A shoulda-woulda-coulda composition in three movements.
( Or read it fully formatted at: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1RC0f_bC--UZqWpLkbD_k3I4Gh1XEsYCccjSjKOFXtmg/edit )
For Twilight Sparkle
In the key of “A Canterlot Wedding”
Interior: Guest tower. Eve of the wedding of Princess Mi Amore Cadenza and Shining Armor.
Twilight stood in the entrance of the guest tower, astonished by what her friends were wearing. A single idea was pulsing ever stronger in her head: Something here is very wrong.
Fluttershy zipped over, hovering giddily. “Can you believe it?” she gushed. “We're going to be Princess Mi Amore Cadenza's new bridesmaids!”
“New bridesmaids? What happened to her old bridesmaids?” protested Twilight.
“She didn't say,” interjected Applejack. “But she did tell us that she would love, love, love it if we'd fill in for them.”
“Seeing as we've been working so hard and everything!” Rarity chimed in.
“And you had your doubts about her,” Applejack went on.
Twilight stared, horrified. After what she'd witnessed Cadence doing, this had to be a trick.
“Told you she was an absolute gem!” said Rarity, only to be interrupted by Rainbow Dash.
“You sure this is what I should wear?” complained the speedster, kicking at her dress. “...Doesn't seem all that aerodynamic.”
“Mmm... I'll see what I can do,” replied Rarity.
As the two left, Twilight felt adrenalin rising. It was happening again. Just like during Discord's return, she was being turned against her own friends. They'd been manipulated with pretty dresses and positions of honor. If they hadn't listened to her before, there was no way they would listen now.
Fine, thought Twilight. I've coped with threats on my own before... I can do it again. While Applejack, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie exchanged excited chirps and giggles, Twilight spurned the bright room and returned to the night.
“Looks like I really am on my own,” she muttered.
Then a comforting thought came to her, and a gleam touched her eyes. There was still Spike. He would always have her back; Twilight couldn't ask for a more loyal assistant and companion. Together, they'd be sure to come up with something.
The darkening shades of bubble-pink dusk kept cascading through Twilight's peripheral vision as she crossed the terrace and trod down the white granite stairs. She wondered where Spike would be―probably in his room, she reflected, playing around with those figurines from the cake or fiddling with his outfit. Twilight smiled to herself―he was such an adorable child.
The guest cottage near the train station was empty. Sure enough, the figurines of the bride and groom were lying on the floor, edged by moonlight from the window. But where was Spike?
Clack. Twilight heard wood on wood; she hurried outside and around the guest cottage to investigate.
There he was. “Spike! What are you doing outside at this hour?”
The diminutive dragon, dressed in his ringbearer duds, looked up from measuring the distance between two wooden balls with a piece of sewing tape, no doubt purloined from Rarity. “Oh, hi Twilight! I was just trying out my new bachelor set! I've got to make sure it's well balanced and everything.”
“You know... for the party!”
Twilight blinked again.
Spike stared back. “The bachelor party?”
“Oh! I'd... forgotten about that. But... isn't it a little late for the bachelor party? The wedding is tomorrow!”
Now it was Spike's turn to blink. “Uhh... but... doesn't the bachelor party come after the wedding?”
Despite all her worries, Twilight was tempted to laugh. “I'm... pretty sure it comes before, Spike.”
For the fact that Spike wasn't even in her biological class, Twilight could read his emotions amazingly well. First he was surprised, then downcast and disappointed, and then agitated. “Oh, but Twilight!” Spike started hurrying around the lawn behind the guest cottage, picking up scattered wooden balls. “That means we've got to hold it in the morning! And I haven't had time to copy out the rulebooks, and I've still got to sleep!”
Twilight seized the remaining balls with her magic and gathered them up, depositing them in the guest cottage. “Spike! We can't hold a party in the morning―there's rehearsal! We're strapped for time as it is.”
Again, the baby dragon's face filled with disappointment. “But... but then... you mean we can't have the bachelor party?”
Twilight shook her head. “I don't think so, Spike.”
Spike fell to his knees on the lawn. “Then I screwed up. Again! I'm really sorry, Twi.”
She hurried over to offer a nuzzle. “It's all right! I don't think Cadence and Shining Armor were really counting on you to do it, if it's any consolation. So you were planning on playing lawn games?”
Spike looked up at her, uncomprehending. “Well, that's what bachelor is, isn't it? It's a lawn game!”
“Uhh...” A lawn game? Twilight blinked several times more. “Oh! You're thinking of bocceball, Spike!”
“Bocceball is a lawn game,” clarified Twilight. “A bachelor is an available male! The bachelor party would be Shining Armor's last chance to live it up before getting married. So now you see why it's too late.”
Confusion mingled with disappointment in the young dragon's face. “Yeah, I guess.”
Twilight followed him into the guest cottage. “But that's not what we should be worried about,” she pressed. “Spike, do you remember our conversation from earlier? When we and the others talked over drinks?”
Spike was already gathering up the figurines off the floor, ready for play. “Uh... only sort of. I was kinda distracted.” He brought Little Shining Armor over to Little Cadence, pursing his lips. “Love me forever and ever?” he mimicked playfully. “Oh, I will! Forever and ever and―”
He dropped the figurines and put his hands behind his back. “Y―yes, Twilight?”
“As you may recall, I was concerned about Princess Cadence's behavior! She was rude to everypony and didn't even seem to remember me! But no one would listen―everyone just brushed it off as the behavior of a nervous bride! Remember!?”
“Yeah! But―well, aren't they right? And anyway, what can you do? It's not like they can call off the wedding just because Cadence is a little rude... right?”
“Well... yes, that's true. But Spike, what I've just seen proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that Princess Cadence isn't just rude, but evil!” Realizing that anypony might be listening in, Twilight slammed the door magically shut and lowered her voice. “I saw her cast a spell on my brother that made his eyes go all...” She mimicked his woozy rattle for the wide-eyed Spike. “And then it was as if he'd forgotten everything they were just arguing about!”
Spike had his fingers clasped tightly now, which Twilight knew meant he was scared. “Really? She... enchanted him?”
“That's what it looked like, Spike! And it felt like it, too. I was standing right outside the door, and it felt like a powerful progressive enchantment was washing over me! That's the kind that you have to cast over and over, stronger every time.”
“So...” Her assistant suddenly broke into pacing around the room. “So what do you think she was doing? Casting a forgetting spell?”
“Maybe. I'm not sure. But what I suspect is that the spell was meant to put him under her control! Think about it, Spike. Why else would he be so gung-ho to marry somepony who's treating him and everyone else so badly? She wouldn't even let him wear Uncle Strongspark's coat and breastplate!”
Spike stopped pacing as abruptly as he'd started. “Can she even do that? Does Cadence have that kind of magic?”
“She's a princess, Spike! Who knows what kind of magic she might have learned over the years!”
He wiggled a finger in his ear. “Well, what kind of magic did she know when you were my age?”
Twilight froze. The weighty implications came pounding over her. “She knew how to make ponies forgive each other. Whether they wanted to or not.”
“What!?” Spike clutched at her side. “But―but that's unfair!”
It certainly was. “Yes, I see that now. At the time, it seemed so lovable―making couples fall in love again, instead of fighting. But now I realize that that kind of emotional manipulation is dangerous! Oh my gosh, Spike, it all fits!”
Twilight turned dramatically. “It's not just Shining Armor! It's my friends, too! Cadence has everypony under her hoof! Why else would Rarity and Applejack be so blasé about her behavior?!”
Spike backed up. “But... but if that's true, then what about Celestia? Has Princess Cadence enchanted her, too?”
This hadn't occurred to Twilight. “You could be right. She may very well have! That would explain why she didn't meet us when we arrived. And why she hasn't even met us yet! Did you see, Spike? She was just up on that watchtower all day, looking through a telescope!”
Spike paused. “You do that sometimes, Twilight.”
“Well... yes, but. I'm not a princess, with royal responsibilities! And I know for a fact that Princess Celestia doesn't just spend her days standing on a tower!”
“But what about the threat? Didn't you say there was a threat against Canterlot?”
Twilight paused to mull this over, rolling a discarded bocceball under her hoof. “I wonder... whether that entire 'threat' thing might not be nothing more than a ploy from Cadence!”
“A trick! What if there is no threat? Maybe she sent a scary note or something, and now everypony's on edge, waiting for an attack on Canterlot, when the real threat is going to strike from within!”
Spike seemed stricken with fear again. “But... but if that's true... what can we do?”
It was Twilight's turn to pace. “Whatever we do, we need help! We can't save Canterlot on our own. Normally I would go to Princess Celestia in this kind of situation! But she may already be against us.”
Spike hurried along behind Twilight until she lifted him and put him on her back. “What about the guards?”
“No good. My brother is captain of the guard! The rest of them will probably follow his lead, and even if some of them want to help us, they won't have any power and we'd be asking them to risk their careers! Besides, for all we know, Cadence has them all enchanted by now. She may even have enchanted everypony in the city!”
Twilight was trotting briskly around the perimeter of the guest cottage now. The windows blew open and shut as she passed them from the fluctuations of air pressure she was stirring up. Spike tugged on her mane, presumably to get her to slow down, but Twilight kept marching.
“What about us, then? Why hasn't she enchanted us?”
“I don't know! It could be she's afraid of my magic, although in that case I wouldn't think she'd be brave enough to enchant Celestia. Maybe we just haven't been here long enough yet.”
“Then what about our friends? Can't we ask them for help?”
“Spike, weren't you listening this evening? They've fallen for her, hook, line and sinker! She's already gotten them!”
Twilight picked up her pace until all the windows blew open and the room started to swirl with wind. Spike curled his fingers through her mane and shouted into her ear: “What about Rainbow Dash?!”
“What about Rainb―” protested Twilight as she coursed about the room. But then she realized. “Spike, you're right! When we talked over drinks, the others defended Cadence, but Rainbow just said she'd been too busy to be worried about the bride's bad attitude!”
“Exactly!” yelled Spike, dangling desperately from Twilight's mane.
“Rainbow's only duty at the wedding is to perform a Sonic Rainboom,” reasoned Twilight. “And that's a duty that doesn't bring her into contact with Cadence! In fact, it's possible she hasn't even met Princess Cadence yet!”
“Uh huh!” agreed Spike, slipping away as Twilight's pace rose to a full gallop.
“And when I saw them just now... Rainbow was complaining to Rarity that her dress wasn't aerodynamic enough! And Rarity promised to do something to fix it! So that means...” Twilight glanced out an open window as she dashed by. “...that Rainbow Dash should be trying out Rarity's new designs at any moment!”
“YyyyeeeEEAAhH!” shouted Spike. Twilight felt his grip failing. She dug in her hooves and braked, and the centrifugal force sent him flying out the window!
Twilight teleported outside and looked around for Spike, only to have something strike her suddenly from above! For a moment she panicked that Cadence had sent someone to neutralize her―but no. Only Spike, who'd happened to land on her.
“Ooof!” he said. “Oh! Heh―that was a pretty neat trick, Twi!”
“Yeah,” she replied, narrowing her eyes and casting her gaze through the skies. “And if we watch carefully, we should spot another neat trick going down.” She glanced around to make sure they weren't being watched before cantering toward the palace. “Spike, let me know if you see Rainbow Dash.”
When the battlements loomed, Twilight veered off―she knew they were guarded, and moreover wanted to keep most of the sky in her field of vision. The occasional helmet plume or gleam of armor caught her eye, but for the most part things were quiet. Twilight approached the guest quarters from behind a low wall under a line of trees some distance away.
The chaotic majesty of Canterlot Palace loomed before her, structure upon―or in some cases within―structure. Princess Luna now stood vigil from the high watchtower, as did royal guards from lower levels. The chambers where Twilight's friends were quartered were well guarded―she'd taken this at first as a sign of the princesses' concern for their safety, but now it seemed more like a measure to prevent them from talking to each other unobserved.
“Look!” said Spike, pointing.
Twilight followed his gaze. High over the rooftops soared a figure with rainbow contrail that could only be Rainbow Dash. Presumably, Rarity had modified her dress to be more aerodynamic. But was Rarity watching from below in order to see the results of her efforts?
“It's at times like this I really wish I could fly,” mumbled Twilight.
“You've got that wing spell,” Spike pointed out.
“I don't know it from memory, and besides, it's exhausting! And it's extremely difficult for a unicorn to levitate herself. Law of nature! No, we really have no choice. You're going to have to get Rainbow's attention.”
Twilight couldn't see Spike's face, but she could feel his whole bearing shift. “Me?!”
She levitated the baby dragon from her back and set him before her. “I'll teleport you up into the sky near her, so the guards won't see you on the way up. Then I'll do my best to levitate you from here. Your job is to convince Rainbow Dash that the others can't be trusted, and that she has to join me behind this wall.”
Spike gulped. “But... but I don't know how to fly! And I'm not great at arguing! How am I supposed to do both at the same time?”
“You don't have to fly, Spike, just float! And you just need to tell Rainbow that you think Cadence may have cast a spell on everypony else, but not her, since she hasn't had any business with her! You can do that, right?”
Spike tensed up, but nodded tensely.
“Good dragon! I know I can count on you.” Twilight stepped forward and gave Spike a nuzzle. “Ready? One... two... three!”
“Wait!” he cried. “Are you go―”
But before he could finish his question, Twilight had teleported him. Oops! Well, too late now! She spun toward the sky above the guest quarters and caught sight of the quickly plummeting Spike. She swiftly set about hoisting him up... but to her surprise, there was no need: Rainbow Dash had already caught him. Wow, that mare was quick.
Twilight watched as the pegasus started to soar downward, then curved upward and flew high. She penetrated a cloud and went out of sight. Twilight stared at the cloud, wondering what she should do now.
Half a minute later, she was startled by a voice behind her. “Twilight. This better be good.”
It was Rainbow, all right. Twilight spun around to see Spike safe on her back, hugging the curves of a newly streamlined bridesmaid's dress. All right―now it was up to Twilight. “Rainbow!”
The pegasus leaned forward. “Rarity's gonna be wondering where I am. Everypony's gonna be wondering where I am! And now you're trying to tell me they can't be trusted?!”
“It adds up, Rainbow! Listen to me.”
Twilight related to Rainbow Dash an account of her ill-fated meeting with her brother and the spell she'd seen Cadence use on him. “And when I tried to tell everyone back at the palace,” she concluded, “you didn't want to hear it! It was all, 'Oh, I'm so excited that Princess Cadence made us her bridesmaids! And you had your doubts!' Unngghh! Couldn't any of you see that she was just bribing you to keep you complacent?!”
“Complacent?” asked Spike and Rainbow together.
“To keep you from getting suspicious!” screeched Twilight. All their heads turned toward the guard towers―there was motion. Twilight dashed back into a cove of trees, and the others followed.
“For Pete's sake, Twilight!” said Rainbow, her voice muffled. “Are you trying to stay quiet, or aren't you?”
“Sorry. I'm just hugely stressed. But Rainbow, do you see what I'm saying?”
Rainbow Dash seemed unsure. “Yeah, I guess. But I mean... are you sure? Couldn't it just be that something really did happen to her bridesmaids and she really did need replacements?”
“Well, I suppose Colgate might have been constantly brushing her teeth and neglecting her duties, or something like that. But even so, Cadence saw an opportunity to butter you up, and took it! You do believe me about the spell, don't you?”
Rainbow took a deep breath and swallowed. “Yeah. I believe you. You wouldn't lie to me.”
Twilight stepped forward in the shadow of the pear trees and cuddled her friend. “Thanks for being loyal, Rainbow.”
“Yeah, no problem. But... but Twilight. What are we supposed to do about it, even if it all is true?”
“Well, I don't think we can trust the princesses, or any of the palace staff, or the royal guards. In fact, I can't think of anypony I can trust, aside from you and Spike! So... I think we may be on our own.”
Both Rainbow and Spike looked highly anxious. “But how can we stop the wedding?” asked Spike.
Twilight paced around the trunk of a pear tree. “We probably don't have the power to fight Princess Cadence,” she thought aloud. “She's obviously gone bad since we were little. It's possible that she's only been enchanted herself―but then I don't know who's responsible, and we don't have time to find out. The wedding is tomorrow!”
“Is it really that important to stop the wedding?” asked Rainbow. “I mean, what do you think she's planning, anyway?”
“I don't know, but I'm sure it has something to do with marrying my brother... and I don't want him married to someone evil! Even if we defeat her afterwards, they'll still be married! So we have to stop the wedding!”
“Well,” reasoned Rainbow, quirking up her face. “If we can't stop Cadence directly, maybe we can take Shining Armor out of the picture. I mean, no groom, no wedding, right?”
Twilight lit up in a grin. “That's it! Rainbow, you've got it! We kidnap my brother and then get away from Canterlot. We can work on reversing his enchantment somewhere else, and then, once he's on our side, we'll contemplate our next step.” She looked at her two companions. “Are you with me?”
Spike and Rainbow nodded in unison.
“Right. Then we'll need a plan. I know that Cadence and Shining Armor are spending the night apart, but that doesn't mean she isn't keeping an eye on things. Luckily, we have one of the fastest pegasi in Equestria on our side, and speed is just what we need!”
Rainbow stepped forward. “One of the fastest?”
“All right, the fastest. You see that building over there? That's where Shining Armor is sleeping. Now let's make a plan!”
The plan wound up being simple, brash, and effective―to a point. Spike went up to distract the two guards keeping watch over Shining Armor's quarters. He fed them a story about some evil omen he'd seen in a fountain some distance deeper into the royal complex, and one of them went with him while the other looked after, eyes not on his job. At that point, Twilight magically forced open her brother's window and Rainbow Dash zipped inside, Twilight on her back.
Twilight had prepared a thin but strong magical baggie―soundproof and nearly spellproof. Shining Armor had barely woken up before Twilight forced it over him and sealed the end. Twilight levitated the struggling bag and hopped back onto Rainbow's back. Rainbow didn't find it easy flying with a passenger, but she was able to make it out the window and back to the treeline, Twilight locked in concentration all the way.
Their escape did not go unnoticed, however. A guard watching from above sounded an alarm, and Princess Luna, on the high watchtower, sounded a louder alarm. A dozen guards were already on the move before Rainbow was able to set down.
“There's no way we can make the rendezvous point safely now!” shouted Twilight.”Spike'll have to be on his own!”
“No way!” said Rainbow. “We don't leave anydragon behind!”
“'Anydragon' isn't a word!” protested Twilight. “Besides, he shouldn't be in any real trouble―no more than Fluttershy or Rarity or anypony else Cadence has in her thrall! He can just tell everyone I made him do it.”
Grimacing, Rainbow veered upward. Her instincts turned out to be sharp: Even with Twilight levitating Shining Armor from her back, the speedster managed to make it out of the palace grounds and some distance down the mountain while evading immediate pursuit. The guards were out of sight for now, but they wouldn't remain so for long.
And there was still the pink bubble to contend with.
At last, Rainbow fluttered to a halt in a steep tuft of grass and weeds just yards above where the mountain met the bubble. “Do... do you think it works both ways?” she wondered aloud. “Or is it just for keeping bad guys out?”
“I don't know,” answered Twilight. “We'd better perform a test.” Trying to calm her heart, she levitated Shining Armor, who was getting dangerously close to breaking free from Twilight's reinforced bag, to a level spot on the hill. Closing her eyes, she sent a surge of sleeping magic his way. She repeated the spell until he was finally slumbering and she was woozy with exhaustion.
“I don't think it's gonna go away if you knock him out,” opined Rainbow.
“No, but we can't let him escape now. Rainbow? Could you try... flying up close, but not quite touching it?”
Rainbow hovered just over the lower curve of pink. “Feels sort of... I dunno. Magical!”
“It ought to! But not painful, or hot?”
“Then... touch it. Just with a wingtip.”
“Right, like my wingtip is the least precious part of me?” Rainbow reached out a hoof to gingerly touch the dome. It stopped her just like any solid object would. She glanced back inquisitively at Twilight.
Twilight nodded, taking a nervous breath. “Try breaking through. But bear in mind―it may be like flying into a wall!”
“Like I never did that before,” retorted Rainbow. She soared up some distance―still out of sight from anyone above―and zoomed down, smashing into the pink bubble. Her face was distorted from the impact, but she shook it off and returned to Twilight. “No good. It's too strong!”
That was what Twilight had feared. “We'll have to find a place to hunker down, then.”
Rainbow seemed conflicted. “You're sure we can't just go back and see what happens?”
“I'm sorry, Rainbow. The stakes are too great.”
Rainbow noncommittally hoofed the now-unconscious captain of the guard. “All right, Twilight. If you say so. In that case, we'd better make ourselves a cave.”
Rainbow followed the cliffside until she reached a soft underhang, chose her trajectory carefully, and swiftly followed the curve of the pink shield before striking the earth from underneath. A wave of rainbow-colored wind washed over Twilight, and when the dust had settled, there was a cave hidden under the sloping grass, only yards from the edge of the bubble.
Rainbow gave Twilight a lift inside. With the last of her magic, she hovered in her brother―still in his baggie―and settled him at the dark pinch at the cave's end. There wasn't much space for any of them. Twilight settled down beside Shining Armor, and Rainbow settled next to her.
“What now?” asked Rainbow nervously.
“Now, I sleep. Sorry, Dash―I'm exhausted. If he starts to wake up... make sure it doesn't happen. We'll watch him in shifts.”
“Well, okay,” said Dash. “But... for how long?”
“For as long as it takes for Cadence's enchantment to wear off,” said Twilight. She lay down her head and closed her eyes. “I won't lose my brother.”
Twilight couldn't tell how Rainbow reacted. She didn't hear or feel anything more before falling asleep.
When day came, Twilight woke and Rainbow slept. The sunlight was faint, as they weren't on the eastern face of the hill and the pink shield dimmed Celestia's orb in any case. Twilight lay next to Rainbow, unable to keep their coats from touching in the confined space, and watched her brother stir.
Before going to sleep, Rainbow had reported getting rough a couple of times in order to keep their captive under. Twilight regretted that, but she knew Shining Armor wouldn't be easy to keep captive. He was trained in combat magic; in a fair fight, she wouldn't stand much of a chance against him. They'd only taken him successfully since he was asleep, and with Twilight's anti-magic baggie disintegrating, she had to somehow maintain her edge without doing lasting harm, physical or emotional.
“Twilie,” he groaned after perhaps an hour. “What happened?”
“Shhh,” she said. “Relax, big brother. We're hiding.”
This seemed to agitate him. Twilight had a sleeping spell prepared―a barely visible web that she lowered toward her brother. But she didn't release.
“What are we... what are we hiding from?” he mumbled.
“From an evil enchantress,” Twilight said. “Do you feel normal? Or... do you feel enchanted?”
Shining Armor wiggled on the grassy bed Rainbow had made for him, her discarded, wadded-up bridesmaid's dress serving as a pillow. “I feel strange.”
Of course he does, reflected Twilight. How could he not? “That's okay, big brother. Go to sleep.”
Twilight released the net, and he slept.
She wouldn't be able to safely rely on his reported feelings, she now realized. She would need to cast a magic detection spell, and that would be difficult, especially without any books and while maintaining control. Rainbow Dash would be of help, but the speed-flier also needed her rest, and this operation would surely take at least another day, probably two.
Twilight shuddered and indulged in a few minutes of calm breathing, eyes closed, before she set herself to work.
There was mobility on the surface. Twilight could hear it. The guards had been mobilized, no doubt, and Celestia was looking for them. Maybe there was something more going on, too. Twilight and Rainbow lay there as afternoon moved toward evening, their ears perked and heads tilted to pick up every sound. They traded speculations on what further disasters might have struck―ideas related to the mysterious threat that had prompted Canterlot's precautions in the first place. The two mares flipped back and forth on whether they thought an attack had occurred. Eventually, the sounds of marching, bugles and commotion became so great that Rainbow expressed the belief it couldn't possibly all be about them. And for a minute, Twilight agreed, but in the following minute, she doubted it again.
Rainbow flew out cautiously at dusk to check on the state of the pink bubble. She reported back that it was fading in strength but still intact, and she didn't think she could break through. Twilight took in this information stoically, wondering how much longer they could escape detection and how much longer Cadence's enchantment could possibly last.
As Rainbow slept again that night, Twilight again allowed Shining Armor to wake. Her spell wasn't ready yet, but she knew it wasn't healthy to keep her brother unconscious in perpetuity... aside from which, she felt bad for him. She carefully maintained a force field between them and kept the web of sleep in easy reach.
“Ohhh... Twilight. I don't feel good.”
“Neither do I, big brother. We haven't had anything but grass to eat or dew to drink for almost thirty hours. But you should eat what you can.”
He nibbled on the moss that had tumbled into the cave when Rainbow had created it, and ate the dewy grass she'd later brought in. His focus increased in short order.
“Twilight... what are we doing here? I had the strangest dreams... I don't know anymore what's really happened!”
“I don't want you to worry, BBBFF. I'd be lying if I said that everything was all right... but you have to sleep again.”
“So soon?” He looked claustrophically around their dirty little prison. “But I just woke up!”
“I'm sorry, brother. But you're under a spell and... and I can't trust you just now, as much as I'd love to.” Twilight hung her head. “I need you to trust me, instead.”
She could hear the doubt in his voice as he replied: “All right... I'll trust you, Twilight. If you say I should go to sleep...”
She brought the web closer only gradually. When it was done, she told herself that sleep had come to him naturally... or at least close enough that he hadn't known the difference.
On the second day, Twilight suffered from confinement. Parts of her body were sore; she could only imagine how her brother felt. With Rainbow, she didn't have to imagine―the pegasus had taken to frequent complaints about how bored, weary and trapped she felt. She went out to gather grass and check on the bubble more than Twilight was comfortable with, given that the sounds of military presence and activity had only intensified above. The sounds of explosions were unmistakable―sometimes clods of dirt even fell within their cave, spurring momentary sensations of panic. Twice, the voices of guards passed dangerously close. She and Rainbow held each other. Twilight remembered tears, but not whose they were.
Her spell was just about ready. In good conditions, she might have finished it in six hours without books―with the right books, she might have had it within minutes. But these were terrible conditions. Two days was the best she could manage.
Night fell and passed. The sun would be up soon. Rainbow's gentle snores were like miniature ocean waves beside her―at least the pegasus had fallen asleep facing the wall this time. Twilight's web of sleep was wearing thin, and Shining Armor was stirring; it was time. He had to be awake for it.
Twilight drew back the web and rustled her brother's body, deep in the cave. His eyes opened almost immediately.
“Oh,” he breathed. “What now? Are we in trouble? What can we do, Twilight?”
His fear was heartbreaking. “Shining Armor, I need to cast a spell on you. It's going to tell me whether you're still under an enchantment or not.”
“An... an enchantment?”
“That's right. Your fiancée, Cadence... she was casting a spell on you to keep you obedient. I think she cast it on my friends and quite possibly on Princess Celestia, herself! But it's been fifty-six hours since you saw Cadence, and I'm hoping that's long enough...”
“Cadence?!” He tried to sit up and bumped his head against the semi-soft earth, causing a drizzle of dirt to fall. “Ungh―Twilie, she would never do this to me! I had migraines... she was... she was only casting spells on me to heal me!”
Twilight set her jaw. “That's what I need to find out. Please... don't resist. Let me cast this spell on you.”
She saw how hard it was for him to lie down again, but he lay as flat as the cave floor allowed, watching Twilight with soft but frightened eyes. Twilight took a deep breath, drew the ideas from within herself, and forged her spell according to the plans she'd conceived over the last two days.
A violet flash lit the cave, startling Twilight and waking Rainbow. Twilight strained to regain control. Shining Armor lay there, half mesmerized and half terrified, and Twilight saw clearly that he bore no enchantment... and that he never had.
No enchantments. Except for her own sleeping spell.
Twilight felt bile in her throat. She heaved sobs and tried desperately to sort her thoughts from her fears. The deluge only lasted a minute.
“Twilight?” asked Rainbow.
Shining Armor wiggled forward, his legs brushing against Twilight's. “Does that mean I'm all right?”
Twilight took one more deep breath. “Yes. You're fine. And apparently I was mistaken about all of this.” She shut her eyes. “I thought your fiancée
“My... my wedding day?! I've missed it?”
“Well, I guarantee she didn't get married without you,” Twilight murmured.
“TWILIGHT!” shouted Rainbow. “Are you... are you seriously telling me we've been cooped up here for two and a half days for no reason?!”
Twilight wanted to cry, but instead she crept toward the exit. “I'm sorry, Rainbow. And I'm sorry, Shining Armor. You can yell at me later.”
“Are we going?! Just like that?”
“You keep saying how you want to stretch your wings, Rainbow. Go ahead. Fly us out of here.”
It was worse than Twilight had imagined. When they reached the surface and crested the hill, she saw in the predawn light that the land had been excavated in strips and craters as far as she could see. The nearest buildings she remembered were now only white granite walls, tumbled to the earth. The only ponies she saw were guards, but a whole team of them stood not far away, and it wasn't ten seconds before they were spotted.
“It's her! It's them!” Twilight heard faintly, followed by: “Halt! In the name of Princess Celestia!”
Twilight had been moving toward the guardpost, but fell still. So did Rainbow Dash and Shining Armor. The guards came swiftly.
“I'm so sorry,” said Twilight, her eyes barely open. “It was all my doing. Rainbow Dash was only following my orders.”
“We're to bring you to Her Majesty,” declared the guard, and that was all.
They waited on a path of debris that had once been the royal promenade. Twilight could hardly believe what had become of this place. She remembered it vividly from the Grand Galloping Gala―now it was reduced to stray bricks and heaps of uneven dirt, with chunks of bedrock mixed in. To make things worse, in the early light of dawn Twilight could hardly recognize the royal palace in the distance. Spires were sitting disjoined on the ground against buttresses; whole stretches of structure had been dismantled and were gaping open like unfinished basements. Not many ponies aside from royal guards were out―even fewer than Twilight recalled was typical for this hour. She hadn't seen much of Canterlot on the way over, but it hadn't looked much better―the buildings were in disarray and the cobbled streets undone. Even the homesteads seemed to have been gutted from within.
Twilight couldn't keep wondering what had happened when she saw Princess Celestia walking towards her. There she was, flanked by her elite Sun Guard, countenance grim as a meteor, coat glimmering blue-white in the dawning light. Twilight wondered whether the sparkle on her flank was due to quartz dust. She sat back involuntarily as the princess approached.
Twilight had been so distracted by the destruction that she'd missed the tears in Celestia's eyes. The monarch's voice made them crystal clear, however.
“Captain Armor. I am immensely relieved to see you alive and whole. You must be exhausted.”
Beside her, Twilight saw her brother shift. “I... you know, I feel like I've been sleeping forever, Princess. But...” He shook his head. “I think you're right.”
“Then be still for now. And Rainbow Dash―our time to talk will be later. Twilight Sparkle.”
Twilight swallowed and held back sobs as Celestia turned her way. “I'm so sorry,” she whimpered. “So, so sorry. I thought he was under an enchantment.”
Celestia raised a terrible eyebrow. “An enchantment? And that's the reason you kidnapped your own brother?”
Twilight nodded, silent.
There was a pause from the great sovereign. “Twilight, I tore apart Canterlot looking for you.” Twilight heard herself gasp―she'd guessed that, but to hear it confirmed was a shock. “And all the while,” continued Celestia, “I was so incredibly angry at you. And that led to anger at myself. Anger for believing in you. For personally sponsoring you. For thinking of you as my greatest student. I berated myself for hours upon hours.”
“I'm so sorry,” repeated Twilight in a whisper. “I'll accept any punishment.”
“I asked myself: What would we do with you? Kidnapping a captain of the royal guard on the day before his wedding... it's no light matter! Could we put you in civic service in perpetuity? Would I be forced to banish you? Could I possibly sweep all of it under the rug, and did I even want to?”
Twilight couldn't bring herself to stare, but her eyes were filled with tears. “I don't know what I can say,” she rasped. “I've never made a mistake like this. I'm so, so sorry.”
“That was how I felt, Twilight, until two o'clock this morning,” said Celestia.
Twilight was at a loss. “Wh... what happened at two o'clock this morning?”
The princess shifted forward. “In my fervor to find you, I tore up the floor of Canterlot Palace itself. I knew that you couldn't have escaped Shining Armor's protective shield, and I was running out of places to look. There is a crystal mine underneath the palace, Twilight, abandoned for generations, and it was there, at two o'clock this morning, that I discovered the real Princess Cadence.”
Twilight felt her pupils dilate. Rainbow moved beside her, but it was Shining Armor's voice that protested: “You what?!”
“Needless to say, I was shocked to find a haggard mare claiming to be Princess Cadence underneath the palace when I knew that Cadence was currently pacing the floors of her bridal suite. A few careful questions, however, convinced me that this was the genuine article, and that the being we had known as Mi Amore Cadenza for the last several months was an imposter. A changeling, to be exact.”
Twilight couldn't speak, but Rainbow could. “You mean Twilight was right?!”
Celestia favored them with a complicated look. “I can't say what motivated you exactly, Twilight... but your instincts were certainly right. You realized there was something wrong with Cadence, when the rest of us were too quick to forgive. And so, thanks to you... Shining Armor was saved from marrying a changeling queen.”
Twilight was simultaneously aghast and relieved. “Did... did you capture her?”
Celestia nodded. “She had been pretending to mourn the abduction of her fiancé... a sentiment to which I had been very sympathetic. Warned as to her true nature, however, I was able to take her by surprise. She put up a surprisingly robust fight, but I defeated her in the end. We now have her safely in custody.”
This was insane. “But if there was no enchantment... if it really was just a healing spell I saw... then why was everyone else so quick to ignore her behavior?”
Rainbow Dash shrugged. Shining Armor swallowed and said nothing. Celestia looked far away and only spoke after a few seconds. “Have you ever been part of a wedding before, Twilight?”
“...No. No, never.”
“Well, some of us have,” said a new voice. It was Rarity―headed their way from a single-story building surrounded by black dirt. The others were behind her―Fluttershy, Applejack, Pinkie Pie and Spike.
Twilight broke into a grin. “It's so good to see you guys!”
Spike hurried from the back to be the first to hug her. “You left me behind!”
“I'm sorry, Spike. I didn't know what else to do! I hope they didn't treat you too badly.”
“Nah, I've got a bunch more interrogation techniques now, so I'm fine.”
“That's... good to hear,” said Twilight. She looked back to Rarity. “But what did you mean about weddings?”
“Why, darling, I simply mean that bumps in the road are to be expected! The bride can't be expected to have on her best face for the entire process, especially with her groom-to-be preoccupied.”
“You ain't kiddin',” agreed Applejack. “My cousin Caramel Apple was a real firebrand for weeks 'afore she got hitched. And I had to talk sense into her!”
Fluttershy nodded and spoke softly. “It was kind of like that when my mother remarried. It was like she wasn't herself for a while.”
“Well, I've helped cater a bunch of weddings!” added Pinkie Pie. “You wouldn't believe some of the chaos that goes down behind the scenes! And in front of the scenes! And sometimes even in the scenes!”
“Whereas I,” concluded Rarity, “assisted at numerous weddings as a decorator in fashion school. I can tell you, meltdowns and changes of temper were hardly uncommon. Mi Amore Cadenza may have turned out to be an ill-tempered queen of the changelings... but honestly speaking? As brides go, she wasn't all that bad.”
Pinkie and Applejack laughed a little at that, and Twilight found herself doing the same. “So that's all? The only reason I was convinced something was wrong was that I'm the only one who hadn't been involved in a wedding before?”
“Well, hopefully there was more to it than that,” said Rainbow. “But to be fair, I've never even been to a wedding before. I probably would've been just as dumb about it as you were.”
Twilight grimaced oddly. “So I did a horrible thing, but I'm forgiven because I got lucky?”
Celestia was beside her now, her voice softer than before. “You did a good thing, Twilight. You followed your heart, and your heart steered you well. Only... next time, please come to me first, all right?”
Twilight's grimace broke into a grin, and then a chuckle. “All right, princess. I promise.”
Shining Armor stood at Twilight's other side now. “Good. Because if Cadence is still willing... the real Cadence...” He pulled up his head and grinned, despite his exhaustion. “...then we've got a wedding to plan!”
They did indeed. And even if it suffered from a shortage of walls, and a complete deficiency of floors, it was a spectacular event. Rainbow Dash performed a sonic rainboom that cleared away numerous buildings destined for demolition. Pinkie invented a game in which the reception guests stacked loose bricks into towers and archways, and the DJ spun records from a crumbled bower that had until recently been a storage wing. And Twilight, still flooded with emotion, sang her heart out.
Afterwards, once the honeymoon carriage was out of sight, Twilight stood alone with Celestia in the twilight. Things were easier between them now.
“I think this one may go down in the history books as the Dirt Floor Wedding,” remarked Celestia lightly. “Would you agree?”
Twilight laughed. “I suppose, if that's the only way immortal princesses can remember it,” she joked.
“Well, weddings come and weddings go,” mused Celestia. “Every little detail helps to set them apart.”
Twilight nodded, looking over Equestria's capital city. It was true―Celestia, with Luna's help, had gone manically from place to place, excavating practically everything she found. She'd since told Twilight that making good with the residents and landowners was going to be very expensive.
“Were we really worth it?” wondered Twilight. “I mean... some of these buildings had stood for ages. Me and my brother... was it really worth destroying that much history, over us?”
Celestia stood silent for a few seconds. When she finally faced Twilight, her expression was deep, her eyes aglow. “I don't choose to feed your ego just now, Twilight Sparkle. Enjoy the reception.”
With that, the ruler of Equestria walked away, and Twilight was left alone with her amazed reflections, and with ruined Canterlot.
Celestia was beside her now, her voice softer than before. “You did a good thing, Twilight. You followed your heart, and your heart steered you well. Only... next time, please come to me first, all right?”
Twilight's grimace broke into a grin, and then a chuckle. “All right, princess. I promise.”