Chapter Thirteen - From the Early Log of Captain Sparkle
[Spring 91, 993 – Day 1]
At the insanely constant insistence of Twinkleshine, I find myself with the responsibility of–
Wow, I need to turn down the sensitivity on this spell.
Wait, stop recording this.
How do I erase things?
Where did I toss that box?
Let’s see… We’re excited you’ve purchased the navigator’s black box two point oh. Ha, ha. Very funny. It comes in a black box. Anyway, where is…
Are – are they serious? I can’t… Fine. Whatever. I’ll just cast a–
Great, now I have another cut off sentence in here.
You know what? It doesn’t matter.
Today we set off. It was all pretty anticlimactic, but you certainly wouldn’t know it from the party Pinkie Pie and Twinkleshine put together. Dash had a hoof in it, too, I’d imagine.
Nothing further of interest to report.
[Spring 92, 993 – Day 2]
Not recording why Dash asked us to turn around. Too stupid to contemplate. Funny, though. Besides, I gave her advice and redirected her to Chrysalis and a few books. She seemed satisfied with that.
I talked to everypony after that, and they took the whole long lost princess thing well. Twinkleshine and I talked further after that. Incidentally, I discovered an even stupider reason while we talked to turn around than the one Dash had. No comment on what it was.
Nothing further of interest to report.
[Spring 93, 993 – Day 3]
Twinkleshine said she’ll give me – and anypony who wants to listen – a rundown on how we’ll make a stop at the moon in a couple weeks. She wants to collect real flare-rate data before she commits to her plan.
Nothing further of interest to report.
[Spring 94, 993 – Day 4]
Nothing of interest to report.
I don’t know why I’m even bothering.
Twilight, can you help – is that the log? Oh my gosh! You’re actually keeping up with it! Can I see? Can I?
I guess? Go ahead.
Let’s see… Twilight, this is horrible.
Well what were you expecting? You’re the navigator. Isn’t this your job anyway?
No, no, no, no, no. I make log entries to keep track of where we are and where we’re going so we don’t get lost. That kind of stuff. I especially keep accurate recordings of the positions of the compasses pointing to the elements so I can check my math for consistency.
Well what exactly do you want? I’m not going to take very much time out of my nights for this. It’s just not that interesting for me.
Fine. Maybe I can help once in a while, but I know you can do better than this, Twilight. You’re just being lazy. How do we start a–
Oh, well I guess that works.
Yeah. This whole thing is kind of sketchy. I mean, word processing is all well and good, but this spell isn’t doing much beyond matching frequency patterns. It doesn’t really process; it just transforms sound to text. I still don't get why you won't let me just write normally.
Because that wouldn’t be in the right spirit.
Right… Well, the punctuation is good at least.
It is! So how would I go about saying–
Congratulations, you now have a useless entry.
Oh. Um…sorry. That’s kind of annoying. Well anyway, let’s have you try day one and two again. You can do our departure better justice than that.
Fine. But there are some parts that you won’t be allowed to read. I’ll alter the spell to encrypt those, all right?
I…guess that’s better than nothing. But I’ll still want to see what you’ve written later.
Yes, yes. That’s fine. What was it that you wanted anyway?
Nothing that can’t wait. I’ll come back later.
[Spring 91, 993 – Day 1, Take Two]
We were all prepared to leave at the end of spring. I’d spent most of the intervening time…
I’d spent most of the intervening time since Fluttershy, Dash, and Cherry Berry had signed on with Pupa, Twinkleshine, Spike, and the latter two’s replacements. We’d mostly chatted, read, played games, watched movies, and so on in an attempt to make us all like each other. As I’d previously noted to myself, Cadance was such a pain in the flank to work around.
We’d tested the waters, so to speak, and Cadance hadn’t objected when we swapped out Spike and his replacement. There had been an eye rub, but nothing more. Luna had been confident that Cadance would dismiss the changes as the random emotions of a newborn, and she had been proven right.
In Owlowiscious’s case, we’d simply decided that he ‘had flown away’ when I took him up to the Nebulous. We’d never actually put him in a cage or anything, so it wasn’t all that unlikely. I was actually a bit surprised that he’d stayed all this time, but that just showed what domestication did to animals. I’d put on a show of sadness, but nothing too dramatic.
Then when we’d replaced Twinkleshine, Cadance hadn’t so much as blinked. To be fair to her, though, she’d never spent much time with Twinkleshine, and we’d only given her a quick glance at the replacement.
Anyway, things had worked out as planned, and we were finally set to leave. I’d had my teary farewell with my parents – even though I’d still be able to talk to them through Queen Chrysalis and Pupa – and had left, leaving my new suppressor behind. It had taken the better part of a season, but one of Luna’s allies – somepony named Quartz, apparently – had managed to find another one for me to take with. Where he’d found it and how he’d obtained it without being arrested, I didn’t want to know. I shuddered at the mere thought that there was a viable market for them anywhere in the world.
Anyway, I teleported into an anonymous part of the Everfree just past the outskirts with Pupa. Queen Chrysalis was already waiting for us.
“Hello, Mother.” Pupa walked forward for a hug, melting the frown plastered on Queen Chrysalis’s face. They were never really apart, but changelings enjoyed physical affection just as much as ponies, and perhaps even more so.
Interrupting the awkwardly long hug, I asked, “May I assume you are the real Queen Chrysalis?”
“Yes,” was all Queen Chrysalis said.
Sighing, Pupa broke her hug. “Will you two stop all this silly nonsense. You can’t expect Twilight to feed you if you’re always holding her at a distance” – Pupa turned from Queen Chrysalis to me – “and you can’t expect to feed her if you’re all stiff and formal.”
Well…being casual was fine with me if Queen Chrysalis were willing. But it did seem she objected; the two of them were completely silent as they discussed something over the hive mind. I was so utterly jealous that I couldn’t communicate like that. It’d make life so much better, although I would want to have a mute button. Pupa had told me mental privacy was a privilege for changelings, not the norm.
Without warning, Queen Chrysalis half-shouted, “I am not calling her Princess Twilight!”
Princess Twilight? That was not going to happen. I’d seen the kind of stuff Cadance had put up with as just a…a lowercase p princess, and I wanted no part of it. Sure, I would help Luna with whatever she needed, but I’d much prefer the title ‘doctor’ over ‘princess’. Not that I couldn’t have both, I supposed, but there really wasn’t a point if I was going to seclude myself in a lab most of the year.
Now that I thought of it, I knew that except in certain contexts, the higher ranked title was used, but what about equally ranked titles? If I got multiple PhD’s – which I obviously would eventually – did the doctor titles stack? Sure it would sound ridiculous, but why would I not want to be called ‘Doctor Doctor Sparkle’? Well, besides the giggling.
The source of the sound, Pupa, said, “If you’re not going to call her Princess Twilight, then I expect you to be fine with her not calling you Queen Chrysalis.”
After a few seconds of silence, Queen Chrysalis grumbled, “Fine.”
“Great!” After one last nuzzle, Pupa took my form. “Well then, I have a play date with my foalsitter. I’ll talk to you two later,” before teleporting away in a burst of raspberry flame with just the slightest hint of green mixed in.
Once I was sure Pupa wasn’t going to come back – I wouldn’t put it past her – I ventured to say, “I see you two have been getting along well again.”
“Ha.” Que – Chrysalis turned herself into light-gray unicorn mare. “My dear Pupa has the biggest heart of anyone ever – changeling, pony, or otherwise. She can be friends with anyone.”
“Yes, I can tell. She really… Oh.” In all my experience, I knew this was exactly the worst moment to apologize, so I kept my mouth shut before I put my hoof in it.
“Just keep your promises.”
A silence fell, and it took me some effort to break it. “Right… Well, are you ready to leave? Any last minute things you want to take with?”
“Let us be away from this place.” Chrysalis spaced out for a moment. By now I could recognize when a changeling was talking over the hive mind – at least when they weren’t trying to hide it – and that was definitely what Chrysalis was doing. “Let’s go.”
I giggled as I cast our first teleport. I just couldn’t help it. Chrysalis had probably just gotten another scolding from her daughter.
Chrysalis and I appeared on the bridge where there was a celebration of sorts already underway. Somehow even Fluttershy had been pulled away from her animals for it, and she wasn’t even trying to sneak away.
Pulling up on the needle of the phonograph, I cut the music. It took a minute or two for everypony to quiet down, and there were a scattered few greetings.
I cleared my throat and said, “I’m sure you all have already figured it out, but this is Chrysalis, Pupa’s mother and our connection back to Equus. If you want to find out what’s going on back at home, or anything else we’ve already discussed, talk to her.”
“Don’t you mean talk through her?” Dash asked, spilling much of whatever she was drinking. Judging by the flush in her face, I’d guess that she was half-drunk. Cherry Berry looked to be in a similar state, and even Fluttershy was unsteady on her hooves.
Berry Pinch and Spike were off playing together with some blocks far away from whatever drinks Berry Punch had been coerced into serving. Not that there was really any problem with Spike drinking alcohol; his stomach incinerated all alcohols and nearly every other toxin before they could get to his blood stream.
I sighed. “Yes, yes, Dash. Very funny. Oh, and if you ever feel a little weird around her” – I ignored Chrysalis’s glare – “tell her to ease up on the magic; it’s harmless in small doses.” As I could personally attest to from feeding Pupa for nearly two seasons.
I pulled Twinkleshine away as the music restarted and Dash began her line of questioning as to what magic Chrysalis should ease up on. Judging by Dash’s first guesses, she’d probably assumed I meant ‘if you feel aroused’ when I said ‘if you feel a little weird’. Although at the same time, I was sure Chrysalis knew plenty of seduction spells and other empathy magic, so perhaps that warning was justified as well.
“Before we get started,” I said to Twinkleshine, “I have to ask. You’re not drunk, right?”
“Wha – Twilight, I’m barely fourteen.”
I glanced back toward Dash, who was barely halfway between fifteen and sixteen. It only took Twinkleshine a couple seconds to figure out what I meant.
“I’m not like her!” whispered Twinkleshine.
“You should have seen Berry Punch before she signed on; she was a wreck. I mean, I don’t really care if you drink when you’re off duty – the only law out here is what we impose upon ourselves – just make sure you don’t hurt yourself.
“Or you can head over to the library and see if we have any alcohol related spells documented somewhere. Actually, I’m sure we do. I can’t imagine that they’re not listed in a book of medical spells somewhere. Chrysalis might know some her–”
Twinkleshine put a hoof on my withers. “Twilight, you’re rambling.”
“It’s fine. It’s cute.”
Ugh. I was tired of being cute. Cute got no respect.
A memory flashed through my mind. Being called cute – or adorkable, or whatever – wasn’t so bad when Luna was the one saying it. Still, cute was suboptimal.
Ignoring Twinkleshine’s comment and most definitely not blushing at all, I said, “Anyway, we need to actually leave. You’re ready to take the wheel, right?”
I said, ‘take the wheel,’ but that didn’t accurately describe the situation. Creating a three dimensional steering wheel had proved awkward. Twinkleshine and I made one, but it was horribly unwieldy, even with telekinesis. As it stood, the ‘wheel’ for the ship was completely abstracted out into my enchantments. As such, only Twinkleshine and I, and probably Chrysalis, could interact with it.
“Well, I’m still a bit nervous. I mean, if we get lost, it’ll all be my fault. But yes, I’m about as ready as I’ll ever be.”
I nodded and gave Twinkleshine a smile. “You’ll do just fine. Give me a minute to switch the power source from Equus to me, and then feel free to set our course.”
First, I cast a simple illusion on my horn to prevent me from turning into a raspberry colored night light. Nopony would want my horn shining constantly whenever I was awake, least of all myself.
Next, I took a deep breath and took a firm stance. To minimize the amount of mental effort I needed to expend on this trip, every spell on the ship was a permanent enchantment that would run so long as it was fed enough magic. Then at the magical core of the ship, which was only accessible via teleport, there was a filtering enchantment that distributed magic to every other spell.
Being completely honest, I had no idea how that spell worked. Luna had directed me to an ancient research paper in Old Equestrian. From the sound of it, the only other places the spell was used was in Canterlot Castle and in the old castle, the intention being that Luna or Celestia would use it to power a ridiculous number of defensive wards when actually necessary.
It was kind of a shame nopony had found the spell interesting enough to translate and improve upon, but I could see why it wasn’t necessary in general practice. It was thousands of times easier to just let every enchantment be independently powered by the ambient magic of Equus, and spells that needed an alicorn to power them were few and far between in mundane life.
“We’re ready,” I whispered. It was going to take a while to get used to using this much magic constantly, although it should get a lot easier as I got older.
A short flash of panic swept through me as I felt my magic surge, but the surge quieted quickly enough when I pulled back on it; an outside source constantly siphoning my magic acted much like a suppressor. I allowed myself a quick sigh of relief while Twinkleshine was absorbed in her own spellwork and not paying attention.
Luna had drilled how to precisely control how much magic I used into me in my early education, but she never got around to teaching me anything about how to control my flares. It was pointless if I was going to ascend, after all. I’d always had a little luck with it, shockingly, but I suspected I’d be learning a lot about that on this trip from pure hooves-on experience.
“Aaaaand…we’re on our way,” Twinkleshine said as the ship did not lurch at all, just as usual. She levitated a nearby notebook and quill over to her and recorded our heading, the time, our acceleration, et cetera. Snapping the notebook shut, she said, “So?”
I paused to think for a few seconds, but my mind came up blank. “So what?”
“Ugh! Twilight, you promised to tell me…us what we’re going after once we left.”
“Oh. Well, I would, but…” I turned back toward the ongoing party. Berry Punch and Chrysalis were probably the only sober ponies at the moment, and Fluttershy and Dash were currently engaged in a rather passionate make out session. I briefly wondered how they were going to react to that once they sobered up; hopefully, it would be amusing.
“How about tomorrow morning over dinner slash breakfast?” I suggested.
My sleep schedule was still tied to Luna, but I was interested to see what would happen to everypony else. In a year or so, the sun wouldn’t be able to provide a reference point for their internal clocks, so there was no telling when they’d be sleeping.
Twinkleshine, rather than explicitly objecting, puffed out her cheeks and hummed angrily.
For my revenge, I said, “That’s cute.”
I fell over onto my chair in the library. It had taken me forever, but I’d finally found some useful information about the ice cream summoning spell Luna had taught me so long ago. And I’d found it completely by accident in an old book about zebra magic of all places. It was just a tiny little footnote, but it explained so much.
“‘Zebrican potion making is also commonly referred to as alchemy, which is not to be mistaken with the long disused field of unicorn magic known as alchemy despite their inherent similarities.’”
Now that I knew what I was looking at, it was actually pretty obvious Luna had taught me an alchemy spell. I could make sense of all of the subparts of the spell now, even if I still couldn’t understand them. That was why she’d needed to be outside. It wasn’t a summoning spell. It wasn’t a spell of creation. It just worked with what was already there and rearranged it.
“Oh stars. No wonder the spell is so complex. Yikes. I can understand why the field died out. There’d maybe be…a couple dozen unicorns that could do something that complex per generation, and that’s an optimistic guess. And the zebras could do effectively the same things with a tiny fraction of the magical and mental effort; it was only a matter of time before everypony lost interest.”
I closed the book with a sigh. Luna might have snuck a few books about unicorn alchemy into the gigantic list we had gathered, but it’d be a hundred times faster to just tell her I’d figured the spell out. She’d direct me to the right books if I had any.
A small smile found its way to my face despite my protestations. Based on the roundabout way she’d introduced the field to me, Luna was probably testing the limits of her patience while waiting to teach me alchemy. It had been far too advanced for me at the time – and probably still was – but I’d guess she’d introduced it anyway to sate her desire to teach it. She was probably betting on me taking long enough to discover alchemy for me to have all the prerequisite knowledge.
Well, I’d shown her!
It took a couple seconds for my brain to accept what I’d just thought, and the only proper response was to let my head slam on the library table. I’d never live it down if Trixie ever found out about that thought.
Veering away from that topic entirely, I set my mind to the task of figuring out what alchemy could do. There was the legend about the philosopher’s stone in zebra alchemy, and unicorn alchemy probably shared it, but if it were true, there’d be enough philosopher’s stones to pave the roads of Equestria. Nopony would be stupid enough to ignore a known immortality tool.
Maybe there’d be a lot of medical uses for unicorn alchemy as there was in zebra potion making. Then again, there were plenty of other specialized spells for healing, so that seemed a little unnecessary. Maybe healing spells weren’t as good as–
My eyes widened, and I went full bolt upright in my chair. Was the polymorph spell an alchemy spell? I had no idea; there were no extant unicorn shape shifters, at least none that I knew of. I certainly hoped it was. Stars, I wanted to learn the polymorph spell. Disregarding the thousands of other interesting uses for it, I really wanted to get used to having wings in the waking world.
I was broken from my glee when I heard the sound of hooves approaching. Twinkleshine must’ve woken up and come to make me tell her about the elements. I turned around in my chair, and to my great surprise, found myself looking at Dash, who was both in a library and not flying.
“What brings you here?” I asked.
“Nothing. Just – just looking for a certain book. You know, to kill some time with while everypony else wakes up.”
I raised an eyebrow. On a scale of Cadance to Celestia, Dash appeared to be a Cadance when it came to lying.
“What? It’s true!”
“Okay. Sure. What book are you looking for? I can probably find it right away for you.”
“Er… That’s okay, Twi. I – I’ve got this.”
“Whatever you say.” I gestured with a hoof at the cabinet Dash had passed by. “The index is in there. Just say the name of the book, and if we have it, the index card will pop out.” Instructions you wouldn’t have needed if you’d ever been to a library before.
“Right, right. Cool.” Dash walked over to the cabinet, and leaning in, whispered something.
I sighed. “You have to open it first, Dash.”
“I knew that.”
Now with the cabinet open, Dash whispered to it again. I resisted the temptation to cast a spell to listen in. When an index card came up, Dash shoved it back into the cabinet with her wings and slammed the door closed with her hooves.
“Heh. Heh, heh.” Dash spun around, leaning on the cabinet, her face bright red. “Turns out you don’t have it, Twi. We should turn around to go pick it up before we leave again.”
“Dash, are you regretting leave–”
“No, no, no!” Dash flew over to me in a blue blur. “Not at all! There’s just…something we forgot to bring. A book. Yeah. We forgot to bring my favorite book, and I’ll go stir crazy without it. You like books, right?”
I gave her my best ‘I didn’t believe a word you just said’ face. It wasn’t very hard to do. It mostly consisted of fancy eyebrow work and a smirk. The only part of that I did believe was that Dash had, not forgotten, but found out she hadn’t brought something she wanted.
“Sorry, but we’re not going to turn around without a good reason. If you want to actually tell me what it is you failed to think of after two seasons of packing, I might consider it.”
Dash just squirmed on her hooves.
Okay, I somehow managed to pass from annoyed all the way around to curious. Just what was it that Dash wanted?
“You know how there are, well, only mares on this ship?”
“Spike,” I corrected Dash, holding back another smile. I’d already figured out what she wanted. Oh, this was going to be fun.
“Okay, sure. But he’s like, two or something.”
“Chrysalis, then. She can be whatever and whoever she wants.” I was reasonably sure that Dash knew that Chrysalis’s transformations weren’t superficial.
“I guess… But–”
“I’ve been thinking about learning a similar spell myself.”
“No, that’s not–” Dash sighed. “Look, a grown mare has certain needs.”
I finally let my smirk show. “Oh. You want to master–”
Dash flew forward and covered my mouth with her forehooves. “No.” When I was done laughing through her hooves, she let go and stepped back. “Look, it’s not like that. It’s…well, Fluttershy and I…”
“Oooooh, I see. So you and Fluttershy are going to take your friendship beyond drunken kissing?”
Her face first flashing through nearly the entire gamut of emotions, Dash finally said, “Yes. Maybe. I don’t know. But, I think I want to, and – you know – be prepared.”
“As much as I admire the sentiment, and I know you probably don’t want to take advice from somepony my age, you don’t need any props for sex. Just push her down onto a bed and do what comes naturally. You’ll both get better with practice.”
Dash looked unconvinced.
“If you want, I know we have at least one entire book on the subject.” I paused just long enough to let Dash realize what was coming. “But I’m sure you know that, too.” After laughing at Dash groaning in frustration, I eased up and said, “In all seriousness, we don’t need to turn around for this. Try without first, and then go to Chrysalis.”
Looking up and locking eyes with me, Dash asked, “Chrysalis? Really? Isn’t she, like, a queen?”
“Yes, but I wouldn’t be surprised. If she can’t help you, come back to me, and I’ll see what I can do for you. The unicorn part of the Kama Sutra is quite interesting, and it has nearly fifty pages just listing relevant spells.”
Dash’s jaw threatened to fall off as she futilely tried to form a coherent response. “Are – are you serious?”
“Oh yes. Quite serious. You know how ponies are. There’s nothing they won’t try to sexualize at some point, including magic. Anyway, you should definitely give the pegasus section a glance; I’d imagine you’ll be in for a few surprises.”
I got up and walked past Dash. It took a little bit of magical assistance, but I managed to run my tail along the tip of her muzzle as I walked past. The look on her face was priceless.
“Quick tip, Dashie.”
I giggled as she went from flummoxed to fuming, although that mood didn’t last long, either. I whispered in her ear with magic and faked a quick nibble on the same ear with telekinesis. It was hard not to laugh again when she started and blushed.
“It’s the little things that count most,” I continued, barely loud enough for Dash to hear. “Anypony can have sex, but only close friends can make love. Don’t neglect the emotional component of the act for the physical one.”
Sidling up to her, I leaned into her as she took a step back. A tremor ran through her as I slowly nuzzled her and held her forehoof with the lightest of touches in mine.
After a couple seconds, I whispered into Dash’s ear, “Now imagine if I were Fluttershy.”
Hearing the telltale sound of a tail rising, I abruptly broke away. Dash let out a small gasp, holding her neglected forehoof up to reach out to me before setting it back down slowly.
Before she could say anything, I said, “At least, that’s my understanding of it. Your results may vary. Again, I’d recommend talking to Chrysalis if you really want to learn.”
Dash gulped. “I-I-I n-need to go!” she whispered in an impressive impersonation of Fluttershy before bolting out of the library.
Once she was definitely out of earshot, I burst into giggles. That had been every bit as fun as I’d imagined it would be. I – I yawned. I was getting pretty hungry. Leaving my books where they were, I too left the library, heading toward the kitchen. Hopefully, Pinkie Pie would be awake.
I was halfway through my dinner when Dash finally dragged Fluttershy to the table for their breakfast. Fluttershy’s coat did absolutely nothing to hide her blush, and it seemed it wasn’t going to depart anytime soon. For her own part, Dash met my eyes for a moment and nodded slightly. I returned the gesture with a small smile.
Once both of them had taken their seats, Twinkleshine said, her tone betraying her impatience, “Okay, we’re all here now, Twilight. You’re going to tell us everything now, right?”
“Well, not everything–”
“Oh, come on!” Twinkleshine shouted practically into my ear from right next to me.
“–but most everything important,” I finished. I sent a quick glance Chrysalis’s way, and she rolled her eyes in return; I’d be having no untoward interruptions from her, it seemed.
“Alright, so I could just tell you what artifacts we’re recovering, but it wouldn’t mean anything to anypony but Chrysalis and myself. So without too many complaints, I think we need a history lesson.” I looked at Dash and got another eye roll for my trouble. “So can anypony tell me why Celestia rules Equestria?”
Right away, Pinkie Pie answered, “Because she’s the princess, silly.”
“That’s a tautology, Pinkie,” Twinkleshine said. “That’s like saying a beach is sandy because it has sand.” She turned to me and asked, “Right?”
I smiled and nodded.
“Then is it because she’s an alicorn?” asked Berry Punch.
“No,” I replied, “that’s a contributing factor, but it’s not the reason she rules.”
After a painfully, but not unexpectedly, long time, Cherry Berry suggested, “Because she defeated Discord?”
“More or less, yes. To be more precise, the feat allowed her to lead the rebuilding efforts of – well, there’s no nice way to put it – the cesspool of a civilization the world was left with. She wasn’t any better off herself in the knowledge and culture department, but having a constant guiding hoof through the ages does wonders for the march of progress.”
Celestia certainly was nothing if not an effective ruler. Whatever problems there were with her character, she could keep a civilization galloping forward. A couple thousand years of experience will make a pony good at anything, after all.
“So then, what would be the logical question to ask?”
Nearly in perfect unison, Twinkleshine and Cherry Berry said, “How did she do it?” The two looked at each other for a moment before Twinkleshine continued, “Defeat Discord, that is. He shouldn’t have had time to do so much damage if he were easily dealt with.”
I waited a moment for that to sink in for everypony, including Dash. “Exactly right, you two. I’m not sure what Discord is, but he’s stronger than both of Equestria’s diarchs put together.”
Stunned silence. Perfect.
The first to find her voice, Dash said, “Er…Twi, I think you’ve lost us.”
“I – um…” Fluttershy began, gently pulling on Dash’s wing, “I think that maybe she’s talking about Princess Cadance. Maybe.”
Leaning onto the table and whispering like there was somepony else around who could overhear us, Pinkie Pie said, “Do you mean Princess Cadenza? She’s only, like, twenty or something. Unless…” Pinkie Pie paused, drawing everypony but Chrysalis and I toward the edge of their seat. “Unless she’s a time traveler! What if she went back in time to help Princess Celestia defeat Discord and stuck around in some sort of stable time loop?”
“At the risk of my next meal,” Chrysalis interrupted. I wasn’t sure if that was actually directed at me or not. “Time travel magic is essentially impossible.”
Essentially? Chrysalis and I were going to have a chat later over a no doubt lovely breakfast and dinner.
“The restrictions on time travel spells render them effectively useless. At best, they are a ‘get out of death free’ card that can only be played once, to use a modern expression.”
As much as I liked what I’d just heard, this conversation was getting off track fast, and Chrysalis had just given Pinkie Pie an opportunity to break out her board games and permanently derail it.
Speaking above everypony else’s sidetalk, I said, “Cadance is a princess in the same sense that Blueblood is a prince. Well, more so, but she’s not a diarch. But before we get to that” – Twinkleshine nudged me with a hoof, nearly knocking me off my chair – “I’m sure you’ve all guessed, but we’re going to retrieve the set of artifacts that were used by both diarchs to defeat Discord: the Elements of Harmony.”
“So what do they do?” Dash asked, cutting right to the point.
“Well…not a whole lot, actually. As far as I know, they’re mostly used to imprison ponies in some form or another.”
“That doesn’t sound very harmonious,” Berry Punch commented.
“Kind of a misnomer,” added Dash, impressing me with her vocabulary for once.
Cherry Berry laughed dryly. “Better than some of the names other artifacts have: no ‘doom’ in the name or anything.”
I simply shrugged off the comments. “Anyway, disregarding the quality of the naming sense, when used against Discord, it resulted in his petrification. Later, against…well, you probably won’t recognize the name, but against Sombra, it was banishment. Admittedly, he wasn’t strong enough to warrant the use of the elements, but there were extenuating circumstances.”
“Just asking,” Cherry Berry began, “but there’s not a prophecy about Discord returning or something, right?”
“Well actually…” I trailed off suggestively, smiling.
The response to my teasing could kindly be referred to as negative. It mostly involved everypony but Fluttershy, Chrysalis, and myself trying to shout over each other. I casually took another bite of my dinner and enjoyed a silent chuckle.
Holding up my hooves after the panic no longer amused me, I said, “Okay, okay, I was just joking. You know, mostly. Discord is not looming ominously over Equus or anything like that, but there is a pony returning on the first day of the thousandth year. She unfortunately got in the line of fire of the elements, which is why Celestia put them out-of-the-way on the comet Mona for safe keeping.”
And that was probably more or less true for some interpretation of my words, even if it skipped a few logical steps.
“So are you talking about that other diarch you mentioned?” Twinkleshine asked.
Nodding, I said, “Yes. Princess Luna, Alicorn of the Night, Diarch of Equestria, Mistress of Dreams, et cetera, et cetera is Celestia’s sister and the other pony who was responsible for Discord’s defeat, although history has seen fit to forget her in her near-thousand year absence, among many other things.”
Pinkie Pie, crying overly dramatically in the same way she expressed every emotion, said, “That’s so sad! I’d hate to be separated from my sisters for a thousand years!”
Berry Punch scooted her chair away from Pinkie Pie to avoid getting wet. Sometimes I felt like Pinkie Pie needed to be put in a cage and studied for all the weird behavior she exhibited, not to mention her disregard for the laws of magic and physics. Now was a perfect example. Tears weren’t supposed to actually fly from her eyes; that was comic book stuff. The only thing that kept me from freaking out around her was my utter dearth of knowledge concerning earth pony magic.
Anyway, Fluttershy was the next to speak, barely above a whisper as usual. “Why hasn’t Princess Celestia kept Princess Luna’s memory alive? If – if you don’t mind me asking, that is. I’m sure the princess has a good reason and all.”
I kept myself from sighing or frowning. “I’m sorry, Fluttershy, but I can’t answer that question right now. It’s a–”
“State secret,” Dash finished for me. “What isn’t with you?”
Cherry Berry put a hoof over Pinkie Pie’s mouth and held it there while she said, “So before somepony leads us off topic, I need to ask. Are we on an epic quest to reimprison this Princess Luna?”
Deep breath, Twilight. In, and out. “No,” I said calmly. We were on a quest to do the exact opposite, but excepting Chrysalis, we weren’t close enough yet for me to tell them that and to expect any good to come of it. “Luna is my dear mentor and my closest friend.”
I barely caught it underneath Pinkie Pie saying, “Aw, sounds like somepony’s got a crush on her teacher,” but I did hear Twinkleshine’s quiet inhale of breath.
Whoops. I turned to her and quickly whispered, “We need to talk in private after this.”
Twinkleshine nodded – a very small gesture that probably only indicated she’d heard me – but her eyes were distant and unfocused.
Sighing inwardly, I turned back to the rest of the table, torn between dropping the conversation and running off with Twinkleshine and finishing it. In the end, my professionalism got the upper hoof, and I fully returned my attention to the briefing.
Snickering, Dash said, “You know, Twi, Princess Luna is just gonna end up back in jail if you put those moves you showed me on her.”
Laughter, choking, and spit takes were the response to that statement, with Chrysalis and Pinkie Pie in Dash’s laughing camp.
“Dash!” Berry Punch shouted. “That is – I’m sure she’d never–”
Veering the topic at a complete right angle, Cherry Berry hastily asked, “So how are you Princess Luna’s student if she’s…”
“Banished,” I finished, helping Cherry Berry out.
Interrupting as usual, Pinkie Pie said, “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Are you a time traveler from the past? I mean, we’re all time travelers from the past, but are you from the past past, because that’d be super duper amazing! What was life like back then? Do you know the lost recipe for the fourth flavor?”
“Er…words to the effect of no,” I answered. “I mentioned that Luna is the ‘mistress of dreams’. She’s able to communicate with ponies while they’re sleeping.”
“Huh,” Cherry Berry said. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Can I meet her?” Pinkie Pie asked. Gasping, she added, “Has she even had a party in the last thousand years?”
“Probably…not,” I ventured to say.
“Not even birthday parties?”
“Maybe? It’d just be a party of two. I mean, she and I have had a few small celebrations, but she’s old enough that birthdays aren’t really that important to her anymore.”
“Not important?” Pinkie Pie shouted. “This needs to be corrected pronto!” She vanished in a blur of pink out the door at a speed Dash would’ve been proud of. What she intended to do, I didn’t want to know. I silently promised to apologize to Luna later.
After a long silence in which I, at least, if not everypony else, had to focus on not contemplating the dread Pinkie Pie, Cherry Berry said, “Disregarding… Hmm… Anyway, I’d like to meet Princess Luna, too.”
“Me three,” Dash said. “Princess Cadance was cool and all, but meeting somepony like Princess Celestia would be amazing.”
“I’d like to be added to the list,” Berry Punch said. “I take it she’s the sponsor of this trip, and I’d like to say my thanks.”
Nodding, I asked, “Anypony else?”
Twinkleshine silently raised her hoof.
“Alright, I’ll pass along your requests when I go to bed, but I will tell you this in advance. Luna is not like Celestia at all, and you’ll hurt her if you go in expecting a carbon copy of her sister.” I looked to Dash in particular, but it didn’t look like she noticed.
“Anyway,” I continued, rising from my chair, “I’m getting a bit tired, so Twinkleshine and I need to be about our duties before I go to bed.”
Departing the table, I sent a small nod toward Chrysalis, who returned the gesture. She’d be in charge of sustaining the life support spells while I slept. While we wouldn’t die if they were disabled for eight hours a day, it was far better not to take any unnecessary risks, and Chrysalis had more than enough magic to take up the rather light burden. The shields in particular were important; if we ran into any space dust, it’d tear a hole straight through the ship without shielding.
Once I’d reached the door, Twinkleshine finally arose from her chair and trotted over to catch up with me, falling into step silently at my side.
On the bridge, Twinkleshine and I had quickly finished the few measurements we needed to take, including the precise time that I stopped accelerating the ship. While she could, to frighteningly fine precision, calculate our location based on the positions of the stars, Twinkleshine felt far more comfortable having a secondary set of information to check against, which was something I highly approved of.
What I didn’t approve of was the stifling silence hanging between us.
I held out a hoof, gesturing for her to go first.
Gulping, Twinkleshine nodded. “Twilight, are you and Princess Luna planning to overthrow Princess Celestia?”
After a second of complete silence, I felt my head mechanically tilt to the left as if it were the second hand of a clock.
“Sorry! It’s just, I know you’re not on good terms with the princess, and we’re going to retrieve the…the Elements of Harmony, which you said can banish alicorns for a thousand years. And you’ve made it clear to me at least that the princess doesn’t know about this” – Twinkleshine gestured to the ship with a hoof – “so I thought…you know.”
Regaining my ability to think properly, I said, “No. No, that’s fine. I just – I was expecting a completely different question. Okay, wow. So to answer your question as posed, yes. Can you accept that?”
“I…I don’t know.” Twinkleshine looked away, unable to meet my gaze. “Nopony deserves a thousand years of banishment, no matter what they’ve done.”
Twinkleshine’s eyes widened for a moment as she looked up and met mine, but the surprise was soon replaced by confusion.
“Then why are we going to Mona?”
“To break the elements. It’s funny, really. Celestia could make this trip in a couple hours. The hard part for her isn’t the distance, or anything even remotely related to it. For her, the hard part is finding the exact position of Mona. I can just imagine the look on her face when she comes to retrieve the elements and finds out she can’t use them to banish Luna again.”
“Then she really…”
“How could she do that? To her own sister even. She always seemed so nice and gentle when she visited the school. She’d even talk to anypony who talked to her. That’s… I – I really don’t know what to say.”
I left Twinkleshine to her own thoughts for seven seconds short of five minutes by the clock. While I was sure I could talk her into just about anything, the need wasn’t there. Her own words had already all but condemned Celestia.
“Twilight,” Twinkleshine began, her voice barely a whisper, “what do you two plan to do with the princess?”
“Nothing too bad; we certainly have no interest in creating a mad goddess to complement Discord by imposing a thousand years of solitude upon her. Luna and I are not so cruel, even if Celestia intended to do as such to Luna.”
I sighed at the bite in my voice. Despite how true it was, I hadn’t planned for that to come out quite so harsh. Twinkleshine didn’t appear off-put by it. In fact, there was a small smile on her face, one that I returned with little effort.
“Disregarding other precautions we have to take, we intend to put her into a magically induced sleep for…an indeterminately long time.”
Not that we could actually do much more than that without crippling ourselves, but Twinkleshine didn’t need to know that. Celestia was as unkillable as any other alicorn, and the magic required for a banishment spell scaled roughly linearly with the magic of what you were banishing. Banishing Celestia would effectively reduce one of us to unicorn levels of magic or both of us to half Cadance’s strength, since the spell would need to be recast over and over again, and neither were acceptable options.
And honestly, we really weren’t that cruel, no matter how much Celestia deserved it.
Now it was Twinkleshine’s turn to sigh. Fortunately, it was a sigh of relief. “What about Princess Cadance? I know I’ve only met her a few times, but she seemed really nice. What happens to her?”
“Nothing. I love Cadance, and Luna has nothing against her.” As an afterthought, I added, “And my brother would never forgive me if I ever let anything happen to her.”
Giggling, Twinkleshine said, “He wasn’t very subtle when I saw them together, was he?”
“Heh. No, he wasn’t. He still thinks it’s a secret, though. He really turns into a big idiot around Cadance. To be fair to both of them, they tone it way down in public. Still, I’d have to have my nose in a book every waking moment not to notice.”
“Don’t you?” Twinkleshine smiled and gently bumped me on the shoulder with a hoof.
“Pft, I wish.” Once our giggling had died down, I asked, “So are you okay with this?”
“Well…no. And yes. I’d rather everypony be happy, but I guess I understand it, at least.”
“That’s good enough,” I said, stepping forward to nuzzle Twinkleshine. “Thank you for understanding. You’ll keep this a secret for now, right?”
Returning my nuzzle, Twinkleshine said, “Of course, Twilight. I’ll always keep your secrets.”
I took a deep breath, idly noticing that Twinkleshine smelled nicer than I remembered. “I don’t know what I’d do without you on this trip. I think the rest of our little family here would drive me insane.”
“Glad to be of help.”
Breaking away, I said, “See you tomorr…” A horrible thought struck me. “Oh, horseapples.”
“Did we bring enough shampoo?”
Twinkleshine’s eyes widened.
“No, this is ridiculous. We’re not turning around for shampoo. I – I need to go to bed, but first thing in the afternoon, we need to scour the library for instructions on how to make it.”
“I’ll get started right now,” Twinkleshine offered.
“Great! It would be humiliating to have to ask Luna or Chrysalis to find out how to make shampoo – magically or otherwise – for me if there’s any way at all we can avoid it.”
“Understood, Captain Sparkle.”
As Twinkleshine cantered off, I called out, “And make sure this stays secret!”
Nothing further of interest to report.