Spike grunted heavily as he pushed his cart piled high with books along the aisles of the Royal Library. The monthly pilgrimage to Canterlot to carry out Twilight Sparkle's every bibliographic whim was not something he particularly enjoyed; not only was there the hassle of paying all the inevitable fines or getting crushed by the tottering pile of books that these visits seemed to result in, but Twilight's requests were getting more and more bizarre.
"Goats and Griffons socio-politics and cakes" Spike muttered to himself as he squinted suspiciously at the list he clutched in one little claw, and then at the shelf which was annoying devoid of any such volume. "It doesn't exist! I swear! Where does she get these titles?" Snatching the volumes 'The Sociology of Goats and Griffons' and 'Baking with Goats' from the shelf, he threw them into the cart with a sigh. "That'll have to do!"
Long ago he had decided that Twilight didn't have a clue what was actually in stock in the library, and just wrote down a list of things that she would like to think existed, and it was up to Spike to somehow provide a copy of whatever she had dreamt up. Carefully he started heaving the heavy cart along the ground again, scanning the list as he walked and shaking his head in exasperation. "The Geometry of Colours? The Six-Sided Circle? The Yellow Star? She's making them up! Where do I even start?"
The place to start, it seemed, was not at the librarian's desk. Rather unhelpfully it was deserted save for a small card across which was scrawled 'In special collections. BUSY. That means YOU'. Spike sighed heavily again the royal librarian, an old unicorn called Saddle Stitch, was difficult to deal with at the best of times, constantly mumbling and groaning about every little scratch on the covers of the books Spike returned on behalf of Twilight. Wandering into the dusty Special Collections section to disturb him was the last thing that Spike wanted to do that day, but it was still better than returning to Twilight without at least an attempt at fulfilling her list of requested books. Leaving the cart next to the desk, Spike started to waddle down the long winding staircase that led to the lower levels of the library.
"Hello?" Spike stood at the bottom of the stairs, calling out into the dimly lit book-strewn room. He had only ventured down to this section a few times before, usually in search of rare or exotic tomes that had to be kept away from the prying eyes of the general public. He didn't remember it being this messy however the huge wooden shelves were in disarray, with piles of books randomly stacked on top of each other. A workbench was set up on one corner of the room covered with books in various ill-states of repair and clouds of dust hung in the air, as if recently disturbed.
Spike tried to carefully navigate his way across the book-covered floor, peering into various dark archways as he did so. "Hello? I'm uh
I'm looking for a book
"Well a library would be the right place!" snapped a voice from behind Spike. Spike gave a manly shriek and clumsily spun around to face a rather annoyed looking unicorn, whose aged brown coat was matted with dust and glue. The unicorn glared down at Spike. "Did you not see the sign that said I was busy? That tends to be a clue, though perhaps the literacy levels of dragons aren't up to scratch
" He peered down at Spike, face falling into a resigned expression. "Oh. It's you."
Spike gave the widest grin he could and responded with a wave. "Hi Saddle Stitch! Nice place you've got down here
Saddle Stitch rolled his eyes. "It is quantifiably a mess, though once I have finished recataloguing, reordering and repairing; it will once more be one of the finest collections of literature in Equestria. Alas..." he shook his head. "My work was disrupted today when I received a rather shoddy pile of returns." With a twinkle of magic, one of the books on the workbench floated into the air and hovered accusingly in front of Spike, the cover tattered and torn, the spine hanging off by a thread.
"This was new Spike! It was new!" Saddle Stitch swung his head back dramatically and sighed. "Seriously, what does young Miss Sparkle do with her books? Does she spend all day smashing them against the wall?"
Spike rubbed his chin. It was true, Twilight's library did seem to take rather more punishment than most, with its contents more often than not littering the floor than the shelves. "Ah-heh!" he coughed, attempting forced joviality. "Well, books are meant to be read!"
Saddle Stitch scowled at the dragon. "A little more respect wouldn't go amiss! Books aren't just bits of paper with words stuck on you know, they are works of art! Masterpieces! Not - " with a sparkle of his horn another book floated off the desk and waved itself in Spike's face. "-Not diaries! Look! I mean, look!" He opened up the book to show the margins of the pages covered in an inky scrawl. "This bit, see? 'I have discovered a truly marvellous proof of the mathematical formula for friendship, which this margin is too narrow to contain.'" He pushed his face closer to Spike's. "Why Spike, why? Why write down that she was unable to write something down? What's the point? Is she mad?"
Saddle Stitch slunk across the room with a scowl. "I swear, does Ponyville not have any paper? Or is Miss Sparkle just trying my patience? Here!" A large sheath of paper floated off a shelf and fell heavily on top of an unsuspecting Spike. "Have some paper! Take it to her! Beg her to use it!"
Spike giddily extracted himself from the pile of paper and rubbed his head. "Hey
" Despite his earlier grumbling, he felt strangely protective towards Twilight and didn't feel comfortable to hear anyone but him moan about her. "Twilight says that writing in books helps her to think! Working documents and all that!"
Saddle Stitch either didn't hear Spike or chose to ignore him. Instead he raised one last book to show the little dragon. "But then I thought 'oh Saddle Stitch old chap, at least she returned this one! One of the oldest and most valuable in the library's myriad collections! Filled with ancient knowledge and stunning artwork.'" He then fell silent, gaze fixed on Spike.
Spike turned bright red as he saw the title on the cover. 'The Elements of Harmony A Reference Guide.' "Oh yes
" he squeaked guiltily. "That one."
Saddle Stitch opened the book slowly. It had been hollowed out, each page having had a large rectangular chunk removed. "I mean, really! What am I supposed to do with this! If Miss Sparkle wasn't the Princess's favourite little vandal, then you can be assured she wouldn't be allowed within a thousand miles of this place!"
Spike rubbed the back of his head nervously. "Well
be fair, it wasn't Twilight who did that, it was an ancient chaos god
" He was met with a disbelieving tut from the librarian. "Anyway, Princess Celestia is happy to pay the fines from the palace funds
"Ah yes." Saddle Stitch smiled grimly. "There is that. Half the funding for this library comes from Twilight's little literary rampages. So take them all Spike, take them all!" He tossed his head in the air and headed back towards the dark alcove from which he'd emerged. "We have a very nice copy of Encyclopaedia Equestria which I spent years restoring, perhaps she might want to hack that to pieces with a blunt knife!"
Spike blinked as he was left alone. "Well
he muttered to himself. "That could have gone worse." Sure that he wouldn't be able to get any useful information from Saddle Stitch, he started to move towards the stairs.
He paused as something caught his eye.
In the far corner of the room, amidst the chaotic clutter stood a large wooden plinth upon which was a large white volume, wrapped in chains as if it were a dangerous animal. It wasn't this unusual archiving policy that caught Spike's eye however on the cover was printed the image of a five pointed yellow star.
Spike made his way across the room towards the book, glancing at one of the last names on his list. The Yellow Star. Using a pile of manuscripts as a makeshift staircase, he clambered upwards to get a good look at the book. At once he could tell it was old very old. It had the scent of something that had sat undisturbed for hundreds of years, if not more. And yet the book itself looked mostly unworn as if it had barely been read. Most intriguingly, above the large star that was pictured on the cover were the words 'The Star In Yellow'
"That's it!" Spike gasped, staring at his list again for confirmation. The title wasn't exactly the same, but then again, the occasions when Twilight got the title of a book right were few and far between. Spike hovered his claws over the book uncertainly. Chains ran in a cross shape, securing the volume to the plinth from top to bottom and left to right. It was obviously rare and valuable, but Saddle Stitch had said to take whatever he liked
Deciding discretion was the better part of valour, Spike shouted across the room into the dark archway where Saddle Stitch was hard at work. "Hey, uh, can I take this one?"
Saddle Stitch didn't even bother to look back out as he responded in an exasperated drone. "I said, take them all Spike! Take everything that isn't nailed down! Take the stuff that's nailed down too! Just bring me back the pieces once Twilight's finished setting fire to them all or whatever it is she does!"
"Fine!" Spike looked back towards the book and cracked his knuckles. There was no obvious way of releasing the chains, but as a dragon he had options that others did not. Carefully, he breathed a gout of green fire over the book, causing it to shimmer and fade. Usually his magical breath was used to deliver letters, but with clever planning, it could be put to all number of uses.
The chains clattered onto the empty plinth as the book vanished. Then, with a loud hiccup, Spike burped out a plume of flame, and the book swirled back into existence again, this time in his claws.
" he grinned to himself as there was no-one about to see how clever he'd been. "Sometimes you amaze even yourself! Twilight's gonna be so impressed!"
"Spike, I am not impressed!"
Spike slumped on the couch with a groan as Twilight began to sift through the pile of books he had brought back home from the library. "Hey, I did my best!" he whined, lying back and staring at the ceiling as a book sailed over his head and impacted with the wall.
"No no no!" Twilight shook her head in exasperation as she lifted another book with shimmering magic and stared at the cover. "I needed 'A Guide To Magical Rare Bits' not 'A Guide To Magical Rabbits!"" She launched the book over her back as she continued to delve into the remains of the cart. "I'm behind on my studies as it is!"
"I really don't think you should be doing that!" Spike called, staring at the book as it bounced across the floor and rebounded against the wall. "The librarian gets really angry about stuff like that!"
Twilight sighed. "Books aren't art, Spike, they're just the containers for ideas, and you can't damage ideas! They're meant to be read and loved, not locked away! Now, where did I put my pen?"
Before the throbbing vein in Spike's head could explode in an aneurism, the front door burst open and in trotted a rather smug looking rainbow-maned pegasus.
"Yes yes, calm down!" Rainbow Dash grinned, her wings splayed out behind her as she cantered over to Twilight. "You are indeed in the presence of one of Equestria's greatest living writers!"
Together, Twilight and Spike peered behind Rainbow Dash. There was no-one there.
"Hey!" Rainbow Dash yelped in annoyance, glaring at her two friends. "I meant me! It's me! I've written a book!" She beamed proudly as she waved her wings, revealing the worryingly large volume resting on her back. "I never thought this writing thing was for me, but I got an idea, and blam, instant gold! Wanna see?" Without waiting for an answer, she expertly batted the book over her head to land on the floor between her and Twilight with a thump.
Twilight stared at the book suspiciously, cocking her head. "You
wrote a book
" she muttered disbelievingly, craning her head as she read the title, the implications sinking in. "The Amazing Adventures of Dainbow Rash."
Rainbow Dash gazed at her masterwork with wild-eyed glee as she flipped the book open with a hoof, turning to the first page. "Doesn't it sound amazing? I don't know where I get my ideas! Let me read it to you!" Dramatically clearing her throat, she began to read. "It was a beautiful sunny day in Ponyville and the best pony of all was busy being awesome
Spike groaned and tried to hide himself under the couch cushions. Rainbow Dash's book looked long. Impossibly long. In his mind he could visualise her standing there talking forever about herself.
Twilight was not one to give up as easily however. She placed one hoof over the page Rainbow Dash was reading and gave a smile. "Hey
I'd love to read your book Rainbow Dash, but I prefer to read things by myself in my own time."
Rainbow Dash slowly nodded, and then quickly flipped halfway through the hefty book. "Oh right, I gotcha. But check this out! 'Dainbow Rash used her laser eyes to blow up the evil griffon! Then the explosion exploded! Then Dainbow Rash did one hundred Sonic Rainbooms. "Thank you Dainbow Rash!" said Princess Celestia, "now I will make you the Princess for you are the best pony in all Equestria, and I will have the teacher who kicked you out of flight school publicly flogged!'" She paused expectantly, waiting for Twilight to burst into rapturous applause.
It never came. Twilight just shuffled awkwardly, not wanting to crush her friends' spirits. "Rainbow Dash, it's nice to see you exercise your creative muscles in such an
." she glanced at the enormous book "
enthusiastic way, but this is just a book about you, isn't it? That sort of thing is generally frowned upon in literary circles."
Rainbow Dash looked genuinely stunned. "What? No! Don't be silly Twilight, I don't have laser eyes! My name isn't Dainbow Rash! I mean sure, I took inspiration from myself, but that's only natural because I'm so inspiring!" She paused, thinking Twilight's words over. "Hey, do you think that if you wrote yourself into a story, you could live forever?"
Twilight shook her head. "That's not how it works Rainbow. Now, I'd love to read your book but not n-"
"Edit!" Rainbow grinned widely. "I don't want you to read it, I want you to edit it! My gift to you Twilight! I want you to edit the whole thing so I can publish it and be famous!"
The book seemed to grow larger and longer in Twilight's eyes. There was no way out, no way she could pretend that she'd read it. Rainbow Dash was expecting her to annotate the entire thing. She stifled a groan; ploughing through this would put her studying back even further. "Yes," she forced a smile. "That sounds lovely. I can't wait."
"Great!" Rainbow Dash chirped, turning a few more pages. "Now, this is my favourite bit! '"Oh Dainbow Rash!" cried Spotfire as the two ponies-'"
"I'm going to have to stop you there" Twilight blurted out suddenly.
"Oh?" Rainbow Dash stared at Twilight expectantly, as if waiting for a great revelation.
"No reason." Twilight slowly but firmly pushed the book shut with a heavy sigh. "I'm just going to have to stop you." She glanced over at Spike, who had started to extract himself from the couch cushions now the coast had become clear. "Spike, I want you to lock this away. Somewhere safe. Very safe."
Gratefully, Spike scampered off with Rainbow Dash's novel, eager to place it somewhere so safe that it might never see the light of day again.
Rainbow Dash flashed a smile at Twilight. "What a buzz eh? I never realised how great writing could be! And easy too, I can just churn pages out! I've got some amazing ideas that-"
"No!" Twilight yelped out again. As Rainbow Dash stared at her in confusion, Twilight raced to think of a good reason, any reason, to make her stop. "I
I don't think you should give up on your flying. You're so good; I can't believe the Wonderbolts haven't snapped you up yet."
Rainbow Dash considered this. "Yeah, I am pretty amazing I guess. Hey, want to come flying with me?" She leaned forwards, beaming.
Twilight furrowed her brow, looking at the pile of unloved books in the middle of the room. 'Going flying' was Rainbow Dash's code word for 'sitting in a field watching her fly' which generally started to get boring after five minutes of watching a pegasus perform cartwheels in the distance. But then again, she was a friend. "Sure, just let me get some stuff together!"
As Rainbow Dash excitedly raced outside, Twilight pottered about the room, slinging a saddle bag over her back. If she had to be stuck in a field all afternoon on her own, the least she could do was catch up on some reading. Gazing over Spike's cart, she chose the first book that caught her eye a large white volume with a star emblazoned on the cover. Using her magic to lift it into her bag, she straightened herself up and wandered out the door after Rainbow Dash.
Twilight attempted to shade her eyes against the sun as the tiny blue speck that was Rainbow Dash whirled almost imperceptibly against the blue sky. Rainbow Dash had announced she wanted to show off her upper-atmosphere flying techniques, and immediately shot into the stratosphere where she darted and flitted around like a hyperactive mayfly.
Rolling her eyes, Twilight turned her attention to her saddlebag, deciding that she'd watched Rainbow Dash prance about enough, and could always pretend she had been watching for longer as to not hurt her friend's feelings. Carefully controlling her magic, she conjured a sparkling aura around the bag, extracting the book and placing it on the wet grass.
"Now!" Twilight smiled, rubbing her hooves together. "Time for some quality time studying astronom-" She froze mid-sentence as she stared at the cover, reading the title. The Star In Yellow. Once more that day, her face crumpled in annoyance. "Spike!" She hissed out, venting her frustrations at the empty field. "I wanted 'The Yellow Star!' A book about the sun! What's wrong with you?"
Scowling, Twilight looked up at the distant dot that was Rainbow Dash, and then down at the book. "I guess it can't hurt
" she muttered, examining it curiously. It had a heavy air of age about it, though it was in remarkably good condition. The cover was a smooth, expensive looking white material, with bronze and gold fittings lining the side. The title was inlaid in what seemed to be hoof-pressed gold, beneath which was a simple yet elegant five pointed yellow star.
Somehow Twilight felt drawn to the star, gently stroking a hoof across it as she opened the book. The pages smelled old, but they were crisp and only slightly yellowed; a lot of care had obviously been put into preserving it she could tell that the bindings were a good few hundred years old at least. Twilight breathed in the old book smell and sighed happily. Despite her earlier words to Spike, there was still something pleasing and enrapturing about the physicality of a book, especially one with such a weight of history behind it. And for something so old to be so well looked after
Twilight flicked back to the cover again, staring at the star, before turning back, leafing through the first few blank pages to get to the book proper. Something like this had to be special.
"Oh." Twilight found herself loudly exclaiming as she reached the first page of text. It was not what she was expecting at all. She had been sure that such a lovingly bound and cared for book would have contained at least a great work of literature or science, but the first page was a mess of barely distinct scrawls. The page was smeared and scratched with ink as if the author hadn't seen a word before. Crude half-drawings of smiling pony faces dotted the page, some overlapping with no regard for form or layout. It was as if a small foal had scribbled all over it.
'Maybe that's it' Twilight thought. 'Maybe some foal messed up the first page of the book.' Curiously, she turned the page, wondering if she'd see more doodling. The next two pages were indeed covered in the same inky pen, but more distinct this time, forming words and sentences. Twilight stifled a laugh as she realised what it was. A story book! A story book written by a foal! She could imagine a little pony, pen in mouth, clumsily putting down its barely-formed thoughts onto the page. There were even cute little illustrations of happy ponies, barely more than stick figures, all smiling. With nothing better to do, Twilight scanned the opening lines.
Once upon a time in Ponyville there was a happy pony called Yellowstar. She was great beauty and pony of white with hair lovely. Her favourite job was help others. She was so happy.
Twilight couldn't help but grin from ear to ear, clopping her hooves together happily. "How cute!" she squealed, marvelling in the earnestness of the broken language. There was a part of her that remembered when she was a little foal, scratching away at sheets of paper with a pen, sure that she was working on some great masterpiece. It was heart-warming to know that hundreds of years ago in Ponyville, ponies had done exactly the same thing.
Twilight continued to read, absorbing the tale thoroughly. As she turned the pages, the quality of the penmanship started to improve imperceptibly, as if the writer was slowly honing their skills. Slowly but surely the grammar and language improved; the crude stick figures became slightly better proportioned, though still obviously the work of a small foal.
As she'd expected, the story wasn't a complex story by any stretch of the imagination. It wasn't even as well written as Rainbow Dash's abortive attempt at literature, but what it lacked in skill, it made up for in a touching display of innocence and honesty. The book was about a little pony called Yellowstar and her adventures which generally tended to be rather inconsequential. The first few pages focussed on Yellowstar searching for a pen that her parents (charmingly called 'Yellowstar Mummy' and 'Yellowstar Daddy') had lost. Then it started to tell of Yellowstar's journey around Ponyville, helping every pony that lived there in their day to day lives.
As Twilight read, the plot started to get slightly more challenging, if still basic. One day Yellowstar had to find a pie that had been stolen by a naughty pony. The next, she had to find a way to protect a carrot patch from some hungry rabbits. As she turned the pages, Twilight noticed that the illustrations were getting even more competent, and she could recognise the repeated sketches of Yellowstar which now featured added colour: a small white Earth pony with roses adorning her long curly yellow hair, and the symbol of a star on her flank. She was smiling, she was always smiling. The story kept repeating again and again how happy Yellowstar was in her little world, how the days were always sunny and her friends were always kind.
It was not the sort of book Twilight would normally read, but she found herself unable to stop turning the pages despite or perhaps because of - the rather crude expressionism on show. Soon she was reading about how Yellowstar had built a tree house, and went on a walk to see the butterflies, and then
Twilight jerked upward suddenly, wide eyed as she realised she was being shaken rather violently by an annoyed looking Rainbow Dash. To her surprise the sun was starting to set, playing its soft orange light across the ground. She'd been so caught up in her reading she hadn't noticed how late it had been. "Oh
" she grinned hopefully.
Rainbow Dash just glared at Twilight. "Pfft! You were totally caught up in that book, I was shaking you for ages! It's not even my book!" She took a step back in shock realisation. "You've been reading other books behind my back!"
Ignoring Rainbow Dash's outrage for the moment, Twilight carefully packed her book away into her saddle bag and begun to trot away, eager to pick up her reading in the warmth and comfort of her own home. "If I read too much of your book Rainbow, I might explode from its awesomeness."
This seemed to appease Rainbow Dash, who allowed herself a self-satisfied grin as she took to the air once more.
Twilight had the book out of her bag before she had even entered her home. Carefully using her magic to hover the open book a few inches from her face as she walked, she narrowly missed Spike, who was forced to dive for cover to avoid getting trampled.
"Hey Twilight!" Spike waved from the floor. "Where've you been? Dinner's getting cold!"
Twilight just grunted and sat back on the couch, settling down in front of her book. "I'll have it here, Spike!" she called almost absent-mindedly as she turned another page. It barely registered as Spike pushed a bowl into her hooves. She could hardly taste the food as she pushed it into her mouth. She scarcely reacted as Spike huffed and puffed about the house and finally loudly tramped upstairs to bed.
That evening, Twilight's entire world consisted solely of her book.
After every page the writing got neater, stronger, more assured. The illustrations became more than hastily coloured sketches they were more and more detailed and dynamic. Soon each page featured a little scene, with backgrounds lovingly rendered first in inks, and later painted in watercolours. Every time Twilight read a bit more, the artistry in the book gained a fragment of maturity, until it barely resembled the infantile mess that was present on page one. If Twilight hadn't read each page in order and noted the gradual progression, she would have thought it to be the work of a completely different pony.
The book was no longer about just Yellowstar. At some point she had gained a friend, a much smaller pony named Silver Crescent. This had confused Twilight at first the new character had just appeared in the middle of a sentence, though flicking back and forth she realised she hadn't missed anything, the author had just inserted her straight into the narrative as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Yellowstar and Silver Crescent did everything together. The sunny days seemed to last forever as they played hide and seek, gave each other presents, and went on walks in a scary wood. Twilight felt like she was there with those two little ponies, spending her days laughing and playing and being happy. And they were happy, so very happy.
With a small gasp, Twilight turned the page to reveal the legend 'End of Chapter One.' The break in the narrative snapped her suddenly out of the reading trance she had found herself in. Rubbing her head, she noticed that outside the house was pitch blackness she had been reading for hours. As she placed the book down on the couch ready to go to bed, there was a clattering from the kitchen.
She was not alone.
"H-hello?" Twilight called nervously, craning her neck towards the dark room. She vaguely recalled that Spike had gone to bed had he locked up? Could there be a strange pony in her house? Or worse a monster?
"Pinkie, is that you?" Twilight slowly inched towards the pitch black doorway. "It's a bit late for a random party. And if it's not Pinkie, then you should know I'm one tough pony! They don't call me Twilight Smashle for nothing!" She lowered the pitch of her voice in an attempt to sound intimidating. It didn't work.
There was another clattering from the darkness. Twilight held her breath
And then relaxed as a figure walked through the open door. "Oh!" she sighed in relief, a great calm descending over her. "I thought somepony had broken in, or I'd gone mad! Thank goodness it's just you Yellowstar!"
A pair of bright red ruby eyes pierced the gloom as a white, yellow-haired pony trotted out of the kitchen, smiling serenely at Twilight. "Of course it's me!" she beamed. "You're my most faithful friend Twilight. Oh, what a happy life we lead!" Slowly, she made her way to the couch and sat down, indicating for Twilight to join her. "You should read more. Are you enjoying it?"
Twilight sat as instructed. As she lifted the book again, something in her head, some small, niggling voice started to scream that something was terribly wrong. But Yellowstar was with her, that was all that mattered. She pushed the errant thought out of her mind and opened the book. "Yeah
it started slow, and wasn't written well, but it got better. I don't know why, I just
really liked it
" The voice in her head started to get louder again, a strange, uncomfortable sense of panic welling in her stomach. Then she looked at Yellowstar's smiling face and wondered why on Equestria she felt so bad when she had such a good friend at her side.
"Why don't you keep on reading?" Yellowstar motioned, pointing towards the book. "It gets much better, I promise."
Twilight frowned and rubbed her head, trying to clear the strange fog from her head. She knew something was wrong but she couldn't put her hoof on it. She decided it didn't matter.
She turned to chapter two.