• Published 26th May 2020
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Tales from Everfree City - LoyalLiar

Princess Platinum and Celestia's first student face changelings, a magical curse, the specter of war with the griffons, and the threat of arranged marriage in early Equestria.

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Interlude IV - Three Gifts

Interlude IV

Three Gifts

A brief note before I move forward: the following text contains some discussion of Twilight Sparkle’s translations of Commander Hurricane’s official history of the end of the Cirran Empire. Twilight published these texts under the name A Song of Storms (after Hurricane’s ‘gens’, or family name, ‘Stormblade’). While the texts aren’t required reading, I feel that given how long they were lost to Equestria until Twilight stumbled upon them again, I should include some means for future readers to find them from this enchanted, and therefore substantially more survivable tome.

The following is my effective, if curious, solution.

Humans—the strange and mundane monkey equivalent of naked mole rats who live on the other side of Star Swirl’s magic mirror, and amongst whom Sunset Shimmer had been living until the adventures I am reciting here—are in possession of powerful relics they call ‘phones’, after the Cirran word for sound. I assume the use of Cirran (for there was a Cirran Empire in their world as well… but this is neither the place nor am I the writer to relate theories on semi-parallel histories) relates to the fact that they are powered by captive lightning, which falls under the purview of pegasus magic, despite providing a function much more similar to the effects of unicorn arcana.

These ‘phones’, which are capable of producing sound, are nevertheless mostly used for the viewing of script and of terrifyingly accurate paintings, often produced by the ‘phone’ itself. In my opinion, though, the most curious quality of these objects is that the text and pictures they display can change to whatever their wielder desires, through the use of segments of glowing script called… ‘hiber-links’, I believe was the phrase. The etymology seems obvious: since the desired text is ‘sleeping’ somewhere beneath the top visible script, the metaphor for hibernation makes sense. And ‘links’ indicate that the enchanted text is the chain that connects the visible text to its slumbering counterpart.

I explain all this so that you are not surprised when you see the following titles on my page enchanted with an arcane glow (or... underlined or something? I don't fully understand the magic yet); touch it with your hoof or tentacle or whatever appendage you happen to be using, and the text before you shall be replaced with Twilight’s two published volumes of translated Cirran history: Of Skies Long Forgotten and Snow and Shadows.

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

Whoever named the town at the edge of the Everfree Forest ‘Ponyville’ should be thrown off of the tallest balcony of Canterlot. Even the dragons, a species with the linguistic nuance and fluidity of a sock rendered rigid by its being in the possession of a teenage colt, still refrain from naming a city ‘Drakongrod’. And lest somepony oh-so-clever point out the griffon sites of ‘Griffonstone’ and ‘Grivridge’—the former was given that name at its founding because it was notable for such a site to exist on Equestrian soil, hence the distinction of the race adding some value. Meanwhile the latter actually stems from the griffon word for ‘grief’, owing to the grief at the loss of life many griffons felt when their capital city of Angenholt was torn in half by an earthquake large enough that the resulting chasm is its own distinct climate zone.

I assume, since the indolent fart of greater equine civilization called Ponyville was home to Twilight Sparkle’s eyesore of a castle and her School of Friendship—teaching lessons which, while important, have also been figured out by every generation of ponies in recorded history by sheer intuition—it must presumably still exist at the time of reading; however, while her two most infamous and hideously tacky public works had come into being by the day I will shortly describe, the city had not yet grown into a hub of Equestrian bureaucracy. Thus, when The Constellation descended from Canterlot’s alpine streets, there was plenty of room for the oversized catamaran to set down very near the School of Friendship, without worry for crushing any of the widely spaced quaint thatched roof cottages which served as homes for the surrounding population.

As Tempest Shadow guided the masterwork of aeronautical engineering and struggled to conceal a giddy grin at its superb handling, Sunset Shimmer gathered the other two members of her four pony crew around the ship’s wheel on the upper deck. Somnambula begrudgingly abandoned her place leaning over the deck’s railing with the wind in her face and gently adjusted her headdress, seemingly perfectly dressed for a balmy early summer day in the heartland of Equestria. Red Ink was anything but; the Stalliongradi guardstallion still insisted on wearing his fur-lined black coat, although beneath it he had replaced his guardspony cuirass with a white collar (unattached to any shirt, as had inexplicably become the style) and a dark blue necktie that clashed rather horribly with the surrounding garment.

“Alright, team,” Sunset began. “I think I talked to all of you separately, but I guess we should get on the same page. We’re stopping in Ponyville for a little bit to get some last information and leads, and then that might be our last stop in Equestria for a while. Princess Celestia said Twilight—you all know Twilight, right?” Three heads nodded in unison. “Well, she did an archeological dig a few years ago in Stalliongrad… Did I say something wrong, Lieutenant Ink?”

Ink frowned when he realized his heavy wince had not passed unnoticed. “Where do I even start?” Red Ink scratched at the back of his neck with a wing. “City and domain are both ‘Stol’nograd’, not ‘Stalliongrad’ - it means ‘capital city’ not ‘boy pony town’.”

Ah, a stallion after my own heart. At least, in this one extremely limited case.

“Second, just ‘Ink’ please. Most ponies in Ponyville know I am guardspony, but think I am just a reservist who takes it too seriously or something. But third… the reason I actually wince is I know about Sparkle’s dig. One of my subordinates nearly killed her and Rainbow Dash, thinking they were rebels. It… Her brother and I still do not get along, shall we say?”

“You have a problem with rebels in Stalliongrad?” Tempest asked over her shoulder. “I thought that was supposed to be the hard part of Equestria, where the secret police wouldn’t tolerate that sort of thing.”

“Isn’t ‘police’ just another word for a guardspony? Why would police need to be secret?” Somnambula asked.

“Oh, sweet summer child…” Ink, whose out-of-season twelve-bit black jacket had been the namesake of Stalliongrad’s secret police in his younger and more enthusiastically judicially corrupt days, chuckled as he shook his head.

“I’m forty times your age, mister,” Somnambula retorted, albeit in a joking, good-humored tone.

Sunset, for her part, sighed. “Hopefully none of that will come up in our search. Regardless, Twilight—and Rainbow Dash, apparently—found an original copy of the Cirran Chronicles from Commander Hurricane and his daughter, Commander Typhoon.”

Somnambula, adorably, raised a hoof as if she were a foal in elementary school.

The wind tousled Sunset’s mane as she shook her head in amusement. “You can just talk, Somnambula.”

“Oh. If you need to know about Commander Hurricane and Commander Typhoon, I’m sure Flash could tell you all about them. And I know a little myself…”

“Or just read a history book,” Ink muttered, clearly losing interest in the conversation as he wandered toward the railing of the ship himself to look down on his home.

“Your firsthoof knowledge should be very helpful, Somnambula, but from what Princess Celestia said, some of these records are from after you and the other pillars went to the Between… sorry, Limbo; Morty’s weird terms are getting to me.” Sunset glared at Red Ink’s disinterest for a moment, but decided the better part of valor was just carrying on and hoping he was still listening.. “And if what Princess Celestia implied is true, she made Twilight keep some of what’s in that record secret when she published her findings, so I’m pretty confident they won’t be in a history book, no matter how obvious that might seem.”

“I’m sure that pissed Sparkle off,” Ink, evidently still paying attention, noted with a certain obvious schadenfreude.

“Anyway, we’re stopping in Ponyville so I can get the lowdown on that from her. That’s it. You’re welcome to all disembark for a few hours if you want to stretch your legs or buy anything you want for the trip—I know Pinkie Pie runs a bakery here if you want anything tastier than what’s in our supplies—but otherwise that’s all we have planned for our stop. I’m hoping to be back in the sky before sunset.”

“But… is that some kind of magic thing?” Somnambula asked. “How can you be anywhere before yourself?”

“I don’t mean me; I mean…” Sunset’s objection faded when she realized from Somnambula’s expression that the tan pegasus was teasing her. “I see.”

“Sorry; couldn’t resist.”

“You go ahead. I have a few errands to run,” Ink announced. “Secret Service put me in touch with a contact from S.M.I.L.E. in town who’ll have more up-to-date information on where we can find Caballeron. I should probably go alone to that.”

“Ah, right,” Sunset nodded. “So, it turns out the amulet Princess Celestia told us Morty might be looking for was in Canterlot not that long ago. Unfortunately, it was stolen. But while we don’t know who stole it, or why, we do know who it was stolen from: an art thief and smuggler named Dr. Caballeron. Unless Twilight gives us something better to go on, he’s the first lead we’re going to be chasing down.”

Tempest turned fully away from the wheel for a moment with a raised brow. “Caballeron? Really?”

“You know him?”

“I…” Tempest swallowed back a moment of hesitation. “My ‘old boss’ had a lot of interest in magical relics. Our paths crossed a few times. He’ll remember me.”

“You don’t need to be coy about it,” Ink muttered.

Tempest afforded the red stallion a rather rude gesture before returning her attention to parking The Constellation.

Ink took the insult in stride, and apparently some amusement. “I’ll also need to talk to whoever Sparkle has to substitute my class and hand over my lesson plans; I wasn’t planning on trip up to Canterlot turning into a who-knows-how-long trip.”

“That’s a good point.” Sunset nodded. “Tempest, Somnambula, do either of you need to… um, get your affairs in order, or—”

Without turning from the wheel, Tempest took that moment to interrupt. “And here I thought we just settled that this wasn’t a suicide mission.” With a dismissive flick of her short, military-cropped tail, the armored mare added “I don’t exactly have anypony who’d care if I didn’t come back.”

“Oh, you must have somepony,” Somnambula cut in, pouting just a bit at the cold comment. “I mean, I have ponies who’d miss me, even though nearly everypony I was ever close to died almost two thousand years ago!”

If anything, the chipperness of Somnambula’s counterargument was far more unsettling to Sunset Shimmer than Tempest’s grim declaration of her status as a rugged lone wolf on the edge with nothing to lose… surely, you know the type. “Eeexcellent…. Well,” and, having pivoted the conversation with all the grace and turning radius of an overburdened tanker ship threatening to capsize, Sunset pressed on with “Somnambula, Tempest, you’re welcome to come with me to talk to Twilight.”

“That sounds nice,” Somnambula agreed.

“How about you, Tempest?”

“If it’s all the same, I’ll stick with the ship. Chatting it up over tea isn’t my style.”

Sunset frowned slightly, and (being literally over Ponyville) it seems her mind drifted to the now infamous lessons of one Princess Twilight Sparkle. “If you like things a little less chatty, why don’t you go with Red Ink on his spy meetup thing?” As she spoke, Sunset’s eyes caught Ink in the corner of her vision, frantically making a slashing motion across his throat with a hoof—motions which she promptly ignored. “I think it would be good for the team to build some understanding.”

Tempest let out a little sigh. “If you insist.”

⚜ ⚜ ⚜

“I have not actually been to this school before,” Somnambula explained to Sunset Shimmer. “It looks like the palaces back home. So much flowing water.”

Speaking with confidence on the subject, Somanmbula should have given her home more credit for its empirically superior aesthetics, being constructed with the general awareness that pastel pink, while acceptable for highlights, is not an especially pleasant primary tone for a building’s overall facade.

“I haven’t been back to Ponyville since they built it either.” Sunset grinned. “First time for both of us, I guess.” Sunset’s horn sputtered for a moment, and she chuckled at the failure, before managing to wrap her grip around the handles of the door.

“Oh no! You don’t suffer from the horn rot too, do you?” Somnambula blanched despite the school’s stained glass doors being held open for her, beneath an emblem of a stylized Twilight Sparkle.

Sunset shook her head. “Just still not totally used to having a horn again. On the other side of the mirror, I don’t—woah!” Hopping aside, Sunset glared as a tiny orange dragoness shot past. “Hey, careful!”

“Sorry! Just trying not to be late!”

“Before you go,” Sunset interrupted, managing to convince the tiny dragon to hover in place. “Where’s Twilight’s office?”

“The headmistress?” A draconic claw gestured down the hall. “That way. It’s written on the door. Gotta go, bye!”

“She seems very concerned with being late,” Somnambula observed with slight amusement. “Do you think she’s in trouble?”

“Maybe the teacher’s strict,” Sunset replied with a shrug. “I bet Rarity would probably make a big deal out of it.”

“Do all of Twilight’s friends teach here?”

Sunset nodded, before hesitating. “Well, the six main ones; not all her friends, obviously. There wouldn’t be enough classrooms. And Starlight’s the guidance counselor. Oh, don’t forget what we talked about not talking about.”

“I won’t,” Somnambula promised. “She warned us herself. And that was only a couple of months ago, at least from my perspective.”

As they continued talking down the hallway, Sunset’s eyes finally fell on a door set with a wooden plaque labeled ‘Twilight Sparkle - Headmistress’. She walked carefully up to the door and knocked three times.

“Come in!” Twilight’s voice announced, as a raspberry glow pulled, visible even from the exterior despite being wrapped around the interior handle (let it never be said I don’t acknowledge the mare’s freakish arcane strength), to open the door.

Normally, in her mortal years, Twilight was the model of a resolute academic—skinny limbed, but with a slight plushness to the middle of her figure—wrapped in a pink-purple coat. As an alicorn, she was a few inches taller than anypony else in most any given room, though she didn’t give the appearance of being especially tall for an alicorn (if such a concept even makes sense), and from what I have learned of her pre-ascension years, she certainly wasn’t notable in any way for her shape or form as a unicorn. Her mane, not yet ripply and magical, instead sat in a row of squared-off bangs that I have to suspect she volunteered in a sales pitch for a pair of garden shears, or perhaps a hedge trimmer; I can imagine no other reason for such a perfectly ruler-straight effect on not only her bangs, but also the mane on her neck and the end of her tail, since in over eighteen hundred years of life I have never once known such a style to be considered desirable or attractive or regarded positively in any way.

Frankly, if I didn’t know better, I might have guessed that somepony had yanked Archmage Diadem from the days of my youth, dunked her in a bottle of Peptic Balmo (or whatever the equivalent stomach medication is in your day, reader; the slimy pink stuff) and thrown away her signature headpiece.

Hilariously, though, on that particular day of all days, Twilight wasn’t coated in her usual purple-pink, leading Somnambula to confusedly announce “Diadem?”

“Oh, you recognized my costume, Somnambula!” Twilight grinned from ear to ear.

“I…” Somnambula hesitated, then nodded. “You look just like her.”

Magically doffing a set of replica historical pajamas—again, if you can’t run in them, they aren’t suitable attire for a wizard—Twilight revealed that she had only applied a coat of makeup (or perhaps kabuki makeup, or even house paint, given how thick it looked at the line where it stopped on her neck) to her face. “Hello, Sunset. Somnambula. It’s so good to see both of you. Please, come in! Have a seat! I’m sorry you caught me getting ready, but Rarity said this was the last time she’d have time to take measurements for Nightmare Night costumes, since it falls so close to the Gala this year, and I figured I should make sure everything fit together.”

“I thought the point of Nightmare Night was to dress up as something scary; you dress as a real pony?” Somnambula asked, obviously confused, as she took one of the offered seats across Twilight’s desk in the cramped office. That isn’t to say the room was actually small, however; rather, the sense of claustrophobia inherent in the seats came because Twilight had clearly used her magic to violate the laws of physics and spacetime in the interest of filling the room with as many books and records as possible… or rather, given the start of this sentence, as impossible.

“Yep. I did Archmage Star Swirl the first year I was in Ponyville… though I made my copy of his robe myself, and boy, does it not hold up to the real thing…” Twilight shook her head. “But I’ve done a different historical wizard every year since then, and since I opened the school, I’ve been wearing them to teach about magical history. Diadem the Enkindler seemed like an obvious choice, since she basically founded the modern education system.” The young alicorn seemed only then to realize how rapidly she’d been speaking, and forced a pause in her own enthusiasm to nod to her guests. “Um… I can get this makeup off if you give me a minute, unless you're busy. Have you two eaten? Do you want lunch, or tea, or something?”

“It’s a little early for lunch for me,” said Sunset. “But tea would be nice.”

“I would not mind a cup,” Somnambula agreed.

With a nod of her horn, Twilight both acknowledged the requests and magically set a kettle, presumably enchanted given the lack of a real flame beneath it, gently shaking on her shelf, where it was wedged between a copy of the previous year’s exam records and the first volume of the Equestrian Fire Safety Code.

“I’ll just… be right back,” Twilight announced, stepping through another door on one of the room’s walls, not particularly hidden as a secret bookcase door might be, but nevertheless mounted with a shelf on its face so as not to waste valuable library space. “And Starlight; she’s been looking forward to seeing you again after your whole ‘movie theatre’ adventure, Sunset.”

Having already vanished out the door, Twilight failed to see Sunset and Somnambula exchange nervous glances and a single, seemingly choreographed, synchronous nod of determination.

When Starlight Glimmer, who I shall not yet call ‘Archmage Hourglass’ for the sake of accuracy, entered the room, our heroines were completely unprepared.

“Sunset!” The pink mare, or ‘grayish heliotrope’ if you have a degree less valuable than the parchment it’s written on, burst through the door with a grin on her face and her purple-and-teal toothpaste-striped mane styled rather differently than usual; namely, rougher, shorter, and a touch more masculine than her usual dramatic swoop of hair. “Oh, it’s so good to see you again! And hi to you too, Somnambula! Welcome to Ponyville!”

“It’s good to see you!” Sunset managed as Starlight approached her seat from behind to wrap her in a hug. “I heard Twilight made you the student counselor, but I wasn’t expecting to find you here like this.”

“I hope I’m at least a pleasant surprise,” Starlight retorted, pulling back and adjusting the cuffs of her black sleeves. “How about you? Twilight said you were coming to visit us, but I didn’t hear a lot about why.”

“Hmm?” Sunset could feel herself building up to a sweatdrop on her temple. “Oh, we, uh… well, Princess Celestia is sending us on a mission looking for some, uh… some old artifact. From a long time ago.”

“From my time,” Somnambula contributed.

“Oh, so you’re here for those records Twilight dug up in Stalliongrad? Is that why you’re being coy?” Starlight donned a mock pout. “You know, I’m a little bit envious. Twilight won’t even let me see the third one. I guess Princess Celestia made her promise to keep it secret or something. But not even having a vague idea what’s inside is the worst.”

“Yeah, I… don’t think we’re allowed to talk about it either.”

“I get it; we can still be friends. I’m sure Princess Celestia has a good reason.” Starlight shrugged, then paced around the room and flopped down into Twilight’s tall-backed chair. In the course of this action, she revealed her full outfit, causing Sunset and Somnambula to share a strange look.

“Hey, is something wrong?” Starlight asked. “Oh, is it the costume? I know; not my usual look, especially not compared to what I wore in the human world, right? Well, Twilight invited me—and all our friends—to pick somepony from history we admire for our Nightmare Night costumes instead of being some generic monster or something. It’s her idea of how to—” and here, she pantomimed air quotes with her hooves, “—’use Nightmare Night as a teaching opportunity’. So here’s mine.”

The garment in question was a black jacket, fetlock length at the forelegs, open along the breast but tied shut at the waist with a red sash. Near her flanks, it ended not in a continued masculine straight cut, but a sort of pleated skirt. Still, with the requisite half-hoof’s width or so of scarlet trim in the same fabric as the sash, it was an excellent and fetching reinterpretation of the garment in question.

The skull earrings were a step too far, though.

“Who…” Sunset began before nervously catching herself. “Uh, who is he?”

“He?” Starlight chuckled. “Oh, you probably guessed from the manecut, right? I used a little bit of illusion magic so I didn’t have to cut it; when the spell runs out it’ll just ‘pop’ back to the normal length, since Rarity warned me it absolutely isn’t safe to regrow a cut mane with transmutation magic. Anyway, my costume is of a pony named Coil the Immortal. Did you ever hear about him, Sunset? You studied under Princess Celestia, right?”

Sunset swallowed, panicking inwardly about what exactly to say that wouldn’t create a literal time paradox in casual conversation about a Nightmare Night costume. Finally, she settled on “No, n-never heard of him.”

“Funny. He’s like the most important necromancer who ever lived, and from only like three hundred years ago. Or at least, that’s what he claimed in his book. I never actually got my necromancy license, so I’ve never had a real class or anything on it.” Starlight shrugged. “Anyway, he’s my favorite, and obscure enough that I can probably use him to talk about the differences between equity and equality without bringing up my own past. I used to have a book he wrote called Discourse on the Origins of Talent Mark Inequality… did I ever tell you about my village? I guess I shouldn’t be proud of this, but uh, that was part of what gave me the idea. Coil was an expert on how souls work, and he apparently even had a spell that would let you grab onto somepony’s soul while they were still alive. I don’t know what good it was supposed to be for, since he only really alluded to it, but he put down enough theory that I was kind of able to figure out something sort of like it—a spell to remove somepony’s cutie mark. I never really figured out what the original spell was supposed to do, though; he used some kind of insane notation where all his hexagons had seven sides.”

“Septagons?” Sunset suggested.

Starlight shook her head firmly. “No; regular hexagons with seven sides. They don’t fit into any two-, or even three-dimensional mapping of space. Like I said, it was insane.”

“I do not understand,” Somnambula whispered.

“Neither do I,” Starlight pushed herself up from the chair. “Well, it’s nice to see you, but I understand if I’m not allowed to listen in, and I don’t want to keep you if you’re on a mission for the princesses. Twilight should be back soon, and… if I’m being honest, I really wanna listen in, but I should probably be a good pony and leave. Rarity will want me back to take in the waist of my dress so we know everything fits before Nightmare Night.” With a wave and a flash of her horn and a pop of magic, Starlight let herself out of the office.

Immediately, both remaining mares exhaled.

“Do you think she knows?” Somnambula asked. “I do not think she is the kind of pony who would pull a prank like that.”

“Yeah; from the time I spent with her and what I hear from Twilight, Starlight’s a pretty no-nonsense pony. At least, when she’s not misusing magic, but that’s more absentmindedness or bad judgement then, like, making a joke at somepony’s expense. But you’re right; it does seem like it couldn’t just be coincidence. Maybe we ask Twilight if she mentioned anything? Or Star Swirl?”

“We can ask; Star Swirl knows some things about coincidence and luck, because of his student Clover’s magic, if my memory is correct. But I would be very surprised if either of them had spoken to her; she thought Morty was only three hundred years old, right?”

“Yeah, I’m sure even if Twilight didn’t know he’s still alive, she wouldn’t have gotten the date that wrong.”

It took a few further minutes of quiet conversation before Twilight Sparkle actually returned, but when she did, she was sans her Diadem-colored coat dye, and carrying in her magical grip a sizeable wooden chest, bound with steel bands and covered in arcane runes. It settled onto the ground beside her desk with a pronounced hiss, a testament to the power of the magic keeping it secure. Somewhat amusingly, then, when Twilight directed her horn more directly at it, the lid simply popped open, allowing her to remove a procession of items. The first was an obviously ancient leather-bound book with yellowed parchment, bound shut with recently added modern metal bands. Next came a smaller, all steel but similarly rune-emblazoned chest, perhaps a bit longer than a matchbox. After that box, another container was gingerly lowered; this one far longer than its predecessor (and, for that matter, the chest it was removed from), at nearly the length of a pony’s torso from shoulder to dock.

A moment later, she lowered three cups of tea (not from the chest) to rest in front of her two guests and her own seat, along with a small bowl of sugar cubes, a pitcher of cream, and a plate of lemon slices. It should be noted, however, that before she released her grip, she quickly cast a separate shield on each component, as well as a shimmering wall of force between the tea set and the tome she had brought in. Though it quickly faded to transparency, Sunset recognized the spell as a powerful shielding spell, one favored by military ponies more than academic wizards (as, in these more modern days, there are so few proper wizards left).

“Phew… okay, here we are. As promised, tea, no makeup, and what Princess Celestia said I was supposed to give you.” Twilight grinned as she returned to her seat, restoring her place with some of the most delicate motion I have seen of any pony toward furniture they themselves owned. It was as if she feared to put too much motion into the air. “So, a little background: a few years ago, I was doing some research on magical history… actually, it was for my Star Swirl Nightmare Night costume, but anyway, I convinced Princess Celestia to let me into the sealed Star Swirl wing of the library at Canterlot. Just so I could get at the history books, not anything magic or anything. While I was looking for records from that time period, though, I found a book a lot like this one.” Twilight nodded down to the tome in question. “Not literally this one, just something similar. It was written in ancient Cirran, and it didn’t actually have a library index entry—which isn’t that uncommon in the Star Swirl wing, since so few ponies are allowed in and you don’t exactly want to just put stickers and stamps on books that old—”

“Twilight, take a breath,” Sunset interrupted. “I appreciate the background, but where are you going with this?”

“Oh; uh, Princess Celestia sent a letter to Spike saying she was sending you to go find Archmage Coil, and that I was supposed to help you. Sorry, did I not say that?”

“No,” Somnambula clarified.

“Oh. I, uh, get ahead of myself sometimes.” Twilight sucked down a breath, and then turned to her teacup; it was nearly to her lips when the tea kettle on her shelf abruptly whistled, causing the alicorn to startle, lift the kettle with her magic, hold it aloft over her cup, and then stare at the fact that it was still completely full. “I’ll have to put this in the teacher’s lounge or something, so it doesn’t go to waste.”

“Are you busy?” Somnambula asked the scatterbrained alicorn. “We can come back later or something.”

“No, you’re on an important mission from the Princess. This obviously has priority. I’m sure Rarity would hate it, but I can always finish my costume myself.” Twilight lowered her teacup, steepled her hooves, and pressed them down toward her belly as she closed her eyes and lowered her shoulders. The breathing exercise was unsubtle, but so were its benefits. “The point I was building to is that I had found one of Commander Hurricane’s original Cirran Chronicles—the official Imperial histories of the pegasus empire, supposedly from its founding until it was absorbed into Equestria. The one I found was Hurricane’s first, Of Skies Long Forgotten; it told the story of how he became Emperor and left Dioda—that’s the continent we’d call ‘Zebrica’ these days.”

“We heard some of those stories when I first came to Equestria,” said Somnambula. “Not from Hurricane, though; he was quite the quiet stallion about his own deeds. I would love to have a chance to read them.”

“I’ll grab you a copy from the school library,” said Twilight with a smile. “Princess Celestia allowed me to publish my translation.” Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she added “Most of it, anyway. The last chapter was strange, and the Princess asked me to leave it out so I wouldn’t risk affecting our relations with the griffons.”

“Because Hurricane was racist against griffons?” Sunset asked. “Because, uh… surprise?”

“No, nothing like that.”

“Yes he was,” Somnambula corrected hesitantly. “Um, if I’m being honest, pretty violently.”

“I…” Twilight chuckled. “Yes, I suppose so. What I mean is, that isn’t the reason the Princess was worried about including the last chapter. You see, the last chapter of Of Skies Long Forgotten is fictitious. It was obviously added later by somepony else’s quill; the script didn’t match Hurricane’s calligraphy. I did some chemistry to source the ink, and confirmed it came from near here, probably in Everfree City, even though the first chronicle was written while Hurricane was still in the Compact Lands. But most importantly, Hurricane couldn’t have been present to see the events it describes, even if they were true. It claimed Commander Hurricane’s second-in-command, Silver Sword—who Hurricane described having left behind in the final battle as the pegasi were fleeing—it claims he killed Emperor Magnus.”

Sunset raised a brow. “Like, the immortal griffon emperor? Princess Celestia’s griffon counterpart?”

“Exactly,” Twilight agreed. “He obviously isn’t dead, since he’s still around today. And like I said, Hurricane could not possibly have written that last chapter anyway, because he wasn’t there. He flew away before Silver Sword even confronted Emperor Magnus.” Twilight shook her head. “I was just going to include a preface explaining I doubted their authenticity, but the Princess felt Emperor Magnus might take it personally; apparently, he’s very proud of his skills as a warrior. So while it would be one thing to censor Commander Hurricane’s first-hoof account, I didn’t think it was much of a problem to omit what was obviously somepony else’s made-up addition.”

“Does that relate to finding Morty?” Sunset asked.

“You call him by the nickname?” Twilight raised a brow, then shook her head before Sunset could answer. “I suppose the first story wouldn’t matter much. But after I found that record, and I was able to cross-reference Hurricane’s maps of where he landed in what’s now the Domain of Stalliongrad, I thought I might be able to find Cirran archeological sites on the ground that had been lost to the eternal winter—obviously, since Cloudsdale has been continuously inhabited for almost two thousand years, there isn’t much left of the original Cirran construction beyond the really big architectural works like the baths.”

Somnambula immediately perked up. “The Baths are still in Cloudsdale?! Oh, once we get back, I absolutely have to go again!”

“Does the mob still work out of the back rooms?” Sunset teased.

Twilight arched a brow as only a purebred academic can. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Something from Morty’s records.” From within her pocket dimension, Sunset produced the earlier copy of the book you’re currently reading. “Hurricane’s ex-spymaster turned into some kind of minor crimelord—”

“Ah, you must mean ‘the Dawn’, the head of his frumentarii.” (For being nearly two thousand years removed, Twilight’s emulated Cirran accent was surprisingly authentic.) “I’m sorry, I’m getting off track again. Yes, Somnambula, the baths are still in Cloudsdale. But before they were built, the pegasi… the Cirran pegasi, I guess I should clarify, lived on the ground of the Compact Lands. And sure enough, Rainbow and I found a site, and an original copy of Hurricane’s second chronicle, Snow & Shadows.”

“From the title, I’m guessing it’s about Hearth’s Warming Eve?”

Twilight nodded, midway through a sip of tea. “Ahh. Yep, you guessed it. But it was a lot more detailed and more accurate than the pageant. It covered Cyclone’s rebellion, Typhoon’s… well, I’m sure you know.” In fact, Sunset didn’t know, but being caught midway through a sip of her own tea, she didn’t find a chance to ask before Twilight pushed on. “The point is, that book led to one more.” Twilight frowned. “Well, really it led on a whole crazy adventure. We got attacked by the Stalliongradi guardsponies, the ‘Black Cloaks’, and we joined the resistance for a little bit.”

“Is that related to what happened to Rainbow Dash?” Sunset asked. “With Princess Luna?”

“I don’t know what—” Twilight’s eyes flashed painfully with realization, and her ears folded down against her bang-heavy mane. “Oh. I see. And… yes, that would be why Princess Celestia would want to find Archmage Coil.” Then Twilight shook her head. “That was a different thing. Unrelated. After we got back. Well, actually I guess it kind of was related, because she was only in Canterlot in the first place that night because I wanted her to be with me when I shared some of the things I learned on that research trip at the…” Twilight’s words faded off, and at last she hung her head. “The simple answer is no. Rainbow and I came back from Stalliongrad cold, and a little beat up, but mostly fine. And we found these.” Waving her hoof over the book and the box, Twilight smiled.

“And these are…?” Somnambula prompted.

“Well, the book is the last Cirran chronicle, primarily written by Hurricane’s successor, Commander Typhoon, but co-written at least in part by her older brother Cyclone. They titled it Mira Caela, which traditionally gets translated into Equiish as the ‘Great Skies’—but since that’s the Cirran name for the afterlife and not some kind of ‘better empty air’, the most honest modern translation would be Summer Lands.”

“About everypony dying” Sunset cocked her head. “So I’m guessing it’s about Solemn Vow? How Hurricane lost his wing?”

“In part,” Twilight nodded as she spoke, before pausing and raising a brow. “Wait, you already know about that?”

“Only second-hoof,” Sunset replied, and again gestured down to this book. “Morty apparently caused a huge scandal just by seancing him to get advice in his conflict with Wintershimmer.”

“Ah, so you haven’t touched on any of Hurricane’s—” Twilight’s voice dropped off with all the suddenness of thick wool gripping a ringing cymbal. “Nevermind. What was I saying?” Her eyes quickly swept to the book on the table. “Right; you have to understand, while the Cirran chronicles do ‘tell stories’ in the sense we understand them, they’re also formal historical documents. The physical book of Snow and Shadows wasn’t just about the events of the first Hearth’s Warming Day; it starts almost twenty years earlier, and walks all the way through the Tri-Pony Compact and Hurricane’s part in the so-called Crystal Wars. And Summer Lands is the same. Hurricane stopped writing his Cirran chronicles when Cirra stopped being an independent nation with the founding of Equestria. Typhoon covers Equestrian history starting with her father’s rule at the beginning of Equestria, but she carries on past his death. This is a first-hoof account of the first half-century of Equestria’s history. And it’s a perspective we’ve never had on those years before. Even the Pillars returning didn’t give us that, since you went into Limbo before some of those later events. And frankly, this openly contradicts huge portions of what we know as history. Which, given what we know about Queen Platinum the Fourth’s approach to history, shouldn’t be surprising, but since that was all we had to go off of…” Twilight shook her head. “I’m guessing you get the point?”

Sunset nodded. “But why won’t Princess Celestia let you publish it? And what does it have to do with our mission? I’m sure she’s not afraid ponies are going to be up in arms even if Typhoon’s version of the Centralization Reforms makes the nobility look bad; that was centuries ago.”

Twilight solemnly shook her head, and then looked up at the door to her office before actually speaking. Sunset watched her cast some sort of warding spell, though it wasn’t obvious just which, before taking a moment to straighten her shoulders. “No, it’s not a problem of politics. Unfortunately, I don’t know exactly what the problem is. I have a guess, but… well, nevermind.”

“The Princess didn’t explain?” Sunset asked. “Even to you?”

“No,” Twilight answered. “When she sent me instructions for how to help you, she said she’d tell me soon—which I’m hoping means when you get back with Archmage Coil—but at first she didn’t even say that.”

“Oh,” Somnambula nodded. “Then it’s probably because Starlight is going to be Archmage Hourglass.”

“She what?!”

Sunset nodded slowly, and on nervous instinct flicked her head back toward the office’s door, in open spite of the spell Twilight had just spun. “Uh, don’t tell Starlight that. But, well... yes.” To prove her point, the yellow mage replaced this tome with her copy of Beginner’s Guide and read the previously mentioned passage about Starlight reading from the very same book. You remember, I’m sure; the confusing, self-referencing one with the nested dialogue.

I won’t torture your reading comprehension to narrate that with triply-nested self-reference, dear reader. Suffice it to say it was very confusing.

Twilight, having gleefully teetered on the cliff’s edge of fraying sanity for nearly her entire adult life as the ground eroded beneath her hooves, was foaming at the mouth by the time Sunset finished.

“She… I…”

“She actually warned us that she’d be there when we got out of Limbo, and that we had to pretend we weren’t expecting it,” Somnambula added. “I did not really like having to lie about that, but she said it was important that she not find out who she was going to become… Oh, that is very confusing to talk about. But I think when we talked to her before we left is still in her future, even though it is in our past. Does that make sense?”

“Idawhafutuhawha?” Twilight replied.

“I think maybe we should, uh, not talk about time travel anymore right now,” Sunset suggested.

“Maybe that is for the best,” Somnambula agreed.

As the two guests waited for their host to come back to her senses, they finished their cups of tea, and Sunset took the liberty of refilling both from the kettle Twilight had prepared and subsequently forgotten about. While a bit overbrewed and strong, it was nevertheless an excellent blend, and discussion of its comparison to Somanmbula’s hometown ‘shay’ filled the time until, finally, Twilight snapped into a stiffer posture and spoke up. “But Starlight swore she was giving up time travel, after she almost ended the world like forty times.”

“Well, I’d say we have pretty strong evidence somepony eventually convinces her otherwise,” Sunset teased. “Welcome back to Equestria, by the way, Twilight. You’ve got a little bit of foam on the corner of your mouth there.”

“Oh? Sorry. Sorry!” Twilight rubbed a hoof down her muzzle. “I was just thinking through all the times I’d heard Archmage Hourglass mentioned in my research, and thinking back to the alternate timelines she made when she was trying to ruin my friendship with my friends.”

“She did what?” Somnambula asked. “That seems awfully petty.”

Sunset, quicker on the draw, frowned deeply. “Actually, that’s horrifying—wouldn’t Nightmare Moon have won, if you and your friends didn’t use the Elements of Harmony?”

“That was one alternate timeline, yes,” Twilight answered. “Actually, probably the nicest one, all things considered. Much better than Queen Chrysalis, or ‘His Excellence’, or the weird one where Flim and Flam of all ponies put out the sun. But that’s behind us though. We already forgave her, and everything is better, so I wouldn’t want to hurt Starlight dredging up those memories. I know she usually doesn’t like to think about it too much. It was just the last time I remember her using time magic.”

“If you want to talk about something else—”

“Yes, lets!” Twilight interrupted over-enthusiastically.

Sunset deflated gently at the interruption. “—while I’m sure this history of ancient Equestria is very interesting, I’m still working through Morty’s version, and I’m not sure anything that old is going to help us find him today. Do you have any idea what we should be looking for? Or how Princess Celestia intended you to help us?”

“Oh, right! Okay, so first off, I can’t give you the book. But the point of getting it out, other than that it was in the same box, is that along with it, Rainbow and I found these feathers.” Twilight’s horn ignited, and the lockbox she had brought in alongside her tome made quite a considerable, some might say bordering on paranoid, number of metallic clicks and twists and faint grinding noises. It opened, perhaps most troublingly, with a hiss like a snake. And then, held in Twilight’s magic, two pegasus feathers emerged: one a dark red, the other a sandy tan. “Cyclone and Typhoon’s feathers.”

“Wow!” Somnambula whispered. “I’m amazed they survived!”

“That seems impossible; don’t feathers decompose like any other organic matter? Are they enchanted?”

“After a sense; here, take one. Be careful though.”

“They’re ancient, I know; I promise I’ll—ow!” Sunset’s magic, which had gathered around the root of Typhoon’s feather, vanished instantly, as the mare pulled her horn back on reflexive instinct. “It’s freezing!”

“Well, not really. If you touched it with your hoof it wouldn’t feel cold. It’s just the way her magic feels.”

“How can her magic still be in that? Have they been made into vaults?”

“Nope,” Twilight answered. “They’re raw.”

“Raw? That completely violates Log’s Law!”

“I know, right?!” Twilight beamed. “It’s amazing!”

Somnambula quirked her head to the side, lost in the conversation between the two trained mages. “What’s ‘Log’s Law?’”

“Mana directly invested in a receptacle without a binding mechanism degrades from the time of the investor’s death exponentially,” Twilight recited, as if reading from a page. “Or to make that simpler, when somepony passes away, any magic they left in the world starts to fade away; it falls off quickly, but it never quite disappears completely. The actual amount of magical resonance you can detect depends on a lot of factors besides just how long it’s been since the pony who put out that magic passed away, but if you chart the measurements over time, it’s always an exponential decay. Dr. Log actually discovered the rule by measuring the impact on orchard yields at earth pony farms in the years before and after ponies who ran those farms passed on to the Summer Lands, and whether or not it mattered if whoever was taking over the farm afterwards was already working there or not.”

“And unless Typhoon got stuck in Limbo too, instead of actually dying, her magic shouldn’t still be in that feather,” Sunset added.

“Actually, even if she had been, being in Limbo functionally behaves the same as being dead. Archmage Star Swirl left dozens of things behind that hadn’t been properly ‘enchanted’, but had certainly been imbued with his magic. They lost nearly all charge when you went into Limbo, just as if he had been dead.”

“So what I’m hearing is… Typhoon isn’t dead either?” Somnambula donned a wide smile. “Is that what you’re getting at? Goodness gracious—that is the modern saying, right?—I wonder if anypony from when we came from actually died.”

“That seems unlikely,” Sunset said aloud. “It’s hard enough to believe Morty’s still around, and he’s the Father of Necromancy. Commander Typhoon isn’t even a unicorn.”

“Hey!” Somnambula pouted. “We can do cool magic too!”

Sunset winced at the accusation of racism, only for Somnambula’s expression to break into a chuckle. “Oh.”

“I’m just kidding, Sunset. You’re right; I’ve seen the kind of magic somepony like Commander Hurricane could use, but I’ve never heard of a pegasus using it to live longer or anything like that. That’s earth pony magic.” Somnambula sat back in her seat. “I don’t get it. How does that help us?”

“Well, Somnambula, speaking of ‘cool magic’—I don’t know what you used to call it in the Pharoahnate, but the modern official name for pegasus magic is ‘empatha’—why don’t you take hold of Typhoon’s feather?”

“Oh?” At Twilight’s offer, Somnambula extended a wing, and in a gentle telekinetic field, the tan feather fell to meet her peach ones. The moment it made contact, a visible shudder swept through the pegasus’ body, and as the subtle shaking reached where her back and flanks rested against her seat, a thin film of frost began to cover the furniture.

“Whoa.” Sunset leaned forward, eyes wide. “They let you use Typhoon and Cyclone’s magic? Are you doing anything, Somnambula?”

“No, I…” Somnambula seemed to be fighting back tears as she focused on balancing the feather. “My magic is strong with wind, not the cold… Can I put it down? Please?!”

Twilight swiftly lifted the feather, and though the frost lingered for a few seconds longer, a visible weight lifted from Somnambula’s form. “I suppose it makes sense you’d be attuned to wind empatha, given you’re so optimistic and excitable. Rainbow is the same way. Can you buck lightning bolts too?”

“Rainbow Dash can buck lightning?” Somnambula scoffed. “No; only Hurricane could accomplish that feat in our day. Do many modern guardsponies know such a power?”

“No. Most modern pegasi don’t practice using empatha the way it used to be taught in the Cirran Legions. That kind of relentless practice with one emotion was proven to have long term negative effects on a pony’s psychological and emotional well-being. The Wonderbolts use very light variations for some of their stunts, but otherwise there are very few ponies who still practice it.”

“Is that why she was crying?” Sunset Shimmer asked.

This time, Somnambula provided the explanation. “Pegasus magic comes from feelings, not learning. Sadness is the feeling that lets us use ice and cold. But when I held that feather, I felt her… Abandonment. Regret. Betrayal. I… if we have to use them to be safe, I will, but otherwise I would be very happy if I didn’t have to touch them.”

“Well, Mr. Ink can also make use of them,” Twilight observed, before looking slowly around the walls of her office. “But maybe it’s best if we don’t let you try Cyclone’s, at least until you’re outside.”

The little joke restored Somnambula’s mood, and the peach pegasus leaned back in her seat as the last of the frost evaporated. “That is probably best.”

“Let me just put these back in their box…” With a satisfying ‘click’, Twilight set the now sealed box down next to Somnambula’s tea and closed its lid fully in the very same moment.

The next item to be raised in Twilight’s arcane glow was the long slender box, and when she opened it, Sunset caught a glint of metal, polished to a mirror’s sheen. The flash only grew brighter from the overhead electric light as the lid was fully removed. A moment later, a basket hilt of amethysts came into the light, bright and sparkling enough to cast some purple hue to the spines of the books against the office’s walls.

The blade in question, lifted by its hilt from Twilight’s box, bore the shape of a traditional, presumably decorative rapier: a long, slender, rather rigid blade and an ornate, gem-studded hilt and guard, whose amethysts would in its day have complimented Gale’s coat. Its blade was a touch longer than tradition dictated for a unicorn blade; it would have been quite the right size on a fairly large unicorn stallion, but for Gale it was closer in length to an estoc—or more practically, to her father’s Gladius Procellarum, whose length it had been designed to match exactly.

“That’s beautiful!” Somnambula observed with a gasp.

“I’ve seen that before…” Sunset stared for a moment, and then gasped. “Wait, from Hyacinth’s portrait of Queen Platinum the Third, right? That’s Gale’s sword?!”

Twilight nodded. “This is Aestas Melos— ‘Summer’s Song’, in Cirran.”

“This is Gale’s sword?” Somnambula asked. “I didn’t know Gale had a special sword! It’s beautiful.”

Twilight lifted the masterwork weapon fully out of its cushioned box and held it close to the other mares, hilt-first “The gems on the basket are the most interesting piece, I think; they actually go into the center of tang—that’s the metal inside the handle that helps hold the sword together in one piece. Anyway, they were designed to carry full-matrix inscripted magic as well as raw mana.”

“What’s that mean?” Somnambula asked.

“You can cast a spell into it ahead of time,” Sunset explained. “Any one spell. And then a unicorn holding the sword could effectively cast it—even if they weren’t the pony who actually put the spell into the gem in the first place. You can do that with pretty much any gem, like Morty did when he dueled Clover and Wintershimmer, but if you don’t prepare the gems first, you usually have to shatter them to get the spell out.”

Twilight nodded, and returned the sword to its box. “Princess Celestia suggested you might provide a spell and give the sword to Fiz—er, that is, to Tempest.”

“What were you going to call her?”

“Nevermind!” Twilight insisted, quite red in the face. “The point is, she knows her way around swords and even her horn should be able to get the spell to come out, so you could help her out that way!”

“Makes sense.” Sunset nodded. “Alright. I assume that’s everything in your instructions from the Princess?”

Twilight nodded. “That’s everything. I just need to put Summer Lands away, and… wait, what’s this?” As the alicorn princess lowered her massive book into the larger chest she had brought into the room in the first place, her magic produced another tiny lockbox, on whose surface Sunset could see a yellow sticky note. “It says ‘For Sunset’s eyes only.’ But… how could this possibly even be here? I enchanted that box myself! It’s a thirteen-glyph locking maze with extradimensional recursion… It’s an astral black body! Gah!”

As Twilight foamed at the mouth a second time in the span of a few minutes, Somnambula shot a worried glance to Sunset. More familiar with Twilight’s antics (or, at least, an alternate-reality version of her… but some things transcend existences), Sunset calmly removed the offending tiny box from Twilight’s grip and flipped the lid open.

Inside, she found two things: a folded letter, sans any envelope, and a glass vial full of what looked like a spiral-armed galaxy suspended in quill ink.

The note read as follows:

Dear Sunset,

Your friend Starlight here. Hello from the future!

Well, actually, I’m writing this two weeks before you’re reading it, but I’m from your future, so I assume you get the point.

Since you're wondering, no, I really didn’t know how off my dating of Morty’s past was when I walked in with that costume you just saw (assuming you’re still in Twilight’s office, and not back on The Constellation by the time you’re reading this). And while it was kind of a coincidence that was my choice of costume… well, let’s just say as far as it matters for you, it really was a coincidence.

I wanted to wish you good luck on your quest to find Morty. I say good luck because even though I kind of know what you’re about to go through (sorry in advance), I don’t know everything. Maybe most importantly, I don’t know if this is a timeline where you actually find him and make it back alive or not. Turns out even being the ‘Mistress of Time’ or whatever Morty calls me, doesn’t make me omniscient.

Anyway, I’m rooting for you. Unfortunately, since you succeeding, at least in some timeline, is a requirement for me to even exist, helping you directly would make a pretty big grandfather paradox. Like, the universe-ending kind you’re afraid of if you let past me know about Morty at all (which actually isn’t that big of a deal… but maybe keep keeping it a secret, just to be on the safe side).

Anyway, while I can’t show up in-pony to help, I can give you a little present. That bottle contains about forty-five milliliters of reality, distilled from what was left of timelines or universes or whatever term you want to use where a big paradox like the one I was just talking about destroyed pretty much everything else.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, open the bottle unless you know what you are doing. Morty will give you directions on how to use it safely; I want to say ‘when the time is right’, but unfortunately, Morty’s sense of timing tends to be dramatic instead of practical.

It looks like I’m running out of the reality I’m using to write this, so… good luck?

-Archmage Hourglass
Mother of Translocation, Defender of the Badlands, Walker of the Betwixt and the Between…

Just kidding.

“Twilight,” Sunset observed calmly as she tucked both the letter and her vial into her pocket dimension, “Calm down, Twilight.”

“But somepony violated my spells. And I don’t mean to brag about being the Bearer of the Element of Magic, but if somepony broke my wards, that’s a major security risk. I use the same kind of magic on the leftover relics from—”

“It’s Starlight from the future,” Sunset interrupted.


“It’s Starlight,” Sunset repeated. “The letter's from her, from the future. So unless you keep that box warded forever, she probably just went forward in time… however, that works; I don’t really know time magic. Anyway, then she’d just have to get inside the black body limit, put this box inside, and time-travel it back to now. And in this case, you probably want to make that easy for her. Maybe put it away unlocked for one night and casually mention it to Starlight?”

“I… huh.” Without apparent awareness, Twilight wiped more foam from her lips. “Starlight, okay. Then maybe my hypothesis about Star Swirl's 'Confluence of the Ancients' prophecy was right after all."

"Confluence of the Ancients?" Sunset asked.

Twilight waved a hoof dismissively. "Just something Star Swirl wrote down in Predictions and Prophecies; you know, the one where he predicted Nightmare Moon coming back? It's another prophecy, about a bunch of ancient creatures returning all at once and ending the world. Tirek and Chrysalis are kind of obvious, but I proposed 'creatures' might also include ponies, like the Pillars... and I guess Archmage Coil, if you do wind up finding him."

"Ending the world?" Sunset asked with a raised brow. "You think the end of the world is coming because we're bringing back Morty, and you didn't think to even mention that?"

Twilight chuckled. "Don't worry; the Nightmare Moon one said she'd win too. 'On the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars shall aid in her escape, and she shall bring about nighttime eternal.' The prophecies aren't capital-p 'Prophecies', so they aren't magically binding; that's why he titled the book 'predictions' first. I'm sure there's nothing to worry about, but you can borrow my copy of Predictions and Prophecies if it makes you feel better. I'm more worried about time travelers stealing my research materials, since that's apparently a security hole that needs closing. I should look back on Star Swirl’s time spells and see if I can ward things chronologically… Would a fourth-circle …?” Immediately engrossed in the thought, the Bearer of Magic dragged out a fountain well, three quills, and six large sheets of parchment.

Sunset and Somnambula exchanged a disbelieving look before the former used her magic to gather up the two remaining boxes: the one containing Typhoon and Cyclone’s feathers, and the one containing Gale’s enchanted rapier. A moment later, Sunset realized a book, the offered copy of the fairly commonly available Predictions and Prophecies, was hovering in the air not far from her head. “Thanks, Twilight.”

Somnambula followed Sunset toward the door, nodding back to Twilight as she left. “We shall try to come back in one piece.”

It was as the door finally clicked closed behind them that Twilight looked up enough to answer “Yeah, stay safe! And good lu… oh, drat.” And then she darted after them to say her goodbyes.

Somewhat amusingly, this involved leaving the aforementioned warded box unlocked and unguarded for a period of a solid three or four minutes. And while I could certainly describe the curious ‘whoosh’ that comes with a pony traveling through time instead of space, I’m sure a comprehending reader doesn’t need it completely spelled out why such a thing was a noise was a certainty in the otherwise abandoned office.

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