Chapter Eight - The Longest Night - Part One
“From what Berry Punch has told me, Queen Chrysalis, we should be ready to leave in early to mid summer,” I said over the roar of the Canterlot Main Square fountain. Even in winter, Canterlot radiated a summer vibe. We were, as tradition dictated, scheduled for snow tonight in time for Hearth’s Warming Eve and the winter solstice in two days.
“The exact date depends on how quickly I can find another earth pony to help her. And if I wait to give my parents one more of my birthdays… Anyway, she’ll be moving up permanently with Berry Pinch two weeks after Hearth’s Warming, so we’ll need to get her replacements ready before then.”
“Speaking of which,” said Amethyst Star, relaying our conversation for Queen Chrysalis, “your replacement is of far greater importance, and to a lesser degree, Spike’s as well.”
Harrumphing, I said, “I know. I won’t get in the way of the plan.”
“Says the little filly with an underdeveloped, emotional brain.”
“Oh, yes. Ha, ha. Pick on my age. That’s always an easy one.”
Amethyst Star gave me a meaningful stare for Queen Chrysalis. Obviously, she did not feel reassured. I couldn’t really blame her, but it was still annoying.
“Look,” I began, “I realize that I’m taking a non-trivial risk of breaking my relationship with Cadance for years. But remember, if that does happen, I won’t care. Well, I will in the sense that I’ll remember I lost something wonderful, but I won’t feel the loss, so it won’t be hard to follow the plan. Satisfied?”
Amethyst Star laughed – had she really needed to repeat that? – and said, “So young. No, I am not concerned about that. I’m concerned you shall interrupt the plan the next morning.”
It took me a half-second to make the connection. In my best indignant voice, I said, “I’m not so petty as to be overcome by some simple jealousy.”
Snickering, Amethyst Star asked, “You are quite forgetting the precedent, are you not?”
“Huh? What are you talking about?” I wasn’t playing dumb. I really had no clue what Queen Chrysalis was alluding to. I might have some problems, but they’d never stemmed from jealousy of all things.
Looking at me like I was an idiot, Amethyst Star replied, “Your mentor.”
“Oh,” I deadpanned. I had to admit she had a fairly reasonable concern there, given whatever information was available to her, even if it was a rather insulting concern. Luna wouldn’t ruin this, either. “I don’t have any evidence to submit to allay your fears there. However, I can promise to sleep through the solstice and Hearth’s Warming. You can even have one of your changelings cast the sleeping spell if you want. After that, you know it would cost too much to interfere.”
That was true if by ‘too much’, I instead meant ‘everything’. There was no way I was going to drag a changeling version of me in front of Cadance to show what had really happened. That would require too much explanation, and then Celestia would inevitably become involved, and then it would all be over.
“Very well, although I believe we have some of your evidence descending upon us. I shall take my leave and observe this little comedy from afar.”
Completely ignoring my confusion, Amethyst Star left and took her privacy wards with her, quickly disappearing into the crowd of ponies in Main Square. I hated it when ponies did the whole cryptic exit thing. Although, I admittedly enjoyed doing it myself…
Anyway, there was no use puzzling over Queen Chrysalis’s words without first finding out more. The way she’d phrased it made it sound like I just needed to wait for something to happen.
Turning behind me, I said, “Spike… Spike?” Great, now Spike was missing. I could easily find him with magic, but I took the easier option and scanned the crowd first. How hard could it be to spot a baby dragon in Canterlot?
Oh, horseapples. The answer was not hard at all, especially not if said baby dragon were playing with a filly wearing a ridiculous hat and cape. I facehoofed for good measure before fixing a smile onto my face and walking over to the pair.
“Hello, Trixie,” I said. I moved over to stand beside Spike and rubbed his head gently, saying, “You’re not supposed to wander off, you know.”
Spike looked at me. His confusion was obvious. Sighing, I reminded myself that Spike was too young to parse most syntax.
“Don’t wander off, Spike.”
“Sorry,” he replied, settling – presumably comfortably – into my hooves.
Looking up from Spike, I turned my attention to Trixie. She looked away as I looked to her and fidgeted on her hooves. For a half-second, her muscles twitched to allow her to bolt, but she stopped herself with visible effort.
“Hello, Twilight… Long time no see.”
“Not since last year’s Nightmare Night.”
Silence fell between us, although the square had a lot of background noise, and Spike was not exactly quiet himself. So why was Trixie here?
Well, that could be any number of reasons. I doubted she’d actually been looking for me; Spike had probably run into her instead. So rather than asking why was she here, I should ask why she felt so awkward around me this time. Or if I were feeling bold, I could just actually ask her instead of trying to puzzle it out. Trixie had never left me with the impression of being uninterested in talking about herself.
“What’s wrong, Trixie?”
Still fidgeting on her hooves, Trixie replied, “I was – well, I just – Spike – I hadn’t seen him in a while, and I…um…I missed him.”
Wow, talk about obviously lying – lying about that being why she felt awkward. From the little interaction between them that I’d seen, Trixie did appear to like Spike. That wasn’t terribly surprising, considering Cadance had kept him at the castle for four years.
“Okay, Trixie, you might have fooled me when I was – I don’t know – four. What’s really wrong?”
“I…uh…” Trixie’s withers fell, and she slumped down to her haunches, clamming up.
Sighing, I said, “Well, if you have nothing to say, we should–”
“Wait!” shouted Trixie, lifting a hoof. Somehow, I couldn’t help but think she had thought I’d been further away. “Er…wait. I…have something I need to ask you.”
After a long enough silence for Spike to actually fall asleep on us, I asked, “Well?”
“Just give Trixie – me a minute to prepare myself.”
I rolled my eyes but waited anyway on the off-chance I could learn something useful from Trixie’s question. That, and because I had no idea how I was supposed to score points with Queen Chrysalis here other than not blowing up at Trixie – for whatever reason – but walking away probably wasn’t the right answer. Maybe Queen Chrysalis didn’t know that I held no particular dislike for Trixie.
But I still found her annoying in a Celestia-independent manner.
Finally, Trixie asked, “Why do Princess Cadance and Princess Celestia get all weird when you come up in conversation?”
“What, did they not tell you?” I asked on instinct. “No, stupid question. I need to stop doing that. Rather, did you not ask them?”
Trixie frowned. “They won’t tell me anything.”
“Ah. Well, have you tried asking anypony else? I’m sure there are a lot of ponies on staff at the castle that could tell you enough for you to force Cadance or Celestia to tell you the rest.”
On second thought, maybe not Celestia. I had few doubts about the number of ponies she took into her confidence. If what she’d done to history were any indication, she did not like sharing information. She was probably trigger happy with memory spells, too. I at least tried to minimize how many I absolutely had to use.
“Trixie is asking you!” Trixie half-shouted, stomping her hoof. “I mean…I’m asking you. This sounds like a private kind of thing.”
I sighed. “Look, I’m not very comfortable talking about this.” Mostly because I didn’t know why Celestia would feel awkward, but also since Trixie didn’t already know, I assumed Celestia didn’t want her to know, and I wasn’t going to bring Celestia’s wrath down on me by giving Trixie information to guess with.
Still, Trixie had given me some interesting information. Celestia and awkward were two words that rarely went together. Maybe I could get Trixie to find out the details for me if I pushed exactly the right buttons.
“I–” Trixie began in what have no doubt been a very blunt manner before calming down. “I…I’m sorry. I’ll just go, then.”
“Trixie, wait,” I said. “You’re always welcome to come visit Spike when we’re in town.”
“I, uh, sure. Thanks. But maybe some other time.”
Trixie turned to leave, and as she took her first steps away, I said just loud enough for her to hear, “Cadance can’t keep secrets. Catch her alone.”
Ears twitching, Trixie walked a little faster.
I chuckled as I lifted Spike gently onto my back. Cadance was going to be mad. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her mad before. Maybe she never had been.
Oh, this was going to be fun.
Cadance getting mad was also good for the replacement plan, and I might learn something interesting from this, but I knew those were mostly just rationalizations. Anger and Cadance were just so conceptually far from each other: I was curious.
However, excuse or otherwise, I wasn’t going to pass up a perfect opportunity to say those four magical words.
“All according to plan.”
Luna pulled me closer with a hoof and lowered her voice so that only I could hear. Not that there was anypony around but me to hear.
“Pay close attention, Twilight. This will be one of the most complex, critical, confounding spells I can teach you, and perhaps the single most important spell of all time. But first I need you to stabilize your dream into an outdoor area.”
I nodded and focused on rearranging the world from a cozy little starlit room to a generic wide open park. Just for good measure, I dotted the landscape in the distance with the occasional tree.
Pausing momentarily for a deep breath, Luna made good on her promise. I felt the spell grow and weave together in unexpected ways around us. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The sheer intricacies involved were baffling.
Finally, when the spell finished, the brilliant cyan and violet light of Luna’s magic died down. In its place was a waffle cone with one scoop of strawberry and one of rocky road.
My jaw dropped. That was what that spell did? It summoned ice cream?
Luna took a sizable bite out of the strawberry and presumably swallowed it whole. She shivered next to me and asked, “Want some? It’s quite good.”
The alicorn-sized ice cream held up to me, I took a small, awkward bite out of the rocky road. It was good.
After a few more dazed samples of the ice cream, I finally asked, “Is…is that it?”
Luna took a while to break away from her snack. “What could possibly be more important than ice cream?”
“Wha… Oh, I get it. The ice cream is a distraction. Whatever the spell really did,” I continued, looking around with both my eyes and my horn to find some obvious spell effect, “the ice cream was just to get my attention away from it.”
After another large bite and a quiet squeal of delight, Luna said, “Well, there is an art to misdirection while casting spells, especially in theater and combat. You’re picking that up slowly in our little sparring matches well enough. But I’m afraid all I did was make some ice cream.” Aborting a lick halfway through, Luna asked, “Oh, did you want another flavor?”
“I… No, I like rocky road just fine. Strawberry is okay, too, I guess.”
“Twilight!” Luna gasped. “Our friendship is over. Strawberry is clearly the best flavor.”
“What?” I shouted. “How can you say that? Strawberry pales in comparison to butterscotch!”
“Eurgh. I don’t understand how you can stomach that stuff, let alone be so obsessed with it. Something must’ve gone wrong when you were being born. I swear, your sweet tooth is worse than S…”
Luna briefly looked like she would finish her sentence before she frowned and took another bite of strawberry. An extra large one that she paid for with a bout of brain freeze.
“Ha,” I laughed weakly. “Strawberry always betrays you in the end.”
“Yes,” whispered Luna, frowning, “yes it does.”
Putting the flavor debate on hold, I crossed the already short distance between us and gave her an obviously much needed nuzzle. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s nothing, Twilight. I just get sentimental around the winter solstice.”
Well duh. Luna got like this every year, but she was never this bad. Something extra troubling must’ve been on her mind this year.
“I spoke with Queen Chrysalis this afternoon,” I said. Luna turned to look at me slowly, her eyes inviting me to continue. “She was concerned I’d do something stupid, so I promised that I’d sleep through the solstice and Hearth’s Warming. Do you think we could spend them together this year?”
“I–” Luna began.
She sounded like she was going to say no again, so I put on my best pleading face, exaggerating my sad pout and widening my eyes. I might even have accidentally added a sparkle to my gaze by virtue of being in my dream.
“That doesn’t work on me, Twilight,” Luna said, a faint smile creeping up on her face. “The most that’ll get you is another ice cream.”
“But I would enjoy spending Hearth’s Warming with you.”
Did Luna really say what I’d just heard? “Are – are you sure? Do you really mean it?”
“Yes, I have…” Luna sighed. “I could really use the company.”
Nearly skipping, I moved to Luna’s side and snuggled comfortably into her. This would be the best Hearth’s Warming ever! A few minutes of simply enjoying each other’s presence later, I remembered something else important that had happened.
“Hey. I also ran into Trixie today, and she said something strange.”
Laughing weakly, Luna said, “I was under the impression everything she said was strange.”
“More strange than usual,” I replied, rolling my eyes and nudging Luna in her side. “She said that when I come up in conversation, Cadance and Celestia ‘get all weird’. She was acting weird, too.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Prepare yourself, because this is shocking,” I joked. “She was making a deliberate effort to avoid illeisms.”
“Ha! Do you take me for a fool?” Luna asked, smirking and obviously holding in more laughter. It was a big change from her earlier melancholy, and I was ecstatic to be the pony that had cheered her up; Luna almost always had to pull herself out of her funks despite my best efforts.
“It’s true!” I insisted. “She was also clearly uncomfortable around me, and I really don’t know what to make of it.”
“Well, let’s try to puzzle it out. Maybe if we line up enough facts, something will jump out at us.”
“Okay,” I said, bringing a large chalkboard into existence. Holding a piece of chalk in my magic, I asked, “So what’s first?”
“Hmm… I believe we can ignore my niece’s part in this for the moment. Her behavior is quite straightforward.”
Talk about an understatement.
“So we should focus on the relationships between you, Trixie, and my sister. What are your thoughts there?”
“Well, I haven’t so much as seen Celestia since…last time, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen Trixie. I would assume Trixie is fond of Celestia, which means the feeling is likely returned to some degree.”
“Yes,” Luna said, “I can vouch that my sister usually enjoys her student’s company to some degree, although she teaches because she enjoys teaching rather than for her student’s sake.” When I’d finished writing that information down, Luna continued, “You should add Trixie’s odd behavior to the list as well. How did she think of you before?”
“Um…indifference? We never really talked much.”
“Fair enough. That’s five directions down, but what about that last one between my sister and you?”
Ugh. I was so very tempted to just write down uncaring and be done with it, but Luna would just scold me and tell me to try again.
Sighing, I said, “Well…Cadance once told us Celestia has the treasury open to me, if I ever needed it, and I think we may have taken a bit or two to make us look less suspicious for the bits you’ve given us for stuff. But I’d chalk that up to Cadance pressuring Celestia into making that concession as some sort of pathetic compensation.”
“And…” Luna trailed off suggestively.
I grumbled, remembering that terrible but helpful morning, “And that one time she paid lip service to all that guilt she must be feeling which must keep her up late at night tossing and turning over how not sorry she is.”
Luna held me tight with a wing and gently said, “Yes, exactly. She probably feels some sense of obligatory guilt, but she doesn’t truly care. If she did, she would have at least tried to help you where it really counts.”
I relished in my seething for a moment before getting around to calming myself with a few deep breaths. Luna’s cuddling helped a lot, too.
“I have a key piece of information to add myself,” Luna said once I was calm again. “I doubt you ever would have been presented with an opportunity to learn it, and I never saw the need to upset you with it.”
My first thought should have been that Luna’s wording made it clear that she already knew why Trixie was acting weird. Instead, I found myself distracted by the relative triviality of bad news on the horizon.
“My sister’s previous student, Sunset Shimmer, you’ll recall, was a Flare.”
“What?” I exploded. “I don’t – I – that’s – argh!”
“Yes. She knows exactly how to teach Flares, and she is quite good at it. She always made it her business to see to the education of every Flare herself. She would certainly be a better teacher than I if she didn’t have that terrible habit of letting her students flounder alone without direction or purpose.”
Shaking her head, Luna quietly added, “I simply cannot understand why she can’t learn from her mistakes.”
“Anyway,” Luna continued, “Sunset Shimmer mysteriously disappeared some years ago and was never heard from again. I believe you would have been two at the time.”
“I don’t…” I started, but the realization hit. What if Celestia…
Oh no, oh no. I needed to leave as soon as possible. I couldn’t give my parents those extra weeks. And what if Celestia decided it was time to take care of me after I’d left? She’d discover I’d been replaced, and what then? My parents couldn’t act to save their lives, and they’d need to. They were only two or three steps lower than Cadance on the loose lips scale. I–
“Twilight!” Luna shouted directly into my ears. I hadn’t even noticed she’d moved me to face her. “I know where your thoughts are going, but I promise that my sister doesn’t terminate even the most unruly foals unless she has absolutely no other choice. Even she has standards.”
“I – my family’s safe?”
“Yes, Twilight,” Luna said, hugging me. “They’ll be fine. Truthfully, I do not know what happened to Sunset Shimmer, but unlike my sister, I made an actual effort to find her. All I know is she was nowhere to be found.”
That – that still sounded really bad. Everypony’s dreams were open to Luna’s inspection, if the dreamer were alive. Luna should have been able to find Sunset Shimmer, but why look for her at all?
I’d bet Sunset Shimmer was a fully trained Flare, but regardless of whatever Celestia had done to her, there was no way she could be trustworthy. Ponies had this terrible habit of forgiving the unforgivable in moments of dramatic tension. Using Sunset Shimmer for anything would be a huge risk in general and a plain old liability if she came into contact with Celestia.
But then again, Queen Chrysalis’s words had been harsh, yet they rang with truth. Did Luna have any other option at the time? There weren’t many ponies that could deal with whatever magic Celestia had placed to protect the elements, and adding in that dreadful requirement that they would was extraordinarily problematic.
“Was…” I began. I didn’t have to ask this question. It was just a mere curiosity. Not that I’d ever demonstrated I could resist such things… “Was I a plan B?”
Luna laughed. It was a full, nearly maniacal laugh. Once she finally settled down, she said, “That, that was exactly my reaction when you were brought to my attention. You were not a plan B. You were an incredible stroke of luck.”
Nestling me in between her hooves and petting my mane, Luna continued, “You, a filly who desperately needed my help. Who it wasn’t too late to help. Who – to my great surprise – was charming and adorkable with an inspiring passion to learn everything.”
“Ah, it’s a term I heard from somepony else recently: a portmanteau of dork and adorable. It means you’re adorable in a really nerdy way.”
Blushing and sinking further into Luna’s chest, I stammered, “I – um – uh – t-thank you. I t-think.”
“You see?” Luna asked, giggling. “That’s exactly what makes you adorkable.”
“Well, anyway,” I said, changing the topic not very subtly, “what were you getting at before?”
“Oh, yes. My point was my sister always puts a few decades between her students unless the appearance of a Flare forces her otherwise, and yet she has taken on a new one already. A new one who’s not difficult to teach, but who’s still reasonably talented.”
I nearly facehoofed as I realized exactly what Luna was trying to say. “Celestia has some use for Trixie, some important use.”
“And…” Luna trailed off suggestively again.
And… And what? That was incredibly important all on its own. What use could Celestia possibly have for Trixie?
Humming with a faint touch of disappointment, Luna asked, “What question were we originally trying to answer, Twilight?”
“Oh,” I said. Luna had every right to be disappointed in me there. “Trixie was acting strange, and she said Celestia ‘gets weird’ when I’m mentioned. I…don’t see the connection to me, but what if Trixie found out that she’s being used? That could explain her behavior.”
“No, I wouldn’t put much stock in that. I’m sure she would be happy to hear my sister has some grand plan for her. Her students always are when she does, although their initial reaction varies. You have anecdotal evidence yourself.”
“I suppose so,” I said, a bizarre mix of happiness at the reminder and disappointment at getting a question wrong warring within me. It was nice to be able to do something actually useful for Luna. Trixie would probably feel the same way toward Celestia.
So what could… This time I did facehoof. Trixie’s problem was exactly the same as the question I had asked Luna but a few minutes ago.
“Trixie found out she’s a replacement for Sunset Shimmer!” I said triumphantly, awkwardly straining my neck to look up at Luna, who was smiling down at me.
“Very close, but not quite. As I tell you every time we do math together, stop skipping steps.”
Skipping steps? I looked at the chalkboard, which I’d mostly forgotten to write anything down on. Cocking my head to the side, I added the information I’d learned from Luna about Sunset Shimmer and Celestia. I sincerely doubted that was what she had meant by skipping steps, but they were steps I had skipped.
And I still didn’t see what was wrong, even after staring at the board for who knew how long.
Luna sighed. “Twilight, you have grown up accustomed to many things most ponies can only dream of, so I can at least understand why you’re having such trouble here.”
“Who was your foalsitter?”
“Cadance,” I answered indignantly. I even wrote it up on the chalkboard for emphasis.
Luna said nothing as we stared at the chalkboard. Still nestled between her hooves, I could only imagine what her face looked like. Probably something along the lines of wry amusement. It always was at times like this.
Then the realization struck me, and I felt a little sick to my stomach from the implications. I erased Cadance’s name and rewrote it as Princess Mi Amore Cadenza.
“Trixie isn’t Sunset Shimmer’s replacement. She’s mine.”
“And you were Sunset Shimmer’s replacement until your first flare.”
“I–” I was hyperventilating, and Luna wasn’t going to calm me down this time. “She abandoned me twice!” I think I deafened myself and maybe Luna, too. “And she had the nerve to tell me it was for my own safety that she tried to ruin my life. Because I wasn’t useful.”
I blew the chalkboard to pieces on pure impulse, as if doing so would…I didn’t even know. Make me feel better? Bah! Make it less true? What did I care? I already knew Celestia was horrible.
“Luna,” I growled through my stupid tears, “I’m useful, right?”
“I wouldn’t have taught you if you weren’t,” she answered, her voice so wonderfully full of concern.
“What if I lost all my magic?”
“I’d help you get it back.”
“What if I couldn’t?”
“You’d still be incredibly intelligent.”
“What if I suffered a brain injury?”
“I’d heal you.”
“What if you couldn’t?”
“You’d be dead.”
“What if – what if I was dead?”
“Twilight, I’m not omnipotent…” Whispering, Luna added, “Please don’t die.”
“Y-you’re not going anywhere, right? You won’t l-leave me alone?”
Luna didn’t answer right away, and I looked up nervously. She was biting her lip, but that was all I could see of her face.
I felt Luna wince as her horn glowed. She still hadn’t said anything, but she put something in my mane and fussed over it with her hooves.
“Hey. What are you doing?”
“Well, you…needed some tidying up before it would stay put. My feathers are a little too big for you.”
Huh? “Um…thank you?”
“I promise I’ll give you a real one when I return to Equus, and hopefully you can give me one of yours when I do.”
Oh, now I understood. “Of course!” I replied, wiping the rest of my tears away. “Thank you for…for everything.”
I rose to my hooves, turned around, and hugged Luna, an act which she returned with her wings.
“You are more than welcome, Twilight.”
Some time later, disturbing the pure bliss and tranquility that had been lingering, I mumbled, “Hey, Luna? Do you know what Celestia wants Trix – what she wanted me to do?”
“Hmm? Oh. No, I don’t know. I dare not touch my sister’s or my niece’s dreams, and Trixie remains in the dark so far as I can tell. I do believe that once she is sure she is a substitute, her pride will force her to pursue the truth. I may get lucky and see something useful in her dreams.”
“Or,” I began, suppressing a laugh but not my smile, “maybe I’ll find out soon. I told Trixie to go pester Cadance for answers. Hopefully one of the two will be mad enough to accidentally tell me.”
A second passed in silence before Luna withdrew her wings. Tousling my mane – somehow not knocking out her feather – she said, “Why you devious little rascal.”
A knock came at my bedroom door. I probably groaned, “Come in,” but it was still too early in the afternoon for me really to know or to care. Whether I did or not, whoever was at my door entered and crossed the distance from the door to my bed.
Thump, thump, thump, came the annoying sound of hooves. I could sleep through just about anything, but that blissful state between sleep and waking didn’t benefit from that little perk. I definitely grunted as a substitute for a ‘good afternoon’ while shoving my head underneath my pillow.
“Twily, are you awake?”
“Nooooo,” I groaned.
“Ah. I see. Talking in your sleep again, are you?”
Even underneath a pillow and a few blankets, I winced when whoever it was magicked open my curtains from beside my bed. Why, oh why did ponies always feel the need to open curtains when other ponies were still in bed?
“Twily, you need to get up. Cadance is in princess mode for some reason, and she’s been sitting on the couch all morning waiting for you without saying a word.”
“Wha…princess mode…” Grunting from the exertion, I unburied myself and pried my eyes open. After I had sufficiently rubbed the rheum from them, I blinked a couple of times and saw Shining next to me. I supposed I should have known it was him from the ‘Twily’, but my brain probably couldn’t add one and one together at the moment.
“And you should clean yourself up, too. You’re quite the sight right now, and you look like you had a pretty awful nightmare.”
“Not a nightmare…” I mumbled, crawling back underneath my blankets.
“Come on, you lazy filly. Out of bed.”
I felt myself be picked up with magic, my nice, warm blankets sliding off me in the process. My legs dangled limply underneath me, and if the slight breeze wasn’t my imagination, I was probably being carried somewhere.
Suddenly, my hooves touched something freezing cold, and my eyes shot open just in time for me to see a wave of hot water oncoming.
“Shining!” I shouted from my shower, soaked and awake. “You’re not my BBBFF anymore!”
“I love you, too,” he said as the bathroom door closed.
“Humbug!” I muttered.
Well, at least the water was warm, even if it wasn’t the same comforting warmth of blankets.
So what had Shining said? Cadance was here? And something about a mode? Whatever. Cadance was here, and that was relevant, so it probably wasn’t to decorate for Hearth’s Warming. Her business must concern Trixie.
Or she came bearing gifts, but that seemed unlikely.
I spent way too long in the shower, but every minute had been filled with the dread of losing the warmth it provided. Perhaps I was old enough now that Shining wouldn’t question it if I cast a warming enchantment on myself.
I sighed. “Probably not…” Somewhere in the deepest, darkest part of my mind, I regretted destroying my suppressor, because I had no idea how much more magic I was allowed to use as I grew. Still, the act had been immensely satisfying, an ecstasy certainly worth more than the costs.
Shivering as I stepped out of the shower, I gave myself a quick drying off and brushed my mane out of my eyes. Perfect! I looked every bit like the upper class Canterlot unicorn I was.
I held my laughter in for a couple seconds before breaking down into quiet snickering. I looked like a mess.
“Never did figure out how to shower without magic. Oh well.”
Shining had left a holiday themed sweater for me, so I put it on and made my way toward the living room. On my way down the stairs, I spotted Cadance on the couch facing away from me and Shining sitting across from her. I didn’t see anypony else, oddly enough. Disregarding Mom, Dad, and Spike, we had a number of extended relatives over for a family reunion. Yawning, I asked, “Where is everypony?”
Shining was the first to respond. “They’re out for lunch and to go shopping for Hearth’s Warming dinner. Cadance was nice enough to treat them.”
“So it’s just us?” I asked pointlessly. Cadance must have sent everypony else away so she could yell at me properly. How helpful of her.
That said, it was kind of weird how Cadance twitched when I spoke. I’d dismissed the first time as her being surprised by my appearance, but the second one was odd. Then again, I had a feeling I was going to see a lot of odd behavior from Cadance this afternoon.
But before I could, there was still one mitigating factor hanging around.
“Hey, Shining, could you get me something sweet? I’m still feeling pretty tired.”
“Sure, Twi–” Shining started, getting to his hooves, but Cadance interrupted him.
“No! I mean, please stay. I need a gu – some supp – magic… Just stay, Lieutenant.”
What? I halted on the last step of the stairs. That had not been anywhere near normal for Cadance. And if I looked closely, she was trembling.
“Cadance, is something wrong?” I asked, walking around to sit next to Shining.
“N-no. I’ve just been thinking about…things. I’ve had too much time to think.”
I frowned. Something was off.
“You haven’t stayed up all night reading horror stories again, have you?” I asked.
“What do you mean by again, Twily?” Shining asked. No doubt he was hoping for information to tease Cadance with.
“I only did that twice!” Cadance shrieked.
Okay, she was probably not a changeling; that information was completely arbitrary and irrelevant to a successful cover. And as a bonus, that test had amused Shining and embarrassed Cadance. A true win-win.
“A-anyway, what did you s-say to Trixie?”
This…was not a mad Cadance. This was a scared Cadance, but scared of whom?
Me? It would make sense with the timing, but why would she be scared of me?
Celestia? She could be threatening Cadance somehow over this, and she could even be watching us right now. That wouldn’t explain why she wanted Shining to stay, though. He was useless against Celestia. He could be moral support. Maybe.
Perhaps Cadance’s fear wasn’t directly related. Something important could have been taken from her, or she could be being blackmailed.
Hmm… I needed to answer her question no matter what her problem was. Attempts to make her mad were probably going to be counterproductive right now – which was irking – but a proper reconciliation…of some sort…was out, too. I needed Cadance to be upsettable tomorrow night. Turning the responsibility for the conversation back to her could work; it was a neutral action. Especially since I didn’t know what her problem was.
“Nothing much,” I answered. “Why? Did she say something to you?”
“I – yes. She found out…t-things she’s not supposed to know. And we couldn’t figure out how. And Ce – you were brought up as a p-possib-bility. And Trixie had mentioned that she’d seen you. And you – you hate–”
“Cadance,” I interrupted. It was time to make a choice.
I could claim responsibility and try to fumble my way through this conversation blindly. That never worked when I practiced that with Luna, but Cadance was orders of magnitude less experienced at matters of subtly. On the other hoof, I had no idea what I would be claiming credit for; I could be inviting a lot of trouble onto myself.
The safe option was to just tell Cadance the truth, but I would risk her ending the conversation there…and possibly her ordering Shining to erase my memory of this event. I hadn’t learned anything useful yet so that wouldn’t be much of a loss.
Now that I thought of it, it was possible I was misinterpreting nervousness as fear considering how strongly they correlated. I could easily see Cadance reacting this strongly if she had to order my brother to erase my memory.
Okay, so quick judgment call. The dangerous option could give me some important, possibly essential, information, but it bore a nontrivial risk of being ruinous. The safe option might let me learn something useful and would cost me nothing.
Right. Safe option it was.
After an awkwardly long pause, I said, “All I said to Trixie was that you can’t keep secrets. She came to ask me about me – which is public information, even if it was kept quiet, and she has every right to know – so I told her to go pester you.”
“O-oh. I – um – thank you, Twilight. Yes, t-thank you.”
“Are you going to tell me what she found out?”
“Twily,” Shining scolded, “don’t ask for state secrets.”
“Why not?” I asked innocently. “I know plenty of other stuff already, and Cadance suggested I already know the secret.”
Shining gave me a disapproving frown and stare. I ignored him and turned to look pleadingly at Cadance.
“N-no. Sorry, Twilight. It’s secret st-stuff. And I w-will keep this one.”
Ominous. I really needed to work out some way to let myself know when I’ve had my memories erased. A thought which occurred to me only now that I was on the other side of the spell. And would soon forget. Hmm…
“A-anyway, Twilight, tomorrow’s Hearth’s Warming Eve, and there are r-romantic associations with it.”
What? That was a…sudden change in topic. Did anything seem discontinuous in my memory?
Not that I could tell. Was Cadance not interested in preserving state secrets? Or maybe she was trying to get more information out of me now and needed me to have the current context. It would certainly explain her clunky attempt at a deflection.
Cadance gulped, and that settled it. She was definitely after something. “Have you had any thoughts about w-who you might like to spend it with?”
“Cadance,” I said, halfway to a whine, “I’m not even thirteen. I don’t have anypony to spend the solstice with. Are we really going to have the same discussion as last year again?”
“O-of course, Twilight. I am the Alicorn of Love, after all.”
I think I heard Shining whisper something next to me, but I missed it while I was focusing on Cadance. It was hard to tell – her coat hid it well – but she appeared to be sweating.
That her whole body wasn’t squirming from her nerves at this point surprised me. Her princess training must have been paying off right now. Don’t let the commoners know how nervous you are and all that. Of course, it would seem Cadance had only learned enough to make it work at a distance.
“How about Twinkleshine?” Cadance suggested.
“Twinkleshine?” Shining echoed before I could make a proper reply. “Cadance, are you saying–”
“If you must know,” I interrupted, glaring at Cadance and eliciting quite the cringe from her. I didn’t really care if Shining knew I had no preference, but she had been careless and not acting mad would have been odd. I was going to avoid acting odd – beyond the normal level for me – until I knew what Cadance was fishing for lest I give something away.
I sighed. “If you must know, I’m pansexual. Yes, I’m old enough to know what that means, and yes, Cadance has known for a long time. I can’t exactly hide that from her.”
“Twilight,” Cadance hissed. Nearly instantly after, her eyes widened, and she collapsed back into her chair as if she had just given a speech in front of all of Canterlot.
“What? You gave away one of my secrets. I can at least hint at one of yours.”
Shining looked from me to Cadance. “What is she talking about?”
Letting out a ragged sigh, Cadance replied, “W-we can talk about it l-later, Shining.”
“Cady,” Shining said, his frown obvious in his tone, “are you alright? Please be honest.”
Aw, how cute. Shining had a pet name for Cadance. Maybe they’d finally make their relationship public. Or maybe they’d at least bother to tell the rest of the family, as if we didn’t know.
“Yes,” Cadance insisted, her voice at least one octave higher than normal. Neither Shining nor I were fooled. “B-besides, d-don’t you have something to say to Twilight?”
“What? Oh. Oh! Twily, I–”
I interrupted Shining with a hug. I really didn’t want the conversation to derail right now.
“It’s fine, Shining. The fact that you forgot so quickly tells me plenty. I love you, too, even if you throw me into showers to wake me up.”
It took Shining several seconds to regain his wits and to return my hug.
“I had to do it, Twily. You looked terrible.”
I released my grip and squirmed out of Shining’s. Sitting back down, I looked up at him and asked, “What do you mean?”
“You must have had a nightmare or something. Your mane and tail were a mess and your coat was tear-stained.”
My eyes widened just the tiniest bit, and I slowly, calmly turned back toward Cadance.
Jumping to conclusions was bad when the stakes were this high.
Lashing out at potential threats made them into definite threats.
The probability of Cadance having heard me mumble something troubling in my sleep was low.
Surely she was fishing for some other piece of information.
There was no way Celestia would even tell Cadance Luna’s real name.
I laughed off Shining’s comment. “I guess so, but I can never remember my dreams, so it doesn’t really matter.” Technically true. Luna overrode them with her presence.
“Twily, just because you don’t remember something doesn’t mean it can’t affect you.”
Very, very true, but in a very, very different sense. Erased memories could be some of the most important ones of your life, otherwise nopony would have bothered to remove them to begin with.
“I guess. So anyway,” I said, now fishing for information by getting Cadance to fish for information, “no, I’m not going to spend the solstice with Twinkleshine. I have more important ponies to spend it with.”
“Aw, Twily,” said Shining, scooping me up with one foreleg and giving me a soft noogie with his other forehoof. When he was done, he held me up facing him and flatly said, “But either way, you’re too young to date.”
Rolling my eyes, I said, “I know, Shining. Please give me some trust that I know what I’m doing socially.”
“Alright. So long as you understand.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said as Shining set me back down on the couch. I was pretty sure I caught the tail end of one of Cadance’s breathing exercises, but I’d seen too little to know for sure.
“What about that mentor of yours?” Cadance asked. “I still haven’t met her, but you seem to like her a lot. Would you want to spend Hearth’s Warming Eve with her?”
I took a deep breath. It was officially conclusion jumping to time.
“Mentor? Twily, when did Mom and Dad get you a proper tutor?”
I knew what I had to do.
“They didn’t,” I answered. “She found me a few years ago.”
I could only hope Celestia wasn’t eavesdropping.
“Somepony teaching you, eh? She must be really impressive to manage that. Who is it?”
I had to make this morning not have happened.
“I’d like t-to know, too,” Cadance added.
One last deep breath. Shining first. He could run away and was easier.
I had to do this, and if I had to do it, I would make it dramatic.
“My teacher” – my horn lit up – “is Princess Luna, Alicorn of the Night.”
I turned and hit Shining with a sleep spell in full force.
His eyes were already wide, but they were even wider now. I – I saw fear in them, and I nearly teleported away from the shock.
Shining’s horn surged with magic for some combat spell, still too primitive to tell what it would do. But that was okay; he never had a chance. I felt his resistance fail as I overpowered him.
I could feel it coming.
I didn’t have much time.
I fired off a panicked memory erasing spell on Shining. It was a sloppy job, but it shouldn’t destroy too many extra ones.
I vaporised my fake suppressor ring. As long as I got to Cadance first, I could pass this off as an accident.
A heavy thump filled the room. I turned to see Cadance tumbling on the ground behind her couch.
Earth pony strength had backfired this time, it would seem.
Cadance stared at Shining in horror. There were already tears in her eyes.
Even given the circumstances, I couldn’t help but feel hurt that she thought I would actually hurt my BBBFF.
I teleported directly in front of Cadance, burning off a tiny piece of my excess magic and buying me a precious fraction of a second.
Holding nothing back, I poured every bit of magic I had in me into a memory spell with the sheer audacity of hoping to overpower an alicorn’s magic.
Cadance was untrained.
It would work.
It had to work.
I could sense her clumsily trying to bring her magic to bear against mine.
The battle of wills lasted less than a second, and I won.
For good measure, I blasted Cadance through a few walls with a raw burst of magic.
She was immortal; she’d get over it.
And that was the least of what she might have suffered had she been so close to me.
I tried to be more gentle with Shining, but from the sound of it, I ended up sending him crashing through the front door.
My last properly coherent thought was my hope that I hadn’t given him a real concussion.
Finally, a scant few seconds after the flare had begun, I lost control.