• Published 13th Oct 2011
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The Quiet Place - Aynine



Twilight fights against sinister manipulations, struggling to overcome a deep-seated darkness within. As she battles to preserve everything she cares about, she will sacrifice anything necessary to succeed. But the price of victory may be herself.

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Chapter 5: Singularity Catalyst

The Quiet Place

By: Aynine

[Disclaimer: I own nothing of the MLP franchise and all rights are reserved by Hasbro and the respective parties involved.]

Chapter 5: Singularity Catalyst

A scroll unfurled onto the desk in front of Celestia. It was the last one for the day before it was time to lower the sun, and hopefully afterwards she could settle in for some personal rest and relaxation. Why does the Council need my approval to dispatch an archmage for assistance? She maneuvered her hooves up to her temples and began lightly massaging them as her eyes skimmed across the dull parchment.

Yes... yes... yes... Done. Really now, there's nothing the archmagi need to wait around for. Her horn glowed for a moment as her signature was hastily scribbled along the bottom with a worn quill. She rolled the scroll up and watched as it disappeared in a green plume of fire and smoke. I sure feel tired today, she noted. She sighed and stood up, stretching her frame, the soft pops of her joints bringing a sense of relief to her. After a few contented moans and a yawn, she wandered over to a private balcony and glanced out across the serene capitol of Equestria, Canterlot. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth while she watched the tired sun sink below the horizon, mirroring her own feeling in that moment.

A sudden streak of white raced past her vision. She quickly stepped back, blinking, and threw her head in every direction. "What was that?" she blurted. Unable to locate the origin or the destination of the light, she rubbed her eyes wearily. When she opened them, multiple, silent streams of white energy whirled around before her. She took several more steps back and her horn began to shine. "What is the meaning of this!?" she called out with heated breath.

The array of white streams coalesced into an orb that burst in a flash of light upon absorbing all of them. When the princess's vision returned, a milky white alicorn appeared and stepped down onto the balcony. Celestia gasped and took on a defensive stance. "Who are you!?" She scanned the new being for any identifying details, but every part of her was wispy white that seemed closer to the effect of an illusory spell. Her mane floated and shifted as a lively, colorless mass. Unlike her own, this alicorn's mane seemed to ignore gravity's binding influence at all times.

The foreign alicorn took one last step forward then straightened their stance. "You have dark days ahead of you, Princess Celestia. I come bearing a gift: a warning."

Celestia froze. A warning? Of what?

"Hear me out." The alicorn spoke softly with a slight intoning to her voice. Her eyes gazed into Celestia's with subtle boredom.

"I'm... listening." The princess's horn continued to glow with cautious energy, and her stance relaxed; however, she refused to let her guard down in the presence of the other being.

The foreign alicorn turned to look over the city before speaking. "I envy this stable peace you preside over. My time was far more... chaotic."

"Your time? Are you another princess--another ruler?"

"I am Astra. My peers enjoyed titling me Soothsayer, rather than a queen or princess like yours do." Astra refaced the princess and opened her eyes more. Celestia couldn't tell if she cast away her boredom or was simply hurrying the conversation along. "In a few years time, the Brood will declare a war upon Equestria. I expect them to show no qualm to your vanguard and attack you directly."

Celestia breathed in sharply. "You really think there will be a war with the dragons? I doubt such a thing will come to pass. Regardless, I'm sure it could be avoided. The Brood are peaceful, if prideful."

"Make no mistake, Princess Celestia. There will be a war. But it is one that you will end swiftly, bypassing the mass of unnecessary bloodshed and tragedy of a prolonged one." Astra shook her head and took another step closer to the princess. "Ascend another to that of an alicorn. I am sure your sister, Princess Luna, will understand and oblige if you convince her." Astra's eyes narrowed briefly. "Who you choose matters not, but the blade of the Rites may fall both ways. Slay the dragons' king, Render, and remove this from the Brood. Call it whatever you will; it's of dormant, potential danger outside your grasp."

Despite the constitution of the one before her, a piece of parchment appeared detailing a book and its appearance. Celestia took it with her magic, skimming it quickly and tucking it away. The entire situation made her anxious, fearful of the prophecy Astra spoke of, but she could not be sure if what she heralded could be untrue. What would she have to lose by trusting her? "An alicorn could just as easily die were they to fight too many dragons at once. Sending one alone to kill their king is suicide against their royal guard, let alone Render himself."

Astra's features softened back to boredom. "Whomever you choose shall succeed--I will make sure of it. I suggest you begin choosing and preparing who you deem worthy soon. Someone you trust; someone loyal to your ideas. I advise you not to speak of this meeting."

The former ruler turned and began stepping towards the edge of the balcony. Celestia's body leaped after her by instinct. "Wait!" she cried, but it was too late. The moment Astra reached the edge, she shrank into the orb of light and it scattered to the wind. The princess skidded to the railing, a look of pure dread on her face as she scanned the world around her for the lights. How did she know what has been going on with the Brood? I haven't even spoken to Luna! But more importantly... Celestia's eyes focused back to the horizon in front of her, the sinking sun now becoming an unsettling visual. How did she come to me?

As she mulled over what just happened, she found herself watching the sun vanish behind the horizon instead of acting on the information immediately. The purple twilight spilled over the capitol city of Canterlot, casting its advice as she held her breath. Twilight Sparkle? Would she... really be willing to do something like this?

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"This discussion is over, Princesses. Take your pet reptile and leave," a large, red dragon said before spitting and chuckling, his eyes laying mirthfully upon Spike.

"Enough, General Aurelius. We are leaving now, Princess Celestia." The words came from the largest dragon present, the king of the Brood, Render. His azure eyes appeared as deceptively docile orbs, lost in the dark form of his black, behemoth body. He turned and waved a wing for the others in his company to follow.

Luna's eye twitched. She glared as the last of Dragon King Render and his counsel departed their rendezvous location. Negotiations to maintain peace had become embittered arguments with no progress or amicable end in sight. Her horn began to ignite, unable to release the burning in her heart and face. As she took an angry step forward, Celestia pressed a hoof to her chest. "Don't," was all she had to say for the dark princess to reassess her thoughts. With a heavy growl, Luna managed to peel herself away and depart the scene with the rest of the counsel representing Equestria.

"What're we going to tell everyone?" interjected Spike with a defeated tone. He let a wing droop the ground before retracting it. The young dragon had grown them through his natural process instead of skipping them through his greed-fueled spurt.

"Nothing for now. I will tell them the truth in time, and there is no need to raise any alarm yet," said Celestia calmly. She looked up to a mountainous horizon to her side and glimpsed the sun setting, a distant memory flowing into her thoughts. "Go on ahead, Spike. I'll tell Twilight myself. Luna and I must discuss some things." The young dragon nodded in acknowledgement and continued walking on with the other ponies representing Equestria. There were robed ponies documenting everything, the head of the Royal Court of Magi present, and several armored guards.

One guard stood out in particular, but Spike couldn't quite place why they seemed familiar. They were decorated in a unique armor, but it wasn't uncommon for any royal soldiers ranking officer and above to have their armor personalized in some way. A unicorn knight? he wondered. When they turned to him with their helmet visor down, he cast away his wonder. Whatever. Shining Armor is a unicorn.

The princesses watched until their entourage had left earshot. "I was sure that little wretch would attack us this time. So smug is that whelp, Aurelius. I despise him," said Luna sharply.

"They wouldn't dare attack us. Together, they couldn't battle and hope for a meaningful victory. Don't worry yourself over it, Luna." Celestia breathed out and faced her sister thoughtfully. "However, we cannot keep this up forever. If negotiations do not pan out soon, they will attack us in time."

Luna stomped a hoof. "For what? Land? Resources? They are not starved of such things! The dragons were so peaceful only a few years ago. What has changed since then? It's as if they've devolved over a millennia to my time." She cringed at her own words, recalling the state of the Brood before Nightmare Moon, and shuddered.

With a sigh, Celestia removed her tiara and massaged her temples. "It's not as if they were never a volatile race to begin with, but..."

"But?" Luna leaped into the air as the last of the sun vanished behind the mountains. She spread her wings and the moon crept over the opposite horizon. She landed with a small puff of dirt and threw a look towards Draconis, the capitol of the Brood.

"But, as you said, they seem as if they've devolved. Before you returned, there were no hostilities and I would've even called Render a good friend of mine."

"Would've..." echoed Luna sadly. "I wonder if he even remembers me."

Celestia replaced her tiara and put a hoof on her sister's shoulder. "Hatred in stride, sister. Perhaps there is something going on with the dragons we don't know."

"We could help. We're supposed to be allies. Friends, even!" She paused as she looked into Celestia's sympathetic look and exhaled slowly. "What do we do if there's a war coming? I am not fearful of defeat, but rather, the casualties. They would be catastrophic..."

"I know, but I have a plan should that come to pass." Celestia breathed in and offered a pleading look to her sister, her eyes begging her to understand. "The Rites of the Alicorn."

Luna gasped sharply and blinked, whipping her head to reassure herself no one else was within earshot of their conversation. "The Rites? Who? Why?" she demanded in quick succession. "They are extremely dangerous. Not even-"

"I am aware of their potential for disaster, Luna. You don't need to remind me of what could happen," responded Celestia defensively.

Luna cast a pained look away briefly. "Forgive me, sister. But there could be only one unicorn for such a trial, though."

"Then we share the same thought, but still we must watch her. She has only just become an archmage."

"And an archmage is the perfect status for this. The Rites are never used for one so young. She would be susceptible to the violent addiction to power. And..."

Celestia raised an eyebrow, "And?"

Luna breathed out and looked to the ground again. "The psychological trauma. The war. The immortality. She will be forced to..." Luna swallowed hard and looked away from her sister, but Celestia pulled her face back to hers.

"To watch as everyone mortal she loves dies around her for as long as she choose to live beyond them."

Luna said nothing for a long while, choosing only to breathe as quietly as she could. "She may break."

"And she may not with friends at her side to remind her of who she is, and what she is fighting for. I would never allow her to go through this with us standing by her side and watching from the distance." Celestia clasped Luna's face. "Never again will I lose a loved one to the vortex of dark feelings."

Luna's eyes welled up and she smiled. "Perhaps there is one that never came back," she whispered. The hooves on her face retracted and she wiped her eyes.

"What do you mean?" said Celestia with concern.

"Nothing. I am... merely being nostalgic."

Luna sniffled and began the trek to catch up with Spike. They caught up with the young dragon and counsel only a few minutes up the road. He walked at the back, meandering and occasionally scraping a foot through the dirt to leave his troubled mark.

"I'm sorry, Spike. I don't wish for any conflict with the Brood," said Celestia.

Spike huffed and stopped his walk. Turning around, he looked to the ground and sighed, then up to match the princess' eyes. "What happened? We--They--used to be so reasonable. It's like the ages of peace you kept with them mean nothing now, but I don't get it." He paused and put a claw to his head and grimaced, scraping it down his scales. Tilting his head back, he shouted, "Nothing changed."

Celestia sighed. "You're right. I... don't fully understand myself." Her eyes rolled to the dark horizon again. Her nerves half expected something to appear, despite nothing around. She glanced to Luna and laid her anxiety to rest. "Lets get home. There is nothing more we can do here."

Spike snatched a rock from the edge of the path and threw it into the distance. It clacked against other stones and tumbled into the darkness. "I'm glad I stayed with you ponies. I'm sick of the Brood's dumb pride."

Celestia nodded and put a hoof on the dragon's shoulder. His rose above hers, but he relaxed and glanced at her. "I promise you that I will do everything in my power to keep the peace." Her heart ached as Spike gave his sincere thanks, the pain of a dagger twisting into her stomach. But she smiled to him anyway.

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Dust whirled around and blasted away as Twilight appeared in a flash of light. Her dark blue cloak fluttered as the wind around faded to stillness. She scanned the surroundings and smirked, satisfied her teleportation had placed her in the right location, fell to her knees as the tax on her magic hit her. She caught her breath and stood back up, refocusing herself on the task before her. She had come to a small village on the outskirts of Equestrian territory that had requested help. Twilight unfurled a scroll, double checking its orders. Hm. They didn't say what they needed.

She began a slow walk, taking in the wonderful scenery of a luscious, verdant forest. The village ahead of her had erected a wooden fence three times her full standing height, and with no gaps in the thick planks to peek through. Her ears picked up the tweeting of birds, and she found herself pausing to turn and view the forest once more. I bet Fluttershy would really like it here.

Suddenly, a scream rang through the air and broke her thoughts. A load thump and crash followed shortly after. She turned up and pulled a green staff from beneath her cloak and began rushing forward. "Where are you!?" She bolted towards the fence and teleported before colliding into it. Appearing on the other side, a wild, astral animal came into view in front of her, matching the size of the buildings.

Howling and thrashing about was a starry scorpion easily twenty times her size. She gasped as the citizens of the panicked village scrambled away. The beast had crushed a building, and many more behind it in its warpath. Debris collapsed onto a few unlucky bystanders, and she refocused herself as the scorpion prepared to finish them. Twilight's horn began to ignite with an icy blue glow. She rushed forward and mouthed an incantation as she neared the scorpion. A bolt of ice erupted from the spire of her staff and spiraled through the air. It crashed into the scorpion's pincers and rapidly froze them over.

She teleported beneath the pincers. Taking notice, the scorpion reeled back its massive stinger. In another flash Twilight vanished with the victims, and the stinger crashed into the ground with tremendous force, blasting broken pieces lumber away and sending the ground scattering in clods. As it thrashed about in the rubble, the scorpion's pincers began to thaw and it opened them again, snapping each angrily. Twilight laid the victims down beside a distant building and flashed away. She reappeared before the foe and gave one last scan of her surroundings. Her eyes didn't register anyone else in left in the vicinity of the scorpion.

The spire of her staff began to glow and she grunted, raising the staff into the air and gathering magic into its spire. Atop the spire was a gem that collected the energy and shifted to white. Spinning around, a torrent of arcane frost whirled around her and surged above. She stroked the staff downwards and aimed at the scorpion, a thin white stream trailing the position of the gem. The scorpion began charging her, smashing through any debris that dare hinder its rampage. When it neared the unicorn, it opened both pincers and lunged forward for a kill.

Twilight vanished in a spark of light and reappeared in the pincers' dead zone, the ball of frost vibrating and distorting in her hooves. She took a step and forced the ball into the scorpion's face. Teleporting away, she reappeared at a safe distance and sparked her horn one last time. The orb of frost exploded into a torrent around the scorpion that whirled up and into the air. Ice several feet thick formed an outer layer as the body of the beast discolored to a light blue, the cracking sound of the scorpion's body freezing over.

When the spell ended, a ring of frost coated the ground around the beast and pieces of nearby debris froze equally in the wake of the spell. Twilight teleported atop the scorpion's frozen head and sheathed her staff, peering around from the vantage point. Ponies that ran in fear began to cautiously make their way back into the village, their curious eyes taking in the destruction and then coming to a rest upon the pony that saved them. Twilight ran her wrist across her forehead and wiped sweat away, not realizing she had been using so much magic. The cool air emanating from the ice seeped into her, cooling and relaxing her body, and she resisted the urge to plop down and lounge on it.

"Who requested the assistance of an archmage?" she called down to the crowd gathering below.

"I did," returned a light blue colt with a dust-brown mane.

Rather than teleport, Twilight leaped from the top and dropped to the ground. It was a soft landing, but her body faltered briefly; she wasn't sure how many more spells, even minor, she could cast before she would collapse. As she rose up from the ground to greet the colt, her legs wobbled briefly before she managed to right her pose. "I am Twilight Sparkle, an archmage--"

"Wow, you're Twilight Sparkle!?"

Twilight turned to see who asked, but was abruptly mobbed by the crowd instead. Ponies barraged her with questions and wanted autographs or pictures taken, some shoving their items into her face. She blushed at the unexpected, overwhelming burst of attention. "Everypony, please!" she protested. After a few more attempts at trying to quell the enthusiasm of her 'fans', she teleported onto one of the pincers. When did I become famous?

"Settle down," boomed the colt. The crowd immediately died down with a few disappointed 'aww's ringing through the air simultaneously. "As you were saying, Archmage."

"I am Twilight Sparkle,"--she started, eyeing the crowd warily--"an archmage affiliated with the Royal Court of Magi. You requested the assistance of one, but didn't specify what you needed help with exactly." She tapped a hoof on the icy beast beneath her. "Is this what you needed help with?"

"Yes. We've been having problems with this damned creature for weeks. It just keeps attacking and raiding a few food stores before leaving, destroying everything in its path." He rubbed the right side of his head and watched as a young filly kicked the frozen beast.

"Is it dead?" the filly asked innocently.

Twilight fixated on that word. Dead. It left a bitter pang in her mind. "Not quite. Sometimes we relocate the beasts, but..."

"Can't you just kill it for us, please?" begged the filly that kicked the ice. She offered puppy dog eyes and Twilight found herself questioning the idea.

"Only if that's what you want," she replied while turning back to face the colt. He nodded slowly. "Alright. Everypony please stand back." The crowd did as they were told and moved back hesitantly, some choosing to leave altogether. Twilight dropped to the ground and pressed a hoof to the frozen face. She closed her eyes and focused her magic. A reflection ran across the ice quickly. When she finished, she reproduced her staff and tapped the spire to the scorpion's head. The ice responded with a high pitched clink and she exhaled slowly. Here goes nothing...

Taking the staff in both hooves, she raised it up and slammed it onto the head with all of her might, leaping backwards when the high pitched ringing began. Cracks spread outward from the spire's impact point and snaked through and around the ice like honeycomb. The entire block of ice--scorpion included--burst into pieces. It sang a cacophony of breaking glass, and some ponies covered their ears and winced. Twilight viewed the display in slow motion as the shards cascaded to the ground. One of the core shards of the scorpion landed in front of her hooves. She looked down and examined the piece. It was red. Blood, she noted silently.

"Thank you so much, Miss Sparkle," cut in the colt. Twilight turned to respond, but nothing came to mind. "We'll clean up the mess ourselves. You've done the hard part. Tell the princesses we can't thank them enough for your help."

"No... problem," she muttered. Her mind was helpless to find anything more to say. Attempting to refocus herself, she sheathed her staff and began walking away, her head hung low and letting her bangs obscure her eyes. Cheers followed her out of the village, but she ignored them. She could hear the sounds of other ponies beginning to clean up the debris and remains of the beast, but she couldn't even find the motivation to offer help regardless.

When she returned to the forest, she sighed and teleported. Flash after flash of scenery scrolled over her eyes as she made her way back to Canterlot. Each one required a breath or two, then four or five, and finally waiting several minutes. She teleported one final time and appeared in a familiar setting.

She stumbled forward before landing on her chest coughing and huffing, nearly taking in gulps of dirt. Her body ached and refused to comply with her mind's urging to continue on. Weighted by weakness, she lay in the sun. It's only the early afternoon, she guessed by looking up at the sun's position. A loud thump echoed in the distance and she smiled. "Hey, Applejack!" she called out.

"What the hay?" The farm pony stopped mid-kick and let her hind hooves tap the tree. She whipped her head around until she caught the source of the voice. Twilight lay on her back covered in dirt matted to her by sweat. The unicorn's mane clung to her face like sticky tendrils, her chest rising and falling in large beats. "Twilight? I didn't know you were comin' by today." She dashed over and looked her friend over before pulling her to standing. "What happened to yah?"

The unicorn shook herself off and did her best to wipe the dirt away, but it still lined her features. "Nothing. Just a really long trip out to a village for an archmage task." She exhaled and groaned simultaneously, loosing some of her pent up fatigue and discontent with the situation.

"You look like a mess. Why don't yah come get some lunch and clean yourself up?" Applejack offered a smile to seal the deal, but Twilight shook her head.

"I'm sorry, AJ. I need to report back to the princesses or the Court. I'll take an apple, though." As quickly as she spoke, Applejack dashed back to the tree she intended to kick earlier. Baskets half full of her signature fruit sat on the other side waiting to collect more. She returned with four apples and a grin. "Take a few extra for the road, alright?" Rolling her eyes and smiling, Twilight took them with her magic, quickly chomping down on one. The other three slid under her cloak and out of sight. "Where do yah hide everything under there anyway?"

Twilight stopped eating and blinked a few times. As she opened her mouth to speak, another pony began calling her name. "Twilight! TWILIGHT! TWIIIILIIIIGHT!" Turning around to face the calling prompted a tackle from another friend. Twilight hit the dirt and groaned. "Oh my Celestia, it really is you!"

"Hey there, Pinkie Pie." Twilight coughed and frowned, having found herself back on the dirt. She lifted Pinkie off of her with her magic and stood up. Grabbing the edges of her cloak, she groaned as it peeled away, the apples having been smashed into it and against her. She shook it violently and frowned as the pieces fell off and left a damp spot.

"Wow, wow. You really did come to visit. I knew it! When did she get here, Applejack, huh huh?" The farm pony shrugged while Twilight attempted to speak. "We should throw a welcome home party. Or maybe a welcome back party." Pinkie put a hoof to her chin and looked up the sky for help.

"Sorry Pinkie, but I don't have time for any of that. I need to get home."

Pinkie threw a foreleg around her neck and beamed. "Silly Twilight, Ponyville is your home."

"Listen, is Trixie around? I might as well pick her up while I'm here."

Applejack scratched at the back of her head. "She ain't exactly the friendliest pony. I think Spike is the only one who keeps tabs on her, what with your guys' arrangement and all."

"Not really. He's our ambassador to the Brood. Celestia likes having one of their own appear for meetings or negotiations. She thinks it reminds them of peace." She turned around and glimpsed Canterlot before letting her eyes trail to Ponyville. The sun's radiance lit up both locations. Did it really have to be so hot today?

"I'll walk you to the library. There's so much to catch up on." Pinkie began skipping ahead without time to respond.

"I'll see you later, Applejack." Twilight waved as she trotted after.

"Take care, Twi. And tell Rainbow Dash she's overdue for a visit as well if yah see her!"

Twilight nodded and caught up to Pinkie's skipping stride. Amazement always filled her head with just how loquacious Pinkie could be. They discussed parties, each others activities, Rainbow Dash's job, her job, their friends. Every topic was covered save for one. "Are you and Trixie together? I mean, she's been living here for like a year and a half now." The question caught her off guard.

I never told anyone, but Spike and the princesses. "Wh-what do you mean?" She forced a smile.

"Oh, Twilight. There's nothing to be ashamed of for loving another mare like her!" Pinkie threw a foreleg around the unicorn's neck. Twilight flinched and attempted to duck under it, but Pinkie pulled her into an awkward, walking hug. "Now c'mon. Spill the beans. How did you woo her before and after your archmage ceremony, huh?" Pinkie put a hoof up to her mouth in anticipation.

Blushing, and knowing Pinkie would chase her until the ends of Equestria to get her answer, she sighed and glanced around quickly. "It's..." She paused and contemplated her words, still shuffling along with Pinkie latched onto her and leaning close. The party pony seemed to lean closer with the word. "...really hard to talk with you leaning on me."

"Oops..." Pinkie righted herself and switched to bouncing steps alongside her friend. She managed to remain balanced while still leaning in for whispers.

"It only just happened. We... haven't really talked about it." Twilight scratched at the back of her head. "...How did you even find out?"

Pinkie pulled away and began hopping circles around the unicorn. "You're bad at hiding it, that's how," she said in a sing-song fashion. "But not Dashie. Ooooh, she's good." Mid hop, Pinkie brought a hoof to her chin and glanced around, half-expecting the pegasus to make an appearance.

"Rainbow Dash has a special somepony?"

"That's what I said!" Pinkie landed and froze with a blank expression for a few seconds.

"What is i--"

"Shhh!" She paused and looked herself over, then around the sky. "Darn."

"What?"

"Nothing."

She hopped onward and left Twilight frowning. "Trying to predict your Pinkie Sense before it actually predicts anything else?" She received a bubbly glance before sighing and following after. The trail was dustier than she remembered, with small cracks in the road and a stray tumbleweed crunching as it bounced past her to the push of an afternoon breeze. "I remember Ponyville's roads looking a bit nicer. Is everything alright here?"

Pinkie's bouncing steps settled to a comfortable pace and she looked from side to side as she kept on walking. Twilight followed her looks around and took in the surroundings. The conditions of the roads had worsened in the middle of the town and even less ponies were out and about. "It's nothing, Twilight. It's just been really hot. And..." Her eyes trailed over to her friend with a sympathetic look.

"What, what is it?" demanded Twilight with worry.

"Everypony thinks that archmages mean something bad is coming when they show up. They're probably hiding."

Eyes widened and mouth agape, Twilight had to shake her head as to what she just heard. "Afraid of me? That's ridiculous. Archmages help ponies. Trixie is my apprentice. What about her?"

Pinkie rolled her eyes and began to beam once again. "Well, duh! She's not an archmage, yet. But think about it Twilight. She's your apprentice and you're an archmage, suddenly here on an unannounced visit. How does that look?"

Twilight let her eyes fall to the dirt road in defeat. "I guess I see your point." Her head snapped up suddenly as she stopped and whirled back around, prompting her companion to do the same.

"What, what is it?"

"How the hay did anypony know I was even here already? I teleported to Sweet Apple Acres on my way back to Canterlot." Pinkie coughed obviously into a hoof and offered a sheepish smile. "You've got to be kidding me..."

"Nope. I think I have a new Pinkie Sense combo just for you." Twilight applied a hoof to her face and dragged it down, stretching her features. The party pony doubled over in laughter as Twilight groaned out her frustrations. The Pinkie Sense just couldn't be understood. Rolling her own eyes, she smiled herself.

"I-- When-- Forget it. Let's just go."

On the outskirts of Ponyville, her old home away from home had grown slightly in size, but still maintained its overall sleepy-yet-friendly aesthetic. Owlowicious perched himself atop the sign above the door while he slept. The interestingly named library helper murmured a few 'whos' in his sleep, but remained unmoving. Twilight chuckled as she reached for the door with a hoof.

"W-wait," shouted Pinkie before jumping to the side and covering her head.

Twilight turned around to see what the fuss was about and immediately sparked her horn for what little magic she had left. It was too late and she was too weak. The door to the library blasted open with an eruption of magic and knocked her down. Owlowiscious yelped and frantically flew away. Following the door were several singed books with one still openly burning.

Twilight groaned and began shoving the door off of her. "Ohhh.... What the heck was that?" She winced and pressed a hoof to her head upon clearing herself and sitting up, trying to blink and groan out the ringing in her head. Pinkie dashed over and helped her to a standing position and their eyes fell upon the apprentice. "Trixie!"

The unicorn inside stood wide eyed, looking out the doorway in shock and disbelief. Her entire coat had been darkened by the explosion with grey smoke leaking from the library's doorway. Trixie loosed a cough that led into a fit of them. She was wearing her magician's garb, but the cloak had a few shreds, holes, and burns detailing it now.

"Sounds like we just missed the party," remarked Pinkie with a sheepish grin.

Twilight glared at her briefly before aiming her disappointment at her apprentice. "My... faithful student, what exactly were you doing, hmm?" she started, with slow steps towards the scuffed entranceway.

"Ooooh, somepony's in trouuuuble!" sang Pinkie.

The archmage ignored her, instead letting her mind laugh inwardly as Trixie began to sweat and look around for an excuse--or an escape. "Well, you see, Twi--err--Master, I was just running a little experiment and--"

"A little experiment?" shouted Twilight while entering the library and swinging a hoof to the damage. "This is coming out of your allowance!"

"Oh, come on, Twilight!" Trixie stepped forward before stumbling over some books and right into the forelegs of her master. Her face flushed as Pinkie Pie bounced in behind, completely unscathed and unfazed by the magical disaster.

"I'm here to return a book." Both unicorns watched in disbelief as Pinkie pulled a book from her mane and placed it on a now-dirty shelf. "Okie dokie. I'll just leave you two alone." As quickly as she entered she had gone.

"Does she--?"

Twilight grumbled. "Yes." Glancing around at the disaster that was the library, she stood Trixie up and placed a hoof to her chin. "Clean this up. I'm supposed to be on my way to Canterlot to give a report to Celestia."

"I'm sure I can help with that," came a familiar voice. Twilight's features brightened as she whirled around to see her former assistant at the entrance carrying a backpack and eyeing the door.

"Spike!" She dashed to the dragon and hugged him, the dragon now being tall enough to reasonably do so from a standing position. He returned the hug before following the unicorn back into the library. "Whoa..." he muttered as all of it came into view. "Is Trixie experimenting again?"

"Yes," replied Twilight, rolling her eyes. Trixie folded her forelegs across her chest until Twilight shot her a glare. Trixie forced a smile and grabbed a nearby duster, broom, and the first set of books to reshelf with her magic. "Don't worry, it's taken care of."

"So, need me to send a letter before I go?"

Twilight raised an eyebrow to his chosen words. "'Before you go'? Are you leaving?"

Spike looked away and said nothing for a long while. When Twilight opened her mouth to speak, he held a hand up to ward away her questions. "I'm going to be spending a lot of time in Draconis. The dragons are... well," he turned back to meet Twilight's wondering eyes, "they're jerks. Princess Celestia thinks everything might get out of control. She's sending me there to try and keep relations, but..." He trailed off and sat down sighing.

"But what?" she pressed on worriedly. Trixie let her magic continue and stepped closer to listen in on the conversation.

"I don't think it's going to work. I'm a dragon, and I've spent enough time around my own kind to know that they're not going to back down any time soon. They've been unbearable and even implied going to war!" The young dragon pounded the floor and grimaced. Twilight lifted his chin up with a hoof and smiled.

"I know you can do this. Peace will remain. Why wouldn't it? The Brood hasn't been hostile in forever. I'm sure it'll all work itself out."

Spike touched her hoof and smiled. "Thanks, Twilight. That really helps. Now, about that letter." The dragon produced a quill from his backpack.

Twilight stepped back and nodded. "Dear Princess Celestia," she started, then coughed into a hoof and turned to glimpse her apprentice before continuing. "The matter regarding the Seta Forest village has been resolved. An astral scorpion, scorpio, was disposed of permanently at the request of the pony who petitioned for aid. As of welcome convenience, Spike is sending this letter to you now while I attend to some," she cleared her throat loudly and glanced at her apprentice. Trixie bit her lip under the scrutiny of her master's gaze. "Unexpected business in Ponyville. I shall return to Canterlot before long."

The dragon finished scribbling out the message and breathed a green flame through the parchment. The trio watched as it disintegrated and flowed out the door. Twilight stood up and unfastened her cloak, letting it fall into a pile on the floor. The green staff stood across her back in a simple baldric. "I should've requested some vacation time."

Spike chuckled before moving between the shelves, his eyes skimming each book title. "Well, your archmage duties aren't that demanding."

"Have you met Chancellor Leo? I'm not the only archmage in the court. It seems like I get a lot more assignments than the rest of them. Maybe it's because I'm Celestia's protégé."

"Yeah, but you're also the better than any of them will ever be. Leo is just a grumpy codger," chimed in Trixie.

"Trixie!"

"What? It's not like you weren't think the same thing!" The protesting unicorn shrugged and took a look at her cleaning. The duster managed to remove most of the surface dust and ash, but she occasionally sneezed as the excess still saturated the air.

"Ok, maybe you're right." Twilight stuck her tongue out at her.

Spike snatched several books from the shelves and stuffed them into his backpack. "Trixie is right. You shouldn't sell yourself short. You're still tutored by the princesses, and," he turned around and began making his way towards the door, "you're the best librarian I'll ever know." He stuck his tongue out at Trixie, too. The magician whipped around and crossed her forelegs, raising one hoof up at him before turning her back to both of them.

Twilight gave a hearty laugh and moved to give the dragon a hug. She latched onto him and closed her eyes. "You be safe up there, alright? And you better not forget to write."

"I promise, Twilight." He wrapped an arm and wing around her before they split. "And you two promise me you'll take care of each other." The two mares nodded quickly. With a smile and a wave, he dashed out the door. Twilight watched his tail slide along the floor, but the end remained in sight as he paused. She could hear him burping up Celestia's response. "Here, this is for you." He ran back into the library and handed her the letter. "Ok, I've really got to go now."

Twilight unfurled the letter and began reading it. Trixie halted her focus and moved beside her to see it. Twilight's heart sank as Trixie beamed. "Finally, we get to spend some more time together!" squealed the magician.

"I'm still mad at you." Twilight shot her a half-serious look before letting it fade. "I need a vacation..." she repeated aloud.

"You and me both." Trixie pulled Twilight's face to hers and kissed her deeply. When they parted, Twilight gagged and turned to spit, the flavor of ash still lingering on her apprentice's lips. Wiping her own, Trixie offered an embarrassed grin to Twilight's frown. "S-sorry."

The archmage's features warmed into a smile and she unfastened the staff and let it clatter to the floor behind her. "We've got until tomorrow. Let's clean this--and you--up and then we can relax."

Author's Note:

2/24/2013 -- Final polish. Delayed a week due to net being down.

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