In an age long past, three Alicorns held counsel. Uneasiness and smoke made a thick shroud around them as they watched the last of the fires extinguish. Patches of the city now lay black as night with ashes. Stone walls made smoldering shells; lamps had been smashed in the attack. Here and there, ponies could be seen working through the web of roadwork.
Princess Twilight Sparkle stood analyzing the scene. "It won't be enough - driving Chrysalis out every time she returns is only going to get more ponies hurt. Still - we can't maintain the shield my brother keeps, and leaving the Crystal Empire open is even more risky."
"While that is true, Twilight, nopony else has come close to making a shield that could protect a city. The constant strain would be too much." Celestia turned away from the balcony's edge. Soot marred her pearly coat - she had rushed to combat the blaze as soon as her hooves were steady again.
Luna stirred from her spot to comment. "What could be done to soothe the coming nightmares, has. Sleep will not come easily, but they will find it." Her features shifted into puzzled thought. "As for the matter at hoof, could we not instill the spell within the city itself?"
"What spell could be sustained without a pony guiding it? I'll look through the library, and see if there is anything we could use. Spike will be around if you need me." With this, Twilight took off for the lower grounds.
Two exhausted sisters watched the embers scattered through their city chill. Tomorrow there would be burns to tend, structures to rebuild, and rubble to clear. For now though, they sat and kept vigil.
The sun rose over the city walls, shining molten light on two young ponies trotting down Canterlot's main thoroughfare. The splash of colors made them seem to be of the same hue, but shadows revealed a silvery coat in the pair. They passed by scaffolding, timber, and cut stone as repairs began in full swing. The commotion of the crowd did little, though, to cut through their playful banter.
It is a shame they ran." Silver String chuckled as he reared up on hind legs. "I was just warming up for a real fight! Thunder and lightening, fire and ice smiting the foul beasts..."
Eventide lifted an eyebrow at his boast. "Oh, really. How much of that have you used before? Blowing yourself up wouldn't have done any good."
"Blow myself up?! I would never... none of my spells do that." Head tilting to the side, he reconsidered. "Well, most of them would not explode."
Both laughed as they carried along down the road. Their task for today was to help rebuild a shop along the way. For some reason, Silver seemed unusually excited to get there. His trot became more flashy as he almost skipped through the air.
"What's up with you? Float any higher, and ponies will think you're a Pegasus."
He settled to the ground with a blush rising on his cheeks. “My brother is back in town - I just received the news! You see, this is his shop we are rebuilding. He flew in this morning. He has not been in Canterlot for two years now.”
Eventide nodded. She knew Silver String wasn’t an only child, but she hadn’t heard much more. The Grey family was large though - easy for her to forget a name or a small mention. Still...
“How’d he get in? I thought the Changelings took out the rails and the sky docks.” She stopped as she tried to sort the puzzle out. “He isn’t a Pegasus, is he?”
The colt’s mouth opened and shut with failed attempts at explanation.In the end, he shook his head. “Come on - it is just down the corner. It is better to see.”
The two rounded the bend in the road to see their destination. A large pile of ash and burnt timber lay in the road with wagons pulling up to cart it away. A stone foundation had been cleared out, and now several metal beams supported the skeleton of the new building. Construction ponies worked around the scaffolding.
In front of it all, on top of a neighboring building, a soot-covered pony monitored the proceedings. His colors were obscured, but he was easy to spot: on his back was a peculiar saddle Eventide thought she recognized. Two large cylinders hung off of it, suspended on either side, Various tubes connected these to a large tank nestled between them. The whole setup looked extremely heavy, and the pony shifted the weight of it every now and then. As workers gathered materials, he’d pass along instructions - making corrections to a series of sketches in front of him.
As filly and colt made their way through the bustle, Silver String called out to his brother. “Jet! Jet! We are down here, brother."
His words apparently reached the overseer's ears. The stallion lept from the building, and a high-pitched whine warned everypony nearby. Workers without earmuffs clapped hooves to ears as a louder roar ripped from twin gouts of fire. A roar bellowed from the back of his saddle. The dark pony's mysterious machine rocketed him toward Silver and Eventide; its inner mechanisms spun at blurring speeds. Before he struck the two, the accelerating pony swung the cylinders around, blasting hot air over their heads. He hung suspended in the air for a moment, then gravity slammed all four legs to the cobblestone road.
Stirred dust and ash settled around the filly, colt, and stallion. Three ponies stood in a low cloud, bustle resuming around them. Eventide had curled up in fright. She had nearly thrown up a magical barrier, and her heart still raced. This stallion was, she thought, just as reckless as his younger brother.
"How is the Grey family prodigy, now," the larger pony said as he tucked Silver under a leg, scrubbing the colt's fine-brushed mane. "When word came about the attack, I called in a favor from the rail company. Looks like I should have known..."
He trailed off as he tilted his head in the filly's direction. "Hey! And who is this lovely young lady?"
"JetGrey, this is Eventide." Silver separated to stand next to her. "With her help, we were able to stop the changeling queen. She and I have also been learning magic."
Jet smiled as he was about to reply, but an aide galloped up with a clipboard for him. Grabbing it in a hoof, he settled back on his haunches to skim its contents. His mouth twisted in distaste.
"I'm sorry, but we need to get this project rolling. Time to put young ponies to work. I will need you two placing timbers - all the cranes have been rented out. Can you both stay for lunch?"
Filly and colt nodded, and their morning began. A pile of heavy wood beams lay next to the site, and it took the combined magical efforts of both to lift one. Slowly, they settled each into prepared locations. As soon as one was down, a swarm of workers descended with hammers and nails. A pattern formed - lift, settle, hold, and repeat. Sweat beaded on the youths' coats as the strain became tiring, then exhausting.
After an hour, the last of the joists was in place. Another hour passed with panels being nailed to the walls. Now drained, Eventide and Silver String could not focus anymore. JetGrey called for a break.
The sounds of meals being prepared came from an improvised kitchen. Eventide and Silver String sat around a crate-turned-table, and the majority of the workers ate on the levels below and above.
Jet busied himself in the kitchen, visible through missing wall sections. Just as the two got settled, he emerged with a tray of sandwiches.
"I have yet to hear how you met this lovely young filly. Or how you fought off the changelings. Chrysalis is no push-over, especially since she has had time to prepare." The stallion glanced from Silver String to Eventide. "I'd bet strong friendship - love, even? - had something to do with it."
Silver blushed as deep a red as the pony sitting next to him. "I wrote to you about how my magic sometimes escapes my control. She's been here since the fire, always there to lend a hoof. She came around to play more often, and we have been learning magic together - like I said before."
"Eventide and I have also been working out our strong and weak points, channeling out magic through one spell, and some self-defense. We make a good team!" Gaining confidence, he reached for a sandwich as he explained. "That was why were able to take on the changelings. While Chrysalis was distracted, we used an old warding spell I learned to seal her inside - even with all of her magic."
Eventide sat quiet, still shy around JetGrey. She watched him over her plate, and studied the mixture of pride and awe on his face. These, though, faded with his next words.
"About Father... is he well?"
"Don't worry," her quiet voice chimed in, "I know a bit of growing magic - it'll heal as well. There're a lot of bruises and scrapes, but nothing broken. He'll need rest."
Jet's nod stopped as a dry cough left him sputtering. In a voice rough with more than just emotion, he asked for water. Silver String obliged, and the stallion chuckled.
"Between the shouting of the day, and this ash," he gestured to the city outside, "it's a wonder my throat hasn't given out already. Luckily, there's a mare I know who has better foresight than I..."
He rummaged through a saddlebag to pull out a pouch of dry, crushed leaves. Though closed, the pouch soon filled the room with a familiar aroma of herbs and spices.
Without herself knowing, Eventide had walked up to the pouch. Breathing in the smells pulled memory into sharper focus. Orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg - it could only be...
Her teacher, one thousand years distant, was probably drinking a brew made from this mixture right now. Or would be, later. He never seemed to go a day without it, and claimed it was "good for his bones". It reminded her of the tower, of home. How long had she spent away? How long had it been since -
" -you okay, Eventide?"
She stood, holding the pouch as the two male ponies shared the same look of worry. Her eyes had begun to tear, and she must have let her homesickness show. Shaking it off, the filly turned to them.
"Would it be okay if - if I made the tea? I'm sorry, it reminds me of home..."
Two nods of assent met her, but she left for the kitchen before they could offer help. It would do her no good to be seen like this; tears would only make it worse. Inside, she busied herself by steeping the pouch in water magically brought to boil. The tea brought her back (or forward) to days in a Canterlot-to-be: life at home, and in the study.
Eventide had run away from her lessons, unable to sit back and watch Silver make his own mistakes. Now, more than ever, she wanted to return. Reaching for the familiar magical aura that surrounded her, she grasped...
She grasped at nothing at all.
The spell that carried her back and forth through time was gone. In it's place, only fading remnants held on to her. Feeling it now, she could tell that whatever enchantment it was, it was being drained away. The filly didn't have the journal - nor could she remember the spell's construction.
Would her teacher come looking for her? Could he? From what he said, he was unable to talk to anypony in the past. Now that she was no longer part of each "story", could he still reach her?
Coming back out of the kitchen, she served the tea. In doing so, she started a habit - a ritual - that would last for one thousand years.
If only she could get to the end of that millennium.
"Anything to report? I felt the traces, but I don't know what it means. How is she?" Of late, Twilight had very few calm hours. Changes coming through time had begun to arrive in a steady, growing stream. The city was in flux - but only a few ponies recognized any difference now. Her magic kept a small bubble of stability around her - yet it was being struck constantly.
"The anchor that kept her safely between times has failed, your majesty. I cannot seem to find her either - she held a vital part of the spell together." Silver String, in this age, was a curiosity. Through the effects of his and Eventide's "studies" continued to reshape Canterlot, he was unchanging. Magic from the spell swirled around him though. It was a storm that he didn't seem to notice.
Princess Twilight shook her head. His "hooves off" method of teaching was re-writing existence, but it was vital to get Eventide back.
"If you can't find her - the spell will reject her. She doesn't belong in that time, and I can't risk her being lost forever!" Catching herself before she started shouting, the Alicorn sighed.
"This is beyond my abilities..." He quickly rephrased as a glare struck him from down the throne room. " I mean, I will need some help from an outside source if we are to get her back."
Though the old Unicorn knew that anger, frustration, and worry boiled within the Princess, he shivered. This word was spoken with dead calm, and royal authority. It was less a question than a demand to speak. Silver was doomed, though.
"Of the events in my journal, it seems that one thing has not changed - and isn't changing at all. I am - was - 'destined' to cross paths with a powerful source of knowledge and magic." Here the wizard paused, clenching his teeth as he chose his next words. The measured tones of it tried to conceal acid. "He was the one who 'helped' me with my time-travel spell. The only one who'd have something to gain from it, it seems.
The ruler of Equestria cast her gaze on a stained-glass window. The colors were jarring, the shapes almost hard on the eye. It stayed in the palace due to it's reminder and warning, though the days of fear it inspired were long gone. The frame shimmered as she spoke, heralding a power still greater than hers.