Little Fragments

by Skijarama

Two Suns

Two weeks before the start of Little Glimpses…

    Princess Celestia watched with a small smile as the young filly named Twilight Sparkle rocketed from her place by her side on the fire-side cushion. She all but sprinted out of Celestia’s personal bed chambers and turned to head down the hall, ready to return to her own room and begin on her homework for the week.

Before disappearing from view, though, she slid to a halt a few paces out of the door. Her muzzle scrunched up, and she spun around on her hooves to bow deeply before the princess of the sun. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Princess Celestia!” she announced with her head down. “Good night!”

    Celestia stifled a laugh behind her hoof, then gave a sage nod. “So you will. Go on, now. Get some rest. I have to lower the sun,” she responded before rising to her hooves. She watched as Twilight gave a sharp nod, then turned and disappeared into the halls. The echoing of her hooves on the floor grew distant, then faded away into silence.

    A few seconds later, a white-furred face framed by a golden helmet leaned into view from next to the door. “Should I go with her, your highness?” the guard asked in a gravelly voice, his eyes briefly flicking down the hall that Twilight disappeared down.

    Celestia just shook her head. “That won’t be necessary. She knows the way by now,” she said before stretching her back and wings, both having gone stiff after almost three hours spent sitting in one spot and going through the filly’s notes. Her back and shoulders let off a few deeply satisfying pops before she straightened out. “Now, I ask that you leave me to my privacy for now. Do not disturb me unless it is an emergency, understood?”

    The guard bowed his head respectfully. “As you command, your highness.”

    “Thank you.”

With that, Celestia used her magic to close the door of her room, leaving her well and truly alone. She stood there for a few moments, the only sound being the snapping and popping of the fireplace that burned not far away from her. The flickering orange light it emitted would be very welcome once the darkness of the night set in.

With a sigh, Celestia turned and lightly pushed open the balcony windows of her room with her magic, allowing the rapidly cooling air to wash over her. She stepped out and took in a long, deep breath through her nose before letting it out through her mouth. Her eyes lazily scanned over the great city of Canterlot below her.

Gazing down into the streets, she spied several ponies going about their days in the waning evening light. Many were talking to friends and neighbors as they came home from work. Others were closing up shop or stepping in for night shifts. Still more were heading out for a late night drink or meal at one of the city’s many fine establishments.

Then, Celestia turned her gaze to stare intently at the distant horizon. The sun rested there, just at the edge, ready to begin its final descent to make way for the night. And so Celestia’s horn lit up with golden light. She reached out, feeling for the specific signature of the distant and enormous mass. Soon, she found it, and began to lower it down below the horizon.

All the while, her eyes would occasionally flick down to the ponies in the streets.

So many of them were friends with one another. She could tell from the way they waved at one another, their body language as they made their way down the streets. It was a truly heartwarming sight. But as the moon rose, and the Mare in The Moon glared angrily back at her from so far away, Celestia’s heart felt anything but warm.

She was running out of time.

Nightmare Moon would only be imprisoned for so long. Celestia knew all too well what would happen in barely eight more years. Nightmare Moon would be released from her thousand-year prison, and then who knew the damage she would cause? Celestia could only imagine...

And with her link to the elements growing weaker day by day, she knew it would not be within her power to stop the Fallen Alicorn. That responsibility would have to fall on others. Celestia bit her lip and looked solemnly down at her hooves as she gave that matter some thought.

She released her hold on the celestial objects after a few minutes, allowing the moon’s momentum to carry it across the heavens. She would not need to attend to either it or the sun until it was time for sunrise.

That was the last thing on her mind, though. Celestia slowly shook her head and gazed up at the moon again, regret and longing in her eyes. “...Oh, sister… Lulu… I wish you were here,” she whispered quietly to herself, although she hoped and wished with all of her heart that her sister could hear her. “And I hope you can forgive me…”

There was no response, of course. The Mare in The Moon was as static as ever, glaring with nothing but vitriol and resentment back into Celestia’s very soul. She tore her eyes away from the depressing reminder of her past failures and instead focused on the streets again. Already, the ponies below were heading back into their homes, preparing to go to bed for the night.

“The Elements of Harmony are powerful…” she whispered to herself. “But they cannot be wielded properly by only one pony… Twilight needs friends if she’s going to be able to stop Nightmare Moon…” her expression almost became frustrated as she thought back on her student. “But she’s so closed off… who knows how many friends she could have made by now if she had just opened up? I need to find some way to get her to put the books aside and talk to some of the other foals…”

She began to pace back and forth as she talked to herself, tuning the rest of the world out as she did so. “Hmmmm. Maybe… maybe I could close the library for the day? Or, maybe I could throw a party in the courtyard? She’d have to interact with other ponies, then…”

For almost a solid minute this continued before Celestia came to a stop and put a hoof to her chin. She then gazed up at the Mare in The Moon, a thought occurring to her.

But before she could open her mouth and speak of it, something happened.

A deep, heavy boom sounded somewhere deep in her skull, and her vision distorted. The sounds of the mountainous winds and the distant chirps of crickets became hazy and muffled, and all sensation in her body became dulled and numb. An impossible weight began to pool inside of Celestia’s legs, as if someone had filled them with solid bricks of cast iron.

As her eyes went wide in shock, her heart began to beat frantically against her ribs. It was impossible to focus her vision, and the world began to spin and become murky. “Wha… what…?” she choked out, though it was almost impossible to speak through the sensations, and she couldn’t even hear the words through the steadily growing ringing in her ears.

She fell heavily to her haunches, her mind racing with panic as white tendrils began to appear and lick at the edges of her vision. Her breath was starting to come in heavier and heavier gasps. She was only just able to lift her gaze to meet that of the Mare in The Moon again.

Then, with a sharp gasp, her forelegs flew up to cover her eyes, and her world was flooded with blinding white.

    She was pacing in the throne room of Canterlot Castle, furiously muttering to herself in anxiety. Her hooves twitched with every nervous step she took, and her wings routinely ruffled at her sides. She spun around and began to make her way back the way she had come, more words slipping out of her throat with seemingly no end.
    “But Ponyville is so far away from here…!” she stated in a jittery and almost fantic voice. “It’s all the way down the mountain. And I wouldn’t be there to make sure everything went well. And the Everfree Forest is right there, and that’s where the Elements are!”

    “What am I seeing?” Princess Celestia asked herself as she watched this strange vision unfold, seeing the world through the eyes of herself. But she was not in control of her own actions, only able to watch and listen as the other continued to pace back and forth across the marble floor.

    “The forest and castle are filled with dangerous monsters. And what if those rumors of dark magic still being in the castle are true?!” Celestia’s eyes went wide as that horrible thought occurred to her, and her muscles stiffened even as she paced.

“And she’ll have to go through the forest to even get there! What if she runs into a manticore? Or what if she gets pulled into Tartarus? Or worst of all…” she came to a stop in the dead center of the hallway, her hoof flying up to her chattering teeth. “What if she doesn’t get along with anypony?!”

    While she stood there, petrified and shaking with an overwhelming anxiety, two guards who stood by her throne could be seen. Celestia just caught them muttering to each other.

    “Are we supposed to say something?”

    “I don’t think so.”

    The vision suddenly went still. Celestia, if she had control over her eyelids, would have blinked in confusion. Several seconds passed in silence. Suddenly, there was a sound like cracking glass, and her vision shattered as if it were a window.

    Celestia gave a sharp gasp of shock as reality came rushing back to meet her. She swayed in her sitting position, then threw out her forelegs to catch herself. She remained still for several moments, desperately sucking in lungfuls of air to calm herself down. Eventually, she was able to relax and catch her breath.

She slowly rose to her hooves, and one of them flew up to try and quell the rapidly flaring pain in her skull. She spent almost a solid minute there, just waiting for the pain in her head and the frantic beating of her heart to die down. At last, though, they did, and she allowed herself to quietly sigh in relief as she began to feel normal again.

    She then turned to gaze up at the moon, and her expression formed into a frown. “What… was that?” she asked quietly.

    But of course, just like always, the silent stare of the moon held no answers.

    Celestia sighed and shook her head before turning to head back into her room. A breathy chuckle slipped out of her. Perhaps she was just stressing herself out over Twilight’s future too much. The chuckle quickly petered out into a thoughtful hum as she gave it some more thought. In all of the years of her life, she had never once heard of or experienced stress-induced hallucinations that looked or felt anything like that.

    It was a rare thing, and an occurrence that had not transpired since before she was forced to banish Luna, but maybe it was a vision of some kind? But if it was a vision, what could it have meant? In the past, such things had been instinctual warnings of looming threats...

    With that troubling thought in her mind, Celestia nestled down under the blankets of her bed, closed her eyes, and fell asleep.

    She did not dream that night...

    Something was wrong.

    Princess Celestia opened her eyes with a sharp intake of breath through her nose. Her eyes darted from side to side as she studied her surroundings, and her brow furrowed at what she saw. A wary and cautious frown spread on her face, and she lifted her head to get a better look.

She was no longer in her bed in her personal chambers. Instead, she found herself resting in the center of some kind of platform made out of purple crystals that reached for about fifteen feet in every direction. Beyond the uneven and jagged edge of the platform, a white void stretched on for as far as the eye could see.

    With her ears standing at attention and listening intently for anything that might be a threat, Celestia stood up. Her bare hooves clacked gently against the cool crystal, letting her know that her crown, horseshoes and regalia were not on her body. Frowning, she slowly turned in place, trying to find something of note in the abyss.

    Then she saw it.

    High above her and completely unfathomable in scale, was a long current of energy comprised of all the colors of the rainbow. It gently danced and undulated in slow motion, and when Celestia looked closer, she realized it was made up of literally countless smaller threads of light.

With her jaw hanging open in mystified wonder, Celestia traced the current with her eyes for a time, following it until she saw its end. When she found it, her jaw clamped shut and her eyes narrowed in confusion.

    The current was getting longer. The current was extending at its farthest point, as if a river that had long been dammed was now flowing free again. Looking beyond the break, Celestia could just make out a few dull wisps that looked to be steadily fading away into nothing.

    “Can you hear me?” A regal and feminine voice spoke from behind her, echoing in the abyss. Celestia spun on her hooves, her wings flaring open defensively and her horn igniting with golden light. There was nopony there, however.

    Celestia scowled, folded her wings at her side, and looked around again. “Who’s there?! Show yourself!” she called out, her heart rate starting to accelerate.

    She slowly turned in place, eyes peeled for the speaker. She then held still when she saw several of the small threads from the greater current overhead drifting down for the platform she stood on. She took a few steps back, her eyes tracking the wisps cautiously and her horn ready to fire off a spell at a moment’s notice.

    The energy gathered together in front of her, each wisp weaving and sewing together until they assumed a form vaguely shaped like a pony. Their light pulsed and grew many times over in intensity, forcing Celestia to squint and look away. It then dimmed and faded, and Celestia turned to look again.

The light had assumed a fully physical form now, and as she looked upon it, Celestia’s eyes went wide. She took a shocked step back, and began to uselessly mouth like a fish as she desperately tried to find her voice. Nothing came though, and all she could do was stare in abject confusion at the creature before her.

    The other pony… it was her. Another Princess Celestia stood directly before her, although the doppelganger was still clad in her royal attire. She had her eyes closed, and a gentle golden glow was steadily fading from her horn. The double then opened her eyes, and looked deep into Celestia’s.

    She couldn’t help but wince. There was something deeply unsettling about staring into her own eyes. It wasn’t anything at all like looking into a mirror, as the reflection was flipped. Here, though…

    Celestia forced down her anxiety and straightened her posture. “What is happening?” she requested sharply while her wings once again opened up in a defensive posture.

    The other Celestia hesitated for a moment at the display, as if she were trying to think of how best to answer the question. Eventually, though, she straightened her posture, cleared her throat, and spoke in a calm and diplomatic tone. “Don’t worry, I’m not here to harm you. I apologize for my sudden appearance; you must be terribly confused. But I must speak with you at once; it is urgent.”

    Urgent? Celestia narrowed her eyes. “How come?” she shot back, taking a few steps to the side while watching her doppleganger like a hawk.

Celestia’s double sighed and slowly shook her head. ”It is a very long and complicated story, and-”

    Celestia huffed dismissively. “Long and complicated stories are something I am intimately acquainted with,” she countered while slowly folding her wings back up at her sides. “Now tell me who you are, why you’re here, where here is, and why you look exactly like me.”

    Celestia’s double blinked at that, before chuckling merrily in amusement. Celestia shifted back a few inches at the sound, her mind continuing to reel from just how off-putting it was to be speaking with another one of herself.

    After a moment, her double sobered up and spoke again. “I suppose you are right on that. I am sorry; I guess it just hasn’t hit me yet that I am speaking to myself,” she said in a wistful, almost nostalgic voice. She lifted her gaze and met Celestia’s eye directly.

    Celestia shifted on her hooves, one eyebrow flying up to disappear beneath her flowing mane. “I beg your pardon? Speaking to yourself?”

    Her double nodded slowly, and her expression became far more serious. “Yes… I am you. More specifically, I am you from about twelve years in the future,” she explained without a hint of hesitation or mirth.

    Celestia’s eyebrow was quickly joined by its twin, and her mind was sent reeling. The future? How? It was true that there was a time travel spell, Celestia knew. After all, it was kept in the palace archives and under heavy watch, just like all of Starswirl The Bearded’s works. But that spell could only send somepony back about a week, and only for a few minutes. There was no way that this mare before her could be telling the truth. And yet…

    As Celestia looked at her double, and her mind adjusted to seeing itself without being flipped by a mirror, she found she was unwilling, perhaps even unable, to doubt the other alicorn...

When she noticed how thick the silence had become, Celestia shook herself and straightened her posture, regaining some of her fleeting composure. “...How? How did you come back here? And more importantly, why?” she asked carefully, still trying to be skeptical, despite her instincts telling her that she was not being lied to.

    “It’s probably because, if this mare is me from the future,” she thought to herself. “Then we are both the same pony. And on some level… we know it.”

    Her double quietly sighed at Celestia’s questions, and turned to gaze back up to the prismatic current. Her posture sagged with regret, and her ears drooped. “...I’m contacting you from my time using a somewhat modified version of the spell invented by Starswirl. The closed-loop failsafe has been removed for the sake of making this meeting possible.”

    Celestia frowned and took a few steps forward, her own eyes locking onto the current high above their heads. “You are using the power of my…” she paused, and couldn’t help the tiny smirk that formed on her face. “I mean, ‘our’ teacher to contact me… Very well,” she turned her gaze to her double, once more becoming serious. “But that does not explain why you are doing so.”

    Her double was quiet for a moment, continuing to stare wistfully at the distant light as she pondered her response. She then lowered her eyes and spoke in a resigned tone. “As I said, it is a long story, and I am not sure how much time I have to speak with you.”

    “Then be concise,” Celestia suggested plainly.

Her double huffed quietly in acknowledgement. ”Very well. A few days ago, from my perspective, a powerful unicorn named Starlight Glimmer traveled back into the past to the time and place of the Sonic Rainboom. She was trying to get revenge on Princess Twilight and the other wielders of the Elements by undoing their entire lives. To do this, she had to prevent the Rainboom from ever happening. It was the key event that brought them together, you see.”

Celestia’s brain stalled for a moment as her counterpart spoke. She turned to look at her with her ears standing upright and her eyes wide. “Wait, hold on,” she interrupted abruptly, drawing a confused glance from her future self.

Celestia swallowed a lump in her throat and spoke again. “Did you say… Princess Twilight?” she asked in a hushed voice, the image of a grown up lavender alicorn filling her mind.

Her double blinked in surprise, then gave a quiet and heartfelt titter. “Oh, yes. I suppose that her ascension is still a long ways away for you, isn’t it?”

“She passed her tests?” Celestia pressed, unable to keep the eagerness and hope out of her voice. “She made friends? Awoke the elements?”

Her double’s smile only grew in size, and again, she nodded. “Yes, she did. She did everything right. She is now the Princess of Friendship, and she has done many great things over the last few years…”

Celestia leaned forward, taking a few excited steps towards her double. “Please, tell me! What all has she-”

“I can’t,” her double suddenly cut her off, her tone regretful and her posture moreso. She met Celestia’s gaze and slowly shook her head. “I cannot tell you anything more about the future. The more you know, the greater the risk of the changes growing larger and harder to contain.”

Celestia froze in place, feeling like she had just crashed muzzle first into a brick wall at the end of a very long and exhilarating slide. She took a few steps back and gave a grim nod. “I see… fine, then…”

“I am sorry,” her double apologized weakly before looking back up at the current. “As I was saying… Princess Twilight followed Starlight Glimmer into the past, and did everything she could to put things right. The two of them visited many alternate times in the process, each of them one where the Sonic Rainboom had never happened. They were not overwritten in those alternate times, however. Twilight believes that the Tree of Harmony knew that something was wrong, and used what power it had to preserve the time travelers so they could put things back into order.”

Celestia’s brow furrowed in thought as she heard this. “The Sonic Rainboom… I believe that happened a little over two months ago…” she mused quietly before her double continued.

    “Good, that means that the destinies of the future Elements are set,” she said, a notable hint of relief in her voice. She lowered her gaze from the current to look at Celestia again.

“Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of ours…”

“What do you mean?”

Celestia’s double visibly wilted before continuing. “Twilight and Starlight came back to our time a few days ago, reporting that the Rainboom had gone uninterrupted, and that all should be back to normal. But…” Celestia’s double slowly lifted her gaze to meet hers, and Celestia froze. The sheer hopelessness in those eyes… it was enough to make her take a few steps back.

Her double continued. “Many of my subjects began to report two sets of memories in their minds. Two lives. And at night, if we look up, we can see the heavens themselves breaking apart and tearing open… and through the gaps, we can see this place,” she gestured up at the void and the current of energy that wound through it.

    Celestia looked at her other self curiously. She took a few moments to wrap her head around everything she was hearing, then cleared her throat. “And… what is this place?” she questioned before her eyes locked onto the current again. “I have never seen anything quite like it.”

    “Our best guess is that this is the flow of time itself. Or rather, what is,” she gestured with a hoof at the current above their heads. “And what could be,” she then gestured more widely at the empty abyss that surrounded them.

    Celestia’s eyes widened somewhat. Her jaw wanted so very much to drop open again, and she found herself unable to stop it as she stared with newfound wonder at the light. “So… I’m looking at all of time?” she whispered slowly.

    “To be more accurate, you’re looking at it in its current state,” her double gently corrected before pointing at where the current ended. “And right now... it is broken. The current is not supposed to end there. That is where the Rainboom happened. My time is supposed to extend well beyond that…”

She then pointed towards the wispy light that was drifting and fading away, and Celestia could see now that it had been cut away from the rest of the current.

Her double continued. “But my time is dissolving, and yours is now forming to replace it. History is taking a new direction, the river is finding a new path to flow down…” she set her hoof down and looked helplessly at Celestia. “The pages are being rewritten.”

    Celestia blinked and looked at her double again in shock. “What? But, I thought that Princess Twilight had put things back to normal!”

    “So we thought…” Her double muttered in a quiet and defeated voice, her ears drooping. “But neither she or Starlight thought to consider the small changes. Something as insignificant as a cloud being moved even one or two inches could, in the long term, have colossal ramifications. Something changed while they were there, no doubt caused by their presence, but it was not a large enough change to prevent the Rainboom.”

    “But what about Twilight and Starlight? Can’t they go back and try to put things right again?!” Celestia tried, her voice growing in volume. “They went back before, what’s stopping them now?”

    “Our existence is ephemeral,” Her double replied in barely even a whisper. “Right now, we are existing in a dissolving world that may only last for another few days from our perspective. We don’t have a strong enough place as we are to go back again. And even if they did, what would Starlight and Twilight even be able to do? They have no idea what changed, and in trying to put things right, may only make them worse. Besides, the scroll that housed the spell was pulled into the abyss upon their return. We cannot use that version of it again.”

    She turned back to Celestia, her expression hardening with conviction. “We are fading, and there is nothing we can do to prevent it. All we can do is reach out and make sure that our new selves are prepared and able to keep things on track.”

    The two Celestias were quiet for a short time, both of them looking up at the timeline in deep thought. Eventually, though, one of them had to break the silence. Celestia turned to her future self and frowned. “I see… but why contact me if you do not wish to cause any more changes?”

    Her double looked at her firmly. “That is, in part, the point,” she elaborated before turning and trotting along the platform again. “Time has become unstable. At least, that is what we’ve come to believe from Princess Twilight’s observations of the current and her theories. Something changed, and it was a small enough change for the Tree of Harmony to permit the new timeline to override our own. Twilight and Starlight are no longer preserved. However, we can not be certain if the changes will remain small, or in any way favorable.”

    She came to a stop at the other side of the platform and then spun around to face Celestia, her expression becoming far more serious. “And so I am contacting you. Twilight will be contacting herself once I have taught her the spell. Although, there is no telling when she will receive the message… She may have gotten it already, or it may still be yet to come.”

    Celestia’s brow furrowed as she thought the strange idea over. “...I assume this is because, as you said, time is unstable?” she deduced, drawing a nod from her double.

    “Quite, especially on our end. Reaching through a schism in the fabric of time itself to contact your own self in a still forming timeline is more than a little imprecise. Especially when your own time is in the process of fading away.”

    Celestia nodded along. “I think I understand…” her expression then turned solemn, and she gazed back up at her other self. “But… are you certain that there nothing that can be done? Nothing to preserve your time, or make it so we can both coexist?”

    Her double sagged and shook her head. “No. not that we know of, at least. As far as we understand, it would require meddling in the same event that caused the change to begin with…” her expression hardened again. “So instead, I am entrusting you with ensuring that your new timeline goes as smoothly as possible. Take whatever actions you have to in order to ensure the six new wielders of the Elements are in Ponyville on the night of Nightmare Moon’s return. They must come together.

    “But at the same time, you must ensure that you do not reveal your knowledge of what has happened to time. The more ponies whose lives are completely unaffected by this, the better.”

    Celestia hummed thoughtfully, her brow furrowing. This was all a lot to take in, but nudging ponies in certain directions and keeping a strong poker face were things she was good at. If things were as her double claimed, this would hopefully not be too difficult. But still… she would need to know more if she wanted to do this effectively. “What specifically changed? Do you know?”

    “Only that it was during the race that led to the Sonic Rainboom. You mentioned that it has already happened for you, yes?” Her double questioned, her expression becoming briefly concerned.

    Celestia nodded, a small smile spreading on her face. “Yes, it was about two or three months ago, I think. It was what set off the magic surge that let Twilight pass her magic exam and become my student. The little filly who pulled it off was named Rainbow Dash, if I am remembering correctly.”

    Her double smiled fondly, no doubt remembering the very same event. “You are. Something small changed in that event. Maybe it was just a cloud being put out of position. Perhaps somepony spotted the conflict between Twilight and Starlight, but did nothing to interfere. It is hard to say, but something changed that day.”

    Celestia’s smile slowly faded as she gave that day some more thought. Specifically, she gave the little filly who performed the Rainboom some thought. She thought back on what little she knew of her. She knew that, of all of the candidates for the Elements of Harmony, Rainbow Dash was far and away the most likely one to claim Loyalty at the moment. But more than that, she knew…

    Her expression darkened considerably as she recalled the incident that had occured in Baltimare just short of two weeks ago. She had gone to the city itself to address the situation personally. She remembered with sorrow the list of ponies who had died in that disaster, and two names stuck out in her mind.

    Bow Hothoof and Windy Whistles. The parents of Rainbow Dash...

    “Is something wrong?” Celestia’s future self asked with concern when she saw her more grim expression, drawing a long and thoughtful hum from the alicorn. Celestia looked back up at her double before speaking up.

    “Tell me... In your time, did Rainbow Dash come to wield the Element of Loyalty?”

    “Yes, she did.”

    “And was there an accident in Baltimare a couple of months after she performed the Sonic Rainboom? A metal crane snapping under the weight of its cargo, dropping everything onto a crowd of ponies in the streets below?”

    Celestia’s double grimaced at the memory before nodding her head. “Yes, that did happen. It was a terrible tragedy…”

    Celestia nodded along, her expression turning darker by the second. “And tell me… were Rainbow Dash’s parents among the dead?”

    That caught Celestia’s double by complete surprise. She shifted on her hooves while her eyes snapped wide open in horror. Her ears stood at attention, and her wings unfurled from her sides just slightly. “Wha… what? Why are you asking me this?!”

    Celestia lowered her hoof and took a deep breath. “...Because for me, they were. They were both crushed to death by the crane itself, and Rainbow Dash has been sent to an orphanage in Cloudsdale, as she has no extended family to take her in.”

    There were several seconds of tense silence before Celestia’s double looked down and grimaced. “This is bad… so large a change… To answer your question, no, Rainbow Dash’s parents are still alive and well in my time...” she lifted her eyes back to Celestia. “But at least now you have somewhere to start.”

    Celestia’s ears drooped, and she looked away. “Yes, but… what will become of Rainbow Dash, now? The poor filly… nopony deserves to lose their parents…”

    Her double shook her head in agreement before stepping forward. “No, they don’t. I wish I could give you some advice, but as of now, you know your situation far better than I do. Your main priority must still be to bring the Elements together in Ponyville for the return of Nightmare Moon. If you must pull some strings, than so be it.”

    Celestia’s lips twitched just slightly at that remark. “Pulling strings… I hope I may one day be done with such things,” she noted with a shake of her head. She straightened her posture. “I shall give the matter some thought…”

    Her double smiled, then reached out to put her hoof on Celestia’s shoulder. “Good. I know you won’t fail in this.”

    Celestia slowly brushed the hoof away and looked back up at the current of time. Her double followed her gaze, and the two fell into a long and contemplative silence.

    Eventually, though, Celestia turned back to her double, a question in her eyes. “May I ask you something?”

    Her future self turned to look at her and gave a nod. “Of course. I have some time yet before my charge on this spell wears off. If there is anything else I can tell you that may be of assistance, let me know.”

    Celestia shrugged absently. “I do not know if it is related or not, but… before I went to bed and woke up here, I had a peculiar vision… I was seeing something happen through my own eyes. I was pacing back and forth, frantically talking to myself about whether or not it would be safe to send Twilight to Ponyville…” she glanced at her other again. “Do you have any theories?”

    Celestia’s double raised an eyebrow, then gazed up at the current again. A frown crossed her muzzle, and her brow creased. “Well… it could be something similar to the two sets of memories my subjects have been experiencing. There is probably some overlap between the timelines. After all, if Twilight’s theories are correct, ours will still be fading away from your perspective until you have reached the same point where we ended.”

    Celestia gave that some thought. “Hmmm… I’ll have to look into it another time,” she mused before her expression turned somewhat more inquisitive. “May I ask you something else?”

    “Of course.”

    Celestia hesitated, not quite able to meet her double’s eyes. She struggled for a moment to find her words before speaking. “I… I know that you told me you can’t give away details about what Twilight has done or faced, but… I still wish to know more about how she grew up. Can you at least tell me that? Even vague details would be nice. And perhaps the information can serve to guide my actions.”

    Celestia’s double frowned in thought for a moment, before she looked up at the current of time again. The silence was back, thicker than before, and Celestia began to fear that her question would be unanswered.

    But then her double’s face lit up with a gentle smile. “...Very well. I suppose I can tell you a story, or two… I may not get another chance to speak of it, after all…” she then shifted to look into Celestia’s eyes and gave a warm smile. “And I do not want these memories to be lost when I am gone… Will you carry them in my stead?”

    Celestia smiled back at her double and nodded slowly. “Of course. It would be my honor…” she agreed in a soft tone.

    Celestia’s double slowly lowered herself into a lying position on her belly. She allowed her left foreleg to dangle over the edge of the crystal platform and gave a quiet sigh. Celestia followed suit, assuming a nearly identical posture. They were quiet for a moment before Celestia’s double closed her eyes and began her first story.

    For what felt like hours, the two Celestias, one from a dying future, and one from an uncertain past, spoke at length about the little filly who became the wielder of the Element of Magic, and the Princess of Friendship. While Celestia’s future self was true to her word, and spoke vaguely in every story, there was no denying that the Twilight she knew was a kind, loving, and dependable mare.

    But alas, the stories could only be told for so long.

    As Celestia’s double finished her final story, the world around them suddenly shuddered. A piece of the crystal platform cracked and broke away into the abyss, the sound almost deafening in the otherwise silent void. Both Celestias rose to their hooves at the sight and sound.

    “What has happened?” Celestia asked warily, her posture becoming defensive.

    Her double merely looked defeated, and she shook her head in defeat and resignation. “Our time is up…”

    Celestia looked back at her double in confusion, then gasped when she saw that she was beginning to lose her shape. The swirling threads of light that had weaved together to form her were starting to come undone, making her appear wispy and transparent. Celestia’s double closed her eyes, a sad smile appearing on her muzzle.

    “It is time for me to go back. I can no longer maintain this spell…” she opened her eyes to look into Celestia’s one last time. “At the risk of sounding perhaps a little self absorbed… I have full and complete faith in you…”

    Celestia was speechless for a moment. But after a moment, she set her jaw and nodded. “I won’t let you down. I swear it.”

    Her double’s smile grew, and she closed her eyes.

    And then she faded away. The many ribbons that made her up came completely undone, and returned to the abyss.

    Celestia watched them go, flying farther and farther away until they were no longer visible. She then turned her gaze up and stared at the current of time itself. Her expression hardened with resolve as she followed one of the threads in that current continuing to grow and extend. She nodded to herself, resolve burning bright in her belly.

    “I won’t let you down…”

    The crystal platform beneath her suddenly cracked, and the air was filled with the deafening clatter of shattering glass.

    And then she woke up.

    Celestia awoke with a shout, a sheen of cold sweat covering her body from horn to hoof. She was gasping heavily, and reached a heavily shaking hoof up to her chest as she tried to get her ragged breathing under control.

    Her mind was racing at a breakneck pace, trying to sort through everything that had just been unloaded onto her. It felt almost like a dream, but she knew that it was far too real to be anything but the truth. She took another shaky breath before finally managing to calm down, even if only somewhat. Several minutes passed before, at last, she was able to lean back and relax into her pillow again.

    For a long, long time, she just lay there, staring at the ceiling and thinking about what she now knew. At one point, she looked over at the clock that hung against the wall, and she saw that it was almost time for her to raise the sun. She was almost tempted to raise it early and get it out of the way, but she knew her subjects probably wouldn’t care for an unannounced disturbance in their routine.

    As she waited for the time to come, she ran over everything that had just happened in great detail. Time was changing, and the future was uncertain. She needed to take actions and ensure that things stayed on course. Specifically, she needed to make sure that the new wielders of the Elements would be in Ponyville when Nightmare Moon returned…

    And right now, one of those future wielders had had her entire life flipped on its head and ruined. Rainbow Dash’s parents were dead… if what Celestia’s future self said was reliable, then this was already a huge change to the course of events. Who knew if Rainbow would be able to get to Ponyville on her own, now? Celestia frowned as she gave the matter some thought…

Unfortunately, as much as she wished to just rest and ponder that conundrum, time had other plans. Celestia’s ruminations were interrupted as the alarm on her wall began to emit a deep chiming sound. It came over and over again, a total of seven times, announcing to Celestia that the time had come to raise the sun. With a grimace, she rolled out of bed and stepped back out onto her balcony.

    She spent a few moments to just let the cool night air wash over her once she was outside. She closed her eyes, lifted her head, and took a deep breath, allowing the frigid air to fill her lungs and reinvigorate her system. She then opened her eyes and set about the motions of raising the sun. It rose slowly but surely, and as she allowed the first gentle rays of golden morning sunlight to grace the world, her mind was still set on Rainbow Dash and her situation…

    “I’ll need to find some way to guide her…” Celestia mused to herself quietly before releasing her magic grip on the sun, letting its momentum carry it for the remainder of the daylight hours. “Ensure that she gets where she needs to go… I should probably check on each of the other candidates and see what is happening in their lives. And there is still the matter of Twilight… if she’s to wield the Element of Magic, she needs friends…”

    It was then that a thought occurred to her. Celestia went stiff, and she felt her heart start beating just a little faster in her chest.

    Rainbow Dash was now an orphan, and her life was in shambles. She needed guidance…

    Twilight Sparkle was fiercely asocial and introverted, two traits that were not ideal for giving her a strong connection to the Elements. She needed to experience friendship and open up…

    Maybe Celestia could kill two birds with one stone, as it were? It was a big responsibility, she knew, and it would draw a lot of attention. No doubt the changes would be substantial. But, in her mind, the changes to time were already considerably large and beyond correction. Right then, her main goal was to make sure all of the Elements were together at the appointed time.

    As Celestia thought it over more and more, the idea became more and more appealing with every passing second. A small smile spread on her face. Yes, yes, of course! She could bring Rainbow Dash to Canterlot. Celestia would look over her personally, and make sure she was where she needed to be when the time was right. She could also make sure that she and Twilight met, and that they became friends. It would probably help Twilight open up a bit, and-

    Celestia stopped herself mid-plan, and her expression hardened. There was a problem with this, and it was a big one. Rainbow Dash was an orphan. Right now, she was no doubt being kept at an orphanage, and was probably still grieving over her loss. Celestia needed to proceed with extreme caution and care. If she went about this the wrong way, Rainbow Dash might wind up feeling like little more than a tool, or a cog in some great machine.

    And while she did have a purpose to serve, she was still a pony. She was her own individual with wants and hopes and dreams, and under no circumstances would Celestia allow her own actions to hinder those aspects in any of her subjects.

    But what could she do…?

    She spent several minutes pondering this, just trying to come up with a good solution. Several ideas came and went in her mind before she finally settled on one.

    “...I’ll adopt her,” she whispered to herself softly. “If nopony else has adopted her yet, I will take her in myself… but not so I can groom her to be the Element of Loyalty. If I raise her right, if I take care of her as a loving mother should, then she will get there in the end anyway… she needs a good family...”

    Celestia’s eyes shifted, and she caught sight of the moon, which was still in the process of disappearing beneath the horizon. It was only barely visible in the sky, the light of the sun all but washing it out. She saw the Mare in the Moon gazing back at her, and felt a pang of longing in her chest.

“...a good, loving family...” she whispered to herself.

The moon disappeared beneath the horizon, and Celestia swore a silent oath then and there. She would be a good, loving, and caring mother to Rainbow Dash before anything else.

Celestia remained planted in place for several minutes, and another breeze of cool mountain air washed over her, causing her aetherial mane to drift lazily behind her. She took in another long, deep breath, then spun around to head back into the castle.

She still had royal duties to perform, after all, and time would not wait for her.