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“N-N-Now girls, there’s nothing to get excited about. Just…give me a little time, and I will fix this.”
Luna very slowly backed away from the vengeful duo. Her brow was sweating like a whole row of leaky faucets, while her eyes darted back and forth for something, anything, she could use to get out of this predicament. Unless she could come up with an appropriate counterspell in the next ten seconds, however, there was none to be had.
Celestia was still rightfully livid; her normally regal and forgiving eyes were giving her sister a stare so powerful it could melt steel. Twilight was still fuming, her anger gradually turning to discomfort as she witnessed the filly’s transition from “motherly” to “must kill.”
“A little time? A LITTLE TIME?!” growled Celestia. “You stole one of the most forbidden spellbooks in all of Equestria. You never finished translating the whole page before deciding to use it. You cast a spell on me without knowing how to reverse it. And all you can say is ‘Give me more time?’”
By this point, Luna had reared herself all the way up against the far wall. Celestia had yet to move a step, but she didn’t have to. Her very demeanor was enough to frighten the nigh-invulnerable moon princess into a pleading wreck. “B-B-But… I didn’t mean to hurt anypony!”
“Then why did you do it?” snapped Twilight.
“B-B-Because Celestia started it! She got a little stressed at work, so she just…she just…made me the target of her little jokes!” Luna was halfway between hysteria and sobbing by this point. “I just wanted to get back at her. I wanted her to stop using me as her plaything!”
By now, it was a miracle Celestia’s teeth hadn’t ground themselves into stubs. “And that made you think something like this was a good idea? Really? You humiliated me in front of my student! You made me think my little sister, the same pony I had to banish for a thousand years, was trying to conquer Equestria again! Do you have any idea how much your little bit of fun has hurt me?”
Something snapped inside Luna. Her self-pity and shame at the situation gave way to deep wells of resentment and hushed scorn. “Hurt you?” She pushed herself off the wall and into the air, wings extended, gliding forward and landing right in front of Celestia with a loud stomp. The filly’s willpower began to crumble as her now-older sister leaned towards her, the two touching nose to nose.
“Let’s talk about hurting others. How about the way you’ve treated me since I came back? You talk about how you missed me so much and all this…this manure about us ruling together, and what’s the first thing you do? You stick me in the background with all the real work while you get to attend tea parties and galas!”
Celestia’s footing gradually returned. She anchored herself into place with all four hooves, while a sneer of uncontrollable and probably unpleasant fury contorted itself across her face. “You think that’s all my job is? I have meetings around the clock with the dullest, most insufferable ponies to ever walk Equestria! Everything that goes wrong on my watch is my fault, whether I could prevent it or not! And at least I don’t spend my whole day wallowing like you, Luna!”
“I mean your ridiculous self-pity routine. ‘Oh, I got jealous because everypony loved my big sister and then I tried to bring about eternal night and nopony will ever forgive me, boo hoo hoo.’ Yes, what you did was wrong, but you spend all day moping in your room about it. And whenever I try to get you to loosen up, you act like I’m some sort of monster!”
“You call your jokes ‘loosening up?’ They were something a schoolfoal would think of! I don’t think I even needed the spell. You never grew up anyway!”
“I’M MORE OF A GROWN UP THAN YOU, AND YOU ARE GOING TO FIX THIS NOW!”
“So says the pony throwing a temper tantrum.”
“I AM NOT THROWING A TANTRUM!” Celestia was howling by now; it was a miracle half the palace hadn’t heard her screaming. She would have continued to scream had a zipper not suddenly appeared over her mouth.
Twilight walked between the two, the last shimmers of light dimming from her horn. A combination of shock and horror had kept her quiet the last few minutes, while the two most powerful beings in all of Equestria seemed poised to reenact a long-settled battle. These weren’t the ponies she knew and loved. They were both acting like spoiled brats.
With a great deal of effort, Twilight pushed her personal feelings aside and let out as insincere and fake a grin as one would ever see. It was time to play peacekeeper. “Well, it seems we have some issues to work out. First things first, I think you two need to apologize to each other.”
Luna glanced briefly at Twilight, a look of cold indifference in her eyes, before turning her sneer back on Celestia. The filly just kept staring the other princess down, looking for any possible sign of weakness before attacking. Her hooves were trying to fiddle with the zipper, but fortunately for all the ear drums in the vicinity, a single flat digit was far less effective at the task than Spike’s claws.
Twilight sighed in frustration. This was not going to be easy. “…Look, I know you’re both upset. You’ve all said and done things you shouldn’t have, but you’re sisters, remember? Even more, you’re the Royal Pony Sisters. You’ve known each other since before Equestria began, or at least that’s what Princess Celestia’s told me. Can’t you just put this incident aside, just for the moment?”
Luna’s eyes softened, but only slightly. She was still angry at her sister; both for her apparent second banishment and for the whole run of practical jokes. Even so, she could see the pain on her sisters’ face, and could feel they both feared just how powerful this spell was if it could make Celestia act like such a foal. All her life, Celestia had been the bigger of the two, the strongest and wisest of the two. Now she looked so small and helpless. Her words still hurt, sure, but the situation had been tough on both of them. Maybe they could work together…
Celestia stared up at Luna (up at Luna) as she grappled with her student’s words. Her sister had much to answer for, and most definitely needed a refresher course in the difference between an innocent joke and public humiliation. At the same time, however, she couldn’t help but feel somewhat intimidated by her now-older sister. Luna was not only now bigger, stronger, and more magically inclined than Celestia, but also possessed the same refinement and inner strength she seemingly lost two hours ago. If anything, her crying and tantrum were proof positive she wasn’t quite the adult pony she thought she was. She needed her…
The two cautiously walked towards the other, each half-expecting their sister to send them to the moon at any given moment. A few tense moments later, and the two cautiously raised a hoof to the other. The zipper finally came undone in a flurry of purple sparkles, while the Sparkle behind the sparkles around the zipper smiled at another crisis averted. The two hooves touched in a slow, quiet shake. The air was still far from calm, but at least nopony was going to end up face down in a sewer ditch anytime soon.
Twilight let out a relieved sigh. She had at least bought herself a brief moment of peace. “Now that that ugly business is out of the way, let’s try to get this spell countered. Luna, do you have a copy?”
Luna nodded and lit her horn, raising the Arcanus E Draconus and dragging it towards the three, along with her translation notebook. “This book has some of the most powerful spells ever recorded by ponykind. It’s some very complicated magic, I know, but if you’re half as good a student as Celestia claims…”
“She’s that and more,” said Celestia. For just a brief moment, Twilight could pick out a small trace of her mentor’s soothing voice and loving aura. It was enough to calm the unicorn’s nerves, giving her a little hope that maybe she could single handedly reverse this and save the day.
Then she actually looked at the book.
It terrified her.
Were it any other situation, reading such an ancient, forbidden tome would have filled Twilight with feelings of danger, excitement, and a fine educational afternoon. Not this…abomination. Despite the book being just over five hundred years old, its pages showed no sign of aging. The ink was not real ink, but rather had the consistency of griffon blood. The dragonhide was not the faux kind used in some furniture and clothing; it was a dead ringer for how Spike’s skin looked under the scales. The pages were bound together with glue, real glue, the same kind other, more barbaric species used to make out of dead ponies.
Before her was the most heinous sight she had ever seen. It was almost enough to drive her running back to Ponyville in an instant, chattering all the way about the return of the Great Old Ponies. Celesia and Luna, on the other hand, seemed completely unfazed with the book. If they had even noticed the disgusting ingredients in its creation, they didn’t care.
Luna’s hoof pointed to a full page of archaic writings. “There. This is the spell.” She then pointed to the right page in her notes. The three peered over the notebook…
The Youth Restoration Spell allows the caster to transform the spell’s target into a past version of their selves, no further than their birth and no later than the exact minute the spell was first cast. The spell may also be combined with a barrier or seal spell to hold unwilling targets.
The spell’s first effect takes the form of a green, mist-like snake. The construct will surround the target’s entire body while bombarding them with mind reading and possession spells. This will allow the caster to shift through their memories until they have found the perfect point in time which to bring them back to.
Next, the caster orders the snake to collapse in on its victim, condensing and shrinking them until they are proportional to their size in that period of time. This stage is quite exhausting on the target, and it is likely they will pass out. The third and final stage is the magic’s natural exhaustion and cancellation, no more than two hours after being cast.
During this time, the victim will be an amalgamation of their present and past selves. While their memories and personality will remain intact, their physical and, in the case of adults becoming children, emotional selves will still behave much like they did during that period of time. Unicorns have also shown a tendency to lose their ability to control and manipulate their natural magical abilities. The regression also impacts a pegasus’ wing strength, and depending on the age victims may be physically unable to fly.
The magic may also be dispelled before its natural expiration. Doing so, however, will require an extreme amount of magical power, as well as the correct spell to disrupt and remove all of the enchantments involved. Failure to dispel even one piece of the spell’s components may have a disastrous affect on both the caster and their victim.
Twilight’s mind raced as she took in the book’s words. This was some of the most complex magic she had ever seen, even more than giving a pony butterfly wings. It was not just one straight blast, but a whole chain of sustained, interlocked steps. Most counterspells were built to dispel simple enchantments and (if one believed in them) curses, not something this intricate.
Even worse, the book’s warnings about the victim’s behavior were already proving true. If she looked hard enough, she could still make out the Princess Celestia she knew and loved. The same pony that had taken her in, trained her to control her immense power, and then sent her out into the world to discover the magic of friendship. All that clashed with her recent behavior.
This was Celestia, to be sure. She just wasn’t sure it was her Celestia anymore.
Luna closed the two books, setting them back under her bed for the time being. “So, you see our problem. This…isn’t a very easy spell to fix.”
“You should of thought of that before you cast it,” muttered Celestia. Luna gave her a quick glare, and Celestia quickly turned away.
“In any case,” the princess continued, “I…want to ask for your help. I need somepony who understands ancient magic to research a counterspell. Once we have that, we can start working on restoring Celestia to normal. I know, I have no right to ask you to stay any longer, but I need all the help I can get, and you’re the only pony I can trust.”
Twilight mulled Luna’s request, hoping to find some way to back out of it. She was none too happy with Luna at the moment, and would gladly take her leave back to Ponyville, at least for the moment. Her eyes, however, drifted back to Celestia, and all that frustration melted away. She was upset over apple fritters and lost time she would have spent studying something she already knew, while Celestia’s whole world had been ruined because of a prank gone wrong. She was (perhaps) the second-oldest pony in the room, but for that moment, felt like the smallest, whiniest foal to have ever walked Equestria.
She turned back to Luna. “All right. I’ll get to work right away.”
Celestia let out a great sigh of relief. Inside, she was fighting the urge to run up and glomp her in gratitude. “Thank you, Twilight Sparkle. A pony of your intelligence will figure this out in no time.” Twilight couldn’t help but blush from the praise, even if it came from something that sounded more like a chipmunk than a goddess.
Then Celestia remembered one other, little detail. “Oh crud, the sun! It’s supposed to set in a few hours! I can’t move it anymore!”
“And what about the rest of your duties?” Twilight chimed in. “I mean, you’re still technically a princess. Who’s going to run Equestria in your place?”
Twilight came to regret her words immediately. Luna leaned into her personal space, looking the unicorn right in the eyes. “Excuse me, she runs Equestria? Last time I checked, the land had two rulers? One of whom just came back from the moon only a year ago, and yet everypony keeps forgetting exists?”
“I-I didn’t mean anything like that, your Highness. I just meant…well…”
“What she means, Luna, is that Equestria sees me as the face of the royal family,” said Celestia. Despite the filly’s best efforts, there was a plainly obvious layer of smarminess in her voice. “If I were to disappear for even a day, everypony would know in a matter of moments. And then what?”
“We’d have a repeat of the Summer Sun Celebration,” said Twilight.
Celestia and Luna both nodded. “And that is why I should continue my old post. My mind is still intact, after all. I can still be the wise old leader I’ve…”
Celestia stopped as Luna began laughing like a hyena, stomping one hoof in an uproar. Twilight’s eyes were watering, her face visibly turning red from trying to hold back the hurricane of laughter she was feeling inside. The sun princess’ face drooped into a sad pout. “I’m not joking. I can still do this. Twilight! Fetch me my crown!”
Twilight walked over to the crown. Her steps were uneasy from her suppressed giggling; she had to levitate the crown on the way back, lest she open her mouth and upset her princess even more. Luna, meanwhile, was finally beginning to regain self-control, wiping a few happy tears from her eyes with one foreleg. Celestia sat on her haunches, head upturned in preparation for her return to glory.
The crown levitated onto Celestia’s head, slid down her face, and settled down on her neck. The weight of the crown’s gold body and encrusted gemstone pulled the filly forward, sending her crashing face-first into the floor. The sight reignited Luna’s uncontrollable mirth, and before she knew what she was doing, the moon princess was already on her back, rolling around on the carpet in agony. Twilight let out a small laugh, the most she dared to give, before levitating Celestia back to her hooves.
The filly was disoriented, humiliated, and above all else, feeling rather small and helpless. “I…I can still do this. I’ll just need some smaller jewelry.”
Luna finally stopped laughing, mostly because it was becoming too painful to keep it up. She trotted up to her sister and grabbed her in another, more friendly bear hug. “Don’t worry, Celestia. I can take care of both sun and moon, like you did for a thousand years. And Equestria will be in good hooves, I can assure you. I know everything there is to know about managing a nation.” She finally released a shaking, afraid-for-her-life Celestia. “That way, you and Twilight can spend your days finding a cure. And once everything is back to normal, you can resume your normal responsibilities, I can go back to mine, and we can all pretend this never happened.”
“That’s a great idea!” said Twilight. “We can sure use the extra time, right, Princess Celestia?”
Celestia didn’t respond. Her face was drooping at the news, while Luna’s previous “playful” threats played through her mind. Was this all a part of her plan? Did she really miss such an obvious footnote? I can’t let her get away with this! Doesn’t she realize I kept her out of this mess for a reason?! But…
She sighed, completely defeated. “You’re right. You’re a smart, capable pony, Luna, and I’m sure you’ll do fine. Just…come to me if you have any problems.”
Luna let out a big grin, nuzzling her sister in gratitude. “Oh, thank you, sister! I promise, I won’t let you down!” “Come to me if you have any problems?” Does she really have that little faith in me? Well, I’ll prove her wrong! I’ll be the best princess Equestria has ever seen!
“We can probably pass off my disappearance as a vacation,” said Celestia. “It’s been over a thousand years since I last took one, in any case. But that still leaves the palace staff…”
All three drifted back into quiet contemplation of the latest predicament. There were hundreds of ponies working in the castle, from the guards to the maids to the gardeners, and all of them expected to at least catch a glimpse of their most beloved princess once a day. If this spell was half as complex as it seemed, it was going to take several days at least just to find a cure. Celestia’s disappearance would be noticed very quickly, and once word got out, would no doubt lead to widespread panic and disarray over the missing sun personification.
She couldn’t exactly hide anywhere else in Equestria, either. If it were anypony else, she would have been able to hide this out in Trottingham or Manehatten until things calmed down. Even Ponyville would have made a good spot, although whispers of favoritism and Twilight as a spy were already circulating. Unfortunately for them all, Celestia wasn’t a normal pony, and anypony who got a look at her would immediately recognize the unusually large, white-coated foal with a horn and wings as the missing princess. Like it or not, she had to stay in the palace until the counterspell was discovered or created.
There was only one realistic solution...
Every single member of the castle’s vast staff crammed into the palace’s East Ballroom, also known as the only ballroom left standing after the Gala. The only exceptions were the guards by the entrances; they weren’t exactly in the “need to know” right at the moment. The nobles were especially right out; no good could come from one of them knowing about Celestia’s situation.
It was still more than the three wanted at the moment.
In the center of the room, in the small stage area, Luna stood behind a small podium. Her front hooves rapped nervously on the stand, the one barrier between her and what she feared would become an all-consuming, vengeful mob. Twilight stood behind her, eyes shuffling back and forth, a fake grin glued to her face. Celestia stood behind her student, her coat freshly cleaned and free from any signs of the offending pastry. She was nonetheless struggling to keep out of view.
Once everypony in the castle was accounted for, Luna cleared her throat and levitated up a small speech. “G-Good afternoon,” she stammered. Twilight could already feel another facehoof coming on. “I have, er, called you here today to discuss a rather, uh, dire situation.”
The crowd was muttering among themselves. Not a thing they said was good for Luna. She wasn’t exactly a bad public speaker, but she did have a tendency to get flustered whenever she had to speak about something disastrous. And given the gravity of what she was about to say, she had every right to be and then some. It wasn’t every day you told a country its beloved ruler was now a temperamental, ill-behaved brat.
At the very least, she hadn't slipped back into the Royal Canterlot Voice again.
She cleared her throat yet again, regaining a small shred of self-confidence in the process. “This afternoon, Princess Celestia, my sister and fellow princess, was in conference with Twilight Sparkle and I over some of the new edicts we’ve passed. During that time, a currently unknown assailant managed to infiltrate the castle, ambushed all three, and used a spell from what we believe to be the Arcanus E Draconus on Celestia.” Of course, she made sure a few of the facts were kept well hidden. There wasn’t any point in making everypony think her fake coup was a real coup.
An exceptionally loud gasp emerged from the crowd. Luna paused a bit, her confidence waning, before continuing. “W-We are currently searching for this pony and the accursed book as we speak. Until then, I feel it is my duty to inform you of her…condition.” She turned back to Twilight and the still-hidden Celestia, the latter shaking with incredible apprehension. “Come on, Celestia. Let’s get this over with.”
Twilight turned about, giving the filly a gentle nudge towards Luna. Celestia grimaced at her student briefly before heading to the stage, making sure to stay behind both Twilight and Luna’s bodies all the while. Once she was safely behind the podium, she climbed up on Luna’s back (a rather new sensation) and poked her head up just enough so she could be seen.
There was a stunned silence. Many a pony found their face twitching in unnatural ways as their brains struggled to process this new information. Celestia tried her best to smile, even as she wished she could just jump from the stage and hide under her bed until this blew over. She could already see a few ponies in the corner snickering.
Both hooves nervously tapped together as she began to speak. “My subjects, as you may have surmised from my sister's words, I am indeed Princess Celestia of Equestria. My body might be different, and certainly a little smaller than usual, but I can assure you, I am still the pony you have known all your lives. Whatever this spell is, it has not impacted my memories or…my personality.” First bold-faced lie I’ve told in a century. “In spite of this, I fear I have no choice at this time but to turn the daytime ruling of Equestria to my sister, Princess Luna. She is wise and capable pony, and I am sure you will offer her your full support.”
That low murmuring in the crowd had turned into a cacophony of voices. Twilight couldn’t make out too much in the crowd, but the sisters could. They could already hear the worried tones in each pony’s voice, the low mocking from those who thought nopony could hear them, even a few whispering about “Nightmare Moon’s return.” Luna craned her neck up to her sister, both exchanging a sad glance.
Finally, Celestia slammed both hooves on the podium, and the assembled ponies turned back to attention. She glared at the crowd with her best “I am disappointed in all of you” face; all it accomplished was bringing out a few giggles. Defeated, she jumped off Luna’s back, while the purple alicorn stood back up at the podium.
“Thank you, Princess Celestia. Now, until we have found a cure for my sister’s condition, I am placing a gag order on the whole palace. Nopony is to breathe a word of this to anypony, be they the press, the nobles, even your own family. If I learn that anypony outside of this room knows of Celestia’s curse, I will make sure it’s the last mistake you make in Equestria.”
It was no idle threat, and everypony knew it. The very light and color of the room was seemingly drained as Luna spoke, replaced by an unholy coldness and the pure, unrestrained agony that awaited anypony foolish enough to oppose her. The laughter immediately ceased, while the whole of the ponies involved started to shudder slightly at Luna’s voice.
“So, does everypony understand?” The whole crowd nodded in response. The room’s vibrant colors and atmosphere immediately returned. “Good. You may return to your duties now. If anypony needs us, we will be retiring to Celestia’s chambers for the time being. Thank you.”
The minute the conference was over, all three made their exit out the back, both for Celestia’s sake and to keep the crowds from asking too many questions. The palace’s staff was either too shaken or too scared of Luna to make much of a scene. In any case, one problem was out of the way, at least for the time being.
Celestia was now lying on her now-massive bed, head buried in a pillow. Twilight was looking over the princess’ reference collection, hoping to find some place to start her research. Luna, meanwhile, was struggling to keep her eyes open, the day’s events finally catching up to her.
The filly was still visibly shaken by what just happened. “They laughed.”
“I am certain they did not mean any harm,” yawned Luna. She slowly walked to her sister, her steps rather uneven from fatigue, and tried to lay a hoof on her sister’s back. Celestia’s wings snapped up immediately, blocking her advance. “Sister, I know you are upset, but we did not have a choice. We cannot hide somepony of your stature for long.”
“What am I gonna do?” Celestia whined. “Even if you make me big again, I’ll just be a laughingstock.”
“I’m sure you will think of something. You are the oldest pony alive in Equestria, after all,” said Luna, in between another yawn. “Ah, excuse me, but I…really need to lie down for a while. I’ have a moon to raise in a few hours.” The alicorn paced her way out of the room, barely resisting the urge to just fall asleep on her hooves.
Twilight, meanwhile, levitated three books onto her back, balancing them perfectly before shutting her horn’s power off. “These will do nicely.” She turned back to Celestia. “Would you like to join me, your Highness?”
Celestia didn’t even pull her head out of the pillow. “Join you?”
“You know, study together, like we used to do before I left Canterlot. With our two brains working together, I’m sure we’ll have you back to normal by dinner!” She walked to the bed and gave Celestia a playful nudge on the shoulder.
The filly raised her head, eyed her student suspiciously, and promptly hid her face yet again. “I…don’t feel like it right now. Sorry.”
Twilight’s face fell. “Oh, I see. Well, can I at least get you some dinner? I’m sure the chef’s heart attack was only a small one.”
Celestia finally moved her face out of the pillow, just enough to give her student a sad, pitiful stare. “Twilight...I would much rather be alone right now.”
Twilight sighed. “Very well, your Highness. Still, with your permission, I’d like to use your study to begin my research. It’s the most private room in the palace, and I have to write a letter to Spike anyway. Oh, that little fellow gets so worked up when I have to leave…”
“Knock yourself out.”
“Well…I’ll see you later, then.” Twilight quickly backed out of the room, closing the door behind her.
Celestia stayed in her position for some time, thinking about her horrible, horrible day. She had little doubt Twilight would find a counterspell given enough time. But Luna…that was a different story. She acted apologetic now, sure, but just a few hours ago she was posing her like a doll, holding her like a pet, and treating her like, well, the way Celestia would treat Luna long before Nightmare Moon.
Come to think of it, I was doing all this back then, too. Inviting ponies to parties just to wreck them, showing Philomena to veterinarians at the end of one of her life cycles, you name it. Luna seemed to enjoy herself so much back then. It was really the only time I could get her to smile after she realized how little ponies appreciated her nights. How little I appreciated her nights.
It was a sobering revelation. She covered her stomach with the pillow, her face caught in a perpetual frown. I hate this. I hate looking like this. I hate being reminded of how horrible things were back then. Luna got to have fun as a filly. She got to play with all the early creations and the first ponies. I spent my foalhood on an empty planet just waiting for mother and father to come back, or for something to evolve beyond single-cell organisms.
A small tear streaked down the corner of her eye. I just want to be normal again.
Once inside Celestia’s study, Twilight closed the door, trotted to the nearest reading pedestal, and floated the books off her back. “Let’s see…there’s Enchantments and You, A Detailed Examination of Possession Spells, and…”
The last book had no title. It only had a simple orange cover, its edges frayed from constant use. Twilight would have simple left it as-is, except it had been sticking out on the bookshelf, and if Twilight was known for anything, it was intellectual curiosity. Even so, a lot of Celestia’s books had either never been named, or had their titles fade away with time, so there wasn’t anything too unusual about it.
“I guess I’ll start with this one,” she sighed. “It can’t be any worse than that…thing, anyway.”
She set the orange book on the pedestal and flipped it open. Her eyes immediately leaped open at the sights within, her lower jaw trembling with growing horror as she turned page after page. Finally, she could take no more, and blasted the thing into the fireplace. Her horn’s light intensified, and a small fire quickly consumed the book into ash.
Twilight just stood there, gasping for air while trying to calm her rapidly-beating heartbeat. “Okay, lesson learned. Don’t open any more untitled books without asking the princess what’s in them. It’s not every day you run into a royal porn collection.”