Chapter Thirty Nine - A Night to Remember


I reluctantly broke away from what was supposed to be nothing more than a greeting kiss. Passions cooled over time, but even after the better part of a season, it was hard to resist.

A moment passed as both of us cooled off. Only after, Luna said, “I still think this is a bad idea.”

“You worry too much. I swept the entire theater a dozen times, and you watched Celestia all week. There’s no traps, no wards, no anything.”

Luna sighed. “I know. It’s… Nevermind.”

Putting a hoof on Luna’s shoulder, I said, “No, tell me. No bottling things up anymore. We agreed to that.”

“Fine.” Luna’s pout was rather adorable, for what that was worth. “I’m worried you’re going to be stolen and ‘fixed’.”

“Sunset isn’t coming back. You know that.”

Sighing again, Luna guided my hoof off of her and held it in her own. “I know. I know, but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry. It’s what I would do if somepony took you from me.”

“And you’d have my thanks for trying.”

Luna and I exchanged loving smiles, neither of us wanting to end the moment. There was something wonderful about her eyes. They’d always been so confident and self-assured, but they’d changed recently. All that strength was still there, but I could feel more of the mare underneath it now.

The buried guilt and insecurities that showed in little twitches of her upper eyelids, the small little furrows in her brow when her thoughts drifted toward Celestia, the occasional vacant stare of a near-omnipotent goddess terrified of being hurt again – all of Luna’s expressions were on display for me. As small as they were, Luna knew I picked up on them.

And right now, they showed worry, worry, and more worry.

“I suppose I should actually ask,” I said. “You didn’t see anything strange about Celestia’s movements, did you?”

Obviously begrudgingly, Luna shook her head. “She hasn’t left the vicinity of Canterlot Castle for the past three days, nor has she met with anypony I know to be particularly worrisome.”

“See? Nothing to worry about.”

Luna bit the side of her lip. “But Twilight, she never agrees to something this easily unless it’s what she wanted all along.”

I kept my sigh to myself. The two of us had been down this road before weeks ago.

“It’ll be fine,” I insisted again. “We agreed on no magic except earth pony and alicorn stuff we can’t turn off, not even telekinesis. I’ll leave at the very first sign of trouble.”

“But Pupa–”

“Is irrelevant.” Luna knew that just as well as I did, and Celestia definitely knew it. “No matter how many bridges we burn with the changelings, it’d hardly matter. Celestia won’t bother herself with Pupa. I’m going alone otherwise, and it’s not like she couldn’t just take Shining or Cadance hostage instead if she really wanted to.”

“But they still agreed too readily to put her in danger,” Luna protested.

“Luna,” I said with a scolding undertone. She knew very well that she wouldn’t be saying that if she’d had to deal with Chrysalis throughout negotiations.

“But Pinkie Pie is twitching!”

I grunted, exasperated. “I know, Luna, but I’m not taking her with. Whatever it is she’s predicting, she’ll witness it herself. Therefore, it’s local to Luminance.” Well, it was always possible something unexpected would happen. “Or at least whatever it is won’t happen until sometime after the show. Or Celestia could take her off of the moon for some convoluted reason. I can check in on her once in a while to make sure she’s still there, okay?”

Luna sighed again, an act that was becoming more and more common when we were together, it seemed.

“Fine.”

“Oh, don’t be so glum, Luna. I’ll be fine, really.”

“I know. I’m just trying to talk you out of this however I can.”

“Well, good of you to admit it,” I replied, perhaps a little smugly.

Eyebrow raised, Luna asked, “You’re not mentally awarding me reformation points or something, are you?”

“No, no,” I said, waving a hoof back and forth. “That would be more Shining’s thing.”

There was a big difference between reforming and counseling, and Luna needed and was getting the latter. She didn’t have anything to learn so much as she had issues to resolve.

Luna made a small, resigned smile. “Just be careful. And make sure the wards on Luminance are up to par.”

“I know,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You don’t need to fuss over me.”

“I suppose that’s true.” Luna paused for a moment, then asked, “How much longer do I have you today?”

Guessing – I still had no idea how to tell time in a dream like I used to be able to in the real world – I said, “Five minutes, maybe? I only sat down for a last minute check with you before I leave with Pupa for Las Pegasus.”

“How unfortunate. Oh well. Try to enjoy yourself tonight. Don’t let the company ruin the show.”

“I’ll try. It shouldn’t be…too impossible to tune Celestia out.”

Luna snorted. Her breath blew part of her mane away from her face.

“May you have better luck than I,” Luna grumbled. “She’s grown no more affable over the centuries.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked, which was apparently the wrong thing to do.

“No!” Luna exploded. “No, I don’t want to talk about it. There is nothing to talk about. She weasels a visit from me out of you, and she just – just – ugh!”

Wait, what? Did Luna mean that literally? I’d always thought she was just trying to pretend the whole thing had never happened.

“You didn’t even talk?”

“Oh, we talked. We talked about Tartarus-damned nothing. No screaming, no apologies, no cries of vengeance, no begging for mercy, no proclamations of victory, nothing about you, nor me, nor her, nor anypony. Just tea and nothing, nothing, nothing.”

Huh. That was strange. “You know, getting upset about it could be what she wants. Was that maybe something she did long ago to taunt enemies on the battlefield? Invite them for tea and just…have tea?”

A good deal of frustration and anger drained out of Luna. “Hardly,” she said, her tone still quite peeved. “As if she would deign to set hoof on my field. The sky would fall and the seas burn before she would’ve risked getting a drop of blood on that pristine white coat of hers. Bah.”

Sighing first, Luna continued, “Don’t let me bother you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Even as Luna said the words, I could feel my dream falling apart.

I said, “Goodbye.” The words came out muffled as I slipped back into unconsciousness momentarily.

I opened my eyes.


Yawning, I picked my head up from the table I’d gone to sleep on. The remains of my breakfast had already been cleared away while I’d slept, although by whom I couldn’t say; as far as I could tell, the only pony in the dinning hall was me.

Oh well. I rubbed my eyes with my hooves, barely fighting the urge to doze off back into that blissful half-awake state. There were places for me to be right now, and slumped over a table was not one of them.

I’d barely shambled two steps before yawning again. Maybe I should take a cold shower or something.

Eh, not enough time. I had to be in Las Pegasus before Celestia. I wasn’t going to take any chances on that.

Blegh. Anyway, Pupa’s magic was…there. I remanifested myself outside down by the river, where Pupa was calling for aliens.

Er, no. She was practicing her performance. Same thing, really.

“Hey,” I said, only to be shushed instantly. Pupa restarted some sort of balancing act, and this time I waited until I was sure she was finished to say, “Good afternoon.”

Pupa nodded back silently, moving on to another part of her act that apparently required her to balance on her hindhooves. She was obviously still having some trouble with that, given how she nudged herself forward or back with her magic on occasion.

After she let herself fall back onto all fours, I gave her some polite applause.

“Ugh, you have no idea how easy Trixie makes that look,” Pupa complained.

I shrugged. “She has a lot more practice and has never had flight instincts.”

It was a thousand times easier to stand upright with wings to balance with. Changeling wings were a bit more difficult to use than pegasus wings, but still. Pupa didn’t have either right now, seeing as she had to be a unicorn for her show.

While waiting, I’d removed my own wings, too. Except for the different highlights in our manes, the two of us could pass for identical twins, excepting that I was just the slightest bit taller.

“Anyway, we should get going. Trixie should be backstage waiting for you by now.”

“Yeah, alright. Teleport away.”

Permission granted, I fired off one big teleport to take us straight backstage. It wasn’t like Celestia didn’t know we were coming, after all, so there was no real reason to hide our arrival. A few more magically sensitive unicorns might pick up on it, too, but they wouldn’t know what to make of it.

Pupa and I arrived directly in the changing room reserved for her. Everything was ready for our arrival, from the vanity overflowing with strange and exotic makeups to the costume Pupa had designed for the performance, which was nothing more than a simple hat and vest. Granted they still looked the part, but they contrasted with Trixie’s costume more than complemented.

Speaking of whom, there was also a rather startled – but recovering – Trixie in the room.

“Hello, Trixie,” I said, waving a hoof in greeting.

Trixie just looked at me for a moment before turning her head away. Today would not be the day she talked to me, it seemed.

On the other hoof, Trixie and Pupa greeted each other with a hoof bump and some ceremonial posturing. Neither of them took it that seriously, and it was terribly silly to watch.

“So, how have you been since our last practice, Princess?” Trixie asked.

“Oh, not too bad.” Smirking, Pupa added, “But it’s ‘Queen’ now, actually.”

“Finally overthrown that mother of yours?”

Pupa rolled her eyes. “Of course not. A few of my eggs hatched yesterday, and Mother took the opportunity to make it very clear I have my own hive now.”

“Then what are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be looking after the little parasites?”

“Mother is watching over them right now, and eventually I’ll pass them off to a nursemaid, I suppose.” Pupa sighed dramatically, a forehoof held to her forehead. “A queen’s life is a busy one, I’m afraid.”

As it was getting more and more awkward to just stand around listening in, I said, “I’ll just go find my seat, then.”

Pupa at least broke off her conversation to see me to the door, although Trixie didn’t bother to get up.

“I’ll try talking to her,” Pupa whispered to me.

I would’ve told her not to bother. It wasn’t like Trixie and I were ever that close to begin with, after all, and she had every right to be upset. But Pupa shut the door right after. The last thing I heard from her as she retreated was, “Try not to get too upset tonight. You won’t want to make a scene here.”

Ha! I could try to not let Celestia get under my skin, but that was inevitable. The only control I had over the situation was if I did something stupid or not.

Well, anyway, I made my way out from backstage. Over in Canterlot, I could sense Celestia’s magic airborne on the outskirts. Two pegasi’ worth of magic blew and swirled about in front of her, likely her charioteers. For whatever reason, she always traveled about Equestria with somepony else driving. There was probably a good reason, but it was such a waste of time.

But whatever. It wasn’t my problem. At any rate, I had five or six hours to kill. Maybe I’d go hit the spa or something.

I walked out of the silent theater area straight into the main floor of the hotel slash casino it was attached to. The shift was almost deafening.

A second or two later, my ears rose back up to the sound of bits, music, and rowdy ponies.

Sunset spoke to me, her honeyed words tempting me. “You know, you’re a princess without a bit to your name.

That…was true, although there were far faster and more sure ways to make money than gambling.

You didn’t bother when you were here with Twinkleshine. Now is your chance.

Mother,” I complained, “this isn’t even your vice.

Nor yours. But you and I both love the feeling of winning.

That was also true. Hmm…


Come on, come on, come on!” I thought to myself, hobbling forward as fast as I could on three hooves. The fourth was busy holding some exotic dish I’d ordered down on the casino floor and holding onto a big bag of poker chips. My chopsticks thumped in time with the beat of my hooves against the bowl. My chips – fortunately slightly more than I’d started with – rattled against my side.

I reached out to Luminance, and yep, Pinkie Pie was still there doing her Pinkie Pie thing.

I scanned the theater area, and it remained as innocuous and perfectly safe to enter as earlier, but in watching Celestia’s approach to the city, I’d completely ignored the guards setting up security in advance. Stars, but I hadn’t wanted to deal with the day guard. Security was always annoying to deal with.

Still, it was too late now. After an encounter with a couple of guards I didn’t know and a search of both my supper and bag that dragged on and on, I was finally let into the royal box, which hung dead center above the ‘cheap’ theater seats below.

Barely stopping to catch my breath, I made my way to the very front of the box past the mini bar and other unnecessary fixtures and services. I sat down in one of the front row seats – thankfully not fully-grown-alicorn-sized – threw my bag down against the balcony railing, and dropped my meal nearby.

I leaned back, letting out a deep breath and shaking my hoof to get some of the feeling back in it.

A minute or so passed. The seats below slowly filled in with ponies of wildly varying levels of dress, all the way from Grand Galloping Gala formal to nude.

With one last deep breath, I picked up the remains of my dinner again. I held the bowl with one hoof while the other worked the chopsticks.

“Mmm…”

I had absolutely no idea what I was eating – some eastern dish – but it was delicious. Not even the approaching magic just outside the royal box could take that away.

“Announcing Her Royal Majesty, Princess Celestia,” a herald called out from the door behind me. Not that he needed to; I hadn’t rushed here for no reason, after all.

The faintly metallic sound of hoofsteps resounded in time with Celestia’s magic’s approach. I spared a glance in her direction only after she’d taken her seat, and indeed she was decked out in full regalia as usual.

Our host – who I’d blown past earlier in my hustle – asked if she wanted anything, but Celestia claimed she’d already eaten. I found that rather hard to believe, considering her mode of transportation, but whatever.

When he asked me if I needed anything, I just asked for some peach wine. I’d had to abandon the glass that’d come with my dinner downstairs earlier.

“Good evening, Twilight,” Celestia said.

“Evening,” I replied, as much out of habit as any other reason. My chopsticks flailed a bit in my salad-like meal, displaying my mediocre skill with them. I snapped up as many of the little orange and white strips as I could before filling my mouth with their sweet flavor.

Oh, how they melted in my mouth! They fell apart at the mere touch of the tongue, and when I chewed, it leaked some type of oil I’d never tasted before today.

“May I ask how early you arrived?”

I swallowed. “One.”

“My, so eager to see me. Canterlot Castle is still open to you to visit, you know.”

I rolled my eyes and ignored Celestia.

“One of our chefs would be willing to cook salmon for you, should that be the deciding factor.”

Wasn’t that a type of fish? Why would I…

My next bite stopped halfway to my mouth.

“Have you never shared a meal with Spike?” Celestia asked.

At the same time, my brain finally unfroze and connected the dots. My eyes fell to my meal. I’d certainly shared meals with Spike before, in that I’d eaten with him, but I’d never eaten his meal. But now that it was pointed out to me…

I stuffed my chopsticks into my mouth. Apparently I was an omnivore now, and that was just fine.

Celestia hummed next to me. “I’m impressed. I had something of a fit the first time I ate meat.”

Sighing, I set my chopsticks down. “Why are you here?”

Celestia did her best to look the very picture of innocence. “I watch all of the Great and Powerful Trixie’s performances. I’m quite the fan, as they say.”

“Ugh.” Rule number one when talking with Celestia was careful word choice. “Fine. Why are we sitting here together if you’re just going to bother me with inane prattle?”

Celestia annoyingly cocked her head to the side. “Were you expecting something else?”

A small little snort escaped me. I honestly didn’t know what I was expecting, but practically anything would be better than this.

I thought I heard Celestia giggle, but it was rather hard to tell if it were anything more than a short breath or two. If this was what Celestia was going to do all night, I had a feeling I was going to know exactly how frustrating Luna’s night with her had been.

Then because princesses were always precisely on time, the lights dimmed, and the stage lit up. I’d seen bits and pieces of the coming act from the practice sessions, but the full show was as much a mystery to me as it was to everypony else.

And the everypony else was a bit unusual too. The crowd below had as many unicorns as any other species too, which was rather strange for a magic act. Surely they were here for more than just charity. Trixie’s shows must be truly a sight to behold, if only for her showmareship.

“I wonder how Trixie will appear,” I just heard Celestia mumble to herself. She must have caught my ears perking up, because she added, “She does something different every time.”

I let out a long, drawn out, curious hum and refocused most of my attention on the stage, leaving just enough on Celestia to make sure her magic was behaving.

Also, just to be sure, I peeked at Pinkie Pie, who was very much still on the moon.

“Come one, come all,” Trixie’s voice boomed throughout the theater. She stood just offstage to the right and out of sight. Upon checking, I found Pupa on the other side with the same spell active.

“They’re already here,” Pupa and I said in unison and in practically the same snarky tone, although she added, “Trixie” to the end.

This time Celestia definitely giggled. I grumbled and ate my fish.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Twilight Sparkle. Trixie hasn’t seen you since we last met in Canterlot.”

“Mmm. Yes, lunch was rather nice today. What do you think we should have for dinner?”

“Trixie doesn’t care about dinner!”

“I think Neighponese would be good. I would love some daifuku.”

“Ugh! Enough!” A swirl of hot and apparently real, physical fire erupted from the floor of the stage. I wasn’t terribly familiar with the spell, but it’d felt like a modified version of a firestorm spell. “Come out and face Trixie.”

“Hmm? Come out from where?”

I rubbed my eyes. That was definitely Pupa; I checked, and her magic was there. She stepped out from behind Trixie, and the only spell I’d noticed was the slightest hint of telekinesis.

“How…” The word slipped out of me before I could stop myself.

“I have yet to puzzle that out,” Celestia commented. “Sleight of hoof, surely, but beyond that, only they would know.”

That was sleight of hoof? Color me impressed. With great pain, I tore my magic sense away from them and back onto Celestia’s magic. I wanted so badly to watch every detail of their tricks now, but that would ruin the fun.

And it would leave Pupa and me vulnerable, I supposed.

Once the general giggling at Trixie’s over-the-top reaction to Pupa’s appearance was over, she said, “Argh! You’ve been a thorn in Trixie’s side from the moment we met during our exams. You cheated off her!”

“Hey,” Pupa protested, “I only tried to replicate your…” – Pupa waved a hoof about in Trixie’s general direction, then coughed dismissively – “technique. Imitation is the highest form of flattery.”

My eyes widened in terror. How had Pupa found out about that!

Celestia giggled again. “I thought it was very cute myself.”

Kill me now.

“Even if I had bad taste when I was a filly,” Pupa added.

Trixie stomped her hoof in rage, or at least mock rage. “Let’s put an end to this, Sparkle. This’ll be our final duel.”

Pupa shook her head back and forth with a forehoof at her cheek, sighing. “Oh, Trixie, you say that every time.”

Okay, even if Pupa was going to reveal embarrassing facts about my foalhood, I had to admit these two were a pretty good comedic duo. Trixie did a great funny mare, and Pupa was a natural straight mare. She had to be to deal with Chrysalis, after all.

“This time Trixie means it,” Trixie insisted. “She’s completed all” – we could all hear her mumble, “Most” under her breath – “of her coursework under Princess Celestia.”

“Hmm… Well in that case, I suppose I’ll just have to use some of the tricks my grandmother taught me.”

Huh. I wasn’t aware Pupa had a grandmother.

Well, Pupa obviously had a grandmother, but I didn’t know she thought of her as such, let alone ever talked to her. I supposed her grandmother’s hive might be a bit…forceful in how they gathered love; that would explain why I’d never been introduced.

But then I supposed it could just be part of the act, riling Trixie up by putting ‘Grandma Twilight’ even higher than Celestia as a teacher.

Trixie pulled her usual floppy hat out from underneath her cloak, and how on Equus did she do that? That hat was huge.

But the act wasn’t going to wait for me to puzzle out their magicless tricks. Trixie put on her oversized hat, which now that I was in the right context to notice, had the dual purpose of hiding her horn from view.

“Trixie will prove once and for all that she is the most amazing unicorn in all Equestria.”

Trixie’s magic stirred, only to summon an old travel bag from backstage. Judging from the plaid design, it was a relic from the age of terrible fashion usually found in basement boxes. She reached a hoof inside of it…and kept reaching.

I couldn’t help myself. I inspected the bag a bit more closely and unraveled the mysteries it held. There was some basic dimensional magic on it, and there I stopped investigating, my curiosity just the tiniest bit satisfied.

Eventually, Trixie pulled out Pupa’s much less ridiculous hat. I glanced over to Pupa, who was definitely still wearing her hat.

Wait, no. That wasn’t real.

As if to emphasize my point, Pupa reached up for her hat, only for her hoof to pass through it. The hat on her head was an illusion.

“Trixie, give me my hat back.”

“Hmm…” Spinning Pupa’s hat about on her hoof, Trixie said, “Trixie wonders if she should?”

Pupa tapped her hoof impatiently.

“Oh fine. Take your smelly hat back.”

Trixie spun Pupa’s hat toward her like a discus. It sailed through the air rather suspiciously well, actually. And when Pupa reached out a hoof to catch it, it simply passed through her.

And now that I checked, the hat on Pupa’s head was real again. Pupa confirmed that for herself only a second later.

I squeezed my eyes closed and took a deep breath. However they were slipping these tricks by me, I’d find out. There was only so much a pony could do with sleight of hoof before they started using magical tricks I was familiar with.

Pupa sighed and yanked the travel bag out of Trixie’s magic with her own. “I didn’t want to do this, Trixie, but you leave me no choice.”

“No!” Trixie’s eyes widened, and she gasped.

“Oh yes,” Pupa said, turning the bag upside down. She shook it, and various miscellaneous things – some too big to fit in the bag – fell out and thudded onto the floor. “I know all about your dark, terrible past. I talked to your surgeon, Panacea, and she told me everything.”

Trixie backpedaled slowly across the stage, trying to put up a good front. “You’re lying. No doctor would breech confidentiality like that, especially not her.”

“Oh, not intentionally, but you know she can be a bit scatterbrained. I know what haunts you in the…” Pupa’s brow furrowed, and she shook the bag harder. “I. Know. What. Haunts. You,” she said, punctuating each word with a hearty shake of the bag. “Wheels!”

There was a moment where the entire theater was silent.

“Pft. Ha ha ha ha! You really had Trixie going there for a – eek!”

With one last shake, Pupa had somehow managed to get a rather crude wheel about two stories tall to crash onto the stage. She shoved it forward and said, “Catch.”

Trixie ran off the stage behind the side curtains screaming at the top of her lungs, the wheel chasing after her. Well, more rolling in her general direction, given that the wheel didn’t have the prerequisite intelligence required to chase.

Moments after the wheel crashed into something backstage and presumably stopped its horrible rampage, Trixie’s head popped out of the travel bag. She was, naturally, upside down.

“Hmm?” Pupa cocked her head to the side to let her catch sight of Trixie’s. Then because that was very awkward to hold, she flipped the bag upright.

Trixie glared at Pupa. “That was not funny.” There was a moment where Pupa smirked at her, but she flung her forelegs out of the bag and flailed them about, shouting, “And Trixie is not afraid of wheels!”

“Heh heh.”

Nope. Not paying attention to Celestia.

“Twilight, are you afraid of snakes?”

Ugh. Nope. Just ignore her.

“I take it you are.”

“Less so now than I used to be,” I grumbled. A lot of things lost their fear factor when you couldn’t die or even be hurt for long. “Why? Is Trixie?”

“No more than any other pony.”

For a moment, I thought Celestia wasn’t going to say anything else. I glanced at her and found her without her usual smile.

“Sunset once had a close encounter with one at a zoo. She had nightmares for weeks.”

Oh. Yes, I remembered that. Mother teleported into the display to get a better look. Not her finest moment.

Ah! “I told you. I’m not Sunset.”

“Yes, I know. But do you remember?”

I let out an exasperated sigh. “Yes, I remember. And I remember her falling asleep nestled under your wing for a week after. So what?”

Celestia didn’t answer me. I tore my eyes away from the stage and Trixie’s and Pupa’s increasingly elaborate antics to look at her.

“Well?”

“Do you know if she forgave me, in the end?”

Yes!” Mother cried out. Not that she was wrong, but she wasn’t exactly right, either. There was regret, certainly, but that wasn’t quite forgiveness.

That said, I’d bet almost anything that this was what Celestia wanted out of tonight. If not forgiveness by proxy, then at least an answer.

I wanted so much to use this for something. There was no telling what this kind of emotional blackmail could do. But even if Mother hadn’t been screaming against it, actually following through on that impulse felt…monstrous. The truth would hurt enough.

“No,” I finally replied, turning my head back toward the stage, if not my attention. “Sunset felt underappreciated, underutilized, and unloved. She desperately wanted to go home, but she didn’t know if there was anypony there for her anymore. If you want to know if she still loved you, then yes, painfully so. But no, she never forgave you.”

I pretended to ignore the small sniffling I heard from Celestia, but it was a bittersweet thing. On the one hoof, I didn’t generally like to make ponies cry. But on the other hoof, bucking yes!

It was probably healthier not to delve too deeply into the latter feeling, lest I found bottling Celestia’s tears an acceptable and entirely healthy idea.

Please can I hug her?” Mother asked.

I replied in no uncertain terms, “No.” There would be no hugging, nuzzling, or otherwise snuggling with Celestia tonight or anytime soon.

Anyway, there was one thing I was curious about that would take my mind off…that, something neither Mother nor I had ever properly understood.

“Why did you care so much?” I asked. “I don’t think Trixie is as special to you.”

Eventually, her voice slightly weak, Celestia replied, “It would have been hard not to. Sunset reminded me of my first century. So confident and arrogant, but hard-working and steadfast.” She breathed deeply. “My plans for her only made her more dear to me, yet it was clearly not meant to be.”

Rather bluntly, I said, “I’m not going to fill the void for you. I’m not my mother.”

“You have more in common than I believe you realize, but worry not. I do have to close my eyes and pretend somewhat too hard to see her in you.”

“Obviously. Sunset’s past does not define me. It just gave me a different base rate for developing specific characteristics.”

Just as I felt like Celestia was going to stay silent and let me watch the show, she spoke up again.

“Thank you for remembering her.”

I debated on whether I should reply or not, rather than automatically saying, “You’re welcome,” as I would in any other company. It wasn’t like I’d picked up Mother’s memories for anypony but her, and certainly not for Celestia of all ponies.

In the end, I held my peace. There was no sense in inviting further conversation.

Now that I actually looked back at the stage, Trixie was on fire, or at least her mane and tail were. And she seemed to be okay with that.

“Ha!” Trixie said. “If you think you can placate me with–”

“Cadance,” Celestia began, interrupting the show again and earning a groan from me, “told me granting a blessing has been proving difficult for you.”

“So what?” I all but growled. I didn’t need Celestia pointing out that I might really be broken, or at best, permanently injured.

Talking with Cadance wasn’t exactly something I wanted to remember either. She’d helped, but beyond business, she’d barely said two words to me. She’d been a bit fidgety like she had something to hide, but I didn’t press her on it. Anyway, apparently for her, the act was more…

Well, her exact words were something like, “You don’t…change it directly. You reach into their magic and pull on what you can touch, which I guess is all of it for you. But it’s not enough to do that. Your power won’t…won’t…flow, I guess, into the empty space on its own. You need to give it a little push. You’re trying to…make them bigger, I guess. You need to put your love into it.”

They weren’t exactly the same instructions Luna had given me, but they were awfully close and less helpful than I’d hoped. The only interesting tidbit she’d offered was ‘putting your love into it’. I’d experimented with trying to filter my magic – I was not the Alicorn of Love – through Chamomile to little success.

“I could offer my advice?” Celestia’s words came out as a question. “I possess rather a wealth of experience in the matter myself.”

And end up owing her a favor? No thanks.

“I won’t stop you, but I’m not asking,” I said, expecting that to get her to finally stop talking.

It didn’t.

“Do you recall what it felt like to have the sun burning inside you personally?”

Oh bucking horseapples.

“No,” I said, fighting off the sinking feeling in my stomach. Celestia was just confirming what I already knew. She’d seen. She’d known. I’d grown up a sun-blessed pony, and she’d picked up on it.

Or she could be guessing. Luna wouldn’t have put me in Canterlot if one stray encounter would’ve revealed me. Celestia would’ve needed some kind of clue to investigate closer.

It was, after all, the natural guess to assume I hadn’t lost Sunset’s blessing.

“No?” Celestia asked. “I noticed how punctual you were, an obsession Sunset never had.”

I was born with mental issues. It didn’t mean anything. I didn’t say that, but part of me wanted to.

“In hindsight,” Celestia continued, “that seems natural. Growing up, you had a better, ever-present clock than anypony else could ever hope for. The sun is rather regular these days.”

Oh… So that was why I was having issues with my internal clock. I wasn’t connected to the sun anymore.

“Am I ringing a few bells?”

I…supposed it wouldn’t hurt anything now to admit it, not that I’d describe accurate timekeeping as ‘the sun burning inside me’. I shrugged just enough for the gesture to be visible.

“Hmm… I remember your parents telling me you once wanted to raise the sun. Did you attend the Summer Sun Celebration in Canterlot when you were younger?”

I shrugged again, fairly sure where Celestia was going with this. Heading off any potential banal attempt to win my affections, I said, “And it was magical and meant so much more to me than it seemed to for anypony else. I suppose I understand why now. But I never moved the sun.”

Celestia hummed again, much longer this time. “Have you ever set yourself on fire?”

Immediately facehoofing, I connected a few dots in my and Mother’s memories. I could remember the feeling of that particular magic coursing through me during a number of flares, muddied with anger. Always anger.

“I see you have. Sunset was quite fond of that herself, once she learned to control it.”

It would be a neat magic trick, or in a fight it’d be rather intimidating.

Celestia lectured on, saying, “A blessing is more than a simple spell. There is intent layered into it. When you grant it, you leave behind a small piece of yourself; nothing you will ever miss, but it has a certain intelligence of its own.”

I supposed that made some sense. The way Luna and Cadance had described the process lacked any real structure or order. But if the partial manifestation left behind a semi-sapient imprint of the alicorn, the sky was the limit on what it could do.

“I find it helps to be in a similar state of mind. Stars are usually hot-tempered; planets are often stubborn; black holes…I never quite understood. I cannot tell you what magic is like, but I suspect you already know.”

Hmm… That sounded a bit like – “Do blessings grant a particular chosen subset of available perks?”

“I highly recommend you first find a natural mood for yourself before attempting more or less complex blessings, but yes.”

Did Luna know that?

As if reading my mind, Celestia said, “I only discovered that five centuries ago. Please believe me when I say it is deceptively difficult.”

Fair enough, I supposed. Solo research into an entirely new field would take long enough on its own, but researching blessings also required willing participants. It’d take forever to learn…

“Did – did you just teach me?” Celestia had originally offered advice, not tutoring. And I’d just sat there and listened. It was all well and good to steal information, but I hadn’t even noticed.

Celestia made that annoying little giggle of hers. “I couldn’t resist. You are ever the natural student.”

“I’m not Sunset!” I screeched. The enchantments on the royal box kept the rest of the theater none the wiser. “Stop treating me like her! She’s not. Coming. Back.”

Completely unfazed, Celestia said, “Twilight, I already said you need have no fear of that from me.”

I ground my teeth at the subtext in Celestia’s words. ‘No fear of that from me’ indeed. That she had the gall to suggest Luna couldn’t distinguish me from Mother even after all our years together–

She couldn’t,” Mother interrupted wrongly.

When we first met, sure, I’d concede the point there. But I’d probably have expected a two-year-old Sunset to grow up into an eight-year-old Sunset, too; Quartz had done amazing work on me.

But that was hardly the case after Luna got to know me. She was well aware that I was not my mother.

“I knew Sunset very well. She was very much cut from Trixie’s cloth, not yours. She always wanted to do. Learning was simply a means to an end, not something she enjoyed in and of itself.” Celestia quietly sighed. “She had so much energy as a filly.”

Are you sure we can’t hug her?” Mother asked.

Yes!


I tapped my forehoof impatiently against the balcony railing, trying not to grind my teeth to dust.

Celestia didn’t know how to shut up, which was weird, because Mother’s memories painted a very different picture. She’d never been so…talkative. It was weird, really. Unnerving even.

At least she was gone now. Celestia had excused herself to go make her after-performance charity thank you speech…thing.

Her last words were, “Trixie insisted I tell you that this act was written before she properly met Pupa, and that its ending bears no hidden messages, subtext, apologies, et cetera.”

The ending of the show that I’d mostly missed – another mark against Celestia – was…climactic, in a word. Pupa and Trixie had pulled out all the stops in their little game of insulting and one-upping each other, so much so that it’d been a little hard even for me to follow.

The conclusion was reconciliation, grudging respect, bows, and then roaring applause.

I’d vaguely wondered who would win in the end. Trixie stomping Pupa would sort of make the guest appearance more of an ego trip. The reverse would be so unexpected as to be unbelievable. But this, I supposed, was perfectly serviceable.

It might have been better from an iterative narrative perspective if they had this kind of showdown after several dozen shows, but then they probably hadn’t made plans for more than one. There was also the fact that Pupa had proved herself quite capable, so if they did put on more shows, she’d have the credibility to be more than Las Pegasus eye candy.

Either way, I supposed Trixie was the brains behind this ending, since Pupa had told me she hadn’t expected to actually get to put on this show to begin with, let alone to have multiple.

Celestia walked onto the stage behind Trixie and Pupa while I let out an exasperated sigh. Part of me wanted to just grab Pupa now and go, but I wasn’t going to ruin her moment like that, not even if I had to listen to Celestia prattle on again.

Gesturing toward her neck, Celestia found her way to center stage, right between Trixie and Pupa. The former caught on to the signal and cast the same voice amplification spell on Celestia that she’d used during the performance.

Celestia raised a hoof. The remaining audience members that hadn’t already fallen silent in her presence quieted down.

“I want to thank you all for coming today, as well as for the donations you made beyond the ticket price. Snowdrop was a dear friend of mine centuries upon centuries ago. Sadly, her condition was not only named after her, but is still without a true cure.”

Which was rather surprising, actually. I’d looked the disease up, and it’d turned out to be a genetic condition. There’d been attempts made to fix the problem both directly and indirectly, permanently and temporarily, but none had been terribly successful. If I were to hazard a guess, it probably created a weird magical quirk in the afflicted pony at birth. That couldn’t be fixed so easily.

I wondered if I could fix it.

Heh. It wouldn’t be that simple. Things never were.

“All proceeds today will be given to the Snowdrop Foundation, and the treasury has promised to match the sum. Now this would normally be the point where I subtly guilt everypony into donating more” – Celestia paused for the audience’s chuckling to die down – “but tonight is special in more than one way.”

Oh no. Turning this into a birthday party for Pupa was the entirely wrong thing to do; it’d make it look like she didn’t really earn or deserve to be here, even despite her stellar performance.

“I would much prefer to make this announcement more officially, but the mare in question is present here only because of Twilight Sparkle the Younger.”

‘The Younger’?

“She is a bit skittish around me–”

Was she…

“–and being gone for a few more centuries than planned–”

No, no, no, no! This wasn’t fair!

“–only exacerbated the issue.”

Celestia couldn’t do this to us!

“Without further ado, I would like to extend a warm welcome back to Twilight Sparkle’s great, great, great–”

How could I stop this? Luna and I weren’t sure exactly what public image we wanted to present, but it certainly wasn’t this. Celestia was constructing herself a PR shield. If we attacked her after she ‘welcomed us back’, it’d be a disaster, even if we explained.

What should I do? I could attack her now.

No, I’d lose. I’d lose badly. And Celestia would just make herself look better if she ended up letting me go after I’d lost.

Worse, I’d have broken our deal, so she’d have no reason not to do whatever she wanted with me and mine.

“–great, great, great–”

I could deny everything she was – no, that wouldn’t work. The public trusted Celestia far more than me. It’d take forever to win the crowd to my side, and I probably couldn’t while she was present. Luna and I had intended to deal with her quietly, maybe have Chrysalis as a stand-in until given a long vacation.

“–great, great, great–”

Would it still be possible to deal with Celestia behind closed doors? Would she even give us the chance? If she was doing this now, she must feel like we could beat her in a straight up fight, even if she went back on her word. Maybe she’s gotten fat and out of practice.

But if she’s effectively forcing a stalemate, she’s practically giving up. That’s not how she operates. There must be some hidden plan behind all this, either some long-term scheme that she’s trying to buy years, decades, maybe even centuries for or a disaster waiting for us if we removed her.

What if Celestia made a point of crying treason across Equestria instead of fighting back? We had the power to rule with an iron hoof, but that was the exact opposite of what we wanted. If we left even one, single witness unaccounted for, everything could fall down around us. We could pick Celestia’s brain for any traps and servants she left behind, like delayed mail accusing us, but we couldn’t stop ponies neither she nor we knew existed from talking.

“–great, great, grandmother,” Celestia finally finished, “Twilight Sparkle the Elder.”

Celestia looked at me expectantly. Gazing toward me with foal-like glee, Pupa played along. Why was she playing along!

And then the crowd shifted to look at me. Me, who was very much visible over the railing and who looked almost exactly like Pupa on stage.

“No, no, no, no, no,” I said to myself over and over. My thoughts kept galloping full tilt but ran into walls again and again.

The crowd below started to murmur.

“Who is the Princess of Books,” Celestia picked up.

What the…

“As well as Queen of Geeks–”

That doesn’t make any–

“–the Archlibrarian of the Lost Librararchy–”

What in Tartarus is a librararchy?

“–the Duchess of Butterscotch–”

“Argh! Shut up!” I exploded, slamming my hooves down. A piercing crack punctuated my scream. The balcony railing was fractured, nearly broken.

“–the mare who originally stole the cookie from the cookie jar,” Celestia continued unimpeded.

In the Royal Box, nopony could hear me scream.

“–the Dread Pirate–”

I remanifested on stage, hoof extended. There was sweet silence as Celestia stopped trying to talk past my hoof – sweet, blissful silence.

Except for the sound of my remanifested wings rustling.

Oh ponyfeathers.

Pupa tackled me with a hug, shouting just loud enough for her voice to carry, “Grandma! Are you really staying this time?”

Frozen, betrayed, I just stared into her eyes. Why, why, why was she doing this?

Pupa whispered close to my ear, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. She was going to do this whether I played along or not.”

I heard the door slam open. My head whipped toward it just in time to catch a pony with a camera bolting out.

There is a journalist who just made their career,” Mother commented. And I knew she was right. I could see the headlines now: long lost alicorn throws fit on return.

This situation had to be salvaged. I couldn’t do that as a mute anymore than I could by denouncing Celestia.

I breathed deeply, checked my temper to merely upset, and finally replied to Pupa. Trapped as I was, there was only one thing I could say.

“Yes.”

The crowd went ballistic. Ponies swarmed the stage. Each question grew louder, and louder, and louder in an endless contest to be heard. Even if I answered, nopony would’ve heard me.


“For the last time,” I bit out, more than simply wanting to kick this stallion in the face, “there is not and never was an autocracy of libraries.”

The crowd hadn’t dwindled in the hours I’d been kept here. Rather it looked like it’d actually gotten larger. How ponies kept getting in, I didn’t know. Security was supposed to keep ponies without a ticket out.

I swore, if I found out they’d taken bribes–

“No!” I wanted to scream. “I’m the Alicorn of Magic, not books. Magic!”

“Yes, I like to read, but that doesn’t mean–”

“Argh. Look, I’m older than you. Let’s leave it at that.” Technically true. The mare asking was definitely no more than thirty.

“No, I was not shirking my duties. See how well I speak Modern Equestrian? I’ve been around.”

A stallion was polite enough to compliment me on how well I spoke the vernacular. And really, at this point, any compliment at all sounded like a romantic sonnet.

”Thank you. You speak Modern Equestrian very well, too.”

A second passed. I facehoofed.

“I meant thank you.”

I groaned, “Sure,” before the cameramare in front of me had so much as said a word. She asked for a family photo, and I obliged, dragging Pupa away from her own mob.

And really, if there were anything that made this bearable, it was that Pupa had it almost as bad as I did. Even for her, social butterfly and emotional parasite that she was, all the attention was obviously getting to her.

On the other side of the hall, Celestia and Trixie were only about half as…

Where did Celestia–

Ack! I jumped as one of Celestia’s wings extended over me. It took all of the self-control I had not to shove her away, move aside, or otherwise stop her from touching me. I’d endured this ploy of hers without branding myself some kind of heretic, and now she’d taken the offensive.

But I would grin and bear it. In the end, it would all come to naught for her. Luna and I would turn this around to our advantage soon enough. All this good PR would come back to bite Celestia in the flank.

“Please excuse us, my little ponies” Celestia said, and for once everypony around me was quiet and listened. “There are a few matters of state that Princess Twilight and I must discuss.”

Annoyingly enough, the crowd parted in front of us for Celestia, and we were on our way. Side by side. With her wing over my back. Occasionally bumping into each other.

Celestia ‘whispered’ back to the crowd, “And between us, the Princess of Introverts could use a rest.”

I hit Celestia with my wing as hard as I could, which was not nearly hard enough. It was more a mere bump than a blow.

The very moment we were technically backstage and out of sight, I growled, “I loathe you.” I knocked Celestia’s wing off with my own.

“Really?” Celestia asked. She sounded as if she were actually surprised, but she’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb to have not noticed. “I did just give you a legitimate claim to the Equestrian throne.”

“I already have a legitimate claim! You’re not the only diarch. Stop acting like it.”

“Oh dear. I must have misplaced…well, everything documenting that.”

“You–”

No. No, something about this was wrong. The moment that thought completed, my growing temper suspended itself. There was something wrong going on. This whole day had been wrong. Celestia didn’t talk like this. She didn’t act like this.

For a moment, I thought this Celestia might be Chrysalis, but no. This was definitely Celestia; it was her magic, at least.

But then I remembered.

“You owe me an explanation. I gave you your letter. Luna endured your presence. You’ve had plenty of time to think it over this time. What is it you’re planning?”

Celestia smiled – no smirked. It was the most evil smirk I’d ever seen on her.

“Nothing.”

“Bullshit,” I retorted.

“Language.”

Must. Resist. Urge. To kick.

“What I said is the truth,” Celestia said. “Or it is now.”

“Explain,” I demanded. By ‘no plans’, she probably meant that she was done setting everything up and could wash her hooves of it.

Celestia sighed just enough to be noticeable. “Honestly, Twilight, I was hardly subtle. I even told you exactly what I wanted.”

What? When did she…

The fires of indignation were smoldered. In their place rose a terrible foreboding and a horrible sense of something profoundly unfair having been done to me.

“Right after the trial…” I whispered. Celestia hadn’t been talking to Pupa or Cadance; she’d been talking to me.

Surely she hadn’t known I was listening in. She hadn’t said anything to me directly. But she’d known the information would get back to me one way or another.

How much of that had been lies and half-truths?

“Pupa’s geas wasn’t absolute,” I guessed. It had the kind of ring of truth that sent chills down my spine.

Smiling again, Celestia said, “I gave her enough leeway to give technically correct but entirely useless answers. Calibrating the spell’s power to exactly the right level was quite the challenge: supply too much magic and the illusion was ruined, but supply too little magic and Princess Pupa would have noticed.”

“But… But that’s…”

“In hindsight, do you honestly believe ‘no’ was an acceptable answer to ‘are you, Twilight, or anypony you know in any way associated with Nightmare Moon’?”

No.

But that meant Celestia had already known the answer.

And that meant she’d found a clue. Or she’d forced the truth out of me and erased my memory of it without Luna noticing. Or… Or…

And that meant…

There – there was no denying it anymore. Celestia had known I was in contact with Luna. Celestia had known I was Sunset reborn. She might even have known I’d left Equus to retrieve the elements.

I slumped to the ground, utterly defeated. “When did you find out?”

“I presume you mean when did I discover your excursions into the Dream Realm.”

With all the strength I had, I nodded.

“It was when Doctor Panacea first examined you, although it occurs to me you never met her.” Celestia hummed to herself for a moment before continuing on. “More than a buildup of dark magical residue showed up in your test results. I investigated, and one fact soon led to another. Despite the events leading up to it, that was the happiest day of my life.”

I’d bet it was. One stroke of bad luck was all it took to ruin plans and lives, after all. Just one stupid mistake.

“I knew Nightmare Moon was dream walking, but I was erroneously certain that it was only an occasional event.”

Too down to even protest Celestia’s use of ‘Nightmare Moon’, I asked, “How?”

“Is it not obvious?” Celestia replied. “Luminance never needed me to intervene.”

Oh.

“They had the latest agricultural knowledge and hundreds of other anachronisms besides without any apparent means of contacting Equus.”

Celestia had been to Luminance. I’d known that. How would she have not noticed? Two-hundred ponies did not an agricultural revolution make.

“Honestly, I always thought Nightmare Moon knew I would deduce that she could dreamwalk. I designed and constructed Canterlot Castle not long after I banished her, after all, so I obviously knew about her lunar retreat. Whether I left it up or tore it down after I found out, the resemblance to Luminance Castle is unmistakable.”

It…was, actually. It was a castle on the tallest mountain in Equestria with dimensional magic built into it. I’d gotten lost in those halls more than once. The theme was in Celestia’s colors, but that was just a pallet swap.

Celestia frowned slightly at the look on my face. “Or I like to believe so. I never did have the time to paint the halls.”

Good. That was Luna’s project. It’d just be adding insult to injury to take that, too, from her.

“In all honesty, Luminance was what convinced me to implement my plan B, although from your reaction it seems my reasoning was based upon false assumptions.”

Yes, Luna hadn’t known Celestia had been there until I’d told her, and neither of us had noticed the similarities between Canterlot Castle and Luminance’s. Celestia was wrong about that, at least.

Celestia continued, “Even if the language stagnated, Luminance’s technology kept progressing far beyond what even a small community of genius technophiles could produce. I thought to myself, ‘She helped her ponies at the risk of true isolation. To do that, to risk everything, there must still be a sliver of good in her.’ I could never put my complete faith in it, but I hoped that given enough time, her banishment might bring back my sister. So I did nothing.”

Nothing…was plan B? As in doing nothing?

“You can do that?” The words escaped me from my stupor.

Celestia giggled. So annoying.

“It is…not natural for me, I admit. Please forgive me if I’ve been a tad blunt or excitable today. Reawakening the elements was always plan A, and while I always felt uneasy leaving Nightmare Moon to her own devices, I thought there would be no harm done.”

Celestia’s smile fell into a frown. And she looked at me. And my stripes.

“Anyway,” Celestia began, both strength and a nervous energy so uncharacteristic of her slowly returning to her voice, “this is rather late, but congratulations on your ascension. Slipping away from Cadance and Captain Armor unnoticed after I set them to watch you was a masterful stroke of genius.”

I think my mouth mumbled, “Thank you,” without any actual instructions to do so.

“Honestly, when I learned you were long gone, I was so sure you would be a thief or an assassin. I never imagined an untrained – or perhaps partially trained – Flare would attempt Equestria’s first non-alicorn space journey. Bravo.”

Celestia clapped her forehooves together in mock praise. Or…maybe it was real praise. It was so hard to tell anymore. Was anything about her real and not calculated?

But it did feel good that we’d fooled Celestia in that, at least.

“Rarely am I taken so by surprise. But it was a good surprise, I think.”

What?

“Once I’d truly ruminated on the matter, I believe this” – Celestia gestured toward my limply hanging wings – “is the best thing that could have happened for you two.”

No, I – “I still don’t understand.”

A small little sigh escaped Celestia. It was the kind of sigh a teacher made when a student was being particularly thick. I’d made it myself on a number of occasions.

“Twilight, all I wanted was my sister back. There is nothing more to it. Between your own no doubt extensive emotional support and work with her and the efforts of everypony who came before you, I believe she has been freed from the monster within her the long, hard way.” Celestia paused for a moment, apparently deep in reflection. “No, not freed. Although I wish I could honestly say otherwise, it would be nothing more than a sweet lie. Not freed, but subdued enough that we can pick up the pieces safely in time. For that, you have my eternal gratitude.

“I knew you would be able to worm your way into her heart; she was never able to resist someone so passionate about magic and the sciences – the arts, too, especially so. There is a certain trend in her lovers, you’ll find. However, I also took what little actions I could to drive you two closer together faster. As a result, I know I caused Cadance, your family, and you yourself no small amount of pain. For using you like that, you will have my sincere apologies, although I expect you would not hear them now.”

My head was swimming, still trying to cope with and process this new information as more and more assaulted me.

“Now then,” Celestia said, and her horn glowed. She cast a teleportation spell. I didn’t bother to stop her or flee. It wasn’t directed at me or Pupa, and I wasn’t sure I could muster the energy.

A surfboard overladen with too many enchantments to identify them appeared at Celestia’s side. A pair of similarly enchanted sunglasses appeared over her eyes, and a tacky aloha shirt completed the ensemble. Her regalia disappeared, presumably to wherever the surfboard and accessories had come from.

“I believe I am long overdue for a vacation. Since I set you up as the senior princess, you’re in charge until Lulu gets back. You should have enough practice from governing Luminance and captaining the Nebulous, right?”

No, no, no. This – this wasn’t how this was supposed to happen. This was almost worse than losing.

“You’re leaving?” I asked. No other words would form. “Just like that?”

“Of course.” Celestia’s eyes lit up. “Oh, actually” – she teleported a small stack of papers and gave them to me – “please take care of the sun and moon for me. I’m so tired of being unable to sleep for more than six hours at a time.”

I barely glanced at the papers I’d been given before letting them fall to the ground.

This was wrong. Even if Celestia wasn’t lying, getting everything we wanted like this, it was so hollow. There was no great victory, no vengeance, no emotional catharsis.

“I… But – but what if…”

I tried to think of some words, some action I could take, something, anything to accomplish the great irony of making Celestia stay in Equestria. We’d…won, I supposed, but if she just left like this, we’d have just as surely lost. Unfortunately, the only thing my reeling mind could think of was that stupid story she’d read to me when I was a foal.

“What if Luna gets upset and tries to bring eternal night? Or – or what if I get upset and just…do whatever comes on impulse? I’m nocturnal. What if…I don’t want to wear sunglasses and destroy the sun?”

Stars, but I was grasping at straws. Destroy the sun because I didn’t want to wear sunglasses? How stupid must I sound right now? But I could barely keep my thoughts straight, and far, far worse, I could see the goal Luna and I had chased together for over a decade slipping away, just out of hoof’s reach.

Unless… Unless we were only meant to think it’d ever been in hoof’s reach to begin with.

Celestia pushed her sunglasses up with a hoof to rest just below her horn. “Really, Twilight. I hardly think it would be so bad for me to just try it for a week, perhaps a year, maybe a decade, or even a century if I have to. I waited a millennium already.”

That…sounded somewhat familiar.

“I can afford to let you two calm down and then try to reason with you. After all, will it really be so bad, my little pony?”

The archives! The story! That was – they were – those words, they were mine!

“Until we meet again.”

Celestia waved her hoof at me. Her horn lit up, and she was gone.

Gone, as in she wasn’t here.

She’d left. She’d really left.

No, she’d gotten away.

“Get back here,” I whispered.

She didn’t even understand. It only really hit me just now. She honestly didn’t understand. She’d never understood, had she?

How could she not understand?

“Get back here!” I screamed, teleporting after her. She hadn’t scrubbed away her magical trail.

Equus’s upper stratosphere was cold, and the air was thin at best, toxic at worse.

“Get back here!” I wheezed out. But there was nothing, no response, no life besides me.

Celestia was gone. She’d left no trail behind.

“You tried to – to kill – kill her!”

My wings were so heavy.

“At least – own up – up to it.”

Where was her trail? It had to be here. I was the Alicorn of Magic, the Goddess of Magic. I was magic! I could find her!

“Shining – would be ashamed – to serve you. Luna at – at least admits – she killed – Sunset.”

Sparklebutt, she’s gone.

No! She couldn’t be gone. I just hadn’t looked hard enough.

“Take responsibility!”

She’s gone!” Mother shouted. “Please. You’re dying over and over.

That was a good point. I cast the usual protection spells. My breathing cleared up, and I felt light again.

My head cleared up, too. All of the magic around me came into sharper relief.

Twilight, please st–

I focused all of my attention on the task at hoof. Finding Celestia’s trail would be hard. I didn’t have the cognitive resources to spare for Mother’s nonsense.

But Celestia was somewhere out there. I would find her. She hadn’t teleported from here. That much was obvious now. I had to start looking for alicorn-sized clumps of magic instead.

I took a deep breath once my lungs completely stopped burning and set about my task.

It was Luna. It’d always been Luna. She had to understand that. Defeating her – even if she’d given our win to us on a silver platter – it wouldn’t mean anything if she didn’t understand why we did it.

And she would understand. There never was a Nightmare Moon. I’d rip apart every delusion she had and then burn them all to cinders.

But first I had to find her.


Prereaders – Starlight Nova, Strange Reasoning, The Great Eater

Behold! A shameless promotion for my Patreon page. On that note, we have two cameos this chapter. One from Panacea, and another from Cast-Iron Caryatid (go read Sharing the Night; it’s wonderful).