Chapter Thirty Eight - Outside Opinions - Part Two
Frowning, I wrote down the final scores of the game. Shining was ten points short of winning, I was ten points over, and Twinkleshine – curse her luck – was seventy points over. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve called her on cheating. I was rather suspicious that she’d fed both Shining and me points on occasion to keep the game even, but I didn’t understand how she still won while doing so.
It did occur to me that I’d never played this particular game with her before, but that didn’t actually explain anything.
Glancing across the table, Shining seemed just about as stumped as I was. Although maybe that could be from the shock of seeing me lose.
Well…maybe not. It wasn’t like I’d never lost to Shining before. Still, it was the principle of the matter.
I sighed again. There was nothing else for it. “So, Twinkleshine, what forfeit are you claiming from us?”
“Hmm…” Twinkleshine tapped a hoof to her muzzle, and she had a patently mischievous smile on her face. “I wonder if I should just hold it over your head. That’s what you’d do, right?”
Rather than rolling my eyes and admitting defeat, I said, “No, I think I’d ask for something a bit more” – I leaned in to whisper in Twinkleshine’s ear – “intimate.”
Even as Twinkleshine’s face erupted into a blush, Shining plainly said, “I don’t need to hear this.”
I heard an almost silent chuckle from Twinkleshine. “He’s right. Why would he want to hear about it when he could see it?”
Oh. Oh my. Who stole my Twinkleshine away and left this mare in her place?
“You’re completely right,” I replied, running with the joke. “Two beautiful mares. What stallion could resist?”
We both scooted closer to each other. Our hooves wrapped about each other soon after. Twinkleshine hesitated, her legs quivering nervously.
“Don’t worry,” I whispered, “nopony will notice through our spells.”
“No.” Shining’s magic split us apart just barely on the right side of gently. “Just – just no. I will arrest you for public indecency.”
Twinkleshine and I both broke into the giggles we’d been holding back. I supposed we were tempting Shining to sic Cadance on us, but whatever.
“Are you quite done?” Shining asked.
Petering out, I said, “I guess. Twinkleshine?”
“Hmm, yeah. Anyway” – Twinkleshine fiddled with the deck of cards nervously – “I know what I want from you two.”
Twinkleshine stopped there, despite claiming that she knew what she wanted. I raised an eyebrow and asked, “Yes?”
“Well… Um… Do you promise not to get mad?”
I cocked my head to the side, confused. What exactly did Twinkleshine plan to ask for that she was worried I’d be mad?
Shrugging, I said, “Sure.”
Twinkleshine stopped biting her lip and smiled a bit. She turned to Shining expectantly.
“What? Me, too?” Shining asked, to which Twinkleshine nodded.
And now I had a bad feeling about this…
“Anything reasonable is fine,” Shining said.
“Okay, great. Then I’d like you two to spend the rest of the night together as a family. That means no fighting, or bickering, or whatever.”
What, was that it? I could see why Shining might not like that, or at least why Twinkleshine would think that, given how we’d been arguing. It didn’t really bother me though, so long as we weren’t at each other’s throats.
It would be imposing on Twinkleshine’s and my vacation time, though, I supposed. I did go to some effort to set it all up, but not so much that I’d be–
“And with your parents,” Twinkleshine added, which made her full request click in my head even before she finished, “at our place.”
And then I understood why Twinkleshine thought I’d be mad.
Before Shining could object – and I could already see the no coming – I said, “Twinkleshine, can I speak to you in private for a moment?”
Twinkleshine had barely begun to nod before I teleported us away to my old practice room inside the Crystal Caverns beneath Canterlot.
Once we’d arrived, I fell to my haunches, my forehooves otherwise occupied with rubbing my forehead.
I scrunched my eyes closed extra hard, trying to decide exactly how to respond.
“I’m sorry,” Twinkleshine said. “I just thought–”
“No. Give me a moment, please.” I needed to figure out how to say this without crushing Twinkleshine’s independence. I’d been working on it for years, and there was no way it was going to blow up in my face here when she was taking her first real steps forward.
Twinkleshine nodded, and I spent at least a minute choosing my words carefully.
“Okay. First, let me just make sure I’m not jumping to conclusions. Did you expect us to run into Shining?”
Hesitantly, tapping her forehooves together, Twinkleshine rather guiltily said, “I…alerted the guard.”
“You scoundrel.” My tone was one of grudging approval, and I saw that Twinkleshine picked up on it in her small smile. “You kept Shining and I busy talking while you quietly won the game.”
It wasn’t even a question. It only occurred to me now in hindsight, but it was obvious in hindsight. Even so, Twinkleshine gave me a small nod.
“Look, I’m impressed. I did not see this coming.”
“But,” I continued, reverting Twinkleshine to a frown, “taking Shining to Luminance is a different matter entirely.”
“But don’t you think Princess Celestia is keeping tabs on our location anyway?”
I did, and I knew we weren’t exactly hiding out in an anonymous corner of space, but she didn’t know where we were.
“And can’t she just track you like you tracked the elements?” Twinkleshine added before I could say anything.
“No.” That, at least, I knew she couldn’t do. Probably. I blocked the usual means of magical tracking, but I didn’t know what else Celestia might have in her bag of tricks.
“Okay…” Twinkleshine visibly gathered up her remaining courage and said, “But still, you’re just being paranoid. Just ask your brother not to say anything if you really must, but we’ll be fine even if he does blab. That’s why you put all those contingency spells in place, right?”
Yes…but I wasn’t as confident in them as Twinkleshine was. I didn’t actually want to put them to the test.
“And your brother was just complaining about how he feels left out and untrusted. Give him a chance, if not for him, then for you.”
“Come on, Twilight,” Twinkleshine insisted. “Trust me. It’ll be alright.”
No, no, no. This was so dumb.
Twinkleshine pressed even further. “I mean, you can always just steal the moon afterward.”
Steal the moon?
Twinkleshine’s grin grew and grew as I tried to hold back my giggles, but the challenge was too much. I could just imagine myself appearing in the middle of, say, Manehattan, dramatically claiming the moon was mine. Then I’d swirl my cape and vanish as the moon faded into darkness.
But still, there was a flaw to that plan. Celestia was tied to the moon like I was tied to magic. I couldn’t hide it from her anymore than she could hide her magic from me.
“I can’t actually do that,” I said. “Taking the moon with me would be like sending Celestia a letter with my return address on it.”
Twinkleshine let out a long sigh. “Okay. But this is your chance to let your brother see what life is like under Princess Luna’s rule! And by extension, Princess Cadance, too.”
“Alright,” I sighed.
Honestly, she’d had me at making Shining feel better, but Twinkleshine did have a good point. I should prevail myself of every opportunity to win over Cadance as I could, and this was certainly one of them. I had to give her credit for thinking of it, even if everything about this made me uncomfortable.
“But,” I added, “we need to have a long talk about schemes, plots, and stratagems. You are all kinds of lucky this worked for you.”
“I know.” Twinkleshine’s withers sunk at my criticism. “I just wanted to help.”
The first words that wanted to come out of my mouth I clamped down on; criticism right now needed a light touch. My second instinct to comfort her I also stopped; she didn’t need comforting after a success. It’d send entirely the wrong message.
“Twinkleshine,” I said, choosing my words with care, “you did help. The only…complication in your plan” – as far as lasting consequences for it going wrong went – “is if alerting the guard had summoned Celestia.”
Now that I’d explicitly stated it, why wasn’t she here? Strange…
Eyes wide, Twinkleshine said, “I didn’t think – but I – you’d have teleported us out, though, right?”
Not wanting to erode what was probably letting Twinkleshine sleep comfortably, I said, “Yes, but it would’ve still been an unnecessary danger. If you’d at least given me a heads up…”
No, this was having the wrong effect on Twinkleshine. She wasn’t taking this very well. I needed to spin this more as a classroom lesson.
“I think I should teach you about risk minimization. You have a firm grasp of the basics; I completely underestimated you there.”
“R-really?” Twinkleshine asked. She rubbed a hoof at the corner of her eye.
I nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been holding you back, I think. You wrought well today.”
Twinkleshine blushed at the compliment, but there was something I still had to ask.
“However” – I put a hoof on Twinkleshine’s wither – “how much of today was improv?” Unless Twinkleshine was hiding a lot of skills from me, she’d been genuinely surprised that Shining and I bet favors with each other.
Her blush further reddening for an entirely different reason, Twinkleshine said, “Almost all of it.”
I sighed inwardly, determined not to let Twinkleshine see it.
Patting her on the wither, I said, “Alright. I like your quick thinking.”
“But,” I added in jest, “if we all die, I blame you.”
Rolling her eyes, Twinkleshine replied, “I can live with that. Now let’s go back before your brother runs off.”
I nodded and cast a teleport to bring us back to Pony Joe’s. I was a little surprised that Shining was still around, but there he was at his seat, acting as if we’d never left.
And naturally, the first word that came out of his mouth was, “No.”
“I haven’t even said anything yet.” Twinkleshine pouted and crossed her forehooves, displaying a kind of giddy confidence.
“No,” Shining repeated.
“Look, I’m sure I understand why you don’t want to. Twilight didn’t want to for similar reasons. But you came to us. Alone, too. If Twilight wanted to do anything to you, she’d be doing it now.” As an afterthought, Twinkleshine added, “Or anytime, anywhere, actually.”
Twinkleshine turned to me for confirmation, so I said, “I haven’t actually tried, but yeah, that’s probably a thing I can do.” Either through conventional spellcasting or cheating with alicorn powers, I should be able to form spells across galaxies if I tried hard enough. The latter would be a lot faster, though.
“See?” Twinkleshine said. “There’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.”
“No, he could hide,” I commented. “He just can’t run once I’ve found him.”
“Oh, and that didn’t sound villainous,” Shining snarked. “Do you even listen to yourself?”
I giggled. Shining was certainly right about that. I hadn’t been able to help myself after Twinkleshine had started it.
“How about this?” I brought a forehoof up and went through the usual motions. “I promise not to strand you away from Canterlot. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.”
Shining raised an eyebrow and flatly asked, “What was that?” He was clearly unimpressed with my attempt to reassure him.
“A Pinkie Promise,” I answered. Seeing as that wasn’t actually an answer, I added, “Pinkie Pie is a time mage. I think. She takes promises very seriously, so it’s best not to break ones made in her name.”
Shining just looked at me like I was crazy, which I could hardly blame him for.
“Here, watch this.” I cleared my throat, just because it seemed appropriate for the demonstration. “I promised I wouldn’t abduct you. I think, deep down, you still trust me. If I broke my promise, I’d lose that trust. And losing a friend’s trust is the fastest way to lose a friend.”
It didn’t even take a second before Pinkie Pie popped out of nowhere from behind the front counter. Joe behind it looked as though he’d wet himself from the surprise.
“Forever!” Pinkie Pie said.
Shining started and whipped his head about to face her. He watched her slowly disappear behind the counter again in her own overly dramatic way.
After several seconds worth of silence in the entire restaurant, Shining turned back to face Twinkleshine and me.
“Ha ha. You got me. I didn’t–”
“No,” I interrupted. “It’s not a trick. Scry the area, if you must. She’s gone.”
Horn alight, Shining took my advice and searched the store for Pinkie Pie, but obviously didn’t find her. There hadn’t been any obvious magic use, either, so unless he concluded this was a very elaborate hoax, he’d have to believe.
Shining hesitated, but he asked, “Is that replicable?”
“Yeah. Go ahead and try if you want.”
“Uh, no. No thanks.” Shining seemed to be at a loss for words. In the end, all he said was, “How?”
I shrugged. “I haven’t had time to figure that out. As for the general approach she took there, I think that’s a Pinkie Pie from the future who slipped back in time. She’s too far away right now for me to believe anything else without evidence.” I shrugged again, just to show how shrug worthy my theories were right now.
“Wait. If you have a time mage, why haven’t you just gone back in time a thousand years?” Shining asked, and it was a good question.
“Time is cyclic. Or at least from our perspective it is. It may be that going back in time simply places us in a self-consistent timeline, that is our memories and the world in general are modified to fit. At any rate, until I figure out how Pinkie Pie works, I only get one ten second journey back in time, and I don’t want to waste…”
A thought occurred to me, and it came with an annoying voice.
“I totally bet I already cast that time travel spell,” Mother said. “No wonder Future Twilight didn’t come to your aid before.”
Twinkleshine poked me with a hoof. “What is it?”
“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing important.” The only way I could test that theory – that I knew of – would be to cast the spell, and that would defeat the purpose. Now I wasn’t sure if I could rely on time travel for a get out of death free card. Ponyfeathers.
I shook my head of the thought for the moment. “Anyway, if I break my promise, I’ll have to deal with Pinkie Pie, which is a terrible fate. Can you at least trust that you still know me well enough to know nothing as petty as detaining you is worth that to me?”
For a moment, Shining looked like he was going to say no again, but he stopped. He mulled it over and munched on a donut for a while before finally, quite reluctantly, saying, “Alright.”
“But,” Shining continued, interrupting whatever Twinkleshine was about to say, “I want to be back tomorrow by noon.”
“Sure,” I said.
“And,” Shining continued again, looking quite vexed for the interruption, “on the condition that you actually tell Mom and Dad who you are.”
My ears fell to my head. I mumbled, “I was planning to.”
“Well plan for it tonight, then.”
I pursed my lips, mulling it over. Without Shining hovering over me, I knew it’d take me forever to get around to it. Every time I’d tried, I’d felt just as weak in the knees and as sick to the stomach as the time before. But having a judgmental older brother around wouldn’t exactly make it a more pleasant experience.
The right thing to do was obvious, unfortunately.
“Okay,” I whispered. “But – but please be nice about it. I-I can’t lose Mom and Dad.”
Shining sighed, then said, “Alright, I promise not to intentionally sabotage whatever miracle you want to try and pull to make Mom and Dad not hate Luna. Happy?”
First, I took a deep breath. Second, I nodded. Third, I asked, “Is everypony ready to go, then?” The sooner we got this over with the better.
Twinkleshine and Shining both agreed, and I set off the first teleport, the one which would take us outside of Canterlot.
“Welcome” – Twinkleshine paused, stood up on her hind legs, and held her forehooves wide, gesturing toward everything behind her – “to the moon!”
Perhaps a little too over the top, but Twinkleshine had given about as good a welcome as any. Shining did look impressed, too, which was a bonus.
“This is all on the moon?” Shining asked.
Hmm? “Cadance didn’t say anything to you about it?”
“More mentioned,” Shining said as distractedly as he looked. “I wasn’t exactly expecting this.” I watched him watching a small flock of lunar pegasi following after Dash fly through the sky. Once they’d disappeared from sight into town, he added, “Or that ponies lived here.” Another pause, then he asked, “Those are ponies, right?”
“Moon ponies!” Twinkleshine chimed in.
In return, I said, “Ignore her. They’re Equus-native pegasi with a bunch of recessive genes. When you get back to Canterlot, look for ponies with small fangs or ears with extra hair on the tips. They have lunar pegasi ancestry.”
“Huh,” was all Shining said to that.
We fell into a silence for a while, lazily watching Luminance go about its business. Occasionally we’d spot one of the birds that lived here flying nearby. It was just another day on the moon, even with an alicorn or two running around now.
I dared to lean against Shining. My breath caught when his muscles twitched. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught him looking my way. He looked about to say something, but shook his head. He just sat there and didn’t push me away.
Time passed. It could have been hours as easily as minutes. I was pretty sure Twinkleshine and Shining were talking, but I dozed off for a while, drifting between asleep and awake.
It was so nice having Shining back, even for just a day. As questionable an idea as it was bringing him here, I’d have to thank Twinkleshine for setting this up.
It was then to weak, protesting groans that my pillow moved.
“Shining?” I mumbled.
“Let’s go,” Shining said. “I’m impressed, but admiring the landscape isn’t why I came here.”
I sighed. No, no it wasn’t. “Right,” I said weakly. “Come on, then. I’ll track down Mom and Dad.”
“I’ll leave you to that.”
Slowing almost to a stop, I turned my head to look at Shining, raising a questioning eyebrow.
“I promised I wouldn’t interfere,” Shining said. “Just get it done and over with, and I’ll find you three later. Meanwhile, I want to talk to our…older?” He looked to Twinkleshine, who nodded. “Older sister.”
It took me a few seconds to parse that, but once I had, I checked her usual spot these days and found her.
“Pupa is in the quarry,” I said to Twinkleshine. “Can you take him there?”
With a sloppy salute – a habitual remnant of our days aboard the Nebulous – Twinkleshine said, “Aye aye, Captain.”
There was a moment when Captain Shining looked very confused, but it passed. He asked, “Do I want to know?”
I brushed the topic aside, saying, “It’s a long story. Anyway, Pupa is really nice like Cadance but with a lot more bite, so play nice. And don’t do anything even vaguely threatening, or Chrysalis might bite off your head.”
Shining turned to Twinkleshine and asked, “Who’s Chrysalis?”
“Pupa’s doting mother,” Twinkleshine replied. “I’ve never actually seen her bite somepony’s head off, but there’s a first time for everything.”
“Right…” Shining said. I wasn’t sure exactly what he meant by it. His tone came off somewhere between sarcasm and worry.
Anyway, I saw the two of them off. Knowing that Twinkleshine would want to walk Shining through town, I didn’t bother to teleport them. I then focused on finding Mom and Dad. Knowing Shining and myself, I was going to drag this out, and if Shining found me before I’d said anything, he’d just blurt it out. I needed all the time I could get.
It took a little while, but eventually I found Mom and Dad together at one of Cherry Berry’s Old Equestrian lessons. Most of the other Equus-natives were there, too.
Chamomile was absent. I’d kind of expected her to be acting as a teaching assistant, being one of the few ponies here fluent in both languages. But then Old Equestrian was her native language. Maybe she was busy teaching the locals Modern Equestrian instead.
Well at any rate, I manifested myself just outside the room Cherry Berry had commandeered for her lessons, which had the added bonus of reverting my appearance. I knocked, letting myself in once I’d heard Cherry Berry call out to do so.
If Cherry Berry was surprised to see me back before my vacation was over, she didn’t show it. Instead she just asked, “What is it, Twilight?”
“I need to borrow my parents, if possible.” I looked toward Mom and Dad, who nodded and moved to get up.
While Mom and Dad found their way toward me and the exit, Cherry Berry snarked, “Imagine Twilight Sparkle getting ponies to skip out on class, and her own parents no less.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yes, yes. Very funny.”
Once Mom, Dad, and I were all clear of Cherry Berry and the accompanying giggles from the ponies in the class who knew me well enough, Mom asked, “What is it that you needed, Sweetie?”
I didn’t reply for a while. We trotted along with me leading. I was going to take us to the balcony of the highest turret, which aside from scaling the Hornburg itself, was the furthest place from Shining in Luminance.
“Twilight?” Dad asked, the concern obvious in his voice. But I could also hear just a shred of impatience underlying it after I’d wasted so much of their time not telling them about Aurora.
I could already feel my knees protesting holding my weight and tears clambering to get out, and I was just thinking about saying something.
“I saw Shining today.” I was so pathetic. I’d sidestepped the real subject again.
“Oh.” I sensed Mom and Dad look at each other before Dad asked, “He didn’t say anything…untoward, did he?”
Well, that little sword fight of his was definitely something I could complain to Mom and Dad about, but that would be a little too petty. No, Shining hadn’t done anything really wrong, per se, just annoying.
I shook my head. “He’s visiting, actually.”
“Really?” Mom asked almost at the same time as Dad. It’d been quite a while now since they’d last seen him, and it showed in their tone.
“He’s going to talk to Pupa first, but then he’ll come find us.”
“Fair enough,” Dad said.
Mom, on the other hoof, seemed to radiate displeasure at having to wait.
“I don’t know exactly how well that’s going to go over,” I said. “He called her a sister, though, so maybe it’ll work out.”
I sensed Dad shrug. Part of me wondered if he’d figured out that I watched how ponies’ magic moved, given how often he’d reply nonverbally when I wasn’t looking at him.
Either way, Dad said, “I don’t see why not. She’s part of the family after all this time.”
I sighed to myself. Dad had just given me the perfect prompt to delay this conversation even further, and I was jumping on it even as I told myself I shouldn’t.
“I guess, but Pupa wasn’t acting too much like herself when he was around. But I’ve seen changeling’s fit into families well before, despite…circumstances.”
“Oh?” Dad asked. “Is there a story there?”
Yes, but there was no way I was going to share the full story. “Mom, do you remember meeting Amethyst Star?”
For a few seconds, Mom didn’t say anything more than humming in thought. Finally, she said, “Not that I recall.”
“Her little sister is Lemon Hearts.”
“Oh! The night you met Chrysalis and adopted Spike.” Mom’s voice still sounded a little bitter about that whole ordeal. “Yes, I remember her. She was a changeling, right?”
“Yeah. She grew up in the family since she was a newborn nymph. I never asked, but I don’t think her parents ever knew, or at least not for a long while.”
Who knew how Lemon Hearts had found out, though. Maybe it was an open secret in family, but even if so, bringing it up would hardly be beneficial to the current conversation.
Anyway, we came to the base of the massive staircase that lead up to the highest part of the castle. I opened the door for us, and all three of us began the slow climb toward the top.
“Pupa and I talked about that a few times,” Dad said. “Not Amethyst Star specifically, but the situation in general.”
Half of me dreaded drawing this conversation out to its natural conclusion, but the other half was excited that Pupa had already laid some of the groundwork for me.
Wait… My small smile turned into a frown as I ran that thought through my head again. It wasn’t certain yet, but Pupa probably had laid the groundwork for me. Chrysalis had figured out Luna had placed me with Mom and Dad a long time ago, and she certainly would’ve told Pupa about it.
I sighed inwardly. I supposed I should thank Pupa at least, if perhaps not Chrysalis.
Anyway, Dad had waited long enough for a response. “Oh?” I said. “Chrysalis was really stingy with details with me.” And that was not exactly a lie. It was entirely possible Mom and Dad knew more about changeling practices than I did.
Of course, Dad picked up immediately that I wanted him to share. He said, “Apparently, Pupa’s – er, Chrysalis’s hive, at least, has been transitioning more toward legal adoptions. But they can only do so much without attracting attention, and they have to run the selection process to, and I quote, ‘weed out the mildly loving’.”
Mom said, “Of course! It’d be a tragedy to give somepony a foal they couldn’t feed. Some parents are so busy nowadays.”
“Pupa had quite an appetite before Cadance started feeding her,” Dad added, nodding in agreement. “I’d imagine they’re far more demanding than pony foals in their early years before they have friends, and Celestia knows how crazy caring for a pony foal can get.”
“To be fair,” I said, “Pupa is a queen. They’re bigger and have more biological functions to support than a worker or a drone, so they eat significantly more.”
I paused for a moment and let the sound of our hooves against stone be the only thing we heard. I had all the responsibility here to keep the conversation on track, and it was awful. I was digging my own grave, but if I didn’t, Shining would come and do it for me.
I’d hate that Luna had put me in this situation, except that if she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have Mom, Dad, or Shining to begin with. There had to be a name for this feeling of dual anger and gratitude. I couldn’t be the first pony to feel it.
No, stay focused, Twilight.
“So if not adoption, then…” I trailed off, letting Dad pick up the thread of conversation again.
“Replacement.” One word, and it came out very differently than when he’d talked about adoption. Not…angry, quite, but something more approaching it. “In the old, old days, changelings would just act as midwives. There were so many stillbirths and miscarriages, it was easy to find a place for each and every nymph.”
Since neither Mom nor Dad wanted to say anything, I said, “I’d imagine that got harder.” Especially once the birthing process moved to hospitals and became heavily documented. At least neither Mom or Dad sounded like they had any particularly strong objections to replacing a dead foal with a live one.
No, it was what was coming that they clearly took issue with.
Mom was the first to reply, and her tone carried a surprising amount of sympathy in it. “The way Pupa tells the story, by the time her great, great, grandmother noticed the problem, there were too many changelings to feed and were being placed too slowly. They were starving. A mother does what she must to protect her foals.”
Changeling queens didn’t see most of their hive in the same way ponies viewed their foals, but between that and being the queen, I could sympathize, too. Seeing your people starving was the stuff of nightmares already. That they were your own foals just made it worse.
“Some of the things they did, though…”
Mom and Dad stopped to share a hug. Mom said, “I know, Honey. But they were desperate, and they stopped when they could.”
“Yes,” Dad reluctantly agreed. “They still replace live-born foals sometimes, though.”
I bit my lip. This was my chance. “It’s – it’s not like they kill them.” Stars curse my stutter. “They don’t kill live-born foals, right?”
“No,” Dad said. He parted from Mom, and we restarted our hike up the staircase, already quite near the top. “Some are brought up by adult changelings, some go into the system, and some are raised inside the hive.”
Huh. I’d known about the first two, but the latter was news to me. I didn’t know Chrysalis ever brought ponies into the administrative part of her hive. But then I supposed it’d be easy to get a fresh snack that way.
“I’m sure Cadance will help feed changelings once this is all over,” I said, it being intuitively obvious what ‘this’ referred to. “So it’s kind of a moot point, but” – I gulped; this was it, the make or break point – “is that really so bad?”
There was an awful silence as we reached the top of the staircase. The door creaked open ominously under the influence of my magic.
Trying to say everything at once, my mouth working as fast as possible, I said, “I-I mean, Cadance could’ve given me any old dragon, and I’d have never known the difference. I’m very happy with the Spike I have, but that’s after having raised him for years. Day one he was just a baby dragon that I’d hatched. Wait, I mean, dragons have a bit of an imprinting instinct, so I guess it would’ve made some difference to the both of us, but if he were a pony, he’d never know the difference. I’d never know the difference. Where he ended up would be only slightly less random after the switch than before, but random is still random, and that’s all anypony can expect of where they’re born.”
Mom put a hoof on my shoulder. She looked me in the eyes, held me there for a moment, then said, “Breathe.”
And I did. I gasped in air I’d denied myself in my spiel. And – and I could feel that increasing airflow turning into wheezes, and that became a runny nose, and that became tears, and I couldn’t stop it, and I was a mess, and–
And Mom hugged me. Hugs made everything better.
Better, but not okay. Mom eventually let me go, but I didn’t feel okay again, just less awful.
Even so, Mom led me inside and found a nice comfortable place for me to sit. Dad hovered about, obviously wanting to be helpful but not really sure how: Mom was on the case, after all.
I watched Mom bite her lip, no doubt deciding if she wanted to say anything at all. She’d seen through me. I knew it. Now she was deciding if she wanted to defenestrate me or not.
“Twilight…” Mom hesitated, but she was far stronger than me right now. “If – and I do mean if – you are…were?” She glanced at my wings for just a moment before deciding to press on. “If you were a changeling, we’d still love you. I’m sure any parent – no, anypony would say the same: parent, friend, or even just an acquaintance. You can tell us anything. What’s wrong?”
The familiar feeling of my stomach trying to implode resurfaced as I fought to open my mouth, or to do anything, really, besides whimper pathetically.
When I’d been silent for sufficiently long, Dad sat down next to me and joined in the family cuddling proper. Rather bluntly, he asked, “Are you a changeling?”
“I am now,” I said weakly. My jest was not met with laughs, but rather the kind of oppressive silence that I was sure I’d feel was more supportive in hindsight. Not that that helped now.
“No,” I finally answered. “B-b-b-but I – I am a-adopted.”
“Twilight, Sweetie, look at me.”
No. I could hear the hurt in Mom’s voice. If I looked at her, I’d see it on her face, too. She still loved me. I knew it. She’d said it. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t just putting on a strong front. She’d probably already guessed the truth and had braced herself.
“Twilight,” Mom said again, far sterner this time. Like – like a parent scolding a filly. I couldn’t help but react to that.
Mom…looked sad. Whatever hope she’d had that I was her real…no, original daughter was gone. But she was smiling, too – not much, but enough to tell.
“You’re our daughter. You’re part of our family. Nothing will change that. You know that.”
They were all facts, facts delivered in the way only a mom could. Her words resonated with some young and instinctual part of me.
I nodded weakly. That act alone earned me a group hug from Mom and Dad, a wonderfully warm, tight, all-encompassing hug.
Even now, I couldn’t help but protest. “I’m – I’m older than both of you, you know.”
“Oh, please,” Dad said. “You’re barely a mare stumbling her way through life. Anypony can see that.”
I pouted at the accusation but didn’t say anything.
Only once my tears and sniffles finally petered out was I released. A small giggle escaped me at how messy Mom’s and Dad’s coats were. Although to be fair, I probably looked a lot worse.
“Now then,” Mom began, “do you want to talk about Princess Luna? Or” – her voice sank almost to a whisper, its strength fading – “another filly?”
I made a strangled, wheezing sound that was probably supposed to be a gasp. Suspicion confirmed. They knew. Or they’d guessed correctly, at least.
My voice faded and cracked as I whispered, “Aurora.” Even without Dad’s prompting, I knew nopony could have heard or understood me. I said again, “Aurora. She’s happy.”
The words were like twisting a knife in a wound for Mom. I didn’t catch Dad’s expression before he schooled himself, but it was probably just as bad.
For a moment, I imagined Spike growing up happy with some other mother, and it hurt. It shouldn’t have. It made no logical sense. But it did. And for another moment, I wondered if I’d stolen Spike from whoever had lain his egg, which just made it all worse.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I–”
Mom interrupted me, obviously fighting back her own tears given her sniffling. “Don’t. It’s not your fault.”
While Mom composed herself again, Dad asked the question they no doubt both desperately wanted to know.
“How…how is she?”
“Very happy,” I said again, finding little else to say at first. It was just rubbing more salt in the wound again, but really, anything I said would do that. “She’s smart, beautiful, loved, and successful. Short of ascension, her life is perfectly flawed. I – I mean, she has problems like anypony else, but they’re the happy kinds of problems. Moving away from home, studying for her finals, probably friendship drama – those kinds of problems.”
Mom and Dad were silently begging me for more, so I continued, “Her mane looks like an actual aurora in the wind. It’s very fetching. Shining saw her before, and based on his reaction, I think he deemed her a ‘hot piece of flank’.”
There was some uneasy laughter at that, but nothing heartfelt.
“She skipped a lot of grades, and attends to Manehattan University on a full scholarship. She’s almost done there. Come summer, she’ll have a degree in history and library science. She’ll have a comfy job at the Canterlot Archives then. I’ve…never actually talked to her, but I’m sure she’s really nice.”
I was about out of information. All I had left were the parts Mom and Dad would want and hate to hear.
“Her” – I hesitated, hoping I wasn’t about to tear out Mom’s heart, or Dad’s soon after – “mother is Marble Sketch. She’s a sculptor. Her father is Inkwell, a writer. She’s their second daughter. From what I found out, they adopted after severe complications during the birth of Comet, their first daughter. The four of them moved around a bit, but they settled down in the Manehattan area.”
And still Mom and Dad clearly wanted to know more. Their eyes spoke for them, and they were leaned almost dangerously forward.
“I – I’m sorry. I-I don’t k-know anything else. I didn’t want to r-ruin her life.”
Barely above a whisper, Mom said, “That’s fine. It’s enough.” I knew there was an unspoken, “For now,” tacked onto the end of the sentence.
“I’m just glad to know she’s alive and well,” Dad added.
And I just knew that I’d let them both believe I’d replaced Aurora at or near birth. That was going to blow up in my face if I didn’t correct that belief. Sunset’s disappearance was long after Aurora was born; there was no hiding that. But it was only going to blow up in my face slightly less now for the effort.
No, my doom was coming to face me soon enough, and his name was Shining. There would be no surprises from him today, not for Mom or Dad.
“I b-bet you’re wondering where I c-came from.”
Mom sighed, and Dad just gave me a sad look.
“It’s not hard to guess,” Mom said, a hoof running through the striped part of my mane. “My dear little Twilight, none of this is your fault, you know. Even if Sunset Shimmer had something to do with it, you’re not responsible for her actions.”
Dad wrapped a leg around my barrel and squeezed me tight. “We watched you grow up. You’re as much our daughter as anypony could be.”
“I know. You don’t have to keep reminding me.” Unless… “U-unless you’re reminding yourselves.”
I didn’t have to have any training or a changeling’s ability to pick up on emotions to know I’d just said something unbelievably hurtful.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! I didn’t – I didn’t mean that. I didn’t. Please believe me!”
Mom restrained me, or held me down. Yes, that, not restrain. She was just keeping me from doing something stupid, not subduing me.
“We do believe you, Sweetie. Please just slow down and take your time. Breathe deep and relax. We’re in no rush.”
No, we were, Mom. We really were. I could just imagine Shining coming up the staircase right now. He wasn’t. I’d checked. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t teleport into here at any time.
But she was right. Panic led to mistakes. Mistakes led to disasters and delays.
I breathed in and out, just like Cadance had taught me.
“I’m sorry,” I said again, but a hundred times calmer this time.
Dad said, “We forgive you.” It almost seemed too easy, like there should be more I had to do to earn it, but there it was, just as it always was.
Luna had picked almost too good of parents for me. It just made the guilt of stealing them from Aurora that much worse.
“I’m sorry.” The words just slipped out of me again.
Mom put on her ‘I’m your mom, so listen to me’ face again. “Twilight, you–”
I shook my head, interrupting whatever she was about to say. “I wasn’t talking to you. I feel so bad about taking you two from Aurora. You’re about as perfect as parents can get.”
Dad was able to put on a smile. “Well, I don’t mean to brag or anything, but that’s probably why we have you.” He poked a little giggle out of me with a well-timed nudge to the shoulder.
“Probably,” I agreed.
My smile faded away as my thoughts returned to what still needed to be said.
“And probably because Aurora was so happy with you,” I managed to get out with a normal voice. “Mom, Dad, I – I wasn’t – I didn’t – you had Aurora for two years.”
Whispering, Mom said, “Yes, I made the connection.” It was the horrible whisper that a pony made when they wanted to scream and cry but weren’t.
“Sunset Shimmer didn’t disappear quietly,” Dad added, slightly less obviously hurt. My memories of that time of my life were hazy at best, but I thought he hadn’t been around as often then. Maybe he hadn’t spent as much time with Aurora.
Heh, wishful thinking.
I felt Mom and Dad intertwine a pair of hooves across my back. Part of me felt like I was intruding on something I ought not to. Would I have felt that way if I were their natural born daughter and Shining were in my place?
“Probably,” whispered the little voice of logic that had been drowned out recently. Probably didn’t make me feel any less guilty about it though.
Those two stupid words found their way out of my mouth again. “I’m sorry.”
Mom sighed, and Dad took it upon himself to say, “Twilight, the next time you apologize to us for something you’re not at fault for, we’ll find every cook in Luminance and tell them not to give you butterscotch for a week.”
I let out a snort that threatened to turn into a giggle despite the atmosphere. What was next? Taking away my reading privileges? Sending me to my room?
“Understood,” I said. Being a princess only meant you were the second most powerful class of pony in the local universe. In the end, you had to answer to your parents somehow, even if it was silly.
But then that was what parents were for. I’d enjoy them for as long as I had them.
Shining was waiting for me. He’d been waiting for five or so minutes now.
As I stepped out into the stairwell and shut the door behind me, I confirmed what I already knew. Shining was leaning against the wall with his hooves folded together and his eyes closed, apparently deep in thought.
I kept quiet, waiting for him to speak first. Surely he’d been listening and had something to say.
Eventually, I won our little quiet contest. Shining opened his eyes and found mine immediately.
“Did you tell them everything?” he asked.
“Of course not. But…enough.”
Although there was the tiny little matter that we hadn’t spoken about Luna at all, really. She was mentioned a few times, but it was a momentary thing, a glancing blow. Not that I could really blame Mom or Dad for not wanting to speak poorly about Luna around a vengeful goddess who slept with her.
“So how did it go?”
For a moment, I thought about saying nothing. Would it be such a crime to just pretend everything was alright?
Of course it would be. I sighed.
“I don’t think Mom or Dad will cry or shout in front of me,” I admitted.
I hadn’t really noticed that until after they’d finished comforting me, but there’d been a distinct lack of conversation and hugs the other direction. It could just be a parent thing, I supposed. Spike wasn’t the pony I turned to for comfort, after all.
Suddenly, I felt hooves wrap around me, with Shining’s white coat coming into my sight soon after. I hadn’t even noticed him move…
As quickly as it came, it left. Shining released me, and obviously rather uncomfortable about it, he said, “Try not to take it too hard, I guess. They’re Mom and Dad.”
That was what I told myself, too, but the tight feeling in my chest didn’t listen. It hurt more and more the more I focused on it.
And yet, getting a hug from Shining helped lift the mood a bit.
“I hate to ask this, but would you help them for me? I – I don’t think I can.”
Shining snorted just a bit. “I certainly won’t be doing any favors for you in there.”
I forced myself not to bite my lip. Reluctantly, I said, “That’s fine.”
“Oh? What happens if they want to leave with me?”
I winced before I could help it. That would hurt. If Mom and Dad didn’t feel safe or comfortable with me…
No, it wouldn’t be about that. It would be about Luna. But even so, Mom and Dad were perfect hostages. Why would Celestia consider them anything less? Their loyalty would be questionable at the very best, there were plenty of legitimate crimes she could throw at them under her rule, and unlike Shining, they were useless otherwise.
It wasn’t about what side they were on. It was about where they would be safe. And with Celestia, they were most definitely not.
“They can’t go to Canterlot,” I bit out, feeling somewhat silly even in context at forbidding my parents something. “But they can leave.”
“Really?” Shining genuinely sounded surprised.
Stomping my hoof just a bit, I retorted, “I care, Shining! That runs both ways. I know I hurt you, but… Nevermind.” We’d promised Twinkleshine not to fight with each other tonight. “If they don’t want to be here, they don’t have to be.”
“I believe you.”
Well, that was something.
“Anyway, you three go catch up and talk about how evil I am or something.”
Before I was even two steps down the stairs, Shining asked, “Where are you off to?”
“I don’t know,” I said, and I really didn’t know. “Business.” But none came to mind. “I’ll find something to do. Anywhere but here.”
“Deep breaths, Twilight,” Shining called after me.
Seeing as I was, well, stomping my hooves a bit down the stairs, I indulged him. I slowed my descent to try and calm myself down. There was no point in blowing up at somepony just because I was sad and frustrated.
Soon after I finished, I heard the door upstairs open and close. Just to be sure, I checked that Shining’s magic was, in fact, with Mom and Dad. It looked like they were hugging, all things considered.
“Chamomile,” I said. She emerged from my shadow at my call.
I was in no mood to nitpick my title right now, so I just asked my question. “Were you following Shining earlier?”
“It seemed prudent to do so, and you didn’t order me otherwise.”
No, I hadn’t. Chamomile had kind of slipped my mind.
“Did you want me to stay with him?”
Sighing, I shook my head. “No. Please just leave him to his own devices tonight. I should have told you earlier. Now he’s going to think I’m spying on him.” I sighed again, breaking out of the mumbles I’d slowly descended into. “How did his meeting with Pupa go?”
“Some raised words, some hugs, and Chrysalis silently brooding about the invasion into her family in the background.”
“So the expected?”
Chamomile nodded, adding, “More or less. No backroom deals, but then I’m sure at least Pupa and Chrysalis were aware of my presence.”
That wasn’t really what I was asking about, but good to know, I supposed.
“Is there anything that needs doing right now?” I asked. Anything to get my mind off of things would be great, even something menial and pointless. Paperwork would be fine, even, although we didn’t have much of that here.
“Well…” Chamomile trailed off into thought, searching her memory. “There are plenty of things that need doing, but nothing that requires your attention, nor anything that somepony isn’t already assigned to take care of. Your schedule is still cleared for the next couple days, as you requested.”
I sighed yet once more. Of course there was nothing to do. Curse my own organization and preparedness!
“Really? Nothing at all?”
Chamomile shrugged. “I could go start a fire or cause a storm, if you’d like.”
“No,” I said to the tune of a facehoof. “I guess I’ll just–” A thought struck me. “Actually, if you’d be up for it, why don’t we try to give you my blessing again.”
The corners of Chamomile’s mouth twitched downward, but she looked eager enough as she agreed. I didn’t expect to get anywhere with this frustrating task when I was already frustrated, but I suspected Chamomile knew that too and was just happy to help me work through the feeling.
It wasn’t for the first time that I wondered how I hadn’t noticed for so long that I had lots of friends when they acted like this. I supposed I could blame Mother for that. She was pretty much a loner too, although being raised at court certainly hadn’t done her any favors in that regard.
Well anyway, Chamomile and I headed toward our little workshop to burn some time away. If nopony came to find me within a few hours, I’d track down Mom, Dad, and Shining myself.
For now though, science!
“I’ll get it,” Shining’s muffled voice said. “It’s probably somepony looking for Twilight.”
I frowned at that. Not from what Shining said itself, but from Mom and Dad not saying anything. They knew that most everypony who called upon me this high up simply landed on the balcony. In all likelihood, it was me at the door.
No, that wasn’t fair. That was ascribing far and away too much ill-intent to Mom and Dad, especially given the context. Besides, to be truly fair, there were a lot of non-pegasi here now, and even without them, Astral and the other unicorn natives called on me often enough.
But then they knew I was supposed to be out of town. But on the other hoof, everypony in Luminance had probably heard I was back by now. But on the other, other hoof…
I needed to just stop there. Mom and Dad probably didn’t even know how to reason about probabilities on that level, let alone that they would do so now.
It wasn’t like it was fair to get mad even if this was intended as a petty slight anyway.
Shining opened the door. Seeing it was me, he slipped out with not more than a word or two to Mom or Dad.
And he looked upset. Whether that was because Mom and Dad didn’t agree with his views, me in general, or something as yet unknown, I had no idea.
“How did things go?” I asked weakly, hesitantly.
Shining was silent on the matter. His hoof tapped as he growled and scowled quietly. Everything about his countenance screamed ‘simmering anger’.
“Mom and Dad are far too nice.”
“They’re not mad!” I asked with barely concealed glee in my voice, face, wings – everything, really. It was too good to be true!
“Oh, no. They’re royally pissed off.”
“Oh…” It was too good to be true.
“But they’re willing to…move forward, is how they put it. There’s certainly not going to be any forgiving or forgetting, but they have an…interesting perspective on the matter.”
I paused for a moment to quash the little spark of hope Shining had ignited in me. What he said meant nothing more or less than what it meant.
Even so, I did ask, “A persuasive perspective?”
“More so than your ‘Luna deserves this’ argument or Twinkleshine’s ‘We don’t know what to do, so let’s do nothing’ argument. But no, ultimately.”
I tsked just loud enough for Shining to overhear. His answer was no different than what I’d expected, but it was still disappointing.
“Anyway, just try to keep it down, alright?”
Nodding, I followed Shining back inside. I found Dad out on the balcony atop a pile of cushions. Mom had laid down with her head resting on him, dead to the world. Even though she was as heavy a sleeper as I was, I did try to walk as quietly as I could with hooves.
Dad smiled down at Mom as he ran a hoof through her mane, just how I liked ponies to do for me. Like mother like daughter, I supposed. If this weren’t staged to make me feel included, that was.
I sighed to myself. That was entirely unfair, and even if so, so what? That just meant Mom and Dad loved me enough to put on a show when they were hurt. That wasn’t such a bad thing, now was it.
At my approach with Shining, Dad finally noticed us. He stopped his affectionate petting to nudge Mom awake.
“It’s okay,” I said before Dad could get any further. “Let her sleep.”
Mom had to be exhausted. The dried tears were obvious on her coat, and she sniffled every time she took a breath.
Dad looked slightly more composed, if only because he’d obviously tried to clean himself up. His eyes were still bloodshot though, and when he spoke, his voice was a little hoarse.
“Hey, Sweetie. Where’d you go earlier?”
“Business came up,” I eked out. It wasn’t a total lie. I’d had the business of being anywhere but here.
Dad’s smile widened a bit at that. “Try not to work yourself too hard, Princess. This is your vacation, after all.”
“Princesses have very volatile vacations,” I said back.
“I suppose that’s true.” A few seconds passed, and nopony said anything. Eventually, though, Dad asked, “Are you going to sit down?”
With a small voice, I said, “Okay.” There was some room between Dad and Shining, who’d already retaken his spot. I squeezed in-between them and tried to keep my imagination under control. Shining wasn’t radiating distaste, and Dad wasn’t angry at me, but it sure felt like I wasn’t where I belonged.
For minutes we just sat there, gazing out over the balcony at the scenery like Shining, Twinkleshine, and I had when we’d arrived hours earlier. The feeling of wrongness faded. I relaxed and leaned into Shining, letting the tension in my body drain away.
It really was hard to believe we were on the moon sometimes; it was so much like Equus here. But then there were times like this, where we had to be in some exotic, magical place.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?”
For a few moments, I didn’t register that anypony had said anything. Then to Dad, I worked up the courage to reply, “Even considering who made it?”
Dad hummed in what I thought was an affirmative tone. It came out a little too monotone to know for sure.
I waited for Dad to say anything else, but he didn’t. Was that a cue to drop the topic?
No, probably not. Shining would have told me if Mom and Dad didn’t want to talk at all. He wouldn’t intentionally sabotage me like that, and he promised not to, too. And doubly so since it’d upset Mom and Dad.
I pressed further. “Shining said you have an interesting opinion on…everything.”
It was a weak chuckle that Dad made, but it was a chuckle nonetheless.
“I suppose you would say that,” Dad said.
I could almost feel the sarcasm in Shining’s voice as he replied, “What, did you want me to use Twily speak? Your opinion is orthogonal to the problem.”
What on Equus had Mom and Dad told Shining?
“What do you mean?” I asked whoever would answer.
Shining responded first. “Quote, ‘Whatever gets Twilight on the throne,’ end quote.”
I couldn’t help the, “What?” that leaked out of me as I turned my head from Shining toward Dad.
“There was context to that, Shining.” Dad sighed when he caught sight of my raised eyebrow. “Twilight, can I ask you something first?”
“Of course. Any… Well, almost anything.” I’d try my best not to say, “State secret,” to anything he asked, at least.
“Twilight,” Dad said, waiting to continue until I looked him in the eyes, “why do you want to know what we, that is what Velvet and I think?”
I cocked my head to the side. “You’re my parents? I love you?” What part of that was not obvious?
“I know you do, Sweetie. I love you, too.” Dad nuzzled me. “But we both know that’s not how you make decisions. Do you honestly think you would trust our thoughts over your own, especially when we have less information?”
A jolt of pain ran through me as I bit down on my lip hard to keep from giving the obvious answer. I fiddled with the cushion below a forehoof nervously, replying, “I mean, sometimes somepony who hasn’t seen a problem before can notice things nopony else has, just from having a fresh perspective.”
“That’s a no,” Shining said.
Immediately, Dad sent him a scolding look. “Shining.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Shining sighed.
With that over, Dad turned his gaze back to me. I felt myself shrinking into my cushions under it, even though it was warm and loving again.
“Yes, that’s true,” Dad said. “Is that why you’re asking me?”
Dad just held my gaze until my withers fell.
“No,” I admitted. That was not at all why I was asking. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me before.
“It’s fine,” Dad said, not even a trace of hurt in his voice. “No foal cares what their parents think when they grow up. It’s a universal truth.”
Surely not. There was definitely an existence theorem that said otherwise. And Spike–
“Spike will, too.”
“Ah!” I jumped in surprise, sure that Dad had been reading my mind. But then upon reflection, it was kind of the obvious train of thought to go down.
Dad giggled as I settled back onto my barrel. “Don’t worry,” he said. “He’ll still love you, and that’ll be enough.”
If Dad could say that to me so easily, then it must be true.
“Still,” Dad added, “you should cherish that he thinks you’re the sun, the stars, and everything bright and wonderful in the universe while it lasts.” He nudged me with a knee. “Lucky you. You’ll get that treatment for what, a century?”
“Spike will be a teenager in forty years or so.”
“You two are off topic,” Shining said. I took the time to glare at him for interrupting a far more pleasant father–daughter moment.
Unfortunately, Dad agreed. “Yes, I suppose we are.” He frowned for a moment before his eyes lit up, no doubt having remembered where we’d left off. “So why is it that you care what Velvet and I think, Twilight? Do you want us to like Princess Luna?”
Of course I did. Although I knew it would be very hard now.
“Or is it that you want somepony else to tell you to like her?” Dad asked.
Even with who I was talking to and even with what originally started this conversation, I said, “Luna is my best friend.” I didn’t need anypony to tell me whom I liked and disliked.
Dad nodded slightly to himself, as if checking off an item on a list. Right after, he asked, “Then if not either of those, is it perhaps that you want to feel that it’s okay that you like her as much as you do?”
I opened my mouth to reply, but no words came to me. And the more I tried to find them, the more it felt like they flew further away.
“So that is it,” Dad concluded. He reached out as best as he could to give me a hug; Mom still had him pinned down.
Still snuggling with me, Dad continued, “I won’t pretend to be the biggest fan of Princess Luna right now, but I will say how proud of you I am.”
“Proud?” I asked, breaking away. There were plenty of things to be proud of me for, but in this context? “Why?”
“Because you’re a steadfast friend to a pony who needs you. It takes a lot in here” – Dad patted his chest just over his heart – “to support somepony after even half of what Princess Luna did. Friendships have broken over far less, and over far less personal matters.”
I turned to Shining, my eyes silently asking if I was hearing things.
“I know. Crazy, right?” Shining said.
Dad sighed. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put your hoof down when needed. Princess Luna was completely out of line. You know that, right?”
“No,” Shining answered for me.
“Shining, don’t make me send you to your room.”
I heard Shining mutter, “Seriously? Do I even have a room?”
A moment passed before Dad turned his attention back to me. “Twilight?”
“Luna is not evil.”
“I never said she was.” One of Dad’s hooves rubbed the base of my mane just above my withers. “Sweetie, life is…messy. A pony can do wrong without being bad.”
My wings sagged down along with the rest of me. “I know.”
“And you’ve spoken with Princess Luna?”
I nodded slightly. “Do you want to talk to her?”
“No,” Dad said sharply. “I don’t think that would be a good idea. Your mother and I… Nevermind. Listen, never be ashamed to care for who you love. If your friends stray down the wrong path, pull them back. You can always make things better if you try.”
And then it clicked. I pounded one forehoof against the other as my brain flew into action. “That’s why you want me on the throne. You don’t trust either of them!”
Rather sheepish after my outburst, I glanced over at Mom. She groaned and rolled around for a bit, but she didn’t wake up. I whispered my apologies in her direction.
“The diarchs, that is,” I added. “Luna and Celestia.”
I’d thought it was an odd sentiment coming from Mom and Dad, but it made sense now. They wanted me to act as Equestria’s moral compass.
“No, we don’t,” Dad eventually said. “Princess Luna is obviously willing to go to extreme lengths to get what she wants with…” He turned to Shining and asked, “How did Velvet put it?”
“‘Higher probabilities of success in the face of extraordinarily low marginal returns,’” Shining quoted. “I think.”
“Er, right,” Dad said. “That. I doubt Princess Luna does it often. Hay, she probably hasn’t done anything truly wrong with any regularity whatsoever, but she’s willing to, and that’s dangerous enough.”
Shining chimed in, saying, “Especially for somepony leading a coup.”
“Yes, quite,” Dad said, a slight hint of annoyance at the interruption in his tone. “However, Princess Celestia is potentially much worse. I’ve talked with Pupa quite a bit, and it’s become terribly obvious that Princess Celestia has edited a lot of world history. That’s bad news.”
“Says the scholar,” Shining commented, interrupting again.
To that, I said, “Says the Captain of the Guard.”
Shining rolled his eyes but said nothing further on the subject.
Once Dad was sure Shining and I weren’t going to go on bickering, he said, “Academic bias aside, for all we mere mortals know, Princess Celestia could have been a blood thirsty tyrant up until a century ago who decided, on a whim, to try being a benevolent dictator instead.”
That example was wildly unrealistic and contradicted known facts Luna, Luminance’s library, and the changelings all corroborated, but it was a good point to bring up. Celestia’s editing of world history was more than just a disservice to Luna.
Honestly, I kind of thought I was the only pony who cared that she was suppressing information. Nopony ever seemed to make a big deal of it, not even Luna. But apparently I was wrong. I supposed other ponies were just less vocal about it.
Hmm… But then I wasn’t exactly up in arms with a mob wielding torches and pitchforks, I supposed. Or subtly manipulating one, given that I couldn’t have afforded the attention before now.
Next to me, I watched Shining facehoof. “Dad, please stop trying to push that theory.”
I saw Dad roll his eyes out of the corner of my own. “It’s just an example, Shining. Try reading some dystopian novels for more ideas.”
“You know, not that I’m advocating dystopias, but inside their own cultural viewpoint, those books are usually utopias with a main character in the wrong… Shutting up now.”
Dad and I broke off our dual glares and, for the moment, simply pretended that Shining didn’t exist. Honestly, that stallion.
“Personal feelings aside, let’s not forget Princess Celestia’s infamous spat with Sunset Shimmer.”
I noticed Dad conspicuously not looking at my mane as he said those words.
“It hardly speaks to Princess Celestia’s character that she drove an obvious daughter-figure away, not to mention letting it get to the point where half of Equestria was somewhat scared of her.”
As much as I hated to defend Celestia even slightly, I said, “It…wasn’t exactly like that, Dad.”
“I mean, well, it was pretty close, but…”
Mother dug up some of her final memories and threw them at me. The love was there, from Sunset at least, as was the constant wariness from nearly everypony she met, but what Celestia truly thought of her was as much a mystery to me as to her.
“Nevermind.” Returning to our previous topic of discussion – really anything but this would be fine – I said, “Cadance is a better moral compass than I am.”
“No offense to anyone outside our own cultural viewpoint” – Shining let out an exasperated sigh – “but Cadance is a pushover. Princess Luna certainly won’t listen to her, and Princess Celestia I suspect doesn’t listen to anypony, considering how she runs Equestria.”
Well, that wasn’t completely true. Cadance did have her moments. But I had thought as much myself on several occasions.
And of course Princess Rainbow Dash was practically irrelevant. The only pony she had any real history with was me, and I hardly needed her advice. I should probably help her work on that, but…ugh. What a pain.
“You, on the other hoof,” Dad continued, “Princess Luna will listen to. She obviously cares for you and values your opinion. If we must put one of the diarchs on the throne, I’d prefer her. Your mother and I trust you to rein her in.”
Dad mussed up my mane as he added, “We know you can tame her. If you haven’t already.”
A blush lit up my cheeks. A few thoughts that were decidedly not what Dad meant flashed through my head before I flushed them away – for later.
“Still, I wouldn’t object to having the chance to kick her in the radius once or twice.”
I giggled at that. “Dad,” I said in mock scorn.
Shining agreed with me, saying, “That is kind of petty.”
“Well, what do you want me to do?” Dad complained. Some of what must be his real feelings slipped out in his tone; he had a slight growl underlying his words and a bit of a whine. “Justice isn’t about making the victims feel better, Shining. We have a thousand words for that: revenge, vengeance, retribution, payback, et cetera, et cetera.”
Suddenly, I really didn’t want to be here anymore. It…wasn’t that I felt ashamed so much as…ignoble compared to Dad.
“Sometimes they overlap, but not here. This is just” – Dad’s mouth ran through a dozen half-formed words before he found one he liked – “just a mess. Somepony is going to get hurt no matter what. It…might as well be us.”
Dad deflated into a miserable looking lump. He seemed a stallion twice his age like that, which I supposed he really was. His frown moved his coat about on his face, creating the illusion of the small wrinkles I’d banished from him forever.
He mumbled, “Life can only get better for us from here out.”
With much trepidation, I said, “Dad?”
Dad picked himself up, almost as if the last five minutes had never happened. “Yes, Twilight?”
“Are…are you really okay with that?”
Dad let out a long breath. “I honestly don’t know what I’d be okay with, Sweetie. But at least this way I get to look cool in front of my foals. Martyrs are still cool, right?”
I smiled up at Dad. “Yes, very cool.” I kicked Shining silently.
“Oh. Yeah. Cool.”
Way to sound sincere, Shining.
Stars, damn it. Did Shining just yawn? I sent a short glare his way.
“–don’t take it too far,” I added. “Dead ponies are never cool.”
“Of course not,” Dad agreed, mussing up my mane again.
“Not to interrupt or anything,” Shining interrupted, “but what time do you go to bed around here?”
“Around when you wake up,” Dad answered.
“Ugh,” was the extremely dignified response Shining made.
I asked, “Surely you’ve pulled all-nighters before on patrol?” The night guard wasn’t exactly around to take care of it, after all.
“I don’t see you complaining about Mom.” Sighing, Shining added, “But whatever. So what is there to do up here?”
“A lot more if you speak the language or have wings,” Dad replied.
And it certainly was true that a civilization almost entirely composed of pegasi did tend to unintentionally exclude ponies stuck on the ground, let alone the slowly eroding language barrier.
“But there are sights to see, mountains to climb, games to play,” Dad went on. “Honestly, it’s a lot like how my grandfather described his foalhood. But on the moon.”
“And with attempts to build anachronisms,” I added.
If one dug into their culture deeply enough, there were all sorts of strange things the ponies here practiced. For instance, they played some kind of complex game to see who could recreate the most future-tech that Luna described to them. They had a huge festival for it at the start of each spring and fall.
And I’d missed the spring one. It might have been the very last time they would hold it, too, given the influx of technology I’d already brought here.
Sigh. What a tragedy.
Shining hummed in thought, then asked, “So what do we do until Mom wakes up?”
I reached out to my bedroom and teleported a deck of cards to us. “We could play some of the games we used to.”
“I’m not feeding you more favors,” Shining said.
I tsked. That hadn’t exactly been my plan, but I wouldn’t have objected to claiming them.
“Just for fun, then,” I suggested, to which Shining and Dad agreed.
I moved across the cushions to sit facing my opponents, shuffling the deck with my usual flair. Even before I sat down, we descended into a petty debate over exactly which game to play.
A very groggy Shining sipped at his coffee from his seat within Pony Joe’s. He’d nodded off for a few hours back at Luminance, but apparently somepony wasn’t as used to all-nighters as he’d led us to believe.
“Look, I realize you forgot,” Shining said about as fast as a sloth, “but couldn’t you just steal a piece of paper or something? I don’t really want to give Princess Celestia a diplomatic napkin.”
“Nonsense,” I said, my scrawling uninterrupted for the reply. “Napkin notes are a time-honored tradition of academics.”
“She’s a princess,” Shining countered.
“And also the head of a school,” I threw back. “That counts.”
Shining let his head hit the table. He mumbled something about being too tired that I didn’t quite catch.
Anyway, my case won, I scribbled down the last of the request I wanted to make to Celestia. I placed it beneath the twine that bound the original letter I had to give to her, then pushed the bundle across the table.
Shining picked his head up to frown intensely at the napkin.
I rolled my eyes.
“You know,” Shining began, “I could just tell her that Pupa still wants to perform with Trixie.”
“No. I’m taking on the debt, not Pupa. The last thing I need is Pupa and Chrysalis owing Celestia a favor.”
Shining downed the last of his coffee, then let out a refreshed ‘ah’. He stood up, taking the bundle in his magic. He took a half step away before his eyes paused on the document directly under the napkin.
“What’s the envelope? Couldn’t fit the rest in it?”
Ignoring the sarcasm, I said, “No. It’s for Cadance.” As Shining was eying it curiously, I added, “Please don’t read it unless Cadance shows it to you.”
Shining raised an eyebrow. “Evil plans or filly stuff?”
“Whichever suits your fancy,” I answered, knowing Shining wouldn’t believe either answer. It wasn’t really either, though. Beyond the basic hellos, I just asked her to meet me in the Æthereal Realm to talk. I wanted to ask her about alicorn blessings, if I could. That, and I wanted to ask her to join Dash and me in the whole ‘second generation alliance’ thing.
Hopefully she’d come.
“Evil plans it is, then,” Shining said with a nod. “Anyway, I’ll see you…later, I suppose. Last night was more fun than I expected. Or at least the second half was. Tell Mom and Dad to write at least for me, alright?”
“Can do, Shining.” I supposed it wouldn’t kill me to run a post office for a season or so.
Shining was a few steps toward the door when he stopped.
“Twilight…” he said before trailing off into thought. I could just make out his brows furrowing, and the one eye I could see moved down as if he were staring at his own nose.
Some time later, I said, “Yes?”
It was still a few seconds before Shining surfaced from his thoughts. He said, “I’m still mad at you. And Cadance, Mom, Dad, Pupa, and especially Luna. And I guess Princess Celestia somewhat, too. You are all awful.”
I bit back on my urge to defend everypony, especially Mom, Dad, and Cadance. None of this was really their fault in any way.
Still, we’d just end up arguing the same points as we had yesterday. Shining was exhausted, though, so I’d probably debate him into the ground and get him even more upset with me.
“But for what it’s worth” – Shining hesitated, frowning, perhaps deciding if he wanted to say anything more – “I’m convinced that this Luna of yours does, in fact, care for you in her own mad way. On reflection, I see how she wrapped you around her hoof when you were younger.”
Wha… Oh. Oh! Yes! Luna must have talked to Shining while he was asleep on the moon. I wondered what she could’ve said or done to get him to admit that. It wasn’t even close to saying he’d switched sides, not by a long shot, nor was it forgiveness, but foal steps, as they say.
Shining sighed in an almost resigned way, for whatever reason. “See ya.”
“Oh, right,” I said, remembering to wish him farewell only after he’d said his own. “Goodbye.”
I watched Shining leave Pony Joe’s and followed his magic a little ways down the street with a warm smile on my face. Things were looking up in the family relations department.
A frown found its way onto my face. Relations with Shining were looking up – not that it was hard to look up from the hole I’d dug myself into – but Cadance might not even want to talk to me. And…Mom and Dad were never openly upset around me, at least they weren’t all through last night. I still didn’t know how to feel about that.
I let out a sigh, then scarfed down the remains of my early-morning donut.
Done with Canterlot, I teleported my way back to Las Pegasus where I’d dropped Twinkleshine off earlier. There were theft wards I didn’t want to bother circumventing, so I made my way on hoof through the hotel up to our room.
Expecting Twinkleshine to be asleep, I opened the door silently and tiphoofed into the room, making my way to the bed we shared.
But she wasn’t there. The bed hadn’t even been touched.
Before I went off on a wild goose chase, I let my senses expand and soon found her magic in the bathroom.
And then I remembered something important I’d forgotten.
Fighting the dual urge to race in after her and to hide under the blankets of our bed, I pushed open the bathroom door. It hadn’t even been closed, but the creaking sound it made would’ve alerted even the hardest of hearing that I was back.
“Twilight,” Twinkleshine said from around the corner. There was patience in her voice, somehow.
I sheepishly followed the sound of her voice and came into the actual bathing part of our room’s ridiculously large and opulent bathroom. Twinkleshine was, of course, sitting right next to a door on top of a small crate. Two more were next to her, one opened and its contents partially consumed, judging by the wrappers nearby. There was also a smaller one that she’d rested her hooves on, which was also opened.
“Surprise?” I tried.
“I didn’t mean this literally!” Twinkleshine shouted, her voice booming and echoing enough to hurt both of our ears. Now that I looked her in the face, that part of her coat had turned red.
One of my forehooves rubbed awkwardly against the other leg. I looked away, finding it far too embarrassing to hold Twinkleshine’s gaze.
“But it’s a real thing,” I protested. “You can go to some spas in town and get it.”
“R-really?” Twinkleshine asked, her eyes drawn to the smaller crate.
I withdrew the hoofmaiden outfit that, when worn, actually made a pony look more naked than usual.
“Well, probably not this. But bathing in chocolate is definitely a thing. And I got your favorite blend.” Eying the outfit still in my magic, I added, “My Queen.”
Twinkleshine somehow got even redder in the face.
I picked a grape from the vine in the smaller box. Upon inspection, it still looked good to eat, so I peeled it and placed it in Twinkleshine’s mouth.
“Why not enjoy it?” I asked.
Silently and with a face of pure scarlet, Twinkleshine gave me one last look before nodding and unwrapping chocolate bars.
“By the way,” I said sans the undertone of temptation, “thank you.”
Twinkleshine surprised me with a kiss on the cheek. My fur felt a bit weird there after, and when I rubbed a hoof over it, some chocolate showed on my frog.
“Anytime, Twilight. Now don’t just stand there, Hoofmaiden. Do you expect me to unwrap all of these myself?”
Heh. “No, of course not, My Queen.”