Celestia’s pronouncement rang in the conference room for what felt like hours.
“So what do we do?” Raven asked, finally shattering the silence. Her eyes were down, staring at the picture of the supposed time travelers. “I’m sorry, I mean, what do you do? This is a bit beyond me, Princess.”
Celestia slowly shook her head. “There are ponies with a gift of time magic, but none come close to replicating Starswirl’s spell. The most they can ever do is a day.”
“Your Majesty, you’re the Princess of the Sun!” Raven protested. “You have to be able to do something.”
“The power to move the heavens does not give me the power to move the sands of time, Raven.”
“One of these ponies did it.” The desperation in Raven’s voice forced Celestia to swallow a lump in her throat. “You have all of Equestria available to you. You could assign the greatest minds to studying Starswirl’s spell and finding a way to—”
“No, Raven.” Celestia shook her head again, tapping the opening to the wormhole. “Time magic isn’t the only factor. Harmony magic was bound into that spell.”
“You’re talking about the Elements of Harmony, aren’t you?”
Celestia nodded, fighting back a tear. “Since... that night...” She composed herself. ”They have not responded to me. I cannot wield them. The only reason I could wield them in the manner which I did was because—” Celestia’s voice cracked. “—she had already abandoned everything they stood for. They were never meant to be used by a single pony, even one such as me. But even Harmony knew what would happen to the world if—”
Raven nodded, making it clear Celestia didn’t need to continue.
“There has to be something we can do,” Raven insisted.
“There is. We bait the trap.”
“The scroll containing Starswirl’s temporal research is currently locked away in one of Starswirl’s high-security workshops. The one connected to the central hourglass of the Starswirl the Bearded Wing. Tomorrow, I will have it moved to be placed in the Restricted Section.”
“But anypony could break in there if they tried hard enough, Princess.”
“Precisely.” Celestia nodded. “With the right wards in place, I will know the instant anypony attempts to enter. I’ll be able to instantly teleport inside and… handle matters from there.”
“But…” Raven frowned. “If that Twilight Sparkle didn’t have our Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark… it means that whoever took the scroll won’t necessarily take our version of the scroll…. right?”
Celestia beamed at her. “I’m impressed, Raven. Theoretical magical applications was never your strong suit.”
“I do my best,” Raven replied, holding her head. Celestia understood. She could feel a headache coming on herself.
“You’re right,” Celestia said with a shrug. “It may be pointless. But perhaps whoever stole it in the other timeline will attempt to do so here. It’s a long shot, but it’s the only precaution I can think of.”
“There is another,” Raven pointed out before hesitating. “You could investigate Twilight Sparkle.”
“That won’t be necessary. I made her my student alongside Sunset. I plan on keeping a very close eye on her. I know Sunset and Twilight now possess a powerful bond. I hope that bond leads them to simple friendship, for Sunset’s sake. Ironic that I tell Sunset to teach Twilight about friendship, while asking them to take it slow in their own personal relationship.”
“However, one thing is certain.” Celestia glared at the document. “I did see this report eight years ago. At the time, I had thought it to be little more than an elaborate hoax. It wouldn’t be the first time somepony has had photographic evidence of an alicorn who turned out to be a regular pony. But after seeing Twilight today... I was all but certain the alicorn in this picture was Twilight.”
“You knew this whole time?”
“I hoped I was wrong,” Celestia admitted. “I still wish I was.”
“What about the flying unicorn?”
“Send her picture quietly to the head of every Guard division in Equestria. I will not allow them to make this a ponyhunt. If anypony matching that description is discovered, I am to be notified immediately and the pony is to be monitored at a safe distance. I will handle the matter personally.”
“Princess… you sound more worried about Twilight than you do about the other unicorn. From their expressions—what I can make out at least—Twilight’s the one who’s upset, while the other one seems… happy?”
“I know,” Celestia admitted. “Apparently, Twilight is to become an alicorn.”
“Shouldn’t that make you happy?” Raven asked. “You were absolutely ecstatic when you discovered Cadance.”
“I know another alicorn will ascend soon,” Celestia muttered. “I’ve been working on it for over a decade.”
Raven’s eyes went wide. “I’m sorry, Princess. I had no idea that was—”
“Do not think too much of it,” Celestia replied. “That is my responsibility. I fear for Sunset should she ever learn of this. I fear it would drive her to rash action. She came so dangerously close to the abyss eight years ago. I… I can’t bear to lose her. Not only for my sake, but for the sake of Equestria… and most of all, for her sake.”
“Wait… eight years?” Raven looked at the date stamped at the top of the interview with Sunglint. “That’s…”
“I know,” Celestia admitted. “I fear something happened eight years ago in Cloudsdale and shifted things to put Twilight on the path to ascension instead of Sunset. I hold no ill will against Twilight, but at that time… Sunset was on the edge. If something had moved Sunset from the path I had set her on… it would have destroyed her.”
“I see,” Raven murmured.
Celestia didn’t need to say it twice. Raven had been there during that difficult period. She had seen what Sunset had almost become.
“Sunset cannot learn of this,” Celestia said. “Nor can Twilight. Not yet. Other matters must be handled first. You, more than any other pony, know what’s at stake.”
Raven nodded. “You have my word, Princess.”
“You didn’t even need to give it, my dear Raven,” Celestia said, reaching down to put a hoof on Raven’s shoulder. “But I thank you for being here for me. This was not something I wanted to face alone. I… I shouldn’t have had to. I was... never meant to.”
“And Harmony willing,” Raven said with an encouraging smile, “the day will soon come where you don’t have to.”
Celestia’s eyes fell once more upon the picture. “At least we can be confident in one thing.”
“What’s that, Your Majesty?”
Celestia lifted the photograph in her magic and held it before the two of them.
“If these two were involved in a plot to change history,” Celestia felt herself stand a little straighter. Now that she had shared the weight of the secret, she felt stronger, more alive. “Then this is their new timeline. When they return to whatever they consider to be the present, they’ll return to this timeline.”
Celestia’s horn flared as she let a little emotion through her mask. Just a little. The magical aura around the photograph became as the flames of the sun, though the photograph was not harmed. Still, Raven took a step back from the suddenly fire-wreathed picture.
“Whoever is responsible for threatening my little ponies will come to know the depths of their mistake. I am still Princess Celestia. While I may not control time, I will not allow somepony to ruin the lives of the ponies under my charge. When they appear, be it tomorrow or ten years from now, we will find them.”
“Princess… what do you intend to do?”
Celestia’s eyes narrowed in on the smug face of the flying pink unicorn.
“I will fix it.”