Under A Luminous Sky

by Jake The Army Guy


Chapter Three- The Devil You Know

Under A Luminous Sky

by

Jake The Army Guy

Chapter Three- The Devil You Know


Okay. Now focus.

Twilight squinted her eyes, her brow furrowed in concentration as a soft lavender glow surrounded the rock sitting on the table before her. With a deep breath, she slowly forced magic into it.

The rock vibrated slightly, a quiet hum emanating from it. The machine next to her whirred to life, the thin wires attached to the rock glowing as well. She glanced at the display with a smile, the needle slowly rising into the green-marked area. Yes, it’s working!

A soft wind blew through the basement laboratory, carrying the faint smell of ozone and the light crackling of magical energy. The dirty dishes and take-out cartons that lay in small piles on the floor rattled as well. For the past five days, Twilight had buried herself in her research. Numerous projects had come and gone, all ending with less than desirable results. The faint smell of ash and pile of crumpled papers by the waste basket attested to her success rate.

In truth, however, she was just trying to keep her mind occupied. Anything to keep out the images of—

No. Stop it. Despite her best efforts, her mental coaching did little to stem the tide of images that ran through her mind. Grisly snapshots of that horrible scene flew through her mind, the remnants of what the local sheriff had deemed, “a rogue timberwolf attack.” Even in her dreams, all she could see was a patch of forest smeared crimson. And those eyes, staring at me, begging for help.

An angry buzzing filled the small laboratory. Snapped out of her trance, Twilight looked down to see the rock spinning wildly, the soft glow from before now an almost blinding light. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying desperately to control the reaction. The machine connected to the rock gave out a series of harsh beeps as the needle shot to the right. Sweat ran down her forehead as she fought the massive influx of energy cascading into the rock. The stone began to pulsate, the buzzing now a roar that echoed in her ears. Gusts of wind tipped the shelves on the far side of the lab, the books upon them rattling almost loose.

“No, no, no, no, no!” Small sparks shot from the stone, the smell of electricity strong in the air. Small fissures appeared on the rock, gushing white light. Twilight turned her head away just before the stone exploded with a loud crack. Small bits of gravel pelted her body. Twilight grimaced at the impacts.

She looked back to see a small scorch mark on the table in front of her, a thin trail of smoke floating up from where the rock had been. The wild bleating from the machine was now a constant, dull tone. Twilight groaned loudly before her head hit the table, the dull ache from the impact not even registering.

A pattering of steps came from above. Spike flung open the basement door and surveyed the carnage before him. “Oh, my gosh!" He clambered down the steps on all fours, snapping back upright as he hit the floor, his angular face twisted in concern. "Twilight, are you okay?”

Twilight answered with an affirmative grunt. She trudged up the stairs, brushing past him without another look.

 “So, I take it the latest experiment didn’t go so well?” he asked, following her upstairs.

“Gee, what tipped you off? The explosion or the scorch marks?”

Spike gave a small smile. “The scorch marks. You broke another expensive thing, didn’t you?”

A book flew off a nearby shelf, propelled by a lavender glow, and hovered before Twilight. “No, it was just a rock. The thaumatic sensor read at acceptable levels, but the rock’s lattice couldn’t handle the transfer rate.”

“Um, what were you doing with a rock?”

She continued to flip through the book. “Trying to test my theory that an ordinary rock can store magical energy just as well as a gemstone. If I can pull it off, it will revolutionize the way ponies powered everyday objects, from streetlights to stoves. Entire new industries would be created! Cheap, affordable energy for all!”

Spike rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh... okay. So... what happened?”

“I thought for sure that the hollow structure of pumice would make it capable of containing the energy, but the trade-off of storage space with structural integrity was too much, I guess.” She began pacing around the table in the middle of the library.

“Uh, Twilight.”

“I’m thinking about trying pyrite next. Sure, it’s not as porous as pumice, but it’s less malleable than gold, which might mean it could maintain its shape long enough for the thaumatic energy to permeate into it completely.”

“Twilight.”

“Of course, even if it can retain the energy, there’s still the problem of achieving the even power distribution needed to power devices. Maybe if I rew—”

Twilight!”

A flash of heat and green light covered Twilight’s vision. Before her eyes, green flames consumed the book. It turned into a thin wisp of smoke, but instead of dissipating, it took on a life of its own and dove towards Spike's open hand. He jolted as the book re-materialized in his grasp. Twilight stared slack-jawed as he snapped the book shut.

“Since when can you do that?”

 “Spend a few years burping up scrolls, you get good at it.” He looked at her, his eyes soft and gentle. “Why don’t you take a break? You’ve been hitting this... pretty hard, don’t you think?”

Twilight flashed him a nervous smile. “What do you mean?”

“What I mean,” he said, stepping closer to her, “is maybe you should go out, get some fresh air.”

She stepped past him and trotted back to the bookshelf. She gazed intently at it, running a hoof over the spines of a few novels. “Why? I mean, I’m fine.”

A heavy sigh escaped Spike. “No, you’re not.” He stepped in between her and the bookcase. “I’ve been your friend long enough to know you’re not.”

“What do you mean?”

“Twilight, I’m worried about you,” he said, his voice thick with concern. “You haven’t opened the library in days. We’ve never been closed on a Sunday before! You’ve blown up more sciencey... things in the past three days than you have in the last three years! Seriously, you got out more back when we lived in Canterlot!” He gently placed a claw on her shoulder. “You didn’t even go to Berry Punch’s memorial.”

Twilight shrugged his claw off. “Why would I go? I didn’t even know her! I think she checked out a book once, but that’s it! I barely remember talking to her.” She turned her face to the ground, shuffling her hooves. “Besides, what would I say to her family? ‘Hi, I’m Twilight Sparkle. I found your daughter’s cor... body.’”

“Look, I’m just saying you need to deal with this. Last night was the first night you didn’t wake up screaming.” His claws drummed on the book he still held. “Your friends are here for you.” Spike took a step towards her, looking her right in the eye. “I’m here for you.”

Twilight looked at the ground. He was right, and she knew it. The whole reason that she had come to Ponyville in the first place was to learn about how friendship made everything better. And here I am, shutting out the ones who care for me the most. She glanced back up at him with a wry smile. “When did you get so mature?”

“Probably—” a loud yawn overtook him “—probably around the same time I outgrew my old basket.”

She smiled at him and took hold of the book, but he jerked it away. “I can get it,” he said, puffing out his chest. “Don’t even need the ladder anymore.” He grasped the book in his tail and climbed up the bookcase, his lithe reptilian body slinking up to the highest shelf.

"Spike, I asked you not to do that! I'm getting tired of fixing the claw marks."

Placing the book back where it came from, Spike chuckled and climbed back down. "I think you're just jealous that I'm faster than you on four legs now." He blew a raspberry at her, his tongue extending nearly a hoof-length out from his mouth. As he turned from the bookcase, he grunted in annoyance and scratched at two small lumps on his back.

Twilight clucked her teeth and magically yanked his arm away. “Spike, stop picking at them.”

“Ow! Hey, leave me alone. They itch.”

“And if you irritate them, they might not grow in properly. You don’t want to be a flightless dragon, do you?"

Spike opened his mouth to reply when his eyes suddenly screwed shut. His cry of protest turned into a mighty burp, a scroll landing on the floor from the stream of fire. He patted his scaly stomach and picked up the parchment, opening it and reading a little. His slitted eyes rolled upward as he tossed the scroll to Twilight. “Twilight, will you please tell Shining that I’m not a post office? That spell is for official use only.”

She took the scroll from him. “And using it to steal a book from a friend counts as ‘official business?’”

“When it keeps you from having a breakdown, yes.” He grinned and walked towards the basement door.

Twilight laughed lightly and began to read the scroll.

From The Desk of General Shining Armor:

Hey, kiddo, how’s it going? Just wanted to drop you a line and see how you’re holding up. I hope Spike doesn’t mind me using him like this.

Twilight smirked at that.

“So, what does he have to say?” Spike yelled up from the basement.

“Not much,” Twilight said, scanning the letter. “He hates being a general, too much paperwork.” She walked towards the kitchen, the letter floating just in front of her face. “Princess Cadence is on a peace tour of Canidae, negotiating a trade dispute between the Diamond Dogs and one of the Wolven packs.” She chuckled. “Shiny’s losing his mind trying to take care of little Dusk by himself. Apparently, he’s already started flying.”

The rest of the letter was typical Shinning being worried. He’d tried to convince Cadence to call off the tour, but she refused. “Strife doesn’t take a day off just because I’m pregnant.”

Twilight reached the refrigerator when she came to the last paragraph of the letter.

Well, that’s about all the news up here. Look, Twiley, I’m sorry I couldn’t come down and visit. I know you said it was okay, but I still feel bad. I’ve seen some bad things in my time in the Guard, but I’m supposed to, I’m a soldier. What you saw, well... Tartarus, I don’t know. I’m bad at this. Can you see now why Cadence writes my speeches? Look, I have to go, but when the new foal comes, I’ll be able to take a few weeks of paternity leave. I was thinking Caddie, the foals and I could come down to Ponyville. Let the new one meet his/her Auntie Twi, you know?

Just know I’m always here if you need me, Twilight. Love you, little sis.

        Your BBBFF,

        Shiny

Twilight put the letter down and smiled. The events of that day in the forest were still fresh in her mind. Still, just knowing that he was concerned gave Twilight some small comfort.

A deep rumble came from her gut. Now that the adrenaline from the failed experiment had worn off, she realized just how long she had been down there. Maybe Spike is right. A diet of take-out hay fries and pizza can’t be too healthy. As was the norm for her, once she got invested in a project, everything else fell by the wayside, and that included trips to the grocery store. She opened the door, and was shocked to see it fully stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables. “Spike, when did you go to the market?”

“Earlier this afternoon,” he said, emerging from the basement with a dustpan in claw. Small bits of still smouldering rock stuck out from the pile of ashes and dust. He brushed past her and dumped the pan into the trash can. “Also restocked on quills and parchment, mailed off the latest overdue notices, and did an inventory. You’re welcome.”

She smiled at him. “Thanks, Spike.”

Spike shrugged. “Yeah, yeah. What wou–” He stopped speaking as a loud yawn overtook him again. “What would you do without me?”

A small pang of sadness struck Twilight. I guess we’ll find out in a few—

“Anythin’ on timberwolves?”

Ahh!”

Twilight spun around to face the new voice, her jaw slack. Standing by one of the shelves of books was a very tall, very thin earth pony with a brilliant white coat and a well-coiffed blonde mane. Immediately, Twilight was drawn to his eyes: one was a dull gray, the other a bright yellow, slitted vertically like a reptile's. They were currently inspecting Twilight, a casual look on his face.

Twilight stared at him. “Wh... how... “

The stallion continued to observe her. “Timberwolves. I require information on timberwolves.” He spoke with an odd, almost musical accent. “No idea? Very well, I’ll continue to look.” He turned back to the shelf, scanning the spines of the books.

Twilight’s mind finally came back to her. “Where did you come from?” she yelled.

“Well, I’m originally from New Horseleans, but lately I’ve been abroad,” he said without turning his gaze from the books.

Spike leaped towards him, thin wisps of smoke rolling from his nostrils. “That’s not what she meant! How did you get in here? We’re closed!”

“The front door. It was open. Ah-ha!” He reached a hoof to the shelf and pulled away a book. “Here we are. Tremor Tail’s Terrifying Tales of Timberwolf Temperament.” He took the book in his mouth and walked to the nearby table, brushing past Spike without another word. He set the book down and began to read.

Spike spun around and glared at the stranger. “No, it wasn’t! I locked the door myself!”

The stallion looked at Spike in confusion. Although Spike was a head taller than Twilight the pale pony still towered over him. After a moment, he raised his eyebrows in understanding. “Ah, allow me to clarify. It was open after I picked the lock.” He gave a small smile to Spike before returning to the book.

At this, Twilight ran up to him and slammed the book closed with a hoof. “You what?

“I picked the lock. Although the lock on your door is so crude, one could hardly call it ‘picking.’” His face bore no expression as he turned back to the book, opening it back to the page he was on. “Besides, the sign in front of the library says you are open seven days a week. If you close on Sundays now, I suggest you update your sign so as to avoid this problem in the future.”

Twilight’s face twisted in frustration. Her horn began to glow, preparing to restrain this intruder. “It’s my library, and I’ll decide if we close! I’m Twi—”

“Twilight Sparkle, age 27,” he said, again not even glancing up from his book. “Born in Canterlot to esteemed astronomer Night Light and best-selling author Twilight Velvet, and brother of General Shining Armor, commander of the Royal Unicorn Corps and Prince Consort of the Crystal Empire. Graduate of Princess Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, holding several advanced degrees in magical studies, specializing in Thaumatic Energy Manipulation and Natural Magical Phenomenon. Personal student of her highness Princess Celestia, and bearer of the Element of Magic. Oh, and your favorite food is daisy sandwiches.”

For the second time in minutes, Twilight’s jaw hung open. “How... Who are you?”

The stallion turned to face her, an impassive look on his face. “Oh, my apologies, how rude of me.” He reached into the expensive-looking black suit coat he wore and pulled out a small felt case, flipping it open to reveal a gleaming badge and picture ID. “Special Agent Bentgrass, of Their Majesties’ Royal Investigative Service.”

The case glowed with a purple aura as Twilight held it closer. Underneath the Equestrian seal was the logo of the R.I.S. What truly caught her eye, though, was the small print under his picture.

A. Bentgrass, Special Agent, Grade 13. Division Six.

Spike looked at Twilight. “The R.I.S.? But I mailed off your tax form months ago.”

“Indeed, and as I understand it you have a sizable return coming to you,” Bentgrass said, still reading the book.

“No, Spike,” Twilight said, a chill running down her spine. “He’s not here about taxes. This says he’s from Division Six.”

The confused look on Spike’s face slowly melted away as the realization struck him. “Wait, Division Six?” He turned back to Bentgrass, the corners of his lips beginning to curl upwards. “I’ve heard of them! They say they deal with all kinds of freaky things, like aliens and stuff!”

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, Spike, aliens? They're special police, not the Illumanenati! Division Six investigates unexplained phenomenon, that's it.”

"Unexplained phenomenon like aliens," Spike said indignantly.

"Spike, you can't believe everything you hear, okay?"

“Actually, I do believe everything I hear,” Bentgrass said as he absently flipped through a few pages of his book. “I find it makes me a better investigator.”

“What?” Twilight shot him an incredulous look. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

He looked up from the book, the same impassive look on his face. “Doesn’t it?”

The room was silent for a moment. Bentgrass continued to read his book, Spike staring at him in awe, and Twilight glaring at the agent, her left eye twitching madly.

Spike stared at Bentgrass. “So, you do work with aliens? That’s so cool!” He let out an annoyed grunt as his adolescent voice cracked at the last word. “What do you know about Trotswell?”

Bentgrass put a hoof on the book, tracing the words he was reading. “Not much, I’m afraid. Ahh, here it is!” He accentuated his words with a light tap on the pages. “It says here that unlike other species of wolf, timberwolves are primarily diurnal, due to the magic wood that makes up their bodies needing photosynthesis to help give them energy. Also, during autumn and winter months when the air is drier, they are largely inactive, rarely attacking anything larger than a cockatrice” He closed the book and looked at Twilight. “Puzzling, isn’t it, Ms. Sparkle?”

Twilight stomped her hoof and threw his badge at him. “The only puzzling thing here is why a strange pony from some obscure government agency is trespassing in my library!” Her horn flared, and she yanked the book from the table and sent it flying back to the shelf in a purple blur. “I don’t care who you work for! You had no right to break in!”

“As I said before, I did no such thing. Since the sign says you are open today, and it is business hours currently, I merely fixed the problem of the door being locked.” He took a step towards her. “And I’m quite curious as to how one as sagacious as yourself hasn’t noticed it yet.”

“Noticed what?” she shrieked.

His calm demeanor never faltered, those odd eyes still looking directly at her. “Why would a lone timberwolf attack a full-grown mare in the middle of the night at this time of year?”

“Wait, is that why you’re here?” She shot him a confused glance. “Why does the R.I.S. care about an animal attack in Ponyville?”

He looked at her, the eyebrow over his yellow eye raised. “Why, indeed?”

Twilight gritted her teeth. “Are you ever going to answer my questions, or are you just going to answer with more questions?”

His eyebrow remained in place. “What do you think?” With that, he brushed past Twilight, his hooffalls surprisingly light for a stallion of his stature. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the hospital. I wish to read the coroner's report on Ms. Punch.” He paused, tapping his hoof to his chin while eying Twilight thoughtfully before appraising her with a small smile. “Say, I have a capital idea! Why don’t you come with me?”

Silence once more reigned. Twilight was sure she misheard him. "Wait... you want me to come with you?" She turned her eyes briefly to his cutie mark, an open eye, before looking him dead in his mismatched eyes. "Why?"

"Well, I'm new to the area, and I'll need somepony who is in the know to point out local landmarks, ponies of interest, and the like. Besides," he said, the corner of his mouth raising slightly, "if my files on you are accurate, you might be an immense help in unraveling this mystery."

Spike stepped in between them, glaring at Bentgrass. "Look, buddy. Twilight's dealing with this just fine. The last thing she needs is somepo—"

"I'll go."

Spike whipped around and stared at Twilight. "Wait, what? Twilight, I thought you didn't wa—"

"I don't," Twilight said. "But I also don't want this crazy stallion wandering around town breaking into ponies' homes." She turned an angry glare at Bentgrass. "Somepony needs to keep an eye on him."

He smiled at her. "Splendid! Well then, let's be off, Ms. Sparkle." He turned and trotted to the door.

"Okay, then," Spike said. "I'm coming, too."

Bentgrass turned his head and eyed him curiously. "Two's company, three's a crowd, my young dragon friend.”

Spike’s upper lip curled, a faint green glow from his mouth reflecting off his sharp teeth. “I’m not your friend! I’m hers,” he said, gesturing to Twilight.

"It's okay, Spike. I can take care of myself.”

Bentgrass nodded his head at her. "Very well. I shall wait outside." He stepped out the door without another word.

When Twilight moved to follow, Spike stepped in her path, blocking her with a claw. "Twilight, what are you doing? Why are you going with that creep?"

“I don’t have much of a choice.”

“You have a big choice! He broke into the library! And that line about ‘Two’s company?’” He shuddered. “You actually are okay with being alone with that weirdo?”

"Look, I don't trust him either, but he's here, and I'm not letting him out of my sight until he leaves."

"Are you sure about this, Twi?" Spike was wringing his hands behind his back.

She closed her eyes.

 Those eyes, staring at me, begging for help.

 "Yes."

She walked out the door, closing it behind her and leaving Spike behind. Bentgrass was waiting beside a nearby bush, staring intently at something down the street. Twilight approached him cautiously.

"Okay, Special Agent Bentgrass. Lead the way."