• Published 24th Aug 2013
  • 7,361 Views, 182 Comments

Bezithan - chrumsum



Purpose and meaning are not to be found in the laws of nature. It is our destiny to create them. We are the architects of our future.

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1 - Apotheosis

“Modern science as we know it stands on steel pillars, the cumulative axioms of knowledge and understanding. Without these foundations... well, science cannot exist, because we can’t exactly determine theoretical equations of magical diffusion if we can’t all agree on the fact that two and two make four...”

Excerpt from a lecture at The Platinum University, by Star Swirl

“The most startling thing about the world that I have discovered in my travels is that the more you learn, the less you realize you know. That in itself is the most terrifying and beautiful fact of existence.”

—Cypher, in a letter to a colleague

***

Unbelievable!” Twilight Sparkle shouted in frustration, throwing the rolled-up parchment across the library.

Spike, wringing his claws uncomfortably, watched from afar as Twilight continued her rant. She’d been like this all morning, ever since the letter had arrived. He wasn’t exactly sure how to handle Twilight when she was like this.

It wasn’t as if Twilight never got angry. Despite all her lessons in patience and friendship, there were some things that the unicorn could never handle with a level head. Manticore attack? No problem. Crisis in the Crystal Empire? Solved before lunch without breaking a sweat. Kitchen disaster, courtesy of Pinkie Pie? Cleaned up within the hour with total patience.

Only one matter could bring Twilight to such levels of unreasonable anger: her books.

“How could they do this to me?” Twilight complained, turning to Spike.

His eyes went wide as he fumbled for an answer. “Uh...”

“For almost a hundred years now libraries all across Equestria have embraced and faithfully utilized the Whinny Decimal System to organize their books. And now, all of a sudden, the Equestria Bibliotheca Association makes a motion to change it. And to what?” Once more she looked to Spike for an answer, and once more she launched into a tirade before he could give one.

“This Clover-Hayfield System? That’s ridiculous! The Whinny Decimal System was incredibly innovative when it first originated! Libraries across Equestria were transformed forever! Think how hard it was to find anything back then. Encyclopaedias were lumped together with picture books, for Pony’s sake! Can you imagine?”

“Twilight...” Spike said.

“And furthermore—”

“Twilight!” he shouted, stopping her in her tracks. “Will you just calm down for a second?”

“I’m perfectly calm!” shrieked Twilight.

Spike crossed his arms, raising a skeptical eyebrow. Twilight blushed and cleared her throat. Using the technique Cadance had taught her, she breathed in deeply through her nose and brought her hoof away from her chest as she exhaled through her mouth.

“Perfectly calm,” she said sheepishly. “Sorry about that.”

“It’s only a system change, right?” Spike said, picking up the letter she had thrown. “How bad could it be? We reshelve the library every week. We can handle this.”

“But it’s so much more than that,” Twilight insisted, taking the letter from her assistant. “The Whinny Decimal System has been around for years. It’s a staple of Equestrian history, and it works perfectly well. And now we’re taking that away? Don’t you think that’s... wrong?”

“Well, I’m willing to bet people felt the same when whatever came before that was kicked out. And now look! Change happens, right? Maybe this system will be even better.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Twilight, I think you’re just overreacting. Give it a chance! I mean, even if it’s terrible, you’re still a librarian, and the Princess’ personal student. Your vote’s gotta count for something!”

“My vote?” echoed Twilight, an idea popping into her head.

“Yeah, of course! It’s not like they can exactly ignore what you have to say, right?” Spike said, propping an elbow against the wall. “Honestly, it’s shouldn’t even be a problem. You could take care of it easy.”

“You’re right, Spike!” Twilight said with a smile, rubbing her hoof affectionately against his head. “I do have a say in this!”

“Exactly! So I say we just calm down and have a nice—”

“Spike, take a letter!” said Twilight, turning away as she levitated some parchment and a quill into his claws.

He looked down at the writing implements, then back up. “Come again?”

“Well, why wait for them to pass it when we can stop them now? The Whinny Decimal System is worth fighting for!”

“But—”

“Dear Equestrian Bibliotheca Association...” began Twilight Sparkle.

They were interrupted by a knock at the door.

“Oh thank Celestia!” blurted Spike. Twilight gave him a crabby look from over her shoulder, and he laughed nervously. “I mean uh... I... I’ll just go get the door.”

Twilight watched her assistant scramble away and sighed in disappointment before following him to the foyer. Spike pulled open the door mid-knock as Twilight hopped down the last step from the loft.

“Oh, good morning, Spike!” gushed Rarity.

Spike snapped to attention and ran a claw across his spines before quickly checking his breath. He leaned against the door of the frame, composed himself, and opened his mouth to speak.

“Rarity!” Twilight exclaimed, gently nudging Spike out of the way. “What a surprise! How are you?”

Rarity’s expression turned into a pout of dismay. “Surprise? Oh, Twilight, dear, don’t tell me you’ve forgotten about our outing again?”

Before she even had to ask, Spike had already snapped out of his trance and brought forth Twilight’s personal calendar. She squinted down at her writing. “Oh... our shopping trip. I’m so sorry, Rarity, I completely forgot.”

“That’s quite unlike you, Twilight,” clucked Rarity. “Is everything alright? Don’t tell me something’s come up regarding...?” She looked questioningly to Spike who frowned.

“Yeah, books,” he said in annoyance.

“Well, yes,” explained Twilight, “but this jumped on me at the last second.”

“So you won’t be coming?” Rarity asked, barely hiding the disappointment in her voice.

Twilight raised her hoof to deliver what would certainly be a stirring apology, but Spike cut her off.

“Oh, no, she’d love to come along!”

“Spike...”

“Twilight, you need to get out of the house. This organization thing is driving you up the wall. Go and get some air, already! Go think about something else!”

“But—”

“Twilight, dear, he’s right! Whatever’s bothering you, it certainly won’t help to stay cooped up at home!” Rarity insisted, placing a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Getting some exercise is very important! Why, whenever I’m hung up on some commission for a client, a brisk walk around the park always gets the blood flowing to all the right places! Followed by a relaxing visit to the spa, of course.”

“But the Whinny Decimal System...”

“No buts!” said Spike and Rarity simultaneously. Rarity grabbed Twilight’s hoof and dragged her out the door in spite of her protests.

“Spike!” Twilight called out over her shoulder. “Make sure you—”

Whatever she was about to say was lost as he quickly waved and slammed the library door shut.

***

“Oh, cheer up, Twilight. It isn’t so bad,” Rarity said pleasantly as they trotted down the streets of Ponyville.

Twilight didn’t answer. Staring at the ground, she focused on the dirt path rather than her friend. Her mind buzzed with what sort of firmly-worded responses she could send the the EBA.

Dear EBA...

No. Too friendly.

To the Equestrian Bibliotheca Association...

No, no. It sounded too respectful. The testiness wasn’t getting across.

Dear Lump-headed Slack-jawed Idiots Who Seem Determined to Ruin Equestrian History...

Too far?

“Twilight!” Rarity nudged her with her hoof, and she looked up, her eyes bleary. “Look, I understand that you’re upset for having me drag you away like that, but it’s for your own good.”

“I know, I know,” Twilight said, sighing.

“Relax, darling! Stress is terrible for both the mind and complexion. If you want to stay fresh, you can’t let the little things become a burden!”

Twilight was inclined to tell her friend that the only way she could possibly relax was to tell the EBA that they could take their Clover-Hayfield System to Tartarus, but some part of her recognized Rarity’s wisdom.

“Just enjoy the day, Twilight,” continued Rarity. “Besides, I’m sure you’re going to love what we’ve got planned.”

“We?”

“Absolutely! Everypony’s coming along! I even managed to talk Rainbow Dash into passing on her training schedule to tag along! In fact, she’s probably already there." She pulled Twilight along by her foreleg. "Now hurry, we’re going to miss all the best deals!”

“Rarity, where are we going?”

She giggled. “Why, the Ponyville Spring Market, of course!”

Pulling her along as Sweet Apple Acres came into view, Twilight could finally see what Rarity was talking about. Seemingly overnight, the serene path leading up to the barnyard had become filled with ponies from all over town. Mares and stallions alike chatted away as they moved through the crowd. A group of pegasi bartered over potions and herbs arranged across in improvised stall by a zebra decorated with tribal markings. Beside a booth sporting carnival games, a nomadic Saddle Arabian merchant peddled his fragrant spices, shouting with a thick Arabic accent. A smell of cinnamon and grilled vegetables floated through the air. By the food stalls, a heavy-set unicorn flipped flatbreads with his pans, earning “ooo’s” and “aaah’s” from his crowd. Bits changed hooves, prices were bartered, and the laughter and babble of the amassed ponies was only broken by intermittent cheers of delight from merchants after sealing a killer deal.

“Wow,” Twilight murmured. “I thought we were just going shopping.”

Twilight!” came a voice over the buzz of the crowd. Slipping her way through two ponies, Applejack gave the two a hearty wave. The three hugged. “So glad y’all could make it! Everypony else is already gettin’ their bargainin’ on!”

“What is all this, Applejack?” Twilight asked. “This is incredible!”

“Is this your first Spring Market, Twi?”Applejack chuckled when Twilight nodded. “Every couple of years, a bunch of salesponies all come together from all over Equestria and move from town to town throughout the spring, sellin’ everything from pots to pocketwatches. It’s picked up so much over the years that it’s turned into a one heck of a hoedown!”

“And you host all this?”

“Every time it swings down to Ponyville! The owner of this shindig, Knick Knack, is a family friend. I’ll take ya to meet him later if ya want!”

“Hey, Twilight!”

Twilight looked up to find Rainbow Dash hovering above her, a stack of books in her hooves. Fluttershy wasn’t far behind, carefully walking up to the group with an antique-looking birdhouse precariously balanced on her back. “Hello, girls,” she said meekly, trying her best to keep it from wobbling.

“Oh, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, so glad to see that you’re finally enjoying yourself!” Rarity said.

“It’s fantastic.” Fluttershy smiled and adjusted her weight to keep the birdhouse in place. “There are animals from all over the world! You should see their exotic birds!”

“I dunno, Fluttershy. That parrot was kinda mouthy.” Rainbow Dash beamed. “Oh, right! Check this out, Twilight! I found a guy who was selling the entire Daring Do box set for only ten bits! Ten bits!

“They sell books, too?” Twilight said, a gear clicking in her head.

Rarity smiled in triumph. “But of course they do, Twilight!”

“Well,” Applejack said, giving her Stetson a friendly tip. “Y’all have fun, now!”

Fluttershy bit her lip. “Oh... you aren’t joining us, Applejack?”

She shook her head. “Sorry, gals. I’ve got some business to take care of, then I reckon I might join ya!”

“Oh, Fluttershy!” gushed Rarity, wrapping a foreleg around Fluttershy’s neck. “You simply must come with me! There’s a jeweler from Canterlot whose necklaces are to die for! There’s bound to be something to help me with my summer line! Twilight, you should come too! Rainbow Dash, why don’t you—”

“Actually, I, uh...” Rainbow Dash interrupted, scratching the back of her head. “I think Pinkie Pie needs me to help with the uh... thing. At the place.” Rarity tapped her hoof impatiently. “Not that jewelry shopping doesn’t sound like a ton of fun, but... I’d better not keep her waiting, right? And oh look, I’m already late! Gotta dash!” Before Rarity could get in another word, Rainbow Dash took off like a bolt of lightning, disappearing into the crowd.

She shrugged, turning back to Twilight. “Well, her loss. We’ll just have fun without her! Isn’t that right, Twilight?”

***

It wasn’t. Not by her definition, at least.

Twilight enjoyed the company of her friends, even if they were at times stubborn, argumentative, and sometimes downright unpleasant. That much went without saying. But spending two hours with Rarity and Fluttershy while looking through jewelry in a busy market could get grating for just about anypony.

As she waited patiently at the umpteenth jewelry stand, Twilight watched the transaction with only half interest. She could practically recite the conversation word for word as it happened. Rarity would gush, Fluttershy would agree. As they had the last dozen times.

“Oh, what about this one!” gushed Rarity. “Look at that color! This magenta would go exquisitely with an evening wear! What do you think, Fluttershy?”

“It’s very nice.” Fluttershy nodded her head.

“Oh, and what about this one?”

And so on and so forth. The mare behind the jewelry booth, though momentarily excited at the prospect of making another sale, had lost her smile seven pendants and three bracelets ago and was staring vacantly at the two shoppers. She attempted to raise a hoof at one of Fluttershy’s measured compliments, probably to push the sale on either these gorgeous earrings or that darling necklace, but was cut off every time by Rarity.

“My goodness! This is simply fabulous! Absolutely magnificent!” Rarity exclaimed, levitating a glittering sea glass and twine bracelet. It caught the noon sun, scattering colored shards of sunlight across the display table.

“Wow,” said Fluttershy demurely. “It’s beautiful!”

“Do you think I should buy it?”

“Yes!” shouted Twilight and the salespony in unison.

Rarity smiled politely. “Very well, then. How much, my dear?”

The salespony sighed in relief, practically melting into her seat. “Twelve bits.”

“Twelve bits?” echoed Rarity. “Why, for this old thing? I mean, it’s beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but please. The design is simplistic, and the cutting on the glass is mediocre at best. Ten bits!”

“What?” The salespony grabbed the bracelet out of Rarity’s hooves. “No deal! This glass came all the way from Featherstone Bay. It’s of the highest quality. Twelve bits or nothing!”

Rarity sighed and shrugged. “Very well, then. I suppose we’ll just continue browsing. Oh, Fluttershy, look at these barrettes! Aren’t they magnificent?”

“Oh, they’re beautiful!”

Whining, the salespony looked from Rarity to the mass of potential customers watching from afar, waiting for their chance to browse her wares. She caved. “Fine! Ten bits! Just take it and go!”

Rarity gave the salespony a pert smile and neatly placed ten coins onto the makeshift booth. “A pleasure doing business,” she added with a polite nod before slipping the bangle around her hoof.

As they walked away from the booth, Twilight glanced over her shoulder to see the salespony collapse face-first into the table.

“And that, dear Twilight,” Rarity said, admiring her new jewellery, “is how you do business. A clever customer always uses every means at her disposal to acquire the right price.”

“Maybe you gave that poor shopkeeper a harder time than she deserved, Rarity,” said Twilight, falling in beside her as they made their way through the crowd.

“Not in the slightest, Twilight!” Rarity answered, waving a hoof. “You see, sea glass isn’t a very expensive material. In fact, it’s a rather cheap one. See these colors?” she added, stopping to show off her bracelet. “Greens, reds, purples... these aren’t very rare, and this particular bangle was vastly overpriced. I wouldn’t have paid more than five bits for this on any other day.”

“Then why today?”

“Because it’s the Spring Market!” Rarity said simply. “These ponies have come such a long way, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging them a little bit!”

“And indulge you shall!” exclaimed a voice from behind them.

Fluttershy yelped in surprise as a scrawny earth pony twirled past her, nearly upsetting the birdhouse on her back. With an energetic bow, he flipped his wide-brimmed hat off his neatly coiffed mane and rolled it down his hoof. He flashed a toothy grin that glittered in contrast to his verdant fur which gave the gangly pony every appearance of a beanstalk.

“Top of the morning, ladies!” greeted the pony in a bubbly voice. “Might I ask how you’re all enjoying the market today?”

“Oh, it’s been marvelous so far, Mister Knick Knack,” Rarity said pleasantly, giving Fluttershy a reassuring pat on the birdhouse. “It only gets better every year!”

“It’s been lovely, yes.” Twilight could only barely hear Fluttershy as she spoke to her hooves, her voice getting lost in the crowd.

“Well that is just teeeeeeriffic news, I say!” said Knick Knack, not minding Fluttershy’s sedate answer. His voice lilted as he spoke, as if every sentence were a jingle for some laundry detergent or kitchen appliance. “And what a perfect day for it, isn’t it? Lovely weather in Ponyville, as I always say! Finest town in Equestria, and I look forward to seeing it every spring! But I say, you haven’t introduced me to your friend here! Just who is this lovely creature?” he asked, extending his hoof to Twilight, who couldn’t help but blush.

“Um...” she stammered, flicking a lock of her mane out of her eyes. “I’m Twilight Sparkle.”

Knick Knack’s eyes glittered, and a roguish grin spread across his face. “My, my! The Twilight Sparkle? The Princess’ own personal student? Well, it’s my pleasure to meet you, madam, and a true honor! We’re all indebted to you for your services to Equestria and ponykind.”

Twilight turned an impressive shade of scarlet, not noticing Rarity rolling her eyes.

“Why, thank you, I—”

“And please, stop me if I’m wrong, but is this not your first visit to the Spring Market?”

“Yes, it is!”

“Well, by golly, what a fortuitous meeting!” Knick Knack took Twilight by the hoof and led her through the crowd. “I myself happen to run my own little shop here, and I’d be honored to show you my wares today!”

“Oh.” Twilight’s ears flattened. Perfect. More shopping. Rarity couldn’t help but giggle behind her hoof as she and Fluttershy followed. Knick Knack expertly led Twilight through the crowd and they soon stopped at a rather flamboyant stall.

The stand, having been constructed from a retrofitted cart, was a jigsaw puzzle of sliding shelves, hangers, racks, and cupboards. True to his name, Knick Knack’s store was packed with all sorts of odds and ends. Chests of indeterminate age and polished marble statuettes took up the lower shelves, with everything from gryphon silverware to old middle age paintings occupying the higher rows. Twilight could practically hear Rarity salivating behind her. Flags and flashing lights accented a proud, red banner with gold lettering that Knick Knack read with impeccable gusto and showmanship.

“Ladies and ladies, allow me to present to you, Knick Knack’s Wonder Emporium!” he trumpeted with a dramatic sweep of his hoof. He shot Twilight another grin. “I’ve got it all! From every corner of Equestria, from every conceivable time period! I’ve got antiquities, modernities, in-between-ities! Literally everything!”

Knick Knack placed his hoof in front of Twilight’s lips, even though she was pretty sure she wasn’t going to say anything. “Now I know what you’re thinking! ‘Everything? Knick Knack, that sounds completely impossible!’ Well, of course it sounds impossible, but that’s because you’ve never experienced a selection like this before! Art? I’ve got it! The finest from artists both renowned and embarrassingly obscure! Spices? Are you kidding? I’ve been to Saddle Arabia, and I’ve seen and brought back spices you’ve never even heard of! I’m telling you, everything! I’ve got bingles, bangles, rim-a-dam-dangles! I don’t even know what that last one is, but I’m still selling it!”

The salespony rummaged through his wares and pitched them eagerly to Twilight as well as the growing crowd around them. Sweat glistened off his brow, and the collar of his vest had dampened, but the smile never left his face.

“So, dear Twilight, tell me, what could I possibly interest you in?”

The crowd now turned its attention to Twilight, who smiled sheepishly. “Uh... books?”

Knick Knack clapped his hooves together excitedly. “Books? Well, by golly, you’re in luck! I’ve got more books than you’ve ever seen in your entire life! I make libraries look like the magazine rack of a doctor’s office!”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Is that so?” Rarity and Fluttershy exchanged nervous glances.

“Ab-so-lutely!”

“That’s interesting, because I just so happen to run Ponyville’s library,” Twilight said carefully. A noticeable bead of sweat was added to Knick Knack’s already sweaty forehead.

“Well then, I’m sure I can easily find something here that you’ve never seen before!” Without further ado, he dove behind the counter of his shop. Grunting with effort, he hefted a large trunk from the inside of the stall before hastily placing it down. He popped open the lid and rifled through some of the dusty tomes.

“Let’s see... how about the entire Romano trilogy by Spiral Sparks?” Knick Knack shot off, lifting several books from the chest.

“Actually, it’s a tetralogy,” corrected Twilight, “and I already own all of them.”

“Right!” said Knick Knack, tossing them back inside. “You’re absolutely right! Rubbish for such a well-versed connoisseur such as yourself! So how about... Magical Encounters of the Eighth Kind?

“Own it.”

He tossed it aside as well. “Etymology of Modern Mosses?

“Own it.”

Castle Building for Amateurs and Hobbyists?

“Own two copies of it.”

The crowd’s heads swivelled back and forth between Twilight Sparkle and Knick Knack, as if observing a tennis match. Twilight shot down book after book, and the stack of discarded novels was growing with every exchange. The smile on Knick Knack’s face twisted further into a grimace at each rejection.

“How about Observing the Growth of Grasses?

“Own it and read it.”

“Uh... The Pony Sutra: 12th Edition?

Twilight felt heat rise to her cheeks. “Own it. Never read it,” she said meekly.

A noticeable twitch was starting to appear below Knick Knack’s left eye. A vein on his forehead throbbed, infuriatingly trapped between embarrassment and frustration. A number of ponies in the crowd were beginning to drift away from the crowd, some muttering in disappointment. The prospect of losing face and customers pushed Knick Knack to dive into his chest one more time. Books whizzed past Twilight’s head as he dug through his collection.

“I know...” he grunted under his breath, “that you probably... don’t have... this!” With a triumphant look on his face, Knick Knack yanked a book free, holding it in the air like a trophy. He waved it back and forth to what ponies were left. “This! This! Do you have this?”

Twilight accepted the book Knick Knack held out to her.

Not in... prize condition, she thought to herself. The tattered novel was bound in dusty leather, sloppily stitched together with some frayed thread. A small satchel was tied to its fore edge with a thicker piece of string that wrapped across front cover and spine. In hasty scrawling, Twilight could just barely make out the title.

Notes and Theories. By Wack Job.

“This isn’t a book,” Twilight said.

The look on Knick Knack’s face as his nearly-tangible victory evaporated under his nose was almost painful. “Excuse me?”

She held it up to him. “This looks more like some sort of diary. Not by anypony I’ve ever heard of, either.”

Knick Knack swallowed. “Yes... well, maybe. But it’s old, right? An antique! Who knows what secrets could lie inside! Am I right, or am I right?” he shouted unconvincingly to what little crowd was left. The majority of them had either wandered off to other stalls or headed to find shelter from the sun. He bit his lip.

“Tell you what. Have you never seen this book before in your life?”

“Well, considering it’s technically one-of-a-kind—”

“Then it’s unique!” he exclaimed. “Then how about this. I’ll give this to you at a ridiculous bargain! Five bits, no more, no less. I’ll even throw in that little baggy attached on the side!” He raised his eyebrows in anticipation. “Whaddya say?”

Twilight looked down at the diary. It was a sad little thing, yet there was something strangely unnerving about it, as if a current seemed to be pulling her towards it. She flipped it over in her hooves, wiping off a thin layer of dust on the back cover. A tingle went down her spine.

Even if it didn’t prove to be interesting to read, maybe she could at least spend some time restoring it for restoration’s sake. She’d been meaning to start learning bookbinding, after all.

“Well?” he asked.

“No need to insist, Knick Knack,” said Rarity, placing a hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “Twilight clearly isn’t interested with—”

“I’ll take it,” Twilight said plainly, placing five bits into Knick Knack’s hoof. It was like setting off a firework.

Sold!” he hollered, bouncing into the air. Half the market-goers stopped in their tracks to witness the spectacular launch of the impromptu pony rocket. When he landed back on all fours, he shook Twilight’s hoof eagerly while flashing passing ponies a photogenic grin. It felt like he was trying to tear off her leg. “See? What did I tell you folks? Have I got everything, or have I got everything? And at a spectacular price!”

A few of the ponies that had lingered behind nodded and murmured appreciatively.

“You saw it here first!” he continued, sweeping a hoof across his assorted wares. “Marvels to make the wealthiest pony swoon! Oddities to make the wisest scholar catch his breath! And even books that make the stingiest librarian scratch her head!”

Knick Knack pretended not to notice Twilight’s scowl. Ponies shouldered their way past her to get a glimpse at what wonders were for sale.

“Easy there buddy! You break it, you buy! Whoa-ho! A fine choice, ma’am!”

The three of them watched in awed silence. They barely noticed when Applejack pushed her way through the crowd, glancing back at Knick Knack and his consumer army, then back to her friends. She raised an eyebrow in amusement.

“I see y’all met Knick Knack.”

***

The quiet murmur of The Trottoria, a high-end restaurant in central Ponyville, was a welcome change to the market. Twilight leaned back into her chair and sighed contentedly. The calm and collected ambiance of the restaurant was exactly what she had needed. It was peaceful. Well, as peaceful as it can get with Pinkie Pie at the table.

“...and I got this kazoo here for only three bits!” Pinkie blew an off-key note through the plastic instrument before Rarity pulled it out of her mouth.

“Pinkie Pie...” she said, fixing Pinkie Pie a firm look.

The second it was gone, Pinkie Pie pulled her next trophy from who-knows-where, presenting it to Twilight. “Oh! And this mixer? Eight bits! Can you believe it?”

“Pinkie Pie!” A few heads turned as Rarity swiped the blender out of Pinkie’s hooves. She gave them an apologetic grin, and the patrons returned to their meals.

“That’s very nice, Pinkie.” Twilight took a sip of her water and daintily placed it back down. “But Rarity has a point. This is a nice place. Try to be a little more conscious of your manners, okay?”

“But I’m bored!” Pinkie Pie leaned back in her chair, hanging her head off the back. “We’ve been here forever!”

“It’s only been three minutes,” Applejack said, glancing up at a clock. Pinkie’s expression soured.

“Ugh. It’s so slow! And Rainbow Dash keeps eating all the breadsticks!”

“Wha’!?” Rainbow Dash spit out through a mouth full of crumbs. “Am no’!”

Twilight and Applejack couldn’t help but giggle as Rainbow struggled to swallow the rest of her ill-gotten appetizers. Rarity flared her nostrils in frustration.

“Honestly, girls, you could be a little more courteous! Fluttershy was kind enough to treat us all to a nice dinner, and the least you could do is show a little respect for the establishment.”

“Aw, don’t get yer tail in a bunch, Rarity.” Applejack waved a hoof. “It’s all in good fun. Besides, they’re all still hopped up from the fair. Besides, we’re here to enjoy ourselves! Ain’t that right, Fluttershy?”

“Oh, yes, of course.” Fluttershy smiled sweetly. “It’s the least I could do for helping me set up my birdhouse so I could tuck in those two purple-crest sparrows.”

For some reason the word struck a cord with Twilight. She stared into her glass, swishing the water back and forth.

Tuck in. I never told Spike I’d be out so long. I hope he’s put himself to bed.

Her friends continued to talk around her, but she only pretended to listen, lost in her thoughts. The day had been long and tiring, and the more she thought about Spike, the more her stomach twisted. A knot tightened in her gut, choking her appetite.

“Woohoo!” Pinkie Pie pumped a hoof in excitement. “Food’s here!”

The waiters wasted no time slipping their plates in front of them. The smell of cheese, warm bread, and crisp lettuce wafted into their nostrils. Twilight only smiled vacantly as the food was placed in front of her.

I hope Spike managed to get something to eat. Oh, what am I worrying for. He’s a big dragon now, he can handle himself. But he better not have stuffed himself with gemstones, or I swear—

“Yo! Twilight!” She flinched as Rainbow Dash waved a hoof in front of her face. “Rainbow to Twilight! Come in, Twilight! You okay?”

Twilight brushed a lock of her mane out of her eyes, blushing. “Yeah, sorry. I guess I zoned out.”

“Yeah, again.” Applejack laughed as she wrapped a napkin around her neck. “Got something on yer mind, Twi?”

“Oh, nothing. Just thinking about, uh…” She looked down at her plate. “Peas."

“Peas?”

“Peas.”

Applejack shrugged. “Well, suit yerself. As for me, I ain’t used to this fancy stuff of, uh... Whatcha call it again, Rarity?”

“Mmmm.” Rarity smiled and wiped her mouth after taking her first bite of turnip bisque. “Eggplant and bell pepper gumbo. Oh, just try it, Applejack. This restaurant is positively divine!

“‘Oo can fay dat again!” said Rainbow Dash, her mouth full once again. Twilight was surprised that Rarity’s glare didn’t set Rainbow on fire.

The table echoed Rainbow Dash in appreciative “mmm’s” and “yum’s” of pleasure. Twilight stared down at her plate, rolling her peas through the pasta.

“So Twilight,” Applejack asked. “How did you like your first ever Spring Market?”

“Oh...” Twilight forced a smile, but it looked more like a grimace. “It sure was something!”

“Come on, it wasn’t that bad.” Rainbow sprayed rice across the table as she spoke. Twilight quickly glanced at Rarity to make sure she wasn’t about to pop a blood vessel. She hadn’t, but the twitch in her left eye was a sure sign that she was close. “After all, you did get a cool new book, right?”

“I guess.” Twilight took a bite of her dinner, and felt her ill mood and fatigue ease a little. Her stomach grumbled in appreciation.

“What’s the matter, Twilight?” Fluttershy’s brow creased in concern. “Do you not like the food? It’s the food isn’t it? Oh, I knew we should’ve gone to the Clover Diner!”

“The food is fine, Fluttershy.” Applejack gave her friend a kindly pat on the shoulder.

“Fine? Are you kidding me?” Pinkie Pie, who up until now had been focusing her attention on wolfing down the food in front of her, pulled her head out of her plate. A spray of vinaigrette and half-chewed salad went across the table. “It’s delicious! But way too small. What’s a mare gotta do to get seconds around here?”

Covering her mouth, Rarity suppressed a gag and pushed her plate towards Pinkie. “Have mine, darling. I think I’ve lost my appetite.”

Twilight finished the last of her peas, moving on to the pasta. She sniffed the tomato sauce appreciatively before taking a bite. “The food is great.”

Truth be told, she wasn’t entirely sure what was wrong with her. Maybe it was the guilt of leaving Spike at home all by himself without so much as a note on the fridge. But she was certain it had to be more than that. There was a strange numbness in the back of her skull, a tingle that she couldn’t quite place. She hadn’t been able to shake it since the market.

“If you say so.” Applejack shrugged. She took another bite of her meal and licked her lips. “You know, this here gumbo stuff is pretty good. Never had it before!”

“Well, you should get out a little more, Applejack,” Rarity said. “You’d be surprised! There are more than just apples to eat.”

Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie giggled before Applejack silenced them with a sharp look. “Very funny. Ya know, I’m open to new things. If anything, it’s Big Mac. He avoids all things un-apple like a timberwolf avoids termites!” She turned to face Twilight. “Speaking of brothers, how’s Shining? We ain’t been hearin’ much outta him ever since that mess up in the Crystal Empire.”

“No, nothing.” Twilight wiped her mouth and put her fork down before scratching at the back of her head. The uneasiness dissipated a little. “It’s a little strange. Normally he writes every month or so, but I haven’t heard from him in ages.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’s fine,” said Rarity, sipping from her glass. “After all, he’s not only the captain of the guard in Canterlot, but for the Crystal Empire, too. That kind of responsibility must be a huge burden. I’m sure he’s just busy.”

“Sure, busy. Funny, I should be used to it. He’s been busy for ten years!” She scowled at her plate, stabbing at the pasta. Rarity and Rainbow Dash exchanged uncomfortable glances, and Twilight sighed, putting down her fork. “I’m sorry, Rarity. It’s just… I worry about him sometimes. He’s always been the one looking out for me, but this past year it’s starting to feel so much like the opposite, you know?”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and gave her friend a soft punch on the shoulder. “Hey, come on, Twi. Cheer up! Your brother’s tough as nails. And if anything’s wrong, well, we just do what we always do. Just grab the Elements and go kick some flank! Am I right?”

It was impossible for her not to smile. “Yeah. I guess so. Thanks, Rainbow Dash.”

She leaned back in her chair and flashed a confident smile. Rainbow Dash motioned to their friends. “Hey, that’s what we’re here for! You’ve got nothing to worry about, Twi. We guarantee it.”

***

She’d come back home far later than she’d intended. Twilight sighed and unlocked the library door, pausing at the threshold to rub at an ache in her neck. The day had passed too quickly. Dusk was falling over Ponyville, the sun now only a pale orange reminder on the horizon. First the market, then dinner, then maybe a little too much time spent chatting away with her friends.

Then again, I suppose that’s what friends are for, she thought, smiling.

Twilight let her horn flare with a glimmer of magic, and the dark walls of the library lit up with a dim purple glow. Locking the door behind her, she carefully crept up the stairs to the loft. The steps creaked familiarly, the leaves of the library whispering in the warm spring breeze whistling through the night. Her glow outlined Spike’s form, already tucked into bed and sleeping soundly. Twilight smiled and watched him sleep.

She reached over and adjusted the covers around him. “Sleep tight, Spike,” she whispered, into his ear. He mumbled and turned over in his bed, snoring loudly.

Leaving him to his dreams, Twilight eased her way back down to the library and into the kitchen. Spike was fast asleep, but for some reason, she felt wide awake. A nagging sensation at the back of her neck wouldn’t leave her. Something crinkled beneath her hoof. Looking down, she found a half-rolled piece of parchment.

Right. The letter from the Equestria Bibliotheca Association. Rarity had gotten what she’d wanted: Twilight had forgotten all about it until now. She groaned under her breath and took it with her, grabbing a quill and scroll and taking it into the kitchen. Tossing her saddlebag onto the table, she poured herself a glass of juice, switched on the light, and spread the documents across the table. Might as well get this over and done with, she figured. Dipping her quill into the inkwell, she began writing.

Well, at least she tried to.

Having been away from the paper for so long had made her completely lose her train of thought. Eyes flicking between the letter and her own blank parchment, she grumbled in frustration.

To the Equestrian Bibliotheca Association,” she thought out loud, tapping the quill against the parchment. The thought was there, but the words wouldn’t come. Pressing a little too hard against the parchment, flecks of ink sprayed across it as the tip snapped. She looked down at the mess and scowled.

Her eyes wandered to her saddlebag. Perhaps a little reading, then? She shrugged and pulled out the book she had bought. The strange, uneasy feeling that had haunted her throughout dinner came back even stronger as she held the book.

Wack Job, she thought to herself, rereading the author’s name. Now if that doesn’t sound reputable...

She tugged at the small satchel that was attached to the twine wrapping the book, and it snapped off. The string obviously hadn’t aged well. For that matter, the binding hadn’t fared much better. Despite her careful motions, pages fell from the book as soon as the twine fell off. She looked over one of the fallen leaves of paper disapprovingly, eying the dark yellow stains of water damage. How could anypony be so inconsiderate with a book?

Twilight shook her head and stacked the missing pages neatly beside the book. She’d worry about those later. Without further ado, she cracked open the book, and her expression soured.

The pages didn’t hold the slightest hint of carefully scripted longhoof by a trained scribe, or even the neat spacing of typeset. Everything was jotted down in hasty, slanted letters that were barely legible even to her trained eye. And it wasn’t just hasty writing: most of the words had faded irreversibly from the page, a combination of water damage and cheap ink and paper. From what she could read, though, she wasn’t impressed.

She flipped through the pages and found nothing more than rudimentary magical observations. Not exactly elementary work or research, but nothing of particular note. She sighed and massaged her forehead. Her headache worsened upon realizing that this book wasn’t even close to being worth the five bits she paid.

Experiments in turning a pumpkin into a partridge, inconclusive. Pumpkin turned into a swallow. Further research needed.

Twilight couldn’t help but roll her eyes as she flipped the page. Avian-gourd transmography? Too easy. The next few pages were even more disappointing, with nothing standing out. When Twilight turned past a brief smattering of notes from what looked like a university lecture, she found a blank page. The page after was just the same. She frowned, fluttering through the pages until she reached the end of the diary. Here, she found something different.

The sloppy jotted notes had somehow transformed into well-written paragraphs. She looked the writing over closely. It was definitely the same penmanship. Her eyes strained to read what was still legible.

“I’m not entirely sure why this book was [...] library. The things I’ve found within these pages is nothing short of stunning. Why does nopony [...] this cypher [...] before in my entire life, but these theories are astounding. These proposals [...] of mass, energy, and magic, are disturbing in their implications but... possible? If I’m correct, this could [...] every sense of the word. This could be the [...] physics and our entire conception of reality. If I’m correct [...] overthrow everything we [...] Matter and energy could theoretically be... destroyed and created?”

Twilight rubbed her eyes. She was probably getting tired. There was no way she just read that. She brought the book nearer to the light, peering closely at the last few readable lines she could make out.

The creation and destruction of matter? That was impossible. Laughably impossible. Magic was capable of many incredible things: defying laws of biology, chemistry, and sometimes even physics. But a single constant remained: conservation of mass. It was pre-school knowledge. Matter and energy can’t be destroyed or created. They’re constants. To suggest otherwise was insane, and so far this Wack Job’s credibility hadn’t been stellar to begin with.

She turned to the last few pages.

Twilight Sparkle had been educated by Canterlot’s finest. She’d spent countless years under the most brilliant professors and instructors, including Princess Celestia herself, to refine her knowledge of the magical arts. She’d memorized some of the most intense theories and complicated notions that had been derived from thousands of years of research and experimentation. From the pre-classical era founding principles to modern studies of black, natural, and hypothetical magics, she’d seen everything, and it was her crowning symbol of pride and achievement.

And yet the equation she found on the final pages of Wack Job’s notebook was the most complicated she had ever seen in her life.

Somewhere inside her there was a twinge of jealousy. How in Equestria could such a mediocre magician have come up with a formula this complex?

She peeled through the pages feverishly, and before long she had fetched her own personal notebook to copy down what had been written in her own style. Piece by piece, it started coming together. And as it did, it made less and less sense.

None of the principles she had learned in her life were applied in any way, from the displacement of magical energy to its effect on matter. Several times she stopped, scratching her head in frustration. It was as if the entire formula had been written in a different logic, based on a school of thought not even remotely close to what she had learned. Calculations and manipulations that were supposed to be unfeasible were treated as rudimentary, and it all led down to a single, impossible symbol.

Zero. An equation where mass was inserted, but not removed, ended in zero. Within the sane mind of any reasonable scientist, it would be an error. But what worried Twilight more than anything was that it seemed feasible. This seemingly impossible formula that followed a logic completely unknown to her until now appeared entirely realizable. So why hadn’t it been?

The answer was more basic than expected. To be able to access the quantities of magic needed for the reaction to work would be impossible to accomplish. Twilight ran through the equation, estimating the amount of magical force needed to execute such a spell. Even at a rough guess, it was far beyond anything even Celestia herself could hope to summon, let alone herself. And that was for something of even the most simple mass.

A few notes were jotted down at the bottom of the page. They echoed the thought.

I remember Fiber Knot telling me about a peculiar type of gemstone particularly sensitive to the effects of magic. Perhaps their structure could lead to cutting down the massive magic needed for the spell. I’ll need to try to find a sample.

“A sample?” Twilight whispered under her breath. A gear clicked into place in her mind. She lowered the textbook and took the small satchel that had been tied to the journal in her telekinetic grip. Pulling it open, she upended the bag and poured a stream of small, bead-sized gems. She brought one to her eye. The sky-blue gemstone glittered in the light of the kitchen lamp. Twilight carefully placed it beside the journal. A single phrase was circled beneath the footnote: “fractal collapse.”

For a while, Twilight looked between the spell on the page and the gemstone. Her mind buzzed. Either this was about as crazy as whoever wrote this, or she was about to redefine the scientific world as she knew it in the comfort of her kitchen. In the middle of the night. She couldn’t help but giggle at the idea.

She hadn’t felt challenged like this in ages, not since the crisis in the Crystal Empire. And if she was to be the Princess’ personal student, she had to be on top of her game, after all. Concentrating on the air around her, she summoned the strongest tier of containment circle she could muster. Better safe than sorry with a new spell, after all, especially with one so potentially dangerous. Satisfied with the integrity of her ward, she turned her attention to the rewritten spell.

Despite the sloppiness of the original writing, the spell was detailed and practically written. She cracked her neck, clenched her jaw, and focused her mind on the writing before her. Bit by bit, she felt the air around her begin to change.

Unicorns, for reasons unknown to biology, possess an innate sensitivity to the magical fields that pervade Equestria and the known world. While some regions were more or less saturated in these fields, be it through magnetic deposits or whatever theory a pony chose to live by, feeling the intricate weavings and fluctuations in these fields was almost like a sixth sense. It was like closing her eyes and feeling her way around a dark room with her hooves.

Ripples and waves of magic were pulled from the air around her, feeding through her own influence, manipulated by her horn and willpower. They interwove in patterns, meshing and twisting and condensing themselves down to a single point: the gemstone.

It hummed steadily, growing in pitch as a particular vibration filled the room. Magic bounced back and forth within the crystal, resonating within its structure and collapsing it in on itself. Piece by piece, and with monumental strain, the atoms shifted.

A sweat broke out on Twilight’s brow. It wasn’t enough.

She ground her teeth, fighting with all her talent to keep the field in place as her brain struggled to tug every last piece of magic from the air around her. It simply wasn’t there. No matter how talented she was, no matter which books she read, she couldn’t possibly account for the magic available to her in a given location. But she was too close now. She refused to let some spell written by an elementary wizard get the best of her. She bit her lip and closed her eyes, focusing with every ounce of her being on the air around her.

For the briefest moment, her thoughts locked onto the crystal. Something changed.

It was like ripping away a loose screw that had stalled a great machine. With a sudden burst of light and a sound like a distant scream, the world turned upside down on itself. Twilight opened her mouth to scream, and the breath was ripped from her lungs. She clenched her eyes shut, turning her head away from the searing light pouring from the gem. Her mind reached out, desperately trying to shut the experiment down. The stream of magic had warped into a violent, unnatural rapid, tearing through the air and pouring itself into the gem. She felt her containment circle weakening under the force of the flux.

“Spike!” she cried out.

She wasn’t quite sure if he heard her or not. With a violent crackle, she was gone.

***

Twilight Sparkle tasted dust.

As the world slowly emerged around her from an inky void, she coughed dryly. Her muscles felt like putty. She rolled onto her side, groaning as pain rippled through her aching legs. Somehow, she managed to pull herself up.

Nausea roiled in her gut, and for a moment she thought she might vomit. It passed, leaving her gasping for air and her head spinning. The blackened rock beneath her seemed to tilt, threatening to throw her back to the ground.

Twilight blinked in confusion, the heavy numbness in her mind slipping away. Rock? She raised her head. Her eyes went wide.

Her kitchen was gone. The familiar curtains and countertops had evaporated; any sense of home or Ponyville had been erased. She sat on a small plateau jutting forth from the side of a mountain. With a soft hissing sound, sand and dust skittered along between the cracks in the rock. Twilight’s eyes went wide as she crept towards the edge and a cloud of dust vanished, revealing the world around her.

Sprawling towards infinity, like a torn and shredded husk, lay miles upon miles of jagged, craggy rock. Obelisks of obsidian and zircon rose like daggers from the battered landscape, titans among the ravines and crevices. Like the throat of the world, they scratched the skies, blocking the rays of dim light that glowed through voluminous clouds of dust and ash. The land was bathed in a haunting orange glow, setting the twisting sands melting beneath the pillars of stone alight with hellish energy. It was like looking upon the face of Tartarus itself, the boiling gullet and treacherous maw of some horrible creature. A hot, scorching wind howled between the teeth: the beast’s breath.

Twilight Sparkle shook her head as her gaze climbed towards the horizon. It went on forever. Endless leagues of gnarled rock vanished into the fog and ash, flickering on the horizon like leviathan ghosts, myths and gods.

There was nowhere in the world this could exist. It was impossible. Completely impossible. She’d memorized the entire known geography of the world, after all. No desert of the sort, with its black glass fangs and shimmering sands, had ever been recorded or hinted at in history.

Where am I? she thought, the question screaming in her mind as she staggered back onto her haunches. Her mind rushed to make sense of it.

The kitchen... the gemstone... all that light...

Fragments and half-thoughts chased themselves around in her brain. Had it worked? Had the spell misfired? Where in the world... where in the universe was she? When the crystal collapsed on itself, had it opened a portal? No, that was impossible, she thought, shaking her head. A portal must be stable to be safe to pass. With that much energy being released as it opened, she would have been torn to shreds had she passed through. Not to mention portals don’t pull ponies in the way the one in the kitchen had. Something had brought her here.

Somewhere on the horizon, the earth split with a deafening roar.

A shock wave, rippling through the canyons and crevices, rammed into Twilight. Tossed back, she struck the rock behind her and collapsed. Pebbles and stones, shaken loose from the mountain above, tumbled around her. Twilight screamed as a shard of jagged rock fell and smashed through the plateau, tearing a piece free and sending it spiraling into the abyss. She gripped onto the face of the mountain and squeezed her eyes shut. Somehow she managed to focus just enough magic to materialize a shield around her body. She cringed as her barrier was pelted with debris.

The earthquake tore apart the landscape, sending the spires of obsidian careening into the sands below where they were swallowed whole by the swirling dunes. The splitting of stone and cracking of earth shook the world with terrible violence. Twilight felt her teeth chattering in her skull.

Everything went dark. Through the chaos, Twilight opened one eye, keeping her focus on her magical barrier. A massive, deep shadow spread across the landscape. Spewing forth from the earth came a monolith. She watched in awe as it rose itself from the depths. It was miles upon miles away, obscured by the dust storms and shrouded in haze. And yet as it ascended towards the heavens, it blotted out the sun and sky, deepening the darkness of the world.

It was like nothing she had ever seen in her life.

It ended as abruptly is it had begun. A few more loose stones bounced near her hooves as the earthquake ceased. Twilight let her shield fall, her legs like jelly as she stood, dumbfounded by the structure in the distance. To be so large from so far away, it had to be dozens of miles across, even more in height. Nothing could be so... so...

Words failed her. Panic and terror creeped into her skull. As the shadow had spread, with it had come a crackle of energy, heavy and horrible. It saturated the air with a primal, crushing force. It was magic, a magic of a brute and raw force unlike anything she had ever experienced. It poured itself into her brain, freezing her like an ant watching as a hoof descended upon it. Helpless. Insignificant.

There was a blinding flash. A scream built in her throat, but it refused to come. Its eyes opened.

It beheld her.

The scream loosed itself and her mind exploded. Every muscle went numb, every limb froze and trembled, every synapse burning and frying under the strain. Screaming, saliva flew from her lips as her body spasmed, and It poured Its mind into hers. It was like being burned from the inside of her own skull.

The breath of plages. Impossible geometries, screams of children. The dust of aeons. The rise and fall of empires, the blood of kings and emperors, the sudden screaming and then the silence.

She couldn’t look away. She couldn’t move. Its eyes burned into hers and something wet ran down the side of her face. She heard a scream and she wasn’t quite sure it was hers.

Destiny. Obliteration. Fire, flood. War and apocalypse. Distant planets in collision, the crippling explosion as a sun breathes its last. The collapse of a world. The extinction of a life. Names and faces and cities glimmering in the sands of time and the forever and the absolute the infinite and the impossible.

Energy coursed through Twilight’s body, and she arched her back in agony as she felt her mind come undone. Every atom was taken apart and put back together, every strand of hair and muscle cut and rebound, every cell disassembled and rearranged. Somewhere in the pain, she felt her eardrums burst and her eyes burn from their sockets. A boiling, burning throb pounded inside of her skull.

the cycle as it comes to end and the toppling of a god as its blood pours down from the heavens the false prophets and the shepherds as one and words that don’t make sense mommy i skinned my knee and i think my mind is melting what’s on my face i can’t breathe

Its eyes burned through her, and somewhere in the blinding pain and white-hot agony, a voice spoke.

“Twilight Sparkle.”

It released her.

She fell. All was numbness and spinning, endless shadow. She couldn’t think, she couldn’t feel. Locked in a womb of her own paralysis, she tumbled through space, lost to the world around her. Whatever sensation of sense or consciousness she could retain vanished in a downward spiral into oblivion. For a brief, searing moment, there was light. And then there was nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

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