• Published 19th Feb 2017
  • 1,870 Views, 23 Comments

Control Freak - Pascoite

The nightmares started… Twilight can’t remember just when. But they’ve gotten worse and worse, and why won’t Luna help, and now they’ve even stopped bothering her. That scares her more than any nightmare ever did.

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Chapter 2: Breaking Point

Twilight sat at one of the cafe’s outdoor tables with her chin propped on a hoof. Ponies trotted about Ponyville, going this way and that to whatever tasks occupied their mundane lives. There went Plumb Bob off to some carpentry project, Kit and Kaboodle heading back to their craft store, Mrs. Cake taking the babies for a walk. Just the usual midday traffic. A hind leg continuously tapping against her chair, Twilight slumped her shoulders and watched the stroller pass.

Actually, Mrs. Cake wasn’t so bad. Fairly businesslike, caught up in her work. Celestia knew how she managed to put up with Pinkie Pie, though.

Twilight levitated another few stalks of hay off her plate and chewed at them as an afterthought. She could almost take a nap, even though she’d been sleeping better, no thanks to Princess Luna.

“A refill on your water, ma’am?”

Twilight returned a slack-jawed look for a moment until her eyes came back into focus. “Yeah.” She drained the last few swallows from her glass and shoved it over to the table’s edge, where the waitress poured her some more from a pitcher.

Over the waitress’s shoulder, Twilight could see Rarity trotting toward her boutique, each hoofstep sending up a little puff of dust into the dry air. Twilight’s gaze automatically popped up to the black clouds crouched over the edge of town like a great panther. It wouldn’t be dry much longer…

When Twilight looked back down, the waitress had gone. Rarity let out a gasp and approached the table. Perfect. Yet another pony who didn’t appreciate the value of silence.

“Oh, hello there, Twilight!” Rarity chirped, breaking from the sunny tune she was humming. She unlaced the silk tie under her chin and levitated her broad-brimmed white hat onto the table. “And how are you this fine day?” The thunderheads behind her, she flicked a hoof toward the clear eastern sky.

Twilight grunted. Some ponies only saw what they wanted to see.

“Oh… an iced tea, please,” Rarity said to the waitress who had materialized beside her, then floated a compact out of her saddlebag and dabbed a fresh coat of powder onto her cheeks. She smiled into her mirror, then leaned over the table with a glint in her eye. “I must tell you, Twilight—I had the most wonderful idea today.” Giving her mane a toss, she reached for Twilight’s hoof.

A chill running through her face, Twilight fought the urge to jerk her hoof back. She clenched her jaw and closed off her throat against the rising growl—

“Here you are, dear,” the waitress said as she set Rarity’s tea down, and after smiling her thanks, Rarity diverted her hoof over to corral the glass and take a sip.

“Anyway,” she said as Twilight slowly let out a long breath. “It seems to me that our Elements of Harmony were such pretty things, but of course, they really weren’t the sort of accoutrement we could have worn in public—perish the thought!”

Twilight forced an exaggerated grin, but if Rarity detected any insincerity, she didn’t show it. She kept babbling on about whatever unimportant thing had grabbed her fancy that afternoon, but… Now that Twilight thought about it, she did have a nice voice. Not when she was whining, of course, but get her in her element, when there was an impetus behind her speech, and her passion showed through. If Twilight concentrated, she could tune out the words and hear only the lilting, lyrical quality. Little melodies, building momentum here, a trill of laughter there, all falling into a steady rhythm and settling in a resolute tone, only to start again with the next thought. Twilight leaned her cheek against her hoof again.

“…Would be tantamount to flaunting them, I'd think, which just isn't becoming of a lady. In any case…”

After a sigh and a roll of her eyes, Twilight glanced down at Rarity's coat. Well-kept, and a rather fetching shade of ivory. Pretty eyes, and that mouth… A frown stole over Twilight's face as Rarity kept flapping her gums and spewing meaningless words. How had she never noticed that none of her friends knew when to be quiet? She could easily fuse that mouth shut, sew it closed with her own thread. She had to stifle a giggle at the thought, but Rarity wasn't paying her any attention, as usual. Seal those pearly teeth behind…

Actually, Rarity did have a nice mouth, too. That little dimple that formed right near the corner whenever she was tickled about something, the glossy lip balm she had in inexhaustible supply… the way she carefully formed each word, like a sculptor obsessing over the finest nuances of shape.

“…A line of custom jewelry. Just think of it!” Rarity's eyes glimmered, and her hooves gesticulated wildly with each sentence. “Pendants, necklaces, chokers, all proudly displaying a gem version of the wearer's own cutie mark! Of course, it would be difficult to produce them at an appreciable pace…”

Appreciable. Twilight played the scene back in her mind and savored every detail. The way Rarity's lips touched lightly, delicately, to form that “p”—only enough to utter it subtly, not force it out like some bitter pill. How she didn't slur the “i” and “a” together into one indistinguishable wad of sound. The fragile curl at the tip of her tongue when she pronounced the final “l,” like the airy sorbet that ends a fine meal with a contented whisper.

Her head sinking harder against her hoof, Twilight let an easy smile invade her features. Yes, no need to stop that lovely voice, as long as she could ignore the meaning. Style over substance, after all. That certainly described Rarity.

So Twilight let the mellifluous tones wash over her ears, hearing them flit up toward the sky, then cascade back to the earth, like the trickle of a mountain rill over the rocks. Just the sound, the enunciation, not the insipid message. Every few seconds, the light breeze would stir up the soft tips of that immaculate coat and carry the exquisite scent of her oleander perfume. Twilight’s gaze wandered up to Rarity’s eyes and lingered there, transfixed, as a warmth slowly suffused her body.

“…Twilight?” Rarity cleared her throat. “Twilight?”

Twilight blinked and shook her head. “Oh, I’m sorry.”

“So what do you think?”

A lot, actually. Twilight’s mind whirled with several disjoint trains of thought, none related to what Rarity had been saying. But all of those trains surged forward, their momentum carrying them to the same destination: If you want something, take it.

“Um… Rarity, it’s pasta night tonight. Maybe you could join me?” Don’t sound so weak. Power is confidence. You don’t ask; you take. Twilight forced her eyebrows back down. It was a statement now, not a question.

“Twilight, you know the Chamber of Commerce meets tonight,” Rarity said, waving Twilight’s request aside. “So what do you think of my idea?”

“Oh. Right.” Twilight’s ears drooped, and she returned a tight-lipped smile. “Tomorrow, then?”

“Twilight, I…” Rarity’s eyes traced down a bit to where Twilight could feel her blush radiating like a hot coal. “Oh, Twilight, I… I-I’m sorry—I don’t…”

Icy bolts forked like lightning through Twilight’s chest, and her head throbbed. “It’s… okay. Forget about tomorrow.”

“No, no, Twilight. Please don’t take it the wrong way—It’s not that I’m not flattered, but—”

Twilight had never seen Rarity get flustered quite like this before. But now she had to listen to what Rarity was saying again instead of just enjoying the music. Flattered? She’d better be flattered. She considered herself such a prize, but the real rarity was a pony with Twilight’s talent. Stuck-up bi—

Wait. She didn’t really feel that way about Rarity, either. Then why? Sure, she was pretty, and those lips… but Twilight hadn’t exactly kissed anypony before. And a kiss from Rarity really would be something to brag about.

That was it.

Rarity made such a show of playing hard-to-get with everypony. But Twilight could get whatever she wanted. Take it. That’s what the magic is for.

Some rather interesting spells had come to light while researching the Cutie Mark Crusaders’ “accidental” use of love poison that Hearts and Hooves Day…

Rarity had finished saying whatever she had to say and gazed back, waiting for a reply. That vapid stare. It almost pained Twilight to see it on a fellow unicorn. Or former fellow—

“Tonight it is, then,” Twilight said.

“Hm?” Rarity knit her brow and cocked her head as Twilight gradually brought a subtle glow to her horn.

Dawn Ember trotted in from the hall and through Princess Luna’s study, on the way to the laboratory with another tray of soil samples balanced on her back. On any given day, her teacher might stay riveted to whatever she had on her desk, she might smile an acknowledgement, or she might ask about the latest round of experiments. She even tended to wear a bigger grin when Ember had a date planned, or not a date, or—she squeezed her eyes shut for a second. It was complicated. But how did Princess Luna know? Ember couldn’t remember ever having mentioned Copper to her. Today, though, she looked up once. Just a perfunctory glance. But her head whipped right back up again.

Ember stopped short, and three of the specimen jars toppled onto the rug. She even backed away one step as that intense stare approached. “Princess?”

Her eyes wide, Ember held still as Luna circled her. She even looked like she was sniffing and tasting the air as Ember might, but… the Princess couldn’t do that. She didn’t have that kind of magic.


Luna cocked her head. “By any chance, are you the pony having those… odd dreams?”

“N-no!” Ember stood up straight and blew her tangled forelock out of her eyes. Why would Luna think that? “I would have told you! I-I mean… how would I even know?”

“True…” Luna stopped pacing, a hoof held to her chin. “It would feel like you had thoughts you did not want, I suppose. We remain who we are in a dream, after all. You would have done things vastly different from what you would have chosen.”

A smirk danced its way across Ember’s lips. “I wouldn’t exactly choose to go swimmin’ in a pond full o’ grape soda, but I dreamed it the other night…”

Briefly, Princess Luna looked away. “No, I—” She blinked and pursed her lips, then met Ember’s gaze again. So… she really was serious. “I try not to intrude in dreams where I am not needed. And I prefer to stay out of the dreams of ponies I know well. It can be… awkward. But I still get impressions, hints from ponies, like I do now. And I could have sworn…”

She shook off whatever thought had gotten stuck in her head and walked back to her desk with a small frown. “You would know,” Luna said. “I could not see the dreams directly, but they had nothing outlandish or fantastic like—” she muffled a snicker with her hoof “—a pond of grape soda.” But her sudden smile faded just as quickly. “I mean something like harming your family and… liking it.”

Another jar fell to the floor. “N-no! Princess Luna, no! I would have told you! Please, I—” A raised hoof stalled her, and… well, the Princess didn’t look angry.

“I apologize. My error. For some reason, it felt very similar to you, just then, but I do not know…” Too quickly, Luna became absorbed in her documents again. “Please, go back to your work. I am sorry to have bothered you.”

After a moment’s pause, Ember crouched down to pick up the fallen bottles. Then she returned, as ordered, to the laboratory. Princess Luna never broke her gaze from her papers.

Twilight flipped another page of the new Daring Do novel as the rain pounded and the wind howled outside. The book had shown up a day early, a fact which Twilight had conveniently forgotten to share with Rainbow Dash. She was busy with the storm anyway.

From the kitchen, the sound of boiling water rolled, barely audible over the deluge. Spike was off doing something with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Twilight didn’t even remember what he’d said they had planned, but he wouldn’t return home for another few hours still.

A soft knock sounded at the door, and Twilight’s ears swiveled toward it as her smirk leached all the warmth from the room. She slid a bookmark into place and trotted over to the entrance quickly—no need to keep Rarity out in the rain. With a flourish, she opened the hidden door at the back of the castle and swept a hoof toward her private apartment. “Welcome, Lady Rarity! How good of you to join me in a repast this fine evening.”

For a moment, Rarity lingered on the stoop, her coat radiating the orange glow of the dying sun still visible in the last patch of clear horizon. She then stepped inside and levitated her umbrella to a clear spot on the floor. Giving a coy little smile, she trotted over to take one of the seats at the table Twilight had prepared, Twilight’s quickened pulse matching her hoofbeats.

Beautiful mane, flawless coat. Those ocean-hued eyes that hinted at similar depths… but sadly there were none. A shallow bauble on hooves. At least this particular love charm had the side effect of rendering the subject mute. The spellbook had listed that as a defect, and Twilight had to admit that in most cases, it would seem so. But not this one.

Twilight strolled into the sphere of dancing candlelight around the table and helped slide Rarity’s chair closer, then trotted to the kitchen to retrieve the evening’s meal. She turned off the stove’s burners, scooped up helpings of pasta, doled out spoonfuls of sauce, and grated some cheese on top, finally balancing a warm, crusty roll on the edge of each plate. And back to the table with their dinner, which landed gently in front of each of them.

Grinning demurely, Rarity averted her eyes and hunched her shoulders up. A brief, silent giggle made her head bob as she nudged her glass toward Twilight with a hoof, the twin flickers of light illuminating her features.

While she poured cider into each of their goblets, Twilight sought out those eyes again where they lay shrouded beneath Rarity’s mane. She reached a hoof out and turned Rarity’s chin forward again, but couldn’t make herself meet that gaze.

What was it about her eyes? They’d always had some unexplainable quality that drew everypony in.

Twilight sat in her chair and beckoned toward Rarity’s plate. She levitated her own fork up to enjoy that afternoon’s effort of spaghetti pomodoro.

Sampling for herself, Rarity twirled her fork to snare up a small nest of noodles and tomatoes, then savored a delicate bite. She bounced her shoulders in tacit laughter and floated a serviette up to dab some sauce from her lip. Alas, pasta never was particularly conducive to remaining spotless.

There were those dimples again…

Rarity leaned forward, half-lidded eyes at once questioning and insisting. Those eyes. A chill streaked down Twilight’s back, leaving her coat standing on end, as she mirrored the gesture. Their muzzles hovered just inches apart, and Twilight could feel Rarity’s warm breath on her nose. Those eyes, deep pools of crystal purity, gazing back with… a faint purple glow.

Twilight hesitated, drew back for a second. It wasn’t real. But so what? She would have her prize just the same.

Her resolve hardened, Twilight squinted into those eyes again, into the purple glow again, into… her own reflection. Her own face, her own eyes…

Twilight’s breath caught in her throat.

Her… own eyes… glowing green, dark mist trailing from the corners. She shrieked and backed away from the table, tripping over her chair and tumbling to the floor. How…?

Her chest heaving, Twilight stared up at Rarity, who just stood there, watching, judging. “What!?” Twilight screamed.

Rarity smiled softly and batted her eyelashes, exactly as she was supposed to do.

“This isn’t my fault!” Twilight shouted, a sob erupting from her chest as she pushed herself along the floor, away from that impassive figure towering over her.

Rarity smiled softly and batted her eyelashes, exactly as she was supposed to do.

“Don’t you look at me like that! Go home! Just go home…” Twilight hid her face in her hooves and cried as quietly as possible. “Please…” she hissed, “just go home, and forget this ever happened.”

Rarity smiled softly and batted her eyelashes, exactly as she was supposed to do. Then, along the walk home, in the driving rain and without her umbrella, she forgot.

Hours later, Twilight heard Spike come in through the front door, walk past two barely touched dinners and two guttering candles, and stop in front of her, where she’d stayed all evening: huddled in the corner and bleeding emptiness all over the floor.

“T-Twi, what’s wrong?” he said hurriedly, in an unnaturally low tone. “Please, what’s wrong?”

She could hear the faint scratching of his claws on the floorboards as his knees quivered.

“What happened?”

She never looked up. “Spike, I-I need to send a letter to Princess Celestia. Now.”

Silence. Normally, she would have repeated herself, but… he must be shocked. Yes. That was logical. She would give him a minute.

“Y-yes, Twilight. Right away.” He jogged over to the writing desk and pulled out a blank scroll and a quill, then rushed back. “What do you want me to write?”

Logic, facts, figures—Twilight could focus on those. They were calming, definite, fixed. “I don’t know.” That was a fact: a fact that she had no facts, except that one, and… Her body started shaking again. “Just tell her—tell her I need her help. And quickly.”

Spike scrawled something in haste, probably illegible, and then came the soft crackle of its remains heading toward Canterlot. Twilight felt a claw on her shoulder. She cried into her hooves as he sat silently beside her. Sometimes, her friends did know when to be quiet.

Less than an hour later, among the fat raindrops the clouds continued flinging at the ground, a chariot landed in the street outside.

Twilight stared at the wall of a rather spartan room in Canterlot Castle. She sat bundled in a blanket on a hard stone bench, and she remembered being wet, but… she thought she was dry now. Yes, her forelock lay plastered against her face, but it had stopped dripping. So why was she shivering?

Her head bobbed forward a little with each heartbeat. How long had she even been sitting here? Was it morning now? The small disc of wall she could see through her tunnel vision revealed nothing. She didn’t remember sleeping. She did remember… something crumbled, darkness, lurching around in the wetness and the wind. But it was all a gray blur.

And Spike. He’d helped her. Was it morning now? How long had she sat here?

She’d… wronged her friends somehow. No! They’d wronged her. They’d held her back, made her weak. Where had that other Twilight gone? She always made sense, gave such good advice. If only she could sleep. How long had she even been sitting on that cold bench? Was it morning yet?

Scowling, Twilight brushed at some dark shape that kept teasing at the edges of her vision and glanced around the room. It was little more than a widened section of hallway, except for the ornately carved wooden double doors across from her, with a guard on either side. Why hadn’t she noticed them until now?

This was… one of the non-public side doors into the throne room. Why was she here? She could ask the guards, but they wouldn’t help—they were very pointedly not looking at her. To the left, the hallway merely came to a dead end, but to the right, it ran—

Twilight jumped, and her heart pounded. Princess Luna stood there, motionless and expressionless, just another part of the stone wall. She wouldn’t help, either. Twilight remembered her. She remembered being very angry with her. Her scowl deepening, Twilight gritted her teeth as the fog lifted from her mind.

Luna had never helped her with those horrible nightmares—in fact, Luna had probably sent them in the first place. Jealous of her favor with Celestia, jealous of her growing power. But that other Twilight had shown her the way, and she was better for it. Twilight continued to glare, but Luna showed no reaction, just staring back implacably, as if studying a laboratory specimen.

With a loud click, the large doors opened, and buzzing conversation echoed from within, a few empty suits prattling on about “the state of the Crystal Empire.” Twilight’s ears perked toward Princess Celestia, trotting out the far side of the room. Then Princess Cadance and Shining Armor slipped out, not even noticing Twilight there in her shroud.

But Luna showed some signs of life. She gasped, broke into a wide grin, and trotted up to Cadance’s side. Cadance wrinkled her brow at the unexpected greeting, but Luna paid her confusion no heed, nuzzling her neck. “Another one! When is the blessed event?” she asked, angling her head toward Cadance’s ribs.

Cadance gaped, looking back and forth between Luna and her husband before she blushed and gave an embarrassed grin. “We… we haven’t told anypony yet. It’s still quite early.” She flashed a meaningful stare at the guards, then smiled more warmly at Luna. “How did you know?”

Luna held a hoof to her mouth and giggled. “The little one is dreaming. I can sense it.”

Deep in Twilight’s gut, a fire burned. Her jaw clenched tighter, her breathing hastened, her mind seethed as that treacherous Luna fawned over Cadance. And her brother stood there with his chest puffed out over his precious secret. “You no-good slug!” she shouted as she lurched to her hooves, letting the blanket fall back on the bench.

He jumped and forced a guilty smile. “Oh… Hi, Twily! I didn’t see you there. What’s wrong with… your eyes…?”

The pig actually had the audacity to grin at her. “You wouldn’t tell me about your wedding! Your own sister! And now you weren’t going to tell me about this? I thought I meant something to you!”

Shining Armor worked his mouth for a moment before any words would come out. “But… Twily! We haven’t told anypony. We weren’t keeping it from you. Honest!”

You don’t trust me!” she screeched. Her chest heaving, she shot a blaze of magic at him.

He barely had time to put up a crude shield before the torrent’s force slammed him into the wall and pinned him there. His own horn lighting, Shining Armor pressed back with the best warding spells he could muster, but still he was driven into the stone blocks, which began to crack. Stinging, acrid smoke coiled away from him.

A white fog clouding her vision, Twilight bared her teeth. Swirling wind whipped at her mane, and magic buzzed and crackled in her ears, obscuring any other sound. Behind that shield, her lying brother kept mouthing his feeble excuses, and she wept for him. He at least deserved her pity.

Everypony, everything, all of this just needs to go away! she thought as she squeezed her eyes shut against the tears and burning fumes, and she imagined herself wrapped in a warm cocoon. Safe. And warm. And calm.

Twilight stood in the sand, a gentle sea breeze combing ripples through her coat. Nearby, a small trowel and upturned pail leaned against the sand castle that safeguarded her little corner of the beach from any hostile forces. She splashed into a shallow tidal pool, sending a few minnows wriggling for whatever nooks and crannies it afforded, and a pair of tiny crabs skittering for their burrows. Unfortunately, it also washed off the sand cutie mark she’d crafted for herself, leaving her once more blank-flanked.

Twilight trotted down to the water’s edge, held her nose high, and took a deep sniff. Salt tingled on her lips as the spray from the breakers dotted her face. What a beautiful day!

Up and down the strand, as far as she could see, ponies frolicked in the surf, tugged kites behind them, kicked a ball around in the dunes. But the sun was setting, and most of the families were packing up and leaving. With a chill creeping into the dusk wind, Twilight hunkered down onto the sand and felt the stored warmth radiating up through her belly. She closed her eyes and listened to the waves. Warm. Safe. Calm.


Twilight thought she might have heard something, but she opened an eye to peek, and nopony was around.


Now, she was sure. She swiveled her head around, but still nothing.

“Up here!”

She stood and turned toward the low cliff above her, and Shining Armor smiled down at her.

“C’mon!” He couldn’t keep his voice from cracking at that volume. “Mom and Dad have been worried sick. We left half an hour ago and thought you were right behind us. They’re up here, by the road.” He beckoned her along, and she ran to pick up her shovel and pail, then galloped over to the path that wound its way through the rocks. Stopping to catch her breath, she couldn’t keep her legs from shaking.

She… She remembered that day. She hadn’t even known she was lost, but her brother had found her just the same. One instant, embroiled in her own fantasies, and the next, overwhelmed with what might have been. But he was there.

“Twily!” he called again, but in a much richer tenor. “Twily, stop!”

The sound sheared right through the magic’s whirlwind, and the white faded from her vision. Shining Armor, still pressed to the wall, had sunk against the floor. Beads of sweat ran down his face, and he raised a hoof to brace the last remnants of his shield.


Twilight cut off her magic immediately, laboring for breaths of sulfur-fouled air while she staggered forward a few steps, then collapsed in a heap. The two guards had assumed flanking positions around her, their spears gripped in their teeth. Luna stood near Shining Armor and had taken careful aim at her with the blinding radiance on the tip of her horn.

Lights danced in front of Twilight’s eyes, and her head swam. Now that the threat had passed, Luna let whatever spell she’d been charging dissipate, but… Twilight had never seen her move to attack. Luna would have blindsided her! She shuddered, and a wave of nausea swept over her as she blacked out. Her disintegrating mind heard one last thing.

“Take her to my sister. Now.”

Twilight awoke and slowly picked her head up off her hooves. She lay on a thick carpet with an odd assemblage of colors—an orange square, green triangle, yellow circle, the last of which ran up and over her foreleg as well. Frowning at the oddity, she traced the light back to the stained glass window above her, its stylized sun and the real one behind it providing her own personal spotlight.

Based on the sun’s angle, Twilight figured that it must be late morning. But what day? Trying to think about it made her head hurt. The last thing she remembered… Had Princess Luna attacked her?

“Ah. You are awake.”

Twilight whipped her head around to face the familiar voice’s owner, then struggled to her hooves. She didn’t bow. “Princess Celestia! What’s happening? How did I get here?” She scanned the silent throne room; except for the two of them, it was empty.

Celestia took Twilight’s chin in her hoof and directed her head first one way and then the other, all the while peering at her eyes. “To answer your first question: more than you realize. And to the second: you asked me for help. Do you still feel that you need it?”

“I… don’t know.” Bits and pieces of the preceding weeks drifted back down onto her memory like ashes. “When did I come here?” She could still taste tomato sauce, but a smell of singed… something flooded her nose.

“Last night. There was… an incident. You’ve been asleep in here ever since.” She finally pulled back from Twilight’s face, and whatever she’d seen had her frowning. Two large cushions floated over from a stack against the wall. “Sit. We have much to discuss.”

The hairs on Twilight’s back stood on end, and she had a sudden urge to remain standing.

“Please.” Taking her own place on one of the cushions, Celestia patted the other.

Twilight let out a sigh and lay on the empty one.

After taking a deep breath, Celestia smiled gently and began. “Twilight Sparkle, I’ve always told you that friendship is magic. This is undeniably true. Conversely, magic is friendship. But magic is so much more. You must already know this; you’d become a gifted wielder of magic before you had any mastery of friendship.”

Twilight watched in the momentary silence, then nodded.

“Magic is love, magic is heartbreak, magic is pain, magic is jealousy. Magic is death.” Celestia blinked once and waited for Twilight to absorb her words. “Friendship is one of magic’s most powerful expressions and one of the greatest avenues through which to pursue it. But magic permeates all things. It has a life of its own. It wants what it wants.”

Now Celestia had Twilight’s attention. Her gaze locked on the princess’s face, even as Celestia stared down at the floor between them.

“Most ponies have a small enough amount of magic that they don’t ever notice its influence. Others may feel a perceptible tug, but can make the right decisions using their own consciences. It can take a real effort for those who have unusual talent, like you, but it is never overwhelming. So how would a pony become corrupted by her own magic?” Celestia snapped her head up and glared pointedly at Twilight.

Her muscles knotting, Twilight set her jaw. This had turned rather personal. Had Luna already gotten to her sister? She’d had all night…

Celestia sighed at the lack of a response. “To be sure, there are those who do not care to resist, like King Sombra.”

Twilight’s hoof flinched toward her eye, where a dark wisp still danced at the periphery of her sight, but she held it in check just in time—no, not in time. Celestia’s eyes had glided down to the hint of movement.

“Those are easy cases, because they’ve proven themselves irredeemable. Only twice before have I encountered a pony who truly wished to resist but could not.” She swallowed hard, and was she trembling? The mighty Princess Celestia, trembling?

Celestia met Twilight’s gaze once more. “I was the first, and I was responsible for the second.”

Twilight’s eyes shot wide open, and her body went rigid. Celestia had been like… this… once?

Her horn radiating a soft light that reached toward Twilight, Celestia said, “I will share a few memories with you. Then you will understand.”

Celestia soared over the landscape and surveyed a long day’s work. Her beloved ponies, engaged in their fractious tribal squabbling, had turned their energies to exploration and development as a means of gaining an advantage, and had spread through a rather large portion of the continent in the last few centuries. She would have to make an attempt to unify them somehow, but that was for another day.

Now, she had to make sure that the world was a wondrous enough place for everypony. Beyond the tribes’ ancestral territories lay only featureless dirt—certainly nothing to entice anypony beyond the familiar ruts they had always trod. She had spent the better part of a decade patrolling far to the north and strewing sun-kissed meadows in the lee of majestic peaks that she’d molded out of the monotonous terrain. Rock-filled bays, mineral-rich hills, rolling fields of rippling grain stalks, windswept snowscapes—all manner of resources and aesthetic pleasures lying in wait for those courageous enough to find them.

As was the daily custom—excepting that this phase of the project had occupied Celestia on her own for the better part of two weeks—her sister met her at dusk to see what Celestia had wrought and to add her own touch. Luna would sculpt the coastlines of sand and stone with her tides, paint the shine of moonlight onto the glaciers and scatter it over the snow, and speckle the sky with stars. Certainly, Celestia had more work to do, but at least Luna had fun with it.

When Luna came in for her landing, her eyes momentarily strayed to the bags under Celestia’s eyes. “Sister, Thou shouldst ensure that Thou hast rested enough. We are concerned for Thy well-being.”

“Nonsense,” Celestia said, flicking a hoof. “We are enjoying Ourselves. Fear not, for We shall do so in good course, once We have completed Our task. But see! See what We have created!” Celestia launched herself skyward, with Luna close behind. She finally stopped several miles aloft, the entirety of the land arrayed below her.

“There!” Celestia cried, pointing to a whirling column of air as it meandered over acres of wheat and tore an ugly scar across the landscape. “We call it a tornado. See how it reneweth the earth?”

A large black cloud drew Luna’s eye. “And that?” she asked, inclining her head toward it.

“Wildfire! It purgeth all that is unworthy. See! Flood, blizzard, sandstorm, drought.” She pointed out each in turn. “We have made and named them all! Are they not marvelous?”

“To what end?” Luna asked, her gaze rising from the land beneath to the green glow in her sister’s eyes. “What wouldst Thou do with these new… creations?” Her brow creased.

“Dost Thou not see? Should any unworthy invaders from other nations approach, We can wield them against said foes. Ice to freeze their progress, fire to rain from the sky, wind to strip them of their resolve, water to drown them until they stop struggling.” She chuckled and tossed her head. “And if necessary, Our own ponies can be made to suffer. Look at their petty bickering, how they mewl and yelp amongst themselves. They would not dare turn on Us if they knew what destruction Our wrath could bring. And We might force them into curtailing their irksome skirmishes.”

Luna stared back, open-mouthed. She searched Celestia’s face but kept returning to her eyes and the streams of dark mist trailing from them. “Sister…”

“Earthquake!” Celestia declared, paying Luna no heed as she watched the ground tremble and reduce an ancient uninhabited town to rubble. “We call this a volcano!” Fire spewed into the dusk sky, and burning rivers trickled over the countryside, laying waste to all that stood in their paths.

Luna frowned at her sister and conjured a subtle glow to her horn. She closed her eyes, her frown deepening as her head slowly twisted to the side and cocked. “Very well. We shall take Our turn now.” Her shoulder twitched.

Before returning to their home in the clouds, Celestia pursed her lips and watched the seething lava’s progress. She frowned as well. It had seemed like such a good idea mere hours ago.

It must have been a month later. Celestia had lost track of the days since that… strangeness. She still admired her volcano—and the few more she had created since—for their awesome beauty, but it no longer made sense to turn nature against her ponies like that. Or even enemies. However, Luna had been acting oddly of late.

“We see that Thou hast been productive today, Sister,” Luna said as she inspected the creatures milling about below.

“Yes.” Celestia pointed a hoof off the cliff’s edge. “Manticore, hydra, timber wolf. All to populate Our newly finished lands. In time, they may spread throughout the continent.” She nodded, and for the first time, Luna grinned at one of her creations.

“Well done, Sister,” Luna said through bared teeth. She then winced and held a hoof to her forehead. “We have created one of Our own as well. Wouldst Thou like to see?”

Celestia nodded as her sister’s horn glowed, no doubt to make some dramatic reveal. Luna had not taken any interest in the new animals before. But now that she considered the matter again… why had she made those horrid things?

“Sister, W-We must say something.” Luna held up a hoof to silence Celestia. “We hope that with the completion of Our land-forming project that Thou wouldst refrain from further great expenditures of magic. Pray agree, dear Sister. We—We cannot stress this point enough.” Her knees wobbled.

“Certainly, if Thou thinkest it is that important.” Celestia finally turned away from her creatures to face Luna. “What else?”

“Our creation—it is a windigo.” Glancing far to the south, Luna waved a hoof at a few of the pony encampments. “Though terrible, We believe… it shall serve to unite… the tribes.”

Celestia wrinkled her forehead. “How?”

“We… cannot explain. Please… trust Us in this. Go to Thy rest now. Go.” Luna grimaced and sank to her knees.

Celestia took flight from atop the cliff. She thought she might have heard Luna whisper, “And then never trust Us again.”

“I-is he finished?” Luna asked from where she lay on the ground.

Celestia shook her head with a dour frown on her face. “No. But he is trapped. We can seal King Sombra away in exile, but unfortunately, he will take the entire Crystal Empire with him. Perhaps in one thousand years’ time, We can make his defeat final.”

“One thousand years,” Luna hissed. “Yes, Thou canst recover Thy strength. Slowly. Remember what We have said about rationing Thy magic.”

Celestia nodded and stooped down to cradle Luna’s head. “We understand. But rest now. We will carry Thee back to Our castle. Save Thy breath.” She stroked her sister’s mane where it flowed from beneath her helmet. “Shh.”

Luna shook her head quickly and coughed. “We cannot fathom how Thou couldst emerge victorious over both of us in such a short time. But it shall not happen again,” she added with a sneer, even as her tears trickled down her cheeks.

“No,” Celestia whispered as she closed her eyes. “Why hast Thou done this?”

“Because Our magic is better suited to taking on that burden. And one of Us must remain strong.” Luna took a long, shuddering breath and clenched her teeth. “Now banish Us as well, Sister. Quickly. We have absorbed what We can. Time runs short.”

“No. No…” Celestia could only shake her head.

“Thou hast no choice. Please!” Spreading her wings, Luna writhed in the dirt and groaned. “Please! We cannot fight… Wouldst Thou trade one thousand years for eternity?

As her sister convulsed in front of her, Celestia set her lips in a taut line. One thousand years. A steep price, indeed. And it was all Celestia’s fault.

She gathered the Elements of Harmony around her and lit her horn. The moon shone down on both of them, and Celestia turned her face up toward it. Not too far away, but distant enough to isolate Luna. Perhaps she would take some comfort in being united with her essence. And perhaps she would be able to see Celestia each night when she stood in a high place and told Luna that she loved her. Luna would always be able to watch—she would see to that. Gritting her teeth, Celestia reached out and wrenched the moon in its orbit to ensure that the same side would always face Equestria.

The first night of the next thousand years. Each glowing its own color, the stones circled Celestia faster and faster, and the swirling wind tore her tears away. She bent low over her sister’s quivering body to kiss her on the forehead. “We love you, Luna. I love you.”

“You see, Twilight, my sister’s magic is more absorptive and reflective in nature, commensurate with the moon’s properties, while mine is more radiant.” She formed a wry smile and sighed. “As the eldest, I was the first to feel the magic’s influence in that manner. I thought I could control it. I thought I had controlled it. And so I kept casting immense spells, oblivious to the effects they were having on me.”

Twilight wrinkled her brow and stared off at a point through the wall somewhere. She reflexively swatted at the dark traces that had dogged her peripheral vision so much lately, but… they were barely there anymore.

“And my sister kept siphoning off that built-up power, unbeknownst to me. It was new to her as well; she had no more knowledge of what to do with it than I.” With a shrug, Celestia swallowed hard and fixed her eyes on Twilight. “We’d never fully recovered from our conflict with Discord, and after subduing King Sombra, my connection to the Elements had grown tenuous. I… couldn’t do it that night, however. I foolishly gave myself another chance, but…”

Celestia pointed at Twilight. “I understand you have already seen what happened next: our final confrontation. Banishing Luna broke my connection to the Elements for good. The stones do not well tolerate… injustice.”

“That’s why you needed us,” Twilight said from her faraway thoughts. She finally blinked and met Celestia’s gaze.

“Yes.” Her smile finally taking on some of the sun’s warmth, Celestia reached a wing toward Twilight, but then drew it back. “I needed to groom successors. But this… development has severed your own connection to the Elements. You couldn’t use them now if you tried. If you still had them.”

Celestia took a deep breath and drew herself up to sit as tall as possible, then glared down her muzzle at Twilight. “So, Twilight, my one-time faithful student. Without such world-altering employment of power, what is it that lets your own magic overwhelm you? Or are you yet another who is drunk with false promises?”

Twilight snickered. “You have been an admirable teacher in that regard.” She gasped and held a hoof to her mouth as she fought back tears. “I’m… I’m sorry. I’m trying. Really.” After taking a moment to squeeze her eyes shut, she held her breath and bit her lip. “What’s happening to me?”

Celestia shook her head. “I don’t know. But I will assist as much as I can. Perhaps you should remain in the castle so that I can monitor the situation closely.” She sidled over to Twilight and wrapped a wing around her.

A few long minutes went by in silence, but Twilight could feel her labored breathing relax, little by little. Just as it had ever since Celestia had lain down near her, now that she thought about it. Was that all it would take? Her mentor’s steadying presence?

“There. Is that any better?” Celestia asked in a honey-laden tone.

“I don’t… Actually, it is. What did you—?” Strange. Twilight flicked an ear where a draft must have brushed it, but the sensation returned. Stronger this time, like… breath and…

She rolled her widening eyes slowly to the side to see Celestia nibbling softly on her ear. Her body went rigid, and an icy shock jolted through her skin. “P-Princess?” she asked with a wavering voice. She slid out from under Celestia’s wing and staggered to her hooves. As she turned back to Celestia… She gasped. Her—her eyes! Green, with purple streaks wafting from the corners!

“Oh, Twilight. Don’t act so surprised.” Her smirk growing, Celestia rose from her own cushion and advanced on Twilight, step by step. “The magic wants what it wants, after all. You are no stranger to that.”

Twilight had backed all the way to the wall, and still Celestia strutted forward, her hips swaying and her teeth showing through her grin. Her eyes roved up to Twilight’s ear again, and she licked her lips.


Twilight and Celestia both jerked their heads toward the side entrance. Luna strode in, the door swinging shut behind her, and uttered a soft hiss. She clenched her jaw and leveled a squint at Celestia. “Shall I save you from yourself again?” she barked.

Celestia’s leer slowly faded from her face, then she shook off whatever was gripping her mind, her eyes squeezed shut. “I… I apologize, Twilight,” she said to the floor in front of her. “I was… just—”

“Just taking on more than you could handle, Sister. Again.” Luna imposed herself between them and glared at Celestia. “She was absorbing the magic’s darker aspect to ease your burden—” she patted Twilight on the shoulder, then turned a frown back on her sister “—and overdid it.”

On wobbling knees, Celestia walked over to the low rise below the throne and collapsed at the bottom, still keeping her eyes fixed on the carpet. She heaved a sigh and held a hoof to her forehead. “Thank you, Luna. And I really do apologize, Twilight. This spell is… rather difficult for me to manage all at once.”

“Her magic is not attuned to this purpose,” Luna said in response to Twilight’s raised eyebrows. “She can cast such spells, but not very efficiently. I suppose she has already shared that history with you?”

Twilight sank to her haunches. “Yes. I-I understand. And Princess Celestia—I don’t blame you. I-I did… something s-simil—” She bit her lip and averted her eyes, the flavor of garlic and basil flaring up on her tongue again.

“Perhaps you both could do with some rest.” Luna directed a pointed stare at Celestia, who nodded and blinked at the purple mist in her eyes. “You may use your old quarters, Twilight Sparkle. I trust you remember the way there.”

“Yes, Princess Luna…” Twilight replied in a hushed voice.

“Good. I must see to my own student for now, but we will speak later. All of us,” Luna added. She raised an eyebrow at Celestia, who gave a brief nod before laying her head on the woolen runner.

Luna trotted away, heading back out the side door—she noted the scorched and cracked masonry from the previous night with a frown—and made her way through the twisting corridors until she’d arrived in her study. She waded through the stacks of paper and past the heavy star-embroidered cloths draped across the windows. A pair of thick candles burned in their cast-iron sconces on the wall, sending webbed shadows throughout the room. After taking a moment to scratch behind the ears of the few bats hanging from the ceiling beams, Luna flopped into her chair and gazed over the weighty ebony desktop. Against the wall stood a few brass instruments—telescopes and astrolabes, mostly—glinting in the flickering light, and a large pad of blank paper on an easel near the door.

Finally, her eyes rested on the broad inclined drafting table in the corner. Luna took a deep breath, swelling her chest. Covering the tabletop was a large sheet of parchment with the night sky’s major features: planetary orbits, meteor shower sources, cometary paths… and just beginning to fill in one minute corner, exquisitely detailed markings of stars, all pencil-drawn. Hundreds of them, within a scarce few inches, all named in impossibly small print, and many of them repeatedly erased and shifted by some infinitesimal distance.

Luna gave a soft snort. Someday she would finish her chart. Someday.

“I thought I heard you in here.” Luna’s student stepped in from the adjoining room and squinted into the study’s ever-present dimness.

“Ah. Dawn Ember,” Luna replied to her student. “Any progress today?”

“I made a potion that cures warts. Nothing interesting.” She swept a half-lidded glance around the room, but her eyes flicked deftly to every crack and crevice, at last settling on the gypsum dust from the bits of crumbled plaster on the windowsill. Only Ember could be so interested when she was bored, everything around her a potential source of material. “I don’t know. Seems kinda trivial.”

Luna leaned back in her chair, sending a loud creak echoing throughout the room, and let the corners of her mouth curl up. “You continue to impress me, Ember.”

“Why? I can barely cast a lick o’ magic.” Ember sighed and leaned against the doorframe. “And I’m older’n any other unicorn in my class by several years.”

“This again?” Luna asked, tapping her hooves together. “Your magic is subtle, but real, unique, intuitive. Or are you questioning my judgment?”

Ember blushed faintly and eyed Luna through the unkempt strings of forelock spilling over her face. “I should get back to my studies.”

Luna smirked and turned to the nearest pile of paperwork. “Are you planning on meeting up with Copper—is that his name?—again tomorrow?” Even without looking, Luna had no doubt that Ember’s jaw hung wide open.

“I—I… Yes, Princess.”

“Good. I like him.” A quick glance revealed a broad grin on her student’s face and half-lidded eyes directed far in the distance. Any time the poor mare got flustered lately, she’d adopt that same far-off look and soon calm down. It did not require a princess’s experience to discern why. “You can do without studying for one night. Take some extra time off. You could get your mane cut.”

“As soon as you do.”

The bats stirred at the sound of Luna’s laughter. She hoped Ember enjoyed their occasional verbal sparring as much as she did. It was always a nice respite from…

Luna’s grin faded. “You remind me of Twilight Sparkle in some ways. Have you ever met her?”

“I don’t think so. But I know the name.” Ember stared over her shoulder at the new soil samples in the laboratory behind her. Was she even listening? No matter.

“You are alike in a lot of ways and different in many others.” Luna’s eyes glazed over, and she swiveled toward the covered windows.


Through the thin strip of glass visible above the curtains, Luna could see one of the castle’s towers—Twilight’s old room. “What are we going to do with you, Twilight Sparkle?” she said through her sigh.

Ember raised an eyebrow and stood watching a bit longer, then turned and silently walked back into the laboratory.

“What are we going to do with you?”

Author's Note:

I'm going to post a new chapter each week from when the story went public on FiMFiction, February 19th.

Coming on February 26:
Chapter 3: Immovable