"How can I try harder to not think? If I try harder, I have to think about trying harder, and that means I'm thinking about something, right? Which means trying harder is actually not trying. It's--"
"Let me rephrase that. Don't try. Do."
It was the end of a particularly long day. Ventus lay on the ground, exhausted. He had, at long last, mastered reading minds. But he was still struggling immensely with preventing his from being read. He had trained in nothing but mind-reading all day, and he was finally at his limit.
"I'm done," he declared, standing up.
"At this rate, we'll never make enough progress to even go back!" Sky said in exasperation.
Ventus didn't make further comment, walking towards his bedroom.
"What about dinn--" Sky began asking, but Ventus walked out of range before he could finish, and the illusion of Sky faded.
Truth be told, Ventus was hungry. But he was too frustrated and exhausted to care.
The next few days passed by in a similar manner. They had finally finished working on everything Sky thought they would need, apart from blocking mind reading. Five nights after the demon's appearance, Ventus was still struggling to repel Sky's mind reading.
"Honestly, we could go back without you having mastered it. I seriously doubt you'll need it very often. Ponies of the past didn't have dark magic, so they couldn't read minds."
"Why didn't you tell me that ages ago?!" Ventus asked, annoyed.
"Because I still want you to master it. Ponies won't be able to do anything, but the demons of the past will."
"Is there any other way we can do this?" Ventus asked. "Could--"
He cut off, as he was hit with a moment of inspiration.
"How good are you at mind reading?"
"I've been reading up on it..." Sky hesitated. "Not to brag, but I think I'm the most powerful mind reader in existence."
"I have an idea," Ventus informed him. "It might be hard for you to do, but if we can do it, it will speed this up immensely."
"What's this idea?" Sky asked, curious.
"My demonic half knows how to stop mind reading. When I was more in-tune with it, I easily stopped a live demon from reading my mind. I'm going to summon my demon side, and I want you to read my mind and find out how I do it."
"Sounds risky," Sky said, cautiously. "I don't know if I'll be able to do it. Your demon side is more powerful than anything I've ever seen."
"But your mind reading is more powerful than any other we've ever seen," Ventus pointed out. "If anypony can do it, it's you."
"...All right," Sky said. "Let's try it."
Ventus breathed in deeply, bringing the demonic forces up out of his soul to the surface. On the second breath, his eyes turned black.
Immediately, Sky began forcing his way in. Ventus winced, as he felt the incredibly powerful force of Sky's full mind invasion. He tried to force the unfamiliar energy out of his mind, and it slowed down immensely.
Sky was unblinking, his deep red eyes staring as hard as possible into Ventus' black ones. Ventus seemed unable to look away, as his black eyes also didn't blink. It was a battle of willpower now, to see which pony could hold out longer.
But no creature had ever been born with greater willpower than Midnight Sky.
After another minute, black blood began trickling from Sky's nose, as he exerted his mind even more. Finally, Ventus' mind resistance broke.
"There we go," Sky muttered, as he searched through the contents of the demonic half of Ventus. He quickly located the area of the brain that dealt with magic resistance.
"Now, if I just..." he muttered some more, as he opened the part that held mind resistance.
He had never done anything like this, but he figured he might as well try.
He took the energies from that area, and created an exact carbon copy in himself. Then, he let Ventus go.
"Scan my focus crystal," Sky instructed.
"What did you do?" Ventus asked, his eyes having returned to normal.
"I copied the raw thought waves from your demon side, and brought them into myself, or in other words, my crystal. I don't know if you'll be able to interpret it, but you can try."
Ventus did as he was asked, scanning the crystal.
Immediately, he was met with severe pain.
"AGH!" He screamed, as his vision blacked out and he crumpled to the ground, hooves gripping his head.
"Ventus? Ventus!" Sky exclaimed, running over to him.
Ventus' vision hadn't returned, but flashes of light appeared before him. It was little snippets of thought, forcing their way into his mind.
His head threatened to split open from the pain of it.
Then it ended, as suddenly as it had began.
"...Aaahhhh..." Ventus moaned. "Hurts..."
"Feel different?" Sky asked.
"Yeah, I feel like my head split open," Ventus said.
"Well, you feel like you can block mind reading?"
"How the hell should I know?"
"Let's find out," Sky said.
"Wait, now?" Ventus said, alarmed.
Sky didn't reply, and a moment later, Ventus was feeling Sky's presence in his mind again.
But this time, something was different. Ventus flashed back to the moment in Celestia's throne room, when the demon there had attempted this very thing. That wasn't different - he thought back to that scene every time this happened.
But this time, he was able to replicate the results.
Just like he had in the throne room, Ventus pushed the unfamiliar feeling of Sky's mind down and out of his own, just as he did with his demon side.
"Sweet Celestia," Sky said softly, with a slightly-evil triumphant smile. "He can finally do it!"
Ventus opened his eyes.
"Did it work?" He asked, hopefully.
"You bet it did," Sky said, still with the evil smile. "I've never been forced out like that before - only repelled. That was stronger than anything I've seen."
It was no wonder the demon in Canterlot had been so surprised.
"You're not pony. There's no way a pony could've done that."
Well, it was right, Ventus thought to himself. Only demons can do that, it seems...
"For once in your life, I can't tell what you're thinking right now," Sky informed Ventus, bringing him out of his stupor of thought. "It's weird."
"Well, get used to it," Ventus said, blankly. "I'm gonna be doing this a lot now."
"It looks like you could interpret all of the raw thought," Sky said, ignoring him. "Your head must be killing you. That's a lot of information we just crammed into it."
"Can I be done for the night, then?"
"Sure," Sky said, taken aback. "I'm sure you need the rest after that."
As Ventus began walking away, Sky added something else.
"We're about ready to go," he said. "Are you ready?"
"I think so," Ventus said.
"Go rest up," Sky said. "We'll leave in the morning."
Ventus went through his pre-bedtime routine as usual, albeit rather robotically. He flopped down on his bed with a groan.
You're almost there... he thought to himself. Almost time...
Eight thousand years, though, another part of his brain, the pessimistic part, added in. Don't think you can do eight thousand years...
Midnight Sky thinks so, he continued fighting with himself. And he's the expert.
You really think so? The guy died using time magic. Is he really in a situation to be the judge?
He knew the time magic he used would kill him. That's why he was prepared to become a dark spirit.
Yes, but still, he's never tried eight. thousand. years.
He let his brain continue arguing with itself, before he drifted off to sleep.
Running. Running hard. Faceless blurs flying past. Extreme fear. Adrenaline. A slight ringing of the ears.
So much running...
Panting. Out of breath. Glancing back. Nothing.
Why all the running?
What is there to run from?
Not looking. Distracted.
He ran smack dab into something right before him, falling backwards. In his panic-stricken state, he didn't register what it was as he scrambled away from it across the ground.
He had never been so scared in his life. Even facing Gale hadn't been this bad.
After a few more moments of frantic movement, he looked up at the thing he had ran into, and it came into focus.
It was his demon half.
He yelled out as he awoke, springing up ready to fight.
Again, something wasn't right.
Again, it was at least ten degrees colder than it should've been.
Another one? he thought. How were these demons tracking him here?
Then he remembered he was the only pony left in the land.
However, his confusion only grew greater as he walked down the hallway. This aura was exactly the same as the last demon's had been.
Sky, Ventus thought, reaching out to the magic focus crystal sitting on the table.
...What? Sky grumbled, having obviously been asleep.
We've got another one.
I'll give you one guess.
Sky awoke more fully, before his surroundings came into focus. And he sensed the demon floating right behind Ventus.
It was exactly the same demon.
Impossible, Sky breathed. It's exactly the same demon.
Definitely. I don't know how it's possible, but this is the same demon.
"Absorb this one too," Ventus said.
Ventus' eyes went black, as he forced the now-visible cloud of smoke over towards Sky's focus crystal.
YOU! MUST! DIE! it screamed.
"Oh, put a bucking cork in it," Ventus said, as he forced it onto Sky's crystal.
It screamed in pain, as it slowly melded into the little blue crystal, dissolving. The raw dark energies melded with Sky's soul, and his magic essence grew slightly stronger. As soon as the demon was completely trapped, Ventus let go of the dark powers, letting his eyes return to normal.
I don't understand, Sky said, as soon as the demon faded out of existence. How did it come back? It was exactly the same as the--
Oh, you didn't think I'd actually come, did you? a new voice, an icy, cold voice, added in.
Ventus jumped, his eyes turning black once more, whipping around to look behind him. But there was nothing there.
Oh, I'm not there, don't worry, the voice said, with a slight hint of amusement.
What are you?! Ventus snarled. And what do you mean, "you won't actually come?"
What do you think I am? the voice said, still with that slight hint of amusement. I'm obviously a demon. And I meant I wouldn't dare come and face you myself. So I sent empty projections of myself, just to see how ineffective I would be against you.
What do you want? Ventus cut in. If you know how strong I am, you should know to never come anywhere near me.
Why do you think I sent the empty projections? the voice asked, slightly impatient now. I needed to establish some form of contact.
And why did you need to contact us? Sky added in, speaking for the first time.
I know what you are, the voice said, what you're capable of, and what you're planning to do.
All right, good for you, Sky said nastily. You know how terribly slaughtered you would be if you came. What does it matter?
I want to warn you, the voice said, now with a sense of urgency. You cannot go back in time.
Watch us, Ventus snarled. I'm bringing everypony back, and nothing alive or dead will stop me. Including you.
You don't understand, the voice replied hurriedly, even more urgently now. You'll do irreparable damage to the world when you go back!
Right, Ventus said sarcastically, and Celestia wasn't Princess.
I'm on your side! the demon yelled. I hate demons just as much as you do!
Says the one full-blood demon in the room, Sky said with a sneer. Get out of here. You aren't fooling us.
The demon knew there was no convincing them. Plan B time.
If you try to go back... I'll have to stop you, it said.
There's a flaw in your plan, Ventus pointed out. If you or your "projections" show your face around us at all, I will obliterate you.
It was a problem. The demon knew he stood absolutely zero chance of even harming Ventus.
Midnight Sky. Ventus. I am BEGGING you. PLEASE, do not go back. You'll do greater damage than you can ever imagine.
"If you don't leave our presence right now," Ventus yelled both in his head and aloud, his patience finally snapped, "I will track you down and throw you into the torture chamber for all eternity!"
Too late, the demon thought to itself, with a horrible sinking feeling. It's already begun...
The dark presence withdrew, finally leaving Ventus and Sky alone. Ventus' eyes receded to their natural blue.
"The demons don't want us going back," Ventus said, immediately beginning to pace the room. "They might be ready for us when we do."
Rather than wait for Sky's reply in his mind, he mindlessly cast the spell that created Sky's illusion.
"That was something different," Sky said, sitting down one of the chairs. "Demons don't normally operate like that."
"They're desperate," Ventus replied, with a small glare. "Whatever happens in the past, it must work out in the end if they're resorting to negotiations to stop us."
"What could make them that desperate, though?" Sky asked, deep in thought. "We're only going back to restore Equestria... what could happen that affects the demons?"
"Maybe we stop them from coming into existence?" Ventus suggested.
"We can't know that," Sky said. "We have no idea how long the demons have been around... It could be eons."
"True," Ventus admitted. "What else?"
"Maybe they have something to do with Gale..."
"What makes you think that?" Ventus asked, raising an eyebrow. "For all we know, Gale was just an evil bastard from the beginning."
"I don't know..." Sky muttered, falling into silence as he went even deeper into thought.
An hour passed, and they couldn't come up with anything that explained it. But if there was one thing they learned, it was this;
If they would end up doing something that scared even the demons, going back was definitely the right choice.
"No food," Sky informed him, as he pulled some cooking ingredients from his storage.
"You don't want to time-travel on a full stomach, trust me. I saw you throwing up after flying for too long."
Ventus flushed. "I wasn't the one flying. I don't do well when I'm not the driver..."
"Take that nausea, multiply it by ten, and you've got time-travel," Sky pressed. "No. Food."
With a sigh, Ventus ignored his churning stomach and put away the cooking ingredients.
"Got everything?" Sky asked for the third time. "My focus crystal? Food? Anything else unnecessary you feel like bringing?"
"Yes, I have it all," Ventus said, rolling his eyes slightly in exasperation. "Can we go now?"
"I suppose so," Sky nodded.
The illusion faded, leaving Sky tethered to the focus crystal again. Ventus took one final look around the room that he had called home for almost a month now. The room that Sky had called home for a millennium. Both of them knew it would be the final time either of them set hoof in it again. It had been a good home, but Ventus knew he was abandoning it for a good cause.
"Sayōnara," he said under his breath. An ancient farewell.
Let's get moving, Sky said.
Turning from the room, Ventus closed the iron vault door behind him with a deep metallic bang. He magically spun the giant dial that locked the door eight times. Then, he cast several dark spells. When he was done, the room was completely undetectable. He knew nopony would ever set hoof in it again. Nopony from foreign lands would ever discover the generations of dark books, never utilize their power. With one final look back at the space that he knew held the iron door, he turned, never to look back.
After exiting the cave, he transfigured into a dark cloud of smoke, and took off, heading south.
They had chosen the center of the Everfree Forest as the place to travel back from. When you travel forwards or backwards in time, you end up standing right where you were when you began, unless there was some kind of obstacle in your way. But in order to not land smack-dab in the middle of the city, they needed someplace they were sure would be empty.
And without maps from the past to work with, the Everfree was their best bet.
It took a little over an hour for Ventus to reach the northern most border of the Everfree. Ventus soared over the tall trees, looking for a decent spot to descend. When he had finally found a clearing close to the forest's center, he descended.
As soon as we arrive, be on your guard, Sky began reminding him for the fifth time. Even though we've prepared, we could still get into trouble if we appeared right in front of someone.
I remember, Ventus said in exasperation.
He solidified into his pony form, looking around the clearing.
Your flying is scarier than mine, Sky said, absent-mindedly.
What's that supposed to mean?
Your smoke looks less like a dark magic user, and more... demon-y.
Demonic? Ventus corrected him, helpfully.
...Shut up, Sky muttered.
With a slight smirk, Ventus continued trotting around the clearing, looking at his surroundings. There were a few small rocks poking up out of the ground, but it took him a minute to find one he thought would work.
How about this one? he asked. It's big enough, and looks flat enough.
Looks good, Sky replied.
Ventus lit his horn, and a moment later, a pink beam shot from it, beginning to carve into the rock face. Ventus moved slowly, making absolutely sure he was drawing this symbol right.
Ventus? Sky said a minute later.
You never told me how you got your cutie mark, did you?
Ventus raised an eyebrow. No. Why?
I was just thinking... your cutie mark looks a lot like this symbol. I just want to know where yours came from.
Ventus took a break from his carving to look at his cutie mark, which he hardly ever thought about. It was a clock face, with ancient symbols engraven on it. The numbers were impossible to read, as they too were in the ancient language.
He couldn't recall if he had ever told anypony the story of his cutie mark before, but he seriously doubted he had.
It started just a few months after I went demonic in front of my class, and Celestia pulled me from public school for my own safety. She told me she was going to be gone for a while, and without even knowing where she was going, I told her she would be gone exactly three days, eight hours, forty-two minutes and fifty-three seconds. She had somepony time it, and I was exactly right.
That's the only time I've ever gotten it exact. But I showed talent for time in other ways over the next few years. Anything I did, I did much faster than they expected. I figured out the quickest routes around the castle in about two seconds, and when Celestia asked me the fastest way between two areas, I always got the fastest one. Celestia knew my special talent revolved around time, but she couldn't figure out exactly what it was.
Fast-forward a year, to when I was twelve. I was walking back to the castle, and I heard somepony call for help. I ran, and found a stallion collapsed on the road. His sister was screaming that he couldn't breathe, and was dying. She said he wouldn't survive long enough for the paramedics to get there.
I ran to the hospital as fast as I could. I got the paramedics, and led them back to where the dying stallion was. My flank flashed with light, and my cutie mark appeared.
The mare told me later that she had never seen anypony move so fast. Even though I wasn't going that fast. Celestia finally connected the dots.
And this connection was...? Sky pressed, not knowing where this was leading.
Almost everything I do is done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Running to paramedics, moving around the castle, even driving the train. Nopony had ever done it faster than me. We never figured out exactly what happens, but I always move as fast as possible.
As he said this, he drew the final line in the sigil of the dual-clock faces. The perfect sigils proved his point even more.
...That's insane, Sky breathed in amazement. He hadn't even realized Ventus had resumed drawing, and here he was, finished.
I'm ready for this, Ventus declared boldly, a lot more confidently than he actually felt. Let's do it.
He climbed on top of the rock face, and sat in the point of the sigil where the two clock faces met. He breathed deeply, closing his eyes.
Since this was demonic magic, a Unicom horn was not required. There is ancient dark magic associated with the symbols, which allows any demon to use it, even if they're possessing an earth pony or pegasus. Of course, unicorns could do all of the magic without the sigils, but in cases like this, having the sigils helps immensely.
It was for this reason that Ventus needed to draw them, especially since he was throwing himself so far backward through time.
As he breathed, he could feel the demon half of his soul slowly stirring, slowly beginning to rise to the surface. The earth around the clearing began to tremble, as Ventus breathed deeper. Soon, the pieces of the earth began to crumble away, falling into the dark abyss. Soon, only Ventus and the sigils were left.
At this point, he began to struggle. They had decided early on that he needed to summon his demon half to rip through the fabric of space and time, but he was struggling to get it to surface. He strained his head, forcing the demon up and out, until finally, his eyes turned black.
He began straining even harder, throwing everything he had into the spell. The further back you go, the harder it is to punch the hole in time. He gritted his teeth, and his head began pounding like a bass drum as he struggled. His headache grew even greater, and he began groaning from the pain of it. His pain reached even greater heights, and he was almost yelling from the effort.
Then, with an almighty shove and a distorted scream of determination, the tear in reality formed.
And Ventus' head exploded.
It was ten times worse than when he had forced all of the mind reading information into his brain. Never before had he felt greater magical pain, including when he had cast all of those light spells during the war.
He experienced all of that in a split second, before the tear pulled him through the air and into the void. It sealed shut immediately behind him.
Ventus struggled to even stay conscious as he was hurtled backwards through time. The world had transformed into swirls of color, as he flew backward, backward, backward...
He fell to the forest earth with a mighty crash, as the world reformed itself around him.
...en...s, he heard, from a distant part of his brain.
But it didn't register. Without even taking in the world around him, Ventus lay on the ground, and finally slipped out of consciousness.