CHAPTER 1: Andromeda's discovery
Scattered pages and dusty old books filled the study in a cluttered mess as Andromeda Sparkle slept among the debris of her own handiwork. Unconscious after a long night of work, her mind only left dreamland when the amber beams of the rising sun shone on her face. With a groan, she slowly rose to her feet, heavy eyelids still drooping. Various loose documents clung to her face as she stood, unnoticed by her until their delicate forms slipped from her lavender cheeks and fluttered towards the blanket of weathered volumes that lay on the floor around her. Once the blur of sleep had finally faded, she turned to see the silhouette of her mom standing against the wall across the room, following a disarrayed chain of manuscripts as if casually searching for survivors.
Twilight Sparkle hadn’t turned the corner yet, but once she did, the purple mare wouldn’t be able to recognize the room. Andromeda’s expression burned from embarrassment at the thought, but cooled gently with the sound of her mother’s humming. Twilight’s melodic tune flowed through the house like a gentle breeze and illuminated the room as vividly as the sunshine outside. Caught in its trance, Andromeda nearly forgot what was happening and suddenly shook herself awake while her eyes scoured the floor around her in worry.
“She’s going to kill me if she sees this!” she whispered aloud.
While Twilight’s shadow was temporarily distracted with gathering up the breadcrumb trail of books and placing them into a neat stack, Andromeda began to frantically tidy up the war zone around her and prayed she would be able to clear the catastrophic remains of her private study in time. With a push of her amethyst-colored bangs out of her tired eyes, Andromeda charged her horn with a yellow glow and began cleaning up as quickly as possible. While she was normally not the disorganized type, she was nowhere near as orderly as her mother. Then again, she had never met anypony as obsessed with order as her mom. Hearing the sound of Twilight’s hooves growing closer, Andromeda panicked and shoved a large number of the leftover books inside a nearby chest and nervously faked a large smile just in time to see her turn the corner.
As Twilight walked in, the glow of the morning sun sparkled in her silky hair with a serene radiance, painting the nearby bookcase in its violet sheen. Andromeda gazed as even the very world that surrounded the famous mare seemed to become magical by her presence. Her mother had a look of confidence and responsibility that one would expect from an Equestrian hero, but all that mattered to her children was her loving compassion, which Andromeda could always see in her eyes. Regardless, Andromeda put on her best poker face and hoped her mother wouldn’t see past her façade.
"Morning, mom," she said happily as her hind hoof subtly pushed the last book on the floor behind the chest. “Did you have a nice rest?”
Twilight raised an eyebrow with a lighthearted smirk. Her daughter’s fatigued eyes did not match the bouncy greeting.
“Yes, I did. How about you, Andromeda? You look like you’ve had a long night. Did you sleep okay? I see you made a mess again.”
“I slept like a baby. And what mess?” Andromeda bluffed. “Sure, I dropped a few books, but it’s not that bad, right?”
“Uh huh. Take a look at your desk. See anything out of the ordinary?”
Andromeda spun to look at her workstation and winced. She had spent too much time organizing the books and not enough time clearing the desk, and the mistake in priority showed. Empty vials lay strewn around and several books were still open. Wrinkled note papers were scattered so thoroughly that one couldn’t even see the wood surface anymore. Andromeda shrugged innocently.
“Is that so?” Twilight replied, toying with her daughter. “Then I’m assuming the black hair is organized chaos too?”
Andromeda’s eyes grew wide.
Scurrying to the nearest hoof-held mirror, she pointed its reflective surface towards her to see a large section of the top of her mane blackened. The dark hue spread through her hair in long gnarled streaks like angled branches of a barren tree. Touching the mysterious color, it felt oily and wet.
“Aw man!” she groaned. “Ink? Are you kidding me?”
Twilight grinned with amusement.
“I warned you about falling asleep in the middle of writing new magic formulas. Nothing tires the mind more than scientific research at four in the morning.”
Andromeda picked up a rag with her magic and began to wipe the black liquid out of her hair with a sigh.
“Alright, fine. You caught me. I dozed off in the middle of my work and the room was a wreck when I woke up. I did sleep like a baby, though!”
“Obviously,” Twilight said with a smile as she took the rag and wiped the last bit of ink from the back of her daughter’s mane.
Andromeda looked at her mom sheepishly.
"Sorry about the mess. I’ll clean it up."
"It's okay. I understand you've been busy and sometimes research can get messy. You may think I’m a neat freak but,” Twilight said, stopping in mid-sentence to straighten a nearby book on the shelf, “I’ve had plenty of disorganized nights of study as well.”
“Uncle Spike always did say you had a tendency to throw books around when you were in a panic.”
“Which was all the time,” Twilight joked.
The two giggled lightly and began to clean up. As they worked, Twilight found the chest that was hastily crammed with books and shook her head.
‘What am I going to do with her?’ she thought to herself while shifting through the piles of encyclopedias and textbooks.
As she started organizing them, a feeling of nostalgia came over her when she began to take notice of what Andromeda had been reading. At closer inspection, she recognized most of the books and documents that lay before her. Though many of the covers were old and worn, their contents remained in her mind like a fresh memory, piquing her curiosity once again. As she scanned them with purple eyes twinkling, warm sentiments of the many hours she spent reading while under the tutelage of Princess Celestia returned to her. She could tell that they had come from Canterlot.
"I see you’ve been scoping the palace’s library,” she said without looking away, “and quite fervently too. I recognize all of these books except for the ones with the jeweled hearts on their covers. Did you actually travel all the way to the Crystal Empire to get these?”
“Sure did!” Andromeda replied.
“Wow, even I have rarely used so many books for one project! What is it that you've been working on that has you in such a reading frenzy anyway?”
Andromeda immediately dropped what she was doing and grinned widely.
"Oh yeah, I almost forgot!” she said. “I wanted to show you something!”
With a sudden bolt of speed, she began searching in the heaps with bright eagerness until she finally came across an old book and lifted it with her magic horn. Its leather exterior was rough and its paper had been yellowed from age as well as torn loose in several places. Bringing it to Twilight, she laid it down on the table with glee.
“I was working on improvements to the teleportation spell, when I ran into this in the Starswirl Wing of the Royal Canterlot Library.”
When she lifted the thick cover, a slight musk of old pages filled Twilight’s nostrils in a familiar scent. Many a time had she smelled that musty old aroma from the hidden reaches of the library. Andromeda wasted no time and immediately pulled one of the loose papers out and displayed it while she pointed at its contents.
"Take a look! There's a spell in here that will allow the user to time travel to any moment in the past! Did you know about this?"
Twilight’s eyes glided from one side of the page to the other, quickly scanning it as if copying its print in her mind for later use. When she finished, she looked back at her daughter and smiled.
"Of course I know about this,” she replied. “I’ve time traveled myself.”
Andromeda's sunset eyes glistened with vivid excitement as if a whole new world had opened before her. The world of science and magic was one of her greatest loves and it showed in every fiber of her being as a million questions ran through her head.
"Really?” she cried. “You actually time travelled? What was it like? Where did you go? Who did you meet? How far back did you time jump? Why..."
"Whoa there, filly!” Twilight laughed. “One question at a time! Yes, I've traveled before. I’ve done it several times, in fact. Did I never tell you about this?”
Andromeda shook her head.
"Well," Twilight continued, "the first time I tried to go back in time was to warn myself of a danger that ended up happening anyway. It's a long story that I promise to tell you and your brother another day. The next few time jumps were made when I was testing out my improved spell.”
Twilight lifted the book and spun the pages quickly until a page filled to the brim with notes and formulas appeared. Turning the book towards her daughter, she beamed with pride at her work.
"See the initials?"
Andromeda leaned closer to better focus on the tiny lettering. At first glance it seemed like there wasn’t an empty spot left, but at the bottom of the ink-filled page stood out two letters in bright red ink--T.S.
"T.S.," she read aloud. "Twilight Sparkle! You wrote all this?"
"Of course! Remember who you're talking to," Twilight replied with a wink. "When I first used the spell, it only allowed the traveler to go back in time once and just for a few moments at most. At some point I secretly spent months working on ways to improve and lengthen the period of time the user could stay in the past. I knew it could be done and after countless hours of work, my intuition paid off. The last time I cast it, I was able to extend the trip from mere seconds to as long as thirty days or possibly even more!"
Twilight stopped talking when she began to see the wheels in her daughter's head spinning. She could tell when Andromeda was concocting a breakthrough in her busy mind. It was in her body language. Whenever a big idea sprang into her head, Andromeda's horn would momentarily spark with a dim pink glow, a unique trait that Twilight had never seen before, especially considering the fact that Andromeda's eyes were sunset-yellow.
“Thirty days, huh?” Andromeda asked softly, not really speaking to anypony in particular.
Andromeda was brilliant and, to the shock of most ponies, was actually more so than her mother when she was her age. Princess Celestia herself said that where Twilight proved to have a special talent in magic, Andromeda showed the same potential through her intelligence and scientific analysis. Like her mother, she was made a pupil of the Princess and even managed to impress Luna, who often spent time with her when work carried on into the night. Twilight knew Andromeda was inventing some kind of idea in her mind from the way she continued to decipher every word, note, and formula written in the book with eagerness.
“I know that look,” Twilight said, catching the rapid flash of the pink spark. “You’re on to something, aren’t you?”
The young mare said nothing, consumed in the new revelation that had just been shown to her. While magic was not her special talent, she nonetheless had a keen curiosity for its wonders. She was nowhere near as powerful as Twilight in that department, but with a lucky bit of heredity, she had gotten some above-average magical ability. This often proved useful for her experimentation with old spells. Seeing that she was checked out for the moment, Twilight began to pensively return to cleaning until Andromeda spoke up again.
"Wait," Andromeda said with a tinge of confusion, "these notes are incomplete. It seems you were on the brink of a breakthrough. Why did you stop?"
Twilight paused in rumination and the once shimmering glow of her hair seemed to dull before her daughter’s eyes. Twilight remained quiet for a moment as if carefully weighing her next words.
"The spell was too unstable to continue working on,” she said plainly.
Andromeda waited for a continuation, but received none when Twilight began organizing the sheets again. Impatience nudged her to keep asking questions.
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“The more I 'improved' it, the less control I had over it. Sometimes I would end up several hundred paces away from my intended target, even going as far as aiming for my house and ending up in Froggy Bottom Bog. At some point I realized that casting the spell was taking its toll on my body. Each time I cast it, I grew sicker and sicker. Even returning home started to become more difficult. I kept trying to mend the problem, but every time I fixed one issue, another would take its place. After six or seven time jumps, I finally quit. I haven’t used it since.”
Seeing Andromeda’s perplexed expression, Twilight lightened the mood with a smile.
"Besides," she said sweetly, "after I met your father, I stopped obsessing over spells I couldn’t control and eventually I focused on having a family. Ponies think my becoming an alicorn princess was my proudest moment, but really, the greatest accomplishment I ever achieved was having you and Orion. Even if I had fixed the time travel spell for good, I wouldn’t change a thing in my life.”
Andromeda felt warm from the sentiment, but the fact of near-scientific breakthrough still proved too much to let go.
"But you were so close!" she exclaimed. "You could have perfected it and still had a family! Why didn’t you just fix the spell over time?”
Twilight sighed and picked up the book and notes again, examining it gently like a mare who had just found her old fillyhood doll. For too many years, she traded friendship for knowledge and even though she had raised her own family along with her friends and their children, she could see the same unquenchable drive in Andromeda. With the combination of her close relationship with Celestia and her brother’s marriage to princess Cadence, Twilight knew she could have remained in Canterlot and lived a life of royalty. She could have had the world if she wanted, but she knew that deep down, the life she chose was far greater than any kind she may have had before coming to Ponyville. Looking at Andromeda waiting patiently for an answer, Twilight shook herself out of her internal daydreaming.
"You may not understand it now,” she said, giving her inquisitor a hug, “but I learned long ago that relationships are more important than these things. You can't spend all of your time alone in a lab or a library. It took me years to figure this out, even after I moved to Ponyville. I know you have true friends here, but please don't let them fade away or lose contact with you. Make sure you keep them. Promise me?"
Andromeda felt confused from the “dear princess Celestia” response, but went along with it and hugged back.
Giving her daughter another squeeze, Twilight let go and continued her cleaning.
"Good. Now go get ready. I need you to run some errands for your father while he’s out. I'll take care of this mess for you."
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. And don’t forget to wash your hair!”
"Okay mom,” Andromeda replied.
As she made her way to her bedroom, her mind continued to spin. The idea of a perfected time-travel spell seemed too much to ignore, especially considering the way her mom acted when asked about it. Andromeda had grown up listening to her mother’s many stories, but why Twilight would not tell them about this one was odd. The more she thought about what she said, the more curious she became of her mother’s decision to put aside months and months of work permanently. There was a piece of the puzzle missing and she had no intention of letting the mystery slide.
“Mom never leaves anything unfinished," she said softly. “There has to be more to what she said than stopping to raise a family.”
Glancing back at Twilight, she grinned with a newfound sense of purpose.
“And I'm going to find out!”