Chapter Thirty Three - Among Friends - Part One
I groaned and rolled over, pushing away whatever was shoving me around.
“Ah!” I teleported in reflex away from whatever was assaulting me. My eyes shot open, and I realized I was in space.
Well, I was always in space, but now I was outside the Nebulous. It wasn’t the first time I’d accidentally done this, but this time…just didn’t bother me. Yes, there was no air, and that was getting annoying, but that was about it.
My vision finally focused after waking up. I retraced my path back to my bedroom. Twinkleshine was waiting half on my bed and half on the floor, her head scanning the room for wherever I’d gone.
One quick teleport later, I said, “Hey, Twinkleshine, what’s up? Do you need something?”
It seemed Twinkleshine had a bit of a hard time looking me in the eye, but she replied, “No, but Chrysalis is getting cranky and wants to go to bed.”
Oh. Oh stars! How long had Luna and I been at it? “How long was I asleep?”
“About a day and a half.”
Wow, I’d really lost track of time. That was probably a world record, even if dreams didn’t exactly require stamina. At any rate, I tapped into the enchantments scattered around the ship and sent the usual flow of magic…
“Is something wrong, Twilight?”
I shook my head. No, nothing was wrong, but…using magic felt…weird. It – it felt normal, but there was also a feeling of…going with it?
So weird. Not uncomfortable, but weird.
Anyway, I noticed Chrysalis’s magic break off. Her magic felt very much like what she was; it was always changing and rolling around within itself. It was like I was on one of those festival rides during the Summer Sun Celebration as a filly again. I almost wanted to throw up.
“Twilight!” Twinkleshine shouted again, stomping her hoof. “Pay attention!”
“Ah, sorry.” I blushed and withdrew from the strange sensation. “What were you saying?”
“Dash has been alternating between freaking out and showing off ever since she woke up yesterday. If you want to catch her while she’s showing off and, you know, actually able to communicate, you should hurry up.”
Twinkleshine pointed above me. I looked up and found a blue blur lacking a rainbow whizzing around out in space, somehow jumping from one cloud to an entirely different cloud somewhere else. I could feel her magic giving her thrust without air, but I had no idea how she was moving from cloud to cloud. One moment she was in one, and the very next she was in another.
“What is she doing?” I asked.
“Trying to see how fast she can go. Chamomile says she’s hitting the limit of her reflexes, but Chrysalis and Cherry Berry have been giving her pointers.”
Yeah, that sounded like Dash, alright. What else would she think to do with all the power of a… “Cherry Berry?”
“Yeah. She had some theories about alicorns she wanted to test.”
Well that made sense, I supposed. I’d have to tell…ask her to keep quiet about a few things, but I didn’t have any problems with letting her and Dash experiment together.
“I see. Lead the way, then. I have a lot of explaining to do, I expect.”
I was only a step toward the door when Twinkleshine’s hoof flew backward toward my bathroom. “Shower first.”
Why – oh. “Alright. I guess I probably should.” Now that Twinkleshine mentioned it, I did feel a little…soggy.
Yet again, I was only a step toward the bathroom door when Twinkleshine spoke. Unlike last time, her voice was too quiet to hear.
“Sorry, I couldn’t hear you. What did you say?”
Still mumbling, Twinkleshine said, “Please don’t when we’re in bed together.”
Don’t what? “You mean have sex with Luna?”
I only got a weak nod in response to my question.
Hmm. Well, I didn’t really understand why it would actually matter. It wasn’t like we’d be having a threesome, not that I’d object to that. Luna and I wouldn’t even be in the same bed, really. Twinkleshine wouldn’t even be awake to hear me sleep talk.
But at the same time…I supposed I could understand the symbolic meaning. If that was what Twinkleshine wanted, it wouldn’t hurt to oblige her.
Twinkleshine’s eyes brightened instantly. “Really? Just like that?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Thank you.” Twinkleshine jumped on me in a hug. I almost didn’t even feel it, and that sparked a thought.
As we broke apart, I asked, “Hey, Twinkleshine, would you mind if I tried something?”
I fell to my haunches and beckoned for Twinkleshine to turn sideways. Once she had, I slipped both forehooves under her and raised them up. Twinkleshine went with them, and the only thing I felt was the raw magic coursing through my body.
“Oh my gosh,” Twinkleshine said all at once. “How are you doing that?”
Fighting down only most of my giggles, I set Twinkleshine back on her hooves. “Earth pony magic. It’s pretty nice. I feel…sturdy.”
“Right, should’ve known that,” Twinkleshine mumbled to herself. Then she said, “Well, I – I’ll just go let everypony know you’re awake, then. See you later.”
Twinkleshine practically bounced out of my room, far more happy than I’d have expected. I made my way in the opposite direction to my bathroom. I’d only just opened the door when Mother spoke up.
“She was worried you didn’t need her anymore, you know.”
As much as I hated giving voices in my head attention, I said, “Oh, please. I told her exactly what I was like. I mean, I guess she might worry anyway, but that’s natural. It’s just a feeling that we have to work through together. But anyway, she already knew I wasn’t monogamous.”
“What are you, brain dead? Do I have all the working neurons between us? You’re an alicorn now, and that came right the buck out of nowhere for her. And immediately after ascending, you spend over a day making out with Princess Luna. For the very first time, I might add. What was she supposed to think?”
I…supposed that was fair.
“And you know she’s a monogamous mare trying to understand why you’re not, even if the two of you have made peace with that over the years.”
That was a fair point, too, I supposed. But Mother really needed to go away. I turned on the bath to get a nice steam going before turning my attention to the task at hoof. I really didn’t need to, but I turned to look at myself in the mirror as I went to work.
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
The surge of dark magic – which felt rather sickly, as if it’d eaten a rotten apple – at the tip of my horn fizzled before the geas spell could form. I had told myself not to use dark magic, but just one spell wouldn’t hurt. One geas would probably be less damaging than this whole talking to myself issue.
“That wasn’t what I meant,” Mother added. “You say you’re watching Princess Luna, but what about you? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”
Somewhat annoyed, I said, “I don’t speak…” Even as I formed the thought, I knew it was false. I had understood what Mother had said, and even if I hadn’t, there was no way she could’ve formed those words if I didn’t know them, too.
“Yeah, you do. You’ve always had the motor sequences; you just forgot the vocab. Why do you think it was so easy for you to pick up Old Equestrian but not the minotaur language? They’re related languages. Well, the newer dialect of Old Equestrian that you speak is.”
“Est quod verum?” I tried, and the words came to me.
“Wow,” I whispered to myself. I’d watched a lot of Mother’s lessons with Celestia, and foreign language class had been among them, but I hadn’t thought I’d actually absorbed the vocab.
I tried to form another, longer sentence. I tried to form another sentence. The verb for ‘to lay’ kept eluding me, as did the translation of ‘plain’. I knew what they were. They were on the tip of my tongue. Just a little reminder was all I needed, really.
Ugh. Okay, so I’d only absorbed a little vocab. It was still cool.
“So what’s it gonna be, Sparklebutt?”
Sparklebutt? Was Mother serious?
“Am I going away forever, or are you going to do the smart thing and let me tell you when you’re being stupid?”
I let out a little moan as my stomach objected to what I was about to do. That voice wasn’t actually Mother, but squashing it felt…uncomfortable. It talked like her, it had her memories, and it was going to drive me mad.
“You’re not real.”
“I’m as real as you are. I am being computed in my own brain, even if you’re at the controls for me. I mean sure, I’m not the original Sunset Shimmer. I can’t really disentangle myself from your thoughts and feelings; I’m not an actual split personality. And I guess I just kind of don’t exist when you’re not thinking about me.”
Both Mother and I fell silent for a second as we contemplated that.
“Yeah… Anyway,” Mother picked up again, “I’m still pretty close, though. Do you want to kill me, too? Only a couple days ago, you told little Cadance that if Princess Luna really were ‘Nightmare Moon’ inhabiting Princess Luna’s mind, she’d still have a right to exist. Are you going to go back on that?”
I hated having my words thrown back at me by myself.
“But then maybe I don’t really have a desire for self-preservation. Perhaps you’re just simulating one in me because your conscience is bothering you, and I’m the only way you’ll admit it.”
My conscience was not bothering me. I knew Luna had problems, and we were going to work through them together. Well, after we got over our hormones and had a short vacation, that was. That kind of work was best done when we were both calm and comfortable, and these last several weeks had been anything but.
“Well, you’re just crazy, then.”
“I’m not crazy!” I shouted aloud. Not yet, anyway. But taking an imaginary friend seriously was a good start.
Mother laughed at me despite me mentally glaring back at her. Once she was done, she continued, “That reminds me, you should verify that Princess Luna is Princess Luna. You’re not afraid of the results either way, right?”
“Then you won’t mind performing the test, or at least asking.”
I supposed I could… If I ever hoped to get through to Cadance, I’d need to know all the facts surrounding her argument.
And if Luna actually didn’t have her own body, I needed to find a way to separate her from the other Luna without killing her. But if that wasn’t possible, I much preferred my Luna. Well, it was conceivable I’d like a hypothetical other Luna more, but that’d be a dumb gamble to take, let alone how wrong it’d be to kill my Luna.
Mother’s thoughts facehoofed. “Alright, I suppose that’s good enough. Now just admit you’re not going to get rid of me.”
I opened my mental mouth, but Mother interrupted me before I could form my abstract thought into words.
“I can tell what you’re feeling just as well as you, you know. You’ll get bored with me once you say yes, which means I’ll disappear for a while just like you want. Then I can go on being an excuse to think things you normally wouldn’t for you.”
The frustrating part was Mother was completely right. I wasn’t going to get rid of her. I wasn’t going to go so far as to call her a person with the right to exist…but she had a point.
Ugh. I had a point. Or maybe I should use her. I didn’t know. She wasn’t a person. We both agreed on that. Hopefully. But at the same time, I was clearly personifying her.
In the exact same frustrated tone I would use, Mother interrupted, “Oh my gosh. What did Princess Luna do to you? Sunbutt told me I overthink things, but I’ve got nothing on you.”
“It’s a minimal level of prudence, especially when you have eternity in front of you.”
Mother sent a strange feeling of shrugging through my body as I entered my bath without actually making me do it.
“Whatever you say. So anyway, what’s up with Twinkleshine? You realize she looks like a young Celestia, right?”
“She does not,” I objected.
“White coat? Check. Pink mane and tail? Check. Unicorn? Check. Slender build with most of her fat stored around her rear? Check. She’s even taller than you.”
Mouth hanging open, I fumbled through both Sunset’s and my memories until I found a relevant one. I had seen it on my visit to Luminance, but I hadn’t seen it. The shade of Twinkleshine’s coat was slightly off, and the eyes were different, but the resemblance was uncanny.
“Twilight,” Mother cooed, actually sounding motherly for once, “have you maybe ever thought that the reason you hate Celestia so much is because of me? Because you felt my familiar sense of abandonment? I mean, knowing everything you do now, do you really blame her for not teaching you? Princess Luna all but said she set up the two of you for that little drama.”
My magic scrubbed away at my mane, trying in vain to shampoo the thought away. But – but there was no removing an infectious thought like that, not without a geas or a memory spell.
I uttered an inaudible no.
But that didn’t change what Celestia had done and still wanted to do to Luna. And she’d wanted to petrify me. Even – I gulped – even Luna’s backup plan to cripple me again and again wouldn’t have been as bad as what she thought she would’ve done. My feelings remained unchanged.
“Wow, you are stubborn. Princess Luna would’ve been there for you, you know.”
Yes, but Celestia hadn’t known that. Not unless she’d known who I used to be or that I was Luna’s apprentice the whole time, but there was no way she had. Even after a day-and-a-half of rest to reset my brain, that possibility still didn’t make any sense to me given Celestia’s past actions.
“Unless that reaction is also part of her plan.”
“To what end?”
“Pft. Who knows what Sunbutt can find cause to do. It’s not like she could’ve taken you back even then. Princess Luna scrambled most of my instincts with flaring, after all. Probably just enough that you would’ve failed in your role if she tried, even, knowing Princess Luna.”
That wouldn’t surprise me if Luna had planted that as a trap in case her plans for me went barrel up. She was nothing if not thorough.
“I think you meant psychotically meticulous.”
“Do you want me to erase you?” I growled.
“Fine, fine. Shutting up now.”
After a good who-knew-how-long of silence, I let out a sigh. The rest of my bath went by in relative peace.
Still a little damp – I’d taken the luxury of towel drying myself instead of magicking my coat dry – I finally wandered onto the fake beach next to our lake. Everypony but Chrysalis and Chamomile was gathered there, although Dash was more often in the lake than not.
Or maybe that was the wrong way to put it. From the way her magic appeared and disappeared, it was as if she were barely ever in the lake at all. She was performing some sort of dolphin routine, leaping up from one section of the water in a huge splash and then diving into another section with a cannonball.
Spike was the first to notice my approach. He ran over for a hug, obviously hiding tears.
“I thought you were dead,” I just barely heard Spike mumble into my leg.
I returned the hug with one of my fancy new wings. “I’m sorry for worrying you. These past few days were supposed to be carefully planned out.” I squeezed Spike a little tighter. “But don’t worry. I’ll always be here for you now, Spike.”
“Mhm,” I hummed.
Unfortunately, our moment was ruined by a glomp. Accompanying it was Pinkie Pie’s overly dramatic shout.
“You’re returned to the world of the living! Did your Princess Charming finally wake you up?”
Without even waiting for my response, Pinkie Pie continued, “I made a whole pile of butterscotch and put it under your nose, but you didn’t wake up at all. I even tried standing you on your head, but you were a total zombie. I guess it’s true that princesses can only be woken up by true love’s kiss.”
I silently told myself not to buck Pinkie Pie off my back.
Just as I was about to reply, Dash appeared directly in front of me out of nowhere with barely more than a stirring of magic. I leapt back in surprise, hardly feeling the weight of the two pieces of cargo still clinging to me.
“How did you do that?” I asked just shy of shouting. That hadn’t been a teleport. It hadn’t been a shadow jump, nor had it been a changeling portal. It hadn’t even been…whatever it was Pinkie Pie did when she broke physics.
Faster than I’d ever heard her talk before, Dash spewed out, “I was kinda hoping you’d tell me, Twi. But it’s totally super cool! I love this whole teleporting thing! No wonder you do it all the time. I just get into the right mood, and bam! I’m somewhere else. I can only do it between, like, clouds and water and humid areas for some reason, but oh my gosh is it awesome.
“Did you see me earlier going like a million kilometers an hour out in space? I didn’t even have to breathe. I mean I did, but I was like vhroosh, and then I was somewhere else, and the whole breathing thing was only mildly annoying at the start.
“Speaking of annoying, I’ve got this weird feeling, like, everywhere. I mean, not everywhere everywhere, but pretty much everywhere in the ship. It’s not all that bad, and I can tune it out, but what’s up with that? I didn’t feel like this in the Æthereal Realm.”
“Okay, stop.” I said.
I took a deep breath. I was not going to blow up at Dash. I was not going to yell at her for talking like Pinkie Pie after too much caffeine.
“Have you asked anypony else yet?” I asked. “Maybe Chrysalis or Chamomile?”
“Yeah, they said I was ‘manifesting out of my element’ or something like that, but I figured you’d know for sure. By the way, am I totally screwed out of a normal life now? And is there some law that says princesses can’t be married? None of them are, and I–”
Not going to shout. Not going to shout. “Dash,” I interrupted calmly, “can we bring the energy levels down just a little bit?”
“Why would you want to do that?” Pinkie Pie asked. “She’s perfectly understandable, and now she’s communicating twice as fast.”
I let out a sigh. One Pinkie Pie was already pushing the limits. Two would be unbearable.
I turned my head around and asked, “Are you going to get off me?”
“No problemo,” Pinkie Pie replied, finally hopping off my back.
“Alright,” I began, turning my attention back to Dash. “First–”
I felt Spike’s claws very tentatively let go of my leg.
“Spike, you don’t have to stop.”
Suddenly remembering that ‘all this touchy feely stuff wasn’t manly’, Spike slightly blushed and tried to play it cool. “Er, no, it’s okay, Mom. I’m good. Just forget I ever–”
Rolling my eyes, I wrapped up Spike in another hug with both of my hooves. This one he couldn’t escape no matter how much he squirmed or protested.
Once Spike finally accepted he was going to be cuddled whether he thought it was cool or not, I turned my attention back to Dash again.
“As I was saying, first, I couldn’t care–”
No, bad Twilight. Be nice. Or at least not dismissive.
“You can opt out of princesshood,” I began again. “If you pick up some changeling magic, you can just wear your old pegasus form as a disguise. It won’t fool everypony, but it will fool everypony that matters.
“And as for your other question, no, princesses aren’t disallowed from marrying. Cadance is engaged to Shining, and they plan to marry soonish. Luna and I simply aren’t interested in the institution, and I don’t know what Celestia’s problem is.”
Even with a huge chunk of Mother’s memories floating around in my head, I didn’t have the first clue as to who any secret suitors or hidden paramours might have been. Not that that was really important. I did vaguely remember Luna saying Celestia wasn’t asexual, though.
“But anyway, how did you first manifest?”
Now that I’d said the word, it was dredging up old, obscure memories from chatting with Cherry Berry and Chamomile. It was something like teleporting, but not.
“Ah…” The hyperactive look in Dash’s eyes finally faded away. “Well, when I woke up yesterday, I was really comfortable in bed. And that feeling just sort of fed into itself? Yeah, let’s go with that. Flutters said I spent a half-hour ‘being part of the bed’. It took me a while to calm her down.”
Looking rather sheepish for once, Dash scratched her muzzle with a wing and added, “Well, after she calmed me down first.”
“Wait, you became a cloud?”
Dash shrugged. “It didn’t really feel like that. I mean, I guess I don’t know what being a cloud feels like, but I felt…big, you know?”
“I see…” I mumbled.
It sounded like Dash’s alicorn domain was weathery things. Thank the universe’s whims that it wasn’t pegasus magic. But turning into a cloud? Really? I supposed Luna had kept me mostly in the dark about what it meant to be an alicorn, because ‘it would be more magical that way’, but that seemed a little strange.
“You should give it a try,” Dash said. “It’s like moving a muscle you’ve just realized you had. I tried to explain it to Flutters and Chamomile, but they couldn’t do it.”
Hmm… Alright. Why not? It sounded interesting enough. But I wasn’t going to become a cloud, or rain, or lightning, or whatever. I was pretty sure that wouldn’t work for me.
I turned my attention toward one of the enchantments in the lake area. Like most every piece of unicorn magic I’d sensed so far, it was very structured and organized. Hundreds of magical pathways interlocked exactly as I’d designed them with only a little wear and tear to show their age.
I tried following all the pulses of magic through the spell but only met with marginal success. Instead, I tracked a single pulse and followed it along.
My eyes couldn’t see anything useful, but they felt compelled to follow along with my magic sense. That was distracting. I closed them and further absorbed myself in just trying to live what the one little pulse of magic I’d singled out was experiencing.
I went at a relaxing, yet still fast, speed through the enchantment. Every so often, I’d suddenly jerk at a right angle instead of taking a gentle curve.
Maybe my spellcrafting needed a little artistic work. A few less sharp edges here and there would make the ride better and the overall design much prettier. But then there was a simple beauty to rigid lines that a tangled mess of curves could never possess. Perhaps I shouldn’t change a thing.
The end of the ride approached. Whatever magic was left would be recycled into the spell for another round, but this pulse was running low. It’d fade out soon enough, utterly spent and removed from existence. Maybe I shouldn’t follow–
A scream escaped me into my thoughts. I was gone. I’d died!
But – but I was still thinking. That didn’t make sense! How could I be gone and not gone?
That question stopped the encroaching panic dead in place of curiosity. I leaned back and let myself breathe. And it was only a couple seconds into that when I finally realized I couldn’t see, hear, or feel anything anymore. That included my lungs.
And yet my magic sense was working perfectly fine. All of the magic on the Nebulous was plainly arrayed all over. There was the enchantment I’d been following, Dash’s nearly endless pool, Berry Pinch’s barely mature magical core, little fluffy swirls of magic left behind in clouds…but my own magic was gone.
And that meant I’d done it! Success! I’d recreated Dash’s little trick.
Well, mostly. I’d managed to demanifest myself, but now I had to actually get a body again. Being some sort of alicorn ghost thing wasn’t exactly desirable in the long run. But maybe I could indulge for just a little while and investigate.
Hmm… Other than not having a physical body, I didn’t really feel all that different. My wonderful new magic sense was working normally, and my thoughts were unimpeded. And judging by the speed my friends’ magics were moving around at, nor were my thoughts boosted, unfortunately. I hadn’t expected otherwise, knowing Luna and Cadance so well, but still.
Anyway, moving around…didn’t seem to be a thing. I wanted to say I knew where I was, but I didn’t even know that. My magic sense was the only external information available to me; without a body for reference, it apparently gave me the position, velocity, acceleration, angular velocity, et cetera of magic in absolute coordinates. Spike’s magic was…
‘It was just there’ wasn’t the right way to say it. That had too much of an ‘over there’ connotation, which implied I wasn’t over there, too, which I very well might be for all I knew.
Argh! I imagined myself furiously rubbing at my nonexistent mane. By definition, sensory input had to interact with the physical world. I, or whatever mechanism that communicated magical information to me, should be somewhere in the world taking in data. Spike’s magic should have been, say, five hooves to my left, or twenty hooves below me, or something, but it was just – just there.
There just – there weren’t words in Equestrian that accurately described what it was like to not have a reference point for sensory information. Nopony had ever needed to invent them. And even if those words existed, nopony would truly understand them. Except…alicorns? Were we all like this?
Wait, wait. This all sounded familiar. What was it? Something Luna said, perhaps?
Hmm, well regardless, I was still on the Nebulous, right? I felt very… I waved imaginary hooves about, searching for the right words. It didn’t take long for me to give up and simply settle on ‘there’. The Nebulous’s magic was definitely at the forefront of my attention. There were other things in my peripheral…sense, but they didn’t exactly feel near–
A silent gasp escaped me. As I focused on the things just on the edge of my attention, those little blurs exploded into detail. The sun was magnificent. And oh my gosh, the moon. Both were present, sharing the same space, both impossibly far apart and impossibly close together. Equus was just a little tiny blob of magic swirling to a million purposes beside the sun.
A-a-and then the moon, the sun, Equus, everything shrunk to pinpricks of magic against a great sea of borderline itchy almost-nothing. There were little scraps of magic scattered across the void of space, but only little scraps. Yet there were so many of them, maybe even as many as there were atoms in a mole or more, but they were insignificant like grains of sand on a planet.
Oh. Oh my! That was another star now, not the sun. And on the other side of the universe where the moon was lay a – a gash in the universe. A dead nothing filled with a thousand suns’ worth of magic. Hundreds and hundreds of other stars filled my mind as I delved deeper into the unknown half of the universe, turning away from the side I lived on.
Some stars had their magic packed into spheres smaller than Equus, but the sheer amount present said they had to be stars, not planets. Luna must’ve created or found some neutron stars centuries ago for whatever reason.
But then there was a warm and cuddly carpet of low-density magic. The strangest urge to roll around in it struck me, but I had no idea what that would even mean, let alone how to go about it.
There was so much for me to explore. The universe was so big, and it was all there for me to see! I just had to look.
Except…there was something in the way. I’d run straight into some kind of wall as my attention ventured further and further outward.
I stared at the wall for whatever staring was worth at the moment. Unlike the magic on the Nebulous, which had been in crystal clear clarity, this magic was frayed and completely out of focus. Not that the stars I’d been observing had been much better. Stars were awfully big, even the neutron stars; I’d merely been losing resolution on them as I zoomed out, no doubt. I did, after all, still only have the sensory processing power of a single pony…probably.
But those stars had at least appeared whole. This barrier just faded out, and on the other side…nothing. And yet not nothing, because that would imply there was nothing to see instead of just…nothing.
The barrier appeared to be a shell stretching across the universe, dividing in into the side whose magic was within my purview and the side that was…just not. It wasn’t like there was no magic on the other side. I knew there were stars out there, too. All stars had magic, right, not just the ones close to the center of the universe?
But wait. Now that I was paying closer attention, my cage was expanding. Fast. More and more stars popped into my awareness even as I watched. It was almost like picking out individual stars in the twilight sky as they faded into view. That one could be Alcor, and that one over there could be Meissa.
And that was about all the names I could remember. Twinkleshine hadn’t drilled me on what she’d called all the stars in this half of the universe yet. It would be great to have her here with me, and Luna, too. All we’d need then was a blanket and a hilltop, and it’d be the perfect stargazing party. I could spend hours just curled up with them like this, watching the stars’ magic swirl and blaze to whatever purpose stars put it to.
I let out a contented purr. Solar magic was so warm and inviting. I just wanted to snuggle up around it, or in it, or whatever I could do with it.
Mmm… This was nice, almost like dozing off with Mom and Dad by a Hearth’s Warming fire.
Just as I felt myself fall into that blissful state between sleeping and waking, I pulled my thoughts back together. I needed to get back to…the others…
Oh no. Stars, this was bad. Where was everypony? Where was the Nebulous?
Okay, okay, okay. Calm down, Twilight. There was nothing to worry about. Look, the divide between the universe’s halves was right there. It was pretty obvious.
There was the moon and the sun. Oh, and little Equus was there, too, hiding beside Polaris, which was maybe a thousandth as magically dense as it was light dense at most. There just wasn’t all that much free floating magic out in space to find its way to Polaris.
So from there, I knew what coordinates I’d teleported to after Celestia had left, and I still vaguely remembered the velocity we’d had when we’d reached Mona. I could find everypony. I knew where to start looking; that was the important part. And Dash’s magic was a blazing lighthouse in the midst of a dark sea. This would just take time; it wouldn’t be hard.
Okay, so if I started from…there abouts, I just needed to search a small cone heading away away from the sun.
Ugh. There was too much random background magic in this particular part of space. Sorting through all this with a fine-toothed comb would be such a pain.
Oh. Unless Dash and I had been radiating magic. That honestly wouldn’t surprise me, especially since Dash apparently had been showing off a lot. And it would explain why there was more magic here than elsewhere. So if I just looked for where the magic density dropped off, I should have a boundary for the Nebulous’ location.
And…ah ha! I found her. That was Dash, and then that was Chrysalis, and there was everypony else minus Chamomile, who was hanging out on the bridge for whatever reason.
I let out a sigh of relief. My little trip through the cosmos could have been a disaster.
Well…I supposed not, actually. Luna had never had much difficulty finding my dreams, and it wasn’t like she’d slacked off and just kept track of my location all day every day. Her dream walking and my magic sense likely weren’t perfect analogs, but they probably were close enough for the comparison to work.
Anyway, now all I needed was to manifest a body again.
And it only occurred to me now that I’d never asked Dash how she’d done that. But surely it couldn’t be that hard. She’d figured it out without any guidance, as had Luna and Celestia. And she did say it was supposed to feel very natural.
So then what would feel natural to me? It would be logically intuitive – not that that was necessarily what would feel natural – to do the opposite of demanifesting. I’d gotten lost in the feeling of magic earlier. Perhaps all I needed to do was try to cut myself off from all this.
A shudder ran through my imaginary body. No, the natural thing to do was not to cut myself off from magic. Never again ever.
What I could do instead would be to focus on having a body again instead of…being whatever I was right now.
Actually, what even was I? Besides an alicorn, that was. That much was given. What clues did I have?
I apparently had an astronomical-scale level of perception now, although I could only process small chunks of that information at a time. That and my general thought patterns and emotions suggested I still had an equine brain of some kind, or at least something approximating it.
Along that train of thought, Cadance – and other alicorns, presumably – had a natural form that continued to grow to ‘alicorn adulthood’. That form was vulnerable, too, which meant it either carried or had a strong connection to our actual consciousness. Given that our bodies could regenerate from anything, including atomization, the latter was most likely the case.
Then based off of what Cadance and Dash had said to me and my own experiences, every alicorn had the ability to sense their domain. I could sense magic. Dash had weird feelings ‘pretty much everywhere’ on the Nebulous, which if I were guessing, was probably her sensing humidity. Cadance could sense emotional bonds.
Hmm… And Cadance could alter emotional bonds. She didn’t just use a spell like a geas to force a pony to think differently while under the spell effect; when Cadance finished with a pony, they were different. They were fundamentally altered.
Oh my gosh! And – and Luna could move the moon and stars around however she wanted without effort. Did that mean I could do whatever I wanted with magic? All magic everywhere?
I squeed at the thought. That would be the best thing ever! I had to experiment right…away…
No. I needed to spend time with my potential friends first. I couldn’t keep ignoring them like I had. And like I was now. Sigh…
But back to the question of what I was for the moment. What hypotheses could I generate from this data for testing?
There was the standard sci-fi answer Twinkleshine would suggest. I could be magic. All of it.
As wonderful as that would be, the idea seemed a bit strange with not having an expanded consciousness. Why would I still think like a pony and have the same processing power as one if I was the universe’s magic?
Well, to be fair, I did have an extra sense now. That required additional processing power since my other faculties hadn’t felt impaired to compensate for the new input, but that wasn’t quite the same as having a universe-sized brain to perform computations.
Anyway, a related idea could be that I was just a ‘little’ bit of magic shaped into the form of a pony. That didn’t really jibe with having an astronomical-level of sensory input on its own, though. There would have to be some additional framework operating behind the scenes in conjunction with myself to allow that to occur.
Hmm… There was the Æthereal Realm. I didn’t really know why that realm existed or what it did exactly. It did seem to have enough access to my mind to show me memories directly, which meant it was conceivable that it could provide sensory input to me even now.
Of course I was giving the Æthereal Realm a sense of agency right now that it might not actually possess. The ascension process was clearly standardized somehow…which now that I thought of it might be an important clue about the distant past. But that didn’t mean the Æthereal Realm had any ability to interact with the Physical Realm. I needed a lot more information before I could actually chase this particular theory further.
Another possibility was that I was an avatar of magic of some kind. Depending on how much I fed my ego, magic could all belong to me, or I could just have a built in mechanism to control magic somehow. There were certainly real differences between the two phrasings in practice, but without another Alicorn of Magic to contest me for ownership slash control – if it were even possible for there to be another Alicorn of Magic – there was little effective difference.
This seemed like the most solid theory, but that was likely because it held little explanatory power; it described the data more than it revealed information about the data. I had no idea what an avatar actually would be. All I could say about avatars would be what was minimally possible for them. It was possible for them to be pony-like. It was possible for them to control their domain. It was possible for them to sense their domain.
I hummed thoughtfully, regretting that I couldn’t run a few feathers across my jaw. Really, I needed a lot more information before I could even begin to attempt to answer the question of what I was. Luna probably had plenty I could ask for, but…well…that would be cheating. And she didn’t keep me in the dark my entire life about being an alicorn just to ruin my chance to explore and discover on my own.
Actually, putting it like that, it was entirely possible Luna had told me nothing because she wanted another opinion on what it meant to be an alicorn. If that was true, it probably meant discovering any useful information would be frustratingly difficult.
But on the other hoof, I might have a comparative advantage at the task. I was the Alicorn of Magic, and magic powered ascension. There might be other mechanisms coming into play, but I got to experience the overwhelming wave of magic from Dash’s ascension as it passed me…by…
Oh how I wanted to facehoof. That was what the wall I’d run into earlier was. That was my ascension propagating outward. I couldn’t see past it because it was…doing whatever it did as it went. And I wouldn’t ever be able to study it because only the very tail end of that magic was under my control.
Dash’s ascension…was probably all on the other side of mine. She’d had a huge lead, and apparently ascensions traveled faster than light. I couldn’t study that either. How frustrating. I needed to ascend somepony else. If I could figure out how ascension magic worked, I could learn so much. I might even be able to recreate the process on smaller scales using less magic while simultaneously probably reducing the problem of having too many absurdly powerful alicorns running around.
Of course it was entirely possible that I couldn’t leave the areas of the universe affected by my ascension. It wasn’t a problem for a full alicorn like me, but a miniaturized alicorn like I’d just proposed might feel a little trapped. Well, after ponies started spreading out into space, that was. Hmm…
Still, it’d be better than dying.
Anyway, I needed to get a physical body again. No more distractions.
So I got here by focusing on a particular piece of magic, although I suspected that was more of a useful thought exercise than an actual requirement. Dash had been manifesting in and out of clouds and water, but I doubted she actually needed to demanifest into something. I hadn’t gone near the enchantment I’d been focusing on, after all.
But I probably did need to manifest out of magic. Or if I didn’t need to, it might at least help me learn the process. But if it were required, how much magic did I need? Would any little scrap do, or did I need to work with a lot? Conservation of magic wasn’t really a thing the way, say, conservation of momentum was, but producing enough magic for an alicorn could take a while.
No, I couldn’t need an entire alicorn’s worth of magic. The magic I’d had within my physical body before was just gone. I didn’t know if it’d radiated out into space, but it certainly wasn’t on the Nebulous anymore. Dash’s magic would’ve similarly disappeared the first time she’d demanifested, if not during the other times, so she’d manifested without an alicorn’s worth of magic nearby to draw into herself.
And again, Dash had done this without direction, probably while she was freaking out. I likely just needed to get myself into the right mental state, and things would just happen correctly.
Alright, this shouldn’t be too hard.
My eyes cracked open hesitantly. I was pretty sure I had eyes again, but you never knew.
And then I fell into the lake. I’d finally managed to manifest out of some unimportant magic holding some clouds together. The trick that had finally worked was to imagine the magic constructing my body spontaneously and simply willing myself into the world. That was not how you cast spells, but then I supposed this wasn’t really a spell.
At any rate, I had a minor problem. I hadn’t really thought about where the clouds were situated. With a mighty splash and a gargled groan, I belly flopped straight into the lake.
Once I’d recovered my wits, I teleported onto the beach, hacking up the water I’d inhaled.
A hoof thudded down on my back, helping me cough. Berry Punch’s voice accompanied it, asking, “Are you alright, Twilight?”
“Fine,” I wheezed out. “Just fine, thanks.”
Off to my side, a small little blob of magic that must’ve been Berry Pinch poked at my wing.
“Wow, you really are an alicorn, too. These wings are really soft and pretty.”
I shut down the thought that said Berry Pinch was only complimenting me because she wanted something. I – she probably did in the ‘I’d love to have these, too’ sense, but not in the ‘please ascend me’ sense.
“Um, thanks,” I managed to get out as I coughed up the last of the water in my lungs. “Yes, thank you.”
“Well, it seems it finally happened, Princess,” the voice of Cherry Berry said from the other side of me. “Congratulations are in order, I think.”
“Ah…right. Thanks. But you can still just call me Twilight.”
I resisted the urge to facehoof. Cherry Berry was going to give me crap about this forever, wasn’t she?
Oh well. Twinkleshine snuggled up comfortably next to me, and Spike found his way to my other side with Berry Pinch.
And then my eyes caught sight of Fluttershy limping forward with Dash supporting her. She had a pair of rather large bandages running across a forehoof and her barrel. I supposed this is what Luna had meant when she’d said Dash had dealt no long-lasting damage.
“Fluttershy, what’s wrong?” I asked.
“Oh, it’s nothing, Princ–” Dash nudged her in an uninjured part of her barrel. “I mean Twilight. I’m alright. Besides, are you okay? You coughed up an awful lot of water.”
Ugh. Patience, Twilight. Patience. Fluttershy was just like that. That was why the Element of Kindness liked her. She’d ignore her own problems if there was somepony else to worry about even the slightest bit.
“I’m perfectly healthy,” I replied. “You must’ve seen Dash flying around in space without air, right? A little water in my lungs isn’t a problem. But we can’t leave a princess consort injured like you are.”
A blush erupted onto Fluttershy’s face, and she descended into incomprehensible squeaking. It was actually kind of cute if I overlooked how difficult her reactions made it to communicate with her.
“So what’s wrong with her?” I asked Dash this time.
Rather more subdued than she’d been before, Dash said, “Large bruising and possibly a minor fracture.”
Alright, I could fix that. I knew how to fix broken bones and bruising like I knew the frog of my hoof. I’d had more than enough of both over the years.
My horn lit up. The necessary healing spells formed about Fluttershy’s injuries, seeking out and repairing damage as little magical tendrils threaded through her. I’d expected healing magic to feel warm and soothing, but these spells honestly felt more like the magical equivalent of a red hot wire mesh. It wouldn’t hurt at all, yet I hesitated a moment to go through with them. But only a moment. Fluttershy needed this, and I was sure I was going to get all kinds of strange feelings from all manner of benign spells; this might as well be the first.
I didn’t know how long it took to finish casting, but it couldn’t have been more than a minute. I cut the bandages off of Fluttershy and scryed across where she’d been hurt. Everything had healed properly as if nothing had ever happened.
“Done,” I said.
Fluttershy blinked at me. Then she reacted properly and tested her leg.
“Thanks, Twilight,” Fluttershy said.
Dash added, “Yeah, thanks, Twi.”
“You’re welcome.” A genuine smile graced my face, but it faded quickly enough. I still had something important to do. “I suppose I mostly already have it, but if I could get everypony’s attention.”
As the little side chatter died down, Cherry Berry asked, “Are we going home now? Is this the end of our adventure?”
“Um…” I should just say no, but would it really be so bad to tell them the truth? I didn’t have any further use for them, at least not on the Nebulous, and Celestia already knew or would find out anything I could tell them.
No, there was no reason not to tell them whatever they wanted to know now, at least within reason. I still knew a lot of secrets that shouldn’t be revealed to anypony.
“Well, I can take you home if you want,” I began, “but other than for a short visit, it might be dangerous for you. Although then again, probably not. If Chrysalis hasn’t mentioned it, her hive has all of your close friends and family safely hidden.”
Cherry Berry’s eyebrows rose. “Safe from what?”
Apparently Celestia, Dash, and Chrysalis had neglected to tell anypony anything. That was kind of them, I supposed; it gave me the chance to come clean myself. And Twinkleshine and Chamomile hadn’t said anything either, obviously.
“Celestia. With some…assistance…from Dash, I kind of just ruined her plans for using the elements to kill Luna.”
I got a rather loud chorus of whats, come again nows, and two I knew its. Of the latter, the first came from Pinkie Pie. I didn’t know if she was being serious or just pretending – such knowledge was beyond the reach of ponies – but the other voice, Cherry Berry’s, I knew was very serious.
“How did you know?” I asked. “And since when?”
“A mare has her ways.” Cherry Berry smirked.
I returned it with an unmoving frown. This kind of security breach could lead to an enormous problem if repeated in the future.
“Oh, alright,” Cherry Berry finally said. “I guessed on the moon. I didn’t want to bring it up in case you were…proactive in keeping state secrets. If history has taught me anything, it’s not to get too involved in fights to the death between rulers.”
My head fell awkwardly to my hooves. That wasn’t an entirely unfair worry to have around me, unfortunately. But in my defense, I hadn’t done anything to her when she’d found out I was going to ascend. That ascensions could be planned was a bigger and more important secret than Luna’s and Celestia’s problems. Surely Cherry Berry would’ve figured that out at some point.
“Twilight wouldn’t do that,” Twinkleshine spoke up in my defense. “I knew the whole time.”
I wrapped a wing over Twinkleshine, uttering a soft thank you.
“No offense taken, Cherry Berry,” I said. Then speaking to everypony assembled, I continued, “But just to clarify, Luna isn’t going to kill Celestia.” Although that didn’t mean she didn’t want to. “This is only a one-sided fight to the death. Our, that is Luna’s and my plans are simply to put Celestia into what amounts to a coma for a while.”
Cherry Berry hummed thoughtfully, running a hoof under her muzzle. Eventually, she said, “Fair enough.” Nopony else had any objections either, although it was possible they simply didn’t voice them.
“But as you were saying?” I asked.
“Oh right,” Cherry Berry said. “Well, things didn’t add up on the moon. Luminance was obviously made by Princess Luna, and her art gallery of a castle obviously took a lot of time to make. Surely a diarch wouldn’t be absent from Equestria for that long, so it stood to reason that alicorns can make casual field trips to the moon. A theory which you proved recently, I suppose.”
I guessed the rest of Cherry Berry’s reasoning, “So why wouldn’t Celestia just retrieve the elements herself?”
“Yeah, pretty much. Although I was only sure because nopony on the moon had anything good to say about Princess Celestia, yet they all knew who she was.”
I supposed that was all fair enough. I couldn’t have prevented Cherry Berry from deducing our trip’s general purpose without not taking her to the moon. This was just another reason I needed to learn to truly respect other ponies. And if possible, Luna and I really needed to find a good job offer for Cherry Berry. If she was willing, she was far too smart to not employ her again after this contract was over.
At any rate, I was pretty sure this was the point where I should give a friendly compliment.
“Excellent work, Cherry Berry. I’d like to say this was an intelligence test for another job, but Luna and I were honestly just trying to keep you all out of the loop for your own protection. It’s still treason even if you didn’t know what you were doing, but if something went wrong, we figured Celestia probably wouldn’t bother herself with sweeping you under the rug and would’ve just let you go.”
Plus or minus a geas or memory wipe to keep them quiet. Those were possible outcomes, too.
“Is it really even treason, though?” Berry Punch asked, a little bit of distress showing on her face. I could see her eyes flitting toward her daughter every so often.
I shook a hoof back and forth in the air. “Kind of. It’s complicated.”
Cherry Berry interrupted with, “It’s treason to back the losing monarch.”
Echoing Cherry Berry’s earlier words, I added, “Yeah, pretty much. But in reference to what I was saying before, it’s…probably…safe for you to make trips home. As long as you don’t cause trouble for her, I don’t think Celestia will actually care about what you do. I made a deal with her earlier, too. Hopefully that will keep all of you safe no matter how this turns out.”
If I’d been less exhausted, I would’ve stipulated to Celestia that she had to leave everypony I cared about alone – minus me, Cadance, and Luna, of course – for the rest of their lives, but that hadn’t registered with me at the time unfortunately. Still, Celestia and I had agreed to honor the spirit of our words. Hopefully her honor would naturally extend that promise beyond the Summer Sun Celebration.
I let out a little involuntary sigh. I’d just have to learn from that failure.
“So yes,” I continued, “you can go home if you want, but…” I bit my lip, and my voice sunk almost to a whisper. “I’d much prefer it if you all stayed with me.”
The silence that fell, for all that it lasted less than a second, was probably one of the worst ones of my life.
Pinkie Pie was the first to speak, naturally. “What are friends for if not for fighting epic battles together?”
“Um, no. That’s not what I–”
A little magical tug at my foreleg interrupted me and brought my attention down to Berry Pinch.
“You’re still going to teach me magic, right? You’re really good at it.”
Well Quartz would probably be the better teacher for Berry Pinch, given his specialization. But at the same time, I didn’t know how I felt about sending a sweet little innocent filly to him. Although Berry Pinch really shouldn’t be hanging out with me either, not unless she intended to enter politics or the secret service. I wasn’t exactly a bad influence, but I had enough self-awareness to know a pony taking me as a role model could go astray very easily.
But…it should be fine, right? Twinkleshine had turned out alright, although I didn’t think she’d ever seen me as a role model.
“Yes, if you want me to, I’ll finish your education for you.”
Berry Pinch gave me a cavity inducing smile before hugging me and saying thank you. I couldn’t help but ruffle her mane with my magic in return, smiling myself.
Turning my attention back to the ponies at eye level, I said, “I wasn’t asking for any of you to fight with me.”
“Even me?” Dash asked.
“No, not you,” I sighed. “I don’t expect you to fight directly, but I do expect you to behave yourself. Your existence alone is enough to keep the younger generation of alicorns out of this fight completely, which should sharply reduce the potential collateral damage.”
We should be able to pressure Celestia and Luna into fighting off-planet this time, too, but I was less sure of that. Celestia very much had the home field advantage this time. I didn’t know how much that was worth in comparison to not being outnumbered three to two.
“So exactly what were you asking?” Cherry Berry said.
“Not – not much.” My hoof awkwardly played with the sand below it, and I had a hard time actually looking anypony in the eye. “I just…wanted your time to, you know, get to know you all better. I’ve–”
I gulped. This was the point where I could turn everything around. I just had to put myself on display and let everypony in. It wasn’t that hard. It just took a few simple words. It would only take a minute or two.
“I – I realize that I haven’t – that I haven’t exactly been the nicest or friendliest pony. I was hoping everypony would…start over with me, I guess. I’d like to actually be your friend, not just your boss.” My wings shifted nervously as I forced myself to look ponies in the face. “Would – would that be okay?”
Pinkie Pie was the first to respond again. “Aw, you silly pony. You don’t need to change. You may be a grumpy pants, but you’re our grumpy pants.”
Spike clung to one of my forelegs in a supportive hug, and the other one bore Berry Pinch.
“You’re just fine, Twilight,” Fluttershy added. “We’re already friends.”
A warm smile bloomed on my face as, one by one, I was buried in a group hug from most of the ponies present. This was nice. Really nice. I wouldn’t want to go back and tell myself not to study or read, but I wished I’d listened to Cadance just a little bit more when I was younger.
And in the midst of this warm, fuzzy moment, Dash ruined it.
“So does this mean I can fly in the library now?”
I sighed as everypony finally released me from the hug.
“No,” I said plainly and simply. “So anyway…”
Now that it came to it, what was I supposed to do now? As nice as the emotional support was, I would’ve appreciated criticism more. I was trying to better myself here, not stay the course.
“Oh well,” I quietly sighed to myself. I already knew the general changes I wanted to see in myself. It was just a matter of trial and error now, I supposed.
For lack of anything better to say, I asked, “What’s going on here?”
“A ‘you’ve got a horn’ beach party!” Pinkie Pie replied with her usual enthusiasm. “I even broke out the good schnapps.”
Yes, well, I still wasn’t going to partake in social drinking. That just wasn’t my thing. Although…I supposed I could drink anything short of moonshine now without having it affect me, just like Spike could.
“We’ve got music, and snacks, and volleyball, and water Frisbee, and lots and lots of sand.” Pinkie Pie gestured behind her, where indeed there was a volleyball net set up. It was obviously a homespun cotton net, but it did look sturdy.
Given the lack of any sand sculptures and that nopony but myself was even the slightest bit wet, I’d probably interrupted a game of volleyball. I’d never played, but surely it’d be fun if I just tried.
“Is there room for me to join in?”
Pinkie Pie wrapped a hoof around my withers and led me toward the court.
“Of course there is, Twilight. And we needed somepony to balance out Dash and to catch wayward balls ever since Chrissy went to bed, too, so this works out perfectly.”
That Twinkleshine or even Berry Pinch couldn’t catch stray shots had me more than a little worried. Exactly how wayward did these balls get?
Heedless of my concerns, Pinkie Pie continued, “Fluttershy is refereeing, so you can play the aerial position.”
Oh no. I could see it now. This was going to be a disaster. A sporting event wasn’t at all how I wanted to try flying in the real world for the first time. That required the kind of accelerations and reflexes that would almost certainly send me crashing into walls, the ground, other ponies, and anything else that wasn’t intangible.
I gave a weak, tentative flap of my wings, feeling the kind of magical thrust I’d been denied for years lift me a hoof or two off the ground. Maybe this would still be fun.
“Okay,” I agreed, sealing whatever fate awaited me. “Whose team am I on?”
“Ours!” Berry Pinch and Spike chorused.
I raised an eyebrow at putting both the foals on the same team, but honestly, that shouldn’t surprise me. I knew well enough that those two liked to team up as often as possible.
“How quick are your reflexes?” Cherry Berry asked me.
Very, very hesitantly, I replied, “Reasonably fast.”
“You still have a repair spell memorized, right?”
Against all sane and rational thought, I again hesitantly answered, “Yes?”
“Good. Our team hasn’t broken anything yet, but ‘Team Spike Every Chance They Have’ has ruptured the ball twice, put a hole in the net three times, and set fire to the net once.”
“No injuries yet, though,” Cherry Berry continued. “Chrysalis had your position before. She was quick on the draw when she had to intervene and stop the ball with magic.”
Oh stars. What had I gotten myself into?