• Published 30th Dec 2012
  • 2,008 Views, 115 Comments

Two Paths - Sir0Chicken

Twilight is faced with a choice: leave Ponyville to pursue her dreams or stay with her new marefriend, Applejack. Meanwhile, Rainbow Dash helps Fluttershy deal with the harsh realities of rejection.

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The Meeting

Twilight grew up in Canterlot. She earned her cutie mark in Canterlot. She studied in Canterlot. Canterlot was more than just another beautiful city. It was Twilight's home.

That fact was lost on Twilight, however, as she trudge off the Friendship Express at its final stop in the Equestrian capital. She felt as if a pit had opened in her stomach, and the gaping hole grew wider with each step she took toward the royal castle. Before her, majestic spires and glittering windows arched skyward in the finest city in all of Equestria. Twilight let her gaze fall to the worn and dusty cobblestone.

Morning was long gone by the time Twilight's train arrived, and the streets were filled with ponies as she made her way to the castle. As more and more ponies brushed past her, Twilight lifted her gaze. Need to stay aware. She shook her head and held it high. I can do this.

Matching pace with the throng of Canterlot ponies all around her, she sped up to a trot. She puffed out her chest and grinned. It won't be that bad, she told herself. She forced her smile to widen as the pit in her stomach only widened.

After trotting for a few blocks, Twilight stopped and took a deep breath. When she continued forward, her hooves shuffled forward like dead weight. After a few lame steps, she took another deep breath and pressed onward. She made her way to the castle in fits and starts, standing tall for some time before collapsing back into herself. All the while, her heart fluttered in a way that no amount of deep breathing and brief pauses could fix. Through the entire journey, Twilight never turned away from her purpose. It's time to get this over with.

Unfortunately, she didn't really know what "this" was. It couldn't just be her meeting with the princesses. That was only the beginning of her problems. She still had weeks left to make her decision. That was what she truly dreaded, what she feared most. What will I do? What can I do? All she could summon were more questions. Any answers hovered just out of reach.

She entered the castle almost before she realized it. She had spoken to a guard at the gate—she must have, at least that was how things normally worked. Either way, she found herself already in the palace. The Gothic arches in the halls reached for the sky, dwarfing Twilight and providing plenty of room for the sound of her hoofsteps to echo loudly. She flinched with each click and clack against the palace's marble floors. Each step drew her closer to her meetings, and she didn't even know what questions to ask—let alone what answers to she might find.

When she reached the doors to the throne room, she hesitated and inhaled. She kept breathing in, letting her lungs fill as much as they could, drawing out the moment. As her chest puffed out, she closed her eyes and exhaled, letting the air flow out of her slowly and evenly. When she finished, she turned to the guards who stood at the doors, one to each side. The stallions—one white, one grey, both unicorns—smiled at her. She smiled back and nodded.

She had hoped for the doors to open slowly, drawing out the last few moments before she confronted the princesses. Of course, she knew that hope was in vain. The guards swung the doors open with the aid of their magic, and before Twilight could flee, she could see Celestia and Luna standing just inside. They stood tall and erect before her, and while Celestia wore a serene half-smile, Luna's jaw seemed fixed in something just short of an outright scowl.

"Greetings, Miss Twilight Sparkle." Luna stepped forward stiffly and held out a hoof. "We are most grateful that you would come to meet with us so promptly.

"And she really does mean 'we,'" Celestia added. She smirked and walked up to her sister's side. "It's wonderful to see you, Twilight."

Twilight bowed before the princesses before shaking Luna's hoof. "The pleasure is all mine." She had to force the words out, but her smile came naturally. So did her next words. "It's great to see you, Princess Celestia, Princess Luna."

Celestia chuckled. "Please, Twilight, we have known each other for long enough. Call me Celestia—just Celestia."

"And call me Luna." Luna tilted her chin up. She had yet to offer so much as smirk to Twilight.

Twilight nodded. "Of course, Prin—" She coughed. "Of course, Celestia."

Celestia walked past Twilight on her way out the door. "Now, we could always meet here, Twilight, but I find that I think better when I am on the move. Would you mind if we take a walk while we discuss things?"

Luna nodded to Twilight and followed her sister. "I believe the ancients called it the peripatetic method," she said. When Twilight hesitated, she opened a wing and nudged Twilight with. "Please join us, Twilight Sparkle."

Butterflies filled her stomach, but Twilight smile and cantered along to catch up with Celestia. "I probably need a breath of fresh air anyway."

Celestia grinned. "Well, you're in luck. I was thinking we might go to the garden."

The path to the garden was more or less simple, but it was by no means instantaneous. The palace's titanic halls loomed over Twilight as Luna took the opportunity to discuss the purpose of their meeting.

"I am greatly pleased to restore royal tradition and introduce the Night Court to this generation of pony kind." She held her head up and beamed. "Acclimating myself to this new world has been a long and arduous process, but we believe the work is finally done." She glanced at Celestia before turning her gaze to Twilight. "We ask that you aid me in this process."

Twilight nodded, feeling as if her stomach were doing back flips. "I am honored, Luna. I mean it. I just… May I ask you something?"

Luna slowed her pace, and her companions followed suit. Without a word, she strode in front of Twilight and stopped, standing tall before Twilight. A frown creased her face as she said, "You do not need my permission to ask questions, Twilight Sparkle. Elsewhere, decorum may dictate otherwise, but for this moment, we are equals."

Twilight plastered on a strained grin and let out a high-pitched chuckle. "Thank you," she managed before gulping. "What I meant to ask was: Why me?"

Silence ensued for a moment, and the three ponies resumed their stroll before Luna replied. "My sister thinks very highly of you, Twilight Sparkle." Celestia smirked and nudged her sister in the shoulder, but Luna didn't so much as flinch. "It has always been the case that I would eventually return to my normal function in the Equestrian government. With your achievements, your intelligence, and your devotion to your work, it would have been difficult to overlook you as a candidate."

Twilight pursed her lips and could scarcely do more than shrug. "I… Thank you, but certainly there were more qualified candidates in Canterlot. They know the city better, and they could probably make the change much easier than…" Twilight blinked and trailed off, shaking her head.

Celestia frowned and furrowed her brow. "We knew you would worry about leaving Ponyville," she said. "This is just an offer. You needn't feel obligated to do anything."

Twilight opened her mouth to speak, then closed it. By the time she started again, Luna had already seized upon the silence.

"You are our first choice for this position, but you are correct. We can find many willing candidates in Canterlot. I know a handful we could speak with if you decline." She narrowed her eyes as her words became slower, more deliberate. "However, do not fear that you are unqualified, Twilight Sparkle. I assure you that your resume rivals that of any Canterlot oligarch."

"It may be better to call them bureaucrats," Celestia commented. "They're chosen by merit nowadays." She grunted and smiled. "Here we are."

The trio rounded a corner and entered a great hall whose many windows opened out to the garden. Light filtered in from the tall, pointed windows, and Twilight could smell the flowers outside as she drew nearer to the lush foliage.

"It's been a while," Twilight said, picking up her pace as she glanced out the windows.

Celestia and Luna kept pace. "I know," Celestia replied. "I thought you'd like to return here. You used to love coming here to read."

Luna tilted her head, but Twilight slowed when she noticed the princess stiffening at the same time. "Are you okay, Luna?"

Luna nodded more vigorously this time. "I am, Twilight Sparkle." She quickened her pace to a canter. "I merely regret that I could no be here to witness your studies."

Twilight blinked rapidly, her pupils widening. "Oh." She worked her mouth soundlessly before forcing out, "Well, um, yes." She clamped her mouth shut and smiled.

"My crimes were my own." Luna tilted her chin up and raised her voice. "It is by no fault of pony kind or my sister that I served my sentence. I have spent these years readjusting to society and reintroducing myself to the populace. Now I can finally make reparations."

The trio exited the hall and began to walk about on the grass. Stopping out in the open air, Celestia took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Twilight followed suit, but Luna kept moving along, letting her eyes drift skyward. "I wronged many all those years ago. They are gone, but perhaps their descendants will appreciate my efforts."

"They will." Celestia nuzzled her sister and draped a wing over Luna's back. She glanced back to Twilight and added, "And while we would be grateful if you helped her through this process, we understand the sacrifice we are asking of you."

Twilight sighed. "Yes," she said, her voice barely a whisper. "I…" She took a deep breath and brought a hoof to her chest. After holding the breath for a moment, she let it out in another sigh, extending her hoof out as she did so. "Sorry. It's just that the timing isn't ideal."

Celestia nodded, her expression unreadable. "It never is, but something tells me that something in particular has you bothered."

Luna arched an eyebrow and drew closer to Twilight. "Please tell us what is the matter, Twilight Sparkle. You may be forthright with us."

"I will," Twilight said, "but can we keep walking? I'd like to see the garden while we talk." She gulped down another deep breath, but it did nothing to fill the widening abyss in her stomach.

The princesses nodded and followed her, ears perked up. "Well?" Celestia asked after a moment.

Twilight bit her lip for a moment before speaking. "Well—and I've been meaning to write you about this—but I have a special somepony now."

Celestia arched an eyebrow and smirked. "Oh, really?"

Luna, on the other hand, furrowed her brow. "I have heard this term, but I am not certain what it means."

"It's a somewhat vague term," Celestia answered, turning her attention to Luna. "In this case, I think Twilight has a suitor."

Luna straightened herself as her eyes widened slightly. "Truly? Well, my congratulations, Twilight Sparkle." She shook Twilight's hoof and asked, "May I ask the name of the stallion?"

Twilight froze for a moment, but it only took a moment for Celestia to see her student's unease. "Who knows, Luna? She never said it was a stallion."

Luna frowned as she let go of Twilight's hoof. "Society has changed much in the past millennium."

"Um, yes." Twilight coughed and took a step back. "It's true. You remember Applejack, right?"

Celestia chuckled. "It would be hard not to."

Luna narrowed her eyes silently.

Twilight edged away from Luna and closer to Celestia. "Well, we've been dating for a few weeks now." She smiled as her eyes grew distant. "We're marefriends now."

Celestia let her gaze drift among the trees and flowers. "Love is a thing of beauty." She unfurled her wings and walked forward with firm, deliberate steps. "Do you love her?"

Twilight hesitated. "Well, I…" She scratched her chin for a moment. "I can't be sure—I don't know how you can ever be sure about that—but I think I do." Her eyes grew misty and she grinned broadly. "I love Applejack."

Luna frowned and grit her teeth. "I understand." She turned away. "If you will excuse me."

Celestia's wilted a bit and fixed her gaze on Twilight. Forcing a smile onto her face, she said, "I'll talk to her. I'm terribly sorry."

Celestia stopped Luna not too far from Twilight. If she wanted to, Twilight could easily have listened in on the conversation, but she was wrapped in her own thoughts. I love Applejack. The thought was strange, perhaps even foreign. It wasn't just the adolescent fretting about whether she "liked" somepony. Love carried an air of permanence in her mind. It was something that could transcend relationships themselves. It was, in a way, irreversible.

For a moment, the idea filled Twilight with terror. Her chest felt tight, and she began to hyperventilate. Taking what seemed like the thousandth deep breath of the afternoon, she shook her head. I love Applejack, she told herself again, and this time, the thought seemed less alien. She bit her lip and nodded. I do. I love Applejack. She closed her eyes, focusing only on breathing in and out… in and out…

The sound of hoofsteps reached Twilight's ears, and she opened her eyes to see Luna standing before her. "Twilight Sparkle, what is the matter?" she asked.

"Nothing," Twilight gasped, backing away. "Sorry."

"Please, Twilight Sparkle, it is I who should be sorry." Luna hung her head. "I apologize for my rudeness. I truly am happy for you. If I showed any semblance of displeasure, it was due to my own selfishness."

"She means it." Celestia walked up to Twilight's side. "We're just sorry to hear that you won't be able to—"

"Actually…" Twilight bit her lip and looked at he ground. "Maybe… Can we keep talking about the position? I don't want to rush into any decisions, if you don't mind."

Luna nodded immediately. "Most certainly," she said. She flashed a grin and began to walk farther into the garden. "Let us converse. Surely we will reach an accord based in reason."

Twilight and Celestia followed, and before long the three ponies were trotting alongside one another.

Twilight's shoulders were relaxed and an easy smile spread across her face as they resumed their strolled through the garden. Her eyes wandered among the plants as she asked, "Princess Luna, this may be a silly question, but would this position necessarily be year-round?"

Luna's frown returned. "The Night Court must be a permanent fixture if it is to be taken seriously. Of course, it will have occasional recesses, but I need somepony committed to her work."

"You know how my court works," Celestia added. "You wouldn't necessarily work here every day—perhaps three days a week—but there will be plenty of research involved. If you are not in Canterlot every day, you would have to be frequent correspondence with Luna."

Luna huffed. "Do not dismiss the difficulty of this endeavor, sister." She stared at Twilight. "What she says is mostly true, and we can make some adjustments to accommodate you. However, these first few months will be the most arduous. You must be willing to meet that challenge, even if it requires some level of sacrifice."

Twilight looked to Celestia, who nodded after a moment. "The first step is always the hardest," she said.

"I understand." Twilight's words hung in the air as nopony spoke. Finally, she said, "This won't be an easy decision."

"I'd imagine not," Celestia said. She glanced up at the sun and said, "Time flies, doesn't it?"

Luna shrugged, but Twilight nodded vigorously. "It really does. But we still have so much to talk about."

Celestia laughed and gestured back up to the sun. "It doesn't fly that quickly."

Luna snorted. "If anything, it seems to crawl in my experience."

Arching an eyebrow, Celestia nudged her sister. "Do I detect a hint of bitterness in that comment?"

A hint of a smirk flashed across Luna's face. "I can't imagine where you would gather that from."

"Can't imagine? I guess that's why I'm the creative one," Celestia retorted without missing a beat. Luna giggled, eliciting a grin from Twilight.

Luna unfurled her wings when she finished laughing and stretched them as she said, "Since we seem to be negotiating terms at this juncture, are there any other aspects of the position that concern you, Twilight?"

With a laugh, Twilight stroked her chin and nodded. "Well, I'm sure I should know this, but do government officials get any sort of discounts for transportation?"

Celestia shrugged. "Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends." A toucan flew over the trio, and Celestia smiled at it as she spoke. "I'm sure we could get you what you need, but everything has a price."

"Quid pro quo," Twilight intoned.

Luna put a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "We have time to finalize these plans. I hope I can work something out, Twilight Sparkle."

Twilight nodded. "I hope we can, too."

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