Chapter Forty - HD 9986
The air parted with a thunderclap, echoing out across the empty expanse for kilometers around. I filled the gap an instant later before the air could snap back. Below me, there was a nice, comfy looking rock wherever I was. My wings went out to glide down to it, but my heart wasn’t in it. I hit the ground harder than I’d hoped, but whatever. Life sucked, Celestia was definitely off-planet, and one of the binary stars in Cancer had a new asteroid belt.
I let out a long sigh before going totally limp. I was so done with today.
Time crawled by. I’d say I’d lain on my rock for days as time ticked ever onward, but the sun was still out. It couldn’t have been more than minutes. Way off in the distance, a desert turtle slowly crawled toward a rocky outcrop, visible only by the tiny amount of magic in it. Far, far further behind that turtle rose a natural magical rock formation. Whirlwinds blustered about it, fueled by the top-heavy rock pillar’s own magic, but physics be damned. It wouldn’t fall.
Given the context, I couldn’t help but think of that rock as a metaphor for my life. I’d interfered in Celestia’s plans and had my fun, but look at what happened. In the end, what even was the point of it all?
“Twilight,” Mother interjected, taking advantage of my listless state to push back into the forefront of my thoughts. “I know if anyone ever saw it, they’d think we’d gone crazy, and maybe we have, but can you please give me a physical form for a few minutes?”
Dammit. I was going crazy. Comforting myself with a puppet…
Equus’s ambient magic moved about me in my æthereal grip, slowly forming into a physical illusion, one which would fool sight and touch. In all of a second, there was Sunset Shimmer standing on her hooves next to me. Except she had wings and a horn, like me.
“No, no. I’ll keep them,” Mother said, stretching and testing her wings exactly how I had when I first got them. “Always wanted a pair.”
Whatever. I let the puppet run on…well, not automatic, but I let the part of my head simulating Sunset manage the construct. It moved about with strange, clunky movements that abruptly started and stopped. A few seconds of effort later, and the spell was smoothed out to operate on semi-automatic to make up for the moments when…Mother’s questionable existence suspended, I supposed.
Alright. It was official. It really was now. I was completely insane. Whatever sanity I’d had left earlier tonight had broken. I let my head fall face-first onto the rock beneath me.
Next to me, I felt the illusion Sunset’s wings brush against my own as she sat down. Unless the spell got away from me and was doing its own thing, I was pretty sure she was staring up at the sky, perhaps watching the sun slowly descend to the horizon. Not that she could see anything, since then I’d be seeing it, too, but the idea of seeing something was still there. I guess I could always add a scrying spell… Eh, whatever.
“You know, Twilight, the only things I can tell you are things you can think of on your own.”
Yes, I knew she knew I knew that, since otherwise she wouldn’t have known that, so there was no point in saying it. Just like I knew she was about to say–
“There’s no point in telling me ‘not to bother; I already know’, Sparklebutt. I have a different perspective on things than you: your thoughts get filtered through different memories and emotions. I’m not sure if I’m a real split personality. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m not. Honestly, I think I hope I’m not. It’s hard to tell.”
Being a mental construct would have to be an unpleasant life, a constant existential crisis. If one were actually alive, that was. This was probably just more crazy on my part, not a real, enduring person forming in my head.
Heedless of my own thoughts, Mother continued, “Real or not, I have wisdom to impart. My part of your brain, whatever that is, is glad Celestia left. It ended poorly, but I have so many happy memories with her. I don’t want to see her… Well, I suppose you never intended to do anything too bad to her. All you and Luna really wanted was her out of the way and out of your lives. You should be happy, too. You got that. It’s a pretty safe bet by now that she isn’t on the planet anymore.”
I shook my head as much as I could with my muzzle squashed against a rock. Celestia was out of the way, yes, but she wasn’t out of our lives. She’d won. We had Equestria. We had our freedom. But she’d gotten what she wanted, apparently. She’d won. We’d won. But our success was so hollow a win. It wasn’t a real triumph. We weren’t the conquering victors. All that anger and pain in us was still there, and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The subject of it was out of the way and out of reach, and as such she remained in our lives.
Mother took up that line of thought. “Sunbutt did imply she’d come back when you two were ready to have a civil…somewhat civil conversation with her. Just try to relax, and when she does return, you can punch her in the face and tell her how wrong she was about Luna the moment you see her. Then you can force her to apologize for driving Luna to the breaking point a thousand years ago. Luna would attest to our mean right hook.”
“No. That’s not… I don’t want to let these feelings fester for a decade, or a century, or however long she’s gone. They broke Luna once already, and she’s one of the strongest ponies I know.”
There was a thought that Mother was deliberately not thinking, which I pointed out was entirely pointless when we shared a brain. I didn’t want to hear it, but I didn’t want to have it floating around unthought and constantly bugging me more.
Agreeing with my point, Mother said those awful words. “They broke Celestia, too. Looking back, do you realize just how much trouble she’s gone to just to get her sister back? Editing a royal tantrum out of history isn’t easy, and the Elements of Harmony aren’t exactly the most cooperative of artifacts. Then there was the constant…withholding of truth from Cadance, which there’s no way Cadance is happy about. Who knows how many scarifies she’s made over the centuries?”
“But she doesn’t want her sister back,” I countered. No, Celestia wanted maybe eight-hundred-year-old Luna back, the one who loved Celestia, who wasn’t emotionally scarred, and who wanted Celestia in her life. She was never coming back. Luna had outgrown and moved past that part of her life.
That… That was a nice thought, actually. We didn’t really win, but Celestia didn’t win either. She was never going to get what she considered her sister back no matter how long she waited.
“That’s the spirit,” Mother said, bumping me with her knee. There was no force behind it, but it triggered the appropriate nerve endings.
I had no ready response for that. A favorable tie was barely more satisfying than merely not losing. But someday…
With my despondent mood dragging us both down, Mother sighed. “You know, it really is awful how somepony can know somepony else so well but also not at all.”
“Speaking from experience?” Thinking the words flooded my head with dozens of memories of Celestia’s and Sunset’s failing relationship. I mumbled some incomprehensible curse.
“Mhm. Just think about it. Celestia knew our favorite foods, what we liked to do in our free time, how to comfort us, what we wanted to do in the future–”
Just to make sure I was following my own thoughts, I asked, “We? You and Luna?”
“Yeah…” Mother’s illusion slumped down and leaned into me, taking what support my limp body could offer an incorporeal illusion. We lay there in silence for a while before Mother started chuckled weakly. “Heh. If I hadn’t been so uninterested, Sunbutt probably would’ve introduced me to my husband, or wife, or whatever. She probably introduced Luna to a fair number of her lovers, too.”
I was skeptical of that. Luna had had so many lovers for a large sample size. She’d made that clear to me from the moment I hit puberty, and she’d at least mentioned more than a few. It couldn’t be too hard to find ponies she would take a fancy to. On the other hoof, Sunset hadn’t. Sure, there were a few kisses and some intimate touching in her early years, but nothing more than that, nothing to make an educated guess on.
For a few minutes, the two of us fell back into silence. My mind drifted in reflection, trying to comprehend just how much I’d screwed up all those years ago on Hearth’s Warming Eve. Without that flare landing me in Celestia’s care, everything would’ve been different. Eventually, Mother added her two bits.
“It’s still hard to believe Sunbutt left you alone with Luna. Sure, you didn’t look haunted by a madmare, but I never thought she would be cold enough to just…leave it be. She genuinely thinks you were being taught by her possessed and or insane sister, after all. She still thinks Luna is some Nightmare Moon, if I’m remembering right. I don’t know if you should be flattered by that amount of confidence in you or horrified.”
I shrugged. I didn’t have enough information to really respond to that. “Who knows? Maybe she geased me and erased the memory. Maybe she read my mind somehow. Or more likely, she’s well-trained to spot foal abuse. She is a teacher. She probably had to be able to spot that to legally teach. Assuming she played by her own rules, of course.
“It doesn’t matter, though. For her, if it were Nightmare Moon, I was apparently being treated well enough that it didn’t matter. If it were a slowly reemerging Luna, I was a valuable support structure to pull at her heartstrings and make her remember herself, and thus it didn’t matter. She had no reason not to leave well enough alone on the off chance I would ‘fix’ her sister for her.”
“I suppose that’s fair,” Mother said after a reflective pause. “You’re not thinking loving Luna is admitting defeat, are you?” When I didn’t reply either way, she said, “You idiot. Sure, Sunbutt said she tried to push you together faster, but what contact did you two really have with her? What did she actually do?”
An unpleasant thought occurred to me. “Just the idea of petrifying me, with or without true intent, would send me running away from her and into Luna’s hooves even more. Or if Celestia had petrified me, Luna would’ve either spent a lot of time with me or she would’ve abandoned me, and I’d have learned a hard lesson.”
“And in the latter case, you could be let out in a week,” Mother finished the train of logic for me. “Same thing with the trial. Was that just to make you hate her more?”
That…was entirely possible. And then there was what happened after I’d visited the moon. “I know Cadance was getting…unstable, but Celestia did force me back into contact with her. You know how she loves to talk about romance, or even just enduring friendships. Especially mine.”
Mother giggled, her feathers brushing against my own and almost tickling me. “Yes, I do. She’s been like that since I met her.”
“Heh. Yeah… There’s probably other small stuff Celestia did–”
“–But nothing else of significance,” Mother finished. “So you agree, then? There’s nothing wrong with you loving Luna. Celestia just took advantage of something she expected to happen anyway, and I’d give you better than even odds that half of last night was truth and the other half her bullshitting you. Think about it. She’s still doing it. You’re even more pissed off at her now than ever before, aren’t you?”
I slammed my head against my rock once, then twice. Why did Celestia have to be such a…such a Celestia? She was entirely worthy of being a new curse word. Was there any way to win against her?
“Well, you could just ignore her,” was Mother’s suggestion. To be fair, it had merit. “Even without her interference, you would’ve gotten Luna to love you all on your own by being… What was the word Luna used? Adorkable?”
I blushed a bit, not having expected to ever earnestly describe myself with that word. It wasn’t bad, per se, but…I didn’t quite know how to feel about it. Still, the side Mother had argued for was right. It was definitely right. I knew that. I wanted Luna. I loved her. But something about it, some small part, still felt somehow wrong.
“Oh, come on, Sparklebutt. I understand you still wanting to punch Sunbutt’s face in, but don’t let what she said today weigh you down. Sure, she thought she outplayed you on her plan B, but even that was ultimately a bust for her. You pointed that out yourself. She’s not getting the sister she wanted back.”
Mother had something of a point, I supposed…
“Dammit, Sparklebutt! Luna helped you design the Nebulous, but who built the damn thing?”
“I did, but–”
“Who found the crew, negotiated their employment, and kept them all on task?”
Stars, I hated it when I cut my own thoughts off.
“Who was it who thought to ally with the changelings?”
Luna probably would’ve brought it up sometime if I hadn’t.
“Work with me here, Sparklebutt.” Not having access to my chest, Mother poked me in the neck. “You found them.” Another poke. “You served as ambassador.” A third poke followed. “You performed the negotiations. Chrysalis and Pupa have been more than worth the effort.”
“Fine,” I complained. “I get what you’re saying.”
“Hardly. You, Chrysalis, and Luna all worked as a team to awaken the elements, but who was it that found it in herself to awaken Friendship all on her own?”
Awakening Friendship alone was an inherent contradiction. Friendship could not exist in a vacuum.
“Twilight Sparkle!” Mother snapped. “You’re not, and never have been, Celestia’s tool. I was. You’re not. You’re Luna’s tool, and you’re a damn good one.”
“What do you want me to say?” I asked with no more enthusiasm than before. “I already said I get what you’re saying. Celestia used me like a boat uses a river: her backup plan revolved around what I was going to do anyway. I’m very good at what I do, both academically and in practice. The wings are a constant reminder of that. I’m awesome, as Dash would put it. It doesn’t make me feel any less cheated.”
A particular memory occurred to us both, and Mother threw it at me. She spoke over it as I reveled in the feelings accompanying it.
“You and Luna utterly destroyed Celestia’s real plan. She even admitted that to you, and let’s not pretend her plan B was really anything more than wishful thinking. Her real plans were destroyed. That she hadn’t seen coming, and it really shows in the conversation – if you can call it that – you had just after your ascension. She was livid. She snarled at us! Celestia doesn’t snarl. You got to call her a sororicidal mule to her face! You screwed up on Hearth’s Warming, but she screwed up more by letting you go on your merry way.”
Looking back on the memory now that I wasn’t terrified for my life or swept up in my temper, it had felt good to tell Celestia just what I thought of her. That’d felt really good. It wasn’t every day a pony got to see Celestia react like she had on the Nebulous or insult her directly and openly to her face.
“And let’s not forget the most important fact of them all,” Mother said, her voice stern and unyielding. “You saved your Luna’s life. Sunbutt would never have not used the Elements of Harmony so long as they were an option. You know that. Forget your ascension. Forget defeating Celestia. That was the entire reason Luna sent you on your quest to begin with.”
For a few moments, my mind just stopped thinking as those words ran their course.
Swept up in all the craziness, in all the emotions being thrown around, it really was easy to forget that I’d already done my job. My goal had been to break the elements, and while I’d almost screwed that up, I had finished my quest. That was more than just a pleasant thought. Everything after that was just…living with the costs of getting me there. This was life after the quest.
“You’ve already earned your happily ever after,” Mother said, running with the theme. “All that’s left is for you to actually be happy.”
“Easier said than done after today.”
Speaking of, even after today’s events, I still found it hard to believe what Celestia had claimed all those weeks ago was what she actually believed, or maybe I just didn’t want to believe it. What were her words, exactly? ‘Her Lulu would never say what she had a thousand years ago to her or have been so careless with the lives around them,’ was it? Something like that. Possession, or discordification, or what have you was such a lame excuse. It was no less true now than it was then or a thousand years ago.
Insanity – or some similar mental condition – I supposed Celestia could make a case for. I’d seen Luna that enraged, and it wasn’t a pleasant sight. But it was still Luna. I wasn’t going to close my eyes and pretend it wasn’t. That kind of disrespect was so cruel.
“You know,” Mother began, “there’s something you’ve never honestly considered.”
“Don’t you dare.”
“What if she’s right? Or what if Luna is half-mad like us? What if your Luna is just the current dominant personality of some sort of psychological mess?”
I scoffed at the notion. “Luna wouldn’t lie to me about something like that. And as far as it was possible for me to tell, she was being honest when I asked her about possessions and the like.”
“Yes, what were her exact words again?” I got the distinct impression that Mother was tapping a hoof to her muzzle. “She’s been under a bunch of harmless geases, but to the extent of her knowledge, nothing else. The key words being ‘to the extent of her knowledge’. What if she doesn’t know?”
Cadance had pretty much asked me the same question, and my answer remained unchanged. “Then who cares? I like the current Luna. If it means that much to you, when she gets back I’ll check her for ongoing magics along the lines of a geas.”
“And remove them?”
Shrugging, I replied, “It depends what they are. Luna said there’s no such thing as ghosts, spirits, et cetera. But on the extremely off chance she is one, I’m not going to be the one to kill her.” I let out a puff of air. “What evidence do you even have to bother asking those questions to begin with? I might as well ask why gravity pushes mass away from other mass if you don’t need evidence.”
“Well, if you trust that they told you everything, from Cadance’s references to Celestia and Celestia’s own words, the most likely problem, if it exists, is discordification by the Alicorn Amulet. You asked Luna specifically about that, and let’s be honest. Luna has gotten more…stable and at ease, would be the way to put it, since you met her. If Celestia was right about Luna’s tastes, you’re a familiar love. Being around you is probably as close to the ‘long and hard cure’ Luna described as possible short of putting her into constant contact with Celestia.”
“Please,” I said, dragging the word out as I condescended to address that nonsense. “Have you even been paying attention to what’s been going on in her life? Despite how old she is, the changes she’s gone through – and really, they’re pretty small so far – are perfectly natural. She’s been through a lot of emotional trauma that’s built up and festered, and only now, intentionally or not, has she allowed somepony to become close enough to help her start putting herself back together.”
“And being that pony, you’re hardly unbiased.”
“And you think Celestia is?”
“No, but she was there a thousand years ago. We weren’t.”
No, that only made Celestia more biased than I was. She was a primary source, true, but Luna had been playing a game of politics with her at the time. Even if Celestia actually were innocent of everything but ‘grand criminal negligence’, as Twinkleshine had dubbed it, Luna had the more complete story. Luna was the one who could tell us all of Luna’s off-screen actions and feelings. Luna was the one who provided context. Even reading her record-diary at Luminance couldn’t do the story justice.
In summary, I supposed my point was Luna knew herself best. Certainly she knew herself better than Celestia did, if nothing else. Today had made that abundantly clear.
A pregnant silence grew between Mother and me as that debate died down. Still, there was a question neither of us wanted to ask but which kept floating back and forth between our thoughts as we tried to pass off responsibility. I didn’t want to ask it because I found it distasteful. Mother didn’t want to ask it because it would hurt. But somepony had to put it into words, or we would go crazy.
Stuck with the short straw, I asked, “As somepony who fell victim to essentially the same insecurities, do you think Celestia loves Luna as more than the sister she’s supposed to love, if at all?”
Mother had no immediate answer to that, and when her words did come, they were slow and hesitant. “I want to believe so. You?”
“I hope not. If she’s been lying outright to me, it’d be all the more reason to hate her. Though I’d still be without a face to hit. If not, if she really does just want a long gone relationship with her sister back, it’s…hard to understand how she could love Luna instead of more…more the idea of her sister, Luna. I mean, how could Celestia love her but also refuse to accept that Luna could even possibly be responsible for her own actions?”
“Sunbutt would hardly be the first mare to overlook a loved one’s flaws,” Mother replied.
“No…” There was something wrong with that, but the exact problem was escaping me. Nevertheless, I tried my best to put it into words. “There’s a difference between overlooking and…overlooking. You can love somepony despite their flaws, but can you really say you love someone if you just…just ignore their flaws? Or pretend they don’t exist?”
“You know,” Mother began slowly, “it’s just like Celestia to leave like she did. She probably thinks that while it’s ‘all part of the plan’, it’s just an ultimately harmless prank or something. All in good fun. I can hardly blame her for going to ground, but you would think she would try to do it a bit more…” She waved a hoof back and forth, her knee occasionally bumping into me.
“More in a way that Luna and I wouldn’t throw her into a supermassive black hole the next time we see her for?”
Mother stifled a giggle. “Succinctly put.” Then more somberly, she said, “I think… Sometimes I think Celestia doesn’t quite…get…emotions. She obviously has them and understands them, but then there are times when I have to wonder if she’s an alien. I’m not sure what happened with Luna, but I – what happened between me and her… Is it wrong that I still love her despite how she made me feel and how she treated me?”
There was only one way to respond to that question. I lifted my head up to look at Mother and raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, I suppose you’re not the pony to ask that,” Mother admitted. “But you did just make something of a point about flaws and love.”
Yes, I supposed I had. It would be fair, then, to say Mother loved Celestia, but whether Celestia deserved that love or not was an entirely different question. Mother sighed, knowing what answer I would give her.
“Well, she’s gone now.” Mother flumped down onto me and rolled onto her back, a forehoof extended up to the sky. “I probably won’t be around when you see her again anyway, so I guess it doesn’t matter. Could I ask you a favor, though?”
No, no, no. I didn’t want to hear it, even though I already more or less knew what Mother intended to say. Heedless to my desires, the words came anyway.
“If you don’t kill her, or trap her outside of time, or otherwise render her incapable of interacting with you, would you help old Sunbutt understand what she’s doing wrong?”
“Come on, Sparklebutt. Think about ten-thousand-year-old you. You won’t have the energy to hold a grudge that long, and you won’t kill an alicorn if you can help it. If nothing else, think of all the ponies you’d be sparing the emotional turmoil you, Luna, and I have gone through. Do it as a favor for a friend?”
Stupid Sunset, appealing to my resolution to be a better friend. I couldn’t say my guilty feelings for what had happened to her didn’t play a part either. At least my imaginary friend considered me a friend.
Grumbling, I said, “I’ll think about it.”
“Thank you, Twilight.”
I made an indistinct grunting sound, but we otherwise left the matter at that for now. I lay back down properly on my rock, moping in peace, and Mother did…well, nothing. The illusion was still breathing while reclined half on top of me, but it was just on an idle animation.
Still, for the moment, things were adequate. Maybe, even, if I ignored everything for long enough, Celestia would come back and I could punch her in the face. Mother was certainly right about my having a mean right hook, and I couldn’t think of a better way to make myself feel more than just sort of okay right now.
“You know,” Mother began, shifting back to life and climbing off me, “you can’t just laze around on a rock forever. Whether you feel like you’ve earned them or not, you have responsibilities now. Cadance can hold Equestria together for awhile, but the ponies here are used to a competent ancient alicorn guiding them. You can fake that better until Luna returns.”
Yes, I had had responsibilities dumped on me, hadn’t I? But right now, I’d much rather stay face down on my rock.
“That is absurdly irresponsible, Sparklebutt.”
Whatever. It wasn’t like Equestria would implode after four weeks of Cadance’s rule. She was hardly that bad a regent.
“Then all the more reason to establish yourself now before Equestria finds itself without need of you or Luna. You don’t want that, do you?”
No, I didn’t. The last thing I wanted was to lose our consolation prize. Not that I would be much of a ruler at the moment. Maybe tomorrow. But now that Mother had brought it up, I couldn’t help but feel like I was forgetting something important. Hmm… I supposed I’d forgotten to take Pupa back to Luminance, but that wasn’t much of an issue. Something else…
Whatever. It couldn’t be that big a deal. My horn lit up, and for the following few seconds, I snuggled into the soft, pliable rock below me, getting more comfortable.
Who knew how many minutes passed as I just lay in place half-awake. Today had been an ordeal. Rest was in order, or at least that was what I wanted. I needed to talk to Luna too, if I could. Honestly, she’d probably lost track of me. And she probably suspected or knew what had happened already anyway; she might not want to talk to anypony right now.
Sigh. C’est la vie.
Even with my eyes closed and partially shadowed by the rock I’d shaped to fit me, the strangest thing was happening. It was getting really, really bright, much like somepony had aimed a spotlight at my face. Seeing as the light wasn’t getting any dimmer, I cast a well-practiced spell to shield my eyes and opened them.
“What’s going on?” I mumbled to myself. Glancing about, there wasn’t anything in particular that jumped out at me as the source of the problem. Nothing about would increase the ambient light, and it wasn’t like the sun was getting too close to Equus. Celestia had dealt with its velocity change…at…noon…
Time seemed to stop as I turned my attention to the horizon where the sun had not set, and there was light. I watched in stunned fascination as the sun grew brighter and brighter at its center, even while it rippled outward in a disk of hot, bright gases. Witnessing the death of a star was…beautiful in a way, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
When I found myself capable of thought again, what had happened was fairly simple. I’d just missed sunset. Apparently Celestia had been serious when she told me to take care of that.
My next thought was the obvious next step. How on Equus was I going to fix that? I wasn’t a stellar engineer. Luna was, but this seemed a more urgent sort of thing, something that couldn’t wait for her to come back or for her to teach me.
Then the important thought hit me like…well, like a star colliding with itself at the edge of the universe. Moonrise followed sunset.
“No, no, no!” I rattled off as I reached out for the moon. It was but a few precious seconds from sharing the sun’s fate. With what little time remained to me, I pulled at the moon’s magic. All the power I needed was there already; it just needed to be more sensibly organized.
With no time to spare and no time to channel my own magic, I burned through the moon’s magic at a mad rate far removed from the graceful spell Sunset had once used on the sun. I stitched it together into the necessary framework to phase the moon through to this side of the universe in large, incredibly inefficient lumps. Worse, I may have even pulled at Luna in her banishment, but I didn’t have the privilege of caution. I couldn’t stop the moon from crashing any other way; the acceleration would kill everypony on it, and who knew what would happen to Luna if the moon shattered into pieces.
I bit down on my lip hard enough to draw blood as I worked, idly dismissing the idea to waste time triggering Luminance’s emergency evacuation teleport. I would not lose the moon.
There weren’t many more connections left to be made. A second away from disaster, I laid down the last few dozen lines of magic required in parallel from one end of the moon to the other. A half-second later, I tugged them into place interweaved with already placed curves. At the last moment, I scrubbed away my own scratch work and the old remnants of the spell my ancestors must have used to control the moon.
I felt a brief tremor shoot through the moon’s magic. Only after it’d started did I activate my spellwork. With all the force of will at my disposal, I commanded the moon’s magic to push outward back to normal, to stop a disastrous moon-wide earthquake.
Stars, but I hoped I hadn’t just torn the moon in half.
I dared to look up at the sky. The moon rose steadily from the horizon, apparently no worse for the wear. Hopeful, I chanced a glance at Luminance. The castle was still standing. Ponies were still moving about, or at least their magic was. Everything was okay.
Before I could even congratulate myself on a stellar-level rush job well done, Mother echoed her earlier remark. “Absurdly irresponsible.”
“Shut up,” I grumbled. So what if my moping almost got a few hundred people killed? If I just took care of the moon properly from now on, I could just collapse and forget my woes. Maybe I’d get a barrel of moonshine.
“Absuuuuurdly irresponsible,” Mother said again.
Fine. The moon was taken care of – for the next five-ish hours, at least. Now there was the sun to take care of.
Right… No problem.
The remains of the sun waited, wanting to know what I would do.
“No problem,” I said, although even I didn’t believe me. “I can fix this…”
What on Equus was I supposed to do with a dissociated, expanding disk of gas? Did I just…squish it back together? Would that work?
No… No, I didn’t think I had the precision and knowledge necessary. If I made it too hot or too cold a star…
Well, first things first. I pushed the sun’s remains across to the other side of the universe where nopony would panic over it.
And only then did the second most important thought hit me. With my luck, I’d probably just upset a very delicate gravitational equilibrium that kept Equus fixed in place.
I made a second note to myself to check everyday that Equus wasn’t drifting anywhere.
Sigh… Maybe it would just be better to redesign our…whatever we had into a proper solar system. If I could get the sun and moon orbiting each other with Equus spinning about its axis in the middle… Yes, that could work. Maybe. It was something to look into.
I shook myself of those thoughts. I was getting distracted. What did I do about the sun? I doubted Celestia would come back and fix it for me, and Cadance was an even more unlikely source of aid. I only had…approximately nine hours before sunrise to fix this mess.
I let out a long sigh. “Fantastic.”
“You know,” Mother began, “I bet Pinkie Pie saw the sun from Luminance.”
What did that even… Oh. Well, at least the doozy Pinkie Pie had been predicting was out of the way. One less thing to worry about. How wonderful. It wasn’t like I had to figure out how to fix a star in the next–
I facehoofed. I was being an idiot.
Near the top of the Canterhorn on the far side of the mountain from the vast majority of the city’s lights stood a large building with an enormous telescope sticking out of the roof. At a casual glance, it was overloaded with hundreds of optical enchantments. As much fun as it would be to tear it apart and put it back together again, that was not why I was here.
“Remember,” Mother said, “you’re aiming for surreal. And have fun with it. You definitely need it.”
After I manifested just outside the entrance to the Royal Canterlot Observatory, I tried to mentally prep myself to do just that. Between trying to have fun and Mother nagging at me to get out of the gutter, I’d much prefer the former. That’s not to mention her constant pestering about the responsibilities I had now that I couldn’t avoid. If I was doomed not to gather moss as a pony-shaped rock, I could at least attempt to enjoy life like I’d planned.
Thus emboldened – if one could call it that – I walked straight through the front doors of the observatory. I gathered from the frantic movements of magic upstairs that there were quite a few members of staff trying to figure out just what had happened not even a half-hour ago to the sun. I supposed I would have to give an official explanation for that sometime soon. Unless Cadance had already dealt with it. That would be nice.
Anyway, I swept past a very surprised looking pony at the entrance with nothing more than a good evening in Old Equestrian. Just to make sure he was good and confused, I ruffled my wings and then opened the next door with telekinesis, only to then pull it closed with a hoof. Once out of sight, I scryed back to see his reaction, and it was priceless. He stood there staring at the door, his mouth half-opened and no doubt not knowing what to say or think.
Ah, good times. I supposed I could blame Mother’s personality, or emotional response, or whatever leaking into mine, but I’d take the chuckle for what it was and not dwell on it.
I wandered through the hallways until I stumbled upon the stairs leading up. This building could do with more signage. Down the hall and through an open door after knocking, I found myself in a workroom with a cerulean earth pony stallion leaned over a desk with a potion in hoof. Judging by the magic in the vial, he probably dabbled in zebra alchemy. His orange mane certainly bore all the stains and damage that would suggest as such.
As he poured the potion onto an ordinary lens – if one half as large as a pony – he said, “I told you, Comet. The lens will be ready when it’s ready. Solar anomalies won’t make it ready any faster.”
Only now did this pony look up and see that I was not whomever Comet was.
“Good evening,” I said, still speaking in Old Equestrian. “Would I be able to procure your assistance for a moment?”
For a few seconds, the stallion just looked horribly confused. Eventually he snapped out of it and said, “Nightmare Night is still over a season away, Comet. Nice illusion, but your voice is too obvious. If you’re that bored, why don’t you actually help somepony?”
“Not quite the response I’d expected,” Mother commented, “but you can work with it.” She dug up my memories of when Chamomile was first learning Modern Equestrian and insisted I use that accent as a jumping off point. This was going to get so ridiculous so quickly.
“Ah, excuse me, noble sirrah, but I am in haste.”
The stallion rolled his eyes and waved his hoof at me, shooing me out the door. “Yes, yes. You’re always ‘busy’. Celestia help us if you actually touch an instrument these days.”
“Before you leave, could you fetch me the blue and green potions from the top shelf?” The stallion pointed a hoof to behind me and off behind the door. Glancing backward, I quickly spotted the potions in question and indulged his request. I levitated them down into my waiting hoof and held them out to him. He took the vials from me, passed from earth pony magic to earth pony magic, and set them on his desk.
A second passed.
The stallion’s head shot up. “How did you–”
I ruffled my wings and cocked my head to the side. This really was fun, a once in a lifetime chance; everypony and their mother would know about me by tomorrow, most likely.
“Told you,” Mother said.
“Shush.” Ignoring Mother’s triumphant…vague general feeling in the back of my head – I needed to invent new words for these feelings – I asked the earth pony in front of me, “If I might introduce myself?”
“You – you’re a – but that…”
I faked a cough after a few more seconds of incoherent attempts at speech. “In this tongue, I believe you would address me as Princess Twilight Sparkle.” Begrudgingly, I added, “The Elder, Alicorn of Magic.” It was getting really hard not to laugh or smile as the stallion’s eyes widened and slowly glazed over, let alone maintaining the ridiculous accent. “As I was about to relay earlier, I was on mine way to a friend’s abode, but I fear I’ve become terribly lost. Might you or somepony here be able to bestow directions upon me?”
“I…don’t know Canterlot that well,” the stallion finally managed.
Waving a hoof back and forth, I said, “No, no. You misunderstand. I’m looking for the coordinates of…” I cursed in Old Equestrian. “I do not know your name for it. It’s the star with the closest known mass and temperature to your star, I believe, or at least it was so when Princess Luna put it into place.”
“I – one second. Just – just let me go ask somepony.” The stallion beat a hasty retreat out of his office and down the hallway toward where most of the other ponies in the building were congregated. Once he was out of earshot, I broke down in welcome giggles. I could get entirely too used to this. Mother was such a bad influence.
“Please,” Mother said sarcastically. “I’m just an echo. You’re a bad influence on me. The real me probably would’ve hated you.”
Ignoring that, I scryed after the stallion and found him in what was likely the largest room in the building. The observatory’s main telescope loomed over them all in all its glory, but none of the other frantically working ponies payed it any mind. I picked up an equally frantic conversation between the earth pony and a mare who did, in fact, sound a little bit like me.
“I’m not making it up! There’s a princess is my office asking for directions to a star!”
“Come on, Aqua. It’s obviously just a prank. Get back to work already.”
“I’m not going back there to tell a princess to get lost. She had earth pony and unicorn magic, and her wings moved. I saw it.”
“Please. Occam’s razor, Aqua. What’s more likely? An unknown alicorn walking into your office completely out of the blue, or an earth pony with a talented unicorn right outside your door?”
“Just dig up the Celestia damned list, Comet! It’ll take you a minute, tops. Maybe another minute to calculate the current coordinates of the sun-like stars.”
The mare – Comet, apparently – let out an exaggerated sigh and rolled her eyes. “We have more important things to do right now. We’re still waiting to hear back from court about the sun, but the moon isn’t going to wait all night for us.”
I forced my smile off my face before I remanifested next to Aqua and Comet. “If I might interrupt,” I began, promptly drawing a surprised squeak from Comet. The entire rest of the room fell into a sudden silence as well. I could feel practically every eye turn toward me. “You need not worry about your star or the moon.” I had to bite my tongue to get the words out naturally, but I added, “Princess Celestia took leave on vacation tonight is all.”
Comet stared at me for a moment, her eyes falling on my horn and wings in succession.
“I told you!” Aqua said, thrusting a hoof in my direction. Then rather nervously, he said, “Er… Excuse me, Princess.”
I waved the matter off, saying, “No matter. I do have a bit of a schedule to adhere to, though, so if one of you would please oblige my request…”
Those were apparently the magic words, as Comet shot off toward a corner filled with filing cabinets surrounding a table overflowing with loose papers. The words, “Right away, Your Highness,” came floating back to me.
While Comet hunted down the information I needed, the rest of the ponies gathered around in a rush not unlike the crowd at Pupa’s and Trixie’s performance earlier tonight. I answered mostly the same questions as well, both the ones that were actually intelligent and the ones that were inane. I put up with the crowd for two, or three, or maybe four minutes before Comet rushed back with a list of stars and frantically scribbled calculations.
“These are the most sun-like stars we know of, Your Highness. Is this – is one of them the one you’re looking for?”
My eyes scanned over the chart, quickly taking in the records for each star’s mass, radius, and temperature. The first three looked promising. Any one of them would likely be a perfectly fine replacement star for the next four weeks. After that, I could leave it to Luna to deal with my mess.
Heh. I couldn’t help a small chuckle escaping me at that. Luna had said she would clean up her own messes right after claiming me as one of them. My mess was her mess, then.
“Thank you. That’s all I needed,” I said, passing the list back to Comet. “Might I have your names?”
“Comet, Your Highness.”
“Excellent. If you find yourself in need, please seek me out at court so that I might return the favor.” Now addressing the crowd at large, I continued, “My apologies for having interrupted your labors. I fear I must now depart in haste. Farewell, good ponies.”
With that, I demanifested and tracked down the first star on the list, giggling to myself the whole way. That had been an adequate pick-me-up after – no, not thinking about it. I’d just gotten my mind off that and onto happier things, and I didn’t have time for a relapse.
Anyway, I relocated my consciousness to a star some hundreds of thousands of AU away. There I found that it had no planets orbiting it, at least none that I noticed. If it had, I would’ve moved on to the next star. No sense wasting a perfectly good stepping stone on Equestria’s future space program.
In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have demolished a planet to work out my stress…
Well, what was done was done. I could try putting it back together again later.
Right then. I had to get this star into orbit beside Equus. Pushing it back wasn’t an option – it’d take years – so that meant I had to teleport it home.
I reached out with an æthereal smile and caressed the star’s magic, silently asking it if it was willing to come home with me. Of course, it didn’t answer, but I could pretend. The way it turned, burst, and roiled about felt almost alive.
Accepting the star’s lack of a response as a positive reply – it actually felt almost eager, but I could’ve been imagining that – I started firing off calculations.
It took me maybe a second to teleport the Nebulous from Mona back to the moon at a casual channeling pace. This star was approximately ten to the twentieth times greater in mass, and I had a distance to travel maybe ten to the fifth times longer. Then I needed approximately ten to the twenty-fifth times more magic to get this star home, and my time constraint was eight hours max, which was approximately ten to the fourth seconds.
How on Equus did Luna move these things?
I shook my head. Luna was a type of celestial alicorn. She probably had some trick I couldn’t replicate.
Sighing, I set myself to my task, channeling an absurd amount of magic and transferring it into the star’s already considerable reserves. This was going to take all night.
“At least you have me for company,” Mother said.
I flumped onto my bed in Luminance with a tired sigh. Equus’s new star was in place. The sun was still a mess, but it was out of the way. There was still an hour before I had to hope that nopony noticed the sun that rose in the sky wasn’t quite the same as yesterday’s.
I was so done with today.
Yawning, I reached out to stroke our new star’s slowly recovering magic lovingly. After spending a whole night to get him, the little guy had grown on me a bit, kind of like a pet. I didn’t think Owlowiscious would appreciate a play date though, even if they both entered my life in unusual circum…
Nope, not thinking it.
Mother, however, seemed as determined as ever to keep me from doing just that. “I bet Sunbutt sent you Owlowiscious,” she said.
Sure, an obviously trained owlet just happened to land on my back in the middle of the night in Ponyville where we didn’t have many owls to begin with, or at least not great horned owls: Ponyville was too far south. That didn’t mean Celestia sent him. Maybe it was Cadance, or Shining, or Mom, or Dad, or literally anypony else. So what if none of them had admitted to it?
A knock came at my door.
“Language,” Mother teased.
“I don’t want to hear that from you.”
Sigh… As glad as I was for the distraction, I really wasn’t ready to entertain company. I struggled to my hooves but gave up partway. There would be no fooling anypony no matter how much effort I put into it, so why bother? I settled for merely sitting upright and called out, “Come in!”
The door to my room swung open, tinged green, and that clued me in immediately as to who was behind it. The only person currently on Luminance with green magic stepped into the room covered in changeling nymphs that clung to her in oddly amusing ways.
“Don’t you dare laugh,” Chrysalis said before I could get a single word in edgewise.
Really, if I couldn’t laugh, there was only one alternative thing I could think of to say. “Do you want me to ferry you to help or help to you?”
Chrysalis gave me a look that, were she a pony, I would’ve sworn meant ‘I’m not giving up my long overdue grandfoals’. I’d have to ask Pupa sometime how changeling queens felt about non-queen offspring of their heirs.
“I would appreciate it if you brought Pupa back here to deal with these terrors when she wakes up. I swear they’re all as bad as she was.”
I didn’t laugh, but a smile was inevitable. This was a very different Chrysalis, even if she sounded as prickly as ever.
“There are also a number of things I need to see to on Equus, and I suppose I should open relations between Equestria and my hive sometime today. Your civilization will probably react better to a group of royals appearing all at once than to one after another for a season.”
Ugh. Going to Canterlot…
Flumping gracelessly back down onto my bed, I reached out for the magic flowing about Canterlot Castle to start cataloging it. It was something I should’ve done already but hadn’t. That was the dimensional anchor for the hallways. That was a privacy enchantment. That was a cleaning spell. That was a drying spell. That was Cadance.
“Not going to bite my head off?”
“Hmm?” I pulled my attention back to Luminance and then back to Chrysalis before processing her words. “Oh. No.”
Chrysalis quirked an eyebrow while I went back to the boring – but preoccupying – task of analyzing all of Canterlot Castle’s magic for traps, as unlikely that there would be any as it seemed. Really, Chrysalis hadn’t spent the last six years waiting to backstab me and Luna without profit, especially not when it would get two or three, maybe four, angry alicorns on her case. It was like Pupa said last night: Celestia was going to do…that anyway. A little cooperation would make things easier for us.
“So you’re staying, then?” I asked. “Going public?”
Clearly reluctant, Chrysalis bit out, “Pupa decided to.”
And since Pupa was outing changelings, Chrysalis might as well step into the limelight, too, even if she didn’t want to. It made sense.
“Now then,” Chrysalis continued, moving on without a second thought, “even though you technically did do what you set out to do and got what you wanted–”
Mother poked my thoughts much like somepony physical would nudge me in the side. I ignored her.
“–let me be the first to say it.” Chrysalis cleared her throat and smiled an evil smile. It was too obvious what was coming for it to really bother me at all. “I told you so. You only succeeded because Celestia underestimated how ridiculous your plan was.”
I sighed. “Yes, you told me so.”
Chrysalis stood there like she was expecting me to say more. Under other circumstances, I probably would. We’d exchange witticisms and snark at each other. Just…not today.
“Is there anything else?” I asked. “I’m not really in the mood for this.”
“Yes, actually.” Chrysalis actually sounded disappointed, but that soon passed. One of the nymphs clinging to her had a few holey pieces of paper in its mouth, and she had to fight to reclaim them from it. She eventually came out victorious, but only at the cost of the nymph making sad eyes at her and pouting. Unfazed, she levitated the papers in front of herself and waved them back and forth as if she wanted me to chase them like a cat chases a string. “Remember these?”
I searched my memory for whatever Chrysalis could be talking about, but I came up blank. “Nothing comes to mind.”
“Dear Twilight Sparkle, love Celestia?”
Oh. Oh, stars. This was so not what I needed right now. “Did she tell you the encryption key?”
Chrysalis shrugged. “She gave Pupa what I think was intended as a hint, but it really stretched the definition of the word. At any rate, I have to admit I’m surprised that Celestia really just wanted her sister back. She’s pretty far gone if she thinks things between them could ever go back to how they were twelve-hundred-something years ago, even with The Elements of Harmony. In hindsight, I probably backed the right pony. She may be even further gone than you and your princess.”
“Please tell me this is going somewhere,” I interrupted.
“To be entirely fair,” Mother said, much to my annoyance, “you do listen to a voice in your head.”
“Naturally. Remember that statue she left behind?”
“You tried the inscription as the key already. I remember that.”
“Yes, and dozens of other keys that it brought to mind. It turns out that it was the key. Or at least one of them. Celestia used a same-length two-key encryption scheme for some absurd reason; I’m pretty sure if I checked, I’d have found that she invented that mess a few hundred years ago herself. The hive mind still has a collective headache from this nonsense.
“Anyway, the first key was ‘In this life or the next, we will always be together’, of course. No period or spaces, but the comma is kept. That’s terribly awkward, so it was easy enough to guess that the other key had a relevant meaning, one she probably chose first and then worked around. Care to guess?”
“I don’t know. Some combination of Celestia, Luna, Twilight, Sparkle, Sunset, Shimmer, Nightmare, and Moon?”
“Four of those are right,” Chrysalis said.
“Sunbutt has a pseudo-immortal pet phoenix, Philomena,” Sunset offered. “It regularly undergoes a rebirth for a ‘new’ life.”
“Philomena?” I guessed.
Chrysalis pulled her head back in surprise. She obviously hadn’t expected me to guess that, and judging by her reaction, it must have been right.
“I’m impressed,” Chrysalis said. “I didn’t think you paid enough attention to her to know about her bird.”
I hadn’t. Still, there was no reason to dispel the illusion, so I just shrugged.
“There’s still one missing.”
I rooted around in what I knew about Celestia to figure out who else in her life could possible qualify as having a next or previous life but came up empty. Poking Mother, she had nothing else to offer either.
“Alright,” Chrysalis said, “here’s a hint. Philomena, Celestia, Sunset, blank, Twilight, Luna is the proper order. In case you can’t count, that blank is seven letters long.”
Seven letters? No way. It couldn’t be.
My face must have given my thoughts away, because Chrysalis smirked. “I know. Misleading, right? Sunset and Twilight – who bridged the middle?”
“Cadance,” I said blankly.
“Exactly. It seems Celestia is fonder of Cadenza than we thought. That ‘we’ is her whole broken, messed up family.”
That was like a punch to the gut. I knew how awful it was to have a broken family. Cadance, Shining, and I were all…tense with each other at the moment, although not from lack of trying. At least on my end. Even so, I certainly wasn’t going to go and blast those two with the Elements of Harmony to put a macabre bandage on our relationships. What was wrong with Celestia?
Chrysalis let out a frustrated grunt as she tossed the presumably unencrypted letter from Celestia to me. “Honestly, I can understand your vexations with that mare. There’s double meanings and hidden depths to everything she says and does.”
Coming from Chrysalis, that said a lot. Admittedly, though, it wasn’t like Luna and I were completely innocent of that either. What royal was? Besides Cadance. And Dash, I supposed, but she hardly counted.
I grabbed the papers on my bed with a hoof, half intent on tearing them into pieces. Not that it would have done any good. Chrysalis could just make another copy. Sighing, I finally replied, “So what else is new?”
I bit my lip and looked down to my hooves. Mumbling, I said, “Kind of.”
Chrysalis chuckled. “Thank you. You just won me a thousand bits.”
Leveling a glare, I asked, “Are we done here?” I didn’t even want to know who Chrysalis had made that bet with.
“For now and for me, yes, but we should leave for Canterlot before noon. I spoke with Rainbow Dash earlier, and she wanted to come with today. I don’t know what her future plans are though.”
Fun. A whole day with Cadance, Dash, Chrysalis, and a sleep deprived me. It couldn’t get any better.
On the way out, Chrysalis said, “I’ll send your next visitor to you in fifteen minutes. Or a half-hour if you blow up the moon after reading that.”
I telekinetically shoved Chrysalis the rest of the way out of my room and slammed the door shut. The lock clicked into place, which was really more for show than anything else. Anypony who would barge in on me could teleport.
Sighing, I let myself collapse back onto my bed onto my back, wings splayed out beside me. Lines of magic formed above me under my direction, which once complete, would wake me up in fifteen minutes for…whomever Chrysalis was sending my way.
“Just read the letter, Sparklebutt,” Mother said. “You’d only wake up more tired anyway.”
Yes, but then I’d have to read the letter.
“Just read it,” Mother repeated herself. Her tone very clearly would have accompanied an eye roll if she’d had eyes to roll. “It’s probably just stuff we already know anyway. That’s your own theory, you know. One-hundred percent completely yours.”
Sigh… I erased my alarm spell and fumbled around with a hoof until it again found the papers next to me. I grabbed them and, holding them above me, began to read.
“Twilight Sparkle,” the letter read. “If you are reading this, then I imagine one of three things has happened. One possibility is I need to hire a new royal cryptographer, but I did look over the math myself.”
“Next, although unlikely, it may be that I find myself unable to answer any questions you might have, and you followed a series of clues I left behind. What I find much more probable, however, is that everything is over. Still, one must always prepare for the worst. The last time I watched over you in a hospital bed…
“I promised myself I would leave this unedited. There are things that you need to know before I can say anything else. I can only hope that by the time you read this there are no surprises forthcoming.”
Sighing, I quickly scanned over a lot of information that I had been in denial about Celestia knowing until yesterday, picking out keywords and moving on. If I’d just sucked it up and admitted it… Well, something would have been different.
“I always thought finding my Sunset again would be a happy reunion after the tears and angry words. That, or I would find her grave. This morning as I watch over you, I find myself without words. At first, I wanted to throw myself at your hooves and beg for your forg–”
What? What in Tartarus was I reading? I reread through the preceding sentences before continuing on to make sure I’d read it right.
“–forgiveness. I never thought my last argument with Sunset had hurt her so much she would mutilate herself just to start over in plain sight. She – you – you never betrayed the slightest recognition of me. Thinking back on what Cadance told me of you, I wish I had noticed the similarities sooner, but you changed too much. Of course, it seems nothing could ever take away your love of magic or butterscotch, and Cadance adores you no less now than before.
“But through my unshed tears, my mind kept working. Sunset was such a strong mare. I never imagined she would give up on anything, much less the life she led. But if you cannot imagine somepony doing something, they probably did not. That was true a thousand years ago with my sister, and it remains true today. Who would do this to Sunset? Who would benefit?
“Even were the moon not hanging low in the sky right now, I knew the answer. I left Nightmare Moon able to dreamwalk in the hope that it would somehow help my sister. I knew there would be a price to pay for that decision. I just thought my loved ones were as safe as they could be. I suppose that was my own hubris showing.
“Twilight, you have no idea how hard it is to leave Nightmare Moon to her own devices now. The only thing staying my hoof is you. You’re still alive. I need to ask you to be sure, but she must be teaching you. Lulu would have loved you, even if she was never much of a teacher. I hate that I’m throwing you to the wolves, but I hope you can secure a place in my sister’s heart, whatever form that takes and wherever her heart is right now. If she’s not free of the darkness yet, please help her. I know I have no right to ask this, but I beg you. Please.”
I briefly entertained the idea of burning the rest of this right here and now and vaporizing the ashes after. I certainly would help Luna – I didn’t need to be asked to do that – just not the imaginary one Celestia pined after. Still, I wasn’t going to be caught flatfooted again the next time I saw her by not reading whatever bile this was.
“If you haven’t burnt this to cinders yet–”
I hated her so much.
“–then what follows are my theories on how Nightmare Moon came to be and how to help my sister in descending order of likelihood.”
At that I sat up a little straighter. This was everything I would need to know to start an argument to convince Cadance that Luna was Luna. That wouldn’t be enough to convince her that Luna wasn’t ‘turning me evil with smiles and kind words’, probably, but it would be a start.
“My first theory is that Lulu used the Alicorn Amulet for something. It is a cursed device that Discord left behind, one of many that my sister gathered and studied against my wishes. I told her at least a thousand times to toss them into the sun and be done with it, but what’s done is done.”
I skipped over the following description of Discordification, having already heard it from Luna herself.
“In hindsight and having read her journals at Luminance, the changes my sister overwent might not have been as sudden as I thought, thus evidence for this theory over the following one. Lulu’s trust was hard to earn, true, but she was always such a sociable pony among her friends. More and more over the years, however, she secluded herself to work on her own projects. My thoughts at the time were that she was merely transitioning to a more peaceful and civilized era, one where a standing army and drunken carousing fueled by moonshine played less of a part.”
Blah, blah, blah. Stuff I needed to build an argument against later, but nothing actually important. I declined to read the next five paragraphs of Celestia’s overactive imagination, instead jumping to her next ridiculous theory.
“If my sister really is discordified and the Elements of Harmony failed to save her, all you have to do is be there for her. Keep her calm and happy. Keep her from doing anything as Nightmare Moon that she would regret. Eventually, she should be willing to let me take over her recovery.”
Fat chance of that happening.
“If that’s not the case, and I dearly hope it is, we may be dealing with something far more serious and possibly far more…difficult to discern from Lulu, I believe is the appropriate way to put it.”
I raised an eyebrow at that but read on.
“In the modern day, I might suggest that Nightmare Moon is a type of split personality–”
Interrupting my reading, snickering, Mother mockingly cooed, “Oh, wouldn’t that be just romantic. She’d be just like you.”
I rolled my eyes and moved on. There was nothing romantic about mental health issues.
“–but nothing I have seen or read indicates that to be the case. There is, however, a branch of magic that functions in a similar manner. You might be familiar with the come to life spell. If not, a short explanation is that it animates an object to do what the object is intended for. It is a type of golem spell that feeds off the caster’s own intelligence to make decisions.”
No, let me guess. Luna cast a spell on herself that took away her own free will. No, too simple. There must be something more absurd and ridiculous. Hmm…
Well, whatever. This should be good for a laugh.
“One of my sister’s duties was to watch over the dreams of every citizen of Equestria within our borders.”
I had to read that again.
Nope. It still read the same.
Just – just what? How would she even – no, even a thousand years ago, the population had to be in the millions. One pony couldn’t even briefly look into that many dreams every night without some sort of heuristic, and even if Luna could, how would she manage to…do whatever she did with dreams? Even a tenth of a percent of the population having dreams that meet some arbitrary criteria was an enormous number.
“She would have watched over everyone’s dreams, but in the early years of Equestria we signed… Well, that’s a long story and not important. I never understood exactly how the Dream Realm works. Lulu tried to explain it to me on more than one occasion, but I don’t have the prerequisite experience to truly understand her meanings. Nevertheless, I do know that she constructs – for lack of a better term – dream golems to automate the process, intervening herself only when necessary.”
Oh. My. Gosh. I needed to talk to Luna about this. The Dream Realm sounded fascinating.
“From what I understand, these golems enter a dream and take over, manipulating it as my sister would deem appropriate if she were present. For the life of me, I cannot remember what she called them. I think one variety was a tanabus. Something like that. Regardless, this may be difficult to understand as a unicorn, but Lulu is – in her own words – much like a ‘living dream’ in the same way I might describe myself as a pony-sized star.”
Oooooh, so that was where Celestia was taking this idea. Luna was a dream. The golem took over at least partially, probably one meant to inflict a nightmare for whatever reason, and ta-da. We had Nightmare Moon. Creative, if not as funny as I’d hoped.
“Aside from The Elements of Harmony, the only way I know of to remove such a transient creature from my sister would be to let it complete its mission – whatever it may be – and let it move on or fade away. What that mission may be gives me pause in letting it occur. I never had the privilege of an extended conversation with Nightmare Moon, after all. I’m sure you of all ponies are well aware of that. If I could have but a single night with her, I know I could divine her true intentions.”
There was an odd splotch of ink after that paragraph which Chrysalis had to have copied over manually. ‘Splotch of ink’ was not a character to be encoded.
“And yet, here you are resting in bed, apparently happy and, according to Cadance, ‘absolutely in love with’ this shadow of my sister. I cannot find it in me to say Nightmare Moon’s goals are too monstrous. My Sunset would never have stood for that, and I refuse to believe she would now, regardless of what name she goes by.
“I fear in this case that all I can ask of you is to be supportive and to hope for the best. Unlike with discordification, if this theory is right, it will be over in an instant once the golem completes its task. If able and necessary, I will step in before events are taken too–”
I shrieked and must have jumped a dozen hooves into the air in surprise. Turning to look beside my bed, I found a pink-coated alicorn that had just manifested silently at my bedside.
Cadance gave me a small, sad smile. “At least that part of you hasn’t changed,” she said. “Still so engrossed in whatever you’re reading.”
“I… What are you doing here?”
With the initial surprise out of the way, I quickly schooled my features, banishing whatever melancholic or irritated tells I might have been showing. Cadance didn’t need to see me like that.
Head tilted to the side, Cadance replied, “Pupa said Queen Chrysalis told you I was coming. I can leave if–”
“No! I – no, it’s fine that you’re here. I just… I’m surprised is all. I didn’t think you…”
I shook my head and shut my mouth, not wanting to jinx myself. Cadance was talking to me; that could only be a good thing.
There was, however, one thing I was concerned about. Extending my senses out to the wards I’d placed on Luminance, sure enough, the one warning of and blocking an alicorn’s approach was missing. It seemed Celestia had made a stop here between last night and this morning. The next time I set up those wards, they’d have to be vastly more complex with far more redundancies.
“Nevermind,” I finally said. “What brings you here?”
“I’m supposed to make sure you come in to work with me.”
A frown crept onto my face. I’d like nothing more than to happily agree and leave with Cadance, but… Well, if I couldn’t be honest with myself, who could I be? It felt like I’d just be playing princess, like I’d won some contest where I got to be princess for a day. Even after Mother berating me over it, the feeling hadn’t gone away.
Mother scoffed at that and muttered something vague and ill-defined but surely offensive.
Of course, there were security concerns with going to Canterlot Castle. That was a legitimate excuse.
Except Cadance’s mere presence here reinforced how utterly screwed I would be if Celestia decided to hunt me down. If it hadn’t already been made clear to me, then it certainly was now. Celestia fully intended to keep her word and just let me and mine run around on our own. She hardly needed the element of surprise, so there was little point in her waiting to attack. Therefore she wasn’t going to do anything. QED.
“Stop being so paranoid.” The strangest feeling of being mentally hit upside the head accompanied those words.
Sighing, I tried, “I’m about to go to bed.” Cadance wouldn’t except ‘security risks’ as an excuse anyway.
Cadance immediately let out her own long sigh. “Twilight, if you want to make work hours three to eleven, I don’t actually have the authority to overrule you, but it’s a lot easier for you to just be awake during the day.” Seeing the look that must have been on my face, she sighed again. “At least make the adjustment slow for everypony. You can wake up at noon and have the workday start then too. That’s not unreasonable. I know a lot of ponies love to sleep in during the morning.”
“Fine.” It was a reasonable enough request, and it’d make Cadance happy. Why not? I let myself flop properly back onto my bed. “I think Chrysalis hinted at pretty much the same thing anyway.”
At Chrysalis’s name, Cadance smiled. “Yes, Pupa has told me a lot about Queen Chrysalis. She sounds like a very pragmatic mare with good advice.”
“Please, Cadance,” I said, lazily rubbing an ear with a hoof, “I’m not sure I heard all the subtext in that. Why don’t you speak a little louder?”
An awfully resigned look settled onto Cadance’s face, one that practically screamed, ‘Why did you leave me with this mess, Auntie?’
This time it was my turn to sigh. Foal steps, Twilight. Foal steps. Let Cadance have the small things for now, and then maybe we could start to mend the rift between us. It was no apology in and of itself, but it showed good faith.
“What am I expected to do today?”
Cadance dithered a bit, rubbing her lips together. She eventually reached some sort of decision and said, “Mostly we need an official response to what happened at sunset last night. An alicorn of your descript was reported looking for a star at the Royal Canterlot Observatory last night, and Trixie said she can’t really feel the sun anymore. Well, her exact words were ‘it feels like curdled milk leaking out through your missing teeth.’”
I lay there mulling over that simile, utterly confused. Just…why?
“Given the timing and what I saw” – Cadance shot me a look not unlike the one she gave me when she caught me stealing cookies from the kitchen; once my foalsitter, always my foalsitter, apparently – “I can only assume what happened.”
“I got us a new one!” That actually drew a poorly suppressed snicker from Cadance. I supposed it was kind of funny. Our old light went out, so I skipped on down to the solar system two blocks over for a new one. That wasn’t exactly an anecdote I wanted spread around, but still. “Just go with the story I told the astronomers. It’s brief, doesn’t really explain anything, and everypony will fill in the gaps for themselves.”
Cadance’s withers sagged as she said, “Alright. I thought with Auntie gone, I would at least be working with ponies who weren’t…political.”
“Nope. Between Chrysalis, Pupa, Luna, and myself, I’m sure we’ll drive you completely mad.”
“I can only imagine what it’ll be like to live under your rule. Princess Twily was a bit of a tyrant.”
“All four year olds are tyrants, Cadance, regardless of whether their castle is made of pillows, books, or stone.”
“I suppose so.”
An awkward silence fell between us. The halfhearted banter, all ten seconds of it, had been nice while it lasted. I fidgeted with Celestia’s letter lying on the bed next to me. Cadance ruffled her wings and looked at her hooves.
The mare in question looked up. “Yes?”
“Did you know what Celestia was going to do last night?”
“Only recently. And I still think she’s being irresponsible even after arguing with her for days.”
I winced at the tone underlying Cadance’s voice. ‘A force of nature’ entirely failed to capture the single-minded, wrathful goddess that was Cadance when she was angry. I almost felt sorry for Celestia yet also strangely admiring. How she managed to keep Cadance in check when she was like that was beyond me.
“So what were you arguing for?” I asked diplomatically, successfully keeping the bite out of my voice. “Sending me and Luna to Tartarus?”
“No,” Cadance sighed. The tension left her withers as she relaxed. “Auntie thinks you’ll naturally keep your Luna in line, not to mention…” She shook her head. Whatever she had been about to say, she abandoned. She instead went with, “I think she’s overly optimistic.”
“I suppose I can’t argue against erring on the side of caution, at least so long as you don’t take it too far.” I rolled over to sit upright on my barrel, ready to hear some new awful surprise Celestia left behind for me. It could hardly get any worse. “So what did you get out of her?”
The surprised look on Cadance’s face asked me to explain how I knew she’d gotten something for her arguing. Really, I hadn’t known, not at all, but it was an obvious enough guess. If Celestia was going to do all…this, there was no point in riling up Cadance and then tossing her to me.
In our staring match, Cadance caved first. “Not much,” she said. “Or maybe a lot. I’m not sure.”
I quirked an eyebrow.
“Well… Aunt Celestia wanted to go off on her own merry way leaving you and your Luna to do whatever you well please.”
As much as I hated to admit it – “You’re right. That is irresponsible. Not that I’d trust her to take care of so much as my pet rock to begin with.”
Cadance let out a dry sort of chuckle. “It’s nice to know somepony agrees with me.”
“Just not the pony you were hoping for.”
Well, no sense delaying the inevitable. “So what’s the damage?” I asked.
“The ‘damage’ is that you’re the Solar Regent and I get to say when somepony can take the Lunar Throne.”
I processed that for a second before groaning and facehoofing. ‘I’m in charge until Lulu gets back’ indeed. At least I took Celestia’s throne from her. That was nice, even if it did kind of reinforce the princess for a day feeling. Still, I wonder if she left her crown behind.
“Wouldn’t fit,” Mother commented, “and is probably made of alicorn somehow with the whole manifesting thing.”
Right… Well, anyway. “Cadance, if you honestly believe Luna is a threat, why would you go out of your way to antagonize her?”
“If she can’t keep her temper over something so small, better to let everypony and you know it.” Cadance looked me dead in the eye for a few moments, and as much as I didn’t like it, I found myself admitting that was a perfectly valid reason. “It’s not like I can stop you from letting her make all your decisions. It’s just on paper that she’s not in charge.”
I supposed that was a fair enough point. Still didn’t like it though. And not that I would, but there were also probably safeguards in place that would prevent us from simply compelling Cadance’s approval.
“Besides,” Cadance continued, clearly fighting herself to keep eye contact, “I’d feel much better if somepony who might actually listen to me had final authority.”
Before I could send off a sarcastic response, I snapped my mouth shut. Cadance and I were going to argue with each other about Luna and my own actions for years, I was sure. But this, I hoped, was her extending a hoof in compromise, to at least try to work together instead of at odds. This was what Celestia hadn’t done for Luna. A thousand years ago, she’d ended Luna’s anger and despair driven rampage without even trying to bend, and only yesterday, she’d run off without so much as a by your leave. Her stubbornness had ultimately torn them apart forever.
And like that, the decision was made. Sure, I could admit to being more than a little stubborn at times myself, but Cadance and I had promised each other we wouldn’t repeat history. The words, however, meant nothing without effort. I’d be an absolute fool and a liar not to return the gesture. Without Celestia and her delusions around trying to kill Luna, I could… Well, I could yield to Cadance just about anything she asked for, if she made a decent case for it.
“Cadance,” I began, hoping I’d chosen the right words, “what do you want? In the grand scheme of things, what do you ultimately envision as the best of all possible futures?”
Cadance dared the slightest of smiles. “Not much. I’d like to live and grow…onward, I guess, with Shining. I’d like to have foals, and grandfoals, and eventually more-grands-than-I-can-count-foals. I’d like both of my aunts to be happy, if they can. I’d like my sister to be happy. But more than anything, I want everypony everywhere to be happy, even if that means I don’t get to be.”
Of course she did. That was so Cadance. Such lofty goals for somepony who wanted ‘not much’. I couldn’t stop myself from letting out a small sigh that turned into a weak chuckle at the end. I supposed with me pushing for a scientific revolution and Luna basically wanting a cultural one, one of us had to be looking out for the common pony’s happiness.
“I’m not making a lasting habit of this,” I began, “but when did Celestia usually start her work day?”
The effect those words had on Cadance was immediate. She perked up in a flash and seemed to exude energy. Stars, but I hated morning ponies. Why did Cadance have to betray me so?
“She and I are usually up and about a half hour before sunrise, although most of the staff comes in around eight. Before eight in the summer, it’s mostly paperwork, although Aunt Celestia has been shoveling it off onto me lately while she dug out and read through the laws on regency.”
Ugh. No sleep at all, then. I was going to be beyond tired when I finally got to bed. “I expect coffee all day, and you have to apologize to anypony I snap at.”
“I’ll keep the seneschal at bay and reschedule meeting the dragon ambassador to next week.”
No. That was so dumb. “Celestia really left right before a diplomatic meeting?”
“Er… She may have rescheduled it already, actually; I haven’t checked. The dragon ambassador Galok is in Canterlot right now though, I know that. I ran into him a couple days ago and had a lovely chat. I…kind of almost threw up when we ate though. It’s been a while since I fed Spike.”
Ha! And Cadance was worried I would offend the ambassador with a few sharp words. Smirking, I said, “Make it a dinner meeting then, and make sure I remember to bring Spike. Being seen with my adoptive dragon son can only be a good thing. And of course Princess Cadenza is invited, too.”
“You’re evil,” Cadance murmured.
“You have been telling me that for the past season. I might as well do something to earn the distinction.” Cadance was clearly not amused, but that didn’t stop me from laughing. “Can I get a warning, then? What’s he like?”
Cadance stopped to think about that for a few seconds, humming as she did. “Polite, mostly. Far more than most dragons, at least. Tall, of course. I think he’s related to Dragon Lord Torch, but I’d have to check. He was able to carry on an intelligent conversation, which you’ll like. I only had the one lunch with him, so that’s all I really know.”
“That’s plenty. Thanks.” With a sigh, I rolled my withers and got most of my joints in the area to crack. I dragged myself out of bed and to my hooves. “If you want breakfast, the dinning room is down the stairs, five lefts, straight, and then two rights. It’s the big, imposing doors down the hall. Give me a few minutes to get ready, and then we can go. I’m sure I must look like a mess.”
I’d barely gotten to my dressing table and picked up my brush when Cadance appeared in the mirror beside me. “You’ve always looked like a mess, Twilight,” she said. “Here, let me.”
I pouted but didn’t resist. Cadance was the pretty sister, after all. Instead, I just held my breath and prepared for a torture I hadn’t experienced in… Stars, I couldn’t even remember when. I was pretty sure Luna was the last pony other than myself to dress me up, though.
“Ow. Ow! Cadance!”
Her voice was sympathetic, but I could see Cadance smirking in the mirror. “You only have yourself to blame for this, Twilight. If you’d just take care of your mane and tail, you wouldn’t have so many snarls and split ends. Even being an alicorn doesn’t fix that for you.”
“Yes, yes. You tol – ow! – told me so. Is this really necessary?”
“Oh, yes, it is. I’ve wanted to do this for years now.” Cadance’s instruments of torture stilled for a moment as she hummed to herself. She moved about me in a half-circle, glancing at me in all directions. “Not enough for a bun,” she mumbled to herself. “We could make it wavy, I suppose, but it wouldn’t really match your look. A braid wouldn’t be appropriate, not even a Prench one. Unless… Yes!”
Curious, and more than a little worried, I asked, “What?”
“Well, you’re supposed to be really old, so we’ll go with a really old Bridlish braid. It leaves half your mane alone, and the rest comes in slowly, so we’ll have enough to work with. Your tail we can probably leave as is. Maybe add a bit of curl. Can you change the shade of your stripes to something darker?”
That was an easy enough request. For now, I just applied an illusion that slowly grew darker. I could make the temporary or permanent change later.
“Tell me when to stop.”
“Hmm, a little more. Slow down a bit, and perfect. Maybe change the yellow hue to something more goldenrod?”
I added on another layer of illusion over the previous one, slowly changing it as well until it met Cadance’s exacting standards.
“You have to teach me how to do that sometime, Twilight.”
“There’s kind of a lot of prerequisite work, unless you just want an illusion.”
“Oh. Well…eventually, then.”
Now that the color was set, Cadance took a pair of scissors to my mane while doing something I couldn’t quite see to my tail. At least she wasn’t pulling on it with a brush anymore.
Ow! Spoke too soon. Cadance ran a brush through my mane again as she cut it, pulling it straight as she went.
“Can you add a bit of wave to your mane, Twilight? It’s a little boring as is.”
“Gee, thanks,” I deadpanned. “But no. Never bothered to learn mane magic. I could…stick it together in that form, maybe.”
Cadance shook her head back and forth rapidly. “No, no, no. No experimenting, at least not today. Look up a spell later, or we can do it the normal way tomorrow.”
Ugh… Maybe I should turn evil, if just to avoid this. Nopony judged an evil goddess by how she looked. But then I supposed ponies would be too busy fleeing to get a good look anyway.
Cadance finally put her scissors down, and after maybe another minute of yanking on my mane, she replaced the brush onto my dressing table. Stepping back to get a better look at my mane from the back, Cadance’s magic pulled at more than a dozen bundles of hair. They criss crossed over each other at a speed that could only come from practice, interlacing faster than even I could follow.
“What did you do before you got a horn?” I asked out of idle curiosity.
“Mostly I stuck to simple manestyles, but on occasion I’d either use my feathers or ask somepony to help me. Though even with a horn, it’s not easy to tie up my own hair.”
Hmm, well there was the obvious solution. “Do you know a scrying spell? To look at the back of your head?”
“Not everypony is you, Twilight.” Cadance nudged me with a wing, making me take a half-step to the side, earth pony strength notwithstanding. It struck me then how nice it was that we didn’t have to be gentle with each other, not that that’d really been too much of an issue after the first few days. “I’m working my way up, okay?”
Cadance finished up her work and spun me around so that I saw all of myself at some point in my mirror. I looked…kind of nice, actually. I wouldn’t go through the effort to do this myself, and certainly not everyday, but maybe I’d let Cadance treat me like a doll every once in a while. At least until the æthereal hair grew in, whenever that happened. I wasn’t sure if my mane would even approach manageable at that point.
“I think you’ll do fine without a dress,” Cadance said while wrapping a wing over me to pull me close, and she was right. Dresses were for formal occasions only. There was no way I was wearing one casually. “But we need to see about getting you at least a crown sometime soon.”
Huh. In all the time I’ve been at Luminance and spent being a princess, I never even thought about making a temporary set of regalia. As Mother had reminded me, Luna and Celestia somehow managed to manifest and demanifest with theirs, so there had to be some trick to royal adornments. I didn’t think Cadance even realized that, and she wasn’t wearing anything at the moment, which only reinforced the thought.
I hoped that turned out to be easier than alicorn blessings. I’d really like to know I could engage in the extra little perks of being an alicorn. Having confirmation that I could, that there wasn’t something wrong with me, would be a huge load off my mind.
“Twilight,” Cadance said, a pensive tone underlying her voice. “Is this weird?”
“Is what weird?” I asked, emerging from my gloomy thoughts.
“Twilight, I just did your mane.”
“Yes, well, once in a while isn’t too bad. I know I made a huge fuss when I was a filly, but I’m older now.”
“You’re being particularly thick today.”
“Oh? How so?”
I bit back a sigh, determined as I was to be casual about this. “There’s nothing weird about a busybody older sister dressing her younger sister up on what is more or less the day of her coronation. That’s what we are, right?”
“So we promised.”
I smiled at Cadance in the mirror. She smiled back, if not as widely. Not too long later, that smile turned to a slight frown.
“You still need to fix your bed feathers. Your wings look like you got into a fight with a tornado and lost.”
I hesitated for no more than a moment before practically whining, “Go on then. Finish what you started. Stars know I’d have walked into Canterlot Castle straight out of bed without a care in the world.”
“Are you sure?” Cadance hesitantly asked, withdrawing her wing.
I rolled my eyes. “Please. If I can’t be comfortable with you preening my wings, who could I be?”
“If you’re sure…”
Cadance led me over to my bed so we could get comfy. Once we were in place, I held out my left wing for her to straighten out my feathers on. Unsurprisingly, she set in on her task the pegasus way with her teeth, rather than with hooves or horn. I let my mind wander as I indulged in the pleasant feelings of what had been a bit of a foalhood dream, thinking about nothing important.
Today, for all the craziness that had happened yesterday, was one step down the road to a happy ending. Cadance wasn’t on my side, per se, but we’d knocked a brick loose from the wall between us. We’d taken one step away from repeating Luna’s and Celestia’s mistakes. I was an alicorn like my big sister, and I was lost in the relaxing feeling of her sorting through my feathers, although the occasional whimper escaped me when she plucked a half-loose pinion.
“Cadance?” I mumbled just on the right side of coherency. “I love you.”
Perhaps for the first time this morning, there was a completely natural smile on Cadance’s face. I’d almost forgotten what those looked like. She switched to her hooves to work on my feathers. This time, though, she went about it almost painfully slowly and carefully.
“I know,” Cadance said. “Nopony ever needs to tell me that.”
“But it still must be nice to hear.”
Cadance hummed in agreement. “Yes, it is. I can tell how everypony feels, including myself, but it’s nice when I don’t have to check.”
Done with my left wing, Cadance remanifested onto the other side of the bed and began work on the right. I didn’t remember rolling over or lying on that wing as much as the other, and it showed in how infrequently she had to pluck a feather. There the conversation lulled for some time as she built up a steady rhythm once more.
Relaxed and drifting off a bit, I replied only with a questioning hum, not bothering to raise my head from my bed or to open my eyes.
Cadance didn’t respond; her lips didn’t even part. She just kept fiddling with my feathers. Then out of nowhere, she said, “Please don’t make me have to check.”
It took me a moment to understand Cadance’s meaning – it was hardly a favor to say ‘I love you’ on occasion – but once I had, it was like a punch to the gut – the second time today. Despite lying prone on my barrel, I curled inward somewhat, an awful, empty feeling gripping at my chest.
“I won’t,” I replied. It felt…inappropriate to say any more than that.
Cadance didn’t say anything more, and all conversation died as she finished up my wing. Really, what even was there to say?
Sometime later, my wing was back in proper order. The heavy silence broke with but a word. “There,” Cadance said as she shifted my last feather into place. “All done, and with plenty of time to spare before sunrise. You’re going to make a show of it, right?”
“I hadn’t planned to.” Nor did I know Canterlot Castle was safe for me to be in, even if I strongly suspected it was.
First getting up from the bed, Cadance extended a hoof to help me up. “Well, I’d appreciate it if you would. It hasn’t even been a day, and ponies are getting anxious. I don’t think Trixie can reach your replacement star, and I’m not exactly up to snuff. It would help for ponies to see somepony had the situation well in hoof.”
In for a penny, in for a pound, as the Bridlish say. “I suppose the sun imploding didn’t help.”
A strange expression passed over Cadance’s face.
“What?” I asked.
Cadance shook her head. “Nothing. Just…things are going to be different, aren’t they? Shining’s still mad at me for all the secrets–”
I chuckled. “That makes two of us.”
“Yes, well, he did tell me about the conversation you two had. Space travel and immortality – you really meant it when you said you wouldn’t let anypony die, didn’t you?”
“Well, not so much in that context, but yes.” I paused for a moment, trying to recall the exact words that had transpired during my ascension. “If I remember correctly, Dash told us to just hug or something.”
Cadance laughed, and what a wonderful sound that was. “Come here, you,” she said, pulling me into a hug. When we broke apart, she looked me up and down with a critical eye, no doubt looking to see if we’d ruined all of her hard work. “You know, you look really good like this. You have a kind of dignified, old world feel about you that I can’t quite place. Give you ten years or so to grow into your looks and lose a bit of weight, and you’ll be gorgeous.”
“Thanks,” I said, blushing a bit despite myself. “You’re probably seeing Luna’s influence. Posture, movements, how I hold myself – I learned more from her than just magic.”
“Yes, I’d imagine so. Sunset said the same thing…” Cadance shook her head of the thought. “I’ll meet you in the courtyard?”
“Sure,” I reluctantly said. Cadance demanifested, reappearing mere seconds later in Canterlot. Searching about, none of the nearby magic looked actively hostile, so I bit down on my voice of paranoia and followed her there. I was pleasantly not surprised that I was perfectly fine on arrival, and I went through a strange feeling of telling myself I told you so.
Cadance led me through the castle to only she knew where. Much to my pleasure, she fended off both curious ponies and ponies that were a dropped pin away from panicking as we walked side by side. We ran into Prince Blueblood along the way, and at Mother’s insistence, I waved hello with an accompanying, “Good morning, Bluey.” Unsurprisingly, he was more than a little confused as we left him behind. Cadance just nudged me with her wing after we were around a corner.
Eventually, and only after making a number of turns that I swore were geometrically impossible without cheating – which the castle probably was – I found myself on a balcony overlooking the city. From it, perhaps half of Canterlot would be able to see me.
We still had a little while before moonset and sunrise, so I took advantage of the opportunity to set up a more permanent type of crude, temporary spell on the moon and the star I’d borrowed. They wouldn’t last long, and I probably should spend the hours, days, or weeks necessary to make them into respectable, self-sustaining enchantments, but if I maintained them daily, they should make it to the summer solstice.
“One minute,” Cadance said, gesturing toward a monster of a clock that was obviously a new addition based on how it clashed with the nearby fixtures and flora. I honestly had no idea how to read it, but I supposed it showed the time remaining before moonset. Somehow. “Are you ready?”
“Do you want me to see if Trixie would give you any pointers on showmareship?”
“A little late for that now,” I replied. Not that I had any intention of stirring up that hornet’s nest at the moment. “Besides, simple is good this time, I think. Maintain the status quo, right?”
Cadance shrugged. “I just want our ponies to know somepony has the sun and moon under control. Aside from that, it’s your show.”
“Alright. Wish me luck.”
I took a deep breath and stepped forward onto the balcony. I vaguely remembered how Celestia did this, but even if I’d remembered perfectly, I wasn’t interested in duplicating her style, or even Luna’s if I’d ever seen it. A new star, a new princess, a new reign, eventually a new capital if Luna and I got our way; I didn’t want to live here anymore than she did, especially now. Yes, this required something new too. Celestia was gone, and even if I had no choice to the contrary, I fully intended to wash my hooves of her utterly.
The ambient magic of Canterlot swirled about with me at the center. I kept my pull gentle enough that proper spells would be left untouched, but the rapidly growing flux was sure to attract every unicorn’s attention, maybe even pegasi’ and earth ponies’ too. From the odd sounds Cadance made behind me, she certainly felt it.
Canterlot’s ambient magic shot upward to the sky, swirling up like an inverted tornado before vanishing to the distant star and moon.
The moon set, and the new sun rose. That was one awful day behind me.
I saw Cadance out of the corner of my eye coming out onto the balcony proper to join me. Today would be better. It could hardly get any worse.