The sight before Princess Celestia was simply breathtaking. Her sister, Mistress of the Night, was truly skilled at her art. Now that Princess Luna knew that there were ponies that appreciated her night, she strived to put more effort into her designs. Oh, she could not truly move the stars at her whim, despite popular belief. All she could do was control which stars were visible on a given night. It was a simple illusion spell, but required great concentration to get it just right.
However, like any true craftsman, Luna had more tools at her disposal. Comets, meteors, all were at her beck and call. For tonight however, her chosen brush was the Aurora Borealis. Winter Wrap Up was still a few weeks away, leaving plenty of time for a couple more showings of the Northern Lights.
"Beautiful work as always, Lulu." Princess Celestia complimented, forcing a smile.
"Thank you, 'Tia." Luna replied with a smile. She had just finished putting the finishing touches on one more wondrous display in the night sky, a twisting red nebula illuminating the eastern horizon, a perfect complement to the aurora.
Upon seeing the finished work, Celestia's facade broke, and she heaved a deep sigh. "Twilight would have loved to see that."
"Has there been any word?" Asked Luna.
Celestia shook her head in response. "No. Our search has proven fruitless so far." She sighed. "I am beginning to doubt that she is even on this planet."
"How can that be?" Asked Luna incredulously. "Surely her spell couldn't have misfired that catastrophically."
"I can think of no other explanation." Celestia stated. "If she were still anywhere on Equis, even if she were in the pits of Tartarus, I should be able to sense her presence, as I have with my other faithful students in the past."
Luna frowned at this. An alicorn's very nature meant that they could form a bond with anypony they grew close to. It was a bond that transcended time and space, but it was still limited. If Twilight were truly not on the planet of Equis any more, then there was little hope of finding her. It would mean that Celestia had been lying to herself since her most faithful student disappeared, eventually, even the Solar Diarch would have to face facts. Twilight Sparkle’s chances of returning home were effectively zero.
But at least she was still alive. No matter how far away in the cosmos Twilight was, as long as she was alive, Celestia could sense that. The Night Princess hoped that, wherever Twilight was, that she was safe and happy, and making plenty of new friends.
"Maybe she'll find her own way home. She is a smart filly, after all."
Princess Celestia smiled at her sister's attempts to cheer her up, before letting off a long, exaggerated yawn. "I'm sorry, sister, but I must be getting to bed."
"Pleasant dreams." Replied Luna, as Celestia turned and headed for her room.
The trek to her room was over before she knew it. She didn't even chide her guards when they cast surreptitious looks amongst themselves when they thought that their Princess wouldn't notice. They were merely concerned for her well-being. It was pointless to tell them to not be, as it was their job.
For now though, Celestia's bed called for her, and she intended to answer its siren song. In truth, her guards had every reason to be worried. Princess Celestia had run herself ragged ever since Twilight Sparkle had disappeared in a teleportation accident, especially considering she held herself responsible. She had ordered Twilight to test a spell to bring the Elements of Harmony to her home in Ponyville, and a mix-up in reagents transformed the summoning spell into a teleportation spell, one that had apparently taken her far away from home. Farther than anypony had gone before.
Now, unless she met some friendly aliens that could travel the vast distances between star systems, she was unlikely to ever return home. Sighing dejectedly, Princess Celestia doffed her crown and necklace, slipped out of her golden slippers, and climbed onto her exorbitantly comfortable bed. Once she got comfortable, she levitated a scroll from a nearby pile. She swiftly unrolled the scroll, and suppressed a fit of the giggles when she saw the contents.
It was one of Twilight's "Friendship Reports." Specifically, it was the report detailing what would live in infamy as the "Smarty Pants Incident." It was easily Celestia's favorite report, even though she couldn't help but feel partially responsible.
Before her musings could continue, however, she was interrupted by the sound of arcing electricity. In the far corner of her room, a small orb of energy had appeared. It was a bright blue color, no larger than a soccer ball, but lightning arced all over the surface. Before the Princess could react, the orb grew in size until it was larger than Celestia. A gust of wind scattered the pile of scrolls as the orb pushed the very air of the room.
As Princess Celestia stood up to deal with the potential threat, the orb vanished, leaving a pony garbed in strange, grey armor. At first glance, the armor appeared to be a mix of ceramic and a strange metal, unlike the purely metallic armor of her Royal Guards, though she had no doubt that the strange pony's armor was designed for combat, unlike the Guard’s largely ceremonial barding. Where a pegasus' wings would be, the pony had a stenciled outline of folded wings painted in white. The helmet was made of the same metal as the rest of the armor, but with a large glass visor where the pony's face would've been. Above the visor was a small crest which could cover a unicorn's horn. A strange object that Celestia was not familiar with was strapped across the pony's back and across its flanks was a set of saddlebags marked with a stylized image of a primate's skull wreathed in flame.
She took notice of all of this in less than a second before the pony dropped to the floor with a startled yelp. As the new arrival picked itself up, Celestia did a double-take. Under the armor, the mare, Celestia could tell that the strange pony carried itself like a mare would, was wearing a bodysuit that covered her coat, but not her tail. Her dark-indigo tail with one violet and one pink stripe.
As Celestia stared, the mare's head turned swiftly as she searched the room, finally settling her gaze on a nearby wastebasket. The mare dashed over to the can, and a lavender aura enwrapped her helmet before jerking it off her head and tossing it aside. Celestia's jaw dropped as she saw the familiar lavender coat and indigo mane of Twilight Sparkle...
... Just as she emptied the contents of her stomach into the waste basket. "Note to self: Never travel via slipspace without a ship." Twilight groaned, wiping her mouth off with a hoof. "By Celestia, that was not fun!"
"Twilight!" Celestia exclaimed, overjoyed to see her student again, catching the lavender unicorn's attention. When Twilight saw her mentor laying on the bed, her smile brightened the room by several lux.
"Princess!" Twilight exclaimed as she galloped towards the large bed. She then jumped up onto the bed and nuzzled the Princess affectionately. "I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you too, Twilight," said Celestia, tears streaming down her smiling face. "What happened? Where have you been? Where did you get that strange armor?"
"It's a long story, Princess." Replied Twilight, pulling away from her mentor. She then shook her saddlebags off and removed the object attached to her back and set it down beside the bed. "It all started when-" she was interrupted by an outstretched hoof.
"It can wait, Twilight. At least until I get your brother and my sister here." She gripped a pull cord with her magic and a bell sounded as Celestia tugged the cord, and a guard opened the door and stepped inside. "Please fetch Captain Shining Armor and my sister. Also, have a servant bring up some tea and a few bottles of my finest wine."
"At once, Your Highness!" The guard swiftly saluted before rushing out the great double doors, closing them behind him.
Shining Armor couldn't help but grumble, despite his loving wife's best efforts. The Captain had only just collapsed into his bed when another guard informed him that Princess Celestia had summoned him to her chambers. Luckily for the guard, Princess Cadence was in the room, or he would've gotten an earful of very descriptive and colorful language.
Exhaustion had been a fact of life for Shining Armor since Twilight disappeared. He was in charge of locating her, and the search had begun to take its toll on his health. He'd have worked himself into an early grave if not for Cadence's insistence that he take a few days to rest.
The Captain shot his wife a loving smile as she walked next to him. The guard had only specified for Shining Armor to meet with the Princess, but there was no way in Tartarus that Cadence was going to let him go alone, especially as tired as he was.
As they approached the door to Celestia's chambers, the married couple was surprised to see Princess Luna coming from the opposite end of the hallway. As they reached the door, they each shot curious looks at the other before a guard let them in.
Shining Armor forgot just how tired he was the moment he stepped into Celestia's room and saw his little sister on the Princess' bed.
"Twiley!" Shining responded, galloping for the bed. Before he could jump up there with her, Twilight tackled the stallion in a tight embrace. "I've missed you so much!"
"Twilight, where have you been?" Cadence asked, eyes wide in shock at seeing her sister-in-law.
"And where did you get that strange armor?" Added Luna, wearing a similar expression.
"I've already asked those questions." Celestia interjected while pouring wine for the three newcomers. "We've been waiting on you. Twilight tells me that she made a few new friends while she was away."
"I have a picture if you want to see them," said Twilight.
"Come join me by the bed." Celestia began passing around full wineglasses. "Then we'll let Twilight tell her story. But first, I'd like to see this picture."
Cadence and Luna trotted over by Shining and Twilight next to Celestia’s great bed. Twilight climbed up while Shining Armor, Cadence, and Luna laid down on cushions by the foot of the bed. Twilight dragged her saddlebags over towards her and began rifling through them until- "Aha, there it is"- drawing a photograph out of a pocket and showing it to the others.
The picture had Twilight in the center, with two strange creatures, one on either side of her. The closest description Luna could come up with for the two creatures was "shaved ape," but that description wasn't accurate. They were hairless, save for their manes, which were black and cut short. One of the creatures, the one on Twilight's left, had an olive complexion, while the other's skin was pale, almost unhealthily so. "What are they?" Luna asked.
"Humans." Twilight replied, startling all present.
"But... humans are a myth!" Exclaimed Cadence.
"Yeah, they said the same thing about me." Twilight said with a visible smirk.
Princess Celestia was too stunned for words. Twilight Sparkle had disappeared off the face of Equis, only to return months later to prove the existence of mythological beings. Not even the most learned scholars of ponykind had come up with proof of the existence of humans, and Twilight did by accident.
"Did they at least treat you well, Twiley?" asked Shining Armor, taking a sip of wine.
"For the most part, yes, although, some of them were real assholes." She replied, only to be sprayed by a fine mist of red wine that had previously been in her brother's mouth.
"Twilight!" exclaimed Cadence.
"Sorry. Bad habit I picked up." She replied sheepishly.
Celestia could hardly believe Twilight's language. Oh sure, Twilight would occasionally swear up a storm back when she was living at the castle and was stuck on an important project, but only when she thought nopony was around to hear. She had never heard Twilight use foul language this casually before.
"I think we've postponed Twilight's story long enough." Said Celestia. "If you don't mind, would you please tell us what happened?"
"Of course, Princess. It all started at my library..."