"We're not giving up, Sugarcube,' Applejack insisted. "We've still got teams going out. It's just that we've been at this nearly a week and we should be ready to find her... in not the best of shape."
"Like that's any better!" Spike yelled into Pinkie Pie's mane between sobs. The pink pony did not mind. In fact, she wished she could do more, but even she was struggling to come up with comforting words. So instead she put on a brave face and nuzzled the baby dragon.
The orange pony sighed, "Look, all I'm saying is... naw, y'know what? I'ma stop while I'm still ahead."
The three sat in silence, Applejack staring at the floor and Pinkie at a random bookcase. Spike continued to cry, stopping every couple minutes to dry his eyes with the backs of his hands. He would stare longingly at the door before breaking down again. Pinkie eventually stopped following his gaze, instead opting to resume nuzzling.
"T... T...Twi...?" the dragon stammered.
"Huh?" Pinkie looked over her shoulder. "Twilight!"
Standing smack in the middle of the room was a barely recognizable pony. Her mane was disheveled, frayed and faded. Where her coat wasn't matted by dried brown patches, dark grey particles threatened to choke out what little purple remained. Her eyes sagged, pupils flitting about at random. Her mouth hung open, laboured breathing audible even from where Pinkie Pie was sitting. As Pinkie, Spike and Applejack leaped to their hooves, she toppled over with a crash.
"Twi! Twi!" Applejack yelled, rushing over to the collapsed mare. The orange pony nudged the unicorn a couple times before pressing her ear to Twilight's chest. "She's still breathing. Spike, first aid kit, now! Pinkie, get the nurse!"
Twilight felt sore all over. But after days of sleeping on solid rock, whatever she was lying on felt heavenly. Realizing she did not know where she was, her eyes snapped open. But when she saw that ceiling she would know anywhere, the unicorn's face melted into a smile. She was home.
"Twilight!" Spike yelped from the unicorn's right. She turned her head in time for the dragon to finish scaling the bed and envelop her in a great big hug.
"Hello, Spike," she said, nuzzling him in return.
After a few moments, she glanced up and found Rarity at the foot of her bed.
"Good afternoon, dear," the white unicorn smiled.
"Good afternoon," she beamed back.
"How are you feeling?"
"Other than a little soreness, great."
"That's good to hear. You know, you gave us all quite the scare."
"Did I?" Twilight asked, the whole experience feeling like a blur. "I guess I was missing, wasn't I? I'm sorry I worried you."
"Not that. Well, yes, that too, but I'm talking about showing up in the middle of the library looking like some ruffian mauled you."
"I don't remember that."
"That's because you keeled over as soon as you got here. Just about fell right onto your face too," Spike said.
"Ah, I guess that explains the aches."
"And cleaning your coat was just a dreadful job. I don't think we even got everything out."
Twilight giggled, "Thanks, Rarity, I'm glad somepony was thinking of that."
"Why, of course. How would you ever be able to recover if you were still covered in all that icky blood? Speaking of which, despite your appearance, the nurse said you do not have a single scratch on you. All you need is a few days' bed rest. Strange, isn't it?"
"That is weird," Twilight's mind moved a little sluggishly as she tried to come up with an explanation. But her train of thought was interrupted by the clip clopping of hooves. Her eyes were drawn to the stairs in time for the arrival of Pinkie Pie and Dusky Down.
"Sorry to intrude," Dusky gave Pinkie a sideways glance.
"We just wanted to make sure you were feeling better!" the earth pony grinned.
"And... I'm sorry," Dusky blurted out.
Twilight arched an eyebrow, "Sorry? For what?"
"For letting you down."
"But I was the one who lost track of you."
"Still, I should have checked back more often."
"I could have kept closer."
"I should have looked harder."
"Girls," Rarity cut in. "Let's just agree you will both be more careful next time."
Dusky looked at Twilight, whom nodded, prompting the pegasus to answer, "All right..."
"So how did you get back, anyway? We were all sad and then Spike was like T-T-Twi and I was like huuuuuh?! But then I looked over and there you were and I was so happy!" Pinkie leaned in expectantly.
"I think I teleported," Twilight hesitated, her mind still feeling muddy. "Yes, that must have been it."
Spike's jaw dropped, "Really? All the way here from outside Ponyville?"
"I guess so."
"Wow, that's amazing! When did you get so good?"
"I was taught by... by... somepony."
"Somepony? Did you not get a name?" Rarity asked.
"I did, I..." Twilight felt like the answer she sought was staying just out of reach. "I can't remember her name for some reason."
Pinkie tilted her head, "Really? Where did you meet her?"
"You're not sure?" Dusky's brow furrowed.
"No, I'm mostly sure... I think."
Everypony stared blankly at Twilight. Then at each other, then back at Twilight. She shrunk under their gaze.
Rarity broke the silence, "You look a bit tired, Twilight, perhaps we should let you rest. Come on, girls, Spike."
"Hey, don't forget I'm going to throw you a big party when you're really feeling better!" Pinkie called over Rarity's shoulder as the white pony nudged her down the stairs.
"Looking forward to it!" Twilight replied.
The unicorn bit her lip, pouring all of her effort into grasping that elusive name. But the attempts were all in vain. She slumped down into her pillow.
'This really happened, right? I'm... I'm not going crazy, am I?'
"No," the book tumbled to the floor. Twilight pulled another history tome from the shelf, rifling through the table of contents, then the appendix. She knew she just had to find the name, see it once and she would remember. And surely such a powerful mage would be in one of these books. She was so absorbed in her search she barely noticed the library door creak open.
"Hey, Twilight, you coming?" Spike asked.
"Yes, in a moment. I just need to check a few more books," the unicorn answered without looking up.
"You said that an hour ago. C'mon, Twilight, you're missing the party!"
Twilight gave her assistant an annoyed glance, "This would go faster if someone wasn't distracting me."
"If you're not going to help, then get out!"
"I..." Spike's mouth gaped for a moment before he turned to leave. "Fine, maybe I will."
"Wait," Twilight's expression softened. "I'm sorry, Spike, I don't know what came over me. It's just I've been finding it really hard to focus lately and this is something I really need to know."
"Maybe you're pushing yourself too hard?"
The unicorn nodded, "Yea... maybe some relaxation would do me some good."
"Then it's settled! Let's go!"
Twilight stood on a cobblestone path, gaze fixed on a large, but simple stone fountain. She trotted forward, heavy clip clopping echoing out into the afternoon air. She stared down into the basin and was surprised to find a stallion staring back at her.
He was looking rather worn, his handsome face stained with dirt, leaving what must have once been a white coat looking rather brown. His dark brown eyes peered out from the shade of a utilitarian helmet, the only really notable thing being the hole for his horn. Similarly practical armour covered his body.
The sound of more hoofsteps caused him to turn, and with him, Twilight. Before them stood a deep blue unicorn colt, short black mane framing his face. He was frozen mid-step, visage fixed in a wide eyed stare.
"Halt, civilian!" the stallion's voice boomed.
"Aw, come on, Shine, are you really going to be like that?" the colt pouted.
"This area is a war zone, it's restricted and more importantly, dangerous. I can't treat you any differently."
"So what, you're going to lock me up?"
"I thought you weren't going to treat me differently," the colt gave a defiant stare.
The stallion sighed, "I know you want to help your sis- ahem, the Commandant, but being a stubborn little punk isn't going to do either of you any good. Now go back home before I change my mind."
As Twilight watched the colt gallop away, her vision faded into darkness.
Twilight struggled to keep her focus, skimming the last appendix page. Still lacking anything close to an answer, the unicorn pitched the book on top of the pile of dead ends.
She had begun keeping an eye out for the ponies from her dream. She believed her mind was trying to tell her something about her one time mentor, that these ponies were somehow related to her. Or rather, that was her conclusion based as a theory from a book she once read.
The lavender pony sighed, flopping down on her haunches. She was not used to breaking so frequently, the experience becoming rather maddening. Curiously, Twilight found spell books as the single exception to the fuzziness she had come to associate with her lack of focus. In fact, such study almost seemed to rejuvenate her. She wondered if her little adventure had left her with a bias toward the practical. She decided she would test her hypothesis once her current search was over.
Twilight stood up again, wondering if studying outdoors would be any better. She strapped her saddlebag to her flank, adding the next books in her queue.
"Spike, I'm going out!" she called, stepping out into a fresh spring breeze.
The purple unicorn walked aimlessly among the bustling ponies. She wanted to find someplace quiet, but the central area was proving to be a lost cause. She decided she should try the outskirts.
As she turned to leave, Ponyville melted away, replaced by a sea of fire. The shapes of nearby buildings crumbled and collapsed under the onslaught. And sitting right in the middle of the chaos was a large stone basin, pieces of ruined rock protruding from it. Twilight went pale as she realized she was staring at a fountain.
"Ooph!" the unicorn cried out as something struck her. She was suddenly back in Ponyville, face to face with the walleyed Ditzy Doo. "Hey, watch it!"
"Sorry, Twilight," Ditzy answered, looking the purple pony up and down.
"It's fine. Just be more careful next time... is something wrong?"
"Are you feeling okay?" the grey mare tilted her head.
"You look tired."
"I'm fine, really."
"I'm glad to hear," the mailmare seemed unconvinced. "We were worried, you know. Make sure you take care of yourself."
"Oh, thanks... you too," Twilight watched Ditzy depart, suddenly feeling bad for being so short with the pegasus.
Twilight turned around, "Oh, hi, Applejack."
"You do realize you're the one who bumped into Ditzy, right?"
"I did? Really?"
"Yea, saw you wandering around over here, then you got this horrified look on your face and you walked right into her."
Twilight furrowed her brow, recalling what she had just seen. And this time she was not even sleeping. She frowned deeply. A hallucination was the obvious answer. But she felt okay. And unless the nurse made a mistake, her head should be fine. She desperately grasped for something, any answer that would make sense.
"You okay, Sugarcube?"
The unicorn stared blankly at her friend, "I... I don't know...."
"Absolutely out of the question!" the grey mare yelled, flipping her long, sea blue mane.
There was no doubt in Twilight's mind. The voice was that of her one time mentor.
'Come one, mind, just give me a name...'
"But we're running out of options! The dogs are practically at our doorstep!"
"Shining Light, are you seriously proposing we risk everything on a weapon we don't even understand?" the mare narrowed her eyes in a stare so hard Twilight tried to flinch.
"Everything is already at stake! If we lose this post, the dogs will be behind our lines!"
"They may have numbers, but with proper tactics we can prevail. An unknown risk is simply something I cannot bring into the equation. That weapon was locked away for a reason."
"Lieutenant. You will leave it alone. That is an order."
"As you wish, Commandant."
'Wait, say her name! Commandant what?!' Twilight tried to yell, but found she had no mouth. Her heart sank as the dream slipped away.
Shining Light stood in the middle of the fine brick hallway. He was battered and bruised, blood dripping from several openings where his armour had failed. He telekinetically discarded his dented helmet, splattering blood everywhere as it struck a puddle on the ground.
Four ponies, two earth and two unicorn, lay lifeless, soaking in pools of their own blood. Each was dressed in the garb of a royal guardspony. Twilight recognized the sun sigil imprinted on the front of their armour. These ponies had been among Princess Celestia's elite.
Twilight wretched and a colt spoke on her behalf, "I... I think I'm going to be sick."
"Then stop following me and go home, Sea Breeze!" Shine snapped "I told you, war is no place for colts!"
"That may be true, but... I can't. Not while my home is threatened. I have to do something, anything!"
"Including treason? Because that is that path I walk. If you follow me, we may save the village, but pardon is less than guaranteed."
"I... I... it's better than having no place left to live!"
"Hah, you have resolve, I'll give you that much," Shine shook his blonde mane out. "Fine, then follow me."
The stallion led the way to the end of the corridor where a heavy stone door blocked the way. Faded glyphs written in an old Equestrian language ran up and down the length of the accompanying wall. Twilight could not tell what they said, but guessed she could safely assume they were warnings. Warnings that Shine ignored, the glow of his horn forcing the slab aside. He limped inside, peering about for a moment before turning around.
"Come here. Good. Now watch the door while I get this figured out."
Shine let out a hoarse chuckle as he headed for the middle of the room, where a small dais stood. Twilight watched with curiosity, but was soon forced to look back into the hall.
Several over the shoulder glances told her the stallion seemed to be taking his time, perhaps reading something. She wished the colt would spend more time looking at Shine.
Soft clopping echoed down the hallway as several shadows played against the walls.
"Shine," Breeze hissed. "I think somepony's coming. Shine?"
Twilight jumped as an anguished scream filled the room. She, or rather, the colt, whirled. A soft blue light was emanating from the dais, dancing over the spasming form of the white stallion. Shining Light's eyes bulged out and he flailed, as though he was being crushed by an invisible force.
"Shine!" the colt yelled out, galloping forward.
The light grew harsher, blotting out Twilight's vision entirely. The last thing she saw was a lock of blonde mane.
Twilight woke with a start, a cold dampness on her coat. She doubled over, working her breathing back to a normal level.
'What? Why do I keep seeing these?' the unicorn shook her head. She could no longer delude herself into thinking the dreams were the product of fatigue. They dreams were far too vivid, far too coherent. Like a story, but one she had never read.
Left without an explanation, the frustrated pony shuffled out of bed. She crept down the stairs to the kitchen and ravenously downed a glass of water. Finding her thirst not quite quenched, she poured herself another.
She sipped absently, allowing her mind to wander. Suddenly a thought occurred to her: her dreams could be caused by magic. But she could think of no spell that that could cause that effect. She frowned.
Twilight's face lit up. The cause did not have to be one of her spells. An old burial grounds was sure to have a mishmash of different ponies' artifacts sealed with them. Something weird was certain to happen when that much magic was together. Maybe if she went back she could analyse the magic and come up with some way to dispel it. The unicorn grew excited. All she needed to do was go back.
'Go back to... where?' her ears drooped as she realized she was lost when she found the cave.
"Agh, why can't I catch a break?!" she screamed in frustration. Her glass smashed against the wall. Whirling around, she threw everything from the counter. Dishes and containers went crashing to the floor with varying results.
When the rage finally subsided, Twilight was left looking at a disaster of a kitchen. Shards of the things she had thrown lay strewn all over the floor. Her face turned beet red as she heard the rush of footsteps.
"Twi? Wha-what happened?" Spike asked sleepily from the doorway.
"Ehehe, nothing at all. Just, uh, slipped and lost my concentration. Go back to bed, I'll get this cleaned up."
The dragon gave her a strange look before finally replying, "Whatever you say."
Once Spike was out of sight, Twilight fell to her knees.
"What's wrong with me?" she whimpered, clutching her forehooves over her head.
"You must be mad to think I would let you return!" a familiar mare yelled.
Twilight was finally starting to understand how these "dreams" worked. She was seeing things through the other mare's eyes exactly as they happened however long ago. On one hoof, the prospect excited her, for no history book could compare. But on the other hoof, given what she knew so far, she was not so sure she wanted to see what happened next.
Shining Light and Sea Breeze stood before them. But something had changed. There was an air of power about them, something Twilight thought she could feel, even though she was not really there. A look of almost arrogant malice sat upon their faces, disconcerting her.
"Now, Misty, is that any way to greet your dear friend and your beloved brother?" Shine cocked his head.
'Misty! That's it!'
"It is when they've been damned foals!"
"That hurts. Don't you realize that it's because of us the dogs are in full retreat?" Breeze asked.
"That may be so, but I heard of the atrocities you both committed," Misty replied, her voice growing increasingly disappointed with each accusation. "You are unstable and pose a danger to the citizens. Further, you disobeyed orders, stole a crown treasure and are accountable for the murder of eight royal guards."
"What we did was necessary for the safety of Equestria," Shine narrowed his eyes.
"There is a fine line between necessary and sadistic," Misty replied sternly.
"Then come with us and see for yourself how harmless we are," Breeze's malice momentarily shifted to pleading.
'Don't do it, don't do it!' Twilight thought as the silence dragged on.
"What, do you not trust us?" Shine asked.
"I wish I could, but... that power has clearly changed you. Surrender yourselves and submit to the princess' examination."
"You're kidding," the blue colt tilted his head.
"By the power invested in me, I Commandant Misty Tide place you both under arrest, to be held indefinitely. Resist and I... I will use force!"
"You're kidding, right? Do you really think you're in a position to stop us?" the stallion took a few steps forward.
"Yes, I do. Because you are my friend and my brother, I must set you free... one way... or another. In this I cannot fail."
Shine shook his head, "That is the most illogical drivel we have ever heard you spout. Enough of this. Stand aside or this wood shall be your grave."
Misty stood her ground and a painful silence reigned, none of the ponies moving so much as an inch. Then Sea Breeze's horn glowed and in a flash of white, he was gone.
A barrier shimmered into existence in front of Misty as Shine's horn gave away the otherwise invisible attack. The shield shook violently, but did not falter.
Twilight's vision spun as a small globe of magic was launched into the underbrush. She was whipped around again and a moment later, harsh light exploded into being, even at the peripheral of her sight. Somepony's cry of surprise echoed from the direction of the attack.
Seeing Shine shielding his eyes, Misty did not miss a beat. She was suddenly in front of the stallion, tossing her head violently. As best Twilight could tell, he was caught right under the chin. Her vision quaked violently as the two enaged in some sort of close quarters combat, which ended with a magical blast that knocked them both back.
Misty groaned, but quickly climbed to her hooves. She let out a cry of pain before whirling to face a tree. A seething beam of magic lanced out from one of the branches. The attack was once again stopped by Misty's defenses. However, this time the shield shattered.
Cursing under her breath, the mare threw a quick fireball into the offending tree. Then she took off, weaving through the trees are she went. Shards of bark flew by over head and Misty stole a quick glance behind her, showing Twilight the clump of newly charred trees.
The battle continued this way for some time, Twilight becoming entranced by the skillful use of low powered destruction spells on either side. However, the teleportation became more and more frequent and she kept finding herself disoriented. She made a mental note to condition herself later.
The decisive blow came when Misty, breath now laboured, stopped in a particularly small grove. Shine appeared some distance in front of her, his horn glowing with several levels of magic.
"It's over..." Misty gasped.
"So it is," Shine grinned wickedly.
"I'm sorry, brother..." the mare mumbled.
An explosion rocked the ground, followed by a sudden cry of extreme agony. With a flash of light Misty was behind Shine, giving Twilight a view of what had just happened. A huge blaze ravaged the forest near Misty's previous position. And even as Breeze stumbled his way out, the flames failed to leave his coat. He fell to the ground, screaming and flailing. Unable to look away, Twilight was not sure if she would ever be able to eat again.
Shine tried to turn around, but Misty struck him first, sending a simple fireball into his chest. The stallion careened and the giant aura of energy about his horn was released into the canopy. With a deafening boom, trees began to topple.
Misty was able to teleport clear of the disaster zone and as the dust settled, Twilight thought she could spot a clump of white and blonde among the ruined wood. Misty approached cautiously, the light of prepared magic emanating with such intensity that Twilight could easily guess what was about to happen. She tried to bite her lip, forgetting she did not have one.
"I-impossible..." the crushed stallion uttered as Misty reached him.
"Apparently not," the mare answered, her blast of dark energy bearing down upon Shine. He let out a feeble scream, eyes rolling back as the magic engulfed him. Mere moments later, all that remained was bone. Misty looked down at the lifeless skull of her friend, then across the way to her brother's still smoldering husk.
Twilight's vision blurred and sank. As she faded away, she was haunted by the echoes of uncontrolled sobs.
Twilight sat up with a start, the warmth of fresh tears creeping down her cheeks. She glanced around wildly, forgetting where she was. Light from the kitchen window danced off the shards of glass on the floor.
The unicorn moaned, still sick from her vision. But she felt an overriding purpose welling up in the back of her mind. She had to know more. She had to know what else happened. She eagerly pushed herself to her hooves. She plodded along, ignoring the shakiness of her legs.
Reaching the main room, she began to pull books from the shelf with reckless abandon. Even with all the extra information she had, she could not quite place the timeline. The fuzziness in her mind increased with the size of the pile on the floor. But with the scent of answers under her snout, Twilight's thirst for knowledge was unstoppable.
Finally she chanced upon a book containing a war with dogs. Diamond Dogs to be exact. 'The Gem War' the header read. A quick glance at the date below made Twilight gape.
'This... this happened nearly 1100 years ago...'
An excavation team working near the Equestria-Diamond Empire border unearthed several previously unseen gemstones. Arcanists on site were able to determine the gemstones had powerful magic locked within them. Six samples were sent to the capital for study. Two more pieces were found shortly thereafter, but were lost during a Diamond Empire raid.
Equestria demanded a formal apology and the return of the confiscated gems. The Diamond Empire countered with a claim Equestria had been illegally digging on their soil and should forfeit all gems acquired from the dig site. When a third party cartographer determined the case to be in Equestria's favour, the Diamond Empire falsely accused Equestria of paying off the cartographer. The Diamond Empire then declared war on Equestria.
Twilight skimmed through the various battle summaries, her face lighting up when she saw Misty's name.
The Nickerton Skirmishes
The town's modest size and position at the southwest border of Equestria Forest made it a prime back door target for Diamond Empire soldiers trying to breach the Equesrian line. The Equestrian defense was led by one Commandant Misty Tide.
The battle was difficult and the Diamond Empire had the advantage of numbers. Little by little Nickerton's defences were worn thin. With the majority of the troops tied up with battles on the front line Nickerton was left without reinforcements.
As the situation grew more desperate, Lieutenant Shining Light raided a nearby vault, said to contain a forbidden weapon of immense power. Circumventing the guards and magical protections, he took up the weapon and drove back the Diamond Empire's forces (see End of the War, p390).
Twilight impatiently flipped to the requisite page.
End of the War
The Equestria-Diamond Empire war was brought to an unexpected end when Emperor Rex of the Diamond Empire, as well as the majority of his high command, were assassinated. Reportedly, a portion of the palace was collapsed during a strategy meeting. Witnesses state that they saw two ponies leaving the scene. These ponies were thought to be the same as the marauders reportedly roaming the countryside, bringing ruin to Diamond Empire villages. Six villages were confirmed to have been razed. Witnesses would later identify the pair as the rogue officer Shining Light and his accomplice, Sea Breeze. Beheaded and with failing morale, the Diamond Empire surrendered, agreeing to pay reparations equal to twenty billion bits.
Shining Light then turned his power upon Equestria, seeking to steal the crown from the royal princesses. However, his abilities proved to be insufficient as he and his accomplice were defeated in a direct conflict with Commandant Misty Tide. Unfortunately, the weapon could not be recovered and Equestria faced a new threat (see Misty the Mad, p440).
'The... the Mad?' Twilight gulped, hesitating. Sweat ran down her forehead as she flipped to page four hundred thirty nine, the page hanging halfway turned. Dread filled her heart, but in the end, her need to know prevailed.
Misty the Mad
Many have theorized that because her relation to the rogue officer Shining Light and his accomplice, Sea Breeze was friend and sister respectively, slaying them may have broken her mind. Regardless, she too turned her horn against the crown. She took control of Nickerton , declared it an independent country and started annexing land from Equestria. A unit of the Royal Guard was dispatched and Misty Tide was brought to justice. However, the ensuing battle left Nickerton devastated.
Twilight gaped, shaking her head, "This... this can't be right. This isn't like the Misty I met at all!"