• Published 5th May 2012
  • 5,595 Views, 154 Comments

The Grey Factor - Japko



Mystery and adventure, Now with books!

  • ...
9
 154
 5,595

Chapter Three

THE GREY FACTOR

(By Japko)

Chapter Three

There is much to be learned about even the ponies’ morphology. For example – why do our coats differ so much? Studying other life forms has shown me that the offspring’s characteristics are the resultant of their parents’. Here, I can’t find any relevance. Some day we will know, but I see a long road ahead of us. Maybe it is connected to our destiny? Like our cutie marks – do they exist invisible until we find the special talent that we are designed for? Or do we develop our talents and something or someone blesses us with a seal? I know of at least two ponies, whose cutie marks and colors have been known before they were born. But Luna and I are not like any other pony.
Princess Celestia, The Path



Generally, Twilight wasn’t much for alcohol. Back in the senior school days wild drinking parties were pretty much a standard. The talented students of CSGU getting wasted and acting in a way that made “inappropriate” sound just silly. It was one of the reasons she avoided any company of her peers. However once, out of scientific curiosity, nothing more, she bought herself a bottle of booze to try for herself. After all, empiric cognition is much more valuable than dry knowledge written on paper. The next day she swore to herself and all the stars that she would never try any alcoholic beverage again. Never, ever. Of course the stars had to once again prove their forgiveness, but she told to herself that they’re used to broken promises since the beginning of time and especially since ponies discovered alcoholic fermentation. Nevertheless, Twilight rarely drank anything more than an occasional glass of punch on Pinkie’s parties.

Because of this little aversion, she had never tried beer before. She read and heard quite a lot about it, knew how it’s made and even remembered a few names of different brands but she had never tasted it before. She knew that they all shared one common feature – bitterness.

When Professor Jade, without any asking whatsoever, put a big foamy mug in front of her, at first she wanted to protest but quickly changed her mind. The taproom they stepped into after having left the library was quite famous for their fresh beer they made themselves on the spot. It was neither light nor dark, a deep ruby color, a little cloudy thanks to remains of yeast suspended in the liquid due to skipping the filtration process.

To Twilight’s surprise the beer wasn’t that bitter after all. It had the little aftertaste, but it only emphasized the whole spectrum of tastes. Bubbly, sweet first impression, a little touch of sour, strong hop smell attacking the nostrils, a delicate warmth in the throat… Oh gosh, this is good!

“Another good thing about it is that it’s not that strong despite the high amount of malt.” Professor Jade blew a hole in the thick foam crowning his own pitcher. “So it’s not that easy to get drunk with it.”

“This beer is really good. Or maybe I’m just thirsty,” Twilight giggled while looking around the pub. It was rather unimpressive, considering its fame. The only interesting thing about it was a surprisingly long bar for ponies to sit by, with four different bartenders. The rest of the local was filled with little square tables. All the walls were arc-shaped and reinforced with simple wooden beams. “When I get lost in studying, I so often forget to stay hydrated. So… as much as I am enjoying the beverage, I’m also dying of curiosity. What’s the said big news, professor? What have you found?”

“Oh, I was just about to get to it.” Jade took a big gulp from his mug. “You see, at first my approach was similar to what you said earlier today, to look for any other books mentioning the subject, and of course any clues to our one. But, as you can probably guess, there was nothing. And then I realized the meaning of another thing which you said. So obvious and yet so hard to get! That the book could have been simply withdrawn.

“Of course I considered it from the very beginning,” he continued, spinning the pitcher in his hooves. “But I didn’t realize it could be actually helpful. And I got an idea, and that’s why I asked you to borrow me the book. Let me ask you one thing – does it happen to you that the basic information provided by a book or article is insufficient for your needs?”

“If it didn’t, I wouldn’t dare to call myself a good scientist.” Twilight chuckled. “It happens to me all the time. Sometimes it is really frustrating to have such a small library.”

“Right, so what do you do then?”

“I’m not sure what you mean.” The lavender unicorn furrowed her brow. “Of course I seek for more literature.”

“Yes, that’s obvious, but h o w do you do it?” The stallion smirked.

“Well, usually I look into…” Twilight suddenly smacked her forehead. “Of course! Professor, that’s actually brilliant! Now I see what you meant by ‘new strategy’.”

“Exactly. If our book had any references, it would be easier. But it’s really old, and it seems they didn’t use bibliographies back then yet. So I thought that maybe I could turn this around. Maybe there are some books out there that refer to this baby?” Once again the professor started to beam like a little colt on his birthday. “I didn’t expect much, but I told myself that even if someone cared to retract every tome, it’s still virtually impossible to get rid of the references, right? My strategy was the following: we know that there is probably no literature describing the coat color case, but there is much more in our book that could be used in further research. So I noted in my head the more interesting chapters and paragraphs and started my hunt. I’m not going to lie, it was a tough task to pull off. Everything I got there could be easily paraphrased and thus made a lot harder to spot, but it seems I got lucky. Relatively soon, after only a few strikes of hope and immediate disappointments… I made it! I found some connection.”

“Awesome!” Twilight, normally extremely composed in such situations, suddenly found it somehow hard to withhold her enthusiasm. “This could be worth calling it a breakthrough. What exactly do we have?”

“We have the author’s name and the title. At first I thought that maybe back in the time it wasn’t necessary to name the releases, but it turns out we just have… I don’t know, a blank cover of something of sort. The author was a stallion by the name of Duskwind, and our mysterious tome is called The Heredity Phenomenon or so it seems. Before I left the library I decided to search for some information about Duskwind, but no encyclopedia had any record of him and the mentioned reference didn’t include the year of the release. However, I had another tiny success: there’s another quote in some other handbook. To Duskwind’s Philosophy of Biology. Looks like our hero has written at least two books.”

“We’re still in the dark but at least now we begin to see the daylight,” Twilight muttered, staring at the ceiling. Suddenly she sat straight and pointed her hoof at the stallion. “This calls for a tiny celebration. The next round is on me.”

* * *

“Ooh dear…” Professor Jade froze with a teaspoon half-raised in the air. The look on his face clearly meant he was doing his best to keep a serious countenance, though he seemed to slowly lose the battle against his own face muscles.

“What?” Twilight’s world was still spinning a little, so she decided to casually rest on the kitchen wall.

“Nothing, just… If I were you, I would rather not look in the mirror right now. Here.” He handed her a glass of some liquid. She didn’t waste any time wondering what it might be. The only thing that mattered was that it was apparently based on water. And water is wet.

“It’s grapefruit juice.” The stallion politely offered a chair. “According to my experience it’s the best choice for your current state. I mean, there are better ways, but I really don’t think you’d appreciate them as much as a glass of juice.”

Twilight closed her eyes and tried to remember how she had ended up in bed. The second round, unfortunately for her, wasn’t the last one. The realization that it was her who insisted on drinking more only made everything worse.

At some point, when it was really late, the remains of the pub’s customers joined all the tables together, and everything got even louder than before. They all started to drink more, talk more and sing. A sudden shiver came down her spine. They were singing and… Oh dear Celestia, I sang along with them!

But there was more. Through the mist she recalled a scene of accosting a handsome stallion – or so it had seemed then – and boasting about vanquishing an ursa minor. And then, oh Celestia, why, when they were finally getting back, she insisted to swim in the river, because she had never swum under the stars… She was really lucky that Jade was relatively sober back then.

Home arrival was lost deep in the hazy oblivion. Did… did Professor let me ride on his back or was it just a dream? Oh please, let it be just a dream…

“You had quite some fun last night, Miss Sparkle.” The blue unicorn didn’t try to withhold his enjoyment anymore. “Still waters run deep, huh? I wonder what other ideas would come to your mind if I wasn’t there to control your behavior.”

“You call letting me embarrass myself in front of dozens of ponies control?” Twilight grunted from under a wet towel which she covered her face with. “You should have stopped me right after that second beer. Or did you want to have some fun as well, watching me slowly turn into a drunk savage?”

“That’s a horrible accusation,” Jade affected an offended tone. “Besides, it wasn’t that bad. I think everyone enjoyed your company, and to be honest, I’m pretty sure the majority of them won’t remember a thing today. Do you like pancakes?”

“No, no food please…”

The stallion sighed. “You haven’t had many hangovers in your life, have you?”

* * *

An hour later Twilight’s state still didn’t show much improvement. Jade used this opportunity to pay his university a visit and check how his work piled up. Leaving, he told her she was ‘free to feel like home’. Though she thought she wouldn’t be leaving the couch for the rest of the day, the overwhelming feeling of her body wanting to just die already began to slowly fade. At some point she even managed to get up and squeeze some more grapefruits.

An unexpected knock on the door startled her so much that she dropped the fruit on the floor. She grumbled reaching down for it, as her head spun again. Professor hadn’t said anything about any potential guests or deliveries.

The elderly lady was no less startled when she saw Twilight opening the door.

“Oh! Please forgive me,” she mumbled, taking a step back. “I thought this was 42, not the memory or eyes of my youth anymore…”

“But um…” Twilight shot a look to the engraved apartment number. “This actually is 42.”

“You must be miss Rarity then!” The old mare’s eyes sparkled with joy. “Your uncle has told me so much about you. And it seems he wasn’t exaggerating at all – you really are a pretty!”

“No no.” Twilight felt she started to blush. “I am not Rarity. I am definitely not Rarity. I’m… her friend though, and…” She regained her posture. “My name is Twilight Sparkle and I’m visiting Professor Jade due to a small research we’re doing together. He had to leave for a couple of hours and left me here to… regain my strength. Would you like to come in? I don’t think that Professor would have anything against it.”

“Yes, right. The reason I came by is that I wanted to borrow some sugar. A glass would be enough if you could, dear. My granddaughter is paying me a visit tomorrow and I wanted to bake something sweet for her.” She slowly made her way to the apartment. Seeing her walk made Twilight realize that the lady was really old, maybe even older than Granny Smith, although after some point it became really difficult to guess a pony’s age. Her coat probably used to be strong yellow, but now it was mostly grey, like her mane, in which there was a memory of probably fiery orange. Many years ago she could have looked similar to Spitfire, the star of The Wonderbolts. Was it Spitfire? Twilight didn’t pay much attention to sports. Still, beyond the thick layer of heavy years on her back, shaking legs and faltering voice, there was still grace and strength in her. The body might be old, but the spirit was still strong. The eyes vividly confirmed that. Those deep blue, bright eyes.

“I almost forgot my manners, Miss Twilight Sparkle.” She slowly nodded her head. “My name is Flame Pearl, back in the days called just Pearl, my somewhat stage name of the theatre.”

“You’re an actress then?” Twilight smiled.

Pearl chuckled in response. “I used to, darling. The stage is not a place for old ponies like me. I’m retired now, of course, but back then… the lights, the flowers thrown under my hooves, the crowds… The magic of theatre flowing in my veins, watering my eyes, dancing in my voice…” Her eyes became blurry as she smiled to her memories. “Let’s say I had my moment of fame. And I’m happy with my past, the life I lived before this terrible illness called old age got me.”

“That sounds wonderful, actually. Not many ponies your age would look back and recall much more than regrets.” Twilight started to roister between countless cupboards in search for sugar. “Although, I’m afraid I haven’t seen you performing, even when I lived in Canterlot.”

“Oh I wouldn’t expect a little filly you must have been then to be interested in theatre performances, really.” Madame Pearl took a sit by the kitchen table. “You say that you used to live in Canterlot. You’re not from Manehattan then?”

“No. Like I said before, I’m just visiting the city in search for help from the Professor. I currently live in Ponyville but I grew up in Canterlot. Would you like some tea?” She raised two cups which she managed to find in the maze.

“I’d love to have a few sips. You know, Professor Jade also always treats me with a cup of tea each time I visit him. He seems so lonely since he got divorced with his wife. I swear he looks like he’s happy to see even me, an old hag who lives for her memories. Good that he hasn’t totally turned away from any female companionship.”

Twilight blushed. “It’s not like… we are no more than a science team-“

“I didn’t imply anything, Miss Sparkle.” Madame Pearl smiled to herself. “I’m just happy that he has someone to talk to, even if it’s just for a couple of days.”

“And what about the family?” The purple unicorn magically lit up a stove and put a kettle on. “Doesn’t he keep in touch with any of them?”

“I think from time to time, yes. One of his sons is still a kid. He lives in Manehattan with Jade’s ex-wife. The rest is scattered around the whole Equestria, and – knowing the family – I wouldn’t be surprised if even beyond Equestria. But even if he kept in touch with his family on daily basis, it’s far from enough. Life without friends is empty, and it hurts to see our professor slowly devoured by that emptiness. This reminds me. You said you’re a friend of his niece, Rarity. He so often talks about her. He always smiles while mentioning her, but I can always see this strange sadness in his eyes…”

“Yes, Rarity.” Twilight nodded. “They have kind of a problem with each other, but it’s a matter of misunderstanding. I think there might be at least one useful outcome of my visit-”

The door opened suddenly.

“Hi again, I hope you’re feeling a bit bet- Madame Pearl! How nice to see you.” Professor Jade energetically burst into the apartment and frantically tried to adjust his always messy tie. The mare answered him with a warm smile.

“I’ll make one more.” Twilight reached for another cup.

* * *

Madame Pearl left about half an hour later and she immediately came back for the glass of sugar she originally visited for. Twilight and Jade stayed in the kitchen sipping on tea and watching colts playing hoofball outside the window.

“I’ve got some news,” said the professor when one of the teams scored after a long fight by the goal. “I asked a few of my colleagues if any of them had ever heard of Duskwind, but, as I predicted, no one had. However, when I presented your book to one of the oldest professors and told him what it is about, he literally told me to shut up for a moment. He did remember something, a book he read many many years ago that mentioned something about the color matter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t anything by Duskwind, he was quite certain about it. But he remembered the author, someone called Glass Coat.”

Twilight felt a sudden shiver down her spine.

“Glass Coat?” She looked at the professor. “Isn’t it-"

“The only researcher Duskwind refers to in your book, yes. So you noticed it too.”

“Oh Celestia, where is this book? Does he have it? I want to see it!” Twilight jumped off her chair and started to walk in circles.

“Calm down.” Jade laughed and pointed to her chair for her to have a sit again. “It’s not that simple. We don’t have it here. The guy I mentioned hasn’t even read it in Manehattan.”

“Where then? Did he remember that too?”

“Try to guess. There is only one town that has more to offer to scientists than Manehattan. And it is called…?”

Twilight Sparkle’s eyes widened.

“… Canterlot.”

* * *

“Are you sure about this?”

“Look, technically, it’s still summer-“

“Sure doesn’t feel like it.”

It didn’t. Long and twisted braids of rain poured from the sky, soaking all the streets and alleys with water. It was an emergency thunderstorm arranged by the Pegasus Weather Debugging Team. Since the weather in general was rather unpredictable, all the calculations made in Head Weather Agency in Cloudsdale were always bound to be based on predictions and deterministic chaos, always burdened with some bigger or smaller errors. Daily control was relatively easy, but sometimes unpredicted factors could build up the tension that could form a hurricane. And that’s when the Weather Debugging Team’s job started. They often formed thunderstorms under a strict control in some desolated lands, where the risks of harm being done to anypony or anything were as small as they could get. But in some instances – the critical ones – it was safer to spread the storm over the entire region to make it way bigger, but also way less intense.

If that was less intense, Twilight prayed never to encounter the real crisis storm. Without her practical rain shield spell she would have gotten soaked at the very moment she stepped outside, even with an umbrella.

“Technically it’s still summer.” Professor Jade tried to focus on channeling his magical energy to Twilight’s spell. The bubble was elastic and it was hard to maintain it in the desired shape on the gusty wind. “And I still have time… before my classes start… And without it it’s just… some work to doARGH MY TAIL! … eventually.”

“You still forget about your right rear side of the sphere. Focus on it, I should be able to handle the rest!” Twilight screamed through the wind. It’s high time for somepony to come up with a spell that combined the anti-rain and anti-wind formulas, she thought to herself. “And maybe you shouldn’t let the work pile up so much!”

“Don’t you want me to go?”

“Well of course I do want. I just thought-“

“So stop complaining and let me worry about it, I’ve been in much worse situations before. Come on, we’re here.”

A huge line to the cashier barely let them catch the afternoon train to City of Canterlot. Surprisingly enough, they had the whole compartment for themselves.

“So, have you ever heard of that Glass Coat before?” Twilight gently unpacked The Heredity Phenomenon and placed it on the table between them.

“Even if I had, I must have forgotten, cause it doesn’t ring any bells.” Jade jumped on the seat and looked outside the window. “Do you think this storm reaches Canterlot? I’ve heard they try to avoid setting the storm clouds there because it’s too high and it would shroud the city.”

“I wonder if they were a stallion or a mare. And when did they live. That could help us determine how old this book could be.”

“When it comes to basic but neglected studies, the gap can be centuries long. And you know what bothers me?” The stallion sat up straight. “This is the second scientist and book author that seems to have been deleted from the scientist world. The second I’ve heard of and both of them wrote about the same issue. A pretty elementary one, if you asked me. Why would someone do that?”

“Now you are jumping to conclusions too quickly,” Twilight murmured from behind the opened book. “It’s definitely not an uncommon thing. Ponies write scientific essays all the time and many of them are wrong. And thus, they get rejected. Sometimes even the whole books go to trash.”

“If a theory is considered correct for a long time, and then it gets undermined, you still keep it as a part of history and evolution of science. You don’t just throw all of this away.”

Twilight closed the book with a quiet slam. “That’s why, my dear professor, we are going to investigate this thing. That’s why we a r e investigating it now. And thanks to you we have a clue. Time to get more of them.”

* * *

Canterlot, also known as the City of Dreams, was a magnificent citadel situated on a ledge prominent from the highest mountain of Equestria. It wasn’t a typical town. Instead of being just a village slowly growing and making its way to a metropolis status, it was originally designed as the land’s capital and it served its purpose from the very beginning. Not really that big for a capital city, all the buildings were located within the citadel walls. The most important and compelling part was the Canterlot Castle, the residence of the two royal god sisters: Celestia and Luna. The soaring shapes of multiple towers rose high above the city and were visible from even farther away placed towns like Ponyville. With springs and waterfalls surrounding the walls the sight of Canterlot looked like a picture from a fairy tale.

The reality wasn’t that much of a fairy tale though. While the city inside the walls was as beautiful as one could hope for, along with the capital elites’ high life, Canterlot was home to the most vital organizations and agencies of the whole kingdom, most of the military forces, administration, crisis management and, of course, the princesses themselves.

Canterlot, above all, was deadly serious.

Nevertheless, the first breath Twilight took after her first step in the city was filled with the smell of memories that she felt each time she visited the place. It was a scent of old books, fresh baked goods, expensive perfumes, sophistication and… magic.
Home.

Of course her new home in Ponyville was something she would never give away, but Canterlot was the original one, where she grew up and spent most of her filly days.

“You don’t want to hit the books right after the ride I hope.” Professor Jade fixed his tie. “I don’t know Canterlot very well. Let’s go sightseeing for a while.”

“Sightseeing, right.” Twilight smirked. “You just want to find some place to eat.”

“We DO make a good team!” He raised a hoof to his mouth. “After such a short time you can already read my mind.”

“You don’t have to be psychic to read a guy’s mind, really. I have an older brother, I know how you tick.”

“That’s sexism, and you should feel bad.”

“Was I wrong? And look, food!” She pushed a door open before he even looked around.

“Twilight Sparkle! I would say long time no see, but this time it wouldn’t be accurate.”

Some things in the universe don’t change no matter what. Centuries pass, kingdoms rise and fall, but certain places remain untouched and continue their existence unaffected by any exterior disturbances. Pony Joe’s Donut Heaven was one of such places. Always the same décor, the same furniture, the same jovial stallion behind the counter.

“Greetings Joe.” Twilight looked around the local. It was surprisingly crowded. “I see our shared first prize served you as a nice advertisement. Professor Jade, this is Pony Joe, the finest donut baker in all of Equestria.”

The stallions shook hooves.

“By the look on your face I can tell you want to order the specialty for your friend, am I right?” the baker pony asked.
Twilight stared critically at the professor for a moment. “Yes. And a banana double for me.”

* * *

“Well that was something, Professor. You managed to defeat the Specialty, it’s a rare thing to see.”

“I’m not feeling too good…”

“Maybe you’ll feel better once we gather some data about Duskwind,” Twilight chirped. “We’re here.”

The Canterlot’s main public library wasn’t as monumental as its equivalent from Manehattan, but it was incomparable when it came to diversity of tomes inside. Most of the science books were inside the branch in the castle, but they had a mutual catalogue to make the search a lot easier.

All the bookshelves inside had a clever magical mechanism allowing the user to switch between different levels without the necessity to use ladders. This, combined with semi-intelligent catalogue magical browser, made this library one of Twilight’s favorite places ever.

Sadly, it lost a few points that day.

“Nothing,” sighed Twilight resigned, falling heavily on her haunches. “Not a shade of any of them in the richest library in all of Equestria.”

“What about the castle’s sets?” Professor Jade looked uptight as well.

“The catalogues are connected. If it’s not here”- she pointed to the countless drawers -“It can’t be found in the castle either.”

“Aren’t there any things unavailable for the common users?”

Twilight shook her head. “I would know about something like this. There are some wings available only to those who have special permissions – like me – but everything, every single book or article is carefully and publically catalogued. I can ask the head librarian, because I know her pretty well, but don’t set your hopes high.”

Bookworm, the head librarian, against the common stereotype that they are all old and emaciated, was a long-legged, blond-maned and green-coated mare that could still be considered young. She also wore half glasses with thick red frames, but Twilight had always suspected their only purpose was to complete her style, not to correct any sight problems. She always moved slow, talked slow, lived slow.

“Twilight. That’s surprising,” she said, closing a thick volume. Her voice was devoid of almost any emotion. “I think we haven’t seen each other since you moved to your new town and left Canterlot. How are you? I’ve heard you’re a librarian yourself now.”

“I’m doing great, thanks. Since I moved to Ponyville my life has been as far from boring as possible. But I have no time for stories now, I’m afraid. This is Professor Jade and…” she stopped as the stallion kissed Bookworm’s hoof.

“… and we’re chasing an apparently non-existent genetics handbook author. We’re running out of ideas. Is there any chance that his books exist in this or castle’s library, but they’re not mentioned in the catalogue?”

“According to my knowledge, there was not a single case of any overlooked book in this library’s history and we don’t have any hidden or secret sets, which is rather disappointing if you asked me. Secrets are… cool.”

“We’re in a dead end then.” Jade sighed.

“I have an idea, though…” Bookworm mused, scratching her head. “Do you expect it to be something old?”

“Really old, yes. Centuries maybe.” Twilight piped up a little.

“I don’t think it’ll provide you with any actual help, but you seem to be craving for basically any clue. So… follow me.” She almost mechanically stood up and walked to the hallway.

“Have you heard of the big fire?” She turned to Twilight with her golden eyes.

“The big fire?”

“Yes. 126 years ago, in 876, this building was almost destroyed by flames. Many books burned to ashes, but luckily we managed to save most of them.” Bookworm stopped and opened a small door with a key. There were stairs behind it, leading to a dry rock-hewn cellar. “What remained technically untouched was the old catalogue which my predecessors treasured to rebuild the collection. As I already said, this probably won’t help you, but if the book or books you’re looking for were here before the fire, you should be able to find them. Take your time. If you want something, you know where to find me.”

She left them in a narrow but long cellar, lit up by two naked flashbulbs. Along the walls ran countless sets of drawers, carefully tagged with letters of the alphabet.

The search didn’t last long.

“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” Twilight almost yelled, jumping out of excitement. “There’s Duskwind! Both Philosophy of Biology and The Heredity Phenomenon. They were here, they were both here, but they must have burnt. So. Close. We. Were. So. Close!” Last words she spat one by one, counterpointing each with a smack of her hoof to the ground.

“Not only Duskwind.” Jade waved with a single chit. “Here’s our Glass Coat as well. And look, even some information. A book by the title of Advanced Genetics, released in Fillydelphia, year 531. Advanced genetics almost five hundred years ago, what do you know. Oh and it seems Glass Coat was a mare.”

“It’s no use anyway.” Twilight stared at the ceiling, where a spider laboriously weaved its web. “The books are gone.”

“Yes, but at least there’s a proof they did exist and maybe-“

The door opened. Through the gap slowly leaned in a waterfall of blond hair and a pair of red framed glasses.

“Sorry to interrupt but I remembered one more thing.”

* * *

“So, once again, where are we going now?” Jade sipped on a cup of takeaway coffee. They were strolling down the Buffaloford street, the main artery of Canterlot. It was the street that literally never rested. No matter what time of day, week or year, it was always buzzing with life like a stirred anthill. For a pony unfamiliar with the specific etiquette (no etiquette whatsoever) of walking there it was a tough task not to get swept by the unstoppable crowd. Professor had a hard time to keep the cup without spilling its contents on random passersby.

“When the library was burning, many books were lost to flames, because there wasn’t enough firefighters there to focus on anything else than putting out the fire.” Twilight hedged between streams of ponies, easily finding holes for them to fit in. “But there also was a brave earth pony who charged into the flames a few times, saving many priceless books. It turned out he was a member of a family of bibliophiles, and he was rewarded for his act with some of the books he had saved.”

“And you hope something by Duskwind or Glass Coat will be amongst them?”

“That, or the the family simply had something in their collection before the fire. Even if you’re withdrawing something from bookstores and libraries, you'd not rather take it away from ponies’ private collections, right?”

“I think it’s worth a try.”

They finally turned from Buffaloford into a side street filled with magnificent manors. It seemed the owners raced each other in making them more splendid than anypony else’s. Huge, extensive buildings were accompanied by large flower gardens, sculptures and fountains.

“It’s here,” said Jade, pointing to a towered, slightly grim – compared to others – estate made of stone. “Morning Avenue 8, as your friend Bookworm said.”

They passed the gate and walked down a gravel path towards the ornate main entrance to the manor. Twilight pulled a rope, which triggered a long melodic bell sequence.

Suddenly a door slammed open and a multi-colored tornado spilled out at them. It were four foals, two pegasi and two earth ponies. They bounced together at random directions and almost knocked down Twilight who luckily fell on protective rail.

“Easy, easy there!” shouted a male voice from inside the house. As the pony came closer to the entrance, he turned out to be a middle-aged grey pegasus with a chestnut mane combed backwards. “How can I help you, Madame? Sir?”

Professor Jade cleared his throat. “We’re looking for the head of house Hazel, if you forgive our unannounced intrusion.”

“Well then you have found him.” He nodded and stepped aside. “Please come in, my name is Riverdaze the Third of House Hazel. And please forgive the kids. They just can’t learn to look where they’re going.”

“My name is Jade and I am a professor of equinology on the University of Manehattan. This is miss Twilight Sparkle, Ponyville’s head librarian and Princess Celestia’s personal protégée. We’re here to ask if you could be so kind and let us use your famous vast collection for research purposes.

The pegasus lightened up a lot. "Of course! Maybe those dusty old tomes will finally serve some purpose. I’ll be happy to provide you with any book I have in this house.”

“You don’t like reading then?” asked Twilight, following Riverdaze along the hall. “I mean, the Hazels are supposed to be known for being, well, bibliophiles.”

The stallion laughed. “This is mostly accurate but I don’t share the family’s passion. You may call me a black sheep. I don’t enjoy reading myself and I’m keeping the library as a family tradition. Maybe one of my sons will be more into it when I pass it to him some day.” He pushed, not without effort, a heavy oakwood door and turned the lights on.

The sight was stunning. Large spiral shelves climbed up high to the ceiling along with the iron stairs that met at the top, connected by forged bridges with more bookshelves parallel to the railings.

The chamber was lit by a few crystal candelabras and in the very centre stood a wide desk carved into legendary scenes and creatures.

Professor Jade let out a long whistle.

“I’d love to stay and help, but my work is calling me. Maybe we’ll talk in the evening if you’re still here at the time.” Riverdaze slowly walked towards the exit. "My wife will bring you tea and coffee soon. I’m leaving the door open. If you need anything or want to leave, please look for me in my office. Have fun with your research.”

After mumbling a ‘thank you’ in unison, Twilight Sparkle and Professor Jade were left in the gigantic library alone, accompanied only by a few lost flies.

“This place is huge…” half-whispered Twilight.

“Yes,” Jade agreed. “Let’s hope it is sorted in some way. Otherwise it’ll be a torment.”

They split to the left and right and started searching. To their relief, the books indeed were divided into different sections. Unfortunately, the idea wasn’t the most clever one. Each section had originally limited space and when it ended, it had to start again somewhere else.

After about fifteen minutes the door opened, and a young looking pegasus mare stepped in with a plateful of temperature saving pots, cups and cookies. The unicorns thanked her from below the ceiling, and in response she also offered them help whenever they needed it.

They searched for a long time, literally high and low, losing track of passing hours. Every now and then they stepped down the stairs for a break and to replenish caffeine in their veins.

Suddenly, a shout of disbelief broke the perfect silence of the library.

“I found it! Miss Sparkle, it’s a miracle, I’ve got it!”

Twilight almost broke her legs running down the stairs. She found the professor grinning and caressing a thick book with golden letters Advanced Genetics engraved on the cover.

“Everything matches. The title, the author, the year! We did it! We found a treasure!”

Twilight read the big letters arranged in words GLASS COAT and felt a twitch near her heart, like she’d seen a long missed friend.

“Read it.” Jade handed her the book and pointed to the desk.

“Me? What about you?”

“As you can see, miracles happen. There might be Philosophy of Biology somewhere here as well. I’ll look for it.” He started climbing the stairs again.

“Don’t you want to see what’s written here?”

“I’m sure you’re better in extracting data than me. Just tell me if you find anything interesting.”

That said, he vanished between the bookshelves. Once again he found his mechanical rhythm of skimming through the backs and covers. Every time he saw ‘philosophy’ or ‘biology’ his heart skipped a beat, but Duskwind’s book was nowhere to be found. He got so lost in his element that he didn’t even notice that Twilight had appeared next to him. She threw the book under his hooves. He looked at her, surprised. She was pale and seemed terrified.

“What?” he asked with his voice full of concern.

“Page 142,” she said, barely moving muscles on her face.

He raised the book with his hooves and opened it.

… The time has come to say it out loud – Duskwind wasn’t right. Continuous research that has been made since his release shows that such operation is practical. My assistants and myself have proven that it is possible to distinguish part of a subject’s genetic code and copy it into incomplete further subjects. So far we have successfully modified a few plant species and simple organisms…

The book slipped through Professor’s hooves and hit the bridge with a loud thud.

“We were wrong… we were wrong all the time. They’re not gifted children raised to be guardsmen. They’re… they’re…” He raised his head and looked Twilight in the eyes.

“Clones, professor. They’re clones.”