Chapter Nine - The Longest Night - Part Two
I felt lightheaded and sick to my stomach. There were so many spells on me that I could feel them without even trying.
“She’s waking up,” came a muffled voice. Well, the voice probably wasn’t muffled itself; my ears felt weird.
In fact, pretty much every part of me felt weird, and a lot of it felt wet. Some parts felt stiff. And there were other ponies’ magic on me, too. This all needed to be fixed.
“Wake up Princes Mi Amore!”
Ignoring the voices, I brute force countered every spell nearby as I did every time after a flare since destroying my suppressor.
Wait, something about that sounded…
Oh no! My eyes snapped open, and I tried to jump to my hooves, but something was holding me down. “Cadance! Shining!”
Frantically examining the room, I found Cadance being awoken by a nurse. She was slumped over on an uncomfortable looking hospital bed nearby, which Shining was sleeping in.
I gave a sigh of relief and only then noticed that there were several doctors pinning me down. Before I could freak out, I noticed that I was in pretty bad shape and relaxed. With my minor adrenaline rush wearing off, I could feel every ache and pain in my body, and there were a lot.
My rear hind leg was placed in a temporary cast, as was my barrel, and most of my body was covered in bandages of varying levels of tightness from useless to suffocating.
Aaaand now I had wounds reopening. Great. I’d normally just patch myself up right away through sheer brute force, but I couldn’t with so many witnesses around that expected the doctors to do it.
Gritting my teeth, I asked, “What happened?”
Seeing that I’d settled down, the doctors released me. One said, “Please stay still.”
I nodded once and was rewarded with a skull-piercing surge of pain and a sharp look from the same doctor.
“Ehem,” he said. “You appear to have instinctively removed all of the spells affecting you at once, which has caused a number of complications. Now if you’d kindly stay put, we’ll have you back to normal just as soon as each specialist can see to you.”
Twitching as something healed on my skull, I said, “That’s not–”
“What part of stay put, don’t you understand? That includes talking.”
I closed my mouth. Taking my silence as consent, the doctor lit his horn and returned to work. Every so often, I’d start when a particularly painful wound was patched up and get a stern, annoying, and unnecessary reprimand.
Meanwhile, Cadance was waiting off to the side out of everypony’s way, awkwardly shuffling on her hooves and stealing glances at me when she probably thought I wasn’t looking.
So Cadance felt awkward around me. Was that a sign that I needed to leave post haste, or was that because of some other reason? Hmm, probably the latter. I’m positive that I made the memory spell work for at least a whole day. And I was sure she would find it hard to let Shining be in the same room as me after I’d demonstrated I was willing to use force to keep my secrets…
I sighed inwardly as a pale substitute for a real sigh; that doctor had quite the mean glare.
A few nerve wracking minutes later, I noticed Shining had awoken as well and was watching me – no, watching the doctors carefully. I took a deep breath and flushed that thought out of my mind; he was still my BBBFF. Anything else could wait.
Leaning into the bed properly, I let my body fully relax for the moment. At the very least, it seemed I wasn’t in immediate danger.
I didn’t know how long it took – it felt like hours – but the doctors finally finished with me. That one doctor, on his way out, said to Cadance, “Don’t let her move at all or talk much. She still has several broken bones, muscle damage, and injuries to a number of organs. There’s quite a line for the first two, but Twilight is next on the list for the latter.”
Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have patched myself up quite so easily. I’ve never had injures that severe before. That certainly explained why my entire body felt like it was on fire. You know, without actually being on fire.
When Cadance didn’t respond, the doctor turned to Shining and made the same request. Shining agreed as soon as he could bring himself to look away from Cadance.
Once the door closed – and presumably once that doctor was out of earshot – I asked, “What happened?”
Cadance was unresponsive, so Shining answered for her.
“Our house fell on you, Twily, and–”
Finally returning to life, if for but a moment, Cadance shot Shining a sharp glare, and he sank back into his own bed under the pressure like he was a turtle retreating into his shell.
“Ah…sorry. It’s probably better to wait until you’re better.”
Frowning, I said, “Shining, my magic is unrestricted right now, and I have a number of spells I’ve been desperate to try, including some scrying spells…”
I lit up my horn, not forming a proper spell but holding just enough power to make it look like I was.
“Fine!” Shining shouted, concern and distress at war in his voice. “We’ll tell you! Just please stop.”
“Great!” I sang cheerfully, only to be reminded why I wasn’t supposed to do that. “Ugh… Remember the doctor told me not to talk much, so don’t force me to keep asking questions.”
Shining made a frustrated hum. “Do you remember what happened yesterday?”
“Yesterday? Is it Hearth’s Warming Eve?” Had I missed my date with Luna?
“As of about four hours ago, yes.”
Whew. I hadn’t even missed my normal time with Luna yet.
“But more importantly,” Shining continued, “do you remember? Cadance can’t remember anything from after autumn, and I’m missing the last couple weeks.”
Thank you very much for volunteering that information Shining. You’ve been officially upgraded from big brother best friend forever to big brother bestest friend forever.
You also had my deepest apologies for how much extra time I had taken from you. Hopefully nothing too important had happened then, but I had my doubts given the time of year and his relationship with Cadance. I silently promised I’d make this up to him when I could.
“Not really,” I answered. “I remember waking up and showering, but that’s about it.”
It was true that I seemed to be having a memory lapse myself; however, that was only a little distressing. I could recall up to the beginning of my flare, but no further. If Shining hadn’t been exaggerating, houses falling on a pony were probably prone to doing that.
“Well, we weren’t expecting anything less, really. Cadance and Princess Celestia talked, and they think you flared under extreme emotional distress, that you wanted to forget something. Was that how you put it, Cadance?”
Cadance turned to look at me for a moment before turning away. Now that I got a good look, I noticed that her face was the one that looked guilty in this room. I could only guess as to why. The most likely reasoning which occurred to me was that Cadance had relearned that she had come to yell at me about Trixie, which would make her think she was responsible for this.
Ugh. I was going to have a lot of apologies to keep track of before this was all over. Maybe I should make a list to keep – no, Twilight. Lists were bad. That way led back to checklists for checklists, back to weird obsessive compulsive habits.
“Cadance,” I said, “this wasn’t your fault. I shouldn’t have told Trixie to pester you.”
She turned to me for a moment, tears in her eyes. She winced over and over again just trying to look at me.
“Cadance,” I repeated, my voice faltering. That was as far as I got before she flew from the room, bursting through the door and not bothering to close it.
The idea of teleporting her back and telling her the truth – some of it, at least – momentarily crept into my mind, but I dismissed it just as quickly. It would just make her feel a whole new kind of terrible. And it would put a legitimate charge of treason on me.
“It’s not her fault,” I whispered. “It’s mine.”
“Twily, it’s nopony’s fault. It was an accident.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but no words came out. Instead, I said, “Please continue what you were saying, Shining.”
“Right… Well, anyway, what happened is the house fell on you. The random effects of your flare are probably what – what saved you, but not before you saved my life and…prevented complications for Cadance.”
“I – what? That’s not – you wouldn’t–”
Interrupting me on the verge of tears, Shining said, “Numerous eyewitnesses reported Cadance being thrown far from our home. The same was true for me, but with…less gusto. Thanks for remembering I’m not immortal, Twily.”
Powering through my body’s objections, I managed to turn my head to get a full and proper view of Shining. His face held such genuine gratitude in his smile while he lay suffering slash recovering from who knew what. I – I couldn’t deal with this right now.
I turned my head away from Shining – thoroughly ignoring his protests for me to stop moving – so I could cry in peace.
“What else did I do, Shining?” I asked, my tone just barely below accusatory.
“What else happened, but not what you did, was…well…unfortunate. You know how Canterlot is built on top of the Canterhorn, right?”
“Well, a few of the main supports were damaged, and part of the city…fell.”
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
Hastily, Shining added, “But it took a while. The Royal Guard was able to evacuate everypony in time. With some help from the pegasi caught up in the accident. There were…injuries, but nopony died.”
‘There’s quite a line for the first two.’ Those words echoed in my mind. Just how many ponies had I hurt today? How many families had I almost broken? How many friends had I almost torn apart forever?
I wanted to curl up into a little ball and to pretend none of this had happened, but that wasn’t a possibility, not for a number of reasons.
Hesitantly, I asked the question I dreaded the answer to. The only thing that would distract me right now. “How did I escape?”
I knew how. There was only one pony on Equus besides myself who could pull me out of a pile of wreckage while I was flaring in a disaster area. And based on my memory loss, I was unconscious at the time.
“Princess Celestia saved you.”
“I’m still impressed with how quickly she responded; she must have teleported in as soon as she heard the first ‘crack of doom’, or so the ponies are calling it already. A good thing, too. Canterlot would’ve been in deep trouble if anymore damage to the foundation had occurred before she took you away.”
Aha! Proving that you’d earned that upgrade to bestest already, Shining! Celestia was just saving her capital.
Of course that was what she was doing.
And Luna had said she wouldn’t just kill a foal. Even if it would’ve looked like an accident. It would have been, too. I would’ve gone down with the rest of Canterlot and would’ve been buried there, and it would’ve been nopony’s fault but my own.
No. Just, no. I – this was too much right now.
“Shining, could – could you put me to sleep?”
No answer came for a while, but it wasn’t long before the sweet embrace of sleep took hold of me.
I lay curled in a tight ball, shivering and stroking my tail. If I dropped it, it would need to be wrung out.
I’d tried removing my ears, but it hadn’t helped. Nothing helped. The voices came all the same. There were so many. They never stopped.
“You destroyed our lives.”
“Where will we go now?”
“My mother nearly died.”
“You owe me your life.”
“We have no hearth to warm anymore.”
“You took our homes.”
“Why couldn’t you be normal?”
“Daddy? Daddy? Daddy!”
“Thank you for saving us.”
“How did this happen?”
“It’s my fault.”
“Why don’t you just go live on the moon?”
“Her? She’s ancient!”
“Why did I ever love you?”
“She deserves nothing less than execution!”
“Don’t look at her, Dear.”
“Best laid plans, Twilight…”
“Dear Celestia, no!”
“Honey? Honey, where are you?”
“No! Please, no!”
The chatter of voices died off with a scream: of pain or terror, I couldn’t tell. Maybe it was both. Maybe it was neither. It didn’t matter.
Black wings and black hooves enveloped me and held me tight. I – I made an absolute mess of their owner.
Luna said nothing.
I said nothing.
As I awoke, I couldn’t help but notice everything felt nicer. The world, that was. I felt horrible in every sense of the word, but with a huge emphasis on physically right now.
But the world, it felt soft like the moon – er, like Luna. Awkward. The moon wasn’t soft. But the moon was Luna’s, and Luna was soft, and – and I wasn’t making sense anymore, not even to myself.
I knew I was not an afternoon pony, but this was a rather different kind of mental haze.
“You do not have to tell her, but you do have to talk to her.”
That sounded a lot like Celestia. That…did not bode well.
“I – I know. But I broke my promise. Twice.”
And that sounded like–
“Cadance?” I moaned, sitting up. I froze and opened my eyes when I properly remembered the condition I’d been in when I’d gone to sleep.
Cadance and Celestia were both in front of me at the base of my bed. It would seem I’d been moved to a new room without Shining. This looked much more like a proper bedroom than a hospital room. The simple fact that I was in a four-poster bed was enough to jump to that conclusion, but the rest of the room radiated the same vibe.
Far more importantly, my injuries had been healed while I’d slept. I still felt awfully sore – which I attributed to muscle pain and the aftereffects of healing magic – but this was a major improvement.
“G-good afternoon, Twilight,” Cadance said. She was nowhere near as nervous or scared as before, but she still refused to meet my eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“I–” My eyes flashed toward Celestia for the briefest of moments, an act which I was pretty sure did not pass unnoticed. “Pretty terrible. But great.”
At the very least, I was all cried out. My face felt soaked, so I gently removed the sweat, tears, mucus, and whatever else that was there with the fine telekinetic precision I had developed so long ago. Cadance looked half-terrified and half-guilty while watching me, and Celestia…had that same stupid smile she always wore.
If the background pain were good for anything, it was for dulling my sense of panic, or urgency, or danger, or – or something. Whatever. I was feeling a little loopy right now, but I had most of my cognitive facilities – faculties working.
I sent the slimy, green ball in my magic flying into a trash can and asked, “How is everypony? Is Shining okay?”
Cadance frowned for just an instant before pulling herself into an obviously strained smile. “He’s fine. He just got hurt a little more than you did. He’ll be up in time for Hearth’s Warming. Your parents are with him right now during…”
Fantastic. I hurt Shining badly enough that the doctors were having difficulty fixing him. That’s just what I needed to make everything better.
“If you are wondering where Spike is,” Celestia continued, picking up the conversation with a decent distraction, “he is sleeping right here” – she gestured directly in front of my bed – “on a number of stolen pillows. Would you like me to wake him?”
“No, I–” I sighed. “I want to know what you’re going to do with me.”
Interrupting Celestia, Cadance rattled off, “It wasn’t your fault!” like it was a litany. Maybe everypony thought if they said it enough, it’d become the truth.
“Yes it was. Let’s just get this over with; I don’t want any nasty surprises waiting for me.”
Cadance looked away from me so quickly, I momentarily thought she’d snap her neck. Was Shining really in such a bad state? He sounded fine earlier.
“Twilight,” she half-whispered, “it really is my fault. I’m so, so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking… Literally…”
“Whatever,” I huffed. If Cadance was going to be stubborn right now, she could be stubborn.
“Please, please don’t blame yourself, Twilight,” Cadance begged – begged – looking straight at me again. “Please.”
“O-okay,” I stammered. Why was Cadance acting like this? She seemed desperate for…something. Approval? Forgiveness? Neither of those made any sense. There was no way she could reasonably take this much blame upon herself for yelling at me about Trixie.
But then again, the result was…disastrous. Maybe those weren’t so far-fetched of a hypothesis.
Celestia put a hoof on Cadance’s withers, causing her to jump in surprise.
“Cadance, go to Lieutenant Armor. You are not ready for this.”
Rising to argue, Cadance wilted under Celestia’s gaze. Trudging – it was definitely a trudge – she left the room, silently closing the door behind her.
Leaving me alone with Celestia.
“Twilight Sparkle,” Celestia began. Her smile hadn’t faltered in slightest, but her tone was stiff and all business underneath that pretense of concern. I – I could deal with business right now. “I shall answer your questions honestly if you but do the same for mine. If this is not agreeable to you, I shall take my leave and send your family to you.”
It was my turn to wilt under Celestia’s gaze. Could I say no here? What would Celestia take that to mean?
“I promise,” I replied a little too abruptly, barely managing to keep myself from stammering. I was absolutely certain that my panic was showing through on my face, too.
This was going to be a second disaster worse – no…not worse than the first.
“Very well,” said Celestia. I braced for the worst. “When, and how, did you learn dark magic?”
That – that wasn’t the worst question Celestia could’ve asked, but it was pretty darn close.
“W-what do you mean?” I couldn’t believe I held back a gulp. Not that what I had said had been convincing. Even Spike would call me on it.
“Goodbye, Twilight Sparkle.” Celestia turned to leave.
“Wait,” I squeaked. Celestia stopped and turned her head back. “P-Ponyville. About a year ago. By experiment. It’s…efficient and efficacious.” Celestia turned fully back, and I sighed inwardly. “H-how did you know?”
“Traces of dark magic appeared in your medical examination. That type of magical residue is built up slowly over time rather than from a single burst of wild magic.”
“I – I see… Do anypo – does anypony else know?”
Celestia shook her head. “Just the nurse and doctor who performed the initial tests, and they did not realise what they were looking at. You are walking a dangerous path, Twilight Sparkle, and I would see you leave it behind. There is a reason nopony uses dark magic anymore.”
Of course there was; you scoured every collection of books for the subject and removed them.
I turned my head away, and when it was clear I wasn’t going to say anything, Celestia sighed.
“I shall ask your brother to observe you while he is in recovery. We can continue this particular discussion afterward.”
Recovery? That – “What happened to Shining?”
Celestia paused. She’d lost her smile. Her mouth made tiny movements as she mulled over how to respond.
“Let me be perfectly clear. You saved your brother’s life.”
“However, during the…descent, he was gravely injured, as were many others. It shall take some number of seasons and dedicated care, but he will regain his rear leg.”
My eyes widened, and I dry heaved. Apparently, I had nothing in my stomach to give up…
“I – I need a drink.” So I could cry again. I couldn’t – no, I could believe I hadn’t noticed earlier.
A glass of water appeared in front of me, and I gratefully accepted it without question or comment.
In between refills – I hadn’t realized how thirsty I was until I started drinking – I asked, “How?”
“Lieutenant Armor was unconscious in an area that was falling apart quite near your home. A large chunk of rubble fell on him. If it makes you feel better, he does not remember any of it.”
No, no it did not make me feel any better.
After my third glass, while I was guzzling down a fourth, Celestia asked, “How much do you know about my sister?”
I did a spit-take, much to my regret. Now I was wet and in deep water.
Okay, okay. If I just calmed down, I could get through this. For some reason, Celestia knew I knew about Luna. No, not ‘some reason’, she’d read me the book that had told me about the elements, and it’d explicitly described the two of them as sisters. Obviously I knew about Luna in the narrative sense.
And Celestia knew I was smart. She knew I would’ve understood the connection, if perhaps not right away. She was just probing to find out how much else I hypothetically had managed to pull from semi-historical texts. If I just made a small concession of information, Celestia might lose interest and continue to leave me alone.
“E-enough to know her real name.” I silently cursed myself for the stammer. It hadn’t been intentional, although it probably helped me seem less threatening.
One of Celestia’s eyebrows rose just the slightest bit before she brought it back down. “I see. And how much did you tell Trixie?”
“Wha – nothing! I didn’t tell Trixie anything. Just that Cadance was – is bad at keeping secrets when she’s alone.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes! Well, I also told her she could visit Spike when I was in town and that she could ask the castle staff for answers, but that’s it. Honest!”
“Then what about…” A frown overtook Celestia, and she changed her question. “Do you remember me?”
What? Of course I did. It was kind of hard to forget the pony you hated most in the world. Not that I understood the point of the question. Well, unless she was hoping that I’d forgotten all about everything she’d not done for me for some reason.
A knock came at the door.
Celestia let out a little breath of air which I took as a sigh. “Nevermind. It’s too late to matter. Come in!”
The door opened to reveal a nurse holding a clipboard in her green magic. When she looked up from it and saw the princess, her magic flickered, and she nearly dropped her notes.
“Ah! G-good afternoon, Princess Celestia.”
“Good afternoon, Nurse Redcross. Do you require something?”
“Uh, yes, I think. This is Twilight Sparkle’s room, correct?”
Celestia gestured toward me with her head.
“Ah, good. I’ve been authorized to share some information with her that she would probably like to hear. But if this is a bad time, I can come back later.”
“No, it is quite fine,” Celestia said. “I need to check up on my niece, anyway.” Turning back to me one last time before leaving, she sent the strangest look my way. I really had no idea what it meant, but I didn’t want it to continue. Finally, there was a singular sense of solemnity as she said “Farewell, Twilight Sparkle,” and departed.
Nurse Redcross and I watched Celestia leave, and as soon as the door closed, I breathed a sigh of relief. That could have gone better, but it also could have been much, much worse.
Chuckling, Nurse Redcross said, “The princess can be quite intimidating at times, can’t she?”
“You have no idea.”
Her horn glowing a little brighter, Nurse Redcross looked down at her clipboard. “Anyway, are you aware of your brother’s condition?” I nodded. “Well then, we have good news for you. He’s expected to make a full recovery sometime shortly after the fall equinox.”
Nurse Redcross’s magic dimmed again, and she smiled. And then slapped me across the face with her clipboard hard enough that I felt a tooth loosening.
“You unbelievable moron! What part of ‘get Mi Amore drunk enough on the solstice and goad her into doing something so horrendously stupid, she’d never want to talk to me again’ sounds like ‘destroy half of Canterlot’ to you? What part of ‘I won’t get in the way of the plan’ did you not understand?
“It was so simple! Her biology won’t let her lose her memory from alcohol poisoning, so we create a scene she would legitimately regret forever to the point that she believably might even remove the love between you two immediately afterward just to bear it. Was that too complex for your insect-sized brain to comprehend?”
Rubbing my muzzle, I asked, “Queen Chrysalis?”
“Of course not. I’m just some other incredibly talented mistress of intrigue that just turned your absolute disaster into a pure, undiluted magnum opus of espionage. When we next meet, you are going to get on your knees, kiss my hooves, and thank me for salvaging this train wreck of a plot you call a scheme.
“Argh! Do you understand how hard it is for my changelings to infiltrate the medical profession? Do you understand how hard it is for my changelings to infiltrate Canterlot Castle? Do you understand how hard it is for my changelings to do both at the same time? Right under the nose of Celestia? They worked their chitin off for this, and you are going to personally thank each and every one of them before we leave on your little trip in space.
My jaw hung loose.
“I said, understood?”
Barely out of my stupefaction, I nodded. It was a tiny but definite act.
“Good. Now listen for once in your life so you don’t buck this up. Your replacement, my dear little heir, Pupa, volunteered to take on the same spells and injuries that were afflicting you to make this work. You are going to love her, feed her, and make her fat yourself for the rest of her life, or so help me, I’ll kill you myself.”
“Y-yes, o-o-of c-course.”
“That wasn’t a request, so shut up and listen. We swapped you and her just long enough to feed Mi Amore misinformation about your condition and for her to ‘correct’ it. Now guess who has to learn to love her mother all over again? Can’t figure it out? It’s Pupa.”
Nurse Redcross slapped me even harder than last time for Queen Chrysalis. I took the blow without complaint, but I did rotate with it to avoid losing any teeth. That would be hard to explain. And really, the blows were more sort of a dull throb above the rest of my aches than anything else, which was probably not a good sign.
As for Pupa. Wow. Just – wow. I’d never met her, but at this point, I really wanted to.
And Cadance’s behavior made a lot more sense now. I completely understood why she’d blame herself for everything if that’s what she thought had happened. I could easily see her thinking I’d flip out and flare if she took my love…and hate, and everything in-between and stirred it all up until it became unrecognizable.
It was possible that I might have, too, if I were in that situation. There was no telling how I’d react to that kind of stress. I wonder how Pupa–
“Pupa’s in her room right now, crying her heart out. Not from the pain. Oh no. She’s crying because she can’t figure out if she regrets her decision because she can only remember who she was and why she made it to begin with.”
This time Nurse Redcross took a swipe at my horn. I grit my teeth just in time to suppress a scream. That I could still feel in full force.
At least my question had been answered.
“She now looks approximately exactly like you to Mi Amore, who took it upon herself to ‘fix’ everything that had gone wrong. My daughter now has a venomous hatred of Celestia and an outrageous love for Luna.”
That – that would be the expected outcome. I hadn’t spent enough time with Spike to properly sympathize, but I understood Queen Chrysalis’s loss a little bit.
“You owe us everything that goes right in your life from now on, and when it comes time to return the favor, you are going to return it tenfold!”
“I – of course I–”
After snorting, Nurse Redcross continued, “I’m done here. If you mess this up, I’m finished with you. I’ll sell you and Luna out and get my daughter back, regardless of her wishes.”
Her wishes? Was that a Twilight-ified Pupa who loved Luna talking, or was the normal one really willing to take all that upon herself?
For me? For Luna? No. No that felt utterly wrong.
For the hive? Did she really think Luna and I could do that much for her? For them? That’s…
I – I silently promised myself not to let her down. Not that I’d planned to let anypony down before, but…but I–
I called upon Cadance’s royal breathing exercises. It was strange how the deep breaths and the cold burning from stretching my muscles were actually calming instead of…literally anything else.
Meanwhile, Nurse Redcross had fallen silent and hadn’t moved an inch. Almost as if she were expecting some–
“Thank you,” I said. “Thank you so much for what you’ve done…”
“Chzix,” Nurse Redcross said. Okay, I had no idea how to go about pronouncing that, even having heard it, but I tried my best.
“Thank you, Chzix. What can I do to make this up to you?”
Chzix’s horn glowed, and I felt…strange. Not bad, per se, but definitely strange.
“I’ll just take your gratitude for now, Twilight Sparkle. However, Princess Pupa is well-loved within the hive; prepare yourself for some changelings who will be less…reasonable.”
I could understand that completely if what she had done for them today – or was it yesterday? – if what Pupa had sacrificed were her normal behavior.
“I…thank you. Just thank you.”
Faintly smiling, Chzix said, “You are welcome. Please do not make me regret that.”
I stumbled into Shining’s hospital room; I’d underestimated how many injuries I still possessed when I’d snuck out of mine. Still, my magic didn’t falter, so Spike remained undisturbed in his nap. That was something.
And the pain was also a great distraction from all of the problems that I’d caused. It was hard to think properly when you were interrupted every few seconds by a feeling equivalent to being struck by lightning when you had the pure hubris to bend a leg the wrong way or when you had the audacity to twitch an ear.
Dad was missing – I’d probably missed him coming to my room – but Mom, Shining, and Cadance were all here and crowded around Shining’s bed.
Wow, my thoughts just really jumped there, hadn’t they? Horseapples.
Anyway, Shining was, naturally, the first to respond. Nothing ever slowed him down, it seemed, not even losing a leg. No wonder he was a lieutenant already. It seemed like only yesterday he was just a wee little cadet.
“Twily!” he shouted, the distress in his voice obvious. He unnecessarily supported me with his magic. It was a nice gesture, at least.
Okay, I probably needed it, but I needed the distraction of walking through fire more.
I set Spike down and looked between the three other ponies in the room. Which part of my mess did I have to address first? Who had it the worst?
Cadance still wouldn’t look at me. I sighed. She was as good a place to start as any.
Hobbling across the room, shrugging off Shining’s magic trying to pick me up, and ignoring Mom’s attempt to help me physically, I made my way to Cadance. She backed away from me as I approached and made me walk further. I just grinned and bore it. I deserved the extra distance and the effort that came with it.
Once I had Cadance backed into a corner, she tried to take flight. Before she could, I summoned a short burst of energy to jump on her in a hug.
“Cadance,” I said, hoping to finish before she decided to throw me off and flee, “Celestia didn’t tell me, but I figured out what happened. It’s not your fault; I’m sure I was being mean given the context. Either way, even though there’s nothing to forgive, you have my forgiveness all the same. And my apologies.”
Some large amount of time passed as Cadance trembled in my hooves. I really wished I had more to say, but that was about as much as I had planned out. I would’ve polished that teeny, tiny speech into something decent, but I was working with limited mental resources, and I had three other ponies to deal with.
“How?” Cadance whispered.
“How can I forgive you?” I finished. It wasn’t hard to guess what Cadance had wanted to say. At least I could do that much for her. “Because I love you. Even if I didn’t feel it, I’d still know I love you.”
I couldn’t help myself from realizing that I had evidence proving I was right. Pupa wouldn’t be having such a hard time right now if it – if I weren’t right.
“I’m a logical pony, remember? I listen to my brain more than my heart, and that’s where my memories are.”
Cadance fell to her haunches and into quiet sobs. It made it all the easier to give her a proper hug.
Eventually, Shining disturbed our moment by asking, “Twily, Cady, what are you talking about?”
“It’s complicated filly stuff,” I answered for the both of us. I smiled at the weak laugh I got from Cadance. “You wouldn’t understand, Shining.”
Well, that was one pony down. It hadn’t made me feel any less guilty, but Cadance looked better. A little bit. Okay, at least she was looking at me so I could tell she didn’t look any better. That was all that mattered.
I turned toward Mom next. She should be fairly quick to deal with. She met me barely one step into my journey to her, scooping me up into a light hug as if she were afraid I would break, which I was willing to admit might be possible a outcome of a real hug at the moment.
Returning the affection, I whispered, “I’m okay, Mom. But you see why I absolutely have to?” I left the last word unsaid; we both knew what it was. “I’m unstable and dangerous to everypony like this.”
Mom didn’t say a word, which I took as acceptance – hopefully. Either way, neither she nor Dad had done anything silly like tell Celestia about Luna in a panic. I knew I couldn’t ask much more from them right now.
“Do you think you could find Dad before he raises a panic when he finds Spike and me missing?” No response. “Mom?”
Mom kept the hug up for a very awkward, very uncomfortable length of time, but I didn’t say anything. I…might have needed the support myself, if I were being honest.
After breaking apart and kissing my forehead, Mom said, “Right now, I’m just glad everypony is alive. I’ll go find your father.”
I shivered as Mom left. She’d really driven home that I’d nearly died. That…wasn’t something I wanted to think about right now. If I just made it a paltry few more years, I’d only ever have to worry about philosophical deaths.
Last, but far from least, I turned to my BBBFF. “Shining, I–”
“Twily, I don’t know how many times we’re going to have to tell you this, but it’s not your fault.”
At least once more forever, Shining, because it was my fault.
“I can do without a leg for the better part of a year. You know how good I am with magic. I’ll be just fine. Besides, it’s a paid vacation, since I was technically injured in the line of duty. Nothing better, right?”
Making a weird face that might have been a frown, but also possibly a smile, Shining added, “And Cadance has…er…volunteered” – Cadance gave a single dry laugh – “volunteered to help nurse me back to health, so we’ll all get to spend more time together.”
Maybe for a few weeks…but how wonderful it would have been. I unfortunately had a tight schedule to keep, and I’d be leaving Pupa in my place more often than not until I left.
“That reminds me,” I began. I certainly wasn’t embarrassed or feeling guilty about this, but I couldn’t imagine Shining or Cadance taking this well. “Celestia…found out about…something, and she’s going to order you” – I pointed to Shining – “to keep an eye on me.”
“What?” Cadance and Shining chorused. After an awkward look at each other, Shining continued, “What are you talking about, Twily?”
“Would you two please promise not to freak out in advance?”
Shining frowned but gave his word. Cadance, on the other hoof, looked all too eager to agree. I didn’t know how I felt about that. It was…good that she was being amiable, but this semi-desperation to earn my forgiveness could – would make things even worse between us when Cadance found out I was Luna’s apprentice.
I was so tempted to say oh well and take it as punishment, but I knew Luna would tell me I was being stupid. I had made a mistake – a big one – but I’d also learned…was in the process of learning from that mistake. Punishments were there to make ponies learn from their mistakes when they wouldn’t themselves.
Still, I didn’t know what I could do short of telling her the truth to get Cadance to stop. Well, I’d figure it out later.
“So you two both know I’ve been studying magic, right?”
I got a sad smile from Cadance and an eye-roll from Shining.
“Yes, well, anyway, I’ve been dabbling in pretty much every branch of magic, because it’s, you know, my special talent.”
“Twily, you can skip all this.”
I sighed. “Okay. Just, you two have no idea what it’s like to live with so little magic. I found a branch that’s…very efficient in how much magic it consumes.”
“Twily, please get on with it.”
“Fine.” Abandoning all sense of grace – or poise, or…something – I said, “I’ve been studying dark magic.”
Silence fell. For Cadance’s part, her face was frozen with her jaw dropped. Shining…not so much.
“Pfft. Heh. Oh, good one, Twily. And here you had us all worried. Imagine you learning dark magic. Oh wow. That’s just what I needed right now. Thanks.”
With an exasperated sigh and an eye-roll of my own, I brought forth my inner darkness. “Slap yourself.”
The sound of a slap echoed throughout the room. Afterward, Shining mumbled, “Ow,” while rubbing his cheek.
“I already told you why. And you promised not to freak out.”
“I don’t understand,” Cadance began, “do you really…”
Hate Celestia enough to use it to fuel dark magic? Most other negative emotions worked well enough, too, but I knew what Cadance meant. “Yes, Cadance. But it gets easier over time. It…takes less. Just more control.”
“Would you two please stop doing the cryptic conversation stuff?” Shining asked. “I’d like to think my opinion on this matters.”
Taking a deep breath and preparing for the worst, I said, “Shining, I don’t really know how to put this nicely, so I’ll just put it bluntly. It doesn’t. I know far more about the field than you – that is to say anything at all – and uninformed opinions are worse than useless.”
“Twily, just listen to yourself.”
I facehoofed. The pain was worth the gesture. I knew he was injured, and I really didn’t want to stress him like this, but this kind of stuff really bothered me.
“Shining, do I really need to remind you of every other time you’ve said that to me?”
“No,” he grumbled. “But this is–”
“Exactly the same as every other time I’ve been right. Look, you haven’t said that to me since before I started…dabbling. Compare my behavior between then and now. Is it really that different?”
Shining opened his mouth in the right shape to say no, but the word never passed his lips. I probably should’ve turned off the dark fire flaring from the corners of my eyes, but I was trying to make a point.
“No,” Cadance answered for him, “but if we’re going to address your flaws, you could work on your sharp tongue and tendency toward condescension.”
I turned toward Cadance. “Those…aren’t the first ones I’d address, but duly noted.”
A knock came at the door, and Mom and Dad entered without waiting for permission. Dad made a beeline to me and absorbed me into the same awkwardly long hug Mom had given me.
“Did you two know Twily has been practicing dark magic?” Shining asked.
I couldn’t see his face – I was buried in blue fur – but his tone was accusatory. I really wanted to say something, but I was sure Shining was smart enough to realize the problem with my testimony. And maybe he’d figure out why asking Mom and Dad was also pointless.
“Aah,” Mom and Dad said together, equally flatly.
“Twilight asked us not to say anything,” said Dad.
“Asked,” Shining began, “or commanded?”
Well, he was halfway there to realizing why asking them was pointless.
Both of them half-shouted, “Asked,” together.
“How do you know that? What if she’s made you say–”
Cadance put a hoof on his wither, and they shared a short look of some significance. Well, at least he realized that if he was suspicious to begin with, asking anypony he was suspicious of being under my control to some degree was pointless. Hopefully.
“I’m sorry, Twily.”
Squirming my head out of Dad’s grasp, I looked to Shining, genuinely smiling. “It’s okay. It’s not everyday your little sister tells you she’s a dark mage. In addition to every other type of mage, of course.”
“Yeah… The only thing stranger would be if Princess Celestia came in and said she knew how to use dark magic.”
Cadance coughed. “That would be strange.”
Wow, not very subtle Cadance. But it was very good to know for sure that Celestia could cast dark magic, too, not that it was very surprising.
Sigh. I really should help Cadance out before anypony else noticed that she had just validated the joke.
“Shining, you still want to learn how to detect dark magic, right?” I asked. His face said everything I needed to know. “It’s okay. I don’t blame you. I did totally abuse it for an extra dessert once.”
“Hey!” Mom said. “Are you talking about that time you ate a whole–”
“Ehem. And you could get yourself a niche specialty in the field in the guard. I don’t think anypony else really bothers learning anything about dark magic anymore – defensive or otherwise.”
Shining chuckled. “Twily, I know you’re an academic, but we don’t need niche specialties in the royal guard.”
“Ugh! I know! You’re wasting your resources by having everypony learn everything.”
Seriously. Besides the automatic…niche-ifying…that occurred with ponies’ special talents, it was just plain impossible to learn everything about everything. Even an alicorn would have trouble. It probably wasn’t even possible anymore, given the rate new information was generated now compared to, say, when Equestria was first founded.
“Coming from you,” Cadance said, “that’s not a very convincing argument.”
Now that was hitting below the dock. And ad…uh…homi – homm – homini…whatever wasn’t even a valid argument. Oh well, I’d just let Cadance have this victory. She desperately needed the win to ‘even out’ the score.
Heh. Even out. Please.
Even as I thought that, another thought came to mind, something I remembered I needed to ask about.
“Hey, Cadance? Remember how I said that this was my fault and not yours?”
Hesitantly, Cadance replied, “Yeeeees…”
“What did Shining really mean when he said you volunteered to help him?”