Twilight's Reign

by James Pwyll

First published

Twilight now rules over Equestria, and she is determined to rule it well

The centuries-long rule of Celestia and Luna has come to an end. Now, it is Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship, who watches over the ponies of Equestria. To stand as leader of a whole nation is a daunting thing, but the young alicorn is more than ready. With her closest friends by her side, she's ready to face this great challenge, one day at a time.

The Reign Begins

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"So...here we are," Spike mused.

Twilight smiled to him. "Yeah...here we are." The two had spoken with the same kind of quiet calm one normally did after having been through an ordeal, and the coronation was certainly a memorable time. Yet, after all that, here she was. Twilight Sparkle, now the sole ruler of Equestria. It had been a long road, but that journey had turned her into a mare who was more than worthy of leading her people to a new era. And of course, who could forget her most trusted companion. Spike, now the royal advisor, sitting beside her on his very own throne, though admittedly not as large or ornate as hers. Twilight glanced around, seeing all the royal guards lining the walls of her throne room, but never once looked in her direction. Besides them and Spike, the room was empty, and she sighed. "Guess this is how it starts then."

Spike looked to her, concerned. "You worried?"

Twilight smiled back to him, patting him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, I'm ready. I just..." She looked ahead, to the vast chamber she and Spike now sat in. "...I just wish they'd have been here too."

"Ask, and ye shall receive!" a familiarly-fancy voice called out.

Twilight's ears perked up, and she turned with a wide smile upon her face. Her hearing had not deceived her, for it truly was her friends who now approached, having entered the throne room from one of the side doors just behind where she sat. "You made it!" she said happily.

Cackling, Rainbow zipped ahead of the others, landing right in front of Twilight and giving her a quick hug. "Hehe, you didn't really think we'd miss today of all days, did you?"

"Yeah! We might not be here for every day, but we'll definitely be here for your first," Pinkie added.

"After all, it's scary enough to rule without having all your friends with you," Fluttershy said to her with a smile.

"Besides, we simply have to make sure you look spit and spot for your first day," Rarity announced, walking behind Twilight and making a few quick adjustment to her regal-looking outfit.

Applejack, rolling her eyes to her fashion-loving friend, trotted right in front of Twilight and shook her hoof. "If this is the first day yer rulin', best ta let Equestria know yer doin it with friends."

Twilight smiled to each and every one of them, and after Rarity had finished her work and was joining everypony else, the newly-crowned Twilight exhaled deeply, as if a great weight had been lifted from her. "Thank you. All of you. I didn't know if I was going to be able to do this without you." A quick cough from Spike caused her to giggle as she looked to him. "Of course I'd have still been fine with you here, Spike."

The young dragon gave a firm nod to that, but it was Rainbow who spoke next. "So...how does this work? I'm not really seeing anypony here for you to, you know, rule over."

Then, as if to answer that very conundrum, the great doors of the throne room opened, causing everypony to look in its direction. They could see another of the Guard enter, walking right up to the throne. And when Twilight saw who it was, her eyes widened. The pegasus stallion couldn't have been much older than her, and be bore a distinct yellowy-orange coat of fur. When he reached the foot of the stairs leading to the throne, he bowed deeply to her before speaking in a very formal tone. "Your Majesty. Flash Sentry, reporting for duty."

After a quick moment of hesitation, where Twilight knew full well her friends were smirking at her behind her back, she cleared her throat. "Arise, Sir Flash. I don't recall sending for you."

Flash stood tall once more, nodding to her. "You did not. But the ruler of Equestria requires an announcer to declare the arrival of important visitors, and I was selected for that position for you."

Twilight arched an eyebrow. "You were? By who?"

Flash smiled. "Your royal sister-in-law, Princess Cadance made the recommendation. I'm not entirely sure why, but she seemed very insistent that I be the one in the position."

Twilight's right eye twitched slightly, and she could hear her friends doing their absolute best to hold back the knowing giggles from this unexpected development. But with so much experience of royalty and leadership behind her, Twilight simply resorted to the breathing trick Cadance had taught her so long ago, then smiled to the young guard, speaking softly. "Of course she did. Well, I'll be sure to give my sister-in-law a very special 'thank you' when I next see her."

Flash, totally oblivious to the undertones there, smiled back to her, giving another bow before taking a few steps backwards. "In that case, your Highness, I shall bring in the nobility."

Here, Twilight stumbled. "Um...nobility?"

Flash halted, looking back to her and nodding again. "Yes. It is an ancient tradition Princess Celestia has undertaken throughout most of her reign. The heads of all the noble pony families within Canterlot will arrive and declare their vows of allegiance towards you."

The gathered mares and Spike all looked to one another with understandable confusion, and even Rarity was a bit nonplussed about that. "Begging your pardon, Sir Flash, but I don't recall the Princess ever speaking of such an event."

Flash bowed to her, showing just as much respect for Twilight's fellows as for Twilight herself. "I believe the official word is that she would not have considered the event really worth bringing up in casual conversation."

Rainbow smirked to him. "So she thought it was too boring to talk about?"

Flash paused, but only for a moment. "I would not dare speculate on the reasons behind the Princess' decision." He looked to Rainbow giving a knowing nod to Applejack, then looked again to Twilight. "It is really little more than a formality. Long are the centuries since the days when noble families would serve the Princess as they did in ancient times. In truth the vows now simply act as the ceremony to open the new year of the Princess' reign."

Pinkie giggled to such a notion. "Ha! You silly stallion! It's December! Kinda late to be calling this the start, don't you think?" She paused, then tapped her chin. "Or early, I guess."

Flash nodded. "True, but Princess Celestia decided to would be a good first duty for Princess Twilight. I believe it was her final command to us here in the Guard prior to her and her sister's retirement."

Twilight, hearing all that, smiled. "Perhaps it will be good then. I'll be spending a good deal of time among these ponies in the future, I'm sure. So it'll be good to get introductions out of the way." She cleared her throat again, speaking in the same kind of formal tone she'd heard her beloved mentor speak in for so many years. "In that case, Sir Flash, you may allow them entry."

The stallion again bowed to her, then finally turned around in earnest, making his way back to the doors. Opening them again, he exited the throne room, closing them behind him. And only now did her friends finally let loose their laughter. "Oh wow, you rule Equestria and your old crush is here every day? This'll be fun, eh?" Rainbow chuckled.

Twilight rolled her eyes. "Yes, yes, let's get this over with." She listened to her friends laugh in their own unique ways for about a solid minute, and then, when it was all over, looked to each of them with a totally deadpan expression. "...Done?" When they nodded back to her, she nodded back. "Good. Let's get down to business then." She and her friends stood in a line, with Twilight at the centre of course, and watched as the large doors once more opened wide. This time, with Flash at the head, a group of noble ponies entered, looking as aristocratic as one could imagine a collection like this being. Some faces Twilight recognised, like Fancy Pants, whom she smiled to. But others were less familiar. Still, she told herself, these would be the ones she'd be working with here in the city, so she knew this meeting was necessary.

Once having arrived before her, the nobles bowed, with Flash joining in before doing his job. "Announcing the arrival of the heads of all the great noble families of Canterlot, here to swear their allegiance to Princess Twilight Sparkle, ruler of Equestria and all of ponykind!"

Pinkie leaned in towards Fluttershy, whispering to her. "Hm, he's pretty good at that."

Twilight smirked to her bouncy friend, then took a step forward, looking to all the assembled nobles, who rose from their bows to look at her. Taking a deep breath, Twilight, at long last, began her first duty as her nation's leader. "Welcome to the palace. Know that you are welcome here, as allies and as friends." Her smile widened slightly. "Let us begin."

Wonderbolts Rising

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"Announcing the arrival of Spitfire, leader of the Blazing Squadron and Captain of the Wonderbolts!"

Flash stepped aside, allowing entry for the famed pegasus mare. Twilight and Spike smiled as she drew nearer, accompanied by two of her fellow Wonderbolts. When she was close enough, she bowed, and Twilight did the same. Only when she rose up again did Spitfire finally speak. "Thank you for the invitation, your Majesty."

Twilight giggled. "Your courtesy is appreciated, but you needn't speak to me like that, Spitfire. We've known each other long enough now."

The other mare chuckled, nodding to herself. "Yeah, you're right. Honestly, if you'd have told me back then that the bookish friend of one Young Flier winner I met once would be somepony I'd be bowing to one day, I'd have said you'd been downing one cider too many."

The pair of them laughed together, followed shortly afterwards by their respective companions. But after the laughter died down, Twilight mused on Spitfire's words, and glanced to her accompanying Wonderbolts. She recognised them immediately as Vapor Trail and Sky Stinger, whom she gave a smile and a nod to. But her smile faded, if only a little, as she again regarded Spitfire. "So...is anypony else coming with you today, Spitfire?"

As Twilight herself had said, the two had known each other a fair while now, so it took no time whatsoever for Spitfire to know what she was talking about. "Sorry, Twilight. But it was Rainbow's turn to head the classroom session for some of our latest recruits today."

Though naturally disappointed that her friend wasn't going to be here, Twilight nevertheless found some amusement in the answer she'd been given. "Oh dear, she won't like that."

Spitfire chuckled again. "Nopony does." Sighing, the Captain stepped forward. "But I imagine you didn't call me here just for a bit of casual conversation?"

Twilight nodded, gesturing to Spike, who began to write the details of the meeting as the former spoke up again. "What would you say if I were to tell you that I had plans to not only expand the importance of the Wonderbolts, but also their reach as well?"

Spitfire tilted her head slightly, raising one eyebrow. "I'd say you have my undivided attention."

Twilight turned, looking to several of the stained-glass windows that decorated the throne room. "As you've no doubt heard, there have been many incidents that have blighted ponykind over the years, and while those like my friends have done all they can to thwart those problems, we haven't always been there for everypony." She again looked to Spitfire. "Have you ever heard of the Hope Hollow debacle? Or the matter of the village whose cutie marks were stolen?"

Spitfire thought on that, then nodded slowly. "Yes, I've heard of them. But you and your friends managed to fix everything in those cases, right?"

Twilight nodded back. "We were, but in each case, they were problems that were going on for a long time without ever being noticed by me, my friends, or anypony else in the wider realm of Equestria." As before, Twilight looked to the windows, and specifically to the one that depicted the conflict between Celestia, Luna and Discord. "Princess Celestia loved other ponies. All ponies. And there is no doubt in my mind that she would have wanted to help all those who were in trouble." She took a deep breath, then exhaled. "But while it pains me to admit to this, it's now obvious that, though she clearly tried to keep watch over all of Equestria, there were some places that escaped her gaze, and who suffered because of it."

Here, Spike interjected, addressing Spitfire directly himself. "Places like Hope Hollow were going through bad times for who knows how long, and nopony else knew about it. And if the Cutie Map hadn't told Twilight about the village with the cutie mark problem, it'd probably just have stayed bad even now."

Spitfire, finally, understood her reason for being here. "I see. You want the Wonderbolts to go out and keep an eye out for problems like this?"

Looking back to her, Twilight nodded. "I do. Equestria is big, and that vastness is too great for even an alicorn Princess to properly look over at all times. I require eyes and ears out there, beyond the furthest point of Canterlot's knowledge." She smiled. "For centuries, the Wonderbolts have served as ponykind's greatest and most renowned fliers, and now I call upon you to serve ponykind and watch out for any problems that might have otherwise gone unnoticed."

Spike nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah! And if some big bad like the Storm King ever pops up to cause trouble again, this way we'll have some kind of early warning against it before they get too close! I mean, heck, that guy's forces just showed up without anypony knowing until it was too late!"

There was no denying that much, and Spitfire was clearly deep in thought over the proposal, which ended with her giving a firm nod to her new ruler. "Princess, the Wonderbolts stand ready to serve Equestria. If this is a role you wish us to have, we'll serve as best we can."

Twilight, hearing the genuine acceptance in her voice, bowed her head slightly. "Thank you, Captain. I cannot say enough how much I appreciate this."

But then Spitfire hesitated, nervously scratching the back of her head. "Except...there is one problem."

Twilight's smile too faltered, though she kept her composure. "Oh?"

Spitfire sighed deeply, taking another step closer to her. "It's the numbers. Sure, the Wonderbolts may have more applicants now than ever before, but even if we were to accept and graduate every single one of them into our ranks, that wouldn't even give us half of the number of pegasi we'd need to cover the kind of ground you're talking about. And even among our top fliers, there's only a hoof-full of them that I'd feel confident sending out that far. To do what you're asking of us...well...we'd be stretched pretty thin."

Twilight considered that, and the way she now smiled to Spike, and how he smiled back, made it pretty clear that the two of them had already considered this particular issue. And so, when Equestria's ruler turned back to face her guest, she spoke with utter confidence. "There's no need to worry. I don't expect for you to instantly have all that you need for this task just because I've decreed it. But there is one solution that might help."

Curiosity came to Spitfire. "Oh yeah?"

Twilight nodded. "Yes. I believe the time has come for the Wonderbolts to accept those other than pegasi into their ranks."

Immediately, Spitfire's eyes widened. Not because she was upset by the notion, but simply due to surprise. "You mean...incorporate some of the other flight-capable races? The Griffons? Dragons? That kind of thing?"

Again, Twilight nodded. "Indeed. After all, Griffons, just as one example, have been included in Cloudsdale flight schools for some years now, correct? Rainbow Dash went to school with a Griffon named Gilda as you may recall. Is it really that big of a stretch to ask them to go from that to Wonderbolts? Or for others to join as well?"

Spitfire tapped her chin. "Hmmm...it might be a hard sell with some of the older members of the group...but I think it'll certainly help with our number problem."

Twilight giggled. "I have every faith in your ability to smooth out the kinks in the plan, Spitfire. One does not become a Wonderbolt Captain without ability and charisma after all."

Spitfire smirked to that. "Hehe, dang right, Princess!"

Spike too smiled. "And hey, you might already have a recruit lined up! Ever heard of Silverstream?"

Spitfire's eyebrow raised again. "The Hippogriff Princess?"

Spike nodded to her. "Yep! She talked about maybe wanting to join the Wonderbolts one day. So hey, maybe give her a shot?"

Spitfire thought on that, then smiled again. "A Princess Wonderbolt, eh? Huh, not a bad idea."

Twilight looked down to Spike, smiling to him and feeling confident that this was going well. Then, she cleared her throat, getting everypony else's attention, before addressing them all. "Well then, let's start sending word to the other kingdoms of this development. Would you care to join me in drafting out the messages, Captain?"

After a brief pause, Spitfire gave her a deep bow. "Princess Twilight, it would be my pleasure."

Teacher to Teacher

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"Twilight, do we really have to have this guy over today?" Spike asked, clearly uncomfortable.

Twilight nodded back to him. "I realise we had our issues in the past, but I promise you, he's better than he used to be."

Spike rolled his eyes to that. "Kind of a low bar, Twilight."

The young Princess sighed, reaching over and patting him on the shoulder. "Don't worry. Everything will be fine. Besides, he has an important place in this nation, and we'll need to work with him if we're to make all our plans happen."

Spike scoffed. "If he'll even listen."

Before Twilight had the chance to respond to that, she was interrupted by the opening of the door of the throne room, with Flash Sentry entering soon afterwards. Clearing his throat, the stallion did his usual thing. "Announcing the arrival of Neighsay, Chancellor of the Equestrian Education Association."

Twilight and Spike stood from their thrones, looking on as the stallion who once gave them so much trouble entered, giving Flash a quick nod before focusing on making his way to the throne. He kept his usual dignified composure, even though Spike was clearly struggling to look anything other than uncomfortable around the guy. Eventually, he reached the throne stairs, giving a bow to his leader. "Princess. A pleasure, as always."

The tone was genuine, and as such Twilight returned the bow. "Chancellor. I trust the day finds you well?"

Standing, Neighsay nodded. "I'd say so. I was surprised to hear your summons, though. I imagine you wish to speak with me on a matter regarding Equestria's schools?"

Twilight nodded back. "Straight to the point, I see. Yes, that is indeed why I've called you here. But before I talk to you about education in this country as a whole, I felt like I should inform you of my choice for successor over at the School of Friendship first."

Neighsay arched an eyebrow. "Yes, I was wondering who would be taking up your mantle in your absence. One of your friends, perhaps?"

A smile came to Twilight. "You are correct. Starlight Glimmer, my former apprentice, now serves as the school's Headmare." There was a pause, and Neighsay appeared to be thinking that matter as he gave his beard a quick stroke. After a while though, Twilight looked to him with more seriousness. "I trust you do not disapprove of my choice?"

Neighsay considered his words carefully before answering. "Forgive me Princess. I realise that I don't exactly have the best history when it comes to being a judge of character."

Spike stifled a chuckle. "Understatement of the century," he mumbled.

Neighsay cast him a look, then looked back to Twilight. "With the greatest respect, Princess, I know you place great trust and faith in your close personal circle of friends, and that your old protégé is no exception. However, I would like to remind you of her, shall we say...chequered past? Are you certain that placing her in charge of young students is a wise move?"

Fortunately for Neighsay, Twilight didn't look anywhere close to offended as he might have suspected. On the contrary, she actually smiled to his words. "I realise she's had many dark moments in her life, but I've known her ever since those days, and I can assure you she's more than up to the task. Even if we don't take into account all she's done for Equestria in recent years, she's had a long time of getting to know the students and look out for them in her time as the school's counsellor." Her smile widened. "Believe me, Chancellor, there is none better suited to taking my place there."

Neighsay thought on that, then gave a quick bow of his head, silently accepting her decision. "Very well, Princess. As you say. Now..." He looked her right in the eye. "What other matters did you wish to discuss with me?"

Twilight looked over to Spike, who handed her a parchment, before clearing her throat and speaking up again. "While I realise that you have overall authority with regards to EEA matters, it is also within the purview of the ruler of Equestria to pass out the laws that the EEA must adhere to. As such..."

"You wish for us to include those other than ponies within Equestrian schools?" Neighsay said, cutting her off.

Though naturally a little irritated at having been interrupted, with Spike especially glaring at the stallion, Twilight was, in this moment, far more surprised than offended, looking to the Chancellor with confusion. "You...you already knew?"

Neighsay smirked, giving a quick nod. "Word gets around quickly, your Highness. After it became known that you wish for the Wonderbolts to be more open with their recruitment, it became clear to me that you'd likely wish for such policies to be included in institutions such as our schools. Especially given your choice of students for your School of Friendship."

Spike, having heard all that, matched his smirk. "Hehe, I'll bet that caused you a bit of stress, eh?"

But the stallion shook his head. "While there was indeed a time it would have had that exact effect, I think you'll find my old...shortcomings...are not what they used to be. If it is the will of the Princess of Equestria that Equestria's schools open to those beyond our borders, the EEA will comply."

Spike, after taking in all that, turned away with a huff. "Ugh! I was hoping for a meltdown from him or something!"

Twilight giggled to her advisor's remarks, then looked to her guest again. "I'm glad to hear it, Chancellor. Having seen just how much good there can be from having those beyond Equestria take part in just one of its schools, there is no doubt in my mind that we can start something wonderful here by including them in others." Then, she started to look a bit more thoughtful, then gestured to Spike, who began writing her words as she resumed speaking. "And I would also like you to know that I intend for my predecessor's own institution to be opened to others as well."

Here, Neighsay actually looked taken aback. "You mean...Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns?" When he saw her give a nod to confirm that was indeed what she'd meant, Neighsay sighed. "Princess, pardon me for saying this, but those schools are intended to teach magic. I mean, not to sound crass, but it's in the very name of the place. What possible use could pegasi or earth ponies get from attending that school?"

Twilight glanced to the side, to the nearest window. "I've known many amazing people over my time in Ponyville, Chancellor. And I've become very aware of just how much value there is in having somecreature know of magic without the ability to use it themselves. Sunburst, for instance, knew of the exact spell we needed to aid in the restoration of the Crystal Heart, even though he himself was unable to cast such a spell. And my friend Zecora was a great help in my own personal growth in magic, even though, as a Zebra, there was never a chance magic could be known to her." She looked back to him with a smile. "Those we allow into the school may not ever cast a spell of their own, but never underestimate just how much good can be done when the knowledge of magic is theirs all the same."

Neighsay thought long and hard on that, then gave a slow nod. "Very well. We'll need to think of a new name for the school of course, but if that's your decree for it, I will honor it."

Twilight nodded. "Excellent. And there is one more matter, Chancellor. I wished to discuss with you the possibility of perhaps expanding the idea of the School of Friendship to other places within Equestria."

Another raised eyebrow from Neighsay. "Oh? You feel the one you've already created is not enough?"

Twilight pointed to him. "You may remember this yourself, but the incident with Flim and Flam made it clear to me that there is interest in places beyond Ponyville for a place like that. The first School of Friendship will always stand, I assure you, but its lessons may be spread even further afield if there is more than one, and in more places."

The older pony looked to her, then to Spike, before again regarding his Princess. "Yes...and given that I was personally willing to approve of a so-called 'University' like that, I suppose it would be unreasonable for me to object for such plans now."

Spike folded his arms, looking to him smugly. "Yyyyyyyyyep!"

Neighsay frowned to him, then relaxed a little as he looked again to Twilight. "This is a great deal of change, Princess. It will require herculean quantities of paperwork on our part."

To that, Twilight smiled. "Don't worry, Chancellor. I think I might be able to help on that front."

Spike chortled. "Trust me, she can."

Royal Visit

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"Will that be all, Miss Inkwell?" Twilight asked.

The white mare beside her gave a respectful bow. "Yes, Princess. The last of the papers."

Twilight nodded, smiling to her. "Thank you. You may go now. I don't wish to keep you." After seeing her bow a second time, Twilight watched as her aide, who had once served her mentor for so many years, departed, leaving her to her solitude. Twilight sighed as she glanced down to the few papers on her table, but for now she simply levitated a small cup of tea to her lips, taking a small sip before sighing. "Ah...lovely." She turned, looking out from her spot on the balcony and looking to the bright and sunny day that had graced the city. Things were calm, peaceful, and relaxing, or at least as much as they could be when you were the head of state. Twilight kept her smile for a time, enjoying the moment of quiet that she knew would come rarely to her these days. Thoughts of her first days in this new role came and went in her mind, yet never once did she look in any way stressed or overwhelmed by it all, evidenced further by her relaxed tone when she finally broke the silence. "I hope I'm doing alright."

"From what I hear, you're doing wonderfully."

Twilight's smile widened, for without even looking she knew who it was that now arrived to see her. And when she turned, she saw the equally-smiling face of her beloved sister-in-law now entering the balcony to greet her. Setting her cup aside, Twilight walked over, just in time to see her old foalsitter give a bow of her own. Twilight, rather than be taken aback by this, merely rolled her eyes. "Cadance...please."

A giggle from the Princess of Love. "Oh, don't mind me. I just had to get in one." The two shared a laugh, ending when they moved in closer for an embrace. It was a good moment for the two, and Twilight in particular felt a good deal happier by simply having her here. When they at last parted, Equestria's newest ruler gestured to the table, which already had a second seat prepared. Moving to it, Cadance took her place, and after waiting for Twilight to resume hers she looked to her with interest. "So...how fares the nation?"

Twilight looked out to the rest of Canterlot. "Things have been going well so far. Honestly, I'm surprised things have been going as smoothly as they have been. For as long as anypony can remember, it's always been Celestia in this place. Now...she's gone, and I'm here I her stead."

Cadance nodded. "Well, it's not too difficult a problem, Twilight. You're a national heroine, and several times over for that matter. Much easier to accept a new ruler when that ruler is somepony who routinely put herself out there to save others. I don't think there's a mare or stallion in this entire country that would have ever objected to you taking Celestia's position at this point."

Twilight nodded slowly, thinking on that. "And that might be the most daunting thing of all. Everypony, and not just Celestia, had such high expectations of me."

Cadance reached over, patting her on the hoof and gaining her attention. "If it's any consolation, I know the feeling."

Twilight's smile returned. "That's right. You were fairly young when you first became a Princess."

Nostalgia came to Cadance. "Hard to think so much time has passed since then. For the most part I like to think I've done well in my role." Her smile turned into a slight smirk. "And I don't hesitate to say that I think you'll be even better than any of us have been."

Twilight blushed. "Oh, you're just saying that!"

Cadance shook her head. "No, I mean it. Celestia, Luna and I may have had our fair share of successes over the years, but the impact you've had on Equestria will forever dwarf ours. And believe me..." Her expression softened. "Nothing could make me prouder. To know the little filly I cared for all those years ago would go on to do so much...well...it's wonderful."

The two smiled warmly to one another, enjoying this tender moment. But then, when it had passed, Twilight cast a glance to the door her fellow Princess had arrived through. "I take it I won't be seeing my brother or niece today?"

Cadance giggled. "Alas, no. Shiny's busy up north. There's work to be done with some new recruits, and he wanted to tend to it personally. Besides, he wanted a bit of time with Flurry while I was down here."

Twilight looked to the side, gazing out in the northern direction of where they sat. "We talk of how far I've come, but one day that little filly will be a force in her own right. Equestria may look to her the same way it looks to me. Or at least in the Crystal Empire anyway."

Cadance nodded, thinking fondly on her daughter. "It'll be a big responsibility, being born into a future role of leadership. I'll do what I can for her, but only time will tell how she'll cope with it."

Twilight got her smile back as she looked to her. "With you guiding her? Yeah, she'll do well." Then, after a long silence between them, Twilight started to look slightly more serious. "Cadance...I want to tell you something. Something that I'm not sure if Celestia ever said to you. But if she didn't, then I should say it now."

Cadance started to feel concerned at this sudden change in tone from her friend. "Twilight? Are you okay?"

Twilight reached forward, taking Cadance's hoof into her own. "Nopony has said it, not to you and not to me, but I think we both know that, among the crystal ponies, there's always been a sense of feeling like...like they weren't a part of Equestria. A nation, lost for a thousand years, now here again and joined together in a way they never were before. No words are said about it, but when an Equestrian walks through their city, you can sometimes feel it in the way they'd look to you."

Cadance said nothing for a time, but she knew the truth of her sister-in-law's words, and slowly nodded. "It's been a difficult adjustment for several of them. I've done what I can to ease relations, but...you're not wrong." She traced her hoof along the edge of her tea cup. "Sombra broke that Empire, Twilight. Equestria came along and helped it back on its hooves, but it'll never be what it once was. If one of the crystal ponies came to me and just flat-out told me that they felt their nation was some 'junior partner', I wouldn't be surprised."

Twilight knew already what she was going to say to that. "I'd understand the feeling. For a long time, that's what I felt when I was with you and the other Princesses. Just the youngest member of a better group. But over time, I knew that wasn't the case." She smiled again. "Equestria and the Crystal Empire aren't a master and their vassal, Cadance, just as me and you aren't. We're partners. Equals. Two branches of the same family. Equestrian and Crystal Pony. Friends and allies, now and forever." She looked to her softly. " And I consider them to be no less than any Equestrian you see walking down the streets of Canterlot or Ponyville."

Cadance raised an eyebrow, looking just the tiniest bit mischievous. "Well, you cant deny that, of the two of us, you're sort of responsible for a heck of a lot more than I am."

Twilight shook her head. "Be that as it may, you, just like the crystal ponies, are in no way some 'lesser version'. We rule ponykind together, you and I. We're more than just allies, we're friends. Family." As before, Twilight patted her hoof. "And I consider you my sister, Cadance. Not just an in-law, but a sister."

Cadance sat there, clearly touched by her words, and soon returned the sentiment. "I think the ponies I reign over would be done a world of good to hear you say that as you've said it to me."

Twilight chuckled briefly. "Well, maybe it's best if Equestria's newest ruler made her way north for a brief time. Can't very well make them feel like they're equal friends in this relationship if I don't tell them in person."

Then, as if on cue, who should suddenly turn up but Twilight's announcer, Flash, who gave a deep bow to the two Princesses. "Pardon my intrusion, Princess. But Fancy Pants has arrived to discuss some matters with you."

Seeing him, Cadance smirked. "Oh, what a fine guard to have by your side at all times, eh Twilight?" She watched the younger Princess scowl at her before again looking to the stallion. "I imagine you must be quite the popular fellow, Sir Flash, being such a fine member of the Princess' personal protectors."

Flash smiled, looking to the side. "Oh, it's really only my wife who likes to talk about that."

Hearing that, Cadance's expression froze. "...What?"

Flash, oblivious to her, kept speaking. "Oh yeah, the most wonderful mare in the world. Uh, if you'll pardon me saying so."

Twilight, who was understandably very amused by this, now had a smirk of her own. "Consider yourself pardoned. I'm sure we'd both love to hear of this wife of yours, right Cadance?" she asked with an obviously-forced grin.

Cadance, now realising her secret plots regarding these two were definitively ruined forever, sighed. "Drat...foiled again."

Dangerous Treasures

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"Got everything, Spike?" Twilight asked.

Her faithful assistant nodded confidently. "Yep! But I just want to make sure. This visit is all business, right? You're not just inviting her because you're a huge fan?"

Twilight seemed offended at the prospect. "How could you say that, Spike?! I intend to keep the uttermost professionalism in these meetings!" Seeing Spike slowly arch an eyebrow to her, beads of sweat started rolling down Twilight's forehead, culminating in her starting to look a little sheepish all of a sudden. "Well...maybe there was a little bit of me wanting to see her again."

Spike chuckled. "There we go. Oh! They're here!"

Twilight looked on as she saw her advisor had the right of it, for Flash once more assumed his duties after having entered the throne room. "Announcing the arrival of the esteemed A. K. Yearling and her associate, Groom Martingale!" He stepped to the side, allowing two older ponies entry.

Twilight, seeing them enter, smiled widely, with Spike naturally rolling his eyes to it all. But nopony said anything for now, instead waiting until the two were at last at the base of the throne stairs, giving a quick bow to their newly-appointed leader. "Princess Twilight. An honor," Yearling declared.

Twilight nodded to her, and also to "Martingale". Then, after a few moments of silence, the young monarch glanced around, looking to all of her guards. "I would like for some privacy with my guests, if it's alright." Though clearly an unexpected request, the guards, after giving a quick glance to her, gave a simultaneous bow in acceptance of her command. One by one they made their way out of the throne room, with Flash being the last as he closed the door. Now alone with her guests and her friend, Twilight stretched out her wings and gently glided down to greet the former, with Spike close behind her. "I figured you wouldn't want to talk openly with an audience."

Yearling chuckled, taking off both her hat and glasses. "No need for apologies, Twilight. I'm grateful for it."

"As am I!" the stallion beside her added. The others looked on as Martingale ripped off his clearly-fake beard, revealing himself as none other than Dr Caballeron, who now scratched his chin vigorously. "I swear, if I had to have that thing on my face one more moment, I was going to go insane!"

Twilight giggled. "Now, I'm sure you're wondering why I called you both here today."

Daring nodded. "Just a little. I've had a few interesting encounters in my life, but a royal invitation is definitely a new one."

Caballeron smirked. "And it is nice to know one as remarkable as myself is finally being recognised as a worthy guest of this fine establishment." After seeing the unamused looks he was getting, he cleared his throat a little. "Um...so...how can we help, your Highness?"

Twilight gave Spike a nod, and he rummaged around his pile of papers, which he'd been carrying with him this whole time, before again addressing her guests. "You two, despite your differences, are undoubtedly the greatest treasure hunters in Equestria."

Caballeron's chest puffed out, and Daring rolled her eyes to his as-yet unspoken bravado, before looking again to Twilight. "Thanks for saying so, but I'm not sure what use that skill can be to the Princess' needs."

Twilight smiled. "Trust me, there is great value in that skill." She began to walk past them, along the wall where all the stained-glass windows were, and they followed behind her as she spoke. "During the years leading up to my coronation, my friends and I came upon many strange and often dangerous artefacts, many of which were used against us or ponykind in general. The alicorn amulet. The staff of Sacanas. These and more have been a serious issue for Equestria, as I'm sure you both well know."

Daring grimaced at the thought of those incidents. "I've heard. I never saw them at work myself, but from all those I've talked to about them, I'm sure they were pretty nasty to go against."

Twilight frowned. "Believe me, they were." She took a deep breath, stopping in her tracks before turning to face them again. "As the foremost trackers of rare and precious artefacts, I decided it was best to call upon the two of you for what I have planned here."

Caballeron looked to her warily. "And what do you have planned, Princess?"

Twilight looked back to him, seeming more serious than before. "I have no doubt that there are other dangerous magical items and weapons out there in the world. Some we may never have even heard of. Some which may even be here within Equestria's borders, unknown and unseen. Given all the damage such things have caused in the past, I've decided that we can no longer leave such things to chance."

She stepped forward, placing a hoof upon Daring's shoulder, smiling to her yet again. "I ask you both, and any who might be willing to work with you, to go out as far as you can, both to lands old and new to you, to find as many of these dangerous artefacts as you can, before the day should come when others might get them."

Daring nodded, finally understanding. "I get it. You want those things under lock and key, right?"

Twilight too nodded. "I do. I fully expect that, at some point in the future, some creature will stumble upon one or more of them. Some creature who might not have the best interests of others in mind. I would prefer it if those things were under our watch, before it's too late."

Daring considered that, glancing to her recently-acquired colleague, before smiling again to Twilight. "Very well. Consider it done."

Caballeron, by contrast, was not so excited at the prospect. "Eeeeeeeeh, pardon me for my impertinence, Princess. But you ask a great deal. To scour the length and breadth of the land for treasure is one thing. It was my profession after all. But to go after items of such danger? That is a risk on a whole other level." He smirked as he glanced to the side. "I don't really make it a point to put myself in dangerous situations like that if I can help it. So with all due respect, what reason have I to accept this charge you give me?"

Twilight raised an eyebrow to that, and Spike shook his head, clearly not happy with the stallion's reaction. But Twilight, thankfully, was not upset by his remark, and indeed started to look like this was something she'd expected. "You're right. It is a big ask. But perhaps you'd be more receptive if I were to, shall we say, sweeten the pot?"

Slowly, Caballeron cast her a look. "Caballeron is listening."

Looking down to Spike, Twilight nodded to him, and the latter pulled out one scroll in particular, leading to the Princess again addressing her less-than-helpful guest. "As I'm sure you're aware, Doctor, you and your associates have committed a number of criminal acts over the years. Not only here in Equestria but out among our neighbouring allies. If you were to accept this task I ask of you, and work for the future safety of Equestria, I will see fit to offer you and those who've worked with you a full pardon for your past actions."

Caballeron actually seemed amused by that notion. "A pardon? Forgive me, Princess, but that hardly seems like much of a rewards. Besides, how numerous could my past indiscretions have possibly been?" As if waiting for that very question, Twilight gave Spike a firm nod, which he returned, before finally unrolling the scroll he'd been holding. Both Daring and Caballeron watched as the thing fell to the ground, rolling out and stretching forth to a truly surprising degree, to the point where it was heading straight for the other side of the room. In fact, so long was that scroll that it actually hit the opposing wall before it managed to fully unfurl. Caballeron, seeing this enormous list before him, gulped, before slowly turning to look to his Princess. "Yes...well...perhaps my life had led me to one or two...misdemeanours." After seeing the incredulous looks he was getting, he finally sighed. "So...about that pardon..."

Twilight smiled. "Glad to hear you're on board. With the two of you working together, I'm sure there won't be a single dangerous magical relic in Equestria that will escape your notice."

Daring chuckled. "Oh yeah, I think I'm gonna really like you as our leader, Princess."

Connections

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"Do you ponies know how much my wings ache when I'm called down here for your littler get-togethers?! I swear I'm gonna be putting my back out coming this far from Griffonstone like this!"

The words weren't exactly what Twilight would have wanted to hear after the arrival of her guest, but she knew full well at this point that, when it came to Griffonstone authority figures, Grandpa Gruff was all they really had to offer. So, taking a deep breath, she composed herself as best she could, smiling to her elderly visitor. "Mr Gruff, I realise such journeys are difficult for you, but I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that..."

Alas, she didn't get to finish, as the doors of the throne room opened yet again, revealing not only Flash but Twilight's counterpart from the Dragon Lands, Princess Ember. Flash naturally began to announce her, only to be halted by Ember herself, who placed her claw on the stallion's lips before he could even get a word in. "No need, bud. Everypony already knows me here." She chuckled as Flash seemed taken aback by this, then flew over the rest of the room, landing right before Twilight's throne. "So, first visit by foreign leaders. Pretty exciting, eh Twilight?"

Twilight smiled, happy to see that Ember's attitude hadn't changed towards her since her coronation. Sadly, Grandpa Gruff was not so thrilled. "What?! You never told me I wasn't the only one coming here!"

Twilight sighed. "I realise this is a bit of a surprise, but I wanted the two of you here to discuss an important matter, and one that, hopefully, will please you especially, Mr Gruff."

The old Griffon snorted, incredulous to that claim, but Ember seemed more curious about it. "There's not some big magical problem on the horizon we need to know about, is there?"

Twilight shook her head. "Not at all. But with this new age of peace coming into its own, we all have to come to terms with the fact that, in the last few years, Equestria and all the nations that surround it have become much more intertwined than they used to." Nostalgia came to her. "It wasn't that long ago that groups like the Changelings or Hippogriffs were completely unknown to the general public of Equestria, and Griffons and Dragons were known primarily for being hostile." She blushed at that one. "Um, no offence."

Ember shrugged. "Meh, none taken. Even I'd have said that about us."

Twilight, glancing down to Spike, continued. "But now? Now, we all know one another. We're friends instead of enemies or bitter neighbours. The world is changed, and it's likely to keep on changing in the future."

Grandpa Gruff coughed unceremoniously to that idea. "Don't remind me! I remember the good old days when we Griffons never used to be worried about anycreature but ourselves! Now look at us! Always having to think about 'relations with other people' and all that hogwash!"

Twilight frowned, but took on a more mischievous look soon afterwards. "If you like, I can call Gallus in here to speak with you. I'm sure a fine young Griffon like him could give you a few courses on getting along with others."

Gruff grimaced. "No thanks! The boy's been unbearable enough about that stuff as it is! No need to ask him to talk about it too!"

Ember, who had been thoroughly amused by her feathery companion's bluster, soon turned again to Twilight. "Well, we all know the world's changed, Twilight, and you won't hear me complaining about it. But I'm guessing you have some plan about it?"

Twilight nodded, looking down to Spike again, who stood from his throne and, after sharing a smile with Ember, cleared his throat and spoke. "How would you two feel about a greater degree of transportation infrastructure between your lands?"

Gruff hacked and wheezed. "Speak plain ponish, boy! Some of us aren't used to fancy political jargon!"

Spike rolled his eyes. "I'm asking if you'd be willing to allow the construction of transport lines like trains in and between your countries?"

Gruff's one good eye bulged out at hearing that. "What?! You want us to let you build a bunch of flimsy pony trains in Griffon territory?!"

Spike nodded confidently. "Pretty much. Yeah. With all the different creatures around Equestria growing closer and closer, we decided it might be a good idea to actually help connect them more. Make it easier for people to get from one nation to the other."

Ember, for the first time today, seemed uncertain about that. "Don't know if you noticed this, Spike, but Dragons and Griffons can fly. We kinda don't need to use stuff like that."

Spike nodded again. "True. But the journeys can often be long. And as you can see from Gruff here, it can be kind of a drain." Seeing the oldest person here suddenly cough incessantly, Spike arched an eyebrow. "I can imagine a few Dragons would want the journey to be easier too."

Ember smirked to Gruff, then sighed. "Yeah, you got a point. I still remember how much my wings ached when I visited Ponyville that one time."

Twilight looked to her. "And then there's the matter of those without flight. The Yaks being the primary case there. One account by a Yak visitor said they travelled for about a week before even being within sight of Equestria one time."

Ember shuddered. "Ugh! A week of travelling in snow?! No thanks!"

Spike then pointed to both her and Grandpa Gruff. "Griffonstone and the Dragon Lands are pretty close to one another, so we got to thinking that, if this big plan was going to happen, it might be worth starting it out with the two of you. You know, try it out and see how it sticks?"

Ember tapped her chin. "It might work. But I don't think I need to remind you that the Dragon Lands aren't exactly the safest place to be even at the best of times. Pits, lava, that sort of thing? Kinda hard to make train tracks in an environment like that."

Grandpa Gruff stepped forward shortly afterwards. "And the passes around Griffonstone are darn-near deadly to those who don't know em! There's a reason our nearest trains stopped so far away!"

Twilight, stepping forward, smiled to them both. "I assure you, transport infrastructure and engineering has come a long way recently. With enough time and know-how, I'm confident we can create a viable means of getting this network running properly." Then, after just a pause, she smiled again. "And you know, if you're still worried about we ponies not doing a good job, perhaps we can see this as an opportunity for greater cooperation?" As she saw the looks of confusion she was getting from that statement, she began to explain herself. "You're right, we ponies don't know those lands very well. But your peoples do. If you allow this new era of connectivity to begin, your people, perhaps even you yourselves, might have an important part to play in it becoming a reality."

It took no time whatsoever for Ember to understand what she'd meant by that. "You mean you want us and ours to help clue you in on how to build all this without making a mess of it?"

Twilight nodded. "Indeed. Think of it as a greater chance for us to grow closer as nations. Working together on something that'll join us as never before." She then looked to Grandpa Gruff. "And if the trains succeed, we can also consider having our airship services extend to your lands as well, and you could help us navigate the dangerous air currents that surround your skies."

Gruff, having listened intently to all of this, scratched the side of his head, half worried and half uncertain. "Well...it's not something I'd have thought about. Inviting more creatures to Griffonstone. Trains and airships and who knows what else just coming along like that?"

Spike gestured to him. "Well, wouldn't you want to maybe to go a place like the Crystal Empire for a visit without having to worry about tiring yourself out from it?"

Gruff thought on that, then twisted his beak into what, generously, could be called a smile. "That does sound mighty sweet." Then his usual grumpiness reasserted itself. "But I don't gotta tell ya this here's gonna be difficult. Most creatures don't work together on much, and what you're asking is for something more than we've ever done together before."

Twilight nodded. "You're right, it is. But if we can come together to fight the likes of Chrysalis and Tirek, we can come together to accomplish anything."

Ember, folding her arms, chuckled, then leaned over to Gruff. "She's got ya there, old-timer."

Naturally, Gruff frowned to that. "Alright, I'll agree to this fancy-schmancy plan of yours! Just tell me what I need to do so I can get back home already! All this optimism is making my boils flare up again."

Turning away, Spike did his best to hide his disgust. "I really didn't need to hear that."

Keeping Your Guard Up

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"You know, Twilight, she might not be entirely welcome in the castle," Spike pointed out.

Twilight sighed, knowing her companion was right, but she nevertheless looked to him with greater softness soon afterwards. "I realise her invitation will be seen as controversial, but I can think of no others that are suited to the task." She perked up moments later. "Besides, everypony knows she's our friend now, so I'm sure things will be fine."

Spike still seemed uncertain about that, but before he had a chance to comment further, the two looked on as Flash entered the throne room, and unlike almost every other time they'd seen him, he looked particularly wary today. He cleared his throat, then glanced behind himself before attending to his declaration. "Announcing the arrival of...Tempest Shadow."

Just as Spike had predicted, all of the guards immediately turned to the door, looking less than pleased with this news. Twilight kept on a professional look about her, standing tall and watching as, sure enough, the one-time invader of Canterlot now entered her throne room. Tempest, no longer garbed in the armor of the soldiers of the Storm King but instead a simple dark robe and scarf, walked in like any other pony. But there was no getting around the fact that, aside from Twilight and Spike, her reception here was icy. Nopony among the Guard was happy to see her, and while Twilight was not pleased with this, she also knew she couldn't blame them. Tempest, for her part, tried her best to ignore the looks she was getting, and when she arrived at the throne, she bowed as any other might. "Princess. Thank you for your invitation."

Twilight smiled to her. "You're quite welcome, Tempest. I'm sorry we didn't get the chance to speak during my coronation."

This time, it was Tempest's turn to smile. "In fairness, you had a lot on your plate that day."

Twilight giggled. "Well, you're not wrong." She took a few steps closer to her, with Spike alongside her, and as she spoke she did so with the same tone she'd do with any of her other friends. "How goes your journey across the Storm king's former lands?"

Tempest sighed. "Slowly, but progress is being made. Most are happy he's gone of course, but the real difficulty was in getting into those lands to begin with. I..." She grimaced. "I often aided him in his conquests, Twilight. There are few who would welcome me back there, even to deliver news as good as that of his demise."

Twilight nodded, reaching forward and placing her hoof upon her taller friend's shoulder. "Give it time. They'll come to accept you just as I did."

Tempest smiled again. "You always were the more optimistic one."

The young Princess then glanced around, seeing that many of her guards had returned to their usual stance of stoicism, though some would occasionally cast Tempest a look from time to time. After a pause, Twilight again looked to her guest. "There are many among my friends who I once counted as my enemy, and one thing I learned with one in particular was that, sometimes, it can take a lot to ensure that others view them as a better person." She took on a more confident look. "If you're willing, I think I have something that might just aid you in proving to others that you're no longer the mare you once were. Something that will aid Canterlot and Equestria a great deal."

Tempest arched an eyebrow. "Tell me."

Gesturing to Spike, Twilight gave him a nod of permission, and after taking a step closer to the much larger pony, the small dragon finally began to speak to her. "One thing we can all agree on with you, Tempest, is that you're probably the best fighter anypony's ever seen. Sure, we've had plenty of ponies who've been willing to throw down if it comes to it, but there's no question that you're a lot better than any of them when it comes to just...well...kicking butt."

Though briefly flattered by the remark, Tempest gained a more thoughtful look shortly afterwards. "A lifetime of surviving and living among warriors tends to harden a mare." She stopped, looking over her shoulder to some of the guards. "Though it pains me to say this, I'm sure there are many here who remember all too well just how damaging those skills of mine were when first I came to this city."

Spike nodded. "You're right. But those skills can also be really useful to everypony! Because if you can learn how to fight as well as that, then so can others."

Tempest looked to him with understandable confusion. "You...you want me to teach ponies how to fight?"

Twilight nodded. "We do. I have every confidence and respect for the Guard of Equestria, but it's become apparent to many that, when faced with truly overwhelming opponents, they're frequently outmatched." Her ears drooped slightly. "I don't like to think ill of the group my brother spent so much of his life working with, but after hearing how he and others fared against the likes of Tirek during his first rampage, I think measures have to be taken to ensure that they stand a fighting chance when dealing with other threats."

Tempest tapped her chin, thinking on that. "Well...you're not wrong. Your guards may be useful at stopping your run-of-the-mill bandits or infiltrators, but you and I both know that the world has far nastier to offer. And those larger threats have only become more prevalent in the last few years."

Twilight sighed. "There's no denying that. Celestia's reign was a thousand years of peace. But ever since the day I first arrived in Ponyville, life in Equestria has become increasingly dangerous. With luck, we may be past the worst of it, but as its new ruler I can't take a chance like that. Not when the lives of my subjects are possibly on the line."

Tempest seemed amused by such words. "Subjects? I see you're growing well into your new role then."

Twilight blushed to that. "Well, I certainly like to think so." She cleared her throat. "So, do you think this is something you can help with?"

After a moment of pondering that, Tempest seemed less than certain. "Far be it from me to turn down a friend's request, but I can see a few problems with it."

Twilight tilted her head slightly. "Oh?"

Tempest nodded. "First and foremost...I'm no teacher. I wouldn't even know where to start."

Hearing that, Twilight giggled. "Oh, no need to worry on that front, Tempest. I spent quite a while as a teacher myself, recently. I think I can help you if you need some pointers on how to deal with students."

Spike looked to her incredulously. "Er, you didn't teach combat, Twilight."

Twilight shrugged. "Hey, if it helps, it's worth it."

Tempest, though having enjoyed that little exchange, soon turned serious once more. "Secondly...you're asking me to pass on what I know to those I once hurt. Do you really think any of them would be willing to hear what I might have to teach them?"

A pause on that one, and Twilight again looked around the room. She knew Tempest was right, and that having her involved with the guard like that would be controversial at best. And yet, she soon smiled again. "The guards chose this life because they wish to defend their nation and their people. If they are truly committed to that cause, then I have no doubt that they'd be willing to listen to anything that could help them achieve it. Even if that wisdom is coming from one they once faced off against." She smirked slightly. "If nothing else, they'll want to know how to counter big threats like you in future."

In spite of herself, Tempest chuckled. "Well then, if that's the case, I'll get started immediately. I'll need a place to speak to large groups and demonstrate to them."

Twilight nodded. "No problem. I've already chosen an appropriate place for you here at the palace to get started. Flash will escort you there so you can make further preparations." She leaned to the side, looking over to the stallion in question and giving him a silent nod, to which he gave an instinctive salute. Seeing that, Twilight again looked to Tempest, giving her a friendly smile. "And thank you, Tempest. I really appreciate it."

Tempest bowed again to the Princess. "If it helps Equestria, then trust me, I'm willing to help."

But then, as she rose up, Spike looked to her with curiosity. "You know, I'm wondering...why do you still go by Tempest? Why not go with...you know...your actual name?"

The tall mare thought on that, then smirked to the little dragon, giving him a quick pat on the head. "Simple...I just love a badass name."

A Numbers Game

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"I've got to say, Spike, I'm very impressed with you right now."

Her young dragon companion looked up from his desk. "Oh yeah? Why?"

Twilight smiled as she took a step closer to him. "Well, most wouldn't be all that enthusiastic about this kind of work, yet here you are, throwing yourself into it like you were made for it."

Spike chuckled. "Twilight, I'm a dragon raised by ponies. I think we can safely say that I'm never going to be like 'most', can't we?"

Twilight too laughed, giving him a quick pat on the shoulder before glancing down to the open ledger he was looking through. "Still, I'm glad you're not bored by working on things like this. Taxes and national finances aren't exactly going to be drawing in a lot of excitement for ponies."

Spike too looked again to his ledger, as well as to several others that were piled up on the side, all ready to be looked over once he was finished with the current one. It was all neatly-organised and marked and all in their proper places, and as he looked to them he gave a firm nod. "Hey, I'm kinda used to this sort of stuff by now, Twilight." He smirked to her shortly afterwards. "Especially after having lived with you all my life."

Twilight looked to him with some confusion. "Dare I ask what that's supposed to mean?"

A snicker from her advisor. "Well, not to put too fine a point on it, Twilight, but I did a lot more than just writing letters for you while I was living with you. Whether it was here in Canterlot, over at the Golden Oak, the Palace of Friendship, it was always me who sorted out things like this. Not that I blame you or anything. You had a lot on your plate, but that did leave me with a lot of house management while you were researching big magical wonders or going off to save the world."

Twilight arched an eyebrow. "I'll have you know, my dear Spike, that I am not as lacking in matters of money as you think."

A pause, after which Spike started to look somewhat mischievous, which he followed up by picking up his current ledger, turning it around and then showing the open page to Twilight. "Alright then, what do you suggest we do about all of this?"

Twilight glanced at the page, awash with numbers and terms that most ponies would be quite unfamiliar with, and stared at it for some time. After a while, she looked back to Spike, her prior expression of self-assuredness fading just the tiniest bit. "Well...what would you suggest we do? Just so I know that you have a good grasp of this."

Spike rolled his eyes, silently happy at having scored that small victory for himself. But his Princess had asked a question, and he was sure to answer it. "Put simply, it looks like there's a lot of public money devoted to big celebrations like the Grand Galloping Gala and other parties. And we're talking a lot of money here, Twilight. If anypony in the street were to see just how much was spent on them, they'd have a fit."

Twilight giggled. "Oh, Spike, it can't be that expensive." Hearing her, and after looking incredulous, Spike took a small spare piece of parchment, wrote in it quickly, then showed the resulting number to Twilight, whose face suddenly became a bit paler. "Okay...maybe it's a touch dearer than I thought."

Spike sighed. "You want my honest opinion here, Twilight?"

His closest friend looked to him seriously. "You're my royal advisor, Spike. You wouldn't be doing your job if you didn't give it."

Spike nodded. "I think events like this need to be cut back a bit. Have the money sent somewhere...well...where it can do more good than just throwing a party."

Twilight nodded. She understood his reasons, and who could blame him, but even now, she found herself giggling. "Be careful not to let Pinkie hear you say that. Calling other things more important than parties would make you her arch-nemesis."

The two shared a laugh over that, but it ended when Spike again looked to his ledgers. "Well, in any case, we'll need to at least look into ways of making them less expensive than they've been in the past." He then looked to the pages with some concern. "You know, you never really appreciate just how much money goes here and there unless you're here, looking the cold numbers in the face. And we'll also need to take in some of Equestria's newest residents into account when that whole matter comes into its own."

Twilight looked to him with uncertainty. "Hm?"

Spike sighed. "We've got a lot of different people coming into the country in the near-future, Twilight. Yaks, Dragons, Changelings. All these and more will be making a home for themselves in Equestria, living alongside ponies, getting jobs, that sort of thing. And a lot of them come from places where stuff like taxes aren't really, you know, a thing. How are we gonna tell Dragons that they need to part with the money they earn so it can all go together to benefit the nation as a whole? Benefit people they've never met?"

Twilight smiled. "Oh Spike, I'm sure it'll work out."

The small dragon rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes, I know it'll work out, but we need a plan to make it work out! Plans are always your specialty, right? So maybe, I dunno, talk to Princess Ember about explaining the concept to her people before some of them move over?"

Twilight tapped her chin. "Huh. That would have been important to bring up during her last visit."

Spike nodded. "We'll also need to talk about communities in Equestria that haven't been paying at all. The Hoofields and McColts lived and warred for generations without anypony even knowing they were out there. So you can probably bet they haven't been paying taxes either." He grimaced. "I'd hate to think what the reception will be when that lot is told about it."

Twilight laughed, but it was a dry one. "I'm sure they'll listen, but yeah, it won't be pleasant." She then started to ponder. "I do wonder sometimes. All those precious gems we can find just lying around the place, like that gem cave you and Rarity liked to go to? Just pop in there, get as many as we can and use all that to pay for stuff. Might have come in handy when the palace needed rebuilding. Or that huge hoard of gold from that dragon that nearly covered Ponyville's skies in smoke? Who knows how much cash was just left behind there?" Then, after thinking for a while, she sighed deeply again. "Let me guess...wouldn't have worked?"

Another nod from Spike, complete with a smirk. "Got it in one." He started pointing to a few of the numbers on the pages. "Start bringing in lots of gold or jewels and the money we've got suddenly plummet in value. It's like really famous paintings. Pretty expensive because, hey, there's only one of them. Start bringing in lots and, well, suddenly they're not so rare and precious."

Twilight grimaced. "Things are just never easy for us, are they?"

Spike actually seemed amused by that. "Have they ever been?" Again, the two laughed to that, and when they were done the royal advisor again looked to his ledgers. "If it makes you feel any better, Celestia made sure to keep as many accurate records of this stuff as she could, all with Miss Inkwell's help of course. So if there's any problems, it'll be pretty easy for us to spot them and figure out what to do about it."

Nodding slowly, Twilight looked to him with interest. "And...are there any problems I need to worry about?"

Turning a few pages, Spike frowned as he looked to some of the names written down there. "Well, for one thing, it turns out we have a few notable ponies who haven't been paying their due here in Canterlot. Celestia's been keeping track of just how much they've been trying to embezzle or hide away. Well, they think they hid it away at least."

Taking a deep breath, Twilight started looking a little tired. "Shall I assume that these individuals are among the city's aristocracy?"

Spike, looking just as tired as her, gave a nod of confirmation. "Let it never be said you don't know your people."

Twilight shook her head. "Well then, guess I need to bring the matter up the next time I see them. I'll ask Miss Inkwell to arrange a meeting as soon as possible."

Here, Spike smirked. "You know, you could always have Tempest with you during the meeting. It might help your side of the discussions if the Royal Guard's new, no-nonsense trainer was accompanying you."

Twilight looked like she was taken aback by that. "Spike! Are you suggesting that I threaten my own subjects?!"

Spike shook his head, not at all concerned with the accusation. "No, no, no! Not at all! Just...have here there. Standing right beside you, never saying a word. " He smirked to her. "And let the nobles' imaginations and paranoia do the rest."

After blinking a couple of times, Twilight matched his look of mischievousness. "You know...I think getting you involved with politics here was my best decision yet."

Spike shrugged. "Well, I wasn't gonna say it."

The Betrayed

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"I gotta say, Twilight. Things have been pretty nice today," Spike remarked.

Twilight smiled to him. "You're not wrong. Aside from a few papers, things have been relatively calm so far."

A pause, and then Spike gave a deep and tired-sounding sigh. "So...when do you think it'll go wrong?"

Twilight too started to look wary. "Oh, perhaps a minute or two?"

Unfortunately, the two of them didn't even get that long to themselves, as the great doors of the throne room suddenly creaked open, and from outside emerged Flash, who seemed to look a touch more worried than normal, though Twilight was uncertain why. The stallion cleared his throat, then stepped to one side. "Announcing the arrival of Mrs Chestnut and her party."

Twilight and Spike watched as an unassuming light-brown earth pony mare entered the room, followed shortly by about a dozen or so others. They were ponies of all stripes, unicorn, pegasi, and from their dress they appeared to be from a number of different places all across Equestria. They had an odd look on their faces, unhappy, yet also worried about being here. It was an odd thing, and something that gave Twilight a clear feeling that they weren't here to talk to her about anything good. Still, she kept her regal demeanour, getting to her hooves and stepping forward before formally accepting them. "Welcome to the Royal Palace. How may I help you?"

The group of ponies all looked nervously to one another, with the exception of Mrs Chestnut at the front, who similarly stepped forward and gave a respectful bow of her head. "Princess. Thank you for meeting with us today. My friends and I have been working for a very long time, and we've finally reached our goal."

Twilight arched an eyebrow. "I'm happy to hear it, though I'm not entirely sure what your goal actually is."

There was a moment of hesitancy, after which Chestnut took a deep breath, before then glancing to one of her unicorn friends. She gave a nod, prompting the latter to light up their horn. What followed was the levitation of what appeared to be a bound collection of papers, which Twilight herself soon accepted with her own magic. Opening it up, both she and Spike began to look through, and saw that it was a collection of names. Quite a lot of them in fact, and after looking to one another with confusion, it was Spike who asked the obvious. "You've...been collecting ponies' signatures?"

Mrs Chestnut gave a firm nod. "These are not simply any signatures. They are ten thousand. From ponies of all walks of life, all across Equestria. Ponies who were affected just as much as me and my friends were. It is a petition. One meant for...for an important purpose."

Setting the papers aside, Twilight looked to her with some concern. "And what purpose would that be?"

Chestnut glanced away, albeit briefly, before looking Twilight in the eye with a steely resolve. "We wish to ask you...to re-contain the spirit of chaos, Discord...into his stone prison."

The silence in the throne room was deafening, and yet, in spite of the monumental declaration, Twilight kept her composure. One would never think that a torrent of thoughts was rushing through her mind, given how calm she looked. Spike, by contrast, was very much worried about the request made of her, and looked to her, awaiting her response. After a while, Equestria's leader slowly closed her eyes. "...I see. I take it you have issue with his past actions?"

Chestnut nodded solemnly. "Yes...many of his actions in fact." She gestured to the rest of the group. "Every single pony you see here is somepony who has been hurt by him in some way. And every name on that list can say the same."

Twilight briefly glanced again to the petition, then back to Mrs Chestnut. "Discord has been a close associate of mine for some years now. If you have a quarrel with him, I would like to hear your grievances, if that's alright with you." Again, Chestnut nodded, and turned to one of her companions, a pegasus mare. The other mare gulped nervously, then stepped forward, clearly less sure of herself than Chestnut was. Seeing that, Twilight spoke softly to her. "You have nothing to fear. Say what you wish to say."

Taking a deep breath, the mare spoke. "M...my daughter attended your School of Friendship. Yet one day, while you were absent, Discord used his power to cause utter havoc there! He terrified the students, even setting dangerous beasts upon them! My daughter, all of those children, their lives were at risk because of him!"

Twilight sighed, remembering well that conflict sparked by Discord and Starlight's issues with one another during her absence from the school. "I see. But...I gather it is not simply that which causes you to all be here?"

Another pony, a unicorn stallion, stepped forward next, looking far angrier than the mare before him. "You're darned right, Princess! Years ago, when that monster Tirek was loose on Equestria, Discord helped round us all up in our neighbourhood so that horned abomination could steal our magic!" The stallion seethed. "We were treated like animals! Like we were to be gathered together and eaten! Discord was supposed to be on Equestria's side, yet there he was, tearing us down!"

It was an unpleasant memory, to say the least, and Twilight, even now, could still feel the parts of her that ached after the great battle she'd endured against Tirek. A battle that would have admittedly been a lot less difficult had Discord not aided him. "Discord committed a terrible act that day. I will not deny it."

"And he did it again!" This time, the voice came from what appeared to be the youngest of the group, barely older than Twilight's students back at the school in Ponyville. She approached, her wings flapping with clear nerves, and it was here that Twilight noted the way she shimmered in the light. A crystal pony. And just from that, Twilight could sense where this was going, yet still she stood where she was, allowing the youth to say her piece. "My people, in the Crystal Empire. We've lived for the last few years in the knowledge that the most terrible figure in our history, Sombra, would never return to harm us. That he was gone and wouldn't ever come back." She grimaced. "But then...but then..."

Chestnut walked over to her, patting her on the shoulder and giving her reassurance. "It's alright. You can say it."

There was a pause, after which the child finally spoke. "Sombra came back...because of Discord. The tyrant lived again, and he took our home! He made us slaves again! And why?! Why did Discord do it?! For some ridiculous plan to have you fight him and prove yourself?!"

Twilight hung her head, that old sadness at having learned that truth herself rushing to her mind after so long. She was in a bind, and she knew it. Every pony in front of her had every right to be angry and to feel that hurt right now. And she was sure to tell them that. "Your anger...is justified." Her head lifted again, and she looked each and every one of them in the eye before continuing. "Discord erred...many times. His actions hurt you and every pony in this petition. I remember my own anger towards him with every mistake he made, every danger he wrought." She took a deep breath before speaking her next words. "But Discord...no longer does the things he does for mere amusement as he used to. His actions now have meaning. Betrayals, like his union with Tirek? He paid for those with having been betrayed himself. And his resurrection of Sombra, or the gathering of Equestria's other enemies...that was, if nothing else, done for what, in his eyes, was a good cause."

Chestnut fumed. "It's all well and good if he thinks he's doing good, but what about us?! What about those in Equestria who bear the brunt of what he's done?!"

Twilight nodded. "I know. Were I to refuse your request simply on the basis of him being my friend, it would be an unforgivable abuse of my position. Yet..." She looked to Chestnut specifically. "Think back to all those who have tried to hurt our people in the past. Princess Luna. Stygian. They and so many others, who now serve our nation in their own way. Had we cut their lives short then and there...they would not be here today, going good."

Chestnut, though a touch calmer than before, was still clearly angry. "That may be...but Discord just...kept...doing it! We're not talking about a one-time offender here, your Highness!"

Another nod from Twilight. "I know. But rest assured, I know him better than any of you. I know that he will not do so again what he's done in the past. The betrayal, the actions that have endangered our people...I am certain that will not occur in the future."

Chestnut didn't seem at all satisfied with that, nor did her companions. And yet, as the silence persisted, that lead mare considered their position. "You're one of the greatest heroes in Equestria. We all owe our lives to you more times than I dare consider. Trust is something you've earned a thousand times over. You mean to tell us, with all honesty, that Discord will never do anything like this again?"

A bow of the head from Twilight. "You have my word."

Chestnut's eyes narrowed. "And if he does? If he slips again, as he's done before...will you also give your word that something will be done about him?"

Spike looked to Twilight, worried about how she'd respond to that, and after a while, the Princess of Friendship gave a far heavier nod than she did before. "I do not wish to ever find myself as a foe of my friends...but as Equestria's ruler, should Discord become a threat to our nation...then the nation and its people must be my priority."

The gathered ponies all looked to one another. Whether they believed her was up for debate, but after a while, Chestnut exhaled deeply. "Well...we came here to make sure Discord never hurt anypony again...I guess we sort of have." She bowed, but didn't look to Twilight, most likely due to her still being angry. "Thank you for your time, Princess."

Twilight nodded, then watched as they all began to depart. There was a lot of dissatisfaction, she could tell, yet she said nothing until after they'd all left. "Well, that was...a rather frank meeting."

Spike again looked to her with worry. "So...do you think you will have to stop Discord doing something really bad in the future?"

For the first time in a long time, Twilight looked sad. "I hope not, Spike...I truly hope not."

An Early Reunion

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Though it probably went without saying, ruling a nation was difficult. Twilight, though she had strived to stay as professional and composed as a Princess was expected to be, nevertheless felt the sheer weight of her responsibilities, especially at the end of her day. The sun had been set, as she'd done several times now, and a loud yawn escaped her as she began to make her way to her chambers for the evening. Guard after guard after guard saluted her as she walked those long halls, and though she offered a smile to each of them it was clearly a tired-looking one. After turning a corner, she finally looked up to see the doors of her room, only to feel some slight confusion when she noticed a certain young dragon walk out of them. "Spike?"

Immediately, the draconic youth jumped up in surprise. "Oh! Twilight! I didn't see you there!"

Already, Twilight knew her lifelong friend was up to something, but she also knew that it was likely something she was going to like, hence the smile she now wore towards him. "And what, pray tell, am I going to find on the other side of those doors?"

Spike nervously poked the ends of his claws together. "Find? What's this about a find? I don't remember saying anything about you finding anything!"

Twilight shook her head, sighing a little before again looking to her advisor. "Spike...please..."

After a moment of hesitation, her faithful assistant shrugged. "Well, guess this song and dance has been done too many times for you to not see it coming, eh?"

Twilight gave a firm nod. "Got it in one, little dragon." The two shared a laugh, ending when Spike turned again to Twilight's door. He pushed it open, standing to one side to let her by, all while trying to contain a giggle from escaping him. Twilight rolled her eyes, though admittedly had a little giggle of her own, before finally entering her chambers. It was dark in there, with the curtains having been pulled together and not even a candlelight to help her see. But Twilight, being an old pro at this sort of thing, already knew what was about to happen. "Okay, three...two...one..."

Sure enough, lights suddenly appeared around her, as did five very familiar and very happy-looking faces "SURPRISE!!!" Her friends all rushed forward, embracing her in a way that had been done so many times in the years they'd known one another. Yet this closeness was exactly what Twilight needed right now. A moment that caused a rush of happy memories from so many years together back in Ponyville. Soon enough though, they parted, and it was naturally Pinkie Pie who spoke to her first. "Well? Whadda ya think? Pretty neat surprise, eh?"

Twilight, though always happy for a moment like this, gave her exactly the answer she wanted. "It's something I'll never get tired of Pinkie."

The party pony squealed with joy, but said nothing else as Rarity then stepped forward. "I must say, darling, things have been quite abuzz across Equestria since you took the throne. You can barely go one day without somepony commenting on some remarkable thing you've done!"

A blush from the young Princess. "Oh, I've just done what I can. It's really not worth..."

But Rarity already halted her with a hoof to her lips. "Ah-ah, darling! Modesty is all well and good, but you deserve some praise at this point!"

Applejack chuckled as she walked alongside her. "She ain't wrong, Twi. Folk are callin' ya the best thing ta happen ta Equestria since...well...ever."

Twilight sighed. "I just...hope people don't try to call me better than Celestia. I've done my best, but if people are going to forget all she did..."

Rainbow smirked as she flew around and landed right next to her bookish friend, wrapping her foreleg around her and holding her close. "No need to worry on that, front, Twilight. Celestia was around for so long that ponies will never forget her! Heck, I'll bet ponies will be telling stories about her all the way into the days of their great-grandkids!"

Twilight smiled to that. "I certainly hope so."

Meanwhile, Fluttershy was walking over to Spike, smiling sweetly to him. "And we can't forget about you, Spike. I hear you're the best advisor the royal palace has seen in quite some time."

Like Twilight not so long ago, the young dragon blushed, nervously scratching the back of his head. "Hehe, well, I try."

Rainbow snorted. "I hear there's a whole bunch of snooty aristocrats who've been sweating bucket-loads over having to pay a bit more than usual."

Spike shrugged. "I'm just glad I didn't cause a revolt by suggesting that."

Rarity swept aside some of her mane. "Word on the street is that our friend Fancy Pants had a hoof in keeping them placated. He's got a good head on his shoulders, that one. If the Princess of Equestria says he and his needs to contribute more, then he's going to see that they do."

Twilight nodded. "I'm glad I have somepony like him as an ally. It makes things a lot better for everything we've been doing."

Pinkie giggled again. "Hey, if there's one thing we've learned in all our years together, it's that having friends can be pretty great, right?"

They all shared a laugh together, and when it eventually died down, Twilight looked to each of her friends in silence for a time. Then, at the end of it all, she took a deep breath before exhaling. "I'm...really glad you're here."

Applejack tipped her hat to her. "We're always gonna be here fer ya, Twi."

"That, we promise," Rarity added.

Pinkie leapt forward, giving her a big hug. "Yeah, silly! What good's being ruler if you're not gonna have the ponies who matter to you coming along and helping out now and then?"

Fluttershy nodded in agreement. "Besides, eve if we're not together as much as we used to be, we're all still working for Equestria. Every day, we're helping to bring people together, in our own way."

Rainbow nudged Applejack in the side slightly. "Like a certain farmer making sure that a certain pair of brothers don't try to swindle ponies when they try to show up in town with big fake moustaches?"

Applejack looked to her with a smirk. "Honestly? That's just reflex at this point."

They all had another good laugh together over that, and after Twilight again looked around the room, she smiled. "I wish Starlight could've been here."

Rarity nodded back to her. "I hear she's quite busy gathering further faculty for the school."

Twilight pondered that. "Those are some big horseshoes to fill, given how popular you all were."

Rainbow rolled her eyes, then looked to Fluttershy. "Some of us more than others, if I remember right."

To that, Fluttershy simply shrugged. Then, after a brief moments pause, the animal lover pointed to Twilight. "Speaking of teaching, have you given any thought to doing that sort of thing while you're ruling?"

Twilight was a touch taken aback by that. "Me?"

Pinkie bounced into view. "Yeah! I mean, Celestia was your teacher, right? Maybe you could take a student while you're ruling too?"

Rainbow cackled as she eyed Twilight. "Not a bad idea, mini-Celestia!" Seeing the glare she got from Twilight after that, she backtracked a bit, laughing nervously. "I mean...you know...Celestia did all that stuff to prepare you to take over from her and stuff. You think you might do the same? You know, get an apprentice and all that?"

Twilight considered that, then slowly smiled. "Well...I did enjoy my time as a teacher with the school. And like Celestia, I don't think I'll be ruling forever. So..."After a while, she looked to them with a warmer smile than before. "Perhaps I will." Seeing them smile back to her, she glanced away, looking out of the window to the rest of Canterlot. "I won't just rush into it though. That kind of thing will take time. I'd need to seek out the right kind of person. Somepony who has as much to give as Celestia saw in me when we first met."

Spike looked to her, curious now. "Think you'll know them when you see them?"

Twilight kept her smile as she glanced down to him, patting him on the head. "I think I will, Spike. After all..." She giggled. "These things tend to play out rather well, don't they?"