It was happening so often now, she almost expected it.
Celestia suppressed a scream, jolting awake from the nightmare that haunted her sleep only seconds ago. Trickles of sweat rolling down her entire body, the exhausted alicorn let out a sigh of relief as she reviewed her surroundings. The lavender unicorn in question was sleeping peacefully, head rested on her saddle bags. Feeling a bit calmed by the reassurance, Celestia lay back down on the grass in frustration, silently cursing herself. She closed her eyes slowly, her dull headache passing as she allowed herself to fall back to sleep.
This obviously wasn't going to work.
"Uhm... Do you really need all tho-"
"Yes, Spike!" exclaimed a flustered Twilight, as she struggled to magically force indistinguishable articles of clothing into a seemingly inadequate suitcase. "I'm going to be in Canterlot for an entire week! What would Princess Celestia think of me if I didn't come prepared?"
The baby dragon eyed the suitcase incredulously. "But you don't even wear clothes."
As if on queue, the frustrated unicorn lost her focus, sending pressurized cloth and fabric flying at various angles throughout the room. Twilight let out a whimper of defeat as a striped sock landed on her head, partially covering her face. When Spike approached her to remove the offending object, he was met with a glare that meant certain death for all who unfortunately gazed upon it.
Luckily for him, his execution was cut short as a knock on the door echoed throughout the library. "Coming!" announced Twilight as she made a beeline for the library's main door, casting a simple spell to welcome in her unexpected guests.
As the wooden door creaked open, Twilight came face to face with a very enthusiastic Rarity. The white unicorn put on a bright smile as she greeted her disheveled friend. "Twilight, darling, I heard you were going to be- WHA?!" exclaimed the marshmallow mare, gaping as she got a better look at the inner furnishings of the hollow tree house, which were all chaotically covered in multicolored socks and gowns.
Catching the fashion designer's gaze, Twilight smiled sheepishly and levitated the conspiring tube sock from her mane onto the floor. "Sorry about the mess."
Rarity eyed her fellow unicorn skeptically for a moment before breaking out into a fit of giggles. "Oh this isn't a mess, dear. This is a work of modern art! I would be lying if I said I wasn't a tad envious." She teased, getting a combination of laughter and snorting in response from the lavender mare. "Any-who, a little birdie told me you were going to be leaving soon?"
Snapping out of the moment, Twilight nodded vivaciously and grinned. "Yes yes yes yes yes!" she shouted gleefully. "Princess Celestia has invited me to stay at the Castle with her and Princess Luna for the entire week!"
The white unicorn let a small smile form across her lips as she considered her friend's excitement. "Wonderful! What's the occasion?" she asked.
Twilight put a hoof to her chin as she contemplated the question. "Hmm, I don't really know. The Princess just said that we had some catching up to do, and that she wanted me to visit. So does her sister, appare-"
The conversation was interrupted when Twilight's bedroom door jerked open, revealing a considerably psychotic looking dragon whelp. Right fist clenched and eye twitching, Spike removed a haphazardly placed hat from his tail and flung it dramatically across the room. He eventually made it down the stairs, postured against Twilight and opened his mouth to speak his mind.
That was of course, until he saw who was standing behind her. "Huwhuahah, Ra-Rarity?" he sputtered, any memory of his assumed tirade gone with the wind.
Twilight rolled her eyes and giggled helplessly. "Oh, Spike."
A motion completely invisible to the untrained eye, Celestia twitched ever so slightly as she overlooked the court house.
She would never admit it, but the wear of living the same exact day over and over again for thousands of years had recently began to take it's toll on Celestia. For the first time in eons, she was actually beginning to feel her age. Needless to say, it was not a good feeling.
Upon noticing the twitch, Luna, who was also in court, gave her sister a concerned look in response. The sun goddess caught the gesture instantly, so she composed herself and gave the midnight mare a knowing smile. Much to her discomfort, this action only prompted another worried gaze from her fellow alicorn.
"So I just need o-one more month! Then I can pay in full, y-your majesty," pleaded a shivering lime-green pegasus, his absolute fear of lunar banishment preventing him from looking the princess in the eyes, or even rising from his bow.
Though debating tax extensions was by far not Celestia's favorite activity, it was much better than the conspiracy theorists. "Yes, that will be fine. You may leave," she said.
"Thank you, Princess!" exclaimed the pegasus as he left happily.
Luna rolled her eyes. "Next?" she asked, hopeful that her question wouldn't bear any answers.
Reading from a long scroll, the white unicorn who manages court proceedings shook his head. "That was the last one for today, your highness," he said, getting a sigh of relief from both alicorn sisters in response. "You may go whenever you are ready."
Letting out a sigh of relief, both Princesses lowered their heads respectfully, and made their way to the exit. Once the two sisters were out in the main hallways, and she was sure to be out of sight, Luna let out an exaggerated groan. A gesture which managed to get a raised eyebrow from Celestia.
"I hate court," said the younger alicorn, lowering her head in defeat.
A small smile graced the lips of the rainbow maned ruler. "Oh come on, Lulu. You'll get used to it. You've just been gone for awhile. It can't be all bad, can it?" she asked.
Luna shook her head, chuckling. "Was that a rhetorical question?"
The royal sisters shared a laugh as they passed the throne room and made it to the kitchen, greeting a visibly nervous Chef LeMe. Celestia had wanted to ask for some fresh doughnuts, a particularly addictive pastry in her eyes. However, after she took a glance at the work load the Chef had to deal with in preparation for tonight's dinner, she decided it would be best to just leave him alone.
After picking up a few considerably older doughnuts from a bowl on the counter, Celestia and Luna went into the empty dining room to indulge on their calorie-packed snacks. The extremely large room with nopony else inside it gave one unmentioned blue mare a great idea to test it's echo retaining abilities, but she controlled herself for the sake of everypony in a six mile radius.
Celestia hummed in thought while eating an unlucky doughnut before addressing her sister. "Do you think I'm working him too hard? LeMe, that is. I just wanted to impress Twilight, I haven't spent time with her in..." She trailed off as she caught the annoyed, unimpressed look on Luna's face. "What?"
"Really?" Asked the night princess sarcastically.
Her counterpart eyed her quizzically for a moment. "Really what?"
Luna sighed, bringing a hoof to her forehead. "Tia, do you even understand how much you have that filly wrapped around your hoof? She probably panicked over this entire ordeal, got herself into some unnecessary mess, and ended up causing nothing but trouble for herself."
"My Twilight? That doesn't sound like her," Celestia said, unable to suppress her giggles. That sounded exactly like her.
The star maned alicorn rolled her eyes, but then narrowed them as a thought came to her. "Don't mind me asking, but when exactly is Twilight getting here?"
Celestia eyed a lonely wall clock. "In a few hours, I think. I sent her chariot a while ago, the return trip won't take too long."
The dark alicorn's visage was overcome with a wide smile. "Perfect! Twilight Sparkle had written me a few letters about astronomy, I cannot wait to study the stars with her in person!" she exclaimed, bringing the once quiet dining table into a loud echo of her laughter. Celestia joined the giggling fit, albeit she was noticeably less into it than her sister was.
When the laughing died down, Luna sighed quietly to herself. The princess of the night had been growing more and more worried for Celestia recently, and within good reason. Her sister had been getting distant recently, and it was not uncommon for Luna to see the white alicorn struggle to even maintain the smallest of public masks. She would never mention it to either of them, but Luna was excited about this visit not because of the upcoming stargazing, however because she knew more than anything that Celestia really needed to relax. If anypony could help her sister, it was Twilight.
The sun princess grinned as she composed herself. "I didn't know you were looking forward to this as much as-"
The conversation was interrupted as a standard white pegasus guard entered the dining room and galloped over to the table. Panting, the guard sat down on the floor and wiped a few trickles of sweat from his forehead. "Your majesties," he began.
"What is the meaning of this, Guard?" asked Luna, struggling to not blast the offending pegasus across the room.
The guard rose to his hooves and saluted the angered alicorn. "A visitor wishes to speak with both of you."
Celestia sighed, shaking her head. "We just finished holding court. He may speak to us tomorrow."
The guard held up a hoof to protest. "But princ-"
"No buts," said Luna, cutting him off. "We don't get to spend much quality time with each other, and I am quite surprised that you would interrupt it with something as trivial as-"
"He told me to tell you, 'To fuel the living, to break the chains'." Said the pegasus.
Both royal sister's eyes widened in shock, one of Celestia's doughnuts dropping to the floor after being forgotten mid levitation. Luna's bottom lip trembled as sweat began to trickle down her body. Taking in a deep breath, the midnight alicorn calmed her nerves and looked back up at the guard.
"Bring him to us. Now."
Twilight sighed as a weak pink aura enveloped her horn, sending a small tingle down her spine. With effortless concentration, a similar aura enveloped the covers of a red book, closing it. Using the same spell, she levitated the book over to it's rightful place in the library, fitting it snugly between two other novels.
Rarity shrugged unenthusiastically. "Well, dear... I've read worse."
Twilight buried her head in a nearby cushion, a stifled groan forcing the pillow to vibrate into life. "I'll never get this right." The lavender mare announced as she poked her head out from the now saliva covered chair.
The violet maned unicorn ran a hoof through Twilight's mane, trying her best to console the self-conscious author. It was quite disheartening in her eyes how much Twilight needed this vacation, always stressing herself with one project or another. How exactly she managed everything in her life escaped Rarity, but the tired look in her friend's eyes stopped the dressmaker from asking about it.
Twilight's ears perked up as a thought crossed her mind. "Rarity, we got really side tracked didn't we? Did you have something to tell me before I left? I never asked why you came over here in the first place."
Rarity's eyes widened as she tried her best to suppress a guilty, frustrated yelp. She had gotten so caught up in reading Twilight's book with her that she had forgotten entirely the purpose of her visit. "Oh, why yes actually!" the diamond marked unicorn began, trying her best to hide her anxiety. "We have to go to Applejack's... Barn."
Twilight raised an eyebrow quizzically. "Excuse me?"
Noticing her own nervous expression, Rarity smiled widely. "Uh, why yes! Applejack's barn, there are things you need there! For your trip! Like... Apples! Yes, yes, lots of apples!" exclaimed Rarity as she pushed an unconvinced Twilight out of the library doors. "Can never have enough apples!" she continued, laughing awkwardly.
Twilight grimaced and eventually stopped resisting the white mare's insistence, following her friend without any force necessary. It's not like Rarity was wrong - you really never can have enough apples.
Celestia gave her sister a worried look as the pegasus guard hurried back to the throne room. "Do you think?..."
"No, impossible. I did not sense him," argued Luna, disproving the unspoken statement.
The white alicorn furrowed her brows in consideration as she decided whether to offer a rebuttal to that, or not. Luna was right as usual, neither alicorn sensed the presence of the expected visitor, although Celestia personally knew how well he could conceal himself if he tried. After a short mental debate, the sun princess decided to wait and see who this was before speaking.
She didn't have to wait for long. After a few minutes, the pegasus guard returned. This time, however, he was flanked by a tall, older looking griffin. The griffin in question had dark gray feathers and wore a regal golden sash, as well as a patch to cover where his left eye had been. The visitor bore no arms, only a scroll held tightly in his right hand talons.
As the griffin approached the royal sisters, it became apparent how large he was compared to them. Standing three alicorn's height, Luna slightly backed up in intimidation.
The darker mare's worries dissipated when the griffin nodded respectfully and began speaking in a low, coarse voice. "To fuel the living, to break the chains."
Recognizing the griffin as a diplomat, Celestia smiled brightly and continued the traditional greeting. "To warm our hearts, to guide with light."
Albeit more reluctantly, Luna added in her verse as well. "To hold us steady, to calm the seas."
When the night alicorn finished the greeting, all three participants bowed to each other in unison. Seeing this, the diplomat's features visibly softened. He let a small smile form on his beak before continuing. "She of the Lonely Star, and She of the Silver Moon," he began, getting a confused look from the younger alicorn. "It is a privilege to be within your lands once again, my visits are always most delightful. I represent He of the Endless Skies."
Celestia shook her head and chuckled heartily, almost unprofessionally so. "Must you be so formal, Vladimir?" she asked, receiving a pained sigh in response.
"I wish my arrival to Equestria was under more pleasant circumstances, Tia."
Luna's eyes went wide at the use of her sister's nickname, and she turned to Celestia in shock. "You know him!?"
"Vlad is an old friend of mine," she began, smiling up at the behemoth griffin. "He became Avania's diplomat over nine hundred years ago, and ever since I have always looked forward to having his company."
The young alicorn's shock only worsened. She hadn't a clue that griffins lived as long as her sister suggested.
Vlad bent down to address Luna, smiling. "If your wondering about the old chant we just recited, Tia and I never got around to using it when you were gone. That's why she didn't know that it was me at first." He assured the mare, her expression becoming more relaxed. "What's the point if it isn't finished?"
The white alicorn cleared her throat in order to grab the griffin's attention. "Oh? So all of the other races aren't important? Now that Lulu is here, it's finished?"
"Heh, you caught me, as usual. I guess we're both just too lazy, yes? In truth, I wanted to impress miss Luna here," said Vlad, returning his attention to the blue princess of darkness. "Tia never told me how astoundingly beautiful you were, my dear."
Luna frowned as she blushed furiously, covering her cheeks with her hoof. "They teach you to act like that in ambassador's school?" she asked lamely.
The griffin raised his head upwards, letting out a mighty laugh which shook all of the dining room furnishings. All ponies in the room - including the normally stoic guards - cringed in a futile attempt to block out the terrifying noise.
"So, she has a sense of humor too!" he teased, only to notice the very annoyed ponies staring at him. "Sorry. Indoor voice."
Celestia grinned maniacally and shot a glance at her sister, getting a death glare in response. It was all too perfect for the white alicorn to handle, and she took her chances. "Did I ever tell you? Lulu had a very similar problem when she first returned home! Why don't you fill him in, dear sister."
Both Vlad and Celestia flinched as a blue aura enveloped a few nearby dinner tables, reducing them to shrapnel almost instantaneously. As a small marble block came inches from hitting the white alicorn's head, Vlad smiled innocently and turned back to Luna.
"I think I'll pass on that, miss. Though if you ever desire, I have quite the tales to tell myself." He offered.
"So Vladimir," Celestia interjected, successfully stopping her sister from decapitating the ambassador. "To what do we owe this visit?" she asked.
The gray griffin frowned, allowing a sad sigh to escape him. "I was afraid you would ask that."
Twilight frowned as she and Rarity approached the gates of Sweet Apple Acres. Instead of the normal dirt path which led to the barn, the entire orchard was covered in thick snow. This wasn't too strange, it was winter after all. But the lavender mare couldn't shake the feeling that something was very wrong. On any other day, Big Macintosh had always plowed the snow to clear a path. What could he possibly be so busy doing?
The star flanked unicorn decided not to voice her worries, and simply followed the marshmallow colored mare into the Apple family's property. As they approached the barn, it became obvious to Twilight how quiet everything was. By now, she would have usually greeted a busy Applejack. This time, there was no Applejack in sight.
Noticing her friend's nervous expression, Rarity softly prodded Twilight on the shoulder. "A bit for your thoughts?" she asked.
Twilight composed herself and shook her head. "I'm fine, just cold is all."
Rarity smiled. "Age before beauty," she said, motioning for her companion to enter. "You go first."
Twilight frowned, and shot the white unicorn a death glare. "I'm not beautiful?"
The interrogated mare giggled, and repeated the gesture. "You're gorgeous, darling. Now get in that barn before I do something I will regret."
Twilight resisted, but eventually brought a shaky hoof to the door, opening it slowly. When no pony eating hydras jumped out to attack her, she cautiously entered the dark barn, unaware of what horrible fate she was about to endu-
"SURPRISE!" yelled everypony in the barn simultaneously as the lights flickered on, revealing the bodies of twenty or more multicolored mares and stallions.
Twilight shrieked in panic, bringing her hooves to her ears as she cringed. The cheerful expressions among the party guests quickly turned to looks of concern as they noticed the lavender mare's eyes were glued shut, her entire body shivering madly.
Rarity immediately jumped to her friend's side in fear for her, but Twilight pushed the other unicorn aside and got up. Still shaken by the unexpected noise, the purple pony blushed in embarrassment. "Hi, everypony. What's all this about?" she asked, doing her best to hide the slight cracking in her voice.
As if it could solve everything, an oblivious Pinkie Pie bounced over to her startled friend, forcing a cupcake down her throat. "It's a going-away party for you, silly!" Answered the particularly peppy pink party pony.
Twilight coughed and sputtered as she attempted to swallow the unexpected pastry. "But Pinkie, I'm only going to be gone for a week." She protested.
"We know, sugarcube." Said Applejack, who seemingly appeared out of nowhere behind the three mares, astonishing them. "Tryin' tah reason with this one when she's got a celebration in mind don't usually go over too well, if ya get what ah mean." She finished, pointing an accusatory hoof at the energetic earth pony.
Twilight chuckled softly, recalling memories of her pink friend trying to throw her pet alligator an after-birthday party. "I think I have an idea, AJ." She jested, getting a mixed variety of laughs in response from everypony except the mare in question.
"Ooh! Is this a guessing game? I love these!" announced Pinkie, bouncing in place. "Hmm... Is the answer Pasta? No! It's toes! I pick toes!" she exclaimed.
Rainbow Dash hovered over the make shift group, giving Pinkie an unimpressed look. "Pinkie Pie... You are so random." She said.
The party went on as planned. Ponies ate Pinkie's sweets, mingled pleasantly, and played the party games. This harmonious experience lasted five minutes or so before a loud knock on the barn door caught the attention of everypony in the room, causing Pinkie to appear out from under a bucket which she couldn't have possibly fit inside.
Applejack opened the door happily, a large smile on her face. "Howdy! Welcome tah Sweet Apple A-" she was cut off as she looked upon two large, armored pegasus guards. The orange farm pony gulped nervously when one of the pegasi looked her in the eyes. "What can ah do ya for?" she asked hesitantly.
"Where is Twilight Sparkle?" one of the guards asked.
Recognizing the guard's voice immediately, Twilight squealed in delight and galloped towards her old friend. "Night Shifter!" she announced, wrapping her hooves around the guard's neck, which was ironically bright white.
Night Shifter smiled warmly, stifling a chuckle as the mare detached from him. "You've sure gotten a whole lot bigger since the last time I saw you as a filly, always causing trouble for the Princess," he said.
"Our egghead? A troublemaker? Ha!" interrupted Dash, laughing hysterically. "I didn't know you had it in you, Twi!"
Twilight blushed, giggling as she looked back up at the pegasus guard. With a swift flick of his head, Night Shifter motioned for the lavender unicorn to board the awaiting chariot. Once a few quick goodbye hugs from her Ponyville friends were out of the way, Twilight lit her horn up with a familiar pink aura. With a small flash of bright light, her suitcase dropped unceremoniously onto the seat next to her. With a nod to Night Shifter, the three ponies were off, course set for Equestria's capitol. Twilight smiled in excitement as the thought of seeing her mentor again took over her mind.
This is going to be the best week ever!
Celestia grimaced, her eyes transfixed upon the scroll held in Vlad's talons. "So that's it?" she asked.
The griffin followed the alicorn's gaze for a moment, then held up the scroll once he realized what she was talking about. "Yes, this is it. Though I know what matters it speaks of, I am prohibited to repeat them under any circumstances," he said, turning his massive head to look at one of the guards with his good eye. "Especially in public."
Luna looked up at Vlad incredulously. "So you flew all the way from Avania... To deliver a letter?" the dark alicorn asked in disbelief.
"Are you implying that is difficult to do, Princess?" asked Vlad smugly, a mad grin forming on his beak. "I can get to Equestria and back in less than a day."
"Impossible!" the younger mare argued, scoffing at the diplomat. "Avania is on the other side of the world!"
After a quick moment of confusion, Celestia realized how much her sister apparently didn't know about the other races. "Lulu, Vladimir is being completely honest with us."
The night princess' jaw went slack, her bottom lip twitching slightly as she attempted to process the preposterous information. Composing herself, she opened her mouth to speak but was only cut off as the enormous griffin raised an arm to silence her.
"Though we could never manipulate the world around us as the equine can do," he began, slightly amused at the oblivious goddess in front of him. "Us griffins have magic of our own."
Luna quirked an eyebrow, but didn't speak against his statement. Taking this as his queue to continue, Vladimir smiled. "Air is the most basic of elements, and it is the fuel to all life. It is calm and refreshing. It is also violent and powerful, so much so that even moderate gusts of wind can level entire villages."
With a flick of the ambassador's wrist, a noticeably strong breeze washed over the entire dining room, startling all but the older alicorn and himself. "He of the Endless Skies has taught his grateful subjects to understand the wind, create the wind, and even in some lucky few, control the wind. It is the one feat of magic that we griffins hold dear, and I would easily give my life to keep it that way."
Both alicorns were more than a little awe stricken as Vladimir finished his lecture. "So, is that how you made it here so fast?" Luna asked.
Vlad laughed, though much less loudly than he had the last time. "Did you really have to ask, dear? For somegriffin of my experience, gliding on my own air currents is as easy as levitation is to a unicorn." He boasted, flaring his wings outward for the alicorn to see, getting many impressed looks from the surrounding pegasus guards.
As a stray thought ticked in the back of his mind, Vlad sighed and returned his gigantic wings to his sides. "But, back to the matter at hoof. Princess Celestia of Equestria," addressed Vlad in a much more professional tone than he had been previously using. "Lord Gleeringas of Avania has requested your attention and wisdom, should you choose to respond in turn."
Celestia sighed overdramatically. "If Glee wanted to send me a letter, he could have just done so by mail. Must he do this to you constantly?"
The Avanian ambassador smiled wistfully as he released the scroll, allowing the white alicorn's golden aura to envelope it. "If only things were that simple, Tia." He said. With a nod to the guards, he turned away from the two alicorns. "Sadly, I must return home. No matter how much I've enjoyed my stay, I've been here too long to begin with. Anyways, it's getting quite late. I wouldn't like to fly in the dark if I don't have to." He admitted, pointing a claw towards the window which revealed a soon-to-set sun.
"I should get to that, shouldn't I?" Celestia joked. "How long have we been in here?"
One of the guards saluted the alicorn, then spoke up. "Four hours, or so." He said.
Vladimir smiled at the royal sisters one last time before departing through the gilded doorways of the dining room, barely fitting through them at all. Once he was gone, Luna sighed in relief and fell to her haunches, exhausted for reasons that her sister couldn't decipher. "I thought he was going to kill us or something." The younger mare said.
Celestia laughed softly. "He would never do that, and besides, nothing can hurt us as long as we're together!" she reassured.
"Actually, Discord did a pretty good job of doing just that." Argued Luna in an annoyed monotone.
The older alicorn giggled, hitting her sister on the shoulder playfully. "He got lucky."
As night fell over Equestria, a comfortable darkness blanketed the peaceful lands underneath Luna's brilliant moon. Though she had always admired looking at the night sky while flying, Twilight's attention was entirely focused on the marble city sitting on the mountain side. As Canterlot grew closer and closer, the lavender unicorn couldn't help but giggle in delight.
Hearing his passenger's laughter, Night Shifter couldn't help but chuckle a bit himself. "Pretty excited, eh kid?"
"Yes yes yes!" Twilight announced, practically jumping up and down in her seat. "I finally get to spend quality time with the Princess!"
The statement only caused the elder pegasus to frown in displeasure. "How long have you two been apart?"
Twilight brought a hoof to her chin as she thought. "A few months now, I think."
A mixture of pain and sadness welled up inside Night Shifter's heart. He knew personally how important Princess Celestia was to Twilight Sparkle, and like wise. The thought of them not seeing each other for such a long period of time hurt him, as he cared for both mares deeply.
His moment of melancholy was cut short as the palace run way came into view. Both guards immediately stopped flapping their wings in the same rhythm they had been in, opening them to full width as they glided downwards gently. When they touched down, the group was greeted by a beaming pair of alicorn princesses, urging Twilight to jump out of the chariot prematurely.
"Princess Celestia!" she exclaimed, galloping up to nuzzle the alicorn, not even remembering to bring her luggage.
Celestia giggled and returned the gesture, reveling in the calming warmth of the lavender mare's soft, gentle embrace. "Twilight Sparkle, my faithful student." She greeted, her tone of voice nothing but pure glee.
Twilight smiled brightly as she broke from the hug, her violet eyes fixed on her mentor. "It's so good to see you, Princess." She said, before noticing the blue alicorn behind Celestia. "Oh! You too, Princess Luna!"
Luna waved a hoof at her in dismissal. "Please, Twilight. It is I who is privileged to be in your presence. You have done nothing but improve my life in every way possible, and I am forever indebted to you."
Twilight blushed at the compliment, only to have her vision blocked off by a large white head in her face. "Now Twilight, I have something that I have to attend to. Luna will show you up to the guest room you will be staying in. You can get settled in, then I will be up to call you for dinner. Is that alright with you?" asked Celestia.
"Of course, Princess!" agreed Twilight, quickly nuzzling the rainbow maned alicorn one last time before leaving to follow Luna into the castle.
Once they were out of sight, Celestia lit her horn with a golden, flaming aura. Closing her eyes and focusing on the spell, the white goddess teleported into her bedroom with a brilliant spectacle of flashing yellow light. Slightly nauseous from teleporting as usual, she checked her surroundings to confirm that she was in the right place. Pleased with the familiar furnishings, the Princess directed her attention to a formal scroll she had left on her desk. With a small fit of magic, Celestia untied the scroll and brought it closer to her face so she could read it.
As she finished the letter, a look of absolute horror had over taken her features. Celestia relinquished her arcane grip on the scroll and fell to her haunches, unable to process the information in her current state of mind. The alicorn took a deep breath as she considered what she had just read, bringing her to only one conclusion.
... It can't be true.
Keep calm, Celestia. You're stronger than this.
The white alicorn paced around her bedroom anxiously, occasionally stomping on the floorboards in frustration. She took in a deep breath, running a hoof through her disheveled mane in a futile attempt at relaxation. With a quick flash of golden light, Celestia focused her magical grip on the offending letter and brought it closer to her, reading it one last time.
Sighing, she dropped the scroll and tried to compose herself. Despite the state that she was in, there was one pony Celestia desperately needed to see right now.
Luna stared down at the table in fear, unable to do so much as blink. She knew what was about to happen, but a part of her still didn't want to believe it. A trickle of sweat ran down her forehead as she considered her situation. She could only blame herself, and now the younger alicorn was going to have to pay for her mistakes.
"Check," Twilight said triumphantly as she levitated a bishop into position, a wild grin spread across her features.
Luna frowned, cursing herself inwardly. Hesitantly, she channeled her magic, and a blue aura enveloped the black king, effortlessly sliding it out of its offending spot on the board.
The lavender unicorn chuckled softly, pushing her knight further into the alicorn's defenses. "Check,"
The night princess growled, shooting Twilight a glance that would make any normal pony shudder in panic. But no, Celestia's faithful student was far from a normal pony. Her chess playing abilities were far beyond that of even the greatest of scholars, and it was arguable that this type of skill was impossible to achieve. Luna made a mental note to ask her sister for permission to magically scan Twilight's brain, but for now, she had a decision to make.
Luna studied the board carefully as a wide smiled appeared on her face. "Ha! I have you now, Twilight Sparkle!" she boasted, once again moving her king out of harm's way. "What do you have to say to that, Twi-"
"Check-mate," the star-flanked mare interrupted, rolling her eyes as she gently nudged her bishop a few spaces over. Laying down Luna's king, Twilight looked up at the alicorn and smiled innocently. "Want to play again?"
The moon goddess was at a complete loss for words. Her mouth hanging wide open, she studied the board carefully, trying to figure out how everything went so catastrophically wrong. Twitching slightly, she forced a diplomatic smile and returned her attention to the much smaller pony in front of her. "I think that's enough for now, thank you."
Oblivious to the elder mare's distress, the lavender unicorn hopped off her pillow and began scanning the nearest bookcase. "Do you like to read?" she asked.
Luna pondered the question for a moment. Celestia hadn't been lying - her faithful student really was obsessed with literature. "What did you have in mind?"
"Well," Twilight began, focusing her magic on a large green novel and bringing it into view. "This is one of my favorites. It's about a spoiled prince who's kidnapped by his own guard, and sent to live in a foreign country as a slave under a crippled war hero. Does that sound interesting?"
The midnight alicorn chuckled to herself as a certain nephew came to mind, but she quickly dismissed the thought. "Actually Twilight, I was hoping I could learn a little bit more about you. We don't talk nearly as often as I'd like to."
Twilight's wide smile faded as she put the book back in it's rightful place, the unicorn being unable to suppress an imminent pang of guilt. She had wanted to spend more time with the princesses, but her demanding schedule had always prevented any visits from occurring.
Instead of returning to the table she and Luna had been sitting at, Twilight jumped up onto the bed Celestia had given her, reveling in how amazing the satin covers felt. "What did you want to know?" she asked, drawing a circle in the sheets with her hoof as she smiled up at the alicorn.
Luna giggled, somewhat amused at how comfortable the unicorn was around the royal family. The night princess remembered how Twilight had immediately wanted to run up to her on nightmare night in front of a terrified crowd, and was pulled into a bow by her dragon companion. "Well, let's start with something simple. How are your studies?"
The lavender pony lit up with excitement in the anticipation of explaining her research to her mentor's sister. "Wonderful!" she exclaimed, getting a soft smile in response from the elder pony. "I've been learning so much more about the magic of frie-"
The unicorn's speech was ended abruptly as the bedroom door swung open, revealing a panting white alicorn. Taken aback by this, both Twilight and Luna looked at each other quizzically for a moment, then returned their attention to the not-so-princess Celestia.
"Sister, are you okay?" asked Luna, her voice filled with concern.
Celestia took a deep breath, walking towards her younger sibling as calm as she could. Letting out a sigh, the sun goddess sat down next to her counterpart.
"No. No I'm not."
Reluctantly, the elder alicorn formed a golden aura around her horn, and with a quick flash of light she teleported Lord Gleeringas' letter onto the table. She eyed the parchment incredulously for a few moments, before withdrawing and allowing her sister to review its contents.
Worried by Celestia's behavior, Luna levitated the scroll closer to her, and studied it skeptically. As she read deeper into the letter, however, her face visibly fell. Closing her eyes when she finished, the midnight alicorn repressed a shudder and released a pained sigh.
"How?" Luna asked.
Celestia turned to her faithful student before answering, the confused and concerned look on her face only managing to make her stomach churn. "That is what I don't know," she began, leaving her spot next to Luna and walking over towards the lavender unicorn. "But I intend to find out."
Luna turned to her sister and grimaced. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means exactly what I said," she answered, staring directly into Twilight's eyes instead of Luna's. "I need to see him."
"P-Princess?" asked Twilight, growing increasingly uncomfortable with the alicorn's gaze. "What's going on?"
Luna rose from her position at the table, walking over to join her sister at the foot of Twilight's bed. "I do not approve," she began, letting out another sigh before nuzzling Celestia affectionately. "But I suppose it isn't my decision. Meet me in the court house in an hour."
As Luna finished speaking, she took a few steps away from Twilight and Celestia, then teleported unceremoniously out of the room.
Twilight, who had her eyes fixed on the spot where the night princess had been, turned and looked up at her mentor. "Pri-"
Before she could say anything, Twilight felt herself being pulled into the tightest embrace she and Celestia had ever shared as the alicorn wept openly on her student's shoulder. Not knowing what to do in the situation, the lavender unicorn returned the hug and remained silent.
After a few moments, Celestia broke the hug and wiped a few stray tears from her muzzle. "Twilight," she began, looking away from her student. "I'm sorry for that."
"It's fine Princess, but what happened?" the smaller pony asked.
Motioning for the unicorn to sit down, Celestia cleared her throat. "A very good friend of mine is very old, and very sick. I've been informed that the chances are, he doesn't have long."
Twilight eyed the alicorn quizzically. "But Princess, you're thousands of years old! You must have lost many friends, and I've never seen you so... Emotional."
The rainbow maned alicorn looked down at the floor. "Maybe not, but this is different. This friend is not only older than Luna and I, but he is also the same as we are."
"What do you mean?" Twilight asked.
Celestia sighed, looking up to meet her students eyes. "He is immortal."
Twilight jumped off the bed, and began pacing around the room in a manic state. The lavender unicorn had studied the different gods and races, and though she knew very little, she knew one thing. Immortals don't die.
"But how is that possible?" she asked.
"I don't know, Twilight. However, I intend to go see him in Avania."
The unicorn's face fell, and she looked down at the floor. "But Princess," she began, pawing at the ground. "Wasn't this the one week we were supposed to spend together?"
For the first time that night, the white alicorn grinned. Gesturing for her faithful student to follow her, she and Celestia walked into the hallway and were greeted by two members of Luna's night guard. With a nod from the Princess, the genetically altered pegasi saluted and flew off in different directions.
"There is a treaty among the world's nations," Celestia began, smiling. "That one country cannot bring it's army into another. That means I will be traveling to Avania by hoof, and I would like you to join me."
Twilight's jaw dropped. "Me!? But Princess, I'm not fit for that kind of journey!" she protested, still in disbelief that it had even been proposed. "What about Luna? Can't she go with you?"
Celestia chuckled grimly. "And leave Equestria for the buzzards while both it's leaders are away?"
Twilight furrowed her brows in thought. "No, I guess not." She said, pawing at the ground. "But won't I just hold you back?"
The alicorn looked down at her student with a soft expression. "Twilight, this is very hard for me. I would really like your company, and look at the bright side - there's so much for you to learn out there! We can have magic lessons again, just like we used to."
At the thought of being taught by Celestia again, the lavender unicorn lit up with glee. She nodded furiously, prompting a giggle from her old teacher in response. Once the moment passed, however, the grave nature of their situation settled back in with both ponies.
Sharing an empathetic look with her pupil, Celestia put her hoof to Twilight's chin. "You've had quite a long day, my faithful student," she said, managing to maintain a smile. "Go rest, I have to speak with my sister."
Twilight smiled softly. "Goodnight, Princess."
Luna sighed as she regarded the High Equestrian Council, the members' judgmental looks sending shivers down her spine. She had never enjoyed speaking with the noble ponies, but the topic at hoof made it exponentially worse. One grey unicorn in particular was staring at the alicorn harshly, as if she was suggesting to set fire to the entire country.
"And how do we know that this isn't just some trick designed to take Equestria for yourself, your highness?" the unicorn asked.
Annoyed by the accusation, Luna took the opportunity she had. "Because if it was," she said, walking over to the unicorn to whisper in his ear. "You would be dead."
The grey noble gulped, a few drops of sweat running down his forehead. "Uhm, no further questions, your majesty," he said as the rest of the court room laughed unsympathetically at his misfortune.
"Miss Luna," began a portly pegasus, unable to contain his chuckling. "You have a grand sense of humor."
Finally winning them over, she thought. "Thank you, but now isn't the time for joking, I'm afraid."
A painful silence hung in the air for a few moments before the same pegasus spoke again. "Ahem, but, how long will her majesty be away?"
"As long as I need to be," interrupted Celestia as she walked regally into the court house. The nobles immediately bowing to her as she came into view. "I am not aware what complications may be ahead."
"Your highness," began the grey unicorn. "Why don't you bring your chariot and fly to Avania? I'm sure that the Grand Court would allow your passing given the situation."
Celestia raised a brow at her sister when the noticed the nervous state of the unicorn, getting an innocent smile in response from the younger alicorn. "Because," she said, turning back to the noble in question. "In the time that it would take for my appeal to be even reviewed, I could make it halfway across the globe on hoof."
"That seems to be just about the distance, doesn't it?" asked the large pegasus in his usual chuckle.
"A bit more than half, but yes." Confirmed the white alicorn. "I trust that you all will not give my sister trouble while my student and I are away?"
"Trouble?" the pegasus asked sardonically. "I look forward to this!"
Celestia cast another glance at Luna. "Right, then. If you all don't mind, I would like a private word with Princess Luna."
Nodding respectfully, the council ponies made their way out of the court room and into the hallway. Once they were gone, Celestia stared blankly at her sister. "What was that?"
"I like him," she said. "Why isn't he paid more?"
"Never mind about it, Luna. I assume you've prepared a map for me?" asked Celestia.
Luna blinked. "You didn't ask for a map," she said, raising a brow at the older alicorn. "Wait, what do you need one for? Don't you know the way to the gilded city by now?"
"It's been awhile," defended Celestia.
The midnight alicorn wanted to press the issue, but decided that it was in her favor to just remain silent. Motioning for Celestia to follow her, Luna walked over to her large, black desk and began rummaging around in its various drawers. "Hmm, not there," she said, forcing a tiny door shut with her magic. "Aha!" she exclaimed as she opened another cabinet, revealing the scroll she was looking for. "One map of the northern hemisphere."
Celestia wrapped the parchment in her golden aura, bringing it into view. She looked at the map in approval for a few moments, until a small note in the top right corner of the paper made her frown in annoyance.
"Luna," she said.
"What about it?"
"It's four thousand years old."
"Beautiful condition for such an old map," Luna appraised, smiling sheepishly.
Twilight groaned in frustration as the morning sunlight hit her eyelids, forcing them open. Slowly, she pushed the covers off of her flank, exposing her to the soothing draft from outside her room. She had been tired last night, and forgot to close the door behind her as she entered her room. She was still safe however, as Luna had provided her with two night guards who had been watching her door for intruders.
Ninety three million miles away, perfect aim. I'll have to ask the Princess about that some time.
Though she was still groggy, the lavender unicorn made it down to the dining room where she greeted a plate of eggs in earnest. The chef had obviously remembered Twilight's favorite meals, they hadn't changed much since she was just a filly.
As she was munching on a danish, Twilight felt a hoof poke her in the back playfully. Turning around, the unicorn was met with the wide, smiling facing of Celestia. "Good morning, my faithful student," she said.
With a gulp, Twilight swallowed the last of the pastry she had been working on. "Morning, Princess. Did you sleep well?" she asked, returning the smile.
"As well as anypony could in our situation," Celestia began, her tone growing slightly darker. "We should be leaving soon."
"I haven't even packed yet," Twilight argued.
Celestia laughed and shook her head as her horn filled with a familiar golden aura. From behind her, a small pair of white saddlebags with a symbol of the alicorn's cutie mark floated towards Twilight and attached themselves to her back. "Now you have. I thought of everything you might need, even Miss Smarty Pants," she said with a wink.
Twilight's cheeks blushed furiously as she shied away from her mentor. Giggling, Celestia stood up and motioned for her student to follow. "Luna will be watching over Canterlot while we're gone," she said as they made their way out of the dining room. "I do hope that the nobles don't pry her too much. They seemed to like her enough, one in particular."
Twilight considered what Celestia meant for a few moments, but then dismissed the stray thoughts of Luna being involved in such an... Intimate scandal. "Princess, forgive me, but where exactly are we going?" asked Twilight, as they walked through the castle halls. "I've never been out of Equestria before. Actually, up until last year, I had never been out of Canterlot before!"
Celestia smiled as she pulled out Luna's map and showed it to the lavender mare. "This is Equestria," she said, pointing to the bottom of the parchment before moving her hoof upwards. "And here is Avania, the gilded city of griffins."
Twilight gaped at the distance between the two nations. "But that's all the way across the globe! How are we going to get there before your friend..." she protested, trailing off as she considered how to word the end of her sentence.
"Dies? Twilight, Lord Gleeringas is a very powerful creature. If he has a reason to live for awhile, he will trudge on." she said, looking up to the sky with a bit of nostalgia. "Do you still have that cloud walking spell that you used to attend the best young flier's competition?"
"Of course," Twilight reassured. "Why?"
"We'll need it," said Celestia. "Avania is like Cloudsdale, however, the entire country is built on top of clouds. It's also made of gold."
"That sounds beautiful, Princess," said Twilight. "Have you ever been there?"
The white alicorn chuckled to herself, thinking carefully before answering. "I used to live there."
Before Twilight could press on about the alicorn's residence in the northern lands, she and Celestia found themselves at the palace gates. With a nod to the guards, Celestia dismissed them and pushed the ornate doors open with her magic. As they approached the borders of her estate, Celestia turned to her student.
"Our journey begins," she said with enthusiasm. "Take the first step, Twilight."
Nodding, the purple maned unicorn took a deep breath, poised herself, and walked slowly towards the palace gate. Slowly, she raised her hoof and brought it down on the other side of the fence, marking the beginning of their travels.
Twilight looked back at Celestia. "Well, that wasn't very climactic at all."