Old Wounds

by Martian

Chapter 1 - Insomnia

{{ To clear up some confusion: this story begins three days after Twilight's coronation. Her friends are all alive and well; they simply aren't part of the story. }}

Old Wounds

“Couldn’t sleep?”

Twilight blinked blearily at the question, peering about through the gloom of the midnight library. It was a gentle voice, warm and familiar, but with a tired edge that reflected Twilight’s own state.

“Mmn,” was all she managed in reply, striding deeper into the great room, hooves whispering on the plush rugs.

“I’ve had difficulty as well, though more from long habit than anything else. Want company?”

“Mmn,” Twilight repeated, then took in a deep breath and let out a yawn wide enough to cause her jaw to pop. “I mean, I would enjoy that, Princess.”

“Then please join me, Princess,” said the voice from the balcony far above, the playful lilt on the last word nudging a grin to Twilight’s tired lips. Princess Celestia had insisted that the young pony had no need to address her by title when in private, but habits die hard, and Twilight couldn’t help but feel a twinge of uneasiness at simply calling her ‘Celestia’. It felt disrespectful somehow, even if the Princess herself had reassured her that it was perfectly acceptable.

Twilight could certainly understand the want to just be known by her given name though; it had been three days since being crowned as a princess, and the young librarian was still quietly horrified when anyone bowed to her or used her new title... and that was a thought. The Princess- no, Celestia- had so few ponies who could ever even consider themselves on equal footing with her, how simple a pleasure it must be to hear her own name, unadorned by the glitter and fuss of the court...

Twilight peered upwards through the dim light of the grand library, picking out the balcony she had caught a glimpse of white from, then started to open her wings. Her feathers made a silken sound as they flexed and spread. This was followed shortly after by aches in her shoulders and flanks and ribs, reminding the pony that she had been spending enough time in the air as of late and that maybe she should consider simply using the four things at the ends of her legs that she had started out with.

Flying was a feeling on par with discovering an unread book for Twilight, but reading didn’t leave one hurting from nose to tail afterwards. A knack for flight might have come with the gift of her wings, but the muscles that powered them were still very young...

She followed the winding circuit of the iron stairs up to the little balcony that opened into Canterlot’s observatory.


“I have some tea, if you would like.”

"Thank you, no, P- er, Celestia. It would keep me up.” There was no doubting the smile that showed on the Princess’ face at the use of her name, unadorned. It was a small thing, certainly, but it seemed to fill the room with the warmth of a spring day.

“It’s just chamomile and a bit of peppermint, if you change your mind. I find it relaxing.”


Actually, the idea of chamomile tea did garner some interest, and Twilight found herself deftly pouring a cup from the pot with a small effort of will. The steam filled her nose with hints of sunny mornings and fragrant daisies, the peppermint a cooling counterpoint. A sip warmed her tongue and throat, sent pleasant tendrils curling from her belly to her legs, soothed her aches.

To call the room a mere observatory was a bit of an insult to the craft that had been put into its construction. It wasn’t just a room to house a telescope: the Canterlot Astrolabe was a work of art that could, and indeed has, made experienced astronomers fall to their knees and weep. The walls were great brass rings etched and embossed with the patterns of the constellations, glinting and shimmering with tiny gems of a thousand hues to mark their stars. Even more, an array of twelve wire-thin rings circled the entirety of the room, each notable for their lack of ornament or engraving save for a single gem set into their faces, each half as broad as a hoof. These rings moved, each tuned through magic to the movement of the planets, so that an observer standing at the center of the room would know precisely where to find the elusive target they hoped to spy.

The room was a perfection of science and magic; the two schools interacting with seamless harmony to improve knowledge. It was a beautiful thing, but just mere decoration this night: Twilight had practically lived in the Astrolabe for a whole three months, once. She had discovered a particularly interesting book about the cosmos, and had become infatuated with the night sky. That must have been some seven years ago now. She wondered...



“You are just about to ask what I am looking at,” said Celestia, not turning her head from the grand telescope’s eyepiece. “It’s Podarkes.”

“I’m that predictable?”

“You are impossibly curious about everything, Twilight. I recognized that in you a very long time ago. It might be one of your very best attributes.” Celestia drew back from the telescope, and nodded to the space next to her. “It’s a good night for stargazing.” Gratefully, the younger pony settled next to her mentor. It was a familiar and comfortable position they had often shared, though made new again by the extra pair of wings that had lately been added to the equation.

“Podarkes,” Twilight murmured, leaning to peer into the ocular lens set in the ornate bronze housing. There, familiar as family, she saw the orb of the distant planet, little larger than a grain of sand even through the magically-enhanced lenses of the Astrolabe’s centerpiece. It was a tiny shape, its face a swirl of blues and greys... a mystery that could never be plumbed.

It was that which had drawn Twilight in all those years ago, had seen her burning the midnight oil for weeks at a time bent over piles of books, trying to glean the truth of the cosmos from vague words and musings of ponies that had come before her. In the end, she had to admit defeat and move on to other subjects, though only after the Princess herself had intervened and coaxed the unicorn from the nest she had built for herself in the far corner of blankets and books and cushions, and more than a few dirty dishes.

“It was named after a pony you knew, wasn’t it?”

“They all were,” said Celestia. “Podarkes, Aithon, Bronte, Notos, Boreas...”

“Hippokampa?” Twilight had named it as a kind of joke, but it earned her a little chuckle that carried much more weight than mere amusement. Twilight leaned back a bit, glancing to the tall mare at her side. Celestia was just smiling her little smile, breathing in the sweet steam of her tea, in no rush to answer. She often did this when she wanted Twilight to think for herself.

Hippokampa... That was a name stretching far and further back, and indeed, reaching down into the depths of the sea. Hippokampa, the queen of the Hippokampoi, who had led a rebellion to save her people from the Storm Tyrant, a monster that had held much of the seas beyond Equestria in thrall. It was an old story, little more than a fun legend told to fillies and colts, about a wise and brave ruler who would do what she had to in order to keep her people safe. Everyone like the image of seaponies...

Twilight had just thought it a neat twist on Celestia’s own legendary life, given the echoes of Discord and the elements. But, if that little smile on the regent’s face was any clue, then...

“When she bargained with the spirits of fire and light for the strength to destroy the Tyrant...”

“She had asked of Luna and myself to help her. There was no bargaining, really; the Storm Tyrant was a terrible thing that had to be dealt with, yet he held sway over the sea, where neither Luna nor myself could venture safely. Cloudhopping is all well and good, but not when those clouds were part of the Tyrant himself. The seaponies gave everything they had to help us, and together we cast down the storm.”

“Then, how come no one has seen a seapony in so long? If they are free...”

“Not all ponies like to gather and play, Twilight. Seaponies are quiet and very shy, much preferring to be amongst one another. Though, from what I hear, there is the occasional sighting that is announced.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, “Rum-soaked sailors aren’t the most credible of witnesses.”

Celestia tittered sweetly, a musical sound, “Well, seaponies do enjoy the occasional practical joke.”

“And those stories of seamares, pulling sailors down to the seafloor to...” Here Twilight stumbled a bit, a faint blush creeping across her cheeks.

“They have this special magic that lets one breathe water. It’s actually quite pleasant, once you get used to it. Trying to breathe air afterwards again is a bit of a shock, though.”

“So the sailors...”

“Seaponies are still ponies, Twilight. They like to have fun as much as anyone else.” Here, Celestia’s expression grew distant, though her smile only got wider, “My, don’t they just.”

Twilight’s brow creased. She opened her mouth to say something, stopped, tried again, then stopped a second time. Her features gently slid into a rictus of shock as the weight of implication settled on her mind. Celestia, for her part, simply enjoyed the quiet and her tea.

The Astrolabe was never truly silent, as beneath all the grand faces of etched brass were myriads gears and cogs, ever turning, tracking the path of the planets across the sky. The machinery was magically fueled and carefully maintained, running with the oiled precision that would have made even the most jaded clockmaker weep. It was a tremendously slow piece of artwork though; the paths of worlds were not measured in days and weeks, but usually in years and decades. The speedy Konabos cruised through its orbit in only a few months, but the distant Euros, a mere pinprick of light through the telescope, had only completed two full circuits of the Astrolabe in all the time since it had been built. An orbit that took no less than two hundred and fifty years.

“So...” Twilight started, having managed to avoid having her brain short out, “You and Hippokampa...?”

“Mmn? Oh, no. She was...” Celestia’s smile faded some, her body shifting slightly as she lifted her head, thinking back. “I’m not sure how I would describe her. Hippa was a very warm and kind pony, but she had to fight and win a war before she was your age, then rule a kingdom. Her world was just too big, and her heart too scarred, to pursue love.”

Mixed feelings swirled through Twilight’s mind. On the one hoof, Hippokampa sounded like a tragic figure and one that the Princess obviously thought fondly of. On the other, though... Well, jealousy was not something Twilight often experienced, but there it was; an oily green tendril that wrapped around her heart, made her blood flow just that little bit hotter. Had she not been so tired, she might have been able to avoid saying what she did.

“Sounds familiar...”


Cold now, the tea didn’t taste near as good, but Twilight was desperate for something to use as a cover while she thought for something to deflect the potential topic she had just brushed. She also hoped that the Astrolabe was dim enough to hide the slight glow that had appeared on her cheeks.

She only had a second worth of time though, and that ran out much too quickly. Twilight let out a small sigh; her usually sharp mind had failed her. She plumped for honesty.

“A warm and kind pony who had to fight and win a war while still so very young... then had to rule a kingdom. It sounds familiar, Princess.”

“Mmn... I suppose it does, though all stories of our sort sound the same, really.”

“What happened to her?”

“Hippa? I’m not really sure. Seaponies can live long lives, but she lived a very long time ago indeed. She is gone now, of that I am sure... but what she built would have stayed. The seas are calm after all, and it sounds like the mares still frolic.” This was said with a playful air, but it was easy to see the ache beneath the expression, the sadness in the eyes. The two lay still for a long moment, listening only to the faint, distant whirr of gears and the whisper of their own private thoughts.

A slight shift of weight, the faint rustle of feathers as Twilight set one wing around her mentor’s shoulders. She was warm, her tall frame surprisingly solid, yet no less gentle for all that. The young pony could feel a slight chill curling up Celestia’s spine, could feel the tension in her muscles relax; the tall, beautiful mare leaning just a little into that comforting embrace.

Twilight bowed her head, “I didn’t mean to open any old scars...”

“Scars as old as some of mine need to be opened from time to time, Twilight Sparkle... They remind me of just who I am.”

They stayed like that for a long time, each nursing their own silence, relishing the closeness and warmth of the other.

“Do you know about Podarkes?” Celestia’s voice was soft, breaking the silence and gently drawing Twilight out of her personal reverie.

“Mmn? Podarkes. She was... She was a captain of the Solar Guard, when there was a private guard for Luna and yourself.”

“The last captain of the Guard...”

“She...” Twilight’s voice faltered, the knowledge flickering into focus in her mind’s eye. Last captain of the Solar Guard, slain in the final battle that ended the reign of Nightmare Moon. She had given her life to buy her regent time, time to banish her only sister for a thousand years...

“She did many things,” said Celestia, her eyes closed, a sad smile showing on her lips. A broad white wing, softer than one might think it could be, settled across Twilights back. “Her life was an adventure. She was the youngest to be victorious in the Pegasus melee, youngest ever to be made a captain. She could fight like no one else, could shout and yell with such a voice that it rattled the mortar from the walls. But so too could she sing, could put a song in the heart that would make a pony want nothing more than to follow her, no matter where she led. And even more, she was the kind of pony anyone would genuinely want to follow, for she would never ask of another what she wouldn’t do herself.”

“And you knew her?” It was such a stupid question, but Twilight couldn’t help but feel awed by the mere memory of the pony Celestia was relating.

“Yes. I knew her very well. She was brash and brazen, loud and obnoxious and headstrong beyond all reproach.” Here Celestia laughed. It was a genuine laugh, bubbling up from deep inside and scored by an honest tear that shone gently on one cheek, “And there was nothing she needed more than being held at night, when thunder threatened. My brave warrior, my fearless protector: mighty and peerless beyond reproach, reduced to a cowering filly with a clap of thunder...”

That last word was punctuated with a sob, a sound that wrenched at Twilight’s heart. She pressed close to Celestia, her wing squeezing tight, nestling her cheek against her mentor’s neck, all to reassure her that she was not alone, that she had a friend close by. The tears came, and with them the shuddering sobs of feelings that had been so long kept in check.

Celestia wept, but for the first time in a very long time, she did not weep alone...