[Please read the Author's Notes in the description before reading!]
The Pool of Midnight
A single light flickered in the encompassing blackness of the night, like an oasis of sight in a desert of blindness. Its soft orange glow bathed the small room, in defiance of the late hour. Luna's moon hung in the sky, so high that it could not be seen from the windows. However, this would not deter the soul who worked through the midnight hour, her owl's quill roughly scratching on parchment.
Indeed, it was rough work translating the book in front of her, but with every word salvaged from the fog of Old Equestrian, she found a rekindled passion for the work she started earlier that day. Twilight Sparkle had happened across the tome in question while sifting through the books that still laid under the floorboards of the Books and Branches Library. Granted, she was out of practice with the language, but with some concentration, she could tell it was an autobiography of a national hero: Stellar Stylus.
Some twelve-hundred years previous, Equestria was in conflict with Punda Milia: the Zebra nation. When neither side would listen to reason, he stepped in and brought the two sides to a mutually beneficial accord. Apparently, it was quite the achievement as one of the rulers (the actual name was censored by ages-old ink splotches) seemed hells-bent on wiping the other from the face of the planet. However, that was not nearly as exciting as the passage she found herself on.
As I slept that night, mine eyes beheld a grand vision. I remember it with more lucidity than I dare say, for it was profound, yet intimidating. In the beginning, there was naught but blackness. Not even the sound of my breath, nor the feel of mine beating heart. Yet, as I began to fear that some snake poisoned me in mine sleep, a voice strong and proud as lightning's howl tore the oppressive blackness asunder in a tongue older than the mountains.
I became weighed down by an invisible force as a ball of light, more powerful than the sun, lit before mine eye. "Arise, my child and know me better," spake the voice unto me. I lay upon the floor as a young colt would cower from their angered parent. For, before mine eyes there was a terrible shape, wreathed in flames of pure gold. With great toil, I did rise before it; mine eyes sealed shut by the intense light.
As soon as I had done so, the shape exploded with gilded flames of power, for though I could not see, I felt the strong aura in mine very body. It startled even a heart as strong as mine with its raw clout. When it died down to brilliant embers, I opened mine eyes to find a fellow pony standing before me. He was an alicorn gilded in a glowing coat of gold, his eyes as dark as the abyss, standing tall and proud as the Princess herself. "Who are you?" I asked.
"I am the Alpha: the beginning of all things. With mine hoof, I did create the sun in the sky, and the ponies whom dwell beneath. I am Genesis," In that instance, I did know that a creator had presented themselves unto me.
"Oh exalted creator of sun and ponykind!" I cried, bowing before Him once more. "I am unworthy!"
"Thine praise is well-received, but mine time upon the Earth hath come and gone, as the tree grows and wilts. Thou doth not need place me on such a lofty dais. Yet, I have deigned fit to present myself, for thou must make an important choice. It is a choice that shall be of consequence to mine creation forevermore."
"Tell me thine will, and it shall be done, My Lord," I spoke with great respect.
"It is not my will that be done, my child," He replied, approaching where I stood. "For if it was, I would be commanding you, not offering thee a choice. Thine goal is to stop this conflict. In order to do so, thou must either betray thine values... or thine kingdom. For, you see, mine beloved Celestia has---
Twilight groaned as she flipped the page. It was dotted with ink splotches and stains over the centuries, obviously turning into a very controversial passage to warrant such blatant censoring. Sure, other pages had those marks of tampering too, but not on such a scale. The discovery railroaded any lingering motivation she had, closing the book with a shimmer of her horn. It had to be well past midnight anyway, so the librarian slowly trotted up the stairs as a memory of something she read filtered though the foggy depths of her sleepy brain.
"For the longest time, I was angry at her and the world. This led me to do unspeakable horrors and kill many innocent ponies," the phantom voice of Princess Celestia spoke. The distinct possibility that her teacher had been the one to censor the book gnawed at the back of her mind, causing her some distress. What did the book have to say about her that was so horrible as to warrant barring its knowledge to future generations?
Twilight shook the troublesome thought from her head as she slipped under the covers, leaving a window ajar so her owl friend could come inside at his leisure. She was looking too deep into things again and that only led to trouble, in her experience. Some things were better left unexplained or undiscovered. The lavender mare knew she would have been much happier, had she not delved too far into a certain book.
Still, what was done was done, or so she reminded herself as she tried to shut off her brain. Gentle wisps of sleep swept over her fatigued body, carrying her off to the world of dreams. It was pleasant at first, but slowly her dream of happy ponies and marshmallow clouds became blurry and disoriented. The pastel field she frolicked in became somber as dark clouds hung overhead.
A flash of lightning and a crack of thunder sounded, startling the mare into looking around the dreamscape in fear. The tall grass of the field bent over as the wind picked up, playing with her mane. "Why do you ignore me?" sounded an ethereal voice surrounding her. "Why do you hate me? Why are you CONVINCED that I am evil?"
"Get away from me!" Twilight cried before galloping out of the open field. Her heart pounded as she struggled to get away. No matter how fast she went, she could never quite seem to reach the edge of the forest, the clouds growing darker and the wind howling in protest.
"No," a shape appeared in front of the lavender mare, causing her to gasp in shock. "Not until I am heard!"
Suddenly, the ground lurched to a stop, the momentum of the unicorn hurtling her towards the figure as she screamed, the world going dark. The scholar awoke with a start, the moon hanging low in her window. She panted hard as cold sweat ran down her face to gather on her hoof as she wiped it away. Taking several deep breaths, the mare calmed herself down. "Stupid nightmares," she scolded into the darkness.
With a sigh, she collapsed back onto her bed, a grunt from the shadows telling her that she had accidentally disturbed her faithful assistant. She shut her eyes to try and return to the dream world, preparing her mind in advance, just in case SHE tried to interfere once more. Spike groaned, then a shuffling noise followed, telling her he was getting up to probably get a glass of water... until the sound of hooves on wood met her ears instead.
"Twilight Sparkle," quietly spoke a familiar voice. Twilight bolted upright in bed, looking to the corner of the room it came from. A pair of turquoise eyes glowed in the dark from an obscure corner as the tall, powerful form of the princess of the moon walked into the light of her domain. "I need your help."
"P-princess Luna!?" the mare gasped. She stood higher than she remembered, as tall as her teacher and just as regal. Her mane and tail wafted gently in the ethereal wind and was speckled with stars. The princess smiled and nodded her head, causing the lavender mare to lose her composure as a look of awe made itself present. However, she quickly gathered her wits and swiftly got out of bed to kneel.
"W-what are you doing here, Princess? Do you know what time it is?"
"I apologize, Twilight. I've been putting something off for far too long, and it's about time I did it. But, I can't do it alone and Tia--- Celestia is far too busy to assist. That leaves only you, as no commoner is allowed to set hoof where I need to go."
"What could I possibly do, Princess?" Twilight asked as she finally stood. "I mean, you can move the moon. I can't hope to measure up to that sort of power."
Luna simply sighed and rolled her eyes. "I'll explain when we get there. I just need a little bit of your strength, since what needs to be done requires two of the royal bloodline."
"Well... what about Spike? How long will we be gone? Where are we going anyway?" Twilight asked, concerned that the whole situation might turn into something unexpected and drawn-out.
"We will be gone for about a day. If you need somepony to look after Spike, I will happily provide. Shadow Star?" A white Pegasus suddenly emerged from the darkness; her amber eyes sparkling as she drew closer before bowing her head in deep respect.
"What is your will, my quee--- Princess?"
Luna sighed at the moniker the Pegasus almost spoke, before gesturing for her to rise. "See that baby dragon in the basket?" she nodded in his direction. "He will need a caretaker in Twilight's absence." The unicorn gasped as the Pegasus shifted into a cloud of purple smoke, becoming a mirror-image of the librarian, down to imitating her very mannerisms. "That will not be necessary. Her friends are used to such occurrences, though you might have to be a little cautious around Rainbow Dash, for she might remember you."
"My most humble of apologies, your highness," she bowed as she shifted back into her old form. "I shall take good care of the baby dragon until your return."
"Come along, Twilight," Luna ushered her towards the door. "You need only bring yourself where we are going."
"At this time of night?" she replied in a wild tone. "My apologies, your highness, but are you CRAZY!?"
Thankfully for Twilight, she was able to convince Luna that the whole thing, whatever it was, could wait until she had a full night's sleep. The princess of the moon, although a touch eager to get the business out of the way, conceded to her and allowed her a night's rest. When the lavender librarian woke the next morning, the sun already beamed on her face, telling her that the hour had grown late.
After taking care of her usual morning chores, the mare trotted down the stairs to find Princess Luna, Spike, and the pony called Shadow Star seated to a late breakfast, although the third had no food in front of her place. She quirked an eye at the strange sight before seating herself and using her magic to pour some cereal into a bowl. "Twilight," Luna voiced. "Allow me to apologize for last night. As you might expect, I get a little... quick to jump into things, if only because I want to be useful."
"It's okay, your highness," the scholar yawned behind her hoof before she took her first bite of breakfast. "Still, if it could wait, why did you visit me so late last night?"
Luna lowered her head ever so slightly. "Uh... well... I asked Celestia if I could get this done... if we had the room for it in the Castle, and she said we did. In fact, she set aside a room for it and everything. So, since I'm feeling confident in my abilities again, I figured the time is right to bring it over. You see, we need to head to the old castle in the forest, since it was left behind when Celly moved the capital to Canterlot."
Twilight blushed a little at hearing her teacher be referenced to so casually before she remembered they were siblings. "So... what exactly do we need to get from the ruins, Princess?"
"I'm afraid that I can't say here. Only members of the Royal Family are to know. Normally, I'd ask Celestia to do this, but she is far too busy to take a day off, as I told you earlier."
"So why do you need Twilight if only the Royal Family can see it?" Spike inquired. The lavender mare had forgotten that she had not told ANY of her friends the news. It was not that she was ashamed of the fact that Princess Celestia was, more or less, her mother. She just did not want them to treat her differently because of it.
Princess Luna seemed to sense the conflict and worry in her eyes, swiftly coming up with a lie to cover for her. "Oh, well, we trust Twilight, Spike. She has been my sister's student for so long and she has proven herself capable of keeping a secret. So, we agreed that she is the only other pony who can assist."
"Oh, okay," the baby dragon shrugged before continuing his breakfast, missing Twilight mouth a quick 'thank you' to the princess of the moon. She smiled slightly, but it was an uneasy smile. Luna hated lying to any pony or creature in the world, but knew that sometimes it could not be avoided. However, that was not what made her uneasy around the lavender unicorn.
After a filling breakfast, the two mares left Shadow Star and the baby dragon at the library. Walking out the door and down the street, the princess and the mare began the long trek to the ancient castle. Together, they drew a lot of interest from the other ponies in town, and even more as they all realized they were heading into the deep, dark recesses of the Everfree Forest.
Meanwhile, Twilight struggled to keep her curiosity in check over just what the princess hoped to do. Whatever it was that they were moving to Canterlot, it was obviously a very important (and quite possibly dangerous) magical object. Although, it was only one of many things buzzing around in the mare's mind as she dwelt on everything that had happened in the last twelve hours.
Even though she figured she would never say so, Twilight got the feeling that Luna was a little bit disappointed in her. Could she really be so upset just because she did not tell her friends about her relationship to the princess? Or, was there something a little bit deeper to this strange feeling? Perhaps it was something elusive, hidden just under the surface?
A nagging voice in the back of her head told her that it was only part of the issue, but that voice was one she refused to ever listen to again. Twilight shook her head discreetly, silencing the menacing phantom before she found herself at the precipice of the forest, lagging behind the regent of the moon by a considerable amount. She quickened her pace anxiously.
"Is it okay to come in here without any guards, Princess Luna?" she asked as they continued deeper into the woods.
"I am all the guard that we will require, Twilight," she answered plainly. "However, I can understand your concern. Celestia told me that, pardon the pun, you ran afoul of a Cockatrice the last time you ventured here on your own."
"Yes," she nodded her head in reply. The silence between the two continued to fester the deeper they went in to the forest, going at a slow clip through the cursed and wicked woods. It was almost as if they were going for a pleasant stroll, rather than traversing the most dangerous part of Equestria. After many minutes of oppressive silence, she found she could take no more. "Um... Princess?" she asked quietly.
"Yes, Twilight?" the blue alicorn replied with a slight hint of impatience. A small chill ran down the purple mare's spine, as that tone of voice reminded her of the snide remarks Nightmare Moon once made. She bit her lip before braving the tension between them.
"Did I... did I do something wrong, your highness? If it's about not telling Spike... or any of my friends about my relationship with Celestia, then I'm sorry. I just... I just don't want them to treat me any differently." She bit her lip as the silence continued. At first, she thought it was because she said something wrong... until the shape of Zecroa's house came and went beyond the bushes.
"That is only a small part about what displeases me, Twilight," the regal pony finally answered after many tense minutes. "I thought you knew better than to think of your friends in such a way, but I was obviously mistaken. They like you for who YOU are, Twilight. Neither me, nor Celestia can ever claim that." It took several more minutes before the lavender librarian found the nerve to speak once more.
"It's because you were born royalty, isn't it?" she asked. "I mean, growing up, you always had the crown on your head, even if you never wore it, so ponies would still treat you as if you were better than them when you only wanted equality?"
"You are a very perceptive pony, Twilight," Luna spoke after a minute more of silence. "It does you a great service... and yet you are blinded to something far closer to you than anything else. That is why I am disappointed in you. I will not speak of this to Celestia, because I know you don't want to feel like you've failed her."
"W-what did I do?" she asked in desperation. "Just tell me, and I'll fix it! Please! I don't want to fail the princess... not again."
"Forgive me, but I saw your dreams last night. You looked troubled, and I did not want to wake you, so I took a peek. I... did not like what I saw. I won't tell you what you are doing is wrong, Twilight. It is not my place to do so. However, I will warn you... no good has ever come of a pony shunning their inner deity."
"Oh," the purple pony breathed quietly. She suddenly felt very small next to the towering alicorn, as if she were an ant next to an Ursa Major. A quiet voice in the back of her head spoke, I told you so. Taking a quiet breath, as if a single sound would result in divine punishment, she told the voice to shut up and go back into the depths of her brain, where it belonged.
Talking with the princess of the night became nigh impossible, yet no matter how much she wanted to turn back in shame, she did not. Luna seemed to gather as much, as every so often, she would look back to see if Twilight had left, but she would not disappoint the princess again.
The unicorn sighed when the princess did it again, deciding to finally put an end to it. "Princess, I know you're upset with me, but I'm not going to abandon you after I promised to help you bring this thing back to Canterlot... whatever it is."
"Oh, no, it's not that, Twilight," she replied, almost chipper. "I'm just checking the local landmarks. You see, many years ago, when Equis was still the capital, there were many attempts by ponies to create villages within the confines of the forest. None were successful, as far as I can tell. Anyway, we're getting close to one of the earlier ones. I... had a lot of free time back in the day. Let's just leave it at that."
"Does this have to do with 'the dark times' as Celestia once put it?" the librarian asked.
"Yes," Luna answered simply.
"Was it really that bad?"
"There are some things better left unanswered, Twilight. All I know is that my dear sister would be VERY cross if anypony but she ever told you. Trust me, you NEVER want to see her angry. The last time she got angry at a pony, apparently fifty members of the staff needed extensive therapy in order to look at her again. Half of them quit after a year. Granted, that was about... one hundred years ago? I wouldn't know since I was..."
Silence returned between the two mares as they continued their trek to the ancient castle. Neither spoke a sound as their hooves silently made contact with the ground, the sun becoming dangerously low in the sky. It may had been the eternal night, but Twilight did not think it had taken her and her friends that long to reach the decaying ruins of the former capital. Then again, they were rushing to save Princess Celestia: not out for a leisurely stroll.
Eventually, the two mares came to a stop in the middle of the woods, no sign of anything around but trees and plants. "Sorry about the delay," Luna apologized. "My sister is beckoning me to start The Exchange. One moment please." The princess of the moon closed her eyes, her horn shimmering with a deep indigo glow that cascaded magical power all through her being.
Twilight felt the energies radiate through her, a tingle spreading from her horn all down her body. She had witnessed Princess Celestia do it on her own before, but never did she feel such a euphoric high. Time seemed to stand still for the purple mare as she was ripped from her body; waves of gentle warmth faded from the world to become a soothing chill that pierced her very core. One magical hoof raised the moon while another set the sun below the horizon. It was a subtle dance as the two magics entwined and played with the invisible fabrics of the universe.
"Twilight?" came a soft, wavy voice from beyond. It sounded anxious, yet in the haze, she could not discern who spoke to her. Eventually, she felt the need to blink, the frozen image of the standing princess replaced with her worried face, just inches from her muzzle. The librarian gave a yelp in surprise and moved back several paces, her face almost glowing red.
"Oh, good," Princess Luna smiled. "You worried me for a minute there. I should have warned you that might happen. We could feel your presence, you know."
"I'm so sorry!" she panicked. "I couldn't help it! I just felt a strange feeling and it carried me away, but if I knew I was disturbing you I would have---" The indigo alicorn held up her hoof to silence the blabbering mare gently. A knowing smile crept upon her face, the first time she smiled at her since earlier that morning.
"It's nothing to be ashamed about. The pull of the Heavenly Wheel is quite strong if a pony doesn't expect it. Most ponies feel a little pleasant when in close proximity to us while we manipulate it, but you are not like most, dear Twilight. As a mare that has touched the Wheel herself, it is quite easy to get pulled in if you don't expect it. We did not mind, but if you don't want to succumb again, simply think about something else to distract your waking mind."
"I will, Princess," she nodded. The experience had frightened her more than she could ever imagine. For a brief instant, she felt as if she and the universe had become one. She shuddered before realizing the princess started down the forest path once more. Twilight trotted quickly to catch up, but hung back out of respect, and slight embarrassment over what just happened.
Luna sighed before another smile crept upon her face, invisible to the unicorn. "I remember," she started, "Celestia walked in on our parents while they were in the midst of The Exchange. She had the same reaction you did, except she begged for forgiveness for three days. They didn't really care about her intrusion either, but she refused to listen. I've never let her live it down." The two mares giggled softly together, the alicorn at the memory and the unicorn at the idea of her teacher being so disconcerted.
However, the mirth of the moment soon fell silent as the two passed under a blackened wooden arch. A chill ran down Twilight's spine, her breath suddenly visible in wisps of ghostly white steam. Luna could seem to sense her distress, as a wing draped over the mare's body protectively. "Do not worry. For as long as you are with me, you are safe. Try not to be scared."
A gurgling sound echoed all around them as they pushed deeper into the thicket, the charred remains of buildings jutting out into the night sky. A clatter of unknown origin sounded in tandem with the moving of earth. A slight quiver of fear betrayed Twilight's stoic facade. Out of the blackness, shapes stirred and encircled them, drawing closer with every second. Yet, the princess seemed unafraid: she even seemed glad to see such a horrible sight! Yet, at the same time, she looked a little sad too.
"Princess Luna," spoke a deep, disturbing voice from beyond. "We are well met."
"And yet it is on such sad terms. Did the curse of the other village really extend this far?" Twilight shivered under her wing, eyes wide as the shapes approached. They were equine in appearance, yet tattered silhouettes of skinny, ratty haired ponies. What struck the most fear into her heart, however, were the eyes. They all possessed narrow slits of pure red like the hottest coals.
"Alas, it did, your highness," spoke one of the things. "For we did nothing to aid the poor filly despite being able to save her from her fate. For that, we have a share of the curse, yet we are not ignorant. Now, who is this Living you have brought into our midst?" The thing seemed to narrow its eyes at Twilight (even more so, which was saying something) in what seemed like anger.
"Oh, this is my beloved niece, Twilight Sparkle," Luna chirped. "Say hello, Twilight." The lavender mare opened her mouth to speak, but only a gurgle came from the depths of her throat as she noticed the creatures surround them. "Forgive her, Gentle Glen, for she is but a foal by our standards."
"Are you saying CELESTIA of all ponies... had a foal of her own?" breathed the creature named Gentle Glen. "I pity the stallion who courted her... or is she of illegitimate birth?"
"It's complicated," Luna replied simply with a smile and air of finality. "It is happy, but unfortunate, to see you again, my old friend. Alas, we have some business to take care of in the castle. Celestia moved the capital some nine hundred years ago, but she failed to remove an important item. Since she is still so busy, I have asked her daughter to assist."
"Very well, we wish you safe passage. Until next time, your highness," the pony shape bowed, the others following suit as Luna continued on, having to grip on to Twilight tightly with her wings in order to get her to move. The skeletal ponies cleared a path for the two of them, the blue alicorn not releasing her grip until they walked past all of the undead creatures. The lavender unicorn moved forward on her own, trying to push out the thought... but she could not deny it connected eerily to that one story Applebloom told her.
"So she had an encounter with them?" Luna asked some minutes later as they neared the heart of the forest. In the time that passed, Twilight had managed to find her voice once more and told the alicorn about the time she and the filly got separated on their way back from Zecora's. "That is a most unfortunate thing: to be exposed to something so evil at such a young age."
"But... well, she said they looked normal, except for having no marks, until... until she found that one pony's body in the fireplace," the lavender mare stammered. "Why didn't they change before that? Was it really because they hoped to... to have her join their herd?"
"The Curse grants immortality, yet the ponies are forced to live the same day over and over, for all eternity. The cycle is only broken when somepony... spoils the party... yes, that's a good analogy for it. When Applebloom realized what they did to the poor filly, it shorted out the curse and revealed their true nature. The village we were in shared the same fate, until they realized their wrong. Now, they only need to wait for a chance at redemption. Of course, given how deep they are in the forest, and how typical your reaction is, that day is still far off."
Twilight looked to the dark ground, a new sense of shame drifting across her waking mind. She had judged a book by its cover again: something she swore to never do after what happened with Zecora and Derpy. Could she really be so shallow and quick to judge others, even herself? No, that was a completely different issue, for she had evidence to support her claim! That part of her was corrupt and evil: she could feel so in her heart.
"I... hate to sound like a foal, Princess," Twilight spoke some time later. "But... well, we've been walking for hours and I'm getting a little tired and hungry. Are we there yet?"
"Actually," Luna replied with a hidden smirk. "We arrived about a minute ago. Well, within the confines of the city walls, at least. The castle is still a few minutes from here. Can you not see the ancient cobblestones under the layer of dirt, or the boulders that used to be segments of homes and businesses?" Looking around, the lavender pony could not see much of anything in the darkness of the night. Twilight shook her head in confusion.
"Oh yes, I forget that nopony has my level of night vision. Here," her horn lit with a soft yellow glow, a point of light flying from the tip to above their heads, bathing the area in a daytime glow. Twilight completely forgot about that spell: the princess created a miniature version of the sun. All of a sudden, she could see what the princess meant. Cracked stones stood row-on-row, soft moss clinging to them, anchored to the ground.
"I see them now," she replied. "I can only imagine what this place was like once upon a time." Twilight shivered a little as they walked past a tiny pond, this area of the forest vaguely familiar from the events almost a year previous. For a second, she almost considered asking the princess about the magical wings that sprouted on her body, only for the idea to be shaken from her as the alicorn spoke once more.
"Then allow me to show you how I remember it," the regent of the moon replied. A small, white and transparent bubble spread from the tip of her horn, quickly expanding past the alicorn and purple mare, before stopping some distance away. Although the forest was still visible beyond, Twilight found herself in awe of the sight before her eyes.
Soft music and cries of laughter echoed eerily through the bright streets, banners of pastel blues, reds, purples and yellows hung from wires in between buildings. The structures stood erect and proud once more within the confines of the spell, the streets immaculately groomed to be rid of even the most persistent weed. In many ways, it reminded the young mare of Canterlot, except more classical and aged.
Young fillies and colts would wander into the bubble, playing games with each other as they wove around the grown ponies. Cries of 'catch me' echoed as they blurred past, each with as much energy as three young fillies the unicorn knew quite well. Carts and shop owners sat on the main street, trying to sell their ghostly wares, blurred by the hoof of time on the alicorn's memories.
"This place was beautiful," Twilight whispered as they walked into the town square. A large clock tower sat at the center, still keeping perfect time, even in Luna's memories. It looked remarkably familiar to the librarian, but she pushed the thought out of her mind. "Why did Princess Celestia ever move the capital to Canterlot? I mean, it's nice too, but this place is... was... quite homely."
"Canterlot represents a fresh start: an escape from the ghosts of a wicked past," Luna explained. "Although, at the time, it was merely an attempt to flush all memory of me from the mind of my sister and our subjects. She failed spectacularly, thankfully." The lavender pony nodded her head, the spell flickering from existence.
"Wait a minute," spoke the unicorn. "Where's the rope bridge? I thought the castle was on some sort of island across a crevasse?"
"You must have entered the back way from the gardens. We are going through the front door."
The once regal castle stood as a slate grey monument to another era, or like an open wound on the face of the world. Creeping vines lined the walls as the two mares pushed past the rotted doors, barely more than rusted hinges upon the stone. Any hints of a ceiling had collapsed into a moss-covered heap on the floor, grass beginning to grow from the rotted remains of wooden supports.
Luna led the way, her hooves taking her down a path she was familiar with as if it were only yesterday that she last walked the halls. Suits of armour and tapestries remained in the depths of the basement, yet to be touched by the elements. Twilight gasped in surprised as they passed by a torch that flickered to life, the magic still commanding it even in the castle's death.
Their hoof steps echoed off the hallowed walls, revealing more doors, left to hang open, or eaten away by pests like termites. It became clear to the lavender mare just how quickly the place became abandoned: as if they had to flee from a terrible threat. Eventually, the pair dove so deep into the ruins that not even time could reach, the passages becoming more well-preserved as they went. If Twilight did not know any better, she could have sworn she was back in Canterlot, albeit in the basement, and at night.
After minutes of walking through several passages, they came before a solid wall, causing the princess to pause before it. If the young unicorn did not know any better, she would say the ancient alicorn was lost. However, the indigo glow of her horn sparkled on the wall ahead. Stone faded into steel as a door appeared before the ponies.
Actually, upon closer inspection, the door was not made of steel as the mare first thought. It carried a light blue sheen, the door itself decorated in intricate and delicate designs of flowers, leaves, ponies and the various heavenly bodies. Two large circles sat off centre, a semi circle above showing the sun and moon at forty-five degrees from vertical along the crack.
"Is... is that..." the lavender pony spoke with some trepidation. "Runite!?"
"Why yes, it is," Luna answered. "Sometimes the most elegant solutions are the simple ones, Twilight. In order to block common ponies, the creators needed a defence system to bar them entry. You see, one must get the sun and moon at their sunset position in order to open the door. To do this, a pony has to push in and twist these plates," she gestured to the two dials on the door.
"What makes the door so devilishly simple, yet effective, are three key facts. For one, the door, as you pointed out, it made of Runite, meaning a unicorn would be foolish to open the door with magic, lest they get shocked. Secondly, the plates are too high for an earth pony to reach. Finally, they require more force than a Pegasus can exert to push them in and twist them without letting go. They need to be moved in tandem, and at best, they could only move one with both hooves."
Twilight nodded in understanding, but still felt a little uneasy around the rare metal. Still, Luna smiled and reared up on her back hooves, pressing the front ones into the plates, causing a click to sound on the ancient door. Concentrating, the princes twisted her hooves in perfect unison, the figures of sun and moon moving in perfect tandem with one another as they took their positions for sunset. Clockwork inside the door ticked as the figures and the plates moved, clinking like a well-oiled machine despite the long centuries.
As soon as the two metal representatives slid into place, the door clicked again, more gears coming to life as the door cracked open. A jet of dust and wind shot in their faces, causing the unicorn to cough and hack as the air hit her lungs. When the dust cleared, the door beyond revealed a flight of stairs leading further down, the princess standing at the threshold. "Come along, Twilight, we don't have all night."
Still rubbing some of the dust from her eyes, the pony trotted forward, past the princess who only stepped forward when the unicorn did, and with good reason, for the door slammed shut right behind her. Twilight nearly hit the ceiling in surprise, her heart beating faster than when she panicked earlier. After the younger mare finally calmed down, the two ponies descended the musty, cold steps, torches springing to life as they went.
At the bottom, there sat a small room, cracks in the ceiling revealing silvery moonlight to the relatively untouched stone. Vines, mosses and plants crept into the room, coating the ceiling in a thin layer of flora. "Hmm," Luna paused. "I thought this room would be more intact then this. I guess the preservation spell expired early. Ah well. I can see our quarry is undamaged."
There, sitting in the centre of the room was a pool of silvery liquid, sloshing about lazily of its own accord. It sat in the middle of a depression, gently sloping sides coming to an abrupt end at the edges of the liquid. It gave off a soft glow, illuminating the room completely, leaving no need for torches beyond the stairs. The pool was easily the size of the tub at Clear Waters Spa.
"This is what we are here to move. It is a mystical object made by the creators themselves to aid them in their rule, and the rule of all their descendants... including you, Twilight. This is The Pool of Midnight," Luna explained to the look of awe upon her face. A silence (aside from the occasional gurgle of the pool) filtered through the room as the obvious question dawned upon the lavender pony.
"What does it do?" asked the librarian. Never in her years had she even heard of such an object: a testament to how well the Royal Family could keep a secret. The sheer magical power of the device seemed to radiate from the silvery and enigmatic liquid. It was not unlike the magic from the exchange, except more foreign in feel and less defined in purpose.
"This pool is... enigmatic. What it does is not clear, yet if you were to bathe in its waters, you would be washed over with an epiphany. It's hard to say how it would do this, since it changes tactics every time. Alas, we are here to move it, not to use it."
"Okay, fair enough, Princess," Twilight replied. "So, what do I need to do?" Luna dove into the explanation, going over Twilight's role in detail. Even without a shred of divinity, she could assist the proceedings. The princess would create a small pocket dimension in a bottle she brought while Twilight would slowly siphon the liquid from the pool into the container. It would be a long and painstaking process, but it had to be done this way, or else risk contaminating the magic.
Walking down the gentle slope to the edge of the pool, the purple pony felt overcome with curiosity. Luna had warned her not to touch the liquid while they worked, but she just had to understand it NOW, or she would never get another opportunity. While the princess distracted herself by created the holding dimension in the tiny bottle, she stole a touch of the silvery liquid. It felt cool and refreshing as the tiniest part of her hoof made contact, a thin trail of the stuff still connected to the main body as she pulled away.
However, that tiny thread quickly thickened as the fluid traveled against gravity, spreading the cool sensation across her hoof. Panic gripped the unicorn as the slick mass of magic began to pick up speed, swiftly covering her whole leg. A sigh filled the room, causing the purple mare to twist her head to the alicorn, a look of weariness on her features. "I told you not to, you silly filly."
Twilight yelped as an invisible force pulled on her leg, bringing her closer to the now turbulent waters. It bubbled and groaned, splashing her with more of the liquid. "No! No! Help! Please! I'm sorry!" she cried as more tendrils of silver rushed up to her body. It was only a matter of time before the unicorn succumbed to the pull, emerging just a second later after falling in, blinded by the magical force. She let out a gurgled cry for help before being pulled under the surface once more.
Cold swept over her body, running through her like a torrent of the coldest winter breeze. She cried out in a silent scream as the liquid seemed to rip something out of her body, finding that she could no longer breathe, move or think. The darkness slowly gathered around her vision, the hopelessness of her situation crushing her resolve to remain alive. Twilight Sparkle resigned herself to her fate.