Chapter Fourty One - Honesty
If I were to pick a single word to describe my first day being in charge of Equestria, it would be tedious. If I were to pick a word that actually informed somepony about what my day consisted of, it would be introductions – introductions over, and over, and over again. The only thing that kept me going was coffee, and the only thing that made it all bearable was the thought that I’d only ever have to do this once.
And Cadance. Despite the underlying tension between us, it was wonderful to be able to hold a civil conversation with her again. That, and be actually physically next to her once more. It really shouldn’t be different from how I’d kept in contact with her through Chrysalis and Pupa; they were functionally equivalent. It was, though. Maybe it was just knowing it was her and not an illusion, or maybe it was the feeling of her magic. Whatever the case, it was relaxing.
Still, as I was tapping hooves with yet another pony – this one was in charge of agriculture or something – it was getting hard to keep my eyes open, let alone remember names. I…
What was I thinking about…
Oh, yeah. Even with Cadance supplying me with caffeine, I couldn’t help but wonder just how much longer it’d be before I could crash. Dash and Chrysalis showing up at noon somehow hadn’t taken the attention off of me at all, only increased the number of ponies present.
Speaking of, everypony was taking Queen Chrysalis surprisingly well. Well, I supposed since she – and Dash – was part of the entourage of a mysterious new alicorn the oh so infallible Celestia had left as regent, it shouldn’t be that surprising. But she was still an entirely new species that nopony had so much as noticed despite it living right under their noses. Except it wasn’t that hard to believe that shapeshifters…
Stars, I needed to go to bed. I was thinking in circles. Probably. Was that actually a circle?
“Go to bed, Sparklebutt.”
“Can’t,” I mumbled aloud. “Cadance has more ponies.”
Cadance, who was standing next to me, broke off her current conversation politely and then hummed questioningly at me. Now that I’d actually seen her at work other than being behind a desk with papers to read and sign, I had to admit I’d been wrong about Cadance. Sure, she wasn’t really meant for political maneuvering, and scheming, and all that, but she was such a people person. The only pony who didn’t seem to like her was…was…Duke something… Oh, and there was that earl, and every couple minutes I’d catch a reporter eavesdropping nearby, probably looking for a big scoop. Did that count as not liking Cadance?
Eh, whatever. What was I saying? Cadance was likable… Oh, right. Cadance might not be much for the cloak-and-dagger side of politics, but she absolutely shined in conversation. It was so easy to like her. Like, how on Equus did she remember that…um…Ruby, if I remembered the name right, had a two-year-old filly who’d just said her first word a week ago? Cadance admitted afterward she barely ever talked to the mare! That would’ve gone in one ear and out the other for me, but she’d remembered, and that might’ve been what got that Ruby mare to volunteer for organizing a charity drive.
Heh. Maybe I should just have Cadance walk around in front of me from now on, and when somepony wants to talk to me, we can telephone through her.
“Twilight,” Cadance said, nudging me with a knee. “Are you alright?”
“Tired,” I replied without any conscious input on my part.
“Do you think you could make it to sunset?”
“Probably.” It was another automatic response, but more mumbled. I remanifested myself in an instant for what must be the dozenth time this night. It helped. Kind of.
Cadance looked me up and down before nodding to herself. “Do you want me to have a maid arrange a room for you?”
Oh, sweet merciful Cadance, I was released from this torment! Thank you for smiling down upon me.
All dramatics aside, I shook my head. “Heading home. Luna is probably worried sick.” Descending back into mumbles, I said, “Need to apologize for disappearing.”
“What is home going to be these days?” Cadance asked. “Luminance still? I need to be able to find you tomorrow to drag you into work.”
“Yeah. I like it there. It’s quiet.” When Dash wasn’t causing a riot, that was. “The wards are going back up…tomorrow. I’ll leave a hole for you at the end of the river.”
“Alright. Run along, then. I’ll make your excuses for you.”
Of course she would. That was part of the deal for keeping me up this late. Not that I’d really hold her to that.
“And Twilight,” Cadance said, catching me as I was just about to teleport out. Demanifesting in public felt a little awkward. Nopony had seen it enough to differentiate it from teleportation, and to be honest, I didn’t really feel like making the correction.
“Don’t forget to set the sun.” Cadance’s tone was teasing, but I cringed anyway. Mother took just about every opportunity to remind me how irresponsible I’d been, and this time was not an exception. I did my best to ignore her and return the jest.
“I’ll remember,” I said. “I live on the moon, after all.”
With that and a small smile on Cadance’s face, I teleported out of Canterlot and then manifested myself on the moon – on top of my bed, specifically. I threw up a half-hearted proximity ward around Luminance, set a spell to wake me up shortly before sunset, and then passed out.
I didn’t even have time to start a dream before I found myself swept up in a pair of hooves.
“Twilight, please tell me you’re you,” Luna said, clearly frantic, as her hooves turned me this way and that looking for who knew what.
“Of course it’s me, Luna.” But even that didn’t relax her.
“Okay, you remember me. But” – Luna finally set me back on my hooves – “I’m not saying goodbye, am I?”
Shaking my head, I pushed Luna over onto her back so I could give her a full body hug. “I’m…enduring.”
“Twilight, don’t do this to me. Are you safe? Hurt? Where have you been? What happened?”
I chuckled at seeing Luna so distraught. It was so not her; the contrast was too great not to appreciate, especially when being the cause of it.
“Still going to deny the changes?” Mother said. My head whipped in the direction her voice had come from, and there she was, a blotch of yellows and reds standing stark out against an otherwise black, empty dreamscape.
“Not now,” I hissed, mentally forcing her out of existence.
Of course, Luna wasn’t going to just ignore that. “Twilight? Are–”
Before Luna could say anything further, I interrupted, “I’m fine. I have her under control. It’s just…stress getting to me.”
Luna frowned. Of course she frowned. Here was her lover showing obvious signs of deteriorating mental health, somepony who’d gone out of the way to ask her to watch for that.
“It’s fine, Luna, really. I can manage.”
Rather than say anything, Luna leveled a fixed glare at me. That said plenty enough all on its own.
“I’m safe, by the way,” I said, changing the topic. “I’m not under watch or anything. Well, Cadance is acting like I’m in need of a foalsitter again, but that’s of her own initiative. Didn’t you notice her on Luminance?”
“I must have missed her,” Luna said flatly, still not letting up. I shrunk down under her gaze and focused really, really hard on not letting Mother pop up to tell me to admit I had a problem. Which I didn’t. Well, I did, but it was contained. Mostly.
“Yeah, Cadance was there for a little while in the morning. She dragged me out of bed after I–”
Luna placed a forehoof under my mouth just as I finished a word, thus preventing me from continuing.
But it was my dream and my rules, so I said, “No,” anyway before Luna could say anything herself. Not that that stopped her.
“Twilight, I don’t lie to you.”
I flinched despite myself. “I’m fine,” I mumbled. “She’s not getting any worse.” And that was entirely the wrong choice of pronoun.
I flinched again and let my head fall. “I’m not getting any worse. I’m fine. Please.”
Sighing, Luna rolled over and pushed me off of her before rolling away onto her barrel. “Twilight, what is the point? What are you getting out of this?”
That was the question, wasn’t it? And it wasn’t one that I especially wanted to find an answer for.
When I’d gone on long enough without saying anything, Luna sighed again. “You have until the solstice. If your condition hasn’t improved by then, we’re taking care of this before it can get worse.”
Rather begrudgingly, I said, “Fine.” Mother really wasn’t getting anymore intrusive, so I didn’t really have a reason to argue anyway.
While I was sulking, Luna took the opportunity to sidle up next to me. She wrapped a wing around me, causing me to jump in surprise, but when she pulled me in close, I gave in and just relaxed into her. Some part of me was sure she didn’t understand whatever it was I was feeling; Luna had always been more inclined to righteous fury than…some muddled guilty feeling. But that was okay. She was here if I needed her, and that was what mattered.
Some undefinable time later, Luna broke the silence. “Twilight, I’m a bit behind on what’s been happening.” Unsaid was that looking for me was the cause of that. “Would you care to fill me in on why you disappeared for so long?”
Just as I was about to start explaining, I caught myself and stopped. This was going to be…awkward, at the very least. I teleported myself a few hooves away from Luna for good measure.
“I – um… You didn’t…feel anything last night, did you?”
Luna raised an eyebrow. “No?”
“Oh, good,” I sighed, collapsing onto my rear. Telling Luna I’d let her moon – and her, herself – crash into itself at the edge of the universe, even for just a split second, was not high on the list of things I wanted to do. Ever. I’d let her make whatever she wanted of what I’d just said and pretend it’d never happened myself. Of less concern, but a perfectly valid diversion, was the other, related matter.
“I – well, you see, I made a…mess of sorts. I’m not really sure how to fix it.”
Hesitantly, clearly choosing her words carefully, Luna asked, “What sort of mess?”
I tapped my forehooves together nervously. “Well, so, I sort of took some of my feelings out on a planet.” Turning away from Luna’s questioning look, blushing, I continued, “Are you familiar with the star HD 9986?”
“Twilight, I have no idea what astronomers are calling my stars these days, at least not the ones that are just random letters and numbers.”
“Fair. It’s a – well, it’s a sun-like star.”
“You didn’t!” Luna interrupted before I’d finished.
“I – I did. Kind of.” Knowing that Mother would’ve just loved to berate me for that again, I took a few moments to suppress any of her thoughts. “I’m not a stellar engineer, so, well, I contained the sun’s…remains for you and got a new one.”
There were a few seconds where both of us were quiet. Luna was the first to break the silence.
“And you did this why?”
“Negligence,” I said weakly.
“Negligence?” Luna asked, now terribly confused. “What could you have possibly been doing that caused the sun to blow up when…left unattended?” Those last two words obviously clued her into the fact that something was very wrong with whatever she’d guessed had happened over the past couple days.
“No, it wasn’t something I was doing. It’s – that’s the other thing. Celestia” – with too many nuances and things to complain about, I went with something succinct for the moment – “she, well, left.”
Again, Luna was shocked into silence, although I could see her eye twitch just the tiniest bit.
“What happened was she basically told me you’re my problem now and threw some words I’d said to her years ago back in my face. I didn’t take it well and forgot to cycle day and night.”
Luna still had nothing to say.
“Um, she made me the Solar Regent, apparently. Cadance told me after I got my act together enough to function. I spent the day half-dead in Canterlot meeting and greeting. Celestia also told me…something else. Something about you and her that… I don’t really understand how she thinks. She said she–”
Luna put a hoof to my mouth, cutting me off while sinking into thought. She stayed that way for several minutes while every variety of emotion passed over her face, but for the most part, she looked no more than merely thoughtful. Other than that, I really had no idea what was going on in her head.
Finally, after waiting impatiently for what just had to be ten minutes, or maybe even longer, Luna flatly said, “Okay. Just one question, Twilight. Do you believe she’s gone?”
My head whipped up to meet Luna’s gaze. Just one question was strange enough, but the one that Luna had asked was stranger still.
“Not forever, but for a good long time, I think. She said–”
Luna put a hoof to my mouth again. “No. I don’t want to know. If you think she’s gone for now, that’s good enough for me. I don’t want to hear anything more about it. Just barricade Equus as best as you can, and I can try to improve on your work after the solstice.”
I tried to find words that didn’t summarize to ‘I’m confused’, but it seemed I didn’t need to say anything at all. Luna picked up the unformed question from my expression.
“Twilight,” Luna said, pulling me closer for a hug. I wasn’t sure who the hug was for, however. Luna sounded fine, and she wasn’t shaking, or trembling, or anything, but… Well, I was confused. “Twilight, I told you already. I’ve rearranged my priorities. I’m done with her. I won’t pretend this doesn’t make me feel…feelings, but I’m done. I’d prefer if she were under control and stored away somewhere, but I’ll settle for gone.”
Hesitantly, I tried, “I don’t think that’s a very healthy mindset.” It certainly hadn’t helped me at all when Mother gave me her pep talk.
Luna actually laughed. “It’s probably not, but I was worse when I gave a damn.” Before I could protest that, she went on to say, “Twilight, I really don’t want to know. Bother me again with this next century.” Then, again, when I still wanted to say something, she said, “Please.”
Gnawing on my lip, I tried to resist, but Luna looked almost desperate not to hear anything more. I had to wonder if she already knew more or less what Celestia had said to me and just didn’t want to face it.
I immediately shut down Mother’s looming comment before she could appear and give voice to it, but the intent of the thought was still hanging around. If I’d let her, I was sure she would’ve said something to the effect of, “Just like you and your problems. She taught you well,” and that was just entirely unfair and hurtful. I wouldn’t want to explicitly know, either, if it’d been Cadance who’d said about me what Celestia had about Luna.
Really, hearing that your once-beloved sister wanted to kill you had to hurt. Badly. But even then, she wanted to kill you. It was…personal. There was some underlying recognition or respect. But Celestia didn’t even give Luna that much. If she were to be believed, she’d denied who Luna had become and Luna’s choices so entirely that she couldn’t even conceive that Luna really was Luna.
There was no word in Equestrian to appropriately express how painful it would be if Celestia genuinely believed that. Devastating, even, fell short. Even Luna having cast Celestia out of the family wouldn’t dull the ache; she at least acknowledged there was a bond that was broken.
Finally, I caved. “Okay. Next century, then.”
“Thank you.” Luna took a deep breath, in and out. Once that was done, she managed to get a smile back onto her face, if one that looked strained even for her. “So, Solar Regent, eh? Not exactly what I had in mind, but less paperwork for me, I suppose.”
At the word ‘paperwork’, I remembered what else I needed to tell Luna. Or rather the favor I needed to ask of her.
“Nice mane, by the way,” Luna said. “I haven’t seen somepony wear their mane like that in centuries.”
Momentarily confused, I created a mirror to look at myself. Surprisingly, all the effort that Cadance had gone to this morning had transfered into my dreams. That sort of thing happened from time to time, but the changes all came from how I saw myself; I’d been an alicorn in my dreams for years now, but I’d grown at the same rate my real body had. Was it that Cadance did this and I wanted to feel closer to her again, or was it just that I really liked the look?
Maybe it was both.
Banishing the mirror, I shook my head and put the soul searching aside. “Thank you, but Cadance deserves all the praise. She did all the work, although mostly to make me look more like a mare out of time. Supposedly, I’m almost as old as you.”
“A stola would’ve done that far better.”
“Well, yeah,” I said, rolling my eyes, “if you want to be unsubtle about it.”
“Alicorns are hardly subtle to begin with,” Luna countered.
“True, but all the more reason to forgo the stola. Imagine you have a perfectly good painting, and then you decide there’s not enough bright colors, so you throw a can of pink paint onto it. That’s an alicorn in a stola.”
“Ah, but you see, it’s those strange, unusual things that ponies remember most. For the laypony, one painting is as good as the next, but when they encounter something bizarre and out of place, they will remember it forever.”
“Sure,” I said, “that works perfectly well if you want to be forever known as the odd mare out.”
“And you don’t?” Luna asked. “A princess is a leader, a trendsetter. Where you go, ponies will follow. If you are not the odd mare out, who will be? Who will drive change internally to your government?”
It occurred to me just then that, somehow, we’d gotten from talking about my mane to political philosophy. Not, of course, that they weren’t extraordinarily closely related, but it was a strange game of witticism leapfrog nonetheless. Stars, but I loved that. I never had to lead the conversation with Luna to get something intellectually stimulating out of it, and neither did she. Nor was I surprised when I did. It always just happened. I never had to slow down with her, either.
Grinning, I pounced on Luna in a hug. When we settled, I said, “Thank you. I needed this.”
As one of Luna’s wings wrapped around me, she said, “You’re very welcome, Twilight. Just please try not to bring home anymore news.”
“You mean bad news?”
Luna shook her head. “No, just news. I would like to have a nice, quiet, peaceful summer from now until the solstice, if at all possible.”
“Well, we may have to delay action on that a little bit. I need to ask you a big favor.”
“Ugh. The last time somepony asked me for ‘a big favor’, I ended up getting beheaded in place of Sir Edward’s wife and then burnt to ashes. I was fine afterward, of course, but it still hurt.”
Giggling, I waved a hoof dismissively. “No, no. It’s hardly anything like that. It’s… Well, I’m doing my best to make peace with Cadance, but she did something really…reasonable from her point of view, but irritating from ours.”
“And you want me to just let it go?” Luna asked, although she sounded confident enough in her guess that I could probably choose not to reply.
“If you’d be willing…”
Luna heaved a great, mighty sigh. One of her hooves came up to rub her forehead. “Probably. What did she do?” Fortunately, judging by her tone, at least, Luna already sounded like she didn’t care, even without knowing what Cadance had done. I supposed anything would seem small and petty in comparison to the matter of Celestia, really. Perhaps this would go over better than I’d thought.
“Well, you see, I did some digging, and the Lunar Throne is still a concept in Equestrian law. Equestria is still a diarchy. Except technically, on paper, nopony currently holds the Lunar Throne. To make a long story short, if you read through enough dusty law books, you’d find that with me on the Solar Throne, you essentially could’ve just walked in and reclaimed yours.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” Luna said with only a mildly annoyed tone in her voice. It was kind of obvious where I was going with this by now. “I wrote most of those laws.”
“Yes, well, I can’t override a specific command from Celestia as regent, and Cadance apparently argued with her long enough to wear her down and obtain the right to decide when somepony can ascend to the Lunar Throne.”
Curious, I pulled my head back to get a better view of Luna’s expression. “You’re not upset?”
“No. Well, yes, but as you said, it’s more irritating than anything else. To be honest, I’d probably be pretty mad if I weren’t so amused. I take my hat off to her for doing the impossible.”
“I think you mean crown,” I said, plucking the offending article in question from her head with a smile. It was about time something went well for me. Of course it’d be Luna who’d be that thing. She could just be trying to make me feel better, but even if so, it was working. There was no need to spoil a kind gesture. She might toss Cadance into the sun just to get the frustration out of her system, but nothing too bad.
Hmm… I should probably be concerned that my go-to stress relief is throwing the object of my ire into the sun.
“A crown is a type of hat,” Luna protested. “It is circular, and you wear it upon your head. A hat.”
“Technically in the same way I will technically not be ruling Equestria. It is a matter of definition versus observed fact.” Luna paused for a moment. “Unless, of course, you plan to take over, perhaps establishing a monarchy.”
Fighting off a case of the giggles, I said, “No, Equestria is all yours. I still want to poke around in the sciences, though, and probably education, too.”
“As if I could stop you.”
This time I did chuckle. Cuddling into Luna, I said, “Thank you for this. I really don’t want to lose my sister,” which was probably not the best choice of words. Luna flinched, and I mumbled an apology.
“It is not a pleasant experience, one I would gladly spare you.”
I kissed Luna’s cheek for being so sweet. I would’ve gone full-on on the lips, but we weren’t really positioned for that right now.
“Thank you,” I said. Still, I was a bit worried. “Are you really okay with all this? I’m sure we could figure something out with Cadance.”
“It’s fine, Twilight. Irksome, yes, but I’ve waited a thousand years already and was marginalized for decades before. I can wait a little longer while acting as the de facto ruler.”
“Thank you. Really.”
Luna hummed, acknowledging my thanks, although she did sound a bit distracted by something. When I asked, she said it was nothing while she took to idly running a hoof through the part of my mane loose enough for it. For a while, we just stayed like that, enjoying each other’s presence. It was nice, familiar, calming. All of my frustrations and issues melted away. At least for the moment, I could forget everything and just relax.
“Be careful, Twilight.”
“Hmm?” I pulled myself out of the tranquil, sleepy haze I’d slipped into. “Be careful of what?”
Luna didn’t answer for a while. It looked like she was debating whether she should even reply at all, like I wouldn’t like whatever she wanted to warn me about. Eventually, she only said, “Just be careful.”
Shrugging, I said, “Alright,” before settling back into her. Then maybe a half-minute later, I mumbled, “Hey, Luna?” She hummed questioningly in response, so I said, “Tell me about the Dream Realm.”
The seconds passed as Luna continued her gentle stroking of my mane in silence. After probably thinking about what to say for a while, she spoke. “I’ve never had much success describing it to others. It is…chaotic, far more so than Equus under Discord’s rule, except that it is meant to be changing, to be ephemeral. Do you want me to try?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.” Anything to keep my attention away from real life concerns so I could properly enjoy my time with Luna would do, but from what Celestia’s letter had said – I still needed to finish reading that – the Dream Realm sounded a lot more interesting than I’d ever imagined.
“Hmm… Well, I can’t do it right now – it would have made the last thousand years much easier for me if I could – but perhaps I should start by telling you what other ponies experience when I bridge dreams together.”
Luna could bridge dreams? How did that work? Dreams occurred in an individual’s brain, so it’d have to operate on some hive mind analogue.
Not even needing to see my expression to know, Luna said, “No, I’ve never determined how dream magic works; it just does. Much like how I’ve only ever discovered crude spells to interact with an alicorn’s essence, I’ve gotten little further with dreams. The anchoring spell to keep an alicorn manifested is the most success I’ve ever had exploring the strange world of alicorn magics.”
Luna chuckled. “Look up, Twilight.”
Craning my neck to do so, I found my gaze stuck on what I saw above me. Far off in the distance was the usual star-lined night sky of my dreams, but Luna had added to it. I rolled over to get a better look, though I remained cuddled into Luna’s side.
“The experience is different for everypony,” Luna explained, “but I remember this one vividly.”
And for good reason. Scattered above us was an almost living, breathing network of clouds. They glowed in the fading twilight of day, creating a spectacular gradient of colors from reds to oranges to violets. They interlinked in elaborate staircases that formed and dissipated in a languid dance of color and shapes.
“I once stepped into the dream of a pegasus named Azure. I won’t tell you why to respect his privacy, but he was what is now known as a starving artist. I accidentally made his career and introduced him to his future wife and partner, a unicorn named Marble Gallery. He painted what he saw between dreams, and she brought his works to life in living stone.”
Having never heard of such a memorable – because of at least the novelty – work of art, I asked, “What happened to it?”
“There was a fire about seven centuries ago. The entire building and almost everything inside burned and crumbled to the ground, unfortunately.”
I felt Luna shift her far wing for a short while, but when I moved to look, it was already back in place.
“Well then,” Luna said. She rolled away from me and onto her hooves, then stretched her wings out and made an experimental flap or two. “Shall we get to exploring?”
Grinning, I, too, rolled over but took off on my own, leaving Luna behind to chase after me. Life was good.
“Twilight, wake up.”
Rolling away from whoever was shaking me, I mumbled, “Tired…” I lazily considered magicking away my problem so I could sleep but decided it would be too much work.
“Come on, Twilight. Why do you do this literally every time you wake up?”
Because I wasn’t a morning pony, and they were the bane of my existence, my ultimate enemy, the Kirk to my Picard. Er, wait. That last one sounded wrong… Oh, it was the fans of each that were enemies. Right. Anyway, why was it so few ponies appreciated an extra, lazy hour spent half-awake and thinking nonsense in bed? I’d gotten up in time to reverse the direction of the sun and moon like a good filly. I should be allowed to have this.
I felt the left side of my body grow colder, and my legs dipped downward. With instincts that would make any changeling proud, I pulled my pile of blankets around me into a cocoon.
“Ugh!” Whatever unnatural creature was here shouted into my ear, “Twilight! Wake up!”
Wincing, I deigned to open my eyes just a bit. Finding nopony and myself suspended midair as somepony’s magic fought for my blankets, I forced the telekinesis holding me to rotate. Twinkleshine came into view in moments.
“You monster,” I mumbled.
Twinkleshine just rolled her eyes and pulled harder at my blankets, looking a bit more put out than usual when she did this. I whimpered as she managed to slowly pull them away from me, layer by layer. She then, at the completion of her task, unceremoniously let me flump back onto my bed.
More than a little irked, I said, “Okay, you’ve got my attention. What is it?”
“Princess Cadance is here asking for you. She was going to come wake you up, but Chamomile is keeping her busy in town.”
I sat there for a moment, frozen.
I’d just vanished for the better part of two days without saying a word to Chamomile. I probably should’ve taken her with me when I left with Cadance, too, if not for my safety, then for her peace of mind. Chrysalis hadn’t said anything about it to me yesterday, but still. Chamomile really deserved better than that.
Ack! I didn’t even say anything to Twinkleshine, either, not even so much as a ‘hey, I’m alive’. I needed to stop doing this kind of stuff to ponies.
Ugh. I didn’t say anything to Mom or Dad as well. What was wrong with me? Why was I so…
“Irresponsible?” Mother suggested. I growled back at her, but she was right. “You know, Sparklebutt, half the time you allow whatever your current fixation is to let you run roughshod over the ponies who care for you.”
“Yes, I’m aware,” I grumbled. Was this going to be my life, then? Having my imaginary friend constantly berate me for my own failings forever? Sighing to myself, I turned my attention back to the pony who deserved it right now. “Alright. I’ll head down as soon as I’m ready…which will probably be before you could walk back.”
Twinkleshine’s expression softened a bit as she chuckled to herself. “Then I suppose I’ll just wait here for a ride.”
“Fair enough.” As I set about untying my mane, not having bothered with it before collapsing yesterday, I said, “Twinkleshine, I’m sorry I didn’t remember to at least let you know I was still alive. I kind of got caught up in the moment.”
“As per usual.”
I winced. “Yes, I suppose.”
Sighing, Twinkleshine took a seat nearby as I worked through my snarls. “Twilight, I know I’m usually not the first thing on your mind. Nothing and nopony can really ever claim to be, except maybe Princess Luna or Princess Celestia.”
Although I tried not to show it, I could still feel my eye twitch at that claim. The worst part was that it was probably true.
“More than half the time you’re pretty much the quintessential absentminded professor, forever focused completely on what’s right in front of you. I figured that out years ago, and I still kissed you.”
Not really sure what to say to that, I said, “Er, thank you. I think.” That was a rather more charitable way of saying I ignored ponies and took them for granted. Twinkleshine just shrugged and left me to my afternoon – well, morning, for now – routine.
“Hey, Twinkleshine?” After sinking back into a more bland and slightly depressing mood without a proper distraction, it’d occurred to me that Twinkleshine had demonstrated an interesting perspective on my and Luna’s life not too long ago. Maybe she could offer some advice.
“Hmm? What is it, Twilight?”
“If you were me, what would you be feeling right now? Or doing, I guess.”
Twinkleshine gave me a strange look that more or less conveyed, ‘What brings this up?’
“You know what happened over the last two days, right?”
“Approximately,” Twinkleshine said.
“Imagine you’re me, then. The pony you hate most just got up and moved out of the way without really suffering any consequences. Except maybe she believes she’s doing the right thing for everypony involved, even though to you it’s obvious she’s not. And half the time she’s treating it all like a big joke that we can laugh at a hundred years later. And–”
Twinkleshine plopped down next to me and stole my lips with her own, effectively silencing me. When we were done, she asked, “Is this a serious question, or are you just looking for somepony to tell you something you already know but don’t want to admit?”
I couldn’t help chuckling at how bluntly Twinkleshine had put that. “The former. I have somepony to do the latter for me who never shuts up.”
I shushed Mother before she could get started and waited for Twinkleshine to finish thinking over her response.
“Well,” Twinkleshine began hesitantly. “To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t have your life experiences despite how long we’ve lived together, so I can’t say I really understand how you feel about Princess Celestia. I’ve tagged along on your wild ride of a life, but I’ve only seen snippets of it, the little pieces of it that you show to others. I suppose I’ve seen more than, say, Berry Punch has, but I don’t think I know your circumstances well enough to give you a full and complete answer.”
That wasn’t at all what I wanted to hear or even something that I knew I didn’t want to hear. “I see…” Talking into my hooves, my head drooped, I continued, “I…can’t tell you everything, but maybe someday soon we can sit down, and I could tell you enough.” We’d…won, I supposed, so I could be freer with my words than either before or after my ascension. Cherry Berry would likely be hounding me for a book deal soon, too. Twinkleshine would be a good pony to bounce ideas off of for what I could and couldn’t tell her and could and couldn’t let her write. If Twinkleshine were willing, that was.
“I’d like that.” I could practically hear the smile in Twinkleshine’s words. “If you want, though, I could give an answer the old college try for now.” She drew out the words of that idiom in a ridiculous voice, making me giggle more in surprise than anything else.
“Hmm… Well, I think I would be more worried than anything else. If Princess Celestia stopped by and saw nothing was changing the way she wanted, what would stop her from launching a surprise attack? I wouldn’t have it in me to be on guard every second of every day of every year for the rest of forever.” Twinkleshine placed a hoof on my shoulder and locked eyes with me. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think she ever would. The Element of Magic is bound to you alone, and other approaches to her problem I think would be distasteful to her. The worry would still be there, though, and that can be just as dangerous.”
I gave Twinkleshine a small, sad smile. “I certainly do feel that. I’m going to protect Equus and Luminance as best as I can, and Luna will help out after the solstice, but it’s hard to stop a truly determined adversary with just static wards.”
“Is there a way you could de-alicorn her, maybe?”
“No,” I said a bit more forcefully than I probably should have. “Sorry. Just…I’m really squeamish about killing alicorns. Recent history has shown it’s not a good idea, and ancient history…” I probably shouldn’t share Luna’s and my speculation on what happened to any progenitor alicorns. That information fell distinctly under a need to know basis, and Twinkleshine didn’t need to know. “Well, it’s just a bad idea. But it wouldn’t be so bad if I could just de-ascend her…locally…”
Ascension propagated outward through the universe. When I eventually figured out how it worked, I might be able to figure out how to tear an alicorn back out of the universe, if only within a small volume. The de-ascension would never be able to catch up with the ascension. Maybe I could start the spell multiple times outside another alicorn’s…sphere of existence, but Celestia’s was bigger than mine, so I’d never actually be able to destroy her completely.
Still, even developing that magic would be terrifying. I’m currently the fifth oldest – well, fifth known oldest alicorn, so only four others could threaten my entire existence, but I don’t think I’d even want to trust myself with it. De-ascension might be a natural corollary to ascension, though, and thus unavoidable. Hmm… I hated to say it, but it might be best if I studied ascension entirely by myself and never told anypony whatsoever how it worked.
I jumped, startled out of my thoughts. “Ah… Sorry, Twinkleshine. Got lost in thought.”
“I think you mean you’re now lost out of thought.” I glared in response, albeit with a smile. Twinkleshine just giggled.
“Anyway,” I said, “I was more asking about how you’d feel about Celestia in particular, not my situation or recent events in general.”
“Oh. Well, without knowing the fine details of, well, pretty much everything, I can only assume I’d be somewhere between outraged and miserable.”
I perked up a bit at that. Angry, melancholic, depressed, defeated, listless – all those things I could easily describe myself as, but miserable? There was something a little off about that. It implied more of a…a certain je ne sais quoi. I wasn’t sad Celestia was gone, I didn’t think. Even Mother wasn’t sad about it.
“Why miserable?” I finally asked after thinking about it for a bit.
“Um…” Twinkleshine looked away from me and ran a forehoof along its opposite leg. “Well, Twilight, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you kind of sort of have a little bit of, well, abandonment issues.”
“And Princess Celestia just sort of, you know, left.”
Mother had certainly felt abandoned when she was alive, but…I had abandonment issues? I – I vaguely remembered Mother saying something tangential to that to me at one point.
I blinked at hearing my name. Turning my head, I found Twinkleshine staring worriedly at me. Hesitantly, I asked, “Why do you think that?”
“No reason in particular until recently. It was always small things that seemed odd. But now, well, I think you might be taking and, well, always have taken Princess Luna’s problems personally. Like they were your own.” In a bit of a rush, Twinkleshine hastily added, “Not that you don’t also have reason to dislike Princess Celestia. She hasn’t been nice to you either. But your behavior seems almost disproportionate at times. Unfair, even. That, and with how willing you are to defend Princess Luna to everypony all the time, whatever your own thoughts are…”
There Twinkleshine trailed off, looking at me uncertainly. I felt similarly unsettled, if for different reasons. What she’d said felt…accurate. But whatever else I did with her opinion, I needed to say something now before she felt like she’d done something wrong.
“I – I see,” I managed to say almost naturally despite the constricted feeling in my throat. “I’ll…have to think about that.” Just not today. I had too much to be doing, and Cadance wasn’t going to wait around forever. I had to get settled into my new job as soon as possible, so I’d be just as busy tomorrow, too.
Really, I’d be busy all the way up to the solstice and long after that. Maybe I should write a memo and put it on my vanity to remind me.
“You’re avoiding the issue,” Mother stated firmly without room for debate.
Because there was no room.
But – but still, I was going to be busy.
I jumped as I felt something wrap around one of my forelegs. In hindsight, it was obvious that it was Twinkleshine intertwining one of hers with mine.
“Twilight, I’ll always be here, if you need to talk.”
I managed a smile. “Thanks. But we should leave. I can’t keep Cadance waiting forever.”
“I suppose not. Would you drop me off in the town square?”
Nodding my assent, Twinkleshine and I moved to my room’s balcony, and I had her climb up onto my back. Once she was suitably comfortable, I galloped off over the side and dropped into an easy glide down toward town. The trip was quick enough, but even the short few minutes I had to take my mind off of everything and simply enjoy the wind in my face and under my wings were the perfect distraction.
Unfortunately, the trip was over far too soon. I let Twinkleshine get back to whatever she’d been doing before and then made my way through town on hoof straight to Cadance. As ever, she was a lighthouse in the dead of night; every alicorn was as easy to find for me without them going through a lot of effort to hide their magic. And even then, it was like trying to hide a glacier in a puddle. Technically not impossible, but beyond merely insanely difficult.
Halfway there, Chamomile left Cadance and shifted into my shadow.
“Good morning, Chamomile.”
“Good morning, Princess,” Chamomile said, stepping out into proper view. I resisted the urge to flick her magic for using the P word. It was a losing battle, really, and I should just get used to it. As she slipped into step beside me, she added, “Princess Cadance is here asking for you to come to Canterlot.”
“I’m aware. Twinkleshine told me already. Thank you for keeping her company in the meanwhile. Did you treat her to your tea?”
That, surprisingly, got Chamomile to blush. “Yes. She said it was the best she’s ever had, actually.”
“I hope I don’t have to worry about her poaching you,” I said in jest.
Chamomile, naturally, replied in utmost seriousness, “Of course not,” which I got a small chuckle out of.
“By the way, I’m sorry for leaving you behind yesterday. And for vanishing the day before.” In the interest of continuing to ignore my problems, I merely said, “I kind of got distracted.”
“I understand, Princess. Queen Chrysalis told us all what happened.”
I kept my sigh to myself at the unignorable reminder of what I was trying to avoid thinking about. Well, one of many things I was trying to ignore at the moment. It took me a little while to distract myself again, but it was getting easier. Just outside Chamomile’s house, within which awaited Cadance, I pulled us aside.
“Chamomile, if you don’t have any other plans today, would you come to Canterlot with me?”
“Princess… Twilight” – I smiled at the use of my name – “it’s my entire job to be with you and keep you safe. You really shouldn’t feel like you’re imposing on me. I chose this.”
“I know. It’s just…culture.”
Chamomile held a hoof to her mouth to help suppress her giggles at my choice of words. But that really was it. It was just cultural differences. I still didn’t really understand why somepony would want to dedicate their life to somepony else, but it wasn’t my place to tell ponies what to find fulfilling.
“Speaking of, nopony on Equus has seen a lunar pegasus in centuries, so try not to take anything personally. You’ve kind of devolved into a cultural myth.”
With that little aside finished, Chamomile stepped inside her home with me trailing right behind her. Walking into one of the buildings in Luminance always made me feel like I was walking into a history museum. Half of it was steeped in the past, but the other half was perfectly modern. At times, it almost felt fake.
Cadance was sitting on a stool in the kitchen. She was leaned over on a countertop and gazing out a window into the middle of town, presumably pony watching, while she nibbled on one of Chamomile’s tea cakes.
“Hello, Twilight,” Cadance said without looking our way.
Rather than be surprised, I grinned. “I see you’re doing the mysterious ‘greet before I look at you’ thing now, too.”
Cadance hummed in acknowledgment, but her eyes kept slowly tracking something outside. “It’s not hard when you have a type of three-sixty degree vision. There’s no reason to pretend otherwise with you.”
I grabbed one of Chamomile’s tea cakes for myself. It’d serve as a light breakfast, I supposed.
“True enough. Anything interesting going on out there?”
Sighing, Cadance took her weight off the countertop in front of her and turned toward us. “No, not at all. Just trying to understand this place.”
“What’s to understand? It’s not that different from a small town in Equestria.”
Ah. Cadance was taking issue with how utterly normal this place was for being under the sole rule of the terrible and evil Nightmare Moon for the last thousand plus years. Well, I supposed I’d leave that be, then.
“Did you sleep well?” Cadance asked. “You put up a good front, but you did look dead on your hooves right before you left.”
“Yes, I did,” I said. A smile crept onto my face as I remembered everything Luna and I had done together last night. “You?”
Cadance took an unusually long time to think over her answer, stretching her wings somewhat as she did so. Eventually, she said, “Well enough.”
“That’s good. Anyway, what am I expected to do today?”
“Actual work,” Cadance replied frankly. “There’s still, well, a whole planet that wants to meet you, but Equestria’s central government can’t grind to a halt to make that happen. Some new ponies will probably pop by, but other than that, it’s mostly meetings and a little paperwork that needs your signature.”
“When you say ‘little’…”
Cadance gave me a small smile. “There’s a lot for us to do today, but we should finish before dinner so long as you don’t need to fetch another sun.”
I winced before I could stop myself. “You’re never going to let that go, are you?”
“No. Shining will be worse. I guarantee you that.” It went unsaid that Cadance meant that he would be, meaning when he was on proper speaking terms with both of us again, not when he found out or when I next ran into him.
“Why am I not surprised?” I asked sarcastically. “Anyway, ready to go?”
After stuffing the last of her own tea cake into her mouth and swallowing, Cadance nodded. “I’ll meet you in the courtyard again.”
Cadance demanifested away. With Chamomile as a passenger, I was slower to follow, having to teleport us both instead, but it was a delay of mere moments at most. Unsurprisingly, there was a crowd waiting for us. It took me a few seconds to understand the sudden change in their expressions to disbelief, confusion, and the occasional flash of excitement or fear.
I glanced back at Chamomile, the target of all the stares of the crowd. Congratulations to her; she got to be today’s attraction, the latest in a long line of surprises. With Dash and Chrysalis, their reveal had been political and carefully managed, but Chamomile was just Chamomile. Maybe with no pressure and the attention not as much on me, I could enjoy pony-watching all of the gawkers today.
“Cadance,” I whined. I could admit it was a whine. “I want to do science. I’m sooooo bored.”
Cadance glanced up from her desk of overflowing paperwork to look at me at mine. Nothing about her gaze held the usual sympathy she used to show me. She had grown so cruel over the eons, so cold, and now that we were working together, she let her divine anger flow freely. Her magic picked me up and sat me upright. A pink quill of Cadance’s floated menacingly in front of my face.
“You wanted to be a princess, you are, and you have to face the consequences of your actions.”
That was not quite right. “Technically, I only wanted to be an alicorn.”
“Quit slacking off, Twilight. Your pile will only grow larger if you don’t take care of it today. We’re really backed up from the nonsense Aunt Celestia pulled.”
“I’ll give you a cookie.”
Cadance rolled her eyes but smiled. The goddess was placated.
“The sooner you get your work done, the sooner you can play.”
But the goddess was not swayed. Alas, her cruelty was without bound. I now saw what I had to do. It was up to me to challenge the elder god and her written, eldritch abominations. The younger generation must rise up to cast out their ancient rulers or be forever more subject to their ire.
“Ah!” I jumped, startled. Cadance had flourished her quill in my face, brushing it against me just below my eyes.
“It seems I can still tell when you’re thinking something unbelievably foalish. What was it?”
“Just trying to figure out how to banish an elder god back to deep space.”
Cadance whacked me atop the head with her quill, which to be fair, I probably deserved. Really, it wasn’t the drudgery of this work that got to me so much as it was how mindless it could get. If I didn’t have to think about what I was doing, I’d end up thinking about other things that I really didn’t want to.
“Fine,” I sighed. “I can take a hint.” I took hold of the quill still floating dangerously close to me and got back to work. The drudgery continued uninterrupted for some ten minutes or so, at which point Chamomile discreetly let me know that the court steward was approaching. This time, fortunately, he came sans paperwork, excepting his usual planner floating along beside him. Just before the guards knocked to announce him, I called out, “Come in,” and opened the doors for him.
Ah, that look of surprise and shock on our steward’s face. Exquisite. There was something dangerously addictive about playing up to the ancient, all-knowing goddess shtick.
“Ah, I, y-yes, Princess. There are a few meetings that we need to set up for tomorrow.” The steward cracked open his planner and launched into his purpose here to recover. “Fancy Pants wanted to discuss hosting another one of his charity garden parties, and Captain Armor had a few questions about what you want the royal guard to be doing. Also, the Royal Canterlot Observatory is still asking for a meeting with…er, either of you.”
I couldn’t help snickering at that one. Apparently, I’d made a bit of a lasting impression on them.
“There’s also somepony here looking to interview you, Princess Twilight, and we have a number of ponies asking if you’ll be taking on a personal student or students the way Princess Celestia would.”
“I already have a few and not enough time for them, so no.”
“Ah. Alright. If I may ask, what are your plans for Trixie Lulamoon?”
I shrugged. Whatever her current arrangements were couldn’t be that bad or that big of a draw on Equestria’s budget. “Just leave her be with whatever privileges she has.”
The court steward – whose name I should really learn and remember – nodded, no doubt mentally checking off one of the items on his schedule. “One last thing. Princess Celestia never assigned a replacement head for her school. It’s not a pressing need, but the position does need to be filled.”
A few seconds passed as I idly flicked around names in my head, but I didn’t really know anypony besides myself and Luna with both magical and administrative skills. And of course, Cadance knew that, too. “Don’t look at me,” I said to her. There was no way I was going to administer the school I’d not only never gotten to go to, but had been actively rejected from about as strongly as somepony could be rejected.
“Well, then who are we going to get to do it?” Cadance asked. “I don’t know anypony who would really be appropriate.”
“Just place an ad for applications, or make an announcement or something. From my understanding, the school was doing fine the last time I checked. Just as long as whoever we get understands that it’s not a for-profit school, the standards shouldn’t drop.”
The steward made a note of that and then asked, “Would you be willing to meet with students when needed? Princess Celestia did on occasion, and as the Alicorn of Magic, it would mean a lot to them if you did, too.”
“I suppose so.” It shouldn’t be that much of a time sink, after all. “Just make sure all pertinent parties are aware that it’s a privilege not to be abused. I don’t get any more hours in a day than anypony else, and I have a lot of time-consuming plans for the coming decades.”
“Of course, Princess.”
“For the meetings you mentioned, set them up for whenever both Cadance and I have time available, but make it in the afternoon. Captain Armor we can meet with over lunch, if he’s agreeable to it.” Rather reluctantly, knowing that I needed to be visible to Equestria, I added, “Schedule an hour in the morning for whoever wants to interview me, but don’t promise any specific length of time.”
“It’s my understanding that your morning is already filled, Princess.”
I thought over the growing list of draws on my time and picked out a number of things set up for tomorrow morning, unfortunately discovering that the steward was right. Even more unfortunately, that interview was probably important, so I turned to Cadance. “Would you mind if I skipped breakfast? I know we discussed going over our plans for the day then, but–”
“It’s fine, Twilight.”
“Alright.” Turning back to the steward, I said, “Schedule it to overlap with breakfast. Make it over tea and snacks in the garden. Is that all, then?”
Nodding, the steward said, “For today, yes. Court is scheduled to resume next week, so for the most part, we’re just working through the details of the regime change for the moment.”
“Excellent. Have a good day…” I did my best to hide how I trailed off awkwardly at the end, still not knowing this pony’s name. Apparently, I did so successfully, and the steward left without taking offense after wishing both Cadance and myself a good day as well. Once he was gone, I noticed Cadance still watching me out of the corner of my eye. “What?”
Cadance bit on her lip, deciding what to say or, far more likely, how to say it. Eventually, she went with, “I’m just still surprised is all. When you’re not complaining, you’re actually pretty good at this. What happened to my antisocial little filly?”
“She gained more and more responsibilities and grew up.” My smile was bittersweet as I added, “Sorry you didn’t get to see it.”
“At least I got to talk to you.” Cadance sighed. “I suppose Shining got to, too, but we both really hurt him, you know.”
I grimaced, not really having anything to say to that. “Yes, I know.”
“We could try giving him a cookie.”
I smothered a laugh only with great effort. Apparently, Cadance was taking a page from my book as far as bribes went. The sad thing was, it was so utterly and completely foalish that it might actually help a bit – not a lot, but a bit.
We went back to work, slogging through everything that needed our signature or opinion, and I did my best not to let my mind wander. The day wore on through the afternoon, and the pile of things to do slowly decreased in height to something far less intimidating. Not too long before supper, Chamomile again warned me that somepony was approaching; this time it was a maid. Cadance must have noticed her coming as well, because she glared at me when I was about to ask the maid to come in before being announced. She was no fun.
A knock came at the door, and after a brief exchange with the guard who’d stepped inside to ask if we would allow the impending visit, the maid herself came in.
“Good evening, Princesses.” The maid, an earth pony roughly a few years beyond my biological age – honestly, having to qualify my age with an adjective was so dumb – bowed. That was a habit in the ponies, well, everywhere, that I’d resigned myself to long ago. I wouldn’t ever say anything – although I’d certainly imply and hint – but if somepony noticed I didn’t care and stopped, they’d get my attention.
“Good evening,” Cadance said, otherwise leaving it to me to deal with whatever the maid wanted.
After giving my own greeting, I asked, “What did you need?”
“The chamberlain wished to know when she can expect you to move into the castle, Princess Twilight. We’ve had a room drawn up for you for some time now but never got a chance to tell you.”
“I have a room?” Already? I highly doubted they’d stick me in a guest room or even one of the more luxurious permanent resident rooms. That was just not how Equestria treated its princesses. I glanced at Cadance, but she just shrugged, apparently not knowing anything either.
The maid nodded. “Princess Celestia ordered the addition to the royal wing about half a season ago and requested that it be done in secret. We’d thought that, er, maybe…”
Cadance rolled her eyes. “I’m not pregnant, and Captain Armor and I haven’t set a date yet.”
Obviously embarrassed, the maid flushed, which was rather visible against her very light-blue coat. “Yes, well, Princess?”
Oh, right. I’d been asked a question. “I might move in after the coming solstice, but no earlier, I think.” And none of us would be staying for too long before we likely moved the capital, but nopony needed to deal with that until things had settled down. “Would you mind showing it to me, though?” I swore, if there was some sort of mocking joke inside the room, I’d burn it to the ground. I wouldn’t put it past Celestia.
“Of course, Princess. If you’re free–”
Grinning, I realized that there was an unintended benefit of my request, a negative externality, one might say. “Take care of the rest for me, would you, Cadance?”
I rushed out the door, dragging the maid with me, as Cadance shouted, “Twilight Sparkle, you get back here!”
“Run,” I whispered to the maid, and we took off through the halls. If Cadance were really upset with me, she could find me easily enough. We ran through the halls until we were far enough away that Cadance wouldn’t be able to be heard if she shouted, and there we stopped for my companion to catch her breath. She might be an earth pony, but an all out gallop alongside an alicorn would wear anypony down.
“Princess?” the maid said. She looked uneasy, at least that’s what her downcast eyes told me, but she was still smiling as she breathed. “May I say something?”
“You’re not at all what I expected.”
“Some days I’m not even what I expect.” That got a breathless laugh from the maid. “Feel free to gossip about that. Princess Cadenza grew up under the law and order alicorn, and it shows. I grew up under the arts and sciences alicorn; she and I aren’t much known for standing on ceremony. I’m basically a mad scientist.”
“Emphasis on mad,” Mother unhelpfully commented.
Demonstrating an ability to pick up subtext, the maid asked, “Should I be gossiping about that, too?”
I looked over the maid with a calculating eye, memorizing her appearance. “What’s your name?”
After repeating the name to myself three times and turning over the task of remembering it to Mother, much to her annoyance, I said, “Well, Lily, I certainly can’t stop you from gossiping, just as I can’t stop you from arranging for another room.”
Lily’s eyes widened as she finally registered that ‘arts and sciences alicorn’ referred to somepony the public hadn’t been informed of quite yet. It’d probably be a good idea to get a room for Dash, too, but she wasn’t in any hurry to be a princess in more than name. It was very much a job, and not one that sat well with her.
After getting a nod of understanding from Lily, I said, “Anyway, let’s get going. I’m eager to see this room of mine.”
And we were off. We eventually arrived at a part of the castle I was intimately familiar with. A ways past Cadance’s room and down a hallway that used to be a dead end, we turned to the right. The faint, lingering scent of paint filled the hall, which I could only presume was coming from my cutie mark displayed on the door to what must’ve been my room like Cadance’s was on hers. It could only be a recent addition, since Celestia apparently hadn’t told anypony who the room was for.
Not taking any chances, I extended my senses forward to search the room for traps. I doubted I’d find one, but it never hurt to…
What in Tartarus was that?
Something sat in the middle of the room on top of, judging by the magic that held it together, a cloud bed. It was weak, but the magic felt alive, somehow, and when I observed it closer, it spun and danced wildly.
“Thank you,” I said, although I wasn’t really paying attention to what I was saying. “I’ll take it from here.”
I walked inside the room and shut the door behind me. It was nice, I supposed. Plenty of bookshelves lined the walls, although they were empty and waiting for me to fill them. A reasonable enough desk stood against a wall, and it looked like there were two doors leading to an adjoining bathroom and a closet, as well as what I could only assume was a separate bedroom for Spike.
And there in the very center of the room was a comfortable-looking bed covered in blankets and pillows spelled to stay atop clouds. But atop those blankets rested a box, a plain cardboard box about the size of a hundred books. It wasn’t even taped shut; the tabs were merely folded into each other to stay closed. Whatever was in it wasn’t dangerous. The magic was too weak and wild to do much of anything, and now that I was looking even closer than before, parts of it felt dead, or at least unmoving or sluggish.
I opened the box.
“Well, that was anticlimactic,” Mother said. That snapped me out of whatever focused trance I’d been in.
I walked closer. Nothing nearby would trigger based on proximity; no magic flowed around to check for a breach of some volume. Inside the box resided the very mundane sight of packing peanuts bearing an envelope atop them. Really, nothing good ever came of opening envelopes. I should just turn around and leave.
But I didn’t. I blamed my curiosity.
Tearing open the envelope revealed a birthday card. From Celestia. I incinerated it, but I’d still managed to read it before it’d turned to ashes.
“Every princess needs a crown, and peytrals are all the rage this millennium. Celestia.”
If this was what I suspected it was, it could survive fire. If not, then good riddance. I burned away the box and the peanuts, and the bed got caught up in the conflagration. All that was left was slightly damp ashes and shriveled husks of material that wouldn’t burn further – plus six other things.
“I am so tempted to see if I can crush these things,” I grumbled.
Mother was quick to mentally slap me upside the head. “Don’t you dare. The Elements of Harmony are a priceless treasure. At the very least, study them first.”
“Whatever. They’d probably just reform on the tree, anyway.”
I let out a long sigh. The Elements were here; I might as well keep them around. It wasn’t like anypony else could use them without me, and they weren’t that hard to find. Poking around for the right ponies’ magic at Luminance, I teleported Generosity to Spike, Kindness to Fluttershy, and Laughter to Pinkie Pie. If they wanted to wear or keep them, that was fine by me. If they wanted to leave them on the ground, that was also fine. I’d washed my hooves of them.
“Chamomile.” In an instant, Chamomile was behind me. I levitated over Loyalty and held it in front of her. “Do whatever you want with this and…leave me alone for a little while.”
A few seconds passed before Chamomile said, “As you wish, Princess.” She raised her head slightly, and I picked up on her silent message. With Loyalty fastened about her neck, she slipped away back into the shadows.
Once I was sure I was alone, I picked up Friendship with a hoof and brought it up to eye level. The gold that made up most of the tiara clashed with literally my entire color scheme, and it would only fit a pony twice my size comfortably. It was a bit ostentatious with the extra embellishments supporting the six pointed star resting atop it all. I’d even go so far as to call it gaudy.
But it was mine. It was proof that I could be a decent pony to others if I just tried, that I could be a proper friend. What would it say about me if I threw it away?
I sighed again. After transferring Friendship from hoof to magic, I made my way through the room until I picked the right door for the bathroom. While obviously alicorn-sized, luxurious, and definitely worth a more in-depth look later – the bath through another door looked amazing – I ignored most of the room in favor of the large mirror at the vanity. I plopped Friendship atop my head and went to work.
Cadance was still growing, but she already had many of the features of the other two-and-a-half fully grown alicorns – Luna counted twice, once for as she was now, and once for her old, shorter look. Cadance had the elongated, sharper horn, the lengthened, slender legs, the slimmer barrel, and, of course, the larger wings that all alicorns had. She was still missing the æthereal breeze in her hair, but that would come in time. Her, I used as a model to fire off a long series of shapeshifts.
Now twice as tall, Friendship fit me perfectly between the ears instead of around them. I grew my hair out to be absurdly long, because it seemed to be the alicorn style, although before I added a breeze to keep it off the ground, I looked absolutely ridiculous. Seeing as I had no idea what would happen to my mane, I used Luna’s as a base and added a bit of the night sky into it. I might have done too good of a job, because when I looked at my tail, some parts actually seemed to vanish into stars and nothingness. Admittedly, I liked the look, but it was a bit eerie at first.
Ooh! I had a much better idea. I left the stars in as a background, but I swirled my colors into an accretion disk centered at the upper part of my tail. That looked glorious. I was actually tempted to make the look permanent.
Friendship was still a problem, though. I couldn’t change it, but I could certainly electroplate it if I had the time. For now, I just placed an illusion to change the gold to silver.
“Much better.” Glancing over myself, I liked what I saw. It was far showier than I’d ever contemplated being, but…it felt right. Not now, of course. I still had a lot of growing up to do first – physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially, to be honest. But maybe someday.
Rather clumsily with my longer legs, I walked back into the other room to take a short rest, only to remember I’d incinerated the bed.
“Smooth, Twilight,” I said to myself. “Really smooth.”
And then I noticed something I’d forgotten.
“Twilight, I know you’re in there,” came the voice of Cadance as she approached my room in Canterlot Castle. She must’ve been shouting for me to have heard her from this far away, not that it really mattered in this part of the castle. Very few ponies were permitted in the royal wing outside of working hours and without business. “You lazy filly, where have you been? You even missed sup…”
There Cadance fell silent. She’d found me lying on the floor with only my thoughts for company, and I hadn’t yet bothered to turn back into myself. A pile of ash lay nearby, and it was obvious that there was supposed to be a bed where I was.
I was also fidgeting with the last Element of Harmony, still in its unawakened stone sphere state, weakly rolling it beneath my hoof and occasionally batting it around.
Cadance backed out of the room when I looked up, and she shut the door. She came back in some ten seconds later, and I still hadn’t moved. Thankfully, though, the Alicorn of Love had at least the slightest bit of empathy and sensed the mood. Instead of berating me for my admittedly foalish behavior earlier, she just sat down across from me.
“Twilight, what…” Cadance said with actual patience in her voice, although she seemed to be at a loss for words. “What is all this?”
I looked up from my hooves at Cadance. My expression must’ve been pretty unreadable, not because it was controlled, but because I had no idea whatsoever what I was feeling right now.
“My crown was too big.” That was technically the honest answer.
“Should I be taking that metaphorically?”
It took me a few seconds to figure out what she meant, but once I had, I gave Cadance a dry chuckle. “Cadance, I’ve been regent for two days. I hardly think I could feel overwhelmed by responsibilities I’ve found I can’t hold to already.”
“Okay,” Cadance said hesitantly, clearly not sure where exactly to go from there. Eventually, she asked, “Where did you get that crown?”
I smiled a little bit, remembering just what was sitting on my head. “It’s the Element of Friendship.”
“Ah. And that?” Cadance pointed to the Element still in my hooves.
Rather than answer that question, I asked one of my own. “Cadance, sister to sister, will you please give me your honest opinion without any of what’s been going on between us since my ascension muddling it?”
Cadance took three seconds longer to reply than I’d have liked, but she said, “I can try.”
“I feel like… I don’t know. It’s hard to put it into words. I feel cheated, and hurt, and angry, and disappointed in myself for not being better than that, and annoyed that Luna of all ponies is taking this in stride while I’m not, and irritated that a third of the people I really care about hate me–”
Interrupting my weakening rant, Cadance said, “Twilight, we don’t hate you.”
I took deep breaths to calm myself down. That had been unfair. “Sorry. I didn’t – I’m just… I don’t know what I’m feeling right now. I… I don’t know. I feel like there was some big lesson we were all supposed to learn – Luna, Celestia, and I – but we didn’t.”
“You mean like forgive and forget?”
It was two or three seconds before I realized I was glaring and stopped. “No. Absolutely not.”
“Twilight,” Cadance sighed. “Aunt Celestia isn’t going to do anything to your Luna anymore. She even left you in charge. Can’t you just let it go?”
“She only left because she thinks she’s already done everything she must to get her way. She’s not repentant. She’s never been punished. She’s never even apologized – not really. No, Cadance, I won’t let it go. Luna did for my sake, not because she’s actually over what happened.”
I grimaced at that slip of the tongue, really, really, really not wanting to get into that topic with Cadance – or anypony else, either. “Nevermind.”
Cadance stopped whatever she was about to say halfway, instead remaining silent on that issue. She then asked, “What was it you wanted my opinion on?”
“I – I don’t even know.” Frustrated, I batted away the Element in my hooves and let it roll off into my closet. It bumped around with heavy thuds before eventually crashing into something and stopping.
After a long, uncomfortable silence, Cadance said, “Twilight, wait right here. I’ll be right back.”
Before I could say anything, Cadance was off, simply demanifesting away. I sighed and collapsed onto my side before rolling over onto my back. Friendship fell off my head and thudded onto the floor; it was not a light crown, not that I’d really noticed. With nothing better to do, I craned my neck back to watch a clock tick away. Anything to avoid going back to thinking right now.
Six minutes and forty-one seconds later, which was definitely not ‘right back’, Cadance walked in through the door with a train of comfort foods following behind her in the air. Nearly every sugary treat in existence had joined us, up to and including ice cream enchanted to stay cold. Were I not an alicorn, I might think Cadance was trying to kill me. Locking the door behind her only reinforced that image, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the idea. Death by sweets, what a way to go.
“Twilight, do you remember what I told you?”
Tearing my gaze away from where Cadance was stacking desserts, I quirked an eyebrow at her, still upside down. “You’ve told me two or three things over the years. Which of those few, scarce words we’ve exchanged are you referring to?”
“A fair question,” Cadance said, smiling slightly. “Remember during your ascension? I told you we needed to spend more time together with just the two of us.”
Right before you left. “Yes, I remember that.”
“I just rescheduled most of our appointments and asked Queen Chrysalis to find someone to fill in for us for those that I couldn’t.”
Chuckling, I said, “Well, that’s good news.”
“Don’t expect this to be a regular thing.”
“I won’t. Not without first corrupting you to my wicked ways.”
Cadance rolled her eyes.
“So what’s the plan, then?” I asked. “You’d have a better chance of locking me in here with books than sweets, you know.”
“No, that’s not it.” Despite my rather vocal protests, Cadance flipped me upright. Being stubborn, I remanifested myself back upside down, which unintentionally reverted me back to my normal form. Cadance was having none of that, though, and she flipped me back onto my barrel again. “Shining mentioned that you were trying to act as a therapist for your Luna.”
Not really in the mood to argue over the semantics of exactly what roles I filled in Luna’s life, I said, “And you want to be mine?”
“Well, I do remember a young filly who came crying to me when she blew up half her house, who was terrified her parents would finally hate her and throw her into a dungeon.”
“I was seven!”
“Yes, you were.” Cadance let out a long sigh. “You’ve changed so much from the little filly I used to foalsit. Once in a while, you do or say something that I just don’t understand. I honestly don’t think I could be your therapist; we’re not as close as we used to be, nor are we strangers. And I missed the last…somewhere between the last five and the last eleven years of your life.”
“Not entirely. We talked often, and I did go to you for advice growing up,” I protested, although the words felt hollow even as I said them. I knew perfectly well that Cadance wouldn’t buy that either. Really, the look she was giving me said that all on its own. Turning my head to look at a suddenly very interesting design on the room’s stonework, I asked, “So what is this, then?”
Cadance reached out with a forehoof to pull my gaze back to her. “I’d like you to tell me everything.”
My breath caught in my throat. “I… Everything, everything?”
Cadance nodded. “Everything, Twilight. I want to understand my little sister again. No sugar coating anything. Don’t try to explain anything with hindsight. I won’t comment. I wont judge. I won’t berate your choices. I might ask questions, but I’ll try not to make them anything like, ‘why didn’t you do this entirely more reasonable thing instead?’ And then when you’re done, I’ll go next. Okay?”
I’d grown more and more horrified at what Cadance was suggesting as she went on. It took a good long while after she’d finished for me to realize she’d stopped talking and was waiting patiently for an answer. “I – I don’t…” I gulped. “That wouldn’t…be a good idea.”
“Twilight, please. I promised you that you’ll always be my sister, and I’ll say it again as many times as you want me to. Nothing you’ve done will change that.”
Yeah, and I bet Luna and Celestia both thought that, too, once upon a time, and just look at how that turned out.
Nonetheless, Cadance was persistent. “Tell me your story. Tell me what you were thinking, and feeling, and why you made the decisions you did. Help me understand, and then I can help you understand me, and then we can help each other.”
“But… I…” I bit my lip, trying not to look at Cadance’s hopeful expression.
“Please, Twilight. Nothing you’ve done can possibly be as bad as what I can imagine. Telling me can’t make it any worse. Not telling me won’t make it go away.”
It was no use fighting against that logic. Cadance had somehow stumbled onto the freaking Litany of Gendlin without knowing it, even if she’d applied it in a non-scientific pursuit.
“Please don’t tell anypony,” I said weakly. Cadance had promised to be nothing but supportive, and there wasn’t really any good reason not to trust her to keep to her word. Maybe this wouldn’t be…not what I didn’t need; it was certainly going to be bad. At the very least, everything would be on the table. We’d either start moving past it, or we’d start fighting over it until the end of time now instead of a century later. Considering who stood across from me, I doubted it’d be the latter, but I’d also bet Luna would’ve said that about Celestia, too.
So far so good, though, for what little that was worth. Cadance sat down and said, “I promise.”
I took a deep breath to prepare myself. This was it, I supposed. “Where do you want me to start?”
“At the beginning.”
“Which beginning?” I could go back to Luna’s and Celestia’s, or their conflict’s, or Sunset’s, or my issues’, or mine.
“Your beginning, Twilight, whatever that is. I’m asking for your story. Start wherever you think it starts.”
I had to stop to think about that for a long while. Where did my story start? The life of Sunset Shimmer was a prologue at most, and it wasn’t really that important for setting the scene, despite how much it explained some of my odd behaviors. And…Twinkleshine had at least had a bit of a point earlier today. Luna’s and Celestia’s problems weren’t mine, so that wasn’t really a good place to start. And skipping forward to when I first met Luna left everything out of context. The day of my first flare wouldn’t make much sense without some background information, and while Cadance had a good idea of what my life was like before then, it sounded like she wanted something more in depth than what I’d shared with her at that age.
That left only one choice.
“Pancakes.” I managed a genuine smile at Cadance’s confused expression. Maybe this actually wouldn’t be so bad after all. I now understood what all the comfort food was for, at least. “That’s what it all started with, Cadance: pancakes. I was two years old at the time. The very first thing I can remember is Mom waking me up for breakfast…”
As day waned into dusk, and dusk passed into night, forgotten in a dark corner of a closet, a bright glow faded away.