by Cynewulf

II. Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

Twilight laid back in her chair, stuffed. Celestia was on her third helping.

Twilight shook her head. Typical. She’d forgotten how much of an appetite an alicorn had. As a filly this had been a delightful discovery, and as a grown mare it was still rather amusing.

She was lost in thought when her teacher and liege coughed politely and drew Twilight back into the present.

“With us, Twilight?” she asked with a chuckle.

Twilight flushed. “Uh, yes, Your Highness. Sorry about that. I was just remembering when I was younger. Remember my first meal at the palace?”

Celestia appeared to ponder this and tapped her chin. “Do you mean the one right after your magical overload, when your parents insisted you eat to replenish your strength as I explained that you were going to be alright and also that they didn’t have to pay for any of the damage?”

Twilight thought she had been flushed before. She hid her face. “Princess…”

Celestia only laughed some more. “I know which you are referring to. Your first proper meal as my student! You were such a paradoxical little filly, Twilight. So shy, and yet so very eager. I would ask you about magic and you would explode with words, but on every other topic you were quiet as a mouse sneaking into the pantry.”

Twilight squirmed. “I was just… excited. And nervous. I wasn’t exactly used to talking to ponies, let alone princesses!”

Celestia let her laughter trail off and rested her head on one hoof and surveyed her otherwise empty dining table. “I am glad you are here, Twilight. I’ve missed your studious presence in these halls.” She straightened suddenly and took a deep breath. “Very glad. I hate to darken the mood, Twilight, but I did want to talk to you in private for a bit about something rather serious.”

The faithful student blinked and leaned in. “Is… is something wrong? Whatever it is, I can have the girls here in a few hours at most and we can--”

Celestia was already waving her assurances away. “No, no, nothing like that.”

“Then… then what?”

Celestia looked towards the double doors that were the main entrance to the dining room. A single unicorn guard stood raptly at attention beside them. She nodded at him, and Twilight turned to watch him step outside and close the door. It locked. The sound made her shiver.

“Princess… I’m a bit worried,” Twilight said. “Did I… Have I done something wrong?”

Celestia seemed startled, and then shook her head with a rueful smile. “No, not at all. I’m sorry, Twilight. I don’t mean to worry you, I just wish us to have some privacy. If anything, I’m very, very glad that you are here and that my sister requested that you accompany her. I was hoping she would take my advice.”

Twilight pursed her lips. “Your advice? Is she going somewhere dangerous? I thought she was just going to a parade in Lunangrad or something along those lines. Why would she need me?” Twilight chewed on her bottom lip. “I thought she just wanted some company, or that she wanted to get to know each other a little better.”

“Oh, she does.” Celestia beamed. “Luna has quite enjoyed your correspondence. She tells me you’ve begun playing chess through letters. Is that going well?”

There was a tension in the air even as Celestia smiled at her, one that Twilight was not sure she had ever felt in the presence of her mentor. It was not merely the tension of secrets about to be unveiled, though it had some of that flavor. The air felt thick with something sour.

“Yes,” Twilight said, trying to act as if she did not feel anything out of the ordinary. “She’s very good. She’s honestly better than I am by leagues, and when she gets back into the swing of things, I suspect I’m not going to be winning very many games. But it’s been a lot of fun.”

“I’m glad she’s found something to occupy herself. I’ve played a few games with her as well, when the day ends and my sister is bright and alert. She’s a rather aggressive player, by the by. She will almost always go for easy captures. Do take advantage of that,” Celestia added with a wink.

It did not dispel the cold iron in Twilight’s stomach. That had come to stay, it seemed.

“So… um, if I can ask…”

Celestia interrupted her. “What is it I’m concerned about? I know you can tell. I know that I’m probably radiating worry.”

Twilight cringed. “A bit.”

Celestia sighed and looked away, towards nothing at all on the far wall. “I’m sorry, Twilight. I truly am. You aren’t in danger. Not really. My sister will… will be safe, in a purely physical way.”

Celestia chuckled darkly. Twilight knew no other way to describe it but darkly.

There are moments when the world seems to not change so much as tilt. One stands as one always has, and yet the floor is different. The walls and the halls have rearranged themselves. The universe is no longer set properly, or with growing dismay the thought worms its way into one’s brain that perhaps it has always been thus. It has always been as it must be, and it was you who were not flush with the order of things, it was you who stood at the wrong angle and watched the plumb line lurch across the narrow stripe of your vision.

Twilight experienced this, and only barely did she suppress a shiver. “Physical?” she asked, probing for information even as some inner voice struggled to know less than it already had.

Indeed for a moment Twilight Sparkle was two mares. One pulled forward and wanted to dive deep into the troubled seas ahead. That Twilight wanted to know, and more than that to be within the inky uncertainty of whatever story was weaving itself around herself and Celestia and Luna even as she sat in the echoes of her mentor’s dying laughter. But the other? The other Twilight cringed back. She retreated. This other Twilight wanted as little as possible to do with possibility and the weight of what it brought.

“Yes. I seriously doubt that there is anything or anypony in Lunangrad who could harm my sister. It would take a few companies of rather determined ponies to do that,” the Princess said with a smirk. “You should have seen her in the past, Twilight. When we fought side by side, she was a terror. Her hammer held high, her eyes alight with…”

Celestia had been staring off into the distance, but shook herself and seemed confused for a moment before smiling sheepishly.

“Forgive me,” she said. “But yes, no danger. What do you know of Lunangrad, Twilight?”

Twilight shrugged. “Not much, unfortunately. I did my research, of course!”

“Of course.”

“But there just isn’t that much in the library in Ponyville. What I could find was annoyingly vague or downright ridiculous. What I could gather beyond the basics--location, climate, those sorts of things--is that it’s a different sort of place from the rest of Equestria.”

Celestia nodded. “That’s putting it mildly. It is a very, very old city.”

“How old? Older than Manehattan? Canterlot?”

“Older than both by far,” Celestia said. “I daresay it is older than most of Equestria. It is a city steeped in old traditions, and tinged with old faiths which exist now only as shadows. It has held empires at bay and turned monsters from its path, and yet few know anything about it except that the ponies there are tightlipped.” She smirked. “My little ponies, as much as I love them, are not always as inquisitive as perhaps they should be, Twilight.”

“What else can you tell me, Princess?” Twilight asked, and the mare within that wanted to know began to win the struggle. “Anything you think might be useful. I want to be helpful if I can, especially if there’s more to this whole visit than I know.”

The smirk died.

“Knowledge will not help you,” she said. “But I will answer in part. Much of it is not my tale to tell, my faithful student. The city was once independant, and when the principality was secure we invited them to join the united tribes. They refused, which I had expected, but then made a very odd request. Their messenger asked that my sister grace them with her presence. She accepted the invitation, and was gone for two weeks. When she returned… she brought the city’s allegiance, and a story which perhaps she will tell you.”


“One could say that it is Luna’s city more than Equestria’s. They were the last to accept her absence, and only surrendered to my rule when I went alone to speak to them. That particular tale I will not be telling. At least, not for some time.”

“Shouldn’t she be happy to see it? Do they still think of themselves as being her city?”

“Fervently so,” Celestia replied. “I am not unwelcome, entirely, but as soon as Luna returned…”

“Then it should be a wonderful reunion,” Twilight said a bit too quickly, grinning.

“For them, perhaps.”

Twilight groaned. “I don’t understand.”

“I know you don’t. I’m sorry.” Celestia reached across and touched her hoof. “Twilight, I cannot tell you why I am worried, and I am very sorry. It simply isn’t my place to explain this whole sordid affair to you. But my sister needs you. She does not need your brilliance, or your magic, or the Elements. She simply needs you. She needs a friend, somepony who can be there for her and remind her that at least one pony looks at her and sees somepony worth writing letters to and playing chess with. Does that make sense?”

Twilight hesitated. She nodded.

“I think so.”

“That’s all I can ask. Thank you.” Celestia leaned over and nuzzled her cheek. “Thank you,” she repeated, softer this time. “Please be for her what I cannot in this time.”

With that, the Princess pulled away. “She’ll be up soon, but as for now… Your rooms in the tower are still available for your use, if you wish them. I suggest you rest and prepare for my sister. She will be a bit on edge, no doubt, and you’ll want to have your wits about you tonight.”

Twilight nodded. She knew when she was being politely dismissed, and to be honest she needed to go quietly worry by herself for awhile.