Chapter Fourteen - Darker Matters - Part One


[Summer 15, 993 – Day 25]

Luna finally got around to meeting Twinkleshine tonight, which makes her the fourth and last pony to do so. I now have three concurring opinions that Luna should visit a dentist. Pinkie Pie being the dissenter – naturally – who thinks Luna looks like an alligator.

I still don’t know what madness possessed that mare to get an alligator for a pet.

I suppose it also bears mentioning that Dash thinks Luna’s teeth look cool. However, for what was probably the first time in her life, she agreed that functionality is more important than awesomeness in this case – or radness, or whatever. I can’t remember what word she used exactly.

Anyway, I’m glad it went over so well. Pinkie Pie and Dash can be more than a little rude, and they live life completely at their own pace. On the other hoof, Luna can be a bit intimidating when she’s in full regalia, although she’s been forgoing most of it in the past few seasons.

Huh. Now that I point it out to myself, I think that last time I saw her all dressed up was…

*hmm*

I think it was a couple weeks before…er…Hearth’s Warming.

*cough*

Odd.

Nothing further of interest to report.


As soon as she came into view, I ran up to Luna and nuzzled her. I was just barely up to her chest in height now, so it wasn’t nearly as awkward for either of us as it used to be. Well, I was if I leaned into her while standing on two hooves.

It still counted.

“So how did you find Twinkleshine?” I asked.

“Vicious and predatory.”

Jumping back, I shrieked, “What?” Looking up, Luna was silently laughing as if she’d just told a joke, but she certainly hadn’t sounded like it. “What did she do?”

“Mostly she sat and listened as I told her stories of the stars long forgotten, but she had a few questions as well.”

When Luna didn’t continue, I asked, “And?”

“Hmm? And what?”

“Luna, what did Twinkleshine do to you? Was she rude, or mean, or – or what?”

Chuckling, Luna said, “No, she was a very sweet filly. My niece did well to introduce the two of you.”

“But – but you said you found…” The precise wording I’d used finally clicked, and I stomped my hoof. “I am not amused.”

“Perhaps,” Luna replied, dragging the word out teasingly, “but you are adorable when you’re frustrated.”

Blushing, I turned away from Luna. The eye contact wasn’t helping me stop being adorable in the least.

“So what was she dreaming about?”

“Oh, nothing too important.”

“Really? You can tell me.”

“Twilight,” Luna began, placing a hoof on my muzzle to guide me back to her eyes, “dreams are private matters, and I will not reveal them without permission. Well, except when–”

“–there is a serious need to,” I finished for her, my flat tone relaying my opinion for me.

A wicked grin grew on Luna’s face, showing off her teeth. “I suppose in such circumstances as well, but I was going to say except when I can use it to tease my friends.”

Gasping, I said, “You wouldn’t.” My mind was already replaying several mortifying dreams I’d had that I knew Luna had seen before interrupting them.

Luna just sat there, staring at me while smiling and silently laughing.

“Please, Luna, don’t.” I really didn’t like how that came out as borderline begging.

“I make no promises.”

Ugh. I needed to distract her quickly before she got any bad ideas. Remembering my idle thoughts from before I’d gone to bed, I asked, “Luna, why are you only wearing your tiara?”

“Huh?”

“I just realized that you haven’t worn your full regalia in a while, but Twinkleshine told me you’d had it all on.”

I caught the slightest hesitation in Luna’s answer, one most ponies wouldn’t have noticed. “Is there something wrong with that?”

“Well, no. I was just–”

Looking herself over, Luna interrupted, “I’d be quite embarrassed if it’s been covering up something strange that I haven’t noticed. It wasn’t, was it?”

“No! You’re beautiful, Luna! I was just–” My brain caught up to what I’d said. Blushing once again, I finished, “I was just wondering why.”

“Hmm. I don’t really have any particular reason. Just letting my mane down, I suppose. I must admit I’ve never had much room in my heart for horseshoes or greaves, nor for any clothing, to be honest.” Pulling off her tiara with a hoof, Luna added, “Even this little thing can be quite tiring.”

Luna threw her crown off into the distance, and I watched it dissolve into nothing; it was, after all, just a figment of Luna’s imagination. When I looked back to her, the tiara was already back atop her head.

“I completely understand,” I said. I’d never understood why anypony wore clothing, let alone liked it. Mare’s clothing was especially bad. Dresses were horribly uncomfortable, not to mention that accommodating our tails had a horrible tendency to make us look ridiculous.

Cutting off my train of thought, Luna said, “You understand nothing.”

I jumped back in surprise. Luna’s words somehow sounded frighteningly loud, but she hadn’t so much as raised her voice.

“You have not faced the true horrors of having a half-dozen mares obsessing over your appearance and throwing a fit at the mere suggestion of having a single eyelash out of place. At the worst of times, they wouldn’t even let me preen myself.”

A dangerous glint entered Luna’s eye, and I took a step back.

“You once said you wanted to know everything…”

I gulped. “When I said everything, I didn’t mean everything everything. There are some things in this world that are better off left mysteries.”

“Oh, come now,” Luna said, her horn glowing ominously. I felt her magic washing over me, refusing to be denied its purpose despite my resistance. “That’s not like my little Twilight Sparkle. Let us…learn.”


Some horrible time later – I still couldn’t tell time in a dream, but I was sure it’d been at least an hour – I sat in Luna’s hooves, her magic working a brush through my mane far more gently than the rest of the process had been. The only thing that had made the experience bearable was Luna talking about alchemy though…well, not through most of it, but during some of the slower periods.

I had an admittedly nice cross between a dress and a cloak on – the last in a long line of options Luna had seen fit to dress me up in. I was in no mood to admit it to her face, but she had a decent sense of fashion, or at least I thought she did. Light blue matched my coat well, and the silver trim highlighted the entire ensemble well without descending into frilliness.

“You were right,” I mumbled.

“Hmm? Right about what?”

“About…that. I really didn’t understand.”

“I’m glad I could help.” I could practically hear Luna’s smirk. “Now you can’t say I never warned you about how terrible the life of a princess can be.”

“Luna, do I…” Asking the question somehow felt wrong, like returning a bad Hearth’s Warming present given in earnest.

Momentarily halting her ministrations mid-stroke, Luna asked, “What is it?”

“I – do I really have to be a – a princess?” There, I’d said it. With any luck, Luna wouldn’t be too upset.

We were both perfectly silent for a moment, and then Luna returned to brushing my mane.

“Do you not want to be an alicorn?”

Immediately, I shouted, “No, of course not! There’s almost nothing I’d give that up for!”

“Almost nothing? And what would you give up your ascension for?”

“Oh, um, nothing in particular comes to mind – just ill-defined outlier cases.”

“I see.”

I silently sighed to myself, glad that Luna didn’t follow up on her question. I didn’t really want to put to words all of the horrible potential futures my very creative imagination could come up with, even less so to the pony whose terrible fate played a central role in nearly all of them.

“So then,” Luna began, “what’s the problem? Is ‘princess’ too much of a downgrade from ‘goddess’?”

“What? No, I–”

“Canst thee not bringest thyself to consort amongst the mortals in thy future station, o divine one?”

“Luna, stop teasing me.” I tried to turn to face her, but Luna wasn’t having it; I was stuck firmly within her hooves while she continued to brush my mane. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

“Perhaps so, but it’s just too easy. You can consider it a lesson, if you want. Everything you say will be subjected to intense scrutiny as a princess.”

“Is that a yes, then?” I asked.

Sighing, Luna said, “Twilight, let me share something with you. Even at its worst, to Equestria, I was still its princess. Of course, I was the evil princess of darkness seeking to corrupt my shining sister who could do no wrong, but I was still their princess. It doesn’t matter whether or not you accept a title, or wear a crown, or anything else. The very moment you ascend is the moment the world stops seeing Twilight Sparkle the pony in favor of Princess Twilight Sparkle the goddess.”

So I didn’t have a choice in the matter. Great. I could always disguise myself as a regular old unicorn if I needed to, but I found the idea distasteful. I shouldn’t have to hide who I was to be treated as who I was.

And I sort of really liked wings.

With a muted thump, I felt something drop onto my head, and the brushing stopped. I tried looking up, but Luna’s hoof held my head level as she adjusted whatever she’d put on me.

“There. You look like a proper little princess now.”

“Wonderful,” I said, rolling my eyes and casting a scrying spell to look at my head. Luna had placed a smaller replica of her own tiara on me, except mine was silver – platinum, maybe – instead of dark blue. “And it only took most of the night.”

“Well, professionals are faster…” Luna said, trailing off to suggest she shared my opinion.

“Isn’t there, like, an instant makeover spell or something?”

Luna shrugged. “I’m afraid I spent more time avoiding makeovers than trying to optimize them. Something which…became much easier over the centuries.”

I spun in place and latched onto Luna in a hug. Luna brought a hoof to rest on my mane. She probably would have rubbed it if she hadn’t just spent ten minutes brushing it to perfection.

Eventually, Luna asked, “Twilight, what are you going to do on my moon?”

“Um…nothing, I guess. I hadn’t really thought about it much.”

The plan was to retrieve the elements as late as possible, and delaying our departure wasn’t really a good idea. Stopping at the moon was a good way to burn the extra travel time, whatever other personal sentiments it held for me.

“Are there any interesting sights to see?” I asked.

“Twilight, are you expecting tourist traps on the moon?”

“No, not at all.” That’d be like expecting an attraction in the badlands back on Equus. Well, there was Mizyl Rock, but that was a naturally forming magical curiosity.

“That’s a shame,” Luna lamented. “They could really use the tourism. The moon has zero incoming revenue these days. Quite unfortunate, really.”

“Okay, okay. I can take a hint. What should I visit while I’m there?”

“Well, there are two or three craters that have a sort of raw, natural beauty you might appreciate–”

I was skeptical of that. I’ve seen and made a lot of craters in my day, and if you’ve seen one crater, you’ve seen them all.

“–but there’s also a few interesting magical sites you would enjoy.”

“There’s magic on the moon?”

“There’s a lot of magic on the moon, Twilight – more than on Equus, actually.” I unconsciously pulled myself closer to Luna, and before I noticed what I was doing, Luna half-whispered, “That magic isn’t there because of my banishment. Don’t let it bother you.”

Releasing my vice-like grip on her, I settled for simply leaning into Luna again. “Sorry.”

I still couldn’t help but wonder how much of the magic on the moon was literally Luna in her banished state. I barely suppressed a shudder at the thought of using Luna like a sacrifice to cast a spell. It was a whole new level of creepy which I’d prefer to never think about again.

The subject forgotten, Luna said, “But there is one other place… How long were you planning to stay on the moon?”

After a second for my brain to catch up and to realize I’d been asked a question, I said, “As close to exactly one day as possible.”

“Hmm. In that case, you should seek shelter at my vacation home after you’re done sightseeing.”

What? I awkwardly broke away from Luna and fell backward onto my haunches to stare up at her. Her face was completely serious. “You have a vacation home on the moon?” At Luna’s nod, I asked, “You’re not just teasing me?”

“No, Twilight. I’m afraid it’ll lack many of the modern conveniences you enjoy back on Equus, and even on the Nebulous, but so long as your Old Equestrian hasn’t gotten rusty, you’ll find the servants accommodating enough to make your stay quite pleasant.”

After working to pull up my jaw, I asked, “There are ponies living on the moon? Moon ponies?”

“Yes. Unfortunately, I was never good enough with golems to make the Lunar Palace self-sustaining. That was one of my bitter failures.”

“No, no, no. That’s completely missing the…golems? That sounds – no, I’m not getting distracted. There are ponies on the moon?”

Nodding, Luna said, “Their population is fairly stable at approximately two-hundred, plus or minus a dozen or so. I never told my sister about my home away from home, so the original generation was stranded there. It was, perhaps, a stroke of luck, as it allowed the subspecies of lunar pegasi to endure.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Are you talking about bat ponies? They’re real?”

“Well, that is one of their many names. Thestrals would be one of the more morbid options, but I assure you that they can be seen without watching somepony die, nor are they animated skeletons, and they certainly won’t feast on your blood. Other than the cosmetic differences, they are exactly the same as any other pegasus; everything else is just superstition.”

“I…I see.” Slightly embarrassed by the terseness of my response, I forced myself to ask, “What happened? Did Celestia genocide them?”

“No, the disappearance of lunar pegasi is one of the few things my sister has not had a hoof in. They are, in theory, still around on Equus, but I don’t believe any full blooded ones have been born in eight- to nine-hundred years; their genes are all recessive, and bringing together all of the ones necessary to get a proper lunar pegasus almost never happens.”

“So they just evolved into near extinction?” I couldn’t figure out if that was sad or not. If that were the case, it wasn’t like they were gone, just…different.

Nodding, Luna said, “It really is a shame. There’s something wonderfully exotic about them that I find fascinating.”

Note to self: Luna finds bat ponies appealing. I was about to ask for more details when a thought struck me. Letting my curiosity rule me, I asked the almost positively rude question, “Are your eyes natural?”

“Ah…” Luna sighed, and a frown found its way onto her face. “No, they’re not. I’ve always wished they were, though.”

Well, in for a penny, in for a pound. “And the teeth?”

This time it was Luna’s turn to blush and turn away. “I…may have a gem addiction.”

“You have a…gem…addiction? I – I don’t understand.” There were too many questions competing for my attention, each demanding to be answered immediately. “Just – just how?”

“Well, you see, alicorns can use any type of magic.” Luna blew a short burst of cyan dragonfire to prove her point. “My sister and I generally downplayed that fact to make us seem less…alien to ponies, and at first to make us seem less like Discord in our ability to do just about anything.”

“And that includes the magical digestion of dragons?” I asked, to which Luna nodded. “Do alicorns have some sort of expanded diet? Do you have to eat gems like dragons do?”

“No, we don’t actually have to eat at all. It’s…recreational. And again, it makes us seem less alien if we do.”

Huh. Well, it wasn’t like I was much one for food anyway. I’d probably starve to death as a unicorn if I didn’t have somepony feeding me, and that was really embarrassing when I could just go outside and graze in the worst case. Okay, maybe I wouldn’t starve to death, but I’d almost certainly be malnourished.

“So…” I began, torn between addressing the elephant in the room and leaving it alone. As usual, I asked the question. “How did you…you know?”

Luna took a deep breath and then answered, “Never challenge a dragon to an eating contest.”

“Oh.”

We sat there in an awkward silence for some while before I asked, “So what do they taste like? Gems, that is, not dragons.”

I got a small laugh from Luna. “They vary wildly depending on the crystal structure, as well as the material it’s made of. Impurities are like spices. The quartz family is what I like the most – citrine and amethyst in particular. They’re a lot like rock candy, but a thousand times better.”

Luna’s horn lit up as she licked her lips. An amethyst the size of my hoof popped into existence. I watched her stick the gem into her mouth whole and saw her bite it in half with all the difficulty of eating bread. It was, in its own weird way, fascinating to watch a pony eat a gem.

Then again, maybe it was just that Luna was older and had table manners, rather than that she was a pony; Spike tended toward gnawing on his food, or failing that, to melt it as he sucked on it, which while entertaining, was often a pain to clean up.

“Oh my gosh!” Luna said through her full mouth. “It’s. So. Good!” Swallowing, she continued, “I’d say you should try some, but you really shouldn’t.”

“Is this why Spike gets really upset if I try to take a gem away from him?” I asked, alarm creeping into my voice as I realized exactly what I was implying. “Am I feeding him drugs?”

“Oh, no. He needs gems in his diet, especially if he’s not getting meat.”

I shivered a bit a the reminder that Spike was an omnivore. I’d filled the Nebulous’s rainwater lake with fish before we’d left to feed to Spike, but Fluttershy was having qualms about it, and she’d reinfected me with them, too. Watching Spike tear flesh from bone was a little scary, and the first time I’d watched him do it was nearly traumatizing.

“Anyway,” Luna said, putting a hoof on my withers, “dragons have an instinctual urge to hoard; they hate it when you try to take anything away from them. Just keep doing what you are, and I’m sure he’ll grow up into a wonderful, and reasonable, young drake.”

“Thanks, Luna,” I said, stepping forward to nuzzle her.

Luna diverted my affection with a hoof. “After all that work earlier, you want to ruin it by rubbing your face all over me?”

“Oh. Right.”

“Unless, of course, you want to go through the entire process again?”

“N-no! I’m good! Thanks, but no thanks!”

Giggling, Luna said, “Oh well. Now I do believe we’ve gotten way off topic. Do you remember where we left off earlier?”

“Um… I think it was transmutation. Specifically, state changes and why I shouldn’t make…um…”

“Plasmas?” Luna suggested.

“Right. I shouldn’t make those because I’ll probably ‘vaporize myself’.”

“More or less, yes. They seem to be responsive to magnetic fields, but being sublimated is never a pleasant experience, alicorn or otherwise, so I’d suggest avoiding them altogether.”


[Summer 16, 993 – Day 26]

Okay, quick note. I’d never noticed it before, but Fluttershy has tiny little fangs among her teeth. Apparently she has bat…er, lunar pegasus ancestry. Or at least a fair number of their genes.

Nothing further of interest to report.


[Summer 20, 993 – Day 30]

After some delays, Twinkleshine finally got around to giving her presentation detailing our trip. I’m sure she’s going to badger me into recording it despite it clearly being within her purview, so here we go.

Cherry Berry and Fluttershy came to listen to Twinkleshine. Chrysalis was busy dealing with something back on Equus, so she asked for a summarized version later. In my opinion, I think she was just looking for an excuse to politely decline. I think Dash and Pinkie Pie were in a prank war at the time, so they declined. Not that either of them were particularly interested to begin with, especially the former. Berry Punch, the only pony with a real excuse, was looking after the foals.

Anyway, we’d found ourselves a nice, cozy spot in the library.


“I was kind of hoping for a better turnout than this…”

“Don’t take it personally, Twinkleshine,” said Cherry Berry. “Berry Punch is legitimately preoccupied, and Chrysalis is…”

“Making herself busy so she doesn’t have to sit through this,” I finished for Cherry Berry. “She’s just grumpy, though. She’ll become friendlier eventually” – not that I was one to talk – “or else she’ll suffer the dread and terrible wrath of her daughter.”

“And what would that be?” asked Twinkleshine.

“Probably the silent treatment.” Which compared to a regular pony, was doubly hard for a changeling to pull off at all, and infinitely more effective when Pupa brought that most fearsome weapon to bear against Chrysalis. It had taken but ten minutes before Chrysalis had cracked the last time I’d witnessed it.

Rolling her eyes, Twinkleshine said, “How scary.”

Well, if I were in constant telepathic contact with somepony, and they suddenly went silent, I’d be pretty edgy and worried, too, even if I knew they were alright. Or at least I imagined I would be.

“Right. The point is,” began Cherry Berry, “two of them are busy in their own way, and the other two are the completely wrong target audience for this kind of stuff. I’d be surprised if Dash could stay awake through this and even more surprised if Pinkie could sit still that long.”

“Excuse me,” Fluttershy whispered, “but Dash can too stay awake.” When Cherry Berry turned toward her, Fluttershy continued, “Er… That is, she always could in school. Sort of. Not that she paid attention…but she didn’t fall asleep.”

Cherry Berry blew a lock mane out of her eyes with far more force than necessary, but didn’t say anything. I knew she and Dash were butting heads a lot recently over the whole amateur versus professional adventurer thing, but I hadn’t realized they’d moved past shouting and onto passive aggressiveness.

“Why don’t we just move on to the actual presentation?” I suggested.

Twinkleshine looked straight at the floor. “Um…sure. So the moon. Yes, the moon. That’s, uh, where we’re going.”

Sighing, I got up from my cushion to hug Twinkleshine. I took her a while, but eventually her knees stopped shaking. “You’re just talking to friends, Twinkleshine. It’s not really public speaking, and there’s no ill will here.” Breaking apart, I said, “Remember, you’re not giving a speech. You’re just sharing your notes. Okay?”

Twinkleshine took a slow, deep breath. “Okay. I – I think I’m good.”

I took a moment to give Twinkleshine a smile before turning and retaking my seat.

“Okay, okay. So…the moon. It’s not that far away, but there’s a big obstacle we have to avoid, so we’re going to act like a comet and go whoosh” – Twinkleshine nearly fell over using her forehooves for emphasis – “right by it…and that’ll make it easier to chart a course to Mona, too, since we’ll be be mostly following the same path. Questions?”

Cherry Berry coughed.

“Um…Twinkleshine? Do you think you could…expand on that just a little bit?” Oh, why did Twinkleshine have to make that sad face? I was just trying to help. “Maybe you could start by explaining why we’re taking a detour on our detour? Remember, you’re talking to two layponies and a hobbyist.”

“R-right. So…the universe is a paraboloid of revolution–”

Sigh. It seemed I still needed to work on Twinkleshine’s communication skills.

“–and we’re near the bottom where all the–”

“Excuse me,” Fluttershy whispered. Twinkleshine cringed a little, but she stopped and waited for Fluttershy to speak. “I”m sorry – it’s probably my fault for being terrible in school – but what’s a parabloid of revolution?”

A look of recognition flashed through Twinkleshine’s eyes. “Oh! Uh, it’s paraboloid, by the way, although they don’t sound that different.”

“Sorry.”

“I didn’t mean–”

Interjecting myself into the conversation, I said, “We’re all learning here, you two. Questions and mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of or to get worked up over. Just…you know…relax.”

“Sor–”

I cut Fluttershy off with a look.

Meanwhile, I could hear Cherry Berry sigh, apparently finding this as frustrating as I did. “You were saying?” she said.

“Um…so paraboloids of revolution are what you get when you spin a parabola about its ver – er, about the lowest point of the parabola, which is called the vertex. You all know what a parabola is, right?”

All three of us nodded our heads.

“Great. So it’s like a cone but less pointy. In it, there’s a point called the focus, and–”

“Quick question,” Cherry Berry interrupted. “You said we were near the bottom earlier. Are we… I guess what I want to ask is, is there an edge to the universe?”

“Yes! Yes, there is. Equus is actually really close to it. We’re near the bottom of the universe, but there doesn’t seem to be any end to space above us – at least none that we can observe. Oh, and when we look at really old stuff, there’s this weird disconnect where everything just goes crazy and seems to do whatever it feels like for no reason.”

My breath caught, I barely managed to ask normally, “Twinkleshine, when did that happen?” Her answer was going to confirm or deny one of my biggest fears.

“Um… If I remember correctly…it starts approximately fifteen-hundred years ago and ends about four-thousand years ago. It’s hard to be exact though since we have to look at stars way far away from Equus to see the ripple effects of whatever happened. Why do you…”

Even as Twinkleshine’s eyes lit up, I had to suppress a sigh of relief. If the stars were still moving fifteen-hundred years ago, that almost certainly meant that Luna had only been banished once.

Gasping, Twinkleshine asked, “Twilight, can Princess Luna move the stars?”

“Yes, but let’s save that discussion for another time, alright?”

After going through her usual motions of humming and pouting to no effect, Twinkleshine said, “Fine.”

Seeing her falter as she struggled to remember what she’d been discussing, I said, “You were telling us about Polaris?”

“Oh, right. So Polaris, the Southern Star – typically called the North Star for non-cosmographical, historical reasons – the brightest star in the sky, et cetera, isn’t actually a star. Just like the moon and sun, you can see it from anywhere on Equus, and the further south you go, the bigger it gets. And now I remember that I haven’t explained what a focus is.”

“I know what it is,” Fluttershy said. “At least, I do if it’s the same as in a parabola.”

Agreeing, Cherry Berry said, “I’d assume so. We’re basically just dealing with a…continuous parabola? Gosh, it’s been so long since my last math class.”

“Questionable abuse of vocabulary aside,” I commented, “the only important part you need to know is a lot of light goes through Polaris, but almost all of it doesn’t reach Equus.”

“How much is ‘a lot’?”

“Enough to melt us at a radius orders of magnitudes larger than danger zone of the sun,” answered Twinkleshine.

Twinkleshine cast a simple illusion of something vaguely representing our ship melting at the relevant distances for the sun and for Polaris. The utility of the visual aid was questionable, in my opinion, and her oral explosion sound effects weren’t making it any better.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Fluttershy petrified with her eyes stuck open.

“Naturally,” I began, “we’re taking the long way around. Starting in a few weeks, it’ll be bright all the time, and the same will be true after we leave the moon for a season or two.”

“Yep,” agreed Twinkleshine. “We’re going to slingshot around the moon like a comet but with a small enough eccentricity that we don’t burn up along the way. I’m pretty sure none of us actually want to be a comet.”

Using magic to whisper into Twinkleshine’s ear, I said, “Remember to keep the vocab down, and please try to stop scaring Fluttershy unintentionally.”

Looking bashful, Twinkleshine made a small, “Oh,” before elaborating. “So the idea is we take a large berth around Polaris at a reasonably slow speed so that when we come back on the other side, we still have a large berth and don’t have to desperately try to steer ourselves away from…certain… Sorry.”

Sighing, I picked up one of Pinkie Pie’s fantastic butterscotch cookies – even if she didn’t want to come, Pinkie Pie had still catered the event – and ate half of it in one bite. I made it through four cookies before Cherry Berry had calmed Fluttershy down enough for us to continue.

“Sorry, Fluttershy,” Twinkleshine said.

“It’s – it’s okay.”

“No, really, I’m sorry. I just get wrapped up in…stuff sometimes.”

I rolled my eyes at that. For some reason, the novelty of space had never worn off for Twinkleshine. It was cool and all, but after being up here for so long, it really should just be normal for her. Oh well.

Not interested in yet another Fluttershy–Twinkleshine apology match, I said, “Fun fact: because our universe is only locally Euclidean everywhere, when we get to the moon, you’ll be able to see all of Equus at the same time with a telescope.”

“Are you serious?” Cherry Berry asked.

“She is!” Twinkleshine answered for me. “It’s going to be so cool! If you look outside right now, you can actually see Equus warping a little bit already. Well, you could in other parts of the ship. The floor isn’t see-through in the library.”

I heard Fluttershy mumble something, but I didn’t know what. She probably said something to the effect of, “I’m glad.” Even now, she had trouble walking through the all-glass corridors. It’d been awhile since I’d paid attention in detail, but I suspected she still closed her eyes when traveling between rooms.

“Well, I guess we’re far enough away that you’d need a telescope by now, but it’s the thought that counts.” Turning to me in particular, Twinkleshine said, “Maybe we can do a little planetgazing later.”

“I don’t see why not.” I would’ve asked Cherry Berry and Fluttershy if they wanted to join us, but I was pretty sure Twinkleshine was trying to ‘subtly’ ask me out on a date without actually asking.

Now that I thought of it, Twinkleshine had been spending a lot of time with Chrysalis lately, which probably meant she was spending a lot of time with Pupa, too. I really hoped they weren’t planning anything silly like getting Twinkleshine to try and seduce me. I wouldn’t be surprised if those two changelings would egg Twinkleshine on for their own entertainment.

Sometime soon…ish, I really needed to sit down with Twinkleshine and have a long talk with her.

Anyway, the other two declined the planetgazing invitation, and Cherry Berry asked, “There’s something that’s bothering me. It’s not really all that relevant, but how does Equus not get dragged into Polaris by the sun’s and the moon’s gravity? They’re huge, right?”

“Yes,” Twinkleshine replied, “but the answer goes back to what Twilight said. Basically, straight lines in our universe don’t look straight on the astronomical scale. I don’t really understand the math, but what happens is Equus is in a very small volume that’s in stable equilibrium with the movement of…

“Okay, so backing up. Stable equilibrium basically means small changes are negated. In the end, the net effect the sun and moon have on Equus ends up being zero, or approximately zero, anyway. There’s a whole slew of theories on how we got here, but nopony really knows. The explanations we do have are mostly…mostly…hmm… Ah! They’re more or less what you’d call conspiracy theories. They usually center around either Princess Celestia or Discord seriously messing with a more ‘natural’ system, producing what we see today, but there’s no evidence for any of them.”

And this was the point where Dash would say, “Of course there isn’t,” if she were here. Still, it was an interesting question to ask, and Twinkleshine and I had asked it long ago. Luna herself didn’t know, so the real answer was probably lost to time, sadly.

“Anyway, getting back on track…”

Picking up on my cue, Twinkleshine said, “Okay, so we’ve covered our flight path, so that just leaves our timing and our visiting plans. We’re timing our arrival for as near Hearth’s Warming Eve as we can get.”

Cherry Berry asked, “Why? Isn’t that sort of…awkward? Why then?”

“Because that’s when the sun and moon are furthest apart at their apexes, which means we have the largest error margin.” Her eyes darting to Fluttershy, Twinkleshine hastily added, “Not that we need a larger error margin. Just, better safe than sorry.”

“To clarify,” I began, “by apexes, Twinkleshine means the closest the sun and the moon come to Polaris. It changes depending on the season. In the winter, the moon comes closer, and in the summer, the sun comes closer.”

Nodding, Twinkleshine continued, “When we arrive, we’ll spend exactly a day on the moon and then leave to catch up with the Nebulous. Chrysalis elected to stay behind to keep the shields running so we don’t come back and find the greenhouse depressurized and all the plants dead.”

“Prudent,” was all Cherry Berry said to that.

“Does she have to?” Fluttershy asked. “I mean, it sounds kind of lonely. And…well, it’s the moon. It’d be a shame to miss it.”

“Chrysalis volunteered the moment she heard we were stopping at the moon,” I answered.

Volunteered was perhaps a bit misleading, but it captured the spirit of her words in the eyes of an optimist. A pessimist, however, would say she just didn’t want to spend time with us and found the moon as boring as the badlands back on Equus, which I could understand a bit. In the end, the moon was just a giant rock in space with a lot of magic.

“Anyway, we’ll spend a full day on the moon. I’m a bit concerned about what’ll happen to us during the day, since I have no idea what happens to the moon other than ‘it disappears’, quote Stargazer’s On the Workings of the Universe, but I assume Princess Luna would know if we’d have any problems.”

Twinkleshine sent a suggestive glance my way.

“Luna told me the moon leaves this side of the universe but never elaborated on that. We’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose.”

“Er, no offense to the princess,” Cherry Berry began, “but are you sure that’s safe? Has she ever tested it? Maybe with, you know, mortals?”

I nodded. “It’s perfectly safe. Luna’s offered to let us stay at the Lunar Palace when we’re done sightseeing, and the ponies that live there have never had any problems. I’d imagine we’ll be able to celebrate an old style Winter Moon Festival, rather than Hearth’s Warming, but…uh… Twinkleshine, why are you looking at me like that?”

“Twilight, did you just say ‘moon ponies’?”

Horseapples! “Not…in those exact words.”

Twinkleshine’s grin grew to frightening levels.


Nothing further of interest to report.


[Fall 73, 994 – Day 183]

I shut myself and Spike up in my room during the night to have a small, somber party all to ourselves. It took a lot of doing, and I depended heavily on Spike not really knowing what was going on due to his age, but we made it through the entire thing without Pinkie Pie butting in. It also helped that she was…probably…asleep

Anyway, Shining finally recovered from my stupidity. He still has physical therapy to go through, but he can finally walk properly again. Yay.

*sigh*

I really can’t get into this right now.


[Fall 85, 994 – Day 195]

*sigh*

It seems all I’m doing is sighing these days, and Pinkie Pie’s constant attempts to make me smile have been having anything but the intended effect. I’m sure it’s just a passing melancholy, but that doesn’t make me feel any better.

While I was asleep – sometime around noon, I believe – the date was set for Pupa to meet with Celestia in my place. She goes in on the first of winter. I’ve heard she’s gone through great pains to make sure Celestia won’t be able to casually see through her magic. Well, I say ‘casually’, but I mean ‘intense inspection’ by normal standards. Changelings are rather good at hiding themselves when they know they’re being pursued, but Celestia is very old and powerful. Feathers crossed.

On the same topic, Chrysalis, Pupa, and I have all been practicing faking my integration into the hive mind. Pupa is very good at pretending to be me, but we don’t want to chance the odd slip up in Celestia’s presence.

Anyway, the mechanics of the whole process basically amounts to putting a perfect illusion on me of Chrysalis’s experience of what Pupa sees and hears and having her relay my reactions back to Pupa. It’s a rather complex piece of illusion magic, but one well-tested over changeling history. And in all honesty, I’d expect nothing less from them.

Here’s hoping my stubborn pride last Hearth’s Warming won’t come back to bite us.

Nothing further of interest to report.

Okay, that’s not actually fair to myself. What was I supposed to say to Celestia? Oh, I had no idea what I was doing. Thanks for pointing that out. I’ll just give up the only magic I have left to me with a smile on my face. Like she would have believed that for a second. It’s just another consequence of me being stupid, not of my pride.


[Winter 1, 994 – Day 211]

I have no idea how well I’m going to remember the rest of today; I’ve never had an almost literal out-of-body experience before. However, I do know that pony memory is much stronger for personally experienced events, myself being no exception. As such I’ve decided to record today’s events in real time in case I find myself wishing to refer to it later.

Setting the scene, my family plus Pupa and Cadance arrived in Canterlot the day before. Celestia first spoke with Cadance and Shining – both individually – about ‘my’ progress in the dark arts, and then Pupa was finally called in.


“Twilight Sparkle?” a guard asked. Pupa looked up to get a better view of the stallion, and by consequence, I looked up as well. Never before had I been so thankful that I didn’t get motion sickness; I was absolutely positive I’d have vomited multiple times before this was over if I did.

Pupa took a long, deep breath. “Is it time?”

“Yes, the princess will see you now. Please follow me.”

The guard held open the door to Cadance’s room to allow Pupa to walk out. As soon as she’d left, the door closed almost without a sound. The guard nodded to Pupa and took the lead through the halls.

Remember, Pupa,” I began, Chrysalis relaying my words for me, “you’re a wunderkind pretending to be a genius pretending to be a desperate cripple.

Chrysalis snorted back on the Nebulous, but I paid her no mind. I certainly couldn’t claim all the credit for my immense talent and knowledge, but that didn’t make them any less real or any less mine.

Don’t worry, Twilight,” Pupa said. I certainly understand the desperate cripple part. Living without magic has been eye opening, to say the least.

Wait, have you not been cheating? Can’t you at least fake earth pony magic without anypony noticing?

I can, normally, but this infernal ring manages to block that, too.

Perfect!” I shouted, unintentionally jumping to my hooves. That’s the spirit! I think I used that exact description once. Just remember that you need to let bitterness and anger simmer underneath everything you say, but it needs to be clearly under control – use just the lightest tinge. Celestia can crush you like a bug, and you both respect and fear that.

An apt simile,” Pupa joked, although I could tell Chrysalis had not appreciated it herself.

Our conversation lulled as Pupa was led through a particularly dense crowd of ponies, but it picked up again soon enough.

A fair warning, Twilight. I do not have much practical experience displaying anger. I’ve never really been in such a position for real nor when pretending to be someone else.

I’ll give you cues when you need them,” I said, resisting the urge to panic. Just try to do your best. Celestia is probably the only pony that could possibly notice you acting out of character, but she and I have only met two – three – four? We’ve only met in person a few times, so you shouldn’t have any real problems.

What about Cadance?

She doesn’t seem to be able to detect moods, at least not passively, so if she’s hanging around, don’t worry about her. Speaking of which, in public, it’s Princess Cadance, or Princess Cadenza if you’re talking to really uptight ponies. Same for Princess Celestia. Everywhere else, it’s Cadance and Celestia, except it’s still Princess Celestia to her face.

Simple enough. Is there any chance you’ve thought of a reason for us to cave to Celestia’s request to stop using dark magic?

I sighed. “No, nothing that wouldn’t draw undue suspicion. Honestly, our goal right now is just to avoid a medical exam.

I’m reasonably confident I could fool the tests.

“If you had your magic and if Celestia isn’t that one doing or overseeing them.

Well…yes. So long as she’s not in the room, it should be okay.

Still not something we want to risk.

Indeed,” Chrysalis interjected. “Just remember not to raise a big fuss about it.

Yes, Mother, I know.

And if you do get caught, Twilight is your friend and foolishly asked you to come in her place.

I rolled my eyes at Chrysalis’s none-too-subtle jab at me.

Yes, I–” Pupa began, only to be cut off by Chrysalis again.

Then if she still insists on meeting Twilight, you reluctantly admit that you do not know where she is. She offered you her life and left.

“Ye–”

And if you are forced to admit you do know more, Twilight is holding me hostage.

Yes, Mother, I know,” Pupa said forcefully. “You’ve taught me well, you know, and we’ve already covered this. You don’t have to treat me like a nymph anymore.

Ehem.” A rather awkward interruption on my part, but it certainly got Pupa and Chrysalis to stop the mother–daughter stuff. “Do either of you know where that guard is leading us?

A few seconds passed before Pupa replied, “Flint and Chzix agree that I’m probably headed toward the throne room.

Are you serious?” I asked, although the answer was obvious. “Why is Celestia doing this in public? Is she deliberately trying to drag me through the mud? I don’t understand why she’d do that. If she publicly disgraces me, she makes Cadance look bad, which makes her look bad.” And more importantly, me being seen in public with Luna later would make ruling harder for her.

Oh?” Chrysalis said. “Are you suddenly ashamed of your inner darkness, you moldy, stale–

Mother!

Urgh. Fine. Sorry.” It was obvious Chrysalis’s heart wasn’t in that apology. “My point still stands.

I sighed. “Look, there’s nothing wrong with using dark magic so long as the caster is mentally stable. Ponies like Sombra – ponies that were already insane or psychotic – are the kind of ponies that are remembered because they’re evil and do terrible things. And when you ask why they did what they did, it’s easier to just say, ‘Oh look, he used dark magic,’ then it is to actually contemplate the inner workings of a madpony.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I guarantee you that only Celestia will actually understand and accept that argument, if only because she can use dark magic, too. Everypony else will just think me, er, Pupa already insane from the dark magic if she tried to reason with them.

“Perhaps we should save your whining for some other time,” suggested Chrysalis.

Grumbling, I acquiesced – for now. As it was, Pupa had arrived at the doors to court. They were already spread wide open. Inside, a slew of ponies stood waiting off to the sides. I imagined they were the standard set of courtiers, but I’d never had enough interest – that is, I had zero interest – in Day Court politics to really know.

It wasn’t like they really mattered anyway. Everypony knew that the only pony with real power in the room was siting on the throne at the far end of the hall. Sure everypony else performed useful functions in mundane matters, but as far as this meeting was concerned, they were little more than wallpaper.

Fortunately, neither Cadance nor Shining were present, so that comment didn’t apply to them.

Not that it wouldn’t still be true…

A herald announced the arrival of Twilight Sparkle as Pupa approached the base of Celestia’s throne. I couldn’t help but notice that it had been timed rather poorly, which made me suspect that foals – and other ponies with short legs – didn’t often visit court. The awkward silence would’ve been funny if it were under other circumstances.

What wasn’t funny in any circumstance was when Pupa made eye contact with Celestia and actually snorted.

No! Too much! Way too much!

Sorry, Twilight, but you have some strong feelings, and Celestia’s… Nevermind, I’m sure you don’t want to know.

“Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia boomed from way atop her throne at the summit of her ridiculously large dais.

Know what?

In that same voice not quite at the Royal Canterlot level, Celestia continued, “You come before this court as a practitioner of dark magic” – from the sound of it, if not all, then nearly all of the assembly gasped – “in former violation of the regulations placed upon the field.”

Deflecting my question, Chrysalis said, “It doesn’t matter right now. We’ll tell you later.

I was positive that Chrysalis had a little asterisk on the end of that which read, “If you don’t forget.”

“Considering your age and your circumstances, the charges made against you were dropped. However, as you refused to cease and desist, an overseer was tasked with determining your competence, both magical and mental.”

See?” I began. “There’s indirect agreement with my point from the pony who tried to stamp out dark magic herself. If you’re mentally competent, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Whatever you say,” Chrysalis said.

“Before we begin, is there anything you would like to say for yourself?”

Pupa let out a curt, “No,” eliciting a few whispers from the wallpaper.

That hadn’t been the best response exactly, but I certainly wasn’t going to blame Pupa for getting ruffled. Celestia could have at least made it sound like she was an impartial arbitrator of law. Chrysalis worked to calm Pupa down, leaving me to simmer on my own.

Celestia’s pause was long and rather terrifying, her gaze filled with some hidden meaning. Pupa hadn’t needed my cue to start fidgeting on her hooves and to look away. I wasn’t even really there, and I still felt as if there had been some magic afflicting both of us.

Eventually, Celestia slowly said, “Very well.” Levitating a stack of papers to her, Celestia continued, “Lieutenant Armor has kept a log of your activities over the past three seasons. In it, he has detailed what spells you have used, as well as what spells you claim to also know. There are a few troubling entries which are blatantly illegal, including, but not limited to, placing a geas upon your parents for extra dessert.”

Is – is she smiling?” I asked. It was hard to tell from Pupa’s distance, but it looked an awful lot like the corners of Celestia’s frown were fighting upward.

Chrysalis answered, “Canterlot’s worst kept secret is that Celestia has an outrageous sweet tooth.

I found myself chuckling at the imagery that evoked despite my objections. Everypony else in the throne room chose some manner of gasp or outrage for their response, forcing Celestia to calm them all down.

Once the hall was quiet once more, Celestia said, “However, since observations began, you have at worst straddled the line between legal and illegal. I would like to believe this is because you have matured morally and ethically–”

Liar.

“–but there is something else which concerns me. I spoke with Princess Cadenza, and she told me something which Lieutenant Armor agreed with when prompted. She said that your personality has been, and I quote, a little bit erratic and changing–”

Sorry,” Pupa said before I could say anything.

“–sometimes being kinder than usual and sometimes being meaner than usual.”

It’s not entirely your fault,” I replied. “I’ve had some bad days at home while I was still back on Equus.

“Do you have any explanation?” Celestia finished.

I flushed, immediately thinking of a really dumb and kind of embarrassing answer. It was the only thing I could think of in the very small amount of time we had to think of a response, and I passed it on to Pupa.

Pupa, now blushing herself, whispered, “I’ve been known to…”

“Please speak up,” said Celestia.

“It’s…um… You see, I’ve been known to get…moody…when I’m going through…estrus.” Pupa made the last word barely audible over the background noise in the hallway, but there was no doubt that everypony had heard it.

Oh stars, I couldn’t believe I’d just told Pupa to say that, and in court of all places. That was the stupidest, oldest excuse in the book. As the only pony in the room that hadn’t so much as flinched, Celestia herself didn’t look impressed with that answer either.

“I asked as much myself,” Celestia began. “However, Princess Cadenza and Lieutenant Armor said your behavioral changes were not so predictable as an estrus cycle. Unless you have any other explanation–”

Celestia waited a few seconds for an answer that none of us had. I’d honestly expected that excuse to work, or at least to buy us enough time to think of something better.

Seriously, I could barely believe Celestia had actually asked about that in advance. Why would it even cross her mind? I’d never spoken to anypony but Luna before about that annoying aspect of my biology, much less Celestia of all ponies.

“–then I am forced to conclude that you cannot recognize these behavioral shifts yourself, which in turn makes me suspect you do not have the mental fortitude required for long term use of dark magic. As such, before irrevocable damage is done to your mind and before you hurt somepony, unintentionally or otherwise, I am afraid I must order you to desist immediately in accordance with article seven of magical law four-thousand-six-hundred-three, which pertains to the regulation of dark magic in ponies of uncertain mental stability.”

Celestia took a moment to breathe after that mouthful. “This is your first and only warning. Regardless of your circumstances, the penalty for breaking this order is petrification or banishment.”

Pupa and I were both stunned into silence by the cold and distant way Celestia had spoken, and the throne room was just as quiet. Chrysalis mentally nudged both of us, me with magic and Pupa with the hive mind, waking us from our stupor.

Unfortunately, that only freed me up to think about how to respond. It took me all of a second before I started crying for my imaginary me, placed in a situation where Celestia had taken the last hoofhold she had in magic.

Leave,” I whispered.

Pupa responded immediately, turning in place and galloping out of the hall in an ungraceful mess of hooves before anypony could stop her. Fortunately, nopony had bothered to close the huge double doors that she’d come in through. She made her way back to Cadance’s room mostly unmolested, slipping past the wingful of guards that got in her way.


Are you really alright?” Pupa asked as she continued to provide me with a very lovely view of one of Cadance’s pillows.

Yes, I’m just fine. Really.” I sighed. “I didn’t really expect anything else from our meeting. Celestia’s regulation of dark magic was clearly malicious in its implementation to begin with. And honestly, given the evidence she was presented with, I can’t really blame her for the decision. We did take a little longer than was wise to perfect your impersonation of me.

“Twilight, I can hear your voice cracking on this side of the conversation, too, you know.

Both of us fell into silence. Thankfully, Chrysalis felt no need to interrupt us.

“It’s not like any real harm has been done, right?” I suggested. “I’m not in Equestria anymore, after all.

I suppose…

I’m sorry you had to deal with that for me…and for what comes after. I’m sure Cadance will try, but I doubt she’ll be able to keep much out of the papers anymore after such a public dressing-down.

Twilight, please stop dancing around the real issue.

Having chosen silence as my response, Pupa sighed soon after.

I’ll do the best I can to repair your reputation. I’m sure Princess Luna would be just as disappointed as you if she couldn’t appear in public with you.

A tiny thankful smile formed on my face. Regime changes rarely went smoothly, especially when the old princess has an approximately one-hundred percent approval rating. Taking the reins of Equestria would be a nightmare for Luna if a mare disgraced and scorned by said princess were at her side, regardless of whether that mare were an alicorn or not.

Of course, that brought up the question of why Celestia made our meeting public to begin with. Now Cadance was going to have problems, too, and surely Celestia wouldn’t want that.

Right?

I shook away those thoughts. There had to be some ulterior motive that didn’t involve Celestia trying to drag Cadance down. And Celestia herself had acted so…cold at the end. I suspected that she had never sounded like that in public before. Ever.

A muffled shout came from the other side of the door to Cadance’s room. It sounded like Cadance, but it was too quiet to hear properly. A few seconds later, it became clear that it was Cadance, and she was yelling at Celestia.

Finally Pupa, Chrysalis and I could make out what Cadance was saying, although we couldn’t hear Celestia’s responses.

“–ridiculous! Why on Equus would you say, ‘It was efficacious?’”

“I never said that!”

“No! You’re not going to talk to her! I won’t allow it! Not after–”

“You’re going to what?

“Are you insane? You can’t ask her to teach her!”

A long silence stretched before Cadance shouted again.

“Hey! We’re not–”

The door to Cadance’s room opened without so much as a knock. Celestia trotted in with Cadance right behind her, still fuming, her cheeks flushed in anger. Both of their horns were glowing brilliantly to no noticeable effect. It almost looked like Cadance was trying to overpower Celestia, but with Pupa’s magic suppressed, she couldn’t find out for sure.

Seemingly giving up, Cadance’s horn dimmed and she flew across the room to Pupa, providing a pony shield against the still advancing Celestia.

“Stop it,” Cadance said, nearly growling. “Just go away. You’ve done enough to Twilight today. Aren’t you happy yet? Haven’t you taken enough from her? I’ll – I’ll take responsibility for her. We’ll… We’ll go find an island somewhere! Somewhere with just us! I-I know I can keep her safe from herself!”

From behind Cadance, the only useful thing I could see was her tiara, glowing with her own magic, being carelessly tossed away onto the ground somewhere in a clatter.

Turning around, Cadance wrapped Pupa in a full hug, stroking her mane gently.

The moment passed without Celestia saying a word, only for the silence to be broken by a wail from Chrysalis.

The illusion spell placed on me changed to random flashes of colors before failing entirely, leaving me with nothing to look at but a wide eyed Chrysalis.


Prereader – Starlight Nova