After I'd dealt with Stacks' refusal to sit still while I patted his wounds down with rubbing alcohol, I went to work dragging the four dead imps we'd killed outside and cleaning up the blood. I couldn't help but feel guilty at dragging my bro into the life-threatening conspiracy working against me. He didn't deserve it, really.
I started explaining everything that the mayor had told me while I worked, just to bring Stacks up to speed on all that I'd learned. Stacks kept his face scrunched up in concentration the entire time, trying to connect the dots in his head.
"Let me get this straight," Stacks started as he helped me mop the floor of imp blood before it stained anything. "the mayor told you that the universe is going to blow up into itty bitty pieces if we don't put the stars back into place? And you believed all of that only a minute after learning that she tried to blow your house sky high with you in it?"
"Sunny, you're an idiot."
He held up a hoof to silence me, "And apparently this is all a part of a consipiracy to kill you because if Rarity and the mayor and whoever the buck else don't, you'll tell our amazing goddesses so they can put a stop to it with a wave of their hooves and a twinkle of their horns," he stopped mopping for a moment, then threw one of his own hooves into the air while making ridiculous "poof" sounds.
I felt ridiculous myself, in part because Stacks was kind of right about the whole "conspiracy" thing, and because Stacks was making a fool of himself in the middle of his blood-stained floor. He was acting like a two year old, and had anypony been there I would've felt like a fool just by association.
"Stacks, you've gotta admit that it does make some sense."
"I don't have to admit a thing because it doesn't make any sense in the first place. If it did, we wouldn't be having this conversation bro."
I wanted to say something in my defence, but I didn't have anything to defend myself with. Stacks was right, it was ridiculous. There was no denying that anymore.
And yet I wanted to believe the mayor.
"But what about the mayor and Rarity? How do you explain the way they've been acting? Out of
all the ponies in Ponyville, they have to be at the bottom of my 'Not to be Bucked With' list."
"The mayor hated you because you wouldn't move out of your butt-ugly house. She probably lost it at some point and decided to blow you and your house to hell," He shrugged. "and I guess Rarity was just a psychopath hiding in tacky dresses."
I couldn't stop shaking my head in disbelief. "No, Stacks. Rarity isn't a psychopath. Whoever that pony was, it wasn't Rarity. It couldn't have been her. Rarity's sweet and gentle, she wouldn't do something like this. Not to me, and definitely not to anypony else. I mean, she's one of the Elements of Harmony for Celestia's sake! An Element of Harmony just can't be possible of doing something so... terrible." I was trying to make Stacks understand, but he couldn't. He wouldn't.
"Listen, Sunny, I know you're hurting right now. You just lost your house and your crush tried to kill you, I get it. You're trying to rationalize all the crazy stuff that's happening in your life. The mayor fed you a load of manure about some apocalypse that ties in with your life and your research and you're holding on to it because it seems like the only explanation for why everything's so bucked up, but you've got to believe me when I say that it's all a lie, Sunny. She's lying to you. I didn't hear Rarity apologizing for slicing you six ways to Sunday, not even when the guards came two days ago to take her to Canterlot. She was psychotic, and you're going to have to accept that."
"But... what about those things that attacked you?"
"Just monsters from the Everfree Forest looking for easy prey. I had the bad luck of being outside while they were hunting."
"They looked like ponies."
"Does it matter what they looked like? They were monsters, and they probably came from where all the other monsters come from: the Everfree Forest"
I was more than a little skeptical, "The Everfree Forest isn't exactly right next to your house."
"Like I said, bad luck."
"There's no such thing. They were coming after us Stacks."
"Listen to yourself bro. You're saying things that the Sun Spot I know wouldn't say. The Sun Spot
I know isn't some paranoid freak with a bunch of conspiracy theories running around his head. Can't you see what you're doing to yourself, what you're letting yourself become?"
His words were battling with the mayor's in my head. Stacks was my best bro; there was no need to fear any sort of decpetion from him. The mayor, on the other hand, was completely untrustworthy. Common sense dictated that listening to her would only lead me to ruin.
A voice, coming from within me and from the outside world at the same time, argued the opposite. The mayor was right. Every word was true. There was a warning somewhere in there too, that if I didn't truly believe, that if I hesitated to do what needed to be done to save the world from total armageddon, then we were all doomed. I needed to believe.
"Stacks, I can't... I can't let this go. If there's even the slightest chance that this whole universal apocalypse thing is true, then I've got to stop it."
"Sunny, I'm telling you bro, you just had a little bad luck."
"There's no such thing!" I grunted in frustration. I wasn't getting across to him, and it showed. The conversation was going in circles, and I didn't see a way to convince Stacks to just listen to me.
"Stacks, I'm going to level with you. You're right. None of this makes sense, but I don't think we have the full picture yet. There are too many coincidences, too many factors to consider. We don't really know who's after me, or if anypony's after me. We don't know if these imps actually came from the Everfree Forest. We don't know what Melding is or how it happens. We don't know if the universe really is going to blow up, but, you know, the least we could do is find out. I will find out, with or without your help, though I'd really appreciate your help. You said it yourself, we’re best bros and bros are supposed to help bros."
"Okay, fine," Score! "but when we find proof that this whole thing is just the fantasy of a drunk, overworked, homicidal beauracrat-"
"You can say 'I told you so' as long and as much as you want," I assured him. He sort of half-smiled before turning to the small pile of imp corpses outside. They were decomposing faster than I'd expected. Whatever these things were, they weren't normal, though normal was starting to become a relatively rare sight these days.
"If we're gonna go any farther down the rabbit hole, we might as well figure out what these monster-pony-things are,"
I agreed, "Twilight probably has a book or something we can use. And I guess I should ask her about the postcard too."
"I checked the mayor's pockets before we locked her in my wine cellar. She had a postcard from a pony named Ursa. I thought it might be useful."
He looked more than a little skeptical. "Let me see it."
"It's in your mane. Here, let me get it," He turned around to give me access to his thick, green
locks. I ruffled through them for a few seconds, but nothing came out. It was gone.
"Damn! They must've taken it."
"Who took what now?"
"The imps. They took the postcard during the fight."
"Imps? What imps?"
"You know, the monsters."
"We're calling them imps now?"
"I'm calling them imps, I don't know what you're calling them."
"I thought they looked more like gremlins or gremlocks."
We were getting off track, as usual. We would've spent hours arguing about the
subtleties behind the names we'd chosen for the monsters than get anything productive done had I not forced the conversation back on track. "Stupid and unimaginative monster names aside, we should get to Twilight's place before those things come back. We've wasted a lot of time already, and I'm not sure your place is safe anymore," an added bonus I left out was that she had one of my spare telescopes, which meant I could continue my work without further interruption.
Our understanding of the events surrounding us was bare bones at best. The impending apocalypse started with Nightmare Moon's shifting of the stars. I'd need to learn more about the shifts if I wanted to know anything about the happenings in Ponyville.
Stacks tossed his mop to the floor. "Alright. Let me just grab a few things before we go."
It didn't take him long to put together a sack of the worldly possessions he held the most dear along with the saddlebags holding my research. We were at his front door a minute later, but Stacks didn't seem ready to leave yet. His eyes were fastened on the dead imps.
"Stacks?" he didn't look at me.
"Yeah, I forgot to do something."
"Well hurry up."
He disappeared into the house, then came back outside holding a mechanical lighter in his mouth. I took it from him, knowing that he wouldn't be able to operate it without magic.
"Let them know who they’re dealing with," he ordered blankly. I didn’t question him on it.
The imps looked even more alien and monstrous while on fire, their smiling faces glowing and melting from within the flames. I don't usually have nightmares, but I went to sleep with that image haunting my dreams for years after.
We didn't encounter anything on the way to Twilight's house, which set Stacks on edge. I thought he'd be happy that our so called "luck" was improving. He wasn't.
"Luck doesn't work that way, Sunny. There are always false starts that trick you into thinking your luck's changed when, in reality, the only thing that's happened is nothing."
I grinned, "Luck is stupid."
He couldn't help but smile too, "Your face is stupid."
"Yeah? Well, your mother's a..." whatever amazing comeback I had left me as soon as I saw Twilight's door knocked clean off its hinges and in pieces on her floor.
"I know man, just get inside!"
We rushed into the library, one after the other, but found no Twilight. Instead, there were overturned bookcases, their contents scattered around the room haphazardly. Shattered lamps, shredded paper, and broken quills filled the spaces where the books didn't. The destruction was so widespread that I couldn't trace where it finished and where it began.
I heard a muffled groan come from somewhere in the kitchen. Stacks gave me a nod and went to go check it out. He came back a half a minute later with a half-frozen Spike in tow. I rushed over immediately to check his pulse. It was dishearteningly weak.
"I found him tied up in the fridge. Looks like he's been in there for a while."
“His name’s Spike. He’s Twilight’s assistant.” I said, invoking a spell of telekenesis to lift Spike off of Stacks' back and into Twilight's bed. I put my magic to work on the sheets afterwards, wrapping them around him until he was in a cozy little ball on the bed.
“He’s fine, I think. He’s got hypothermia, but it doesn’t seem to be too serious.”
“Kid’s pretty tough for such a small dragon.” Stacks remarked passingly. I nodded in agreement.
"You should start boiling up a pot of tea. It'll help him warm up when he comes to."
"Cool, but before I do that, you might wanna take a look in the kitchen. There's something you need to see."
Something described the scene perfectly. There was a dead pegasus imp lying on the kitchen counter, its eyes torn out and its nose shredded to pieces. I placed a hoof on its neck. Its body was already cooling.
"I’m not sure how long it’s been, maybe a few hours since this imp died. That puts it before the attack on our house. Why’d they come here, Stacks? What was Twilight to them?"
"I don't know, Sunny."
"Unless..." the connection between me and Twilight was obvious enough. "Unless they knew Twilight was working with me on my research."
"Now you're just grasping at straws. There's no way that a bunch of gremlins-"
"Imps," I corrected. Stacks rolled his eyes.
"-or imps could've known that you and Twilight were working together on this. Hell, I'm not sure anybody aside from me and Spike knew about this."
"And yet here we are. Two attacks on the same night by the same creatures? There has to be something more going on."
"Maybe, but we don’t know for sure. Lets wait for Spike to wake up so he can tell us what went down in here.”
Stacks retreated into the kitchen, leaving me with the task of watching over Twilight’s little dragon helper. I didn’t know him well. He was usually asleep whenever I came around, and we never talked aside from the “Hi, how are you?” whenever our paths crossed during the day. A prayer of protection and of healing escaped my lips, clumsy in form but all the more sincere. I prayed for Spike to awaken soon, for the safety of my friends, and for the safety of anypony else who might have suffered because of me.
The next few minutes went on in relative silence, the only noise in the library coming from the kettle downstairs.
I didn’t like the idea of waiting around in Twilight’s library, but what else could we do? Nothing, that’s what. How many others had the imps attacked? How many more ponies were dragged off into the night by a swarm of smiling, chattering monsters? If they were willing to attack Twilight, the most powerful unicorn in Ponyville, and Stacks, who could’ve given Big Mac a run for his money in terms of strength and size, then no pony was safe from their nighttime raids.
If the imps were going to go around town at night and do this, then I needed to tell somepony. But who was I supposed to tell? The mayor was still locked in my wine cellar and Twilight had been taken by the imps. There wasn’t anypony else left who’d give me the benefit of a doubt about the little monsters.
I could try telling Twilight’s friends, they’d believe me if I told them their friend was in danger. Applejack was absolutely out of the question though, considering she was probably still furious over the whole incident in the Everfree Forest and the subsequent brawl with Stacks in the hospital. Rainbow Dash seemed like a good choice, what with her brash, headstrong nature. She might’ve believed me if it meant helping Twilight, but Rainbow Dash lived up in the clouds. I didn’t have wings, and levitation would only get me so far, so she was out. Pinkie Pie was... not an option. Like, at all. Ever.
Then, of course, Rarity was locked up in Canterlot and I didn’t have a clue who Fluttershy was beyond the base description of shy and yellow.
“Looks me and Stacks are on our own,” I murmured aloud. It wasn’t as bad as it sounded, really. It’s always been just Stacks and me running around, doing whatever it is two ponies like us do, and it wouldn’t have bothered me if things just stayed that way.
“I don’t know if we can do this all by ourselves. I mean, this is the end of the universe we’re talking about here, and I’ve still got to finish... my...” I cursed myself for forgetting about my spare telescope.
Twilight usually kept it and its tripod in a long box downstairs, but I couldn’t see it amongst all the clutter. I scanned my eyes over the mess of books again and again but found nothing. Then, I began to see the chaos in Twilight’s home for what it really was. The imps had been looking for something. Namely, my telescope.
They didn’t strike me as particularly smart creatures. They had to be getting marching orders, and who else to hand them out than the ponies working with not-Rarity and the mayor? Whoever these ponies were, they were smart, and they knew things about me that few others did.
Still, the fact that the imps weren’t very smart worked in my favor. I knew where Twilight kept her own telescope. Hers wasn’t quite as big as mine, but it’d allow me to keep on working. That’s all that mattered.
I magicked it from underneath her bed, then levitated it to the balcony on the second floor. The stars twinkled their welcome tiredly.
“It has been a long night, hasn’t it?” I asked them quietly. They concurred, mute as ever in the vacuum of space.
I guessed I had around another minute before the tea was ready, so I decided to make the rounds. The stars were still right where I’d left them, with Lyra taking up position on my right and Pegasus hiding beneath it in the distance. Leo and Leo Minor both lied somewhere over on the center left, and, just above it, was Ursa Major.
“Where’s Ursa Minor?” I questioned as I magically swiveled the telescope around. Draco was a little off, but otherwise in place. Cepheus looked like it was trying to reform itself but failing, and Camelopardalis was moving south at a steady pace. No, Ursa Minor was gone. An entire section of the sky had disappeared since my last stargaze. I glared accusingly at its neighbors, but they didn’t crack under my gaze.
“That’s... just not possible! How?” the stars did not answer me. They twinkled like innocent little angels above, unwilling to reveal the knowledge that I so desperately craved. Before I even had the chance to delve deeper into the mystery of the vanishing constellation, I heard Stacks call me down for tea.
We stood by Spike as he slept, sipping tea and speaking in hushed tones.
“Why isn’t he awake yet?”
“You got an appointment or something that I don’t know about?” he chuckled, taking another sip of his tea through a large purple straw. “Just relax bro. He’ll come back to the land of the living when he’s ready.”
“We aren’t exactly safe here, Stacks.”
“Lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.”
“That’s not even close to being true.”
“Doesn’t matter if it’s true or not,” he replied, still confident in his assessment of the situation. “It fits.”
“Well the longer we wait, the farther Twilight gets from us.”
“We’ll get her, don’t you worry about that.”
His confidence was gnawing at me, “What makes you so damn sure?”
“I just know. Faith, Sunny. You gotta have a little faith. ”