• Published 19th Aug 2019
  • 3,902 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.

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Chapter 2 - Tempest's Best Day Ever

The Crystal Empire was beautiful today, as it always was, according to Sunburst and Starlight. Twilight felt like her head was on a swivel their entire walk through its wide streets and past gleaming buildings. The shops brimmed with vibrant faces and wondrous goods, and everypony they encountered seemed to have a friendly word or a cheery smile to share.

Though most of that was aimed directly at Spike, who walked alongside Twilight, Sunburst, and Flurry’s carriage.

“And, and did you see that statue!?” he beamed. “It was huge!”

Sunburst sighed and continued pushing the royal princess, “Just remember you’re NOT the creature everypony here thinks you are.”

“Yeah, yeah,” said Spike, waving down Sunburst’s concern with his claws. “But I’m a dog. What can I say? People love me!”

Twilight hardly noticed their passive bickering. She was far too absorbed in her… Princess Twilight’s niece. “You are just too cute!”

“She may seem that way,” Sunburst smiled, “but she can be a real handful. She nearly destroyed the Crystal Empire once.”

“Oh no!” Twilight reached into the carriage and began tickling the young princess her hoof, “There’s no way someone this cute could- “

Flurry Heart’s face twisted up, and then with a sudden flash of lightning she let out a wild sneeze that left a tiny scorch mark on the carriage wall.

“Oh… well alright then…”

Just ahead of them, Trixie and Starlight were also in conversation. As they passed crystal ponies, Trixie would pause to make, in her own words, mysterious and powerful faces towards her fans.

“You’ve performed here before then?” asked Starlight.

Trixie shrugged, “Once or twice, but anypony that sees my show becomes a fan. So why not give everypony the fan-treatment before that?”

Starlight laughed at that. “Well, in any case, I’m glad you came as well.”

“Why?” Trixie said, tossing her mane back, “I may be the Great and Powerful, but you and I both know I’m not the best at this research business.”

“Do I really need an excuse to hang out with my best friend?” Starlight smiled.

“Well,” said Trixie, smirking, “I suppose that’s true. And do you know what best friends do?” she asked with a mischievous glance aside.

Starlight returned a suspicious look she constantly found herself making in these situations. Mostly with Trixie. In fact, always with Trixie.

“Share gossip!” Trixie finished with a wink. “Like, what’s the deal with Sunset and mini-Twilight whenever that guard pony comes up?”

“Oh!” Starlight leaned in close, “There is some juicy gossip there…”

Flash Sentry strode at the head of this motley band, head high and with a certain internal sense of pride and honor that honestly threw Sunset Shimmer for a loop the longer she considered the Pegasus. Where was the gangly, awkward teenager she’d… manipulated into dating her?

“You are definitely not the same Flash I know,” she whispered to herself.

“Excuse me?” Flash said, turning his helmet to look over his shoulder at his charge. “Did you say something?”

“Nothing!” Sunset snapped her mouth shut. Then, thinking better on it, “Um, say… how much about all this were you told?”

“Not sure what you mean, ma’am.” His head swiveled forward again, and he continued as though nothing had happened.

“You know,” she trotted up to his pace, “me and the… different Twilight back there?”

A look came over Flash’s face, though Sunset couldn’t be sure, what with the helmet.

He spared her a sideways glance, “I am aware that she is from another dimension, and that while you’re technically from this one, you’ve been living in her world for many moons. Am I correct?”

“That’s about it.”

“Well,” he returned his eyes to straight ahead, “it’s above my paygrade. I know it happened, and that you were once a priority target on the ‘Known Threats’ list in the barracks.”

His eyes suddenly narrowed, and his head swiveled back in that military fashion he held. He grinned and said in a low snarl, “You know? They never did take down the bounty on you!” Sunset’s face must have been something to behold, a mix of sudden fear and shock, because Flash Sentry almost burst into a fit of laughter at the sight of it.

“You jerk!” she tried to be angry, but in seconds was reduced to fits herself. “Alright, alright. You’re definitely different than my Flash Sentry.”

Regaining composure, Flash said, “Well, thank you ma’am. But there’s no point in comparing yourself to another pony. Even if it’s your alternate universe duplicate.”

Sunset let Flash take the lead again, then quietly threw a thought back to her friend taking up the rear of their column. “I hope Twilight figures that out too.”

Finally reaching the Crystal Empire Library, Twilight tore herself away from playing aunt and trotted up the steps to catch up with Sunset and Flash. The whole group entered together, and with the exception of Flash and Sunburst, all stopped to stare in complete awe at the sheer size of the place. Multiple levels, reached by stairs and ramps, all seemed to blend together into a sight that had Twilight as jittery as Pinkie Pie on a sugar rush.

“This… this is…” she struggled to find the words, “I’ve never… how…?”

“Breathe,” Sunset counseled her.

“How can anyone breathe at a time like this!?” Twilight threw her head back and forth, trying to take in the entire library at once. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! Like if someone dumped an entire database into one building!”

Trixie walked past the hyperventilating unicorn. “I’m sure that makes sense in your world,” she said as she began perusing some of the books on a low shelf.

Starlight placed a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder, “Calm down Twilight. Remember why we’re here?”

Twilight shook her head, then returned with a chagrined smile. “Right, sorry. I… I’ve always been excitable about knowledge, and magic is such a new field to study…”

“We get it Twilight,” Sunset offered, “and no one blames you.”

A new face suddenly appeared at the top of the nearby stairs, a pink and purple pony of advanced age. She seemed to fly down the steps to the new arrivals.

“I’m sorry!” she said, shaking her head, “but the library is closed!”

Twilight blinked, blinked again, and just before her head exploded, Sunset stepped in front of her friend.

“Sorry,” she called up to the pony, “but we were told by the Princess that we could use the library today!”

The librarian reached the group, “Well, I don’t know about that! We’ve already got some old wizard-type claiming he’s Starswirl up on the third floor with a writ from the Princess, and I’d like to keep everypony away from that mess until he’s gone!”

She stopped, and with one hoof adjusted her spectacles. “Oh my,” she said, “is that Princess Twilight?”

Twilight, cringing, was about to step back when Flash Sentry stepped forward.

“Miss Amethyst Maresbury!” he said with a voice of pure authority, “The Princess Twilight Sparkle has come to aid the Library in its hour of need! Please vacate the premises, for like, an hour or two.”

Amethyst beamed. “Oh, well why didn’t you say so! I’m so glad we have somepony here to keep the peace with that wizard.” She nodded to Twilight, winked, and said, “Nice spectacles, by the way.”

As the librarian shuffled away, Sunset nudged the armor-clad stallion. “Nice work there, Flash.”

“Clearing civilians out of a dangerous area is half my job description. And any place with a wizard and this many spellcasting ponies definitely qualifies.”

Trixie, already sitting at a table and reading, called out, “I like him. Good taste, Sunset!”

A red flush coming over her, Sunset laughed nervously, “Ha ha! Funny, good one Trixie!” she looked back at the other ponies, “Flash, why don’t you, Spike, and Trixie wait here with Flurry Heart while we check with Starswirl?”

Spike and Flash gave suitable salutes as Sunset, Sunburst, Starlight, and Twilight made their way deeper into the library.

Trixie, once they had gone, looked up from her reading.

“Hey, Flash? Did you know this library has its own copies of the latest Daring Do?” She held up the book she had picked.

Flash Sentry stood motionless. Not a muscle moved. Except for the goofiest smile creeping its way across his face.

As the four ponies reached the stairs that would take them up to the third level, the library began to take on a strange vibe. To Twilight, it seemed like the very floor beneath their hooves was vibrating. Even the air took on a coppery flavor, like a storm was just passing overhead. But the sky had been clear, and they were inside besides.

An answer to her musings suddenly came, as coruscating lightning lit up the library’s vaulted ceiling, coming down in a crashing calamity just above their heads. Lightning of blue and green hues tore through the air, only to bank back towards the clear epicenter of magical power; the third floor.

“Something’s going on up there!” Sunset cried through the thunderous blasts of wind and sound.

Sunburst called out, “Everypony stay down! This doesn’t look like any magic I’ve seen!”

Starlight shielded her eyes, but a curious expression slowly took over her face. “I have,” she said to herself. And without a word she bolted for the stairs.

“Starlight!” Twilight charged after her. Within seconds, Sunset and Sunburst followed, all four keeping their heads down as they ran.

At the head of the stairs, Starlight hunkered down to watch as her friends joined her.

The library’s third floor was much like the others, a grand room of impeccable design, filled floor to roof and wall to wall by shelves of tomes and texts, and topped with a vaulted ceiling far overhead. But in this space, all eyes were drawn to the continuous explosion of lightning which roared out of a circle in the middle of the floor. On the closest side of the pillar of magical power, there stood a pale-yellow unicorn with a purple and red-striped mane holding up a gleaming potion with her magic. On the furthest, a tall, imposing grey figure adorned with a peaked hat and robes glittering with golden stars and bells.

Starswirl the Bearded overflowed with magical energies, all directed by his horn into the pillar of light, where the silhouette of another pony could be seen… writhing in agony. As the figure flailed in the air, Starswirl seemed on the verge of collapse himself.

Twilight reached the top of the stairs. She could see the pony being cast upon. “Stop! You’re hurting her!”

“Moondancer!” he managed through gritted teeth, “Now!”

The pale-yellow pony, Moondancer, threw back the potion, downing its contents. Rosy red light flowed from her in an instant, and with a flick of her horn she sent a bolt of light streaming straight into the center of the magical maelstrom. The resulting flash of light enveloped the whole library, filling every nook and cranny, and blinding everypony within.

Twilight ducked her head down and held it there as the light and a wave of rumbling force washed over her. She held on for what felt like a minute straight, before silence returned. When she finally lifted her eyes, she found the light had faded back to the normal library gloom, and that the three ponies at the heart of that magical explosion remained.

As she ran over to see the pony Moondancer, Sunset and Sunburst rushed towards Starswirl. Both lay prone upon the cold crystal floor. Starlight took her time, slowly approaching with the sort of slow, steady steps one might take when walking towards someplace like the Everfree Forest, or the Ghastly Gorge, not a library.

Moondancer slowly came around, and through the fog that enshrouded her head she could just make out the pony who stood over her. “Twilight? Is that you?”

Twilight helped her to her feet, saying, “Uh, not exactly. Wait, not Princess? You know me?”

“Seriously?” Moondancer looked incredulous as she readjusted her spectacles, “you’re really thinking of your title now? What’s going… why are you wearing glasses? Are you mocking me!?”

Before Twilight could say a word, a rustling sound drew their attention to the magic circle. A pile of black clothing lay in the center, a small mound shuffling beneath their mass. Twilight and Moondancer walked towards it cautiously. Sunset and Sunburst had managed to get Starswirl up by this time, but he had no time for platitudes, instead rushing right over to the others. They all met a few feet from one another near the magic circle.

Out from under the clothing, a small, magenta unicorn with a vibrant red mane and a broken horn crawled forward. The filly couldn’t have been much bigger than Flurry Heart, and definitely a touch younger than even the Cutie Mark Crusaders back in Ponyville. She stood, crossed her brilliant green eyes to stare at her horn-stump, and then quickly furrowed her brows in consternation.

“It didn’t work,” she spoke softly, disappointment dripping with every word despite her high-pitched voice. She repeated, “It didn’t work.”

The little filly then seemed to notice something. Not the circle of ponies suddenly appearing around her, but rather something far closer to home.

She shrieked, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?”

Starswirl merely brushed his beard with one hoof. “Apologies, Tempest. But I did warn you this line of spells carried certain costs.”

Tempest Shadow snarled with a high-pitched crack, “I don’t CARE! Fix it! I’m barely older than Flurry Heart at this point!” Blue lightning crackled from her broken horn, and despite her air of authority and power, even Twilight could see that the emotional vulnerability of a child, a filly in this case, was welling up behind her eyes.

“You will be fine,” Starswirl maintained a calm and cool tone of voice, “you’ll be yourself again in… oh, an hour at most.”

“An hour,” she repeated back, heavy breaths showing how hard she was trying to maintain even a modicum of adult composure. “An hour. Fine. As long as no one sees me like…”

Tempest turned her head sharply, taking in the four newcomers who stood around her. She gaped, and sputtered in abject embarrassment. “How… how did you all… Twilight?” Her eyes lit up, and for a moment, Tempest was a filly again at heart, sheer excitement overwhelmed her.

“Twilight!” she shrieked in pleasure, then instantly retreated back into her aura of adulthood. “I mean, Twilight. Good to... see you?” Little Tempest began scanning the pony before her up and down with a measured, military focus.

Twilight sighed. “I will be so glad when I don’t have to keep correcting people on this. I am not Princess Twilight.”

“It’s true,” Sunset said, stepping forward, “She is Twilight Sparkle, but from another dimension. We came here hoping to do research relating to Equestrian magic causing damage to her world.”

Starswirl’s eyes widened suddenly, “Another dimension? Then… that would make you Sunset Shimmer, if I don’t miss my guess?”

Sunset bowed, “Yes, oh mighty Starswirl the Bearded.”

“No need for that,” he said, raising a hoof, “It’s just Starswirl. Please.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “It’s just that you’re sort of a big deal.”

A look came over Starswirl, like someone had just poked him in the eye. “I understand. But more importantly, I think I can help you with your problem. Just as soon…”

“As soon,” Tempest grumbled, forelegs crossed petulantly across her chest, “as you help me with MINE.”

A pop, and a short burst of golden light above their heads, heralded a tiny alicorn filly as she swooped down and wrapped Tempest up in a tight and clearly loving hug.

Tempest’s eyes narrowed to mere specks, and her face became as red as a ripe apple. “This,” she gritted, “is the worst day of my life.”

Her apparent, child-like rage went unnoticed by Twilight or Trixe (having just reached the top of the stairs herself in pursuit of Flurry Heart), who seemingly melted at the sight. “So cute!” they both sighed.

Sunburst caught Starswirl’s attention, “Actually, I think I can help with both problems, if what’s going on here is what I think it is.”

As he and Starswirl began to discuss the current goings-on with their research, Starlight kept her peace. She continued to watch the magic circle with a singular focus, her only thoughts being dark and foreboding. For she could only see, even as she gazed at those remarkably familiar runes that ringed the circle, a flat expanse of windswept desert where Equestria should be.

While the hour passed, the ponies broke into their separate clicks. Twilight, Spike, and Moondancer kept watch over Flurry Heart and the slowly growing Tempest, who was now about the size of one of the school-age fillies back in Ponyville, according to Starlight. Starlight herself joined Sunburst, Sunset, and Starswirl in their magical conference by the great stainglass windows. Trixie and Flash Sentry, for their part, were sent to fetch lunch.

Moondancer sat on a beanbag chair procured from the library basement, watching Flurry Heart chase her once-foalsitter around the room with cheers of joy, at least on Flurry’s part. Tempest just seemed to scowl through the whole ordeal.

“And so, when Starswirl the Bearded came asking for an assistant with research experience, I was apparently Celestia’s first choice,” Moondancer was saying, “Um, no offense… oh, I guess that wouldn’t matter to you though.”

Twilight, seated beside Moondancer and similarly watching the fillies play, shook her head. “It’s really okay. I’m not the Princess. I’m… just me.”

Moondancer spent several minutes quietly watching this new Twilight Sparkle. It really was uncanny. Besides the glasses, and the lack of wings, and… maybe something about her mane? She could have been Twilight’s little sister.

“So,” she said slowly, “you’re not Twilight Sparkle, or at least not Princess Twilight Sparkle. You’re a… what again?”

“I’m what’s called a human,” Twilight answered without much effort or tiredness. At least she didn’t have to defend herself again. “It’s hard to explain, but whenever someone takes a trip through the portal that connects our worlds, we seem to change shape to fit.”

Moondancer adjusted her glasses, “Huh, I’ve never heard of that type of phenomenon. I’m… surprised Twilight didn’t share any of that information with me.”

“Are you friends?”

“Heh, you’d think,” Moondancer snorted, then seemed to better of that, “actually, that’s unfair. I was her friend back when she went to Celestia’s Magic School. She kind of forgot about me after she left for Ponyville, but we reconnected a few years back.” She seemed to look Twilight up and down, “It’s weird, by the way, to have this conversation.”

Twilight nodded, “Oh, I get it. I guess I do look an awful lot like her.”

“No,” Moondancer shook her head, “No, I mean, you do, but I guess what I meant to say was that you remind me so much of young Twilight Sparkle. Like, before she left for Ponyville, at least intellectually.”


“You got a big brain,” she said, playfully poking Twilight’s forehead with her hoof, “you’re smart, and apparently driven, considering you’ve been dimension-hopping to find answers to your problem.”

Twilight blushed, “Well, thanks.”

“But you’re also different,” Moondancer said.

“Different?” Twilight started, “like, no wings?”

“Well that!” Moondancer laughed, “but… I don’t know. You look and sound like the Twilight I knew before, but the Twilight I used to know didn’t have a clue about real friendship. But when I see you and Flurry, or you and your friend there, it’s like I can just feel it.”

“Huh… I guess I never thought of that,” Twilight said, one hoof on her chin, “I only ever met her twice, and not for very long in either case. She always seemed in control of things. She was so… amazing. Princess-like.”

Moondancer nodded, “Yeah, because she was the Princess of Friendship when you met her. But she took a long path to get there. You, on the other hoof, are a lot further along that road than she was when she was your age.”

Twilight let her mind float along after a few notions. She was so lost in thought that she hardly noticed as Tempest reached her teen years and turned the game around on Flurry Heart and began chasing the filly. Was she on the same path as this world’s Twilight? How could she? They might be similar in so many ways, but their experiences were so different.

Princess Twilight, she reasoned, probably hadn’t become a monster at any point.

As Twilight pondered, so too was Starswirl considering what he’d just heard from Sunset Shimmer.

He sighed heavily. “And once again, my failures come back to haunt me.”

Sunset and Sunburst practically fell over themselves to deny any fault on Starswirl’s part.

“You’re not responsible for the actions of others,” Sunburst said. “You did what you could!”

Sunset followed with, “You couldn’t have known!”

“But that’s just it,” Starswirl said, anger rising in his voice, “I was Starswirl! The great and powerful!” Starlight snickered at this. “I was the wisest, and most powerful wizard in Equestria! It was my job to know better! To be responsible!”

He turned to Sunset directly, “It was I who banished the Sirens to this other world you’ve been living in. All the pain, and misery they caused there is my fault, because I carelessly tossed them through a portal, as if out of sight, out of mind!”

Sunset winced, “Well, if it helps, at least one of the major crisis’s we dealt with was Clover the Clever’s fault for leaving an artifact in our world.”

“Using the spells I taught him,” sighed Starswirl, seeming to sink a bit lower. “With my mirrors and portals, I’ve caused trouble for so many other worlds. And my arrogance was to blame,” he indicated Starlight with a nod, “which I’ve tried working on, thanks to you, Starlight. But even after trying to understand the power and magic of Friendship, I just keep running into failure after failure.”

Starlight, only seeming to hear Starswirl as he nodded to her, finally spoke up. “Starswirl, what exactly were you trying to do with Tempest over there?”

“Oh,” he said, turning to watch a younger Tempest tickling Flurry Heart, “as you may be aware, Fizzlepop, or Tempest, lost her horn to an Ursa Minor as a filly. As a favor to her for helping the crystal ponies these many moons since that whole Storm King business, it was the least I could do to try and help her regain her horn.”

“It looked to me,” Starlight said with some level of trepidation, “like you might have been using Time magic to bring it back.”

Starswirl turned towards Starlight, and gave her a penetrating stare. “Yes, actually. How did you know?”

Starlight held her breath a moment, and then let is out slowly. “It probably didn’t come up at the time, but did Princess Twilight ever tell you why she picked me to be her protégé?” At a glance from Sunset, she hastily added, “Her second one, anyway?”

When Starswirl did not answer, Starlight knew she’d have to explain. And so, she took another deep breath, and began relating her greatest shame, once again.

Tempest was nearing her true age when Starlight finished her tale. Trixe and Flash had returned with hayburgers for all, and while Flurry Heart took her nap, it quickly became a working lunch around a large research table.

“Astonishing,” Starswirl mused, “Truly, astonishing. I could never get that spell to work properly. And you figured it out!”

“Not that I’m particularly proud of that,” she added sadly.

“Be proud!” Starswirl countered with a wave of his hoof. “At least… for the academic side of it all. The petty vengeance is water under the bridge, I think, but the technical accomplishment should still be praised!”

Sunburst was equally impressed. “Wow! I had no idea you knew how that spell worked. And that you could recognize Starswirl’s temporal spells by sight alone? That’s perfect!”

Everypony turned to look at Sunburst as he said this. “Starlight, if you could remember the formula of that completed time spell, I think it could help Starswirl finish his task here!”

Tempest, fully grown and back in her combat gear, gave Sunburst an appraising look. “You… you think you know how to give me back my horn?”

“I think so,” Sunburst took a moment to clean his glasses, “if I’m right, you were using a Temporal Revision Spell in conjunction with Hope’s Disjunction?”

Starswirl nodded, “Correct.”

Sunburst smiled, “Well, if we combine that with the Time Travel spell Starlight fixed as an energy neutralizer, and throw in Clover’s Affiliation Charm, I think- “

“Oh!” Twilight nearly jumped out of her seat, “You’re using Starlight’s spell to counter the inherent instabilities of the Disjunction, and then recreate Tempest’s horn by using Clover’s Charm to copy and attach the original from just after it was lost!”

The whole table, Starswirl especially, stared at the suddenly energetic purple pony.

“I read up on Equestrian magic the night before we took the train,” she explained, not losing a mote of excitement, “it’s a fascinating subject.”

Sunburst coughed, “Um, yes. That’s actually exactly what I was going to do.”

Starswirl considered this for a moment, and then nodded. “It’s a good idea, and not one I would have likely considered. Great job Sunburst. And Twilight?” She smiled and looked straight at the wizard.

“You may just be a princess yourself one day, well done.”

As the rest of the party finished their meal and began excitedly planning out their next step, Twilight sat quietly by herself. She was lost in thought, not knowing what she was feeling at that exact moment, and almost not wanting to know.

Only Starlight noticed her friend withdrawing into herself. Once this business with Tempest was concluded, they needed another talk. But the whole time Starlight chatted with Sunburst and Starswirl about the ritual, she couldn’t help but feel a knot in the pit of her stomach. Time magic wasn’t something she enjoyed thinking about anymore.

Author's Note:

As I said before, I like the idea of Sci-Twi and Sunset in Equestria, but I couldn't help but wonder at how Sci-Twi would handle being compared to her alternate self. So expect more of that.

Starlight and Trixie are also fun to write for.

Commentary: So, if this were a real episode, all this is right after the theme song plays (har har). I think the thing I love most about MLP is seeing the various characters interacting with each other. The characters are so well-defined that it's immediately gripping to see them have to hold conversations with one another. So, this chapter was my chance to really try out having such different, conflicting characters hold a conversation.

Things I was really invested in writing: Flash Sentry. For someone/pony who shows up as frequently as he does, they never really did anything with him. The vibe I always got from his teenage, human self was that he was an overall nice guy with a few secret nerdisms. And since the MLP crew appear to be... well, something like a decade or so ahead of their EqG counterparts in most cases, it felt natural to make him older and more confident in himself. This isn't an insecure teenager, but an accomplished adult, and one who gets to wear a different armor color as well.

Trixie. She's just so much fun to write, and having her interact with others is so much fun. She's that reformed villain who never got the hint that she needed to keep heading towards redemption. She's not trying to hurt anyone anymore, and she's okay with that level of progression.

Starlight... oh boy. Starlight and Sunset are my favorite characters simply because of their baggage. And you don't get much more baggage than by almost/successfully murdering the universe. She may very well have a good reason to worry about her meddling with Time.

Filly Tempest: I apologize for nothing.