The familiar hiss-poof of teleportation magic echoed throughout Twilight’s castle as she and Applejack emerged in a flash in the map room. A few wisps of magic residue lingered in the air, reflecting from the crystalline walls before dissipating back into the aether.
Applejack stumbled a few paces, slumping against the table as she held her hat in place. “I ain’t never gonna get used to that. Zappin’ all over always rattles my bones an’—” She wrapped a foreleg around her belly, gulping as a wave of nausea rolled over her. “Ya’ll know we earth ponies ain’t made for zappin’.”
Twilight, stood firm and steady, eyes closed as she held her breath. After what felt like several minutes, she finally exhaled and relaxed her posture. “The more I do these long-distant teleports, the easier they seem to get… but I can’t ever leave anything to chance.”
“How d’ya mean?” Applejack asked, crawling into her cutie mark-adorned chair. Twilight followed suit, collapsing into her own chair and leaning against the high back.
“With all of the latent earth pony magic floating around Peacegrove, it’s difficult to focus certain unicorn spells. In a similar vein, the sheer volume of raw unicorn magic in Amethyst Hollow interferes with the magical frequencies I use to cast spells.” Twilight glanced at her friend, noting her blank stare. “Imagine… Imagine pouring a glass of water out in a desert and having it evaporate instantly,” she said, mimicking a pouring motion. “Take that same glass and pour it out into the ocean. In both cases, the glass of water you started with is basically lost.”
“I guess that makes sense, but what makes it so easy for you?” Applejack asked, kicking back in her chair as her hat fell down over her eyes.
“I’m a firehose, not a glass,” Twilight said smugly. Applejack snickered and peeked an eye out from under her hat, the two ponies sharing a grin. “I’d say you’ve got the right idea, AJ. Taking it easy sounds like a good idea, but I really should start documenting everything we saw.”
Applejack slowly sat up and readjusted her hat. She stretched, her back cracking loudly. “Now look here. I’m exhausted and I know you’re just as tired as me. Ya need to get some serious R&R before you think yourself into an early grave.”
Twilight opened her mouth to protest, but the words died in her throat as the doors suddenly flung open. Spike sprinted full-tilt into the room, leaping onto Twilight and squeezing her in a tight hug. “Twilight, you’re back!” Twilight was knocked from her chair and tumbled to the floor with a yelp, hooves and claws a tangled mess in their embrace.
“H-Hello to you too, Spike!” Twilight said as the wind returned to her. Her horn flashed and the two teleported in place, separating from one another.
“You two’ve been gone for days!” Starlight said, walking into the room. “What happened out there?”
Twilight took a step forward and staggered, fighting to keep her balance as a wave of fatigue suddenly crashed into her. She sputtered into a yawn as she leaned against the map. “It’s good to see you too, Starlight.”
“Twi, you’ve been all over Equestria and back for over a week straight,” Applejack said, making her way over to help steady Twilight. “I ain’t givin’ you a choice, sugarcube. Go take a break.”
Twilight nodded slowly, her eyelids drooping as she swayed to one side. As Applejack reached to keep her from falling, Twilight suddenly lurched upright. She looked at Applejack, then to Starlight, and finally settled on Spike. “Yeah… You’re probably right. I can—” she yawned loudly, “I can take better notes when my head is clear.”
“Do you want me to get you when dinner is ready? It took four tries but I think I’ve finally perfected my ultra-gem-super-sundae!” Spike boasted, a small bit of drool falling from his tongue. Starlight shook her head and made a gagging face behind him.
Twilight giggled, patting Spike’s head. “I think I should at least nap first, but that does sound wonderful. Well, maybe not the gem-sundae-thing.”
“I can fill ya in on all the details,” Applejack said, propping Twilight to standing again. “I don’t know magic like y’all, but I got the gist of it at least. After that I gotta get back home. Big Mac can only deal with Apple Bloom fussin’ about pickin’ up my chores for so long.”
Twilight gave Spike a quick hug before starting toward the door. “Thanks, AJ. I’m going to my room and try to get some rest. We can talk about it in more detail after I get my notes in order.”
“Just make sure you relax… Okay, sugarcube?” Applejack asked, her stern voice laced with worry.
“I will,” Twilight said, suppressing a yawn. A magical aura shimmered around the doors as Twilight opened them, stepped into the hallway, and closed them behind her.
Twilight trudged slowly through the castle, the hallway’s plush carpet muffling her hoofsteps. Her thoughts turned to the Golden Oak—though she had just been in its presence moments ago, it felt strangely distant. She gazed at the crystal pillars and towering doorways, a sense of ease settling over her mind. She was many things: a princess—her castle serving as proof; a librarian—the memories of the Golden Oak Library surfacing in her mind; and above all else, a friend. The physical tree might be gone, but she was still Twilight, and she carried that aspect of herself wherever she went.
She opened the door to her bedroom and smiled. When she left, her room had been a disaster—her own personal brand of organized chaos. Books and papers formerly scattered all over the floor and desk had been straightened out into neat stacks. Twilight looked at one of the stacks by the door, quickly scanning their spines. Everything is right where it belongs. I’ll have to remember to thank Spike later.
Twilight staggered toward her bed. Despite the allure of sleep, something caught the corner of her eye. She blinked, turning instead to make her way toward her desk. It, too, had been organized in the same manner as the rest of her room. A loud yawn escaped her, and she rubbed her watering eyes. I’ll sleep better once I get some of my thoughts out on paper.
She stumbled over to her desk, taking care not to knock anything out of place. She levitated her field notes notes from her saddlebag, Ivy’s box coming to rest in front of her. She examined the carvings adorning the lid. “I’ll take care of you another day, I promise,” Twilight muttered to the sapling resting inside. “When the time is right.” She floated it over to a shelf above her bed and sighed contently.
She levitated the rest of her notes into neat stacks on her desk. Stacked all around in an organized manner only her number-one assistant could manage were books and tomes covering everything Twilight could find about magic and the pony tribes. Before I dig into Starswirl’s notes, first things first, she thought. She centered her expedition notes on the desk and flipped to her most recent entry.
Day 9: No change from previous.
Observation: I had considered the possibility of the Argent Moon’s magic having an impact on my dreams, but that hypothesis lacks evidence to support it. Perhaps my dreams are not directly related to these adventures? Will need to follow up. During the transition to midnight, a combination of lunar and earth pony magic enhanced a protective barrier around Peacegrove Village. A full report will follow upon return to Ponyville.
Note: Will update after the Aurum Sun, which has yet to take place as of this entry.
Twilight put quill to paper and began to write.
Day 9: con’t: While observing a magical focus found on the Golden Oak (see below, “Lens”), an entity revealed itself to me in a vision.
Observation: The Aurum Sun phenomenon took place at noon, mirroring the Argent Moon twelve hours prior. Naturally occurring earth pony magic flowing from the Golden Oak converged with a high concentration of solar magic (possibly alicorn-related? See prior Day 9 notes on lunar magic and Argent Moon), which produced a wide-radius combination accelerated/enhanced crop growth spell centered on the village.
The strange message from the magical entity replayed in Twilight’s mind, sending shivers down her spine. She continued to write.
Lens: A multi-purpose lens device is perched on the crown of the Golden Oak, serving as a heating system for the Tree’s waterworks as well as a calendar for their festival. It also appears to serve as a magical focus for solar energy. During the Aurum Sun, I projected myself into this stream of amplified magic, whereupon I was transported to an earth pony-aspected aetherstream (see notes on Amethyst Hollow).
I encountered an entity—whom I originally believed to be the spirit of Star Glider, but the entity itself stated otherwise—which I believe to be behind the strange messages. This entity (referred to hereafter as “E”) appeared at both Amethyst Hollow and the Golden Oak in two seemingly unrelated circumstances. Both instances involved E passing on a partial message to me. A separate report may be necessary upon further clarification.
The current messages as delivered by E are as follows:
1. Seek, learn, know
2. When all three
3. Have been connected
Twilight sighed and sat the quill down. Her gut was telling her the messages formed a coherent phrase, but she felt that she was missing vital pieces of it. When all three have been connected… she played back in her head. When all three, when all three… Her eyes idly drifted along the rows of books, when one of them caught her attention. Its spine was worn, its title having rubbed off long ago, but Twilight knew the titles to all the books in her collection. With careful precision, she gently wrapped it in her magic and pulled it close, flipping it open to a bookmarked section.
The diagram of the three pony tribes. The connection they shared with the alicorns. Twilight’s heart leapt into her throat as she looked it over. The book looked like it would fall apart in a stiff breeze. She flipped her notebook over to a fresh page and readied a spell. Her horn glowed, preparing the spell’s structure—a long, thin cylinder with sigils glowing along its length. She rolled the cylinder over the ragged book, transcribing the page’s contents and melding them onto its “surface.” Twilight rolled the cylinder along the notebook, transferring its contents and creating a perfect copy.
Can’t risk something happening to a book this old. Finding a readable copy was hard enough, let alone finding another. She very carefully slid the musty tome back into its home. She looked down at her notebook, the diagram of the pony tribes much more vibrant on fresh paper. She scribbled Amethyst Hollow and Golden Oak next to their respective drawings. She focused on the diagram of the pegasus, its wings spread in flight.
“A location for pegasus magic,” Twilight mused. She shakily stood from her desk and walked to her bookshelves, methodically scanning the rows of books for—she didn’t know what. She let out an exasperated sigh and glanced at her cutie mark. “I got lucky with the cutie map. No such luck this time.”
Twilight spotted a slim volume toward the top of her shelf and levitated it down, reading the title. The Basics of Cloudseeding. “Well, it’s a decent enough place to start,” she muttered, setting down at her desk with the book. Pegasus magic, or at least weather manipulation and cloudwalking, is far more well-documented than earth pony magic… Maybe this can help me find a clue. She flipped through the stiffened pages, seeking to find something—anything—that might help.
Skimming it yielded no answers—this text only introduced the basics of creating precipitation. She sighed and pushed the book aside before seizing another one from the shelf. Spring has Sprung. A decent book in its own right, covering everything within and between the four seasons, but nothing useful. Twilight groaned and shoved it away with more force than was perhaps necessary. Another title, The Pegasus Art of War by Sun Tzhoof, caught her attention. A history book through and through, but Eastern Shoe period writers were more focused on the engineering of weather golems and commanding lightning than the essence of pegasus magic itself. A thump echoed against her vaulted ceiling as it landed on the top of the nearest stack of books. Why must this be so difficult?
Twilight began grabbing books at random in her desperation. She yanked yet another book toward her, nearly pulling the entire bookcase down with it in the process. She froze, her pupils shrinking in terror as the bookcase wobbled dangerously back and forth above before coming to rest. Okay, I really need to calm down, she thought, taking a loud, deep breath.
“Wait a minute… this is one of Starswirl’s books,” she murmured, noticing his cutie mark emblazoned on the cover in place of an author’s name. Her eyes focused sharply on the title. “A Treatise on Dark Aether. That’s interesting… I don’t think I’ve read this one.” Twilight tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Starswirl the Bearded wrote about dark magic?”
Twilight’s thoughts drifted back to Sombra’s attack on the Crystal Empire—and the dark crystals that amplified his magic. Her eyes narrowed and she broke into a cold sweat. The crystals in Amethyst Hollow, color aside, did look a lot like those. Curiosity got the better of her, and she flipped it open.
As the study of the formation of base magic continues, certain anomalies have been observed. They are a sick and perverse abomination of unicorn magic that treads on the borderline of heretical. With primary magic use intrinsically linked to cutie marks, the application of dark magic seeks to circumvent this with unusually high potencies that even I am unable to ascertain the extent of. Even after consulting with the elders of the Alicorn tribe, we are no closer to an answer, but still no less aware of its potential for danger and misuse.
Twilight bit her lower lip as she read through the pages. The text jogged her first memory of dark magic: Celestia giving a small demonstration of Sombra’s power before her first journey to the Crystal Empire. She recalled the sickly green stain in Celestia’s eyes—not to mention her own experience using dark magic—and her stomach lurched.
She closed the book with a heavy sigh. Of course something like this wouldn’t help. I can worry about Starswirl’s pet projects after this mess is over. She got up from her desk and trotted across the room to a map of Equestria on the wall.
“Maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong angle.” Her horn glowed and she bathed the northern region of Mount Everhoof in magenta light. The Silverglade Forest—albeit with the Golden Oak absent from the map—far to the southeast shimmered in a light-green light. Her eyes darted back and forth between Mount Everhoof and the Silverglade: back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.
“A place for pegasus magic,” she said quietly. Her gaze fell upon the most obvious landmark: Cloudsdale. She pondered the floating city and frowned. Although Cloudsdale was a major city of Equestria, and a de facto “capital” of sorts for the pegasi, it was never affixed to one static location for longer than a season. Since it usually stayed within so many dozens of miles from Canterlot, cartographers often just slapped it somewhere nearby and called it “good enough.” Not only that, but Cloudsdale was well known. Amethyst Hollow and Peacegrove Village were on the far-flung edges in Equestria; it was unlikely for any sort of pegasus nexus point to be right under her muzzle. Twilight groaned in frustration, pressing her forehead against the map as if trying to force an answer out.
The window rattled as a sudden gust of wind howled outside.Twilight yelped and scrambled against her bed, her heart thumping in her chest. Intermittent flashes of light lit up towering purple clouds in the evening sky. “How strange,” Twilight muttered, panting as her mood shifted from fear to confusion. “I checked the weather schedule before leaving for the Silverglade, and we should have clear skies for at least another week.” Twilight gingerly walked to the window and peered outside. Leaves and small branches from the trees below were blowing across the courtyard as billowing thunderheads loomed over the mountains beyond the borders of Ponyville. Despite the occasional yellow-white flash from above, neither distinct streaks of lightning nor the rumbling of thunder made their way to the castle.
Twilight glanced over her shoulder at the growing mess on her desk and shook her head. “I need a break,” she said as she opened the window. The wind threatened to smash the crystalline panes, but her magic held them firm. Perhaps some hooves-on research will help. The wind picked up, and Twilight kicked off out the window, closing it behind her. She hovered in place against the wind and stared up at the massive, roiling clouds. Though they were large enough to mask the sunset, this storm didn’t seem particularly powerful—not a drop of rain had fallen.
Twilight soared toward the clouds, rising higher and higher into the sky, past the highest towers of her castle and eventually even above the distant mountains. The air grew frigid as her ascent continued, passing into lower hanging mists. Droplets of condensation collected on her wings and froze in place. She stretched her hooves and breached the undercloud layer of the storm cell. Tiny arcs of electricity discharged in the clouds all around her, following a curious path skyward. Low rumbles of thunder echoed all around. There they are.
She pressed upward, her wings slicing through the cloudwalls. She flew higher and higher, until she finally broke through the anvil-top with a gentle puft. The darkness of nighttime came into view, the colors of a fast-fading sunset visible in the distance. She hovered above the cloud top, her primary flight feathers flinging off some of the ice and cloud bits that clung to her. Flashes of light danced through the clouds below. The sight was mesmerizing; she had never observed a storm from above.
Twilight descended and landed atop the cloud. She howled as a flash of light blinded her, a crackling blast of electricity shooting from the cloud. She sailed backward through the air—an arc of electricity momentarily connecting her to the cloud—before landing flat on her back with a thud on another, friendlier cloud. Her frazzled mane and tail sputtered and discharged more electricity, and her hooves felt numb. She rolled over and whined loudly, grumbling incoherently into the cloud.
Twilight finally managed to shakily make her way to all fours. She stared trepidatiously at the cloud-ground before her and raised a hoof. She slowly, carefully, inched her hoof closer, and the moment her hoof made contact, she quickly retracted backwards. There was a minor discharge of electricity—thankfully not strong enough to knock her off her hooves—but nothing unexpected. Twilight frowned, prodding the cloud dejectedly. The cloudtop lit up, but all storm clouds did when properly disturbed. She sighed, continually tapping the cloud, but each touch was more half-hearted than the last.
No magic runes winking in and out of existence. No colored wisps to lead one toward safety or danger. Nothing at all. Twilight plopped down onto her haunches, sulking. I don’t understand, she thought as she stared down at her hooves. Each of the tribes appeared in sequence. So why can’t I see pegasus magic? An electrical discharge that strong should have still had some kind of residual magic.
Twilight slammed a hoof against the surface of the cloud, a small flash of lightning arcing along the surface. Ordinary lightning. “But why?” she cried out in frustration. “Am I doing something wrong? Do I need to decipher more of that ridiculous message?”
She stretched a wing and gave it a few gentle flaps. She eagerly watched for any sign of magical action, folding her wing with a heavy sigh. “Nothing from weather manipulation, nothing from cloud walking,” she tapped the solid cloud surface, “and nothing from flight.” She flapped her wings a few more times, stirring some of the vapor around her.
As Twilight sat, enjoying the calm, portions of the cloud cover began to break apart to reveal the landscape far below. Peering over the edge, she could just make out the roofs of Ponyville. The darkness of nighttime crept across the sky, and for a moment, she felt that day and night were in equilibrium. The crimson sunset sky deepened into a brilliant indigo as the moon slowly began its journey above the horizon.
A strange sensation of both awe and sorrow crept over her. Ponyville—even the whole of Equestria itself—felt so small and insignificant from above the clouds. She looked toward the setting sun, then the rising moon. She smirked, realizing her position betwixt the sun and moon—a fleeting twilight, harbinger of both sun and moon.
Wind blew through her mane as she looked across the land. She knew the answers she seeked were unlikely to be in Ponyville, but she smiled softly, content with the understanding that it would always be there for her. The clouds continued to meander across the skyscape, fenestrae growing wider to reveal the lights of Ponyville flickering on to welcome the night. Twilight drew herself to her hooves, her back protesting as she righted herself.
I should get back. Spike will have dinner ready soon, and I don’t want to disappoint him. Twilight dove off the edge of the cloud, riding the air back to her castle. As her wings flared for landing, her mind filled with the warm feelings of her home and the prospect of time with her friends.
For once, Twilight felt she had earned a respite.