Luna paused on the road outside the farmhouse, located on a large, deserted lot of land. "It looks abandoned to me," she said as Trixie came to a halt beside her. The farm was old and decrepit, much like the mansion had been before Twilight and Trixie had shined it up a little. If Twilight lived here now she hadn't done much to make the exterior look inviting.
Trixie gave the place a glance and felt a slight shiver. "It looks creepy, is what it does. I can't imagine why Twilight would live here, if that is what she does."
"Only one way to find out if she does," said Luna and approached the house. Trixie followed, glad that the sun was still high on the sky. The mere thought of going here in the darkness of night made her uneasy. Luna glanced through a few old windows and shook her head. "It looks empty."
"Should we knock?" Trixie gestured at the door.
"Maybe that's best," Luna murmured and gave the door a few hard knocks. There was no response, everything was silent save for a distant bird chirping; an oddly ominous sound.
Trixie looked through the window. "I don't like this, even in broad daylight."
"Maybe it's our luck they're not home," Luna mused. "I'd like to take a look around inside and you can't do that very well with other ponies there."
"What if they return and find us snooping around?"
"We just say the door was open, that we were looking for Twilight."
Trixie nodded a little, not feeling too good about the plan but unable to think of anything better. "Alright, how do we get in?"
Luna considered the door and the old, rusty lock. "Piece of cake." Her horn glowed slightly and there was a click from the lock before the door opened with a long creak. "I didn't sneak around the castle when I was young without learning a thing or two about locks. My sister liked to put locks on everything."
"I can't imagine why," Trixie snickered and followed the sneaky princess into the house. While Luna checked out the living room, Trixie took a look in the kitchen. "Somepony's been making tea recently," she called and took a smell of the pot on the kitchen table. "Twilight's favorite, too, if I'm not entirely mistaken."
Trixie opened the pantry door and peeked inside. "Oats and hay. Pots and pans " She paused in her brief summary of the room's contents, her eyes falling on a pile in the corner. "And a lot of rope!" She stepped into the small room and poked a hoof at the pile of ropes. Her eyes narrowed as she thought she saw something. Digging through the pile her heart skipped a beat and she took a step back. A slight smear of red covered some of the ropes, and now her hoof. Trixie stared down at her hoof and the drops of scarlet. Hesitantly she took a sniff and wrinkled her nose at the coppery tang. "There's blood on some of these," she whispered and backed out of the pantry.
A hollow sound as of something hitting the floor caught her attention from the other room and she spun around, ears perked. "Luna?" she called as she hurried out of the kitchen.
Luna turned to Trixie as she came through the door. "Oh, I just dropped a book. Are you alright? You look like you've seen a ghost."
Trixie stopped and glanced around the room. It looked like a fairly nice study given the otherwise decrepit state of the house. A few bookcases, a small fireplace, a desk. Luna was standing in front of the bookcases, a large and old looking book on the floor in front of her. "I could say the very same of you, Luna. I found rope in the pantry, a lot of it. Some of it had blood on it."
Luna picked the book up again and dusted it off a little. "Are you sure it was blood?" Trixie simply nodded. "That's troubling. But maybe there's a harmless explanation. This is harder to explain." She gave a nod at the book.
Trixie walked over to look at the cover. "Quirts and Irons? I didn't know Twilight was into that, but "
Luna tilted her head at Trixie, her expression one of mild amusement. "You have a dirty mind but as disturbing as that image is, it wasn't what made me drop the book. Look." She opened the book and flipped through a few pages of ancient writing, esoteric diagrams, and disturbing imagery, none of which seemed to have anything to do with whips or stirrups. "The title doesn't fit the content. I know this book Celestia has a copy in the royal library under very heavy guard ever since " Luna stopped and looked away. "I shouldn't be looking at this, Celestia will banish me again if she finds out! I had no idea there even existed other copies."
"I don't follow, what is this book?" Trixie looked confused. She had never been much of a book worm and what she had gleaned from the book was totally incomprehensible to her.
Luna glanced down at the book again. Trixie thought there was a hint of curiosity and desire, even lust, in her eyes, as if something within her drew her to peruse the ancient lore in front of her. "It's better if you don't know. The fact that Twilight has this kind of book in her possession makes me ill."
"It could be her friend Gray's. That pony freaks me out." Trixie felt an icy chill run down her spine at the thought, or was it something more?
"Can I help you two?"
Both Luna and Trixie jumped and turned around at the voice. Luna swiftly returned the book to its place on the shelf. "Oh I we were just looking for Twilight."
Gray, her face concealed by shadow under her cowl, looked at them from the doorway. The silence felt like it lasted for ages before she spoke again. "Twilight is not here at the moment. Perhaps I can help instead?"
Luna looked at Trixie who stood there as stiff as a statue. "Just, uh, tell her we were here."
Gray gave a brief nod and stepped into the room towards the two. "Certainly. But perhaps you would like to stay, your majesty? It is not every day we get royal visits, and I don not think we have been properly introduced. I am called Gray Ashes," the cloaked pony stopped in front of the two and bowed slightly, somewhat formally. "And of course I already know the two of you, from miss Sparkle. I apologize if I have seemed unfriendly, I am simply unaccustomed to these lands."
"Pleased to meet you," Luna stammered slightly, feeling uneasy around the mysterious mare. "You're not from around here?"
Gray smiled, rows of white teeth visible under the hood. She seemed accommodating and friendly, or at least acted so, Luna thought. "I am but passing through these lands, yes. Twilight is a distant relative of mine you see, and she has been most courteous in allowing me to stay with her briefly. Such a bright young mare she is, very studious and clever."
"Yes very," Luna murmured and glanced at the frozen Trixie. "We should really go, miss Gray it's been nice meeting you, but we wouldn't want to impose."
"Nonsense, your majesty, it is no imposition at all. Perhaps I could offer something to drink while you wait? I'm sure Twilight will be back soon and happy to see you." The dark mare walked over to a small cabinet and opened it, three glasses and a bottle floating out in a faint glow of purple. "Not quite royal standards, mind you, but we have a passable malt whiskey if you like." She glanced over her shoulder at the two.
Luna had given Trixie a nudge and begun edging towards the door. She stopped when Gray turned around to look at them. "Oh, we'd love to stay, but we really have to get going. Just tell Twilight we were here."
"Of course, princess," Gray said and bowed, a hint of disappointment in her voice, although Luna suspected it was faked like the rest of the mare's friendly demeanor. "Let me at least follow you out," she said and gestured them through the room and out the front door. Luna gave a nervous smile in parting and hurried off with Trixie. As she glanced back she thought she saw a pair of purple eyes observing them from one of the windows. She shuddered and quickened her pace.
Luna stopped outside the mansion and looked at Trixie. "Are you alright? You look as pale as a ghost."
Trixie shivered and looked over her shoulder. "I'll be fine that mare just freaks me out something fierce. I don't know what it is, but she's just wrong."
Luna lay a hoof around Trixie's shoulders. "I know she makes me uneasy too. Come on, let's get inside, get something to eat. You just need to take it easy."
Trixie nodded and pushed the door open. A pair of purple eyes stared at them from inside and Trixie nearly screamed. Twilight looked almost as shocked herself. "I'm so sorry I didn't mean to" Her voice broke. "Come in, quick close the door!"
Luna and Trixie walked in and Luna closed the door behind them. "Twilight?! We've been so worried what's going on? Are you alright?"
Twilight glanced out the window nervously. She looked completely frazzled. "I'm so sorry I'm in way over my head! You must help me, please!" she cried.
Trixie walked up to Twilight. "Sit down, Twilight, take a deep breath."
Twilight fell down on her haunches heavily and breathed deeply. Luna stood a bit away while Trixie sat down next to her and tried to comfort the panicking pony. "Just calm down, Twilight."
Twilight didn't seem to calm much. "It's terrible and it's all my mistake. Please, you must help me." She looked up, staring at Trixie and Luna. "You must help me kill Gray! We must kill her and and " She jumped up, but Trixie quickly pulled her back down. "And acid! We need acid, lots of acid! It's the only way! We need to kill her and get rid of the body!"
Luna and Trixie exchanged concerned glances. Luna knelt down next to Twilight and looked her deep in the eyes. "Twilight, calm down, do you hear me? Let's get something to eat, all of us, and then you'll tell us everything. I think it's high time we learned what you've been doing all this time."
"It began when I was investigating my ancestor. I hit a dead end as you remember. But just as I was giving up, by chance I stumbled upon something."
They were sitting in the kitchen. Luna had made tea and sandwiches while Trixie tried to calm down Twilight. Something had made the purple unicorn freak out, and it had taken a long time for her to relax enough to speak coherently. She was sitting, staring into her tea as she spoke, occasionally looking up with a start at the slightest sound outside. Trixie was sitting next to her, holding her and trying to comfort her.
"You remember the old portrait out in the hall? The one of my ancestor, Midnight Spindle. It has a hidden compartment behind it. It was there I found what I was looking for documents, books, and other things she left behind, for me for her descendants." She lowered her cup of tea, resting it on the table. "Fillystata Midnight, my ancestor, I mean she was an accomplished sorceress in her days. She described her work in those documents, and I became obsessed with it. I learned all I could from her notes and books. But it was not enough, I knew there was more, much more. And I knew there was only one way for me to learn it."
Luna and Trixie looked at her in silence, waiting for her to continue her story. Twilight stared into her tea. It had probably grown cold by now, but that seemed to be the last worry on Twilight's mind. "Midnight had found a way to " She glanced up at Luna and Trixie briefly, as if trying to determine if she should really tell them this. " to call the spirits of the dead, to learn from them. Imagine how much you could learn so much is lost when a pony passes away. It's a tragedy, but Midnight could learn from them. And I knew I could learn from her. I just needed her" Twilight sank, a lump forming in her throat "ashes. I had to find her grave, and I did."
Trixie looked at Luna, then back at Twilight. "You were the grave robber?"
Twilight nodded, clearly uncomfortable admitting such a thing. "I had to! And I thought I could I thought I was strong enough to do what I had to do. Oh Celestia, what have I done?" The purple unicorn slumped over, hopelessly. It took her a while to continue. "There were rumors in those days, that Midnight was a witch. The fillies called her Fillystata because of her cutie mark of a black spider in its web, and because it sounded ominous, I guess. They whispered of how she took away fillies and did awful things to them. I don't know, silly filly tales, maybe they thought she ate them."
She finally took a sip of her tea, grimacing a little at the cold drink. Luna offered her a fresh cup and she took it with a sigh. "Eventually others, not just fillies, began to whisper. She was growing quite old but didn't show it. She was older than most ponies could ever dream of, yet still looked like a mare in her prime. Such things breed jealousy and suspicion, but there were other whispers about her husband, who grew more and more secluded as time went on and finally simply disappeared. No wonder Midnight was the subject of much gossip."
Twilight sighed and lifted her cup to take a sip. "Finally, a group of Dappleshore citizens decided to take matters into their own hooves. Midnight was well respected in Dappleshore for all her donations and civil work. She did much for the little community and despite being eccentric and aloof she did seem quite pleasant to many. There was no official evidence of anything amiss, only stubborn rumors. So these ponies decided to break into her mansion and find the evidence. If the police wouldn't look into her dealings they would do it themselves. I am not sure what they found, or what exactly happened, but I know how it ended. There was a fire, and Midnight died.
Her burial was quietly and quickly performed, in secret, and everything about the whole incident was hushed up. Her daughter changed her name in shame, and so on. What is important is that I managed to find out who was behind the raid, and the burial, and I found their graves." She paused, silent for a long time. "From them I learned where Midnight had been buried. I found her grave, recovered her ashes, and" She stopped, staring into her tea.
Both Luna and Trixie were staring at her. Luna broke the silence first. "What are you saying?"
Twilight fiddled with her cup a little. "I brought her back. At first I could only keep the spirits of the dead for a few minutes at a time, with my own blood. But Midnight remains and I I fear I know how she sustains herself."
Trixie broke her off. "Wait, wait you're saying, Gray is your dead ancestor?" Twilight nodded. "And you think that she's behind the filly nappings?"
Twilight nodded again.
Luna stood by the desk, looking out the window at the night sky. She had arranged for Celestia to handle the moon for a few days. She'd have to make up for it later, but right now she knew she had to be here for Twilight. She sighed. Maybe she had failed Twilight, maybe she should have paid more attention. She looked up as she heard Twilight step into the room. She lowered her head again with a faint sigh.
Twilight stopped in the doorway. "I'm sorry. You must be disappointed "
Luna turned to look at her, shaking her head gently. "I know better than most how it is to fall prey to such spells it's all too easy, even for the best of us. I'm not disappointed, Twilight, not in you." She lowered her head. "I'm just " She paused, feeling Twilight looking at her and waiting for her to continue. She sighed. "I guess it's also far too easy to fall prey to jealousy." She glanced up at Twilight as the purple unicorn walked up next to her. "You and Trixie I really should be happy for you."
Twilight lay a hoof on her shoulder. "Luna you know I care about you deeply, and I will always be your friend. But it would never work. You're a princess, you're immortal, I'm just another unicorn. My entire life is but a drop in the ocean of yours."
Luna glanced down at her hooves. She knew it was true, but her heart rebelled against all reason. "I could . If you asked, I would"
Twilight stopped her, pulling Luna's head up to look in her eyes. "But I won't ask for that! Don't even think that thought, Luna. That is one gift I would never accept from you. I am not worthy of such a sacrifice."
Luna closed her eyes, tears streaming down her cheeks. Twilight pulled her close. "My heart belongs to Trixie if she'll ever forgive me for what I've done now. But you'll always be my friend, Luna, and I shall never forget you. One day you'll find some pony who can be more to you, some pony you can spend eternity with and perhaps you will remember me as a friend long after I am gone to whatever awaits me beyond."
Luna buried her face in Twilight's mane. "I will never forget you either, Twilight, no matter what happens. That I swear."
Trixie lay on her bed of blankets, staring into the darkness. She heard Twilight walk in and felt the sadness of the purple unicorn, but she didn't turn or say anything. She wasn't sure how she felt any more. She loved Twilight, but the other unicorn had let her down repeatedly now. She could hear Twilight sit down nearby. Even without looking Trixie knew she was ashamed and sad.
"Trixie?" Trixie didn't respond, but Twilight knew she was awake. She looked at the blue unicorn lying in the dark with her back to Twilight. "I'm really sorry. For everything. I know I may not deserve it, but I wish you would forgive me. I let you down, I just wish I could make it all good again." Trixie didn't say anything, but Twilight thought she heard her crying. "I heard about your magic. I can't say how sorry I am. I should have been there for you. If I could, I would give you all of mine. It's all my fault I can understand if you hate me."
Trixie stirred a little and turned her head at Twilight. "I don't hate you, Twilight. Perhaps I'm disappointed, perhaps I don't know if I can trust you yet, but I'll never hate you. I know where to place the blame for all this and it was never on you." She turned around fully and sat up. "I love you, Twilight, and no ghoul from the past will ever change that. Together we'll deal with this mistake of yours." She reached out a hoof to Twilight who took it and smiled a little.
Trixie leaned forwards and the tip of her horn touched Twilight's briefly. A tiny light, like a little purple star, lit up between them as their lips met. Twilight sighed in Trixie's embrace and closed her eyes. "Whatever happens, I will always be with you."
Trixie opened her eyes. Something was wrong. The sun had not yet risen above the horizon, but Trixie was wide awake. Twilight wasn't resting next to her. In her place was a small note. Trixie strained her eyes to read it in the darkness.
Don't worry, I'm fine. Please come and see me at the farm when you have the time. I'll be there all day.
Trixie cursed loudly. Loud enough for Luna to poke her head in from the next room. "You alright in here?"
Trixie nodded at the note. "Twilight has run off again."
Luna took the note and read it with a sigh. "We need to find her, now. I have a bad feeling about this."
Trixie stood up. "Do you think she's decided to face Gray on her own?"
Luna shook her head. "I don't know "
Luna and Trixie hurried out the door and down the street towards the farm. The red glow of the sun was just rising above the horizon as the old house came into sight. A bit of smoke rose lazily from the chimney and a faint light flickered in one of the windows. "Looks deceptively idyllic, in a creepy way," Luna muttered as they stopped outside.
Trixie frowned. "Do you think Gray is in there? Do you think it's a trap?"
Luna considered. "I don't know but we should be ready for anything." She looked at Trixie. "Be careful, stay behind me." She then walked up to the door, preparing herself before knocking. Barely had she knocked before the door opened.
Twilight smiled out at them and gestured for them to step inside. "You're early. I'm sorry if I made you nervous, please come in, and I'll explain."
Luna and Trixie exchanged concerned glances as they followed Twilight inside. The sudden change in mood from the night before, when she had seemed on the verge of a nervous breakdown, was troubling.
Twilight lead the way into the kitchen where she quickly prepared three cups of tea before gesturing for them to sit down. "I'm really sorry about last night, and for my negligence before that. I have been so terribly busy, so consumed by my studies, I have barely slept for what seems like weeks. I hope you'll disregard my crazy talk last night. Stay awake long enough and you'll go crazy sure enough and start having trouble distinguishing between dream and reality. I should have known better, but " She smiled and shrugged. "You know how I am once I get started, once something catches my interest. It's so hard for me to let go again."
She sipped her tea while Luna and Trixie stared at her. Noticing the stares she looked up and sighed. "I really am sorry for my behavior these past weeks. I've been a terrible friend, and I hope I can make it up to you again. Anyway, Gray left this morning, returning home to continue her own studies. I wish you could have said farewell to her, I really think you got off on the wrong hoof with her but I didn't want to wake you. I'll be doing some cleaning up here today, but maybe we can all go out tonight and have some fun? I really want to make it up to you."
Trixie looked at Luna as they left the farm. The princess appeared deep in thought as they walked back towards the mansion. "What do you think?"
Luna glanced over her shoulder, then back at Trixie. "I think something is wrong. And I think we need to find out what it is."
Trixie nodded. "She was acting weird. And I don't just mean the sudden change of mood. There was something about her that seemed off. What do you think it means?"
"I don't know, Trixie. Maybe she's brainwashed. Or maybe what she says is true and she just needs a good night's sleep, or two."
"I don't believe that. In fact I don't think I believe a word she says anymore. What do you suggest we do?"
Luna thought for a while, then stopped and turned to Trixie. "You go with her tonight, as planned. Have dinner, chat with her and see if you can get anything out of her. I'll come up with an excuse to not go shouldn't be hard, I'll just say Celestia requested my presence in Canterlot. While you're out, I'll have a look around the farm."
Trixie bit her lip nervously. "What if Gray is still there?"
"I can handle myself, and it'll be easier to snoop around if it's just me. I'll be fine. If I can sneak past my sister's watchful eyes and all her guards and locks, I think I can handle one unicorn."
Luna didn't seem entirely convinced of her own words, but Trixie knew there was no point arguing it. She couldn't think of a better plan herself, and they needed to get to the bottom of things. "Just be careful, Luna. I don't want to be alone if something happens."
Luna smiled. "I will, Trixie. I promise."