• Published 12th May 2014
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Mente Materia - Arad



Twilight’s trip to Earth and friendship with the humans brings new friends and enemies to her peaceful world. With the specter of war hanging over them, Equestria will have to form an alliance like no other to fight the menace from the void.

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22 -- The Busy Life of Twilight Sparkle

“BEAGLE, BREAK RIGHT!”

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07:50, 11/30/2015, LUNA’S CHAMBERS, CANTERLOT

Twilight fidgeted in place as she glanced around the spacious rooms that Princess Luna rarely occupied lately. Books and scrolls were scattered about haphazardly, and Twilight had been especially careful not to disturb anything as she waited for the lunar diarch to arrive. Just because I can’t make sense of the chaos here doesn’t mean there isn’t a logical system in place for Luna, she reminded herself, and her mind drifted back to the time she had tried to teach the Cutie Mark Crusaders how to organize the library. I still haven’t found all the books that should still be in the library...

A small flicker of movement caught Twilight’s eye and brought her out of her thoughts. A small clockwork device sat on the large table that dominated the center of the room, and Twilight was quick to recognize the purpose of the device. Two arms were present on the device, with the farthest arm holding a masterfully cut topaz that glowed with some inner fire. The second arm held a perfectly spherical and featureless stone that seemed to drink in all the light that dared come close to it. In the center of the device was a sphere that most certainly represented their world, with immaculate engraving to mark its continents and seas.

What was perhaps more interesting was a small pile of parts similar to the Equestrian solar system model that rested near the table. All the parts were there to create a similar device as the first one Twilight had seen, but a significantly larger number of arms and other objects were present. At the center of the pile was an unenchanted topaz much like what was used to represent Celestia’s sun in the first model, and a short distance away was a small arm and a brownish stone. Next to that was another arm and a glass marble that continued to swirl with blue and green colors. And after that…

Ah! She’s trying to make a model of the human solar system? Twilight asked as as she rapidly identified the respective worlds as she went down the line of parts. The topaz is the only thing that’s enchanted, and the rest is clockwork? That’s amazing! I bet-- she clamped down on the wandering thoughts. No, Twilight. Don’t get distracted, no matter how much you want to be.

Before Twilight’s train of thought could spiral any further downward, the doors to the chamber were pushed open and Princess Luna entered with a tired look on her face. The expression was short-lived as she composed her expression and took a seat near the younger alicorn. “Good morning, Twilight. I understand that you have something you wish to discuss with me?” Despite the statement being posed as a question, the lunar diarch’s tone and knowing look made it come across more as a statement.

“Yes, Princess. I--”

One hoof rose to cut Twilight off. “Please, Twilight. While we’re alone, I would prefer you call me by my name instead of my title. Nopony is here but you and I. If you insist, then you can consider honoring my little request as payment for listening to your problem.”

Twilight simply nodded her head before looking down. Where do I begin? I don’t want to get anypony or anyone in trouble… but… “Last week, I found out that my friends had a secret that they were keeping from me. It might even be bigger than them! I don’t know how long it’s been going on, either! I think my friends found out about it last week but nopony has told me anything!” The younger alicorn could feel her words turning into an uncoordinated ramble as she continued. She forced herself to halt and take several deep breaths. When Twilight finished her exercises, Luna placed a steaming cup of tea on the table beside her seat and waited for the younger alicorn to take a sip.

“It’s a very grave concern that you have, Twilight,” Luna said after allowing the younger alicorn several moments to calm down. “However this situation resolves itself, you should always keep in mind that your friends would never knowingly choose to do you harm. You should also consider that their decision not to tell you may have other implications.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked.

“As you said, this secret concerns you, yes? I will assume that it doesn’t pertain only to you?” Luna held up a hoof to halt Twilight’s question before it was even asked. “Is it possible, perhaps, that they have not directly told you this secret because it was shared to them by this other party on condition that they don’t discuss it? Perhaps this other individual is approaching your friends as a way of indirectly approaching you on the subject?”

“I suppose that makes sense…” Twilight grumbled as she looked down.

Luna gave a slow nod and a gentle smile in response. “I imagine Celestia would have loved to have had this as a letter, were circumstances different. When somepony does something that hurts you, it’s frightfully easy to assume their actions were deliberate and intended to cause the pain you suffer. I will not try and argue that there are some that harm others deliberately, but it’s just as likely that their actions were unintentional and not meant to have the effect that they did. Have you spoken with your friends about this?”


Twilight couldn’t do more than look down at the marble floor. “No. Not yet. I keep trying to but I just...” she trailed off, and her voice refused to comply with her thoughts. It just feels like everything is coming undone and everyone is keeping secrets! The humans used my magic I gave them to create their golems and Celestia knows what else, and I don’t want to think about what Chrysalis tries to do to Matt when they’re alone. It’s been almost a week and none of my friends has said anything to me about this!

“I can see the turmoil in you, Twilight, and I’ve seen it in your dreams as well,” Luna said as she studied the younger alicorn’s face. After a moment, her gaze fell to the floor as well. “I must admit that I know the nature of the secret to which you refer, and the individual involved.”

“WHAT!?” Twilight blurted out, and the teacup nearly toppled from her telekinetic grasp. How many have known about this? Was I the last to know!?

“Calm yourself, Twilight. I only discovered this secret recently, and I spoke with the individual in question. I believe it was my conversation with him that prompted his decision to approach your friends,” Luna said. “I apologize for not sharing this with you, and it isn’t my place to say anymore. I would recommend that you speak with all of your friends today, as they will be able to provide a great deal of insight into this incident that I cannot. Will you do this for me, please?”

“Yes, princess,” Twilight said quietly, and Luna winced at the mention of her title instead of her name.

“I hope that when the truth is revealed, you will forgive me for my part in this. Just remember that there are more sides to every issue than the one that you see it from, Twilight,” Luna said, before walking towards the doorway. “Please send my regards to the High Talon when you meet with him, okay?”

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09:00, 11/30/2015, GRYPHOS REFUGEE COMPOUND, CANTERLOT

Twilight was escorted from the outer perimeter of the griffon enclave by a pair of hawkeyed sentries, and dozens of armed soldiers could be seen keeping watch from the rooftops or maintaining checkpoints on the street level. Everyone, from pony vendors delivering food and other supplies, to other refugees in the compound, to Twilight herself, were stopped at every checkpoint before giving approval to proceed.

They take their security seriously, not that I blame them, Twilight thought as her griffon escorts led the way into a larger structure that was positively teeming with the avian people and their children. If the aliens are using pony look-a-likes and invisible monsters, I would make sure everypony was just as on guard. I suppose if they don’t have magic to detect such things then they have to make up for it with additional wings in the air, so to speak.

The young alicorn’s attention was brought back on track when a massive griffon stepped into their path to block them. One of her escorts stepped forward and whispered quickly to the larger griffon. It looked up from the smaller griffon and Twilight found herself staring into the pitch black eye sockets of its featureless helmet. The moment stretched on uncomfortably before it responded with a head tilt and began to walk further down the corridor.

“The Myrmidon will take you to the High Talon, princess,” her escort said with a polite bow before leaving Twilight to catch up to the armored griffon. The only thing that passed between the two was the click of the Myrmidon’s metal talons and the rattle of the absurd number of weapons that adorned his body.

A new sound eventually joined, then overpowered those that came from the Myrmidon. Laughter and shouts that could only come from the Cutie Mark Crusaders filled the corridors, as well as two voices that they had first heard only recently. The first of these voices was that of the young High Talon, barking orders that were punctuated with clipped laughter. And the second…

“Command, Beowulf,” the faceless golem said as it turned it’s golden-glass gaze at the young alicorn…

The quartet of younglings were bouncing a ball between them in rapid succession as they charged across the courtyard. A swift kick from Applebloom sent the ball tearing across the courtyard’s grass with blinding speed, only for it to get kicked straight up into the air as Scootaloo skidded into it. Alvar snatched the ball out of the air and launched himself into a forward spin to gain as much momentum as possible before tossing the ball straight downward. The ball’s trajectory twisted in mid-air with Sweetie’s magic and hurled toward the impromptu goal and the goalie protecting it.

The golem from Twilight’s memory hunched over in front of the courtyard’s arched entrance, it’s blocky legs widespread and three-fingered hands raised. Its head was lacking any of the features that would be present on a pony or even a human face. A plate of golden glass covered where the eyes would be, and what might be described as plated ‘shutters’ rested on its forehead so as to not impede its vision. The armored head tracked the ball as it spiraled through the air, and only when it had passed through the goal did the golem react. A metal hand struck with hawk-like speed and precision, snatching the ball out of the air but not before stumbling backwards almost comically on one leg. Once it regained its balance, it tossed the ball back to the cheering children.

The game was all set to continue until Alvar noticed the Myrmidon and Twilight’s approach. He spoke a few hushed words to the foals before approaching. “My apologies, Princess,” Alvar said formally as he bowed to the alicorn. “It is unforgivably rude that I request this appointment and then nearly forget about it.”

Twilight returned the bow to the young griffon before giving him a smile. “Please, call me Twilight, if you don’t mind. Given the reason for your delay, it’s perfectly understandable. Those three are quite notorious for getting into all sorts of trouble. I should thank you for looking after them all of this time and keeping them out of… danger,” Twilight said sincerely, though she cast a wary glance at the golem as it caught and returned another ball toss.

Alvar followed the direction of Twilight’s attention before nodding slightly. “You may call me Alvar if you prefer. Every time someone addresses the High Talon, I find myself expecting to see my father… but that is beside the point.” Alvar motioned to a short staircase leading to the balcony above the courtyard. Once the pair were situated, he continued, “The golem’s name is Beowulf, named after a human hero of the distant past. It might surprise you to know that he shares our concerns regarding the safety of those three fillies.”

“I’m not sure I understand,” Twilight said as she continued to watch the game in the courtyard. It’s hard to reconcile the idea of that golem playing with foals when the last time I saw it, it was killing aliens with its fists. Matt said there was someone controlling it, but still…

“A couple of days after the battle, Beowulf approached me personally. He explained that the Cutie Mark Crusaders had been snooping around the human compound just before the battle last week. That wasn’t the reason for his visit, though,” Alvar explained as he also looked out to the courtyard. “When they were spotted, the three naturally panicked and ran away. Beowulf was the one that found them and brought them back to safety just before the battle commenced. He also informed me that they had been in very real danger during the search, as they had unwittingly found a… depository for the bodies that the alien infiltrators had murdered while they were in the city. It was then that Beowulf and I agreed to do everything we could to keep the Crusaders as busy as we could so they don’t wander off on their own. I don’t doubt that the guard has done an excellent job in sweeping the city… but I don’t want anything dangerous to come near them ever again.”

Twilight spared a glance towards the young king, and her eyes lingered on the sword that was strapped to his back. I don’t doubt for a minute that he means exactly what he says. I also don’t doubt that he would use that sword or even his own beak and talons to defend them if necessary. I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate for a minute to kill if he had to.

“I hope that I have answered your concerns, Twilight,” Alvar said as he waved a talon towards the padded seats just inside the balcony area. He waited for Twilight to take her seat and get comfortable before he continued, “Before I pose my questions, I must warn you that these are somewhat personal and private to me, so I would very much appreciate your discretion. You may also refuse to answer if you wish, if you find the subject as hard to discuss as I do.”

“Anything you say will stay between us, Alvar,” Twilight said with a nod before casting a wary glance at the Myrmidon lurking on the perimeter of the balcony.

“Do not worry about him. If anyone could keep a secret in this world, it would be the Myrmidon,” Alvar said with a chuckle before he composed himself. He took several long breaths and closed his eyes before he mustered the willpower to speak. “Shortly before the attack, I saw you teleport all of your friends and some others into the medical wings. When some of them stated their intent to assist in the battle, you wore an expression I’ve only seen once before.” The confidence that the young griffon had previously been projecting vanished and more a too-young child in Twilight’s eyes. “When the aliens attacked my homeland, I saw that same look on my brothers’ faces when they told me to escape with the others. That was the last time I saw them alive. I still don’t know what they were thinking! I’m a griffon, a son of the High Talon! Battle does not frighten me! Neither does a glorious death!”

Twilight continued to study Alvar as his voice rose in volume at his declaration. When she was certain that he was finished, she spoke in a quiet voice that sharply contrasted his. “I think you know the answer already, Alvar. When you were explaining how you wanted to protect those three fillies, what did you think? What did you feel?”

The griffon’s expression went from curious to introspective as he considered his answer. “Caution, and determination. They are far too soft and innocent for the terrible things that come from war. It might be greedy of me, but I don’t want them to lose those qualities. It would feel too much like a tragedy for them to be forced to give that up.”

Twilight nodded before posing her next question. “I’m sure if it came to it, they wouldn’t hesitate to help anyway they could if another attack occurred.”

“No, absolutely not!” Alvar snapped, his face a study in shock as he stared at Twilight. “These monsters aren’t like anything in the little games they play. I would sooner die than allow them to put themselves in danger!”

“And I’m certain that’s exactly what your brothers were thinking the last time you saw them, Alvar,” Twilight added sadly. The young griffon’s eyes widened as the logic all fell into place. More than once he attempted to speak, but his words failed him and he remained silent. The pair watched the fillies play their ball game in silence for several moments before Twilight spoke again. “You had mentioned that there were other questions that you had, right?”

“Yes, I do. Since father… since I became High Talon, all of the griffons have been treating me differently. It’s expected that the rank and file would alter their behavior, since it was almost unthinkable that I would be the one to take this position.” Alvar paused and seemed to struggle over his words. “My friends… my clutchmates that I’ve grown up with and trained with all treat me as the High Talon. They don’t treat me like Alvar. Your friends still treat you like a friend and not a ruler, Twilight. I don’t… I don’t know how to get my friends to treat me the way they used to.”

For all the responsibility that has fallen to him, Alvar is still a child at heart, Twilight thought as she watched the young griffon remain in his ‘regal’ pose despite his uncertain expression. He’s done well despite the pressure, but he wants some part of his old life to remain the same. I can’t exactly blame him. “I’m not so certain I can help with that, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to work things out with them. If you don’t mind me asking, did your father have any close friends?”

“Just the Talons that served with him.”

And they’re all dead. Smooth move. “How was your father treated by his subjects?” Twilight asked in an attempt to keep from dwelling on the more morbid details.

“With respect! He was always addressed by title and all of his decrees were carried out to the letter for the good of the empire.” The explanation started out strong but quickly dwindled as Alvar reached the end. “That’s how they’re treating me now, too. With ‘respect,’ like a subject treats the High Talon. I don’t want that from my friends.”

“I won’t argue that it’s not a position that’s worthy of that respect. It almost sounds like a cultural expectation,” Twilight observed. When Alvar responded with a skeptical glance, she continued. “The way you described your father sounded… lonely. He earned the respect he got, but it separated him from the majority of his people. It might be hard, but you should stay in contact with your old friends. They’re still very young, and they might not realise that they’re hurting you by treating you the way they think they should. Once they grow a bit older, they’ll realize that you’re still the same griffon they knew, despite the fancy title. Until then, you’ve got to keep trying.”

Alvar mulled over the alicorn’s words. “Thank you for your advice, Twilight. It seems that the one thing I’m reminded of every day is that there is so much I don’t know. It’s… disconcerting.”

Twilight’s response was a reassuring smile. “Starswirl said it was the mark of the wise to know when you don’t know everything, and the mark of the fool to claim to know everything. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to learn about friendship over the past few years, so I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. Maintaining a relationship is just like maintaining a skill or a muscle. It takes hard work and determination to make it work. If you neglect it, it will weaken and it might fail you when its needed most.”

“An apt analogy,” Alvar nodded, before hesitating over his words. “I must admit to having less experience than you in most things, but if you have any need of me or my people, all you have to do is a--”

“WATCH OUT!”

Through either skill or pure luck, the ball from the Crusaders game launched over the balcony railing with an impressive amount of speed, ricocheted off of the doorframe, and flew straight at Alvar. The young griffon had just enough time to let out a squawk in surprise before it knocked him off of his seat. One talon rose triumphantly with the ball securely in its grasp as Alvar shouted, “Girls! How many times are you going to do that and claim it’s an accident afterward?”

Twilight had to stifle a giggle when she heard all three of the Crusaders laughing from the lower level. When Alvar cast the alicorn an apologetic look, she waved a hoof and he descended to join them in their game. I may have to take you up on your offer to talk, but not today. I’ve got to go see another friend, Twilight said to herself as she was escorted out of the compound.

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12:30, 11/30/2015, JUNKWALL, OUTSKIRTS OF CANTERLOT

The day immediately following the second battle of Canterlot had revealed a massive number of ships that were destroyed and unceremoniously dumped by Shining Armor’s barrier shield around the base of the Canterlot mountain. The humans had dubbed the massive piles of wrecked ships a ‘boneyard’, but the Equestrians had adopted a slightly less grim ‘junkwall’ to refer to the new perimeter that surrounded the city. As soon as the city had been secured against any remaining aliens that had managed to enter, the troops had scoured the junkwall to eliminate any survivors that would pose a threat to the city or the stream of refugees that made their way there.

And, as a testament to human ingenuity (or as the detractors claimed, greed), the moment the junkwall was declared tentatively secured, XCOM’s engineers had descended en masse to salvage anything they could from the wreckage.

It was one such engineer that Twilight was dearly hoping to see as she entered one of the temporary buildings and trotted towards one of the larger groups of humans. Tarps had been laid out in a wide area as well as several temporary buildings, and various artifacts retrieved from the ships were spread in some logical way that the alicorn couldn’t quite make sense of. Humans in work clothes were everywhere, as well as a hooffull of soldiers in heavier body armor keeping watch.

“Blasted scavengers,” muttered a voice from behind Twilight, and she couldn’t resist the impulse to look over her shoulder and glare at the source. A pegasus stallion from the Solar Guard stood at her flank, and he was at least polite enough to attempt to hide his disgust at what he saw. He tried a lot harder once he became aware of Twilight’s attention directed at him.

“Is there a problem?” Twilight asked with a forced amount of sweetness in it, though her eyes continued to shoot daggers.

“I just don’t think it’s proper to strip the junkwall. It’s a giant tomb now,” the guard observed, and he cast a disgusted look out the window towards one of the larger buildings that the alien corpses were being taken.

Twilight’s response was a bit more heated than she initially intended. “If you can’t contain your displeasure, then perhaps you should return to the castle.”

“I’m sorry, princess, but Captain Armor ordered me to--”

“I never said you would have a choice in the matter,” Twilight snapped, and the guard vanished in a flash of purple light. Shiny is going to give me an earful when I get back, she thought glumly as she walked further into the salvage camp. More than once, the human engineers stopped to watch her as she walked past before resuming their duties.

Her walk became a trot as she heard a familiar voice among the general clamor of the salvage area. The human in question was easy to pick out from the others, with a mostly bald head, graying hair and a wrinkled face marking him as at least two decades older than any of the others working in the area. His face lit up when Twilight shouted his name. “Mister Shen!”

“Twilight!” the elderly engineer said with a wide smile as he turned to face the approaching alicorn. He handed a tablet computer to one of the workers beside him before walking to meet Twilight halfway. “I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to visit you yet, but things have been busy here. How have you been?”

“I’ve been well, thanks for asking, Charles,” Twilight answered before glancing around at the collection of other humans that went about their work. “Do you have a minute to talk? Privately?”

A small look of concern entered Shen’s expression as he led the way to a small desk that was separated from the rest of the work area by some distance. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid this is the best I can manage at this point. I didn’t want to mention it earlier, but you seem tired, Twilight. I imagine it must be a bit stressful, being a princess now?”

“It was a bit of a shock, but everyone’s been really supportive,” Twilight explained as she looked back and extended one of her wings. “My brother wants me buried in guards if I leave the castle, which is more than a little aggravating. I suppose I should ask Cadance how she deals with his smothering overprotectiveness.”

Shen smiled as he listened before chuckling. “It’s one of the pitfalls of having family that cares. Cadance is your sister-in-law, right?” When Twilight nodded but didn’t say anything else, Shen took his seat at the desk and gave the alicorn a long look. “I appreciate the chance to talk as much as the next person, but my instincts are telling me that you came here for more than that. Am I right?”

Twilight nodded again, and she chewed her lip before working up the courage to finally speak again. After several false starts and aborted words, she said, “When I was on Earth, you showed me some of the things you had made using the information I had given you…”

“I remember,” Shen nodded. “There were some armor systems, and the Ea generator that--”

“That wasn’t everything, was it?”

The good cheer in the human’s eyes slowly faded, and he sagged in his chair. “No, it was not,” Shen admitted. “You, of any of your kind, should be aware of how creative humanity can be if we have to be. What you taught us has opened up entirely new fields of study on how the world works and how we can fight the aliens. The survival of our species might justify what we’ve done in the long run, but I feel personally responsible for abusing our friendship by not telling you about everything we had made.”

Twilight’s head sank as her fears were confirmed. No matter how indirect it is, it’s more blood on my hooves. I gave them everything they needed to make all their weapons and armor because Lana getting hurt scared me. An idea struck the alicorn and sent her for a loop. But… if I hadn’t given them this information, more humans might have been killed! Matt wouldn’t have been hurt… but Lana wouldn’t be whole without the arm I designed for her. Which was the right choice, and which was the wrong one?

“Do you regret it, now that you know the truth?” Shen asked gently, but the question struck Twilight like a physical blow.

“No. No, I don’t,” Twilight said finally, her gaze locked on the floor. I did what I did to help Lana and the rest of my friends on Earth. I can’t ever regret helping someone who needs it. “I just… I wish the aliens would just go away. I don’t want there to be any more killing, but I don’t want my friends to get hurt any more.”

“You’re not the only one, Twilight,” Shen said as he knelt beside her and gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. That simple contact was like a breaking dam for Twilight, and the elderly engineer quickly found himself wrapped up in a tight hug. “You’re not the only one,” he repeated as he returned the embrace.

The two eventually separated, with Twilight feeling much better despite all of the uncomfortable questions that the conversation had brought up. I guess I didn’t really need to be told about all of that. I just needed to hear it from him, Twilight thought as she looked up to the engineer. Shen had begun walking out of the salvage area with Twilight immediately behind… only to nearly run into Matt and Lana. Both of the new arrivals were clad in heavy armor, and both held their helmets to one side and their weapons on the other.

“All of the ships have been cleared out to the third marker, so you should be able to begin salvage operations,” Matt reported professionally before his gaze fell to Twilight and he smiled. “I should have known you’d end up here eventually, Twily. Shen’s been up to his eyeballs in salvage, but he did have plans to come visit you as soon as he could.”

“I should probably get going,” Lana said with a not-quite apologetic smile and a glance at Matt.

Matt’s expression was eerily similar in return. “You probably should. I think I saw Firecracker somewhere outside, and she’s looking for you.”

A curious series of emotions raced their way across Lana’s face before she forced a smile and marched out of the room. She was nearly knocked over when the door flew open and Shining Armor galloped over to the humans gathered around Twilight.

Is he… did he run all the way here because I teleported my guard back to the castle? Twilight asked herself with equal parts affection and annoyance. “Shiny…”

“Oh, uh, hello Twilight,” Shining Armor said between gasps, as though he was seeing her for the first time. His attention shifted back to Matt as soon as he caught his breath. “I came here to warn you, Matt. I was reviewing the new officer listings within the Solar Guard and found a name I didn’t expect. If he has reenlisted, then--”

“Good afternoon, captains, princess,“ a new voice greeted from the entrance to the area. The voice’s owner was a unicorn stallion with a dark blue coat and mane, and while his cutie mark was hidden under his armor, Twilight had absolutely no trouble recognizing her father. “I’m Captain Night Light, formerly with the reserves but recently reactivated.” His amber gaze addressed each of the room’s occupants that weren’t already working before finally settling on Shining Armor. “Captain, you seem to be out of breath. Was there some sort of emergency?”

“Oh, ah…” Shining stuttered before shooting a glance at Twilight. “Princess Twilight seems to have misplaced her guard escort while outside the castle, and I thought it would be best to keep her company until she returned.”

“Is that so?” Night Light asked, casting a skeptical glance at his two children before walking to stand before Matt. “I believe this is our first time meeting, Captain Harris. I wanted to personally thank you for all of your work here so far, and for what you did on Earth. I know Twilight can be a lot to manage, but I’m glad to hear my daughter was able to make such a good friend while she was away.”

More than a little anxiety began to eat away at Twilight’s composure, and she was sorely tempted to teleport Matt, Night Light, or herself away from this disaster in the making.

Throughout the entire exchange, Matt had watched with polite interest. He had maintained his cool composure when the conversation had shifted directly to him, though the slight widening of his eyes betrayed some surprise when Night Light revealed his connection to the others in the room. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. When she was on Earth, she always talked about how much her family meant to her,” Matt said with a winning smile.

A laugh erupted from Night Light as he turned to leave the salvage area. “You’re a terrible liar, Captain. I like that about you. It took her two years and a wedding invitation for her to tell her friends that she had a brother!” He looked over his shoulder and motioned for Matt to follow, who obligingly fell into step behind the Equestrian captain. The two continued to talk animatedly even as they exited the building.

“Did that just happen?” Twilight asked blankly as she shot a dumbfounded look at her brother.

Shining returned her look with an equal amount of surprise. “I think it just did.”

“Did Matt seem…odd to either of you?” Shen asked aloud, causing both unicorns to nearly jump in place. “He seemed really… well, maybe I’m just imagining things. It was nice seeing you again, Twilight, as well as meeting some of your family. I’ll try and stop by later this evening once the workload is reduced a bit, alright?”

Twilight nodded absentmindedly as she tried not to imagine what horribly embarrassing stories her dad might be telling Matt. She was already halfway out of the door when Shining shouted, “Twilight, where is your guard!?”

------

03:00, 11/30/2015, MEDICAL WINGS, CANTERLOT

Twilight chewed her lip nervously as she paced back and forth in front of the door to Fluttershy’s room. She could hear voices talking on the other side; all of the other Element Bearers were present, unless her ears failed her. Just calm down, Twilight, just calm down. Remember what Luna said. Stop, breathe, and do what you have to. The alicorn took a deep breath before letting it out slowly. One hoof slowly rose up, and before she could talk herself out of it, she knocked gently on the door.

“Please, come in,” Fluttershy’s voice said from the other side of the door, and Twilight stepped inside. Fluttershy sat in a wheelchair near the windows, with the other Element Bearers sitting in the overstuffed chairs and sofas nearby. Spike was also present, writing something down on the table near Fluttershy’s bed, but he put his paperwork down when he noticed Twilight now in the room.

“Good afternoon, everypony,” Twilight greeted as she tried to keep her voice steady. It was significantly harder to meet the eyes of her friends, and she felt her resolve begin to crumble under the temptation to just run out of the room and hide. “I… I guess you’re wondering why I wanted to meet you all here…”

Rarity was the first to answer. “You don’t need a reason, Twilight! It feels like its been ages since we’ve all gotten together just to chat without some terrible threat hanging over our heads.”

Some of the tension that had been building in the back of Twilight’s mind deflated a bit, and she latched onto the temptation to talk about anything but what she should. She let out a nervous laugh before she opened her mouth to speak.

“His name is Victor Spiegel,” Pinkie Pie interrupted, which caused Twilight to nearly bite her tongue as her jaw snapped shut and the other Element Bearers to gasp.

“Pinkie! You promised you would keep it secret!” Applejack nearly shouted as she rose from her seat and shot the pink pony a glare.

Pinkie returned the glare with an arched eyebrow. “We knew about Victor. Twilight knew that he was here. She knew that we knew, so she called us all together. And I knew that she knew, so it’s not a secret if everypony knows, right?”

“Then why didn’t anypony talk to me about this before now?” Twilight asked, and her previous anxiety began to creep back into her thinking. Nevermind my friends here, why would he even come here with the humans in the first place? Why would Matt and Lana let him come here without telling me first?!

All of the Element Bearers looked away guiltily, save for Fluttershy. “Twilight, I know it’s hard to look at a situation like this from another perspective other than your own. You almost died, and nopony blames you for what you’re feeling.” The pegasus looked to the others in the room, who all nodded. Spike had made his way from the bedside table and put a comforting claw on one of Twilight’s legs, which nearly caused her to break then and there.

“Twilight, do you recall anything that happened after your injury?” Rarity asked carefully.

“Matt?" Twilight asked weakly, "Could you… scratch my ears, please?”

“Well... I was asleep for most of it, then I woke up in Canterlot,” Twilight said as she weighed the guilt of lying to her friends with the warmth that particular memory brought her.

“I have to really twist my head to understand their reasons, but Victor said the humans were scared that we might end up attacking his people because of what happened to you. They told Victor that they were keeping him was as a peace offering if we came wanting revenge,” Applejack explained, and her expression was scrunched up as though the words themselves were bitter to taste. “When Princess Luna went to Earth and worked out how we’ll be helping them, they told Victor to keep quiet or bad things would happen.”

“I don’t know if I can blame them for thinking that,” Rainbow Dash said, though she couldn’t meet the eyes of the other Element Bearers in the room when they turned to her. “I was up doing the early morning weather shift the day that they brought you back, Twilight. I nearly had my feathers scorched when Celestia blasted past me like a fireball to get to you. That kind of welcome would scare anypony, especially when Victor was the one who did it.”

“Rainbow Dash…” Fluttershy warned with a pointed glare.

“It’s true, isn’t it? I know that he said he was scared and that he’s feeling guilty about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that he shot Twilight!” the other pegasus snapped. “If Celestia had mustered the Solar Guard and invaded, it makes sense to use him as a scapegoat.”

Fluttershy’s harsh look only intensified. “Rainbow Dash!”

“I’m not saying it’s right! I’m not saying I like that choice or agree with it!” Dash shouted back.

“GIRLS!” the shout brought the budding argument to a grinding halt, and all eyes turned to the unlikely source of the interruption. “I could be wrong, but something tells me that this is an argument you’ve already had,” Spike said as he looked at each of the mares before turning back to Twilight. “Before you start arguing again, I think you owe Twilight an explanation for why you didn’t tell her.”

Nervous glances went between the mares before all eyes went to Fluttershy. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly before she explained, “Victor has spent a great deal of time visiting me after I was hurt. He saved my life, and Zecora’s, and he wanted to make sure I would get better. When I told him that I couldn’t sleep because of the nightmares, he told me that he had the same problem. What happened to the both of you has been haunting him just as badly as what happened to me.”

Smoke in her nostrils. Three humans mutilated by a monster. Claws scrabbling against cement, propelling an unspeakable horror forwards. STAY AWAY! The memory and her own experiences with nightmares caused Twilight to wince, and she couldn’t bring herself to interrupt as Fluttershy continued.

“The reason we couldn’t tell you is because it took a lot of trust for him to tell me what was bothering him, and even more trust to tell the others. You’re my friend, Twilight, but so is Victor,” Fluttershy said as she met the alicorn’s eyes. “He told us because he intends to talk with you eventually, but I think the thought of actually speaking with you scares him. I hope you can forgive us for not telling you about him as soon as we found out, Twilight. I just don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

“I’m afraid she’s right, sugarcube. I could tell that it took a lot of effort for him to tell us as much as he did,” Applejack offered, though her eyes narrowed as she continued. “I also get the impression that he was sugar-coating some of what he told us, though I don’t have any idea just what he was holding back..”

While the earth pony spoke, Rarity rose from her seat and moved to Twilight’s side. “We felt absolutely terrible about keeping this from you. Can you forgive us?” she asked.

Everything they’re saying makes sense, but it still hurts that they didn’t tell me, Twilight said to herself. Despite that dull ache in her heart, she found it hard to resist the temptation to accept their apologies immediately. Am I a terrible pony for not forgiving them just like that? Why can’t everything be simple like it used to be? Despite her doubts, she nodded at Rarity but remained silent.

“Thank you, Twilight,” Rarity said as she put a hoof on her friend’s shoulder for support. “Now… I hope you don’t think I’m prying, but there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you about for a little while now.”

“Oh, here we go. Rarity’s letting that new book go to her head,” Applejack said with an eyeroll.

Rainbow Dash let out a burst of laughter. “Exactly! Those books are for mares who can’t get a coltfriend.”

Rarity’s eyes were as sharp as knives as she glared at Rainbow Dash. “You must enjoy them a great deal then, darling?” When the pegasus’s humor became a scowl, the unicorn smiled smugly. “And for your information, I came across this juicy bit of information before the last in the series came out, so this isn’t just my imagination running away with me.”

“What are you talking about?” Twilight asked, despite the creeping sensation that she should be running away as fast as she could.

The fashionista’s expression became a beaming smile as she turned back to Twilight. “Earlier this month, I had a chance to take some measurements and used a pair of humans to help with my designs. You remember, right? Mister Finch and Miss Jenkins helped immensely. While I was working, I had a rather enlightening conversation regarding your good friend, Captain Harris.”

“Isn’t he the guy who blew up half of Ponyville?” Applejack asked with an arched eyebrow.

“I think that’s right, AJ. Something’s seriously wrong with him,” Rainbow Dash confirmed as she stared at Twilight.

“It’s not like that! It’s just that he was really nice to me back on Earth, and he’s a good person who’s had to make some hard choices! I know he was scary during the fight at Ponyville, but he wasn’t himself then, and he’s always nice to me when we’re alone--”

The last thing Twilight felt before she drifted off to sleep was the amazing sensation of his fingers scratching her ears...

“--AND NOTHING HAPPENED!” Twilight blurted out as fast as she could, her face growing redder from a combination of frustration and other emotions. Her rant was halted when she caught the knowing smiles from the other mares and the barely suppressed giggles from Rarity. “What are you all smiling about!?”

“I think the princess protests too much,” Applejack grinned.

“And what she just said… it’s almost word for word from the book,” Rarity explained as she continued to do her best to restrain her giggles. “It’s just so adorable.”

Twilight was just about to launch into another flurry of denials, when the pieces came together in her mind. A romance book that’s somehow linked to recent events, with dialog that’s similar to how I talk? Please please please don’t be what I think… “Where is the book?! Let me see it!” Twilight demanded, and her magic immediately emptied out Rarity’s saddlebags that rested against the wall.

The majority of the contents were the usual things she expected the unicorn to carry: a mirror, a brush, a small coin pouch, other knick-knacks… and a hardcover book. The literature in question shook in Twilight’s telekinetic grasp as her worst fears were confirmed. The cover featured an alicorn in a rather passionate position with what could only be a human. At this point, the book was shaking too much for her to read the blurb or the title, but she immediately recognized the author’s pen name.

In a flash of purple light, Fluttershy’s room vanished and was replaced by a well-kept living room filled with well used furniture and family pictures filled with familiar unicorns. “MOTHER!” Twilight roared at the top of her lungs. “COME HERE RIGHT NOW AND EXPLAIN THIS TO ME!”

“There’s no need to yell, Twilight,” a voice replied from one of the rooms next to the living room. “If the aliens are attacking again, you’re going to have to tell them to wait. I nearly missed my last deadline, and my publishers want me to crank out a sequel as quickly as I can given how well my last book sold!” The owner of the voice, a white coated unicorn with a two-tone white and purple mane, trotted out and affixed Twilight with her best parenting look. “What’s so important that it couldn’t wait?”

“This!” Twilight yelled, and she nearly beat her mother over the head with Rarity’s book. “Explain this to me!”

“It’s a book, dear. I write those because it’s a fun way to spend my time and to make a living,” Twilight Velvet explained slowly. “That’s actually my newest release! Did you finally muster up the courage to buy one on your own and read it? You are getting to be that age, after all…”

“NO!” the younger Twilight snapped, and she tapped her hoof repeatedly on the cover. “I want you to explain why you’re writing books about me and… and…” She couldn’t finish her thought, so she continued to tap the cover to indicate just what she meant.

Velvet’s response was to tilt her head sideways and arch an eyebrow. “But I didn’t write it about you, Twily. I actually asked Princess Cadance if I could use her as a physical model for the character. She’s a big fan of my books too…”

Twilight spared a glance at the cover again as Velvet continued to explain. Just as she said, the alicorn on the cover was more pink than lavender. Artistic license with several features ensured that nopony could associate it with a pony in real life, but there was enough similarity for Twilight to make the connection. Did I really jump to conclusions? Maybe I let my friends teasing get to me…

“Wait just a second,” Velvet stopped mid-explanation and cast a suspicious glance at her daughter. “The last time you acted like this was when I was publishing my Book Smarts series. You were just a teenager at the time and you had a crush on--” The light of comprehension shone within the older unicorn’s eyes, which only grew with Twilight’s horror that her mother knew. “Twily, dear, do you have--”

“ARGH!” Twilight screamed in frustration as she flung the book upwards with her magic and teleported back to Fluttershy’s room. “Not a word from any of you!” she huffed indignantly as she pouted. When no teasing became apparent, she glanced to the other mares in the room and saw that all attention was on Spike.

A scroll was in his claws, which he offered to Twilight. “It’s from Princess Cadance, and it’s addressed to you, Twilight,” Spike explained.

I swear, Cadance, if you’re sending me a letter to tease me, you will rue the day! Twilight thought as she flattened out the scroll and began to read.

Twilight, I don’t have a lot of time, but I wanted to apologize for what this letter is going to do to you. If I had any other choice, I would have taken it, if for no other reason than to spare you from having to be the first to hear this. The train tracks leading to the Crystal Empire were destroyed some distance from Canterlot, forcing myself and my retinue to continue on hoof. I suspect that was the aliens’ plan as this left us isolated and unable to adequately defend ourselves when they attacked. We’ve met with several other crystal ponies, who all tell of widespread attacks in the Crystal Empire.

A centaur has been leading their efforts to hunt us down, and I dare not face him directly. He somehow possesses the ability to steal magical capacity, and far too many of my guards have been left weakened and powerless. It is absolutely imperative that you tell Princess Luna and Shining Armor about this threat, as he will be unstoppable if he is allowed to rampage with the aliens’ permission. I had thought to play the decoy to allow my little ponies to escape to safety, but I fear that I have underestimated this centaur and his allies. I’m afraid I only have the time to write this letter due to the nature of my hiding place, though not for much longer Even now, I can hear their approach, and it’s only a matter of minutes at best before they reach me.

I struggle to write these words, but by the time you finish this letter, I will likely be dead.

I know how much you care for me, Twilight, so I know how hard this will be for you to take. Please find comfort with your friends or that mysterious human that you and Shining never told me about. Mourn my passing, but don’t let my absence harden your heart and turn you into an angry and bitter mare.

And please tell Shiny that he was the best thing thing that ever happened to me. I don’t regret knowing him for a single moment, and I cherish his love more than anything in this world. Please don’t let me be the last mare he loves, Twilight. I don’t want him to spend the rest of his life lamenting what was lost. Maybe you could get him to talk to that human named Fujikawa, once everything is settled down? I think it would be healthy for him to have someone he can talk to professionally.

I’m so sorry that you’re the one who has to get this letter, but I know you’ll do what’s necessary. Goodbye, Twily.

“Twilight, what’s wrong?!” the shout tore the alicorn’s teary eyes from the letter to the worried faces of her friends, then to Spike. The dragonling brought one claw up to his mouth and belched a massive gout of fire, only for the flames to deposit a large object in his grasp and vanish almost as quickly as they appeared. “Twilight… why is this here?” Spike asked quietly as he looked down at the Crystal Heart.

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