Twilight Sparkle looked up and for quite a long moment she was rather convinced that she might be dead.
Perhaps in her death she would meet her creator; then she wondered whether any of the stories she had written had their characters jump from the paper as she killed them off, and shuddered. At least the narrative hadn’t made her a zompony.
Her vision cleared a bit and she felt an immeasurably strong sense of relief as she saw the unmistakable roof of the Royal Throne Room.
“Twilight, my dear, faithful student. What a pleasant surprise.”
She shook her head a bit, whipping her hair back and forth in the process. Conveniently for the narrative, the concentration she focused into the teleport had left her too exhausted to think too much.
At the very least, her limbs were under her control. She used them to bow as low as she could to the one pony that might have an answer. “Princess Celestia.”
She waved her hoof towards the guards; they looked at each other, and then at the tired, frazzled, somewhat dangerous-looking protagonist. Being of no consequence to the story whatsoever, they followed orders as was their role.
Twilight would once have paid them no thought, but now she pitied them completely; she supposed that she should be grateful, at least, to have been given a small insight by the narrative into the world.
And then she remembered that the narrative had scripted that feeling for her, and that the narrative had similarly let her have that moment of ironic realisation, and that the narrative had let her recover from her mental exhaustion just to torment her with apocalypses upon revelations. If not for the Princess in the room, she might have screamed; instead, she simply stood silently, looking for all the world to be a slightly frazzled, wide-eyed, perfectly normal pony.
Celestia broke the silence. “While I do appreciate your wish to see me, I must admit it discomforts me a little that you have been staring at me for a few minutes, completely silent.” She still had that usual smile on her face; Twilight knew that the implication of her smile in this situation was a subtle indication of her restrained yet emotional personality.
Then she remembered that she was thinking of the Princess—the bearer of the sun although only by the powers given by narrative, ruler of Equestria only because the narrative put the power into her hands and tried to remember her place. “Princess, I’ve recently run into a—I’ve recently made a discovery. A very disturbing discovery.”
“Is that so, Twilight?” Celestia reclined a bit into her throne, slightly tense. Twilight could tell that she only was tense to set up a semi-humorous relaxation, but she felt rather flattered that Princess Celestia was taking her warnings seriously for once, even if only to set up a joke. “I trust your judgement, Twilight, if it is of such importance that you must speak to me in person.”
She explained everything, and saw Celestia only growing tenser.
Of course her analysis of Celestia’s tensity didn’t come true—it was probably amusing to the audience. She tried not to feel the doubt that perhaps the narrative was beginning to make her wrong purely for the effect, that she would begin to think things incorrectly, that she might even become stupid, lose her most important asset, lose her defining trait—she couldn’t believe she was defining herself by some arbitrary list of traits that the narrative itself had written into her head—just because of the narrative—
She cut the chain of logic off, forcibly, before it could go any further—but then she realised that the only reason that she might do that would be to make the narrative more streamlined, make it break away from the recursive pattern and make the narrative easier to follow, easier to craft.
And the narrative had, par for the course, granted her the twisted realisation, probably simply to mock her, and probably was making her force herself to calm down—she probably would calm down regardless of whatever effort she made, although the effort itself was from the narrative—just to move the story onwards.
She couldn’t help but squeak slightly, shuddering.
Blissfully—conveniently, Twilight remembered—the Princess appeared to have taken quite some time to formulate a response. “When you write a story, Twilight, when you write—do you write about every fly on every wall? Every grain on every bit of wood?”
Twilight, even through her haze of returned contemplation, could feel a slight tinge of red on her cheeks as she recalled her last story. “I describe the position of every baryon, Princess.”
Celestia seemed to repress a sigh. “Every single one?”
“Well, even though the Clophug interpretation argues—”
She had lapsed.
For the span of two sentences, she had forgotten entirely about herself to say something that she knew would sound silly—not to Princess Celestia, who she knew had gotten somewhat used to her personality, but any audience. She was the subject of a joke about her personality.
And Celestia didn’t set it up, and neither did she.
The Princess—the goddess in whose name she swore—wasn’t free.
And the narrative made her know it.
“Twilight? Are you alright?”
She shuddered, refusing to look up. She would rather remember her as a princess than look at her know and know her to be a tool. “It’s happening again. Don’t you see? I—we forgot everything about the narrative for a moment. I took an analogy literally, and you set up a joke without intending it to be.”
She did not stop, stomping her hoof down. “Are you going to continue to make the point you were going to? Where the gaps in detail are? Are you going to make the point so that whatever audience this narrative has can be satisfied? Are you going to be a tool, just like Pinkie? Just like me?”
If Twilight had been looking up, she would have seen a rather subtle shift in Celestia’s posture.
“I agree with you, Twilight.”
Twilight, under normal circumstances, might have spoken as if she had been called mad and interrupted herself to express surprise. Instead, she turned her head wearily back up towards Celestia so that she could see her face as they spoke—although she was certain that the feeling of social propriety was felt only because it would be more convenient for the narrative in some way—and stared deep into her eyes.
“You don’t think I’m crazy?” She was fairly sure that it was because the narrative had grown tired of drawing out her torment, and she at once decided that because the thought had come into her head that it was true.
“Twilight Sparkle, my faithful student, what is something that any good story must, in some measure, have?”
“I’m going to say secondary derivatives of the concept only to be confronted by the root concept. That’s how comedies work, right?”
She could almost hear Celestia suppressing a sigh. Some kind of expressive filler, probably to preface a line of dialogue and prevent the sensation of talking heads. “Sense.”
Twilight nodded. She might have repeated Celestia’s words, but that would have been another little device of the narrative she wasn’t being inclined by the narrative to comply with.
She shook her head a little.
“Ask yourself this—if the writers of this ‘narrative’ wanted amusement from your suffering, why doesn’t it simply torture you endlessly?”
“Because repetition diminishes.”
“But everything that has happened to you has been logical, correct? Every thought the consequent of a relevant antecedent. What if the narrative simply wants to be logical?”
Twilight walked slowly towards her, hooves hitting on the red carpet as she came closer. “It only seems logical to us because we’re in a world where the antecedent leads to the consequent. The narrative is mocking us. It knows it. Every word I’m saying is part of the narrative. Every thought I think.”
“Does it matter?” Celestia rose from her throne, stepping down to walk towards Twilight. “If, in the end, you act as you should, does it matter that you act only on the will of another? You say that you are a part of the narrative—”
Princess Celestia stooped down to bring herself down to eye level with Twilight. “—what if the narrative is merely a part of you?”
Twilight stared back a bit. “A part of me?”
Celestia rose to her full height once more. “If I simply ceased to exist before you, would you say that it would be strange? Would you not say that an author who wrote such a thing would be incompetent, or absurd?”
“If I agree with you, I’m agreeing with the narrative. Maybe in whatever world the narrative is written, sudden existence failure would be considered the pinnacle of literature.” She felt a strange sort of tugging on her heart as she said the words; possibly, she had spewed some reference to popular culture, or some non-sequitur meant to inspire discussion.
“But what can we judge other than from ourselves? Why must the reality, whatever it may be, change the way you act or think? If in the end there is no escape, what is there to do but live?”
Twilight laughed somewhat bitterly. “It looks like the narrative’s too cynical for me to agree, Princess. Maybe it wants me to have some big bucking epiphany before something changes and we can live happily ever after. Maybe I’m just supposed to keep acting like this ‘til I end up in some box and people throw bits at me out of pity so the audience feels sorry for me. Maybe you’re being written by a different writer. Maybe whatever’s writing this narrative is a self-depre— ”
“Twilight,” she said, and shook her head deeply. “If the narrative’s trying to convince you, why aren't you convinced?”
She shook her head. “You said it, Princess. Maybe they just want to write a good story with some good sense. Maybe you’ll beat me upside the head and I’ll become alright again?” She felt herself being flooded with ideas; perhaps the narrative had seen fit to dump its plans on her, and she accepted them with glee she knew was engineered. “You know how I know none of this is real?”
Celestia put her hoof up against her face, apparently surrendered by then. “How?”
“You’re a goddess, Celestia. Apparently you’re supposed to be the pony that created the whole world. You could change anything. But you haven’t, because that’s not good storytelling. That’s deus ex machina.” She went up to Celestia, pulled her hoof up and poked her in the ribs—hard. “See, now it’d be funny if you actually just incinerated me, or threw me into the dungeons, because that’d prove that we’re in a funny story! Now you’ve got a reason!” Her manic rant had a complete calm about it; Twilight knew that she was only being rebellious for the sake of it, by now, and took a certain comfort in it, delighting in the very fact that her comfort wasn’t hers, that her acceptance wasn’t hers, that nothing was hers.
The princess simply stared at her.
Twilight grinned wider than she ever had in her life. “Are you gonna throw me into the nuthouse, huh? Make this a comedy again? Make the audience laugh! Throw me into the nuthouse, maybe throw some slapstick electroshock in there!”
In the thousands of years Celestia had spent ruling her world, she had seen her share of insane ponies; fortunately, none of them had been an incarnation of one of the world’s fundamental forces. Certainly not until then, when the most powerful unicorn in existence had just—for lack of any word better expressing the term—lost it.
Celestia, the ruler of Equestria, the god-princess of an entire race, raised her right forehoof and smacked Twilight across the face with the fury of a sun filtered by a pair of UV-resistant glasses. The lavender pony flew across the floor, sliding a few painful centimetres before coming to a halt.
Celestia went over to Twilight’s standing form. “I’m sorry that I must do this.”
“Physical violence, huh? I’m sure that works on tel—” Smack.
“What? Wrote yourself into a corner, author avatar? What’s your real name? Merry Sew, Princess of the—” Smack.
“You know, a concussion won’t solve my problems. A concussion is a serious neurological—” Smack.
“I’m sure the onomatopoeia for these is ‘whack’. I bet I’m wrong just to make things funni—” Whack.
Celestia had never lowered herself to physical force, before; she didn’t enjoy the experience. It was a few minutes before Celestia had stopped; it took some while for Twilight to notice that she was no longer being brutalised.
“What?” Twilight wheezed out, not even sinking so low as to touch her cheeks and soothe the hurt flesh. “Slapstick gag getting—” she coughed a bit, “—old, Princess?” As much as she seemed to be unphased, she still felt the pain all over her body, and almost regretted not fighting back.
“You’ve lost all connection with reality, Twilight.” She meant her words.
Twilight laughed at nothing in particular. “I guess I have.”
Celestia’s horn lit up; she could feel the magic resonating with her horn, and tried to resist. She knew she had the power, and knew that she could, but as she tried to resist the bruises around her body acted up, spots of burning fire all over.
“Oh, so that’s why you hit me! Concentration! So what’re you gonna do? Brainwash me? This is gonna be a brainwashing plo—”
Twilight Sparkle disappeared in a burst of white light.
She appeared almost immediately after, lying on her bed.
She felt her cheek and winced. The bruises were definitely still there.
She still remembered the narrative, everything. Celestia hadn’t tampered with that. She knew everything, and she knew why she knew it; her train of thought was almost uninterrupted. She ran a probe on her own body, her mind; nothing. She still felt a little bit of what she had felt, but without Celestia to take it out on she felt as if her momentum had been thoroughly negated.
Spike came running up the stairs. “There you are, Twi! I’ve got a le—”
His sentence was interrupted with the belching of a letter bound by the royal seal; Spike began to read it.
My dearest, most faithful student Twilight,
‘My dearest, most faithful student’. She was still her student.
I had to injure you physically to ensure that you would not be able to resist my teleportation spell and potentially cause reaction damage. I hope that you understand.
“Whoa. You got beat up by Princess Celestia?” He looked a bit closer at Twilight. “Ooh. That’s nasty.”
“Just keep reading, Spike.”
The compulsive urges you may have may never go, and you may always doubt. I am powerful, but I am not omnipotent; I cannot change the way you think, and I cannot change the way you feel. That power is within you.
Spike grumbled. “So much for counselling. Did you seriously get into a fight with the Prin—”
Twilight flung a lamp at Spike; he ducked rather deftly. “Alright, I’ll read the letter! Jeez.”
Nopony can tell you what to feel, but I suggest that you take some time to calm down. Although it might seem hopeless, to feel as though you are nothing but a creation, I can assure you that in my thousands of years I have felt every manner of despair, every sort of pain.
I have always pulled through.
Always remember: friendship is magic.
Twilight mumbled a bit. “I guess the story’s over, isn’t it?”
Spike raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
She laid back and didn’t bother to analyse the gesture’s meaning; her entire demeanour was resignatory. “The narrative’s up. There’s no more plot to cover. Going back wouldn’t accomplish anything. It’d just make the narrative repetitive, so I can't just do that.”
Twilight laughed to herself a bit. “I should schedule some animal-feeding with Fluttershy tomorrow. If there even is a tomorrow. I don’t think me helping Fluttershy feed her animals would be a great story to tell.”
She paused for a bit.
“Unless we made out doing it.”
Spike seemed to contemplate the idea before shaking his head. “Don’t you need some company, though?”
She shrugged. “Sure.”
They sat around for a while, both very quiet.
Spike broke the silence with the subtlety of Spike. “So, did you really get beat up by Princess Celestia?”
“Yeah.” She shook her head a bit, smiling faintly. “I wonder if it’ll hurt as much as it does now when the narrative stops.”