• Published 19th Aug 2019
  • 3,898 Views, 90 Comments

Midnight at the Crystal Library - Ninjadeadbeard

While on a study-vacation in the Crystal Empire, Sunset, Sci-Twi, Starswirl, and Starlight will have to literally confront their past mistakes if Equestria is to survive.

  • ...

Chapter 1 - 3:10 to Equestria

A colorful train rumbled across the vast northern plains between the heartlands of Equestria and the border of the Crystal Empire, steam billowing out behind as it went on. Snow lay soft upon the grass, a sign of the growing cold, but the sun held out against the typical chill of this far northern realm.

Thankfully, the train compartments were well-heated and comfortable for its largely pony passengers. Although in the case of one cart in particular, this was not quite an accurate assessment. Of the four ponies who occupied the front seat benches, one was still adjusting to having hooves.

Twilight Sparkle carefully balanced her glasses in between her hooves, fogged the lenses with her breath, and gently rubbed them against her scarf. The fact that her newfound appendages seemed almost perfectly designed to destroy her glasses was not lost on her.

“I still don’t know how you survive without fingers,” she said to her companions. The unicorn to her left, whose mane was a mass of brilliant red and gold, used her horn’s magic to lift the delicate glasses up and settle back onto her companion’s face.

“We manage, somehow,” said Sunset Shimmer. She exchanged a soft smile with her normally human friend. “I’m glad you decided to come with me. I was kinda afraid I’d be stuck doing this research alone… again.”

The light blue unicorn sitting across from Twilight snorted. “Well, that’s rude! You would still have had the Great and POWERFUL Trixie as a companion if this mini-Twilight didn’t want to come.”

Trixie’s own seat-neighbor, a purple unicorn with an aquamarine streak in her mane, nudged her in annoyance.

“Oh,” Trixie allowed a shadow of shame to cross her features, “Sorry. You would also have the Great and Powerful Trixie’s Great and Powerful Assistant, Starlight!”

Starlight rubbed the bridge of her nose with one hoof. Somedays, friendship was such a pain.

“It’s alright,” Twilight said to Starlight, “I get a lot of that. I guess it’s a bit of an ask to not be compared to someone when I’m basically a clone of the person.”

“Minus the wings,” Trixie said.

“What Trixie means,” Starlight said with a snarl and a pointed look, “is that while somepony could make superficial comparisons, you’re clearly your own pony. And it is unfair for others to make those comparisons. Right?” This was directed squarely at Trixie, who finally seemed to feel at least a little uneasy about what she’d said.

“I don’t mind much,” said Twilight, reaching for her saddlebag, “not really. I mean, she’s a magical Princess! It’s probably an honor for people to mistake me for her, right?” She tried to grasp the clasp of her bag with one hoof, then two. Then she reached down and tried to clutch the thing in her teeth.

Trixie smiled, at least a little happy to see Twilight, or a close facsimile, struggle with something so simple. She knew it was petty, but for a moment she didn’t care. It simply worked for her.

Starlight, on the other hoof, used her own magic to open the clasp with a simple telekinetic spell.

“Oh, thanks,” Twilight pulled out an apple, this time with her horn’s magic, and began happily munching away.

Starlight turned to Sunset. “So, what are you hoping to find in the Crystal Empire? I figured the libraries at Ponyville and Canterlot had just about every book on magic ever written.”

“Well,” Sunset gave a stern look towards Trixie that knocked the smile off her face, “the Crystal Empire has its own extensive library system, one that hasn’t really been properly checked out since it came back.”

“This place disappeared for a thousand years, right?”

“Yeah Twilight, and it took all its knowledge and magical secrets with it. Hopefully, there will be something there that can help us stop Equestrian magic from leaking into your world and causing trouble.”

As the four discussed the implications of such important research, on the benches just behind them, a very different sort of discussion was playing out between an orange unicorn stallion in blue robes, and a dog-turned-purple-dragon.

“So… I’m some sort of legendary hero in the Crystal Empire?”

Suburst gave a quizzical look to his small, strangely familiar companion. “Um… kind of? I mean, the other Spike is.”

Spike, enjoying the novelty of standing on his hind legs, responded, “But I am Spike!”

“Not the right…” Sunburst sighed. This was by far the fourth strangest conversation he’d ever been a part of. “Spike the Dragon is wildly beloved by the Crystal Ponies. He’s saved the Empire at least two or three times in as many years, and he’s been instrumental to the city’s general safety and wellbeing just about every time he’s visited. Just… don’t take advantage of that, please.”

Spike nodded, “Don’t worry. I’m only expecting some head-scratches and belly-rubs.” Then, noticing the slightly horrified look on Sunburst’s face, “um… you feeling okay?”

“Just stick with me,” Sunburst said finally, “I’ve been called in for my Crystaller duties, so you’ll get the run of the palace while we’re visiting.”

“Oh, neat,” said Spike, “But, what’s a Crystaller?”

Sunset turned around in her seat, “It’s like a Godparent, Spike. Sunburst is expected to occasionally show up and help with the royal filly, Princess Flurry Heart.”

“That sounds like a lot of responsibility,” Twilight said solemnly, polishing off her apple and re-checking her saddlebag’s clasp.

Trixie laughed. “Well, you’d know!”

“What? What do you mean?” Twilight scrunched her nose in confusion.

A heavy silence filled the compartment.

Starlight said with concern, “N-no pony told you?”

“Told me what- is that…?” She pointed one hoof out the window, and the others followed her gesture with their eyes.

The train rolled into the Crystal Empire’s station with a squeal of brakes and a rush of steam clouds. The cold had finally settled in nicely, with a cozy blanket of snow covering the landscape, while leaving the sky a cloudless blue. The city was just out of view, but the station itself was a vibrant reminder of the city’s style.

It did not escape anypony’s notice that there was a sizeable crowd waiting for them. And as the ponies got off the train, none of them failed to notice who Twilight had pointed to. The whole station was stuffed with Crystal Royal Guards, and at the center of their formation stood the royal couple.

Twilight stepped forward first, utter confusion and awe apparent in her face. “Sh-Shining Armor? Is that you!?”

The powerful white stallion, dressed in his royal uniform, rushed forward to give his little sister a hug. “Twili! Ha! It’s been a while!” As he put her down, Shining blinked, “Did… when did you start wearing glasses?”

Realization dawned for Twilight. “Oh! No, I- “

“Your wings!” Princess Cadence gasped in something like horror, “What’s happened Twilight!?”

Twilight’s eyes snapped back and forth between these two sudden surprises. “Principal Cadenza? And my brother…?”

Sunset and Starlight rushed forward, before this could get out of hoof. “Princess Cadence!” Sunset bowed her head, “Forgive me, but I thought Twilight had sent word about us?”

“Twilight hadn’t mentioned…” Cadence seemed to finally note Sunset’s presence, and for a moment was lost in thought.

“What’s going on here Twilight?” Shining Armor took on an impressively royal tone. “This is all kinds of fishy, and I want to know if something’s wrong.”

“Dear,” Cadence nodded to her husband, then pointed with her horn, “I believe this is Sunset Shimmer. Which would mean that this is not our Twilight Sparkle.”

Shining’s eyes took on a blank look. “What?”

“Sunset was Princess Celestia’s old student,” she added, “who disappeared into a strange, alternate reality, where we all seem to exist as some other sort of creature called a… human? Did I get that right?”

Sunset nodded, while Shining turned back towards the pony who resembled his sister. His eyes roamed up and down the frightfully familiar mare, taking in a dozen tiny differences he was just now seeing.

“So… you’re not Twilight?”

Twilight lowered her head, “N-no. I am Twilight Sparkle, just not your Twilight Sparkle.” Shining Armor nodded, then stepped back to his wife’s side. But for just a moment, Twilight could almost swear she’d seen something in his eyes. Was that recognition? Was it disappointment? Anger?

Well, whatever it was, it didn’t feel all that great.

A flash of green flame burst above their heads, and a scrap of rolled parchment dropped straight onto Cadence’s horn. She quickly pulled it off, opened it, and scanned the contents.

“I see,” she said, her solemn tone betrayed by the whisper of a giggle, “It would seem Twilight fell asleep on the chariot ride to the diplomatic summit and forgot to tell us about your visit.”

The train emptied, with Sunburst and Spike finally joining the others. Guards immediately began filing onto the train, first checking the compartments, then boarding them properly.

“Sunburst!” Shining said with a bit more joy, “and Spike, the Brave and Glorious! Welcome back!”

“I’m a dog!” said Spike, with the sort of joyous exuberance that even Pinkie Pie would be proud of.

“That’s… okay,” Shining decided to just ignore that, and glanced over to Trixie, “Please tell me you’re the real, um, Stacy?”

“Trixie,” she replied in a monotone.

Sunburst bowed to Cadence and Shining Armor. “I came as soon as I received your summons. A diplomatic summit?”

“Yes,” Cadence said, “All of the Princesses are required, but I couldn’t very well drag Flurry Heart all the way to Saddle Arabia. Not with the cold she’s got.”

Starlight looked up, “Nothing serious?”

Cadence smiled, “No, nothing like that. She’s just got the sniffles, and I thought she’d do well staying home. And since our usual foalsitter is unavailable, we decided we couldn’t trust anypony more than you, Sunburst.”

“Well, I’m honored to be so trusted, your Highness.”

“If I might ask,” Starlight said, “what happened to the usual foalsitter?”

Cadence laughed, “Well, she’d hate being called that, but our usual… defender, is with Starswirl the Bearded, in the library. She has a very personal task she’s carrying out now, and the great wizard himself promised to help.”

“Starswirl?” Twilight raised an eyebrow at the name, “He’s real? He’s alive?”

Shining Armor actually smirked slightly, “Okay, you’re definitely not Twilight.”

Sunburst nearly jumped out of his robe, “Oh! Starswirl is here? That’s great!”

“You’re right!” Sunset said excitedly, “He’s the one who created the original portals, and the mirror! If anypony could help us fix the leak, it’s him!”

“Well, it would seem all is ready for you here,” Cadence said with a soft smile, “even if we didn’t exactly mean to. Good luck with your research.”

With that, the Prince and Princess entered the train themselves. Guards parted to allow them in, and the entire remaining retinue emptied from the station seemingly instantly. The train blew its whistle, and began to roll back out of the station. Only a single Pegasus, clad in shining golden armor, remained alongside a small carriage.

“Flash Sentry, at your service!” he saluted sharply.

Sunset and Twilight shared a quick look of surprise. Sunset managed to hold in a giggle, but Twilight didn’t so much as blink.

“Everything alright?” Sunset asked.

Twilight sighed, “Yeah, I just have to wrap my mind around the fact that my old Principal is married to my brother in this world.”

“Oh, yeah. I guess that could be a weird experience.”

As the ponies approached Flash and the filly carriage, Twilight continued in a whispered conversation with Sunset, “I mean, we know there’s some sort of time-dilation between our realities, so does this mean that I know about my brother’s marriage before he does? Am I about to meet my niece before she’s actually born!?” She started breathing in shallow, panicked gasps.

“Twilight!” Sunset stopped and placed a hoof on her friend’s shoulder, “Twilight, don’t worry about it. We’re going to meet Starswirl! If anyone knows how this portal business works, it’ll be him.”

Twilight managed to get her breathing under control, and a bit calmer she said, “Thanks Sunset. I guess this didn’t turn out to be the ideal study-vacation I thought it would be.”

Soft cooing from the carriage drew her attention suddenly. Twilight approached, and laid eyes on Flurry Heart for the first time. The other ponies each watched as Twilight’s worries and concerns seemed to melt off her features. Even Trixie couldn’t bring herself to ruin the moment.

Flurry Heart stared up with her glistening eyes, and for a moment she became concerned. Her face creased, and she seemed to pull back from Twilight.

In a flash, Sunset used her magic to grab Twilight’s glasses and pulled them straight off her head. As she did so, Flurry immediately blinked, and smiled. She reached out her wings and flapped up and into Twilight’s face, giving her aunt a loving hug and a little filly-kiss on the nose.

“That,” Sunburst said quietly, “is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.”

Spike snorted. “Huh. I do that and you send me outside…”

Author's Note:

I always liked the idea of Sci-Twi and Sunset coming back to Equestria for longer than a few minutes. Hopefully, they'll have some fun while they're here.

I always felt that the Equestria Girls series had a ton of potential that they never seemed to tap into. Due to the weird time dilation and alternate universe aspects, I thought it only natural for characters to compare themselves with their mirror-universe counterparts. But the show never went there, and so I thought, “How would Sci-Twi handle being a (supposedly) inferior version of another person?”

So, Twilight here is starting to deal with the fact that everyone seems to compare her to her royal counterpart. Sunset and Starlight are sympathetic, but there’s only so much you can reassure someone before they either accept what you’re saying or never will. And Trixie is just… just the best. As always.

Just adding these notes and commentaries for my own process of deconstructing how I think. Hopefully they’ll entertain a few of you out there.