"'Tis better to light a candle, than to curse the darkness."
Twilight Sparkle frowned at the scroll. Friends? Celestia was ignoring her well-researched warning and was ordering her to make friends? She shook her head. It was nonsense. She needed to research! She needed to prepare! She had better things to do than make friends. She had better things to do than make sure the Celebration was perfect, for that matter. The Ponyville ponies were no doubt quite competent. They could handle things. She had research to do.
"...The night will last forever!"
When Nightmare Moon had escaped into the unnatural night, Twilight turned and dashed from the room. She knew what to do! She wasn't sure if she would succeed, but her research had paid off, and she knew what she needed, and where to find it. Her eyes were narrowed in determination as she galloped through the dark night towards the Everfree Forest, where the Ancient Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters lay. She would find the Elements of Harmony and use them to defeat Nightmare Moon. She had to!
Twilight Sparkle staggered up to the castle. She was exhausted, bruised from falling off a crumbling cliff and bleeding from where a manticore had clawed her before she could fight her way past it. Twigs were caught in her hair and dozens of scratches criss-crossed her coat from battling living trees that had reached out to stop her. Her mane was drenched, she had nearly drowned trying to ford a raging river. And her magic was already half drained, for she'd had to teleport across a chasm that had once been bridged. The chasm had been wide, and it had taken more out of her than it should have. But she had made it.
"No! No!" Nightmare Moon's voice was full of fear. But the spark faded and nothing else happened.
"But... where's the sixth element?"
Nightmare Moon laughed and crushed the stones before Twilight Sparkle's horrified eyes. "You little foal! Thinking you could defeat me! Now you will never see your princess, or your sun. The night will last forever!" Despair filled Twilight's heart. She had failed.
The sun was shining. She had once again stayed up late to look at the stars with Luna, so it was already nearly noon. And if it was nearly noon, the book store would definitely be open! That thought energized her. She yawned and gently prodded Spike awake. "Spike! Spike! Wake up!"
The little dragon snorted and jerked upright. "I'm up! I'm up!"
Twilight Sparkle giggled. "Good! Today's the day my new books should be arriving! I'm so excited!"
Spike yawned widely. "Only you could be so excited about books," he said.
"Four new history books, three books of natural history, and a new spellbook are definitely worth being excited over!" Twilight bounced just a bit. "I especially can't wait to try out the new spells. I've mastered all the out-and-out spells I have in my current books, and I'm not quite good enough yet to be crafting really complicated spells from theory. But the more spells I learn and practice, the better I'll get."
"You sound like Rainbow Dash, wanting to be the best."
Twilight giggled. "Oh Spike! I want to get better at magic, but I don't want to be the best magician in Equestria. That's Princess Celestia, and I could never match her!"
"Come on, let's go!"
Twlight lifted Spike up onto her back with her magic, then cantered down the stairs headlong, making Spike cling desperately to her mane. She flew out the door, closing it behind her with magic without even slowing, and galloped through town towards the book store.
Mr. Quill, the bookseller, had the books waiting at the counter when Twilight galloped in. "Hello there missy! I knew you'd be in today, your books are right here."
"Thank you!" Twilight's horn glowed as she picked up the books and loaded them into her saddlebags. She read off the titles as she floated each book into place. "Supernaturals Volume Two: Even More Super, Beasts of Legend and Lore, The Almanac of Magical Plants, Great Unicorns of History, I can't wait to read them all! Ooo, and On Portals: Spells for Windows and Doors... I wish I'd had that one last month, it would have come in handy."
Once all the books were loaded in, Twilight floated a handful of bits over to Mr. Quill. "Thank you," she said again, and trotted off to the library with Spike still clinging to her back. The only reason she didn't gallop flat out was the weight of the books. She was so excited! Which one to read first?
When he got back she found Luna and Dale were up, making breakfast. "Hello," she said, greeting the princess and her white earth pony companion. Luna visited Twilight often; they both loved stargazing and astronomy, and Luna had bored a polite Celestia to tears with chatter about the stars nearly as often as Twilight had visited the same fate on her friends, before the two had met and discovered somepony they could share their hobby with. And where Luna went, Dale was never far behind. Dale had come from another world with four of his friends. They'd come by accident and had wanted to return home as quickly as possible. Twilight and Luna had both worked to help them get home again, but Luna and Dale had become very close friends, and there was something Twilight still didn't fully understand, some kind of magical bond between them that meant they couldn't be separated for anything. So when Luna had decided that she couldn't go with him to his world, Dale had remained with her. Twilight had asked once if they were in love, but they had both laughed (and had gone on chuckling for quite a while afterwards. Twilight had felt rather put out, it had seemed like a reasonable enough question!) and said that no, this was different.
"It's a lot like love, we care about each other a great deal. But the bond itself is something else entirely," Dale had said. "It's not something you think, or something you feel, it works on a deeper level, the level where you don't think, you just are."
Twilight hadn't completely understood, but she was a bit more cautious about investigating mysterious things after the whole incident with the Pinkie Sense and the hydra. What she did know was that these days wherever you found Luna, you'd find Dale trailing after her like a loyal ghost. With his all-white coloration, pale blue eyes, and lack of cutie mark, "ghost" was a pretty good description of him. You could lose him in a snowbank and never find him again!
"Want a daisy sandwich?" asked Dale. "We picked up some croissants, so they're extra gourmet this morning."
"Sure. Thank you."
"Did you get any gemstones?" asked Spike eagerly.
Luna giggled. "I did. Just some turquoise, but I know you like it."
She floated a few chunks of stone over to Spike, who started stuffing them eagerly into his mouth. "Mmph! Thmphks!"
Twilight dropped her saddlebags on her desk. She wanted to start reading right away, but her rumbling stomach told her she'd better have a croissant first.
"So, you have some new books?" asked Luna as Twilight munched on her sandwich.
"Yes! Have you read any of these yet?" Twilight Sparkle floated the books out onto the table. Luna loved to read, and devoured books rapidly, but of course there were a thousand years' worth of books for her to catch up on, so she hadn't read most of Twilight Sparkle's collection.
"I have read The Complete History of Equestria; it is a bit overwrought, I think. And not very accurate about myself and my sister, I have to say. None of the others look familiar though."
"How about this one?" Twilight lifted the spellbook.
"No. Though I am, of course, very familiar with portal magic. Especially after last month! There is nothing like teaching somebody else to polish up your own skills."
"I can guess what a 'door' is, but what does it mean by 'windows'?"
"A window is another name for a scrying spell. It's when you look elsewhere, rather than traveling elsewhere."
"I see." Twilight took another bite of her sandwich.
"Would you like to try one? We could see if I could look at our friends in Valdemar and see how they are doing."
"I like that idea."
"Why don't you read the book, and I'll clean up here. Once you've read about it, maybe I'll show you how to cast the spell, and you can try it out."
"Sounds good!" Twilight opened the book, holding it up so she wouldn't drop bits of sandwich into it as she ate. It took her a long time to finish the sandwich; she kept forgetting it was there, the spellbook engrossed her so thoroughly.
"Ready for some spellcasting?" Luna trotted back into the kitchen, Dale following behind her as always.
Twilight looked up from the book. "Sure! Should we go into the main room?"
"It's easiest to scry in a bowl of water, so let's stay here." Luna's magic opened a cupboard and floated a large mixing bowl out. She filled it and set it on the floor. They both stood over it. "I'll start with a local scrying spell. We can look in on Spike out in the next room, just to get started."
Twilight nodded, watching intently. She'd just read about how this worked, but seeing it in action would tell her a lot. Luna's horn glowed, and a second, shimmering glow started on the surface of the bowl, then cleared away, and now the bowl was a window, looking down into the next room, where Spike, rather than putting away books as he was supposed to be, was curled up napping.
Luna and Twilight giggled.
"Now why don't you try it? Go for somewhere a little further away."
"How about the throne room in Canterlot?"
"Good idea." Luna smiled. "Remember it's considered very rude to scry on anywhere private, but the throne room is a public place, so it's not a problem."
Twilight nodded. She concentrated, running the spell over in her mind, applying her will to it. She loved doing this; the orderly patterns of spells were so satisfying, and exercising her special talent was wonderful.
Moments later the bowl's surface was showing the throne room. "I did it!" said Twilight happily. She peered at the scene in the bowl. Celestia was sitting on her throne, speaking to a pair of petitioners. Twilight realized that the scene was silent. "Scrying doesn't carry sound?"
"No. Not in and of itself, at least. You can combine it with a distance listening spell, if you like, but you should probably master the scrying spell itself first."
"It seems like I have it down pretty well," said Twilight with a smile.
"Very true," said Luna, and she smiled back. She could see why her sister had chosen Twilight as her special student. "But we wanted to look all the way to Valdemar. Inter-dimensional scrying is a little bit harder. Would you like to start with something nearby?"
"How can another dimension be nearby?"
"Are you familiar with the branching worlds theory?"
"Oh of course!" Twilight face-hoofed. "A dimension that only recently branched off of this one would be 'nearby' in dimensional terms."
"So I'd be looking for a world that's like this one, but not quite the same. Hmm." Twilight pondered. Then she had an idea. The half-remembered dream where she'd done something wrong. What if she tried to see that? She was curious if it would work. And she was also curious about what exactly she'd messed up in the dream. It probably wouldn't work at all, but then again the dimensional possibilities were theoretically endless, and one where the dream was true ought to exist. "Right." Her horn glowed again. This time the glow grew brighter as Twilight cast the spell. It was almost the exact same spell as ordinary scrying, but it was taking a lot more power. She strained, the glow brightening further. Then the water once more shimmered and cleared, and she could see a scene in it.
It was dark, so for a few moments Twilight couldn't quite make out the details. She was definitely looking down at the library tree, but something was wrong. With a gasp she realized that the tree was burned. She could see right through the blackened branches into the scorched remains of the library itself. Books, some still relatively intact, some half-burnt, lay strewn around. Many of them showed the effects of the ruined ceiling, their pages were crumpled and warped with rain.
Luna was gaping at the bowl as well. "What universe did you reach for?" she asked in a stunned voice.
"I... I had a dream last night that I'd done something wrong. I was curious what; I couldn't remember. So I thought the dream must be true somewhere. But I was expecting... I don't know, I was expecting to see myself go out in public with socks on my horn or something like that, the usual sort of 'I did it all wrong' dream. Not this! What in the world could I have done to cause this?!"
"I don't know"
"Maybe I just... tipped over a candle. And... and... no, that makes no sense, why wouldn't some pony have cleaned it up by now? Those books have obviously been lying there a really long time. And where is Spike?"
"You can change the focus of the spell to a broader view fairly easily, just picture it pulling back."
Twilight nodded and zoomed back until she could see most of Ponyville. Her heart sank. The town seemed to be completely deserted. A few buildings were burnt, or fallen down, though most seemed intact, just empty. And the gardens were rotting, as though... She stopped as a horrible thought shot through her. As though the pegasus ponies had scheduled too many cloudy days, as she'd seen happen once. Only this was worse than that. Much, much worse. As though they hadn't seen the sun all year. "I think I know what I might have done," whispered Twilight.
She moved the spell's focus again, zooming over the forest towards Canterlot. Soon she and Luna were both staring at the throne room. It was the same room they'd viewed only minutes before, but now it was not Princess Celestia that sat there. Instead a mare as black as night, with a flowing mane containing the night sky itself, lounged on the throne. Nightmare Moon reigned over Equestria, and beyond the windows was the blackness of a night that never ended.