Spike trudged up the towering, mountainous staircase leading to the Princesses’ private chambers. It had been months since he started training with Twilight and Rainbow Dash. During that time, they’d been teleported all over Equestria and beyond. Princess Luna was an utterly brutal trainer. When they thought they were safe, they were ambushed in surprise attacks. When they failed to look up, they were bombed by pegasus golems. Even lunch wasn’t safe! A fateful plate of sandwiches had been sabotaged with a laxative. While the team suffered the effects, Luna simply asked them what they would have done had it been poison. The worst part, though? Luna had kept that little playful smirk the entire time, never getting angry once.
It was fun for her.
Figures that the Princess of the Night is a sadist, he thought, finally getting to the top of the stairs and halting to catch his breath. Climbing hills and stairs wasn’t that hard for ponies, even when they didn’t have wings. For bipeds like himself, though, it was another story. Going from the general dorms for the workers on the ground level to the highest towers in Canterlot was a serious trek. Normally Twilight came downstairs to see him, but this time she had specifically asked him to join her in Celestia’s room.
Stretching and arching his back, which was tonight blissfully free of his armor, he trod heavily down the hall. A few more steps and he’d be past the hall to Luna’s chambers and at the golden double doors to the elder alicorn’s quarters.
He stopped in his tracks and stood for a moment while his mind caught up to what was happening. Somepony had called his name. He felt he should probably do something about this, starting with looking at them. Whether or not he’d be able to do anything more remained to be seen.
Looking over, he spotted a rather stressed-looking Shining Armor. Even his uniform looked unkempt, which was quite unlike him.
Spike stared at him for a moment in silence. Then, his mind caught up a little. Oh, right. I need to respond. “Hey, Shining. What’s up?”
The unicorn raised an eyebrow. “You look like crap. Luna must have really run you guys ragged.”
“Goes both ways, man. I don’t think I’ve ever seen bags under your eyes like that before.”
He sighed. “Yeah. I’d rather go back to boot than deal with these politicians. That’s not important, though. Can I talk to you real quick? Over here. I need to ask you something.”
Spike shrugged and followed him down the hall to Luna’s room a little before stopping at a tiny door off to the side. It definitely wasn’t one of the royal chambers. What is this? Some kind of secret bedroom for— Oh. Janitorial closet. Right.
Shining shut the door behind them and put some sort of spell over it. “Alright. I know Twilight asked you up, so I’m not going to keep you too long. I just need you to promise you’ll do something for me.”
He scratched his head. “What do you need?”
“Look. I’m a very powerful unicorn. But Twilight? She’s… She’s beyond me in ways I can barely even imagine. Her mind? She—” He started to laugh and chuckle even as he wiped away a tear. “She was reading college-level stuff by the time she was seven. Might’ve been even earlier had we put it in front of her soon enough.” He sighed. “Sorry. Sorry, I’m rambling.”
He stopped, frozen in place for a few second before grabbing Spike by the shoulders and taking a deep breath. “If, somehow, miraculously, everything went perfectly from here on out, I’d have a hundred years left. Of that, maybe seventy I’d be healthy enough to protect her. That’s it. Even if she never gets to a single summit, she’ll never age again. And I’m not going to be able to be there to protect her like she needs to be. Rainbow won’t either. But you will!”
He leaned in close, looking Spike right in the eyes. “She needs someone to keep an eye on her. I need you to promise me that you’ll be there for her. Look after her, keep her safe.”
Spike rotated and fidgeted with his foot. “Technically, I’m not in her Guard yet. This was a trial period. I was hoping she’d be telling me one way or another tonight.”
Shining shook his head. “Don’t worry about that. I know her better than even Celestia. She’ll never leave you behind. She’s going to tell you about all kinds of precautions and how she doesn’t want you to have to fight, but ultimately, she’ll want you nearby. What I need from you is that promise.”
Spike gave the stallion a long, hard look. Shining wasn’t the kind of pony to reveal everything on his mind. He was straightforward with what he wanted to say and guarded everything else under the strictest confidence. All Spike could gather was that there was an excruciatingly heavy weight on Shining’s mind. Everything else was left to the wildest of guesses.
Despite all that, there was only one answer he could have given to such a request. “I’m surprised you even thought you had to ask. On my honor, I’ll protect her, ‘til my dying breath.” He crossed his heart as he finished repeating one of the Royal Guard’s creeds.
Shining relaxed almost to the point of melting. “Thank you. I needed to hear that. I won’t keep you any longer. I think we both need some sleep. I know I have a hell of a day coming tomorrow.”
Spike patted him on the shoulder while they left. “Yeah. Can’t say I envy you. At least our training with Luna is supposed to end tomorrow. Politics goes on forever.”
“You have no idea. Oh, and Spike?”
Shining deflated a little more and lowered his voice. “Please, don’t tell Twilight what we talked about.”
“Not a problem,” Spike whispered back.
A tiny smile grew on the stallion’s face. “Well, goodnight. I’m beat.”
“‘Night!” Spike waved goodbye to Shining as the stallion walked down the tairs, then turned back to walk down the little hall to the doors of Celestia’s chambers. Well, here’s hoping he’s right. He reached out to knock, but the door opened with a purple shimmer before he even had a chance.
“Come on in, Spike,” he heard Twilight say through the slightly open door.
He had gotten Shining’s assurances and mostly believed them, but that didn’t mean his heart would stop pounding. Making matters worse, each step caused another jolt of pain in his feet, but he kept moving forward towards her. She was sitting down on the balcony overlooking the Duchy, with a light blanket over her body and a cup of tea next to her books.
When he finally got there and sat down, his feet rejoiced like they’d just won freedom after a long prison sentence. Sometimes ponies really don’t know how good they have it with their hooves.
Twilight carefully set down the book she was reading on top of the neatly organized stack then scribbled some notes on parchment. How she still managed to have energy after all that had happened that day, Spike would never know. Several long moments passed between them in silence, dissolving into the slightly breezy mountain air.
She took another drink of her tea and finally spoke. “I’ve decided to welcome you into my Honor Guard.”
Spike did a remarkable impression of Shining Armor from a minute ago, exhaling and melting into the ground. “Whew…”
“There will, however, be some caveats,” she said over another sip.
“Yeah. I figured.” He leaned back into the pillar at the edge of the balcony, letting his back relax. Shining really does know her. “Hit me.”
“Careful, Spike. You never know when Luna is listening!” She winked at him.
“Don’t remind me.” Oh, he’d learned that lesson the hard way. They all had.
Twilight laughed politely. “It was a good lesson—if painful. Then again, it appears all of her lessons are painful. I’m grateful to her, truly, but I feel it will be a long time before I ask her to teach me anything involving fighting ever again.”
Spike rubbed his ankles. “Yeah. I’m about ready to cut off my feet. Put them out of their misery.”
“Well, don’t get too relieved. We still have one more day.”
“Once again, don’t remind me.”
They shared a small chuckle but quickly gave way to silence again. Time passed, and Luna’s stars began to peek out from the velvet void. It wasn’t until at least two constellations were visible that Spike decided to break the silence.
“Can I ask why you decided to let me stay?”
Twilight’s non-answer wasn’t especially encouraging, but at least he already knew he’d be welcome. That was the hard part, blissfully already done.
Twilight got up and gingerly stepped to the edge of the balcony, resting her forelegs on the rail. “Come here, Spike.”
It took him an extra try, but he managed to force himself up and waddle up to her, also leaning on the railing.
“Take a look out there. Can you see the ponies down in the marketplace? Or the lights of the town in the distance?”
Spike squinted a bit. His eyesight wasn’t as good as a pony’s. Evolution had granted him the ability to see movement better, as well as bright, shiny objects, but distance was another story. Still, there was enough light from the town that he could just barely make it out. “Yeah, I think I see it.”
“We’re pretty high up. Tallest towers of Canterlot. This here? This is how Celestia and Luna see things.”
Spike scratched his head. “What do you mean? This is Celestia’s room! Of course she sees this all the time!”
“I mean metaphorically. I’m talking a matter of perspective.”
“Perspective? Like, being this high up?”
Twilight shook her head. “Not quite. Neither of us are this high up. Only the Princesses are.”
“I’m starting to get confused.”
“It’s like this.” She dropped her head, resting it on her forelegs and looking down. “Imagine that this was a tower that went all the way to the base of the mountain. Ponies spend their lives at the base and, every now and then, enter the tower through a door and climb up a little. As they get older, they climb higher. You and I, we’re really not that far apart from each other in height. Up until now, you’ve been on the same balcony as the rest of us, but you’ve been entering a different door and climbing a different set of stairs.”
Spike was thoroughly lost at this point but let her continue speaking.
“Celestia and Luna are at the top of the tower, up here. They’re so high up I wonder if they ever truly go back down. Luna might. I’m not so sure about Celestia. I honestly never really realized all this until just recently, and for that, I’m so, so sorry Spike. I really am. I can’t believe how insensitive I was to just ignore it all and dismiss it. I should’ve talked to you about it.”
He put a hand on her foreleg. “Hey, I don’t really know what you mean yet, but it’s alright. Really. I’m here, aren’t I?”
Twilight blinked, and he saw some tears roll out of her eyes. “You are. And that’s the whole point, Spike. Now, I’m going in the same door you use. I’m using the same stairs. And someday, we might both be standing on top of the tower. Together.”
“Oh.” The whole meaning hit him like a locomotive, one of the solidified magic-powered ones, too, not the ones drawn by earth ponies. The perspective she was talking about was one of experience, of lifetimes. Up until now, he’d been with other ponies and was very young. There were many ponies older than he was. Yet, he was able to reasonably expect that he would keep going long after they had all passed on. More than that, he had continued on that way essentially by himself. He didn’t think anypony other than Celestia and Luna would still be there with him in the long run. They’d be the only ones able to look out over the same balconies he did.
Moreover, Twilight had been with all the other ponies. She’d had no inkling that she would eventually ascend and join Celestia and Luna at the top of the towers. She probably felt she had left him out in the cold. There was a level of loneliness, but Spike couldn’t blame her for that. For him, it was an inevitable, biological fact. For her, though, it was something else entirely.
Before he could think on it further, she had wrapped her forelegs around him and pulled him in tight. He even could feel a couple of tears rolling down his back.
“I’m so sorry for leaving you to climb those stairs alone. I’m not going to do that again. I can’t. We’re the only two in all of Equestria going in that lonely door. We have to stay together. Can you forgive me?”
He hugged her back. “There’s nothing to forgive. Like I said, I’m always going to be your number one assistant.”
By the time the hug finally broke, Spike fell back down on his rump again. He was still exceedingly tired. Yet, he couldn’t help but notice the appearance of a set of colored scrolls. “What are these?” he asked.
“These—” she sniffed “—are important pieces of your new job.”
He picked up the red scroll. It was like thin construction paper. He slid off the black tie, noticing there wasn’t any security spell on them. The reason was obvious when he unfurled it. “It’s blank.”
“That’s the idea. Spike, remember when I described how your mail works?”
He nodded. “Sure. Leylines, magic, that sort of thing.”
She re-rolled the red one in her magic. “Right. Well, the Princesses actually use leylines for teleportation, too. I’m not completely certain, but I’m guessing the range for both is similar. The spells probably use similar principles. But, this means they both have a similar limitation.”
“Let me guess. Since leylines aren’t everywhere, if we’re too far, no help’s coming?”
Twilight beamed with some pride. “Exactly! We won’t be able to call for help, and even if we could, it’d be some time before they arrived. Spike, when we’re on a mission and close to a leyline, I want you to hang back, out of sight.”
He started to deflate a bit at this, but she lifted his chin with a hoof.
“You are going to be my lifeline. Take a look at this.” She raised her horn and lit it up, sending a few sparks from it. These sparks were a different color from her normal magic and didn’t fade away. Instead, they scattered on the ground, one for each color scroll, plus a purple one.
Twilight continued, “When you’re hiding out of sight, I want you to have a clear view of the sky. When I send up a flare, you’re to immediately send the matching scroll. Don’t bother with writing anything, just send them.”
Spike snapped his fingers. “This is so you can get help as fast as possible, isn’t it?”
“Precisely! Although, only two are a call for help. Yellow actually means we’ve encountered a complication and need more time, rather than aid. Green means we’re ‘mission complete’ and heading home. Purple means I need you personally where I’m at; that’s why there’s no scroll for it.”
“So, why the two different colors for getting help?” He lifted the black one to check, and it too was blank. “Seems superfluous.”
Twilight grinned. “Excellent vocabulary use, Spike, but it’s not superfluous. I was talking with Luna and realized that we might one day find that not only am I in over my head but that there could be a lot of ponies that need help. Too many for just myself or even Luna to protect. If things are really that dire, I’ll send up a black flare. If that happens, Spike, I need you to follow rule number one of being in an Honor Guard.”
She leaned in close, her eyes suddenly serious. “First and foremost, if you want to be in my Guard, you have to follow all of my orders without hesitation. I feel you’re ready for that, but this one might be hard. Spike, if I fire a black flare, you need to send the scroll right away and then do one more thing. Run.”
Spike opened his mouth but was cut off before he could speak.
“I know you probably don’t like this, Spike, but—”
He was cut off again. “Let me finish. This is important. It took a lot for me to even admit to myself how much I’m going to need you on this journey. I really don’t want to see you hurt, but I also recognized that leaving you would leave you deeply hurt emotionally, and—”
Spike bopped her lightly on the head with the black scroll.
Twilight stopped and blinked a few times, one hoof slightly raised in the air in disbelief. “Did you seriously just bop me on the head with a scroll?”
“Twilight, I get it!” He twirled the black one in his hand. “You’re telling me that if you fire a black flare, I should send this thing and get the heck out of Dodge Junction. I get it. I agree with it.”
Twilight opened her mouth to say something, clearly about to argue with him, but then stopped. “You agree?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “Come on, Twi! This thing means you’ve found something so awful that you need Luna and a ton of Royal Guards to save your flank. What exactly am I going to do against something like that?”
He obviously hit a logic nerve in her. “Well, I thought that, um…”
Wow. Twilight speechless. Wish I had a camera. He continued, “Look, the way I see it, I’d just get in Luna’s way. There’s really not much I can do in that situation other than summon help and keep my head down. Maybe send a follow-up scroll later.”
Twilight’s eye twitched a little. “Spike! That is— That’s really mature of you! I’m impressed!”
“Come on, Twi.” He allowed himself a little smirk. “I’m not a hatchling anymore!”
She shook her head. “No, you are not. I guess I have to remind myself of that sometimes. Well, this went smoother than I thought it would.”
Spike stood up and started gathering the scrolls. It was a force of habit to do so at this point. “Yep. And, shoot, worst case scenario, I figure, if you fall, I’ll get sucked into a depression for a few decades, get really super strong, learn some dark draconic magic, and go on a roaring revenge rampage! It’ll be fun!”
She playfully bopped him on the head with the scroll. “You little smart-flank.”
“I know you are, but what am I!?” There was a beat, and the full meaning of what he said hit him. “Oh, wait, I… Nuts.”
“Kinda backfired on you there, didn’t it?”
“Yeah,” he yawned. “But then, I’m exhausted.”
Twilight stood up. “I hear that. I hear that loud and clear. Why don’t you get to bed, Spike. Knowing Luna, she’s got a hell of a day coming for our last lesson.”
“You don’t need to tell me twice.” He forced himself up and pushed himself mentally to walk to the door as quick as he could. Sleep was coming! “‘Night Twilight. Thanks for letting me be in your Honor Guard.”
Just before he closed the door behind him, he heard her whisper, “Of course, little bro. Sleep well.”
A little while after Spike left, Twilight winced over and over as she slowly made her way to Celestia’s large bed. Each time one of her hooves pressed against the marble tile, it hurt. Oh, sweet Celestia, did it hurt. At least Spike is lucky enough to only have two feet to worry about.
Shining once described his boot camp, and Twilight hadn’t quite believed they’d run ponies so ragged. There was no doubt in her mind now: he was telling the truth. After all, Luna did say he’d helped influence her ‘lesson plan.’ Only somepony subjected to such tortures would be warped enough to want to put others through it too. At this point, Twilight felt an overwhelming desire to use her new status to advocate for more physical education classes in school.
What was worse was that, throughout their training, Luna was cheating, and she admitted it! She kept changing what the golems were made of, making new ones where Twilight wasn’t looking… The absolute worst part, though, was when she made them look and sound like normal ponies. That was just mean, even if she did understand the reasoning behind it.
On her fifth yawn, she finally made it to the bed and flopped over. For once, she knew this night she shouldn’t be forced out of bed by a foghorn or teleported away and dropped in a lake. The reason behind her confidence was simple; Luna was finally restarting her Night Court. To the best of Twilight’s knowledge, the Princesses couldn’t actually be in two places at once, so she might finally be safe.
Seventeen seconds after crawling into the bed, she jolted awake. At least, she thought she was awake. After another yawn, she sat up and looked around.
Overhead was the night sky or, rather, a night sky. She wasn’t sure which, but it wasn’t Equestria’s. The stars took on every imaginable hue and packed the sky in patterns she’d never seen before. Even the “dim” areas were filled with stars.
Something even more remarkable, though, was the cloud she was on. It was huge. Overcast skies were one thing, but this stretched on as far as she could see. Not only was it enormous, it was blue and sparkly. It positively shimmered in the sun, which was unique too, seeing as the rest of the sky was night. Yet, there was the sun, more than three-quarters of the way under the horizon and looking oddly pinkish-purple.
She watched it hang on the horizon for a moment, bobbing up and down slightly from the shifting surface under her, when she realized something. She was on a sparkling, wavy, blue cloud.
“There is no way at all that I can possibly be awake,” she deadpanned.
“Huzzah! Got it in one! You are, in fact, asleep, Twilight Sparkle!”
Twilight went tumbling forward from the sudden volume of the pony that had appeared behind her. With a twist, she righted herself and sat back up. “Hey, Luna. Come to torture me some more?”
Luna held a hoof to her chest in shock. “Twilight, you wound me. I know our training has been vigorous, but ‘tis a necessity! And I thought you might like a chance to just talk instead of getting the runaround from my golems.”
“Talk?” she stressed. “Just talk, no crazy training?”
“Just talk,” the Princess reassured.
She exhaled. “Good to know. Yes, I would be fine with talking. What I would really like to know is: one, where are we exactly, and two, didn’t you have Night Court?”
Luna breathed in through her teeth nervously. “I should answer the latter first. Since the coup, rumors have been flying of my involvement. As in, saying I was behind the whole thing.”
Twilight groaned. Of course ponies would start a rumor like that. “Let me guess, nopony showed up in Court?”
“Not a soul. They all rescheduled. ‘Tis most distressing, but they will calm down eventually. Since it left me with some time, I decided to use dream magic to talk to you. This is one of my dream realms, albeit with one addition.” She pointed a hoof at the sun. “Since you are a guest here, I thought it appropriate to add a special something just for you.”
She put it under the horizon… after my name. “It’s beautiful, Luna.”
The Princess flapped her wings a little. “I’m very glad you like it. After all, it’s probably one of the last dream realms in existence, seeing as this school of magic has died out.”
Twilight’s sleep-deprived mind took a moment to catch up with that statement. She was witnessing a form of magic that nopony had seen in ages.
She started to smile, very slowly.
“Let me guess. You want me to teach you dream magic now, too.” Luna smirked.
Twilight rubbed her hooves together a little bit. “It would be nice…”
“Very well. I shall, but later, after you ascend. It takes a long time to master this, even for one as talented as you, and our focus must be elsewhere. For now…” Luna whipped up a lump of cloud, making it more solid. Then, she made another. “Lie down, on your back, then look up at the stars.”
Twilight shrugged and did as she was told. It was certainly no trouble; after all, she found it quite lovely. The little pinpricks of light were flickering in and out, changing color, even vanishing.
Luna flopped down next to her. “These stars, Twilight, are our ponies. All of them that are dreaming.”
Twilight blinked. “All of them? As in, all ponies, everywhere?”
“Well,” the Princess hesitated. “It is true that my reach only extends so far. Yet, most of Equestria is within that, so, yes, all of them. Although, there is no way of knowing who is who without entering the dreams. Unless they are right upstairs.” She winked. “There was a time, though, when that wasn’t an issue. My ponies rejoiced knowing that I might be able to find them in their nightmares and sooth their minds. I dare not do so now. It would only spark more scandal.”
“Wait wait wait,” Twilight interrupted. “You’re telling me that you can spy on ponies’ dreams? As in, all of Equestria?”
“That is so, yet as I said, I dare not anymore. It is easily possible to know I am there, and my ponies are still frightened of me. Should my enemies ever find out, the rumors they would spread could ruin what little reputation I have for decades to come. Instead, I merely watch this sky. I see the nightmares grow, and it terrifies me. Each time I visit, I can sense it getting worse, yet to what end, I dare not contemplate.”
“And you can’t do anything?”
Luna shook her head. “Not directly. I have my ways. I’m sure you have gleaned that my Night Guard doesn’t exactly limit themselves as the Council wishes. It hurts too much to sit completely idle. Yet I am fully aware that getting caught or doing too much would hurt rather than help, so instead, here I sit. A caged princess, but one that shall never turn a blind eye to her ponies again.” She wiped a tear from her face. “I apologize, Twilight. I thought this would be a happy, interesting thing to share.”
“Hey,” she said, getting Luna to look at her. “You’re my friend. I’m sorry I was a little standoffish. I’m just under a lot of stress. We all are. And this? This is gorgeous. I’m very grateful that you showed it to me.”
Her face brightened a little. “I’m very happy to hear that, Twilight Sparkle. However,” she dimmed again. “Do not take this the wrong way, but I was hoping for more.”
“More?” Twilight did not like the sound of that. More than friends? Please tell me that’s not what I think it means. Celestia would kill me for even thinking it. Not to mention, how do I turn down somepony like this? What if she—
“Please, Twilight, allow me to finish before panicking.”
She shrunk herself a bit. I guess she knows me better than I thought.
“As Celestia has no doubt told you, we have been alive for a very long time. For the last several thousand years, we have been alone as alicorns. I did not and could not befriend the few that took up the mantle as Grand Mage in the past. Do not be confused; I love my ponies and love being among them. Seeing them be born and grow and live their lives. Yet, there is something missing from all these relationships. Something that only my sister has been able to provide for me.”
Although the Princess paused, perhaps for Twilight to speak, she dared not interrupt, and Luna continued.
“Understanding. My ponies can appreciate me and love me, but truly understand me? Impossible. I am isolated, on an island with only one other, and I desperately need for somepony else to understand me. I do not want mere friendship from you, Twilight. I want your understanding. I want for you to be my sister.”
And then it all dawned on her, falling down in front of her like an avalanche. Luna wasn’t interested in romance (at least, not with her). She was looking for somepony with the ability to really get her, not just be her friend. She experienced thousands of years going by with only one other to truly open up to. Now, Twilight was faced with the exact same prospect, being alive for millennia on end with very few who could understand the same perspective.
What Luna was offering was quite simple and beneficial, though quite profound. On the surface, it felt like she’d be crazy to say no. At the same time, it was far more complex than that.
“Twilight, I know this isn’t a small thing.”
And she was way ahead of her.
“But we have a lot of time to get there. Bonds like this are forged, slowly, over the fires of shared experience. I would be honored if you would be willing to look forward to the day where we could call each other ‘sister.’”
Luna lifted a silver-clad hoof to her, and Twilight pushed hers against it. “Deal. But in return, I’m going to hold you to that promise to teach me dream magic someday.”
That brought her smile right back out. “All of my knowledge shall be yours, Twilight, this I promise you. In fact, why don’t we start now?”
“Now? I can’t imagine that it’s safe to try to cast magic in my sleep. I am asleep, right?”
“You are indeed fully asleep, with all the benefits that entails. And you are also correct, it wouldn’t be a good idea to practice your magic here. But surely there is some other knowledge I can impart. Celestia has done so for you in the past, correct? I can answer questions just as well as she. Well, maybe not just as well, but certainly I can share something with you. Sisters do that, yes? Share?”
“That they do,” she said, turning back to the stars. “I’m just not quite sure what to ask. Celestia always led our conversations. It’s like going into a library the size of a city. Where do I start?”
“Well, how about the beginning?”
A rumble under the cloud shook it like an earthquake, making her jump to her hooves, only to be barely able to stand. In the distance, the clouds began to bubble and erupt into the sky, spraying cloud, water, and ice in a twisting motion like a tornado leading up into the stars.
And it was heading towards them.
Twilight turned to Luna for an explanation, but the Princess merely smiled. She started to run, but Twilight found her efforts futile as her hooves couldn’t get stable traction in the trembling cloud, and she fell face-first into the sparkles. Before she could get up, Luna was standing over her, smile still in place.
“Be not afraid, Twilight. Remember, we are merely in a dream. As for what you are about to experience…”
The roar of water and wind extinguished Luna’s words, sweeping her up into who-knew where. When Twilight could finally open her eyes again, she found herself underwater. Well, sort of. The water was filled with as many stars as the sky, and she could breathe normally. Moreover, despite being underwater, it looked as if she was in a large field of rolling hills filled with grain. It might’ve looked more like a late afternoon if not for the slight blue tint.
Luna walked up beside her. “Behold— The Tides of Time.”
Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but stopped again for a moment, expecting a mouthful of water. The little star-like specks did tickle a bit, but she otherwise became satisfied it was safe to breathe and continued. “Where are we now?”
“A better question to ask is ‘when.’ If you must know, we’re still technically when we were, and we’re still in the dream realm, but this is no dream. This is a memory. More specifically—”
“Luna! What are you still doing here!?”
Twilight turned around to see who else was there, but the stars got a bit too bright, shimmering and flashing in front of her eyes. When it stopped and her eyes refocused, they were underneath the lone tree in the field. With her bearings regained, Twilight could now see who was speaking. “It can’t be…”
A tall, white unicorn with a pink and gold mane was strolling up to the tree. She wore white and gold robes and carried a large tome in a saddlebag. She looked like Fleur de Lis would if she didn’t starve herself half the time.
“Princess!? Is that you!?”
Princess Luna snickered a bit as the pony ignored her. Instead, the young-looking Celestia walked up to the shade of the tree, seemingly intent on talking to a small blue unicorn about Twilight’s height, lying down in front of a book.
“Luna! What are you still doing here? You’re going to be late! I swear, first you were late for your own graduation, and now you’re late for your first day!?”
The smaller unicorn looked over at the sun for a moment. “Oh come on, Tia, I’ve got at least an hour and a half!”
“This… This is…” Twilight swallowed her words.
“One of my memories from before my ascension. I’m not surprised you’re always afraid of being late. She was always a stickler for timeliness.”
Celestia stomped her hoof. “Lunacea Umbra Astralis!”
“Meimeimeimei Meimei Meimeimei!” The younger Luna teased in a mocking voice.
Twilight had to stifle a laugh.
“Oh, you little—”
Twilight’s jaw dropped as Celestia’s hoof raised up like she was actually going to hit Luna! Then, a burst of heat and light crackled in the field, and a new hooded and robed pony stood before all of them.
“Celestia Caelum Astralis! I know I’m not witnessing you raising a hoof to strike your little sister!”
The young Celestia backed down sheepishly. “I was only trying to close her book…”
“For your sake, I hope so.” The pony took off her hood, revealing a deep golden mane, pure white coat, and golden eyes that looked as if they may as well have been on fire. “But that is not the way we behave. Honestly, you two are adults now. I shouldn’t have to threaten to ground you.”
“Sorry, Mom,” they both said.
“No. Way.” The real Celestia herself couldn’t lift Twilight’s jaw up at this point.
The motion of the scene stopped, and the ‘real’ Luna stepped up next to her. “Indeed, this is our mother, Incendia. And Celestia actually was going to hit me, and me her, and we probably would have rolled around on the ground giving each other some bruises. We tended to squabble and roughhouse a lot. Ponies often wondered if we should’ve been colts!”
“Ah. Ahahahaha. I don’t believe it!” Twilight rejoiced. “I heard Celestia say she was a ‘regular unicorn mare.’ I heard both of you tell me you were once unicorns. But, this! This! Oh, I wish I could take a picture.”
“I would be willing to bet that there are dragons out there who would love proof of our foalhood. However, this exists only in memory. Whether Tia remembers it, I do not know. But this day is rather special to me.”
Twilight nodded. “She said something about your first day?”
The ‘water’ around them shimmered and clouded, becoming opaque and then clearing again, showing a completely different scene. They were on a cumulus cloud high above the fields, with two towns below. Each was like a reflection of the other and arranged to form a perfect circle. Far in the distance, a gigantic stadium loomed in front of a line of storms.
In between the two towns was a smaller, well, Twilight wasn’t sure. Kind of an amphitheatre, maybe? Also, there was a much wider circle surrounding both towns with a wall-like structure.
Luna lay down on the cloud, crossing her hooves and laying her chin on them. “This, Twilight, is Concordia. It was my home as a unicorn— and as a Moonraiser.”
Suddenly, it all made sense. “You were one of the unicorns that raised the moon before Discord!?”
“Yes, along with nearly five hundred other powerful mages. Tia and mother were Sunraisers, naturally. In fact, I was the first Moonraiser in a long line of Sunraisers. This whole city was completely separate from the other alicorns’ nations. It was decided that ponies wanted a neutral body to take control of the sun and moon, and so, the city of Concordia was built. It owed allegiance to no other nation and had no alicorn directly leading it. Their influence could still be felt, but it was more distant. The town’s size was also carefully limited.” She sighed wistfully. “This was my first day as an Acolyte Moonraiser.”
“Hmmm,” Twilight scratched her chin with her hoof. “Acolyte? Like Arcane Edge? Did you name your Night Guard ranks after the Moonraisers?”
“Ever perceptive, Twilight.” With a slight groan, Luna got back up, suddenly moving like a very old mare. “Speaking of, I must attend to the moon. I’ll return in a moment. The tides will disrupt and dissolve. Do not be alarmed; this is expected and perfectly safe.”
Rather than a normal, stark teleportation, the Princess simply faded out. It wasn’t long before the ‘water’ around her started to fade away, too, being replaced with the prior dream realm. Twilight took the quiet moment to lay back on the cloud and stare at the stars. They really were beautiful but also fewer in number now.
When she regained her bearings, Twilight was upside down with her back leaning on a ‘hill’ of cloud and stardust with her hind legs dangling near her chin.
“Luna, was that really necessary?” She muttered. The Princess seemed to have this unnerving habit of surprising ponies with the Voice and sending them flying.
“Twilight, I apologize, but there’s no time.” Luna reached out with forehooves, picked her up, and set her right. “I’m going to void the realm; that should wake you up. We cannot waste any time. Make yourself presentable as fast as you can, and meet me in the Empyreal Hall. Ready?”
“Hey, wait!” Twilight grabbed her by the shoulders, pressing down a bit to try to get her to stop. “No, not ready! Luna, what’s going on?!”
“It’s your brother! Your brother’s in trouble!”