Chapter Two - Explanations and Plans
Twilight's Tower, Canterlot, Equestria
April 4, 2183 CE
When she had first met Gilda on the Citadel, Twilight would have never been able to guess just how much the young griffin would come to mean to her. Before meeting Gilda, Twilight had been much lonelier, her life shrouded in darkness. In many ways, they healed each other’s wounds, and Twilight had never been happier.
There were problems, Twilight had no illusions about that. Gilda had deep wounds that reached all the way to her soul, and there was a very real chance that she would always have them. Spending twelve years as a slave, witnessing and experiencing horrors that would make even the strongest of ponies break. That Gilda had managed to come through her experience as strong and collected as she had.
There were some wounds that would never heal, and Khar’shan’s slave camps created more than their fair share. If she could, Twilight would jump at the chance to wipe the Batarian facilities from existence. She had more than enough power after all.
The dream had done nothing to help Gilda. The nearly overwhelming darkness that had crashed upon her had left her a blubbering mess as soon as she had awoken. Before Twilight had managed to restrain her, Gilda had scratched three claw marks down the front of the unicorn’s barrel with her razor sharp claws.
Twilight’s cry of pain had thankfully snapped Gilda out of her confusion. The griffin had simply fallen limp, turning away from Twilight, her chest heaving as she struggled to breath. Twilight ignited her horn, and in less than a moment, she had hardened the thin trickles of blood.
“Gilda…” Twilight murmured. She edged forward on the bed, pushing the sheets out of the way until she was spooning her. Twilight wrapped herself as much as possible around the much larger griffin, holding her as her body shook in terror.
“It’s alright, Gilda.” Stroking her mane gently, Twilight rocked Gilda back and forth, quietly murmuring to her. “You’re safe.”
Gilda was half able to hear her, her eyes wide, her mind in a completely different place.
“Gilda…” Twilight leaned closer to Gilda’s ear, hidden under her feathers. “Can you hear me? You're safe. You're in Canterlot.”
“Gilda, please, talk to me.” Twilight tried again, nuzzling against Gilda’s cheek.
The griffin didn’t respond to her, at least at first. Slowly, her breathing slowed until she had calmed. Gilda turned in Twilight's embrace until they were muzzle to beak.
“Twilight…” Gilda murmured, her eyes glassy.
“I'm here, Gilda,” Twilight said, a hopeful smile on her face. “You’re safe.”
“I can’t…" Shaking her head, Gilda buried her head in Twilight's chest. She started to cry, heavy sobs that left her gasping for air, clinging to Twilight for all she was worth. “I don't want to... I can't get the memories out of my head!”
“I know.” Twilight kissed her beak, her voice soft and reassuring. “It's alright. I'm here, and you're safe.”
Gilda pulled away from Twilight so that they were able to look each other in the eye.
“Twilight…” She whispered.
“What is, Gilda?” Twilight asked, smiling comfortingly at her.
“I can’t…" Gilda shook her head. She took a deep, shuddering breath. “Please.”
She ducked her head, avoiding Twilight’s gaze. Her voice was so quiet that Twilight had to strain to hear her. “Please, use your magic.”
“Use my magic to do what?” Twilight didn’t need to ask. She already knew what Gilda meant, and her heart was breaking. She deserved so much more, but circumstances had prevailed over both of them. Nopony, no griffin deserved what she had gone through.
“Please Twilight…” Gilda begged, burying her face in Twilight’s chest. “I just need to sleep. Put me to sleep. Please, put me to sleep.”
Twilight leaned back, studying Gilda carefully, making sure she knew what she was asking her. The griffin was unable to meet her gaze, the muscles along her jaw twitching uncomfortably. She saw what she was looking for, and Twilight nodded reluctantly.
“Alright,” Twilight whispered, kissing her forehead. “Alright, Gilda.”
“Close your eyes.” She reached a hoof up, rubbing Gilda's cheek lovingly.
Gilda hesitated for a moment before shutting her eyes. She took a last shuddering breath, readying herself.
Igniting her horn, Twilight cast a dreamless sleep spell on Gilda. Celestia had taught the spell to her several years ago, but she had never had an opportunity to use it before now.
It wasn’t fair that Gilda needed such a spell to even get any rest. It wasn’t fair that she had to have been subjected to a nightmare so soon after her rescue.
Twilight held Gilda as the griffin's body slowly relaxed, falling into a dreamless sleep. Leaning forward, Twilight kissed her forehead before sliding out of bed, letting Gilda get her rest.
Emerging out into her living room, Twilight made her way to her her refrigerator. Her hunger had made itself known and she knew exactly what she was going to have. It was calling to her. Serving herself a slice of quiche that Spike had made the day before, she took it over to the small kitchen table nearby. Sitting down, she started her meal, beginning her day.
As she chewed, Twilight mulled over her thoughts. Ponies, all species actually, knew the differences between right and wrong. It was a universal constant, and it was the abnormal being that truly felt that wrong was right. Batarians seemed to have been flipped in that regard. They were cruel, harsh beings who believed in slavery as the rule, not the exception.
A knock at the door startled her out of her thoughts.
“Who is it?” Twilight called, only half expecting an answer. If it was somepony important, they were already keyed in. If they weren’t, she’d deal with them as soon as she finished her breakfast. The dream had rattled her too, and she needed some time of her own to reorient herself.
The door unlocked and Twilight practically jumped out of her chair when Princess Celestia walked in.
“Princess!” She exclaimed, giving a short bow of her head.
“Good morning, Twilight,” Celestia said with her own nod, a greeting to her faithful student.
“Good morning!” Twilight chirped, a sound that was far more cheerful than she actually felt.
“Please, Twilight,” Celestia said, seeing that Twilight was just beginning to eat. She sat down beside the table, the chairs too small for her. “Don't let my presence interrupt your breakfast.”
Smiling gratefully at her mentor, Twilight sat back down at the table, taking a bite another bite of her breakfast. “Is there something you needed to speak to me about, Princess?”
Celestia was silent for a long moment, appearing as if she was a million miles away. She finally turned her attention to Twilight, nodding, her face expressionless. “There is.”
Celestia settled herself down, frowning. Twilight shuffled uncomfortably on her chair. She had never seen her mentor look so uncomfortable before, and it was more than a bit frightening.
“Are you alright, Princess?” Twilight asked.
“I… I have encountered a bit of a problem, Twilight,” Celestia admitted, chewing on her lip in a very unprincessly manner. “It would do me a lot of good if I could use you as a sounding board.”
“Of course, Princess!” Twilight felt a jolt of excitement rush through her. She often went to Celestia to try and figure out her problems, the act of explaining her issue to somepony else making her see the issue from another angle.
“You have grown into a wonderful mare, Twilight.” Celestia smiled at her student, pride shining in her eyes. “You are one of a kind.”
“Thank you, Princess.” Twilight blushed, taking another bite of her food.
For a long moment, Celestia didn't say anything, gathering her thoughts together.
“There are…” When Celestia began to speak, she was uncharacteristically timid. “… things that you do not know about me Twilight. Things that nopony knows. That nopony could ever guess.”
Twilight didn't know what to say to that, instead staying silent, watching her teacher carefully.
“We are old, Luna and I. Extremely old. We were born before any of the species that walk Equestria had evolved, and we are the last of our kind.” Though she was present in the room, Celestia could feel the warmth of the sun shining down on her in the dry desert air, back when her mother was still alive and she controlled the world.
Celestia drew away from her memories, looking at Twilight's meal. “I am sorry, Twilight. Do you have anything that I could eat. I'm just realizing that I am incredibly hungry.”
“Oh!” Twilight practically jumped out of her seat. “Sure, Princess! That’s not a problem.”
Twilight rushed over to the refrigerator, looking inside.
“What would you like?” She called out, her voice muffled. “I've got... some quiche that Spike made. A salad that I don't... it's growing things… how long has that been in here?”
“The quiche sounds wonderful, Twilight,” Celestia said.
“Yes, Princess.” Twilight threw the salad away while simultaneously cutting a generous slice of Spike’s quiche for Celestia. She levitated it in front of the Princess along with a fork.
“Thank you, Twilight.” Taking a bite, Celestia closed her eyes in delight. “It's very good.”
“I'll tell Spike you think so.” The little dragon would be overjoyed to learn that his meal had been enjoyed by the Princess.
Celestia was quiet, enjoying her breakfast. The past twelve hours had proved to be incredibly tiring and she only just now appreciated how much she needed to eat.
“Luna and I have kept a careful hoof on history,” Celestia said as she swallowed her first bite. “We have guided this planet in ways that nopony realizes. In a very real sense, we are the mothers of everyone who has ever been born here.”
Finishing her meal, Celestia magicked her plate over to the sink in Twilight's kitchen.
“We have defended our little ponies from so many threats. It was what any good mother would do.”
Twilight listened to Celestia’s words carefully. Celestia was hinting at a lot of what Twilight had only guessed at before, and she bounced in her chair in excitement.
“Have you heard of the Elements of Harmony, Twilight?” Celestia searched the unicorn’s face for any sign of recognition.
“No, Princess.” Twilight shook her head.
“I'm not surprised.” Celestia chuckled to herself. It had been a long, arduous task keeping everything quiet. It had taken the combined efforts of both Luna and herself to keep the Elements out of the history books. “We kept them a careful secret.”
“What are the Elements of Harmony, Princess?” Twilight asked, leaning forward excitedly.
Celestia nodded her head, trying to think of the best way to explain the Elements to Twilight. She nodded, her eyes lifting up and to the right. “Do you remember what I have taught you about Equestria's magic? How we are all bound together by powerful forces?”
“Yes, Princess.” Twilight nodded.
“The Elements of Harmony are a physical manifestation of those forces,” Celestia said. “Honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, loyalty, and magic.”
“A physical manifestation?” That such objects would have been kept from all of Equestria was incredible news. Twilight sat up, intrigued. It was unlike anything she had ever heard of before.
“Yes.” Celestia nodded, smiling at Twilight’s excitement. “Luna and I once used them to protect Equestria. I wielded generosity, kindness, and magic. Luna bore the other three.”
“What did they do, Princess?” Twilight wished she had a notebook in front of her. She wanted to get everything down on paper, just in case she forgot something.
“The Elements of Harmony are the most powerful force to have ever manifested on Equestria.” Celestia let her mind turn back to old memories. She turned her head, looking out the window to Equestria beyond. “We only ever used them when circumstances threatened to destroy Equestria. The last time that I almost had to use the Elements was nearly one-thousand years ago.”
“What happened one-thousand years ago?” Twilight asked, unable to hide the eagerness in her voice.
“There was a…” Celestia paused, glancing down at the table. “There was a prophecy.”
“A prophecy?” Twilight’s face scrunched up in confusion. “Prophecies are just children's stories! They're a myth. They don't exist.”
“That isn’t exactly the truth.” Laughing, Celestia shook her head. “You and the rest of Equestria just experienced one last night.”
“The dream?” Twilight cocked her head in confusion.
“Yes,” Celestia simply said. Sighing, she ducked her head. “It was the same prophecy one-thousand years ago that led to me almost having to use the Elements against her.”
“What” Twilight leaned forward, even more confused. “Why would you have to do that?”
“The prophecy is immensely personal to my sister.” That was an understatement. The prophecy had spelled the death of the first alicorn born in nearly half-a-million years. “I won't reveal anything more, but we managed to work everything out.”
“We left the Elements at the Everfree Castle, hidden.” Celestia took a deep breath. “When we made the move to Canterlot... what would become Canterlot, we left them behind. We had thought that there was no safer place for them, hidden in a castle that nopony would ever travel to. Who would dare to venture into the Everfree Forest after all?”
“That was foolish of us,” Celestia murmured, shaking her head. “After the prophecy, Luna and I went to retrieve them.”
“They are gone.” Celestia bowed her head.
“Gone?” Twilight leaned back, startled.
“The greatest hope we have for whatever darkness is coming are gone.” Celestia felt a shiver of fear run down her spine. She had gone through the prophecy more times than she could imagine, investigating every lead that she find, no matter how implausible or remote. Everything that she had discovered had only reinforced her belief. The darkness would not be stopped by her or by Luna. “There are no signs as to where they went or who took them.”
“What darkness?” Twilight asked, searching for context. “What would you need to use the Elements for?”
“You saw the dream.” Celestia stood, walking over to the window. “Something is coming. A storm. The final storm. I can think of no other time where the Elements could be of more use.”
“And they're missing.” Twilight was beginning to understand.
“Yes.” Celestia nodded once.
“That’s not good…” Twilight leaned back in her chair, the enormity of what Celestia was admitting to her finally hitting her.
“That is what I would call an understatement, Twilight,” Celestia murmured, laughing darkly.
Thinking over what Celestia had told her, Twilight couldn’t help but get excited. Her eyes lit up and she looked at Celestia proudly. “Princess, would it be okay if I go to the castle? Maybe I can find something that you missed.”
Celestia studied Twilight for a moment before nodding her assent. “I don’t have a problem with that, Twilight.
Twilight resisted the urge to jump up and shout, settling instead to just give a single jubilant cry. “Yes!”
“I hope that you’ll find something that Luna and I missed.” Celestia smiled at Twilight's enthusiasm. “I shall send a guard with a map to my castle. The quickest route would be to go through Ponyville. I shall set everything up for you.”
Celestia stood, walking around to the other side of the table to nuzzle Twilight appreciatively. “Thank you for breakfast, Twilight.”
“It wasn't a problem, Princess.” Twilight leaned into the Princesses’ nuzzle, smiling. “I hope that I can be of help.”
“Are things alright with you and Gilda?” Celestia asked, noticing the griffin’s absence.
“… Yes.” Twilight frowned, but nodded. “She was hit hard by the dream.... the nightmare, so I cast a sleep spell on her.”
“Other than that?” Celestia asked, grinning coyly at the young unicorn.
“We’re doing good.” Twilight blushed, looking away from her teacher. “We're doing very good.”
“I am happy for you. Both of you.” Celestia turned and walked back to the door to Twilight’s apartment. She gave a final look over her shoulder at Twilight, smiling. “Please, give her my regards when she wakes."
“I will, Princess,” Twilight called after the Princess.
Princess Celestia left the apartment and made her way out of Twilight’s tower, shutting the door behind her.
Gilda emerged from Twilight's room, groggy but rested. Whatever spell Twilight had used on her, it had been wonderful to get restful sleep for what felt like the first time in months. She rubbed the ceramic replacement of her beak, the point of contact itching like crazy.
“Twilight?” Gilda called out.
“Hey, Gilda.” Spike emerged from the kitchen, a spoon stuck in a pint of ice-cream.
“Spike,” Gilda greeted, giving him a short wave. “Have you seen Twilight?”
“Yeah.” Spike nodded, pointing at the door with his spoon. “She’s downstairs in the library. I think she's trying to read all of the books.”
“All of the books?” Gilda asked, clacking her beak in amusement.
“It certainly looks that way,” Spike said with a shrug, stuffing a brain freezing amount of ice-cream into his mouth.
“Alright. Thanks, Spike.” Gilda started to walk out of the apartment, but she stopped as she realized something. She turned back around and looked at Spike with narrowed eyes. He suddenly looked a lot guiltier with a spoon sticking out of his mouth.
“Are you supposed to be eating ice-cream at…” She looked over at the clock on the wall. “Three in the afternoon?”
“Uh…” Spike blanched, shrinking slightly at her gaze.
“Didn't think so.”
“I’ll…” Spike blushed, embarrassed that he got caught, not so much that he had done anything wrong in the first place. “I’ll go put this back.”
“That's a good idea.” Turning, Gilda walked out and left the apartment, stepping out into the tower proper.
When Princess Celestia had first chosen Twilight as her personal student, the filly had moved into the castle on weekdays for her studies. It had only made sense to be able to easily access the filly, so Celestia had simply gifted her one of the castles four towers in the Royal Wing. Over the years, she had filled the tower nearly completely to the brim with books she had purchased with her monthly stipend from the Royal Treasury. The top floor of the tower served as Twilight’s and Spike’s apartment, the rest of the eight floors serving as her own personal library.
Twilight tended to spend the vast majority of her time within her library, occasionally taking to exercising with the Guard units on the ground at random times. Since becoming the Princesses personal student, Twilight had unfortunately become one of the most sought after ponies on the planet in more ways than one. The news ponies tried any and every chance to dig up stories about the mysterious mare, and the consequence of their actions had led Twilight Sparkle to be almost as well known as the Princesses themselves.
Gilda walked down all eight flights of stairs, having to make more than a few rests along the way. Her chest ached and she was incredibly winded. Gilda had to take a long moment to catch her breath. She still suffered from her time as a slave, and it seemed like she couldn’t go a single day without being reminded.
“Twilight?” Gilda called out, coughing to clear her throat. She tried again, stronger this time. “Twilight?”
There was no response.
“Twilight? Where are you?” Gilda started walking through the bookshelves. She had no clue where her mare-friend was, but there were only a few places that she enjoyed going all out on her study sprees.
Emergin out into the dual observation/reading area, Gilda found Twilight. She had cocooned herself within a massive pile of books in front of the massive window that rose up the length of the tower, all the way up through the apartment.
“Twilight?” Gilda didn’t step down the small flight of three stairs, watching the unicorn for any sign of recognition.
Twilight didn't hear her, too busy reading three books at once.
“Oh, Twilight…” Gilda murmured, smiling. She stepped down the stairs, taking in everything that Twilight was doing. What is it that she sees in me? Gilda couldn’t help but wonder. The unicorn was smarter and stronger and better than her in every single way possible, and Gilda couldn’t help but wonder from time to time why Twilight stuck around with her.
Gilda stepped forward, reaching out a claw to nudge Twilight but she stopped, unsure.
“Gilda!” Twilight noticed her, blinking at Gilda’s sudden appearance in her peripheral vision. She set down all of her books and wrapped Gilda in a big hug. The griffin melted bonelessly into her embrace. “I didn't know you were up.”
“What brought on this reading spree?” Gilda took a step back, looking over some of the books that were piled on the groaning table in front of her.
“Research!” Twilight did a little happy dance, excited to be able to explain to somepony else what she was doing. That it was Gilda was merely a plus.
“And what exactly are you researching?” Gilda asked. She was learning how to read, but it was slow going. She still struggled without help. The sheer mass of the books was overwhelming to her.
“The Everfree Castle,” Twilight said. Even though she was a genius, she had never looked down upon Gilda for the gaps in her learning. “I want to know as much as possible before heading out.”
“Why are you going to the Everfree Castle?” Gilda raised an brow, confused.
“To find the Elements of Harmony!” Twilight crowed triumphantly.
“The what?” Gilda had never heard of them, but that wasn’t surprising. There was a lot she hadn’t learned about Equestria, and she was trying to make up for lost time.
“The Elements of Harmony!” Twilight repeated, settling in for Gilda was sure was going to be a long and headache inducing explanation that she would most likely will only understand every third word.
“Right.” Gilda held up a claw, stopping Twilight. “You can explain later. When are you going?”
Twilight opened her omni-tool and blushed when she realized the time. “Right now, actually. Will you be alright here?”
Gilda thought about that for a moment, biting back the ‘yes’ she almost immediately said. She wanted to be brave. She wanted to show Twilight that she could be brave. She was a griffin after all, and there was nothing that could scare a griffin.
At least that’s what she tried to tell herself.
“Can I come with you?” Gilda asked, her voice cracking.
“Come with me?” Twilight leaned back, startled by the question. She shrugged, smiling at Gilda. “Sure. I don't see why not.”
Twilight stood. Using her magic, she sent all of the books in front of her back to their proper places before turning to look at Gilda. “Do you need to get anything? A scarf? Some books? We're going to be spending the night at a hotel in Ponyville before heading to the castle.”
“Nope.” Gilda shook her head. She had yet to actually buy anything she had any emotional ties to, and it made traveling a lot easier than she imagined that it should be.
“Good!” Twilight grinned. “Let’s get going.”