Dear Twilight Sparkle,
The spell contained on the last page of this book is Star Swirl the Bearded's secret unfinished masterpiece. He was never able to get it right, and thus abandoned it. I believe you are the only pony who can understand and rewrite it.
Twilight frowned at the letter, reading it and rereading it. There was nothing implicitly wrong with what she was asking, but-
Spike belched out another letter, this one with the seal of the moon on it. Spike dutifully handed it over, knowing that Twilight preferred to read her letters from Princess Luna in private.
I’m sorry to say that my efforts to discourage Celestia from this course have failed. She is aware that your trust in her is broken and of my disapproval for her methods, but she believes that it is for the greater good. She believes that your destiny must be fulfilled, even if her heart is broken for it.
Again, I apologize that my plan to give you access to the knowledge necessary also failed. I expected her to have more faith in you, but we both know just how dangerous dark magic is, and how inquisitive you are.
You now approach the precipice. If you finish the spell, there is no going back. Should you follow this path and hate my sister for the consequences, know that I will always be at your side. We can discuss this more after you have made your decision.
Your friend now and always,
Twilight frowned before storing the letter away with the others. She sat on one of her chairs, staring at the book.
“Hey Twi, you okay?” Spike asked.
Twilight shook her head. “No, Spike. I’m not alright.”
Spike frowned and walked up to her, leaning into her side for a hug. “Is there anything I can do?”
Twilight smiled at the ever helpful whelp, and brought him closer with a leg. “No, Spike. I don’t think anypony can help. This has been broken for a long time.”
Spike was silent. “How about some hot cocoa?”
Twilight smiled faintly. “I’d like that. Thank you.”
As Spike left, Twilight retreated into her thoughts. Celestia has been testing her character and ability for years. For what? A position in the government? Possibly. What would completing a spell do? It would certainly show her magical aptitude. So what would be the title? Court Mage? Archmage? Did she intend to put Twilight in a spell creation position? That kind of responsibility and resources did require integrity, lest an untrustworthy unicorn make world ending magic.
It was a position that she would have once wanted more than anything, but now she couldn’t care less. She enjoyed her small town life in Ponyville. She enjoyed her friends. She enjoyed her studies, or most of them at least. She felt that there was very little more to learn about friendship. Her reports were getting further and further apart as ‘lessons’ began repeating themselves.
So Celestia was ready for her to ascend to whatever position she had in mind.
What should I do?
She had half a mind to return the book unopened out of spite, but the scholar in her was giddy at the thought of finishing Star Swirl’s masterpiece. Luna said that there was no going back if she did this, but what did that mean? Would something permanent happen, or was it going to be Celestia’s offer of a high position or power? Or both?
Twilight groaned, just as Spike came in with the cocoa.
“Still having trouble?” he asked, handing her the sweet drink.
Twilight nodded before sipping at it. “Yeah. Thanks Spike.”
“You don’t like Princess Celestia anymore, do you?”
Twilight blinked and stared at him. “Is it that obvious?”
“You frown every time you get a letter from her now. When you say her name, you sometimes sound like you’re growling. What did she do?”
Twilight sighed. “It’s complicated, Spike. I think she’s pushing me towards something without asking me what I want.”
“What do you want?”
Twilight didn’t have an answer. “I don’t know, Spike. At first I just wanted to study, then I wanted to spend time with my friends, but it seems like Celestia planned all of it. It just makes it feel all...fake.”
Spike frowned. “Twilight, they’re your friends. They aren’t faking it.”
Twilight smiled, and hugged him close again. “I know, Spike. Thank you.”
“So what are you going to do?”
Twilight looked over at the book, and thus, Celestia’s request.
What do I want?
I want to study magic, and I want to spend time with my friends.
“I’m going to complete this spell, and after that...we’ll see.” Twilight Sparkle never accomplished anything by running away, after all. “You helped a lot, Spike. Thank you.”
From one to another, another to one. A mark of one's destiny singled out alone, fulfilled.
Twilight should have seen it coming, honestly. The spell affected cutie marks. Something benign, in her opinion. After all, there had been a fair few incidents involving them during her time in Ponyville. There were plenty of cures on hand to rectify the issues as well.
Of course, it couldn’t have been that easy. Watching her friends lives get altered on such a fundamental level was at first shocking, but soon it turned into self loathing and hatred for not partaking in proper safety measures. She should have had a control group and a limited sample size. This was after all, an unknown spell.
At least she was able to reverse the effects. It turned out that friendship really was magic, as friendship was the key to completing the spell.
From all of us together, together we're friends. With the marks of our destinies made one, there is magic without end.
And thus, Twilight stepped over the precipice. She found herself in a strange realm of light and fog. The first thing she saw was of course was Princess Celestia.
“Congratulations, Twilight. I knew you could do it.”
I knew you could do it.
Twilight fought back a biting remark. “What did I do?” she asked.
“You did something today that's never been done before. Something even a great unicorn like Star Swirl the Bearded was not able to do, because he did not understand friendship like you do. The lessons you've learned here in Ponyville have taught you well. You have proven that you're ready, Twilight.”
“What am I ready for?”
Harmony magic filled the area as Celestia stepped seamlessly into a song about how she had watched Twilight all these years. Scenes from her life flitted by, most of them warming, others tainted by her realization that they were manufactured by the one walking next to her.
She was so distracted by this that she didn’t notice the magic beginning to swirl around her. She was lifted into the air as Celestia watched with a smile. She wanted to shove it away, to thwart Celestia’s plan, but something stopped her.
Do you want this?
The magic was asking her. It couldn’t force this on her. It wouldn’t force this on her.
I don’t even know what you are offering.
Twilight got a sense of disapproval, but not directed at her. Instead her head was filled with a sense of power, sight, knowledge, wisdom, and eternity.
Do you want this?
Twilight considered it for a moment.
What is expected of me?
Twilight felt amusement.
At first she felt a sense of contentment at that reassurance, but her old skepticism tapped on her shoulder and whispered in her ear. It reminded her that immortals don’t live. After a certain point, they simply exist, watching as the world passes them by. Time meant nothing, and eventually, ponies wouldn’t either as they faded into the background. Just chess pieces to move on a board.
And that was all that was needed to make her decision.
As you wish.
Her next sensation was rising from the ground. In the back of her mind, she quietly expected to have been exhausted from dealing with that kind of magic, but instead she felt rejuvenated and fresh.
“Twilight, what happened?” asked Applejack’s voice. Indeed, as she blinked away the white in her vision, Twilight saw her friends standing around her in concern.
“I’m...not entirely sure,” she said in a half-truth. Admitting that ascension was offered to you and declined was something that took a lot of thought first. Alas, she would never get that time.
“We were worried sick!” Rainbow said. “When the Elements blasted you, there was just a scorch mark! We thought you died!” She zipped over and pulled Twilight into a tight hug. “Don’t you ever do that again!”
One by one, each of her friends did the same, soon enveloping Twilight in a tight embrace of love and friendship.
“She shouldn’t have any problems keeping that promise,” said an unwelcome voice. The pony pile turned its heads to the approaching form of Princess Celestia. Her friends let her go, moving to bow.
“My faithful student, I-” she paused, her eyes lingering on Twilight’s wingless sides.
“-knew you could do it,” Twilight finished for her.
And thus, the final piece clicked into place in Twilight’s head. The tests, designed to see if she was worthy of power, to see if she could use that power effectively, to see if she was capable of ruling justly and fairly. Celestia wanted to make a princess of her.
“A princess,” Twilight said evenly, hiding everything she was feeling. “You wanted to make me a princess.”
“...yes,” she said, still obviously trying to comprehend what was before her.
Twilight’s friends let out gasps and words of shock at the statement.
“I...don’t understand,” Celestia finally said. “When you arrived at the Aethereal Realm, I thought it had finally chosen you.”
Twilight took a deep breath, carefully restraining her outrage at this turn of events. “To ascend.” Celestia nodded. "It did."
Celestia’s confusion turned to hope, but then careful neutrality at Twilight’s forced calm and non-alicorn appearance. “Yes, Twilight. Since you've come to Ponyville, you've displayed the charity, compassion, devotion, integrity, optimism, and of course, the leadership of a true princess.”
All around her, her friends displayed their agreement. Whatever that presence was seemed to agree too, but it had no designs on her. At least none she could feel. But there was one question that she recently asked herself, and answered.
What do I want?
Did she want to be a princess? Every filly answered yes when they were young, but those years were far behind Twilight. Now? What did she want? Responsibility? Some, perhaps. Power? Again, a small amount would be nice. But to be a princess? To rule over all of Equestria?
No. Especially not with someone she didn’t trust. Someone who didn’t even ask her opinion on the matter.
“Maybe,” Twilight said. “But you never asked me if I wanted that.”
Concern started to show in Celestia’s eyes. “I see. I had considered that, but-”
“You should have,” Twilight interrupted before Celestia could anger her further.
The quiet and misplaced words of encouragement from her friends suddenly went silent. The bystanders from the town suddenly started whispering to themselves. Celestia’s remaining composure started to slip from her like crumbling glass.
“Yes, sister, you should have. Perhaps if you did, you wouldn't be denying the fact that is staring you in the face,” Luna said, stepping out of the shadows. Everyone turned to look at her, save for Celestia, who was frozen stiff.
“Twilight?” Celestia asked quietly. “What did you do?”
Twilight took a deep breath, grabbed ahold of her emotions, and forced them into line. “Your plan failed. I told the realm I didn't want to ascend.” The crowd’s murmuring increased to a roar, and Celestia winced, looking to the crowd.
“Twilight, perhaps we should discuss this indoors,” she suggested.
Twilight shook her head. “No. Outside is fine. There’s no need to hide this.” She noted Luna’s smirk. “Princess, did you ever ask me if I wanted to rule? If I wanted to be an alicorn? To be shackled by immortality, to watch my friends die while I enjoy eternal youth and power?”
“I wanted to help you realize your destiny,” she said softly. Twilight could hear the disappointment, just barely.
“My own destiny, or the destiny that you picked out for me? I wanted to be your student. I wanted to study magic under you. I’m glad that I learned friendship, but you tricked me into doing so. You’ve been watching me this whole time, manipulating me, setting up tests and scenarios to see what I will do. Maybe it was for the best, and, yes, I’m a better pony for it, but it still doesn’t negate the fact that you’ve been lying and withholding information from me in order to steer me towards your own agenda!”
She took a deep breath for a momentary break, glancing at her friends. There was conflict in their eyes, and all of them were begging the Princess for an explanation with their looks. However, she saw in them what she needed before: a spark of sight that allowed them to see the imperfections in Celestia's pedestal. With them by her side, she felt her confidence increase tenfold. She stood up taller, her posture straight and even slightly imperious.
“Dear Princess Celestia. Today I learned something very important about friendship. I learned that true friends stick by you, and support you no matter what your life choices are. If they believe you are on the wrong path, they offer their assistance. They don’t make choices for you, they don't try to force you, and they certainly don't try to manipulate you. I’m afraid this will be my final report, as I am resigning from my position as your student.”
Everyone save for Luna gasped. Celestia winced, but otherwise remained silent.
“I am sorry, but I don’t believe you are fit to teach me anymore. Without trust between a teacher and student, there can be no progress, and I recently realized you lost my trust a long time ago. I don’t hate you, but I do not believe we can be friends anymore. I hope our relationship can remain cordial, as we will have to deal with each other due to my position as the Bearer of Magic. I wish you luck with your next protegé. Your former student, Twilight Sparkle.”
The crowd was silent as Twilight turned around, walked to the library, entered, and shut the door, locking it behind her.
And thus, Princess Twilight Sparkle never came to be, due to six little words.