• Published 13th Feb 2015
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Twilight, Good Night - Carapace



To better herself, Luna has studied Twilight's actions and friendship reports. She never expected to find herself under the microscope in turn.

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26: La Galleria di Amanti Perduti

There were few parts of the castle Twilight hadn’t been to in her years as Celestia’s student.

Cadence and Celestia usually brought her to those she didn’t go to as part of her studies, inviting her to the various dining halls, their personal wings of the castle, and even their private studies. There had been many a time when Cadence would invite Twilight into her room to gossip and play with her “favorite little filly” while foalsitting her, accompanied “coincidentally” by their mutual favorite Day Guard.

This, however, was one of the few rooms Twilight had never seen in Cadence’s wing.

The door leading inside seemed innocent enough, designed in the same style as the rest in the castle save for the familiar crystal heart and gold wreaths emblazoned at eye level to delineate just who the room belonged to. A glint of light off a silver label tag, however, drew Twilight’s eye. She blinked at the name, looking from Cadence to Shining Armor, and then back to the name on the tag.

She brought a hoof up to trace long the edge. “La Galleria di Amanti,” she read aloud.

“I had to compromise on the name,” Cadence said as though talking about the weather. “Auntie thought my name for it was too depressing, so she asked me to change it for when we hosted dignitaries. Something about leaving a happy impression.”

Twilight drew back from the name tag. “Oh?” she repeated, looking from the tag to Cadence again. “What did you call it before?”

Cadence gave a small smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I think you’ll be able to guess once you see.” She lit her horn and opened the door, waving Twilight inside. “Go on. There’s a lot for you to see before we send you to bed, young filly.”

Sucking in her lips, Twilight huffed. “I’m not a filly anymore.”

“You’re a young filly until I say so, Twily.” With a cheeky grin, Cadence bent her head and pushed against Twilight’s rump to get her moving.

Twilight squeaked and leapt forward. “Okay, I get it!” Her ear flicked at the sound of Shining chuckling, drawing a glare. “Can’t you control your girlfriend?”

He shook his head. “I’ve tried. She’s got centuries of experience knowing how to push ponies’ buttons, though.” Letting out a gasp as Cadence nipped at his ear, he fixed Twilight with a flat stare. “See?”

Shaking her head, Twilight walked to the center of the darkened room. Her eyes flitted to the walls as she made out the shapes of large frames.

Paintings. But of what?

What was so special about Cadence’s gallery that they felt she had to see?

More to the point, how is it supposed to help my situation with Luna?

“Oh, sorry,” Cadence said, lighting her horn again. “Let me light the candles. Hardly worth coming to an art gallery if you can’t see.”

Tiny flashes of cerulean lit the candles lining the wall. The glow of flickering flames bathed the room in a soft, golden light.

Twilight could only gape in awe at the sheer number of paintings lining the walls, each of them done with the beauty and skill only the greatest masters of the craft could have put into their work. The ponies in each painting were so expressive, so lifelike, she could almost swear that they were ready to step out from their portraits to great her.

The softness and curves in each mares’ body, the strong jaws and broad shoulders in each stallion, all of it had such magnificent detail.

“They’re amazing,” she said breathily. Twilight stepped closer to a painting of a pair of embracing pegasi—a mare of sea green coat and a stallion of vibrant orange. The stallion had his head laid atop the mare’s, their eyes seemed shone with emotion and seemed to be gazing straight into hers.

The small smiles each wore were simply breathtaking, as was the light pink tinging the mare’s cheeks.

Twilight felt her heart skip a beat when she made the connection. Slowly, she turned to look over her shoulder at Cadence, who was staring past her at the very couple she had been looking at a few short seconds ago. Raw emotion shone in her eyes, the very same as that in the couple in the painting.

Love.

“Who were they?” she asked.

Cadence didn’t answer at first. She blinked a few times, a glimmer of light caught unshed tears gathering in her eyes as she stepped passed Twilight. Stopping just short of the painting, she sat back on her haunches and brought a hoof to her chest. Right over her heart.

“Her name was Atlanta,” she replied, bowing her head. “And his was West Wind. I lost them both over three hundred years ago. He caught feather flu in his seventies and died in a hospital bed. She passed on in her sleep one night, just a few weeks before she turned eighty.” Closing her eyes, she took in a shuddering breath. A sad smile crossed her muzzle. “I remember how she used to complain that West and I would spend so many bits on her birthday parties, especially the one year we took her to Roam.”

“Wasn’t that where you and West proposed to her?” Shining asked. “If I recall, you two were already married, then you both noticed Atlanta afterward.”

She shook her head. “Not quite. West and I were engaged at the time, we held off on marrying because we started courting Atlanta. But yes, that’s when we proposed to her.” She gave a wistful sigh. “Oh, I still remember how happy she was. She just hugged us both tight and cried, she could barely even speak!”

Twilight felt a lump form in her throat. She watched as Cadence sat before Atlanta and West Wind’s portrait a moment longer, touching their cheeks with her hooves as if to cup them one more time as a stray tear rolled down her cheek.

Cadence stood, leaning in to the portrait to whisper a few words, then moved to the one to her immediate right. She let out a shuddering breath as she gazed into the eyes of an earth pony stallion, who held a stetson over his chest and wore a nervous smile. By his build and the autumn red coat and brown mane, he almost looked like a distant relative of Applejack’s.

“Cornucopia was my next husband,” she said. A devilish smile flitted across her muzzle. “Oh, he was so shy! Even worse than Shiny when I first got ahold of him!”

“Hey!” Shining protested. “I wasn’t that bad!”

Turning to look over her shoulder, Cadence fixed him with a tearful gaze and a smirk. “My love, you really don’t want me to prove you wrong in front of Twily.”

He ducked his head, his white face turned as red as Big Mac’s coat. “Carry on.”

“I thought so.” She looked to Cornucopia again and touched his cheek just as she had with Atlanta and West Wind, then moved on to the next portrait, one with a beaming pegasus mare with a coat and mane almost as pink as Pinkie Pie, and a pair of unicorn stallions. The mare’s feathers were fluffed, she laid on a plush couch and posed to show her heart flurry cutie mark, a coquettish smirk graced her muzzle as she nuzzled one stallion’s cheek and flicked her tail across the other’s snout. “And this is Love Line, Stargazer, and Cygnus.”

“Her partner in matchmaking crime,” Shining whispered to Twilight. “Seriously, you should hear the things those two got up to.” He turned to Cadence and asked, “What was that story you love telling at parties? The one about the time nicknamed her Lovey Dovey because she would always squeal and squirm whenever she helped a couple get together?”

“Yes. She actually did her little matchmaking thing to set us up on our date with Star and Cygnus.” She chuckled and shook her head. “She could see the red threads better than anypony other than me, and she was overjoyed when she discovered where our ‘extra threads’ led. Especially when she found how much teasing we could get away with before they melted.”

Twilight’s ears twitched. “I’m starting to notice a pattern here,” she drawled. “You love stallions you can tease until you’ve got them hooked.”

Despite the tears brimming in her eyes, Cadence laughed and stuck her tongue out in reply. “So what if I do? And it’s not just the stallions.” She leaned forward and touched each pony’s cheek with her hoof. “I could make Lovey writhe when I kissed her jawline, she used to whine and beg for me to stop playing and just—”

Shining cleared his throat. “Cady,” he said, a note of scolding in his voice. “I don’t mind your stories, but there are some you probably shouldn’t share in present company.”

Blinking, Cadence glanced at Twilight. She gave a little cough. “Oh, right. Sorry.”

Again, Twilight found herself looking between the pair, lingering on Shining as she tried to figure out why he’d so abruptly shut Cadence down mid story.

He met her gaze, then shook his head and gestured toward Cadence again.

She followed his look to see Cadence standing before another picture. A stallion with a coat as gray as storm clouds and dark blue mane stood with his wings folded at his sides, a forest green uniform with light armor, and a matching helmet in his grasp.

The patch on his chest caught her eye—the image of a yellow pegasus diving with its hooves outstretched, set upon a red shield with blue trim. The stallion was one of Equestria’s Rescue Rangers.

“This is Nor’easter,” Cadence said, her voice cracking as she spoke his name. “My last husband before Shining.” She sucked in her lips, bowing her head as she brought a trembling hoof up to touch his cheek. With a choked sob, she turned her head away. “He was only forty.”

Twilight gasped, a hoof leapt to her mouth. “What happened?”

Cadence stayed silent. Tears rolled freely down her cheeks as she caressed her late husband’s cheek.

Shining wrapped a hoof around Twilight’s shoulders and leaned in to whisper. “He had heart problems. They didn’t find out until he was in his late thirties. All those rescue jumps took their toll on him.” He bowed his head in a show of respect. “That daft stallion just didn’t know when to slow down.”

A pang shot through her heart. Never before had Twilight seen Cadence, or Shining Armor for that matter, in such a state. Whenever she talked about love—whether it was gossiping with Twilight over a new couple she’d seen on her walk through the park with Shining, or telling her time and time again how wonderful it was to find a special somepony—it always seemed so positive, so very happy.

The mare before her was hurt. Outliving all of her lovers, and knowing that she would inevitably see the day Shining Armor breathed his last, must have weighed heavy on her shoulders.

Luna would go through the same thing, Twilight thought. She probably has already.

How many times had she gone through it before? How many lovers had those deep teal eyes watched lowered into the ground while Luna fought to hold back her tears before a crowd of mourners?

How lonely must it have made her feel each time?

Flinching, Twilight thought back to the old story of the Mare in the Moon. Luna had not denied the basic reasons for her turn; she had been lonely and jealous of how loved Princess Celestia was, so she tried to cast her sister down from the Day Throne to rule over Equestria as its sole sovereign.

Nightmare Moon’s mad laughter echoed in her ears. “The night will last forever!”

Twilight closed her eyes and gave her head a quick shake, trying to banish the memory. But those cold, reptilian eyes and gleaming fangs were not so easily forgotten.

A fact that Luna was dealing with herself.

Unbidden, scenarios of a relationship with her flashed through Twilight’s mind. Some failed within a few weeks, others ended in tears after an argument over Twilight being too distant because of her studies, or Luna being too clingy and possessive.

She shuddered. Twilight was happy to have a friend like Luna and spending time with her was a real treat, but she also quite liked her study time. Learning the magic of friendship and conducting scientific experiments made her want to get up and go in the morning, along with spending time with her friends of course.

Luna, though …

It wasn’t that Luna was anything but a wonderful mare. Far from it, in fact. Luna was special, and not just because she raised the moon, put the stars in the sky, guarded ponies’ dreams, and did who knows what else with the immense power she wielded as Princess of the Night.

She was kind, thoughtful, and willing to impart her knowledge to any who truly wanted to learn.

Their friendship was precious to Twilight, as much so as that she shared with those in Ponyville. Transitioning from friend to girlfriend was a big change, it’d be like …

Well, she didn’t have an equivalent save for her move from Canterlot to Ponyville, which had worked out just dandy once she’d opened up and given her new home a chance. But that was an entirely different thing! She wasn’t trying to date the town, or her friends, for that matter!

Although, come to think of it, based on what she was hearing, Cadence would be all too happy to encourage her ending up with some sort of pile of ponies in her bed every night.

Clenching her eyes shut, Twilight shook her head. No thank you, I’m having enough trouble knowing that one pony wants to have something like that with me.

Still, how was this supposed to help her? If anything, it only confirmed her fears.

A relationship with Luna could only end in heartbreak. Yes, there was the possibility that it might be nice and full of tender, sweet moments like those Cadence was talking about, but in the end, Twilight would die.

Not that she wanted to be cynical about her mortality, but, objectively, it was the truth. She would die and leave Luna alone, either as an ex girlfriend or—dare she think it?—a widow.

She licked her lips as though to taste Luna’s kiss again. How soft and warm it had been, the way she pulled Twilight in and held her close throughout, until they parted and gazed into each others’ eyes had been so …

Magical.

The emotion in Luna’s eyes was as strong and raw as that in Cadence’s when she looked at Shining Armor or the paintings of her past lovers.

Her heart skipped a beat. Unbidden, the corners of her mouth tugged into a small smile.

Would it really be so bad to share in a relationship like that, though? Something that made her feel so warm and sent butterflies fluttering in her stomach couldn’t be that bad, right?

Not for her, perhaps. She wasn’t the one who had to live after losing Luna to the slow decay of time.

Her eyes flitted to Shining Armor. He was the only pony she knew of with experience dating an alicorn—the only presently doing so, unless Princess Celestia had a secret lover sequestered away from the public’s watchful eye.

Then again, there were those gossip columns about how close she seems to be with Quick Quill … Twilight shook her head again, refocusing on the subject at hoof.

“What is this place really called?” she asked. “If not La Galleria di Amanti, then what?”

The pair stayed quiet a moment. Shining coughed, turning to look at Cadence. “Er, do you—”

“The original name was ‘La Galleria di Amanti Perduti.’” Cadence cut in.

Twilight wracked her brain. She was a bit rusty on her Roaman, but she was relatively sure she could translate it if she put her mind to it.

It clicked. Her jaw dropped. “Oh. Oh, Cadence …”

“Auntie asked me to change it so it didn’t seem so morbid,” Cadence continued. “So now, this place is for all those I loved then and love now.”

Twilight let her ears droop. A weight fell firmly upon her shoulders, like the stone Rarity once thought a diamond.

She thought over her next question, biting her lip as she readied herself. “Shining?”

Shining started, then turned to face her. “Yeah?”

“How do you deal with knowing—” Twilight let her ears droop, and looked away. “How do you cope with knowing that she’s loved other ponies before you? And that she’ll love others after you’ve passed on?”

He blinked a few times, then opened his mouth to speak before closing it and sucking in his lips. “That’s not an easy question to answer,” he replied after a moment. “When she showed me this place for the first time, I’ll admit, I was a bit jealous for a while when I saw how much love she held for all of them.”

“Oh, really?” Cadence called.

Ears twitching at the huskiness in her tone, Twilight turned her attention to Cadence. Despite the tear tracks lining her beautiful cheeks, Cadence managed to make Shining freeze in place with a smoldering, hooded stare and smirk on her muzzle.

Shining yelped as he found himself caught in her magic and pulled over to her. Before he could even try to move, Cadence wrapped him in a tight, feathery embrace, cupping the back of his head with one hoof while tilting his chin up with the other.

“Jealous of them, my love?” she asked, fluttering her eyelashes.

“N-Now, wait a minute, Cady! I wasn’t done!” he said, a nervous smile crossed his muzzle. “I was making a point to help her, I swear!”

Cadence leaned in close and licked his nose, then nuzzled him. “Talk quickly, then, dearest, or I’ll have to remind you just how loved my big, strong Shining Armor is!” Casting a look at Twilight, she winked, then added, “Or perhaps I need to show you just how affectionate and loving I can be, hmm?”

Twilight could only stare in muted fascination as she watched Shining’s eyes go as wide as dinner plates, he tried to lean back, but Cadence was far stronger than she looked.

“So, um, anyway!” he said, his smile straining. “Yes, for a time I would get a bit testy and feel like I couldn’t possibly measure up to all those other ponies in her heart. It took a lot of thought on my part when she’d tell me some of the stories she had, but I found something a bit more, um, meaningful—okay, can you please let me go now?” he practically whined. “I can’t be profound when you’re making eyes at me!”

Giving one last nuzzle, Cadence released him and scooted back just enough to allow him a little room. “Go on then,” she said, waving a hoof at Twilight. Her eyes seemed to dance with mirth. “ Pontificate. But remember, I’m quite willing to chase all that pesky jealousy away if I’m not satisfied with the message.”

He licked his lips, his eyes darted from Cadence to Twilight. “Er, right. So, anyway, the mortality issue was a big thing for me too.” Shining looked down at the floor. “It was one of the reasons I tried to keep my feelings to myself, really. I mean, my life is barely a flash in the pain when you compare it to Cady’s, and to think how much she’d been hurt losing the others—hay, just how much losing Nor’easter hurt her!” Taking a deep breath, he shook his head. “I wasn’t too different from how you are now, Twily. Every rational part of me said that I should step back and tell her no.”

A snort cut him off. Cadence narrowed her eyes at him, a frown marred her muzzle. “Rational?” she asked. Leaning in, she readied herself to refute his point, but in a flash of pink, Shining’s magic covered her mouth and encased her horn.

“I’m still making a point,” he said, a hint of smugness creeping into his tone. With a satisfied nod, he continued, “What really helped me understand was that I started paying attention to how Cady acted, both toward me and whenever she came in here.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout. She looked between Shining and Nor’easter’s portrait, tilting her head. “How is that supposed to help?” She jabbed a hoof at the paintings. “I don’t mean to be rude, but this is just reaffirming the point! All of these ponies loved her and died, and Cadence—I’m sorry—but you’re still broken up about it!”

“Broken up?” Shining repeated, giving a snort of laughter. He made to continue, but with one look at Twilight, he broke down in a fit of chuckles, shaking his head and mouthing the phrase to himself.

Sucking in a sharp breath through her nose, Twilight fixed him with a glare. “I don’t see what’s so funny, Shiny!”

He shook his head, the pink glow surrounding his horn and Cadence’s mouth and horn dissipated, freeing her from his grip.

Rather than join Twilight, though, Cadence brought her hooves to her mouth to cover a bout of choked laughter.

“Twilight,” she said after she’d gotten herself under control. Their eyes met, a broad smile crossed Cadence’s muzzle. “When I come here to see them, I am the complete opposite of ‘broken up.’”

She stood, dotting Shining’s forehead with a kiss before moving to stand by Nor’easter’s portrait again. “I miss them all dearly,” she said, leaning in to kiss her late lover’s snout. “And if I could bring all of them back for one day, just so I could have all the ponies I loved in one room for one day, I would in a heartbeat. But like a grown pony misses family they lost years ago, I’ve come to terms with their deaths. My time with each of them was special in their own unique way: whether it was squealing like a little filly with Lovey after we matched up a pair of lovers, or watching Cornucopia till the fields from sun up to sun down, I treasure each moment I shared with them.”

Cadence paused to take a deep breath. She whispered a few words to Nor’easter’s portrait, then moved to the next in line. “I treasure all of them,” she continued, “and Shining is no different. I flirt with him and tease him every chance I have for that very reason.” Stopping a moment, she glanced over her shoulder at him. “And because he’s just adorable when he’s flustered. That too.”

Shining ducked his head, his ears laid flat. “I saw that coming,” he muttered just loud enough for Twilight to hear. Sighing, he brought a hoof to his face. “The point is that I saw how much she still feels for them and how she feels for me presently, and I got to thinking about it and realized that, yes, one day I’m going to die and leave Cadence behind.”

A sharp intake of breath made Twilight flick her ear toward Cadence. Her former foalsitter looked away, her eyes locked on the final portrait.

Twilight furrowed her brow and leaned back to get a better line of sight. Her heart leapt into her throat.

There, painted with the same care and detail as all the others, was Shining Armor wearing his pristinely polished purple and gold trim armor, with his helmet resting atop his head. His chest was puffed out proudly, his eyes seemed to shine with the same life as the very stallion himself, even his smile—that little crooked smile he gave his friends and family—was done to perfection.

Slowly, she brought her hoof to her mouth. Her eyes flitted from the portrait to Cadence, then to Shining Armor himself.

He smiled, matching his portrait’s expression. “I may leave her behind when my time comes,” he said. “But the one thing I’ll always have, even when I’m long gone, is her love. It’s not something many ponies understand, but that’s how I see it.” Pausing a moment, he took a deep breath and sighed.

His eyes bored into hers, almost piercing through her very being.

Shining quirked a brow. “Care to guess how I know all that?”

“I—I mean, all of this is—I don’t know!” Twilight held her hooves out wide. “How, Shiny?”

“Not even gonna try?” He chuckled, shaking his head. “Come on now, it’s right here in this room.” Nodding to the portraits, he said, “What do you see? Or, more to the point, what don’t you see?”

Twilight blinked, leaning back and squinting her eyes at him.

Rather than clarify, he simply smiled and nodded toward the wall of portraits.

With a huff and a flick of her tail, she obeyed, staring at the lively faces of Atlanta and West Wing with wide eyes and a mock smile. “Hmm, well, I see two very happy ponies!” She turned to Cornucopia. “And there’s a happy but shy stallion!” Then she turned to Love Line, Stargazer, and Cygnus. “There’s a coyly smiling mare and a pair of unicorns!”

Twilight held her hooves out wide again. “They’re all happy ponies who Cadence loved. The only thing missing from any of the portraits is Cadence herself.”

Again, he chuckled. “True, and the reason for that is somewhat related, but not what I was getting at.” Stealing a glance toward Cadence, Shining stood and gestured for Twilight to join him.

He led her over to Nor’easter’s portrait. “Take a closer look,” he said, nodding toward the late pegasus. “What’s missing that you’d normally see at an art gallery?”

Raising an eyebrow, Twilight searched the portrait. It was wonderfully done, that much was certain. Everything about Nor’easter just seemed to lifelike. He looked as though he were about to put on his helmet and throw a quick salute before taking wing to join his Rescue Ranger team for a jump.

A small part of her wanted to reach out and touch him, just as Cadence had. Out of respect, Twilight quashed the notion almost as quickly as it had arisen. Touching the portrait was Cadence’s right and, maybe, Shinig’s. Not hers.

Twilight was a pony Cadence held dear, but she was not one of Cadence’s lovers.

The talent for painting was there, as was some texturing technique Twilight couldn’t recall for the life of her. If Cadence ever wanted to allow the public to view these works, any art gallery across Equestria would pay a princess’ ransom for the privilege.

What else might she see at an art gallery besides lifelike artwork? The artists? The curator? The title of the painting, perhaps?

It clicked.

Her eyes darted around the frame, searching for the gleaming placard bearing the painting’s title. No doubt something in Roaman, if Cadence commissioned it. The name Nor’easter, even. If only for sentimental value.

There was no placard.

Nor’easter’s portrait bore no name.

“Figure it out yet?” Shining’s voice brought her back to reality.

Twilight licked her lips. Slowly, she turned to look her brother in the eye. “Why don’t they have placards or titles?” she asked.

He nodded. “There you go. No placards on any of them.”

“But that doesn’t make sense! Why isn’t there even something to give their name? If this is supposed to be a place to preserve their memory, then why not include proper taggings?”

From her place before Shining’s portrait, Cadence scoffed, drawing both siblings’ attention.

She fixed Twilight with a stern gaze and began walking toward them. With a derisive sniff, she replied, “As if I would ever need something so trivial to remember those I love!” She stopped a short distance away, looking down her nose at Twilight with an air of regality that seemed almost foreign on her face. “I have forgotten many things in my life, Twilight. Spells, debates, battles, the taste of wines that fell out of practice, even the memory of my old home in Roam is a bit fuzzy, no matter how I’ve tried to recreate it for myself.”

Another step closer. Twilight backed away, tripping over her own hooves and falling back on her haunches, her ears pinned against her scalp.

Cadence flicked her tail. “I remember each of them as vividly as the day I fell for them. Every kiss, every embrace, every date, every night spent together in the heat of passion, or those spent cuddled in bed or on the couch reading a book. I remember it all. From our first moments together, to …” she trailed off, her eyes filled with tears once more. Drawing in a deep breath, she finished in a wavering voice, “To the days I stood by their side when they breathed their last. Trust me when I say that my love for all of them, from my first husband, Galant, to Shining Armor, is everlasting. No matter how much it hurts to lose them, physically and emotionally.”

Shining moved to stand at her side. “Honey,” he said barely above a whisper as he laid a hoof on her shoulder. “Not so aggressive. We brought her here to show her, remember?”

Blinking, Cadence’s ears twitched. The air of regality surrounding her faded, melting away to the warm, loving pony Twilight had known since she was a filly.

A hoof leapt to Cadence’s mouth. “I–I’m so sorry, Twily! I just—they’re—oh, by the tides!” She covered her eyes and took a deep breath. “I know you didn’t mean it like that, I just get defensive about them.”

Twilight let out a deep breath and gave a stiff nod, pasting a rather forced grin on her muzzle. “No, no! I understand!” she said with a little squeak in her voice. “I just let my curiosity get the better of me again. Silly, Twily, right?”

“No, not silly Twily.” Cadence shook her head. “I—well, us alicorns in general get a bit defensive over what we consider ours, and I’m—” she looked down at her hooves, her ears drooped. “—not nearly as good as Auntie Celestia is at controlling myself.”

Twilight’s ears twitched. There was something familiar about the way she said it. Or, rather, not quite the way, but how she admitted it.

“The library has been under your care for a number of months, the dreamscape has been mine for millennia, my dear. Imagine how perturbed you might feel after caring for something for so long, giving your heart and soul, only to find another has come and thrown it into disarray.”

Luna.

Just as the dream realm belonged to Luna, Cadence’s lovers were hers alone. To suggest that she might forget them was akin to taking Luna’s connection to her ponies’ dreams away.

There it is again. That possessiveness over what they claim as their domain.

How very interesting. But if Celestia shared such habits, why hadn’t Twilight seen signs of it?

So many questions.

Twilight pushed those thoughts to the back of her mind. They would have to be addressed later. Presently, she had her own issues to wrap up.

Specifically, what to do about Luna and the kiss.

She rubbed a hoof against her shoulder, thinking a moment before she spoke. “I’m a bit leery on assuming that we can apply your memory of your lovers to Luna,” she began. “But if I might hazard a guess, I would say that you want me to put aside my worry over what might happen after I leave her.”

Shining bobbed his head from side to side. “Yes and no,” he replied. “I’m not saying that she’ll take it any better or worse than Cadence will when—”

“Could we please not?” Cadence interrupted, closing her eyes and laying her ears flat as if to block out his voice.

“Right. Sorry.” He gave a crooked smile, then leaned over to nuzzle her cheek, earning himself a quick kiss in turn. “Anyway, the point isn’t so much that we have cart blanche to love them. It’s that your lifespan shouldn’t be the reason you decide not to try things out.” Shining removed his hoof from Cadence’s shoulder—much to her dismay—and stepped closer to Twilight. He leaned down to nuzzle her mane. “You’re a brilliant mare, Twily. You’re smart, dedicated to your friends, and you genuinely care about others’ feelings. The last two tend to override the first and lead you to make some rather funny decisions from what I’ve heard from Spike.”

Twilight snorted. “Little traitor,” she grumbled.

“Hey, I’ve gotta go somewhere to get dirt on you.” A hoof cupped her chin and tilted her head until she met his gaze. He offered her a bright, cheery smile, the one that always made her feel safe after he chased away the monsters under the bed. “Do yourself and Luna a favor: take lifespan out of the equation and take some time to think about what you feel for her. Friendship? Love? Whatever it is, be honest with yourself, be forward and honest with her, and everything will work itself out.” Pausing a moment, Shining shot a meaningful look toward Cadence. “Take it from me, the princesses have ways of knowing when those closest to them are trying to hide how they feel.”

With a playful roll of her eyes, Cadence stuck out her tongue, but didn’t offer any retort. Instead, she moved to join them, stealing a kiss to Shining’s cheek and then one to Twilight’s mane.

“Hopefully that helps,” she said. Giving a toss of her mane, she leaned against Shining Armor. “I won’t lie, there is a not-so-small part of me that would be happy to see you and Auntie Luna dating one another—”

“You mean the part that led you and Lovey to trick Star and Cygnus into a date with one another to dispel the awkwardness between them?” Shining quipped.

Cadence didn’t even miss a beat. “And the same one that had me kissing my favorite guard recruit all over his face and neck when he tried so hard to keep his bearing.” Pausing a moment to allow herself a little smirk and the chance to flick her tail against his rump, she gave a happy little flutter of her wings, then continued, “I’d love to see you and Auntie together because I think you two are a good match for one another. Ultimately, it’s your call. I might have centuries of experience, but love isn’t an exact science.” She shrugged. “The heart wants what the heart wants. Do whatever you feel is right.”

Twilight wrinkled her snout. Everything fell squarely on her shoulders again. True, it helped to hear that she had some level of control over how things progressed.

Which meant Luna’s feelings were entirely subject to her decision.

She groaned and rubbed her tired eyes. When had it gotten so late?

“I think it might be best if I take some time to organize everything,” Twilight said.

Cadence and Shining Armor smiled.

“That’s probably for the best,” Cadence replied. “There’s no deadline for these things, Twilight. Take all the time you need.” She glanced out the window, then back. A playful gleam shone in her eye. “I think it might be time for a certain young mare to get to bed, eh?”

Pursing her lips, Twilight stood. “You can’t send me to bed! I don’t have a curfew!”

Shining snickered. “You say that while standing before a princess in her castle. She can.”

“I can even have Shining Armor tuck you in like he did when you were a filly,” Cadence added helpfully.

Twilight sucked in her lips, trying her best to fight back a smile.

She failed quite horribly.

Ducking her head, she stepped forward and gave each a hug. “Thanks for showing me this,” she said. “I don’t quite know what I’m going to do, but it helped to see this. I think. I’m not sure yet.” Twilight pulled back, letting her ears droop. “Are you sure there’s not a ‘how to’ guide I can read for this?”

Cadence threw back her head and laughed. “Oh, there’s plenty of books and magazine articles, Twily!” She patted Twilight’s head. “But take it from a mare who’s loved and lost many times over her nine hundred-plus years: they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Twilight couldn’t help but snicker and nod along with her before releasing her embrace. She turned, and began to walk out of the room with them.

She stopped short just as they reached the door, glancing over her shoulder at the line of portraits. Her smile faded away as she furrowed her brows.

Something hit her. Something she hadn’t noticed until she stepped back and could look at them all from a distance.

They were all done in the same style.

The exact same each time.

As if the same painter had done each one over the course of nine hundred-plus years.

“Twily, come on.” Shining bumped his hip against hers. “We can bring you back another time.”

Blinking, she shook her head. It had to be her imagination. That just wasn’t possible.

Then again …

Where was Cadence in all of the portraits?

“Curiosity killed the cat,” her mother’s voice sounded in her head.

To which, a much younger Shining would always give the same cheeky reply, “But satisfaction brought it back!”

Twilight had a feeling she knew the answer.

But she just had to know.

“Cadence?”

“Hmm?”

“Who painted all of these?” She motioned toward the portraits. “They all look like they’re done in the same artists’ style.”

Cadence stayed quiet. Slowly, a smile made its way across her face. Tossing her long, flowing mane, she turned away and began to hum a rather familiar song. Old Roaman, a song her mother used to sing when she was a filly, or so she said.

It was the very same song Cadence so loved to hum whenever she wanted to play her “I know something you don’t” game.

“Cadence,” Twilight said, taking a step closer. “Answer the question.”

“I think we’ve talked enough for tonight!” Cadence practically sang, dancing just out of reach and beginning a brisk trot down the hall. “Time for young mares to find their way to bed.”

Twilight drew in a sharp breath and gave chase, her brother’s laughter followed her as she ran after Cadence. “Get back here and give me a straight answer, darn you!”

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