The Cloudsdale Report

by Novel-Idea

First published

After an entertaining evening meeting Sunset’s newest friend Twilight Sparkle, Princess Celestia seeks an old intelligence report that may hold a secret from Equestria’s past that will forever change Equestria’s future.

  When Celestia first laid eyes on Twilight Sparkle, she knew she’d seen her somewhere before. Though she’d managed to hide this from both Sunset and Twilight, after they departed for the evening, Celestia needed to be sure.
  With her trusted aide Raven at her side and a dangerous threat on the horizon, Celestia heads to the offices of the Equestrian Secret Service to investigate her suspicions.
  Because if she’s right, the possibility of eternal night is the least of Equestria’s concerns.


In FimFiction's Feature Box from October 17 to October 21, 2016 with a Hot tag! :twilightblush:

Featured on Equestria Daily on October 23, 2016!

Historian’s Note:
-----In a timeline where the Sonic Rainboom didn’t happen, The Cloudsdale Report occurs directly after the events chronicled in Princess Celestia: A Brief History, which occur the day after The Application of Unified Harmony Magics.

Cast: Princess Celestia, Raven, Philomena, Twilight Sparkle, Sunset Shimmer


Wavelengths Timeline Master Guide: Light Version | Dark Version
Stories set in the Wavelengths Timeline in chronological order:

Origins Arc
The Alchemy of Chemistry
Bards of the Badlands
Grading on a Bell Curve
Habits of the Equestrian Phoenix
How Not To Use Your Royal Prerogative

Applications Arc
The Application of Unified Harmony Magics
Princess Celestia: A Brief History
The Cloudsdale Report

Dreamers Arc
Tactics of Snowbound Unicorns
A Study in Chaos Theory
Teahouses of Saddle Arabia


Cover Design by Novel Idea in Pixelmator
Celestia’s Cutie Mark by BlackGryp0n (Yes, that BlackGryp0n)

Beta Reader Credits
Ebon Quill - Quest Designer on The Manehattan Project
Little Tinker - Master of Systems at Ponyville Live & Scripting Engineer on The Manehattan Project
Painted Heart - Wife of Author :yay:

In Her Majesty's Service

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“Yes. I am concerned.”

Philomena let out a low hoot.

Princess Celestia stood atop the balcony outside of her private study, looking down upon her prized student and her newest friend as they departed the castle grounds. She could not be sure if her words this evening had taken hold inside the young ponies’ minds. Even from here, she could see the signs. Twilight walking a little closer than necessary to Sunset. Sunset’s many glances at the other unicorn.

It would be difficult to dissuade either of them from this path. Such was the nature of the bond borne from a sudden ignition of unified harmony magics.

Philomena let out another questioning hoot.

“How was I supposed to bring it up, Philomena? You know how critical this stage is. How much depends upon her. I have no doubt the sixth shadow she saw in her vision was indeed Twilight Sparkle.”

Celestia’s eyes rose—as they did every night—to the silhouette within the moon she had raised only an hour ago.

“There should only be five others. Not six. I can already see the pieces falling in place for her other friends, but Twilight is an unknown.”

The phoenix on her back let out a hoot tinged with annoyance.

“I like her too.” Celestia sighed as the two walked out of sight. “It’s one of the reasons I broke a six-hundred-year-old rule and took her on as a second student. We need to watch her. If she ends up being a problem... By the grace of Harmony, I pray it will not be so.”

A knock came from the room behind her. Celestia took one last look at the moon before turning and entering her private study once more. She was sure to close the balcony doors tightly this time, and to reinforce the wards. Tonight was not a night for prying eyes.

Finally, she closed the curtains, blocking the moonlight from her study. Only the fire and candles scattered around the room provided any illumination.

“Come in, Raven,” Celestia called.

The ever-attentive white unicorn trotted in, a stack of files levitating beside her in a field of gentle reddish magic. However, upon sight of Celestia, her eyes widened and her glasses slipped down her muzzle.

“Your Highness?” Raven asked. “What’s wrong?”

I must be getting old, Celestia mused. It usually takes Raven at least a minute to discover if I have something on my mind.

“Am I that transparent, dear Raven?” Celestia laughed bitterly and sat down on the large rug in the center of the room. Philomena leapt from her back and settled herself onto her perch near the balcony doors.

“Only for somepony who’s known you as long as I have,” Raven replied.

“And apparently for my students as well,” Celestia murmured, thinking back to Sunset’s unusual insights yesterday and this evening. “I fear my eternal mask is beginning to slip.”

“And what would cause such a thing, Your Highness?”

Ah Raven, you have a unique gift for seeing the prize and going straight for it, ignoring all else around you. May that never change, no matter what befalls Equestria in the coming years.

“The usual.” Celestia shrugged. “Matters of state and prophecy.”

“How is Sunset doing?” Raven asked quickly, placing her stack of paperwork on a nearby table and sitting down across from Celestia. “I know she has been under a lot of pressure lately.”

“Indeed she has,” Celestia replied. “But it is a burden she must carry. I believe that very burden will be the key to unlocking her potential. A forced spark will never work. It must be natural.”

“Can’t you help her a little, Princess?” Raven asked. “I mean, she’s still so young…”

“I know. By Harmony, I know.” Celestia sighed again. “But if I interfere, years of searching will be destroyed in an instant and upon her return… there may be nothing to stand against her.”

Celestia smiled a little. “Have faith, Raven. It’s not all doom and gloom. I believe the final pony has revealed herself.”

Raven’s eyes narrowed as she studied Celestia’s face.

“Then why aren’t you happy?”

“Because I fear the final pony has revealed something far more troubling.”

“This is that ‘Twilight Sparkle’ you spoke of this morning, right?”

Celestia nodded.

“You seemed quite excited to meet her,” Raven pointed out. “Why the sudden change?”

“I’ve seen her before.”

“She was a student at your school, Princess. Surely you’ve crossed paths with her. If not there, perhaps during one of your visits to the Royal Canterlot Archives.”

“While that may be so,” Celestia admitted. “It is more a matter of when I saw her.”

“I don’t understand, Princess.”

“I know.” Celestia stared at nothing as a silent battle raged through her mind. Yet there was one sensation that surpassed even the concern she held: exhaustion.

“For once, Raven, I do not believe I can shoulder this burden alone, so I hope you will assist me this evening. I am sorely in need of counsel.”

“I’m willing to do whatever you ask, Princess.” Raven lifted her head up high. “Always.”

“Indeed,” Celestia smiled. “Hence why I called upon you. First, of all, are those the reports I asked for?”

“Along with a few various mundane articles, yes.”

“The mundane can wait,” Celestia stated. She had no patience for politics at the present. “Please, summarize for me the academic record of Miss Sparkle.”

Raven nodded and her horn once more glowed with red magic. A large folder lifted from the top of the pile and floated over to them. It flicked open to reveal a page stamped with both the crest of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns and the Royal Canterlot Archives.

“I took the liberty of reading through it earlier, Princess,” Raven admitted. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Ever anticipating, dear Raven?” Celestia smiled, a small warmth rising in her chest at the thoroughness of her aide. “That is simply wonderful. Please, then. Summarize. I trust you to not leave out any relevant details.”

“Of course, Your Majesty,” Raven cleared her throat and adjusted her glasses. “Throughout Miss Sparkle’s academic career, she received only a single mark lower than an A, which was a B plus in Physical Education during her third term.”

Celestia smirked. “I remember another unicorn who tended toward such scores during her days at my school.”

Raven didn’t rise to the bait. Too bad, since Celestia found it rather adorable when her aide went that particular shade of red.

“Her instructors all gave her extremely high marks. She was the only student to challenge several of Sunset Shimmer’s records. In a few fields, she even surpassed Sunset…”

Her aide frowned as she stared at the page. It didn’t take over a thousand years of diplomatic relations to understand something was bothering Raven.

“Raven? What’s on your mind?”

“Did you know?” Raven looked up and studied her Princess.

“Know what?”

“That Twilight Sparkle would academically challenge Sunset Shimmer? Is that the real reason you made Sunset Professor Polish’s aide, so she would not destroy Twilight as she’s done with several others?”

“Ah, Raven...” Celestia chuckled slightly. “I’ll admit if I had foreseen the gifted nature of Twilight Sparkle, I may have done just that, but in this matter it is simply not the case. Sunset being assigned to Professor Apple Polish was a move of—dare I say—desperation more than anything else.”

“I don’t understand, Princess. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you desperate.”

“Then I am encouraged my mask is not as cracked as I may have feared.”

Celestia rose and stepped over to the fire, staring into the flickering magical lights. A tiny analogy of her charge during the day. A reminder of the power she wielded.

“Sunset was on the edge of a great abyss, Raven.” Celestia murmured. “Do you remember?”

“I recall you were deeply disturbed by what she saw in Starswirl’s Mirror,” Raven said from behind her. “You told me what she had seen, but you haven’t spoken of it since.”

“I brought up the image within the mirror for myself later that night, once she was asleep. Sunset saw herself replacing me.” Celestia reached forward to feel the heat, which welcomed her like an old friend. She and fire had an understanding. “Ascending on wings of flame. Darkness around her. Red steel in her eyes. Most of all… alone.”

Raven let out a strangled gasp. “You… you can’t be serious, Princess!”

Celestia nodded sadly. “She was desperate to know about the mirror for months afterwards. I deflected her again and again, which quickly turned to hostile refusal. I thought... Raven, I was almost ready to dismiss her.”

“But… you said she was your daughter in all but name!”

Celestia pushed a hoof into the roiling flames and adjusted one of the logs. The fire did not so much as singe her coat. The flames danced around her forehoof for a time before she lifted it back out, studying a few sparks cradled in her hoof.

“Few children obey their parents, dear Raven.” Celestia sighed once more. “Sunset has more trouble than most because of her own family. Just as a spark can light a hearth, it can light a forest fire. On the path she was walking, she would eventually burn all around her to ash and cinders. I needed to bank that fire. I needed to redirect it down safer paths.”

“So that’s when you came upon the idea of her becoming an aide?”

Celestia nodded. The sparks on her hoof did not fade, kept alive by her own innate powers. Finally, she turned and blew them towards her aide, allowing the sparks to dance through the air between Raven and herself.

“I was passing by the school on Admissions Day. A lovely summer day. A day I sensed to be important. When I looked upon the eager faces of the latest applicants, it came to me: Sunset desired authority and respect. The young students of my School could give her that… but without the danger of true authority, and with enough distance from the nobility.”

“That was quite a risk.”

Raven’s expression informed Celestia in no uncertain terms her words were an enormous understatement.

“When one has seen as much as I, and understands the stakes… certain risks are occasionally required.”

Celestia shook her head to push away the memories of that Sunset. They were not pleasant thoughts. In truth, Celestia had never believed her plan would succeed. If not for Moon Dancer at the end of that first term, Sunset likely would have ended up in an even darker place.

“I am sorry,” Celestia said. “I have distracted us from the topic at hand: my student’s new friend, not my student herself.”

Raven glanced down at the report. “Well Your Majesty, that seems to be most of it. She had several internships with the Royal Canterlot Archives, until Head Archivist Ink Method poached her right out of school. She graduated a year early as valedictorian.”

“Family?”

“She is close to her brother, Lieutenant Shining Armor. Currently stationed in the West Royal Garrison. To my surprise, she once had a friendship with Cadance, though it seems to have waned in the last few years.”

“What about friends?”

“Not many.” A few pages flipped in Raven’s magic. “Professor Inkwell notes she made friends with Jade Singer, and the two of them occasionally got together for tea. For the most part, however, she was a recluse. Several teachers believed she was actually afraid of other ponies. They tried to encourage social and extracurricular activities, but never got anywhere with it.”

“Alone because of fear,” Celestia murmured. “Fear can make ponies do horrible things, Raven. It drives them away from the light they so desperately need. It can drive them to actions they will regret for the rest of their lives.”

“But it sounds like that’s been resolved,” Raven protested. “You told me just this morning how Sunset and Twilight have made up with one another, even as far as to experience unified harmony magics!”

“There is one other thing about fear, Raven.” Celestia said as she glanced out the window toward where she knew the moon hung in the sky. She always knew where it was, and not simply because she was its present steward. “Sometimes it is well-placed.”

“I don’t understand, Princess.”

“Nor should you. Not yet.” Celestia caught the sparks still floating in the air in her magic and extinguished them with a thought. “But you will.”

For Your Eyes Only

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Celestia’s horn burned with the light of the sun as they stepped through the hidden doorway behind the Throne Room. Raven trotted behind her, her own horn glowing faintly with another light spell, tinted in her soft reddish magic.

“It has been a long time since I’ve walked through this passage,” Raven commented as the wall slid closed behind her.

“I wish it were not necessary,” Celestia admitted. “But as the moon rises, we cannot afford to take chances.”

“Do you think she even has such powers, Princess?”

“I do not know.” Celestia hated saying those words, but they needed to be said. She could not claim to know all. She may appear to be a goddess to some of her subjects, but she knew her own limitations all too well. “Even after all this time, I do not know. Still, we cannot risk it.”

“Princess, there’s something else isn’t there? This cannot be just about… her.”

“Yes.” Celestia said. “There is. Something else.”

The old tunnel was a relic of days long past, when Equestria’s national status wasn’t nearly as stable. Now, it was used by a few select members of staff. Indeed, Celestia herself had only walked through this corridor ten times in the last century.

None of those times had turned out particularly pleasant.

Still, she was able to drop her light spell just as they rounded the first corner. On cue, the magic torches lining the walls sprang to life as Celestia stepped over the ancient ward of protection. Celestia looked back at Raven as her aide glanced down at the softly-glowing sigil carved into the stone floor. With that, the stone corridor was now fully lit, though there wasn’t much to see. The passage was completely utilitarian.

I may be acting somewhat paranoid, Celestia mused as she stepped over another ward. But if I am right, then moonlight is the least of our concerns.

There were some things even the Princess of the Sun could do nothing about, and Celestia loathed feeling helpless more than anything.

Raven didn’t speak as they passed the final sigil and arrived at an intersection. The corridor turned out of sight to the left and to the right, but Celestia ignored both paths and stepped forward to slide her horn into a large door inset into the wall. Etched into the door was what her more traditionally-minded subjects called the Solar Sigil, which was really little more than a stylized version of her own cutie mark and the same thing the events staff pulled out during every Summer Sun Celebration. The sigil burned with golden magic as the final wards dropped. The door swung inward on silent hinges revealing an empty room.

Celestia nodded for Raven to precede her, and then followed her inside. With a casual wave of magic, the door shut and the wards reengaged. They were left in complete darkness until five glowing sigils burst to life. A wave of magic washed over Celestia and Raven, then the sigils above and below them shifted into brilliant blue discs of magical energy. There was a flash, a sense of weightlessness and then only afterimages remained.

“Starswirl was not a subtle pony, was he?” Raven groaned beside her in the darkness.

“Starswirl had many admirable traits,” Celestia commented dryly. Her own night vision had been ruined by the spell. “Subtlety was not among them.”

Double doors swung outward from the two ponies, revealing a short stone and wood corridor ending in another door emblazoned with a seal Celestia had grown to dislike. Any time she had to see this seal, it meant her subjects were in peril. Often more peril than even she could handle alone.

The seal itself was simple enough: the Solar Sigil surrounded by sixteen small stars with a larger star inset into the center.

Beneath it were three words:

Equestrian Secret Service.

Raven stopped the Princess before she could take another step. “Your Majesty, if you’ll just tell me what you’re looking for, I’d be happy to acquire it for you. You don’t have to do this personally.”

“A Princess must do many things that make her uncomfortable, dear Raven.” Celestia said, her eyes locked onto the door at the end of the corridor. “This is simply one more.”

Raven opened her muzzle to protest, then only nodded.

“Still, thank you for the offer.”

Celestia stepped out of the teleportation alcove, and trotted toward the door. Raven dutifully followed. Before they reached it, it opened with a wash of gray magic.

As expected, Captain Insight stood at attention beyond the portal, six of her officers standing in a hastily-arranged honor guard, all at perfect attention. As usual, the royal blue unicorn’s uniform was impeccable down her captain’s epaulets, pressed to the point where it would likely bring a tear to a drill sergeant’s eye.

The room itself wasn’t large but, unlike most rooms in the Castle, this was a place dedicated to function above form. Desks were placed in tight cubicles, each stacked with papers, quills, scrolls and more. All of it circled the massive magical map of Equestria standing in the center of the chamber. The walls were lined with maps, charts, lists and photographs.

Celestia’s eyes glanced around the room, seeing the phrases that kept her kingdom running. She let slip a small frown, but corrected the error almost instantly.

‘Threat Assessment.’ ‘Targets of Opportunity.’ ‘Watch List.’ Celestia’s eyes narrowed at the sight of them. They may be necessary, but I refuse to enjoy them. One day, I will see this place shut down.

Not today, but someday.

“Your Highness!” Captain Insight lowered her salute, her horn glowing as the door closed behind Celestia and Raven. “This is an unexpected honor, especially at this late hour.”

“Captain,” Celestia replied dryly. “The circumstances that call me here rarely keep anything approaching a sane schedule.”

The captain nodded, her eyes not even twitching at the Princess’s mild rebuke. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Does she even know how to smile?” Raven asked quietly beside her.

One of Insight’s officers who was close enough to hear Raven’s comment coughed out something that sounded vaguely like “Not without three pints of hard cider.”

Celestia didn’t bother responding, though the edge of her mouth quirked a little.

Captain Insight speared the ‘coughing’ officer with a glare that could have melted obsidian before returning her attention to the Princess.

“What’s the situation, Princess?” Insight asked. “What can the ESS do for the Crown?”

“Simple intelligence. Nothing more.”

“No action required at present, ma’am?”

“No, Captain. Please have your officers return to their duties. We’ll be heading to your archives.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Insight snapped off another salute before turning to address the ‘honor guard.’ “Return to your duties. And Lieutenant Whisperwind, report to me tomorrow morning at zero-seven-hundred.”

The ‘coughing’ pegasus winced and nodded as he scurried off to a cubicle on the far side of the room.

“If you’ll follow me, ma’am,” Insight said. “I’ll escort you to the archives.”

Celestia wanted to tell Captain Insight to let the young lieutenant off with a warning, but to do so would be to ruin the cherished chain-of-command. Long ago, she had learned to trust in her subordinates—especially the military ones—to handle their own affairs in their own way. To do otherwise would undermine the entire hierarchy.

Maybe I’ll make a note to send Whisperwind a nice bottle of cider anonymously.

Captain Insight led the way, each hoof moving in perfect precision. Her subordinates quickly became ten times more focused upon their work the moment the captain came within sight. They passed through several more workrooms with ponies shuffling papers, reading reports and drawing diagrams. Even at this late hour, the ESS was a hub of activity.

One changeling spotted in the Badlands near the border, and the entire military and intelligence community goes into an uproar that lasts for months. General Steelfeather is demanding a pre-emptive strike, Admiral May Blossom is expecting daily aerial recons.

Celestia shook her head as they stepped into a tight corridor almost too small for her large frame.

It’ll end up like every other sighting in the last century: a lot of fuss over nothing. So long as we keep it out of the public eye, anyway.

“Ma’am, we’ve arrived.”

Celestia nodded, returning her mind to the present. At the moment, she had more pressing concerns than changelings.

“Very well, Captain. Accompany us within. I will require all reports gathered in Cloudsdale from eight years ago.”

Captain Insight frowned even as her horn lit up, deactivating the wards on the heavy iron door of the ESS archives. “Cloudsdale, ma’am?”

“Was I unclear, Captain?”

“No, ma’am!” Insight snapped off yet another salute.

Military intelligence. Even after a thousand years, they never change.

The twin doors swung outward with a faint grinding, revealing rows upon rows of dark gray filing cabinets stretching into the distance. The archive itself was a single massive room, lit by the same torches in the corridor outside the Throne Room. It was cool in here, the air kept clean through the same arcane air purifiers used in most libraries. Even though the room extended to the very edge of eyesight, Celestia knew this was simply the last fifty years.

So much work for so little return, Celestia mused, but those rare moments have saved Equestria a dozen times over. Better to stand vigilant at the empty gate, than to leave it unattended for the single time the dragon wanders in.

Celestia wasn’t surprised Insight knew exactly where to go. One of the reasons she was the head of the Canterlot ESS Branch was because of her nigh-encyclopedic memory. Celestia and Raven followed in her wake as Insight led them down two and a half rows. She gazed at a filing cabinet identical to every other, save for a few mystic symbols etched into the metal. Briefly, her magic flared once more as a drawer popped out.

“This is the Cloudsdale intelligence gathered in 989.”

“There’s at least two hundred files in there!” Raven protested.

Insight turned to Raven with a cocked eyebrow. “We pride ourselves on being thorough, Miss Raven.”

“Indeed,” Celestia commented. “I’ll need all the ones during the months of summer.”

“As you wish, ma’am.” A stack of files a few inches high lifted out of the filing cabinet in an aura of gray magic.

Celestia took them in her own magic, and floated them beside her. “Excellent. If you’ll show us to a private conference room, Captain, it would be appreciated. Raven and I must not be disturbed.”

The captain didn’t seem capable of going more than a few minutes without a salute. It was only by sheer force of will Celestia managed not to roll her eyes.

A few minutes later, they were outside a door labeled ‘Conference Room D.’

“Captain, please post somepony here to make sure we are not interrupted. I do not require you to perform this action yourself. You have more important duties.”

“Yes, ma’am!”

Captain Insight turned, and began to march down the corridor when something occurred to Celestia.

“Captain,” her voice echoed in the corridor. She didn’t want to ask this, but it was simply another necessity.

“Ma’am?”

“Please gather a report on any unauthorized accesses to the Starswirl the Bearded Wing of the Royal Canterlot Archives in the last ten years. I’ll require it as soon as possible. That is the only reason you may disturb us. Please handle the inquiry personally and quietly.”

“Of course, ma’am!” Shockingly, she saluted. “You’ll have it by midnight, ma’am!”

“Thank you, Captain. You’re dismissed.”

A final salute was offered before Captain Insight trotted away on her new assignment.

“Princess?” Raven asked beside her.

“Hm?”

“I suspect it might be prudent to send a barrel of hard cider to Lieutenant Whisperwind and Captain Insight.”

Celestia smiled. “You know me too well. Once we return to the Castle, make it two for each. Also, remind me to enforce some sort of casual day for all ESS branches each week. If that captain doesn’t find a way to relax, she’s going to sprain something.”

Raven nodded, summoned her clipboard and scribbled something with a quill she kept tucked in her mane.

“Now,” Celestia glanced at the reports still floating beside her. “Let’s pray my memory is playing tricks on me, and this was all for nothing.”

“Princess, that’s never occurred once in all the time I’ve been your aide.”

“I know.”

A View to Spy

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“That should protect us from any unwanted listeners.”

Celestia’s aura faded from her horn as the silencing spell took over the conference room. Like everything else in the ESS, it was designed purely around function. A large table, several chairs, a couple standing blackboards, and another enormous map of the world. A single closed and shuttered window on the far side of the room. Celestia checked it to make sure it was fully blocked by the shutters, and conjured a blackout curtain over it just in case.

“Princess, do you really think this is necessary?” Raven asked. “We’re in the middle of the Equestrian Secret Service.”

“No, I don’t,” Celestia admitted. “But for something like this, we cannot be too careful.”

“Princess, you’ve been cryptic all evening.” A trace of annoyance threaded through Raven’s voice. “Please, you brought me here for a reason. Tell me what it is.”

Celestia nodded. Enough delays.

In a flash of magic, the files spread out on the conference room table. There were about two dozen in all.

“What are we looking for?”

“Anything strange,” Celestia stared at the table covered in files, but couldn’t bring herself to actually look at them. “Raven, if you would?”

Raven nodded, her own horn glowing in red magic as she flipped through the paperwork.

Harmony, let me be wrong. Please let me be—

“I think I found it, Your Majesty.”

Raven floated up a slightly beaten folder. The header read ‘Classified Incident, Summer 989.’ The footer had the standard ‘Authorized Ponies Only. Equestrian Secret Service.’ In the center, set in front of another version of the Solar Sigil, were the words The Cloudsdale Report in large black letters. In fact, all of the files had those words on them. The only difference was an image magically printed onto the page instead of the usual title brief. That alone made it stand out like a sore hoof.

The image was small, blurry and difficult to make out. It was definitely a pony and most likely a mare. She appeared to be standing on a cloud. Oddly enough, she also appeared to have a baby dragon on her back. By Celestia’s estimation, the dragon could be anywhere from fifteen to nineteen years old. The wings were a bit harder to see, since the grainy photo made them merge in with the color of the pony’s coat.

Lavender.

Celestia pressed a hoof to the center of the document, and the hidden seals within it sprang open. Celestia quickly shoved the other files aside. She sat down at the conference table, spreading the file open. The various papers scattered across the table as Raven sat next to her.

“Princess…” Raven asked slowly. “Why do you have intelligence assets assigned to Cloudsdale’s summer flight camp?”

Celestia waved her hoof dismissively. “Nothing so sinister, Raven. There are a number of camp counselors that act as talent scouts. They look for exceptional fliers, either for the Royal Guard, or the Wonderbolts. However, in this case, it was simply a mother visiting her colt at camp.”

Celestia began to read, refusing to look at the large photo that had stopped a foot away from the rest.

Report Originates: Sunglint - Pegasus - Age 37 - Residence at time of report: Manehattan - Family: Husband, two fillies, one colt - Occupation: wedding photographer - Background Check: No known ties to hostile forces

“The mare caught sight of something very strange. She happened to have had her camera with her and she took several pictures.”

Interviewing Officer: Sergeant Light Hail - Unicorn - Age 42 - Residence at time of report: Cloudsdale - Family: Wife, four fillies - 8 years as an officer for the ESS

Report Begins: Sunglint, while visiting colt at Flight Camp (Authorized visit, see attached file CL-989-I34-C), saw an impromptu race being put on by two colts and a filly (Colts: Hoops and Iron “Dumb-bell” Hoof; Filly: Rainbow Dash). While she was watching the race from a safe distance, she saw a figure standing on a cloud a short distance away from the other ponies.

“All during some sort of race,” Celestia continued. “However, I don’t think the race itself matters. It’s what she saw.”

Sunglint: “I’d been watching the fillies and colts. A cute little yellow pegasus mare was holding the starting flag. They all looked awful excited. Never found out if it was just a race for fun or what. I did think it was strange that the camp counselors were nowhere to be seen, but I found out later there had been an accident at the weather factory nearby, leaving only a hoofful of mares and stallions to watch over the place.” (Note: Verified accident, see attached file CL-989-I34-J)

Light Hail Notes: (Subject shrugs casually, as if no harm was done.)

“I don’t understand, Princess. What did she see?”

Sunglint: “Anyway, there was this grown-up purple pegasus off to the side. She didn’t look like a counselor. And she had a baby dragon on her back. I mean, what’s with that? It’s not like you see a lot of baby dragons around Equestria! I got out my camera to get a picture of her, just to ask Wind Walker about it later. I zoomed in as best I could—I hadn’t brought my quality telephoto lens, you see—and that’s… that’s when I realized it!”

Celestia lifted the now-empty folder to Raven, who took it in her magic.

“Look closely at the picture,” Celestia commanded. Her voice sounded strained even to her own ears even as she continued reading the report.

Sergeant Light Hail: “Please continue, Miss Sunglint.”

Sunglint: “I only realized it once my camera was out! I didn’t believe it. It wasn’t a pegasus at all! It was an alicorn!”

Sergeant Light Hail: “I’m sorry, Miss. You’re claiming there was an alicorn there at the race?”

Sunglint: “Yes!”

Sergeant Light Hail: “I assume this alicorn was pink?”

Sunglint: (Shakes head vigorously) “Oh no! I’ve seen pictures of Princess Cadance! I know what she looks like. This one was purple. Maybe lavender? No, definitely lavender. No-nonsense mane of purple with a stripe of dark purple and pink in it. Straight cut on both tail and mane.”

“Princess...” Raven said slowly. “This picture...”

Sergeant Light Hail: “Did you happen to see her cutie mark?”

Sunglint: “I know it didn’t turn out very good in the pictures, but yes! I did! It was a bright pink star with five white stars around it.”

Sergeant Light Hail: “Are you sure about this, miss? After all, occasionally seeing an unknown alicorn has been known to happen from time to time. A trick of the light, somepony playing around, a costume—”

Sunglint: “You have the pictures right there in front of you! I’m sure of what I saw then… but it was what I saw after the end of the race that actually scared me.”

“Yes,” Celestia said quietly. “It is.”

Sergeant Light Hail: “Tell me about the end of the race.”

Sunglint: (Looks visibly disturbed) “Well, first there was the flying unicorn.”

Sergeant Light Hail: “Flying unicorn?”

Sunglint: (Nods emphatically) “She was using her magic to fly! I know she didn’t have wings. When I saw that, I started taking as many pictures as I could. She was a pink unicorn with a dark purple mane with a teal stripe in it. Have to say, wasn’t the most fashionable of manestyles. But still! A unicorn flying! I’d never seen anything like it! But then… that thing appeared and just sucked in the lavender alicorn!”

Sergeant Light Hail: “Can you describe this ‘thing?’”

I don’t understand how this is possible, Princess.” Raven said. “It can’t be her. Yes, the coloring is the same. It could be her twin sister, but she has a different cutie mark… not to mention the whole alicorn thing.”

Celestia sighed. “I know it can’t be her, but the more I think about this, the more I’m convinced it is her.”

Sunglint: “This giant ball of light appeared in the sky above the two ponies. It was huge! All these weird clockwork symbols around it. I’m no unicorn, but it looked like some crazy advanced magic. There was a giant hole in the bottom and while the alicorn was yelling at the unicorn… suddenly the alicorn and her dragon were pulled right up into it! Then the thing just vanished with a flash. The unicorn teleported away a few moments later. I have no idea where she went.

Sergeant Light Hail: “To be honest, Miss Sunglint, if you didn’t have this visual proof, I’d have some serious trouble believing your claims.”

“Princess… what are you implying?” There was a faint tremble in Raven’s voice. Celestia suppressed a shiver of her own. She couldn’t remember the last time Raven had seemed this perturbed. Concern about Sunset was one thing, but this was something else entirely. “That there are two of them?”

Sunglint: (Laughs) “How do you think I feel? I just wish I knew what I had seen!”

Sergeant Light Hail: “I understand, Miss Sunglint. However, the potential presence of another alicorn in Equestria could cause a panic. I don’t think I need to remind you what happened when Princess Celestia revealed Princess Cadance to the nation?”

Sunglint: (Nods) “Oh yes. It was quite the scandal. Still, from what I’ve heard, she’s a sweet thing.”

Sergeant Light Hail: “Indeed. Now, I am going to need to ask you to sign an affidavit that you will not recount these events. I’m afraid we will have to confiscate the images, both the printed versions and the originals.”

Sunglint: (Does not seem troubled by this; appears relieved) “Of course, of course. To be honest, I’d rather just forget the whole incident! But… didn’t anypony else see it?”

“That’s why I asked Captain Insight to check on any recent security breaches in the Starswirl the Bearded Wing.”

Sergeant Light Hail: “It appears most of the attention was focused on either the race or the emergency at the weather factory. With respect, Miss Sunglint, you seem to be the only witness to the event. We need you to keep it that way. It’s vital to the security of the nation. At present, I don’t believe any sort of magical geas will be required.”

Sunglint: (Confused) “I’m sorry, but I’m just a wedding photographer. I don’t know what that is.”

Sergeant Light Hail: “It’s a magically induced ‘gag order,’ if you will. It simply means you would never be able to bring up the subject to anypony. You’d be physically incapable of communicating the story.”

Sunglint: (Appears disturbed) “I… I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Sergeant Light Hail: (Note: I attempted to calm Miss Sunglint at this time. My goal in speaking about the geas was to make Miss Sunglint understand the depth of this promise, not to frighten her) “Geasa are rarely imposed on anything other than severe criminal cases, or similar extreme circumstances. The chances of one being used in this situation are minuscule, since they can only be ordered by the Princess herself.”

Sunglint: (Laughs, but still seems nervous) “Well, the last thing I want to do is to upset that applecart!”

Sergeant Light Hail: “Excellent. Well, our office may have some follow-up questions at a later date. I think we can send you on your way after we finish the paperwork. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.”

Sunglint: “Happy to be of service.”

Initial Interview Ends.

Celestia pushed back the document and closed her eyes. Even then, she could feel Sunglint’s picture staring at her accusingly on the other side of the table.

Of all the things to happen… why did it have to be now? Why did this have to happen now?

“Princess…”

Celestia almost lost control. Her mask almost slipped. She wanted to shatter the table into nothing but splinters, and burn the document into ashes. For a brief second, she felt her magic manifest, but the ruler of Equestria would not let herself be dictated by something as petty as her emotions.

At least, that’s what she told herself. It still took almost a full minute until she trusted herself to speak. Her magic receded slowly, like a thundercloud drifting beyond the horizon.

There was one more document she needed to read: the analysis.

“Please, Raven.” Celestia felt the exhaustion in her own voice. “Would you… would you please read me the analysis of the spell Sunglint witnessed?”

Raven nodded and lifted up a small sheaf of papers. “Would you like a summary, or the details?”

“Just the summary.” Celestia rubbed her eyes. It was far too late. She should be asleep. “I will read over the full analysis tomorrow.”

“Of course, Princess.” Raven cleared her throat, and began to read. “It appears they consulted Professor Logic Gate for the final analysis.”

“Good. I’m glad the ESS isn’t nearly as obsessed with keeping things as internalized as it once was.”

“Professor Logic Gate theorized that the ‘thing’ Sunglint reported was actually a ‘magically-constructed temporal wormhole.’ The runes, sigils and patterns glowing from the circumference of the structure match some of Starswirl’s work into temporal mechanics. He recommends further research, since he’s the leading expert on Starswirl’s related theories, and even he’s lost.”

“Logic always wants more research done,” Celestia commented dryly.

“It does seem his standard procedure for anything new,” Raven agreed. “Hmm… the summary goes on to state that some of the sigils were not temporal, but spatial. While Starswirl’s work did have some minor spatial components, it wasn’t anything as intricate as this. In fact…”

Raven stopped and Celestia turned to stare at her aide. “Raven?”

“‘Some of the sigils appear to be those of ancient Harmony-based magic.’” Now Raven quoted the document directly from the tone in her voice. “‘I have seen these markings in several spellbooks scribed during the period between the defeat of Discord and the banishment of…’”

“I see.”

There was a knock at the door. Celestia felt through it with her magic and verified that Captain Insight stood beside the guard. Captain Insight may have had no sense of humor, but she was efficient. Celestia dropped the bubble of silence, and pulled open the door. The captain saluted, another folder held in her magic. The folder looked nearly empty.

“Report, Captain.”

“Yes ma’am! According to our records, there has been only one incident where somepony infiltrated the Starswirl the Bearded Wing in the last fifty years.”

Celestia stood to her hooves. “When?”

“Almost two years ago.”

“Who?”

For the first time, Captain Insight hesitated. Her eyes darted around the room for a few seconds.

“Captain, I asked you a question.”

“Sunset Shimmer, ma’am.”

Celestia stood there, stunned and unable to speak.

“Was this during the winter, Captain?” Raven asked.

Insight checked her folder. “Yes, ma’am.”

Raven let out a noise that sounded suspiciously like a cross between a laugh and a cough. “Um, Princess, I believe she’s speaking of Moon Dancer’s dare with Sunset.”

Instantly, Celestia relaxed. With everything else going on, she had forgotten that little prank. Nothing had come of it. Raven herself had caught both of them. Apparently, Moon Dancer had made up some story about Starswirl having found the spell for an eternal cake. Supposedly, Sunset had intended to present the spell as a gift to Celestia for Hearth’s Warming Eve.

Celestia had laughed so hard after the incident, she couldn’t find it within herself to punish either of them.

“No other incidents?” Celestia demanded. “Nothing else out of the ordinary?”

“No, ma’am,” Captain Insight said. “If you would like, I could go back further—”

Celestia shook her head. “Not at this time, Captain. Thank you. You’re dismissed.”

Another salute. Once the door was closed, the bubble of silence was extended once more.

“Did Logic say anything about what direction the temporal wormhole went?”

Raven scanned through the notes. “No, ma’am.”

Celestia sat down heavily, putting her head in her hooves. “And there it is.”

“Princess?” Raven asked. “I’m afraid I don’t follow.”

With a heavy heart, Celestia lifted over the last picture. There were others, but this was the one that mattered. It showed the end of what Logic Gate called a ‘temporal wormhole,’ as well as the unknown flying unicorn and the lavender alicorn with her dragon passenger. Though it was hard to tell, the expression on the alicorn was one of surprise and anger. The expression on the unicorn’s face was one of smug satisfaction.

“Don’t you see, Raven?” Celestia asked quietly. “You saw Twilight earlier. You can’t tell me that’s not her.”

“But the cutie mark—”

“Even I don’t fully understand the way cutie marks work, Raven.” Celestia interrupted. “Ponies have innumerable talents, and their special talent may not be something they often do. That’s not even mentioning the cutie marks of most magically-inclined unicorns. They’re often so abstract that their meaning is endlessly debated.”

“Forgive me, Your Majesty.” Raven’s eyes were wide and she looked paler than usual. Not a state Celestia enjoyed seeing her in. “Princess, are you telling me… ponies aren’t destined for their marks?”

“If one’s special talent is never recognized, never fostered or developed…” Celestia sighed. “I believe it is possible for that pony to end up focusing on another aspect of their lives, which means a different special talent than one they might otherwise have earned. I’ve seen enough examples throughout Equestria to know that even middle-aged ponies can misunderstand their own cutie marks.”

“But that means… that means…” Raven couldn’t seem to get out the words. Celestia couldn’t blame her, though seeing her normally composed aide practically sputtering twisted something inside her.

“Twilight Sparkle told me her cutie mark story today. It was a rather touching tale. Did you know she was the little filly who convinced Jade Singer to emerge from hiding? During her time with Jade, Twilight spent an entire night in a maelstrom of books… and her mark appeared. However, when I met her today, I also sensed a deep reservoir of raw magical talent.”

Celestia tapped her hoof on the picture, namely where the alicorn Twilight’s mark was. “Something happened in this mare’s life. Something that made her realize that magic, not books, was her true talent.”

“But that’s means it’s a different Twilight Sparkle.”

“Yes,” Celestia murmured. “A Twilight Sparkle who led a different life.”

“How is that possible? Is she from another world? You’ve spoken occasionally of the mirrors—”

“No,” Celestia replied. “Logic Gate was clear. This is not a wormhole in reality, or dimensions or worlds. He believes it is a wormhole in time. And I think he was right.”

“Princess, I do hope you are not saying what I think you’re saying.” A note of panic was in Raven’s voice now.

The aide stared at Celestia, as if begging her not finish her thought.

“It means...” Celestia took a deep breath. “It means, somepony—most likely from the future—found a way to bypass the limitations of Starswirl’s time travel spell. They found a way to empower it… apparently with magic from Harmony itself. And they used it to alter the past.”

Celestia stared down at the picture, her heart sinking to depths she hadn’t felt since that night almost a thousand years ago.

“It means… we now exist in an alternate timeline. The life we’re living… was never meant to be.”

Tomorrow Never Dies

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Celestia’s pronouncement rang in the conference room for what felt like hours.

“So what do we do?” Raven asked, finally shattering the silence. Her eyes were down, staring at the picture of the supposed time travelers. “I’m sorry, I mean, what do you do? This is a bit beyond me, Princess.”

Celestia slowly shook her head. “There are ponies with a gift of time magic, but none come close to replicating Starswirl’s spell. The most they can ever do is a day.”

“Your Majesty, you’re the Princess of the Sun!” Raven protested. “You have to be able to do something.”

“The power to move the heavens does not give me the power to move the sands of time, Raven.”

“One of these ponies did it.” The desperation in Raven’s voice forced Celestia to swallow a lump in her throat. “You have all of Equestria available to you. You could assign the greatest minds to studying Starswirl’s spell and finding a way to—”

“No, Raven.” Celestia shook her head again, tapping the opening to the wormhole. “Time magic isn’t the only factor. Harmony magic was bound into that spell.”

“You’re talking about the Elements of Harmony, aren’t you?”

Celestia nodded, fighting back a tear. “Since... that night...” She composed herself. ”They have not responded to me. I cannot wield them. The only reason I could wield them in the manner which I did was because—” Celestia’s voice cracked. “—she had already abandoned everything they stood for. They were never meant to be used by a single pony, even one such as me. But even Harmony knew what would happen to the world if—”

Raven nodded, making it clear Celestia didn’t need to continue.

“There has to be something we can do,” Raven insisted.

“There is. We bait the trap.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The scroll containing Starswirl’s temporal research is currently locked away in one of Starswirl’s high-security workshops. The one connected to the central hourglass of the Starswirl the Bearded Wing. Tomorrow, I will have it moved to be placed in the Restricted Section.”

“But anypony could break in there if they tried hard enough, Princess.”

“Precisely.” Celestia nodded. “With the right wards in place, I will know the instant anypony attempts to enter. I’ll be able to instantly teleport inside and… handle matters from there.”

“But…” Raven frowned. “If that Twilight Sparkle didn’t have our Twilight Sparkle’s cutie mark… it means that whoever took the scroll won’t necessarily take our version of the scroll…. right?”

Celestia beamed at her. “I’m impressed, Raven. Theoretical magical applications was never your strong suit.”

“I do my best,” Raven replied, holding her head. Celestia understood. She could feel a headache coming on herself.

“You’re right,” Celestia said with a shrug. “It may be pointless. But perhaps whoever stole it in the other timeline will attempt to do so here. It’s a long shot, but it’s the only precaution I can think of.”

“There is another,” Raven pointed out before hesitating. “You could investigate Twilight Sparkle.”

“That won’t be necessary. I made her my student alongside Sunset. I plan on keeping a very close eye on her. I know Sunset and Twilight now possess a powerful bond. I hope that bond leads them to simple friendship, for Sunset’s sake. Ironic that I tell Sunset to teach Twilight about friendship, while asking them to take it slow in their own personal relationship.”

“However, one thing is certain.” Celestia glared at the document. “I did see this report eight years ago. At the time, I had thought it to be little more than an elaborate hoax. It wouldn’t be the first time somepony has had photographic evidence of an alicorn who turned out to be a regular pony. But after seeing Twilight today... I was all but certain the alicorn in this picture was Twilight.”

“You knew this whole time?”

“I hoped I was wrong,” Celestia admitted. “I still wish I was.”

“What about the flying unicorn?”

“Send her picture quietly to the head of every Guard division in Equestria. I will not allow them to make this a ponyhunt. If anypony matching that description is discovered, I am to be notified immediately and the pony is to be monitored at a safe distance. I will handle the matter personally.”

“Princess… you sound more worried about Twilight than you do about the other unicorn. From their expressions—what I can make out at least—Twilight’s the one who’s upset, while the other one seems… happy?”

“I know,” Celestia admitted. “Apparently, Twilight is to become an alicorn.”

“Shouldn’t that make you happy?” Raven asked. “You were absolutely ecstatic when you discovered Cadance.”

“I know another alicorn will ascend soon,” Celestia muttered. “I’ve been working on it for over a decade.”

Raven’s eyes went wide. “I’m sorry, Princess. I had no idea that was—”

“Do not think too much of it,” Celestia replied. “That is my responsibility. I fear for Sunset should she ever learn of this. I fear it would drive her to rash action. She came so dangerously close to the abyss eight years ago. I… I can’t bear to lose her. Not only for my sake, but for the sake of Equestria… and most of all, for her sake.”

“Wait… eight years?” Raven looked at the date stamped at the top of the interview with Sunglint. “That’s…”

“I know,” Celestia admitted. “I fear something happened eight years ago in Cloudsdale and shifted things to put Twilight on the path to ascension instead of Sunset. I hold no ill will against Twilight, but at that time… Sunset was on the edge. If something had moved Sunset from the path I had set her on… it would have destroyed her.”

“I see,” Raven murmured.

Celestia didn’t need to say it twice. Raven had been there during that difficult period. She had seen what Sunset had almost become.

“Sunset cannot learn of this,” Celestia said. “Nor can Twilight. Not yet. Other matters must be handled first. You, more than any other pony, know what’s at stake.”

Raven nodded. “You have my word, Princess.”

“You didn’t even need to give it, my dear Raven,” Celestia said, reaching down to put a hoof on Raven’s shoulder. “But I thank you for being here for me. This was not something I wanted to face alone. I… I shouldn’t have had to. I was... never meant to.”

“And Harmony willing,” Raven said with an encouraging smile, “the day will soon come where you don’t have to.”

Celestia’s eyes fell once more upon the picture. “At least we can be confident in one thing.”

“What’s that, Your Majesty?”

Celestia lifted the photograph in her magic and held it before the two of them.

“If these two were involved in a plot to change history,” Celestia felt herself stand a little straighter. Now that she had shared the weight of the secret, she felt stronger, more alive. “Then this is their new timeline. When they return to whatever they consider to be the present, they’ll return to this timeline.”

“And then?”

Celestia’s horn flared as she let a little emotion through her mask. Just a little. The magical aura around the photograph became as the flames of the sun, though the photograph was not harmed. Still, Raven took a step back from the suddenly fire-wreathed picture.

“Whoever is responsible for threatening my little ponies will come to know the depths of their mistake. I am still Princess Celestia. While I may not control time, I will not allow somepony to ruin the lives of the ponies under my charge. When they appear, be it tomorrow or ten years from now, we will find them.”

“Princess… what do you intend to do?”

Celestia’s eyes narrowed in on the smug face of the flying pink unicorn.

“I will fix it.”

Addendum: CL-989-I34 File Attachments

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