Luna took the news well. "Oh dear..." she said after several long moments. "We were afraid of that." she sighed, going into a more normal tone of voice. "I believe I will be able to manage, Tia, although I do wish I had a bit more time to prepare."
Celestia nodded. "I know you will. I wish I could assist you."
Twilight hesitated before speaking. "Is there anything I could do?"
The two sisters both looked at her appraisingly, before Luna spoke. "I understand you are a quick study, Twilight, but you've never held such vast powers before. Until you have them mastered, it is perhaps for the best if I act alone."
Twilight sighed. "I understand."
Luna gazed to the left, toward Celestia's balcony, which faced the direction the sun would rise in the morning. "I think I will spend the time till now preparing myself. If I establish a connection with the sun now, I should be able to keep it on course for the rest of the day without too much trouble."
The white unicorn that was Princess Celestia nodded. "That would make it easier, I expect." Luna nodded back to her older, now smaller sister and walked to the balcony, heading outside and laid down near the center of the balcony. She pointed her horn toward the east and down to a point below the horizon, and it started glowing faintly.
Celestia sighed and turned back to Strangehorn the Mad's spellbook, floating it in front of her again. "I suppose I should study some more." she glanced over at Twilight. "I could use some help, if you're willing?"
Twilight's eyes lit up. "Of course, Princess! In fact, I can think of some perfect reference texts to help you study up on triple layer weaves! I found them very helpful myself." she frowned. "Although they're at my Library at home right now...." she glanced at Rainbow Dash, who was starting to look bored. "Rainbow Dash, do you think you could...?"
The cyan pegasus frowned. "You want me to run back to your Library and get some books?" she sighed. "Lame, but I guess I can't leave you hanging." she hopped to her feet. "Oh well, world's fastest book delivery pegasus... at your service."
Twilight smiled. "Thanks a lot, Rainbow Dash. I'll send Spike a note to let him know what books you'll need to bring back."
The cyan pegasus shrugged. "Cool." she hovered over to the balcony doors, then sped into the night, waving once to Luna as she flitted off at high speed.
Celestia summoned a parchment scroll and pen, and glanced at Twilight. "Tell me what books we'll need, and I'll send the letter. I have a feeling that writing with magic might be a bit too delicate a task to start with, Twilight."
The new alicorn sighed and nodded. "I only meant to levitate your pillow a few inches, and I ended up detonating it like a bomb. I think I'm going to need some boulders or something... and an empty field nopony will miss if it happens to explode or catch fire...."
The Princess of the Sun chuckled. "I think we might be able to arrange that." Twilight started listing the books they'd need from memory, and Celestia jotted them down, sending off the list to Spike as soon as she was done.
As Twilight and the Princess worked, side by side, Johnathon was pacing, trying to think ahead. "I'm going to go talk to Bright Lance and Shining Star, if that's alright?" he finally told the pair. Celestia murmured a distracted agreement, and Johnathon stepped out into the hall to join the pair of grey coated, unicorns in their gold plated armor.
"Hey." Johnathon said to the unicorn he assumed was Bright Lance. "Mind if I talk to you two for awhile?"
Bright Lance glanced at the human curiously. "Not really. So, how are they coming in there, anyway?"
Johnathon frowned. "It looks like it'll take awhile. The spell Celestia has to cast is very complex, apparently, and she's going to have to learn it from scratch." he grimaced. "Twilight's been trying to successfully cast the darn thing for over a month now... so unless the Princess is a quicker study, it's probably going to be awhile."
Shining Star looked upset. "A month! How in Equestria are we going to keep this quiet for an entire month?"
Johnathon frowned. "I have no idea. I suppose that Celestia's got a pretty full calender?"
Bright Lance chuckled. "She is the Princess. She's got half a dozen appointments for tomorrow alone, and that's the day after the Hearth Warming Eve festival, when most ponies are celebrating or relaxing. It'll be busier after that."
The archeologist nodded slowly. "Guess we'll need a plan."
Shining Star raised an eyebrow at him. "Why should we listen to you?" he looked the human up and down. "No offense, but you're not a member of the guard, or one of the royal staff... you're an alien from another world... who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Johnathon shrugged. "Well... I'm already in on the secret... and the less who know the truth the better, right? You can't just go recruit a bunch of other guards to help you without the reason why getting out, I'd expect."
Bright Lance nodded slowly. "True enough. You don't happen to HAVE a plan, do you?"
Johnathon snorted. "I wish. I'm just trying to talk it out... get a feeling for what we're actually facing."
Bright Lance shrugged. "OK, what do you think we're going to need to do to pull this off?"
Johnathon hesitated. "Well... the goal is to keep everypony from figuring out that Princess Celestia's powers were... er... transferred to Twilight, right?" he frowned. "Actually, I wonder...."
Bright Lance looked interested. "What is it? It looks like you had an idea."
Johnathon wrinkled his nose. "Well... in my experience, the closer to the truth a lie is, the easier it is to keep."
Bright Lance raised an eyebrow. "I suppose. What are you getting at?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Well, obviously we're going to need a good lie... one that will hold up for however long we need it too, right?" The two guard unicorns glanced at each other, then back at him, waiting. "So..." Johnathon continued slowly. "We need a simple lie that nopony can trip us up on... something that won't get revealed easily." he blinked. "Of course! That's it!" he turned toward the doors to Princess Celestia's room and pulled them open.
"What?" Bright Lance asked anxiously. "What have you figured out?"
Johnathon waved a hand. "I'll tell you if it's possible... hold on a second." he walked quickly across the room and through the balcony doors to stop next to Luna, then hesitated. Twilight and Celestia had stopped what they had been doing to watch the human with interest. "Excuse me... Luna, can you talk for a moment?"
The dark blue alicorn opened an eye to peer at him, without moving her head. "If it is brief, yes." she told him curtly. "Is this very important?"
Johnathon hesitated. "It may be. I just need you to answer a couple quick questions, if you could."
Luna kept her head still, her horn still glowing evenly. "Briefly." she said, sounding distracted.
Johnathon took a breath. "Princess Luna, can you disguise yourself as Princess Celestia? Just long enough, say, to speak to a large gathering of ponies and give a prepared speech? And... will you be able to manage that after raising the sun this morning?"
Luna blinked. "I... yes, I should be able to manage that. A prepared speech?"
Johnathon nodded. "Thank you... that's all I needed to know."
Luna seemed to frown slightly, then sighed. "Very well... I will need to keep concentrating for some time... so please wait on any other issues till after the sun has risen." the glow on her horn seemed to intensify slightly, then slowly faded back to the faint light it had been shedding. "If I understand your plan, I should be able to play my part. You might want to consult my sister first, however." Johnathon chuckled and nodded, heading back inside.
Princess Celestia was regarding him thoughtfully. "I take it you are planning some sort of elaborate deception?" she asked him with a slight smile.
Johnathon shrugged. "Something like that. I take it that you're going to be some time figuring this spell out, so if we're going to keep all this secret, we might want to have something prepared before morning."
Celestia nodded. "A wise precaution. What are the details of this master plan of yours?"
Johnathon frowned. "I'm just piecing it together... I'll need some advice from you, I think. Do you mind if I bounce some ideas off of you?"
The Princess smiled at him and settled into a comfortable sitting position. "Not at all. I'm eager to hear your thoughts."
Johnathon looked thoughtful. "Well... I'm going to assume that you announcing that you're going on an extended vacation won't go over well?"
Princess Celestia laughed. "As tempting as that sounds, you're correct, I expect that there would be quite a few panicked ponies, especially if I disappear without prior warning."
Johnathon sighed. "I figured as much." he frowned. "Tell me, how much of your duties do you think Princess Luna will realistically be able to tackle... say, if she's also occasionally appearing AS you from time to time?"
Princess Celestia hesitated. "I cannot say, but I expect that having to raise both sun and moon will be quite taxing for my sister. She will have to rest for most of the day."
Johnathon nodded. "Alright then..." he glanced at Twilight. "What about you? Can you learn a disguise spell before tomorrow morning?"
Twilight blinked. "Are you suggesting that I pretend to be Princess Celestia?"
Johnathon shrugged. "Can you do it?"
Twilight hesitated. "Er... I think I'd have to learn to control my current powers first... but... I should be able to manage a disguise spell in a day... or two?"
Johnathon wrinkled his nose. "So... Luna will have to manage till you're ready to take over, I guess. We'll have to figure out how to minimize your meetings and public appearances, Princess." he turned to Celestia. "Can you think of a good excuse?"
Princess Celestia frowned slightly. "Well, so long as... the sun rises each morning, and I make, oh, one or two appearances a day, I can simply claim to be taking a short sabbatical from my royal duties. It will be wondered at, but I believe we can manage." she glanced at Twilight. "The question is, I suppose, how are we going to explain Twilight's presence?"
Johnathon nodded. "Yeah... I don't suppose we could just hide her till she learns how to pretend to be you...?"
The Princess frowned. "Normally I'd say yes... but... unless I manage to cast Strangehorn's Transformation Spell quite quickly, time may become a factor. When I first had to take over raising the moon as well as the sun, it was extremely difficult for me, and even a thousand years ago, I was, I'm afraid, quite a bit stronger than Luna is right now. I believe that Luna will manage today. Preparing early the way she is will make the initial lift much easier, although it will be quite draining. She should manage today, I judge, but tomorrow? And the next day? If she needs help, it's best if we are ready for that possibility. Everything else needs to be second to that."
Johnathon nodded slowly. "I see... so... either you need to learn the spell, or Twilight needs to learn to help with the sun and moon?"
Princess Celestia nodded. "Which means Twilight should take time to practice with her powers... and soon. As she said, it would be best to do so in an open area, which means there is a possibility she will be observed."
Johnathon sighed. "Oh." He nodded. "OK... OK... we can still do this." he scratched his chin. "It'll come to me..." he said after half a minute of awkward silence.
Princess Celestia started to smile. "Ah... yes. I think I may have a plan!"
It was the next morning. Regal and majestic as always, Princess Celestia stood before a small crowd of press ponies in the royal press chamber, behind a small podium. She rose to her full height, and the room went silent. Her horn glowed, and a roll of parchment on the podium unrolled itself and floated slightly in front of her.
"My little ponies." she began. "I only have a little time here today, I'm afraid, so I will be reading a prepared statement, afterwards you may ask questions." She smiled gently at them and started to read.
"As I'm sure you already know, my sister Luna has been taking over more and more of her old duties as my co-ruler and princess of the night, and we are announcing today that she will be aiding us with the raising of the sun for the next week or so, until she is well practiced. Therefore, there may be momentary fluctuations in the sun's normal orbit, but rest assured, I will be on hand to in case of any difficulties."
The press ponies started to jump up, hooves waving for attention as they started to shout questions, but Celestia simply raised one hoof for silence and waited for them to settle down. "In addition, my personal protege, Twilight Sparkle, has agreed to assist with our royal duties in the future, and, in preparation of this, she has accepted a great burden. Through great personal sacrifice, and years of training, Twilight Sparkle has prepared herself to be able to maintain, if only for a short span, the powers needed to raise either the sun or moon, as needed. She has done all this in order to offer my sister and I... at some time in the future, when she is ready, a gift unheard of in all my years as your ruler." she smiled winningly at her audience. "A vacation."
She raised a hoof for silence when it sounded like the crowd would erupt into chaos again. "Twilight will be training this week in using her temporarily enhanced powers, and will not be aiding either my sister or myself with our duties until we feel her training is complete, but, at some time in the future, Twilight may well be taking either my sisters or my place for short periods.. perhaps once a year, so that we can enjoy some time off." she grinned at her audience. "After all, over a thousand years without a day off does tend to wear on a mare." she winked. "I'm afraid that I will be busy most of this coming week with aiding my sister and Twilight in learning their new responsibilities, and I have a busy schedule planned, so my new secretary, Elegant Note will be taking your questions. Thank you for your time." the princess nodded to the gang of suddenly screaming and shouting press ponies, and smoothly slipped through the curtains and out of sight. A white Unicorn with a pink mane, which was done up in a very intricate braid that nearly reached the floor, stepped up to the podium. She was wearing an attractive yet simple red and gold dress that, coincidentally, covered her flanks so that her cutie mark was not visible, and she wore a fashionable pair of eyeglasses.
The sophisticated looking unicorn mare simply waited patiently for the shouting to stop before pointing at one of the press ponies. "One at a time, please." she said in a authoritative tone. "You, go ahead. What is your question?"
In the room behind the stage, Luna dropped the illusion she was maintaining to make her appear as her older sister, and slumped tiredly against a wall. The small room was empty save for a pair of rather tired looking unicorn guards, and a rather nervous looking purple alicorn.
"That was a really great performance, Luna!" Twilight complemented the Princess earnestly, although still looking nervous. "If I didn't know better, I never would have suspected the difference!" she glanced at the curtain, frowning. "Do you think that Princess Celestia will be all right out there with all those press ponies? They seem really... excited."
Bright Lance gave her a reassuring smile. "The Princess is an old hand at handling the press, Twilight. Don't worry." he grinned. "And with those glasses, and that braid, and her cutie mark covered up, nopony will even suspect who she really is."
Twilight sighed. "I hope so." she fidgeted. "Do I really need to go out there?"
Luna nodded to her. "It's part of the plan, Twilight Sparkle. You must show yourself to the press now, so that they accept the story we have given them, rather than speculating wildly why there is a new, purple alicorn present in the palace, practicing magic on such a massive scale. Let Tia answer most of the questions, and you should be fine."
Twilight sighed, and nodded. "I'll do my best."
Luna yawned. "As for me, I will be resting until the hour before nightfall." she nodded to Shining Star. "Please have my night guard wake me at that time."
Shining Star nodded. "Bright Lance and I will be taking twelve hour shifts, one at a time for the next few days, so that one of us is always present." he sighed. "Bright Lance has pulled rank, so I'm getting some shut eye now. Good luck, Twilight Sparkle." he nodded to Princess Luna. "I will escort you to your chambers, Princess, and then find my own." Princess Luna nodded graciously, and the two of them left.
Bright Lance sighed. "I wish we could recruit more unicorns and pegasi out of the royal guards for this... but we're going to keep this restricted to only those who already know of the situation." he frowned. "Which apparently leaves me trying to make guards out of six inexperienced mares, a baby dragon, and a... human." he sighed. "At least the human has some security experience, apparently."
Twilight looked relieved. "So... my friends are here?"
Bright Lance nodded. "They're being briefed by Mister Dwire in Princess Celestia's royal chambers as we speak. They arrived just a short while ago." he raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure they're the only ones who know about your plans to attempt to transform into an alicorn?"
Twilight nodded. "Yes. I wouldn't have asked them to come, except I'm afraid they'd figure out what was going on, since they did know about Strangehorn's spell...." she smiled. "But together, we've saved the world, twice, and... faced down a full grown dragon. They can handle themselves."
Bright Lance frowned. "I can understand you including the other Element users... but, why the school teacher?"
Twilight shrugged helplessly. "Well, because she knows as much about the magic I've been working on as any pony. Since I've been keeping Johnathon informed, and he lives with her, she knows almost as much about what I've been up to with my research as he does. I'm sure we can trust Miss Cheerilee."
Bright Lance rolled his eyes. "Oh... sure. This is going to be great."
The crowd outside was quieting again, and Twilight heard her name being called. "Eep!" she shivered. "I guess I had better get out there then." she ducked her head, and slipped through the curtain to stand next to the white unicorn that was calling herself Elegant Note.
"I'd like to introduce you to Princess Celestia's personal student, her protege, and bearer of the element of magic, Twilight Sparkle!" Elegant Note said in a proud, ringing voice that was like, and yet unlike that of the Celestia Twilight knew so well.
"Hello everypony." Twilight said nervously as the crowded press room went silent, the ponies there all awestruck by the, to them, enormous purple alicorn. "I'm Twilight Sparkle."
The crowd once again broke into a roar of noise, and for long moments Twilight could hear nothing but the roar of their voices, and see nothing but the flash of camera blubs going off. After a minute, Elegant Note raised a hoof for silence, and, with a glare that would probably be a close runner up for a certain yellow pegasus's infamous stare, quieted the crowd once more. Pointing to a young stallion in the front row, she nodded once.
"Miss Sparkle." the young press stallion asked nervously. "How did you manage to become... well, an alicorn like the Princesses?"
Twilight cleared her throat, remembering her prepared story. "It's a very difficult spell, requiring a lot of preparation, and the full cooperation of the princess. I can't really go into more details, except that I could have never managed it without Princess Celestia's help." there was a lot of shouting, but another glare from Elegant Note quieted it down. Once again she pointed, this time at a middle aged unicorn mare floating a notepad and quill.
"Miss Sparkle. Is it true that you'll be assisting the princesses with raising the sun and moon sometime this week?"
Twilight hesitated, then nodded. "If they think I'm ready, I may assist them at some point later in the week, yes. Under their complete supervision, of course."
Elegant Note pointed to one of the more well known journalists at that moment, a grey coated old stallion Twilight had seen once or twice before in the editorial section of the Equestria daily, although as nervous as she was, she couldn't recall his name. "Twilight Sparkle, is this transformation permanent?"
Twilight blinked. "No... this is a temporary transformation." she told the lie with only the slightest guilty twinge. This had been something everyone involved had agreed on. That the fact that Twilight could not only permanently transform into an alicorn, but that in doing so she had robbed Princess Celestia of her own powers was something that could never be even hinted at. She had said the lie in the mirror a dozen times in preparation, and she was pleased to note that her voice hardly quavered at all. "In fact, it's extremely difficult to perform, and I will not be able to do it again for several months after it's duration expires."
Elegant Note smiled indulgently and stepped forward slightly to address the crowd. "Miss Sparkle is being modest. She is the most gifted unicorn of her age, and so far, the only one found with the raw magical strength to even attempt such a feat. She has volunteered at great personal risk to herself to give our rulers what aid she can, and I think she deserves our appreciation!" she stepped back and started to stomp her hooves into the stage, one after the other, smiling widely at Twilight. One by one, the press in the crowd started to stomp as well, until their applause filled the press room with the thunder of their hooves.
Elegant Note let the applause go on for another minute before again signalling for silence. "Now time for... one final question, and then Miss Sparkle has a very busy training schedule for the rest of the week." she pointed to a young earth mare. "Go ahead. What is your question for Miss Sparkle?"
The young mare raised her hoof. "Miss Sparkle, how does it feel having so much power?"
"A little scary." Twilight admitted truthfully. "I'm going to try my best to learn, but it'll take me a while before I can be of any help to the Princesses. I only hope I can make them proud."
The press started yelling again as it was obvious that the press conference was ending, but Elegant Note simply escorted Twilight through the curtain. Bright Lance stepped onto the stage a moment later to make sure that no press pony decided to try chasing after them for an extra question, but the press ponies had already started filing out of the room, looking excited and frustrated.
"Well done, my faithful student." Elegant Note said with a small smile, her accent fading as Princess Celestia relaxed into her normal voice. "I think they liked you."
Twilight grimaced. "But I lied... I mean, I know we had to, but... they think I'm doing this on purpose, that I'm being... noble, and self sacrificing, so that you and Luna can have a vacation sometime..." she looked upset. "I don't deserve to be treated like some sort of hero."
Princess Celestia laughed. "On the contrary, you deserve it many times over. Nevertheless, if all goes well, you WILL be able to give me and my sister a vacation day or two after this, if you're willing." she looked up into her student's face. "You would be willing to do that for us, wouldn't you?"
Twilight blinked. "Well, of course, Princess! I'd be happy to! You deserve it, if any pony ever did, but... I didn't go into all this with that intent..."
Princess Celestia shook her head. "Perhaps not, but you did have good intentions when you tried your spell. If this works as we hope, I would have to consider the results a fortunate side effect of your research." she grinned. "I really would love a short vacation... even if it won't be THIS week."
Twilight nodded. "Any time you want, Princess... at least, as long as I actually manage to figure out how to raise the Sun and Moon properly. It would be an honor."
Bright Lance came back into the room. "The press has packed it up." he announced calmly. "It sounded good from back here. I think they bought it."
Princess Celestia nodded. "Very good, Captain."
Bright Lance chuckled wryly. "Captain Forthright is going to eat his own helmet when he hears about my promotion...." he frowned. "But this really isn't a secure area... Miss Note." he raised an eyebrow significantly. "Perhaps we should head back to greet the rest of our team for this week...." he said calmly. "Of course, as the Princess's new secretary, Elegant Note..." he repeated pointedly. "You'll be welcome to come along...."
Princess Celestia flushed slightly, then nodded, going back into character, her voice changing into the more sophisticated Canterlot accent that she had decided to use for her new persona. "Why, thank you for inviting me, Captain Bright Lance!" she said cheerfully. "The Princess tells me she has complete faith in you!"
He rolled his eyes, then shrugged. "Good to hear, Miss Note. Shall we?"
They had only managed to get half way through the palace before they were intercepted by a rather frantic looking, formally dressed unicorn with a rather curly mustache. "Sergent Bright Lance!" he came up, looking quite upset. "What is this I hear about Princess Celestia clearing her entire calender for the week in order to train..." he glanced at Twilight. "Er... no offense Miss Sparkle, but this is quite irregular!"
Twilight blushed. "I'm so sorry, Mister Fredrickson!" she apologized. "This is all my fault. I surprised the Princess with all this, you see, and this spell only lasts a week or so... so she felt we didn't have any time to waste."
The majordomo sighed. "It is not that I am against the idea of the Princess taking a vacation. On the contrary, she certainly deserves it! But in the future, I would appreciate a little more warning!" he frowned. "I have already begun clearing the Princess's schedule, but there are a few meetings that simply should not be put off!" he sighed. "Could you please speak to Princess Celestia for me? I believe I can eliminate all but a few of the most important items on the list... but it would be extremely helpful if she could find an hour or so a day to attend to her duties?"
Twilight nodded slowly. "I'll pass that along." she blushed. "I'm sorry, Mister Fredrickson, but if I'm going to be taking up so much of the Princess's time, I really must get started. I'm sure she appreciates all your hard work."
Celestia spoke up calmly. "If you have any urgent messages for the Princess, please let me know. She has entrusted me with a spell that can reach her in case of an emergency. But please... only true emergencies."
The majordomo looked at the white unicorn mare with some disdain. "I would never question the Princess's choices, but who ARE you exactly? I've never seen you before. How did you come into such a trusted position of authority, exactly?"
Celestia raised an eyebrow at him. "You may call me Elegant Note... or Miss Note. The Princess hoof picked me for the job, and I was pleased to accept... on a temporary basis. Now, if you'll excuse us, Miss Sparkle has a very grueling schedule to keep." the Majordomo gave a stiff nod, and trotted off. When he was out of earshot, the transformed princess of the sun sighed. "I hate to keep him in the dark, but it is for the best. He's really an excellent majordomo, you know." She frowned. "I wonder what it is that is so important this week? I hope I haven't forgotten anything."
Bright Lance shrugged. "He probably just wants you to rubber stamp everything from the various meetings throughout the day... you know they can't seem to make a single serious decision around here without passing it by you."
Princess Celestia nodded wryly. "You are probably right. I should have done this years ago. My little ponies need to stop depending on me quite so much all the time."
Bright Lance shrugged. "You've been caring for Equestria for over a thousand years, Princess. We've gotten complacent in all that time."
Celestia smiled at him. "Perhaps just a little..." her accent once again firmed up into Elegant Note's sophisticated tones. "But now who's forgetting to maintain our cover, Captain? I'm just a humble secretary."
Bright Lance snickered. "Humble? You're about as humble as an Ursa Major." he grinned. "Miss Note, you could give my drill sergeant lessons in discipline. You tamed that press group like a pro." he raised an eyebrow. "Someone might think you'd been doing it for a thousand years or something."
Celestia snorted. "Very funny."
They walked quickly, arriving at Princess Celestia's personal chambers after only another minute. Rainbow Dash, suited up in the golden armor of one of the pegasus guards, and grinning slightly, nodded at the door. "Everypony is waiting inside, come on." she opened the door and led them inside, where Twilight's closest friends waited.
"Hoooee!" Applejack let out a low cry of astonishment as she saw Twilight enter the room. "If that don't beat all!" she shook her head as Rainbow Dash closed the door behind the small group. "I can't hardly believe it's you, Sugar Cube!" the cow pony walked closer for a better look, craning her neck slightly to look up at Twilight's face. "You're taller than my brother now, Twilight! I can't hardly recognize you!"
Rarity, Pinkie Pie and Fluttershy crowded around as well, all looking at her with expressions mixed between wonder and nervous admiration.
"Darling!" Rarity said, beaming. "You look simply smashing! So elegant! So sophisticated! You must allow me to create a new dress for you! Perhaps some jewelry to fit your new stature?"
Pinkie Pie bounced. "Have you tried flying yet, Twilight? Is it fun being an alicorn? Have you raised the sun yet? Can I watch?"
Fluttershy was gaping, then blushed slightly, looking shyly through her own hair, although staying close. "Oh Twilight... is it very scary? Are you nervous? I'd be nervous."
Twilight smiled at her friends enthusiasm, even as she fought to pick out what question to answer first. "I haven't tried flying yet Pinkie, I've got a whole lot of practicing with my magic to do, I'm afraid, and it's going to have to come first. I'm not going to raise the sun... at least not until I'm better with my new power level." she turned to Rarity. "I don't think I'll have much time for fashion, Rarity, and I'll be changing back to normal as soon as I can, so I don't know if a new dress is a good idea right now... but I appreciate the thought." smiling down at Fluttershy worriedly, she nodded. "I'm very nervous... but I can't let that stop me. I need to do my best right now, which means I can't be nervous."
Princess Celestia smiled. "I'm glad you're all here to support Twilight, my little ponies. I trust you understand that the truth behind these events must be kept in the strictest confidence?"
Rarity looked at the Princess in surprise. "Oh my! I would never have recognized you like that, Princess! That's quite the convincing disguise!"
Princess Celestia smiled, and spoke in her Elegant Note voice. "Why thank you, Miss Rarity. Luna and Twilight helped me with it, and Johnathon suggested the spectacles.... I believe he said something about some sort of... flying man from his world who uses glasses for a disguise? I didn't quite understand, but it does seem to work."
Rainbow Dash looked interested. "A flying man? You mean some sort of pilot?"
Twilight shook her head. "No... a super hero... like Mare Do Well." she grinned. "Only I believe he was speaking about a work of fiction." she glanced around. "Where is he, anyway?"
Fluttershy spoke up quietly. "Johnathon said he was going to get some sleep. He wanted to be well rested when his turn for guard duty comes." she looked dubious. "Did you really want us to be your guards, Twilight?" she glanced at Princess Celestia. "I... I'm not exactly the right sort to be a guard. I'm not very brave, or strong, or anything."
Princess Celestia smiled. "You'll do fine, Fluttershy. I have every confidence in all of you."
Rarity sniffed. "Well, being a royal guard pony is... no doubt, very noble work, but it's not exactly something I expected to be doing." she smiled forgivingly at Twilight. "But of course, I am happy to help..." she sighed. "Although the regular guard uniforms are so... plain. Gold and silver are all very nice, of course, but couldn't they show a little bit of originality?"
Rainbow Dash fanned her wings, glancing at her own, surprisingly well fitted pegasus guard armor. "I don't know... I think it's kind of cool. It's not quite as cool as my Commander Hurricane costume, but I think I look pretty awesome." she glanced at Bright Lance. "How come you had a suit of armor in my size, anyway?"
The newly minted Captain shrugged. "We do get female recruits, although usually we take larger males... and the armor's enchantment makes it so that we all look alike." he frowned slightly. "I can't figure out why isn't the enchantment on your armor working though."
Rainbow Dash shrugged. "Maybe I'm just too cool for it?"
Princess Celestia chuckled. "That particular suit is approximately four hundred years old, Captain. It was last worn by Sergent Flashfire, the leader of my old Valkyrie unit." she looked a bit sad. "We weren't using the enchantment that makes you all look alike back then, I'm afraid." she smiled slightly. "Still, you look lovely, Rainbow Dash. Flashfire would be pleased." Rainbow Dash grinned and preened a little, and Princess Celestia turned to the others. "You five have a certain reputation among my personal guard, so having you blend in would in fact, work against us right now, I believe. If you wish any armor or equipment we have available, you are of course welcome to it, but I trust you to judge for yourself what is needed."
Princess Celestia smiled. "I'm sorry to pull you all away from your homes for this crisis, but I truly appreciate your service." She glanced around, blinking. "Wasn't a Miss Cheerilee supposed to be joining us? Twilight tells me that she knows about Strangehorn's work as well, and felt she could be trusted with our secret."
Applejack spoke up. "She's actually coming later this afternoon. She's arranging some stuff back home... making sure Fluttershy's pets are looked after, and helping Spike pack up all the extra books that Twilight asked for."
Princess Celestia nodded. "Very well." she found herself yawning, and sighed. "I suppose I should be getting some rest myself. Normally staying up all night does not fatigue me, but apparently my current form is a bit more mortal. Now that the excitement of the press conference is over, I'm starting to feel quite sleepy."
Twilight hesitated. "I'm not tired at all... is that part of being an alicorn, Princess?"
Celestia smiled slightly. "Well, it was part of being me, anyway. You seem to have gained that as well, Twilight." the purple alicorn looked embarrassed, but Celestia simply shook her head. "You don't need to apologize again. Certainly I won't mind getting some sleep. It's been quite a while since I last felt the need, it'll be a pleasant novelty."
Twilight nodded, then chewed lightly on her lip. "I'm kind of anxious to do something... useful. Do you think I could try practicing using my powers?"
Celestia hesitated. "I would prefer to be present the first time you try to use your full powers... or better still, to have Luna nearby in case she is needed... but..." she nodded. "Time is a factor, I fear, and you know the risks involved. If you wish, you should go to the magical training ground outside the military academy. I believe it's clear this time of year?"
Bright Lance nodded. "I'll show you the way, Twilight, and I'll make sure you aren't disturbed while you practice."
Twilight Sparkle nodded gratefully. "Thank you." she nodded to the Princess. "I'll come back here after you've gotten some sleep, Princess, and I'll try and help you study Strangehorn's spellbook some more. I've got some ideas for some practical exercises you could to to practice casting spells with a triple weave."
The Princess smiled. "I'll see you this afternoon then. Good luck, Twilight, and be very careful. Use as little power as possible at first, until you get the hang of it, and work your way up slowly. Don't focus on anything you don't want broken either." she grinned. "When you think you're ready, you should try the old egg carrying game. If you can handle eggs, you'll know you're close to getting the hang of your new power level."
Twilight nodded. "That's a good suggestion Princess, thank you."
Celestia yawned again, and looked over at her huge bed. "I probably should sleep elsewhere." she said with a sigh. "It'll look strange if I'm sleeping in my regular bed."
Fluttershy hesitated. "The girls and I have a big room to ourselves nearby, Princess." she said shyly. "You're welcome to sleep with us... if you like, I mean..." she hid her face in her hair. "I mean... if it's alright, and everything... I just thought it might be safer if you were in the room with us... not that you can't protect yourself, but we're supposed to be guarding you too, and I'd hate for anything bad to happen to you, not that anything bad would happen...."
Princess Celestia smiled gently at her. "Bunking with you sounds just fine, Fluttershy, and I will be safer that way. I'm sure that there isn't any reason to worry, of course, but it'll make Bright Lance feel better if I am careful, I'm sure."
The Unicorn guard nodded with a small smile. "I don't mind if you're just humoring me, Princess. It would make me feel better for you to sleep with Twilight's friends. I HAVE heard enough about their exploits to know that you're probably as safe with them as you'd be in a barracks full of my men..." he grinned. "Safer, in your current condition, actually." he winked. "You make a pretty good looking unicorn you know."
Princess Celestia broke out laughing. "Why Captain! Are you flirting with me!" she beamed. "How delightful!"
Bright Lance shrugged. "I... er...." he sighed and grinned sheepishly. "I'm a terrible flirt when I'm drunk... and I've been up long enough that I'm starting to get a bit punch drunk, I'm afraid. Sorry about that."
Princess Celestia smiled. "Oh nonsense. I'm glad that you feel you can relax your guard a little with me... even if it took a major magical accident and sleep deprivation to do it."
Twilight, on the other hand, was looking slightly annoyed for some reason. "Maybe we should get going... CAPTAIN... before you fall asleep on your feet." she told the unicorn, stressing his new title.
Bright Lance shook his head as if to clear it, then nodded. "Yes sir, Miss Sparkle!" he said without a hint of humor in his voice. "Permission to stop at the kitchens for some coffee on the way?"
Twilight blushed slightly. "Um... sure. Sorry, I didn't meant to snap at you."
The unicorn captain nodded crisply, still keeping himself in a stiff military posture, but his eyes were kind. "Not a problem, Twilight. You've got a lot to do, and not a lot of time to do it." he headed for the door. "Ladies." he said with a nod. "I'll leave the Princess... I mean, Elegant Note, in your care."
Rainbow Dash saluted him. "She'll be safe with us, Captain!" she told him with a cocky grin.
Rarity watched Twilight and Captain Bright Lance leave, then turned to the others. "Well, since most of us have had to do with less sleep than we'd like, I suggest we take turns sleeping in shifts till we're all a bit more coherent. I will volunteer to take first watch." she smiled. "I'm quite used to late hours, after all, I should be just fine for a few more."
Pinkie Pie grinned, raising a hoof. "I volunteer to sleep with the Princess! I mean, with Elegant Note!" she looked around at the combination of shocked and amused looks she was getting. "What? Do I have something on my face?"
Captain Bright Lance watched from what he hoped was a safe distance as Twilight Sparkle looked at one of the boulders in the training field. Her horn didn't glow, she just looked at it. It was the largest boulder in the field. He remembered in his own academy days, how they would practice lifting larger and larger weights with their telekinesis. The largest thing he had ever lifted was less than half the height of the massive boulder the purple alicorn was eying now, and probably a tenth of the mass. He estimated that the boulder that Twilight was looking at probably weighted close to ten tons.
"Aren't there any bigger ones?" Twilight finally said. "I could have lifted this one pretty easily when I was in my last year of the magical academy."
Bright Lance gaped. "Er... Miss Sparkle, no pony has lifted that boulder solo in twenty years or more."
The purple alicorn blinked at him. "Seriously?" she frowned. "Huh. Well, if it's the biggest one you have..." she took a deep breath and concentrated, her horn glowing faintly, and the boulder shot into the air like a rocket. "Whoops!" she said and concentrated harder, causing the rock to plummet back downwards even faster. "No!" she threw up a purple wall of energy between the rock and herself as it hit the ground with a sound like a bomb. Bright Lance dived for cover even as the shockwave threatened to knock him from his feet.
After several long moments, the dust started to clear, and the Unicorn palace guard carefully checked himself for injuries. He seemed undamaged. He glanced up and noticed that Twilight's shield had expanded into a dome over the crater the boulder had made in the ground. He stood up and looked more carefully, and realized that a ring of shrapnel, sharp pieces of stone ranging in size from pebbles to hunks as large as his entire body ringed the inside of the circle the purple alicorn had drawn around the crater with her magic.
Twilight's horn was glowing brighter now, but that glow faded along with the huge shield she had thrown up just in the nick of time. "Are you alright, Bright Lance?" she asked worriedly, turning to him. "I didn't mean to bring that boulder down quite so fast... I just... I threw it upwards too hard, and I tried to slow it down, and overcompensated back the other way..."
Bright Lance nodded. "I understand. Thankfully, I'm fine. You got that shield up just in time." he looked curious. "How did you manage that, anyway? You seem to be having so much trouble with telekinesis, how can you put up something as complex as that magical shield?"
Twilight hesitated. "Well, with my telekinesis, the more power I put in, the faster the object travels... but with the shield, more mana simply increases the strength of the shield... so it didn't matter if I put too much power into it."
Bright Lance looked thoughtful. "I see." he hesitated, then raised an eyebrow. "Can you keep up the shield while using your telekinesis on objects inside it?"
Twilight Sparkle blinked, then frowned. "I don't think so... it's a basic shield, but it's not permeable to magic, unfortunately."
He shrugged. "Too bad. That would have made things a bit safer." he glanced at across the yard to the rest of the boulders that the unicorns used for practice. "Well... do you want to try again?"
Twilight Sparkled grimaced. "Not really, but I guess I really don't have much choice. Maybe you should stand a bit farther back for awhile?"
The captain of the guard nodded. "That's probably a good idea."
Twilight waited for Bright Lance to get about fifty yards farther away before turning to another large boulder. She closed her eyes, feeling it very carefully with her magic, then opened them. With the gentlest touch she could manage, she attempted to lift it. The boulder shivered but didn't lift, and Twilight slowly increased the power she was using. Almost immediately the boulder shot into the air, although slower than the last one, and she let it rise, forcing herself to pull back the power very, very slightly, causing the boulder to hover in mid air.
Twilight blinked, hardly believing she had managed it. "I... I did it!" she exclaimed proudly. "I've got it under control!" she nodded to herself and started moving the boulder around the practice field slowly, then with greater speed as she grew more confident in the power she was using. She judged the large piece of rock to weigh in the neighborhood of half a dozen tons, which was well under her limits even before transforming into an alicorn, although certainly keeping something so massive levitated off the ground and move it around would normally be much more tiring for her. As it was, she could barely feel the massive boulder at all. She kept moving it around the field, changing direction and speed, for another minute, then let it float in mid air while she reached, very, very carefully, for another boulder, and, as gently as she could, lifted it into the air as well. Giggling in glee as she managed to do so without sending either boulder rocketing into the sky, she started moving both around the field together.
From where he watched, Bright Lance found himself more than a little impressed as to how quickly the purple alicorn was learning to control her powers... and as the minutes passed, and Twilight lifted another, then another, then another boulder into the air, more than a little amazed at her magical strength and control. An hour passed, and Twilight was levitating a dozen boulders larger than a pony, and she continued to work tirelessly. Bright Lance was anything but bored, however, as he breathlessly watched a true prodigy work, as one after another, more boulders from the practice field joined the ones floating and spinning in mid air. By the end of the second hour, nearly four dozen boulders of various sizes were moving gently around the field, and Twilight started to pick up smaller pieces of rock as well, causing them to orbit the larger boulders in more and more intricate patterns.
The purple alicorn spread her wings, almost without thinking about it after working for nearly two and a half hours, and levitated herself into the air almost without concious effort. By now, the airspace above the practice field was filled with whirling masses of rock, hundreds of objects floating in intricate patterns as she levitated herself into the center of the flying mass of objects. Closing her eyes, she could feel everything she was levitating at once, almost instinctively, and she slightly increased the energy flow, causing the hundreds of rocks and boulders she was levitating to increase their speeds as they flew around each other and herself, faster and faster.
It was like a dance... or the inside of a colidoscope. Bright Lance watched with wonder even as he started to become concerned. Twilight was now simultaneously levitating hundreds of tons of stone, and had most of it moving at speeds that would prove lethal if any pony ventured too close, and still, the mass of whirling rocks continued to accelerate.
"Twilight!" he shouted. "Twilight Sparkle! That's enough! You need to stop now!"
In the middle of the malestrom, Twilight could barely hear Bright Lance shouting, but after several long moments she opened her eyes, only to be immediately dismayed, and more than a little frightened of what she had wrought. With a gasp, she broke the magic, only to see the rocks and boulders go flying off in every direction at once at high velocity, in a pattern that would surely lay waste to the entire area.
Bright Lance flinched uselessly away as the rocks exploded outward away from Twilight in every direction, and closed his eyes, bringing a hoof up to ward his head from the boulder that would crush him into a thin, gold-plated bloody smear on the ground.