• 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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A Leader's Burdens

What Didn't Happen: After

by Zeg

Chapter IX – A Leader’s Burdens

The hallways on the way to the Canterlot Archives were still mostly empty, but the sight of Twilight and Twily walking side by side did draw a few curious looks from the few castle staff that were making their morning rounds. While seeing the queen of the Sanctuary changelings within the halls of the palace was an uncommon sight, it had to have been the first time that most of them had ever seen the alicorn that was with her. However, they all reacted in similar fashion, greeting them both with a smile and bowing their heads in respect before continuing on their way.

Twilight had noticed this same behavior the day before even when she had been alone. It was as if the castle staff were already familiar with who she was. She had expected others to be a bit more surprised at seeing an unfamiliar alicorn walking the halls, but perhaps the few months she had spent as Luna’s enchantress a few years earlier in this time had left a more lasting impression than she had originally thought.

Once they did arrive at the archives they found Luna there alone focused on the pages of an open tome resting on a bookstand that stood before her. She raised an eyebrow as she turned her head slightly and glanced out of the corner of her eye at them before putting on a smile.

“Good morning,” she said as she turned to face the two new arrivals. Her curious eyes quickly focused on Twily.

Twily seemed to shy away at the glance, falling a step behind at Twilight’s side. Noticing this, Twilight laid a wing across Twily’s shoulders and gave her an encouraging smile. “Luna, this is Twily,” she said as she looked at Luna with a warm smile. “The... me from this world. I know that you two sort of already met the other night but things were a bit crazy then. I doubt you two have gotten a chance to really talk to each other.”

Luna took a few steps forward as she lowered her head closer to Twily’s level. “I’ll be honest, I’m a bit surprised to see you up and about. I take it you’re feeling well then?”

“Mostly normal,” Twily said as she took a timid step forward. “I really don’t feel like there’s much wrong with me.” She forced a nervous grin as she ran one fetlock over the other foreleg, then the grin slipped from her muzzle when she added, “Well, other than being in a body that’s not really mine.”

“We’ve been looking for an answer to that since you woke up in Queen Chrysalis’s body,” Luna said as she gestured to the open book on the stand with a side nod of her head. “But more importantly, has there been any repeat of the event from a couple nights ago? Any sudden headaches or other pain?” Luna asked. She tilted her head slightly, waiting patiently for an answer to her question until Twily silently shook her head. “Good. That’s very promising.” Luna slowly raised her head as she watched Twily closely. The young unicorn was nervous, that much was plainly obvious to her, but she had noticed something else about her behavior. Every few seconds Twily’s eyes would dart about looking elsewhere. “You seem rather interested in your surroundings,” Luna said while a knowing smile slowly grew upon her muzzle.

Twily looked back to Luna with wide eyes. “Oh! Uhm, yes. Sorry,” she said, laying her ears back. “I didn’t mean any disrespect. I just never thought I would be... well, standing in the Canterlot Archives,” she said, ending on a weak sounding chuckle.

“It’s okay for her to look around a little, isn’t it?” Luna glanced up when she heard Twilight’s request and was a bit shocked at the recommendation. Much of the reading material contained within the archives was hidden away with good reason. However, she noticed the very slight nod that Twilight gave her and quickly realized that she wanted to speak out of earshot of her younger self.

“Well, I suppose if it stays to just looking and not touching, I don’t see any harm in it.”

For a few seconds, Twily only silently glanced back and forth between the two princesses. An excited smile grew upon her muzzle as she looked up to Twilight the same way a young filly might look up to her mother to wordlessly ask it was really okay. “Go ahead, it’s fine,” Twilight said with a slight chuckle in her voice as she used her wing to gently nudge Twily toward one of the shelves she had been eyeing earlier.

The two princesses watched as Twily practically pranced over to a nearby shelf wearing an excited grin on her face as she craned her neck back to take in the impressive sight around her. Twilight quietly chuckled to herself as she recalled a time long ago when she’d experienced the sights of the archives for the first time herself. It was almost like watching her own memories playing out before her.

“It seems we might have a reason to visit the Crystal Empire soon,” Twilight quietly said when she felt that Twily was well enough out of earshot.

“Oh?” Luna asked.

Twilight let out a light sigh before she turned herself toward Luna. “We both experienced the same dream last night. In it, we were standing on one of the streets in the Empire.”

Luna squinted her eyes in thought as she cast a glance in Twily’s direction. She raised one eyebrow as she looked back at Twilight and asked, “Are you sure taking her there would be wise?”

“Something happened in the vision, and we’re not entirely sure what it was but” — Twilight momentarily glanced toward Twily with a worried look on her face — “whatever it was, she was terrified.” She shook her head and looked back to Luna. “Maybe we’ll find something there to help them, maybe we won’t, but either way, we’re being led there for a reason. Something is going to happen, something that maybe we’re meant to prevent. We’re just not sure what it is, but we don’t have any other solid leads right now.” Twilight’s gaze drifted off to the side and she lifted a hoof, touching it lightly against her chin as she recalled another part of the vision that she had yet to puzzle out. “Maybe that’s why Moondancer was with us. She always was pretty good at figuring things out.”

“You saw Moondancer?”

“Yes, but she wasn’t suited up.” Twilight held her thoughtful look for a moment longer before letting her hoof fall back to the floor and looking back to Luna. “I did hear that she’s been on leave.”

“Hmm, yes. But if I recall correctly, she’s due to return to active duty fairly soon.”

“Memory erasing?” Both princesses were caught off guard by the sound of Twily’s voice nearby. They both looked to a nearby table, finding Twily staring at an open book laying upon it amidst other scrolls and stacks of parchment. She wrinkled her muzzle as she looked over the contents, casually commenting, “That... doesn’t seem legal.”

A midnight blue aura appeared around the book, causing it to quickly snapped shut and fly from the table toward Luna, prompting Twily to scamper backward from the table a few steps in surprise. The book stopped at a hover before Luna in her magical grasp, silently floating between herself and Twilight.

They said nothing to each other at first. Luna only silently stared back at the unreadable look that Twilight was giving her, expecting some sort of question, but when the awkward silence persisted instead she began to make a move to tuck the book away under her left wing.

“Luna, why is there a spell like that lying out?” Twilight finally asked.

Luna seemed to freeze in place, her ethereal mane and tail being the only part of her moving. She then let out a heavy breath, momentarily closing her eyes as she finished tucking the book out of sight. “To be honest, I’d hoped to avoid a confrontation over this, as I’m sure you will be absolutely against it, but I don’t want to hide anything from either of you.” She opened her eyes, glancing slowly first to Twily, then to Twilight before she spoke again. “We have to have some sort of contingency plan, in the event that we fail to find a cure before we run out of time.”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed and her ears fell back ever so slightly. “I’m having trouble figuring out how that spell is going to help with that.”

“Please, let me explain my reasoning at least,” Luna said, holding up a hoof as if to halt any further protests. She continued when she saw that Twilight had chosen to remain silent and listen, though the look on the other princess’s face was appearing more strained. “The line of thought is that the conflicting memories are what caused the harmful reaction that young Twily here had.”

“So you want to erase her memories to fix it?” Twilight quickly interjected.

“May I stress, again, that this is a last resort, where the alternative of doing nothing could very well mean they both lose their lives.”

Twilight’s magic snatched the book out from under Luna’s wing causing the night princess to flinch back a step in surprise. Her magic opened the book before her and she glared at the pages as she quickly flitted through them. “Losing either one of them is unacceptable,” she said, making no attempt to hide her frustration as she spoke. Her magic came to a stop on a marked page, and her eyes quickly scanned over the words and runes contained within. Without fully studying the spell in detail she couldn’t say for sure what possible side effects might result from using it, but she was able to confirm that the spell belonged to a school of magic known for mind manipulation, a category that was explicitly forbidden by law for many reasons. “Did you just decide this on your own?” she said in a low and agitated tone.

Luna’s aura strongly grasped the book, pulling it out of Twilight’s magic and snapping it closed once again before silently floating it back over to carefully nestle it beneath her wing. Another moment of strained silence passed while Luna avoided looking directly at Twilight, preferring instead to stare blankly into the empty space between them. “Let me be clear,” she calmly stated when she finally focused her gaze upon Twilight again. “I am well aware of the title you hold in the land you come from, and the responsibilities and privileges that come with such a title. You are also a very welcome guest here in our Equestria, and we owe you a debt for saving our world once already that we can not possibly ever repay. However, you are not a ruler of this Equestria.”

Twilight’s ears drooped, and the hard look she had been giving Luna falter. It was true. She wasn’t nor had she ever been a ruler in this alternate timeline, so what right did she have to challenge Luna’s decisions? Her logical side told her that she had none. However, a part of her was having trouble accepting that answer.

“I discussed this with my sister last night, and while we did not come to this decision lightly, we agreed that losing them both would not only be terrible in and of itself, but could possibly put our nation at risk, and perhaps even the entire world.” Luna stole a quick glanced to where Twily was sitting nearby quietly listening. The look on Luna’s face changed slightly just before she spoke again, almost as if what she was about to say pained her to do so. “I hate to put one life above another, but when that one life is key to the greatest defense our world has, we have no choice but to do so. It is our responsibility to the many who look to us as leaders of this land.”

Twilight found herself wrestling with her own thoughts. She didn’t like it, but she found herself agreeing with Luna’s stance once she took a moment to really consider the reasons behind it. Without a bearer of Magic, the Elements may as well be nothing more than jewelry, and selecting another bearer wasn’t as simple as just finding the nearest gifted unicorn. It was impossible to guess just how many more times their world might need to call on the Elements’ power. She remembered very well the many times she had wielded the powers of Harmony in her own Equestria.

“I suppose it’s decided then,” Twilight said quietly, the reluctant acceptance weighing heavy on her voice as she slowly walked past Luna.

Luna took a step back and to the side, allowing Twilight to pass. Her ears fell back as she followed Twilight with her eyes and a deeply concerned look grew upon her face.

“I’m sorry.” Twily’s meek voice drew Luna’s attention back to her side, where she saw the young unicorn still sitting near the table. She was nervously running one of her fetlocks over her other leg again, and immediately cowered closer to the floor when Luna looked to her. “I was just curious,” she said with a slight quiver in her voice.

“Tis not your fault,” Luna said in a soothing, gentle tone. She took a few steps toward Twily so she could sit next to her and lowered her head closer, giving a brief smile in the hope that it might ease her fears. “I left the book open upon the table. And while I wasn’t intentionally trying to hide this from you, this was obviously not the best way to reveal my plan.”

Luna turned her head slightly, glancing out of the corner of her eye across the room. Twilight had sat down in front of another table and appeared to be half-heartedly sorting through a pile of books there, glancing briefly at the contents of each before setting them aside in a chosen stack. While she appeared mostly calm, it was easy to tell from the frown etched on her muzzle that she wasn’t happy, and more than once it appeared that her magic was stacking the books with a bit more force than was necessary.

Luna closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. “Perhaps I should have waited for Celestia to arrive before trying to explain this. She’s better at such things.”

“I understand,” Twily quietly said.

Luna looked at her with a mild amount of shock. She had expected that Twily might fear her or even resent her for recommending that blotting out her memories was an acceptable solution to their problem.

“I mean... yeah, the thought of being erased, even just parts of me, is scary, but....” Twily grew quiet for a moment while she looked down at the floor at her hooves. Finally, she took in a deep, shaky breath and let out all out before saying, “I don’t want to be the reason why Chrys dies.” Luna unfurled one of her wings and laid it across Twily’s back. She tensed up, surprised by the warm blanket of dark blue feathers that had been draped across her withers, but after she looked up and saw Luna’s gentle smile she soon relaxed and smiled back.

“Believe me, using this spell on you is the last thing I would ever want to do. I will try everything else possible first.”

There was another thump from the table across the room, and the two both glanced to where Twilight was attempting to occupy her thoughts with angry book sorting. Twily looked back and forth between Twilight and Luna, taking note of the of the sad look in Luna’s eyes. She felt at least partially responsible for the argument that had transpired between them. “Let me go talk to her,” Twily said as she slipped out from beneath Luna’s wing to trot over to Twilight’s table.

Luna silently followed Twily with her eyes, watching as she cautiously approached. It appeared for a moment that Twilight might attempt to ignore her younger self’s presence. The other princess’s ears pinned back further than they already were when Twily approached, but that was the only sign that she had noticed Twily's presence since she otherwise continued on as if no one was there. It wasn’t until Twily quietly called out to her that Twilight stopped and looked down to her. The distance was far enough that Luna’s ears couldn’t quite catch exactly what Twily had said next, but she had clearly overheard how Twilight responded.

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

Hearing that caused Luna’s frown to deepen. However, just as Twilight began to turn her attention back to the books before her, Twily quickly reached up and hooked a hoof against one of her forelegs to pull her attention back.

Luna’s ears twitched as they picked up on the low murmur of Twily’s voice. She couldn’t make out anything that was being said, but she could see the upset look slowly fading from Twilight’s face. She heard what must have been a question coming from Twily, then noticed the brief glance from Twilight before she visibly sighed and nodded her head.

Twilight stood and slowly walked back, stopping a few steps short of where Luna was patiently waiting. She seemed to struggle with what she wanted to say, her mouth soundlessly opening and closing a few times before she finally fixed her eyes upon Luna and spoke. “Sorry. I got a bit worked up, and I think I let my pride get a little hurt by what you said. But, you’re absolutely right. I don’t have any right to be telling you what to do.” She bowed her head, closing her eyes and saying, “Please, forgive me.”

Without a word, Luna moved forward and pulled Twilight into a hug, fully wrapping her wings around her and once again taking her off guard. The Luna she had known for centuries was much more reserved than this one, but the hug reminded her of the same caring warmth beneath the mysterious exterior that she had come to know the Princess of the Night to posses. Perhaps this Luna was not so different after all.

Luna stepped took a step back, allowing her wings to fold back to her sides. “You have nothing to apologize for,” she said with a smile and a small shake of her head. “To be honest, I would have been worried if you had simply accepted my plan without a word, though I had hoped to present it better.” She let out a tired sounding sigh as the smile slipped away. “And I’m told that my words can cut deep. They weren’t meant to do so. I hope you understand that I do value your counsel, but there are some decisions we may make without consulting you, especially if we feel your personal feelings could... affect your judgment.”

Twilight could tell by the hesitation in Luna’s voice that she was trying to pick her words carefully, and chose to simply nod her head in response.

Luna looked to her side and, once she found the spell book where she had left on the floor, she grasped it in her magic, bringing it to hover just in front of her. She lightly traced the tip of her hoof across the book’s cover as she spoke. “Since this is my idea, it will also be my own burden to bear. I’ll not accept anyone else attempting to use this spell on her. Not even you,” she said as she glanced up at Twilight. “And you have my word, this is a last resort.”

“I hope we can figure this out before we need to even think about using it.” Twilight turned to look out across the tables in the room. Stacks of books and piles of scrolls left very little free space upon them. She knew that the search for a cure to an unheard of condition would be challenging, but the lack of progress despite their efforts was still disheartening. “Maybe we’re not looking in the right place. Have any of the changelings from the forest woken up yet?”

Luna sadly shook her head. “Our captives from the forest have been most unhelpful thus far. Not a single one has awoken, and it’s likely they’ll need to be put in a sort of suspended animation soon, lest they start to perish.” She tsked and shook her head again, then grumbled, “They’ll become even less likely to be useful then.”

Twilight furrowed her brow as she closed her eyes and a let out a frustrated sounding sigh. Research had found nothing thus far, and interrogation was sounding like a very unlikely option as well. This left her with only one other possibility to consider. She opened her eyes, focusing on Luna as she said, “I think Twily and I should follow our new lead in the Crystal Empire and leave as soon as we can. Today, if possible.”

“Exploring more options is likely our best chance.” Luna gestured with her wing to the piles of books and scrolls laid out upon the tables and said, “I’d be happy to stay and continue the research here along with my sister while you two are away. I think we shouldn’t give up on the chance that we may find something here quite yet.”

“Thank you,” Twilight said as a small smile managed to appear on her muzzle. “I know there’s no way to prove it, but I have a feeling that we’ll find something there that’s connected to all of this somehow. Why else would we be having more visions?”

“I too have a feeling you two will find answers there,” Luna said, smiling back.

“Hopefully it’s the kind of answers we want to find.” Twilight’s voice trailed off and she looked aside as thoughts of preparations for the trip came to mind. They had to be careful with their movements as to not open themselves up to another ambush. While she did have a strong trump card she could play against any would-be attackers, she wouldn’t dare consider using it while Twily was at her side. And while she was sure she could effectively employ conventional magic instead, she preferred to avoid the need to do so at all.

The fastest route would be to fly. However, the distance was far enough that tasking a pegasus team with flying a chariot to the north without rest was unreasonable, and should they be ambushed on the way while in the air things could get very complicated very quickly. Since her two companions didn’t have wings of their own, this left the only other reasonable method of travel to be by train. Twilight consider that public transportation may actually be the safest option regardless, as changelings did tend to prefer ambushing their targets when they were alone. A train full of passengers might serve as a decent deterrent even if they happened to be followed.

If they were going to make the evening train trip from Canterlot to the Crystal Empire, then she needed to quickly find their third group member. “I should go find Moondancer and see if I can convince her to go with us,” Twilight began as she took a tentative step toward the door, but then she realized she hadn’t any idea where she might find Moondancer. She began to ask, but before the question even left her lips the thought occurred to her that she hadn’t yet asked permission. “Uh, that is, if it’s alright for me to borrow one of your guard captains,” she said, her ears pinning back as she glanced to Luna.

Luna had already returned to studying the book that she had left open upon the bookstand earlier. A wry smirk appeared on Luna’s muzzle, and without looking up she casually waved a hoof as she said, “She’s my sister’s guard captain now, but I’m sure that’ll be fine. She was present in your vision, after all. However, If it makes you feel better, you have my permission. I’ll arrange for an escort if you would like to visit her at her home here in Canterlot to make the request yourself. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind a visit from her sister-in-law.”

“Sister-in-law?” Twily asked, the surprised sounding squeak in her voice drawing the princess’ attention to her. “So, Shiny married Moondancer?” she asked as she tilted her head in confusion. “Huh, I guess time changes things,” she mumbled as she absentmindedly rubbed the side of her hoof against her chin while mulling over the idea of an old childhood acquaintance now being a family member.

There was no doubt in Princess Twilight’s mind that her younger self would be just as eager as her to pay a visit to family and friends that she hadn’t seen in a very long time. However, attempting to explain the complicated situation while still keeping certain very important details vague might prove to be problematic. Twilight approached Twily and gently placed a hoof upon her shoulder, drawing the young unicorn out of her deep thoughts. “Hey, don’t take this the wrong way, but it may not be a good idea for you to come with me. We can’t exactly let word get out that you’re... not who you seem to be. And it will probably be safer for you to stay out of sight as much as you can regardless.”

“Oh, right.” The disappointment in her voice was easily noticeable, as was the dejected look in her eyes as she glanced away to the floor. However, she quickly shook off the disheartened mood with a quick shake of her head. “No, you’re right. And not being able to tell them when I’m standing right there in front of them would be difficult anyway.”

Despite Twily’s ready acceptance of her situation, the brief moment of disappointment from being told that she couldn’t visit her own brother had left Twilight feeling a deep pang in her heart. As much as she tried to tell herself that keeping Twily out of harm's way as much as possible was for the best, it still felt like a cruel choice. She crouched down, nearly lying on the floor in front of Twily so she could look her straight in the eyes. “This isn’t permanent. Once all of this is over, you’ll be able to see whoever you want. Okay?”

Twily smiled and nodded back.