Ponyville Library, November 3rd, 10 p.m.
Twilight woke with a start.
She had dozed off while reading, but while that was nothing out of the ordinary, the vivid dream she'd had did qualify as unusual. She remembered a grey alicorn and a warning about some ancient prophecy.
That was no dream. More like a vision, the unicorn thought to herself as she stretched her neck, working out the kinks that falling asleep on the table had caused. One would think I'd be used to that by now.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts. "Twilight? Are you okay?"
"Yes, Spike. Come in, the door's open." She couldn't help but wonder what her assistant was doing here, during his week off.
The young dragon stormed in, wildly casting his eyes around as if searching for hidden enemies. His gaze fell on Twilight, and she saw the tension drain from him slightly. "Oh thank Celestia, you're okay."
"Uh...yes, of course I am. Is there any reason I shouldn't be?" Twilight asked, confused at the worry in Spike's voice.
He collapsed onto one of the chairs. "Rarity just had a vision, and by what she said, it might have affected you as well."
"A vision?" Twilight felt her curiosity rise. "What kind of vision?"
Spike briefly filled her in on what Rarity had told him. When he had finished, he looked at her. "You saw something too."
"Yes. It was very similar to what you described, in fact." Twilight levitated a glass of water over and took a deep gulp. "That strange alicorn warned me that 'the Dawn of the Seventh' was at hand, whatever that may be." She realized something. "Where are Rarity and Apple Bloom?"
"They've gone to look for Scootaloo," Spike explained. "Since she's a twilight element as well - as far as we know -, she may have had a vision too, and if she was flying when that happened..." He let the sentence trail off.
Twilight frowned. Something from her vision was tickling in the back of her mind, and she couldn't quite put her hoof on what it was. "Spike, do you remember any names or dates from what Rarity told you?"
The dragon thought about that for a moment. "Something about five thousand years, and I think she mentioned a seer, Stargazer or somesuch."
"Hmm." Twilight turned to the shelf with the history books and levitated one particularly musty-looking tome over to the table. "Stargazer ... Stargazer ... ah, here we are."
Spike glanced at the book. "Which one is this?"
"Famous Names in Equestrian History," Twilight answered absent-mindedly. "Here, look at this." She pointed to one entry headed 'Stargazer the Wise'. It was very short, little more than a mention of approximate dates of birth and death, but the sentences below those dates had caught Twilight's eye.
Stargazer the Wise is believed to have been blessed with Second Sight. He made many prophecies over his lifetime, most of which have unfortunately been lost to time. A collection of his most famous oracles was given to the library at Maresilia, an ancient centre of learning, and is presumed to have become part of the Royal Canterlot Archives at the Grand Unification.
They looked up from the book, and Twilight saw a gleam in Spike's eyes - the same gleam that she knew was showing in her own. "Spike, take a letter."
Sweet Apple Acres, two hours later
Big Macintosh was restless.
That was already cause for concern, for restlessness was not exactly typical for him. He was as sturdy, reliable and stolid as popular opinion made him out to be, for the most part. Yet as if that wasn't bad enough, he also had trouble falling asleep, and that had never happened before. Work on the farm was almost always plentiful and exhausting, and since it required early rising, he scarcely ever stayed up after half past nine at the latest.
Now it was midnight, and he was wide awake and feeling uneasy. The red stallion wished he could put a hoof on what exactly he felt, or why, but he couldn't. Something bad was happening, and he had no idea what, or where.
His brooding was interrupted at that point.
He was out the door and down the corridor to Applejack's door before he even realized he had moved. From further down the hall, he saw Apple Bloom run his way. "What in the hay was that?"
He ignored her for the moment, pushing open the door. "AJ? You alright?"
His elder sister was sitting up in bed, eyes wide open. She stared at the two figures in the doorway in confusion for a moment before she seemed to realize where she was. "Y...yeah, I think so. Just had a bad dream, that's all."
"You too?" Apple Bloom stepped near the bed. "That's funny. I thought it had to do with nearly losing Scoots."
Macintosh nodded. Apple Bloom had only returned to the farm half an hour previously, telling her siblings through sobs that Scootaloo had had an accident while flying and was at the hospital with head injuries. "Strange, that. So you both had nightmares?"
"Yeah." Applejack looked at her brother. "Why? Not you too?"
"Nope. But something strange is afoot. I've been feeling under the weather all day, and I've been trying to get some sleep for three hours now." He rubbed his muzzle. "What in blazes is happening?"
Apple Bloom spoke slowly, almost reluctantly. "The last time I had a dream like that was six years ago."
"That Doubt affair?" Macintosh frowned. "But it was just you and Spike back then, wasn't it? Why is it happening to me and AJ now, too?"
"No idea, but Rarity and Twilight had visions, and now me and AJ are having nightmares." Apple Bloom was staring out the window at the night sky. "Whatever is happening, it must be big."
The Royal Palace at Canterlot, five hours later
Harmony. Discipline. Virtue. Power. Community.
The late hours of the night were the best, as far as the Princess of the Night was concerned. The soft light in the east, turning the sky from black to blue, told her that her waking hours were drawing to an end, and that she could turn over responsibility for Equestria to her sister.
At least, that was the way it had been in the first years after her return. Yet over the last two years, something had changed. Where Celestia had been happy to rise and assume the mantle of ruler for the daylight hours, now she seemed colder.
'Twas to be expected, Luna thought as she made her way to her sister's chambers. The joy of reunion can hardly last forever. Still, something about Celestia's behaviour bothered her.
The guards at the door stood at attention as she approached. "Celestia? Time to rise and shine, dear sister." Luna smiled to herself. Yes, the joke was almost too obvious, but she still loved it.
The door opened, and Luna almost recoiled. She had rarely seen her sister like this, so distinctly un-amused. For a brief moment, Luna thought she saw a golden flame dance in Celestia's eyes, but it was gone so swiftly it might have been a trick of the light. "Good morning, sister. We will take over from here."
Only when Luna lay down for her daytime sleep did she realize what had been wrong about what Celestia had said.
In all the years since my return, I have not heard her use the Royal We even once.
The Princess of the Night, second most powerful being in Equestria, shuddered. The very thought of something happening to her sister was enough to freeze her blood.
Her eyes fell on the scroll on her writing table. Nighttime missives from her sister's favourite student came to her, so as not to disturb Celestia's sleep. Normally, she would have passed the letter to Celestia at the earliest opportunity.
Circumstances can hardly be called normal anymore, however. Luna shivered. I am not sure whether I can trust my sister any longer.
She picked up a quill and began to write.
At the same time, somewhere between Manehattan and Ponyville
A knock on the door woke her, accompanied by a sonorous voice. "Ma'am? You wished to be woken at 6 a.m."
She shook awake slowly. "Yes, thank you," she called out as she walked to the sink and splashed cold water over her face, trying to wash the last remains of sleep away. She failed miserably.
All these years, and I still haven't gotten used to the hours. She smiled. Then again, how could I? Her workhours varied, quite drastically sometimes, and while she still disliked that, she was by now able to pull a shift at any time, even while half asleep.
Yet this time was different. Something else was niggling at the back of her mind, something she couldn't place her hoof on.
Probably just nerves. Nopony can blame me after what happened last time. She shuddered, unsure of the welcome she was about to receive. But her manager had booked her for that reception in Ponyville, and there was no backing out of that contract - it even bore a royal seal of approval.
She looked up at her reflection. Just for a second, she thought she saw a flash of golden light pass by somewhere behind her head, but when she turned, it was gone - if it had even been there in the first place. She put on her best stage smile, proud of the fact that it still worked even at this un-celestial hour.
Nothing so simple as lack of sleep will put The Great and Powerful Trixie off her game!
At the same time, at a house in Ponyville
She didn't usually dream. Or if she did, she rarely ever remembered her dreams.
She had barely managed to bite back a scream when she had woken from her nightmare. Her daughter was asleep in the room next door, after all, and she certainly had enough to worry about.
She checked the clock. Six a.m. Might as well get up, I'm certainly not going back to sleep after that.
Her colleagues at the Mail Service would wonder, of course. Then again, she knew how nearly everypony talked about her behind her back. She might be a tad slow, but she wasn't stupid.
Let them wag their tongues about Derpy being early for once, she thought bitterly as she made her way to the bathroom.