Chapter 26: Discovery
Gilda shook her head in disbelief. “It was you, Dash?” She closed the door quietly behind her.
“I wasn't going to steal it. Well, I was, for myself, before I remembered you. I got it for you, knowing you must be hungrier than I've ever been or could even imagine.”
“You're better than this. I mean, we're all hungry, but that's no reason to steal, even if our captors are criminals themselves. If we drop to their level, they'll beat us with experience. Lord Gareth this complicates things.”
“I know! I recognize it was a mistake now. But I had no way of knowing it would cause such a big deal at the time . We can just give it back, right?”
“No. No, that's just it. During any other time, perhaps. But this Famine has used up all the food stores. Due to necessity, stealing food has become one of the higher crimes. It's punishable by death.”
“But if you're killed, you'll just come back to life, right?” interrupted Applejack.
“Not quite. It's possible to make death more permanent, and, though the method is a bit troublesome and costly, they're not afraid to use it. They reserve it for war criminals and those they need to make examples of.”
They sat in silence for a moment, Rainbow lowering her head in shame while Gilda watched her with both understanding and irritation. “Rainbow, I'm glad you were thinking of me, but now we're trapped in a really bad place. At any moment they could step through the door and somebody's going to have to take the punishment.”
The door swung open at that moment, and everyone's hearts leaped in terror. Spike shut the door behind him, looking to each of the friends with concern. “Did I interrupt something?”
“Hush Spike, get in here. We need secrecy...who's your friend?” Twilight asked, worrying she might have just compromised their meeting.
“This is Thorn, my reflection. I met him at the library when I was snooping around. Turns out if you had let me get in more scuffles as I was growing up I could have my wings by now.”
“Is Thorn, uh...a friend?”
“As far as I can tell. He seems pretty cool. Oh, and I almost forgot.” Spike paused for dramatic effect, not realizing the severity of the situation he had walked into. “I got you this.”
He held out the book he had been holding behind his back.
“Spike, I'm sorry, but we don't have much tim–” Twilight cut off as she saw the title. “You didn't.”
“I did!” Thorn gave a squawk of protest. “Alright, he helped. It was in the local library, the Library of The Lost. All lost information from Reality ends up there.”
Twilight picked up the long sought book, A Study of Alicorns: Their Psychology and Physiology. Just when she had given up ever finding the elusive title, here it was. She sighed, putting her curiosity, and the book, aside for later. “Thanks Spike. I'm grateful for this, I really am, but Rainbow's put us in a bit of a pickle.”
“Oh? What'd you do this time?”
“I stole an apple, which is punishable by death, apparently.”
“Yeah. I'm truly sorry about this, all of you. Hindsight's twenty-twenty, right?”
“Still doesn't change the fact that what's happened has happened.” Gilda looked to each of the ponies. “But we shouldn't worry about it either. We can't change the past, so let's work with the present.”
“What are our options?”
“First would be to return the apple immediately and beg mercy. They might give it to you. But I wouldn't count on it. I've been here too long. Shuddercry is only reigned in while the others are around. If you gave her an excuse to hurt you Dash, she'd take it. Secondly would be to hide it, eat it, give completely into the crime and hope that somehow you escape their investigation. But they'll make the connections pretty soon, and it'd be terrible to become guilty of the crime you're blamed for. Lastly, you could have somebody else take the fall for you. Blame it on some other unfortunate sap.”
“Never. I'll take the beating before anyone else will.”
Gilda smiled tiredly. “There's the Dash I know. Well, we'll just have to deal with it as it comes. You and I think better on our feet anyways. Might as well use this time to read that new book of yours, Twilight. It's better than stressing over something we've lost control of.”
Twilight looked at Thorn in her peripheral vision. He was Spike's reflection, which probably meant he was working for Lustrous Revolt, and he already knew quite a few compromising facts about the friends. Seeing as Rainbow's problem was no longer secret, it was only a matter of time before the other reflections knew, if he was indeed working towards their destruction. But he had helped Spike bring the book. He could just as easily be here to help. What could she do? Ask him to leave? That'd likely only cause more problems. There wasn't anything to do, except act as if he wasn't there.
Seeing the troubles come to a somewhat satisfying conclusion, Twilight prepared to open the book, grasping the cover in her recovering telekinetic field. She breathed out heavily. Here it was. She shook her head. It'd be in direct opposition to Celestia's will if she opened this book. Celestia had tried to rid the world of whatever was in here. She had judged that its contents were not for anypony's eyes.
You know what though, Twilight decided, Celestia's judgment hasn't always been the most sound. The anger festering in this realm was proof enough of that. Celestia deserved the benefit of the doubt, but Twilight couldn't live with that doubt any longer. She threw the book open, and began reading aloud.
“Alicorns. What magnificent beings. The pony race in its purest form. This manifest was written to reveal their inner workings and source of their glory. A brief account of the history of the first Alicorns is given by consent and for understanding's sake. The contents of this book are meant for the betterment of all sentient creatures of Equestria and the world beyond. The knowledge inside is powerful, and the most precious I've collected. To use it for dark purposes will only lead to destruction of self.
-Quicksilver, co-authored and overseen by Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.”
“Quite the introduction. I didn't know the Princesses helped write a book.”
“Neither did I, Rarity. Hush.
“First and foremost, it must be mentioned that the position of Alicorn comes with duty. Alicorns are protectors, mediators, and comforters. Those who have risen to become Gods but have then rejected these most fundamental of maxims have all been lost, either defeated by the righteous or consumed by their own lust for power.”
Twilight looked over what she had just read once again. “Risen to become Gods? Alicorns aren't born?” She flipped quickly through the book, looking for some sort of heading that would answer some of her newfound questions.
“The Ascension Process. Becoming an Alicorn seems largely caused by the whims of fate, though proper preparation will increase the likelihood of survival. There are three key aspects of the ascension process. First and foremost, the Alicorn-to-be must be so fixated on a single concept, idea, or feeling that they embody it more than any other being. Our wise ruler Princess Celestia represents Mercy, for example, while Princess Luna represents Justice. This fixation can only come, it seems, from a traumatic event that rebirths the pony in the aftermath. Secondly, after the fixation is acquired, an influx of power or arcane energy must engulf the candidate. Recorded examples are from otherwise deadly lightning strikes, chemical and crystalline explosions, concentrated attacks from other Alicorns and in the case of our Princesses, the mysterious Elements of Harmony.
“After the power surge is acquired, it triggers a hallucinogenic dream that from an outside perspective seems almost instantaneous, but some have reported spending the mental equivalent of weeks in the dream. The dream puts the rising Alicorn through a series of trials and visions that force them to fully recognize who they are. Faults and strengths, the truths they've refused to believe rise to acknowledgment and the lies they have told themselves are cast aside. In the culmination of this dream, the candidate must announce to themselves and the world the fixation they are to represent. If they cannot admit it to themselves or they simply are not fixated, their body will lose control of the potent energy and it will destroy them. If however, they manage to harness the energy correctly, the physiological change occurs. They become, in body, an Alicorn, though they've yet to complete the ascension.
“The final step is to form the Alicorn's Creation. This serves as both the source of their power and the physical tie to their soul. This connection to their soul is what makes Alicorns immortal. As long as their Creation remains intact, an Alicorn cannot be killed without consent. Their physical body may be stripped away, but their soul will live on, passively gaining energy until it has enough to reform its body.”
Twilight looked up to her friends, who, for the first time after one of her long readings, were still quite alert and watching her. “This makes so much sense. If, as Lustrous Revolt claimed, Celestia really did kill Luna, the 'banishment' was Nightmare Moon returning to her Creation to rebuild her body.”
“Celestia? Kill Luna?”
Twilight smacked her forehead. She had forgotten to tell the others her story. She gave a quick recap of what had happened on her day out, then returned her attention to the book, flipping through the few pages she had just read. “This really is powerful information, and it's strange I'd finally get to read it right after this Seren tells me he could unlock my potential. I can see why Celestia wouldn't want this in the wrong hooves.”
She frowned. “Though, she sent it here, to the Forgotten Realm. I'd say that's right into the wrong hooves. She wouldn't be so shortsighted. She really is a good ruler, despite a few mistakes, and she's anything but foolish. She must have known about the dark personalities, and could she really allow the possibility of dark Alicorns rising?”
“You read that if the information is used for dark purposes, that the Alicorns created from it always die out,” Fluttershy sniffed. “Killed by their ambition or by the righteous.”
“There's a first time for everything. If a single dark Alicorn survived, it could change the entire balance of the system.” Twilight shut the book. “That's enough for now. I can only handle so much speculation before I become a nervous wreck. We'll have to keep the book secret and read more later. We don't want it confiscated.” She looked to Thorn, who returned her gaze. He scratched the back of his neck with his hind leg, his disinterest blatant.
Twilight stood up, stretching her legs. Where to hide the book? Ideally, she'd want to keep it on her at all times, but without her confiscated saddlebags that wouldn't be too easy. Besides, even if the reflections had let her keep them, the addition of the large, bulky tome would attract unwanted attention. She might be able to set up a teleport gateway between herself and a safe hiding spot. The link, like the homeostasis shield, however, would be a drain on her already weakened system. And the reflections would be quite adamant about keeping her magic reserves low. No, that wouldn't work either.
Inspiration struck her, many pieces of a puzzle she'd been mulling over falling into place. She might be subject to the rules of this world, but that didn't mean she had to be restrained by them. “Gilda, how exactly does the resurrection field work in the Forgotten Realm?”
“Once we die, through whatever means, we're reborn at exactly midnight the next day. Usually it's where we fell, but the residents here figured out long ago how to tether our souls to specific locations. Typically, we'd rise back at our base of operations, but war isn't kind. Once we've been captured, they keep us in these camps, where they allow us to starve to death. But death is even less of a relief than usual. Our souls are restrained by the magical barriers around the camp, and so we are stuck in a perpetual loop of starvation and death.” She laughed nervously. “Sorry, I guess that answered a bit more than you want to know, but it's what I think of every day.”
“So, tethering your souls...how exactly do you do it?”
“It's not going to help you very much to tether to the camp.”
“I have something else in mind.”
“Well, it takes a bit of concentration. The main idea is to create a false memory of home that ingrains itself into your mind. Any number of methods would technically work, but the one that most people have success with is to imagine their spirits leaving their body and finding peace and comfort wherever they're attempting to tether to. You have to create the feelings of home away from home, in a world where those feelings don't exist.”
“Alright. Midnight's coming up, so I'm going to try something crazy. I'm not quite certain what exactly will happen, but it's the only choice I have.”
Twilight closed her eyes in concentration. She cleared her mind of all thought, until she could perfectly imagine herself sitting, exactly as she was, on the hard wooden floor. She did as Gilda had described, imagining a translucent Twilight step out of her motionless body. The soul stepped forward and picked up the book. She looked it over for a moment. The beautiful blue binding with silver lettering, that old book smell that spoke of her childhood, and the weight that older books seemed to have which let you know it held secrets patiently waiting to be discovered. Twilight held the book tight to herself, right over her heart. She poured in all the emotions that had almost been choked out of life by this world into the embrace. Serenity, pure inexpressible joy, protection, and finally, unadulterated love. The consciousness driving the imagined scene felt the weight of her troubles disappear. The living Twilight gave a sigh of peace as her soul stepped back inside, then shuddered and opened her eyes.
Her friends were watching her with a combination of fright and awe.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No, you just...you actually managed to separate your soul. We could see it, Twilight. We could see you.” Rarity was looking her friend over with wonderment
Twilight blinked. She had not been expecting that. But if it served its purpose, it didn't matter. “Quick Spike, burn the book.”
“Burn the book!?” yelled more than a couple of her friends.
“But Twilight, it's not like the scrolls. It hasn't been prepared with the proper spells. And I don't think the Princess could receive transdimensional letters anyways. Not that you'd want to send a book to her that she destroyed anyway, but...”
“Just do it Spike. Call it a hunch, but I know this will work.”
“Twilight, I've never heard of objects being reborn.” Gilda touched the book with an outstretched claw, tracing the binding.
“And I hadn't heard of a library that captures all lost information. Sounds awfully similar to the resurrection field, if you ask me. Just do it Spike.”
“Don't get mad at me later when it doesn't work.” He took a deep breath, hesitating for just a moment before he incinerated the text with a careful, steady stream of wicked hot fire.
Twilight nodded. “We'll see how that worked at midnight. At least for now, it's hidden.”
Just in time. Fluttershy squealed with fear next to the window, all heads turning to her. “Some of our reflections are coming. And they don't look too happy!”
Rainbow panicked, trotting in place as she searched for somewhere to hide. There wasn't anywhere, of course. The prisoner's sleeping areas had been designed like that. “Gilda! What do I do?”
“I'm sorry Dash. You'll never forgive me.”
“What are you talking about? I know this was all my fault.”
“That's exactly why I'm willing to take the blame.” Gilda rushed forward and grabbed the apple from Rainbow Dash, taking a hearty bite from it.
“Gilda?! What are you doing?”
The door burst open on the scene, a furious Jackie leading Shuddercry and Spectral Slash. Gilda waved towards them, took another bite, then wiped her mouth of the fragrant juices. “Oh, sorry.” She held the contraband out to the dumbstruck doppelgängers. “Did you want some?”