“Princess Luna? Are you alright?” Twilight asked quietly, moving to the foot of Luna's bed. The Moon Princess didn't answer, laying back down on her bed, turning away from Twilight. “I'm sorry,” she continued, her voice a bit unsteady as she watched Luna's unmoving form, “I'm sorry...Celestia tells me that it wasn't my fault....but I still feel somewhat responsible.” More silence hung in the room, breaking down Twilight's resolve a bit. “I know what he meant to you....I don't know if you hate me now or don't want to be my friend or if you'll even forgive me...but I still want you to know that...” Twilight started, her voice laden with sorrow and her face stained with fresh tears.
“We could never hate you Twilight Sparkle,” Luna said, hiding her face and fresh tears. She didn't want this. She should have been the only one crying her eyes out, not Twilight.
“Why?” Twilight croaked as she moved to the side of the bed, “He was everything to you...” She sniffled a bit. This was much harder to talk about with Luna, because before she had left Celestia, the Solar Princess had told her about how much Luna had relied on her brother for strength and guidance.
“You saved us. You saved Celestia. You saved Equestria....” Luna admitted, sitting up to face the new alicorn, “And.....you saved Caesius.” She closed her eyes, knowing she had to let go, but not finding it easy. “He....he is free....after millenniums of confinement,” she said, her voice still a bit distressed, “I...I should be happy for him...and grateful to you. But I cannot and will not be able to express them. It is going to take much time, but I thank you for helping me come to terms with his passing.” The Twilight princess nodded. “As for forgiveness, there is nothing to forgive, but we give it to you all the same.”
The purple alicorn gave a watery chuckle, and Luna found herself smiling a bit as well. Suddenly, the Luna Princess found herself in a tight hug, causing her to blush just a bit, but she hugged Twilight back, feeling a bit better.
From outside the room, Celestia sighed with relief as she removed her eye from the little slit between the door and its frame.
Things were going to be okay.
Chapter Six: Family News
Twilight's entire frame shook with fear as she moved ever so closer to that hellish plane that loomed in the distance. How could sweet Cadence be working HERE of all places? The mere thought of that hell sent Twilight into near mental breakdown, and here she was, walking, well more like crawling, there on her own accord.
She gulped as she read the sign hanging over the gates of fire itself.
Oh it was horrid, the false sense of security and happiness it promised with its bright, squiggly text and vibrant, smiling butterflies. However, this wasn't even the worst part. Twilight could already hear the little devils squealing about madly, taunting her and laughing at her expense.
“I can do this,” Twilight said, puffing her chest out in a brave display that she knew deep down would do nothing to help her face this. She sighed, trudging past the gates of oblivion, already noticing the beginning signs of her final destination. Small paintings of indecipherable words, discombobulated shapes, and convoluted colors began lining the halls like ancient hieroglyphics spelling out her impending doom.
She kept her mind focused on her sister-in-law and old foalsitter, hoping the pleasant memories would distract her from the panic and trepidation poisonously filling her chest. How could Cadence WORK here of all places, much less BE here!?
Finally, the lavender mare found the door number that was given to her by one of the hoof-maidens, and lightly rapped on the door, emblazoned with a golden number “9”, hearing some commotion from the other side.
“Com in!” a familiar, yet strained, voice called from the other side of the oak door. Twilight braced herself as she opened the portal to the last circle of hell.
Immediately, the racket of little foals playing and talking filled her ears, assaulting her senses in the most evil way possible.
Cadence had her back turned, not noticing Twilight as she attempted to mediate between two fighting foals, a rather aggressive little filly and a mischievous colt.
“Now Misty, you know better than to whack Ash in the head like that,” the pink alicorn scolded as the small butter-yellow unicorn 'hmmphed', whipping her blazing orange-red mane back in disdain.
“He deserved it,” said the little filly flatly as she folded her hooves, showing her displeasure, “He stole my bike during recess and killed it!”
“I didn't mean to!” Ash, a smaller colt with a dark-blue coat and jet-black mane that looked like it hadn't been cut in months, protested, holding his hooves up in defense, “I was going to give it back. I swear on Celestia!”
“I hardly see why you would need to borrow MY bike to test out a magnetism spell, which also FAILED!” Misty retorted bitterly, “It was more like a frying spell, which is exactly what my bike is! FRIED!” He cringed, feeling a bit bad for destroying the filly's bike, but not bad enough to back down.
“Well at least I'm not afraid of bugs!” Ash bit back, not really having any defense against what Misty had just said to him.
“We'll see who's afraid!” Misty nearly screamed, lunging for the smaller pegasus colt, intent on bashing him into a bloody pulp, but a firm dark-oak hoof kept her back.
“Alright break it up you two,” an older, more mature voice commanded, easily holding the two fighting ponies apart with his earth-pony strength. Cadence sighed, as she wiped her face hopelessly. Most of the foals weren't this troublesome; only these two were.
“Brock, can you handle this please? Keep them busy and apart,” she asked, glad that she had an older pony helping her a bit, even if he was a bit.....overly affectionate. Nonetheless, Cadence silently thanked whoever decided to come up with the TA volunteer program. “How can I help you?” Cadence asked as she finally turned around to face a bewildered Twilight. She blinked, taking in the sight before her.
“Uh.....hi Cadence?” Twilight said slowly, feeling a bit awkward.
The pink princess wasn't quite sure she was seeing things right, but this alicorn had the same voice, same mane, same coat color, and the same cutie mark. It really couldn't be anyone else.
“Twilight? Is that you?' she asked, wondering what kind of crazy adventure her old charge had gotten into.
“How'd you know?” the purple alicorn asked, her voice considerably brighter. She was glad that the ponies closest to her seemed to still see the real her.
“Oh....Royal Intuition I guess,” Cadence joked, chuckling a bit. She walked up to Twilight, enveloping her in a hug and getting a closer look at her. She definitely had all the defining features of a princess alicorn, longer horn, bigger wings, and a taller form. Now that she was up close, Cadence actually noticed that Twilight was a bit taller than her, which felt really strange to the older alicorn. Twilight was probably on par with Luna. “So what did you do this time Twilight?”
“Oh you know...the usual. Planets align. Prophecies fulfilled. Doomsdays unleashed. That sort of thing,” Twilight joked back, feeling relieved that she could still talk to another pony normally.
“Do tell.” Cadence grinned, looking back to make sure Brock was doing okay on his own. No pony had started a riot yet, and there was no blood on the floor. Things looked good so far.
“I'm more interested in what you're doing here of all places,” Twilight answered, looking around apprehensively as if she was going to be attacked at any moment. Cadence giggled, remembering her-sister-in-law's rather irrational fear of Magical Kindergarten.
“Tell you what. You tell me your story, then I'll tell you mine. Deal?” said the pink alicorn, pulling up two chairs for them to sit up. Twilight nodded.
“You go first,” Twilight insisted, knowing that her tale would be quite the long one.
“Mine's pretty simple really,” Cadence started, “The teacher here got injured last week in a strange magical accident that's left her in the hospital and on sick leave. They asked me to take over since I had some experience dealing with foals,” Cadence sighed, rubbing her temples tiredly.
“Not so happy with agreeing?” The lavender pony smiled sympathetically, just imagining the chaos if these little fillies and colts acted with one-tenth the energy levels of the CMC. The thought of being surrounded by hyperactive foals in Magical Kindergarten was enough to give Twilight the shakes.
“Oh don't get me wrong. I love them all dearly. They really are quite sweet and easy to manage.....” said the pink pony as she looked back towards a sulking Misty who was muttering murderous intent under her breath, “...most of the time.” Twilight put a hoof to her mouth, giggling into it. “But that's pretty much it like I said. Pretty boring really. I want to hear about your exciting tale!”
“Okay. Okay,” Twilight ceded, knowing Cadence wouldn't let her delay it any longer.
“It started off like any other experiment.....”
“And then here I am telling you about it....” Twilight finally finished about twenty minutes later. Cadence had been extremely attentive, asking questions and for clarifications the entire time.
“So let me get this straight,” Cadence said, no small amount of wonder in her voice, “Luna and Celestia had a brother that had been trapped for many thousands of years that you somehow met by tampering with the ancient flows of magic, resulting in the release of a dangerous villain intent on destroying the world, freeing their brother from his long imprisonment, granting you powers on par with a goddess, and turning you into a princess.”
“Um...well...I guess,” answered the purple pony, a note of nervousness accompanying her statement, “Celestia said that I'm not bound to serve or anything like that, but most ponies will still see me as a princess, even if I say I'm not.”
Twilight's sister-in-law nodded, understanding that the idea that all alicorns were royalty was basically embedded into the mental DNA of every living pony today.
“What happened to Umbra?” Cadence asked, a bit worried about the “villain intent on destroying the world” part.
“I don't know....Celestia told me nothing out of the ordinary has popped up. Maybe he defeated Umbra, or maybe he found a way to re-seal Umbra.” Twilight said, “But Celestia says that we still need to be ready.” Cadence nodded. “You know...you're taking this really well. I was worried that everypony I told was going to freak out. I really hope my family takes this as well as you do.” Cadence smiled.
“Well, honestly, I always kind of hopped something like this would happen somehow really. I think it's great that one of my best friends, who also happens to be my wonderful sister-in-law, is an alicorn,” she admitted, “I think it's fantastic to have another pony that I can talk and relate to completely....And speaking of family, have you told Shining yet?”
“Nope. I was planning to after I finished up here.”
Cadence grinned mischievously. “Brock! Take over for a while. I'll be back in a few minutes! C'mon Twilight, I got an idea.”
Twilight really was trying, honest, but it was so hard, especially with all of these ponies look at her! She really hoped that she wasn't giving anything away.
“Cadence....I can't do this,” she whispered in a tone low enough to only be hard by the pink princess walking in front of her.
“You'll be great Twilight! I believe in you! Just have fun with it,” Cadence responded with a wide grin, “And imagine the look on Shining's face!”
Twilight gulped, but she couldn't help but lightly giggle at the mental image.
The lavender alicorn had walked this path many times, but never like this. With every step, she came closer and closer to the entrance to the guard headquarters, the day-guards bowing deeply as they both passed, calling her “princess” or “your highness” or “your majesty”. It was a bit frazzling to know that some of these ponies were childhood friends, guards that she had known since she was a little filly.
She couldn't really blame them for bowing though; she didn't exactly look like Twilight Sparkle.
Twilight was so busy thinking about how ponies were now going to treat her that she almost crashed into Cadence who was currently identifying herself and her for the door guard.
“I've never heard of this pony.,” the white, pegasus guard said, looking at Twilight suspiciously. “How do I know she isn't some kind of changeling in disguise or something? She could be that changeling queen....chrysawhatitsname.” If Cadence was worried, she certainly didn't show it.
“She is not the pony we are looking for. However, she is under my supervision. I guarantee that she is of no threat, but if you have a problem with her, perhaps you would like to explain to Princess Celestia why you have treated her esteemed guest with such disgusting disrespect. I hear the dungeons are unfortunately uncomfortable during this time of the year,” Cadence said in a refined tone that demanded adherence. Twilight raised her eyebrow, having never heard that voice from Cadence.
The stallion visibly shrunk as beads of worried sweat began to drip down his face
“Of course not Princess. My apologies. Go right on ahead,” the door guard said, his voice trembling and a bit higher than before.
“Thank you guard,” Cadence said, her voice returning to it's usual cheery and happy voice. They turned left at the first fork where not a single other pony was in sight. “Phew...I thought they were going to magically search you right there. That would have ruined everything.”
“How did you do that anyway? I thought I was toast. I've never heard that voice from you before,” Twilight asked as they walked towards Shining's main office.
“The Royal Voice can have a strong influence on most ponies,” Cadence answered sagely, “Celestia taught it to me when I was little.” The lilac alicorn nodded, making a mental note to ask a certain Solar Princess about it. Luna knows how much Twilight needed training on how to get out of situations.
“Well here we are!” Cadence stopped in front of a heavy, ornate oak door with a gold plate that read “Captain of the Guard.” The pink alicorn chuckled, just imagining the expression that was going to be splayed across her husband's face in a matter of moments. “Alright here we go. Remember to stick to the plan.” Twilight nodded, swinging the heavy wooden door with a bang.
It was shaping out to be an absurdly normal day. Regular and updated patrol schedules were posted on the bulletin board with pencil mark checks adorning the small boxes on the side, and small notes and memos were tacked and pinned to the cork board haphazardly, reminding anyone who bothered to read them about various events, messages and times.
Shining Armor stared at the gold, wall clock mounted over the door to his office. He hated this part of the day: filling out paperwork. Normally, he'd be out on a patrol himself, accompanied by his lovely wife of course. Wanting to distract himself from the gruelingly, mind-numbing task at hand, Shining blankly focused on the second hand of the clock, the sounds of his breathing and the clock being the only noises in the room.
“Shining Armor!” a lofty, loud voice declared, the sound of the door slamming into the wall following afterward. Twilight inwardly smirked with satisfaction as she watched her brother flail around helplessly in his chair, almost falling backwards onto the floor as he was caught off guard. “I have come to inspect your proficiency in managing the Royal Guard! I hope that you will not disappoint.”
“Buh....buh...” Shining stuttered, completely at a loss for what to do.
“Surely you were informed of my arrival?” Twilight continued, trying her best to keep a straight face, while also holing back the giggles in her voice. Shining continued to blab incoherently, much to Twilight's delight. “I, Princess Midna, am displeased.” Cadence filed in after Twilight, putting on a guilty and embarrassed grimace that said, “I'm sorry I couldn't get the message to you sooner.” Secretly, however, she was reveling in the hilarious and adorable facial expressions her beloved husband was making.
“A thousand apologies princess!” Shining exclaimed, finally getting a rope on his treasonous tongue. He bowed, deeply to the gray-blue alicorn in front of him, trying to hide the mortification rising in his chest. Twilight was lucky that Shining was looked down at the ground at that moment. Her face had briefly cracked. It was becoming painful to hold back so much laughter, and she admired the genius of this little prank. Normally, she wasn't one for this kind of stuff, but she could see some of the appeal.
Earlier, Twilight had cast a simple light bending spell that altered her appearance completely. While it was a simple spell, it took immense reserves of imagination and mind-power to pull off anything this complexly detailed. She had recolored her coat to a soft caesian color, and her hair was now a jet black, accented with small slivers of vibrant orange. Her new bright-red eyes shined as if they were the real thing, and her cutie mark, the piece de resistance, had been re-imaged into a neon blue-green pyramid of three equilateral triangles, two forming the base and one making the top layer, all of them only touching at their verticies. With a little voice disguising, Twilight was a completely different pony.
“I was not informed of your arrival your highness. I hope that this does not adversely affect your feelings about how well I can manage the Royal Guard, Princess Midna,” Shining continued, a visible layer of sweat beginning to coat his face. Inwardly, he cursed the fact that no one even bothered to tell him that he was going to have an important visitor this afternoon. Dear Luna, Celestia was going to send him to the moon for this.
This was just too much for Twilight and Cadence. The dams broke, and they both literally dropped to the floor, rolling around in euphoric laughter until tears leaked from their eyes.
Twilight clutched her sides in a desperate attempt to stem the pain from laughing so hard, and her hind legs kicked up, moving randomly in the air in response to her jovial howls. Cadence was in no better condition.
Shining Armor just sat there on his haunches, extremely confused and quite perturbed, his mouth agape and useless. Wiping a joyous tear from her face, Twilight finally dropped the disguise, turning back onto her belly and standing up. She drew up to her fill height before looking down on her brother with a silly smile.
“Gotcha Shiny! Now I know why Celestia likes doing this so much,” Twilight giggled, her voice easily recognized by the captain. Shining would have been able to pick out that voice anywhere, but despite what his ears told him, his eyes were having a hard time agreeing with them.
“Wha....what....” the captain continued, blinking over and over again in an attempt to either dispel the image in front of him or confirm its existence. Cadence took some pity on her husband and went over to him, giving him a quick kiss, grinning ear to ear. Despite this, he continued to babble dumbly.
“Oh dear, I think we broke him,” Cadence said, waving a hoof in front of Shining Armor's face. Nothing happened. The pink pony smirked, putting her muzzle right on Shining's ear where she began to nibble, much to embarrassment of Twilight who looked away.
Shining shot up so high into the air that Cadence was surprised he didn't end up embedded in the stone ceiling.
“CADENCE!!” Shining yelled in mortification, his face resembling a certain farm pony who had a penchant for answering in monosyllabic sentences. His sister was here for Celestia's sake! Cadence chuckled, nuzzling her husband fondly.
“Glad to see that you're back in the land of the living love,” Cadence said with a shameless smile.
“That was mean,” Shining pouted, crossing his hooves stubbornly.
“I'll make it up to you later,” she said in a low, sultry voice, eliciting another intense blush from the flustered Captain of the Royal Guard.
“AHEM!” Twilight coughed, none too subtly, and Cadence had the decency to look somewhat embarrassed by her display
“Sorry about that Twilight,” said the pink alicorn. Her sister-in-law merely nodded, hoping that she would be able to forever forget the implications of what she had just heard and witnessed. Twilight then looked to her brother with a warm smile.
“Is it really you Twilight?” Shining asked uncertainly. He was fairly certain it was her, but then again, he did mistake a deadly, power-hungry, parasitic love-sucker to be his wife.
“Dark blue is still my favorite color. Starswirl The Bearded's Exposition on the Magical Interactions is still my favorite book. And I still hate eating the stems of broccoli,” Twilight answered with a silly grin, earning on in turn from Shining.
“You always were a picky eater,” he said with a fond chuckle, getting up from the ground to hug his little, well younger, sister. “So let me guess. You defeated a powerful, evil spirit and absorbed its powers? Or maybe you attempted a magical ritual and it failed?...Hmm...or you just seduced Celestia and Luna.”
“SHINING!” Twilight choked out, pulling away from her brother's embrace violently, her face beet red.
“Sorry Twily,” said the extremely amused older brother, reaching up for a playful noogie, “I couldn't resist!” Disregarding his teasing, Twilight giggled, so glad that things seemed to still be the same between them, no matter how she looked.