Heart of the Mountain
Written by The Descendant
Chapter 1: "A Midnight Stroll"
It was in Canterlot, that famous and fabled city, where Twilight Sparkle was made aware of the gate.
Canterlot, that shining city, that city where magic deep and powerful flows just as freely as the water that ripples through its canals and slipways. It was there where Twilight was made aware of the door. It was in that city, capital and throne of the Two Sisters, where she beheld the Gate of Brass.
Twilight Sparkle looked out her window. The view that it gave her showed the alabaster reaches of the city spreading out beneath her, the magnificence of the marbled streets that wound out from beneath her tower. As she rested her head on one of the columned pillars that framed her porch she listened to the sweet sounds of the birds that nested among the buildings. She watched proud unicorns make their way through the streets, their heads held high with bearing and grace.
"Ummm, Twilight " came the voice of Spike, slightly uncertain.
She turned her head away from the view outside of her balcony and back into the large room that had been set aside for her. As she looked at the dragon he danced his fingers back and forth, tapping out a rhythm on his own digits. He looked up to her, a plaintive look in his eyes.
"Have, have you you know, any idea when we might be heading home?" spoke the young dragon, putting his hands behind his back and shying away from her view.
Twilight smiled at him. "What's the matter Spike?" she said making her way down the steps from the balcony, her hooves dancing down the flight of stairs in quick fashion, "Aren't you happy to be back in Canterlot? I thought that you would like a little vacation."
"Oh, well, yes I, I didn't mean to sound ungrateful or anything, it's just that, well," stammered the little dragon, rocking back and forth on his feet, his hands behind his back.
As he used his uncertain words to give voice to his emotions Twilight cantered across the large room to him. Resting her head beside his she sighed, and reassured him.
"Yes, Spike, I miss our friends too," she said, lifting her head and gazing around the room. In their midst stood the great hourglass, and as she watched it grains trickled through. She remembered long years spent in this room, studying, reading, her time spent as a student in this city.
In that time this room had been refuge, a place where she could come and not have to participate in the ever-swirling social scene that played itself out beneath her window.
Yet, upon her return to the city of her princess, her mistress, and her greatest friend it took a different form. Now, with no purpose in her life the room was little more than a reminder of years gone by. Now it was simply someplace where her friends were not, and she missed them terribly.
Well, not entirely. Spike was here, loyal Spike. And soon, as the day wound down she would be summoned to come to the table of her princess and share in the meal that ended the day. There the princesses Celestia and Luna would hold court, with Twilight enjoying the particular favoritism that Her Majesty placed upon her.
Twilight looked down. Spike still stood nearby, raising his eyes to meet hers self-consciously, sharing in her longing to be back in their own little loft in the library of Ponyville, the sounds of familiar ponies nearby.
"The Accounting is done, so it shouldn't be too much longer," she said lowering her head to his, smiling for his sake.
"Can't, can't you ask if we can go home tonight, at dinner, maybe? Or, after that at the day-end ceremony? Please?" implored the little dragon.
"Well, you don't just come out and ask a princess to leave their court, you have to be gracious with these things," she said with a sigh, "but if it seems appropriate I'll ask."
At these words Spike seemed to cheer a little, the slightest of smiles breaking across his face. Together they went back up the stairs to the balcony. Outside the pillared enclosure the sound of water trickling down the myriad waterfalls echoed off the sides of tall towers and the imposing sides of the palace walls.
Before long there was a knock on the door, and together they answered it to find one of the Royal Guard.
"Ms. Twilight, I am to inform you that dinner is soon to be served, and that your presence, and that of your summoner Spike, is welcomed by their majesties," stated the big unicorn, his armor shifting about him as he spoke in the practiced tone.
It would have been that much more impressive had they not heard it every day for the last two weeks.
"Of course," said Twilight, prancing out into the hallway, Spike jogging alongside. This had been a formal trip, not much of a vacation at all. Each long day had been spent in the service of Their Majesties, at work in the Grand Accounting of magic and summons, spell and conjure. Each day had been both long and taxing, but each day that also ended in the happy company of her teacher.
It was in anticipation of their joyful fellowship that she and Spike followed their escort to dinner.
It was, however, not to be.
The table was set as elegantly as ever, the meal just as fine as any she had ever enjoyed in the capital city, and her teacher had greeted her just as enthusiastically as ever, but as the meal progressed it was markedly different from any of the others.
The two sisters, Celestia winding up her day, and Luna just beginning hers, were oddly silent. The court around them did not seem to notice, and the assembled unicorns, pegasus ponies, and earth ponies engaged in their usual intrigues without note of the somber attitude of their sovereigns.
But to Twilight Sparkle it was as obvious and oppressive as anything she'd experienced. It was consuming, and she wondered at it.
Soon the meal had ended, and the usual entertainments got underway. Spike clapped and laughed at the frivolity of the jesters, but Twilight could find no comfort in their antics. Her head kept turning to the high dais where the sisters sat, their own noble brows lowered, readied as though in waiting.
Well later, the elder of the two sisters, Celestia stood. "Sister," she spoke in her melodic voice, "I set."
Princess Luna, her eyes becoming brighter, stood as well. "Dear sister," she said, moving to her sister's side, "I wax."
At once the entirety of the court stood, Twilight and Spike with them. In long graceful lines they made their way out from the main hall of the palace, down through the decorated corridors were lanterns filled with purple flame drifted on unseen currents of magic.
As they crossed out through the gates into the city the sun began its descent, the Princess Celestia working her magic, bringing to end with her grace another day across her realm.
Twilight looked up to realize she was under the gaze of the princess, and she humbled herself in front of her mentor.
"My dear Twilight," said Celestia, lowering her graceful head down to where Twilight waited, "you seem troubled. What bothers you my student?"
Looking up into the eyes of her teacher Twilight pondered for a way to broach the subject of taking leave of Her Majesty. But as she did, she saw something behind the eyes of her mentor, something she had not seen before, and the idea faded out of her mind.
"Oh, nothing nothing my princess," said the unicorn, smiling.
Celestia returned the smile, and together the procession made its way out through the city. All along the route ponies from each of the distinct races bowed before the two sovereigns, the people paying homage to the graceful sisters in whose magic they trusted for their lives, prosperity, and freedom.
At the very edge of the city, a place where all the water that welled up from inside the mountain on which it was built, rushed a waterfall. Here the water cascaded over the edge of a precipice down, down, down to the awaiting fertile fields of Equestria beyond. It was here where the Two Sisters, the Royal Sovereigns of Equestria, came each dawn and dusk. It was here that the living embodiment of the sun, and the very living spirit of the moon, worked their magic.
Spike, Twilight, and the rest of the court looked on as the sun set, and Princess Celestia faded by fractions. And she did so Princess Luna lifted the moon, which have been waiting at the borders of their country, across the land and night fell over Equestria.
And so went the ceremony, just as it had before, seemingly as it always had in years when the sisters worked their arts together.
Yet, in it Twilight saw more. Did not Luna look to her sister in something approaching apprehension? Did not the eyes of the sisters linger on a constellation somewhere in one of the myriad houses of the stars?
Twilight felt a poke, a tiny jab at her foreleg. "You, you you didn't ask her, you didn't ask her Twi "said Spike, looking up at her with disappointed eyes.
"I'm sorry Spike, I got distracted," said Twilight, looking first at him and then to the princesses beyond.
"Oh, okay distracted by what though?" asked Spike, first putting his hands on his hips, then scratching his head and looking at her in confusion.
Twilight had no answer for him. Spike followed her gaze to where the princesses stood, the two of them in the place where day was becoming night. Spike did not know why, but soon he had wrapped his arms around Twilight's foreleg, seeking comfort against something he could not name.
That night Twilight meant to sleep. Yet, as Spike lay curled in his cushioned bassinet she laid awake. She forced herself to shut her eyes, trying to shut out the sounds of the city beyond, trying to put aside the tedium and confusion of the day. She breathed in rhythm and soon sleep did find her.
At once she was before a black abyss. Above her the constellation that the Two Sovereigns had pondered showed itself in blistering golden light. All too soon this magnificent apparition fell down, reduced by a consuming darkness. Within it white forms circled towards a vanishing point, and from that point arose a form
Twilight, breathing heavily, awoke in the old familiar bed. She sat up, let her heart calm down, and made herself breathe normally.
Twilight arose from the bed. On silent hooves she snuck past Spike's bed and down the stairs to the familiar old bookcases below. She'd always been surrounded by books, both here in this old dormitory room, and in her new home down and Ponyville. She knew these old worn books, and as she looked for a certain one she chided herself for making these bound texts her only friends during her years of study.
Finding the book she was looking for she removed it from the shelf and carried it quietly to the table. The old tome came open and she found herself looking over a star chart. With practiced eyes she scanned the page. Soon she had found what she was looking for. At the top of the page stood a constellation, and as she looked on it she knew it to be the one that marked her vision, the one that princesses had gazed upon.
The text said precious little. It noted only where the constellation could be found and gave a name. It was an older one, and the language was one that she did not understand.
Sighing, she looked for another book. This book was all too familiar to her. Pulling it from the shelf she ran her hoof over the thick leather cover. It was the same tome in which she learned the legend of the Mare in the Moon, a book of Deep Magic, a book dealing with the stars.
Within the weathered old pages she found the same odd name that she is found before, the name of the constellation. Looking under its entry in the tome she looked for a clue as to what was causing her sovereigns their discomfort.
"In the time of these stars anticipation and familiarity grow. When the House of Junctions is reached, expect returns and visitations."
Twilight, her eyes narrowed and lips curled, glared at the book. With her magic she returned it to her shelf, and with a sigh trotted up the stairs quietly so as to not awake the sleeping Spike.
Once more up on the balcony she looked to the moon. It was round and full, illuminating all that fell beneath it in a pale light. Twilight scanned the sleeping streets below. Nothing moved, and the floating luminaries had no pony onto which to shine their light or proud hooves to guide.
This changed at once. Across the street, on the grassy common of the palace movement caught her eye. Almost by instinct Twilight moved behind one of the tall columns, shielding herself from view. At once she became embarrassed, what did she have to hide? She reprimanded herself, and pretended not to look towards the garden.
With another quick glance, however, she dashed right behind the pillar, with no small haste or sense of embarrassment.
There on that common stood Luna, basking in the moonlight. This was not uncommon, as the night was her dominion. What was however unusual, was that she was joined by Celestia. And not just these two alone were found there.
As Twilight watched others joined them. Three unicorns, in the shrouds of high court advisors and mages, approached the royal sisters. These approached from the north, lanterns of purple flame following them, each one carrying a cask.
Near her Twilight heard movement, and with a gasp of surprise squatted down beneath the railing of her balcony. They are on the street below approached two more unicorns, tall and ancient looking ones. She could see their long robes, the marks of court alchemists, and see to that they carried small wooden boxes.
With a flash of magic, their horns igniting, these two unicorns flicked from beneath the tall tower and into the garden. As Twilight watched, perplexed, all five bowed before the Sister Sovereigns and then rose.
Twilight, watching in stillness and quiet, focused on them, trying to discern the meaning of the midnight meeting. Yet, all too soon the assemblage turned and with the purple flames bobbing in the lanterns they made their way out of the common.
Before she even knew what she was doing Twilight was making her way down the steps and out the door of her dormitory room. As silently as possible she made her way through the palace and into the space where she hoped to catch a glimpse of the procession.
Voices arose from ends of corridors; shadows and shapes emerged in unfamiliar patterns. When she had been a student here Twilight knew all of these back halls, knew how to navigate them to avoid others. That seemed so long ago now, and she faltered in her journey, making wrong moves that cost time.
Something grabbed her.
Twilight let out a shriek, but at once small familiar hands covered her mouth.
"Geez, Twilight, what is " spoke Spike in a surprised tone. As soon as he spoke Twilight's hoof covered his mouth, and the two of them stood there in mutual suppression of discussion.
Slowly their eyes moved in unison from one end of the long corridor to the other. No Royal Guards came, no alarm went up, and the lights bobbed in their lanterns, casting a small glow over all.
Their eyes slowly moved to each other, and with a nod they removed the impediment to each other's speech.
"Spike? What are you doing here?" said Twilight fixing him with a gaze.
"I can ask you the same thing," he said faltering a bit, looking to the carpet. "Why did you take off?"
Twilight looked the young dragon over, and then smiled at him. "Spike," she said with a smile, "you weren't afraid of being left alone, were you?"
"No! Errr .yes. Well, define 'alone'," spoke the little dragon, going from indignant to supplicant in the space of a few words. Spike looked up to her, then back to the rug, back up to her again and finally rubbed the back of his head. "Well," he said with a amount of certainty, "you're not going anywhere without me so, where are we going?"
Climbing onto her back he listened with growing concern as Twilight explained what she had seen from the balcony, and what she had read in the book.
"So, ummm...correct me if I'm wrong Twi, but we are stalking through the palace at midnight looking for the princesses, and if we find 'em were gonna try to spy on them?"
"Well, it sounds like a really bad idea when you put it that way..." said Twilight, rolling her eyes.
She felt Spike jump down, saw him running in front of her in the lantern light, and saw him raise his hand to her as though he wanted to shake her hoof.
"Hiya!" said the dragon, smiling at her. With a doubtful look on her face she took his hand in her hoof and began shaking. "I'm Spike, nice to meet you!" he continued.
"Spike, what are you doing?" she said flatly, becoming cross, yet still shaking his hand.
"Well, with a plan like that, you aren't Twilight Sparkle! She'd never do anything so sneaky...so, nice to meet you, whoever you are..."
"Spike!" called Twilight, quickly quieting herself, "I'm just worried about them. I've never seen Princess Celestia look like that before...and Princess Luna looked worried...like she was expecting something to happen."
"Well," said Spike, "you gotta figure there's not much they can't handle. Plus, you said they've got other unicorns with them...so, you're not listening to me at all, are you...purple monkey dishwasher..."
"What?" answered Twilight Sparkle, her eyes crossing back to Spike. With a shake of her head she stated her intent, "Look, I just want to be sure everything is okay, and if it is I'll be back in bed before you can imagine it."
"I can imagine pretty quick," said the dragon in a sarcastic tone. The two looked at each other, realizing that they were still shaking.
Dropping the greeting Twilight began going down the hallway, towards the door beyond. "I still don't know if I like it," said Spike, looking over his shoulder.
"If you like," said a departing Twilight, "You can go back to the room...aloooone!"
Spike scowled. "It's not the being alone I mind," he said to himself as he ran to catch up with her, "It's just the lack of you being there!"
The kitchen doors were always a good bet to get out of the palace and into the city undetected. Making their way through the chef's pantry they exited through the grocery door and into the night air of the city.
In the quiet streets of the sleeping city they flit from lantern to lantern like moths, stopping, listening, looking to the shadowed side streets.
Twilight, calling upon her magic, lit the street with purple light. As it did so the street was illuminated, but also the paths of any magic users that may have passed that way. It also brightened the dreams of the ponies within the homes they passed. Nightmares fled before them, they squealed and fell away to the place where bad dreams go once discarded.
"Whoa," said Spike, watching one theatrically expire in a puff of ash. Twilight though concentrated on a massive river of green that lit before them, the trail of a massively powerful group of magic users. There were only two in Equestria powerful enough, she knew, to produce the cascade of sparkling emerald that she had found.
Following the trail they came out from the city center, up winding paths towards the trails that lead into the spire of the mountain upon which Canterlot rested.
Here they came upon the chalk drawings that were etched into the side of the mountain. Fantastic ponies in spectacular yet unfamiliar form were etched here. They appeared to glance down at Twilight and Spike as they came up the broad stony road.
There, below the summit, the river of green turned down a side path rather than progressing towards the observatory.
Spike looked down to Twilight from atop her back with a worried expression on his face, and she up to him, and then the two progressed quietly down the side road.
Before long Twilight stopped. Down the road lights flickered, and she took to the brambles and scrub brush that lined the road, Spike clinging to her back and shutting his eyes against the scratching branches.
Creeping forward Twilight got as close as she could to the assembly. There she took in the bizarre scene as best she could.
As the moonlight fell down and the purple flames made tapestries of light fall across the mountain face the unicorns approached Celestia and Luna. Before the princesses stood a metal basket, a large one, corroded with age.
Beyond that two massive chalk figures, accompanied by dozens of smaller ones, looked down from either side of an ancient and massive chalk drawing of an arch. The figures, the arch, and the symbols that lined the faces all shimmered in the moonlight, it reflecting off the perfect white etchings that made up their construction.
Opening their casks the three unicorns placed what was within into the basket. Twilight and Spike struggled to make out what the unicorns were placing there, but at the distance from which they hid it was impossible.
Soon the other two stepped forward, the alchemist unicorns. From their wooden boxes came light and Twilight sensed powerful magic at work. Something rose up from one of the boxes, and as it did all in that group were cast into a glistening cascade.
The princesses were chanting, reciting. Their melodic voices flowing out over the assembly. As the object became illuminated Spike and Twilight gasped. It was a dagger, and as it lowered down it was shrouded in a vapor of white.
As soon as it entered the basket the elements found within erupted into a white flame. The unicorns bowed, and as they did so tendrils of light whipped out among the group. They found the chalk etchings in the wall, and at once these were themselves illuminated.
There was a pause, and it seemed as though the air itself had become palpable. As the figures beside the arch glowed, the mountain itself creaked.
To Twilight's amazement, the arch opened.
The stone face of the mountain fell in on itself, and a cavern was revealed, the princesses turning to it as the white light of the fire fell down into the very stones of the path, shining through the crevasses between the rocks.
As it did, it streamed into the mountain, and fantastic things were cast to a luminous light within.
So enraptured with what they were seeing were Twilight and Spike that they almost did not notice the unicorns coming down the road, leaving the presence of the princesses, until they were almost upon them
Ducking down low the two spies watched in terrified wonder as the unicorns made their way by, back down the long road, their lanterns bobbing along after them. One seemed to stop before them, scan the brushes and brambles. Yet, he did not look upon them fully, and after a moment he continued on.
Long moments passed, long tedious moments, Twilight and Spike looking to each other in confusion. Then, the voice of Celestia, stern and forceful, echoed off the walls that surrounded them.
"Twilight Sparkle, Spike...enter our presence..."
Immediate shock and embarrassment came over the two. They looked first to one another, then to the ground, and raised themselves up from their hiding place.
Entering the road they looked up to the princesses, saw there not the usual cheerful expressions, but instead distant ones of judgment. Yet, there was nothing to be done, and they knew they would answer for their subterfuge.