• Published 3rd Jan 2012
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Eternal - device heretic



Princess Celestia and Twilight Sparkle's bond is tested by miscommunication and guilt.

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II. Thoughts and Memories

II. THOUGHTS AND MEMORIES

The Pattern + Tea and Argumentation + The Question + Arrival at the Wedding + Twilight’s Mask + A Memory of Perfection + Fairy Tales + Feats and Marvels + Somepony is Missing + Falling Through Thin Ice + I Promise, My Faithful Student

~(E)~

The first time it had happened, it was…necessary. Even now, she clung to that—to deny it would be to deny everything she had become.

The second time it had happened, it was necessary at the time. But it had started the pattern. Patterns were more important than initial causes, in the end; a single event is just that—an event. A second such event is a line, a trend, with directionality and purpose. Where does it lead?

The third time…the third event…shows where it leads. For now. And it had hurt—only a little, at the time, but the wound had been deep. It had cut out everything.

But it was okay. She could fix things, even now…if she was good enough. The circumstances were right, and if she put everything in order, it would all turn out okay.

And she was good enough. She had to be.

~(E)~

A memory:

Sweet herbal tea pooled in the cup. Celestia and Twilight Sparkle gratefully sniffed the plume of steam that rose from it, smiling at each other, each taking a small amount of simple joy in the little ritual.

It was early spring in the gardens of Canterlot. Around the small table where Celestia and Twilight sat, shrubbery was growing leaves and flowers were just now beginning to poke up out of the rich earth of the planters. In the distance there was the sound of the gardeners hard at work installing a new tree, a gift to the garden from Sweet Apple Acres. Applejack’s fretsome voice occasionally barked an order or hissed in terror as—

“You Canterlot colts’re manhandling ‘er! Y’all are gonna break off the roots!” Her voice became a soft coo, and the princess watched the orange pony snuggle the little sapling tenderly. “There, there, hun, momma’s here…”

“Colts? Colts? Listen, ‘pardner’, I’ve been working in these gardens for twenty years now and I don’t have to take advice about the art of horticulture from a mere farmer—“ snarled back a snooty voice. His thick Canterlot accent made “years” sound like “hyee-ahs”—as if he yawned out his words.

“Don’t you pardner me, buddy! I ain’tcher pardner!”

“Well, my friend, I’m not your, your…buddy.”

“Who says we’re friends, pal? Ya wanna know about mah friends, I’ll tell ya! One of ‘em’s settin’ right over there with the Princess! Huh! How d’ya like them apples?”

Twilight chuckled nervously. “Are you sure you don’t want me to…intervene?”

“Oh no,” Celestia replied, laughing. “This is far too much fun.”

“I just—I, er, don’t want to offend Silver Shears,” Twilight said, nervously.

Celestia leaned down conspiratorially. “I think you’ll find that he is one of those ponies who goes out of his way to be offended, my dear,” she said. “If you didn’t offend him, he might have to take an afternoon off and wonder where his life had gone so wrong.” Twilight laughed.

The two sat in the bare garden, smiling and listening to the farmer and the artiste snarl back and forth as the other ponies—Red Delicious and a Canterlot gardener, Snow Blossom—did their best to move the tree while giving each other shy, surreptitious glances.

“I was pleased to hear about the publication of your latest work, Twilight,” Celestia said to fill the silence as Applejack and Silver Shears called a stalemate in order to focus, typically, on the much more important, transcendent issue of getting the little tree set properly in the ground, Applejack cooing and telling it not to be frightened of the unfamiliar soil.

“Oh,” Twilight said, momentarily taken by surprise. “Um, I’m glad to hear it. Did you get the copy I sent you?”

“Yes, I did,” Celestia replied. She affected a face of deep surprise. “First edition, signed by the author, no less. I’m a very lucky princess.”

Twilight chuckled helplessly into Celestia’s beam of pride. “I, er…” she said, pausing. “I intended to deliver it in person, of course. I hope you don’t mind…”

“Oh no, not at all, Twilight. I know how it is…wasn’t it that dam, again..?” Celestia, taking a sip of tea, praised herself for remembering.

“Umm, no. I think we’ve fixed that, now.” Twilight mumbled, looking awkward. “It was that…thing. With the mayor. And the balloons.”

Celestia set her cup of tea down and kicked herself, mentally. “Oh, right, right.” She sighed, fondly. “I’m sorry, Twilight...but there really is no keeping track of you, sometimes. You work exceptionally hard.”

“Would you like me to stop?” Twilight asked in a wry voice.

“I trust you to know what your limits are,” Celestia said calmly.

Twilight looked confused. “Limits?”

“One pony can only do so much in a day, Twilight. You know that.” Celestia sighed, all too aware of precisely how much any particular, just to pull an example out of the air, alicorn could manage in a day.

“Oh,” Twilight said. “Right. Of course.”

“In any case, I’m enjoying your latest work. Your insight, as always, is deeply impressive,” Celestia said. “And your understanding of the true magic of friendship shows through. I’m very proud of you,” she added, earnestly, “My faithful student.”

Celestia reveled in the familiar title. She had always loved it—to others, it was just an acknowledgement of Twilight’s dutiful nature, but for the princess, it was an expression of deep affection. It was private, and intimate—just for them.

Twilight blushed. “Thank you.”

A stray thought struck Celestia, and she smiled impishly. The devil of mischief that dwelled deep in her heart couldn’t resist prodding Twilight a little. “I very much suspect, my dear, that you never could have accomplished so much in Canterlot, shut away up in your tower.” Twilight looked up at her, startled. Immediately, Celestia cursed herself, feeling the bite of regret she always did for indulging the meaner part of herself. “Only teasing, Twilight,” she said, forcing a grin. Twilight smiled weakly.

They sat in silence for awhile, again, Celestia feeling slightly off-balance. Twilight was taking the opportunity to inspect her hooves very carefully.

“Actually, Princess,” she said, eventually, barely audible over renewed discussion of topsoil quality, “I had…I have been…meaning to ask you about that. Er. Something related to that.”

“Oh?” Celestia looked down into Twilight’s expression, which was a picture of nervousness, but determination shone in her eyes. “What is it, Twilight?”

“Well, um, not the tower, obviously,” Twilight said, in a more determined, businesslike tone. “Because, um, well…” She trailed off, looking uncomfortable. Celestia waited calmly, sipping her tea, patient as the sun waiting out the night for dawn.

“I…don’t know how to phrase this, exactly,” Twilight admitted.

Celestia chuckled merrily. “Always a crisis for an author, I know.”

Twilight smiled weakly, and sipped some tea. “Um. This has been on my mind for a long time, now, and, uh…I thought I should ask you about it in person, since we’re here, rather than in a letter.”

Celestia looked at her curiously. “You know I always have time for you, Twilight. Anytime.”

Twilight’s nervous smile got glassy for a moment. “Right,” she said. “Right, but we’re here, now, so, well…I’ll just come out with it…” she nervously tapped a hoof in front of her, unconsciously. Celestia noticed this and gave her a warm smile, thinking momentarily of Luna.

“Am I,” Twilight began firmly, then she shyed back a bit as if she’d frightened herself. “Really your student, anymore?” she finished, quietly.

The question hit Celestia like a thunderbolt.

“What? Of course you a—“ Celestia began, then shut her mouth, her mind suddenly alert and reeling with thoughts, feelings…desires, hopes…plans. Twilight’s accomplishments suddenly ran through her mind’s eye, dizzyingly.

…Luna, weeping, cradled in Celestia’s wings for the first time in a millennium…

…Discord, his mad eyes once again unseeing stone, cringing in the castle statuary…

…Celestia, proudly laying a badge of honor around Twilight’s shoulders…

…Twilight, the center of attention, fearlessly and proudly lecturing famous wizards three times her age on magical theory, with Celestia, and Twilight’s parents, gazing down from the rear of the Academy lecture theater bursting with pride…

…The little display stand full of books in Celestia’s study, the name Twilight Sparkle proudly displayed on their spines…

…The bustling, prosperous city of Ponyville…

…the photograph hanging in Celestia’s chambers, now faded and worn, of Twilight and her friends, hugging joyously…

Twilight was watching her mentor warily. Celestia smiled, sadly, and touched Twilight’s hoof with her own. The unicorn started, as if she’d been shocked.

Celestia shook her head ruefully. What had she done, in her thoughtlessness—no, selfishness..? She had a right to be proud of what her precious, beloved student had done, but…

So did Twilight. This day was bound to come eventually.

The words—sorrowful, frightening, inevitable—cut their way through her heart and appeared in her mind, ready to be said. She closed her eyes and sighed, long and slow, then with solemn grace looked up at her beloved protégé.

“I suppose you’re right, Twilight. You’re not my student, anymore.”

Twilight looked stunned.

Had she really expected Celestia not to acknowledge her achievements..? But then again, Twilight was always one to underestimate herself.

Celestia stood, melancholy warring with pride in her chest. “You have vastly exceeded my expectations, which were already almost impossibly high to begin with. You have done many times, in your youth, what many ponies wouldn’t dream of accomplishing in a lifetime. Most importantly…” here, Celestia leaned down and gave Twilight a loving smile, “I have learned at least as much from you as you have from me. Calling you my student is…a vanity, on my part. Please, forgive me.”

“I…what…what do you mean? Forgive you? For what?”

Celestia smiled. “I think it’s long past time for you to get out from under my shadow, my faithful stu—“ she stopped herself, and gave Twilight a knowing wink. “My faithful…Twilight Sparkle,” she finished, a little awkwardly.

Twilight looked at the ground, pawing it nervously. Celestia knew this was a big moment, and let her—former—student take her time organizing her thoughts.

She felt a shadow of sorrow brush across her heart, but…things changed. It was inevitable.

“But you don’t…cast a shadow, Princess,” Twilight said, nervously.

Celestia looked down, as if she had to. “I suppose you’re right, Twilight,” she said, with a cheerfulness she only remotely felt. “But I suspect you’re being a little too literal.”

“Possibly,” Twilight said, a tiny flame of her reflexive sarcasm shining bright in the depths of anxiety and, Celestia supposed, a little fear. This was…a transition. They were always hard.

They looked at each other for awhile, unicorn and alicorn, in a quiet, uncomfortable moment where, for the first time in a very, very long time, neither of them knew what to say.

Eventually Celestia’s mind tossed up a card, desperately. “It’s interesting you should bring this up,” Celestia said, her voice picking up confidence as she gratefully turned her attention to something other than the rising, gnawing feeling of loss. “I was just the other day speaking with the Chancellor of the Academy, and he asked after you, wondering how your research was going.”

“The Chancellor? Me!?” Twilight exclaimed, all forgotten in the face of rising awe. Celestia’s discomfort melted away—there was something to transition to, now, and it was exciting and full of possibility.

Agh, but her chest was still so tight—

“Indeed,” Celestia replied, smiling. “He was telling me—and this is an interesting fact, I hadn’t realized—that they haven’t raised anypony to the rank of Arch-Mage in almost fifteen years. Now I wonder why he might have mentioned that..?” Her eyes rolled, bemused, at Twilight’s manic expression of unhidden glee.

Arch-Mage!? Me!?” she gasped.

“Ah, but they can’t make ponies who are still students into Arch-Mages, can they?” Celestia said, relief sneaking around the edges of her self-control into her voice as the unicorn dove headfirst into a frantic storm of pride and joy. Twilight failed to notice her tone; Celestia was reminded acutely of her expression on the day, oh, so long ago when—

Yesyesyesyeyesyesyesyesyes

—she had pointed to Twilight’s newly-emblazoned cutie mark, and this whole ball of string had started rolling.

Inevitably onwards, spinning out, until—

No. No need to think about that.

She gave Twilight a beaming smile, a tear of fierce and loving pride leaking uncontrollably from one of her eyes, and the unicorn looked up gratefully at her, and the two of them wordlessly cleaned up the tea and wandered over to Applejack and Silver Shears, who said, at the same time—

~(E)~

“Sister? Are you alright?”

Celestia blinked. “What?”

The chariot soared through the sky, surrounded by just enough puffy, white clouds to give the still-blue sky of the early evening some cheerful texture. In front of the princesses, the pegasus Royal Guards flapped away with dutiful expressions and the selective deafness of a well-trained soldier assigned to stand, or, in this case, fly next to ponies who would, in all likelihood, talk about things that the Guards didn’t need to know.

Luna gave her elder sister a deeply amused smile. New moon had come; Luna had waned completely, her stature reduced to a normal mare’s, her coat dusky-black. Her mane was diminished, too, no longer a billowing field of stars but instead a gentle pale-blue, long and curled slightly at the ends as it had been when she was first freed from the Nightmare.

“You were somewhere else, I think,” Luna prompted.

“Canterlot gardens,” Celestia murmured. “Just a…happy memory.”

“Happy?”

Celestia turned and looked down at her sister, whose smile nevertheless conveyed concern and amused disbelief. It was a very expressive smile.

“Bittersweet, anyways,” she said, smiling—which made her realize she hadn’t been.

Luna nodded, but said nothing more.

It was a warm, quiet evening over Sweet Apple Acres, the sort of early summer evening where it feels like the season is really starting to get rolling and is eager to strut its stuff, the air fresh and warm enough to make anypony want to just sit down, relax, and relish the sunshine. Even here among the clouds, Celestia and Luna were enjoying the intoxicating experience of a day which, by careful design, had been as perfect as any could be.

Every so often a group of pegasi flew by, nodding respectfully, as they descended towards the milling herd of ponies flooding in great streams onto the farm. The attendees either travelled up the famously dusty trail—this, Celestia understood, being something of a matter of pride amongst the Apple family for all it distressed the unicorn nobleponies to no end—or descended from the sky in little flights of two or three pegasi, flying in sedately, the younger amongst them snickering behind their hooves at the unicorns’ discomfort.

Pale blue lights seemed to float amongst the growing crowd, around the crimson-dressed tables. Celestia looked down at Luna, who was nodding appreciatively at the moon lamps. Twilight and company must have been painstakingly charging them with moonlight for the last week—there were at least a hundred scattered around the south lawn, glowing only very slightly now. Come this evening the wedding would be lit as bright as day with stored moonlight.

“That must have been a lot of work,” Celestia remarked idly.

Luna looked up at her smugly. “Twilight talked to me about it a few weeks ago, when I was in Ponyville to help her and Applejack with that map of the Ever-Free Forest. She needed my help, or they wouldn’t have been able to do so many.”

Celestia nodded. “Well done.” She wondered if the little knife of regret she felt at being reminded of Luna’s more attentive behavior towards Twilight had been by design.

“The night will be spectacular,” Luna went on, a little giddily. Where waning time was a time of diminishing—a feeling that Luna described as a constant, nagging feeling of slowly falling—the new moon was a night full of renewal and the promise of the inevitable return to fullness, and Luna was accordingly tending towards the enthusiastic. “Plenty of stars on a nice, clear, new moon in the country.”

Celestia smiled at her little—quite literally, at the moment—sister, who was smiling broadly. She looked around at the clouds and the landscape for a moment, then said, “Twilight should be very pleasant, as well.”

“Will she?”

Celestia frowned. “Sunset. With the clouds, I mean.”

“Do you?”

“Oh, stop it,” Celestia said, tapping her sister with a hoof. Luna grinned up at her innocently.

The chariot descended gently onto the turf of Sweet Apple Acres a little ways off from the commotion. The princesses were immediately surrounded by a gaggle of the usual gossip rag jackals and journalponies, cameras flashing and a babble of voices asking a thousand questions at once. With practiced ease, the two princesses serenely strode past them as the Royal Guards started making very intense faces and herded the mob away.

This, though, had drawn the attention of various nobleponies, the inevitable second wave of ravenous attention-seekers. Celestia and Luna had been surprised when Spike told them how many ponies of note would be attending—it didn’t seem like the sort of thing Mac and Fluttershy would like. But there were social obligations to consider; and besides, if Fluttershy didn’t make it a society event, the attendees would have been about 90% Apples, and still a huge crowd in any case. The Apple family took celebrations seriously.

The other upside of making it a society do, had Celestia mused to herself, was that you could charge for drinks. Applejack and Mac would make sure those who didn’t need to pay wouldn’t, but their family’s prize vintage would make sure those who were paying, kept on paying. "Unicorns just can’t hold their cider," the earth pony mare had boasted once, not realizing Celestia and Twilight had been nearby, chuckling at her boasting.

Still, this presented the princesses with a familiar throng of upthrust, snooty faces, begging their pardons and asking after small matters. Unable to as easily dismiss this crowd as the media ponies, they graciously acknowledged a face here and there, ever-proud, ever-serene, smiling enigmatically with practiced ease; but no matter how royally they attempted to sneak away, another face appeared, all to pleased to see them. Despite their best efforts to part the waters, the crowd closed in around them, and the sisters shared a desperate, embarrassed glance—

“Thank you, noblemares and gentlecolts, for your gracious reception of the princesses,” said a quiet voice which nevertheless cut through the cacophony with razor keenness, “But with your cooperation, I would like to show them to their seats.” The crowd split, immediately, obedient to a sudden urge they didn’t quite understand, and there stood Arch-Mage Twilight Sparkle, giving a tiny smile of satisfaction.

There was no avoiding the title. She wore a spectacular, midnight-blue cloak, classically styled but of contemporary cut—a gift from Rarity, no doubt—clasped by a simple but elegant brooch, a deep purple sapphire set in silver, styled after the Element of Magic.

“Twilight Sparkle. You’re too kind,” said Luna in her haughty but sing-song "don’t scare the nobleponies" voice.

“This way, please,” Twilight said, waving a hoof. The three departed from the mass of nobleponies, who milled around looking somewhat dazed and addressing each other as "Princess" regardless of whom they were talking to.

“Morningdew’s Gentle Suggestion?” murmured Celestia. The two princesses could hardly have missed the whispers of magic surrounding Twilight’s quiet words.

Twilight looked up at her with an expression of polite interest. “No, Princess, there were far too many mares in the crowd for that,” she said. “It was a spell of my own.”

“Effective,” Luna said, admiringly.

“A little rude, all the same,” Celestia said, but with the knowing smile of somepony who pulled similar stunts on a relatively regular basis. Twilight returned it with a distracted smile of her own—honest, in all respects, except that it did not reach her eyes, which were tired and harassed. As Celestia looked, momentarily shocked, Twilight blinked and all sign of her fatigue vanished, replaced by eager helpfulness.

Celestia felt a little bolt of unease leap across her heart, but with a touch of mental effort she ignored it. Maintaining poise was appropriate in the circumstances, and after all, she had been up since…before the break of dawn…

…making sure all the napkins were the same length, or something, Spike’s voice said from her memory. For some reason, the thought bothered Celestia intensely.

“I don’t know about that,” Luna said, speculatively, interrupting Celestia’s thoughts. “Seems terribly useful…you’ll have to show me—us—sometime, Twilight.”

“Thank you, princess,” Twilight said, calmly. “Perhaps we can discuss it at a later time.”

Given the expression on her face as the two princesses caught each other’s eye, even Luna thought this was weird. Who was this, and what had they done with Twilight Sparkle? They certainly had never seen how she reacted when asked about magic.

They approached a small wooden archway, carefully made and painted a rich red to match the table dressings, set slightly to the side of the tables, facing the stage where the marriage itself would be held. Sheer cloth, meant to discreetly screen the ponies inside from prying eyes, was suspended from it in a rough circle. There were two small reclining pillows underneath it—one large, black one and another smaller white one. Rarity would be behind that—always one for contrast.

“I hope you’ll forgive me if it’s cramped, at all,” Twilight said, with a sincere tone of apology.

Celestia smiled. “Don’t be silly, Twilight, it’s absolutely fine,” she said, trying to sound reassuring.

“Spike will be here shortly as well,” Twilight said. “He is a bit too big for a table seat—“ a hint of familiar wryness edged in on her voice, here, and Celestia felt an unbidden flush of comfort—“And of course, if you two should require anything at all, he would be happy to help.” This had the tones of a statement that was true whether Spike realized it yet or not.

“Thank you, Twilight. I’m looking forward to everything.”

Twilight smiled again, nodding. “I’m glad. Would you like me to ensure that you’re undisturbed?”

“Between Spike and the Royal Guards, I suspect only ponies with truly pressing business will feel the need to…disturb us,” Luna put in with a snort of laughter.

“It would be no trouble to—“

“We’ll be fine, Twilight,” Celestia interrupted, impatiently. “Please, I’m sure you have a great deal to attend to, and I’d hate for you to be distracted by us. Thank you very much for taking such pains on our behalf.”

The glass smile appeared on Twilight’s face again. “Not at all. It was my pleasure,” she said calmly. “Forgive me for being forward, Princess. Please, enjoy yourselves.” She turned around and trotted off purposefully.

Celestia sighed, and turned to Luna, who was giving her an incredulous look. “Is something wrong?” she asked, more irritably than she had meant to.

“I might ask you the same question, sister.” Luna’s expression softened into a wary half-frown. “I take it that’s not how Twilight Sparkle was behaving yesterday?”

“Not at all,” Celestia replied, stepping forward into the black pillow. “Yesterday she was all nerves. Which is classic Twilight, of course, for all that there were…troubling aspects. And last night—“ She stopped herself.

Luna’s eyebrow rose suggestively. “Last night…? Do go on.”

Celestia frowned at her sister, who rolled her eyes and stepped into the smaller white pillow carefully. “Last night, she…let me use her bed, at the Library. Her library. I woke up after we—you and I—spoke and she was on the floor, having a nightmare, so, I…” Celestia grimaced, bracing for the gleeful expression Luna was going to have when she heard this, “So I put her up in the bed. With me.”

But Luna did not leap on the juicy tidbit; instead—to Celestia’s surprise—her face fell and she lowered her head. “She has them often,” Luna said, quietly. “I cannot help her.”

“I just nuzzled her a little,” Celestia said, with forced flippancy. “It seemed to help.”

Luna’s eyes flashed for a moment, and she said, “Oh, my, did it,” but her heart wasn’t in it. For some reason Celestia felt off-put by her sister’s oddly mild reaction. She sounded…disappointed.

The princesses sat in silence, watching the ponyfolk assemble around the tables. Spike arrived, carrying tall flutes of sweet, heady apple wine and a big mug each of Apple Family Private Reserve Barrel-Aged Cider for the guards, who looked at them uncomfortably until Luna lost her patience and firmly assured them that one couldn’t hurt; and when that didn’t work she gave them a royal command to drink the cider before it got warm and went to waste. They seemed much calmer after that.

The buzz of new arrivals and the general level of noise continued to increase regularly as the happy moment approached. A couple hundred ponies, at least, of all the tribes—even a zebra or six, with the sage Zecora sharing a polite nod with the princesses across a crowd, surrounded by a gaggle of zebras in their brightly-colored formalwear, fielding curious inquiries from those nearby.

So many familiar faces…there, near the back, surrounded by a crowd of admirers and flashing cameras, was the brand-new captain of the Wonderbolts, Scootaloo, beaming nervously as she was embraced by her predecessor Rainbow Dash, whose other arm was occupied waving a large mug of cider excitedly, dousing the nearby reporters and nobleponies as she described complicated aerial stunts. Nearby, Sheriff Applejack watched her friend warily, her face a mix of amusement and professional discomfort, undoubtedly wondering how much the crowd would take before they all collectively tackled Dash to prevent being completely soaked.

Elsewhere, explosions of balloons and candies erupted in the crowd, accompanied by a storm of giggles from a familiar pink pony. She pranced around excitedly, talking at lightning speed to anypony who would listen, followed by a crowd of cheering colts and fillies. Perhaps not the most dignified behavior for the Mayor of Ponyville, Celestia mused, but it certainly kept things lively.

Rarity was visible, too, chatting amiably with a number of prominent ponies as a gaggle of bored-looking mares stood around them, discreetly posing themselves in such a way as to display their elegant dresses to the best. She caught Celestia’s eye and nodded a greeting.

As Luna predicted, nopony approached the princesses, who reclined quietly and just watched the crowd, occasionally sharing an amused glance as a particularly snooty unicorn noble was suddenly stunned to find their drink replaced with a rubber duck, or something similar. Celestia smiled thoughtlessly out into the crowd, not letting her mind really settle on anything or anypony in particular as the day sunk into—

Twilight.

Celestia closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

She had been trying to keep her mind clear, but a mean buzz of…something still lingered on the periphery of her mind, distracting her and making her irritable, turning what should have been a still pool into a chaotic haze of anxiety. She didn’t even know what had caused it—a low-level snarl that just prowled around inside her skull, evading analysis or understanding, being obnoxious and preventing any real mental work from being done unmolested.

Forgive me for being forward, Princess…

The princess’ lips curled into a sad grimace. Why had she gotten so irritated with Twilight, anyway? She used to find being fussed over by the little unicorn so…endearing. It must have just been the strange way she was acting—or just a byproduct of her anxiety in general.

Not so little, anymore, though. She looked old, in that cape…too old.

Celestia felt very sad, all of the sudden. The filly that still lived in her heart begged her to spring up, run to Twilight, and just hug her until everything was better again, because…

Just…because.

“Tell me, sister,” Luna asked, suddenly, in a distracted tone of voice suggesting she had something dwelling in her mind even as she spoke. “How would you…describe Twilight’s behavior..?”

Celestia turned to her. In the fading light of the sun, on the eve of a new moon, whispers of shadows played off Luna strangely, hinting of her true size and magnificence, occasionally getting as solid as a barely-visible plume of thin smoke that rolled off her when she moved.

“I’m not…sure,” Celestia said, struck by this inability. It had been so…

“Perfunctory, perhaps?” Luna asked, quietly.

“Ha!” Celestia laughed, bitterly, causing ponies at nearby tables to look over to her suddenly, wondering what was the matter. “Oh, please, excuse me,” she said to them, smiling.

She honestly couldn’t say. Stilted and unnatural, but, at the same time, almost peaceful. Not unfriendly, just…

Distant.

And very, very tired. But that was no surprise, really.

“Hmm,” Luna murmured, tapping her hoof in front of her slowly. “What about…perfect?” she asked, giving her sister a meaningful glance.

Celestia gave her a look. “Of course not.”

“Well, right. Of course not,” Luna said, thoughtfully. “But…she was trying to be, don’t you think? So…removed,” Luna said, her eyes flashing.

“It’s Twilight, Luna.” Celestia smiled gently, despite her growing unease. “We knew that already. Especially on a night like this, in front of everypony? I expect she’s driving herself mad. And afterwards, I’m sure she’ll be in a much better mood—relieved, at least. Or,” Celestia gave her sister a grin, “We’ll find her screaming her head off in the library. Silly filly, honestly…”

Luna gave her a strange, patronizing look and sipped her wine. “That,” she said firmly, “Is not what I meant.”

“She’s always been a perfectionist—“

“What does she compare her perfection against, do you think..?” Luna asked, mildly.

Celestia looked away irritably.

…and remembered.

~(E)~

The three stones rose…and fell.

“Just relax, Twilight. Don’t force it. Just feel the flow of magic and guide it, gently, like we talked about.”

Celestia sat, calmly, as Twilight Sparkle gave her a brave nod and turned back to the little pile of smooth, black rocks. Around them, Canterlot gardens bloomed magnificently in the drunken haze of late summer. Cicadas, hidden in the trees, sang their buzzing hymn to the late afternoon sun.

The little purple filly nodded ferociously, her face screwed up in an expression of determination. She leaned into her horn, eliciting a melodic murmur of laughter from Celestia, and tried again. Her horn glowed brightly, and the stones shot straight up into the air, vanishing into the sky.

“Oh! My,” Celestia said, laughing brightly. Twilight blushed furiously and pawed the ground in front of her. The two waited for a while, silently, Celestia looking down at her new student fondly. Eventually the three stones thumped back into the rich earth with final-sounding thuds.

“Sorry,” Twilight whimpered.

“For..?”

“For…for shooting the rocks into the sky.” The little unicorn shrank.

Celestia laughed. “Oh, Twilight…you never need to apologize for your magic. Not yet, at least. When you are older, you’ll have more control, and more responsibility…but now, you are young, and very talented…” She nuzzled the little filly fondly, enjoying Twilight’s eager nuzzle in return. “I wouldn’t have been surprised if they had exploded, to tell you the truth,” she added, conspiratorially.

Twilight looked up at her with a mix of awe and terror. “Really?”

“It has certainly happened before,” Celestia said, with a bemused smile as her mind briefly called up memories of the more spectacular blast marks she had seen at the Academy. She looked down at Twilight and, with a fledgling sense of pride in her new protégé, reflected that even Academy students much older than her would struggle to even budge three lodestones at once, much less toss them careening into the atmosphere.

She had not, of course, told Twilight that the stones were specially made to resist being moved by unicorn magic, but she would, someday. Celestia was a firm believer in letting ponies show you what they were capable of and then informing afterwards how difficult what they had done actually was. Among other things, it tended to be more amusing that way—their faces were priceless.

“I think we’ve had enough practice for today, Twilight,” Celestia said calmly. “And in any case, your parents will want you home before it gets too dark.” It would be several years yet before Twilight would take up residence in the palace, but at this point she was already well-known to the palace staff, and the guards rarely gave her second looks anymore as she opened doors for herself and wandered around the grounds on errands from Her Majesty.

“Oh,” Twilight said, sounding disappointed. “Do we have to stop?”

“I’m afraid so. But you can help me by carrying one of the stones back to the palace, if you like.”

The little unicorn nodded eagerly and rushed off to the little divots.

“She’s very cute, isn’t she?” came a voice from the distant future.

Luna? Celestia’s mind asked, startled, suddenly aware of herself, distinct from the memory of herself. She felt a distorted sense of separation, and then watched the memory wander up to Twilight and help the little unicorn pry the lodestones free of the soil. She looked down at a ghostly, insubstantial hoof, in wonder.

“Neat trick, don’t you think?” Luna asked, appearing beside her in an equally phantasmal form.

Despite herself, Celestia was fascinated. “I had no idea you could do this.”

“It occurred to me to wonder what the difference between a memory and a daydream actually is, when you get right down to it,” Luna replied cheerfully. “Especially the memory of someone as magically powerful as yourself, sister. I think you’re a little overtired, which is helping...and the technique needs some refinement—”

“I’d prefer to keep some of my mind private, if it’s all the same to you,” Celestia said, setting aside her curiosity to indulge her irritation at the intrusion. “Is there something in particular you wanted?”

The ghostly form of Luna wandered forward to observe the memory of Celestia and Twilight, struggling with the lodestones. “You could keep me out, if you really wanted to,” she said, looking over her shoulder slyly.

It was all she had to say.

Celestia and Luna followed the memory of Celestia and Twilight as they ambled up the path to the castle from the grounds. The present Celestia watched, heart aching, as Twilight breathlessly took in the gardens and the statuary, her eyes wide with wonder as they passed marble busts of famous ponies—wizards, statesponies, artists—and the allegorical statues of the Virtues, the Elements of Harmony, the Princesses…

“Princess?” Twilight asked, timidly, looking up at an elegant marble fountain of Celestia and Luna, which seemed slightly more worn and unkempt than the other statues.

“What is it, Twilight?” asked the memory of Celestia.

“What’s it like,” Twilight said, swallowing nervously. “What’s it like, being…perfect?”

Celestia watched the expression on the memory of her face flicker. Even now she remembered the gut-wrenching guilt she had felt as Twilight asked her this, the fountain depicting herself and her sister in happier times framing the little unicorn against the setting sun. Pain and loss shone in her eyes, although her smile only faltered for the briefest of moments.

“I’m far from perfect, Twilight,” Celestia murmured in harmony with herself.

“But you’re the most powerful unicorn, and, and, you have wings…and you’re so beautiful,” the little unicorn stammered. The memory of Celestia smiled patiently, while her ghostly present self closed her eyes, not wanting to see the Twilight’s eager expression any longer than she had to.

“That remains to be seen, little one,” Celestia said, again matching her memory word-for-word. It seemed like she had to resist doing so, especially the closer she was to the memory of herself; this whole situation was all very interesting, but she found herself unable to focus on the broad view. The little unicorn, looking up at her new mentor with awe, occupied her attention.

“I think someday, you could be much more powerful than me,” the memory of herself confided.

“I could never be more powerful than you,” Twilight gasped.

Celestia had smiled down at her, fondly, and indeed the memory of herself did so, looking more sad than the present Celestia remembered being at the time. Twilight had been young; she didn’t understand what she was saying, really. And perhaps, in terms of raw power, Twilight could never match the Princess of the Sun...but Celestia was more than proud to admit that in many technical aspects of magic, Twilight had become much more adept than her—more subtle, more creative. She worked with less—although what she worked with was immensely more than most other unicorns—and thus exceeded her mentor in so many little ways.

“We’ll see, my dear. If you study hard, I think you’ll take us both by surprise,” Celestia mouthed along with the memory.

“With you teaching me, maybe,” Twilight looked up at the memory of Celestia, beaming love and adoration as only foals can. “You’ll be there, right?”

“Of course I will,” Celestia said—

~(E)~

“—my faithful student,” she finished, under her breath.

Her heart was beating very hard. It had been the first time she’d called Twilight that.

Luna was looking at her inscrutably. “That was all very interesting, wasn’t it?” she asked, sipping her wine.

Celestia rounded on her. “That was not, in any way—” she began, her voice strangled. “That was private.”

“First of all, I had no idea I could do that,” Luna said, quickly. “I will never do it again, without your permission.”

“See that you don’t,” Celestia said, coldly.

“In any case,” the moon princess said, inspecting a hoof haughtily, “What I saw was nothing I couldn’t have guessed had happened at one point or another. Although if I may say so, it warms my heart to know that even then you still thought of me fondly.” She grinned.

“I never stopped. You know that.” Celestia looked away from her sister’s far-too-smug expression. “That was a very long time ago, Luna. I’m sure—“ She paused, catching control of herself. “What are you implying?”

“Implying?” Luna asked, innocently. “I think I’m being fairly overt.”

“About?”

Luna looked speculative for a second. “It occurs to me to wonder, sister,” she said coolly, “Once again, if you have thought about your own reaction to all of this.”

Celestia bristled. “I don’t see what that has to do with Twilight—“

“Of course you don’t,” Luna said, with a sad little sigh.

“I am just concerned for her.”

“Any more so that usual, do you think?”

“Not at all,” Celestia said. Her little sister was pleased to play her little games, but Celestia found she wasn’t in the mood.

…which was very odd, now that she came to think about it. Usually she found Luna’s eccentricities endearing.

And…she had been extremely impatient with Twilight as well. Why? This wasn’t like her at all.

“Good,” Luna said, encouragingly. “You’re thinking.”

“Be quiet,” Celestia murmured. Luna tittered laughter.

Twilight had been so…strange. Yesterday, she had seemed terrified to find Celestia on her lap, while today, it didn’t seem to phase her. Both of these behaviors were…strange. In the classic sense of "strange", as in "stranger"—"other".

Other. Other than herself. Acting, or being driven out of comfort by fear. Both were unpleasant, and unwelcome—an all-too-obvious reminder of their alienation from each other, which…hurt.

But acting…perfect?

…Perhaps. In the sense of being…removed. Apart. Above, even...

Trying to emulate Celestia..? Surely not. But it would be just like Luna to poke at her sister that way.

Celestia shook her head, irritably. This was nonsense. Luna’s intrusion was making the memory—which had just been a passing thought, really—seem more important than it was. Twilight had just been a filly, still star-struck and overawed, not realizing what she was saying. Look at her reasons for thinking Celestia was perfect—meaningless. Magic power…wings…

Beauty…

It was all just…what? Something.

Hanging over her mind, tainting every thought…

Regret. Nostalgia. Dwelling in happy memories was making everything hazy and painful, preventing her from thinking clearly about what needed to be done to resolve the situation.

Frustrated by her own inability to think, Celestia shook her head, trying to dismiss the chaotic haze in her mind. “Luna, I—“

“Hush, now,” Luna said, turning a sly smile on her sister. “The wedding’s starting.”

The bustle of the crowd had naturally calmed as evening fell. The sky was a deep purple in the west, as day slipped into night, and the moon lamps shone merrily, filling the air with a cool, ethereal light. Hush fell over the assembled ponies, although a silhouette wearing a cowboy hat had to quickly grab two other silhouettes—one prancing and giggling, the other complaining that her feathers were getting ruffled—to the little cordoned-off area of the barn where the bridal party was being assembled.

Celestia had, if anything, been making a polite understatement to Rarity when she told the unicorn she attended many weddings; she had attended thousands of them. Happy, joyous events all—okay, maybe not all—but the shine had worn off the romance of the whole thing long ago, and the Princess wryly considered herself something of a connoisseur of wedding quality.

She was interested to see what Twilight had come up with. Earth ponies tended towards very simple but dignified affairs, whereas pegasi went in for things being quick and to the point, as they always did. It was generally unicorns who were into pageantry, although Twilight wasn’t exactly the type for it...

Celestia had a sudden vision, inspired from long experience, of Twilight sitting in her library, drowning in books, magazines, and other reference materials, fretting endlessly over how to arrange a suitable wedding, as Rarity, Applejack, and Fluttershy stood around giving her advice, all of it conflicting with each other.

Why didn’t Twilight think to ask her for advice? Once upon a time—

Celestia let an all-too-familiar sting of discomfort come and pass. That was why she was here, wasn’t it—it wasn’t once upon a time, it was now, and things weren’t quite right between them.

But they would be again. It was just a matter of time.

Setting aside the prickly issue of her relationship with Twilight, the princess settled down and speculated idly on her protégé’s wedding plans. As the wedding began in earnest, Celestia realized Twilight had, as ever, done her research with care...she just hadn’t been reading books about weddings.

She’d been reading fairy tales.

In the calm of early evening, music started playing, seeming to come from everywhere at once, suffusing air with a gentle, but purposeful sense of impending; long, slow, rising notes seeming to carry the crowd’s attention to the altar where Macintosh stood proudly. In the fey light of the moon lamps he seemed as noble and princely as any unicorn noblepony had ever been, though he had just this morning been pulling stumps in a field.

With a sudden rise, the music announced the arrival of Fluttershy, grinning bashfully as she was escorted down the aisle by Rarity, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie. The little pegasus wore a beautiful pale-blue gown which scintillated radiantly in the low light—not flashy or unnatural, but instead like a gentle ripple of moonlight across the sea. Rarity’s work—the unicorn, even now, was clearly fussing over it—and it was a masterpiece, a fantasy made real through long effort. The long train was carried by a flock of birds, all chirping and tweeting brightly. Fluttershy joined Mac onstage, their eyes meeting fondly, and the wedding began.

Everything was touched, in the moonlight, by a sense of unreality, like a dream, come to life. And while it was true that the Apple family’s best had been flowing freely for several hours now, still…

“Are you doing something, sister?” Celestia murmured.

“I don’t have to,” Luna replied quietly. Even she sounded…awed.

The ceremony was brief, and solemn, but the kiss…the kiss could have lasted forever, and nopony would have complained.

Celestia had idly wondered why only Applejack (including hat, which no power Celestia had ever known could part from her), Rarity, and Pinkie Pie had been in Fluttershy’s bridal party; Twilight and Rainbow Dash were conspicuously absent. But as the kiss came, a familiar magic swept through the audience like a wind, carrying little motes of moonlight from the lamps rushing forward to the stage, swirling around Mac and Fluttershy, coalescing into balls of light which, as the new couple leaned together, soared into the air…

“Yeah! Woooooo hooooo!” cried a familiar voice trailing a magnificent rainbow, approaching at breakneck speed from the starry horizon…

Mac and Fluttershy’s lips met, and Rainbow Dash, cheering and twirling in the air with unrivalled skill, connected with the central ball of moonlight. It exploded into a riot of color, balls and pinwheels of every hue bursting into fiery flowers, lighting up the night sky. Trailing behind her, trails of thunderous clouds crashed into the remaining moonlight orbs, sending spectacular silver-and-gold trails spiraling out into the heavens. They danced miraculously in the sky, the magic more alive than any firework, spinning and whirling as if the lights themselves were as happy to exist and be seen as the wedding guests were to see them.

The crowd looked on in awe, cheering wildly, foals laughing and prancing excitedly.

It was…beautiful.

Again Celestia’s inner filly again rose to the forefront of her mind, wishing against all reason for this wonderful moment to last forever.

But alas for the eternal: nothing does.

As the magical lights burned themselves out and faded, the orchestra raised one last, decisive fanfare and the happy couple looked out at their guests, Macintosh beaming proudly and Fluttershy giving a gentle smile. Another cheer was raised from the crowd, and the two nodded, demurely.

“All right, all right!” Pinkie Pie shouted over the din. “Enough of the mushy stuff! Let’s party!”

Lamps—regular lamps, of every color, turning the yard into a festive light show—flared to life; and in the barn, suddenly illuminated brightly, the DJ Vinyl Scratch looked up with a ferocious grin and said, “Now that Octavia’s done boring you to death, let’s get some real music going!” With a flash of her horn, she set the turntables spinning and music filled the air, drowning out an enraged cry from the orchestra. Apple family ponies began calling out from their stalls, and the food and drink started flowing in earnest.

Celestia turned to Luna. “Was that your ‘help’ with the lamps? Teaching her to move moonlight..?”

“I…never taught her how to do that,” Luna said breathlessly, her eyes lit with amazement. “I’m not sure I could just stand up and do that, right off the hoof…”

Celestia chuckled and rose from the reclining bed, gesturing for Luna to follow her. “Now you know how I felt when I woke up one morning with my entire study rearranged,” she said, the memory blooming a welcome feeling of nostalgic amusement in her, “And a little purple filly, who shall go unnamed, sitting in the middle asking if I liked it.”

In the privacy of her mind, she was suddenly aware that she had never changed it since. It hadn’t seemed important.

The princesses—flanked, as ever, by their guards, followed closely by a somewhat tipsy Spike—made their way through the crowd of heavily-lubricated ponies who had wholeheartedly dedicated themselves to a no-holds-barred celebration. The youngest among them—youngest of heart, at least, since there was Granny Smith, doing her best—were dancing to the carefully-administered beats of Vinyl Scratch, who sat behind her turntables, mixing with furious precision. Meanwhile, their elders drank deeply of the Apple family’s labor, both in terms of succulent baked goods and the sweet wine and tart ciders of their legendarily barn-sized distilleries. Pegasus traded jokes with Earth pony here, unicorn and zebra bought each other drinks there, and everypony smiled and laughed under a dazzling sea of stars.

It was as perf—

Celestia shook her head. It was as good as things ever got. Luna’s little games were getting to her.

“So,” Luna said, idly, as they walked. “A wedding for dear Fluttershy…”

“A wonderful wedding. She couldn’t have had better,” Celestia agreed.

“A party for the esteemed Mayor Pinkie Pie…”

“She might even have to rest, eventually.”

“Another air show for Rainbow Dash…”

Celestia regarded her sister warily. “…what are you getting at?”

“A fashion presentation in front of all the nobleponies she could have every dreamed for Rarity…”

“Luna, what are you—“

“And the Apple family will do well by this night, I think,” Luna concluded. “I know Applejack frets about the farm, now that she’s Sheriff.”

Celestia pursed her lips and looked down at her sister, who was giving nearby ponies a bright smile as she passed. “And for Twilight?”

“Isn’t it obvious..?”

“Another demonstration of her ability to organize,” Celestia said firmly, “And, as you point out, a chance to let her friends shine. I would expect nothing less of her.”

“ ‘Demonstration’? For whom, I wonder..?” Luna mused. Celestia began to respond, but the crowd parted in front of them and the wedding party appeared in front of the princesses, their faces a picture of bliss.

Luna stepped forward. “Oh, dear Fluttershy,” she said, embracing the pegasus firmly. “I wish you years of happiness, my friend.” Celestia rolled her eyes. Luna could be quite cute when she let herself, and the combination of Luna and the incontinently adorable Fluttershy, flushed with joy, was almost unbearable.

“Thank you, Princess,” Fluttershy murmured in her gentle, even voice. “I was so glad you could find time to join us.”

“I wouldn’t have allowed myself to be absent. Ah! Macintosh,” Luna beamed at the huge stallion. “Take good care of her, or I’ll turn you inside out and bury you in the woods~!” she said in a sing-song voice, smiling brightly.

Macintosh looked at the cheerful face of the princess nervously. “Uh…Ah will, princess,” he said. Applejack and Rainbow Dash snickered at him.

“My congratulations as well, Fluttershy,” Celestia said gently. “And you, too, Macintosh. I wish you nothing but happiness together.”

“Thank you, princess. We are…truly honored to have you here,” Fluttershy replied politely. “Although, in my case, um… I’m just happy to see you again.” She blushed into Celestia’s stunned smile. She had seen Fluttershy not—

Two months ago.

About that sick—

Never mind, never mind…

Casting the painful thought from her mind, Celestia recalled a time, not so long ago, when anypony just looking at Fluttershy would turn her bright red and cringing with embarrassment—and here she was on her wedding night, in front a crowd of hundreds, speaking to not one, but both princesses with barely a squeak.

She gave Fluttershy as gentle a look of affection as she could manage. Ponyville and its ponies had changed quite a bit, yes, but…not all of it was bad.

“Oh dear, somepony is missing!” Luna said brightly, giving the surroundings an exaggerated once-over. “Where have you five hidden Twilight Sparkle, hmm? She is, after all, responsible for the wonderful things we’ve seen tonight…” She gave Celestia a bright smile.

“I’m here, Princess,” Twilight said, appearing from the crowd. She stepped forward with dignified grace, every inch the proud statespony. “So kind of you to think of me.”

“I was most impressed with your magical display, Twilight,” Luna said. “Wasn’t it absolutely marvelous, Celestia?”

“Spectacular,” Celestia said, giving her sister an indulgent smile that did not match her eyes, which shot the younger alicorn a look saying: enough! “I will confess myself deeply impressed once again, Twilight. With everything. As always.” Internally, Celestia felt herself cringing. Twilight’s face, her eyes—so…false! So empty!

Come back to me, my little pony.

“That’s very kind of you to say,” Twilight said, smiling gently. “Of course, I could never have achieved such results without the help of my friends.”

“Oh, Twilight,” Fluttershy beamed, breaking free of Luna, Mac, and her friends to embrace the unicorn, “This was better than I could have ever dreamed.”

“It had better have been,” Rainbow Dash huffed. “We’ve been up since dawn practicing, after all. I thought the rehearsal was last night…”

“Up since dawn?” Luna said, feigning shock. “You don’t say.”

“Yeah,” Dash whined, “Somepony decided things weren’t just as they were supposed to be, and was already up at my window in her balloon at the crack of dawn, demanding I practice some more—”

“’Twas worth it, though,” Applejack said, loyally. “Everythin’ turned out just right.”

“And it was trés magnifique!” Rarity gushed. “It’s one thing to know what’s going to happen and—ah! Another thing entirely to see it happen…” She drifted off, meeting Celestia’s gaze for the briefest moment, flickering to Twilight.

Celestia nodded, very slightly, and Rarity’s smile brightened.

Luna and the wedding party turned on Mac and Fluttershy, suggestively asking them about their evening plans to their mutual consternation, as well as Applejack’s. Twilight looked up at Celestia with an expression of pleasant interest. “What was that, Princess? That…look, from Rarity?”

“Alert as ever, I see,” Celestia said, with forced levity. “Rarity and I spoke yesterday.”

It wasn’t exactly a lie…but it felt like one.

“About me?”

“Among other things.” Also technically true. The words felt like hot lead in her mouth—she was actually evading Twilight! “Forgive an old mare asking after her—“ –faithful student— “—friend.”

Ah, that pause! She was going to have to bite her tongue one of these days to prevent that deadly, deadly temptation from overriding her sense.

Twilight’s smile became a little less glassy, just for a moment—but only just. “Princess, you’re hardly an old mare,” she said, all serene politeness.

“You’re very kind, Twilight, but there are a thousand years disagreeing with you, I’m afraid…” Celestia responded evenly.

She was maintaining her poise as well as she could; she was beginning to feel very uncomfortable, in a quiet but pressing way. It was like knowing you had to cross an iced-over lake and with each step the ice creaked, quietly but insistently.

“You wanted to speak, princess?” Twilight asked.

One of these steps, before you realized it…

“Oh, yes,” Celestia said. “But not now. I don’t want to keep you from your friends at a time like this. You’ve done something truly spectacular, Twilight—”

The ice cracked, and in she fell.

“So you enjoyed the wedding, then?” Twilight asked, her mask of dignity falling away with surprising suddenness, real eagerness suddenly alight in her voice. An honest desire to be praised poured off of every syllable. "What did you think!?"

It was not her voice that set Celestia’s heart breaking; it was her eyes, wide and excited—no different than they had been when she was a little filly moving stones, craving even the most passing word of praise from her mentor, who had nothing but praise for her.

For the first time all night, Celestia saw the real Twilight Sparkle, the one she loved so dearly, unhidden. The beautiful, splendid, genius mare, who had just indulged all her friends’ joys, and dreams—what had her dream been?

Celestia’s heart sunk as her ability to deny what was happening gave way to the obvious.

Twilight had put on a show. She had spent an entire day making sure something that was already magical and special, planned painstakingly for months, would happen just right, just to show Celestia that she could. The wedding had been beautiful, thoughtful, magical, everything it could have possibly been, and Twilight had then set out and made it happen…perfectly.

And now, Celestia realized with growing horror…she was asking for a grade.

Worse: Celestia was reflexively inclined to give her one. Guilt and shame flared in her mind.

From the recent past, the memory of Luna’s sad little whisper rang like a bell in the night: “She’ll always be your student, I think.”

“Twilight, I—“ she began. Her eyes lifted from her protégé’s and met, inexorably, the sad smile on Luna’s face, looking over at her as the rest of the wedding party laughed humongously at something Pinkie Pie had said at Rainbow Dash’s expense.

The princess sighed, sadly.

“It was…perfect, Twilight,” Celestia said. “Absolutely perfect.”

As Twilight beamed up at her in supreme joy, Luna shook her head. Celestia suddenly couldn’t decide which hurt more— the things that had changed…or the things that hadn’t.

~(E)~

The little filly pranced next to her as they trotted through Canterlot, and Celestia smiled gently at the irregular clip-clop of excitement. Usually she asked one of the guards or a steward to escort Twilight home in the evenings, but for some reason, tonight she had felt the need to do it herself. She couldn’t say why; she just felt awkward about dismissing her. It hadn’t felt right.

The moon was rising over the homes and stores, pale white in contrast with the amber candlelight from the windows of Canterlot Town. It was rich and full, filling the world with a strange, ethereal light, and made Twilight’s purple coat look blue, like…hers had.

Twilight kept looking up at her, as if making sure that she was still there.

“I’m here, little one, don’t worry,” Celestia said, chuckling. “I’ll always be here, for you.”

“Promise?”

It wasn't like she had a choice. “I promise," the princess replied fondly, "My faithful student.”

They walked on into the night, together.

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