• Published 20th Mar 2012
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My Choices: Twisted Tales Through Time - koolerkid



Twilight goes back in time to prevent Luna's transformation into Nightmare Moon.

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Chapter Eight

A/N: Aaaaand here it is! Fun fact: This is the longest ‘Future’ chapter to date, and the first ‘Future’ chapter to exceed 5,000 words.

-----------------

Chapter Eight

“Come on, Shiny! Pleeeeease?”

Shining Armor steeled his will and refused to look down at his sister’s face. Once they made eye contact, he knew his will would crumble like a castle under siege. “Sorry, Twily. I’ve got some things of my own I need to do. I don’t have time to-”

“PLEEEEEEASE?” Even without looking at her face, the voice of a pleading young filly held a power more insidious than the most powerful mind-affecting spell. “The only city Trixie’s ever seen is Manehattan, and she says it’s really dirty and boring. We need to give her the Grand Canterlot Tour!”

“Go on, Shining.” Shining Armor shot his mom a look as she sided with the enemy. “Take your sister and her friend out on the town. I’m sure they won’t mind tagging along while you go shopping for your marefriend.”

Off to the side of the room, Trixie’s face became a picture of horror.

MOM!” Shining’s face went beet red. “Cadence isn’t my marefriend!” He sighed, not noticing Trixie’s hopeful look. He made the mistake of glancing down at Twilight’s wide, pleading eyes, and his will immediately caved in. “Aw, I never could win an argument with you, Twily.”

He smiled as his sister turned to give her friend a triumphant hoof-bump. Well, there were worse ways to spend the day than with his sister and her friend. At least it wouldn’t be boring.

-----------------

Celestia found her sister overseeing the delivery of a few small packages in the private section of the student dormitories. “Luna? What’s happening? Have the girls returned?”

“I’m afraid not, Celly,” Luna said with a smile. “They sent their presents and their overnight bags ahead, but apparently Twilight’s brother Shining Armor has taken them out for a tour of Canterlot. Trixie sounded quite excited in her message.”

The elder Princess nodded her approval. “I’m glad. It’ll do them some good to get out of the dorms more often.” Suddenly, she frowned. “Luna, did you feel that?”

“Feel what?” Luna asked, but Celestia was already in motion. She intercepted one of the guardponies that were carrying Twilight and Trixie’s belongings.

“There’s something here...” she muttered, as she lit her horn, opening the box the guardpony was carrying. “Something very old, and very powerful...” Her eyes widened as the box opened, and she felt the full power of the object concealed inside. Behind her, Luna gasped as her own horn picked up the intense magic. Shivers ran down the backs of both Princesses as a wave of magic washed over them.

Very, very carefully, Celestia levitated the helmet out of its box. “Now how in my name did a young filly get ahold of something like this?”

-----------------

Trixie looked around excitedly, her eyes restlessly darting around. There was so much to see, she didn’t know where to start! She had arrived in Canterlot on flying chariot, and had never had a chance to really see any of it, until today.

There were so! Many! Ponies! Oh, sure, Manehattan had always been crowded, but this was different. Manehattan was dirty and overcrowded, and all the colors there were muted. Even the most brightly-colored pony seemed dull and washed-out in that unkind city. But Canterlot? Canterlot was bright, cheerful, full of colors and life and bright lights and ponies! Unlike the crushing, claustrophobic crowds forced together by Manehattan’s narrow streets, these crowds were thin enough to slip through, and yet somehow bigger.

It wasn’t just ponies, either. There were zebras mixed liberally into the crowd, which wasn’t very surprising, along which several griffons, which was. Trixie had seen griffons before, but never so many. There were even some Diamond Dogs, which Trixie had only heard about, loping along the streets on various errands. Trixie could swear there was even a hippogriff or two in the crowd.

And this was only the start.

“Hey, Trixie, you okay?” Trixie was startled from her crowd watching by a mildly concerned Twilight.

“I’m fine. I’ve just... this is so different from Manehattan. It’s so... alive!” Trixie’s voice was laden with wonder and excitement.

“Well, try not to get too excited just yet,” Shining Armor said, sounding slightly amused. “We haven’t even gotten started yet!” He gestured at the large, open town square they were standing in. “This is the Shopping District. It’s where all the biggest and best stores are, so there’s a lot of traffic through here. Mostly tourists, of course, but plenty of locals too.”

“Come on!” Twilight said, grabbing Trixie’s hoof and dragging her over to a nearby building. “I wanna show you my favorite store!”

Trixie expected a book store, or perhaps a store that sold magical trinkets, but she was surprised to find herself at the storefront for AstroTek Incorporated, the leading manufacturers of the latest in cutting edge technology. Over their door was a crystal-screen display showing their logo - a galaxy of stars, slowly spinning against a dark blue background. Trixie had never been terribly interested in technology; when she’d first arrived at the School for Gifted Unicorns, she hadn’t even been able to operate the school computer. Twilight had showed her how it worked, but Trixie hadn’t noticed her friend’s enthusiasm for the mechanical until now.

Bouncing with enthusiasm, Twilight practically dragged her friend into the store, Shining Armor hurrying in behind them, trying to keep pace. “This place is great!” Twilight squealed excitedly, bouncing up and down as they came inside. “All the latest advancements in magitechnology come from here. Isn’t it exciting?”

Twilight’s enthusiasm was infectious, and Trixie couldn’t help but agree. The inside of AstroTek was impressive to say the least. Everywhere Trixie turned there were sleek-looking gadgets and impressive gizmos, all with signs proclaiming their various functions. Twilight led Trixie over to a particular display: a large, flat device that was mostly screen. “This is an A-Pad,” Twilight explained. She reached out and, careful only to use the tip of her hoof, demonstrated how a touch-screen worked. Trixie couldn’t help but be a little impressed. Then Twilight took her to a small, cylindrical device with a gemstone on the top. When Twilight gave it a poke, it let out a holographic recording of some popular vid-show Trixie wasn’t familiar with; the hologram was so realistic Trixie could almost believe it was real. Twilight showed Trixie half a dozen devices (electronic readers that could hold hundreds of books in their gemstone recorders, com-gems that could replace Sending Candles, portable vid displays that could be worn like sunglasses), but by far the most amazing was a new computer, much smaller then the one at the school. In fact, Twilight explained, it was meant to be portable. The processing unit fit comfortably on your back or in a saddlebag, while a small device strapped onto your foreleg. The device projected the display as a hologram only a few feet away from you, and then (this was the cool part) could read your intentions through a telepathy crystal in the device, allowing you to interact with the computer telepathically.

“How do they make all these things?” Trixie finally asked, breathless with wonder. She was starting to see why Twilight got so worked up over this place; it was a store full of miracles.

Shining Armor chuckled. “Mostly gemstones. Helpful things; they can hold a spell charge for years and never run out. Industrial spellcasting is a pretty good job these days; boring work, mostly, just casting the same spells into gemstones over and over, but I hear it pays real well. Combine that with a little earth pony construction and some pegasus ingenuity and a bit of lightning for power, and you can build almost anything.” He picked up the vid-glasses with his own magic to examine them. “Twilight’s really into this stuff.”

“You bet!” Twilight said enthusiastically. “It’s like magic anypony can use!”

Trixie mused on that as Twilight tried to convince Shining to lend her enough bits for a portable computer. Magic anypony can use.

-----------------

Princess Celestia paced restlessly around the table the mysterious helmet now sat on. She shot a glance at the helmet, as though it was personally responsible for her current state of heightened stress. To some degree, it was; magic practically oozed from the thing, filling the room with the powerful, echoing resonance of decades-old magic. A normal unicorn would only just be aware of it, as a vague tickling or itching on their horn, but the Princess could feel it quite clearly. It gave Celestia goosebumps just being in the same room as it.

“Well?” she asked her sister impatiently. “Anything?”

Luna looked up from her intense concentration to shoot her sister an irritated look. Celestia was easily the stronger of the two, both physically and magically, but Luna had spent the past thousand years as a patron of scholars, artists, and wizards, and so her knowledge of artifacts was far greater. “Nothing that I haven’t told you five minutes ago, Celly. Would you sit down? You’re making me nervous.”

Celestia sighed and settled herself on a sitting cushion. “I’m sorry, Luna. I’m just concerned. You know I have great faith in your skill.”

Luna gave her sister a brief smile before pushing the helmet aside. “Thank you, Celestia, but whoever crafted this helmet is - or rather, was - at least as skilled as I am. There’s something like half a dozen spells wrapped up in it, all intricately and delicately woven to each other and the internal reservoir of mana it contains. At least three of these spells are seals - one to contain or trap something, one to protect against outside interference, and another that draws on the magical reservoir to preserve the spells.”

“Can you disable the seals?” Celestia asked curiously. “If you can’t, I might be able to-”

“No,” Luna said bluntly, shaking her head. “I can only glimpse some of the other spells, but one of them is clearly a ‘bomb’ that will shred the other spells if the seals are opened in anything but the proper fashion - and there’s no way to determine what that fashion is.” She glanced at the helmet. “With your power, you could conceivably force the seals open, or just rip them out, but doing either would destroy the containment spell. I don’t know what it’s meant to contain, but as a side effect it’s also keeping the internal reservoir in check. Destroy it, and the resulting detonation would make the liquid rainbow detonator we decommissioned ten years ago look like a foal’s plaything. At the very least most of Canterlot would be destroyed in the blast.” She pressed a hoof to her forehead. “Whoever made this helmet was very, very careful, and very clever. A setup like this... it simply isn’t possible to unseal it without knowing the trigger. And that could be literally anything.”

“So why is such a powerful and intricate artifact in your student’s possessions?” Celestia asked. She picked up the helmet gently and stared at it, as if it would provide answers.

“She didn’t have it when she left,” Luna replied. “She must have gotten it at Twilight’s house... but where would they have gotten it? And why give it to Trixie?”

“We could just ask,” Celestia remarked, smirking slightly. Luna looked up at her, surprised, then smiled.

“It’s been so long since anything has been so straightforward, I’d forgotten how it felt.” Luna laughed as Celestia set the helmet down. “I’ve gotten too used to conspiracies and secret plans. You’re right, of course. We’ll ask her when she gets back.”

-----------------

Trixie couldn’t stop playing with her new gadget. It had taken a bit of practice to use the very tip of her hoof on the touch-screen, but the image-creation program was simple and user-friendly, taking just a few minutes to learn. Then, once she had the image she wanted, she just pressed the green button and a holographic representation appeared in full color, hovering over the device. It was slightly transparent, of course, and couldn’t create anything much bigger than her head, but it was still cool, and more importantly it was hers.

Besides her, Twilight chuckled as her friend continued fiddling with the device as they walked. “I guess you like it, huh?”

Trixie nodded enthusiastically. “Thank you, Mister Armor!” she chirped happily.

Shining Armor chuckled and ruffled the filly’s hair, not noticing the resulting blush. “I told you, just call me Shining, Trix. And it’s no problem, really. Mom and Dad felt bad about not having any gifts for you, so they gave me a bunch of bits to buy you stuff. A cheap holo-display is no big deal.”

“Well it’s a big deal to me,” Trixie said, hugging the slim, silvery device to her chest. “Nopony’s ever bought me a gift before.” Twilight grinned as she noticed her friend still blushing faintly.

“Really? Nopony?” Shining looked mildly surprised. “Well, you want anything else, just let me know. We’ve got plenty of bits.” Suddenly, the older colt came to a halt, staring in at the window of a shop they were passing.

Twilight gave her a brother an odd look. “What’s wrong, Shiny?”

“Uh, nothing,” Shining Armor said distractedly. “I, uh, just remembered I didn’t get a... friend of mine a Hearth’s Warming gift. Just a sec.” He entered the shop.

Twilight and Trixie exchanged glances, then stood up on their hind legs to see through the window. Inside, the counter doubled as a display case, housing a wide array of shiny, fancy-looking jewelry. A large, slightly pudgy but very well-groomed Diamond Dog stood behind the counter, speaking with Shining. After a few moments, Shining gave the store-owner some bits, and received a jewelry case in return. He glanced inside, and while the young fillies couldn’t see inside, they could see the sparkle.

“Who do you think that is for?” Trixie whispered to Twilight.

Twilight was not what anypony would describe as socially apt, but neither was she stupid. She could add two and two together, and in this case it didn’t add up well for her friend. Diamond Dogs were known for both painstakingly high quality and grotesquely high prices for all their crafts; one did not shell out the bits for fancy Diamond Dog jewelry for just anypony.

However, she also knew that telling her best friend that her older brother might already have a very special somepony might not be the best idea. So she whispered back, “No clue.”

Shining emerged from the store, smiling brightly. “Alright, girls!” he said cheerfully. “Who wants to go to Broadway?”

“Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me! I do!” Trixie said enthusiastically. “Let’s go!”

“Can we eat first?” Twilight asked. “I’m hungry.”

“I think there’s a real good Zebrican place right near here,” Shining said, creasing his brow in thought. “We should be able to stop there on our way to the theater...”

Twilight grinned broadly. “Oooh, I love Zebrican food!”

Trixie looked puzzled. “Zebras have their own food?”

Twilight giggled. “Sort of. It’s the food they eat back in Zebrica. It’s really spicy, which is good because it’s so cold out. And there’s singers and dancers and stuff while you eat, it’s really cool!” She turned away, pointing a hoof ahead dramatically. “Leeeeet’s go!”

“It’s the other way, Twily.”

“I knew that!”

-----------------

“I thought we agreed to leave it alone until the girls get back, Lulu.” Celestia gave her sister a look of mild disapproval.

Luna looked up from the helmet, looking vaguely guilty. “I’m just taking another look, Celly. It really is an education; the spell-work is really spectacular. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Celestia sat down beside her sister. “You never could leave a mystery well enough alone, could you? Find anything useful?”

Luna sighed, directing her attention back down at the helmet. “No, not really. It’s old, I know that much. Ancient. And there’s more magic in here then even I could conjure up at once, though you might be able to match it.” She stared at the helmet, deep in thought. “The magic itself is older than the spells, which means somepony added them after its creation. Whoever created this wanted to make absolutely certain that nopony would be able to use it unless he meant for them to.”

Celestia put a wing around her sister. “Give it a rest, Luna. Picking at it won’t solve anything. Once we know where Trixie got it, we can use that as a starting point for our investigations. Until then, there’s no point in agonizing over it.”

Luna gave her sister a small smile. “It’s like you said, Celly. I never could leave a mystery alone. I like knowing things.”

“So do I, Lulu,” Celestia said softly. “But sometimes, we have to be at peace with not knowing.”

A strange expression came over Luna’s face, halfway between anger and sadness. “I’m surprised to hear you say that, sister,” she said quietly. “You had quite a different opinion one thousand years ago.”

A cloud passed over Celestia’s face. “That was the first time I was ever presented with a mystery I could not solve,” she said stiffly. “I have since made my peace with not understanding. She made her choice, and I don’t think either of us will ever know why.” She gave her sister a cool, dispassionate glare. “In any case that has nothing to do with this.”

“Actually, I’m not so certain about that.” Luna said, turning away from her sister to look at the helmet again. “The spells... they’re almost one thousand years old. And the last time I’ve seen spellwork this skilled...”

Celestia’s eyes widened as Luna’s words sunk in. She looked at the helmet again. “A family heirloom...” she whispered.

“What?”

“Blue Star had a helmet she kept in her room. She said it was a family heirloom... I never asked about it...”

“Was it magical?” Luna had to try and hide her excitement, the earlier tension between the sisters forgotten.

“...No. Not then. At least, I don’t think so; I never examined it. There was no reason to. But it was certainly nowhere near this powerful.” Celestia glanced at her sister. “Is that important?”

Luna slumped. “Probably not the same helmet, then. The magic reservoir is at least twice as old as the spells on it. I doubt you’d have missed it.”

Celestia returned her gaze to the helmet. “Yeah... you’re probably right...”

-----------------

“SO COOL!” Trixie squealed as they left the Broadway theater. Her smile was dangerously close to splitting her face open as she bounced along. Twilight could literally see the stars in her eyes.

“Broadway’s always pretty fun,” Twilight agreed. “Although that play’s not very historically accurate. I’m pretty sure Starswirl the Bearded never fell in love with a griffon.”

“I’ve always preferred the movie theater,” Shining said with a shrug. He was rewarded with a pair of glares from the two younger fillies. “What?”

Trixie shook her head in mock pity. “Hopeless.”

Twilight sighed in agreement. “Absolutely hopeless.”

Chuckling amongst themselves, the trio arrived at one of the last stops of their Canterlot tour - the Observation Cliff, one of Canterlot’s number one tourist attractions. A rocky outcropping at the very edge of the mountain the city was built on, the Cliff offered a breathtaking view of the Equestrian landscape. Eagerly, Trixie and Twilight scrambled through the crowd that was always present on the Cliff, managing to wiggle their way up to the guardrail while Shining Armor struggled to keep up. They arrived at the front of the crowd and put their front hooves up on the guardrail, eyes boggling at the view.

The view was spectacular, stretching on for miles and miles. The young fillies could see everything; green hills, lush forests, flat scrublands, cities and towns and mountains and farms all spread out before them in miniature. If they strained their eyes, they could even see the edge of the desert where the frontier towns thrived. Celestia’s sun was just beginning its descent on the horizon before them, casting the entire scene in warm, golden light.

Trixie reached into her saddlebag and pulled out her holo-imager. Twilight gave her a puzzled look as she began fiddling with the controls, an intense look of concentration on her face. “What’re you doing, Trix?” Twilight asked curiously, trying to peek at her friend’s device.

“I don’t have a camera, and I want to remember this,” Trixie explained, not looking up. “I’m trying to make a copy with my imager but it’s kinda hard...”

Trixie was so focused on her task, she didn’t notice until too late when somepony bumped into her from behind. The holo-imager fell from her startled hooves, toppling over the guardrail and falling to the picturesque landscape below. “MY IMAGER!” Trixie cried out, eyes wide. Twilight screwed her eyes shut, horn glowing as she tried to catch the falling gadget telekinetically, but it was moving too fast for her to get a good grip.

Trixie was watching her precious toy fall when a black and green blur swept over her field of vision, snatching up the toy and vanishing. Trixie blinked in confusion, looking around her at the crowd. “Where’d it go?”

“Excuzzzze me, mizzzzz.” A strange, buzzing voice came from behind Trixie, prompting her to spin around. “Did you drop thizzz?” Hovering a few feet off the ground was the strangest creature Trixie had ever seen. It was shaped like a pony, but covered in insect-like chitin, and it had both wings and a horn. Its wings weren’t like a pegasus’, either; they were insect wings, thin and transparent and beating against the air so fast they blurred and produced a low buzzing noise. Its eyes glowed blue with white pupils, and its horn was oddly curved and sharp. Strangest of all, however, were its legs and tail, which actually had holes in them. How could it stand up? Could it stand up?

Twilight gave her friend a hard nudge, startling Trixie from her slightly terrified musings. “Yeah, that’s hers!” Twilight said, accepting the holo-imager that Trixie belatedly noticed the creature was holding. “Sorry, she’s just never seen a changeling before.”

The creature blinked, then smiled broadly (Trixie noticed its huge fangs and was not reassured). “Zzzzorry! I forget.” Abruptly, the creature covered itself in green fire, completely hiding itself from view. Trixie gave a terrified squeal and dove behind Shining Armor, who’d just managed to reach the girls. Twilight gave her friend an exasperated look as the flames faded, revealing a perfectly ordinary-looking earth pony. “I need my wings so I could grab your toy, and there wasn’t enough time to think of a pegasus form,” explained the now normal-seeming pony. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

Trixie peeked out from behind Shining Armor, looking the creature’s new form over carefully. He was a short pony with a yellow coat and a bright red mane, and a movie-star smile. He seemed oddly familiar, but it wasn’t until she saw his cutie mark the Trixie recognized him - the rising curtains of a theater’s stage. “I know you!” she exclaimed suddenly, her earlier fear forgotten in her excitement. “You were in the play we just saw!”

The strange pony smiled brightly at the recognition. “Yes I was! Name’s Curtain Call; nice to meet you.” He held out a hoof to Trixie, who eagerly scampered out of her hiding place behind a vaguely amused Shining Armor to shake it. “I’m guessing you enjoyed the show?”

Trixie nodded excitedly. “It was amazing! It was my first time seeing a play like that.” She paused, uncertain. “I didn’t know you were a... a....”

Curtain Call laughed even as Twilight made a horrified face at her friend. “A changeling? That’s sort of the point, you know. We try to keep it to ourselves; it makes ponies uncomfortable. Don’t worry, though; I’m harmless, I promise.” He ruffled Trixie’s mane playfully. “Now, I need to get going-”

“W-wait!” Trixie said, snatching her holo-imager from Twilight and holding it out to Curtain Call. “Can I get your autograph first?”

Curtain laughed and took the imager, nodding. “Who should I make it out to?”

“T-Trixie!”

Smiling, Curtain opened a new project on the imager and carefully signed ‘To My Enthusiastic Fan, Trixie. Remember to keep an open mind! Curtain Call.’ Then he handed the imager back. “Have fun in Canterlot, Trixie!” he said, before turning and trotting off, leaving a starstruck Trixie behind.

“Trixie!” Trixie was startled from her reverie by Twilight’s half-horrified, half-angry shout. “You were supposed to stop being rude to other ponies!”

Trixie cowered behind her imager. “I-I wasn’t trying to! I’ve never met a changeling before!”

“Actually, you probably have,” Shining Armor spoke up, rejoining the girls. “You were brought up in an orphanage, right?” Trixie nodded, uncertainly. “Lots of changelings get into charity work; they need love to survive, and taking care of orphans is a good way to get it. Like Mr. Call said, though, they keep to themselves; you might have known a changeling and never known it.” Trixie’s eyes widened at the revelation as Shining continued, “Others go into show business like Curtain Call; changelings are natural-born actors, and the admiration of fans is close enough to love for them to feed off it. You can actually find changelings in any job where a pony is likely to appreciate them - social work, psychology, entertainment, you name it.”

He didn’t mention the rash of changeling crimes on the rise recently; putting aside the criminal opportunities of being able to change your shape and even cutie mark, even copying someone else’s appearance, the Equestrian Royal Guard had recently had to contend with a rising amount of ‘love theft’. Apparently, ‘stolen’ love meant for somepony else was something like an addictive drug for changelings as well as food, and too many changelings fell back on kidnapping and replacing other ponies to feed off the love from their friends and families. It was a serious problem these days, actually, but not one that two young fillies like Twilight and Trixie needed to worry about.

“Wow...” Trixie said slowly, smiling. “I never knew... I just thought changelings were really rare.”

“There’s always been lots in Canterlot,” Twilight explained. “I think it’s because of all the love everypony here has for the Princesses!”

Shining Armor smiled at his idealistic younger sister. “Or it could be that Canterlot is the biggest tourist attraction in Equestria, so there’s always a lot of tourists to come watch their shows.”

“That too.”

-----------------

Curtain Call proceeded nonchalantly down the street, pretending not to notice he was being followed. Acting as casual as could be, he strolled around a corner and into an alleyway. He waited a moment, until he heard the sound of hooves enter the alley behind him.

The alley was so dark, even the changeling’s superb night vision could only just make out the form of a pegasus. “I assume you’re my contact?”

“That’s me,” came a voice from the pegasus’ direction. It was a tough voice to place; deep but still strangely androgynous. It sounded much younger than Curtain knew the pegasus had to be by its size, but it had a level of articulation not normally found coupled with such a young voice. “You can call me Bright Eyes.”

“Well, ‘Bright Eyes’, I hope you know I don’t like this.” Curtain glared angrily at the mysterious pony, though the effect was lost as he couldn’t quite tell where to stare at. “Spying on fillies like this... what’s so important about this Trixie that you have to entangle a little filly in your schemes?”

“Well, that’s new. A changeling who questions orders.” Bright Eyes actually sounded amused. “Maybe there’s hope for your species yet.”

“My Queen’s orders are the only reason I’m helping you at all,” Call replied severely. “If my hive didn’t owe your Order so much, I’d tell you to go buck yourself. I just wanted you to know that.”

“Duly noted,” Bright Eyes replied, sounding altogether too cheerful. “Now, your report? I assume you got a sample of her love, right? We pulled quite a number of strings to make sure you played at her show, I’d like to know if it paid off.”

Curtain Call sighed. “I got the sample. It was practically gushing from her after she realized who I was.”

The shadow of a pegasus leaned forward, just enough for Curtain to make out a single golden eye. “And?” Bright Eyes was almost breathless with excitement.

“There was a trace of magic in her, strong enough for me to taste.”

And?

“It matched the sample you gave me, from the helmet.”

The pegasus leaped into the air suddenly, startling the disguised changeling. “Perfect!” Bright Eyes exclaimed. “She’s bonded with it! That’s just perfect!” She dropped back down to the pavement. “Thank you, Mr. Call. You’ve been extremely helpful. Be sure to give your Queen my regards the next time you see her, and tell her that your hive’s obligation to the Order of the Stars has been fulfilled.”

Call blinked. “Just like that? After everything you’ve done for our hives - for every changeling hive - and all you want is for somechangeling to confirm something I bet you already knew?”

“I didn’t know,” Bright Eyes corrected. “I suspected, and the confirmation you just gave me is the best news I’ve heard for longer than you’ve been alive. What you’ve just given me is more than worth all the aid we’ve given your hive over the years.” The shadow of a pegasus receded, heading towards the exit of the alley. “Thank you so much for your help, Mr. Call. I’m a big fan of your plays, by the way; keep up the good work!”

Curtain was alone in the alleyway.

He shook his head in bemusement. Bright Eyes, the chief representative of the Order of the Stars, was always kind of an oddball, but this took the cake. Her claim that she hadn’t heard good news longer than he’d been alive didn’t make any sense either, though little about her did. Maybe she just didn’t know that the average changeling worker could live for a few centuries?

-----------------

Twilight and Trixie filed into the office the Princess sisters used when conducting official business at the school. The two were clearly in high spirits, with saddlebags full of trinkets and souvenirs and wide grins on their faces, but Twilight at least seemed slightly apprehensive at being called into what was essentially the principals’ office.

Celestia and Luna were both seated on cushions by a table in the center of the room. Trixie’s eyes widened when she saw what the table contained. “My helmet!” she exclaimed, rushing forward. “Is something wrong with my helmet?”

Celestia and Luna exchanged a brief look. “Of course not, Trixie,” Luna said soothingly. “At least, we don’t think so. Please, sit down, both of you.”

Twilight and Trixie each found a cushion and sat down around the table. “We’re just a little concerned, that’s all,” Celestia explained. “This helmet is an extremely potent magical artifact; they can be very dangerous if you don’t handle them properly.”

Twilight tilted her head to the side. “Um, Princess, aren’t all the really powerful magical artifacts in the Canterlot Vault under the castle? That’s what A Young Enchanter’s Guide said.”

“Some are, yes,” Celestia agreed. “Others are in various other safe locations. Some are missing, but their existence is at least noted and recorded in our official records. This helmet isn’t, which means somepony has been hiding it - possibly for a very long time. I’m sure you can understand why Luna and I are a bit concerned.”

“We were wondering where you managed to find something like this, Trixie,” Luna continued. “It could be very important. If somepony has been hiding an artifact of this power for as long as we think they have, we would like to know who and why.”

Trixie bit her lip. “I didn’t find it; it was a gift.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow. “From Twilight’s parents?”

Trixie shook her head. “No, from my godmother!” She dug into her overcrowded saddlebags, rummaging around for a minute before pulling out a letter that was crumpled and creased from sharing space with an assortment of trinkets Trixie had acquired during her tour of Canterlot. “Her name is Bright Eyes, and she gave me the helmet for Hearth’s Warming!”

“Bright Eyes?” Celestia took the letter in a glow of golden magic, floating it over for Luna and her to read. There was a long silence after they had finished, then the two Princesses turned aside and held a whispered conversation. Twilight and Trixie fidgeted nervously and shared worried glances while they waited for their mentors to finish deliberating.

After several uncomfortable minutes, the Princesses returned their attentions to their students. “The helmet seems harmless, for the most part,” Luna told Trixie kindly. “Since it was a gift, we’ll let you keep it. You’ll have to keep it in a special security case, though. And you have to promise you won’t try to tamper with it or interact with it magically. Not at all, do you understand? We don’t know exactly what it can do, and using magic you don’t understand is dangerous.”

“Y-yes Princess!” Trixie was too elated that she got to keep the helmet to care that she couldn’t experiment with it.

“But what about the ponies who were hiding it?” Twilight asked curiously.

“We’ll conduct some investigations,” Celestia answered. “A background check on this Bright Eyes, to start with. If she contacts you again, Trixie, we’d appreciate it if you let us know, especially if she sends you another package. Okay?” Trixie nodded. “Very good. Now go ahead, girls. You’ve had a long day, and I expect you’re tired. Go get some rest; we’ll keep the helmet here until we can install the security case in Trixie’s room. Remember, lessons start again tomorrow!”

Once the young fillies were gone, Luna turned to her sister, her kind smile giving way to worried frown. “Are you sure that was wise, Celly? Even if she doesn’t try to use the helmet - and I’m not sure I trust a filly her age not to be curious - if it exerts a passive influence of some kind over her...”

Celestia smiled calmly at her sister. “Like I said, I have some suspicions as to who sent that helmet. I’m quite certain it’s harmless; I’ll make some inquiries to make sure, of course. If I’m wrong, we’ll secure the helmet immediately, but I don’t think I am.” She winked at her younger sibling. “Just trust me on this, Lulu. Your big sis knows what she’s doing.”

Luna shook her head, but she was smiling slightly. “Very well, Celly, we’ll do this your way. I just hope you’re right, for Trixie’s sake if nothing else.” There was a flash of silvery-blue light, and Luna was gone.

Celestia stood alone in the office, her mischievous smile giving way to a pensive expression. Her horn lit as she closed the door and drew the blinds over the windows. She cast a few dozen privacy spells, ensuring that she would not be spied or eavesdropped on. Then she turned to the deepest shadow in the corner of the room and spoke. “I see the Shadow Cloak I loaned you is still working well.”

“It’s pretty useful,” agreed a deep, androgynous from the shadow. “I’ve been getting a lot of use out of it; I’ll be sad when I have to give it back. Have I mentioned recently how invaluable your contributions have been?”

“No. You haven’t.” The light in the room intensified, though it didn’t appear to have a particular source. The shadows burned away, revealing a cloaked pegasus hiding in the corner. Her face remained hidden, but only because she kept it down and hidden behind the fabric. Celestia strode towards the smaller pony, her face an expression of glacial calm. “And I don’t appreciate my students, or my sister’s students, being wrapped up in your schemes. You have some explaining to do, Bright Eyes.”

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A/N: DUN DUN DUUUUUUN! Remember, I exist on a diet of hamburgers, bacon, cheese, junk food and COMMENTS COMMENTS COMMENTS!