This was bad.
I paced around the library, trying to rationalize what I'd just read. Why would the princess want to see me alone? Was there some crisis in Canterlot? I took a panicked glance around the library's bookshelves, seeing if I had a reference guide that might help me on the subject. Come on, I had to have a copy of something! I knocked a few books off the shelves, searching for something I’d be able to use. Nothing! Nothing in D, nothing in P, nothing in R. Books, how could you fail me?
“Aw, come on, Twilight, I don't see what's so bad,” Spike said. “Princess Celestia just wants to see you!”
“Not bad? Are you kidding me, Spike?! This can only be bad. What if—” I paused for a moment, trying to come up with a possible explanation. “What if she's disappointed because I've been having my friends write all the friendship reports? What if she thinks I haven't been making enough friends? What if she—”
“Twilight, you'll be fine! Just relax; remember when you thought she was going to send you back to Magic Kindergarten?”
I shivered. The horrors I'd suffered in Magic Kindergarten were things I never wanted to repeat. I'd never forget how Moon Dancer humiliated me when she had set a whoopee cushion on my desk's seat. Nopony had believed me when I'd said it wasn't me, not even that nice colt Emerald Sky.
“Hm? What, Spike?”
“Still with me? You were spacing out there.”
“Oh. Sorry, Spike.” I grabbed the letter with my magic and read it again, trying to determine what horrible fate awaited me.
To my faithful student,
I realize that I already sent a reply to Fluttershy's latest report on the magic of friendship, but I wanted to write to you. Would you mind coming to Canterlot sometime soon? I need to speak to you.
“Oooh, this can't be good. Princess Celestia is never this curt!”
“Uh, well, maybe she just didn’t have much time to write it!” Spike reasoned. He looked a little worried now.
“And this writing doesn’t really look like hers either.”
“W-well, maybe she was dictating! I mean, you’ve got me, she’s probably got... someone to help write letters! Maybe Philomena does it! Yeah! That’s it.”
I gave him a skeptical glance. “A phoenix writing a letter, Spike?”
He folded his arms. “Hey, it could happen.”
After rolling my eyes, I stood at a desk, wondering what could have happened in Canterlot. What did the princess have to tell me that she couldn't write in a letter? Was it urgent? Should I take my friends, too? What if some emergency came up? No, wait, she'd said “some time soon”. But did that mean “soon” or “soon soon”?
“Huh? Um... yes, Spike?” I turned my head to see a very worried dragon staring at me.
“Were you talking to yourself?”
I blinked. “No! No, of course not.” I turned away. “Had I been talking to myself? I wouldn't talk to myself. I'm just worried about whatever I did to concern Princess Celestia, that's all. I mean, it's not like a word from her could ruin my future forever!” I laughed nervously. My right eye twitched involuntarily. “I’m not worried. Why would I be worried? That’s crazy talk, I don’t talk crazy.”
“It's late, okay? Get some sleep.”
“But I can't sleep now, Spike!” I cried and scampered up the stairs. “Even if I tried, I'd just ask myself, 'What did I do, Princess? What did I do? Am I not a good student anymore?' over and over and over again!”
Spike smacked a claw into his face in frustration. He didn’t seem to have any reply, so my mind started to wander. Was she just calling me to Canterlot to say that she was taking somepony else as her student? Was I worrying too much? I was worrying too much. I had to be worrying too much. Was I worrying too much about worrying too much?
Suddenly, Spike's unamused face filled my vision.
“Gahhh!” I shrieked, quickly backing up into my bedroom.
“Twilight, I'm worried about you. Just get some sleep, okay? Your two best assistants can hold down the fort!” He struck what he probably thought was a heroic pose as my favorite owl landed on the railing next to him.
I smiled. “Okay, Spike. Don't go getting tired yourself, now. That goes for you, too,” I added with a look at my number two assistant. With a yawn that I hadn't realized I'd been suppressing, I snuggled into bed.
I'd take care of everything tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.
My sleep wasn’t so good.
I woke up to Spike shaking me roughly and yelling, “Twilight! Twilight! You gotta get up!” He looked rather alert and alarmed for it being whatever time it was. Where did my clock go?
The room swam around me as I staggered to my hooves. “Spike? What time is it? What's going on?” My head turned as I tried to find that clock, taking a million years to focus on my end table.
“A chariot's here for you to take you to the castle! You gotta go!” He started pushing me towards the stairs as though every second counted, even though I hadn’t seen the time yet. Funny how strong the little guy could be when he needed to be.
“Oh, uh, okay,” I mumbled and stumbled down the stairs. For just a moment, three glittering pairs of orbs glinted behind the door to the basement, but when I looked again, all I saw was my darkened laboratory. Ugh, whatever. Just so long as I could go back to sleep. Where was that clock? I stopped to peer again, but Spike poked me.
“Come onnn, Twilight, it’s serious!”
For a moment, I thought I saw the eyes again. “Mnnh. Spike? Is somepony else here?”
“N-no! Now, come on! Princess Celestia needs you!” Spike shoved me out the door into the very bright morning sun, where two of the princess' guards were hitched to a chariot awaiting my arrival. I winced and squinted, trying to minimize my eye strain. Those two had to have been flying for hours to arrive in Ponyville, but they didn’t look tired at all. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t envy them at that moment. Some ponies could get up with the dawn, but I'd never been one of them.
I thought I heard a young filly’s voice whisper from inside the library, “Is it safe now, Spike?” but I was distracted by one of the guards addressing me.
“No baggage, Miss Sparkle?” He looked at me, puzzled.
“Nope, just me,” I murmured. I climbed into the chariot, settling down into a comfortable corner, and yawned. “Go ahead, sirs. I'll just be relaxing here.”
The guards chuckled. “Isn't it ironic that Princess Celestia's personal student isn't much of a morning pony?”
The chariot began to lift off. “Yeah, I'll say.”
I heard a strangely familiar, foallike chorus of “Yay!” carried on the wind from the library, but I was falling asleep again. I ignored the guards’ chatter and relaxed. The wind whipped through my coat and mane as I settled back down to ease my fatigue.
What felt like moments later, a hoof shook me awake. “Miss Sparkle? Miss Sparkle!”
My eyes shot open to see a concerned Royal Guard shaking me. “Whenever you're ready, Princess Celestia awaits.”
I blinked and picked myself off the chariot floor. “Wait, the... where am I?” The sunlight blinded me more than before, making me groan like a hungover pony. Sweet fragrances wafted in the air, plant life bloomed all around me, and birdsong filled the air. My eyes shrank in horror as I looked around at the familiar scene. Why was I in Canterlot's palace garden?!
“Miss Sparkle, are you feeling alright?”
“I'm in the palace. I'm in Canterlot.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Yes, ma'am.”
White-hot rage filled me. I had been hauled out of my warm, comfortable bed at some incredibly early hour, and Spike had just let me go without bringing anything? Without grooming myself? Without even eating breakfast?
The guard stared at me, even more puzzled. I took a moment to calm down, and, still panting, considered how I must have looked. My coat hadn’t been groomed, my mane was frazzled, and I had just been screaming at the heavens in anger. Anypony probably could have made the mistake of thinking I was some ill-bred foal that had broken into the gardens. Consider your image, Twilight!
“Oh, sorry about that. Where did the Princess say she’d be?” I asked, trying to look halfway normal. I probably failed.
The guard barely batted an eye, which spoke volumes on his professionalism. Come to think of it, he hadn't looked directly at me, either. “In her private chambers.”
“Oh. That’s weird. Well, thanks!” I quickly left the slightly bemused guard and hurried into the palace, trying to avoid odd looks from anypony. I would have hated for any of my former teachers or classmates to see me looking so disheveled.
In a few moments, I was able to duck into a washroom and make myself look slightly more presentable. It took far too much water and toweling, and I’m sure Rarity would have still gasped in horror if she’d seen me. A good shower and grooming would have made me look presentable, but I had to settle for a quick splash of water and using my magic to smooth my hairs. I looked at myself in a mirror, stared at my trying-way-too-hard-to-be-chipper expression, and sighed. Oh well. It wasn’t as though Princess Celestia hadn’t seen me in worse condition before.
What if Princess Celestia was disappointed I hadn't taken care of myself better? What if she got mad because I kept her waiting? I stood in the washroom door, agonizing, until a mare literally shoved her way past me, knocking me out the door and into a guard. The two of us went tumbling to the ground.
“A-ack! Guard down, guard down!” the guard squeaked.
With the world still spinning, I picked myself off my unwitting victim. “Sorry about that... somepony needs to learn some manners.” I shot a quick glare behind me, only to find that the stone walls were immune to my wrath. I exhaled in a hiss. Some ponies could be so rude.
Oh horseapples. Somepony recognized me. I turned around to see the guard, a white unicorn mare with a yellow mane and tail, was on her hooves. “Um, yes. And you are?” It would have been more than a little awkward to have wound up in such a heap with a stallion. At least one thing was going my way today.
She gave me a quick salute. “N-name's Hair Trigger, m-ma'am!”
“Hmm...” Come on, I knew this pony from somewhere.
“F-from Princess Celestia's—“
“—School for Gifted Unicorns! Of course!” Hair Trigger had been an easily spooked pony. To see her as a guard was puzzling, at best.
She took a step back. “Well, yes. I-I'm glad you remember. I-I've been instructed to take you to Princess Celestia, m—Twilight. Are you prepared?”
I snorted. “Do I look prepared, Trigger?”
“Nope.” She gave me a quizzical look, her green eyes flashing with an implied question.
I ignored it. “Oh, lead on. Wouldn't do to keep Princess Celestia waiting.”
We walked in silence for a bit. Every time I visited, I kept being amazed just how large the castle was—at times, I could have sworn it was larger than Canterlot itself.
“S-so Twilight, what have you been up to?” Hair Trigger kept her eyes forward, nodding to other guard ponies we passed.
“Oh, just more of my friendship studies. You know. I'm more interested in what you've been doing. I never expected to see you as a guard!”
She chuckled, and although I couldn’t see her face, I’m sure she was smiling. We kept a brisk pace. “W-well, I'm doing okay here. I meet lots of ponies, and I like that. Lately, though, something's been bothering me.”
I picked up speed so I was even with her. “Really? Is something wrong in the palace?”
Her mouth drew down slightly, and she glanced around the area with the eyes of a professional. Few other ponies were around except for other guards, as we'd gotten closer to Princess Celestia's chambers. There was a beautiful stained glass portrait of Princess Luna shifting the stars. Just to the left of it, a staircase led to one of the highest levels of the castle.
Suddenly, I felt myself grabbed by another pony's magic. I yelped, only to feel a hoof cover my mouth as I was pulled into the shadows of the stairs. I flailed wildly, striking somepony a few times.
“O-ow! Sheesh, Twilight.” Hair Trigger released her grip on me, and I fell a slight ways.
“Ooof! What was that about?” I hissed.
“Sorry. What I'm about to tell you can't be overheard.”
I leaned in, intent on being able to make out her every feature in the relative darkness. Finally, I would have a lead on why I was called here.
Hair Trigger backed up a few steps. “Y-your face is scary...”
I smacked a hoof into my face in frustration. “Just get on with it.”
She leaned in so closely I could feel her breath on my muzzle. “Well, you didn't hear this from me, but I think something's wrong with Her Highness.”
My pulse quickened and my eyes widened. This could not be good. “What is it? Tell me, quick!”
“W-well, she's been a bit reclusive lately, and Her Highness Luna has been taking on more and more of her duties.”
My tail twitched violently, knocking over an empty box. “So, you think Princess Celestia is reluctant to let her duties go?”
She shook her head as her ears flattened. “No, I don't think so. What's more is, some of the castle staff have gone missing for hours while at work, only to come back and, well, take a look at this.” She pulled a rolled-up magazine out of an inner pocket of her armor.
To my disgust, it was an issue of The Equestrian National News, a rumor-mongering tabloid. The cover showed a photo of Princess Celestia that was obviously magically altered: she had a creepy grin on her face as she loomed over a meek-looking earth pony mare in what looked like a seedy hotel. “What Goes On Behind Closed Doors! Our Royal Abuser?” the cover cried.
Hair Trigger shied away from my intense gaze. I grabbed the tabloid with my magic, rolled it up, and smacked her on the nose a little harder than I intended to. “To think you believed in this! I'm disappointed in you, Trigger.”
“I-I'm just saying...”
“My mentor would never do something like that. Now, if you wouldn't mind showing me to her chambers?”
As we walked out of the shadows, she muttered under her breath, “I'm just worried about you, Twilight.”
A few minutes later, we reached the door to Princess Celestia’s private chambers. A stern-faced unicorn stallion was on guard, and Hair Trigger went to join him on the opposite side of the door. To my surprise, Hair Trigger adopted the stone-faced look of the Royal Guards rather well.
In a voice that tried way too hard to be gruff, Hair Trigger said, “Princess Celestia is within, Miss Sparkle. Please proceed.”
“Uh, thank you.” I opened the doors to Princess Celestia’s breathtaking rooms beyond. My hooves sank into the plush carpeting, and on a nearby table, a few aromatic candles were burning, filling the room with a relaxing scent of vanilla. A fireplace burned, filling the room with a soft, inviting light; for some reason, the grand windows on one side of her bedroom were covered with curtains. Curious.
Even curiouser was that on a large wall just to the left of where I had entered, there was a wall covered with portraits of ponies. I could have sworn that it had never been there on the few occasions I’d entered this room. Most I recognized, like Star Swirl the Bearded and Clover the Clever, but others were less familiar to me. I turned my gaze away from the collage to see my mentor, sitting as radiant as ever in the center of the room atop a few very comfy-looking cushions in front of the fire.
“Ah, Twilight Sparkle, my faithful student. Please, come in.”
Nodding, I sat down next to her. I sighed deeply as I sank into the cushion. Luxury, although I didn't come across it often, was a nice thing. Somehow, I couldn’t find proper words to say as I relaxed, so instead, I let my gaze wander over to the wall of pictures.
“Noticed that collection of mine, have you?” Her soft voice put me further at ease.
“Yes, Princess. Who are all of these ponies?” With a start, I realized there was a picture of me on the wall.
“These, Twilight, are all the ponies I’ve known through the years. Some, like Star Swirl the Bearded, left their hoofprints on history.”
I turned in surprise to see that her ears had flattened and her gaze was lowered. Princess Celestia, sad?
A moment later, her expression was back to normal. “Others, like Vanilla Sprinkles, seem to have been forgotten.”
Vanilla Sprinkles. Vanilla Sprinkles? I scoured my memory for the name, but came up empty-hooved. “What did she do, Princess?”
“She was a most remarkable earth pony who tried to collect all the knowledge in Equestria into one set of books.”
I took in a hissed breath. “All the knowledge in Equestria? But that would take—”
“Years, yes. Still, she made it her life’s mission to write such a book.” The corner of her mouth twitched.
“I’ve never heard of such a book, Princess. Did she succeed?” I leaned in, intent on hearing more.
Again, that sorrowful look flashed across her face for just a moment, just long enough to make me wonder if I’d actually seen anything at all. “No. A fire claimed both her life and her life’s work.”
Time seemed to stop for a moment. A scholar who spent her whole life collecting knowledge, only to have it vanish? A tear fell from my eye, and I quickly wiped it away with a hoof, even though I knew Princess Celestia likely shared my sentiment. “Oh Princess, how horrible!”
If anything, Princess Celestia’s downcast eyes and small smile felt more for me than the memory of poor Vanilla. She reached over and gave my head a pat. “Indeed. I wish I would have kept a copy on hoof. I myself wrote some entries for her. After all, what better teacher for history than one who has lived it?”
“Well, Princess, I know there’s no better teacher for anything.”
“Why, thank you, Twilight.” She gave me a brief nuzzle, which I happily returned. “Now then, what was it you wanted to talk to me about?”
I blinked, confused. “Um.”
“I must admit, I was rather concerned when you sent that letter. Something must truly be troubling you if you needed to speak to me so urgently.” She smiled reassuringly. “Please, tell me what’s going on.”
Confusion plastered across my face like never before, I said, “Well, now I’m just not sure.”
She laughed, a beautiful sound that sounded sweeter than most music ponies could ever hope to make. “Oh, don’t be embarrassed, my prize student. I’m here for you.”
As happy as I was to hear that the princess supported me so, now I just wasn’t sure what to say. I sent a letter? I needed to talk? What was going on here? “Well, uh, Princess, you—” I trailed off, unsure how to continue. Had she forgotten sending me that letter?
“Um, it was you who sent me the letter.”
Now it was Princess Celestia’s turn to blink in confusion. “What?”
“Yes, Spike got a letter from you that said you needed to see me in Canterlot right away.”
“That’s strange.” She rose from her cushions and paced for a few moments. Bemusement played over her face as her mouth drew into a small frown. “I’m certain you had sent me a letter.”
Princess Celestia raised a hoof, silencing me. “Now, now, there’s a simple way to resolve this. I’ll see what I can find of that letter.” Her brow furrowed. “Although I’m certain you sent me the letter. It sounded a little hurried, for you.”
“Like something about the wording wasn’t quite right?” Gears began to turn in my head. Somepony—or rather, someone—was about to be in a lot of trouble if I was right.
She blinked. “Why yes, exactly! How did you know?”
“Something seemed weird about the letter I got from you, too. The writing wasn’t quite right, and it just didn’t seem like how you usually write your letters.”
A knowing smile crossed her face. “Curiouser and curiouser.” She trotted over to a large, ornate oak desk, which I suppose counted as her “office”. Just like the princess to mix business and pleasure a little. She floated various scrolls, some of which I recognized as my friendship reports, out from a neatly-ordered drawer.
“Ah, here it is,” she remarked as she unrolled a scroll in front of me.
Dear Princess Celestia,
A really super-big problem has come up, but I don’t feel okay talking about it in a letter. Could I come to Canterlot really soon and talk to you about it?
Your faithful student,
My brow furrowed. “That... doesn’t sound like me at all.” Worried, I rose from the cushions and began to pace back and forth.
“Oh, there was also this.” She floated another letter over.
Dear Princess Celestia,
I really, really need to see you. If it’s not too much to ask, could you have a chariot pick me up tomorrow? I really need to see you alone.
Your faithful student,
“Now that one really doesn’t sound like me. Who could have—” I stopped and turned to Princess Celestia with an unamused look on my face.
In contrast, she was pressing a hoof to her mouth, trying to hold in her chuckles. “Spike?”
“Spike. I knew something about the writing on yours looked strange. Well, I’m sorry that he caused so much trouble for you, Princess. I can’t believe he wrote fake letters to both of us!” I bowed to her.
“Oh, it’s not all bad, Twilight. I do enjoy a good joke, although I can’t say I approve of Spike acting in such a way.” Her tone was somewhat stern.
I gulped as feverish visions of Spike being banished from Equestria danced in my head. “P-please don’t be mad, Princess. I’m sure he didn’t realize how he inconvenienced us both. I-I’ll make sure that he understands that what he did was bad!”
She gave me that knowing smile again. “Twilight, I’m not angry with Spike. Actually, this is something of a happy coincidence. I had planned to come see you soon anyway.”
“O-oh?” Visions of me being banished from Equestria danced in my head. “Whatever for, Princess?”
She slowly moved in, her steps almost catlike. When she was close enough to tower over me, she leaned in, as though she didn’t want some invisible eavesdropper to overhear. “To tell the truth, I’ve been getting a little tired of all my royal duties. I miss the days when you were in Canterlot, my faithful student. Now, the perfect opportunity is here: Luna is covering for me today, so I thought you could just help me relax.”
That last word hit me like a brick. Relax? Hesitantly, I turned my gaze towards my mentor, whose face looked as serene as ever. My mind leapt back to the warning Hair Trigger had tried to give me. Relax? I gulped, hoping I’d just misinterpreted her, and tried to change the subject. “O-oh! Well, that sounds nice.” Come on, think! “S-say, Princess. Have you ever had any students besides me? I don’t think you’ve ever mentioned them!” I trotted over to her wall of pony pictures. “And I have to admit, I’m curious.”
Princess Celestia followed me closely. Her smile seemed almost bitter for a moment, but then she glanced back down at me, and there was nothing but affection on her face. “Well, there have been several ponies I’ve taken under my wings in the past like Vanilla Sprinkle, but nopony quite like you, Twilight Sparkle.” My heart skipped a beat. Wow.
Unable to contain myself at receiving such praise, I gave her a deep nuzzle. I heard her chuckle as I buried my face in her coat.
“Oh, Twilight...” I felt her hoof stroke my mane, and I felt at peace. Everything felt so right, somehow.
Moments later, my gurgling stomach ruined the moment. I pulled away from Princess Celestia’s sweet-smelling coat and chuckled. “I didn’t have breakfast this morning. Sorry.” I rubbed my forelegs together nervously.
“Well, that is easily fixed. Empty Glass!” she called towards the door.
Hair Trigger's comrade stuck his head in. “Yes, Your Highness?”
“Please have the kitchens send up a daffodil sandwich and some peppermint tea.”
I started. That was exactly what I was craving! How did she know that?
“Of course, Your Majesty.” He gave her a deep bow and left.
Princess Celestia looked back at me and smiled. “Your favorite, right?”
“Oh, yes, actually.” I hadn’t realized the princess had known that about me. I walked back over to the very comfy cushions and sat on them. “Although...”
Princess Celestia sat back down next to me as she floated over a few settings for tea. “Yes?” She gave me an expectant look. Did she want me to say something? Something specific?
“I don’t actually like peppermint tea that much.”
“Oh. Well, that’s for me, actually, but I do suggest you give it a try. It’s very good.”
“I see.” Now I wasn’t sure what to think. The thought of Princess Celestia getting bored of her royal duties hung over my head. How was I supposed to approach a topic like that? What could this mean for, well, all of us? How could I entertain Princess Celestia? I didn't exactly have a jester hat for a cutie mark. As I sat there in silence, trying to figure out what exactly Princess Celestia wanted me to do to help her relax, I felt her gaze on me. I flushed. Did she just want to chat over tea? Did she want me to tell some kind of joke? Did she want me to—oh no.
I looked up. Princess Celestia’s almost overly warm smile. Her gentle words. Her talk of “relaxing”. Hair Trigger's nervous words came back to me. No. It couldn't be, but this all seemed so suspicious, too convenient. I couldn’t help but wonder: Was I next? Could it be true?
Some of my discomfort must have shown, because Princess Celestia’s expression shifted into one of concern. “Twilight Sparkle? Are you feeling well? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“Oh, um, no. I’m fine, I’m fine.” There’s no way that could be it. No way at all.
“Oh, that’s good. I’d hate for you to feel bad before all our activities today. There's so much for us to do.”
I felt my pupils shrink as my mind went into panic mode. It was true! It was all true! Oh Celes—Luna, what was I going to do now?! My eyes darted around, taking in my surroundings. Only one exit, which would have guards directly outside. True, one of those ponies was Hair Trigger, but Luna only knows if she'd be brave enough to defy a direct order from Princess Celestia to subdue me. Probably not. Teleporting was out of the question: a magic-user as powerful as Princess Celestia would be able to read the traces of magic left behind and follow me. Maybe I could talk my way out?
“W-well, Princess, what did you have in mind? I mean, this is such a rare opportunity that we shouldn’t waste time.” I struggled to hold in a scream. Curse you, mouth: you’ve betrayed me!
“My thoughts exactly, Twilight Sparkle. There’s so much I’d like to do with you to relax.” Why did she keep using that word?
“Well, t-tea is a nice way to relax.” Yes. Good. Try to distract her. Talking is good. Talking keeps her mouth occupied.
“Oh, I don’t know, I was thinking something a bit more physical.” Why. “The gardens are lovely this time of year; I would love to show you a few beautiful little spots that most don’t get to explore.” Why? “We could be all alone out there, just you and I. Doesn’t that sound like fun?” Why?!
“P-Princess, I don’t know—”
“Oh, you’d rather we be in public?” Why?!
To my relief, my sandwich arrived. A maid pony poured us each a cup of tea, curtsied, and left. Eager to distract myself, I bit into the sandwich. A small moan escaped my throat. The kitchen staff always used the best ingredients! More than a few times after botching a culinary experiment, I’d longed for the food I had eaten as a student. It was good to have a taste of it again; even a simple flower sandwich tasted like heaven when prepared by the hooves of a master chef.
I realized that Princess Celestia was looking at me with an eyebrow arched. “Good sandwich?”
I swallowed the delicious morsel and nodded. “It’s fantastic!” I took a sip of the tea, only to frown.
“What’s wrong, Twilight?” she asked, her voice lilting a bit, as though she knew something I didn’t know. Had I fallen into a trap?
“This tea tastes kind of funny.”
“Oh, does it?” With horror, I noticed Princess Celestia hadn’t touched her cup of tea. Oh no.
“Yeah, kinda.” I yawned. No. No! Stay awake! Stay awake, Twilight! “Kinda like there was something else added to it.”
“Oh, those castle chefs, always experimenting. Does it taste good?”
“Yeah.” Even though I was having trouble keeping my eyelids open, I had to admit, the tea was tasty.
“Have some more tea, Twilight!”
I nodded, feeling my panic slip away as I sipped. Oh well. Although I’d never seen this side of her, I knew she’d be gentle with me. My eyes closed slowly as the warm tea ran down my throat.
A hoof shook me. “Why Twilight, are you tired?”
“H-huh?” My eyes shot open.
Princess Celestia, now taking a sip of her own tea, smiled. “Why, you looked almost ready to drift off! I hadn't realized the tea was that good.”
I blinked. Wait, wasn't she trying to knock me out? Was this just another trick? What was she up to? Maybe she was just trying to gain my trust. I had to be cautious.
I said nothing and sipped the tea again. To my surprise, I now identified the taste as an exotic variety of honey. Had I really been so tired that I'd mistaken a sweetener for a knockout drug? No. It had to be another trick; it had to be.
“In any case, Twilight, how do you feel about croquet?”
I tensed; was “croquet” some kind of euphemism? What could she mean? My eyes flicked around. There had to be an escape route somewhere!
“Twilight? Is something wrong?”
She was on to me. I had to act, fast. Finally, I spotted a small door—maybe a closet, maybe another exit—on the far end of the room. Depending on the element of surprise, I jumped up and teleported across the room in midair. I burst through the door, only to feel my heart sink.
It was a closet. I had pinned all my hopes of escape on a closet.
Through the dark and musty air, I spotted a small stack of paper. My natural curiosity managed to overpower my sense of caution; forgetting about the predator behind me, I levitated one of the scraps of paper close to my face to try to read it, using the illumination from my horn as a reading light. I ignored my mind's screams to keep running. If I was doomed anyway, I might as well have something to distract myself with.
The piece of paper in question was an ancient letter; I was amazed that my breath didn't make the yellowed parchment crumble. It was written in an older Equestrian script, but I managed to make it out.
Dear Princess Celestia,
My name is Sunbeam.. Thank you so much for helping me today. I was really confused about all the stuff that my teacher was saying when we took the tour of the castle, but you were so nice and explained when Miss Flowerpot wouldn't! Thanks for being such a nice Princess!
Somehow, reading the simple, childish letter made me calm down. What had I been thinking? She was Princess Celestia, my mentor. She'd never do anything like what that tabloid had said. My quivering body began to calm, even as I heard the princess' breath not far behind me.
“A nice letter, isn't it?”
As I turned to face her, I could see her eyes seemed to be staring past me, whether to the small stack of letters or something beyond.
Gesturing to the closet, I asked, “Princess... what is this?”
“It's a small collection of letters that are very dear to me. You see, most ponies, when they look at me, see only a princess, not a pony. These letters are the letters from ponies that seemed to appreciate who, rather than what, I was.”
With sympathy, I looked up at my teacher. “Oh, Princess...”
“That's why I wanted you here, Twilight. You're my faithful student.” She gave me a nuzzle, which I didn't return, but I didn't pull away either. I was frozen from nervousness, and from the weight of what she was confessing. “You see more of me than most do. I thought it would be nice for us to spend a day, not as student and teacher, but just as friends.”
“For someone who teaches ponies about the magic of friendship, you don't seem to have many friends yourself,” I remarked, instantly regretting my words.
To my surprise, she only smiled. “It is rather ironic, isn't it? Now come, let's move someplace a bit more comfortable than this lonely old closet.” We both walked out of her underutilized closet to the bedroom beyond.
“Uh, I was thinking, Princess...”
“I'd be honored if some of my friendship reports someday made it into that pile.”
She smiled as we sat on a pair of cushions, her gratitude for my remark clear in her radiant face. “Well, while we wait... why were you so concerned earlier, my faithful student?”
“Er...” I couldn't very well tell her the real reason, but it didn't feel right to lie to her after she'd been so honest with me.
Her grin widened. I guess she'd seen right through me. “Ahh, been reading a few too many tabloids during your free time? Been taking a few unsavory rumors to heart?”
I yelped. “N-no, of c-course not, Princess!” I knew my flushed face gave it away; I may not have been the Element of Honesty, but I was a poor liar.
To my surprise, not only did the twinkle in Princess Celestia's eyes tell me she'd seen through me, but also that it amused her. Drawing closer, she asked in a low tone, “Part of you thought that?”
I closed my eyes and nodded. Face the executioner with dignity, Twilight. No tears. Come on.
“Maybe even wanted that?” Her tone was downright unsettling, her hot breath on my muzzle electrifying. I shivered. Was it possible? Had some part of me been eager to share in the fate of that pony on the cover of The Equestrian National News? My burning cheeks told me all I needed to know. There was no time to feel ashamed of myself. I sat, awaiting my fate, only to feel Princess Celestia blow into my ear.
Yelping, I jumped, my eyes widening in surprise. “P-Princess?”
She grinned, holding back gales of laughter at how I’d mistook her intentions. “What did you expect?”
I was going to be in trouble.
“Bye, Spike,” Sweetie Belle muttered as the Cutie Mark Crusaders filed out of the library and into the night. They all looked thoroughly dejected as their heads and ears drooped.
I summoned up the energy to wave good-bye as they left. I wasn’t surprised that they hadn’t gotten their “Cutie Mark Crusader Interior Decorator” cutie marks. Their attempts had, of course, left the library a mess. Paint was all over the walls. Books were piled into haphazard mounds in an attempt to give the room “feng shoes”, as Apple Bloom had called it. The floor was covered with random paint blotches, the result of Scootaloo leaping off bookshelves and dumping paint wherever she landed, in an attempt to make decorating “more awesomer”.
I looked over at the still-bulging sack of gemstones Sweetie Belle had rewarded me with. A whole bag of jewels from Rarity! I rolled over, feeling all the gemstones I’d already eaten shift in my stomach as I gave the bag a big hug. I didn’t care what happened. I had presents from Rarity, and so the world was okay. I snuggled against the bag, thinking that I could start cleaning up the library in the morning. I was much too full to start now.
With a shudder, I tried to not think about what Twilight would think once she saw the state the library was in. She didn’t exactly have me keep everything perfectly clean, but all the random, knee-high to most ponies paint jobs on the walls would make even her uneasy. I could only imagine my sweet Rarity shrieking in horror at it.
I stood up. Even if she wasn’t here, I couldn’t let her see I had somehow been a part of this! I wobbled over, determined to clean the walls and the floors, and promptly fell over. I groaned. Whatever: the library could wait until tomorrow. Luckily, Twilight had spent all day in Canterlot. I hadn't expected the Cutie Mark Crusaders to spend so much time in the library; usually they were so all over the place that I had thought that they’d get bored faster. Still, I knew I needed to clean up.
I tried to get up, only to write it off as useless. Eh, sleep time. I pulled over my bag of delicious, precious jewels from Rarity and laid my head against it. I wondered: was this how every dragon felt about their horde? True, I only had one bag, but the source meant that it meant more to me than all the riches in the world.
Suddenly, a sharp bang from behind me made me roll over. I was just about to fall asleep, t—oh crap.
Twilight Sparkle stood, glaring at me with hydra eyes. “Hi, Spike! Mind explaining to me what the hay just happened today?”
“U-uh, well, you see, Twilight, it was all a joke! Just a joke!”
“Just a joke, Spike?” Twilight walked over and put her own face inches from mine. “Just a joke?! Do you have any idea what I went through today?” Her face looked about as cheerful as a manitcore’s.
I gasped. “Oh no! Was that story actually true?!”
Her anger melted into confusion. “Huh?”
“Hold on a sec!” I lurched over to my copy of The Equestrian National News and held it out for her to see. Princess Celestia looked downright creepy in that picture, but I just felt sorry for the poor pony she was with.
Twilight burst out laughing. “Oh, no, Spike, nothing like that!” Just when I thought I was about to be off the hook, Twilight's ears flattened. “I do expect a good explanation for all this, though. For that matter, why do you have a copy of that?”
“I have a subscription! As for the library: I, um, well, you see...” I tried to scoot in front of the bag of gems, but Twilight’s eyes sparkled.
“Aha!” she cried, pouncing at the bag, only to grab it with her magic. She floated it over and regarded it with the careful eye of an academic pony. “What is this, Spike?”
“I, uh, well, you see, Rarity had me watch—”
Twilight opened it, and a small note fluttered out. I covered my face with my claws; I couldn’t bear to watch.
“Spike: thanks so much for letting us be ‘Cutie Mark Crusader Interior Decorators’. Have these gems from my sister that I definitely didn’t borrow from her without asking. Signed, Sweetie Belle.” Twilight walked over to me. “Spike. Those three did all this?”
“I was gonna clean it up, honest!” I gave her my best pleading look.
Twilight sighed and massaged her head with a hoof. “Fine. I’m just glad all the books are okay. It’s been a long day, Spike. Let’s just talk about this in the morning.”
“Are you sure you're okay? I mean, that article made Princess Celestia's palace sound like a pretty dangerous place to be these days!”
She giggled as she climbed the stairs. “Oh, Spike. You can't believe everything you read!”
I started up the stairs after her. “Huh. Never thought I'd hear you say that.”