"And then I came down the stairs," Twilight continued, pacing back and forth before her assembled friends, Spike watching from the lowest step of the library stairs. The room was lit up by the lanterns several ponies had carried along. Twilight trotted over and pointed down at the yellow splotch on the floor and the nearby muffins. "And this! This is..." The energy suddenly went out of the unicorn and she dropped her hoof, closing her eyes. "This is all I found," she said, hardly more than a whisper.
Applejack stepped forward to rest a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "Don't you worry none, sugarcube!" AJ grinned knowingly up at Rainbow Dash, who hovered in the air nearby. "What's the Weather Team's success rate for findin' missing ponies?" Twilight opened her eyes and looked up as well.
Dash crossed her hooves over her chest and grinned. "One. Hundred. Percent. Since I've been in charge, anyway. Don't worry, Twilight, we're on it!" The pegasus zipped through the nearest open window, the curtains rustling in her wake.
Applejack gave Twilight's shoulder a small shake. "I'll rustle up a search party at ground level, to look for tracks and such. You can put yer faith in us, Twi."
Twilight forced a weak smile onto her face. "Thanks, Applejack."
"A'course! We'll have Pinkie back safe and sound before you can say 'cinnamon apple cobbler!'" The farmer pony trotted out the front door, a lantern hanging from her snout.
Rarity smiled at Twilight. "I still recall the peculiar sensation I felt when my gemstone spell lead me to that... thing." Rarity's horn glowed and she stepped toward the exit, a lantern levitating along with her. "If I find anything you shall be the first to know!"
"I know that my animal friends will want to help, too," Fluttershy offered, patting Angel's head. The groggy bunny glared up at her with bags under his eyes. The yellow pegasus winced. "Well, um, at least the nocturnal ones."
"Thank you, Fluttershy," Twilight said, putting as much feeling as she could into it. Fluttershy smiled back and nodded, scooping up the last lantern with her mouth and closing the door behind her on the way out.
Twilight sighed and let her head droop again, sitting on the floor. Spike dropped down the last step of the stairs and moved to her side, putting a hand on her back. "What's wrong, Twilight?"
The unicorn didn't respond at first, the only noise in the room coming through the open windows as Applejack knocked on somepony's door and Rainbow Dash barked a command from the sky. Finally, Twilight stood up. "What's wrong?" She looked down at Spike. "What do you mean? Pinkie Pie is missing!"
Spike cringed a little. "Yeah, but--"
"Pinkie Pie is missing," Twilight continued, stepping across the room with firm hoofsteps. "And she's missing with the big, ugly gem thing!"
The little dragon raised a hand to Twilight. "Right, but--"
Twilight stopped, still facing away. "The big, ugly, mysterious gem thing that I couldn't figure out!"
Spike's eyes widened and his hand dropped to his side. "Oh."
Twilight stomped back across the room, staring straight ahead at a wall. "I didn't want to pester Princess Celestia about this, not this time." Twilight pointed at Spike without looking. "So I sent my assistant to Canterlot to get me more research material. Because I wanted to do this... I wanted to figure it out..."
The unicorn looked out a window, eyes unfocused. "Just this one time I wanted to unravel a mystery on my own. Not to have to bother my friends for help, or, worse yet, the Princess herself." Twilight looked over her shoulder at Spike. "Just once. To prove I can do it." Her eyes glistened. "Is that so much to ask?"
Spike shook his head quickly. "No! That seems pretty fair to me."
Twilight smiled. "Thanks, Spike. But..." Her eyes slid from the small dragon's face to the overfilled cart of books behind him. "Ohmygosh, right, that's the research material!" She teleported across the room and started levitating books up into the air willy-nilly, holding them there as she dug out more. "With all these searching and finding and divination spells I'm sure that one of them can locate Pinkie, no matter where she is!"
Spike chuckled and rushed forward. "Yeah! I'll help find--"
"No!" Twilight shouted, causing her assistant to slide to a stop. The books she had been levitating fell in a heap around the cart. The unicorn took a deep breath and smiled down at him. "I mean, maybe you could go and help Applejack's search party?"
"But, Twilight," Spike said, pointing at the cart. "That's a lot of books. Who else is going to help you go through them?"
Twilight bit her lower lip a moment before she spoke. "Spike, I caused this and I really want to do something on my own to try to fix it. I know it's stupid because Rainbow Dash will probably find Pinkie before I even crack open the second book, but... please?"
The dragon looked into her big, pleading eyes, then sighed. "Okay, fine, but only if you promise that if you do need help you'll ask!" Spike shook a finger at her.
Twilight chuckled and ruffled his headspines with a hoof. "All right, Dad, I promise."
"Hey!" Spike ducked away and smoothed his spines out. His exaggerated glare disappeared before he even made it to the front door. "Good luck, Twilight!"
"You too, Spike!" She closed the door gently behind him with her magic. Then she turned her attention back to the pile of books, levitating them up in twos and threes, a determined smile spread across her face. "All right, I can do this!"
'I can do this, I can do this!'
Rainbow Dash flew in a window and saluted. "Nothing to report, but now that the Sun is up I bet we'll find her before breakfast!"
"Thanks, Rainbow," Twilight said without looking away from the book she was reading, eyes passing across the page at a breakneck speed. She finished the last word, closed the cover, and moved it into the short stack of finished books to her right. Her quill scratched out several notes on the open scroll beside her.
'I can do this, I can do this!'
Applejack stuck her head in the same window Dash had flown out hours earlier. "Twi, now that everypony's had a hearty lunch we've got almost all'a Ponyville out there lookin'! Don't you fret!"
"Thanks, Applejack," Twilight said. Without moving from her desk the unicorn focused her eyes on the open book before her and concentrated. Her horn glowed intensely, then a quiet pop resounded through the library. Twilight let out a tiny sigh and dropped that book into the "read" pile as well. She added some notes to her scroll, then lifted a new book before her.
'I can do this. I can do this.'
A polite knock came from the library's front door.
'I can do this. I can do this.'
The knock came again.
'I can do this.'
Rarity looked in through the same window her other friends had used. "Oh, Twilight, there you are."
Twilight didn't reply, starting up another spell. A bowl of water before her rippled and swayed as the studious unicorn's spell influenced the liquid and formed currents. They swirled about as Twilight's horn glowed brighter, then brighter still, before the water turned to steam all at once and evaporated. The purple pony shook her head.
"Twilight? I have been following Applejack's very practical advice: I started here at the library and spiralled outward while using my spell. I... didn't find anything yet, but I did discover that the Mayor has quite the collection of jewel-encrusted glasses!"
Twilight just said, "Thanks, Rarity," and opened a new book, the pile of unread tomes more than half the size of the one on Twilight's other side. She added just a few words to her notes scroll.
"I will, of course, continue my search after dinner!" Rarity quickly offered, shuffling a hoof in the awkward silence that followed. "Um, yes, well, I will come see you if I find anything."
'I can do this.'
The polite knocking on the door lasted for several minutes this time before Fluttershy cracked the door open silently and stuck her head through. She squeaked and pulled back, then peeked in. "Um. Twilight?"
"Thanks, Fluttershy," Twilight said, voice monotone.
Twilight's horn hummed with power as she levitated a tree branch over her desk and slowly spun it in the air.
"I just thought you might want to know, we aren't giving up even though the Sun is going down. Fireflies are volunteering to go out with pony search parties to help look everywhere for as long as it takes."
Twilight spun the branch faster and faster, then pointed at the branch with a hoof and commanded, "Pinkie Pie!" The branch stopped, pointed straight down, pointed straight up, pointed at Twilight, pointed at Fluttershy, then burned to ash in the blink of an eye.
Fluttershy cringed and gulped. "I'll... let you get back to work." She backed out the door, closing it behind her, as Twilight's magic lifted the open book before her, closed it, and then slammed it down on top of the "read" pile. A single tally mark was drawn on the scroll at her side.
'I can do this...'
Spike let himself into the library, then did a double-take. "Twilight! You read all these books already?"
"Thanks, Spike," the unicorn mumbled, her horn glowing as she started up a new spell.
"Twilight!" Spike waved his hand back and forth in front of her face, her horn's magic going out.
"Huh?" She blinked twice, then focused on her assistant. "Oh, it's just you, Spike. Hang on." Her horn glowed again.
Spike watched as a magnet was lifted into the air. It spun clockwise, seven times, rose further into the air... then dropped back to the table top. Twilight nudged it with a hoof, then lifted a small metal rod off the table and touched it to the magnet. She sighed hard, eyes closed.
"What?" Spike asked.
"The magnet was supposed to hover in mid-air and point to where Pinkie is. Instead it lost all of its magnetism. Instantly." The book snapped shut with a burst of magenta magic, all without Twilight opening her eyes. "That shouldn't be possible," she said through gritted teeth.
Spike put a hand on his purple friend's shoulder. "Twilight, maybe you should take a nap."
The unicorn suddenly glared at him. "Nap? Nap?!" She pointed at the stack of books that still needed reading. "I can't very well nap when the secret to finding Pinkie might be right there in front of me!"
Spike crossed his arms, his jaw set. "Have you even eaten today?"
"No," Twilight growled. She tensed, then sighed, letting the scowl melt off her face. "No, I haven't. Could you please bring me something? Anything?"
"Yes, something-anything coming right up!" Spike said, jogging to the kitchen. "And then maybe a nap?" he asked as he started chopping up a head of lettuce.
Twilight didn't answer, already back to reading.
'I can... I can...'
The book under Twilight's nose disappeared. She rubbed her eyes with the back of a hoof and refocused on the empty spot on the desk in front of her, but shockingly it remained empty.
The purple unicorn turned around and saw her five friends in a semi-circle around her, with Spike standing next to her with the missing book in his hand. Twilight reached out for it with a hoof, but he pulled it further away from her.
Twilight stood up and stepped closer, wobbling. "Please, Spike, this isn't the time for foaling around."
"Twilight!" Applejack all but shouted, making both Twilight and Fluttershy jump in place. AJ waited until Twilight's eyes locked with her own before speaking. "From one workaholic to another?" Her tone softened and she smiled. "You gotta get some rest or you're just gonna be a useless lump."
Rarity nodded. "I'm positively hopeless with a needle and thread by the end of an all-nighter, and you've been up far longer than that!" She pointed to the cresting sunrise through a window.
"Why do you think I nap so much?" Rainbow Dash said. "They don't call them power naps for nothing!"
Every eye in the room turned to Fluttershy and she gulped. "Um. Uh. The... early bird gets the worm?" She smiled weakly and cringed.
Spike put Twilight's book back on top of the "to be read" pile. "Please, Twilight? And maybe a bowl of hot soup before you lie down?"
Twilight looked from friend to friend in the room, then back at the pile of books. "But--"
Spike twitched, then belched, the magical gout of flame he produced transforming into a scroll that Twilight plucked out of the air with her magic by reflex. She unfurled it and read out loud. "Dear Twilight Sparkle, Go to bed. Now. Rest well, signed, Princess Celestia. And Princess Luna." Twilight looked at Spike with what was meant to be a glare but was too worn by weariness to really pull off any menace.
Spike held his hands out in front of him. "I swear, I didn't send any letters! Pinkie Pr--" He cringed, then looked down. "I promise," he said quietly.
Twilight sighed and started to climb her stairs, one at a time. "Thank you, Spike, girls. Of course you're right. I should sleep." She glanced down at the pile of unread books. "And tomorrow I can be even more focused."
Applejack grinned. "That's the spirit!"
Spike chimed in. "I'll have something ready to eat the second you wake up!"
"Thank you." Twilight opened her bedroom door. A chorus of goodnights and sleep tights chased her through the door.
She flopped onto her bed and peeked at the door before levitating a book out from under her pillow titled Indigo Ingot's Investigative Invocations. Twilight yawned hard, then mumbled, "Just one more spell." She laid out on her back and levitated the book over her face, reading by the light of her horn.
Just seconds later Twilight was still, breathing slow and even with the book open across her face.
The rustling of a cool breeze through Twilight's mane woke her. She smiled and opened her eyes slowly, then froze in place with her mouth open.
She was standing on the edge of a cloud bank over late-night Canterlot, the tiny embers of lamps dotting the streets below with the royal palace dominating the scene.
"Oh wow," Twilight whispered.