• Published 8th Jun 2016
  • 8,122 Views, 410 Comments

Student of the Night - Nadir

After a plague sweeps through the city, life is hard for the lower class. But, there are always those who can claw their way back, fight for every inch of success. With her determination and intelligence, Twilight hopes to be one.

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Welcome Home

The rest of exam day passed in a blur. The Queen had taken her leave quickly, abandoning Twilight practically swamped with other ponies. Instructors, aides, and guards of all sorts surrounded her, getting her name, age, where she lived, dress size of all things, and a million other pieces of information. To be honest, it seemed like it would never end, each interview going on longer and longer. Becoming the student of the night needed more than a few background checks, it required a damned interrogation. But what would they really find? Nothing but an orphan that had mastered at least a little bit of magic.

Even other students tried to pry their way in. Occasionally, other students would nose past the testers, though they’d be quickly shoved back by the guards. Only Sunset kept trying, only Sunset desperately tried to make her way through. For once, her actions touched Twilight. Yes, there could be any number of ulterior motives that would spur Sunset to stay close, but Twilight didn’t see any of that in her eyes. She only saw care and concern, a genuine worry for her younger unicorn friend. Perhaps she wasn’t that bad.

Eventually, a guard had to pull the sunny mare aside, speaking to her and Twilight’s brother. At least the situation would be explained, even while Twilight continued to be interrogated. Their questions lasted long into the night, eventually forcing them under the cover of the manor. Sunset had long since lead the rest of their group home, leaving just Shining waiting for his sister.

Alone. Worried. Scared.

The other group only knew an inkling of what had occurred. Sunset had seen her display, seen how much she had walked the line. And worst of all, she had seen the ending of it. She had seen Twilight’s disrespect of the Queen. For all they knew, Twilight would be executed. For all they knew, she would lose her head that night. And she didn’t have a single way of letting them know that everything would be fine. Twilight had no idea what the guards told her, though it couldn’t be that in-depth judging by the panic that had remained etched on Sunset’s face.

Thankfully, the interrogation ended after many hours, Shining took her home, though everybody but Sunset and Matron had long since fallen asleep. Twilight couldn’t blame them, not truly. She hadn’t walked back into the orphanage until near one in the morning, and after the day they had, everypony needed sleep.

At least, explaining what had happened had been easy enough. Matron didn’t seem surprised at all, but her two fellow unicorns practically danced with joy. Not only would she get off, but to be the Queen’s student too? The whole situation sounded like something out of a fairy tale, something that nobles told their kids. Not something that would happen to one of them, nothing like that ever happened to an orphan.

Twilight was lucky.

The night passed as well, leading them to the morning. Not even seven in the morning and Matron already shook Twilight awake; the last few days had been very rough on her sleep schedule indeed. “Sh-sh, don’t wake the others.” Matron whispered, placing a gentle talon in front of her muzzle. “Shining and Sunny are already downstairs. Seems like somepony here was important enough to warrant a chariot pickup.” She teased.

Twilight’s eyes widened in surprise, her fatigue nearly instantly melting away. Luna herself had sent a chariot to pick them up, something that was nearly unheard of. Seems like yesterday hadn’t been a dream after all. Matron backed up, allowing Twilight to stand and shake herself out. Her eyes glanced around the room, noting that Shining’s belongings were already packed away. Just her half of the room remained decorated, if it could be called that. Just her half of the room let anypony know that two ponies had lived there for their entire lives.

“I’ll give you a minute. If you’re not down by six ten, I’ll send the boy up. I’m going to miss you.” Matron embraced her lightly, leaving before Twilight could even formulate a response. Just for a moment, Twilight had thought she’d seen a tear in Matron’s eye.

But no, that was silly, and there was so much to do in so little time! Twilight frantically worked at her room. All her life, every single one of her belongings needed to be packed away. Such a small, terribly small room to hold so much. Out came the luggage cases from under her bed. On came a brown, cotton dress with white sleeves. Into a suitcase the rest of her clothes went. Small keepsakes followed them, bits and bobs she’d accumulated over the years. In went her picture fram--

Her picture frame. Twilight magic hesitated for a second, bringing it close. Her eyes flickered over the sight of her mother, a lump suddenly forming in her throat. She whimpered out loud, unable to stop the vocalization from making it out. Her magic shook the picture, suddenly feeling so weak, so out of place. Her parents needed to be here to see this. Her parents should be here, here to congratulate her. They should be here to listen to her complaints, to her worries. They should be here -

No, don’t think like that. Her parents wouldn’t come back, no matter how much she wanted them to. Her parents couldn’t come back, and thinking like that only invited danger. Too many unicorns had tried to pierce the veil. Too many unicorns had failed and lose their own lives. Nopony really knew what had brought about Starswirl’s downfall, but many suspected that to be it. Twilight wouldn’t fall for the same trick.

No matter how much it hurt.

The picture frame finally floated down into her luggage, joining her soft dresses. Her saddlebags came on next, her secret books and hidden things still inside. They may prove useful in the castle. One never knew when they’d need to sneak around somewhere, and Twilight did not like to be unprepared. Really, what else did she have? The blankets would not come with her. She would be given a room near Luna’s, any palace room would be well equipped in that regard. None of them had any sentimental value either, what use did she have for the nobles’ paltry gifts?

She stepped towards the door, taking one more look at the room. This was it. The last time she’d ever stay here. This room had been her home for twelve years now; it had been her refuge, her light in the darkness, And now, now she’d be living it for good. Despite her mental maturity, Twilight was still a filly, and a filly moving from her home couldn’t keep it together. Not perfectly, at least. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she looked on, memories flashing through her mind.

She remembered. She remembered Shining taking care of her when she was sick. He brought her soup right into bed, even carrying her into the bathroom if she needed it. He had worried that she caught the plague, worried that she’d share the same fate as their parents. She had been so young, so weak against the ravages of disease. Not many had thought she would make it, but somehow her young body came through.

She remembered. She remembered coming to her room as shelter after a long day. Back during the days when Quaker’s gang roamed free, her room remained a safe haven. Even they wouldn’t intrude on a pony’s inner sanctum like that. She came in here crying from a push down the stairs, or from a trip while carrying her food tray. Such had been the life before Shining had matured.

She remembered. She remembered the younger unicorns huddling in here during a storm. Remembered how scared they’d all been, how Sunset had managed to calm them down by telling funny stories. The night had somehow turned pleasant, even after all of them had succumbed to their fears.

She would never forget this place. How could she, when it had taken so utterly much of her life? Some part of her would remain here after she left, some important piece of her soul. No matter what happened after she left these walls, this was the place that had formed her. Nowhere else would have made the same pony, and with the results of her exam, she wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Twilight would miss it all. Miss their quiet nights before her sprints to the library. She’d miss her times with Shining. Sure, they’d see each other still, but it wouldn’t be the same, it couldn’t be the same. She’d even miss Sunset talking to her way too early in the morning, her optimism annoying but almost endearing at the same time. Life would certainly be different now. She’d have to remember to visit, lest she lose touch with who she really was. Twilight couldn’t just leave Matron behind like that, not after all she had done for her. There would be no way, no true way, to repair the gryphoness, but Twilight would be remiss if she didn’t at least try, it was her duty.

A light knock on the door frame jolted her from her thoughts. Matron stood still in it, clearly having watched her for the past few minutes. “Got something for ya, filly.” She spoke, her rasp especially bad this morning. Yet another reason to come back. Now that she had power, now that she could learn more, she could fix Matron’s throat, despite the injury long festering. Surely some palace healer, some well paid and trained cleric could find a way to turn back the ravages of infection. And yet, that wasn’t all. Perhaps more importantly, Twilight could find a way to fix her mind, find a way to fix whatever plagued her on those long, sad nights. She could never truly repair her, not for giving her life, but she could sure as hell try.

“W-what is it?” Twilight asked. The last time Matron had given her something, it was her mother’s dress. She never gave them gifts, not unless they had some intrinsic meaning or value to them. Matron didn’t have the bits to spare.

“One last gift of your mom’s. She wanted me to give it to you when you left the home.” Matron hesitated for a moment, shaking her head and sighing. “I had hoped it’d be earlier to this, and some other pony’s home, but still…” One of her talons rummaged under her wing, reaching up where it met her body. She grabbed something and pulled it out, holding it on a single talon in front of Twilight.

Her mother’s last gift amazed her. Her heart stirred, pulsing and skipping a beat as her eyes welled up with tears. Twilight had never owned much jewelry. The bits weren’t there, the excuse they used nearly every day. Her mother, bless her soul, had left her her first piece, the first thing to add to her collection. What kind of lady, what kind of Student of the Night, wouldn’t have something to decorate her body with? Twilight would stick out like a sore hoof against the beauties of the court, but with her mother’s last gift, the different wouldn’t be as great, wouldn’t be as obvious.

Suspended on Matron’s talon was a silver chain, the links so tiny she could barely see them. A single clasp kept it closed, the silver chain somehow shimmering in the darkness. Yet, the prize of the piece lay on the bottom. A six pointed star stayed suspended in the air, three of the points a brilliant silver, the other three the deep purple of her eyes. Something like this could’ve never been for her mother - the colors didn’t match. It had always been made for her. It had been created for her, lovingly designed by her mother, picked out just to suit her.

But how had they known? How had they known what her cutie mark would be? They’d died long before, died before she even turned two. Yet, here was her mother’s last gift, the perfect replica. Matron could’ve never afforded it, nor could anypony else in the orphanage. And really, the only pony who would’ve bought it would have been Shining. She would’ve known if he had done it - those bits didn’t come from nowhere.

“H-how?” Twilight croaked out, her throat feeling as if it was going to close up. She sniffed back tears, a wobbling hoof gently taking the chain from her Matron, her guardian. Her magic flicked the clasp open, hurrying to hang it around her neck. The cool silver felt brilliant against her coat, a reminder that it was always there, that her mother was always with her no matter what. Her trembling hoof lifted the star, taking a better look at it and bringing it close enough for her muzzle to blow hot air across the surface. Not a single flaw marred its surface, not a single bit of tarnish, not a single scratch. Nothing could be more complete, nothing could be more perfect, nothing could be so utterly and fully her.

“I can’t tell you that, little one.” Matron mumbled, voice lowering into nearly a whisper. “All I know is that she left it with the dress and a single letter explaining what to do with them. Your brother has a similar gift, though a bit different in focus.” Her father had given Shining a gift as well? Curiouser and curiouser. She had never known much about her parents, but now would be as good as any time to start researching.

Her hoof finally let go of the pendant, letting it settle again her chest. The weight felt right against her, like it had meant to always be there. Something electric pulsed through her body as it finally touched against the outside of the dress, almost as if magic shot through her like a lightning bolt. Her vision cleared of the gray shadows of sleep, the cobwebs in her mind disappearing in a flash and the soreness in her limbs melting away as if she’d slept for days instead of hours. The sliver of exhaustion she had got swept away, like all the ponies in the plague, like tiny castles in the sand. Now much closer to her, Twilight could feel the raging torrent of energy inside of the gems, barely contained within its prison. Made well, each and every gem could hold energy, energy that could readily be used for magic or enchantments. And this thing, this little inconspicuous gem was absolutely slammed with it.

Just what had Matron given her?

Twilight swept forward, this time hugging Matron instead of the other way around. Her hooves wrapped tight around the griffoness’s neck, holding her close as the tears started to come more eagerly. There would be no shame in crying, not on this day of all days. Twilight swore deep inside that she would see Matron again, she had to, had to make the promise to herself lest the goodbyes become too powerful. Her surrogate mother always believed in her, and Twilight needed to return the favor or she risked betraying thirteen years of love and affection. Matron’s talons brushed lightly at her mane, almost petting her, consoling her like a lost little puppy, or like a mare with her foal.

“I-I’m gonna miss you too.” Twilight mumbled out, muzzle buried against Matron’s feathers. Her voice broke under her worry. The future, whilst bright, remained uncertain. At least in the orphanage she knew her day to day life, knew the ins and outs. She travelled now to a foreign place, not by distance, but by culture. She didn’t fit with the nobles of the court, didn’t fit among the cultured students of the upper class. Her only life links, Shining and Sunset, would be far away at all times. Her isolation with Luna proved to be a double edged sword; her closeness with the Queen would undoubtedly lead to great opportunities, yet at the same time it separated her from even her other students. No more would Twilight exist under the shadow of the other orphans, no more would she stay hidden beneath Quaker’s ferocity, or Shining’s discipline. Twilight had become her own mare, her own agent of change, finally emancipated at the much too young age of thirteen.

“It’ll be alright.” Matron cooed, normally raspy, neutral voice going soft for the first time Twilight could remember. Her talons continued to stroke gently, letting Twilight simply cry it out for the time being. The little bundle of nerves that Twilight had become needed time to unravel, and what better way to do it than crying in the arms of one who loved her?

She hugged all the tighter as she started to calm down, her frantic mind finally finding some relief. She’d visit. She’d visit all the time. Once a week at the least; she’d do her absolute best to see Matron as much as possible! She could even bring Matron up to the castle, wouldn’t that be amazing? Matron would love to see that, and maybe she could donate some of her bits to the orphanage! Yes, everything would work out. It had to.

“Come on sweetie.” Matron whispered, patting her mane one last time. “Let’s go, they’re waiting for you.” Twilight finally, hesitantly released Matron from her grasp, though her movements could only be described as sluggish at best. Her magic lifted up her luggage, letting it trail behind her. To think, one luggage bin and two saddlebags held her entire life, to think that somepony could be so easily packed up into a little box. Her life had perhaps not been the best one, though undoubtedly the future looked bright and hopeful. “Lemme see that smile of yours.” Matron coaxed on, her own beak twisting up the tiniest bit.

Twilight gave her best. She really did, but the most she could manage was a wobbling, half smile, but the smile was there regardless. “Good girl.” Matron nodded, approvingly. Slowly, the gryphon led Twilight down the winding stairs, through the play room and out the doors for the last time.

Despite having seen it a million times before, Twilight couldn’t help but do her best to absorb the sights. No little detail escaped her gaze today, nothing. She saw it all, from the wooden blocks, half built into a castle, to the plush dolls strewn around in a corner. She could almost imagine the others playing with them, could almost imagine herself very long ago. She once had a doll of her own, a donkey if she remembered right. Briefly, Twilight tried to remember what happened to it, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember. Something bad had happened, but Twilight’s mind fought it down, leaving only the good, happy memories left over.

Her eyes even lingered on the front desk. How many times had she waited there, waited, just for a chance to be adopted? In a weird way, Twilight felt happy that it had never come to pass. Where would she have ended up if she had been adopted? Some noble family’s pet? Twilight would honestly rather die.

Finally, the pair passed through those front doors and out into the cool morning air. Matron had not lied. A chariot awaited them, decked out in the colors of the night. Opulence didn’t do it justice; the wheels were housed in obsidian cases, the chariot itself made of some dark, nearly pitch black metal. It didn’t just sit in the light, it seemed to suck it in. In the night’s sky, something like this would be nearly impossible to see, camouflaged against the cool darkness of the air. The interior seemed to be inlaid with silk, or some other soft fabric to stand on, colored in a light blue, the color of a night’s sky during a full moon. Reins led to the two stallion’s strapped to the front, both thestrals, bat winged ponies.

Even from this distance, Twilight could feel all sorts of layered spells on it. Spells for upkeep, spells to keep rust away, even security spells. What pony would be foolish to try and steal the chariot of the night? Twilight could only guess. Some serious spellwork had gone into this thing, some spells even Twilight couldn’t recognize. Actually, considering who’s it was, that didn’t mean much at all.

Shining and Sunset already waited, both standing in passenger area of the chariot. While clearly made for two ponies quite a bit bigger than any of them, the three had their luggage as well. They would fit, but it wouldn’t be the spacious ride that the chariot had been designed for. They’d only be flying for a few scant minutes, so it didn’t particularly matter, but it almost worried her. She may have had foolish thoughts, but what if one of them fell out?

Despite her rather morbid ideas, Matron lead Twilight close to the chariot, Sunset and Shining’s conversation dying out as she got close. Shining’s smile tilted down as she approached, his eyes almost scanning over her for injury. His eyes finally rested on her new pendant, finally stopping on her mother’s final gift. “Twily… it’s beautiful.” He whispered. He beckoned her close, pulling her into yet another hug. It seemed like the entire morning had been like that: soft words and close contact. Not that she complained about it, mind.

Twilight felt her luggage get enveloped by new magic, magic she recognized quite well. Sunset had taken her bags, gently guiding them into the chariot along with the two other ponies’ bags. As soon as the final goodbyes were said, they’d be off. Nothing here remained for them.

“Matron said you got something too.” She whispered back, their embrace slowly breaking. To her surprise, Shining’s face broke into a grimace. Ever the observant one, he even noticed the tell-tale signs of her shock: the widening eyes, the little worried glance.

“It’s fine, really. Just… unexpected.” Shining turned his body as much as he could in the chariot. A sheath was buckled to his waist, made of the finest quality leather she had ever seen. Their family’s crest was engraved on the side, clearly showing the Sparkle namesake and coat of arms. Of the sword itself, only the pommel and hilt could be seen. Like her necklace, the hilt consisted entirely of wrapped silver, culminating in easily the largest sapphire she had ever seen on the pommel. Even that had their coat of arms engraved into it. “It was dad’s.” Shining explained. “He wanted me to have it, just like Ma wanted you to have that necklace.”

A perfect gift for a budding guard. Just like as hers was for a mage.

“A matching set then.” Matron chuckled. Twilight nearly jumped against her brother, Matron somehow approaching without her noticing. The gryphon stared at them with an appraising eye, looking over their new gear. “You two have made me so proud. I’m sure I’ll see you both soon.”

Twilight’s heart swelled once again. She had heard it before, but she could never get tired of hearing it. Matron was proud of her. Somehow, she’d manage to succeed. Somehow, dreams did come true. “Now, if either of you two get homesick, you know where to find me. Boys, why don’t you take them off?” She asked, cracking a smile and a nod towards the stallions.

One huffed out a whinny of acknowledgement and they started to thunder down the street, putting an early end to their goodbyes. The sudden momentum nearly made Twilight fall out the back, but the strong hooves of her brother kept her in and in tight. “Are you excited, Twily?” Sunset asked, her own voice oddly subdued. The yellow mare barely peeked around her brother, her visage soft, caring. Perhaps the display had changed her yesterday. Perhaps her own magical might had finally broken through. Perhaps Sunset actually saw her as her own mare now, and not just Shining’s younger sister.

She heavily doubted it.

“Sure am.” Twilight admitted, shifting from hoof to hoof. Despite the tonal shift, she couldn’t force herself to look up at Sunset. Almost as if meeting her eyes would revert her back to that normal, annoying Sunset. “Lot to take in. But.. the Queen’s going to see me today, isn’t that amazing?” Just the thought of seeing that opulent, astounding mare again made Twilight’s resolve. Luna would be there to guide her every step of the way. The Queen herself would teach Twilight all that she knew. How could she go wrong with such a perfect mentor?

Somewhere, deep inside herself, Twilight had a niggling feeling as to why Luna had paid such attention to her. Yes, Luna could have likely felt her raw power, but that didn’t mean much in a unicorn. Any bumbling unicorn could walk around with magic to spare under their horn, but few could use it as it needed to be used. Few unicorns had the dedication and drive to accomplish what she had. Teleportation, with all its difficulties, all its risk, was not something that just any magic user would accomplish in their life. Yet, Luna couldn’t have known she would do that.


One option presented itself. It might be foolish, arrogant, pretentious and a dozen other things, but an option nonetheless. Her mentor could have played her hoof yesterday, revealed herself after all these years. Who else would’ve had access to the library so often? It had to be Luna didn’t it? She knew that Twilight would teleport, that was why she kept such a close eye on her. She wanted to gauge how far she’d come after all these years. She wanted to talk to her in person. It made total sense! Twilight would have to bring it up the minute they were alone.

“Yeah, lucky you!” Sunset finally answered back, just a slight giggle accompanying her words. Her gentle smile remained, eyes looking rather comforting and accommodating rather than bitter. “I think it’ll be good for you Twily, just like the guard will be good for this lump.” She added, with more than a little nudge to Shining.

“Hey! Right here ya know.” Shining said, a teasing frown taking over his face. He batted a hoof at Sunset’s muzzle, gently pressing her back from his side. Still, his false anger was clearly nothing more than a ruse, nothing more than gentle teasing between long-time friends. “And I’m sure the school will be good for you Sunny. Perhaps you might meet a mare?” He added on, eyes narrowing slyly at the mare.

Honestly, Twilight didn’t know that a yellow mare’s cheeks could go so red. She ducked her head, nearly hiding entirely behind Shining again. Sunset sputtered, trying to speak, trying to protest yet failing miserably. To Twilight at least, Sunset’s actions seemed more than a little silly; she quite obviously liked stallions, after all. Anypony that had seen the way she looked at Shining would know that. Of course, it would only be him that didn’t realize it. Perhaps coming from him made it all the more embarrassing.

Or perhaps Twilight had misjudged Sunset. Nah.

“H-hey, look!” Sunset yelped, pointing a still shaking hoof over the carriage. Twilight’s eyes finally left her brother for the first time. Somehow, in their conversation, she had managed to forget the fact that they flew. The night guard thestrals had taken to the air at the end of the street, bringing them high above the city. Below them, the lower districts sprawled. Everywhere she looked, Twilight say buildings. She saw everything; churches, houses, the markets, even her library, her precious, precious library. From her, it looked so small, so.. Insignificant. But that was everything; everything seemed like it could fit in the frog of her hoof, almost miniscule from that perspective.

And then she turned towards the upper districts. Her jaw dropped.

Twilight once thought the library massive. Three stories with cavernous roofs, nearly a cathedral instead of a library. At the time, she had felt tiny against it. How could she not? Each floor dwarfed her, each floor extended into the heavens. The staircases took her a while to ascend, showing just how truly large the building was. She had thought the same about the exam building yesterday. Once a manor, now changed, but still large.

Once her eyes fell on the palace, she realized how irrelevant those structures truly were. The castle stretched towards the sky, easily ten times taller than the library. Spires pierced the air, reaching even higher than they had done. The base of the castle stretched wide, made of pure stone, the entire structure white and spotless despite its age. The base itself easily supported the upper bits, shaped like an oval as far as Twilight could tell and easily a thousand yards across. The entryway stood several stories tall, great wooden doors made of some rich, lacquered wood. Twilight could only imagine the cost, the effort required to install such beasts. The roof, or what little there was that didn’t have towers, shone bright like the sun, a golden metal covering the entirety of the marvel.

Golden encrusted balconies perched on each tower every few floors, though there were three that had none except for the very top. There were, perhaps, seven spires in total, though they should more likely be called towers. Every tower cut through the air like a razor, shoring their own space in the air and staking their claim to the sky. Each extended wide enough to house the orphanage and rose dozens of stories into the sky. Twilight couldn’t particularly tell what they were for, to be honest. What would the purpose of having such massive towers be? They didn’t hold any intrinsic military or economic value, though one did seem to hold a telescope at the top. That at least, could prove useful for spells and studies.

A low wall surrounded the palace itself, though low in this case was entirely relative. It stood at least four stories tall, but the castle still dwarfed it regardless. It stretched around the castle grounds, the grounds themselves covering nearly as much land as Twilight’s entire district. Gardens spread across the earth below her, fantastical things, plants imported from all around. Ballrooms, entertainment pavilions, even greenhouses dotted the land as well, interspersed throughout the gardens and other fixtures. In one corner, Twilight could even make out a hedge maze, with the hedges at least twenty feet tall. Nothing grew like that without magic, right? Yet, Twilight couldn’t even imagine what sort of power would be needed, or even what sort of spell would use all of it.

Simply put: Wow.

Sunset had chosen quite the useful distraction.

Shining whistled, breaking Twilight’s reverie. “Quite the sight.” All three of them stared quite openly at the castle. Anypony could see the spires from the ground, from the lower districts, but to see it from the air? The perspective changed everything. The perspective made it impressive, took it beyond a castle and turned it into something extraordinary.

“Y-yeah.” Twilight answered, for once her voice sounding shaken. She had thought she knew something of magic, only to have her expectations shattered once again. Maybe she’d feel right at home here after all. Luna, her mentor, would teach her and she’d grow into a great mage. The greatest that ever lived probably. And she’d be able to help Matron and her other orphans… Twilight felt hopeful, oddly enough. She wasn’t really used to that feeling.

The stallions flew the trio ever closer, all three of them rendered speechless by the sight. The trip lasted naught but a few minutes total. To think, a trip that would take them hour and hours by hoof could be accomplished by the average pegasus in mere minutes. No small wonder that a great amount of them simply up and left during the start of the plague. Why risk it when you could easily get out of town? Many had retreated back, back to their ancestral hideaways of Cloudsdale, or Vanhoover. The Queen and Celestia had begged, bargained for them to stay and help, but they could only do so much.

The chariot landed in a cobblestone courtyard, right in the midst of the castle grounds. They hadn’t been brought to the main entrance, avoiding the mass of ponies struggling to seek entrance and audience with the Queen. Nay, their party had been taken to a side entrance, where they apparently were expected.

Guards formed a perimeter around the courtyard, some even posted up on a smaller internal wall, giving them leverage in case of disaster. Most seemed to be unicorns, but Twilight could spot a few pegasi and earth ponies as well. Really, she didn’t know why they were here, Three students were being escorted in and they needed an entire company of guards for it? That didn’t seem really necessary.

The reasoning made itself perfectly clear as soon as their chariot touched the ground. The door they faced was a simple one; a much smaller wooden door leading into a side hallway in the castle. The pony that waited inside it however…

Luna herself had come to greet them. In some ways, Twilight had expected that. Twilight’s new position meant she’d be seeing a lot of her in much more intimate ways than any other pony would. It should be no surprise that Luna had come to welcome them to the castle.

Today, the Queen had abandoned her armor. In its place, she had worn a wonderful silver dress, glimmering in the sun’s light like a jewel on the earth. The bodice split open, though the split was decorated with a light blue lace. The dress covered each of her limbs as well, ending with more of the blue lace trimming each of them. It went long, long enough for the skirts to drift against the ground as she walked, the end of it also trimmed with that familiar lace. Just the hint of silver shoes peeked out from underneath the front of her sleeves as well. Today, she had worn little extra, just two silver loops pierced through the tip of her ears.

Luna smiled as they landed, stepping forward into the cool morning sun. The light hit her mane just right, flashing off her earrings and making her somehow appear more brilliant than ever. She radiated majesty, radiated regality. Nopony could dare to look upon her and not see the image of a Queen.

The three stepped out from the carriage, each of them falling into a deep bow. Twilight learned after yesterday; everypony needed to bow before the goddess, even her. After her stunt yesterday, she’d received quite the scathing from Luna’s aide after the fact. Some decorum needed to be kept in tact, some pomp and circumstance there for a reason. When the pony in question happened to hold the power of a celestial body and could crush you like an ant, respect was more than deserved. Twilight could always respect power.

“My dear student, we are most pleased to see you.” Luna spoke. Despite popular belief, the Lunar Queen did not shout her words. She didn’t need to. Each word, each sentence oozed power on its own. Twilight could feel the might, the unrestrained strength behind each and every one. Shouting might be more impressive for those who lacked subtlety, but the Queen had that in spades. Her voice alone made Twilight want to prostrate herself before her ruler. To the unicorns, the power it exudes felt nigh-undeniable. She barely knew her, and Twilight already felt that she would die for her Queen.

“Guards, please escort my student’s companions to their quarters. Take her bags to her rooms as well, there are things we need to discuss.” The surrounded guards hurried to obey, each movement disciplined and direct. They knew what they were doing, clearly drilled to perfection. But, this also meant that Twilight would be split from her friends. She expected it, but never this soon. She needed more time, needed time with Shining. She couldn’t spend hours with the Queen alone, what if she messed something up? What if she offended her? What if-

Shining wrapped his hooves around her, planting a soft kiss on her forehead and bringing her back into a standing position. “Calm down. It’ll be fine, go with the Queen alright? I’ll see you later. Let’s try for dinner.” He said, softly. Twilight numbly nodded and her brother released her, his gentle smile staying plastered on his face. Right, okay, everything would be fine.

“Okay. Later.” Twilight promised, giving a little nod of her head. She turned towards the Queen, affixing her own smile back on tight. “Your highness, thank you for having me.” She dipped her head once more, never for an instant dropping her respect.

“Walk with me, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna instructed. She turned back to the doorway, clearly expecting Twilight to follow. Really, there couldn’t be a single spark of doubt in her mind. Twilight darted forward, falling in line a few steps behind her new mentor. Her eyes locked onto the much larger mare, following her into the castle itself.

Instantly, Twilight felt the opulence around her. The two had entered into what would probably be a normal hallway in the castle, yet it held more value, more worth than the entire orphanage combined. It might’ve even been two or three times! The door dumped them right into the midst of a hallway, clearly this port designed to be one relatively hidden. Two guards stood stationed on each side of the door, ensuring that no common ponies would find their secret entrance.

The hallway itself seemed brilliant, at least to Twilight. It wasn’t too wide, just wide enough for Twilight and Luna to walk side by side with a few feet to spare. From the inside, the arching windows were more clearly seen, more easily distinguished against the stone of the outside wall. The architect of the castle had spaced them evenly, letting natural light flood in through the clear glass. The windows themselves were square at the base, meeting at points at the very top, easily extended high into the walls. The ceiling arched up, going high above Twilight, easily two stories rather than one. The outside wall curved in slowly, meeting the interior. Doors scattered down the hall, not so evenly spaced down the right side.

Paintings, portraits of famous ponies throughout the ages, hung on the walls opposite the windows. The light from the windows shone directly onto them, providing a perfect illumination of the works of art. Twilight could already recognize a few of them from her position by the door: Starswirl, Nadermane, Silent Knight, and more and more ponies stretched down the hallway. All of them were household names, though often for vastly different things. Starswirl the wizard, Nadermane the musician, Silent Knight the loyal guardian and all the rest of them stayed enshrined forever within the castle.

Hanging from the rafters, great, glass chandeliers floated above their heads suspended only by gold-washed chains. The chandeliers were truly masterful works of glass and metal, easily a hundred points of light on each. But no candles stayed fast within their holders; nay, mage-light lit them instead, a soft, yellow glow filling the air around them. During the day, they were hardly needed, but during the night they’d provide a warm radiance to keep the castle well lit. Twilight could only imagine the cost of each of them. Each and every one of them could’ve fed half the lower districts for a month.

Twilight had never seen such grandeur in her life. Even the library paled in comparison, and they were barely inside the castle. Apparently, the Queen noticed her roaming eyes.

“Do you like what you see, little one?” Luna asked. Twilight’s head snapped back to the Queen, a light flush covering her face. She nodded her head quickly, her tongue suddenly feeling rather large inside of her mouth.

“U-Um, yes your highness!” She quickly sputtered out. “It’s really impressive! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

Luna laughed. Twilight felt like she was about to melt through the floor. Luna’s laugh had an otherworldly feel to it, almost like it had the bells from the aether laughing along with her. Her laugh sent a chill through Twilight’s bones, but not one from pain nor pleasure. She couldn’t place where it had came from, yet goosebumps raised on her skin regardless. Luna’s laugh somehow both sent Twilight into the depths of despair as well as the absolute heights of levity at the same time, a complex bittersweet feeling coursing through her. It would take a while to get used to that. And yet, through all that, it somehow retained its pleasantness. Twilight would kill to hear it again.

“Relax, my student. We were merely jesting.” Luna explained. A joke? Honestly, with her divinity and regality, Twilight hadn’t been sure the Queen remained capable of making a joke! Twilight had almost thought that the Queen would be completely serious all the time, always business, always thoughtful. But no, her expectations were broken once again. How foolish she was being today.

“Right, excuse me your highness.” Twilight replied, feeling a blush rise back through her cheeks. Luna led them deeper into the castle, Twilight starting to get a little disoriented. They stayed close to the outer wall, giving her an odd sense of sameness. No matter how far they travelled into it, everything seemed to be the same. The windows, the paintings, albeit of different ponies, and even the interspaced doors continued on, the sameness starting to get to her. It almost seemed like they weren’t moving at all.

“Your highness?” Twilight started. “If you don’t mind me asking, where are we going?”

“To my tower, Twilight. Or do you prefer Sparkle?” Luna asked, tilting her head towards the younger mare. Their eyes locked for just a second, sending a shiver down Twilight’s spine. Her eyes seemed to gaze right into her soul, almost seeing right through her rather than looking at her.

“Twilight is fine, your highness.” Twilight broke their gaze as soon as possible, diverting her eyes back to the ground below her. Any more and Twilight would lose herself in Luna’s eyes. It was so hard to tear herself away, so hard to make herself not look. Oh, how she wished she could just keep staring, but that would hardly be proper.

“Very good. You’ll live with me, Twilight.” Luna explained. “The tower has several living spaces, but you’ll be given the one right below mine. My teaching will be greatly eased if we’re close together. And, you’ll have full access to my library.” Twilight’s head jolted back up. Luna might as well have told Twilight she’d gift her the kingdom. Luna’s private library? Twilight didn’t know what would be held within, but it had to be something not seen in any normal one. Spellbooks of unimaginable power perhaps? Or maybe tomes about the history of the alicorns. Or even Luna’s own journal! Twilight could barely wait to get her hooves on it!

She hadn’t even realized that her eyes had started sparkling somewhere during her thoughts. Luna noticed however, and smiled at her. “I thought you would enjoy that. We’re nearly there now.” She gestured forward with a hoof, sleeved dress swishing through the air.

Before them, the walls finally ended, curving around a corner instead. A circle bulged out from the walls, carving out where a tower would start to ascend. But no stairs anchored themselves at the bottom of the tower. Instead, a plate of metal sat, clearly rather thin and not entirely solid. Instead of being solid, the metal had been worked into designs, little flowers appearing in each quartet, culminating in a moon in the dead center. The entire thing seemed to be made from gold, though Twilight couldn’t be sure. How would that really help them in the tower?

Two guards waited here as well. Neither of them wore the standard palace guard armor, the normal light, almost ceremonial armor. Instead, the two equipped themselves with quite a bit more. Plate covered their forms, a dark metal much like the one that Luna had worn into the training field. The plates were cut small, almost looking like dragon scales against their form instead of standard metal armor. Instead of covering them too much, the armor hugged their forms, keeping their movement unrestrained, unrestricted. The two each wore a helmet as well, a centurion style deal with holes cut for sharpened horns to stick through.

Unlike the ones outside, this armor didn’t have an enchantment on it. Most of the guards had an aesthetic enchantment, keeping them uniform and indistinct, even when hundreds of them gathered together. As far as Twilight could tell, it defaulted to white coated, blue maned look, something neither of these two had. The first one still had the white coat of normal guard, though it held a shimmer that the other guards couldn’t hope to compare. Her mane differed even more greatly from the standard affair. Instead of the normal darkish-blue, the mare’s mane stood out as a bright turquoise. And even further from the norm, the tips were dyed a bright pink, complimenting her near shimmering coat quite wonderfully.

Her fellow guard stuck out like a sore hoof against her armor. At least the first mare had a similar aesthetic going on with the black and white. The second on, however, didn’t even look close. Her light yellow coat made her look much more suited for the solar guard rather than the lunar one, and her bright orange and yellow mane equally clashed against the dark armor. Both of them had three of some kind of weird lines on their armor, but Twilight had no idea as to what that meant. She hadn’t the faintest idea about military matters. Regardless, the two mares saluted at Luna, the yellow one even giving her a rather exuberant smile. Luna returned their greeting with a nod of her own, even adding on a pleased smile.

Luna at least, seemed unconcerned about how they would get up, stepping onto the platform and clearly expecting Twilight to follow. Their hooves made a light clattering on the plate, loud enough to echo through the hall. Twilight looked up, seeing a barely imaginable expanse stretching on into darkness. Somewhere, way up high, Twilight could make out a few pinpoints of light, but how were they expected to get up? Twilight had no doubt that Luna could simply teleport the distance, but her own was suspect at best. She could try it, but that didn’t guarantee success. In fact, she’d be willing to put bits on failure.

Twilight’s head dipped back down, settling on Luna’s side, just below her neck. She made sure not to look into her eyes anymore, lest the Night Mare interpret it as disrespectful. “Your highness… how exactly is this going to get us to your room?” She asked.

Luna’s only answer was a smile. Her horn lit up, a brilliant blue that filled the little rotunda of space. The platform started to glow, the symbols all around the platform starting to shine with her magic. Slowly, ever so slowly, the platform started to rise. Up the two went, ascending up into the tower. The platform raised the, powered by Luna’s magic. “It’s an elevator. I’m unsurprised you’ve never seen one before.” Luna explained, seemingly pleased with herself.

Twilight’s legs wobbled, her heart beat fast, and she stared straight down. Oh goddesses, they moved so far up, so fast all at once. The platform moved faster and faster, levitating up stories upon stories all at once. Faster and faster, till the walls turned into a bit of a blur. Nausea filled Twilight’s mind, almost making her want to vomit all over again.

Yet, barely a minute passed before it all abruptly came to a stop. The walls opened on either side of her, creating an archway into the room beyond on both sides. Twilight, however, barely felt well enough to raise her head. That monstrosity, that beast of a transport scared Twilight beyond. Why in Equus’s name did something like that exist? Why weren’t stairs enough? Sure, there would have to be hundreds and hundreds of stairs up the tower, but that was more than worth it instead of getting on that stupid platform! How would Twilight even power it if she wanted down?

“Heads up, student of mine.” Luna’s voice had turned into something of a purr, sounding nearly like a cat with a bowl of cream. Weakly, she raised her head, looking through the portal and trying to compose herself again. The sight beyond did well enough to perk her up. It did well enough to perk anypony up.

Beyond the archway existed the most richly decorated room that she had ever seen. Directly in front of her, two glass and wood doors led out onto a balcony. Two deep azure curtains were tied off to the side, letting plenty of natural light into the room. The glass inside each held a designed pattern, each of them depicting the Queen or Celestia. The left one held the image of Celestia, the glass designed to make it look as if Celestia lay in a bed of roses. Quite honestly, Twilight felt as if she should be impressed. Yet, at the same time, she couldn’t say she was. Celestia had never appealed to her, not in the same way.

The other one, oh yes the other one, struck a much deeper chord with Twilight. It was Luna, obviously enough. Luna with her mane strewn out behind her. Her tail and mane split off, giving the illusion of the night sky spreading out behind her. Twilight felt as if she could see the entire night within it. She saw the constellations, the little and big dippers, all of the famous warrior ponies of old, all of the intricate and beautiful designs that her new mentor had painted over the years. Celestia’s glass looked beautiful, but Luna’s elevated beauty into a new form, a transcendent display of the art.

And that paled in comparison to the rest of the room. The walls curved, the tower clearly still circle shaped. It seemed that the castle at large had an attraction towards that sort of shape, not that Twilight could complain about it. Two books cases flanked each side of the balcony doors. Neither one of them held much for now, but Twilight could imagine them filled up quite easily. The bottom two shelves of each were stuffed tight, Twilight recognizing each and everyone one of them. The first was Starswirl’s theory of Time, another Mariel’s Fifth, yet another by Piercing Light, a famous battle mage. On and on those two shelves went, clearly stacked with tomes on all sorts of magic. Twilight had read a few of them, but most she had only seen as references. She could barely wait to dive on in, to make every one of them her new friend.

Her gaze drifted, starting to expand beyond the bookshelves, beyond the balcony. It fell onto a writing desk now, a single candle holder on the right side. The left held an ample supply of quills, ink, and paper. The desk itself had been finely crafted out of a rich mahogany, the deep dark colors keeping in tune with the rest of the rooms soothing, cool colors. Above the desk hung a picture, one painted by some famous artist or another. This too stayed themed with images of the night, depicting a starry night and a lavender mare looking up at it longingly. It almost looked like Twilight in an odd way.

On her vision roamed, seeing another entrance to the balcony. She had spun in a circle now, looking directly back from where she had originally started. These had their drapes pulled tight, the cool blue blocking out the natural light. One either side of the balcony doors, a dresser sat, also made of some sort of dark wood. Each one of them had five spacious drawers, each of them taller than Twilight herself. What pony would ever need that much room? She was at a bit of a loss for that.

Finally, she turned to the piéce de resistance. What bedroom could dare to say it was completed without the bed? And there it stood, in all it’s proud glory. The bed was queen sized - and Queen sized - and layered with opulence. A light canopy hung around the bed, a gauzy blue that only barely hid whatever was inside. The frame itself had clearly been produced by some master craftsman. The legs and bottom of the frame showed engravings of some epic party, scenes of all the pony races in fantastic outfits cut right from a fairytale. Twilight thought she could even spot a group of ponies gathered around an alicorn, though which she couldn’t tell.

As with every other type of wood in this room, the frame had been made from the same darkened wood. It rose up further from the ground, cradling the mattress itself. At its highest, the mattress actually stood above Twilight herself, clearly stuffed with padding she had never even dreamed of. She could already see herself sinking into it, sinking beneath that pillowy fluffiness.

A comforter rested atop the sheets, this one a light blue, much like the gauzy canopy. Darker lowlights ran through it, almost forming vine-y patterns. The top folded back in over itself, setting the stage for the pillows. Seven total finished out the bed, four decorative ones that matched the comforter flushed out the back, making the appearance complete. Two pillows with darker blue pillowcases rested against them. Just from the look of the two, Twilight could tell that they had been created with pegasus feathers. She’d heard of such pillows, seen them, but never actually tried one for herself. Supposedly, they felt like heaven itself against your sleepy head. The foremost pillow changed it up from the last ones, this one a plush pillow of a crescent moon.

Completing the symmetry of the room, each side of the bed had their own nightstand, though they were entirely empty for now. What a clean room.

Twilight finally looked back up to her mistress, though she still kept her eyes low. “Your room is wonderful your highness. It’s truly beautiful, thank you for showing me.” She mumbled, a tinge of jealousy in her voice. What would her own room be like? Surely, they could afford to give the students nice rooms, but what real point was there to it? Enough of them would move into the castle to make the student’s wing a little cramped, so the rooms did have to be small to keep everypony in a central place. If only she could have something like this.

Yet, Luna once again laughed, sending that thrill of totally-not-pain through her. She shivered, gritting her teeth but very slowly starting to get used to that unique sound. “Twilight, dear, this isn’t my room.”

Hm? Then who’s room was i-- Oh. Oh, oh, oh! Who else would live here, who else but--

“Welcome home, magelet.”

Author's Note:

Surprise early chapter go?