Chapter Twenty Nine - Perpendicular Perspectives - Between Sisters
What in Tartarus? Was that – was that tongue? And apple turnovers? And how did he even reach…
“Argh!” I threw Bluey away from me, and more importantly, I got his muzzle away from mine. “What on Equus were you thinking, you stupid colt!”
“I was thinking how beautiful you are,” was the idiotic reply Bluey come up with.
“I don’t care,” I shouted, my magic amplifying my voice. Everypony in the castle could probably hear me; maybe even Princess Celestia could hear me all the way at her school. But I didn’t care. I could already feel the heat rolling off my smoldering mane and tail. “What possessed you to kiss me?”
“Well, because I like you, Sunset.”
“And you think that makes it okay!” I burst into proper flames, and my coat turned pure white.
Bluey winced once more under the force of my voice. As soon as his ears rose from his skull, he set about rubbing them with his hooves with all the dignity and poise expected of a young prince.
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting? I mean, maybe I could have asked you out better–”
Oh, bucking ponyfeathers. The sound of hoofsteps approaching echoed through the halls, and I could hear faint voices with them. The last thing I needed was the grapevine feeding the press rumors of me kissing a ten-year-old prince. Just being in the same room as Fancy Pants these days was bad enough without adding more scandal.
I picked up Bluey in my magic and teleported to the first – no, second place I could think of. My chambers were the exact wrong place to go, but the archives would do.
The two of us landed in the deep archives, where I’d always suspected the closest thing to a feather duster the books had seen in centuries was my tail.
I fell gracefully onto my hooves. Bluey grunted as he fell flat on his rump.
But even that didn’t deter him. He was already back staring at me with hope-filled eyes within moments.
“Ugh… Bluey, I’m not – look. First, you do not kiss ponies out of nowhere like that. Second, you’re a sweet colt, but I’m way too old for you.”
“That’s not true. My dad is fifteen years older than my mom.”
I facehoofed, and the flames burning through my mane and tail snuffed out. I was totally overreacting. I was the adult here, and I should act like it. Besides it wasn’t Bluey’s fault he was this dense. But was it his home life, or did he just not realize he was freaking ten?
Oh Celestia, I swore if his parents came up to me tomorrow and tried to get me to sign a marriage contract, there wasn’t going to be anything left of upper Canterlot when I got through with them.
“Just – just no,” I said. “It’s not going to happen. You’re kind of like an annoying little brother; I love you, but I’m not in love with you.”
“Wh-what do you m-mean?” Bluey asked, sniffing and fighting back tears. His practiced stiff upper lip was trembling into a pout.
“Wait. Please don’t cry,” I said before thinking. I couldn’t honestly expect rejection not to hurt.
I reached out a hoof to wipe away Bluey’s tears, but soon thought better of it. I didn’t want to give mixed signals here.
But then Bluey cheated. He cranked up his cuteness and pitiableness to a whole new level, one I thought possible only in fairy tales.
An uncontrollable little whine escaped me as I was forced to avert my gaze.
“Okay. Okay, how about this instead?” It wasn’t my best idea, but I suggested, “When you’re as old as your mom was when she married your dad, then you can ask me out on a date. Does that seem fair?”
It took a second for what I’d said to sink in. Then another second later, Bluey sunk into thought. After a half-dozen hums of all different kinds, he finally said, “Okay. It’s a deal. That’s when Dad proposed anyway.”
I facehoofed again, but Bluey proposing out of the blue was Future Sunset’s problem, not mine.
“Sooooo,” I began, this time actually carrying Bluey’s remaining tears away with magic, “what if we go raid Princess Celestia’s vault for a treasure map? Or maybe she’s got another magic compass we can follow.”
“Could we take a balloon?”
“Whatever you want, Bluey.” But if we got near a lake, I was totally going to push you in.
“Ew! Ew, ew, ew, ew, eeeeew!”
Stars, I felt like washing my mouth out with soap twice. Absolutely nothing Cadance had told me about Prince Blueblood made me want to kiss him. No matter how annoyingly cute Sunset thought him, he’d grown up into an annoying twit. That was so horribly, unbearably unattractive.
Ugh, but I had. My lips had literally touched his. Sure, they’d been Sunset’s lips at the time, but that didn’t make it any better.
And there’d been tongue, too. Oh stars, he hadn’t had any idea what he was doing, and it’d just come out gross and awful. And he hadn’t even brushed his teeth since eating, either. Just – just ew.
Seriously, what was with Sunset’s memories? Why did so many of them want to make me feel physically uncomfortable?
“Alright, I’ll bite,” Dash said. “What happened?”
“Not saying anything. I think I actually want a dose of brain bleach after that. Watch it if you want.”
Laughing intermittently, obviously at my expense, Dash said, “Yeah, no. Not falling for that reverse psychology stuff. I’m not watching that.”
Well for once, it seemed Dash had more good sense than I did.
No, that wasn’t fair. The window hadn’t warned me at all that there’d be any kissing involved. And if it were Fancy Pants instead of Prince Blueblood, then I could’ve gotten into it. Sunset’s mental image of young Fancy Pants had been pretty dashing.
And a second later, I facehoofed. The word ‘dashing’ needed to be stripped from my vocabulary.
Oh no… Wasn’t Prince Blueblood still single? Oh my gosh. If he were still pining after Mother, that could make things very awkward in the future.
And then the other horseshoe dropped.
Oh stars! Double ew! I’d just thought the idea of making out with Fancy Pants as my mother would’ve been hot. What was wrong with me? What was I even thinking? That’d be like sleeping with Dad as Mom, and what was I thinking!
Think of something else, anything else.
Yes! Dash, say something stupid!
“Why are you watching Sunset Glimmer’s memories?”
“Shimmer,” I corrected. “It’s Sunset Shimmer.”
“Right, whatever. So why are you watching them?”
Because I felt horribly guilty for her death. Because I couldn’t exist while she was alive and vice versa. Because it was all I could do for her. Because I didn’t think I’d be able to think of her as a pony who deserved respect instead of as just an enemy otherwise. And because of any number of a dozen other reasons.
“Okaaaaay,” Dash said after we’d walked in silence for a little too long. “Don’t you think it’s kind of rude, though? I mean, I don’t mind sharing most of my memories, but there’s some that I totally don’t want anypony else to see.”
As an afterthought, Dash added, “And plenty Flutters wouldn’t want me to share, too.”
I shook my head, ignoring Dash’s addendum. If I simply didn’t think about sex for, like, an hour, maybe I’d be able to forget the last five minutes forever. “Sunset Shimmer is…not able to object.”
“Well yeah. She’s obviously not here. But you wouldn’t want me to go through your diary–”
“For the last time, Dash,” I interrupted, “it’s not a diary. It’s a log.”
I could feel Dash rolling her eyes next to me without even looking.
“Yeah. Okay. If you say so. Doesn’t change anything.”
I couldn’t help flinching. Nothing I did could change anything. Sunset was dead and gone forever. Remembering her would never make up for anything, but it was all I could do. I certainly wouldn’t go evil and support Celestia for her, not that that would make up for anything either.
“Dash, I… Well, I know this is invasion of privacy, but it’s…”
If I couldn’t say this to Dash, I’d never be able to explain it to Cadance or talk to Luna about it. I had the courage in me. I’d faced far worse than admitting to others I was born from recycled pony.
“All these memories,” I tried again, “they’re – they’re mine, my inheritance.”
“Yeah, not following you, Twi.” Dash scratched her muzzle with a wing. “How are Sunset Shimmer’s memories yours? Are you, like, secretly fifty something years old and the mare herself? Because that would explain a lot.”
No it wouldn’t! I did all this! Well, I did it with help from Luna and Pupa and the Nebulous’s crew. But everything I’d done, I’d done myself.
Although that wasn’t a point I should be arguing now, no matter how terrible the accusation was. That was putting the cart before the pony, given Dash didn’t even know my relation to Sunset.
“No. Sunset Shimmer is dead.” I’d forced my voice to be as relaxed as possible, but the last word had still managed to come out as a squeak.
“Oh. Um, sorry? Or good riddance? I don’t really know what I’m supposed to say here.”
I sighed to myself in relief. I hadn’t exactly told Dash the whole truth, but a small part of my mind had been whispering that even just that little admission was going to go wrong.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I don’t think I’ll hit you on impulse again, even if you say something really bad.”
Dash stopped as I kept walking.
“Wait, does that mean you’re going to hit me on purpose?”
Heh. “Probably not.” I hadn’t even meant to sneak that little loophole in. I gave Dash a small smile in thanks for pointing that out.
“Hey!” Dash shoved me with her wing, but her frustration actually managed to get another laugh out of me.
I still had more that I needed to say eventually and with Cadance, but we’d arrived at the first of Mother’s memories: the one with her and Celestia sitting together on a balcony at dawn.
I didn’t want a hundred good memories of Celestia drowning out all of my bad memories of her, and I was pretty sure this was going to be a happy memory, yet I’d made my choice. I’d take all of Mother’s memories. It’d be rude and disrespectful not to.
But beyond that worry, we still hadn’t found Cadance yet. We were near where we started, so if she were still here at all, she had to be reasonably close. Unless she left the path…
My hoof stopped a hair’s breadth away from the memory, and my gaze fell to the edge of the path of wisps. I hadn’t arrived standing on anything, so it’d probably be safe to step off the path. Maybe.
As I touched the window, I hoped Cadance couldn’t get herself lost forever here. It’d be just my luck if I had to go save her too.
“Arr! Avast ye dogs! We’ve run aground on the starboard bow. Furl the sails and break out the oars before I skin ya all alive.”
I looked out upon the miserable lot I called a crew. I should’ve had them all walk the plank for getting us trapped on a hidden sandbar after we’d just made off with Prince Blueblood. We had half the royal dogs out on the seas after us, and I hungered for the king’s ransom we’d get for that little six-year-old crown prince.
I swore, when I found that nattering wretch who pretended to pony the crow’s nest, he’d be wishing he were dead before I got through with him.
“Cap’n Sunset!” me first mate called out. “The hull’s been breached! We’re gonna need to make repairs before we’re seaworthy again!”
The ship jumped with a large wave of water, nearly knocking me off balance. We landed back on the sandbar with a thud, and I grabbed the nearest railing to stay upright.
“Ye’ve got five more minutes before I have the quartermaster break out the whips, Sunbutt!”
“Aye aye, Cap’n!”
I watched Celestia run off back below deck, completely unfazed as the boat lurched again. Somehow, I managed to get myself thrown into something hard with a thunk.
After I regained my wits, I all but jumped up, crying, “Dammit! I said – ow!”
I brought a hoof up to my head and found it noticeably lacking in a peg leg. And right next to me, I noticed Celestia doing the same.
“That must have been some dream,” Celestia commented dryly.
Oooooh, buck. My face was already burning as I stammered an apology into my chest, head dropping down to maybe save some face if it couldn’t be seen.
“Y-yeah… Sorry about that.”
I looked around my room when I felt ready to actually face Celestia. My discarded blankets were right in front of me, the book I’d gone to bed with had migrated to the dresser next to my bed, and the sun wasn’t up yet.
Wait. The sun wasn’t up yet?
“Sunbutt, what time is it?”
“About twenty minutes before dawn. I would have given you another five minutes of rest as you requested, but your surprise is a little time-sensitive.”
Turning to look at Celestia, I asked, “My surprise? What do you–” My eyes widened as I realized what today was.
Celestia smiled. “Happy twenty-second birthday, Sunset.”
I would’ve been more excited and enthusiastic if I’d been woken up, say, four hours later. Waking up at the crack of dawn was for roosters and princesses, of which I was neither.
“Thanks and all,” I began, finally bothering to pluck the rheum out of my eyes, “but why am I up this early? What’s the surprise?”
I’d seen the sun risen on plenty of occasions, so an up close look at Princess Celestia bringing light to Equus couldn’t be it, or at least I hoped it wasn’t. Not that watching her raise the sun wasn’t interesting and a privilege, but being Celestia’s student didn’t mean I had to be a morning pony.
Aaaaand that was just about the beginning and the end of the list of things which could excuse a pony for waking somepony else up this early.
When I looked at her again, Celestia’s grin said one and only one thing: follow me.
Curious enough to not return to my blankets, I hopped out of bed and soon fell into place at Celestia’s side. She led me through the castle on the usual route I’d take to her chambers.
There really wasn’t much to say about the trip. I’d been expecting decorations or something – maybe my entire extended family popping out of nowhere and shouting surprise even, but nope. The castle was just as it ever was.
With a single nod to the two stationed guards, we were admitted into Celestia’s room, and she brought me to the balcony she raised the sun at whenever she was feeling theatrical. I said whenever, since sometimes she was out of town, and lots of other times she just couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed.
“So why are we here?” I asked. “Did you make dawn extra special today or something? Should I have brought a camera?”
“Oh no, not at all.”
I knew that smirk. Celestia had something crazy planned, and I must’ve said something ironic.
“Long, long ago, Sunset, a spell of such enormity and complexity that it took me four years of hard work to understand it completely was placed on the sun.”
My ears perked up at that, and all remaining desire I had to go back to bed flew away. That was some serious magic.
“For centuries, it laid dormant and unused, but these last couple years, I made the necessary repairs for it to function properly again.” Celestia’s smirk only grew as she added, “I may also have made some improvements.”
“What’s it do? What’s it do? What’s it do!” I asked, my words running together in my excitement.
“Well, when it was still used regularly, teams of ponies would work together to control the spell. And to reach the sun, too, I suppose. It is quite far away, after all. It takes quite a bit of magic to bridge the distance.”
“Oh, come on!” I whined. “I don’t need this lead in.”
Headless to my pleas, Celestia continued, “Back then, so many centuries ago, when a pony turned twenty-two, and if she were skilled enough with magic, she would be invited to join the group.”
Hurry up! Hurry up!
“Then together, these ponies would gather several times over the day. Together, they would use the spell…”
No, no, no! Stop teasing me! Finish your sentence!
“To move the sun,” Celestia finished.
I took a sharp intake of breath, and my lungs just stopped working completely.
“This morning, I thought you might like to try yourself.”
“Eeeee!” I squealed. I wished the noise I’d made could be described as anything but, yet it was definitely a squeal.
But who cared? This was the best! Moving the sun! Oh my gosh!
“With some assistance, of course,” Celestia added.
I jumped onto Celestia in a hug, knocking both of us over.
“Best gift ever! You’re the best!”
How had Celestia even managed to find the free time to repair the spell? The spell must’ve been neglected for centuries. And it was as big as the sun! The sun!
I leaped back to my hooves before Celestia had a chance to hug me back, and then I quickly ran over to the balcony railing, throwing my forehooves up and over it.
“So how does this work? What do I have to do?”
“Well traditionally,” Celestia began, rising back to her own hooves, “we would use a very difficult spell that would allow you to intertwine your magic with mine in order to propagate our magic over long-distances. But seeing as this is a surprise for you, I can help you cross the distance more easily. There is just one little thing I have to do first.”
Celestia’s horn glowed faintly, almost too faintly to even be a spell. She gestured for me to turn around, and I reluctantly did so, facing back inward and away from the horizon.
Our horns met with just the lightest touch, and the white glow in Celestia’s horn crept into mine. I could feel it doing…something to me. My magic itched, which made absolutely no sense.
And then the light faded from both our horns, and I felt normal again. Both the light and the sensation left as quickly as they’d come.
“What… What was that?” I asked. I didn’t feel any more powerful, or any wiser, and I couldn’t detect any active spells on me or nearby.
But there was something different, some tiny little thing that I couldn’t put my hoof on.
“Just a little trick that shall allow you to touch the sun, among a few other things.” One of Celestia’s forehooves rose up in front of her muzzle, and she made a shh sound. “This will be our little secret, okay?”
I hummed angrily at Celestia’s non-answer, but she had her usual, ‘I’m not going to explain. Have fun figuring it out,’ face on. There was never any point in trying to get answers out of her when she didn’t want to give them.
“So how does this work?” I asked. “I don’t really feel much different.”
“It’s quite simple, Sunset. You merely need to reach out to the sun with your thoughts and magic.”
Eeeeeh, that sounded more than a little sketchy. That was no way to go about casting spells. But Celestia was my teacher, so I tried it anyway. And besides, who knew more about the sun than the Alicorn of the Sun?
Still, what exactly was I supposed to do? Telekinesis? Teleportation? Throw a fireball? Summon a blizzard? Try to put a mustache on the sun? Enchantment triggering?
The last one actually made some kind of sense, but how was I supposed to know how to turn on an ancient cosmic enchantment? The sun wasn’t exactly a house lamp. And even if Celestia had modernized the interface, I didn’t really know what to expect. Maybe if I just…
Somewhere in the background, Celestia said, “The sun will not answer to demands, but–”
I got a gentle bump on the head, distracting me from my efforts and fizzling my magic.
“Ow,” I moaned dramatically. “What was that for?”
“You would have had much worse from the sun if you had kept that up.”
What? Was I going to get incinerated if I messed up? I didn’t actually ask, but Celestia must’ve read my expression.
“The worst you can get is a few…burns, I suppose would be the way to put it, on your magic. You are playing with fire.”
Oh yes, and that made me feel so much better about this.
“Try again, Sunset. Remember, the sun will not answer demands, but it will take requests. You just want your magic to come into contact with it to begin with.”
Tilting my head to the side, I asked, “So, like, don’t use any spell?”
That…was different. Magic that wasn’t shaped into a spell had an awful tendency to blow up in your face; of all ponies, I would know that. But surely this wasn’t a trap of some kind. That’d be too much even for a prank. But…I supposed it was worth a try.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Focusing on the horizon was just going to be distracting. It’d make me want to try moving the sun over the horizon the same way I’d normally move things with telekinesis.
Alright, alright. Don’t overcomplicate this, Sunset. I just had to reach out to the sun…however that worked.
“Less magic, Sunset,” Celestia said. “This is not an exercise in power.”
Hmm… Okay. I cut off my flow of magic completely so I could restart fresh. It was probably a good call anyway. Who knew how much raw magic I’d leaked into the world already?
Alright, so I just had to reach the sun…somehow. Maybe I was approaching this wrong. Celestia had done something to me, so I needed to work with that in some way. I just couldn’t find what was different about me; I felt so normal.
Perhaps this was more of a visualization thing. If I thought of myself as carrying a little piece of the sun inside me, maybe that would help. It couldn’t hurt.
So I was a little piece of the sun, a wisp of fire far from home. I still got energy from the sun as sunlight, either directly or by eating plants, and…
And this totally wasn’t working. I sounded ridiculous just thinking like that. I couldn’t imagine how embarrassing it’d be if Celestia asked me to explain what I was doing.
I took a long, slow breath. I could do this. If this were difficult, I’d have more than…
I knew how long it was until dawn. Not down to the second, or even to the minute, but the knowledge was there, and it was exact. And the sun was getting closer, and closer, and closer and closer!
“Hold that connection,” Celestia whispered. “Let it fill you, and when the time comes, ask the sun to be ready to make the leap. Do not worry. You can do this.”
The funny thing was, I did think I could do this. A warm feeling was growing in me, and not just excitement, or adrenaline, or whatever. I was literally getting hotter, but not uncomfortably so. I felt… I felt like I could do anything right now!
I let that feeling consume me, spreading out to every corner of my body and maybe even beyond that.
I heard the roar of a blazing fire. For a moment, I even felt like I was on fire.
And then it was time. The sun was waiting for instructions.
I told it – no. That was wrong. I asked it to come to Equus, to rise for another morning. And the sun responded.
My eyes twitched as light hit them, and my eyelids slowly parted.
“Eeeee!” I squealed again. I’d have time to be embarrassed later. This was way too amazing to miss.
The sun crept into the sky, just as it always did each morning.
Celestia pulled me back onto the balcony after I’d leaned over the railing a little too far. Before she could say anything, I was hanging over it again.
This was the best moment of my life. The culmination of everything I’d learned!
“Celestia! Celestia, look! I did it! I raised the sun!” I turned to find her looking at me with a big smile.
“Yes, you did. Well done, Sunset. I’m very proud of you, even if you were perhaps a bit over zealous in the effort.”
Celestia pointed to my right with a hoof. My gaze followed her until it landed on the fried remains of a potted plant.
“Oh. Whoops. Did I burn that?”
“Yes, but I can always get another fern. The loss of a plant should not ruin this moment for you. Although…”
I followed Celestia’s hoof upward this time. The charred remains of the tapestry that used to hang there still smoldered.
Once more, Celestia moved her hoof, this time to my left. Her relic of a tea table lay mostly in ashes, although a few splinters remained.
I shuffled on my hooves awkwardly, looking straight at the ground. For the first time, I noticed my coat had turned white, but it was slowly fading back to yellow again. Weird.
Celestia giggled, and my head rose back up.
“Don’t worry, Sunset. It gets easier.”
Just barely, I managed to restrain my squeal to a gasp. I was going to get to do this again! Oh my gosh!
“Well, still, sorry.” I hopped back around to face the horizon again. “Oh, and thanks, by the way. This was by far the best gift I’ve ever gotten.”
I felt a wing settle over me as Celestia leaned on the railing as well, finding a spot right next to me.
Celestia didn’t say anything, and neither did I. We just watched the sun rise into the sky, comfortable in each other’s presence.
Today was a wonderful day.
“Oh. My. Gosh!” I’d raised the sun! The sun!
Well, Mother had raised the sun. But I’d just relived the experience! And we shared the same body and magic, so technically I’d raised the sun too! I’d moved a star! And between one half of the universe and the other too!
“Whoa, Twi, settle down. You’re like two years too late to be even thinking of hitting on me.”
What? Oh. I let Dash out of the vice grip of a hug I’d put her in.
I regretted it immediately. I needed something to squeeze to contain my feelings. If only Cadance were around. My only outlet was to bounce around like I was eight again.
Oh, if only Sunset had been more demanding for an explanation of how that magic worked. She’d barely even touched the spell on the sun, and it’d been huge. As big as the sun itself!
How did ponies even manage that without an alicorn? That had to have been the spell Luna and her team had used to wrest control of the sun and moon from Discord. Whoever first came up with the design must’ve been a genius! An absolute genius! Oh, how I’d love to meet her and swap notes.
A strong nudge broke me out of my thoughts. It was accompanied by the words, “How many times are you gonna get lost in your crazy egghead world, Twi?”
I hopped around behind Dash and shoved her muzzle first into the window before she could react.
One second. Two seconds. Three–
“Oh. My. Gosh! Did I just raise the freaking sun?”
“I know, right!” For once Dash and I were in total agreement.
“I know!” I took Dash’s forehooves in my own, and Dash soon returned the favor, both of us squeezing each other’s hooves as we shuffled and danced on our hindhooves.
“How did that even happen? I didn’t really pick up on the unicorn stuff.”
“I have no idea!” But now I had a giant super puzzle in front of me to work on in my spare time. This was going to be wonderful!
“How do you not know?” Dash released me, and while she fell back onto all fours, I flailed awkwardly until I fell onto my back. “Aren’t you like the smartest unicorn ever or something?”
I thrust my wings out after rolling back onto my barrel. “Not a unicorn anymore. I think some of that was alicorn stuff. And a whole lot of it was ancient, lost magic stuff, too, which nopony knows about anymore.”
“Except for” – Dash snickered – “Princess Sunbutt.”
“And Luna,” I added. Luna surely knew as well, or at least she remembered enough to reverse engineer the magic to learn it again.
Hmm… What Celestia had done to Mother, it was probably one of those alicorn blessings Luna had mentioned to me on the moon. Luna had told me I’d need hers if I wanted to move the moon as a unicorn, so Sunset had probably needed Celestia’s to move the sun.
Not for the first time, I found myself wondering how exactly that worked. Sunset’s memory hadn’t been all that enlightening on the matter, and Luna had always been annoyingly silent on what being an alicorn was like.
I hoped some of Sunset’s other memories would maybe elaborate on all of the abilities she’d gotten from it for me. I’d never imagined that Celestia would actually give Sunset that kind of power, but it made sense. Mother was Celestia’s tool to kill Luna, after all; she’d need all the advantages she could get.
And disguising the ceremony as a birthday gift left Sunset completely unaware of the significance too. How sneaky. Maybe I still had…
My grin faded away into terror.
Oh, ponyfeathers! Had I still been blessed growing up?
If I’d been blessed for most of my life, did Celestia know who I was? There couldn’t be that many alicorn–blessed ponies wandering around on Equus nowadays. Could an alicorn know who was blessed and who wasn’t at a mere glance? Was I still one of Celestia’s pawns working toward some unknown end?
No. No, no. No way. Celestia couldn’t have known. It was impossible.
What would that even imply if she had? That…that she’d just not bothered to try and fix me?
No, no, no, no, no, no. That came out all wrong. So very, very wrong. I didn’t need fixing; Mother needed fixing.
“You okay, Twi?” Dash asked. “You’re looking pretty off.”
“I’m fine!” I snapped, cutting off whatever else she’d been about to say. No, wait, I was being nice to Dash right now. “Sorry. Just – just give me a minute.”
Dash looked at me skeptically, but she didn’t say anything.
Okay, okay. So Celestia didn’t – couldn’t have known, but if she had, and that was a big if, what did that actually imply?
I…I had no idea. My mind was grasping at empty space, not even at straws.
But – but what if…what if she had tried to fix Mother? But then she’d found out there was no fixing her. And then Celestia would’ve just erased my memory and…what? Left?
Was that possible? When would it have happened? When would she have first found out about me? The first time we met was when I was eight…
No, if blessings were easy to spot, then the first time we’d met would’ve been when I was six, back at the Canterlot Summer Sun Celebration. I’d just been a face in the crowd to normal ponies…but maybe not to an alicorn.
And then what about the rest of her actions? A cruel punishment for an innocent filly?
No, no, no. The little voices of Sunset and even Luna in my head said Celestia wouldn’t do that. That wasn’t something she’d be okay with. I was just getting way too paranoid.
But I’d told Dash I hadn’t been paranoid enough, and I was right about that. How paranoid was just paranoid enough before I started making mistakes?
Right now… Right now, I should just acknowledge the possibility and move on. I had no idea what could’ve been going through Celestia’s head if she’d known who I was, so I shouldn’t start making stuff up. If it were true and Celestia tried to use it against me somehow, I just had to not freeze up or panic.
“Alright,” I said.
I stopped for a calming breath with the accompanying hoof gesture.
“Alright,” I said again, because the first time really hadn’t been alright. “I think I’m fine now, Dash. Let’s get going.”
“Well, honestly, no, I’m very not fine. But I’m ready to go again.”
Dash paid me one last worried look. “If you say so, Twi. Just don’t do anything crazy.”
And with that, we were off.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d wanted to walk in silence or not. I really did need to be thinking about my next moves, but at the same time, I was pretty sure my thoughts would’ve wandered back to relatively unimportant stuff if we had.
But of course with Dash being Dash, she hadn’t kept her mouth shut. Mostly she’d asked me random questions about what had happened since her ascension and what being an alicorn was like.
From our chat as we trotted along, it sounded like Cadance had already answered most of the fundamental questions about what being an alicorn meant. Thus instead of asking simple questions on the subject that I actually could answer, Dash stuck mostly to topics I barely knew anything about.
Facehoofing, I said, “No, Dash, hornjobs are really not a thing. We’ve been trying to get rid of that idea literally for centuries, but for some unknowable reason, you pegasi and the earth ponies keep insisting it is a thing. But it’s not. Think about it. If our horns were sensitive in that particular manner, how would we manage to think straight when casting a spell?”
“Magic?” Dash shrugged with her wings as we walked. “Or maybe casting spells doesn’t feel like anything?”
No, they certainly did. And Dash was weaving a special kind of magic right now. I felt like bashing my face into the ground.
“What about wing boners?” I began. “I know those aren’t a thing, but a lot of ponies think they are. It’s like that, get it?”
“Weeeeell, there is a little bit of truth to that.”
Oh, you have got to be kidding me.
“Not that I’d expect a flightless pegasus to understand why,” Dash added, poking one of my wings with her own.
I rolled my eyes. “Whatever, Dash. They’re going to be in working condition when I leave here.”
“Well, yeah.” Dash’s forehoof found its way across my withers. I resisted the urge to throw it off. “You and me are going to be flying buddies. Maybe you’ll be able to keep up with Chamomile after a few years.”
“Excuse me,” I protested. “I may have been flightless in the real world, but I already know how to fly. I just need to get used to real pegasus magic. Then we’ll see who’s keeping up with who.”
“Oh, it. Is. On.”
“Well, it’s nice to see you two are getting along, at least,” Cadance interrupted.
I turned my head away from Dash. Cadance was…obviously trying to look alright and was just barely on the wrong side of success.
Dash said, “Hey, Princess.”
At the same time, I said, “Hi, Cadance.” I thought I did a fairly good job concealing my own plummeting mood. There’d been enough delays already; it was time to tell Cadance mostly everything.
“I don’t suppose you two have seen Sunset anywhere, have you?”
I slowly shook my head silently, lips pursed.
“Where did she get to?” Cadance mumbled to herself. “I’m going to keep looking. By the way, you two, you’re going the wrong direction.”
I couldn’t find my voice to stop Cadance from walking off. I was frozen in place.
What if Cadance didn’t want to talk to me ever again after this? Or worse, what if she wanted me to be Mother?
Or what if I couldn’t convince Cadance she was on the wrong side? She’d still talk to me, but she’d have no friendly words for me. I didn’t want to lose my sister.
Or – or what if I did convince her, and she ran off to go yell at Celestia. Then she’d – she’d…
“Hey, Princess Cadance, wait up,” Dash called out from next to me, squeezing my withers with her leg, which was probably supposed to be a comforting gesture. I’d been silent for a little too long, it seemed, and Dash had picked up on that. “Twi has something to say.”
Cadance’s gaze fell on me, her eyes betraying her conflicting desires to be gone and to stay as they twitched every which way. “Is it quick? I really need to get going.”
I gulped. This was it.
“N-no.” I paused for one last breath. “Sunset is – is dead.”
I silently watched as Cadance’s face turned from worry to shock before finally settling on disbelief. She mouthed the word ‘no’, but didn’t give it voice.
“Twilight,” Cadance began, halting for seconds before she said so much as a second word, “that’s not funny.”
“It’s true.” That was all I managed.
Cadance’s hoof extended and gestured off toward the memory-filled windows we’d left behind. “But her memories–”
“They’re mine,” I blurted out.
Interrupting Cadance again, my mouth continued without my approval, “They’re not memories. They’re visions of” – my voice hitched – “my life.”
“Wait, what?” Dash let go of me and walked around to stand between Cadance and myself. “Twi, you told me you’re not Sunset Shimmer.”
Only now that it was gone did I realize how much I’d appreciated having a leg – even Dash’s – resting on my withers and holding me.
“I’m not. I’m… Sunset died. I’m what was salvaged from her.”
“What?” Cadance shrieked.
Simultaneously, Dash asked, “You’re a zombie?”
Even now, I had to fight the urge to facehoof. “I’m not a zombie. Or a mummy, ghoul, ghost, specter, wraith, lich, or any other fictional undead creature.”
It was surprisingly easy to ignore that disrespectful little aside of Dash’s.
Cadance’s forehooves came to rest on my shoulders, and she looked me dead in the eyes, blocking out my view of practically everything else.
“Twilight, you’re not lying about this?”
I shook my head ever so slightly.
“How did this happen? How did you find out? What exactly are you? When did you find out? Does Auntie know? Are you alright? Is there any way we can get Sunset back?”
“Cadance, please,” I begged, “one question at a time. I” – my head fell to stare at my hooves – “I’m not really…comfortable…talking about some – no, most of this.”
A moment passed, but Cadance did eventually nod. She took a step back, her brows furrowed more than I’d ever thought possible for her.
But then Cadance’s eyes widened in realization. “Twilight, Twilight or Sunset, you’re my little sister.” Her hooves spread wide in invitation, one I was all too happy to accept.
I dove into the hug. My hooves blindly grasped for any solid purchase, my face buried in Cadance’s chest. They quickly found their way around the bases of Cadance’s wings, and I latched onto her as tightly as I could.
For her own part, Cadance’s hoof found its way up to my mane and passed through it in gentle strokes.
And that reminded me so much of Luna, and of what she’d done, what she’d had to do, what was done to her, and what Celestia wanted to do to her.
And all that nearly set me off. I wanted so much to curl up beneath Cadance’s wing and cry. This whole situation was a horrible mess. One good, long cry would help me get everything out of my system. No blaming anypony for anything or trying to figure out who was responsible for what and why, just crying.
But I couldn’t. This wasn’t the time or the place. I had so much to do, and I couldn’t let Cadance see me like that right now. Introducing her to Luna was already a difficult enough task, but she and Mother had been friends, however briefly. I didn’t know what their relationship had been like…
In the memory of Sunset’s…end, she’d said something like ‘Cadance is the only pony who pays attention to me’.
Cadance couldn’t find out Luna was responsible for Sunset’s death.
Not – not yet, at least. I’d have to cross that bridge someday, just…not today.
Cadance giggled inappropriately.
“What?” I asked, my already weak voice further muffled by talking into Cadance chest.
“Just thinking about how unfair it is I’ve been taking care of you. I’m supposed to be able to rely on my big sister, not the other way around.”
“Pretty sure that’s not how that works, Princess.”
I shot Dash a glare, but I did agree with the general thrust of what she’d said.
“Cadance, I’m nineteen.” Technically I wasn’t nineteen quite yet, and I was more around seventeen, but that wasn’t something I wanted to bring up right now.
“Oh,” Cadance began, the joking tone she’d had earlier falling out of her voice, “I’m so sorry, Twilight. I honestly didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought you’d… I mean, I can’t imagine how touchy of a subject this must be for you. I just thought you’d like that.”
I whispered, “It’s alright.” Cadance really was the nicest, most understanding pony in the world.
“Alright, enough with the mushy stuff.”
Dammit, Dash. Did you really have to try ruining even the small moments in my life?
“So what happened?” Dash continued. “Did you get sacrificed in some dark ritual gone wrong, and you came out the other end like this? Or did you mess up a spell and make yourself a newborn again? I could totally see you doing that.”
Sometimes I really hated the effect the fantasy genre had on ponies, even on other unicorns.
“No, Sunset was not sacrificed in a fake ritual of any kind. There are no spells which require a pony sacrifice.”
It was at this point that I remembered that I had somewhere I needed to be.
“We should walk and talk,” I said as I forced myself out of the comfort of Cadance’s hooves. I didn’t wait for an answer before trotting off.
Unlike last time, Cadance didn’t hesitate to fall into step beside me.
“Twilight, if you don’t want to tell me, I’ll understand, but” – Cadance spent an unpleasantly long time trying to form the rest of her sentence – “what did happen to Sunset? I’d always feared she’d died. But I’d also always hoped she was just still mad with Auntie and hiding.”
“Did you think to try finding her when you were looking for me?” I asked.
A second passed, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cadance nod slowly. It took her a moment to remember to actually reply vocally.
Since Cadance didn’t say anything more on the subject, I figured neither would I. Perhaps we could talk about it on another occasion. If Cadance felt guilty for trying less hard to find Sunset than me, I’d need to talk some sense into her.
And now I couldn’t think of anything else to stall with. I had to answer Cadance’s question. So…what should I tell her about Sunset’s death? What could I tell her?
Cadance was an understanding pony, but even she had a limit for how much she could take at once. Confirmation of Sunset’s death was probably already a big blow for her, and I still had the ‘working for the evil Nightmare Moon’ surprise coming.
Just above a whisper, I said, “Sunset ate something she shouldn’t have.”
That was true.
“That I’ve had a chance to exist at all is thanks to a friend of a friend.”
That was also true, and not just literally.
“I’d really rather not talk about the – the details.”
A shudder ran through me, and I sidled up to Cadance. I’d been spared having to experience dying – Sunset hadn’t been awake for her death – but in some ways, that was so much worse. It was all left up to my imagination, and I had quite a strong one.
This was a terrible emotional trick, but…but it was necessary for now. “I – I found m-my and Sunset’s memory of her death.”
Cadance gasped. “Oh, Twilight…” For lack of anything better to do or say, she draped a wing over me and asked, “Are you alright?”
“Not really. I really didn’t want to–”
I couldn’t say I didn’t want to know, because that’d imply I hadn’t already known about Sunset’s death. And I did want to know, just…not the way I’d found out. It’d be best for everypony if I just let Cadance convince herself that I’d known for a long time. I just had to change my wording a little bit.
“–see it,” I continued with only a slight hiccup to betray me.
“Nopony should have to,” Cadance said, squeezing me even tighter, which make it really hard to move faster than a slow walk. Not that I was complaining. I needed this so much.
Still, hug or no hug, I shook my head. “But I did want to see it. I mean, I didn’t, but I did. Sunset” – was killed for me to exist – “is dead so I can live. I don’t want to be her, but I at least want to remember her.”
Our pace slowed even further to a crawl, and soon we stopped completely as I was drawn further into Cadance. I could feel myself shaking against her, and I couldn’t get my stupid body to listen to me and stop.
Dash at least had the decency to not interrupt us while we had our moment, but I kind of wished she had. Now that I’d been around her for all of five minutes, I’d realized that Cadance was the exact wrong pony I needed right now.
I wasn’t so dense that I couldn’t recognize that my emotions had been swinging all over the place, and reliving memories with other random emotions wasn’t helping. It was sheer force of will that kept me fully functional, that and nothing more.
But Cadance… If I were a contained grease fire, Cadance was a bottomless bucket of water. She’d put me out eventually by simple virtue of being below ignition temperature, but I’d set a dozen other things on fire first.
I slipped out of Cadance’s feathery haven before I gave into its quiet whispers of comfort. Nothing would be okay if I cried my heart out now and spilled everything to Cadance all at once.
Without missing a beat, I continued down toward the end of the path and whatever awaited me there.
“Twilight,” Cadance called out, “wait.”
I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had too much to do.
Dash was already following me, and Cadance would catch up.
“Twilight,” Cadance began, galloping up next to me, “I know this is going to be one of those things you won’t listen to me about–”
I braced myself not to snap at Cadance. Or at myself.
“–but you shouldn’t blame yourself for…well, taking over Sunset’s body, I guess. Hmm…”
Glancing over at Cadance, I found her with a thoughtful expression on her face.
“What is it?” I asked, only to watch Cadance grow doubly uneasy. “You can be insensitive if you want.”
Fighting to get the words out one at a time, Cadance said, “Well, Auntie taught me some stuff about your situation.”
Huh? Why on Equus would Celestia feel the need to teach Cadance about… Wait. What did Cadance even think had happened to Mother?
“I just want to know if there’s a way to get Sunset back.” Then hastily, Cadance added, “Without killing you.”
So there was a way to get Sunset back with killing me? Somehow, I suspected Cadance had the wrong idea of what had happened. But then that was just fine for now. Whatever got the two of us though this.
“There’s not,” I replied, although a solution did present itself to me.
Take a newborn filly, age her up and have her relive Sunset’s memories in order at the right ages. With a complete enough set of them, potentially with delays between memories for the filly’s brain to properly process the memories, the end result would produce a mare similar enough to Sunset so as to be indistinct.
It would work, in theory. But in actual practice…well, it probably wouldn’t work. If I tried, I’d probably just end up with a mare who justifiably hated me for experimenting on her. And then by that point, it’d be too late to wipe her memories and revert her to a newborn without killing her.
“Are you sure?” Cadance asked. “Maybe the Elements of Harmony could do something. What exactly are you?”
I raised an eyebrow, which wasn’t very effective, given the pony I was talking to couldn’t see my face.
“I’m a unicorn. Well, nearly an alicorn now, which is significantly different, but I don’t understand what you’re getting at. Sunset is gone forever, as unrecoverable as text on paper burnt to ashes and scattered to the wind.”
Two or three seconds passed in silence. I probably should’ve tried saying that in a nicer way, but I didn’t want to give Cadance any false hope for seeing her old friend again. Maybe something could be worked out with time magic, and maybe the Elements of Harmony could make that happen, but I couldn’t make any promises. I didn’t even have any leads, just blind speculation.
Finally, Cadance said, “Nevermind. Forget I said anything.” Her wing found its way over me again. “Just remember that I love you, Twilight. I wouldn’t ever have you trade your life for another.”
“Thanks.” I leaned over just enough to nuzzle Cadance while we walked.
Once we were done, Cadance asked, “By the way, does Auntie know about you?”
“I sincerely hope not,” I said. Who knew what logic could be running through her head if Celestia knew I’d had Sunset’s body and magic all along.
Perhaps some strange argument could be made that if Celestia had known, she could’ve hoped Luna would make contact with me. She could’ve hoped that it wasn’t just some random Nightmare Moon cultist that had killed Sunset and made me, but somepony on the command of Luna herself.
Then years later, Celestia could extract a lot of information from me, avoiding me for years so as not to arouse suspicion while I collected secrets. And if I got nothing, then she’d have some more evidence that Luna couldn’t dreamwalk.
That was totally the kind of plan Celestia would use. And she had asked Pupa if Pupa were working for Nightmare Moon. And she had planned to petrify me, which would be the perfect cover for having extended, private access to me.
The small but growing voice of Mother within me said that was utter nonsense. Even I didn’t think that was what had actually happened, but for better reasons. Still, it was a stomach turning thought that perhaps I’d escaped capture and total disaster by a season or two.
But anyway, it sounded like this conversation was thankfully over. Cadance wasn’t saying anything more, and I didn’t want to talk about it. The more I said, the more likely Cadance would know what the right questions to ask were. And I also genuinely didn’t want to talk about it.
Nevertheless, this silence was uncomfortable. And if nopony said something soon, Cadance was going to notice we were passing by windows bearing images of Luna.
I supposed I should probably just introduce Luna right now. There weren’t really any memories nearby that were the ‘perfect’ way to introduce Cadance to Luna, and I wasn’t going to risk trying to keep her attention focused completely on me while I hunted one down.
Alright, this probably wasn’t the best way to go about the task, but it was all I could think of right now.
“So speaking of love, how is your fiancé?” I asked.
With a gentle, but insistent voice, Cadance said, “Shiny is still your brother, Twilight.”
I heard Dash snicker and mumble, “Shiny,” to herself.
Ignoring that, Cadance continued, “He loves you, too. If you’ve ever thought otherwise, stop it.”
“I know that.” Nudging Cadance between steps, I asked, “Stars, can’t I even ask a simple question without worrying you?”
Cadance gave me a weak apology. “He’s doing fine. He’d be missing you if you would just let me tell him and your parents you were missing.”
Yeah… I probably should have, but I hadn’t wanted to worry Shining over it. Who knew what kind of crusade he would’ve gone on if he knew I’d run away from home?
And I hadn’t wanted to burden Mom and Dad with having to constantly keep up the charade in front of Cadance and Shining, either. Let alone that I was sure they’d mess up at some point, it would just be too cruel to put that kind of stress on them.
“You can tell him now if you want,” I said. There was little point to keeping the secret anymore. “But anyway, should I be expecting a niece or nephew soon?”
“Twilight, it would be terribly inappropriate if a princess of Equestria were to give birth outside of marriage,” Cadance admonished me, yet she failed to actually deny the possibility.
As for the reason for her objection, I was just going to let that pass unchallenged. This wasn’t the time or place to debate that.
“I’m not hearing a no,” I sung.
Cadance sighed. “No, Twilight. Alicorn pregnancies are…tricky. We’re durable, and that works against us with foals. It’s very easy for us to miscarriage after our foal’s magic develops, and sometimes even before then. When Auntie gave me the talk for alicorns, she said it’s…well…a hundred times easier to” – Cadance cleared her throat – “impregnate your partner.”
Immediately, Dash broke into laughter so hard she had trouble walking, let alone keeping pace with me and Cadance.
And maybe I thought the image was just a little bit funny, too. I could just imagine the endless grumpy frown plastered on a gender swapped Shining’s face while he waddled around with a swollen belly, fruitlessly trying to give orders to the Royal Guard while they snickered and teased him.
Then there’d be the actual birth, and he’d probably be stubborn enough to do things the traditional way instead of just teleporting the foal out, which is what any sane mare did if she knew the spell and had the training to do it safely or if she could afford to pay a doctor to do it for her.
And Shining and Cadance would probably end up with a unicorn, and if Berry Punch were to be believed, unicorns births really hurt.
“Have you asked or even told him yet?”
Cadance’s blush showed up even through her coat at my question, and she quickly withdrew her wing from me and pulled it tight against her side.
“No. It’s… It’s kind of…”
“Super awkward and – and hilarious?” Dash suggested between fits.
After I regained control over my own chuckles, I said, “Well, good luck convincing him to accept a three season burden. Oh, plus or minus another two seasons of nursing.”
Another snicker escaped me at that. Shining almost certainly would be stubborn enough to stick it out through the whole five seasons, despite how mortified I was sure he’d feel anytime anypony ever brought it up.
“I’m sure if you wear his pride down long enough, you’ll get him to be foolish enough to agree.” I leaned in closer to whisper into Cadance’s ear. “Just let me know what you like in a mare, and I’ll see it done.”
“Twilight!” Cadance screeched, her entire face flushing.
As nice as teasing Cadance was – and as hilarious a revelation as I’d just heard – that wasn’t really why I’d brought Shining up. I’d need to do this quickly; we were close to one of my more mundane and boring memories of Luna. It wasn’t the best memory to show Cadance first, but I could do far, far worse.
“So,” I began hesitantly, “is Shining planning to do…anything else foolish in the near future?”
The color drained out of Cadance’s face. “You mean throw himself into a fight between Auntie and Nightmare Moon?”
“Mhm,” I hummed, slightly nodding.
I hadn’t had a chance to ask Chrysalis if Shining were one of the potential hostages she’d rescued, but he probably wasn’t; he was hard to abduct and far too stubborn and loyal to run from his duties. All I could really do was hope Celestia realized that Luna and I wouldn’t trade our lives for Shining’s. The math just…it just didn’t add up to make that exchange.
And Celestia would utterly lose Cadance’s support then, too, if anything happened to him, so he was probably going to be alright for now. Maybe thrown into a dungeon, but still alright.
“Well…” Cadance began, “Captain Armor has to obey me if I make it an order.” Cadance looked doubly uneasy after saying that as compared to before. “But Auntie outranks me, and she has plans of her own for ponies.”
Fantastic. “Alright,” I sighed. “If Shining chooses to or is forced to do anything stupid, I promise I’ll prioritize his safety as much as possible.”
I wouldn’t ever let my brother get caught in the crossfire, even if he hated me for the rest of his life for the interference.
“And I can probably do the same for the rest of the guard,” I added. They didn’t deserve to be caught up in this, either. A few of them I even had a certain fondness for.
“Twilight.” Cadance reached out a hoof to place on my shoulder, but I didn’t stop walking for it. I’d leaned on Cadance more than enough already. “Twilight, you don’t have to help us. Auntie and I can take care of Nightmare Moon. We have backup plans, although we didn’t expect you to, well, you know. Not that I’m blaming you for trying to solve your problems, but you could’ve picked a much better time.”
“No, I really couldn’t have.” This was it. We were only a dozen steps away from one of my memories of Luna.
“Yes you could have,” Cadance scolded. “If you would’ve waited even a year, things would’ve gone a lot smoother for everypony. I know you probably don’t want to hear this right now, Twilight, but you honestly have put all of Equus in danger.”
“I have not.”
I stopped dead on the last word, and my two companions went an awkward step and a half past me. I had to prepare myself for screaming, and yelling, and fear. The last time Cadance had found out about me and Luna, it hadn’t exactly gone over well.
But this time I could help guide her reaction. It still wasn’t going to be good, I was sure, but I’d be prepared to face it. Any negative reaction Cadance had was surprise, not a rejection. I just had to be as patient with her as she’d always been with me.
Turning around to face me, Cadance asked, “Are you deliberately trying to be difficult, Twilight?”
“It certainly wouldn’t be the first time,” Dash commented in the background.
I shook my head. “Cadance, I told you I have a mentor. Just like Trixie has Celestia” – I took a half-step back and held out a hoof invitingly toward the memory across from me – “I have Luna.”
The window depicted Luna overlooking me trying to learn a new spell. Along with the two of us was an artistic interpretation of what the spell could – with a lot of artistic license – look like if spells were visible through eyesight. A series of three concentric blue and purple disks floated parallel with my horn at varying distances, growing larger as they went out and upward.
Cadance’s jaw ever so slowly fell. At the same time, her hoof made its way to her forehead and stayed there, gently rubbing back and forth.
“Twilight,” Cadance began, clearly fighting off hyperventilating, “I think – I think I’m going to freak out.”
I opened my mouth, only to be cut off as Cadance continued.
“Could you please leave?”
W-what? She wanted me to – to leave? That wasn’t – Cadance didn’t do that to ponies! She didn’t do that to me.
Long before I could even think about replying, Dash asked, “Should I stay?”
It took her a few seconds, but Dash picked up on what Cadance was trying to ask, which was probably something along the lines of if she were Luna’s apprentice, too.
“Nah. That’s just Twi. I’m more of a self-taught pegasus.”
Cadance’s eyes lit up like she’d found a rock just shy of a waterfall. “Yes! I mean, please. It would help.”
Wha… Dash? Dash! Of all the ponies you could ask to help you, you asked Dash!
No. No, I needed to stop. I needed to calm down. In. And out. In. And out.
Dash was the only other pony here. If she hadn’t asked, Cadance probably would’ve sent her away, too. Cadance wasn’t the pony asking. Dash was just a boring mostly neutral party to Cadance, not anything special.
This wasn’t Cadance saying goodbye and good riddance. She just needed space.
But Cadance never needed space from me befo–
I stomped down on that little voice in my mind with everything I had. Cadance just needed some space from me. I’d been ready for accusations, and pleas, and just – just all kinds of talking, but I should’ve realized she might need some room to calm down. That was my fault.
But I wasn’t going to fall for this trap. No. I was going to be calm and reasonable. Not mad. Not upset. Not crying. I was here representing Luna. Everything I did right now would color Cadance’s perception of her. Everything.
I didn’t think I quite hid the hurt on my face, but I nodded. “I’ll just go down the way then.”
One step, then two. On the third, I almost let myself sniffle. But I didn’t. My face was out of sight, not out of hearing range.
“I’ll just…see you two later, then.”
It wasn’t until I’d walked to approximately as far as sound would carry – so far as I knew – in the Æthereal Realm that I first heard Cadance’s panicked and barely coherent shouts.
I – I guessed I should – should get out of hearing range. It was only polite.
My head jerked up off the ground when I heard a single pony’s fast, impatient hoofsteps approaching. The rhythm of the thumps came quickly, one after another: a four-beat gait. Cadance was walking – definitely not galloping – but her hooves must have been hitting the wisps with the force of a mare on a mission.
I rubbed the tears out of my eyes with a forehoof before rising to face whoever was coming. It was possible it wasn’t Cadance.
But no, it was Cadance, and Dash was nowhere to be seen. And her face was hard-set and focused as she approached. And when our gazes met, I had to check myself before I flinched away.
“Twilight Sparkle,” Cadance began, her voice cold and scolding, “you and I are going to have words.”
“I know. But are we” – I sniffed – “are we still sisters?”
Cadance tried to speak several times, but all that came out was incomprehensible nonsense. Finally, after the wind had completely been knocked out of her sails, she said, “Of course we are.”
I managed a smile, and I got a small one in return.
“Hug?” I asked, my wings spread open invitingly.
“I… Well… Okay.” Mid-hug, Cadance continued, “But we’re still talking about this.”
I knew that, and that was fine. But I needed this right now. I squeezed Cadance a little tighter.
I let out a long sigh and then finally let Cadance go.
“So where’s Dash?” I asked.
“She’s waiting back that way” – Cadance gestured backward down the path – “for us to finish our talk.”
I supposed that was for the best. “So did you watch my memory?”
“I did.” Cadance paused, her brows scrunching together. “Twilight, I need you to really listen to me on this one, okay?”
Biting back a sigh, I said, “I’ll listen, Cadance, but that doesn’t mean I’ll agree. And you have to listen to me, too.”
Cadance’s jaw worked ineffectually for a few seconds. “Fine. But you can’t just let what I say go in one ear and out the other.”
“Same to you.”
“I always listen to you, Twilight.”
“Not real…” Upon consideration, even if Cadance didn’t always agree with me or I with her, she did at least do her honest best to understand me. “You know what? You do. And that’s a big part of why I love you.”
I got another smile from Cadance, but it didn’t last long.
“Twilight, Auntie and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but if she were here, we’d be in agreement over this. You’re being tricked. You’ve been taught by Nightmare Moon, not Aunt Luna.”
And there it was. I wouldn’t snap at Cadance; I’d seen this coming an AU away.
“Alright, Cadance, I’m listening.” I had plenty of objections, but I’d hear out Cadance first as I’d promised.
“How much do you know about Discord?”
Less than I probably should, but I had enough working knowledge of him for most purposes. “I’ve never met him, but I know what he was like and the kind of stuff he did. Honestly, I probably know more about the Discordian Era than you do.”
“Really?” Cadance asked, eyebrows raised.
“Mhm. My mentor doesn’t try to hide her past from me.” Unlike some other teachers I could name.
“I…don’t know what to say to that.”
I shrugged. It wasn’t like a pony couldn’t use openness to hide information, too. I’d certainly learned that lesson today with Mother.
Eventually, Cadance asked, “Well, have you ever heard of the Alicorn Amulet?”
That did ring a few bells, although it wasn’t actually that useful of a magical artifact.
“I have. I actually… I guess it doesn’t matter much at this point, but will you make me a promise?”
Cadance hesitated before asking, “What is it?”
“Please consider my point of view on this. I see Celestia as a threat, and I have a lot of” – potential – “friends on the Nebulous, as well as…”
Hmm, this wasn’t really the right time to bring up Twinkleshine.
“As well as what?” Cadance asked.
“Well, some other time for that.” Smooth, Twilight. Real smooth. “But anyway, I brought Spike with me as well. I’m reasonably sure Celestia won’t do anything to the two foals we have with us, but I don’t know what she’ll do to the mares who agreed to come with me of their own free will. I tried playing a trick on Celestia to get her to spare them, but I need you to not let her know I actually care about them. As far as she’s concerned, I conscripted them into service, okay?”
After a moment of thought, I added, “Dash included, I guess.”
Even now, a small smile grew on Cadance’s face.
“Sure, I can keep that secret. You never talked much about your friends, and I suppose I understand why now, but I’m glad you really made some.” And then Cadance added, “Did you bring Twinkleshine with?”
I was halfway to facehoofing when I said, “Now is not the time, Cadance.”
“Alright, fair. But what were you going to say?”
“Oh, right. I know a bit about the Alicorn Amulet. I used part of the enchantment to help Spike make a birthday gift for–”
Cadance put a hoof to my muzzle. Then as serious as I’d ever heard her, she asked, “Twilight, do you know what the Alicorn Amulet does to ponies?”
“It makes it much easier for them to draw in ambient magic for spellcasting, effectively making them stronger. The amulet itself seems like a major magical artifact, but it’s actually pretty simple and low power.”
After bringing her jaw back up, Cadance said, “Twilight, the Alicorn Amulet isn’t – well, I mean, it does do that, but it’s a Discordian Artifact. It’s cursed!”
“Well, maybe part of it, I guess. But I didn’t give Berry Pinch anything bad for her. I only used–” And then I realized what exactly Cadance was trying to suggest.
“Twilight, Aunt Luna was the last pony to possess the original amulet. It drives ponies to madness! It clouds their judgment and warps their personalities. And Auntie said that even back then, Aunt Luna liked to use dark magic. That’s not a good combination!”
No, it certainly wasn’t, but only an idiot would wear a known cursed artifact, and Luna wasn’t an idiot.
And even beyond that, rule number one of magical safety was if you don’t know what something did, you found out before you used it.
“Cadance, I understand what you’re saying. Trust me. I do. I know a lot about magic. But you watched at least one of my memories. Did Luna really seem like a madpony to you?”
“Not all kinds of madness are obvious, Twilight.” Cadance took a step closer and brought a wing up to my muzzle. “I don’t know if Pupa told you, but I was so worried whenever I saw you – her – you two using dark magic. I guess I don’t know how much of what I saw was real anymore, but you were so dangerously obsessive about magic. That’s its own kind of madness.”
I had to work extra hard to make my mouth work. “You – you think I’m insane?”
“No! No, Twilight. I – I mean, what you showed me of your life had me really worried. I just meant that sometimes it’s hard to tell if a pony is in their right mind. Insanity doesn’t necessarily make ponies any less intelligent or any less able to present a stable front.”
I meshed my own wing into Cadance’s and pulled it off of my muzzle.
“Luna hasn’t made any attempts to hide the bad things she’s done from me.” Except her involvement with Mother’s death…
“You’ve thought of something!” Cadance half-shouted.
“No. Cadance, please don’t remind Celestia of this – I don’t want anypony to get hurt – but do you know what Luminance is?”
Cadance’s eyes widened for just a moment. She then whispered to herself, “Of course you’ve been there. You went to the moon, after all.”
“Let me guess. Celestia showed you the hallway sealed off by dark magic.”
“Among other things there,” Cadance replied, nodding. “If you’ve seen that, too, then you must understand what I’m saying.”
I shook my head slowly. Cadance was the one who didn’t understand here.
“The rest of the paintings didn’t stop while Luna painted that hallway, Cadance. That story was decades long. All that hate, all that anger, all that despair, it was all Luna. That was Luna at her worst.”
My eyes found their way back to Cadance’s.
“But that’s the point. That was Luna’s worst. She’s not normally like that. Maybe one percent of her painting efforts at most went into that hallway at the time for stress relief.”
“You’re just rationalizing away things you don’t like, Twilight. That wasn’t Luna anymore. That was a break in Nightmare Moon’s facade. Why do you think that was the only place with Nightmare Moon’s image?”
“That’s a bit of a stretch.” Even with a sympathetic ear and a large pinch of salt, that conclusion was still a stretch. “Cadance, I’ve seen Luna at her worst, live and in pony. She was terrifying, but she was hurting so, so much. She was devastated to hear what her sister intended to do to her. Maybe she went a little more off the deep end a thousand years ago than she can admit to herself, but she’s not normally like that.”
Cadance took a deep breath, afterward letting the tension run out of her withers.
“Suppose you were right, Twilight. A thousand years of banishment would just make things worse for her, as terrible as that would be. The seal on her must be weakening if she can reach your dreams, but even just nine-hundred years alone–”
“Stop. Cadance, Luna has been dream walking since she was banished.”
I knew what Cadance was getting at, though. A thousand years of solitary confinement would shove almost anypony to the wrong side of sanity. If Celestia hadn’t already planned to kill Luna, I’d dare say that would actually be almost an excuse for her behavior.
But Luna hadn’t been put into that position, and Celestia had intended to erase Luna from existence from the outset.
“Banishment is terrible, even for Luna,” I continued before Cadance could find words to respond with. “Dreams are impermanent, ephemeral. There’s no books; she can only visit one pony at a time; she has to remember everything or forget it forever, since she can’t record anything; and Luna has been denied most of what makes her happy for centuries. Dreams don’t last long enough for her to paint, or sculpt, or build, and her exile has kept her from being there for Equestria in times of need. I’m sure you know Luna was the head of Equestria’s army from day one.”
It was my turn to take a deep breath after getting all of that out.
“And even with that,” I added, “Luna is remarkably balanced and stable. Now can you imagine what it took to make her lose control a thousand years ago?”
“No. Twilight, just no.” Cadance’s frown had only grown deeper as I’d spoken. “How do you even know Nightmare Moon has been dream walking for long?”
Well, assuming that I couldn’t just say because Luna said she had, which wouldn’t be much of an argument from Cadance’s point of view, there weren’t many ways to truly verify historical claims. Time magic wasn’t an option yet, but I could take a page out of historians’ books.
“We could check Equestria’s financial records against something Luna claimed to have done,” I suggested. “Luna has been active in Equestria, and she still has ponies managing her assets and financing her affairs, including me. I would expect at least some of those records have been preserved, if perhaps not ones from all the way back to the start of her banishment.”
I certainly wasn’t afraid of the results I’d find from such a test. If Cadance wanted, I’d be perfectly willing to ask Luna for the requisite information.
“Fine,” Cadance said begrudgingly, “let’s assume you’re right, that Nightmare Moon has been able to dreamwalk the entire time. It doesn’t change the fact that she was already a lunatic by that–”
It took me a few seconds to realize I’d been glaring. But then on second thought, I kept glaring. I didn’t think I knew any derogatory terms more insulting than ‘lunatic’.
“Ugh. Look, Twilight, I’m sorry about how I phrased that, but my point still stands. That the word lunatic exists at all should tell you something. And then there’s ‘moon madness’, and ‘touched by the moon’, and plenty more expressions.”
I stomped my hoof. “Social proof is the worst kind of logical fallacy. Do you think Luna eats foals if she doesn’t receive offerings of candy on Nightmare Night?”
“No, legends aren’t true, but they…” Cadance’s eyes lost focus for a moment.
“What?” I growled.
“Nothing. Just, this explains why you were always so stubborn about Nightmare Night.”
Oh. Wow, talk about putting a damper on my temper. I briefly wondered if Cadance had done that intentionally.
“Anyway, answer me this.” Cadance paused to take a breath. “If Nightmare Moon were really Aunt Luna, and sane, and her little outburst a thousand years ago were just a fit of anger, then why didn’t she try to talk to Auntie? Why didn’t she try to explain herself? Yes, terrible things had happened when they’d fought, but Aunt Luna could’ve worked with Auntie to find a way out of banishment early.”
I opened my mouth to yell out my response, but I checked myself after realizing it was untrue. Luna hadn’t known Celestia intended to kill her yet. Not that there wasn’t a perfectly good explanation anyway.
“Cadance, Luna only had one chance to retain her sanity. If Celestia found out she could dreamwalk, Celestia would’ve found a way to block that ability. And even if Celestia couldn’t–” I begrudgingly added, “Or wouldn’t,” for the sake of argument before continuing. “–it would be far too big of a risk for Luna to reveal herself.
“Think about it. Luna was – and still is – near murderously angry with her sister, and for good reason.”
I paused for just long enough to give Cadance time to interject and deny that Luna’s anger was at least understandable, but she didn’t.
“Luna was hurt and felt betrayed by the pony she was closest to and trusted the most. How could she possibly ask Celestia to free her? How could she trust Celestia with her future?”
“Because they could have talked it out!” Cadance calmed herself and continued, “Auntie is stubborn, but she does listen to ponies. If Nightmare Moon really were Aunt Luna, she would’ve known that. And even if she somehow didn’t, she would’ve been able to figure that out if Aunt Luna had just spent a night talking with Auntie.”
Cadance paused for only an instant to catch her breath. “Maybe not right away. Emotions were running high for everypony in the weeks after. But Auntie would’ve listened.”
I shook my head, resisting the urge to snarl. Luna may have acted out of turn, and she may have been forced into doing one or two terrible things since, but Celestia’s actions – even just as Luna had known them at the time – were inexcusable. Luna would have had to be insane to have trusted Celestia in that situation.
“I don’t think we’re going to agree by talking this out, Cadance.” I didn’t want to admit that, but I didn’t see any other end to this conversation. “I can show you my memories of Luna. They’ll show you how nice and wonderful she’s been to me and my friends. But they won’t mean anything to you since you didn’t know Luna a thousand years ago.”
“Neither did you,” Cadance commented. “How would you know the pony you know is the real Aunt Luna?”
“I…wouldn’t,” I said lamely. “But what does it even mean to be the real Luna? Ponies aren’t static creatures, not even once fully grown. We change over time. We grow and learn. I’m not the same pony I was when I was two, or eight, or eleven.”
“Maybe, but you’re still you at your core. Nightmare Moon isn’t Aunt Luna. She’s just acting the part. They’re not the same pony at all. Auntie and I don’t know enough about the Alicorn Amulet to tell you exactly and in detail what happened to Aunt Luna or if that’s even the problem. But if it’s not actually the truth, then Nightmare Moon might as well be a possessing spirit in Aunt Luna’s body anyway.”
Cadance’s eyes widened in time with my own as we both realized the other application of what she’d just said. We both knew a pony who approximately fitted that description.
“So what?” I whispered. Then with all the force the words deserved, I asked, “Even if what you were saying is true, and it’s not, why would it matter to me? Why should I care?”
I knew the current Luna. I knew the Luna who had taught me magic. I knew the Luna who had guided me from a little filly unicorn just barely scratching at the surface of magic all the way up to ascension. I knew the Luna who knew the perfect way to rub my mane. I knew the Luna who always knew just what to say. I knew the Luna who I still had a score to settle with in most every game we’ve ever played.
Why would I ever want to trade her for another version?
“Twilight, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. I really didn’t.” Cadance stepped forward to wrap her wings around me, and I just barely allowed the gesture. “You’re your own pony, Twilight. Whether or not we could get Sunset back by removing you from your body, you don’t deserve that.”
“And if she were like me in any way, Luna wouldn’t deserve that either.”
A second passed, then two, then three.
Finally, Cadance said, “I…suppose.” Hugging me tighter, she continued, “Twilight, whatever you believe, whatever I believe, whatever the truth is, I have a responsibility to the ponies of the world. I can’t let an insane alicorn roam free.”
“Luna is not insane. How can I make you see that?”
Cadance released me from her wings. “I don’t know, Twilight. I’ve listened to you, and I’ll keep listening to you. I’ll watch any memories you want to show me, but I don’t think you can change my mind on this. I can only tell you what I think from what I’ve seen and heard, and it’s not good.”
That was what I’d thought and what I’d been afraid of. Cadance was arguing that we should trust Celestia, which would just be foolish for me and Luna. I was arguing that Cadance should trust Luna, and she was going to see all the facts colored against Luna.
I knew how this story ended. I’d seen it before with Luna and Celestia. But I could learn from them and take action before this blew up in my face.
“Cadance, whatever happens, I’ll always be your little sister.”
I managed a weak smile, and Cadance smiled with me.
“And I’ll always be your big sister.”
“Hug?” I asked, my wings open and ready for Cadance this time.