Mass Effect: Shepard and the Rainbows

by Meluch

First published

After her family was killed on Mindoir, Riley Shepard became an orphan. After he was shot down on Mindoir, Rainbow Prism's dreams of being a Wonderbolt were crushed. Maybe together, they can heal and change the galaxy forever.

Riley Jane Shepard was the oldest daughter of the family, and she lived happily with her parents and younger sister on the small colony planet Mindoir, on the edge of human occupied space. She had everything she could ever have dreamed of, but all of that changed when slavers attacked.

Rainbow Prism, father of Rainbow Dash, had dreamed of being a Wonderbolt since he was a foal, and he was proud to announce to the world that he had achieved that dream at such a young age. Happily married to the beautiful Firefly and with a devoted fan and admirer in his young daughter Rainbow Dash, Prism could not have dreamed of his life ever going better.

Neither realized how quickly their lives could change. Neither realized the blessings that could come from such a tragedy.

Neither realized that the coming years would shape the savior of the galaxy.

A Mass Effect/MLP:FiM Crossover, the First Story in the First Meetings Universe

1. Mass Effect: Shepard and the Rainbows
2. Mass Effect: Shattered Record, Broken Wings
3. Mass Effect: Gathering Storm (Mass Effect One)
4. Mass Effect: One Wrong Step (Equestria Girls Side Story)
5. Mass Effect: Harmony Lost
6. Mass Effect: Fight for the Lost (Mass Effect Two)
7. Mass Effect: The Darkness Breached (Mass Effect Three)
A. Mass Effect: Side Stories

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Featured 9/11/2014

Prologue - Nightmare's Nightmare

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For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of a horse, the rider was lost;
For want of a rider, the message was lost;
For want of the message, the battle was lost;
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Prologue - Nightmare’s Nightmare
The Castle of the Two Sisters
One Thousand Years Before the Great Stasis

The moment had been a long time in its coming, inevitable in its arrival, and obvious in hindsight, and yet, Princess Celestia still found herself confused. Where were these feelings coming from? Why hadn’t she approached her earlier about this? They could have worked through this together, like they were supposed to.

Like sisters were supposed to.

“Not another step!” Princess Luna hissed icily, glaring down at her older sister from the dais in the throne room. She took a step forward, her horn glinting dangerously in the light of the sun from the window behind her. “Did you really expect me to sit idly by while the prophecy hangs over us all? I can’t allow my daughter to die. I won’t!”

“Luna, please!” Celestia begged. “You shouldn’t do this. Prophecies aren’t set in stone.”

“No, they aren’t.” Luna shook her head, ice filling her veins. She knew what she needed to do, and she let her heart harden, even as her sister stared at her with pleading eyes. “But you aren’t willing to do anything about it. Not really. I can see now that I’m the only one that cares for her. I won’t let you lead her to her downfall. After tonight, there will only be two Princesses in Equestria!”

Celestia looked over her sister, sadness filling her heart even as she prepared herself for battle. The younger Alicorn’s flowing mane somehow looked disheveled, and her dark blue coat looked like it hadn’t been washed in several days. Her eyes were bloodshot, and it looked like she hadn’t slept for at least a week.

“That Princess...” Luna stepped forward onto the small bridge that crossed the two thrones. Rearing up, she slammed her fore legs down, smashing the bridge to pieces as her eyes flared a blinding white. “Will be me! Nightmare Moon!”

The wall behind Luna cracked and the window overlooking the room shattered, revealing the sun outside. Magic swirling around her, Luna rose up, her horn glowing as she cast the moon over the sun, creating an eclipse. A writhing unnatural darkness spread out, eldritch beams of black spitting out across the land.

The largest of the beams reached out, striking Luna in the heart. Ribbons of darkness spiraled out from her, cocooning themselves around the Alicorn in a ball of shadows, spinning faster and faster as it lifted Luna off the dais and into the air.

The ball hung in the air for a moment before exploding brilliantly, revealing a transformed Luna, or Nightmare Moon now, Celestia supposed.

Nightmare Moon grinned, revealing deadly sharp teeth that looked like they could tear through iron. Her horn glowing a brilliant blue, she cast a beam of energy out, slicing the ceiling of the throne room apart, sending slabs of stone and glass crashing to the floor below.

“Luna, I will not fight you!” Narrowing her eyes in determination, Celestia stepped forward. “You must lower the moon! It is your duty!”

“Luna?” Nightmare Moon growled, stomping a hoof to the ground. Her eyes flared dangerously. “I am Nightmare Moon! I have but one royal duty now: to destroy you!”

With a shout of rage, Nightmare Moon blasted away at Celestia with her magic. The elder alicorn slipped out of the way of the beam with a mighty flap of her wings. She needed space to work, and the hole through the top of the room was more than adequate. With another flap, she accelerated out of the castle and into the night sky above.

“And where do you think you are going?” Nightmare Moon shouted angrily. Leaping into the air, she flew after her sister with deadly intent. There would be no running from this battle.

Her muscles straining, Celestia flapped her wings and weaved between the towers and ramparts of the castle while dodging the deadly magical blasts from Nightmare Moon, who pursued her. Dropping towards the ground, Celestia flared her wings at the last possible moment to just skim across the surface. Nightmare Moon stayed hot on her tail.

Rising back up into the air, Nightmare Moon fired another beam, this time with deadly accuracy. Speeding out from her horn, the bolt struck true, hitting Celestia in the chest. She screamed in pain, and her wings locked up. She plummeted to the ground. It was to her luck that Celestia fell through the hole in the roof of the throne room.

Every part of her body ached as she lay still against the cool stone of the floor. She kept her eyes closed, taking the moment to gather her strength. The fight had been short, but it had still taken a lot of out of her. It wasn’t over and she still had a long way to go before she could fully rest.

Sighing deeply, Celestia stood slowly on her four legs, her eyes still closed. Her head hung low. “Oh, dear sister. I am so sorry...

Stepping backwards, Celestia fired a beam of magic at the floor of the throne room.

Laboriously, and with a groan of protesting metal, the floor slid apart. Hidden gears clacked against each other, spinning, rising. Out of the hole in the floor, a large device rose up, five spires orbiting around it on thin metal arms. On the top of the device sat a smooth stone globe, perfectly spherical in its construction.

“You have given me no choice but to use these,” Celestia whispered mournfully as she stretched her wings.

With a mighty flap of her wings, Celestia flew up above the device, using her magic to take hold of the stone globe in the center. She grimaced as her magic strained, but slowly and surely, out of the stone rose the Element of Magic. From the thin metal spires, the other five elements rose: Kindness, Generosity, Honesty, Loyalty, and Laughter. Together, they met the Element of Magic and rose to orbit around Celestia, held aloft by her magic.

Beating her wings, Celestia rose back up through the hole in the ceiling of the throne room.

Nightmare Moon was waiting for her outside, her teeth gritted together in anger.

Hovering in the air, Celestia glared at Nightmare Moon as the dark mare lowered herself from the sky to Celestia’s level. Even as the Elements orbited around her, the white mare felt lower than she ever had before, her heart heavy in her chest.

“Don’t make me do this, Luna.” Celestia pleaded, her voice cracking in desperation.

“My name is Nightmare Moon!” A crack of lightning punctuated her statement.

“I was wrong, Luna.” Celestia sighed, lowering her head. “But this fighting does nothing. Not for you. Not for her, and certainly not for the prophecy!”

“No!” Nightmare Moon shook her head and gestured an angry hoof at her sister. “This is the only way!”

Gathering her magic, Nightmare Moon fired a beam of magic at the solar princess. Celestia dodged and Nightmare Moon rushed to follow.

“This is the way that everything needs to happen! You know it to be true!” Nightmare shouted after Celestia, growling.

Their desperate flight took them around the entirety of the castle. Magic arced out across the sky, ripping stone and mortar to pieces whenever it failed to connect with its intended target.

“Stop this, Luna!” Celestia called out over her shoulder.

“Never!” Nightmare Moon shouted. Gathering her magic, she fired an enormous blast at Celestia.

How Celestia knew to dodge would be a question that kept her up at night for centuries to come. There was no forewarning, no signs, nothing to alert her, yet she still slipped down and to the left, some instinct deep inside her telling her to move.

The magic that would have struck her dead instead continued onwards, blasting apart the tallest tower of the castle. More than half of the stones turned to dust from the sheer power of the blast, and those left behind crumbled, plummeting to the ground far below. Nothing of the tower was left.

Nightmare Moon’s eyes widened in complete terror and fear. Celestia stopped her running, turning to face her sister in understanding. It was over. The fight was over, and all she could feel was sadness, her heart breaking.

“Oh, Luna.” Celestia spoke softly. She lowered the Elements, letting them fall to the ground. “What have you done?”

“No!” The form of Nightmare Moon faded away, leaving Princess Luna behind. Tears filled her eyes and with a powerful flap of her wings, she rushed towards the remains of the tower. “No! No! No! No!”

With her magic, Luna tossed the rubble aside, frantically searching for any sign of life. She froze when she found what she was looking for.

Celestia touched down softly beside Luna, peering down into the rubble at what had caught her attention. A shattered dark blue crib lay flattened from the stones. The remnants of a baby foal’s room were strewn about, barely recognizable in the wreckage. The remnants of Princess Luna’s daughter’s room.

Helping her search, the two continued silently, tossing rubble aside and out of the way. Both were holding back tears, though Luna sobbed quietly under her breath.

Taking ahold of one of the largest pieces of the tower, Luna tossed it aside like it weighed nothing. She dropped to the ground in horror at what she found.

A small blue blanket, torn and soaked in blood.

Luna let her tears flow free, screaming her despair to the sky above.

“I am sorry, Luna,” Celestia said quietly. Gently laying down beside her sister, she put a wing over Luna’s back, joining her in her grief. “I am so sorry.”

“I killed her!” Luna wailed, her voice cracking. She looked up at Celestia with eyes filled with pain. “I killed her...”

Celestia could think of nothing to say, instead giving her sister her silent support.

Things would never be the same.

Chapter One - Wonderbolts to the Rescue

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Chapter One - Wonderbolts to the Rescue
June 3rd, 2170 C.E.
Mindoir, Attican Traverse

The alarms blared through the ship, but Rainbow Prism had long since drowned them out. He had bigger issues to focus on. Top of all of them being the fact that he was about to experience combat for the first time in his life. It was honestly something that he had prayed he would never see.

Sure, the Wonderbolts had become a more functioning part of Equestria's military ever since the sphere had been cracked open almost twenty years ago, but they were still primarily stunt fliers. It just so happened that it was now policy to never leave the planet without their gear when touring, armor and weapons included.

It was supposed to just be a simple trip. After so long dreaming, Prism had finally achieved his greatest dream in life. He was a Wonderbolt! There were only two moments that he held in higher regard. The first was his wedding day. Seeing Firefly walking down the aisle in her dress... it still made his legs go wobbly. The second was the birth of his only daughter. All things considered, Prism was living the dream.

At least he had thought he was, until mid-way through the flight to the Asari homeworld Thessia when the distress call had come through.

"This is the colony planet, Mindoir. We are under attack by raiders. Please, if anyone can hear this, we need help! Oh god, I hope someone is listening."

The message repeated, stuck on a loop. It was a complete miracle that they had even managed to pick it up. The ship the Wonderbolts used to tour the planets was not state of the art. It had once served as a colony transport ship hauling around mid-sized freights to planets on the Traverse. It was cheap and in relatively good working order, which is why the Wonderbolts had purchased it. It was the perfect size to transport them to the few tours that they had begun to schedule across the galaxy.

Prism shuffled his hooves, checking one last time that his battle harness was firmly attached around his barrel. It was. The straps were tight, but not overly so, and the guns were in just the right place to not restrict his wings during flight. His coat itched under the light armor, but there was nothing he could do about it but grin and bear it.

Glancing around the room, Prism looked over the Wonderbolts surrounding him. He was by far the newest of the team, having only recently graduated from the academy, but he was beginning to get to know who they all were and where he stood with them. They were a generally fun-loving bunch who trained hard and partied harder. The pranks and games were a part of life, and smiles were the name of the game.

Prism couldn't see any smiles on his teammates' faces. A heavy, solemn air had fallen on the converted cargo hold as the Wonderbolts trickled in from their rooms, dressed in their combat armor. They all stood in small groups, speaking in quiet whispers, anxious for the beginning of one of the first military actions they would ever undertake.

"Oh god! Please, someone, anyone! Help us! They're just shooting-- Oh god, oh god! Please! This is the colony planet Mindoir. We're under attack-" the transmission cut off to static.

"You all heard the same thing that I did!" Commander Easyglider said as he stepped into the converted cargo hold. By sheer presence alone, everyone went silent as they waited for him to speak. He stood in front of the Wonderbolts, dressed in the same armor as the rest of them. He paced back and forth in front of them, and they all hung to his words with rapt attention. "By all chances, we are the only ship close enough to respond. I know you were all expecting an easy airshow on Thessia, but we're Wonderbolts, and by Celestia we can't just sit back and let a colony get destroyed! We are Wonderbolts, and we are the best that Equestria has to offer! Will we let Celestia down?"

"No!" Prism found himself shouting along with the rest of the Wonderbolts. Their combined cry was loud and fierce.

"Will we let the humans down?" Easyglider asked, snorting proudly.

"No!" The cry came louder than before.

Easyglider grinned, dropping his helmet into place. "Now that's what I like to hear!"

"Entering Mindoir's atmosphere in thirty seconds," the ship's intercom said, with the tinny sound of bad speakers. "Prepare for drop."

"You heard the stallion!" Easyglider flared his wings, grinning wildly. "Remember to stick with your wingpony and you'll do fine. Make me proud!"

"Wonderbolts, hoaah!" The shout vibrated through Prism, seeming to resonate deeply in his soul. It felt good, and he could feel a confidence welling up in him that hadn't been there moments before.

Stepping up to his wingpony, Prism gave a warm smile to Star Glow. A female pegasus, her butter yellow coat and blue mane were barely visible under the armor she was wearing. She was older than him and had been quick to take him under her wing from the moment that he had graduated through the academy. When they were back on Equestria, she had an open invitation to dinner in the Rainbow household and she and Firefly got along wonderfully. That fact sometimes came around to haunt him, but it was all good in the end.

"Ready, ma'am," Prism said. Familiarity was for when they were off duty.

"That's good, Prism." Star Glow nodded approvingly at Prism. "Just remember, stick with me. We'll get through this if we can stick together."

"Got it." Nodding, Prism took a deep breath. Despite her confidence, Star Glow had never actually seen any action. Mutually reassuring each other was the best thing that they could possibly do. Together, they could get through anything.

"It looks like we've got four ships in atmo." The ship's intercom blared again. Together, the Wonderbolts all moved to their assigned spots in the drop hold, each of which were marked on the floor with four yellow hoof prints telling them where to stand. "Batarian, by the look of them. No fighters, but a few transport ships buzzing about."

"Roger that, Captain." Easyglider spoke into his helmet microphone, already connected to the ships communication. Turning to face the rest of the Wonderbolts from his own assigned spot he stretched out his wings. "Synch to the battle-net."

Reaching over, Prism tapped a button on one of the gauntlets on his foreleg. Inside his helmet, his armor and communications synched with the rest of the Wonderbolts, connecting with a quiet chime.

"Drop in five..." The ship started to shake, a violent motion that felt completely different from actually flying through the air on their own wings. "four... three... two... one."


The Wonderbolt's ship sliced neatly through the atmosphere nearly directly over Mindoir's only colony, New Denver. It was a small settlement, with a population only numbering fifty-thousand, the majority of them retired spacers and men and women from the merchant marines.

The bottom of the ship's hold dropped open and the Wonderbolts plummeted out towards the ground below, their wings folded tightly to their sides, hooves held back to make them as aerodynamic as possible.

The floor dropped out from under the Wonderbolts and Prism felt the familiar feeling of his stomach dropping as he plummeted to the ground far below.

Prism stuck directly behind and to the left of Star Glow, just like they had taught him in training. Never leave your partner behind. In his helmet, the buildings of New Denver and all of the other Wonderbolts were highlighted by the battlenet, making it easier for him to pick out everyone and everything of importance.

As he looked, he couldn't help but stare in horror at the burning buildings and the faint screams that he could hear even over the sound of the air rushing past his ears.

"Highlighting mission priorities," Easyglider chimed in over the battle-net. "On my mark, go into flight pattern delta."

Prism tensed along with the other Wonderbolts, ready to do as their leader commanded.

The ground kept growing closer and closer, and soon enough, Prism could make out the faces of the bodies lying still on the ground. He shuddered, firming himself for what he had to do.

"Mark." Easyglider's simple command came through, his voice confident.

The Wonderbolts broke apart, each team moving to strike a position that the Battle Net had highlighted for them.

Prism and Star Glow rocketed towards what appeared to be a residential area, just past a large park full of large fountains. A raider transport shuttle hovered nearly directly over the area, highlighted by the battle-net.

"Okay, Prism." Star Glow said, her voice coming in nice and clear through Prism's helmet. "Follow me in, close and tight. Let's take that ship out."

"Roger that, Ma'am." Prism nodded, even though she couldn't see it from her position ahead of him. "On your lead."

Star Glow dropped down, her battle harness activating at the subtle hoof movements she made. The guns instantly locked on the target and without any hesitation opened fire. The bullets ripped through the relatively unarmored ship with ease.

Prism dropped down after her. He activated his guns and they opened fire on the ship, armor piercing bullets streaking out and tearing through the ship's walls. By chance, he hit something important and the ship's engines died. As it started plummeting to the ground below, it exploded, sending the raiders below scurrying away.

"Good shooting, Prism." Star congratulated with a crow of delight.

"Thank you, ma'am." Prism grinned, adrenaline pumping through his heart.

"Follow me back around," Star ordered, already banking for another pass. "Let's take these guys out."

"Roger that, ma'am." Prism nodded, following her. "I'm on your six!'

The two peeled back around, heading back towards the Batarians that were firing indiscriminately up into the air at them. Lining up with them, Star and Prism opened fire. Bullets streaked out, tearing the alien raiders apart. They dropped like flies, the battle harnesses' accuracy being guided by their battle-net.

The raiders dropped like flies, but not before one of them made a lucky hit.

Crying out in pain, Prism felt a streak of fire rocket through his left wing and he plummeted like a stone as he screamed in pain.

"PRISM!" Star shouted in panic, but he barely heard her through his agony.

He hit the ground hard, sliding across it until he came to a stop against a park bench. He laid still, shocked and in pain.

"Prism!" Above him Star Glow banked back around, finishing off the raiders before she started circling above him. "Come on, talk to me!"

With a groan, Prism sat up, fighting through the pain. Looking back at his wing, he found it still attached, but broken, the feathers stripped clean off and bending in ways that did not look natural. He looked away, shutting his eyes to try and push away the nausea that overtook him. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at Star Glow.

"I'm okay." He reassured her, doing his best to keep the pain out of his voice. "My wing is broken, though, shot clean through. I'll be alright, but I'm on the ground from here on out."

"Thank Celestia!" Star Glow gave a sigh of relief, and though he couldn't see her face, Prism was sure that she had that dorky smile of hers.

A scream of terror tore through the air. Prism instantly jumped to his hooves, his battle harness activating as he tensed, pointing it in the direction of the scream.

"I'll provide you cover." Star Glow growled over the radio. "Let's go check that out."

"Roger that, ma'am." Prism nodded. He started forward, towards the houses that were quickly turning into burning husks.

Making his way between the buildings, Prism kept his head on a constant swivel. The screaming grew louder with every step that he took, but when it was followed by a series of gunshots, and then silence, he took off running.

"It was coming from in here, ma'am." Rushing forward, Prism ran towards where he last heard the screaming, a large house with a gaping hole blown into its side, a simple prefab building.

"Be careful, Prism." Star sounded angry in his ear. "I can't keep watch over you if you move inside."

"I'll be alright, ma'am." He tried to sound reassuring, but he felt anything but confident. He walked through the hole in the side of the building.

As he stepped into the house, Prism grimaced when he found bloody footprints lining the floor. He swallowed back bile at the sight but continued onwards, his guns active and ready to fire at a moment’s notice.

Passing through the living room, he found nothing.

"Nothing so far, ma'am," he spoke through the radio. "I'm moving to check the bedrooms."

"Roger that." Star sounded annoyed. He could only guess that she wanted to be on the ground with him, but Wonderbolt tactical procedures were clear. If any team member was grounded and still operational, the other member was to provide air-support.

Prism moved past the living room to a long hallway lined with doors. He checked them one by one, finding two girls rooms, one with a significantly younger tone to it and walls painted bright pink, and a fairly simple master bedroom.

He found no one, but a long streak of blood led out from the youngest looking girl's room, and he shifted uneasily at the sight.

"There's a whole lot of blood here, ma'am. It's spooking me out." He ignored the instincts telling him to run as far and as fast from the house as possible, moving ahead through sheer force of will.

"Stay calm, Prism," Star said, her voice quiet and sympathetic. "Fight through it."

He walked past the hallway into a large kitchen and dining area, noting that another room sat just off to the side.

Prism froze and gulped back vomit when he laid his eyes on a pair of bodies. A tall man was curled protectively around a much smaller form, and for a moment he was hopeful that he had found survivors. The large pool of blood they were laying in put that thought to rest.

"I have two bodies," Prism whispered in horror. "No sign of the other residents."

From the other room there was a great shout and sounds of a struggle. With a burst of speed, Prism darted inside to find a woman struggling against a Batarian, trying her hardest to keep him from raising his rifle to her chest.

"Back away from her!" Prism shouted, sounding tougher than he felt.

The batarian ignored him, instead punching the woman in the face. She dropped back with a scream of pain, letting go of his rifle as she fell to the floor. Prism opened fire, but he wasn't quick enough. The Batarian managed to fire three shots before dropping dead to the ground, a bleeding line of bullet holes marching up his body.

Prism rushed to the woman, who lay still on the floor, fighting for each breath. She smiled up at Prism before looking down at her chest and the blood that was quickly pooling and staining her shirt.

"Shit," she swore, breaking into a coughing fit, wiping blood from her mouth.

"Ma'am," Prism said quietly. "Just hang on, I'm sending for help. They can patch you up right."

"I don't have that long--" The woman laughed, but it turned into a deep hacking sound and blood spurted out her mouth. "My daughter..."

"I didn't see any sign of her, ma'am." Prism assumed that she was speaking of the other daughter, and not the child that he had found in the other room. There were two children's rooms after all.

"No," she said firmly. The woman shook her head, pointing towards a small closet. "My daughter, Riley. Please, protect her. She's all that's left."

The woman slumped to the floor, breathing heavily, her eyes going wide.

"I will ma'am." Prism held her gently, not wanting her to be alone in her final moments. "She's safe."


She exhaled one final time, and then fell still. Prism was frozen for a long moment, staring down at her. Someone had died in his hooves. He had killed, and because he wasn't fast enough, someone else had died because of him.

Shaking himself from his thoughts, Prism stood, looking at the closet.

Stepping forward, he opened it, finding a teenage girl huddled on the floor, her hands tight around her ears, eyes clenched shut, her dark red hair tangled and wet with blood clinging to her face.

"Riley," Prism whispered, looking down at the girl worriedly.

She didn't hear him, rocking back and forth as she tried to stifle her sobs. Slowly, Prism reached out a hoof and touched her arm.

Screaming, Riley's eyes shot open. Adrenaline and fear pumping through her. She tried to run, but Prism was blocking the door. She froze at the sight of him and her mind struggled to comprehend what she was seeing before her. A pony. Ponies were allies, that's what her father had always told her.

Looking past Prism, Riley saw her mother lying on the floor, dead.

"MOM!" Riley cried.

She lunged forward to her mother's side, pushing Prism out of the way as her tears finally started falling. Prism watched her with compassionate eyes.

"Star, I have one survivor," Prism spoke into his helmet.

"Roger that, Prism," Star responded with a sad voice.

"Heads up, ponies." Easyglider's voice broke out over the battle-net. "We're about to get company. Friendly. Fall back and clear the airspace."

"I'll meet up with you, Star," Prism said, watching Riley carefully. "Go ahead. I've got this covered down here."

Star was silent for a long moment before she responded, her voice hard. "You better not die on me, Prism. I don't want to have to explain that to Firefly."

"You won't have to." Prism shuddered at the thought.

Prism stepped forward and put a hoof on Riley's shoulder. She leaned back into it, desperate for any form of comfort. Catching the hint, Prism reared up on his hind legs and wrapped her in a hug. She started to sob into his shoulder.

Before Prism could say anything, five earth shattering booms shook the house. Prism felt like his bones were going to shake apart from the noise, but he didn't let go of Riley, holding tighter as her tears fell harder.

"This is the SSV OLYMPUS." A new voice spoke out over the battle-net. From what his helmet was telling him, Prism realized that it was being broadcast on all available channels. Whoever was doing it was not messing around. "This is the Systems Alliance. Stop all resistance and surrender peacefully."

Prism shut his eyes in relief. The Alliance had arrived, and they would take it from there.

Four sharp booms echoed out moments later, nowhere near as impressive as the five just moments before. Ships were jumping in and out of FTL in atmosphere, it was the only explanation. They were jumping away.

Riley tired herself out, and soon enough she had no more tears to cry. She slumped against him, falling into unconsciousness, Prism still holding her.


Star Glow flew up to rejoin the other Wonderbolts. She watched with wide eyes at the massive human dreadnought and four cruisers holding position above the colony. The SSV Olympus was a sight to see, as dozens of transport ships emerged from it. They began descending to the surface where they started to unload hundreds of Systems Alliance marines.

"Nice of you to show up." Easyglider broadcasted on all channels, directing it at the Olympus above them. "Thought we were going to have to take care of this mess all by ourselves."

"Who is this?" A harsh voice asked. "This is a restricted channel."

"Commander Easyglider, with the Wonderbolts," Easyglider responded easily.

"Commander!" The voice sounded surprised but recognized the name. "I didn't know you were performing on Mindoir."

"We weren't, but we heard the distress call." Easyglider banked around, leading the Wonderbolts back towards their ship which was waiting in orbit half a mile away. "We couldn't help but answer."

"Thanks for the assist, Commander," the voice said warmly.

"Good job, Wonderbolts!" Easyglider congratulated over the battle-net. "You made me proud today."

Chapter Two - Beginnings

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Chapter Two - Beginnings
Pluto, Sol System

Pluto, the planet that never was. The largest known object in the Kuiper belt, and the second smallest object in the Sol System after Eris, the dwarf planet. Such a humble thing. Discord gave a little smile at the name and a small nod of greeting to the humble planetoid, named after a sister he never had.

But that wasn't why he was here.

Discord waited with a patience that was at odds with his name, seemingly frozen as he stared up into space beyond the thin atmosphere of Pluto. He would wait however long it took. There was no rush. He had all the time in the galaxy. He was immortal after all. The very universe itself could die and he would remain, chaos incarnate. Not even Celestia could claim such, and he knew that fact intimately.

There was no herald to its arrival, no trumpets, no flash of light, it just simply appeared, a shadow against the starry sky.

It moved with elegant purpose and no visible means of propulsion, dancing through space effortlessly as it carried its precious cargo to its final destination. The great work was only just beginning, and there was still so much to accomplish before everything would be ready.

Discord watched the massive creature as it ever so gently placed a Mass Relay into orbit around Pluto above him. It paid him no mind, accomplishing its task with a driven intensity that made Discord shudder at the very order of things.

Pulling away from the Relay, the creature turned, beginning its journey back out of the solar system, edging out of Pluto's gravity before it jumped away. It left no trace of its arrival save the Mass Relay it had placed into orbit, a monument that would withstand the sands of time, forever working, a guiding light to all who found it.

With a long slowness, the great inner rings of the Relay began to spin, circling around a glowing ball of Element Zero. The miracle element that would forever allow the races of the galaxy to expand beyond their humble beginnings.

As Discord stood still, watching, time began to speed up. The inner rings of the Relay became a blur, moving far too fast for him to see. Years pass, then decades, centuries. Pluto orbited the sun, faster and faster. Endless cycles. Millennia passed, and for the first time, Discord observed silently as the Relay activated.

With a flare of element zero and blue lightning, a small ship rocketed out from the Relay. Discord watched as it sped away, exploring the system. Finding nothing after days of scanning, it returned to the Relay and passed back through.

Time continued on, and Discord did not move from his silent vigil. Far above him, the Relay went dark as its element zero supply depleted. Its rings stopped spinning, and slowly, ice began to build on its impenetrable surface. Before his eyes, the Relay became an icy moon orbiting Pluto.

Centuries passed, and Discord watched as the false moon spun around Pluto in an endless orbit. Millennia passed in the blink of an eye, and Discord remained unchanged.

Discord couldn't help but give a small smile as the Relay activated for what he knew was the final time. This was the moment that everything truly began in this solar system. Time slowed, because Discord didn't want to miss a single moment.

The rings of the Relay smashed the ice covering it into chunks as it reactivated. Seconds passed, though it could have been a million years to Discord. A broken Prothean ship hurtled through the Relay, struggling to slow down as it leaked element zero from its cracked hull. Unlike the other aliens, the Protheans stayed at the Relay, working for over a month to deactivate it.

With a slow finality, the Relay went dark for the final time. The Prothean ship began a long voyage to the fourth planet from the sun, Mars, the red planet.

Growling in his throat, Discord snapped his claws. He disappeared without making a sound.

Discord appeared on the surface of Mars, ignoring the harsh wind and red dust that howled past him, a bubble of peace and calm appearing around him. Looking up at the sky, he smiled when he saw a pale blue dot just barely visible above the horizon, even through the thin atmosphere. Reaching up, he stroked his goatee.

"Intriguing," he muttered, looking down at the ground beneath his feet. He knew that he was standing directly above the Prothean archives, buried for nearly fifty-thousand years.

It would have to stay buried for awhile longer.

Looking back up, he watched the massive sand storm that was beginning to build on the horizon.

He snapped his fingers and disappeared.

Discord appeared on the moon, light enough that he left no sign of his presence in the dust. Just at the edge of the grey horizon, a brilliant blue planet was beginning to rise, beautiful and majestic, an awe-inspiring sight.


At least the planet that would come to be known as Earth.

"Such a boring planet." Discord shook his head.

He cocked his head as he stared over it, watching the strands of time passing by in front of him.

"What makes you so important?" He pondered, scratching his chin.

Discord studied the planet, peering through the veil of time to the strands of knowledge that hid beneath. His eyes widened at the revelation that appeared instantly to him.

"Oh!" He smiled in understanding. "That's why. Yes... Yes, I can work with that."

He snapped his fingers and disappeared.

Discord appeared miles above the surface of Mindoir, looking up at the sky just in time to see the raider's ships begin to descend through the atmosphere, flames licking at their kinetic barriers as they opened fire on the city below. Discord shook his head at the violence, but he made no move to stop them.

"So primitive," he muttered sadly.

Turning from the violence, Discord snapped his fingers.

A dense Fog rolled across the forest floor, and tall trees rose up to meet the sky, skeletal and bare of their leaves. Riley found herself standing in the middle of the forest, dressed in her bloody and torn clothes from Mindoir.

"The Harvest. Countless cycles and countless lives."

A heavy voice, thick and powerful echoed through the forest, seeming to come from both nowhere and everywhere at once. Rily clutched at her ears, trying to block the voice out, tears welling in her eyes.

"Die you stupid bitch!" Another voice rang out, intimately familiar. The voice of the Batarian that killed her family.

"Hide, Riley!" Her mother's voice echoed harshly through the trees. Riley dropped to the ground, terror gripping at her heart. "Whatever happens, whatever you see, don't make a sound. I love you, sweetheart."

Stumbling up, Riley ran through the forest, tears streaming down her face. Dark shadows followed her, never moving but always just behind her. Specters of fear and death, faceless, but their eyes were always on her.

"No!" Riley shouted, clutching her hands over her ears. "No! No! NO!"

"You will do." The first voice rang out again, deeper, sounding pleased in its own, dark way. "There is strength inside you, and they will learn to fear it."

"Enough," A new voice said, coming from behind her. It didn't echo like all the others, nor did it sound as menacing.

Riley stopped, turning as the forest fell away, leaving nothing but a white expanse behind. She found herself face to face with a tall creature, vaguely serpentine, but like someone had just mashed whatever pieces of animals they had on hand together to make a new being.

Her heart started to pound in her chest. The moment that she laid eyes on him, her eyes widened and she screamed. Rushing forward, the creature put a paw over her mouth, perfectly silencing her.

"Ah, ah. None of that," the Creature spoke again. Sighing dramatically, he placed a claw to his forehead. "While I do so love to listen to screams of terror, we simply do not have the time."

The Creature paused, actually thinking through what he said.

"Well." He shrugged (and Riley was guessing it was he from his voice). "I say that, but whatever. We're not here to talk about me. You, however, Riley, are certainly due for a trip down the rabbit hole."

Riley raised her gun, and to her own quiet surprise, she noticed that she wasn't even a bit surprised to find that she was holding a gun, not bothering to wonder where it came from, and carefully aimed it at Discord. She fired, only to find that her gun had turned into a banana.

"None of that." The Creature tsked, wagging his finger at her. "I'm not going to hurt you, little Riley. You should try to be as courteous."

Riley glared at Discord, unable to talk.

"Oh, don't give me that look." The Creature rolled his eyes. "I've destroyed civilizations for less."

The Creature looked Riley up and down carefully, judging her silently. "I'm going to take away my paw, and you aren't going to scream, are you?"

A moment passed, and then Riley nodded.

The moment he drew his hand away, Riley screamed as loud as she could. The Creature just rolled his eyes, snapped his fingers, and Riley's mouth disappeared.

"You promised you weren't going to scream." The Creature chided.

Riley tried to speak, but she freaked out when she found that she couldn't move her mouth. She gestured wildly, trying to get her point across. The creature just ignored her wild movements and continued on as if she was not doing anything out of the ordinary.

"Please, let me introduce myself." With a flash, he was standing on a golden pedestal, a top hat jauntily placed on his head. He gave a happy bow, keeping his eyes on Riley the entire time. "I am Discord. The spirit of Disharmony and purveyor of Chaos. Pleased to be at your service."

He jumped off the pedestal, which disappeared behind him. Discord started to pace back and forth in front of Riley, who had edged as far away from Discord as she physically could. She was terrified, and as a young girl she knew that she had no way to fight against him.

"I am sorry to say that it was never supposed to turn out this way," Discord apologized, continuing his pacing. He shrugged finally, unwilling, unable to change. "But, needs must, and even I cannot fight against this inevitability."

"Little Riley," He stopped and turned to look at her. "You aren't even aware the looking glass exists. I am sorry that I am the one who has to break you from your little delusion, but, here we go."

Stepping forward, Discord placed a single claw against Riley's forehead.

It was too much for her already fragile mind to take and she crumpled to the ground.

June 4th, 2170

Prism sat on his haunches in the medical bay onboard the SSV Olympus. His wing had been bandaged and a cast was tightly wrapped over it and his barrel. Looking around the med-bay, he looked over the survivors of the raid on Mindoir. The worst of the worst had been brought onboard as soon as the Systems Alliance had pacified the city.

The door to the med-bay hissed open and Prism didn't bother to turn and look as someone entered, far too wrapped up in his own thoughts to hear anyone as they came in. He was already too focused on ignoring the dull pain sluggishly passing through his veins to keep track of everyone who came and went through the med-bay.

"What is it?" Star Glow asked as she sat down at his side.

"Ma'am!" Prism startled when she spoke, noticing for the first time that she was standing next to him. "Sorry, I didn't notice you come in."

"It's alright, Prism." She laughed at his expression, shaking her head. Looking down at his bandaged side, she winced in sympathy. "How's your wing?"

"It's..." Prism looked down at the bandages, frowning at them. "It doesn't look good. The doctors aren't... optimistic. I might fly again, but I don't think I'll ever be Wonderbolts material again."

Star was silent for a long moment, unsure of what to say after that revelation.

"What's got you so out of sorts?" She asked, deciding to ignore the other topic all together.

Prism took a long look at Star before pointing at a bed a few spaces down.

"What, a girl?" Star asked as she followed his hoof. A young red-headed human lay asleep on the bed.

"She watched her entire family die." Prism nodded, biting his lip. "I saved her. Kept the Batarians from killing her too... or worse."

Star pushed his shoulder lightly, smiling. "You're a regular hero, aren't you Prism?"

"Yeah..." Prism grimaced, shaking his head.

"Oh no." Star groaned, knowing Prism and the way that his mind worked. "No, Prism. I know what you're thinking. Firefly will never go for it."

"Maybe. Maybe not." Prism shrugged. He turned to look at Star with a grim smile on his face. "But I won't know unless I try."

"Prism--" Star pleaded, unsure of what she was asking for, but knowing that she had to make at least some gesture of protest.


Riley shot up off of her bed, a terrified expression on her face as she flailed violently. It was clear on her face that she had no clue where she was or what was going on, just that adrenaline was pumping through her body and that her entire life had completely crashed down around her.

"Hey!" Prism rushed over to her side. He reared up and put his forehooves on the bed. "Hey, it's alright. You're alright. You're safe."

Riley looked at him, having no idea who he was, but his words had a calming effect on her. She reached out and grabbed his hoof desperately, and before he knew it, he found that they were both moving forward into a desperate hug.

A minute passed and Riley started to nod off, still exhausted beyond all belief. She fell asleep in Prism's forelegs, still shaking occasionally in terror.

Prism sent a meaningful look to Star, who was watching them with careful eyes. With a nod, she turned away and left the room.

The Olympus was a massive ship. While it might not have been the largest in the galaxy, it far outclassed anything that Equestria had put out so far. Stopping in front of the Captain's chambers door, Easyglider straightened his coat, taking a calming breath.

Lifting a hoof, he knocked.

"Enter." A muffled reply reached his ears.

Easyglider stepped into the Captain's room, giving a polite nod to Captain Ethan Tyler, the Commander of the Olympus who was waiting for him behind his desk.

"Captain." Easyglider gave him a respectful salute.

"Commander." Tyler saluted right back, a warm smile on his face. "Thank you for the assist today. Things could have been a lot worse if you weren't there."

"I'm just happy we were able to help." He gave a warm smile. Easyglider sat down in one of the two chairs before Tyler's desk.

"Not that I am complaining, but I was under the impression that the Wonderbolts were purely a flight show." Tyler looked at Easyglider calmly, interested in the answer.

"Technically, we are." Easyglider grinned, nodding his head. "We are part of the Royal Guard though, and we all receive combat training. The Wonderbolts never leave Equestria without our weapons. Slim though the chance may be, we may have to act on the Princesses' orders at any moment."

"I did not know that." Captain Tyler nodded in understanding. His face grew grim and he took a deep breath. "I don't know what we would have done if you hadn't shown up. Even with your help, we still lost near ten thousand colonists... at least, that was the count last I checked."

"So many..." Easyglider sat back in his seat, horrified. A number that high was almost incomprehensible to him. So many dead.

"Too many." Tyler nodded in agreement.

"I'm sorry that we couldn't have arrived sooner," Easyglider said, truly saddened.

"You did more than we could, Commander." Tyler waved a hand, resolving any guilt that Easyglider might have felt. "Don't blame yourself. It's the raiders who deserve all of that."

Captain Tyler stood and paced around to the front of his desk, leaning heavily against it. "I have been instructed by the Prime Minister to tell you that all of the Wonderbolts will be awarded the Star of Terra."

"That's too much!" Easyglider's eyes widened and he stood in surprise, hopping down off the chair. "We only did what anyone else would do."

"Regardless." Captain Tyler smiles at Easyglider's protest. "He feels that you deserve it. I can think of no higher honor myself."

They were both silent for a long moment as Easyglider came to terms with what what the Systems Alliance was awarding to the Wonderbolts. The highest military award that the Systems Alliance could possibly give.

"We will accept it with pride then," Easyglider said with a firm voice.

"That is all that we can ask for."

Chapter Three - Breaking New Ground

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Chapter Three - Breaking New Ground
Rainbow House, Cloudsdale, Equestria
June 4th, 2170

Firefly hated working with deadlines. When she had first started writing she did it for her own enjoyment and because she had a story to tell. Ten years later, and she was still writing for the love of it, but her publisher constantly checked up on her to make sure she kept her schedule. It was one of the most frustrating things that she had to deal with.

With a sigh, she continued her pacing in her office, stretching her wings one at a time. She glanced outside the window at Cloudsdale beyond, admiring the beautiful sight. She had built this room with Prism specifically for the view and it had gotten her through more than her fair share of writer's block through the years. Seeing the rain factory hanging above Equestria far below was always a sight that moved her.

Cloudsdale was built to be beautiful, one of the perks of working with a building material that cost next to nothing to produce. A thousand years had gone into making it the crown jewel of Equestria, and even the factories were a sight to behold. It was during sunsets though that the rain factory truly shone. The last light of the sun would glint off the maturing rainbows and spread beautiful dancing light through the air. It always took Firefly's breath away.

With a sigh, she shook her head, focussing her thoughts. Her computer waited patiently for her to begin dictating again, ready to faithfully record everything that she said. She couldn't even imagine writing by hoof or wing anymore like writers used to before first contact. It was so much easier to just dictate to a computer or omni-tool.

"The smell of decay and danger hit Daring Do as she peered into the dimly lit entrance of the ancient temple." Firefly had long ago learned that the best way to dictate was to just speak without thinking too hard and let what would come, come. It often turned out better than if she tried to craft each sentence perfectly.

There was always editing of course.

Firefly thought about the sentence for a moment before nodding, pleased. She opened her mouth to continue, but the computer chirped, breaking her train of thought.

"Incoming call from Rainbow Prism," the computer said in its calm voice.

Firefly looked at the computer, startled. Looking over at her calendar, she checked that she hadn't forgotten the date. It had happened before, but it didn't look that was the case this time. Something was up. "Answer it."

"Answering," the computer acknowledged.

A screen appeared before her, taking up a a large portion of the wall opposite the computer. Rainbow Prism appeared in the center, larger than life. He waved at Firefly, a tired smile on his face.

"Firefly, it's great to see you." His voice sounded as tired as he looked. He sagged slightly, taking a deep breath.

"Prism!" Firefly instantly noticed his bandaged wing and gasped in concern. "Your wing! What happened?"

"There was an... A... Uh..." Prism grimaced, rotating his working wing as he looked back at the bandages and cast.

"Prism, are you alright?" She wanted to reach through the screen and wrap him up in a hug. Her husband was injured and she couldn't be there for him! "What happened? Did you crash during your show?"

"We never..."Gathering himself together, Prism nodded. "We never actually got to perform."

"What?" Firefly felt confused. Why didn't he perform? Maybe Star Glow had pushed him too far during one of their training exercises. "Why not? How did you get hurt then? Star wasn't egging you on again, was she?"

:No... No..." Prism gulped, looking around nervously. "Firefly..."

"What is it, Prism?" Firefly leaned forward, concerned, her wings shuffling in agitation. "Talk to me, please. You're scaring me."

"There was an attack on a human colony," Prism said, pushing through his discomfort. No matter how nervous he was, Firefly was his wife and he shared everything with her. "The Commander diverted us before we ever reached Thessia. We provided air support to the humans and I was..."

"You were what?" Firefly shouted, her eyes going wide as terror shot through her heart. "What the hell happened, Prism? Talk to me!"

"I was shot down," Prism said, his voice cracking. He struggled to meet Firefly's gaze. "The doctors think I'll fly again, but... they are saying I won't be able to do much more than fly in a straight line."

"Oh Celestia!" Firefly's hooves flew to her mouth as she gasped, her eyes going wide in horror. Her husbands dream had been crushed, and she was half a galaxy away, unable to hold him and comfort him. "Prism, are you okay?"

"I'm fine." Prism waved a hoof at the screen, pushing away her concern. There was nothing she could about it from Equestria after all. "We did a lot of good, saved a lot of lives... If there was any other way to let it all go... I guess this is as good of a way as any."

"When are you coming home?" She asked, feeling more useless than she had in a long while.

"I don't know, Firefly." Prism shrugged, unsure. "It sounds like the Alliance is awarding all of us medals, and..."

Firely narrowed her eyes. She knew her husband and she always knew when he didn't want to tell her something. It was his eyes. He would always look at everything but her.

"And what, Prism?" She asked carefully.

"There's a girl, Firefly." Prism sighed, ducking his head for just a moment before locking eyes with his wife.

"Prism..." Firefly said carefully.

"She was one of the colonists, and I couldn't save her family, but her mother..." Prism shook his head, as if trying to ward away dark thoughts. "Her mother asked to keep her safe."

The front door opened and Firefly's ear flicked towards it though she didn't tear her gaze from the screen.

"Mom! I'm home!" Her daughter's voice echoed through the home. Rainbow Dash only knew loud and louder, and it seemed that the six year old was stuck on louder at the moment.

"Was that Rainbow?" Prism asked, perking up.

Firefly nodded as Rainbow Dash darted into the room, bouncing up and down, bursting with energy. Her eyes lit up in delight when she saw her father on the screen. Her little blue wings buzzed in excitement as she rushed up to the screen.

"Daddy!" She shouted happily, waving a hoof wildly at him.

"How's my little Dashie?" Prism smiled, laughing and waving as his daughter hopped around happily, her wings buzzing like a bee. "Did you just get home from school? How was your day?"

"Yeah!" Dash nodded, her rainbow mane bouncing up and down as she turned to nuzzle up against her mother. "It was great! We watched a movie about Ms. Hall!"

"Really?" Prism asked, his daughter's beating away his worries. "That sounds like a lot of fun."

"It was great!" Rainbow nodded enthusiastically, punching at the air with a hoof. "Her ship crashed on the circle--"

"Sphere, Rainbow." Firefly corrected, not that Rainbow was actually listening.

"Whatever!" Rainbow stuck out her tongue before continuing with her story. "And she woke everyone up, and then Princess Celestia smashed a hole through the wall! BOOM! SMASH! CRASH!"

Rainbow rolled around the room, laughing ferociously as she punched and bounced, a little firecracker in filly form.

"That sounds wonderful darling," Firefly said as she caught Rainbow out of the air, pulling her into a hug. She set the little blue filly back on the ground. "Why don't you go get a snack. I'm just about done talking to your father, then you can tell me all about it."

"Okay, mom!" Rainbow shouted happily. She dashed out of the room towards the kitchen to find a tasty treat. Maybe there were cookies. Maybe there were juice boxes. Maybe there were both!

As soon as she was gone, Firefly turned back to Prism.

"What are you suggesting, Prism?" Firefly asked carefully. "Don't dance around the issue. Just tell me what you're thinking."

"I want to adopt her." Prism gulped, putting it all out there. "She has no one else to go to. I checked."

Firefly dropped her head, resigned. Prism didn't say anything else, letting his wife think it over.

"This is too big a decision to make right now." Firefly finally spoke, looking back up at her husband. "We don't even know if the Alliance would let us do that. There's a lot to consider. Give me some time."

"Alright." Prism nodded, grateful that it wasn't an outright no. "I love you."

"I love you too," Firefly said warmly, despite his wild request just moments before. "Call again soon, Prism."

"As soon as I can," Prism promised, waving goodbye.

The phone call ended and Firefly just staid sitting where she was for a few moments, mulling over what Prism had just told her. He wanted to adopt a girl, a human from the sounds of it. A human who had just undergone horrific trauma and watched her entire family perish before her.

Taking a deep breath, Firefly stood and left her office.

Walking into the kitchen, Firefly found Rainbow Dash sitting at the table with a large smile on her face as she drank down a box of apple juice. She waved at her mother.

"Hey mom!" She said around the straw.

"Hello, darling." Firefly sat down and watched Rainbow finish her apple-juice. She couldn't get her mind off of Prism's call. Adopting a human. It was crazy!

"Hey, Rainbow..." Firefly asked after a second.

"Yeah?" Rainbow looked up at her mother expectantly.

"How would you feel..." she trailed off, biting her lip. Shaking her head, Firefly focussed. "How would you feel about a new sister?"

Rainbow's eyes widened and she gasped at the thought, sitting back in her seat in shock. Firefly didn't know what to make of her daughter's expression.

"Is that..." Firefly asked, watching her worriedly.

"That would be..." Rainbow trailed off, stroking her chin with a hoof. "So. Awesome!"

Rainbow darted forward, eying her mother's belly suspiciously before crawling up to look her mother in the eye. "Are you preganant?"

"Pregnant, dear," Firefly said with a giggle. "And no. I'm not."

Rainbow sat back, unsure of what was going on.

"You're not pregnant?" She asked, confusion overtaking her. "Then how could I have a new sister?"

"You don't have a new sister yet, Dashie," Firefly said, calming her confusion. "I was just wondering what you think of the idea."

"Oh..." Rainbow said, scrunching her face up in confusion. "I guess I would like one... What's going on?"

"Don't worry about it, Rainbow." Firefly pulled Rainbow in for a quick wing hug, nuzzling up against her, making the little filly giggle. "You can go and play with your friends if you want."

Jumping up, Rainbow gasped in excitement. She buzzed out of the room and out of the house nearly before Firefly had even finished speaking. She could play with Fluttershy, or maybe Gilda was in town! That would be awesome!

Firefly stepped back into her office, sitting down in front of her computer. She saved her work and clicked out of her writing program.

"Computer," she said, her mind whirling. "What are the ticket prices to Mindoir?"

"Calculating," the computer said, searching the extranet.

Firefly waited for the computer to display the information, looking incredibly conflicted. The computer projected all of the available tickets to Mindoir. This wasn't something that she could decide from Equestria, and Prism needed her either way. She started looking over the prices for two tickets, one-way.

Riley woke up in a hard bed. She was disoriented for just a moment, but the reality of what had happened to her quickly rushed back. She just stared up at the ceiling, unsure of what she was supposed to do now that her life was ruined.

Hearing a small squeak, Riley looked over to find a pony sitting on a chair in the corner, reading something on a glowing omni-tool. He had wings, a pegasus, Riley realized.

Catching the movement from the corner of his eyes, the pony looked up. He is slightly surprised to find her awake, but is quick to give her a warm smile.

"You're awake!" He said happily, getting up out of his chair. "Good morning."

"Hey..." Riley stared at him for a moment before giving him a slow nod in greeting.

The pegasus looked curious about her lack of response before understanding dawned on him.

"Oh!" He said, smacking a hoof against his forehead. "I'm sorry. You have no idea who I am do you?"

Riley shook her head. She had no idea who he was.

"Please, forgive me." With a laugh, Prism held out a hoof for her to shake. "My name is Rainbow Prism, Wonderbolt."

"Wonder what?" Riley asked, cocking her head in confusion.

"Wonderbolt." Prism proudly stated. "We're part of Equestria's premiere guard. We were on our way to perform on Thessia when we got the distress call."

"Oh..." Riley bit her lip, looking away from Prism.

"Sorry." Prism grimaced, glancing away in embarrassment. He cleared his throat and turned back.

"It's fine," Riley mumbled, staring down at her bedsheets. "Thanks... Thanks for saving me."

"It's alright." With a small smile, Prism shook his head. He rubbed the back of his head in embarrassment. "I'm just sorry that I couldn't save your mother as well."

That killed the conversation. Prism grumbled to himself, angry at how nervous he was acting and the stupid things it was making him say.

"I'm sorry," he said after several long seconds. "I'm not usually so blunt and stupid sounding."

Riley giggled softly, and it brought a smile to Prism's face. He hadn't pushed her away.

"You're kind of funny, in a dorky sort of way," Riley mumbled, giving him a small smile.

"I'm glad I amuse you." Prism bowed to her, holding out a hoof. "I'll be here all week. Make sure to catch my nightly shows!"

Riley giggled again at his stupid joke. He was just happy that he is able to make her smile even after everything horrible that had happened to her. She was a kind girl and he could already see her being happy living in his family.

Chapter Four - Conversations in Blue

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Chapter Four - Conversations in Blue
Thessian Transport Ship, Firefly's Room, In Transit
June 5th, 2170

If there was a way to travel between Equestria and the Citadel in style, the Wave Runner was it. An Asari space-liner, it had been built only a year ago, for the sole purpose of ferrying people to the out of the way planet. With room for over four thousand passengers, the Wave Runner was the height of luxury and speed.

It had also been the only ship scheduled to depart Equestria anytime that month. Firefly had no other choice than to book two tickets immediately and leave that night. They would be catching a connecting flight to Mindoir from the Citadel.

Rainbow sat impatiently on her bed in the small cabin, watching her mother sleep quietly on the bed opposite her. The room was nicely appointed, beautiful and graceful just like the Asari, but that held no interest for Rainbow as she fidgeted anxiously. She was hungry, she was bored, and she wanted to get out of the stupid room and do something! Her mom had been sleeping the entire night, and she tried to watch something on the holo-screen but nothing good was on. Just some stupid movie about Turians and Quarians, and that had quickly lost her interest as soon as the kissing had started.

Rainbow scrunched her face up at the thought. Kissing was gross. She would never do something as uncool as that!

"Mom." Rainbow whined, staring at her mother's form under the covers.

Nothing. Firefly's ears didn't so much as twitch. Rainbow watched her carefully, not blinking as she leaned forward.

"Mom." Rainbow tried again, stomping a hoof down on the covers. Firefly didn't so much as groan at her voice. Narrowing her eyes, she tried again. "Mom. Wake up, mom."

Still nothing. How dare she ignore Rainbow's boredom!

With a huff of annoyance, Rainbow jumped off her bed to the floor. She bounced over to her mothers bed, flapping her wings to lift her up so she could put her forelegs up on the mattress.She stared at Firefly with narrowed eyes.

"Mom," Rainbow said, louder this time. "Wake up mom. I'm hungry."

Firefly's ear twitched but she made no other move, snoring softly, fast asleep.

"Mooommmmmm," Rainbow whined, dropping her head sideways onto the mattress. She looked up at her mother desperately, her stomach gurgling in protest.

Firefly groaned, rolling over under her covers away from Rainbow. She grabbed one of her pillow and dropped it over her head.

"Mom." Rainbow glared at her before jumping up onto the bed. Stepping carefully over the mattress, she started poking her mom with her hoof. "Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom."

"WHAT?" Firefly sat up in her bed, glaring down at Rainbow, who smiled up at her innocently.

"I'm hungry..." Rainbow said, sitting down on her haunches. "And I'm bored. Hungry and bored. Let's go do something."

Firefly sighed, dropping her head in acceptance. "... fine. Fine."

Pushing her covers off, Firefly stood on her bed, stretching her wings as she cracked her neck. "Come on, Dashie. Let's go get something to eat."

Firefly led Rainbow into the large buffet open around the clock. The ship held Thessian time, and Firefly still found herself confused on hours, so she just tended to ignore it and continue on like she was on Equestria. The buffet was about half-full, with the majority of its occupants being Asari. The rest were either bond-mates to said Asari, or the rare pony who had business off of Equestria, the Wave Runner being the quickest option available to them to get off planet.

Rainbow grabbed a plate from a stack, scurrying towards the rows of food laid out before her, eyes wide and stomach growling. Before she could make a mess, Firefly put a hoof on her back, stopping her.

"Let me help you, Dashie," Firefly said with a smile.

"Fine..." Rainbow rolled her eyes and gave a little huff, but she didn't put up a huge amount of protest. She looked over the massive amount of food, ignoring anything that contained meat. Thankfully, being a ship that solely made trips to and from Equestria, the Wave Runner was fit for the ponies' vegetarian diet.

As Rainbow pointed with her free hoof, Firefly helped her to put what she wanted onto her plate. Some fruit slices. A slice of cake. An appetizing looking Thessian vegetarian dish that was drizzled with an awesome looking red sauce. Rainbow's hungry stomach was ready to feast!

"Your daughter is beautiful!"

Firefly managed to not startle, and she turned to find a tall Asari smiling down at her. She had Turian markings painted onto her face, and her eyes were a little too wide to keep Firefly from wanting to scurry away. A young Turian female, her bondmate Firefly guessed, stood a few feet away, watching her wife with a look of long-suffering.

"Thank you," Firefly murmured, unsure of fully how to react around aliens. She had never actually interacted with any.

Firefly gives the Asari a cautious look, subtly making sure that she was between her and Rainbow. It never hurt to take precautions. At least that's what writing the Daring Do series had taught her. Always be prepared.

"Please." With a sigh of long suffering, the Turian stepped forwards, an apologetic look on her face. "Forgive my bondmate. She has no filter and tends to creep everyone out."

"It's alright." Firefly gave her a small smile, still guarded.

"Really, she's harmless." The Turian tried again, sensing that Firefly wasn't quite feeling her sincerity.

"Siti!" The Asari slapped the Turian's arm and gave a gasp of protest.

"Oh hush." The Turian waved her away, laughing quietly.

"You're all pointy," Rainbow spoke up for the first time. She had somehow managed to move forward without Firefly noticing, standing at the Turian's feet as she stared up at her with awe. The three adults looked down to see Rainbow looking her over curiously. She had never seen a Turian before in her life and the strange exo-skeletal look was intriguing her.

"Rainbow Dash!" Firefly blushed, embarrassment rushing through her at Rainbow's rude question.

The Turian and Asari giggled at Rainbows naive innocence, sharing a look with each other.

"It's fine!" The Turian turned and smiled at Firefly, reassuring her. She knelt down to be on Rainbow's level, holding out an arm for Rainbow to look at, her vest sleeveless. "Really, it's true. I am indeed very pointy."

Rainbow poked it with her hoof before looking back up at the Turian. "It feels like my hoof!"

She held her hoof up for her to see. Indeed, there was quite a bit of similarities between her hoof and the Turian's exo-skeleton.

"It certainly does, doesn't it?" The Turian giggled, standing back up and putting an arm around her bond-mate.

"Please, forgive her." Firefly stepped forward, gently pulling Rainbow back, blushing as she did so. She was incredibly embarrassed at Rainbow's inquisitive but racially charged comments. "She's a curious little filly."

"Really, I was being honest." The Turian waved her worry away, leaning her head onto her wife's shoulder. "It's no problem."

Bored of the conversation already, Rainbow took her plate and started searching for a table. There weren't a lot left, the room having filled up during their brief conversation. The Asari immediately saw the problem and stepped forward, smiling.

"We won't be offended if you decline," she quickly explained, addressing Firefly. "But we have a table if you'd want to come and sit with us."

Firefly glanced at Rainbow, who was smiling up at her in excitement, her wings buzzing. She looked up at her mom with big, wide, pleading eyes.

"Can we, mom?" She bounced a little while she did so, careful not to spill her plate.

Firefly thought about it for a moment before giving a nod.

"We would be delighted," she said, accepting the Asari's offer.

The Asari led the way, taking her wife by the hand and leading Firefly and Rainbow (who was walking three legged as she balanced her plate on her fourth hoof) through the confusing labyrinth of people and tables.

The table that they were led to already had two other occupants sitting, waiting for their companions to rejoin them. Both were Asari, sitting and chatting quietly as they sipped at some type of wine that Firefly didn't recognize. It must have been a Thessian vintage. They greeted the Turian and the Asari with smiles as they sat down.

"Veisha, Aethyta, these two fine ladies are going to be joining us," the Asari said, gesturing at both in turn.

"My name is Esra," She gestured between herself and the Turian, who gave a little wave. "And this is my wife, Sitiira."

"Veisha is an architect, and one of our best friends." Sitiira gestured at Veisha and Aethyta respectively. "And she is Aethyta. She's on her way to the Citadel."

"Hello." Veisha gave a wave to Rainbow, making the little filly giggle.

"Hey there, kiddo." Aethyta nodded, giving Rainbow a warm smile. Her voice was deep and husky. "Love the rainbow."

"Thanks!" Rainbow swung her mane back and forth before turning to her plate, eating a slice of pineapple happily.

"My name is Firefly." The pink mare gestured at herself before pointing to her daughter. "And this is my daughter Rainbow Dash."

There was a moment of silence as everyone at the table tried to figure out what to say to each other. Rainbow was completely oblivious to the matter, too busy picking through her plate.

The cake would be saved for last after all.

"What exactly are you doing on an Asari ship so far from home?" Like the woman she was, Aethyta broke the ice.

"I'm going to meet my husband on Mindoir," Firefly said, looking around the room.

"Mindoir," Aethyta drawled.

Aethyta, Veisha, Sitiira, and Esra all shared a glance with each other.

"Yeah." Firefly grimaced, understanding what they were saying to each other.

"You do know what is happening on Mindoir, right?" Veisha asked, watching Firefly carefully.

"I do." Firefly nodded her head. "He was part of the first military force on site."

"Military force? Sitiira's eyes widened and she looked at Firefly. As a Turian, she had been drafted just like the rest of her race at the age of fifteen to serve the Hierarchy. The Turians were the largest and most formidable military service in the galaxy, and that was largely in part to their need to protect the few dextro-amino garden worlds that existed, few and far between. "I didn't know that Equestria had any military force outside of your Royal Guard."

"It's an unfortunate necessity of moving out into the galaxy at large." Firefly nodded sadly. "My husband is a part of the Wonderbolts."

"The Wonderbolts!" Esra gave a happy cry, bouncing up and down in her seat excitedly. She clapped, nudging Sitiira with her elbow. "I know them! We're going to see them when they perform on Palaven!"

"I wasn't aware that the Wonderbolts fulfilled a military role," Sitiira said, impressed.

"We've all been forced to move outside of our comfort zones." Firefly nodded her head.

"You've told us what your husband does," Aethyta said, noticing Firefly's uncomfortableness with the conversation and tactfully changed it. "But what do you do for a living?"

"I'm an author!" Firefly smiled, much happier with this question than the last one.

"Oh?" Veisha asked, leaning forward excitedly. "Do you have any books published?"

"A few." Firefly nodded, smiling at her memories of her writing achievements through the years.

"Anything we would know?" Veisha asked.

"Maybe." Firefly shrugged. She had never followed the release of her books beyond Equestria. "I write adventure novels about a young, daring archeologist. I don't think there have been many sales outside of the sphere."

"Too bad." Aethyta nodded, downing her entire glass of wine. "We could always use more adventures."

"What do you do, Aethyta?" Firefly looked over Aethyta curiously.

"Ah, well..." Aethyta smiled, looking up at the ceiling. She waved her hand slowly in a circle. "I'm something of a wanderer. I guess you could say that I'm between jobs at the moment. When I find something that amuses me,I guess I'll settle down."

"Is there anything in particular you would like to do?" Firefly asked, wondering just what made the woman tick.

"Something close to my daughter." She didn't have to think long about it, giving a small smile at the idea.

"Oh? You have children?" Firefly asked, leaning forward. They had something in common there. Rainbow was one of the happiest parts of her life, and she wouldn't want to be separated from her for anything.

"A few." Aethyta nodded, her eyes going distant as memories of the past floated through her mind. "They're all grown and living their own lives, but I guess I just want to make sure my youngest is living a happy life."

"That's sweet," Firefly cooed, the thought making her heart flutter.

"Yeah..." Aethyta grumbled ever so slightly, glaring down at the table. "Just don't tell anyone. I've got an image to maintain.

"Your secret is safe with me." Firefly giggled into a hoof. No matter what she was thinking when she had first met this group, they were an incredibly welcoming group.

Firefly led Rainbow onto the observation deck, the little filly happily full and content. A sleepy expression was on her face.

"I'm tired momma," she murmured, yawning widely as her wings slumped down listlessly.

Firefly laughed, leaning down to lift Rainbow onto her back. The little filly instantly plopped down, her hooves falling down onto either side of her mother's barrel. "I know, dear, but I think you're going to want to see this first."

"See what?" Rainbow asked, perking up a little.

Firefly stopped in front of the large observation window that took up the furthest wall of the room. Rainbow looked out at it, but she didn't see anything worth remarking on, just the blackness of space.

"It's just space." Rainbow muttered, dropping her head back down. "That's boring."

"Just wait, dear." With a laugh, Firefly shook her head. "You'll see what I'm talking about."

They waited, mother and daughter sharing a moment together. Firefly pointed with a hoof when she caught a glimpse out the window.

"Rainbow, watch this," Firefly said.

Rainbow raised her head again and her eyes widened when she saw a Mass Relay come into view, the ship hurtling towards it.

The Relay grew larger and larger, and the two Equestrians get a glimpse of just how massive the Relay actually was. Its size absolutely gulfed the ship, making the Wave Runner seem pedestrian in comparison.

White blue streaks of lightning flared out from the relay, racing along the surface of the ship. Before they could even blink, the ship was hurtled towards its sister relay light-years away.

"Whoa..." Rainbow's eyes went wide, her tiredness forgotten.

"You're going faster than any Wonderbolt has ever flown, Dashie," Firefly whispered.

"Even Daddy?" Rainbow asked, her amazement growing.

"Even Daddy." Firefly giggled.

"Whoa..." Rainbow whispered, thoughts swirling through her head.

Chapter Five - Sneaking... Like a Spy!

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Chapter Five - Sneaking Like a Spy
Royal Castle, Canterlot, Equestria
June 5th, 2170

It often took an act of God to pull Twilight away from her studies. She would get so wrapped up in her books that she would lose track of all reality outside her own mind.

It was a good thing, then, that Princess Celestia was considered a minor deity by quite a few species in the galaxy. A quiet word from her and Twilight would instantly snap back to the real world, if under protest.

Like most every night, this had happened to be the case. She would forget to eat if Celestia never came to check on her. Brilliant though she might be, her smarts came along with a large case of obliviousness.

Celestia entered the dining room with a small smile on her face. She was followed by a sulking Twilight, her head low to the ground, book free and more than a little cross about it. The dining room wasn't the largest, with a table large enough to seat six at the most taking up the center. It was the princesses' private dining room, and it was also one of the few places that the Royal Sisters could let loose and be themselves.

Luna was already seated at the table, sipping at a cup of coffee as she looked over the nightly newspaper on her omni-tool. Hearing their entrance, she looked up and gives a tired smile to the two of them.

"Good evening, sister," Luna said, giving a short nod in greeting. She turned her attention to the filly following Celestia, giving her a smile as well. "Twilight."

Twilight grumbled as she climbed up into her chair, dropping her head onto her hooves. Celestia and Luna shared a small smile at her grumpiness.

"She is disappointed that I did not allow her to bring her book to dinner," Celestia explained with a knowing look to Luna.

"I was at a very important spot!" Twilight didn't lift her head as she spoke, her forelegs muffling her voice. "It was a matter of life and death!"

Celestia smiled as a waiter entered, pushing a tea cart. He poured her a cup of tea.

"Daring Doo will wait until tomorrow, Twilight." Celestia took a sip of her tea, enjoying the warm steam as it wafted over her nose.

"Life and death, Princess!" Twilight groaned, sitting up and gesturing wildly. She barely avoided toppling out of her chair.

"And I am sure that you will stay up tonight and read under your covers." Setting down her tea, Celestia stretched her wings as she let out a yawn. "Right now though, it is dinner time."

"Fine," she grumbled. Sitting up in her seat, Twilight scowled to the side.

The waiter entered the room, pushing a larger tray with three trays arrayed on top, their dinner. Quickly, the waiter set the plates before the Princesses and the student. Pulling away the covers, he revealed two beautifully prepared and tasty looking strawberry salads for Celestia and Twilight, and eggs, toast, and hash browns for Luna (it was her breakfast after all).

"It looks absolutely marvelous," Celestia complimented, taking a bite. "Please give my compliments to the chef."

With a grateful bow, the waiter thanked her before backing up and leaving the room after quickly refilling their drinks.

Luna took a drink from her cup, but nearly spit it out again as she read her omni-tool She looked worriedly over at Celestia, holding it up for her to see.

"Tia," Luna spoke with an urgent voice.

Catching her meaning, Celestia opened her own omni-tool, quickly reading what was waiting for her within. Her own eyes widened and she looked up at Luna, who was levitating her plate with her as she walked towards the exit.

"Please forgive my rudeness." Luna didn't sound sorry, her voice distracted. "There are matters I must attend to. Tia, will you contact the Commander after dinner? I will be busy preparing aid and supplies."

"Of course, sister." With a nod of her head, Celestia waved Luna goodbye. "You needn't ask."

"Thank you." Luna took a bite of her eggs as she walked out of the room. She downed her toast as fast as she was physically able to.

As the door shut behind the lunar princess, Twilight looked up at Celestia in confusion, chewing then swallowing her salad before speaking.

"Princess Celestia, what's wrong?" She cocked her head in confusion.

"Nothing you need to worry about, Twilight." Celestia inwardly wished that her student was a bit less attentive when not absorbed in her books, but she quickly shook that thought away. Twilight was perfect just the way she was. Instead, she smiled at her young student. "Why don't you tell me why you love this Daring Doo so much."

"Where do I start?!" Twilight's eyes widened and she gasped, sitting up excitedly. She slammed her hooves down onto the table as she squealed in glee.

Twilight began a long explanation about why Daring Doo was simply the best archeologist ever and how she deserved to be awarded the highest honor in Equestria for her service to the crown. There were flow-charts and everything. Never let it be said that Twilight Sparkle was ever unprepared.

Celestia listened to the whole conversation, interjecting her own points at the right moment. It was her duty after all to make Twilight think harder about what she was actually saying. As her personal student, Celestia had her own duties to ensure that the filly learned everything she possibly could.

Finishing their dinner, Celestia stood. She smiled down at Twilight.

"I think its time for bed for you, Twilight." Celestia took Twilight under her wing as she led her to the door.

Twilight managed to only look disappointed for just a moment before brightening again when she realized she could still 'sneak' in the rest of her Daring Doo book under the covers.

'Okay, Princess," Twilight muttered, leaning in closer against her mentor.

Celestia entered her room, taking a deep breath and slumping down as soon as the doors closed behind her. She quickly levitated her crown and her collar and dropped them down gratefully onto their stand. She loved being the everlasting sun, keeping watch over her little ponies, but it was tiring sometimes. Over her three-thousand years (give or take a few hundred million years) as Princess, she learned that it was always best to let her mane down whenever she could.

Tiredly, she moved to stand in front of her desk slumping down for a moment as she stared into her mirror.

"You look tired, Celestia," she murmured, blinking her eyes tiredly.

She stared a moment longer before shaking her head. Straightening up, Celestia activated the holo-display on her desk. A rather large keyboard appeared, solid, instead of holographic. As a pony, she had found it rather difficult to use the semi-solid hard-light interfaces that the other races had seemed to solely adopt.

Typing in a quick command, Celestia activated the communications. She magically projected her crown and collar on, not wanting to put on the real thing because of their weight.

A moment passed as the holo-display connected with Equestria's communication network, and to the Comm Buoys outside of the Dyson Sphere. The ability to be able to talk to someone hundreds of light-years away was something that still impressed her when she thought about it.

On the screen, a pegasus officer with lieutenant bars on his uniform appeared on the screen. Seeing Celestia, he gave a quick but respectful bow when he realized who it was.

"Princess Celestia!" He saluted, then gave a deep, respectful bow.

"I need to speak with Commander Easyglider," Celestia said, nodding her acceptance of his salute.

"Of course, Princess!" The Lieutenant disappeared and the Wonderbolts sigil appeared on the screen, slowly spinning as waiting music played. Celestia breathed evenly as she waited.

A soft chime indicated the connecting call and Celestia straightened, coughing to clear her throat. Commander Easyglider appeared, from his office on the Wonderbolts ship. He saluted the moment that he saw Celestia.

"Princess Celestia!" He exclaimed, eyes going wide.

"Commander." Celestia greeted respectfully. Easyglider was one of her most trusted soldiers, one the revolutionaries that was dragging Equestria into modernity. "I understand that you and your team has gone through quite an ordeal."

"Yes, your highness." Easyglider nodded. "On route to Thessia, we picked up a distress beacon from one of the Alliance's colony planets."

Celestia nodded in understanding. It was exactly the way she wanted soldiers working for her to act.

"We diverted and provided support against raiders who were taking colonists as slaves," Easyglider explained professionally. "We only had one casualty, no fatalities, and we managed to keep the raiders at bay long enough for the Alliance arrive."

"Good, Commander." Celestia felt warmth in her chest. She was proud of him. "Tell your team that the Princesses are proud of their actions."

"I will, Your Highness." Easyglider smiled, breaking his professional attitude.

"You said you had a casualty?" Celestia asked. "What happened? Are they okay?"

"Rainbow Prism, your Highness." Easyglider winces. It had been a lucky shot, but none the less, it had destroyed a kid's dreams. "He's a new recruit. One of the raiders got in a lucky shot and broke his wing. He'll be able to fly again, but our medics don't believe he will ever be able to perform with us again."

"That is unfortunate, Commander." Biting her lip, Celestia looked away as she let her mind work through the issue. "Please let him know that I will make sure he is rewarded for his actions."

"I will, your Highness." Easyglider saluted again before disconnecting the call.

"And for the first time in a long time, Daring had a good night's sleep. Another day, another victory." Twilight was sitting under her covers, reading the last page of her novel using her horn's magic to light it.

"Whoa..." Shutting the book, Twilight looked up with her eyes wide. "That was a good book!"

She was still for a moment before pulling the covers off over her head. She extinguished her horn, set her book on the nightstand next to her and laid back in her bed. That had been a good book, and she couldn't wait until the next book was published!

Twilight closed her eyes, trying to get to sleep.

A moment passed... her stomach rumbled.

Twilight cracked open an eye, looking down at her grumbling tummy.

"Quiet!" She whispered, hushing her stomach with a shush.

Defiantly, her tummy rumbled again. Twilight groaned, pondering what she should do for a moment, but her mind was quickly made up.

"Fine!" She rolled her eyes, glaring at her tummy. "Quiet! I shall feed you, you ravening beast."

Rolling out of her bed, Twilight dropped to the floor with a near silent thump. She paused for a minute, waiting to see if any of the guard was going to burst through her door, demanding that she get back in bed.

When that didn't happen (but she was still prepared), she crept as silently as possible towards the door.

Her stomach rumbled again.

"I'm going!" Twilight protested, stomping a hoof defiantly on the ground.

She clapped her hooves over her mouth when she realized that she didn't whisper. A moment of cautious waiting didn't herald the arrival of the Royal Guard and she relaxed with a sigh.

Stepping up to the door, Twilight opened it and slipped out into the hallway.

Twilight crept down the hall on the tips of her hooves. She looked left, then right. She was acting like that spy in the movie Shining Armor had shown her last weekend.

Her stomach rumbled and she froze, but when no-pony came and threw her in chains she nervously continued on.

Twilight crept into the Royal Kitchen, the door opening on silent hinges. The workers in the castle were always sure to keep the castle beautifully maintained. Only a single one of the chefs was on duty, and he was tiredly keeping watch over an oven cooking something tasty, reading a magazine.

Getting down low, Twilight slunk through the kitchen towards the pastry cupboard. The Chef was oblivious.

Opening the cupboard, Twilight turned to watch the Chef in case he spied her in her mission. He didn't move, starting to nod off.

Reaching into the cupboard, Twilight grabbed two cupcakes, resting them protectively on her back. Ever so slowly, she turned and crept out of the room.

Shutting the door behind herself, Twilight gave a little squeal of glee at her successful kitchen raid. She started prancing, silently of course, as she headed back down the hallway towards her tower.

Picking one of the cupcakes off of her back with her magic, Twilight took a big bite, grinning in her triumph.

"Twilight Sparkle."

Twilight tripped over her hooves and she hit the floor with an oof. Looking up, she found Luna standing over her with an amused smile.

"P-P-Princess Luna!" Twilight blushed, rubbing her hooves nervously together. "I didn't see you there."

"We figured as much, Twilight." Luna smirked down at the filly. "Are you not supposed to be in bed?"

"I got hungry, Princess!" Grinning sheepishly, Twilight rolled over and rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. She grimaced when she found that her mane was covered in smushed cupcake. She curled up on herself on the floor, anxiety rushing through her. "Please don't throw me into prison!"

"Do not fret, Twilight." Luna giggled at Twilight's adorably scared expression. "We understand the need for late night munchies. In fact, that is were we were headed before we ran into you."

"But wouldn't that just be a snack, Princess?" Twilight sat back, not so afraid as she was moments ago. "You're the Princess of the Night!"

"Yes," Luna nodded, smiling at the filly. "And because of that, midnight snacks for me usually occur at lunchtime for the rest of Equestria."

"I didn't know that!" Twilight giggled at that bit of information.

"It is a closely guarded secret." Luna smiled down at Twilight and held out a hoof for her to take. "I do not believe that all of Equestria needs to know that I eat copious amounts of cake at lunch."

"But I've never seen you at lunch time!" Twilight protested, her mind spinning.

"Indeed." Luna nodded. "I take my midday snack in my room. Tia sometimes joins me."

"Now come, Twilight." Taking Twilight by the hoof, Luna started leading her back to her tower. "It is time that you get back to bed."

Chapter Six - Quiet Conversations

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Chapter Six - Quiet Conversations
Wonderbolts Ship, Mindoir Orbit
June 6th, 2170

The doctors had done a top-notch job of fixing Rainbow Prism up after the battle was over. They had bandaged up his wing and applied a cast, and put him on a rather generous dose of pain medication that had made him a bit loopy and tired. He lay asleep on his bed, resting on the non-bandaged part of his body in his room. He snored softly.

A sharp knock at the door woke him from his light slumber.

Sitting up, Prism blinked tiredly, rubbing sleep away with a hoof. He was disoriented for several seconds, feeling like he was falling, but that sensation disappeared quickly as awareness returned to him. Whoever was outside knocked again. Getting up out of bed, Prism grumbled to himself as he walked to the door.

"Better be something important," he muttered, almost tripping over his uniform that he had dropped on the floor the night before.

Slapping the open button, Prism glared as the door slid open. "What do you..."

He trailed off and his jaw dropped open ever so slightly (he would later claim that it was the drugs and not surprise that made him look so foolish) when he found Firefly and Rainbow Dash smiling on the other side of his door.

"What-" He couldn't believe his eyes. The drugs had to be making him hallucinate.

"Daddy!" Rainbow leaped up off the ground, shouting at the top of her little lungs. She darted forward, wrapping Prism in a big hug before crawling up on top of his head, sprawling over it like a perch. He smiled up at her, still feeling confused but he decided to just roll with it.

"Hey there, little Dashie," Prism said, looking up at his daughter.

"Hi there." Firefly walked forward, giving her husband a sultry smile and a sway in her step.

"Hi yourself," Prism drawled, not understanding but seeing his wife looking at him with loving attention made the sharp pain in his wing disappear. He kissed her tenderly, putting all of his affection and emotions into it as he could. Pulling back he looked at her with a confused smile. "What are you two doing all the way out here? I thought your editor was forcing you to finish your new book."

"I couldn't exactly just wait at home after our last conversation." Firefly rolled her eyes, stepping into his room. She looked around, taking in the slight mess that he had made the night before as he had tried to get into bed. Working with only one wing and high on drugs was not the best way to get ready for bed. "It sounds like we have some things to talk about."

She leaned closer, eying him seriously. "Some important things."

"Yeah." Prism nodded, glancing down at the ground. He ignored Rainbow as she shifted on top of his head, trying to get more comfortable. "Yeah, we do. Later though. Let's take care of this one first."

"Hey there, buddy." He looked up and smiled at Rainbow Dash, who was making funny noises as she bounced her head about. "How was your trip?"

"It. Was. Great!" Rainbow exclaimed, looking up excitedly as her wings buzzed. "I met an Asari, and she was all GRRR. I'm half Krogan so I headbutt people when I get angry!"

"She's all Pow!" Rainbow jumped off Prisms head, headbutting the air as she punched at the air dramatically. "Whoosh! Ker-Bam!"

Prism and Firefly laughed, and Prism picked Rainbow out of the air, putting her back on top his head.

"Come on, little buddy," Prism said. "Let's go find Star. I'm sure that she'll love to see you!"

"Yeah!" Rainbow cheered, pumping a hoof in excitement. "Star Glow!"

Prism led Firefly and Rainbow back out into the hallway, shutting the door to his room behind him. Taking it slow, he led them down the hall and stopped in front of an identical door. Raising his hoof, he knocked four short times.

A moment passed and then the door opened with a hiss to reveal Star Glow, looking half asleep on her hooves. Her eyes widened in surprise when she saw Rainbow and Firefly.

"Auntie Star!" Rainbow exclaimed.

"Rainbow!" Star caught Rainbow as she leapt at her in a hug, confused but happy all the same to see her. "What a surprise. What are you doing here you silly filly."

"Momma was missing Daddy and decided that she wanted to come see him." She looked up questioningly at Prism and Firefly as she said this, before giving a firm nod. "So we did!"

"Prism and I have some things that we need to talk about." Firefly smiled, blushing as she took over from her daughter's explanation. "Not the type of stuff you can do over a comm-link halfway across the galaxy."

"Right." Star nodded, getting it. She set Rainbow down and turned her attention fully on the two older Pegasi. "Do you want me to watch the little rascal while you two hash this out?"

"You would be doing us a huge favor, Star," Prism said with a sigh of relief. "Thank you."

"Eh." Star shrugged. "It's not a problem."

"What do you say, Dashie." Putting a hoof on Rainbow's back, Star led her out into the hall. "Want to go get something to eat?"

"Do I!" Rainbow looked up at Star with wide eyes and a wider smile.

"Well, come on!" Star led Rainbow away, the little filly practically bouncing out of her coat at the thought of food. "The cafeteria is this way."

When they turned the corner out of sight, Prism turned to Firefly and gestured back down the hall with his hoof.

"Come on," he said. "We can go talk in my room."

"Alright." Firefly followed after him without protest.

Prism led Firefly back to his room and they both sat on his bed, curling up next to each other. Prism nuzzled Firefly and leaned into her side, sighing in relief. It was good to be at her side again.

"You said that you wanted to adopt a human girl," Firefly finally said after several minutes of silence.

"Yeah." Prism nodded.

They both went silent again for several long minutes. Neither was quite sure what to say about that. Prism wasn't sure that he could actually put into words his feelings for the human girl that he had saved. Firefly was just generally unsure of what she felt at all about the whole matter.

"Tell me about her." Firefly was the first to break the silence.

"She's an orphan now," Prism said, rubbing a hoof against the comforter of his bed. "After I was shot down, I saved her from being captured by raiders. I held her mother as she died, and she made me promise to look after her."

Firefly thought about that for a moment, chewing absentmindedly on her lip. She blew her mane out of her eye before speaking. "What's her name?"

"Riley." Prism had looked up everything that he could about the girl. Sadly, quite a bit of the records on her had been destroyed when raiders blew up the town hall of New Denver. Still, he had looked at everything that he could get his hands on. "Riley Jane Shepard."

"What is it about this girl that is making you so keen on adopting her?" Firefly asked calmly, leaning her head back against her husbands.

"There's..." Prism thought about what he wanted to say, closing his eyes. "There's something about her. A strength. She's lost so much, but I can just feel it. That girl is going to come out on top."

"She just needs a family who will help her get there." He turned to look Firefly in the eye.

"And you want us to be that family?" Firefly quietly asked, meeting Prism's gaze.

"Yes." Prism gave a firm nod.

Firefly ducked her head under Prism's chin. "I want to meet her."

"I think you'll like her." Prism nodded, putting his good wing over Firefly's back.

"I'll be sure to hold off on my judgement." Firefly cuddled closer, a quiet moment passing between the two of them.

They were still for a little while, enjoying each other's presence. Even though it was his first tour with the Wonderbolts, Prism realized how much he hated being away from his family only a day after they had left Equestria. It was amazing to be with them once again, despite the circumstances.

Firefly's eyes widened as she remembered the other important thing that had brought her out to Mindoir.

"Prism, your wing!" She cried, wriggling out from under his other wing. Pulling away from him, Firefly stepped off the bed and looked over Prism's broken wing.

"I'm alright," Prism said, shrugging his shoulders. There was nothing he could do about it, and he had managed to save at least one life. It was a good trade.

"You don't look alright." Firefly stared at his wing skeptically.

"It looks worse than it is." Prism looked back at the bandages that covered his broken wing, grimacing slightly at the sight.

"It looks pretty bad," Firefly said, climbing back onto the bed. She ran a gentle hoof over the bandages, feeling the broken bones through the thick cloth.

"Yeah..." Prism trailed off. He had nothing else he could say about that.

"What did the doctors say?" Firefly asked, snuggling back up against his good side.

Prism winced, looking anywhere in the room but Firefly. His cheeks burned in embarrassment and shame. Putting a gentle hoof on her cheek, Firefly turned his head to face her.

"Prism." She murmured lovingly.

"I'll..." Prism sighed, dropping his head in shame. "I'll be able to fly, but they don't believe that I'll ever be able to do much more than fly in a straight line."

"Oh, Prism!" Firefly's hooves flew to her mouth in horror. "Your dream!"

"It's alright," he whispered. Prism shook his head and frowned. "I've did good down there, and I can do other things."

"But it's your dream!" Firefly protested, tears welling in her eyes. Ever since she had known him, being a Wonderbolt was his biggest goal in life. She was more than overjoyed when he had actually qualified for the team, and the next two years of their life had been... perfect. To have that all stolen away from him... Firefly could feel her heart breaking for her husband.

"Yeah. It is." Prism smiled sadly at his wife. "But... I can find another dream."

"I love you, Rainbow Prism," Firefly whispered to Prism. She kissed him before she nuzzled up against his cheek. "You're a brave stallion. You're a good stallion."

A deep well of peace fell over Prism's heart. His wife still loved him, his daughter was safe, and he was alive. Everything else would work itself out.

Together, the two of them drifted off to sleep, happier than they had been in a long time.

Chapter Seven - First Meetings

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Chapter Seven - First Meetings
Med Bay, SSV Olympus, Mindoir Orbit
June 14th, 2170

Time had become meaningless to Riley in the med-bay on the Olympus. The entire ship had been engineered to be comfortable to humans, and that included the artificial lighting that measured her days. The nurses had told her that a week had passed, but it had all been a blur to her, marked only by periods of sleep.

Sitting up in her bed, Riley idly the TV hanging in the corner of the room. Its volume nearly too low for her to hear, it was playing some news program that she was only vaguely paying attention to. The program had been focussed on Mindoir, and it showed no sign of switching topics anytime soon. She watched the report with dead eyes, completely focussed on the screen.

"Our sources in the Systems Alliance are telling us that the casualties are still being counted." The news casters looked grim, in a very false way. They were there for the ratings. "The latest numbers have the missing at 10,000, and the dead at 500."

Riley turned away from the TV, her fists clenching, grabbing at the sheets until her knuckles were white, the only sign of the rage that was filling her chest. Her face was blank, but her eyes were steely and cold. Mindoir was her home. She had been there for nearly every part of the colonies development, seeing it go from a backwater collection of buildings to the beginnings of a truly thriving colony.

The door to the med-bay opened with a hiss and a tall black man entered, his shoes clicking sharply against the floor. He was dressed in Alliance blue, bald, his cap held under his arm. He was the very picture of the Alliance military. He looked around the room until his gaze landed on Riley laying on her bed.

The man paused, unsure. His dark eyes narrowed as he pursed his lips.

Taking a deep breath, he strode over to her, pulling up a chair. He took a seat down beside her bed.

"Hello, Riley," he spoke, his voice deep, betraying none of the nervousness that roiled inside of him.

Riley turned to look at him, her eyes quickly studying his face. She had no recognition of him, having never seen him before in his life. She didn't make any move to greet him, watching him silently.

"I wasn't expecting you to remember me." The man smiled, an uncomfortable look on him. He ducked his head in understanding. His expression turned sad, mournful. "I knew your parents when they were still in the Alliance. I came as soon as I heard."

Riley stared at him, looking him over, sizing him up. Through his uniform, she could see that he was a nearly solid block of muscle. His eyes had the look of someone who had seen far too much in life.

"Who are you?" Riley asked after a second.

"Lieutenant Commander David Anderson, at your service." Anderson gave a small salute to her. "I served a tour with your parents on the SSV Hastings."

Riley made the connection nearly instantly, a little bit of understanding filling her at his explanation. She remembered the stories that her parents had told her about their time in the Alliance, especially during the First Contact War. They had been her favorite bedtime stories when she was younger.

"Is there anyone who will take care of you?" Anderson looked around the room, finding no one who looks like they are there for her. "Are you grandparents here? Any friends, relatives?"

Riley was still for a long moment. She had never met her grandparents, and her parents had never spoken about them. She had always assumed that they were dead. Who knew where the rest of her family's friends were.

"No." Riley shook her head.

Anderson frowned at that, but he said nothing more on the matter. Instead he asked, "How do you feel?"

"I'm fine," she said instantly, a response that had become automatic since the attack.

Anderson watched her carefully, not really believing her.

"I'm fine," Riley repeated, more insistent that time.

Anderson was silent for a moment before nodding his head. "Alright."

They sat there awkwardly for several seconds.

"Is there anything I can get you?" Anderson asked, his nervousness growing.

Riley shook her head, but she didn't say anything.

"Well..." Anderson was still for a moment, then nodded in acceptance. Riley made no sign that she had heard him. "If you need anything, if you need anything, just ask anyone for me."

Anderson stood up, leaving the room.

Stepping out into the hall, Anderson glanced back over his shoulder and took a deep breath, his shoulders sagging slightly. That had not gone at all like he had been hoping. No matter how many pep-talks he had given himself on the shuttle ride to Mindoir, he was just not comfortable around children. Hannah would smack him if she had seen how awkward he was around her daughter.

"Excuse us," a quiet voice said from behind him, breaking his concentration.

Anderson looked behind him and found two pegasi waiting to go into the med-bay, tired but hopeful looks on their faces.

"I'm sorry," He said, stepping out of the way, letting the two ponies through. He watched through the window as they walk straight to Riley's bed, cocking his head slightly in confusion.

Seeing a doctor walking by, Anderson stopped him with hand on his chest, pointing at the scene. "Who are those two ponies?"

The Doctor looked through the window at what Anderson was pointing at. "I don't know who the other one is, but the stallion is Rainbow Prism. He's a Wonderbolt and he saved that girl's life."

Anderson let the Doctor go, watching the two ponies, intrigued.

Riley just stared up at the ceiling, focused and angry. Anderson's visit was already gone from her mind, the seeds of hatred flowing through her mind.

"Hey there, Riley."

Riley looked over and found Prism and pink female pegasus standing next to her bed.

"Hi, Prism," she said quietly.

"There's someone I'd like you to meet, Riley." Prism gestured at Firefly. "This is my wife, Firefly."

"Hi, Riley." Firefly waved a hoof at Riley, a small, welcoming smile on her face. Her eyes were warm and sympathetic, looking Riley over with a very motherly expression.

"Hi," Riley greeted back.

"Is it alright if we sit with you for a while?" Prism asked.

Riley shrugged, not really caring one way or another.

Prism and Firefly dragged chairs over to the bed, sitting up in them. They settled for a moment, a comfortable silence falling between the couple.

"How are you feeling?" Prism asked, folding his one good wing around Firefly's back.

"I'm fine," Riley said, repeating what she had said to Anderson just minutes before.

Prism and Firefly shared a look and worried frowns. After raising Rainbow and looking after their neighbors fillies and colts so often, the way of a child's mind was not unknown to them. Riley wasn't anything strange.

"You've been through a horrible time, Riley," Firefly said softly. She leaned into Prism's embrace. "You don't have to hide your feelings from us. We just want to help you."

Riley looked suspiciously at Prism and Firefly. She turned her gaze on Prism, her eyes narrowed. "Why the hell do you keep coming back and talking to me? I don't even know you."

"Maybe not." Prism shrugged, watching the girl carefully. "But I didn't want to let you be alone. You need people around you who can help you get through this."

Riley watched him for a moment longer, before repeating, "I'm fine."

"You don't have to pretend." Firefly puts a hoof on the bed gently, leaning forward. "You don't have to be strong all the time, Riley. We are here for you."

"Why?" Riley's voice was questioning, her eyes narrowed. Her voice cracked as she watched the two, her composure beginning to slip. "I just want to be alone! Go away!"

"We're not going to go away." Prism shook his head, his voice calm. "You need someone to help you, and from what I can see, we're the only ones willing."

"Fuck you!" Riley shouted, slamming her fist down against the bed.

"It's alright, Riley." Prism didn't react to Riley's outburst. "You're safe. You survived."

"No!" Riley shook her head, clenching her fists until her knuckles turned white and her nails dug into her palms. "No! I should have fucking done something! I could have- I could have-"

"You could have done what?" Firefly asked gently, putting a hoof on Riley's hand, rubbing it.

"I could have gotten a gun!" Riley ignored Firefly's touch, her voice wild with desperation and regret. "I could have killed them! I could have... I could have..."

She slumped back against her bed, her eyes filling with tears.

Firefly hesitated for a moment before gathering her courage together. With a gentle flap of her wings, she got up on the bed, wrapping her forelegs around Riley, pulling her into a tight hug. "It's not your fault, Riley."

Riley did an odd hiccup-sob noise, completely undignified but chock full of emotion. She fought against the tears that were welling in her eyes, sniffling.

"It's not your fault." Firefly repeated.

Firefly looked back and gave Prism a meaningful look, gesturing at him with her head. He climbed up onto the bed, moving to Riley's opposite side, wrapping her and Firefly into a big group hug.

"It's not your fault," Prism whispered tenderly.

Riley choked out a sob, a deep sound deep in her chest, her body betraying her as her grief and sadness came smashing through her barriers. "It is my fault! I watched them die!"

"It's not your fault." Prism shook his head, his voice tender but firm.

"Yes, it is!" Riley sobbed, slumping in their embrace.

Prism pulled her tighter and Firefly wrapped her wings around Riley, rocking her gently back and forth.

"It's not your fault." She leaned forward to whisper into Riley's ear. "Your family loved you, and it's not your fault."

"It's my fault!" Riley sobbed. She just couldn't accept it. She was filled with guilt and no words were going to push that away. "It's my fault. It's all my fault."

Sagging back against her bed, Riley cried herself to sleep.

Firefly and Prism left the hospital, their emotions a wreck and their minds scattered. Firefly had one of her wings thrown over Prism's shoulder, a warm comfort to the two of them. They both felt a bit forlorn, but still hopeful.

"Excuse me," a deep voice spoke behind them.

They both looked up to find Anderson sitting in a chair opposite the med-bay's door. He stood and took a step forward. "My name is David Anderson, and I was wondering if you would be willing to talk with me for a minute?"

"We're very tired, sir." Prism was barely able to keep his eyes open, his mind still racing from what had happened just moments before. His emotions were running wild. "I'm sorry but--"

"It's about Riley Shepard." Anderson holds up a hand to stop them.

"What about her?" Prism looked at him suspiciously.

"I'm her godfather," Anderson said.

Anderson, Prism, and Firefly sat at a table in the far corner of the Olympus' mess hall. Prism and Firefly both had two trays before them with a thoroughly vegetarian affair. Anderson wasn't eating.

"What is your interest in Riley?" He leaned forward, clasping his hands together as he bit his lip.

Prism and Firefly looked at each other, quickly confirming that they were on the same page.

"She needs someone to look after her," Firefly said, looking up at Anderson suspiciously. "She doesn't have anyone."

"My line of work doesn't allow me to spend a lot of time at home." Anderson sighed, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

"And what exactly is it that you do?" Prism asked.

"I'm an N7." Anderson leaned back.

Prism's eyes widened in recognition. As a Wonderbolt, he could be considered one of the foremost members of the Equestrian military, but the N program was on an entirely different level. As an N7, Anderson was the elite of the elite of the Alliance's special forces. He looked at the man in a new light.

"And you're Riley's godfather?" Prism asked.

"I was good friend with Hannah and Robert." Anderson nodded. "They were so proud when they adopted Riley, and they named me her godfather."

With a sigh, Anderson leaned forward, tired. "I'm listed as Riley's guardian in their will, but I don't believe that I need to tell you how difficult of a position I'm in. I'm a bachelor, and I don't have any place to call my own. I don't lead a life that is conducive for a teenage girl."

Prism and Firefly looked at each other in understanding.

"What..." Firefly paused, biting her lip for a moment. "What do you really want to talk about?"

"What is your intention with Riley?" Anderson asked again, watching the two of them carefully.

"We want to..." Prism paused, glancing at Firefly, who nodded in agreement. "We would like to adopt her."

They all fell silent, putting it out there. Anderson looked them over, judging them.

"Let's talk," Anderson said.

Chapter Eight - A Fast Dash

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Chapter Eight - A Fast Dash
SSV Olympus, Mindoir Orbit
June 15th, 2170

Riley didn't fully know what to make of Lieutenant Commander Anderson. Everything about him screamed confidence, but the way that he acted around her just confused her. He would stammer and forget words, then blush and try to carry on as if nothing had happened. He didn't always act that way though. Riley saw the way he interacted with the doctors and nurses. There was no stammering and blushing there, just a whole lot of 'yes, sir,' 'no, ma'am,' 'I'm her godfather, sir.'

Shaking her head, Riley let her mind fall blank, drawing closer behind Anderson as a pair of crew mates passed by. She wrapped her arms around the baggy sweat-shirt that she had been given, stepping awkwardly around her loose pants that were just a tad too large on her frame. She still managed to keep step with Anderson though, sticking close to him. The crew-mates walked past her without even a glance, continuing their own quiet conversation.

Anderson felt more than a little awkward as he led Riley through the bowels of the Olympus, the silence between them both not bothering him, and piercing all the way through his steely exterior. This wasn't the way it was supposed to be. He thanked god that such a miracle had dropped in his lap, because there was no way he would have ever been able to raise any child on his own.

Even with his comfortableness with the silence, Anderson thought that he really should say something. He might have been okay with it, but Riley was just a teenage girl. He opened his mouth to ask a question, but nothing sprung to his mind and instead he closed it again.

He shook his head, no. Riley was just a girl, a victim in circumstances beyond her control. He would do better for her.

"Was there anything that you liked to do for fun, Riley?" Anderson finally asked, settling on what he felt was a fairly safe question. It shouldn't draw up too many memories of the attack.

Riley looked up at Anderson, drawn out of her thoughts by his voice. She had to look up at him a fair bit to see him, and he slowed down so he was walking side by side with her. Even so, he was still a foot taller than her. She thought for a moment on whether or not she actually wanted to answer him.

"I'm a..." She looked him over with careful eyes. "I'm a dancer."

Anderson didn't miss a step at the revelation smiling down at Riley. He didn't show it on his face, but it truly was a surprise to him. Hannah never seemed like the mother who would push her children to do anything they didn't want to, and her father had absolutely no knowledge of the arts. It must have been Riley then that had decided to dance. He hadn't thought of her as someone who would be interested in that.

"Any particular style?" He asked, truly interested.

Riley blushed, rubbing the back of her neck as she looked down at the floor. "... Ballet."

"Do you like it?" Anderson asked, smiling. He could see it now, as he looked her over. She had the right build and even as she slouched and tried to present as small a form as possible to the world around her, he could see it in the way she moved.

"Yeah." Riley nodded without hesitation. It was one of the few things in her life that hadn't been destroyed. "I do."

"After you," Anderson said, pausing in front of the mess hall, the large doors open revealing the moderately empty room. Anderson lets her go first.

Riley timidly walked into the room, relaxing ever so slightly when no one turned and looked at her. Her trauma on Mindoir wasn't a flashing sign proclaiming for all to see that she was broken, like she feared. Taking her elbow, Anderson led her to the food line. The spread of food before her was overwhelming and she just filled up her plate as quickly as possible, paying no mind to what she was actually grabbing. It didn't matter anyway.

Anderson was a bit more careful in his own meal choices, but he was ready soon after she was. He paid swiftly at the register before leading Riley to a table that sat in the corner. It had clear sight lines to everywhere in the room, and Riley relaxed even more as she sat in the corner. She could see everything, and no one would be able to sneak up on her.

They started to eat in silence.

Only moments after they had started eating, Riley watched as Rainbow and Firefly entered the room, followed by a small blue filly that bounced around them excitedly. They made their own way through the food line, paying, then they began making their way towards Riley and Anderson's table.

"Excuse me, David," Prism said, a smile in his voice.

Riley stared down at her food, not wanting to make eye contact.

Anderson smiled at the family, watching the little filly as she hid behind her parents, peeking around her mother's leg as she tried to get a better look at the two humans above her.

"Prism, Firefly, please, take a seat." Anderson gestured for them to take a seat across from him and Riley.

They did so quietly, first helping Rainbow sit and setting her tray before her, then taking their own seats on either side of her. Rainbow sat cautiously between her mother and father, looking at Riley nervously as she started to eat her meal.

"How are you today, David?" Prism asked, breaking the ice.

"I am doing alright," Anderson answered, a thankful smile on his face. Looking at Riley, he gestured at Prism, Firefly, and Rainbow. "Riley, this is Rainbow Prism, Firefly, and their daughter Rainbow Dash."

"We've met..." Riley said softly, watching them carefully.

Prism and Firefly glanced at each other, silently communicating between themselves.

"Riley, you know that David is your godfather, don't you?" Firefly asked as she leaned forward.

Riley nodded slowly, glancing up at Anderson.

"As your godfather, your parents specified in their will that I was to be your guardian should anything happen to them." He smiled reassuringly at her.

Riley nodded in understanding.

"I don't know if you know anything about what I do, but I'm a marine." Anderson put a hand comfortingly on Riley's shoulder, though she ducked out from under it. He held up a hand in peace, not wanting to push past her own comfort zone. "One of the best, an N7."

"I know what an N is." Riley looked up at him suspiciously. She didn't want anyone touching her, ever again.

"What I am trying to say, kid, is that I am not the right man to raise a child." With a sigh, Anderson shakes his head, shutting his eyes. She didn't trust him. She probably didn't trust anybody. "Much less a teenage girl. I don't have any place to call my own and I am constantly on the move."

Riley studied Anderson carefully. Inwardly, she couldn't help but add him to the list of people that were abandoning her.

"I might not be able to care for you," Anderson said quickly, seeing the dark emotions playing across her face. He wanted to reassure her in whatever way he could. "But Prism and Firefly have been talking with me."

Prism and Firefly watched the ongoing discussion carefully, knowing just how incredibly important the next few minutes were for all of their futures.

"They would like to adopt you," Anderson said, spitting it all out.

Riley turned her gaze on Prism and Firefly, watching them carefully. She didn't say anything for a whole minute, watching them through half-lidded eyes.


"Your mother asked me to make sure that you were safe." Prism shifted in his seat, glancing down at his daughter who was happily eating the pears piled on her plate. "The more time that I spent with you, the more I realized that I wanted to make sure you were safe."

Riley crossed her arms over her chest, unconvinced.

"If you'll let us, Riley, we would like to adopt you," Firefly said, smiling hopefully.

"I'll still have joint guardianship," Anderson said as he leaned forward, interjecting. "But Prism and Firefly would see that you were safe and cared for, and if you let them, to be your family."

The table fell silent as Riley did her best to process what everyone had just told her. Her thoughts raced at the speed of light, swirling through her head in a veil of confusion and emotions.

Rainbow looked up from her meal and glanced around at everyone, noticing how serious everyone had turned. With a frown, she sat up and looked at Riley in confusion.

"Who are you?" She asked, pointing a small blue hoof at her.

With a flap of her wings, Rainbow jumped up onto the table, rushing forward until she was nose to nose with Riley, all earlier nervousness forgotten. She looked her in the eye, deadly serious and adorable all at the same time.

"My name is Riley."

"Riley, huh?" Rainbow looked for all the world like she was trying to be a tiny detective, questioning Riley on her motives. She was making her parents serious, and that just wasn't allowed! When her parents got serious, thats when the time outs came and Rainbow was not going to be having a time out today. There were pears to be eaten after all.

"Are you some sort of spy?" She poked Riley with a hoof, getting even closer, forcing the human girl to back up a bit.

"What?" Riley paused at Rainbow's question, confused.

"Are you a spy?" Rainbow asked again, trying to put as much warning and menace into her voice as possible. She flared her wings to make herself look bigger. Being only a small filly, all she was able to manage was looking cute beyond belief, though no one had the heart to tell her.

Riley cocked her head in confusion, staring at the little blue filly. Prism and Firefly watched their daughter with barely contained amusement. Anderson watched all of them carefully, ready to intervene if necessary. Rainbow was nice and she meant well, but she was also just a filly and she wouldn't know when to stop.

"No..." Riley finally drawled out.

"Good!" Rainbow backed up nearly instantly, smiling widely. She held out a hoof for Riley to shake. "My name is Rainbow Dash! I'm the most awesomest pony in Equestria!"

"I can see that." Riley giggled quietly, shaking the filly's hoof.

Anderson, Firefly, and Prism shared a relieved look.

"Are you going to be my new sister?" Rainbow asked, looking at her curiously.

Riley was taken aback for a moment, disappearing back into her own memories. Rainbow waited patiently for her to respond, as did Firefly, Prism, and Anderson.

The moment dragged on, the tension building. In her head, a flurry of emotions raged through Riley. Anger, rage, fear, anxiety, nervousness, depression, and confusion. Memories of fire and gunshots, blood and smoke. It all welled up inside of her to create a very scared girl.

"I..." Riley took a deep, shuddering breath, biting her lip as she stared down at the table. "Maybe... We'll see..."

Rainbow nodded in acceptance, before punching at the air. "Cool!"

"We think you'll like it with us, Riley," Prism said, leaning into his wife's embrace.

Riley was quiet for a moment, but then she looked up at them. She spoke in a small voice. "Can I..."

"Can you what, darling?" Firefly sat up, compassion clear on her face.

"Can I keep my last name?" Riley ducked her head, hiding behind her hair.

"We would never dream of taking that away from you, Riley." Firefly smiled encouragingly at her.

"Ok," she said simply, giving a single nod. "Ok."

Chapter Nine - Terra Firma

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Chapter Nine - Terra Firma
Terra Firma Headquarters, Vancouver, Earth, Sol System
June 16th, 2170

Inez Simmons was a proud man who believed in the human race more than anything in the universe. He had watched as humanity had struggled against the turians in the First Contact War. He had watched as the Asari had pulled humanity under their wing and washed away the war as if it had never occurred. He had watched politicians give more and more of humanity's freedoms to the aliens at the gate.

That was why he had created Terra Firma those twenty years ago, to make sure that humanity would always have a voice fighting for its best interests. Now, twenty years later, Terra Firma had the ear of every important human politician in the galaxy, from the Ambassador on the Citadel to the Prime Minister of the Systems Alliance itself.

It was why he spent so many long hours at his desk, ensuring that humanity prospered. It had affected his personal life, not that he had much of one anymore. He had lost his wife and child, and his friends had all drifted away. That didn't matter. What he was doing was far more important than any home life.

History would prove him right. He was sure of it.

Picking up his still steaming cup of coffee, Inez reminded himself of that fact as he picked up another datapad. History would prove him right. It was all worth it.

Inez looked up from his datapad when there was a knock at the door. "Enter," he said.

The door opened and Michael Basinger entered the room. Dressed in a smart suit, he had a deep frown set on his face and a paper folder clutched tightly in his arms, a rarity these days.

"Basinger!" Inez stood, meeting Michael with a smile. "Wonderful. Please tell me you have something to distract me from this bullshit."

Michael just frowned deeper and Inez's smile faltered.

"What is it?" Inez asked, a hint of hesitation in his voice.

Michael looked down at the folder in his hands, his knuckles white in anger. He held out the folder for Inez to take, his hands shaking at the rage coursing through him. "You're going to want to take a look at this, Mr. Simmons."

Inez watched Michael carefully, sitting up to grab the folder. Sitting back in his seat, he started to look it over. Michael just waited patiently for him to read the entire thing, resisting the urge to pace back and forth in anger.

As Inez flipped through page after page, he got angrier, his earlier jovial disposition quickly leaving him.

Finishing, he slammed the folder down, looking up at Michael with a glare.

"Is this a joke?" He watched Michael's face carefully, his eyes narrowed.

"No, sir." Michael shook his head, pursing his lips. He crossed his arms and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.

"I..." Inez stood, a hand on his hip and a hand on his mouth, trying to think things through. Michael waited patiently for him to speak. "This can't be allowed to happen."

"Where did you get this?" He turned to face Michael, crossing his arms over his chest.

"One of our contacts in the Alliance caught it as it passed over their desk." Michael smiled, a grim look that would have sent a lesser man running in fear.

"Who's this Lieutenant Anderson?" Inez asked, opening the folder as he looked over the names listed on the pages.

"He's an N7," Michael explained, having looked everything up before he had brought it to Inez. "Served on the Hastings with the girl's parents. He's a genuine, bona fide hero."

Inez paced his office, frowning, thoughts racing through his mind. He turned sharply, pointing a finger at Michael. "And this hero decided that it was a good idea to just let a bunch of ponies adopt a human?"

He slammed a fist down on his desk, ignoring when his coffee cup went flying to the ground. It shattered with a crash, but both men ignored it.

"This is why humanity needs us!" Inez went back to pacing, going off on one of his infamous rants. "It was bad enough when the damn Prime Minister decided we were going to be those stupid horses' allies!"

"There is no way in hell that I'm allowing this to go any further!" Turning, he pointed a finger at Michael. "Next thing you know, humans'll be marrying ponies. I'll be dead before I ever let that happen!"

He took a deep breath, and a few minutes passed. His anger passed, settling into a quiet determination.

"Get Weber on the line. We need to talk. Details to work through." He turned back to Michael, looking him in the eyes.

Michael nodded, then left the room.

As soon as the door shut behind him, Inez slumped down into his chair behind his desk. Leaning down, he opened a drawer, pulled out a bottle of vodka, and poured a shot. With a grimace of anticipation, he downed it.

Turning in his chair, he looked out his window at Vancouver beyond.

History would prove him right, he was sure of it.

Prism and Firefly lay asleep on Prism's bed in his room on the ship, cuddled up as close to each other as they could possibly get. Prism had a small, happy smile on his face. On a small cot across the room, Rainbow was sleeping upside down, her legs sprawled out, snoring quietly.

There was a harsh knock at the door, waking Prism and Firefly.

With a grumble, Prism rolled out of bed and walked up to the door. Slapping the controls, he opened it to find Commander Easyglider, Anderson, and two men in fine suits waiting on the other side.

Prism snapped to attention and gave perfect salute. "Commander!"

"These gentlemen are here to see you, Prism." Easyglider saluted back, nodding grimly to Prism.

Prism turned his attention to the two men that Anderson was glaring daggers at. One of them opened a briefcase, pulling out a folder.

"I am here to inform a Rainbow Prism that the adoption of Riley Shepard is contested," the man said with a grim voice.

Prism's eyes widened in surprise. He turned to Anderson, who was visibly angry, restraining himself from doing anything stupid.

"The Terra Firma party is bringing the adoption before the Supreme Court," the second man spoke.

"Why?" Firefly joined Prism at the door, looking over the people before her with confusion.

"It's Terra Firma," Anderson said with a voice full of rage. "Human supremacists. They can't stand the idea of a pony couple adopting a human."

Firefly gasped, her eyes going wide.

"Alright." Easyglider glared at the lawyers. "You've delivered the message. Now get the hell off my ship before I have you thrown off!"

The men gave similar, condescending smirks then left the hall, escorted away by two other Wonderbolts. Easyglider grimaced, gave Prism and Firefly an apologetic look, then followed after them.

"What just happened?" Prism asked, turning to face Anderson.

"They showed up an hour ago, demanding to see you," Anderson said, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his hand. "They had everything in order and there wasn't anything I could do to make them go away."

"So..." Prism looked at Anderson, dropped his head and let out a deep sigh. "Because we're ponies, they don't want us to adopt Riley."

"Yeah," Anderson said with gritted teeth. Dropping his hands to his side, he took a deep breath. "Terra Firma has been a problem pretty much since Hall stumbled on the sphere. They only got worse after the First Contact war. They're very... conservative."

"And they would be so petty as to deny a girl a home just because it is with 'aliens'?" Firefly asked incredulously. She couldn't believe that there would be anyone cruel enough to want to do something so horrible.

Anderson gave a single nod before solemnly saying, "Yes."

"Is there anything we can do?" Prism asked, looking past what had just happened to the options that they could take. "That girl... Riley deserves a good home."

"She deserves to have somepony fight for her," Firefly said, biting her lip. She could feel a headache building behind her eyes, but ignored it. There were bigger things to deal with, and she would need to be at the top of her game to make sure that everything would go okay.

"It's going to the Supreme Court, which means that Terra Firma has ears in high places." Anderson sighed, shaking his head in frustration. "Our only hope is to have a better argument than they do."

"We have no desire to make Riley into a spectacle..." Prism bit his lip, his good wing fluttering in agitation. He dropped his head and gave a deep sigh of regret. "If this is truly what's best for her..."

Anderson shook his head, taking a seat on the floor. He leaned up against the wall for support. He looked tired and it brought him down to the ponies eye-level. "No, Rainbow Prism."

Prism looked him in the eye, waiting for him to say what he had to say.

"I've seen the way that you and Firefly are around her. You are what's best for her, and I don't want you to have any doubt about it. She's lost a mother, father, and sister. There's no need for her to lose her savior." Anderson spoke calmly, but firmly.

Prism and Firefly shared a glance, then a nod. They made up their minds. They would fight for Riley, because she deserved more than bit of normalcy in their life. They would stand between her and the ravening jaws of Terra Firma, and they would do it gladly. The poor girl deserved it.

"You're a good man, David." Firefly stepped forward and wrapped Anderson in a hug. "Riley is lucky to have you as a godfather."

Anderson gave her a small smile, hugging her back. "Maybe. She's luckier to have you."

Chapter Ten - Shock and Lawyers

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Chapter Ten - Shock and Lawyers
Earth Orbit, North American Continent
June 27th, 2170

The past week and a half had been hell. After the lawyers had delivered the terrible news, Prism, Firefly, and Anderson had immediately sprung into action. Terra Firma was not content letting the court systems take care of the problem naturally and had instead called in favors from everyone that owed them. That was what had brought the entire matter before the Supreme Court of the Systems Alliance.

Telling Riley had been the hardest thing that Prism and Firefly had ever had to do in their lives. To pull all stability out from under the traumatized girl had torn at their hearts, and they would be glad to have the entire matter resolved. No matter what happened, they would see to it that she was loved, be it with them or a human family. There was no question in their mind that she deserved to be looked after like that. She needed something to go right in her life for once.

The flight to Earth had taken up the majority of that week. Commander Easyglider had seen them off personally, taking care of all of the arrangements to Earth. Unfortunately, the only way he could possibly get them there on time was to charter a roundabout flight that led them to Thessia, where they would then catch a ship leaving for Arcturus, and from there the Alliance would take care of the rest.

The flights themselves had gone off without a hitch, though Riley had stuck to her own devices the vast majority of time. She withdrew into herself, shutting off all emotions in the light of current events. She would never have been able to put it into words, but any psychologist would have been able to figure out quite quickly that she was protecting herself from further pain. The loss of her family and home had been enough, anymore would put her into a tailspin that she would never be able to climb out of.

The only one that seemed to have been able to elicit any type of response from the girl was Rainbow Dash, much to Prism's and Firefly's relief. While normally a brash and headstrong filly, Rainbow seemed to take an uncharacteristic amount of tact to her interactions with Riley on the trip. They would just sit together for hours, Riley thinking, and Rainbow amusing herself with preening, or watching shows on her omni-tool. The occasional mindless scratching from Riley certainly helped matters along on Rainbows end. Tactful though she may have been, she was still just a young filly with near endless amounts of energy. The scratching made for a great incentive.

After arriving at Arcturus Station, the decision had been made by the Alliance Police to relay the group to Earth in two shuttles. While the decision did make them disgruntled, privately, Prism and Anderson where they were coming from. Terra Firma was turning the entire case into a circus, and media coverage had been running nearly non-stop. Their lawyers had even managed to get the case scheduled for the same day as when they would arrive on Earth. The shuttle would be setting down outside Court House in as big a spectacle as possible. Taking two shuttles allowed Firefly and Rainbow to keep a relative amount of privacy. Both Prism and Firefly had agreed that Rainbow did not need that type of attention on her, both as a filly, and as a slight egomaniac. It would just be better all around.

Climbing aboard the shuttle, both Anderson and Prism had been surprised to find that two case workers from Child Protective Services were already waiting for them. Anderson had his own thoughts about their loyalties, but he kept them to himself. There was nothing he could do about it but glare and keep their attention from Riley as much as humanly possible.

Riley sat between the two case workers, a matter which they had been unwilling to budge on and forced her to do, in the police shuttle. She was wearing a simple black dress that Anderson had purchased for her on Arcturus, and her hair was tied up in a bun.

Anderson and Prism sat across from the three of them. They were both dressed in their service uniforms, which looked immaculate and perfectly pressed and starched, professional to the core. They were putting out a clear message, that they were career military and that Riley was under their protection. Anderson's steely face was going to help that message along far more than Prism ever would, but no one would ever tell him that. Having a crazed, injured pegasus trying to attack you was nobodies idea of a good time.

Looking out the window of the shuttle, Riley watched as the darkness of space gave way to burning red glare of atmosphere, then a deepening view of blue and clouds, and finally the city of New York emerged into view.

The city was a testament to human ingenuity. It had lasted the test of time, surviving countless attacks and weathering tough times, coming out the other side bruised but intact. It had been changed and redesigned time and time again, but it was always the same city. There was really nowhere else on Earth that the Alliance could have put its Supreme Court. New York just made sense. It was a symbol of everything that humanity wanted to accomplish out in the stars. Towering buildings rose up into the sky, each complementing each other, works of art in their own right. Some were even over a mile high, taking up entire city blocks. Very few buildings were left from the early 21st century, having been replaced over the past century with much larger, sturdier structures.

In the center of the city sat the crowning jewel of New York, a large, circular building, designed by famed architect Teegan Montana, the Supreme Court of the Systems Alliance. It might not have towered over the surrounding buildings, but it had an air of stateliness that the others simply could not match. The shuttle flew directly towards it.

"Have you ever been to Earth before, Riley?" Anderson asked, leaning forward. The shuttle ride so far had been a quiet affair, but he felt the urge to try and make a connection with her. Those urges had saved his life more times than he was willing to admit, so he went with it without a second thought.

Riley shook her head, taking in the sight of New York with only half-interest. It was nothing like Mindoir. A single city block of the city before her held more residents than the entirety of the population of her home planet. It was more than mind-boggling, or at least it would have been if she hadn't been running on autopilot.

"This has to be a big change for you," Anderson continued, feeling that it would be good to give her some form of positive human contact, even if she didn't feel the need to respond.

Riley said nothing.

Anderson leaned back into his seat, sharing a look with the case-workers, both of whom looked at him with cold eyes. They were in Terra-Firma's pockets, Anderson guessed. He wasn't wrong.

Turning to look at Prism, the pegasus only offered a shrug. As much as he wanted to, Prism couldn't think of a single helpful thing to say.

Through the window, everyone watched as the shuttle came in for a landing in front of the building, bleeding off excess speed by making a half-circuit around the top of the Court House. Riley caught site of the massive crowd barely contained behind a line of police officers outside the entrance, full of cameras, reporters, and protesters. Even through the sound-proofed cabin of the shuttle, a dull roar of all of their voices could be heard.

The shuttle touched down with a soft thump and the case workers stood, moving to get off first. Anderson and Prism stood next, letting Riley stand between the four of them, flanking her protectively.

The door to the shuttle opened, and all four of them were hit with what felt like a solid wave of sound, an unpleasant feeling in the center of their chests. Tens of thousands of people had assembled after nearly a solid two weeks of extremely biased news reports, from both sides of the issue. They were barely being held back by police, trying to make their feelings known on the upcoming court case. The support was largely on the side of Prism and his family, but there was also a notable number of people crying out in agreement with Terra Firma and Inez Simmons.

A jolt of shock rolled through Riley, and she looked out, shocked by the amount of people before her. She didn't follow the case-workers out of the shuttle, standing frozen in the doorway.

Stepping forward, Anderson put a hand on her shoulder comfortingly. She looked back at him and he smiled encouragingly.

"It's alright," he said, his voice soft but she could still hear him, even over the din of the crowd. "We'll both be here every step of the way."

Riley looked down at Prism, who also nodded encouragingly.

Looking back, unsure at the crowd, Riley squared her shoulders and took a hesitant step out of the shuttle.

Almost instantly, she was blinded from the flashing of the hovercams as they snapped pictures and took as much video as possible, moving as close to her as the police barricades allowed. She raised a hand to cover her eyes.

Hundreds of reporters all tried to shout their questions at Riley, and she couldn't even hear her thoughts, overwhelmed by the chaos. All of the noise was sending her into a PTSD fit, the sound of gunfire, explosions, and screams filling her head, and Prism noticed that she looked like she was on the verge of running.

"Your mind belongs to me." A deep voice echoed through Riley's mind, quieting her flight response. It became the only source of noise for her, and she shivered uneasily. "You will fulfill our purpose."

Prism watched the case-workers carefully, who were looking on at the scene with an ever so slight sense of smugness. They had wanted this to happen. He stomped his hoof on the ground and pointed at them angrily.

"ENOUGH!" He shouted, his voice cutting over the noise of the crowd. He nudged Riley's side gently. "Riley, follow me!"

He felt her hand on his back and he led Riley forward, past the line of police-officers, towards the steps leading up to the Court-House.

The Supreme-Court of the Systems Alliance was massive building, built to show off every bit of the power and prestige that humanity held. It had been carefully and mathematically designed to impress, and it fulfilled its role perfectly. Built in exotic stones imported from every human colony in the galaxy, every world had contributed to it in some way or another. The flags of every colony flew proudly on poles that ringed the outside of the building, with the flag of Earth above all of them, and the flag of the Systems Alliance above even that.

Prism and Anderson led Riley up the steps of the courthouse, all one-hundred eighty two of them, one for every country on Earth.

Riley looked back over her shoulder at the crowd behind her. She could see the true size of it now for the first time, stretching out of her view, filling the streets between the skyscrapers. It was overwhelming and she went limp in Anderson's hold, letting him lead her inside of the Court-House.

Riley fell to her knees as soon as the doors to the Court closed behind her. It was eerily quiet in the main entrance, and she struggled to catch her breath. Anderson and Prism got down on either side of her, gently helping her back up to her feet.

"Come," the Case Worker said, looking down at them impassively. "We are going to be late."

Anderson glared up at him, but the case worker didn't flinch at his icy gaze, an impressive feat that not many people who had met the man could boast. Prism ignored the workers altogether, making sure that he was able to help Riley at a moments notice, never straying more than a step or two away from her.

The Case Workers started walking, and Anderson, Prism, and Riley had no choice but to follow. They were led through the halls of the Supreme Court, past smaller offices and small groups of politicians and lawyers abusing their own limited power to 'dawdle' in the halls and catch a glimpse of the subject of one of the highest profile cases to ever cross the System Alliance's path.

"Riley Shepard." A deep voice boomed out from one of the hallways of the building.

The group stopped walking and turned almost collectively as one to see Prime Minister Huerta walking towards them, dressed in an impeccable suit with a large group of secretaries and guards trailing behind him. Anderson's eyes widened in surprise at seeing the single most important man in the Systems Alliance and he snapped to attention, giving him a perfect salute.

"Commander," Huerta said, his voice holding a hint of a surprise. "I wasn't expecting to see you here."

"I am Riley's guardian sir," Anderson replied. The two had a passing familiarity with each other, though they had not spent any significant amount of time together.

"Oh?" Huerta cocks his head, slightly confused. He stared at Anderson carefully, taking in the new information. "If that's the case, then what is the problem? Why is Inez Simmons beating down my door and crying wolf?"

Anderson and Prism shared a look. The Prime Minister either knew what was happening and wasn't happy with it, or he had no clue whatsoever. From the looks that they were giving each other, neither soldier knew the answer.

"My wife and I are trying to adopt, Riley, sir," Prism said slowly, unsure how to take the leader of the Systems Alliance.

Huerta looked down at Prism with a blank look, making the pony shift uncomfortably under his gaze. Soldier though he may have been, Prism was still at his core a herd animal of a herbivore nature. Instincts might not control him, but he could still feel them screaming in his brain. Humans had the tendency to make even the most hardened ponies flinch, though they had nothing on the Turians and the Krogan.

"I don't lead the type of life that can accommodate a teenage girl," Anderson said, drawing Huerta's attention away from Prism and back to himself.

"I see." Huerta gave a deep hmmm.

He shrugged, turning away from them. "Well, I can't do anything to change your mind. I know you too well for that."

"I shall see you during the trial." He nodded to the three of them. Turning away, Huerta and his group walked away, leaving the small group behind them.

Anderson, Prism, and Riley watched them go.

"What pole is shoved up his ass?" Prism looked at Anderson questioningly.

"We don't exactly see eye to eye." Anderson gave a small snort of laughter. "He's a sneaky bastard through and through. You can always trust him to look out for number one."

"Who was that?" Riley asked softly, looking at both men in confused.

It took a moment for the question to work its way through his mind, but Anderson quickly realized that Riley probably had no clue who the Prime Minister was. Mindoir was so far from Earth that it didn't even really matter to her. Being a teenager, he doubted that she had paid too much attention to politics.

"That was Prime Minister Christopher Huerta," he explained. "He is the leader of the Systems Alliance."

"Oh..." She didn't look impressed.

"There you are!" A feminine voice cried out, sounding both relieved and a tad frustrated.

Anderson, Prism, and Riley turn to find a middle aged woman striding toward them, a swing in her hips and a smile on her face. She was dressed in an expensive business suit, finely tailored to show off her every curve. She cut a striking figure, on modest heels and raven black hair, done in a tight but welcoming bob cut. Somewhere in her mid-fifties, she looked like she wasn't a day over thirty. Whether it was from surgery, or she was just blessed with good genetics, no one quite knew and it was a secret that she would take to her grave. She seemed to ooze confidence, and she held her head high. One of humanities most sought after lawyers, and she was working for them.

It gave both Anderson and Prism a measure of relief.

The woman held out a hand, and Anderson took it and gave her a grateful hand-shake. She did the same for Prism, shaking his hoof.

"Ms. Moore, it's good to finally meet you in person," Anderson said, thankful. He turned to Prism and Riley to introduce the woman to them. "This is Natalie Moore, our lawyer. The best on Earth."

"That's right," Natalie said with a smile and no small hint of pride. She knew her talents and was more than happy to use them to her fullest ability. She held a hand out for Riley, who shook it hesitantly. "Hello, Ms. Shepard. How are you feeling? Is there anything I can get you? Something to eat? Something to drink? We have a little bit of time before the trial starts."

Riley shook her head no, studying the older woman carefully.

"Alright then." Natalie ignored the younger girl's searching look. With what she was being paid she was willing to put up with anything that this group threw at her. "The Commander already briefed me on the flight over, but I think we should talk."

One of the Case Workers tried to cut in. "I'm not sure thats-"

"Don't even start with me." Natalie turned, staring down the case worker with an icy look that made him back down. Anderson's eyebrows rose, impressed. His already high estimation of the woman went up a couple of notches. He hadn't even been able to do that.

"I have a room upstairs where we can talk." Shaking her head, Natalie motioned over her shoulder towards a staircase. She met Riley's eyes, "And we do need to talk."

Riley looked questioningly at Anderson and Prism, both of whom nodded encouragingly to her. Uncomfortable but assured, she turned back to look at Natalie.

"Alright," she said in a small voice.

"Good!" Natalie beamed before leading Riley up the stairs. Anderson and Prism followed a few steps behind.

Natalie stopped outside a large door. She looked at Anderson and Prism. "I'm going to ask the two of you to wait out here. I'd like to talk to Riley alone if that is alright."

Anderson and Prism both gave nods to her, but the case workers looked like they wanted to protest, their faces turning interesting shades of red. A single look from Natalie made them back off.

The meeting room that Natalie had managed to secure was of medium size, furnished with a long, stained oak conference table and comfortable leather chairs. A pitcher of water and several glasses sat on the center of the table on a platinum tray.

Natalie sits down at one of the chairs, letting Riley sit uncomfortably in her own.

"Well," Natalie said getting comfortable. She smiled at Riley. "I'm sure that you never imagined this happening, did you?"

Riley shook her head. No, she had never imagined that she would have to watch her mother and father murdered before her eyes. She had never imagined that she would have to listen to the dying screams of her baby sister as she was torn to pieces by over eager slavers.

"You have my sympathies," Natalie said kindly, pouring herself a glass of water. "You shouldn't have been pulled into this politicking, not after what you have gone through, but..."

She grimaced, shaking her own head. "Well, there are quite a few bastards with way too much power. You're just caught up in a game that you have no part in."

Riley didn't say anything, letting Natalie lead the conversation.

Natalie didn't say anything for a few long moments, gathering her thoughts together.

Finally she spoke, quieter than she had been speaking, but no less kind. "I am going to ask you questions that you might not like, but please know that I am just trying to understand you better. I want our defense to be as tight as possible."

Riley just nodded her head.

Anderson, Prism, and the two case-workers stood waiting outside the meeting room, as they had been for the past half-hour. Prism slowly paced the hall, his hoofsteps echoing off the walls, while Anderson stood waiting at attention opposite the door. The two case-workers talked to each other in hushed whispers a ways away, glancing at Anderson and Prism suspiciously every few moments.


The four of them stopped and turned to look to find Rainbow rushing headlong towards Prism, her hooves clopping on the marble floor. Firefly and a Systems Alliance soldier followed a few feet behind her at a much more sedate pace.

Prism caught Rainbow as she jumped at him with her forehooves thrown open for a hug, a huge smile on her face.

"Rainbow!" Prism laughed, swinging her around. "Dear, try to be a bit more quiet. This isn't a place for loud noises."

Rainbow instantly looked embarrassed, dropping back down to the floor. Sheepishly, she spoke. "Sorry."

"Hello." Sauntering up to Prism Firefly gave him a hug as well.

"Hey," Prism said, leaning into the embrace. The tenseness in his shoulders was already bleeding away now that his wife and child were with him again.

"David." Firefly smiled up at Anderson, who gave a small bow of his head in greeting. Even with the short amount of time that they had known, the Rainbow family was already coming to think of him as family. He was an honorable man, a rare find in the galaxy.

"Firefly." Anderson smiled back. "How was your flight?"

"Loud." Her face deadpanned and she looked over at her daughter.

Rainbow bounced up, about to start jabbering loudly but remembered where she was instead takes a softer tone of voice. "There was a giant crowd, and they were all-"

She put her hooves around her mouth and imitated a crowd yelling.

"We heard it too, Rainbow." Prism laughed.

"Where's Riley?" Rainbow switched topics on a whim, noticing that she couldn't see her almost sister anywhere.

"She's in there." Anderson pointed at the meeting room. "Talking to our lawyer."

"Lawyer?" Firefly asked, not having had a chance to fully learn all of the details in the chaos of their trip across the galaxy. Most of her time had been spent trying to keep Rainbow from breaking anything vitally important on the ships they travelled on. "I wasn't aware that we'd hired one yet."

"I got a message from Princess Celestia on the shuttle ride down." Anderson still was amazed at how quickly the Equestrian Princess had acted. She not only set everything up without leaving her own planet, she had also picked the best, most ruthless lawyer on Earth, paying for the entire affair from the Royal coffers. "She arranged everything."

"The Princess is taking a personal interest in us?" Firefly looked impressed at that.

Prism glanced at the two case workers then led Firefly a little ways away to talk without being overheard.

"The Princesses have thought of everything," Prism said with a whisper, leaning close to his wife's ear. She listened carefully. "She wants nothing to go wrong with this."

"Nothing to go wrong?" Firefly asked quietly. She looked at Prism in confusion. "Like what?"

"We are adopting a human child." Prism would miss Cloudsdale, but Riley was more than worth it. "She can't cloudwalk."

"Yeah, we already knew that though," Firefly said. She looked at Prism questioningly, waiting for him to explain.

"But we didn't have any plans on where we were going to move, or anything set up for her." Prism looked sheepish at that, but what was done was done, and the Princess had thought of everything. "The Princess already took care of it."

"What?" Firefly asked, her confusion growing. "What do you mean?"

"She's giving a house in Canterlot." Prism opened his omni-tool, showing Firefly a picture of a modestly sized house in Equestria. "Paid for by the crown and completely furnished to suit a growing human child. No expense spared."

Firefly's eyes went wide and she was silent for several moments, just staring at the picture with her mouth gaping.

"That's a bit over the top, isn't it?" She finally made herself ask.

Prism shrugged. With humans so Tartarus bent on keeping Riley from their home, who was to say what was over the top. He would take all the help he could get.

"She sent a message for the two of us," Prism said.

He reversed the image on his omnitool so that she could read the message that Celestia sent them.

Lieutenant Rainbow Prism,

I was most pleased to learn of your actions during the raid of Mindoir. You acted with the comportment that I expect of all soldiers of Equestria. It saddens me to hear of your injury, and I would like you to know that the Crown will help you and your family through this difficult time.

I have learned of your plans to adopt the human girl, Riley Shepard, and it has brought a warmth to my heart. I am writing to inform you thatmy sister and I are committed to seeing that this adoption hits no 'snags' so to speak. We are taking care of everything.

From the Desk of Her Royal Highness,

Princess Celestia, the Eternal Sun

Firefly reread the letter four times, and then went quiet for another minute after that.

"That is..." She trailed off, unsure of what to say as her own emotions roiled within her. "That is incredible. I... I don't know what to say."

"We'll have to thank her ourselves." Prism smiled and kisses his wife.

The door to the meeting room opened and everyone out in the hall turned to watch as Natalie stepped out, followed by Riley. Rainbow was instantly at her side, pestering her with questions that Riley answered with a small smile.

"We best be going," Natalie said with a smile. She knew everything that she needed to. "We don't have much time left. We don't want to be late."

It was time to move on to her favorite thing in the whole wide universe.


Chapter Eleven - It Begins

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Chapter Eleven - It Begins
Systems Alliance Supreme Court, New York, Earth
June 27th, 2170

The main court of the supreme court was built with over five thousand seats, and platforms at the back to hold an extensive press corp. At the current moment, every seat was filled, with the public watching on to what had already promised to be the largest custody battle in the case of humanity, thanks in large part to the fact that it was the first time that an alien family was fighting for the right to adopt a human child. The packed room was thanks in no small part to the actions of Terra Firma, who had done their absolute best to see that everyone across all of the colonies and Earth herself knew of the case.

Hundreds of cameras floated in the back, carefully tended by their operators as they streamed the live case back to countless news stations across Citadel space. The whole room was filled with the dull roar of five-thousand voices.

On the side of the court that actually mattered, Terra Firma's lawyers sat next to Inez Simmons. They looked calm and collected, dressed in expensive suits, their holo-pads neatly laid out on the table before them. Inez Simmons looked across the aisle at the defense, a smug look chiseled onto his face.

The Court Room is packed, thanks to Terra Firma. Hundreds of cameras are filling the top of the room, filming the most high-profile case that arguably has ever taken place on Earth. On the left, Terra Firma's lawyers are sitting, with Inez Simmons staring across the aisle at the defense table.

Natalie and Riley sat at the defense table. Unlike Terra Firma's lawyers, Natalie looked much more laid back. She was dressed in a simple skirt, blouse, and jacket, her hair pulled back into a harsh bun. Riley sat next to her in a dark dress, her hair loose. She stared down at the table, idly listening to Natalie scrolling through her holo-pad as she looked over the final few matters of the defense. Prism, Firefly, Rainbow, and Anderson sat just behind the railing, providing as much emotional support as they possibly could, which wasn't much considering that they weren't allowed to speak. They were going to have to trust Natalie to get them through the entire matter.

"Rise, for the Chief Justice Brian Ackerson," the guard said, stepping forward.

The entirety of the room stood, the din of voices quieting instantly. From behind the judges bench, Chief Justice Brian Ackerson stepped out. He was a sharp looking man, intelligent, well-groomed with intelligent eyes. Ackerson had been presiding over the Supreme Court of the Systems Alliance since before the First Contact war, and he had been a judge for even longer than that. Well respected, there was almost no opposition when he had been granted the role of the Chief Justice. He sat and the whole court followed his example.

The trial began, and it seemed like everyone was talking at once, scrambling to make their voices herd over everyone else. The words became a blur as Riley found that her eyes couldn't focus on anything before her. Something is happening beyond her control, and she finds herself frozen in her seat.

"Breathe." A deep voice echoed through her head, reverberating through her soul.

Riley took a deep breath, inhaling before slumping down into her seat as her body relaxed. The voices continued, but she paid no mind to them. There was simply no reason for her to pay attention. The storm of the world calmed around her, and the voice continued to speak.

"Your species could be destroyed with a single thought," it said, with a calm voice that hinted at deeper feelings of anger and malevolence. "But you may yet be worth your continued survival."

The Terra Firma lawyer stepped forward, beginning to pontificate his opening statements. Riley watched him as he slowly strode back and forth in front of the judge, speaking to both the jury, the judge, and the entirety of the court. It was all very theatrical and perfectly designed to elicit as much emotion as possible.

While all of it was clear and in English, Riley was simply unable to focus on anything that was actually being said. Her eyes followed the lawyer back and forth, but she wasn't fully in the present. In the back of her mind, she felt a darkness, cold and wet. It slipped through her veins, filling her every pore.

"Your race squabbles in the dark, fighting against every perceived slight." The voice rose and fell, at times seeming to whisper, and at other moments it seemed to roar. "The Others will use that against you. They will set you against each other, and exploit your every weakness."

The lawyer was charming, his suit perfect and his teeth brilliantly white, which he used to their full effect. The cameras loved him, and the audience loved him even more.

"You must change that. You will be the agent our wills. To defeat the Others, you must bind them all together."

Riley looked up, and saw that the lawyer was wrapping up his opening statements.

Natalie leaned over, grinning, and whispered to Riley. "Damn. I don't know where Simmons pulled that guy out from, but he is good."

Riley looked at Natalie, snapping back to reality for just a moment. Natalie's grin grew wider and she put a comforting hand on Riley's arm. "Don't worry, Riley. I'm better."

Standing up, Natalie sauntered up to begin her own statements, a wide grin on her face. She faced the judge and jury before turning to the audience and the cameras beyond.

Riley quickly lost her focus before Natalie even opened her mouth to speak. She didn't notice judge watching her, nor did she notice the worried look on his face.

Laying back on her bed, Riley stared up at the ceiling of the hotel room. She had her hands folded together on her stomach, half-listening to whatever kids show was playing on the TV opposite the bed. Lying on the bed next to her, sprawled out and completely asleep was Rainbow Dash. It had been her to insist on watching the kids show, and she had fallen asleep only minutes past the first commercials. She snored softly, cuddled up as close as possible to her maybe new big sister.

Prism and Firefly watched the unresponsive girl from the doorway, which was partially cracked open. The day had ended at three, and they had been quick to return to their hotel. Rainbow had run everywhere full of pent up energy and had only calmed down after Prism took her down to the hotel's pool.

Stepping forward, Prism entered the room, Firefly following after him.

"How are you feeling, Riley?" Firefly asked, frowning.

Riley slowly refocused back on reality, looking over to see her two perspective adoptive parents looking at her with concerned smiles.

"I'm fine," she mumbled, struggling to meet their eyes.

"It's okay, Riley." Prism looked over her worriedly with concerned eyes. "You don't have to pretend."

Riley didn't say anything, just dropping her eyes to the floor, not making any eye-contact with the two pegasi.

They waited a moment to see if she was going to say anything.

Hoping she would.

She didn't.

Firefly put a hoof onto the mattress of the bed. "We're here if you need us, Riley. Please, come get us if you need anything."

The two pegasi turned and left the room, taking a last glance back at the girl.

Shutting the door behind themselves, Prism and Firefly back away. They shared a significant look with each other, concerned.

"I don't like this," Prism said with a sigh. His head hung low as he walked into the main room of the hotel room. "It isn't right."

"It might not be right," she said with a sigh, "But we can't do anything other than hope."

Firefly frowned, giving a small nudge. She agreed with him, but she felt absolutely useless.

"You can do a lot more than that, girl."

They turned to find Natalie standing behind them, holding a glass of wine with the top button of her shirt undone, barefoot. She smiled at them happily, and possibly a little drunk from the look of her.

"What are you doing drinking?" Firefly narrowed her eyes, looking at Natalie accusingly. "We're losing!"

"No, we're not." Natalie laughed, shaking her head confidently.

"I don't know what trial you were just at, but from where I was sitting we were losing." Prism glared at her. In his gut, worry and fear rolled through him. The entire matter was making him sick, and he just wanted it to end.

"It was only the first day." Natalie grimaced, downing the rest of her wine in the face of Prism's and Firefly's worries. "That bastard won't get me a second time."

The door opened and all three of them turned to look as Anderson stormed into the hotel room, shutting the door behind himself calmly, holding his back straight and professionally. As soon as the door was closed, he sagged as the weight of the day crashed down onto him.

"Are you alright David?" Firefly asked, stepping forward at the sight of her friend's pain. "Come on, take a seat."

David gratefully did so, sinking down onto the couch.

"Can I get you anything to drink?" Firefly asked. She was glad that she had come to know him, and counted him as one of her friends. "Something to eat? We have room service."

"No, thank you Firefly." David waved his hand in dismissal. "I just need to sit for awhile."

He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath.

"Commander, how are you doing?" Natalie asked, looking at David worriedly.

David opened his eyes, looking over to see Natalie standing with her empty wine glass. He laughed quietly to himself, shifting in his seat to get more comfortable. He shut his eyes again and leaned his head back. "Admiral Ballard called me in for a meeting. He was not happy."

"The bastard all but ordered me to cave to Terra Firma's demands." He grunted, shaking his head.

"Tell me exactly what happened." Natalie instantly perked up, instantly more focused on the conversation.

David cracked an eye open to look at Natalie for a moment before nodding.

"I was met outside of the Court House by one of Ballard's flunkies. They ordered me to accompany them on his orders for a meeting." He sighed, rubbing his eyes. "We took a shuttle to the Naval yard in Virginia, where they led me to the Admiral's office. He was kind, at least to start with. Offered me a drink before making small talk."

"I asked him why he wanted to meet with me and he instantly got serious. He told me that humanity was not ready to give our children to aliens." David shook his head. He clenched his fists together as the memories coursed through his head, and his knuckles went white.

"Did you get a recording?" Natalie asked, leaning forward excitedly. She watched Anderson with a girlish enthusiasm that made him shift uncomfortably.

"No." He simply shook his head. "They took my omni-tool before I met with him."

She grimaced for a moment, but a second later was back to her exuberant self.

"What exactly did he say?" Natalie asked, practically bouncing from excitement.

"Something along the lines of, 'Commander, your one of the best and brightest that has ever graced our Navy. It would be bad for a hero of humanity to tear our legs out from underneath us at such a crucial point in time. You don't want us to look weak to the rest of the galaxy, do you? It could be bad for you. You'll make the right choice, I'm sure'." David shrugged, not fully remembering but trying his best.

Natalie nodded, setting her glass down before sitting down on one of the chairs opposite the couch. She leaned forward, hanging on to his every word.

Anderson watched her, uncomfortable, before finally asking. "What?"

"This could be nothing, but if we can prove that Admiral Ballard is a party member with Terra Firma, it could really help our case. This is exactly the type of thing we need." She smiled, crossing her arms in satisfaction.

"And how exactly do we do that?" Prism stepped forwards, taking a seat next to David.

"Leave that to me." Natalie glanced at Prism, a sly grin on her face.

At the headquarters of Terra Firma, a party was in full swing. Every party member and their family was present, enjoying the free drinks and dinner. Music played by a live band and cake was absolutely everywhere. The Custody Battle was absolutely going in their favor, and they knew it. There was no way that Commander Anderson was going to win, and there was absolutely no way that Riley Shepard would not end up being adopted by a human family.

"To the most cutthroat lawyer that I have ever had the displeasure of knowing!" Inez Simmons shouted, holding up his glass of champagne as he stepped out of the elevator and into the office.

The entire room cheered, raising their glasses to the toast.

Inez turns back to the small group that had followed him up. Aaron Samuels, their lawyer, stood with his hands clasped behind his back as he looked over the room. Michael stood close to Inez, ready to answer his every request at a moments notice, a true believer.

"It is always our pleasure to help further the cause of humanity," Samuels said, grinning. It was a predatory look, like a shark.

Inez laughed, but Michael looked unsure. He stepped closer to Inez, leaning closer to whisper to him.

"Where exactly did you find this guy?" Michael asked, glancing at Samuels who was busy admiring the wife of one of their accountants who was wearing a dress several sizes too small. "I've never seen him before."

Inez sobered up instantly, looking Michael over carefully. He thought about it for a minute before deciding whether or not he even wanted to answer.

Glancing at Samuels, Inez gestured to his office. Samuel nodded back, glancing at Michael before calmly stepping in.

Inez put an arm over Michael's shoulder, smiling. "Come in, and we'll tell you."

They entered the office.

Inez shut and locked the door behind the two of them as they entered his office. He gestured for Michael to take one of the seats in front of his desk, before moving to pour himself a drink from the bottle he kept in the bottom drawer.

"Please Michael, take a seat."

Michael looked at Inez for a moment before taking a seat.

Inez walked over to join Samuels on leaning against the front of his desk, taking a sip of his drink as he looked down at Michael.

"Are you sure about this, Simmons?" Samuels asked Inez, studying Michael like one might an animal at the zoo.

"Michael's been with us since nearly the beginning." Inez shrugged, glancing at the lawyer. "I think its time to bring him in our little secret."

"I'm sure that you'll take care of it and make sure that everything is okay." He gave a knowing smirk to Samuels.

Samuels nodded his head, conceding the point.

"What's this all about?" Michael asked, looking at Inez worriedly.

"You've been helping our party for nearly a decade now, haven't you Michael." Inez full well knew the answer to the question, but asked it anyway.

"You know I have," Michael said.

"Well, we haven't told you everything." Inez looked proud at the secrets that he held. "There simply wasn't a need for you to know. Now though..."

He smiled, clapping Michael on the leg. "I think you're a big enough part of this party that you need to know about this."

"Know what?" Michael asked. With every word that Inez spoke, he grew more and more confused.

Samuels leaned forward, watching Michael's reactions carefully.

"Have you ever head of an organization called Cerberus?"

Twilight sat at her book covered desk, more of a table really, studying. It was her favorite thing to do in the world, and she took absolutely every opportunity available to do so. When the Princess personally guided her studying, it made the entire affair even better. She hummed quietly to herself as she absentmindedly turned the page on her book, A Brief History of Equestria.

A soft hmm broke her concentration and she looked up from her book to see Celestia sitting a few feet away from her, facing out towards a window as she red her omni-tool. Twilight couldn't wait until she was old enough to have her own. To have a device that could access billions of books... the very thought made Twilight quiver in excitement.

Twilight turned away from her studies.

"Princess?" She asked, looking up hopefully at her mentor.

Celestia broke away from her reading to look back at Twilight, offering her a small smile.

"Is something wrong," the filly asked.

Celestia had to think about it for a moment before she was able to answer Twilight. There were times that the unicorn filly was just too curious for her own good. "There is a trial that has managed to draw my attention."

"A trial?" Twilight's face scrunched up in confusion. "What is it over?"

"A young pegasus couple from Cloudsdale is looking to adopt an orphaned human child." With a sigh, Celestia shut her omni-tool. She turned fully to face Twilight, offering the girl her full attention. "There are some humans who despise the very idea of letting 'aliens' raise one of their own..."

Celestia scowled, glancing away. It was a moment that Twilight was proud to witness. There were very few ponies that Princess Celestia ever fully acted herself around, and she was one of them.

"Though I notice that none of them are eager to see that all human children have parents," Celestia continued.

"That's awful!" Twilight exclaimed, anger coursing through her body. "Why are they fighting to keep someone from having parents?"

"You are truly special to think so, Twilight." Celestia looked at Twilight compassionately. "You are better than quite a few of the people of the galaxy."

"What do you mean, Princess?" Twilight asked, cocking her head in confusion.

"It is alright, Twilight." Celestia laughed. "There is no need for you to worry about such matters."

"Okay, Princess!" Twilight smiled, trusting Celestia completely. The Princess would never lie to her. Turning back to her desk, Twilight got back to her studying.

When Twilight looked up again from her desk, she blushed in embarrassment when she realized that it was nighttime. The Princess had left at some point, but Twilight was embarrassed to remember that she can't quite remember when. She knew that she got too involved in her reading, and hated every time that she lost track of time. It wasn't proper for a pony to just lose themselves from the world around them.

Never the less, it happened too much for Twilight to ever actually admit.

"Twilight Sparkle."

Turning at the regal voice, Twilight found Princess Luna standing in the doorway, a smile on her face.

"It is time for us to escort you home, Twilight." Luna fluffed her wings.

Twilight smiled at the dark Alicorn, quickly stuffing some of her books into a pair of saddle-bags that sat her foot, already packed and ready to go. "Sure thing, Princess!"

Slipping on the saddle-bags, Twilight trotted over to the Princess, beaming up at her. "I'm Ready!"

"I can see that," Luna said, amused. She enjoyed her biweekly trips too and from the Sparkle household. It was a part of the arrangement that the Sparkle family had worked out with the crown over their daughter's studies. Weekdays at the castle learning with the Princesses, and weekends at her home. It had become one of her favorite times of the week. "Let us depart."

Bounding to her side, the two of them left the study room together.

Princess Luna had long ago learned that the long way around to the Sparkle house was the most beautiful. It allowed her the chance to see her little ponies outside of the night-court, and it was absolutely wonderful. The street lights were beautiful, and the night-life was even better. Her ponies loved the night. She had watched over the decades since Chelsea had awoken them all as they tended to get to sleep later and later.

Princess Luna escorted Twilight through the streets of Canterlot, trailed by two of her night-guards. Twilight was being unusually quiet, but Luna was more than happy to let her have her peace. She instead took the time to pony watch. They passed by the ponies waiting outside of the night-clubs and those enjoying the night air. Romance often filled the air, and Luna loved to provide nights perfect for such a mood. The moon hung overhead, casting its calming light down below and the stars twinkled happily.

"Princess..." Twilight finally spoke up, her voice hesitant.

Luna looked down at Twilight as they continued walking. "Yes, Twilight?"

Twilight chewed on her lip for a moment before asking her question. She sounded conflicted. "Why would anypony want to keep a foal from being adopted?"

Stopping, Luna looked back at Twilight contemplatively. She thought for a moment before the answer appeared to her. "You are speaking of the trial of Riley Shepard?"

"I think so?" Twilight wasn't sure, but she willing to guess.

"The human that a pony family wants to adopt?" Luna clarified.

"Yeah!" Twilight almost bounced in excitement. When Celestia wouldn't answer a question of hers, Luna was the one to go to. "That's what Princess Celestia said."

Luna was silent for a moment, looking Twilight over before answering. "You ask a difficult question, Twilight."

"Princess Celestia said I was too young for such matters," Twilight explained, glaring ever so slightly. She truly loved Celestia, but sometimes she treated Twilight like she was four, not seven.

"That does indeed sound like my sister." Luna laughed. She leaned close to Twilight, speaking conspiratorially. "Sometimes, she forgets that she cannot make every problem disappear, and that our ponies can handle so much more than she believes sometimes. She has more than a bit of our mother in her."

Luna stood back up to her full height.

Thinking it over for a moment, Luna finalized an answer in her mind that satisfied her. "They are afraid."

"Afraid?" Twilight scrunched up her nose. "What do you mean, Princess?"

"They are afraid of change, of the other, of those that they cannot comprehend. They are afraid, so they fight back against that which they fear. First it was us, then it was the Turians, and now it seems that it is anyone who is not human." As she explained the way the galaxy worked, Luna hung her head ever so slightly. "It is not always a logical thing, but there are even those among Equestria who feel the same way."

Looking down at Twilight, Luna gave the filly an encouraging smile. "You do not need to be afraid, Twilight Sparkle. Always remember that. Though everything might seem to be crashing down around you, there are always those who will stand by your side no matter what."

Twilight looked up at Luna, seeing her in a new light. She nodded her head. "I promise, Princess."

"That is good." Luna held out a hoof for Twilight, motioning down the street. "Now, let us return you home. We are sure that your parents are waiting."

Chapter Twelve - Final Judgement

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Chapter Twelve - Final Judgement
Location Unknown
July 3rd, 2170

The boiling surface of the sun was the sole reason that he had even had the station built in the first place. There were other places he could hide the seat of his shadow empire, places that didn't require constant course corrections and monitoring, but none of them had quite the view of beauty, power, and rage. It fit the Illusive Man to the very core of his being.

He stood in his office, his inner sanctum of polished glass and steel, looking the darkly tinted window at the star Anadius before him. Without the glass, he would have been unable to actual look at the star that made his office the most desirable spot onboard Cronos Station. With it, what should have been blinding was dimmed to far more manageable levels.

Taking a sip from the glass of bourbon he held loosely in his hands, the Illusive Man turned, walking through the holo-displays that served as his computer monitors. Pausing, the Illusive Man looked over the monitors, frowning at what he saw before him.

He quickly downed the rest of his glass.

Easing himself down into his chair, he quickly pressed several of the discrete buttons on its arm rest. The actions had long since become muscle memory and he didn't even have to look to make sure he was pressing the right ones.

A door hissed open and one of his most promising lieutenants entered, summoned by his call. Miranda Lawson, the perfect woman. Created in a test-tube from the DNA of Henry Lawson, the trillionaire mogul with a rather unrealistic dream of living forever, Miranda was everything that Henry was not. She was tall, statuesque, beautiful beyond compare, with an intelligence sharper than all but a handful in the galaxy. She was the type of woman who knows how to use all of her assets to her advantage. When she had run from her home, he had been waiting to save her, offering her everything she asked for and more.

The Illusive Man admitted to himself that he would be hard-pressed to find a more loyal woman.

"Sir." Miranda stopped just in front of him, out of the way of his monitors. She clasped her hands loosely behind her back, waiting for him to reveal the purpose of his summons.

She didn't have to wait long.

"Miranda," the Illusive Man said, taking a moment to light a cigarette with his favorite lighter.

Miranda didn't say anything, just waiting for her employer to speak. He gestured behind her at the monitors, which she turned and glanced over, speed-reading over everything.

"What is your take on all of this?" He asked, watching her every move intently. He already knew what he would do with everything, but he was grooming the brunette to eventually take over the position of his second in command. He made sure to lead her, guide her, shape the way she learned to make decisions at every opportunity that had presented itself to him.

Miranda turned fully to face the monitors, taking a closer look. After a moment, she gestured at the closest monitor to her, with a large headline that read "EEZO ACCIDENT OVER YANDOA". She bites the inside of her lip.

"The potential is immense here. I would send our doctors to help with the relief care. It would give us a chance to gather data." She frowned, chewing her lip. "We could set up a long-term study of human expose to element zero."

The Illusive Man said nothing, just listening to Miranda.

She turned to the next monitor, which was open to a news page about the custody battle over Riley Shepard. She grimaced, crossing her arms. "Terra Firma has no chance of coming out on top over this."

She turned to face the Illusive Man, her brow furrowed in confusion. "I can only wonder what Simmons was thinking when he started this. I think that Terra Firma is definitely over-extending themselves. Even if they win, they are going to lose a lot of public approval over this. That could come around to hurt our own public image."

"I agree." The Illusive Man nodded, tapping his fingers against his empty glass.

He pressed another button on his arm rest. A moment passed, and deep within the heart of the station a superluminal signal flew out, slipping through the back door of the nearest turian comm-buoy, worming through an Asari starship's computer banks, then slipping through another back door on a comm-buoy to Earth. All of that took less than three-seconds, and then a monitor opened with a live connection to Ethan Salitoran.

"Ethan, I have a job for you." The Illusive Man nodded in greeting to his number one enforcer.

"Illusive Man! God... It is incredibly awkward to talk to you. I still don't know how I should address you. Mr. Illusive? Mr. Man?" Salitoran smiled, clapping his hands together, happy to do his own work. "Tim? No. That's stupid."

"I need you to talk with Inez Simmons." The Illusive Man ignored Ethan's ramblings. He didn't pay him for his wonderful philosophical skills. "He is going off the deep end, and the public isn't going to keep tolerating them for much longer."

"What do you want me to do?" Ethan asked, his attention focusing on the Illusive Man.

"Talk some sense into him." The Illusive Man said vaguely. At this point, he honestly didn't care what happened to Inez Simmons. He would leave it up to Ethan's own discrimination.

"I can do that." Ethan nodded, grinning widely.

The monitor blinked out of existence as Ethan cut the connection.

Miranda finally looked away from the picture of Riley on the monitor that she had been staring at through the Illusive Man's entire conversation with Ethan. She pointed at the picture as she asked him, "Sir, what do you think of her?"

"She is nothing." The Illusive Man dismissed the girl, his mind already moving onto bigger issues. "Just a victim drawn into the web of predators beyond her understanding."

Miranda didn't say anything, but from the way her nose ever so slightly crinkled the Illusive Man could tell that she didn't agree with him. That was fine. It was better when his people could think for themselves. He wasn't omnipotent after all.

The past week had been hell. The trial had taken everything out of Riley, and she could feel the exhaustion just weighing down on her. The week had been full of emotions that tore at everyone's hearts, and she wasn't sure that her own could last for much longer.

Riley stepped out of her room for what was hopefully the last day. Deep bags sat under her eyes, and while her makeup is applied perfectly, she looked tired. Rainbow tagged along at her feet, having stuck faithfully at Riley's side for the entire week. She was too young to fully understand and grasp the importance of what was happening in the trial, but she knew that Riley smiled more when she was around. After coming to that realization, the little filly was careful to make sure she was within a quick galloping distance from the older human girl.

"Hey, Riley?" Rainbow asked, her face scrunching up as a huge thought crashed down over her.

"Yeah?" Stopping, Riley looked down at the little filly.

"Do you..." Rainbow stopped, dropping back to sit on her haunches. She looked up at Riley in confusion. "Do you want to be my big sister?"

Riley froze, her mind screeching to a halt as the entirety of the question coursed through her. She considered Rainbow for a moment before sitting down cross-legged in front of pegasus. She reached out and took one of Rainbow's forehooves in her hand.

"I would like nothing more," Riley murmured. She sighed, glancing down at the ground, biting her lip before continuing. "It might not happen. Don't get your hopes up too much."

"But..." Rainbow frowned, emotions welling up inside of her. She shuffled closer to Riley, her face torn. "I want you to be my sister."

Riley didn't quite know what to do with Rainbow's statement, rocking back a little. Before the entire incident on Mindoir, she had never had a close relationship with her little sister Jane. She regretted that now, and wished that she could go back and change everything.

She didn't let go of Rainbow's hoof, but her eyes pulled away from reality for a moment. Her mind struggled to make connections, attachments forming where there weren't any before. She might not be able to change the past, but she could start now.

Making her decision, Riley snapped back to reality. Pulling Rainbow closer, she wrapped the filly in a tender hug, pouring all of her heart into the hug.

"I do too, Rainbow," she whispered into Rainbow's ears.

Rainbow wrapped her forelegs as far around Riley as she possibly could, nuzzling into her neck. She screwed her eyes shut, praying to whatever deity that might have been listening that everything would go their way.

Standing, Riley easily bore the weight of the little filly, lifting her to set her on her shoulders. She giggled as she realized that she very well might have been the first human to give a pony, a pony back ride.

Rainbow propped herself up, her back legs on both of Riley's shoulders, her forehooves holding onto Riley's head.

They continued on into the living area, to be met with the sight of everyone waiting for them on the couches. When Prism and Firefly caught sight of them, wide smiles grew on their faces.

"Hi mom, dad!" Rainbow waved to her mom and dad, practically shouting.

Waiting by the door, Natalie impatiently checked the time on her omni-tool, ready to get going. "The shuttle is waiting. We need to get going."

Everyone looked at her as if they were realizing she was there for the first time.

The entire group sat in their shuttle, waiting quietly to arrive at the Supreme Court. Riley watched out the main window as New York passed by outside, Rainbow sitting next to her. The filly had her head in Riley's lap, a goofy smile on her face as the human scratched her between her ears. They were closer than they had ever been, and everyone else in the shuttle noticed it.

Firefly couldn't help but notice that her two girls were sticking as close together as possible, for emotional support she supposed. It warmed her heart to know that Riley got along so well with Rainbow.

Riley watched, resigned, as the shuttle flew in to land outside the entrance to the court house. Settling in to land with a gentle thump, the door slid open to let out all of their passengers.

Anderson and Prism were the first out of the shuttle, tense as they ushered the rest of their group out. They kept a firm watch on the crowds behind the police barricade. Firefly and Natalie stepped out after the two soldiers, followed by Rainbow who bounced after them. Riley took a deep breath, preparing herself before she stepped out. The adults quickly formed up on her, shielding her from the sight of the crowd beyond.

Together, they all walked up the steps to the entrance of the Supreme Court, ignoring the cameras as best as they could. Police officers kept the crowds back, which had swelled in size over the course of the trial. The turn out for the final day was absolutely astonishing.

As soon as they entered the Court House, blessed silence greeted them. Riley breathed a sigh of relief, slumping ever so slightly as the doors shut behind them.

"Ms. Shepard."

As one, the entire group turned to watch as an aide walked towards them. Smiling, he nodded in greeting to Riley. "Chief Justice Ackerson would love the chance to speak with you before we start today."

Riley glanced back at Natalie, who nodded encouragingly to her.

"Alright." Riley looked back at the aide, giving a small nod.

"Please, his office is this way." The aide gestures towards a staircase. He led Riley up and away from the rest of her group.

Waiting in his office, Ackerson took a deep breath. It took quite a bit to keep himself impartial during the past week and he was feeling the strain as much as he imagined Ms. Shepard was. Blindly looking over the spines of the books covering his shelves, he waited for his aide to return. Dressed in a fine suit, he relished the last few moments before he had to don his stifling robes, which hung from a rack in the corner of his office.

A knock at the door drew his attention back to reality.

"Enter," Ackerson said after clearing his throat.

The door to his office opened and his aide stepped inside.

"I have Riley Shepard to see you, sir," he simply said.

Ackerson stood, straightening his sleeves before he walked around his desk to welcome the girl. He gestured at his aide. "Please, bring her in."

Stepping aside, the aide made room for Riley to shuffle into the room. She glanced around Ackerson's office nervously, trying her best to not look like she wanted to run away and hide. The fact that there was nowhere for her to go probably didn't help, Ackerson thought to himself.

Quietly, the aide left the room, shutting the door behind himself. Ackerson ignored that, instead focusing his attention on Riley.

"Thank you for agreeing to speak with me." He made sure to speak quietly, not wanting to scare the poor girl anymore than she already looked.

Riley just nodded, her lips sealed shut tight.

"Please, have a seat." Ackerson motioned towards one of the plush chairs in front of his desk.

Riley shuffles forward again, dropping down into the nearest of his two seats. Ackerson walked back around his desk to sit in his own chair. Taking a moment to settle down and get comfortable, Ackerson studied Riley's face.

"I wanted to tell you that you have been acting admirably through this debacle." He was honest about that, not just giving Riley false reassurances. For such a young girl, she was holding up better than quite a few adults that he had had the pleasure of witnessing in his long time in the court system.

"Thank you, sir," Riley whispered. It was one of the few times that he had actually heard her speak since the beginning of the trial, and her voice surprised him, but only for a moment.

"I want to ask you a question, and I want you to answer it honestly." With a sigh, Ackerson leaned back in his seat.

Pushing himself up out of his chair, Ackerson stood. A nervous energy pulsed through his body and he couldn't fight the urge inside him to move. Pacing around to the front of his desk, Ackerson leaned back against it and stuffed his hands into his pockets.

"You don't have to say anything that you don't want to, but it will certainly help me make my final decision." He tried his best to reassure her, but there was only so much that he could do. It was up to the girl if she wanted to be a part of his decision or not.

Riley glanced down at her lap, nervously trying to smooth a wrinkle out of her dress.

"I want you to know, no matter what you say, I am committed to seeing that you are placed in a loving home," Ackerson finally said after a long moment of silence. It might not be the most ideal situation, but he would do what he could.

"Yes, sir," Riley whispered nervously.

Ackerson frowned at her, concerned at her timidity. It would take more than a few sessions with a therapist to work through the things that she had seen, he was sure.

"I want you to tell me what you want." Ackerson began to explain. "I have heard what Inez wants, and I've heard what Commander Anderson and Mrs. Moore want, but through this entire trial, I have not heard from you. I believe that it is most definitely an oversight, and not at all an unnoticed one, but we have an opportunity to speak now."

Riley bit her lip, her eyes lowered. She didn't say anything for a long minute, and Ackerson waited patiently.

Finally, she opened her mouth, shut it, then opened it again.

Ackerson entered the court room, ignoring the heat of his robe, and everyone stood. Ignoring them, he took a seat. The entire audience sat at his example, and with that, the trial began.

Sitting at the defendants table, Riley stared down at the grain of the wood, ignoring the stares from everyone behind her. She tried her best to pretend that she was the only one to exist.

The room was silent for a moment as Ackerson settled. He looked out over the crowd, tried to meet eyes with Riley, then proceeded to speak when she refused to look up from the table.

"The past month has been an incredibly difficult time for all of us. With two tragedies on two seperate colonies, and the loss of tens of thousands of lives, the Systems Alliance has never before faced a more difficult time." It was in a ways true. Very few lives had been lost during the Skirmish of Shanxi, but that was due in large part to the few Equestrians who had made the planet their home before the Turian invasion. The humans had quickly learned that unicorns were a force multiplier like none other, and the Turians learned to think twice before messing with a race that could manipulate the weather at a whim.

After all, Turians did not swim.

Riley could hear Rainbow shuffling nervously behind her, and she felt a small grin threaten to break out over her face. She admired how much the rambunctious filly was managing to keep herself calm and quiet during everything. She couldn't help but feel that the little pegasus was doing it only for her.

"Through all of that, this trial has torn open all sorts of wounds that had only just began to heal. We have been forced to confront the knowledge that we still have so much growing left to do, and that we are only just now taking our first steps into the galaxy. We have so much left to learn, and we are children fighting against anything and everything that might bring us harm." Ackerson continued his speech. There was nothing left but for him to make his decision and everyone waited with bated breath.

Riley glanced up at Ackerson, and he spared a moment to give her a warm, apologetic smile. He was more than sorry that she had had to be dragged into the middle of the entire debacle.

"There has been a lot of talk about who should get custody of Riley Shepard. A loving human family, or the Rainbow family. Both choices have their pros and cons, but it was not a hard decision."

"Ms. Shepard has been through a horrible experience. Losing her entire family before her eyes, she deserves to have something go right." Looking at the Terra Firma table, Ackerson narrowed his eyes ever so slightly.

Glancing at Riley, he then turned back to face Terra Firma's table, catching eyes with Inez Simmons. The leader of Terra Firma frowned ever so slightly, anger raging behind his eyes.

"While I do believe that she would be able to find happiness with a human family, that is not what has truly been on trial here. Terra Firma would have us all believe that setting aside our prejudices would lead to doom for the human race." Ackerson ignored Simmon's glare, instead he ensured that he set humanity on a path that might forever save it from the darkness beyond. He wondered for moment if children years from now would watch this trial in their classrooms, but he dismissed that from his mind. It wasn't important, and there were bigger things for him to deal with.

"I do not agree." He shook his head. "I believe that we can only become better. To that end, I agree with Ms. Shepard's wish."

"I hereby grant Rainbow Prism and Firefly Shimmer custody of Riley Jane Shepard." Picking up his gavel, Ackerson proclaimed his decision calmly and clearly.

The audience was stunned silent for a moment, but they quickly erupted in surprised shouts. Natalie grinned proudly, turning in her chair to look at the Rainbow family and Anderson smugly.

Riley just slumped in her seat, the stress of the past week leaving her body.

Across the aisle, Inez Simmons clenched his fists, glaring at Samuels, who looked as stunned as more than a few members of the audience. Everything had gone wrong, and it was the lawyer's fault.

The Rainbow family entered the hotel room in stunned silence. They had been almost entirely quiet the entire shuttle ride back, more than a little surprised that they had actually won. Entering the room, they shut the door, and collapsed in relief onto the chairs and couches in the living area of the room.

Immediately, Rainbow jumped onto Riley's lap, curling up happily with a smug smile on her muzzle. The most put together of the group, she was the only one out of all of them to know without a doubt that Riley would of course be her sister. Anything else was just lunacy. While everyone else had been struggling to understand what had just happened back in the court room, Rainbow had just basked in the knowledge that she was smarter than more than a few adults she saw.

"We won." Prism broke the silence first, speaking in a hushed whisper. His voice sounded surprised.

"We won." Giggling, Firefly bumped against his side.

"We won!" Rainbow chirped, nuzzling against Riley happily. She stood on her back hooves and wrapped her forehooves around Riley's neck in a hug, rocking back and forth in excitement. "We're sisters!"

Riley instinctively hugged Rainbow back, still shocked about what had happened.

"Sisters," she whispered, staring at nothing in particular. She looked down into Rainbow's smiling face. Tears began to well in her eyes, and she wrapped her arms around her new pegasus sister, burying her face in her mane. With a muffled sob, Riley started to cry, letting it all out.

Sharing a glance with each other, Prism and Firefly get up off the couch, joining Riley and Rainbow in their hug.

"Welcome to the family, Riley."

They could all feel the relief in those words.

Stewing in his office, Admiral Ballard waited for Anderson to arrive. His fingers steepled together as he stared blindly at his door, he couldn't help but wonder where the Alliance had gone so wrong. Humanity was slipping, and it needed strong men and women to keep it from vanishing forever into the black hole of blind trust. There would be no more handing over the keys to the palace to any of the other races on his watch.

The intercom to his office crackled to life and his secretary spoke curtly. "Admiral, Commander Anderson is here."

"Send him in." Ballard smiled, standing. Anderson might have been able to get away with letting the moral fiber of the Alliance fall apart legally, but he would ensure that no such thing ever happened again on his watch.

A few moments passed, and then the door to his office opened. Anderson stepped in, each step crisp and professional, his uniform pressed and shoes shined. He came to attention with the ease that only a career soldier could ever pull off.

"At ease, Commander." Ballard turned away from Anderson. There was no need to grant the traitor a face to face conversation.

Anderson relaxed, ever so slightly, his eyes firmly watching Ballard.

"Do you know why I have called you here, Commander?" Ballard asked, staring out the window of his office to the Hudson River beyond.

Anderson managed to restrain himself from glaring at Ballard like he so badly wanted to, not that the Admiral would have been able to see. Still, it was the principle of the matter, and David knew that he was better than the Admiral. He would not give him the pleasure of stooping to his level. "I believe I do, sir."

"No." Ballard shook his head, smiling at the foolishness of the larger man. "No, I do not believe that you do."

Walking back to his desk, he left Anderson to stand uncomfortably in the doorway. Opening the top drawer of his desk he pulled out a single sealed envelope. He rolled it over in his hands a few times.

"I have your orders, Commander." Ballard looked at Anderson with a grin, one that ever so slightly spoke of malicious intent.

"Orders, sir?" Anderson had no clue what the Admiral was talking about. "I'm on leave."

"You're being recalled." Ballard felt a shiver of pleasure rush down his spine as he said that, watching as Anderson fought to keep from doing anything stupid.

The man was pissed off, but there was absolutely nothing that he could do about it.

"What are my orders, sir?" Anderson asked through clenched teeth.

Ballard held out the envelope for Anderson to take.

Taking a deep breath, Anderson stepped forward. He grabbed the envelope from the Admiral's hand with more force than was necessary, but he managed to keep the majority of his emotions under check. Breaking the seal, he pulled out the letter within.

As he read the letter, Anderson's eyes widened in disbelief. The orders were completely legitimate and he knew deep down that no matter how much he wanted to fight and rage, there was nothing he could about it. They were clearly a punishment, and he knew that all he could do was just stand there and take it. He had pissed off the Admiral, and he had to face the consequences.

"Is everything okay, Commander?" Ballard asked, his lips twitching upwards ever so slightly.

"Yes." Anderson resisted the urge to crumple up the paper and throw it at the man. "Sir."

Riley lay fast asleep on her bed, the exhaustion of such a long week having caught up with her only minutes after they had returned to the hotel room. The television was the only source of light in the room, and its sound was turned down to almost nothing. Rainbow was curled up next to her, watching her new big sister with a happy little smile on her muzzle.

Reaching a hoof out, Rainbow rested it comfortingly on Riley's shoulder.

"I have a sister," she whispered almost reverently to herself.

She smiled to herself, turning her attention back to watch the TV. Some kids show was playing, and the sound was down nearly too low for her to hear, but she was happy. It was the best day ever after all.

Rainbow's attention was instantly torn away from the TV when Riley whimpered in her sleep. Turning to look at her, Rainbow watched as Riley's face contorted in terror, a nightmare the filly guessed. The human girl started to squirm in her sleep.

"No... Please..." Her voice was quiet, but still loud enough for Rainbow to her. "Jane, Mommy, Dad, no! Get away!"

Rainbow frowned, unsure of what to do. She reached out a hoof to comfort her, but stopped, unsure of what she should do.

Deciding that it didn't matter, Rainbow put her hoof on Riley's shoulder, rubbing small circles gently on her, nuzzling up under her arm. "It's okay, Riley. It's just a nightmare. You're safe, and we're going to go home and we'll be the best sisters in all of Equestria."

Riley whimpered again, and Rainbow frowned. She didn't like that her new big sister was having a nightmare and there was nothing she could do about it.

"NO!" Riley awoke with a scream, scrambling out of bed. She fell to the floor with a loud thump, her eyes wide in panic as reality struggled to set in on her.

Rainbow crawled to the edge of the bed, peering over to see Riley shuddering uneasily on the floor, curled up in a ball.

"Riley?" She asked softly, watching the girl with concerned eyes.

Riley didn't answer, her mind having not fully made its back to consciousness yet.

"Riley, are you alright?" Rainbow asked again, louder this time.

Again there was no response from Riley.

The pegasus filly jumped down off of the bed with a quiet grunt and nuzzled up against Riley, looking at her worriedly. "Riley? It's okay, I'm here."

"R-Rainbow..." Riley finally noticed that Rainbow was trying to get her attention. "What's happening?"

"You were having a nightmare and you fell out of bed," Rainbow deadpanned.

"Oh." Riley glanced down at the floor.

"It's okay." Rainbow hugged her, sensing a wave of sadness about to hit her sister.

They sat together in silence, getting their comfort from each other.

It was going to be okay.

Chapter Thirteen - A New Beginning

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Chapter Thirteen - A New Beginning
July 4th, 2170

It had taken Riley several hours to get back to sleep after waking from her nightmare. Rainbow had fallen asleep on her own quickly enough after they had both climbed back up onto the bed, but Riley had stayed awake scratching the filly's ears as dark thoughts and memories filled her head. Daybreak couldn't have come soon enough.

Sometime in the night, Riley had managed to doze off, only to be roused by Firefly announcing that breakfast was ready. Rainbow eagerly scampered into the kitchen, Riley following at a much more sedate pace behind.

Firefly had laid the table out before coming to get her daughters, and Riley was slightly surprised to only see three plates. She looked to Firefly, who quickly got Riley's silent question and answered her.

"Prism and David went out to get our tickets booked for the flight back to Equestria."

With that little question out of the way, they sat down and began to eat. Rainbow dug in with a gusto most often saved for younger members of the opposite sex, noisily munching down on her stack of pancakes like there was no tomorrow. Syrup was quickly matted over the fur of her muzzle, but the filly paid no mind to that. There was breakfast to eaten after all.

Riley took her own, much more sedate pace. Her stomach felt ill and empty thoughts churned restlessly through her mind. She barely even tasted the food, going through the motions. The memories were stuck in her head, no matter what Rainbow might tell her. There was no way that she could run from herself, no matter how much she wanted to. The blood of her little sister Jane, who never put the cap back on the toothpaste and always broke into her room to steal her books, had stained her hands as she cradled the girl's dying body. The gurgling gasps for air and the mindless fear behind her blue eyes, Riley had watched her die, felt her heart beat its last.

She had watched as her father was torn to pieces, and her mother was shot dead. The blood of her whole family stained her, and Riley was beginning to accept that she might not ever be able to free herself from that. It was her fault, and no amount of lies would change that.

Firefly carefully watched Riley as her two girls ate breakfast. The teenager just stared down at her food, only bothering to take a bite whenever Rainbow happened to be loud enough to surprise her. She silently thanked her filly's graceless eating habits for once. Anything that could get through to the traumatized girl was Celestia sent as far as Firefly was concerned.

As she sat there, taking a long drink from her glass of orange juice, Firefly started to think of what would need to be done once they got back to Equestria. There was no question in her mind that they would have to find the best healers in all of Equestria to give Riley the chance of getting back to normal. A dark part of her mind wondered if it was even possible to be normal after seeing such horrors.

She simply didn't know.

Riley looked physically exhausted, but Firefly was glad to note that there was a lightness around her shoulders that had simply not been there the day before. She wondered if there was any relief in knowing that she didn't have to worry about being torn away once again from everything that she knew. All of the drama was over, and Riley could begin healing now, at least if she let herself.

Firefly frowned to herself, hiding it from Rainbow's far more attentive gaze with a bite of her much smaller stack of pancakes.

Rainbow hummed happily to herself as she munched on her eggs, happily clueless to her mother's worried thoughts and her new sisters own dark imaginings.

When the hotel door opened, the three all turned to look and watch as Prism and Anderson walked in. Rainbow waved happily as she polished off the rest of her pancakes.

Prism smiled and gave his wife a quick kiss as Anderson took one of the seats at the table between Riley and Rainbow. Prism eased himself onto one of the seats next to Firefly.

"We got the tickets," he told her, stealing her orange juice. He downed the rest of the glass and gave her a cheeky grin. "We're leaving for Equestria tomorrow."

"Good." Firefly nodded, giving Prism a slight glare for taking her juice. She didn't say anything further on the matter, instead turning to Riley. "That will give us some time."

Riley looked up at that statement in confusion.

"Time for what?" She asked, her voice quiet.

"We need to make sure that you have everything that you need before we head home," Firefly explained. It was something that she had thought through during the trial, and had brought up to Prism the night before.

"What do I need?" Riley cocked her head, having no clue what they were talking about.

"An entire wardrobe, for one." Prism nodded his head. It had been much to all of Equestria's surprise when they learned that it wasn't the norm to go about one's business naked. They certainly weren't going to force their human daughter to do the like. It wouldn't be proper. "We also need to get anything else that might not be available for humans on Equestria."

"Oh." Riley ducked her head, understanding. She hoped that the blush on her cheeks wasn't too obvious. "Alright."

"It sounds like a plan, then." Firefly pushed the rest of her breakfast in front of Prism, letting him finish off her leftovers. "We can do all the shopping today, after we finish breakfast."

"I am afraid that I won't be coming with you." Anderson gave a deep sigh, looking down at the table for a moment, a sad look crossing his face. He had already spoken to Prism about it when they had gone to secure passage back to Equestria.

"Ya' won't?" Rainbow looked up, paying no mind to the crumbs of pancake sticking to the syrup on her mouth. "Why not?"

"I've been ordered to meet up with the Third Fleet at Arcturus before it leaves for patrols." Anderson shook his head, watching Riley for any sort of reaction. He was disappointed when all she did was just stare down at her plate. "I'm taking charge of an N7 squad."

The enthusiasm that was present in the room moments before took a massive nose dive after Anderson's announcement, but Anderson was quick to try his best to see that it didn't sink any further.

"There's no need for any sadness," Anderson said. He knew that he needed to back out and give them a chance to move past everything."You are all going to have a lot on your plates without worrying about having me around."

"We like have you around though." Rainbow nudged him with a smile.

"And I like being here." Anderson smiled at Rainbow, reaching over to ruffle her mane. "But I've been away from my job for far too long now and it's time that I get back to it."

"Well..." Prism pushed his plate away, easing himself out of his seat. Trailing off, he glanced over at Firefly, who smiled at him encouragingly. "We should get going. I'm sure that we're going to end up spending the entire day out shopping."

"I'm ready." Firefly got out of her own seat.

"Me too!" Bouncing out of her own seat, Rainbow almost knocked her plate off the table with the furious flaps of her wings. She grinned, prancing over to her mother. She tried to nuzzle up against Firefly, but the older mare stopped her.

"You're a mess, Rainbow." Firefly laughed. Taking a napkin from the table, she wiped Rainbow's face clean.

"I'm ready," Riley murmured, standing up and ignoring her own plate.

Firefly glanced at Riley's plate and frowned. The girl had barely eaten anything. She didn't say anything though. There was no point to raising an argument at the moment. If it continued though, she would definitely confront her about it.

If you needed to buy anything from toilet-paper to body armor, Hyland-Sorah was the place to go, at least on Earth. Founded in the mid-21st century, Hyland-Sorah started its life as a weapons developer, but it quickly expanded outwards with the advent of ever cheapening space travel. It was only thanks to their veritable army of lawyers that Hyland-Sorah managed to keep its doors open despite cries of monopoly and ethics violations too long to list. The corporations super-store in New York was considered to be one of the must-see places of the entire city.

It was thanks to the suggestion of the hotel's front desk that the Rainbow Family even bothered to travel to the infamous store. Whatever they had been expecting, this store exceeded each and every one of them.

Taking up the entire first fifteen floors of the tallest skyscraper in New-York, the store was designed perfectly to entice customers to buy, buy, buy. It would be easier to list things that they did not sell, which mostly just included vehicles larger than an aircar.

The store existed solely for customers to get lost in its elegantly designed labryinths of aisles and show-rooms, with glimmering display cases and absolute top of the line products all placed ever so carefully to seperate consumers from their hard-earned money. You could purchase absolutely everything you needed with no reason to ever shop elsewhere. Food, clothing, electronics, and absolutely everything else, it was a true one stop shop.

The Rainbow family just stood in the entrance for a long moment, overwhelmed and unsure of where to even begin.

"Whoa..." Rainbow was the first to speak, her voice impressed beyond belief. "That's a whole lotta' stuff."

"Yeah..." Prism nodded, his eyes wide as he agreed with his daughter.

"Oh my Celestia." Firefly wanted badly to swear, but with her daughters present she kept mindful of her language.

"You can say that again," Prism murmured to her.

Riley was silent, but she was just as impressed as the rest of them. There was nothing like this back on Mindoir. There simply wasn't enough of a population to ever support a store of that size, and that was before...

Shutting her eyes, Riley stopped that line of thinking as quickly as she possibly could.

"I..." With wide-eyes, Firefly looked over the store. "I don't even know where to begin."

Anderson smiled, taking a moment to appreciate the simple naiveness of his companions. Equestria was a much more innocent place, without the greed and corruption that filled the larger corporations of Earth and humanity. He looked up at the directions hanging above the entrance and quickly gathered his bearings together, glad that he would be able to help. "It looks like the department for teenage girls is on the tenth floor."

"What?" Firefly looked up at the man in surprise and more than a little relief. "Where did you see that?"

Anderson pointed up at the signs and Firefly promptly face hoofed, a deep red blush shining through her fur.

"Right." She looked over sheepishly at Prism, who shrugged, just as overwhelmed as her. "We should have seen that."

"Yes." Prism nodded. "Yes we should have."

Anderson gestured towards an elevator that sat in the center of the building. "Come on. Let's go."

Stepping out of the elevator and onto the tenth floor, the Rainbow family steps was met with a barrage of visually stunning displays, with mannequins modeling the latest fashions, posed to draw as much attention to them as possible. Smiling clerks filled the entire floor, dressed in flattering skirts and tight blouses, all with bright smiles on their faces searching for customers to help part from their money.

Firefly took a deep breath, not used to shopping on this level. Clothing was really only worn on special occasions in Equestria, and they were sold tailor made by boutiques and small businesses. A mega-corp was so far outside of her frame of reference that the closest she could even compare it too was the factories that built the ships for the Royal Guard.

One of the clerks quickly spotted their unease nearly from the moment they stepped out of the elevator. Smiling and cheery, she bounced over to them, greeting them happily.

"Hello there, my name is Yara." She gave a little wave, meeting eyes with the three females of the group. "Is there anything that I could help you with?"

"Yes!" Firefly nearly shouted, sagging ever so slightly in relief, her wings shuffling against her sides. "We have no idea where to even start. This is all new to us."

"Well." Yara smiled even wider. "I can certainly help with that. What is it that you need?"

"We are looking to get her everything that she needs for at least for years away from any human stores." Firefly gestured at Riley. There were simply some things the girl would need that just weren't available on Equestria, and she wanted to be sure that Riley had everything she would need.

"Do you have a budget in mind?" Yara's eyes widened and she had to stop herself from squealing in excitement. Making commission on something like this would definitely make her month, if not her year.

"We would like to keep it reasonable, but we aren't looking to be stingy." Prism didn't want to imagine the bill for this little trip. Firefly was the one making the big bits in the family, and he would let her faint at the price. Being a Wonderbolt wasn't a low-paying job, but it didn't pay like being a ten-time Canterlot Times Bestseller.

"Excellent! Why don't we start over this way?" Yara's grin stretched almost painfully. She gestured towards the underwear section. Anderson and Prism blushed nearly as one, and the two of them glanced uneasily at each other.

"Fly, David and I will be back in an hour or so," Prism said, turning to his wife. "We're going to go look at... stuff."

"We'll see you in an hour. Go have fun." Firefly giggled at the two of them, waving them off.

Prism and Anderson rushed away as fast as they possibly could, but tried to look as smooth as possible while doing so, beating a hasty retreat to the elevator. Yara led the girls towards their destination, ignoring the mens uncomfortableness with the situation.

"Firefly," Riley murmured, shuffling closer to Firefly. She looked a whole lot more unsure with everything now that reality was settling in. "You and Prism don't have to spend anything on me. I'm sure we could just go to a thrift shop or something. Maybe we could get all of my stuff from home..."

"There's no need to go to a thrift store, Riley." Firefly nudged against Riley's hip comfortingly, smiling up at her daughter. She was sure to keep her shoulder against Riley's thigh, hoping that the physical contact would give the poor girl a sense of ease. "We have more than enough for this. Don't worry about it."

She nearly stopped though, looking up concerned at the girl when she realized something. "We can still get all of your stuff if you want too. It's not a problem."

Riley thinks about it for a moment, ducking her head before nodding. "Yeah... Yeah, I would like that."

It turned out that the section was all the way in the back of the store, and they still hadn't reached it yet. Rainbow's attention began to wander, and she wasn't really paying attention to her families conversation. She started bouncing along in Riley's footsteps, weaving back and forth to a tune that only she could hear.

Firefly thought for a moment, before deciding to reassure Riley. There was no need for the girl to think that she was being a burden for any of this.

"Riley, I think that you should know something about our family, but I don't want you to freak out."

Riley looked down at her, waiting for her to continue.

Firefly took a deep breath before charging forward.

"Our family doesn't hurt for bits." There she said it. Firefly didn't like to discuss with other ponies about her families financial situation, but Riley was family now. There was no reason to hide anything from her.

"Like a horse bit?" Riley raised an eyebrow, trying to figure out whether or not that was demeaning for Equestrians. She couldn't imagine that having a bit in their mouth wouldn't be a wonderful way to go about their lives.

"What?!" Firefly felt a jolt of electricity rush down her spine and she blushed. There was no way that she or Prism ever used bits like that. "No! Prism and I are..."

She shook her head as realization hit her and she understood where Riley was coming from. "Right, different meanings and things. On Equestria, our currency is called bits."

"I am an author, Riley, and I have had a fair bit of success." Firefly guided the conversation back on topic. "Please understand, Prism and I are not trying to buy your love. We just want to make sure that you have everything you could need. We want to take care of you."

Riley thought about it for a moment, but she still wasn't sure about it. Her family never struggled to get everything that they needed, but there was never much left over. The life of a colonist was one of living with the bare necessities and stretching every dollar as far as possible.

"Alright." She nodded her head, giving a small smile to Firefly. She wasn't fully comfortable with everything, but she had a feeling that would grow to get used to it. It would become normal to her.

"Alright." Firefly nodded with Riley, smiling at her compassionately.

"Now, do you know your size?" Yara asked, coming to a stop at the edge of the section.

"Hey, that lady is naked!" Rainbow exclaimed happily, pointing a hoof as she giggled loudly.

The other three all turned to see that Rainbow was short enough that she could see into the dressing rooms with no problems whatsoever. Firefly blushed, rushing over and pulling Rainbow away.

"Rainbow!" Firefly glanced around, noting thankfully that none of the other customers had heard the filly's exclamation. "Don't be rude."

"Mooommm!" Rainbow whined, trying to duck out from under mother's leg. She cocked her head in confusion. "What did I do? We're naked all the time. We're naked right now!"

"I'll explain it to you later." Firefly face hoofed, turning her daughter until she was facing away from the dressing rooms.

"Fine." Rainbow sulked, scowling as she dropped her head to the ground.

Neither was quite sure how, but Prism and Anderson had found themselves in the jewelry section of the store after beating their hasty retreat. They wandered through the glistening jewelry aisles, randomly looking over the outrageously expensive baubles and trinkets inside. They didn't care so much where they were so much as long as they didn't have to be around such awkwardness. Even as a pony, Prism got that there was just something strange about a father helping their daughter pick out her underwear.

Prism instead figured that now was the best time to talk to David.

"How are you doing with all of this, David?" Prism watched the man for his reactions.

David glanced at Prism, then looked back over at the display cases he was studying a moment before. He hummed in his throat for a moment as he gathered his thoughts together. "I wish that so many things could have been different, but I am happy that Riley is getting such a wonderful family out of all of this. You and Firefly are going to be amazing parents to her."

"Well, we do have Rainbow. She pretty much was all the training we ever needed." Prism laughed. Rainbow had caused more property damage than he had ever known that a single filly ever could.

"She certainly is a hand-full... hoof-full." Anderson laughed, looking back at Prism. He pushed down the sadness that struck at his heart. No wasn't the time for it.

"You have no idea." Prism was glad that the older she got, the more restrained Rainbow was becoming. "We're lucky that we have such a great insurance plan."

Glancing at one of the display cases, Prism stopped. A single bracelet caught his eye, and he felt drawn to it. He could never have imagined that he would have found such a thing in on Earth. Taking a closer look, he smiled. Raising a hoof, he waved over one of the clerks.

"What can I do for you?" The clerk only looked partially interested in the way that people who knew their pay-check depended on the spending habits of the customer.

"I want to buy that." Prism pointed at the bracelet.

"Certainly, sir." The clerk pulled it out from the display case, quickly going about packaging in a small jewelry box.

"Well, that's certainly a lucky coincidence." Anderson walked closer and gave a nod of approval at what he saw as the worker pulled the bracelet out of the case. "She's going to love it."

"I know." Prism was sure that Riley would appreciate it. "Why do think I bought it."

It only took the clerk a few moments to package the bracelet up and for Prism to make the purchase. Anderson was kind enough to place the small box in his jacket. The two of them wandered around for another hour or so before returning to meet up with the female side of the Rainbow family.

Much to their relief, they found them venturing forth into the rest of the clothing sections. Both let out a small sigh of relief and picked up their pace to rejoin them.

"Hi dad!" Rainbow perked up when she saw her father, waving at him. She galloped forward and rushed at him.

"How are you girls doing?" Prism gives her a quick hug, throwing a foreleg over her shoulder.. He turned to Firefly and Riley, noting that Riley was pushing a small hand-cart with her, stuffed with clothes.

"Well, we got all of the awkward parts over," Firefly grinned at them, her eyes twinkling with amusement. "We're just starting on the rest."

"Well, we can take a break for lunch and come back for the rest after." Prism was getting hungry, and if he was hungry, then he knew that Rainbow must be starving. He had learned that through trial and error and many long hours of keeping the filly from bothering her mother while she wrote.

"Lunch! I'm hungry." She got an intense look of concentration as she thought through what exactly she wanted to eat. It was an important matter after all, and she didn't want to make the wrong decision. Rainbow brightened when she figured it out. "I want spaghetti!"

"I think we should let Riley decide, Rainbow." Firefly was sure that at least until she was better, Rainbow's untempered enthusiasm would outshine any wishes that Riley might have. She was determined to make sure the girl at least got some of the things she enjoyed.

Eagerly, Rainbow looked over to Riley, giving her the widest, most vulnerable stare that she could muster. She even threw in a bit of a lip wobble, because she had learned that her father caved to nearly all requests with a little bit of lip wobble. Her mother, not so much.

"I like spaghetti." Riley shrugged, not really moved by Rainbow's display despite how adorable she thought it was. Still, she liked spaghetti, and it certainly sounded good.

"Yeah!" Rainbow leaped up, punching her hoof in the air in excitement. "Spaghetti!"

As he watched the family, Anderson felt an aching in his chest that he had never felt before. The pang of loneliness though, was much more familiar.

Chapter Fourteen - Leaving

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Chapter Fourteen - Leaving
July 5th, 2170

The feeling hadn't disappeared by the next morning, and Anderson ignored his tiredness from not getting any sleep the night before. He stood in the terminal of the New York Space-Port, one of only four on the entirety of the planet, and by far the largest and most opulent. He watched the Rainbow family as they checked all of their baggage. Being that there was quite a bit of it considering that they needed to get everything that they had bought for Riley to Equestria, it was taking quite a while and forming quite the line.

He frowned, sadness filling him, but he was sure to not let any of them see anything out of the ordinary whenever they turned to look at him, especially Riley and Rainbow. Neither of them needed to see him on the verge of falling apart.

He was dressed in his Alliance battle-dress uniform, a duffel bag with all of his clothes at his feet. He was heading to a different part of the terminal to check in for his flight to Arcturus Station and he was going to say his goodbyes before heading off. He had spent the entire night before trying to figure out what he wanted to say to Riley before he left, and he still wasn't sure on the details.

Anderson schooled his features when he noticed that the Rainbows had finished with checking in and were heading back on over to him, slow, and more than a little reluctant. He hoped that it was because they didn't want to see him go anymore than he actually wanted to himself.

"Well..." Prism trailed off, not quite sure on what he wanted to say. There was so much that they had to be thankful to David for, and he was never very good at expressing his own emotions. Instead, Prism sat back on his haunches in front of David, a small frown on his face. Firefly sat down next to him, leaning against his side for comfort.

"David, I cannot tell you how much I am thankful to Celestia that we met. You are a wonderful man." Thankfully, Firefly had a much easier time than Prism talking about her feelings.

"You're not such a bad mare yourself, Firefly." Anderson blushed, not used to having a lot of attention given to him.

"Thank you, David." Firefly smiled at him thankfully. She stepped forward, giving him a quick but warm hug that he returned wholeheartedly.

"You're welcome at our house anytime, David." Prism nodded to him, a manly sort of thing that he felt far more comfortable with. "Feel free to stop by whenever you can."

"I will definitely take you up on that, Prism." Anderson smiled to him, giving his own nod in return.

"Bye!" Rainbow waved at David, and she was so enthusiastic about it that her entire body wiggled from the effort.

"Come on, Rainbow." Prism looked down at Rainbow, smiling at her. "Let's let Riley have a moment with David."

"Ok!" Rainbow chirped, before brightening as a thought rushed through her head. "Hey, let's get pretzels!"

"We'll see, Rainbow." Prism tactfully sidestepped the suggestion as he, Rainbow, and Firefly all stepped away to give Riley and Anderson a chance to say their own goodbyes to each other.

They both just stood there awkwardly for a moment.

Wincing, David glanced away from Riley. What was holding him back from saying anything to the one girl that was the closest he would likely ever come to having a daughter? David shook his head, deciding that he would just tell her everything that was welling up inside him.

"Riley, I know that you never saw your life heading this way."

Riley looked down at her feet. David was conundrum to her. Her mother and father had never spoken about him to her, and she had had no idea that she had even had a god father. On the one hand, it was nice that someone was out there bothering to look out for her, but on the other, he had given her up to yet another family. She didn't know how she felt about any of this, and so instead she just kept silent.

"It's okay." David lowered his voice, wanting everything he was going to say to be for Riley alone to hear. "I want you to know, you can call me whenever you need to. I will do my best to always be there for you."

"You are growing into a beautiful woman, and this won't keep you down." He stepped forward, putting a hand under her chin to lift her head to look him in the eyes. "Don't be afraid to look to others for help. You can get through this, and we all want to help you."

"I am sorry that I can't be there for you like your parents wanted." He pulled her into a hug. He say anything about how he felt the shuddering of her body as she tried to hide her own tears. He would leave her the dignity she desperately needed. She needed to feel strong. Taking a step back, he puts his hands on both of her shoulders. "I can't give you a home, but I can do my best to make sure that your home is as safe as it possibly can be. I am going to visit you every chance that I can. I want to be a part of your life."

"I'd like that." Riley smiled up nervously at him, her voice just as quiet as his own.

They stood there for what felt like an eternity, not quite sure what to do. In their own ways, both of them were socially inept.

Seeing that they were floundering Prism started walk back towards them, Firefly and Rainbow following only a few steps behind.

"We should really get going." Prism's voice was regretful as he looked up at Anderson and Riley.

Anderson nodded, sadness filling his heart. He wasn't in tune enough with his emotions to know what to say and though his mind was shouting angrily at him, he couldn't find it in himself to say anything.

Firefly stepped forward, pushing up on her hind hooves to hug David, hoping that all of the words he would never be able to hear were coming through. She was happy to find that he hugged back.

"Thank you," Firefly murmured to him. She dropped back down to all four of her hooves, nuzzling up against Riley's thigh. Absent-mindedly, Riley tangled her fingers through her mother's bright blue mane.

Turning, the Rainbow family walked away. Anderson couldn't do anything but watch them go, feeling more helpless and powerless than he ever had before. Riley waved at him over her shoulder before they disappeared out of his sight into the crowds.

Anderson stood there for who knows how long after they were gone, unsure of what to do with himself and what to do with his future.

Ethan stood outside at the base of an absolutely mind-boggingly tall skyscraper, the home to the headquarters of Terra Firma. He watched the entrance from across the street, sitting on a bench between a pair of street lamps. He was dressed in as normal clothes as any human could possibly get, with a pair of glasses over a set of prosthetics to hide his identity from any camera that might have been fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of him.

Every so often, he would calmly watch as someone walked out of the skyscraper and he would follow them with his gaze, his brilliant mind taking note of every important detail. His glasses, a marvel of technology, almost instantly identified and catalogued the person and give him all of the information by projecting it on the lenses.

Ethan sat on that bench for hours, gathering his bearings and making his plan. When he finally stood up, Ethan stretched with a groan as his limbs cracked, a deliciously wonderful feeling after so long motionless. Immediately after, he started walking in the opposite direction of the sky-scraper. There were too many forms of security that would have him pegged if he broke in at the moment. Best to utilize one of the other entrances he had scouted out.

Twenty minutes later, Ethan found himself jogging down into the subway system of New York. It had been upgraded and changed like everything else since the twenty-first century, and it was a clean, welcoming place compared to the many pictures that he had seen from the mid-twenty-first century.

Walking to the other end of the platform, Ethan held himself confidently, holding up a small card to the card reader at the door. The card was a wonder of Cerberus engineering full of extremely advanced technology, and it tore through all of the protections and systems of the door and slaved it to its will with almost contemptuous ease.

With a happy ding, the door slid open and Ethan stepped inside.

Ethan entered the back room with a quick glance to ensure that he was alone. He walked past rows of shelves covered in machines that cleaned the subway at night, and more cleaning supplies than he ever wanted to see again. He ignored all of them, walking to a single door in the back of the room. It was labeled simply: Tunnel Access.

Ethan enters the beginning of the largest tunnel system in the world. It spreads out for miles and miles, under every building. It was built as an emergency system, allowing service men and women to quickly and efficiently get to anywhere in the city and its outlying areas as quickly as possible. The city had learned its mistake after the destruction of over a third of the city during World War III.

His glasses projected the map of the entire sub-system directly into his eye, guiding him to directly where he needs to go.

Calmly, he walked through the tunnels, his special card smashing him through every security checkpoint with absolutely no muss or fuss. No one physically guarded the system, trusting the machines to do it for them.

That was a mistake.

Ethan certainly wouldn't be letting them know about the issue after he was done.

He came to a stop at a corner, edging back against the wall. Taking a small black ball from his pocket, he knelt down and rolled the ball around the corner. Spinning under its own power, the ball found the perfect position in the room.

A second later, and a small whoomp of electricity sounded out, a powerful EMP. Ethan sauntered out from around the corner. All of the devices had been knocked out, and a large set of double doors sat underneath two cameras that died in the blast.

Stepping inside, Ethan shut the doors, forcing them closed behind him. A normal human wouldn't have been able to do that. The doors were eight inches thick, built from starship hull grade materials, with an intricate lock system designed with multiple redundancies, but Ethan wasn't exactly a normal human. The door was never designed to repel an incursion. It was built to allow the city to allow near instant access anywhere, and to lock others off if the need ever came.

"Right then, let's get started," Ethan muttered.

He strode confidently into the lowest level of the skyscraper, heading for the elevator.

Precisely forty seconds later (Ethan timed it) the elevator doors opened onto the floor that Terra Firma had rented for over a decade. Ethan stepped out calmly, but if you looked hard enough, he was ready for a fight.

He took a moment to look around at the desks and offices. They were empty, no one there, and he smiled. There was no one there to stop him, child's play.

He stood just past the elevator doors, looking around at the offices lining the edges of the room. He read all of the titles until he landed upon Inez Simmon's name written on the door that promised to lead to the largest office on the floor. The light was on, which he could see through the thin and tall frosted window just to the right of the door.

"Okay." Ethan nodded to himself. With long strides, he walked forward. He reached out for the door, expecting it to be locked.

He snorted to himself and shook his head when it opened without a problem.

Looking down, Ethan saw that the lock had been broken off. He looked inside of the office to find that it was absolutely trashed. Whoever had been there before him was extremely sloppy and obviously did not know how to search properly for anything. Amateurs. He snorted again.

"Huh..." He took a step inside, resting his hands on his hips.

"What are you doing?"

Ethan turned, unconcerned to find Michael Basinger standing behind him. He had taken the time to memorize all the faces of the office, and he recognized Simmon's right hand man with absolutely no difficulty. Neither of them knew each other. Michael looked tired, beaten down, like he had the weight of the galaxy sitting on his shoulders. For all that Ethan knew, he very well might have.

"Where is Inez Simmons?" Ethan's thoughts and quick assessment of Michael took only a moment, and he was sure that the man didn't even notice it.

"Don't know." Michael shrugged. He looked despondent and Ethan was able to read him like an open book. An open book that happened to be written in large, child friendly font.

"Who does?" Ethan asked softly, already working out the best way to twist the man to his own purposes.

"I don't know." Michael just shook his head, confused about the happenings of the past week. "No one does. He's disappeared."

"When?" He could see that the man was already trusting him, and god was that sad. This man had absolutely no spine. He probably didn't even know that he was being manipulated.

"Right after the trial." Michael leaned against the doorway, looking at the room with dead eyes.

"Hmmm..." Ethan turned to look at the office, frowning. "Who did this?"

"I don't know," Michael shrugged, taking a deep breath. "But the alarms started going off two hours ago."

"Cerberus, I think." Michael meets Ethan's eyes.

Ethan didn't make a single reaction to the answer.

Michael realized something, looking at Ethan with new eyes. "Who did you say you are, exactly?"

"No one you need to know." Ethan simply turned and walked out of the headquarters.

They had been traveling for four days so far, but already Riley knew that she didn't like it. Everyone on the ship, when she and the rest of her family got on, seemed like they all knew who she was. They all stared at her like she was a piece of meat, a fascinating oddity that was simply there for their amusement.

Riley had kept as much to her room as possible since then. She had made liberal use of the room service so she didn't have to head off to the buffet and be stared at even more.

The door slammed open, but Riley barely even startled. It was simply the way that her new sister entered the room.

Rainbow scampered over the floor, jumping up onto Riley's bed. With a giggle, she poked Riley with her hooves. With a groan, Riley rolled over to look at her as the little filly sat back on her haunches, grinning.

"What?" Riley couldn't help but give a tired grin at the excitement that bubbled off Rainbow.

Rainbow bounced a little on the bed, her wings fluttering happily, lifting her up off the ground every few moments. "I want to show you something!"

"What?" Riley raised an eyebrow.

"It's cool." Rainbow promised, her voice pitching up at the end.

Riley didn't look convinced, a single eyebrow raising in confusion.

"Come on," Rainbow pleaded, cocking her head. "You'll like it. I promise."

Riley still didn't look convinced, but Rainbow's wide pleading eyes were certainly changing that around.

Riley finally sat up with a groan. Her voice reluctant, she gave a quick nod. "Alright."

"Sweet!" Rainbow punched a hoof into the air, her wings flapping furiously as she bounced off the bed and back onto the floor. Rainbow rushed to the door, smiling excitedly about whatever it was that she wanted to show Riley. Flapping her wings, Rainbow grabbed the handle in her mouth and opened the door. "Come on!"

Riley rolled over and off the door, following her little sister.

Riley hesitated for just a moment in the doorway, glancing up and down the hall. It was brightly lit and warmly decorated, to be as welcoming as possible. Riley wanted nothing else than to crawl back into her bed and under her covers. Instead, she took a deep breath and stepped out of the room.

"Where are we going?" Riley asked after Rainbow, who she had to struggle to keep up with.

Rainbow looked back and up at Riley, grinning. "Trust me! It's going to be awesome."

Riley watched Rainbow carefully, unsure, but willing to trust her. While impulsive, the filly was incredibly sweet and loyal. She wouldn't bring harm to her if she could do anything at all to help it.

"Alright, Rainbow." Riley sighed, keeping careful watch on the filly's brightly colored tail as she darted around other passengers.

Rainbow led her to an elevator, and happily pressed the down button before they waited patiently for it to arrive. Rainbow bounced back and forth on her hooves, a little excited dance that made Riley giggle in amusement.

The elevator door opened, and Riley was relieved to see that it was empty. Rainbow darted inside, while Riley followed at a much more sedate pace.

Rainbow got up on her back hooves with a little grunt and pressed a button on the large row of buttons before flashing a grin at Riley.

The elevator ride was thankfully short, and after it opened Rainbow led Riley down a hall and around a corner. She held up a hoof to stop Riley, peeking around the corner. The coast was clear, and Rainbow waved Riley forward. "Come on!"

Rainbow scampered around the corner and Riley followed after her, surprised to find that there was only a staff entrance at the end of the hall and Rainbow was leading her right towards it.

"Where exactly are you taking me, Rainbow?" Riley looked at her sister curiously, wondering what exactly what the little pegasus had been getting up to whenever she disappeared from the room.

"Trust me." Rainbow reached up and opened the staff door, looking back at Riley with a massive grin. "We'll be fine."

The door had been left unlocked, and they had no problem getting inside.

The staff hallways of the starship were nowhere near as nice as the rest of the ship, which was designed for passengers of a certain status. The innards of the ship were just laid bare for easy access, pipes and wires going everywhere. Easy to repair and even easier to replace.

Rainbow ignored all of that, leading Riley down the hallway confidently.

"What exactly have you been getting up to the past few days?" Riley's voice was incredulous, amused at whatever she had been getting up to.

"Explorin' and stuff." Rainbow shrugged.

"I can see that." Riley laughed quietly, a small half-grin on her face. "You've explored everything, haven't you?"

"Yep!" Was Rainbow's simple response.

The two entered a large crew relaxation room, empty luckily. It was a place where crew-members could relax off duty, with more than enough couches and TVs to seat a hundred people. As it stood, the room got very little use thanks to the work schedules of the crew.

Rainbow ignored all of that. She walked toward the large blank wall opposite the door in the room.

Standing next to a small panel, Rainbow turned and grinned at Riley. "Check this out!"

She hit the button.

Riley stepped back a little in surprise as massive shutters began sliding up outside the ship. It's a window, and it looked out over the entirety of space.

Riley's jaw dropped in awe, and Rainbow sauntered up to her, incredibly proud of herself. "Momma told me that we're going faster than any Wonderbolt has ever flown."

Riley walked forward, putting a hand up against the window. "It's amazing..."

"I know, right!" Rainbow exclaimed. She trotted up to Riley, leaning against her leg. They just sat there together for awhile.

After quite a few minutes had passed, Riley eased herself down cross-legged, wrapping her arms around Rainbow. Tears welled in her eyes, but they didn't fall.

"Thanks, Rainbow," she whispered.

"Just looking' out for my big sister." Rainbow smiled happily.

The entire Rainbow family sat around a dining table situated in a cozy corner of the large dining hall, away from most of the prying eyes of the other diners in the room. They had already ordered their food and were munching on the rather wonderful bread that had been provided for them.

"Riley," Firefly spoke up after swallowing the last of her roll. "There are some things that we thought we should tell you about before we get home."

"Like what?" Riley asked, curiosity filling her eyes.

"Equestria is different from anything that you have ever experienced, and we just want you to be prepared." Prism laughed a little as he said it. He was glad that Firefly had had the foresight and than the idea to let Riley know everything about what she was going to be experiencing.

"Okay..." Riley took a bite of her bread, glancing down at her plate.

"You've had enough, Dashie." Firefly reached a hoof over to stop Rainbow from grabbing a fourth piece of bread. "Wait for dinner."

Rainbow crossed her forelegs over her chest, sulking a little. Firefly ignored that and turned back to Riley, ready to explain and ease her into the changes that her life might end up going through living in Equestria.

"Equestira is a principality, ruled over by the sister Princesses, Celestia and Luna," Firefly explained. "They have ruled our world for thousands of years, and have lived even longer than that."

Riley listened carefully, having heard some of this before in school, but she knew that it was going to be more truthful and accurate from who was telling her, a resident and citizen of Equestria itself.

"There is almost no major crime, but our society is still in the middle of the upheavel from First Contact." Prism snorted at that. It was definitely an understatement. "We are still in the process of integrating technolgy into our day to day lives."

"That is the easy stuff." Firefly knew that they would have more time to speak in depth on the matters, but for now a simple explanation would suffice. "You won't run into any trouble if you don't do anything that would be illegal on Earth."

They all paused in their conversation as their waiter brought them their first course, salads. They thanked the waiter, and waited to resume talking after she was gone.

"Aside from the Asari, Equestria is the only planet to where cross-species relationships are normal." Equestrian relationships were possibly the largest sticking point that Firefly had seen in acclimating Riley to her new world.

"There is one thing we need to get out of the way," Prism said.

Firefly glanced at Prism worriedly, but didn't stop him. They did need to bring the matter up before Riley experienced it first hand with no prior knowledge.

"Herds are a common type of relationship on Equestria," Prism continued. "It comes from how we evolved."

"Herds?" Riley looked confused, not quite understanding the meaning of the word in the context that Prism was using it.

"A herd is a polygamous relationship." Firefly stepped in, taking over from her husband. "It stemmed from the large gender inequality that crosses all three of the pony races. It isn't as common nowadays, but they are common enough that we thought we should bring it up before you get surprised."

Riley wasn't quite sure what to make of that, her eyes widening, but she didn't have a strong opinion about it one way or another. She had bigger problems in her life.

"Have you learned about celestial mechanics and the workings of solar systems?" Prism noticed and thankfully hurried the conversation along. They would approach the matter again when it was a better time, when Riley was ready for it. At least she knew about it. There would be no great surprises for her.

"Yeah." Riley nodded, not quite sure what he was talking about.

"Forget all of that." Prism murmured. He thought about that for a second than shook his head. "No. Don't forget it. Just disregard it when you're on Equestria."

"Why?" Riley cocked her head in confusion.

"Princess Celestia and Princess Luna control the orbit of the sun and moon." Firefly had dabbled in astronomy once she learned the truth about the galaxy. "Equestria itself is the center of our star system, a bit of a misnomer, but it is widely understood by all when the topic is brought up."

"That's weird..." Riley blinked. She remembered that she'd heard that before and can't believe that she ever actually forgot about it. She had just dismissed it as unimportant at the time.

"Imagine how we all felt!" Prism laughed. "Learning that everything we knew about the universe to be an absolute anomaly."

"Excuse me."

The table turned nearly as one, noticing that an unfamiliar waiter was standing nervously nearby. She shuffled her feet and did her best to meet eyes with Firefly and Prism.

"I just wanted to apologize," the waiter said softly. "Not all of us are like Terra Firma. I'm really happy to see that everything went alright. Quite a few of us on this ship feel the same. You are a good family."

The waiter bowed her head thankfully before practically running away. The Rainbow family all glanced at each other before shrugging and continuing on with their meal.

After a long moment, Prism coughed quietly. He looked over at Firefly, who smiled encouragingly at him before steeling himself and looking at Riley.

"Riley," he said, his voice wavering for just a moment before it firmed up. "I have something to give to you."

Riley looked up at him in confusion. "What?"

Lifting his wing, Prism pulled the box out from where he had kept it for the entire night. "Here." He held it out to her on the tip of his wing. "Open it."

Riley took the box gently, looking at him and then Firefly. They both looked back at her with warm eyes. Looking down, she opened it and gasped at what she found inside. Looking back up, she shook her head.

"It's too much," she said, her voice wavering as all of her emotions threatened to crash down on her.

"No." Prism shook his head with a smile. "I think it fits. It shows that you're now a part of our family. Humans might not get cutie marks, but I'm sure that if you were a pony, you would certainly get that one."

Looking back down, Riley pulled the bracelet out of the box, holding it up to look at in the light. "It's beautiful."

It was. The bracelet had been an exceedingly lucky thing to find, especially in a human store. With a simple celtic weave in silver, with lightning bolts in yellow, red, and blue coming from a white cloud at equal distances inlaid into the metal, it was striking how similar the symbols were to Prism's and Rainbow's cutie marks. She tried her best to hold back the tears welling in her eyes.

"Thank you," she whispered, her voice cracking. "Thank you."

"You're a part of our family now, Riley. Never forget that." Firefly leaned into Riley's side, nuzzling against her arm. "We love you, Riley."

"I..." Riley put the bracelet on with infinite meaning. "I love you too."

Chapter Fifteen - Canterlot House

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Chapter Fifteen - Canterlot House
Noble District, Canterlot, Equestria
July 6th, 2170

Twilight Velvet's favorite thing in the world was to cook. It was what she was born to do, and though her cutie mark was rather vague on the whole thing, it was the one thing that she could do above all else. It wasn't until years later, after meeting Night-Light, that she realized how beautifully her cutie mark matched his crescent moon. The stars and the moon. It was all very romantic to her mind.

Now a full grown mare with children and a life of her own, Velvet spent that vast majority of her time cooking, either at her award winning restaurant or for her small little family in her spare time. She loved to do it. She loved that moment when she would see ponies' eyes light up at the vibrant flavors and textures she loved to experiment with. It meant everything to her. Dancing around her kitchen, she was poetry in motion as she orchestrated a clutter of pots, pans, and ingredients with her magic as she kept careful watch over the meal.

Standing in front of the stove, she smiled as she listened to the quiet conversation between her husband and her son at the table behind her. She was only partly paying attention to them, humming to herself as she stirred the eggs.

"Dad, after school I'm going out with some friends," Shining said. His voice still held that awkward edge of a teenage colt, not quite sure if it wanted to sound like an adult or a foal. "I won't be home for dinner."

"That sounds fine." Night-Light answered. He was busy reading the morning paper. He normally couldn't be found awake at such an early hour thanks to his job at the observatory but he had been recovering from small cold and had decided to just take the week off. "It should be a quiet night anyway."

"We could go on a date tonight, Velvet." He caught Velvet's gaze, smiling hopefully at her.

"That sounds wonderful, dear." Velvet smiled back at him, giving him a wink and blowing him a kiss.

"Just make sure you're home tomorrow night." Velvet turned her attention to Shining Armor. "You know how much Twilight loves to spend time with you."

"I was already planning on it." Shining Armor nodded. He couldn't help but grin at the though of his little sister's excitement. The filly was so easily pleased. No matter how little time had passed since they had last seen each other, she was always overjoyed to see her big brother best friend forever (BBBFF she had named it).

"Mom, dad-" Shining Armor took a deep breath. He had been practicing the speech in his head for months, had written it down and rewritten it more times than could count. The moment had to be perfect. After all, it wasn't everyday that a son revealed they were dating royalty. He wanted the meeting to go perfectly.

A loud crash from outside interrupted him, drawing everypony's attention away. Shining let the conversation die. He had waited a long time, what was a little more?

"What was that?" Night-Light set down his paper, getting up from the table to peer out the kitchen window.

Joining her husband in looking out the window, Velvet felt her eyes widen in surprise. "It looks like we're finally going to get some neighbors!"

Shining Armor got up out of his chair, going to see. Together, they all peered through the kitchen window to the house next door. Moving stallions were unpacking boxes from several large Pegasus drawn cart, all wearing vests with logos from Cloudsdale.

"I'm going to go talk to them." Velvet quickly set out all of the food on plates before turning to Night-Light. "I'll be right back."

Before either of her two boys could respond, Velvet had already left the kitchen. Night-Light and Shining Armor turned to each other, shrugged, then turned and dug into their food with a gusto as only stallions could.

Velvet trotted out of her house and over to the moving ponies next door. Leaning over the face, she smiled up to a pegasus stallion floating nearby who looked like he was in charge of directing the organized chaos.

"Excuse me, sir," Velvet said. She waved.

"Yes, ma'am?" The stallion looked over at her, bored but not unkind. "Is there something I can help you with?"

"Has somepony purchased that house?" Velvet gestured at the house, hopeful. The house next door had laid empty since before she and Night-Light had purchased their own home.

The stallion looked at her blankly for a moment before rolling his eyes. "Obviously."

"Right, stupid question." Velvet blushed, scuffing a hoof against the ground. "Do you have any idea who is moving in?"

"We got the job from the Wonderbolts." The stallions sighed, recognizing that Velvet was not going to be going away until she got her answers from him. Reaching back into his saddlebag with his mouth, he pulled out his work orders and offered it for Velvet to read. When he spoke, it was muffled by the papers. "Don't know anymore than that. They told us to pack up a house and move it here."

Velvet took the papers with her magic. She quickly read it over, her eyes widening in surprise when she saw the Seal of the Royal Sisters at the bottom of the page. Everyone on Equestria would recognize it immediately, the insignia of the sun and the moon. Next to it on the right was the Seal of the Wonderbolts.

"This didn't come from the Wonderbolts!" She looks up at the stallion in surprise. "It's from the Royal Family!"

"It's signed by Commander Easyglider." The stallion raised an eyebrow, pointing at the signature.

"That's the seal of the Royal Sisters." She pointed at the Royal Seal. Whoever was moving in was somepony important, and she couldn't even begin to fathom whom it might be.

"Don't know what to tell you, ma'am." The stallion shrugged.

He took the letter back, stuffing it back into his saddle-bags. "And I don't really care."

"Careful with those boxes!" He started shouting at his workers, turning away from Velvet like she had never even come up to talk with him. "If anything is broken, it's coming out of your paychecks!"

Velvet, ignored by all of the moving stallions, turned and walked back into her house.

Night-Light and Shining Armor both looked up as Velvet walked back into the kitchen, looking more than a little annoyed. They glanced at each other before Night-Light started talking.

"So..." Night-Light took a bite of his breakfast. "Who are our new neighbors?"

"They don't know." Velvet shrugged. "They were just told to move everything in, on the order of the Royal Family."

"Really?" Night-Light's eyes widened in surprise. "Huh... I wonder who could be moving in?"

He pondered over the idea of finally having neighbors. He thought about it for a moment, then another moment, then gave a mental shrug and decided that he would know when he knew.

Velvet sat down at the kitchen table, lifting her fork with her magic and started to eat. As she chewed, she pondered the possible futures that new neighbors could bring. She gasped suddenly, her eyes widening excitedly.

"Oh! Oh!" Velvet grabbed Night-Light with her forehooves and shook him so hard that he spilled his eggs onto the floor. "Night-Light, what if they have a little colt?"

"And what if he likes Twilight?" She leaned forward, just letting her imagination wander with all of the possibilities. "And what if Twilight likes him? He could be our future son in law!"

Night-Light and Shining glance at each other, and Shining shrugs, not really caring.

"Well, that might be thinking a little too far ahead, but I do think it would be wonderful if our neighbors had a foal that Twilight could play with. Celestia knows she could use a friend." Night-Light hoped that his wife was right. Twilight spent very little time with foal's her own age, with most of her time spent with her muzzle buried deep in a book.

"Oh!" Velvet clapped her hooves, a great idea striking her. "We'll invite them to dinner, welcome them to Canterlot!"

"Sounds like a plan." Night-Light smiled encouragingly at his wife.

"I'm heading out." Shinign put his plate in the kitchen sink before turning to walk out of the house. "I'll be home sometime later tonight."

The Rainbow family all sat close together in a corner of the observation room. They were arrayed around Riley providing as much of emotional and physical barrier between her and the rest of the people present in the room that they could.

Rainbow Dash sat at Riley's knees, rocking back and forth as she looked eagerly around the room, taking everything in. There were quite a few Ponies, two Gryphons, a Minotaur, and an assortment of Asari, Turians, Salarians, and Humans. Waiters mingled around the room, unicorns all of them, offering champagne and hors d'oeuvres to all of them.

Everyone was in the forward viewing room for one thing and one thing only, to view their approach and entrance through the Equestrian Sphere.

"I watched a movie in school about Chelsea before we left!" Rainbow wiggled in excitement, talking a mile a minute.

Firefly pats Rainbow on the head, having had to listen to her retell the story more than a few times by now.

"Who..." Riley leaned over to ask Prism and Firefly, her voice hushed. "Who's Chelsea?"

"Chelsea Hall." Prism answered almost without thinking. "She's something of a hero to Equestrian. If it weren't for her, we'd still be frozen in time with no idea that the rest of the galaxy was passing us by."

"She found the sphere and her arrival jump started the process of waking us up." Firefly explained, thinking back to that night that felt so long ago. Unfreezing, waking up, it didn't matter what you called it, it was still something that stuck with you.

"Waking you up?" Riley didn't know what to make of that.

Prism and Firefly shared a look. They had simply assumed that the story of the discovery of Equestria was known across the galaxy, that it was taught in every school on every world.

"How much do you know about Equestria's history, Riley?" Prism asked, stretching his wing under the bandages as an itch struck him.

"Nothing." Riley shrugged, smiling apologetically.

"A long time ago--" Firefly started to narrate, smiling expectantly down at Rainbow.

Rainbow giggled, recognizing the line instantly. "Star Wars!" She chirped, jumping up onto her back hooves and miming that she was waving around a lightsaber.

"Approximately two million years ago from what the scientists are able to tell, Equestria and its entire star system was encased in a Dyson sphere without us knowing. It froze time on the inside of the sphere." Firefly was a little surprised that she remembered so many details. She hadn't actually done any further studying beyond what anypony else had done in the first few years. She had thought that most of the details had wandered from her mind a long time ago.

"If you want to get technical about it," Prism said. He grinned, bragging. "Firefly and I are older than everyone else on this ship combined. Two million years frozen in a sphere will do that to a pony."

Riley said nothing. She had no idea what to even think about that. Her new parents combined were four million years old.

"If Chelsea hadn't come along, well..." Firefly caught Riley's stunned expression. "We wouldn't be here."

"Equestria needs me!" Rainbow puffed out her chest, and unknowingly her cheeks as well. She was quoting her favorite movie, at least her favorite since she had just watched it in class. "Only I can wake them from their slumber!"

"It was really just a happy coincidence." Firefly giggled, leaning closer to Rainbow to tell her the truth. "If she hadn't miscalculated her jump, she would have never found us."

"Look!" Prism pointed out the viewing window with his hoof. "You can see it coming up now."

Nearly as one, everyone in the room turned their attention to the view screen. A massive dark shape blotted out the stars beyond, nearly invisible even in the black of space. Riley wasn't sure what to make of it. She couldn't see anything of the sphere itself.

Silently, the window lit up. Dotted along the surface of the ship's hull were thousands of sensors, looking out into the void and taking the hard to see and enhancing it for everyone to see. The surface of the Dyson Sphere lit up and showing the intricate engravings that covered every inch of its surface. Despite its name, it wasn't spherical, instead more of an oblong shape.

Beyond everything else though, the Equestrian Sphere was breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

"Oh my god..." Riley's nervousness fell away as she stared at hat would become her new home.

"Princess Celestia, when she learned of the sphere trapping us all inside, took her sun and smashed through it. She freed us." Firefly leaned forward, whispering what they were all seeing so Riley could understand. "Chelsea contacted her ship and a month later, returned with Alliance diplomats and support."

"You were there?" Riley asked.

"Yeah." Firefly nodded, understanding what Riley actually meant. "I saw her once after we all started waking up. The Princesses brought her to Cloudsdale to help the process."

"What do you mean still waking?" Riley felt the beginning of a headache. Equestrian history was turning out to be a whole lot more complicated than she thought.

"It wasn't instantaneous." The feeling of waking up, parts of her body still frozen had given Firefly nightmares for years. "Princess Celestia and Princess Luna where the first awake, and it spread out from there, surprisingly slowly though. It's theorized that whoever put the sphere there in the first place knew how hard it would be upon awakening. They think that the slow wake up spreading out was intentional, to help us through the wakening."

Outside the ship, the sphere grew ever closer as they rocketed towards at speeds not even the fastest pegasus could match. The horizon disappeared as the ship was gulfed by the ancient artifact.

Through the window, Riley looked on in amazement at the absolutely massive hole that lay before them. Even flying directly towards it head on and from thousands of miles away, she could still the edge of the hole easily.

Seemingly noticing her interest, the window shifted into two separate displays. One of them showed the same view that the entire window had moments before. The other showed an enlarged and enhanced view of the hole. It was almost perfectly round, and its edges had been seared shut.

Princess Celestia took the sun and broke the sphere. That thought boggled Riley's mind. She had been raised by spacers and she understood just a little bit of the power that was needed to move a heavenly body. That there was a single being capable of doing so, much less two, was so far beyond her comprehension that she didn't even know how to take it.

It took nearly twelve minutes after the window had split for the ship to even make it to the hole. It was during that time that Riley began to understand just how large it really was. A sun had made that hole, and it showed.

The ship passed through, and it took nearly a minute to pass through thickness of the sphere itself.

The wonder of the Equestrian Sphere had left Riley breathless, but afterwards she had returned back to her room with Rainbow. It was still a six hour flight to Equestria itself. There had been enough time for a dinner and a short show before the ship even began to slow for entry into Equestria's atmosphere.

Departing had taken longer than they had expected, but Prism and Firefly were both happy to find that nopony had leaked the news of their arrival to the press. A closed pegasus drawn carriage was waiting for them discretely at the entrance of the space-port, pulled by members of the Royal Guard without their regalia. The Princesses were doing everything to ensure that they enjoyed their privacy for as long as possible. Prism appreciated that more than he would ever be able to say.

"How does it..." Riley pointed at the carriage, her whole body radiating a nervous disbelief.

"Fly?" Firefly finished for her. "It's magic."

Riley looked at her like she was crazy, but when Firefly didn't make any move to show she was joking, she looked back at the carriage with far more worry than she had a few moments ago. "Magic... That's... comforting."

The carriage ride took almost half an hour, and Riley hated every moment of it. Knowing that the only thing keeping her from plummeting to her death were four stallions and a wooden carriage made her want to rethink religion. If there was a god, if he kept her alive she would do whatever he/she/it/they wanted.

The moment that the carriage landed, Riley practically threw herself to the ground and kissed it in relief. A moment later, the rest of her family followed after her. Prism gave his thanks to the stallions, who only gave a respectful nod in reply before taking off and leaving the family alone.

Looking up from the ground, Riley saw her new home for the first time.

"It's beautiful." Firefly murmured, mirroring the silent thoughts of the rest of her family.

"It's certainly..." Prism walked up to her, putting his good wing over her back. She leaned into his side, and Prism felt a warmth in his heart. "Impressive."

Prism was right about that. When Celestia had said that she would take care of them, they had no clue that she would give them a mansion. Well, not a mansion Prism acceded, but it was certainly a step up from their house in Cloudsdale. Several steps, actually. Almost a whole flight of stairs.

The house itself was two stories tall, with the front door directly in the middle. Eight large windows sat in the walls of both floors, looking out over the quiet street beyond. Tall, spiraling pillars supported a large balcony that also served as the roof of a wrap-around patio. Built from white stone, it very much looked like it would be naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It was a beautiful house, much more than Prism or Firefly had been expecting.

Prism looked up and down the street, something niggling him at the back of his mind. He recognized something about the houses, and it was just on the tip of his tongue.

He realized it with what felt like a jolt of lightning running down his spine. Celestia had given them a home in a district of Lords.

"We're certainly keeping some impressive company." Prism eyed the sigils above the doors of each house, all of them impressive in their own right. Together, it gave a great impact.

"Let's go look inside!" Rainbow was practically vibrating with excitement, her eyes wide and a massive grin on her face. She rushed up to the door and looked back at her family impatiently. "Come on! What are you waiting for?"

Firefly and Prism laughed quietly, following after Rainbow. Riley was still for a moment before following after them. She felt numb, so much rushing at her almost to fast to process.

The door proved to be unlocked, and Prism easily opened the door. The lights were already on inside, and they were all quick to see that while the outside was impressive, the inside was better. The floor of the entrance hall was lightly stained wood, leading off into what looked like a living room on the right and a library on the left, both whose floors were plushly carpeted.

Much to their surprise, instead of finding piles of boxes waiting for them to unpack, they found all of their stuff had already been set up and arranged. Just from a first glance of the front hall, neither Firefly or Prism could see any changes they would want to make. In fact, the house looked like it had been their home for years and the only physical sign they could find that that wasn't the case was the smell of fresh paint still lingering in the air.

Rainbow ignored all of that, instead rushing upstairs. She half flew up the stairs at the end of the front hall, eager to pick her room.

Landing lightly on the floor of the upstairs hallway, Rainbow wasted no time. She ran down the hall, peeking in every room until she found one that was just right. With a grin, she peeked her head back out into the hallway.

"This one's mine!" She shouted, her little voice seeming to shake the house with its volume.

The rest of the family followed her up at a much more sedate pace.

"Not so fast, Rainbow." Prism chuckled at her enthusiasm. Glancing inside the room that she had staked off as her own, he was immediately satisfied that it wasn't the master bedroom. He also saw that unlike the downstairs, the boxes had not been unpacked. He smiled at her pleading expression. "Alright, that's fine Rainbow. We'll get the bed set up tomorrow. For now, I'll gather up some clouds for beds for the three of us."

"Yes!" Rainbow punched the air in excitement, trotting around her room in a little victory lap.

"Do you see any room that you would like?" Sitting next to Riley, Firefly looked up at her daughter.

"What?" Riley startled, drawn out of the möbius strip that her thoughts had become since landing on Equestria.

"Do you see a room that you would like?" Firefly hid her giggle at Riley's befuddled expression behind a forehoof. Quickly schooling her face, she smiled at her.

It appears that the upstairs had more rooms than actual family members. Nearly twice as many. Riley certainly had choices.

Frozen for a moment, Riley finally gave a short nod to Firefly. She started walking down the hall, peeking into each of the rooms. She stopped at the third, a smile falling over her face at the sight. Through a large bay window set into the wall opposite the door, she found herself overlooking Canterlot and the rest of the mountain beyond her. It was a beautiful sight, though it didn't take her breath away like seeing the sphere for the first time had.

"I like this one." She said, looking to Firefly, who gave her an encouraging smile.

"Than that's your room." Firefly said it firmly so that there would be no doubt in Riley's mind. The girl needed as much stability as she could get and Firefly was going to give it to her wherever she could. Peeking into the room, she took a look for herself, giving a hum of appreciation. "I think you certainly made a fine choice."

"Unfortunately you can't sleep on clouds, Riley," Prism said, walking into the room to stand next to his wife. "So we'll get your bed set up and then we can all go to sleep. It's been a hard few months."

Velvet and Night-Light woke to the sound of fillyish laughter. Velvet groaned and rolled over, but she knew that she would not be getting any more sleep. That ship had sailed as soon as the tinges of awareness had intruded on her mind. In the fog of her own mind, she frowned and hoped that Night-Light wasn't going to wake up over whomever that was outside. He had only just come home from another observatory night, and he needed as much sleep as he could get.

Night-Light groaned.

Sadly, her hope was not to be.

"Go tell Twilight to be quiet. It's too early for this," she muttered. Velvet might have been sympathetic to her husband's sleep needs but he had just come to bed and she was still so comfy.

"Twi's at the castle, Velv..." Came her husband's sleepy response. "She comin' back tonight."

"Then..." Velvet sat up in confusion, looking at him through crusty eyes, confused. "Then who..."

A peal of laughter streaked past outside their window, the sound doppler shifting as it suddenly shot up somewhere above their roof.

"Maybe it our new..." Night-Light took a deep breath, his eyes already drooping closed. "Neighbor."

Looking over at her husband, Velvet smiled as she saw his drooling face. He was fast asleep.

It took her five minutes to convince herself to roll out of bed. It took her another five to get herself into a state even approaching that which she would hold as appropriate to be seen by those outside her house. In the time it took for her to get ready, the laughter and shrieking did not quiet down. If anything, it got louder. The shouts of an adult had soon joined the shrieking, whom Velvet could only assume was a parent.

Velvet stepped out of her house to find a pink pegasus mare with a bright blue mane chasing after a sky-blue pegasus filly with a rainbow mane through the sky, trying to bring her back to the ground. It was a sight that she hadn't ever expected to see, and a part of her was happy to have neighbors again. Neighbors that didn't shun them at least.

The large part of her though was annoyed and tired.

Noticing that they now had an audience, the pink mare blushed and bled off her momentum through the air as quickly as she possibly could. She glared up at her daughter, who was performing a rather impressive set of loop-de-loops around a low hanging cloud.

"Rainbow!" The pink mare shouted, hissing through her teeth. "Behave, we have company!"

The appropriately named Rainbow stopped as soon as she noticed Velvet staring up at her. Tucking her wings tight against her sides, Rainbow dropped like a stone, laughing the entire way. She flared her wings at the very last moment, landing on the ground in front of Velvet with a flourish and then a wave, hopping on her hooves.

"HI!" The filly greeted. "I'm Rainbow Dash!"

Velvet blinked, taken aback. Her sluggish mind struggled to catch up with the turn of events that had just occurred. Still extremely tired and not quite sure how to take such an exuberant filly, Velvet gave her own hesitant wave back.

"I'm so sorry!" The pink mare landed next to her daughter, giving Velvet an embarrassed grin. "I'm Firefly, and this is my daughter Rainbow."

"I..." Velvet blinked again, giving a wobbly smile to Firefly. "I'm Twilight Velvet. I uh... I live next door."

"Would you like to come inside?" Firefly gestured back at her house, fluffing her wings before settling them more comfortably against her sides. "I have some tea brewing in the kitchen."

Velvet felt the gears in her mind slip a little before firming up, her grogginess just beginning to lift.

"I would love to." Velvet felt the words slip out of her mouth, but she found that she had no problem with them.

As a pegasus, Prism had grown extremely well versed at using his wings as fine manipulators, somewhere between the finesse of Unicorn magic and average everyday hooves. The kitchen had proved to be one of the biggest surprises of the entire house. He had thought that he would have to learn how to use his hooves thanks to his busted wing. Instead, he had found that the entire kitchen had been stocked with the top of the line technology for earth ponies and pegasus to cook as easily as a unicorn.

Prism was making breakfast, having gone out earlier in the morning to get food. Deep inside, he felt a little coltish thrill whenever he put a piece of toast into the device which would then proceed to toast it, butter it, and even add an egg if he so wished (which he did). Hearing Firefly walk back into the house, presumably with their wayward daughter in tow, he smiled but didn't turn away from the stove.

"Did you manage to catch our little daredevil?" He asked, calling over his shoulder.

"I did." Firefly sounded amused, which was often a mixed bag for him. It could lead to wonderful things, or lots of pain and suffering of the more metaphorical variety. "I also found a new friend."

Confused, Prism turned and found an off-white mare with the purple and white striped mane standing next to his wife. He glanced at Firefly, confused, but gave a welcoming smile at the same time.

"Hello." He might not know her, but there wasn't any reason to not be polite. He turned to his wife, who had yet to make any introductions. "Dear, who is this?"

"This is Twilight Velvet," Firefly said happily. "She's our new neighbor."

"Oh?" Prism took a longer moment to study Velvet. She was a little shorter than his wife, though her horn made her a few inches taller. She had bright blue eyes, and he could see the intelligence and curiosity behind them. He gave her a warm smile. "Well, it's good to meet you."

"Hi there," Velvet said, smiled welcomingly. "I just want to say, welcome to the neighborhood."

"Thank you." Prism glanced back at the stove to make sure nothing was burning before remembering that the stove was taking care of that for him. Sometimes technology was wonderful.

"I invited her in for tea, Prism." Firefly sidled up next to Prism, nuzzling his cheek.

"Right then." Turning, Prism reached out his wing to pull the tea kettle off the stove. He instantly regretted that decision as bolts of fire raced through his nerves and he shouted out. "Oh Buck!"

Firefly winced, gently helping refold his injured wing at his side. "What were you thinking?"

"Forgot." Prism grunted out through clenched teeth.

"Please, let me help." Stepping forward helpfully, Velvet lifted the tea kettle with her magic. Effortlessly, she took the tea cups from the counter as well and set all of them down on the table. She didn't notice Prism's blush, nor his embarrassment about not being able to do everything in his own house.

Velvet stopped, here eyes growing wide. She quickly set down the tea kettle, glancing back at Prism and Firefly. She blushed, practically tripping over herself to apologize. "Oh Celestia, I'm so sorry!"

"You must think me a dreadful rude mare," Velvet stammered over herself. She wished she could just melt through the floor, her blue eyes darting around as if she was trying to find an escape exit.

"It's not a problem," Prism said, waving away her worries, letting it all slide past. "Don't worry about it."

Velvet nodded but didn't stop blushing, but took a seat when Firefly offered her one.

Ignoring the embarrassment of moments ago, Prism stepped forward, using his good wing to pour the tea. Just as he was getting the cups, all three of the adults flinched when a massive thud came from the upstairs, following by what sounded like a stampede. Prism sighed, shaking his head in amusement.

"Please, forgive my daughter." Prism smiled apologetically at Velvet, who looked she quite understood what was happening. "She hasn't quite realized how loud she can be."

"My children are the exact same way." Velvet waved it away, her eyes slightly glazing over as she disappeared back into old memories. "Well.. Our daughter is... Well, I mean she is when she doesn't have her nose buried in a book..."

Prism and Firefly nodded in understanding as Rainbow rushed in from upstairs. She took a seat at the table, almost knocking it over with her speed, smiling gratefully as her dad set out breakfast for her.

"Where's your sister?" Prism asked, looking at his daughter with amusement.

"She was right behind me..." Rainbow looked back towards the hallway in confusion, only just realizing that she was the only kid at the table.

Jumping out of her chair, Rainbow darted back out of the room to see what was holding Riley up. A moment later they could hear some quiet whispering through the walls, a sigh, and then footsteps on the stairs.

Rainbow stepped back around the corner, Riley following behind her. Velvet didn't visibly react, but she felt a jolt of surprise shoot through her. She never expected that her new next door neighbors would be the ones to have adopted the human child.

"This is our daughter, Riley." Prism introduced, nuzzling Riley's side before he took his own seat.

Seeing the new pony, Riley froze up for a moment before seeing Firefly's encouraging look. She gave a hesitant smile and wave to Velvet.

"Hello..." Her voice was small, and Velvet almost had to strain to hear out.

Bumping against the back of Riley's leg, Rainbow pushed her older sister to the table. At Rainbow's urging, she sat down at the table next to Firefly, Rainbow scrambling up into the seat next to her and started to eat.

Seeing Riley's unease, Velvet stood. "I certainly don't want to impose so I'll be getting out of your manes."

She paused, unsure of how to ask what she wanted to ask. She didn't want to come off as an idiot. "Our daughter is coming home from her school for the weekend tonight. I am sure she would love to meet you all. Why don't you come on over for dinner?"

Firefly and Prism shared a look before deciding that that wasn't such a Bad idea. It sounds downright lovely, actually, and a perfect chance to make new friends.

"We would be delighted to!" Firefly said.

"Wonderful!" Velvet exclaimed. "I'll just see myself out."

There were few things that Princess Luna enjoyed as much as her time spent with her sister's young student. It was not often that she interacted with others outside of her Night Court, and she had gladly taken over the responsibility of seeing Twilight Sparkle safely back to her parent's house each weekend. The filly had an innocence about her that Luna found refreshing, having not been such a way herself for several thousand years, before even the founding of Equestria.

"Twilight Sparkle," the Princess called out, stepping into Twilight's tower.

Celestia made sure that her student always pushed herself just a little further than she ever knew was possible, but she never left Twilight floundering in the dark for answers. To that end, when the filly had made the switch of staying weekdays at the castle, Celestia had given her the use of an entire tower filled with books and scrolls and everything she would ever need to find an answer on her own. Twilight had instantly fallen in love and had since made the tower completely her own. To Luna's own surprise, even more books had come to name the tower as their home, littering nearly every available surface in ordered piles of chaos.

Glancing around the entrance of the tower, Luna immediately spotted Spike lying asleep under a pile of books, his little chest rising and falling as he snored away. A baby dragon, it was a miracle that Twilight had even managed to hatch him at all. His egg had been given as a gift to Celestia by his mother nearly two-thousand years ago, a stillborn egg. It had been used by Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns ever since, and in all of that time, not one student had even so much as made a crack.

Not even a student yet, Twilight had managed to breath life back into long dead fossil and hatched a baby dragon.

More than a miracle really, Luna thought to herself. A sign of things to come.

Smiling at the adorable sight, she made sure her steps were quiet as she ventured further into the tower.

"Twilight Sparkle?" Luna called out again, her head on a near constant swivel as she searched for any sign of the purple filly among the stacks of books, most of which were taller than the filly herself.

Hearing a small grunt, Luna smiled to herself. She should have guessed right from the start. Twilight Sparkle was hard at work on her whiteboards. It was a common enough place to find her after all.

"Twilight Sparkle." Luna spoke firmer this time, more sure of herself as she stepped around the last bookshelf between herself and the large array of whiteboards taking up one entire corner of the tower. What she found didn't surprise her in the slightest.

Twilight Sparkle stood several feet away from the boards themselves, an intense look of concentration on her face as she focussed on what was before her. Effortlessly levitating five pens, she was halfway through the process of scrawling out a headache inducing equation. Even as old as she was, Luna could not make heads or tails of it.

"Twilight." Luna made sure to speak softer, sure that Twilight would hear her. That wasn't always the case. Sometimes the filly got so caught up in her own mind that she forgot the outside world even existed.

Twilight startled, nearly toppling over as she heard the Princess for the first time. Looking up at the Lunar Princess, she blushed and scuffed a hoof against the ground. "Princess! I didn't hear you come in."

"I noticed," she said, not unkindly. Luna gestured up at the whiteboard, still trying to make sense of what was written upon it. "What is this?"

Glancing over her shoulder at the whiteboard, Twilight perked up with a large smile. She was always eager to explain her thoughts and theories to anypony willing to listen. "It's a theory I have! I was trying to figure out why only Equestrians can use magic and-"

"There will be time for that later, Twilight Sparkle." Luna smartly interrupted the filly before she could gather much more steam. If she had let her ramble on much longer, there would have been no stopping her and she would have to return back to her quarters with a headache the size of her moon. "Right now it is time for me to escort you back home."

"It's friday?" Twilight scrunched up her muzzle, confused.

"Indeed." Luna gave a short nod.

"Oops." Twilight blushed. "Let me go pack and I'll get Spike then we can go."

"I shall wake young Spike, Twilight." Luna enjoyed the young dragon nearly as much as she did Twilight. He was smart, inquisitive, and kind and she was eager to see just the type of dragon he would grow up to be. She had no doubt he would be strong and courageous, a credit to his species. "Do not worry."

"Thank you, Princess." Twilight gave a quick but respectful bow before she scampered off and up to her room to pack. Even on the first floor of the tower, Luna could hear her muttering as she tried to come up with the most efficient way to pack all of her belongings. It was a consistent thing that Twilight would always pack too much for a simple two day stay at her parents house.

Luna turned, striding back back to where she had seen Spike. She gently lifted the pile of books off of him before lowering her neck down and giving him a soft nudge with her nose. "Wake up, young Spike. It is time for you to go home."

"Mmmm..." Spike groaned, yawning as he stretched out his body. He arched his back like an oversized cat, his eyes half lidded. He was not fully back in the land of the living. "Home... Bed."

"Yes, to your bed." Luna could not keep the laughter out of her voice, and she was unapologetic about it.

Hearing the laughter of a grownup quickly brought Spike out of his groggy state. Cracking first one eye open, then another, he blinked when saw Luna standing over him with a wide smile. Sitting up, he yawned again.

"I'm ready!" Twilight called out triumphantly, trotting back down the stairs to meet them, her saddle-bags on and stuffed to the brim. A few spare books that she had not been able to cram into the already full bags floated after her.

Leaving the castle only took a few short minutes. Luna first had gather up her escort, whom she found waiting for her and her two young charges by the front gate. They fell in line around them without a word, silent guardians on the lookout for any sort of trouble.

Truth be told, Luna had no need of guards, nor for that matter did her sister. As Alicorns whom had been around for countless millenia, they were both practically invulnerable. There was nothing that any of the races of Equestria could do to hurt them without resorting to weapons that would leave massive swathes of land uninhabitable for the next million years or so. The Royal Guard had still managed to spring up though, and Luna found that they were certainly effective in keeping anypony away from her that she did not wish to speak with. For that reason, she tolerated the indignity of having her subjects believe she needed protection.

On nights such as these, she even welcomed it. If anything were to happen to Twilight, she would never be able to live with herself. Not after Aurora. Having another line of defense between her and the rest of the world was simply prudent thinking.

Trotting down a side Canterlot road, Luna took a moment to enjoy the cool night air, perfect for such a summer night. The Guards had faded away into the background. Spike was half asleep on Twilight's back, holding onto her mane so he wouldn't fall off.

"Do you have any plans for the weekend, Twilight Sparkle?" Luna asked, glancing down at her young charge.

"I hadn't really been thinking about it." Twilight said. She thought for a moment, but was quickly stumped.

"Too caught up in your studies once again?" Luna knew that this was often the case, and her tone was teasing. She hoped that as the filly grew into a mare she would learn to relax and take things at a more sedate pace, but she knew she would be there for her regardless.

Twilight blushed and gave a quick nod, but didn't elaborate any further.

"If you have nothing planned," Luna said, offering a suggestion of her own. "Might I say you should take the opportunity to go and play out in the sun. I know that the weather forecast is looking particularly pleasant this weekend."

"Maybe, Princess." Twilight looked unconvinced, looking back at her saddle-bags and the books that were still loyally floating after her.

Following her gaze, Luna gave Twilight a soft smile. "Reading is truly a noble endeavor Twilight, just remember to not let your foalhood pass you by. Try and take some time to act as a filly your own age, for it is something you shall miss when you are older."

"Yes, Princess." Twilight said, chewing on her bottom lip. Whether she took Luna's advice was up to her and nopony else.

Spike gave off a little snore, making both filly and mare giggle quietly.

The rest of the way to Twilight's house they spoke of other things. They spoke of Twilight's newfound love of the literary adventurer Daring Do, of the upcoming visit the next week by the Griffon ambassadors, and of their mutual love for chocolate cake.

Before either was ready for their time to end, they realized that they had arrived.

Luna escorted Twilight and Spike up to the front door of the house, the guards waiting behind the fence. Reaching up with her hoof, Luna knocked four times on the door.

A moment passed, and Twilight shuffled her hooves, studying the patterns in the stones underhoof. The door opened, revealing Shining Armor. A bright smile taking over her face, Twilight squealed, bouncing on her hooves. Her excited movement jostled Spike awake as she leapt forward to hug her B.B.B.F.F. "Shining Armor!"

"Twily!" The older colt was no less excited to see his younger sister. Though the time that they had to spend with each other was not as much as either would wish, they loved each other very much.

Catching his sister, they hugged. Spike, still half asleep, rolled right off of Twilight's back and was only saved from an intimate meeting with the ground by a quick levitation spell by Princess Luna. He stared confused at the upside down sight before him.

Neither Shining Armor or Twilight had noticed Spike's fall, too excited in their own greetings. Sensing that Twilight was about to go off on some long winded explanation about something or other that she had been learning, he laughed and puts a hoof in her mouth as she took a deep breath to start.

"We have company over for dinner tonight." Shining said, waiting for her reaction with a bit of glee. He might love her to bits, but he also got a lot of joy from Twilight's freakouts.

That stopped Twilight, and she looks up at him in confusion. "Company?"

"New neighbors just moved in." Shining nodded, smiling at her confusion, both glad and disappointed that she wasn't freaking out. "Mom met them earlier today and invited them over to dinner."

Twilight sighed, sad that she wouldn't be able to monopolize her parent's time. Seeing this, Shining nudged his sister.

"They have a filly your age." He offered. "Who knows, you could end up being best friends!"

"Treasure every friend that you can make, Twilight Sparkle." Luna laughed, a deep sound that startled the two siblings as they remembered that the Princess was there. "For they are the ones you can turn to when all you can see is darkness."

Twilight mulled that over for a moment before giving her a hesitant nod, meeting Luna's gaze. "Yes, Princess. Thank you."

"I wish you a goodnight, Twilight Sparkle." Luna bowed her head in farewell to her young friend. "I shall see you again Monday morning."

"Bye Princess!" Darting up to the Princess, Twilight gave her a friendly nuzzle and a hug. "Have a good weekend."

"You as well, Twilight Sparkle." Luna nuzzled Twilight back before turning and leaving with her guards.

As soon as the Princess was gone, Twilight looked nervously over at Shining Armor, starting to bounce on her hooves in panic. "Why didn't anypony warn me? I don't have any idea on what you're supposed to do at a dinner party! There are rules and protocols, and I haven't looked any of them up, and they're going to hate me-!"

Twilight was getting more and more panicked as she thought about the dinner. Every single scenario that shot through her head made her want to dive under a bed and hide until everypony left.

"Remember what Cadance taught you?" Shining put a hoof on her shoulder, cutting her off and drawing her attention to him.

Twilight nodded hesitantly, keeping her brother's gaze.

"Right. Do it with me." Putting a hoof to his chest, Shining took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Twilight copied him, taking in her own deep breath and putting a hoof to her chest. Pushing his hoof out, he let the breath out. Twilight sagged, as she did the same.

Shining just let the peace of the moment fall over them, putting a leg around Twilight's shoulders. "Feel better?"

"A little." Twilight took another breath, staring off into the distance.

"Don't worry, Twilight," Shining reassured her. "You'll be fine. You'll do fine. Everypony's going to like you, and it will be fine."

Twilight let out her breath, picked up Spike with her magic and she walked into the house, following after Shining Armor.

The Twilight House, as Night-Light had named it, was a place of warmth and family. As the only son of an ancient Noble family, he owned many houses and apartments across Equestria. The Twilight House was his favorite. He had purchased it after his marriage to Twilight Velvet and it reflected every part of his life that he loved. Family, friends, and warmth. The house was open, and every room had been designed to let them spend as much time as possible as a family.

Shining Armor, Twilight Sparkle, and Spike entered the Dining Room to find her mother and father, two adult ponies she didn't recognize, and a filly about her own age sitting around the table. There were three empty spots at the end of the table by Rainbow.

"Twilight!" Velvet got up from the table, cantering over to hug her daughter and youngest son (dragon though he may have been). "You're home!"

"Hi Momma," Twilight said, leaning into her mother's embrace, her heart warming.

Velvet turned, smiling proudly to the Rainbow family as she introduced Twilight and Spike to them for the first time. "And these are the last of our little family. Twilight Sparkle, our little prodigy, and Spike, the cutest baby dragon you'll ever see."

"Hello, Twilight Sparkle." The mare sitting next to her father gave a wave of greeting to Twilight. "It's very nice to meet you. I'm Firefly, and this is my husband, Rainbow Prism."

"This little ball of energy is Rainbow Dash." She puts a hoof on the filly's head next to her, who was looking at Twilight with a curious gleam in her eyes. "Your mother was telling me that the two of you are about the same age."

"Hey!" Rainbow gave a small wave to Twilight, who returned it, both of them nervous. Out of the two though, Rainbow was the far more outgoing, and it showed.

"Hello," Twilight murmured back, her own shyness coming back again.

Firefly looked at the third spot at the table, then back to Twilight. "My other daughter should be out any moment-"

Twilight's eyes widened when a human girl stepped out from the hallway. She gasped, all thoughts of nervousness and shyness fleeing from her mind as excitement and feelings of scientific curiosity replaced them. The only thing keeping her from darting forward and commencing with her studies was the sharp glare from her mother.

Firefly said. "This is my other daughter-"

"Riley Shepard!" Twilight knew everything about Riley. All of Twilight's nervousness had disappeared. Why was she even nervous to begin with, she was excited now, bouncing up and down in her place. "The Princess has been talking about you!"

"She does?" Riley glanced at her family, Twilight's nervousness having apparently jumped to the human girl.

Twilight gave a curt nod. "We watched the trial together, and she taught me so much, like-"

"Please, forgive her." Velvet muffled Twilight's voice with her magic, smiling apologetically at the Rainbow family. "Sometimes she speaks without thinking."

"Be careful tonight, Twilight," Velvet leaned down to whisper into Twilight's ear. "Riley is still incredibly hurt. You don't want to hurt her anymore?"

"I won't, Momma." Twilight whispered back, shaking her head and smiling up at her mother.

"Good filly." Velvet nodded in approval.

Straightening up, Velvet looked back at Spike with a warm smile. He was again nearly passed out on Twilight's back, having nearly fallen back to sleep. Velvet lifted him off her daughters back with her magic. "Oh, who's a tired little dragon?"

"Tired dragon," Spike murmured back, lolling in his mother's magic.

"If you would all excuse me for a moment, I should put this one to bed." Velvet gave a quiet laugh before placing Spike on her back and heading for the stairs to put the baby dragon to bed.

Twilight and Shining took their seats as close to their father as they could. Across the table, Rainbow patted the seat next to her for Riley to sit down in, grinning at her older sister.

Riley sat down next to Rainbow and across from Twilight.

Rainbow, being the rambunctious filly that she was, leaned over Riley and stuck her hoof out for Twilight to shake. "Hi! I'm Rainbow Dash, the fastest Pegasus ever born."

Riley couldn't help but giggle a little at Rainbows ignorance or perhaps her outright ignoring of manners. It would be the type of thing that the filly would do after all.

Twilight eyed Rainbows hoof carefully for a moment before taking it and giving it a careful shake. "Hello, Rainbow Dash. I am Twilight Sparkle, the Princesses personal student."

"Don't be rude, Twilight." Shining nudged Twilight, whispering to her.

"Sorry." Twilight murmured and blushed, ducking her head.

"Who's ready to eat?" Velvet walked back into the room, several covered dishes floating in her magic after her. Everyone at the table perked up at the sight of food.

"I am!" Rainbow raised her hoof, smiling wide, bouncing up and down in her seat. Velvet set out the meal, and they all started to dig, taking their own portions. The meal was a vegetarian lasagna, served with asparagus and garlic bread.

They all broke into their own conversations, adults and children. Shining Armor wasn't quite sure which group to join. He settled for the kids, thanks mostly to Twilight.

"Your ma said you're the Princesses student?" Rainbow said through a mouthful of food hastily stuffed into her mouth.

"Yes!" Twilight perks up, eager to have a conversation about the Princess (either one really). "Yes I am!"

"That's cool." Rainbow nodded her head, eying Twilight appreciatively.

"I'm learning so much from them," Twilight said. "And every day is a new chance to test the laws of magic and bend the world to my will!"

Rainbow, Riley, and Shining Armor all looked at Twilight, her tone oddly cheerful for such a strange statement.

"Bend the world to your will?" Shining Armor couldn't help but ask, wondering at what exactly his sister was learning from the two most knowledgable magic practitioners ever known. He cocked his head at his younger sister. "A little over confident there, aren't you Twily?"

"Well..." Twilight tapped her hooves together in embarrassment. "It's true..."

"Huh... Cool." Rainbow decided right then and there that she liked Twilight.

She looked at Twilight with a proud grin, not willing to let the other filly win the one-up-mare-ship contest. "Being the Princess' student is cool and all, but it's not as cool as bein' a Wonderbolt."

She nodded her head, as if nothing could be truer than that. "My dad is a Wonderbolt..."

Rainbow ducked her head, glancing at her father and his wing.

"Was a Wonderbolt..." She murmured. Rainbow perked up with fillyhood pride and love for her father. "He's the strongest stallion ever! I'm gonna be just like him when I grow up."

She puffed her chest out proudly. "I'm gonna be Wonderbolt too!"

"It must be strange seeing Equestria for the first time." Shining leaned over to talk to Riley, letting the two younger fillies continue on with their own conversation, smiling kindly at the human girl.

"Yeah." Riley nodded, meeting his gaze for a moment before looking away. "Yeah. It is."

"I can imagine." Shining Armor took a bite of his lasagna, humming as he appreciated the rich flavor of his mother's cooking. "They've briefed us all during training enough times about how other races might react to us. Apparently, we don't do a lot of things the normal way."

"Training?" Riley kept looking at him, interested.

"Yep." Shining nodded. "I'm in the middle of training to be a Royal Guard."

"And what does that mean, exactly?" Riley asked, glad that he was willing to take the burden of leading the conversation.

"Well, the Royal Guard are not so much a guard." Shining was more than alright explaining. Everyone else was having conversations around them. "The Princesses are pretty much invulnerable to everything save concentrated fire from a dreadnought, maybe a nuke."

"Then why do they have a Royal Guard?" Riley couldn't think of an answer to that.

"We act as the Princesses right hoof, going where they cannot to do what must be done." Shining was proud of the history of the organization he was entering. "Whether that's protecting an ambassador, giving out aid to those who need it, or preforming military action that nopony else can, we are there."

Shining's eyes widened and he smiled as he thought of a comparison. "We are a lot like your N7s, just with a broader mission outside of most militaries actions."

Riley nodded her head, only half understanding.

"What about you?" Shining asked, switching the tracks on the conversation. "Do you have any plans for the future?"

That stopped Riley in her tracks. She had to think about that for a minute. Shining waited patiently for her to answer.

"I... I don't know," She stammered out. "I've been trained as a dancer for longer than I can remember, but..."

"It doesn't feel right anymore." She glanced down at her plate, pushing her food around.

"Well, you certainly don't need to decide anything now." Shining nodded in understanding.

Riley glanced back down at her plate, unsure of what she should say. She hated that she couldn't think of anything.

Chapter Sixteen - Getting Back On Your Feet

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Chapter Sixteen - Getting Back on Your Feet

A dense fog rolled across the forest floor, licking at her fight, as if it wanted to crawl up her body and pull her down. Frozen, Riley hated the feeling of fear slithering up and down her spine, but she couldn’t find it within herself to fight against it. The terror paralyzed her, and there was nothing she could do.

“My daughter, Riley. Please, protect her. She’s all that’s left.”

She flinched, her mother’s voice ringing in her ears. She shook her head, clenching her eyes shut. Riley could feel her fingernails digging into the palms of her hands, enough to break her skin.

All around her, the towering skeletal trees swayed to an unseen wind, dark figures standing just out of her line of sight.

“We are all dead.”

“Mindoir is dead.”

“You should have died you stupid bitch!”

Riley took a step forward, reaching out for the doorknob in front of her. She knew that whatever was behind it would be her death, but she deserved nothing less.

She opened the door and stepped through, out of the forest and into the living room of her families house on Mindoir. It was instantly recognizable with its pre-fabricated walls and printed couches and chairs. Outside and far in the distance, Riley could hear the screams and shouts of thousands of people, gunfire punctuating the atmosphere every so often.

Her heart jumped inside of her chest, and she tried to swallow the lump in her throat through her suddenly dry mouth. She could feel the eyes on the back of her head, and she wanted to run as far away as she possibly could.

“Are you afraid to look at us, Riley?”

Riley flinched at the sound of her mother’s voice, squeezing her eyes shut. She started to shake.

“Turn around, girl!”

Even though every cell of her body was screaming at her to run, Riley turned. It felt like something had reached into her skull and grabbed her brain, taking control of her body.

She couldn’t breath.

She couldn’t move.

She couldn’t think.

Standing behind her, Riley found her parents and younger sister standing behind her in the front door to the house. They stared at her with dull eyes.

“You need to listen to me the first time, Riley.” Steven Shepard, her father, stared at her with three eyes. The third eye bled, and she could see all the way through the hole in his head. “If you listened, none of this would have happened.”

“If you hadn’t been so afraid, we could have escaped the house faster.” Hannah Shepard, her mother, stood next to her husband. She glared at her oldest daughter, the bullet holes in her chest oozing blood in time with a lethargic heart-beat. “It’s all your fault. You might as well have pulled the triggers yourself.”

“It was all your fault.” Standing next to her, her little sister Jane looked up at her with her once bright blue eyes. There was a gaping hole were her chest used to be, the remnants of a rib-cage poking through the gore. She took a step forward, a halting movement that was accompanied with the sharp cracking of bones. “I should have lived. Not you. Big sisters are supposed to protect their little sisters.”

Riley shook her head, feeling her reality slipping away from her. They were right. No matter how much she wished it to be different, they were right.

They were all dead because of her.

“You’ve already gone and gotten yourself a new family and we’re not even cold in the grave yet. What kind of daughter are you?” Hannah sneered at Riley. “If you stay with them,the same thing will happen to them too.”

“I…” Riley shook her head, a ball of hate growing inside her heart. “I should have died.”

“Yes.” The three dead spoke as one.

The hate bloomed into a full grown animal, snarling and twisting about in her chest. She wanted to throw up. She hated herself, and they were right. “I should have died.”

Jane stepped forward, pushing her hair out of her eyes and paying no mind to the bloody hand she did it with. Stopping in front of Riley, she held out their father’s handgun to her, stock first.

Riley collapsed to her knees, looking up into Jane’s face.

“Take it.” Jane ordered simply.

Reaching out, Riley took the gun, wrapping her left hand around the grip. She glanced at it before looking back up at her little sister.

“Do it.” Jane said it like she was asking for nothing more than a scoop of ice-cream.

“Do it.” Riley parroted back. She nodded, the hate agreeing with her sister. Lifting the gun up, Riley placed the barrel against her left temple. “Do it.”

“Do it.” Hannah said.

“Do it.” Steven said.

She pulled the trigger, felt an instant of hot pain, then woke up.

Rainbow Household, Canterlot, Equestria
July 13th, 2170

Riley woke up in her bed, alone and back in her new room on Equestria. Her dead family was not standing around her bed and she did not have her father’s handgun still in a death grip. She could feel that the sheets were damp underneath her and that her hair was soaked and plastered to her forehead.

She only barely stopped herself from shrieking at the sudden knock at her door.

“Riley, breakfast is almost ready downstairs.” Firefly’s voice drifted through the door, sounding far too awake for…

Rolling over, Riley saw on her clock that it was eight in the morning. Her mother was far too awake and Riley wished that she could just pull the covers over her head and go back to sleep.

Well, she wanted to go back to sleep but that would mean having to confront why she hated herself so much. Staying awake meant that she had to live with the beast of self-hatred.

It was a no win situation.

The fact that her bed was soaked through was the deciding factor for her to roll out of bed and step into her rather large shower. A rather wonderful perk of living in a world built for ponies was that they built everything bigger than a human would need. The shower also doubled as what could be called a bathtub in theory. It was more of a square and large enough to be called a double person jacuzzi.

The Pegasi made the entire thing even better. If a third of the population wasn’t able to fly, ponies would build things both wider and bigger, but also with much shorter ceilings. As for the fact that the average mare only stood as tall as a german shepherd, the height just wasn’t needed. Pegasi liked to fly, and they did it everywhere, which equated to higher ceilings perfect for humans (and Alicorns).

All of this would have been absolutely amazing if it weren’t for the fact that Riley hated herself. She didn’t deserve any of it, and her family was right.

If she stuck around, she’d just end up getting her new family killed too.

The image of Rainbow Dash with her own chest blown open flashed through her mind and Riley had to reach out a hand to steady herself against the shower wall. She wanted to be sick, but that would raise too many questions that she simply didn’t want to answer.

Turning the water off, Riley quickly dried herself off before stepping back into her room. She threw on a simple outfit, paying no mind to how it even made her look.

Heading downstairs at a sedate place, Riley entered the kitchen to find the rest of her family already sitting around the table. Rainbow was munching on her eggs while Prism read the morning paper and Firefly ate a bowl of cereal. They all looked up and smiled as she entered the room.

“Hey Riley!” Rainbow waved, a piece of egg flying out of her mouth and hitting her father between the eyes. “You’re late for breakfast.”

Prism glared at Rainbow for the egg, but it was half-hearted at the best. Rolling his eyes, he folded the paper and set it down, smiling warmly at Riley. “Good morning, Riley.”

“Morning.” Riley nodded back, sliding into the seat between Rainbow and Firefly. She shook her head as she got another flash of Rainbow, smiling at her while pouring blood from her eyes. Instead, she looked down at her plate and the generous helping of eggs, with a side of hash-browns and a cup of orange juice. “It looks good.”

“Thank you.” Firefly looked proud. “I made it myself.”

Riley giggled, taking a bite of her eggs. In her own mind, she marveled at how easy it was to hide how she was really feeling from everyone. She just pasted on a smile and pretended everything was alright, and to everyone looking at her, she was.

Setting down his paper, Prism looked at Rainbow. “Are you ready?”

Scrapping the last remnants of food into her mouth, Rainbow smiled at her father, her cheeks bulging as she ferociously chewed.

“Yeah.” Rainbow managed to say through the partially masticated eggs and toast in her mouth. She didn’t look happy about it, but she hopped out of her seat and trotted over to her father’s side anyway, though it was completely in protest. Swallowing the bite in chunks, she let her head hang low to the ground, scowling at the floor.

Hopping out of his own chair, Prism nudged Rainbow with a laugh. “Come on. You know you couldn’t avoid this forever.”

Rainbow merely huffed, letting her wings droop ever so slightly. “Yeah.”

“There’s no way you’re getting out of this, Rainbow.” Prism laughed, leading his daughter out of the kitchen and to the front door.

Riley looked at Firefly as the mare started to giggle to herself. “Where are they going?”

“Hmm?” Firefly took a moment to process that before her brain pinged. “Oh! Prism is going to the castle. He wants to speak with the Royal Guard to see if he could get a job.”

“A job?” Riley felt a pang of worry in her chest. She had thought they had told her that they had money and she didn’t need to worry about anything. If having her living with them was making Prism have to seek out a new job… she felt the beast of hatred grow even larger.

“It’s nothing you have to worry about, Riley,” Firefly said, seeming to sense what was Riley’s problem. “Prism starts to get antsy if he has nothing to do during the day. Working part time as a Royal Guard would be an ideal choice for him. Everything that he learned as a Wonderbolt makes him very attractive for many of the roles that they fulfill.”

Riley nodded, but she didn’t quite believe what Firefly told her. “What about Rainbow?”

“We need to get schools transferred for the both of you.” Firefly took a moment to enjoy the look of surprise on Riley’s face. “Neither of you need to actually be there for it, but don’t tell Rainbow that. Any chance to get the energy out of her before dinnertime is a good thing.”

“School?” Riley blinked, and after a moment of thought understood. She needed to finish out her schooling, and all that was available were the schools of Canterlot.

“Yep.” Firefly nodded. “Prism wanted you to go along, but I thought that we could have a day together. Explore the city, get some lunch, have some fun, that kind of thing.”

“Alright…” Riley didn’t really have anything to say about that. Her mind was still on the idea of having to go to a school as the only human in a world of magic. She had no idea what that was even going to be like, or what the overlap was going to be, but she had a feeling that it was going to be keeping her up at night. “That’s fine.”

“Great!” Firefly got out of her chair, setting her plate in the sink. The sink grabbed the plate, cleaning off the remnants of the food and shuffled the plate into the cupboard. She gathered up the plates that Rainbow and Prism had left in their places, doing the same. “I’m ready to go as soon as you finish up.”

“Right.” Taking a look at her plate, Riley decided that she didn’t really have an appetite. She set the plate on the sink the same as Firefly. “I’m finished.”

“Well,” Firefly said, walking out of the kitchen. “Let’s go.”

By the time Riley caught up to her mother’s smaller but faster stride, Firefly was already at the front door. She had found that ponies walked faster than humans, even at their general slowest. Firefly blushed when she noticed how far ahead she had moved from the teenage girl, slowing even further.

“I’m sorry.” Firefly nuzzled against Riley’s leg, keeping pace with her daughter. “I’m still new to all of this.”

“I am too.” Riley murmured back.

“We’re both new.” Firefly nodded, standing in front of the unopened door. “A day at a time. That’s how we’ll do this.”

“A day at a time.” Riley shoved her hands into her pockets. “Yep.”

“Are you ready?” Firefly gave Riley a once over, checking to see if she could think of anything else that she would need. At her nod, Firefly opened the front door. “Let’s go then.”
They stepped outside into the bright morning air of Canterlot, the warm of the still rising sun warming the air as everypony started their day. There was no pony else out on their street, but Riley caught sight of a few Pegasi flitting about in the sky above, the faint dim of voices wafting to her ears on the mountain breeze.

“This way seems like as good a way as any.” Firefly gestured down the right side of the street. The city of Canterlot gently sloped upwards beyond it, and its pinnacle, overlooking the rest of the buildings was the Royal Castle. “What do you think?”

“Alright.” Riley didn’t really care one way or another. “I’ll follow you.”

They started off walking silently. Taking in the rest of the houses on their street, Riley couldn’t help but feel a little intimidated. On Mindoir, all of the buildings had been pre-fabs brought to the planet by three separate System Alliance fleets over the course of three years. Every house had been the same rectangular affair, the same layout, and if you were lucky, you might have been able to paint it a different color than everyone else. Her own house had been a very eye-catching cobalt blue. Her parents had the paint flown in with the second fleet arrival.

The houses on her new home street held more wealth than the entirety of her home colony put together. Most had pillars of marble and were built from exotic stone imported in from all corners of Equestria. Gardens were lovingly maintained, but not by the residents. Riley had a feeling that an army of gardeners were responsible for that. The street was paved with brick, and it was completely different from the dirt roads that she had grown up with. It was civilization.

It was the home of an empire that had lasted for a thousand years.

The steady sound of Firefly’s hooves clopping on the ground was a reassuring sound as they passed out of the neighborhood and onto a minor street of Canterlot. Ponies of all three races were out in force, going about their day, and Riley paused for just a moment. It was only a moment, but all that she could hear was gunfire and screams.

She barely even stumbled, and Firefly didn’t even notice.

“Have you been to Canterlot before?” Riley asked, trying to think of anything else than Mindoir. She never wanted to think of her home colony again.

“Once.” Firefly paused for a moment before taking a left at the road. “It was a long time ago, just after the awakening. A lot has changed since then. A lot of new construction, and I don’t really recognize anything… not that I saw much to begin with.”

The street was lined with small businesses and shops, restaurants and bakeries, all of them hoping to bring in a piece of the dream that was Canterlot.

“We haven’t had a lot of time to talk outside of all of the hullabaloo with the trial.” Firefly offered smiles to everypony who met her gaze, giving them a harsh glare if they at all looked at Riley in a way that she deemed unfit. More than a few ponies took off running at the sight of an angry mother. “I want to know you, and you to know me.”

Riley didn’t say anything. She shied away from all of the ponies that looked at her with even a hint of anger or annoyance. She despised at how little she felt and wondered where her strength had fled to. She wondered if she had ever been strong to begin with.

“You know,” Firefly laughed, falling back a little to walk next to Riley. “This would go a lot easier if you were willing to talk to me.”

“Sorry.” Riley murmured, ducking her head. She found her hand weaving her fingers into Firefly’s mane as they started up the gradual incline of the street. “I’m a little distracted.”

“It’s not a problem.” Firefly felt her heart jump a little at the contact. She knew that humans were nowhere near as good at expressing their emotions as any Equestrian. “I’m interrogating you, Riley. I just want to get to know my daughter.”

“Right.” Riley nodded. She wracked her brain for a moment before smiling. She knew something that would tell Firefly something new about her. “I’m a ballerina.”

“A what?” Firefly stopped, and Riley stopped a second later.

“A ballerina.” Riley blushed, ducking her head. She didn’t want to see Firefly’s certainly mocking gaze. It came from everyone who ever learned about it, and she didn’t want to see it from her new mother.

“A what?” Firefly repeated.

Riley looked up, confused at Firefly’s words. She found herself looking into the mare’s eyes, and she saw nothing but genuine curiosity.

“A ballerina,” she said for the third time. “Ballet is a type of dance, and I’ve been learning it for as long as I can remember.”

“That’s amazing!” Firefly’s smile grew, and she nudged Riley encouragingly. “We can fly in a teacher. There’s no reason that you shouldn’t be able to keep learning.”

Riley stared at Firefly for a long moment, a warm feeling bubbling in her chest. After a short laugh, she shook her head. “No. I… It’s not for me. Not anymore.”

“Why not?” Firefly frowned, watching Riley with careful eyes. “It’s not a problem.”

“No.” Riley didn’t feel strong, but she didn’t want to live a pointless life. She wanted to do something meaningful. She wanted her survival to mean something. “It’s not for me anymore.”

“Alright.” The pink mare didn’t push the matter, though it was evident on her face that she really wanted to. “If that’s what you want. Prism and I only want you to be happy.”

“Thank you,” Riley murmured. She tried to look anywhere else but Firefly’s gaze.

The streets of Canterlot grew wider as they ascended higher into the city. The buildings grew taller, and quite a few of them were at least five-hundred years or older, and the signs of each business were proud to declare such.

Sofas and Quills, Maker of Fine Sofa’s for Eight-Hundred Years

Fillington’s, the Exceptional Toy Shop of Six-Hundred Years and Counting

Hay Burger, Established in the Year 1028 in the Age of the Alicorn

There was such age, and Riley could practically feel a physical weight of the history behind every stone and brick. Countless ponies who had lived their lives, who had smiled and laughed and cried, lived and loved, and died. For all of the advancements that coming forth into the ever advancing galaxy had wrought, there would always be a part of Canterlot that resisted such drastic changes.

There would always be a part of the city’s heart that beat in time with two ancient goddesses, and their lives. When you counted your age in millenniums, sometimes change happened slowly. The Princesses personally had only adopted as much as they had needed to of the miraculous technological advances that the other races offered.

Riley didn’t know any of that, but she still felt the past as an almost tangible thing around her.

Pony Joes, Serving Donuts for Twelve-Hundred Years

Riley paused, not quite understanding what she was seeing. Nestled between two much larger buildings was what looked like a diner. It sat at the edge of the cliff of the city, and through the windows Riley could see that it overlooked the southern parts of Equestria.

“Pony Joes.”

Firefly’s voice startled Riley and she jumped at the sudden noise.

“Sorry,” Firefly said with a wince. She hadn’t meant to scare Riley. She pointed a hoof at the donut shop. “I’ve heard of Pony Joe’s though. Every Pegasi who’s visited Canterlot told me that Pony Joe’s was the restaurant to visit.”

She grinned up at Riley. “Want to go in?”

“We already ate.” Riley wasn’t really hungry, but she had only had donuts a few times before in her life. Mindoir wasn’t a conducive place for pastry makers.

“I’m betting you still have room for a donut.” Firefly grinned, nudging Riley playfully. “A single tiny donut, covered in wonderful, delicious, creamy frosting?”

Riley’s stomach growled and she blushed.

“I thought so,” Firefly said proudly. “Let’s go in.”

Firefly trotted to the front door of Pony Joe’s and it slid open as soon as she neared it. She stepped in, waiting in the entrance for Riley to follow her inside.

Stepping over the threshold, Riley took a moment to look over the shop. It looked like something she might have seen back on Earth in the mid twentieth century. Vinyl seating, aluminum napkin holders, and even a jukebox sat in the corner of the shop. Behind a large counter on one side of the shop, a light amber earth pony stallion with a light orange mane and a pink donut for a cutie mark served the few customers in the shop with a smile, handing over a box to a pair of unicorn mares.

"There you go, ma'ams. A dozen donuts." He waved them goodbye as they left his shop, a warm smile on his face. "Have a nice day."

Seeing two new customers step aside to let the mare's out, he greeted them warmly. "Hello there! Welcome to Pony Joe's."

Firefly let out a small sigh of relief when the stallion didn't react at all to the fact that there was a famous human in his shop. "Hello."

"I'm Donut Joe," the stallion said. He took a moment to adjust the little hat atop his head before meeting both females in the eye. "What can I do for you?"

"We are here for the finest donuts." Firefly said this with a nod, a punctuation. "I have heard that Pony Joe's is the place to come for that."

"You heard right." Donut said that proudly, his eyes twinkling merrily. "No better place for Donut's in all of Equestria."

"What would you suggest than?" Firefly asked, looking over the display case and the donuts behind it. Dozens of types of donuts were artfully arrayed in what could have possibly been the most tasty showing that Firefly had ever seen.

"Right now, our classic glazed donuts would be the best. They are hot and fresh, and you can't ask for a better donut." Donut Joe waved a hoof over said donuts, his smile enticing. "What do you say?"

"Two glazed then, sir." Firefly pulled her bit bag out from under her wing, setting it on the counter.

"Please, call me Donut." He pulled two glazed donuts out and set them on a pair of napkins with a spatula he held in his mouth. "That'll be two bits please."

Paying the stallion, Firefly went to take her donut but Riley beat her to the punch. She picked up both and smiled at Firefly.

"I can get it. Having fingers is good for some things after all." She looked around the diner. "Why don't you pick the seat."

"Thank you." Firefly led Riley over to a corner table that looked out over the cliff. "This is good."

They both sat down, and Riley set one of the donuts in front of Firefly. She took a bite of her own, and she marveled at the absolute bit of heaven that burst into her mouth.

Firefly sat there, taking a bite of her own, chewing thoughtfully.

"How did you learn... ballet?" Firefly asked, curiosity filling her. It struck her as odd, and she truly wanted to know. "Mindoir wasn't a particularly large colony and I can't imagine that there was a dance school."

Riley took a moment to process that before smiling and giving a little laugh. "The mayor's wife was trained in the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. She came with her husband, but realized that she had left behind all of the art and class that she was used to. She started a dance school instead. It ended up being one of the largest organizations. Most of the girls ended up going to her classes at one point or another."

"That was kind of her." Firefly took another bite of her donut.

"Yeah." Riley nodded. "I was one of her favorites. She singled me out the first day, and ever since then she gave me private lessons two days every week. I thought for so long that I was going to go back to Earth as soon as I graduated and blow the socks off of the dance community, the poor little farm girl who could dance like an angel."

Riley leaned back, glaring down at her donut. "I was such an idiot."

"No." Firefly shook her head, reaching a hoof over the table to place it comfortingly over Riley's hand. "You were a girl with dreams. Dreams can change, but you were never an idiot."

Riley shrugged, unconvinced.

"Riley..." Firefly gently rubbed the back of Riley's hand, chewing on her bottom lip for a moment. "Prism and I have been talking."

Riley looked up, meeting Firefly's gaze nervously. "What about?"

"We know that you have been having nightmares, Riley." Firefly made sure that her voice was quiet, non-confrontational. She didn't want Riley in anyway to think that she was being judgmental. "You don't need to suffer alone. We're here for you, and you can talk to us at anytime, day or night."

Flinching, Riley looked down at her lap, pulling her hand out from underneath Firefly's hoof.

"If you won't talk to us, Riley," Firefly said, worrying away at her lip. "Then you can at least talk to a professional. You've been through a horrible experience, but you don't need to keep going through it every night. We can find somepony who can help you."

For a long moment, both Riley and Firefly were silent. What could Riley say to that? She hated herself. She didn't deserve to get better, and she would only drag others down with her if she told others about the nightmares that haunted her. She was alone, and that was all there was to it.

"I'm fine." Riley muttered, glancing down and to the left. "I don't need to talk to anyone."

Firefly stared at Riley for a long moment. She wanted to say so much. She wanted to tell Riley that she was worth every moment of it. She wanted to tell her that stubbornness and fear would get her nowhere in life. She wanted to take her in her hooves and never let her go. The girl needed a hug like no one else in the galaxy.

Instead, she did none of those things. Riley was still so fragile, and to push her to far might mean breaking her in ways that she would never recover from.

"Alright." Firefly nodded sadly. "But please remember this. We are always here for you. Always."

"Yeah." Riley didn't believe it.

Chapter Seventeen - New Friends

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Chapter Seventeen - New Friends
Canterlot, Equestria
July 13th, 2170

Firefly and Riley did not stay long at Pony Joe's after their conversation, the weight of matters Riley was unwilling to broach weighing heavily upon them both. They made their way back to those, though Firefly did stop at a few of the shops that caught her eye to buy a few things that she was sure they would need in the coming months.

A map of Pegasus flight areas was probably the most helpful thing that she had purchased. Equestria was unique among all the other races in the fact that a large percentage of its citizens could fly without the assistance of machines. With the introduction of flying machines that could kill those very same citizens if there was ever an accident had led the Princesses to create strict flight paths for all ships to follow. To fly outside of them without approval from a very select few in the government would mean an extremely lengthy stay in jail. Teaching the areas that were allowed for Pegasus flight was a crucial duty, and Firefly knew that she would have to have several long talks with Rainbow to ensure she understood the severity of the situation.

They made the trip back to the house in near silence.

The only words that passed between them were spoken by Firefly whenever she had to stop, and Riley would dutifully follow along with anything that the pegasus mare needed to do. She raised no complaint, nor did she give her approval.

By the time they stepped back onto their street, Firefly knew that it would take a miracle to salvage her mood from the dumps they had fallen into. It had definitely been far too early to bring up the matter with Riley. She should have waited. She should have found a way to bring it up far more delicately.

Firefly sighed. As the author of one of Equestria's highest selling series, she was more than aware of the way that the world worked. She knew how ponies interacted with each other and understood the subtle politics that occurred in every conversation. The only problem was that that knowledge only ever applied to her writing. In real life, Firefly was absolutely useless. She never quite knew what the right thing to do was, and she often followed Prism's lead to ensure that she never offended any pony.

It appeared that that trait would now be coloring all of her interactions with her new human daughter. She despised that part of herself, and Firefly wanted nothing more than to make sure that Riley understood her.

She did nothing, instead just walking slowly next to Riley as they got ever closer to their new home.


They both stopped as Twilight Velvet burst out through her front door, galloping towards them with the most hopeful look on her face. Following behind her at a more sedate pace was Twilight Sparkle, grumbling under breath as she trailed after her mother.

"Firefly, thank Celestia I saw you!" Velvet practically slid to a stop in front of Firefly and Riley. "I've been trying to find some pony all day, and you're the first!"

Firefly and Riley shared a glance before turning back to the other mare. Velvet looked absolutely frazzled, her mane starting to go absolutely wild as stress tore her down bit by bit. Her eyes were bloodshot, and the panic was clear behind them. She hopped up and down on all four of her hooves, smiling just a little too widely to be comforting.

"Is there something you need, Velvet?" Firefly watched the other mare carefully, ignoring the instinct to run at the back of her brain. "You look kind of... worried."

"I am." Velvet bobbed her head up and down in what could charitably be called a nod. "Shining Armor broke his leg out in the Everfree Forest, and I have to go out to the hospital with Night Light. We've run into a bit of a problem, though."

"What was he doing out in the Everfree?" Firefly couldn't quite understand why the colt on the edge of stallionhood would be out in such a dreadful place. "Why would he be out there?"

"It was a training exercise," Velvet explained. "He's part of the Royal Guard Officer Training program. He wants to join the Royal Guard as soon as he graduates school. He had this week off for an exercise a lieutenant was conducting."

"Alright." Firefly nodded. "What's your problem?"

Stepping aside to reveal Twilight Sparkle, who was hiding behind her mother, Velvet smiled at Firefly hopefully. "Princess Luna is coming to pick Twilight up tomorrow morning, and I have nopony to watch her for the night. Night Light and I are going to stay the night in Ponyville, but we won't be back until sometime tomorrow night."

"And you're asking if we can watch her?" Firefly asked, fairly sure that was what was happening, but she still wanted to be sure.

"Yes." Velvet said with a single nod, almost a punctuation.

"I have to speak to Prism first." Firefly was fairly certain that there wouldn't be any problems, but Prism had made plans out of the blue before while forgetting to tell her. It would be best just to double check. "Let me make the call real quick."

"No problem," Velvet said, taking a slight step back to give Firefly room to access her omni-tool.

Accessing her husband's phone number, Firefly made the call, sitting back on her haunches as she held up her left hoof to project the video call.

Prism picked up on the second ring, and he smiled as he saw his wife. "Hey there, sweetheart."

"Prism," Firefly said, smiling back at him. "I'm here with Twilight Velvet, and she has a question for us."

"Hi, momma!" Rainbow bounced into view in the video, waving her hoof furiously before disappearing when she fell again.

"Quiet, Rainbow. Your mother and I are talking." Prism patted Rainbow's head off screen, and Firefly giggled at the sound of Rainbow's huff of annoyance. "What was that, Firefly?"

"Velvet is wondering if we could watch Twilight Sparkle for the night. She has to go to Ponyville overnight because her son broke his leg. Twilight has to be here because Princess Luna is coming in the morning to take her back to the castle." Firefly glanced at Riley, wondering what she was thinking about the whole matter. She didn't find any clues though, and Riley was busy looking at everything but her. "I wanted to make sure you hadn't planned anything."

"Right." Prism winced, glancing away from Firefly's gaze. "I sort of promised the Captain of the Royal Guard that you and I could meet him for dinner tonight. He's eager to talk to both of us about where he sees me fitting into the Royal Guard."

"And we have nopony to watch..." Firefly stopped, glancing back at Riley as a thought shot through her head. She turned her attention to Velvet, who was looking on with hopeful worry. "Would you be okay if Riley watched Twilight until we got back from dinner?"

"Yes." Velvet nodded her head rapidly. She wasn't quite sure about letting the human girl watch after her daughter, but she didn't really have any other choice. "It's fine with me."

"Riley." Firefly glanced back at her human daughter, who was following the conversation with far more interest after hearing her name. "What do you think about that? Are you alright with watching Twilight and Rainbow tonight?"

Riley glanced over at Twilight, who was grumbling to herself as she glared at the brick road beneath her hooves. She had to strain to hear what the filly was saying.

"I should be there for my BBBFF," Twilight murmured under her breath. She scuffed at the ground with a hoof, pouting. She wasn't truly angry, but she felt that she was failing her duties as Shining's LSBFF. She knew that there was no way she would have been able to make it back to Canterlot in time for Princess Luna's arrival, and that made her even crankier. "Stupid ponies making me stay with strangers..."

Riley looked back at Firefly, a hint of nervousness racing through her. She had no idea if she would be able to watch after one filly, let alone two. She had only ever watched her little sister Jane when her mother had to run next door to borrow ingredients, or when she ran to the store. If she could barely keep an eight year old girl under control, then how would she be able to watch after two fillies, one who could fly and another who could use magic?

'Yeah." Riley gave a short nod, looking both Firefly and Velvet in the eye. "I can do that."

"Excellent!" Velvet clapped her hooves together, sagging in relief. "I can't thank you enough. This means so much to me! You are an absolute blessing. Both of you. Thank you!"

"Now, Twilight," Velvet said, turning to look at her daughter. She took Twilight's chin with her hoof, lifting it so the filly was looking her in the eye. "I know that you can sometimes forget yourself, but I want you to be on your best behavior for Firefly, Prism, and Riley. Do you understand me? They are watching you out of the kindness of their hearts, and I want you to remember that."

"Yes, mom." Twilight said, sighing. "I'll be on my best behavior."

"That's a good filly." Velvet kissed Twilight's cheek before standing up on all four of her hooves. She gave a thankful smile to Firefly and Riley as she started to back away towards her house. "Thank you again. I have to go pack if I don't want to miss the train."

Turning on her hooves, Velvet galloped back into her house, the door slamming shut behind her.

Out on the street, Firefly, Riley, and Twilight stood still. None of them were sure quite what to do next. Twilight glanced back at her home with longing, but she knew that there was nothing she could do. Instead of running to follow her mother, she instead checked her saddle-bags to make sure that she had everything she needed. It wouldn't do if she had to go back to the castle with some of her books missing! She wouldn't be able to get them again until next weekend, and that would be a disaster!

"It's nearing lunch time." Firefly said, getting an idea of what she should do. "Have you had anything to eat yet, Twilight?"

"No." Twilight shook her head.

"Well, that's good then." Firefly nodded. "Is there anything that you don't like to eat."

"Nope." Twilight shook her head. There was no need to cause problems by being picky. "I like everything."

"Good." Firefly gestured to the house. "Why don't we see what we can order in. I'm sorry that I can't make anything more home-made, but we haven't had a chance to go shopping for food yet."

Firefly started walking back to the house, and only a moment later, Riley and Twilight followed after her.

Despite her own frustrations about the situation, Twilight was intensely interested in seeing the inside of the next door house. It had always been there, sitting empty for as long as she could remember, nopony allowed inside. She had asked Princess Celestia about it when she had first become her apprentice, and the answer had surprised her. The house had become property of the crown after the former inhabitants who had willed it to the Royal Sisters had died. It was all up to Celestia to choose what to do with it.

Stepping through the front door, Twilight took the entirety in with eager eyes. A tall long hall led through the center of the house, leading to a back room that opened up to a spiraling stair case that led up to what Twilight assumed was the second story of the house. Four large passageways sat along the corridor, two on either side, leading to all of the rooms on the first floor. The two nearest the front door led to what looked like a living room on the left and an absolutely enticing family library with floor to ceiling bookshelves wrapping their way around the entire room, only making way for a comfy fireplace that had two plush looking chairs in front of it.

"Am I in heaven?" Twilight murmured, her eyes going wide at the sight of the countless book spines before her.


"What?" Twilight startled, looking over to see Firefly leaning out from what was probably the kitchen. The unicorn filly blushed, rubbing the back of her mane. "Sorry."

Trotting after Firefly, Twilight entered the absolutely most amazing kitchen she had ever seen. Signs of the effortless automation were evident everywhere, from the Haptic Adaptive Interface that she assumed was there to input the instructions for the machines that would end up making all of the food. There were rails set into the ceiling that she could only surmise were the means by which the automated arms that cooked the food moved.

Firefly and Riley sat at the table, both of them looking at Twilight expectantly.

"We're new to the neighborhood," Firefly said, sounding as friendly as she possibly could. "Are there any places you know, any insider tips, that are an absolute must in Canterlot?"

Twilight blushed under their looks before actually thinking through the question that Firefly asked her. Being the center of cultural growth and development, the best chefs across the face of Equestria always found their way to the capital city to show their stuff and learn from the best. With such an abundance of wonderful food, there was an almost overwhelming amount of choices to order from.

As a unicorn who thrived with lists and organization, Twilight felt the sudden need to collate a chart, maybe with graphs if she was lucky. She couldn't resist the little squeal of glee that escaped her lips, doing a happy little dance.

The resulting briefing took over an hour, and it took Firefly and Riley over thirty minutes to even grasp what was happening. They were thrown even deeper into their confusion when the little filly pulled out a flip chart and made a show of the pros and cons of the top fifty delivery restaurants in a fifteen mile radius of the neighborhood. Price vs Food quality was a large majority of her discussion, and by the end of it, both Firefly and Riley had the inkling that they could break in as the cities up and coming food critics.

"Okay," Firefly finally said, feeling her stomach grumble in annoyance and hunger. "Let's just order a pizza."

"-and as you can see, the..." Twilight trailed off as she realized that Firefly was ignoring her and making a call to a pizza house (though she was pleased to note that it was the top of her list of suggestions in that category). "Okay."

She slid into a seat at the table, tapping her hooves together in embarrassment as she realized that she might have overdone it just a little. Once again, she had forgotten who she was around. Princess Luna had spoken to her about that, and she tried to remember to restrain herself, but she found that she didn't always remember.

What was she supposed to do? Did she annoy them? Did they hate her? Twilight hated when the thoughts started pouring through her head, but she didn't know of anyway to stop it. She had tried, and others had tried to help her, but nothing worked. The thoughts would come and tear her down, piece by piece. She wanted to do nothing more than curl up in a tiny ball and hide under her covers, away from the entire world.

Instead of doing that, Twilight shuffled her hooves on the chair, staring intently at the grain of the wood on the table. She hated the way that she could feel the gaze of Firefly and Riley on her, shutting her eyes tight as she tried to control her breathing as subtly as she possibly could.

Twilight knew that she wasn't succeeding.

She didn't care.

Above all of the nervousness and anxiety Twilight could not wait for it to be tomorrow, back in her tower where she belonged, surrounded by all of her books and lessons.

The pizza arrived within thirty minutes, and though Firefly made some attempts to get a conversation going, both Riley and Twilight were reticent, their mouths firmly shut.

“We’re home!”

All three of the females at the table turned towards the sound of the male voice at the door. Twilight didn’t recognize the voice, but she clearly saw that Riley and Firefly did. Her mind quickly supplied the most likely answer and landed on Rainbow Prism.

She slipped out of her chair, following the lead of Firefly and Riley. Nervous, she had no idea what she was supposed to do, shuffling back and forth on her hooves. Firefly left the kitchen, presumably to go and greet the rest of her family Twilight guessed. Riley just stood next to her seat, though she looked far more comfortable than Twilight felt.

In the front hallway, Firefly trotted out of the kitchen with a welcoming smile on her muzzle. Prism and Riley stood just inside the entrance, and Firefly couldn’t help but giggle at the sight she found before her.

Rainbow had somehow managed to find a way to completely cover herself from head to tail in mud, her muzzle turned down in a grumpy frown. Prism was trying his best to clean her off with a towel, but all he was managing to do was to push the mud deeper into the filly’s coat.

“Well, well, well. What happened here?” Firefly asked, wishing that she had a camera with her. “What did you get yourself into, silly filly?”

Sighing, Rainbow looked away, her head hanging low.

Spitting the towel out of his mouth, Prism looked at Firefly with a complete sense of relief.

“It’s a long story.” His voice sounded tired, but there was an underlying tone of thankfulness. Out of the two of them, Firefly was far better at wrangling Rainbow Dash than he was. “A really long story.”
“Right.” Firefly gave a quick nod. She couldn’t even begin to imagine what series of events had led up to a mud covered Rainbow Dash. She turned her gaze to her daughter, “Well, you can tell me all about it as I get you cleaned up.”

Leaning down, she gestured with a wing for Rainbow to climb up onto her back. “Get on. We don’t want little muddy hoof prints through the house.”

Jumping up onto her mother’s back, the mud in Rainbow’s fur squished uncomfortably into Firefly’s own coat. She groaned at the feeling, certain that she would have to join her daughter in the shower to make sure they both got clean.

There was a lot of squirming and struggling from Rainbow’s end as Firefly did her best to wash off all of the mud from the filly’s coat.

“Ugh.” Rainbow’s disgust from having to take a second shower that day was palpable. Her mane drooped down over her eyes, and she looked absolutely miserable. “I hate this.”

“Yep.” Firefly couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the over-dramatic way that Rainbow reacted to getting clean. “If you hate it so much, you should try to avoid mud.”

“It wasn’t my fault!” Rainbow protested, stomping a hoof for emphasis. “Dad did it. He pushed me!”

“Dad pushed you?” Firefly was one-hundred percent sure that there was more to the story than what Rainbow was telling her. “Really.”

“Well…” Rainbow shook her head, droplets of water flying from her mane. “I might have pushed him first.”

“And he pushed you into a puddle of mud?” Firefly smirked at the very tall tail she knew Rainbow was giving her.

“Well…” Rainbow winced, shaking her head back and forth. “I might have jumped into the puddle after he pushed me to try and get him into trouble.”

“Thought so.” Firefly felt vindication. She knew the way her daughter acted, and she was a prankster to the very core of her being. Sometimes the ‘pranks’ she tried to pull were not very well thought through.

This being one of those times.

By the time that they had finished, the entire shower would have to be cleaned of the mud and debris. Thankfully their new house had a self-cleaning machine for that.

The marvels of technology, making ponies lives easier across all of Equestria.

Cleaning dirt from tile with hooves was not an easy task.

Rainbow jumped out of the shower and before she could simply shake off all of the water, Firefly shot her a meaningful look. Grumbling, she grabbed a towel off of the rack, scrubbing it over her coat just enough to go from dripping to extremely moist. At least she would just be leaving behind little wet hoof prints instead of muddy hoof prints.

“Go on.” Firefly took a much more careful approach to drying herself off, making sure to pay special attention to her feathers, taking the opportunity to do a quick preen. “I can see how eager you are to get back downstairs to do… whatever it is you want to do.”

“Yeah!” Rainbow was out of the bathroom like a shot, and she could only barely hear her shouted words as she darted down the staircase. “Thanks, mama!”

“That’s what I’m here for,” Firefly murmured, setting her own towel back onto the rack. It was good for a few more times. “Cleaning up after little fillies.”

“Riley!” Rainbow was happy that she would finally have a chance today to hang out with the best big sister in all of Equestria! “Rile-Humph!”

Rainbow’s rush into the kitchen was halted immediately by a rather soft and furry object, which seemed to have jumped out of nowhere. She crashed to the floor along with said soft and furry object, and all that she could do was lay there for a moment as she tried to regain her bearings.

The first thing she realized was that her father was laughing at her. The second thing she realized was that Riley was quietly giggling at her as well.

The third thing that Rainbow realized was that her muzzle was firmly planted in the rump of one Twilight Sparkle.

“Gah!’ Rainbow pushed off with all four of her hooves and flapped with her wings to extricate herself from her situation as quickly as she possibly could. “Blech!” She scraped at her tongue and muzzle with her hooves, spitting and dry-heaving. “Gross!”

Twilight Sparkle’s cheeks were completely red as she sat up, looking anywhere but the two ponies and the human in the room. As a near permanent resident of the Royal Castle, she had never been in such an embarrassing position before. To have been bowled over and another filly’s face in her rump was nothing short of disastrous.

Still snickering, Prism edged out of the room, heading upstairs to get ready for the dinner.

“Uh…” Rainbow stammered, and she couldn’t think of a single thing to say. “Well… uh… um… I meant to do that.”

Rainbow’s eyes shot open wide when she realized what exactly she had said. “Wait! No. I didn’t mean to do that. I mean… I meant that I… uh…”

Twilight simply stared down at the floor, shuffling her hooves. She could not imagine a more horrible event happening to her, and she wanted to make a quick escape next door to her safe, warm bed, where she could hide under the covers away from all of the laughing voices of the world.
“Right.” Riley made herself known, stepping forward and drawing the two fillies attention to herself. “That’s a thing that happened. We should… move on. Do you want something to eat, Rainbow?”

“Yeah.” Rainbow blushed as her stomach grumbled at the mere mention of food. A moment later, Twilight’s stomach did the same.

Riley sighed in relief. One disaster averted through the power of between meal snacks. Hopefully the rest of the night could go as simply.

Prism was nervous, though he was hopeful that it wasn’t showing on his face. He was sitting by the bed as he waited for Firefly to finish getting ready in the bathroom. The time for the meeting was fast approaching, and there was a pit growing in his stomach. Unlike his wife, who was able to meet with anypony and easily talk with them as if she had known them her entire life, he seas a much shier pony. He tended to keep to himself, and while he was thankful for his upcoming meeting, he wished that it was already over with.

“Do you think that…” Firefly’s voice trailed off from inside the bathroom. A moment later, she peeked her head out, looking at Prism worriedly. “Do you think that the girls are going to be alright tonight?”

“Yeah.” Prism admired the gold feathers that she had attached all throughout her wings, loving the way that they glinted in the light. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that, this is the first time that Riley is ever going to watch Rainbow on her own.” Firefly hated that she was even having this conversation, but she couldn’t help but think that it was needed. “She’s still incredibly hurt, and I don’t know how smart it is to let her watch after the two fillies.”

That made Prism pause. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Firefly was right. Riley had seen things that made surprised she was still even able to function normally.

A moment later, he shook his head. She was his daughter, and he trusted her. “She’ll be fine. Riley is more than capable of watching after the two fillies.”

Firefly was quiet for a minute, leaning against the doorway deep in thought. Finally, she nodded her head, though the worried expression didn’t leave her face. “You’re right. She’s a responsible young woman and we can trust her.”

“Yes.” Prism cantered forward, nuzzling against his wife’s side. He smiled encouragingly at her, giving her a wink. “We can. Everything will be alright, you’ll see. Riley is going to be perfectly fine, and she’ll watch after Rainbow and Twilight, and they’ll all be in bed at an appropriate hour.”

He laughed as another thought entered his head. “The girls will all be fine… The house though…”

“What about the house?” Firefly’s worried expression was back all of a sudden, her eyes wide. “What’s going to happen to the house?”

“Well.” Prism chuckled to himself as he thought about his rambunctious youngest daughter. “You have met Rainbow Dash, haven’t you.”

“Oh, Celestia!” Firefly’s forehooves flew up to her mouth as she thought of all of the possibilities. “We’re not going to have a house when we come home, are we?”

“Well, Riley is going to be watching after them, so hopefully the house will still be here.” Prism wasn’t completely sure about that, but a stallion could dream. Thankfully, they did have an absolutely amazing insurance plan, so it wouldn’t be disastrous.

Firefly and Prism met Riley, Rainbow, and Twilight downstairs in the kitchen as the two fillies finished up what looked like a snack of apples and peanut butter.

“Alright, so it looks you girls are all set.” Prism stepped over to the table, wrapping his good wing around Rainbow in a hug. She laughed, leaning into his side. “Please try not to tear the house down while we’re gone, Rainbow. We just got it and we’re starting to like it.”

“Dad!” Rainbow protested, her voice squeaking. “I’m not going to tear down the house.”

“Well, you say that…” Prism laughed at her indignant face as he stepped around the table to hug Riley goodbye. “Now, try to get in bed at a reasonable hour, Riley. I don’t know when we’ll be home, so I wouldn’t worry if we’re not back before you three are all in bed.”

Firefly cantered over to Riley, giving her a hug of her own before pulling out her money purse from under her wing. She pulled out a number of bits, and placed them in Riley’s hand. “That should be good for dinner for the three of you.” She leaned in an hugged Riley again. “Have fun tonight.”

Riley, Rainbow, and Twilight followed Prism and Firefly out of the kitchen and to the front hallway. The five of them lingered momentarily, unsure of what they were supposed to do. Finally, Prism coughed awkwardly and opened the front door. “Well, we’re off. You can call us at any time if there’s a problem.”

Putting his good wing over Firefly’s back, the two of them left the house, shutting the door behind them.

Rainbow, Riley, and Twilight stood there for another minute, quiet and unsure of what they were supposed to do. Without her usual bravado, Rainbow sidled closer to Riley’s side before spreading her wings and taking a giant leap to perch on top of the girl’s shoulder.

“What are we supposed to do?” Rainbow whispered into Riley’s ear. “Twilight’s kind of boring.”

Rainbow wasn’t exactly as quiet as she had meant to be, and Twilight easily overheard her. Hours of being uncomfortable and nervous in a strange home surrounded by ponies she had only met once before finally boiled over and she snapped.

“I am the student of Princess Celestia, Emperor of all of Equestria!” Stomping a hoof against the ground, Twilight glared at Rainbow who was still perched on her older sister’s shoulder. “By extension, I am also the student of Princess Luna. The immortal Alicorns of Equestria spend their days ruling the planet and teaching me how to break the laws of physics with magic beyond all mortal comprehension!”

Rainbow and Riley glanced at each other, completely unsure of where all of this was coming from. They had never taken the unicorn to be one for bragging.

“I have learned more in the past year than you ever will during your entire life.” Twilight paced back and forth, practically growling from her agitation. Hereditary horn lit up and she scrunched her eyes shut in intense concentration.

Riley and Rainbow watched in amazement as a purple glow slowly surrounded Twilight before the unicorn disappeared with a pop, air squeezing in to fill the void she once occupied.

Half a meter away down the hall, Twilight reappeared with a crack, grinning proudly at Riley and Rainbow. “I have learned things that no other unicorn in history has been able to accomplish, and I do them with ease.”

Rainbow glanced at Riley, who had no idea what was happening, before turning her attention back to Twilight. “Big whoop. You can teleport. That’s not anything amazing. You’ll never be able to fly, and that means you’ll never be as awesome as me!”

“Big whoop?” Twilight’s eyes widened in amazement at the gall Rainbow had in not acknowledging the awesome superiority of a unicorn’s greatest achievement. “Not anything amazing? Do you have any idea how much power it takes to teleport?”

“No.” Rainbow shrugged her shoulders. “Fifty… Sixty… thingamajigs?”

“Fifty or sixty thingamajigs?” Twilight shook her head. “Now you are just spouting nonsense!”

“No!” Rainbow glanced back and forth, biting her lip. “Maybe.”

“I bet you don’t even understand flight mechanics.” Twilight grinned, looking way too smug for her own good. “A Pegasus who doesn’t even understand how she can fly.”

“I totally understand all of that.” Rainbow pshawed, waving a hoof at Twilight. “There isn’t a Pegasus out there who knows more about flying than me.”

“Really?” Twilight raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Prove it.”

“Right… Prove it.” Rainbow gulped, feeling a lot less unsure of herself than she had a moment ago. “Uh… First you start with flapping your wings, and the harder you flap, the faster you’ll go.”

“Wrong!” Twilight pranced happily for a moment, ducking inside of the living room. “You couldn’t be more wrong!”

Riley and Rainbow followed after the unicorn into the living room to find her standing on top of the couch, head held high in preparation of delivering a lesson. “Pegasus flight would be absolutely impossible without the use of magic. It’s not simply a matter of flapping your wings and you fly. A Pegasus’ wings are too small to attain flight in any other way. Like a unicorns horn, the wings are simply conductors of magic.”

“Magic?” Rainbow felt completely confused.

“Yes! Magic.” Twilight shook her head, pacing back on forth on the couch. “It says a lot about the Equestrian education system that you don’t even know that much. I will be taking the matter up with Princess Celestia tomorrow, because this state of ignorance cannot be allowed. The fact that curiosity and awe has been so stripped away from our society is something that needs to be changed.”

Twilight stomped her hoof against the cushion. “Nopony is curious anymore. Nopony wonders why it is that we can use magic and no other species in the entire galaxy can. Why is it that the entire galaxy runs off of Element Zero, and we would have never even learned about it if it weren’t for Chelsea. Without a human coming to save us all, we would have never learned about anything!”

Striding forward, Twilight stared at Riley like she was an anomaly. “What makes humanity so different? Why can you all function without magic? Why was it you, and not the Turians, or the Asari, or even the Hanar?”

Riley glanced down at Rainbow, an uneasy feeling settling in the pit of her stomach at the way Twilight was staring at her.

“What makes humanity so special?” Twilight spoke softly, stepping forward on the cushions, never letting her gaze leave Riley.

Riley watched the expressions playing across Twilight’s face with concern. It looked like she was fighting against herself, and Riley was more than a little concerned that the little filly might strain a muscle.

“Are you alright…” Riley reached forward, ready to snap Twilight out of whatever funk she had gotten herself into.

Whatever she was fighting against, Twilight clearly gave into it as the strain turned to peace and she jumped up onto the couch.

“It was simply momentous!” Twilight sang out, a melody seeming to appear from everywhere around her, and nowhere, all at once. “When I became Celestia’s Apprentice.”

Riley glanced at Rainbow, wondering what in the world was going on, but her little sister didn’t seem at all surprised that Twilight had broke into a musical number out of nowhere.

“But while my days are always sunny.” Twilight continued, taking a few steps forward to stare meaningfully into the distance. “I have a growing need to study.”

“I have always found it tragic.” She did a strange little hop skip across the cushions and stopped in front of Riley. “That other species can’t do magic.”

“But despite the impossibility,” Twilight sang, jabbing a hoof at Riley almost accusatorially. “You exist despite all plausibility.”

Riley found her grasp of the situation falling even further away at the seemingly fully formed song springing out of Twilight Sparkle from absolutely nowhere. She knew that the filly was brilliant, but she had no idea that she was such an accomplished word-smith as well.

“I must learn all about their biology,” Twilight sang turning away from Riley to dramatically pace the length of the couch. She looked back at Riley, staring directly at the small bracelet that held her omni-tool. “And disassemble their technology.”

Riley moved her arm, not wanting go through the hassle of getting a new omni-tool because Twilight took apart her old one.

“Even with their System Alliance.” Twilight continued on, unaffected by Riley’s worry. “I cannot help but want to do SCIENCE!”

“Not a single pony could have foreseen.” Pointing a hoof at Rainbow, Twilight shook her flank and bounced up and down. “The way that humans use machines.”

“Even if I must be forceful.” Turning her attention back to Riley, a large, unsettling grin overtook her muzzle. “I must know why you are so resourceful.”

“I must learn all about their biology.” Twilight jumped off the couch, strutting around the room in time with the melody. “And disassemble their technology.”

“Even with their System Alliance.” She rushed forward, doing a jump and slide across the floor as she gave her big finale. “I cannot help but want to do SCIENCE!”

The room lapsed into silence after Twilight finished, and the three girls found themselves sitting in the awkward quiet. Riley shifted uncomfortably, not sure how she was supposed to take that spontaneous song from the filly that she had only met once before. Why a little unicorn filly wanted to do science on her, she had no idea.

It was more than a little creepy after all.

Glancing at Rainbow, Riley looked at her little sister, hoping that she had any clue about what had just happened. Rainbow simply shrugged in confusion.

Turning her attention back to Twilight, Riley took a moment to look over the filly. Twilight was looking at Riley with wide eyes, seeming to have realized what exactly she had just done and wildly wishing that she could take it back.

“Um…” Riley scratched the back of her neck, unsure of what she should say. “Uh… what… what was that?”

“What was what?” Twilight asked with a small voice, looking anywhere else but Riley’s eyes, a blush showing through the fur on her cheeks.

“What was what?” Riley repeated, not quite believing Twilight. “What was what? What was that? The singing. The dancing. What was that?”

“Right.” Twilight nodded, looking like she was about to bolt for cover behind the couch. “The singing… and the dancing. That was… uh… That was…”

Shuffling her hoof against the floor, Twilight ducked her head in embarrassment. “It was a harmony song.”

“A harmony song?” In all of the talks that Firefly and Prism had had with her about adjusting to life on Equestria, harmony songs had never come up. “What’s a harmony song?”

“You’ve never heard of a harmony song?” Twilight lost the look of embarrassment, though it was mostly just forgotten in place of her sudden curiosity and disbelief. “Harmony songs are… they’re harmony songs! How else are you supposed to explain them?”

“Still never heard of them.” Riley glanced over to Rainbow, who looked equally befuddled. “You?”

“Nope.” Rainbow shook her head. “Never.”

“How could you have never heard about a harmony song?” Twilight looked like she wanted to start hopping up and down in confusion and disbelief. “I can’t seem to go a week without having to take place in one! They happen all the time. How can you never have even heard of them?”

“Don’t know.” Rainbow edged closer to Riley, not liking the sudden madness that had entered Twilight’s eyes. “What’s a harmony song?”

Twilight took a deep breath, shutting her eyes as she gathered her thoughts. “Right. A harmony song is an expression of the magic of friendship and harmony that covers all of Equestria. When the magic of any single pony gets too big for them to contain the magic leaks out and spreads to all of the ponies surrounding them. It starts a harmony song!”

“But…” Riley still had no idea what that meant. “What is a harmony song?”

“Well.” Twilight bit her lip, her nervousness and embarrassment returning. “When the magic gets too much for them to contain, they break out into song. Anypony surrounding them will generally join in, with the magic of friendship guiding them all in harmony.”

“Actually,” Twilight murmured, turning to look at Rainbow. “You didn’t join in. Why didn’t you join in? Nopony ignores a harmony song.”

“This pony did.” Rainbow still felt incredibly confused. She had never heard anything about harmony songs. She had never heard her parents even bring it up before, and she couldn’t help but wonder if Twilight was just making all of it up. “And this pony wonders if you pony is crazy.”

Twilight growled, but a small little fact that flittered through her mind stopped the rant she was just about to go on in its tracks. Cloudsdale rarely ever experienced harmony songs. All pegasus exclusive settlements were the same, though nopony had any clue why that was the case. Earth pony exclusive settlements experienced them, and unicorns couldn’t get away from them, but the Pegasus were the odd ones in the bunch.

“Oh…” Twilight blushed, sinking down. “Um… I just remembered that the Pegasus… uh… they don’t really… you wouldn’t have… Cloudsdale doesn’t experience harmony songs.”

“Right.” Riley nodded. She had no idea where to go from there.

Twilight felt a panic attack building within her. She had done exactly what her mother had told her not to do, and with her ‘harmony’ song, she had pretty much spat in Riley’s face and probably ruined any chance of becoming her friend. She hated when she was unable to do anything to stop herself from her own freak-outs.

Running on instinct, Twilight idly felt her horn ignite, her saddle-bags zipping into the room beside her. Moments later, she was clutching onto Smarty Pants like her life depended on it. Her foalsitter, Cadance, had given her the doll after she had met her. It was a ratty little thing, a little filly made from scraps of cloth, but it was Twilight’s most prized possession. It was a lifeline, and it kept her from completely collapsing in onto herself.

Riley and Rainbow watched as Twilight’s breathing began to speed up, nearing the point of hyperventilation.

“What’s she doing?” Rainbow leaned over, asking her older sister. The other filly was a complete enigma to the Pegasus, and she had no clue how she was supposed to respond to her.

“I don’t know.” Riley shrugged, feeling sure that she was as confused as Rainbow felt. Leaning forward, Riley kept her gaze firmly on the purple unicorn. “Twilight… Twilight, are you alright.”

She didn’t respond, instead rocking back and forth. Twilight started to mumble to herself, and both Riley and Rainbow had to strain to her what she was saying.

No. I’m gonna get in trouble, and the Princess will send me back to magic kindergarten. No! Worse. Magic preschool. I’m so bad that I have to go to the school where they teach you how to do school!

“Um…” Riley shuffled forward on her knees, reaching a hand out tentatively to touch Twilight, maybe drawing her out of her funk. “Twilight, are you alright?”

Still nothing.

Glancing back at Rainbow, Riley finally decided that enough was enough and took matters into her own hands. Picking Twilight up off of the floor, the filly squeaked in surprise at the sudden sensation of flying. In her surprise, she dropped Smarty Pants as she looked up to find Riley cradling her like a baby in her arms.

“It’s fine, Twilight.” Riley gently stroked Twilight’s mane, even as the filly clenched her eyes shut. “You’re fine. You’re not in trouble. No one is mad at you. Relax, and don’t worry about it. You’re fine, you’re safe. Don’t worry.”

Cracking open one of her eyes, Twilight peered up at Riley’s face, surprised to find the older human girl smiling down comfortingly at her. She leaned back into the absolutely wonderful feeling of her fingers through her mane.

“What…” Twilight’s mind felt sluggish, and she struggled to figure out what was happening. “I don’t understand…”

“You were freaking out, and neither of us know why.” Riley nodded her head towards Rainbow, who looked nearly as confused as Twilight felt. “The singing might have been a little strange, but you’re fine. You didn’t do anything bad enough to get yourself sent back to… magic kindergarten, so… pony up and don’t worry about it.”

“Right.” Twilight nodded. “Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” Riley reassured her.

“Sorry.” Twilight blushed, realizing that she had done it again. “Sorry.”

When Riley stood, Twilight felt strange but also safe in the girl’s arms. Riley sat down on the couch that Twilight had just spent the last minute or so dancing across, but she didn’t let the unicorn filly out of her embrace, still running her fingers through her mane.

“Hey, Twilight.” Riley smiled as an idea flitted through her head, a way to get the filly’s thoughts away from her perceived mistake. “What is a Cutie Mark? I’ve heard a lot about them, but no one has told me what they actually are.”

“Oh?” Twilight perked up, straightening up in Riley’s lap. “Well, a Cutie Mark is something that everypony receives after they discover their special talent that sets them apart from everypony else. It represents a ponies destiny.”

“How did you get your Cutie Mark, Twilight?” Riley was genuinely curious. She had not heard any of her families stories yet.

Twilight squealed in excitement, all of her worries and fears from moments before forgotten as she bounced onto the couch cushions. Her Cutie Mark story was absolutely her most favorite story in the whole wide world, and she barely managed to restrain herself from going into her bouncing excited ‘yes’ dance.

Taking a deep breath, she sat down on the cushions and looked at both Riley and Rainbow with a wide smile.

“When I saw Princess Celestia raise the sun at the summer sun celebration, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I was going to be the best unicorn ever, and learn as much about magic as I could.” Twilight doesn’t realize how narcissistic that sounds, but she was too excited to care. “My parents enrolled me at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns!”

With the amount of joy that Twilight was expressing at that, Rainbow and Riley shared a glance.

“Is that… good?” Riley asked. She had no frame of reference for anything Equestrian related. She had no idea what that even meant.

“Good?” Twilight stopped her bouncing, staring at Riley with disbelief. “Is that good?”

Twilight huffed, stomping her foot. “Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns is only the best school in all of Equestria! The best and most talented unicorns in history were taught there, and only the best of the best can get in!”

“So it’s good then.” Riley didn’t really know if that was the case, but she didn’t want to antagonize the clearly passionate filly any further.

“The entrance exam is one of the toughest tests than any colt or filly could make!” Twilight jumped, her eyes wide and the need to make the pegasus and the human understand just how impressive her achievement was. “That’s without knowing the last test.”

“What’s the last test?” Rainbow asked, only half-interested. Nopony had as cool of a cutie mark story as she did. Sonic. Rainboom. Bam. Instant awesome.

“The professor’s bring you into a final room and make you hatch a dragon egg.” Twilight sat down, nodding thankfully.

“And you hatched Spike.” Rainbow nodded. “How did that make you Celestia’s student? What’s so special about you if every pony goes through that same test?”

“No!” Twilight couldn’t find the words to express to Rainbow Dash how utterly wrong she was. Instead, she let out a little growl of frustration. “No! That’s not how it works at all.”

“Well, then tell us how it works.” Rainbow rolled her eyes, leaning back against Riley who idly began scratching between her ears. The pegasus filly had to resist the urge to start purring. Cats purred. Ponies did not purr. Nope. Nada. Not one bit.

“That dragon egg has been with the school for nearly eight-hundred years.” Twilight had begged Princess Celestia to tell her what she knew of it, and it had surprised her at the time. It still did whenever she actually took a moment to think about it. “Its mother gave it Celestia as a gift after realizing that the baby dragon inside was still-born. When she started her school, the professors eventually learned of it and decided to use it as a test for all the new students, to see how they reacted to their magic not being able to accomplish what they ordered it to do. They never expected that anypony would have been able to actually hatch it.”

Twilight took a deep breath, having practically spewed all of that out at once. Rainbow was only half-listening, but Riley’s full attention was on her, so Twilight continued.

“The egg had fossilized over the years. It was nothing more than stone.” Twilight felt a little bit of sadness at that. Spike had once been nothing more than a fossilized egg, his birth mother long dead and forgotten to time. “I didn’t know any of that. I thought it was a test that every student was supposed to pass, and that I was failing.”

“Well, what happened?” Riley asked, still scratching Rainbow as she leaned forward with interest.

“No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much magic I pushed through my horn, nothing happened.” Twilight shuddered at the memory. She hated how helpless she had felt. “The Professors were looking at me like I was such a failure. I had to do something.”

Twilight wasn’t quite sure how to explain the next part. She had spoken to a lot of ponies about the events of that day, and as far as she was able to tell she was the only one to have seen the event in the sky above. Nopony else remembered it. She shrunk in on herself for a moment, wondering if she should actually continue the story. She didn’t want Riley and Rainbow to make fun of her. That wouldn’t be any fun at all.

Looking over at them though, Twilight couldn’t help but suspect that she was alright. She would be more than alright actually. Her entire soul seemed to be singing to her that everything was just as it should be.

Who was Twilight Sparkle to argue with her soul?

“Right as the Professors tried to tell me that my time was up, something happened.” Twilight shut her eyes, not wanting to see the other girls’ reactions. “It was some type of atmospheric event. There was a flare of refracted light, followed by a shock wave, traveling faster than the speed of sound. I was so scared by it, that the next thing I knew there was a full-sized dragon standing inches before me with its head bursting out of the roof, and my parents were potted plants, and I just didn’t know what had happened.”

“Wait.” Rainbow held up a hoof, looking at Twilight with a raised eyebrow. “You’re saying that you saw a burst of rainbow, followed by a large boom?”

“Yeah.” Twilight nodded. She would have described it differently (a flare of refracted light accompanied by a shock wave traveling faster than the speed of sound), but Rainbow was correct. “Why?”

“Well, uh…” Rainbow glanced back at her own cutie mark, a cloud with a blue, yellow, and red lightning bolt erupting from it. “That sounds a lot like how I got my cutie mark.”

“What do you mean?” Twilight asked, looking at Rainbow’s mark.

“I wasn’t taking any sort of test.” Rainbow’s face screwed up in disgust at the idea, sticking her tongue out. “It was a race! I was defending a friend from a bunch of bullies, so I challenged them to a race.”

Stepping away from Riley, Rainbow pushed out her chest and flared her wings dramatically, unknowingly puffing out her cheeks as well. “There I was on the starting line, against two bigger colts. There was no way I was going to let them win! Fluttershy’s honor was on the line.”

“We took off like a shot!” Rainbow jumped into the air, miming their movements with both of her hooves. “I’d never flown like that before! That freedom was unlike anything I’d ever felt. The speed. The Adrenaline. The wind in my mane! I liked it. A lot.”

Rainbow’s eyes went a little wide and glassy at the memories, and a wide smile overtook her muzzle. “One of the bullies cheated, knocking me off the course.”

“No!” Twilight stood up indigently at that, hooked onto every word Rainbow was saying. “Cheating is wrong!”

“It didn’t matter.” Rainbow grinned cockily, strutting forward. “I learned that the only thing I liked more than going fast was winning! I flew so fast that I made a Sonic Rainboom.”

“What’s a Sonic Rainboom?” Riley asked. To her human ears, it sounded more than a little ridiculous.

“A sonic rainboom is a magical event that begins with the breaking of the sound barrier.” Twilight’s eyes widened in excitement at her chance to explain anything related to magic. “A pegasus who can attain such speeds is much wore in tune with their magic than most, and that magic is what causes the so called rainboom effect.”

“Right.” Rainbow rolled her eyes. “Well, that Sonic Rainboom is the only thing that you could have heard.”

“Wait.” Twilight stopped, her mind racing as new connections formed at the speed of thought. “That means…”

“Means what?” Rainbow raised an eyebrow, looking at Twilight in concern as she trailed off, staring into the distance. “You alright there, Twi?”

“That means that we were fated to meet!” Twilight sprang forward, grabbing Rainbow with her forehooves. “You helped me gain my cutie mark! Without you, I never would have become Celestia’s student. Thank you.”

She pulled Rainbow into a hug. The Pegasus pony protested for a moment before sighing and giving her own tentative embrace back.

“Yeah.” Rainbow patted Twilight’s back, looking at Riley who simply shrugged in response. “I guess so.”

“Friends!” Twilight pulled back away from Rainbow, looking at her new friend with a face of wonderment. “Fate itself wanted us to be friends.”

She paused, studying Rainbow’s face for a moment longer. “We are friends… aren’t we?”

Rolling her eyes, Rainbow finally shrugged. “Yeah, why not. Friends.”

“Yes!” Twilight squeaked, pulling Rainbow back into another hug. “I’ve always wanted a friend!”

Opening her eyes, Twilight saw Riley watching their hug with an amused look on her face. “We can be friends too, if you want… Riley.”

“As long as you don’t go dissecting me…” Riley shuffled forward, wrapping both fillies in a big hug with her much longer arms. “I think I’d like that.”

The three girls ended up giggling on the floor, new friends.

“I can’t believe that just happened.”

Firefly giggled, snuggling deeper into her husband’s side as they walked up the path to their new house. It was late, nearing one o’clock in the morning, and she couldn’t quite believe how long the dinner meeting had turned into. Captain Lucky Spirit had been enamored with the idea of having Prism working for the Royal Guard.

“You better believe it, dear.” Firefly nuzzled her husband’s cheek, smiling. “It sounds like you’ve still got a good career ahead of you.”

“I guess so.” Prism was still stunned. They had met at a fancy restaurant near the castle with Captain Lucky Spirit and two of his Lieutenants. All three of them had been extremely eager to meet with him, and they had done their best to make sure that Prism understood that. As the dinner went on, he had learned the shocking fact that the majority of the Royal Guard consisted of Unicorns and Earth Ponies. They simply had no idea what to do with Pegasus. The tactics that they still taught the few Pegasus guards had already become shockingly outdated, and as ground-based ponies, the leaders of the guard had no clue on how to utilize the few they had left.

As a trained Wonderbolt who had actually seen battle, Prism represented an opportunity for the guard, one that they were not willing to pass up. The Captain and his Lieutenants had only stopped short on romancing Prism to get him to accept a job as a “Training and Tactician” Consultant. A job that would also come with the rank of Major, just underneath Captain Lucky Spirit himself. If he had still been a part of the Wonderbolts, it would have taken him ten years to reach that rank naturally.

He was sure that one of the Lieutenants wanted to take it all the way to asking him out on a date to get him to say yes.

He was also really happy that the stallion never got up the courage to take it so far.

“I am beat.” Prism wanted nothing more than to crawl into his bed, curl up with his wife, and sleep until noon tomorrow, though he not before he checked on the girls. He was a responsible adult after all.

“Mmm.” Firefly hummed in agreement.

“Do you think the girls are still alive?” Prism asked, wondering if there had been a clash of personalities while they had been gone.

“Maybe.” Firefly shrugged, pulling the house-key out from her money pouch under her wing. Unlocking the front door, she held it open for Prism to enter and then closed it behind herself after she stepped in herself. “It all depends on how bull-headed Rainbow was.”

“Yep.” Prism nodded, looking around the darkened front hallway. Everything looked intact. “So… not a whole lot of a chance there.”

“Nope.” Firefly listened for any sign of fillyish laughter, or any hooves stomping around upstairs. Hearing nothing, Firefly twitched her ear worriedly. “I don’t hear anything.”

“It’s…” Prism checked the clock on the wall. “It’s one in the morning. Why would you be hearing anything?”

“There are three fillies in the house.” Firefly knew that her husband grew up in a home with no females and two older brothers, so he might not understand the concept of a female sleepover. She was perfectly willing to explain it to him, so he could share her sudden worry. “The house is silent. The fact that it is one in the morning only means that they should be louder than normal right now, causing our neighbors to make noise complaints to the Royal Guard.”

“The Royal Guard.” Prism raised an eyebrow at Firefly, only seeing her outline barely illuminated from the moonlight seeping in through the windows. “Rainbow maybe, but I don’t think that Riley is the type to allow her to get out of hand. From all appearances, she’s a responsible young woman.”

“Have you met Rainbow?” Firefly snorted. Riley might be responsible, but Rainbow was the type to completely ignore that. “For all we know, Twilight could the type to egg Rainbow on. I’m more than a little surprised that the house is still standing to be honest.”

“Still standing?” Prism took note of the house with much more interest, searching for the sign of anything out of place. He didn’t see anything that stood out of place. “Right. Where are they?”

“That’s what I’ve been wondering.” Firefly peeked into the living room, finding nothing there other than pillows and blankets scattered across the floor, the remains of what looked to have been a pillow fort. An empty pizza box lay nearby, and she had to snort at that. Riley and Twilight had had that for lunch and dinner. With a huff, she promised to herself that she would make her oldest daughter eat healthier meals.

“They’re not down here.” Prism had already checked all of the other rooms on the first floor. “They have to be upstairs.”

“Upstairs.” Firefly nodded, trotting out of the living room towards the staircase. “Well, at least the ground floor looks relatively intact, though they’re going to be doing some cleaning in the morning.”

“Better them than us.” Prism did love that aspect of parenthood. Giving chores to children on the grounds of character building.

“You have that right.” Firefly peered into Rainbow’s room. They had managed to set up her bed and gotten almost everything into its right position, her desk, and her single bookshelf, filled with comic-books and the occasional novel that had never been opened (gifts from relatives mostly). As she put it, ‘Rainbow Dash doesn’t read’. “Rainbow’s not in here.”

“That’s probably not a good sign.” Prism made sure to keep his voice quiet, not wanting to wake anyone if they actually were asleep.

Peeking into the guest room that they had hurried set up for Twilight, they found no sign of the little unicorn filly. Checking their own room, all that they found was a clean bed and nothing else.

“Riley’s room,” They both said at the same time. If they weren’t there, it was going to be time to call the Royal Guard and inform them of missing children.

Cracking open Riley’s door, Firefly and Prism peered inside. It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to the darker room. The moon was on the other side of the house, and very little light made it into the large window on the opposite side of the wall.

When their eyes did adjust, Firefly and Prism were met with a sight that made both of them want to coo and laugh at the same time.

On top of the queen sized bed, Riley was sprawled out on top of the covers. Twilight Sparkle was stretched out on her stomach over Riley’s legs, a ratty looking earth pony doll clutched tightly in her hooves. On her back, Rainbow Dash was spread out over Riley’s chest, her head resting on the human girl’s forehead. Murmuring in her sleep, Rainbow flapped her wings lazily and kicked her hooves at the air.

“Oh, Celestia!” Firefly murmured, resisting the urge to squee. “That is the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.”

“Take a picture.” Prism nudged Firefly.

“Why can’t you?”

“Already took my omni-tool off,” Prism explained.

“Fine.” Firefly relented, lifting up her left-hoof. The holographic interface automatically dimmed, sensing the darkness of the room around them. She marveled for a moment at how the camera was able to peer into the near darkness to take a picture that looked like it had been taken during the day. From time to time, technology still marveled her. She knew that Rainbow (and possibly Riley) would make fun of her later for her amazement, but Firefly knew that they would never understand. Going from trains being the height of technology to being able to travel the width of the galaxy in a little under a week was something she was never going to be used to.

“Come on.” Firefly ran a wing along Prism’s side as she shut Riley’s door. “Let’s get to bed. We can deal with those three tomorrow.”

“I’m following right behind you.” Prism trailed sleepily after his wife. Never before had his bed sounded so good. Getting into that bed with his absolutely marvelous wife… well, there was nothing better in the galaxy.

Swinging her moon around to the opposite side of the world, Princess Luna felt a satisfied smile on her muzzle. Sitting on her haunches on her balcony, Luna looked out at the horizon, waiting patiently for her sister to begin her own work.

It started small, with a thin band of brightening sky across the horizon. Moments later, brilliant bands of purple and orange played out across the thin scattering of clouds hanging in the sky as the first edge of the sun peeked up and greeted the world for a new day.

Luna smiled at the sight. Celestia was outdoing herself again. Today’s sunrise would be going into her journal as soon as she had a chance.

Such artistry needed to be recorded by somepony after all. The moment might be lost in time, but it would endure in Luna’s memory.

With her morning ritual complete, Luna turned and stepped off of her balcony and back into her room. It was time for her own day to wind down, and she had just a few things left to do before she could retire to bed. Her bed looked warm and inviting, and there was a very real pull in her mind to just doff her royal vestments and jump into her bed.

She had many long years of practice of resisting such thoughts.

Instead, Luna stepped out of her room and into her hallway. She paid no mind to the Lunar guards standing watch outside of her door. The would be relieved soon, and the Solar Guard would take their place. It didn’t matter to Luna. As the goddess of the moon, on of the immortal rulers of the nation of Equestria, there was nothing she feared. She was far more capable of defending herself than any of the Royal Guard could. Hers was the fury of the void after all.

She made her way through the halls to a small room that sat between the two largest towers of the castle. Like her bedroom, it too was guarded by two attentive stallions with expressionless faces. One Solar Guard, and one Lunar Guard. It was always so, and those charged with guarding this door kept a different schedule than the rest of the guard forces.

They paid her no mind as she opened the door and stepped inside.

The room that greeted her was one of the closest guarded secrets on the entire planet. There were only the barest hints of its existence, and both Luna and Celestia had worked hard to keep it at just that over the centuries.

The room was a place of privacy, one of the only places the immortal sisters could retreat to and simply be themselves. Few ponies were ever allowed entrance, and it was for a good reason. The rooms main purpose was to allow Celestia and Luna to spend their breakfast and dinners together. With such backwards schedules and the inconvenience of almost never being awake at the same time, the sisters had realized long ago that by ruling a kingdom in such a way would leave them very little time for each other.

They had purposefully designed the room back when the castle was first being built to allow them to take their meals together at the only real times that their schedules aligned, for when Luna had her dinner, Celestia had her breakfast. When it was time to lower the sun and raise the moon, those positions would be reversed.

Over the past century, only four beings could rightly claim to have been invited into the room. Chelsea Hall was obvious, and it was only fitting that the savior of Equestria be allowed to dine with the sisters. Princess Mi Amore Cadenza was another. Though few knew of her existence, she was the rightful ruler of the Crystal Kingdom, even if the kingdom hadn’t been seen for a thousand years. Of course, the other two beings were only to be expected. The students of Celestia were treated as family by both sisters, and though one of them had gone astray and run away, there would always be a spot at the table for her, for both of them. All of them.

“Luna.” Celestia greeted Luna with a tired smile and half-lidded eyes. The sun raiser was not a morning pony. “Good morning.”

“Good morning, sister.” Luna took a seat across from the larger Alicorn, smiling at the young unicorn mare who served as their personal waiter as she poured her a cup of water. “Thank you, Seabreeze.”

Seabreeze gave a quick bow, smiling at Luna. “And what would you like for dinner, Princess?”

“I think…” Luna glanced over the castle’s menu for the day. It was customary that all forms of meals would be served at all hours of the day and night, thanks to the conflicting schedules and times kept by the ponies who worked there. “I think that the seafood lasagna sounds wonderful.”

“Very well.” Seabreeze took the menu and gave another bow before leaving the room. She would never understand how the Pegasus’ could enjoy seafood so much. It was a near universal quirk of the flighty race of ponies, one that had transferred over to the Alicorns as well.

Luna turned her attention back to Celestia, whom was busy downing what looked like her third cup of coffee.

“I do not think that caffeine is going to help you much,” Luna said, taking a sip from the glass of wine that Seabreeze had just poured for her. “I believe that a nice glass of orange juice would be better.”

Celestia’s only response was an angry growl as she pulled the mug of coffee closer to her side of the table. “Mine.”

“Alright.” Luna held up a hoof in placation. “The coffee is indeed yours, sister.”

“You’re damn right it is,” she muttered, lifting the mug with her magic to pour herself another cup of the steaming liquid.

Before Luna could say anything in response to that, Seabreeze returned to the room pushing a small cart with a silver tray on top of it. Lifting the cover on the tray, she placed the warm meal in front of the Princess of the Night, her own nose wrinkling slightly at the smell of cooked fish. She bowed to the two Princesses. “Your Majesties. If you need anything else, I shall be right outside.”

Seabreeze stepped outside, leaving the two Princesses alone.

Luna took in a deep whiff of her meal, thankful once again for the wonderful chefs that graced the kitchen’s of the castle. Every meal was a wonderful bit of deliciousness that exploded on her taste-buds, though they were carefully portioned out by the Royal dietician to ensure that the Princesses stayed at their ideal weight. It had been found over the millenniums that both Alicorns had a problem with saying no to an extra plate of cake.

Cutting into the lasagna, Luna levitated her fork up to her mouth. Chewing the morsel, she reveled in the wonderful flavors of fish and sauce that played out on her tongue. Once again, the chef’s were outdoing themselves. Swallowing her first bite, Luna turned her full attention to Celestia, who was busy poking at a plate of eggs and chopped potatoes.

“Are you enjoying your breakfast, Tia?” Luna asked, slicing off another bit of her lasagna.

“Meh.” Celestia swallowed her food unenthusiastically. She looked up at Luna, rolling her eyes before sitting up straight and shaking her head, as if she wished to clear out all of the fogginess of her mind. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath before schooling her features into a look of civility and poise. She had long ago learned how to make it look that she was calm and collected no matter the circumstances, and it was a skill that Luna envied, having been unable to ever replicate it.

“Thank you, Luna.” Celestia set her fork down, looking over at Luna with kind eyes.

“You’re welcome, Tia.” Luna paused, a small smirk forming on her muzzle. It was a part of a familiar ritual that they had gained over the past few years. “Why are you thanking me?”

“For going to retrieve Twilight Sparkle.”

It was a little ritual that had grown between them after the schedule for Twilight’s stays had been finalized. Celestia’s mornings were often the busiest time of day for her, and she had been afraid that she would have had to send a guard to go and retrieve her young student every weekend. It was much to her surprise when Luna had volunteered to take up the task.

“I need no thanks, Tia.” Luna spoke the truth. She loved the time that she was able to spend with the little filly. All foals were special in her eyes, but as a Princess she had so few chances to spend with them. When Celestia had chosen to make Twilight Sparkle her student, it had offered her a chance to finally spend a considerable amount of time around a little filly. It was something her heart longed for, the chance to be a mother, and she took every opportunity to spend time with the little purple unicorn. “You know that I love her, that I love spending time with her.”

“Of course.” Celestia did know that. “Still, thank you. I know that Twilight enjoys you just as much.”
Celestia knew that her faithful student was definitely one of the luckiest fillies in all of Equestria. She not only had a loving family, but she also held the attention of the two immortal rulers of all of Equestria, whom couldn’t help but come to think of her as one of their own as the years passed. There were few in all of history that could claim the same. Her previous student… Well, her life had been much harder.

Both Celestia and Luna had been extremely hurt when the filly they had thought loved them had in turn betrayed their trust and run away. There had been no sign of her for the past twelve years. Wherever Sunset Shimmer was, Celestia hoped that she was safe, and that she was happy.

“What is your schedule for the rest of the day?” Luna asked, finishing her glass of wine.

“I have meetings with the Griffin Prime Minister and the head of the Zebra Nations. I am overseeing a dispute concerning colonization rights between them.” Celestia rolled her eyes. It was nothing new. As both Emperess of the planet and Princess of Equestria, she had to step into affairs that she wished others could solve on their own.

“That sounds… engaging.” Luna did not envy her sister for the extra roles that she sometimes had to see to. Even though she had felt jealousy and indignation all those centuries ago when she had watched her sister become the ruler of the planet, those feelings had long since passed. She understood far better than she did then just what such a role entailed, and she did her best to ensure that Celestia never took it too far. It was her duty as a little sister to make sure that Tia smiled at least once a day, and that she never took herself too seriously.

That path lead only to madness and despair.

Luna knew that intimately. She would never let her sister tread the same path she had a thousand years ago. Tia was better than that.

She had to be.

Not just for Luna, but for all of Equestria. Without Celestia, Equestria would fall to pieces, one more civilization disappearing into the ethers of time, like so many before them.

They finished their meals in what felt like far too quick of a time and bade each other goodbye before going about their respective tasks.

Luna left the room, heading to the guard barracks on the first floor of the castle. The shift between the Lunar and Solar guards had already taken place and all of the ponies were wearing the golden armor of Princess Celestia.

“Princess Luna.” A unicorn Lieutenant bowed to her, stepping close. “How can we assist you?”

“I need an escort.” Luna didn’t recognize the Lieutenant, but that wasn’t uncommon. Over the centuries, those who guarded her had become a blur. She respected all of them, but recognizing them by sight had become an insurmountable task for her. “I am going to retrieve Twilight Sparkle from her home.”

“Yes, Princess.” The Lieutenant bowed again. “Give us one minute and we will be ready to depart.”

“Very well, Lieutenant.” Luna sat, making herself comfortable as the Lieutenant rushed off to gather up a complement of guards. She was earlier than she usually was and obviously her normal guards were not ready yet.

One minute later, just as the Lieutenant had promised, ten guards arrived, dressed in their finest golden armor. “We are ready, Princess.”

“Good.” Luna stood, stretching her wings as she did so. “Let us depart.”

They left the castle, the guards flanking Luna on all sides. They travelled through the streets of Canterlot, the guard easily making way for the Princess through the slowly growing crowds as ponies started their day.

The path was familiar, and Luna had walked it many times over the past several years. The businesses and restaurants of Canterlot gave way to the homes and apartments of the cities residences, and Luna and her entourage entered the Noble district.

Walking to the front door of the Twilight house, Luna knocked four times, waiting patiently for Twilight to throw open the door. She would have her saddle-bags on and a massive smile on her face at the idea of learning even more after returning to the castle. The filly was certainly predictable, but there was a charm in her excitement that warmed Luna’s heart every time she had a chance to witness it.

As the seconds passed, Luna shifted uncomfortably, wondering what was taking the filly so long. Raising her hoof, she knocked again.

She never needed to knock twice. There were times were she didn’t even need to do it once, the filly waiting just inside the door hearing her walking up the sidewalk.

This time, there was no filly. There was no sign of life inside of the house, and Luna felt a sense of unease, glancing back at the guard waiting patiently behind the fence of the yard. “Lieutenant.”

Perking her ears up, the Lieutenant trotted to the Princesses side. “Your majesty?”

“There is something odd happening here.” Luna looked around the front of the house, searching for any signs of something out of the ordinary. “Have the guards check the perimeter of the house. Search for any signs of a struggle.”

“Yes, your majes-“

“Princess Luna!”

Both Luna and the Lieutenant turned at the sound of an exuberant filly’s voice. What Luna found made a shock of worry strike at her heart. Twilight Sparkle, practically the daughter of Princess Celestia, was standing with an unfamiliar Pegasus mare across the street.

“Twilight Sparkle!” Luna did not let any of her concern show on her face, though the Lieutenant picked up on her edginess. “Are you alright?”

The Lieutenant signaled the guards silently through the sub-vocal microphones around her throat. The guards were instantly on alert, though they were careful not to make any sudden movements, to alert whoever the strange mare was that they were aware of something being wrong.

“I’m fine, Princess.” Twilight looked a little confused at Luna’s confusion, but she still gave the Alicorn a beaming smile. “I’m ready to go to the castle!”

Luna crossed the street, the Lieutenant faithfully following along at her side. The guard slowly spread out across the street, tense and ready to burst into action at a moments notice, and the Pegasus mare standing next to Twilight shuffled nervously, realizing just how dangerous a situation she had found herself in.

“Very good, Twilight.” Luna gave a warm smile to the filly before turning a colder gaze on the mare next to her. Scared thoughts rushed through her mind as every single possible scenario occurred to her. Twilight herself might have no idea about what was happening. It could have been blackmail, or a show of power by some group wanting to show the crown the power they held. Whatever it was, Luna vowed to herself that she would keep Twilight safe. “I do not believe that I have met this mare before Twilight. Why don’t you introduce us.”

“Oh.” Twilight glanced over at the mare, noticing just how nervous she looked. “This is Mrs. Firefly.”

“Hello.” Firefly waved nervously at the Princess of the Night. She had never met either of Diarchy before, and to have one glaring at her with an icy look was extremely worrying. “I mean, greetings, your majesty.”

“Indeed.” Luna stepped closer to Twilight, giving her a friendly nuzzle as she also placed herself between the filly and the mare. “How did you come to watch over Twilight Sparkle? Where is her family?”

“They’re in Ponyville!” Twilight chirped, looking excited to be able to answer a question before realizing why she wasn’t with them. Her face fell in disappointment. “Shining Armor broke his leg during a training exercise, so mom and dad had to rush off and they left me with Mrs. Firefly and Mr. Rainbow Prism.”

The names niggled something at the back of Luna’s mind, but it wasn’t coming to her. She eyed Firefly, looking over her pink coat and blue mane, and she just couldn’t help but think that she looked familiar. “Do I know you?”

“No.” Firefly shook her head. “No. We’ve never met.”

“I could swear that I know you from somewhere.” Luna leaned closer, studying Firefly’s face. “Have you ever visited the castle?”

“No.” Firefly shook her head. “I can’t say that have.”

“You haven’t been in charge of any Royal functions. The Summer Sun celebration? The Winter Moon Feast?” Luna simply couldn’t place her. “How do I know you?”

“Uhh…” Firefly rubbed the back of her head with a hoof, glancing down at the ground. “I don’t know if you had anything to do with it, but my husband and I just adopted Riley Shepard, a human girl.”

“Ah!” Luna’s eyes widened as she made the connection. “You are the Firefly that Celestia talked so much about.”

“Yes, Princess.” Firefly gave a tentative bow. “I… guess I am.”

“I apologize.” Turning to the Lieutenant, Luna gave her a nod. “It is alright, Lieutenant. This is simply a misunderstanding.”

“Yes, Princess.” With another gesture, the Lieutenant and the rest of the guards stood down, backing off from their confrontational positions.

“I must say,” Luna said, turning her attention back to Firefly. “Welcome to Canterlot. It is truly a marvelous thing that you and your family are doing.”

“Thank you, Princess.” Firefly glanced back at her house. “I have to thank you and Princess Celestia for the house. It is absolutely beautiful.”

“It was not a problem. You are a kind pony, and it is the least that we could do to help you and your family transition to a more land based existence.” With the Pegasus’ ability to cloudwalk, they had built a large portion of their existence around the sky. They built their very homes from the clouds, and that meant that only Earth and Unicorn ponies who had had the cloud-walking spell cast upon them could visit the great Pegasus cities, and the spell only lasted for a couple days. Pegasus families who adopted an Earth or Unicorn pony, or gave birth thanks to genetics had to move to terrestrial based homes. With the adoption of a human, the Rainbow family was no different in that regard. “If it would not be a bother, I would love to meet Riley Shepard.”

Firefly blinked for a moment, the Princesses words working through her mind. Her eyes shot open in surprise as soon as she processed all of it. “I… don’t know, Princess Luna. It would be up to her, if she said yes.”

“Of course.” Luna nodded in understanding. “I have no wish to bring any difficulties to her situation.”

“If you’ll excuse me, Princess,” Firefly said, standing and backing up towards her house. “I’ll go and ask her.”

Firefly left, heading back to her front door and bounding away, leaving Luna and Twilight alone.

“I’m sorry, Princess.” Twilight nuzzled up against Luna’s leg, smiling apologetically up at her. “I didn’t mean to make you worried.”
“It is alright, Twilight. It was only a misunderstanding.” She had spent a considerable amount of time with the filly (for a mortal pony at least) and she understood how flighty the thoughts of the entire Twilight family could be. It was not surprising that they would forget to inform the crown when they left in a hurry and dropped their daughter off with a foalsitter. “I hope that your brother heals quickly. I hear that he is making quite a name for himself. The guard is extremely interested in him, and I imagine that he will have quite the future waiting for him when he graduates school.”

“Shiny will be glad to hear that.” Twilight was proud of her BBBFF, and she was even happier to learn that the Princess thought he was as awesome as she did. “He’s been working really hard.”

“Another trait that he shares with you, Twilight.” Luna took a moment to study the house that her sister had gifted to the Rainbow family, and she decided that her sister had made a good choice. it would be a nice fit for the growing family. “You are lucky to have such a wonderful family.”

“I know.” Twilight smiled widely, her eyes staring off into the distance as her thoughts turned towards them. “They are the best.”

“Indeed.” There were times that Luna regretted having been born an Alicorn, but she would always return to the simple truth that there was no other sister that she would rather have than Celestia, no matter the problems that being part of the Diarchy brought. She had regrets, but there was no one in the galaxy who didn’t. “Family is something to be treasured Twilight. Never take them for granted, because you never know when they will be gone.”

Twilight didn’t respond to that, chewing her lip as she mulled over Luna’s words.

Before she could say anything, the door opened and Firefly stepped back outside, followed by a little blue Pegasus filly, and moments later, a human girl that Luna was fairly sure she was safe in assuming was Riley Shepard.

The girl paused at the sight of Luna. It was a very regular response which she had seen countless times before, though much more often in the past twenty years or so. It was strange to be sure, but she had long ago gotten used to the fact that as an Alicorn, she radiated a sense of power like no other creature in the galaxy could. It was something that every being could sense, regardless of whether or not they could use magic.

Riley followed behind Firefly and the blue filly, and it seemed to Luna as if she was regretting the fact she had been adopted by a species that only came up to her hip. It left very little opportunity to look dignified while hiding behind one’s parents. Instead of doing that, she clutched one arm and tried to look anywhere but Luna’s gaze.

“Hello, Ms. Shepard.” Luna greeted her formally, unsure of how comfortable the girl would be speaking with the ruler of her new world. “I want to be one of the first to tell you, welcome to Equestria.”

“Thank you,” Riley murmured, her voice barely carrying far enough for Luna to hear.

Out of the corner of her eyes, Riley studied Princess Luna as much as she could. The ancient mare still looked like she was in the prime of her youth, but her eyes held a weight of years that even as a teenage girl she could feel almost like a physical force. Her coat was a dark blue that shone in her older sister’s sunlight. Her regalia was forged in a matte black metal that fit perfectly with her astral flowing mane full of sparkling blue stars. She looked every inch the goddess that Riley had heard she was.

Luna was much less subtle about her studying of Riley. There was something about the girl that she couldn’t quite put a hoof on. Even with the timid way she held herself, Luna could see the potential for a will of iron and a strength that all others would give way before. This girl was going to become someone, and that thought made her proud for reasons she couldn’t quite explain.

“How are you finding Equestria?” Luna broke the silence that seemed to have lasted an eternity while still feeling like only a second. “It must be a change from colony life.”

“Ye-.” Riley’s voice cracked for a moment, and coughed. “Yeah. It is. There’s just so much… more. I’ve never seen so many people… ponies together in one place at once. Everypony is trying their hardest to be friendly, but it’s still,” she glanced down, crossing her arms over her chest. “Difficult.”

“I can understand that.” Luna truly could. As the Princess of the Night, one of her largest duties was to watch over the dreams of the citizens of Equestria. She had seen more than her fair share of ponies trying to climb back up onto all four of their hooves after unimaginable tragedies, and she did her best to make sure that their nights, their dreams, could be a place of refuge.

Unknown to Luna, Riley’s thoughts were mirroring her own. Firefly and Prism had spoken to her at length about the Princesses and all of the ways that they were different from the politicians and rulers she had met before. Her own dreams had been fraught with terror and hatred, and no matter how much she heard about the Princess who soothed nightmares into calm rest, there had been nothing. If anything, her dreams had gotten worse. She felt more than a little anger at the Princess, at the promises she had been told, and how none of them had come true.

Riley said none of that, instead just keeping her gaze firmly planted on the ground.

As a Princess of Equestria, Luna heard the stories of hundreds of ponies. So many times, she could do nothing to ease their pains. Looking down at Twilight, Luna realized that this was not one of those situations. She could reach out and touch lives, actually change them for the better, not just in dreams. With one simple act, she could make things better.

“Twilight Sparkle.”

“Yes, Princess?” Twilight had to crane her head up to look Luna in the eye.

“What would you say to having these two girls stay at the castle with you tonight?” Luna smirks at the shocked expression that played over Firefly’s face. “A sleepover, I believe that they are called.”

“Really?” Twilight’s entire bearing brightened, and her smile could have blinded armies. “You would allow that, Princess?”

“If Firefly agrees, then I do not see why not.” Luna had known for a long time that Twilight was lonely. The filly had very few chances to interact with others her own age outside of her older brother and foalsitter. Even after what appeared to be just one night, she could already see the bonds of friendship forming between the three. It would give Twilight a chance to grow as a pony, and hopefully it would give Riley a chance to begin to heal in a safe environment (not to mention an opportunity for herself to try and peer into the human’s dreams). “What say you, Firefly?”

“I…” Firefly still looked shocked at the fact one of her Princesses was openly offering for her daughters’ to have a sleepover at the Royal Castle. It was unheard of. There was absolutely no way she was going to refuse, not when one of the god rulers of ponykind asked it of you.“I uh… I don’t see why that would be a problem.”

“Excellent!” Luna whinnied her own acceptance of circumstances working in her favor. “Bring the girls to the castle at four o’clock. They shall be well looked after.”

Without waiting for another word from them, Luna turned and started walking away. “Come along, Twilight. Your lessons await!”

“Yes!” Twilight cheered, galloping to catch up to the longer strides of the Princess.

Firefly, Riley, and Rainbow just sat there, trying to figure out what had just happened.

"Are you alright with this, Riley?" Firefly asked. Princess or not, she would call it off it was going to cause problems.

"I guess so." Riley shrugged.

"If there's any problem, you can call us and we'll come and pick you up." Firefly didn't know who she was trying to reassure more, Riley or herself.

"Hey!" Rainbow protested, realizing something. "Princess Luna never even asked for my name!"

Chapter Eighteen - Royal Sleepover

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Chapter Eighteen - Royal Sleepover
Royal Castle, Canterlot, Equestria
July 14th, 2170

The cracking of the sphere had brought about a lot of changes for Equestria. Solar Ace still marveled nearly every day at the path his life seemed to have miraculously taken. He was by no means an old unicorn, and to find himself in such a position of power so early in his life gave him a sense of pride.

Not that the pride helped when he had to read through a thousand page budget document for all of Equestria. When that was his task for the day, the only thing that helped was a vast supply of coffee and pain pills for the inevitable headache.

He had been hired to fill the new position of Chief of Staff to Princess Celestia nearly ten years ago. The work load that the Princesses found themselves straining under was unlike anything they had experienced before, having to deal with thousands upon thousands of requests from across the galaxy for absolutely everything imaginable. They were no longer able to hold court and act as they had before they had learned of the sphere. The government had simply become too large for them to handle alone.

The Princesses looked through the Galaxy, and they were quick to build a system that would work for Equestria. They needed a staff to handle matters for them, to bring things down to a manageable size they could govern on, to parse down thousand page documents and give them their meanings in a couple sentences. One staff for Celestia, and an identical one for Luna. Solar Ace was proud that Celestia considered him fit enough to head her entire staff, and it was a job he took very seriously.

It was also why he had worked through the weekend and had already been in his office (nice though it was) for five hours already, and it was only just nearing lunch time. Briefing reports didn't read over themselves after all.

He sighed, taking a sip from the bottle of Apple Family Apple Juice he had pilfered from one of his secretaries earlier. He turned a bleary eye towards the monitors that he simply left on all the time, several news programs from across the galaxy playing constantly, in a vain attempt to keep up on galactic events on his own. Asari, Turian, Salarian, and Human, as well as several Equestrian programs, they often just became a blur of talking heads he tuned out entirely.

"Matriarch Ceyrta Mereli, CEO of the Baria Frontiers is meeting with Empress Celestia later this week to discuss matters of colonization." The Asari news program was the loudest, and it was already several hours old. That was the consequence of trying to watch the news through a relay of comm buoys. The Asari, a matron if he was not mistaken, took on a look of thinly veiled annoyance. "The acceptance of her offer of a meeting has made many wonder if this means a policy shift from the enigmatic and withdrawn Equestrian Empire. Before now, all attempts to build ties have been rebuffed."

"No." Solar Ace muttered to himself, rolling his eyes. He didn't bother changing the channel as he kept reading through his reports. "It just means she has colony rights we want."

"What was that?" A worried, familiar voice piped up from his door.

Solar looked up to find the Press Secretary, Cherry Blossom, standing in his doorway glaring at him. She was a Pegasus with a deep violet coat and a blonde mane, a beauty that the cameras adored, even if they sometimes had a love-hate relationship with the amount of information she was allowed to divulge.

"What was that?" Unscheduled meetings often meant big headaches for him, and Solar was already feeling on edge.

"That thing you muttered as I walked in." Cherry Blossom looked at him suspiciously, her eyes narrowed. "What did you say?"

"Don’t worry about it." He already knew where this was going, and he wanted nothing else thanfor it to be over with. While she was good at her job (that was why he had hired her after all), Solar could do without a lot of the confrontations he had heard she caused. "It was nothing."

"Damn right it was nothing." Cherry seemed to take him at his word, though she did fire off one last warning shot. "You have to be more careful. I could have been a reporter!"

"Reporters aren’t allowed back here." Solar said the only real thing that he felt he could.

"Doesn’t really stop them, does it?" Cherry smirked triumphantly. She had won an argument and he could already see her gloating in her mind.

"No," he grumbled, turning back to his briefings. He didn’t hear any sign of her leaving. Looking up, he indeed found her still standing there. With a sigh, he stared at her, waiting for Cherry to reveal her purpose of being there and wasting his time. “Did you need something?”

“We need to change our message. We’re falling behind and just accepting any label that the media wants to paint us with.” Cherry huffed in annoyance, stepping further into Solar’s office. The gleam in her eye told him that she had been thinking about saying that for a long time. “They’re treating us like we treated Griffonia seven-hundred years ago.”

“Yeah.” None of that was new to Solar, and he had heard it time and time again from nearly everyone on the staff. He waited for what she would say next, wanting to see if he had made a mistake in hiring her.

“You know, Griffonia?” She stomped a hoof, pacing back and forth in annoyance, building herself into a rant. “Right before the Princesses annexed the whole country and installed Celestia as the Emperor with a Parliament to run the country.”

“I am familiar with Equestrian history.” If there was one thing that Solar hated, it was getting lectured by ponies who worked for him.

“I’m just saying that we should really get on that.” She dropped back onto her haunches, slightly out of breath.

“What do you think we pay you for?” Solar Ace glared at Cherry Blossom, making her shrink a little under his gaze. “Get on it like you’re supposed to, like I hired you for, and quit bothering me about it.”

“Oh…” She blinked, biting her lip. “Right… Sorry, sir.”

“Are we done here?” Solar asked again, watching her carefully.

“Yes, sir.” Cherry nodded, looking a little embarrassed.

“Good.” Taking another sip from his apple juice, he started to read again.

Cherry Blossom lingered for a moment in his office before darting back out into the hallways.


Cherry Blossom stepped out into the hallway, closing the door to the office behind her with a shaky frown on her muzzle. She took a moment to catch her breath, glancing up and down the hall to see if there had been anyone close enough to hear her scolding (luckily there was not) before starting to head back to her office at a slow trot.


Cherry stopped, looking around to try and find whoever had called her.

“Hey Cherry, wait up!”

Cherry turned her head, glancing over her shoulder to see Lucky Wing, the Director of Communications, rushing up after her. She didn’t stop walking and Lucky Wing matched her stride, flaring her wings.

“What do you need, Lucky?” Cherry actually did know what Lucky was there for. They had already talked about it earlier that day.

“Did you ask him about it?” Lucky asked eagerly. She had been working there half as long as Solar had been, and she knew all of the problems just as much as Cherry did.

“Yeah.” Cherry frowned, shaking her head. “I did.”

“… Yeah, and?” Lucky Wing paused in her step and Cherry stopped the moment she noticed the pale yellow Pegasus wasn’t still next to her.

“And he wants me to take care of it.” Cherry nodded, trying to ignore the pit of embarrassment in her stomach. “Told me it’s my job and that I should get to it.”

“Well…” Lucky gave her a grin. “That’s just great.”

They continued walking in silence down the hallway. The ponies going about their business made way for the two mares, neither of whom noticed. It didn’t really matter anyway. Cherry Blossom and Lucky Wing were part of a very select group in the administration whose jobs actually got them sympathy from those working under them. That fact alone really helped smooth over a lot of moments that would have caused problems in other jobs.

The gears in Lucky’s mind spun, gaining speed as the ideas started to come. “We need to start putting out more, getting it out to the media outside of Equestria.”

“It’s going to need to be good.” Cherry grunted at the thought. So much of the news had been nothing but fluff pieces, and she was getting sick of it after only having worked there for a week.

“That’s my job.” Lucky shrugged. She knew just how much work that was going to be, but she was used to it. You had to get used to stress in the castle, or you weren’t going to make it.

“Well, I’m going to need your help.” Cherry was good at her job. She had worked at several of the news corporations that now hung on her every word in the briefing room, and she had been good then. Still, she was nowhere near as gifted a speech writer as Lucky Wing was. The mare had a way with the written word that made her want to stop writing altogether.

Lucky Wing had to think about that for a moment, several aides stepping around her. She furrowed her brow as she thought it over. “We are still transitioning our population to galactic standards, and we don’t have as much time as we would all like to play around in politics. We are taking the time to get our priorities sorted.”

“Yeah.” Cherry Blossom snorted in amusement. She could imagine just how the rest of the species would take that proclamation. “Time meaning at least another decade.”

“On the plus side, the Asari will understand,” Lucky Wing rather unhelpfully said. The glare from Cherry quickly wiped the smirk off her face.

“It’s good for a first try, but we can do better.” Cherry knew that it was simply better to ignore the stupid things that Lucky Wing sometimes said. “It needs to grab the headlines.”

“Yeah.” Lucky thought for another moment, but stopped as they came to a halt outside Cherry’s office. “I’ll work on it.”

“I’m going to need it before Matriarch Mereli arrives.” Everypony who worked in the castle had been quick to tell Cherry that Lucky worked better under a deadline. She decided that now was a good time to test that rumor for herself.

“So by tomorrow.” Lucky groaned dramatically, slouching lower to the ground on all four legs.

“Yeah.” Cherry nodded in confirmation, ignoring the dramatic pose Lucky had taken.

“Wonderful.” With a sigh, Lucky straightened up, smoothing back her blue mane with a hoof.

Cherry Blossom gave an awkward final nod before stepping into her office. Lucky Wing just lingered outside for a moment before heading off in another direction.

Taking a deep breath, Cherry Blossom took a moment to steady herself. The past week had been unlike any other time in her entire life. Her hiring by Solar Ace had completely changed her life, and she was still getting used to the changes she was only just starting to become aware of. She walked to her desk, plopping down into her seat with a tired, embarrassed sigh. It was going to be a long day.

It had already been a long week.

A knock at the door made her look up in surprise.

“Come in,” Cherry called out, leaning back as she tried to gather her emotions together.

The door swung open with pale blue magic, revealing Dancing Star, the Deputy Chief of Staff standing there, smiling at her with a grin that promised headaches in her future.

“Guess what!” Dancing Star danced lightly on her hooves, trotting forward with a happy grin on her muzzle.

“If this is another of your stupid pranks or jokes on the new mare, I’m really not in the mood.” Cherry leveled a sharp glare at Dancing Star, and it had absolutely no effect. The two mares had known each other nearly since birth, and it had only been natural that romantic feelings emerged into their relationship as they matured.

“Guess what.” Dancing Star said again, practically leering at Cherry with lustful blue eyes. The light shone off her pale blue coat in such enticing manner that Cherry had to restrain herself from jumping her then and there.

“What?” Cherry asked, snapping her mind regretfully away from the delicious thoughts of Star beneath her. “Tell me.”

“No, really.” Dancing Star loved to play little games with ponies, which Cherry had long ago accepted as her marefriends way of amusing herself in a world she felt was intellectually inferior. It wasn’t that others around her weren’t intelligent, it was just that she was so far above everypony else. “Guess.”

“I hate you.” Cherry Blossom groaned, glaring at Dancing Star. It was a half-hearted look at best, and she couldn’t muster any real force behind it. “Hate you.”

“Whatever.” Whether Dancing Star had even heard what she had said, so focused on her goal that she was even thinking straight through her own conversation. “You love me, and we both know it. Guess!”

“I don’t know…” Cherry sighed, giving in. There were times where it was simply easier to let Dancing Star have her way on the little things. It was the big things that mattered, and she was more than willing to butt heads on those. This though, this was a little thing. “The sky is falling?”

“That’s just stupid.” Dancing Star rolled her eyes, trotting forward to teasingly circle Cherry, pulling her away from her desk. “Try again, silly filly.”

Cherry sighed, leaning back in her chair. It started to spin to the left, forcing her to turn her head to the right in a vain attempt to keep Star in her vision. With an annoyed grunt, she grabbed her desk with a hoof and pushed her chair back so she was looking at her. “The castle has run out of cake and the Princesses are preparing to go on an unholy rampage?”

“Funny image, but no.” Dancing Star rolled her eyes, letting out a huff. “You’ve got one more guess, than no kisses for you.”

“What?!” That drew Cherry up for a pause. No kisses made this suddenly one of those big things, the big things that she butted heads with Star over. Kisses were worth a lot, and she had a feeling they were soon going to be one of few normal things in her life the longer she stayed in her job. “You never said anything about a limit!”

“I don’t mention a lot of things.” She grinned sultrily, shaking her flank and waving her tail. “One more guess. You shouldn’t waste it.”

“Cheater,” Cherry Blossom muttered, her ears laying flat against the back of her head. She thought for a moment. “I don’t know, the Citadel Council has declared us friends of the galaxy and sent us a fruit basket?”

Dancing Star snickered, leaning forward to kiss Cherry Blossom right on the lips, much to her surprise.

“Wait? I was right?” Cherry felt the sudden need to check the news. “They sent a fruit basket?”

“No.” Dancing laughed, shaking her head. “Not even close.”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to kiss me.” Cherry felt confused. She had trouble sometimes understanding the mysterious ways of Dancing Star, the genius unicorn.

“Meh.” Dancing Star shrugged, pursing her lips. “So I lied.”

“That just means I can’t trust you.” It didn’t, but Cherry wasn’t going to tell Star that.

“I’m spontaneous.” There was absolutely not worry on her face about Cherry being hurt by her playful ways. “You never know what I’m going to do next. It’s a gift.”

Leaning against Cherry Blossom’s side, Dancing Star levitated a folder onto the desk for her to read. It was laughably skinny, unlike the monstrous tomes that often graced her desk. If she had to guess, it was a single piece of paper, maybe just a scrap of one. “Our marvelous Princess Luna has decided that it is time for little Twilight Sparkle to have a sleepover.”

“A sleepover?” As much as she loved Dancing Star, the mental shifts she had to manage in their conversations could be maddening. “Like… with pillows and pizza and giggling about colts? That type of sleepover.”

“Mmm hmm.” Dancing Star nodded, her eyes twinkling with completely unhidden mirth.

“And this is important… why?” Cherry could feel a headache starting to form. This was absolutely what she didn’t need, especially during her first week on the job. “We’ve got important things we should be doing. Things like, I don’t know, running the country. Why does this matter?”

“Well, it really shouldn’t matter.” It wasn’t really a prank on the new mare, but Dancing Star was still getting quite a bit of pleasure from her sudden consternation. “It would make a nice piece to close out the day, sure, but there’s something else.”

“What?” Cherry Blossom almost felt afraid to ask.

“Riley Shepard was invited.”

There it was.

“Shepard?” The name sounded infinitely familiar to Cherry, and the answer came to her almost immediately. “The human girl?”

“Yep.” Dancing Star nodded, a wide grin on her face. She looked entirely too pleased with herself, knowing just what Cherry was going to have to go through over Princess Luna’s whims. “Apparently Twilight Sparkle is now next door neighbors with the family that adopted her.”

“Oh, this is just wonderful!” Cherry only barely restrained herself from blowing into a rant, her anger and frustration starting to boil over.

“Really?” Dancing Star looked a little confused at that proclamation. “Cause I was thinking this was going to cause us some headaches.”

“That was sarcasm.” Cherry Blossom leveled her glare on Dancing Star, completely unamused.

“It didn’t sound like sarcasm.”

“I have a very dry wit.” Cherry Blossom rolled her eyes.

“Oh, Celestia.” Cherry Blossom sighed, pulling her chair forward so she could drop her head against her desk. “This is really going to cut into our news cycle.”

“You probably shouldn’t use your bosses name in vain.” Dancing Star shrugged. “It’s not like we have anything else going on.”

“We’re trying to change that.” Cherry Blossom accepted that as truth, but one she was reluctant to take. It might be her job, but she reserved absolutely every right to complain about it when she wanted to.

“How?” Dancing Star raised an eyebrow, leaning against Cherry’s desk. “By making headlines that ‘Nothing is Happening At the Royal Castle’?”

“We’d word it better than that.” Cherry rolled her head over to look at Star.

“Right.” Dancing Star nodded before leaning forward and kissing Cherry again. “I just thought you should know. The reporters already have it.”

“Dammit.” Cherry lifted her head up before letting it drop back down with a thump.

“Have fun.” Dancing Star gave Cherry Blossom another kiss. “Try not to kill too many brain cells while I’m gone.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Cherry sat up in her chair, rubbing her sore head. She was already regretting doing that. “Get out of here.”

“Whatever.” Dancing Star smirked at her the entire time as she sauntered out of Cherry’s office, shutting the door behind her.

Cherry Blossom groaned. She took a deep breath, before straightening her mane. There were so many things that she was going to have work out. All of the problems she would need to get around in the next press briefing bubbled up in her mind.

“Ah, clop it.”


Lucky Wing paced back and forth in her office, glaring at her computer at every other turn. Grumbling under her breath, she ignored the urge to break something. The blinking cursor glared right back at her, the only thing on an empty page.

“Stupid machine.” She growled, turning again. The soft carpet under her hooves did nothing to quell her mood. “Stupid brain.”

On the next turn, Lucky Wing sighed in relief when she found Princess Luna’s Director of Communications, Dark Snow, a unicorn around her own age standing in her doorway.

“Oh thank Celestia!” Lucky Wing darted forward, pulling him into her office. “I called you an hour ago!”

“Luna.” Dark Snow said. It was a personal quirk of quite a few of the Lunar Princesses staff that they ended up using her name nearly exclusively as a curse. They tended to try and convert their fellows in Solar staff, though all they usually received were stares and confused blinking.

“Huh?” Lucky Wing stared, blinking in confusion.

“It’s nothing.” Dark Snow shook his head, rolling his eyes. It was a familiar song and dance to him, and it would play out again, and again. He held out hope that one day somepony would see the merits of his argument.

“Whatever.” Lucky Wing shook her head. She stepped around Dark Snow and shut her office door. It was a well known fact among the staff that both writers could get rather vocal when they collaborated together, and both of their offices had been sound-proofed for that very reason. “I need your help.”

“The mighty Lucky Wing needs my help?” Dark Snow took a seat on Lucky Wing’s couch, taking a glance over the blank page on her computer.

“Really, don’t give that to me right now.” Lucky Wing leveled a glare at him, flaring her wings ever so slightly in agitation. She shook her head, resuming her pacing. “We’re all in trouble, and I think you know it too.”

“What do you need?” Dark Snow settled in, getting comfortable. By the looks of things, he was going to be there for awhile.

“We need to come up with a new message.” Shaking her head, Lucky Wing stopped and turned to look at her counterpart hopefully.

“Alright…” He waited for her to continue, and was more than a little confused when she didn’t. “A message for what?”

“Equestria,” was all that Lucky Wing said. There was a weight behind the word that Dark Snow could immediately hear. It sounded like the herald to one of those career defining moments that he would remember for the rest of his life.

“What about Equestria?” Dark Snow asked. There were a lot of things could fit inside of that statement.

“We need to come up with a message about Equestria’s plans moving forward and we need to get it done by tomorrow.” Lucky Wing said all of that with nearly one breath, eager to move forward and get started with writing.

Dark Snow blinked, popping his lips. He was silent for a moment before asking. “A message about Equestria.”

“Yes.” Lucky Wing nodded her head, biting her lip.

“About plans that we currently do not have.” Definitely a career defining moment, deciding the future of Equestria without anypony actually in charge of the government present.

“Yeah.” Lucky Wing nodded. It was crazy. It was impossible.

They didn’t really have a choice.

“By tomorrow.” He turned his thoughts to the bottle of whiskey in the bottom drawer of his desk that he had bought during one of his visits to Earth. A glass sounded amazing.


“Right…” He turned his attention to Lucky Wing’s computer, the blinking cursor suddenly looking a whole lot more intimidating than it had a moment before. “Well, we should probably get on that.”


After Luna had left their house, the Rainbow family had flown into overdrive, worrying over every single detail. Well, Firefly had worried. Riley and Rainbow sat and watched as their mother descended into the depths of madness, wondering just what a Royal Sleepover would entail? Would they need clothes? Riley definitely would, but Rainbow? Would the Princess be offended if Rainbow showed up naked? Would she be offended if she didn’t?

It wasn’t until Prism had returned from his morning exercise that Firefly was able to calm down.

The walk to castle had only taken about twenty minutes, and it had only taken that long because Firefly had dragged her hooves the whole way with worry. The mare had no problems with talking before a crowd of five-thousand ponies during a book release, but the thought of going to the castle to drop her daughters off for a sleepover was just far enough beyond her that she was having trouble accepting it.

The castle towered over every other building in Canterlot, though that was as much by design as it was respect for the Diarchy. The castle was such a familiar sight that it was easy for ponies to forget just who lived within it and what they represented. Never before had Firefly been cognizant of the fact that she lived in a world ruled by two immortal goddesses who controlled the sun and the moon.

None of the other races had to deal with that, and she wasn’t sure whether or not that was a bad thing.

“Why aren’t you freaking about this?” Firefly glared at Prism, wondering how he could be so calm.

“I was here yesterday.” Prism shrugged. He loved his wife, but sometimes she could freak out over nothing, her own thoughts building up inside of her until they became too large for life and overwhelmed her.

“So?” She looked at him with wild eyes, panicked. “You weren’t there at the request of the Princess! This is a whole other level, and… and I don’t know how I’m supposed to deal with this!”

“You deal with it like you do with those silly editors.” Prism laughed, sharing a look of humor with Riley and Rainbow at how ridiculous their mother was being. “You walk in. You don’t let anypony look down on you. You take charge.”

“Right!’ Firefly waved a hoof dramatically, hobbling forward for a moment for the sake of a dramatic gesture. “Princess, you hurt my girls and I’m going to have to hurt you back!”

“Probably not the best thing to say.” Prism suddenly couldn’t get the image of his wife shouting down Celestia and Luna from his mind, and he blushed, suddenly very turned on. “You might get banished to the moon or something.”

“Right.” Firefly rolled her eyes, sagging against Prism’s side. “Like the Princesses would ever do that.”

Before she knew it, they had arrived at the foot of the castle. Firefly, Prism, Rainbow, and Riley stood there for a moment, staring up at the castle from the bottom of the path leading up to the front entrance. It was a grand sight, a modern take on the ancient fortresses of old.

On Prism’s left side, Riley took special interest in the castle. Her room had a beautiful view of the castle, but she had never taken anytime to actually study it. Now that it was before her, she realized just how truly different Equestria was from Mindoir.

She saw all of the Royal Guard making their patrols of the castle itself, gleaming in their identical golden armor and brilliant white coats, a show of force that would have been unthinkable and undoable on Mindoir. There simply hadn’t been enough men of eligible age to have even dreamed of forming a defense force. That’s what the mechs had been for, for all of the use those machines had been.

Riley made a mental note to never purchase anything from the Hahne-Kedar Corporation. Personal reasons and all that.

Not that she would ever have any reason to buy anything from a weapons manufacturer…

Despite how intimidating and regal they looked, she wondered just how effective their armor would actually be against even the primitive rifles the Batarians had wielded when they had attacked her colony. As she looked, Riley saw that only a few of them were wearing gun-saddles and those that were had been hidden as effectively as they possibly could be from the public. The rest of the guard were wielding the ceremonial weapons from before the Awakening.

“Are you alright, Riley?” Prism asked her, looking up at his daughter as he noticed her silence.

“Yeah.” Riley nodded, an unsure movement as she looked down at Prism. “I guess so.”

“Do you still want to do this?” He asked.

“It’s fine.” Riley shrugged.

Prism studied Riley for a moment, looking for any sign that she was silently trying to tell him the opposite. He had tried that with his own parents, though they had never seen his attempts. He didn’t see any of that on his face.

“Alright.” Prism nodded, nuzzling against her side more for his own reassurance than hers.

Together, the four of them started up the path. It had been recently repaved within the past twenty years, Prism was sure. He remembered learning somewhere in school that the road had been laid down with stone from across Equestria, representing every nation under Celestia’s control.

Which was all of them.

There had been new stones added, Prism was sure, representing the friends of Equestria. African red granite from Earth. Blue Marble from Thessia from off the shores of Irik sands. Luster Ore from Palaven. Diamond Rock from Sur’Kesh, assembled in their finest labs.

The castle was a sign of the power and material wealth of Equestria. It had been built of the finest materials, made by the greatest artisans to have lived over the many centuries, leaving their mark on the seat of power of Equestria for all to see, attaining their own form of immortality.

As they neared the entrance, two of the guards step forward to meet the Rainbow family.

“Are you Firefly and Rainbow Prism?” One of them asked, his voice even and undistinctive.

“We are.” Firefly nodded, all worry and indecision from even just moments before now hidden behind a mask of civility and poise, utterly false though it may be.

“Please, right this way.” The guard gestured for them to follow him, before leading the Rainbow family inside the doors of the castle.

The guards take an immediate right once they were inside, down a side hall that was practically invisible unless you already knew it was there. One moment they had been walking down the grand front hall, the next, the Rainbow family found themselves in a inside of a waiting room.

It was extremely comfortably furnished and from a first glance, Firefly guess that it was made for dignitaries and ambassadors who arrived without a scheduled meeting, to keep them comfortable while the Princesses decided on whether they would be granted that meeting or not.

“I am going to have to ask you to wait here please.” The guard gave a respectful bow, while the other was already waiting outside. “One of Princess Luna’s staff shall be along shortly. If there is anything that you need, please ask the aide outside.”

The guard turned and walked out of the room, leaving the family alone.

“They’re making us wait?” Firefly turned to Prism, confusion written across her face. It quickly turned to annoyed anger. “They’re making us wait!”

“I noticed.” Prism shrugged. Being part of the Wonderbolts, a military organization, had taught him patience for these types of situations.

“It’s strange.” She stared at the door, as if willing whomever they were waiting for to step through immediately.

“Not really anything that I can do about that.” Finding a comfortable spot with a view of every possible entrance.

Paying no mind to her parent’s conversation, Rainbow rushed around the room, sticking her nose in everything in a quite literal manner. She was acting a lot like a dog, checking everything out before running back to her family to excitedly tell them about it.

“It smells like flowers in here!” The filly chirped, hopping up and down in her spot in front of Riley.

“That’s probably the flowers everywhere in the room.” Riley pointed at the flower vases that were everywhere in the room. They were filled with beautiful bouquets of rare and exotic flowers from across the galaxy, all of them grown in the Princesses garden. Of course, they were as much decorations as they were a snack.

“Oh…” Rainbow noticed them for the first time, sitting stupidly next to Riley as she actually looked at the room for the first time, not just relying on her sense of smell. “I didn’t notice those.”

“We noticed.” Sitting down cross-legged beside Rainbow, Riley stroked the filly’s mane.

“That feels good.” Rainbow loved the feeling of fingers running through her mane. She glanced up at Riley with half-lidded eyes. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“Uhh…” Riley blushed and glanced away, memories of the border collie Hannah Shepard had managed to smuggle onto Mindoir playing through her mind. That dog used to wake them all up at the crack of dawn, barking and hollering and being a general nuisance, lovable though they could be. Firefly and Prism, having listened in on the conversation, started laughing. Rainbow glanced at them, embarrassed.

“What?” Rainbow had no idea why they were laughing at her.

They kept laughing, unable to stop themselves.

“What?!” Rainbow asked again, her voice cracking in embarrassment.

“She’s…” Firefly tried to answer her youngest daughter, but she was barely able to draw enough breath.

“Um.” Riley, still blushing, stopped the petting. “Uh… Rainbow…”

“Yeah?” She turned pouting eyes at Riley, trying to guilt her into petting her again.

“I… uh…” She blushed, biting her lip as she tried to keep from laughing herself. “There were these dogs that someone smuggled in on one of the supply ships…”

“So…” Rainbow’s eyes went wide and she frowned, playing with her lip.

“Yeah.” Riley nodded, ducking her head.

“A dog?” Rainbow whined, looking extremely put out.

Riley nodded, biting back her own laugh.

“Great! Wonderful…” Running a hoof through her mane, Rainbow tried to smooth it down, failing rather spectacularly. She glared at Riley, before staring down at the ground.

“I didn’t say for you to stop,” Rainbow finally muttered.

Riley giggled at that, Firefly and Prism gasping for air, but she started petting Rainbow again, feeling more relaxed than she had in a long time.

“Mrs. Firefly. Major Prism.”

Nearly as one, the Rainbow family turned to find a dark blue Earth pony mare with a bright blue mane standing in the doorway, smiling at them with friendly eyes. Rainbow jumped away from Riley, blushing brilliantly through her sky blue coat.

“I am Blueberry, the Chief of Staff for Princess Luna,” the mare said. “Welcome to the Royal Castle.”

Prism and Firefly stepped forward, shaking Blueberry’s hoof. Riley couldn’t help but watch that with interest and wonder just where the gesture had originated from. She knew that in humanity, shaking hands came from extreme mistrust and wanting to check strangers for hidden blades or something like that. Where ponies had picked it up, she couldn’t fathom.

She did think that it was one of the most adorable things she had ever seen. Ponies shook hooves by just touching them together and raising them up and down several times. It reminded her a little of video she had seen of cats pawing at a mirror.

“Hello.” Prism smiled at Blueberry. “I’m Rainbow Prism, and this is my wife, Firefly.”

Blueberry didn’t react to them pretty much repeating what she already revealed she knew. She realized that both Firefly and Prism were nervous and had never been a part of something like the Equestrian government. From the amount of time that she had spent with Princess Luna in the situation room, she knew that not even the military could compare.

“Are there any questions that you have for me?” Blueberry asked, smiling calmly at the two adults before her.

“I had no idea that a sleepover would involve having such high-level government officials watching over my daughters.” Flustered, Prism wondered if this was a normal thing for the Lunar princess, or if she was simply pulling out all of the stops just for them.

“Having two entire staff’s working on the same job certainly lightens the load, and it often leaves us time that the Princesses fill with strange jobs.” Blueberry gave a slight grimace at that. That extra time had been filled with nearly every task imaginable, from taking care of unexpected dignitaries to contests the Princesses sometimes held between the staffs. Still, she had won the past four cake-eating contests (Princess Celestia had been forbidden from taking part by Princess Luna). She did enjoy collecting trophies.

“Still…” Firefly looked incredibly uneasy, the calm and collected facade beginning to wear away from her.

“The Princesses like to keep us on the tips of our hooves,” Blueberry reassured. Compared to some of the beings that Blueberry had had to work with over the years, Firefly’s and Prism’s reluctance was almost a joy to work through. Nothing was hidden there except for the love and concern of good parents.

“You must be Riley,” Blueberry said, turning her attention to the light blue Pegasus. Glancing at the human whose lap the filly was sitting in, she offered the girl a smile. “And you must be Rainbow.”

“My name is Rainbow Dash!” The filly protested, looking utterly confused and put out at not being recognized. She was Rainbow Dash after all, the most fastest awesomest Pegasus in Equestria.

“Really?” Blueberry put a hoof up to her mouth, ignoring the eye rolling from their parents. It was so rare that she got to work with children, much less even spend time with them. “Are you sure.”

“Yeah!” Rainbow stomped a hoof on Riley’s leg to make a point, not noticing the girl’s sudden whimper of pain. “I’m Rainbow Dash, and my big sister is Riley!”

“Well.” Blueberry did her best to look unconvinced, but she was disappointed at how hard she found it to keep the edges of her mouth from turning up in a grin. “If you’re sure.”

“I am.” Rainbow Dash gave a snort, showing her filliest best that she was indeed sure. She gives a little snort and a stomp of a hoof to punctuate herself.

Blueberry giggled as she turns her attention back to Firefly and Prism. “Princess Luna has already come up with a rough plan for the night, and I can assure you, your daughters will be in the best hooves.”

“Wait.” He raised a hoof, a little bit in disbelief. He wasn’t there when Luna had come to pick up Twilight and instead heard the entire story second hand from his wife. Truth be told, he was more than a little disbelieving that it had played out just as Firefly had told him. “You’re telling me that the Princess of our land is coming up the schedule for a filly’s sleepover?”

“Yes.” Far be it from Blueberry, the Alicorn’s Chief of Staff, to tell her Princess just what was worth her time. The Princess did whatever she wished. “Is that a problem?”

“Not really a problem…” Prism searched for the right words, struggling to find them. “It’s just kind of… It’s a bit much, isn’t it?”

“Not really, sir.” It was, but there was no reason that he actually needed to know that. It was all part of Blueberry’s job, chaotic though it occasionally could be.

“Oh.” That was all that Prism could really think to say.

“Do you have anymore questions?” Blueberry asked.

“Will they be able to contact us at anytime?” Firefly had the sudden image of her daughter’s stuck in a complete disaster, with no way to actually get in contact with them.

“Definitely.” Blueberry was careful to keep her eye roll internal. “We could get them a line with the Citadel Council if need be, so an in city call is not a problem.”

“Alright.” Firefly didn’t sound alright, but that wasn’t Blueberry’s job.

“When should we pick them up tomorrow?” Prism asked

“We can have a guard escort them back to your house if that would be more convenient.”

“Really? Well, in that case—“ Firefly fumbled with her omni-tool, having to look up their new address. She still hadn’t had the time to memorize it yet.

“We have your address, so that isn’t a concern.”

Firefly and Prism glanced at each other, before turning to Riley and Rainbow. They didn’t really have any clue what to do, so they made it up as went along. Rainbow never had sleepovers back in Cloudsdale, and they had never had to deal with any of that. Suddenly having to deal with a new situation, with the involvement of the crown was one way to jump right into the deep end.

“Well… Umm…” She shuffled on her hooves, ears flicking as her own feelings of awkwardness welled up inside her. “I guess I’m wishing both of you a good night.

She trotted forward, wrapping Rainbow in a hug, giving her a kiss on the cheek that Rainbow frantically tried to wipe off, spitting and coughing in over exaggerated disgust. “Don’t cause too much trouble for the Princesses. Try and get into bed at a decent hour.”

Firefly lets Rainbow go, turning to Riley, who had already got down on one knee to be at the same height of her mother. They hugged, and Firefly also kissed her on the cheek. “I love both of you.”

“Really.” Prism followed Firefly’s lead and hugged his daughters. “You can call us at any time for any reason. You don’t have to worry about it. One in the morning, I’m out of bed and coming to get you if you want.”

Seeing that the goodbyes were over, Blueberry stepped forward. “Is there anything else?”

“No.” Prism shook his head. “No. We’re good.”

“Alright then.” Blueberry turned to Riley and Rainbow, pointing a wing towards another door than the one they entered through. “If you would follow me this way, girls.”

Firefly and Prism watched as Blueberry led their daughters away, wincing a little when the door closed behind them.

The door they entered through opened a second later, and the guard stepped through. “Sir, Ma’am. Is there anything I can get you?”

“No.” Prism shook his head. “Thank you.”

“Very well.” The guard nodded his assent, leaving the door open.
After a moment, Firefly and Prism left, a bit saddened by the sudden freedom of not having to look after their daughters. They weren’t quite sure what they should do next.


The press briefing room was arguably one of the top three most important rooms in the Royal Castle, after both the Solar and Lunar throne rooms. It was where Equestria’s most public face stood, informing the galaxy of just what the Crowns would be doing. Like a lot of things, it was a recent addition, though it already felt to more than a few ponies that it been around for an eternity.

The press was already seat when Cherry Blossom entered the briefing room. Practically instantly, the room was abuzz with noise as she was hounded by dozens of questions from ponies representing every major news network across Equestria. She ignored all of them and instead took her position behind the podium with the seal of the Diarchy of Equestria.

“Well, you’re all certainly excited to see me.” She looked over them, taking a moment to match up the faces with all the names she had been memorizing.

A slight chuckle rolled through the crowd of reporters.

“Good afternoon.” Cherry did her best to project an aura of calm superiority. “I don’t actually have any announcements for today, so I’ll open it up to the questions that I know all of you are bursting to ask.”

The reporters instantly started clamoring to be heard and called upon. Her name was called in ever increasing volumes by nearly everypony (though she noticed that a few of the more seasoned reporters sat quietly in the back).

“Swift Moon.” Cherry called on the mare from the Equestrian Times. According to the last Press Secretary, she could always be counted on to ask the most obvious question.

“Thank you, Cherry.” Swift Moon didn’t actually sound thankful. She eyed Cherry with a predatory look. If she were any other race than a pony, Cherry might have felt scared. Shifting in her seat, Swift made sure that her omni-tool was recording. “Are the rumors true?”

“You’re going to have be more specific than that.” Just because Cherry called on her to ask the obvious question didn’t mean that she was going to make life easy for her. They had to learn who was in charge after all.

“Is Twilight Sparkle having a sleepover with one Riley Shepard?” Swift Moon restated her question, rolling her eyes.

“She is indeed.” Cherry met the other mare’s eyes.

“Isn’t that a bit… strange.” Swift Moon waited eagerly for the answer. From the sudden hush that fell over the rest of them, Cherry guessed that they were eager too.

“Strange?” Cherry Blossom turned her full attention on Swift Moon, her eyes cold. Though she was new, she was going to make sure that they all knew she was a force they did not want to reckon with. “You’re going to actually have to ask the question you want answered if we’re going to get anywhere today.”

“Isn’t it a little bit strange that Twilight Sparkle is having a sleepover?” Swift Wing gathered herself together, asking the question she felt needed to be asked. “She is Princess Celestia’s student. Shouldn’t she be focusing on her studies?”

“Twilight Sparkle? Little filly, seven years old.” Cherry took a moment to gauge the temperature of the room and found that they were definitely not on her side. “No. I don’t think it’s odd that a girl her age is having a sleepover with her friends. I’m sure her mother and the Princesses are relieved she finally has her nose out of a book.”

“Next question.” She turned her attention to the rest of the reporters. Once again, the reporters started going wild, a barely restrained mass of ponies ready to turn feral at the slightest hint of blood. Cherry picked her next reporter. “Yes. Caramel Bee.”


Blueberry led Riley and Rainbow through the castle hallways, paying no mind to the reactions of the girls to the sheer impressiveness of everything surrounding them. Riley was awed by the sheer artistry of the building, elevating it from a simple seat of government to the very heart of Equestria. Great pieces of artwork, paintings, sculptures, and stained glass windows hinted at the sheer breadth of history that Equestria held.

Rainbow was impressed by the towering ceiling. Any building that was large enough inside to hold a Pegasus race was cool with her. Ponies are working about, dressed in their finest, but they give the small group a wide berth.

As Riley took in all of the art and wondered just how much the castle had cost to build and maintain, her thoughts returned to Mindoir. Would things have been different if Mindoir had the wealth that Equestria so easily flaunted.

Of course it would have been different. Money meant an economy. An economy meant business. Business meant civilization, and civilization meant protection.

Mindoir had had none of that.

She felt more than a little jealous. Why was Equestria so lucky? What gave them that right?

Those thoughts lasted only for a second, and she quickly felt a pit of guilt building in the pit of her stomach. Rainbow and Firefly took her in for no other reason than she was a child and she needed a home. Princess Celestia had thrown her entire support behind the move for no hidden political reasons other than the simple fact that every being in the galaxy should be afforded a safe home and a happy family.

It was thanks to the Alicorns who had made this castle their home for a thousand years that she now had a family, and she hated that she felt that jealousy for even a moment.

Needing to reassure herself, Riley reached down and scooped up Rainbow, who protested for all of a second before settling in on Riley’s shoulder, putting her wing comfortingly around her big sister’s other shoulder.

“How long have you worked for Princess Luna?” Riley asked Blueberry, breaking the silence for the first time since they had left the waiting room.

Blueberry was a little startled that she was even being spoken to, Luna had told her of Riley’s quiet shyness, but she was more than willing to talk to the girls. “I’ve been with her for nearly five years now. It’s been quite a ride.”

“What do you even do for Princess Luna?” Rainbow looked at Blueberry curiously. “Isn’t she like, a Princess and she does all of the work herself?”

“That’s how it was fifteen years ago.” Blueberry laughed, a light, airy sound. It was how most visitors often thought that the government was still run, and they were often disappointed to learn that that was not the truth any longer.

“What changed?” Riley asked, genuinely curious.

“You.” Blueberry flinched at the sight of Riley’s shocked face and was quick to tell her just what she meant by that. “Well, not you. I meant you as in the rest of the galaxy.”

“The world was a whole lot smaller back then.” She sighed, thinking back to her own childhood. She had been so incredibly naive then, they all had been. She sometimes wondered just what the world would have looked like if they had never learned of their prison. “There wasn’t any need for Chiefs of Staffs and Press Secretaries and Ponies in charge of shaping the way that everyone views the Diarchy. The Princesses used to be able to just hold court and listen to petitioners.”

“They certainly can’t do that now.” She laughed, leading them down another hallway. The ponies that had filled the halls they had passed through had disappeared, though Riley suspected that it might have been that they were just out of sight, using hidden hallways to give the Royal Wing a semblance of privacy.

“They can’t do that now,” Blueberry repeated with a sigh.

“Why not?” Riley had heard stories of the way the castle had been run, and it had sounded perfect, like something out of a fairy-tale.

“There’s too much even for them to take care of in a day.” Blueberry knew that to be the truth first hand. She still heard rumors of the first several years as Equestria struggled to adjust to galactic politics before they had changed everything. “Delegation has become the name of the game, and our way of governing needed to change just as much as everything else that was shifting. It was a lot to take in.”

Blueberry led them to a stop outside of a large doorway that obviously led to a large tower, the walls on either side of the doors curving inwards on the hall in a semi-circular manner.

“I’m only the second mare to hold the title of the Lunar Crown’s Chief of Staff. It’s a lot of weight to bear.” Blueberry finished up her explanation before she gestured at the door. “And we’re here. Go ahead, I’m sure that the Princess is just finishing up with Twilight.”

Riley and Rainbow both turned the gaze on the door, suddenly looking at it with a whole lot more respect and trepidation than they had a moment ago.

“Go ahead.” Blueberry gestured to the door, her mind already moving onto other matters.

Glancing at each other, Riley and Rainbow did their best to prepare themselves for whatever they might find behind the door. Riley reached out and took the door handle, turning it slowly on silent hinges.

Opening the door, Riley stepped inside, Rainbow still riding on her shoulders with all the ease of a cat or a bird. They paused in the doorway for a moment when they saw just what is on the other side, not even noticing as Blueberry shut the door behind them and continued on about her day.

Books. The tower was filled with more books than it seemed even possible to count, filling bookshelves that climbed up multiple stories, all built around a monolithic six story tall window opposite the doors, with enough space it seemed to fit two of their new house between the two. The floors above them were built in horseshoe shapes with the ends stopping at the window.

They stared for what felt like an eternity, trying to drink the sight in until they slowly became aware that they were hearing an extremely familiar voice. Two voices in fact. One of them was obviously Twilight Sparkle, her small voice barely carrying from wherever she was hiding. The second voice was older, stately, refined. It was both motherly and all-powerful at the same time.

“You have to remember Twilight. Magic is not constrained by the laws of physics. You can do things with it that would anger scientists. Wonderful things. Can you think of a few?” The second voice asked. She sounded eternally patient, a kindness carried in her voice that made even Riley and Rainbow feel warm just from hearing it.

“Um…” Twilight sounded unsure, her voice echoing oddly through the bookshelves. “I could create rain for a world in a drought.”

“Yes, What else? Push the bounds, Twilight. Magic is only ever limited by our imaginations.” The owner of the second voice obviously had a lot of experience teaching.

“But what about our power levels?” Twilight didn’t sound unsure, more confused now.

“That certainly plays a part, but even a unicorn who can only summon the barest amount of magic can still do amazing feats that would astound others with near limitless potential. Can you guess why?”

“No, Princess.”

Riley and Rainbow glanced at each other, realizing just who the other voice was. Sure, Blueberry had told them that she was there, but it was entirely another thing to experience it first hand.

“Creativity.” Princess Celestia said, with all the wisdom and certainty of a pony who had seen it all a thousand times before. “They have to make do with less, and that leads to clever solutions that are often more elegant and useful than the blunt methods a more powerful unicorn may use. Now though, it is time for our lesson to end.”

“Aw.” Twilight Sparkle gave a sigh of disappointment. “Why? I could do more, really!”

Princess Celestia laughed at Twilight’s sadness. The filly was truly something else. Others her age would be ecstatic that their lessons were over.

Not so with Twilight Sparkle. She was truly unique.

“There is no need for such a pitifully sad face, Twilight. You’re going to have fun, and that’s better than any stuffy old lesson with a stuffy old Princess.”

“Never, Princess!” Twilight gasped at that, hurt and saddened even by Princess Celestia’s fake self-deprecation. “I love every lesson with you!”

“And I love all of the time that I spend with you, Twilight, but don’t be so overdramatic. You’re better than that. Now, your friends are waiting for you.”

“Really?” Twilight sounded utterly confused at that, and they could practically hear her eyebrow being raised.

“Indeed.” Celestia laughed again. “I am sure that they are quite confused by now. Why don’t you go greet them.”

Riley and Rainbow heard a clopping of hooves on the floor and Twilight emerged from the labyrinth of bookshelves on the first floor. Her eyes went wide and stared at the two of them open-mouthed in astonishment.

“Rainbow Dash! Riley” Her face lit up with excitement and she rushed over to greet them. “You’re here! I wasn’t sure that you were coming.”

“You were there when Princess Luna organized the whole thing, remember?” Riley giggled at Twilight’s seeming disbelief at their presence in her tower. “This morning?”

“I just wasn’t sure that you’d actually like to come.” Twilight blushed, scuffing a hoof against the floor. She sounded happy and unsure all at the same time.

“Why not?” Rainbow cocked her head in confusion. Rainbow hopped off of Riley’s shoulder, flaring her wings to land gracefully on the floor in front of the unicorn. “We said we’d come. We’d never leave a friend hanging, right Riley?”

“Yep.” Riley nodded in agreement with her younger sister.

“I guess that I’ve just never had friends before.” Twilight’s voice turned small, and the filly ever so slightly hunched in on herself, blushing. As Celestia’s personal student, there wasn’t a lot of time for her to socialize with anypony, at least that’s what she had told herself many, many times.

Riley and Rainbow didn’t quite know how to respond to that, the unicorn filly looking like she wanted to sink into the floor and disappear.

With her knowledge of magic, Riley wasn’t sure that that was beyond Twilight.

It turned out that she didn’t have to worry about that at all. Princess Celestia stepped out from between the bookshelves, smiling serenely.

“Hello,” Celestia greeted the two newcomers to her castle.

Riley and Rainbow could only look upon Celestia in awe. Princess Luna had been impressive, taller than nearly every other pony on the planet, but she was nothing compared to the Royal Sun, the Dawn Bringer.

The Alicorn’s coat was a gleaming white, seeming to glow with an unseen light, every bit the goddess that so many thought she was. Her mane and tail flow in the solar winds, forming what looked like a shimmering aurora. Her horn was at least a foot and a half long, coming to a deadly point, but even without it, the Alicorn stood taller than Riley.

“My sister was quite excited to have set up a sleepover.” Celestia looked over the two girls, and Riley felt as if the Princess saw straight through to her soul, her entire being laid bare for the immortal to see. “I haven’t seen her so energetic since… well, since she was a filly.”

“She was a filly?” Rainbow seemed utterly enraptured to learn that, having to crane her neck almost painfully to look at Celestia. “How long ago was that?”

“Rainbow Dash!” Twilight looked traumatized that Rainbow would ask such a brazen question of Princess Celestia. Turning to the Princess, Twilight bowed, giving a timid smile. “I apologize Princess, she didn’t mean it!”

“It’s alright, Twilight. I am not some pony that any pony need fear asking such a simple question.” Celestia just laughed, her eyes twinkling. She turned her smiling gaze on the young Pegasus, who still felt no shame. “We were both fillies once, a long, long time ago, before recorded history even.”

“Whoa…” Rainbow tried to throw her mind back to such a long time ago and failed quite spectacularly. “That’s a long time.”

“Indeed it is.” Celestia nodded, enjoying the innocence of filly in a way that Twilight seemed incapable of performing.

“Before recorded history?” Twilight’s eyes went wide, understanding just what that meant. “But that would mean you’re…”

“Older than the entirety of Equestrian civilization?” Celestia’s memory was long, but even she still had problems remembering just what her own life had been like so long ago. She had been there for everything and she remembered all of it. All of it, it seemed, except for her own early years. “Yes.”

“That’s really old,” Rainbow Dash said in a hushed, awed voice.

Now that the question had been asked, Twilight saw her opportunity to know the the answer to the question nopony (save Rainbow Dash) had ever dared to ask. She hesitated for only a second before timidly asking, “How old exactly are you, Princess?”

“I don’t really know, Twilight,” Celestia admitted. It was something that she had tried to actually figure out a century or two ago, to no avail. “It was before we started keeping track of the years in any sort of meaningful way. Even my memories of that time are dull and faded.”

“Wow…” It wasn't the answer she had been expecting, but Twilight was still amazed, having to fit this new fact into her view of her favorite pony princess.

Princess Celestia looked over at Riley and Rainbow before turning back to Twilight. “Why don’t you introduce me to your friends, Twilight.”

“Yes, Princess.” Twilight blushed in embarrassment, realizing that she had been rude. “This is Rainbow Dash and Riley Shepard.”

“Princess.” Rainbow gave an incredibly formal bow that was completely uncharacteristic of her, which Riley awkwardly repeated, not sure what the protocol exactly was.

“Princess,” Riley murmured, cracking an eye open to make sure that Celestia wasn’t offended by her.

“Please, there is no need for that,” Princess Celestia waved off the formalities. “I try to save all of the titles and bowing for the dignitaries and ambassadors. Around my little ponies, there is no need for that.”

Princess Celestia turned to look at Twilight Sparkle, smiling calmly at her. “Twilight, why don’t you give Rainbow a tour of your tower? I would like to have a moment to speak with Riley—“

“— If that is alright with you, I mean.” She turned to Riley, giving her a hopeful look.

Riley had no idea how to respond to that. Crossing her arms, she rubbed her shoulder as she stared down at the ground. “Alright… That’s fine, I guess.”

“Have fun, Princess.” Twilight turned to Rainbow Dash, an eagerness in her eyes that suddenly made the Pegasus feel a lot more wary than she had a moment ago. “C’mon! You’ll love it here.”

Rainbow Dash looked back at Riley as Twilight grabbed one of her forelegs, dragging her away from the other two. Rainbow gave could only shrug at Twilight’s behavior, before trotting after the rapidly retreating form of Twilight Sparkle.

Riley turned to look at Princess Celestia, who was still smiling serenely at her.

“Please, walk with me.” Celestia gestured forward with one of her wings.

Princess Celestia started walking, entering into the veritable maze of bookshelves, and Riley followed after her silently. There were more books than Riley had ever seen in her entire life, and there was almost no rhyme or reason to the way that they were shelved. She was sure that she saw a Turian cookbook next to a textbook on quantum mechanics.

They stayed silent until they emerged from the shelves. Riley found that Celestia had led her before the massive window, into a reading area that was filled with couches and chairs that all faced out towards the window.

Stepping up to the window, Celestia looked out at the view of Equestria spreading out before her. Riley hesitated only for a moment before joining her. The sight that she was met with took her breath away. From this angle, it gave the illusion that the castle was floating thousands of feet up in the air, an impenetrable fortress of safety and knowledge.

“How are you finding Equestria?” Celestia asked, breaking the silence.

Riley didn’t answer right away, too enraptured at the view, but she finally pulled herself away, turning her attention to Celestia. “It’s… nice.”

“You certainly don’t have to hide your true feelings of my nation from me.” Celestia was careful to not let any of her true power show through. The last thing that the girl needed was to be overwhelmed by the true power of the eternal sun. “I won’t get offended. I know that we are quite different from what you are used to.”

Riley stayed silent however, unwilling to answer that question. She wasn’t sure that she knew the answer herself. It had felt like so much of herself had slipped away since… since the attack. She wondered if she would have even been able to recognize herself if none of this had happened.

Princess Celestia frowned, a move so subtle that only the extremely observant would have even noticed. “If it is not too bold of me to ask, what did you think of Mindoir?”

Riley, startled at that question, looking over at Celestia. No one had bothered to ask her that question yet, and though they all had the best intentions, they were all focused on getting her settled into Equestria.

“I… Uh…” She stammered, a blush spreading across her cheeks.

“If you do not wish to speak on it, that is alright with me. I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to pressure you.” Celestia watched as Riley did absolutely everything she could to not look in her direction. “I was just… curious.”

Riley thought about it for a moment before turning herself to fully look out the window. “It was… different. Earth was big and loud and filled with people. Equestria is… old and cultured… but Mindoir was calm. Nothing really happened, and it was home.”

“Hm.” Celestia nodded. That was how she had pictured it. “I remember when Equestria was still like that. That was a long time ago.”

“I helped out wherever I could, but everybody had a lot of free time.” Riley fell back into her memories. She started to forget that Celestia was even there, remembering better times. “There was this tree just outside of town. It was big, and when I was a little girl, I used to think it was the tallest thing ever. I spent days in its branches, reading and thinking…”

Riley fell silent, and Celestia watched her carefully, waiting for what she would say next.

“Jane used to try and climb up with me, but she was never able to reach the first branch.” Riley giggled at that. She had made fun of her little sister constantly for that. “She was too tiny. I wanted to share that with her, but… well, there’s no more time for that now.”

Stepping forward, Celestia sat on her haunches next to Riley. She wrapped a wing around the girl, and Riley collapsed into tears, grabbing Celestia desperately as her emotions crashed down around her.


“Celestia and Luna gave me this tower after I came to study under them.” Twilight led Rainbow through the bookshelves towards the stairs leading to the next floor with all of the pride of a new mother. “I don’t really know what they were using it for before me, but it’s nice. I like it. It’s home for me and Spike.”

“They just up and gave you an entire tower?” Rainbow wondered if there was any way she could get Luna to make her her personal student. The Princess would be impressed by the fastest most awesomest Pegasus in all of Equestria, she was the Princess after all!

“Yeah!” Twilight held her head high, her eyes twinkling at the thought of all of the knowledge that she still had to pour over, so many new things to learn. “I’ve filled it with all the books.”

“All the books?” Rainbow wondered how she was able to do that. She could have sworn that she still had a couple of comic books somewhere in all of the boxes she had yet to unpack. Twilight couldn’t have gotten those too… could she? “Where did you get all the books?”

“Some of them were gifts,” Twilight said looking around what was possibly the most eclectic library on Equestria. “Some of them came from the hidden archives—“

Twilight halted, her eyes going wide and a hoof flying to her mouth.

“Hidden archives?” Rainbow didn’t know what to make of that.

“Nothing! Archives? What archives? What are you talking about? You’re crazy!” Twilight shouted the last part, looking over her shoulder like she expected somepony to grab her and haul her away to jail.

“Right.” Rainbow watched as Twilight took a minute to catch her breath. “What about the rest of them?”

“The rest of them I bought.” Twilight looked inordinately pleased to move on from whatever mistake that she had made.

“You bought them?” Rainbow Dash’s eyes went wide, and she gave up trying to calculate just how much that would cost after only a few seconds. “That would take like, all the money!”

“Yep.” She nodded, having absolutely no understanding just how privileged she was. “I get a stipend from the treasury every month.”

“A what?” There were definite disadvantages of being friends with an egghead, Rainbow thought. Only understanding every third word was one of them.

“I get paid for being Celestia’s apprentice.”

“Whoa. That’s like, the coolest job ever. You get money for doing nothing.”

“No.” Twilight knew this from the conversation that Celestia had given to her when she had first revealed she would be getting the stipend. “I get money to help my studies.”

Rainbow Dash blinked in surprise when she tripped over the first step of the staircase they had finally reached. “Whoah!”

“Are you alright?” Twilight helped Rainbow back up onto her hooves.

“Yeah.” Rainbow blushed, darting up the first little bit of stairs. “Come on. You’re supposed to be showing me your tower.”

“Alright.” Twilight quickly joined Rainbow, and they continued up the stairs.

“Where do you sleep?” Rainbow asked, searching for any sign of a bedroom. “You don’t sleep on a pile of books, do you?”

“No. Don’t be ridiculous Rainbow Dash.” Twilight pointed up at the ceiling. “My private apartment is up at the top of the tower.”

“You have your own apartment?” Was there anything that Twilight didn’t have, Rainbow wondered. “Lucky.”

“I have everything that I could ever need all in this tower.” She was oblivious to Rainbow’s amazement and jealousy. “It’s pretty awesome.”

She grinned at Rainbow Dash.

“Want to see it?” Twilight asked, crouching ever so slightly to prepare to run up the stairs as fast as she could.

“Can a Pegasus fly? Yeah I do!” Rainbow’s wings flared out in excitement.

“Come on!”

Twilight and Rainbow Dash galloped up the next six floors, barely even out of breath at the end of it. They were ponies after all, and they were much better suited for running long distances than humans, though not so much on the endurance part.

The final staircase led up to a small landing that was hidden from below, with a large locked door at the very top. Stepping forward, Twilight used the retina scanner next to the door. With a buzz, the door opened with an air of massive weight supported on massive hinges and they both stepped inside.

Rainbow was instantly amazed, staring at Twilight’s home away from home with absolute amazement. “You are so lucky.”

“So you like it?” Twilight asked, a little afraid to hear Rainbow’s response.

“Like it?” Rainbow looked at Twilight with a raised eyebrow. The filly flinched a little under her gaze. “I love it!”

The apartments were incredibly comfortable, and it was immediately obvious that Twilight had not been in charge of decorating. It would have probably been crammed full of bookshelves as well if she had been. None of that occurred to Rainbow though as she took a tentative step forward onto the extremely plush carpet.

The largest part was a main living room area that sat looking out the opposite side of the tower, over the Royal Castle. The living room was basically a smaller version of the reading room on the first floor. There were three couches in a horseshoe shape facing out towards the windows, a little table between them with a vase full of lilies. Set into the wall opposite the door was a kitchen, pony-sized, though it was obvious that it got very little use from its gleaming cleanliness. Behind the living room were three more doors, leading presumably to bedrooms, one of them clearly marked as: TWILIGHT SPARKLE’S ROOM, KEEP OUT!

“Come on.” Twilight waved for Rainbow to follow after her. “I’ll show you my room.”

“Your room? Like this isn’t enough already?” Rainbow rolled her eyes at Twilight, still she trotted after Twilight to her room.

With an elegant flare, Twilight ignited her horn and moved to open her door with her magic, only for it be thrown open from the inside. With a squawk of surprise, Twilight toppled over backwards, quickly springing back to her hooves to investigate.

Rainbow Dash was confused and startled, unable to see into the room around Twilight, but what the unicorn filly did next confused her even more.

“Oh my gosh!” Twilight gasped excitedly before dropping the front half of her body closer to the ground. “Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!”

Rainbow eyed Twilight strangely as the filly did a silly little dance, ending with her shaking her flank at the door.

“What are you doing?” She sat back on her haunches, still not clear what she was supposed to do with what she just saw.

Twilight completely ignored Rainbow, instead squealing as she darted inside her room. Rainbow Dash peered in to see that Twilight is hugging a pink alicorn just on the verge of marehood, and that Shining Armor was sitting on Twilight’s bed with a broken leg in a cast, Spike sitting next to him, looking at Twilight and the unknown Alicorn with an air of acceptance, if not understanding.

“Cadance! What are you doing here?” Twilight looked at the alicorn, presumably Cadance, with a look of happy confusion.

“Auntie Luna invited me to a ‘sleepover’ she decided to throw.” With a smile as large as Twilight’s, Cadance settled back on her haunches, throwing a leg around Twilight’s shoulders. “A little weird, considering she’s older than nearly everyone on Equestria combined, but sure, I love spending time with my favorite little filly!”

Wiggling free from her grasp, Twilight hopped around Cadance, excited beyond all belief. “Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!”

“Twilight, who’s this?” Cadance noticed Rainbow Dash still standing extremely confused in the doorway.

“Oh!” Twilight paused mid-hop, looking over at Rainbow. “This is Rainbow Dash. She’s my new friend.”

“New friend?” That was certainly a development, one that Cadance was a little disappointed that she had missed witnessing.

“Yep.” Twilight happily nodded. “Her family moved in next door, and she is really ‘awesome’ as she puts it.”

“Yo… “ Rainbow cocked her head to the side, wondering just how much she had missed in her school. She could have sworn that there were only two Princesses. “Why are you an alicorn?”

“What?” Cadance blinked in confusion before she glanced back at her wings, then up at her horn. “Oh! Alicorn. Right. Uh… It’s a whole… thing.”

It was indeed a “whole thing” as Princess Mi Amore Cadenza described it. When the Citadel Council had learned that it was possible for an immortal alicorn god to manifest itself through the form of a normal pony (that was their words, not Equestria’s), they had had a collective psychotic break. Having two all-powerful alicorns was bad enough, but it had appeared at first that they had been around since the beginning of time.

They could live with that. They didn’t like it, but they could live with it.

When Cadance had ascended without any outside power but her own, the Council had been ready to start a war that would have made the Krogan rebellions look civil.

Fear could do a lot to strip away all of the rationality of even the most logical being. Cadance was just glad that it was all behind her, for the most part. Thanks to Auntie Tia and Luna’s wise words, they had talked the Council down and cooled their tempers. She still wasn’t allowed on the Citadel itself though, by special order of all three Councilors.

Ignorant to all of that, and he would have been uncaring even if he had known, Spike hopped off the bed, rushing forward to hug Twilight. “Twilight! I missed you.”

“Hello, Spike.” Twilight giggled, hugging him back. Their parents had taken Spike with them to Ponyville in their rush to get to Shining Armor. “I missed you too.”

Spike chortled happily, glad to have been remembered, then wandered out to the kitchen to find something to eat.

“Have fun snacking, Spike,” Twilight called after him.

“I will.” Spike shouted over his shoulder as he made his way into the kitchen.

Twilight turned her attention to her brother, gasping at the sight of his broken leg. She suddenly felt guilty that she wasn’t able to have been there for him at the hospital. “Does it hurt, Shiny?”

Glancing down at his leg, Shining shrugged. “I’m on a lot of painkillers at the moment, so… not really. Everything just feels really… fuzzy.”

“That’s alright.” Cadance laughed in that guilty way you do when you find something funny but know that you shouldn’t. She trotted over to his side, nuzzling against his neck, ending it with a chaste kiss on his cheek. “You don’t have to do anything other than just sit there and look handsome.”

“Sounds good to me.” Smiling dopey at the three girls, he purposefully fell over and collapsed gratefully into Twilight’s comfy bed. Cadance turned to Rainbow and Twilight Sparkle, stepping to the door.

“Come on girls, let’s let the big tough stallion get his rest.” She ushered them out of the room, smiling at Shining on the bed.

“Ha ha, Cada… Candy… Candyace.” Shining waved a hoof at her in dismissal. “… I’m lonely.”

“Oh, don’t be such a big baby.” She rolled her eyes.

“I’m not a…” Shining Armor fell asleep mid-sentence, and all three of the girls giggled at the sight. His unbroken leg twitch, kicking lazily as he started to dream. They stepped out of the room and shut the door.

As they were doing so, Princess Celestia and Riley stepped into the apartment, and Celestia had to quickly cover her surprise at finding her niece standing there.

“Cadance.” Celestia’s voice cracked ever so slightly “I thought you were in Manehattan. What brought you here?”

“Auntie Luna,” Cadance said, like it was the only thing that needed to be said for understanding. It just so happened that she was correct, and that it did answer Celestia’s question. “She has all these big plans for a sleepover tonight and she thought it would be more fun if we were here.”

“We?” Celestia took a quick glance around the room, wondering if there was someone that she had missed.

“Auntie absconded Shining Armor away from the hospital in Ponyville when she picked me up.” It had been a rather hilarious sight, and Cadance had been sure to get as many pictures as she discreetly could of the Immortal Moon sneaking through a public hospital in a black catsuit. “We should probably alert his parents actually. I’m sure they’re worried about him disappearing from the bed.”

“Luna…” Celestia face-hoofed. Older than all of civilization and still acting the filly. She wiped her annoyance away and smiled at the ponies before her. “Please excuse me for a moment. I have to go clean up my sister’s mess.”

Without any further declaration or ceremony, Princess Celestia turned and left the apartment.

“You must be Riley.” Cadance gave a friendly wave to the girl, offering her a warm smile. “Auntie was telling me about you.”

“Oh. Well… Hello.” Riley waved back, wondering if she had missed something about there being a third alicorn. It seemed like something someone should have brought that up.

A loud CRASH from the kitchen startled all of them, and the four of girls all turned to see what had happened. A sheepish looking Spike stepped around the counter, fiddling his claws.

“Uh, I could use some help over here,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder with a claw.

“What did you do, Spike?” Twilight asked, sighing.

“I might have…” Spike twiddled his claws together, a sheepish smile on his face. “I might have broken the pickles.”

Sure enough, a moment later the strong smell of dill hit all of them. Their noses all scrunched up at the pungent smell, Twilight trotted over to help him clean up.

“Come on. Help me clean it up, Spike.”


Sitting in her chair and spinning lazily, Dancing Star wondered if anypony would notice if she just went home for the day. There was nothing for her to do, and nobody had stopped by her office all day. She had filled out all of her paperwork, made all the calls she had needed to, and she had even had time to make a pretty flower out of her paperclips.

A knock at the door ended all thoughts about heading home. Dancing Star stopped spinning and looked hopefully at the door. If there was something for her to do, then she wouldn’t have to go home and sit waiting for Cherry to come home.

“Come in,” she said, straightening herself and the few items still on her desk to a presentable state.

The door opened, and Dancing Star felt her eyes go wide as Princess Celestia stepped inside. This wasn’t right. Maybe she was dreaming. She went to the Princesses office, not the other way around.

“Princess Celestia!” Dancing Star nearly fell out of her chair in her haste to get up. “Your Majesty.”

Dancing Star bowed after stepping out from behind her desk, though Celestia waved it off with a hoof.

“Please, Dancing Star.” Celestia took a further step into the office. “Are we really going to go through this every time you see me?”

“Sorry, Princess.” Dancing Star blushed, rubbing the back of her head with a hoof. “It’s kind of… a habit. Is there something I can do for you, Princess?”

“There is.” Celestia took a seat in front of Dancing Star, making the mare realize just how small her office really was with such a larger than life being inside of it. “I am sure that you’ve heard of Twilight’s sleepover by now.”

“I have.” She couldn’t help the snicker that escaped her, imagining just what a headache it was causing for Cherry.

“I know the day has been slow, and I’ve already checked with Solar to make sure I wouldn’t be taking you away from anything,” Celestia said, in that manner she so often used when she was about to give an order that she knew the other pony wouldn’t like, but they would still have to do it anyway. “So I was wondering if you would be willing to watch after them and make sure that nothing to crazy happens while I go and have a ‘chat’ with my sister.”

Dancing Star didn’t really know what to say that right away, blank faced for a moment. She plastered a smile on her face. “No” wasn’t really something that you could tell Celestia. “Sure! Sure, Princess.”

“They’re up in the apartments in Twilight’s tower,” Celestia helpfully supplied.

Dancing Star got up, ready to go and check everything out, but Celestia raised a hoof, stopping her. “I just want to warn you. They’re all fillies, and if you know Twilight…”

“They’re all just as crazy as she is!” Dancing Star came to the realization, nodding in understanding.

Princess Celestia leveled a flat glare at Dancing Star, who immediately cringed, realizing how her wording sounded.

“Right… uh… I didn’t mean it like that.” Dancing Star had the sudden urge to be anywhere else but in the Royal Castle, possibly even continent itself.

Princess Celestia didn’t say anything, still flatly glaring at Dancing Star. A moment later, she leaned forward. “A word of warning.”

“Yes, Princess?” Dancing Star readied herself for a Royal berating.

“Be careful for the griffin. She’s a biter. I think she has the taste for flesh.”

Dancing Star paused, processing that bit of information. It certainly wasn’t what she had been expecting.

Princess Celestia stood and left, leaving Dancing Star standing there confused.

“The taste for flesh?…” Dancing Star muttered to herself, wondering if she had heard the Princess correctly.

She trotted in place for a moment, nervous, before looking at the door. “I… uh… I guess I should get going.”

She left her office, stepping tentatively out into the hallway. She took a moment to look at all of the ponies still going about their work, wishing that she was any of them beside herself.

“I hate my job,” Dancing Star whined.

She started trotting down the hall, not noticing as Lucky Wing trotted up beside her, grinning as wide as she possibly could.

“Hey, I think I’ve got it!” Lucky Wing was excited, practically floating through the air. As a Pegasus, all she had to do was flap her wings to do so.

“That’s good.” Dancing Star wasn’t really listening to anything that Lucky Wing was saying.

“We are pretty much in a state of pseudo isolationism, right?” Lucky Wing continued, keeping pace with Dancing Star as she trotted down the hall. “We didn’t really want that label, but its been put on us by the rest of the galaxy. That means we need to put out the message that we’re ready to join them. We need to send out ambassadors and emissaries. We need to show the galaxy that we’re a crucial part of the system.”

Dancing Star stopped, the words breaking through her fog of confusion, looking at Lucky Wing in confusion. “What are you talking about?”

“What?” That confused Lucky Wing. “I’m talking about the message… You know, the message.”

They both looked confused.

“Right, lets backup a moment,” Lucky Wing held up a hoof. “Cherry didn’t tell you anything about this did you?”

“Tell me what?” Dancing Star had no earthly clue what Lucky Wing was talking about. She also didn’t really care.

“Guess not,” Lucky Wing murmured to herself.

“Whatever.” Waving her hoof, Dancing Star moved on. “I’ve got bigger problems.”

“Like what?” Lucky Wing wondered what could be bigger than changing the galaxies perception of her homeworld.

“A griffin with a taste for flesh.”

Whatever she had been expecting, that had not been it. “What?”

“I know!” Dancing Star exclaimed, waving a hoof, half-panicked. “How am I supposed to take care of that?”

“What are you talking about, Star?” Lucky Wing realized at that moment that they were on completely different pages, and she wasn’t sure they would be getting together there anytime soon.

“Princess Celestia wants me to watch after Twilight’s sleepover. There’s a griffin chick, apparently she has a taste for flesh! I’m not getting paid enough for this,” Dancing Star explained, still wondering just what she had done to Princess Celestia to deserve such a punishment.

“Huh…” Lucky Wing didn’t even want to try to understand what Dancing Star was talking about. “That’s new…”

“Right…” Lucky Wing gestures towards her office. “I’ll just be over there… Not getting roped into… whatever you’re doing.”

Scampering away, Lucky Wing hightailed it away from Dancing Star as quickly as possible.

“You’re some friend!” Dancing Star called after her.

“Thanks!” Lucky Wing called back, laughing.

Dancing Star started grumbling under her breath as she turned and headed for Cherry Blossom’s office. Knocking on the open door, she stepped in without waiting for an answer.

“Hey! What are you doing?”

Cherry Blossom looked up, startled by the sudden presence of another pony in her office. “Star! Hey! What are you doing?”

“Are you doing anything important?” Star asked again, hopeful beyond all measure that she wouldn’t have to go through this trial on her own.

“Not really?” Cherry said, raising the pitch at the end in a question.

“You should help me with this thing the Princess asked me to do.” Dancing Star smiled, a toothy grin that should have been a warning sign to Cherry to run aways as quickly as possible.

“Yeah, alright.” Cherry nodded, shrugging. She didn’t really have anything left to do, and spending time with Dancing Star was always a good thing.

Getting out of her chair, she trotted around to the other side of the desk. She kissed Dancing Star before they both headed out of her office.

“What exactly is this thing?” Cherry asked, only half curious.

“Princess Celestia wants me to look after the sleepover.” Dancing Star shrugged, trying to make it seem like it was no big deal.

“Princess Celestia wants you to look after the sleepover?” Cherry felt immediately incredulous. “She has met you right? You are horrible with kids. Sometimes, I wonder if you’re a kid yourself.”

“Hey!” Dancing Star protested, pouting at Cherry. “I’m a responsible adult. I can look after children just fine. Even the Princess trusts me.”

“Are you sure it’s not the other way around?” Cherry asked, grinning.

“What, the kids watching after me?”

“Seems like the more responsible thing to me.” Cherry laughed at the look on Dancing Star’s face.

“Yeah, laugh it up.” Hanging her head close to the ground, Dancing Star rolled her eyes. “I’m going to watch you eat your words as I babysit the shit out of these kids.”

“You might want to start with toning down your language.” Cherry couldn’t stop giggling.

Dancing Star just growling as they started walking towards the Royal Wing of the castle.

“I’m great with kids.”

“Of course you are, dear.”


Celestia had long ago learned that it was wise to always make time for tea. There were calm days and there were crazy days, but nothing outside of a war was dire enough not to take just a moment to clear her mind with the calming drink. The very act of doing so had prevented many catastrophes in the past, and now, the castle’s kitchen was sure to always have a fresh pot should she desire a cup. It had become as much a part of castle life as the politics.

Sitting in her office, Celestia looked over a few reports that had inevitably made their way to her desk while sipping at a cup of tea. Paperwork was always better with tea. There was no reason that she couldn’t get a little bit of work done before returning to join her student and her friends.

Solar Ace hurriedly trotting through the door put that idea to rest.

“Princess, Matriarch Mereli is early,” Solar said with a quick bow of his head.

“What do you mean?” Celestia felt confused. The Matriarch was scheduled to arrive tomorrow.

“Her ship is descending from orbit, and its not responding to any of our hails.” Solar frowned. “It’s breaking from designated flight paths. You’re needed in the Situation Room.”


Riley, Rainbow, Twilight, Cadance, and Spike sat arranged around the couches in the living room, playing a game of Risk that Rainbow bought from Hyland-Sorah back on Earth, thinking that it had looked fun. The ponies were having some trouble with it, though Riley was doing better, and surprisingly, so was Cadance.

“And you say this is a game that kids play?” Twilight asked for the third time, utterly curious.

“Yep.” Riley nodded, rolling the dice.

“Fascinating!” Twilight wished that she had a notepad. There were so many things that it could mean, and she wanted to know more.

A knock at the door drew all of their attention. Twilight stood up, confused. “I wonder who that could be?”

“Wouldn’t it be a Princess?” Rainbow asked, frowning as Riley proceeded to take half of Russia away from her.

“No.” Twilight shook her head. “They’re both keyed into my lock.”

Twilight trotted to the door to answer it.

Opening the door, she found Dancing Star and Cherry Blossom standing there. Wincing, Dancing Star was half hiding behind Cherry Blossom, as if she was expecting to get mauled at any moment.

“Oh!” Twilight blinked in surprise. “Dancing Star, Cherry Blossom. What are you doing here?”

Dancing Star was still too frightened to look. Cherry Blossom rolled her eyes and started talking. “Princess Celestia asked Dancing Star to look after your sleepover. She’s worried about, and I quote: ‘Watch out for the griffin, she’s a biter’.”

Twilight had absolutely no idea how to respond to that. Cherry Blossom looked around Twilight to see just who was there, and as soon as she did she rolled her eyes, slapping Dancing Star.

“There aren’t any griffins.”

“How do you know?” Dancing Star hissed back.

“Because I don’t see any,” Cherry said, her words dripping with the obviousness.

“They’re hiding.” Dancing Star trembled, resisting the urge to flee.

“I don’t… I can’t… What?” Twilight cocked her head, her mouth hanging open, words escaping her at the behavior of her teacher’s staff.

“Open your eyes, dear,” Cherry kicked Dancing Star out from behind her. “You look like an idiot.”

Dancing Star opened her eyes, peering into the room. Cadance waved at her, and Dancing Star waved back, realizing how much of a fool she looked like. “Right. No griffins.”

She leaned into Cherry Blossom’s ear, whispering to her. “I think I was just punked by Princess Celestia.”

“Absolutely awe-inspiring, isn’t it?” Cherry rolled her eyes. The Princesses could be quite foalish at times, and it was usually their staff that suffered.

“And we’re supposed to trust her not to crash the sun into Fillydelphia.”

“I’m certainly comforted. Aren’t you?”

Schooling her face, Dancing Star turned and smiled at Twilight. “Hello, Twilight. Would it be alright if we came in?”

“Sure,” Twilight said, eying the two mares like they were crazy.

She stepped out of the way, letting the two ponies in. She shut the door behind them and then the room fell still, no one was quite sure what they were supposed to do next.


Like all of the technology in Equestria, the trains were the best of the best. Where the old trains used to have been pony-drawn, the updated models only barely resembled the machines that they replaced. They were simply the quickest, easiest way to travel Equestria in comfort. A trip around the planet only took a little under a day and a half. Other races had shied away from what they viewed as an outdated form of travel, but none of them had to deal with worrying about whether or not a passenger plane would kill any Pegasus during its transit.

Trains simply made more sense for Equestria.

Gilda Blackwing had never been so happy to step onto hard earth as she was right then. She practically galloped off the train, clacking her beak in celebration of her new freedom. She had spent the last two months in Griffonia with her grandparents, suffering their prying and overall grandparent-ish behavior with all the grace of a young griffin, which was none at all.

She was followed moments by her parents Tyra and Voss, and her younger sister Sofi, who was only two, riding on her father’s back. As a family of griffin’s, they stood out in the predominantly earth pony town.

“Mom, why are we in…” Gilda looked around in disgust at Ponyville as she clawed at the dirt with her front legs. “Ponytown?”

"Ponyville, Gilda,” Tyra told her daughter, giving the seven year old chick a cursory glance. The little griffin looked annoyed and bored, her wings in desperate need of a good preening, and her coat was ruffled and sticking up every which way. “I told you on the ride here, we’re going to meet some friends here and then, if there’s still time, we might go visit your friend Rainbow Dash at Canterlot.”

“There should be time,” Voss grumbled as they all started walking towards the center of town.

“You don’t know that.” Tyra said. “Who knows how long we’ll be spending with Ruby Love and her herd.”

“There will be time.” Voss rolled his eyes, sure of himself and how much he was wiling to put up with. “There will be time.”

“You like Ruby.” Nudging Voss, Tyra huffed, clacking her beak at her husband. She loved him, even when he didn’t always like her friends. “Come on, don’t be such a grump.”

“Yeah, Ruby’s fine.” Shrugging, Voss glanced back at Sofi. She was nearly half-asleep, too out of it to notice anything happening around her. Her eyes were half-lidded and her black and fold feathers rustled in the soft breeze coming down from Canterlot. “It’s the rest of them that are the problem.”

“Mommm,” Gilda whined, slowing to a near stop as she canted her head at her mother, staring at her with ridiculously pitiful eyes.

“What is it, Gilda?” Tyra sighed, her daughter’s look doing nothing to sway her towards whatever it was she had deemed extremely important in her mind.

“I’m hungry.” She turned her pitiful eyes from hopeful to full on crushing sadness and hunger.

It didn’t work.

“In a minute, Gilda. Don’t worry, you’ll get food soon.”

Gilda just sighed, following after her parents, glaring at her little sister who was just chirping happily at all of the new sights. The sun might have been descending down towards the horizon, but because of their superior eyesight, the darkness was not a problem for the griffins. They excelled in the night as much as they did in the day, the perfect predators.

“I’m just saying, I think it would have been better if we had just reversed this whole trip.” Voss liked Rainbow Prism and his entire family. He shared a lot in common with the stallion, and spending a dinner with them was not something he would complain about. “See the Rainbows first, then come visit Ruby.”

“You would like that, wouldn’t you?” Tyra clacked her beak and glared at him. Voss just shrugged his wings, completely unfazed by her annoyance.

Voss paused, tilting his head as he heard something. “Do you hear that?”

“Here what?” Tyra listened for herself, turning her attention past the still active Ponyville street life to beyond. She heard it, a dull roar in the distance, though it wasquiet and no one else was paying any attention to it.

“That.” Voss turned, searching for the source of the noise. “What is that?”

“Augh!” Gilda plopped down to the ground between her parents, her eyes half-lidded. “So bored. And hungry. Hungry and bored.”

“Shh, Gilda.” Tyra hushed her daughter, focused on trying to figure out what the strange noise was, with very little luck.

It wasn’t long until everypony in Ponyville heard it too. They all looked up as the dull roar turned into a deafening thunder coming from the engines of an Asari pleasure yacht that hurtled towards the town from Canterlot. It slowed to a hover above the town-hall, and Tyra was already trying to figure out just what it was doing. It had to have been breaking numerous Pegasus flight laws. She didn’t even want to think about just how much the fines were going to cost the owner.

Tyra and Voss looked at each other in confusion.

“What is going on?” Tyra stepped closer to Voss, sandwiching Gilda safely between them.

“I have no idea!” Voss laughed, his interest in the evening becoming much greater. “It’s certainly exciting, isn’t it?”


Dancing Star and Cherry Blossom had joined the others on the couches in the living room. They both stared dubiously at the game of Risk.

“And you say… this is a children’s game?” Star asked.

“Yeah.” Riley shrugged, not really sure what the big deal was. “Kind of.”

“Well, that’s certainly illuminating.” Cherry Blossom suddenly understood so many of her past interactions with the humans that she had met.

“Oh, Celestia.”

They all turned to look as Shining Armor emerged from Twilight’s room, and they all got up as he stumbled towards the couches, collapsing down next to Cadance. He grinned goofily at her, leaning in to give her a big wet kiss. Her eyes widened, startled, but she certainly didn’t give any protest.

“Shiny!” Twilight shouted at her brother, scandalized that he was kissing her foalsitter while under the influence of drugs. It was an entirely irresponsible thing for him to do.

“Oh, the wonders of love!” Cherry leaned over to Dancing Star, grinning lecherously at her. “Remember when we were that young?”

Twilight stopped, her ears flattening against her head as Cadance ducked her head, blushing.

“Love?” Twilight’s muzzle scrunched up in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Your brother.” Cherry Blossom didn’t notice the intense waving coming from behind Twilight as Cadence tried to signal to her to cut it out. “He and Cadance make such a cute couple.”

“Cute couple…” Twilight dropped backwards against the couch, her mind-blown.

Cadance face-hoofed, before sliding off the couch and putting a fore-leg around Twilight’s shoulder. “We were going to tell you, Twilight, we just wanted…”

“I was afraid that you wouldn’t like it, Twily,” Shining Armor murmured quietly, looking deeply focused even with the drugs fogging his mind. “What if you got mad, and turned me into a frog? Or worse, told mom and dad?”

Twilight couldn’t help but giggle a little at his slurred speech.

Riley stood up, jostling a suddenly surprised Rainbow Dash off her lap.

“Hey!” Rainbow glared at her from where she had fallen on the couch. “I was sitting there.”

“Sorry. I…” Riley shook her head, feeling overwhelmed suddenly. “I need some air.”

Riley practically fled from the apartment, heading down to the first floor of the tower.

Rolling his head towards Twilight, Shining Armor tried to focus on the two separate images of his little sister. “What’s wrong with her?”


Celestia and Solar Ace stepped into the Situation Room to find that it was already packed with ponies from the highest level of government and the military. Luna and Blueberry were already there, listening to what several of the generals were telling them. Seeing her sister, Luna gave her a nod.

“Tia,” Luna greeted.

“What’s happening?” Celestia gave a nod to her sister even as she looked over the rest of the ponies before her.

“The Matriarch’s yacht is currently hovering over Ponyville,” the highest ranking General in the room said to her, speaking for all of the officers.

“Have there been any attempts to contact us?” Celestia asked, taking a seat next to Luna at the head of the table.

“No, sister.” Luna shook her head, no sign of the playfulness she exuded in front of the fillies present in her stance now. “The Matriarch is silent.”

On the screens all around them were satellite views of Ponyville and images of the ship were playing in realtime on over half of them. It was currently hovering over a building that looked strangely like it was made completely out of gingerbread.

“What are our options?” Celestia asked the General.

“If there wasn’t such a risk, I would say that sending a squad of Pegasus to make contact would be the best bet.”

“What’s the risk?” She studied the ship, taking in the smooth lines of Asari craftsmanship.

“The Matriarch has her ships barriers activated,” the General simply said.

That certainly changed things. Barriers from a supposedly friendly ship were a puzzling factor. There was no reason to activate them in atmosphere if there wasn’t any fear of being shot down. It was an incredible drain on a ship’s generator. If any Pegasus, or living being for that matter, tried to get through the barrier, they’d be instantly disintegrated by the field.

“Then what—“ Princess Celestia started to ask, but stopped, watching in surprise as the Matriarch’s ship exploded.

“General, order relief to Ponyville!” Luna immediately ordered, jumping to her hooves and following after her sister as they burst through the doors.

At the closest and largest window, Celestia fired a blast of magic, incinerating the glass to sand. With a leap, Luna and Celestia took flight through the remnants of the window, flying as fast as they possibly could towards Ponyville, a pillar of fire rising from the wreckage of the Matriarch’s ship.


Her ears ringing, Tyra could hear nothing. She was lying on the ground, her wings crumpled uncomfortably beneath her, and it took the griffin female a moment to remember how she had gotten into such a position. She coughed, struggling to get back onto all four of her feet. There was no time to lay around and gather her wits. Ponyville was under attack, and she would protect her family at all costs.

Dimly, she could hear screaming over the roar of fire and the ringing in her ears. Frantically, she looked around her, relieved to find Voss and Sofi only a few feet away. Voss was still struggling to get up, and she more felt Sofi’s wails than heard them.

Buildings were burning around them, ponies stumbling out of their homes as they tried to figure out what had just happened.

Worry grew in Tyra’s chest as she found no sign of Gilda. She looked harder, blinking away the blackness tinging the edge of her vision. Weakness was not something she could afford, not when one of her daughter’s was missing.

She could easily hear the sudden retort of gunfire through her own hearing problems, and she lowered herself closer to the ground, unable to hear the curse she spat out. Whatever was happening, it was not just an accident. This was more than an accident.

It was an attack.

Turning towards the sound of gunfire, Tyra watched as bipedal beings shrouded in heavy armor rushed from the explosion, assault rifles clutched in their hands.

“Gilda!” Tyra called out as she grabbed Sofi, pulling a groggy Voss up with her, dragging them away from the danger. She hoped that wherever her oldest daughter was she was listening to her. “Gilda, baby, come on out, don’t hide!”

Another explosion rocked Ponyville, and Tyra covered her loved ones with her body. She quickly realized that it wasn’t another attack, but it came from the air. All movement paused to look up at the night sky, and everyone found the enraged forms of Luna and Celestia overhead, their eyes glowing white with rage.

ENOUGH!” The calm guise of the Princess Emperor was gone, and in its place was the wrath of the sun. Celestia’s voice shook the earth, and the battle began anew.


The change of the Solar and Lunar guard had only taken place a little under an hour ago, and Golden Moon was already sure that this night would be start of many changes to Equestria. The flames engulfing Ponyville so far away in the distance could be seen all the way from Canterlot, and the city itself had seemed to fall silent after the explosion had rung out.

Golden had a feeling it was the calm before the storm.

Shifting his spear in his fetlock, he glanced over at his fellow guards and friends nearby. All of them had the magically changed grey coats and blue tails that came with wearing their enchanted armor, making them all completely identical, but he was able to pick them out. It was the way they each held themselves that nopony could replicate.

Silver Shadow, the strange mare that she was, stood the closest to the edge of retaining wall on the castle. As much as she tried to focus on her duties, she couldn’t help the constant glancing at the massive tower of smoke rising into the unusually bright night sky. The moon shone as bright as Golden had ever seen it before, providing sight for those who were most likely helping in the aid effort.

On the opposite side of him, closer to the city, Sweet Eyes nervously glanced around at the shadows. He wasn’t the bravest unicorn that Golden had ever met, but he was a good friend. How he had decided to actually become a guard was something that Golden had never actually managed to suss out of him, but he was committed to his work, no matter how much it frightened him.

Golden respected that.

Nopony was really paying attention to their surroundings. If they had been, they might have been able to survive the night.

Out of the corner of his eye, Golden saw Silver drop to the ground. Turning to look, he found himself paralyzed in fear as soon as he fully processed what he saw before him.

Silver Shadow’s body lay on the ground, headless, dark pools of blood forming around her.

A cry of pain forced him back to reality, and he realized that it was his own. Looking down at his chest, he found a utilitarian looking knife sticking out of his chest. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t move, he couldn’t call for help.

With a lurch, he toppled to the ground as a figure pulled the knife from his chest. His vision was to blurry to make out any details, but the figure was bipedal, which didn’t mean anything in the long run. Most species in the galaxy were.

Golden wondered why he wasn’t in more pain.

From the way he had fallen, he could see another figure standing over the body of Sweet Eyes, but it looked all wrong to him. There were two of his friend. Two pieces, one right next to the other.

That wasn’t right. There was only one Sweet Eyes. He should know after all, they had just talked earlier that day.

Why was it getting so hard to think?

Golden tried to take a breath, and he started to panic when all he heard was faint wheezing. No air filled his lungs, and his mind clawed to hang on to reality.

The last thing that Golden saw were blurry bipeds moving past him towards the castle. The last thing he thought was, ‘I should warn the Princess.’


Standing in front of the window on the first floor, Riley, looked out at the burning flames that rose Ponyville. The blast had caught her like a punch to the gut, and she was suddenly struggling to breathe. Horrified, memories of Mindoir played in her mind. What was she supposed to do? Where was she supposed to go?

Were they coming back for her?

The doors to the tower crashed open, snapping Riley back to reality and she spun around. She couldn’t see any of what was happening, the bookshelves hiding her view, and she felt in the back of her mind that that might have been the best possible thing.

“To the top!” A male voice called out, sounding filtered through armor speakers. “Target is the human girl.”

Chapter Nineteen - Decisions and Consequences

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Chapter Nineteen - Decisions and Consequences
Location Unknown
July 14th, 2170

The sun roiled in its death pangs, a dance that would last at least another one-hundred thousand years. Natural galactic events like the death of a star were never immediate. They were slow, predictable, easy to understand.

The Illusive Man wished that the races that inhabited the galaxy were a bit more similar to that ideal. It was a worthless wish, and he knew it, and he quickly focused on the anger that was welling up within him.

Stepping through the array of holographic displays, his lips twisted downwards in displeasure.

“What is he thinking?” He growled, fingers tightening around his glass. He could save the galaxy, but first the galaxy needed to stop getting in his way. He turned to look at Miranda, rage boiling behind his eyes. “What. Is. He. THINKING!”

Miranda Lawson paid no mind as the Illusive Man hurled his glass of whiskey across the room. It shattered against the floor in a show of wastefulness that would leave many poverty stricken cities on Earth weeping. Wasting a one-hundred dollar glass of alcohol was nothing compared to the inconvenience that he found himself in. He would have to take care of this mess, and there would be consequences for those who had forced his hand.

The Illusive Man’s rage was fierce, and it often led to death, but he never let it get out of hand. His anger was always justified, and he always focused it on those who truly deserved it. Miranda had never had a harsh word spoken in her direction from him, and all it took was being competent to avoid that. She was so far above competent that she had no worries.

Inez Simmons however, was joining what she was sure was the latest in a long line that had drawn the ire of her boss.

Instead of commenting, Miranda turned her focus back to the displays and the singular news report that was projected on all of them, stepping forward. Her heels clicked against the reflective polymer under her feet, a sound she found pleasing, almost musical.

“Play it again,” she said, her voice even and calm, completely unaffected by the show of force.

The image of Inez Simmons on all of the screens jumped, replaced instead with a fairly typical looking news program. Stepping closer, Miranda watched with careful eyes, looking for any details that she might have missed on the first play through.

Cerberus data trawlers had noticed the anomaly almost immediately, shunting the broadcast to the Illusive Man’s office as they did their best to trace the signal back to its origin. They were having far more luck than they had anticipated, and it was only a matter of time before they could give him a location.

On the screen, two reporters sat behind a sleek black desk, an Asari and a Salarian part of the Citadel News Broadcast. Miranda recognized the program, having watched it on occasion during her workouts and paperwork. They were going through their daily report on the news across the galaxy, completely normal and unremarkable. Still, Miranda didn’t look away, listening to every part of her subconscious to see if there was something she was missing.

“On the human colony of Yandoa, an Eldfell-Ashland Energy ship, the Keramidas, exploded in atmosphere,” the Asari reporter said, giving a false smile of sympathy to the camera. There was no way that she gave a care about a tiny human colony, like all other Asari that Miranda had ever met. “This led to a catastrophic breach in its generator, spreading dust-form element zero throughout the entire southern hemisphere.”

As the Asari continued speaking, the Salarian reporter put a finger up to his ear, listening to whatever the person on the other end was telling him through his ear piece.

“Wait.” He held up a finger to silence the Asari.

“What?” The Asari blinked, startled at being interrupted in the middle of the show.

“Wait.” The Salarian repeated himself, his already wide eyes seemingly wider at what he was hearing. Miranda noticed that his left eye twitched ever so slightly in agitation. It was an interesting quirk that could be the first signs of rare wasting disease that was present in only a quarter of a single percent of the Salarian population.

Blinking to clear her thoughts, Miranda returned her full attention to the broadcast.

Hearing it all, the Salarian straightened up. Miranda couldn’t help but note that he looked shaken and afraid.

“We have breaking news from the Equestrian—“ Before the Salarian could even finish his sentence, the image cut to static. That in and of itself was telling, and meant that whoever had worked on filming the message she knew was coming was trying to tap into a specific feeling of fear that had been far more prevalent even just a century ago. The main standard for communication had become subspace messages, which was utterly free of any static and disruptions.

The static disappeared a moment later, revealing a dark room, too shrouded in shadows to see anything beyond the single light shining down out of frame above. The Citadel News Broadcast feed had been hacked, and Inez Simmons was front and center. He looked half-crazed to Miranda, and she easily saw the signs that he was dressed in a suit that he had been wearing for more than a couple days.

“Hello.” He gave a jerky wave to the camera, which was frustratingly unleveled, canted ever so slightly to the left. “My name is Inez Simmons, and I hate all of you.”

He laughed, a half crazed sound that was quickly throwing every last bit of sanity overboard.

Miranda rolled her eyes. These types were the worst. There were never any of the more obvious signs of the raging displeasure that led to revenge based rampages from those susceptible to psychotic breaks (and apparently Inez was one such person). It made it difficult to get ahead of events.

“What, you don’t believe me?” Inez leaned closer to the camera, and Miranda noticed just how engrossed he was. His hair was completely unkempt and he hadn’t shaved in the past several days. Or maybe he had, but had decided to stop halfway through. It would explain the patchiness. “Well you should. I have the power to reach out and hurt you wherever you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Primarch of Palaven, a Matriarch of Thessia, a Dalatrass of Sur’kesh—“

Inez grinned wide, as if he had just pulled off the greatest coup the galaxy had ever seen. With the reports from Equestria that were just starting to roll, Miranda wasn’t sure or not whether he had.

“— or a Princess of Equestria. I can reach out and hurt you. I will kill the ones you love, and I will kill you,” he continued. Shaking his head, Inez leaned back, slumping his shoulders. “I wouldn’t have to do this if all of you weren’t so stupid! You are all vermin, but humanity can help. We save you from yourselves.”

“It doesn’t work the other way around. You should all see that!” Clenching his fist, Inez shook his head, his features twisting angrily. “It doesn’t work the other way around!”

He held up a picture of Riley Shepard, almost too close to the camera for it to focus. It was from the trial, but it was clear and obvious just who he was raging about. “Equestria has decided that they’re good enough to look after one of our daughters. They’re wrong. They need to be punished.”

“I will punish them.” His scowl deepening, Inez crumpled up the picture. He pulled out a lighter, setting fire to the picture. “Never again will any of you decide that you are good enough to ‘save’ us. They will be punished, and this poor girl will be released from the sinful life that she has been forced into. The Royal Castle of Equestria burns, and you will all learn your lesson. Terra Firma, Humans First!”

The broadcast ended.

Dropping down into his chair, the Illusive Man clenched and unclenched his fists. Reaching into his suit jacket, he pulled a half-empty carton of cigarettes from his pocket and slipped one out. Lighting it in a single fluid motion with the lighter he had pulled from the pocket, he lifted the cigarette to his lips and took a long drag.

Leaning back, he let the familiar ritual calm him.

“This is the worst thing that could have happened.” Miranda stepped away from the screens and they disappeared into oblivion. Sighing, she rubbed the bridge of her nose.

“I know.” The Illusive Man took another drag of his cigarette, focusing his attention on a single whorl on the far right horizon of the sun. Any day now, he knew that it would burst into a solar flare, sending radiation spewing out into the cosmos.

“It’s going to push so many away.” Miranda couldn’t imagine what this was going to do to their recruitment efforts. They still had to be so careful, relying on rather unreliable people in the seediest parts of humanity. It was the only option, but the type of people they wanted to attract would stay away after such a high-profile crime.

“I know.”

“We need to remove him from the picture,” Miranda said confidently. It was the only option. Luckily, assassinations were something that Cerberus excelled at, the perks of being an ex-Alliance black-ops directorate.

“I know.” The Illusive Man looked up at Miranda, annoyed at the entire situation. It was not how he had wanted to spend his day, but he would, because he was a servant of humanity. Inez Simmons was turning out to be everything that he stood against. “I know. I already have my best man on it. He’ll take care of Inez, and he’ll do it publicly. He does not speak for Cerberus, and he will not taint the rest of the galaxy with his filth.”

“Ethan.” Miranda rolled her eyes. Ethan had been skilled once, but she wasn’t so sure that he still had that edge. “You’re sending Ethan? What do you think he’s going to be able to do this time? He already failed to kill the idiot once.”

“He didn’t fail.” The Illusive Man knew more than Miranda did about the entire operation, and he had far more faith in the man. He had been there since the beginning after all. Loyalty deserved something after all. Maybe not loyalty in return, but something. “He just didn’t try very hard. It won’t be a mistake he makes twice.”

“Very well.” Miranda bowed, acquiescing to her bosses wishes. “If that is your wish.”

“It is.” The Illusive Man stood, feeling the sudden need to replace the drink he had thrown across the room.


The burning sting of smoke wafted across Princess Celestia’s nose, and it was just another reminder of how much she had failed her little ponies. It was the smell of death and destruction, and she had hoped to never have to experience it on her home planet.

The fact that Luna was beside her was the only thing that kept Celestia going. She wasn’t sure what she would do without her present, but it certainly wouldn’t have been pretty. Who could have guessed so many years ago that it would have been Luna to be the voice of restraint? Certainly not Celestia.

Taking a look around, Celestia took in the destruction, a penance for her sins, not that it would even come close to making amends. Deep down, she wasn’t sure that there was anything that ever could.

Surprisingly, most of the town was still standing. How that was possible she wasn’t sure, but it was a bit of a miracle anyways. In the middle of town lay the still burning remains of the ship, giant chunks of metal reaching up into the sky, twisted and melted. There were spots that still burned hotter than the surface of her sun, but she had quickly contained those, almost subconsciously.

Celestia vowed to herself that she would make sure the town was restored better than before, an she would pay for it all from her own purse.

“Your Majesties!” A Lunar Guard rushed up to them, the leader of the contingent of Royal Guards that had arrived several minutes ago. “The attackers have fled into the Everfree forest. We are pursuing them, but I am afraid that we will be unable to catch them all.”

Celestia grimaced, having to restrain her mane and tail from bursting out with the full glory of her sun. She had no desire to blind the survivors of the attack, they had been through enough. She walked up to one of the armored figures, lying dead on the ground with the lower half of its torso missing. Celestia remembered this one. She had literally torn it in two with her magic.

“Let us see who dares to attack Our Little Ponies.” Celestia glanced over at Luna.

“Don’t leave us waiting, sister.” Luna steeled herself, but there was no pity in her eyes for the dead being.

With the full might of her magic wanting to burst out unrestrained, Celestia tore the helmet off of the body, breaking all of the titanium seals like they were paper. The face that greeted them burned the anger they both felt even deeper into their hearts.

“Maybe he is part of a mercenary group,” Luna suggested, trying and failing to be the voice of reason. She was almost past the point of caring. “It could just be a coincidence.”

Celestia lifted up five more bodies that were scattered around her, ripping off their helmets to reveal that they were all the same.

“No.” Celestia shook her head, sure in her belief. “They are all Batarians. This was a deliberate attack on Equestria, and I will not let it stand.”

“Search the remains of the ship.” Celestia turned to the Lunar Guard. “I want to know what happened.”

“We have been betrayed,” Celestia said, not watching as the guard hurried off to follow her orders. Turning to Luna, her sister took a step back at the intensity burning in Celestia’s eyes. “We have been betrayed, but by whom, and for what reason I do not know.”

“We shall find out,” Luna said with a reassuring voice. “It is only a matter of time.”

“Indeed.” Celestia nodded. Her eyes flared white, and the heat of the sun flowed through her for just a moment, a lapse of control. “It is only a matter of time.”

“Come with us sister, and we shall hunt down these vermin.” Luna spread her wings, snorting in anger, pawing the ground with her hoof.

“It would be my pleasure,” Celestia murmured flatly.

With a mighty leap, they took flight, speeding towards the Everfree.


The past thirty minutes had become Tyra’s absolute worst nightmare. From the moment that the ship had arrived above Ponyville and exploded, she knew that nothing would ever be the same again. There was a truth in that that she simply did not want to acknowledge, but was completely unable to avoid.

Taking a ragged breath she could stop it as she worked herself into a panic. She searched through every bit of rubble, trying to find their eldest daughter. Sofi was clutched safely between Tyra’s wings, confused at all of the commotion going on through the city.

“Where is she?” Tyra clacked her beak, asking the question to herself as much as she did to her husband.

“I don’t know.” Voss was uncharacteristically quiet, wishing beyond everything that he had just insisted they go visit the Rainbows first. None of this would have happened if he was just a bit more forceful.

“GILDA!” Tyra shouted, ignoring the pain in her throat. She could lose her voice for all she cared, as long as her daughter was safe. “GILDA!”

There was no response, at least not from their daughter. Instead, all that they heard was the burning of fire and the cries of ponies going through the same motions they were, searching for their loved ones.

A few yards away, Tyra noticed a grey earth pony mare wandering forward, her eyes red from all of the tears she had been crying. Seeing her, Tyra rushed forward and grabbed the mare.

“Have you seen my daughter?” Tyra was desperate. She knew she was desperate, but that didn’t matter. Gilda was gone, and nothing would ever be right in the world again.

“What?” The mare asked, blinking stupidly, her once perfectly styled black mane sticking to her face with blood.

“Please!” Tyra begged, struggling to take in any breath. “She’s only seven years old. Have you seen her?”

The grey mare didn’t respond, only staring blankly forward. Seeing that she wasn’t going to get any answers out of her, Tyra moved on. “GILDA!”


Twilight, Shining Armor, Rainbow Dash, Spike, Cadance were still playing the game of Risk, having divided Riley’s pieces up between themselves. The girl had been gone for nearly twenty minutes, and Cadance had already decided that if she was gone much longer, she would go and look for her herself.

Dancing Star and Cherry Blossom watching them play, intrigued by the exotic game.

Sadly, none of them had any clue what was happening in Ponyville, Twilight’s tower had been sound-proofed against the rest of the world after she had accidentally cast a spell that made her loud enough to be heard from Manehattan.

“I think Cadence is kicking your flank, Twilight.” Shining leaned into Cadance’s side, grinning dopily. Whatever drugs he was on, they were definitely the good stuff. He giggled, thinking he’d said something terribly funny.

“Thank you, Shiny,” Cadance kissed his cheek tolerantly, knowing that she was going to be able to lord this moment over him for a long, long time.

“You’re welcome,” he murmured to her, his eyes half-lidded.

“Do you have any idea when he will be back to normal?” Twilight asked, looking at her brother strangely. She wasn’t sure that she liked happy-go-lucky Shining Armor. It was more than a little unsettling.

“The drugs should start wearing off soon,” Cadance said with a shrug. “But he’ll have to take another when that happens.”

Twilight scowled, annoyed that she wouldn’t actually get to spend any meaningful time with her brother because he was too high to actually act like himself.

“Ha!” Rainbow cried out, flaring out all six of her limbs and wiggling them in a victory dance. “I win Asia. Deal with that, Twilight!”

Twilight quickly proceeded to soundly beat Rainbow Dash out of Asia. “Dealt with.”

“What?!” Rainbow stared at the board incredulously, wondering just where she had gone so wrong. “No!”

Before the conversation could continue, there was a quiet thud, followed by a much louder explosion that rocked the tower. The door shot across the room, crashing into the opposite wall, and all of the ponies fell back, scared out of their minds.

Twelve soldiers poured into the room before any of them could even figure out what was happening. Dressed completely in armor from head to toe, all they could make out was the fact that they were bipedal.

“DON’T MOVE!” The tallest of the soldiers shouted, dressed in the most ornate armor out of all of them.

Instantly, the mercenaries had their weapons trained on the unicorns.

“If I see so much as a spark from those horns of yours, I will put so many bullets in your heads that they’ll have to identify you with your DNA.” The soldier looked over the ponies before him through the faceless plate of his helmet.

Crying, Twilight backed up into Cadance’s chest for comfort. For all of her brilliance and logic, she was still only a seven year old filly, and she felt a little bit safer when Cadance wrapped one of her legs around her.

“If you leave now, nothing will happen to you.” As she was technically the highest ranking being in the room, Cadence glared at the mercenaries. She was quite proud that she managed to keep a quiver out of her voice. “We will not hunt you down, and we will not see that justice is served.”

The soldier laughed, then ignored her, turning to face the others surrounding him. “Search the rooms. Find the girl.”

Four of the soldiers broke away from the main group, heading towards the three bedrooms. The other eight kept their weapons trained on the ponies.

“You’re making a big mistake!” Dancing Star wondered just what it was inside of her that made her speak out in such situations. “Do you know just who you’re attacking.”

“Yep,” was the simple response from the soldier.

“… Well…” That brought Dancing Star up for a pause, and Cherry put a restraining hoof on her back. ”You’re still making a mistake.”

“No mistake.” The soldier shook his head, setting his rifle onto its magnetic clamp on his back.

“This is the tower of one Twilight Sparkle.” He pointed at Twilight, who whimpered. Cadence pulled her closer, lifting Rainbow off the couch with one of her wings and doing the same with her. “The purple one. No. We’re right where we’re supposed to be.”

The mercenaries returned from the rooms. “She isn’t here.”

The Mercenary Leader turned his attention to the ponies that he had taken captive. Reaching up, he pulled off his helmet to reveal that he was a human with brown hair and blue eyes.

“Now, I am going to ask some questions, and it will be better for everyone involved if you tell me the truth.” He waited to see if they were going to put up any form of protest.

They didn’t.

“Good.” He nodded, flexing his jaw. “Now, where is Riley Shepard.”

“Who?” Cadance asked, hoping that she looked as innocent as possible.

“Don’t play coy with me, bitch.” He rolled his eyes. “You know perfectly well who I am talking about. You’re little lie would be a whole lot more convincing if you told me the truth.”

Stepping forward, he pulled out a high-powered pistol. Without a word, he leveled it at Shining Armor and pulled the trigger.

It fired with a crack.

Shining Armor screamed, the bullet ripping through his unbroken hind-leg.

“Shiny!” Twilight and Cadance shouted at the same time.

“Good.” The soldier nodded, pleased with himself. “I have your attention. Don’t do that again or the next shot goes right through his brain.”

“Please!” Cadance begged, tears filling her eyes. “Don’t hurt him!”

“All you have to do is tell me what I want to know.” The soldier smiled at them, a sickening look.

Cadance glanced at Shining, who was on the floor, a pool of blood forming under his leg. She glanced down at Rainbow, who looked horrified and shell-shocked. The filly had no idea what was happening, nor did she have any real understanding of why.

Seeing all of this play out on Cadance’s face, the Mercenary Leader leveled his pistol at Rainbow’s head. “I’ll give you until the count of three before I blow the little rainbow thing’s head off.”

“No!” Cadance shouted.

“You’re a monster!” Dancing Star couldn’t understand where the Royal Guard was. How had they gotten through the Castle’s security?

“You’ll never get away with this!” Cherry had never hated a being so much as she did at that moment.


Rainbow whimpered, burying her head deep into Cadance’s barrel.

“Please! Have some mercy!” Cadance begged, sobbing.

“Tell me what I want to know, and all of this will end. Two!” He checked his pistol lazily.

Cadance looked to the heavens, as if asking forgiveness for what she was about to do. Taking a deep breath, she called out. “WAIT!”

The soldier paused, watching her carefully.

“She’s here.” Cadance hated herself. She hated that she was giving up one girl to save another. Was this how a Princess was supposed to act? She wasn’t sure she liked it very much.

“Where?” The soldier asked.

“I don’t know.” Cadance shook her head. “We were playing a game, and she got frightened and left. She’s been gone for thirty minutes by now.”


Hiding in the shadows just beyond the doorway, Riley practically hugged the wall, praying that no one had heard her coming up the stairs. Her ears wide open, she could only listen to what was happening inside Twilight’s apartment, powerless. She was horrified that one of the fillies had almost got shot, and she did nothing to stop the tears streaming down her face.

“That’s not good enough.” The male, the leader Riley guessed, said. “If she’s not here, and you don’t know where she has gotten off to, there is no reason to keep you alive.”

Riley lifted a hand to her mouth to keep herself from crying out in shock.

“You’re a monster!” Cadance cried, followed by the whimpers of the fillies.

“No,” the leader said. “I’m just making a lot of money for this.”

“Someone would pay you money to kill a girl?” Riley could hear the disgust in Dancing Star’s voice, as well as the fear. The older mare was simply hiding it better than the rest of them. “And you accepted?”

“It’s a lot of money,” the leader repeated.

Riley could hear the sound of footsteps inside of the room, and she pressed herself tighter against the wall. She didn’t know what she should do.

Clamping her eyes shut, Riley found herself back in the closet on Mindoir. She was curled up on the floor inside of the closet, watching through the slats as her mother tried to get her father’s gun to work. The shotgun was finicky, and only her father knew how to make it work without any problems.

“Come on you stupid piece of shit!” Hannah cursed, her hands shaking in terror. She knew that her husband and youngest daughter were as good as dead, and all she could do was try to keep her oldest alive.

The retort of are several shots of gunfire from elsewhere in the house rang out like thunder, and Hannah screamed, her face red from the tears. “NO! You bastards! I’ll kill every last one of you!”

A Batarian burst into the room, and Hannah used the gun like a club, smacking the alien upside the head. It only stunned him for half a second, and he was back up and swinging at her before she could react.

Hannah dropped to the ground, the Batarian rushing to get on top of her, a slathering, lecherous grin on his face.

Riley shook her head, wanting to be strong, wanting to save her mother, but she was too weak. She was afraid. She was small.

She didn’t want any of that.

Opening her eyes, Riley took a tentative step forward, unsure of just what she was going to do, but knowing that she couldn’t let what happened on Mindoir happen again.

She wasn’t going to lose any more family.


Blueberry and Solar Ace sat in their Princesses respective spots in the Situation Room, working with the Generals to try and get the right ponies moving to the right places. On the screens, they watched as several volunteer Pegasus’ details moved clouds over Ponyville. The rain was needed to put out the fires, but it blocked the satellite view. Automatically the satellites switched to another spectrum of light, seeing right through the cloud cover to the ground below.

“Does any pony know where Dancing Star is?” Solar Ace asked, interrupting an aide who was spouting more information he had already heard three times. He thought he heard a no from somewhere in the crowd of ponies.

“I don’t care how much it is going to cost, we need to put a halt on all ships leaving the planet.” Blueberry had been butting heads with the same Noble Unicorn for the past ten minutes, and they kept coming back to the same point.

“Ridiculous, and impossible to enforce anyway!” The Noble said with a sigh, frustrated and scared. Still, at least he wasn’t giving up and running away, which was a lot more than could be said for a lot of the aristocracy. He was one of the only Noble’s present in the room, and as much as Blueberry didn’t want to admit it, he did have an idea of what he was talking about.

He was also in charge of the treasury, which made talking to him more than a little difficult.

“If we don’t stop them now, then the attackers will be able to escape. They’ll smuggle themselves off world on any ship they can find.” Blueberry wanted to smash her head against the table. She was getting absolutely nowhere.

“And they’ll be willing to wait. It doesn’t matter if we stop all flight tonight, and even tomorrow, and the day after that.” The Noble shook his head, making the same point for the third time. “They’ll wait until the ban is lifted, and they’ll be hidden on every ship heading back to Citadel space. It simply isn’t feasible.”

“I don’t hear you coming up with any better ideas!” Blueberry protested, just as angry and afraid as everypony else. This was the first true crisis that Equestria had ever gone through on their own since joining the galactic community without the assistance of humanity.

“Really.” Solar searched the crowd, not seeing the one pony he really needed in the room with him. “Does anypony know where Dancing Star is? She needs to be here.”

One of the aides shrugged.

"Do we have somepony looking for her?” He asked. At the shake of the head no, Solar groaned. “Go find her!”

One of the Generals was listening to an aide who had rushed up to him, holding up a hoof to quiet the room. “Hold. I’ve got a casualty report.”

The room stilled, turning their attention to him.

“Don’t make us wait,” Solar urged.

“The last census puts the town population just above two-thousand.” The General took a moment to glance around the room before reading the part that everypony was waiting to hear. “Guards on the ground have been able to make a rough estimate from missing ponies reports, and it isn’t good.”

Blueberry rolled her eyes, frustrated that he was taking so long to actually get to the numbers. “What are the numbers?”

The General took a breath before continuing. “Four hundred dead, eighty missing, and reports are still rolling in.”

“Missing?” Blueberry raised an eyebrow at that, confusion filling her. “Where did they go? It’s not like there’s a lot of places they could hide in a town that small.”

The General frowned, not really wanting to explain, but having to anyway. It wasn’t at all a pleasurable thing to think on, and he was sure quite a few of the ponies in the room would be having nightmares by the time they got around to sleeping.

“They could be trapped in the rubble. Their bodies might simply not be there anymore.” The General saw exactly the reactions he expected from them. Revulsion, sadness, and anger.

“Where could they have possibly gone?” Blueberry asked, incredulous.

“They could have been burned to ash.”

“Oh, Celestia,” Solar murmured, wondering just how much more they were going to have to deal with.


Far away from Ponyville and Canterlot, a group of Batarians twenty-five strong in painted camouflaged armor rushed through a dark town. They didn’t know its name, nor did they particularly care. They were following a plan that had been hastily thrown together, and they were hoping that everything worked out like they hoped it would.

Slung over all of their shoulders, each of them carried a large bag on their shoulders, several unconscious Equestrians held within.

They made their way through the outskirts of the town, weaving through buildings towards what they hoped was a private shipping company in the small warehouse district.

“Search quickly,” the Batarian leader whispered at the lower caste Batarians surrounding him. “Be quiet about. If we’re found, we’re done for.”

The Batarians broke away in groups of fours and fives, looking for any avenue of escape.

Several of the Batarians stopped in front of what could have been a large hanger. Grinning at each other at their luck, they dropped their bags and moved to open it.

Sliding open the doors, they found exactly what they were hoping for within, a medium sized transport vessel, more than big enough for all of them.


Chapter Twenty - Anger and Rage

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Chapter Twenty - Anger and Rage
Royal Castle, Canterlot, Equestria
July 15th, 2170

Riley hesitated just outside the door, taking in a deep shuddering breath. A shiver like ice ran down her spine, and for just a moment, she felt like she couldn't breath. Unimaginable pressure and shadows crushed down on her mind, and she didn't know what she was going to do.

"Take the Alicorn first," the leader said, practically growling out the words. "I’ve heard they’re a bitch to kill."

There was no time left. She had to act now. The pressure focused into purpose, and she knew what she had to do.

Rage built up inside of Riley, and she burst out of the shadows.

"NO!" She screamed, bursting through the twisted remains of the doorway. If she had been looking in a mirror, she would have found that her her eyes were tinged blue, glowing from within.

In a single heartbeat, Riley took in the entire scene. Everything and everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion and she was able to count the soldiers in the room, all twelve of them with their weapons pointed directly at the cowering ponies on the floor before them. Riley focused on Rainbow, and the expression of sheer terror on her little sister's face struck right at her heart.

The soldiers were just barely starting to react, turning around to face her as pure rage roared to life inside of Riley. She wasn’t going to be that hurt little girl anymore. She felt strong.

She felt powerful.

It just so happened that she was also a latent biotic.

Reaching the first mercenary before he had even lifted his rifle, Shepard punched.

Her fist struck the man with all the force of a speeding M35 Mako. His heavy armor crumpled like tissue paper, and physics jumped into play. embedding his body in the opposite wall.

Even as the soldiers opened fire on her, Shepard was already on the move.

She was too fast for them, already moving onto her next target.

"That’s her!" The lead soldier tried to level his rifle on the girl, but he was just half a second too slow. "Take her down!"

"Don't you dare take your guns off the unicorns!" The soldier pointed at two of the guards furthest from the door. "They so much as move, kill them!"

Grabbing the next soldier's neck, Riley pulled him in front of her, using him as a bullet shield.

The soldiers had no hesitation on firing on their comrade, and his armor was shredded quickly under the hail of armor piercing ammunition. Shepard tossed him aside as she subconsciously threw up a biotic barrier, charging at two of the soldiers behind the couch.

"Stop trying to shoot her, and shoot her!" The leader shouted rather unhelpfully, even as he failed to do the same.

Leaping into the air, Riley slammed her fist into the ground. Her biotic barrier exploded, shredding the couch and the two soldiers into pieces, sending a wave of gore and cotton across the room.

Before Riley could leap after her next victim, the leader shout out. "Enough!"

In the corner of her eye, Riley watched as the soldier lifted up Rainbow Dash, his pistol at her forehead.

"One more move and she won’t have a head anymore!" He grinned, sure in his victory.

Riley froze, her chest heaving as she struggled to catch her breath. Her biotic barrier had snapped back into place on a reflex the moment she had stopped moving.

A sense of false calm fell over the room, and Cadance draped her body protectively over Spike, Twilight, and Shining Armor.

"Let me go!" Rainbow Dash cried out, squirming uncomfortably in the soldier’s grasp. His hand around her neck, she struggled to catch her breath.

"You’ll be fine, Rainbow." Riley tried to reassure her sister, glaring at the soldier. "Don’t worry."

Standing still, Riley turned her head first to the right then to the left, taking in the sight of all of the soldiers in the room, tensing herself for a fight.

"Kill her!" The soldier shouted.

Neurons firing at element zero enhanced speeds, Riley reacted before anyone else in the room. She charged forward, appearing in the same space that the leader was occupying. She body-checked him at near relativistic speeds, and he was sent flying. Riley grabbed Rainbow from his grasp, covering her little sister protectively with her body as a hail of bullets crash against her barrier.

Tossing Rainbow away from the hail of death, Riley spun and threw out her hand. A shimmering ball of blue energy whisks out, pulling three soldiers into a spinning ball of energy that literally pulled them apart atom by atom. They didn't even have a chance to scream.

The rest of the four soldiers panicked. They threw down their rifles as they tried to escape the room, but Riley charged after them. With a roar, Riley curled up on herself, energy drawing in before it exploded out , snapping their necks with the simple acceleration.

Standing, Riley turned back to where the leader had fallen. Fist glowing cherenkov blue, she raised it to smash his head to pieces, but Cadance rushed forward, restraining the girl.

"No!" Cadance pleaded. "Don't!"

Riley, still in the middle of a battle fog, looked at Cadance in confusion. The mare wasn't even sure that the girl recognized her.

"He should die," Riley said, her voice emotionless.

"No." Cadance shook her head, willing her to come back down to reality. "There’s been enough death. Keeping him alive will help us far more than killing him."

Riley stared at Cadance, trying to understand why, but the Alicorn did’t back down. She had a spine of steel and was unwilling to bend, not wanting to see the girl slip further into bloodlust.

For a single, heart stopping moment, Cadance wasn't sure that Riley was going to listen to her. She wasn't sure that there was anyway she could stop her if Riley decided not to listen to her.

Riley’s biotics flared out, and she dropped to her knees, having exhausted nearly every ounce of energy that she had within her.

"Riley!" Rainbow cried out, bounding up to her big sister, nuzzling her worriedly and thankfully.

"Hey." Riley smiled at her tiredly. She scratched Rainbow’s mane, struggling to keep her eyes open.

Desperately, the soldier tried to crawl for his gun, but Cadance restrained him in a magical field.

"Summon the guard," Cadance said, catching eyes with Dancing Star.

Dancing Star never heard Cadance. Instead, stunned, she threw up at the sight of all of the gore that Riley had caused so quickly. She had never seen anything like it before, and she wasn't sure if she was going to be okay.

"Oh Celestia…" She murmured, leaning into Cherry's side.

"Dancing Star!" Cadance shouted.

Dancing Star looked over at her, her eyes only half focusing. She was going into shock, but a Princess giving her an order was more than enough to get her moving.

"Yes, Princess?" She murmured.

"Go and summon the Guard." Cadance spoke slowly, wanting to make sure that Dancing Star heard everything that she said. "Inform Solar Ace. The Princesses need to know what has happened here."

"Yes, Princess." Nodding, she got up on shaky legs. Cherry followed after, just as stunned as the other mare. They gingerly picked their way through the bodies until they get to the doorway, galloping down the stairs as fast as they possibly could, needing to get away from all of the death and destruction.

"Riley." Twilight asked timidly.

Riley looked over to see that Twilight had crawled up to her, eying Riley like she was an entirely new beast, something to approached with caution and fear.

"It’s alright, Twilight," Riley did her best to reassure the filly. The edges of her vision were tinged with black, and her head was spinning. "I’m not going to hurt you."

Twilight looked completely unconvinced.

"My big sister would never hurt any of us!" Rainbow looked at Riley with hero worship. The death and destruction hadn't fazed her, all because her big sister saved her life. To prove her point, Rainbow jumped up on Riley’s lap and pulled her into the biggest possible hug that she could. Riley gave it right back, starting to cry herself as all of the adrenaline started leaving her body. All she had left were her emotions.

She fell back against the ground, and Rainbow snuggled up next to her.

Seeing that Rainbow was unharmed Twilight darted forward and embraced Riley.

"Thank you for saving us," the filly whispered into Riley's ear.

"No problem…." Riley passed out mid-sentence, the entire ordeal too much for her to handle anymore.

Chapter Twenty-One - Resolutions

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Chapter Twenty-One - Resolutions
Everfree Forest, Equestria
July 15th, 2170

The Everfree Forest sat on the eastern borders of the nation of Equestria, and it was avoided by nearly everypony whenever possible. It was a place of dark, unnatural things and creatures that crept in the shadows. So many stories had arisen about the forest that it had long since been forgotten which were truth and which were legend.

In the end, it didn’t really matter. If you want to live a long and full life, it was a good idea to avoid the Everfree at all cost.

It was unfortunate that the Batarians didn’t lend any credence to such tales.

When Carlok had been contacted by the leader of the human mercenaries, he had found himself torn. On one hand, he despised humanity. They had done more to hurt the Batarian race in twenty years than all of the rest of the Council Races combined in two-thousand years. On the other hand, Equestria was a prize unlike any other. To return to Khar’shan with a bounty of captured Equestrians would see him rising the ranks of order.

He liked the idea of having a seat at the table.

In the end the mere thought of such wealth and prosperity was too much for him to resist. He would live like a king after this was done!

The plan had been incredibly simple to arrange as soon as Carlok had agreed. Matriarch Ceyrta Mereli was the absolute perfect opportunity, and they had taken it happily. The ship had been completely unarmed, and intercepting it between the Arcturus Relay and the Equestrian Sphere had been an extremely simple matter. The Asari never even knew what hit them. Between Carlok’s soldiers and the human mercenaries, it had been quick, if bloody work.

The human mercenaries had taken a life pod as soon as they had hit the atmosphere, going on to their own mission (which they had refused to talk about) while Carlok and his soldiers continued on to the small the mercenaries had picked out as the best distraction, someplace called Ponyville.

According to plan, they had preformed a fast drop just outside of the town’s limits before remotely detonating the ship to cause as much chaos and confusion as possible.

They had worked quickly, gathering as many together as they could and sedating them before tossing them into the bags they had brought.

When the Alicorns had arrived in Ponyville, Carlok knew that there was only one choice. To stay and fight would mean death, but fleeing into the forest would mean that they would be able to escape the wretched planet with their precious goods. The mercenaries had spoken about legends surrounding the forest, and the one thing that had stuck out to him was how no one dared to ever enter it.

That worked perfectly well for him.

The order had spread quickly, and near fifty of his men followed him into the Everfree, only half of those that he had brought with him.

Shifting his bag higher on his shoulder, Carlok ignored the small bit of fear that had begun to grow in the pit of his stomach. The trees rose all around them, blotting out the stars with their towering branches, and each shadow looked like it hid a nightmare.

“We’re lost!”

“Quiet,” Carlok hissed, quickly locating the dissenter. Unsurprising to him, it was one of the youngest in his company and the lowest of all of them. He growled at the bastard’s gall.

“What’s the point?” The boy shouted, ignoring all wisdom and smarts. “We’re lost!”

Raising his rifle, Carlok felt no remorse as he shot the boy dead. It was better than he deserved, but there was no time to give him the proper punishments. It was a shame. He truly enjoyed hearing the screams of those who defied him.

“Does anybody else have any problems?” He asked, looking over the rest of his subordinates.

Wisely, nobody responded to his question.

“Didn’t think so.” He rolled his eyes at the cowards. He pointed at the closest to the dead boy. “You pick up his load.”

“Keep moving!” Carlok ignored the Batarians anger and turned to the rest of his company. “They won’t follow us in here. They’re afraid of the forest.”

The Batarians all laughed at that, a loud, nervous sound. It was just a forest after all… right?

Clutching their weapons just a little bit tighter, they continued their journey. The sooner that they could leave the forest, the better they would all be.

Moving through the woods was difficult and hard-going. They had to fight against the tangling underbrush, which seemed to try and rip their feet out from under them and lead them off in paths that would mean certain death.

They tried to avoid the memories of the stories that their grandmothers used to tell them on the cold winter nights on Khar’shan. They tried to forget the hidden and nameless horrors that only the Pillars of Strength could guard their souls against. Ancient horrors that called forests such as this their home.

The roar from behind made half of the company drop to the ground in prayer. The other half spun with their rifles raised.

The creature that they found behind made them pause.

It was a towering beast, appearing feline, standing nearly twenty feet tall, a pair of large, leather wings spreading out behind it, a show of dominance that was nearly as frightening as the rest of it. A long, insectile tail whipped through the air behind it, and the whole company was careful to keep their eye on the deadly point at the end. It was a nightmare come to life, and they wondered just what other stories their grandmothers had been telling the truth about.

Before Carlok could shout any orders, the beast roared again and charged. He didn’t need to give any command it turned out. Survival instincts were a powerful thing, and the Batarians needed no help with that.

Even as they filled the beast with holes, it grabbed the closest Batarian. With another roar, he ripped him in two as if he were nothing more than a twig.

Sighting down his rifle, Carlok shot a burst through the beast’s skull. It dropped to the ground soundlessly, dead. It’s impressive muscles had been reduced to nothing more than a pile of ground meat.

Silence fell over the forest, and the entire company took a moment to catch their breaths. That certainly had not been what they had expected, but all in all, Carlok thought that they had all handled it rather well.

“Keep moving,” Carlok said, rattled. He shifted his bag higher on his shoulder, and checked the ammo block in his rifle. It was still more than two thirds of the way full, more than enough for anymore run ins with the forest’s denizens. Even after nearly two hours of use, the rifle was more than perfectly usable. It was a testament to Turian engineering. Only the best was good enough for his needs.

Though they were more timid then they had been moments before, the company continued onwards.

The forest was silent, and it loomed even more than it had before the beast had attacked them. Carlok could not escape the feeling like there were eyes watching him, and a shiver rolled down his sign.

“Do you hear that?” Pem turned to his friend and asked. They were both too low in the system to own any slaves of their own, but they lived comfortable, if sparse lives.

“It’s nothing.” Gham shook his head at Pem, glaring. “Quiet! You’ll get us both killed.”

“No!” Pem angled his rifle up at the sky, keeping a wary watch over the trees above them. “Listen! Something’s out there.”

Both Batarians paused, looking up at the forest.

“It’s nothing,” Gham murmured back to him after a moment, hefting his bag higher. He wanted nothing more than to be out of the forest, back on Khar’shan, away from all of this madness. He was really regretting ever agreeing to Carlok’s promises. “You’re hearing things.”

Near silent, something fast and predatory sliced through the air above the company. If it hadn’t been for the audio enhancements inside of their helmets, they never would have heard it.

“Silence!” Carlok ordered over the short-range radio. Raising his rifle, he scanned the treetops and the rest of his company followed his example.

“What was that?” Pem took a shuddering breath, hating the recycled air of his armor. He wanted to breath the fresh forest air, but there wasn’t any chance of that happening soon.

“Shut up!” Gham punched his friend’s shoulder, never taking all four of his eyes off the sky. “You’re going to get us all killed!”

“This is crazy!” A Batarian freaked out several feet away from them. He wasn’t someone that Pem or Gham knew, he was too far above them for that. “We’re all going to die!”

Dropping his bag, he turned and ran from the company, heading into the shadows.

“Bastard!” Carlok shouted after him, not that it did much good.

The deserter disappeared into the dark, screaming and gibbering the entire time. His words quickly faded into the distance, and the rest of the company shifted uneasily.

A moment later, a horrific crack of thunder rang out through the woods, followed by a blinding flash of light that lit up the entire area like it was day. The deserter screamed, a terrifying, soul shaking sound that shook the entire company to their core.

“Shit!” Gham tried his best to avoid throwing down his rifle and running the opposite direction. “Shit!”

“I told you I heard something!” For all of his righteous vindication at being right, he would have no qualms about fleeing in absolute terror with his friend.

“Fire!” Carlok shouted, squeezing the trigger of his rifle. He sprayed a hail of micro sized projectiles into the woods, paying no mind to the rapidly heating barrel of his rifle. It would be ruined, but what did it matter if he didn’t kill whatever had killed the deserter.

All of the Batarians followed Carlok’s order, opening fire on the direction of all of the noise and light came from. The sheer amount of firepower shredded apart the trees and bushes like they weren’t even there. It is over in only a minute, but by the time that they had finished, they had created a new clearing in the forest.

Once more, everything fell silent in the forest.

The company was still for several long moments, waiting to see if they had killed whatever had destroyed the deserter.

With a sigh, Carlok stood, glad that his gloves were heat resistant. His rifle was glowing nearly cherry red and he knew without a doubt that he would have to replace it as soon as possible. Still, if it had saved his life we would keep it with the rest of his trophies. Anything that had saved his life definitely deserved to be honored.

Before any of the others could do anything, the Empress of Equestria dropped from the sky into the clearing that they had just made, eyes glowing a furious white. Her mane and tail burned with the fury of the sun, scorching the very earth around her.

“Kill her!” Carlok shouted, raising his rifle again. He wasn’t sure that it was even going to be able to fire, but maybe luck would be on his side. Returning with the body of the ruler of Equestria would bring him more prestige than he had ever imagined.

The Batarians once again opened fire, but the bullets had absolutely no effect on her. They struck her with all of the effect of spitballs against a dreadnought.

Ignoring the gunfire, Celestia took a step forward, the ground burning under her hooves. Turning her glowing eyes on Carlok, her horn ignited with golden magic.

Before any of the Batarians could react, Celestia shot out beams of light that struck all of their hearts. Burning through the armor, it flash-boiled them inside of their armor.

Princess Luna dropped into the clearing as all of the Batarians dropped dead to the ground. She looked over them, horrified by the sight of what her sister had done.

“Celestia!” Luna cried out, memories of that night almost one-thousand years ago filling her mind. “Tia!”

For a long moment, Luna did not think that her sister heard her. She instead stared over the bodies in front of her.

“Tia!” Luna took a step forward, ignoring the immense heat pouring off of her sister. “You must stop this at once!”

Blinking, Celestia turned and noticed her sister for the first time. For a moment, it looked like she wasn’t going to listen, but after taking a breath she let go of her magic, letting it dissipate. She turned her gaze dispassionately back over the Batarians.

She didn’t say anything as she stepped forward, her face blank as a thousand emotions all fought for dominance inside of her. Celestia stopped in front of the closest Batarian. Using her hoof, she carelessly pushed him off of the bag that he had fall upon. Lifting it up and opening it with her magic, Celestia ever so gently pulled out the Equestrians inside. A white filly with three diamonds for a cutie mark, an older pink mare, and a teenage pegasus.

Luna looked over the death and destruction that Celestia had caused. It was horrible, terrifying, a step too far, but Luna understood. Faust take her, but she completely understood, and she could not judge her sister for what she had done.

“Tia…” Luna murmured.

“I don’t…” Celestia ever so gently placed the ponies on top of a bed that she conjured, erecting a wall of dirt between them and the rather gruesome sight that she had caused. She looked back at Luna with a pair of the most pitiful eyes that the mare had ever seen. “They were taking My Little Ponies.”

Luna stepped forward, nuzzling her sister comfortingly. There was nothing she could say. All she could do was be there.

They stood there for what felt like an eternity, taking comfort in each other.

A trio of Lunar Guards landed in the clearing, having followed after the Princesses at a much slower pace. There were very few beings who could match the speed of an enraged Alicorn. Seeing the carnage before them, they felt disgust and horror, shocked, but they quickly pushed it off. They had a job to do after all.

“Princesses.” The highest ranking of the Lunar Guard stepped forward, pushing down the horror and disgust that he felt. There were bigger things happening after all.

Celestia and Luna turned to look at the guards.

“There has been an attack on the castle,” he said, his voice calm and even despite the rage that coursed through him. Someone had dared to attack his home, and he felt defiled.

Both Celestia and Luna froze, turning their entire attention solely onto the guards.

“Explain,” Luna said icily.

“There was an assassination attempt on Riley Shepard’s life.”

What?” Celestia felt overwhelmed. How much more could go wrong in a single night? She looked at Luna with shock and worry, seeing the same expression on her face before she turned back to the guard. “Is she alright? Are they alright?”

“There are casualties,” the guard said.

“Who?” Luna asked, her wings flaring uncomfortably. She watched as Celestia pawed at the ground.

“The reports are still coming in.” The Lunar Guard shook his head.

“Go, Tia,” Luna said. She knew that there were very few things that took a higher importance in her sister’s mind than her faithful student. “I shall take care of all of this.”

“Thank you, Luna,” Celestia murmured, darting forward to give her sister a thankful nuzzle.

“Go.” Luna gestured in the direction of the castle. “May Faust grant you the swiftness of all of the winds.”

Spreading her wings, Celestia took flight, breaking the sound barrier as she sped back to the castle.

Royal Castle, Canterlot, Equestria

Rainbow Dash didn’t like seeing Riley like this. She was tall, and strong, and she wasn’t supposed to get hurt! From her spot curled up protectively by their side, Rainbow looked up at her sister. Riley was unconscious on the hospital bed, and several feet away doctors were trying to figure out what has happening to her. They had tried to make her go away, but Rainbow let out a proud snort. There was no way she would ever leave Riley when she was hurt!

All of the ponies that had been present inside of Twilight’s tower had been rushed to the Castle’s hospital room, all of them getting checked over by panicked doctors. Nothing like that had ever happened before on Equestrian soil, and they simply weren’t prepared to deal with the trauma.

“It doesn’t make any sense!” Doctor Wild Strike struggled to make sense of what all of his scans, magical and technological, were telling him. “This shouldn’t be possible!”

“It’s not like we’re experts.” Doctor Night Berry shrugged. It was unprecedented, but they simply did not have the experience with biotics to know anything other than that. “The Matriarchs are our best option for understanding this.”

Magic and Biotics were similar in their applications, but drastically different at their most fundamental levels. While both unicorns and beings with the ability to use biotics could levitate objects, magic couldn't tear holes in the fabric of time and space, and biotics couldn't turn an orange into an apple.

“Whether it makes sense or not, it happened.” Sweet Tooth frowned, shaking her head. As a mage with the Royal College, she had learned more about magic in twenty years than most ever learned in a lifetime. That wasn’t much help with Biotic oddities. “Somehow, this girl is a functioning biotic without any form of amplifier.”

“That’s not true.” Wild Strike shook his head, holding up the x-rays that he had taken. “There’s something there, but its not an amp…”

“Unicorn foals have been known to use their magic to do amazing feats in times of great danger…” Sweet Tooth studied Riley face, chewing on her lip. It was a stretch, and it sounded weak even to her.

“Yes.” Night Berry nodded, looking over the x-ray Wild Strike was holding up. “But we aren’t talking about escaping from a burning building. She ran into a room with no training and killed eleven highly trained mercenaries without blinking an eye! That’s not something any untrained unicorn could do, but we’re not talking about magic. This is biotics, and despite some similarities, they are not the same thing.”

“So we’re stuck waiting until we get a reply from Thessia?” Wild Strike didn’t like waiting. Ponies died when he had to wait. “I know that it’s a long shot… Could it have been related to anything magical? Could Equestria itself have caused this to happen?”

Sweet Tooth had to think about that for a moment, but she didn’t really know. “Maybe, but I don’t think so. The amount of magic that she has been surrounded by might have something to do with biotics manifesting—“

“Because that makes a whole lot of sense!” Night Berry rolled her eyes.

“— but I can’t see how that would have led to what we saw.” Sweet Tooth finished. They had all looked over the security camera footage from Twilight’s tower, and it was a sight unlike anything they had ever seen. A teenage girl using biotics like a Justicar… there was no way that it should have been possible.


Everyone in the room turned to look as Firefly broke into the hospital room, panicked and scared. The instant that she saw Riley and Rainbow on the bed, she rushed towards them, paying no mind to the Royal Guard following after her trying to restrain her.

“Please, it’s okay,” Wild Strike said to the guards, waving them away with a hoof.

The Royal Guard looked hesitant for a moment, but they acquiesced and stepped outside. Moments later, Rainbow Prism, Twilight Velvet, and Night-Light stepped into the room, following after Firefly. They each headed to their prospective families. Velvet and Night-Light were horrified to find that Shining Armor had been shot in his other leg.

“It’s fine, Mom,” He murmured, drugged beyond all capacity for rationality. Shining Armor leaned against Cadance’s side.

“Mom! Dad!” Rainbow Dash perked up when she saw her parents.

“Oh Celestia!” Firefly pulled Rainbow into a hug before setting her back on the bed and turning her attention to the unconscious Riley. “What happened?”

Seeing their confusion and worry, the Doctors and the Sweet Tooth stepped up to try and explain.

“Your daughter is in a coma,” Wild Strike said.

“Why?!” Firefly looked confused and scared.

“From what we can tell, she exhausted herself biotically,” Sweet Tooth said.

“Biotics? But—“ Prism didn’t know what to say, nuzzling his oldest daughter as much to try and comfort her as to comfort himself.

“But your daughter isn’t a biotic,” Sweet Tooth nodded in understanding. “Wasn’t a biotic, I guess I should say.”

“But why?” Firefly looked at the Doctors with a mix of hope and utter fear.

“I would like to know that myself.”

The room startled at the powerful voice, turning to find that Princess Celestia had entered the room.

“Princess!” Twilight Sparkle jumped onto all four hooves on her bed, struggling to steady herself on the plush mattress.

Everyone but Firefly bowed. She was far too pissed to do that.

“They were supposed to be safe!” Firefly protested, stomping a hoof against the ground.

“I…” Celestia ducked her head, ashamed. “I am so sorry, Firefly…”

Firefly was so angry and had so many thoughts rushing through her head that she couldn’t think of what to say first. Instead of doing or saying something incredibly stupid, she let out a snort of anger and turned back to the hospital bed.

“How is she?” Firefly asked the doctors.

“She’ll live, that’s the most important thing.” Wild Strike knew all of Riley’s conditions by heart now, having gone over them so many times. “When they brought her here, she had already fallen into a coma, but we have her under sedation just in case.”

“Sedated? Why?” Firefly struggled to make sense of anything that was happening.

“We are worried about the strain she forced her system under.” Night Berry stepped forward, taking over the explanation. “From what every medical report is telling me, she wasn’t a biotic before this happened, and she managed to kill eleven armed mercenaries without even a biotic amp. We don’t want her waking up unexpectedly. It could be too much a shock for her system to handle.”

“There could be consequences,” Wild Strike said. “From what we can tell, she has… grown what on first glance appears to be a biotic amplifier… I can’t really think of anyway else to explain it.”

“ Grown a biotic amp? Killed eleven men?” Prism shook his head, glaring at the doctors. “What are you even talking about?!”

“All we were told was that our children were in the hospital!” Firefly leaned against her husband for support, finding it hard to breath all of a sudden. “What is going on here?”

That drew the two Doctors and Sweet Tooth up for a pause. They had no clue that the parents didn’t know what had happened. Princess Celestia herself had only heard the barest of details.

“I…” Wild Strike backed up, biting his lip. “I should get the Captain. He seems to be the only one with the full picture.”

“Please, be quick Doctor.” Celestia ordered him, her voice quiet.

Nodding, Wild Strike stepped out, and rushed to get the Captain of the guard.

Once more, Riley found herself standing in the Forest. Fog rolled across the ground, and a deep, grating whispering rose about from all around her. It seemed to crawl down her spine, followed by a cold shiver.

Taking a step forward, she stopped and looks down to find that she was ankle deep in muddy water. It was quickly rising, already nearing her knees.

Looking back up, she found a faceless figure standing in front of her.

“You are foolish,” the figure said, his voice seeming to emanate from his entire body. It was deeply unsettling and made Riley’s skin crawl. “You have forced our hand, and made us move before the time was right.”

Riley didn’t know what to say to that. She studied the figure with wary caution.

“You shall learn your purpose.” The figure spat the last word, and Riley could feel his anger as a physical presence. His voice seemed to ring out from everywhere all at once, and nowhere at all, and it bore down on her shoulders. “You shall pay for your own foolishness.”

“What…” Riley looked down again, find the water up to her hips already, icy cold. “What are you?”

“What I am is irrelevant. You belong to me.”

“I don’t belong to anyone!” Riley protested, trying to back away.

“You will be the instrument of our will, and they shall learn to fear you.” The figure stepped forward, grabbing Riley’s throat. He lifted her up out of the water and she struggled uselessly as she started to choke. “But first, you shall learn to fear us. You are a fragile creature, a lesser race. Were it not for us, you would have been shot dead, and your usefulness would have ended.”

The figure threw Riley under the water and held her under effortlessly. She struggled even harder, and she knew she was going to die.

“Wake up. “

Riley’s eyes opened—

—and she screamed, gurgling as she tried to draw breath! Everyone in the hospital room jumped in surprise as Riley woke up. She was completely panicked and afraid, still feeling the icy water over her head. Firefly and Prism rushed forward to restrain her as she started flailing about dangerously. Rainbow Dash jumped off the bed, watching her sister in confusion.

“What is she doing awake? I thought she was sedated!” Wild Strike wondered if he had inputted the correct numbers on the sedative.

Riley screamed. Firefly jumped up onto the bed and wrapped all four of her legs around Riley, restraining her from hurting herself. She nuzzled against her, trying to comfort her. “Shhh. It’s alright Riley. You’re safe.”

Riley’s screaming turned into whimpers, and she grabbed onto Firefly with all her might.

A few moments passed, and Riley’s crying subsided, leaving the girl lying exhausted in the bed. She looked around the room, seeing everyone but Rainbow.

“Rainbow?” She croaked, her voice cracking. “Where’s Rainbow?”

Hearing her name, Rainbow flapped her wings and jumped back up on the bed. The moment that Riley saw her, she smiled in relief and let her head drop back onto her pillow. She took a moment to catch her breath, then sat back up a little and motioned for Rainbow to come closer. Rainbow crawled up onto her stomach.

“Are you alright?” Riley asked, her voice a whisper. “Are you hurt? They didn’t hurt you did they?”

“No.” Rainbow shook her head. “I’m fine. You saved me.”

“Good.” At that Riley laid back, relieved, the last of her energy spent. “Everyone else is safe?”

Twilight Sparkle, hearing all of the commotion, jumped off her mattress and trotted over to Riley’s bed. She jumped up at the foot, sitting on her haunches.

“We’re all fine,” Twilight said, smiling at Riley. “Thanks to you.”

Riley closed her eyes, not going back to sleep but resting.

Firefly looked reluctant for a moment, but she had a question that she needed to ask. “Why… Why didn’t you ever tell us you were biotic?”

“I’m not…” Riley shook her head, not bothering to open her eyes. “I wasn’t…”

“They were going to…” Riley thought back to the dream she just had, before opening her eyes and looking meaningfully at Rainbow and Twilight. The older ponies in the room tried catch on to what she is meaning.

“I had to do something,” Riley tried to explain. “I wasn’t strong enough, but then I felt it, and I knew what I needed to do. It was like there was like something… else… took control.”

The Doctors and Sweet Tooth looked at each other. That wasn’t how biotics work, but somehow that is exactly what happened.

“She really shouldn’t be awake right now,” Wild Strike said to Prism, his voice quiet. “The longer she stays awake, the higher a chance there is of something going wrong. We really need to get her sedated again.”

Prism looked reluctant, but he finally nodded. “Alright.”

Wild Strike stepped up to the machine by Riley’s bed, quickly typing in a command using two hoof pedals on the ground. The sedative started flowing through her IV, and in seconds Riley was already feeling its effects.

Stroking Rainbow’s mane, Riley lifted her chin up to look her in the eyes. “I’ll protect you. I won’t lose another sister.”

“And I’ll protect you too,” Rainbow said.

Riley only half heard that, slipping back into unconsciousness. Rainbow curled up and tried to join her.

Kithoi Ward, Citadel, Serpent Nebula
July 22, 2170

Inez Simmons emerged from his hiding place, hooded, but extremely proud of himself. He had spent a week living inside of the ducts, but it was time to emerge back into the galaxy and see just what his money had paid for. His mercenaries had yet to report in, but that wasn’t unexpected. In all likelihood, it was all over every news network.

He had successfully hacked into the Citadel Broadcast and let the entire galaxy know just what he thought of them. He had been holed up inside of one of the Citadel’s many ducts, hiding from C-Sec. Now though, it was time for him to set more of his plans into motion. It was time to ramp things up and keep hammering in his message.

The corridor he emerged out onto was nearly deserted. A drunk Turian was stumbling along the wall a little ways away. Inez watched in disgust as the Turian threw up, heaving all of his stomach’s contents onto the floor.

“Disgusting animal,” Inez muttered, glaring.

He started walking in the opposite direction.

Reaching into his cloak, Inez pulled out his false identity, checking it over for any flaws that he could possibly find. He had already done it a thousand times while he was stuck in the cramped ducts, and just like before he found none, stowing it back inside his cloak.

Glancing over his shoulder again, he found no sign of the Turian. Pulling his hood tighter around his face, Inez hurried out of the corridor, wanting to get to a more populated area of the Citadel as quickly as possible.

The walk to the park was extremely enjoyable, and Inez relished the opportunity to stretch his legs. It was a relief to get his blood flowing once again after so long stationary.

Inez took the opportunity to walk through the park, carefully keeping from the view of the hundreds of other beings who are spending their time there. The Asari had found nearly two-thousand years ago that living on a space-station could eventually lead to claustrophobia and madness. Being able to experience and enjoy nature took away that eventuality, and so they had installed massive parks on every Ward Arm.

Inez took a seat on one of the many benches, checking his ticket time for his ship to Mars. It was still a few hours away, and Inez had plenty of time to kill.

“You are certainly a tough son of a bitch to find.”

Inez startled, struggling to get up and run away, but a hand on his should stops him, shoving back down onto the bench. it didn’t matter anyway. His legs had fallen asleep. Ethan stepped around the bench and sat down next to Inez.

“You!” Inez hissed, checking to see that no one had seen the altercation.

“Me!” Ethan grinned, waving jauntily.

Inez contemplated running as soon as the numbness in his legs went away, but he found a pistol pressed up against his side.

“Yeah.” Ethan laughed, leaning back, relaxed. “I’d stay right where I was if I was you.”

“What do you want?” Inez asked, growling.

“It’s not what I want.” Ethan laughed, looking over the aliens going about their day, enjoying the park. “I’m here representing someone else.”

“What? The Illusive Man?” Inez paled, realizing that he had pissed off an extremely powerful person. He struggled to understand just what Ethan had told him. “He’s pro-human! Why does have any problems with what I’m doing?”

“I don’t know.” Ethan shrugged, biting his lip. “It probably has something to do with how stupid you are.”

Inez struggled, his face contorting in anger, but an unamused look from Ethan stopped him from making a scene.

“You don’t act on your own!” Ethan jabbed the pistol into Inez’s side to make a point. “That’s not your job. You worked for us? Did you forget that?”

“I am tired of waiting around!” Inez growled, spittle flying from his lips. “All that your precious Illusive Man does is scheme and plot and hide in the shadows. Humanity needs a figurehead willing to put the filth of this galaxy in their place!”

“You have no idea…” Ethan shook his head, laughing.

“Cerberus is useless. I am the shape of things to come!” Inez waved his arm, looking for the right moment to strike.

“No. You are a puny little man with no concept of tactics or planning. We have no more use for you.” Ethan fired five times, his pistol barely making any noise. Inez was dead by the second shot. “Inez Simmons, consider your work with Cerberus terminated.”

Ethan stood and walked away, leaving Inez’s body on the bench.

Epilogue - The Black Abyss of Memory

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Epilogue - The Black Abyss of Memory

"I love you."

They were said in a language the galaxy hadn't heard for five billion years, but they still echoed as though they had been spoken mere moments ago. Love was such a strange thing. It turned out that the poets were right. Love lasted forever, beyond sadness, beyond fear, beyond anger, beyond life, beyond death. Love was abnormality.

It was beyond such things. Beyond all emotions. Beyond all mortal needs.

It was a god, and it dreamed.

It dreamed of those that had ascended, of those that had sacrificed themselves for a much greater cause than they ever could have imagined. In the end, they had found that the sacrifice had been worth it. They survived, though not the way that any of them had imagined. All the minds of a trillion souls made up a being of such power and authority that none could stand its way.

Individuality was nothing compared to that.

They understood now, but they hadn't then.

That was like it always was, the others had informed it. They all understood in the end. Lovers were together for eternity. Children were never taken from their parents, safe from all that would harm them. Friends understood each other, and even the worst enemy was forgiven. Understanding changed everything.

Together, a collective beyond any other, they were the pinnacle of evolution and existence.

They were eternal.

They had watched countless cycles come and go, and their numbers grew. Life continued as it had since time itself had begun, and though they always tried to fight, it was never enough.

You couldn't fight inevitability. You always lost. They had realized that, and when they had been gathered together, they learned, just like everyone always did.

There was a name that echoed through its consciousness, and it always brought with it memories of a planet destroyed long ago. Of golden sunsets and deep blue oceans, full of life. A paradise.


Eilara, the home of the race that made up its very being.

The world was gone, but the word remained. Eilara. It had taken it as its name when it had first awoken, though it had only ever been uttered once since then, to the Intelligence. It had been called many other names by those it had destroyed, a list longer than any mortal would ever be able to name.

What they chose to call it was irrelevant. It was a god. It needed no name, though it kept that one memory of home.

The god dreamed. It experienced the short lives of all of its souls endlessly, laughing, living, loving, crying, dying. They made the god who it was, but they weren't the god. They were simply its conduit. They had ended after all, and gods did not end.

It would outlive them all. It would survive, and it would see the galaxy before it.

That was the only solution, and it would accomplish its goals.

For now, it waited.

It dreamed.

It remembered.

The last cycle had been so different than the others. The Protheans at first glance had seemed like they would have been one of the simpler races to lay low. In the beginning, that had been the truth. At first, things had gone as smoothly as expected, and they had worked as they always did. The Citadel first, and then the Relays, and then, planet by planet, they began the Harvest.

The resistance the Protheans put up was nothing but sound and fury, signifying nothing. Their ships were destroyed, their armies wiped aside, their greatest achievements destroyed. Entire planets were wiped clean of all life, left to begin anew as so many before them. Life would continue, would evolve, would flourish.

That was the whole purpose of the cycle, after all.

That had all changed on the planet the Protheans named Raquer.

The Artifacts had been... unexpected.

They would never make that mistake again.

The Protheans had been Harvested, but they had been given no mercy. Their planets had been taken with a ferocity they had never known they were even capable of.

It had watched, and it waited. Even as the others retreated back through the Relays, back into dark space, it stayed behind. It stayed, and it waited.



The ground shifted beneath it over thousands of years, calamities that destroyed entire continents ravaging the surface of the planet doing nothing but burying it underneath the earth. It didn't matter. It was eternal, and simple rock would not destroy it.

Thousands of years passed, and it waited, thinking, planning. It could feel life spread across the earth above, the roots of green life digging deep into the soil, their faint life signs reaching through hundreds of feet of dirt and rock. Life grew, and it evolved, simple minded mammals moving in great herds across the new continents. They thought of nothing but food and survival. Mating and watching out for the large predators that prowled the land.

For thousands of years, nothing changed. Life went on, seasons coming and going. There was no winter to speak of, and the storms grew milder as the years passed by. It waited, unheeding of the years as they passed by. It was eternal, and time was nothing before it.

The next cycle was drawing close. It could feel it.

Across the lightyears, it could feel the faint threads of advanced life spreading out, contaminating everything with their presence, never content with the worlds they were given. There always needed to be more.

Soon, it would be time.

It waited, and it dreamed...

And it paused, as it felt two lifeforms step foot onto the planet.

This was new.

This was unexpected.

This was... interesting.

It watched for days, focusing its impressive array of sensors on those two beings, so small and inconsequential in comparison. They were searching the planet for something, camping in simple dwellings made of cloth and composite fibers. Reaching out, it searched through their minds and found itself... surprised?

That was unheard of, and for several minutes, it couldn't draw a single thought.

They knew.

They knew, and they were searching for it.

A Turian and an Asari, it plucked their names from their minds. They knew it was there, and they were searching for it? How did they know? What did they think they were going to accomplish?

For the first time in over fifty-thousand years, it moved. Billions of tons of earth shifted as it rose from its impermanent grave. It would see what they really knew, and it would judge them.

It was a god, and they were nothing before it.