Chapter Twenty - The Long Journey - Part One
[Winter 57, 994 – Day 267]
I asked Luna to spend some time with Twinkleshine once in a while last morning, hopefully to defuse some of the tension between Twinkleshine and me. Given that Twinkleshine didn’t blow up at me after she woke up, I’m going to call this a success until further notice.
In other news, Chamomile has settled in well. She tries to make herself useful to everypony, but the language barrier pretty much restricts her to working with Cherry Berry, myself, and, surprisingly, Chrysalis. I’m not going to question why she knows Old Equestrian. She probably has a changeling translating for her on the fly. But I am intrigued by how quickly she’s taken to Chamomile. Perhaps it’s a rare species thing, or maybe it’s that they both have fangs.
Hmm… Chrysalis does get along reasonably well with Flutter – no, that’s silly. Fangs do not a friendship make.
Finally, we’ve at last managed to turn around completely, and we’re headed mostly in the right direction to reach Mona now. We’ll probably be making little adjustments the entire trip, but it’s smooth sailing from here on out. The pace isn’t as relaxing as the moon leg was, but I’m managing well enough. We have five-and-a-half years before Luna’s banishment ends, so there’s plenty of time to rest when I need it.
Nothing further of interest to report.
[Spring 12, 994 – Day 322]
I swear, I don’t even know what to do with Twinkleshine right now. Have her get to know Luna to help us? A flawless plan. Tell Luna she should ask about Twinkleshine’s project? An instant success. Tell Twinkleshine to go to bed after working for two days straight? I had to remind her that she could get input from Luna.
Try to get her to come to class? Impossible, the little truant. She’s acting almost half as bad as Cherry Berry. Why just the other day, Twinkleshine actually showed up to class while I was teaching Berry Pinch just to ask me to make another ream of paper for her to use, and she got mad at me when I told her no.
And don’t even get me started on Cherry Berry. She’s nearly constantly pestering me for information about the past, present, and future. I’ve been mostly successful in diverting her attention with Chamomile, but that doesn’t always work.
Seriously, they’re working so hard it’s like they think they’re going to run out of ti–
Well…it’s not my job to make everypony else immortal.
I wonder if I can find a solution in forty years or less. Maybe thirty… But then age spells are a thing, even if they…
Right. Let’s get off this morbid note. Mom and Dad aren’t leaving me anytime soon, and neither is anypony else.
Anyway, Twinkleshine is getting totally obsessed! I know this is, like, a dream come true for her, but this is the third dream come true she’s gotten. Or is it the fourth? There’s space, the moon, the new stars, and I guess the moon ponies count as a separate one. You’d think she’d adjust after so much, but she hasn’t.
I suppose I can be just as bad at times. They’ll both calm down eventually. I just have to wait them out. Besides, Twinkleshine is enjoying herself. So long as she doesn’t drive herself into a rut or something, I’m glad she’s having fun.
Nothing further of–
Dash! How many times do I have to tell you? No stunt flying in the library!
Chamomile, can you clean that up please?
I think you meant – Dash, get back here!
[Summer 8, 994 – Day 418]
I think Spike is wandering somewhere around nearby instead of – in bed, like he’s supposed to be! – so I’ll keep this short. First, I am never going to dance ever again ever, especially not at my own birthday party. Maybe after a hundred years of practicing ballroom dancing with Luna in space in the other half of the universe, but not a moment sooner.
Second, I approximately kept one of my old promises to Luna, plus or minus some kissing with Twinkleshine. I already can’t wait until I’m sixteen, because wow, she was completely right.
Nothing further of interest to report.
[Winter 1, 995 – Day 611]
Today…has not been a good day. I have hopes that things will be better in a few weeks, but – well, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Just after noon today, Chrysalis woke me up and patched me into the hive mind without so much as a warning.
“What on Equus is going on?” I asked Pupa and Chrysalis.
Seriously, Chrysalis better have a very good reason to wake me up several hours early while I was in the middle of a magic lesson, or I was going to send her into deep space. Well, further into deep space. Away from the ship. Whatever, I was tired.
“Cadance is looking for you,” Pupa replied, giving me a full view of the mare in question.
Cadance was sitting on her bed, looking very relaxed. If her eyes weren’t half-open, I’d have guessed she was asleep.
“This is a joke, right? I don’t get it, and I’m going back to bed.”
As I built up power for a teleport, Pupa said, “No, wait. Listen. Cadance has been taking her studies seriously for awhile now.”
That was sort of the point of her punishment when she took the blame for my flare two Hearth’s Warmings ago. She was supposed to be studying to better use and control her magic. But if Celestia hadn’t found me yet, there was no way Cadance would either.
“So what’s your point?” I asked. “Are you going to tell me Cadance has somehow surpassed Celestia?”
“Twilight Sparkle!” Chrysalis bellowed. “Pay attention!”
Alright, deep breath.
“Can we do this later? Cadance isn’t about to ruin everything, is she?” She certainly didn’t look like it.
“We don’t know,” Chrysalis said quickly. “That’s the entire problem. We don’t know how long she’s been at this, and she’s not very talkative right now. All we got out of her was what she was doing. She’s looking for you as the Alicorn of Love. She’s, and I quote, ‘searching the world’s love’ for you.”
Oh. Oh no. Oh no, oh no. That was Bad with a capital b. That sounded exactly like how Luna found ponies by searching for their dreams.
How long did Luna say she’d searched for Sunset Shimmer before giving up? How many ponies did she check before she found me? Would Cadance have to purposefully look in space to stumble upon me? A dozen questions were all competing for my attention as my brain fired into action.
“Okay,” I said, shoving my ever increasing number of questions to one side, “so Luna is probably waiting for me to come back; the obvious first step is to ask her opinion on this.”
“That is a big part of why we woke you up early,” Chrysalis commented.
Oh. Right, of course it was. This was why I never did anything until an hour after waking up.
“Wake me up in fifteen minutes or when something important happens,” I said before knocking myself out with a spell.
I reappeared in my dream world with a bemused Luna in front of me.
“What was that about? Did a dragon bite you in your sleep?”
That hadn’t happened in seasons. All I’d had to do was use a little more scented shampoo to get the smell of pony off of me.
“No, we might have a huge problem,” I said, waving my forelegs off to both sides for emphasis. “Cadance is looking for me with some sort of long-distance, alicorn love-sight magic.”
Luna’s eyes narrowed as she spoke. “How long has she been searching?”
“We don’t know yet, but no more than a year, of course. Pupa just found out today. She’s still pretending to be me, so she’s usually not awake right now, which might be why. Maybe she’s not supposed to know!” Chrysalis would kill me if anything happened to Pupa!
Well, maybe not kill me, since she would still need to get back to Equus. But she could probably barter passage back off of Celestia. But then if Cadance found out–
“I’ve been worried about this since Pupa was discovered,” Luna began, bringing both of us out of our thoughts. “Ordinarily, I would suggest we fake your death, but that leaves us with two major problems: my niece might be able to see through the ruse, but even if she does not, Pupa’s position puts you in just as much danger.”
The second line of reasoning was obvious; Chrysalis would betray us at the drop of a hat to save her daughter. There was no telling what Cadance might find reason to do if she thought I’d died because Pupa let me leave.
“Why would Cadance in particular be able to see through a fake death?” I asked. “Alicorn shenanigans?” She was the Alicorn of Love, and she could actually ‘see’ relationships somehow. Maybe a relationship died when one of the ponies died or something.
“Not quite the word I would have used, but yes. I unfortunately know even less about my niece’s abilities than she does. My best educated guess would say she will not find you within the next four-and-a-half years.”
“But…” I said. Luna always had a but at times like this.
“But we need more information than my guesswork to rest comfortably, and unfortunately, my niece is the only one who can provide it, inaccurate though it will be.”
Well that explained why Luna hadn’t brought it up sooner. We didn’t want to put the idea of searching for me with alicorn magic into Cadance’s head ourselves, and Pupa was already watching Cadance for us. One thing was still bothering me, though.
“Are alicorns really so different from each other that you can’t know for sure if Cadance can find me?”
“To put it in terms you would use,” Luna began, “I only have two-and-a-half data points to work with. Everything I say about alicorns in general is merely an assumption that what we do have in common is constant across our species.”
Well, that was pretty fair. There was only so much you could learn from two alicorns, and from what Luna had told me before, it wasn’t as if nopony had ever tried to ascend before…
“Luna,” I began, my words caught in my throat. This was one of the scariest questions I’d ever asked, and indeed could be the one of the scariest questions I ever would ask. “Why are there only three alicorns right now?” There should be dozens flying around, even at the terribly slow rate of one appearing every thousand years or so.
Luna’s frown only deepened at my question. “I don’t know. If there were ever any histories concerning pre-Discordian alicorns, Discord destroyed them as well. There are scraps of religious records remaining, but the deities they describe and the powers ascribed to those deities are nothing like alicorns. I have several theories but no evidence for any of them.”
“This really isn’t the time, Twilight.”
“But aren’t I just waiting for Chrysalis to wake me up right now?”
Luna had said we needed more information, so there wasn’t much I could do while asleep. I knew what questions we needed to ask; they were pretty straightforward. We wouldn’t have much time to plan for what to do in response to what Cadance’s answers were, so there wasn’t too much point in starting right now.
Now that I’d calmed down, it was easy to see we likely didn’t have to rush to make any decisions. The chances of Pupa walking in on Cadance only minutes before she found me were small enough as to be not worth considering.
“I suppose,” Luna finally said, the words reluctantly leaving her. “I want your promise that you will speak of this to nopony but myself.”
“What about Cadance?” She was an alicorn, too, and this sounded an awful lot like an alicorn conspiracy.
“I have not been impressed by her ability to keep secrets.”
Ah… “Alright, I promise.”
Luna nodded. “Remember, these are only possible explanations; I have no real evidence for any of them. And as far as anypony else is concerned, there never were any other alicorns.” After I’d nodded, Luna continued, “The worst possibility is that they were killed or otherwise ceased to be able to interact with the world.”
“Is that possible?” I shouted.
“My banishment is proof enough that the latter, at least, is possible.” Without missing a beat, Luna moved on. “Another possibility is that alicorns, as a general rule, eventually get bored and find another planet to go develop from the ground up.”
That…actually sounded fun, but maybe a bit tedious.
“Or perhaps there is another ascension alicorns can undergo to reach a yet higher plane of existence.”
Wasn’t that how a lot of characters were ‘killed off’ in the books Twinkleshine keeps having me read?
“It’s just barely possible that there were never any sufficiently powerful magical artifacts to power an ascension before Discord appeared, but I rather doubt it. Considering how we believe Star Swirl the Bearded died, it’s likely he was trying to ascend.”
Oh, wow, I’d almost forgotten about that. I certainly hoped there weren’t any special requirements to become an Alicorn of Magic. It was sort of difficult to believe that somepony of Star Swirl’s legendary talent wouldn’t make sure he had a powerful enough artifact to ascend off of.
“My most terrifying idea” – Luna actually shivered – “is that Discord created the universe a few thousand years ago. I think the universe is too orderly for it to be his creation, but Discord is unusually powerful, and it took an unusually powerful set of artifacts to defeat him, so I cannot completely discredit the idea.”
I – I really didn’t know what to say to that one.
“I suppose alicorns could have otherwise been discouraged from appearing, or somepony could have intentionally sabotaged ascensions, but I think the most likely idea is that there are more alicorns on Equus.”
“Wait, what? Wouldn’t they be fairly easy to find with how much magic alicorns have?”
Luna nodded. “What easy to find things are you looking for, Twilight?”
My mind locked up for a few seconds as I processed what Luna had said.
“You think the elements are an alicorn? Alicorns?”
“Six, specifically,” Luna added. “And Discord as well.”
My jaw ever so slowly fell as I tried to say, well, anything.
“As I said,” Luna continued, “both Discord and the elements are unusually powerful – far stronger than a single alicorn. Speaking only of the elements, they generate their own magic, which is a unique trait among magical artifacts. They also possess a sort of will as well, which is also unique among magical artifacts. I personally like to think the Element of Magic is Star Swirl, but that’s probably not the case.”
I lifted my jaw back up and tried to reconcile what I’d heard with what I’d thought earlier. I had thought Star Swirl would’ve been careful enough to ascend successfully. But wait. If Star Swirl was already the Alicorn of Magic, what would happen to me? Would it matter that he was an artifact? I knew Luna wouldn’t have the answers to any of the questions I was coming up with, but I wished she would. These questions could be of vital importance in both the near and distant future.
But then these were just Luna’s conjectures, and she’d said she had no idea what the truth was. I shouldn’t worry myself ragged over things we had little enough evidence for.
It would be pretty interesting if we could find a way to make remake a half-dozen alicorns out of the Elements of Harmony, though. But having two Alicorns of Magic was still a very worrying thought. That could end poorly.
“Luna, how likely do you think any of that is what happened to the old alicorns?”
Shrugging, Luna answered, “I have no idea. I know so very little about ancient history. It’s hard to put a probability on any of my ideas. Probability ratios I could attempt, but nothing more. Personally, I wouldn’t get too worked–”
My world went black and hazy, and I…what was I talking about just–
“Twilight,” Chrysalis said, shaking me with her magic, “it’s been fifteen minutes. Get up already.”
Fifteen…oh, right. I yawned and sat up slowly, rubbing my eyes with my magic out of habit.
“Luna said we should be okay, but she’s not very comfortable with that guess.”
A second or two passed in total silence.
“Is that it?” Chrysalis asked.
“Sorry. It’s all we have. Has Pupa been able to get anything out of Cadance?”
“Other than a whole lot of food, no.”
Wow, Cadance hadn’t even responded to being fed on? Weird. Pupa had said that Cadance had said the love eating process felt really weird. I’d never really noticed it when Pupa or Chrysalis fed on me, nor did anypony else on the Nebulous, so I’d always assumed that was an Alicorn of Love thing. Still, that should have ruffled her feathers enough to get her in a talking mood.
“Well, at any rate,” I began, “she’s not likely going to find me today, so I think I’m going to go back to bed. Wake me up again if anything interesting happens.”
I was shaken awake again, interrupting another interesting semi-historical lesson on ancient alicorns. As soon as I opened my eyes, I found myself already patched into the hive mind and staring at Celestia poking Cadance with her magic.
“Cadance, please stop,” Celestia said. “For Shining Armor, if not for me.”
Huh? “Chrysalis, what am I looking at?”
Finally blinking, Cadance turned to Celestia and simply said, “Why?”
“Well,” Chrysalis began, “we wanted to talk to Princess Cadance to find out what exactly she’s doing and how worried we should be, so the obvious action is to play the part of the curious, but concerned, friend and fetch Princess Celestia.”
Ah. That actually made quite a bit of sense. Celestia didn’t really have any reason to leave Pupa out of the ensuing discussion, given that Pupa was friends with Cadance. And Celestia hadn’t bothered to corrupt changeling histories, and she knew Pupa in particular already knew a lot about the current situation, so it wasn’t as if Pupa would learn anything fundamentally new.
“Cadance, dear, no matter how much you practice, finding a single pony is beyond your skill. Even my sister would have had trouble locating a pony with nothing to go on, and she had nearly a thousand years of experience. Nopony wishes to see you waste your youth on a futile quest.”
I breathed a small sigh of relief. Luna’s opinion was that only Cadance would be able to tell us how long it would take her to find me, but it was good to know that Celestia, who had more information at her disposal with which to make estimates, thought Cadance wouldn’t be able to find me either.
Cadance turned away from Celestia with a look that said the latter had used up her right to exist.
“It’s not futile,” Cadance said.
A silence descended as Celestia searched for some unutterable words which were clearly on the tip of her tongue.
Finally, Celestia sat down next to Cadance and draped a wing around her. “I know Twilight Sparkle meant” – Cadance’s eyes narrowed, although Celestia was in no position to notice – “a lot to you, but she would not want you to spend your time locked up in your room alone every morning.”
Ironically true in this case, but in general, I would prefer to think that Cadance cared enough to make an actual effort to find me if I were in trouble. I couldn’t help wondering if Celestia had actually tried to find Sunset Shimmer after she disappeared to…wherever she’d ended up.
“I don’t want to hear that from the pony who spent a thousand years plotting and scheming to–”
Clearing her throat first before Cadance could really get going, Pupa interrupted, “If I might put in my opinion as somepony who knows Twilight’s behavioral patterns well enough to fill her horseshoes, she wouldn’t want you looking for her right now. I doubt she could bring herself to run away a second time, nor could she live without her magic – or with the…alternatives.”
That at least managed to get a reaction out of Cadance, even if it was only a frown. I had no idea what she intended to do with me if she found me; I suspected Cadance herself didn’t know what to do with me, either.
“I hate to say this,” Celestia began, “to both of you, but my own spells have failed to find Twilight Sparkle in the past year; you both must consider the possibility that she is no longer alive.”
“She is!” Cadance shrieked. “I’d know if she weren’t!”
“What does she mean?” I asked.
“Oh, I forgot to mention that to you,” Pupa replied. “About a season ago, I made the obvious suggestion to Cadance to see if a pony’s death affects how she saw other ponies with relevant emotional bonds. I was getting a bit worried about her, and as both your friend and hers, I couldn’t avoid making the suggestion. Now that I think about it, that may have led to the current situation. Sorry about that.”
My voice faltered for a moment. “No, thank you for giving her the idea. I really don’t want her worrying herself to death over me. If knowing I’m alive can help her even a little bit, it was worth the risk.”
“Actually, the results were…inconclusive. None of the changes she saw couldn’t be explained in another way, such as a sharp decrease in love as an emotional coping mechanism, although I was not with her for all of her tests. That said, she is no less sure she can tell whether you’re alive or not.”
“Well, please don’t try to convince her otherwise in the name of good science,” I said, shuddering a bit reflexively. Fudging test results to make somepony happier would send me to science Tartarus.
Celestia breathed deeply as if to sigh. “Cadance, I would ask you to take a week long vacation. Feel free to take Lieutenant Armor along as your escort.”
“Is that an order?” Cadance grumbled.
“If it must be. Your search can wait another week for you to relax.”
Adding her own two bits, Pupa said, “Princess Celestia is right, Cadance, whether you continue searching for Twilight or not. You sound more than a little high strung; your search would likely go faster if you took your mind off of it once in a while.”
Throwing distractions at Cadance was great, but I was pretty sure we shouldn’t be telling her how to optimize searching for me. But then again, Cadance would likely be more accepting of additional distractions after the first one. Perhaps that was both Celestia’s and Pupa’s goal.
“Fine.” Cadance shuffled out from under Celestia’s wing and then rolled off her bed. Walking over to her closet, she continued, “I’ll leave after lunch.”
The sooner she left, the sooner she got back, no doubt. Somehow I got the feeling Cadance didn’t really understand the word ‘vacation’ at the moment.
As Pupa was halfway to her hooves, likely to head over to Cadance, Celestia said, “If I may have a word with you in private, Princess.” A silence fell for a moment, broken only by the sound of Cadance’s door unlocking. “Forgive me. Princess Pupa, if you would be so kind.”
Pupa took a short look back toward Cadance, who had already returned to packing. Sighing, she nodded, a burst of green fire changing her appearance back to mine.
After leaving and after Celestia and Pupa were out of earshot of the guards stationed in front of Cadance’s room, Celestia, with her usual calm voice, said, “I realize the two of us possess conflicting priorities in this, but I beg of you, if you have any means of contacting Twilight Sparkle, please avail yourself of it.”
Much to her credit, Pupa didn’t miss a step as she walked. I didn’t think I’d ever even heard of Celestia asking a pony for a personal favor, let alone beg – aside from what she’d indirectly asked Trixie to do to Luna.
“Princess Celestia, I’ve told both you and Cadance before that I don’t know where Twilight is or how to reach her. For all I know, she could have flared and teleported herself to the moon.”
I buried my face in my hooves, screaming wordlessly at Pupa.
Pupa turned her head to the side, finding Celestia a half-step behind her now. After a short laugh, she added, “It was just a joke, Princess. If I were to guess, I would assume Twilight is in Zebrica. A unicorn wouldn’t stand out too much there, and it’s rather far from Equestria.”
“Yes,” Celestia began, falling back into step, “that was my first thought as well. I cannot say I know Twilight Sparkle as well as you or my niece, but I believe I understand the manner in which she thinks very well. I was reluctant to break several ancient treaties to search for her, but I fear my niece may do something foolish if she is not found alive and well.”
“Several?” Pupa asked.
“During the year 561 in the old calender, the Alicorn Accord was brought into effect. In essence, it said I would not use my magic to interfere with other nations, even for something as simple and non-threatening as finding a stray Equestrian.”
Snickering, Pupa said, “One might observe that the sun and moon technically interfere with other nations.”
Pupa looked up to see a small smirk on Celestia’s face.
“Yes, well, in the worst, Equestria could manage fighting the entire world, but diplomacy and friendship are ever our first choices. Another unofficial agreement was made before I even ascended to the throne with the changelings.”
Out of the corner of Pupa’s vision, I could see Celestia was watching Pupa closely.
“Sorry, I’m not familiar with that.”
“Really?” I asked.
“It’s entirely possible we never recorded it, or perhaps it was only written in a diary kept by an ancient queen, or something similar,” Chrysalis offered. “If she’s not simply lying, that would be long before the world had recovered from Discord. Paper would have been a rare commodity worth its weight in gold, let alone ink.”
“The changelings asked to be left alone and forgotten,” Celestia said, adopting a lecturing undertone, “and in return, they would cease abducting ponies to drain their love, among other concessions.”
“Do you really do that?” I asked.
Pupa immediately replied, “Not often, and not at all since we met you.”
Well at least she was being honest about it.
“It’s not a sustainable source of food without drawing undue attention,” Chrysalis added. “Except in emergencies, the benefits are not commensurate with the costs.”
Well at least she was being practical about it.
“I do not ask if your species has broken our agreement” – Celestia’s voice somehow suddenly grew colder, yet still sounded warm and friendly – “but I would be very cross to discover it so now after allowing you to feed off the Alicorn of Love for so long.”
I could actually see Pupa’s vision shake as a shiver ran through her.
“We haven’t. Honestly. I swear we haven’t. I don’t even know how to make a cocoon.”
Even I gulped as the oppressive atmosphere Celestia had exuded lifted.
“My apologies, I was remembering a darker age.” A short silence fell before Celestia continued. “While I have been content to ignore you, to treat you as merely another friend of Cadance’s, I cannot do so any longer. I must find Twilight Sparkle if she is still alive, if for no more than an exchange of letters, and I can no longer overlook your connection with her.”
Pupa sighed. “Princess Celestia, I already said I don’t–”
“I am trying,” Celestia interrupted, each word slow and deliberate, “not to be upset with you, but you are making it difficult. I would not believe for even an instant that two mares as meticulous as yourself and Twilight Sparkle would not have an emergency means of communication in place.”
Celestia stopped there; her meaning was beyond clear, and no further words needed to be said.
After her first unsuccessful attempt to speak, Pupa stammered, “I – I can – I’ll – please don’t tell Cadance.”
“Of course. So long as Cadance is removed from the downward spiral she has entered, I shall not say a word.”
Celestia stopped walking just outside a door with two guards in front of it that looked awfully familiar, but there was no way the route she and Pupa had taken through the castle could have brought them there. As she opened the door, she spoke just loud enough to be heard inside the room, but quiet enough to seem like the room’s occupant would be eavesdropping if she overheard it.
“I hope that will be a good Hearth’s Warming present, but I fear I am too old to make such judgments these days.”
“That sounds an awful lot like a deadline,” I said, “with emphasis on the dead.”
Chrysalis gave a short huff, likely not repeating what I’d just said.
Once the door had opened far enough, Pupa looked inside to find Cadance talking with Shining. Well, talking probably wasn’t the right word; from the look of them, they were in a bit of a one-sided argument, briefly suspended at the opening of the door.
Okay, note to self: Celestia has some serious dimensional magic in place in Canterlot Castle. It had to be even easier to get lost in it than in Luminance Castle. The small part of me that was still a petty little filly felt vindicated for all those times I’d gotten lost in the castle, but the rest of me was glad I discovered that before we tried to storm the castle to find Celestia in the final battle. That could have potentially proved disastrous: not from a ‘permanently lost’ perspective, but from a ‘significant delay’ perspective.
“Anyway,” Celestia continued, not stepping back into Cadance’s room, “I have things I need to be getting back to.” Waving at Cadance and Shining, she added, “I hope you two have a wonderful vacation together.”
Just after the door closed, Shining asked, “Twily, what were you doing with the princess?”
“Oh, nothing important, Shining,” Pupa said. “She just wanted my advice about something for Trixie.”
“Really?” Shining asked, his skepticism obvious.
I sighed. It’d been too long since I’d had a chance to talk to Shining, even by proxy. This should have been a wonderful opportunity, but I just didn’t have the energy right now.
“I’m going to go start working on my alibi,” I said.
Just before teleporting myself back to my room, Chrysalis chuckled and broke my connection to the hive mind. “Remember how I said your scheme required too many things to go right?”
“Yes,” I said through gritted teeth. “And?”
“Oh, nothing. I had merely remembered the thought again and found it funny.”
I had to admit there was a certain touch of irony that the one pony who was guaranteed to jump ship if it went down was the doing the most to keep it afloat. Chrysalis had saved my flank an embarrassing number of times already.
“Th–” I sighed, waiting for my frustration to settle down. It would be silly to say this while frustrated normally, and utterly pointless to an emotivore. “Thank you for you help, Chrysalis. And for Pupa’s as well.”
Chrysalis smirked in that special way that said I’d completely missed the point.
Oh. “I’ll keep my alibi simple and devoid of information.”
“Please do,” Chrysalis said, not dropping the smirk.
“What?” I asked. “I’m tired, and I’m in trouble, and I’m not in the mood to riddle you out. What do you want?”
Chrysalis’s smile turned into a frown, and she said, “Nevermind. You are apparently too inexperienced to understand. Which brings me to my next point. You clearly need a tutor beyond Princess Luna to help you learn how to plot properly.”
“Huh?” That was far afield of what I’d have expected Chrysalis to say. “You want to teach me?”
“Yes, I might as well at this point. You may consider it an investment, if you wish.”
“So that I have less danger in the future to defuse,” Chrysalis clarified.
I facehoofed before I even realized it.
“I don’t know how much time I can free up, but I’ll think about it, I guess.”
It was a good opportunity if Chrysalis was actually willing to offer me some pointers. And my pride would survive getting advice from somepony who was literally born and raised to outwit ponies by a hundred generations of changelings who had done the same.
Still, I had more important things to do right now. I needed to get ready to finally talk to Cadance again for the first time in forever.
Nothing further of interest to report.
[Winter 37, 995 – Day 647]
Well, today was the day I gave Cadance her ‘Hearth’s Warming present’. As usual, Pupa entered the castle disguised as me with a now fake inhibitor ring on her horn.
“Now isn’t really the best time, Pupa,” Cadance said the moment the door to her office closed. “What is it?”
“Have I ever mentioned–” Pupa cut herself off abruptly. Nopony had actually interrupted her, but it was part of the act.
Looking back up from her paperwork, Cadance asked, “Mentioned what? Pupa? Hello?”
Pupa sighed dramatically. “How willing are you to keep secrets from Princess Celestia?”
“Huh?” Cadance’s surprise at the question was written all over her face. “I mean, I certainly haven’t told her everything I’ve done with Shining–”
“No,” interrupted Pupa, “I meant important secrets.”
Pupa and I both stifled a laugh together. It was almost cute that Cadance thought Celestia wouldn’t have already guessed, let alone her skewed sense of what qualified as an important secret.
After futilely waiting for an apology or something, Cadance finally said, “I don’t know. What kind of secret?”
“I have a changeling from another hive waiting with a member of my hive that wants to speak with you, but only on the express condition that not so much as a single word of your conversation or its circumstances reaches Princess Celestia.”
“I…I don’t know.” Cadance replaced her quill in its vial, bitting her lip and wrinkling her brows. “I don’t really have much independent political power. Aunt Celestia would be the better pony to talk to for anything important.”
“Please don’t deflect the question, Cadance,” Pupa said. “This may be a one-time offer.”
After what Celestia had said to Pupa, certainly not. Cadance didn’t need to know that, though.
“You might want to prod her with something more obvious,” I suggested. “She doesn’t really know how to play this kind of game, after all.”
“If I might offer my opinion,” began Pupa, “I can’t see how having the conversation would be worse than not having it. I will personally vouch that no malice is intended by who is on the other end.”
Cadance took a painfully long time to consider that, and finally said, “I suppose… Would we have to fly anywhere?”
Pupa shook her head. “The person who wishes to speak with you is talking to a second changeling from the second hive and wishes to remain outside Equestria.”
“You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and technically, I think space counts as part of Equestria, or at least as part of the diarchy‘s property.”
Pupa rolled her eyes, sending my own vision spinning. “Sorry, Cadance” she said. “That was directed to the nitpicker waiting to speak with you.”
A sudden light entered into Cadance’s eyes, and she half-jumped, half-flew over the top of her desk, knocking over half a dozen stacks of paper and a mug of coffee.
“Yes, yes, I promise I won’t say anything! Is that Twilight? Where is she? Is she okay? How is she–”
A hoof to the mouth silenced Cadance.
“Cadance, I’m going to repeat everything Twilight says as she says it, and I will do the same in reverse for you. Please just speak as if you were speaking to her. I’ll try to get her expressions right, too, but that’s a little hard to do inter-hive.” Pupa removed her hoof and asked, “Ready?”
Cadance nodded immediately and with the same eagerness she had displayed earlier.
“Alright, let me just make a few tiny adjustments,” Pupa said as she transformed into a more perfect copy of myself. And by more perfect, I meant a far less idealized version than the one she had taken to using.
At the same time, Chrysalis kicked me out of the hive mind and transformed herself into a copy of Cadance. We didn’t strictly speaking need to act out the half-truth we’d told Cadance, but hopefully, it would make it a bit more real for her.
While I was probably the only pony on the Nebulous that didn’t feel awkward talking to Chrysalis mimicking another pony, even I found it a bit awkward for her to be hugging me with a vice-like grip. The fake tears weren’t helping, either.
At the very least, for what little it was worth, I’d established that the real Cadance had a stronger grip than Chrysalis. Or perhaps it was just because I was older and bigger now that Chrysalis felt like the weaker of the two. Either way, the common problem wasn’t going away.
“Cadance. Can’t breath.”
I tried squirming out of the bear hug, but that only seemed to make Cadance hold on stronger. I teleported out instead, Pupa presumably mirroring my spell as best she could, and placed myself a few hooves away from Cadance. It was hard, but I managed not to cough or wheeze afterward.
“Twilight, wait! Please don’t leave!”
After a few deep breaths to stretch out my barrel, I said, “I’m not going anywhere, Cadance. Just try not to kill me with love.”
“I – I’ll try.” Cadance summoned a handkerchief and blew her nose. “It’s really you, right? This isn’t some trick Auntie set up?”
“Feel free to ask me about something obscure. Pupa knows a lot about my life, but not everything.”
“What? Oh. Um… What can Shiny never beat you at?”
That got a small laugh out of me. “When I taught Pupa poker, I never imagined she’d be able to keep my record intact. I figured Shining would win from sheer dumb luck eventually. Anyway, that’s not a good enough question. Try to think of something that would have no effect on how I’d interact with other ponies.”
“Um… Oh, I know! What amazingly cute costume did I try to get you to wear on Nightmare Night?”
I groaned, recalling that monstrous abomination. “You tried to put me in a frilly pink and yellow dress that was not cute – urk!”
Cadance pulled me into another bone-crushing hug, and I teleported out immediately instead of waiting for my lungs to complain again. This time, though, I returned the hug immediately after at a much more bearable level.
“I’ve missed you, too, Cadance, but you still need to learn how to control that ridiculous earth pony strength you have.”
After a few failed attempts at speech, Cadance managed, “I’m working on it.”
Some unknowable time later, we finally broke apart.
“I’d suggest we go flying while we talk like we used to,” I began, “but I don’t think the changeling I’m with could support my weight.”
“Twilight, please come home. We can work something out. I promise. Just please, please come home.”
I sighed. I hadn’t honestly expected Cadance to start this conversation with anything else, but I had hoped.
“Sorry. I really, really am sorry, but no. I can’t come home.”
“Why not?” Cadance asked, her voice cracking. “I – I know I haven’t always – always been able to help you, but I promise I will this time. Please give me another chance.”
“Please don’t, Cadance. I…” This was a lot harder than I thought it’d be. “You haven’t always been the best big sister, but I haven’t been the perfect little sister, either.”
Even now, that managed to get a strong enough blush out of Cadance for me to see it through her pink coat.
“You – you heard about that?”
I nodded. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize sooner. I might have done things differently if I’d known, but I’ve burned too many bridges. I can’t undo some of the things I’ve done since we last saw each other.”
“Twilight, I’m a princess of Equestria. I can undo anything for you!”
“Even Celestia’s decisions?”
Even before I’d finished my question, Cadance winced.
“She had a reason to hold that in pub–”
I titled my head to the side and raised an eyebrow.
In a tiny voice, Cadance asked, “Pupa told you about that, too? Auntie promised she wouldn’t do it.”
Sighing, I tried to give Cadance a reassuring smile. “I’m sorry, but I can’t believe everything about her that you do. It’s… Even if she never found out about this conversation–”
In a rare flash of insight, Cadance said, “Twilight, you didn’t!”
“Cadance, please understand. I’m trying really hard not to be found. I’m just…borrowing two changelings so that I can’t be tracked. I won’t hurt them, and they’re only losing an hour or two of their day. Geases don’t inherently cause any harm.”
“Ugh.” Facehoofing, Cadance continued, “You’ve given Auntie all the legal excuse she needs to ignore my opinion.”
“Well, I won’t tell if you won’t. You did promise not to, after all.”
“I – I suppose I did.”
“Besides,” I said, picking up where I’d left off before Cadance had interrupted, “Celesta already could charge me with treason any time she felt like it.”
In no time at all, Cadance’s hoof was on her face again. “What did you do?”
Avoiding Cadance’s eyes, I said, “It might be possible that somepony ransacked the old castle for any notes Celestia might have left behind about Flares, and it might be possible that somepony made off with a few other select possessions of both diarchs.”
“To be fair, I’m not sure if it qualifies as treason. It might just be grand larceny.”
“That’s not any better!” Cadance screeched.
I faked a cough and then rather unsubtly changed the conversation. “Anyway, I found a bunch of Princess Luna’s writings, too, including a couple diaries. If – if the offer is still good later, I think I’d be willing to let her teach me.”
Cadance opened her mouth, but no words came out. She actually looked a bit hurt, probably since from her perspective she thought I thought a madmare was good enough to teach me but not her or whatever plan she might come up with for me.
“That is assuming I’m not permanently broken or dead by then,” I added, “but I’ve been doing alright so far, I think.”
“I… I see…” Cadance slumped to the ground, her eyes losing that spark of hope she’d had before. If I were to guess, I’d say she just realized there was no way she was going to convince me to come home. “Have – have you been eating well?”
I nodded. That much I could at least reassure Cadance of.
“I made some friends like you always kept bugging me to, and they’ve been making sure I eat. In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve kind of gotten a little pudgy.”
“You did feel softer than I remembered.” Cadance managed a weak smile.
“And I’ve made sure Spike’s getting fed, too. He’s a lot easier and cheaper to feed when I can just make gemstones instead of having to buy them. Parenting is hard, but I think I’m doing alright there. I don’t know how effective it is as a measure of success, but his familial love for me is changeling approved.”
Cadance gasped, her eyes going wide. “I completely forgot about Spike! I didn’t even – I mean, I was so busy with you, and there used to be a nanny, and – I’m a terrible pony, aren’t I?”
“Maybe a bit,” I said, stepping forward to nuzzle Cadance.
“But you’re mostly a distracted one that I hurt terribly first. If anypony here should feel bad and should be asking for apologies, it’s me.”
“Twilight, you don’t have to–”
“I’m sorry I left without telling anypony,” I interrupted. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize how much it would hurt you in particular to find out I’d left. And most of all, I’m sorry for the trick Pupa and I played on you on Hearth’s Warming. I didn’t realize until later how you would take that and why.”
Cadance didn’t need any reminding to keep her hug light this time. “I don’t care about any of that. I just want you back safe and sound. I can’t lose you.” Mumbling, she added, “I can’t lose another sister.”
Ignoring that last part – whoever Cadance had been referring to – I said, “I’m sorry about that, too. And I’m sorry you had to keep Pupa a secret from everypony, but I really appreciate it.”
“Would you at least visit? Or let me visit you? In secret? Please?”
“No,” I finally said after a long, drawn out silence. “I – just talking is hard enough.” I was crying for real now, but not as badly as Cadance already had. “And you’d be easy for Celestia to track.”
“Could we at least talk? Or send letters, if you won’t do that?”
I’d known that question was coming, and I’d thought long and hard about it. I’d even asked Chrysalis for advice after Luna had said it was my decision to make.
On the cold and calculating side, even though Celestia already knew this conversation would be happening on a theoretical level, if we made this a regular thing, we might draw too much of her attention. It was also possible that I’d say something that gave away our plan which Chrysalis wouldn’t catch in time to not repeat, although that was very unlikely.
But at the same time, Cadance was a key piece in this struggle, and if we could so much as tempt her to indecisive inaction at the moment of truth, the risk would be worth it. And on an emotional level, I did really, really miss Cadance, but I couldn’t let that affect my judgment.
“We could talk once in a while,” I answered, “but only if you really promise not to leak anything to anypony. Not Celestia, or Shining, or Mom, or Dad, or even Twinkleshine, or Trixie. Nopony.”
“I promise,” Cadance said without even a single second of hesitation. “But I’m still going to try to convince you to come home.”
Smiling, I said, “I suppose that’s fair.”
“So what now?” Cadance asked. “Are you leaving? Why did you even contact me and Pupa? Are you in trouble?”
“Um, in the order you asked, no, I was a bit homesick, and no. I just wanted to find out how everypony was doing, but then Pupa told me about how you’d found out I was gone and about how you’ve been acting, and what was I supposed to do? I couldn’t leave my big sister like that.”
That brought a warm smile to Cadance’s face. “That’s going to take some getting used to.”
“I was under the impression you’d already married my brother, Sis.”
With a fierce blush, Cadance asked, “How long have you known?”
“Since I hit puberty, so about three years now. It’s kind of obvious.”
“Ah. Well. Yeah. I mean, he’s pretty hunky. And sweet. And caring. And–”
I interrupted with a laugh. “Yes, I know my brother is awesome. Why do you think he’s my BBBFF? Anyway, Pupa was a little vague on the details. Why don’t you fill me in on what’s been going on with our family?”
Cadance blushed extra hard at the word ‘our’.
Giggling nervously, Cadance said, “Well, a couple weeks ago, Celestia banished me to a tropical paradise.”
Nothing further of interest to report.
[Fall 22, 996 – Day 932]
I had an interesting conversation with Twinkleshine today. Well, interesting isn’t the right word. It was an important conversation for the two of us. Even if she was mostly kind of okay with sharing me with Luna at this point, we did have other issues to work out – in this particular case, the difference in our abilities.
Honestly, I imagine this is something most lovers have to work through at some level. An extreme example would be when a university professor gets together with a high school drop out. Sometimes, and no offense if you’re reading this Twinkleshine, sometimes I feel like that university professor, vainly trying to get intelligent conversation out of my lover.
Not that such pairings are unworkable or fundamentally bad, but it can certainly be a source of tension. With Luna, she has such a ridiculously larger amount of knowledge and experience that I don’t notice it, but Twinkleshine and I are close enough that I sometimes lose my patience with her.
And really, none of this is fair to Twinkleshine. She is smart. She did get into the best magic school in Equestria, after all. She just isn’t as smart as I am, which is no fault of her own.
Anyway, this conversation was mostly about our magical power – and some trust issues – not about who was given more opportunities to learn. I don’t know how much we actually resolved, but the first step is always identifying the issue. The two of us were in the middle of an exam of sorts…
I took a good, long look at the two Twinkleshines standing in front of me. They looked identical; I’d made several circles, and I couldn’t tell which one was the illusion and which one was real. Of course, what good was an illusion if it couldn’t stand up to intense scrutiny?
I walked around to the left Twinkleshine’s side and gave her a gentle shove on the shoulder. Teleporting to the other side, I then quickly did the same to the right Twinkleshine in the opposite direction before she had time to react. I was pleasantly surprised when this Twinkleshine reacted normally as well. She usually found it difficult to create proper tactile feedback on her illusions. Still, I had a sneaking suspicion the one on the right was the fake. Something about her just seemed off.
“I watched you form the spell earlier, and you did a good job as usual,” I said. “Better than the last time I tested you, actually. I couldn’t have done better myself”
“Really?” the left Twinkleshine asked.
I teleported directly in front of the left one and watched her reaction carefully. She reared back a little in surprise, but no doubt she’d expected the teleport. Still, Twinkleshine had a statistical tendency to speak with the real her when reacting to news, good or bad, thus increasing my suspicion that the left one was the real Twinkleshine. Still, it wouldn’t be fair to use outside statistics against her at this stage of her education.
A few steps back, just far enough to get a good look at both of them, and I was ready for the next test. Without any warning, I prodded both Twinkleshines in the cutie mark with a bit of telekinesis. I felt, or rather I didn’t feel the right one meet any immediate resistance for a fraction of a second.
It was a valiant effort, but Twinkleshine’s magic hadn’t fought mine quickly enough to simulate a real object. The left one, then, truly was the real Twinkleshine. Blushing and looking at the ground, Twinkleshine didn’t look up until after I’d mastered the tiny smirk that crept up onto my face.
Technically, Twinkleshine had already failed the test, since I’d managed to figure out which one was the illusion, but I wasn’t going to call the exam yet. I had a time limit to figure out which one was real, and I fully intended to see if Twinkleshine could hold this spell in place for the entire duration. This high level of an illusion was fairly taxing on Twinkleshine’s magical reserves.
I wasted the next five minutes with mostly useless tests, one of which managed to confirm once more that the left Twinkleshine was the real one. By this point, the magical strain was clearly evident on both Twinkleshines’ faces. It was a bit mean spirited, but I was going to force her to burn up even more magic.
I teleported myself to the greenhouse lake and froze a two pony long, half-pony wide and tall prism of water into ice. With a quick teleport back, I gently placed the ice on top of the the real and fake Twinkleshine.
“Oh, come on,” the illusion said, “that’s not fair!”
Despite her complaint, the ice didn’t fall – not immediately, anyway. There were three minutes left on the clock when the block of ice finally fell through the right Twinkleshine and promptly slid off the left one. The illusion broke as Twinkleshine stomped her forehoof in frustration.
“The right one was the fake,” I concluded.
“No duh, Twilight!”
“Well, better luck next time, I suppose. To be fair, you did a wonderful job. You’re getting very good with your illusions. It’s getting quite difficult to nitpick them.”
Twinkleshine let out a frustrated scream. “Even Princess Celestia’s school’s exams aren’t this difficult!”
“Of course they’re not. They’re designed to make sure you learn, not to make sure you excel.”
A twitch ran through one of Twinkleshine’s eyes. “Are you failing me on purpose?”
“Even if I were, it’s not like I’m sending you back a grade or not teaching you new material.”
“Dear Celestia, you are! You are doing this on purpose! I haven’t passed one of your exams in a year!” Twinkleshine gasped. “This isn’t one of your exams, is it? You’re not giving me tests Princess Luna expects you to pass, are you?”
There was no nice way to say, ‘No, this was the kind of stuff I could do when I was seven,’ so I answered a slightly different question instead.
“No, I don’t have exams. I used to have a…thing about them, so Luna abandoned the concept almost entirely.”
Honestly, I still had a thing with exams, but it was nowhere near as bad as it used to be. It was completely irrational to be so worked up over something so meaningless. Exams were only there to see if a pony had already learned what she was supposed to, which I always had; the actual grade didn’t matter in the slightest. Failing was only bad in normal schools because it was too time consuming to tailor difficulty to each individual student.
And yet, knowing all that, I still got twitchy. Sigh…
“Well, good for you,” Twinkleshine huffed.
This is were I would normally make the sarcastic suggestion that Twinkleshine could just quit; she certainly had enough knowledge to be considered a college drop out. Unfortunately, right now, Twinkleshine might take that suggestion seriously.
“Twinkleshine, I’ve never given you a test or a lesson I didn’t know you could complete.”
“How on Equus would you expect me to hold that slab of ice up for ten minutes straight!” Twinkleshine shrieked. She kicked the ice with a hoof far too hard and cried out in pain. Fortunately, I didn’t see any cracks on her hoof, so she should be fine.
“I didn’t actually.” I earned a glare for my honesty. “I’d already figured out the right one was the illusion. I just wanted to see how much your magic has grown in raw strength.”
Twinkleshine winced as she gently put her hoof back on the floor. I could tell she barely put any weight on it as she said, “Congratulations, then. You’ve found out that you’re still a thousand times more magical than me.”
It only took her a moment before Twinkleshine’s face crumbled. “Twilight, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean – I know being a Flare isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.”
“Heh. No, don’t worry about it. I’m not so vain that I think my problems are proportionally worse than my gifts compared to the average pony. If I were just a regular old pony back on Equus, I’m sure I’d want all the magical power of a Flare and the crazy lives we lead.”
I smiled, and Twinkleshine smiled back – for a little while.
“I don’t know,” Twinkleshine began. “I think I get enough crazy just from being near you, but… I feel… Even though they’re not Flares, Dash, Pinkie, Chamomile, and Chrysalis are all super magical and can do all sorts of amazing things.”
Especially Dash and Pinkie Pie. Dash was probably as close to a Flare as a pony could get without actually being one, and Pinkie Pie…was Pinkie Pie.
“I wish I could at least be like them.”
“You are,” I said, putting a hoof on Twinkleshine’s shoulder. “You may not have as much magic, but you’re smarter than all – well, Chrysalis might – sorry, I–”
“Okay, that might not have been the greatest pep talk ever…”
“It’s okay. You’re so cute when you do this.”
I fought off the urge to facehoof. “So you’re saying you like it when I’m insensitive?”
“Well, it’s more about how you get slightly flustered and try your best to hide it.”
“Ah.” I was pretty sure my blush was faint enough for my coat to hide it completely. “I think I need to stop hanging out with you if you’re beginning to notice my tells.”
Twinkleshine and I shared a smile, and then I took a deep breath before I said, “In all seriousness, Twinkleshine, I never set you up to fail. I – telling you why your tests are so hard could have a negative influence on your education. Knowing that, do you want me to?”
“Yes,” Twinkleshine replied immediately.
I gave her a glare, silently telling her to think before deciding.
Twinkleshine frowned, but she did listen to me. Thirty seconds or so later, she nodded, again saying, “Yes.”
“Alright,” I said, sighing. “I couldn’t care less whether or not you pass any of the tests I give you. I’m explicitly designing them so that there’s a non-trivial chance of you failing.”
“So you are setting me up to fail!” Twinkleshine stomped her bad hoof and soon found herself whimpering quietly.
“No, not at all, Twinkleshine. Answer me honestly. Do you think you ever had a chance of failing an exam back at Celestia’s school?” Just before Twinkleshine was almost certainly going to say, ‘Yes,’ I added, “After I started tutoring you.”
I stared wordlessly at Twinkleshine.
“It’s true! I mean, they weren’t easy.”
I kept waiting for Twinkleshine to continue.
“That is, well, I had to try on all of them…”
“In other words, no,” I finished for Twinkleshine. Only getting a low groan in response, I added, “Celestia’s school is probably the best school – public or private – in Equestria, but it still has to process a lot of students. Their tests are designed to test a specific pony’s magic, but they all have the same difficulty level, and tests do get reused. They’re given to check if you’ve reached some minimum threshold of magical proficiency. They might be difficult, but they’re not challenging.”
Twinkleshine’s eyes widened ever so slightly, shining with the light of realization.
“I only have two students, both of whom I know quite well. I give tests to make sure I am staying in touch with you, not to make sure you’re staying in touch with the lessons. If you fail disastrously, I thought you were further ahead than you were, and if you succeed with minimal effort, you were further ahead than I thought. I’m sure you remember the disastrous first test I gave you?”
Frowning, Twinkleshine said, “It’s hard to forget an exam you failed in less than a second.”
“Right… Sorry again about that. Anyway, now that you know the secret, I can only trust that you actually know when you’re doing your best, rather than tricking your best out of you with cheap psychological tricks like tests.”
Twinkleshine opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out. I waited as Twinkleshine took on a contemplative look. Eventually, she said, “So what now?”
“You mean about your education?”
“We have a few options. As I said, I can simply trust that you’re truly doing your best, but I find that ponies tend not to without the proper motivation, even myself.”
“You don’t sound too confident about that, Twilight. What else is there?”
“Well, option two is pretty simple. I could try to find new ways to motivate you. I’m sure I could come up with something if I really thought about it.”
“Er…” Twinkleshine’s eyes flicked away from mine when they met. “Have you been digging through my films lately?”
I cocked my head to the side. “No, why?”
“Um… No reason. But maybe we could pick another option?”
“I guess? Another option, probably the best option, actually, is we could just pretend this conversation never happened. You could write a note to yourself, and then I could erase your memory of the past five minutes or so.”
Eyes widening, Twinkleshine stumbled over her words as she said, “I take it back. Option two is actually wonderful. Let’s go back to that.”
Sigh. I probably shouldn’t have even bothered to mention the sensible option. It wasn’t like memory wiping hurt, and it would be for a morally unambiguous cause this time, but I could certainly understand the strong desire to never forget anything – outside of the natural forgetting process for useless information.
“If you insist,” I said. “I’ll start thinking about the problem. However, do you have any ideas you’d like to share right now? Anything you think might work as a carrot and stick, so to speak?”
“Well… There’s… If…”
“It’s – it’s not so much motivation…” Twinkleshine was staring directly at the floor and rubbing a foreleg with her opposite hoof. “I was wondering if…”
“If I could drop you in the lake?”
“What? No! I was wondering if you could just magic me more magical,” Twinkleshine said without hesitation, rising to the bait. “I mean, back when we were on Equus and I was reading about Flares, there were a lot of theories about how ponies become Flares, like the stars need to be aligned just right, or a terrible dark ritual is performed during a full moon soon after a pony is born, or that it’s a gift given in secret by Princess Celestia, or–”
“Stop.” I held a hoof up against Twinkleshine’s mouth. “For future reference, you can just ask me about this stuff. I really don’t mind. If I really don’t want to talk about something you ask about, I’ll say so after a momentary flinch of pain which I’d soon forget. The cost of asking is far less than the cost of not asking, understand?”
Twinkleshine nodded, and I said, “Great.” I hoped it stuck this time; it certainly wasn’t the first time I’d told her to be frank with me. “Now, what was it that you actually wanted to ask?”
“Is – is there anyway you can use your magic to make me stronger? Like you or the others?”
“N – well…no, not right now.”
After I ascended, the answer was probably yes, since there was apparently some sort of blessing thing I could give, but whether that counted as making Twinkleshine more magical was debatable, since it would still fundamentally be my magic, not hers.
Eyes sparkling, Twinkleshine asked, “So you can? Was one of those theories about Flares actually true?”
“Pft. No. Those theories were all ridiculous. Nopony really knows how ponies become Flares; it just sort of happens. And Flares don’t even know they’re Flares until their first flare, although they might suspect. There’s just not enough of us to gather meaningful data. I’m only the third Flare in the last one-hundred years, and even that is extremely rare. There’s usually only one, maybe two.”
“Wait. Are there still other Flares in Equestria? Couldn’t…”
I sighed and finished the question for Twinkleshine. “Couldn’t they have taught me instead of having Celestia suppress my magic?”
“Yeah,” Twinkleshine said in a small squeak.
“The flare before me, Sunset Shimmer, is missing, presumed dead. The flare before her, General Bronze, died in–”
“He was a flare?” Twinkleshine shouted. “The history books never said anything about that at all. Just that he was Princess Celestia’s… Oh.”
I grit my teeth for a moment before speaking calmly once more. “Celestia taught every Flare except me. I wouldn’t give up Luna for the world, but… Never mind. That I don’t want to talk about.”
“I – I understand,” Twinkleshine said, glancing away. “So, um, back to my original question. I’d rather not go through any…you know, just to be stronger.” I raised an eyebrow, and she clarified, “You know, dark rituals. I mean, there’s…nothing wrong with you using dark magic, but I don’t really…you know.”
“Twinkleshine, I’m going to crusade forever that dark magic isn’t inherently evil. Magic is magic. But no, that’s not what I had in mind. Dark magic is just efficacious and efficient; it doesn’t make you more magical. I can’t really explain my idea right now, but in four to five years, I could give you a real answer.”
“Huh? Okay, I guess, but why that specific – it’s Princess Luna, isn’t it? Can she do some weird alicorn thing to me?”
“Yes, actually, but that’s also not what I had in mind. It was a very good guess, though.”
“Well, what do you have in mind, then?”
“That,” I began with a smirk, knowing this was going to frustrate Twinkleshine endlessly, “is a state secret.”
“What? Twilight, that’s not an answer!”
I just shrugged. “Anyway, I need to go figure out how to continue teaching you. I’ll get back to you later.”
“Huh? Wait. Twilight, come back here.” Twinkleshine cantered after me.
Nothing further of interest to report.