CHAPTER 2: Hidden Motives
Twilight glanced over her shoulder, confirming that nopony had seen her. Though she would have enjoyed her friends' company, she had decided it was better for her to go alone. This mysterious pony would certainly be wary of six ponies if Rainbow Dash had scared her off, to say nothing of Pinkie Pie. As the lights from Ponyville grew more distant, the Everfree Forest filled more of the horizon, the wall of trees dark and imposing. Most of the creatures of the night lived in the Everfree, and with the trees eating up all noise, Twilight walked in a deafening and foreboding silence.
She finally reached the edge of the forest. Now that she was here, the purple mare wondered how this informant was going to find her. The note hadn't mentioned any specific meeting place, just "At the edge of the Everfree." Twilight looked, first to the left, and then to the right. No sign of anypony else this late at night.
Well, she could either walk up and down the tree-line, tire herself out, and possibly miss her contact, or she could stay here and wait. Twilight dropped to her haunches and began to be lost in thought.
Eventually, she was pulled out of her trance by a quiet snapping noise. Twilight's eyes flitted around in the darkness. As she watched, a royal blue unicorn melted out of the shadows. "Twilight Sparkle?" she asked, not stepping out of the woods.
Twilight nodded. "And you are?"
"Tell me, Eclipse, why did you bother to come this far, just to tell me about a missing book?"
"It's much more than that. The missing book is only the tip of the iceberg, at the cost of sounding cliché."
Twilight cleared her throat. "I received a letter from Princess Celestia that forbade me from meeting with you."
Eclipse stepped back, whether out of surprise or anger, Twilight couldn't decide. "You told the Princess?"
"Not quite. I just asked her about the book, before I got your message, and she asked me not to pursue the matter. So before we go any further, I must ask, why all the secrecy? What are both you and the Princess hiding?"
"That, Twilight, is why I've gone out of my way to find you. I am as perplexed as you are, and I was hoping that you, with your knowledge of Equestria and the Princess, could illuminate something for me."
"What is it?"
"I can only show you. Come with me."
After a moment's hesitation, Twilight entered the foliage, and the two unicorns began trekking through the forest. They walked for about a half an hour, the two of them only speaking to warn the other of a branch that seemed to claw at them or a root meaning to trip them. The creatures of the forest could now be heard, but none were seen. Twilight checked their progress whenever she could by consulting the stars. Pretty soon, it became apparent where Eclipse was taking her. Near the castle of the royal pony sisters.
Finally, they broke through into a clearing. In the center was a sizable pile of ashes, protected by some sort of magical bubble. Here, in the partial light of the moon, Twilight could see more of Eclipse. She had a golden cutie mark, a set of balanced scales, which contrasted rather well with her royal blue coat. Her mane was untidy yet clean, as if she didn't care so much for appearances as she did functionality. Eclipse motioned for Twilight to step forward.
"I'll release the spell. Tell me what you see." The bubbled melted away, and Eclipse's horn flared up to provide better light.
"It's just a pile of ashes."
Twilight nudged a smaller pile with her hoof. To her surprise, it flaked. "It's... paper?"
"It is. Keep looking."
Twilight pushed through more of the ash. As she did, she realized the paper had words and pictures, but they couldn't be made out due to the damage. She felt as if something were off, that some connection should be made in her mind, but she couldn't place it. Finally, Twilight's hoof hit something hard. She brushed the loose ash away, and cradled her find in her magic's soft magenta glow. It was a book cover. All the pages had been burned out. Through either a freak accident or a miracle, this fragile cover had survived. The inside was badly scorched, but the front seemed to have been protected by the earth in which it lay.
"Turn it over," bade Eclipse, her voice calm and quiet.
Twilight flipped it over, looking at what had once been a beautifully designed leather binding. Wait... the title...
Twilight gasped in horror and shock as she suddenly realized what all this meant. This book, no, this entire pile of books, were the torched corpses of A Study of Alicorns: Their Psychology and Physiology. A flurry of emotions and thoughts filled Twilight's mind. One rose to the top.
"How could I not see this?"
"An amnesia spell. Whoever did this didn't want the casual observer finding this. It took the title, which you've been searching for for so long, to help you break through the spell."
"Did you cast the spell?"
Eclipse shook her head. "I have a gift, Twilight Sparkle. I can sense energy releases. I can tell you their approximate origin, and if I've met the pony that caused them, I can identify their work. This burning was caused by an Alicorn. About a month ago. I'll give you one guess to which one."
"But... why would she? And not tell me?"
"Again, I was hoping you might know." Eclipse stopped suddenly, grabbing Twilight's gaze with a fierce stare. "Something is wrong with this world, Twilight Sparkle. I've felt it since my birth. I don't know exactly what, but I believe that those books aren't the only thing that had an amnesia spell cast on them. This entire world has."
Eclipse looked away. "I must be going. I don't have much more solid evidence that I can share, and our presence might be treasonous. I do not expect to meet you again, Miss Sparkle, unless one of us uncovers this mystery. Goodbye."
"Wait!" Twilight yelled, but it was too late. The strange mare had already teleported away. Now Twilight knew she couldn't let this rest. The Princess was hiding something from her. But why? What could be so big, so dark that the wisest pony in the land had to keep secrets from her entire kingdom?
When Twilight returned, her friends immediately bombarded her with questions. She told them everything that had happened, but it only led to more questions. Eventually Spike had to tell them all to leave, so Twilight was finally able to get some much needed sleep.
Sleep didn't bring the peace she was hoping for, however. Twilight found herself in a large cave. It was dark and damp. A dream, Twilight realized. She felt driven forward into the darkness, led by her shining horn. Something had happened, she knew, but in her dream state she didn't know quite what it was. She rounded many twists and turns for what seemed an eternity, then finally she heard the voices of her friends. They're in trouble!
"Help us Twilight! We're trapped!" yelled Applejack. Her voice came from the other side of a rock slide, some of the boulders five times as tall as a pony.
"I'm here! Just hold on girls!"
"Twilight! We're running out of air!" called Rainbow Dash.
"Just hold on! Try to relax, calm yourselves! You'll use less air!"
Twilight began throwing the boulders aside. Another, and another, and another. But no matter how many she pulled away, the pile didn't seem to grow any smaller. She could sense the impending doom growing closer. Frustrated and scared, she began doubling her efforts.
"Twilight... hurry... I'm light headed, and Pinkie's already fainted..." came Rarity's voice, barely audible.
Rock after rock flew, until Twilight felt every inch of her body ache as her magic began sapping her life force. "Twi..." came a soft plea. Then nothing more. Ignoring her own pain, Twilight pulled a few more stones, until finally, a glorious opening could be seen. Twilight dropped to the floor, physically sick and unable to move. "Girls?" She cried out weakly. "Girls?"
Twilight forced herself to her hooves, and with her body screaming in protest and weighing her down, she stumbled over the stones until she could see through the opening. There her five friends lay. Unmoving, unbreathing. The unthinkable had happened. They had died. As she watched, their bodies began to glow with a bright light. One by one, her friends bodies disappeared as their life energy was returned to the earth. She had failed. She had let them Blink.
Twilight awoke with a gasp, drenched in sweat. Just a dream. And yet it had felt so real. She began sobbing forcefully, realizing just how much her friends meant to her. Tears flowed without restraint, and Twilight didn't try to stop them. And with Spike sleeping downstairs, there was nopony to comfort her.