• Published 19th Aug 2019
  • 3,885 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 3 - 12 Ponies

The late afternoon sun beamed through the library windows, mixing with the natural crystal walls and structures to create a cozy, warm glow throughout the building. The ponies had cleared a wide area for their next spell attempt, and a large circle had been drawn. Starlight hadn’t said anything yet about her misgivings, but that knot in her stomach was still there.

Twilight and Sunburst organized the spell itself, pouring over several tomes at once while Starlight reluctantly fed them the equations she’d worked out back in her bad old days. Moondancer drew the magic circle while Sunset, Tempest, and Starswirl discussed the casting. Trixie, naturally, sat off to one side to watch while Flash and Spike kept Flurry Heart entertained.

Finally, the moment arrived. It was decided that the four most powerful unicorns would undertake the ritual, which naturally meant that Starswirl, Sunset Shimmer, Starlight Glimmer, and Twilight Sparkle would take up the task. Sunburst nodded his agreement, not really being a great spellcaster himself, but Moondancer took the news with a bit of a huff.

“But, Starswirl,” she said, “I’ve been with you this entire project. Why can’t I help?”

Starswirl placed a sympathetic hoof on her shoulder, “I am not sending you away, Moondancer. It’s just that Starlight is needed to cover her part of the magical equation, and Sunset and Twilight each have a greater reservoir of magical energy we will need for this.” He leaned down to her eye level, then motioned towards the ponies around Flurry Heart. “And I need somepony I trust to protect the others while the spell is active.”

Reassured, Moondancer finally agreed, before moving into position and raising a shield spell to cover Trixie, Flash, Spike, Sunburst, and Flurry.

Starlight knew it was now or never. She couldn’t put into words what she was feeling, but she knew she had to try once more. She approached Starswirl while the others mentally prepped.

“Are you sure about this?” she asked, trying not to let a pleading tone enter her voice. Concern could be shown, but pleading would hurt her cause.

Tempest stepped into the circle, and said with some emotional strain, “Sure as I’ll ever be.”

“As am I,” Starswirl agreed, “your calculations and additions were inspired! Starlight, I can honestly say I trust nopony in all of Equestria with this particular spell.”

She sighed, “Alright. But I want it on record that I have a bad feeling about this.”

Tempest took up a fighting stance. “Noted. Now fire it up!”

Starswirl took up his position under the high windows. Twilight and Sunset took up opposite positions on the left and rightmost sides of the circle. And Starlight, last of all, took up her place across from Starswirl.

“Now,” Starswirl intoned while igniting his horn in brilliant white energy, “Concentrate!”

Starlight, beneath her breath, whispered, “Here goes nothing.”

Starswirl’s white magic burst as it hit the magic circle, creating an aura around Tempest, to which she added her own frenzied and chaotic lighting-like magic from her broken horn. Twilight and Sunset hurled bolts of their own magic, violet and crimson respectively. These filled the white aura with ribbons of new light, causing it to grow in size like a balloon given air. Tempest clearly felt the strain of the magic flow through her, with only a grunt of discomfort breaking her otherwise stoic visage.

Finally, Starlight drew up her own magic, burning a brilliant turquoise. She focused on the time travel spell, with modifications, and allowed her magic aura to shift to a far greener color. She waited, watching as Tempest began to rise in the air. She waited until the orb-like aura of coruscating magic left the library floor, and then launched a truly mighty blast of magical energies directly at Tempest.

Moondancer could feel the weight of all this magic begin to push hard on her shield, as though she were trying to hold up a growing sea. Sunburst, not a particularly gifted mage, threw some of his own magic into the shield, strengthening it just a little bit. Moondancer was happy for the added power, but she still wasn’t sure this would work.

All four unicorns focused their energies on the airborne Tempest, the whirlwind of magic building and building, then collapsing. Slowly, the power focused down to Tempest’s horn, which seemed to burn with the raw power of the sun itself.

“I… I can feel it!” Tempest cried, her voice amplified and echoing through the magic, “It’s… wait… something’s wrong! Stop the ritual!”

Starswirl dropped onto his fore-knees, visible strain contorting his face. “I… I can’t! It’s draining my… magic…” he managed before collapsing entirely, his alabaster magical energy leaving him entirely.

Starlight saw this, and tried to break off her own spell. Nothing happened. Her horn still fired a steady stream of green magical energy into Tempest’s aura.

“No!” she cried, “I knew something would happen!”

Sunset collapsed next, an exasperated cry escaping her as she fell. Twilight held on a few moments longer, before she suddenly broke her connection and hurtled backwards into Moondancer’s shield.

Stop this, Starlight thought desperately, I have to stop this!

She tried shifting the spell, changing targets, forgetting the formula. Nothing stopped it. Nothing could. She knew this was her fault, it had to be!

Tempest gave one final scream of pain, as an explosion of light ripped through the library.

Slowly, through the dull haze of an aching head, she returned to reality. Sound came back first, a low rumbling noise that rippled through her entire frame. Did she fall asleep next to the machines again? Then sight returned, slowly, as she opened her eyes to an alien sight. Instead of the factory floor, or even the depressingly industrialized farmland she knew, she lay on the floor of some sort of… library? A smoky one, to be sure, but a library nonetheless.

“Con-sarn-it,” Applejack muttered as she stood up on shaky legs, “What in tarnation is going on here?” As her head stopped ringing, she noted the smoke in the air was actually dust, still swirling as though a dust-devil had blown through. Visibility was low, but she could make out the other shapes around her, other ponies.

Someone just a few feet away was hacking up a lung, from the sound of it.

“Hey!” she called to the pony silhouette that slowly emerged, “you okay? What the sam hill happened?”

She came nose to nose with the pony, a unicorn.

In a crisp voice, the newcomer snapped, “Who gave you permission to speak to your betters?”

That voice… “Rarity?” Applejack couldn’t believe it! “Is… is that you?”

“Who are you?” Rarity asked, brushing dust from her black dress uniform, “And how do you know my name? Where is your supervisor?”

“Who am… supervisor? Rarity, it’s me! Applejack!” she slapped her chest with a hoof, sending up a small cloud of dust from her overalls, “I know it’s been a while, but ye can’t have forgotten me already!”

A rush of wind whipped up the dust again, and a black-armored Pegasus stepped in between Rarity and Applejack. She removed her helm to reveal a head of rainbow hair buzzed down into a military cut.

“Step back peasant!” she snapped in an authoritative voice, “Earth ponies are not permitted to speak to unicorns unless spoken to!”

“Since when is that a rule!?” Applejack shouted.

“Since for-EVER!” the soldier barked, then snarled, “If you have something to do with this, then the Princess will have your head!”

“Commander Rainbow Dash!” Rarity commanded, “What’s going on here? Report!”

“No idea ma’am,” she reported with a short, crisp salute, “But I’ll figure…” Rainbow Dash paused. Two more figures emerged from the dust cloud as it began to lessen. One was an obnoxiously pink pony covered in some sort of green paint. Odd, but not worthy of too much attention.

The other though, Rainbow Dash hadn’t thought about in years…

“Fl-Fluttershy? Is… is that you?” her eyes visibly glistened.

Rarity and Applejack turned to see the pink pony and her pink-haired Pegasus companion approach, spears at their side, and green body paint covering their forms.

Fluttershy’s eyes narrowed on Rainbow Dash, “Yeah? And who wants to know, CHANGELING?”

“Changeling?” Rarity scoffed, “Darling, there hasn’t been a changeling since Nightmare Moon destroyed their hive, and that was years ago!”

Pinkie Pie thrust a spear into the unicorn’s face. “Which is exactly what a changeling would say! Where’s Zecora? Where did you take us!?”

Applejack finally stepped forward, “Wait, wait! What’s going on here? Where’d…”

Suddenly, the dust cleared as a blast of wind roared through the library. The wind came from a pair of ponies… no, Applejack noted, Alicorns, whose wings drove the dust cloud away. But perhaps, she thought, the dust would have cleared anyway from the terrible, malicious roars of laughter that accompanied them.

The bright red alicorn, whose eyes were a crystal blue in a sea of darkness, and whose wings were black and red batwings, swept her fiery gold and red mane back as she cackled in delight. “Oh, yes!” she grinned from ear to ear, “I can feel it! I’m back in Equestria! But, how?”

The other alicorn reared and laughed, “Ah! Equestria? The source of all that wonderful magic!? This is too perfect- AHHHHHH!” She screamed, staring at her hooves in utter horror. “PONY THINGS!”

“Really?” the red alicorn snorted, “That’s the most disturbing thing you can think of right now? Hang on,” she squinted her demonic eyes at this potential rival, “Twilight Sparkle?”

The purple alicorn settled onto her front hooves, giving Applejack and the others a clear look at her. She was as tall as the red one, but there the similarities ended. This second alicorn was deep-violet in color, with a flair of red and pink in her mane, and black feathery wings of impressive span and size. A burning electric-blue flame crackled around her, creating the image of a pair of glasses over her glowing eyes.

Neither alicorn was particularly friendly looking, thought Applejack.

“That weakling?” the purple alicorn snarled, “I am Midnight Sparkle! The True Princess of Magic!”

“Midnight, eh?” the red alicorn smiled wickedly, “Well, I’m Sunset Shimmer, the future Princess of Equestria. If you think I’m going to stand aside while somepony tries to take my rightful throne, you’ve got another thing coming!”

Rainbow Dash, landing next to Applejack whispered, “Um… does anypony have a clue what’s going on?”

Fluttershy stepped forward, “I… don’t think even Changelings are this elaborate. Something fishy is going on.”

“Hey, guys?” Pinkie Pie pointed past the scowling alicorns to a purple pony with a light green streak in her mane, “does she look like she’s freaking out too?”

This is bad. This is bad. This is the worst thing possible. No, this was worse than the worst thing Starlight had even thought remotely possible!

Starlight quickly rose, trying to draw upon any reserve of strength she had to do so. She swept her eyes about, trying to figure out just what happened. Moondancer’s shield held, and those hiding within it watched the ensuing chaos in shocked horror. At the very least, no one within the shield had been hurt. Small mercies.

She looked for the other ponies that had been part of the ritual. Starswirl lay beneath the windows where he’d begun the casting, and Tempest lay beside him, a light waft of smoke rising from her armor. Both looked… alive. Starlight sighed in relief, at least mentally. To her left and right, Twilight and Sunset both began to get back up as well.

Good. This was good. She could still fix this.

“Contain them!” Starlight cried out to her friends, “We can’t let them leave!”

As the first magical blast hurtled towards the confused and lost ponies, Midnight Sparkle instinctively slapped the blast aside with her own horn, which burned electric blue. The redirected shot struck the floor and sent shards of crystal scattering about the confused ponies.

“Commander Dash!” Rarity cried, “Defend me! I am a servant of Nightmare Moon!”

Military training took over instantly, and Dash threw herself fully through the air towards the attacking unicorn. Starlight managed to throw up a magical shield in time to blunt the hit, but it still pushed her back as Rainbow Dash flew up into the air to recover.

The alicorns turned to one another.

“Truce?” said Sunset.

“For now,” agreed Midnight, and each took off into the air. Midnight threw an undulating blast of magical might towards the unicorn Sunset Shimmer, shattering the floor in a geyser of crystal shards.

Sunset Shimmer, protected by her own shield spell, could only look on in horror. “No,” she whispered, “not again!”

The alicorn Sunset drove at Twilight, throwing gouts of magical energy at the pony. “What’s wrong?” she cackled, “Princess lost her wings!?”

Twilight could do little but leap aside and dodge each blast. She eventually grabbed one of the beanbag chairs she’d sat in before and used her magic to hurl it back at the demonic pony that pursued her. It hit and slowed the monster down, and while it burned to ash, Twilight took the opportunity to concentrate on charging her magic.

Flash Sentry, looking on as the battle ensued, barked at Moondancer, “Lower the shield!”

She complied after only a moment’s hesitation, allowing the armored Pegasus to launch himself at the alicorn Sunset. But as he neared her, and he picked up to a flying ram speed, a rainbow bolt crashed hard into him, sending the Pegasus into a bookshelf that collapsed as he hit.

Flash’s helmet flew off his head, and he was dazed for a moment, but that wouldn’t keep him down. He stood, only to find himself squaring off with a familiar face.

“R-rainbow Dash?” he took in the strange sight of the famous Wonderbolt clad in black military gear.

“Flash Sentry,” she smirked, “funny meeting you again.”

“Rainbow,” Flash held up a hoof to stall a fight he knew would happen. He saw the look of violence in her eyes, “We’re on the same side here…”

She continued to smile, “Yeah, you said that last time. And just like last time,” she cracked her neck and shoulders, “I’m gonna enjoy killing you.”

The other ponies began to join the fray, with Sunburst and Moondancer throwing smaller blasts of magic into the melee. They weren’t really fighters, but buying Sunset, Starlight, and Twilight any amount of distraction was better than nothing. Starlight was now turning her magic against Midnight as well, forcing the dark alicorn to focus on both her and Sunset.

Spike, for his part, dragged Flurry Heart as much as he could away from the fight, trying to get them both behind a bookshelf. Flurry, either enamored of the light show or wanting to join herself, gave him one heck of a time doing just that.

The only conscious pony who had no idea what she was supposed to be doing was, of course, the great and powerful Trixie. From the word ‘go’ she’d been juking and dodging the wild blasts ripping through the library, and with every passing second, she began piling up regrets in her mind. Mostly how she wished she’d never come here, or how she wished she’d paid more attention in magic school, and occasionally that she’d picked a sturdier table to hide behind as she kept leaping from cover to cover.

She skid along the floor as one of alicorn Sunset’s attacks shattered her latest cover, forelegs covering her head and wizard hat. As she came to a halt, Trixie peaked upward at the pony whose hooves she landed at.

“Oh, Pinkie!” she beamed, “It’s you! Help me get out of here!”

But the normally friendly, bubbly Pinkie Pie was not here. Here was a Pinkie covered in paint, with limp, straight hair, and a venomous look in her eyes. She glared down at the magician-pony and said, “Nice try, Changeling! But I saw Trixie get taken away the last time you came after the Resistance. And she was my FRIEND!”

Pinkie raised up her spear, and thrust it hard down at the “changeling”. A blast of blue smoke answered her, blinding Pinkie for a moment. As it cleared, Pinkie coughed and stared at the cracked crystal floor where her spear was embedded, but no Trixie.

“Huh,” she said, “that was pretty good. You do parties?”

Trixie yelled over her shoulder, already a fair distance away, “Trixie has reasonable rates!” She had little enough time to discuss them, however, as Trixie nearly ran directly into a far less friendly-looking-than-she-remembered Fluttershy.

“Please,” she pleaded, “Please tell me you’re not crazy- “

As a hard back-hoof connected with Trixie’s nose and sent the magician soaring backwards into insensate darkness, her last thought before unconsciousness took her was, “Did Fluttershy just HIT ME!?”

An errant blast of magic rocketed towards Applejack, faster than she could counter. She braced for the hit, but it never came. She opened her eyes, and saw a bright light in front of her. A glowing diamond-shaped shield had stopped the blast.

She glanced to her left at the unicorn who’d clearly saved her, “R-rarity, you saved me?”

The purple-maned mare scoffed. “Well, that unicorn seemed to be roping us all together when she said to contain us. Besides,” she watched the battle with a practiced eye, “if you do know me, you clearly have good taste, Darling.”

Applejack took in the fight as well, noting how the alicorn calling herself Sunset was struggling to catch the little purple unicorn, and how Midnight was holding her own against two unicorns at once.

“Whelp,” she said, pulling on her hairnet, “in fer a penny…”

The hardy Earthpony tore across the library floor. She slid up to a desk that had been knocked over, and let her back-hooves give it a solid smack, sending it hurtling up into the air. The desk crashed just above the purple unicorn’s head, dropping a pile of books down on her.

The alicorn Sunset turned and snarled, “I was just about- “

“Go help that Midnight gal, ya idjit!” Applejack shouted back, “I got the filly!”

Sunset sputtered in indignation, but then flew back towards the larger battle brewing behind her. Applejack, meanwhile, trotted up to the unicorn just pulling herself out of the book pile.

“Please,” the unicorn seemed on the verge of tears, “Applejack, please don’t do this. We’re friends! You have to believe me!”

Applejack scowled. “Yeah? You look a lot like an alicorn named Twilight Spackle, or Sparkle, whatever. And you know what?” She advanced, something about all this crystal architecture inspiring a tiny flame of anger in her country heart, “She said the same thing. But I don’t know you, and I find it mighty suspicious that just after she tried to sell me that load of lemons, I get dragged to wherever this is!”

Applejack threw a mighty kick that missed Twilight by inches, shattering the entire bookshelf she’d been standing beside. Wooden splinters and dust were all that remained, raining down on both of them, Applejack standing in fury above her foe.

“No more guff! Tell me what you know!” she growled. But for an instant after she said it, Applejack lost every trace of rage and pain she’d saved up in her heart. All those years of anger at the world, a world at war, fell away as she met Twilight’s eyes… and saw somepony looking back she did not recognize.

For just a moment, as tears streamed down Twilight’s face, Applejack wondered just who she really was.

And this moment ended instantly, as Tempest’s hoof collided with Applejack’s face, sending her hurtling head over hooves across the library floor.

“Come on Twilight!” Tempest’s blood was hot, and a look of warrior frenzy was upon her, “We got this!”

Midnight Sparkle, flying besides the alicorn Sunset, and battling the other Sunset, Moonbeam, Sunburst, and an actually competent wizard in Starlight, stopped consciously fighting back. She let other processes take over, relying on her raw magical might to hold them at bay. She wasn’t just magic-personified; Midnight had all the brain-power as that weak child Twilight Sparkle, and then some.

She began doing math. She began doing a lot of things, and very quickly. She started by calculating the amount of magic she personally had access to, as well as rough guesstimates on alicorn Sunset’s probable power, and whatever limited force she could get out of the other ponies that had appeared alongside herself.

Then, Midnight Sparkle started putting that up against the power arrayed against her. The results… were becoming unfavorable. As titanic lightning-like blasts began crashing against her shields, she recognized that the broken-horn unicorn was a serious factor she’d missed. Adding her power? And what of the old stallion? He was starting to get up himself.

Starswirl, though clearly exhausted, froze Pinkie Pie with a simple spell, just as she was about to crash into him at full speed. With a simple flick of his horn, he sent her spiraling through the air, only to be caught by Rainbow Dash as she flew past. Flash Sentry followed, harrying her, even though it looked like he was on the verge of physical collapse. Rarity had fallen back, giving Fluttershy a shield, but unable to strike back as the unicorns cornered their party.

The math panned out. This was a losing fight. Midnight hadn’t come so far, stolen so much power from those fools at Canterlot High to give up now. There had to be a play here, a winning move, if she could only find the right equation…

Through the din and thunder of combat, a sound reached Midnight’s senses. The sound of a baby laughing.

“No!” Spike struggled to keep Flurry Heart down behind the ruins of a bookshelf, “Come on little baby! Stay down! This isn’t a good place anymore!”

That was it, the answer to Midnight’s problem. With a blast of neon light, Midnight Sparkle closed the distance instantly, reappearing next to the little dragonling and the tiny, baby alicorn.

“This battle is over!” she cried, holding Flurry aloft in a bubble of her power. “One more move, and I can’t promise what will happen to the baby!”

Everypony stopped dead in their tracks. The alicorn Sunset landed besides her allied ponies, quickly gathering in the center of the room. The other ponies held their ground, but their faces were masks of fear and anger. Most deliciously, for Midnight at least, was the look on Twilight Sparkle’s. Pure and impotent fury, mixed with utter despair.

She began walking towards her allies, the child held close. “If anyone wants to bring harm to this baby,” she laughed, “by all means, attack me.”

Nopony moved a muscle as she reached her allies. And with a triumphant cackle, she allowed a wave of magic to rush out from her. Midnight Sparkle, the alicorn Sunset, and the five ponies they’d appeared with, vanished in a flash of light.

Author's Note:

Alternative Title: Time and Time Again.

Do. Not. Mess. With. Time Magic.

Okay. Cards on the table: I was so worried about writing a battle scene. I'm happy with how it turned out, but it was a nerve-wracking experience to plan, stage, and execute. Battles are, by their nature, a bit chaotic. And so trying to logically describe an event that takes seconds to resolve but can cover so much information is daunting!

I wanted to know what happened to those lost timelines, you understand? It never sat well with me that they simply vanished, and so getting to dredge up the true extent of Starlight's greatest mistake was a major driving force. Not to mention, my favorite part of any time-travel or dimension-traveling adventure story is the part where characters have to explain themselves to each other, so having a time-displaced Mane 7 was like a wonderful dream come true!

Finally, Midnight Sparkle. HOO BOY! She's a piece of work, ain't she? Like a dinosaur-killing asteroid, she showed up very briefly and left a huge impact in EqG. An Evil Twilight Sparkle should be a pretty terrifying thing, considering how ridiculously powerful our favorite purple princess can be when she decides to stop holding herself back. And Midnight was seconds away from being a true multiversal apocalypse back in her canon premier, with a direct, obsessive connection to Magic itself. I just wish we got to see her cut loose sometime.

Oh... I guess there's a few more chapters...