Chapter Six - An Unexpected Surprise
“Space,” Twinkleshine said from behind me. We were both on the bridge of our ship. She was taking measurements, and I was reviewing my speech for, hopefully, tomorrow night.
It’d been a little over half a season since I’d first brought Twinkleshine up here, and much of Equus was now covered in snow, transforming it from a beautiful tapestry of color to a dull white. Growing up in Canterlot, we never had much snow, and I’d loved it on the rare occasion when we did.
Now having lived through several weeks of winter in Ponyville, I officially hated snow. Maybe I could convince Luna to take it out of the weather cycle.
“The final frontier,” Twinkleshine continued. Curious, I turned around and found her working at the desk I’d brought up from Equus for the bridge. She hadn’t moved since she’d last checked a compass, but she had mumbled nonsense from time to time.
“These are the voyages of… Hey, Twilight,” Twinkleshine said, looking up from her work. She jumped when she saw I’d walked over to join her at the desk. I swore she tuned out the world even more than I did when she worked.
“What have you been mumbling this whole time?” I asked.
“Oh, just a quote from a sci-fi book I’ve been reading. I wanted to get in the mood, I guess. Visiting other planets, meeting new species, having crazy adventures, breaking all the rules. It sounds like so much fun! I mean, I’ve never broken the rules before, at least not in any significant way.”
I facehoofed. “Twinkleshine,” I said with as much patience as I could manage, “you know this isn’t going to be like that, right? Teleportation is faster than light, but I don’t have the power” – yet – “to cover any useful distances with it. Other than leaving the surface, that is. We’re not going to be battling giant monsters, or sightseeing, or – or whatever. We’re probably not even going to see a single asteroid!”
Twinkleshine gestured toward the star charts and calculations she had littering the desk. Her face said everything for her. In hindsight, it was fairly obvious she knew that.
“So anyway,” I said, changing the topic about as gracefully as an rampaging ursa major changed direction, “have you figured out what happened last time?”
“Yeah!” Twinkleshine’s smile faded a bit as she continued, “Well, probably. It’s hard to know for sure when we can only orbit Equus. I’ll be able to say for sure once we actually leave.”
“Yes, yes,” I interrupted, getting impatient. “I understand the math. Get on with it.”
“Oh, um, right. Sorry, Twilight. I didn’t–”
Sighing first, I said, “Don’t worry, Twinkleshine. I shouldn’t have snapped at you. This is just really important to me.” With an almost sickeningly sweet smile, I asked, “Forgive me?”
Twinkleshine blushed and turned away, stammering, “O-of c-course, Twilight.”
Oh, Twinkleshine, you were just so much fun to tease. Stars, I was turning into Cadance.
“A-anyway, I’m pretty sure whatever” – Twinkleshine was still upset I wouldn’t tell her about the elements until after we left – “we’re retrieving is moving, and fast.”
“Astronomically fast, or normal fast?”
“Astronomically fast. I’m not sure if it’s not on an escape velocity yet, but at the very least, it’ll be centuries before it returns to Equus.”
An idea struck me. “Any chance it’s on–”
“A comet?” Twinkleshine finished, grinning from ear to ear. I couldn’t help smiling, too, taking a strange sense of pride in her. “I have to admit, what you told me didn’t make much sense. I assumed that somepony had to have put whatever you’re looking for out here” – I smiled a little brighter; she really was learning – “but all these compasses point to the same spot. At least roughly.
“But that’s the weird part. If somepony wanted lose a bunch of stuff forever and couldn’t just destroy them for some reason, there’d be no reason to keep them together. Or not to give them a definite escape velocity or not to throw them in the sun, but that’s not the point. The point is, they’re supposed to be findable. Just…not for a while.”
Ruffling Twinkleshine’s mane like Luna did mine, I said, “Nice work. You’re right, but you never mentioned the time limit.”
I barely stifled a laugh at the look Twinkleshine gave me. She looked as if she were about to die.
“Oh, cheer up, Twinkleshine. Even I’m not a natural; I just have a good teacher.”
Twinkleshine looked at me, eyebrows raised. I suppose I would’ve been just as confused before I met Luna if somepony told me they had somepony teaching them how to plot.
“So we’re chasing a comet, then?”
“Probably,” Twinkleshine finally said after a large pause. “It’s in the right area to be Mona, at least. Period unobserved because of Discord, if it even has one. Went by a little less than one-thousand years ago.”
I could have guessed that one myself.
“A day comet. Kind of boring, really. The only interesting part about it is that its tail is a particular shade of green, so it probably has some copper on it, oddly enough.”
“Copper? Any thoughts on why?”
“I have no idea, but I’m not a real expert yet. I’m only thirteen.”
I rolled my eyes at Twinkleshine. I wasn’t at Luna’s level, but I could probably compete with most magic teachers – if not the researchers – and I was only twelve. Still, if Twinkleshine thought the comet was strange, that was not a good sign. It could be benign, or it could be a deathtrap.
“Do you know if Mona always had a green trail?” I asked. With a thousand years, Celestia certainly had enough time to make any edits she wanted, but if she hadn’t bothered and the comet had gone on record as suddenly burning green, that would give me a clue.
Unfortunately, Twinkleshine shrugged. “The charts don’t go back that far.”
Why was I not surprised?
“As I said,” Twinkleshine began, “we don’t even know if it’s a periodic comet. Your guess would be as good as mine. Why do you ask?”
“Just wondering if somepony left a nasty surprise for me.”
“Oh,” Twinkleshine said. It took her a few seconds to realize what I’d really said. “Oh! You don’t think there’s…”
“Or maybe even a civilization? I mean, what if whoever put whatever it is you’re after never left!”
“I highly doubt that.” Celestia, at least, certainly didn’t live there. “From what I know, that sounds much more like a possibility than a probability.”
“Hmm… Alright. Anyway, this is good news, though! We can shave some time off of the end of our journey since we won’t have to slow to a stop or reverse direction.”
That was actually a really good point. I barely believed I hadn’t thought of that. “Any idea how much time we’ll save?”
“No. I haven’t done the math yet” – Twinkleshine turned to her notes and scribbled a few numbers – “but it’ll probably be a lot. Maybe a whole year or more! Your promise to take a shortcut back is still good, right?”
“Great, because otherwise it wouldn’t matter at all.”
“If…” I began. This was a really bad idea, but it was too good to pass up. Besides, Twinkleshine was already on the edge of her seat, waiting for whatever I had to say. I couldn’t not say this now. “If we do have a bunch of extra time, would you – would you pencil in a quick stop at the moon? Please?”
Twinkleshine dropped her quill. A huge splotch of ink seeped through several of her calculations.
“O-of course! Twilight, I would love to go to the moon! But are you sure? We might need that time if we mess up.”
“I know. I know it’s a bad idea, but…but I really want to. It’s stupid, and I’m not going to get what I really want out of it, but…”
I sighed as Twinkleshine hugged me. She was definitely not the pony I wanted right now, yet she would do. We broke apart some unknown time later.
“Did something happen, Twilight?”
“N – sort of. A long time ago. Please don’t worry about it.”
“If you say so,” Twinkleshine said, her face the picture of worry, but only until she suddenly remembered something. “So back to what I was thinking earlier. These are the voyages of…what? What’s our ship called?”
“Do we really have to–”
“Yes.” There was no uncertainty in Twinkleshine’s answer, to say the least. “You’ve been putting this off for forever. The ship is pretty much done now, too.”
“If by ‘pretty much’, you mean ‘an empty shell with some dirt’, then yeah.”
Twinkleshine just stared at me.
“Fine,” I sighed. “Just – just pick a name.”
“Hmm… How about the HMS Beagle?”
“No. Look, first of all, we’re not naming our ship after another one. Second, we are not having HMS in the name. Absolutely forbidden. Understand?”
Twinkleshine managed a tight nod. I hadn’t, strictly speaking, lost my temper, but Luna would be disappointed in me all the same.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean – well, I did, but… I’m sorry.” I really needed to deal with my temper flaring whenever Celestia was mentioned; it was a huge weakness somepony could exploit. “Please, though. Pick a different name.”
“Alright,” said Twinkleshine, recovering. Still rather warily, though, she added, “Your coat was turning white.”
I mumbled a curse. Maybe I had lost my temper just a little bit. I really, really needed to work on that.
“How about the Nebulous?” Twinkleshine suggested, taking my mind off of my issues with Celestia. “It’s spacey and mysterious.”
“It sounds wonderful.”
“Great! Then these are the voyages of the starship Nebulous. Its…some-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to–”
“Are you going to do this the whole time?”
“No,” pouted Twinkleshine. “Just this once. I promise.”
“Go ahead,” I sighed.
“To…um… Hmm… Oh! To seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no pony has gone before.” Finished, Twinkleshine leaned back with a smile.
“Do you finally have it all out of your system?”
“Twinkleshine,” I scolded.
“Fine, fine. I just wish I could make a map or something as we go. I mean, I can only write ‘nothing here’ so many times before I get bored and start writing ‘here be dragons’.”
“It’d probably be an improvement,” I said, chuckling. “Maybe you could keep a log. Not really a space log, but more of a diary, I guess.”
“Maybe,” Twinkleshine pondered.
“Just one thing, though.”
“Please, please, if you do, don’t use stardates.”
Mom and I had walked Twinkleshine home to the dorms and had returned to our Canterlot home. I still had things to do at the school that required my attention, but I didn’t want either Mom or Twinkleshine to know what I was doing. In all likelihood, I would have to get…aggressive.
So under cover of darkness, once everypony was asleep, I made my way back to the school, teleporting most of the way. I didn’t know if the school had wards against teleportation, and I didn’t care to find out. No doubt I’d set off an alarm so close to Celestia’s seat of power if I tried teleporting in.
But there was one interesting tidbit I’d managed to extract from a teacher off-campus. Apparently, some magic was so unknown, so forgotten, nopony felt the need to ward against it anymore.
The first step was to get inside the dorms. It should have been hard, but the dorm mistress recognized me as one of her own by now, so all I had to do was spin a short story about leaving something important – and embarrassing – behind. And explaining where my parents where, but that was simple enough. It was still early enough that some stores somewhat nearby were still open, although not the kind I would be allowed into.
That done, I found my way to Lemon Hearts’s room. I was never so glad before for adults’ utter disregard for foals’ rights. I opened the door – the lockless door – and found Lemon Hearts in bed nearby. It seemed she and whoever her roommate was favored bunk beds, and she ended up with the bottom.
Now…now came the hard part.
First things first, though. I cast a spell Luna had taught me to detect changelings. Honestly, I didn’t know if I was surprised or disappointed when the results came back negative. It would seem awfully foolish to set up a fake identity here, after all.
Still, Lemon Hearts obviously knew one. I couldn’t find a single scrap of information on changelings in the archives, and Twinkleshine took the same classes and didn’t know about changelings. The odds of Lemon Hearts not knowing a changeling were pretty small.
And besides, it wasn’t like I had any other leads. I might have time with Twinkleshine’s good news to hunt one down more directly, but I didn’t want to take that chance unless I absolutely had to.
And it wasn’t as if Lemon Hearts would remember anything. Or that I could afford to let her remember anything.
And – and I was just stalling. I had to do this.
The first step was to place a sleeping spell on both fillies; fillies had a bad tendency to scream. This way, they’d wake up either when I found it appropriate or sometime long after breakfast. There was, of course, no school tomorrow. I was not inequine, after all.
Next, I placed an illusion on myself of myself. The magic I was going to use was not exactly subtle, and I couldn’t walk out of here looking, well, evil. That was probably the real reason dark magic was shunned. Not because of what you could do with it, but because of its admittedly sinister appearance.
And it sort of required a certain feeling, one I unfortunately had in abundance.
I focused on my hatred of Celestia, on what she had done to me, on what she had done to Luna. It only took a second; it never took long, and I’d only been getting better at it.
I could feel the sheer raw power of dark magic welling up within me, waiting to lash out at my slightest whim. It was no wonder Luna was so controlled and why she wanted me to be. The slightest slip, and I could find myself killing a pony by accident.
Taking a deep breath, I cleared my mind – not at peace, just clear, calm, controlled.
It was time. I cast the first spell both Luna and I had learned in this branch of magic. My mane bulged and grew, moving of its own accord, or at least it did underneath my illusion. Once the spell had settled, I reached out with my mane and seized Lemon Hearts with it, imprisoning her inside in a dimensional subspace.
The dimensional prison spell didn’t have to be anchored on a pony’s mane, but Luna said it was something of a tradition. It also wasn’t very difficult to escape if the pony trapped in it knew how to teleport, although it did take some effort.
With my prize claimed, I headed back to the entrance and left the building, giving a nod and a blush to the dorm mistress when I saw her.
As soon as I was far enough away, I bolted into a gallop to leave campus as quickly as possible. I didn’t see anypony along the way, and I slipped out the front gate without trouble. Sneaking down a few alleys, I teleported to my old practice room in the crystal mines.
Immediately after I arrived, I collapsed and threw Lemon Hearts roughly from my mane as I did. Once she was out safely, I ended the spell and rested.
I didn’t know how long I laid there, but I was sure it would never be long enough. Even now, long after I had caught my breath, my heart was still racing. Foalnapping did that to a pony, even if she intended to give the foal back the next morning no worse for the wear.
I reworked my illusion and went through a few rounds of the royal breathing exercises. I was not feeling up to any detail work right now, so I only made a few changes: coat color, mane and tail color, eye color, and size – scaling up of course. I still had the proportions of a filly, but I doubted Lemon Hearts would notice. She would be…preoccupied.
I changed my manecut, too, mostly by ruffling it up. I’d never seen another pony with my manecut before; I was probably the only pony in the world who played up to the librarian look without a bun. It wouldn’t do to give Lemon Hearts any chance of identifying me.
“Wake up,” I said coldly as I cast the relevant spell.
Lemon Hearts jerked awake with a snort, her eyes lazily opening. “Huh? I’m not ready to wake up. Just a little longer.” She groped about for something, probably a pillow and blanket, but found nothing.
“Wake up,” I repeated, forcing her to her hooves. That did the trick.
“Wha? Where am I?” she shouted. “Who are you?”
Ignoring her question, I asked, “Where can I find a changeling?” A word or two in, I realized I’d forgotten to disguise my voice with magic. Berating myself for the oversight, I did the best I could without.
“What are you talking about?” she protested, but her face told another story. Underneath the fear and panic, there was just the slightest momentary widening of her eyes. I was right.
“I will ask you one more time. Where can I find a changeling? I know you know at least one.”
“I-I don’t know.”
I didn’t know whether her tears were real or not, but I would guess not. It was too early. Whatever relationship she had with the changelings, she was not up to their level in acting.
“I warn you, I have no patience tonight.”
Lemon Hearts tried to creep away, but I pinned her to the ground with magic.
“Very well,” I said, my voice as cold and empty as possible. “In that case, I will force you to speak.”
I called forth my anger and hate again, but made no attempt to hide the effects. My eyes glowed a sickly green color, and a blue and black flame flared from the sides. The glow of my magic shared the color but also boiled as if it were a liquid.
I took one measured step forward. My hoofstep echoed throughout the room. I dimmed the lights – my own spellwork years ago – for effect.
Now, yes. Now those tears were real.
“W-w-w-wait! I’ll talk!”
“Too late,” I said, uncaring. I took another step forward.
“M-my s-sister! She’s a changeling! Replaced at birth! Stillborn! Please, please don’t kill me! Please!”
I stood still, silently asking for more.
“Her name’s Amethyst Star! S-she lives h-here in Canterlot!”
“What makes you think we are in Canterlot?” Ever so slightly, I pulled up the corner of my lips. Not enough to suggest I was happy or would enjoy whatever I would do next. No. Only enough to suggest I held the barest hint of amusement.
I crossed the remaining distance between us as slowly as ever and brought our faces close.
“Where?” I whispered. I narrowed my eyes when I felt something wet against my hooves. “Where?” I repeated.
“S-sunflower S-street,” she squeaked, her voice even quieter than mine. “S-six seventeeeeen.”
“Thank you,” I said, knocking Lemon Hearts out again. “I promise you won’t remember this nightmare in the morning.”
The next night, just after sunset, I stood on Sunflower Street. I’d slipped into the dorm early in the morning and had returned Lemon Hearts to her bed. I’d spent the next few hours with Twinkleshine exhausted, quiet, and pretending I’d been enjoying myself instead of wanting to collapse.
This morning, Luna had had little to say when I’d told her about my little escapade. Proud but worried would have described her well enough – that, and a comforting hoof. She’d spent the rest of the morning with me reviewing my role and speech tonight. It had been terribly distracting from last night.
Now waiting just outside the home of Amethyst Star, whom I’d confirmed earlier to be a changeling, I wished I could feel as excited as I should be. It wasn’t often a pony got to be an ambassador, after all.
An ambassador that practically tortured one of their citizens first…
No. No, worst case, I would’ve cast a geas on Lemon Hearts to make her talk. She was young and too inexperienced to resist dark magic at all, so there wouldn’t have been any permanent or even temporary damage done. It wasn’t my fault she was so scared of ponies that only looked scary.
And Lemon Hearts wasn’t a changeling, so she wasn’t a citizen either, regardless of her claimed sisterly relation with Amethyst Star.
And it wasn’t like Lemon Hearts would’ve told me where to find a changeling otherwise. An entire civilization couldn’t manage to extirpate itself from every record and mind – barring Luna and Celestia – without first having tight lips.
Shaking my head, I swapped out my moral contemplation face for my goodwill face and knocked on the door. As funny as it would be in a history book, having first contact be a philosophical debate wasn’t exactly the kind of message Luna and I wanted to send.
The door swung open. Amethyst Star – real name or otherwise – had the form of a light purple coat not much different from my own shade. Her mane and tail were purple as well with a purple stripe, both darker than her coat. Her eyes were purple, too.
Now that I thought about it, she looked an awful lot like me, just bigger and lighter in hue. She probably wouldn’t even need shapeshifting powers to pass as an older version of myself in the right light. Well, except for the three diamond cutie mark. That was a bit of a dead giveaway.
“Ehem. Down here.” I waved a hoof to help attract Amethyst Star’s attention.
“Oh! Sorry, I completely missed you. Are you one of Lemon’s friends?”
“No, but I am aware of her existence.” Before Amethyst Star could invite me inside – I doubted she would immediately attack in public – I said, “I am here to extend a hoof in friendship from my princess to your queen.”
“I see,” Amethyst Star smiled and nodded. “What a delightful imagination you have. Why don’t you come inside? I just put on a fresh kettle of tea.”
“I’m afraid I must decline until you either take me seriously or promise to neither poison me nor attack me as a matter of course. It would be inappropriate to begin relations with violence.”
Amethyst Star’s jaw hung low. She didn’t say a single word and gave me only an expression of shock and disgust. This, this was the acting quality I expected from a changeling.
“Why? Why would you say such things? I – I would never – how could you – where are your parents?”
I fought off the urge to sigh and said, “If you wish, I can explain to you in great detail how to detect and how to reveal changelings. I could also simply reveal you here and now, but neither of us desire that.”
The only thing that betrayed Amethyst Star was her eyes. They were flying to and fro, no doubt analyzing my face for the slightest hint of uncertainty or deception. Of course, there was none to be found.
Finally, Amethyst Star said, “Come in.”
“May I assume that is a promise to exchange words civilly?”
Naturally, Amethyst Star would say yes either way, so when she turned back, I turned up the scary just a bit. I let my eyes glow green with half-empowered darkness, forgoing fully accessing my dark magic to avoid the flames.
Amethyst Star paused. It was the first true break in her act. The words of her answer were as obvious as the necessity of inviting me inside, but she actually took the time to think before she answered.
“Yes, little miss hatred.”
Oh, right. I forgot about the empathy sense.
“My apologies,” I said, returning to normal. “Naturally, that was not directed at you or your species.”
“Naturally,” Amethyst Star echoed as she directed me to a couch in her living room. “Would you care for tea?”
“Yes please,” I said, taking my seat. I would have loved to have said that as a pure gesture of good faith, but I didn’t know enough about changelings, so I watched her with a scrying spell until she returned. Even Luna only knew Changeling 101, so I had no idea what she could do to the tea.
Amethyst Star hoofed off a cuppa into my magic, and I took a sip. I never really understood the whole tea thing, but I wasn’t going to say no to sugar and caffeine.
“Thank you, it’s delicious. Shall we get started, then?”
A moment of silence passed.
“Yes. How did you find out about me?”
“A detection spell,” I lied, although technically I had cast one on her earlier in the day. “It was only a matter of time.”
“Then where did you learn that spell?”
“From the rightful princess of Equestria, Princess Luna.”
A second or two went by before Amethyst Star choked on her tea. Recovering, she rapidly asked, “How do you know that mad mare?”
“She is understandably upset, not insane,” I corrected, not bothering to check my tone or my emotions. “I am her apprentice. How do you know her?”
Nearly a full minute came and went without a word. Obviously, there was a secret to uncover here.
“Celestia was not able to purge our records,” Amethyst Star answered. I was pretty sure that was not the secret.
Still, it was an answer. I’d half-expected – well, mostly expected – Amethyst Star to ignore my question or to give an obvious lie. Perhaps this was a peace offering. Especially since she hadn’t affixed princess to Celestia’s name, although I didn’t know enough about her to know if that was what she wanted me to think. Or if she wanted me to think that. Or…
Right. Moving on. There was an easy way to test if what Amethyst Star had said was true. I didn’t expect her to have any on hoof, but her reply could tell me something of her thoughts.
“I would love to read your historical texts. I’ve never had a chance to read an uncensored version of world history.”
“Why not just ask Ni – Lu – Princess Luna?”
Unable to decide between a smile and a frown, I said, “I don’t know about you, but I would not want to try passing on thousands of years of history orally in any appreciable detail.”
Amethyst Star’s mouth hung slightly open as she failed to find the right words. Eventually, she settled on, “Fair. So…friendship.”
“Ah! Yes, so I was talking with Princess Luna, and neither of us could see any reason why changelings couldn’t live openly in Equestria. There’s so much we could do for each other, and your magic is fascinating. I have to resort to dark magic to do much of what you can, and I still haven’t puzzled out that empathy sense of yours. I really, really want to take a closer look at that sometime. Unicorns have some similar magic, but nothing like your passive magic. Oh! And I promise not to go all mad scientist on my research subject, too. Luna scolded me for days the last time that happened, and I–”
“Ehem,” Amethyst Star interrupted. “Not that you’re not delicious right now, but Queen Chrysalis would prefer to continue this face to face.”
“Ah… Good. That’s – that’s good,” I said, blushing and turning away. “Um, how do you know that? You’re not going to say something really cheesy like, ‘I am Queen Chrysalis,’ are you?”
“Oh, no. I’ve just been speaking for her.”
“Oh, right. Changeling. Sorry.” I had no idea what Amethyst Star was talking about. “If you don’t mind, I’m sort of curious how that works.” I really hoped she – or maybe it was they? – took the bait. I was far more curious what ‘that’ was at all than how ‘that’ works right now.
“You won’t be studying any of our magic, especially not the hive mind, for a long time, if ever.”
Hive mind. Right. I tucked that name away to bring up later. If I said just the right things, I could pretend like I’d known about it all along.
“I – I mean me, me, not the queen – will find you tomorrow and take you to meet Queen Chrysalis.”
“He’s growing up,” Cadance said from the kitchen, “very slowly, but surely.”
I was upstairs in my bedroom listening in with magic and fairly miffed Mom and Cadance had told me they wanted to talk in private. This was hardly the first time I’d heard a conversation like this, but I still didn’t know what I wanted to do about it.
“He finally said his first word a week or so ago, you know. We need to make a final decision now. Twilight is technically his mother, and regardless of her age, the law is very clear that she has to make and sign off on the decision.”
“Why do you even have those laws?” Mom half-shouted. “They’re nonsense!”
“They’re there so nobles can’t do to their foals what we’re doing to Twilight in more reasonable circumstances. You have no idea how many mothers and foals have been kept together because of them. The nobles have been looking for an excuse to remove those laws for centuries, and my breaking it here would be the perfect opportunity. I know Twilight is young, but we can’t even risk letting this law be repealed. It’s been hard enough ‘foalsitting’ him at the castle these past four years.”
“You know what she’s going to say!”
“Twilight will understand if we just talk to her, Velvet. You’re being paranoid.”
I gave a light buck to one of the columns on my old bed. I really wished they would talk about this with me, but it might be for the best that they didn’t. I really didn’t know what to do, and I might have said something I’d regret if Cadance had pressured me into making a decision right away.
On one hoof, I had no idea what I’d do with a wyrmling. I wasn’t anywhere near old enough to try being a mother, even if I was more mature than most fillies my age. And now there was the whole leaving for space thing, too. I probably wouldn’t be a good mother, either.
And yet the idea wasn’t something I could just ignore. I was going to live forever. Forever was a long time. I knew dragons were mortal, but they didn’t die of old age. The more people who could accompany me into eternity, the better.
Also, I wasn’t going to delude myself enough to think I’d never want to be a mother. I probably wouldn’t really be interested for…I didn’t even know. A long time, at least. But eventually, I’d want to give it a try. I could always adopt a dragon later, but I was sure I’d feel terrible about it.
And really, behind it all, I didn’t know if I could bring myself to abandon Spike like Celestia had abandoned me. The thought of it was repellent, if not necessarily logically so. These were very different situations.
A knock came at the front door.
“Tomorrow night,” Mom grumbled. “We’ll talk to her then.”
“It’s always tomorrow, Velvet. You have to mean it this time.”
“I…do. Twilight’s going to a…sleepover tonight, I guess.”
Ha! I chuckled on my way down the stairs as I dismissed my spell. I was spending the night at Queen Chrysalis’s, but it certainly wasn’t for a sleepover.
Mom and Cadance joined me in the foyer, and I held my breath as I opened the door. I didn’t know if Cadance could spot changelings on sight – seriously, what did it even mean to eat love? – but I was about to find out.
I carefully watched Cadance’s reaction to Amethyst Star. Raised eyebrows came, but no signs of shock, horror, et cetera. Excellent. Last night and tonight would be pointless if she could recognize changelings with a casual glance.
I turned to find Amethyst Star waiting on the other side – and drooling. That explained the raised eyebrows. It only took me a second to figure out why.
Stepping forward, I whispered, “Please don’t mind the Princess of Food. She’s not coming with and doesn’t know.”
“Ah,” Amethyst Star said, wiping away the drool. “Right. Um…”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Amethyst Star,” Mom said. “Twilight can be quite a wingful, so please be careful with her tonight.”
“Mom,” I groaned, only half-faking it. I knew she meant it as a threat, not as a careless embarrassing comment. Still, I could make my own threats.
“Oh, Twilight. Your mother means well,” Cadance said as if she hadn’t been fighting with Mom only moments ago. “It’s good to meet you. Might I ask how you know Twilight?”
Amethyst Star was staring blankly at Cadance again. I gave her a sharp kick while Cadance wasn’t looking. Was it really so hard to just ignore a feast? Honestly.
“Yes! Good to meet you, Princess. I uh, oh. Uh, I’m Lemon Hearts’s big sister.”
“Ah, I remember her.” Cadance turned to address me and said, “I wasn’t aware you were hanging out with her.”
Ugh, Cadance was such a pain to work around. At least she hadn’t confronted me about Twinkleshine’s feelings yet.
“It’s complicated filly stuff,” I said, going with sarcasm and disdain over haughtiness. Cadance would never buy it if I debased myself enough to act like a normal teenage filly. If she stuck her muzzle any deeper into this, Amethyst Star and I had a consistent explanation – an overly dramatic one, just for Cadance – for why we were spending the night together without Lemon Hearts. And without any love between us, too, because I was positive Cadance could tell.
“Oh, I’m sure,” Cadance said. If I had to guess, I would say she’d lost interest, but for once, I had no idea what she was thinking. “My foalhood wasn’t so long ago for me either, although the whole princess thing made the latter half weird.”
After humming to herself, Cadance added, “Anyway, have a good time. Your mother and I still have things to talk about.”
I said my goodbyes and headed outside. Amethyst Star followed shortly after. We made our way through Canterlot in silence until we arrived at her house. Directly inside were two unicorns, or rather two changelings disguised as unicorns.
All three changelings said nothing, but their faces clearly showed conversation taking place. I was fairly certain the hive mind Amethyst Star had mentioned allowed them to talk to each other telepathically – which sounded awfully convenient – but I wanted to know what else it could do. Talking was just an exchange of information, so in theory, they should be able to share any random information. In theory. It might not be as simple as sending an image or a string of neuron states – okay, it almost certainly wasn’t that simple, but the potential applications were still astounding.
My very irrelevant train of thought was interrupted when one of the unicorns turned himself into me. I gave him a quick once-over. The transformation was flawless. It wouldn’t fool Cadance, but on the off-chance anypony else came looking for me, it should deceive their casual glance.
With a few nods amongst the changelings – I felt a strange sense of exclusion – the other unicorn-changeling built up power for a teleport. A ring of fire flared up around me, and he and I sank into the ground. It was an odd experience, to say the least: clunky, slow, and…unsmooth. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a rough or turbulent ride, but it completely lacked the grace of my own teleports.
It was, however, a respectable display of power. We found ourselves at the base of the Canterhorn. That wasn’t anywhere near my max range – with or without risking a flare – but it was far more power than most unicorns could muster.
We went through a series of teleports before I was hoofed off to another changeling who continued the journey. After one more hoof off, I found myself – ironically – in the Everfree Forest, a ring of changelings encircling me and one very big one in front of me. If my knowledge of the flora was right, we weren’t very far in, and considering the direction we’d come from, we were probably close to Ponyville.
The circle was rather warm for winter, but a bit cool for summer. The snow had melted long ago, as the ground was only slightly muddy. I made a mental note to ask Luna to add muddy terrain to my sparring lessons.
“Well met, Twilight Sparkle,” the big changeling said. She was almost certainly Queen Chrysalis or another changeling taking her form. If I were her, I would be one of the guards right now. Probably one of the ones behind the big changeling but slightly to the side to watch my expressions.
Or even better, she could be somewhere else entirely, and all this was just to see what I would do when I met her in person. Either way, I was almost certainly speaking with the real queen.
“Queen Chrysalis, I presume,” I said, not betraying my suspicions more than looking at, but behind, the alleged queen more often. None of the changelings behind her looked suspicious, but if anypony besides Luna could notice my suspicions and keep herself hidden, it would be the queen of the changelings.
“Indeed. I must admit, your sudden appearance has caught me off guard, which is quite the rare event. Imagine my surprise when a filly threatened one of my nymphs enough to make her contact me directly.”
I see, so we were going to play that game. “I trust you understand why that was necessary. After all, a filly could.” Ugh. Clumsy, Twilight. Very clumsy. You could do far better than that.
Queen Chrysalis sneered. “Oh, quite. Now if I may ask, where is the princess?”
“Still banished, unfortunately, but it is common knowledge in certain circles that she will return soon.”
“Interesting, and here I believed she was permanently dealt with like Discord. I take it she’s visiting dreams?”
If I just wanted to read changeling records before, now I would kill to read them. Queen Chrysalis had more information than just an unbiased account of history.
Nodding, I said, “She spends all morning, every morning with me.”
“Ah, yes. You are her little apprentice, the little Flare that Celestia abandoned and Mi Amore adores.”
Okay, note to self: never, ever underestimate the changeling information network.
A silence settled, and Queen Chrysalis looked as if she were thinking of what to say, but I wasn’t buying it. There was no way she’d entered this conversation without planning it out.
“I have one question to ask you before I lend you my changelings.”
Queen Chrysalis paused, no doubt expecting that to have shocked me, but it was an obvious guess. Why approach the changelings now instead of any other time the past thousand years? We needed something. And what did changelings have that nopony else did? An expertise in disguise, acting, and espionage.
There probably were some other outlier reasons, but that was by far the most probable motivation I could think of.
“I am sure a smart little filly such as yourself realizes that with Princess Luna’s attention on me, my hoof is now forced. I must pick a side, and it must be the winning side. Why yours?”
Alright. Luna and I had worked out all the details, and I’d practiced this for several days, and now it was time for that effort to pay off.
“Long ago in the days of old, Celestia required the Elements of Harmony to defeat Princess Luna. She alone cannot defeat Princess Luna, and–”
“Celestia has Mi Amore,” Queen Chrysalis countered, interrupting me, but that was fine. If she wanted to make this a back and forth, point and counterpoint, I had no complaints. Or at least I had none beyond a frustrated ripping up of parchment in my mind.
“Cadance is useless in combat–”
“Except as a power source,” Queen Chrysalis interrupted again. “Our records are very clear that Princess Luna had to fight with all her strength to win.”
“As you said, Cadance adores me. I can–”
“Celestia would never allow it. Even then, what of the elements?”
I gritted my teeth, and Queen Chrysalis waited silently. I was sure I’d already given away that we had a plan by virtue of not answering, but it really hit me now just how much of a do or die situation I was in. There were at least two changelings waiting in Canterlot to rush to Celestia if I failed here, and then the elements would be beyond my reach forever. And that was ignoring the certain banishment or execution that would be waiting for me.
“Celestia has hidden the elements. I’m leaving to recover them and render them useless. That is why–”
“You need replacements. Interesting. Where are the elements, then?”
“They are on Mona, a comet. I will be gone for a long time.”
“Ha! And how do you plan to get there? Wings will only carry you so far, so fast, little apprentice.”
Using the spell I’d cobbled together for Twinkleshine oh so long ago, I gave Queen Chrysalis a view of the Nebulous. Satisfyingly, she actually appeared lost for words, although again, that could just be a changeling posing as her being lost for words.
“I have been busy the last approximately two seasons. Space is not that hard to get to, when you know what you are doing. The math is done. I will catch up to the comet, and I will retrieve the elements. However, Cadance will want to see me while I’m gone.” I let the implication hang in the air.
“Twilight Sparkle, I am…impressed. However, you have not addressed how you expect Princess Luna to overcome both Celestia and Mi Amore.”
We assumed I would have to reveal this, but I still hesitated. “I’m going to ascend.”
“You say that with such…certainty.”
“There are two historical precedents for ascension using the elements.”
“I will take your word for that. Now be honest, how likely do you believe your plan is to succeed?”
“It w–” Queen Chrysalis’s stare cut me off. Fine. Her constant interruptions and quick questions were annoying, but if she wanted a real answer, I’d give her a real answer.
“With ninety-nine percent probability, I will be able to reach Mona. Princess Luna and I agree that I will be able to make it before Celestia can bother her royal rear to fetch the elements, but if you want a pessimistic estimate, I would say I have an eighty percent chance of success there.
“In Princess Luna’s opinion, based on many past attempts, I will be able to ascend when I arrive, although I may have to kick-start the process with a ritual. I have no idea how likely Cadance would be to spot my replacement; that is all on you.”
I wished I hadn’t emphasized that last word, but it was done. “The risky part is the final confrontation. Celestia and Princess Luna can crush Cadance and I, but I can easily defeat Cadance. Pessimistically, I would put our side at a seventy percent chance of victory.
“So,” I concluded, “worse case, I estimate we are more likely to succeed than to fail.”
Queen Chrysalis smiled and relaxed her wings. “And thus you conclude that I should wager on Princess Luna.”
A second passed in silence, which Queen Chrysalis would normally have filled with an instant response.
My jaw dropped before I could help it. “What do you mean no?” I shouted.
“You are overconfident, and your scheme requires too many things to go right,” Queen Chrysalis said, walking to me and forcing me to strain my head up. “You are going to fail. This is not your best plan; this is your only plan. You two are desperate and out of options.”
“That is not–”
“It is the truth!” Queen Chrysalis shouted, stomping her hoof. “Besides which, this is the perfect chance to gain, as you called her, the Princess of Food’s favor. Why would we ever risk her displeasure? She could eradicate us, should she be so inclined. Do not think I do not know the secrets of alicorns!”
“No! Cadance would never do that! She’s a huge softie! I know she will come around if Princess Luna and I win.”
“If. Ifs are all you have. We are done here.”
“Wait!” I shouted. I couldn’t let the conversation end. Queen Chrysalis would send her minions to Celestia as quickly as possible, preempting any story I might come up with.
I tried forming words while Queen Chrysalis stared at me, but I couldn’t think of anything. I had nothing. Luna and I had gambled everything and lost. It was all over. My head fell to the ground.
No! I snapped back to attention, dark flames pouring from my eyes. If Queen Chrysalis really was here, I could place a geas on her. I just needed to do it before she could send out a warning or a request for aid.
I readied myself to attack, and I could see the guards responding, but Queen Chrysalis stood unmoving. And then a thought struck me. I could use the geas spell without actually using it, in a sense.
Relaxing my stance, I tried one last attempt, my manners and grace completely forgotten and my breathing ragged.
“Chrysalis, I know dark magic. There’s a spell that allows me to override the will of others. I could place a harmless, unrelated one on you, and if Luna and I are defeated, you can reveal that you were under a magical compulsion to help us. You can play both sides! You don’t have to pick!”
The guards were ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.
Queen Chrysalis’s face was blank.
I…I had a teleport spell ready on a hairpin trigger, ready to run for my life and nearly in tears. Cadance was alone and vulnerable. If I could get to her first, I might be able to make a geas stick. Then… Then something.
I waited; that was all I could do. My heart was beating so hard, I could feel all of my veins pulsing. That wasn’t helping.
“Twilight Sparkle.” Queen Chrysalis broke the silence and waited, saying nothing more. Finally, she continued, “I have two conditions.”
I nearly fell to the ground and cried. Knocking myself out was a second option, although I’d almost had that choice taken out of my hooves. I’d never fainted before, but I’d never been closer.
“Name them.” I could barely hear myself, but I thought I managed to speak clearly through the euphoria.
“First, if you and Princess Luna succeed, you will see to it that Mi Amore becomes a friend to changelings.”
“Done,” I agreed immediately. I then spewed an explanation as quickly as possible. “You said you know alicorn secrets. Then you know that Cadance will be able to spot a fake me if there isn’t mutual love between the fake and her. She won’t let go of that love, and if she likes one of you, she’ll like you all in general. Maybe not specific instances, like you for betraying Celestia - I don’t really know – but she won’t condemn your entire species, and she wouldn’t kill its queen.”
“Very well, but you still will be responsible for ensuring she will always be there for us. Forever. Understood?”
“Good. Second, I will be coming with.”
I cocked my head to the side. Coming with where?
“To retrieve the elements,” Queen Chrysalis added. “I will not risk accepting a geas unless it becomes absolutely necessary. This precludes me from leaving your presence during your trip. Unless you have another dark mage on your…team?”
I opened my mouth and shut it. “Not…that I know of. I can ask Princess Luna, but I think she and I are the only ones. But what about your hive?”
“They can manage without my physical presence.”
Wait. That didn’t sound right. “What do you mean?”
“I shall simply rule completely over the hive mind. I have had weeks where I did not get out of bed. This will simply be a bit longer.”
“You…do realize space is big, right? You will probably be out of range within a day.”
“Do not worry. So far as we can tell, the hive mind is rangeless, or rather it has no range.”
“Alright then,” I said, smiling. Then the implications sank in. “What?”
Amethyst Star dropped me off at home the next afternoon to keep up appearances, and Mom received me with a frown. Besides a few words with Luna last night, the whole matter with Spike had gone completely out of my mind. Although it was possible Mom could just be worried about me instead. I might be a fake, after all.
Regardless, I was far too excited to be dragged down by Mom’s mood.
“Mom, I have something really important to tell you!” When I saw Cadance come outside, I added, “In private.” Then I remembered to say the codeword ‘synecdoche’ – correctly pronounced, of course – and Mom relaxed a little bit.
It wasn’t exactly the best Turning test to identify me as Twilight Sparkle, but it was enough to ease Mom’s worries, and Luna would know or would quickly find out if I wasn’t who I said I was.
“Could it wait, Twilight? Cadance and I have something we need to talk to you about.”
“No, it can’t wait. It’s really, really important. I’ll meet you up in my room.”
I bolted off after quickly greeting Cadance and headed up to my room. I cast a few privacy spells. They weren’t anything that would stop the dedicated eavesdropper, but they were both subtle enough Cadance wouldn’t notice them and good enough to prevent her from listening in.
Finally, Mom entered my room, and I beckoned her over.
“Mom!” I whispered. It wasn’t necessary, but I couldn’t help myself. I was too excited. “I found a way to stay in touch while I’m gone!”
Mom’s eyes went wide, and she hugged me with all her might.
“Sorry. Please hold out a moment longer.”
Several seconds later, Mom released me, and I took a huge gasp of air. When I moved back enough to see her face, I could see tears at the corner of her eyes.
“You don’t know how much that means to me and your father, Twilight. Thank you. Just – thank you.”
Squirming out of her affections and fixing my mane, I said, “Okay, okay. I get it. I love you, too. Now let’s go have that talk with Cadance.”
I ran out of the room, leaving Mom behind, and headed for the living room. Cadance was waiting for me, well, us, on the couch. I took a seat across from her, and Mom joined us soon after, sitting down next to Cadance. In the interim, Mom had managed to compose herself and had returned to her ‘I have something terribly serious to discuss’ face.
Cadance had the same expression.
Mom tried to speak a few times, but failed. After the third time, Cadance said, “Twilight, do you remember–”
“Spike?” I interrupted. I was in far too good a mood to play along with the obvious weighty matters script.
Both Mom and Cadance wore their shock on their face, but Mom’s faded soon after. She sighed and said, “Eavesdropping is a very bad habit, Twilight.”
I smiled, not bothering to comment. Keeping secrets from the pony they concerned was just as bad of a habit.
“Still,” Mom began, “I guess this makes things easier. How much did you overhear?”
“Pretty much everything.”
“Twilight!” Cadance scolded.
Nope. Still in too good a mood. I just chuckled.
“This is a serious matter, Twilight.”
“Why? All you want me to do is sign some papers to give up somepony I’ve never really met who’s never really met me.” It really was that simple.
Cadance gaped at me, looking much like I’d just slapped her. Mom, on the other hoof, couldn’t seem to decide what face to make.
“Is that what you…” Cadance looked away and floated a small stack of parchment onto the table with a vial of ink. “Here. We need your signature next to your mother’s everywhere it appears.”
Ah, I knew that would be worth it. Both of them were so easy to get worked up.
“Honey…” Mom began, but Cadance interrupted her.
“Twilight, Spike is a dragon. He’ll still be a foal when you…”
I had little doubt the next word was supposed to be ‘die’. Cadance hadn’t really thought very hard about that in advance, had she?
Mom tried to say something to Cadance, but ultimately, she didn’t, or perhaps couldn’t. Instead, she bit her lip and looked away. When Luna told my parents exactly why I needed to go to space to make sure they didn’t do anything stupid, she’d forced them to make the same promise I had when Luna first told me of ascension.
“When you’re grown, and married, and your own foals have grown,” Cadance finished rather lamely. “You won’t be able to treat him like a brother. You won’t be able to treat him like a son.”
“Cadance, believe me when I say I don’t care about that. You’ve been arguing with Mom over this for half a season now. I’ve had plenty of time to think about it and to discuss it with an older friend.”
And if that wasn’t completely true, Cadance didn’t need to know. I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this, but Luna had recommended I try it for a few years to see how things went if I were undecided, which I was. And who could possibly give me better advice? Celestia and Cadance were the only two with comparable lifespans, and only Celestia was as old, but I couldn’t talk to either of them.
Well, technically, there was also Discord, but he was legitimately a monster. Nopony should go to him for advice.
“I – Twilight – argh!”
Sigh. Now I felt a little bad. Just a little. I really shouldn’t try to purposefully frustrate Cadance like this.
And she was understandably frustrated. There was very little Cadance could do to oppose my choice, even on a trivial level. If I didn’t give up Spike, then her efforts were wasted.
On the other hoof, there was an entirely different problem. If I gave up Spike, I was almost certainly going to be dragged into court, administered a zebra truth serum, and forced to reveal everything relevant Cadance, Mom, and Dad had said to me about the matter. If Cadance said anything against my decision here and I changed my mind, that would come spilling out, which would be disastrous for her little legal problem.
Mom whispered aside to Cadance, “As I said.”
Cadance shot Mom a dirty look.
Ignoring the look, Mom asked, “Twilight, Honey, are you sure about this?”
“Velvet? What are you–”
Mom shushed Cadance. “This won’t be like taking in Owlowiscious. You will have a lot of help, I know, maybe more than you can manage. But I also know you’ll feel miserable if he becomes too much for you, to say nothing of how poor Spike would feel.”
Smiling, I said, “I’m sure, Mom. I know the first decade will be rough, but I think I have a chance at something…something magical, and I would regret it forever if I ignored this chance.”
Well, I would get over it eventually in the same sense that Spike would die eventually, but there was no telling how long that would be. And that wasn’t a very good approach to immortality. It was singularly bad, actually. It was the perfect mindset to become an all-powerful bystander, and I wanted no part of that nonsense. Ultimately, in all honesty, I thought the deciding factor for me was that I just didn’t want to be like Celestia.
Mom gave me a weak smile. That was something, at least. Cadance, on the other hoof, was scowling and grumbling to herself.
“So?” I asked. “When can I expect Spike?”
Making a sound somewhere between a sigh and a growl, Cadance bit her lip. She said, “Tomorrow afternoon,” got up, and left.
I watched Cadance leave, sad to see her go. I’d expected this to upset her, but I hadn’t expected her to leave. Turning back to Mom, I found she was still smiling. At least one of us was.
“Later,” Mom began, crossing the gap between us. She hugged me and continued, “When we’re with your father – and nopony else – we need to have a long talk about this. I think I understand, but I want to hear everything from you directly.”
I nodded and returned Mom’s hug.