to start searching for them right now. Maybe Mr. Cake decided to move them somewhere safe—or just out of the heat. Hopefully, to a place without a lot of words.
Inside the bakery, things were quieter than before. There was no cloud of flour, either. They probably ran out.
In the kitchen, she found Pinkie Pie and Mrs. Cake still going through the motions of baking, though at a slower pace. With no more ingredients—except what had already covered every available surface, the two of them included—not much progress was being made. All of the bakeware was now in or around the cold oven, and every bowl and utensil had been emptied from the drawers and cabinets and lay scattered about the room. The two bakers seemed to be tiring.
Twilight waded into the mess, looking for the dropped recipe amid the spatulas, whisks, and rolling pins that had turned the kitchen floor into a slippery minefield of cooking implements. It took longer than she thought it would take to find it, as the pink card had been kicked some distance from where Mrs. Cake had dropped it and was hidden under a discarded cutting board.
It appeared blurred by liquid of some sort, or at least she thought so. Because of the spell, it was impossible for her to tell if the letters were right or not. She understood none of what was written, except that one part was obviously a list, and another part wasn't.
Twilight felt as though she was in some strange mirror world where nothing made sense. She noticed her breathing was becoming rapid and short, and she tried to calm down. This is turning out to be more unnerving than I imagined, she thought, looking back over her shoulder at the two kitchen zombies.
She took the recipe card out into the café section of the bakery. Once blotted clean with a napkin, she thought it didn't look quite so bad. She placed it on one of the small tables and sat down before it.
Now then. Let's see what we can find out.
She closed her eyes and focused her mind on the little card and its words. Magic began to flow through her, and she willed it into new shapes as it passed, directing it towards the recipe.
Tell me your secrets...
Without her vision, Twilight could feel a distortion in her magical aura as she settled it over the table. She probed at it, growing excited, and feeling a small lump overlapping the card. Suddenly it sucked in a wisp of her magic and moved.
Her eyes shot open, and there before her was a small figure.
At first, Twilight thought she saw a tiny pony completely covered with writing—but there was no pony. The words of the recipe had risen up and taken pony shape, hovering free from the medium upon which they had been transcribed: the now-blank index card.
The small figure turned to look at her with no visible expression between the delicate swirls of ink that Pinkie had once used to write instructions on how to make cupcakes.
Twilight wasn't alarmed. It didn't feel menacing or sinister. In fact, it didn't provoke any emotion from her at all. It just was.
And then just as suddenly, it wasn't.
She blinked, but the vision was gone, the words once more confined to the little pink card.
I think we're getting somewhere.
She snatched up the card and rushed out the door.
Waves of magic washed over the hundreds of books that filled the library, and each tome that felt wrong was yanked from its shelf and tossed into a growing pile on the floor. Twilight wasn't trying to be thorough and identify every such infected book, but she wanted to get as many as she could in one place. Not every new book was infected, but some of her own now were.
When she was done, Twilight also added the recipe card to the pile. Then she settled down on the floor in front of it and closed her eyes once more.
It appeared when I inadvertently gave it some power. Let's see if we can do that again.
It wasn't a basic flow of magic she summoned up this time—it was a torrent. She had read countless volumes describing the techniques that unicorns throughout the ages had used to gather the power for great spells. She had learned from them all—even the greatest of them all, Star Swirl the Bearded. His methods in particular could gather vast quantities of raw magic very quickly, but the unicorn that used them had to be prepared to handle the result.
Twilight had practiced.
Now the forces whirled around her, rippling her hair. The magic was invisible to the eye until shaped by will into a spell, but she didn't have any spell in mind. She summoned nothing but the power itself, raw and amorphous, and sent it flowing through the pile of books before her.
At first the magic just passed right through, but then it began to be absorbed, twisted, and structured. Twilight could feel the power taking on a new shape before her, much like it did when she cast a complex spell, but this was not a spell of her making. It was casting itself—using the power she fed it.
I hope I'm doing the right thing.
She let out a long shuddering breath as the spell's magical momentum forcefully sucked the last tendrils of power from her. She sagged, every muscle in her body sore from the stress of her mental effort. When she inhaled, the musty smell of old books that she loved so much was suddenly much stronger than before.
Even before she opened her eyes, she knew she was no longer alone.
Every book in the pile had been dislodged and lay open, blank pages fluttering and rustling in an unfelt wind. Floating above them was a figure—a figure composed of what looked like the finest ironwork filigree imaginable, thin black lines curling and crossing, so densely packed she could barely see through it.
It was a pony—life-sized this time—with a long beard and tousled mane sticking out from under a pointed hat. The spell's body, formed from the words in the books, seemed to glisten with inky wetness as it turned its head towards her. It was a familiar silhouette.
"Star Swirl?" they both said in unison.
Twilight jerked her head backwards in surprise. Its voice had been deep, resonant, and somehow wet and dusty at the same time. However, more than the voice, it was its words that had surprised her. Is it imitating me?
"Um... Hello?" she tried. It didn't echo her this time. She opened her mouth to try again—
"Hello," it said.
It's not just a static figure! I must have given the spell enough raw magic to make it temporarily capable of speech. Its shape... it must have imprinted on its caster, and that looks like—
"Who are you?" Twilight asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
"We are the guardians of Star Swirl. Keepers of the wizard's spells and tomes. We are his." The figure blinked, or at least there was a blink-like flutter to the calligraphy where the eyes should have been.
"Star Swirl's... You look like him." Twilight tipped her head to one side and the other, seeing the light shimmer over the figure's surface. The old, dry ink was once again liquid now that it was freed from the pages. However, liquid or not, the ink hung in what she could now only assume were the shapes of letters.
If this was Star Swirl's spell, it can't be evil. Can it?
"We are his. He made us." It lowered its head to look at her more closely. The rest of its body remained motionless. "You are not he? You felt as he feels. You summoned the power as he does. Are you Star Swirl?"
Twilight almost blushed at being compared—no, mistaken—for her hero, but it was neither the time nor the place for such reactions. She cleared her throat and got shakily up off the floor. "I learned from his books. He was a great wizard."
"He is the wizard. He made us." It paused. "He... was?" It seemed confused.
There's no telling how intelligent this thing is. It may not know how much time has gone by.
She chose to say her next words slowly and carefully. "A long time has passed since you were created. Thousands of years." She watched it watching her impassively. It was a rather intimidating sight, she thought. "Why are you here now, in these books? Why are you hurting my friends?"
"We are... lost. We are the guardians of the wizard. We are... his. Where is... the wizard?" Bits of the apparition were starting to float free from their fixed positions, drifting along its surface. Holes formed and closed again as thousands of words shifted.
"Um, he's not here." She hesitated. "He died long ago."
"Where is the wizard?" Its voice was getting louder, and more words were losing their places.
Oh, no... This isn't going well. I don't think it's very intelligent at all. I may have to bluff my way through this.
She pulled herself erect and used a more formal tone as she asked, "Why do you seek the wizard Star Swirl?"
The drifting words seemed to settle a bit, becoming less agitated. "We seek our words. The wizard forged our words for us to live in. Our words are gone."
She looked down at the blank pages, confused. "But the words are all right here. I mean, they were, you've—well, you're wearing the words. They haven't gone anywhere."
"These are not our words."
"But these books... Most of them are from the Canterlot Royal Library. From the Star Swirl the Bearded wing." She pointed at the pile. "These would be your books."
The figure raised its head haughtily. "We do not live in these weak pages. These are not our words. Our words are forever."
"Weak pages... forever..." Twilight began to pace back and forth before the impassive figure, thinking hard. Its head followed her motions precisely, its blinks as regular as clockwork.
"Wait," she said, coming to a halt. "You said 'forged' just now, yes?"
"Yesss." Its affirmative was the dry rustle of old parchment.
She stood before it and asked, "What exactly are your words?"
The figure drew itself up, and when it spoke the words seemed to emanate from the very walls themselves, powerful and persuasive.
"Ye who enter here protect these tomes. They are your future. They are your past. Keep these words safe from harm. Help them to be read by those who seek their wisdom. Teach the words. And bring Ye not plums here."
The guardian looked down at her and said matter-of-factly, "The wizard did not like plums. Their juice stained the pages. He spoke of this often." Twilight thought there might have been some trace of emotion in that last statement, but she couldn't be sure.
Twilight shook her head, a smile growing on her face. "I know those words! I've seen them before... somewhere in the Star Swirl the Bearded wing." She started to pace once more before stopping short. "The plaques!"
She did a little hop in the air and cantered back to the guardian. "There are small brass plaques all around the library, on every shelf and wall, and all of them say the same thing." She rubbed her mane with one hoof, a crooked smile on her face. "You get so used to them, they fade into the background. I had even forgotten about the 'plums' bit. I always wondered about that..."
Twilight looked up at the guardian, its words once more steady as iron. "There must be hundreds of you. You each lived in one of those little brass plaques. You were spells Star Swirl created to enforce his rules."
"And now... and now they're renovating the library—they must have taken down the plaques!"
"So you moved into the books themselves because you had no other words to live in."
"And some of the books were sent here! But... how did you end up in Pinkie's recipe?"
The guardian shifted slightly, looking towards the library door. "We searched for our words. We looked for new words that could have been ours. Directive words."
"Yesss—I mean, yes... I see! Words that describe actions, rules, or instructions. And once inside, your effect served to enforce the new words upon whoever read them, just as you did in the library. So Pinkie Pie started baking, Rainbow Dash started acting like Daring Do, and Spike destroyed books to prevent anypony from reading them."
"The words were weak. We are strong."
Twilight nodded and said, somewhat sarcastically, "Yeah. It didn't work quite right, did it? But... you can reverse the effect, can't you? Undo what you did?"
The guardian was silent.
Twilight bit her lip as the silence stretched on before busting out, "There must be some way!"
The surface of the figure started to roil, words sliding about once more—all of them at once this time, creating a damp susurration of sound. Twilight took a step back in alarm. As quickly as it had started, the words froze back in place. "Give us our words."
"But I don't have one of the plaques here!"
"The medium matters not. Only the words are important. Give us our words to live in and make things right."
Twilight's ears perked up with hope. "Just write your words down? Okay! We can do that if you think it will help everyone. Spike, take a—oh." Spike was still incapacitated upstairs, so she turned towards her writing desk. "Oh!"
Twilight slumped to the floor. "I can't!"
The guardian leaned in closer to her. "Why?"
Though she had good reason for doing what she had done—she couldn't have gotten this far without it—Twilight still hung her head in shame, tears beginning to form in her eyes. She said softly, "I don't know how to read or write anymore."
She heard a wet rustling sound and looked back up at the guardian. Its side was shifting, reforming. Soon a single shape stood out amid the myriad of words that formed its body: three lines radiating away from a central point, two upwards and one down.
Twilight wiped the nascent tears away. "What's that?"
"It is a Y," it intoned. "Teach the words."
She gasped as she realized what the guardian meant. It was offering to teach her the words to write. She gazed at the simple shape, feeling it settle into a waiting Y-shaped hole in her mind. She turned her head towards the shelves of books and scanned their titles. Each Y she saw on their spines was a shout of joy in her mind. I can relearn! The curse didn't take that away from me!
Twilight floated a quill and parchment over from her desk and settled down in front of the guardian's inky flank, a fiercely determined expression on her face. "Okay," she said, touching the quill's tip to the paper, "I'm ready."
The words shifted. Her lesson began.
"Wha? Wha's goin' on?" Spike rubbed his fists in dry eyes, blinking rapidly and looking around. He was lying on the library floor surrounded by blank open books. He sat up, groaning and stretching his back and arms. "What happened?"
"You're back!" yelled Twilight, scooping him up into a tight hug.
"Hey! Urf—Leggo!" He squirmed in her arms.
Twilight looked up at the still-hovering guardian over Spike's shoulder. "Thank you! Just... thank you!" She sniffed, a happy tear rolling down her cheek.
She had spent the better part of the last hour painstakingly copying each letter of the guardian's words onto parchment, repeatedly making mistakes and then starting from scratch. It didn't want any erased words on the page. It had been so frustrating but at the same time such a delight to hear that purposeful scratch of quill on paper again.
When she had held the finished page up in front of Spike, a piece of the guardian nestled within its words, he had instantly awoken from his trance. Now he was squirming free from her arms. "What's gotten into you, Twilight? I was just taking a na—What is that?" he yelled in alarm, pointing at the dark form of the floating apparition.
"No time to explain, Spike. I need you to make as many copies of this as you can, as fast as you can." She passed him the parchment that contained all of her hard work and the cure for everyone that was affected by the errant spells.
Spike looked at the page, reading the words. "Ugh. Who wrote this? The penmanship is terrible."
She blushed. "Just... make the copies, Spike. These are special words—I can't duplicate them with magic. Each one needs to be written out from scratch—no mistakes—or the spells can't move inside them."
"Well, okay," he said warily, rapidly dashing off the first copy with ease. "But I want to know what's going on after that!"
Twilight snatched up the fresh page and started for the library door, pausing for a moment next to the guardian as a line of floating text peeled away from its body and settled into the freshly written words. "I promise I'll explain everything soon. Just keep copying."
"Wait! You're not going to leave me here with—with that, are you?" he called, pointing at the strange black form.
"He's harmless! Keep copying. And send one to the princess!" was all he heard as she vanished out the door.
He looked back at the guardian which slowly turned its faceless head towards him. "Erk—" sputtered Spike as he leaned back from its intent gaze in alarm. Wide-eyed, he stiffly turned back towards the table and picked up his quill, his eyes trying to watch the figure through the back of his head as he copied.