• Published 30th Dec 2011
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Composure - Varanus



What could be revealed when the mask called composure slips? Twilight and Celestia romance

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Chapter 1 - Catastrophe

Composure

by Varanus

A MLP:FiM fanfiction.

~{C}~

Chapter 1 - Catastrophe

~{C}~

“The night looks wonderful, Luna,” Celestia said, smiling as she gazed in wonder at the depth and brilliance of the night sky her sister had so lovingly brought forth. It was unlike any she had seen before, ethereal and magnificent, impossible and wondrous.

“Do you really mean that, Celestia?” Luna asked quietly, doubt and hope in equal parts evident in her voice. “Ever since we reunited, all those years ago, I was working towards this, the perfect night.”

“Well, I believe you’ve more than accomplished it, sister,” the sun princess praised her younger sibling. “Why, the sky is simply mesmerizing tonight; I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Luna gave a small smile at the praise. “D-do you think the ponies will like it?”

“Luna, they will love it,” Celestia assured her sister, lowering her head to nuzzle the shy princess. “They will absolutely adore this night, I know it.”

Luna smiled. “I’m so glad. But, Celestia, you haven’t seen the best part. There’s a surprise in that sky, just for you. Can you see it?”

“A surprise?” the sun princess asked, excited. She never got surprises!

“Yes; it’s to thank you, and to show you how much I love you,” the darker alicorn beckoned with her hoof. “It’s at the centre of the sky, directly upwards.”

Celestia craned her head up, searching the heavens for the surprise Luna promised. Her entire field of vision was filled with the rolling eternity of the constellations, and she soon lost herself amidst their splendour. “Luna...” she murmured, tears building in her eyes from the sheer beauty. “Luna, I –”

“I’m so glad you love it, sister,” Luna whispered in her ear. “At the very least, you deserve something this beautiful to be your last sight.”

Celestia didn’t register the words until it was too late. A bolt of lightning cut through the sun princess, robbing her breath and racking her entire body with pain. Celestia didn’t even get a chance to scream as she collapsed, while at her side Luna’s horn was writhing with a dark indigo aura. Eyes wide with panic, Celestia stared up at her sister, her coat darkened pitch black, her mane and tail turned into a starry abyss, and worst of all, her mouth still holding that gentle smile Celestia cherished so.

“I’m so relieved the ponies will love this night,” Luna said sweetly, her mane sweeping over Celestia, plucking the helpless princess from the ground and lifting her into the air. “Because I put everything I had into it. I worked so hard to make it perfect.” The mane cradled Celestia like a newborn foal, and she could only look in horror at Luna’s loving eyes and smiling face as the aura bound her paralyzed form completely. “And now it is, and they will love it forever, because it’s never going to vanish. This night, this beautiful night, will last forever.”

And the starry mane squeezed, Celestia screamed –

~{C}~

– And she woke up, a cold sweat drenching her white coat.

Disorientated and breathing heavily, she darted her eyes around the room.

She was safe in her bedchamber. Philomena dozed on her perch, undisturbed. Moonlight poured in from the balcony window where Celestia could glimpse a patch of stars –

- filling her vision as the thunderbolt struck, wiping away the wonder, leaving only pain and confusion -

It had only been a dream.

Everything was fine at the palace. It had been for years. Luna had once again started Night Court and established her Night Guard, bringing peace to the streets. She cherished her role, and in turn the ponies of Equestria loved her –

- the mane of stars ghosting over her, Luna so heartbreakingly happy that she was loved, loved enough to replace a sister, to replace the sun –

It had only been a dream.

Luna loved her. She would never -

- smile so softly and lovingly as the abyss of stars formed a vice grip over her ribs –

Celestia sobbed, driving her head into her pillows. It had only been a dream! That’s all! A dream!

So why couldn’t she stop having it?

~{C}~

The Sandmare, arrogant fool that it was, refused to answer the princess’ call in the wake of the nightmare. Unable to sleep, Celestia reluctantly rose from her bed and ran through the motions in preparation for the day. By the time she was almost finished, gargling her tea-tree mouthwash, the moon was low in the sky and dawn was less than an hour away. Celestia felt a traitorous flutter of relief at the thought and hated herself for it.

She refused to give those thoughts quarter in her mind, and strode out onto the balcony to observe the moon. Sure enough, a familiar voice soon called out to her.

“Sister!” Luna said happily, alighting on the balcony and smiling at her sister. “How long have you been awake?”

“A while now, Luna,” Celestia replied. “I... had some trouble sleeping.”

“Excited about Twilight’s visit?” Luna asked, her voice carrying a knowing tone.

Celestia blinked, then broke into a radiant smile. “Why yes, as a matter of fact I am.” Now she was glad to have walked out onto the balcony – Luna had reminded her of her precious student’s visit to the castle, one they had been planning for months.

“What is it she’s up to, anyway?” Luna inquired, curious.

“Well,” Celestia began in earnest, pride in her voice, “Twilight has been conducting studies into magical energy sources. We’re going to attempt to imbue a gemstone with a particular magical energy source and convert it into another. It’s all very theoretical, but today is one of the first large-scale practical experiments.”

“You seem very excited,” Luna said with a smile.

Celestia nodded eagerly. “Oh yes, certainly. There are just so many applications for this sort of magical technology. Imagine the possibilities – what if one could drop a talisman into a lightning cloud, absorb the energy within, and convert that vicious power into a gentle, slow releasing heat? It could provide warmth to a city the size of Hoofington for weeks!”

Luna blinked. “Oh. That sounds important.”

Celestia’s wings fluttered bashfully. “I like to take an interest in the technological arts now and then...”

“Well, it’s important for us to have the lives of our ponies at the front of our minds, is it not?” the moon princess said lightly. Celestia nodded in agreement, and they turned to gaze into the dwindling night sky.

“I have a surprise for you...” Luna’s voice broke the silence after a moment. She smiled at Celestia and, to her credit, the sun princess only hesitated for a split-second. Not nearly enough for Luna to catch as anything more than her usual caution. The sisters were both pranksters at heart in one way or another, after all.

“Oh?” Celestia asked, executing her best ‘now just what are you up to?’ grin.

“I was working on something for the sky tonight...” Luna continued as Celestia’s stomach twisted in growing irrational fear. “But I need your help.”

“Beg pardon?” Celestia asked, now genuinely curious.

Luna turned her gaze to the moon, watching keenly as it began to slip below the horizon. “Alright... raise the sun, please.”

“Now? The moon is still –”

“Trust me!” Luna replied with a smile. “I won’t stand in the way, I promise. Raise the sun.”

Celestia raised a curious eyebrow, but decided to play along. Drawing a breath, she grounded her stance – anchoring herself to the earth, drawing on the plants and animals that cherished her life-giving sun. Her wings extended – feeling the breeze flow through them, invoking the air which sheltered and nurtured the land with rainclouds and softened the sun’s harsh light into warm, balmy rays. Her horn glowed with the magic – magic that flowed like ocean currents through her world and the wonders and mysteries it brought with it thanks to the sun saturating it with the root of life, light.

She felt it all, the power of the Unicorns, the Pegusi and the Earth Ponies, all embodied in her Alicorn soul, all giving her the strength to reach out... and touch the sun.

Light spilled over the horizon.

But Luna’s moon still clung there, hanging in the sun’s path. Of course, they did not collide, the sun being much further away, but it was still enough to slow the dawn by a few minutes. The sunrise spread soft gold and orange across the clouds of the sky, but that began to fade as it began to pass behind the low moon. Celestia was confused at Luna’s strategy, until it happened.

The sun rose high enough to be totally eclipsed by the moon, and light emerged from behind it – a solar corona. Only, because both of the heavenly orbs were so low in the sky, the light of the corona spread out into the clouds, tinting them into a veritable rainbow of hues – golds and silvers and pastel greens and blues and reds and oranges and yellows, all spreading for miles and miles across Equestria, radiating from the eclipse. Celestia stared in wonder, unable to speak. Luna wore a satisfied smile, glancing between her sister and her creation in the sky.

After a minute had passed, the sun began to climb once more, and Luna allowed the moon to descend. The colours in the sky drew back without a whisper, the sky turning blue and the clouds fading to white, ushering in the new day.

Celestia was still speechless. Few ponies would be up at this hour. Luna had created this especially for Celestia. Gratitude and happiness welled up inside her, and the sun princess found tears threatening to pour from her eyes. “Oh... oh, Luna, it’s beautiful.”

Luna smiled softly. “Thank you. I was so worried it wouldn’t work right, so I... well, I spent the night tweaking the air flows so it’d refract the light just right.”

“W-why... what’s the occasion?” Celestia inquired, beginning to get a handle on her emotions.

Luna paid very specific attention to a patch of clouds in the distance. “You just seem stressed lately, but you’ve also been looking forward to today since your student is visiting. She’s bound to cheer you up, but I guess I wanted to do my part as well.”

“Well, you’ve succeeded wonderfully,” Celestia laughed, moving forward to embrace her sister with a tight hug. They both relished the contact before breaking apart, gazing out into their kingdom.

“Looking forward to seeing Twilight?” Luna asked, breaking the silence.

“Yes, definitely,” Celestia nodded happily. Though their correspondence hadn’t wavered over the years, it had been too long since she and Twilight Sparkle had spoken in person. “And I must say, I feel like it is going to be a good day, not in the least because of that magnificent eclipse of yours.”

“I knew you’d like it,” Luna said smugly. “I thought I’d do something special to mark the occasion. I noticed since my return you’ve been quite taken with Twilight.”

Celestia smiled. “Yes, while the entire sky is a tapestry during your night, I only get those brief moments at the beginning and end of my day to play the artist. I suppose it...” The princess trailed off as she noticed Luna barely holding in a bout of giggling. Celestia regarded her with confusion, before realising the joke. “Ah. You were making implications.”

Luna giggled, and glanced over at Celestia. “By the way, your mane is untidy.”

Celestia raised a dangerous eyebrow at her sister. “My mane billows in the solar wind. It doesn’t do ‘untidy’.”

“Wow, is that what you’ve told yourself all these years?” Luna said innocently, trotting past her sister and into the bedroom. “And I thought you were making a fashion statement. I suppose I’m going to have to brush it for you. You know what a brush is, don’t you?”

Celestia was honestly puzzled by Luna’s attitude this morning. Something was up with her – either something was bothering her or she had an ulterior motive. Dream or no dream, however, Celestia knew it was nothing sinister, so she decided follow her and indulge her sister in whatever game she was playing.

~{C}~

Forty minutes of chatting and playful teasing later, and Celestia’s nightmare was all but forgotten. She was lying on her bed with her sister, idly humming along to a record of Luna’s choosing as she ran a brush through her sister’s fine blue mane, bringing a beautiful lustre out into the strands.

“Court will begin soon,” Celestia thought aloud. “It’s a short session today so I could make time for Twilight, but I’d still best get ready.”

Luna craned her head around to look at her sister, a smile on her face. “In that case I’ll inform them you are taking the day off and that, sadly, they’ll have to be satisfied with the Moon Princess for today’s court.”

Celestia’s eyes widened in pleasant surprise. “Sister, you don’t need to do this for me.”

The younger alicorn rose, hopping off the bed. “Celestia, you’re tired. Get some rest, and be fresh and attentive once Twilight arrives. I’ll handle the administration; you just take the day off, alright?” Luna’s horn glowed and Celestia’s duvet rose, tucking Celestia in gently.

– stars, wrapping around her lovingly – Celestia banished the memory, then locked it in a dungeon in the place she banished it. Sighing dramatically, she looked up at her sister and smiled gratefully. “If you insist, I’ll ” She paused as a sudden urge to yawn overcame her. “Excuse me, I suppose I am rather tired,” she admitted sheepishly, grinning at Luna’s amused expression. “Very well, I’ll take a nap.”

Luna nodded, satisfied, and soared out the balcony window. “When Twilight arrives, I’ll send her straight to your
chambers, sister!”

Celestia was half-dozing by that point. “Yes, that sounds wonderful...” She jolted up and levelled a fierce glare out the window, which was ruined by the embarrassed blush on her face. “LUNA!

But her sister was already gone, laughter trailing in the wind. Celestia merely chuckled and sighed, resting her head on her pillow. Before she knew it, she was fast asleep once more.

~{C}~

Celestia dreamed.

She saw...

Luna. Glaring, incredulous.

She smelled...

Fire. Burning hair.

She heard...

Twilight’s voice. Begging, frightened.

She felt...

Lightning. Hot, savage forks.

She tasted...

Blood.

~{C}~

Celestia’s eyes fluttered open as the princess emerged from her troubled dream.

Almost instantly, she seized up in panic. ‘Where am I?!

Her head bolted up, and she immediately regretted the swift action as an intense ache flooded her skull. She pressed her hoof gingerly to her forehead and found it sore to the touch. Even the slightest bob of her head seemed to worsen the headache that was building as she became more and more alert. As she mentally pushed past it, she also became aware of other aches and pains all across her body – it was almost as if the wounds had planned a surprised party for her while she was unconscious.

A quick glance revealed her surroundings as a white, sparsely furnished room. It smelled strongly of disinfectant. The only light was streaming in from a window on a far wall, and aside from the bed she found herself resting on, only a cushioned seat and a strange, beeping machine could be seen.

Thanking small blessings, Celestia noted that none of her injuries were too severe. As far as she could tell, her wings were fine, though she couldn’t factor clipping or other feather damage out of the equation just yet. Her ribs were tight as she took a deep breath, implying they were bruised in some way, which was supported by the tell-tale splotches of purples and yellows faintly noticeable beneath her white coat.

Was I assaulted?’ she thought, trying to stay rational in the face of her rising fears. ‘Who could have done such a thing?’ Alicorns were sturdier than the hardiest Earth pony – the knowledge that somepony or something had been capable of beating her to the point of unconsciousness worried her more than the injuries themselves.

Why can’t I recall what happened?’ Celestia thought, straining to remember something, anything. All she got for her effort was a throb of pain from her headache, and a sinking feeling in her gut as she began to assume the worst. ‘T-there must be a logical explanation,’ she told herself. Pushing the thought aside, she took stock of her surroundings.

She was in a sterile white room, one which was dimly lit and carried a heavy scent of disinfectant. The only furnishings were the bed she found herself resting on, a white cushioned seat and an odd machine which emitted a continuous beeping, the only sound present in the room. Never having been unfortunate enough to be familiar with the medical arts, it took her a moment to realise it was a device for measuring a pony’s heart-rate. Glancing at the machine, she followed several wires connected to it to confirm that, yes, she was indeed hooked up to the monitor. She frowned disapprovingly at the spots of her coat which had been shaved to allow the cups to press directly to her skin.

She then noticed the tube of a drip which similarly led to her right fore-cannon. Her horn lit up and she winced as her headache flared. Ignoring it, she used a quick flick of magic to pluck the drip’s needle out.

A hospital then,’ she decided blearily, her headache making it difficult to concentrate. Whatever painkillers the hospital had provided her were clearly unable to overcome her high toxin tolerance, the secret downside to being a nigh-immortal, resilient pony. She nickered at the irony, and winced as her headache punished her for it.

Sighing, she lay back down in the hospital bed and rolled on her side. Wincing once more at a new pain, she pushed herself back up and craned her head to investigate herself a second time. ‘Wonderful, another addition to my laundry list of owies and boo-boos,’ she thought dryly, but her expression fell when she saw her side. A long pink splotch of bare, shiny skin was stretching up her shoulder to her withers and down almost to her cutie mark – the largest burn she had ever suffered. It was also the strangest burn, jagged and frayed like she had been scraped by a magical claw. Some of her feathers were burnt off as well, none of the vital primaries but enough to make flying inadvisable for the foreseeable future. She prodded the skin softly with her muzzle and was relieved to note it was not too painful – it would heal fast. ‘Still, this burn is not natural,’ she noted morosely. ‘Who knows what it’s done to my insides...

She frowned at the burn, wondering how she had received it. Its mark seemed strangely familiar. However, she drew a blank and sighed, glancing around the dim room. ‘A hospital room, not one I’m familiar with,’ she noted, taking stock of her surroundings. ‘Which only begs the question of why I am at a hospital at all – there is dedicated medical ponyel at the castle. Did something happen at the castle?

The realisation hit her like a lightning bolt.

Twilight was at the castle.

What happened?! Was she in danger?

A surge of fear blossomed within Celestia. Was her student safe? Did she see the attack and run for help? Was she caught in the attack? Was she hurt? Was she here, in this hospital, clinging to life as her assailants, the ponies who hurt her, now lorded in her castle, smug in their victory? Was it a revolution? Were ponies sick of her rule? Why today? Why did they hurt Twilight? Would Twilight wake up, could she be saved?

A beeping noise in the background began to speed to a frantic pace. Alarmed, Celestia franticly searched for the source of the sound, her eyes resting on a strange machine beside her bed. It took her a moment to realise it was one of those heart rate monitors that had been invented in the past few decades. She glanced at her foreleg and realised the pattern on the device’s screen was reading her own heart rate. A drip hung beside it, its tube hanging uselessly to the side, letting fluid drip onto the sterile floor. She frowned in confusion, wondering why somepony would waste hospital supplies so carelessly, but pushed the thought away. Twilight was in danger.

Calm down, Celestia. Composure is what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom,’ the princess chided herself. ‘Think. I’m in a hospital. Whoever did this to me must have driven me from the castle. Or perhaps... perhaps they have captured me? Do they believe they put me in a coma? They’ve underestimated me then, underestimated the strength of an alicorn, of their Princess.’ Her expression became grave. This attack, it may have placed her student in danger, and Celestia was not sure she was so kind as to be able to let that pass. ‘I can forgive this assault on my person. But if Twilight is harmed, there will be a reckoning, as surely as the sun will rise.’

Her thoughts, so focused and full of determination, suddenly came to a swift halt as she realised something so fundamentally wrong, she hadn’t even realised what was amiss until that moment.

The sun...

The room was dark. There was only a pale shimmer of light illuminating it from the window... but far, far too little to be sunlight.

‘But I... I never lowered the sun...’

Ignoring her migraine, ignoring the way the room spun as she stood, and above all else ignoring the voice inside her that begged for her not to look, Celestia stepped forward towards the window.

And looked up at the pale moon that hung in the night sky.

Oh no no no no please sweet heavens no,’ Celestia silently prayed to the sky. ‘Luna isn’t... she couldn’t have...

Just as she was unable to raise the sun in the morning until Luna lowered the moon, Celestia knew that without her consent Luna could never summon the night... unless, of course, the sun princess was unconscious and unable to protest. Unless she waited until her guard was down and struck, during the day when none could accuse her of becoming the Nightmare once more.

She realised why her burn was familiar now – it was the scald of a thunderbolt. Nightmare Moon’s weapon of choice.

She could not let this pass. She refused to let Equestria suffer a single moment more of eternal night. Letting the power inherit in her soul as an alicorn flow through her, she reached out to her sun, hidden beneath the shroud of darkness, and willed it to move, just as she did every morning of every day of every month of every year for more than a millennium. The magic was in her bones, it was in her breath, her blood. She could do this in her sleep, if that became necessary, and no mere trip to a hospital was going to stop her from –

Burning, scalding pain shot through her mind like a lance. It felt like her horn was being forcibly wrenched off as a white-hot vice squeezed and twisted her brain. She yelped, cutting off her magic and collapsing to the ground. As the haze of pain dispelled enough to allow coherent thought, the princess realised what had happened. Her injuries were far, far more severe than she had given them credit. The heart-rate monitor sped into a frenzy of beeping.

They’ve crippled me, oh heavens they’ve crippled me,’ Celestia’s thoughts screamed as she began to hyperventilate. ‘I can’t touch the sun, it’s too hot, my connection is broken-’

And without a princess to raise the day, Luna stood unrivalled in power. This wasn’t a revolution, this was a usurping. But why? ‘We rule together now, Luna! Didn’t we forgive each other? Haven’t we both suffered enough? You can’t have fallen again, you just can’t!

But if she did, now was the perfect time. Celestia’s guard was down, and Twilight was at the castle, meaning the Elements of Harmony were separated. Luna could pass it all off as an accident too, a tragic and senseless assault that crippled Equestria’s beloved day-bringer and left only the younger capable of rule. And the Elements of Harmony would never know the truth of what happened to their bookish, clever little scholar.

She needed to escape. Flying was impossible, and her headache made it difficult to focus on any particularly strong or complex spell. But she had to try – she had ruled through over a thousand years and conquered every trial thrown at her. A migrane wasn’t going to stop her from finding her student!

Determined, she rose to her hooves. The room spun slightly, but Celestia gritted her teeth in concentration and her balance became as steady as an Earth Pony’s. She grinned with the little success and stepped forward.

The wires taped to her foreleg were pulled off, and the heart-monitor, devoid of a heart-rate, positively screeched in alarm. Celestia stared behind her at the machine in shock, panicked, and shattered it with a single buck. The machine gave a spluttered, confused groan and went silent, which meant Celestia could pick up the sound of hooves galloping in her direction.

Oh now you’ve done it,’ Celestia groaned internally. ‘They know you’re awake. They’re going to catch you now.’ Quickly, she weighed her options.

What should I do? Fight? No, I cannot, I might be wrong; they might be trying to help me. And even if they aren’t, I can’t... I can’t hurt my little ponies. Until I find Twilight and figure out what is going on, I need to hide.’ Glancing between the door and the window, Celestia’s horn glowed as she decided on a course of action. ‘Oh, this is going to haunt me in the morning,’ she sighed internally, bracing herself for the ensuing headache.

She cast the spell.

~{C}~

A dark blonde unicorn mare wearing white scrubs embossed with a red cross burst into the room, followed quickly by another two similarly dressed medical ponies and a blue-grey unicorn guard. “Alright, nurse Cherry, I want-” the doctor began, before the sight of the empty room cut her off mid-sentence. The guard behind her immediately charged forward, her eyes widening with shock at the princess’ absence.

“Doctor River Reed! Officer Bright Shield! She’s gone!” gasped one of the ponies behind her, a pastel green Pegasus buck whose special talent must have involved stating the obvious.

Doctor Reed’s eye twitched. ‘Interns,’ she growled mentally. “I am aware of that, Laurel,” she replied, flicking the light switch to ignite the magical lamp on the ceiling and scanning the room. The monitor was demolished, the window was open... something was very off about the room, but she couldn’t place a hoof on it.

“W-what happened?” Laurel asked, his eyes wide.

“Dammit, Laurel, I’m a doctor, not a detective!” Reed snapped, before sighing and giving him an apologetic look. “Sorry, I’m just... This doesn’t look good...” She realised something and glared at the intern. “Hold on, Laurel, Officer Shield, weren’t you supposed to be watching her?”

The intern and the guardspony glanced at each other worriedly. ‘We’re so getting fired,’ they both groaned in mental unison. Bright Shield, her silver armour marking her as one of the Night Guard, Canterlot’s police force, cleared her throat. “I, ah, was speaking to him in the corridor, in order to get a better appraisal of the Princess’ condition.” The Pegasus intern nodded quickly in agreement – a bit too quickly.

“Riiight...” Reed drawled, unconvinced. “Well, we’ll point hooves after we’ve dealt with this situation. If I had to put a bit on what happened here, I’d say that Princess Celestia woke up, got panicked and flew out the window.” She gestured with a hoof for emphasis at the open window.

“I’ll alert the rest of the Guard, she can’t have gotten far,” Bright Shield said, her tone serious. Her horn shone as she left the room and took off at a quick canter.

“She flew? So soon?” Nurse Cherry Balm asked in shock. “But her injuries...”

“Which is exactly why we need to find her,” Reed said firmly. “Laurel, fly out the window, try and talk to her and calm her down if you can. She’ll be disorientated, so be gentle and don’t spook her. Cherry Balm, inform the staff to be on the lookout, she shouldn’t be moving around in her condition.” Reed sighed. “I’ll... ugh, I’ll inform Doctor Coleslaw that the Princess has vanished.”

The two ponies winced in sympathy before they left. Laurel nodded and leaped out the small window, taking flight, and Cherry Balm dashed back from where they came. Reed Rivers gave the hospital room one last worried glance before she turned and cantered towards the Chief of Medicine’s office.

There was a shimmer of magic in the air above the bed around a minute later, and with an audible pop Celestia reappeared. ‘Well that worked well,’ she mused with relief as she got out of the bed, before frowning. ‘Too well.’ She had mustered a small barrier spell, one Twilight, in fact, had pointed out to her several years ago, designed not to block physical objects, but vibrations – including light. With it, she had rendered herself invisible and inaudible to the ponies who had barged in, but on the other hoof she had neither been able to see nor hear them – she only knew they were gone when their scents had faded away from the room. She couldn’t escape the hospital with a spell that rendered her deaf and blind.

Still, now I have some time to do something a bit more complex,’ she decided. ‘And I believe I know just the thing.’ Focusing on the spell in mind, she reached out with her magic and filled it into a bubble around her. She floated from the ground the outer edge of the bubble mingled with the light. Her headache pressed down on her, making her falter. The bubble burst, and she fell to the ground with a cry.

Focus...’ she told herself, rising to her hooves, pushing past the pain. ‘Breathe and focus. I can do this.’ Her horn shimmered once more, her Unicorn magic once more tapping into the mystic tides of the world. ‘For over a millennium I have brought light to the world, guiding the sun along its circuit in the sky. I have sent light cascading through the clouds, as an artist and as an architect.’

Her wings extended, proud and regal as they shone, the magic of a Pegasus begging the favour of the air. ‘I have used it to paint the morning and evening in pastel symphonies of green and orange. I have kissed the rays of Sol and danced in the photon tide, and it has danced with me, and loved me dearly.

Her bones ached and her pelt shimmered with the magic of an Earth Pony, pleading to nature and the root of all warmth. ‘Light... remember who brought you to this soft and gentle world, that you might illuminate beauty and joy. I am Celestia. Hear my plea.

Celestia opened her eyes, and saw nothing. Only darkness was present before her eyes. She focused her attention, and the darkness gave way to the hospital room. Then, she dropped her focus and the darkness snapped protectively back over her.

She smiled. Her spell was a success. Now, the very light of Equestria itself was willing to aid her, cloaking her from anypony’s sight. ‘A fine ally for whatever trial that is in store for me,’ she thought, thanking the light. Anypony else would have dismissed the warmth that descended over her in return as a coincidence, but Celestia knew better. ‘Now then, light, I fear for my most faithful student, Twilight Sparkle. If...’ An image of Twilight, beaten and unmoving, flashed past Celestia’s imagination, and she had to force the fear down. The comforting warmth surrounded her once more, making her coat gleam in the light. Calmed slightly, Celestia continued the request. ‘If she is within your reach, please show me where she may be.

The dark shroud around her split and a patch of light lit up on the white hospital wall, an image projected upon it. Celestia’s heart soared and tears of relief welled up in her eyes because there, looking absolutely miserable but mercifully, miraculously unharmed was her most precious student Twilight. Celestia’s body shook as she let out a deep breath, the tension in her body uncoiling all at once.

“Bless you,” she thanked the light, before looking more attentively back at the projection of Twilight. She was sitting down in a white room, reading a book – a rather sizable volume, by the look of things. She wanted to believe that was proof that everything was alright, but Celestia knew if disaster struck, Twilight’s first action would be to start pulling books off shelves. Celestia squinted to get a bit more detail of the room from the image. In response, the image expanded and rotated, the viewpoint changing to allow Celestia to see her student’s surrounding. ‘Ah, thank you,’ she smiled sheepishly. Another wash of warmth assured her it was no problem. ‘Tell me; is she in this very hospital?’ The image zoomed in on a plaque on the wall, reading ‘Waiting Room, Canterlot General Medicinal Centre’. ‘I’ll take that as a yes. How do I reach her? Time is of the essence.’ The image turned back to look at Twilight, and then rapidly moved away as if walking backwards. Celestia paid close attention as the image twisted through various white corridors, past patients and doctors and, worryingly, several members of Luna’s silver-clad Night Guard on patrol, before it settled on a door which Celestia presumed was her own.

Thanking the light once more, Celestia excitedly made for the door. After her first few steps, however, she realised a problem. The clatter of her hooves on the hard floor was going to give her presence away to anyone attentive enough to listen. She considered a spell, and her headache returned full force – she knew she couldn’t handle anything extravagant like the vibration-dampening bubble from before. She needed something simple... what would Twilight do?

She glanced over at her bed, recalled Twilight’s fashion designer friend, Rarity, and grinned. ‘Ideee~aaa!

~{C}~

Sitting in one of the hospital’s private waiting rooms, the unicorn Twilight Sparkle was poring over the medical textbook she had borrowed from one of the doctors when a small hand shook her out of her concentration. “Hey Twi, there’s the doctor!” Spike said, pointing towards the doorway where a familiar blonde unicorn mare was speaking in hushed tones to another doctor pony.

“Excuse me, Dr. Reed?” Twilight called, rising and trotting over to them. She didn’t miss the wince that passed over the doctor’s face before she turned and smiled rigidly at Twilight.

“Hello Miss... Twilight Sparkle, was it?” she enquired sweetly.

“Yes...” The lavender mare nodded, worried about the doctor’s strange attitude. “I was just wondering, when will I be able to visit the Princess?”

The two doctors shared a glance. “Um, in the morning,” Reed said hesitantly. “Visiting hours are over...”

“She’s not...” Twilight’s voice was horrified. “She’s not dying, is she?”

Doctor Reed balked. “What? No! She just needs rest! I...” The other doctor glared at Reed, but the unicorn mare sent one right back at him. “Oh knock it off, Coleslaw! Saying a patient is ‘Not dead’ isn’t a breach of doctor-patient confidentiality!”

“Regardless, nopony can see her at the moment,” Doctor Coleslaw stressed. It was a deliberately deceptive phrashing, considering he knew the truth of Celestia’s disappearance, but he didn’t realise just how ironic his choice of words were.

“But I’m her personal student!” Twilight insisted. “These are exceptional circumstances!”

Reed’s ears fell flat against her head in apology. “I’m sorry, but, um, direct family only; we can’t bend the rules...”

“What’s the real reason?” Twilight demanded, her frayed nerves reducing her patience to ash.

Reed paled at the lavender unicorn’s furious expression, and glanced pleadingly at Coleslaw. Coughing, the other doctor began to imitate a beeping noise under his breath, then took on a look of fake shock. “Dr Reed, did you hear that?”

“What? Oh! Yes! A code, uh, blueberry!” Reed said stiffly. “Sorry Miss Sparkle, duty calls! Just wait there and we’ll get back to you real soon!”

“What’s a code blue?” Twilight frowned.

“A pegusus is, uh, exploding!”

“What.”

“Twice!” Coleslaw said. “Gotta go!”

Twilight frowned as the two doctors turned on their hooves and raced away from the private waiting room. ‘Well that was suspicious. Not to mention unprofessional.’ “Ugh, Spike, can you believe that?”

“I know!” Spike replied, eyes wide with wonder. “Double explosion... Pinkie was right!”

It shouldn’t have surprised her. “No! Not that! They’re refusing to let me see her!” Twilight yelled, making her assistant jump. “And I know why, too! Because I’m the one who put her there!” Her voice hitched and she fell to her haunches, her anger being replaced with guilt.

Spike just sighed. “Aw c’mon, Twilight, you heard the doctor! The Princess is fine. Heck, remember that time you were trailing Pinkie Pie and a piano fell on you? You bounced right back from that!”

The unicorn was unconvinced. “If my spell hadn’t screwed up she wouldn’t have to bounce back from anything in the first place!”

Spike gave her a sceptical look. “Twilight, I was there too, y’know. You weren’t the one who screwed up.”

Twilight was adamant in her self-condemnation. “It was my spell, my experiment, my responsibility...” She hung her head. “My fault.”

“Whatever,” Spike rolled his eyes. “I spotted two other unicorns helping you with that spell there, and I really doubt they had even a handful of your talent. Don’t blame yourself for an accident, okay?”

Twilight smiled weakly, feeling a bit better. “Thanks Spike,” she said to the dragon, who grinned and shrugged. She returned to her seat in the empty waiting room and picked her book back up, finding where she had left off.

Spike’s voice interrupted her studies. “Twilight, I was wondering...”

She looked up from her book. “Yes Spike?”

“Well...” he chuckled, and Twilight knew instantly he was trying to bargain something from her. “On the way over here there were some vending machines that had those geodes I like, the ones with the inlaid ruby filling...”

The lavender unicorn sighed. “You know those aren’t good for you, Spike...”

Spike put on his best puppy eyes. “Please?”

Twilight sighed and shook her head with a weary grin, and levitated several bits from her saddlebag into Spike’s eager hands. “Just be careful not to get a stomach ache,” she warned him.

“Gotcha, thanks!” he grinned, scurrying out the door.

Twilight rolled her eyes but smiled despite herself as she returned to her reading, glad some things, like sweet-toothed assistants, remained constant.

~{C}~

If it weren’t for the circumstances, navigating the corridors of the hospital without sight would have been fascinating. Celestia made a mental note to try it once this she had located Twilight and solved this crisis on Equestria’s head. Perhaps she would even teach Twilight how it was done. Would the light listen to her? She wasn’t an alicorn but if Celestia asked nicely it might comply. At any rate, it would be nice to have something new to show her student, instead of vice-versa. Twilight was becoming quite the magical scientist in recent days, and though she hadn’t said anything to her yet, Celestia was considering her for a position as a consultant and researcher in the Royal Magical Research Foundation that was going to open up in a few month’s time.

She hoped her student would accept. Not only would it be wonderful for her career, it would mean Twilight would be spending more time in Canterlot. In the recent months Celestia found herself becoming less of a teacher to the young lavender unicorn and more of a... she wasn’t sure. Mentor, perhaps? There was a subtle difference between the two - mentors could be friends as well, equals. Their relationship certainly was changing, as Twilight’s research had begun to make developments in the field of magic, making some exciting discoveries that made Celestia’s mind spin with the possible applications to –

There were two blurs of bright yellow and red in her vision, and Celestia had to press herself flat against a wall to avoid colliding with two ponies cantering down the corridor. She frowned, annoyed with herself. ‘Stay focused! If They catch you Twilight will be in danger!’ The thought didn’t exactly make sense, far too paranoid for the Princess any other day, but considering the night she was having she figured it was best to be paranoid and cautious until she had some cards to play in this dire game of theirs.

The blurs of red avoided, Celestia paused to take stock of her surroundings – or at least, what little of it she could see. The light had curved itself around Celestia, leaving her in a protective cloak of shadows and making her perfectly invisible to anypony who might spot her – even Luna, should things come to that. The downside was, of course, that though she was invisible she was also nearly blind. Celestia had been worried about this until her latent magic tingled in her eyes and brought the world into focus - splotches of reds and oranges radiated from heat sources, letting her spot wherever ponies would be. The corridors, doors and other flat surfaces were also laid out in bright bluish light, almost blinding in their intensity.

Celestia had been shocked for a moment before she realised what the light was doing – it was hiding visible light, but allowing infrared and ultraviolet to pass through. The infrared let her see the heat emitted from ponies nearby, and the ultraviolet rays bounced off the heavily bleached and disinfected floors and surfaces to give shape to her surroundings.

Celestia wondered what aspect of her nature allowed her to detect those spectrums. Earth Pony, with their connection to nature? Or was it an aspect of air, something a Pegasus pony could develop with practice? Maybe it was to do with the magical nature of Unicorns... Celestia made a note to ask Twilight about it, surely she would know –

Focus, Celestia!’ she screamed internally, her mission brought back into sharp focus at the thought of her most faithful student. She checked her surroundings again, looking around a corner. In the distance there was a large number of heat sources milling around – the hospital lobby, no doubt. She was close.

A door swept open and a short figure strode out, the size of a foal. But his heat signature was a bright yellow, bordering on white, though his outline was a cool blue. Celestia didn’t need to guess that it was a baby dragon, and would bet her cutie mark that she knew who it was.

She’d need to save Spike too, she realised, but first things first. Before the doorway could shut, Celestia slipped in.

~{C}~

Twilight was flicking through the instructions to a burn-healing spell that looked promising when she heard a muffled hoofstep. She blinked and looked up, but saw nopony. “Hello?” she called. “Is somepony there?”

There was a shimmer before her and to her utter shock, Celestia appeared from thin air in a flash of light. For a long moment the teacher and student simply stared at one another – Twilight, for one, was struck by a pang of relief mixed with sorrow to see her mentor in such a state. Wrapped around her head, just to the right of her horn was a thick bandage, and her once pristine coat was marred with bruises and burns. However, two things hadn’t changed: her pastel mane and tail that floated in the solar winds, and the joy that danced in her eyes upon seeing her student.

“Twilight...” she said, tears brimming in her eyes.

“P-princess!” Twilight exclaimed, jumping to her hooves and running towards her. Celestia met her halfway, crouching down to her knees to wrap her neck around Twilight’s in a warm embrace.

“Oh Twilight... oh, thank heavens you’re alright,” the princess whispered in the unicorn’s ear, her voice hitching. “When I woke up, I-I feared the worst.”

Twilight’s heart melted at those words. “Oh Princess, I’m so sorry,” she replied. “I wanted to be there, I told them to let me stay in your room, but they kept deflecting the question.”

“It’s okay, Twilight, I understand. I know their game, but I’m here now anyway.”

Twilight relished the hug a moment longer before pulling away, taking a good look at Celestia. “About that, why are you here? Shouldn’t you be in bed? You look –” ‘Beautiful, even with the wounds’. “- terrible. I mean, you’re still pretty, but...”

“Oh yes, I daresay battle wounds are not quite in vogue this season,” chuckled Celestia, glancing ruefully at her ruined coat. She gave her singed wings a weak flutter. “Imagine greeting guests at the Gala like this! ’My wings are so pretty!’ Think it’ll be a hit?”

“Mmm, a bit too avant-garde, as Rarity would put it,” Twilight giggled, more out of relief than anything else.

“Yes, well...” Celestia chuckled, rising to her feet. Her head spun at the sudden movement and she lost balance, her legs failing beneath her. She didn’t hit the ground, though. Twilight’s horn shone with magic, halting the princess’ fall. She beamed with gratitude. “Thank you, Twilight. I seem to have trouble balancing lately.”

“Not a problem, in that case we’ll sit,” she replied in a matter-of-fact tone, levitating Celestia towards the chairs. Celestia watched in amusement as Twilight quickly pulled cushions from chairs to create a comfy spot for her.

The princess coughed politely when Twilight began for frown, scrutinizing pile with an unsatisfied expression. Blinking, Twilight blushed and lowered Celestia onto the pile. “Ah, much better,” the princess said wryly, causing the unicorn to look away sheepishly.

“I got you something,” Twilight said suddenly. “For when you woke up... well, you’re awake now, so here.” Her horn glowed and a beautiful bouquet of flowers floated towards Celestia from behind the chairs. Celestia’s eyes softened as she saw it, and she leaned in to smell them as Twilight continued to babble. “I mean, they’re just from the gift shop, but when I said it was for the princess they took about three of the flower bundles and just went crazy. D-do you like it?”

Celestia smiled. “Twilight, they’re beautiful.” She leaned forward and plucked one of the poppies from the arrangement, chewing it. “Mmm, fresh too.”

Twilight gave her a relieved smile. “Oh good. I figured, hey, hospital food isn’t exactly fit for a princess so...” Twilight paused, noticing something. “Princess, why are you wearing socks?”

Celestia looked at her in confusion. “Hmm?” she murmured vacantly, chewing on a mouthful of bouquet. She swallowed, blinked, and went back to the bouquet.

“Um, Princess?” Twilight asked cautiously, raising an eyebrow. When the alicorn looked back up, Twilight waved a hoof towards Celestia’s own. “Socks?”

The princess blinked and looked down to her legs, noting the garments in question. “Ah yes, I forgot about those. I needed to muffle my hoofsteps, while I was invisible.” She raised her forehoof and showed them off to Twilight. “I made them from the bedsheets, and though I’m no fashionista like your friend Rarity I must say I’m growing fond of them.” She gave her student a teasing smile. “How do they look?”

“They’re, um...” Twilight coughed, looking flushed under her lavender coat. “They’re nice, yes. Very nice.”

Celestia grinned and was about to make another comment when suddenly she was overtaken by a powerful urge to yawn. “Oh, I apologise,” she said through it, covering her mouth. “I’m just so tired, and my headache...”

“You’d best get back to bed,” Twilight smiled.

Celestia nodded idly for a moment, biting back another yawn, but then she froze. “No, I cannot. We need to escape.”

Twilight was startled by her sudden serious tone. “W-what? From who?”

“I... I don’t know,” Celestia admitted, her expression worried. “But it’s not safe here. Be casual and get Spike, and then we’re leaving. Don’t let the guards see you. We’ll have to hide out somewhere. Don’t worry, I may be hurt but They won’t get us.”

Twilight frowned anxiously. “Princess, you’re not making any sense. Is somepony after us?”

“You don’t know?” Celestia’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “Oh, of course you don’t know, otherwise you would have fetched me sooner...” She sighed, relief in her voice. “Oh thank heavens, you haven’t been caught up in it yet. They don’t know I’ve found you. This gives us time, time enough to reach Ponyville perhaps, gather the other Elements...”

“Princess, slow down!” the unicorn begged, becoming increasingly worried. “What are you talking about?”

“You mean it hasn’t occurred to you yet?” Celestia was honestly surprised. “Twilight, whoever assaulted me was obviously powerful and obviously had an agenda.”

Twilight’s eyes widened in shock. “Princess, that’s not-”

“We can’t afford to wait,” Celestia said, not registering Twilight’s words. “Their agents could be moving at this very moment.”

“What-?” the unicorn asked again.

“The Elements worked twice before, they’ll work again. The fate of Equestria could depend on–!”

“Princess!” Twilight practically shouted.

Celestia recoiled, wincing. “Twilight, please, speak softly! I have a headache, it was hard enough finding you with it.”

“I’ll bet,” the unicorn remarked, looking up at the gauzed bandage at side of Celestia’s skull. “Princess, do you trust me?”

The princess stared incredulously at her student. “Of course I do! Are you not my most faithful student?” She lowered her head and nuzzled the unicorn’s cheek. “I trust you implicitly, Twilight, for your character and capabilities both. You know I do.”

Twilight blushed, savouring the praise for a moment, before pulling away and looking Celestia in the eye. “Then, if I tell you that you’re safe here, that nopony is after us, will you calm down?”

Celestia hesitated. “A-are you... there isn’t-?”

“Trust me, Celestia,” the lavender pony said soothingly. “You’re safe here. We both are.”

“T-then Luna...?”

“Luna?” Twilight asked, before smiling again. “She’s fine, she was worried and wanted to visit, but she had to stay at the castle and calm everypony at the Court down.”

“So didn’t she – I...” Celestia couldn’t articulate her fears, that this was exactly what she was afraid of. Luna had crippled her, and was playing innocent. But Twilight would be able to tell, wouldn’t she? “But I don’t... I don’t understand why... the sun...”

“Celestia, calm down, please...” Twilight begged. “Please, just look at me.”

Celestia complied, looking into her student’s eyes as they searched for something. “I thought so...” Twilight muttered. “Princess, your eyes are dilated.” When the alicorn frowned in confusion, she elaborated. “One of the pupils is larger than the other. Your eyes aren’t focusing well either. You said you have a headache?” Celestia nodded, beginning to understand, though Twilight’s diagnosis made it clear.

“Princess, I believe you have a concussion, a rather bad one,” the unicorn said with no small certainty. She levitated her medical book towards them and flicked through the pages. “Let’s see, ‘concussion’, ‘concussion’... aha, here we go.” She cleared her throat. “Physical symptoms of a concussion include: dizziness, loss of balance, loss of motor control, nausea, et cetera, et cetera... mental symptoms: confusion, disorientation, lack of focus and post-traumatic amnesia.”

Celestia blinked. “A concussion? Are you certain?”

“Fairly certain,” Twilight nodded. “You said yourself earlier you’ve been dizzy, right? Trouble with balance. And you’ve definitely got some signs of confusion. You’ve trailed off a few times while we were talking...” Twilight paused, noticing Celestia’s unfocused gaze. “... like that.”

Celestia blinked and looked back at Twilight. “A concussion?”

The unicorn didn’t know whether to laugh or sob. “U-um, yes, definitely,” she said neutrally, glancing back at the book. “I also suspect you’re suffering from a touch of trauma-related amnesia, it was a nasty bump on the head...” She glanced between the book and Celestia’s head wound before continuing. “But the book says your memory should return sooner or later. Tell me, what is the last thing you remember?”

Celestia thought back. “It was just after dawn. You had yet to arrive in Canterlot. Luna said she wanted to give me the day off to spend with you so she promised to handle Court, and since I hadn’t slept well, I took a nap. When I woke up, I was here, covered in bruises. I...” Celestia’s voice hitched, and tears welled unbidden at her eyes. “I can’t touch the sun. It burnt me when I tried.”

Twilight’s eyes softened with sympathy, realising how frightened Celestia must have been. She leaned forward and pressed her neck to her mentor’s in a comforting hug, helping to calm her down. “So, you don’t remember me arriving at the castle?” Twilight felt Celestia shake her head. “What about the experiment we had scheduled in the evening?” she said, so quiet it was almost a whisper. “Do you remember that?” Again, a shake of her head. “You don’t remember setting the sun?”

Celestia jolted upright. “I set the sun?”

“You tried to, but...” Twilight hesitated, fear in her expression. Still, she gritted her teeth and forced the words out. “Celestia, this is all my fault. The experiment, it went badly, catastrophically bad. You stayed there to try and calm it down while the rest of us evacuated the lab, but...” The unicorn glanced at Celestia’s burns, looking as if she were about to cry. “But, you got up, straight away almost, and you said you were fine, but when you tried to lower the sun, y-you...” Twilight’s lips quivered, and she began blubbering, her dam of guilt bursting inside of her. “Luna had to grab the sun before you hurt yourself further, and, and I panicked and teleported us both, and I went to the hospital instead of the medical ward of the castle because I wasn’t thinking straight and m-my mommy, I mean, mom and dad always took me here when I was a little filly whenever I needed some stitches or something and I was really scared and please don’t hate me...”

“Shh, shh, Twilight, I don’t hate you, I love you so, you know that,” Celestia assured the crying unicorn, extending her wings to wrap her in a feathery embrace. Twilight pressed her head into the alicorn’s side, sobbing harder as she unloaded the stress of the past day, dampening her mentor’s white coat with tears. “It’s not your fault, Twilight, I believe in you. It was an accident, I’m sure, n-nopony has done anything w-wrong...” Celestia choked, her throat suddenly constricted and hot tears pouring from her own eyes.

Twilight felt the tears land on her pelt and looked up at her teacher. “A-are you crying? Why?”

“I’m just...” Celestia hesitated. ‘So ashamed I doubted my sister,’ said her thoughts. ‘I don’t deserve the love she had given me.’ “... so relieved everypony is alright,” she finished, smiling at Twilight. The unicorn smiled back, her anxiety visibly fading away. Celestia raised a hoof to wipe her eyes, realised what was still there and grinned with amusement. “Aha, socks!” she declared, drying her eyes with ease. “So many uses! I should commemorate their inventor!”

Twilight giggled, letting the princess’ sock-clad hoof dry her eyes as well. “A national sock appreciation day?”

“Why not?” Celestia joked. “A thousand years of rule, I deserve to pass at least a few eccentric laws now and then!”

The lavender mare gave her a wry look. “And if ponies find it strange, you can say Luna thought of it?”

Celestia tried and failed not to laugh. “Oh Twilight, we’ll make a politician out of you yet!”

The sound of hooves and hushed arguing outside the waiting room drew their attention to the door. The tone of the voices became decisive and one set of hooves walked away. Immediately after that, the door opened suddenly and Dr Reed strode in. “Miss Sparkle, I’m afraid we haven’t been completely frank with you. You see...” She froze, only now noticing the very Princess they had been combing the hospital for, curled up on the pile of cushions beside the lavender unicorn, who was giving the doctor a very flat look.

“I take it somepony or other has been looking for me?” Celestia asked, amused by the doctor’s surprised expression.

“You know, all this could have been avoided if you had let me visit her,” Twilight said pointedly.

“Right!” squeaked Reed. “Well! I’ll tell everypony to call off the search. Your majesty, um... stay put. Doctor’s orders.”

“I’ll do my best,” Celestia smiled. “Thank you all for worrying so much about my welfare.”

River Reed nodded, opened her mouth to say something else, then shut it. Nodding rigidly once more, she made an about face and dashed away, mortified.

This has been a learning experience,’ Celestia decided, amused. And she had heard hospitals were boring.

The door opened again and a familiar baby dragon sauntered in. “Hey Twi, I got you a caramel carrot...” Spike began, but he paused when he saw Celestia. “Oh, hey Princess! I told Twilight you’d be up soon. I, uh, I only got one caramel carrot, so...”

“Oh you needn’t worry, Spike,” Celestia smiled gratefully, levitating her flowers in front of her. “I have a bouquet.”

“Oh, cool. Heh, you know that was my idea?” Spike began on one of his rambling tales. “Yeah, Twilight was all stressed out, so I says to her, I says...”

As Spike’s embellished tale began to grow in earnest, Celestia relaxed for the first time since she woke, and found her eyes closing. At ease once more, Celestia fell sound asleep.

~{C}~

Celestia dreamed.

She saw...

A peaceful, moonlit sky.

She smelled...

Disinfectant, and her beloved student’s scent.

She heard...

Spike, spinning a tall tale.

She felt...

Twilight, tucked protectively under her wing, pressed close to her side.

She tasted...

Flowers.

~{C}~

Composure, Chapter 1, end

~{C}~

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