When Spike returned to the inn that evening, he and Twilight went to a nearby bank to cash in Celestia’s check (the teller was enthralled to handle a document with the Princess’s signature), then they went to the diner with the turkey dinner sign across the street from the Sugar Shack to eat with the silver. When they finished their meal, they returned to their rooms in the inn and sent a message to Celestia informing her that they had found nothing to report that day. Once Spike had written and burned the letter, he and Twilight took turns bathing and putting on their pajamas, bid each other good night, then went to bed.
Pinkie baked complimentary raspberry muffins for them the next morning, which Twilight found absolutely delicious and sincerely thanked Pinkie for. However, once she had eaten and gotten dressed for the day, Twilight asked Spike if he would be visiting Pinkie’s friends. When Spike replied that he was, Twilight asked him to gather reports from them about any trouble before picking up another book and sitting back on her bed, returning to her reading.
For the next two days, Twilight spent all her time reading in her room, except when she went to eat. She always ate alone; Spike was invited to join Pinkie or one of her friends for every meal. The first few times, Spike told Twilight she could come, too, but each time Twilight replied that she was fine and that he could go on his own. When his new friends asked him concernedly if there was something wrong, Spike could only express uncertainty and pining for his mentor and closest friend.
Soon enough, however, Twilight ran out of reading material from the books she’d brought with her, so she went into the bakery downstairs and seeked out Pinkie, who she found frosting a small, loudly decorated child’s birthday cake. With a polite smile she said, “Hey, Pinkie.”
Pinkie looked up, grinning. “Hi, Twilight!”
“So,” Twilight said, “can I ask you a favor, Pinkie?”
Pinkie nodded. “Sure, Twilight! What do you need?”
“Well, I’m out of books. You have a library, right?”
Pinkie nodded. “Yep.”
“Can you show me where it is, please?”
“Okie dokie lokie! Just give me about five minutes…”
Twilight folded her arms and watched Pinkie finish decorating the cake. Upon completion, Pinkie pulled her apron over her head and hung it on a nearby hook. “Follow me!” she said, gesturing forward at Twilight. She led Twilight out the door.
They walked eastward, and soon they began traversing the park Twilight had seen when she’d first arrived from the train. It was just as lively as when she’d seen it last; Twilight passed by young children firing water guns and hurling water balloons at each other or swinging across monkey bars and screaming down the slides of the playground while young couples (many of whom Twilight noticed were same-sex) were sitting on benches feeding pigeons or lying on the grass, gazing up at the clouds.
“Would you like an ice cream?” Pinkie suddenly asked Twilight, startling her.
Twilight turned to Pinkie and saw that she was holding two double scoops of vanilla ice cream in waffle cones. “Where did you get those?” said Twilight.
“I bought them!” Pinkie cheerfully replied. “Want one?”
Twilight blinked at her, astonishedly wondering at how Pinkie had disappeared and returned with the frozen treats so quickly. Nonetheless, she smiled gratefully and said, “Yes, thank you, Pinkie,” as she took the one Pinkie was holding out to her.
As Twilight licked melted drops off of the cone’s side, she looked at Pinkie and saw that she seemed happy to have pleased her. It was at that moment that Twilight realized that Pinkie hadn’t spoken to her nearly so much since the afternoon she and Spike had arrived; it seemed that Pinkie had seen that she was annoying her, and so had honored her wishes and talked to her less.
“I’m sorry I bothered you so much,” Pinkie said, again startling Twilight. Had she spoken her thoughts out loud?
“I know you didn’t really want to listen to me, and that’s okay,” Pinkie continued. “We can talk as much or as little as you’d like.”
“Oh. Well, um… thank you,” Twilight replied. She gazed down at her ice cream. She began to feel guilty over hurting Pinkie’s feelings by openly drowning her out with cider when she first came.
“It’s okay,” Pinkie said, for the third time startling Twilight. Twilight turned with a stunned expression back to Pinkie as she continued, “I should’ve seen that I was making you uncomfortable. You don’t need to apologize.”
“Have… have I been talking?” Twilight said.
Pinkie shook her head. “No. I can see what you’re thinking by looking at you.” With a bittersweet smile, she continued, “I’ll be happy if you’re happy. If you need anything, just let me know.”
Twilight nodded, then looked back at her ice cream. Why’s she doing this? she wondered. Why is she being so nice to me? I’ve been at best decent, or even rude to her. Why does she want to be my friend so badly?
Twilight started to get a little angry. She didn’t ask Pinkie for anything. She didn’t want to be Pinkie’s friend; Pinkie should just leave her alone. All she had to be was Twilight’s host and guide; nothing more.
Twilight glared at her ice cream cone. She was upset at herself for accepting it from Pinkie. She decided then and there that she would accept no more favors from Pinkie and make it as clear as she could that they would not be friends.
Soon after they finished their ice cream, Pinkie stopped before an enormous oak tree at the end of the road. It had a balcony, several windows, and a red door installed in it. The door had a candle painted on it, and to the left of the walk up to it was a wooden sign bearing a book and the bold words, “Golden Oak Library.”
“Here it is!” Pinkie said, gesturing at it.
With a gleeful smile, Twilight pulled open the door and entered. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her nose was filled with her favorite scent: that of thousands of books.
The library was rather small and circular, with shelves hallowed out from the tree’s wood that were stacked nearly to bursting with tomes and scrolls. Twilight could see a few chairs and desks placed around the room, with a small writing-desk and a stool standing to her right as she entered. In the back, there was a set of stairs leading to a pair of wooden doors as well as a set of glass doors that opened onto the balcony.
There was a middle-aged Human woman in a long, simple brown dress standing on a ladder, sliding books into one of the shelves. She had a pair of small, round jade earrings and had thick, curly brown hair.
“This is our librarian, Matilda!” Pinkie said, entering behind Twilight. “Hi, Matilda!”
Matilda turned, and smiled at the two girls. “Hello, Pinkie,” she said. “Who is this?”
“This is Twilight!” Pinkie replied. “She’s an ambassador from Olympus!”
“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Twilight,” Matilda said, stepping down. “What brings you to Avalon?”
“I’m here with my apprentice to oversee the Celebration,” Twilight replied.
Matilda nodded. “I see. Where is your apprentice now?”
“Out with Pinkie’s other friends.”
“Alright. What can I do for you?”
Twilight approached one of the shelves. “I’d just like to browse,” she said.
Matilda smiled. “You like books, dear?”
“Oh, I adore them. I read all the time.”
“Well, you can come and read in here whenever you’d like.”
Twilight smiled gratefully. “Thank you.”
“Do you need anything else, Twilight?” Pinkie asked.
Twilight shook her head. “No, I’m good. Thanks, Pinkie.”
“So,” Pinkie said, “Spike is having a picnic with me and my friends at noon. Would you like to-”
“No, thank you,” Twilight said, frowning.
Pinkie’s smile faded dejectedly. “Oh,” she said. “Okay. Well, um… are you at least going to come to Spike’s birthday party the day after tomorrow?”
Twilight sighed. “Yes, I’ll come to his party.”
Pinkie grinned. “Alright! I’ll go tell him. Well, see you later!” With an enthusiastic wave, she exited the library.
As Twilight selected some books from the history section, she said to Matilda, “How long have you been working here?”
“Oh, almost thirty years,” Matilda replied. “I’m actually going to retire in about a year or so. Only problem is, no one’s lined up to fill in after me.”
Twilight nodded. “I hope they find someone.” She took the stack of books she’d chosen to a nearby armchair, where she placed them on the desk beside it and sat down. She picked up the volume at the top of her stack, opened it, and settled comfortably into her seat to begin reading it.
Until the day before the Celebration, Twilight spent many blissful hours sitting in the armchair of the Golden Oak Library, devouring volume after volume until the sun sank beyond the horizon. However, on the day before the celebration, she had to regretfully forgo another day of reading for a long day of sleeping; she had promised to come to Spike’s birthday party, after all, and she also had to be on the lookout for attempts to unseal Nightmare Moon with the stars’ alignment that night. For that reason, on the morning of the twentieth day of June, Twilight remained in her pajamas as she had a large breakfast along with several mugs of beer, brushed her teeth, and then closed the curtains of the windows in her room before returning to bed.
Twilight was awakened by Spike shaking her. “Get up, Twilight!” he said. As Twilight sat up and yawned he continued, “Get dressed; Pinkie’s just about to throw my birthday party!”
Twilight nodded. “Alright… Just give me a few minutes,” she said, stretching.
“Hey, Twi,” Twilight heard a familiar raspy voice say from her door. She turned to see that Rainbow was standing in her doorframe, a stack of parcels at her feet. “Packages for ya,” she said.
Twilight stood up and walked forward. Rainbow pushed the tower of parcels toward her with her foot. Twilight said, “Thanks, Rainbow.”
“Any time,” Rainbow said, walking away with a wave.
Twilight turned to Spike. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.”
Spike smiled and nodded. “See ya,” he said, walking out of Twilight’s room and closing the door.
Twilight pulled open the twine for the first parcel; beneath the brown paper was a colorfully-wrapped gift with a note attached to its ribbon bow that read, “To Spike from Night Light and Twilight Velvet: Happy Birthday!”
Twilight set the present aside and opened the next parcel. This present was wrapped with golden-and-scarlet paper that seemed to dance like flames in the light and was tied with a coral silk ribbon bow, attached to which was a note that read in breathtaking calligraphic characters: “To Spike, I hope you have an absolutely wonderful birthday. Love, Celestia.”
Twilight raised a brow in puzzlement. “Love”? Why had Princess Celestia signed off the note in such a way? Not even Twilight had received a gift from her teacher that had the word written to her.
Twilight shook her head, then moved on to the next parcel, which was Shining and Cadance’s gift to Spike, and the next four were the birthday presents from his best friends, including Twilight.
However, Twilight found one more parcel. She didn’t know who else would have sent Spike a present, so with great curiosity she opened it as well. This present was rather large and heavy, and attached to its bow was a note that read in handwriting Twilight didn’t recognize, “Spike, I hope you have a happy birthday. I miss you and love you with all of my heart.”
Twilight looked at the back of the note, but couldn’t find a signature. Growing a little suspicious, she took a stick of chalk from her pocket and drew two ritual circles on the ground. She placed the parcel over one, stood, held her hands over it, and her marks glowed for a few seconds as she directed some of her Chi into it. Once she felt that the circle was filled, she snapped her fingers, activating it. The circle glowed blue for three seconds before dying down and laying dormant. So there was no metal inside it.
Twilight placed it over the next circle, then activated that as well. This circle too glowed blue, indicating that there was no poison in it either.
Twilight hummed thoughtfully. No bombs or poisons; so the parcel was clean. With some weariness still remaining, Twilight carefully opened the wrapping paper, taking care while pulling the tape away not to rip it. Her eyes widened in shock at what it was: it was a box set of three mint-condition first edition Steam rulebooks. She opened up the Player’s Handbook and saw that on the cover page was the autograph of Gaben Bellevue, the late creator of the game.
Twilight was absolutely stunned. These books were collector’s items of tremendous value; many dedicated Steam players and book collectors would have payed tens of thousands of gold pieces to get ahold of these incredibly rare volumes. Twilight immediately excitedly wondered who could have simultaneously had enough affection for Spike and enough wealth to get them for him.
Twilight’s first thought was of Spike’s sister, Sunset Shimmer. However, she quickly dismissed the idea; after all, Sunset had been kidnapped long ago and was likely long-dead by now. Besides, where would she have gotten all the gold from? In addition, if Sunset had somehow escaped from whoever her captor was or was even merely still alive, wouldn’t she have come to see Spike herself or written to him that her heart was still beating?
Perhaps it’s their mother, or their father, Twilight thought. However, this raised the same question as Sunset: why hadn’t they come to give this to him personally? Besides, their father was likely dead too, and nobody knew anything about their mother. Hell, they knew hardly anything about their father, either; all they had were some vague descriptions that Sunset had told Spike of when she was barely old enough to remember and Spike was a baby.
So perhaps the books had been given by a secret admirer. Twilight knew that many girls had crushes on her sweet-faced apprentice and she wouldn’t have put it past them for one to secretly send him a gift to show her devotion to him, but what twelve-year-old girl could even begin to afford these, or even convince her parents to get them?
It was a fascinating mystery, and Twilight found herself growing quite excited over it. Whoever had sent Spike the gift knew him very well; he would be absolutely delighted at receiving it. She carefully wrapped the books back up and tied the bow back over them. She then picked up about half of the parcels and levitated the rest, and with the gifts stacked in her arms or hovering beside her, glowing purple with Ether, she exited her room.
It was just as tiring to carry some of the parcels telekinetically as it would be to carry them all with her arms, the only difference being that Twilight felt her energy drain directly from her body and she began to feel faintly lightheaded, so she sighed with relief when she placed all of Spike’s presents on the table designated for them by the presence of his other gifts provided by his new friends. “Oh, good, you’re here!” she heard Pinkie cry, and Twilight turned to see her standing beside Rainbow and Spike, who were leaning against the glass selling-counter.
Pinkie and Rainbow were both wearing small, colorful party dresses that suited them and their figures perfectly; Rainbow was in a rainbow-striped shoulderless top and a short, straight blue skirt with purple, ruffled edging. Up her arms were long, fingerless gloves that reached up past her elbows halfway to her shoulders. Completing it were a pair of winged magenta boots and a matching loose belt with a golden buckle shaped like her cloud mark. Pinkie’s dress similarly had a blue shoulderless top and a two-layered skirt; this one, however, had a purple layer over a pink layer. Around her waist was a yellow bow, and on her wrists were a pair of blue bracelets. She wore a small, blue top hat on a pink headband and small, bowed purple dancing shoes.
Pinkie was also holding a pink dress with a ruffled skirt and striped top in one hand, and in the other a pair of tall, high-laced matching pink boots. “Here’s your dress!” said Pinkie. “Go try it on!”
Twilight nodded and took the items from her. She went back up to her room to change, and when she came back down Spike grinned upon seeing her. “You look beautiful,” he said.
“Thanks, Spike,” Twilight said, smiling back. She turned to Pinkie and asked, “Where are the others?”
“They all have to finish their jobs before they can come,” Pinkie replied. “Rainbow finished all of her deliveries and I’m going to be working all night tonight, so we’re both on break.”
Twilight nodded. She helped Pinkie arrange the treats and set up the games for Spike’s party while they waited for Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity to come. Since they were planning on having their businesses closed for the festival the next day, they all worked until eight that evening, and began to arrive as twilight was descending upon the town.
Fluttershy was in an elegant spring-green dress, and Applejack was too dressed in green. Rarity wore a sparkling, light blue ruffled minidress with only one shoulder. Everyone thanked her many times for the dresses, and the party began.
They started with cake and games. At Pinkie’s specialized birthday parties, there wasn’t a single large cake and a communal tub of ice cream; instead, the main celebrant was given a small, unique cake with their name and the words “Happy Birthday!” beautifully written in elegant frosting topped with a number of lit candles matching the number of years they’d lived. Once they’d made a secret wish and blown out the candles, they were given the cake to eat on their own while everyone else was allowed to consume as many of any of the cupcakes in the shop as they liked. As for the ice cream, there were no bowls or spoons; they were served on large platters by the confectioner Bon-Bon as small, round balls covered in hard chocolate alchemically designed to keep the insides cold until the shells were broken. As a whole, Twilight had to admit that this arrangement was a brilliant idea; there was little mess and everyone could have as much or as little dessert as they liked. Spike was provided with a cake of swirled peach and chocolate flavored batters topped with twelve sea-green candles. Once he’d closed his eyes, made a wish, and blown them out, he began eating it with a silver fork while the girls selected cupcakes, popped open glass bottles of soda, and popped a few ice cream balls into their mouths.
The first game they played was Blind Man’s Bluff. Spike was able to catch Rarity and Rainbow once each (though Rainbow had gotten close to him several times to taunt him, and when Spike had caught her it was because she didn’t jump back fast enough). He caught Pinkie four times, though it was clear to everyone that she was letting him, and Twilight began to think that she liked getting caught more than she liked getting away.
After everyone had gotten a little tired, they began playing Twenty Questions instead. They found that Twilight was uncannily good at the game; with her encyclopedic knowledge she guessed every one of the others’ items, and they also found that the items she chose for them to guess were so obscure and well-picked that they could never figure them out, even though it seemed obvious when Twilight revealed the answer to them (the item that Twilight most enjoyed using was the night sky, and she laughed hysterically when the others failed to guess it).
Once the games were over, it was time for Spike to open his presents. Pinkie gave Spike her present first; it was a box of assorted rock candies, as Spike had told her that they were his favorite kind of sweet. Next was Rarity, who had given Spike a woven leather bracelet with beads of colorful corals, shells, and smooth, semiprecious stones. Fluttershy had gotten him a fine framed oil painting of a sleeping dragon, and Applejack had given him a brown leather cowboy hat. Rainbow’s gift was a professional-quality vibrantly colored football, which prompted Spike to challenge her to a juggling contest. Rainbow went first, and was able to keep it in the air for seven minutes before she attempted a trick and dropped it. Spike was able to juggle it between his feet for five minutes, but in the end he kicked it a little too hard and was unable to catch it before it touched the ground again.
“I win,” Rainbow gloated smirkingly.
“Best two out of three,” Spike replied.
“Maybe later,” Twilight said. “You still need to open the rest of your presents.”
Spike nodded. “Alright.”
Twilight handed him his gift from her parents. It was a golden pocket watch. After all his friends had admired it for a while he opened his present from Shining and Cadance, which was a large hardcover piano songbook.
“You play the piano, Spike?” asked Pinkie.
Spike nodded. “Yeah.”
“You’ll have to show us sometime!”
“Sure,” Spike replied as Twilight handed him the gifts from his Olympian friends. They were booster packs of Steam figurines.
“You’re a Steam player?” Rainbow said when she saw them. “Man, what a geek!”
“I’ll still kick your ass at football,” Spike replied.
“In your dreams, nerd!” Rainbow teasingly replied, playfully punching his shoulder. They both laughed, then Twilight handed Spike his gift from Celestia. It was a beautiful, hand-bound book of poetry in masterful, calligraphic characters of black ink brush strokes. Spike read the first two aloud, and as he did so he and his friends’ smiles gradually faded away.
“My heart, it aches so
Knowing how long we’re apart
My tears always flow
Trees grow, and flowers bloom
The sun rises high in the noon
The wind rushes through the trees
Rustling the green grass and dewy leaves
Bees hum as they hurriedly fly
And pollen drifts from their legs into the sky
Though I wish I could say it is a perfect day
The music is silent and the flowers are gray”
“That’s… kinda damn depressing,” Rainbow said.
“It’s beautiful, but…” Fluttershy said, frowning down at her hands folded in her lap, “why is it all so sad?”
“But still…” Spike said, running his fingers over the characters, “for some reason, it makes me… a little happy, too.”
“Why’s that?” Twilight said, raising a brow.
“I don’t know,” Spike said. “I guess… I guess it just… well, feels very heartfelt, somehow. Like whoever wrote this really loves whoever they’re talking about.”
Twilight smiled. “I’m glad Celestia could tell you would appreciate it,” she said.
Spike smiled. “Yeah.”
He carefully set the book aside as Twilight gave him her own present. Upon seeing it, his face immediately brightened; it was a full-color Steam art book. “Thanks, Twi,” he said.
Spike stood up, but Twilight said, “Hold on, you still have one more present.”
Spike’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Really? Who’s it from?”
“I don’t know,” Twilight said, handing him his anonymous gift.
Spike read the note, then said, “What?”
“What does it say?” Pinkie asked excitedly.
“‘Spike, I hope you have a happy birthday. I miss you and love you with all of my heart,'” Spike read aloud.
“Do you know who you think it might be?” Rarity asked.
Spike shook his head. “No idea.”
“Do you think it might be Sunset?” said Twilight.
“No. Her handwriting’s different,” Spike replied.
“Who’s Sunset?” asked Rainbow curiously.
“She’s my older sister,” Spike replied.
“Where is she?” said Fluttershy.
Spike looked down, frowning with deep sorrow. “She was kidnapped a few years ago. Nobody knows what happened to her.”
The girls gasped, and Rarity said, “Oh, dear… I’m terribly sorry, Spike, I didn’t know-”
“It’s alright,” Spike said, wearing a false smile. “It’s just…”
“We understand,” said Fluttershy. “We’ll only talk about it if you want to.”
Spike smiled sadly at her. “Thanks.”
With very low spirits, Spike opened the present from the mysterious giver. His eyes widened, however, when he saw what it was. “First edition Steam rulebooks?!” he cried.
He hurriedly pulled out the Player’s Handbook and opened it to the title page. “Oh, Celestia, it’s signed by Gaben Bellevue!!” he shouted, grinning with tremendous excitement.
“Who’s that?” said Rainbow.
Spike closed the book and held it up, pointing at the bottom of the cover, below its illustration of a band of grizzled bandits in tattered brown waistcoats wearing brass goggles and adorned with belts filled with clock-like gadgets. “He’s the game’s creator!” he said, running his finger over the words, “Written and created by Gaben Bellevue.”
“There’s only maybe a hundred signed first edition sets out there, and a dozen mint ones!” Spike continued, his voice growing louder as he went on. “Oh my gosh, these are worth twenty thousand gold pieces, at least!”
The girls all gaped at him. “Twenty thousand gold pieces?” Rainbow said unbelievingly. “You’re kidding, right? Those books cost twenty thousand gold pieces?”
“At least!” Spike said. He spread the books over his lap, wondrously admiring them. “Who could’ve gotten these?! This is the best present ever!”
Pinkie grinned. “So you had a good birthday, Spike?” she said.
Spike nodded vigorously. “Yeah! This is the best birthday ever!”
Pinkie pumped her fist. “Yes!” She leapt into the air, crying, “WHOO-HOO!” She produced a cannon from seemingly nowhere and fired it, sending confetti and streamers flying through the air.
Spike individually embraced each of the girls, thanking them for the gifts, then went upstairs to put his presents in his room.
Sounding a little sad, Pinkie said, “Well, party’s over.” With a dejected frown she continued, “I have to get ready to sell cake and candy to people tonight.” Her smile returned, however, as she added, “But the Celebration’s just about to start! Two great parties, one right after the other! This is gonna be the best night ever!”
When Spike came back down, Rainbow said to the others, “Come on, let’s go to the festival! We’re gonna rock all night long!”
As Rainbow led the others out, however, something in one of the windows caught Twilight’s attention from the corner of her eye. She turned, and saw that gazing into the shop was a pair of turquoise eyes. Twilight could see no more of the Being’s face, as her mouth and nose were obscured by a black knitted ski mask and her hair was shadowed by a black hood. Twilight only saw the hooded Being for a few seconds, however; when Twilight looked in her direction, her eyes widened and she bolted out of sight.
Puzzled, Twilight followed Spike and the other girls out of the door. She looked behind herself as they went outside, and she thought she saw a black boot disappear into one of the alleys.
“Uh, Spike?” she said.
The others all stopped and turned to her. “Yes?” Spike said.
Twilight gazed at him for a moment, then shook her head, deciding against telling him; Celestia had commanded her not to endanger him, and there’d be less chance she’d be seen if she investigated alone. “Never mind,” she said. “I need to go.”
“Why?” Spike said confusedly.
“I just need to check something,” Twilight replied. With a smile she assured him, “I’ll be right back.”
Spike nodded with slight apprehension. “Alright…” he said.
With a nod, Twilight ran into the alley beside the inn and entered the opening she saw the hooded figure turn into.
Twilight walked down a long stretch of alleyway, but fortunately there was only one turn at the end. She treaded over discarded newspapers and old rubbish until she came back out into an empty street, where she could see a few blocks away that the hooded figure was turning at the corner of the block. Twilight cast a spell to silence her feet as she ran to catch up with the figure, and when she reached the corner she saw the figure walk down a few more meters before entering a small, abandoned house.
Twilight approached the decrepit, crumbling brick structure until she stood at its doorstep. She carefully placed her ear against the door and her marks glowed as she amplified the sound from beyond it. She could hear breathing and a heartbeat from the other side; someone was standing guard at it.
Growing deeply suspicious, Twilight stood back and looked up. The windows were shattered, and many of the bricks had chipped or weathered away, leaving several handholds. She silenced her footfalls again as she stepped up onto an exposed brick on the side of the wall and grabbed one above her head, pulling herself up. She climbed up to the windows, and as there were still some jagged pieces of glass in their frames she telekinetically lifted them away and gently laid them on the ground beneath her before climbing in.
She was in an old, dusty bedroom with a moth-eaten bed in one corner and a shattered lamp in another, and on the ground between them was a frayed, filthy rug. Twilight laid on her belly and pressed her ear against the rug, again amplifying the sound beyond it.
She heard a man say, “… have you been? It has been an hour since you left.”
She heard a teenaged girl reply, “I’m sorry, Master. This has really drained me, and I had to steal a lot of cakes and take a long rest before I got my energy back.” Twilight’s eyes narrowed; the girl’s voice was familiar, though she couldn’t quite place it.
“Well, it is nearly done,” she heard the man say. “Just a little more.”
“Yes, Master,” the girl replied.
There was a moment of silence, then Twilight heard the girl and the man, joined by a few more voices, begin chanting in Elvish, “Supernatural etherial iron, rust and weather away. Supernatural etherial iron, rust and weather away.”
Twilight’s eyes widened. She recognized the incantation; they were performing the Rusting Ritual. Deciding that this called for further investigation, she carefully stood back up and walked out into the hall.
As Twilight stepped down the dark passage, she moved extremely slowly to minimize the creaking of the boards beneath her feet. At the end she came to a dimly-lit spiraling staircase. She carefully crept down the steps, holding onto the wooden banister to support herself, and when she was low enough to see the first floor clearly she looked down at the room beneath her.
In what must have once been a parlor, Twilight could see seven black-clad figures standing at several spots around the room. All of them were uniformed in boots, jeans, gloves, and hoodies, all as black as pitch. Their hoods were drawn up over their heads, which along with the ski masks over their lower faces hid their identities. One was clearly an Angel, as Twilight could see a pair of dark green wings protruding from his back; he was standing beside a wingless figure at the edge of the room, and both of them were leaning against the wall, watching the center.
Twilight supposed that the four figures in the middle of the room were Elves; they were standing around a ritual circle, continuing to chant the Rusting incantation with their hands crossed over it. Twilight could hear that two of them were adult men and the other two were teenaged girls, one with the familiar voice Twilight had heard from upstairs. Behind them, guarding the front door was a massive eighth figure without wings who was intently watching the ritual, as well.
There were several lit candles placed around the spell casters, casting an ominous orange glow around the house. Some of the light dimly lit Twilight, who was a little worried that she would be seen, but fortunately the figures all seemed to be too focused on the ritual to look in her direction.
Twilight looked around the room, and saw that there were two more ritual circles drawn on the ground. Though she recognized the one the hooded figures were using at the moment as the Rusting circle, she had never seen the other two before. However, she recognized some of the shapes and characters they were composed of, so with a few minutes of careful study she came to the tentative guess that the purpose of one was to break or dissolve some kind of “barrier” and the other was for establishing some kind of “connection.”
A thrill of panic coursed through Twilight. A horrific idea had immediately come to her mind: that this group of hooded Beings were attempting to secretly unseal Nightmare Moon. She deduced that the “barrier-breaking” circle was to make it possible to magically access her prison, and that the “connection-forming” circle’s purpose was to allow them to release her from this remote location. The only thing that didn’t make sense to Twilight was that they seemed to be trying to free Nightmare Moon with the Rusting Ritual, which implied that they thought that she was imprisoned in Tartarus with only simple etherial iron shackles and chains.
Nonetheless, Twilight knew they immediately had to be stopped. But what could she do? She couldn’t interfere alone; they outnumbered her by a vast margin. She thought of running and telling a guard, but by then it might be too late. She thought of burning a letter to the Princess begging for help, but she didn’t have parchment or a pen, and anyway Celestia could never act quickly enough.
However, the thought of burning a letter gave another idea to Twilight: she could start a fire, and escape in the shadows as the house collapsed around these hooded Beings.
However, just as Twilight was raising her hand to snap and ignite a spark, the chanting hooded figures suddenly grew silent and let their hands fall to their sides. “There, it is done,” she heard one, the man the girl had called “Master,” say.
The figure standing guard at the door looked up from the circle, and suddenly flinched as his eyes fell upon Twilight behind the bannister. “Hey, someone’s spying on us!” he shouted in a deep, intimidating voice as he pointed at Twilight.
The figures all looked up at her, and Twilight froze in place. A second of absolute stillness hung in the air before Twilight hastily scrambled back up the stairs.
“She’s seen us! Assassin, kill her!” the Master shouted, and one of the figures who was aiding him perform the ritual drew a knife from her belt and flung it at Twilight.
Twilight abruptly stopped just before the blade could plunge into her abdomen, but it cut open her arm as it rushed through the air and lodged itself in the wall. Twilight screamed in pain and held her arm, but kept running back up to the second floor as blood seeped through her fingers.
“I missed her!” Twilight heard an unfamiliar girl’s voice shout.
“Never mind her!” the Master shouted back. “Our work is finished. We have to leave.”
Twilight heard many boots rapidly hit the floor as the figures ran out of the house and into the street. She went into one of the bedrooms and leaned her head out, looking down below, and saw that the hooded Beings were sprinting in the direction of the Everfree Forest. She angrily groaned in great frustration; they would be impossible to find in there.
Nonetheless, Twilight had to tell the Princess immediately. Still holding her bleeding arm she ran downstairs, out the still-open door, and back towards the town square.
* * *
The night was vibrant in Olympus. Its shining crystal buildings were glowing bright with lights as jugglers, clowns, and acrobats were entertaining the citizens of the city while they sang and danced and awaited the awakening of their High Princess.
The guards all wished they could join in the celebrations, but they were all on-duty and instructed to be especially vigilant tonight. Celestia had commanded them to wake her immediately if anything seemed even remotely wrong, and so they were all on the very highest alert.
Celestia was wise to take such precaution.
A shadow slinked through the streets of the city, darting between dark corners and avoiding the gaze of any of the merry celebrators it passed. It approached Camelot slowly, carefully; Olympus had changed quite a bit since the shadow had last been there, and it didn’t want to take any chances or encounter any surprises.
Its patience paid off; it reached the gates of the castle unnoticed. The entrance was brightly lit, and two guards were standing watch at it, so the shadow didn’t dare pass between them. This hardly delayed it, however; it simply moved around to the castle’s side and teleported past the iron fence that walled the garden in.
There were two guards patrolling around the flowerbeds, so the shadow hid behind one of the trees and waited for them to pass by. Once they had gone, it dashed to the fortress’s wall and climbed the vines clinging to it up to the window.
Once the shadow had entered, its mind eased a little; Camelot hadn’t changed at all. It knew its way to the Royal Bedchamber as well as the mark on the back of its hand, so it was simple work avoiding the guards patrolling the halls to reach it.
Once the shadow had pushed past the tall doors into Celestia’s bedchamber, it silently, slowly approached the massive, circular bed upon which the Princess slept. Soon the shadow could see the curled, unspeakably beautiful figure of Celestia, clothed and blanketed in fine, cool silks, slumbering peacefully as the moon gently shined through the window upon her face.
The shadow melted away, revealing a massive pair of dark, feathered wings. Their owner smiled as she reached towards Celestia, the white crescents on the backs of her hands glowing blue.
* * *
Twilight frantically knocked on the door of the Golden Oak Library. “Matilda! Please let me in!” she cried. “It’s Twilight!”
After a few moments of silence, Twilight heard footsteps approach the door. It opened, revealing the drowsy, robed form of Matilda. As she sleepily rubbed her eyes she said,
“What are you doing here, Twilight? It’s one in the morning.”
She looked down at Twilight’s arm and gasped, covering her mouth. “Oh, Celestia! What happened?”
“No time,” Twilight said. She pushed past Matilda and asked, “Do you have any alcohol and bandages?”
“Yes, they’re up in my bathroom,” Matilda replied, breathing deeply with her hand over her heart.
Twilight ran up to the bathroom next to Matilda’s bedroom, and in one of the lower cupboards she found a first aid kit with bandages, cotton swabs, and a glass bottle of rubbing alcohol. She held her arm over the bathtub and poured some alcohol from the bottle onto her dripping wound. She cringed and grunted as her arm began to sting with pain, but she quickly cleaned it, bound it with bandages, and washed her blood down the drain.
When she came back down, she said to Matilda, “Do you have a pen and parchment I can use?”
Matilda nodded. “Yes. On that desk over there,” she said, pointing at the writing-desk beside the front door.
Twilight sat at the desk, took the feather quill from its inkwell, and hurriedly scratched onto the top sheet,
It’s Twilight. I think I saw an organization attempt to unseal Nightmare Moon. I didn’t see who they were, and I don’t know if they succeeded. Please answer as soon as you can.”
Twilight then telekinetically lifted the parchment into the air and snapped. Purple flame quickly enveloped the parchment and consumed it until it vanished. Twilight then stood, turned back to Matilda, and asked, “Can I put a ritual circle on the ground here?”
“What?” Matilda asked worriedly. “Why?”
“I can’t tell you,” Twilight replied. “I’m sorry. It’s in case of an emergency. Can I draw it?”
After a moment, Matilda nodded. “Of course, Twilight.”
“Thank you,” Twilight said, and she held her hand up and conjured a long, cylindrical stick of black carbon into it. She knelt down and drew a long-range Teleportation circle on the wooden floorboards beneath her, then stood and held her hands over it. Once she had filled it with Ether, she said, “Thank you so much, Matilda,” and ran back out of the library.
In a few minutes, Twilight returned to town square. It was loud and lively, with fiddles and singing filling the air as actors staged simple plays on wooden platforms and teenagers danced around the fountains under glowing paper lanterns.
Spike’s bright green hair made him easy to locate, and Twilight soon pushed through the crowd to find him dancing with the pink-haired Angel girl that they’d seen at the Sugar Shack when they first arrived.
“Spike!” Twilight shouted.
Spike and his partner turned to Twilight. “Oh, hey, Twi!” Spike said. “This is Scootaloo. She’s best friends with Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle!”
“You’re Twilight, Right?” Scootaloo said, grinning at her.
Twilight nodded. “Yes.” She turned and said to her apprentice, “Come on, Spike, we have to-”
“What happened to your arm?” Spike said, pointing at the red-soaked bandage tied around Twilight’s knife wound.
“I’ll tell you in a minute,” Twilight replied. “Come with me.”
Spike anxiously nodded and followed Twilight as she led him back to the inn.
The Sugar Shack’s bakery was very busy; Pinkie, Bon-Bon, and the Cakes had their hands quite full selling sweets, pastries, and drinks to the partygoers. When Twilight and Spike entered, Pinkie called to them, “Hey, guys! Would either of you two like a cupcake?”
“Not now, Pinkie,” Twilight replied, pushing past the other Beings to get to the stairs.
When Pinkie noticed Twilight’s arm, she cried, “Twilight! Are you hurt?”
“It’s just a scratch,” Twilight replied. “I’m fine.”
She rapidly scaled the steps with Spike right at her heels, and once they entered her room she shut the door. As she turned to Spike, he said, “What’s going on, Twilight?”
“Spike,” Twilight said, trembling with worry, “I think I saw someone try to unseal Nightmare Moon.”
Spike froze up, his eyes widening with terror. “W-What?!” he cried.
“I saw a group of black-hooded Elves perform the Rusting Ritual,” Twilight whispered. “They also had circles for rituals I think were for allowing them to reach her.”
Spike glared as he said, “Were they the ones that hurt you?”
“Yes. I’m fine, though.”
Spike was quiet for a moment. “Did they actually do it?” he said softly.
“I don’t know,” Twilight replied. “I sent Celestia a letter, though.”
“Did she send one back?” Spike said.
Twilight flinched, and realized that she hadn’t received a reply. “Well… n-no,” she said.
“Oh. Well, she… she might still be sleeping,” Spike said, trying to give her a comforting smile. “And even if they did unseal Nightmare Moon, Celestia’s way more powerful than her. I’m sure she can handle it.”
Twilight nodded, though she still felt quite uneasy.
“Come on,” Spike said, turning to the door. “We’ll see Celestia at sunrise. You can talk to her then.”
Twilight took a few deep breaths, then smiled. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m sure everything’s going to be fine. But just in case, I’ve set up an escape Teleportation circle in the library. If anything goes wrong, take my hand and I’ll take us there.”
Spike nodded. “Alright, Twilight.”
They went back outside, and Twilight tried to take her mind off of things. However, she found that her anxiety only grew every minute; as the hours went by, she continued to wait for a reply from Celestia, but one never came.
While she was sitting on a bench, Rainbow approached her, flushing a little with intoxication, and said to her, “Hey, wanna dance?”
“Not now,” Twilight replied.
Rainbow frowned concernedly at her arm. “What happened?” she said.
“I fell,” Twilight replied. “It’s just a scratch. I’m okay.”
Rainbow nodded, shrugged, then went to talk to another girl. Soon they were dancing together, and Twilight decided that she needed to be alone for a while. She returned to her room, where she tried to read. However, she found that she couldn’t take her mind away from that hooded group, Celestia’s failure to answer her letter, and that terrible possibility that Nightmare Moon had returned…
It seemed to be an eternity before the first lights of dawn broke over Olympus in the distance around five o’ clock, but once it did Twilight closed her book and returned to town square, where the dancing had stopped and the town’s children and adults had gathered, as well. Everyone was excitedly chattering, and the children were laughing at clowns as they performed magic tricks for their amusement from the temporary wooden stages set up on the streets.
Twilight found Spike with Rarity, Applejack, Pinkie, Rainbow, and Fluttershy at the central ring of the crowd. Spike was saying to the girls, “…and Celestia’s going to spend the entire week visiting every settlement in the world to personally welcome them to their thousandth Summer Sun Celebration. We’re right after Olympus.”
“This’ll be so cool!” Rainbow cried excitedly. “I’ve never seen the Princess before, except in photos and paintings.”
“Nor have I,” Rarity said. When she saw Twilight, she said, “Ah, hello, Twilight darling! You see Celestia every day, don’t you?”
Twilight nodded. “Yes.”
Rarity looked down at Twilight’s arm. Before she could speak, however, Twilight said, “Don’t worry; it’s just a scratch.”
Pinkie jumped up and down, squealing excitedly. “Ooh, I can’t wait, I can’t wait, I can’t wait!”
At that moment, a pair of guards marched in from each of the four streets, each with a trumpet in hand. They lifted the horns to their lips and blew a regal fanfare, and upon their sound all the crowd’s chatter died down.
When the fanfare had ended, one of the guards cried out, amplifying his voice with his magic, “Ladies and gentlemen, please lend your ears to the honorable Mayor Meyer!”
The crowd applauded, and a white-haired, middle aged, bespectacled Human woman in a fine suit stepped out from the town hall’s front doors. She shouted over the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure to welcome you all to our one thousandth festival of the Summer Sun Celebration!”
There was wild applause, and when it died down the mayor continued, “On this day, we celebrate a millennium of peace, harmony, and friendship that began with the mortal races of Beings uniting behind High Princess Celestia to end the tyranny of the dark Goddess Nightmare Moon one thousand years ago!”
There was more applause, and the Mayor concluded, “Without further ado, it is my honor to introduce our ruler, Her Esteemed Royal Majesty, the High Princess Celestia, Goddess of the Sun!”
The trumpets blew another fanfare, and the curtains in the doorway of the town hall’s highest balcony were pulled back.
However, there was no one there.
After a few moments, there was anxious murmuring in the crowd. “What’s goin’ on?” Applejack said, and Spike exchanged a worried look with Twilight.
As the crowd began to grow more unrestful, the Mayor said, “Please, please, remain calm, everyone! There must be a reasonable explanation for this!”
“Ooh! Ooh! Maybe she’s playing hide-and-seek!” Pinkie cried. “I’m really good at this! Maybe she’s under- ah, ah! AHH!!” she screamed, pointing at a dark fog that was swirling at their feet. “What’s that?!”
Cold, sinister laughter echoed through the square, and the crowd fell silent. The same cold voice boomed over them, “You want your High Princess, my beloved subjects? Well, look no further!”
The clouds gathered up to the balcony of town hall, and the crowd thought they could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. “Oh no,” Twilight whispered, and after a few moments the clouds suddenly melted away, revealing a tall, dark, intimidating winged Being.
She looked like a smaller, dark-skinned version of Celestia. Her intense eyes were a piercing blue, and on her head was a black crown-helmet that opened at the top to allow her flowing, starry blue hair to blow behind her. Her vast wings were a deep midnight blue, and she was wearing very little; the only true clothing she had on was a bikini-like top of black metal plate, chain, and leather, and a long tapestry loincloth embroidered with a rearing blue alicorn superimposed over a round, white moon. Aside from this, she had a pair of snake-like iron bracelets and an iron necklace with a large sapphire as its centerpiece, as well as black leather sandals that wrapped up around her calves. Her almost-complete lack of clothing showed off the vibrant aurora markings up her sides and down her arms, as well as the mark on the black ink-like splotches on her thighs, shoulders, and hands: a white crescent moon.
She spoke again, her voice ringing throughout the square: “It’s been so long since I’ve seen your precious little sun-loving faces.”
She climbed up onto the railing and leapt down, flapping her wings to slow her descent to the ground. The crowd backed away from her, and someone shouted, “What did you do to our Princess?!”
“Why, I am your Princess,” the Goddess said, feigning innocent puzzlement. “Why, am I not royal enough for you? Don’t you know who I am?”
The crowd said nothing as they continued to back away from her. With a smirk, she teleported forward, coming to a stand centimeters away from Fluttershy. As the shy Angel girl yelped and hid behind her arms in fear, the Goddess said, “Does my crown no longer count now that I’ve been imprisoned for a thousand years?”
She teleported again, this time before Rarity. She took Rarity’s chin in her hand and smiled as she said, “Did you not recall the legends? Did you not see the signs?”
“I did,” Twilight said, glaringly stepping towards her. “And I know who you are. You’re the Goddess of the Night, Nightmare Moon!”
The crowd gasped, and Nightmare Moon made a satisfied smirk. “Well, well, well, someone who remembers me. Then you must also know why I am here!”
“You’re here to-” Twilight said, but dread suddenly filled her and words failed her. She trembled as she said quietly, “to…”
Nightmare Moon laughed. “Remember this day well, little Beings; ’tis the first day of High Princess Nightmare Moon’s reign over the world! From this day forth, the rule of the night shall last forever!”