Starlight slowly noticed she was aware, she was floating in a star-filled void. I was with Trixie, doing something… she thought as her mind tried to piece things together.
The fact that she was floating without the aid of magic and that there was the blue Alicorn of Dreams standing, waiting patiently in front of her provided her all the information she needed. “So I’m dreaming.”
“An astute observation, you came to that realisation with more alacrity than most,” Luna praised.
“No offence Princess, but why are you here?” Starlight asked “Not that its a problem you are,” she added sheepishly to the one being that had total power here.
“We have need of your services, you will make yourself ready for my arrival shortly,” Luna stated in a respectful but firm tone.
No request, this was a command from the Princess of the Night. She did not want to see what would happen if she said no. Starlight nodded. “Yes, Princess.”
“Then awaken and make your preparations.” Luna’s horn flashed.
Starlight opened her eyes, revealing the inside of Trixie’s wagon. She was wide awake no hit of sleepiness remaining. Luna’s command was clear in her mind as if she had used some magic to ensure it would be remembered.
She did her best in the small wagon to gather what stuff she could think might be useful when she had no idea what she would be needed to do. As her services were needed, it would involve magic. There were other powerful unicorns out there so it would likely be something she was good at. This task is going to involve Time, Mind Control or Cutiemark manipulation. She thought sure of herself. There was simply no other reasons she would be needed.
She felt worried, not that she could not help. No, she was worried what danger was out in Equestria using one of those three. She began to gather up her stuff, doing her best to be quiet.
Half waking up and clearly wanting the noise to stop, Trixie nearly turned Starlight into a teacup. Instead, because of her quick reflexes, she managed to reflect the spell. Unfortunately, now one of Starlight’s books paid the price and was now a teacup instead.
“Trixie!” Starlight called out.
“Who dares awaken the Great and Powerful Trixie from her slumbers.”
Before she could answer, a pulse of teleportation magic announced Luna’s arrival. It was so powerful Trixie fell out of bed holding her horn. Starlight, being used to Twilight popping in and out of existence, had built up more than enough tolerance to ignore it.
Poking her head out of the wagon, Starlight was taken aback by what she saw. Luna was not alone. Two Alicorn Princesses alighted in front of Starlight both equipped for war. Luna in a suit of night-black mail with multiple daggers secured from her flanks. Twilight in blood-red plate her wings lined with wicked-looking blades.
Six armoured Thestrals from the Nightguard added to the sinking feeling building in Starlight’s gut. They rapidly took positions, securing the clearing the wagon was in.
“Starlight are you ready to depart?” Luna asked clearly expecting a positive answer.
“You can not leave Trixie here on her own,” The blue mare said, poking her head out of her wagon.
Twilight tilted her head, seemingly looking straight through Trixie. “She did acquire the Alicorn Amulet, she might be able to provide some insight.”
“Then we shall bring her and make use of her ill-gotten expertise.” Luna decreed.
Trixie blanched, releasing a slight squeak. Starlight noticed Trixie’s stage persona about to rear its head, quickly she used her aura to hold the blue mare’s muzzle closed. “We will be ready in just a moment, Princess,” She said respectfully. She used a mix of her aura and teleportation to gather everything both of them would need.
Trixie added her magic show supplies to her outfit with her own aura as she whispered to Starlight, “I was just going to say ‘The great and not quite as powerful Trixie is at your service.’ There was no need to muzzle my muzzle.”
“Sorry, couldn’t take the chance,” Starlight apologized.
Luna and Twilight approached. When Luna lit her horn, Starlight wanted to raise a shield just to ward off the force of the Alicorns magic.
The Nightguard landing in a tight circle around them, the world darkened as the shadows closed in. The stars in Luna’s mane blazed bright as the rest of it sucked in the light.
The teleport felt like falling into an endless abyss.
Bursting from the darkness Starlight found herself and Trixie high in the air suspended in Luna’s aura. After so much of practice, it only took moments to wrap herself in her own magic. As soon as her magic was in place the Night Princess’ aura faded from her.
Looking around she could see below them for miles was a sea of crimsoned-streaked magenta flames, hypnotically dancing. If it was not for the trees and mountains in the distance, Starlight would have thought she had arrived in another plane.
Her best friend Trixie had her eyes tightly closed. That was the strangest teleport ever, but it was not that bad. Starlight thought. “Is the brave and fearless Trixie going to open her eyes?” She asked teasingly.
As soon as Trixie opened her eyes and could take in their current high altitude situation, she screamed and flailed about. The screams were cut off as Twilight’s magic wrapped her in a silence bubble.
“Is this?” Twilight asked.
Luna nodded. Twilight looked around and pointed to a point in space. “This would be the centre of the blast.”
“So much… at least it’s only this bad.” Twilight said.
Luna turned her gaze on Starlight. “We require to see what happened here six days ago during the fourth hour of our dominion.”
Starlight glanced to Twilight, unsure. Her friend nodded then waved her hoof at the fire below. “I was attacked here… this is the result. We need to…”
“You were attacked?!” Starlight asked in disbelief. The sheer scale of the fires below looked like it would not have been out of place in the aftermath of Twilight’s fight with Tirek.
Starlight looked to Trixie, who had calmed down now and instead of panicking was now looking a little indigent. “Can you let Trixie speak, please?”
Twilight considered Trixie for a moment and then let the sound bubble drop.
“The transportation left a lot to be desired,” Trixie murmured to herself.
Starlight noticed one of Twilight’s ears flick towards her friend, had she heard that? There was no response other than that, so she set about her task.
Turning her attention to the area of space indicated, Starlight first cast a whole host of detection, sense enhancement, recording and analysis spells. Twilight might have an encyclopedic knowledge of nearly everything magical. Still others like Starlight were smart enough to have options to get around that hurdle in other ways.
As each layer of magic built upon the last, the world became brighter and clearer. Some of the spells, mostly Twilight’s, added labels over things in her vision. Starlight’s own just imparted the knowledge straight into her mind. One of the many advantages of being good at mind magic she had found that did not count as being evil if you used it.
Her preparation done, she moved onto the limited time spell Twilight had asked her to invent. I can only view the past, no chance of interaction, no chance of seeing the future. All perfectly safe on the timeline, no chance of ending the world or deleting important friendships again. She reassured herself.
A weak shield spell formed around the group, it’s internal surface looking like a rippling mirror. As its surface begin to calm, the time in the outside world seemed to race, the six days requested rolling back, the sky flickering between night and day several times a minute.
Twilight was unbothered, she had helped with the spell if only on the safety features. Luna was actually looking impressed. Trixie’s jaw just hung open, at least this high up a bug was not going to fly in.
In all that time, the fire did not change, it was still burning in the present as much as it was when it had first formed. As time kept reversing, the flames all seemed to leap into the air, converging upon the point in the sky Twilight had indicated.
The flames unexploded in to a complex set of spell runes etched in the sky in the magenta fire roatinging about an unconscious looking Twilight in her current armour looking horribly burnt, a bleeding wound on her neck and horn cracked and blackened.
Trixie gasped, Starlight did not want to meet Luna’s eyes, if looks could kill, the mountain up ahead would be a smoking creator.
Starlight examined the past Twilight carefully, she was under the effect of at least two defensives spells, both complex and linked together, probably reinforcing each other.
“We need to follow her back to the temple, Starlight if you would continue our journey into the past,” Luna said.
While Starlight would like more time to study the spells Twilight of the past was under the effect of, she was not going to keep an angry princess waiting.
They followed Twilight’s flight back to the temple concealed in the side of the mountain. During the trip Starlight ran some numbers, at the speed Twilight was traveling, unpowered by spell or wings, she failed to see how Twilight was not just a bloody smear flying through the air. The amount of force needed to have thrown her almost a mile in a rising ark from the Temple was just mind-boggling. Sure Starlight could blast somepony with that much of an impact, however it would take somewhere between ten and twenty percent of her available magic.
As they approached, her detection spells picked up the ultrasonic chatter between the Nightguard. They were each watching an assigned direction, reporting everything to each other. They seemed to be focused on looking for anypony in the area instead of the main attraction.
With no need to be in the air anymore, the group was walking as they entered the temple. The entrance chamber of the temple was a mess, one side of the room was in the process of uncollapsing, as past Twilight sailed back in, ending up laying on the floor curled up.
Crossing the threshold over half of Starlight’s detection spells stopped reporting anything useful. So this place is magically concealed. She thought.
As the ancient stone lifted and slotted back into place, a series of projectiles flew towards Twilight, revealing their target. A tall robed stallion with evil glowing smoky eyes.
A crackle of uncontrolled magic lept from Twilight’s horn disrupting the time viewing spell. Her body had frozen, her eyes widening. It seemed like she was going to start hyperventilating, a classic Twilight panic attack was incoming.
Starlight took a few steps towards Twilight, moving with the intent to comfort her friend. Her horn ready to contain any more errant discharges of magic.
Twilight’s eyes closed and she inhaled a deep breath before opening her eyes once more. The calm but dangerous look now within them, sent a shiver along Starlight’s spine, halting her movement towards her.
She caught Luna pausing to look to Twilight. Starlight turned away from the Princesses, she did not want to look into those eyes any more than she had to. She began investigating the room, preparing to recast her time viewing spell.
The slightest ripple of magic brushed Starlight’s horn, a moment later the listening spell she had up, so she could listen to the thestrals, unexpectedly translated it to speech.
“Twilight has returned to the Golden Oaks.”
“Yes, now shall we be about this Lulu? I am pact sworn to deal with our foes and my blades are not the only things that are eager for their blood.”
Starlight felt her expression freeze, she was so very glad she was not looking at either of them. Pacts? She managed to only cry out in her mind. Pacts were meant to be unbreakable magical contracts. The only reasons she had not studied them is they needed both parties to agree… mind control did not have such a limitation, so that was where she had focused. There has to be a perfectly good reason Twilight is calling Luna, Lulu and that she has a pact to ‘deal’ with her foes.
Shaking her head and closing her eyes, Starlight recreated the time spell and let the images start flowing backwards again.
“Starlight hold it here please,” Luna asked, trotting up to the now frozen image of the stallion, avoiding the volley of projectiles, just moments from hitting him.
“Sister informed me he was dead,” Luna snarled, as she circled him. Her eyes shifting to glowing draconic slits for a few heartbeats. “Meet the face of your assassin.” Luna pointed her hoof at the stallion. “This cur is the one that gave you that spellbook.”
Spellbook? Assassin? Starlight thought, she was just confused but thought better of asking any questions now.
Luna looked into her shadow. “Take a good look”. A pair of eyes opened within the shadow.
Trixie was now pressing against Starlight’s side, taking comfort from her being there and incidentally sheltering from Luna behind her.
Luna continued talking to the creature in her shadow. “Now inform the rest of our guard who their prey is.” The eyes vanished, something about Luna’s mane altered, but Starlight would be hard-pressed to say what.
“Start from two minutes ago and let events play forward,” Twilight commanded in a tone that sounded very much like Luna. Starlight had no choice but to comply.
Past Twilight stepped into the chamber, a sound barrier dripping from her like a shed coat, she flared her wings, displaying the razor edges of her wing blades. It was an intimidating display, Starlight could imagine the sensation of those hungry looking blades parting her flesh, she shuddered.
Past Twilight’s eyes quickly swept the chamber, with the look of a professional soldier. This was Twilight the warrior princess, not Twilight the book-loving Princess of Friendship. Starlight considered how different her own encounter would have gone if she had met this version instead of the one that brought her into the light of friendship. I’m not sure I would have survived that encounter.
The hunger for violence that sparked in past Twilight’s eyes terrified Starlight. A Nightmare Twilight was not something anypony needed. Without the Elements, could she even be stopped?
Past Twilight calmly assessed the robed unicorns arranged in a semicircle around her and seemed to find them wanting. Starlight got the impression Twilight then thought she outnumbered them one to nine.
The central figure advanced towards Twilight and spoke in a contempt laced sneer, "Blood magic dear Twilight, Celestia would be so disappointed with you, she might even send you back to magical kindergarten."
Starlight looked questionably at Present Twilight who spoke up. “Yes I know many forbidden spells and being a Princess, I am allowed to use them if the situation warrants it.”
Starlight was unsure whether she should be impressed by Twilight's newfound practicality or annoyed at the hypocrisy.
Past Twilight responded, her voice a menacing purr, "I'm the element of magic. All magic bends to my will. Do you truly think one such as you can stand against me?" She leaned forward threateningly. Her horn lit as she changed her stance. It was clear she was in charge here and that she had no doubt she would prevail.
"I do," the stallion let out a cruel bark of laughter, "You are nothing but the rarest of spell components to me, Princess."
Starlight could feel Trixie trembling beside her, she put a foreleg over her in a clumsy attempt at a hug. Clumsy or not it proved effective.
Twilight flicked her eyes to the exit. "And you are worth less than the dust on my hooves, I shall be leaving now."
A spell Starlight had never seen before lept from Twilight’s horn, a lance of ebony fire. To see her smiling with glee when throwing around what was most definitely a lethal spell was a shock. Somehow the target was unharmed, the only effect was some damage to his robe.
A look of disbelief crossed past Twilight’s face a moment before a different robed pony detonated leaving a cloud of ash behind. That shocked expression faded replaced with a thoughtful one and then a hungry grin. Twilight’s horn lit with three layers of glows.
The lead cultist's eyes flashed virulent green, coils of miasma rolling from them as he roared out. "You shall not escape me!"
Twilight’s spell casting faltered, small arks of power sparking from her horn, lashing dangerously about, scorching her coat. With a pained expression Twilight nearly managed to force the energy in to forming a shield spell, nearly.
"No not now,'' she growled her voice laced with rage.
A swarm of surgical blades flashed into existence then rushed towards Twilight’s face propelled by the dark stallion's magic. Moments later blasts of force lanced out from the other cultist's horns all converging with deadly intent.
Twilight just managed to force the magic into the worst example of a shield Starlight had ever seen before. The attacks started hitting. Her body crumpled to the floor, she started to burn from within. She curled up, shaking in pain, unable to act.
After a few seconds of her not even doing anything to protect herself, even with attack after attack landing. The attacks slowed and then stopped, but the flames kept building. The robed cultist closed in a bit, the lead one seems a little puzzled, like he was thinking things went too well.
He slowly started to approach the downed Twilight. Suddenly, burning blood erupted from her neck as it began to circle in the air, spiralling down and forming into the burning runes that had detonated outside.
"What!" was the only response the robed leader had as he took a step back, his confusion shifting to rage. He pointed his hoof at Twilight and the attack resumed.
A protection spell of some sort enclosed her, made up of complex purple runes and geometric symbols dancing around with clockwork precision. Rapidly followed by a second one, a pale, weak-looking shield with tendrils of magic reaching back and slotting into sections of the first spell.
The magic bolts struck first, shattering into fragments and being channelled through to the first spell, their energy being stolen to reinforce the inner protection that just glowed all the brighter.
The swarm of metal blades arrived next, passing through the outer protective layer as if it was not there. Upon reaching the second layer they veered off, circling Twilight, rapidly gaining speed. Multiple shock waves as each projectile made a good attempt at being faster than Rainbow dash.
Starlight slowed down the replay, so she could see what happened next.
Each shard of metal was reinforced with their own forcefield, as they headed straight back to the one who had thrown them. The shock waves as they passed through the air was enough to shake the room. The impact slammed the leader into the wall, shattering it and many of the surrounding supports.
The damage was just too much for the temple to remain whole, the ceiling began to cave in.
A huge blast of magic catapulted Twilight straight out of the temple shattering the stone around her and causing yet more damage to the structure.
Luna walked up to a pile of rubble and fixed her gaze upon it. ”Make the next hour pass in a few minutes,” Luna commanded. Starlight did so, letting her eyes look to the point Luna was looking at.
A hole burst in the rubble, Starlight slowed the replay to normal speed. Somepony was using crude magic to cut or shape their way out. It was the assassin again, his robe was tattered enough that part of his cutie mark could be seen. An open scroll it looked like.
The assassin staggered to his hooves, looking around. "It has been a long time since I have felt pain, well played Twilight." He spoke is his deep sinister voice.
The stallion's head snapped up as he looked towards the exit. Lifting his hoof to a stone ring hanging from his neck, he faded from not only vision but from all of Starlight’s senses.
Luna stomped a hoof in annoyance and looked to the entrance to watch a past version of herself, Shining Armour and multiple guards, both Night and Crystal, enter. “You can end your spell now,” Luna said calmly.
Trixie seemed to mutter to herself, “Is that the ... shop ... in?” Starlight looked at her complying with Luna’s request.
Twilight suddenly rounded on Trixie and spoke in a dangerous tone. “Where do you know that artefact from?”
“Eep,” A trembling Trixie seemed to try to hide from the world under her hat and cape.
Luna approached trailing a wing along Twilight armoured back, Starlight could not work out if the gesture was in reproach or affection, most likely it was a mix of the two. “Trixie, you have nothing to fear.” Luna almost whispered.
Trixie stilled and looked up, her fear replaced with mere wariness.
“Would you kindly tell us how you know about that Keystone?” Luna asked.
“Keystone? If you mean that rock that was around Big bad and nasty’s neck, then it was on sale where Trixie made her worst purchase.”
Starlight looked at her in disbelief You can just buy soul-sucking evil artefacts that amplify magic?!
“Once we are done here we are going to be paying them a visit.” Starlight heard in stereo as Luna and Twilight spoke at once.
That’s not creepy at all. Starlight sarcastically thought.
Twilight turned and started walking further into the temple. “Come, there is one more place where the time spell is needed.”
Starlight coxed Trixie into coming as she followed, Luna took up the rear.
The path was long and confusing, with many turns and even a few secret passageways, but Twilight did not hesitate even once. The walls of the temple were highly decorated with carvings depicting something old. It was hard to appreciate the historical value of the place when being marched between two of the most powerful beings in Equestria. Especially when at least one of them seemed to be in a bad mood.
At last they entered their destination, a room with, at its centre, an altar with four silver spikes embedded in it. They were spaced just right to be one per limb if a pony happened to be laying on it. Even with just horn light, the stains on its surface were more than enough to speak of its dark purpose.
Luna followed stepping down into the room leaving Trixie looking in from the doorway.
“Is that...” Starlight started to ask.
“Welcome to the least comfortable accommodations I have ever experienced,” Twilight said with angry sarcasm.
“You want…” Starlight, sounding horrified, began.
“You don't need to look, we just need your spellcraft,” Luna added, voice reassuring but expression cold.
“Seven days, two hours and thirty-six minutes ago is where you need to begin.” Twilight’s voice spoke in a haunted whisper.
Starlight lit her horn, she could hear Trixie’s hoof-falls as she retreated around the corner and a quiet “I’ll be over here.” Clearly she was not wanting to see more horror today.
Twilight’s screams snapped Starlight’s gaze up. She immediately regretted her actions. The scene before her was horrifying, there was no way a pony could live through what she was seeing let alone still be screaming and trying to struggle free from their bonds.
The Robed Assassin was directing a swarm of surgical blades and extracting parts of the Twilight on the altar. Without a second thought, Starlight cast the most powerful anti-nausea spell she knew, the fact that she would have dry-mouth for next week was not even considered. At least she would be well hydrated.
Dragging her eyes away from the scene and pressing her ears flat to her head to try and drown out the sound, she looked to the two Alicorns in the room. Twilight just seems to be cold and Luna did not seem to have any reaction. The powerful fluctuations of magic told a different story, being near them for more than a few hours like this could cause long term health problems.
Backing out as far as she could and still maintain the time spell, she cast a sound blocking wall over the doorway, trapping the horrid sounds inside the room. Trixie's whimpering made her glad she did not just suppress her own hearing.
Reaching out with her aura, she pulled Trixie into a hug. Both of them needed the contact now and would likely need Luna’s help tonight.