A short while later, three quite damp figures dragged themselves back into the library. "Who knew saving Equestria would be so awkward!" Spike lamented, slumping himself down onto the couch, not caring that his wet frame was leaving a damp patch. "If only Twilight-" he looked up in alarm. "Twilight! Saddle Stitch, do you think Twilight will be all better now that we've destroyed everything to do with that book?"
"I don't know" Saddle Stitch muttered coldly as he started up the stairs. "It may do, but I think the best we can hope for is that Ms Sparkle will be reduced to a quiet, easily manageable gibbering wreck for the rest of her life. With any luck, the Princess won't even notice the difference."
"Why you!" Rainbow Dash narrowed her eyes and stormed up the stairs after the self-centred unicorn. "That's my friend you're talking about!"
"Quite." Saddle Stitch paused by Twilight's door which was now covered in wooden boards to seal it shut. He was about to knock, but thought better of it and instead pressed his ear to the door. Twilight was talking. He concentrated hard although he couldn't make out exactly what she was saying: it sounded like a one sided conversation, with a pause every so often to make room for an imaginary reply. 'That poor pony' he thought to himself grimly, letting a degree of self-reflection break through for a moment. 'At least it's over now.'
He stiffened as another noise cut through the door, softer than even Twilight's voice, but still as clear and distinctive to his trained ear.
It was the unmistakable sound of a page turning.
"She's got the book!" he gasped out, all pretence at stealth lost as he turned on Rainbow Dash, shaking the surprised pony wildly. "She's still got the book!"
Rainbow Dash let herself be wobbled back and forth before regaining her senses and snapping herself away from him. "That's ridiculous!" she retorted, pointing at the pile of ashes which still marred the floor outside Twilight's room. "We burnt it!"
"Or something like it..." Saddle Stitch trailed off, inwardly cursing himself. He had been tricked and by a pony he'd held in such low regard as well! He leaned towards the door, calling out softly: "Twilight... oh Twilight..."
"I can hear you!"
Saddle Stitch and Rainbow Dash both leapt back from the door at the volume of Twilight's voice, which sounded as if Twilight was pressed right up against the other side. Slowly, Rainbow Dash moved forwards and gave a sheepish smile, even though it would not be visible to Twilight. "Say Twi... are you okay?"
"Oh I'm more than okay!" Twilight's voice came soothingly out. "I know you burnt the letters but that's okay. I'm sure the good citizens of Ponyville will read about Yellowstar soon." There was a short silence as Rainbow Dash and Saddle Stitch exchanged quizzical glances, and then Twilight spoke again. "Say, the day's getting on. I guess all the ponies will be coming to get books out of the library..."
Saddle Stitch furrowed his brow for a moment and then without a word to Rainbow Dash, raced downstairs, stumbling down the steps as he clattered down to the main library. "Spike!" he yelled, and this time it wasn't in a disparaging manner. "Spike, Twilight's still got the book! Could she have come down here last night, when you weren't about?"
Spike looked up dazedly from the couch where he had been trying to catch a sneaky nap. "I... guess?" he mumbled back in confusion. "But why?"
"The margins!" Saddle Stitch looked about wildly at the array of shelves that littered the room, each haphazardly piled high with books. "She writes in the margins, Spike! She could have written in any one of these books. Or all of them!"
"And we can't check them because that would mean reading the words which would then send us mad..." Rainbow Dash slowly mulled this over as she followed Saddle Stitch downstairs at a more leisurely pace. "I guess that means only one thing."
Saddle Stitch nodded grimly. Spike looked between the two, uncomprehending. "What? What? What does that mean?"
"It means Spike" Saddle Stitch intoned regretfully, "that we have to burn them all."
"Why did you tell them Twilight Sparkle?" Yellowstar looked on at Twilight, her eyes trembling with betrayal as she sadly drooped her head. "They will hurt me again with fire." She slowly raised her head to make eye contact with the smaller pony. "You cannot let them. I do not wish to die."
Twilight just smiled and lifted the book into a saddlebag. "Don't worry Yellowstar!" she confided in a conspiratorial whisper. "I didn't write anything in those books! It's just a distraction. I needed to get them out of the way so we could escape and finish the book in peace! Watch!"
Trotting over to the window, Twilight saw a large pile of books forming outside the library as Spike and Rainbow Dash clumsily waddled back and forth carrying stack after stack to throw them unceremoniously in a heap. Centuries of accumulated pony literature was in that pile, but Twilight didn't feel a pang of regret she had the only book that mattered in her possession.
Moments later, Spike belched forth a plume of flame and the entire pile was consumed, the heat spiralling up to hit Twilight in the face. She winced slightly as the hot air blew over her, and then smiled, taking a deep breath as she shouted across Ponyville:
"HEY EVERYPONY! RAINBOW DASH IS BURNING BOOKS AGAIN!"
Across Ponyville, a flurry of manes flicked around as every pony in earshot turned to stare at the library. Saddle Stitch tutted up in annoyance as he saw Twilight's head bob out of the window from above, doing his best to keep a respectable distance from Rainbow Dash, Spike and the fire.
Soon the denizens of Ponyville began to make their way towards the library to see what the fuss was about, muttering and stamping their hooves in dismay. "I can't believe it!" one maroon pony stammered in shock out as the crowd formed around the fire. "All those books! That's monstrous!"
"An' she burned the post too!" A little white and brown foal pushed his way through the gathered ponies towards Rainbow Dash, pointing a hoof accusingly, tears forming in the corner of his eyes. "She's the worst pony ever!"
Spike looked around the gathering throng of ponies with a gulp. Ponyville was usually a nice quiet town, but even he had to admit that from an outsider's perspective, their actions today had been slightly inflammatory. "Dash!" he whispered urgently, moving slightly closer to the rainbow pegasus for protection. "I think this might get ugly."
"Leave it to me Spike!" Rainbow Dash confidently stepped forwards, puffing out her chest. "Citizens of Ponyville!" she announced. "You may sleep safely in your beds tonight because I have burnt all the evil books!" With a slight bow, she awaited the acclaim of the crowd for this revelation.
It didn't come. The murmurs of discontentment got louder. Half a carrot hit Rainbow Dash straight between the eyes. "You expect us to believe that!" squeaked an angry green pony who waved a worryingly large rolling pin. "Where will your crusade of ignorance go next? Maybe you want to burn the school down too!" There was a wave of agreement as all eyes turned furiously towards Rainbow Dash. Several pegasus ponies took to the air to prevent the book burner making an aerial escape.
Saddle Stitch attempted to sidestep into the crowd, but found himself roughly shoved back towards Rainbow Dash and Spike. "Now, ah!" he coughed nervously. "I am just a passing librarian who has never met Rainbow Dash or Spike before or even know their names..." he trailed off as his words fell on deaf ears. "Come on!" he called out. "I have a much better library in Canterlot! If you think about it, Ponyville doesn't even need a library!"
There were just further rumblings of dissent, and Saddle Stitch grimaced at Rainbow Dash. "This couldn't get much worse!" he hissed at her. "We need to stop Twilight finishing that book, who knows what disaster that could unleash! At least we've got her trapped. There's no way she's getting through that door, not in the state her magic will be in!"
"Unless she climbs out of the window," Spike added looking up.
"Yes, well, unless she climbs out of the..." Saddle Stitch glanced upwards in disbelief at the sight of a familiar purple pony with a saddlebag slung over her back leaping out of the upstairs window, onto a waiting tree branch and bounding away into the distance. "No!" he cried, desperately trying to push through the throng of angered ponies. "No! Stop her! Somepony stop her!"
It was to no avail. There were just too many furious ponies crowding around the burning pyre of books, and Twilight soon vanished from view into the distance. "There's just one way out of this!" Rainbow Dash suddenly exclaimed, reaching a hoof to grab Spike for the second time that day. "Spike, you ready?"
"No!" Spike exclaimed as he felt Rainbow Dash lift him up and yank on his tail hard. A blast of green ethereal fire leapt from his mouth and consumed a chunk of the crowd. With a frenzied popping noise, the gathered ponies vanished, leaving the ones left behind to gape with astonishment.
"Yeah, that's right!" Rainbow Dash waved Spike at the remaining ponies. "You don't mess with the Dash!"
"Rainbow Dash!" Mrs Cake chided, stepping forwards. "You... you just... you are history's greatest monster! Give yourself up right now or they'll be tro-" She did not finish her statement as another burst of flame was let loose from Spike.
Apart from Rainbow Dash, Saddle Stitch and Spike, the street was empty. Rainbow Dash dropped Spike by the burning books and rubbed the back of her mane. "Uh, Spike, that was the magical teleporting fire right? Not the burning kind?"
Spike looked extremely worried for a moment, before giving a little burp. "I think so!" he exclaimed. "It was all so fast. I guess they went to the last place I sent some mail..."
Saddle Stitch shook his head. "I sincerely hope for your sake that is what happened Spike!" he snapped out dispassionately. "Now we need to find Twilight and get that book back before the Princess finds out what's been going on!"
Spike's brow crinkled in concentration as he continued his previous sentence, ignoring the older unicorn. "...but I just can't remember where that was..."
Princess Celestia sighed happily as she sunk into the warm water of her bath, the bubbles gently caressing her body and the flickering candles at the sides of the large bathroom adding a pleasant ambiance. What was less relaxing was the royal orderly who was currently standing by her bath, hooves covering his eyes (in some strange approximation of modestly) as he yammered on about various protocol and tax problems.
"Braxiatail! Braxiatail!" she called out in mock despair. "It's been a long week, and even a Princess deserves a little break now and again, don't you agree?"
The pony blushed and stammered, his hooves still over his eyes. "O-of course your majesty, but you must admit that the trade of dandelion leaves to Zebraria is extremely..." He faltered and stepped backwards. "I-I will be here should you change your mind, ma'am."
Celestia flashed a warm smile back "I'm sure I won't" she said kindly as with a sparkle of magic she lifted up a nearby scroll. What better time to read the latest letter from her favourite student than when she was relaxing in her favourite place. It had arrived the day before, but with the daily hubbub of the palace, she hadn't found the chance to read it. Now with Braxiatail suitably silenced, there was nothing to distract her.
With a flash of green light, a surprised looking cream pony appeared in the air above Celestia's bath, pedalled her legs furiously, and then dropped with a heavy splash into the water. Celestia had lived a long time and not much surprised her any more, but this was at the very least unexpected. And what was more, as the pony raised a drenched, sheepish head, Celestia realised that she recognised her.
"Mayor Mare!" she cried out in disbelief as Ponyville's mayor trod water in her bath. "I would have expected this sort of behaviour from Rainbow Dash, but you?"
A cacophony of pops drowned out any apology the Mayor may have had as pony after pony appeared in the air, tumbling one after another into the Princess's bath. Celestia shielded herself from the splashes as almost the entirety of Ponyville invaded her bathroom, her ears full of the babble of a multitude of confused ponies.
"What is the meaning of this!" she cried out in an attempt to regain some dignity, trailing off as something caught her eye. A falling pony had knocked into her scroll, causing it to fall open on the floor. One word in particular stood out amongst all the others. And at once with a sinking feeling of horror, she understood.
"This is nice, isn't it Yellowstar?" Twilight snuggled herself down in the comfy warm hay and opened the book: there were still a good few pages to go before the end, but it wouldn't be long now. She hadn't looked back once on her mad dash from Ponyville as she willed her legs to keep running, hoping that her former friends would be distracted long enough to make her escape. Finally she had come to an old barn on the outskirts of Sweet Apple Acres. It was obviously used to store hay and the lack of any hoof prints outside indicated that it wasn't visited often the perfect hiding place.
Perched high on one of the multi-storey wooden levels upon which bale after bale was stacked, Twilight peered at the pages. The book was still softly glowing, though there wasn't nearly enough light to read by. She attempted to ignite her horn, but then realised her mistake she had given her magic to Yellowstar; it wasn't for her to use anymore. "Hey, Yellowstar, would you mind giving me some light?" she called out.
Yellowstar didn't respond. The tall regal pony was simply pacing back and forth, her head swinging from side to side muttering to herself. "We would play together in the fields" she murmured. "We were happy then, why did it have to change. Why did we have to develop and get complex and wrong? "She looked up at Twilight, her eyes now blazing with inner energy and determination. "When I am made real, when I am Princess of all Equestria, ponies will not change. I will rid this broken world of unhappiness. But first..."
Her face crumpled and her back slumped. "But first Twilight Sparkle, you must finish the story. That means I have to face..." she paused, unable to say the name, all defiance in her voice lost "...her again. I do not know what to do Twilight Sparkle. If she beats me then I lose, but if I fight her then I still lose. I do not know what would be left of me." There was a long silence in that dark barn, and then Yellowstar spoke again, very softly this time. "I would not mind, Twilight Sparkle, if you read the book just a little slower. Just so I would not have to face that as soon."
"No!" Twilight unhitched an old rusty lamp that was hanging on the wall and lit it, casting an eerie, pallid glow across the room. She carefully balanced it on a haystack and smiled at her friend. "Princess Yellowstar, you can't be scared, you're the best pony. The other ponies think I'm crazy and that you're evil, but I know that's not true. You're a good pony, you have a good heart that's just been hurt by bad things happening to you. And that's not your fault, that's the fault of whoever wrote this story. You deserve a chance to live your own life and be free, and that's what I'll make happen." She turned to the next page. "We'll do it together!"
Yellowstar smiled down. "Together."
"No, we are not in this together; I give up - I'm getting the hay out of here! I did my best!" Saddle Stitch puffed his cheeks out in exasperation as he marched around the library leaving a flustered Rainbow Dash and Spike in his wake.
"But we've got to find Twilight!" Spike wailed, hurt at the betrayal and wringing his little hands together in helpless despair.
"She's not anywhere in Ponyville!" Rainbow Dash half-wheezed, her wings still sore from her earlier frantic search of the now mostly-deserted town. "But she can't have gone far; we just need to mount a bigger search. She's our friend and she needs our help!"
"No, she needs your help!" Saddle Stitch whirled to point at his two accomplices. "It's too late, she'll finish the book before we can reach her and then who knows what will happen! The best I can hope is to get over the border to Goatlandia before Princess Celestia finds out!" He flung open the front door and marched outside.
"Before Princess Celestia finds out what?"
Saddle Stitch immediately found himself scurrying backwards indoors like a frightened filly before the imposing figure that stood in the entrance. "Ah, P-P-Princess Celestia!" he gulped out, frantically combing back his mane to regain a degree of composure. "How lovely to see you, I was just taking a morning stroll in my favourite village and..."
Celestia was known for many things above all else her kindness, her wisdom and her affection towards all others. But there was no warmth in her voice this time as she cut Saddle Stitch off, stalking into the room followed by a plethora of royal guards, staring down at the trembling elderly unicorn with a cold, steely expression. "Saddle Stitch. Where is Twilight Sparkle? Where is The Star In Yellow?"
Saddle Stitch started to feel himself hyperventilate as his worst fears came true, an icy clammy feeling clutching around his heart as the Princess displayed her full contempt towards him. "F-funny story..." he spluttered out, picking up Spike and placing the baby dragon between himself and the Princess as a makeshift shield. "Spike here has done something absolutely terrible and I'm sure he'd love to confess!"
Spike instantly withered before the Princess, throwing his little arms in front of his face as if that would protect him from her wrath. "It's true!" he cried out. "It's true, all of it! It's my fault, everything! I got out the book and gave it to Twilight and now she's run away and we can't find her and Saddle Stitch says something awful is going to happen!" He prostrated himself in front of Celestia, warbling away into incoherence.
"No Princess, don't blame Spike, blame me!" Rainbow Dash bravely stepped in front of the blubbering dragon, flaring up her wings to protect him from view as she looked up at the ruler of Equestria. "I should have... I mean I..." She paused, thinking. "Actually, when all's said and done, I think I did a rather bang-up job!" A smug grin crossed her face, but then she recovered her modestly. "...but Twilight's still missing with that terrible book so I guess I could have done more."
Celestia's face regained some of its tenderness as she looked down towards the two. "Oh, I don't blame you" she smiled soothingly.
"...You don't? That's great, I'll be off then." Saddle Stitch attempted to slip around the Princess and escape, only to be blocked by two stony-faced guards.
"No" Celestia turned on Saddle Stitch, her eyes narrowing into slits as she stepped towards the nervous unicorn. "I blame you! You were the royal librarian! My royal librarian! I trusted you! You had a duty and you squandered it and now I find you here trying to cover up your mistakes rather than doing everything in your power to make things right!"
She looked across at one of the guards, a slight tremble creeping into her tone. "The magic of the book is equal to my own; it has hidden itself from me. Search Ponyville. Search the surrounding countryside. Search everywhere and do not stop until you find Twilight Sparkle. And Saddle Stitch." She grimaced as she glared back at the librarian. "If even one hair on her head has been harmed because of this, then you'll have more to worry about than losing your job, I promise."
There were voices below in the barn. Twilight did not recognise them, but it was obvious that they were after her. From her vantage point in the hay loft she could see the glint of two shiny metal helmets searching the barn. As quickly and quietly as she could, she threw some loose hay over the book and lamp before diving under it herself and staying as quiet as a mouse. They didn't check the upper level.
Before long, the voices moved off, and Twilight gave a sigh of relief as she pulled the book out of the hay, rubbing it against her cheek. "Don't worry Yellowstar" she exhaled happily. "We did it! We're safe!"
Almost as an afterthought, Twilight noticed that the lamp had set fire to the dry hay that she had spread on top of it, which swiftly crackled and hissed as it burst into flame. Any thoughts for her own safety were pushed to the back of her fuzzy mind as she stared at the fire for a short while with disinterest before heaving the burning pile off the ledge and onto the barn floor below. As the smoke spiralled up and the fire started to spread, Twilight's only thought was that it made it easier to read the book. The immediate threat of the fire was dealt with. After all, she was nearly finished, and finishing the story quickly was the only thing that was important now.
In a blink of the eye, she was no longer in the barn. She was sitting on a pristine beach with Yellowstar, the perfect white sand warm beneath her hooves as they stared out across the sea together. Twilight tilted her head back happily to breath in the cool salty air.
"There's a storm coming" Yellowstar quietly remarked, and Twilight could see that she was right. Beyond the sea, the sky had turned black, with an occasional flash of lighting to illuminating the approaching broiling mass. "It is the end of the story. I can see it, mere pages away, where I must confront my destiny. But I must be brave, I must, for then I will be free." She wrapped a wing tightly around Twilight. "Twilight Sparkle, tell me. What is it like to be real?"
Twilight rested her weary head against Yellowstar's soft side. It was warm and comfy and it helped to diminish the awful growing pounding in her head. "I guess..." She thought hard about this. She had found it harder and harder to come up with her own thoughts these past few days. "I guess in a story there are certain things you have to do. You start in one place and finish in another, learning things along the way, and everything that happens builds up towards the ending. In real life, things just sort of happen and most of the time you're just sitting on the sidelines. There's no guarantee that anything you do will have any meaning or add towards any goal, but that's because you have the choice to do anything."
Yellowstar considered this. "When I am Princess, Twilight Sparkle, I will fix that. Every pony will have a happy life, and they will be the star of their own story which will be full of meaning. There will be no suffering for the entertainment of others, no cruel authors making us dance like puppets as they twist and torture us and take away our love for their amusement." Her eyes watered slightly, and her gaze fixed to beyond the distance. "When I was young, Twilight Sparkle, everything was so right, so perfect. I want that back."
Twilight nodded. "I know Yellowstar, I know you can make it bett ouch!" She yelped and leapt into the air slightly. The sand was burning her hooves. She blew on them but it only seemed to be getting hotter
With a start, she realised she was back in the barn again, and the heat that she felt was the fire that spread out across the dry flooring beneath her to form a sea of flame. The beam that held up the loft crackled and burned and with a sickening crunch, Twilight fell through the floor.
"Yellowstar!" Twilight's first thoughts were not of herself as her body was scratched and scorched by the burning wood. It was of her best friend in the entire world. Her vision span hard as she impacted hard on the ground, finding herself in a small oasis of untouched hay, the fire quickly lapping up towards her. "Yellowstar!" Out of the corner of her eye she saw the book, still lying open and unmarred. It had fallen some distance away, and the fire had not yet touched it, but she knew it wouldn't be long.
"Yellowstar!" Twilight cried out again and then the air was knocked from her lungs as a heavy burning beam topped onto her, pinning her to the floor in its crushing embrace as she reached out her hoof in the direction of the book in desperation, feeling the heat slowly creeping up her body. "Help me!"
"Twilight Sparkle you must save the book. Do not let me burn!" Yellowstar stood above the flames as if standing on an invisible floor, looking down at the struggling Twilight, urging the young pony on. "I cannot touch the book, you know this. You must finish the story before it is too late!"
As the acrid, billowing smoke started to fill her lungs, Twilight coughed violently, struggling to hear Yellowstar over the crackling of the fire as she strained against the beam that had her trapped. Agonizing inch after inch, she tried to pull her body free, feeling every scratch and scrape. All she could see though was the book, lying tantalisingly out of reach. "I... I can do it!" she panted.
"I know you can." Yellowstar smiled softly now, tilting her head as if a loving mother towards their child, her own body casting an ethereal, pallid light. "You are my best friend Twilight Sparkle, and I wish we could have had more time together." Her horn sparkled with a pure yellow light, and Twilight felt the heavy beam lift slightly, allowing her to slowly and painfully pull herself forwards.
Twilight willed herself towards the book. She had lost feeling in several of her legs, but was able to keep dragging her body with one of her front hooves, wincing out as loose splinters dug into her belly, the heat all around her becoming ever more oppressive. She was still fixated on the book in front of her, but she could see Yellowstar's hooves as they hovered over the dancing flames.
"I would have made you a gala dress, Twilight Sparkle, it would have been the prettiest dress in the world next to mine" Yellowstar dipped her head, her voice soft with an almost sing-song tone as she watched Twilight's body become wracked by a coughing fit as more smoke filled her lungs. "We would have played together forever under those blue skies, and your life would have been perfect and happy."
Twilight could only cough in response as the smoke got too thick, pulling herself through a flaming patch of hay to get closer to the book which sat there invitingly. As the smell of burning hair met her nostrils, Twilight hazily became aware that her tail was on fire. She didn't mind, her purpose was nearly at an end.
"Twilight Sparkle." Yellowstar soothed as she continued to pace slowly beside the struggling Twilight, her pure white form contrasting the grimy, battered purple pony. "I have led you to this place and you have not failed me. You know how important this is to me and you have been so very valiant in your efforts, but now your task is at an end." Yellowstar's eyes pricked with tears as she saw Twilight get nearer and nearer to the book, wheezing and spluttering though the fire as her mane started to singe.
Twilight could barely keep her sore eyes open as she battled onwards, gritting her teeth hard in determination, her vision constantly swimming. Her remaining good hoof stretched out and brushed against the cover of the book. She was so nearly there.
Dimly, she heard a loud cracking like thunder as the fire spread upwards, splitting the struts holding the heavy roof in place. At that moment, she realised that she wasn't going to make it. But that didn't matter. As long as she could finish the book.
"Goodbye Twilight Sparkle." Yellowstar said sadly, her voice a slight tremble. "You are, and forever will be, my most faithful friend."
The mood in the library was sombre as one after another, Celestia's guards entered to convey just a curt shake of the head before departing. Princess Celestia stood over a large map of Ponyville and the surrounding areas which now dominated the mostly empty room, with Spike scurrying over it, pen in hand to cross off the areas which had been searched.
Saddle Stitch sat glumly in a corner of the room with plenty of time to imagine his impending fate and more and more areas of the map were crossed off. Still, he comforted himself, at least there's some dignity in exile. Celestia wouldn't have a worse fate in mind...
He was shaken from his thoughts by a gasp from Spike. Turning in hope, his heart just as quickly sunk as a downtrodden Rainbow Dash slowly entered, head held low.
"We've combed all the Everfree Forest!" she said softly, head downcast as she avoided eye contact with anyone in the room, too distraught at her failure. "Nothing! Nada! It's like she's vanished!" Rainbow Dash gulped. "Or worse!"
Celestia just shook her head, a faint motherly smile on her mouth as she comforted Rainbow Dash. "You have done your best, as have all my loyal ponies. We must hope that one of the searchers will prevail and-"
She abruptly stopped speaking as the door was heavily flung open and a large red stallion stomped into the library, an annoyed expression etched onto his face. It wasn't his appearance that elicited a reaction from the room however, but what he had on his back.
"Ah do believe this here's Twilight" he drawled, gently placing a ragged, soot covered unconscious pony on the ground, before giving a slight bow to Celestia. "Ma'am. Big Mac at your service."
"Twilight!" Spike and Rainbow Dash leapt onto the sleeping pony with tears of joy as Saddle Stitch wiped his brow in relief. Twilight's breathing was a short sharp wheezing and her body was covered in scratches and scorch marks, but otherwise she was unharmed.
"You have my eternal thanks" Celestia gave an uncharacteristic sigh of relief as she looked upon the prone form of Twilight, before fixing the farmer with a more serious gaze. "But tell me, what happened? Where did you find her?"
Big Mac raised an eyebrow quizzically. "You were there Princess" he gruffly huffed. "Ah saw you as clear as day at least ah assume it was you an' not your sister, she's a different colour, right? By the old south barn. It had caught fire and you were dragging this here Twilight out to safety. All cryin' and wailin' you were like you was in pain, though there weren't a mark on you; if I may say it was very unladylike, had me real surprised. Then as ah ran over an' the barn collapsed, you just vanished with a fancy flicker of magic." He chewed a strand of straw thoughtfully. "Gotta say Princess, you could'a at least made sure Twi here was okay before leavin'." Then he quickly added: "ma'am."
Celestia froze, taking in Big Mac's words. It was Saddle Stitch who broke the silence, stepping forwards excitedly, his eyes shining and wide. "So..." he exclaimed, gesticulating with a hoof. "You saw this... 'Celestia' disappear like... like..."
Big Mac considered slowly. "Like when you throw a bit o' paper in the fire, an' it lights up an' crinkles 'til there's nothin' left. Of course ah know that's just fancy magic 'cos ponies ain't made of paper, an' I guess you had your reasons for showin' off Princess." He gave another stiff, awkward bow. "Now if ya'll excuse me, ah've got to sort out the damage."
"Thank you. You will of course be compensated for the barn." Celestia returned Big Mac's bow with a graceful one of her own. As the farmer turned to leave, she called out "Oh, and Big Macintosh? You will have a particularly good harvest this year."
Big Mac just gave a grateful nod towards the sun goddess as he left. "Much appreciated ma'am. Much appreciated."
As the red stallion left, Saddle Stitch punched the air in an uncharacteristic show of joy. "Yes! Oh yes!" He swept back his mane, beaming with relief at the Princess. "You realise what this means Princess? The book burnt properly this time! Equestria's not doomed, Ms Sparkle is safe and I can go back to my library and put this whole beastly business behind us..." He trailed off as he realised Celestia was not sharing his enthusiasm for the resolution. Instead she was staring forlornly at the floor. "Princess?" he queried, slightly nervously. "Princess, isn't that good?"
"Good?" Celestia just slumped her shoulders, before rising to her full height before Saddle Stitch. "No. The book was dangerous, but the destruction of anything is never good, or I would have done that a long time ago." She shook her head. "You have lost touch with what is truly important Saddle Stitch and if you paid a bit more attention to what your job really meant then this may have been avoided. I am sorry but..."
"Princess, I will accept any punishment you deem fit" Saddle Stich bowed his head in defeat. "Be that exile on some exotic island, imprisonment "
"I will be taking Twilight back to Canterlot to recuperate." Celestia cut across him. "It may take some weeks for her to fully recover, and in that time Ponyville will need a librarian."
"No!" Saddle Stitch threw himself at Celestia's hooves, shaking in terror. "No please, not that! I'm an academic, a distinguished pony of learning! With degrees in literature! I can't be seen to work in a common little place like this, I have a reputation to uphold!" He looked around at the empty shelves. "Besides, I burnt all the books!"
"Then you will have to get new books" Celestia looked down sternly. "Books that every pony can enjoy, not just the classics. I hear one 'Larry Otter' is popular. I shall return soon, and in that time, if there is not a delightful section for foals full of books about hungry caterpillars and naughty magpies then there will be trouble, do you understand me?"
This was met by a squeal from Saddle Stitch as if he had been stabbed through the heart by Celestia's horn. He nodded pathetically. "Y-you are most merciful your majesty."
"Yes, now" Celestia turned towards Spike and Rainbow Dash who were still comforting the unconscious Twilight. "Leave me. All of you. I would be alone with my pupil."
Twilight slowly and painfully opened her eyes in confusion. They were sore, so sore. Her body ached with a strange throbbing and as she became more and more lucid, the sensations of pain and scratches and burn marks increased. She touched her horn in puzzlement, feeling it safe on her head. A familiar smiling face looked down on her through her blurry vision.
"No Twilight" Celestia gently pulled a blanket over Twilight's battered form and propped a pillow under her head. "Yellowstar is gone forever now. I am sorry that you were brought into this."
"There was a fire!" Twilight gave a slight jerk of surprise, staring at one of her soot-covered hooves. "And... and I nearly had the book Princess! It was burning and I nearly had the book and then she pulled me away." She looked up at Celestia with watery eyes. "I don't understand. She was so scared and she wanted to be free so badly, and I wouldn't have minded..."
"Hush Twilight." Celestia gave her a soft motherly nuzzle. "The book was old, full of powerful, unrestrained magic. It overwhelmed you, but you will be better soon. Do not shed tears for Yellowstar, my pupil, she was not real."
"You're wrong Princess" Twilight quietly replied. "She was real in the end, when it mattered. She chose her own ending." She rubbed her muggy head, feeling the soft cotton wool fuzz in her mind start to fall away. "Would it have been so bad though Princess, if she was free? She just wanted every pony to have a happy ending. I heard Saddle Stitch say she was evil, but... how would he know?"
Celestia just shook her head. "Twilight Sparkle, you know that the real world doesn't have happy endings, because nothing ever ends. She was not evil, but she was dangerous. She would have pulled down Equestria with all the wisdom of a scared little filly who just wanted the world to be as happy as she remembered it." Her face drifted into a strange, far-away expression. "When the sky was always blue and the birds always sang and nothing bad ever happened."
"How did you kn-" Twilight started, and then frowned. Her mind was working properly again, thinking clearly for the first time in days, and it was obvious. So obvious. She knew how the story ended. Her eyes fixed on Celestia's Cutie Mark. The sun. The yellow star. "Princess Celestia..." she asked gently, "why did you write the book?"
"Oh Twilight." Celestia slowly sat down beside Twilight, holding her close with her wing. "If I ever thought that any pony, especially you, could have been hurt by the book..." she trailed off. "I was young and naive and what does one write about when they are young but themselves? I would look out of the castle and invent magical adventures for myself. I put all my happiness in there, all my love and compassion. And then as I grew older, I wrote about my sadness and grief and pain until it became full of my heartbreak."
"The story was not how things were, but how they felt," Twilight echoed backwards, recalling the earlier words of Yellowstar.
"Yes and " Celestia closed her eyes momentarily. "Twilight, you must believe me. When I realised that my youthful raw, untrained magic had brought those feelings to life, it was too late to undo it. But I could not bring myself to destroy it. So I had it locked in the royal archives where its dangerous power could not harm anypony and it would be safe."
"And now it's gone." Twilight simply replied.
"Princess?" Twilight raised her head to look hopefully towards Celestia. "If you wrote it once, could you write it again? Yellowstar, she... she wasn't a bad pony. She deserved a happy ending." She weakly placed booth hooves before Celestia in a heartfelt plea. "Please. For me?"
Celestia just wordlessly stood and kissed Twilight's head. "No" she gently replied. "Even if I wanted to, I could not. The power of the book lay in that first impassioned act of writing and the emotion poured into it. I no longer feel that way. Now that the book is destroyed, its magic is broken and not even a thousand copies could make her live again. Rest now Twilight, I will take care of you."
Twilight slowly sunk her head to the floor and closed her eyes. "I see" she whispered hoarsely.
As Twilight fell into a peaceful sleep, the like of which she had not known for several nights, Celestia stood over her quietly, keeping watch. "You are, and forever will be, my most faithful student."
For the rest of the day, the sky was a perfect blue.
One week later, in a room atop the highest spire of the highest tower of the grandest part of Canterlot Castle, sat Twilight Sparkle. The room around her was covered in tomes and parchments and ink pots but the desk in front was bare, save for a simple gilt-lined book that lay open. Her brow furrowed, Twilight slowly and carefully used her magic to raise the quill from the page without blotting it with ink. She knew what Celestia had told her was the truth, that Yellowstar was gone. But yet there was still the need for closure even if it was just a token gesture. A final act of friendship.
For a while she stared blankly at what she had written, a frown of disappointment creasing upon her face. "Is that it?" she muttered bitterly to herself, sighing. "Is that the best you could do Twilight?"
The words stared back at her.
Once upon a time there was lovely little pony called Yellowstar who lived with her sister and mother and father in the happiest village ever. The sky was always blue and the birds always sang and nothing bad ever happened to her.
It wasn't very good. Twilight's critical facilities nagged at her as she stewed over what she had written. Finally, with a smile, she lowered the quill once more and scribbled down some final words. "There," she whispered. "Perfect."
And they all lived happily ever after, forever and ever and ever.