Time to Burn

by Aragon

First published

Only Princess Twilight and Principal Celestia can save the world, but it's really not their top priority.

Only Princess Twilight and Principal Celestia can save the world, but it's really not their top priority.

Edited by MrNumbers and Kitsunerisu.

The original draft of this story was written as an entry for the second Quills and Sofas Speedwriting Competition.

A Matter of Principal

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“It’s called,” Twilight said, only she was Princess Twilight, because she had no glasses, “a shellfire! And it’s pretty much just a flaming tortoise.”

Principal Celestia looked at the picture. “Right.”

Princess Twilight nodded. She had a bright smile. “And it’s going to burn us all alive!”


“But there’s no reason to worry. It’s gonna do it very slowly.”

Here’s the best thing about teenagers: one day, they stop being teenagers.

Here’s the worst thing about teenagers: they’re not the only ones that change.

“You’re looking… old!” Ten years had passed since Princess Twilight had first saved Canterlot High, and all her friends had graduated. The princess herself—well, she wasn’t the little twig of a girl Principal Celestia remembered anymore. “You look older now, Principal Celestia. Your hair is white!”

Glee in her voice.

Principal Celestia clicked her tongue at this, but she made sure Twilight didn’t catch it. There was white in her hair nowadays. “Time catches up to us all,” she said once she got the frustration out, smiling at Twilight. “You look older, too.”

Twilight grinned at her. She knew that, when said to her, those words were very flattering.

Princess Twilight had grown into her title. She was a bit taller nowadays, and she had a sharper face. There was something in the way she walked, chin up, eyes level. Something in the way she moved.

She was used to the crown. She made it work.

“Thank you.” Twilight pressed a hand against her chest while she said this, and she seemed genuine. “But—I mean. You! Look at you!”


“You’re like a grandma now!”


They were looking for the shellfire. Celestia was looking for the shellfire. Twilight was following along, gawking at Celestia with big happy eyes, chirping new things every few steps.

Tortoises were slow, but Canterlot High was big. Twilight said the monster would be around the building, but so far there were no traces of scorched grass around the football field, and the track field was equally empty.

So they headed for the main building, and Celestia felt she had to say something. “You’re in an awfully good mood for someone trying to save the world. I was under the impression we were all in grave danger?”

“Ah.” Twilight blinked, and paused for once, but then she just went on. “Well! It is going to kill us all if we don’t stop it in time, yes. But…”

Celestia smiled. “But?”

“It’s a shellfire! They’re very tame, and very friendly. We’ll just have to pick it up.” Twilight mimicked the act of lifting something big and heavy. “And then you throw it through the portal!”

“Right. So then Equestria dies, instead of my highschool.”

“Instead of your planet,” Twilight said, lifting a finger. “And, not really! We can control shellfires in Equestria. They raise the temperature of their surroundings and create warmer climates, but Princess Celestia controls the sun in my world. So it’s not really that much of an issue.”

Something in the way she said this, in the way she edged the name, made Celestia’s mind click. “Oh, right.” And she hit the palm of her hand with a fist. “My other self. The immortal sun empress?”

“Sun goddess.”

“The immortal sun goddess.” Celestia nodded, and ran a hand through her hair. Her white hair. Suddenly Twilight felt less mature, less adult-like in her mannerisms, and way more similar to that little twig of a girl she’d once been. “The one that raised you, if I remember correctly?”

“Ehehe, eheheh.” Twilight blushed, and nodded. “She’s… well. A bit of a mother figure, yes.”

“The one who will never grow old.”

This time, Twilight nodded in silence, and that was all the reply she could give.

Celestia smiled. Here’s the thing about teenagers:

You’ll always be their teacher.

“Twilight, walk with me. Be honest. What’s the actual reason you came to this world?”

No shellfires in the cafeteria, or the library. On the one hand, waste of time. On the other, hey—the books were safe.

“I mean, I did come here because of the shellfire,” Twilight was saying as they went back outside and headed for the pool. “I already told you. Even if they’re friendly, just by existing, shellfires can eventually burn the world itself.”

“Right.” Celestia eyed Twilight. “But is that why you came here? That’s what I asked.”

Twilight opened her mouth, shut it. Opened it again. Looked away. “It’s, er. It’s one of the reasons, yes. I really, really wanted to talk to you, to be honest. I’ve been looking forward to this.”

“Aah. See, that sounds more like the truth.” You don’t run a high school for so many years without learning to be careful. Twilight had always been a good girl, but just in case, Celestia felt the need to ask. “Did you actually bring the shellfire here yourself or…?”

“Oh, no, no!” Twilight shook her head, and gave Celestia a reassuring smile. “I wouldn’t put an entire planet at risk just to get something off my chest. Princess Celestia was careful not to raise a sociopath again.”

Principal Celestia nodded. “Right. Because that’s something she had to be careful ab—”

“Sunset Shimmer.”

“Oh.” Celestia frowned. “Hmm.”

“And Princess Luna, too! She had to be really careful with me.” To get to the pool you had to climb some stairs, once you got past the gate. Twilight grabbed Celestia’s arm to help her walk all the way up. “So, this is all just a huge coincidence. Did you know I’m a principal, too?”

Back in the day, Celestia would have been too proud to not climb up the stairs by herself, but those days were long gone—and any hesitation she might have felt fell to the side, because she was too busy looking at Twilight. “A principal? Really?”

And Twilight beamed. “Really!” she said. They kept climbing the steps, one at a time, and Twilight sounded excited. “I run my own school! I’ve been taking care of teenagers these last few years, and it’s been—”

“Really rewarding, in an exhausting sort of way, I’m sure of it.” Celestia looked at her up and down. “Can you run a school?”


“Are you good at it?”

“I think so!”

Celestia nodded. “Good. You’re a smart girl. That kind of mind is meant to teach others.” She frowned. “ Do your teenagers have superpowers, too? Keep saving the world, dooming it now and then?”

“Yeah! We do it way more often, but they’re certainly trying.”

No need to ask who that ‘we’ was referring to. “Yes, well,” Celestia said. “That sounds terrible, actually.”

Twilight giggled.

“So why do you want to talk to me about these things?” Celestia asked. “You’ve been so focused on this you’ve barely been looking for that monster, but I don’t understand why me.”

The smile didn’t wash away from Twilight’s face, but she gave a sad little laugh. “Was it that obvious?”


“Well.” Twilight sighed. “As soon as we find the shellfire, I’ll have to go back. Lots of work waiting for me in Equestria, and… I guess I’m being a little childish. I wanted to talk to you a little bit longer.”


“You’re a good woman.” Twilight shrugged. “And you’re Principal Celestia.

They made it up the stairs, and to the swimming pool.

They both stared at the empty, wet space.

Celestia was the first to talk. “It’s a tortoise, not a turtle, and it’s made out of fire. Why did we think looking in here would be a good idea?”

“I really don’t have my head in the game right now.”

“So is this about Princess Celesta not growing old?” Celestia asked as they headed for the greenhouse. “Or is it about me growing old?”

Twilight thought about it. “It’s about me growing old.”


The greenhouse was very close to the pool. They could see it from there. It was burning down, hard.

“Looks like we found it,” Celestia muttered, and then she looked at Twilight. “So, what happened?”

Twilight was also looking at the greenhouse, and her pace slowed down. Just enough to be noticeable. “It’s… It’s not like anything happened,” she said. She was still leading Celestia by the arm. Celestia said nothing. “It was more…”

“Twilight.” Celestia patted her arm. “I won’t judge.”

“It’s just—she’s tall, you see? Very tall. Taller than a normal pony. And I used to be very tiny. Skinny.” Twilight smiled to herself, eyes lost. “Like a twig, she used to say. Little twig of a girl.”

Celestia nodded. “Hmm-hm.”

“And she looked like she could be my mother. Nopony would ever think she was my mother, because—I mean, she’s Princess Celestia!” Twilight bit her lip. “But she still looked like she could be.”

“Right.” They’d arrived to the greenhouse by now, but they didn’t go in. Celestia just stood there, in front of the flames, Twilight still grabbing her arm. “But not anymore?”

“I keep growing. I’m taller.” Twilight looked at herself, frowning. “Even here. And I’m more—I look like her sister. I literally look like her sister, every day I’m more like Princess Luna. Cadance says it’s an alicorn thing.”

Celestia thought of her own version of Luna. “I could think of worse fates.”

“Me too, but—Princess Celestia was my mother figure. Is my mother figure. It just…” Twilight bit her lip again. “This is very silly.”

Celestia said nothing. She just waited it out.

That’s all she had to do.

“She doesn’t look that concerned,” Twilight finally admitted. “She’s used to it. We’ve talked about this, even—immortality means that eventually you learn to accept that children will grow, and you’ll outlive them. And I don’t mind that, and I get it, and this is very silly but, but I can’t help but think I—”

“Miss your mother?”

It hit Twilight like a brick. Her grip around Celestia’s arm got harder; almost hard enough to hurt.

And then she relaxed, and chuckled. “I have an actual mother, and Princess Celestia isn’t going anywhere. But, yes. In a way. I had two mother figures as a kid, you see? But they were never the same. And now I only have one. Everything’s perfect with my mother, but Princess Celestia is… different. Not worse, just different.”

“Because you’ve grown?”

“And she hasn’t,” Twilight said. “So it’s like—it feels like the age gap between us is smaller now. It’s not, but it feels like it. She treats me like an adult, and most of the time that’s great, but… Sometimes, something’s missing.”

“Hmm.” Celestia clicked her tongue again. This time she didn’t mind Twilight seeing it. “No wonder you were so happy to see my hair going white.”

“It’s very odd to see an old Celestia,” Twilight said. “No offense.”

“None taken.” A little bit taken, but hey, what’s a white lie in the grand scale of things? “I don’t think you’re being silly.”

Twilight looked at her. “No?”

“Well.” Celestia shrugged. “Yes. Actually. But you’re not being bad. So what’s it that’s changed with that other me, exactly?”

“She refuses to slow down,” Twilight said with another chuckle. “I feel like I don’t have the energy I had when I was younger, but she’s still the same. I struggle to keep up. And there’s this…” She sounded wistful. “With my actual mother, well, she still dotes on me. I’m still her little girl. And that’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s also…”

She went quiet.

So Principal Celestia patted Twilight’s hand, and then she interlinked their arms together. “I think it’s natural to want to take over your parents, at some point.” She knew what it was to struggle to keep up with others, with her hip the way it was nowadays. Never fun, that. “And to be doted on. I think it makes sense that you’d miss some… normalcy in your life.”

Twilight sighed. “I’m a princess. I should be over this kind of thing.”

“That will probably never happen.” Celestia pulled from her and turned the other way around, headed for her office. Away from the burning greenhouse. “Well, fortunately for you, I don’t mind playing substitutes. I don’t have children of my own, so this could be a good change of pace.”

Twilight blinked, and looking down at her feet. Then, at Celestia. “Um. Principal Celestia?”


“The greenhouse’s that way.”

“Well, yes, I can see that.” Celestia didn’t look back, and pulled from Twilight’s arm so she’d keep walking. “But that monster’s going to take a while to kill us all, right?”

“I mean, yes, it’s a tortoise. Being fast is not exactly one of its defining feat—”

“Good, then there’s no need for us to be fast either.” The good thing about growing older, Celestia had found out long ago, is that you could stop being responsible and nobody dared to say anything. “We’ll pick up the shellfire later. It’s not like it can’t wait.”

“I don’t—”

“Well, I do. I can always spoil you some, even if I personally didn’t raise you. I definitely became a mother figure to your other self, so why not you, too?” Celestia shrugged. “Also, I feel like drinking some tea. Now, what’s that about you being a principal. You’re running your own school, you said, but you didn’t elaborate. I want to hear everything about it. How many students?”

Twilight tried to reply. She tried to be an adult. She tried to explain that, no, actually—I do need to go back to Equestria. I’ve got a lot of work, I’m a Princess, and paperwork waits for nobody. I can’t just ignore the shellfire, stuff like this is literally why they put the fate of the kingdom on my hooves so often.

And on any other day, with any other person, she would have said that, and she would have walked back to the greenhouse, and then she would have returned home.

But this time—

“Come on,” Celestia said. “My hip hurts. Don’t make me pull from you all the way through.”

—this time, Twilight just smiled, and walked with Principal Celestia. All the way to the office, and they’d take care of the shellfire later.

And she never let go of her arm.