• Published 20th Apr 2017
  • 713 Views, 21 Comments

Princess Celestia's Body Double: Setting Stage For Harmony - JLB



After centuries of tumult, it has been a decade of harmony for Equestria. Princess Celestia has not been showing signs of the ruling stress that's plagued her for years. But Nightmare Moon looms, and the secret of her vitality gains new purpose.

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Overture: History

“Brave Cresthorn! Long hast thy path been! through valleys of shadow, with the restless and deathless abound, through forests of treachery, with venom and rogues, has't thee been taken on thy quest! but he'd mine own asketh - what did grant thee the vitality of the corse, the clarity of the mind, the purity of will, through these traps of certain deaths to procede and prevail? What goal awaits thee at the end, o finest exemplar of Unicornian blood?”

From a platform far down below, a Unicorn garbed in bulky, highly radiant armor sang out his response, sending copious rays of multicolored light all over the place as he gestured enthusiastically. The white alicorn who stood on the balcony meters and meters above him hardly heard much of what he said, or listened, for that matter. The Veneraton of Cresthorn the Everquesting was, after all, a yearly event, and this was, by all accounts, the six hundred somethingth time she stood there, reciting these lines.

“So I understandeth! But bid me, gentle paladin, certes after a journey such as yours, would thee not wish to taketh a hero’s due reward? Mine own Royal authority has't so yond one as worthy as thee may liveth a woeless life, enrich'd with pleasure!”

The armored figure on the marble floors of Canterlot Towers’ central square stomped its armored hoof loudly. The orchestra sat at the corners of the scene came alive, with the honking of a single trumpet. The alicorn sighed ever so slightly in her mind. She couldn’t help wondering why nearly the entire first part of the celebration was more or less all music and no words, yet somewhere after Terrorfang was sealed in his cave with his own smelted hoard, the musical accompaniment all but died down. On that note, it seemed odd that the theatric society that organized this event could afford an objectively fifty percent useful orchestra - yet the actual fact that the dragon was gruesomely drowned and presumably buried alive in tonnes of molten silver and gold had to be narrated. By her, out of character, no less. Less extravagant music and a bit more care for the visual side of things, and maybe seeing about reverting that particular part of the story… Cresthorn, in the meantime, was done.

“Peradventure, then, f'r one of thy immaculate purity, I shalt giveth thee that the likes of which naught another pony hast ev'r hath heard! May thee grise into mine own altar and accept the sacr'd gift of the Elements of Harmony? F'r these art nay mere children’s fables, but artefacts of unparallell'd power, with which I f'r centuries did wish to endow one of purity such as yours!”

Cresthorn’s reply was not necessarily audible up where she stood, since unlike her, he wasn’t utilizing the Canterlot Royal Voice. It would have made better sense if he were, but the acoustics of the helmet that had been made for his role likely made that inadvisable. It was, in general, inadvisable. For anyone but her, obviously, so she pulled double duty in her replies. Not a big problem, really - there was no shame in admitting the fact that a lot of the spectators attended mostly to spend some time in her presence, even if she were all the way up on one of the Towers’ balconies, and the most they were able to see was her ethereal, sparkling mane. That allowed her to be rather unabashed about grinning and flexing, not as if even the hopefully squinting ones would be able to tell much apart, what with the Unicornian knight’s enchanted armor that was definitely getting toned down next year. She restrained herself for most of the play, she could as well do that now. Good thing this Cresthorn had some sort of hiccup and took longer to speak his line than Cresthorns normally did.

“If 't be true yond truly is thy desire, then I did bid thee farewell, dauntless warrior! On thine own adventures embark, and setteth right which thee see wrong, as thee has't anon mine own royal blessing! The travelling lamp shalt at each moment shine brightly upon thee, wherev'r thee march!”

As much as she adored the crowd’s own adoration, the truly good part was this one. This was what her knees were shaky with glee for. Some magic to do, for once! Genuine and legitimate, if prettied up for the occasion. Really, the attendees weren’t there for a lesson in Unicornian history, everyone knew the ending anyway, the attempt at suspense regarding the Elements being particularly pitiful for obvious reasons (them being effectively fairytales for all most knew). What they were here for was the solar light show. She could very well associate - that was why she was there as well. That, and, well, recite some quirky lines. Princesses got their fun where they could.

Her legs buckled, gracefully, and she bowed, bobbing her body back and forth rhythmically, a focusing prism of rainbow light accumulating at the tip of her swirling horn. With each bob, residual flashes erupted around her, orbiting around the balcony with luminous trails connecting them into a sort of aerial necklace. The orchestra below made itself worth having by accompanying each step of her channeling with appropriate sound effects, as if it wasn’t enriching enough on its own. Eventually, as the lightplay got more and more complex, with increasingly brighter and more colorful orbs waltzing in the air, she unfurled her wings. When her celestial illumination utterly dwarfed the knight’s enchanted armor, the alicorn let loose the final ray of brightness, soaring it through the sky and burning through a few clouds. She let out an inadvertent cackle of glee, kicking her hooves in the air. Despite opposing opinions, this was very much not a waste of time if she could leave the scene with that much of a bang.

All that considered, it was indeed time she left. Her part in the play was over, what with how brave Cresthorn rejected her offers and trotted on to partake in some more of his heroic deeds from centuries ago. Not even in the epilogue, alas. There was a lengthy moment of inner turmoil, wherein the mare wondered if she could walk down to the crowd and keep watching among them. Not exactly because the spectacle was that good, but to stay in their company for a bit more time. Unfortunately, she did have enough of a spine to resist the urge - her coming down there would have utterly distracted everyone, making the theater’s efforts even more pointless than they already were, and she had her fill of basking for today. No, her path did not lie down the many, many stairs (i.e. multiple teleports outside the line of sight of nosy guards) below, where a crowd of Unicornian history enthusiasts and their disenfranchised children filled the spacious inner gardens of this wing of Canterlot Towers with their colorful, somewhat historically inaccurate costumes.

Her path led upwards instead. Always upwards, not that she minded observing the exquisite interior decorations of the Royal Tower. Especially the lower regions, which were gilded, jeweled, adorned with statues and other pieces of art, numerous exotic plants, and other such pretty things. Pretty enough for her to forgo forgoing the nagging insistence of the Captain of the Guard to refrain from teleporting while on Tower grounds, and actually ascend like any normal pony would. That lasted for about five levels, after which the more utilitarian marble with scarcely a couple of gilded or otherwise ornamented items would pop up. The boring floors were obviously to be skipped through simple magic, which she perused frivolously. Stretching her back and legs, the alicorn illuminated her horn and struck a pose, popping out and then back in about four levels above - another pose, something from the dancing manual she had received over a week back, and another magical pop. Less than easy to flow into while in motion, but she was confident enough in her looks when slipping into one such pose and keeping it.

Nothing stopped her from simply teleporting up to the chambers normally, which would have been five times more expedient than showing off in such a manner. There was, however, enough utilitarian prudence in the boring marble walls of these high levels for her to be simply forced to strike some sort of balance. Besides, if anyone were watching, the sight would be more than a little agreeable, considering she made sure to relocate herself so that the setting sun would always shine straight onto her frame. Granted, if anyone were to see her like this, it would mean more nagging from the Captain, but…

Oh well.

She had arrived at her destination anyway - the pair of gate-like doors adorned with celestial bodies and other such glittering pretty things, an euphoric delight to see after ascending the Tower for what must be about an hour for a regular Equestrian citizen. For her, not quite so much, but still incredibly welcome to see, because the plainness of about three quarters of this place got old even in the five minutes it took her to ascend. With a gentle, courteous forehoof, she knocked on the doors, klicking out a five-note melody with her golden slipper.

After a reasonable enough delay, the doors pulled themselves in, and she walked in on the white alicorn inside, who had her back to the doors, her head in a book of some sort, and her multicolor celestial mane in a weak, barely mobile lump off to her right.

“Gooooood evening, Celie,” the alicorn that just entered the room sang out quietly, waltzing and turning in place, a series of loud, humming sounds accompanying her body lighting up in a faint aura. The golden shoes, carcanet collar and crown fizzled out of existence. Her mane threw itself hard to the side, straightening itself out in a solid sheet, allowing the aura to pass over it as well, leaving it to drop down, touching the very floor with its now purely physical multicolor strands.

“I would hope that it’s been one,” the reading alicorn replied with a hint of a yawn. Her amethyst eyes turned to her counterpart, rolling subtly before blinking and returning to the book. “Come on now. My mind is mush after reading these legislation drafts. I don’t need any more confusion for today. Or my legs cease to function and I fall off the balcony.”

“Don’t be like that, you’re nowhere near as cooked, I can tell,” the straight-maned mare droned out, waving her hoof in the air and tilting her head. She danced over to the aquarium on the other side of the bed chambers, giving the marine life within a series of pecks through the glass. “I just want to be glorious for a couple hours more.”

On the other side of the room, two thuds of objects hitting a pillow were followed by a soft sigh.

“Osma… You are more ridiculous than the bill I am currently about to throw in the bin. I would explain how that is an achievement, but you haven’t deserved the punishment of knowing the details.”

“Ugh!” The mare by the aquarium sat on her haunches and threw her forehooves at the ceiling, shaking them in exasperation. “Why always such a grump on holidays! Why! Why, why, why! I’m always in a good mood on holidays, it’s actually really easy, I can—” She was silenced when a basket of clothes was emptied on her head, then fitting straight over her head, constraining the snout, the long spiralling horn fitting about halfway through one of the knot holes. The shapeshifter hissed and mumbled, wrestling with the tight object on her head, while her counterpart got off from the pillow, leaving behind a sizeable equine-sized dent.

“If you stop being a restless little twit, change over and join me on the balcony - then, maybe, I’ll elaborate,” the still-aetherial alicorn told her twin on the floor, walking past and nudging the balcony doors open, letting in a warm gust of spring air. “And yes, if you’re wondering, the basket was a metaphor. Just letting you know before we get carried away - five for me and seven for you on the pun game. I would say it should count for more, because you will have a much easier time getting it off your head if you change here and now, but I’ll give you a fighting chance. Don’t kick the hydragenas.”

The one that writhed on the floor continued to do so for about half a minute more, kicking her hind hooves in the air and eliciting a variety of snorts and grumbles. The one on the balcony sighed and hummed, lighting up her horn and channeling a spell that manifested a faint, transparent bubble around the general area of the Tower. By when an aerial patrol of Pegasus guards flew by, it was completely invisible. The leader of the quartet of stallions stopped to turn toward the alicorn and saluted her, to which she motioned with her hoof for them to move along, yawning quietly. The fact that there was an identical mare sprawled on her back, forehooves crossed in defiance, directly behind her, went entirely unnoticed. After the guard swooshed away, the basketed mare let out a long, drawn-out sigh, and her own horn lit up, shining strands of bright light through the knots of the basket.

“Read you like a book,” the white mare pointed out, gently yawning again. “Be thankful for my timing.”

Her body double's magic, piercing through the basket, had, in the meantime, changed color. Instead of pure white light, the magic took on a fern-green tone, sparkling and fizzling in the air, and the straight white rays morphed into jiggly, curvy lines. After blasting the room with green for a few seconds, the magic retreated into the horn and shot itself down the mare’s body. Coalescing in a tight mass of green sparkles at the tip of the horn, it travelled all the way down to the end of her tail. At around when it made its way to the throat, the mare was indeed able to throw off the basket.

“Hmmmuuuooohhh… grrrmmfff! Ow, ow, ow…” the equine whined in a noticeably higher pitched, subtly reverberating voice. “Why’s it always got to— I’m all tingly. Watch it, aah! I told you I’m tingly, urgh! Why can’t I always stay yooou, it’s itching nooow,” she complained as several pieces of laundry that stuck to her edges were removed magically.

“Shush. You had my socks on your horn.”

“Socks can wait, Celie, I’m still all woozy… oof. Okay, I’m alright now.” The equine sat up, stretching with a whispery crunch of soft chitin, her tone-fading maroon wings buzzing at her sides. “Hm, I thought I told you to wear more pink. These socks are barely pink, come on, have them add a few more stripes, it’ll look better.”

“While you’re being Canterlot fashion police, I neglected to remove the lingerie on your left ear,” the white mare commented dryly and took a sip from a cup of coffee she’d levitated over while Osma was going through her transformation. “See to that, why don’t you.”

“Celestia, Princess of Angsty Rebellion, waging her war on decent looks and anything that looks pretty in general,” the equine creature whispered gravelly, fumbling with her marigold-honey forehooves to shake the piece of clothing from her twitching ear. It proved difficult due to how it split into a slight cut-out edge around the middle of the outer ear, practically hooking the lingerie. “I was in such a good mood, too. Seeing what you wear grinds my heart into tiny little pieces.”

“I could tell you were.” Celestia chuckled and activated her horn once more, fumbling with things near the mirror to the side of the large canopied bed. A pair of tinted glasses perched atop her snout, while the equine got on all fours, swishing her transparent, insect-wing tail around. “You’re positively glowing.”

Indeed, multiple parts of the other mare’s body were quite radiant - the smooth, curved fern green plates on her belly were sparkling, bright dots popping in and out all over its surface, her part candy-red, part faint merigold transparent wings were giving off a patterned shine, her lime green hooves were lit up from inside, noticeably tinting them a slightly darker, cucumber green. Her back, a glossy regal red carapace, was all but polished-looking. A quintet of gem-like protrusions on her chest were alternating between various shades of luminant rose, and her chest itself was similar to the hooves in how it appeared lit up from inside, leaving only the wing intersections dyed their natural top-down fern-to-lime. On her now shorter-snouted head, the pair of iris-less rose red eyes looked more like two gemstones, and the four petite head nubs that formed two diagonal lines to each side of the jagged horn were sprinkling out sparse sparkles, jolting ever so slightly with each expulsion. Her webby merigold mane, a far cry from the Princess’ sprawling ethereal blanket, hung humbly over her forehead and rested in a calm, straight-down bundle on the side of her neck.

“That bright, am I? Tee-hee. Ahhh, at least you can bask in me a little. You need some basking. You look really… unbasked.”

“Oh Osma, but I thought you were the unbasketed one.” Celestia let her sunglasses slip down an inch, giving Osma a look.

“Your wordplay may hurt me physically, but it’s not going to take away from allll the wonderful love your subjects graciously showered me with this day,” she said, raising her head proud and high and flexing her neck. The chitinous mare took her place by the railing, peeking over the age and gazing at the hills in the distance, sunset playing off her eyes. “The celebration really didn’t live up to the grim description you gave it.”

Celestia was silent for a few moments, her eyes closed. She sipped the coffee and took a long sigh as she was done, moving to lean against the railing, one of her forehooves hanging freely off. The alicorn’s eyes opened weakly, blinking at the light of her own sun.

“And that’s very good. It means I was right. I’ll be having you take my place at more holidays my ponies choose to involve me in, then. See, over the span of ten years, you’ve effectively taken over Equestria.” She took another sip, exhaling lengthily out her nostrils. The mare shook her head slowly, yawning.

“Don’t be like that. Come on! They love you. I mean, you can tell, can’t you?” Osma grinned, trotting and turning in place, showing off her brightly radiant insequine body.

Celestia neglected to reply, simply closing her eyes, sighing again, and humming to herself as she drank more coffee. Her partner rubbed her slick face with a slightly luminant hoof.

“Stop being a secretive weeping willow,” she insisted, tapping a hoof impatiently on the floor. “Go ahead, tell me what’s troubling you. Don’t make me coalesce with you by force, you shifted my rib plates last time I had to do that.”

The alicorn stopped and jolted in place, snickering and nearly dropping her drink into the gardens far, far below them. Her nostrils puffed as she sought to cover her face up, cheeks having grown a few tones redder. She growled softly, shaking her head and pointing a hoof at her companion.

“Os. Mo. Sis. You… You do not simply remind me of these things like that,” Celestia complained with a bashful smile. “I was drinking. I could have choked and died.”

Osmosis grinned. “Incidentally, coalescing with you would also resuscitate you, so—”

“Alright then, discussing what’s currently on my mind is suddenly a much superior topic.” The Princess cleared her throat, rubbing her chest with a hoof.

“There we go,” the insectoid mare said, fluttering her tinted eyelids. She tapped the alicorn on her shoulder. “That’s better. Start from the beginning.”

Celestia smiled somewhat wryly, gulping down the rest of her drink and sending off back into the room. Her and Osma looked at the shuddering Everfree beyond the hills as she spoke.

“Well, actually… I think I can start with what happened today. How’d you find the play? I never did take you to one of these, thought to spare you the boredom.” The alicorn lowered her head to effectively rest on her hooves, which were crossed over the railing. “Now that you’ve been there, what are your thoughts?”

“Uhm… Honestlyyy… Not my favorite tale of knightly romance? Too much riding around and vanquishing foul beasts and what have you.” Osmosis rubbed her back, shrugging. “I don’t think his beloved even made an appearance for more than a few minutes. I can’t even recall her name…”

“Pearl White,” Celestia muttered. “Her name was Pearl White.” The other mare nodded, humming in agreement. “And I should say that you hit the nail on the head. A whole lot of vanquishing beasts it turned out to be… Now, this is a silly question, but do you know why I’m made to attend this celebration every year?”

“All the Unicorns looked pretty happy to see you,” Osma said, biting her sleek, fleshy lip with a fang and tilting her head in thought. Celestia was silent for a couple seconds.

“It’s because I was there, Osma. This is based on real events. At least partially… As time went on, the tale got changed to be more, well, exciting. Less boring. Cresthorn’s life story was a bit more than saving the day and galloping off to his next quest without accepting any reward.”

“So I assumed. Unicorns don’t strike me as the ponies to pass up a nice bundle of jewels,” the other mare pondered, rubbing her chin. “Not that I blame them.”

“Well, you see… On the one hand, what you took part in today is scarcely reminiscent of what happened over a thousand years ago. A thousand and eight, to be precise. Fifty eight years after these events… You know what happened then.” Celestia waved her hoof rashly, batting away a strand of her mane by the ear that was blown into her snout by a sudden gust of wind. “I should have that trimmed.”

“You should, you would look a lot prettier with your mane strictly on the left. But, go on?’

“Yes. On the other hand, what actually happened back then…” The alicorn shut her eyes and scowled for a moment. “Let’s just say that it wasn’t by my authority that this was made a Unicornian holiday, and I’m not the biggest fan of it still being celebrated. Even if, through some remarkable string of irony, the reasons for my distaste are what got lost to time. And you know me… I couldn’t help reflecting on all of this. So that’s how you found me in the gloomy state that I was.”

“Is it, ummm… that sort of subject? Do we talk about something else?” Osma moved closer to Celestia, putting her hoof over the Princess’.

“No, don’t worry. I’m not that much of a shrieking violet, please. In fact, I’m going to give you a very quick crash course… even if it’ll probably ruin the holiday for the years to come, but, well, you’ll have the crowd to adore you and you’ll eat that up no doubt.” The alicorn shrugged with a bit of forced exaggeration, pushing out a wry smirk. “The conclusions I’ve come to are fairly relevant.”

Osmosis gave her a similarly forced blank stare, scowling playfully. She leaned against the railings, supporting her head with a forehoof, and motioned for her to go on.

“Well, Cresthorn was a leader of the Unicornian Knights Order of the Arcane who kept the peace across the Badlands and the Applelachian Mountains borders. He was adored for his skills as a battle mage, his knights looked up to his courage, and he was famous throughout the Unicornian provinces for his selflessness. He would share most of his pay with the soldiers under his command, and whenever he’d be given tribute by the settlements he’d saved from certain doom at the fangs of mountain spiders or the clubs of rock giants, he would send it directly to the realm to enrich the treasury.”

“He… sounds pretty good to me. So was he—”

“He was also a virulent hater of the non-Unicorn ponies, especially Pegasi. When things were quiet in Unicornia, he would leave behind a garrison, take his best soldiers, and raid Pegasus settlements.” Osmosis opened her mouth and raised her eyebrows, but no sound came out. She stood dumbfounded for a time before having to close her mouth manually. The Princess carried on. “They would heat up the cumulus those towns rested on, and within minutes, they would collapse, plunging to their doom, with few survivors. We only found out decades after his passing. They made it seem as if it was Pegasi renegades sabotaging their own kin. Some of the invisibility magic his casters used is in the libraries to this day…” The alicorn shook her head.

Both mares stood in silence for a bit, Osma biting on her lip and darting her eyes, hooves shifting in place.

“In my defense, I did have my suspicions at the time, though the level of authority he held over Unicornian high society made any real movement against him difficult. Especially considering that he would graciously ‘offer’ my cabinet the services of his own knights to help in the investigation. The Pegasus Commander-General would have had many of his lieutenants rotting in high security dungeons if I hadn’t done all in my power to halt the courts while Cresthorn’s soldiers ‘helped’ us with ‘intelligence’. Oh, the things I got to hear in his audio-scrolls…” Celestia chuckled, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. Osma stretched out her hoof to rub the mare’s shoulder before reconsidering, shuffling in place nervously. “As a matter of fact, he couldn’t stand yours truly. He believed it was me who was trespassing under his protectorate, and not him who was refusing to hear out orders in the realm I was a Princess of. Wonderful times, as you might imagine.”

“That is… actually disgusting. Why is he being—”

“Eventually, I had to pressure him. I seized the opportunity when he was crossing by what is now Everfree, by our old castle. I did what I could to talk to him, but he wasn’t willing to listen. So I tried to threaten him, I said that if he wouldn’t submit to our rule, we would use the Elements of Harmony to forcibly purify him.” The insectoid mare hung her head at hearing the strain in Celestia’s voice spelling out the artifacts’ name. “There was an agreement… for a week. After which he attempted to storm the castle with nearly half of the entire Unicornian knightly elite backing him up.”

“...”

“Yes, that’s the world that I’ve lived in. And since, to this day, I am not perfect, all of us still, in good part, do.” The Princess slumped her head back down on the railings and made a faint circular shape with her horn, which she diffused with a puff of air from her mouth. “Blow off the dust of history, and this is what you find.”

“Well… then. May as well give up,” Osma said casually with a shrug. She hopped onto the railings and heaved herself off, plummeting toward the courtyard below. “Goodbye cruel world!”

“Nope. You stay here and listen,” Celestia mumbled, furrowing her brows, having magically caught the buzzing equine by her merigold tail and pulled her back onto the balcony. “Let’s leave crippling depression for a time when we don’t have important things to do.”

“We always have important things to do.” Osmosis whined haughtily, getting herself off her flank. “And I’m, ugh, not feeling anywhere near as shiny as I was before you felt it necessary to tell me all of this nastiness. You know, just because you’re jealous of how I’m not an eternally grumpy pile of unkempt, brooding woozles. Doesn’t mean you can just ruin my day so I’m just as miserable inside as you.”

“Oh, well, it’s supposed to be your job to make me not-miserable-inside,” Celestia retorted.

“Since when?! My job is to replace you when you don’t feel like going somewhere or doing something because it makes you feel awkward.” The shapeshifter held her snout high, turning away from the Princess with a snort. “Everything else is just a familial courtesy.”

“I changed the job description this afternoon, you should be more mindful of the paperwork,” the alicorn replied, stone faced. “You are now officially my pet and do whatever I want you do. Come, roll over, who’s a good little pony-bug.”

“Really now! Well how about I turn into you, run out, and—”

“Had that conversation before, I’m afraid.” Celestia finally broke her guise and let her lips curl upwards. “Being in dungeon exile is a major improvement over ruling all of Equestria.”

“Bleh. Where were we, again?” Osma said, physically hoof-waving the topic away.

“I was getting to my point. If slowly. Now, Cresthorn’s legacy is that he’s a hero to the Unicornian people for all the good he did to them. And, objectively speaking, I suppose they’re right to praise him. He did do all the good things they assign to him. Though I do find it ironic that because he was so selfless with his subjects, he was the only one anyone remembers from that time anymore…” She sighed. “Oh, Osma, reading history is really odd when you’ve lived to see it play out before your eyes. Now we have a silly holiday reenactment where I pretend that we weren’t shouting far less courteous words - in an entirely different accent - at one another, and that he just rode off into the sunset. But!” Celestia raised her hoof, interrupting her insequine partner before she urged her to get on with it. “That’s where the job I’ve got for you finally comes into play. You see, the reality of Cresthorn the Everquesting wasn’t the only thing keeping me thoughtful today. That’s more like unpleasant interference. What I was, in fact, thinking about, was the Elements.”

“...?...” There wasn’t really a suggestion of anything coherent coming out of Osmosis’ mouth as she stared almost literally bug-eyed at the Princess.

“More specifically, what the literary geniuses of the Unicornian Historic Theatre added about five rewrites ago. That I, in my eternal generosity...” Celestia pointed at herself with mock theatrics. “Wanted him to have the Elements so he can be my protégé. Obviously, nothing of the kind ever happened, in fact, the polar opposite did. However… It’s time we saw to it that it did. The time is fast approaching when I think I would rather have a recipient for these artefacts.”

“Yooou don’t mean… Waaait. No.” Osmosis’ now significantly less sparkly body was stuck mid-twinkle for a moment as she tilted her head and narrowed her eyes. “Is that part also true?! About Night—”

The alicorn simply nodded and sighed, putting her hoof on the pony-bug’s shoulder.

“What next? Is Discord real too?” she complained exasperatedly. “Is he going to pop out of that creepy statue in the Gardens now?” The hoof on her shoulder got a little sterner and she looked in Celestia’s eyes.

“Osma. You’ve been a great help to me for a good few years now. And I admit, I do feel bad tasking you with this. If it helps, I’ll try to skirt a bit of my own work to spend more time with you in the future. But I do require your aid, because I am very, very well aware that the mare suited to this task is definitely not me.” Now both her hooves were effectively hugging Osmosis, and her snout closed in with the other mare’s. “It is you. I know you can do it.”

The insectoid mare’s ears folded, and her adaptive chitin simulated an equine blush as her breath got heavier. Her eyes withdrew from Celestia’s.

“No pressure,” the Princess added wryly, giving Osma a peck on the nose and nuzzling her briefly.

The mare’s body had by then replaced its energized sparkling with a deep, magenta light blooming beneath the soft, chitinous carapace. She took a deep breath through her nostrils and exhaled slowly, nestling her head in the nape of the alicorn’s neck.

“Yooou wouldn’t just pull a fast one on me, would you?” she pretended to wonder. “Make me make our bed, or something like that. I can’t tell with how good you’ve become at doing this stone-faced jester thing.”

“Thank yourself for that,” Celestia replied into Osma’s malleable, swiftly softened shoulder, which was harsher carapace a moment ago. “That’s the skills I had to develop to deal with life after making you my public face, all of your quirks attached.”

“Huzzah, thank you, Osmosis.”

“There we go.” The alicorn patted her on the back and withdrew from the hug, leaving Osma to cross her forelegs nervously. “The short of what I’ll need you to do is… I need you to find a promising family. Good ponies who are apt at magic and in whom you can trust. A family in which my protégé would be born, in time for Her return.”

“A family? Wait, but—”

“Don’t worry. I’ll provide you with any resources you’ll require in your search. All you’ll need to worry about will be picking the right ponies and peeling away their layers to see if what lies inside can, in the long run, be a Bearer.”

“Oh, yes… That’s just wonderful, Celie. Make it sound nasty and depressing!” Osmosis puffed air out her nostrils, dropping her flank onto a nearby pillow and supporting her chin with a hoof. “Yes, that hit the spot.”

“So… deal? Do this for me, in any amount of time you require. We have five decades to go. Or rather, four, considering I’d rather not be taking a newborn under my wing.” Celestia left the balcony, closing the doors and sitting down next to her partner. “And I’ll… Well, we’ll figure out what I’ll do. Something I’m going to be blushing over for centuries to come, knowing you.”

“Heh-heh. Heeeh. Life comes at you fast. Here I thought today was eventful enough.” She leaned against the side of a nearby sofa. “Now I’ve got the fate of the world in my hooves! Its fate in fifty years, that is.”

“I wouldn’t have tasked you with this if I didn’t think you were able. I know I’m not. Using my authority to have an audience with our greatest magical families is one thing, actually holding a conversation with them as they cower before me and seek to grovel at my hooves is another thing. Or whatever it is you’ve got them used to with your ‘hijinx’, as you call them.” The white mare imitated her body double’s actual voice and gestured up a pair of air quotes with her hooves. “I’ve lost control of my public appearance.”

“I agree, by the way.” Osma winked.

“Hm?”

“I pretended that you asked me instead of giving me an order. It’s alright, you’re getting there, you’ll be almost talkable to in no time!” The multicolored insequine gave her a wide, fanged grin, the smooth chitin of her snout molding itself with a squeak to make it stretch particularly far. Her lime green neck curved as she dodged an empty paper cup thrown at her by the frumped Princess. “Wild Mare Celie is almost ready for pony contact.”

“I’m your Princess, you know,” she said with a frown, crossing her hooves at her chest.

“And I’m you, Celie, so that’s a bit of a wash, as they say.”

“Pfft.”

“Pffhfshhsshhshtttt.”

“Pfffffffft.”

“Pssshhhhtshhhtssshtchitterscreekchitterchittertweet.”

“Insect noises are cheating.”

“What was that jerk’s wife’s name again?” Osma switched topics with expediency, from their ill-fated indignant noises contest back to the depressing story that saw her lose most of her powered-up sparkling.

“Pearl White.” Celestia replied with a single flicker of her ear, rolling her eyes very subtly. The two rested against a sofa each, their hind hooves resting on each other’s belly. Osma yawned squeakily and summoned over a glossy magazine, popping it out of existence off the night stand near their bed, while Celestia begrudgingly dragged the legislation she had been reading before her body double’s arrival over for further inspection. “Why do you ask?”

“What did she actually do?” the insequine mare asked. “The historical version?” She summoned a sheet of her own to copy jewelry designs onto.

“I… can’t remember too much. I don’t think she shared her husband’s views, about ‘the hornless’ that is,” Celestia elaborated, noisily ripping out an entire page and immolating it in solar flame. Osma barely reacted to the latter. “She also definitely did not sit in a tower in complete chastity as he strode around righting wrongs.”

“Oooh, really?”

“Oh yes, his family was quite a… proliferous one. Most of them also ended up decent Unicorns. Considering Cresthorn wasn’t what I would call decent, and that he was out on duty for most of his life…” The Princess smirked and giggled, winking at Osmosis. “Well, I don’t think Pearl White was terribly bored at night, if you get what I mean.”

“Mmmhm, spicy, fresh, thousand-year-old gossip. Deee-licious, I feel sparkly already.” The bug-pony chuckled, eyeing something in her magazine. “He deserved it, anyway, and she deserved better, too. You deserve something good as well, by the way. Or, someone. If you catch my meaning.”

Celestia’s hind hoof nudged the insectoid mare’s belly with some considerably force, burying her snout in the fashion pages.

“You invent more and more elaborate ways to bring this up, don’t you?”

Osmosis sighed with a degree of mock exaggeration on top of what was genuine. Her lime hind hooves withdrew from their warm pristine white pillow in defiance, and she shuffled around, creaking her fern green chest plates. Her rose-and-honey wings folded into her sides as her transparent merigold tail curled into a ball to untangle from the alicorn’s ethereal threads. Her edged, brush-cut-tipped ears flicked, and the quintet of rose gems on her chest went darker, no longer projecting ambient light. She shook her head to get the strands of merigold, webby mare out of her blank candy red eyes and let out an indignant “Hmf!” as at long last, her body found a comfortable enough position, unperturbed by closeness with such a grumpy individual as Princess Celestia.

“Oh and also, you are making our bed tonight.”

---

“So… do I need to use the library?” Osma asked, fiddling with a row of cards levitating in front of her snout. “Can’t I just take the ledgers to our chambers?”

“No. Stop being lazy. These are generational family books,” Celestia answered, fiddling with her own cards as she stood on the balcony. Behind her, up in the sky, the sun was rising, to which the alicorn was barely paying any attention beyond the exertion of magic from her horn. “Our library only gives those up if you’re either a scholar with research needing to be done, or me.”

“Well, Celie, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I just so happen to be you,” the shapeshifter stated. She raised an eyebrow, peeking over the Princess’ silhouette at the rising sun. “Oh, um, is the angle off a little?’

“No, it isn’t. It’s just like that during autumn,” Celestia assured her, rubbing her chin, and shoving one of her cards onto the rug that floated between the two of them. “And no, you can’t.”

“I don’t hear a reason, Sunny. Turning up the tyranny, huh?” Osmosis puffed air out her nostrils, glaring at the arrangement of cards on their improvised playing table. “You know nobody likes autumn, by the way. We don’t have to have autumn.”

“No I’m not. I need to keep up appearances at the library. But for two years in a row now, affairs have been so dull, I haven’t had to use any of its resources. This is as good an excuse as any,” the Princess elaborated monotonously, bending her knees slightly, eyes shut tight, the sun having come out of calibration and being propelled to do its daily round with one last surge of magic. “And if you remind me about your way about weather control again… Equestria is going to be a blazing, scorched inferno, and it’ll be all your fault.”

“Uuugh. All I told the Weather Control was that they should look into extending spring and summer by two weeks at the expense of autumn and winter. We don’t HAVE to do it like we’re in the untamed realms!” Osma cried out, banging her soft hooves against the floor in frustration and turning the game table over, conceding her defeat. The cards fizzled out before hitting the floor and reappearing on top of the rug, rearranged into new decks. “And I swear. Are you actually the laziest, pettiest thing in the entire world? Yes or yes? I mean, I’ll go to the trouble, but only because I am a decent pony being. Unlike you.”

“No, you’re not. You’re not a pony.” The equine’s hooves slapped her snout hard, pushing deep as she groaned. “And what I was referring to was that I’ll lose control of the sun next time you make me think about that.”

“Celie, we’re playing cards right now. Three days ago, we played chess.” Osma placed a card down. “One week ago, draughts. Is it me, or are you being a bit of a certified insufferable priss tomorning?”

“No. That memory is just particularly traumatic. I can’t believe I got out of that one without blowing your cover. Honestly, I can’t believe how good I am.” Celestia remained in place, yet to reply to her companion’s move, focusing on finishing up the sunrise spell. Her mane even stopped waving, shining much brighter now. Her eyes shifted from behind closed eyelids, having recognized Osma stood in front of her now. “It’s been a month since you last won against me at anything, by the way.”

“Goodness, Celestia, I think something horrible has happened to you,” the changeling said with mock concern. “Do I put it gently?”

“No need. I can—” The alicorn contorted for a moment before a sharp flash of light blasted off her horn, and her mane went back to waving, if barely sparkling for the time being. She breathed heavily, nearly sitting down after the long minute of concentration. “—take it.”

“I think you’ve lost your ability to not start sentences with the word ‘No’.”

“No, I haven’t. It’s just every time I have to speak up. I’m alright past the first sentence.”

“You know, sometimes I wonder if you’d have lost your mind if I wasn’t around.” Celestia stretched and arched her back, after which she elected to up and lay down on her belly, the sun showering her back with its strong morning light. “Look at how you’re being with me. Now I have to cure you before you start losing entire parts of speech.”

“Wait, n—” the Princess couldn’t finish, being cut off into a huff and pant, because the insequine mare hopped her malleable frame straight on top of her, instantly sliding her limbs around to fit them snugly around the white mare’s body, altering their texture as they went to be more tangibly hard and warmer. When Osma’s chin found its way on top of her head, snout bopping against the horn, she simply sighed and lowered her head straight onto the floor. “I just used an imperative verb.”

“Quiet now. I let you have your moody time yesterday, but today’s taking it too far.” The shapeshifter’s grip around most of her body had solidified, at which point moving her own body proved an unnecessarily big challenge for Celestia, while most movements the insectoid mare on top of her made resonated within her quite palpably. “You’re not leaving this room until I take care of you. You’re ungroomed. You’re fit for the urchins.”

“Don’t you have an important job to be doing?” Celestia mumbled half legibly, dragging a small pillow over to rest her head on.

“Now, that is the problem, isn’t it? No-no-no, work-work-work. Again. Every three weeks. Like clockwork. We need to talk, Celie.” Osmosis’ voice had changed, not the tone, but the light echo that her words made when leaving her mouth transformed into a barely audible tremble which found its way into the alicorn’s ears, causing her to get warmed up and tingly from the inside. “You need company.”

“Hnnngh.”

“And I don’t count because I’m you.”

The alicorn groaned softly and sunk her snout into the pillow. Her forehooves lazily stamped themselves over her ears, folding them in, muffling out Osma’s words.

“You know, it would be adorable if this didn’t happen so regularly. Do I need to explain that when you act like this, you’re maaaking me take the emergency massage further and further and further and further?” The green limbs that enveloped her turned part plush part liquid, emitting slight vibrations and a barely visible heat blur. The chitinous chest plates were more solid, but instead of simply pressing against the mare’s back, they produced light thwomping noises as they thudded against it rhythmically. “I don’t - because you know it, and you won’t admit it, but you keep doing it anyway. I wouldn’t have had to put my voice in your head if you just listened to me like a civilized pony.”

She barely moved when the two mares’ horns touched one another, hers being turned alight by the shifty insect’s will. Struggling huffs and mumbles emerged from the mare on top of her as she worked her magic, continuing her lecture. Celestia’s hooves drooped down slightly from the enforced relaxation, still pushing down on her ears, if only out of stubbornness.

“I’ve been keeping track of this. The whole entire year has been like this! Most of the month, everything is completely fine, we have our weekly massage session. If the month is stressful, we coalesce, yes I know you like the word so much, shut up,” Osma chided while easing her body for the conjoining of their tails, her dragonfly wing tail sliding into the aetherial hairs of Celestia’s. “But come the last week, nooo, we start being mopey and dopey. And every time you find some sort of excuse. ‘Wasteful renovations’ this, ‘disorder in Appleloosan mines’ that, ‘Cerule shipped the wrong weather to the Southlands’ here, ‘siren sightings in Baltimare’ there. Somehow all these things turn stressful in the last third of each month! Twelve times in a row isn’t coincidence, Celie. And you’re not going to distract me with your epic quest.”

The alicorn summoned what remained of her bodily frustration-fueled strength to try to stomp her hooves into the pillow, letting her ears spring unfold back up, blushing and unable to stand straight due to the influence imposed upon her nervous system. She managed an indignant nostril puff and distant whinny, which was meant to convey the variety of responses the wished to be able to shut Osmosis down with. Unfortunately, despite all rumors, she was imperfect in a variety of ways, thus she lacked the innate talent required for even the basics of telepathy - which could not be said about her body double. Whichever species she belonged to, and if there were indeed any of them left, they were quite good at it. Having spent years together, she had unfortunately given Osma too much practice in handling their mental communications, which meant that shouting her down inside her own head wasn’t going to happen. Osmosis’ tembrous voice wasn’t to be escaped from, her wagonloads of justifications and counterarguments were.

“There is something that bothers you, and it isn’t a specific thing. And you yourself called me empathetic. Which I am. And as your very own personal empath, masseuse and errand girl all at once, I am telling you…” The mare lowered her snout to one of Celestia’s now-open, twitchy-folded ears, and then redoubled the volume of her voice in the mare’s head anyway. “You. Need. A. Date.”

Princess Celestia’s body gained some form of agency, swaying woozily and shaking her topside attachment, albeit less than effectively. Her mouth uncoupled itself from the pillow, but little other than wobbly, incoherent, fussy syllables escaped it. Most of her communication was conveyed via a variety of displeased noises.

“You’re craving for affection! And attention! And you want to be ridden! Today was one of the worst, and you don’t even realize it, I bet. Look at how you’re acting, you may as well hang a sign on your neck, write ‘HOT SINGLE WANTS COMPANY’ all over it and go prancing around on the streets!” Just as the Princess almost gained enough momentum, the limbs that hugged her all over began to squeeze and knead, erasing all progress she’d made to showing her distaste. “But of course, I’m paraphrasing. You don’t go out on the streets! You send me out there half the time, and most of your socializing is spying on ponies without them knowing!”

The massage session began to near its end, as, after a few minutes of proper kneading and mushing, Osma’s colors began to change in tint, growing darker, heavier, emitting dark-light pressure sparkles. Celestia’s horn, which was stuck between a pair of jaggy spines that grew out of Osma’s, was no longer glowing a soft yellow, but a much deeper medallion shade, the magic flowing into her forceful masseuse via those very spines. The insequine mare herself wasn’t using her mouth to speak anymore at this point, having made her point by enunciating the Princess’ desperate need for a proper partner. Instead, her teeth were grit with effort, eyes shut tight, her body growing darker by the second.

“You’re a very complicated mare, Celestia. You have a lot on your shoulders. Your behavior is understandable, it really is. However, I’m doing my job quite well, if I say so myself. Don’t even try to say I’m not! There is a piece missing from the puzzle,” her voice talked directly to the alicorn’s mind, entirely unavoidable despite many attempts that even the mare herself knew were doomed. The topic was one that prompted an instinctual flight response, no matter the futility of it. “I’ve lived with this puzzle for yeeears now, so listen to me as an expert. I said I’ll help you with saving the world in fifty years. You said you’ll do me a favor for that. Well, what I want is very simple! You let me find you a nice stallion to spend time with. That’s all I want, Sunny.”

With that, the emergency massage session came to an end - Osmosis detached herself, literally peeling parts of her body off of Celestia, and got stood up, leaving the Princess plastered on the floor. The shapeshifter shuddered, took a deep breath, and kneeled, lighting up her horn. An orb of orange and green formed in the air, growing steadily bit by bit, before ending up roughly the size of a carriage wheel. Having finished growing, the orb began to spin in place. Its colors began to distort, growing darker and darker, filling up into patterns. Particularly darkly tinted segments, nearly tar-black, began to float outward, forming circles around the orb. Once it ceased changing, it was a veritable magical gyroscope colored primarily in very dark browns, peppered with ashen grey dots across the middle, several pitch black circles orbiting it, and a pinprick red dot seething from what would have been the top of it when it wasn’t spinning.

“Ohhh my… This is some of the worst we’ve seen. This looks gnarly,” Osma commented with a shade of exhaustion, casting a glance at the alicorn, who was regaining her ability to not lie in a puddle on the floor. “I didn’t think it’d be that bad when I felt you up two days ago… Being anywhere near this bad is still unacceptable, by the way, so I’m still in the right. But, oh dear. I suppose your inner stresses and troubles have made your case. You know, about how important my job is.”

“Yes, I do know…” Celestia yawn-whispered, leaning a wooly hoof against a pillar by the balcony, gathering up strength to support herself. “I feel like a balloon. Again…”

“Well, look at you. Using words like ‘Yes’ again. I may not be good enough to replace proper pony company, but I’m good for something, aren’t I?” The equine swung to her side, leaving behind a short trace of color, residual energy fizzling out of her body, steadily returning her to the usual balance of red, yellow and green. “There you go. Feeling steady?”

“I will, soon. That hit the spot,” she evaluated her partner’s job dryly, flexing and twisting her neck with no cracking to be heard. “You presume too much, however. I should really ban you from reading all those romance novels. Or at least make you show up to the library as myself when you take them. Nevermind, that is a terrible idea…”

“Oh no. Our Supreme Monarch reads things! Gather the pitchforks!” Osmosis altered her voice to sound shrieking, obnoxious and male. “Mount her head on the Tower doors!!! Down wi—” She ended up gurgling out echoey, pitch-altered nonsense as a white forehoof placed itself squarely in her mouth, gagging her.

“Shush. Osma. You’re a great…” Celestia paused, rolling her eyes. “...individual. But you have a very one track mind. Let me tell you something as the ruler of a country that is essentially based on friendship and love. Romance doesn’t solve absolutely everything. Love in general also doesn’t. I’ve lived long enough to find that much out. And I’ve told you this at least seven times before, by the way. You eat it and are, as such, very clearly biased.”

“You know, sometimes you remind me that I’m not doing my job just to be nice to you, or because it’s fun. Sometimes you really come off as this millennia-old depressed teenager going through a phase!” Osmosis countered, talking mouthlessly. She sat down on her haunches and crossed her forehooves, nibbling against the hoof indignantly. “Bwuah-bwuah-bwuaaah, you can’t possibly understand me, it’s not like you’re an empath with years of experience and I’m so easy to read that I may as well be a book on four legs!”

“You prize yourself heavily for someone who’s lost a total of 220 consecutive games of anything we’ve played that required any degree of thinking, Osma,” Princess Celestia countered, booping snouts with her body double and smirking wide. By that point she had given up on freeing her hoof without excessive force, so it took spreading her wings to balance on three legs as she did that. “I would think that after how long I’ve lived, I know myself a little better than you. It’s in the details, and also, thanks for reminding me how old I am, miss Point-Out-Every-Rude-Thing-I-Do-In-Private. You know, you’re stepping out of line. You are going to be spanked if you keep going like this.”

“You know I have a point.”

“Not an argument, dear.”

“You’re gonna be a great teacher to this student of yours with manners like these, aren’t you?”

“...that’s… an argument, I suppose.” Celestia stopped, frowning and biting on her lower lip. Her hoof was finally released from Osmosis’ jaws too, rewarding her for playing along in some fashion at least.

“There you go. Oh and, by the way, you were the one who brought up your age,” Osma pointed out with her physical voice, grinning wide and blinking smugly. “Score another for me. So, is it a deal?”

“Nope.”

“OH COME ON!!!” the shapeshifter shrieked, her eyes growing several sizes larger to express her infuriation as she waved her forehooves in the air, tumbling over onto the floor while she was at it. “Ack, buh.”

The Princess turned around to face her sun once again and began levitating pieces of her formal apparel over, fitting it in without much hurry. She lifted a glass of orange juice and stuck its straw into the side of her mouth, letting her sip as she prepared to venture out into the innards of Canterlot Towers.

“I’m willing to accept that there’s something wrong with me. Most likely in a physical sense. The timing isn’t a thing I can ignore. I’ll look into seeing what I can do about this, because the absolute last thing we need is me in a bad state when the time is nigh,” she lectured diligently, fitting her necklace with maroon jewels. “I highly doubt that the solution to this particular issue is going to be ‘find a mortal stallion to mount you at night and fill your life with roughly forty years of periodical joy after which his passing plunges you into depression for approximately a month and generally worsens your mental state of affairs’.” The Princess’ tone was particularly dry and monotonous for the prolonged section of air-quotes she’d made with her forehooves as the golden slippers were being magicked over them. Her body double let out a bodily chitter, tilting her head rapidly and raising her eyebrows.

“...that didn’t come out of nothing, Celie, did it?”

“Library, Osma, and then I expect you to get started.” Celestia dodged the topic entirely and cleared her throat. “Right now, I have got basic architecture to explain to the Council in twenty minutes, and that’ll take a while - so take your time, but don’t take too long! You know how it goes.”

“I sure do. Fifty years are going to come to an end in, like, a few days, I guess, the way you’re acting!” Osmosis scoffed, getting onto all fours and preparing herself for a change in appearance as well. “This conversation isn’t over, you know!”

“I’m sure it’ll stay in your head,” The alicorn chimed condescendingly, trotting out of the chambers. “Especially after you see the new Griffon romance novels they shipped yesterday!”

“And do your save-the-world quest, Celie!”

“And that too, yes.”

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