An ebony hoof clad in silver steps lightly in the ash. A tiny sliver of frozen flame is shoved aside as the step continues. The scorched wasteland spreads out before her as Luna surveys the landscape. The shock and horror is clearly written upon her face as she tries to take in the destruction before her. She strains to bring her memories back into focus. This was the heart of the lab. That much she can remember. Everything was so different, and so long ago.
“Not that long, I guess,” she sighs as her gaze lands on a piece of lab equipment.
She had been part of the original team here, so long ago. She has to reach back for even the vaguest memories of this place. Thousands of years have passed to her since she last stood here trying to solve the world’s problems. It’s almost impossible grasp what she sees. The magical clock, accurate to the thousandth of a second, sits on the floor. The table it had been resting on long gone to ashes and dust. Only the powerful enchantments making it work have allowed it to survive. Luna can feel that magic now in a way she never could before. So much more power is hers to draw upon.
She casts the thought aside as she gives the clock a closer look. From the time it had been set to record at the beginning of the experiment only twenty seconds had passed. She knew that the first few of those had been used activating the matrix they had created. Then there was the time Celestia had used trying to stop the reaction. Memory coming back in dribbles saddened her once more.
“Poor Celestia,” she whispered into the silence. The weight of the world literally rested in her hooves.
Shaking off the thought she tried to judge her time. They had never stepped out of Equestria since those first horrible moments. She knew time moved differently here. Celestia was focusing nearly all of the massive power at her disposal at slowing the reaction. Using the spell they had created, she checked the differential against what she saw on the clock. Her shoulders slumped as the spell worked and she knew her guess was right.
They had arranged her banishment to give her time to see how far along the reaction was. Her next job was to find more ponies to bring into Equestria. It was sobering to think that everypony who was ever going to be born, live, and die was already on this earth. Celestia had somehow managed to craft a method to bring them into her creation automatically as Equestria’s natural processes needed. But they had to be prepared first. Luna thought of it as being put in queue. Since the queue was low she would have to refill it.
Her absence would be covered for a thousand years at home. She paused at the thought. Equestria really was home to her now, the dream more real than the nightmare. There she would be gone for a thousand years, here only a solitary second would pass.
Risking the use of some extra magic she leapt into flight. Soaring high she would be better able to see how far the damage had spread. She was appalled to see almost an entire province wreathed in flames. Doing the math in her head she hoped that they would have time to save everypony. It would be very close, that much she knew.
As she drifted back down her mind drifted back to the experiment. The world had grown, magic had advanced. The science it had fostered was a wonder. She couldn’t help but compare the marvels of this world to Equestria and smile. What would ponies there think of instant communications, supersonic aircraft and skyscrapers? But she preferred the simple world Celestia had created now. Especially having seen where science had taken this one. Energy used until there wasn’t enough for everypony. Some feasted while others starved. The world had become unbalanced.
They had sought to correct that. Every stone and pebble in the world was filled with enough power to run cities. If only they could find the key to unlocking it. The team had worked for years on Celestia’s theories. And she had been right, in a sense. The energy matrix they had created had indeed unlocked all of that power. It had even given them control over the energy it had unleashed, exactly as she had planned. What it hadn’t done, though, was stop the reaction at the energy within the matrix. As soon as the wave of power hit the containment it began to dissolve it as well.
Celestia had tried to stop it. They all had. Even pouring every ounce of energy it fed to them into the effort, they couldn’t stop the reaction. So Celestia had stopped time instead. Luna had been her link to the rest of the group so she had been brought into that frozen space with her. Together they tried to think of a solution and found none.
“What are we going to do? We can’t stop this!” Celestia had screamed, “We’ve killed everything. I’ve killed everything. Everypony.” She broke down crying and Luna knelt beside her.
“Nopony ever thought this could happen. Your theories were right!” Luna insisted. “You didn’t design the containment. Everypony was sure that it was more than enough to handle the reaction. We all did this, not you.” It was obvious her arguments were falling on deaf ears as Celestia sobbed.
“I broke the world,” Celestia whispered.
“We broke the world,” Luna corrected. “There has to be a way to set this right.”
Luna felt the world shift and everything went blurry for a heartbeat. She felt slightly motion sick and tried to figure out what had happened. She looked to Celestia to see if she had felt it too and was shocked at the grim look on her friend’s face.
“Celestia?” she asked nervously.
“I can’t hold it like this. It takes all of the energy I have to stop it,” she growled through gritted teeth, “Once it’s gone time starts the reaction again.
“What can I do?” Luna asked. Reaching out she tried to draw on her own power only to find that through the link Celestia wasn’t just using her own reserves to hold time in check, but Luna’s as well. She was powerless.
“I’m sorry,” Celestia answered, strain clear in her voice.
Suddenly an idea came to Luna. “Celestia, I have an idea. One of your papers talked about the possibility of pocket worlds. Like a virtual space to work in, remember,” without waiting for a response she barreled on, the idea building as she spoke. “We didn’t have enough power to do that before, but you do now. Make a pocket world and put the reaction in it! Once you cut the energy off it will go away.” Luna was glowing with hope, the possibility of stopping this seemed so close.
“It won’t work,” Celestia said coldly. “Magic is all interconnected. I didn’t see that before. Once I opened the connection I opened every connection. I can feel the bonds coming undone all over the planet.”
Luna slumped as the fire of her hope is extinguished. She stands there watching Celestia strain under the force of the magic she is wielding and wishes there was something she could do. Fear and sorrow numb her as possible solutions tear away like tissue paper as she examines them.
“It will work!” Celestia finally yelled triumphantly. “I can't make a new world for the reaction, but I can make one for us.”
“Create a whole new world? No, I just meant a small space to control the reaction,” Luna objected, “You can't do that!”
“Why not? Our only limit is power. I have all of the magic of an entire world at my disposal. All of the potential magic. We can do this. I promise.”
The certainty in her voice swayed Luna. She had been right about everything else after all. Nopony could have foreseen that the containment unit would be useless. That hubris had been their only misstep. However a tragic misstep it had been. Slowly she nodded in agreement as another heartbeat blurred for them both. She looked around the lab. Everything was frozen in place, only the red glow from the containment field to indicate anything was wrong. Only milliseconds had passed since they had activated the matrix. With a sigh she prepared herself to leave this world.
“What do I need to do?” she asked.
“Let me transfer some of this control to you,” Celestia replied. “I need you to hold time in check while I build the world.”
“But I thought it was taking everything we had to keep it stopped?” Luna protested.
“It is, but the force is exponential. If we let time creep on just a tiny amount it will free most of the energy.” All sorrow was gone from Celestia's voice. In its place was the energetic zeal Luna knew so well. She had a goal and knew how to obtain it. For now nothing else would matter to her. Luna envied her for that.
“Okay, I'm ready,” she said, stepping up to face Celestia.
She soon found that she was far from it. Energy poured into her. It was guided gently by Celestia. Luna could feel how she needed to push it back to maintain the hold on time Celestia had put in place. She braced herself against the searing torrent and forced her will upon it. Once she had the hold she needed Celestia transferred more and more power to her. Fire ran through her veins until she was sure her bones should be turning to ash. The pain and the ecstasy were overwhelming.
“I can't do it!” she shrieked in agony.
“Yes you can,” Celestia commanded, “Just a little more and you can hold the stasis.”
Tears burned at the edge of Luna's eyes as the torment continued to grow. Finally it leveled off and she was able to find a balance with the power she held. Her every hair hummed with the energy. Feeling through the link she shared with Celestia she was sobered to realize that what she held was a tiny fragment of the power in Celestia's grip. Eons seemed to pass for her as she strained to hold back the tides of time, but the clock before her never changed.
Finally she felt herself being pulled by the link. Letting herself go, she felt Celestia resume control of the spell. When her vision cleared Luna found herself in a lush meadow. A fairytale castle perched on a hilltop surrounded by forest.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“Welcome to Equestria,” Celestia beamed. “I know the castle isn't perfect, but it's a start. I already have ideas for a better one. Something with waterfalls, I think, but that can wait.”
Luna looked down at herself and was shocked at the image she found.
“Since when do we have wings?” she questioned her friend in disbelief, “Or crowns for that matter.”
“Don't tell me you never wanted to be a princess when you were little,” Celestia laughed, “If we are making a whole world, why not make it a fun one?”
Luna shook her head and smiled. She was glad to see Celestia so happy, and astounded at the world she had built. When she tried to guess at how long it had taken she couldn't, but that was a question for another time.
“We can't both be princesses you know,” Luna chided.
“Yes We can, Sister,” Celestia corrected, already using the royal We.
It was a bittersweet memory for Luna. One she had practically forgotten in the twelve millennia she had lived in Equestria. She had allowed herself to forget so many things in that time. Her name for one. It hadn't been Luna then, just as her sister hadn't been Celestia. But that's who she was now. What she had been before no longer mattered.
“That's enough of that,” she decided with a shake of her head that sent her mane flying. “Time to get to work.” With a strong beat of her wings she moved farther from the ruins of the lab in search of ponies to save.
Luna braced herself for the longest second of her life.