• Published 20th Mar 2012
  • 17,434 Views, 1,275 Comments

My Choices: Twisted Tales Through Time - koolerkid



Twilight goes back in time to prevent Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon.

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Chapter Three

A/N: Hey look, a chapter!

I am SO SO SO sorry this took so long, folks. I’ve been having a tough time of things, and I haven’t had the time or inspiration to write for a LOOOOONG time. But! I’m still here, and this story still lives! So enjoy!

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Chapter 3

“That’s the last one!” Blue Star exclaimed, levitating the last envelope onto the pile on the small wooden table in front of her. Though she’d only been in the past for a week, Twilight had already adjusted to her new name and found herself responding to it just as quickly as her old one.

“Thanks a bundle, Bluey!” Surprise chirped happily, stuffing the stack of letters into her courier’s bag. Blue Star winced slightly as her neat pile, carefully arranged in alphabetical order by the recipient's name, was turned into a wadded mess. “It was super-duper nice of you to help out with all these letters, you know! So many ponies show up with messages and I have to memorize them all and sometimes they get all jumbled up in my head. With you here, I can just deliver them instead!”

“It was my pleasure, Surprise,” Blue Star replied cheerfully, setting down her quill.

After learning Surprise delivered messages for a living, Blue Star had inquired if she had any use for a scribe. Apparently, in this time period, literacy was a rare and treasured talent, preserved only for learned scholars, powerful magicians, and the nobility. At first, Twilight thought that writing down the letters, rather than having them delivered vocally, would be pointless in a day and age when nopony could read. However, she remembered a simple cantrip she’d once learned, when she’d gotten an eye infection and couldn’t read - a self-reading spell. Simply cast it on the letter, and it would read itself out to the recipient upon opening it. Surprise had approved whole-heartedly, calling it “The Best Surprise EVER!”

“After all,” Blue Star continued, “you’ve been so kind to me this past week.” She gestured with a hoof at the small house, out of which Surprise ran her courier business. “You’ve let me stay here with you, at no charge. You’ve fed me and even bought me more ink for my journal. Helping out is the least I can do; consider it my way of paying for your hospitality.”

Surprise giggled. “You don’t need to pay me, silly! But I really do appreciate the help, so I’ve decided to get you an extra-special surprise!”

“Oh, Surprise, you didn’t have to do that,” Blue Star said, smiling. “I’m happy to help, you know that.”

“I know. But I promised when we first met we were gonna go get cookies together, right? So we’re gonna go to the bakery, and I’m gonna buy you cookies... AND cake!” Surprise performed a little aerial dance, zooming around the room gleefully. “The bakery is really close by, so we can go there before I go deliver the letters! Come on!”

Blue Star just laughed as she followed the excitable pegasus out the front door and into the city. Though they hadn’t known each other long, Surprise was fast becoming a close friend; though Twilight still had frequent pangs of homesickness when she looked at her. Despite the different color and species, the pegasus was a scarily similar substitute for Pinkie, another dear friend that Twilight might never see again. Twilight had so far dealt with the emotion by shoving it forcibly to the back of her mind, which she was fully aware probably wasn’t healthy. She should be trying to deal with the idea that she might be stuck here, but she wasn’t ready yet. She wasn’t willing to accept never being able to go back home, not until she’d explored all the options. When she had some free time, she was going to take that Helmet and her journal and do some experiments...

“Hey, where’s everypony going?” Surprise wondered aloud, startling Twilight from her musing. Blue Star looked up to see crowds of ponies moving through the streets, all headed in the same direction. There was a festive mood in the air, ponies chatting amongst themselves excitedly as they all hurried towards the center of the city.

“You’d know more than I would, Surprise,” Blue Star said, curious. “Is there some sort of festival or celebration today?”

“I dunno!” Surprise said, already following the moving crowd of ponies. “Let’s go find out! Come on!”

“Huh? But... your letters! You... job... deliver...” Blue Star gave an exasperated sigh. “Oh, why do I even bother?” She trotted after Surprise, hustling to keep up.

The pair followed the crowd to the town square, the same place where Celestia rose the sun during the Summer Sun Celebration in Canterlot. That very same stage where Twilight had seen her mentor for the first time was out again. This time, however, it was not Celestia but a tall, pale blue unicorn who stood there. He had a sort of demonstration table out, with a candle in a bright silver candle holder and several pieces of parchment on it. Behind him was a chalkboard with a complex arcane formula written on it in precise, neat rows. Blue Star felt she’d seen that same formula elsewhere before, but before she could figure out where, Surprise landed beside her.

“Hey Bluey, what d’ya think he’s gonna do? Is it a show? Oooh, is he a clown? Is he gonna start juggling? Or throwing pie?” Surprise beat her wings in excitement.

Blue Star resisted the urge to facehoof. “No, Surprise, I doubt he’s a clown. He looks more like a scholar to me.”

That much was true; the unicorn on the stage was a tall, stately unicorn, with the regal, graceful bearing that was common among those of noble bloodlines. He wore a long, impressive cloak with the traditional stars of Equestria’s magical elite upon it, which unfortunately covered his Cutie Mark as well. Blue Star had a nagging feeling she should know this stallion, but without seeing his Cutie Mark is was difficult; there were few accurate pictures of anypony this far back in time. “Maybe he’s here to give a lecture.” Her eyes lit up at the thought, but Surprise just stuck out her tongue.

“A lecture? BOOOORING. I’d rather go deliver letters than listen to some boring old magic lecture.”

“Lecture’s aren’t boring, and you’re supposed to be delivering those let-”

FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS!” the stallion on the stage boomed, his voice magically amplified. “MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE?” The general chatter amongst the assembled crowd quieted down, and Blue Star directed her full attention at the naggingly familiar pony and his even more naggingly familiar equation. “Thank you, everypony.” The unicorn continued at a more reasonable tone, though he was still loud enough to be heard throughout the crowd. “As you may or may not know, I am Starswirl the Fifth, a Court Magician in the employ of our beloved Princesses Celestia and Luna, and an arcane researcher of some small renown.”

Blue Star’s mouth fell open as her mind raced through the texts she’d memorized on this pony. Starswirl the Fifth, aka Starswirl the Innovator, aka Starswirl the Inventor, aka the Father of Modern Magic, was a descendent of the famous Starswirl the Bearded, inventor of the amniomorphic spell. While he lacked his ancestor’s natural talent and raw power with magic, he was renowned in history for applying magic to everyday use. He was credited for a great many spells and inventions that were used in nearly every modern household, even those of Earth Ponies and pegasi. What most historians felt was more important, however, was that it was his influence that started the idea of magic being for everypony, not just the elite, the rich, and the magically gifted. It was he who strove to make magical conveniences available to all ponies, regardless of race.

To think, he thought of himself as a ‘researcher of some small renown’. Hah!

Blue Star was almost too caught up in her hero worship to notice that said hero was still speaking. “I have called this gathering today in order to display my latest breakthrough in magical communications,” Starswirl the Fifth continued, gesturing to his table. “While most inventions are brought to the Court of the Twin Princesses, I felt this invention would be better shared with you, the ponies of Equestria.” His horn lit with a silver-blue light, and ignited the candle. The flames burned bright green. “This enchantment can be cast on any flame, with only the slightest effort. It can also be cast on anything that can create fire, such as this candle. Now observe.”

He levitated one of the pieces of parchment into the air, and showed it to the crowd. On it was a picture of a stylized sun, identical to Princess Celestia’s Cutie Mark. “Merely visualize the pony with whom you wish to communicate, and burn the message you wish to send to them in the enchanted fire.” He looked out into the crowd, before gesturing to a tall, stately unicorn mare with a pure white coat. “Miss, would you mind assisting me?”

“Not at all, Mr. Starswirl.” The mare replied helpfully.

“Thank you,” Starswirl said with a small smile, before he dropped the parchment onto the flame. The parchment disappeared in a puff of very familiar green smoke, which snaked its way to the white unicorn before re-materializing into the parchment. The unicorn looked at it, clearly surprised, before holding it up for everypony else to see. It was the same picture.

Blue Star realized with a start where she’d seen the spell on the blackboard before. It was the same spell she’d cast on Spike ages ago, to turn him into a living mailbox. It was one of the earliest spells she’d ever learned! She looked at the chalkboard again, frowning. She knew that spell almost by heart, and something about the formula on the chalkboard looked... off...

As Blue Star zoned out, Starswirl continued to speak. “As you can see, this simple enchantment allows for instantaneous communication between any two points, over a distance of one hundred miles,” he explained proudly. “Of course, you can only send that which can be burned, such as notes, which I understand is of limited use to many of you. That is why I have also created a simple spell which, when cast on a parchment, will cause it to read out its...” Starswirl paused, staring at the blue mare who’d climbed up on the stage and began rewriting his formula. “Excuse me, what on Equestria do you think you’re doing?”

Blue Star barely looked at him, too focused on the equation. “Oh, don’t mind me, I don’t want to interrupt. You just made a small mistake right here...” She corrected the faulty equation and stood back, smiling proudly. “There! That should more then triple the range of... the...” Blue Star trailed off as she realized everypony was staring at her. Starswirl, in particular, looked shocked and visibly angry. “Is... something wrong?”

Starswirl looked too taken aback to speak for several moments. After a few seconds, he brought himself under control, and spoke in quiet, measured tones. “You dare to interfere in the work of another mage?” There was a quiet, measured anger in his voice, like an adult speaking to a misbehaving foal. “Do you even realize the insult you’ve given me?”

Blue Star felt her pulse quicken as she tried to understand what was happening. Why was Starswirl so angry? She was just trying to help fix his spell. She reached back in her mind, trying to remember something - anything - that she’d read that would explain this behavior. Suddenly, she recalled a passage from a book she’d once read, The Progress of Magic.

While the classical era was a time of great prosperity and economic growth, very little progress was made in the development of magical theory. This is attributed largely to the strange sense of propriety held by many mages, wizards, and magical scholars that prevented them from assisting or using the theories and studies of each other. Unicorns were prone to taking insult at even a mere suggestion that their spell could use outside assistance, and as a result magical theories could only be expanded on by others after its inventor’s death.

Oh, horseapples. Blue Star finally got to meet Starswirl the Fifth, and she’d gone and insulted him. Her heart fell further as she realized not only had she delivered a dire insult to one of the most famous ponies in history, but she’d done it using a formula that wasn’t supposed to be invented for another three hundred years. Perhaps it would be better if she just left before she embarrassed herself further...

“I’m really sorry... I wasn’t thinking,” Blue Star said, blushing furiously and backing away swiftly. “I-In fact my formula was probably wrong anyway, you should probably just erase it...”

“Enough,” Starswirl said. “You have insulted me and challenged my work. There can only be one answer to this stain on my honor.” He fixed her with a hard, unyielding gaze. “A wizards’ duel.”

Blue Star’s eyes widened in shock. “A w-w-wizards’....” Her mind locked up in panic as she tried to comprehend what was happening. On reflex, her mind called up a passage from Customs of the Classical Age.

Wizards’ duels were an ancient tradition, typically invoked when a unicorn felt his honor had been wounded by another unicorn to the extent that violence was the only recourse. While barbaric by today’s standards, wizards’ duels were fairly common in their time and were actually considered quite civilized. Such duels typically involved both unicorns attacking each other with spells - using one’s hooves or teeth was considered a foul - until one or the other unicorn was rendered unconscious, killed, or otherwise made unable to continue. Spells that were instantly lethal, as well as mind-affecting spells or spells that directly affected the body of one’s opponent were considered out-of-bounds. While death was not strictly common, it was not unusual for one or even both mages to be severely wounded after such a duel.

How could she duel Starswirl? What if she hurt him? Oh Celestia, what if she killed him? With her power, it wasn’t impossible. Bad enough she’d interrupted him and introduced a formula from the future, if she killed Starswirl - or even just seriously wounded him - the effects on the timeline could be disastrous! There had to be a way out! But no - further reviewing of her mental copy of Customs of the Classical Age informed her that a challenge to a wizards’ duel was legally binding - to refuse was literally illegal. Unless Starswirl rescinded the challenge - which appeared unlikely - she had no choice.

While Blue Star had been panicking, Starswirl had already found a judge for their duel. The pure white unicorn from earlier, apparently a wizard of some talent herself, had offered to oversee the duel, and had climbed onto the stage, standing off to the side and well out of the way of the other two unicorns.

As Starswirl trotted to the opposite side of the stage, Blue Star realized, numbly, that she was going to have to go through with this barbaric custom. She slowly trotted to her side of the stage, turning to face her long-time hero from across the stage-turned-battlefield. She barely registered the mare’s voice as she informed both ponies of the rules of a traditional wizards’ duel, the same ones Blue Star recalled from her book.

As the mare spoke, Blue Star forced her mind back into gear. She needed to organize her thoughts. She had no time to write a checklist, sadly, so she’d have to line up her thoughts without one. Step one, she reasoned, was to remain calm. Panic clouded the mind and made sound judgement impossible, a lesson she’d learned more then once. She took a deep calming breath, forcing her heartbeat to slow. There. Calm.

Step two was to decide what to do. This duel was happening; she had no control over that. What she could control was her reaction. Her first thought was to throw the fight before anypony got hurt. However, she doubted Starswirl would let her just surrender, and if she tried to fake it, she could get hurt! Starswirl was clearly not going to hold back, and all the history books Blue Star had ever read indicated he was a very powerful wizard. So the only option was to fight back. However, she’d have to be very careful and pull her punches - even if Starswirl wouldn’t. A serious injury could be disastrous to the timeline, and if she killed him... She refused to think about that. She’d never killed anypony, and she didn’t intend to start now.

So, she reasoned, the only logical course of action was to attempt to restrain Starswirl, without hurting him. If she didn’t, she could die, or risk damaging the timeline beyond repair. No pressure, then.

Oddly, Blue Star noted a very small part of her was actually looking forward to this. She’d always been proud of her magic, and Starswirl the Fifth was reputed to be one of the most powerful wizards of his era. A part of her was eager to test her magic against the renowned unicorn, to see who was truly stronger.

Blue Star shook herself from her thoughts as the white mare finished with the rules. “Do both wizards understand the terms of this duel?”

“I do,” Starswirl said solemnly.

“I-I do,” Blue Star said nervously. Here we go...

“Very well,” the mare said formally. “On my signal then. Ready...”

Blue Star drew in a deep breath.

“Begin.”

Starswirl began immediately, his horn wreathed in a brilliant, pale blue light as a lance of white energy leapt from it. Blue Star, caught off guard, scrambled to light her own horn, hastily constructing a magical shield against the attack. The shield took the form of a thin purple barrier, which shattered almost immediately as the white spell impacted it. A numbing spell, she thought distantly, even as her clumsy shield shattered. At least he’s not using anything lethal. She could see how the spell worked. It was pretty simple, actually. She could practically see the formula for the numbing spell in her head, and, almost on autopilot, she constructed a ward against it.

Starswirl lit his horn again, and Twilight could feel him straining against her ward, clearly intending to batter against her apparently weak defenses with the same spell. She didn’t have much practice with wards, but this one was keyed to that specific attack. It wouldn’t break. Starswirl raised an eyebrow as he felt the ward smother his spell. “You constructed that ward very quickly. You must have a good grasp of arcane formulae.”

Blue Star managed a weak smile at the praise. “I study a lot.” Even as she spoke, though, her horn was glowing. She needed to end this quickly. She enchanted the stage beneath Starswirl with a come-to-life spell, which she’d practiced carefully ever since the disaster at Applejack’s farm last winter. The concrete beneath him rumbled and cracked, opening up to try and pull him down into a pit.

Starswirl, however, appeared to be a speedy spell-caster. His horn ignited, and iron bars appeared, sealing the opening in the ground shut tightly. A cloud of smoke billowed up from his horn, covering the stage in smoke. Blue Star could feel him casting another spell in the cloud, but she couldn’t see clearly enough to identify the spell. Nervously, she raised another shield, this one stronger then the hastily-constructed one she’d used earlier. She surrounded herself in a nimbus of purple light, and waited.

She didn’t have to wait long. She noticed a disturbance on the smoke a split second before a large block of granite fell from above her. Her shield was designed to repel magical attacks; it was useless against conjuration. She barely managed to leap away in time. Even as she dodged, she could feel Starswirl casting again.

“Enough of this,” she muttered, casting a simple cantrip to summon a powerful gust of wind. The smoke blew away, revealing her opponent already finishing his next spell. Bands of magical energy leapt from his horn towards Blue Star, who realized too late she’d dropped her shield to summon the wind. The magical energy wrapped around her hooves, hogtying her like Applejack’s lasso. Effectively hobbled, Blue Star fell to the floor.

For a moment, Blue Star thought it was over, and let herself feel relieved that nopony had gotten hurt. Then she saw Starswirl preparing another spell, and realized that, as long as her horn was free, she could still cast and the contest would continue. Sweat broke out on Starswirl’s forehead as he concentrated on the spell, and Blue Star hurriedly tried to dispel the binding spell so she could get out of the way. From the amount of magic she could feel building in Starswirl’s horn, she doubted she’d be able to block it with a simple shielding spell. If she had time she’d construct the force field she used against Discord - and against the Cutie Mark Crusaders, once - but that took roughly three minutes to cast without the Element of Magic, and Starswirl was casting now!

From the older unicorn’s horn erupted a pair of spiraling red missiles. Time seemed to slow, as Blue Star looked at them and realized what, exactly, they were - nerve-severing spells. Doctors used them sometimes before amputations; it wasn’t lethal, but if they hit her, she’d be crippled. For life.

Panic overtook Blue Star’s mind, adrenaline flooding her bloodstream as her survival instinct kicked in. Magic flowed through her in rush, more magic than she’d channeled by herself since the Ursa Minor incident. Her horn gave off a brilliant purple glow that lit up the entire stage, and her eyes went white with an unearthly light.

The pair of red missiles fizzled in midair as Blue Star cast a powerful blanket ward, crude but backed with incredible power, to cancel all spells composed of pure energy. Starswirl watched in shock as the binding spell holding Blue Star’s hooves dissolved like wet tissue paper.

Rather than stand, Blue Star floated upward from her prone position, hovering in midair as her glowing, pupil-less eyes fixed on Starswirl. She formed a massive hoof of purple energy before her, her own spells unaffected by her ward, and brought it down on the other unicorn, pinning him to the ground. She felt him trying to cast, and fizzled it as easily as snuffing out a candle.

She floated to where he laid pinned and helpless, and gently landed on the ground in front of him. Her horn’s glow lessened to its normal intensity, but her eyes continued to shine. “Surrender,” she commanded, in a surprisingly calm voice.

Starswirl looked up the mare from the future, and for several moments he didn’t speak. Then, finally, he let his head drop, and in a low voice, said “I yield.”

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Blue Star felt dizzy and exhausted as she let the surge of magic fade, her eyes returning to normal and her horn going dark. She staggered slightly, and her vision dimmed for a moment before she regained control of herself. She hadn’t pushed herself that hard in a long time; in the heat of the moment, she’d forgotten her own limitations.

Starswirl was climbing to his hooves as the enormous magical hoof that had pinned him vanished. Once upright, he turned to Blue Star and, to her astonishment, bowed to her.

“I apologize for my behavior,” said the Father of Modern Magic. “You are truly the superior wizard.”

There was a murmuring in the crowd, which up until this point had been so quiet Blue Star had forgotten they were even there. A wizard’s duel rarely happened in such a public place, and to see a well-known if not quite famous (yet) wizard humble himself before this newcomer was nothing short of shocking.

Blue Star, however, just felt awkward. “Don’t say that,” she muttered, looking away. Starswirl lifted his head curiously. “I’m talented, sure, but all my spells I learned from somepony else. I just study a lot. You’re the real genius.” She gestured to the forgotten chalkboard, on which his fire-message spell was still written, with Blue Star’s modifications. “I mean, you invented that spell from nothing! That’s a lot more impressive than just throwing a lot of flashy magic around.”

“WE THOUGHT IT QUITE IMPRESSIVE, OURSELF,” boomed an eerily familiar voice. Blue Star turned to look at the white mare who had been serving as judge for the duel; she was glowing with a near-blinding inner light, floating up off the stage slowly as the light grew more intense.

“Oh no,” Blue Star whispered to herself. “Please, no, not in front of her.”

The mare grew much taller, and her elegant pink mane grew into a familiar flowing rainbow. Her horn grew several inches and gained an imposing sharpness, and a pair of large, majestic wings unfurled from her back. Finally, the iconic sun symbol appeared on her flank as Princess Celestia descended back to the ground, head held high.

This wasn’t the Princess Celestia that Twilight remembered, the kind, gentle teacher who had become like a second mother to her. This Princess Celestia was huge and imposing, with a regal air and an aura that radiated majesty and power. Her presence was warm and comforting as the sun, but at the same time just as fierce and distant.

If Blue Star were to choose a word to describe this early version of her mentor, it would be... ‘queenly’.

“WHAT IS THY NAME, YOUNG UNICORN?” asked the Princess. The Royal Canterlot Voice may have seemed silly a thousand years later, but Princess Celestia used it to magnificent effect, her voice echoing throughout the town.

Blue Star swallowed heavily, trying to still the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions swirling in her mind. “B-B-Blue Star, your majesty,” she forced out, remembering at the last moment to kneel. It felt so strange; this was Celestia, her Celestia, but she was so... different. It was terrifying.

And she was lying to her. Horseapples.

“LADY BLUE STAR, WE WERE MOST IMPRESSED WITH THY ABILITIES, AND THY CHARACTER. WE WOULD LIKE TO OFFICIALLY INVITE YOU TO BE OUR NEW MAGICAL ADVISOR!” Blue Star felt her heart leap into her throat as Princess Celestia gazed down at her inquisitively. “WHAT SAY YOU, LADY BLUE STAR?”

Blue Star didn’t say anything for several long moments; she was far too busy panicking. Magical Advisor to Princess Celestia was normally a job title she’d leap for with both front hooves outstretched, but now the only thing she could think of was how to politely decline the greatest honor any unicorn could ever hope to achieve.

Not interfering with the timeline had proven hard enough when she was rooming with an eccentric but ultimately inconsequential courier pegasus. How was she supposed to remain hooves-off with a position in the royal court? What’s more, Starswirl was supposed to be the one who received this position. It was well documented; the majority of the reforms he’d supported were only enacted due to his position. Removing him from his proper place in history could be catastrophic to the future as she knew it! But how could she decline a royal request from Princess... Celestia... herself...

A spark lit in Blue Star’s mind as a memory resurfaced. It was only about two weeks old, but it felt like a lifetime ago: another request made by the Princess herself, to investigate the helmet of Nightmare Moon and discover what, if anything, had caused Luna’s fall. To Blue Star’s shame, she’d forgotten about it completely ever since her ill-fated experiment with the time window, but it was still a mission from the Princess. Even if she’d never be able to report her findings, even if this Princess Celestia knew nothing about it, it was Twilight’s duty as her student to carry out her task. And then...

She’d prevent Nightmare Moon’s rise.

Blue Star wasn’t sure where the thought came from. After all this time trying not to affect the timeline, she was considering causing a change so drastic it could alter the entire course of Equestrian history. And yet... and yet...

It was time to face facts. The odds of Twilight returning to her home time were very slim, and while that thought caused a dull ache in her chest, it also meant she couldn’t concern herself with the possible changes she was causing. She had the opportunity to do some real good. As Magical Advisor, she could not only perform all the same reforms Starswirl would, she could do more, better. She could advance magical and scientific research by centuries.

Most importantly, she could save one of the most important ponies in her life the heartbreak of having to fight and banish her only family.

Blue Star blinked, realizing she’d been silent for nearly a minute. Princess Celestia was still watching her carefully, her inquisitiveness giving way to puzzlement and mild concern. Blue Star took a deep breath, and bowed down before the Princess.

“I would be honored, your majesty.”

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