• Published 14th Oct 2013
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Alpha Centauri - StLeibowitz



Twilight is kidnapped by a sun and told she used to be one too. Rainbow Dash is fighting phantoms of past lives as she tries to rescue her. Powerful alien beings intend to exploit the chaos to further their own ends...

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Chapter 2: One Step Forwards, Four Steps Back

Discord, unsurprisingly, had been the first to get bored. Really, the time it took was the only thing that caught Twilight off guard; it was almost three hours before he stretched, yawned, rolled up the banana like a scroll with himself still in it, and declared to all who could hear, “Well, this is boring.”

“I don’t understand. She should have been here by now!” Twilight mumbled, her eyes searching the sky for any sign of Rainbow Dash. “How can she be this late?”

The banana dropped from its low hover and began to roll slowly downhill. “I’d love to stay – really, I would – but I’d really rather be asleep right now. I have a long shopping list to accomplish for Tia tomorrow – resolving international incidents, exploring dangerous ruins, eggs, bacon – the usual – so I feel it would be best if I – “

Everypony jumped as the banana suddenly detonated with the colorful fury of a Royal Arsenal’s equivalent in pyrotechnics. Shreds of banana peel and globs of pulped fruit spattered everything in sight, followed by a wave of concussive force that blew their manes back and yet somehow left the decorations unharmed. In a few moments, the fruit dissolved away, but it was still enough to nearly send Rarity over the edge.

“Never. Again,” she hissed, staring straight ahead, almost shaking with fury. One did not simply cover her entire night's labors with fruit mush and expect no reaction.

Fluttershy, hovering uncertainly near the platter of sandwiches, cleared her throat. “Um…I think I’d better go back home. To make sure he doesn’t frighten any of the animals – um, if that’s alright with you?” She looked to Twilight. The unicorn nodded.

“Fine. Have a nice night, Fluttershy!” she called after her; she’d never seen the timid pegasus fly anywhere nearly half as fast as she did just then. The breeze from her departure caused the lights to stir, and provided the only noticeable natural wind since the sun had set.

Another hour later, Applejack had to go. “Ah can’t just leave Big Mac alone with those fillies all night!” she explained. “They’ll tear him to pieces!”

“Oh, make sure Sweetie Belle’s alright, please,” Rarity asked. “Hopefully, she hasn’t talked them into doing anything too dangerous.”

“They were just gonna help the rest of mah family paint one of the smaller barns,” AJ chuckled. “How bad could it get?”

“Well…” Rarity shook her head. “No. I’m certain you deserve whatever surprise lies in store for you for invoking that.”

Applejack frowned. “Consarnit, ah did it again, didn’t ah?”

“Unfortunately.”

“Good night, Applejack,” Twilight said. AJ tipped her hat and galloped down towards the path to Ponyville.

“Night, Twi! Give Dash mah regards if she shows up!”

“She will!”

She still hadn’t arrived by the time Rarity had to head home. Twilight barely even paid attention to the pleasantries of farewell, preferring to continue scanning the horizon for Rainbow Dash’s arrival. She could tell by the position of the moon that it was well past midnight; if she hadn’t missed her guess, she could say with some confidence that it was nearly 1 AM when Pinkie, too, had to head home.

“What?” she exclaimed, giving Pinkie a look that would have been more appropriate for the baker revealing that she was actually King Sombra in disguise. “What do you mean, you have to go home? You’re the party pony! This is a party!”

“Even I have to get some sleep sometimes, Twilight,” she answered tiredly, smiling. “I have a job to go to, after all! I can’t just stay up all night forever. I’m already out here past my bedtime! The Cakes will get nervous!”

“Ugh. Fine,” Twilight groaned. “I guess we’ll just be stargazing by ourselves, then. Good night, Pinkie.”

“Night, Twilight!” She began bouncing away, but paused and said over her shoulder, “Maybe Dashie took a nap? You know how much she likes sleeping!”

“She’s awake. She’ll come,” she insisted. “I know she will.”

“Oooh, are you getting some kind of Twilight Sense?”

“No. It’s based on scientific intuition and a basic knowledge of Rainbow’s – “ Pinkie yawned. Twilight smiled gently. “Good night, Pinkie.”

“Night, Twilight!” And then, she was alone on the hill.

The minutes stretched on into another hour as Twilight lay on her back and watched the sky, both for her friend and her own amusement. Sleep pulled at her eyelids, but a quick caffeination spell banished any thought of rest from her mind. Instead, just to keep her mind occupied, she started identifying stars, working outwards from Alpha Centauri – an exercise she’d developed as a filly to stay awake while waiting for meteor showers. Partway through, while debating whether to count Sol/Celestia or not, she was distracted by the most peculiar shooting star she’d ever seen – its flight path was erratic and angular, veering suddenly from northwest to southwest for a few minutes before doubling back on itself. Intrigued, she sat up, already hypothesizing about what it could be. A pegasus with a flare? Ball lightning? Some as-yet-unknown transient magical phenomenon?

The meteoroid finally seemed to settle on a course, streaking southwest at breakneck speed. At its current rate, she estimated it would pass over Ponyville in under five minutes; she rolled to her hooves quickly and galloped over to the telescope, adjusting it to point along the path she quickly predicted the meteor would take. When she glanced up to check her orientation, she groaned as she saw that it had diverted from its course again – it looked like it would pass over her hill now, in a slightly longer time period.

She squinted as she spotted something else in the sky – a shadow, moving rapidly towards her and occluding the starry background. It was small, possibly avian; a pegasus, maybe?

“Twilight!” she heard somepony call out; when the call repeated a second later, she identified the voice as Rainbow Dash and grinned. She’d been right! Rainbow Dash hadn’t forgotten! She’d come a bit late, but…

Wait a second, she thought, as the shadow grew rapidly in size. At that speed, there’s no way she’ll be able to brake in time, unless… Her eyes widened and her smile slowly faded. She’s going to crash!

Rainbow Dash was a cyan streak when she entered the dim light of the hilltop. She plowed into the snack table with all the force of a runaway train, carving a shallow crater into the soil and splintering one of Applejack’s cider barrels. The force of her impact dislodged the support pole closest to Twilight, and she was forced to leap out of the way as it toppled over and slid into the telescope. Forgetting she could use magic for an instant, she dove to catch the expensive instrument before it hit the ground, but the sound of shattering glass told her that she was too late.

Rainbow Dash rose from her crater and shook herself to get the worst of the dirt and wood off. “Sorry about the table, Twilight, but I just saw something awesome up in the sky!” she apologized. She glanced around at the rest of the still-standing poles, the now-dead lights strung between them, and the ruins of the table she had just demolished – Rarity’s platter had survived, and landed on a pair of cider kegs, the triangular sandwiches still stacked neatly. “Heh…this is a lot of food for just yourself. Can I have a few?”

She must have nodded, despite not taking her eyes off the extremely expensive broken telescope. Dash popped a sandwich into her mouth and continued speaking around it. “Anyways, I saw this really awesome shooting star off towards Canterlot – it’s still there, too, I think! I flew over to the library as fast as I could to warn you, but Spike told me you were out here tonight. Last I saw, it was heading this way…” Her voice trailed off. Abruptly, she let out a triumphant cheer and leapt into the air again, looping upside down once. “Aw yeah, I just outflew a shooting star! Fastest flier in Equestria, right here!”

Twilight slowly rose back to her feet, her face expressionless. Dash landed again and looked around once more. “This is a lot of fancy decorations just for stargazing. What, were you going to throw a party…or…something...” She chuckled nervously. “Uh…yeah…buck.”

“Yeah,” Twilight agreed calmly, despite the hot anger that was simmering inside. “Buck.”

“Yeah…I think I saw a note from Fluttershy on the floor earlier, but it’s my birthday and I didn’t want to go help rescue some kind of spider family like she had me do last time” – she shuddered – “I hate spiders. And, uh…I think Pinkie left some envelopes in my windows, but it was kinda windy earlier today, and, uh…she may have sung a song, but I closed the door and wasn’t really paying attention.”

“Why?” Keep calm, Twilight, she told herself. Maybe there’s a really, really good reason for this. Yes! She wouldn’t just ignore everypony and ruin your hard work because of something stupid!

“Uh…well…” She rubbed at the back of her neck awkwardly. “I kinda wanted to stargaze tonight instead. Heh. Guess I could’ve just come out here with you.”

Now you can explode, her brain helpfully informed her.

“Let me clarify,” Twilight began. “You ignored Pinkie – the party pony of Ponyville – when she was giving you a singing telegram – which she mainly uses for invitations – on your birthday, because you wanted to stargaze, which you would have done anyways if you had listened to her and come to the party? And because of that, I waited out here for hours, when I could have been writing the friendship report I was putting off to plan for your party, until you flew out here and crash-landed and destroyed my telescope in the process?

“Sorry?”

She couldn’t keep it down any longer. A full week of planning, three days trying to figure out how to bake a cake without it combusting on exposure to oxygen before asking Pinkie for help, sixty bits spent on books, hours of waiting, procrastinating on a report for the Princess, and the destruction of her prized telescope – all for nothing, because her friend was too thick to get a hint?

With a pulse of wild magic, Twilight’s coat bleached to bone white; her mane and tail ignited into yellow-orange infernos, and her eyes flashed blood red. Nervous, Dash took a step back. “Uh…I said I’m sorry?”

Twilight let out a giggle that sounded ever-so-slightly unhinged. “You will be.”

------

“Nothing!” Beta muttered, her hooves barely touching the puffy cumulus cloud before she was airborne again, her detector spell barely picking up a three percent match in the sleepy town below her. The sky blurred as she raced off in another direction, eventually punching halfway through another cloud over the large forest near the village. Another pulse; another report. “Nothing!”

With an irritated growl, she sawed the cloud in half to give herself a flat surface to pace on. Nothing, nothing, nothing! Not a sign of her in any village between Canterlot and the Everfree Forest. Not a hint of her north of the city. Not a trace to the east or the west. After two thousand years, Beta would’ve liked to believe she could handle disappointment, but to have come so close

“She’s hiding her,” she decided, shooting a dirty look back towards the distant capital. She could see the towers of the Palace from her vantage point, like some kind of spidery mushroom growing out of the side of the Canterhorn. “She has to be! Eighty percent, for Caelum’s sake! She knows, she has to know, nobody could be so blind as to come into contact with someone’s soul and remain ignorant of their true nature – “

She paused, reversed course in her pacing. “ – unless she’s being willfully ignorant! She must know something, but she’s deliberately misinterpreting it, or ignoring it completely. Why? Is she trying to protect her? From who, me? Proxi?” She dropped to her haunches, irritated. It didn’t make sense! She had to be somewhere nearby!

“Maybe I’m deluding myself,” she admitted, trying to ignore the pain even that hypothetical caused. “Maybe she’s not on Equestria. Maybe she’s back on Domhan and I’ve missed her, or maybe she’s on Wolfie’s little planet – Wulfgard or whatever. Maybe in all this time I’ve been searching on Equus, she’s been a Wulfgard wolf.” She chuckled. “Maybe while I’m sitting here worrying, she’s eating a moose with her pack.”

She stood. “This will be my last” – her voice cracked slightly – “maybe I’ll alternate between Wulfgard and Equus, searching for her.”

Nerves calmed slightly by the new plan of action, she spread her wings and prepared to take off again – and something about the magical landscape of the sleepy town shifted. Startled, she instinctively surrounded herself with the most powerful ward she could summon, casting her mind out on spell-threads in search of the monster that had evidently arrived. Something had just happened – a shockwave of magic both terrifying and intimately familiar.

She let the ward drop and straightened her posture. “That almost felt like…” Her eyes widened. “Alpha!”

She cast her detector spell again, not even daring to breathe for fear it would somehow affect the results. She knew that feeling – that was the feeling of Alpha’s combat magic; that was the feeling that had hit her every time the Nightmare had driven her into battle with her sister. Somebody, somewhere close, had just angered Alpha immensely, if she was resorting to that.

The spell returned, and Beta felt her heart soar. It was perfect – absolutely perfect. One hundred percent match. Negligible uncertainty. Alpha.

The spell told her where to go. With hardly a thought for her own self-preservation, Beta hurled herself off the cloud and flew towards the magical signature.

------

“T-take it easy, Twilight!” Rainbow Dash stammered, retreating a few steps as Twilight advanced towards her, still grinning manically. “It’s just a party!”

“Just a party?” she giggled. “Just a party? Yep! Just a party that I spent a week preparing for that you missed because you were too thick to listen to Pinkie!”

“Hey! I’m not thick!” Dash protested. She frowned. “Wait, what do you mean by that? Like, fat thick, or – “

“Irrelevant!” Twilight snapped. Her mind was coursing with magic, deeper than it had ever been before; a unicorn’s control of magic required them to reach out without mental defenses towards the seething background fabric of energy of the world, and that usually resulted in temporary thaumaturgical contamination, but this was different. She felt like she’d tapped into something much deeper than what she normally did, something she’d only barely brushed against once before – and something faint and distant was there, helping her along. The rush was overwhelming and exhilarating and dangerous, and it took all her willpower to merely see red. “You ruined it! I spent a whole week on planning this party out, procrastinated on a Friendship Report for it, and now it’s ruined. Ruined! Just because you were too selfish to read Fluttershy’s letter and listen to Pinkie for five minutes!”

“I said I’m sorry! Can’t we just have the party another night?”

“No,” she growled. “I specifically chose tonight because there was supposed to be a meteor shower – though it looks like that didn’t show up, either!”

“There was that weird meteor earlier, wasn’t there?” Dash pointed out. She tried to maneuver to get the wreckage of the snack table and cider barrels between herself and Twilight, but the fire-maned unicorn dodged fluidly around the broken furniture, her mane darkening the wood where it touched. “It’s behind you now! We can still get some stargazing in, Twilight!”

“It’s bucking 3 AM Rainbow Dash!” she spat. “The sun will be up in three hours! There’s not enough time!”

“That meteor’s getting closer…” Rainbow Dash was no longer looking at Twilight, but at something behind her. Curiosity overcoming magic-fuelled anger, Twilight glanced behind her and realized there was a massive fireball racing towards her hilltop and approaching rapidly.

“Get out of the way!” Dash screamed, crossing the space between them in a flash and knocking both of them clean off the hill in the split second before the meteor hit. Twilight’s fury vanished like a candle in the face of a hurricane wind as the shockwave and thunderous roar of the impact hit them, sending them tumbling even further.

She came to a rest on her back, stunned, with the constellation of Pisces above swimming like it was a genuine fish. She could feel Rainbow Dash’s wing draped over her protectively, though a quick check told her that the pegasus was almost certainly unconscious. With a groan, she rolled over and got back on her hooves, shaking her head in an attempt to stop seeing double. The hilltop was surprisingly intact, aside from the blackened and scorched grass that covered it; the meteor had left only a small furrow in the dirt. Realizing that this was probably going to be her only chance to take a sample of something from beyond the sky ever, she galloped towards the hill again as soon as she was able, ignoring the painful protesting of her legs and rib cage, excitement stirred by visions of herself presenting her findings on such a miraculous object before the Royal Canterlot Academy of Sciences to thunderous applause, of awards and recognition and collaborations with famous scientists - she hardly cared whether whatever it was was dangerous. Life was dangerous! Self-preservation was overrated! This was a chance for science.

Then, something rose out of the crater, and she came to a screeching halt at the base of the hill, visions of academic glory shattered, and her excitement skipped town and was replaced by fear.

The creature looked a bit like a pony, of Celestia’s size - terrifying enough; it was twice her height! - but with a pale grey coat that more resembled a seal’s than a pony’s. Her mane and tail were streaks of orange flame, dancing wildly in the chaotic air left in the wake of her landing and buffeting Twilight with waves of heat. She had wings of metallic gold feathers that rattled and crashed against each other as she shook the worst of the dust from the impact off herself, though numerous larger clumps refused to be dislodged from her coat. Around her neck she wore a silver torc with a disc at the front that was embossed with a trio of four-pointed stars. She was completely alien, and yet somehow she looked almost familiar to Twilight. She also seemed to be talking to herself.

“Right here. She was right here,” the creature muttered; Twilight had to strain to hear her. “Was I too late? Was I just too slow?” She giggled slightly. It was not a happy sound. “Maybe I’m just hallucinating now.”

Twilight cleared her throat. “Um…welcome to Equestria?”

“Too late for that, far too late,” the creature said with a giggle, hardly glancing at Twilight; Twilight wasn't quite certain who she was talking to, her or the voices. Then, frowning thoughtfully, the creature turned to give the unicorn closer consideration. “Were you on this hilltop just now?”

“Yes. You nearly killed me and my friend!” she answered. The creature hopped over the rim of the crater and strode quickly towards Twilight before she even managed to get halfway through the sentence. Her eyes flashed with magic for an instant, and Twilight felt the press of another pony’s spell against her aura. Taken by surprise, she couldn’t get a counterspell formulated in time to stop its effects – none of which she could feel. The creature grinned and laughed – and this time there was genuine happiness in the sound.

“One. Hundred. Percent,” she giggled. Twilight turned to keep her in sight as she started pacing back and forth excitedly. “One hundred percent! I found her! I found her!” Without warning, the creature beat her wings, almost deafening Twilight with the unexpected sound of a thunderbolt, and went spiraling up into the air triumphantly “I found her!

Twilight took a hesitant step back as the creature looped lazily around overhead, laughing and getting lower with each completed circle. Finally, she swooped low and slammed into Twilight, wrapping her in a tight hug.

“I found you,” she whispered.

“What?” was all Twilight could manage before the hug crushed the air out of her. The creature released her – such as it were – a few seconds later, but somehow Twilight couldn’t pry herself off of her; it was like the creature was coated in glue. The creature giggled.

“Right! Kelpie skin, sorry!” Her eyes flickered with magic again, and a swirl of cloud coalesced above them and let loose a localized downpour that soaked Twilight to the bone, but let her slip free, coughing and spluttering. “There you go!”

“What is going on here?” Twilight managed to splutter once she dried her mane out magically and shook the worst of the water off her coat. “Who are you? What are you talking about?”

“You can’t remember me?” she asked, confused, but her face brightened a moment later. “Memory loss! Right! Unrealistic to expect you to remember after two thousand years. My name is Beta Centauri, and I’ve been searching for my sister for almost that long. And I’ve finally found you!”

“I don’t see how that’s relevant,” Twilight responded. Beta stared at her expectantly, and it dawned on Twilight what she’d probably meant. “You think I’m your sister?”

“I don’t think, I know,” she answered, beaming. “Two thousand years of flying to Equestria every spare day I had, refining magical detection spells, research into the fundamentals of auras and stellar reincarnations – and it paid off! Tonight it finally paid off! I found you! You’re her! Alpha Centauri! My sister!”

“What?”

“I said – “

“No, I heard that,” Twilight interrupted. “It – I just – you’ve made a mistake! My name is Twilight Sparkle, student of Princess Celestia, Bearer of Magic – “

“Student of Princess Celestia?” Beta asked, her expression suddenly serious. “You’re in contact with her often?”

“Of course!”

“When was the last time you met with her?”

Twilight searched her memory. “A month ago, more or less. She was teaching me how to – “

“You’re her!” And she was beaming again. “I’ve visited her already! The impression of your aura in hers had decayed by precisely the amount a month of elapsed time would yield. Oh, I can’t believe it! Can you believe I was about to give up searching for you on this world?”

“I’m not her!” she protested. “I was born and raised here on Equestria! My parents live on Starstreaked Lane in Equinox, right outside of Canterlot – “

“Oh, I saw that place get founded,” Beta interjected.

“ – and you can go ask them who I am!” Twilight finished angrily. “I’m not your sister!”

“Of course you are!” Beta exclaimed. She started pacing again, switching directions fast enough that it almost looked like she was chasing her own burning tail. “Your magical signature matches Alpha’s perfectly! You’ve been in contact with Celestia within the past month, making it a good bet that 80% match I found in her aura was from you as well. The magical pulse I felt just a few minutes ago was Alpha, too, and it led me straight to the hilltop. And, finally, you match her perfectly! Nothing, absolutely nothing, can alter the magical signature of a living creature’s soul!”

“But detection spells can give faulty reports!” Twilight pointed out. “Like yours must have, since I’m not her! Your insistence on this hypothesis when all support comes from inherently flawed methods is ridiculous!”

“You – you might be right.” Beta sighed frustratedly. “Was there anyone else on this hill with you?”

From her prone position at the base of the hill, Rainbow Dash groaned. Beta’s eyes flashed once more as she cast the detector spell on her, and she growled. “Of bucking course you’d both have the same signature. One of you is her, I’m certain of it!”

“I’m sorry you thought you found your sister after two thousand years, but neither of us is her – and the fact that your spell somehow reads us as the same pony is probably a sign of a deeper flaw,” she said. “We’re just ponies – Bearers of the Elements of Magic and Loyalty. That’s all. Not some kind of alien robot-pony thing.”

“Robot-Pony?” Beta frowned and glanced down at her wings. “What are you – oh! No, these are Thunderbird wings, not mechanical wings. We specifically intended to look like a merger of the species we ruled, if…you…” She grinned. “Ha! I know how I can tell which of you is Alpha!”

“Neither of us – “

“A deep-memory scan, of course!” Beta muttered to herself. “If she’s been reincarnated, she’ll have kept some memories, and I know how long she was a star, there’ll be something left there! That’s it, that’s perfect, that’s all the proof I need!”

“What are you talking about?” Twilight frowned uncertainly. Something told her that a “deep-memory scan” would likely be unpleasant – and would give this creature a more dangerous access to her mind than she was willing to grant her.

“I’ll do the blue one first,” Beta decided. With a beat of her wings and crash of thunder, she leapt from the hill and glided the short distance to Rainbow Dash, landing softly and spreading her wings around the pegasus, blocking her from Twilight’s view. Anxious about letting a delusional stranger with an intent to use magic that involved the subject's mind near her friend, Twilight galloped towards them, but the light from Beta’s eyes glinted off her feathers and told the unicorn that she was too late to interfere. There was a crash as Rainbow Dash stiffened and kicked the golden plumage, and then Beta was closing her wings and Dash was on her hooves, stumbling away from the creature with a storm of emotions playing across her face.

Beta turned to Twilight. “Not her. Now I’ll do you, and I can confirm my theory, and we can go home.”

“What did you do to her?” Twilight demanded. Beta’s response was to start advancing; her wings rattled slightly as she held them slightly away from her body, shaken by the slight night breeze. Twilight started to retreat, trying to keep away from her, but she stumbled over her fallen telescope, and Beta leapt forward.

A pair of glowing white eyes filled her vision.

------

She was an old earth pony mare, rocking gently in a chair on the front porch of a neoclassical manor in a clearing in a forest. The trees past the treeline forty meters away were lined up in neat, unnatural rows – pines, and oaks, and cypress, and willows, as far as the eye could see. A green filly with a braided brown mane maybe twice Apple Bloom’s age was running out of the woods, an image of a cluster of bright red berries on either flank and a serious look on her face. Twilight smiled warmly at her granddaughter.

“Holly!” she called out once the filly was in earshot. “The saplings in the east nursery ready for uprooting yet?”

“Granny – Willow – something – happened!” the filly gasped, once she skidded to a halt in front of Twilight’s rocking chair. “Something – bit – “ – gasp for breath – “something bit Uncle Rowan!”

The memory of a brown stallion with kind eyes and an easy smile flashed through Twilight’s head. She was on her hooves in an instant, ignoring the protest of old joints forced to move too quickly. “Where?” she asked urgently.

“The east nursery!” she answered. A pause; then, “Yeah, they’re ready for uprooting.”

“Never mind that, filly!” she snapped. Harsh, perhaps, but they were in the Forest. If something bit her son, he needed medical attention, and he needed it five minutes ago. “Get my staff and emergency kit from the shed out there and meet me – where is he, precisely?”

“Row eighteen, column four,” she replied quickly. She turned and started galloping again. “I’ll meet you there!”

“Stay away from anything that looks like it might bite you, you hear!” she shouted after her. Not waiting for an answer, she started to gallop as well, her legs taking her along the familiar route to the east nursery. Trees blurred past, their branches shifting slightly in greeting. Her own personal forest – friends she’d never forget, if she had any say in how the afterlife went.

The east nursery was separated from the rest of the property by a shallow ditch, half-filled with water. There was a bridge near the main road to the house, but it would be faster to just jump it. She turned sharply, leaping with all of her strength, and cleared the ditch easily enough, but on her landing her foreleg caught a loose stone – and the jolt of pain that its shifting sent up her leg told her that she’d likely twisted something. Gritting her teeth, she pressed onwards into the immaculate rows of apples trees they grew to sell to farmers across Equestria. The pain in her hoof hobbled her, but she liked to think she still made good time.

“Granny!” Holly managed to shout around the stout staff she held in her mouth. She spat it out and bucked it before it hit the ground; Twilight caught it easily.

They found Rowan lying atop a young sapling, the first in column four to be newly planted. His straw hat was crushed alongside him. A ragged dent was carved into his right hindleg that made Twilight wince in sympathy; the dirt below it was damp with blood.

“Hey, ma,” he said weakly as she limped to a halt next to him. Holly dropped a black doctor’s bag next to Twilight as she stuck the staff in the ground and examined the wound more closely. “Monster got me good, huh?”

“ ‘Taint so bad,” she answered gently, trying not to wince again. Veins stuck out in sharp relief around the wound, black as pitch and snaking their way up the limb below the fur. Poison, for sure. “You see the critter that did this to you, boy?”

“Leech,” he answered. “Big one.”

“Ain’t no leech that did this to you, Rowan,” she said. “Holly, dig out that – “

“Leech!” Holly screamed, shooting past Twilight and Rowan, eyes wide with terror. Surprised, Twilight grabbed the staff up and whirled to face the monster – it was, indeed, a leech. A giant one, reared up like a snake ready to strike, and hissing like one as well. She tried to give it a good whack with her staff, but it wrapped itself around the end and slithered along the stick towards her. She hurled it away before it could take a chunk out of her, too, but it was coming back as soon as the rod hit the ground.

“Rowan, get – “ she started, as the leech coiled and sprang for her face, but the sound of the rest of her order was lost in the face of her son’s wordless cry as he stood and hurled himself between the monster and Twilight. It hit him full in the throat, and latched on. Twilight saw him mouth one word – “Run” – before the leech’s venom reached his head and his eyes glazed over. He was gone.

Tears streaming from her eyes, she grabbed Holly and ran.

------

She was a grey-coated pegasus mare with a single bubble for a cutie mark, lying on her side on a patch of cloud and watching a small newborn foal try to climb her flank. A stallion she knew as her husband was against her back. They were laughing. The foal toppled over backwards, waving her legs around in the air for a moment before winning free of the cloud and righting herself. She stared at Twilight with wide, awe-filled golden eyes and a bubbly smile, and hiccupped. They laughed more.

“Mama!” the foal chirped. Then she tried to climb Twilight’s flank again. They weren’t laughing anymore; instead, they were beaming. Their daughter had just said her first word.

------

He was a white stallion of the Royal Guard. His squad was shambling aimlessly across the corpse-strewn battlefield of one skirmish or another – they all started to look the same, after a while – in a crescent formation. They’d taken their helmets off to let the foul-smelling breeze wash over their heads and cool them off.

“Hot out,” the soldier to Twilight’s left grumbled. Twilight chuckled.

“Could go for some eternal night myself about now,” he remarked. The others laughed.

“Treasonous talk right there,” the soldier to his right chuckled. “Going to have us a nice eternal day soon, probably. Night’ll be hung for treason.”

“Going to be a hot one,” the one to Twilight’s left responded. He stepped atop a bat-winged body and jumped in surprise when it groaned. Before they could react, the mortally injured longma had hauled itself to its hooves and threw itself at the soldier. He reacted without thinking; swung the point of his spear around so the bat-pony impaled itself. With its dying breath, it murmured, “Thank thee…”

He let the body slide off the spear. They all watched it hit the ground. From Twilight’s right, he heard the guard mutter, “War doth suck.”

Nopony did anything else but nod. Their eyes never left the body.

------

She was a star.

Floating the void of space, dancing with her two sisters, she had an idea she had to share. She didn’t have a language yet to express the idea, but she got the gist of it across to Beta and Proxi. Let’s make a planet! She told them. Tia made one, let’s make one too!

What should it be like? Proxi asked.

I kind of like those trees Tia made, Beta suggested. We could make it covered by those?

Seems a bit dull, Twilight said thoughtfully. Some oceans, too?

And mountains! Proxi exclaimed eagerly. And caves, and rivers, and plains, and hills!

We could make some things to live on it, Beta offered. Tia has those funny ponies to play around with.

She’s always trying to teach me how to speak like them, Twilight laughed. I’ve told her, speaking gets in the way of learning, but she doesn’t care. Sometimes, she even thinks in their tongue!

They’ll need a language, Proxi pointed out. Unless you just want them to eat each other and walk around?

True, she conceded. I guess we’d have to learn how to talk to them, too.

It’ll have to be a fun language, Beta said. And there should only be one, so we don’t have to learn too many.

We should make the planet first, Twilight smiled. Then we can decide on what they speak.

Who will get to warm it? Beta asked. They descended into a thoughtful silence.

I want to! They all shouted at once.

Well, this won’t work at all, Proxi mumbled.

We should share it, Twilight decided. We all will contribute to making it, so we all should share it.

Wouldn’t it freeze on its way out to me? Proxi asked.

Not if we switch off when you’re closest to us, Beta answered. Alpha and I get it one half of its year, you get it the other half.

I suppose that would work… Proxi agreed. How do we start?

I think Tia started something like…this! Twilight replied.

Space rippled as she reached out with her magic, the magic of a million years and the perturbation of gravity, and a region of dust in the great disk of matter that suffused their system started to coalesce.

It looks a little small, Beta observed. We should make it bigger.

Small planets are no fun, Proxi agreed. Here’s some gas and stuff. That should make it big – oh! That’s pretty.

The three stars looked in wonder at the small violet marble they’d created. It was puffy and cloudy and not suited for life at all, at least life like they wanted it, but it was a start. They all agreed that it should be Alpha’s – after all, making a planet had been her idea first.

------

She was a unicorn again. The constriction in scale was staggering. Gasping for breath, overwhelmed for a second by the feeling of air on her coat and grass under her hooves and the magical fields around her horn, she nearly blacked out completely, but Beta held her up until she recovered. She pulled away, breaking the comfortable magical cocoon Beta had supported her in, as soon as she felt like she could stand on four legs again, and tried to put some distance between herself and the star.

“What – what did you just bucking do?” she gasped. “What was that? What were those? What did you do to me?”

Beta was grinning ecstatically. “You’re her. You’re her!” - she laughed manically – “Oh, by Caelum, I knew it! You’re her!”

“What just happened?” The world flickered once, trying to dissolve away and dump her back into the pit Beta had punched through her mind, but with an effort of will she managed to stay firmly grounded in reality. Phantom outlines of half-familiar ponies flickered in the corner of her sight, but by the same effort she managed to ignore them and force them back into unreality.

“It was a deep-memory scan! Every past life leaves traces,” Beta explained. “You just have to find the traces, and from there you can easily piece back together full memories – and I found enough to tell me that you are definitively Alpha Centauri.”

“I’m not – “

“Yes, you are,” she cut her off. “You’ve got the memories back now, you should be able to tell that for yourself!”

“I don’t know who you are, or what you actually did,” Twilight said. “But those are not my memories. You’re insane – clinically insane! Schizophrenic, maybe, or bipolar, if I can remember that psychology dissertation I read last week, or some other mental disorder I haven't read about yet! I’m sorry you lost your sister, but I’m not her!”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Alpha,” Beta laughed. With a quick flap, she was next to Twilight, pulling her close with a surprisingly warm wing. “It’s been a long time, but I think it’s time for us to go home again. It’s going to be wonderful having someone else to reign alongside me – you cannot possibly understand how hard it’s been keeping three suns moving in the right ways, alone, for two millennia!” She giggled. “Maybe I can finally get some sleep!”

Before Twilight could protest, she felt a wave of unfamiliarly familiar magic engulf her, and the world seemed to cease to exist.

Still reeling from the unlocked flood of memories, down at the bottom of the hill, Rainbow Dash could only watch helplessly as her friend was kidnapped. By the time she was able to think again, her own mental voice overpowering the babble of seemingly hundreds of other ponies in her head, the morning sun was just cresting the horizon and painting the scene of the disastrous birthday party in gold. She had to do something, but she knew – and the newly-minted voices of past hers in her head agreed when they weren't too busy fighting her for control – that she couldn’t do anything alone. She needed help.

As fast as she could fly, Rainbow Dash shot off to find the closest near-omnipotent being she knew of.

Author's Note:

People who favorite but don't upvote stories perplex me.

On a more cheerful note, thanks for the feedback I've gotten so far!

07/10/14 - Edited for spacing betwixt paragraphs as later chapters have.