• Published 19th Aug 2019
  • 3,889 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 4 - The Midnight Sparkle Affair

Trixie slowly picked her head off the cold floor where Fluttershy had left it, the imagery of spinning stars still swimming in her vision. She felt like her head had been pulled from a Manticore’s jaws… again. As sounds began to sound like sounds again, instead of piercing needles in her brain, Trixie tried her best to listen to them.

“What!? What was that!?” Sunburst screamed, panic practically coming off him in waves. Starlight was muttering something like, “My fault, my fault,” over and over again. The hornless unicorn (Trixie liked her a lot) was also yelling something at Starbeard, or Swirlybee.

Trixie was beginning to think she wasn’t doing so well. She started looking for a soft beanbag chair to drop into.

While Trixie staggered around like Rainbow Dash after a keg of cider, the other ponies were indeed in a bind. More than that, they were falling apart at the seams. Spike sat in the rubble of the bookshelf he’d tried hiding behind, his eyes spilling tears into his claws without sound. Starlight stood still, eyes just watching the spot from which the intruders had left. Sunset was helping Twilight stay up, providing physical and emotional support to the, she often forgot, younger mare.

Moondancer was busy patching up Flash Sentry, while Sunburst’s previous outburst was clearly being directed at Starswirl himself.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Starswirl stated matter-of-factly.

Tempest nearly jumped at him as he said that, “You’re the big-time wizard here! Isn’t this your job!?” She took a deep breath and tried to turn away, but ended up with her face back in his. “And what about Flurry Heart!?”

Sunset stepped in, “That was clearly a teleportation spell. Those things don’t have an incredible range, so she’s most likely still in the Crystal Empire.”

“Oh, fantastic!” Tempest wheeled around to the other pony, “So she’s just somewhere lost in a huge city with a half dozen or so crazy psychopaths! Great. Also, WHAT WAS THAT!?”

Starlight finally shook the haze that had crept over her since the princess vanished. She sighed, then walked towards the middle of the group of arguing ponies.

“Guys, it’s my fault,” she said softly, and without energy. The ponies stopped talking and turned their attention to Starlight, who continued, “I knew something like this would happen. Time doesn’t like it when we mess with it. It’s like a tree branch you pull back; once you let go, it snaps.”

Sunburst adjusted his glasses, “But… that doesn’t make sense. Time’s just a force, isn’t it? It can’t want things. It can’t desire anything, much less revenge!”

“No,” Starswirl said, looking straight at Starlight, “I see what you mean. You’re thinking that your previous… experience with time magic might have affected our spell?”

“Time sticks to us,” Starlight said, “it… it felt like when I cast my part of the spell that all the extra ‘Time’ I had built up snapped back and… I don’t know. Dragged some of my past experiences back up with it.”

Tempest snorted, “Extra time?”

“My original spell,” Starlight explained, a touch more animated as the subject changed to theoretical spellwork, “it was meant to drag me back to the same moment whenever Twilight Sparkle tried to reverse my changes. I think we must have done that over a dozen times…”

“A dozen!?” Starswirl blanched. “You made over a dozen trips through time? I myself only ever attempted it twice!”

Sunbrust shook his head, “What, really?”

The elderly wizard nodded and stroked his chin. “My beard used to be black, you know. Hmmm…” he began to pace around the former location of the magic circle, “So much chronological inertia would certainly… but then the Affiliation spell… Aha!”

He spun in place to face the ponies. “Because of your repeated timeline-splitting, Starlight, when you added your magic to the spell, it must have dragged some of those loose threads along with our own! Those ponies, were the Elements of Harmony from the timelines you created!”

She hung her head again, “I was afraid of that. They all looked like how Twilight described her friends in those other timelines I created. But, Midnight Sparkle? That… demonic Sunset Shimmer? I’ve never seen those before!”

It was Sunset’s turn to sigh. “Ah, that might be because of us.”

“When I first met Sunset and my other friends at Canterlot High,” Twilight said, sitting down as she did so, “I… more or less stole all their magic and transformed into… that. A magic-hungry monster.”

“And,” Sunset hesitated, “back when I wanted to topple Celestia and rule Equestria, I might have stolen Twilight’s crown and used its magic to become that… thing.” She gave an embarrassed, and ultimately half-hearted, chuckle. Nopony else laughed.

Moondancer and Flash Sentry approached, with Moondancer asking, “So the spell restored ponies from erased timelines and from your two personal pasts? Then, what did it take from Starswirl?”

“My part of the spell created the bridge in the first place,” he said with a tiredness that hadn’t been there before, “so, we are all to blame in our own ways.”

Trixie finally stood back up. “Tho,” she said through a mouth with a noticeable chipped tooth, “to thummarithe, a bunch of copieth of Twilight, Thunthet, and their friendth are running around, and they’ve fillynapped the Printhethth?”

Twilight shook her head, “It’th- I mean, it’s not that simple. There’s a delicate balance between dimensions. My being here is fine because we’ve been careful to keep our own dimensional travel relatively rare, but I’ve done calculations on this sort of thing, and I’m not sure how many such travelers this world can take before it starts to break down!”

Everypony, save for Starswirl, gasped at this.

In the audible silence of this pronouncement, Flash Sentry turned to look at Twilight. “Well, then what do we do?”

Twilight stared back for a moment, then swung her head over to Sunset, who was also staring. And then to Starlight, then Starswirl, and finally over to Trixie. All were staring right at her.

“Why are you all staring at me like that?”

“Becauthe,” said the great and powerful Trixie, “whenever thomething like thith happenth, we alwayth go to Twilight to fix it. Even a dithcount Twilight ith better than no Twilight!”

And at that moment, Starlight deeply regretted bringing Trixie along for this vacation.

All the attention. All the stares. The hope in their eyes was the most concerning thing about the stares. Well, no, Twilight thought. It was the calculation. The invisible one plus one and two plus two she could almost see going on behind their eyes.

She wasn’t the princess. Surely, they could see that? Surely, they didn’t think that she, Twilight Sparkle, had all the answers? All the time? But they did. They always looked at her and wondered why couldn’t she measure up. Her, or rather the Princess’ brother, then the Princess Cadence, Starswirl…

Starlight had said time was like a tree branch. Twilight knew better. She was the tree branch, and Trixie, the great and powerful Trixie, was the final, overfed sparrow that made the branch SNAP.

“I…” Twilight breathed through her nose, “am NOT! PRINCESS! TWILIGHT SPARKLE!”

The sudden explosion of pent up rage took everypony aback.

“Why does EVERYONE think that just because I look like her, I can possibly measure up to the PERFECT AND WONDERFUL TWILIGHT SPARKLE!? Well, I’M NOT HER! If I was, this would never have happened!

“If Twilight Sparkle, the REAL TWILIGHT SPARKLE, was here, she would have noticed the problem with the spell before we cast it! Or she would have had the power, and the cool, and THE CALM! To stop those ponies from KIDNAPPING HER NIECE!”

Sunset, tears beginning to well up in her eyes, said softly, “Twi, hey, it’s okay…”

“NO!” Twilight snapped back, tears streaming down her face like a fountain, “It’s NOT OKAY! Because if Twilight Sparkle were here, there wouldn’t have BEEN a Midnight Sparkle to kidnap her niece or destroy the library or HURT HER FRIENDS! Because Twilight Sparkle doesn’t make mistakes! She’s never become a MONSTER! And she’s NEVER HURT HER FRIENDS!”

She hit the floor hard, sobs wracking her, hooves covering her face from the shame. As she lay there, nopony could form the words to say anything. What could be said?

But in those heavy seconds, as the silence of the library reigned, a single pony finally found the words, or the next best thing. With sharp, echoing steps from her hard, military boots, Tempest strode forward. All eyes were on her as she stood before the crumbling Twilight, standing like a lightning rod, an unshakeable pillar.

Tempest sat down. She reached out her forelegs, and with almost motherlike care she scooped Twilight up into a hard, deep hug. The younger mare wrapped her forelegs around the elder, and pressed her face into the welcoming shoulder. After a few silent, intimate moments, Tempest stood up, and pulled Twilight Sparkle up with her.

Tempest gave Twilight an appraising look and said, “You are not Princess Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight just stared up at her.

“But neither am I,” Tempest smiled, “and neither is anypony else. No one should ever have to compare themselves to another, especially not the princess.”

“I don’t understand,” Twilight said, almost at a whisper.

“Do you really think,” said Tempest, leaning in conspiratorially, “that you’re the only one here, especially in this room, who keeps comparing themselves to Twilight? And comes up wanting?”

Sunset stepped forward. “Twilight, before we met, I was… completely evil,” a smile crossed both their faces at that, “I wanted to overthrow the only motherfigure I ever had because I felt like she owed it to me. And I enslaved a school full of children to try and pull it off!”

“And… she forgave you,” said Twilight, rubbing away a tear from her cheek.

“Well, yeah,” said Sunset, “after she beat me down.”

Tempest nodded. “I conquered her homeland, turned her sister-in-law and both her teachers to stone, and handed over her magic to a psychotic satyr. She still forgave me,” she chuckled, like remembering a schoolyard prank gone wrong, “She even recommended me to her sister-in-law as a guard.”

“And, not that I really need to lay out my shame again today,” Starlight averted her eyes as she said this, “but I did actually succeed in destroying not just Twilight’s friendships, but also Equestria itself… which I regret!” she added, helpfully.

Trixie grinned, revealing her chipped tooth again, “Well, when you put it that way, the wortht I ever did was kick her butt in a magic contetht and maybe getting carried away talking about how awthome I am.”

Finally, Starswirl spoke. “Twilight Sparkle, I think what we are trying to say is, we’re sorry,” he bowed, flourishing his hat as he did so. “I should have made it clear: we were never comparing you to the Princess. She’s a force of nature! All of us compare ourselves to her brilliance and to her unending capacity for love and forgiveness.

“But,” he lifted the mare’s chin with one hoof and looked down with kindness, “that doesn’t mean we think less of you.”

Twilight stepped back, and turned away from the assembled ponies. She walked over to the last spot Midnight had stood mere minutes ago. The others could see her wipe away the last of her tears, and then lift her glasses from her face with a soft, purple light of her magic. She quickly cleaned the lenses, and set them back.

“Well, that’s a good thing,” she said, and spun around to face her friends, “because I do in fact have an idea!”

Deep in the darkness below the Crystal Empire, a network of caverns long, long forgotten by the ponies above played host to a motley crew. After the initial flare of electric blue fire, the two alicorns and Rarity were the only ponies providing light with their horns.

“Oh dear,” Rarity bemoaned as she glanced about the dirt-swept cavern walls, “where in Equestria are we now!?”

Pinkie Pie glanced about. “Looks like a lava tunnel. My sister told me all about them. You can tell by the speleothems. This was probably formed before even Sombra- “

“Enough!” Midnight Sparkle shouted, her magically infused voice echoing in the depths. “I don’t care about what made the caves, just that no one else knows about them!”

“Oh,” Pinkie frowned, “Yeah, I don’t think anyone’s been around here in a loooong time.”

Sunset Shimmer, not about to let some new girl take her place, rounded on the alicorn. “So how exactly did you know these were here?”

Midnight sniffed, “Because, I could sense it.” She glanced back to Flurry Heart, still drifting behind her. “You could do it too, if you were as magically attuned as I am.”

“Know what?” Sunset snarled, “I think our truce is over. So how about we settle this now?”

Before the alicorns decided to turn the entire tunnel system into their personal rumble cage, Applejack knew she had to say something.

“Uh, but don’t either of you think it’s weird us all being brought here? Like, what could have done that?”

Both gave the earth pony narrowed looks, alternating between anger at the interruption, and curiosity at their predicament. Still, it was worth consideration, and so both alicorns stepped away from one another.

Midnight Sparkle took a moment to pace. Sunset just scrunched her eyes up and seemed to be having an attack of some sort. Applejack considered herself a good reader of ponies, and she could tell that Sunset was definitely not a thinker. But that Midnight… well, she was worried about how quick that gal was probably crunching numbers in her head. Power and intelligence sounded like a scary combination. Like Big Mac and a bushel of snakes, sort of scary.

After another moment, Midnight turned, and announced, “I have it!” She flattened a… whatever that Pinkie girl called them, the pointy rocks, with a casual wave of her horn, and leapt atop it like a stage.

She continued, “From my incredible magical insight I can deduce that we have each been torn from our own worlds and deposited here by a magic spell!”

A moment of quiet followed the pronouncement.

Fluttershy frowned. “Well, that was obvious.”

Midnight glared, and said slowly, “The spellcasting pony back up there was trying to ‘contain’ us. She was messing with Time itself, and it seems we were unmoored from our timelines by her experimentation!”

Sunset raised an eyebrow, “You could tell all this? From the, what, minute or so we had before they started attacking us?”

“Of course,” the imperious alicorn raised her chin up, “I’m good at what I do.”

“Well,” Rainbow Dash said, uncomfortably sitting atop a rock, “we can’t stay in this world! And I don’t like the way that pony said ‘contain’. I need to report back to my Princess.”

“And you shall!” Midnight filled the cavern with light from her horn. “These tunnels… I can feel them and where they go. We can follow them out and reach the city above. And from there…”

“Yes?” Sunset wasn’t about to lose the initiative to this one, no matter how smart she might be, “And then what? We’re trapped in a world that’s not our own, in a land that none of us know. What’s your plan?”

Midnight chuckled softly, covering her mouth with a hoof. She seemed… somewhat taken aback to see her own hoof, but recovered quickly.

“My dear Sunset, it’s so simple! Can’t you feel that? The sheer weight of magic that lays at the city’s center?”

Something in Applejack’s memory jumped, like Midnight’s words bit it.

“Wait,” she said slowly, “are you talking about the Crystal Heart?”

“Is that what they call it?” Midnight’s face was terrifying, like a hungry beast hearing a dinner bell.

Applejack pieced the memory together, slowly letting it out as she did. “The… the Crystal Heart was always a rumor… a legend. In my world, they said it was a black magic crystal, and the source of King Sombra’s powers.”

“Darling,” Rarity laughed, “The Crystal Heart is a magical artifact, but it isn’t evil. It’s supposed to be quite lovely.”

“And how do you know that?”

Rainbow Dash said with smug satisfaction, “When Sombra surrendered to Nightmare Moon, who do you think helped drag it to her palace and lock it up?”

“Regardless!” Midnight snapped, “It is an artifact of incredible power! With such magical might under my command, I could send you all back to your homes. Perhaps, I could even help each of you with your problems.”

Rarity took her turn to raise an eyebrow. “And… what problem do you think we have?”

Midnight shrugged, “Well, I offered. Take my help or not, but since I am the only way you’re getting home, I suggest you fall in line!”

The five regular ponies exchanged glances. None of them were happy with the situation. But if it meant going home…

Fluttershy broke the contemplative moment. “So, how do you plan on stealing such an important artifact out from under these crystal ponies’ noses? It’s probably as well-guarded as Queen Chrysalis’s own crown.”

“They have what we want,” Sunset stepped up to the yellow pegasus and glared down at her, “and we have what they want.” She pointed back to Flurry Heart, still floating, still cooing gently.

Nopony said a word, but one by one they nodded assent to Midnight, even Sunset, who was the only pony to smile amongst them.

Midnight laughed a low and terrible laugh. “Very well then. Let us go! Oh, and Pink one?”


“Hold onto this for us,” Midnight said as she used her magic to toss the baby at Pinkie. With quick reflexes, she caught the filly, and shot a look at Midnight she hoped conveyed how annoyed she was.

Midnight led the way, with Sunset following close, and the rest bringing up the rear. At the very back of the train of ponies, Pinkie trailed with Flurry.

“Alright kid,” she began, giving Flurry Heart her best impression of Fluttershy’s ‘stare’. “I want you to know there’ll be no funny business. No goofing off. I’m your warden, not your foalsitter. And you… are…”

Flurry Heart’s own stare was… strange. It was almost like the little filly recognized Pinkie. And she simply beamed raw love and understanding from her deep, pool-like eyes. It was like falling into an ocean of cuteness and… and…

Pinkie Pie, a pony who had lived for the past decade on the run from shapeshifting monsters, a pony who’d seen friends and… family stolen and replaced, who had been fighting a guerrilla war her entire life, who never had time for fun, or joy, or love…

Found it.

And as the convoy continued down the tunnels towards their rendezvous with destiny, Pinkie Pie found her hair sticking up and frizzing out like it never had before, and a certain spring to her step she’d never before experienced… but liked anyway!

“So, we know the plan?” Twilight finished with a triumphant flourish.

All the ponies around her nodded. Each knew what was to be expected of them.

Twilight continued, “Midnight Sparkle will be drawn to the Crystal Heart. She… when I was her, I was obsessed with magic. Finding it, learning about it, consuming it. She can’t resist.”

“And once they reveal themselves,” Starswirl said, “Sunburst and I will cast our counterspell to send them back through the portal to their own worlds.”

Sunburst added, helpfully, “Once we… create the counterspell.”

Spike hopped up onto Twilight’s back. “And the rest of us will buy you that time!”

Flash Sentry, helmet back on and wings prepped, said, “I’ll round up whatever guard units are still in the city! Can’t let the empire get conquered again without a fight!” and took off with gusto.

Tempest smiled, ruefully, “This place could do with a few siege walls.”

“We got this Twilight,” Sunset Shimmer held out a hoof. Each of the remaining ponies, and Spike, placed theirs into the circle. And with a cry, they threw their hooves into the air, and set about their paths towards destiny.

“To the Heart!”

Author's Note:

Boy, is Pinkie's hair expressive or what? You can always tell what's going on with her by how frizzy her hair is. Just check out The Cutie Re-Mark bits where she shows up in the bad timelines. Straight hair. Wonderful!

Aaaand here it is. The emotional drop after the action-packed battle. The calm before the storm. Gotta say, I was really worried about getting Twilight's crisis just right. She's felt like an impostor in her own life for a while now, having to walk in the Princess's shadow. And, to be fair, she hasn't measured up. Whereas Princess Twilight has saved the world nearly a dozen times by this point, Sci-Twi has actually been the world-ending threat on one occasion. She's spent the majority of this story thus far trying to match a force of nature, and it finally got to her.

Good thing she's got all these other ponies around her who know how she feels. I think it's often a subtle thing in the show itself just how amazing Twilight is, considering what she's gone up against, what she's accomplished, and how she did it. It makes so much sense to see a bunch of her former rivals and enemies come together and admit, "Yeah, I thought I was cool. But then Twilight Sparkle not only beat me up, but she made me better." Twilight has this odd, Season 1 Celestia quality, where ponies just believe in her completely, and I wanted to see how the characters of this story handled that relationship.