This Time for Good

by iisaw

1 Curiosity and Cats

Princess Twilight Sparkle was in a bit of a tizzy when Spike walked into the library of the Castle of Friendship carrying a bundle of papers in his arms. Twilight rapidly scribbled notes in the margins of papers that were already festooned with notes. She sorted several documents into piles, paused, and the re-sorted them into different piles. She added little torn scraps of colored paper as bookmarks to stacks that already sported so many like scraps that they resembled piñatas more than paperwork.

All the while, her exact and careful organizing was underlain by the nearly subconscious drumbeat of a thought: It has to be perfect. It has to be perfect. It has to be perfect.

To anyone else, the tizzy would have been nearly unnoticeable, but Spike spotted the rapid, jerky movement of Twilight's eyes as she scanned the mountain of paperwork spread out across the largest table in the library, and knew exactly what was happening. He also knew the cure.

"Twilight? I know you're busy with the preparations for the coronation and all that, but I think you should look at this right now," he said, holding out the paperwork he was carrying.

"Mm?" Twilight startled ever so slightly, and the cycle of competing conflicts and logistical problems she had been chasing in circles for the last half-hour vanished as she turned her attention to what Spike was offering her. The envelope on the top of the pile was clearly embossed with the cutie mark of Star Swirl the Bearded.

"Oh, thank you, Spike!" she said as she levitated the bundle out of his arms. She glanced back at the table and sighed.

"You can use one of the little tables. Y'know, the ones by the comfy chairs? I'll go and make you some coco to sip while you read."

Twilight knew exactly what he was doing. "I do need to take a break, don't I?"

The little dragon grinned at her. "Yep! And while you're reading your fan-mail from old beardy, I'll look through some of that pile and see if I can't find a dozen or so things that aren't as important as you think they are."

Twilight felt a slight frisson at his words, but took a deep breath and calmed herself. Delegation, she told herself. And trust. I know I can depend on Spike, I just have to believe it!

"Don't forget to make a mug for yourself," she told him with a fond grin.

"Do I ever?" he replied with a smug smile, and headed off for the castle's kitchen.

Twilight settled into a big wingback chair that seemed more snug than it had only a few months ago, and broke the wax seal on the envelope. The letter began with little greeting and no pleasantries.


Along with this letter, I am sending you several sections that have been torn out of my journal. I must assume that they are from some future date, as I have absolutely no memory of having written them, and no knowledge of the events described.

Time spells are inconvenient and irritating at best, and though the journal claims otherwise, I cannot imagine what would have, or will have motivated me to meddle with them again, even in such a small matter as to send a bundle of paper back to my present self, as I appear to have done.

I am vexed beyond measure, and as a certain significant location specified in the text is conveniently near to Ponyville, I am sending you this problem to sort out. I sincerely hope that I need not be pestered with further involvement in this nonsense, but I leave that up to you to decide once you have looked into the matter.


Twilight sighed and set the letter down on the small table at her side. She unwrapped the bundle and saw that it was, indeed, several bound signatures that looked as if they had been roughly torn out of a book. The writing on the top page began mid-sentence, and made little sense. Without context, the rest of the entry wasn't much better. As best as she could determine, it had something to do with missing supplies or equipment for an alchemical experiment. Nothing that would merit time-shenanigans.

Twilight flipped the page. There was no date on the next entry, which was unsurprising. The journals of Star Swirl's she had read in the Royal Archives as a young student rarely had dates attached to entries, and were all written in the same terse style and appalling penwork she now found before her.

Despite my best efforts to isolate myself, my so-called patron seems to have no trouble in locating me. This morning I found a case full of rare reagents on my workbench along with another set of instructions! My wards and shields are still intact, my warning spells untriggered. If this mysterious figure is so magically powerful and subtle, why cannot they manage their own project?

It is true that some of the reagents are nearly priceless, and will benefit my research greatly, but I almost would rather do without, rather than work with time magic again. Still, what is asked of me seems innocuous enough though foolishly complex, and the rewards have been ample…

But I have misgivings.

Twilight skimmed through another couple of entries that seemed to be only about everyday activities, before she found another one mentioning time magic.

My benefactor/taskmaster has sent another message, and this one leaves no doubt as to their growing impatience. I suppose I will have to set up their mechanism for them without further delay. I have chosen a cavern in the Everfree as a suitable spot. A bat, raccoon, or whatever such vermin as may inhabit the place accidentally displaced in time should make no inconvenient ripples in causality, I think. It should be safe enough.

Below the entry was a roughly sketched map showing the location of the cavern in the limestone bluffs not far from Zecora's home in the forest. Three more entries followed, the first two almost entirely composed of Star Swirl carping about the amount of time the mystery project was taking away from his own work. The third was more interesting.

I completed the mechanism, and after one last check to verify that it contained no offensive spells or anything but pure temporal magic, I set it running. Exactly as I suspected, it sent itself back in time using a ridiculously convoluted and wastefully complex matrix.

I left the cavern and waited for well over the period the device would take to propagate itself forward on a causality wavefront. I detected no changes in the timeline, and there was certainly no explosion due to temporal collison.

I was never able to penetrate the opaque nature of the automatic spell matrices I was given to include in the thing, but I assume they created some compensatory ability to leap-frog over its brief duplicatory existence these past few days.

In any case, my patron left no instructions to verify anything after the device was set running, and so I will return to my own work and hope that they never call on me again.

There were a couple more entries about the alchemical experiment Star Swirl himself was working on, most of which were an extended complaint about a flaw in his crystal alembic, and that was all.

Twilight put down the mangled journal and frowned. There was a mug of lukewarm coco on the table next to her. She reheated it with a bit of magic and sipped at it as she considered what she had read. Sometime in the future, Star Swirl had built a time machine for an unknown person, and then sent back an infuriatingly vague portion of his own journal to…do what? Why not just a note? Had some other pony sent back the journal? What did it all mean, and was there any threat to Equestria involved? Why had Star Swirl done something so risky in the first place? Twilight shook her head. Too many questions. She needed more information.

"Spike? Would you mind holding down the fort while I go check on something?"

Spike looked up from the table and the stacks of papers which were beginning to thin out a bit. "No problem! When will you be back?"

"A few hours at most. I'm just going to see if this thing—" She tapped the journal pages with a hoof tip. "—is where Star Swirl says it is… or should be, anyway."

"Okay," Spike said, returning his attention to the paperwork. "But don't forget that Minuette and Moondancer are coming down on the evening train. You said you'd meet them at the station."

"I should have plenty of time," she replied.

= = =

Zecora poured Twilight a cup of herbal tea and one for herself. "I know the place of which you speak, but not the cave you claim to seek."

Twilight shrugged. "It might not be there now. Maybe the entrance is hidden… or maybe this whole thing is somepony's idea of a weird prank. I'd still like to go out there and take a look."

Zecora nodded and smiled. "Then drink your tea, and let us go. I understand; you have to know!"

They left the tree house and strolled through the peaceful half-light of the woods together. "You are going to come to my coronation, aren't you? I'll send an air chariot just for you, if you like."

Zecora shook her head emphatically. "Through the air to swoop and glide? I would be too terrified!"

Twilight laughed outright at that. "Zecora! You live in the Everfree Forest! Only one pony in a thousand would be brave enough to set hoof in here, and you're scared to fly?" She held up a hoof to stave off another protest. "How about a private railway carriage, then?"

"A public one will quite suffice! To go with friends is very nice," the zebra replied with a grin.

They arrived at the bluffs only minutes later, but the forest changed character quite a bit in that short distance. The usual background sounds of the woods faded away and birdsongs disappeared entirely. The trees thinned out near the rocks, but their shadows stretched out toward them, even though that seemed impossible from the angle of the sun. The additional sunlight had spurred the heavy growth of vines and shrubs across the rise, but they were twisted and discolored in an unnatural way that Twilight couldn't pinpoint. They just seemed subtly wrong somehow.

"There might be a cave mouth hidden behind this vegetation," Twilight speculated. "I'm going to scan the area."

Zecora stood and watched as Twilight swept her magic across the overgrown slope. It was only a moment before she found something. "Ah-ha! Yep, there's an opening just there." She pointed with her horn. "Star Swirl was right."

She turned to Zecora. "Will the… uhmn… the forest mind if I clear away the brush here?" She eyed the malformed greenery with suspicion.

Zecora shook her head. "Be sure to use a gentle touch. A little lift; it won't take much."

Twilight found that Zecora was right. The plants were mostly vines draped across the cave entrance and, with care, she was able to lift them high enough to see the entrance without uprooting them. Another spell grew sturdy hooks of rock where she hung the thick strands so that she could concentrate on other magic.

Her horn brightened and a globe of light formed at the tip of her horn. It detached itself and floated forward into the cavern. The globe revealed a tunnel that went back a long ways before opening up into a larger, darker space.

"Hmn… I don't feel any active magic," Twilight said, half to herself. "Oh! What's this?"

She stepped under the draped vines to peer into the dim light of the cave. Her bubble of light bumped against a large metal object like a curious bumblebee against a window pane. The object was built out of intricate bronze and steel panels and looked fairly new, or at least well cared-for.

Twilight backed up and stood to one side of the mouth of the cavern, motioning Zecora to do the same. "I'm going to give that thing a little magical nudge. If there's a big boom or something, I'll toss a heavy shield spell across the entrance. We should be okay here."

Her zebra friend didn't reply, only lifting one eyebrow slightly as she backed further away from the cave.

Twilight's horn flared briefly and the interior of the cave lit up with a bright lavender glow. To the vast surprise of both mares, the light faded away, and absolutely nothing else happened.

"Huh. Seems to be totally inert. That pulse would have resonated with any basic system, so…" Twilight stood in thought for a moment and then shook her head. "It's a fun mystery, but I don't have time for it right now. I'm going to seal up the entrance and come back when I have a free day or two."

She stepped just inside the mouth of the cave and carefully examined the rock walls and ceiling. "Yes, I can transpose in a plug of granite a few lengths thick here. That should—"

She took one last, unfortunate half-step forward and a pressure plate clicked under her hoof. A purely mechanical mechanism beneath the plate triggered, and two sealed jars smashed together, unleashing a pulse of alchemical energy that activated the spell circle hidden beneath the ground in front of the cavern mouth.

From Twilight's perspective, the tunnel was suddenly down, and she fell forward into the cavern. She threw her wings open and flapped to a stop just before gravity corrected itself and dumped her on the floor of the tunnel. She spun quickly, but the tunnel now ended abruptly behind her in a smooth rock surface.

The tunnel lit up as her horn blazed and she ran through several analytical and defensive spells. It seemed that there was no more active magic in play, but a quick teleportation probe revealed nothing but dense stone where the outside world ought to have been.

Twilight scowled and pushed strength into her probe. Incredibly, it revealed nothing but solid rock for thousands of leagues around her. Except for the dark cavern that stretched into the blackness behind her, of course.

"Tambelon take it!" Twilight cursed. "I guess I'll have to do this now." She turned again and walked into the darkness.

= = =