• Published 6th May 2013
  • 8,172 Views, 413 Comments

The Sword Coast - AdrianVesper

With a price on Twilight Sparkle’s head and the shadow of death on her heels, her only hope for salvation is the Magic of Friendship. (Baldur’s Gate Crossover)

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Twilight huddled beside a fire on the beach with her friends, trying to get dry. Even with the shallow draft of Solitaire's catamaran hull, they still had to wade through neck-deep, icy cold seawater to reach the shore. She’d conjured a blazing ring of red flames around them in addition to the conventional fire just to stave off the night chill. When they reached their destination, Quick Fix and Florent seemed happy to get rid of her. I saved their lives, Twilight thought, and they were still afraid of me.

She looked up at the looming cliffs. The black outline of Candlekeep’s walls blotted out the stars above. “We have a couple hours until the tide comes in. When we’re dry, we should see about getting up there.”

“I hate seawater,” Rarity muttered. Her normally perfectly groomed mane was a frizzy disaster after two dips beneath the waves.

Pinkie scratched at her right ear with a hind hoof while she gazed upward. “No itchy left ear,” she murmured.

Twilight struggled to find her footing on slippery stones. Water dripping down limestone curtains and spires gleamed in the light of her horn. She wedged her forehoof into a cavity, trying to find enough grip to pull herself forward.

From a ledge above, Pinkie reached out a hoof. Twilight took it, and Pinkie pulled her up. “See, I told you it was easy,” Pinkie said.

“You have a funny definition of easy,” Twilight said, panting as she leaned against a thick stalagmite. She looked back down the steep limestone passage. Rainbow beat her wings against the still air as she climbed beside Fluttershy. “How’d you find these caves anyway?”

“There are tunnels all over beneath Candlekeep,” Pinkie said.

Before Twilight could press for more information, Applejack called, “Rope incoming!”

Twilight turned up the passage and saw Applejack toss a rope secured to a limestone pillar, down. It unraveled, falling until it caught on an outcropping. Twilight pulled it free with her levitation and sent it down to Rainbow and Fluttershy.

“That should make it easier,” Applejack said. She took a firm stance, surefooted despite the bulk of her armor, and tugged, testing the rope. The brittle formation cracked. She sighed and gripped the rope with her teeth. “One at a time, now,” she said around it.

“You first, Twilight,” Rainbow said from below.

Twilight nodded. They’d agreed that the pegasi should take up the rear, in case somepony slipped and tumbled down the slope. She wrapped her forelegs around the rope and pulled herself up. It was still a challenge to find firm footing, but it made the going much easier. As she climbed, she noticed a piece of hemp fiber lodged in a narrow space between two stalagmites. It didn’t match Rarity’s silk climbing rope. She snatched it as she passed, muttering, “I guess they came this way too.”

Twilight let go of the rope when she reached Applejack. Beyond, the passage opened into a small, level cavern with a shallow pool of water in the center. On the far side, a level, pony-made corridor met the natural caves. She stepped out into the cavern, clearing the way for the next pony.

Rarity sat beside the pool, refilling her waterskin with the clear water. Pinkie’s shoes lay on the stone beside her: she’d insisted on borrowing them to make the climb. “Well, that didn’t last,” Rarity muttered, peering at one of her chipped forehooves and her reflection in the water. She looked up at Twilight. “Do you know how hard it is to maintain a lady-like appearance when you’re galavanting up and down the Sword Coast, with mud, and rain, and dirt? I thought I could manage... but it’s getting to be beyond me.”

Twilight sat on her haunches beside Rarity. She looked at her own reflection. Her mussed coat was still glossy. She attributed that to a good diet, though the recent spa treatments were certainly a factor. “All things considered, we don’t look that bad,” Twilight said. “Why does it matter that every hair is in place?”

“First impressions are everything, Twilight. After the seawater, I look like some sort of pirate scoundrel!” Rarity cried

“Yer bein’ fussy,” Applejack grunted around the rope as Pinkie came up over the ledge.

“Thanks for letting me borrow these, Pinkie,” Rarity said, indicating the shoes.

“No problem!” Pinkie said. “They’re pretty neat, aren’t they?”

Rainbow and Fluttershy arrived shortly after Pinkie, powered up by their wings. Applejack spat out the rope. As she collected it, she said, “You coulda climbed like everypony else, Rarity. I didn’t need any shoes.”

“The rocks practically grab your hooves, Applejack,” Twilight said.

“Do they?” Applejack said, looping the rope around her waist.

Twilight nodded. “They do.” She turned towards the masoned passage. “So, Pinkie, what were you saying about tunnels?”

“You’ve never been down in the catacombs?” Pinkie asked.

Twilight shook her head as she crossed the cavern. “No. I didn’t know they were here.”

“Oh, right! They’re secret. I found them though, when I was exploring,” Pinkie said.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Twilight asked.

“You would have tattled,” Pinkie said. “Only the chroniclers are supposed to be down here.”

Twilight frowned as she stepped into the artificial passage. “Then it’s probably where the Changelings hid their victims.”

Twilight laced her magic around a circular stone, preparing to roll it back.

“So, you’re just gonna crack it open?” Rainbow asked.

Twilight turned to face the group. “Pinkie said there were dozens of these, and we need to search them all.”

Pinkie Pie nodded in agreement.

“It’s a tomb, Twilight. Are you sure we should be desecrating the final resting place of the dead?” Rarity said. “We don’t know that they hid their cocoons in a tomb.”

“I’m here to save the living,” Twilight said as she turned back to the stone. She wheeled it out of the way, opening the tomb. A gust of stale air greeted her nostrils. It’s not like the dead are around to care, Twilight thought.

Rarity sighed. “Agreed... I just wish it didn’t involve this.”

Twilight stepped into the entrance, brightening her horn. The dessicated husks of long-dead ponies rested in alcoves along the wall. The bones from a single earth pony were arranged on a slab in the center with the skull laying on a dusty, unmarked tome. There was no sign of Changelings.

As Twilight turned to leave, Pinkie brushed past her. “That’s where you went!” Pinkie cried. With a hoof, she carelessly rolled the skull aside and picked the tome up in her mouth.

“Pinkie! What’re you—” Twilight said.

Pinkie rushed over to her, opened the tome, and shoved it in her face. There were no words written on the page – nothing but discolored parchment. “It’s blank,” Twilight said, pushing the book aside. “Why’d you grab it?”

Pinkie flipped the tome around in her hooves. “Really?” She shrugged and stuffed it into her pack. “That’s too bad. I really wanted you to meet him.”

“Who?” Twilight asked.

“My teacher,” Pinkie said. “The master of the Eversmiling Path.”

Twilight blinked. “What?”

“He said he was an echo. I can see him on the pages, and hear what he has to say,” Pinkie explained.

“Pinkie, you haven’t gone full blown crazy on us, have you?” Applejack asked.

Pinkie grinned. “Nope!” She stepped past Twilight and exited the tomb, and Twilight followed her out.

Applejack walked toward the center of the room outside, stepping between two support columns, as she gazed around at the other sealed tombs lining the walls. “Great, one down, a bunch to go,” she said. “This place gives me the creeps. It’s almost as bad as where we found Hay Brittle hiding.”

Twilight rolled the stone door of the first tomb back into place. “At least the bones aren’t animated.”

Rarity raised her bow and manifested a crystalline arrow on the string. “Someone’s coming.” She pointed between the pillars with the arrow.

Lacing her magic around the hilts of her swords, Twilight turned. A cowled pony in a yellow robe stepped out from a side passage. She drew back her hood, revealing a familiar, wrinkled face, and said, “Who are you? What are you doing down here?” She paused, peering at Twilight. “Twilight Sparkle, is that you?”

Twilight kept her guard up. “It’s me,” she said, stepping forward. “It’s good to see you, Crescent Glow.”

A smile lit Crescent Glow’s face, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “It is you!” She glanced at Pinkie. “And Pinkie Pie! The Cakes will be so glad to hear you’re okay!” She eyed them both up and down. “You look... different.”

Applejack leaned close to Twilight. “Changeling,” she whispered.

Twilight frowned. “How do you know?” she whispered back.

“Just do,” Applejack said, her chain clinking as she shifted her tail.

“Who are these ponies, child? How did you get down here?” Crescent Glow asked.

“They’re our friends!” Pinkie said, smiling as she stepped toward Crescent Glow.

Twilight stopped Pinkie with a foreleg.

Crescent Glow gave her a questioning look. “Is something wrong, Twilight? Are you okay?”

Twilight focused, her horn lighting as she cast a spell. “Don’t let her go,” Twilight said as Crescent Glow started to back away.

Rainbow whipped around one of the pillars and positioned Crescent Glow’s far side, cutting off her escape.

“What’s going on, Twilight?” Pinkie asked, stepping between her and Crescent Glow

Twilight finished her spell. The world snapped into sharp focus. A shimmering pink silhouette filled the center her field of view. That’s odd, she thought. Life is supposed to be white. Around her, she perceived the lifeless dark shapes of ancient stone. She pushed past Pinkie, glimpsing a tiny black speck out of the corner of her eye in the center of the pink blur, and faced Crescent Glow.

All she saw was a white shape backing into a cerulean blue one. “Applejack, are you sure?” she asked.

“As sure as I can be. She just doesn’t seem genuine,” Applejack said.

Twilight peered closer at the white silhouette. She couldn’t make out any features, but she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was looking at Crescent Glow’s soul. “Apparently, True Seeing doesn’t work,” she said. “I guess I expected as much, given how their curse works.”

“Ooh! I get it. She’s a Changeling,” Pinkie said.

Twilight glanced down briefly. A black thorn dug into her chest, above the white-lavender shapes of her hooves. She gasped and abruptly released her spell. When her vision returned to normal, all she saw was her fur and the silver crescent of the necklace nestled around her neck.

Pinkie waved a foreleg in front of her face. “Twilight, you okay?”

Twilight took a deep breath. Her pulse raced in her ears. “I’m fine.” She looked up at Crescent Glow.

“Changeling? What are you talking about? I’m a chronicler!” She turned and beat her her hooves against Rainbow’s mail armor. “Let me go!”

“Rarity, there’s a belt in the Bag of Holding. Thick, leather, magic runes,” Twilight said.

Rarity produced the object in question, levitating it over. “This it?”

Twilight nodded and took the belt. She stepped toward Crescent Glow. “Is that—” Pinkie asked.

“It is,” Twilight said. “If we force a shape-changing curse, I’m hoping it’ll reveal the Changeling and free its victim. If not, or she’s not a Changeling, we have plenty of Remove Curse spells ready.” She gestured toward Crescent Glow with her muzzle. “Hold her still.”

Pinkie wrapped a foreleg around Crescent Glow’s neck, trapping her in a headlock. Rainbow pinned her forelegs against her body. She struggled in their grasp. “What’re you talking about! This is ridiculous!” she cried. “Somepony help!”

Twilight slipped the belt around Crescent Glow’s waist and fastened it.

Almost immediately, her jaw and muzzle shifted, becoming more masculine. Writhing, she ripped free from the headlock as her body shifted. She viciously kicked Rainbow in the gut and sprawled onto the floor. She writhed on the stones and let loose an inequine screech as a flash of green flame consumed her.

When the light faded, a pony-shaped creature lay on the floor surrounded by ash. It turned its cold blue eyes up toward her and bared its white fangs, hissing. She drew Celestial Fury, and before it could stand, brought the blade arcing down on it. The edge bit into the thick black plates of its insectoid armor, cleanly bisecting the body just above the belt.

The upper half froze, held by a golden aura that fixed its wings and forelegs in place. A dying hiss left its mouth, and the aura faded. Unlike the fiends she defeated on the steps of the Friendly Arm, its body remained. It wouldn’t ever be coming back.

“Did you just kill her?” Rainbow asked, clutching her belly as she stared at the body.

Twilight shook her head. “No. If it had to revert back to its demonic body, we forced it to release Crescent Glow. She’s trapped in a pod somewhere, possibly conscious.” She scraped green ichor off of Celestial Fury’s blade before sheathing it.

“Then we’d best find her,” Applejack said. “Good thinking with the belt.”

“Will she drown in the green stuff?” Pinkie asked.

“She might,” Twilight said as she retrieved the belt, looping in beneath one of the straps of her pack. “The ichor nourishes the body while they’re in the pods, but I don’t know for certain if she’ll be able to tolerate the fluid in her lungs. We should hurry.” She turned toward the next doorway.

The grating of stone on stone drew her attention. Across the chamber, one of the tombs opened. Two Changelings in their native forms rushed out. They took one look at the body on the floor, and each leaped into the air, fleeing in opposite directions.

“I’ve got right!” Rarity called.

With a sharp crack, Truthseeker punched through the air a few hoofspans from Twilight’s left ear. It curved around the pillars, its twin spikes homing in on the Changeling to the left. In the blink of an eye, it struck with a flash of white light and pinned its target to the wall, driven clean through the demon’s chest.

Twilight turned her attention to the other Changeling. When she caught a glimpse of it through the pillars, it was already limping along the ground, one crystalline shaft buried in the base of its leg and a second in its flank. Twilight drew Celestial Fury again and galloped after it, shouting, “They must have been tending to the nest! Check the tomb!”

“On it!” Rainbow called.

She easily caught up to the wounded Changeling. As she approached it from behind, it turned to face her and bared its fangs. Green light raced up from the base of its crooked horn. With a simple thought, Twilight launched five lavender orbs at it before it could fire its stunning bolt. The missiles fanned out and struck it from all sides. Three of them dissipated on its black carapace, but the others passed clean through.

The glow faded from the Changeling’s horn, and it reeled, staggering back as the orbs of arcane energy burned it. Twilight rushed forward and readied Celestial Fury for a swing. Before her eyes, the air shimmered, and a mirror copy of herself replaced the Changeling. She hesitated for a split second before she struck at the Twilight in front of her. The moment her sword touched the illusion, it collapsed. She cleaved through the Changeling’s neck.

The demon’s head struck the floor, spattering ichor. Its body collapsed beside it a moment later. It must have been trying to confuse me at the last second, she thought as she scraped her blade clean once more. She was glad the Magic Missile spell worked; the book had mentioned that nearly every demon possessed some measure of magic resistance, including Changelings, but it didn’t specify how strong it was. It seemed even her weaker spells could overcome it, at least some of the time.

She turned toward the recently opened tomb. To her surprise, the corpse of the Changeling Applejack had killed remained, lying on the floor beside the wall in a pool of ichor. Apparently, I’m not the only one who can kill these things for good, Twilight thought.

Twilight waded through ankle-deep green ichor as she drug the last of the victims out of the tomb. Split pods covered the walls around her and arched above her head. A sickeningly sweet smell filled her nostrils – better than the stench of death, but still disgusting. As she reached the exit, a bit of the green slime dripped onto her muzzle and oozed down over her mouth. She kept her lips tightly shut while she wiped it away.

Outside, unconscious bodies lay on the floor of the chamber. She’d counted eighteen including the one she was carrying, less than she expected, but still far too many. She recognized nearly all of them. As she set the last body down beside the rest, Crescent Glow coughed weakly from where she leaned against a pillar. The old chronicler had suffered a coughing fit when they’d first freed her, but she was otherwise unhurt.

“That’s all of them,” Twilight said to Fluttershy.

Fluttershy nodded, and her eyes began to glow. A circle of pale green light spread across the floor from her hooves. Each pony it reached shot awake and spat up ichor. Within a few seconds, she’d freed them all from the curse with a single spell.

As the ponies on the floor coughed the fluid out of their lungs, Twilight walked around them to join Pinkie beside two ponies, Mr. and Mrs. Cake. She smiled softly as they opened their eyes. “You’re safe,” Twilight said.

“I’m so glad you’re okay!” Pinkie cried, diving in to embrace the pair.

“Pinkie, Twilight?” Mr. Cake said after he sucked in enough breath to speak. He coughed again, and wiped his mouth clean.

“Is this... the Celestial Fields?” Mrs. Cake gasped.

Twilight shook her head. “No, you’re alive. We’re all alive.”

Mrs. Cake buried her face in Pinkie’s mane. “I feared I’d never see you again.”

Pinkie pulled away, sniffling. “The main thing is that we’re all okay.”

Mrs. Cake climbed unsteadily to her hooves. She fixed Pinkie with a hard stare and weakly smacked her in the muzzle. “Pinkamena Diane Pie! Don’t you ever run off like that again!”

“I’m sorry!” Pinkie cried, tears springing to her eyes. “I didn’t want you to worry, but Twilight needed me!”

Mr. Cake picked himself up, looking at the ponies around him. “Where are we? What’s going on?” He stared at Twilight. “What happened to you? Where’s Star Swirl?”

Twilight looked away. “He’s dead.”

Mrs. Cake gasped. “I’m so sorry!”

Twilight shook her head. Her chest throbbed, but she swallowed, pushing it away. “Don’t be. It wasn’t your fault.” She turned to the rest of her group. “This can’t be all of them. The Changelings might have another nest. Before Pinkie told me about the catacombs, I thought we would find them all in some rarely-used corner of the archives.”

“Are you sure there’s more?” Rarity asked.

Twilight nodded. “Positive. None of the pods are big enough to be the one the Changelings moved here, and all of these ponies are from Candlekeep. Rarity, Rainbow, Fluttershy, we’re going up. Pinkie, Applejack, stay with this group, protect them – and remember, anypony could be a Changeling, even us. The ones copying this group might not be as convincing now that we’ve removed their curses, but they still have their illusions.”

She turned away from Mr. and Mrs. Cake and faced a passage she remembered Pinkie saying lead up to the Library basement. “Challenge is Solar, countersign is Lunar.”

“We’re splitting up?” Pinkie asked. “Shouldn’t I be coming with you?”

Twilight stepped toward the passage, Rarity and Rainbow joining her on either side. “You’re the only one who knows the catacombs. Once we reach the library, I’ll know my way around. I want somepony who can kill the Changelings permanently with each group, meaning Applejack stays. If you girls move, leave a trail for us to follow.”

“I should stay!” Fluttershy protested. “These ponies might need care!”

“I can only remove one curse at a time. If we find others, I’ll need your help,” Twilight paused, turning to look at Fluttershy. “Come on!” she snapped. “They know we’ve freed this group. There’s no time to be wasted!”

The library-keep was dark and quiet, filled with the silence that only came with the wee hours of the morning. The hooffalls of the small group echoed in Twilight’s ears as they ascended the stairs. As they climbed, she wondered if they should have left the first group cursed and in the pods. No, she decided. We may have alerted the Changelings, but a significant number are missing their primary advantage and defense. As long as the Changelings only had their illusions, she could kill them freely.

“Why did the Changeling that turned into you revert back into a Changeling when you killed it, when the ones in the tower didn’t?” Rainbow asked in a hushed whisper.

“It was using an illusion. The ones with a cursed victim manifest a flesh-and-blood copy, dismissing their demonic form back to the Abyssal plane until they need it again,” Twilight explained. “When they die, all that’s left is the corpse they inhabited.”

She turned off on the third floor, even though there were no likely spots for the Changeling nest. Star Swirl’s study was on this floor. She felt a pang of guilt at wasting precious time, but if anypony knew why the Black Knight had tried to kill her, it was Star Swirl. She hoped to find a letter with some clue. She headed for towards the outer wall of the keep, where the scholars quarters were.

“They’d be likely to hide the pods this low down?” Rarity whispered.

Twilight paused at a nexus of major aisles between the bookcases. “No,” she admitted. “I want to look at Star Swirl’s study. I’ll only be a minute. Stay here and watch my back,” she said.

“You’re going alone?” Rainbow hissed.

“I think I want to be alone,” Twilight murmured.

“It’s okay, Twilight. We’ll wait here,” Fluttershy whispered.

“So you’re in a hurry one second, and now you’re not?” Rainbow muttered.

“She needs this,” Rarity said.

Rainbow sat back on her haunches. “Fine, go.”

Twilight sighed pulled the belt free and passed it to Rarity. “Hold onto this, just in case you run into somepony,” she whispered. “I’ll be fine.” She stepped forward again. For a moment, her friends were still with her; she could hear them breathing in the darkness, and she knew if she turned she would see them, but when she turned a corner, she was suddenly completely alone.

In the distance, down a long aisle between the shelves, she saw the faint glow from the candlelight of a late-night reader. She closed her eyes as she walked, breathing in the scent of dusty tomes. She was home. In her mind, she was in the middle of a study session, hunting down a book she wanted to read. She opened her eyes, the weight of her swords breaking her fantasy. Everypony here knew she was different from what they remembered. Have I really changed that much? she wondered.

She reached Star Swirl’s door; his name was still on the bronze plaque as if waiting for his return. She was glad her friends had agreed to wait. She didn’t want to suffer their looks of pity and concern as she opened the door. She tested it and found it locked. She reached into a small pouch at her hip and retrieved a key. It was still exactly where she’d packed it. She blinked. She couldn’t remember if it was the key that she’d lifted off of Star Swirl’s cold body, or her own copy. The edge showed some corrosion from exposure, but it appeared functional. She unlocked the door with a quiet click.

In her peripheral vision, she noticed the candlelight she’d seen earlier drawing closer. To avoid any sort of confrontation, she slipped into Star Swirl’s study and pressed the door shut behind her. The room beyond was exactly the way she remembered.

A mostly-burned down candle in a dish of puddled wax rested on writing desk beside the door. Books were arranged in tidy piles atop the desk. Star Swirl’s humble bed nestled against the wall beneath the only window, neatly made. The chill of the stone floor crept up her hooves. A doorway set into the wall led into a room shrouded in shadow. With a spark from her horn, she lit the candle, illuminating the study.

The soft flame revealed a thin layer of dust blanketing everything. She could see beyond the doorway now, past the open door into her old room. Her own small bed stood in the corner, covered by sheets with a simple starry pattern. Books were strewn across the floor, her own possessions, not the library’s – gifts from Star Swirl. There were two for each year: one for her birthday, and one for Hearth’s Warming.

Remember why you’re here, Twilight, she told herself, turning back to Star Swirl’s desk. There was a small black notebook in the center, placed there like it was left for the first pony to find it. She’d missed it earlier in the dark. She stepped forward, and unable to resist taking a peek, cracked it open.

Shadowspawn Research Journal,
Star Swirl the Bearded

With bated breath, Twilight turned to the next page.


While destroying the Cult of the Shadow in Manehattan, I stopped a ritual involving three children. The first I found on an altar, and I prevented her sacrifice. The cultists referred to her as “Twilight Sparkle, herald of the Abyss,” and as “Shadowspawn.” A second child was referred to as Shadowspawn. He was old enough to understand the situation and escaped by shattering the shutters of a window and fleeing out into the street. The cultists referred to him as “Shadowspawn” as well, and based on their reactions, they intended to sacrifice him also. I found the third hiding in a cupboard. She was too young to even speak, but still smart enough to hide when the fighting began. I am not sure what her role was in all of this, but the cultists did not appear to notice her absence in the chaos. I never found the second child, though I searched high and low.

I attempted to locate the parents of these children. According to available records, two of the cultists (both killed in the fighting) engaged in the ritual were the parents of the first and second foals. The third child, on record as Pinkamena Diane Pie, belonged to a family that lived in a farmhouse on the outskirts of the city. When I searched for her parents, I discovered the farmhouse burned, and the occupants, both parents and two sisters, dead. I found evidence (the ashen remains of rope where the townsfolk had found the bodies) that they were restrained within the burning building. I arranged a loving home for her, as I was ill equipped to raise one child, let alone two.

I, Starswirl the Bearded, have adopted the child found on the altar referred to by followers of the dead God Azrael as a “Shadowspawn” and endeavour to ascertain its nature. I will keep an eye, to the best of my abilities, on the third child, but the first was the most important to the cultists and demands the majority of my attention. They appeared to believe that the deaths of these Shadowspawn would lead to Azrael’s return. I will assume that the child is a Shadowspawn and that they are a threat. What follows on these pages are accurate, objective observations of the Shadowspawn.

I am conducting my research within the walls of Candlekeep, where it is safe.

A shiver ran down Twilight’s spine. Her own parents had tried to kill her. What is a Shadowspawn? she wondered. What am I? She flipped the page to the first entry in the journal. Based on the dates scribbled at the top of each page, it was made two months after the introduction.

Unusually Powerful Wild Surges

Wild surges are common to all unicorn foals, but the Shadowspawn demonstrates extreme power. I am glad it is old enough to consume solid food, because if it were not, I would have to find a wet nurse capable of tolerating a risky environment. Other than the wild surges, it seems that the Shadowspawn is an entirely normal foal. I have little experience with foals though, so I shall endeavour to record the dates of important developmental milestones.

Twilight flipped through the following notes, briefly glancing at the listed events, such as her first steps, her first word, her first sentence, early reading, and her first controlled levitation. All that stood out to her was it, as if she wasn’t even a pony at all. She felt a cold sweat building on her skin as she continued reading, her eyes glued to the pages. One of the events stood out.

First Fight

I let the Shadowspawn go out into the gardens alone to play. Three of the youths from the town within the walls engaged her, and the situation escalated to violence. It had a black eye. One of the other children had a broken leg. It seemed shaken after the event. It is not aware of its own strength. I did not tell it how successful it had been. I do not want it to look to violence as a solution. Though it questions, it looks to my words for wisdom, and I hope that I have taught it to avoid violence in the future.

She remembered that day. They had called her names. She called them something creative and vulgar, and she got a hoof to the eye in return. She retaliated in kind, turning to her favorite tool: her magic. She only remembered the shrill screams of her attacker and the adults arriving after that. Of course, Star Swirl gave her a talk about not using violence to solve her problems afterwards. He also insisted that she spend more times with other ponies within a few days of the event. In a way, the fight was the catalyst for her friendship with Pinkie Pie.

She skimmed forward. Everywhere, she was an it, an object to be studied. Didn’t he love me? she thought. She wondered who was lying, Granny Smith and her own memories, or the coldness of the words on the page. Another entry stood out, and she read through it carefully.

Fascination with Death

Today, a pony was hanged. The Shadowspawn expressed extreme interest. If I combine this interest with the rat it killed, apparently out of curiosity, it reveals a disturbing pattern. Despite all attempts to raise it as a normal child and teach it moral values, it appears to lack a foundational understanding that killing is wrong. I appealed to its sense of reason, well developed for its age, and I hope I was convincing. While its perspective on death might reveal its nature, I fear what might happen if it gains a taste for killing.

The third child expresses no such behavior. Her perspective is continuously pure. It is likely that the third child is not a Shadowspawn, but my parenting abilities are demonstrably inferior to the Cakes, and I may be the cause of the Shadowspawn’s moral failings. However, Celestia, who is kind enough to correspond with me through letters from the Celestial Plane, seems to believe that it is in the Shadowspawn’s nature to kill.

Twilight tore the page in shock. Celestia knew what she was. She lied to me, she thought. She swallowed, trying to wet her dry mouth, and continued reading.

Magic Test

Celestia, in the guise of a mortal, visited today, on the same day that the Shadowspawn was scheduled to demonstrate spellcasting (according to the rules of Candlekeep, it is not enough to be my adopted daughter, all foals within the library must be learning something and show that they are learning something). At first, I thought it was coincidence, but after what happened when the Shadowspawn attempted to form its first wizard spell, I am convinced she knew precisely what day she was arriving upon.

The Shadowspawn unleashed an incredibly powerful wild surge. When I came to, Celestia stood over it. Part of her radiance showed through her disguise, revealing how much power she had to use. She told me she had to divert the Shadowspawn’s energy into an artifact in the Catacombs, a containment orb used to store arcane power before the Time of Troubles. If she had not been present, it could have destroyed us all.

After the event, the Shadowspawn’s magic appears to have stabilized. I doubt it will happen again, but it blacked out, and it remains hesitant to do magic. I will not attempt to push it beyond what it is comfortable attempting, though I suspect that it is more than capable of completely outclassing an old, practiced pony like myself.

I am ending this journal. Celestia revealed information that I cannot record here that renders this research moot. I will keep this documentation, but my notes end here.

From data collected so far, I can draw one conclusion: the Shadowspawn is incredibly dangerous.

Twilight checked the rest of the pages; they were blank.

Sunny Skies is Celestia, she thought. It made sense. In the guise of her own messenger, Celestia could speak for herself without revealing her identity. How could she have been so close, and not save him? she wondered. Celestia had been within spitting distance of where Star Swirl faced the Black Knight alone. The only conclusion left to her was that Celestia had let Star Swirl die.

Twilight closed the journal. She slowly floated it over the candle. Why shouldn’t I burn it? she asked herself. All it told her was that Star Swirl adopted her to study her, not to care for her. Why did you die for me if you didn’t love me? she wondered. It’s the Black Knight’s fault. If he hadn’t forced Star Swirl out of Candlekeep, I never would have known. She wished she was still living in blissful ignorance inside of Candlekeep’s walls.

At the last moment, she snatched the journal away from the flame and stowed it in her pack. Star Swirl may have never loved her. Celestia betrayed and lied to her. All she had left was her friends. They deserve to know, she told herself. She turned toward the door, but as she reached out to it, it opened.

Sunny Skies stood on the far side.

“Hello, Twilight,” Sunny Skies said in a mellow tone, as if she expected this all along.

Twilight froze in shock. When she found her voice, all she could do was quietly murmur, “What’re you doing here?”

Sunny Skies rigidly stepped past Twilght into the study. She ignored her, glancing at the empty spot on Star Swirl’s desk. “I see you found his journal.”

“Why did he call me an ‘it’?” Twilight said, still dumbfounded. The question automatically jumped to the forefront of her mind.

“He never loved you.” Sunny Skies stopped in the center of the study, gazing around it with an air of contempt. “He created this artificial domicile and fooled everyone.” She turned, focusing her cold gaze on Twilight.

“Why?” Twilight breathed. She closed her eyes, cringing as she awaited the answer.

“He adopted you to study you,” Sunny Skies said. “He and Celestia wanted to know their enemy. You, the monstrous Shadowspawn.”

Twilight gritted her teeth. It was the answer she expected, and it hurt more than any wound she’d suffered. “I know it’s you,” she growled, opening her eyes to glare at Sunny Skies. “You’re Celestia. Why’d you let him die?!” She reached for her swords, her chest burning.

The briefest look of uncertainty passed across Sunny Skies features. She hesitated for a moment, unsure. “Why do you care that I did? He didn’t love you. I sacrificed him to test you, to see what you’d become.” Her voice built as she spoke. “And look at you now, the monster you were born to be, ready to kill a Goddess.”

Twilight recoiled, taking a step back. “My friends don’t think I’m a monster...”

“They do. The ones who have seen the truth don’t love you, Twilight.” Sunny Skies leveled her stern gaze on Twilight. “Not me, not Star Swirl, not your friends. You are alone.” She raised her head, staring down at Twilight. “You think they pity you? Care for you? They don’t. That look in their eyes? It’s contempt.”

Twilight closed her eyes and pinned her ears against her skull, trying to muffle the words. “That’s not true,” she murmured.

“They’ve judged you for the killer that you are. They follow you because they’re afraid of you. They hate you,” Sunny Skies said. “Surely you can see it.”

“That’s not true!” Twilight repeated, loud and clear this time.

“You know it’s true,” Sunny Skies said, her voice low. “They’d be better off if you were dead. They’d be happy if you killed yourself.”

“That’s not true!” Twilight roared. Magical energy, undirected by any conscious thought or action, surged from her horn, and she immediately felt drained. She heard a wet pop, then a thunk. Something warm splattered her face. Prepared spells on the edge of her mind vanished like ethereal smoke.

Twilight smeared off the goo clinging to her eyelids with a foreleg and opened her eyes. Green ichor dripped from the ceiling. Fragments of black carapace clung to the walls. Every surface of Star Swirl’s once cozy study was coated in viscera. It was just a Changeling... Sunny Skies was just an illusion, Twilight realized.

It must have found the journal and put it where I could find it, she thought. Briefly, she entertained the idea that the entire thing was a fabrication, that Star Swirl had never referred to her as an it, but the script bore all of his quirks. She was certain he penned those words.

It was trying to get under my skin, she thought, but she had to wonder if it was right after all. I’m dangerous. Wouldn’t everypony be better off if I weren’t here? She still hated the Black Knight, for everything he’d made her become, but she remembered what he’d said. What if he was just trying to stop me? she wondered.

As she turned to exit the study, she saw a Changeling horn, larger and more pronounced than most, driven into the wooden door. A piece of black plating that was once the Changeling’s face hung from the horn, two fangs still attached. The fangs were longer and sharper than the ones on the other Changelings she’d seen. The whole Changeling may have been a little bigger, though it was hard to judge from a horn and a chunk of face.

Some sort of commander or stronger form, she thought as she exited the study. As she shut and locked the door behind her, she tried to imagine her home the way she remembered it, but all she could picture was Changeling everywhere. The pieces of the demon’s body didn’t fade away; she’d killed it permanently. What did I do to it?

She glimpsed the approaching light from Rarity’s horn. “Twilight? Are you okay?” Rarity called.

“Solar!” Twilight challenged.

“Lunar,” Rainbow said.

Twilight breathed a sigh of relief.

“We heard shouting,” Fluttershy said as they stopped in front of her.

“Just a Changeling,” Twilight said. “I’m fine.” She confidently stepped between Rainbow and Fluttershy, her head held high.

“You’ve uh... got a bit of Changeling on you, Twilight,” Rainbow said.

Twilight paused and blinked at Rainbow. “Where?”

“Everywhere,” Rarity said. “We’ll clean you up later.”

“What’s not true?” Fluttershy asked.

“Nothing,” Twilight said. “It said some things to try and get to me, that’s all. Let’s go, their nest is probably up a couple levels.” She pressed forward.

Twilight peered around a bookshelf. Five Candlekeep guards, and their captain, Thunderfoot, protected the second Changeling nest, a mess of pods wedged into a corner of the keep. Two unicorns in the back wielded bows, while the four guards lined across the front made a barrier with the lances strapped to their sides. They each carried a hoof mace as an alternative. A few Changelings in their demonic forms flitted around in the shadows. She pulled back, drawing her swords.

“It looks like they’re making their last stand here,” Twilight whispered. “Everypony remember the plan?”

Fluttershy, Rarity, and Rainbow all nodded an affirmative. Twilight took a deep breath and checked her protective spells one more time. Stoneskin, Shield, and Spell Turning were all active. It was almost everything she had left.

A hiss came from above. She looked up, and saw a Changeling body falling off the top of the bookshelf, Rarity’s arrow in its eye. It thudded to the ground in front of her, already beginning to fade away. “Go!” Twilight shouted. It’s now or never.

She rushed out around the bookshelf and charged the guards, flaring her horn into a glowing beacon. From the darkness around the nest, green bolts flew at her, dead on target. As they neared, they curved to the side, whipped around her in a close orbit, and launched back at their source, redirected by her Spell Turning. Although the Changelings shrugged off their own magic, the bolts of green light illuminated them.

Two arrows rattled off her ethereal Shield a moment before she met the lance line. With a swing from Solstice, she swatted aside the pointed tips of the spears. She followed with Celestial Fury and cut them short. A blue blur shot past overhead as Rainbow moved to engage the demonic Changelings.

Her enemies quickly switched to their hoofmaces as she shattered their formation and moved in among them. They took great heavy swings at her, exposing themselves without heed to their own safety. She swatted aside their blows with ease, but when two came at her from the front, two would strike her from behind, eroding the layers of her Stoneskin one by one. I can’t fight back, she reminded herself, resisting the urge to kill that came with every opportunity they gave her.

As she ducked under a swing, she checked Fluttershy’s position. She’d reached the pods. Her cloak formed a thorny dome around her, deflecting arrows and bolts of Changeling magic alike. From her hooves, a soft green glow spread across the floor and over the pods. Angel stood protectively beside her. As Twilight watched Angel smash a Changeling moving in to attack Fluttershy, a mace struck her across the face. She didn’t feel it, but it shattered her last layer of Stoneskin.

She backpedaled and deflected a hoofmace with Solstice, but another struck her in the shoulder and threw her to the ground. You’d better be finished, Fluttershy! she thought as she closed her eyes and unleashed the sunlight stored in Celestial Fury.

When she opened her eyes, blinking away the bright light, her enemies were no longer ponies. Four Changelings reeled in the aftermath, their carapaces scorched, and their gossamer wings burned clean off. Fluttershy had lifted the curse without a moment to spare. Scattered Changelings that had been fighting Rainbow Dash near the ceiling plummeted to the floor with damaged wings. Twilight climbed to her feet, ignoring the pain lancing through her shoulder.

She grinned and readied Celestial Fury. “My turn.”

Twilight slashed open a Changeling pod. Thunderfoot slid free, coughing and sputtering as his head broke from the ichor. He fell onto his belly on the floor, his chest heaving as he sucked in deep breaths. Around her, conscious ponies desperately pounded their hooves against the inside of their green prisons, but one was still.

Ahead of her, in the center of the mass of pods, was one larger than the rest. She saw no movement, the blurred pink shape floating passively within. She stepped over a disemboweled Changeling corpse, one that she had killed moments before, and approached the pod. She cut it open, careful not to harm the occupant inside.

The mare fell out of the pod in a deluge of icor. She collapsed against Twilight and weakly clung to her for support. She rested her chin on Twilight’s shoulder and coughed heavily, spitting ichor across Twilight’s cloak. Her horn brushed against Twilight’s ear. When she found air, she whispered, “I had the strangest dream, Shining.”

Twilight reached up with a hoof and wiped away the green slime coating the unicorn’s back. She had wings. “Princess Cadance?” Twilight murmured in disbelief.

Author's Note:

Editor: Idle Prose
Editor: The Music Man

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