Twilight Opens a Door

by Golden Tassel

First published

Twilight Sparkle has a completely normal day in Ponyville.

Twilight Sparkle is very organized. She has it down to a science.

"A place for everything, and every thing in its place" are words to live by.

It's a completely normal day in Ponyville, and Twilight Sparkle has absolutely nothing to worry about.

This is, of course, a serious problem.

Chapter 1

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Twilight Sparkle woke up on a completely normal day in her library home in Ponyville. She yawned and stretched as she rose, and she dutifully made her bed before heading downstairs. She paused along the way and rolled her eyes as she spotted Spike's bed with his sheets a strewn and tangled mess. No matter how many times I tell him, she thought to herself as she tidied up after him. "Spike!" she called out.

There was no answer, and Twilight called again on her way down the stairs. Still no reply. Now where could he have gotten to? He didn't try to get a head start on our errands without double-checking the errand checklist again, did he? she wondered.

Once she was at the bottom of the stairs, Twilight trotted toward the kitchen. As she passed along the bookshelves, something caught her eye. No, that can't be right. That's crazy, she thought, assuring herself that she must have imagined it. She made it five more steps before she turned around to double check. Sure enough, there it was: The Myth of Sisyphus by A. Camel in the middle of the historical fiction section. "What are you doing here?" Twilight asked as she pulled the book off the shelf and carried it over to its proper place in the philosophy section on the far side of the library.

The bookcase assigned for philosophy was, to Twilight's astonishment, completely full. "When did this happen?" she wondered aloud. The ornithology and sociology bookcases on either side had an open shelf each, of course, but splitting sections in the middle of a bookcase was such a haphazard way of organizing, and the extra signage alone would require an entire afternoon to plan. Not to mention, the next re-shelving wasn't scheduled for another month. "No. There must be another book out of place in here that's taking up space. I just have to find it."

From A Treatise of Pony Nature to Zen and the Art of Skywagon Maintenance, everything in that bookcase belonged there. Twilight double- and triple-checked it. She even went to the card catalogue to confirm it. Twilight stared at The Myth of Sisyphus. "How did you end up without a space on the shelf?"


"Gyah!" Twilight wheeled around. "Oh. Spike. You startled me."

"You were talking to the books again. Are you okay?" Spike asked.

Twilight laughed. "I'm fine. Where have you been? I was looking for you."

"What do you mean? I've been here all morning. I even asked if you needed help with that book you've been carrying around, but you didn't answer me."

"Oh. I'm sorry, Spike. I didn't mean to ignore you. I guess I was just distracted." She showed the book to Spike. "Do you know how this ended up in historical fiction?"

Spike looked at the book. "I didn't even know we had that one. Maybe it's somepony's personal copy they left here by mistake?"

"No, that can't be right. I checked the catalogue and it definitely belongs to the library. But the philosophy bookcase is completely full and every book that's in there is supposed to be there. So we have a book with no place to put it. I can't just let something like this sit in the wrong section. What if somepony needs this book? They won't be able to find it, and then I'll be a bad librarian for not keeping the shelves organized and—" Twilight was interrupted by a growl from her stomach.

"Maybe you should take a break and eat lunch," Spike suggested.

"Lunch? But I haven't even had breakfast yet. What are you talking about?"

"Uh, Twilight. . . You've been carrying that book back and forth around the library all morning. Are you sure you're okay? This isn't gonna be like that time you lost your favorite quill, is it?" Spike patted Twilight on the shoulder while leading her toward the kitchen.

"That was a one-time thing, Spike. And you know how much I liked that quill." Twilight groaned. Sure. Literally turn the entire town upside down one time and nopony ever lets you forget it. She sat down at the table while Spike set about preparing her something to eat. She was still carrying the book with her.

"Well I guess since you skipped breakfast, do you want oat flakes?"

"For lunch? Are you serious?" Twilight thought for a moment. "Well, technically, it would still be breakfast since it is breaking a fast. But then again, doesn't every meal do that? I suppose if I were constantly snacking all day, it wouldn't be. . ."

"Oat flakes it is."

"But if I eat breakfast now, then what happens to lunch? And dinner? And—" Twilight's attention snapped to something new. "What is that?"

Spike looked where Twilight was pointing. "Um. A door?"

Twilight face-hoofed. "I can see that. What is it doing there?" She got up from her seat and took a closer look at the door set in the wall of the kitchen. "This was never here before."

"Are you sure about that?"

"Am I sure?! I think I would know if there had been a door here since we moved in last year. Where does it even go? There's nothing but tree trunk behind this wall."

"Isn't that just the pantry?"

"No. No. The pantry is over there." Twilight pointed to another door, on the other side of the kitchen.

Spike went over and opened the pantry. Sure enough, it was filled with their usual store of foodstuffs, all precisely organized and labeled. "Huh. So it is." He came back over to Twilight. "So maybe this is just a second pantry?"

"We don't have two pantries." Twilight squinted at the door. It was an ordinary-looking door, made of the same wood as the tree that made up her home. Is it possible we've had this door all along and I never noticed it? she thought, supposing that maybe it blended into the wall so well she simply hadn't seen it.

Spike reached for the handle. "Let's open it and see—"

Twilight swatted his claw away with the book she was still carrying. "We have no idea what's on the other side. This calls for careful study and observation. Can you run to the town hall and get a copy of the library blueprints?"

"Blueprints? You want to look at the library's blueprints? How about you come with me? It's a nice day outside; maybe you just need some fresh air."

"Spike, I don't have time for your nonsense. Just go and get the blueprints. I need to stay here and keep an eye on the door in case anything strange happens."

Spike sighed, and headed for the front door, muttering under his breath, "Something strange has been happening all morning. I guess while I'm at the town hall, I can at least warn them that another lost-quill incident is in progress. . ."

Twilight began her study of the door by taking basic measurements. Its width and height were consistent with the other doors in her home. A sample of the wood fibers from an inconspicuous area was likewise indistinguishable under a microscope from samples of the other doors. There were no obvious scratches or tool marks on the door, its frame, or the surrounding wall. And there was no lock of any kind on the door. For all Twilight could conclude, this door had been installed with everything else at the time of the library's construction.

What if, when Spike gets back, the blueprints show the door has always been here? she thought. Faced with the distinct possibility that she may be unable to reject the null hypothesis—that the door had somehow escaped her notice for over a year—Spike's suggestion of simply opening the door began to sound entirely reasonable.

Twilight reached for the handle.

There could be anything in there!

She quickly pulled her hoof away.

"Well, it couldn't be anything. It would have to fit inside the available space. Although, I guess it could be a staircase into some underground room. For all I know, what's inside there could stretch out underneath the entire town." Twilight narrowed her gaze at the door. "What secrets are you hiding?"

Stepping closer, Twilight scanned along the edges of the door, trying to find a gap to peek through. Alas, the door was fit snugly within its frame, and even along the bottom, she couldn't see anything.

She leaned in and pressed her ear against the door, but could hear nothing.

Twilight took a step back and eyed the handle. Again, her hoof reached toward it, hovering an inch away.

"Maybe I should knock first." She raised her hoof toward the center of the door then stopped and shook her head. "What am I thinking? It's not like we have somepony else living here that I somehow also didn't notice for more than a year."

Her hoof moved back to the handle, this time making contact. Just in case, she held The Myth of Sisyphus at the ready.

Twilight turned the handle and opened the door.

Chapter 2

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Princess Twilight Sparkle woke up on a completely normal day in her crystal tree castle home in Ponyville. She yawned as she rubbed the lingering grogginess from her eyes and stretched her wings to relieve the crick in her back. There simply was no good position to sleep in with those extra appendages. Years of nightly experiments had conclusively proven so.

Sitting up on the edge of her bed, Twilight stared out blankly, certain that she'd been in the middle of a weird dream. She rubbed her temple and squinted as she tried to remember what had made it so strange, or even anything at all about it, but nothing remained aside from that unsettling certainty that it had happened and that it had been weird.

She glanced at the book on her nightstand. "Ugh. That's the last time I read philosophy before bed," Twilight muttered to herself as she lifted the book with her magic, and floated it alongside her as she approached her bedroom door.

Twilight Sparkle opened the door and stopped dead in her tracks. Racks of dresses, ranging from light and casual, to ornate and formal gowns, and everything else Rarity had dreamed up for her over the years, lined the walls of a small windowless deadend room. This was not the hallway.

A vigorous shake of her head and a few blinks of her eyes later, she turned around and closed what was apparently the door to her closet, though she was sure the closet had been on the other side of her room yesterday. "I must have gotten a worse night's sleep than I thought," she mumbled through a drawn-out yawn. "I'll feel better after I have some breakfast."

Twilight crossed her room and stood in front of the door. Something nagged at the back of her mind as she reached for the handle, as if she'd forgotten to do something of great importance. She glanced back over her shoulder at her bed— No. That was her desk. Is my whole room backwards? She brushed the thought aside and turned her head over her other shoulder. "Ah-hah. I forgot to make my bed," she concluded, stifling another yawn while she wrapped the pillows and sheets in her magical aura, straightening everything out with practiced ease.

Finally out of her room, Twilight walked the corridors until she found herself at a deadend. She turned around and looked along the rows of doors lining that section of the hallway. This was not the way to the kitchen. Somehow, she must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. That was the only logical explanation. "It's going to be one of those days, isn't it?" she groaned, and began retracing her steps back toward the last intersection.

As Twilight rounded the corner, she bumped into Starlight Glimmer.

"Oh, Twilight. I'm sorry, I didn't see you there. Are you alright?"

"No, no. It's my fault, Starlight. I'm fine, but I think I got turned around somewhere and now I think I'm a little lost."

Starlight laughed. "I don't blame you. You wouldn't believe how many times I've wandered into a broom closet on my way to the throne room."

Twilight laughed with her.

"It happens every time," Starlight deadpanned.

Twilight ran a quick mental tally of all the times she'd invited her pupil to meet her in the throne room and grimaced. "Oh. I'm sorry about that. Maybe I should see about getting some signs put up around the castle to make things easier for everypony."

"That sounds like a great idea." Starlight noticed the book Twilight was carrying with her. "What's that you've got?" she asked.

"Oh, just some poorly-chosen bedtime reading. I'll have to return it to—" Twilight's stomach growled, and that nagging feeling from earlier came back, though this time it came with the faintest spark of a memory.

"Twilight?" Glimmer waved her hoof in front of her mentor's face.

"What?" Twilight's eyes snapped back into focus. "Oh. I'm sorry, I just remembered something about missing breakfast because I got caught up trying to find something a long time ago."

"I hope you found it. Breakfast was hours ago," Starlight began chuckling, but cut it short when she saw the look on Twilight's face.

Twilight wordlessly moved her mouth for a moment before she could speak again. "How is that possible? I just woke up, and I know I didn't oversleep."

Starlight put her hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "Are you sure you're alright? You haven't been messing around with time spells again, have you? This isn't like that time you went into the past to steal your favorite quill from yourself before you lost it again, is it?"

Hiding her face behind her book, Twilight groaned. "No. I swear. And how do you even know about that?"

Starlight laughed sheepishly. "Spike told me. But only because I kept pestering him about the legendary 'Lost Quill Incident.'" She leaned in close and lowered her voice. "The whole town? All of it? Literally upside down?" The twitching glare of Twilight's eye told her everything she'd heard was true. "Sorry."

Twilight floated the book away from her face and for the first time noticed the title: The Myth of Sisyphus by A. Camel. Suddenly, that spark of memory came into focus and her eyes widened. "Spike!" she called out as she galloped off down the hallway, leaving Starlight in equal measures of concern and bewilderment.

The door behind Starlight opened a crack and a hushed voice came through. "Is she gone?"

"I guess so."

Trixie, the Great and Powerful, emerged from the broom closet wearing a pith helmet and a khaki cargo vest. "That was close. Come on, let's go."

Starlight hesitated. "I'm not sure this is a good idea anymore."

"But you promised to take me on a time safari!" Trixie pouted.

"Alright fine," Starlight said, sighing and rolling her eyes. "But you have to promise not to touch anything in the past!"

"Let me see if I have this right," Spike said. "You had a dream about trying to put away that book?" he asked, trying his best to parse out what he could understand from the hurried and rambling story Twilight had dumped on him while he was just on his way to meet for his afternoon game of Ogres and Oubliettes.

"No. Forget about the dream. It's not important. Don't you recognize this book?" Twilight said, levitating The Myth of Sisyphus in front of Spike.

He tilted his head and rubbed his chin while he studied the cover. Gradually, his face contorted into an uncertain frown as if trying to understand a postmodern art piece. "I don't think so."

"Think, Spike," Twilight urged. "It was years ago, back when we first moved to Ponyville. I stressed out while trying to find space for it in the bookcase in the old library."

Spike shook his head and shrugged. "You stress out over a lot of things. Especially back then. I only really remember the doozies. Like that time—"

"Don't! I assure you, whichever time you're thinking of, I remember it in painfully vivid detail." Twilight floated the book back to herself and stared at the cover as she began pacing. "Whatever. Just . . . I need your help. There's something strange about this book; it belongs somewhere and I have to put it back or . . ."

"Or what?"

"I don't know. Please, Spike. Something isn't right."

"Okay. I believe you."

"Thank you, Spike," Twilight said, breathing a sigh of relief.

"What can I do to help?"

Twilight's ears flopped back and she blushed as she quickly glanced around to make sure no one else was around to hear her. "I don't know where the library is. I'm not even sure how I found my way here to the entrance hall."

"Whoa. Um. Alright. What about teleporting there?"

Twilight took half a step back and shook her head vehemently. "Nothing is where I think it should be today. If I tried to teleport I could end up anywhere. Or nowhere. Or—"

"No teleporting. Got it. Then follow me, I guess."

As Spike guided her through the castle, Twilight was certain she had been down these hallways already, and when they reached the library she was even more certain that she had checked behind this door already and found nothing but an empty closet. But as soon as she set foot inside and took her first breath of that delightfully familiar book smell she shivered, feeling the tension in her muscles instantly evaporate.

The two of them walked down the center aisle and Twilight nodded to herself as she looked over the signs along each row of bookcases. Everything was exactly where she knew it should be.

"Spike, where are you going?" she asked as she noticed him turn down the wrong aisle.

"Mythology is this way, isn't it?"

"It's not a mythology book, it's philosophy."

"Are you sure? 'Myth' is right there in the title."

"I'm positive," she asserted. "The myth is just an analogy for . . . for something." Twilight frowned and looked at the book again. Once again, she had that feeling of having had a dream but remembering nothing of its contents. "You know what, why don't you go check there anyway. I'll keep going this way."

"Call if you need me," Spike said as he spread his wings and flew off down the rows of books.

He didn't always have wings, did he? Twilight shook her head to kick the thought loose. One thing at a time, she reminded herself as she set off on her own. Winding her way through the library, she eventually came to the philosophy section against the back wall. She passed along bookcase after bookcase, her eyes carefully scanning across the spine of each book. Each one definitely belonged there. Then, she came to a stop.

In the middle of the row was an empty bookcase. Above it hung a wooden sign with elegantly carved letters that read "The Myth of Sisyphus."

Twilight blinked, and quickly glanced back and forth between the book she carried with her and the empty shelves. "All this for one book?" That couldn't possibly be right. What librarian in her right mind would do that? She stepped back, and looked across the row of bookcases. This one didn't match the others at all; it was made from mahogany wood, while everything else had been grown from the same crystal material as the rest of the castle structure. And, on the floor in front of it, were scuff marks.

Twilight grabbed the bookcase in her magic, and ripped it away from the wall to reveal a familiar-looking door. One which belonged in the old library. A chill ran down her spine, even as she reached for the handle.

Twilight opened the door.

Chapter 3

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Twilight Sparkle was walking down a hallway. The checkerboard patterned floor was a hideous combination of pink and neon green, and somehow the square tiles didn't line up properly as if they were averse to very concept of parallel lines. Looking at it for too long gave Twilight a headache. There were no walls, and Twilight had quickly learned to avoid looking out into the vast empty void that the hallway existed in. She hadn't tested to see if there were some kind of invisible barrier that would keep her from stepping off the hall (accidentally or otherwise), but after the bout of vertigo she'd experienced from a brief glance over the edge, she resolved to never find out.

Of course, there were doors in this hallway. Every few paces there was another one along either side of the hall. Some of the doors were tall, some were wide, some were very small, and most were oddly-shaped with sharp angles and wildly crooked frames that would, under normal circumstances, make them impossible to open. Twilight had yet to see any two doors that looked alike, and she had been walking down the hallway for a long time. How long exactly, she wasn't sure, but she hadn't felt tired or hungry since she'd arrived, and though she couldn't explain how, Twilight knew that the hallway extended to infinity in both directions.

Keeping pace at Twilight's side was a dromedary wearing a beret. He had been there for as long as Twilight could remember, but hadn't said a word to her in all that time. It occurred to Twilight at that moment that she hadn't said anything either.

"Um, hello. My name is Twilight Sparkle," she said as they continued walking. "What's your name?"

"Je m'appelle Albert," he answered with a smile. "Nice to meet you, Twilight Sparkle."

"Nice to meet you, Albert."

"Albert. The 't' is silent."

"Isn't that what I said?"

Albert shrugged. "Perhaps it was."

"This place is strange, isn't it?" There was a peculiar inflection to the way she asked the question. It was not the tone of idle conversation one might have in an elevator with a stranger, but sincere and slightly anxious as though she needed confirmation. Though what comfort that might bring her, she was equally unsure of.

"It is, oui," Albert said while craning his head around to admire every detail of their surroundings. His smile had grown to an almost giddy proportion that reminded Twilight of the feeling she had upon first arriving at Celestia's school as a young filly.

"Why are we here?"

"Comme c'est absurde!" Albert laughed and shook his head. Catching an impatient glare from Twilight, he cleared his throat and said, "Excuse me, I don't mean to misconstrue the intent of your question of what caused us to arrive in this place, but I'm afraid the answer to that is as equally absurd as the larger question itself."

"The larger question?" Twilight thought for a moment. "The meaning of life?"

"That. And there is none. Life is meaningless."

"Now you're being absurd," Twilight scoffed.

"Completely unavoidable."

"No. I mean that's blatantly false: My cutiemark represents my destiny, so of course my life has meaning."

Albert turned his gaze upward, staring out into that vast and empty void above them with the sort of far-off expression as of a chess player when deeply evaluating their next move.

In the extended silence that followed while the two of them steadily walked the hallway, Twilight began to parse through possible defenses for her argument. My destiny is important, she thought, affirming her certainty, though that affirmation immediately crumbled under the weight of her self-consciousness of its arrogance. Well, that I have a destiny is important, she reaffirmed with greater humility this time, but still plagued by that self-conscious arrogance that her destiny in particular was undeniably profound—she had witnessed for herself the alternate timelines in which realization of her destiny had been thwarted. Destiny can be thwarted? That couldn't be right. Destiny, by definition, necessarily had to happen. No. What had been thwarted must not have been her destiny but something else. So was her destiny then reduced to something as nonspecific as "being good at magic?" That was almost so vague as to be . . . meaningless.

"Do you believe only ponies have destiny?" Albert posed his question with an earnest curiosity that indicated an affirmative answer would not be taken as a sleight or accused of implying superiority.

It was not lost on Twilight, however, her failure to consider that Albert was not a pony and did not have a cutiemark. While she did briefly consider rephrasing her assertion to be more inclusive, she was far more troubled by the realization that she had either grievously misunderstood her destiny, or—perhaps more worryingly—that she didn't have one at all.

Seeming to have predicted her consternation, Albert offered a way out: "Maybe destiny has nothing to do with the meaning of life."

Twilight wrinkled her nose at this. She had trapped herself between an indefensible position and conceding to Albert's claim that her very existence had no meaning. "Let's assume," she stressed with a sidelong glance at Albert, "just for the sake of argument, that life is meaningless." Her voice was sharp and resolutely defiant, though she was certain Albert was as aware as she was that it was so only to conceal the despair she felt in knowing that the placid and familiar conception of the world that she once had could never be reconstructed. "Life is meaningless," she repeated, strangely feeling more comfortable with it this time. "Then what?"

"Then we have arrived at The Absurd." Albert gestured toward the infinite hallway ahead of them.

"This is The Absurd?"

Albert shrugged. "Or some approximation which we can make practical use of in conversation. Here you are presented with three options: you can leap into the void of nothingness, you can open a door, or you can rebel and confront the meaninglessness of it—continue to do what you always have without consciousness of The Absurd."

"Walk the hall forever?"

"Walk the hall forever." Albert nodded, smiling.

Having already discounted the leap, Twilight scanned along the doors lining the hallway. "What's behind the doors?"

"Nothing better than the void."

Twilight pondered what that could mean. With each door they passed, she imagined that it opened into another world. Surely one of them had to be better than nothingness. One of them might even take her back to Equestria, to her friends and everything she once knew—or at least fancied she knew. Life is meaningless. Her mind shook with the thought, and she at once concluded what Albert meant.

"It's hope," Twilight said with a faint tremble in her voice. "Hope is behind the doors. Hope of a place where life has meaning and I can paper over the cracks in the walls of my mind to forget this place."

Albert nodded somberly.

Twilight came to a stop in front of a polished metal door, struck by the pony reflected in its surface. She was a tall and imposing alicorn with a flowing mane of purple gradients that glowed faintly at its end. And were those crow's feet around her eyes? When did I become so old? Will I keep aging in this place? Twilight recoiled from the reflected stranger and bumped into Albert as she stepped back. He gestured again toward the infinite hallway ahead of them, and they continued walking.

"Is this it, then? Am I stuck here?" Twilight asked after a long silence. She glanced over her shoulder at the reflective door, now barely visible in the distance behind.

Albert rocked his head from side to side. "Yes and no."

"Of course," Twilight deadpanned, though she felt a chuckle worm its way up from her heart. She should have expected such a contradiction.

"Hope has one advantage over the void, I admit. Once you have reached this place, you will—or at least it's possible to—always return to it. It's inescapable in that way, but if you value diversity of experiences at least as much as the quantity of them, then you may well visit each and every door in time. Behind some of these doors it might be possible to forget your encounter with The Absurd, but at any streetcorner the feeling of it may strike you in the face."

A comfortable silence fell upon them while Twilight mulled that over. Each door she passed now seemed a little less distressing. Were she to open one at random, she no longer feared that she might become trapped. Rather, she felt a growing sense of liberation now; if she were ever so dissatisfied with whatever equally meaningless life awaited her behind any door, she knew it was never without appeal. The only such place was here in The Absurd where the only thing to do was to continue forward in open rebellion against the meaninglessness of it all.

Twilight Sparkle smiled.

"Wait!" Twilight came to an abrupt stop, staring in slack-jawed amazement of what she saw. Before her was a stained oak door with a painted carving of a candle on its face. "I recognize this door. It's been so long, but I'm certain. I know this door. I know where it goes!" She bounced giddily on her hooves, overcome by the nostalgia of her once simple life as a librarian. Of course with infinite doors and infinite time to walk the hall, Twilight knew it should be no surprise that eventually she would find a familiar door, but she had given up the illusion of seeing one long after she lost count somewhere in the tens of thousands.

"Are you going to open it?" Albert asked pointedly.

Twilight pressed her hoof to the door and slowly traced the outline of that candle. "You said I can always come back, right?" she asked, looking over at Albert.

"In a way, this place will never leave you." He laughed quietly as he realized in Twilight's look that she was seeking his approval, as if she feared he would be disappointed in her for opening any of the doors, much less this one in particular. "In the grand meaninglessness of all things, hope is as legitimate as anything else you can do from here. I cannot condemn you for opening a door any more than I can condemn myself for continuing to walk the hallway."

Twilight frowned. "You could come with me?" She was fully aware of the futility of her offer, but felt compelled to make it nonetheless. Albert was her friend of many years now, and she would miss him.

Albert laughed, shaking his head. "Au revoir, ma chère."

Twilight opened the door.

Chapter 4

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It was a completely normal day in Ponyville.

Twilight Sparkle stood in the middle of the Golden Oaks Library, the last sparks of magical aura fading from her horn as her spell ended.

"Did it work?" Spike asked. When she didn't respond, he climbed up on the table before her—careful not to step on the book there—and waved his hand in front of her face. "Twilight?"

Twilight blinked. "What? Oh. I'm, uh . . . I'm not sure." She craned her head around, glancing across the bookshelves. "How long was I out?"

"No time at all. I mean, you spaced for a second at the end there, but—" Spike hopped off the table and followed after Twilight as she wandered away and looked out the window. "Are you alright?" he asked.

"It's a beautiful day. Let's go for a walk around town," Twilight said.

Spike held up Twilight's notepad and quill. "Don't you want to write down your experimental observations first?"

Twilight shook her head, already moving toward the door. "I can do that later." She grabbed the pad and quill in her magic and floated them over to the table.

"But you've been working on this spell all week." Spike looked up at Twilight in confusion. He had never seen her walk away from an experiment before recording the results, working up a checklist for revisions, controlling her variables, and performing another run. With how quickly this spell worked—he was assuming it had worked—the turnaround time should've given Twilight dozens of datapoints before the day was over.

"Exactly. It's time for a break. Let's get some fresh air and find a nice place to have dinner." Twilight put her hoof on the handle and looked back at Spike with an inviting smile as she nodded her head toward the door.

Spike shrugged; he certainly wasn't going to pass up dinner at a restaurant after being cooped up for so long.

Twilight opened the door and stepped outside. She lingered for a moment on the front step and took in a deep breath, filling her lungs with the warmth of the late spring afternoon. While Spike ran out ahead of her, Twilight meandered along behind him at a leisurely pace and cast her gaze around with an almost melancholy indifference to whatever it landed on. There was no shortage of sights in the town to catch her eye to be sure—colorful ponies going about their daily lives, flowers in full bloom under the light of the sun with their petals arranged in pleasing symmetries, or stray clouds in shapes resembling a train or a bee or a cupcake—but in Twilight's eyes at that moment, they were all but sandcastles before the rising tide; beautiful if only for their ephemeralness.

Spike took advantage of Twilight's apparent disinterest in what path their walk should follow to lead her down the rows of market stalls. He was eager to visit the comic book vendor and see if there was anything new in stock. Twilight was vaguely aware of where he was going and didn't bother to follow once he ran off.

A cheerful voice called out to Twilight, "Hello!"

Twilight looked over to see a pegasus mare behind the counter of a stall waving to her. "Hello," Twilight replied as she wandered over.

"You look lost. Everything okay?"

Twilight smiled and laughed quietly. "Fine, I guess. And I'm not lost, just don't have anywhere in particular to go right now. It's kind of a strange feeling for me."

The mare nodded. "Usually keep pretty busy, huh? So what happened? You in between projects or just taking a break?"

"Kind of both I think," Twilight said. "I was just testing out a new spell that would let me read more books faster by experiencing their contents through a modified dreamscape projection and—I'm sorry. The details are probably very boring."

The mare gasped. "No! That sounds amazing! I always wish I could get more reading done. So how did it go?"

"Oh. Well, I wanted to test it on a book I hadn't read yet, and I also reasoned that if the spell were any good it should work on any kind of subject, even really abstract ones, so I chose a philosophy book I had been meaning to read for years and just never got around to. I'm not sure what I was expecting, and I think I've already forgotten most of what I saw, which makes sense for a dream spell, but it was weird. Like, really weird. But also completely normal?" Twilight rubbed her temple. "That doesn't make much sense, does it?"

"I think I get it. It's like how when you're in a dream even though you're eighty feet tall and made of rubber ducks, there's nothing strange about it at all. Then you wake up and—BAM!—you're like 'how did I not realize that was a dream?' Right?"

"Yeah. . . . Like that." Twilight blinked. Rubber ducks? "Well anyway, I think I ended up talking to the author of the book at the end, or at least a representation of him based on what he wrote. And we just talked for a really long time. That part was very lucid. And then I was conscious."

"I must imagine you're happy," the mare said.

Twilight puzzled over that. Am I?

"Your spell worked, didn't it?"

All at once, Twilight was overcome with laughter. Of course it worked! Her spell worked! How wonderful it was. "Yes. It did. And I'm very happy."

"Congratulations!" The mare put a small baked good on the counter in offer of celebration. "Muffin?"