In the darkness, three silhouettes stood, their shadows framed against the wall by shimmering moonlight that shone through cracked glass. The smell of smoke, a lingering scent that never truly departed whatever it touched, hovered in the air, masking the spoor of the ponies that huddled in the darkness. Waiting in the dead of the night had its drawbacks; for all the good it did at hiding them from unwanted eyes, so too did it bring a chill to the heart. The darkness was not where ponies should exist, for they were made to play in the light.
Suddenly, as if by some unspoken command, one of the ponies moved forward and fumbled with something upon a wizened wooden bench, worn smooth by ages of use. A light flared and lit the interior of the house, revealing the devastation that had befallen it. The roofing beams were cracked and burnt, with a third of the roof completely torn away. The door sat precariously in its frame; the hinges were busted and ruined, shattered beyond repair. When the light fell on the ponies themselves, they cringed and looked away, a reaction beyond that of unaccustomed eyes.
The pony that had lit the lamp turned to face the other two. Cool blue eyes stared out from a dark grey face, their depths hard and unfathomable. In the corner one of the others, a pale green pegasus, trembled nervously before giving a hoarse whisper, in a voice that was surprisingly high for a stallion.
"Where is she? She was supposed to be back by now... Oh Celestia, something's gone wrong hasn't it? I knew we shouldn't have sent her, it was too unpredictable..."
"Shut your trap, Fletch," the other, a rusty brown unicorn, snapped, though he too had eyes that betrayed an unsettled apprehension. Tossing black hair back, he turned away from the shaking pegasus and back at the blue-eyed earth pony. "Just gotta wait a bit longer. She'd better bloody get here, or we'll have to move on. Then what will her chances be of finding us?"
The earth pony was silent for a moment, studying his comrades. Fletch Wing was always nervous, so his fears were most likely unfounded. But the other, Drill Bit... Well, it was a bit unusual to see the wavering in his expression. Therefore, when he spoke, it was with care to keep the atmosphere.
"I don't know. All I can say is, she's the best we've got. The only unicorn for the job. Drill, you couldn't have gone. She would never have listened to somepony she didn't know, and you aren't strong enough to keep up the spell. So for better or for worse, she's gone and we have to wait."
"Fine, fine. But blazes, at least turn that damn light out before we get caught!" Drill snorted, turning back towards the wall. The earth pony reached behind him and turned the nozzle on the lamp, plunging the house into darkness once again.
Colours swirled in a strange pattern, forming the fabric of what looked like a tunnel. Dancing lights of colours that seemed to follow no logical order pulsed and glowed.
This was what the fabric of time looked like, at least to her. Everyone viewed it differently, because everyone had a different concept of time and different memories to populate it. Hers was filled with colour, with magic, with knowledge. It was the time of a scholar.
And oh how it hurt to be thrown through it.
"Does it hurt?"
If she'd been given enough time, maybe she would have at least answered that one truthfully. There had been no time, though. The spell was limited. Even with her power.
The glow of the tunnel had begun to fade, and the end had become visible. Rather than the fabled light, all it could be described as was a dark. The dark at the end of the tunnel of time. Perhaps this was because the future was unknown, and therefore had no light to show the way.
But it HAD hurt. Hurt that she'd needed to lie to herself, quite literally.
"Actually, I'm from next Tuesday."
That had been both lie and truth. She was from next Tuesday, yes, but she had never said exactly how many 'nexts' it was.
Suddenly, darkness. Everywhere, enveloping her. But it was soft, not strong, as if accompanied by the lightest piano, and her mind calmed. She pressed onward, not daring to stop, for who knew where she would come out?
A sudden gloom washed away the dark, and she tumbled back into the night. A cold, starless night, empty save for the brilliance of the moon. The moon... Hanging there, like a fragile light bulb full of pocks. It had no light of its own, but simply shared the brilliance of the sun. Even when hidden, the sun aided the moon. It had always been that way.
Picking herself up from the ground, the pony dusted herself off, brushing her face and stopping up short when she found unexpected tears. Not bothering to question herself, she set off through the darkness. All around her were the ruins of what had once been a garden. A large garden, made for many parties and good times. There were many such places in the ruins of the capital. None were used for that purpose any more.
Eerie sounds drifted through the night, coming from all around with no discernible origin and no logical reason. The whisperings of dark magic always left their mark, and there had been so much more than whispers here.
Picking her hooves up, the unicorn stepped through the rubble of a house; something that may once have been a kitchen. A broken portrait lay half buried in ash, along with shattered plates cutlery. This house was more intact than most, and as she passed through it, she couldn't help but feel that familiar pang of emptiness, of loss, and of anger. It had failed. Of course it had. Fate was destined to be this way. If her task were to have changed anything, then it would have changed.
Unless Triface had been right, of course, and the flow of time was easily alterable, but never detectable. According to that smart-alec, even if a change was made, no one would ever know because it would always have been that way, from the moment the change was made.
Anything to help them. Even if it meant changing who they were.
A chill wind began to blow, swirling up the dirt and debris that scattered the ground. And there, through the gloom, she heard it again.
A rhythm, a thumping rhythm that reverberated throughout her body, striking deep into her stomach. But silence was all that surrounded her, and still the beat played. Over and over again, it came from nowhere and everywhere all at once. The tune was familiar, for it haunted her daily. A wild desire to run, to buck, to scream came over the unicorn. The former she chose, fleeing the scene, taking hoof to ground in a furious desire to get away from the oppressing night time. The music could not be left behind however, and followed in her ears, setting her blood a boil. Eventually, the running came to a halt and she looked to the sky instinctively. Dark shadows flitted about across the midnight orb. The music in her ears was joined by a second piece, the two mingling together and picking up speed to form one frustrating whole. It was the chant of the night, the march of war and the lust of battle. The urge to yell out to the world was overwhelming. But she could not.
It would attract the Bats, and that would spell certain death for the magical mare.
So she ran. Fast. There would be a camp nearby... There had to be! They had said they would wait for her. It had to be done; they could not complete the plan without her. A rattling rhythm blew through the wind, making her pick up the pace. Warped and twisted. Her gaze flickered in and out.
Then the music stopped, and she stumbled over something. A freshly moved piece of tiling. It had obviously been kicked by accident. The mare sighs and shakes her head, coming to her senses once more. She recognised this area. They were close by, of that she was sure.
The unicorn pulls her magic together, risking the casting of a simple spell, a locator. It would give her heat signatures of nearby ponies, and hopefully wouldn't lead her into a trap. In the distance, three distinct patterns began to glow in her vision. Not very strong, but she knew that was because of the heat reflecting spells her friends used.
Picking up her hooves once more, she began the strained journey. When danger loomed in the very darkness itself, a pony could never be sure that she was safe.
And in the darkness, pale eyes watched.