Beams of sunlight drifted through the library windows. The curtains remained half drawn, and dust hovered in the air, illuminated by the shafts of light. An alien stillness hung in the the main chamber. By now, the young occupants should have gotten started on the morning's chores, opening the Golden Oak library for the day's customers—few though they may be.
An impatient knock at the door shattered the peace. After it went unanswered, the visitor rapped again.
"Twilight?" a feminine yet raspy voice called from beyond the house. "Open up, I know the new Daring Do is out, and I'm not paying twenty nine ninety five for it!"
The knocking ceased as Rainbow Dash wandered around to the back of the house. "What is her deal lately?" she muttered to herself.
She's probably still in bed, she thought, though if she were, Spike would usually be awake to watch the library. Neither of them answering the door didn't add up. Rainbow hovered to Twilight's bedroom window, hoping to see a purple mane raggedly sticking out from her starry bedspread.
Rainbow gasped. Her bed was a mess; papers littered the floor and books were scattered on just about every surface in her room. Although robbery wasn't her first thought, it soon entered her mind as she took in the overall state of the normally tidy mare's room. A gentle push on the window pane revealed it to be unlocked. Rainbow hovered inside, softly setting hoof onto the hardwood floor, her wash blowing a few papers to the corners of the room. The first and most disturbing thing she noticed was that her bedroom was covered in a layer of fine dust.
"Twilight? You here?" she called, getting no response. Slowly, Rainbow crept out of Twilight's room and down the stairs. She noticed the door hadn't been broken or forced, and that downstairs was actually very tidy, with the exception of the dust layer coating nearly everything. Dishes sat still dirty in the sink, the soft buzzing of flies being the only soundtrack to Dash's wandering.
Maybe the Princess called her to Canterlot for something?
No sooner had the thought crossed her mind did she recognize the fault in that logic. Twilight would never leave her room that dirty, nor would she leave the library unattended. Rainbow turned back to the living room and noticed the door to the basement was ajar.
Swallowing, Dash tried to suppress all the notions horror movies had instilled in her about basements and what usually goes on in them. The old wooden staircase creaked with every step. Rainbow's foreleg fumbled for the light switch against the wall. Twilight's basement was one of the few places in Ponyville with an actual hookup for electricity. She knew Twilight had all kinds of scientific instruments down here, most of which she couldn't pronounce. Not that she cared. All the books in the world couldn't equate to the rush of a perfectly executed stunt or the bliss of a nap on the fluffiest of clouds. Finding the switch and breathing a sigh of relief, she flipped it only to find herself still staring into the blackness of the windowless room.
Cursing at herself for not bringing a candle with her, she tried to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. The basic outlines of some of Twilight's gadgets were visible, but not much else.
"Twilight?" Rainbow called softly. Still no reply. Rainbow had once been asked by Twilight to watch the library while she and Spike visited her parents in Manehatten. Dash contemplated refusing, but Twilight sweetened the deal by allowing her into the basement to play something she invented called a "video-game."
She called it "Pong". It was basically a dot that was bounced across the screen between two vertical lines. Applejack and Rainbow played it for hours the very first night. In case the power ever went out, Twilight had shown Rainbow where something called a "circuit breaker" was mounted on the wall.
Remembering this, she edged her way toward the center of the room, recalling where exactly it was located. Stepping lightly, she knocked against something in the middle of the floor, sending her tumbling over it and smacking her chin on the hard concrete. Cursing aloud, she rubbed her bruise and vowed to take her anger out on whatever Twilight had laid carelessly in the middle of the room.
Dash reached the other side, feeling against the wall with her hooves until she located the switches. Finding the one that was tripped, she flipped it back into its appropriate position. The lights flickered to life along with some of the machines in the room. Turning around to focus her anger on whatever had tripped her, her eyes widened.
Twilight lay sprawled on the floor, showing no sign of physical injury, but looking far more thin than any healthy pony should. Dash bolted to her side, turning her over onto her back, relieved to see her chest rising and falling.
"Twilight! Can you hear me?" she asked, failing to contain the panic in her voice. Rainbow cradled Twilight's head in her forelegs as it simply rolled on her neck. A few of her ribs were showing from her sides, but that was the least of Rainbow's concerns. Twilight's eyes were wide open, completely dilated, no whites whatsoever. Her jaw hung slack as she continued to breathe, seeming to simply exist and nothing more. Getting no response from Twilight, Rainbow scooped her up into her forelegs and flew out of the basement and towards the hospital.
"Howdy, Spike!" Applejack beamed from her cart. "Th' usual?"
"Yeah, if you've got it," he replied, unloading his heavy bags of groceries off his shoulders. Applejack's stand was the last stop on his grocery rounds.
"Ah ain't seen Twilight in a while," Applejack said, filling his burlap bag with the week's groceries. "She still holed up in th' library?"
Spike nodded "Yeah," he groaned, hefting his purchases back onto his shoulders. "You should stop by. I may not be able to get her outside, but I'm sure one of you guys could."
"Well, if Ah sell out early Ah might just take you up on that."
"Sounds good," he said, turning to leave before Applejack stopped him.
"Say Spike, what exactly is it she's doin' that's got her so preoccupied?"
He shrugged. "Beats me. She tried to explain it, but it was all over my head. Princess Celestia let her into the restricted section of the Canterlot library last week to pick one book for her birthday, and she's been reading it ever since. I figure I'll just let it run its course and she'll be over it soon."
Applejack smiled. "Well that sounds like Twilight all right. Have a good one, Spike!"
"You too, AJ!"
Spike managed to make it back to the library without his arms falling off. He set his heavy bags down on the kitchen table, already knowing where he would find Twilight. He entered the basement, the hum of the fluorescent lighting and the rustling of papers greeting his ears.
"You know, I'm beginning to regret giving you that letter from the princess about letting you into the restricted section."
"Don't be silly, Spike. Princess Celestia trusted me enough to take one book out of the greatest compilation of knowledge ponykind has ever seen! What was I supposed to do? Say 'no'?" she said, double checking her notes and constantly trotting back to an old book on the central table to compare. Her eyes sagged a bit and stray strands of mane stuck out form her normally well combed hairstyle.
Spike rolled his eyes and hopped up onto a table. "So what is this thing you're building again?"
"It's going to let me know the contents of every book in the restricted section. I wrote down the authors and titles of every book in that section while I was allowed to browse it."
"What? How does this thing let you read books you don't have?"
"It's not going to let me read books, Spike. It's going to let me talk to the authors! What better way to understand a piece of text than to hear about it from the pony who wrote it?" she explained, connecting wires to other wires and checking various instruments around the lab. "It's almost ready to test! Isn't this exciting, Spike?" she asked.
Her expression dropped at her assistant's unenthusiastic response.
"If you say so." Spike shrugged. "So how can you talk to ponies that have been dead for thousands of years with this?"
"Are you sure you want me to explain this again?" she deadpanned, looking up from her notes. "Last time you said it gave you a headache."
She bounced from monitor to monitor with Pinkie Pie levels of energy as Spike nodded. "I'm sure, just try and keep the words to three syllables, okay?" Twilight pulled herself from her equipment and sat in front of Spike.
"Okay." She took a deep breath, and began. "It has long been theorized that time moves in a circle, an ever-expanding spiral marching endlessly and unceasingly toward the future. According to the laws of relativity, backwards time travel is impossible except for short, spell-based bursts. However, if I've translated this correctly, this book has a way of skirting those rules." Holding up the ancient tome, she showed Spike the appropriate page, thought it was all nonsense to him. "The author theorized that one can open a gateway into the past by harnessing and controlling the three forces that govern our universe: magic, gravity, and magnetism. The machine described within erects—" Twilight glared at Spike as he held back giggles.
"Try to be mature about this, Spike. Anyway, this device builds a tunnel into the fabric of time itself, to a moment in time dictated by the amount of power used. Going back five minutes wouldn't take as much energy as going back, say, five hundred years. According to all modern science, something like this shouldn't be possible."
Spike nodded slowly. "So, do you think it is possible?"
"Not at all." She smiled, shaking her head.
Spike raised an eyebrow, "Then why did you go through all this trouble to build it?"
"Because, this book was hidden from everypony for a reason, right?" A smile began to tug at Twilight's lips.
"I guess..." He shrugged, idly kicking his legs in in thought.
"So that means that it contains knowledge not everypony should know, right?" Twilight led, inching closer to her assistant.
"Sure... so you actually believe this dusty book full of gibberish is telling the truth?"
"Don't be silly, Spike. I don't believe this even has a chance of working," she scoffed, waving a hoof.
Spike worked his jaw, Twilight's logic confusing him far more than the explanation of the function of the rather large device she had built.
"So then why try it?"
"Because Spike," she whispered, her smile now out in force. "What if it does?"
Applejack burst through the door of the waiting room to find Rainbow Dash pacing a hole in the carpet. Her entrance brought Rainbow to a halt as the two embraced each other.
"Ah came as soon as Ah heard. Rarity and the others'll be here in a minute," Applejack whispered.
As they broke the hug, Dash cast a longing look past the emergency room doors. The narrow windows didn't afford much of a view into where a team of nurses had taken their friend.
Applejack and Rainbow took a seat in the empty lobby. "How's she doin?"
"They said she was dehydrated, malnourished, and had some... coronal damage? Something was wrong with her eyes," Dash sighed. "Other than that, she looked fine. They can't find anything wrong with her."
Applejack nodded, scanning around the lobby for a baby dragon she was sure would have been out here crying his eyes out. "Where's Spike?"
Rainbow lifted her head, as if she hadn't had the thought until now. "Uh... I didn't see him in the library when I found Twilight."
They paused, staring at each other blankly.
"Where do you think he went?" Applejack asked.
Rainbow shrugged. "I don't know, but he's been gone for at least as long as Twilight's been down there."
Applejack worked her jaw before speaking. "You don't think... Spike—"
"No way! Spike would never hurt Twilight!" Rainbow replied firmly. Applejack recoiled and sat back in her chair.
"Well, we'll know where he went when Twilight gets better," she said softly.
Nurse Redheart peeked her head through the door. "She's stabilized, you can see her now." They decided not to wait on the others.
Rainbow and Applejack hopped out of their seats and followed her down the white, eerily sterile hallways. Room after room of resting or sick ponies flew by them as they trotted to Twilight's door.
After a bit of a walk, they arrived. The nameplate outside the room was temporary, written in marker. Rainbow and Applejack hoped their friend's visit would be just as temporary.
Nurse Redheart opened the door. Applejack and Dash walked quietly to Twilight's bedside.
"She's just sleeping, but she hasn't been very responsive," Nurse Redheart said softly, checking the chart at the foot of her bed. "Maybe you two will have better luck than we did."
They thanked her as she left the room. Once Twilight had been cleaned, she didn't look too bad. She was still a bit thin, and the eye bandages seemed to exaggerate the seriousness of her injury. Other than the wads of cotton covering her eyes, the green hospital gown and tray of cold food next to her bed, Twilight looked comfortable.
The peaceful scene was made all the more disturbing by the notion of the finest medical team Ponyville had to offer hadn't a clue as to how Twilight had ended up like this.
Applejack seemed too petrified to move. She had never liked hospitals, and seeing ponies in traction wasn't something she was particularly fond of. Usually, she'd swallow her fear and put on a brave face, like when Rainbow had injured her wing. Though on that occasion, Rainbow was up, talking, acting like her normal self. Twilight was immobile, bandaged, and silent as the library in which she lived. Something unnerving about the whole scene kept Applejack near the doorway while Rainbow stepped forward.
"Twilight?" she asked softly, "Can you hear me?"
She waited for some kind of response, but none came. The rise and fall of her chest were the only sign she was even alive in the first place. Rainbow placed her hoof on Twilight's, the warmth assuring her that she was still alive in there somewhere.
Gathering her courage, Applejack made it beside Rainbow, scanning everything from the lumps in the blanket to the bandages around Twilight's head.
"They said she was conscious, but she just won't talk," Applejack reminded.
Dash nodded. "I know. How do you think she—"
The door to Twilight's room burst open, revealing Fluttershy in near hysterics, being held by Rarity, who wasn't doing much better. Pinkie was the only one who seemed normal, and that was saying something. Her ever-present smile had become a stoic purse of her lips.
"Oh, Twilight!" Fluttershy cried, hurrying to her bedside. "What happened to you?" she asked, only to receive the same gentle breathing Rainbow had gotten in reply.
"We don't know," Rainbow answered as Rarity and Pinkie followed Fluttershy to the bed.
"Well what did the doctors say?" Rarity asked after gently stroking Twilight's mane.
Rainbow shrugged. "They said she's fine. She should be up and talking to us, but she just won't." There was a hint of anger in her voice. She had expected the doctors to have the answers, but they didn't, and she didn't like being kept in the dark.
"Twilight, darling, you must tell us what happened," Rarity whispered, resuming her petting of Twilight's mane.
Still no response.
"What in Equestria could have done this?" Pinkie asked, an unusually serious tone in her voice.
They tried to think back to the last time any of them had seen Twilight. Applejack recalled her encounter with Spike at the apple stand two weeks prior.
"I remember Spike comin' by the stand a few weeks ago and tellin' me about a new book or somethin' Twilight got ahold of."
Rarity lit up as she too remembered Spike saying something about Twilight obsessing over a book. "I seem to recall him saying something similar when he was helping me at the boutique..." she said, putting a hoof to her chin before realizing a certain young dragon was missing from this picture.
"Wait, where is Spike?" she asked.
Applejack and Rainbow Dash exchanged glances, holding onto their silence a bit too long.
"Girls. Where is Spike?" Rarity asked, a bit more forcefully.
"Ah, well... we don't rightly know," Applejack explained weakly.
"You what?!" Rarity gasped.
"He wasn't in the library when I found Twilight, and I wasn't about to look for him and just leave Twi there!" Rainbow shot back.
"Well then, I suppose we can go back to the library and have a look around," Rarity said, determination flashing in her eyes.
"Sounds like a plan. Ah think if we bring some of Twilight's favorite things, it might snap her outta this funk."
They nodded in agreement. Fluttershy was still by Twilight's bedside as she continued to try and comfort her friend.
"Twilight," she whispered, "did something bad happen to you at your house?"
While the others were discussing the plan of action, Fluttershy gasped, feeling a response to her question in the form of Twilight pressing on her hoof. Slowly, her head began to turn in Fluttershy's direction. Though her eyes were bandaged, she could feel them staring at her from beyond the white cotton pads. Twilight's lips began to curl into a toothy smile. Fluttershy was too terrified to say anything except a barely audible gasp. As if in answer to her question, Twilight nodded once, keeping the horrifying smile glued to her face.
Fluttershy tried to scream, but found no air in her lungs. She withdrew just as Twilight began to convulse. The shaking from the bed drew the other's attention as the machines monitoring her began to sound their alarms. The medical team burst through the door and began trying to stabilize the seizing pony before them. Her friends looked on in horror as the nurses and doctor worked frantically. After a few moments of stunned silence, Twilight stopped twitching and laid silently, as she had been before.
Nurse Redheart approached the five ponies, telling them Twilight needed her rest, and that they were more than welcome to come back tomorrow. They all nodded, except for Fluttershy, who was still in tears.
Outside the hospital, they all seemed in agreement with the exception of Fluttershy. The other girls were used to her taking a bit longer than most to stem the flow of tears.
"Alright then, Rarity, Applejack, and I will head down to Twilight's and see if we can figure out where Spike went. Pinkie, you in?"
Pinkie pouted slightly. "I wish I could go Spike-hunting with you girls, but I have to watch the twins tonight."
Rainbow sighed, but nodded all the same. "Okay, Fluttershy?" she asked, glancing toward her.
"Girls... I don't think going to Twilight's is a good idea," she muttered in between her gasps.
Rainbow stepped toward her, draping a comforting wing over her withers. "Fluttershy, whatever did that to Twilight isn't there anymore, I promise. If it is, I'll kick its flank!" she said confidently.
"No, it's not that..." She paused to compose herself. "When I was beside Twilight, before she started shaking, I asked her if something happened to her in the library." Fluttershy looked out from behind her curtain of pink hair to find all eyes on her. "She looked at me with this horrible smile, and nodded!" She exhaled, as if the very words terrified her.
"So Twilight wouldn't respond to any of us, but she responded to you?" Applejack asked skeptically.
Fluttershy didn't respond. She only continued crying at the thought of Twilight's reaction as it played in her head over and over.
"Please girls... if you're going in the library, be careful," she begged.
"Don't you worry about us sugarcube. You just get some rest and dry out those eyes," Applejack insisted.
"Actually," Rarity interjected, "Princess Celestia will no doubt want to hear of this, and with Spike missing we'll have to send her a letter the conventional way. Fluttershy, would you be so kind as to write the princess on our behalf?"
Rainbow stepped back toward the group as Fluttershy nodded.
"Good thinkin' Rarity! Ah'll bet the Princess'll be able to fix Twilight in no time!" Applejack added proudly.
After Fluttershy and Pinkie went about their ways, the remaining Elements began the trek to the town library.
A silent walk was shattered by the question on everypony's mind.
"You think Fluttershy was tellin' the truth?" Applejack asked.
"'Bout what? Twilight?" Rainbow asked, raising an eyebrow. "Yeah. You think she was lying?"
"No," Applejack said quickly, "but why would Twilight not respond to any of us?"
"Who knows," Rarity chimed in. "You know how sensitive Fluttershy can be, maybe she simply mistook her oncoming tremors for a response."
"I dunno. She's not a pony doctor, but she is an animal doctor," Dash reasoned. "I think she knew what she saw."
The library came up beyond the road ahead, all of the ponies acutely aware that something terrible had happened within its hollowed trunk.
They stood before the front door, none wanting to be the first to venture inside. The house looked a lot more imposing for some reason. The usual ability to barge right in and see what their pal Twilight and Spike were up to had vanished as mysteriously as Twilight's attacker.
"Well, let's get in there..." Rainbow said weakly, though neither she, nor anypony else budged.
After a few more seconds of inaction, Applejack had had enough.
"Ah can't believe y'all! Scared of a darn house. Let's go!" she commanded, gathering her courage and pushing the unlocked door open, revealing the same neat and tidy (if not a bit dusty) interior Rainbow had flown out of only hours before.
Cautiously, they stepped inside, careful to leave the door open. The windows allowed light to naturally illuminate the main room, while the stench of the dishes in the sink had grown considerably.
Rainbow took a few more steps as they fanned out into the house, coming near the open door to the basement. The florescent lights still shone from beyond the stairwell, though something about that room unnerved her. Rainbow nearly jumped out of her skin when Applejack's voice pierced the tense air.
"We might as well start lookin'." Rainbow turned from the beckoning door to face Applejack. "Rainbow, why don't you keep on lookin' in the basement—"
"Actually, I think I'm gonna grab Twilight's personal stuff instead," she interrupted nervously, flying into Twilight's bedroom loft before Applejack had time to question her flighty behavior.
"Alright then," she sighed. "Ah'm gonna check outside for a place where somepony might've broken in. Ah don't suppose you'd mind checkin' the basement?" she asked skeptically.
Rarity inhaled. "If Spike was willing to brave a filthy mud hole to rescue me from those dreadful Diamond Dogs, then I can brave a musty old basement for him," she said confidently, much to Applejack's surprise.
"That's the spirit! Holler if you find anything."
Applejack trotted outside as Rarity turned toward the open basement door. With a deep breath, she opened the door fully as the hinges squealed in protest. The stairs were old, and didn't seem very stable, but their creaking belied their sturdiness.
Okay, just looking for any sign of Spike. The only thing to fear down here is what this awful humidity will do to my mane.
Rarity neared the bottom of the steps, taking in all of Twilight's wondrous equipment. Some emitted flashes of light, others a steady but soft tone, and still others seemed to be a combination of both.
For a moment, Rarity marveled at the futuristic and high-tech looking gadgets and gizmos before her. One object in particular stuck out. In the corner of the room, was a large ball on a pedestal, twice the height of a pony, surrounded by three rings, each ring spinning counter to the one before it. Its gentle motion—the constant slow revolutions of the rings around the ball of what looked like stone—drew Rarity closer, casting a sense of ease over her.
The outer most orbital ring had what appeared to be spines protruding from it, and on the face of every ring were ancient looking runes.
Where in Equestria could Twilight have gotten this? she wondered.
Every revolution, the rings would line up around the stone center, but only for a moment. As aesthetically pleasing as the strange device was, Rarity knew she'd been wasting time admiring Twilight's lab. Breaking her gaze, she cast it instead on the hard stone ground before it.
Her eyes widened as she realized two identical sets of claw marks seemed to lead right to the machine before her. Claw marks fitting the exact size of a certain baby dragon! Rarity gasped, scurrying backwards, her flank hitting a table. The impact startled her and sent the jar of ink shattering on the ground, the black ooze pooling in the center of the room.
That voice. It sent chills down her spine as she looked all around for the source.
"Spike!" she shouted desperately. "Spike where are you?"
Frantically, she searched the room before the voice spoke again.
"Rarity! Please help me!"
She was on the verge of tears, hearing the fear and pain in Spike's voice but not being able to help him tore at her very soul.
"I will Spike, just tell me where you are!" she pled, the voice growing more desperate and afraid.
She glanced down at the ink puddle, and gasped in horror. It had coalesced into Spike!
"They're hurting me!" he cried, the anguish on his face shattering the composure the normally ladylike mare was famous for. "Make them stop Rarity, please!"
"Spike!" she shouted, standing over the puddle, mere inches away from it. "You must tell me how to help you!" she begged, the pain he seemed to be in driving her to scream at the ink puddle.
"Rarity! What in tarnation is all the screamin' for?"
Applejack's voice snapped Rarity out of her fixation on the puddle. She looked up at the two ponies standing at the top of the steps, mascara running down her face as her tears continued to flow. "It's Spike! He's right here, we must do something to help him!" she sobbed, looking back down at the ink puddle, only to find her reflection staring back at her. No Spike, no unseen torturers, simply a puddle of spilled ink.
"Rarity, are you feeling okay?" Rainbow asked, fluttering down the steps and landing nearby.
"I... I'm..." She paused as she tried to gather herself. What in Celestia's name had just happened? She could have sworn Spike was right in front of her. She could still hear his voice in her ears! "I'm fine, I just... never mind," she said, waving a hoof dismissively.
"You sure? I mean, you were screaming pretty loud into that ink puddle," Rainbow teased.
"Yes, I'm sure," Rarity growled, "And, I think I've found a trace of Spike."
All ears perked up as she showed them the claw marks in front of the mysterious machine.
"Well, they look to be the right size, but what does this prove?" Applejack asked, examining the marks for herself.
"It proves that Spike must have been pretty scared or angry to claw through stone," Rarity explained.
"Okay, so he was here, but we knew that already," Rainbow replied.
Rarity glanced back at the spinning circles, the calm feeling overtaking her once again. "I think it has something to do with whatever this thing is."
The other girls faced it, feeling the same pleasant feeling one would get while watching a placid pond or a babbling brook.
"So, what? This thing's just a big ball with rings spinning around it," Rainbow reasoned. "How could this have made Spike disappear?"
Rarity snapped out of her gaze. "I don't know, it was just a guess."
"Well, Ah didn't find anything outside. I'd just as soon wait 'til the princess gets involved," Applejack said, turning back toward the stairs. "She'll probably solve this mystery in no time."
"That's probably for the best," Rarity concluded, following Applejack up the stairs.
"Rainbow, you coming or what?" Applejack called from the top of the steps. "Ah'm sure Twilight would like the stuff you got out of her room."
Rainbow broke her stare at the machine and nodded.
"Yeah," she replied, following her friends out of the basement and back into the living room.
Rarity couldn't help but recall what she'd seen in the basement. Thoughts began racing through her mind. Had she actually seen anything at all? Was Spike really calling to her from somewhere through a spilled bottle of ink? The idea seemed preposterous, and yet what she'd seen was so real, so vivid.
She could still hear his voice in her head: his screams, his pleas for help. She chose not to burden her friends with her revelations. Perhaps she cared more for Spike than she had ever let on.
It's okay Rarity. Spike being gone is simply getting to you, she thought as the three of them left Twilight's house.
Rainbow departed to the hospital, and Applejack headed back to her farm. As Rarity trotted back to Carousel Boutique, one thought weighed heavily on her mind: How would she explain Spike's absence to her sister?