I watched my faithful student and her friends dash out the door toward Ponyville with a pang. It had been so long since I had last seen Twilight, and the first thing I did was send her on a life-or-death mission. It couldn’t be helped; they had to succeed. Not even I could do much directly against the foul menace that threatened Equestria. I had no idea how he had even escaped, let alone stole the Elements of Harmony from beneath my nose. Indignation welled up within me, making my cheeks burn. “Discord...”
“Oh, missing me already, Celestia?” an all-too-familiar voice called out.
My wings unfurled as I shot glances around, trying to look in control and ready for action. The empty hall seemed to mock my fury, but that may have just been Discord's influence. “Discord! Why have you done this?”
My old foe reappeared in the stained glass window. I had to admit, he looked a bit more unnerving this way. He probably intended that. Or perhaps not. With an opponent like Discord, nothing could be taken for granted.
In the back of my mind, I reached out for Luna, only to note with distress I couldn't sense her. She should have been in her tower, but something—or more likely, someone—had clouded our connection.
“Oh, Celestia, Celestia, Celestia... you know exactly why I'm doing all of this. Have you forgotten who I am?” He coiled around the image of my faithful student, and I suppressed a shiver. I didn't want to know what he was planning for dear Twilight and her friends, but if I exploited his tendency to talk too much, perhaps I could buy them some time to retrieve the Elements.
“Of course not, Discord.” I took a few steps towards the picture he was occupying. “We all know what led to this day, and believe me when I say that neither Luna nor I took any pleasure in it.”
“Ah yes, your younger sister... now there's a particularly grim one. You have your moments of fun about you, Celestia, but that one needs to lighten up rather badly, wouldn’t you say?”
Panic gripped me, but I didn't let the fiend have the satisfaction of seeing it play across my face. I reached out with my royal senses again, feeling for any trace of Luna. She had to be alright. I wasn't going to lose her. Not again. “What have you done with her?” I snarled. Where could she be? I started reaching out with magic, keeping the bulk of my power in reserve to deal with Discord if he went for a more direct approach.
He laughed, rolling on the “ground” of the picture and beating his fists against it. “Oh, I'm sure you'd love to know, but suffice it to say she's getting in touch with a 'softer' side.”
“Discord, if you've harmed a single hair on her coat—“
He held up a paw, bored. “Ugh. Do you listen to yourself?” He leapt into another window and began to speak in a sing-song voice. “'Discord, if you've harmed a single little hair on her helpless, weak little coat...'” He frowned and placed his hands on what passed for his hips. “Bah. You worry too much, which is why I'm exactly what these little ponies need. You're so boring all the time.”
“You can't use mortals as your playthings, Discord!” I seethed; seeing him prancing about right in front of me was maddening when I could do nothing but try and talk him to death.
He lounged and adopted the sort of tone a weary teacher would use to explain something to a dim-witted foal. “Celestia, mortals were born to be our playthings. From the moment they were born, they existed for our amusement. They live for only a few short years, then pass. There's no use trying such silly things as 'caring for them' or 'trying to improve their lives' or 'understanding them'... they're doomed from the start. From the very first moment they come into the world, they all have only one destination... the grave.” He broke into a fun-loving grin. “So why not put them to good use?”
I stomped my forelegs on the carpeted floor, splintering the stones beneath. “To use? To use? Discord, life is not your plaything.”
“Now, we could go in circles for hours, but let's just get right to the point.” He began to snake around, moving from picture to picture with lightning speed.
I stood in the center of the room, refusing to dizzy myself by following his movements. I could sense him easily enough; even the presence of Discord's shadow felt like a massive disruption in the fabric of Equestria.
“Celestia, I have a very specific goal in mind. Yes, much as I represent perfect, delicious chaos, to go against somepony like you without a plan is like a pig that can't fly: destined to be forever boring. I have a very specific pony in mind to show how wonderful chaos can be, and I'll stop at nothing until she sees things the way I do. Why, perhaps she'll even grow to like it.”
Panic stabbed through my heart. What was he planning to do to Twilight? I knew Luna could handle herself, but unless Twilight was very lucky, there was no way she could be fully prepared for Discord's unique brand of evil. With any luck, she and her friends would storm in with the Elements any moment now. I had every confidence in her; she would succeed. She had to. Please be safe, my faithful student; I don’t want to lose you.
Luna and I were not powerful enough to oppose Discord directly. True, we could have, but catastrophic damage would have been the result. Contrary to his appearance, Discord was a cunning strategist; I had given him hardly any breathing room, and he had still managed to manipulate events to his advantage. I had hoped that I could catch him off-guard with the sudden arrival of the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, but I had lost the element of surprise as well as the Elements themselves.
I snarled but held my ground. I had to keep him talking, even if that meant sitting through this abuse. Not for the first time, I wished the Elements had been under my direct control. What Luna and I had gone through to imprison Discord had been gut-wrenching, and I hoped Twilight wouldn't hate me for what she was about to endure.
“And since you care for this pony so much, I have a most clever plan in mind.” I couldn't let him know he was getting to me. Stay calm. For Equestria. “There's one pony I can't wait to make my personal little plaything, and that pony...” Discord's image suddenly became static, yet I still felt his presence.
I took to the air, scanning for any tricks he might have. Although I doubted Discord would be so careless as to let himself be vulnerable through such means, I reached out with all my magical senses as well. To my surprise, I detected him lurking just behind my throne. Despite myself, I smiled. Perhaps this would be easier after all.
Summoning more than a thousand years' worth of diplomatic experience, I scrunched up my face. “Discord, show yourself!” I flew slowly, as though unaware of where he was hiding, then at the last moment, divebombed his location with all the speed I could muster, expecting to deliver a mighty blow with my enchanted hoofguards... but I struck the ground instead. “What?” I gasped.
Too late, I realized my mistake as I felt Discord's breath on the back of my head. “That pony is you, Celestia.”
I whirled around, readying a spell to hurl at him, but he tapped me on the head. I felt so tired...
“Come on, double time!” my commanding officer, Empty Glass, barked as we dashed towards the sound of the boom. Everypony was on edge thanks to Princess Celestia putting us on high alert, and having most of our pegasi squadrons battling the out-of-control clouds didn't help our unease.
I picked up speed, intending to lead the charge into Canterlot Tower. Princess Celestia had requested that nopony disturb her, but this was clearly an emergency. I wasn't the most powerful of unicorns, but even I had felt the disturbance in magical energies. Needless to say, most of the other ponies in my squad had been almost writhing on the floor in pain from whatever it was that had caused such a disturbance. Even now, my head throbbed with a splitting headache, making my horn feel sore. Most of the others were barely on their hooves, allowing me to easily take the lead.
Empty Glass snorted as I nosed past him. “Looking to prove yourself for once, are you?”
I flushed. “Well, I just thought—“
“Bah. Your magical ability is weak and you're built like a mare. I don't even know why we have you in the unit.”
Ashamed, I kept running nevertheless. Sure, I didn't have much meat on me. Sure, I kind of sucked at magic. Sure, I was pretty much the laughingstock of the whole unit. Sure, I pulled latrine duty nearly every week. Sure, I rarely did anything useful, but somehow, I could feel that I was in for something special today. Today was my day!
We reached the doors of the room leading to the tower, and I was the first through. Trying to put on my best heroic voice, I called, “Your Majesty, are you alright? We felt a disturb...” I trailed off as I saw the figure occupying the room. What in Equestria happened?
Behind me, the stoic Empty Glass blurted, “Princess Celestia, why are you pink?”
That wasn't all. True, Princess Celestia was pink, but there was a strange, leering look on her face, like a predatory animal searching for its prey. Her wings were spread to their full span, and she eyed us all carefully. She took a step forward and pawed the floor. My eyes traveled downward from unconscious deference and—by the Royal pony sisters!
Princess Celestia had become a stallion. Princess Celestia. Was a colt. What in the name of oat smoothies did this mean? How was this even possible?
I took a few tentative steps forward, figuring at least somepony should be carrying out the mission we'd come here for. “P-Princess, are you... alright?”
Silence reigned behind me. Everypony was no doubt holding their breath.
Princess Celestia took a few steps towards me, unsteady. She put her face right at my level, breathing right on my muzzle. I began to sweat; I liked my personal space. In a very slow, deliberate motion, she—or he, I supposed—brought a hoof up and stroked my mane, not even noticing when my helmet went clattering to the floor.
“Ooh, my faithful student... Guard armor is such a nice look for you, Twilight.”
My brain shut down. Princess Celestia, wise ruler of Equestria and immortal alicorn, pushed me down to the floor and loomed over me, wearing the smile of a hunter about to make the kill. I saw a flash of light and heard the click of a shutter behind me, but I didn't register them.
“What are you doing with that camera?! Get that pegasus out of here!” Empty Glass bellowed.
A smarmy voice behind me remarked, “Easy, boys, I'm with The Equestrian National Enquirer, and—“
I heard another pony cry, “The Enquirer?! Get him!”
A small melee broke out behind me as my comrades tried to subdue the intruder, but my eyes remained locked on our ruler. With the scant few pegasi we had in our ranks in the skies, I doubted any of my fellow unicorns were having much luck restraining a pegasus intruder.
Before I could react beyond blind panic, Princess Celestia swept me up into a very tight embrace in her—er, his, I suppose—forelegs, lifting me off my hooves and burying her—his—muzzle into my coat. I couldn't even begin to explain how awkward this was. First of all, this was Princess—er, Prince—Celestia, ruler of the kingdom, and second of all, I hadn't been with another colt since college!
I twisted my head around. “U-uh, a little h-help?” My voice sounded quavery, uneasy. The few members of my unit who weren't scurrying to secure the exit and chase the paparazzi photographer stood there, mouths agape. As usual, I guess I had to do everything myself. “U-um, Princess... or, um, is it Prince, now?”
“Oh, Princess works,” the divine ruler of Equestria murmured into my ear. Princess Celestia smelled nice. Was that vanilla?
“I, uh... need to talk with some of your guards. For just a little bit.”
To my immense relief, I was set down. With immense self-control, I managed not to sprint away. Instead, I walked over to the rest of my unit, my knees only shaking in mortal terror half the time.
Wordlessly, we gathered into a huddle. I decided to start our little discussion on a rational, intelligent tone. “Oh Luna. Bad touch. Bad touch. Bad touch...” I started shaking.
A mare in my unit, Hair Trigger, giggled. Her green eyes sparkled with mirth, and I found myself hating her at that moment. I had a hard time finding the humor in the situation, and she had the decency to look shaken by my glare. “I-it's okay. B-besides, you're a c-coltcuddler, aren't you?” she asked.
My cheeks burned. “No!” I hissed. “There was just that one time!”
Empty Glass cut in. “What about with Broad Sword?”
My cheeks became a wildfire. “Wasn't what it looked like.”
“Or Perry Winkle?”
“He had passed out on my doorstep! I was giving him mouth-to-mouth.”
“Multiple times?” asked another guard.
Empty Glass nickered. “Alright, enough. The point here is not Eagle Eye's sexuality, but what's happened to Her Highness.”
“That's His Highness now... apparently,” somepony corrected him. I shuddered.
“Right.” Empty Glass actually shifted and grimaced. That was rare. “Anyway, Princess Celestia seems to have latched onto Eagle here, thinking he's Twilight Sparkle, so he'll keep her—him busy while we try to figure out what happened.”
My face fell. “No... please, no,” I begged. Sure, my coloration was similar to Twilight Sparkle, but there had to be a better way!
He turned to me, his face impassive. “Take one for the team, Eagle. Take one for Equestria.”
Today was not a good day.
Today was such a fantastic day!
I grinned as Twilight walked back from conferring with my guards. What could they have been talking about? Then again, it probably didn't matter. I turned toward a window and examined my reflection. Pink looked good on me; my wings were so pretty!
Twilight, still wearing that cute armor, trotted back to me. She looked nervous, the poor thing. Whatever could be the matter? I didn’t want any of our time together to be something sad. I teleported next to her, ignoring her cute little yelp of surprise, and grabbed her with my magic.
“Oh Twilight, whatever could be the matter? Tell me. I’ll fix it.” I wrapped my forelegs around her and gave her a big hug, hoping she'd feel better from being so close to me. I felt our coats rub together; she smelled nice. I also felt a—
Oh. Oh my.
“Twilight, why are you a colt?” I asked, pulling away from her a little reluctantly. Sure enough, her muzzle was a little more square than I remembered, and something about her coloration seemed a little off—her mane was missing a few streaks—but it had to be Twilight. It just had to be. I knew my favorite pony when I saw her. Him.
“I, uh, that is, Princess...” She furrowed her brow, working on an explanation. Or, I guess it was he now, wasn't it? Oh, the world could be so funny sometimes! “It-it just happened, see. It must be Discord's doing!” Those soulful violet eyes gave me a pleading look. “What's happened, Princess? What has he done to Equestria?”
I let out a true noblepony's laugh, breaking several windows with my high-pitched cackles. Twilight looked terrified. “Discord? Oh, don't be silly! You defeated him and came back! Why else would you be here?”
Twilight opened his mouth, looked at the guards who were scurrying about barricading the exits, then looked back at me and closed it. The poor thing looked positively miserable. Maybe I could cheer him up.
“I can't argue with that logic, Princess,” he said, sounding totally defeated.
I pulled him into a tight hug again. I just loved my faithful student so much! I started nuzzling his mane. He tensed in my forelegs for some reason. On a whim, I let go and sent him crashing to the floor. Twilight would be fine; particularly with that adorable armor on, the only thing hurt would be his pride.
“So anyway, Twilight...” I said, pacing back and forth, “I suppose you'd like me to try to undo what happened?”
His eyes watered. “Yes, please.”
I smiled, the picture of benevolence. Oh, it was good to see such adoration in his eyes! “Very well. You'll be a mare again in no time.”
For some reason, Twilight went into a panic, hiding behind one of my guards. “No! No no no no!”
I walked over, puzzled. “Oh? You'd rather keep it? Well, I suppose there are a lot of fun things that we... I mean, you... could do with it.” I blushed. Oh my, just what had gotten into me? Then again... I shoved the guard aside and examined my faithful student closely. Whatever had happened to make him a stallion, it had done him good. His sleek, yet still somewhat feminine muzzleline. His smooth purple coat. His flank was... I blinked. For a moment, I could have swore that I had seen a spyglass on his flank, rather than Twilight's stars. But no, there it was: six stars, right on Twilight's flank.
Twilight shifted awkwardly. “U-uh, Princess?”
“Oh, sorry Twilight. Just admiring the changes.” I looked deep into those sparkling eyes. “You know, you're kind of a pretty colt.”
Twilight blushed and looked away. “P-Princess...”
“I can see why you'd want to stay as one... but are you sure you don't want me to try to make you a mare again?”
“Uh, no. I'm fine... thanks.” He took a few steps backward, sweating bullets.
“Really, I'm very, very proud of you for taking this change so well, my faithful student!” I made a mental note to reward him with more books.
I made a mental note to sue for sexual harassment. Then again, who would I sue: Princess Celestia or my commanding officer? By Luna, I needed a drink.
“Of... of course, Princess.” My mind kept racing as I tried to remember how Twilight Sparkle acted when around Princess Celestia. I'd only ever been around her a few times back when she was a student here in Canterlot, so I hoped she hadn't changed much in the past few years. I remembered her as shy, intelligent, and rather friendly with the princess.
That made me wonder: did the two have some sort of relationship going on that we didn't know about? I glanced askance at the pink terror before me. She looked excited, in more ways than one. My flank tightened involuntarily and I gulped. Easy now. Just because he likes the thought of his faithful student being a colt doesn't mean that's how he actually feels.
I started to wonder what would happen after—or even if—Discord's spells were broken. According to the briefing we had been given, Discord did have the power to manipulate minds, but to what extent? Nopony had told me; I had managed to sneak into the meeting after I had finished licking Empty Glass' spare horseshoes clean. Once Discord was defeated—if he ever was—would Princess Celestia still be a colt? Would he still be interested in me? Would I have to become some sort of royal consort? Visions of living it up with Canterlot's elite danced in my head, and a small smile played over my face. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
No! No no no. I couldn't be okay with this. There was no way I could be okay with this. I smacked myself, willing the smile to go away. I also checked myself to make sure I wasn't turning some strange color; no doubt Discord's power would soon be changing other things too. Right. It was all Discord’s fault! I wouldn’t want to play the mare for some big, strong hunk of a noblestall—damn it, me.
When Discord’s power reached me, would I think I was Twilight Sparkle? A small grimace played over my face. Whatever her life was like these days, it was probably better than mine. Then again, anypony who might be in some kind of relationship with a pony that was apparently as pent-up as Princess Celestia probably had troubles of her own.
Oh well. Time to take it like Twilight Sparkle, I guess. However that was.
“I really am surprised you want to stay a colt.” He loomed over me, looking for all the world like he wanted to take me then and there. Princess Celestia, just what were you into anyways? “You never struck me as the tomcolt type. That friend of yours, Rainbow Dash, maybe, but you? I always figured you'd settle down with a nice stallion sooner or later.” His wings drooped briefly. Did Princess Celestia dread Twilight Sparkle getting in a proper relationship? Before my mind fried itself figuring out how creepy that was, I tried to make my mouth function.
“Well, why's that?” Let's see: how would Twilight put it? “I, uh... I thought this would be a good chance to gather some data! I mean, how often does this happen, Princess?” Yes. Good, good. I had this down pat. “I thought some further experimentation was in order.” Yes. Good. Science stuff sounds fitting, and with any luck that—oh Luna, did I just say “experimentation”?!
A huge grin spread over Princess Celestia's face. “Well, I have a nice little private laboratory I could let you use for your... research.”
“O-oh?” My flank tightened. This could not end well.
“I guess somepony wants to see the dungeon!” she sang, skipping up and down a few times.
My brain went into panic mode. Desperate plans flew through my head and were rejected in record time. This couldn't be happening. What could I do? What could I say? I took a step backwards and turned my head, only to see the unsympathetic face of Empty Glass. In spite of his dislike for me, we had gotten quite good at reading each other, so we had one of our famous silent conversations.
I widened my eyes and pouted. Please, Captain, get me out of here!
His jaw twitched, but his gaze never wavered. You'll stay where you are and like it.
My inner foal cowered in a corner of my mind, fearing my imminent loss of innocence. I turned my gaze back to an eager-looking Princess Celestia. “I... okay, Princess. Take me... take me to your...” I gulped. “...your private laboratory. In t-the dungeons.” Some insensitive guard behind me stifled a laugh. Fearing the worst, I hung my head and sighed.
“Oh, good. Now, this will just tingle a bit. Hold on tight!” He held me in a magic field. I went limp, seeing no point in resisting. A slight tickling sensation spread over the top of my head, making me snicker. What was that? The sensation crept up to my horn and started stroking it. I looked and saw the glow of Princess Celestia's magic a bit more strongly around my horn.
Oh. Oh horseapples.
Before I was doomed to a fate of being more saddlesore than a cute colt in prison, I looked back at Empty Glass. “No matter what he does, you did this to me,” I mouthed at him.
He put a hoof to his mouth to stifle a snicker, then mouthed back, “I sure did. I sure did.” I don't know why I ever thought he was cute—no, no, I'd been straight for three weeks. Or was it two? Suddenly, I started floating after Princess Celestia, just another planet orbiting her solar figure.
Hair Trigger, who was watching over the door we were heading for, gave me a teary look. “B-be strong, Eagle!”
Her comrade—a colt I didn't recognize—snickered. A harsh glare from Hair Trigger shut him up, and for a moment, my spirits lifted. Somepony cared! No matter what happened, I knew I had a true friend in her.
Just as we were about to descend into the depths of the castle, Hair Trigger called, “Take pictures!”
Come on now: no tears, Eagle.
I struggled to keep from tittering as I skipped through the halls, ignoring the stares some servants were giving me. Not only was Twilight okay with what had happened to him, but he was willing to experiment! What better use of our time could there be? Oh, my faithful student was just full of good ideas! We’d make some powerful memories from experimenting with each other.
I jumped a short ways and started flying down the corridor, ignoring a yelp from Twilight as he was pulled down the hallway ever faster by my magic. I may have barreled over a few guard ponies in my haste, but they weren't important. Only my darling student was. This was one experiment of his I couldn't wait to take part in; I had missed so many others. I was so giddy I had to stop myself from giggling.
Before long, we reached the perfect place for the experiment. Twilight continued to look uncomfortable. We were standing before the large oak double doors that led to a “reserved” section of the dungeons. Not even Luna was allowed in here. Oh, she had wondered what I had set aside a small room in the dungeons for, but after I had assured her of its innocent nature, she had accepted it as a little eccentricity of mine. She had come back from the moon with plenty of those.
Fortunately, she remained ignorant of the room's true purpose. I chuckled, probably sounding a bit sinister. From above me, Twilight whimpered.
“So, um...” Twilight fumbled for words. “Why the... dungeon?”
“It’s nice and private, and the stains should clean up easily enough in there.”
Twilight whimpered again, sounding like a foal about to have his first appointment with the dentist. It was strange, seeing my faithful student so vulnerable. Or perhaps he was just so excited to have access to the equipment I had stored for my own personal use that his mind was running wild with the possibilities. Yes. Of course: that had to be it. My dear Twilight never could contain himself around a new book or field of study. “Relax, Twilight. I'll let you take all the time you need with my toys. I think they should be just the right size.”
“T-toys?” He broke into a sweat and waggled his legs cartoonishly, as though trying to escape.
I frowned. What on Equestria could be bothering this transsexual colt? Was it something I said? “Oh Twilight, everything will be fine.” I nuzzled him, inhaling the odd, heady musk of his sweaty coat. “Oooh Twilight...” I buried my muzzle deeper into his lavender coat. “You smell so nice; I guess you must have worked up quite a sweat battling Discord.”
Twilight's muscles tensed under his coat. I paused; Twilight had been working out! I didn't remember him being quite so toned as this. Perhaps his newest field of interest was physical fitness. As I pressed harder and harder into his toned midsection with the side of my face, I found myself becoming more and more excited by it.
Twilight's voice brought me back in the moment and I froze, realizing what I was doing. I blushed. I pulled away with some hesitation and wiped away a small bit of drool. “Oh, forgive me Twilight... it's just, I hadn't realized you were so fit and then you smelled so good and I'm not quite myself today and...”
Twilight muttered, “You can say that again.”
I pretended not to hear. No doubt he'd feel embarrassed at what he just said. It was Twilight, after all, and while Twilight had grown into a fine mare and then been made a very fine stallion, he still seemed to have trouble fully asserting himself around me. How ironic—I was his teacher, but I almost held him back in a way.
To my surprise, Twilight didn't say a word. He hung there in midair, listlessly awaiting my next move. I raised an eyebrow. Very odd. This was not like the student I knew. Perhaps something was wrong here? I began to scan the hallway, looking around for anything out of the ordinary. My pink wings flared out, ready at attention.
“Um, Princess? What now?”
Oh, right! Everything could wait. I needed to experiment with Twilight. “Oh, nothing, my faithful student. Shall we begin?” I burst through the door and surveyed my special room. It was fairly nondescript, with nothing but a huge table laden with all kinds of scientific equipment from beakers to Bunsen burners, a metal locker for specimen storage, and a large pile of unorganized documents in the corner. I used this room so infrequently that I'd taken to using it for storage. Deplorable, really.
Twilight laughed shrilly, sounding relieved. “Oh thank the stars, this is what you meant by experiment.”
I gave him a strange look. “Of course. What did you think I meant?
Twilight blushed. “I, er... well, never mind that! We should get to work.”
I let him down to the floor, letting him on his own hooves. From the goofy grin on his face, he seemed to greatly prefer traveling under his own power.
Slightly embarrassed at having carried him all this way like a parent leading a foal by the muzzle, I gave him a gentle poke in the side with my magic. He giggled and shied away.
My eyes shot open. “Twilight, are you... ticklish?”
“Wha? No!” His giggles at my continued prodding spoke volumes to the contrary.
“Twiiiiiiiilight is ticklissssssssssssh...” I plucked a feather from my left wing and started vigorously tickling him with it, sending him into fits of laughter.
In-between laughs, he managed to choke out, “Oh, Princess, please, I'm not really that...” only to cut himself off with gales of laughter again.
I moved in closer, determined to press my advantage. “Aw, is this spot too much? What about... here?”
I plucked another pinion from my wing and focused it on another spot a bit lower on his body.
Unable to stand fast against this two-pronged assault, Twilight flopped onto his back, laughing like he probably hadn't in months. It was good to hear him laugh; even though his voice sounded a bit different as a colt, it did my heart good. Seeing Twilight happy made me feel like all was right with the world. When was the last time I had just spent time with Twilight without any regard for some greater need or cause? My train of thought was quickly derailed by a fresh gale of laughter from Twilight.
“P-please Princess, s-stop!” Twilight choked out through giggles.
I walked over so I was standing directly over him. “Oh, well that’s funny... perhaps it’s time for my faithful student to learn about his voice saying ‘no’ but the rest of him saying ‘yes’.” I intensified my tickling, splitting my magical focus to touch multiple points on his body at once. A small army of my feathers assaulted him.
Twilight seemed about ready to die from laughter, so I let up after a few minutes of standing over him, enjoying his breathless laughter. His whole body shook as he heaved, glistening with sweat from the ferocity of my tickle attack. In a teasing voice, I said, “Well, I suppose I have you at my mercy now.”
“Yes. Take me, you magnificent beast.”
“W-what?” That didn’t sound like Twilight at all.
Annoyed, he repeated, “I said, ‘Yes. I didn’t think I was that ticklish.’”
I shook my head, trying to clear it. Why in Equestria had I thought he had said something so forward? True, I felt as though I would welcome such sentiment, but I just could not imagine Twilight being so aggressive.
Twilight struggled to catch his breath. His breath came in deep, slow sighs, and I couldn’t stop myself from watching his stomach rise and fall. His coat was matted down, showcasing the toned body underneath his coat. A small smile played over my face; Twilight could just be so cute sometimes.
With a start, I realized an odd sensation had come over the lower part of my body, and I furrowed my brow, trying to figure out what it could be. Could I have a cramp somewhere? Even for me, some oddities of the body were commonplace, but whatever this was, I hadn’t felt anything like it before.
Twilight let out a horrified gasp. “P-Princess, w-what...” He began crawling away, a mixture of revulsion and delight on his face.
I took a step forward, which only sent Twilight scurrying all the more quickly. “Twilight, what is it? What’s wrong? What happened?”
Twilight, his back to the door in an awkward position for a pony, pointed a shaky forehoof at me. “Y-your... your...” He looked away, the strange look of desire and disgust still ruling his features.
Quizzically, I glanced down at myself. Nothing seemed out of place. My pink feathers, matching coat, and flowing mane all seemed proper. I felt around my body with my magic, searching for anything out of place. After a few seconds, I realized what the problem was.
I quickly backed up, away from Twilight. “Oh. Oh Twilight, I’m so sorry.” I folded a wing underneath my body, hiding what had caused him such discomfort. Idly, I wondered how stallions lived with theirs; mine certainly had proven itself inconvenient. “I’m...”
Twilight, for his part, pressed himself against the door all the harder, managing to support himself on two legs, even if he was a bit shaky. Abject fear was writ large across his body, and I couldn’t tell how much of his shivering was from unsteadiness and how much was from unease.
“Please, Twilight. I hadn’t meant to disturb you,” I pleaded. “Tell you what: let’s just forget this happened and get on with testing why you’re a colt now, shall we?”
He gave me a short, jerky nod, which I supposed was enough. He slowly walked over to the table, stopping in front of a Bunsen burner. “R-right. Like it never happened at all. Okay then, let’s start by turning on the... thingy.”
If the poor thing was so flustered he couldn’t remember the name of a simple burner, then I had rattled him indeed. I considered wrapping a wing around him and whispering it would be okay, as I had done a few times when he was a shy foal, but I decided against it. Instead, we set about the experiment.
My mind, however, kept yammering on about how easy it would have been to take advantage of Twilight a short while ago, and small grins kept breaking out on my face as we worked.
Hours later, we stepped back and examined our work. Falling into “teacher mode” for the first time in far too long, I asked, “So, Twilight, what do the results from the experiment tell us?”
His brow furrowed as he peered at a section of glass piping that contained a discolored sample of contained dragon flame. “Well, Princess...”
I cut him off with a sharp gesture. “Please Twilight... there aren't any guards here. Just call me... Celestia.” The word rolled off my tongue like a savory morsel. For oh-so-very long I'd wanted somepony, anypony, to just see me as “Celestia” and not “Princess.” Most would have balked, but Twilight—Twilight would follow my wish. I knew he would.
He blushed and looked down. After a long silence stretched out between us, he murmured, “Okay, Celestia.”
I smiled. “There. That's better.” We stood side-by-side for quite some time, simply enjoying the moment. However, it had to end eventually, so I gestured to the elaborate set of lab equipment we had used and asked, “So, now that we’ve finished with the analysis of the magic affecting us, what do the results say? I hope the experiment turned up something.”
Twilight refocused his attention on the various test tubes, beakers, and bubbling brews we had been working with. Many of them still contained some active ingredients. “Hmm... well, nothing I can really tell. I'm not used to reading this kind of stuff, so I have no idea why you... I mean, we... turned into colts.”
What a strange verbal slip. Perhaps Twilight had always wanted to be a colt or a strong warrior who stood by my side protecting me? I suppressed an inner chuckle and joined him. I peered at the beakers and tubes. “That's odd, Twilight. This really isn't too different from the setup you have in Ponyville. It might be a little nicer, but the basic principles should be the same.”
He jumped and shied away. “Is that so? Well, ah, I guess I was just amazed by its... sophistication! And science! And... uh...”
I looked at Twilight, gesticulating wildly in the moonlight streaming in through a skylight and raving about why he couldn't recognize the results. Odd, I hadn't thought that we had been running the experiment on the magic affecting us for long enough for night to fall. Still, I wasn't upset about the time spent. I had loved toiling alongside him, even if he seemed a tad slow on the uptake today.
It was good to see that Twilight was holding up well, even under all the stress battling Discord and being turned into a colt must have put him under. As an added bonus, the glistening moonlight made his coat look nice—very nice indeed. And his fetlocks, too: both seemed to almost glisten in the soft light. Twilight may have been my student, but his true beauty shone brightest without my sun in the sky. Ironic, really.
In a matter of seconds, the moon disappeared and the sun came up. I glared at the sky in irritation, trying to will the sun to set again. One of the fringe benefits of controlling the sun: I was never blinded by staring directly at it. Still, it refused to move, for some reason or other. I ignored it, making a mental note to ask Luna later what was going on. Where was she, anyway?
I returned my attention to Twilight, who was staring slack-jawed at the sky with something akin to horror. “Prin—Celestia, what did you do that for?”
“It wasn't me, Twilight.” I waved a hoof in dismissal, accidentally knocking over a priceless set of diamond test tubes in the process. I didn't even watch them fall; I only had eyes for Twilight.
“Well, isn't that a problem?” He furrowed his brow in concentration for a few moments.
I waited. Twilight's “AHA” moments were usually too good to miss.
“Discord must be doing it!”
“What?” I was so taken aback, a random jolt of magic from my horn struck some test tubes, breaking them open and making them dribble green liquid onto the floor. Twilight scuttled away in surprise, but all it did was ignite a large stack of scrolls. This type of fire didn’t burn long under normal conditions, so I paid it no heed.
“Pr—Celestia, are those important?” Twilight hesitated.
“Oh, they're just your old friendship reports.” I walked away from the small blaze, knowing it wouldn't spread.
“Nothing important? Those, er, friendship reports are filled with my findings on... friendship! Because I'm Twilight Sparkle and I study friendship! I must save them!” He dove for the burning pile.
With a sigh, I plucked him up and hovered him over. His face was full of confusion, so I lifted a foreleg and a wing to drape over him. I sure was touchy-feely today, but Twilight’s toned muscles and musk were just so nice. And clearly, he needed the reassurance.
He squirmed in my grip, no doubt remembering what had happened a few hours ago, and I unconsciously held him closer. I didn’t want to let go. Even if that had been uncomfortable, couldn’t he feel the magic of this moment? I wanted to stay like this forever.
What was I doing? But no, this felt so nice, somehow. No. No, I was making my precious student uncomfortable. And yet... Twilight ceased his struggles with a whimper, resting his head on my body in turn. Did Twilight feel the same way I did?
No. What was wrong with me? I let my student go and took a step sideways. We were still close enough that I could have reached out and smoothed his mane, and it took more restraint that I was entirely comfortable with to not do so. His hair just looked so silky.
I looked away, trying to keep myself under control. While I couldn’t see Twilight’s expression, he was hyperventilating. Guilt washed over me like a tide. I had gone too far. I broke the silence first, hoping to contain the damage.
“Twilight, I’m... sorry. But don't worry! Your friendship reports are fine. As you know, liquefied dragon fire is great for magical experimentation, and since it was green dragon flame that just hit those scrolls, they're fine.”
Twilight shifted; I could hear some anger in his voice from what had just happened, although he still refused to look me in the eye. “Fine? Fine? Celestia, have you lost it? They're burning up! And then they're flying off in some kind of dust thing, but they're burning up!”
I turned back to him with a wry smile. “And being returned to Spike as we speak. They'll all be waiting for you back home.”
“Won't um... Spike...” Why was he hesitating on that name? It was as though he had never heard of his own faithful assistant. “Won't Spike have some problems dealing with that many scrolls at once?”
“Bah, he'll be fine. What's important is us.”
I motioned for Twilight to follow me, then moved to just beneath the ceiling window. He hesitated, but he did follow me. I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding. I would have been just devastated if I’d ruined our relationship. “You see that, Twilight?”
“Equestria.” It was beautiful. The pink clouds rolled in the green sky, complementing the majestic, floating buildings of ancient design. A few pigs flew by the window, looking perfectly content as their powerful wings beat the air. A few of my guards—looking grey for some reason—flew lazily by, running into walls and each other as they flew. Truly, Canterlot was the picture of everything that was good about Equestria. A nagging voice in my head whispered that something wasn't right about the view, but I ignored it. I had more pressing concerns.
“Twilight. I’m... very sorry. It’s this strange magic, I think. I find it... difficult to contain myself today.” Was it?
We stared into each others' eyes for a few minutes, not speaking a word. Something passed between us in that moment. Until now, Twilight had almost seemed hesitant or unsure of what he was doing, but there was a look in his eyes that screamed of resolution, or perhaps resignation.
I flared my wings, letting them catch the sun's rays, hoping it made me look all the more majestic to him. I spoke, filling my voice with more raw emotion than I'd done in a thousand years. Sometimes the moon would rise above me for a few minutes before the sun returned, but I no longer let such trifling details matter to me. My precious Twilight was with me.
My voice rang out strong and clear, but also with kindness. I bared my soul, feeling more free than I had for centuries. “Twilight Sparkle. I met you when you were just a little filly: so full of promise, so full of joy and life. I worried that the life of an academic would rob you of some of that vibrance, but if anything, you have held on to that childlike sense of wonder as you've matured. I've watched you grow and learn, at times from a distance, at times from very close. Today has helped me realize one thing: you are one of, if not the most extraordinary, pony I have ever met. I have lived for thousands of years and probably will for thousands more, but I doubt anypony will come along quite like you, Twilight Sparkle.”
I knelt down next to him, putting my face next to his. His eyes bulged and his mouth hung open with awe; he struggled to choke out a reply, but I wasn’t done yet.
“Twilight, the thing nopony tells you about living forever is that the world changes around you while you don’t. While I don't regret any of my decisions for a moment, even for somepony such as I, there is always a nagging doubt: did I do enough? Couldn't I have gotten to know this pony better? Or that pony?
“To tell the truth, you are more special than you realize. Not long after Luna and I defeated Discord with the Elements of Harmony, I took on my very first faithful student. She was a bright, studious mare who took great joy in learning as much as she could as often as she could... much like you. I felt like a mother, watching her grow and mature under my tutelage and her experiences. I counted her as not only my faithful student, but also as my very best friend.
“But eventually, time comes for us all. She eventually settled down and started a family, although she continued her studies into pony magic and whatever else she could get her hooves on. But eventually... her letters started coming slower and slower and I heard from her less and less, until finally, it had been two months since she had sent me anything.
“In those days, Equestria was much more dangerous than it is today, so I thought something might have happened to her. I sped off to her home... only to see what had become of her.”
I looked away, willing back the tears. What was wrong with me? Usually, I could keep my composure so well.
“She had grown old in what seemed a short time to me. Although decades had passed, to me it only felt like a few years. Her horn had lost much of its power, and arthritis in her jaw made it difficult to write even the earth pony or pegasi way.”
Overcome by emotion, I stopped again, gathering my thoughts. How to put this next part? Twilight was a strong, brave soul, but I didn't want to scare him.
“It turned out... she was suffering from a slow, but deadly disease. I offered... I offered to do everything in my power to stop it, to save her... but you know what she did?” I sobbed. “She just reached up with a shaky hoof, put it on her husband who was at her side, as always, and said, 'No, Princess. I've had a good life. My time's coming. Thank you for everything you've done.' But in that moment, Twilight... I knew I hadn't done enough. There were so many more memories I could have made with her, so many things that I left unsaid at one time or another, blinded by my foolish assumption that everypony had just as much time as I. I couldn't face her. I flew off crying, and she died the next day. I wonder... I wondered if she was just hanging on until she saw me one more time. Everypony else had come to see her, but what about me? Her whole family was around her, but what about me? All her friends had come to wish her well, and many sat with her during her final hours, but what about me? I hadn't... I had almost missed my chance. Just like I'd missed so many chances before.”
Twilight nodded, taking in my story. With a great deal of respect, he asked, “What... what was her name, Celestia?”
Her name? Her name. My very first—my only other—faithful student. Her name. What was her name? I scoured my memory banks, drawing on all my mental strength—and came up empty. I let out a bitter laugh. “You know what? I don't even remember. What a friend I am.” Tears gathered at the corners of my eyes. What right did I have to teach such a brilliant young mind like Twilight about friendship? Out of the only two friends I had ever truly had, I had abandoned one and exiled the other for one thousand years. I was just kidding myself to call myself Twilight’s teacher; she discovered almost everything on her own anyway. I was just that convenient magic bullet to call in whenever things got out of hoof. My faithful student. If anything, I should be the one studying friendship, not Twilight.
Twilight put his hoof on the side of my face and turned my head so I'd be looking at him. He wore an expression of deep sympathy: his eyes sparkled and watered, and every line on his face seemed to scream “I’m here for you” like I had never seen from anypony before. “Celestia... she had a good life, right? What's there to be sad about?” He offered a small smile.
Oh, how like Twilight to be brave even in the face of this; his teacher breaks down in front of him, and he just wants to help. Pride swelled within me for my pupil. “Don't you see, Twilight? It's not what I did, but what I didn't do. And so that day, I decided something.”
“What... what was that?” He lowered his hoof and looked even more concerned.
“I decided I would never take on another student again.” I shuffled a little closer. Our horns were nearly touching. “But something about you made me pause. I thought maybe... just maybe, I could do better. I could make up for my mistakes. And you know what, Twilight?” Resolution burned in my mind. I had to do this. The moment seemed right.
“What?” His lips parted, almost in slow motion. Yes. I had to do this.
“You I've come to appreciate more than any other pony. Even my sister... knowing that you two would have to fight was awful for me, but you won out, as I knew you would.”
“Celestia... what are you trying to say?” He tilted his head to the side, and his horn briefly scraped against mine. I struggled to contain myself just a few moments longer.
“Twilight... I'm not going to waste any more of our time.” Before he could react, I stuck my muzzle forward and kissed him. His eyes shot open in shock, and for a moment, I was afraid he would pull away, but he relaxed and closed his eyes, returning the gesture. Everything in that moment felt perfect, as though I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
Without warning, the world exploded. I shut my eyes to shield them from the rainbow surging our way.
I opened my eyes to find myself kissing a lavender unicorn I'd never seen before. I quickly broke and backed away, noting with alarm that he looked like one of my guards. What had I been doing? I tried to look dignified as I wiped the saliva from my lips.
In an instant, everything I had done since trying to stop Discord came flooding back, and I put a hoof to my mouth in horror. I backed up against my lab station, at a loss for words.
“Princess Celestia? Are you... alright again?” the guard asked, taking a hesitant step forward.
I checked myself. My wings and coat were white again, and I felt of relatively sound mind. Being female again was a very welcome change as well. I glanced over, noticing that the guard's mane was a little duller and less colorful than Twilight's. Aside from his cutie mark, the two could have passed for fraternal twins if one wasn't looking closely. Or, I suppose, if one was under the influence of a spiteful god of chaos. I shivered.
“I am quite well. How about you? I... hope I didn't do anything to you?” My mind raced with the implications. I assumed I recalled everything exactly, but I had no way of knowing how much Discord had meddled with my mind. Or still meddled with my mind, for that matter; I had never been able to understand much of his powers.
He chuckled, trying not to sound awkward. “No, Your Highness. You ran an experiment with me on this stuff about why you were male and pink, and well... you, uh, did kiss me.” He stopped and scratched the back of his neck.
Horrified, I rushed over, noting that he instinctively shied away from my approach. Okay, give him room. He needs space after what he’s been through. “Take the day off. No, the week. No, the month.” He started to open his mouth to protest, but I cut him off. “No, please. You did a very brave thing by making sure I didn't do any major damage while affected by Discord's magic...” I trailed off, realizing I had no idea who this pony was.
“Eagle Eye,” he supplied. “But Princess—“
“It'll be a vacation with pay. And a promotion when you get back.”
He snapped to attention and saluted me. “Yes ma'am!”
I sat in relief and gave him my most majestic smile. “Thank you, Eagle Eye. You've done a great thing for Equestria today.”
He nodded a little jerkily and left with great haste. Perhaps he was more shaken up than he cared to admit, the poor thing.
I turned my attention back to the window, where Canterlot was reassembling itself as it was meant to be. I was glad my faithful student had succeeded, but what I had done still troubled me. I knew enough about Discord's powers to realize that even the most depraved, insane action his victims took came from some aspect of their nature, and that terrified me.
Did I have feelings for Twilight? I had certainly been acting on something if I had been worked up enough to kiss somepony that I had believed was Twilight. A fresh shiver came over me. I wanted to just blame Discord, but that was the easy way out. Although he held some of the blame, in the end, I was responsible for my actions. I had to face the facts.
There was no way a relationship between Twilight and I could work, as much as the thought set a part of me pining in regret. The last time I'd grown close to a mortal pony, I had been devastated when she passed, so to become romantically involved with one was almost unthinkable. Almost.
I sighed and rose, heading for the door. There would be much to do to restore order to Equestria. As powerful as the Elements of Harmony were, they couldn't calm frightened ponies. They needed a leader for that. Whatever had just happened would have to wait; my little ponies needed me. And Luna, for that matter. I would have to speak with Twilight in private later and test the waters.
I halted mid-stride. Test the waters? I shook my head.
I could sort out what I truly felt later. Rather than testing the waters, I'd do what I did best: observe. Perhaps I could just have a nice day alone with Twilight, seeing if I saw her any differently over some tea and croquet in the gardens. It had been many months since I had really spent any meaningful time with Twilight, so with luck, I could talk Luna into taking over for a day.
With a sense of weariness, duty, and a task yet to come, I stepped out of my room and back into reality, where Equestria did not wait for the concerns of any one pony, not even its co-ruler. Even as I began to formulate a plan of action for stopping a panic in Equestria, a part of my mind whispered one word over and over: Twilight. Twilight. Twilight. Twilight.
I didn’t silence it.