Chapter Eighteen - The Moon - Part Three


I sat down at a table with Twinkleshine after the most intense kiss of my entire life. It was also the only kiss of my entire life, but that hardly mattered. A local blend of fruit salad was served to us in mere seconds, making me suspect we took some other ponies’ orders. This wasn’t really the time to complain about preferential treatment, though.

“So…um…I’ve been…no…”

“Was I really good enough to leave you speechless?” asked Twinkleshine.

I faked a cough so poorly, I didn’t think anypony would’ve been fooled by it. “Kissing is more of a team effort.”

“Well I enjoyed it.” Twinkleshine ate an orange slice in a rather suggestive way.

“Um…okay, so first off, there’s a time and a place for…this” – I waved my forehooves at Twinkleshine – “but I much prefer Twinkleshine to this sort of…Dash–Twinkleshine hybrid. You don’t have to act like this to get my attention.”

“But back at the castle you–”

Holding up a hoof, I cut Twinkleshine off. “I think both of us know I’ve been…distracted. I’m really sorry for leaving you alone, but this winter has been rough on me. Not that that’s a good excuse for moping around, but I’ll try harder not to get like that in the future.”

Twinkleshine narrowed her eyes. “Is that really all it was? Twilight, we were alone in what was effectively an art museum on Hearth’s Warming Eve–”

“Hearth’s Warming Day, technically…”

“Whatever,” Twinkleshine replied, rolling her eyes before continuing. “–on the moon after flying all the way through space to get here, and you got rid of everypony except me right before that, even if some of them just sort of bolted on their own. It sort of gets a filly’s hopes up, don’t you think?”

“Right…” I said, rubbing the back of my head, my ears wilting. “I’m sorry. I’m usually better about that kind of stuff, but…” Sighing, I simply said, “I’m sorry.”

“Fine, but you better make it up to me.”

“I will, but only if you act like yourself.”

“I…guess that’s reasonable,” Twinkleshine conceded. “But you never really noticed me before tonight. I–”

“Twinkleshine, you’ve been in love with me – or at least infatuated – since approximately a season before I asked you to join the Nebulous, and you only realized what you were feeling after living aboard the ship with me for a few weeks.”

It seemed Twinkleshine had been left speechless.

“Trust me; I pay attention to you. The only reason I wasn’t the one to push you down is because I promised I wouldn’t do anything sexual until I got a little older, although I don’t think anypony will be too upset if it’s just kissing for now.”

“You – y-you knew?” Twinkleshine stuttered, blushing much more like her old self.

“That is the essence of what I just said.” I cringed as I ate something really, really sour. “Sorry, that wasn’t about you, just a new fruit I ate is all. Anyway, I’m happy to be the pony who flew you to the moon.”

Twinkleshine buried her head in her hooves on the table, moaning in embarrassment. “I can’t believe I really did that!”

“You were pretty good, if you think you can trust my biased opinion on the matter. Were you in a choir as a filly or something?”

I got a muffled, “Three years,” as a response.

I enjoyed a little giggle at Twinkleshine’s expense as I continued my meal alone. It’d likely be a few minutes before Twinkleshine was much for conversation again. I was about halfway through my fruit salad and on my second glass of some kind of fruit punch that had no business being as delicious as it was when Twinkleshine came back to life.

Taking a deep breath first, Twinkleshine said all at once, “So are we fillyfriends now?”

Alright, Twilight, sighing was a bad idea right now, so keep that little reflex under control.

“Twinkleshine, I’ve been meaning to have this conversation with you for several seasons now, but I’ve just kept putting it off for reasons that I think will become clear.”

“Is that a no?” whispered Twinkleshine. I thought I saw a tear in her eye, but it could have just been a trick of the light.

“It’s more a ‘yes but no’. And you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to put up with me.”

Head cocked to the side, Twinkleshine asked, “What do you mean?”

Resisting the urge to sigh and the urge to run away and put this off even longer, I said, “I’m a polyamorous pansexual.”

“A…what?”

“Hmm…” What was the best way to put this that didn’t end with me getting completely rejected and slapped? “Alright, this is going to require explanation, so please don’t freak out and run away until we’re done.”

“Wha – Twilight, I would never do that to you!”

“I’ll hold you to that.” I felt like I should have smirked there but didn’t. “Anyway, we might as well begin with the basic definitions. Pansexual comes from the root word pan, meaning all or every, and sexual, which of course means relating to sex in some manner. In simplistic terms, it basically means I’m willing to sleep with anypony.”

Twinkleshine shot me a confused, mildly disgusted look.

“Wait, wait, wait!” I said very quickly. “That came out wrong! Let me rephrase that. It means that whom I’m attracted to doesn’t depend on things like species or gender, although I certainly do have certain archetypes that I’m more likely to find attractive than others, and there’s other factors at work, too. For example, due to the current Equestrian culture, unicorn mares tend to be the most magically inclined, which is a trait I find appealing in a mate, which in turn leads me to find more unicorn mares attractive than I otherwise would in a sort of blank culture, whatever that means.”

“Um…okay,” Twinkleshine began. “I think I get it. So you would, say, find Chrysalis attractive? She’s magically talented”

“If you repeat this to her, I’ll deny it, but no. Her daughter, on the other hoof, is really sweet, and I could see myself spending some of my nights with her if she asked.”

Idly poking at the last piece of mango, I continued, “Honestly, it’s mostly about personality for me, but looks do play a part. Like, if personality were P, and looks were L, and we had some sort of objective scale with an attractiveness threshold A, then I would find somepony attractive if P cubed times L is at least A.”

“Twilight, I – I don’t think you’re explaining this right. We are still talking about…love? I’m not even sure anymore.”

Okay, maybe abstract mathematics weren’t really the right way to explain how I view sex and love to Twinkleshine.

“Essentially, it’s like…like…ah. Essentially a pony with a horrible personality would need to be the most beautiful pony in the world for me to find her attractive, but a pony with a great personality only needs to be mildly pleasing to me physically for me to find her attractive. Does that make sense?”

“Mhm,” Twinkleshine hummed, nodding. “Should I be asking if I have more…um…P or L?”

“That’s…kind of a loaded question.”

“Oh, come on,” Twinkleshine said in a rather dangerous tone. “I promise not to get mad.”

I bit my lip as I took Twinkleshine’s pleading stare full on. It proved too much to resist at the moment.

“You’re sort of a low medium L. You’re not beautiful, but I wouldn’t call you average or ugly. In my particular case, your white coat is really working against you, not that I think you should dye it or anything. I – I’m just digging my own grave over here, aren’t I?”

Twinkleshine giggled. “No, that just means I have a wonderful personality, right?”

“Well, more or less, yes. I really like how much of yourself you put into what you love to do. It’s not everypony who would take on the job I asked of you at your age successfully.”

“Says the filly who brought me to the moon,” Twinkleshine said, visibly deflating.

“It was a team effort. Besides, I’m not really a pony anypony should compare herself to.” For many reasons, but in particular because I had to make myself into an outlier among outliers in order to ascend. “I’ve had a lot of advantages that only a few other ponies have ever had.”

“Like a princess for a teacher.”

After polishing off a third glass of that mystery fruit punch, I exclaimed, “Exactly! Anyway, moving on, we have the word polyamorous next. Poly means many, and amorous is an adjective essentially meaning ‘possessing romantic love’, so at its core, polyamorous means ‘having many loves’.”

“Oh,” Twinkleshine deadpanned.

Well at least she hadn’t outright rejected me, philosophically or personally.

“So, I’ve never given this talk before – I’ve only had it given to me – but I’ll try to explain it as best I can in general terms, because everypony that would refer to herself as polyamorous sort of has her own code of conduct.”

Frowning, Twinkleshine asked, “This isn’t one of those herd things, is it? My mom said that’s just when a handsome stallion or beautiful mare tricks a bunch of ponies.”

No,” I said as strongly as I could put it. “I’m not going to deny that kind of stuff happens, but that’s just domestic abuse as you described it. It’s no more common among non-monogamous relationships than it is in monogamous ones. I know I can be manipulative–”

“And beautiful,” Twinkleshine interjected.

Okay, flirting was good, even if it was the annoyed kind of flirting.

“–but I hope I have good enough taste to like ponies who are strong enough to tell me when I’m doing something wrong. I mean, not that the victims are at fault, if you have any family that has–”

Twinkleshine interrupted me with a cough.

“Right…” I mumbled, playing a bit with my fork. I wasn’t very good at this. “Anyway, so a herd is more of one big relationship. I mean, not everypony necessarily likes everypony else, but the relationship dynamic is more or less a single unit that makes its decisions as a whole. On the other hoof, polyamory is a more general set of pairwise relationships with varying levels of association. You could describe it as a graph, or more appropriately as a sort of flow network with the vertices being relationships and the edge weights being the level of asso… I’ve lost you again, haven’t I?”

“Pretty much,” Twinkleshine said through a half-full mouth of something green and purple. “Do you always think about love in mathy terms?”

“Well, when I’m thinking about the philosophy of love, it’s a rather succinct way to speak. But when I’m thinking about particular ponies I like, usually no.”

“Usually?” Twinkleshine tried to raise an eyebrow the way I did, but she clearly lacked the dedicated muscle training to make it work. It ended up as simply hilarious and cute as she struggled to get her face to work the way she wanted it to.

“What can I say?” I said through my giggles. “I love math. I use it a lot in spellcasting, after all.”

Facehoofing, Twinkleshine said, “Please promise me I’ll never find you making out with a textbook.”

“Well, I mean, ponies like Pupa could turn into a…” Getting an ‘are you serious’ glare from Twinkleshine, I got the message. It wasn’t like it was much of a concession. “Okay, I won’t ever let you see me making out with any sort of printed word medium, textbooks included.”

“I – I’m just going to pretend you just made a really romantic promise to me so we can move on.”

“That may be wise…” The conversation was descending into a horribly awkward place.

Getting up from her chair, Twinkleshine said, “I’ll go get us some of that funny looking pie.”

I probably should have gotten up to help her, but it was pretty amusing to watch Twinkleshine pantomime her way through a conversation. Honestly, whether or not Twinkleshine actually communicated anything with her gestures was up in the air, but there’s really only one thing a pony could ask of a pie distributer. It wasn’t long before she returned with two slices of pie.

“I think these are called mona coffyns,” Twinkleshine said, a rather conspicuously large chunk already missing from her own slice.

“How appropriate,” I said through a mouthful of my desert. It was pretty good, tasting a bit like a strawberry tart with the consistency of a cherry one. And there was something else in it that I couldn’t quite identify, something sweet and crunchy. It was definitely a positive addition.

“Why? What does it mean?”

“Essentially ‘moon pie’.”

“Well,” Twinkleshine began, stopping dead as she searched for words to put after that. “I guess it’s no less creative than Equestrian bread.”

Hmm… Maybe we needed some sort of naming regulatory committee in Equestria. They’d be in charge of maintaining a minimum threshold of creativity in names in all things, but particularly in foods. Well actually, that was kind of a bad idea. At some point they’d wind up trying to regulate the sciences, and then instead of simple theorem names that everypony could easily refer to, we’d get a big mess. Yeah, on second thought, that was a bad idea.

“I had something else earlier that had mona in the name,” Twinkleshine said. “I suppose that means it was a moon cake, then.”

“Maybe. I think we actually have those back on Equus. They’re a griffin food, if I remember correctly.”

“Huh.”

I couldn’t help but feel Twinkleshine and I were just trying to distract ourselves with pointless conversation. As much as I’d like to keep putting this off, I really needed to get back on topic, if for no other reason than because Twinkleshine deserved it.

“I’m screwing this up, aren’t I?” I asked.

Twinkleshine hesitated to answer, which I took as a yes.

“Well anyway,” I began, hoping that I didn’t make this any worse, “there’s sort of three basic ideas that polyamorists all accept, although there’s a lot of overlap of derived ideas. The first one that sort of gets the ball rolling is fairly straightforward. Basically, jealousy and possessiveness are undesirable and manageable.

“I’ve grown up in the culture–” At Twinkleshine’s none too subtle cough, I corrected myself, “Er, I’m still growing up in the culture, I guess, but I do understand and experience those feelings. When I say that they’re undesirable, I don’t mean that you should bottle them up or avoid them; that would destroy a pony eventually. The point is that you’re supposed to confront them and find out what’s really causing them.”

Not that it was always easy for ponies to do. It sounded really great on paper, but sometimes emotional problems ran really, really deep. Of course, resolving those problems was always for the best, no matter what the reasons for doing so were, but that was easier said than done.

“The core idea here is that other loves are a gain for your lover, not a threat to you. The love between you and your lover is independent and grows or dies separately, at least in general. There are certainly cases were that’s not true, like a ménage à trois, which I probably mispronounced.”

Twinkleshine rolled her eyes. “Twilight, I’m not really concerned with your pronunciation of a language I don’t speak right now.”

“Well you should be,” I huffed, taking an extra large helping of pie in protest. When I finally managed to swallow it all, I continued, “That said, there are, naturally, theoretical upper bounds on the number of meaningful… To be fair, that was more social science than mathematics.”

“Whatever you say, Twilight.” Twinkleshine was clearly unimpressed by my rebuttal to her unvoiced complaint.

“Anyway, my point was going to be that ponies rarely find enough love to actually be a strain on their other relationships. You can sort of think of friendships as an analogue. Ponies don’t naturally make so many friends that they become less…friends… That sounds really awkward, and now I want to establish some sort of friend level function.”

I didn’t even bother to glance at Twinkleshine’s no doubt disapproving look as I sighed.

“Do you at least understand what I’m trying to say?”

Twinkleshine nodded and chewed a little faster. After swallowing, she said, “Yeah, more or less. There’s an old quote that goes something like, ‘If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was yours; if not, it never was.’ I guess that’s what you’re trying to get at, but it comes back with company instead.”

“Yes, that’s exactly it! Okay, so now we should talk about what fidelity means, since that ties in well here, and since there’s not that much to it. This is the number two sort of universal idea, although even here there’s a lot of wiggle room for nuances.

“As I’m sure you can imagine, trust is a big part of polyamory, and at its core, fidelity is about honoring your agreements with your lovers. I know it sounds like something you should do anyway, but it’s a big part of monogamous fidelity, too. The primary difference between the two is that sexual exclusivity is modified or dropped entirely, as is the expectation of exclusive romantic love.”

“That was sort of implied when we began this conversation,” Twinkleshine commented.

It still bore mentioning, though. “Anyway, what agreements ponies make vary wildly, but it’s important you talk about them before you actually enter into the relationship, which is why we’re having this conversation now. If you don’t, the relationship is usually a powder keg waiting for a spark. Some ponies might agree not to have sex with anypony new without first discussing it with their current lovers. Some ponies might agree that growing old together is what’s important.”

Not that I could actually do that for Twinkleshine. I would be all for pushing her to ascend, if only her special talent didn’t overlap with Luna’s. As much as I wanted to know what would happen, I wouldn’t want Luna to be my experimental subject.

“And I expect almost everypony would agree that being able to depend on a lover’s care and presence is important.”

“I, at least, agree,” said Twinkleshine. “I – ooh, is that a lemon cobbler? Be right back!”

Huh. I wasn’t sure if I should be taking Twinkleshine’s appetite as a good or bad sign. She never showed any signs of an eating disorder, so I doubted she was eating her problems away right now. Not that it precluded the concept of comfort food. She could be simply trying to distract herself with literally anything else, and food was the nearest and easiest choice that made it look like she was really paying attention.

Then again, maybe I was going on at length about something she didn’t really have a problem with and was just bored, wanting to go participate in the festival. I kind of wanted to go, too…

No, I couldn’t put this off any longer. We’d talk until we were done or until Twinkleshine said she needed time to think.

Twinkleshine sat back down and placed two plates down, the lemon-cobbler-like dish for her, and–

“Oh my gosh!” I shouted through a double mouthful of butterscotch… Well, I didn’t know what it was, but it was butterscotch. “I didn’t know–”

“Please don’t talk with that in your mouth, Twilight. It’s really, really gross.”

Swallowing, I said, “Sorry. But I had no idea they had this here! Luna must have given them the recipe in advance!”

It only took me a couple minutes to polish off my plate. I had to make sure that Pinkie Pie got that recipe before we left. And I needed a few more plates of this stuff, but later. If I just started eating it right now, I’d probably eat it all and get a stomach ache.

I finally properly looked back up at Twinkleshine to find her watching me with a smirk.

“What? You know this stuff is like catnip for me.”

“Yes, yes I do. Anyway, you were saying?”

“Oh, right.” I resisted the temptation to lick my plate, although it did draw my eyes on occasion. “So the last big idea is that honesty and respect are fundamentally important. Polyamory is incredibly difficult to make work if the ponies involved can’t trust their lovers to be open and honest with them, that they won’t attempt to undermine other relationships, that they will be preemptively honest, et cetera.”

Hmm, that didn’t come out exactly as I wanted it to.

“The honesty and openness is mostly concerning feelings, both within a relationship and in regards to other relationships, new or old. There’s still plenty of room for personal and state secrets; you don’t have to be an open book, although the basis of most good relationships is sharing yourself with your lover. To sum up a really complicated issue in a sentence, it’s basically about having good intra-relationship communication skills and inter-relationship respect.”

I only hesitated for a moment before I continued; I doubted Twinkleshine noticed.

“And on the topic, now might be a good time for you to…I guess monologue at me about how you feel about this, and then we can discuss it together. And be honest; don’t just tell me what I want to hear.”

Twinkleshine took a very deep breath. “Are you sure? I – I’m not sure if I’ll be able to stop once I get started. I’ve been holding a lot of things in for a while now…”

“Well, there’s never a better time than the present,” I said, deliberately not cringing. My theory that Twinkleshine was bored had almost certainly just flown out the window. “Like I said, communication and honesty are important.”

After another deep breath, Twinkleshine began.

“I’m not at all happy about this! I don’t want to share you with anypony, not even our friends. I know that’s unreasonable, and I’ve been trying to work on it, but you spend so little time with others that it’s hard not to be jealous. You’re so solitary, and you barely ever pay attention to anyone. I – Twilight, I don’t know if somepony like you can really understand, but you completely turned my life around. You turned me into an honor student and a space pioneer.”

Second space pioneer, technically. Luna and Celestia were out here first, after all, and Discord probably had been, too. Not that I was going to mention that.

“And look at us now. You’ve brought me to the moon, Twilight. The moon! You could beat me and treat me like dirt, and I’d still never be able to get you out of my head!”

I – I didn’t know what to say to that.

“I know you’ll probably say that I helped, but I know you’re a lot smarter than me; you could have gotten here by yourself just fine if you really put your mind to it. I hate feeling like I’m just here to keep you entertained, but the truth is, you’re so introverted that I know you don’t even need me for that, especially with” – Twinkleshine stopped dead for a second, biting her tongue – “her supporting you.”

I couldn’t say I didn’t see this coming…

“I thought I could make you look at me instead of her; I really, really did. She’s a princess, and you’re just a little filly. I thought I could do it.” Twinkleshine rubbed her nose with a hoof and tried to sniff silently. “And then I saw what you were like without her, and I got desperate. This – that song wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. I asked Pinkie to help me weeks ago.”

Twinkleshine was openly crying at this point, although she managed to keep herself to sniffles so she could talk. “It was terrible of me, but I thought this was my chance. You’ve been so vulnerable. And – and the worst part is that you just told me that there’s no way I can ever take Princess Luna’s place in your heart. I-I know you’ll s-say they’re in – inde – independent, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like her more than me. I’m s-so tired of playing second fiddle, and I hate that I want to tear you away from somepony who’s done so much for you, but I do. I really, really, really do. I know now more than ever that you’re going to hate me for it, but it’s true.”

Pausing for only a moment to catch her breath, Twinkleshine continued, “I wish I were stronger, like you, but I’m not. Whatever you make of me, I’m still just the old, fragile Twinkleshine inside. Inside, I’m like…like glass, ready to break under pressure, and – and I just realized you’ve been spending years trying to build my self-confidence. I’d never ever have been able to get up in front of everypony and sing alone like that when we first met, much less plan to do it, but even then, I only could because it was for you.”

I passed a much needed cloth napkin over to Twinkleshine, her own already in need of a good washing. She really wasn’t being fair to herself; she had really made leaps and bounds in the self-confidence and self-worth departments in the past couple years. In all honesty, I suspected she didn’t really mean even half of what she was saying, but I wasn’t going to stop her venting now.

“Just…why? Why do you even put up with me? I’m not pretty like you; you’re educating me; I’m greedy and jealous; you have to hold my hoof for more than half the amazing things you let me do; I’ve even yelled at the princess.”

Huh? That was news to me. As far as I knew of, Twinkleshine had only spoken to Luna that one time. Luna hadn’t said anything…specifically on the subject. She did mention…something about Twinkleshine being…something. Not that it mattered too much in this context. And what was that about me being the pretty one?

Descending into no more than a whisper, Twinkleshine continued, “I – I’m not – I’m not the stuff of legends, Twilight. You are, and the princesses are, but I’m not. It’s so hard loving you, like trying to woo a star in the sky, but I can’t stop. You’re so bright that I can’t see anything else. Sometimes not even myself…”

Twinkleshine collapsed onto the table. “I – I’m done. You can make me feel better now; you always do.”

Wow. Just…wow. Those were some high expectations to live up to.

And even though I suspected she was being harsher on herself than normal, I’d probably accidentally made Twinkleshine a little…no, I couldn’t try to downplay this like that. I’d made Twinkleshine emotionally dependent on me. Unintentionally, sure, but in trying to help her be a better mare, I’d taken too big of a role in her life.

I’d have to fix that, but…how did I go about helping Twinkleshine detach herself from me more? I needed to get more involved to get less involved? That was a contradiction in terms.

Ugh. Well, first things first.

“Twinkleshine,” I began, “before I say anything else, I want to say I really appreciate your honesty. I know that some of that – well actually, most of what you said must have been hard to say. That said” – I spared a side glace at the area around us – “would you like to take this somewhere more private?”

We did sort of have at least half of the lunar population pretending not to be watching us intently. I was honestly surprised we didn’t have everypony asking if I needed any help. But then again, I wasn’t the one crying; maybe this was one of those things where ponies stood at a respectful distance while they let their princess take care of it.

Oh stars, I just referred to myself as a princess. Sigh…

Whatever. I had more important things to do right now.

“Twinkleshine?” I repeated myself, not having gotten an answer yet.

“No,” Twinkleshine said into the table, barely audible over the background noise of the festival. “No, you’re just going to let me down gently then where I won’t make a scene.”

“That’s not true, and you already have made a scene. Not that I care about that. If you want to stay here, that’s perfectly fine,” I said, levitating myself and my chair to sit next to Twinkleshine.

I suspected the right thing to do for Twinkleshine right now was to push her to make selfish decisions for her own happiness, even if it were for petty things like staying in the middle of a crowd.

Putting one hoof across Twinkleshine’s withers and another on her shoulder, I continued, “I have no intention to let you down if you don’t want me to, gently or otherwise. If you want me to back off, I will. If you want me to get closer, I will. If – if you want me to push you away so you can find yourself without me, I…will. It’s your decision if you want us to pursue this relationship.”

Twinkleshine didn’t say anything, but she did lean into me.

I spent a minute trying to think of something to say that would fix everything, but I came up empty. I really wasn’t trained for comforting or therapy, nor did I have much practical experience. All I really had to offer was advice.

“Twinkleshine, I can’t think of anything to say or do right now that will make you feel better. All I can give you is a healthier perspective.”

I thought about making a joke about not being perfect because of that, but I wanted to drag Twinkleshine up, not myself down. That was far healthier in the long run.

“Honestly, yes, I could probably do your job if I had the time for it. I know it looks like I do nothing but study and teach everyday–”

“That is all you do,” Twinkleshine interrupted.

“Yes, but that’s my job. Deposing a goddess is, to use your words, the stuff of legends, and it’s very time consuming. However, you’re looking at this the wrong way. I’m not going to try to tell you I’m not amazing, because I am. Your problem is you’re looking at a pony with a skill set that has a lot of applications in other fields, and you think, ‘She can do my job, so my job must be simple,’ but that’s an easy mistake to make. I know I help you on occasion, but I’m ultimately just providing the ship’s power.”

I stopped for a brief moment to catch my breath. I really needed to slow down; rushing would only make it seem like I was trying to cheer her up instead of stating facts.

“Think about it, Twinkleshine. Whether or not I could have gotten here myself, you did the work. We got to the moon. We even got here on the first try; we didn’t have to turn around and try again or anything. That is impressive. Even just going from Equus to the Nebulous, I messed up all the time. Even if you don’t think you’re ‘the stuff of legends’, you at least have a big part in them.”

“I guess…” Twinkleshine didn’t really look or sound like she believed it.

Of course, I wasn’t expecting Twinkleshine to instantly cheer up or anything; ponies really didn’t work that way. Maybe after a few weeks of thinking about it with a lot of small, positive reinforcement, she’d start to really feel better. Honestly, what she needed was an important project, preferably something I couldn’t do.

Then again, that wouldn’t really help if I were the one to give it to her. Maybe Luna could? Hmm, that might work; it did fit the ‘quest’ archetype to get a task from a princess. I’d probably still need to keep my hooves out of the project design, though, or Twinkleshine might notice my influence.

Or, maybe, just maybe, I could make the reasonable choice, and in a week or two, I could ask if Twinkleshine would be willing to visit a therapist for her personal issues. Luna could probably track down somepony trustworthy and good, and Chrysalis should be willing to let Twinkleshine use the hive mind. That was so reasonable. And if that didn’t help her, we could try other methods.

Although on the whole issue of sharing me…well, Twinkleshine did seem to have some problems to work out there, too. She and I would need to talk about it together, perhaps with a mediator. Some of that hadn’t sounded…healthy. Not that she hadn’t pointed out some of my own issues, too.

“Twilight–”

Oh, horseapples. I’d spaced out on Twinkleshine just now.

“–thank you for trying.”

Twinkleshine let her head rest on me as if she were going to fall asleep sitting up in my hooves, which would be very awkward and uncomfortable for both of us.

I hesitated for only a moment before replying. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help much.”

“It’s okay. Will you stay with me the rest of the night?”

“If that’s what you want,” I began, looking straight up, “I’d love to. I’m not sure how much night is left, though; the moon is starting to get pretty big in the sky.”

From this side of the moon, dawn was rather fascinating to watch, and no doubt a little horrifying if you didn’t know the moon wasn’t going to crash into itself. The moon set in its own sky in almost the same way as it did on Equus, but it also grew larger at the same time, finally reaching a one-to-one scale as it crossed over the edge of the universe. It was sort of as if the sky were one big mirror.

We’d be traveling way too fast for us to get a good look, but in theory, we’d be able to see ourselves in the moments just before moonset. And then – then we’d get to see what was on the other side! Even under the unexpected circumstances, I was really looking forward to finding out; Luna hadn’t told me before she disappeared or after she’d come back. The latter might have been my fault for not asking, but I suspected she would’ve just told me to wait and see before.

“Hey, wait a second,” I said, my mind catching up to what I’d just promised Twinkleshine. “Night never really ends on the moon, does it?”

“Ah, you caught me.” Twinkleshine’s laugh was weak, but it was a step in the right direction.

I rolled my eyes. “I suppose I can stick to you like glue while we’re here.”

“Thank you,” Twinkleshine mumbled.


The moon hung ominously over the horizon, filling nearly half the sky. Honestly, it was a little terrifying, although neither I nor Twinkleshine would ever admit it openly. The only reason I knew Twinkleshine found it scary was the the subtle shaking of her legs as we sat together on the balcony of the highest turret in Luminance.

Other than that little detail, the view really was stunning. The landscape wasn’t as beautiful looking out as it was looking in, but it still looked lovely. I hadn’t noticed it before, but there was a little lake hidden behind a hill at the end of the river. Strangely enough, the start of the river just came straight out of another small hill.

Magical landscaping was weird.

A knock came on the door behind us. “May I enter?” Chamomile asked, her voice muffled through the wood.

“Please come in!” I called back.

Turning my head a little to the side, I saw Chamomile enter pushing a cart – which must have been a huge pain to carry up the staircase – bearing tea and small snacks with her forehooves. The teacakes I recognized, but the rest of the snacks were beyond me.

“Thanks for doing this for us,” I said. “You really didn’t have to.”

Hearing one of the words Cherry Berry had taught her, Twinkleshine echoed in Old Equestrian, “Thanks.”

“Oh, trust me, Your Highness, it was no trouble. I rarely have an excuse to practice my special talent, even during the Winter Moon Festival.”

My smile turned to a frown nearly instantly. “I know the feeling. It’s horrible.” A shiver ran through my body; even after all these years, I still wasn’t completely over those first several weeks of horror after my first flare.

“Well, I do find a chance every now and then, although mostly just for myself; nopony else here particularly cares for tea.”

“I’ll be honest,” I began, taking a plate of teacakes in my magic, “I don’t like tea too much either, but I do love caffeine. Still, that must be unpleasant, especially right after when you got your cutie mark.”

Chamomile let out an exasperated sigh and had to set her tea pot down for a moment. “It was. ‘Chamomile, find something useful to do.’ ‘You want to be a maid? The castle cleans itself.’ ‘You want to be the librarian? Bookkeeper already does that. No, she’s the chronicler, too.’ ‘No, you can’t just make tea and grow tea plants.’ ‘Why would we need a hero? A guard is no different.’”

Eyes widening, Chamomile stopped short of another mocking quote. It was a shame, too; she did a pretty funny old stallion voice.

With a bow, Chamomile said, “My apologies, I–”

“Don’t bother,” I interrupted. “I much prefer not being treated like a princess.” After thinking for a moment, I continued, “Well, at least in conversation. I am liking that everypony gives me what I want, no questions asked.”

Seeing that Chamomile didn’t get it, I smirked to emphasize that it was a joke. Her eyes lit up in recognition a moment later, and she smiled back. Honestly though, it was a nice change of pace. Everything was so much work back on Equus and even on the Nebulous.

“But in all seriousness,” I began, “you don’t need to walk on eggshells around me. Please just call me Twilight.”

Clearly flustered, Chamomile said, “I – um – th-thank you, Your – er, I mean, of course, T-Twilight. I – do – would you like anything else?”

I wanted to raise an eyebrow at this, but it might endanger the fact that my request had actually worked. Well, sort of. The words ‘super effective’ came to mind. At least Chamomile had used my name instead of a title.

“No thank you–”

Twinkleshine yawned. That wasn’t terribly unexpected; she had been up for quite a while and under a lot of stress. She didn’t even have the benefit of a nap like I did.

“Um, I guess if it’s not too much trouble, maybe stick around somewhere nearby. Twinkleshine could really use a bed after moonset, and I don’t really want to put her in Luna’s.”

“Of course! I’ll just be waiting at the bottom of the stairs whenever you’re ready. I – um – I’ll just leave this here,” Chamomile said quickly, gesturing to her tea cart, “if you decide you want any more. I’ll – I’ll see you soon.”

Chamomile excused herself with a quick bow that was probably aborted halfway through. Moments after the door closed behind her, an excited cry echoed back up into the room.

Snickering, I said to Twinkleshine, “I wonder if she knows the turret echoes.”

Whatever Twinkleshine said in response, it was completely indecipherable through her mouth stuffed with food.

“How much have you eaten tonight?” I asked, poking Twinkleshine’s belly. As unflattering as it was to comment on it, her stomach was actually bulging a bit.

Swallowing, Twinkleshine replied, “Enough that I’m going to regret it in the afternoon.”

I rolled my eyes at her goofy, crumb encrusted smile. I sort of thought when Twinkleshine had said she wanted to eat ‘whatever local foods they have’, that she hadn’t meant all of them.

“How are you not regretting it now?”

“I think one of my grandparents was a cow.”

I was pretty sure genetics did not work like that, even in the extraordinarily unlikely event that Twinkleshine was part cow.

“I think when we get back to Equus, I’m going to send you to the Apple family for lunch,” I said, more to myself than to Twinkleshine.

Opening her mouth for a moment, Twinkleshine closed it again and scrunched her eyebrows together. Just before I was going to ask what was wrong, she said, “I would rather not test my theory, or at least that’s my hunch.”

“Huh? Twinkleshine, is something wrong?” Besides those other things we were just sort of forgetting about for the night.

“No, not at all. I just thought my phrasing was strong.”

Oh stars, she wasn’t. “Are you serious?”

“Perhaps. My motives are mysterious.”

I looked Twinkleshine dead in the eyes. “I like oranges.”

“Um… Um… You’re…borenges?”

I was a little ashamed to admit I stuffed a cookie in her mouth, but Twinkleshine deserved it. I was more ashamed to admit I actually laughed. Once. Twinkleshine, on the other hoof, seemed to be enjoying herself, although it was probably more from my reaction.

Mid-sip of tea, I felt her magic again.

“It’s happening,” I said as quickly as I could.

“Really?”

“Uh-huh,” I hummed in answer. Apparently I was right in thinking that I was the only pony who could notice.

The entire moon was covered in the faint sensation of Celestia’s magic, and the moon was getting noticeably larger in the sky over fractions of seconds. I felt a little off, but that was almost certainly Celestia’s magic doing it’s job to shunt us across the edge of the universe.

“Don’t flinch,” I said, probably to myself, but I could always pretend I’d been talking to Twinkleshine. We may have been squeezing each other a bit, but it was definitely not because we were nervous.

Secretly, I was really, really glad that the Hornburg wasn’t going to be the first point to pass through the boundary, but it was very close. We were going too fast to actually experience the mortal terror of that moment just before potentially splatting on the edge, crushed beneath ourselves and the moon behind us, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t imagine it, especially with the moon filling almost the entire sky now.

At least if we died here, it would be spectacular and instan–

Oh. Well that was disappointing.


Prereader – Starlight Nova