The Amulet of Shades

by Sparkle Cola


Chapter Four: Sisters' School

A thousand years since mother’s banishment… a thousand and twelve, to be precise. You had adequate time to carefully craft a plan to successfully free Luna from Celestia’s grasp. To liberate her from whatever dominating spell or magical influence that restrains her. How could you be so stupid?

Tempest ground her teeth together as she reflected on the events of that morning. Each mistake was examined and catalogued with her eye for exacting detail. She had become sloppy in her time away from her studies, away from her books. She had become lazy and soft.

Ironic, that I call myself lazy and soft after travelling to the opposite side of the world and back. What other pony could claim such a feat, and complete the journey in one piece. Ironic, considering what I had to deal with… what I had to deny myself of when I fell into that abyss.

Granted, the rapid procession of events since arriving in Equestria this morning had left her disoriented and confused. So much had changed about the nation she thought she knew. The buildings and structures had become massive; the cities, more populous. There were little to no tensions between the pony tribes that she could tell, and even the more hostile races like griffons and minotaurs seemed to be walking around without a care—unchallenged and unopposed! How could this level of peace and harmony have been achieved while that usurper sits on the throne? It just wasn’t right.

So much had changed, except for one glaring item that could not be ignored. Luna was still a prisoner after all this time. Sure, she had returned from completing her wrongful sentence on the moon, but now that she was back, she seemed to be a slave to Celestia’s will. It was the only explanation that began to make sense, which caused Tempest no small amount of fear. If she were to challenge Celestia, and Luna was nearby, she would surely fail. Luna would be forced to defend her sister, and Tempest wouldn’t dare raise a hoof to harm her own mother. She had to draw Luna far away to the other side of Equestria, and then?

Celestia needed to die.

Tempest shuddered for a moment as she reflected on that simple sentence. It came so easy now. What was once unthinkable was now the end most sought after. Circumstances had driven her to this point and this outcome was all that was left. She would kill the ruler of Equestria. Wouldn’t anypony else pursue the same ends, given the same situation?

Innocent ponies might be harmed.

Tempest squeezed her eyes shut, pushing that thought to the side. Harm of the innocents was something she would not tolerate. The common pony didn’t have any type of stake in the coming battle—no concept of any wrongdoing by their Ruler of the Day. And Celestia’s ponies would defend her without question, ignorant of the true history of their ruler, and how she wrongfully built up her own power by deposing her sister.

They didn’t know, but Tempest did. She knew first hand what had happened, and she had been a witness to what came after, thanks to the entity that she encountered after falling down that hole into the abyss.

At the end of the day, the ends will justify the means.

It was a painful thought. Such a stance on morality used to be an affront and she had actually debated on the subject during a philosophy class while at Sisters’ School. The irony of her acceptance of this phrase was not lost on her. Still, she would most likely fail if she did not conduct her affairs in just such a manner. Wasn’t Luna worth it?

However, that being the case, Tempest swore that she would do anything to minimize or avoid any collateral damage. It was the only way she could stomach it. She would have to be flawless in order to harm as few as possible. A surgical strike with absolute precision.

Like an eclipse.

After hurrying back to the study room she had been working in, Tempest cleaned up the water she had poured onto the table for an impromptu scrying surface. Drying the mess, she collected the books she had been reading and left them among the sorting shelves of the lobby. Glancing around the room to make sure no ponies were gazing her way, Tempest slipped the book from the restricted section into her saddle bags.

Without any more time to waste, Tempest exited the library, visually scanning the area before crossing the street. It wouldn’t be long before the police arrived. Seeing no sign of law enforcement ponies, Tempest slipped into an alleyway between two of the taller buildings across the street, and did some mental calculations to determine the height she would need for a vertical teleport. Satisfied with the results, she drew upon her magic and triggered the spell, landing with a soft clop on the roof of the building that was immediately to her right.

Tempest walked up to the ledge, carefully scanning around again to regain her orientation and to make certain there were no other ponies nearby. Her stomach fluttered a little as she looked down from her perch, at a height of about sixty meters above the paved street. While it was tempting to leave now and simply move on to the next aspect of her plans, she felt it would be more valuable to watch the behavior and the capabilities of the police officers that would respond. Beyond that, she wanted to see that Moonlight Sigil was okay.

She frowned, her mind wandering back to her various mistakes again. How could she overlook the necessity of creating identification papers in order to pass through the port? While it was true that Gryphus did not have the need for such regulations, being comprised of their many fractured clans and semi-organized states, Equestria was radically different. She should’ve prepared for this contingency before she made her voyage!

Then there was that Krystal’s Crucible magic store, with that useless stallion shop owner. What a mess of confusion and embarrassment, to ask such clumsy questions and arouse his suspicions! It would have saved her a lot of trouble had she researched the topic first. Then, she would have caught on to the fact that amulet-tech had been entirely covered up, and that the possession of unicorn horns was considered verboten.

Finally, her failure in the library was humiliating. Granted, magically sealing the door might have been seen as suspicious, but she could’ve at least hidden the materials she was reading. But she had been too busy patting herself on the back for magically defeating the wards protecting the restricted section Then, she made matters worse when she froze up after the Librarian opened the door to the room. She could still recall the look of terror in Moonlight Sigil’s eyes after she cornered her in her office.

This line of thinking was not helpful. Shaking her head for a moment to clear it, Tempest refocused on the arched entryway of the library. Everything was going to be fine. This little mishap had not caused anypony harm. Moonlight would only be unconscious for about fifteen minutes. Emergency responders would likely just chalk this event up to old age.

Moonlight Sigil was only disconnected from her most recent memories, anyway. Such a spell was considered forbidden at Sisters’ School, but as long as I apply such techniques judiciously for a moral cause, it will be fine. What is more disturbing is the power of this artifact hanging from my neck. The power it grants to see the memories and experiences of another, as if they were scenes played out on stage, could be so easily abused!  

Whichever way this event would end up playing out, it was bound to upset Meadow Lark, so hopefully she was running late and all of this would simply blow over. Meadow was a pleasant pony, but that mare was altogether too distracting. That being the case, it was time to distance herself from such distractions and get something done on the work she was here for.

Folding her legs under her to rest her head on the edge of the parapet, Tempest heaved a nostalgic sigh. Even during her tumultuous time spent at Sisters’ School, the school library was one place she could count on to always find peace and security. She still remembered the joy of first setting hoof on campus.

***

One thousand and sixteen years earlier…

“You excited, Temp?”

“Oh yeah!” Tempest bounced on the tips of her hooves, not caring if other students of families were giving her some strange looks as she gave the lavender pegasus an ear to ear smile. “I’m nervous, but this is like the best day ever! Thanks again for help on the school’s application, Aunt Mavis!” Tempest reared up to give Mavis a crushing hug, reaching as far around her barrel as her shorter legs could go.

Mavis gave a soft chuckle in response, hugging the younger filly and patting her back while she looked over to top of her head at Sweet Potato’s amused expression. Sweet’s small lips drew into a smile, her eyes glimmering with additional moisture.

“Tempy, you had better give your mom another hug, now. Sweet’s gonna be missing you the most, what with being your Mom and all.” Mavis pointed a wing at the the beige mare, whose gently curving shoulders and hips stood a few inches shorter than Mavis’ muscular frame. Despite her smaller size, Sweet Potato didn’t show any fatigue while easily bearing the weight of Tempest’s baggage across her flanks. Such a thing was hardly noticeable for an earth pony.

Sweet Potato reached out a hoof to gather her filly in, pulling Tempest into her embrace. The moisture in her eyes began to emerge just a tad as a stray tear made its way down her cheek. “My Tempest.” She cooed. “I’m so proud of you. Ever since I found you on my doorstep those thirteen years ago, you have been my very precious, little horn-headed treasure.”

They held the embrace for another few moments before a few sharp metallic clicks and reports sounded out from the main doors of the Royal Equestrian Auditorium. “C’mon, dear. It looks like they are opening the doors. Let’s find ourselves some seats for the orientation.”

Tempest released the hug as she watched the massive double doors part, creaking open slowly towards the ponies waiting outside. There were several guards to either side, but one in particular struck her as peculiar. He had wings that were only sparsely covered with feathers, and the expanse of skin underneath seemed to resemble that of a bat more than a pegasus. She had heard of bat ponies of course, but ponies expressing the genetic parentage in a dual fashion such as this was very rare.

She tried not to stare, but he cut a very imposing figure with chiseled muscles under his deep blue armor, the sun glinting off of the deep charcoal gray of his coat as if it were polished. His mane was a darker charcoal hue, offset by a noticeable shade of yellow centered only near the roots of the hair. The rank insignia on the side of the armor suggested he was in a position of authority among the guard, but she didn’t know the significance of the bars on his shoulder and the stars on his collar. Tempest’s eyes widened as she realized he was gazing back at her with a warm smile, displaying some rather prominent canines.

“Good morning,” he rumbled, never once breaking eye contact. His voice was surprisingly gentle and deep, and his eyes were mesmerizing, the pupils slits of deep black suspended in pools of yellow-gold. Tempest felt her heart clench under the intensity of his gaze, but her mom had raised her to carry herself with confidence and dignity.

“Um, hi…” Tempest swallowed as she recoiled, ducking her head and darting between the taller forms of her mother and her aunt as she hid herself. So much for confidence and dignity.

As they passed between the doors, Tempest looked over to find Aunt Mavis studying her with an unreadable expression. She also thought she heard a light chuckle from the same guard.  “W-Who was that?’

“That, my dear Tempy, was none other than the Captain of the Lunar guard. Seems he fancies you, eh?”

Tempest felt her cheeks flush with heat. If they weren’t tinged with a blush before, they surely would be now. “What? Don’t tease, Aunt Slushy!”

Mavis laughed in response while Sweet Potato turned her head back to observe the stallion again, pursing her lips. “He is a rather stunning figure, isn’t he?” Sweet murmured. “What do you think, Mavis?”

“Aye,” Mavis smiled. “That he is, love. But rumor has it that he’s already spoken for by the Princess of the Night herself. The two have been faithful for about seventeen years now!”

The ponies passed to the other side of the lobby, going through a smaller set of doors before pausing to allow their eyes to adjust to the darker interior of the auditorium. The room was massive, and staircases descended from their position to either side, skirting the back wall down to the main floor.

Tempest reared up to peer over the back railing. The architecture of the auditorium was impressive, almost to the point of being ostentatious. In all of her days at Hoofdale, she had never seen the like. Elevated box seating jutted proudly from the sides of the auditorium, supported by prominences from the wall that tapered back to be even with the load bearing walls along the sides. Each box was decorated with flowers and gold leaf trim. Rich hues of mahogany wood and deep wine colored upholstery gave the fold-down seating a luxurious look. Slate gray carpeting gave off a stately appearance while accenting the colors of the deep reds and golds which dominated the overall decor. Finally, massive banners interspersed along the walls and across the back of the stage proudly displayed Celestia’s and Luna’s heraldry colors.

Turning to make a comment to her mother, Tempest found that Sweet Potato had been struck dumb as well, her mouth forming into a little “o.”

“Well!” Mavis broke them both out of their stupor with a toothy grin. “It’s not every day one gets to visit the Royal Equestrian Auditoriuml, now is it?” C’mon, there’s plenty of room— let’s sit somewhere nice and close, aye?”

Tempest and her mom both responded oppositely but simultaneously as well.

“ —Cool, right behind you, Mav!”

“ —Um, I don’t think we really ought to…”

Ignoring Sweet Potato’s reticence, Mavis’s wings gave a single flap of excitement before she turned around and began to make her way toward the stairs on the right. “That’s the spirit! Let’s make ourselves comfortable. If the hanging banners are any indication, it looks like the Princesses themselves will be presiding. Maybe they will make some remarks…”

“Yeah! Let’s sit as close as we can!” Tempest chirped.

Sweet Potato quietly followed, still shaking her head in awe.

***

Tempest looked around as more ponies filled the seats behind them. They were near the right side on the ninth row, and she was feeling giddy with the prospect of seeing the princesses up close. Turning her head to take in all of the ponies around her, she noted that there were far more adults than ponies her age. This must be the kind of event where extended families and friends all came together to celebrate and support the new enrollees. She knew that her class size numbered only forty individuals, as it always does, but there were several hundreds of adult ponies in attendance. She also took notice that there were a couple of ponies along the sides of the room rapidly sketching on easels what looked like soon-to-be paintings of the room they were in, including all of the ponies in attendance. Maybe they were news ponies creating images for the Ponyvale Information Network. Tempest hoped her yellow coat would stand out in the image, and that she would be able to see the paper later.

Looking towards the stage again, there were two ornate thrones on either side, and a podium for speaking near the front. Already seated on the stage were many other ponies on either side; ponies that looked rather stuffy and pretentious. Tempest guessed that they must be school administrators and professors and the like.

Sweet Potato suddenly leaned in, speaking in a low voice. “Tempest, I just wanted to tell you again how proud I am of you.” The lights began to fade slowly as Tempest felt her heart quicken its pace. “While I am proud that my little filly has such talent as to be taken by Sisters’ Academy on her very first application—”

“ —C’mon, Mom! I’m fourteen…” Tempest complained, “I’m hardly a little filly— ”

“ —Oh, you will always be my little filly, sweetheart. Now shush, momma’s having a moment.” Tempest squeaked as Sweet pulled her sideways into another hug, this time made awkward as she was yanked halfway over the armrest. Tempest rolled her eyes as she heard Mavis chuckling behind her. Mom always did have a quirky side to her sense of humor.

“What I was saying is that while it is exciting to see you accepted into Sisters’ Academy, on your very first application no less, what we’re the most proud of is that you are such a noble, kind, and generous pony. Dedicated to your work… loyal to your loved ones. We are proud of who you are in here.” Sweet Potato placed a hoof gently over Tempest’s heart.

Feeling a burning warmth in her chest, Tempest averted her gaze for a moment, but when she looked away Mavis caught her eye. “It’s true, Tempy.” Mavis pushed on her, knocking her back into the waiting hooves of her mother. “We’re both proud of you. Sometimes I had my doubts, but sure enough—there’s a lot of brains under that pointy horn of yours.”

Mavis lightly tugged the tip of Tempest’s horn back and forth with a hoof, making her head waggle. “Besides. I don’t think you’ve realized how special you are just yet. But I’m willing to bet that there are those in this school that will help you see it.”

Wishing she could be somewhere else other than getting embarrassed by both her mom and her mom’s best friend, Tempest was relieved to see some movement off to the side of the stage to the far left. The lights faded the rest of the way down as a hush fell over the crowd. The princesses were making their way across, and before Tempest knew it, all of the ponies around her were standing as one and bowing down. No further sound could be heard other than the steady cadence of their hooves as they made their way across. Celestia walked up to the podium while Luna took her seat on the throne situated in front of the Lunar Heraldry.

Tempest felt her heart thudding harder in her chest. This was the first time she had seen the Princesses in the flesh, except for the brief glimpse she was able to gain when her mom took her on a sightseeing trip to Ponyvale several years ago. But that was from over two-hundred meters away. By comparison, this was like having Celestia stand in her front lawn!

Celestia flared her wings in a stunning display, as if she needed to gain everypony’s attention. The act was unnecessary, as she held every gaze.

The Princess smiled as she held up a hoof. “Welcome, my little ponies, families and friends of our newest pupils. Welcome, my new students! Princess Luna and I are both delighted to receive you as you prepare to set forth on your freshman school year. Here, in our humble. Little. School.”

Celestia smiled pleasantly as she allowed the audience to enjoy the mirth with a few chuckles. Sisters’ Academy was anything but a little school. The renowned school directed by the Diarchs of Equestria was the most prestigious, the most honored, and the most sought after of all educational institutions across Equestria. There were other institutions focused on earth pony and pegusi talents, but they were not as glamorous or well-known.

Celestia continued her remarks, describing her pleasure in looking forward to meeting all of her new pupils, and the great opportunities those ponies could look forward to. After another few generalities over how excited she was, and how happy everypony should be, she turned and gestured for her younger sister to come speak.

During Celestia’s speech, Tempest had been trying to focus on what she was saying. Tempest had been hanging on every word until she noticed that the eyes of the Lunar Princess seemed to be focused directly on her. Blinking for a second, Tempest turned to look behind her, to see if there might have been a pony of some great importance there. Seeing only more families and students, Tempest turned again, finding Princess Luna’s eyes still on her.

And the princess seemed to be smiling!

Surely this had to be her imagination. Why out of all the hundreds of ponies here would Luna single her out and look at her? She was just a lowly commoner hailing from the earth pony village of Hoofdale.

As if a spell were suddenly broken, Princess Luna blinked as she was introduced by her sister, Celestia. Breaking her gaze away from… whoever she was looking at, the Lunar Princess rose from her throne and strolled majestically to the podium. Tempest edged closer to the front of her seat as she watched.

As Celestia came to her throne positioned in front of the Celestial Heraldry, Luna began. “Welcome ponies, friends and families!” Neither sister needed any magical enhancement to amplify their voice, as they were able to magnify their voice by several magnitudes in what was known as the Royal Alicorn Voice. “I also welcome you to Sisters’ Academy. There will be much to discuss in your orientation process, but first—let me describe to you the process in which you will each be assigned to your respective houses. Each of you will take written, verbal, kinesthetic, and magical aptitude tests. These exams will analyze many different metrics, including your breadth of knowledge, your skill set, your gifts and talents, and your personality traits. The results of these tests will be considered in your assignment to the appropriate house: whether Princess Celestia will be your principal mentor, or whether your tutelage will take place under myself, Princess Luna.”

Princess Luna stopped for a moment, her eyes glittering as she looked across the ponies from one end of the room to the other. With a a hoof lifted overhead, Luna’s smile broadened. “It is time! Time to learn whether your specialties and subtleties will land you in the house of the more ostentatious Solars, or if instead, you will be among the elite ponies, whose rare talents will land themselves in the house of the more perspicacious Lunars!” Luna finished her point by giving a hoof pump on every other syllable of ‘perspicacious’ and ‘Lunars.’ Finishing her remarks, she turned and gave a rather cheeky grin towards her sister, who did little more than roll her eyes at her sister’s antics.

Tempest looked around with some initial confusion at the murmuring and whispering of the ponies around her. She had no idea what perspicacious meant, but she did recognize a teasing challenge when she saw one. Princess Luna seemed unexpectedly playful, which was somewhat surprising given her expectations about what she thought was going to be quite a dry and formal affair.

As she listened more carefully to the voices around her, Tempest caught that many of the adult ponies seemed scandalized that Princess Luna would behave in such an unseemly manner.

Behind her to the right, a sky-blue pegasus stallion was whispering to his son. “That kind of conduct—unbecoming of royalty— is exactly why ponies don’t like Luna. You’d better be permitted into the Solar house, and not under that… nightmare of a princess!”

A little ways further back, Tempest could make out what another student’s mother was saying: “Please, don’t get taken in by the Lunar House, Silver! It is the Solar House that has all of the connections with the nobility! All Princess Luna is good for is speaking up for those miserable mud-ponies.”

It was amazing to her that ponies looked at the diarchs of their nation as something less than equal. No, it was more than that! It seemed from some of the voices around her that some ponies were actually turning their noses up at Princess Luna. Granted, the majority of the whispers only conveyed some puzzlement, but the rest? Tempest couldn’t believe what she was hearing! She would be ecstatic to be assigned to either house—it was simply enough to just be here, honing her magical skills under the best mentors possible!

For a moment, Luna looked a little unsure of herself until Celestia stepped forward, raising a hoof to signal for quiet, the ponies of the audience immediately complying with her wishes as the room became silent again.

“What my perspicacious sister said, my dear little ponies, I fully endorse.” Celestia looked over to her sister before pulling her to her side with a wing, Luna’s troubled expression went away, masked again with a small smile. “Before we move into the next phase of orientation, the examination process, I have one further item to discuss.”

“We have such a wonderful diversity of applicants and families, some of whom have travelled a great distance to support their loved ones: some from as far away as the community of Trottingham, in the Griffish Isles!  I encourage all of you to mingle with the others present. Express your kinship and camaraderie to each other, for among you ponies here are some of the finest of Equestria.”

“Refreshments have been placed by our staff all along the back wall of the auditorium. You may each converse and eat at your leisure while we call your children—our new students— back two by two. Before the formal examination process begins, Luna and I will interview each pupil personally. While we wish we could get to know each family member as well, just as personally as we will get to know our students, please be assured that we love and appreciate you all. Thank you.

Celestia and Luna walked off to the left side while all of the ponies present politely cheered by clopping their hooves. As they made their exit to the left, Tempest couldn’t help but follow the Lunar princess with her eyes.

Perhaps she would look over, just one more time? But no, that would be silly—besides, Princess Luna’s eyes were rather hidden now, what with her light blue hiding part of her face. Just as the Princess arrived near the curtain, Luna suddenly turned her head again and made direct eye contact. Tempest’s eyes grew wide, as she swore she could feel her heart stop. She did look at her—and was still looking!

“Well Tempy?” Mavis’ voice called out in a hearty tone giving her a start as the spell was broken again. “What say you and I get to the punch bowl and help ourselves to their brew, aye? I don’t think your name will be called for a while, seeing as the letter ‘T’ comes so late in the alphabet.”

Tempest quickly looked back again, but by this time the Lunar Princess had moved beyond the curtain boundary. Huffing with frustration, she looked back at Mavis’s smiling face before she relented and smiled as well. Looking over to her mom who was now standing and stretching her hind legs, Tempest suddenly had an ugly thought. “You think it will be okay, momma? I heard some of the adults talking under their breaths about mud-ponies. Will we be able to mingle?”

A shadow fell over Sweet Potato’s eyes before her gaze softened again. “Ah, Tempest. Ponies will be ponies. Come. Let’s mingle and go find some friendly faces… and let’s not worry about the rest.”

“Aye.” Mavis growled. “You won’t have to worry none, Sweetie. Neither of ya will. If any pony even so much as breathes out an unkind epithet, I’ll be sure to straighten them out.”

***

Tempest shifted her legs to reposition herself while surveying the library entrance from her vantage point on the parapet. She smiled as she recalled passing the various aptitude tests Luna had described. Having been raised in the mostly earth pony town of Hoofdale, she wasn’t sure about her talents in the magic arts until she noticed the exam proctor’s eyes growing bigger and bigger as he progressively increased the challenge during her trial. She went from an unknown to a sought after commodity in a matter of minutes, but it was Luna herself who put her hoof down and named Tempest as the newest inductee into her stewardship.

Movement from below recaptured Tempest’s attention as she noticed a few ponies emerging from the Library’s cavernous entrance below. There seemed to be several ponies heading out of the entrance as a group, but going their separate ways when they reached the street.

Wait a moment. Why are they running?

Tempest got up stiffly as she rose up to get a better view. Sure enough, the patrons leaving the library were not exiting in any normal fashion. Instead, these ponies were either pounding the pavement at a full gallop, or flying away at full speed, their manes and tails billowing behind them. Some took an occasional glance behind their shoulders as they fled, as if they were afraid of being followed.

What in Equestria is going on?

The flow of ponies trickled quickly, but soon several more emerged, only this group seemed to be surrounding and aiding a few injured souls in the middle, and they were helping them hobble towards the street in a hurried manner. One seemed to be bleeding from her head, and her eyes seemed to be glazed in shock. Tempest’s heart began to speed up as she felt her throat constricting.

Thinking quickly, Tempest enacted an auditory amplification spell known as Eavesdrop, although she didn’t use the eaves of the library as her focus. That would be too far removed from the door. Instead, she used the surface of the statue of Luna as a medium to pick up sound vibrations, and then connected the effect back to her horn via an active mana stream flow. Immediately, her ears picked up a few scattered cries and fearful shouts coming from within. The sounds struck her as frighteningly out of place, seeing as they were coming from inside an institution better known for peace and quiet study.

Try as she might, Tempest couldn’t look away, neither would she dare turn off the spell. She felt sick, thinking that whatever was going on in there was likely her fault, but she couldn’t leave. She had to see this to its conclusion. Suddenly a guttural snarl filled her ears, causing her to snap her head to the side to look behind her.

Nothing’s up here on the roof—that animalistic sound came from the Library as well.

Clenching her jaw as she debated whether or not she should risk a teleport back down to offer assistance, even at the risk of everything she was even here for, Tempest noted with a sinking sensation a certain cloud-blue mare emerge from around the corner down the street. Meadow Lark must have completed her errands and had returned to check up on her, perhaps planning to invite her to dine at her cousin’s house.

Tempest shook her head slowly as she watched the mare. Meadow was a gentle, innocent pony, naive to some of the darker things of this world, but now she was walking straight into danger. Tempest wondered how she could warn her away, or distract her, but she was drawing a blank, bereft of ideas. The situation was starting to tumble out of control, and she felt powerless to stop it.

And what was that sound? Maybe a wild animal? Not likely. Was it some unexpected effect from using the artifact? Why had this never happened before?

Tempest watched helplessly as Meadow’s ears perked up, the pony taking notice that something was amiss. She grimaced as she watched Meadow stop a fleeing unicorn mare and exchange a few words with her, before turning and running straight for the entrance.

Stop, Meadow! Don’t be foolish!

Before she could think of a way to stop her, Meadow ran straight into the entrance. What could she do? No further ponies were emerging from the library, but Tempest could tell by a couple of intermittent shouts that there were two or three still in there. Were they cornered by whatever was growling? Would Meadow come to harm? Maybe she could teleport directly back to Moonlight Sigil’s office, and from there neutralize the threat before Meadow got hurt.

Confirming to herself that this plan would likely work, Tempest readied another teleportation spell. The occasional snarls and hisses coming from the library interior made it harder to concentrate, but she wouldn’t mess this up. Not now.  Just as she was about to complete the spell sequence, Tempest broke off without triggering the spell. A police vehicle came around the corner, speeding towards the library from a side street.

The vehicle had a single unicorn stallion inside, and it was flanked by four winged officers in the air and two more earth pony officers cantering along behind. The almost-black stallion driving the vehicle was notable for his oddly bright orange eyes, and his manestyle was cropped short, accented with heavy sideburns.

Tempest ducked back behind the edge of the parapet, wincing as she felt a few stray sharp pebbles jab into her as she rolled onto her back. Continuing to monitor her auditory spell and noting that the feral growls sounded like they were moving away, she exhaled, releasing a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding.

Now that the police were here, Tempest decided it would be a good idea to cast an invisibility spell, quickly doing so while maintaining the Eavesdrop spell active. Holding up a transparent hoof to confirm her spell was a success, she rolled back over again and climbed to her hooves to peer over the edge.

She watched as the uniformed officers ran or flew towards the building while the single unicorn in the vehicle slowly climbed out. This group of seven seemed like a rather large group to respond to something as minor as a security call from a library. Maybe some of the other ponies who had fled had contacted the police as well?

Two pegusi sped off in separate directions to circle the library in ascending helicals around the perimeter. The other two flew up to the entrance, taking positions to hover near the top of the arched entryway while the two earth ponies took up similar positions below. Both pegusi were armed with a tubular device as wide as a foreleg, while the earth ponies both held black clubs in their mouths. With a wordless signal, they ran inside.

The unicorn that had been driving the vehicle approached the library at a more leisurely pace, studying his surroundings and the front of the building as he walked. His horn began to glow as he apparently used some magic in his assessment of the area.

Tempest’s auditory spell was still active, so she was able to catch a few clipped words between the two earth ponies who were both mares, apparently. She closed her eyes in concentration as she listened for any sign of Meadow. The male unicorn’s voice suddenly drew her attention as he gave the remaining pegusi instructions.

“Wingline and Strafe, break off your aerial sweep and fly in high to provide additional cover. Cloudblue and Thunderspark believe they have the target cornered. I’ll follow and give backup. Go!”

Tempest opened her eyes, watching the two pegusi swing around and fly through the entrance, followed by the unicorn. After a few more seconds, the voice of the unicorn gave a terse command. “Take her.”

There were two or three mysterious pinging sounds before the sounds of a scuffle broke loose, the feral growling becoming far more vicious. After a few more thuds and the what sounded like library furniture toppling over, all grew quiet again, except for some muted sobbing. Before long, other voices were heard, likely belonging to some of the other officers that had run inside.

“Next time don’t wait so long to fire your tranquilizer, Strafe! Celestia’s beard, you’re an idiot—she almost bit me!”

“I’m the idiot? Maybe next time you could wait a second after you fire your net before you jump in like a hoofball player for the tackle! I couldn’t get a clean shot with your fat flank in the way, Wingline!”

“Fat flank? Who was it that polished off the donut box yesterday?”

“Can it, the both of you. Wrap up the… creature, and sweep the building for any more ponies needing help. Cloudblue, there is an emergency medical vehicle pulling up out front. Wait for my signal for the all clear before you let them approach. Go!”

The pony called Cloudblue emerged, and began talking to the ponies inside a second vehicle that was pulling up behind the police vehicle. On its side were the words ‘Emergency Response’ in bright red capital letters. The ponies continued to converse while they pulled some kind of wheeled stretcher out of the back.

Tempest watched and waited. Meadow Lark had not emerged during all of this, so she must have still been inside. She began to tap her hoof nervously while watching more and more ponies gather around in curiosity. Eventually, Cloudblue hovered up and began to urge the gathered ponies to keep their distance.

“C’mon Meadow. Be okay… just, be okay.” After a moment, another police vehicle arrived, providing additional personnel and a better buffer zone to keep the onlookers at bay.

Finally, Tempest noticed a light color of blue emerge… There she is.

She breathed a sigh of relief, sitting back on her haunches. Meadow looked like she wasn’t—wait, she was limping. Tempest clopped her down in frustration. “Dammit, Meadow!”

A medical pony began to assist Meadow Lark on the front porch of the library, helping her sit at the top of the stairs while three more medical ponies ran inside. “You were very brave in there, Ms.?”

“My name is Meadow Lark.” She watched the earth pony in silence for a few moments as he wrapped some bandaging around her hoof until she began to squirm. “Really, I am fine, sir.  Dr… Mallet?” She hesitated, reading his name tag. “Y-you need to help those other two ponies in there. One looks like she’s a lot worse off.”

It’s alright, Ms. Lark. My cohorts are assessing her right now, and from the sounds of it she’s going to be okay.” He tapped the communication device attached to his left ear. “Please sit still for a few more moments. We need to observe you for a little while to make sure you don’t go into shock.” The stallion smiled for a moment as he finished bandaging her hoof. “And I’m not a doctor—just an EMT.”

Meadow sat back again and gave a sad smile. “Still, thank you for taking care of me.”

At this, there was some commotion behind her as the two earth pony police officers emerged carrying a form covered in netting across their backs. Tempest studied the bundle for a few seconds before she suddenly felt a chill, like ice water down her back. The coloration this pony had was a give away as to her identity.

“Moonlight Sigil? How— ?”

The librarian was apparently unconscious, likely drugged if the officer’s earlier conversation was any indication following the scuffle inside. The earth ponies lugged their cargo past Meadow and the medical pony that was attending to her, but the unicorn with the bright orange eyes turned to the side to take a seat next to Meadow at the top of the stairs.

“The name is Officer Rebus Hunter. Are you going to be all right, Miss?” He held up a hoof for Meadow to tap her own against.

“I’m Meadow Lark, sir. I-I’ll be fine after a little bit.” Meadow shuddered as she turned to look back at the library over her shoulder. Um, did you see any sign of a yellow unicorn mare when you searched through the building?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, we didn’t.” The stallion replied in a gentle tone before lifting an eyebrow. “Friend of yours?”

“...Yeah.”

The medical pony placed a blanket around Meadow’s shoulders as she began to shudder again, and Rebus placed a hoof on her shoulder. “What you did in there was very brave, Ms. Lark. You may have just saved two other ponies’ lives—or at least spared them further harm. You did well, when you kicked over that shelf to create a distraction. The younger colt told me about it, and about how you dragged his mom to safety.”

“It... it was nothing.” Meadow wiped a bit of moisture from her eyes, before she stared ahead with a rather vacant look.

Officer Hunter stood up after a bit. “Why don’t you come down to the station with me for a few minutes? I’d like to ask you a few questions. Maybe you could help us by testifying as an eye witness in this case.”

The medical stallion paused in his ministrations to Meadow to glare at the officer. Rebus gave an apologetic smile, not breaking his eye contact before continuing. “After this good fellow gives you the medical all-clear, of course.”

Meadow looked over her shoulder again with concern. “Well, I don’t know. I’d kind of like to relocate my friend, if it is all right...”

“By all means!” Rebus replied. “In fact, our officers can check around more quickly than a single pony. Why don’t you come in and while you visit with us about what happened you can give us your friend’s description. How does that sound?”

“Y-yeah. That sounds good.” Meadow got up with the help of the EMT and another police officer who came to help. Tempest watched them go, briefly thinking about moving the auditory focus she was using for her spell to the police vehicle. The range wouldn’t last long, but at least she would be able to make out a little more of what Meadow might say about her.

The other three EMT’s then exited with a female unicorn on a stretcher with a smaller colt walking along side of her. Tempest couldn’t see what was wrong, but the mare was holding the small colt’s hoof, murmuring something to him.

This was terrible. What had gone so wrong with her spell? She had used it only a hoof-full of times before while in Gryphus, and before that she had used it in the uncharted lands further east. Nothing of this sort had ever taken place! Why was this different, then?

Tempest looked down at the artifact swinging from its cord around her neck. The weight seemed especially heavy right now. “What is the meaning of this?” She spat, glaring into the dull surface of the stone’s eye-like carving. “Is there more to this than you told me?”

The Eye had no answer for her, only looking lifelessly back. Tempest trembled, but she wasn’t sure if it was anger or something else—disillusionment, maybe. Could she simply stop with her current plans just because of one bad result?

No. There is no way I am stopping for this. Besides, nopony seems to have been seriously hurt anyway. All that matters is Luna. Well, keeping the innocents safe also matters, but first comes Luna!

Tempest glanced over the parapet again. While all the other ponies had now left, Rebus Hunter remained, and he seemed to be concentrating with his eyes closed. His horn began to glow a brilliant orange, and soon concentric waves began to expand along the ground away from his position, like ripples in water after a stone’s throw. As the ripples continued to expand outward, they cascaded up the facade of the library and up the statues and pillars. .

Perplexed, Tempest watched with interest. She had never seen this particular magic spell, and wanted to know the effect. As the waves of light continued to radiate outward, they began to coalesce over Luna’s statue, or more specifically, the region that she had anchored her spell to in order to listen in. Her eyes widened as the magic leapt off of the statue and began to cascade directly up her mana stream towards her position.

Gasping for a moment, Tempest backed up, quickly cutting the power to her still active eavesdrop spell. Timidly, she crept forward again to look over the edge, only to find the stallion’s bright orange eyes gazing back, directly at her position. Somehow his spell had traced the mana-stream she was using, and now he had triangulated her position.

Tartarus, this day just got harder.