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Closing Time · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Museum of Lost Histories
Eighty miles west of Vanhoover, in the cold dark waters of the Sea of Rains, reality flickered.

A squat island hunkered against thick, frothy waves. Aside from a colony of nesting gulls, the island was barren—an old soldier of salt and stone, fighting a hopeless war against time. In one moment, the sun slipped beneath the western sea. In the next moment, the moon's edge appeared in the east, tracing a road of silver light across the waves. And in the empty space between those moments, the island changed.

What had been cliffs stretched into beaches. On its southern coast, a horseshoe bay became a lagoon. And at the island's heart, in a place of black rock that even the gulls avoided, an enormous structure of polished red granite blinked into existence. Its walls spoke of long-forgotten stoneworking traditions. Vaulted windows filled story after story, ascending into the dim twilight—and behind them all glowed a pale golden light.

"What do you think we're gonna find?" From his seat astride Twilight, Spike yelled to be heard over the wind.

"I don't know," Twilight yelled back. "Discord didn't say much, except that he saw some sort of building out here. It's got to involve powerful magic, though. I don't think anypony would have known about it, if he hadn't felt that disturbance three nights back."

"So why are we the ones investigating it?" Spike yelled.

A flash of cyan feathers spun through Spike's vision. "Because this is an adventure, obviously!" Rainbow Dash's voice came from above him, and when Spike looked up, he saw her—upside down, gliding on outstretched wings, and so close he could almost touch her with his claw. Rainbow turned her head and gave Spike a wide grin.

Ahead, a small mound humped upward on the horizon. It was too far away for Spike to make out more than surface details.

"Rainbow, I told you, this isn't like a Daring Do story. I just think we should know more about whatever magic is operating out here. And Celestia and Luna agree with me. It's worth investigating anything Discord can sense and they can't. But it's probably going to be something boring, like erosion collapsing some old unicorn tower and damaging the spells on it."

"You mean, like, we could be exploring ruins?" Rainbow's grin widened. "Seriously, Twilight, only an egghead like you could call that boring."

"Well, no, it's not really boring. Archaeology is a fascinating subject—but it's not... I mean, real archaeologists don't go around getting into fights, or trying to steal magic artifacts from... What is Caballeron, anyway? Is he some sort of evil archaeologist?"

"Uh, guys?" Spike patted Twilight's barrel to get her attention. "I think we found the island, and I think you might wanna take a look at it." He could see the building now, and it didn't look like any old unicorn tower. It looked... majestic. Like a palace, maybe?

"What is it?" Rainbow asked, her quiet voice nearly swallowed by the wind around them.

"I don't know," Twilight said. "But I don't think it's going to be boring."

Spike hopped down from Twilight's back as soon as she landed. He still wasn't used to flying, certainly not assisted flying. A part of his brain knew how to handle the sensation—it'd have to know, for when his wings finally grew in—but riding Twilight meant flying without any control, and that always made him queasy.

Rainbow landed beside Twilight a moment later. She stared at the titanic structure, at the two black iron doors standing twenty feet high, and gave a low whistle. "Somepony sure liked to build big. What do you think they'd even put in there?"

"I guess we'll have to find out," Twilight said. She trotted up the steps to the doors and rapped her hoof against them, creating a low, sonorous peal like a gong. As the ringing faded, Spike made his way up the steps after Twilight, listening, but he couldn't hear any noise from inside the building. "D'you think anypony's home?"

Twilight's lips tightened. "I don't know. I thought I saw lights in some of the windows when we flew in. But there's a lot of magic in the air here, so maybe that doesn't mean anything.

"What kind of magic?" Rainbow asked. Her wings shifted as she stared up at the walls of the building.

"That's hard to say. It's a bit like... Spike, do you remember when I cast that time spell I found in the Star Swirl the Bearded wing?"

"Yeah, but that was fun. Except for the ice cream. This is just kinda creepy, if you ask me."

Twilight nodded. "But still, it's got the same feel to it. Like... I don't know, like an echo. It feels like some sort of powerful magic got used here, or maybe it will get used here? It's all tangled up and hard to read. But I don't think this place is magical at all right now."

Spike folded his arms and gave his best thoughtful nod, though he didn't think he really understood. How could a place be magical and not be magical at the same time? Echoes came from sounds, so if there was an echo, it meant there must be something causing it. He glanced at Rainbow, but she didn't look like she'd understood any better than he had. Twilight was already back to studying the building.

Rainbow flapped her wings, hovering a few feet above the stairs. "I don't think anybody's coming, Twilight. Maybe we should fly up to one of those windows and—"

The iron doors opened with the heavy sigh of well-oiled hinges supporting an immense weight.

"Or we could do that, I guess." Rainbow settled back to her hooves.

Spike followed Twilight through the doors into a huge, vaulted chamber. Square columns rose to the ceiling far overhead, and all the way up their length, they were ringed with narrow troughs in which golden flames danced and burned. Spike didn't see any other sources of light, but the entryway seemed as bright as the day-lit island outside. Much warmer, though.

Two orange-maned ponies trotted across the granite floor toward them. One was white and the other a pale cream color, and as they drew closer, Spike saw that they both had horns. Several feet in front of Spike, they stopped suddenly and traded a quick look. Then they both turned and made an odd bow on one forehoof. Twilight and Rainbow tried to return the gesture, while Spike gave the two unicorns his stage bow, not sure what would be appropriate.

The white unicorn stepped forward, and Spike noticed that her mane seemed to float on an unseen breeze, almost like Celestia's and Luna's did, though the effect wasn't as striking. Stranger still, she didn't appear to have a cutie mark—neither of the two unicorns did—though they both looked too old not to have found them. The white unicorn smiled and spoke in a gentle voice. "Welcome, travelers, to the Museum of Lost Histories. I am Balias, and my brother is Xanthos." She fell silent, as if expecting something.

After the silence drew out longer than it should have, Spike nudged Twilight in the ribs.

"Oh, ah, yeah. I'm... I'm Twilight Sparkle," she said. "And this is Spike. He's a dragon. And Rainbow Dash." She bit her lip. "If you... um... don't mind me asking, I don't think I've ever seen a unicorn quite like you before. Do you... live here?"

Balias laughed, a sound that reminded Spike of wind chimes. "Yes, both Xanthos and I live here. And many others of our tribe. It is a refuge, of sorts." She paused again, staring at Twilight as if expecting some response.

Spike was about to ask about the unicorn's mane and her missing cutie mark, but something made him look up at Twilight first. She met his eyes and gave a small shake of her head.

Rainbow Dash stepped forward, "Yeah... That's neat and all, but do you know anything about some funky magic happening around here?"

Twilight shot a scandalized look at Rainbow, but before she could say anything, the white unicorn spoke again. "Yes. It is the nature of the museum. We are... How can I explain this? We are not always here. Sometimes, we are elsewhere. We never stay for more than a few months. The last time we were here was about two centuries ago, I believe. I confess, I do not remember it well. We would be very interested to hear news of the world, if you have time to talk with us."

"Wait." Spike stared at Balias, his eyes wide. "Two centuries? You've been alive for two centuries?"

"Two and a half, in fact. And my brother Xanthos is nearly a century older than I. That is something ponies find surprising, isn't it? I think I remember that. But surely it is not surprising to dragons?"

Spike scratched at the scales on his chest. "Well, I mean, I knew I'd live a long time, but that's pretty weird for ponies, right?"

"It is... difficult to explain," Balias said. "Perhaps if you see the museum, it will make more sense."

She turned without further comment, and walked toward a towering arch opposite the iron doors. Xanthos walked with her, and after a moment Spike and his companions followed. The room beyond the arch was still tall, but less expansive. It acted as a nexus between five different hallways, like the hub of a wheel.

The two unicorns led them into the second hallway on the left—a smaller space, though still large by Ponyville standards. Here, the walls were adorned with a wide variety of objects, all of them ancient. There were weapons of war, great tapestries depicting political events, sea-shell mosaics made to look like pastoral scenes. The unicorns stopped in front of a pedestal holding a small notebook.

This time, Xanthos was the one to speak. "Perhaps you will find this familiar. The notebook here contains Star Swirl the Bearded's notes on the founding of Equestria."

Spike heard a small gasp from Twilight. "But he died five years before the arrival of the windigos. He never saw Equestria."

"Perhaps," Xanthos said. "But perhaps, if he had lived on, if he had seen what followed, he could have written these notes." He opened the book with one hoof and motioned Twilight closer. "See for yourself."

Twilight hesitated a moment before stepping forward. She looked afraid the book might bite her, Spike thought. She edged in beside Xanthos and stared down at the page, and Spike saw her shoulders tense. She read for a while, then flipped the page and read a little longer. "This looks exactly like his hoof-writing, down to the slant on the capitals."

Xanthos smiled. "That is because this is his hoofwriting, Twilight Sparkle. We did say this was the Museum of Lost Histories, did we not? Here you will find all manner of things that could have existed, but did not."

"That's... impossible. Or amazing. Or both." Twilight frowned down at the book for a moment, and then stepped away. "What else do you have here?"

Balias gave her twinkling laugh again. "It is pleasant to find somepony who enjoys our collection! We have many artifacts, from eras even older than this. And many from more recent eras. Come, and we will show them to you."

Twilight grinned. "Okay, lead on!"

Spike hung back with Rainbow, who was eyeing a pair of griffon-made weapons with obvious unease. Twilight and the two unicorns started off once more, heading further down the hallway.

"So what do you think?" Spike asked.

"It's pretty weird," Rainbow said. "Definitely an egghead thing. Kind of like the place where Daring Do works when she's not going on adventures. The Daring Do in the books, I mean—not the real one."

Spike nodded. "Weird is right, but it seems like the sort of place Twilight would love. A couple years before we moved to Ponyville, she tried to stay overnight in the Maretropolitan Museum of History one time. The guards weren't very happy with her. These two don't seem like they'd mind much, though."

"Yeah, what's up with that? Didn't they say they had a whole tribe living here? Where's everypony else?"

"I dunno," Spike said. "I'm not sure I like this place. Maybe we should go catch up with Twilight, before she gets too far off. I don't think I'd like to get lost in here."

Twilight stared up at the canvas in front of her. "I can't believe Commander Easyglider would have been such a good painter! I almost feel like his talents were wasted on flight choreography."

Rainbow flapped into the air, getting a closer look at the painting. "I dunno. It's nice and all, but how is a painting supposed to beat a Wonderbolts routine? I mean, when you make a painting, it's done, and you can always toss out the bad ones. Aerobatics is a performance art. You've gotta nail it ever time, if you want it to be good."

"Yeah, but he was just the choreographer," Twilight said. "I mean... He participated, but the performance is up to the individual fliers, right?"

"Just the choreographer?" Rainbow landed right in front of Twilight, and stared at her in shock. "Just the choreographer? Twilight, he figured out how to transition from a Hammerhead to a Bell Tailslide. Nobody even thought that was possible. He invented the Coltbit. Have you ever tried doing one of those? There's no such thing as a good performance without good choreography. That's the heart of aerobatics!"

Spike watched as Twilight and Rainbow continued to argue, keeping one eye on the two unicorns from the museum, who had their heads together in a quiet conference. After a minute, they broke apart and Xanthos headed further into the building. Balias walked over to Twilight and coughed politely.

Rainbow finished saying something about stalls that didn't make a lot of sense to Spike—stalls were where some ponies slept, so how could you have them in an open sky?—her voice petered out, and she and Twilight both turned toward Balias.

"If you three are agreeable," Balias said, "There is some important work Xanthos and I must do. Much of our herd is out gathering news of this time and place, and we would like for them to meet you. It is rare for us to encounter a... scholar such as yourself, Twilight Sparkle. And your friends of course."

Twilight smiled. "That sounds wonderful. I'd love to know more about what you all do here."

Balias returned the smile. "Excellent. Then if you like, please feel free to continue browsing our collection. We only ask that you take care not to damage the artifacts we have on display."

"Of course. We'll be very, very careful with them."

Balias nodded. "Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. I hope we can converse again soon." She turned the opposite direction from her brother, trotting back toward the museum's entryway.

Twilight watched until Balias was out of sight, and then gave a relieved sigh. "For pony's sake, I thought those two were never going to leave."

"Wait, you wanted them to leave?" Rainbow asked.

"Of course I wanted them to leave," Twilight said. "How are we supposed to learn about the magic they've got working here, if we have them watching over our shoulders the whole time?"

"Then why'd you spend all that time arguing about Commander Easyglider! And before that, the fifth griffon dynasty? And what was all that stuff about those statues to the camel gods?"

"I was hoping they'd finally get tired of all my questions. At least the argument worked." Twilight sighed. "And yes, Rainbow, I know how hard aerobatics choreography is. Well, I don't know, but I can guess. Anyway. I saw a door a couple rooms back, and that magic echoes feeling seemed to be strongest around there. I was thinking we ought to backtrack and take a look.

It was a quick trip back, through a jumble of newer looking artifacts. Spike even thought he recognized the insignia for a few Equestrian cities on some of the glass-encased documents on display. The door Twilight took them to was plain and unimpressive, and when she opened it, Spike saw a square room lined with stairs leading down into the earth. A column of red stone ran through the center, identical to the columns Spike had seen in the entryway and periodically in the larger exhibition rooms. Looking down at the column, Spike could see into the narrow troughs that ringed it. The troughs were filled with the same golden flames he'd seen elsewhere, but beneath them he saw a pale blue liquid. He had no idea what it could be.

"I don't think I like this, Twilight." Spike glanced back over his shoulder as they slipped into the stairwell. "This doesn't look like somewhere we're supposed to go."

"You're right, Spike. It doesn't. But those magic echoes seem stronger here—stronger than they've felt anywhere else in this whole museum. If that's what it is. I'm starting to have my doubts."

"You are?" Spike pulled the door shut after they were all inside, then hurried down the stairs after Twilight. "It seems an awful lot like the Maretropolitan, if you ask me."

"It does, but..." Twilight shook her head. "No, there's something different. I just can't put my hoof on it."

The stairs went down and down, carved into some black rock Spike didn't recognize. The stairs went so far down, Spike thought, that they must have been in the heart of the island itself now, maybe even below the level of the sea. As they descended, the air grew hot. And dry, as if they were in the middle of the San Palomino desert rather than the Sea of Rains. When the stairs ended in a small stone landing, Spike could feel the sweat trickling around his scales.

"Are you really sure we want to be down here, Twilight?" Rainbow fluffed out her wings, glancing back up the stairwell. "I mean, I said it'd be nice to do some adventuring and all, I know that. But this is getting a bit creepy."

"Yeah," said Spike.

"I just mean..." Rainbow took a deep breath. "If you guys wanted to go back, I'd be cool with that. As long as nobody ever tells Applejack I said this was creepy, okay? 'Cause otherwise, I'm totally willing to keep going."

"Real convincing, Dash," Spike muttered, but most of his attention was focused on Twilight, who was examining a weathered door that looked like it was made from the same red granite as the museum itself. He jogged over to join her.

"It's strongest here. Whatever caused the magic around this place, it's behind this door."

"And you think it's important enough that we should break in?" Spike asked.

Twilight rubbed her mane with one hoof and gave a nervous laugh. "Well, it's not like anypony actually told us not to come down here."

Spike folded his arms and gave her the stare. They both knew the stare very well, each of them having used it too many times to count. It meant, "I was being serious, and you should be serious too, because you're thinking about doing something stupid and I need to know that you know that, and that you still think we should do it." The speech was a pain to remember, which was why they'd both settled on using the stare instead. It had saved a lot of time, over the years.

Twilight's expression paled, but she gave him a small nod.

Spike turned back to Rainbow. "Sorry, Dash. Looks like we're going to see this through."

Rainbow swallowed, forcing a smile as she slunk toward them. "Then let's get this over with."

Twilight nodded, pulling the door open with her magic and stepping through. The room beyond was dark, but blisteringly hot. Twilight formed a ball of glowing white light, and it revealed long tangles of black iron pipes. Some of them were as small as one of his claws. Some were so big that Spike thought he could fit through them—except that they were probably filled with lava or something. It was the only explanation he could find for all the heat.

It was hard to get an impression of the room's size, because the pipes were everywhere Spike looked, including overhead. The only empty space was a tunnel between the pipes, barely larger than the doorway. It was tight enough that the three of them had to walk single file, with Twilight leading and Spike in the middle. Twilight kept the ball of light close so they could see the pipes around them, but after a few minutes, the tunnel opened out into a larger space surrounded by pipes, with a glowing metal mechanism at its center. Spike and Rainbow hurried toward the machine, but Twilight hung back. When he noticed, Spike jogged back to her and left Rainbow to investigate.

"I think I figured it out," Twilight said. "What was wrong with the exhibits."

"Well, I mean, everything was wrong with them, right? That's the whole point of a museum of lost history."

"Yeah, but think about how they were laid out. The pattern. That's the problem."

Spike tapped a claw against his chin. "I don't know, Twilight. I don't remember any pattern."

Twilight smiled and nodded her head. "That's it exactly, Spike! Museums always have patterns. If this were the Maretropolitan, they'd have everything grouped by culture, or theme, or something. They'd have griffon artifacts separate from pony artifacts. Farm tools separate from political documents. They'd be organized."

"And they weren't." Spike nodded slowly. "Yeah, that is weird. Except... Wait, no, I did notice something. It seemed like all the really old stuff was together, wasn't it? And all the really new stuff, too. So maybe it's just organized by age?"

Twilight frowned, and trotted toward the machine. "I wouldn't organize them like that. It's so much easier to study things when you've got them grouped by—" She froze.

Spike followed her gaze. She was staring at Rainbow Dash, who stood reading a large plaque on the side of the machine. "What is it, Twlight?"

Twilight's voice was slow and calm. "Rainbow, I think you should move away from the machine."

"Yeah. I think maybe that's a good idea." Rainbow gave a hollow laugh. "This thing's creeping me out, Twilight. It says it's some kind of 'fate engine', if that makes any sense?"

"Yeah." Twilight was hoarse. "Yeah, I think it does." Her eyes stayed fixed on Rainbow as she walked away from the machine.

"What does that even mean?" Rainbow Dash asked. She flapped her wings nervously, and Spike saw what Twilight must have seen. The rainbow colored lightning bolt on Rainbow's flank was gone. Spike hissed, spinning to look at Twilight's. Hers was still there, but it looked faded, washed out.

Twilight began to hurry back up the tunnel between the pipes. "I think it means that this place gets its magic by stealing ponies' destinies. And, probably, that all the things we saw in the museum were things that should have happened and didn't, because somepony's destiny got stolen."

The words paused, though all three of them continued to hurry back toward the stairs. Then Twilight spoke again, more softly.

"And we just brought it an alicorn, a baby dragon, and a pegasus that's connected to the Tree of Harmony."

Spike felt a change in the air around him. It was hard to describe. Like the trailing edge of a wave, or the last hint of an echo. And then a sensation of amusement, but not his own—like something else had reached out and touched his mind.

Eighty miles west of Vanhoover, in the sweltering caverns beneath the Museum of Lost Histories, reality flickered. In the empty space between moments, the island changed—and at its heart stood a place of black rock that even the gulls avoided.
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