Did I surprise you? Huh, huh, huh? I bet I did! I bet you were all 'Whoa!' and 'Wow' and 'Pinkie really outdid herself with all these streamers and glitter and super duper colorful pictures!' I made sure to give Ditzy a muffin to get this to you lickety-split, faster than Dashie would have (Hi Dashie!).
Why the dots? Silly Twilight! That's for when Dashie says something like 'No way! I'm, like, totally supercalifragislically speedy zoom zoom!' and then you would say something like 'Oh Dashie, you'd have taken a nap on the way over' and then Dashie would be like-
That was Applejack shoving her hoof in my mouth. Again. Silly filly, doesn't she know hooves aren't meant to go in mouths? Though they do taste funny and nothing like Rarity's hooves. I wonder what Fluttershy's hooves taste like. Hey Dashie, do you know what Fluttershy's hooves taste like?
Oh! Oh! Oh! That reminds me! Hey Dashie, this is for you, so no telling Twilight alright? And Twilight, stop reading! I mean it. This is a secret, you got it? No peeking. Not a word further. Stop right here.
Not. Another. Word.
Has she stopped reading yet Dashie? Aaaaaaaaanyways, don't tell Twilight this, but I've got a super duper, ultra secret, totally surprise party for her for when she gets better. There's streamers and cake and punch and pin the tail on the pony and all sorts of crazy fun games! Got all her favorite snacks (and rumor has it Secret Agent Con Mane will be coming in disguise), so shhhhhhhh, no spilling. I mean it! Pinkie Promise.
Oh! The cupcakes are done! (Hmmmmm... cupcakes...) Sorry, gotta go before they burn.
I'm sorry I couldn't visit with everyone else, but I was called away to Appleloosa as there's some sort of creature eating their apples at night. Turns out it was just a poor, misunderstood baby wyvern who lost her mommy. I wish you could have been here, she was sooooo adorable, if a bit scary with all those sharp teeth. I tried to ask her everything I could think of because I know you find the lack of information on them a criminal offense.
I... I really wish you were here to help, but that's just selfish of me. You gave up so much and went so far to save Celestia and... and I have to be strong like you. I have to stop hiding behind others and actually do something to change Equestria for the better. That's why I've decided to approach Celestia for small change to the current education system to include more information on dealing with the various wild creatures that are found in Equestria. You don't think that's too forward of me, do you?
Oh dear, maybe I shouldn't have bothered her after all. I mean, I'm sure Celestia is far too busy with running a nation to deal with such a minor oversight. I really shouldn't have bothered her. Oh my, you don't think making the changes will be difficult do you?
Darling, it was such a delight to see you again after so long. I'm terribly sorry I couldn't stay for longer, but those dresses simply will not sew themselves. With a bit of luck, I will be back in Canterlot sometime next week to partake in a fashion show. It will be showcasing that new line I was talking about, the one that was inspired by your drive and dedication to the Princesses. When I showed it to Fancy Pants, he had tears in his eyes and proclaimed it a true masterwork. But looking at the centre piece, I just don't know if I can bring myself to showcase it. Only one mare is meant to wear it, and that mare is you. Every morning walk down the stairs, I see that dress on the mannequin, and every single time, my heart leaps and I think it's you standing there. Every single time I look at it, all I can see is you standing in it with that easy going smile of yours and far too many bags under your eyes. Seriously mare, next time you're in Ponyville, I am dragging you off to the spa and making sure you have a nice relaxing day. Harmony knows you've earned it.
And please dear, don't worry, Spike's been an absolute gentle-drake, in fact, he's been helping Sweetie Belle with her studies and Sweetie's marks have been improving. I fear musical theory has never been my strong suite, but Spike certainly knows a lot. I suppose that's what happens when you live with a bibliophile such as yourself. Without his help, I fear last week wouldn't have been possible. His cooking and cleaning meant I could spend more time working on the dresses to get them perfect.
Though I must admit I am a bit concerned about him. I know we all deal with grief differently, and that he took it the hardest, but I get the feeling he's purposefully overworking himself to stop himself from thinking about your condition. If he's not at home working on his chores or with the CMC or working at the library, then he's helping out at Sweet Apple Acres or helping Fluttershy. Every night he comes home, bone tired and dead on his feet.
But don't worry! You most certainly should not worry. I've been keeping my eye on him and so have all your other friends. He has already greatly improved over this past week, so there's nothing to fear.
Nothing much has changed down here truth be told, and Spike's been a real help around the farm. The trees are doing great, and I reckon we'll have a record haul this applebucking season. It won't be the same without you though, with all your fancy magic and all. Don't worry, I'll be sure to send some apples up to you so you don't miss out, I know how much you hate the apples served up there. Nothing quite like Sweet Apple Acres’ apples.
RD, this section here is for you, so no telling Twilight alright? You need to come back to Ponyville, I'm dead serious here. Pinkie is... Pinkie is in a bad place. We've tried helping her, but nothing we do seems to be working, and being her best friend, we're hoping you'll be able to do something. Anything. She hasn't thrown a party since she got the news. Instead, she has a "Welcome Back, Twilight" party permanently set up. She won't let us touch any of the decorations and keeps talking about how Twi will be getting up and how she'll come back and how everything will be going back to normal. She's refusing to throw another party until she can finish this party. Please RD, we need you back here.
Dash folded up the final letter and placed it on the bedside table next to the stack of books she had gotten for Twilight. After a moment’s silence, the pegasus stood up and opened the curtains, letting light flood in before she sat down in the chair next to Twilight's bed. For her part, Twilight didn't say a word and instead continued to doze on.
"Just what are you dreaming of?" whispered Dash. "A room of endless books no doubt."
A sigh escaped.
"I thought I saw you today, you know. I was walking down the street after sending off the letter to your brother, and I thought I saw you waving at me from across the street. Silly right? But... I thought it was you, I really did. I wanted to believe so badly. Turns out it was just some random mare in the street." Dash brushed a lock of mane out of Twilight's eyes. "I also thought I heard you at training. Thought I heard you call my name, but there was nothing there. I miss you so much."
A soft pitter-patter filled the silence.
"I hate you so much. Why? Why! All you needed to do was say something, anything, and I would have been there for you. We all would have." Dash tried her hardest to glare at the mare, but her blurry vision made that all but impossible. "An-And what the buck was up with the whole 'We'll see once we get back' deal? You knew you were going to die, didn't you? Why did you string me along like that? I-I-I..."
All the anger drained out of her and Dash collapsed back into the seat. "You stupid genius. You got my hopes up when you knew you wouldn’t survive. I want to hate you. I want to hate you so damn much for putting me through that, but I can't. Damn it, Twilight! You left us hanging. You left us all hanging!"
Still no reply.
"I see you everywhere. I hear your voice all the time. I can't even show off anymore, because every time I do, your voice appears, scolding me or giving me some lecture, and the only time I'm off the ground is when I practice with the rest of the Shadowbolts. I don't know what's worse, being unable to hate you, or loving you so much it hurts."
The tears finally came to an end.
"You've got to get better. You hear me!? Y-You're the coolest pony ever. The awesomest pony and the most radical an-and-and-" Though a sob escaped, there were no tears. "I don't care if the doctors say there's no chance of you getting better; they don't know you like I do. You make the impossible possible. You perform miracles. I know you'll kick this coma in the ass and come back to us."
The only sound was Dash's heavy breathing and the beeping of the machines.
"You have to..."
"Sister, are you certain you're doing the right thing?" For a brief second, anger flashed through Celestia as Luna interrupted her train of thought. "You were the one who taught us the need to move on and accept death as a natural part of a mortal's life!"
"Twilight's not dead," said Celestia.
"Yes, we know, she's in a coma, but that hardly changes the discussion at hoof." Luna sat down next to her sister with a frown on her face. "You must let go."
"I won't!" snapped Celestia. "Don't you get it Lulu? She died for me. I'm the reason she died. I caused the original virus, and in the end, Twilight suffered as a result. I can, must, and will rectify this mistake."
The two stared at each before Luna sagged and nodded. "Very well. I suppose We have no choice in this matter?"
"You're slipping again Lulu. You just used 'I' and 'we' in the same sentence."
"Celly! This is not the time to be fretting over such matters."
"I know, I know, sorry." Celestia brushed a messy lock of mane out of her eyes. "I've just been so stressed lately."
After all, what was the point of going back to Canterlot while she had the power to save Twilight? Everywhere she went, every single last Tartarus damned object in the castle, held some memory for her. It was like Twilight's ghost followed her around everywhere, replaying Twilight's entire life before Celestia's eyes. There was the hall that had to be rebuilt thanks to a magical flare from Twilight. There was the spare guest room Twilight loved hiding in when she wanted to read. That picture on the wall with the manestyle that always made the little filly laugh.
Even her room offered no respite from the deluge of emotions that threatened to drown her. There was no warmth, no joy, in being in Canterlot. The last time Celestia had felt this way was when Luna had been exiled to the moon. Every night she cried herself to sleep while clutching Twilight's final letter to her chest. It was barely half written before her prized protégé fell unconscious.
A snort escaped as Luna fixed her sister with a flat look. "You've been hiding out here, stating you need to recuperate after your illness, while I have been running the nation by myself."
"Now you know how I felt those thousand years you were gone."Though it was a joke, and though there was no way Luna could have known just how close it was to the truth, saying those words eased Celestia's heart.
Another snort. "Of course, because that was the most important thing on your mind during my exile."
"You try spending a thousand years with idiots like Blueblood," chuckled Celestia, and not once did Luna suspect the truth. A thousand years to master her mask, one so great not even her sister could see through it. That thought only served to depress Celestia further, but she kept that fake smile on her face, the same one Twilight practiced every morning. "I still think you got the better deal in the end."
"Whatever the case, what is your plan? And why did you need me to bring Twilight Sparkle along?"
"You actually bought her?"
"Of course." There was a flash of blue magic and Twilight appeared on the table before them and Celestia's heart leapt in joy. So looked so calm, so peaceful, as though she was merely sleeping. "You should know by now that I trust you with my life."
"Th-Thank you." For the first time in decades, the mask cracked and tears slid down her cheek. With a trembling hoof, Celestia brushed a stray lock of mane out of Twilight's eyes and caressed her cheek.
"Shh..." All that could be heard was the soft pitter-patter of Celestia's tears as Luna held her sister close. "I would do anything for you, just as you would do anything for me. Never forget that."
Two ponies. She had two ponies now that would do anything for her. Twilight and Luna. It helped fill the empty void in her heart, but... wasn't that what caused all this to happen to begin with? A willingness to do absolutely anything had ended up with Twilight in a coma. Perhaps... Perhaps she should change that when she cast the spell. A subtle nudge, a gentle tweak was all it would take after all.
That was... Even to the depths she was willing to go to save Equestria, that was one of the few things Celestia could not bring herself to do. She loved Twilight, even the neurotic aspects of her. To do that, to even think about it sickened the diarch to her very core. It was the good and the bad that made Twilight who she was.
It took more than a few seconds. It took more than a few minutes. To say it was hours before Celestia had calmed down enough would have been closer to the truth than anypony would ever know. Eventually though, Celestia calmed and looked up at her beloved sister with tear stained eyes.
"Thank you. I love you sis."
"Love you too." The two shared a tender nuzzle. "So what is this plan you've concocted?"
"Let me show you." Celestia's horn glowed, and behind her, the wall opened up to reveal a single tube with a purple mare sleeping inside it . A purple mare that looked exactly the same as the one that lay before them on the table. "That, is a clone of Twilight. Back when you were on the moon, one of the plans I developed was to create another alicorn so that I could transfer your memories into a new body in case the Elements were not viable."
"And you need the real Twilight in order to get her memories." Luna's eyes narrowed. "I am afraid I cannot aid you in this endeavor."
"I see now why you are performing this experiment in the bowels of Canterlot rather than Yggdrasil. Serenity threw you out didn't she? She locked all the systems and told you to get out." Luna glared at her sister. "You need to let Twilight go."
"I... I won't. I'm sorry, but this is something I must do." A sigh escape as Celestia caressed Twilight's cheek. "I did this to her. My hubris was the cause of all this."
"So take responsibility and move on. Nopony blames you."
Celestia flinched away from Luna's nuzzle. "Only because they don't know my role in it, and a certain pegasus would disagree with you. Rainbow Dash most certainly blames me."
"She's also grieving." This time, Celestia accepted the nuzzle. And when she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine it was Twilight giving it to her. "Give her time. Just move on."
"I..." The white alicorn shook her head. "I'm sorry, but I cannot."
The temperature suddenly dropped, causing the moisture in the air to condense.
"Will you stop me, sister?" whispered Celestia as the air around her began boiling.
Not another fight. Please. Losing a sister once was enough to send the strongest ponies into the depths of depression, but losing Twilight and Luna so close to one another? Her heart wouldn't be able to take it, but if it meant getting Twilight back, then so be it. She didn't want this, but Twilight meant so much to her.
The unicorn would never know, but it was Celestia's DNA that had been used. It was Celestia who raised Twilight. As far as Celestia was concerned, Twilight was her daughter. The loss of a sister was a price she'd gladly pay to get her daughter back.
The two stood opposite each other, horns crossed, wings slightly open, and muscles tensed. Neither moved and neither spoke as they stared each other down. Both waited for the other to make the first move. In the end, it was Luna who acted. She took one deliberate step back, folding her wings back as she did so.
"I trust you, but I will not partake in this folly for a second longer."
"Will you tell them the truth?" asked Celestia as she stroked Twilight's mane.
"Maybe, maybe not. For you? I'll only tell if they ask directly." Luna tossed her mane to the side. "You have made the wrong decision sister, and all I can do is watch from the sidelines and pray."
"This is not the wrong decision!"
"Who are you trying to convince? Yourself or me?" A sad look was tossed over her shoulder. "What do you think will happen if this Twilight finds out the truth? How do you think her friends will react if they find out the truth? You can make all the logical arguments you want for the clone and real Twilight being one and same, and there are plenty of them, but in the end, they'll be thinking with their hearts and not their heads. "
"I'm not done." The chill that permeated the room caused Celestia to shrink back. "But all I require is one answer to one very simple question."
Eyes glowing white, Luna looked at Celestia and the white alicorn took a step back.
"Can you love her like you did Twilight?"
"I-" The words caught in Celestia's throat as she tried to say 'yes'. She wanted to say it so badly, but she couldn't. There was too much doubt, too much confusion, too much sadness in her heart. The clone would look like Twilight, think like Twilight, have the same memories as Twilight, but...
"That's what I thought." And just like that, Luna vanished in a swirl of blue smoke.
After a long minute, she whispered into the empty room, "I can at least try."
With a sigh, Celestia turned to the console. "Systems check."
"All systems are functional. No anomalies present. You have the green light," came the disembodied voice.
"Excellent." Stepping between the two containers, Celestia's horn lit up and fired a beam of magic straight up into the receptacle above her. A whirling sound filled the air, the blue gel began glowing, and Celestia's magic enveloped both Twilights. The next minute was the longest minute Celestia had ever experienced. Then, as methodically as it had begun, it ended. Weary and dripping with sweat, Celestia made her way back to console.
"Status report," said the white alicorn.
"Nothing went wrong," replied the computer. "But to say more than that is impossible."
"Very well, release them and I shall perform a mind read on them."
"Acknowledged. Containment field deactivated, fluids drained, door opening in three, two, one."
Both cylinders opened and Celestia teleported both onto the table before them. She immediately touched her horn to the cloned Twilight's forehead and threads of golden magic wrapped around her head. Eyes closed and breathing even, Celestia began the mind read in total silence. A couple seconds later, the alicorn drew back and turned to the other Twilight. Once more, she repeated the process then drew back with a smile.
"It worked," Celestia whispered. "It worked!"
But where was the joy? The happiness? All she could feel was hollowness.
"Please secure the real Twilight in one of the free chambers while I take this Twilight up to her hospital room. That way if things go wrong with the clone, we'll be able to make another. It's highly improbable, but better to be safe than sorry."
"When will she wake up?" asked Celestia.
"Tomorrow. She will wake up tomorrow."
"Goodnight then, my darling daughter."
And as Celestia teleported back to Twilight's hospital room, she wasn't sure who that final line was addressed to, the mare in her magic or the mare she had left behind.
Never had victory tasted so much like ash.