• Published 12th Apr 2015
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What Didn't Happen: After - Zeg



A Princess and a Queen share the same one dream, but on nights separated by over six centuries worth of time. Is the dream a warning of what is yet to come?

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Arrival at the Empire

What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter XII – Arrival at the Empire

“We’re here, Twilight. Time to wake up.”

Twilight closed her eyes a bit tighter, resisting the voice calling her back to the waking world for a brief moment. She barely opened her eyes and noticed that her vision was blurred. She rubbed at her eyes with the back of her forehoof to clear her vision and was surprised when she felt something damp. She gazed curiously at the back of her hoof for a moment before realizing that Moondancer was standing at the center of their private train cabin looking back at her.

“Are you alright?” Moondancer asked, appearing a bit concerned.

”Oh, uh,” Twilight started, trailing off as she thought back to the dream she’d just awoken from. She cleared her throat and put on a smile for Moondancer. “I’m fine.”

Moondancer frowned ever so slightly. “You don’t look like you’re fine.”

“Really, it’s nothing to worry about. I just... just had a bad dream, that’s all,” Twilight said, waving it off with a hoof. She stepped down from the bench she’d taken her nap on, stretching her back and neck.

“A bad dream? Is it because of what we talked about?” Twily asked from where she was standing near the cabin room’s door. Her ears laid back as she glanced away toward the floor. “I’m sorry.”

“No, Twily. Really, it’s alright. It was just a bad dream, I get those from time to time.” Twilight took a few steps closer and rested a hoof on Twily’s shoulder as she kneeled down closer to her height. “Don’t worry about it, alright?”

Twily glanced up briefly and nodded her head. “Okay,” she said with a slight sigh.

Twilight stood back upright and looked back to Moondancer. “So, we’re here?”

The frown on Moondancer’s muzzle persisted for a brief moment, but then faded. “Yeah. There should be someone waiting for us here at the station.” She collected her roller luggage from the overhead bin in her magic. Her magic then took hold of the cabin door’s handle and slid the door open as she took a few steps out into the hall. She arched her back and stretched out each of her legs in a cat-like manner, then turned back to say, “Not that we really need an escort, but you know, tradition and all,” with a slight grin.

Twilight smiled. “Can’t wait to see the new castle with my own eyes.”

The group made their way to the front of the train car where they exited onto the station’s loading ramp. The Crystal Empire station wasn’t nearly as busy as Canterlot’s, since in this time period it was still a final stop on the tracks. In Twilight’s own time, the tracks ran further north to areas beyond Equestria, and the Crystal Empire had become a busy hub of activity. As Twilight glanced around at the station mentally comparing it to the one from her memory, she noticed a stallion clad in crystal armor that was approaching them. A pegasus, orangish-tan in color other than his deep blue mane and tail. She was absolutely sure she recognized him, but couldn’t place a name to his face.

“Captain,” the stallion said with a quick salute to Moondancer, which she nodded in return. He then turned toward Twilight and Twily. “Your majesties,” he said, bowing his head for a moment then placing one hoof across his chest armor. “Lieutenant Flash Sentry. Welcome to the Crystal Empire.”

Of course. How could I forget? Twilight almost couldn’t believe that she’d forgotten his name, but then it had been about six hundred years since she’d last seen him. She’d likely completely forgotten more ponies than most ponies get to know in their lifetime. She had to resist frowning at the thought as it crossed her mind.

“Thanks for meeting us here, Flash,” Moondancer said as she stepped up next to him. She nudged his side with a foreleg as she said, “Flash here is Princess Cadance’s kinda-sorta-official personal guard.”

“Nothing like that is official,” he said with a chuckle. “The Princess doesn’t want a personal guard following her around all the time.”

“Yeah, you just do all her errands for her and hang around in her castle all day for no reason, right?” Moondancer said, her smirk growing a bit. “Had a feeling that you’d be the one she’d send.”

“And I’ve been looking forward to it! It’s not every day that I get to be an escort for the Princess of Time.” Flash looked to Twilight with a smile, but it soon faltered. “Uh, not to discount your presence, Queen Chrysalis. I meant no disrespect,” he said, quickly bowing his head to Twily.

“Uh....” It took Twily a moment to realize that this stallion didn’t know who she really was at the moment, only who she happened to look like. “N-no offense taken. Princess Twilight is a bit of a hero here, right?”

Moondancer chuckled and glanced back at Twilight. “Yeah, don’t be surprised if you get a bit more of a reaction here than you did in Canterlot.”

Twilight silently raised an eyebrow.

Flash turned and gestured toward the iconic crystal pillars that framed the path that lead to the main city. “Well, shall we get going?”

“Lead the way,” Twilight said with a smile and a slight nod.

The group started their journey toward the city, and at the pace they were moving it would be a few minutes before they reached the city’s gateway arch. Twilight was content to follow along a few steps behind the others, taking the time to take in the surroundings. Seeing a place as it once was in the past seemed to draw some strong emotional feelings to the surface, and she still wasn’t entirely sure if that was a good thing or not. So focused was she on her internal thoughts that she hadn’t noticed when Moondancer had stopped chatting with the others and slowed her pace until she was walking right alongside her. It wasn’t until Moondancer quietly cleared her throat that Twilight seemed to suddenly notice her presence.

“I... don’t want to be a pest,” Moondancer started cautiously. She side-glanced up at Twilight. “I know you said it was nothing, but nothing usually doesn’t put somepony in tears.”

Twilight’s ears pulled back slightly. “I don’t want to burden you with it,” she stated flatly.

“It isn’t a burden.” Moondancer tried to give an encouraging smile when Twilight looked at her, but her smile quickly slipped away when Twilight cast her glance toward the ground before her and let out a noticeable sigh. “Look, even though you’re a time traveling princess from an alternate future, I still think of you as my sister-in-law. You’re family. If you need someone to talk to, you can talk to me.”

Twilight looked back to Moondancer and smiled. “I appreciate that, really. To be honest, Luna found me in the dream. Her and I already had a little talk.”

“Ah,” Moondancer said with a knowing nod. “Just seemed like something was still weighing heavily on your mind.”

The two of them walked side by side in silence for a moment, the only sounds coming from their hoof steps upon the sandy path and the calm breeze blowing through the grass around them.

“I’m still not used to suddenly seeing ponies that I haven’t seen for centuries,” Twilight finally admitted. “It’s kind of a shock every time I recognize someone.”

Moondancer glanced ahead at Flash Sentry for a brief moment. “You knew Flash?”

Twilight nodded and her smile grew. “He was one of Cadance’s guards in my timeline as well. Funny how some things ended up the same despite all the other differences.” Her smile then slipped a bit, and she hesitated for a brief moment before saying, “I couldn’t even remember his name until he introduced himself. Just made me start wondering how many ponies I’ve completely forgotten about.” She glanced off toward the horizon ahead. “I suppose that’s part of being hundreds of years old. Forgetting things you want to remember and remembering things that you’d rather forget.”

Moondancer looked a bit troubled as she tried to wrap her mind around the concept of living so long that you forgot ponies completely. She finally shook her head and said, “I can’t imagine what that must be like for you.”

“It’s a strange feeling, I’ll say that much.” Twilight glanced back down to Moondancer. “Especially when I see someone who’s friend or family. I want to tell them how much I’ve missed them, but in this world, I haven’t ever really been around and many of them don’t even know who I am. It’s hard to say that they are even my family, since really they’re Twily’s.” She let out one more heavy sigh. “And I won’t be able to stay anyway.”

“Well, I already said that I think of you as family, and I’m pretty sure everyone else would agree that being from some other future Equestria doesn’t change that. And yeah, I kinda wish you could stay a while too,” Moondancer said through a sigh of her own, tilting her head slightly. She then smiled and said, “But, I’m glad we got to see each other again, even if it is only for a little while.”

Twilight could tell that Moondancer was trying hard to cheer her up, and if she were to be honest, it was working. The old memories that had been dredged up along with her inability to clearly remember somepony from her distant past had put her in a foul mood, but it was hard to stay broody thanks to her... would it be ‘parallel-timeline-sister-in-law’? Am I going to need a chart to keep track of all of this? Twilight giggled at the silly thought.

“What?” Moondancer asked with a smirk. “Did I say something funny?”

“No, I was just thinking.” Twilight unfurled a wing and used it to hug Moondancer to her side, which took the smaller mare off guard judging by the surprised expression that flickered across her face. “Thanks,” Twilight said before releasing Moondancer and folding her wing back.

The group was quickly approaching the southern border of the city where the path and meadow ended and the crystal streets and houses began. Twilight took a moment to glance from side to side, and she noticed something that was strikingly different from anything she’d ever seen before, let alone within the Crystal Empire. Along the boundaries of the city she saw two tall identical crystalline structures, one to each side. At first she thought they might be a sort of observation tower, but they seemed far too thin and had no noticeable platforms. She squinted her eyes as she focused on smaller crystals that seemed to be orbiting the tip of one of the spires. “Those are different.”

Moondancer turned her head to look in the same direction. “Oh, the crystal pylons? Yeah, I guess those were put in after you left.” She looked back to Twilight. “They keep the area’s weather under control. You should have seen what it was like for the pegasi teams trying to keep the feral blizzards at bay that first winter before they were all in place. Probably the hardest work they’ve ever had to do.”

“That’s right. The Crystal Heart was shattered here,” Twilight said quietly as she remembered back to her first visit to this timeline. She’d even helped with the recovery effort for the missing fragments of the Crystal Heart, but had left for her home time before they had all been found. “I guess it wasn’t ever restored then.”

“No, but Minister Sombra came up with these to protect the city in its place.” Moondancer nodded her head toward the pylon off to their left. “There’s seven total surrounding the city. They’re not nearly as compact as the Heart was but they work just as well.”

Twilight blinked, her ears twitching at what she had heard. “Minister Sombra?” she asked, just to make sure she had heard right.

Moondancer smiled and nodded.

Twilight tilted her head to the side. “That’s also different.”

---

Flash Sentry had fallen silent ever since Moondancer fell back a few steps to speak with Princess Twilight. During the few minutes that followed, he had tried and failed multiple times to think of something to say, if only to fill the awkward silence between him and Twily with something. He just didn’t want to make himself look like even more of an idiot in front of who he believed to be Queen of the Changelings. He finally settled on something and gathered his courage to speak.

“I-I really didn’t mean to make it sound like I was ignoring you, your majesty. I apologize if my comment came across that way.”

Twily glanced toward Flash with a confused look, and in the short moment that followed, all her mind could come up with as a response was, “Huh?”

Flash hesitated slightly, even slowing his steps for a brief moment before he continued. “When I mentioned that I was honored to be assigned as an escort to Princess Twilight Sparkle, I should have mentioned you as well. After all, you’ve helped the crystal ponies so much over these last few years by teaching them how to tap into their crystal magic again. Fixing all of the damage to the city would have taken ages without your help.” He bowed his head toward her. “Please, accept my apology, your majesty.”

“Oh! That.” Twily nervously giggled and waved a hoof. “It didn’t bother me at all. Chrys—” Twily quickly corrected herself. “Uh, I mean, I was glad to help out where I could?” The unsure tone of her voice made her statement sound much more like a question.

Flash glanced at Twily with an uncertain look. He cautiously asked, “Is something the matter, your majesty?”

“W-what do you mean?” Twily asked, her eyes growing a bit wider as her ears suddenly pinned back.

“Just seems like you’re upset.”

There was a short pause where the two of them simply quietly stared at each other as they walked along the path.

Finally, Flash shook his head and looked forward. “I’m sorry, it’s none of my business.”

Twily knew that Flash was only trying to be kind to her and show her the respect that would be expected of royalty. She just simply had no way of knowing how to react properly. She’d spent the better part of her existence trapped within a magical mind prison with only Chrys as her conversation partner, all but cut off from the outside world. If not for Chrys, she likely never would have managed to find the tenuous link that allowed them to view memories from changelings from the outside.

Through the library of memories that she and Chrys had constructed over the years in their mindscape prison, Twily had learned much about the outside world and knew as much if not more than any adult would. However, she’d never gotten to put much of what she had learned to any practical use, and never got to experience what it was really like to grow up. Suddenly being thrust into the real world in a full grown body that wasn’t her own and having to actually interact with others she didn’t know was still a very new and somewhat terrifying experience.

“I actually haven’t been myself lately.” Literally, though Twily felt she should keep that small detail to herself. She wanted to avoid starting any inconvenient rumors that could cause Chrys trouble. “It’s nothing I want you to worry about. Part of the reason why we’re here is to find something that could help.” She lightly sighed and mumbled the word, “Hopefully,” under her breath.

“Oh, I didn’t realize. Well, I’m sure that Princess Cadance will help you in any way she can. After all, you’ve done so much for us.”

A slight smile tugged at the corners of Twily’s mouth. “Yeah, I’m sure she will.”

The soft sound of their hooves on the sandy path leading to the city ceased and was replaced by the light tap of their hooves against crystal as they stepped hoof onto the streets at the edge of the city. Twily glanced side to side at the crystal houses around them, taking in the sight. This was the first time she had ever seen it through real eyes, though she had seen memories of it more than once that Chrys had shared with her. Never did she think that she would one day actually be standing in the lost crystal city herself. However, the skyline was distinctly different from the memories she knew. Absent was the spire that once towered over the central crossroads of the city, and in its place was a somewhat more humble but no less beautiful castle made entirely of blue, violet, and pink hued crystals.

“There it is,” Twily said as she gazed at the castle up ahead.

“It’s been a while since you last visited, hasn’t it? The castle is almost complete now.” Flash gestured toward an incomplete tower with a wing. “Just the east tower left to finish. Amazing to think that it’s taken over three years to build the castle, but Princess Cadance did divert most of the reconstruction efforts to the homes in the city first.”

“Just like in the dream,” Twily commented, remembering back to the dream vision she’d had. She quickly realized that Flash would have heard her. “Uh, I mean, I’ve dreamt of the day that I’d see the Crystal Empire completely restored like this.” Twily resisted the urge to sigh and roll her eyes at her own comment.

If Flash found anything odd about her comment, he made no indication of it. He simply smiled and nodded in response. “Makes sense. You were the one who founded the Empire.”

Twily let out a nervous little chuckle.

---

Compared to the original crystal spire, the interior of the new crystal castle reminded Twilight much more of her own home in her timeline. The floor plan was completely different, being laid out in straight rectangular halls, but the crystal pillar architecture that stretched upward to vaulted ceilings was very familiar.

It wasn’t long after passing through the front gates that the group found themselves in a grand hall that led to a T-junction and a tall set of double doors inset in the wall ahead of them.

“Well, here we are.” Flash stepped to the side and gestured to the doorway. “The castle throne room is just beyond these doors. Princess Cadance is waiting for all of you inside.” He bowed his head as he took a few steps back and said, “It’s been an honor, your majesties,” and then he turned to leave down the hallway to their right.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Twilight called after him. She then glanced down and noticed Twily staring intently at the closed doors. “Are you okay?” she asked as she leaned her head down closer.

“The last time I saw Cadance was when I was still a little foal... on the day I was foalnapped.” Twily looked down at herself, lifting her right hoof and slowly turning it over. “It’s been... a really long time since then, and I don’t look anything like I used to. I don’t even sound like I used to.” She glanced up toward Twilight. “How will she ever believe it’s really me?”

Twilight smiled. She lifted a wing and laid it gently upon Twily’s back. “She’ll know it’s you, and I’m sure she can’t wait to see you again. Trust me.”

Twily looked back to the doorway ahead of them. She drew in a deep breath and let it out as she said, “Oooh kay. I guess there really isn’t a point to standing out here worrying about it.”

“That’s the spirit,” Moondancer said as she trotted up to the door. Her horn lit as her magic took hold of the tall double doors and pulled them open, revealing the room on the other side.

Across the expansive hall, Princess Cadance paused her pacing mid stride. Her eyes quickly darted to each of the new guests as they entered the room, finally settling upon Twily. She cantered across the hall quickly at first, then slowed her steps to a more cautious approach as she neared them.

Silence fell upon the room after Moondancer closed the doorway behind them. For the brief moment that followed, Cadance only stood there and stared at Twily, her mouth twitching a few times as if she were about to say something but simply couldn’t find the words. Finally, she spoke barely above a whisper. “Twily?”

Twily fidgeted slightly on her hooves, and then nodded. “It’s me,” she said meekly. She glanced down, gesturing to herself with a hoof as she said, “I know it doesn’t look like me, but it is.”

“The letter did say that you and Chrysalis had....” Cadance trailed off to silence as she stared into Twily’s eyes, squinting her own as if she saw something there.

Twily’s ears fell back a bit while Cadance continued to silently stare at her. “I... I know it’s been a really long time since that day. The bookfair. I don’t want you to think that I blame you, because I never did. You couldn’t have known what had happened. I know that this is probably all really hard to believe, but I—”

Suddenly, Cadance rushed forward, and in a swift, graceful motion she wrapped her forelegs and wings tightly around Twily in a hug. “Oh my goodness. It is you, isn’t it? You’re really here.” She nuzzled the side of Twily’s neck as a few quiet sniffles escaped from her. “I thought I’d never see you again, that I’d never get a chance to tell you how sorry I am.”

“I-it wasn’t your fault.”

“I should have kept a closer watch on you that day. You were my responsibility and I failed you.”

“Cadance, please.” Twily leaned back slightly so she could look Cadance in the eyes. “Please, don’t cry. You’re going to make me cry,” she said as she tried to blink away tears.

Cadance smiled and hugged Twily close again. She let out a long, contented sigh. “I’m just so happy to be able to speak to you again.”

Twily sniffled. “I was afraid you wouldn’t believe me.”

Cadance leaned back. “I can tell.” She leaned forward just slightly, looking deep into Twily’s eyes and smiled. “I can see you in those eyes.”

They quietly embraced each other for a moment longer before finally letting each other go. The two of them each dried the tears that had built up in their eyes and shared a quiet laugh. Then, Cadance glanced toward the other princess in the room.

“I wasn’t sure I’d ever see you again either. It’s a pleasant surprise though, despite the circumstances.” Cadance took a step toward Twilight with her wings open, indicating that she’d like a hug.

Twilight gladly obliged, stepping forward and wrapping her own wings and one foreleg around Cadance.

“Has the other me from your Equestria been treating you right since you returned home?” Cadance quietly said next to Twilight’s ear.

Twilight giggled. “She can be a little mischievous sometimes, but nothing I can’t handle.”

They took a step back from each other, folding their wings back to their sides as they shared a little giggle. Then, Cadance suddenly furrowed her brow and pursed her lips. “Wait.” She straightened her stance, looking Twilight directly in the eyes as she suddenly seemed dead serious about something.

Twilight slowly raised her eyebrows.

Cadance seemed to be studying Twilight’s face intently, her eyes darting about and often looking up at her horn.

“Are you taller than me?” Cadance finally asked, breaking the silence that had fallen upon the room.

Twilight only made a half-hearted attempt to hide the smirk that appeared on her muzzle. “Maybe a bit, but to be fair, I’ve gained a few more centuries since we last saw each other.”

Cadance pointed her golden shoed hoof at Twilight, raising one eyebrow at her as she said, “That is cheating,” unable to hide her own smirk.

They shared another little laugh before Cadance’s attention turned toward the last guest. “I haven’t forgotten about you, Captain.” Cadance raised her left wing and waved it a few times, indicating that there was still one more hug she was missing.

Moondancer hesitated, but one did not simply reject a hug from Princess Cadance. A light blush showed on her muzzle as she approached.

Cadance draped her wing over Moondancer once she was close enough, hugging her to her left side. “You’ve stayed away for quite a while this time,” Cadance said as she glanced down at the smaller unicorn she had trapped under her wing at her side.

“Ah, well, Princess Celestia was keeping me pretty busy, and then the little foal came along,” Moondancer said while the blush on her muzzle deepened.

“Which you have not yet brought here for me to see,” Cadance said as she used her right wing’s primary feather like a soft finger to tap at Moondancer’s nose a few times.

Moondancer laughed lightly and shrugged her shoulders. “It’s been a really busy time.”

Cadance smiled back. “I can only imagine.” She looked to Twilight and said, “Moondancer spent over a year stationed here while the reparations were getting underway. It wouldn’t have gone nearly as smoothly as it did without her help.”

“I was just doing my duty, Princess,” Moondancer added.

Cadance,” she corrected as she looked back down at the unicorn and tapped her nose with her feather once more. “You know you don’t need to keep to the formalities when it’s just us.”

“Sorry. Guard habit.”

Just as Cadance finally released Moondancer from the wing hug, one of the side doors to the throne room suddenly opened. A dark gray unicorn stallion with an untamed mane of jet-black hair entered through the doorway. His brisk pace caused the blue-violet robe he was wearing to billow about his legs as he trotted into the room. He had a collection of scrolls floating around him in his magic, one of which he had open and was reading, blocking his face from view.

“Cadance, something strange is happening to the Heart shards. I think it explains what’s been affecting the citizens lately, but I still haven’t pinpointed a reason for—” Somba finally lowered the scroll he’d been reading and stopped dead in his tracks, his hooves skidding on the crystal floor. The small reading glasses on his nose nearly slid off and all of the scrolls that had been floating around him fell to the floor and rolled around his hooves. His wide eyes darted about looking at the others in the throne room. “You... have guests,” he quietly said, but even so his simple statement echoed through the large room. He quickly looked to Cadance and said, “I was told you weren’t having any guests today.”

Cadance smirked slightly. “Not officially.”

Sombra nodded once slowly as his magic adjusted his reading glasses. “I see.” He took one last quick glance at the others in the room and then gathered all of his disarrayed scrolls together with his magic. “Well, I’m sure given the company you have that I’ve interrupted something very important. My mistake. If you’ll excuse me.” He politely bowed as he took a single step back, then turned and hurried back toward the door he had entered from.

Twilight quickly raised a hoof and called out to him. “Wait, Sombra.”

Sombra stopped and turned back toward them.

Twilight leaned in a bit closer toward Cadance, lowering her voice enough that only she’d be able to hear her question. “Cadance, does he know yet?”

Cadance shook her head. “No, I haven’t shared the letter with anyone else yet, but we can trust him with this. I was going to recommend that you seek his help anyway.”

Twilight nodded once and turned her attention back to Sombra. “There is something that you may be able to help us with.”

“Of course. I’ll lend whatever help I’m able to,” Sombra said as he approached the group. He shifted his collection of scrolls to one side in his magic and bowed his head to Twilight as he turned to address her directly. “A pleasure to see you once again, Princess Twilight Sparkle, though I have my doubts that you’ve returned to our time simply for a visit.”

“Yes, unfortunately,” Twilight said with a light sigh. “It’s quite a story, if you have the time to hear it.”