The storm raged outside the beautiful stained glass of the throne room. It was empty now, save for two ponies in the middle of the room. Seth stared at the piece of paper in front of him, as if trying to see past the words written there. The cartographer is dead. The porch light is out and the keys are missing. Open flame on the deadwood, brass on the handle. Four dreams lost. No signature, but he didn’t need it. How, how could it have happened? They were so careful, so organized. Nobody should have known anything about what they were doing. He knew that it was only a matter of time, they all knew that, but it shouldn’t have been so soon. The throne room seemed to echo his mood. The sconces on the walls had not been lit, it was only an hour or two after noon he supposed. It was hard to tell.
Thunder rattled the windows in their casings as hail pounded on the stone of the palace walls. By some miracle, or magic, the windows were spared the storm’s fury. The throne room was not so grand as it was that morning, now that the delegates of the High Court had left and the Princesses had gone. It was dark and gloomy except for the lightning throwing his shadows in every direction. Lunch had been brought to them, but it sat untouched and forgotten. In a lull between crashes of thunder, Seth caught the sound of a tiny sniffle.
Phoe laid on the thick azure rug running through the center of the room. Her shoulders shook. Her hooves covered her face. Seth didn’t know what to do. So he sat there, like a jerk, and let her cry. Though if he were honest with himself, he was too angry to comfort anyone. Four lives lost, four friends dead. The portal was gone, all of their hard work up in flames. But what got him the most was how.
A bright flash of golden light burst from on top of the dais. Seth and Phoe jumped at the magical whip-crack and turned to the dais to see Celestia, Luna and Cereal appear. Seth pulled a double take, was that really him? He looked older to Seth. Maybe not older, more confident. He stood between the princesses like he belonged there, head high and stance proud. Cereal’s eyes fell on him and Phoe in the middle of the room. Seth’s breath caught in his throat. There was a weight and depth to Cereal’s gaze that was not there in that last glance through the doors. That gaze was old, as if he had seen more than Seth could ever dream to see. In an instant, Cereal’s eyes changed, becoming softer, more friendly, like they were before. Seth released the breath he did not know he held, Phoe doing the same next to him.
Golden light once again flared around Celestia’s horn. The sconces on the walls and the massive crystal chandelier hanging from the vaulted ceiling came to life with blue-white flame. “How long has the storm been like this?” Her voice cut through the white noise of rain on the windows.
Seth and Phoe bowed as soon as she spoke. “It started maybe an hour after you left, Highness.” Seth replied. He rose from his bow to find Cereal uncomfortably shifting his weight from hoof to hoof.
“The portal has opened again, has it not?” Luna asked though her tone made it sound like a statement.
Seth nodded sharply. “It has, Princess.”
“This time was different.” Celestia alighted from the dais, then levitated Cereal down. “Do you know why?”
Seth licked his lips. “Yeah. We just got a note from the bronies in the camp.” He summoned his meager command of magic to pick up the piece of paper and float it over to Cereal. “It’s not good.”
Cereal stared at the page, shaking his head slowly. “But...” He looked up at Seth and Phoe, “how?”
Seth just shrugged, but Phoe spoke up, wiping a few stray tears from her face. “Any number of ways, Cereal,” her voice was thin and quiet but it did not waver, “a careless slip of the tongue to the wrong person, a spy, we don’t know.”
Celestia picked up the page and frowned at it. “I have never seen a script like this before.” She passed the page over to Luna, “Have you, sister?”
Luna’s eyes darted over the page, confusion creasing her brow. “I have not. What does this mean?”
“I... am not sure. In any case, we must first know what has transpired on the other side, Sethisto?” Celestia placed the paper on the floor in front of Cereal once more, turning to Seth with a placid expression.
“Well, uh, the message was written in a code that we came up with to help transfer specific information quickly.” Celestia merely nodded, so Seth took that as an invitation to continue. “The first part; the cartographer is dead, means that the equipment we used to store the information about Equestria’s whereabouts has been destroyed.” He decided to not delve into what computers were.
“So, you are saying,” Luna interjected, “that the map you made to get here, has been lost?”
Seth shrugged. “In a way, yes. No other humans from our world will be able to follow us here.” He understood what he was saying on an intellectual level, but he didn’t know how he felt about being truly cut off from Earth. “The next part; the porch light is out and the keys are missing, means that the portal itself and the machinery we used to make it and the other machine we made to turn humans into ponies, has also been destroyed.”
“How do you mean?” Luna cocked her head to one side.
“It was detonated, exploded, ripped to pieces.” Cereal said quietly, still staring at the note. “They would’ve had to do it while it was still open. We thought that closing the portal that way might seal it forever. Even if another device was built to get to Equestria, it probably wouldn’t work at all.”
A long peal of thunder pounded the finality of Cereal’s words into Seth’s ears. He shouldn’t feel like he had lost anything. He wanted to leave, he wanted to live in Equestria. He didn’t want to have anything to do with Earth or its problems. Shouldn’t it be better to bury an old life away? Why then did he feel an emptiness, like a cold lump in his chest? Seth hesitated before trying to continue with his explanation.
“Open flame on the deadwood, brass on the handle means that our compound was breached by force. Specifically a government-trained force, well armed.” Cereal paused. He took a deep breath, shooting another glance at Seth and Phoe before looking Celestia in the eye. “Four dreams lost. Four people were killed.”
The princesses bowed their heads and closed their eyes. A few moments passed in silence, even the storm seemed to abate in respect. Together, they looked once again at the three ponies. “I felt the portal open.” Celestia announced. “Its collapse is the cause of this storm. The shock of so much magic has severed a leyline, Luna and I must go to repair the damage. I would assume that the camp is the epicenter of the storm and has been damaged greatly.” She stood with Luna and began walking to the exit of the throne room, raising a wing to bid them follow.
“We will leave the book in your possession for now, Cereal,” Luna said, falling in beside her sister. “When we return, we will make haste to the camp.”
The grand doors swung open, and two royal guards saluted to the princesses. Celestia whispered a few words to one, who saluted again and galloped off. She turned to Cereal, “You may explain to Sethisto and Phoe what you have seen in the second Vault, Cereal, but of the first, you may not speak. It is likely that the camp will not be very usable after today so ponder what options we may have for providing shelter for your followers. Farewell.” She and Luna charged down the hall and were soon out of sight.
“Book? What was she talking about?” Seth swung his head around from watching the alicorns go to find Cereal’s horn glowing with magic. Before him floated an old leather book. The cover looked to be stamped with angular symbols. “Oh.” He squinted at the letters, moving in closer to the book, “Hey wait a minute. I’ve seen something like that before.”
Cereal raised an eyebrow. “You have?”
Seth backed up. “Well, not that exactly. But there was a video game I used to play all the time that had a made up language in it. It used letters like that. What... hmm... The Elder Scrolls!” He paused, the significance of what he was saying dawning on him. “Hold on, how’s that possible? Did they say this book was in a vault, here, like already in Equestria?”
Cereal’s face broke into a wry smile. “Eeyup. Apparently, we weren't the first people to leave Earth.”
Twilight rubbed at her eyes. “Okay, Dark Wisp, can you read off the last three names again?” Twilight dropped her quill back into its nearly empty well. She tried not to sigh every time she looked at her little desk. Today had been like a marathon for her, maintaining a massive area warding spell, while rain, wind and hail pounded on it, was pushing her to the limits of her strength. A single starlight hovered over a metal stand of pure silver, made of rods braided around a small crystal vial, one of her own inventions.
It cast a steady, pleasant glow on the entire tent, somehow not creating huge harsh shadows on the canvas walls. The charcoal grey unicorn stifled a yawn with the back of a hoof. “Radiant Star, Silver Lining, and uh, Spearmint.” He let the page fall to the floor.
Twilight made sure that she had those last few names in her list of those who were near the portal when it collapsed. Dark Wisp had assured her that the names were in alphabetical order, but they weren’t. Perhaps that was not fair, it was likely in order in their strange script. This was another source for her exhaustion. She had asked a few of the unicorns who could write, and were not incapacitated, to track down every brony and make sure nopony was missing. It was a good thing she did, with what she had so far, several of them hadn’t been heard from since the portal’s collapse. The ones who were at the staging grounds worried her the most. If that portal worked on any rules remotely similar to spatial blinking, there was no telling where they could have ended up. When she got the lists she asked for, she couldn’t read them. All of the lists were in the same unfamiliar script, so she had to commandeer one of the poor fellows into helping her translate the lists into something she could understand. It didn’t help matters that they apparently could not read High Equestrian or Cutieform.
“I think that’s all we can do for now, Wisp. Uh, I can call you Wisp, right?” Twilight asked, stacking all of the papers strewn over her travel desk. There seemed to be mountains of it and the desk equally small.
“Yeah, of course y--” Another yawn cracked the other unicorns jaw, “you can. Whew, sorry.” He shook his head as if he could shake the sleep out.
Twilight smiled at him. “Thank you for all your help today. Oh, tomorrow can you talk to the bronies who came through the portal? If they are well enough, that is. I want to put together a report for Princess Celestia on what happened on the other side.” Dark Wisp nodded in the middle of yet another yawn. “Go get some rest, you’ve earned it.”
Dark Wisp picked up the the other pages that comprised the many lists the bronies had made by her request. “Um, do you wanna keep these as well?”
Twilight glanced at the pages of foreign script. “Sure, I’ll keep them, just set them over there, on the blue box. Thanks again, Wisp.”
“It was my pleasure, Miss Twilight. G’night.” He set the papers on the box and backed out of the tent with a final wave of his hoof. Twilight waved back then turned to her desk once again. She had only a few minutes to herself.
“Twilight!” an excited voice called. “Twilight! You won’t believe what just happened!” Through her tent flap galloped a mint-green unicorn. She was sopping wet and speckled with flecks of mud from her run.
“Shhh! Lyra, please keep it down. Rarity is still resting.” Twilight waved a hoof at the cot behind her desk where Rarity slumbered.
Lyra ducked her head and laid her ears back in embarrassment. “Oops, sorry Twilight.” She took a few more steps forward. “But you won’t believe this! I was out with the bronies, the unicorns who were in my class today, trying to find a way to help out the pegasi.” She sat back on her haunches so that she could gesture excitedly with her front hooves. “Well there I was, racking my brain for a simple spell that they could learn, when all of a sudden one of ‘em decided to shout at the storm. At first, I thought he had just gone plain bonkers.” She wound a hoof around one ear, throwing flecks of mud from her hoof into her mane. “But then the storm actually backed off!”
“Lyra, the volume please.” Twilight felt like she was back in her library all of a sudden.
“Oh right, sorry,” Lyra whispered, shooting a glance over at Rarity. “It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen, Twilight!” She managed to keep her voice in check with only a few squeaks. “There was magic happening, I could see it, but the leylines were so structured, they looked like chords in a song. He did that with words, Twilight, words!” She put her hooves up on the sides of her head, leaving behind little circles of mud.
Twilight cocked an eyebrow at the bubbly unicorn. “Lyra, you know there is no such thing as incantations. Maybe the magic just clicked for him at that moment, and he just happened to be saying something.”
“Heh, I told ya you wouldn’t believe it.” Lyra shook her head, lobbing a drop of mud onto one of Twilight’s lists. Twilight’s lower eyelid twitched slightly at the glob of brown goop. “But this brony hadn’t gotten a single spell to work all day. Hm, well I guess that’s not fair, we were all having trouble with even simple stuff... but that’s beside the point.” She leaned forward, Twilight reflexively moved the stacks of paper to the side, out of danger from the muddy rain water dripping from Lyra’s mane. “He wasn’t saying any words I understood, but a few of the other bronies at least recognized ‘em, ‘cuz they started doin’ it too. Now, tell me that your logic can deny six unicorns duplicating the same feat in exactly the same way.”
Twilight froze, her normal rebuttal faltering on her tongue. “Did you say--six--of them repeated the same words and it did the same thing?”
Lyra opened her mouth, a whimsical expression splayed on her face.
“Ah, don’t know what all this stuff’s supposed ‘tah do, but we got it all organized like ‘yah wanted, sugarcube... oh.” Applejack’s twang barreled over what ever Lyra was about to say. She was covered hoof to belly in mud. Her hat drooped on her head, waterlogged. She pushed it up out of her face along with some heavy locks of blonde hair. “Ah didn’t know you were entertainin’ somepony. Ah’ll, uh, just wait outside ‘til y’all are done.” AJ flashed a sheepish grin as she backed up to exit the tent.
Twilight’s hoof flew into the air to forstal her friend. “No, no Applejack. You’re welcome to stay.”
AJ stopped her retreat and sat down.
“Now, Lyra, what were you going to say?” Twilight turned back to the mint-green musician.
“Oh, yeah. Uh, I was just going to say that the bronies were just as surprised as I was. From what I could make out from their excited babbling, and they were babbling, was that it shouldn’t have worked. Whatever that means.” She shrugged.
Twilight rubbed at her chin, lowering her eyes to her lists. Magic didn’t do things for no reason, it was a predictable force. One that bent to a unicorn’s will, not her words. Her ears perked up as an idea came to her. “Oh, Lyra, do you still remember how to write the Starswirl leynotes?”
“Well, sure. I use ‘em all the time for writing down special chord enhancers for music. Why do you ask?”
Twilight tapped softly on her desk as she thought through the budding plan in her head. “Do they have other words that provoke a magical reaction?”
“Well, from what I heard, yeah. I think so.” Lyra furrowed her brow.
“Excellent.” Twilight closed her eyes and summoned her magic, opening her colored boxes, quickly rifling through the many folders inside and selecting several pieces of paper. Hundreds of papers flew through the air, deftly avoiding each other while zipping to exact locations. In a matter of seconds, Twilight had a folder of reference material and freshly made notebook complete with specially marked sheets of paper. She floated the supplies over to Lyra, “Can you round up the bronies who understand these words they used and write up a report for me? It doesn’t have to be anything special, just notes on how it works and the structure of the leylines they produce in leynote.”
Lyra smiled crookedly. “Suuuure, I can... do that. Yeah.” She enveloped the notebook and folder in her own levitation spell. “Do you, uh, want the report um, next week?”
“Whenever you feel you have gathered enough information is fine. I don’t need it urgently or anything.” Twilight knew that Lyra had issues with due dates, she had found that giving the excitable musician the freedom to do it when she could was often faster anyway.
Lyra’s face relaxed and her shoulders slumped. “Phwew. Okay, I’ll get right on it. See you tomorrow. It was nice seeing you, Applejack.” She trotted from the tent, the newly acquired papers and notebook floating after her in a cloud of pale blue magic.
Twilight brought a towel over to Applejack. “Thank you, AJ, for taking care of the bronies’ equipment for me.”
She accepted the towel with a shrug. “Oh it was nothin’, Twilight. I was feelin’ a mite useless anyhow.” She paused in taking off her hat, nodding to Rarity. “You reckon she’ll be alright? I hate to see ‘er like this.”
“Give her a day or two, she’ll be right back to her normal self. I don’t think she’s ever been exposed to that much magical energy. Back when I was a filly, when I took the entrance exam to Celestia’s school for gifted unicorns, I slept for almost two days after that experience. I had never held so much magic before. It’s like running right after you learn to walk. It takes a lot out of a pony.” Even though AJ hated it, Twilight began combing out the debris from her mane.
Strangely enough, she didn’t complain. “We still can’t find Pinkie Pie. Ah’ve been talkin’ ta everypony, not a soul’s seen hoof ‘er tail since this morning.” She blew out her chops in frustration. “Ah don’t like this one bit Twilight, not one bit.”
Twilight grimaced, still running her brush through Applejack’s mane. The situation didn’t sit well with her either. It’s been nearly a decade since she met her best friends, and most of that time they hadn’t been separated like this. They had no idea of where Pinkie was. It tied her stomach in knots thinking about it. What if she was hurt? What if she desperately needed her friends?
“We’ll find her, AJ, we’ll find her.”
“Um, Twilight?” Spike’s voice floated in through the crack in the tent flap.
“Come in, Spike.”
Her number one assistant poked his head into the tent. The rest of him soon followed. He stood tall enough to look Twilight in the eyes now. He was still a little dragon, as far as dragons go, but he was no baby anymore. She kept a close eye on him, especially after the birthday incident of several years ago, but his growth was something more natural this time. She was very proud of him. He was becoming quite the scholar and was always a joy to be around.
In one claw he clutched a scroll, the seal still intact on its binding ribbon. He tossed it into the air, Twilight caught it and unfurled the letter as she brought it closer. “How is she?” he asked, holding one arm with the other claw as he looked down at the sleeping Rarity.
“Sleeping, as before. Don’t worry, Spike, she’ll be fine.”
“If you say so....” He sat down next to Twilight’s desk, fishing out a small stash of gems he kept in a messenger bag that was always on his person.
The letter was of course from Princess Celestia, informing her that they were on their way to the camp and to meet them if she were able. “Has the storm let up at all?” she asked nopony in particular.
“It’s still rainin’ fit to drown a bird on the wing but it’s calmed down pretty good.” Applejack replied through gritted teeth as Twilight’s brush snagged on her tangled hair.
“I guess it’s not as bad as before, though I was under your forcefield most of the time. Oh yeah, I have the inventory of all the equipment out there.” Spike fished in his canvas bag again. “I had to keep asking them what it all was. It isn’t like any kind of makina I’ve ever seen.... Ah ha!” He pulled a bundle of scrolls from the cavernous bag. “Do you want it filed under ‘Assets’, ‘Ancillary Provisions’ or ‘Miscellaneous Inventory’?”
Twilight thought for a moment. “Um, have I made an ‘Ancillary Inventory’ category yet?”
Spike scratched his chin. “I don’t remember. Hang on, I’ll check.” He jumped up from floor and made his way over to the appropriately colored box, in this case, the blue one.
“Oh, Spike, that list there on top of the blue box, can you file it under ‘Curiosities’ for me please? Sub-category ‘Communication’.”
Twilight gave up on taming Applejack’s wild mane. “Sorry, AJ. I think I’ll end up pulling more of your mane out if I keep going.”
“S’alright, sugarcube. You’ve done enough.” Applejack grinned at her.
Twilight sighed and set the brush down. “Applejack, the Princesses are on their way here. I’ll be going to meet them and to talk with Cereal and the others. After that, I’ll be taking Spike back to the Library so he can close it up. Can you stay here with Rarity, in case she wakes up? I don’t want her to be alone.”
“Sure thing, Twilight. I’ll keep an eye on ‘er ‘til you get back.” She finished scraping the last of the mud from her hooves.
Twilight gave Applejack a quick hug. “You ready to go Spike?”
He took another long look at Rarity. “Yeah, let’s go,” he sighed.
Once outside the tent, Twilight paused for a minute to reinforce the area warding dome. She had a greater appreciation now for what Shining Armor could do. The lavender scholar and the purple scribe walked silently out into the rain through an opening intentionally left in the protective dome. The storm was indeed much calmer than it had been. The howling winds and violent lightning had ceased, leaving only the sound of rain. It poured from the roiling black clouds, soaking Twilight in a matter of seconds. She didn’t bother to spin a spell to protect herself from the torrent of unnatural rain, she simply did not have the energy
She trudged through the mud alongside Spike as little rivers of water cut deeper and deeper into the streets of the brony camp. Most of the camp that she could see through the torrential rain was in ruin. Debris littered the ground all around, pieces of tents, papers, other unidentifiable flotsam and jetsam. The odd hailstone sat in a depression it made for itself upon hitting the soft earth, melting slowly in the rain.
“I could have stayed with her,” Spike said suddenly, his voice just barely louder than the rain.
“I know, Spike. I’m sorry, but I really need you at the library.”
He shrugged in response. Twilight let it alone at that. She was going to have to have a long talk with him someday, but that time was not now. She closed her eyes, letting the sound of the rain wash over her. It was twilight hour, her favorite time of the day. A time when she could feel the Spectra moving, pulsating like a living heart. As one wise pony once told her, twilight was a look forward and a glance back. She felt it pulling at her, it was restless, agitated, and she could only guess at why. Deep currents were moving in Equestria and she was going to have to learn how to read them before she got pulled under.
A familiar eddie in the flow of the transitive tide sparked a smile on her face. She opened her eyes to watch the Sisters Royal descend from out of the dark clouds on Celestia’s magnificent chariot. The rain bent around the protective barrier Luna maintained around the vehicle and its occupants. They landed a few paces from Twilight and Spike. Seth and Phoe dismounted from the chariot and quickly trotted over to where Twilight stood.
“Hello, Twilight.” Seth greeted in a subdued voice. He dragged his hooves and slumped his way over, looking as tired as she felt.
“Is everything alright, Seth?” she asked. She tried to look him in the eye, but he seemed to want to look everywhere but at her.
“I’m fine. Just, uh, tired is all. It’s been quite the day.” A weak smile stuttered across his face.
Phoe looked around, a dull cast to her eyes. “Looks like everypony’s been having quite the day. Is there even anything left?”
“A good portion of the camp has been demolished, but we managed to salvage most of it. But I bet you’re tired, I have a few extra beds in my tent. You’re... welcome to sleep there.” Twilight took a step forward, furtively looking over Phoe’s shoulder to Cereal and the princesses. They were talking, but from just watching their lips, she couldn’t tell what they were saying.
Seth sighed. “Sounds good to me. Where are all of the tents?”
Twilight turned and gestured with a hoof to the path they were on. “Just follow this path ‘til you get to the dome, you can’t miss it.”
Phoe tossed her head to clear away some locks of wet pink hair. “Thanks, Twilight. Oh, um, Princess Luna wanted to speak with you. See you later.” She and Seth began again to plod through the mud and rain, their heads down and tails sagging.
Spike put a claw on Twilight’s shoulder, “What’s eating them?”
She shook her head. “Probably a lot of things. They just found out four of their friends died, their camp has been destroyed by a freak storm, and now several bronies are missing. That’s enough to get anypony down.”
“But not you,” he said matter-of-factly as they moved closer to the chariot.
Twilight let out a long sigh. “I’m not invincible, Spike. I’m worried about Pinkie... and what's happened to the bronies. Nopony deserves this....”
There came a loud whoosh as Celestia suddenly lifted from the chariot and took wing to the skies above. With impossible speed, she pierced the dark clouds, her horn shedding bars of intense light that illuminated the swirling masses like lightning. Almost as soon as she was lost to Twilight’s sight, the rain slowed to a more normal summer shower.
“Remember, Cereal Velocity,” Twilight could just barely make out Luna’s low words, “anything you discover, locations, names, anything, you must report it to me immediately and to me alone.”
“Yes, Princess Luna.” Cereal replied in the same low voice.
Luna’s gaze flicked to Twilight and Spike as they approached, straightening her neck from where she had been speaking to Cereal. She turned a pleasant smile in Twilight’s direction. “Twilight Sparkle, a pleasure to see you again. It should please you to know that the bronies are now officially under my jurisdiction. Cereal is now my personal envoy, so anything you wish me to know regarding the bronies, let him know and he will pass that on to me.” She looked down at Cereal with a tiny smile and proud gaze. “My sister wished for me to inquire about your progress with the education of the bronies. Now, we understand that much has transpired this day, and we understand if much of your progress has been lost.”
“I implemented phase one of my education proposal yesterday, Princess. You are familiar with the proposal I sent, I assume?” Luna nodded. “I have recruited eight other unicorns from Ponyville to be instructors for magic education classes, ten pegasi from both Cloudsdale and Ponyville to aid Rainbow Dash in qualifying the brony pegasi and twenty earth ponies from Ponyville to help with logistics and other general education tasks. I have a roster ready for your review and other documents for the arrangement of payment.” Twilight couldn’t help but feel somewhat silly reciting her supposed accomplishments. It seemed very empty in light of recent events. “I have been having trouble with the Cloudsdale City Council, Princess. They won't let Rainbow Dash to use the training facilities there for fear of an epidemic outbreak. Is there some way to speed up the process of clearing doubts surrounding any diseases the bronies may have?” A drop in the bucket of problems they faced right now, but she might as well ask.
Luna thought for a minute, tapping a silver shod hoof on the floor of the chariot. “I will see what I can do in that regard, Twilight Sparkle.” She nodded to Cereal standing next to her. He picked up a pair of saddlebags, levitating them to his back. “Cereal has a special assignment to complete for us. A Vault, built by humans many ages ago, has been opened. Inside was a single book, written in an ancient human language. However, we cannot decipher it so we have charged him with finding one who can read this language and translate the book for us. What that book contains may very well prove to be invaluable in aiding the bronies in their new lives here in Equestria. I ask you, Twilight, to help him in this task. Will you be able to give the responsibilities of educating the bronies to another?”
“...I can.” Already a list of likely candidates assembled itself in her mind.
“Excellent. Thank you, Twilight. I know we have asked much of you and the others.”
“It’s our pleasure, Princess. We want to help.”
Luna gave Twilight a warm smile. “Do not worry, Twilight. We will find the missing ones. Pegasi search parties have already been organized and I believe Rainbow Dash herself will be leading the morning excursion tomorrow. It has been a trying day so I will let you retire. Good night, Cereal, Twilight and Spike. Sleep well.”
They bowed to the Princess and made their way back to the path. Twilight went a few paces with Cereal. “I need to take Spike back to the library, you can follow this path to the tents. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Cereal nodded lethargically. “I’ll see you there, I guess.” He too plodded off in the same fashion as Seth and Phoe, the picture of dejection.
She turned quickly to Spike. “We’re going to Aether jump, are you ready?”
Spike wrapped his arms snugly around Twilight’s neck. “Ready.”
The rain and air around Twilight flexed from the force of the spell gathering in her horn. With a loud crack, like the sound of stone rending, the world seemed to fold away from her and Spike, then snapped shut in a flash of light.
Deep within the Shinespire, on the rough and ancient stone floor still scarred from the chisels of carvers long dead and turned to dust, the soft glow of a single sapphire flared to life. An instant later, the dark chamber was illuminated by the flash of alicorn magic. Luna, Princess of the Night, cast her eyes about in the gloom. The light of her magic coursing around her horn shed a pale light onto the carved walls of the expanse. She narrowed her eyes at the iron cauldrons that lined the walls, commanding the fires she knew to be hidden there to come forth and give her light. Cold they sat on their pedestals, defying her.
Luna sniffed at the delinquent cauldrons. If they wished not to give her light, no matter. She had other means. The sapphire floated up from the floor, riding on the dark princess’ telekinesis. She imbued the gem with more power, using it as a focus to summon a starlight to the dark, man made cavern.
For reasons lost to her, the writing on the walls filled her heart with sorrow. The light of the captured star bathed the deep carvings in a pleasant glow. She walked slowly around the standing stone, her eyes drinking in every detail, every speck of lichen, every stroke of that ancient carver’s tool. With an intensity that frightened her, she searched the room for something that would spark a memory, anything that would give her some hint of why it was this room made her heart ache with loss. Why did these symbols feel so familiar? Why did they taunt her with their silence?
An exasperated growl jumped from her throat as she searched, her efforts fruitless. There was something here, something that she had seen before. Maybe even something dangerous. She was right in her prediction that Celestia would attempt to make this room inaccessible to all others but herself. Luna frowned at the carvings, stepping back. She knew her sister, or she thought she did. Was it simply old habit that prompted Celestia to set a ward on this room? Or was she hiding something? No, it must be habit. Her sister had been alone for so long, the only guide and guardian to the ponies for centuries. She must have been acting out of concern for others less... experienced. Clearly this was the case for she had easily bypassed Celestia’s ward with a simple trick.
Nothing seemed to be jogging her memory. She could feel the Spectra swell beneath the mountain, her time was quickly expiring. Celestia would wake soon to raise the sun. A desperate whinny echoed in the chamber. She had to find it, she had to know! She tried putting a hoof to the wall, just as Cereal had done to open the vault. With it, she traced a symbol, then another and another. Nothing.
She clenched her teeth, scowling at the carvings. Why did her gift not show her what she needed to see? She lowered her head, her legs sagging beneath her. How much had she forgotten? The memories refreshed by her visit to the Vault still felt like the memories of another. They seemed to lie to her, showing her a life from so long ago, like a dream. Too good to be true. Was there something wrong with the Vaults? Has the human magic faded so much that they no longer worked as they should? Were the Vaults dying just as Earth’s magic had died?
Her horn touched the wall, an echo of magic making her gasp. Her eyes snapped to the side, locking onto one symbol. She moved closer, her breath coming in sharp spurts as her heart began to race. It was a small letter, a single vertical line crossed by three diagonal lines, but it filled her eyes. She did not know its name, she did not know why it echoed her. A whisper seemed to rise from the dust, need. Need. They needed her.
They needed her, did she answer them?