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Twilight Sparkle would never know what forces led her to obtain the book.
She and her friends had traveled to Canterlot on official business—some bureaucrat had proposed a holiday recognizing the Elements of Harmony, and Princess Celestia had invited them to speak their minds on how they felt about such recognition—but the wheels of government could turn strangely slowly for what was technically a diarchy, and they'd found themselves with an excess of time to kill. Under normal circumstances, Twilight would have happily spent the entirety of her free time either immersed in the texts of the royal library or socializing with her friends, but both had been denied to her this afternoon: the library was closed—an infestation of bookworms had been discovered, and they were fumigating—and her friends had each left on their own jaunts about the city without thinking to tell her where they were going.
So she wandered the streets of Canterlot, hoping she might spot a familiar face, either one of her new friends or one of her old... she hesitated even to call them acquaintances. Certainly she knew them, but the old, bookish Twilight Sparkle had found friendship a distraction from the pursuit of knowledge, and she had spent as little time around those circumstance pressed into her company as possible. She wasn't even certain what she would do or say if she did meet one of them. Perhaps an apology. It was too late, she felt, to reach out in friendship; trips to Canterlot were too rare an occurrence.
The estate sale caught her eye, and she wandered closer to the crowd surrounding a table set up in front of one of Canterlot's older houses, a once-fine manor that had slumped with neglect and decay. An auctioneer was selling off the former possessions of the former owner one by one to any passers-by. It struck Twilight as an dismal proceeding; the owner must have died without heir or family, his property falling into the care of the state, which now sought to convert it into whatever sum of bits it could obtain. The history of his line would be lost, cut into dozens of conversation pieces scattered about Canterlot.
She hadn't intended to linger, the whole affair reinforcing a melancholy mood, but at that moment the auctioneer had called out the next lot: a collection of references from the owner's library. The ancient, musty tomes drew little interest from the crowd, and bidding was hesitant at best. Twilight felt a certain sympathy for the books, unloved simply because they had fallen out of date, and after a moment called out a bid herself; she was caught off-guard, however, when no further bids followed, and on the spot she found herself the owner of a large box of old, dusty, and most importantly heavy books.
Carrying them back to the palace had been a struggle, but thankfully her status there had led a guard to volunteer to return the books to her suite for her. Her friends had returned from their errands around the city by then, and she had to endure mocking over her acquisition, but it was good-natured for the most part, and at any rate brief, for they soon had to depart for yet another session in the congress hall, waiting to see if they would at last be permitted to speak. Thankfully, they were, and after voicing their opinions—largely that they felt such a holiday would be ostentatious and that the spirit of harmony would be better served by honoring its elements in day-to-day life—they were permitted to depart for Ponyville, souvenirs of the trip in tow.
Twilight had lost little time bringing the books into her basement; their condition required them to be properly cleaned and treated before introducing them to the library proper, assuming that there was merit in doing so. Their age was considerable, and she suspected their value as references was negligible, but all the same they might provide a window into the past that would give her some evenings' worth of entertainment.
As she removed the books from their container, however, she noticed one she had previously overlooked, pressed between a volume of appendices and the side of the box. It was smaller than the others, bound in a simple black cover, and lacked a title or any other adornment. Gingerly easing the book open, she discovered a flyleaf on which, in neat and steady strokes, the prior owner had written:
ONCE WARDER IN CELESTIA'S SERVICE
She flipped carefully through the pages, realizing quickly that it was a diary—and not just any diary! Partway through the book she recognized a diagram, one commonly used by instructors at the School for Gifted Unicorns to aid students in forming the proper mindset to cast a spell. The particular markings on the diagram, however, were not ones she recognized; the general layout appeared to be a spell of knowledge, or perhaps of warding, but the actual function of the spell eluded her. The diary must have belonged to a unicorn, one who had possessed knowledge beyond her own!
Resisting the urge to salivate, she turned the pages more swiftly, seeing more illustrations scattered through the text, scraps of knowledge and theory being considered, fit together, sometimes rejected. It reminded her of her own diary when she was doing research, her thoughts unwilling to be confined to her official research journal and spilling out whenever she might write.
There was something else, though, something that struck her as odd. As she drew closer and closer to the end of the book, the author's writing lost more and more of its neat, formal style, became ragged and unsteady. There were blotches here and there of spilled ink, words angrily scratched out, even a page that had been torn from the diary altogether. Finally, no more than two thirds of the way through the text, another magical diagram appeared, one so sloppily drawn that she could barely make it out—and the rest of the tome was blank.
Twilight closed the book slowly, considering what she'd seen. What had happened to Wild Clover while he was writing his diary? Had something gone wrong in his life, some building stress that had led to this degeneration, bit by bit? What had driven him so intensely to the creation of the second spell, and what was it intended to do? And why had that been the final entry?
There was only one way to know, she ultimately decided. She would have to read the diary and see.
July 23rd, 982.
Today marks my first day of civilian life since I first entered Celestia's service. I admit to some trepidation about the prospect. I have spent many years among the elite, studying ancient and mysterious texts, developing new methods of warding Equestria against the terrors that lurk outside its borders, traveling to distant lands to renew boundary stones and recover forgotten lore. Yet it seems my greatest challenge may be living as an ordinary unicorn within the safety and security of Canterlot's walls.
My pension has secured me a modest manor house in the outskirts of the residential district, minimally furnished yet sufficient to house the numerous manuscripts I have collected over the years. I shall be moving my possessions into it over the course of the day.
To commemorate the occasion, I have purchased a new journal, in which this is the first entry. I am uncertain what I shall write in it, as I no longer have the minutiae of life as a royal warder to record, no glyphs to collect, no hypotheses to form. I shall record what events occur in daily life as I make the transition to civilian, hopefully successfully. Hopefully they will prove sufficient.
The guards have arrived to assist me with my possessions. Until later, good journal!
Twilight wondered what had happened to Wild Clover's other journals. Would she be able to track down their new owner if she asked around Canterlot?
July 23rd, evening.
A curious happening today. On arriving in the neighborhood of my new housing, I encountered a pony of cerulean fur and goldenrod mane. Her cutie mark resembled a cylindrical package being snapped in half, with sparks and glitter shooting from the break.
Ordinarily, I would have taken as little note of her as I did of any other pony on the street, but she happened to be standing in the most convenient avenue for me to approach my new dwelling, and I thought it impolite to brush past her without a word. I offered her greeting, but something in my manner or tone appeared to offend her, for she let out a great exhalation of fright, then ran into the crowd with startling alacrity. I was altogether uncertain what to make of the proceedings.
As it turned out, there was some minor difficulty in securing the keys to my new lodging, so I elected to wander into the marketplace and have a late lunch while the movers sorted matters out and put my belongings inside. Thus fortified, I elected to further delay my return to my new home by meandering about the shops, attempting to learn where best to purchase additional furnishings, as well as the sundries of daily life. Eventually, however, I tired of these pursuits and returned to my dwelling place, where I found the keys tucked under the mat.
The security, or lack thereof, of such an arrangement was made immediately evident on my entrance to the building—for with a great shout, a multitude of ponies waiting in the foyer of my house made themselves apparent. I admit, I was greatly taken aback, wondering for a moment if I had somehow inadvertently entered the wrong building. The true nature of their presence swiftly became clear, however; it seems the pony I had encountered earlier in the day lives in the neighborhood and had taken it upon herself to throw me a housewarming party, inviting all of my new neighbors to attend.
I was wearier than I thought from the day's labors, and the fright I had received on entering my house, a place I had thought would be a refuge of solitude, had left me feeling most ill-tempered, but the pony seemed immune to my choleric mood, pressing food and drink upon me and introducing me to my neighbors at such a rapid pace that I was unable to successfully retain a single name, other than her own: Party Popper. Faced with such a display of blithe ignorance and unwilling to resort to the level of hostility necessary to clear the attendants out without her assistance, I chose the coward's path and retreated to my bedroom, which thankfully was not occupied. It was my hope that, in the absence of the guest of honor, the party would quickly dissipate, but it seemed to linger for an unconscionable length of time before the house grew still.
I have now completed a survey of the house, satisfying myself that no trace of the ringleader or her cohorts remains. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my intruder is at least a courteous host, as I found almost no evidence of the expected detritus from such an entertainment, and my possessions are unmolested to the best of my knowledge. Still, it is an experience I hope not to repeat.
Tomorrow will hopefully be less eventful, good journal.
Twilight smiled wryly, remembering an oddly similar encounter in her own past. She wondered if Pinkie Pie had any cousins in Canterlot. However, unlike her and Pinkie, it seemed Wild Clover and Party Popper hadn't become friends; indeed, he made no mention of her in the next several diary entries, which covered the rather mundane details of settling into retirement, getting his house organized, and considering hobbies to occupy his now-plentiful spare time.
Another entry caught her eye.
August 18th, 982.
I saw Party Popper again in the marketplace today. I am still uncertain what to make of our previous encounter; those of my neighbors I have spoken to all know her, but none of them were able to supply any details one might expect a neighbor to know, such as a place of residence or a typical routine. Perhaps she is a vagabond.
Yet I would not expect someone in that state to have made such a persistent impression on my neighborhood. All those I have spoken to agree that, although the intensity of her personality can on occasion be uncomfortable, she is possessed of near-inexhaustible exuberance, enough to melt even the sternest of hearts. It makes me wonder why I had not seen her between my arrival in the neighborhood and today.
But I digress. I first saw her at some distance, a flash of color that caught my attention. She was partially crouched behind some barrels, and although it was difficult to be certain at such a remove, she appeared to be observing another pony, green with a violet mane; I was unable to observe her cutie mark, as she was wearing saddlebags. Perhaps the other pony had reason to suspect she was being observed, for she turned almost immediately to look behind her; Party Popper ducked behind the barrels just in time, however, and eluded observation.
I observed the barrels, curious if Party Popper were perhaps attempting to play some jest on the other pony. It would be difficult for her to move from her position without exposing herself at some point, and I wondered if she would wait for her target to be obscured by the other ponies in the plaza, or perhaps for some diversion or distraction to take the green pony's attention.
Then I noticed color out of the corner of my eye and turned to look. Party Popper was looking up from behind a potted plant... at least ten yards away from her former hiding spot.
The method of her transit from one hiding place to another completely eluded me. The plaza, as I said, was occupied by other ponies, but for her to maneuver in such a way as to be constantly hidden from my sight by them would have taken both consummate skill and a fair portion of luck. Furthermore, such a course would have provided her no protection from her target's gaze, which seemed still to be her primary concern. Not only that, but she had significantly closed the distance between her and the other pony, a feat which would have required speed incompatible with stealth; her target had traveled no slower than a walk throughout the time I spent observing the barrels, and in more or less a straight line.
The pursued again looked behind her, again foiled by a swift retreat by Party Popper, then looked in my direction, causing me to hastily avert my gaze. Fortunately, she seemed not to notice my attention, for she then continued on her way, and I was able to observe her approaching a local fruit merchant's stand. I was briefly distracted by the oranges on display, imported from southern lands, and considered making a purchase myself.
Then Party Popper appeared again... from inside the fruit stand.
I cannot fathom how she was able to perform such a feat. The construction of the cart itself should not have permitted her to position her body in such a fashion, unless it were equipped (for some reason) with not one but two secret access panels. Furthermore, it would seem improbable for her to make her way to, then into the cart without having attracted my notice, and impossible to do so without being spotted by either the green pony or the fruit vendor, yet they both seemed as startled as I by the occurrence.
The two exchanged some short conversation that I was not privy to, and then Party Popper withdrew into the fruit stand. I noted that the green pony reached briefly for one of the oranges, as if to determine the means of Party Popper's appearance, then lowered her hoof again, shook her head, and walked away. I suspect she was uncertain she wanted the obvious question answered.
Where her heart may have faltered, however, mine still pounds in my chest. Such feats should not be possible for an earth pony to perform. Indeed, I am uncertain that I would be able to perform them without the collaboration of the fruit vendor, whom I observed for some time after in case Party Popper should return to congratulate him on the jest, but without yielding, er, fruit. (I do apologize.) Is it possible that she has an accomplice of some sort in her japery? If so, why was I unable to observe the accomplice, or even the slightest hint of magic being invoked?
I must divine a course of action that will enable me to learn how this trick was performed. I shall count on you to keep my thoughts ordered, dear journal.
Twilight couldn't help but recall her own encounter with only one of Pinkie Pie's unknown quantities, her so-called 'Pinkie Sense'. The experience had been traumatic, and not just in the emotional sense; it was as if the universe had conspired to physically punish her for investigating that mystery too deeply. At the time, she had believed she'd come to accept that there were some things science couldn't explain... but thinking back on it, she began to wonder if she had simply given up under the strain, convinced on some level that the price for knowledge was too high.
Wild Clover's words woke that thirst for knowledge in her mind again. She turned the pages eagerly, wondering what, if anything, he had learned.
September 7, 982.
Another day, another frustrating failure.
Party Popper continues to profess no knowledge of any sort of unusual behavior or abilities on her part, despite continuing to exhibit these strange behaviors and abilities. While her cooperation with my studies seemed at first easy to achieve, it has become apparent to me that she is performing some sort of mockery at my expense, waiting until the very moment it is impossible for me to observe her translocation, then performing it in such a way as to maximize my discomfort and shock, only to deny having done anything out of the ordinary. I do not care how guilelessly she acts, it is not possible for her to have simply walked from my study to the inside of my refrigerator without me having observed her passage in any way whatsoever!
Her abilities are producing further difficulties in my studies. She can seemingly appear at any time, in any place, so long as no eyes are actively upon her hiding place. Twice now I have found her reading over my shoulder as I attempted to research possible methods of earth ponies commanding the flow of magic, and my time writing here has been divided most unpleasantly by the need to look repeatedly over my shoulders for just such an intrusion. Even if I develop some counter to whatever technique she is using to confound my senses, it will be useless if she learns of it and deploys a counter of her own.
Theoretically, it should be possible to prepare a spell that has no countermeasure. If no spell to allow one pony to observe another is without flaw, that posits the existence of a spell to deny observation without flaw. Either would serve my purposes; either she would no longer be able to prevent me from observing her relocation, or she would be unable to prevent me from following her until such time as she relocated, my inability to perceive the relocation proof that it had nonetheless occurred.
I shall begin the necessary research immediately. In this, dear journal, you will assist me.
That was the first spell, Twilight realized. She skimmed through the following entries, feeling as if she were looking over Wild Clover's shoulders as he tested one school of magic against another, divination against obfuscation, striving to see which would come out on top. His intellect was obvious, his devotion to the task admirable. He wasn't the raw prodigy she was, but she suspected in a contest of knowledge, she would have come out second best.
At last, she reached the entry whose facing page contained the diagram.
November 19, 982.
It is completed.
The spell I have constructed will make me aware without fail of the presence and location of any intelligence which is observing or attempting to observe me. It draws from both disciplines, acting as both unstoppable object and immovable force; its only counter is the use of the very same spell, which will make both casters aware of each other's attention.
I shall place Party Popper in a situation in which she wishes to relocate without drawing my attention; necessarily she must determine my own position and focus in order to do so, at which point my spell will allow me to track her as she relocates. Even should she have possession of this spell and the ability to cast it, I will know the instant she does. Either way, I will at last have tangible proof that she is not merely performing some trick of misdirection to divert my attention, and with that proof I will confront her once and for all.
I will learn her secret, dear journal.
Twlight looked at the diagram for some time, considering casting the spell... but in the end decided against it. There was still the rest of the journal to read, after all, and the decline in his writing in its remainder had her concerned. Had he somehow performed the spell incorrectly?
November 20, 982.
I fear I have made a miscalculation.
Last night, I performed the spell without mishap, satisfying myself that there was no attention being cast at that time on my person. Electing to sustain the spell—for by its nature it must be active constantly to be of any use—I went to bed.
My sleep, however, was uneasy. Just as I had begun to drift off, I was startled awake by an awareness that someone was observing me. The sensation was most peculiar, however, for the component of the spell that should have informed me of the location of the attention was giving me impossible results. I am uncertain how even to describe what I sensed, save that it came from quite near me, yet I could draw no closer to it no matter how I moved about in the room.
At last, I dismissed the spell that I might rest, yet a lingering sensation remained. My imagination, perhaps. I suspected the spell was flawed, yet some primitive portion of my mind refused to accept the verdict so easily. The night passed slowly.
I spent the morning attempting to determine where I might have gone wrong, without success. Eventually, I decided that I would need more data to determine the location of the flaw, so re-cast the spell—thankfully without the sensation of observation immediately returning—and set about to walk among the shops of Canterlot, to see if the spell even had its intended function.
In that regard, it was a success. I was immediately able to discern the eyes of fellow citizens around me, as if a globe were hanging in my thoughts, filled with shapes of perception, cones of sight and blobs of sound. I was even able to distinguish between those who were merely perceiving me and those who had taken some active interest in me, perhaps to avoid walking into me. It was a curious perception, like suddenly being able to perceive the flow of blood in your own body, yet the spell granted me not only the perception but mastery thereof.
Unfortunately, when I reached the marketplace, the phantom perception returned. I was no more able to track it than I had the night before, and I began to wonder if the spell had the unfortunate side effect of generating paranoia in its subject—unfortunate, indeed, given the spell's intended function of removing the reason for such an affliction! An alternative theory presented itself as well, that Party Popper might indeed have learned of my spell, or independently derived it, and found some way to mitigate its effects that I had overlooked, so that I would be able to tell she was watching me but unable to say for certain from where. Such a precaution would render it useless for my purposes.
I saw her then, standing next to a vendor of miscellany of the sort used for an evening's entertainment. I have previously seen her making purchases there, and if not for the sensations I was experiencing, I would have thought little of it. Nonetheless, I determined to make some test of my hypotheses, so I called out to her to draw her attention.
Immediately, the spell notified me of that attention, first by sound, then by sight as she turned to look at me. Something in my demeanor must have alarmed her, for she leapt behind the stand, blocking my vision, but not my perception of her.
Then a most astonishing thing happened. She moved in a way I do not have words to describe here, and though my senses insisted she was still there, she was also elsewhere, no more than a few feet away from where she'd started in a direction I had no name for. She moved swiftly out from behind cover and down an alley, and though I watched all the while I could see no trace of her passage; she only moved in a direction opposite to her first motion, placing her back... in the now? In the here? At a location I could not see. Shortly thereafter, my perception of her faded as she ceased looking for me.
Even as I record these events, I can scarcely credit their reality. The smaller mystery of Party Popper's abilities, even now unsolved (though tantalizingly clarified!), pales in comparison to the thought that I am being, even as I write this, observed by unknown intelligences
I speak in the plural because, even in that brief glimpse of her locomotion, I learned much. The attention I sense is diffuse, that of multiple entities; indeed, they seem to be separated by great distances, their perceived closeness appearing only in aggregate. It is a form of perception something like sight and something like sound, but not entirely like either. Furthermore, they appear to be observing me from the opposite 'direction' as that taken by Party Popper during her escape; I am uncertain of the significance of this, but I have detected no observation from that direction.
Their attention, thankfully, is not constant; it waxes and wanes in a rhythm I have not yet identified. I shall notify you as I learn more, dear journal.
Twilight bit her lip, looking around her basement. Invisible beings, watching her every move? Was it a fancy Wild Clover invented under the influence of unstable mind magic, or had he found something all too real? She hoped reading the rest of the journal would tell her more.
December 17, 982.
I believe that I have at last determined what draws the attention of the beings in ana-space. I have been maintaining a graph of the apparent intensity of their observation over the last month, and after comparing it with the entries I have made during that time in you, o faithful journal, I have determined that it has varied in direct proportion to the level of, for lack of a better word, excitement in my life. Even now, it rises to a new peak, as if to confirm my hypothesis. Yet it cannot be simply related to my own levels of arousal or anticipation, for on several occasions a heightening in attention served as prelude to something dramatic happening in my vicinity, as if the ana-space beings were able to predict the event occurring—or, perhaps, could see the chain of events being set in motion from their unique perspectives.
Party Popper has become elusive these last weeks; perhaps she has become aware of the breakthrough in my observational method. I have been able to detect her watching for me even when I have been nowhere near her, and several times I have detected her entering kata-space, perhaps in an attempt to elude me, perhaps for unrelated reasons. She doesn't seem to spend more than a short amount of time in that space; I am uncertain if this means there is some inherent risk to that space (something that might explain the lack of observers in that direction) or if it is a simple reflection of her ability to travel at great speed while located in that space. (Her time spent in kata-space is not constant, but the natural log of my measurements has no more than a ±0.5 deviation from the mean.)
If I could locate her, I would press her for more information—does she know about the ana-space beings? Is that why she elects to travel only in kata-space? Are they capable of entering our space? Do they mean us harm, or are they but observers? Unfortunately, it seems I must strive to answer these questions on my own.
I have been having increasing difficulty coping with this attention. I think I will disable the spell tonight. I pray to Celestia that they will not choose the moment I take my eye off them to strike.
Sleep well, dear journal.
The sun had set. Twilight was unaware of this.
December 18, 982.
I am unable to end the spell.
Have I sustained it too long without rest, or does some other force now empower it? In either event, it no longer reacts to my commands; it feels almost as if the spell itself has begun to spread outward, into ana-space and kata-space, outside the grip of my will. If anything, it is stronger now, clearer; I can sense the very moment one being 'looks' away from me, when another focuses their gaze.
There are more of them now, I am sure of it. At first, they were merely curious, or happened to be observing me as I observe any number of things and people in the passing of the day. Their attention has increased, however; whether this means they have become aware of my observation, or whether it is a portent of some event of great significance to come in my life, I am uncertain.
I must have answers. The pursuit of knowledge has brought me into this vale, and knowledge will lead me out. Long-distance communication is not my forte, but it is not an unrelated discipline to my studies, and at any rate I have more experience (I dare hope) in this field of study than any other. I must construct a spell that will allow me to determine why they have focused their eyes on me, to somehow plead my case to them.
I cannot go on in this state, not indefinitely. Every pony needs his sanctuary, a place solely his own. Whether their intent is good or ill, it is destroying me as surely as darkness is destroyed by the light.
Wish me well, dear journal.
Twilight read the journal, page by page, as Wild Clover detailed his attempts to construct a spell that would let him see or hear or speak in a direction opposed to every direction, his 'voice' growing more frantic with each failure. Party Popper disappeared entirely from the narrative at this point; did that mean she'd left Canterlot, or was he simply no longer concerned for her? He seldom left his house, at any rate, and only to test a spell or collect the bare necessities of survival; he seldom slept, seldom bathed.
His entries became rambling, disjointed. Two pages were devoted entirely to a letter to ana-space, pleading with the entities that dwelled there to let him live in peace. Another entry accused them of trying to drive him mad, knowing him to be the only pony aware of their growing power and threat to Equestria. One even lambasted the journal itself for being in league with them, as if he somehow wouldn't notice that their attention increased each time he wrote in it.
Yet he never stopped searching for an answer... and, at last, he found it.
MARCH 15, 983.
IT IS FINISHED.
Twilight studied the diagram intently, tore the blank page at the back of the journal out, began to make marks of her own. It was shakily drawn, yes, but not as incoherent as she'd thought, not with the bulk of the journal to answer her questions about whether this mark was supposed to be to the left or right of that, whether this blob should be circular or elliptical. It only took her five minutes to reconstruct the diagram in her own precise writing.
It didn't look like it would do anything at all.
She understood the basic principles, at least. It was a long-distance communication spell, one that would, in theory, allow her to contact another pony hundreds if not thousands of miles away, requiring only a painstakingly precise description of the target pony. Most of the spell was devoted to just such a description, meaning that, in theory, all Twilight would have to do is cast the spell to be put in touch with whoever, or whatever, Wild Clover had contacted.
But the symbols were all wrong. The way they were organized, their shape and placement—none of it made sense. She'd have to study the spell further to work out how to make it work for someone else, but she understood enough to at least make a beginning at an arrangement for any of her friends, for Princess Celestia—and she could make an educated guess how anypony's glyphs would look. Indeed, any Equestrian's. These glyphs looked nothing like any of those.
It shouldn't do anything. And yet, that was the end of the journal. Nearly twenty years ago. What had happened to him? It didn't kill him, obviously, but the condition of his house was consistent with having been neglected for that long. What had caused a once-successful royal warder to sink into obscurity for twenty years without even the slightest comment—for she felt certain she'd have heard something about him in her childhood if he'd served as some sort of cautionary tale?
She looked at her diagram, at the journal, at her diagram.
She had to know.
Just like him.
She focused on the diagram, placed its nonsensical shapes in her mind, pushed power through them and into her horn. It took a lot; she was beginning to sweat when, at last, she felt something shift, something happen. Whatever she'd done, she'd done something.
She opened her eyes—
She didn't stop screaming when Spike ran in. She didn't stop screaming when the other ponies came in, summoned by a panicked Spike. She didn't stop screaming until well after they'd hauled her bodily to the Ponyville Clinic.
The screaming started again the moment they'd left her room.
"They're back, oh Celestia, they're back! Make them go away!"
Applejack looked uneasily at Rainbow Dash, who winced at the sound; Fluttershy appeared to be trying to will herself invisible, despite Rarity's best efforts to comfort her. Twilight had been sleeping, if uneasily, and they'd begun to hope whatever malady had struck her down wasn't as serious as it'd seemed when Spike found her.
Nurse Tenderheart sighed. "And she was doing so well," she said, echoing their sentiment. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to sedate her." She walked off to get the sedative.
"I wish I knew what happened to her," Applejack said. "It just don't seem natural."
"I'm afraid I haven't a clue," Rarity replied. "It looked like she was studying some sort of spell, but... well, the details were frankly beyond me."
"She's gonna get better, though, right?" Rainbow Dash asked, looking from one face to another, seeking reassurance. "Right?" None of them had any to give.
Fluttershy had something to say, though. "Pinkie Pie?"
The other three ponies blinked, looked at her, then looked where she was looking. Pinkie Pie had just appeared, looking neither her usual bubbly self nor the despondent pony they all felt. Instead, she looked... determined. Not unlike her expression when she'd single-hoofedly dealt with the parasprite infestation, like she was annoyed at having to deal with everything herself.
"What's she been yelling about?" she demanded of Rarity, who shied back a little at the tone of voice.
"She's, uh, been talking about ponies watching her, saying it hurts—"
"Ponies or people?"
Rarity blinked. "Uh, people, I suppose. What difference does that—"
"Are they watching her all the time?"
"No, she said they went away a bit after we got her here. Pinkie Pie—"
"Has she been talking in tongues!?" This seemed the most important question of all, Pinkie pressing her face right up against Rarity's, eyes bugging out.
"—no," Rarity answered, unable to muster further response.
Pinkie immediately sagged back down, an expression of relief flowing over her face. "Whew! That was a close one. That'd be a real doozy to clean up. Okay, everypony wait right here, and I'll be right back!"
She walked into Twilight's room, not caring that all of her friends were staring at her now. Twilight turned to look at her, a pleading expression in her eyes.
"Pinkie, you've got to make them stop looking at me, it hurts..."
Pinkie Pie nodded. "They get like that sometimes. It's okay!"
Twilight's eyes widened. "You believe me?" she gasped, sounding hopeful, seeing something she hadn't expected to see in Pinkie's eyes.
"Of course I do!" Pinkie cheerily replied. "They watch me all the time!"
"Can you do something? Make them go away or, or make me forget about them, or..."
Pinkie considered the matter with all due gravity. "Well... I can't make them go away, but I can make it so it doesn't hurt anymore. How's that?"
Rarity and the others exchanged puzzled looks.
"Anything," Twilight said, looking like a drowning mare grabbing at a lifeline. "I'll do anything."
Pinkie giggled, then walked over to the door to the room, looking at her friends. "This is a little bit private, so you just wait out here, okay? Thanks." Then she closed the door in their faces.
Rarity and the others continued to exchange puzzled looks. Nurse Tenderheart returned, pushing a wheeled tray with a bottle of medicine on it, and paused when she noticed the door was closed.
"Uh, Pinkie went in to talk to Twilight or something," Rainbow Dash said. "Maybe you should give her a minute—"
There was a horrible, blood-curdling scream. Applejack spun, pushed on the door, bounced back startledly. "It's locked!"
Nurse Tenderheart looked confused. "All of these doors lock from the outside," she protested; Applejack tried the lock without effect, but noticed a reddish glow.
"Twilight locked it with magic!" she said, flabbergasted.
Rarity began to step forward, horn glowing. "I'll see if I can unlock it," she said, but Applejack was already swinging into position, blocking her path.
"My way's faster," Applejack said. "Hiyah!" She bucked the door, breaking the lock and causing the door to fly open, and the others charged past her, discovering—
—an awake, alert, and seemingly normal Twilight Sparkle, smiling at them from the hospital bed. Pinkie Pie looked surprised they'd busted in, but otherwise looked her normal cheery self as well.
Rainbow Dash spoke first. "Twilight? Are you okay?" Twilight nodded.
"I'm sorry to worry all of you," she said. "I had a little trouble with a spell, but Pinkie sorted it all out."
"Pinkie helped you with a spell," Rainbow Dash replied, her expression deadpan.
"Well, no, not the spell itself," Twilight admitted, "more the effects of it. I found out the hard way that there are Things Pony Was Not Meant to Know." The others, save Pinkie Pie, blinked at being able to hear the capital letters.
"Like what?" Applejack asked skeptically.
"Oh, you weren't meant to know them," Twilight answered cheerily. "That's okay, though. Pinkie helped me come to terms with it all, so I'm all right now!" She let out an odd giggle. "Mostly."
"And the... people watching you have gone away?" Rarity wondered.
Twilight shook her head. "Oh no, they're still here," she said with serene certainty. "But that's all right. They won't hurt me any more. They didn't mean to anyway."
The other ponies exchanged an uneasy look. Nurse Tenderheart spoke. "I think you should spend at least another day here, for observation."
"You don't believe me," Twilight protested, then shrugged. "That's okay, though. It's better if you don't. I promise not to bring them up again." She paused, then wondered, "Would you mind bringing me something to read while I'm here? Maybe, uh..."
Pinkie Pie piped up. "Applied Quantum Rainbowdynamics? The new edition?"
"Oh, is that out today?" Twilight said, perking up. "Yes, I put an order in, if you wouldn't mind picking it up."
"Okie dokie lokie!" Pinkie Pie replied—echoed by Twilight. The two looked at each other, then broke into identical gigglefits.
The other ponies exchanged another uneasy look.
"Well, we're gonna let you get your rest, okay, Twilight?" Applejack said.
"No problem!" Twilight said. "Thanks for stopping by. Hopefully I can convince them to let me out tomorrow; I really need to clean up that basement. I made a bit of a mess with you having to drag me out and everything."
Slowly, the assembled ponies filed out one by one, Nurse Tenderheart making Twilight promise to call her if she started feeling unwell, the rest of them offering some form of well wishes. Pinkie was the last out, the others waiting to ambush her with questions about what exactly she'd done and why Twilight was still acting a bit, well, like Pinkie, but they were destined to be disappointed. It was for the best, after all.
Twilight, for her part, took a deep, cleansing breath, sunk back into her pillow, and wriggled about a bit, getting comfortable. She was feeling a bit tired still—going crazy took it out of you, and the 'cure' had been a concentrated dose of more of the same—and she decided to take a nap while she waited for Pinkie to return with her book.
There was just one more thing to do.
Turning to look at you, she said, "I guess I'll see you later, then!"
And then she went to sleep.