• Published 21st Mar 2012
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Sharing the Night - Cast-Iron Caryatid



Twilight becomes alicorn of the stars. This is sort of a problem, because Luna kind of already was alicorn of the stars. Oops!

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Chapter 5

Sharing the Night: Chapter 5

✶ ✶ ✶

Sugar Cube Corner was filled with the bright colors and endless cheer that personified Pinkie Pie and all of her events, but despite the smiling faces, something was missing. It was no fault of Pinkie Pie’s, of course; the food was good and the company was as great as always. Even the big, giant banner hanging overhead reading Congratulations Space-Pony Twilight was certainly special in its own way. It was the space-pony of the hour herself who wasn’t quite present.

Twilight had tried, she really had. She’d humored Rarity who had presided over the ritual sweater burning, filled up on sweets and even played no less than six games of pin the tail on the pony—but it was no use. Nothing could rid her of the constant nervousness and discomfort.

Well, one thing could have.

It sounds like she’s the pony you need to see. The words had continually occupied one corner of her mind; it felt like they were important, somehow. They were the answer to a question that was on the tip of her tongue. It was only after the sixth time the tail from pin the tail on the pony had ended up on a certain steadily rising patch of wall that Twilight had finally given up and made to excuse herself.

“Are you gonna be okay, Twi?” Applejack asked as Twilight reached for the door. “Yer looking kinda—well–” she glanced at the banner, “–spacey.”

What Applejack didn’t know was that far from being a distant memory in Canterlot, the princess of the night was looking over Twilight’s shoulder constantly. Oh, she doubted Luna was actually looking in on their little party—at least, she hoped not—but every time she caught the eastern sky in the corner of her eye, she stopped like the princess had just walked in on them. Was it any wonder she was less than comfortable?

“Spacey. Yeah,” Twilight sighed, her eyes drawn to that spot on the wall that hid a goddess. She nervously took a gulp of punch and wished it was cider. “No. No, I’m not okay. I shouldn’t have come. I appreciate the thought, but I can’t do this. I’m just not comfortable celebrating... this.”

“Aw shoot Twi, it doesn’t have ta be about that. Jes think of it like it’s any other party. Pretend we’re—uhh—celebrating Pinkie Pie being clean and sugar-free for six months.”

Twilight blinked. “What? Sugar isn’t—that doesn’t even–”

“–a mare can dream, Twi,” Applejack interrupted. “A mare can dream.”

Twilight emptied her cup of punch and set it down on the closest table with a disgruntled sigh. “Look, Applejack... can you just explain it to Pinkie for me? Please?”

“...yeah, okay.”

✶ ✶ ✶

Twilight didn’t stop as she escaped the party—and for good reason. The most charitable way to describe the late-winter night would have been ‘brisk’, and she had no intention of setting a single hoof off-course from her cozy little library. It was much to her surprise then, that Twilight actually was feeling charitable about the cold. It wasn’t that the night was mild, nor was she lacking in knowledge of dozens of colorful adjectives that could have been used to describe it, but as the din of music died out behind her she slowed down, took a great deep breath of clear, icy air and felt... much better.

It was a strange feeling. In a repeat of her experience with failing to tire herself out earlier, the discomfort she expected just... wasn’t there. Instead, the bone-chilling cold was not unlike her experiences being the stars and it felt... it felt really good, actually. If only she could capture this feeling and save it for just a few hours, she thought as a certain set of darkened windows loomed closer.

Well, why couldn’t she? There was nobody waiting for her at home—Spike had successfully evaded her at the party and would probably try to sneak in later—and there wasn’t really anything she had to do but put away the stars in the morning. Why couldn’t she just... take a walk and enjoy this for a while? She could in fact do that very thing. There was only the briefest of hesitations and the queerest feeling of rebellion as she walked straight on past the library, stepping off that path she had set herself to and out into her cold clear night.

Leaving her library behind was a peculiarly guilty feeling in spite of the mundanity of the act. It was such a different kind of guilt than the sort she was so mired in that at first it was downright disorienting and she stopped walking for a moment to get herself straight.

How was it different? She couldn’t quite put her hoof on it. The only way she could describe it was to say that it wasn’t a bad guilt—which only served to tempt her to run home and look up guilt in the dictionary once again because clearly she was mixing it up with something a pony might normally enjoy, like eating pancakes, wearing old sweaters or looking up words in the dictionary.

That was just it, though. All she was ‘guilty’ of was not going home to do any of those things. The only injured party here was her own expectations. How often did ponies go out on midnight walks in the middle of winter? How often did the Twilight she knew voluntarily do anything that took her away from studying? Not often, she admitted, yet here she was.

Of course, the Twilight she knew didn’t have wings.

An unsettling shiver ran up her spine that had nothing to do with the cold and snow. Already she was becoming a different Twilight than the one that woke up with wings. Her only consolation was that she apparently felt good about it.

✶ ✶ ✶

Headed nowhere in particular as she was, it was inevitable that as Twilight crunched through snow past Ponyville’s thatch-roofed houses and her brain ran around itself in circles, her eyes were drawn to the nightscape around her and eventually of course, the sky. For the first time that night she wasn’t looking at Luna—not at first.

It was something of an experience, really. She hadn’t had a chance to just stand and appreciate the beauty of her new stars on her own without overthinking the whole thing. Luna’s sky had certainly never been lacking, but while she would never admit it to Rainbow Dash, there was a certain grain of truth to the idea that she’d been used to them; even taken them for granted. She certainly couldn’t do that now; each star sparkled brilliant and new and they were all spread across the sky in great splashes and whorls utterly unlike the gentle display that had given rise to the constellations she’d grown up with.

Briefly, in one of those rare moments where she could admit her desires without getting crushed by guilt, she imagined all the wonderful things she could do with the sky. Auroras and nebulae, shooting stars and—actually, auroras were probably Luna’s.

Oh. Right. Luna.

The moment was over.

She’s the pony you need to see, came the thought again, nibbling at the edge of her thoughts like the moon that was always in the corner of her eye. She shook her head as if trying to dislodge the thought. Applejack would have her march right up to the palace tonight and confront the princess—but that was Applejack.

Twilight knew better, she told herself. She knew better than to think that such a visit would go well. Maybe Luna was the pony Twilight needed to see... but she wasn’t that pony right now, and Twilight... couldn’t make her be that pony. No, forcing the issue was probably the last thing she should to do.

She’s the pony you need to see. It was an infectious thought. It was just so simple and obvious that she couldn’t put it down.

No, she told herself. No. Princess Celestia was right, they both needed time. Pinkie was right, too. There was more to her friendship with Luna than this one event. Come to think of it, Rainbow Dash had said something like that, too. What was it she said, exactly? She tried to remember.

If they’d had ponies like you back then, Nightmare Moon might not have happened.

It wasn’t quite the same as what Pinkie had said... but it felt right.

The problem was, Applejack was right too. She needed Luna to... to what, exactly? She needed Luna to accept her as the stars, obviously, but it didn’t sound right when she said it like that. It didn’t pull at her like Applejack’s line. She’s the pony you need to see. What did it even mean to her?

Twilight sighed. Something was missing; she just didn’t get it. Nervously, she glanced up at Luna hanging there in the night sky. Hopefully she was doing a better job of all this.

✶ ✶ ✶

It would not have been fair to Twilight Sparkle to say that she was experienced in procrastination. Anyone who knew her would tell you that she was in fact very meticulous about managing her time and getting things done. They would also tell you that sometimes the priorities by which she organized that time bore a similarity to those of a certain pink party pony in their comprehensibility and—depending on said party pony’s mood—sometimes their comprehensiveness as well.

Yet, the areas of organization and procrastination undeniably share a certain skill set and Twilight was certainly aware of this, so when she reorganized her fateful meeting with the lunar princess down her mental list, she expected to have no trouble at all finding something at hoof to take its place. Her presumed powers of procrastination however, failed her.

Her current task of taking a walk in the night was all well and good as far as tasks went and she’d been enjoying herself immensely until the question of when she was supposed to stop had popped up in her mind. Not only that, but after she finished her walk, what was next? What, in the grand scale of things was she going to do.

Of course, her mental checklist wasn’t actually empty. In fact, she had a very real checklist back home with a great number of most definitely vital items on it just waiting to be done. The problem was, she didn’t really care.

She’d had her life turned upside-down, become a wholly different kind of pony—become not even a pony at all depending on how you looked at it—excuse her if she felt like she should be doing... something! Something other than just going back to lending books and replenishing her quill supply, anyway. It wasn’t that she felt above such things as a shiny new alicorn; she just felt like such a big change should have actually changed something.

Instead, nothing had been resolved at all. This whole situation with Luna had gotten everything all messed up like she was in one of those choose-your-own-adventure foals’ books and she’d chosen the wrong path; some other Twilight on some other page was having an epic adventure while she was just... here, walking through the silent streets of Ponyville in the night. Alone.

It could have been different, she told herself, recalling those few short moments when she’d thought the lunar princess was happy for her. What would have happened—where would she be now if things had gone right?

“I never said we’d be investigating here,” Celestia had said. “I cancelled everything. The three of us were going to get out of here... find some dragons to talk to... visit the old castle... see what we could uncover.”

That. That was what she could have been doing right now. She pictured what it would have been like; traveling the world with one princess on each side, having long talks about secrets only they knew, learning about the world from those who had helped shape it, laughing at jokes whose punchlines spanned centuries.

The three of them would have traveled at dawn and dusk—at dusk, first Celestia would leave, then she would set the sun and Luna and Twilight would bring out the night and follow after her; at dawn, it would be the alicorns of the night who would lead the way.

Then there were the places they would have gone, too; ancient cities, forgotten civilizations, real breathing creatures older than the princesses. She would have been introduced, not as a student but an equal; a fellow immortal they’d be sharing the world with. When she returned to Ponyville, it would have been in triumph; she would understand who and what she was. Then, after all that, then she’d be content to go back to buying quills and lending books.

It would have been magical.

She sighed. It was a pretty picture, but it didn’t help her figure out the here and now—did it? She could still do it, she supposed. Alone. There wouldn’t be any shared sunset walks through precordian ruins, nor would there be any fond remembrances about this or that historical figure. There would be no late nights discussing the stars with Luna, or any personal introductions to beings that were present at the birth of the world.

It was something, though. It was something she could do—something she could move forward with—something that could give her answers. If she knew what had happened, if she knew why she’d been put in this position in the first place, if she could just understand, then maybe... well maybe she’d be able to accept it.

She could do it, she repeated to herself, more sternly this time. She would do it. The more she thought about it, the more certain she was that this would set her back on the right path again. She had legs, she had wings, she had the ability to be anywhere in Equestria in the blink of an eye, she even knew exactly where she could find just such an ancient ruin.

The castle of the royal pony sisters.

It might not even be as lonely as she thought, she told herself semi-convincingly. There had been nothing of Luna in Canterlot while Twilight had lived there. Exploring the old castle could give her some insight into how the princesses had lived when they were younger—just like she’d been imagining they would tell her.

Just, without them telling her themselves.

Totally not creepy, honest.

With determination and a destination in mind, it didn’t take her long to wind around past Fluttershy’s silent cottage to the edge of the Everfree forest. In a remarkable display of common sense, the freshly minted alicorn chose to continue walking rather than add night flying to her list of poor decisions.

Of course, being that it was night, she could have been there in the blink of an eye, but she had thought better of that, too. She’d read a dozen platitudes, adages and truisms about journeys and destinations, but as was the way of such things they’d always just been words until she came up with them for herself. No—she’d set out to have a walk and she was enjoying it. Cheating herself out of it via the wonders of alicornhood wasn’t going to be a benefit to her or her sanity.

Briefly, she was also grateful that said alicornhood hadn’t come with a get out of sleep free card like some fiction liked to imagine. She was sure that if that was the case, she’d have been mad within the week. Then again, she wasn’t quite sure she’d make it to the end of the week regardless, so that was probably a generous assumption.

Regardless, she was feeling really rather proud of herself for the level-headedness of the decision. The choice to walk felt very... Celestia. Though she would never have admitted it to herself, it made her feel like she was doing the immortal alicorn thing properly.

All of this is why she was rather crestfallen when ten minutes later, she was bored out of her mind.

It wasn’t a feeling she was used to having in the middle of the Everfree forest, but with the sky blotted out by twisted leaves and and untamed clouds, she began to regret and even reconsider the decisiveness and pride of her decision not to skip ahead. She’d been growing used to Luna’s presence in the sky, to say nothing of her own celestial bodies, and while they weren’t gone by any means, they were... muted. Like an awkward silence gone on too long.

There was a very real silence settled into the Everfree too, and though she didn’t need to conjure up any light to see by, the way her starlight filtered down through the canopy made everything indistinct and grey. She had the feeling that it all should have been unnerving, creepy, even downright frightening... but somehow her heart just wasn’t in it.

Actually, now that she thought about it, it was kind of creepy... Not the Everfree forest, but her attitude about it. Now a proper shiver ran up her spine as she wondered if this too, was a different Twilight.

Taking a walk on a cold winter night was one thing; she clearly understood the decision, if not exactly how she found it enjoyable. Extending that walk through a forest full of manticores, serpents, dragons and any number of other things? The logical part of her brain told her a manticore couldn’t do anything she couldn’t come back from—a morbid thought, now that it came to mind—but the fact that it had only just came to mind was the thing. She hadn’t assured herself that her alicornhood would protect her, it had just... slipped her mind. It didn’t register at all. She didn’t care.

That scared her far more than theoretical manticores.

There were more than manticores in the forest anyway, though many were of the same sort of danger. Poisonous plants and animals were theoretically unpleasant, but such contaminants were still only physical. What about poison joke or a cockatrice, though? What kind of joke would be played on a new alicorn, and what would it say about her as a pony? What would happen if she were turned to stone?

Twilight caught herself in mid-step.

The scientist in her kind of wanted to try it and see.

What was wrong with her?

✶ ✶ ✶

In the end, nothing happened on Twilight’s way to the castle of the royal pony sisters. Whether this was fortunate or unfortunate depended on your perspective, but regardless, the damage had been done.

Twilight had always envied Celestia’s eternal calm, and was proud of her own ability to stay level-headed in a crisis, even though she sometimes failed spectacularly at it. Nopony but Celestia was perfect, after all. When her mentor had admitted to possession of the spell that allowed her to easily connect with the sun it had been a little disheartening, but she’d still allowed herself to cherish the artificial calm she felt as the stars.

Now, she wasn’t so sure.

She wanted to be immortal, wise and all-knowing as Celestia was, she really did. She’d set out into the night in the first place to calm down and just enjoy herself for a while. Given where she was and what she was doing, she had definitely been successful at finding distraction, so was succeeding at finding inner peace—or inner boredom at least, since her insides were anything but peaceful—really so bad?

She didn’t feel like she had succeeded, though. Not knowing where it came from, she felt like it had been given to her. Did that even make sense when she’d started walking to unwind in the first place?

There was a difference between being given something and simply achieving it too easily, she told herself. She was used to being looked down on by others for being a magical prodigy, was this really any different? She hadn’t really explored the new depths of her magic either, for that matter; would she feel cheated out of that, too?

She was the stars; it was an inescapable magical fact. She didn’t know how or why it had come to be, but her essence blanketed Equestria from end to end. She didn’t know how or why she’d originally been so good at magic either, but she’d never cursed or mistrusted the qualities that had led the princess to take a certain young filly under her wing.

She should be okay with this, she told herself. She just... wished she understood where it came from. There was just so much about being an alicorn that was left unanswered. Celestia might have been okay not worrying over them, but...

–but what? She blinked. It was an odd thought for her to have that something was good enough for Celestia but not Twilight herself. She was actually a bit uncomfortable with it, to be honest with herself.

Then again, it made sense. Celestia’s endless serenity was more than just a spell, it was her personality, her faith in herself and her ability to trust. Twilight had always envied that quality of Celestia’s, but now she realized she actually wanted something different.

Twilight wanted the kind of self assurance Celestia had, but she wanted to have it because she knew, not because she trusted. She needed information; she needed details.

She was going to get some. That was why she was here.

✶ ✶ ✶

The castle of the royal pony sisters was a good distraction from Twilight’s circuitous self-analysis, and she was glad for it. She wasn’t used to being alone with her thoughts for so long and it was starting to wear on her. She had assumed an officially nocturnal schedule wouldn’t change much in the long run, but now she was beginning to suspect that having to stay up to fulfill her celestial duty at dawn might not be quite the same as simply letting her studies stretch late into the night.

If this was what Luna’s life was like night in and night out, Twilight could understand how something like Nightmare Moon could happen. Hopefully for Twilight’s sake, her books would keep her sane; that end-of-the-week estimate was looking pretty real. Thankfully, the slow revelation of the ruined castle before her was enough to distract her from her morbid thoughts.

If Twilight ever had cause to attempt to explain her starlight-sight, she expected most would just imagine it was like being able to see in the dark, and she probably wouldn’t correct them if they did. It was an awkward thing to explain how the diffuse light let her see objects, ponies and ancient ruins from every side at once. Even she herself had difficulty reconciling the reality of it.

Manifested in pony form as she was and therefore already possessing eyes and regular sight, she normally wouldn’t even have noticed the faint overlapping images of objects unwrapping under her focus. Tonight though, the walk through the dark corners of the Everfree had allowed her sight adjust to the point that she felt distinctly like a certain wall-eyed mailmare as she stepped out into the starlight of the clearing that surrounded the castle.

The sky was clear over the castle of the royal pony sisters revealing a great expanse of stars and of course, Luna, giving both of her sights plenty of light to work with. The story her eyes told her was much like what she’d seen on her way to confront Nightmare Moon that fateful night; the story the stars told her on the other hoof, was anything but. Though the chambers she had visited on her first trip were the most prominent structures, there were a great deal more that were disguised beneath vegetation, silt and mud. At one time, this had been a castle that would have rivaled Canterlot itself.

The ruins looked promising at first glance, but a bit of investigation revealed only disappointment. A thousand years was a long time, and from the looks of it the castle might have been damaged before it was abandoned. However it had happened, most of the structures were collapsed to some extent and years of water, growth and rot had made short work of almost everything. Even iron fixtures were in evidence only as a patina of reddish-orange on the ancient rounded stone. Time and the Everfree’s wild weather had reduced what was once the seat of Equestria to little more than gravel.

The sting of disappointment was dulled only by the consolation that she hadn’t told anyone about her grand plans of adventure and archaeology yet. Nothing was expected of her, and from the looks of it she’d be meeting those expectations with flying colors.

She wasn’t quite ready to give up just yet, though. Celestia had thought there might be something of value here and Celestia was rarely wrong. Of course, Celestia would have known what this pile of rubble looked like a thousand years ago. She would have known where what she was looking for was likely to be, and what might have been only buried rather than destroyed. Maybe she even had secret chambers underground for just such an occasion.

Twilight herself wasn’t completely without resources, however; she had read many books about archaeology and ancient architecture. Unfortunately, almost all of those books were from the Daring Do series, and the Daring Do series was fiction. As luck would have it though, her extensive knowledge of the adventures of one fictional beige pegasus turned out to be unnecessary.

There was one geographical feature Twilight had overlooked on account of it not appearing to be pony-made at first glance. It was a ring of vegetation at the nadir of what appeared to be a crater some distance away from the castle, hiding a perfectly circular sinkhole about ten hooves across. It didn’t appear to actually be a sinkhole, however. Unlike a proper sinkhole, the walls of it were smooth as if Celestia’s own sun had lain there and sunk down into the earth—or maybe instead, something had come up. Something angry and full of hate. Something that didn’t care what it hurt to get its way.

Celestia wasn’t the only one who might have had secret underground chambers, after all.

The shaft only went down a few dozen hooves to an uneven bottom which Twilight managed to float down to with her wings and a prayer. Admittedly, it was hard to botch what amounted to falling straight down, but she still felt like there should have been some sort of fanfare to celebrate her success.

The bottom of the shaft was covered in rock and other debris below more than a hoof of ice thanks to the season; but that was it. Twilight assured herself that it was only a blockage and the shaft probably went down much deeper. If she had really just jumped in an empty sinkhole for nothing, she might as well just go home now and pretend none of this had ever happened.

No, she had to go deeper.

Now, she might have been suffering from a slight lack of instinctual fear of the Everfree forest, but she wasn’t stupid. She was standing on the blockage she wanted to clear; that was a problem. She didn’t really see any way around it though, so she was very careful as she melted the ice and began shifting what rocks she could without disturbing the rest, like that one foal’s game with the sticks.

As it turned out, below the debris and a hoof of silt she found a shelf of solid rock under one half of the debris. Apparently at one point or another the whole layer of rock above had shifted a half-dozen hooves and misaligned the shaft, causing a bottleneck and eventually total blockage. Knowing this, it was a simple enough matter for her to uncover the aligned portion of the shaft, retaining the rock, silt, debris and herself on the solid rock shelf.

Simple, but ultimately ill-advised. As she unwedged one rock, freeing up the rest to fall through and clear the half of the shaft she needed, it became clear that the shaft went down for another hundred hooves before opening up to a solid black expanse. She barely had a second to remember how real sinkholes were formed before a loud crack all the way up the shaft signaled that yes, this was indeed going to hurt.

✶ ✶ ✶

Deep below the castle of the royal pony sisters spread a massive pony-made cavern, almost perfectly hemispherical like a crude planetarium might have been if it were made before the invention of architecture. The dome of the cavern was dark in color and glass-smooth, giving it a rich depth that well mimicked the blackness of the night sky.

Twilight didn’t have a chance to comment on any of this as she and several tons of rock tumbled out of the shaft opening at the dome’s apex. The fledgeling alicorn screamed mostly for her own benefit as she tried over and over to stabilize herself as she had earlier, but each time her wings caught the stale air, she was struck off balance from above by rocks that had broken free of the shaft above her and weren’t so lucky as to have wings to break their fall.

Eventually, she spread her wings one last desperate time and wasn’t rewarded with pain. She couldn’t manage a full glide, but it was enough to soften the impact that followed moments later. Even softened, the impact knocked everything Twilight had out of her, which made rolling off into another twenty hoof drop an insult to injury that she barely even registered.

✶ ✶ ✶

“What in the hay am I doing?” Twilight groaned as she lay on her back in the middle of... wherever this was. She hurt. It didn’t seem fair at all. If she had let herself be dashed into stardust on the rocks, she didn’t think it would have hurt like this.

She was thankful for the starlight filtering down through the hole above her; she had no idea if it was helping her, but she liked to think it was. Either way, it helped her take her mind off of how stupid this whole thing was. Next time she would just ask Princess Celestia for directions.

It was remarkable, really. Though there was hundreds of hooves of rock between her and the stars, she felt like she was laying in the open sky. She could just see the whole sky sparkling with—no wait, she could see the whole sky, she realized, bolting upright so she could look around. Half the sky, actually; half of the planetarium dome was black, but the other half... the stars were as real as the ones in the night sky. She wasn’t being poetic, either. They were real stars. She could see the chamber by their light, even with her eyes closed.

She was speechless. Was this something left behind by Luna? Was this her private chamber where she had sequestered away a small piece of the night for comfort on Celestia’s long summer days?

The stars weren’t speechless. They growled.

Twilight’s jaw dropped and the color drained from her face.

The stars roared.

Twilight hated being wrong; her only consolation was that despite her earlier worries, her capacity for fear was most certainly, definitely functioning consummately. This was no hidden chamber of Luna’s, no ancient planetarium. Maybe it had been at one time, but now it was the home of the greatest of all the beasts of the Everfree, the great mother bear, Ursa Major.

Somehow, Twilight’s aching body managed to leap from the pile of rubble just in time for a great thundering crash to that she’d just narrowly avoided finding out just how much being dashed on the rocks could hurt. Then again, she might not have felt it if they hadn’t—her brain was stuck back at the top of the pile choking on two words.

Ursa.

Major.

This was no creature the size of a mere house, no; the great mother bear practically filled the whole massive chamber and could have flattened whole swaths of Ponyville just by sitting on them, and right now it was doing a whole lot more than sitting.

As Twilight fled for what she hoped would be sufficient shelter, she zigged and zagged as best she could, but she was dodging blind. In the dark, all she could see of the Ursa Major was the stars it was made of. She could see the chamber by the light of those stars—she really wanted to know how that worked sometime when she wasn’t fleeing for her immortal life—but to the beast itself her starlight was blind.

The Ursa Major on the other hoof, could see Twilight just fine, and eventually her luck ran out. Just as she was nearing the edge of the main chamber, the massive starry paw descended on the tiny alicorn.

She had been right. It didn’t hurt at all.

✶ ✶ ✶

Something was wrong.

Something was very, very wrong.

Twilight had assumed that dying would be like forced demanifestation. She expected to immediately find herself back in the night sky, because no matter her perspective, that’s where she was. She expected her body to turn to stardust and drift away to eventually find itself back among the stars.

That didn’t happen. She had no body—she was a pony-shaped smattering of stars and magic—but she wasn’t going anywhere.

The Ursa Major had her, and it wasn’t letting go.

Now she was afraid; terrified, in fact. The implications filled her with a kind of dread she’d never experienced. Was she about to die—actually die—so soon after being given the immortality she’d always wanted? That hardly seemed fair at all.

Ursas were made of stars. Real stars. How was that even possible? If someone had suggested it yesterday, she would have imagined it could be true if they were a part of her; staring into the Ursa Major’s eyes as it held her, she knew this wasn’t true. The Ursa’s starlight may have bowed to her, but none of the Ursa’s magic was hers; none of its stars were hers. She and it existed in direct opposition; they were anathema to each other.

Twilight could do nothing. She had no body; no legs to kick with, no hooves to pry with and no horn to do magic with, not even a mouth to scream with. All she could do was watch in mute horror as the Ursa opened its mouth below her.

Would she really die? The very idea defied the few things she actually knew about alicorns, but no matter what her mind told her there was a deeper instinctual dread through which she knew—she just knew—that this would be the end of her. You wouldn’t think that the inside of an Ursa would look any different from it’s outside—and it didn’t, really—but right now, to Twilight they were night and day; life and death.

Could the stars be different than the sun or the moon? They were diffuse throughout the sky—millions of little bits that covered the world—did that matter? What would that change? Her mind raced along as the Ursa’s mouth drew closer, and a spark lit her mind with a pall of understanding.

She manifested differently than Celestia or Luna. Where her mentor always formed her body out of sunlight, Twilight’s was manifested from the stuff of the stars themselves. Was starlight alone too weak? She didn’t know, but it all unfolded itself from there. She was not one thing, but millions, and that made her... divisible. How much of herself was in this small dusting of stars and magic that she’d made a body of? All of it?

It was possible.

In fact, could a soul really exist in more than one place? Could she really exist in more than one conglomeration of starts and magic, or did she wax and wane in a much more real sense than Luna, multiplying and dividing herself as she went from stars to pony to stars again.

What would that do to somepony? She had an inkling that history held the answer.

She could only hope for the chance to find out for herself one day.

–and what would happen if she did die? What would happen to the stars? Would the Ursa seize the night sky? Would Celestia and Luna have to fight against this Great Bear God that had killed their student and friend? Would they avenge her? Would Luna even care or would she only want her stars back, unaware of what that could mean?

So many questions, so many answers, but no solutions. As Twilight’s mind raced frantically from subject to subject, her time eventually ran out. The Ursa dropped her and its great maw slammed shut around the alicorn of the stars.

✶ ✶ ✶

Like everything else that had happened since becoming an alicorn, being eaten by a colossal starbeast was nothing like Twilight had expected it to be. Instead of gnashing teeth and pain, the experience was more like being dunked into a pool of water. The Ursa Major’s magic was thick and viscous, drowning her in pure bestial power that threatened to overwhelm her as foreign stars dug into her like burning embers as she sank past them.

Was this it, then? Was it her fate to have her existence rendered down to its component magics not owing to a threat to Equestria or even Ponyville, but only her own foolish pride? That was what burned more than the Ursa’s stars; she had friends, family, even between one and two princesses who would all have risked their lives in defense of hers if they’d only had the chance. She, whose only assignment was studying the magic of friendship, had thought she didn’t need anypony else.

Worse, they would all blame themselves. They would ask themselves if they had missed something; if they hadn’t been good enough friends, if they’d been unfair to her, or if they should have left her on her own. Nopony deserved that, least of all the ponies she knew; she couldn’t bear the thought—not when it was her who had let them down. If they could see her now, what would they think?

What would they think? What was she doing just floating here waiting for her consciousness to fade? She should be fighting! She didn’t have a horn, but so what? Her cutie mark was for magic and she was made of magic; her cutie mark was for stars and she was made of stars.

So was the Ursa Major.

She knew what she had to do.

With arduous effort, she reached out to one of the Ursa’s stars and took it in her hoof. The star burned like a baseball-sized sun, evaporating her leg as she held it, but she endured; it was about to get much, much worse. Couching the star close to her chest, she did the only thing she could do...

She ate it.

The sensation of swallowing a star fullfilled all of her expectations and then some—like swallowing an apple whole if that apple was made of fire and lightning. The star burned all the way down, but she contained it; she controlled it; she made it a part of her. Her head swam as she realized this new part of her was not just a thing; it was alive, a piece of the Ursa’s soul just as now it was a part of hers.

There was no way that wasn’t going to be weird later on.

Still, even as she did her best to ignore the images of ages long past, something else was happening. It wasn’t long before the burning star became a fire of vitality inside of her, a beacon that shone with one message to the Ursa she’d taken it from: a declaration of war.

The Ursa Major roared in defiance, flooding Twilight’s mind with a furious anger, but she weathered the onslaught; she wasn’t dying any more. By taking that singular star inside herself, she had started something. With the addition of that star, she was no longer wholly different from the Ursa; that changed everything. Half-measures were no longer necessary.

Twilight barely had to reach out to the stars around her; they pulled at her and as soon as she touched them, they were hers. She exploded outwards, consuming dozens of stars before the Ursa could force her back with monstrous effort that staggered the starbeast. It was just the opening Twilight needed.

As the starbeast stumbled, Twilight—now Ursa Minor in size and definition—threw herself against the creature’s defenses a second time and was rewarded as it fell off balance, crashing down in the center of the chamber.

The Ursa took a moment as it dazedly tried to recover itself, but it was too late.

From the center of the chamber, Twilight could see up the shaft to the sparkling night sky. It was enough; she reached out with everything she had and she pulled.

The sky answered, and bowed low to meet the earth not as a hail of stars but as a whole, amorphous bulge of pure night.

✶ ✶ ✶

The Ursa Major was gone. Just... gone. In its place stood a trembling Twilight its size of solid stars from horn to hoof whose starry mane billowed up into the sky. Her mind was blank save one singular thought.

She was alive.

She was alive and she was whole again. Despite her colossal stature, she was anything but sturdy. She shook as the weight of everything that had happened crashed down on her. She fell first to her knees, then the ground.

She had almost died. The way the stars worked was her worst nightmare; immortality cached in a sieve. Poetic justice for a covetous pony like her, she supposed. She never wanted to leave the sky again and the prospect of the coming dawn chilled her to the bone. The very idea that a dozen other starbeasts across the world would look at her with hungry eyes was just too much. It didn’t matter that they probably weren’t going to come after her. After this rude awakening, anything seemed possible to her.

This was demonstrably the worst time imaginable for an Ursa Minor to come looking for its mother.

Twilight moved very fast for a colossal starry alicorn tethered to the sky by a swath of night. She made for the opposite side of the chamber, but tripped over herself when she realized the chamber wasn’t there any more. The sky had erased hundreds of hooves of rock as it answered her call, and it hadn’t been careful. She now lay at the bottom of a wide, soft, gaussian dip open to the night sky.

The Ursa Minor thought Twilight was its mother; Twilight thought it wanted her soul. She scrambled away on her back as it chased her, but it was no use. The Ursa Minor jumped and latched onto her flank as if to climb up to its mothers waiting arms, but it didn’t get very far. Halfway there, it popped like one soap bubble merging into another.

She didn’t even feel it.

Her heart pounded as her lungs struggled to process air and she began to feel lightheaded. It was all just too much, and she couldn’t seem to catch her breath any more than she could process everything that had happened. She couldn’t go on like this. She forced everything out of her mind and concentrated on just slowly breathing until her heart calmed down and she realized she was still made of stars and didn’t even have a heart or lungs. Slowly, she curled up into the tightest ball of ephemeral night she could and began sobbing to herself.

☾ ☾ ☾

Luna was not alone when the whole world tilted out from underhoof. She wished she had been. As it was, she ate marble in front of no less than six ponies she disliked. “What is that foolish pony doing with the sky?” she grumbled sourly under her breath as she righted herself with as much dignity as she could manage.

“Is something wrong, your majesty, or is throwing yourself at the floor one of those ‘games’ you picked up on your visit to Ponyville?” one of the ponies asked with barely contained amusement.

Just as Luna was about to answer him, the stars began to cry in slow, heartbreaking sobs.

“We...” she started, but the sudden outburst had rendered her speechless. She recovered quickly, however. No sooner than it took to think it, there was an excuse on the tip of her tongue and her wings were lifting of their own accord as she made to take her leave. Then, she remembered the situation she was in with the bearer of the element of magic. She visibly wilted.

“It... no, it is nothing. Thou may continue speaking about the... whatever it was you were talking about,” she offered distractedly. It didn’t matter; she didn’t hear a single word they said the rest of the night.

✶ ✶ ✶

It had been a long time since Twilight had awoken to the warmth of the sun under the open sky. It had been a comparatively shorter time since she’d woken up to the warmth of another pony next to her. It was only her second night as an alicorn and she’d woken up next to a different pony each time; what would Celestia say?

“Good morning, Twilight.”

That was what Celestia would say.

“Good—” she started only for the word to turn into a wide-mouthed yawn. “—morning Princess Celestia,” she finished on the tail-end of her yawn, then snuggled closer to the warm diarch. “It sure is cold,” she remarked.

“Ah,” Celestia said in hesitant acknowledgement. “Yes. That would be the snow, Twilight.”

“The snow?” Twilight asked, lifting her head and cracking open eyes crusty with sleep—no, actually it was frost. Sure enough, she and the princess were laying in the middle of a gently rolling white plain of snow. The snow was too bright for Twilight’s eyes, so she closed them and settled back against Celestia. “That’s funny; why would someone go to sleep in the snow?”

“I was hoping you’d tell me, Twilight,” the princess suggested with an edge of concern in her voice that hinted that no, she wasn’t going to get just five more minutes in bed.

Twilight sighed, cracking her eyes open again with one hoof over her eyes to shield them from a portion of the glare. She stared into the cold blue winter sky as she began to think.

She regretted it.

The sky was what did it. The clear open blue sky was many things; beautiful, soft and serene with just a lingering taste of dawn. What it wasn’t, was full of stars. The events of the night before didn’t so much crash into her as slowly crawl up her spine and around her heart like ice.

“Twilight?” Celestia prompted, the concern no longer hinted at. “Twilight, what’s wrong?”

For a short, brief moment, Twilight’s brain connected the lack of stars with Celestia—she’d risen the sun while Twilight was asleep! To her credit, she did not kick Celestia out of their bed of snow as she had Fluttershy the day before.

Celestia was much too heavy for that, for one thing.

Physics being what they are, it was Twilight that tumbled away in the snow, though considering the two alicorns were at the bottom of the dip Twilight’s stars had made, she didn’t go very far. It was enough, though. Celestia looked startled, then a little hurt.

Twilight’s brief panic didn’t last, but the awkward silence that came afterward lingered long enough to make her want to burrow into the snow and not come out until spring. Just as she was scanning the hillside for sign of any snow deeper than a hoof, she felt Celestia’s wing settling over her. Twilight looked up at her, but Celestia’s face held only concern.

“I’m—I—” Twilight stammered, shamefacedly averting her eyes in embarrassment.

Celestia pulled her wing tighter over Twilight reassuringly, but said nothing.

Twilight looked around at the vast open space around them. “I’m... sorry about the castle.”

“I don’t care about the castle,” Celestia assured her.

“But everything that could have been in there; all the things you talked about looking though...” Twilight sighed, letting the implications hang in the air.

Celestia chuckled coyly. “–were removed yesterday by myself and a team of Pegasi.”

Twilight stared, blinked and dropped her head with a sigh. “I am such an idiot.”

“Twilight—what happened?” Celestia appealed.

“I just wanted to do something to help. I wanted answers,” Twilight explained a bit defensively, not looking at Celestia.

“I am sorry you had to come out here for nothing. I wanted answers to give you, but we didn’t find anything worth mentioning,” Celestia explained, dispirited.

“Yeah, well you see... That’s a funny story because I did. I found something. Actually, uh, it’s not a funny story at all. It’s actually really kind of... I don’t even know. Sad; depressing; scary.”

Celestia raised one eyebrow, looking around at the empty field of snow. “–and what you found did all this?”

“No,” Twilight admitted nervously. “No, that was me. Literally me. I pulled the sky out of the, uhh, the sky. The ground lost.”

“The ground... lost,” Celestia repeated, as if saying it again would make it easier to swallow. “Twilight,” she sighed, “I don’t know how you do it, but you really know how to make my life interesting.”

“–actually,” Twilight added, caught up with her description and making motions with her hooves, “it was more like the ground was an innocent bystander that got in-between me and the, uhh, the Ursa. The Ursa Major. The one that used to, um, exist. Here.” She gave a nervous laugh.

“I think maybe you had better start back at the beginning,” Celestia suggested wearily.

Twilight sighed, thinking back to the night before; the stars she’d absorbed and what they were. What had seemed so potent in the moment had been subsumed and diluted into the vastness of her sky; calling on those inherited lives now might as well have been homeopathy. Still, she remembered the impression she got from that first star pretty well enough to build a picture in her head.

Twilight rubbed her temples with her hooves, trying to not to think about how she knew what she knew and what she’d been through to come to the conclusions she had. She hadn’t even had time to frame them for herself, but she tried.

“I think I know how it’s possible for me to have stolen the stars,” Twilight said quietly, studying the snow in front of her. “That’s actually not the beginning,” she admitted, “it’s more like the end, but it’s important. I know because I almost lost them myself. I almost—I could have—” Twilight choked up. She couldn’t say it without thinking about what had happened, so she changed her approach.

“The stars,” Twilight hesitated as she phrased her thoughts, “aren’t like the sun and the moon. That’s pretty clear to me now. They’re like millions of little suns or moons and they could potentially belong to millions of different ponies. They don’t, though. They congregate into masses; masses like me, like Ursa Majors and Minors and other things like them.”

“Then, the Ursa you mentioned...” Celestia suggested, finally getting some idea of what had happened.

“A long time ago, but after Luna was banished and around the time ponies were beginning to build a mythology around the night sky, a star fell here. The stars were as lost without Luna as the rest of Equestria, and on some level they knew the stories ponies were making up about them. When the star fell—which a lot of them did, without Luna—it burned so hot that it sank down into the rock right over th—well it’s gone now. The point is, it sat there for years burning a void into the rock until it started to believe the stories it remembered. Stories of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in particular.”

“This sounds awfully specific, Twilight. Surely this is conjecture?” Celestia looked puzzled.

“It’s not, really” Twilight admitted. “There’s a small part of me now that lived it.” Before Celestia could say anything, she continued. “It—the Ursa—caught me somehow. I couldn’t see it in the dark and it crushed my body, but somehow it held onto my stars and... ate me.”

Celestia looked distressed. “Oh, Twilight...”

“I fought it as best I could, but I was just... this tiny little pony made of stardust and friendship. That was when I reached for the sky and... it came down. I swear I didn’t even know what would happen, I just... it was me or it, except now it’s me and it. I’m... not really comfortable with that, you can imagine.”

“I’m so sorry, Twilight. I never knew. Luna never said anything,” Celestia insisted.

Twilight sighed, shaking her head. “I don’t imagine she knew either. I don’t doubt the stars used to be a part of her, but they weren’t her. First and foremost, she’s the moon, and being the moon, she’s never been apart from the stars. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be.”

Celestia furrowed her brow, a little confused. “Do you mean to say the stars in the sky are not a part of you when you’re a—quote—‘tiny little pony made of stardust and friendship?’”

“No, I don’t think that’s it. The sky has to always be a part of me, or I wouldn’t have been able to pull it down like that; I wouldn’t be able to bring the stars out as a pony. I think it’s just a separate part. Like... The opposite of how you manifest. You put a bit of sunlight and magic together and make a body, but you’re still the sun. I have to pull myself out of the sky to manifest, and what I leave behind in the sky is like your body of sunlight and magic.

“It doesn’t sound so bad when I put it like that, but it’s all up for grabs. Stars and magic, that’s all I am. One beast of a dozen; I’m just the one that’s winning. This is my immortal life; some kind of sick battle royale for the stars.”

“I don’t believe that,” Celestia insisted emphatically.

“Realistically, I know they aren’t all going to hop on a train and come for my head,” Twilight said, conflicted. “I know that, but it still scares me,” she admitted.

“You aren’t just another pony, Twilight. I know this is all... quite more complicated than you deserve, but you can’t let what you’ve become get in the way of who you are. No matter what you say, you didn’t steal the stars; they came to you because no matter how they’re divided, no matter what shape they take, no matter if you were pony or alicorn, you were the one they were meant for. –not just a mass of stars and magic, but a pony that deserves what she has been given. That is who you are.”

“Thanks, Princess Celestia.” Twilight looked away, embarrassed but genuinely heartened. “Hearing you say that helps. I just wish Luna felt the same way.”

Celestia’s expression darkened. “Luna...” she sighed. “I can’t even begin to predict what she’d make of this.”

“I’m not even sure I know how I feel about it, really.” Twilight cradled her head in her hooves. “Everything that happened last night kind of puts the rest in perspective, doesn’t it?”

“Her opinion matters a lot to you, doesn’t it?” Celestia asked, somewhat out of the blue.

Twilight blinked. “Well of course it does.”

“Is it because she’s my sister?” Celestia suggested neutrally.

The idea, honestly, surprised Twilight. “What? No, not really. I mean, I guess that would make sense, but I hadn’t really thought of it like that.”

“Then I’m sure things will work out with you two somehow,” the elder alicorn assured her cryptically, then suddenly stood up. “–and with that, I should go. I have a nation to run after all, and it looks like there’s someone here to see you.”

Twilight didn’t get so much as a bemused “bwuh?” out before the shining white alicorn standing over her was replaced by a gentle gleam of sunlight.

Confused by Celestia’s words and sudden departure the first thing that came to mind was what Applejack had said... was it really just last night?

It sounds like she’s the pony you need to see.

Twilight turned around, hoping to see Luna, but she was disappointed.

It was just Rainbow Dash.

✶ ✶ ✶

“Well it’s nice to see you too, Twilight. What’s with the nasty look?” Rainbow Dash groused as she landed, returning the alicorn’s sour gaze.

Twilight blinked. “What? Oh, sorry. I was just confused for a second there. Celestia was really cryptic when she left.”

“Yeah well, whatever,” the pegasus brushed it off. “More importantly, what’s with the big hole in the ground?”

Twilight averted her eyes self consciously. “It’s really more of a dip...”

“Hey, seeing it from the air a mile off—trust me, it’s a hole.” Rainbow Dash gestured for emphasis.

“Yeah, well...” Twilight started, then stopped herself with a grimace. “You know what? No. I am not going into it. No! First it happened, then I had to explain it to Celestia, I am not going to spend another hour talking about it with you!”

“Well jeez, what rumbled your raincloud?” Dash retorted, perturbed with the sudden attitude.

“A giant bear a hundred bookshelves tall!” Twilight yelled in frustration.

“Are bookshelves a unit of measurement?” Rainbow Dash snarked. “Wait—are you serious?”

Twilight pinched the bridge of her nose with the crook of one hoof in exasperation, then looked straight at Rainbow Dash, suddenly calm and serious. “Rainbow Dash, listen to me. I am going to say a phrase, and it’s going to make you forget I said anything about bears, okay?”

“Woah woah woah, not cool!” Rainbow Dash shouted, rearing up and lifting her wings. “I see one spark of magic out of you and I’m out of—”

No magic was required. “Teach—me—to—fly,” Twilight enunciated.

“...yeah, okay.”

✶ ✶ ✶

“Huh.” Rainbow Dash scratched her head with one hoof, perplexed. “You know, last night your wings were a mess, but now they look great. Did Celestia show you how to preen?”

“What? Oh, no.” Twilight spread one wing and craned her neck back to look at it; it was indeed spotless except for a dusting of snow, which she shook off. “It’s a, umm...”

Rainbow Dash groaned. “What, another alicorn thing? Come on Twilight, I’m playing along but you’ve gotta be able to at least hold a conversation!”

Twilight sighed. “I know. You’re right. Look, you saw how Princess Celestia left?”

Rainbow Dash nodded as she inspected Twilight’s wings to make sure they really were as neat and tidy as they looked. “Uh-huh. She teleported, right? Like you always do?”

“It’s not really the same, no,” Twilight lectured as Rainbow Dash poked and prodded at her. “Teleportation is like—hrm—okay, remember when we had to get Ponyville’s reservoir water up to Cloudsdale, and all the pegasi had to make a big tornado to get it there?”

“Uh-huh.” Rainbow Dash urged.

“Teleportation is like that. It takes a lot of power, and the further it is, the more it takes. Now, imagine that instead of the tornado, you just made all the water into clouds and flew them to Cloudsdale.” Twilight beamed; she was rather proud of her explanation.

Rainbow Dash didn’t think of it quite so highly. “But we don’t have any cloud-making machines in Ponyville, that’s why the water has to go to Cloudsdale in the first place!” she challenged.

Face, meet hoof, it’s been a while. “It’s a simile, Dash.”

That stopped Rainbow Dash. “A what now?”

“A metaphor,” she explained, weathering the sting of improper grammatical usage valiantly, like a true librarian. Somewhere in the back of her mind, a mantra was repeated several times. Communication before correctness.

“Oh, yeah,” Rainbow Dash laughed. “So the clouds in this metaphor, they’re what? Some kind of fluffy magic you precipitate back into liquid pony?”

Twilight’s face twisted into a grimace. “Okay, you know what; that didn’t work.” She sighed, wracking her brain for a better analogy. She failed to come up with anything, but there was another possibility, if she could do it. “Look,” she said authoritatively. “I’m going to try to show you something, just promise me you’re not going to freak out; especially do not freak out if I’m gone until sunset, okay.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah.”

“I’m serious, Dash,” Twilight scolded.

“Okay! I promise!” Rainbow Dash relinquished, though it was clear her eyes remain thoroughly rolled on the inside. “Stick a cupcake in my eye and all that, just show me your stuff!”

Twilight steeled herself. She should be able to do this if her theory about how she manifested was right. This is what ponies did—they experimented to confirm or deny a hypothesis. Concentrating on her outstretched wing, and starting at the tips, she slowly dissolved pony flesh and feathers back into stars and magic. Once she was sure she could hold herself together she let her whole body go until she was a whole pony made of stars again.

Just like last night.

She didn’t let it bother her. This wasn’t last night, she wasn’t in any danger, she was opening up to one of her friends. She was fine. Her mind was steady.

Rainbow Dash’s mind on the other hand, was quite elsewhere. “Dude, you’re like, evaporating in the sun.”

Twilight did, in fact, appear to be condensing vaporized magic on her surface. It was disconcerting, but miniscule. “It should be fine,” she said dismissively.

Rainbow Dash took the reassurement at face value and circled Twilight, “I gotta say, that is—”

“–creepy?” Twilight suggested nervously.

“–awesome!” was Rainbow Dash’s actual response.

Reassured, Twilight relaxed and focused on her next feat. Gently, she moved from one side of Rainbow Dash to the other, but not with her starry legs. She just seemed to flow across the space, over and around the pegasus for emphasis.

Rainbow Dash laughed and squirmed as the alicorn flowed over her and reformed on the other side. “You know, you could have just done that in the first place,” she said after Twilight reformed. “It would have saved some time.”

“Yeah, well I—” Twilight started, but Rainbow Dash had other ideas.

“Oh, oh! You know what you should do? Say the line! Say it!” she beamed with a wide grin, literally hopping on her hooves like she was Pinkie Pie.

Twilight was just confused. “What? What line?”

“You know! ‘I am the night,’ like Batmare!” Rainbow Dash mimicked the line with mock seriousness, then went back to grinning.

Just like that, Twilight was flesh again. “No, Dash. Just no.”

“Aww.” The rainbow pegasus deflated, but didn’t argue.

“This really doesn’t weird you out?” Twilight asked, one last time.

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Hay, pony magic, right? My mane turns into a flipping rainbow when I fly fast enough, you’re made of sparkles, now let’s get you off the ground.”

“...they’re stars, Dash. Stars.”

✶ ✶ ✶

“So if you can do all that, why did you need me to teach you to fly?” Rainbow Dash asked during a lull in Twilight’s crash course in flight. “Couldn’t you just, like, sparkle your way anywhere?”

Twilight was doing much better now with a pair of fresh wings and Rainbow Dash’s instruction on how to keep them that way after a few of her less effective ‘landings.’ She wasn’t exactly a natural, but then she wasn’t exactly a fluttershy either. It felt a little mean to think of her friend as a benchmark for mediocrity in flight, but the butter-yellow pegasus herself would be the first to tell you that she didn’t mind, and indeed wasn’t the best of fliers.

Twilight rolled her eyes. “Are you seriously going to keep calling it that?”

“Yes.” Rainbow Dash declared with mock authority. “In fact, that’s your new nickname, Sparkles.”

“Eugh,” Twilight bemoaned her fate in life... or nomenclature, anyway.

“So, what gives? I mean, this is great fun for me and all but I got the feeling you didn’t just want to shut me up—though that was pretty good. Do you, like, sit up all night thinking up all sorts of ways you could take the rest of us out if you had to? Like if Discord came back and turned the rest of us again, only instead of using the memories of our friendship you had to—”

“I am not Batmare, Rainbow Dash!” Twilight interrupted. “I swear, if you keep doing this, I will stop lending you comic books at the library.”

“Oh fine,” she relented. “Why do I feel like I have to ask you everything three times, though?”

“Because I’m still not comfortable with some of it, and you’re as persistent as Pinkie Pie, sometimes,” Twilight sighed with a hint of tired bitterness.

“Look, I just...” She sighed, downcast. “I’d rather not have to go back through the Everfree forest right now. I’m still feeling uncomfortably vulnerable after what happened and flying seemed like it would help with that—and it is helping so long as I don’t have to keep talking about it.”

“You could have just said so in the first place, you know. ‘Hey Dash, I’m feeling down, let’s go fly!’” Rainbow Dash emoted extra smoothly for Twilight’s benefit.

“I used fewer words than you did,” Twilight pointed out.

“Yeah, but they were less honest words,” Rainbow Dash retorted justly.

Twilight exhaled softly, and gave a little chuckle. “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

“I am always right,” Rainbow Dash declared. “I don’t know why you don’t listen to me more.”

“Dash, I’m powered by a million stars and I like you, but talking to you makes me so tired sometimes. Well, demonstrably less than a million right this second, but you get the idea. Some of us just don’t work at the same speed you do.”

Rainbow Dash cringed. “Ugh, don’t say that. I hate that guy. Just reading all that meta garbage makes me tired.”

The gears in Twilight’s head ground to a halt and she cocked her head at the pegasus. “What guy?”

“The one powered by a million suns,” Rainbow Dash asserted emphatically.

“Stars aren’t suns, Dash,” Twilight clarified. “I mean, they’re similar in a lot of ways, but they’re actually denser per cubic hoof, and even though they burn like the sun, the energy they release is closer to the moon, and... you don’t really care, do you.”

“Whatever. I still can’t believe you don’t read everything that comes through your library!” Rainbow Dash exclaimed with indignation. “I mean, reading is great and all but do you have any idea how it feels when I’ve read something and you haven’t?”

“I’m familiar with the sensation Dash, yes,“ Twilight replied with sarcasm bordering on abrasiveness. “–and I appreciate comics just fine, I just don’t like all of the crossovers or new authors that throw out everything a character is about just to make them more bright and sparkly. My life has more than enough sparkles.”

Rainbow Dash was covering her mouth with both hooves, but failed to muffle a snicker.

“What?” Twilight barked, then realized what she’d just said. “Oh hoof it all, now you’ve got me doing it.”

“–but hay, you read Twilight. You don’t have any right to look down on comics,” Rainbow Dash defended indignantly.

“Some day, Dash, I’m going to teach you about personal space.” Twilight grumbled, mostly to herself. “Look, if they made a book about you, you’d read it too.”

Rainbow Dash brightened up immediately. “You bet I would—because it would be AWESOME.”

“Okay, but picture this, Dash,” Twilight explained with exaggerated slowness. “What if they did write a book about you, but it wasn’t awesome?

“Oh.” Rainbow Dash suddenly blanched, clearly picturing such a nightmare scenario in her head for the first time. “Oh Celestia, no!”

“Now you know what my life is like.”

✶ ✶ ✶

Eventually, Twilight was given the Rainbow Dash seal of yeah-you-can-probably-make-it-home and the two of them parted ways over Fluttershy’s cottage.

It was weird, but she actually kind of missed her little hole in the ground—she had to admit that it kind of was a hole if you saw it from far off—despite being in the middle of the Everfree forest. It was peaceful and secluded and somehow hers. She’d made it, after all.

That didn’t sound weird at all.

Actually, looking at it scientifically, unicorns did sometimes feel attachment to things they’d used lots of magic on. It was suspected that the magic grew to permeate the object and lent it an air of familiarity. In layman’s terms, it wasn’t unlike animals that marked their territory with scent—though she was unfond of the images that particular analogy brought to mind, especially on the scale in question.

Ew.

Of course, irrational attachment aside, she still felt bad for wiping a historical monument off the map. That seemed like the sort of thing you didn’t do, even if it was inside the one place in Equestria ponies just didn’t go. Celestia hadn’t seemed too broken up about it, and it was basically her old house—but then, sometimes it was hard to tell with her.

Luna, on the other hand...

Twilight sighed. Again, Celestia had reassured her that the two of them would be able to work it out, but she didn’t feel like she was getting anywhere. She’d sort of gotten over the lion’s share of her panic and fear by replacing it with a new breed of panic and another brand of fear. She felt more grounded than she had in days, but she was still in the same place as ever with the princess.

Stranger still, even though she wasn’t quite actually afraid that the princess would hate her forever any more, her desire for an amicable resolution sooner rather than later was stronger than ever. She already had friends like Rainbow Dash and she could just talk forever with Princess Celestia, so why did it feel like Luna was so important?

She found the library before she found an answer, and gently swooped down to land in front of it. Nopony could mistake her for a regular pegasus, but she hoped to be inside quick enough to avoid comment. When it came to actually opening the door though, she hesitated.

Standing in front of the door to the Library, she remembered her little fantasy from the night before about how she expected learning more about the alicorns would solve all her problems. In reality, it had probably been the shortest ‘quest of self discovery’ ever, but it sure hadn’t felt like it; stupidest maybe, like the zen equivalent of finding enlightenment by turning a corner and running straight into a wall. Either way, she was glad to be home. She wasn’t sure where she would be going from here, but there was still one more talk she had to have.

✶ ✶ ✶

There was a scratching sound like claws on wood upstairs as Twilight entered the library and shut the door behind her.

“Spike!” she shouted, but there was no answer. “I don’t care, okay? I won’t even say anything about it, can you just come out, please?”

A little purple and green head peeked out of the stairwell and the rest followed soon after. She was on him in an instant; the poor baby dragon never had a chance. Sister hugs were an inescapable fact of life.

“Twi—light! You’re—crushing—me!” came a series of complaintive squeaks from somewhere in Twilight’s arms.

She loosened her grip to hold him at arms length and look at him with misty eyes. “Please don’t ever avoid me like that again, Spike. You have no idea what I’ve been through. If the last thing I ever said to you was your name, asking you to come back... well, you’d feel really bad.”

“Don’t you mean you’d feel bad?” Spike asked, confused.

“No, Spike,” she responded with complete, almost unnatural sincerity. “I’d be dead.”

Spike frowned and was silent for a moment as that sank in. “Can that really happen?”

“Apparently,” was her only response.

Spike looked down, having been successfully embarrassed. “...I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” Twilight gave a short nod and hugged him again.

“What—did—happen,” he asked from within her death-grip

“Ursa Major,” she said simply.

“You mean Minor, right?” he asked, eyes wide.

She gave a smirk. “Both, actually.”

“Woah.”

“–and Spike?” she added, finally releasing him.

“Yeah?” he responded automatically as he recovered.

“At least bet on me next time, okay?” she said with a scolding smile.

The baby dragon dropped his eyes in embarrassment. “You said you wouldn’t say anything.”

“I’m an alicorn. I lied,” she declared matter of factly.

“I don’t think that’s how that works.”

✶ ✶ ✶

Some time later, after stories had been exchanged and food had been had, there was a knock at the door. Spike got it. “Um, Twilight?” he shouted. “There’s a bunch of ponies here to see you. Like, a bunch; possibly a ton of ponies. They look important.”