• Published 23rd Dec 2011
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A Bluebird's Song - Ardensfax



Rainbow Dash is struggling against her own past. Is it time for her rising star to fall?

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Parting The Clouds

A Bluebird’s Song

~~~
It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The sun it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you left behind
~~~

Parting The Clouds

Twilight lay down beside her mentor, and for the first time in her life it struck her how old the Alicorn was. Her face was blessed, or perhaps cursed, with an eternal ageless grace, but her eyes told the real story. The Princess was weary, and no façade could hide it. An eternity of memories as yet unmade stretched out before her, and weighed heavily on her.

Celestia was silent for a few moments, then her horn flared, the magical aura enveloping the heavy bejeweled circlet that she wore around her neck. Carefully, as Twilight watched in surprise, she lifted it clear, sliding it over her head and taking it in her hooves. She held it out to Twilight, who took it mutely, struggling a little to bear the weight of the heavy gold.

“Princess…”

“Look at the inside,” Celestia said, her voice soft.

In silence, not at all sure where this was going, Twilight turned the circlet over, to look at the inner face, the side that the Princess wore, hidden, against her heart. She gasped in surprise, as she saw that instead of a plain, golden surface, the inside of the circlet was engraved. A small line of likenesses, in the image of various unicorns’ faces were expertly tooled into the metal, almost alive in the vibrancy and skill with which they were crafted. There were five ponies in the line, which reached about a third of the way around the circlet. The rest was blank metal, as yet untouched.

“Who…?” Twilight began to ask, although she felt as if she already knew.

Celestia closed her eyes for a moment. “Sometimes, once in a few hundred years, I meet a pony who surprises me, a pony separate from the endless parade of names and faces. Many ponies are set apart by their magical talent, but a very few have something to make them truly shine. These ponies I take as my protégés at the School for Gifted Unicorns. You are one such pony.”

Twilight blushed a little at the compliment, gazing at the Princess’s circlet in awe that she would let her see something so personal. “Thankyou, Princess.”

“I do not deserve your thanks, Twilight,” Celestia said, her voice scarcely a whisper. She motioned to the first of the likenesses on the golden circlet, a unicorn with sharp, slanting eyes and a short, curly mane. “Evergreen, the great granddaughter of Clover the Clever. The first pony to enter my personal tutelage. When I lost her to the Hornrot epidemic I grieved for months, I thought that surely I could never find another pony to equal her.” Celestia moved her hoof to indicate the next pony to the right, a high-cheekboned stallion with an abnormally short, wide horn. “Then, almost two hundred years later, I met Elixir Goldmane, the most talented potioneer I have ever met, even to this day. He fell in defence of this very city when the griffons came for the second time. I was told a spear struck him a glancing blow, and he fell from the ramparts, down the mountainside. I searched for days, but never found his body.”

Twilight opened her mouth to offer some form of condolence for this ages-past loss, but Celestia cut across her. “I will not force you to listen to the rest of their stories, but I need you to understand. Over the years, I have come to know that everypony must die, even those whom I cannot bear to lose. I understand this, and I daresay I understand it better than most. But even if I were to live until the sun itself burns to ashes, I never thought that I would come to accept it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I lied to you. I lied to Rainbow Dash, too.” Celestia’s voice was level, her eyes still shining with tears. “I told you that there was no risk of Sunset sabotaging the record attempt this coming weekend. I knew that they would have done, I knew perfectly well that if the record attempt went ahead, Rainbow Dash would be killed, and your trust in me would be permanently and rightfully broken.”

Twilight instinctively recoiled a little at the words, her face registering nothing but shock. “Princess… Why? Why would you do that?”

Celestia bowed her head. “I understand something about Sunset, now. They have become puppets. Dusk Tempest is every bit as clever as I thought he was back when he was my Captain of the Guard. Sunset may have their leaders, but he was the force behind this operation of theirs, acting in the shadows, guiding them. He doesn’t care about pegasi or unicorns, or about who knows the secret of pegasus flight. He just wants to bring me down. Not to remove me from my throne, for he knows that it impossible, but to cause me pain, to show me that I am not infallible. He wants to give me yet another regret to bear through the millennia, in repayment for my perceived betrayal of him. He engineered the situation such that if I let the attack go ahead, Sunset would be forced to show their hand. We would most likely bring their leaders in, at the cost of your trust in me. Of course, they could have simply come to your library and…” Celestia stopped, unable to complete the sentence, moving swiftly onward. “They could have done that, but I believe that they did not want to… to kill you. They wanted to destroy your faith in me. They wanted to take away my only friend.”

Twilight could not respond, her mind was whirling, and the Princess continued, her voice breaking a little. “I was going to let it happen. Sunset have done terrible, terrible things in the past, and I needed them gone before they could gain a foothold again. It was only the taunts of Dusk Tempest himself that made me see clearly what I was going to do. His one mistake.”

"You… you spoke to him about this?”

“He is my prisoner, I visited him ostensibly to question him, but in reality I needed to tell somepony the truth.” She echoed Dusk’s words to her, almost unconsciously. “The only one who would understand. I’m afraid of myself, Twilight. I always have been. My fear for myself overpowered my fear for you, I was a coward. Then, he said something that made all the difference.”

“What?”

“He told me that he knows how I think.” The Princess sighed. “At that moment, I realized that he was right. He knew that I was afraid of myself, that I was incapable of doing what was necessary, and because of that I was going to let something unforgivable happen.”

Twilight was confused, and more than a little horrified at what might have been. She assumed that the Princess had found some solution to the problem at hand. “But… but you didn’t let it happen. You just told me that Sunset are finished.” Her voice was reassuring, if fearful. “Maybe you nearly made a mistake, but you saw that it was a mistake before you went through with it. You thought that it was the only way, and I can respect that. I still trust you, Princess.”

Celestia chuckled, bitterly. “You don’t know how this story ends yet, Twilight. I expect you think I did something clever. Something heroic. Perhaps I found some clue, or remembered something Dusk had hinted at, and deduced where their leaders were hiding, so I could swoop in with the guards?” She looked Twilight in the eye, and Twilight could see the pain in her face. “No, Twilight. I hurt him. I kept hurting him until he told me everything. It took about twenty minutes, and I got the names and the places and the safehouses. By the time I raised the sun this morning, Sunset were finished.”

For a moment, there was silence, and Celestia lowered her eyes so that she was no longer looking at the unicorn beside her. Suddenly, Twilight gave a small sob. “I’m so sorry, Princess,” she choked out.

Celestia was taken aback, she had expected her student to react with fear or hatred, not contrition. “Twilight? What do you have to be sorry for?”

“Everything!” Twilight exclaimed. “This is all my fault! If I hadn’t gone ahead with my stupid, petty research, then you would never have been forced to do this. It gave Dusk an excuse to go after Rainbow, so he could hurt you. If I’d just stopped, then you would never have had to make that choice at all. I’ve hurt you, and I nearly got the mare I love killed.” She buried her face in her hooves, muttering. “I wanted to help Rainbow, that’s all I wanted to do, I swear.”

“Twilight-” Celestia began, but the unicorn did not respond. “Please, Twilight,” she said, a little louder. “Don’t hate yourself for this. You were blackmailed, and you didn’t give in to that blackmail. That’s not petty, it was brave, and I would have expected nothing less from you. If anypony deserves your hate, it’s me. I was a fool, I was too much of a coward to do what needed to be done, to trust myself to not be corrupted. I almost left it too late. What I did to Dusk Tempest will haunt me for a long time, but it did not corrupt me, and it will not haunt me nearly so much as what I nearly allowed to happen. It took the taunts of an imprisoned, half-mad unicorn to stop me from making the greatest mistake of my existence. My cowardice nearly led me to kill the one pony who is most important to my only friend.”

Twilight looked up, and her expression changed a little. Her own guilt still weighed on her, and she knew that it would for some time, but she understood that she could not have known the repercussions that her defiance would have.

As she looked into her mentor’s eyes, she thought that she saw the unmasked pain behind them lessen a little. Did the Princess really consider her a friend, not simply a student? At that moment, she knew that she could help. As a subject of the Princess, she was powerless. But as a friend, she could convince Celestia that she was not a coward. As hard as she thought about what the Princess had told her, she found it impossible to feel anger or disappointment, instead feeling nothing but forgiveness and gratitude towards her mentor.

“Princess,” she began, her voice still breaking, but a little stronger now. “Perhaps, logically, I should feel betrayed, or afraid, or angry.” She looked Celestia in the eye, and it seemed as if the goddess of the sun was waiting with baited breath. “But I’m your friend, and nopony ever said that friendship is logical. You’re not a coward. If you were a coward, you would never have come to this library to talk with me. I promise, I will always believe in you, even if sometimes you don’t believe in yourself.”

For a moment, they looked at each other, and it was as if the roles of learner and mentor had been, for an instant, reversed. Celestia smiled through the tears that had sprung to her eyes again. There was still pain in her face, but a spark of hope burned there too. “You know, Twilight,” Celestia murmured, “when I met you, I had not taken on a protégé in nearly four hundred years.” Suddenly, the Princess leaned forwards and embraced Twilight gratefully, her tears flowing freely now. “You were worth the wait.”

*

After the door swung shut behind them, Dash and Fluttershy stood outside the library for a few moments, in surprised silence. They had always regarded the Princess as infallible, all-powerful, constantly in control of every situation. It had come as something of a shock to see her in such a state of vulnerability.

“I hope the Princess is alright,” murmured Fluttershy, in concern.

They walked together for a few minutes, putting a little distance between themselves and the library. Whatever was happening, it was between the Princess and Twilight, and neither Fluttershy nor Dash wanted to pry.

“What do ya reckon’s the matter?” Dash asked, nervously.

Fluttershy shook her head. “I don’t know, but if the Princess is in such a state it’s bound to be important.”

Silence fell between them again, then Dash threw her canary companion an appraising look. “Are you okay at the moment, ‘Shy?”

Fluttershy pulled up, looking almost guilty, and Dash stopped walking too. “How do you mean?”

“I dunno,” Dash shrugged, thinking that perhaps she was imagining things, but deciding that it was worth chasing up. “Ever since… Ya know, all that stuff at your house last week. You’ve seemed a bit quiet.”

“Quiet?” Fluttershy smiled. “You’ve known me for years, Rainbow. Does it still surprise you when I’m quiet?”

“Quieter than usual, then,” Dash qualified, also grinning at how obvious her words had been. “Those guys broke into your house, ‘Shy. Is it still bothering you?”

Fluttershy sighed, wandering over to a nearby bench and lying down, resting her head on her hooves while Dash remained standing, looking at her with obvious worry on her behalf.

“Yes and no,” Fluttershy admitted, studying her hooves carefully rather than looking at her friend. “It’s not what they did. It’s what I did.”

“Huh?”

“That unicorn, Frost. The one I… I attacked.” Fluttershy’s voice was almost inaudible. “It felt just like back in Flight School, on the day I got your locket back. I don’t know why, but it felt… good.”

Dash looked at her, in surprise. Ever since the two of them had left Flight School, Fluttershy had never once brought up the subject of that day, and Dash had learned not to broach the topic, as she knew too well the hurt that formed in Fluttershy’s eyes whenever she tried. “That’s what’s been bothering you?”

Fluttershy nodded, looking ashamed of herself. “It felt like when I saw what that dragon had done to you all, but much stronger. The dragon was just a brute, but those ponies in my house were being deliberately cruel to Spike when he couldn’t fight back. The dragon was angry, but those ponies were actually enjoying what they were doing. It’s the same as with that filly who stole your locket. It… it felt good to teach them a little of what it feels like, but surely that makes me as bad as them.”

Dash walked closer, and sat carefully beside her on the bench, patting her reassuringly on the shoulder. “Hey, ‘Shy. It’s okay.”

“It’s not, though,” exclaimed Fluttershy in frustration. “I don’t want to be a vengeful pony, that’s a horrible way to be!”

“Look,” Dash sighed, feeling a resurgent spike of anger towards the members of Sunset. “I’m not a vengeful pony either, but we all get angry sometimes. When the first one broke into my house, I’d have bucked every tooth out of his head if I’d gotten my hooves on him, and hay, I’d probably have enjoyed it too. We’re not saints, ‘Shy. We’re just ponies.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I guess so. Even the Princess gets angry sometimes. Even so, I’m the Element of Kindness. I shouldn’t go around beating up ponies who do things I don’t like.”

“Both times you were protecting your friends,” Dash reminded her. “I’m not sayin’ that makes it nice or anything, but come on, from the day I met you at Flight School, all the way to right now, it’s only happened twice. That doesn’t exactly make you a vigilante, ‘Shy.”

Fluttershy giggled quietly at this. “That’s probably a good thing. I’d make a terrible vigilante.”

Dash jumped to her feet, pointing a hoof dramatically at an imaginary criminal. “Stop right there!” She barked, causing a few passers-by to look around for the source of the command, then her voice fell to an affectedly nervous whisper. “Umm, If you don’t mind, that is…”

She glanced sideways at Fluttershy, who was laughing at the impressively accurate impersonation. She knew that Fluttershy was comfortable enough around her to take it as a joke, as opposed to mockery. “You know me too well, Rainbow,” Fluttershy said with a smile.

“Hey,” a thought suddenly occurred to Dash, and she trotted back over to the bench, her eyes wide with excitement. “Do you reckon Princess Celestia’s gonna come to watch the record attempt?”

“Maybe, she came to the Young Flyers’ Competition,” Fluttershy replied, uncertainly. “Although that was mostly to give out the prizes.”

“I bet she will,” enthused Dash. She dropped her voice so the other ponies passing by in the street would not hear. “Sunset won’t dare try anything if she’s watching.”

This had evidently not occurred to Fluttershy, who was, like Dash, not yet aware of Sunset’s forcible closure. She looked relieved. “That’s a good point, I expect she will, if it makes things safer for you.”

Dash nodded. “That’d be so awesome. Hey, do you think we should head back to the library now? Twi’ might be gonna come out soon. I hope everything’s okay, I hope the Princess isn’t angry with her about anything.”

Fluttershy got to her feet, falling in step beside Dash as they headed back across the warm cobbles, joining the sparse throng of ponies out enjoying the weather. “She didn’t seem angry,” she said, pensively. “She just seemed sad, actually. I hope she’s alright.”

“I hope so, too,” agreed Dash, looking sideways at her friend. “Are you feeling better now, ‘Shy?”

“I guess,” Fluttershy nodded, vestigial concerns still showing on her face, but her voice sounding reassured by Dash’s earlier words. “I’m more worried about Twilight right now…”

*

Twilight sat on the rug, beside the Princess. Celestia seemed noticeably more collected now; the unicorn’s reassuring words had evidently helped her mentor, at least a little. The heavy golden circlet lay between them, the eyes of the Princess's former students gazing peacefully up at the two of them.

“Princess?” Twilight said at last, her voice enquiring.

“Yes, Twilight?”

“You said that your guards had arrested Sunset’s leaders. Who were they?”

For a moment, Celestia did not reply, and when she did, her voice was one of warning. “If I tell you, I must warn you that the knowledge may put you in a rather difficult position.”

“What do you mean, Princess?” Twilight asked, bemusedly. “I’d like to know, for the sake of closure.”

Celestia nodded. “I cannot explain properly without telling you, and I understand that you want to know. Here you are, then. There were three in all. The went by the assumed names Hourglass, Firefly, and Libra. I have no prior knowledge of Hourglass, and have not yet found his actual name. However, I have every reason to suspect that Libra is the Canterlot-accented stallion who broke into Rainbow Dash’s house. Once again, we are yet to unearth his real name.” She paused, for a moment. “It is the third who presents a more delicate matter. Firefly.”

“The ponies in Fluttershy’s cottage mentioned a Libra,” mused Twilight, “but I’ve never heard Firefly mentioned.”

“You wouldn’t have. Her real name is Cloudshine, a unicorn of some prodigious skill, and a deep-seated hatred for pegasi.”

“Cloudshine…” Twilight said the name slowly, turning it over in her mind for the source of the significance that Celestia clearly placed upon it. It rang a vague bell, but the hint of recognition refused to solidify. “I’ve never heard of her. Should I have?”

Celestia closed her eyes. “Once again, I would not expect you to. But I must ask you to be cautious if you decide to break the news.”

“Break the news?”

The Princess opened her eyes again, and looked down at Twilight, as if wishing fervently that she did not have to give Twilight this burden.

“She is the second daughter of Rainbow Shine, a mare deeply betrayed by the pegasus she loved.”

Twilight’s eyes widened in shock. “You mean…?”

Celestia nodded, grimly. “Yes. She’s Rainbow Dash’s half-sister.”

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