Chapter Fifteen - Darker Matters - Part Two


Chrysalis had been flat out ignoring me and everything else in the room for a long time now. She hadn’t even reacted when I’d thrown a pillow in her face. Whatever had happened must have been bad enough that even getting upset with me was thrown to the side in favor of dealing with the problem.

Then even when she finally stopped frowning, trading her expression in for what I could only describe as a look of unadulterated relief, she still ignored me as if I didn’t exist.

Suddenly, I felt Chrysalis building up power for a familiar spell. Sighing as it took effect, I found myself once more seeing the world through Pupa’s eyes. Cadance and Celestia were in the room and chatting with each other surprisingly peacefully after what I’d just seen from Cadance. If nothing else good came from this, at least I’d finally learned how Cadance behaves when she was mad – a very petty victory.

And I’d learned that Cadance cared enough to go against Celestia for me. I doubted she would switch sides at the big confrontation in five-and-a-half-ish years, but it was still just about the nicest, most flattering thing she could have done.

The next thing I noticed ruined that good feeling. I’d suspected, but I’d hoped I was wrong. In the corner of the room was a pile of unmoving changelings. At the very bottom of her vision, I could see Pupa’s own black chitin as well.

She was exposed.

I took a few deep breaths exactly as Cadance had taught me. They were doubly effective this time, as they brought back some of the warm fuzzies I got from knowing Cadance would stick up for me.

Okay,” I began, “considering Chrysalis hasn’t tried to rip my head off…yet…I assume you’re fine, right?

Ye–

You better thank your lucky stars she’s alright.

Mother!” Pupa sighed. “Yes, I’m fine, Twilight, at least so far. I can tell Cadance is still furious with me, and Celestia is still wary despite how…relatively nice she’s been.

What about them?” I asked, gesturing futilely with my head toward the changelings some astronomical number of kilometers away, or toward Chrysalis’s bookshelf back on the ship.

They’re fine, too,” Pupa answered, a clear fondness in her voice. “Very stupid for teleporting in here alone, but also very brave. Mother didn’t even have time to give them an order before they responded.

Which crippled my ability to rescue you quickly,” interjected Chrysalis.

Perhaps,” Pupa said hesitantly, “but I still disagree with reprimanding them.

Humming angrily, Chrysalis said, “We’ll discuss this later. For now, just fill us in on what happened.

Alright. When Celestia came in, she knocked out my disguise and severed my connection to the hive mind.


Pupa sat on Cadance’s bed, oblivious to the world. Her severing from the hive mind had been swift and merciless, leaving her, for the very first time in her life, alone with her thoughts.

Screaming was not the right response. Her instincts told her not to for some reason.

Crying…yes. Crying was appropriate.

Pupa fell over onto her side, still staring at nothing. Even the intrusion of the pillow she had been holding into one of the holes in her legs did not bother her the way it should have.

Finally, she snapped back to reality as a surge of golden magic set her upright. That very same magic turned dark purple and boiled as the terrifyingly inexpressive goddess of the sun spoke.

“Answer my questions with the truth.”

Something latched onto Pupa’s mind, and it took her only an instant to realize she had just had a geas placed on her.

Celestia visibly grit her teeth, seeming to struggle with what she wanted to ask. Pupa took her brief respite to glance about the rest of the room. Cadance was nearby glaring daggers at both her and Celestia, but mostly at her. Piled up in a corner were several undisguised, possibly dead, changelings.

“Is Twilight Sparkle alive and well?” Celestia finally asked.

Answering almost automatically, Pupa said, “Yes.” It was the strangest, most horrifying feeling she had ever experienced. It hardly even felt like the geas was forcing her to reply, almost as if she herself wanted to answer more than anything.

“When did you replace her?”

Pupa was about to say, “At the end of Spring,” but her memories supplied her with a different answer. “Last Hearth’s Warming.”

Brows furling, Celestia mumbled, “That explains much.” Turning to Cadance, she said, “I trust you realize this means Twilight was cooperating with these changelings.”

Cadance tried to protest, but she ended up nodding weakly instead. She almost looked defeated as she slumped onto the ground.

Turning back, Celestia asked, “Was her flare last Hearth’s Warming engineered for you to replace her?”

“No. It was an accident we capitalized on.”

Pupa could practically feel Celestia’s eyes poring over her. She had long since lost the thin look of an active and light-eating changeling, having molted several times from the sheer volume of love she had consumed.

“Why did Twilight Sparkle offer you her life?”

Somehow finding the strength to overcome the urge to tell Celestia more than she had asked for, Pupa said, “She wanted to leave, but she couldn’t because of Cadance.” Out of the corner of her eye, Pupa could see Cadance bristle at the casual form of address. Then again, perhaps it was because Twilight had deceived her. It would be hard enough to tell normally, but Cadance’s expressions were changing wildly, making it essentially impossible.

“Where is she?”

“Somewhere in the universe.”

Pupa fought to not hold her breath, watching Celestia closely for any sign that the deeper meaning in her automatic answer was understood. It was unfortunate the answer had not come out as ‘I don’t know’, but ‘somewhere in the universe’ was almost as good.

“One last question,” Celestia began, her face expressionless. “Are you, Twilight, or anypony you know in any way associated with Nightmare Moon?”

“No,” Pupa replied immediately before her mind could consciously complete the connection between Nightmare Moon and Princess Luna.

A moment passed, and then the corners of Celestia’s lips crept up again as her horn glowed. The surprisingly weak compulsion for Pupa to correct herself diminished further and then quickly disappeared altogether. Without the geas stabilizing her, Pupa’s mind locked up again, still recoiling from the loneliness and unable to process the words and expressions that had just been exchanged. For all that she could tell at the moment, she might have told Celestia everything as easily as she might have revealed no new information.

Completely ignoring Celestia, Cadance stepped directly in front of Pupa and locked eyes with her.

“Why?” whispered Cadance. “Why did she leave? Why did you let her? Why did you help her! She’s a helpless little filly!”

Celestia put a hoof on Cadance’s shoulder and opened her mouth.

Immediately, Cadance whirled on Celestia, swatting away the hoof. “You! This is all your fault!”

“Cadance,” Celestia began, her voice annoyingly calm and soothing even now, “Twilight Sparkle has long since demonstrated that she can keep herself safe.” Looking at Pupa’s horn, she added, “With or without her suppressor. As long as she stays outside, she should remain unharmed until–”

“Until she kills herself!”

“Cadance, please calm down. She shall be easy to find when–”

Out!” Cadance shrieked, pointing her hoof toward the door.

“Cadance–”

“Get out now!”

A pillow flew across the room toward Celestia, leaving a deafening boom in its wake. It stopped a few hooves short of impact, golden magic gently placing it on the floor and extinguishing it.

“I cannot leave you alone with her.” Celestia did not say it, but her expression heavily implied, “Do not do something you will regret.”

Growling with teeth bared and wings flared, Cadance glared at Celestia, her horn glowing ominously. Even through the suppressor, Pupa could feel the immense, raw power Cadance had at her disposal.

“Unless you wish to finish what Twilight started, I suggest you stop.”

Cadance’s eyes widened, and she reeled backwards as if struck, falling to her haunches. The light of her horn blinked out.

“Auntie, I – I didn’t – I didn’t mean…” Barely audibly, Cadance turned away and whispered, “Sorry.”

Crossing the gap between them, Celestia lowered herself to her knees and wrapped Cadance in a gentle hug with her wings.

“You have nothing to apologize for. I understand how horrible it is to lose a little sister.” After an extended hug, Celestia stepped back and raised Cadance’s muzzle with the tip of her wing. Smiling, she said, “Unlike mine, yours is merely misplaced, exactly like I’ve misplaced Sunset. We shall find her. I promise.”

Sniffing, Cadance rubbed her nose with a hoof. “She’s not actually my sister yet, you know.” The two of them shared a smile for a brief moment before Cadance shoved Celestia away, shouting, “No, no, no! I’m still mad at you! I’m not letting you get within so much as the same city as Twilight.”

“Please,” Celestia began on the verge of being on the verge of begging, “please calm down, Cadance. I” – Celestia hesitated for a split second – “promise I shall not do anything to Twilight Sparkle without your consent.”

“Do – do you really mean that?”

“Yes, I do. May I assume I have your permission to find her?”

First ruminating for several seconds with her head pointed squarely at the floor, Cadance slowly nodded once.

“Thank you for trusting me.” Turning to Pupa, Celestia continued, “Now then, I believe we both have some more questions we would like to ask our guest. Would you – oh, please accept my apologies.”

As Celestia’s horn glowed, everyone came back. The entire hive was buzzing in Pupa’s mind again, and before she could even put a single word to how relieved she was, Chrysalis was already assaulting her with affections and questions.


And that’s what happened. It may not be word for word, but I’m sure the meanings are all right.

“Cadance…” I whispered to nopony. I’d known she liked me, but I’d always assumed I was ‘Shining’s little sister’ to her: a friend, but not family. It wasn’t like Cadance didn’t have…

I sighed to myself. It’d been a long time since I’d thought about Cadance’s past in any detail, and even then I’d mostly been interested in hearing about defeating Prismia and Cadance’s subsequent ascension. She’d been formally adopted into the royal family by virtue of being an alicorn, but if she wanted to be part of mine, I’d welcome her with open hooves.

But that sadly would have to wait until I returned to Equus. Hopefully, we’d have a better long-term relationship than Luna and Celestia.

Anyway, the other thing of interest in that conversation was when Celestia asked about Luna. I didn’t know if I should be glad Celestia now wrongly assumed I had nothing to do with Luna or terrified that she’d asked at all.

What exactly she’d suspected was the most worrying part. If she thought I was part of a cult or something, that wasn’t a problem, but–

Actually, that sort of was a problem; I didn’t want Celestia making Cadance think I was crazy or something. But that was a small, personal problem. If Celestia somehow found one of Luna’s faithful subjects and got her to reveal that Luna could dreamwalk in her banishment, that could turn into a huge problem.

Pupa, I’m ready to continue whenever you two are. If possible, I’d like to find out why Celestia asked you about Luna. And I’d like to know what Cadance and Celestia were arguing about when they first came in.

I’ll see what I can do, but I’m not really in a position to make demands; Celestia has her under control right now, but Cadance is more or less ready to – to use your own words – rip my head off if she thinks it’ll help her find you.

Um… That’s sweet?” I definitely appreciated the sentiment, at least.

Frankly, I think it’s a pretty unnerving to see her act this way. I know you think she’s bad at magic, but–

She is bad at magic.

Okay, from a mechanical standpoint, she is bad at magic, but I don’t think you’ve ever felt an alicorn on the verge of fighting. She could have crushed me into a tiny black hole with all that power with just telekinesis.

Actually, I don’t think you have enough mass to form a black hole. I’d have to ask Twinkleshine.

I flinched away as Pupa’s hoof connected with her face, for all the good that it did.

Coughing to fill the awkward silence, I then proceeded to say, “I’ve sparred with Luna a lot in my dreams where we both have unlimited magic. I know what you’re talking about. All you have to do is sever a few key nerves to knock her out; Cadance doesn’t know how to properly defend herself from a magical attack.

Twilight, that’s–

Efficacious and painless. I suppose Celestia might get mad at you, but I doubt she’d kill you for acting in self-defense. And it’s not like she can do anything worse than make you a black hole, right?

She could torture me first.

Or erase all her memories,” Chrysalis interjected.

Or do that and hijack my body with a geas, bending me completely to her will as her faithful slave.

And have Cadance meddle with her mind further to make her love every moment of it,” Chrysalis added.

It’s just like killing me, but using the leftovers for–

Okay, okay! I get it! If you’re completely immoral, you can do horrible, horrible things to a pony. Celestia is a bad pony and a worse sister, but she’s not evil. Probably. I mean, I don’t have any proof that she’s never done something like that, but I’m still me.

Probably,” Chrysalis said.

You’re not helping,” I said, stomping my hoof.

Sighing, Pupa suggested, “Perhaps we should move on.

Sounds good,” I said at the same time Chrysalis said, “Indeed.

Almost immediately after Pupa first stirred, Celestia turned to face her.

“So,” began Celestia, “should we be expecting an army on our doorstep?” It was hard to tell, but it sounded like a joke.

“No, Princess Celestia.” Pupa started to rise from Cadance’s bed, but Celestia held up a hoof, gesturing for her to stay seated. “I’m terribly sorry for what my subjects did. If you could find it in your heart to forgive them, I would be very grateful.”

Smiling, Celestia said, “There is nothing to forgive. I treated you quite roughly, after all.”

“Thank you, Princess.”

Not going to ask her to let them go?” I asked.

No. I don’t want to make the situation awk – more awkward. I wouldn’t be surprised if she thought the only reason I was still here was because of them.

“Think nothing of it. Cadance and I were hoping you would answer a few of our questions, though.”

“Of course, Princess. Although I’m quite curious how you figured out I wasn’t Twilight.”

Pupa tried not to look at Cadance bristling at the use of my name, but her eyes refused to stay focused on Celestia.

“You walked straight into my throne room; no amount of magic could have hidden you completely from me in there. However” – Celestia paused – “you are also sitting on a cloud bed.”

Everypony was silent for a moment.

Facehoofing and sighing, Pupa said, “That’s fair. Twilight and I weren’t expecting such a public meeting, either.” With that said, she fiddled with the suppressor on her horn to get it off. She let out a sigh of relief once it had.

Meanwhile, Celestia held up a hoof, cutting Cadance off. Mouth wide open ready to shout, it took Cadance a few seconds to settle down, exhaling as she slumped back into her seat.

“Before we continue, would you care to introduce yourself and explain how a young changeling queen and Twilight Sparkle met?”

Thoughts?” Pupa asked as she said, “My name is Pupa, heir of Queen Chrysalis.”

Just go with what we had planned before. I don’t see any problems with it.

Besides exposing one of our primary means of collecting love,” Chrysalis said.

Meanwhile, Pupa continued her introduction. “Twilight and I met two summers ago on the outskirts of the Everfree Forest in her backyard.”

It’s not that big of a deal,” I said. “No matter how this turns out, you’ll end up fed or genocided; there’s not really an in-between.

“I’d left home to gain practical experience in love collection. It’s our tradition that the queen should be at least passingly familiar with all the main aspects of our way of life.”

Is that true?” I asked.

Yes, but Pupa finished that long ago. Normally she would have left home permanently a decade ago.

“I’d looked through Ponyville for a good food source that I could enjoy spending time with, but no one really caught my fancy. Except when I was about to move on to the next village, I ran into Twilight.”

Afraid to let your daughter grow up?

She chooses to stay. Although, I suppose I am glad she does.

“I almost dismissed her out of hoof, but–” Pupa’s eyes widened, and she gasped, pretending to have said something she shouldn’t have.

Cadance’s eyes widened with Pupa’s. She opened her mouth once, but nothing came out. On the second try, she whispered, “Why?”

“She–” Pupa stopped to mull over her words, pointedly not looking at Cadance and instead observing the pillow she was fidgeting with.

“Tell me!” Cadance barked. Celestia shot her a look.

“It’s – she made me sick to my stomach just being somewhat near her. She was so miserable. Ponies like that usually have their days numbered without drastic intervention.”

“No! No, no, no!” Cadance launched from her chair, only to be held back by Celestia’s magic. “You’re lying! You have to be! Twilight would never…never…” Cadance descended into incoherent blubbering.

I silently whispered my apologies to Cadance, simultaneously wishing I could take Celestia’s place for their hug. Not that Cadance even noticed it happening. But there was something else weighing on my mind.

Pupa…I – I was like that before I met Luna for…a long time. Do you think I would have–

Twilight, I don’t know. Everyone changes so much as they grow up. I didn’t know you back then, so I can’t say. However, I don’t think the current you would ever consider it.

I sighed. It wasn’t so much an answer as a non-answer, but Pupa had a point. I’d rather be told the truth than a pleasant lie, even if the truth were useless.

Thanks, I guess.

Faking a cough, Pupa said, “If I may continue…” Celestia nodded, but Cadance’s ears didn’t even twitch. “Anyway, I was going to leave, but underneath all of the rancid emotions, she smelled awfully sweet.” Pupa licked her lips for emphasis. “I was awfully curious, so I decided to stay, at least for a little while. I don’t know if I should say that was a mistake or not; it only took a week before Twilight figured out I wasn’t a regular owl.”

At that, Cadance’s ears did pick up. She pushed Celestia off her and asked, “You were Owlowiscious?”

“I was, but only until Hearth’s Warming. Speaking of which, would you mind if you…toned down a few of Twilight’s feelings for me? It would make it easier to be polite.”

Cadance paled instantly, and her jaw fell. “I – I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize – I mean…” Gulping, Cadance finished, “Which ones?”

“Just the one,” Pupa replied. Out of the corner of Pupa’s vision, I could see Celestia struggling with a frown or a scowl. Was it really that hard for her to accept that not everypony loved her? “It’d help if you could take it down to friendly sympathy levels.”

Nodding, Cadance’s horn lit up, and it only took a fraction of second before Pupa let out a huge sigh.

“Thank you,” Pupa said as Cadance turned her head away. “Anyway, as I was saying, Twilight figured me out quickly. I erred and acted far too domesticated, not realising how attentive she was to details. One night, she took me outside with her and told me about all of her problems as though she were talking to herself. When she finished, she took her suppressor off and essentially told me to start talking. A little mundane, I suppose, but that was how we met. Despite the rough start, we became friends rather quickly. She really needed someone she could talk openly with.”

Cadance began in a whisper, quickly building up into a shout. “You’re her friend. You’re her friend, and you let her run away! She’s barely a teenager!”

“Physically, but I’m sure–”

Pupa,” I interrupted, “don’t try to reason with her like this. Cadance isn’t really listening right now. Just tell her the hive is keeping an eye on me.

“–you realize she’s mentally very mature. She can be very foalish, yes, but half the time she acts like a mare thirty years her senior.” After I finished, Pupa asked me, “Are you sure that’s a good idea?

No, but I wanted to be able to talk to Cadance again before I returned. “How about I check in with the hive, then? Maybe I visit a city every week or so to talk and catch up on my life.

“That doesn’t matter, you – you bug! If you haven’t noticed, she doesn’t eat unless somepony feeds her, and that’s not even the worst of her problems!”

I coughed awkwardly. I didn’t catch as much of what Cadance had said as I wanted – I’d never understand how changelings managed to keep up with multiple conversations – but I was pretty sure she said something embarrassingly true about my eating habits.

“She took Spike with her. She promised me she’ll keep him fed, and I’m sure she’ll eat with him.” At the same time, Pupa said to me, “What if Celestia can track you through the hive mind?

I frowned, not having thought of that. Luna hadn’t said she herself could, but neither had she said she couldn’t. Then again, Celestia also had an extra thousand years to learn how, if it were possible.

I suppose you’re right…

Before Cadance could respond to Pupa, Celestia said, “That makes this much easier. We can send a letter to Spike and track its destination.”

Cadance’s brief expression of glee was crushed as Pupa said, “Actually, Twilight blocked Spike’s dragonfire mail…thing. She is determined not to be found.”

Mail thing? Seriously?

Well you never used it and never explained how it works. All I know is that it’s a thing dragons can do.

I rolled my eyes ineffectually. Then again, maybe Pupa could see me through Chrysalis.

“Let me get this straight,” Cadance said, her voice cracking. “You decided it was a good idea to let a filly wander off on her own with her adopted baby dragon. What is wrong with you!”

Shouting in response, Pupa asked, “Do you want to be the one to tell Twilight to come home and give up her magic again? All of it, this time?”

Cadance winced and fell silent.

That was kind of mean…

“I’m sorry,” Pupa said, probably to both me and Cadance. “That was unfair.”

And technically I wouldn’t have to give up dark magic, since the reason for that odd behavior is obvious now.

No,” Chrysalis said, “you still would have to. Celestia would have no excuse to retract her decision without revealing changelings that wouldn’t sound like an excuse.

“There is another option,” Celestia said.

“No!” Cadance shouted. “You’re not–” A glow from Celestia’s horn left her shouting soundlessly into the room. Her eyes blazed with fury when she realized what was happening.

“Before we discuss that, I would like to ask if Twilight Sparkle is listening.”

I was so glad I wasn’t Pupa right now. I could probably get through that question, but wow that was a lot of pressure.

“It’s possible,” answered Pupa. “Not every changeling is accounted for at all times; we don’t have a buddy system or anything like that. Twilight could, in theory, find a member of my hive and geas her to listen in without letting Mother or me know, although they all have standing instructions to contact Twilight on sight. However…”

“However what?” Celestia asked.

“Well, she is quite good at illusions, and she knows how to teleport.”

I got to see a very gratifying widening of Celestia’s eyes before she substituted them for a raised eyebrow. Honestly, I would’ve liked to have waited to let her know exactly how talented I was until the last minute when the sheer weight of her foolishness fell upon her, but that didn’t make this moment any less satisfying.

“Did you make sure she learned the proper safety precautions for teleportation?” Celestia asked.

Nodding, Pupa said, “I honestly don’t think she’ll accidentally kill herself or Spike. But you mentioned another option? It’s possible I could talk Twilight into coming home if I knew what it was.”

“I do not believe anypony would willing subject herself to this, but we–”

Cadance, having finally gotten a counterspell to work, shouted, “You are not petrifying Twilight ever!”

It took what seemed like an hour for me to process that.

Pupa…” I began, not really sure what to say.

Really, what could a pony say to that? Petrification was a horrible, nasty ailment. In some ways, it was worse than banishment. The only upside was that if you were placed somewhere with other ponies, you might not go insane. I could probably make it if somepony read books to me, being a very inactive pony, but somepony like Dash would be broken afterward.

“I…I have to side with Cadance on this one,” Pupa said. I didn’t think she registered that I’d said anything, not that I’d said anything useful. “I’ve had a run in with a cockatrice before, and I certainly won’t be the one to lure Twilight back to be petrified.”

Celestia looked Pupa straight in the eyes. “Even if the alternative is death?” Pupa flinched away under Celestia’s gaze as she continued, “She is presently a danger to herself and others, and you expressed concerns about her mental and emotional state earlier. Do you not believe she would regress if we forced her to return home? Something must be done.”

Pupa, we need…I want more information. Just say, ‘probably,’ or something.

Pupa turned to Cadance, who was quietly biting her lip and who looked ready to decide whether Pupa was a good person or not based on her answer.

“I…would be willing to try talking Twilight into coming home if” – Pupa pointed to Cadance – “it were for her to become her teach – well, her protector while Twilight taught herself. I know that didn’t exactly work out last time–”

That wasn’t fair at all. I was attacking Cadance last time, not letting her try to help me.

“–but I suppose it couldn’t be any worse than Twilight being on her own. I don’t think she’ll go for it, though. Part of the reason she left and learned to teleport was because she felt guilty about how dangerous she is.”

“But I’m immortal! Twilight proved that well enough when she threw me off of the Canterhorn.”

Oh…oh no. Did I really – oooooh, of course I did. “Nooooo,” I moaned.

Chrysalis must have repeated my moan, because Pupa said, “I wouldn’t mention that to her, if I were you. That will just make her feel worse.”

“That is exactly why we have not told her,” Celestia said, apparently caring about my feelings for once. “However, you two are missing the key issue. Teaching flares requires specialized knowledge and skill, as well as a great deal of time. If you do it wrong, you merely end up with a magical bomb waiting to destroy what remains of Canterlot.”

Celestia paused just long enough to glance out a window toward the city. “Twilight Sparkle has become a lit fuse, and she must be extinguished before she kills herself and potentially tens of thousands of others, if not more.”

Oh my. That wasn’t ominous. Nope, not at all.

I gulped. Note to self: if I fail in my mission, stay lost in space forever, or else Celestia will probably just kill you and end the problem you pose once and for all.

“Sorry if this sounds like a dumb question, but why didn’t you just take Twilight on as your student when she was…”

Eight,” I said. “If you want to know, you could have just asked me, you know.

“When she was eight?” asked Pupa, then turning her attention to me. “I suppose, but I’m interested in hearing it straight from Celestia.

Shrugging, I said, “Whatever.

“Has Twilight not told you?” Celestia asked. “I would have assumed she already knew.”

“She mentioned the imminent return of Princess Luna–”

No! Wrong! Nightmare Moon!

“–and that your current student, Trixie Lulamoon, needed to be the one to use the Elements of Harmony against your sister, but she either didn’t know the details or neglected to tell me them.”

“If you already know that much,” began Celestia, seeming to fight off a sigh, “I suppose there is no harm in answering your question directly. As you no doubt know, nearly one-thousand years ago, I wielded the elements against my sister when she became Nightmare Moon. The end result was her banishment, but that was not what I had intended.”

What?

“I had meant to purify her, to return her to the sister I knew and loved.”

Wait…

“However, I found myself unable to wield the full power of the elements myself; they never were meant to be used by a single pony, or even by two alicorns. They are meant to be wielded by six ponies.”

No, no, no. Time out. She wanted to what?

“The sixth element, Magic, is the most troubling. I had planned for my previous student, Sunset Shimmer, to wield it, but she…disappeared.”

No, she couldn’t–

“Unfortunately, her timing could not have been worse. With so few years left before Nightmare Moon’s return, I would not have had time to prepare Twilight Sparkle to face her. At best, my sister would have been banished again. At worst, she would simply kill the element bearers and proceed to terrorize the world from the shadows.”

She was serious. Celestia wanted to delete Luna from her body now that she wasn’t so willing to put up with abuse and replace her with some fake version that would just sit there and be obedient. That was even worse than banishing her again!

I never really thought I’d say this, but I’d given Celestia too much credit. She was a monster.

My eyes widened as that thought sunk in. If I failed, I’d never see Luna again no matter how long I lived.

“I see,” Pupa began, “but that leaves the question of why you can’t be the one to bear the Element of Magic.”

Before Celestia could respond, Cadance snapped, “It’s because dear Auntie Celestia is a horrible pony who goes around petrifying ponies to solve her problems.”

Celestia turned to Cadance, giving her a disappointed look. “That is not why, but the spirit is right. Unfortunately, I cannot use the elements anymore, and I shall leave it at that.”

Ha! It seemed the Elements of Harmony knew who was in the right in this conflict; maybe that was why they didn’t let Celestia use them to kill Luna a thousand years ago. In the worst case, then, if I killed Trixie, I could save Luna’s life, or at least delay her execution until Celestia trained another bearer. Good to know.

“Right… So I guess I understand why you couldn’t teach Twilight at the time, but what does petrifying her accomplish that…well…that killing her wouldn’t?”

“It’s physical effects are reversible,” Cadance hissed, “and it would keep Twilight physically young until after Nightmare Moon has been dealt with.”

Before Pupa could ask the question, I said, “Flares need to learn control from a young age so our mind develops around the concept. It’s sort of like why adults have trouble learning languages when foals can learn several without a conscious effort. Luna’s not bothering with that for me, having offered ascension as a permanent solution.

Thanks, Twilight.” Pupa looked from Cadance back to Celestia and asked, “And why would this be helpful? Would you be teaching Twilight? I can tell you right now, she will never accept that unless you force her.”

Sighing – actually sighing – Celestia said, “No, I realize that ship set sail long before I even made port. My sister, however, I suspect she would accept.”

Pupa was laughing uproariously over the hive mind as she responded. I just rolled my eyes.

“I could see that working, but” – Cadance suspended her glare – “I still have to side with Cadance. I can’t imagine Twilight coming out of a multi-year petrification mentally whole.”

Oh stars, this was going to turn into one long, circular debate, wasn’t it?

As if sensing my distress, Pupa said, “Twilight, you can go talk to Princess Luna if you want. I don’t think anything useful is going to happen for a while. If there’s a good opportunity to find out why Celestia asked about her, I’ll take it, but I don’t imagine that happening anytime soon.

I – sure. Thanks.” I really didn’t want to sit around and listen to them argue the same points over and over. “Chrysalis, would you keep the recording spell running?

Yes, yes. I can take care of it. Just let me know when I need to take over the shields as usual.


“Luna!” I called out to my dream world, rather excited to share everything I’d learned today.

“No need to shout, Twilight.” Luna appeared just behind me and wrapped me in a hug. “I take it Pupa’s meeting with my sister is over.”

“Um, no, not exactly. I left when it was about to devolve into an argument over what to do with me if they ever found me on Equus, which of course they can’t.”

Luna sighed. “So Pupa was revealed, then. That’s unfortunate.”

“Well, yes, but as a result, Pupa testified under a geas that nopony she knew was associated with Nightmare Moon, so whatever suspicions Celestia had been entertaining have been dropped.” As an afterthought, I added, “And Cadance is acting fri – somewhat friendly toward Pupa, which is great news. I mean, Cadance was incredibly upset with her, but they seemed to bond a little bit in their disapproval of Celestia’s plan for me.”

“She has a plan for you?” Luna asked incredulously. Her voice almost oozed with doubt.

“Yeah. It would be funny if it weren’t so horrifying. She wants you to teach me.”

Setting me down in front of her, Luna gazed intently at my face, her eyebrows fighting to both scrunch together and rise. I’d never seen Luna look so utterly and completely floored before. Not that I could blame her. I wouldn’t have believed it either if I hadn’t heard it first – well, essentially firsthoof.

“I – I don’t understand.” Luna pulled back, no doubt having decided I was telling the truth. “How does she expect that to work?”

“Well, that’s where it becomes horrifying. First, she plans to petrify me for a decade or so.”

Luna fell to her haunches and resorted to rubbing her temples with her hooves. “I…suppose that would work in theory, but…” Luna shook her head. “Did she really say that?”

I nodded.

“Okay. Sure.” Luna seemed to be having trouble wrapping her head around the idea. “You wouldn’t be the first pony she’s petrified, I guess. Why not? And how does she expect to get me to cooperate? I can’t exactly teach in banishment, so far as she knows.”

First taking a deep breath, I replied, “She wants to kill you.”

She wants to what?” Luna bellowed at the traditional royal level, leaving me deafened. Her eyes were literally glowing with unbridled magical power. I could feel her magic washing over me without even using my horn. I took a step back as it lashed out at my own magic, burning it in an undefinable, abstract sense.

I cast a quick healing spell on my ears and steadied myself in front of Luna. “She wants to use the elements to ‘purify’ you and turn you into a fake, submissive, pushover version of yourself, philosophically killing you. I don’t even know if the elements would use you as a base for your body’s new personality.”

The sheer pressure of Luna’s raging magic slowly shoved me backward away from her. I hadn’t been lying when I’d told Pupa that I’d felt the raw power of an alicorn before, but I’d never seen magic this…raw and untempered. Even my flares had some structure, producing random magical effects. This – this was just pure magic.

She dares to make a slave of me? To destroy everything that I am?

Unable to withstand Luna’s magic, I tampered with my dream, removing myself from the effects of Luna’s rage.

So be it! I shall see to it that the night lasts forever by virtue of the simple lack of anything else. I shall extinguish her precious star ponies call the sun. I shall drag her kicking and screaming from the æther and reduce her to a mere mortal. I shall destroy everything she ever cared for and force her to watch.

Luna bore a distressing smile as she gazed upward at nothing. Then she did something that made me sure that she needed help: she laughed.

Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Aha ha ha ha ha!

And then when I am bored with her, I may see fit to banish her for a thousand years in some anonymous corner of space. Then when she returns, she will slowly die of starvation. Oh, but then, then I will offer her a choice at the very end of her life, because I am kind to my dear sister. She can die, or she can suffer what she had planned for me. Oh, how–

“Please don’t stoop to her level,” I whispered, tightly hugging Luna. Celestia certainly deserved all that, but it wasn’t worth it if Luna became a monster herself in the process.

I waited with my face buried in her coat. I couldn’t bear to look at her right now for fear of what I might see. Luna had every right to be mad, but somewhere deep inside myself, I was scared I’d broken her, that this was the last in a long line of abuses which had finally pushed her over the edge.

I waited, tightening my hug as our silence stretched on. The storm of Luna’s magic raged on in the separate plane of existence I’d tucked it into. If anything, it was only stronger for my words.

I waited. If my lip weren’t bleeding yet, it would be soon. As far as I could tell, Luna hadn’t so much as twitched since I’d spoken.

With a thump, I fell onto the ground, my muzzle colliding ungracefully as I landed face first in what amounted to a bellyflop sans water.

Jumping to my hooves, I looked around. I was standing where Luna had been but was no longer. Neither was she anywhere around me.

Then it happened. I could sense that instinctual feeling of a regular lucid dream. Luna wasn’t around to stabilize my consciousness anymore.

“Luna, come ba–”


I woke up in my usual bed and tried to roll over. The familiar weight of Spike curled up next to my belly, unfortunately, kept me stuck in place. Somepony must have put him to bed for me while I was busy sleeping outside my usual schedule.

Oh well, it wasn’t really that important. I was already comfy and warm enough to enjoy my blissful, sleepy haze.

I needed to remember to thank whoever put Spike to bed at some point. It was probably Berry Punch. Spike spent most days when I was busy playing with Berry Pinch.

Speaking of whom, Cherry Berry said something about…something recently. I think it had something to do with Pinkie Pie. Maybe Berry Pinch’s birthday was coming up.

That made sense. Pinkie Pie was trying to hide it, but I knew she’d been planning a few parties recently. My half-birthday was coming up soon, too. I’d have to make sure Pinkie Pie made butterscotch cookies this time instead of oatmeal raisin like during my last birthday. Those were the worst. I thought I’d be getting a delicious oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, but then suddenly raisins.

Mmm. I could go for some oatmeal pancakes right now.

Eh, but then I’d have to get out of bed. It wasn’t worth it.

I guess I could send a message to Pinkie Pie and ask for breakfast in bed. No, that was too much effort, too. And I’d still have to leave the snuggly warmth of my blankets.

There really was nothing like warm blankets. Changelings had some sort of cocoon thing that they could make for…ah, I couldn’t remember right now, but I was sure even that had nothing on blankets.

Then again, blankets could probably be improved. Spike was so warm himself, but he was so small. If I had somepony the size of Luna to snuggle with, everything would be bet–

My eyes popped open. Luna left! She’d just left and hadn’t come back! No, no, no. That was unacceptable.

I promptly cast a sleep spell on myself, falling unconscious before I’d even felt it take hold on me.


I woke up in my usual bed and rolled over. Much better. I’d felt a little uncomfortable before.

My stomach growled, but I paid it no mind. It was far too soon after waking to be thinking of anything in particular.

Now that I’d realized I’d been uncomfortable – wait, how long ago was that? Oh well. Anyway, Spike seemed to be missing, or at least I thought so. I was guessing purely on how much colder the bed was compared to usual. Dragons were so warm.

It was such a terrible trap. I usually only used my room to sleep, so I kept it cold so I could have more blankets. But then I’d have too many blankets, and I’d be too hot, so I’d need to make it colder again, thus necessitating another blanket.

Hmm… For all that her magic kept her warm – or cold, I guess – Dash and I got into fights over blankets pretty often. Maybe we should have brought some cotton plants. We’ve got some spare fabric and needle and thread in storage somewhere for patching rips – not that we’d ever needed them yet – but not enough to make more blankets.

Did leaves make good blankets? I could ask Berry Punch to save a bunch, and I could dig up a preservation enchantment.

Hmm, but then those blankets would be edible. What would happen if I ate one? It’d probably just come out the other end whole. But then I’d have to have strong enough teeth to eat through the spell preserving them. Unless the spell didn’t do that. I’d never needed a preservation spell before. I should probably look into them, or at least the ones used on books.

What was I thinking about? Oh yeah, teeth. If I had teeth like Luna’s, I could probably eat through–

Luna! She didn’t show up!

I cast another sleep spell on myself. This time Luna would come meet me. I just knew it.


I woke up in my usual bed. Somepony was saying something, but I couldn’t really make out what; my ears weren’t working properly yet.

That was something I always found interesting. I got that some ponies were light sleepers, but I didn’t understand why. My hearing literally didn’t work until I properly woke up or until I deliberately tried to hear things. Sometimes I would get stuck somewhere in-between – like right now – but that was the exception, not the rule.

My sense of touch, on the other hoof, didn’t like to turn off. If somepony wanted to wake me up, they just had to keep poking me – something whoever was nearby was apparently well aware of.

I lit up my horn and cast a sleep spell on the interloper. A little mean, perhaps, but it solved my problem. Besides, one should never wake a sleeping unicorn. Or was it a dragon? Wait, didn’t it have something to do with tickling? Tickling either a dragon or a unicorn was pretty dangerous.

I shoved whomever had fallen on top of me off to the side with a hoof and curled up into a ball.

There was something that I needed to do…but I couldn’t quite remember what. Maybe it had something to do with Berry Pinch? What did I need to do for her? She was still too young for magic lessons, and she’d be lost if I tried to teach her math or science.

How many scientists did we have on this ship? There was me and Twinkleshine. Oh, I needed to get her lessons started at some point. Summer break was over forever ago. Um…I think that was all of our scientists. That wasn’t nearly enough. I’d have to see to it that Berry Pinch and Spike grew up to study…eh, chemistry or something. Something sciencey.

Spike would look great in a lab coat. He’d get all the mares. Or…whatever female dragons were called. Drakeias? No, that sounded dumb. I didn’t remember bringing any books on dragon culture, and I didn’t relish trying to hunt the word down in a dictionary. But I did bring dragon anatomy books, though, so that should work.

I could always just ask Chrysalis or Luna. I was sure they’d both know. Maybe next–

Oh, no. Luna didn’t show up again…

Next time for sure.

I cast a sleep spell on myself.


I woke up in my usual bed. Spike felt bigger than usual. And more hoovey. And softer.

Eh, whatever. He was even better this way, and I fit nicely in-between his legs against his coat. What did Dash call that? Something about a spoon? That didn’t make any sense.

Speaking of spoons, though, I was pretty hungry. It wasn’t so bad as those times when I had to be dragged kicking and screaming from my books, but I was seriously considering getting out of bed. I was pretty thirsty, too, now that I thought of it. I licked my lips to little effect; my mouth was pretty dry.

Ugh… Speaking of bodily functions, I really needed the bathroom.

Sighing, I teleported myself out of bed to go about my afternoon routine on autopilot. Relieve the pressure in my bladder, get a drink, brush my teeth, shower…some other time. I wasn’t really in the mood right now.

Yawning, I trudged back into my bedroom, idly brushing my mane and tail with my magic. I looked over to my very tempting bed. Oh, how I wanted to crawl back under the covers and snuggle back up against Twinkleshine.

I cocked my head to the side. That was new. Twinkleshine and I didn’t share a bed, although I doubted either of us would object. Why was she here? Did somepony manage to talk me into drinking last morning to the point that I couldn’t remember?

No. No, that didn’t sound right. Somepony had been…trying to wake me up? That – yes, that was what had happened. And then I’d reflexively put her to sleep. Whoops. Oh well, no harm done. We’ll just have to move at a less lazy acceleration toward the moon today to make up for the–

Horseapples! Luna still hadn’t shown up!

I clambered back under my blankets and cast a sleep spell on myself.


I woke up to vigorous shaking, my eyes opening right away. I was floating in midair in front of Chrysalis just above my usual bed. Twinkleshine was standing sheepishly behind her and trying to look small.

“I stayed awake all this time because I assumed you had something important to talk to Luna about, not so you could get laid. I am going to bed right after this and will be relieving myself of my shield duty. Unless you want to risk traveling defenseless, I suggest you get up and stay up this time.”

“Um…Chrysalis, we didn’t–” Twinkleshine began, only be be cut off.

“I know very well you didn’t. You don’t smell like it at all.” Chrysalis dropped me in an ungraceful flump back onto my bed – above my sheets no less – and stomped out the door, shouting back a curt, “Good night!”

First righting myself, I looked for the edge of my blankets. Finding it, I pulled with my magic and pulled them tight back over me. Luna still hadn’t shown up yet.

“Twilight,” Twinkleshine said. I tried to ignore her. “You can’t sleep right now. Chrysalis meant what she said, and she’s really cranky right now. We need you to get up and power the ship.”

“Later. I need to be there for Luna right now if she needs me.”

“No!” Twinkleshine shouted, knocking my horn with her own telekinesis and interrupting my sleep spell. “Twi – Captain Sparkle, your crew needs you now, so get up.”

“But–”

“No buts! You can go spend all the time you want with your best friend later, but it’s time for us right now.”

I raised myself to my haunches and looked at Twinkleshine. I knew that there was jealousy in what she’d just said, but I couldn’t tell if she’d meant there to be or if she’d even noticed. Her face didn’t reveal anything important, nor did her stance. She just looked like she was scolding a lazy foal.

Luna needed me right now. That much I knew was true. If only she hadn’t left, I could’ve been there for her.

But she had, and I had no way to get to her; Luna had to come to me, and she could only do that if I were asleep.

Of course, being asleep required me to be alive. This close to the moon and sun, the chance of running into space debris was non-trivial over a long period of time.

Ugh. I could provide a large surge of power to the Nebulous for a minute and then take a five minute power nap, repeating that over and over until Chrysalis woke up.

But what if Luna came to me while I was awake. There’d be a one-sixth chance of that, and she might not come back if I missed her.

This was the worst.

I felt the power to the shields drop and quickly took up the slack myself. I could geas Chrysalis to stay up, but she’d never talk to me again after that. She might even ignore Pupa and her own well-being completely and betray us.

Biting my lip, I slowly got out of bed.

I really hoped that was the right decision.


Prereader – Starlight Nova