Archmage

by Loyal

First published

The Archmage is passing, and Twilight is the best candidate to replace him.

Nocturnal Glow, the current Archmage of Canterlot, is dying. He has lived a long life, full of happiness and strife in equal measure. All unicorns must bow down to their successors, however... Twilight Sparkle is the most likely candidate to take his place. But she is going to need many lessons in magic before she is ready to assume his duties. So far, she has studied the magic of friendship, but what of the darker, and more primal magics? Twilight is going to need lessons from all three princesses before she's ready to become Archmage.

Collaborative effort with Iroh, my trusty prereader and friend.

Prologue

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Prologue

“Good evening, Glow.” Luna smiled at the elderly unicorn as she slipped into the western wing of the Canterlot library.

“Princess. So good to see you. I’m glad you’ve decided to answer my request…”

“Of course, Glow. And how many times must I ask you to call me Luna?” The white-maned old colt chuckled as he flashed his signature grin at her. All these years, and he still had every bit of poise and grace that he had had when Luna first met him.

“Old habits die hard, milady…”

“Heh. I suppose so… What, pray tell, would give the Archmage reason to call me away from my oh-so-important duties of stargazing and watching the grass grow?”

“Aah… About that…” Luna’s smile wilted a little as she watched the old pony slide off of his chair, his expression wincing slightly as his bum hip bore his slight weight. “I have been… Scrying lately.” He muttered, licking his dry lips as he hobbled along. Luna followed at a respectfully slow pace, making sure she didn’t push him too fast with her presence.

“Scrying? In your condition?”

“Bah. I’m not in my grave yet. I can handle a few readings.” He glanced back at her, his expression a cross between an indignant scowl and a warm, kind-hearted smile. Luna, normally very stoic and admittedly cold whenever she handled official business, had to fight to keep from smiling around him. He had such charm and wit. But he was very old. Celestia mentioned a number once, and Luna hardly believed her… Nocturnal Glow was going on three hundred years old, and his body showed nearly every year. Thin and emaciated ribs, more than one artificial bone, and a painfully pronounced limp were all that was left to this pony.

She had once seen a photograph of him when he was much younger, a strong colt of the age of fifty. Back then, his mane was still a brilliant, deep black, dark as the night itself, and thick as anything. His coat, on the other hand, was a smooth, milky white, the same color as the luminescent glow of his magic, and of the moon. His cutie mark was not dissimilar to Luna’s own, but lacked the ephemeral wisp and white sparkles. Instead, it was a slightly darker grey crescent shape, and had much more definition on the impact craters. Naturally, Nocturnal Glow’s talent was astrophysics. When he began preparing for the position of Archmage, however, he became so much more…

Despite his sickly appearance, his horn readily lit the dark interior of the room he led Luna into, the bright white glow almost the exact same color as the milky-white light of the moon on a full cycle. Luna was always mystified by the old colt’s magical prowess, in spite of his old age. He hobbled along slowly, grimacing almost every step of the way. The weather was growing colder, so his joints were likely bothering him more and more now that autumn was approaching. Luna feared that he wouldn’t last the winter…

“What do these readings tell you, Glow?” Luna asked softly. The dark interior of the library readily leapt to light as Glow, as she had taken to calling him, led her away from the archives and into the Arcane Applications department.

“As you know, princess, I’m not long for this world…” Glow groaned, taking a moment to pause and let his gaze slide over a painting hanging in the hallway. Luna let her vision wander over a portrait of Nocturnal Glow and Celestia together, smiling faintly. He heaved a sigh and hobbled on, continuing his thin, raspy speech. “My time draws to an end… Tradition states that the Archmage’s position be chosen by the Archmage himself… Heh. There’s irony for you… I can cast some of the most advanced and complex spells known to pony kind, but I can’t see past five feet in front of me.”

“Is it that bad…?” Luna asked quietly. Glow either didn’t hear her, or ignored her… Either way, the implications were concerning…

“So I’ve been scrying lately… I figured I’m not doing my job unless I at least help. My eyesight may be shit, but my magical vision is keen as ever…” He straightened slightly as they entered another pair of double doors, his milky glow causing them to swing open as if two strong colts were putting their entire strength into moving the massive doors. Inside, Luna’s gaze settled on the scrying pools.

There were four in total, each one raised onto a short pedestal with a bowl atop it. The water contained inside the bowl was blessed by the lunar princess herself, and had all the forecasting prowess of the constellations themselves focused into one gallon of the purest water from the deepest, darkest springs of Equestria. Glow led her to the nearest one, their long journey finally complete. He settled down onto his haunches next to the bowl of inky-black water, his glazed-over eyes focusing as intently as they possibly could.

“I’m afraid time and health… Or lack thereof… Are pushing me into a decision I may not be prepared to make…”

“Glow,” Luna said softly, stepping closer. “My sister knows more of the Archmage’s dealings than I… Perhaps you ought to tell her this? In the morning?”

The look he gave her said it all.

“I only regret that I hadn’t made this decision sooner, milady…” Glow muttered. His horn blazed to life once again, the milky aura settling around the bowl. “Perhaps then she would have had more time to prepare…”

“She?” Luna asked, arching an eyebrow. “Does this mean you have chosen your successor?”

“I have. It’s a break from tradition, given she’s no student of mine… But she’s a damn sight better than any other unicorn I was able to find…” The inky-black liquid in the bowl began to ripple, it’s hue slowly growing lighter… It changed from black to midnight blue, into a dark hue of purple… White pinpricks slowly formed, blossoming into stars, all of it accentuated by a pink overlay… Luna inhaled. She knew this mark. “I, Nocturnal Glow, herby proclaim Twilight Sparkle the next Archmage of Canterlot.” His glow died, the liquid quickly returning to it’s inky, dark blackness, and Glow slowly slid down from the pedestal. His thin body was wracked with a horrible coughing fit. Luna raised a hoof, ready to assist.

“Glow… You’re pushing yourself…”

“I’m done, princess…” He wheezed. “No more for me… No more spells or incantations…” He shook his head then, his white mane hanging limp down his neck. In this pony, Luna saw no more strength. His heart was failing. His body was done. But his spirit remained indomitable. Somehow, he mustered the strength to raise his head, to look at her one last time. “Forgive me, my princess… But… There’s one last thing I must say…”

“Anything, Glow… Anything at all.” She stepped closer, hardly a foot away from him now.

“Luna...”

The old unicorn collapsed. His magic died along with his last breath.

In the darkness that enveloped the room, Luna wept.

Awaken to a Cause

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Archmage - Chapter 1: “Awaken to a Cause”

Twilight grimaced as the shaft of sunlight lanced across her face, smiting her full in her closed eyelids. Ow, ow, ow… Curse you, morning sun… No more sleep for me… She tried to roll over, to shield herself from the onslaught of particles against her eyelids, but to no avail. She couldn’t fall back asleep. Opening baggy eyes, she groggily looked out into the library from her balcony bedroom, wondering how long she had managed to sleep after last night’s study session. She stared at the clock, her brain moving much slower than it ought to have, trying to make sense of how much time had passed since she had curled up in bed… What time had she gone to sleep? That’s right, it was five in the morning.

Her clock read nine.

“Fantastic.” She grumbled. Another four hours of sleep, another restless day. She found it odd how she could sleep so little yet still function so well… “I gotta get some better blinds…” She scowled at the flimsy little things that covered her bedroom window, cursing their ineptitude in blocking rays of sunlight from her sensitive retinas. Why she hadn’t replaced them weeks ago was beyond her. Yawning long and wide, she rolled out of bed, stretching her sore muscles.

Her horn lit up, using a simple telekinetic field to tug the sheets tight across the surface of her bed, fluff her pillow, and smooth out her blanket. What would have taken an earth pony several minutes of fretting and pulling and smoothing with a hoof took Twilight Sparkle less than five seconds. Smiling to herself, she trotted to her vanity and attempted to sort her mane into some semblance of order. That was a task that took quite a bit longer than five seconds. Still, come nine thirty, Twilight was refreshed, renewed, and- *Grumble* hungry for breakfast, apparently.

A bowl of hearty oatmeal and two slices of toast later, Twilight was feeling ready for her day. A quick glance at her calendar showed her what she was scheduled to do. She had allowed time for an extended study session last night, meaning she hadn’t scheduled anything until noon so she could sleep in and rest. Well, as stressful as four-hour nights of sleep were, they did open her schedule up for more things to do. She could handle grocery shopping inbetween now and her noon lunch appointment with Cheerilee, who she was helping with a new lesson plan. That would save her the time in the afternoon to review her notes before submitting a report on the new long-distance teleportation spell. Doing that, in turn, would open up another four-hour block tomorrow, which she could use to spend time with some of her friends.

“Okay, maybe I shouldn’t invest in new drapes.” Twilight smiled to herself as she trotted off to go buy groceries.

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“So, you see, if you give the younger ponies an hour to review their work before submitting it, this helps them determine the difference between not getting the answer right, and just plain not having the knowledge.” Twilight tapped a hoof onto the sheet of paper between her and the magenta schoolmare.

“How so?” Cheerilee asked, her brow furrowed with confusion.

“Well… Let’s put it like this… If you look over your assignment for a full hour, you can be fairly certain you got every answer right. Correct?” Cheerilee nodded, so Twilight continued. “At the same time, you discover questions that you’re unsure of… Ones that you’re not a hundred percent certain you got right. You see, if you get the test back, and you missed questions you were unsure of, it’s simple to review and fix your knowledge… But if you were absolutely certain you got a question right and it turned out to be wrong instead, that tells you-“

“That you didn’t learn the subject properly the first time. Which means you should review. Twilight, that’s brilliant!” Cheerilee beamed at the purple unicorn happily, making Twilight blush.

“Nothing to it, really… Celestia herself told me that’s a tactic she’s used with me all along… It’s the reason I don’t have a time constraint on my own assignments. If I miss a question, I know it’s because I didn’t learn it properly in the first place. It also helps the teacher with feedback from her students.”

“Goodness… Celestia must be one amazing teacher… I always admired the fact that Celestia, the ruler of our land and princess who raises the sun, was able to teach alongside all of her other duties…” Cheerliee’s wistful expression rubbed off on Twilight, causing the younger mare to look back on how blessed she was to have Celestia for her mentor.

“Yeah…” Twilight sighed, suddenly very thankful she had had such a skilled, powerful, and knowledgeable teacher.

“Well, thank you very much, Twilight. You’ve helped me out of more than one jam since you came to Ponyville.” Cheerilee laid a hoof on Twilight’s, smiling warmly. “I’m glad I’ve known you these seven years.”

“Thank you, Cheerilee.” Twilight smiled right back. “It’s been a wonderful experience living here.”

“Do you miss living in Canterlot at all? I mean, seven years of doing nothing but studying magic, aren’t you nearly complete? Shouldn’t you consider moving back any time soon? Not that I want you gone! Just-“

“No, no, I understand… I mean, sure, I’ve thought about it. But all my friends are here.” Twilight waved a hoof out over the nearby street. “Ponies know me as ‘that librarian mare’ and they’ve accepted me into the community.” She inhaled deep the earthy scent of the farm town, dirt and dust and produce. “I’d like to think that Ponyville is my home.”

“Aww. Twilight, I think I speak for everypony when I say we’re glad to have you here with us. Goodness, do you remember that winter wrap-up when you first moved back? We never would have finished if it weren’t for you.”

“Thank you, Cheerilee.” Twilight smiled. “It means a lot to hear you say that.”

“But what about your family? Don’t you think about them?”

“My family? Well… Now that you mention it…” Twilight’s expression darkened slightly as she realized Cheerilee’s question had just dredged up something she hadn’t been expecting. She really hadn’t paid much mind to her family the past five years, had she? The last time she had seen her parents was at Shining Armor’s wedding, and the last time they had wrote was… Was…

“Maybe it’s time to take a trip home, Twilight.” Cheerilee’s knowing smile made her blush a little.

“Maybe…” Twilight muttered, staring at her empty plate.

“I’m sorry to bring it up, dear. Do you have somepony special?” Twilight’s eyes went wide as she looked up, staring incredulously at Cheerilee.

“Wh… What?”

“Ooh! Touchy subject?” Cheerilee chuckled at the reaction, trying to cover her coy smile with a hoof.

“N-no, just… Unexpected.” Twilight blushed at the topic of relationships, or rather, at her lack thereof. Finding somepony to start a relationship with had taken the back seat in favor of her studies, and had stayed there for as long as she could remember. One thing or another, it seemed, kept her from meeting somepony special. It seemed that way for nearly every one of her friends, save Rarity. She was living with a stallion from Trottingham that had been helping her business for a while, and it seemed the two of them would tie the knot any day now. As for the other five, they had been relationship-less for as long as they had known each other.

“I’m sorry dear… You know those days you get where all you do is seem to upset others? I feel that way now.”

“No, no… It’s not your fault, Cheerilee.” Twilight sighed. “It’s just silly ol’ me, not able to find somepony.”

“Well, take it from a single mare herself, it’s never too early to start looking.” Cheerilee smiled at her. “It’s getting late, though, the children should be back for class soon. Thank you again, Twilight. You should stop by sometime. You’re the only one who can make history lessons even mildly interesting to the younger ones.”

“Hehe. Thank you, Cheerilee. Have a good day.”

“Here,” Cheerilee tossed a hoof-full of bits onto the table. “Lunch is on me.”

“Thank you!” Twilight called after Cheerilee as she trotted away, leaving her at the café table with conflicting emotions. She really should look into finding somepony… She didn’t want to be alone her entire life, did she? Sighing yet again, Twilight pulled her saddlebags on and left to return home. All the while, her thoughts bounced back and forth between remorse for not visiting her parents and sadness at not having found anypony to start a relationship with. Both of these thoughts weighed heavily on her mind as she approached the library.

Only, somepony was already there, waiting for her to return.

“P… Princess Celestia?” Twilight’s eyes went wide at the sight of her mentor and ruler standing in front of her home, looking as regal and beautiful as ever. She was accompanied by her royal entourage, a dozen guards, all of them looking regal in their shining armor. Twilight hastily dropped her head, bowing low. She only embraced her mentor whenever they were alone, or when the mood was fitting. Around guards or other subjects, it was improper. “Wh… What do I owe the plea-“

“Please, Twilight.” Celestia smiled, raising her head with a gentle hoof. “No need to be so formal around me, you know this. Though, you may want to keep proper decorum in mind. I’m afraid I bring news of a rather saddening sort…” Twilight rose to her hooves with a questioning look on her face, peering up at Celestia.

“What’s wrong, princess?” Celestia’s face was drawn into a sort of calm, melancholy look. It seemed remarkably out-of-place in the light of the bright June day.

“I’m afraid… Nocturnal Glow has passed away. Late last night.” Twilight blinked, trying to comprehend what this meant…

“The Archmage… Is dead? Wh… Why are you here, then? Shouldn’t there be arrangements or something else to handle…? I mean, I’m not saying you shouldn’t be here, or that I’m not very happy to see you, but-“

“Twilight.” Celestia cut her off with a soft smile, as she frequently had to do to keep the bookish mare from rambling. “I would like your help arranging his funeral. In his absence, it would seem you and I have much to discuss. Please, I would like it if you could return to Canterlot with me.” She nodded her head to the regal carriage, standing just off to the side of her home. “I’m afraid the situation is dire, and I would like it if you could decide immediately.”

“O… Of course, princess! Just… May I pack some things?”

“Naturally. Please, do make haste, though?”

“Y-yes! Just one moment!” Twilight excused herself and hastily scrambled inside her home, dashing upstairs to retrieve some select items. She dumped her saddlebags out on her bed, deciding to clean the mess later. Now, she stuffed blank parchment, quills and ink, and a few select books in one side, and hygiene supplies in the other. It was times like this she wished she still had Spike to help… In fact, if she had Spike, Celestia likely wouldn’t have had to leave Canterlot to come all the way to Ponyville… If ever Twilight cursed the lack of an assistant with a biological ability to send letters to and from royalty, it was then.

She re-joined Celestia after a quick check of her supplies, and in hindsight, scribbled a quick note to be fixed to the front of her door. Just in case her friends wondered where she had disappeared to. Celestia invited her into the back of the grand carriage, and then they were off. Twilight watched Ponyville shrink away from her sight as they left the small town, destined for Canterlot.

“I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here just to fetch me, princess.” Twilight said quietly, trying to look anywhere but at Celestia.

“I’m not. I always enjoy getting the chance to see other places. I just wish it were under better circumstances.” Celestia’s soft smile put Twilight’s fears to rest, if only slightly… “Though I wish dear Spike were still around… Still, I hope he’s enjoying his century-long nap.”

“Yeah… It was hard saying goodbye…” Twilight sighed, missing her assistant more than ever in that moment.

“Such is the nature of things, Twilight. We’re all better off having known Spike. I’m sorry to bring up old memories.”

“No, it’s no issue, princess…” Twilight smiled warmly, shrugging it off. Never mind that inside, Twilight added missing Spike to the list of things bringing her down that day. Those measly four hours of sleep were becoming more and more apparent as the stress began to wear on her. She decided to change the topic. “Are, uuh… Are the preparations coming along for Nocturnal Glow’s funeral?”

“Well, that’s part of what I wanted to ask for your help with… You seem to have a knack for organizing, so I would ask if you could help us arrange everything according to history and tradition. Aside from Glow himself, it seems not many ponies are very well-versed on that obscure bit of history.” Celestia smiled, the kind of knowing smile from a teacher that Twilight had come to both strive for and adore. She smiled back, a genuine, warm smile of appreciation and thanks. “I think with your help, the ceremony can take place by the weekend. If you’ll handle such things as arrangements and invitations, we should be on-schedule for his ceremony come the weekend.”

“Of course. I would be honored. Wish I would have had a little more warning, but it’s not an issue.”

“Your friends are, of course, cordially invited to the ceremony… It isn’t very often an Archmage passes. They very well could witness history in the making.”

“I… Don’t think ancient ceremonies and traditions are really of interest to any of them… I’m sure they’ll forgive me when I say they’d rather not attend.” Twilight muttered. The only pony she could imagine would even be remotely interested would be Rainbow Dash, but these things involved a lot of time and ceremony. Dash could only stay in one place for very long if it involved napping. Sitting through something like the Archmage’s funeral would be akin to torture for her.

“Very well. Though I urge you to reconsider.”

“I’ll think about it before the weekend.” Twilight nodded. She had three days to think it over. Three days to find more reasons her friends wouldn’t want to attend. “Though, there is something that’s been bugging me… The Archmage chooses his replacement before his death, right? Who did he choose?” At Twilight’s question, Celestia frowned.

“Well…” Celestia wasn’t one to mince words. She usually spoke very clearly and eloquently. To see her hesitate was a red flag to Twilight. “There is an additional clause, stating that the royal pony sisters can rescind his nomination in favor of a more suitable candidate… But right now isn’t the time to worry about it. We have a full staff of skilled unicorns ready to assume his duties while we discuss the issue further. That, and we have the matter of his burial to attend to…”

“Oh. Okay.” Twilight felt a sense of dread so powerful, she just had to ask.

“You want my input on who the new Archmage should be, don’t you?” The look from Celestia was confusing. In it, she saw hurt, confusion, empathy, pride, and a whole mix of other confusing emotions. Celestia looked at her with that face for a long while before nodding out of the window.

“We’re nearly there.”

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The next three days were a blur to Twilight. They usually were when she was working on helping the princess. Whether it was an important assignment or something like the fiasco with the crystal ponies five years ago, Twilight slept little and worked hard. Anywhere from three to five hours a night were spared for sleep, while the rest were devoted solely to making sure everything for Nocturnal Glow went perfectly according to plan. Twilight was so thankful the other ponies helping her were reverent, and understanding of tradition. Their cooperation helped so many times. In the back of her mind, Twilight made a note to ask Celestia about her plans to preserve tradition against the test of time.

When the day finally came, though, Twilight got to see all her diligence and planning come to fruition. It was times like this that made her happier than ever. She slept six whole hours, and awoke the morning of the ceremony feeling as refreshed as she had in weeks, if maybe just a touch frazzled. An extended shower and some time preparing in front of the mirror, though, and Twilight felt perfectly fine. She was about to witness magical history in the making, and she was extremely excited.

The castle was rather hushed, despite it being relatively early in the morning. Twilight thought perhaps it was because of the weekend, but there was next to no pony around at all. She ran across one of the cleaning crew, who smiled warmly at her as they passed in the hall. That was it. The next pony she met was Celestia herself, standing her solitary watch next to the chambers that held Glow’s body.

“Good morning, Princess.”

“Good morning to you, too, Twilight.” Celestia smiled at her student. “Are you prepared?”

“As I’ll ever be.” Twilight returned the smile, standing opposite her mentor at the double doors. “I can watch for a short while, if you have other things to attend to.”

“I do not, but I would be happy if you would stay with me.” Celestia smiled as Twilight straightened her back next to the princess. Tradition stated that a unicorn or a princess stand guard at the body until the time of the ceremony. Between Celestia, Luna, and Cadance, Nocturnal Glow’s body hadn’t gone a second without the presence of a princess guarding his chambers. Twilight was glad Celestia could keep that prestigious claim going. She was humbled to assist.

“I never spent much time with Nocturnal Glow… What was he like?” The question had been bugging Twilight for a while now, and she felt even more remorse at not knowing the Archmage before he had passed.

“Odd… I thought I remembered you meeting him a few times?” Celestia glanced down at her for a moment.

“I think once at Shining’s wedding… But it wasn’t for very long, and I certainly didn’t get to know him…” Twilight sighed.

“He was… Powerful. Of course. Much like yourself. I discovered him in Trottingham, a prodigy amongst his classmates. This was during the time that Nightmare Moon was imprisoned on the moon, mind you, so I was alone to handle many things involving tradition. When he came to Canterlot to study magic, it was under my order. When the previous Archmage nominated him at the age of twenty-nine, I was nothing short of shocked… Archmages are almost never that young. It takes years to groom for the position, much stress and pain and learning… But here’s the shocking thing… Nocturnal Glow wasn’t the best Archmage. That’s for certain. He was, however… The quickest to pick up the job. Even unicorns who train for years for the position take time to fall into the habits, to do their duties properly… Not Glow. He fell into the swing of things in three weeks and four days. I remember, because it was so shocking…”

“Three… Three weeks?” Twilight muttered. “That’s incredible… The Archmage has so much to handle…”

“And he did it all perfectly. Which was so shocking… Here, we have this relatively immature young unicorn who would just as soon be chasing skirts around Canterlot, who just out of the blue becomes Archmage and takes everypony by surprise. He had his constituency on lockdown less than a month into taking the position. And he kept it that way. Day in, day out, from dusk ‘til dawn and back again.”

“That sounds incredible…”

“Glow was a friend, a pillar, and a boon to Equestria. I pray his name is remembered forever.” Celestia’s words struck a chord within Twilight. She was in awe of this unicorn’s substantial power… He had lived over three hundred years, well beyond the lifespan of even a healthy unicorn, and was still powerful up until his death. Fascinating.

“Sister.” Luna nearly startled Twilight as she swooped in out of the sky, landing a few feet before them. The younger, imposing sister to Celestia, Twilight had always felt awkward, and maybe a little intimidated around her. Luna was, professionally, not very personable. There had been only a few times across the years that the princess of the night had ever appeared as anything different to Twilight. Their friendship was... Strange.

“Luna. Is everything prepared?” Celestia said in a calm tone of voice. She was in her element now, and that element was one of little personal interaction. She was brisk and business-like, much like her younger sister. Twilight suddenly felt very out-of-place between the two of them, very small and weak and insignificant.

“We are ready when she is.”

Wait, what?

Twilight looked up at Luna, just as Celestia covered her face with her hoof. Her mind raced a million miles an hour.

The Archmage is traditionally carried to his pyre by his replacement. There are only the three of us here. Celestia and Luna are princesses, and therefore ineligible to take his place… That’s half the reason I came here instead of the ceremonial pyre, is because I wanted to meet his replacement… But Luna just said she… She, as in? Is…

Twilight looked up at both the princesses. Luna’s face was stoic, as always, if perhaps a little disapproving and drawn. Celestia’s was nothing but sympathetic. It all clicked in that moment… The reason Celestia hadn’t told her who the new Archmage was. The reason why she was unable to find out over the past three days. The reason why Luna had been all but avoiding her.

“I’m… I’m the new Archmage, aren’t I?”

Celestia’s nod was almost imperceptible.

Twilight’s vision went dark.

Revelations and Realizations

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Archmage Chapter 2 - Revelations and Realizations

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“Twilight.”

“Mm…”

“Twilight, wake up…”

“Hnn… Princess…?”

“Oh good. She’s conscious. Come now, Twilight Sparkle. It’s time.” She felt a firm presence lift her off of the cold stone floor. Her hooves situated under her body, her weight slowly settling on them. She felt woozy, uncoordinated, and above all, very confused. Slowly, her eyes opened, and she looked around at the hallway. She was still with the princesses, by the door with the Archmage’s body behind it.

“Oh no…”

“Twilight, I know you have some questions-“

“Celestia.” Luna cut her elder sister off curtly. Twilight glanced down at her body and saw it was Luna’s dark blue aura of magic that encased her, still holding her steady on unsure hooves. “Now is neither the time nor the place for questions. The ceremony must take place immediately. For now, Twilight must fulfill her duty. We will talk afterwards.” Celestia and Luna looked at one another for a long while, the silence stretching on into what could safely be considered ‘uncomfortable.’ Finally, Celestia nodded.

“Very well. Twilight, I herby relieve the watch to you. It is your solemn duty to carry Nocturnal Glow to his resting place.”

Twilight felt a cold sweat break out over her entire body. She shuddered as Luna’s magic withdrew from her, leaving her standing on her own strength.

By the heavens, I’m not prepared for this… I can’t do this… I can’t be the Archmage of Canterlot. This is ridiculous. This is unorthodox. There must have been a mistake somewhere, a-a miscalculation… I can’t-

“Ahem.” Twilight started at the soft noise. She looked up at Luna, her disapproving face still drawn in a slight frown.

“P-princess…?”

“Make haste, Twilight Sparkle. The other ponies are waiting on you.”

“R-right…” Twilight shuddered as she turned her gaze to the door. Like it or not, she had to do this. Whatever the implications were, she had to fulfill her duties. As a student. As a unicorn. As a subject, loyal to the two princesses who now loomed over her.

As the new Archmage.

Slowly, the door swung inwards. Twilight hesitantly crossed the threshold, her eyes trying to drink in the sight. Nocturnal Glow’s body rested, curled up in a ball, atop a raised table of stone. All around his body lay flowers and bouquets. The traditional funeral had been held in this room, and these were the last gifts from his friends and surviving family. Unlike other ponies, who would be buried or cremated, Nocturnal Glow still had one duty remaining, and Twilight had to help him.

After taking one last breath for courage, Twilight’s horn glowed as she gingerly enveloped the thin body of her predecessor. Carefully as she could manage, she lifted him off of the table. He was so light… He couldn’t have weighed more than a teenage foal. It was almost scary how easily she could maneuver him. Still, she focused on keeping him curled up, making sure his mane and his tail fell around his body just so… Only when she was absolutely sure that every detail was presentable did Twilight turn around, reverently carrying him out through the door and into the hallway.

“Twilight-“ Celestia began to say something, but a single sympathetic look from Luna silenced her. Twilight hardly noticed either of these… She was too focused on carrying Glow’s body. She had studied the tradition in the past, and had brushed up on it since returning to Canterlot. Twilight knew probably better than anypony else how this was supposed to happen. She had never in a million years expected that she would be the one to do it… Wordlessly, Celestia and Luna fell into step behind her. Together, the small entourage made the walk….

It took them fifteen full minutes to make it to the ceremony grounds. They walked slowly, and everypony they passed, servant and guard alike, bowed low to show their respects. They didn’t move a muscle until the two princesses had passed. Twilight was so engrossed with making sure Glow was perfectly positioned she nearly missed a turn… Smooth as can be, she maneuvered around it, her heart thundering in her ears at the near-blunder. She thought she could hear Celestia open her mouth to say something behind her, but the words never came. Nopony said a word to them. They spoke to none of the servants and guards. When they left the castle, Twilight took just a moment to register what she saw.

Hundreds of unicorns, earth ponies, pegasi… They all lined up on the castle grounds, leaving a wide lane for the four bodies to move down. Each and every single one of them had their eyes affixed on Twilight. Before that moment, none of them knew who the new Archmage would be. Now, her name was carried in a whisper back through the crowd. They spoke it with fear and doubt, reverence and hope. To many, she was a national figure, a hero against Discord and Nightmare Moon… To others, she was the spoiled student of Celestia, a brat undeserving of the title of Archmage.

And yet… None of it mattered. Twilight hardly heard the doubt and hope in the multitude of whispers, barely even registered the fact that she was suddenly the focal point of nearly every pony in Canterlot.

Her attention was fixed on two things: Nocturnal Glow, and his final resting place. A stone table, similar to the one he had rested on previously, rose from it’s place on the ground, and was the centerpiece of the large gathering of ponies. The whispers stopped as Twilight and the two princesses began their approach, walking through the open lane in the crowd. The silence was so total and complete, it was somewhat frightening to Twilight. Not even a gentle breeze swished through the trees… The only movement was of pegasus wings and slow hooves.

The stone table rose in Twilight’s vision. Her trip was nearly complete. Ignoring the intense stares of hundreds of ponies, blocking out the dead silence, Twilight gently laid Nocturnal Glow on the table. It was done. The first part of the ceremony was complete. But that was the easy part… Now, Twilight faced the most difficult task she had ever undertaken… Slowly, she raised her head, taking a deep breath.

”In a crucible of unicorn magic, fueled by the sun and moon themselves, we commend Nocturnal Glow’s body to the stars. His life of servitude is ended, his duty fulfilled. Rest now, weary unicorn, and may your magic never die.”

In the breath of time between her final word and what happened next, Twilight could have sworn she saw Glow’s lips curl upwards in a smile.

With every ounce of strength she possessed, Twilight summoned her magic, her horn ablaze with light. Celestia’s radiant glow of magic burst forth, a perfect match to Luna’s. A shockwave of gasps radiated outwards as the blinding light filled the air, only to be joined by another two lights. The two princesses matched Twilight’s power, the three even blazes of magic humming with a scintillating, powerful sound. Together, the three of them wrapped their magic around Nocturnal Glow’s body, enveloping him in a blaze of primal energies that would have rent a lesser pony asunder.

Twilight grit her teeth at the exertion, working through the motions of the spell. She used the energy from Celestia and Luna’s magic, her own shaping and guiding the two monstrous forces into the combined form of a spell that was forbidden to be cast outside of this sacred ceremony. She had never been in command of such power before. The rippling shockwaves radiating outwards made her coat stand on-end. Her mane whipped back and forth with the furious onslaught of energy, and her entire body tingled with emotion. Adrenaline flowed fast and free, granting her mental alacrity, powerful reasoning, and the presence of mind to execute the spell.

“Rrr-AAH!” Twilight’s hooves spread on the stone, giving her a stable base. The last shockwave blasted outwards. As the light faded away, crackling through the air with the last bits of residual energy, everypony present turned their eyes to the stone table, and the form resting upon it. Slowly, Nocturnal Glow’s body rose into the air, glimmering with the power of an ancient spell. From the edge of his tail, he started to fade away… The glimmering pinpricks of light that materialized from his form began to slowly float upwards, winking and swaying side-to-side as they rose. Twilight had never seen anything so beautiful, or so sad… She felt the tears of sorrow flow fast and free then, but her eyes never left Glow’s body as he faded more and more…

“And so passes Nocturnal Glow, the eighty-ninth Archmage of Canterlot.” Celestia and Luna spoke in tandem, their voices harmonizing in a haunting echo of power. “His body rises to the heavens, may he look down on all of us forever, his magic resides in us all, his works not forgotten and his legacy everlasting.” Twilight watched the last glimmer fade away. Nocturnal Glow was gone, his body no longer laying on the stone table.

Instead, Nocturnal Glow’s body ascended to the heavens, the glimmering pinpricks of light that had sifted off of his body burning brighter and brighter... They shot into the heavens, screaming through the galaxy until they found their place. This was the reason for the powerful spell... Anypony’s body could be laid to rest in a similar fashion... But to be painted amongst the stars? Immortallized for millions of years to come? That was a power reserved solemnly for the princesses. Twilight watched the pinpricks of light fade into the daylight, only to be seen when next the night ruled the sky.

When Celestia and Luna spoke next, it was in the Royal Canterlot Voice. Together, their voices raised louder than ever, reverberating in the chests of everypony. It boomed out from Canterlot, and would be heard from Stalliongrad to Ponyville… Las Pegasus to Trottingham. There wasn’t a single pony in all of Equestria that didn’t hear the princess’ words.

”By decree of the Royal Pony Sisters, Twilight Sparkle is herby named Archmage of Canterlot.”

In the breath of an instant after Celestia and Luna finished speaking, there was a pause... Not a very long one, but long enough for Twilight to look up... Then, the cheers washed over her. In a rush of sound, she was completely swept away, carried on a wave of emotion bigger and more meaningful than anything in her life.

They were cheering for her.

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“Sit.” Luna’s clipped order was unavoidable. Without hesitation, Twilight plopped down onto her haunches, afraid to look up at either of the imposing princesses. She remained silent, her thoughts racing a hundred miles an hour, trying to make sense of all that had just happened. She was left alone with them, though she could feel the intent gaze of her two rulers looking at the back of her neck. Several long moments passed before she raised the courage to talk.

“I’m doomed, aren’t I?”

Luna scoffed at her question.

“With talk like that, you very well may be.” Twilight looked up at them, and saw some expressions that were very confusing. On Celestia’s face was a warm smile, the kind Twilight had never seen before. Luna’s face was a patronizing sort of irritation… Not a bad expression, just somewhat… Annoyed. Twilight shivered. She was so confused…

“What… What do you mean?” She asked meekly.

“Twilight, both Luna and I trust in Nocturnal Glow’s decision. He was much more wise than anypony aside from perhaps the two of us and Cadance. He knew more about magic than any one unicorn, and maybe even more than either of us gave him credit for. He would not have nominated you for his position if he didn’t have faith that you could do it.” Celestia’s words were reassuring to hear, but in light of Luna’s behavior, Twilight found it difficult to believe her. “This should be a cause for celebration, Twilight. You have become the single most important unicorn in all of Equestria. Luna will tell you what she thinks in a moment, but I’m telling you right now…” Celestia stepped forward, gingerly raising Twilight’s chin so she was looking her straight in the eyes. “Your display of power at the ceremony was the single most magnificent in all of history. From the first Archmage on, nopony was able to command that much power.”

Twilight’s eyes went wide. This was important. She knew it was, but how?

“What my sister is trying to say,” Luna interjected. Celestia pulled away, letting Twilight look at Luna directly. “Is that while you command power that neither of us have seen in a single unicorn, it is still unrefined and primal. You lack the knowledge and technique that all Archmages must have. Nocturnal Glow was not very powerful for an Archmage. He certainly couldn’t hold a candle to Flare. But he was knowledgeable. He knew every branch of magic as well as you understand friendship. With that knowledge, he was able to take what power he had and apply it in many different ways.” Luna stood then, pacing slowly back and forth.

“Just because you have a wealth of power does not mean you will be a good, or even a successful Archmage. The reason many Archmages are groomed for their position is thus: They must know all forms of magic. Friendship, love, darkness and shadow, nature, the elements themselves… Each of these are a unique school of magic that you must now undertake.” She stopped, looking down at Twilight. “Your studies in the magic of friendship are complete, Twilight. An admirable feat for one as young as yourself. But you still have much to learn.”

Twilight began to grasp what Luna was saying. There were still things about magic that she didn’t understand. There were subjects she had barely touched on, and others that were still completely veiled in mystery.

“Be cautious, Twilight Sparkle,” Luna continued. “There are other magics that you must know, but very well could corrupt and destroy you. The magic of hatred, for instance, is extremely potent and can accomplish great things… But if you let it consume you, as it did with King Sombra… Well, you know the consequences of that… There are others, as well, that no unicorn has ever even heard of, let alone studied…” Luna turned away, leaving Twilight with more questions than she had ever had before.

“Don’t fret, Twilight.” Celestia said quietly. “Like I said, both Luna and I trust Nocturnal Glow’s judgment. If he says you are ready to take his position, then I believe in him. But more importantly,” Celestia lifted her chin once more. Twilight looked up at the face of her mentor and ruler, Celetsia’s own eyes brimming with everything from pride to concern. “We cannot force you to do anything. Equestria is a free society. Luna and I may rule, but we have never forced anypony to do anything. What I’m saying is this.” She released Twilight’s chin, straightening up so she could look down at her. Luna joined her at her side, the two of them suddenly very serious and formal.

“The position of Archmage is yours, but only if you want it.”

“Take the evening, Twilight Sparkle. Think it over. This is a decision I wouldn’t expect anypony to make in a day.”

“Your studies in the magic of friendship are complete. If you accept, you will begin studying other magics as soon as possible. If you deny, you are welcome to pursue your own life, as any other pony would.”

“But…” Twilight whimpered. “Nocturnal Glow picked me… Doesn’t that mean that I have to…?”

“I said this before, Twilight.” Celestia said softly. “Luna and I do possess the ability to rescind his choice. For this reason alone. If you do not want the position, we shall appoint another whom we find suitable.”

“But… How? Tradition states-“

“Who do you think,” Luna cut her off. “Appointed the very first Archmage? Who made the traditions you have studied and know so well? More importantly, who do you think developed the spell the three of us just cast not an hour ago?” Twilight blinked, her mind racing still.

“Luna and I can and will choose a replacement if you deny, Twilight.” Celestia continued. “But I urge you to take a while to decide. Perhaps if you have a conversation with your friends…?”

“But… They’re back in Ponyville. I can’t just leave after all this! I mean, what about his duties? What about all those ponies who just watched me be named Archmage? I can’t talk to my friends right now-“

“Can’t you?” Celestia smiled, her horn lighting up as she opened the doors behind Twilight. “Come on in, girls.” Twilight’s eyes went wide as she wheeled about, only to be tackled to the ground by a very energetic cyan-colored pegasus.

“Twilight!” Her five friends cried out simultaneously as they rushed forward, picking her up, hugging her, pressing close, clamoring over her and chatting excitedly. Twilight was overcome with emotion in that moment, and she let it all go. She cried freely, her tears flowing fast and as her friends all comforted her. Surreptitiously, Celestia and Luna left the chamber, leaving the six ponies behind. Twilight took a few long minutes to cry it out, but eventually managed to compose herself with several sniffles and an obnoxiously-colored hoofkercheif that Pinkie managed to pull from who-knew-where. Eventually, she managed a brave smile at her friends.

“Thanks, girls… It means a lot to me that you’d come.”

“Aw, shoot, sugarcube. Ah was almost angry when y’all didn’t invite us in the first place.”

“Yeah, what gives, Twi?!” Dash barged in between Twilight and Applejack, glaring at the purple unicorn. “The Archmage passing only happens once in like, forever! You’re lucky Celestia told us to come anyways! I would have been here in two minutes!”

“Silly filly, even I know how important the Archmage is! And I’m just a baker!” Pinkie Pie bounced up and down several times, beaming her signature smile and laughing.

“Girls, girls… Let us not forget why Celestia brought us here in the first place.” Rarity cut them all off with a raised hoof. “Twilight needs our help making a very important decision right now.”

“Oh, my. That’s right.” Fluttershy squeaked softly. “Are you doing okay, Twilight?” The purple unicorn heaved a sigh, rather reluctant that the momentary distraction was past.

“I mean, I’m alive, aren’t I?” She muttered meekly. “Just… I don’t know what to think right now. I’m torn, girls… I really am. Celestia thinks I’m ready to handle the job, but Luna seems to think I’m not prepared. Both of them tell me that they trust Nocturnal Glow’s judgement, but the Archmage is the single most powerful unicorn in existence. Not just powerful, but intelligent… He knows more about magic than anypony else, save the princesses themselves… I just… I don’t know.”

“Twilight,” Rarity’s voice distracted her. “Let me remind you of something. It’s, coincidentally, how the six of us met… Remember seven years ago, when you first came to Ponyville?”

“Yes… It was to foresee the Summer Sun celebration, and ultimately, to make friends. With you five.”

“Right. Remember that same night? How you led five doubtful, scared ponies into the Everfree Forest? Remember the Elements of Harmony?”

“I remember…”

“Well, I am the element of generosity. Loyalty, honesty, laughter, kindness… What is that sixth element, Twilight?” Rarity’s hoof reached out to rest on Twilight’s flank, right over her cutie mark. “What is your element?”

“Magic…”

“Exactly.” Rainbow Dash cut in. “What kinda friends would we be if we stopped you from… Well, your destiny?”

“Ah think what we’re sayin, Twi, Is that this is what you’re supposed ta be doin’ with yer life. Not being a librarian in Ponyville.”

“Ooh! Ooh! This means you can totally be all PSSHEW PSSHEW! Boom!” Pinkie Pie bounced about happily, making noises and waving her hooves dramatically. “With all the sparkles and magic! Ka-pow! BOOOOOM!”

“A-and, you can probably help a lot more ponies here in Canterlot than you could in Ponyville…”

“But…” Twilight whimpered. “Ponyville’s my home… We can’t exactly be the elements of harmony if we’re all apart, can we…?”

“What was it Celestia said, darling?” Rarity nudged her gently. “Your studies in the magic of friendship are complete. But that doesn’t mean we’ll ever stop being friends. You should know better than any of us that distance doesn’t change any of that… Besides.” Rarity flipped her mane over her shoulder dramatically. “Canterlot is the hub of high-brow fashion. Cross Stitch and I have been toying with the idea of moving here for a while now… It’d certainly help Sweetie Belle with her studies.”

“Ooh! Ooh! Mr. and Mrs. Cake would just LOVE it if we opened another store in Canterlot!”

“Weather team transfers are a breeze to handle. I can get on with the team here, it’ll just take some boring ol’ paperwork.”

“Ah still have the farm to help out with, but Applebloom’s old enough to start handlin’ a lot o’ my duties. Ah’ll probably have lotsa more time to come an’ see y’all.”

“I… Have my animals, but that doesn’t mean I can’t come visit…”

“You see, darling?” Rarity smiled at her. “We’re here to support you. If that means some of us have to move to Canterlot, we’re more than willing to do so.”

“But…” Twilight muttered. “I can’t ask that of you…”

“You don’t have to.” Dash thumped her chest with a hoof. “I’ve been looking for a reason to come to Canterlot for a while now. The Wonderbolts draft from weather teams in all the major cities.”

“And, like I said, Cross Stitch and I have been meaning to move for a while. Sweetie Belle needs to come to Canterlot to study anyways.”

“Looks like yer just gonna hafta put up with us a little while longer, sugarcube.” Twilight felt the tears come on once more, and she pulled all of her friends close for a firm hug.

“Thank you so much, you guys.” She blubbered, hugging them all close. “Thank you…”

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“Have you made your decision, Twilight Sparkle?” Luna asked as Twilight came to halt before the two princesses. Her doubt and anxiety were gone. Twilight had not only Nocturnal Glow and Celestia’s approval, she had her friends behind her… No, she had all of Ponyville behind her. She threw her head back, standing proud and strong before Celestia and Luna. All the scowls and disapproving whispers in the world weren’t going to sway her. This was her destiny, her calling. This was her special talent.

“Under my own volition, I accept the position of Archmage. From now until the day I am deemed incapable of fulfilling my duties, or until I die. I will serve Equestria and the Royal Pony Sisters faithfully in all aspects of magic.” She grinned, confidence welling over. “When do I start?”

For the first time since she arrived in Canterlot, Twilight saw Luna smile. A genuine, happy smile.

“Immediately.”

The First Lesson

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Archmage chapter 3 - “The First Lesson"

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“Focus, Twilight.” Her flanks heaved with each breath. Her muscles were on fire. Her horn was sore from exertion, and she was lathered with sweat. It dripped into her eyes, making her blink against the stinging burn. Another dark ball of magic shot towards her. Her burning muscles twitched for a second before sending her on a low, scrambling trajectory across the ground. The ball erupted in a dark blast of energy, tearing up the ground and sending chunks of earth flying. Twilight was pelted with rocks and dirt, but she only winced and continued running.

“You cannot dodge forever.” Two more dark orbs of energy erupted. This time, Twilight teleported away, gasping as the explosion made her ears ring. “Not bad. But you’re pushing yourself, Twilight.”

“Heh… I’ve still got something left…” Twilight took a few more breaths before finding her calm center. As she darted from cover, her horn lit up once more. “Hah!” A lavender bolt of energy shot across the ground, burning the grass as it arced towards her assailant. It fizzled before it ever reached it’s destination, but it was only the distraction anyways. Twilight planted her hooves and cast another spell, this one forming on the ground underneath the hooves of her attacker.

“Hmm? A rune? Not bad. But you’re forgetting…” Another dark blaze of energy, and the princess was gone. Twilight’s spell erupted upwards into the air, a split second after the target teleported away. She heard the crackle of energy behind her, the hoof falls of somepony larger than herself. “I’m very good at teleporting.” Twilight grinned. Right where she wanted her to be.

“HAAH!” Her hooves shot out in a second. Twilight leaned forward, her hind legs catching Luna squarely in the chest. With a very audible ‘oof,’ Luna stumbled backwards. Twilight wheeled about, her horn glowing once more. “Gotchya!” Another lavender bolt of energy shot forward, catching Luna perfectly in her face.

Or it would have, if she didn’t disappear again. When she materialized once more, Luna’s full weight bore down on top of Twilight, driving the wind out of her lungs as she collapsed. Humming with dark magic, Luna’s horn pressed against the side of her neck. Twilight was subdued. Hardly a flinch, and she would be incapacitated.

“Test complete. Score: Satisfactory.” The hum died along with the dark glow, and Luna stepped off of Twilight’s prone body. “But only just barely.”

“Haah… Haah… My evaluation?” Twilight panted, not quite lifting herself up yet. She hadn’t caught her breath.

“You certainly caught me off-guard, Twilight. You’ll recall at the beginning of this test that I told you not to hold back, not to fear harming me. Indeed, that was your ultimate goal. You accomplished it,” Luna rose a hoof, pointing at her. “But not by the means I set forth.”

“I understand,” Twilight lowered her head. “I was supposed to harm you with magic.”

“That was your primary objective, yes. You still managed to harm me,” Luna rubbed her chest with a grimace. “Through a means not very conventional… I doubt in a real fight, you’d find the time to buck your opponent. I should have remembered that the element of honesty was your friend. Nevertheless. You distracted me with magic, and harmed me physically. You passed the test, just not very well. Stand up.” Twilight willed her hooves to bear her weight, grimacing as she felt her sore muscles scream in protest.

“Day after tomorrow, we will redo the test. Take tomorrow to rest, though I suppose you’ll be too busy speaking with Cadance to focus on relaxing. Bear in mind that come Friday, Twilight, we will do this again. Good-night.” Luna turned with a flick of her tail, leaving Twilight alone in the scorched and battered gardens. Panting still, Twilight limped away, feeling very embarrassed that she had passed with the bare minimum score. She had always been an excellent student. To her, this was akin to receiving a ‘D’ on a written test. Not very good.

She took a short shower and slipped into bed, letting sleep take over completely. In the back of her mind, she was excited for tomorrow. Thankfully, her dreams were non-existent. She awoke in the pre-dawn light, having snoozed a healthy six hours. Stretching with a yawn, she slipped out of her bed and set about preparing for the day.

It had been six days since she had accepted the position of Archmage. Since her study of the magic of friendship was complete, she began studying different magic. Particularly, the magic that Luna commanded. The magic of darkness and shadow. Thus far, her studies consisted of dueling the princess one-on-one, being subject to several injuries, jinxed, hexed, blasted, and thrown about. There was a lesson behind it all, Luna assured her. But so far, Twilight couldn’t grasp what it was. She never questioned the princess’ motives. Not even once. But she was beginning to grow doubtful of the benefits in constant impacts with the ground were having on her body. Aside from maybe toughening her up a little.

As she brushed through her mane, she winced at the lancing pain in her side. Likely another bruised rib. She prodded the area with a tender hoof, wincing as she poked at it… Yup, definitely bruised. Perhaps even cracked. Every breath she took was painful. But she persevered, ignoring the dull, throbbing ache and leaving her quarters. She had moved into Nocturnal Glow’s room in the Eastern tower, though all of his effects had been removed. She was spared a bed from a guest room and a few other things, but her home in Ponyville was still being packed. All her personal things were due to arrive in another week. For now, she made do with spare sheets and a single vanity. It all felt very… Bare. She didn’t like spending time in this room.

“Good morning, Archmage.” Twilight nearly ignored the guard as she walked through the halls, but then she remembered.

“Good morning,” She returned after a few more steps. The guard smiled at her knowingly, almost like he understood her predicament. She offered a sheepish grin before continuing on her way, feeling bad nevertheless… Being Archmage was still very, very new to her… As far as she could tell, she held the position in title only, and perhaps in spirit. Six days in, and she hadn’t done anything major or important. There was a group of other unicorns who were handling the Archmage’s duties while she trained. Celestia had taken to reassuring her almost daily that they could handle her constituency perfectly well, and that her sole focus should be improving herself through rigorous studies.

It was frustrating, then, when Luna continually beat her into the ground, criticized her performance, and left her with the promise of another beating. Today, Thursday, would be her first day off since she began. Already, Twilight was worn to the bone. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could keep this up… Still, Cadance was due to arrive. As soon as she heard of Twilight being named Archmage, Cadance had done everything she could to come south so she could talk with her sister-in-law. Shining Armor would remain in the Crystal Empire, just to keep a lid on things, while Cadance handled her personal business. After a quick breakfast, Twilight made her way to the castle’s main balcony to await the arrival of Cadance.

She wasn’t kept waiting for very long. Her lips spread in a smile as the dark dot appeared on the horizon, steadily growing nearer. Cadance swooped in smoothly, grinning from ear to ear. Without a second glance, they launched into their greeting.

”Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake! Clap your hooves and do a little shake!” Twilight fought through the lancing pain, her smile working hard to mask the hurt that wracked her torso. She was convinced at the end her rib was most definitely cracked. Nevertheless, she embraced Cadance, the two of them giggling happily.

“I’m so glad to see you again, Twilight!” Cadance bubbled, nuzzling her neck. Twilight’s smile was genuine as the pain faded away to the dull ache once more, allowing her to at least breathe normally.

“It’s good to see you too, Cadance. I’ve missed you terribly. How is Shining?”

“He’s fine. Great, actually. Poor guy works himself ragged, but he’s strong enough to handle it.” Cadance smiled and gestured for the door, inviting them inside. Twilight tried not to limp or let her injury show. A quick flash of concern across Cadence’s face showed that she had failed. They entered the castle, making for a nearby lounge normally intended for dignitaries and important political figures to relax in before meeting the princesses on official business. For today, though, it would serve as a place for the two of them to relax and chat. As Cadance lowered herself onto one cushion, Twilight went to make them tea.

“So…” Cadance leaned into the next question. “How do you like being the new Archmage?” Twilight chuckled, pouring water into two cups laden with leaves. She inhaled the scent of steeping tea before padding over to where Cadance lay with a tray of tea in her magical grip.

“Do you want the truth?” She asked quietly.

“The whole truth.”

“I’m not happy…” Twilight hovered her cup over to Cadance, handing it off smoothly. Cadance’s expression drew down with worry as she took the first sip.

“That’s not good… What’s wrong?” Twilight sighed, and she couldn’t help but wince at the fresh white-hot lance of pain through her side. Exhaling with a ragged breath, she set in on explaining all that had happened in the past week.

“I’m not prepared to take the position of Archmage just yet. I’ve accepted it, but I just plain don’t know enough about magic to function as the Archmage. There’s a group of twenty unicorns doing things that I should be doing right now. Eventually, I’m going to have to pick up all the things they do, and do them by myself… To get to that level, I have to start studying different kinds of magic. Granted, I’m Equestria’s number one expert on friendship, but I only know a little bit about the others… Magic like hatred and shadow, nature and all the others… Luna is supposed to be teaching me about shadow and darkness right now, but instead, all she’s done is beat up on me. We’ve been dueling day in and day out. This is the first day I’ve had a break. I think she broke my rib last night…”

Cadance’s smile was unnerving. Twilight glowered at her, feeling rather flustered.

“What?”

“Nothing. It just seems like she’s doing what she always does…”

“Wh… What’s that?” Cadance gave a small chuckle before setting her tea down, smiling at Twilight in a knowing, sisterly sort of manner.

“Think about it. What has fighting with Luna taught you so far?”

“That… That as far as combat goes, I’m very weak and inexperienced, that she’s more powerful than I ever could have imagined… That she’s a tricky and misleading fighter, with all the teleportation and trapping she does… That I’ll likely never be able to lay a hoof on her with any spell…”

“And…?”

“And… That I’ll never beat her.” Cadance smiled at her answer.

“Think on that for a while, Twilight. But not right now. Right now, you need to relax. And let me take a look at your rib.” Twilight reluctantly approached Cadence, wincing as the alicorn pressed a hoof against her side, feeling for the break. The pain radiated through her, making her breath catch in her throat.

“Ooh…” She whimpered, unable to hold back any more.

“Yup, that’s a fracture. Hold still.” Twilight shuddered as Cadance’s magic flowed through her, knitting the bone back together fiber by fiber. The pain throbbed a little, not quite as intense as it had been, before fading away completely. “Better?” Twilight inhaled deeply, hesitant to expand her lungs any further than necessary. No pain. She couldn’t help but smile.

“Yeah… Thank you, Cadance.”

“Anything for my little sis.” She nuzzled Twilight’s ear affectionately before returning to her tea. “But enough about this Archmage business. You’re supposed to be relaxing today. Tell me, how are your friends?” They chatted amicably throughout most of the day, but once the sun began to sink in the sky, Cadance mentioned returning to the north and the Crystal Kingdom. Twilight was loathe to say goodbye.

“Promise you’ll visit again?” She asked, hugging Cadance gently.

“I can’t promise that, Twilight. But you’ll see me soon enough, I’m sure.” She smiled as the hug was finished, her wings opening wide. Twilight looked at her questioningly.

“Wh… What do you mean?”

“Think about it, Twilight. You need to study all the magic the world has to offer. Who better to study the magic of love under than the princess of love?” She smiled again before taking off into the evening sky, looking over her shoulder at Twilight as she turned North, back to her home. Twilight really didn’t want to see her go, but the words they had shared earlier that morning still hung heavy in her mind.

Luna was trying to teach her something by beating her in duels over and again. All the pain and trickery, exasperation and desperation… It all MEANT something. But what? Twilight had some time before she had to turn in for the night. She decided to clear her mind with a walk through the gardens… And during that time, she thought long and hard over all that had happened in the last week.

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“Good evening, Twilight. Are you prepared?” Right past the pleasantries. Luna didn’t seem to want to fool around with conversation. Twilight straightened her back, looking up at the princess.

“No I am not.” She said firmly. The calm breeze wafting through the gardens lifted her mane off of her neck, and the scent of freshly-cut grass crossed her nose. Apparently, the groundskeepers had been busy repairing the damage from their last fight...

“Hmm? Do you want more time to prepare? Perhaps go research a new fire spell before we duel?”

“I don’t think all the time in the world is going to prepare me for fighting with you, Princess.” Luna paused, her expression blank as she looked at Twilight.

“Hmm.” She hummed and turned around, walking a short distance before turning back to Twilight. “We begin on my mark.”

“B-but, princess!” Twilight’s eyes went wide. This wasn’t what she had planned! “I’m not ready! I can’t defeat you!”

“You will try, Twilight. Or you will die. Your goal, as always, is simply to damage me.” Luna’s tone was dangerous and low. In it, Twilight sensed lethal intent. Luna wasn’t joking. The air of power around the princess was dangerous and crackled with energy. Twilight legitimately feared for her life. “Begin.”

“Aah!” The first eruption of magic singed her hide as it shot past, tearing up the ground behind her. She rolled out of the way of the second, but had to teleport away from the third. She appeared behind Luna… Which was a mistake. Luna flicked her tail, casting a bolt directly upwards from her horn. Twilight gasped as it arched through the air towards her, screaming with lethal intent. She side-stepped at the last second, scrambling for the nearest cover she could find. The hedge evaporated into nothingness just as she was about to dive behind it, causing her to curse and wheel about for a nearby boulder. As she dove behind it, though, dark tendrils of energy wrapped around her legs, rooting her in place. A trap! Grunting, Twilight fought to dispel the trap before Luna delivered another blow that would do much more than break a rib.

She broke free in time to teleport away as the boulder she was hiding behind shattered. She managed to cast a quick bolt of energy in the princess’ direction before having to flee once more. Luna was silent and stoic, following Twilight with her own brand of dark magic. Midnight-black balls of energy shot past, crackling as Twilight weaved through the gardens, leaving in her wake destruction wrought by the frightening princess. What’s worse, Luna wasn’t even flying. If she were to rain down destruction from the sky, Twilight would have nowhere to go. She panicked, running hard and fast, until she was again lathered with sweat, covered with dirt, and sporting more than one cut.

Time for desperation moves. There was nothing left for Twilight to do but stand against the onslaught. Wheeling around, her magic coalesced into a dense purple shield. The next two balls of dark energy fizzled out as they impacted the shield, but the third shattered it. Twilight was prepared. Her horn erupted as she blasted a wall of energy at the Princess. Luna teleported through to the other side without even missing a step, her inexorable approach carrying her closer and closer. The ground around Twilight’s hooves began to darken, and she leapt out of the circle as it erupted upwards with razor-sharp protrusions of shadow. Luna didn’t even bat an eyelash as Twilight stumbled and fell to the ground. She just walked forward, her horn glowing with crackling, dark energy.

“I give.” Twilight whimpered. “I’m done. I can’t do it.” She hung her head in defeat, staring down at the ground. “You are too powerful, too experienced. I can’t defeat you.” She flexed her muscles, preparing for the death blow, the final strike that would signal her defeat. It never came. She waited, and waited, but all that did was make her cramp up. Gasping, she looked up at Luna.

Who was smiling.

“You pass, Twilight. Full marks.”

“Wh… WHAT?!”

“Calm down.” Luna chuckled. Her magic wrapped around Twilight, lifting her up. It was gentle and tender, not firm or powerful as it had been hardly a minute prior. “And let me explain.”

“B-but, you said I was supposed to attack you, and do damage, and when I finally did you said I had to do it with a spell, and I thought that I could qualify it by having distracted you with magic, but you said-“

“Twilight. For heaven’s sake, calm down.” Luna silenced the purple unicorn. She stared incredulously at Luna, her jaw hanging open. “I just taught you the first two lessons about shadow magic. Number one. Humility. If you charge alone into the shadow with your head held high, it will devour you and kill you. If you approach the darkness with reverence in your heart and respect in your actions, you and the night can partner together to accomplish great things. Remember this, Twilight. Be humble in defeat, graceful in victory. Respectful, calm, and level-headed.” Luna smiled again, standing up. “Come, let us sit somewhere more comfortable.” She ushered Twilight along, the two of them leaving the wrecked field for the castle. Twilight didn’t even care that she was bruised and dirty. She had passed! As they sat down inside with a fresh pitcher of water between them, Luna continued her lesson.

“By surrendering, Twilight, you’ve shown the shadow proper respect. Think to our previous fights. You fought me to the end. You never once conceded defeat until I had ripped you down and reduced you to nothing.”

“But… What about at the beginning of our duel just now? I told you I wasn’t prepared-“

“But you were, Twilight. If you weren’t prepared, would I have passed you? Let alone attacked you as I did?”

“H… How? I don’t understand.”

“You had at your disposal the skills required to pass the test. Therefore, you were prepared. You have been prepared since before you were named Archmage. But you didn’t know which skills they were, or when to use them. I had to force you to surrender, Twilight.”

“But… But surrendering wasn’t the goal! You told me I had to damage you with a spell-“

“Twilight. Let me finish the first lesson before I get on to the second.”

“Second?”

“The first is humility, Twilight. Focus. If you try to reign the darkness in, it will destroy you. I would know this better than anypony. You SHOULD know that just as well, since you and your friends were the ones to remind me of that lesson…” Luna’s expression turned darker.

“Are you saying Nightmare Moon-“

“Was my attempt to command the night. Rather than ally with it, I tried to harness it’s power for my own. It nearly destroyed me, Twilight. Please don’t repeat my mistake.” Luna looked away, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Twilight felt horrible for making Luna blush. Let alone seeing the powerful princess do something so unsightly in the first place. The silence stretched on for a while before Twilight spoke again.

“The second lesson?” Luna shook her head and forced a smile.

“Right. The second lesson is this: Nothing in the shadow is concrete. Things are different than they seem. Your objectives and goals may not be as clear-cut as they are in the daylight. Because your goal in our duels was to injure me using magic, you did not know that the actual goal was to learn humility. Keep your mind and your heart open to the darkness, Twilight. Hide nothing from the shadow, and it’s secrets will be yours to use.”

“I see…” Twilight mulled these things over. “I think I understand, princess… Unlike other forms of magic, which require inner strength to harness their energies, I need to be humble, and… Well, for lack of a better word, ask for permission to use the darkness?”

“I couldn’t have put it better myself, Twilight. Shadow magic holds no respect for strength or weakness… It’s power belongs to those who seek it willingly and openly. That’s why unicorns whose magic cannot tame the day turn instead to the night. They open their hearts to the darkness, and together, the two become stronger. Unicorns who rush headlong into the night are lost to us forever.” Again, Twilight mulled the princess’ words over, thinking long and hard about what it all meant… A thought struck her, then.

“Forgive me, princess… But… You strike me as somepony who is anything but humble…”

“Hmm?” Luna’s expression drew down in a frown. “Explain.” Her tone was serious.

“I… I was just thinking. When I was first named Archmage, you seemed to be anything but humble or accepting… In fact, you seemed as if you were-“

“One need not be humble if her assumptions are correct, Twilight Sparkle.” Luna said quietly. “In fact, I was the very definition of humble. Humility is having respect for someone else, based on their power, or character, or personality. When you were named Archmage, Twilight, I had so much doubt of your abilities in my heart. To top it off, you were unprepared and younger than any other Archmage save Nocturnal Glow himself.” She was beginning to get scary… Twilight stared at the table, afraid to look at Luna. A firm tendril of magic lifted her chin up, and she looked back into Luna’s face reluctantly.

Luna’s expression had changed almost completely. She was, once again, smiling. She looked truly happy.

“That all changed during the ceremony.” She sat back down, smiling at Twilight before continuing. “Don’t get me wrong, I thought as soon as you passed out that would be it; that we would have to postpone the ceremony until later. But you know what? You stood up, you walked in that room, and you carried Glow to his resting place. You accepted your duty, and you did so willingly. What’s more, as soon as Celestia and I cast the spell, our combined magic sending Glow off, I was in awe. You command such great strength and power, Twilight. More than I have ever seen in… Well, ever… Celestia has told me stories about the day she found you… Do you remember?”

“Y-yes… How I nearly destroyed the school after Rainbow Dash’s sonic rainboom triggered my reaction…”

“I had never believed her. How could I? A young unicorn foal wrecking the most prestigious college of powerful magicians in all of Equestria? I thought her a fanciful liar… But one week ago, during the ceremony, you showed me different.” Luna’s eyes locked onto Twilight’s the two of them sharing a moment.

“After that, Twilight… I was humbled. And that was why I reversed my decision. I decided to support you, to teach you and build you up, rather than find your replacement. It may not have seemed like it, but I still had to wait on your decision to even accept the position. After that moment, though, I wished more than anything that you would. And you did.” Luna’s smile was so heartwarming, Twilight forgot she was bruised and battered, bleeding and tired. In light of all she had just learned, it was just her and Luna… That was the sort of smile that Twilight strived for every day… That she needed to see from Celestia. In fact, the contrast was scary… Twilight almost cried.

“I have never been more proud to call anypony my student than I am right now, Twilight.” Luna stood, turning her back on Twilight as she walked away. “Meet me at the top of the observatory tomorrow night.” She said softly. “Your studies begin in earnest. You have a long way to go and much to learn, but you’re on your way.”

And then she was gone. In her absence, Twilight cried. Not out of sadness or frustration, but tears of joy, of relief.

She had done it.

She was doing it.

She could do this. She could be the Archmage.

Innocence

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Archmage chapter 4 - “Innocence”

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“Good evening, Twilight.” Luna’s tone was surprisingly cheery and bright, despite the chill air. Twilight shivered slightly, drawing her scarf tighter around herself. Atop the observatory tower, the wind was tenfold worse than elsewhere. Still, Luna insisted they have their lessons atop the tall tower, looking out across the entire span of the night sky.

“Good evening, Princess.” Twilight said quietly.

“Having difficulty adjusting to the new schedule?” Luna quipped, gesturing with her head that Twilight should draw closer.

“I’ve… Always been a bit of a night owl… It shouldn’t be that difficult for me to adjust, but I suppose I got back on a regular schedule after the ceremony…”

“Aah, understandable. Well, we shall take it easy for tonight. Soon enough, sleeping during the day will be as easy for you as anything else.” Luna’s gaze turned up towards the sky, her eyes reflecting the millions of pinpricks of light above. Twilight tore her own gaze away from Luna and up to the stars, taking a moment to stand in reverence of the night. Luna had a way of painting the night sky that Celestia never had mastered… During the years of Twilight’s development, she had never known what it was for the night to be put in it’s proper place… After Luna had returned, though, Twilight was able to see what a proper night looked like. The stars were a hundred times more clear, their light able to shine and twinkle like a million diamonds set in black satin.

“It’s beautiful.” Twilight breathed softly, letting her gaze slide from horizon to horizon.

“Beautiful… And dangerous.” Luna looked down at Twilight from the sky. “If you don’t respect the night, you will be destroyed by it.” The princess turned around, facing Twilight full-on, her gaze soft and serene… Yet at the same time, Twilight could see power boiling underneath the surface… A dark sort of anger that could snap at any second. Twilight felt both threatened and humbled at the pony before her eyes. She felt like she should bow. Instead, she sat her haunches on the cool stone and looked up at Luna. “You’re no stranger to magic, Twilight… That much is painfully obvious. You know both basic and advanced theory, and understand it’s practical use… This will help immensely in your lessons. But they will also hinder you… I have only ever taught ponies from the bare minimum… All my students have ever known is the shadow. So please, Twilight, forgive me if I’m not the best teacher.”

“Princess?” Twilight asked, cocking her head to the side. “Is this another lesson in humility, or-“ Luna chuckled, cutting her off.

“Yes… You could consider it that… I am trying to humble myself to you, Twilight. I’m attempting to explain how your lessons may appear to be sporadic…”

“Sporadic? How so?” Luna was silent for a few moments as she contemplated her question.

“I mean to say we’re both stepping into unknown territory. I will try to make my lessons advanced enough that you will not be bored, but simple enough that you will not be overwhelmed… If ever I stray in one direction or the other, I would hope you’d tell me.”

“In a heartbeat, princess.”

“About that.” Luna covered her face with a hoof. “Nocturnal Glow only ever called me by name once in his life, and that was the second before it was over… Please, Twilight. We’re friends, are we not?”

“Uuh… Yes, I suppose we are…?” The question caught Twilight completely off-guard. Of course they were friends… Weren’t they?

“I would like to think so.” Luna nodded, as if affirming the point. “Please… There is no need for formality between us. Maybe when we are officiating royal ceremonies or attending one duty or another… But please, during our lessons… Could you call me Luna?” Twilight’s jaw dropped. Was the princess making a request of her?! Or was this a demand? Twilight’s heart hammered, unsure what to do. Her previous lessons had always been formal… While Celestia had never demanded it, Twilight had always addressed her formally. It was habit. Twilight viewed Luna in much the same way; that she should always be addressed by her title, rather than her name.

“P-princess, I don’t think- mff!” She was cut off as Luna leaned forward to press a hoof to her lips.

“Twilight. Please. Don’t make me ask twice…” In that moment, Twilight could hardly breathe. Let alone form a coherent thought. Her heart hammered in her ears, drowning out all thought, making her knees shake. Luna pulled her hoof away, a ghost of a smile on her lips.

“Y-yes, pr- Luna! Of course… Luna.” She flustered for a moment, her heart still racing a million miles an hour.

“Good. Thank you, Twilight. I appreciate it.” Luna’s smile was infectious, helping Twilight relax a little… Still, it felt awkward… Luna was quite obviously a princess, and one of the most powerful ones at that… Twilight remembered the spells Luna had cast that could rip a pony apart, and she did it without so much as batting an eyelash. Twilight felt privileged to call Luna by name. More than that, she felt honored… Luna cleared her throat, making Twilight look back up at her once more. “As I said, your lessons can begin in earnest… You have a lot of ground to cover with the magic of darkness alone, lest we not forget the others… As you’ll see, though, all branches of magic have similarities. Since you know so much about the magic of light and of friendship, and that you know a fair amount about the magic of love-“

“The magic of love? Pr… Eer, Luna I haven’t taken lessons from Cadance yet…” Twilight blushed slightly, her heart beating fast again. The not-so-recent conversation with Cheerilee came to mind once more, about how she hadn’t been able to find anypony special.

“Hmm?” Luna cocked her head to the side, her expression quizzical. “You meant to tell me you haven’t-“

“N-no!” Twilight blubbered, her heart racing again. She flushed, whether from embarrassment or otherwise, she didn’t know. “I… I haven’t had the time to find anypony-“

“You mean to tell me,” Luna stood up, glowering down at Twilight. “That you, student of Celestia’s warm sun and good friend to the princess of love herself… Haven’t experienced the touch of another?”

“N-never.”

“Not even once?”

“I haven’t even kissed a colt…”

“You’ve… You haven’t-“ Luna’s gaze flickered downwards. Twilight’s blush intensified… So much that she thought she would soon light a fire with just her cheeks.

“Not ever…” Twilight muttered. Luna was silent for several long moments, her expression blank, impossible to read. Finally, she sat back down, covering her face with a hoof.

“Heavens help me, I was about to take a virgin into the night…” She muttered. Twilight couldn’t bear to look at her anymore. She found a crack in the stone on the floor and focused on it, fighting the tears of embarrassment that welled up in her eyes.

“I’m sorry,” She finally managed to croak. “If we can’t study because of it, I-“

“No, no… Not that, Twilight.” Luna cut her off. She had a knack for doing that, it seemed… “It’s fine. Really, it is… It’s just…” She paused a moment, heaving a heavy sigh before reaching out to grasp Twilight’s chin. “Let’s just say ponies make love during the night for a reason.”

“P-princess?”

“What did I say about th-“

“Sorry. Luna… But… What do you mean?”

“Sit still, Twilight… It appears I do have to teach you some basics about shadow magic before we begin… Honestly, for Celestia to never have taught you…”

“I-I know the basics! I know about arousal and hormones and-“

“Shush, Twilight. Any foal who went through basic school knows about the birds and the bees and how they make honey… I’m not talking about that. I honestly figured Celestia would have taught you-“

“Taught me what?!” Twilight was panicked now. She hadn’t covered something?! Something crucial and binding?! Oh no, oh no, oh no! Panic settled over her heart, making it thunder as she danced to and fro.

“Twilight,” What if this would mean a missing mark? What if she didn’t know enough to continue her studies? “Twilight.” She would fail shadow magic, and wouldn’t be able to be Archmage? Why had she only skimmed over the books about advanced lovemaking positions and-

“TWILIGHT!” The Royal Canterlot Voice nearly flattened Twilight as it washed over her. Her hooves skidded across the cobblestones a few inches before she plopped down on her haunches, eyes wide as she stared up at Luna. “Calm. Down.”

“B-but-“

“Calm. For fuck’s sake, Twilight. Relax for a moment and listen to me.”

“S-sorry…” Twilight took a breath, wiping her eyes free of the tears that threatened to spill over.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. Please, P-Luna. Continue.”

“Right. You see, Twilight… There are magics at work all through the night. Ponies make love during the night, because that’s the only time foals can be conceived.” Twilight blinked. The only time?

“You’re saying-“

“Not a single pony born throughout all of history was conceived during the daytime. Modern couples who are afraid to have children do the act during the day for this reason alone. Granted, it’s privileged information, but those willing to dig deep enough discover it soon enough. Mostly unicorns… You know how studious they are.”

“No objections there…” Twilight murmured. Still… Ponies could only procreate during the night time? It sounded absurd… But Luna appeared as if she was going to explain momentarily, so Twilight silenced herself and waited patiently.

“The night is a time for passion and romance. It’s when ponies quietly share things with one another that cannot be shared in the light of day. Sex and lovemaking is a private affair, one to be undertaken only when one pony truly loves another… Ponies who only have sex during the day don’t know how special it is… How wonderful and emotionally meaningful a connection with another can be…” Luna’s words struck a chord within Twilight… As she had a few weeks ago with Cheerilee, the sudden topic of romance and lovemaking had Twilight feeling sad… Here she was, nearly twenty-seven years old and making important decisions in her life, and she hadn’t even kissed a colt. Fathers didn’t count.

“What I’m saying is this, Twilight… For someone who doesn’t even know the first thing about what it means to make love to another, the night can be especially dangerous.” Twilight opened her mouth to speak, but a single look from Luna silenced her. “Don’t get me wrong. The night appreciates innocence… There are unicorns young and old alike who walk through the shadow innocently… But I’m telling you this now, Twilight…” Luna straightened a little, looking regal as ever. Wise. “Innocence will not last forever, and is it but one facet of the night. I was about to show you things that innocent ponies aren’t prepared to handle. At least not yet. I very nearly made a grave mistake.”

“Oh…” Twilight muttered, feeling even more downtrodden. “I’m sorry, I should have told you-“

“It’s my mistake for assuming… I mean, a bookish mare such as yourself, I should have at least assumed-“

“Are you saying I look like a virgin?” Twilight whimpered. Luna looked at her for a long moment before lifting a shoulder.

“Yeah, kind of…”

Twilight groaned, sinking down to her stomach and covering her face with her hooves. “I’m helpless…”

“Twilight, come now… This is no time to mope… Just… I need to change your lessons…”

“R-really?” Twilight looked up at Luna with a whimper.

“Yes. No big difference, really… Like I said, just another facet of the night. However…” Luna raised a hoof as if to make a point. Twilight sat back up, attentive once more. Luna reached that hoof out, laying it squarely on Twilight’s chest. “It is not the most powerful, nor even the most complete portion of the night.”

“Are… Are you suggesting-“

“No, Twilight. I am demanding. I know this is a stressful request, but…”

“Luna…?” Twilight whimpered. The next words the princess said nearly made her faint again.

“For your studies in the night and shadow to be complete, you must lose your virginity.”

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“Oh wow, she said that?” Rarity blushed suddenly. Cross Stitch nearly sputtered into his teacup. Twilight had gone to her one friend who she knew would understand, probably better than any of the others, her predicament… After all, Rarity was the only one that Twilight knew was in an active relationship. “That’s… Quite shocking, darling… I understand now why you stressed the importance of discretion. As always, my lips are sealed. And yours are too, are they not?” She glared at Cross Stitch, her expression dangerous.

“O-of course!” The cream-colored earth pony waved his hooves frantically, an expression of worry and concern on his face. “I won’t breathe a word.”

“Good. Because Princess Luna isn’t some Canterlot socialite here… Goodness, if I’d have learned that about the likes of somepony like… Like Fleur De Lis… Why, it’d be in the papers tomorrow morning… No. This is the Princess. We musn’t say a word to anypony outside of this room.”

“Hence the reason for the silence spell,” Twilight muttered. The room inside the newly-relocated Carousel Boutique was, indeed, shielded by Twilight.

“I see now why you cast it… But, darling, why would you come to me with a question like that?” Rarity seemed perplexed. To Twilight, it was plain as day.

“You’re… Well, you know…”

“Oh. I see.” She and Cross Stitch shared a brief smile, scooting closer for a moment. Between them, Twilight could see a connection… A part of her ached for it, wanted it and desired it for herself… But another part of her was mystified and slightly terrified by it… Why, she wasn’t sure…

“You see, Twilight,” Cross Stitch began. “I’ll say this bluntly, since Rarity has a way of mincing words.”

“I do not!”

“Yes, you do… And you’re good at it. Now shush, love.” Rarity opened her mouth to complain, but a quick kiss from Cross Stitch silenced her completely. She blushed and scooted closer, letting him take the wheel. “When two ponies make love, that’s crossing a line… I don’t care if it’s during the night or the day. There’s a connection established at that point. It’s best of you to make that connection with somepony special…”

“Are you saying I wouldn’t?” Twilight asked softly.

“Not at all. I know how you are, Twilight… Rarity will back me up on this. Your studies are important to you, more so now that you’re Archmage. But you must. Not. Rush. I’m sure Luna will understand when you tell her you’d rather take it slow, to make sure you find the right one to do it with.” Twilight considered his words very carefully.

“But… I can’t just neglect an aspect of magic… I’d… I’d be letting the whole world down.”

“I never said neglect it… How many other forms of magic must you study?”

“Eer… Dozens. Why?”

“So go study some of them… Learn about the magic of love, or nature before you continue studying under Luna… Not to mention, she said there are parts of the night that open themselves to innocence, right? So study those. But don’t make a decision you’ll regret, Twilight.” His words instilled hope in Twilight. There were other things for her to study… Nature and love, time and even hatred… She could save that… Particular part… For later. Luna wouldn’t blame her… Would she?

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“You never told me she was a virgin.”

“I don’t usually ask my students what they do in the free time I give them… Or in this case, they give themselves.”

“You know just as well as I do-“

“That Twilight cannot know all there is to know about the night without first experiencing lovemaking. Yes. I know. Truth be told, I’m shocked to learn Twilight is a virgin myself.” Celestia heaved a sigh. It was moments like that when Luna felt as if her elder sister was patronizing her, but she bit her tongue. Arguing with her sister never got her anywhere. Luna took a deep, calming breath before continuing.

“You understand how important her studies are. We need Twilight to be prepared as soon as possible… I know it’s putting her in an awkward position but-“

“You’re not seriously suggesting that Twilight-“

“Have sex? Yes. Yes, I am.” Luna stood tall. “I cannot teach Twilight properly without her knowing. And before you suggest she study other magics first, you know-“

“Yes. Again. I know.” Luna was beginning to get annoyed at being constantly cut off. Not only was it rude and making her angry, it was unlike Celestia.

“Sister, what is wrong? You’re normally not this short with me… I have a serious problem that we need to discuss, but you keep cutting me off at every turn… What’s wrong?” The look on Celestia’s face told Luna she had struck a chord. Something was bothering her sister. Something major.

“Forgive me, Luna… There’s much weighing on my mind.”

“What is it? I mean… Equestria is at peace… There shouldn’t be anything this major bothering you right now…” Luna was concerned now… There shouldn’t be anything major. Something was nagging Celestia, and it was no longer major. It was monumental.

“It’s… Nothing, really. Jealousy, I suppose you could call it…” Luna nearly laughed.

“Jealousy? Jealous of what?” She asked incredulously, looking at Celestia with wide eyes.

“You.”

“Me?! You’re joking…”

“I am not.” Celestia appeared offended. “I am jealous of you. Twilight shares something with you, a secret, that she would not share with me. I am, quite frankly, jealous.” Luna was legitimately shocked.

“To be fair, sister, I did pressure her into revealing it… And, inversely, you never asked.”

“How could I have asked? What kind of pony would that make me? What kind of ruler?”

“The kind that’s concerned for her student, Celestia.” Luna countered. “The kind of nurturing mentor who understands how important it is for a developing young unicorn to experience love. Be it true or otherwise.” Celestia sighed and covered her face with a hoof.

“You’re right-“

“For once,” Luna snorted.

“Oh shush. You’re right. I should have asked. I’m sorry I didn’t… This would have been avoided if perhaps I had urged Twilight to not focus on her studies so much… To, you know, experience some things. It’s a wonder she’s learned much about friendship at all, If I hadn’t tasked her with it’s study, she likely wouldn’t have made any friends. Ever. I should have been more assertive in telling her to… Well, live.”

“It’s never too late to start, Celestia…” Luna said quietly, leaning in to nuzzle Celestia’s warm neck gently. “You’re still her mentor, and more importantly, her friend.”

“Friend? You think so?”

“Well… Maybe not to her, but I sure see it. Now that she’s no longer your student, I don’t see why you two cannot be friends.”

“Hmm… Perhaps. I’m afraid, though…” Celestia sighed then, suddenly looking very depressed. Luna was surprised, this was almost completely unlike Celestia. Her sister was normally very happy. There was something else on her mind. In a moment, Luna understood.

“You’re afraid of growing too close to her.” Celestia’s look said it all. “Oh my goodness, you have feelings for her!”

“Don’t be so naïve.” Celestia scoffed. She turned away coldly, pacing a few steps away. “I don’t have feelings for Tw-“

“But you DO!” Luna rose to her own hooves. “Your face says it all, Celestia! You care for Twilight!”

“Of course I care for her!” Celestia wheeled on Luna, her eyes ablaze with anger. “I care for her likely more than her own parents do!”

“Celestia, that’s-“

“They haven’t inquired ONCE about their daughter since Shining Armor’s wedding, Luna! It’s been one week, you’d figure they would at least send a letter! Nothing! Not a single question! Not even a peep!” Celestia huffed slightly. “I care for Twilight. I care for her as a mentor, as a teacher, maybe even as a mother. But I do not care for her as a lover.”

“Okay.” Luna blinked. “I believe you.”

“So, you can imagine how I have Twilight’s best interests at heart.” Celestia continued, despite Luna’s acquiescence.

“Yes, of course-“

“And how I want nothing but the best for her.”

“O-of… Naturally-“

“THEREFORE.” Celestia advanced on Luna, her eyes ablaze with anger, or perhaps it was protectiveness… “I do not want Twilight to be rushed into a decision that would harm her!”

“Sister, please.” Luna’s pleading tone caused Celestia to halt in her advance. “Allow me to be the voice of reason.”

“Fine.” She huffed, sitting down to let Luna speak. She clearly didn’t agree, but Luna had a way of at least making Celestia listen to reason.

“Twilight must learn shadow magic before she learns others.”

“Agreed.”

“For Twilight to learn shadow magic, she needs to lose her virginity.”

“Go on…” Celestia sounded hesitant.

“I suggest she do so post-haste. The Archmage’s position must be filled as soon as it can, and we cannot delay further. She still has so much to learn… At the current rate, she won’t even be ready to accept the position for another two months. At least. Let alone function without assistance… That could take three more months. By the heavens, it could take a year! Can we ask the council to fulfill her duties for an entire year?”

“No, we cannot… But at the same time, we can’t force Twilight do something she’s not comfortable doing!” Celestia stood and began pacing.

“You don’t know how she feels about it.” Luna said softly. “You haven’t asked her-“

“Nor have you.” Celestia countered, still pacing. She was thinking. Luna had a solution. It wasn’t good, but it was all she could see they had left.

“What if I begin teaching her the innocent side of the night. Meanwhile, I will pressure her, a little at a time, to begin considering the severity of the situation. To consider taking a mate sooner rather than later.” Celestia stopped, fixing Luna with a very serious and contemplative look. Behind those eyes, Luna could see Celestia trying to analyze all the angles, to work out how it all fit.

“This is a mistake.”

“I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a mistake naming her Archmage in the first place. But you know as well as I she’s more than capable to take the position. Think about it, Celestia. This is your student. You know her better than her own mother.” Luna was pleading again. “Think long and hard. This is the unicorn who overcame hatred and fear to restore the crystal kingdom. This is the pony whose efforts and studies in friendship saved the world from Discord. She discovered Chrysalis, and helped Shining Armor and Cadance banish her.” Luna’s tone dropped low for a moment. “She’s the one who reminded me of my place. You cannot deny that.”

“No… No, I cannot…”

“So we rely on her.” Luna said softly, pleadingly. “We urge her to take a mate… Anypony she wants…” Celestia stopped her with an arched eyebrow.

“Anypony?” Celestia’s arched eyebrow suggested Luna was implying herself.

“Anypony.” She confirmed with a concrete nod.

“Luna, remember Nightshade and what his passing did to you.”

“I remember.” Luna said, her voice as quiet as a whisper. “I remember very well…” She glanced to the side. There, in the hall, was still the stained-glass mural of Twilight and the other elements of harmony banishing Nightmare Moon. The mural didn’t depict Luna being restored… But Twilight knew the story anyways. She had been there. She knew what happened after balance had been restored. Truthfully, Luna owed her life to Twilight…

“You care for her.” Celestia said softly. “More than just a teacher cares for a student…” She drew Luna’s gaze upwards with her voice, the two of them locking gazes for a moment. “You care for Twilight as if you love her…”

“And if I do?” Luna said softly, feeling the tears begin to well up within her.

“I wonder if your feelings are genuine. You hardly know her, Luna.”

“And yet, she shares secrets with me more readily than she does with you.”

“You said it yourself. That’s because you ask. I care for her, but not enough to know about her… Her sex life.”

“I suppose that’s just the difference between you and I.” Luna huffed. “I care about Twilight’s development,” Her eyes narrowed. “Every aspect.”

“Do you?” Celestia’s tone and her expression were dead serious. Luna opened her mouth to retort, but managed to stop herself. Not here. Not now. Likely not ever… Silently, she turned and left the room. Those words nagged her on the way out, though… She couldn’t shake them…

Do I?

----------

Twilight inhaled deep the chill night air as she looked up into the sky. So much weighed on her mind. Being Archmage, losing her innocence, studying magic… She thought keeping up with studies on Celestia’s end was tough… Now she had dozens of different magics to study. Before she could even complete them, she had to… To…

“Twilight, there’s no need to cry.”

“Princess!” Twilight started, wiping a hoof over her eyes as Luna’s voice caught her off-guard. She sniffled helplessly, trying to be presentable for the princess.

“Come on, Twilight. Call me-“

“Luna. Sorry. Luna.” She whimpered weakly. “I guess you’re here to tell me I’m not quite ready to be your student, huh? That I can’t be until-“

“Quite the opposite, Twilight.” Luna cut her off with a quick, warm sentence. Twilight’s heart thundered as Luna spoke. “I’m here to tell you that your studies begin for real tonight. We will stay away from the more… Ahem… Passionate parts of the night. For now.”

“F-for now?” Twilight stuttered slightly. Luna’s expression didn’t change. It was still slightly drawn… A little worried.

“For now.”

“Oh… Does that mean… You’re pressuring me to… To…”

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t, Twilight… I neglected to mention this before, and I very well should have.” Twilight perked up a little, wondering what this new development could be. “You… You must study shadow magic next. Celestia has influenced you in the magic of light and the sun, and friendship, and love for too long. You are too heavily influenced by the lighter side of magic. For you to maintain a proper balance, you must learn the magic of the night next. My magic..” Luna was blushing again. Twilight whimpered thinly, not enough to be heard.

“B-but…”

“But nothing, Twilight… Balance must be maintained. What’s more, it’s not just darkness and night… It’s hatred, too. There are magics in Equestria darker than you think.” Luna’s voice dropped to a whisper. “Darker than you could ever have imagined previously…”

“Pr… Luna…?” Twilight asked quietly, leaning in.

“Ahem. Pardon me.” Luna straightened up, her wings flaring for a moment. She flapped several times, as if shaking herself free of a nagging thought. “It’s… Imperative that you learn shadow magic next. To keep the balance even. After that, hatred. THEN, and only then, Will the Archmage be balanced enough to complete her studies.” Twilight’s hopes rose a little at Luna’s words. She was worried that she wouldn’t be prepared enough to study under Luna. That, because of her innocence, she wouldn’t be able to fully explore the night. Instead, it seemed, Luna thought she was prepared. If Luna believed in her, then she could do it.

She could do anything.

“Okay, Luna.” She said softly, nodding. “I understand.”

“Be warned, Twilight,” Luna raised a hoof pointedly. “You WILL have to find a mate. Be it temporary or permanent, you will… But for now, your studies can begin.” She heaved a sigh, dropping the hoof. “I’m sorry for the scare earlier… I honestly thought you had-“

“Don’t.” Twilight blushed, looking at the stone. “I… I don’t like to be reminded of my mistakes.”

“It’s no mistake, Twilight. Truth be told, it’s actually rather honorable.” Luna shrugged.

“R-really?”

“Of course. Ponies these days seem to want to find any reason to get down and fu-“ Twilight cringed visibly, and Luna rolled her eyes. “Oh, get over it.”

“S-sorry...” She muttered, feeling silly for getting embarrassed over a word.

“Twilight,” Luna said gently, reaching out to lift the purple unicorn’s chin. “I’m sorry if it causes you discomfort, but these words and more are, unfortunately, commonplace.”

“Don’t remind me,” Twilight grumbled, gently taking her chin out of the princess’ hoof. “I’m just… Inexperienced, I guess… And I fail to see how these words remain conducive to my innocent studies.” Luna blinked, her hoof slowly lowering to the floor. Was… Was Twilight berating her?! Luna’s coy grin spread across her face slowly.

“Very well, Twilight.” She slowly rose to her hooves, smiling down at the meek unicorn. “But think about how far you’ve come already, in just one short week. You’ve learned two lessons in dark magic, and probably a few more that aren’t on the scheduled curriculum.”

“I know,” Twilight sighed softly. She looked up at Luna, a brave smile on her face. In that smile, Luna saw hope, determination, and resolve. Twilight was committed to this path. She had chosen to become Archmage, and nothing, not losing her virginity, not the difficult lessons ahead, was going to stop her. “I’m just... Unprepared, I guess...”

“You will be, Twilight. Soon enough.” Luna smiled at her, the two of them standing side-by-side as they looked out into the night. “Though... I suppose exposing you to shadow magic wouldn’t be harmful. Would you like to see a demonstration?”

“Oh, yes! Very much, yes!” Twilight perked up almost immediately. Seeing shadow magic, at least when it wasn’t screaming towards her with lethal intent, was very exciting.

“Alright, Twilight. I am going to attempt to summon something. Stand back.” Twilight hastily scrambled away, giving Luna ample space to work. Twilight watched as Luna’s horn began to hum with the ominous, dark glow of her magic. Her hooves spread a little wider, giving her a stable base. Twilight watched as a rune began to form on the ground... No, not a rune... A summoning circle! This was incredibly advanced magic!

“Twilight,” Luna said softly. “It is imperative that you say nothing in the presence of this creature. Don’t make a sound. Not even a breath, Twilight. If it hears you... I cannot guarantee your safety.”

“I understand, Luna.” She smiled bravely. Utter silence. She could do this... Luna’s horn glowed more densely, the humming and scintillating sound of energy filling the air. Even over the wind, Twilight could hear the finest details in Luna’s spell... This just went to show how powerful a princess could truly be...

”Stand by my side, darkling.” Luna’s short sentence was laced with power, an underlying current of something ominous... Out of the runed pattern on the ground, the shadow began to coalesce... It grew limbs, a body, a head... Twilight shuddered in it’s presence. This being, whatever it was, was unlike anything she had ever seen before...

”Princess...” The thin, raspy voice sent a chill down Twilight’s spine. She fought the urge to whimper as the creature turned it’s angular head towards Luna. ”You called?”

“Nothing major, my friend...” Luna straightened to her full height, smiling warmly at the dark creature. “Just... Looking for some company.”

”Hmm... Our conversations have been plenty and varied... Particularly during the dark time... What use do you have of me now?” It’s speech was so thin, it felt almost like a blade cutting into Twilight’s ear.

“Just some company.” Luna’s gaze flickered to Twilight. Hardly a twitch, really... But Twilight couldn’t hold it back. Softly, she let loose a whimper.

The shadow turned to face her, it’s cold, hollow eyes fixed on her.

”Another? Princess, you made a pact. Never before another!”

“Twilight,” Luna’s horn began to glow once more, her tone suddenly very cold and dangerous. Serious. “Run.”

“Wh-what?”

”RUN!”

Reverence

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Archmage Chapter 5 - “Reverence”

---------

Twilight was bleeding. Quite a bit, too. she tried not to think about the long, red trail of splattering liquid she had left behind her. She would have healed herself, but doing so was tricky even without a vicious denizen of the night chasing her through the castle. She burst through another door onto one of the long ramparts. Another frightened sprint across the stone. The wind tore at her, whipping her mane to and fro, buffeting her at times and ushering her frenzied flight onwards at others.

It felt like she was never going to escape.

“Aah!” Another blast of negative energy filled the air, shattering stone and throwing her forward. She grunted as she hit the ground, scrambling to her hooves. Not the first time she had had to pick herself up, winded and bruised. In the back of her mind, she thanked Luna for all the times she had been thrown through the air. Like it or not, Twilight was tough now. She breathed deep and easy, her muscles feeling the burn as she ran. Another blast rocked through the night, shredding stone behind her as she dove to the side. Rolling once, she skidded to her hooves and kept running.

“Haah… haah… Left or right, left or right?” She muttered to herself, looking at the far end of the rampart. The hallway branched off, to the left was the rest of the castle, and to the right was the eastern wing… Where most of the quarters were located. She dare not take this beast into the quarters. This time of night, ponies would be asleep. Given the destruction behind her, she didn’t want to risk lives. As soon as she burst through the door at the end of the rampart, her decision was made for her.

“GUH!” The wind was driven from her lungs as a blast of energy flattened her against the far wall. The stone cracked around her, and dust filled the air. She was flattened against it, held off of the ground, her body roughly grinding against the stone. She was crushed, pinned… Unable to do a thing. She couldn’t draw a breath.

In the encroaching blackness, Twilight remembered lesson number one.

“I yield.”

The floor rushed to meet her, but the greeting was less than well-received. She grunted as her hooves failed to catch her, her chest rapidly rising and falling. Lucidity returned slowly, just in time for Twilight to feel the presence of those hollow eyes upon her.

”What did you say?” The thin voice cut through her all the more, her body shivering amongst the stone chips she had taken from the wall.

“I… I yield. Your power is too great.” She barely managed to grunt. Idly, Twilight was aware of the blood pooling around her. She was beginning to feel dizzy.

”Hmm. You command great power… I’ve seen for myself. You stand a chance of defeating me, Twilight Sparkle. Yet you yield… Why?” Twilight tried to find the strength to raise to her hooves… Her legs shook with the effort, her vision entering a long, narrow tunnel for a moment. When she stood, it must have looked like a newborn foal taking it’s first steps.

“D’you think,” She whimpered. “It’s good to start a relationship… With a murder?” The pause stretched on, well past the threshold of ‘uncomfortable.’ The being before her, a darkling Luna had called it, fixed her with it’s cold, intense gaze. She could feel those eyes boring into her very soul… It was a chilling, haunting experience. She didn’t want to stand under it anymore.

”HA!” With a loud howl of laughter, the beast spread it’s razor-like teeth into a wicked grin. Twilight grimaced at the frightening visage. ”Well spoken, Archmage. You already know the proper way to speak with me, and others of the night. However,” It lifted a wicked-looking claw, pointing at her. Twilight swallowed hard. ”A price must be paid. The Princess violated a pact, and for that, she must pay. Not in blood or pain, but with her soul.”

“Wh… What?” Twilight whimpered. “I don’t understand…”

”The Princess is an ally of the night. Not just that, but our most powerful one. She violated a law, and she must pay.”

“But… She warned me not to make a noise. It’s my mistake, not hers! Punish me instead!” Twilight grunted, pain lancing through her side.

”You wish to stand her vigil? To pay the price she owes?” The creature asked. Twilight grimaced again, but looked up into the beast’s eyes.

“I do. If it would please the night.”

”Hmm…” The dark being raised a claw to it’s angular chin, and the sound of it’s claw rubbing against the shadowy surface reminded Twilight of metal scraping together roughly. ”Your reverence is enough. Luna is forgiven, as are you. Blood has been shed this night. You should mourn. Farewell, Archmage… Next time we meet, I hope it’s under more pleasant circumstances.” Then it was gone. In an instant, where the shadowy creature once stood, now there was nothing. There was no puff of smoke, no glimmer of magic, no nothing… It just… Vanished. The last thing Twilight saw before she passed out was Luna, flying fast over the rampart, and the pool of her blood on the floor.

------------

“She’s okay?”

“Has been for half a day… She’s merely resting now, Princess.”

“Thank you, doctor. I appreciate your effort.”

“Bah. Think nothing of it, Princess. I’ve seen worse injuries. She’ll be fine in another few hours.” The soft exchange of words floated to Twilight through a haze of sleep. She mumbled slightly, stirring atop the soft bed she lay upon. “Or… Right now. Good evening, Twilight Sparkle.” Her eyes finally opened. Stirring some more, Twilight did a mental inventory.

Legs? Check. Breathing? Normal… Energy…? Why do I feel rested?

“Hmm…” She worked her lips. Dry mouth? How long have I been out?

“Heh. She’s awfully cute when she wakes up.”

“Careful, doctor…” Luna’s cautionary tone made Twilight to struggle to wake up entirely.

“What happened?” She mumbled quietly, her eyes opening to reveal a sliver of the world.

“Long story short, I healed you, and rather than passing out, I made it as if you had fallen asleep. A tricky bit of magic, but it saves your body much stress. You feel rested, no?” The haze of sleep finally left her vision, and Twilight managed to get a good look around. The room she was in was not her own threadbare, sparse one, but instead, unfamiliar to her. The bed was markedly larger, and the furnishings quite a bit more warm. A large vanity sat a short distance from the bed, it’s top lined with brushes and bottles of what Twilight would guess was makeup or mane care products… On the opposite end of the room, a balcony sat with it’s doors opened to the dusky sky. All over the rest of the walls, however, were bookshelves. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of books sat in neat rows or on one of three tables about the room. Some of them were open, with candles lighting their pages, while others sat closed in stacks.

This room was akin to Twilight’s wet dream.

“Woah…”

“Yes, Twilight,” Luna sighed as she noted the shocked expression on Twilight’s face. “These are my personal quarters. They were closer than your own, so I brought you here instead. You can stop gawking now.”

“S-sorry,” Twilight muttered, blushing a little. She managed to fix her attention instead on the two ponies standing at the edge of the massive bed. One of them was a dark-coated unicorn, his mark that of a scepter wound with two serpents sprouting wings. The other was Luna, looking as regal and magnificent as she ever did. Twilight pulled the sheets up around her neck, blushing a little. “How long was I out?”

“Just the duration of the day. Approximately sixteen hours. How do you feel?” The doctor asked.

“Eer… Fine, I think… Can I try walking?”

“I don’t know, can you?” Twilight grinned at the teasing before gingerly scooting towards the edge of the bed. Her legs managed the short drop to the floor, feeling tight but full of energy. She felt rested. Relaxed.

“I guess so…”

“Well, my job here is done. Princess. Archmage. If you’ll excuse me.”

“Thank you, doctor.” Luna nodded stoically as the unicorn left them alone. As soon as the door closed behind him, though, Luna smiled.

“I’m proud of you, Twilight.”

“Huh?” Twilight looked up at her, feeling rather confused.

“You survived. Maybe not in perfect shape, but that darkling was out for blood. He would have killed you had you not showed the proper respect. But you didn’t attack him, and you demonstrated your strength in withstanding his magic. Afterwards, you yielded and did not challenge his authority. That, Twilight, is the proper way to interact with the night. Let it see your strength, so that it can know what manner of help to give you, but do not disrespect it. I’m proud. In two short lessons, you’ve already applied what you’ve learned, and survived an encounter.” Luna’s words were slightly confusing, but Twilight guessed she had the basic premise…

“So… Because I ran, and didn’t fight, that was good?”

“Exactly. Remember what I said, Twilight. Try to contest, to resist, and the night will destroy you. As it nearly did with me a thousand years ago.” Twilight contemplated this. It was so different from what she had learned… Celestia had taught her that the magic of light and the sun respected and admired strength. That you had to be strong to command it, to bend it to your will. The stronger you were, the more you could accomplish. But if you were weak, you would only waste time and effort. It taught her to be strong, efficient, and forceful.

Now, Luna was telling her to be meek and respectful. That she didn’t require skill or technique to accomplish her goals. That even the weak and unassuming could accomplish great things… It went against everything she had ever learned up until this point, but the odd thing was… It all made sense.

“I’m just glad I’m alive…” Twilight muttered.

“Trust me, Twilight. As am I. That situation could have ended much, much worse. I was foolish for summoning such a powerful creature for your first exposure… Now, though, I hope you understand where I’m coming from and what I mean when I say you must pay attention to how respectful you are.”

“Very much so, Luna…” Twilight offered a brave smile up at her teacher.

“Good. Now, then… If I understand correctly, you’re an accomplished reader, and quite good at studying.” Luna shook her mane out a little, smiling down at Twilight.

“I’ve been told it’s my talent.” Twilight chuckled, shuffling her hooves.

“While the exact meaning behind your mark remains a mystery, I assure you it doesn’t pertain to studying. Having this skill will certainly help, but it isn’t your calling in life. Now then, follow me.” Luna turned and walked towards a faraway book case, with Twilight following eagerly after. Darklings and reverence and shadow magic were one thing. They were tricky and difficult. Books she could do. Twilight was good with books. Luna pulled several volumes from the shelves with her magic, stacking them neatly on a nearby table.

“All of these?” Twilight asked, eyeing several thick volumes. At least eight in total.

“All of them. ’An Intermediate Guide to Major Apexes,’ ‘Studies of the Night,’ ‘Shadow Prophecy,’ ‘Dark Constellations,’ ‘Famous Nightweavers,’ and my personal favorite…” Luna blew a puff of breath across one particular dusty volume, revealing it’s title. ”’Advanced Shadow Theory.’ Save this one for last, if you can.” Luna looked up from the book, smiling. “Twilight?”

She was already reading ‘Studies of the Night.’

------------

It took her all of three days to read the eight thick volumes, and during that time, Twilight neglected to leave Luna’s room. Food and water were brought to her, and whenever she did sleep, she always awoke covered with a blanket. During this time, Luna was mysteriously absent, only showing up twice. Once to inquire about her progress, and another to retrieve a different book. Both times, she was gone within a minute. Twilight saw nothing of the outside world, her days spent engrossed in one book or another. Now, it was approaching midnight of day three, and she was halfway through ‘Advanced Shadow Theory.’ Unlike other unicorns, who would suffer from study fatigue, Twilight could process and learn information without ever feeling saturated. Her breaks were infrequent and short, and she stayed fueled with plenty of vitamins and amino acids.

Twilight really knew how to study.

“Hello, Twilight.” Luna’s voice only caused her to glance up from the text for a moment. Twilight registered her presence with a slight nod. She didn’t say anything before returning to her reading. “Is that… My, my, it is… I didn’t believe Celestia when she said you read fast. I hope you learned it all.” Twilight raised a hoof to a small stack of scrolls sitting on the table. “What are these?”

“Notes and reports.” Twilight muttered.

“When did you write these?”

“During.” She answered curtly.

“While you read? Twilight, that’s incredible.” She gave a quick grunt, her vision still fixated on the text before her eyes. “Very well. I’ll read these while you finish.” Luna hovered the small stack of bundled scrolls over to a separate table, leaving the one that was still rolled out alone. Twilight’s magic turned a page at the same time she lifted the quill. Still reading, she scribbled her notes on the previous page, all without even looking at the parchment she was writing on.

Just shy of two hours later, Twilight closed the cover to ‘Advanced Shadow Theory’ and hovered it to stack atop the others she had read. She proofread the scroll with her findings and notes, added a report and summary, and then delivered that to Luna. Meanwhile, the princess was busy reviewing Twilight’s work, and had just finished with the last scroll when Twilight delivered the most recent.

“Fantastic, Twilight. After I’m finished with this, I’ll tell you my evaluation. Shouldn’t take me long.” She unfurled the scroll and began reading right away, giving Twilight just enough time to excuse herself to the bathroom. This was another benefit of studying in Luna’s private quarters. Previously, Twilight had been too busy to enjoy the massive bath, but she did indulge in the large shower halfway through the extended session. Those three minutes had been blissful. She hoped Luna would let her study here in the future…

Finished, Twilight re-entered the bedroom proper right as Luna finished reading her review.

“Very good, Twilight.” Luna smiled at her. Twilight realized the expression was becoming commonplace between them. She returned it as she sat opposite, awaiting her evaluation. “It seems you have a comprehensive grasp on the magic of the night. But do you understand why you need to learn it next, as opposed to some of the other magics in the world?”

“I do.” Twilight nodded.

“Explain.”

“For me to properly understand the world, not from the eyes of a student of Celestia, but from the eyes of the Archmage, I need to know all aspects of magic in a balanced, controlled way. My development henceforth has been in the study of light, friendship, and a little bit of love. That was before I became Archmage. Now, I need to understand both magics equally before advancing any others, lest I become biased or unbalanced in my observations.” Twilight smiled at Luna’s shocked expression.

“If you weren’t a virgin, Twilight, I’d say you were ready to cast some of the most advanced shadow spells available. That was… Perhaps…” Luna trailed off, shaking her head. “Just… Wow. I’m going to have my hooves full with you.” Twilight chuckled, flicking her tail absently.

“When do we begin?” She asked.

“Begin… Further studies? Twilight, everything I have to show you about innocence and shadow magic, we would likely cover in a day. Until you lose your innocence, I cannot teach you anything.” Luna sighed. “It seems we’ve hit a snag.”

“Princess…” Twilight said softly. “I don’t think of myself very innocent… Might I share something with you?”

“Naturally. I hope you do so in the future without question, Twilight. But you are still very, very innocent.”

“That’s the thing… I…” Twilight blushed. Despite all that she’d read and reviewed about passion in the night and indecency, she still felt a little embarrassed. She had to check herself mentally. No. You’re no longer the shy librarian from Ponyville. You can’t keep hiding your secrets, especially when your studies revolve around passion and lovemaking. This is Luna. You can talk with her about these things. You HAVE to talk with her about these things.

“I… Touch myself.”

“Hmm?” Luna leaned in. “That was awfully quiet, Twilight.”

“I touch myself.” Twilight steeled her resolve.

“Masturbation?”

“Exactly.”

“Twilight, any teenage filly with half a brain has masturbated. Sexual thoughts aren’t enough to lose your innocence. At least, not completely. There’s something you’re missing here.” Luna sighed, hanging her head. “It’s not in any book, there hasn’t been a published study, there are no research notes… Twilight, the loss of innocence isn’t an acquisition of corruption. When it happens, you will understand more than you could ever know. It’s… Ugh, I wish I could explain better.” Luna appeared flustered, her expression screwed up in thought. Twilight waited patiently, trying to guess at what it was Luna meant.

“Thinking about sex and partaking in sex are two entirely different things. Self-gratification, sure. It feels wonderful. But it’s not what you need to understand. When you make love to another pony, Twilight, you’re sharing something so special with them, so unique… It’s… It’s beyond sexual gratification.” Luna groaned as she continued to struggle with the words.

“Please, Luna… I want to know. I’m prepared to do anything it takes.”

“I’m sure you are, Twilight. Really, I am… Let me explain further.” Luna straightened more. “You now know that only ponies who make love during the night time are able to conceive. That is because the magic of the night is what binds the process together, and breathes new life into existence.” She leaned in, punctuating her point. “The magic of the night, Twilight, is the very magic of creation. Of life.”

“I thought… The sun was what wrought everything? Under it’s light, everything is made-“

“Made, Twilight. Not conceived.”

“I don’t follow…”

“Anypony with the knowledge can take some rocks, heat them up, and extract the metal, then take that metal and shape it into… Whatever they please. Anypony can stack bricks on top of one another to erect a building. A pony with enough knowledge and power can summon forth hundreds upon thousands of trees… But all these things are lifeless. They do not have sentience. Or souls.” Luna took a breath. She seemed to be struggling with the next few words, but she said them anyways. “Only during the night, using the sacred magic as timeless as anything, can a being be given life. Memories and thought process. Neural pathways in the brain that collect and store knowledge to be used at a later date… Only then can they form coherent thoughts that allow them to live and survive in this world.” She opened her eyes, looking straight down at Twilight.”

“Only during the night can anything be truly born.” Twilight shuddered.

“So… That means…”

“For you to even comprehend the magic of creation, of life and soul, you need to understand the bond between two ponies. The bond that is formed when they make love. When they share something so special to one another. Then, and only then, Twilight… Will you be prepared to look into the heart of creation.”

-----------

“Nopony. Not a soul.”

“Seriously?” Luna appeared shocked. “You can’t think of or find anypony suitable?”

“Not one! I’m not kidding, I’ve talked with, socialized, chatted, flirted, and yes, even kissed… But the thought of… Of opening myself like that to any one of them… Just… Eew.” Twilight shuddered. She and Luna had come to a decision. During that week, Twilight would attempt to find a mate. To find somepony special enough that she could open herself and share that special connection. She was willing. She wanted it just as badly as she ever had. And now that she had the time away from her studies… Or, even better, now that it was for her studies, Twilight could fully devote herself to looking for somepony special.

Only one problem with that… Nopony she found was even remotely good enough. It seemed everypony she came across was selfish and stuck-up, too conceited or dispassionate to think of sex as anything other than a means to an end. That end being self-satisfaction, and not a shared experience…

“This… Is problematic. How many ponies did you try?”

“Dozens.” Twilight muttered. The past week, all she had done was visit lounges and clubs, bars and restaurants. During the day, she would walk the streets of Canterlot, setting up dates or chatting in parks… Over and again, she would just meet filthy, despicable ponies… None of them cared in the slightest about sharing something special. They only wanted to get off. One was so adamant that after they shared a quick kiss, he had shoved her head under the table, filling her vision with his erect stallionhood. She had nearly blasted him through the wall.

“Hrm… Twilight, you’ve been working hard this past week. You need a distraction. Tonight, atop the observatory, we’ll take a few hours for you to study the innocent side of the night. Given your comprehensive understanding of theory and it’s application, you’ll be able to grasp it within no time at all. Remember-“

“Respect. I know.” Twilight sighed. It was disheartening that in an entire week, she hadn’t managed to find somepony. But at least tonight, it sounded like she would be able to actually cast some shadow magic.

“Alright. Tonight, then.”

“Goodbye.” Twilight smiled before slipping out of Luna’s chambers, walking the relatively short distance to her own room. In the week that she had been busy trying to find a mate, her belongings had arrived. She didn’t spend any time unpacking, all the boxes holding her possessions were still stacked around her living space. There were six hours left until sunset and her first indulgence in shadow magic. She had enough time to finally sort away her new quarters.

The Archmage’s suite was very nearly as expansive as the princess’, it turned out. Twilight had only ever used the bedroom and bathroom since her arrival, she had been too busy. Now that she finally had some time to explore, to look around, she realized there were several rooms she had missed completely. One such room was a large, empty library. The shelves were clean and ready to accept books. Her own extensive collection had been deposited in this room, all the boxes stacked neatly in the middle. The time it would take to unpack, organize, catalogue, and inspect each book for travel damage would keep her occupied for at least half a day. Twilight grumbled, but moved elsewhere. The next room over was a lounge of sorts, sporting a thick rug and a very large fireplace. Nocturnal Glow had left her the furniture in this room, thankfully. A very large and comfortable-looking chair sat adjacent to the fireplace, right next to a group of equally large couches. This was likely the room that Glow had entertained guests in. A few pieces of her own furniture sat about, covered in protective wrapping. She unpacked these and re-arranged the room. Now, the large chair sat next to the large bank of windows, looking out over Canterlot, while the couches were arranged in a half-circle around the fire. The thought of having all her friends over for a little wine and some conversation, all of them stretched out on the couches, was a rather warm one.

She reluctantly left the lounge to inspect the kitchen. Just silverware, plates, bowls and whatnot here… She hovered them all into appropriate cupboards, frowning slightly at the emptiness of her fridge. Perhaps she ought to order some food? Maybe not just yet… Her studies had her out and about all day, with never much time to prepare a meal. Though there was never any need to; the castle chefs were always willing to bring her something. Next was her bedroom. The past week, all she could do was collapse on the sheets and pass out, with maybe enough time to relieve the pent-up stress she was building up. Her vanity had two boxes with brushes, combs, mane-care products and all the odds and ends she needed for hygiene. Another box near the foot of her bed contained a lamp, clock, and something else. With a furious blush, Twilight pulled her vibrator from the box. Somepony had packed this and sent it her way. Hastily, she tucked it in a bedside drawer, half of her thankful that she had it again, and the other half embarrassed that she had neglected to put it somewhere discreet.

Shaking off the embarrassment that some anonymous pony had handled her personal satisfaction device, she went to unpack the rest of her toiletries in the bathroom. The palace had supplies like shampoo and conditioner for guests, but now that Twilight had her own things, the bathroom didn’t feel so alien. A few thick rugs were laid out on the tile floor, and her own towels now hung on the rungs affixed to the walls. It felt much more warm and comfortable now, not cold and utilitarian. Aside from her library, that was everything. She still had nearly three hours until nighttime… With no stress on her mind about finding a mate tonight, Twilight felt rather relaxed. She would put some magic into practice tonight, and take it easy for once. After that…

She’d rather not think about it just now. Instead, she decided it was time to use her own large bathtub for the first time. Humming happily, Twilight lit candles, poured oils and bubble mixtures into the tub, and started the water. The scents wafting through the air washed over her, filling her senses with the soothing, relaxing sensations. Steam billowed up from the tub as it slowly filled, the water tinged through with oil and soapy bubbles. She cranked the water off once it was full enough and ever so slowly sunk in…

It was pure bliss. Twilight audibly groaned as her muscles automatically relaxed. Her coat soaked in the heat while her senses began to grow dull. She sunk down into the water, submerging her head after taking a long breath. Eyes clenched tight, Twilight enjoyed the feeling of being completely and utterly wrapped in the oil-laced, nearly scalding water. It felt so incredible, so amazing… Before, she had hardly given her shower time to warm up before stepping in, taking maybe three minutes at most to scrub herself clean, pay a little attention to her mane and tail, then it was done. She’d dry and rush off to whatever it was she had planned next. Now, as she re-emerged into the steamy air, she was already three minutes in and just barely getting started.

About half an hour late, just before her hooves began to get pruny, Twilight left the bathtub. The fun bubbles had all but died down, and she was scrubbed as thoroughly as she had been in well over a month. In fact, Twilight couldn’t recall the last time she spent so much time cleaning and grooming. One part, in particular, begged for more attention than the soft touch of her hooves cleaning it. She tried to ignore the desires running through her mind as she air-dried. She didn’t even care that she was dripping all over as she walked about her quarters.

But her thoughts would not be dissuaded. The way her tail hung sleek and straight down her backside, clinging to her thighs… Her mane wrapped around her neck, hugging her forehead and horn tight…

Nope. Couldn’t resist. Throwing herself onto her bed, Twilight smiled to herself as she bounced atop the rumpled covers. She had needed proper release for too long. She had been far too stressed and too busy to pay herself the attention she needed so direly. The cool air wafted over her damp coat, teasing her with tendrils of evaporation that left her feeling almost like somepony was breathing against her… Her hooves rubbed slow circles, starting on her neck. The gentle touches made her hips writhe, the burning ache between her thighs begging to be addressed. She would get to it… But she needed to make sure she was prepared.

Her self-massage certainly helped work up her sexual appetite. By the time she was rubbing low enough to manipulate her flared lips, she was positively dripping. She drew her bottom lip inbetween her teeth, biting firmly to keep herself from crying out. Then she remembered she was alone in a large suite, with more-or-less soundproofed walls, and nopony nearby to hear her. She didn’t have to keep quiet. Openly, she let her throat vibrate with a full-bodied groan.

“Uuhn…” Her hoof finally met the epicenter of her desire, grinding firmly against the wet, pulsing opening. Radiating waves of pleasure rolled into her body, pulsing through her stomach and up into her chest. She gasped as a quick flash shot through her, product of an unintentional brush against her clitoris. She whimpered as the blood flowed to the area, making her button swell larger against her hoof. It couldn’t be avoided any longer, and each slow motion of her hoof made the pleasure pulse ten times more firmly through her entire body.

“Aaaaahhh…” A long sigh escaped, almost like letting loose the air from an inflated tire. She felt herself grow loose and relaxed, her legs splayed lazily open as she continued to rub herself. But it wasn’t going to be enough for her… The muscles inside ached and flexed, begging to be filled, to feel something within… “Fine,” She whimpered, pulling her bedside drawer open. She felt the firm shaft of her vibrator with her magic, levitating it into the air. She was soaked, her coat damp with arousal, but that wasn’t enough. She had to prepare properly.

“Haa-omph.” Her horn glimmered around the thick shaft, her mouth opening to accept the device. She moaned into it, running her tongue over the flared, plastic head. She wondered if this was what a real stallionhood felt like, if it would be firm and tasteless, or musky, or what… She knew from books that they oozed pre-cum, a flow of minerals and nutrients for the sperm to survive on… She wondered what it tasted like, if she would enjoy it at all… Moaning more, she pushed the dildo into her lips further, working saliva around the firm shaft. From experience, she knew not to turn it on while it was in her mouth… The vibrations hurt her teeth something fierce. But that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy sucking. Working it up and down, her saliva running over her lips, Twilight made sure the toy was as lubricated as it could be.

“Pwah… Oooh, yesss…” The shaft gleamed with her saliva, a thin strand of it stretching from her mouth to the head. She was ready for it. She wanted it. She needed it. Smooth as she could manage, Twilight pulled her hoof away from her aching marehood and positioned the head against her opening. “Come onn…” She groaned, almost as if begging for it. The head slid up and down, pressing against her clit, spreading the joined wetness of saliva and arousal all over… She was a sloppy mess down there already, and she could hardly care.

“O… Ooh!” The first two inches made her back arch from the bed. She very nearly lost control of her magic as she bucked her hips, but managed to keep ahold of it… If just barely. Whimpering some more, Twilight pushed the vibrator further, feeling it spread her apart as it slid in… There was next to no resistance. She was so wet, the shaft so slick, that it slid over her walls effortlessly. She clenched her muscles, feeling each smooth curve of the toy inside of her. It filled her so perfectly, so delicate and small… But just right. Twilight whimpered and slid the last bit in, burying the base against her twitching labia.

“F-fuck me…” She whimpered, shuddering under the intense sensation of being filled so completely. “Uuh…” Her magic pulled the shaft halfway out, making her stomach twitch with the sensation of being vacated… It was almost as good as filling herself up. Almost. With a smooth touch, she slid it back in. “Yes…” Another throaty groan. Previously, Twilight had used her hooves to stimulate her clitoris, reaching climax as quickly as she could manage… This particular session, it seemed, was already twice as long as any prior. She was loving every last moment of relaxing, stress-relieving masturbation… She couldn’t get enough of it. She needed more. Gnawing on her lip again, she began sliding in and out, thrusting into herself with the toy.

A trick she had learned not long after buying it, she saved the vibrator for the very end. After all, regular stallions didn’t vibrate, right? She made this session as natural as possible, whimpering and panting to her heart’s content. There was no reason to hold back, or to keep herself from crying out. Each loud moan she gave slowly became louder and louder, coming faster and faster. She was approaching her limit, ready to blow at a moment’s notice. There! That was her g-spot! She hit it again, shuddering as her loud cry echoed back from the stone walls. Again. Another cry.

“Yes! More!” She called out to nopony, just feeling the need to vocalize. She needed to say it. She needed to tell somepony, even if it was just herself. Her lungs filled with air, the vibrator turned on to maximum, and she let it all loose.

“FUCK YESSSS-AUGH!” She sagged into the sheets, her twitching muscles forcing the buzzing vibrator out of her dripping hole. She lay on the sheets, subject to wave after wave of firm, strength-robbing pleasure. Groaning idly, she let herself revel in the loss of muscle coordination, the deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, of being truly pleased for the first time in recent memory… The humming of the toy pulled her out of her self-induced trance, as it was pressed against her inner thigh and felt rather annoying.

The toy stopped buzzing idly on the damp covers when she flicked it off, still too lazy to move just yet… The cool air washed over her entire body, feeling wonderful on her still-damp coat and mane. It felt even better on her aching crotch, though, thanks to the multitude of fresh liquid there.

Before she got up to clean her toy and take another quick bath, Twilight had one singular thought…

I wonder what it will be like… When I finally share that moment with somepony else…?

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“Goodness, Twilight. You look radiant.” Luna blinked at her as Twilight emerged onto the observatory’s uppermost balcony. The same place they had been just one week prior when Twilight had confronted the darkling. The stone, she saw, had been repaired since then. Almost as if it never happened…

“Do I?” Twilight smiled warmly, turning a slow circle for Luna. “Just relaxed, I suppose… Glad I’m finally applying myself to something.”

“Hmm. Well, I hope you’re prepared. You may have studied it, you may have witnessed it… But opening yourself and harnessing the power given to you… Why, it’s unlike anything else, Twilight.” Luna’s faint smile was slightly different than anything Twilight had seen yet… It was awfully calm and serene… Naturally beautiful. Like Luna was just glad to be sharing something special with her. Twilight found it infectious, her own lips spreading in a gentle, natural manner.

“I’m ready. At least, I hope so.”

“You are, Twilight. But remember your doubts. The night sees all, knows all… When you open yourself to it, I think you’ll find the experience… Satisfying.” Twilight nearly laughed.

“Okay. So… I need to cast-“

“No need to cast anything yet, Twilight. Just pretend you’re going to levitate something. When you do, open your heart, accept the darkness, and surrender.” Twilight took a deep breath to steady herself, to clear her mind.

She could do this.

Sitting on the cool stone, Twilight closed her eyes, opened her mind, and let herself accept it all.

Silence. Twilight couldn’t hear anything… Not one single thing. There was no voice, no sound from her horn, nothing indicating she had done it… But there was something else she couldn’t hear…

The wind was suddenly gone. In fact, it wasn’t ruffling her coat or her many anymore, either…

Then she felt it. Everything. All at once. Without sound, without warning, it slammed into her. She felt every little detail in the stone beneath her, every last hair that twitched on her coat or through her mane. She felt the individual particles in the air collide against her as the wind carried them through the air. She felt her heart hammering in her chest, her stomach gurgling with the quick dinner she had just eaten. She could feel each pump of blood through her veins…

She still heard nothing.

Nothing but the voice.

”Twilight Sparkle… I’m glad you’ve finally opened your heart to me…” Feminine. Gentle. Calm and oh so serene… Twilight opened her eyes, seeing everything laid out in detail before her. There, off of the balcony, a single intimidating figure hovered in the night. It was a pony, her coat and mane as black as the deepest shadow, darker than unconsciousness. This was the type of black that sucked in all the light around it.

She was a beautiful pony, but beautiful in the way that commanded respect and admiration. Powerful and very noticeable. Her body was muscled, but not stocky. Her movements were as graceful as a pegasus in flight, with all the strength of an earth pony, and the poise of a unicorn. She was frightening and entrancing all at the same time. Twilight knew who this was. She had no name, at least, not a specific one. She couldn’t ever be properly addressed. No simple label could ever do her justice.

She was night. She was shadow. She was life and creation, passion and hatred. Fear, loathing, pain and discomfort. Tenderness, compassion, and understanding. She was everything Twilight had read in the books and more. She was incomprehensibly powerful, more infinite than anything that had ever existed. And she was looking right. At. Twilight.

Through Twilight. Into her heart of hearts, her very soul.

”Hmm… Your name carries great importance in the world, Twilight… More so than anypony in recent history. You are destined to accomplish significant and important things. But you are not yet prepared to handle my power… Not all of it. Not yet.” Twilight shook. She couldn’t look at her any longer, but couldn’t tear her eyes away. She felt tears well up in her eyes, threatening to spill over at any moment. They did indeed, coursing down her cheeks freely. She shook on the floor, her tears dotting the stone beneath her.

”No need to cry, little one… You have respected and honored me with every action you’ve ever taken so far… I’ll be happy to share my knowledge with you, Twilight. Openly and freely.” A large hoof, gleaming as it moved through the air, brushed over her cheek, wiping away the tears she cried. ”Once you are ready. For now, ask, and I will give you what I can. You are innocent, youngling. As kind and deserving as anypony to use my power… Fret not, Twilight…” The gentle touch was warm and reassuring. Twilight stopped shaking, her tears coming to an end. But as the night leaned in, it’s face hardly an inch from Twilight’s, the next words sent a shiver down her spine.

”Enter the night, youngling.”

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Luna gasped as Twilight’s eyes opened at last. She remembered well the first time she had conversed with the powerful night. The words shared had made her weep with self-loathing for being so unworthy, but laugh with glee at being accepted and loved.

Now, as Twilight rose to all four hooves, Luna felt pride and happiness fill her. Twilight had done exactly as she was supposed to. Her horn hummed with a dark, black aura, the scintillating shadows swirling around her hooves as she stood. Miniature shockwaves radiated outwards from her body, rushing over the ground faster and faster. Her eyes were shrouded in shadow. The air was thick with the dark energy bestowed upon her. Luna felt it crackle, the dark, jagged edges of electricity arcing down from Twilight’s body to the stone, cutting through the air.

Twilight had done it.

She was using shadow magic.

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The energy filled Twilight from the glowing tip of her horn all the way down to the last strand of hair in her tail. She was pulsing with power, radiating it outwards from her in waves. It crackled through the air, shearing into the stone beneath her and clouding her vision with darkness. It slowly began to recede, the waves coming less frequently, the hum of energy dying out. As she released the tension in her muscles, it all died away. She sagged slightly, feeling shaken from being gifted with such a power. It was intoxicating. It was exhilarating. She wanted more, but she dare not ask. She wasn’t worthy. She couldn’t ask anything of that powerful being.

“Twilight,” Luna said gently, drawing her attention. Twilight looked up, her lips spread in a weak smile. “You’ve done it. I’m so proud of you…”

“L-luna…” She muttered. “That was…”

“Intense.”

“Yeah.”

“You did so well, Twilight. I’m so proud… I can’t possibly say.” Twilight watched as Luna swept forward, wrapping her hooves around Twilight, pulling her close for a hug. Twilight didn’t even fight it as she collapsed into the embrace. Luna was surprisingly warm and soft, her reassurance filling Twilight with even more excitement and energy. The hug stretched on for several long moments, and Twilight didn’t even mind in the slightest. She was quivering with excitement, her eyes wide with wonder at the experience she had just endured.

“Luna,” She muttered. “That was so scary… So amazing!”

“I know, Twilight. I know.” Luna pulled away at last, smiling down at Twilight. “Now, you’ll see just how different the night is from the day… We’re going to try casting some spells now. Are you ready?”

“I’m ready… I think.” Twilight stepped back, her body still quivering with excitement. She fought to control her heartbeat, to relax… She had to keep the proper mindset for this.

“Cast a shield, Twilight. But use shadow magic. That is within the realm of possibility for innocence. In fact, you’ll find that many spells offered to you are defensive.”

“O-okay… Here goes.” Twilight spread her hooves, giving herself a stable and firm base. She ran through the motions for the spell in her head before casting it.

Make the spell form... Fill yourself with the energy, and let it go… No. Not for shadow magic. Let the energy fill YOU. Let it flow into you.

“Haaahh…” With a breath released through her lips, Twilight summoned the spell to her mind, let her horn fill with magic…

“WOAH!” Luna had to take off as the shield erupted into existence. Twilight felt the power course through her horn, flowing fast and free, developing itself into a bubble around her. The rushing sound almost hurt her ears. It was so different… The dark energy flowing through her was powerful, fast, and potent. She didn’t have to touch it. She let it do as it would, her will having no say in it. She thought of the spell, and the night gave it to her. She didn’t have to force it… The shadow acted on it’s own, filling the parameters she set forth. That she requested.

They filled it to capacity. Twilight’s shield expanded more and more, growing larger and larger until Luna was forced to dive into it. Twilight watched it expand outwards all the more, the black bubble wrapping around the entire castle… Then the city… All of Canterlot was soon enveloped in the black shield, and yet it continued to expand. By the time it came to a stop, Twilight Sparkle had used the night to summon a shield twice as strong and significantly larger than the one Shining Armor had made a few years ago during the changeling invasion. She had surpassed her brother by a very large amount.

“Enough, Twilight… Tell the night you give up.” Luna commanded. If they let this go on, questions would be raised. Most likely about her, and the return of Nightmare Moon. Nopony would believe either of them that the shield was Twilight’s instead.

“I’m done!” Twilight whimpered. “Thank you! Thank you so much!” The shadow faded away with a whispering sound, evaporating into nothing. There was silence left over, so oppressive and complete.

“Twilight… What did you do?”

“I… I made the spell-form in my mind… But instead of taking the energy for myself, I just… I just let it open in me.”

“That’s incredible…” Luna muttered… “Your shield, Twilight, was the most powerful I’ve ever seen another unicorn cast.” She leaned in, whispering softly. “Ever.”

“Wh… What does it mean?” Twilight asked quietly. Luna straightened up, sighing as she closed her eyes.

“It means the night has gifted you more power than I’ve ever seen. She fueled that spell, Twilight… You asked, and the night delivered.” Luna opened her eyes, looking down at Twilight with a very serious expression. “The night has something great planned for you, Twilight.” Another sigh. This time, Luna leaned in close enough for her whisper to make Twilight shiver. Her breath washed over Twilight’s ear, making her own breath catch in her throat. Her eyes went wide.

“Something the likes of which Equestria hasn’t seen in over a thousand years.”

A guard burst through the door, panting heavily.

“Princess! A-a large, black ball just appeared! It… It wrapped around the entire city! There are no casualties-“

“I know, guardsman.” Luna raised her head with a smile. “There will be no casualties, and that likely won’t happen again anyways… There is no need to panic. The Archmage and I were practicing.”

“Wh… The Archmage?”

“Yes. We were practicing. There is no need to worry.”

“Y-yes, Princess…” The guard relaxed a little, his expression slowly melting from concern and panic into respect for Twilight’s considerable skill. Or so he thought. Twilight didn’t feel very powerful… She just felt blessed. Excited. Thankful. “E-excuse me. I’ll go inform the other guards.”

“Send out patrols. There are bound to be night workers; security guards, city personnel, who saw what happened. Assure them nothing is wrong.”

“Yes, Princess Luna!” The guard saluted before slipping away, though Twilight thought she could hear him mutter something under his breath along the lines of ‘Incredible…’ She couldn’t help but smile as the door shut behind him.

“You see?” Luna’s stoic expression faded back into a soft smile. “You can accomplish great things with the power of the night, Twilight. Together, as partners, you and the darkness will likely be the most powerful allies since… Well, myself for one.” Luna chuckled, and Twilight joined her nervously. She didn’t dare compare herself to the princess. Luna was powerful beyond measure. Twilight’s first lesson had proven that even when she exerted her full amount of skill, she could barely lay a hoof on Luna. Not that the princess wouldn’t destroy her utterly before she could get the chance.

“Just imagine, Twilight.” Luna said softly. “The power you can use when you open yourself to all the night’s secrets.” Twilight shuddered at the thought… The night had promised her she would. Twilight knew it in her heart of hearts that she could find somepony to share herself with… To unlock the full potential she had.

But deep down, Twilight was very, very scared.

She didn’t know why.

The Difference Between Lust and Love

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Archmage Chapter 6 - “The Difference Between Lust and Love”

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Twilight was cumming again. Her back arched from the bed, her walls pulsing around the invading tongue. It wriggled around inside of her, stirring her up in ways that she thought were downright criminal. Nopony should ever be subject to such a sensory overload.

Not that she was complaining… Quite the opposite, in fact. With a loud cry, Twilight’s eyes clenched shut and she surrendered to the rushing wave of pleasure.

“Haah… That good?” Twilight sagged into the damp sheets, her chest heaving as the exhaustion and fatigue returned, taking place of the sense-robbing pleasure.

“V… Very good…” Twilight managed to whimper, smiling down at the mare between her legs. Slowly, Luna worked her way up Twilight’s body, their lips meeting for a deep, tongue-filled kiss that very nearly made Twilight wet again…

And then she woke up.

“Ugh…” The buzzing of her alarm clock infuriated her so very much… She rolled her head to the side, glaring at the offensive, ringing beast. “Oh the things I would do to you if I didn’t have to replace you.” She grunted, flicking the alarm off with a quick twist of magic. In the late-evening sun, Twilight slowly rolled out of bed, stretching tight muscles with a slight groan. Something about sleeping during the day still seemed alien to Twilight… Like she couldn’t quite get used to it. Whenever she went to sleep with the rising sun, the light bothered her, keeping her awake and red-eyed for several hours before she could finally fall asleep. Then, waking in the evening, she felt fatigued and tired.

“Here’s to hoping I can finish studying with Luna in time to keep my sanity…” If the Archmage can keep her sanity at all… History had more than one report of an Archmage gone mad with power, or depressed with the burden of responsibility. Heaving a soft sigh, Twilight left her rumpled bed behind and plodded into the bathroom. She always set her alarm two hours early. One hour to prepare, and one hour to arrive at her lesson. It didn’t take her an hour to get there, but she always preferred being early. Not by ten or fifteen minutes, but by a half an hour or more. Having an early start tended to free up Twilight’s schedule later in the day. And if they started on-time, she wouldn’t be impacted anyways.

Not that her schedule consisted of much, anyways… These days, it was practice with Luna, then attempt to find somepony to lose her virginity to… One of these was almost always successful. The other, it seemed, was met with failure every night since she had undertaken the task. Somehow, Twilight had the feeling if she pursued this particular objective in Ponyville, she would have met with somepony suitable already. There were a few stallions around town that she had been caught looking at on more than one occasion… And the occasional mare. All of them were far better than even a single pony she could find in Canterlot.

Sighing once more, Twilight cranked the water in the shower on hot and stood under the scalding stream. She ignored the tendrils of pain, focusing instead on the dream… It had been surprisingly vivd and realistic… But, like many dreams, the details began to fade away like sand through gripped hooves. Her eyes remained shut, trying hard to keep that face in her memory, to hold it there as long as she could…

Slowly, Luna’s beautiful face faded away, leaving only a grey image of an anonymous mare behind.

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“Is something bothering you, Twilight?” Luna’s question was more loaded than a powder keg in a mine. Twilight’s heaving breath stilled for a moment as she raised her head.

“What? Augh!” Another blast of dark magic erupted underneath her hooves, throwing her through the air. She grunted and flipped over, landing on her hooves expertly. The snow slid under her for a few inches before she found purchase, springing forward and charging Luna. “Dirty trick!” She called with a smile. Luna’s own lips spread before she cast another bolt. Too late. Twilight teleported behind the princess, opened herself to the night, and enveloped them both in her powerful shield.

“Oh f- URGH!” Luna sagged under the considerable weight of Twilight’s next spell. Even the lunar princess couldn’t handle the force of the dark shadows that formed around her wings. To finish it off, Twilight mixed in a fatigue spell, and the princess was on the ground. Twilight pounced, seizing the opportunity before Luna could raise herself up. Her horn glowed as it pressed to the side of Luna’s neck. “Hmm. Good job, Twilight…” Luna muttered, grinning up at her.

What? Yield already, Luna! You’re subdued and I’ve got you at my horn! Twilight’s mind raced. Here, beneath her hooves, Luna lay on a snowy mountaintop with Twilight’s horn pressed against her throat, under the weight of a powerful fatigue spell and an even more potent snare trap. Anypony would be completely tapped! Even Luna!

“You forget one thing…”

“AUGH!” Twilight suddenly collapsed under an incomprehensible weight, grunting as the wind was driven from her lungs. It felt as if the entire weight of the moon itself rested on her shoulders, grinding her down into the snow, grinding her to bits. She was barely able to draw a breath, her muscles flexed tight to keep from getting crushed. Luna stood up smoothly, smiling down at her as her own horn began to glow.

“Shadow magic can just as easily be reversed.”

“Y-yield.” Twilight croaked, her chest sagging. Luna’s soft smile came at the same time as the relief, making Twilight gasp and pant. She coughed raggedly a few times, her muscles singing with joy at being released from the crushing weight.

“I. Hate. Snare traps.” Twilight panted, her breath coming in gasps as she tried to make sense of all that had just happened.

“Hehe. Come on, Twilight.” Luna lifted her up. “You actually managed to subdue me, if only for a while. This is cause for celebration.” Luna’s horn erupted in yet another dark glow, filling Twilight’s mind with the void. She gasped as they landed atop the observation tower back in Canterlot. After the mild panic caused by Twilight’s massive shield two nights prior, they had taken to teleporting off to a nearby mountaintop, so their duels and practicing wouldn’t affect the citizens of Canterlot negatively. Out here, against the biting cold and the crunchy snow, Twilight didn’t have to hold back…

While it was marginally warmer atop the observatory back in Canterlot, it was windy. And the biting wind was making the snow on her coat feel even colder. She began to shiver as the two of them made their way towards the nearby door. “C-cold,” Twilight whimpered, thankful for the warm embrace of the tower. Nevermind the fact that she was dripping melting snow everywhere. She needed a shower.

“Go warm up, get cleaned, and meet me at my quarters in half an hour.” Luna said. Twilight nodded, glancing downward… Luna, it seemed, was a little dirty herself. That practice session had probably taken a lot on both of them. She woodenly walked to her quarters, barely managing to turn the water on warm before collapsing on the tile floor. She groaned as the warmth flowed into her bit by bit. Rather than being stained with dirt and mud, her hooves wet and her belly soaked from collapsing into the snow, she was now completely drenched, and slowly cleaning herself.

Since Twilight was obviously a failure at finding a mate, she and Luna had been sparring the past two nights. Twilight felt like she needed to practice shadow magic even though Luna reassured her up and down that shadow magic was natural; no amount of practice would determine her skill. The power of the spell she requested was determined by the night, and not by her own volition. Still, Twilight had her own agenda. As she had just done maybe ten minutes prior, she wanted to practice swinging from opening herself to the night, and harnessing the power all around her.

When Luna had thrown her through the air, Twilight had charged forth. She had summoned her own strength in the teleportation spell, and then as soon as she appeared behind the princess, she opened herself to the night with a shield. Inside said shield, Twilight’s magic was amplified. The night had greater sway, and she could allow it to do much more for her. So she had used one of the few shadow spells made available to her, a snare trap. That spell was made for escaping, normally… One would lay it in the path of pursuers, and they would be crushed by a considerable weight. Lesser ponies would die from the crushing, but Luna was more than able to handle it.

After that, for practice, Twilight had cast the fatigue spell. Not being of the night, or the shadow, Twilight had to switch her psyche, try to command the incumbent energies around her, rather than open herself up. Doing so was tough, but the situation warranted it. She succeeded in casting a quick, moderately powerful spell, and as such, subdued Luna. At least, until her sparring partner had turned the snare trap around on her. The shield was still in place, and Luna likely still suffered from the fatigue spell, but with a simple motion, she had turned the fight around in her favor.

Twilight hoped she would learn the secret to reversing shadow magic. Still though, she had done more against the princess than ever before, and that was most definitely cause for celebration. Twilight turned the shower off and dried as quickly as she could, leaving herself fifteen minutes to style her mane and make it up two stories to Luna’s private quarters. The doors opened as she approached, inviting her in without the need to knock.

“You’ve improved immensely, Twilight.” Luna’s voice carried from the far desk she sat at. She was, once more, clean and looking as regal as she ever did. Her back was turned, but Twilight could see her hooves were absent of the mud and wetness from the snowy mountaintop, and her mane floated ephemerally about her shoulders. The recent dream came to mind yet again, and Twilight fought the blush that threatened to rise to her cheeks as she strode forward.

“I at least managed to snare you. For that, I am happy.”

“Indeed. Not only that, but you recovered in a flash, and turned around with some brilliant misdirection. I may have to stop holding back in our duels.”

“H… holding back?” Twilight whimpered. Luna just grinned over her shoulder at Twilight.

“You don’t really think I’d go all-out on you, do you, Twilight?”

“Ugh… I guess I’ll never be a match for you.” Twilight realized that her words were likely blasphemy, but she couldn’t stop them anyways. Luna, however, just laughed light-heartedly and beckoned Twilight closer.

“Come on. We’re celebrating tonight.” Set on the table were two glasses and a tall bottle of some clear liquid. Twilight knew it was alcohol, which she wasn’t entirely familiar with, but not a complete stranger to either.

“By drinking?” She scrunched her nose. Twilight didn’t like alcohol that much. It was fine in social situations, but she was studying. Had been for the past two weeks straight.

“Mmhmm. You might find your stallion troubles not so much of a bother after a few drinks. I dare say there are others who find you a touch… Uptight.” Luna’s teasing smile punctuated the sound of the seal breaking and the cap twisting off of the bottle. Twilight could smell the acrid scent from where she sat, and grimaced as Luna filled both the cups to the brim. She took one, looking up at Luna, who raised the other to her lips. “Cheers.”

“Down the hatch.” Twilight blocked her sinuses, suppressed her gag reflex, and tossed the liquid back. It hit her like a hammer, but she swallowed the entire glass. “Ugh.” Smacking her lips, Twilight worked to get the disgusting, oppressive taste off her tongue. “Do we have a chaser?”

“Hmm… I think I have some… Hang on…” Luna padded away, leaving through an archway that Twilight knew led to the kitchen. Despite her better judgement, she poured a second glass for herself and Luna, and once the princess returned with a bottle of amber-colored fluid, Twilight levitated Luna her second shot. “Don’t worry, it’s apple juice. We can share.”

“Thanks. Cheers.” Twilight clinked the second shot together before tossing it back with another grimace. This one made her shudder and cough twice before she could even get at the apple juice. When the sweet liquid touched her tongue, though, it was the greatest relief. She swished it around her mouth several times before swallowing, feeling the tendrils of burning warmth begin to radiate from her stomach.

“Good, no?”

“I hate vodka…” Twilight grumbled.

“Oh, lighten up.” Luna chuckled, sitting next to Twilight at the table. “Truth be told, I didn’t call you here just to celebrate. I found a book you might find useful, given your current… Predicament.” Twilight perked up in that moment, suddenly very interested. Books? Studying? Progression? Luna had her undivided attention now. Her horn glowed and Twilight looked up as she pulled a new book from a nearby shelf. This volume was much more thin than any others Twilight had read since… Well, since ever. It appeared to be markedly more colorful than most books, and was a paperback… The flimsy pamphlet of a book settled on the table before them. Twilight glanced at the title, and suddenly, her cheeks were on fire.

“Oh… Oh, I know this book…” Twilight whimpered.

“Good. You’ve probably only studied the kama-sutra from a scientific standpoint before. Now, knowing what you need to do, I want you to study it earnestly.” Luna’s horn glowed again, and she flipped the page open to the index. “Choose.” She said solemnly, indicating the table of contents and their respective page numbers. “And we’ll discuss one.” Twilight whimpered, her eyes scanning the names. Vague memories of when she was a teenager, sneaking into the restricted sections of the Canterlot library, or perusing catalogues of books to be ordered for the library in Ponyville… This particular one had been found on a top shelf, hidden between two other large tomes.

“I… I guess… This one.” Twilight pressed her hoof to a name high on the page. It was actually third, beneath two that she had never been able to pronounce, though she knew what they entailed.

“Congress of a Crow? Do you know what that consists of, Twilight?” Luna asked, chuckling to herself.

“N… No, that’s why I asked…”

“It’s… Well, it’s no normal sex act.” Luna turned to the next page. Both pages had a name and a detailed diagram at the top, one of them depicting a mare performing oral sex on a stallion, and the other with the same stallion, his head buried between a mare’s thighs. “Congress of a Crow is a combination of Fellatio and Cunnilingus performed at the same time. By both parties.” Twilight frowned at the pronunciation. She had never heard it said before.

“F… Fell-ay-shi-oh?” She said slowly.

“Correct. Fellatio. This one,” Luna tapped the picture on the left, with the diagram of the stallion. “The other, Cunnilingus…”

“Cun-ill-in-gus.”

“Right. Goodness, you really don’t know anything, do you?” Twilight shot the princess an apathetic look, as if to say ‘never even kissed a stallion before.’ Luna chuckled and tapped the page once more. “Read, Twilight. Congress of a Crow consists of both of these performed at the same time.” Luna smiled and pulled away, leaving Twilight to read the text with a surprisingly eager sense of curiosity.

To assist with arousal, using a fore hoof to cup the stallion’s testicles or massage his sheath slowly works wonders. Alternatively, one could resort to peeling the slit at the entrance of his sheath aside and licking the exposed tip. When aroused, the stallion’s member will slide forward from the sheath. Full arousal is achieved when the flared base is exposed, leaving only the testicles inside.

Begin by licking the underside of the shaft, alternating between long, pointed licks and quick flicks with the tip of your tongue. When the stallion emits pre cum, that is a good sign to begin. To stimulate this effect, pulling both testicles into your mouth and sucking gently is a good tactic, or rubbing your tongue rapidly around the flared glans, located halfway down the shaft, can help produce this effect.

Focus on the head at first, as many stallions find it arousing to be cleaned of their pre cum. When properly prepared, orgasm can be achieved within minutes. This varies, as unicorn stallions are confirmed to be more sensitive than earth ponies, and pegasi too eager to wait for very long anyways. If performing fellatio on any one of these races, consider the following tips:

-Earth Ponies take very long to achieve orgasm, and will require devotion and skill if this is to be done orally. In most situations, it is safer for both parties to begin with oral as a prepatory routine for penetration, rather than a finisher. If so desired, it is advisable to alternate between oral stimulation, and using hoof strokes. For unicorns, a sheath of magic that pulsates up and down the shaft can be effective as well

-Pegasi are, inherently, quick on the draw but recover well. Fellatio is traditionally used for the first one or two orgasms, to warm them up, and prepare them for longer sessions of lovemaking in the future. Alternatively, it can be used to help stimulate and arouse inbetween sessions, along with other methods

-Unicorns are notorious for large amounts of emission upon orgasm, and have been known to choke and/or drown their partners. Exercise extreme caution when performing fellatio on unicorn stallions, as it may be advisable to finish outside of your mouth. (The author assures any and all readers that from personal experience, the mess is worth the extra caution.)

“Wait a second…” Twilight finished the section on fellatio, turning the book to it’s cover again. “Wasn’t this written by a stallion?”

“Indeed it was.” Twilight was shocked to see Luna hadn’t moved. She had been engrossed in the text, as she normally was, but had assumed Luna would leave her to read. Instead, the princess hadn’t moved an inch. Twilight was almost painfully aware now that Luna had, in fact, been reading over her shoulder. “Love is not gender-specific, Twilight… Trust me on that.” Twilight’s already-present blush intensified as she returned to the text, focusing instead on the page detailing cunnilingus. She tried not to think about Luna hovering over her.

Ultimately, she failed.

It’s advisable to begin with simple strokes, covering the entirety of the vagina. Beginning from the Posterior fourchet, or even the perineum, lick upwards towards the mons pubis, steadily increasing in pressure. For anypony aside from unicorns, spreading the labia majora or minora can prove a difficult task with hooves. Unicorns are advised to use magic to separate the labia, to allow better access to the vaginal entrance and vestibule.

Females will produce a fair amount of clear or milky-white emission, to serve as lubrication for penetration. It varies from individual to individual, but many mares find it arousing to be cleaned up completely, while others enjoy letting the juices flow freely. The taste varies depending on vaginal hygiene, but may be dependent upon other (possibly even hereditary) factors, including but not limited to sexual familiarity, muscle tension, or even diet.

When these fluids appear in volume, (a good ‘tell’ being when there is enough to make the licks audible,) one should begin focusing on clitoral stimulation. Not unlike a stallion’s erection, female arousal includes the clitoris being exposed. Without looking specifically at it, the prepuce and glans of the clitoris may be difficult to differentiate. For skilled purveyors of cunnilingus, the difference is able to be told, and exploited, effectively. For amateurs, stimulating the general area with quick, flicking motions works well.

As with stallions, mares differentiate between species, but not quite so much as Stallions.

-Earth pony mares may take a long while to reach orgasm from Cunnilingus, but find the lack of penetration in favor of clitoral stimulation leads to a different brand of orgasm, and some prefer it to traditional sex.

-Pegasus mares can orgasm as many as a dozen times from cunnilingus before being even ready for normal sexual activities… Sometimes more, sometimes less… Orgasm is achieved quickly and many times, with very little space inbetween. (The author would like to include on a personal note that they prefer pegasus oral sex to any other species, given the intensity and volume of orgasm.)

-Unicorns are notorious for large volumes of emission upon orgasm from the urethral opening. This fluid is not urine, but instead similar to the fluid used to check for tumor markers in prostate cancer. It is not a risk to consume, but may vary in taste from regular arousal. Again, it changes from individual to individual. This act is commonly referred to as ‘squirting.’

“Well,” Twilight cleared her throat as she finished reading the second page. “That was… Eer… Informative.”

“Heh. I’m glad you think so.” Luna’s voice was markedly more husky, and as she leaned over to turn the page, her soft breath wafted past Twilight’s ear. Given the subject matter and the alcohol, Twilight couldn’t help herself.

“Aah…” She gave a soft gasp, her entire body shuddering as a wave of chills spread through her.

“Hmm? Are you okay?” Luna asked. Again, her breath teased Twilight. She gasped a little louder, whimpering near the end.

“F-fine… You just… Breathed on my ear.”

“Oh?” Luna’s tone was far beyond professional now. She was downright teasing Twilight. “Like… this…?”

“Aahn!” The pointed moan was very loud, and couldn’t be stopped. Twilight immediately shoved her hoof against her mouth, hoping to muffle further gasps. Luna chuckled, and as she pulled away, her lips made a very tantalizing, teasing motion… Just barely, so they caught maybe a dozen hairs on her coat, Luna brushed her lips against Twilight’s neck.

She groaned even louder than before. Her vision stretched into a tunnel, and she whimpered from the throat.

“Continue reading, Twilight.” Luna said, her breath now safely away from Twilight’s sensitive ear. Twilight curled her tail closer around her haunches, praying she wasn’t dripping onto Luna’s floor. She fought to focus on the text at-hoof, though as Luna had said, she most definitely viewed it in a different light.

Congress of a Crow is a combination of the previous two techniques, but performed at the same times. Refer to ‘Fellatio’ (P. 4) and ‘Cunnlingus’ (P.5) for techniques and tips.

As there are three configurations, this section will provide tips and tricks for all of them, to allow for greater ease-of-access.

1- Stallion and Mare (Traditional)

This should almost always be undertaken with the mare in the dominant position, particularly if the parties involved are not unicorns skilled in levitation. Even then, partake with great caution, as during orgasm, magical influence can fluctuate and cause the dropping of your partner.

“Was the author a unicorn?” Twilight asked idly, marking her place as she glanced back at Luna.

“Indeed. Celestia knew him herself, but he passed away before we had the chance to meet. Nevertheless, I’ve studied this, and other works by him very well. I dare say I could… Ahem… Get into his mind.”

“Oh…” Twilight blushed again and continued reading, curling her tail tighter.

Keep in mind the tips laid out on P. 4 and 5 when performing the act, as this position could lead to serious lack of air on part of both parties, even though the mare has control over her height. It is advisable for the mare to stand, or at least crouch, as a dominant gene in many stallions may cause them to roll over and take the top position.

Thrusting downward into an open mouth should only ever be partaken when the mare knows full well she will be short of breath, and signs or tells should be established between consenting partners to allow the mare a chance to recuperate before continuing. The author would like to stress that being the mare on bottom is almost never advised. Particularly with earth ponies, who are notorious for ignoring subtle hints and small tells in favor of difficult-to-achieve orgasms.

A few things to keep in mind are this: The position for Fellatio and Cunnilingus are swapped, meaning a difference in technique may be called for. Clitoral stimulation is chief for mares, while stallions may find that the different angle allows skilled fellatio practitioners to fit more in their mouths.

2- Mare and Mare (Lesbian)

Unlike with traditional positions, this one calls for much closeness. The length of even a moderately-sized stallion allows the mare to remain at a stand-off distance, keeping her height regulated and the depth of penetration into her mouth controlled. With this position, that is not true. It is advised to partake with both parties stretched fully out, their legs spread as wide as possible, and their chests and/or bellies touching.

This is a difficult position and is recommended to be tried, not for results, but for the novelty or fun of giving and receiving simultaneously. For pegasi, doing this anywhere but airborne is difficult, as they either have to keep their wings tucked very tight, or not partake at all. It is recommended the partners take turns, or while one mare pleases another, the receiver can use her hooves or possibly even magic until it is her turn to give.

Keep in mind that the new angle means clitoral stimulation is chief, and should be focused almost immediately. Attempting to insert the tongue into the vaginal entrance could lead to a muzzle being pressed into the anus, which is considered uncomfortable for many mares, while others may prefer it.

3- Stallion and Stallion (Gay)

As tricky, if not trickier than lesbian Congress, both stallions should partake this positions solely laying on their sides-

“I think that is enough.” Luna said, closing the cover of the book. Twilight blinked when she realized she was venturing into the realm of impossibility… Being a mare, she didn’t need to know about two stallions and what they did in bed… Still, the scientific curiosity remained. She made a note in the back of her mind to inquire about the kama-sutra with a trusted party in the future.

“If you say so.” Twilight grumbled… She fought the urge to whimper as her crotch began to throb with the need for release.

“Informative?”

“Debilitating.” Twilight quipped, blushing deeper.

“Tell me about it…” Luna heaved a sigh, but smiled down at Twilight. Unless she was mistaken, Luna was… Was she blushing? It had to have been the alcohol. With a warm smile, Luna reached a hoof out, caressing Twilight’s mane.

It felt so good she very nearly collapsed, but fought the urge. She nuzzled into Luna’s hoof, thankful for the warm bit of pressure. Her eyes closed and she gave a soft moan, feeling warmth from something more than just the alcohol.

“Twilight,” Luna whispered softly. She opened her eyes, looking up just in time to see Luna’s face moving nearer. Before she could stop it, Luna pressed her lips firmly against hers, making her eyes go wide.

Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no… Oh nooooooooo, nononono! This can’t be happening! Twilight’s heart hammered in her ears, deafening out any other sound even as her mind raced a million miles an hour. Luna moaned into her lips, the gentle vibrations turning Twilight into a whimpering mess. This is wrong. So wrong. I can’t be having these thoughts about her… Luna’s my teacher, my friend… She’s… She’s…

She’s kissing me, and it feels so RIGHT.

“Haah!” Twilight pulled away with a hot breath, panting in exasperation. Luna grinned and moved in for another kiss, but Twilight ducked her head down. Which was a mistake. Luna’s mouth opened to take Twilight’s ear inbetween her lips, tugging on it with just the slightest bit of pressure.

“Princess!” Twilight gasped, pulling away. Luna blinked at her several times, even as Twilight panted and whimpered. “Please-”

“Oh… Oh! Twilight, I didn’t-“

She was gone. With a loud crack and a glimmer of magic, she teleported out of the castle… She nearly teleported out of Canterlot. With a quick correction, Twilight instead arrived half a block from her destination. Grumbling, she attributed such a gross oversight to the alcohol, and made her way to the newly-relocated Carousel Boutique.

“Rarity! Cross Stitch!” She called, pounding on the door with all her might. She could just as easily have teleported inside, but that was a violation of privacy… Such an offense was subject to disciplinary action from the magic board. Even she, the Archmage, had to obey laws. Lights came on inside, and she tapped a hoof with anxiety.

“Who in the blazes is pounding on our door at three in the mo- oh. Twilight.” Cross Stitch answered the door, his cheeks flushed as he fumed down at the short unicorn. “Come in,” He stepped aside, suddenly very awake and very apologetic. Twilight smiled weakly before stepping inside and lighting the rest of the candles about the room with her magic.

“I’m so sorry… I need to talk to Rarity. Please.”

“No problem. I’ll go get her… Is it… Urgent?” Twilight gnawed her lip in thought. She prayed she didn’t smell like a drunk, rutting mare…

“Very. Please.”

“O-of course…” Cross Stitch looked her up and down for a few moments before scrambling up the stairs that led into Rarity’s personal apartment atop the boutique. After a few moments and a hushed conversation, Rarity appeared on the stairs, her mane unstyled and hanging straight down her neck. She gasped at the sight of Twilight, rushing the rest of the way to embrace her friend.

“Darling, you look horrible! What’s wrong?” She wailed, holding Twilight close.

“I’m… Fine.” Twilight grumbled. “I think. I… I don’t know! Rarity!” Twilight broke down, all the mix of confusing emotions suddenly bursting forth. Tears streamed from her eyes as she collapsed against her friend, sobbing. Something caught her attention, though, when Rarity spoke.

“Stitch, love… Please, can you go to Pinkie Pie’s, and tell her to come over? Rainbow Dash, too, if you can…”

“Eer… Sure. No problem.” Twilight sniffled and pulled away from Rarity, looking at her with teary eyes.

“Pinkie Pie and Dash are in Canterlot?”

“Mmhmm! You must have been so busy with your studies you didn’t hear… Pinkie Pie opened her shop just two days ago, and Dash’s transfer went through with a little help from Celestia… Applejack and Fluttershy have visits planned in two weeks… It’s good you came by, since I was going to try and reach you tomorrow to tell you… Come on, darling. I’ll make you some tea.” Rarity smiled warmly at her, pulling Twilight upstairs.

All my friends will be here in two weeks… Oh, my goodness, I haven’t even sent them a letter… Twilight’s frown intensified as she glumly followed Rarity upstairs and into the dining room. Rarity busied herself with the tea while Twilight sat at the table, focusing intently on the frilly tablecloth. Anything to keep her mind distracted from the thoughts raging through it in that moment. Rarity, she could trust… But Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash? She wasn’t so sure…

No, I can trust them… They’re good friends. Always have been. If I ask them to be discreet, they will be… And besides… Twilight would do anything to be able to smile right then. Pinkie Pie was the pony for the job.

“Here you go, darling… Chamomile to calm your nerves. You look a wreck right now…” Rarity levitated a steaming cup of tea over to her, and Twilight offered a brave smile as she sipped at it gently. “Now… Tell me what happened.” Rarity sat next to her, laying a tender hoof over her own as she leaned close.

“Well… Ugh, I don’t even know where to begin…” It was all muddled over. The alcohol didn’t seem to be liking the tea very well, but it went down easy and she needed to feel warm. The chill night had robbed her of even that, it seemed… “I was… Well, I guess I haven’t told you yet. It’d be best to wait for Cross Stitch to get back, then…”

“Okay, darling. You just drink up. In fact, I think I hear him now… Yes, he’s here. I’ll go meet them. You stay here and enjoy that.” Rarity smiled and patted her shoulder before slipping away to fetch the small party that Twilight heard enter the boutique downstairs. Muffled words were shared, and she thought she heard Pinkie Pie gasp, but they soon enough entered the dining room.

“Ohmigawsh TWILIGHT!” Pinkie Pie bounded across the room and tackled her from the chair, wrapping her in a fluffy, pink hug.

“Twi! You okay?!” Dash’s concerned voice carried through the muffling pink coat covering her face, and even though her side smarted from landing on the floor and she was smothered, Twilight smiled. In the background, she heard Rarity speaking with Cross Stitch.

“That was awfully quick.”

“Pinkie’s shop is just down the street, and Dash was flying by on her way home anyways... I got lucky.”

--------

“Wow… Who’d-a-thunk-it.” Pinkie Pie said, cupping her chin with a hoof.

“That’s… Really surprising. Sheesh, I never knew Luna was… Like that.” Twilight had just shared everything that had transpired over the past few days with her friends, from conversing with the night and casting shadow magic, looking for somepony to share herself with, all the way up to teleporting halfway across Canterlot to escape a very confusing and heated kiss.

“Normally, my dear, I would blame this on the alcohol. Trust me, you’re not the type of mare that can handle her liquor… One shot was enough for you, let alone… What, four?” Twilight had taken an extra two while they had read the four pages of the kama sutra. Thanks to Luna, it seemed. “I’m surprised you haven’t passed out.”

“I’m okay… I think.” Twilight certainly felt tipsy, but the sobering experience had helped allay the full effect of alcohol. And the tea was helping more than she’d like to admit.

“I think I know what’s happening, Twilight.” Cross Stitch said gently. The four mares looked at him, the one and previously-silent stallion amongst them. Despite the topic at-hoof and the company, Cross-Stitch spoke boldly. “You need stress relief. And not just via masturbation, you really need to get it out. I’d say, more so than your studies of shadow magic, you need to have sex to clear your thoughts.”

“Darling!” Rarity fumed. “How could you say that?!”

“Think about it!” Cross Stitch cut her off before she could continue. “She’s been so flustered over it lately, it’s all she can think about! Trust me, if I was the stallion I was ten years ago- before I met you, of course- I’d have jumped on Twilight in an instant. I can tell she’s dying over here. Look at her!” He waved a hoof at Twilight, who straightened up being the new center of attention. “Her cheeks are flushed, her breathing is irregular, her expression isn’t vacant and spacey like Twilight normally is. Instead, she seems to be shifty. Constantly looking around. And-“ Cross Stitch sniffed the air. “AND She’s aroused.”

“Phoo… So that’s what that is…”

“I’m… I’m sorry,” Twilight’s blush intensified as she stared straight at the ground. “The book, and the kiss-“

“And your thoughts, Twilight. You can be candid with us. At least, I’d hope so.”

“You can shower after this, darling.” Rarity glared across the table at Cross Stitch. “I want to hear what my ‘fiancé’ has to say for himself.” Everypony looked between Rarity and Cross Stitch for a few moments as silence reigned.

“F-fiancé?!” Dash sputtered. “When were you planning on telling us this?!”

“I was saving it until we were all together, but depending on his answer, that might change.” Twilight thought she could hear Rarity grinding her teeth from where she sat.

“I stand by it. Twilight is so preoccupied with sex and her studies that it’s all she can think about. Trust me, from the perspective of a filthy, unworthy, disgusting stallion who would take advantage of mares in Twilight’s position... She’s ready to buck.”

Silence reigned for a few long moments, but Rarity slipped from her chair and pulled Twilight with her.

“You need to shower, darling. And you,” She glared at him over his shoulder. “Will talk to me later.” Cross Stitch just gave a stoic nod as Rarity and Twilight left the room. Rarity led her to the modest bathroom, nothing like the one she kept in the castle, but still well-appointed and warm.

“Rarity, I don’t want to come between you and Cross-“

“You’re not coming between anything, darling.” Rarity bubbled happily, levitating spare towels and toiletries out of a nearby cabinet. “I love that stallion to death, even if he can be crude sometimes… Well, I suppose elegance must have it’s balance… I’m not going to leave him. Not now, likely not ever.” Rarity chuckled as she set them on the counter next to the sink. “If anything, my dear, you’ve only helped our relationship. So, I guess I should be thanking you.”

“Wh… how?”

“Hmm? Oh, you’ll understand when it happens, darling. Trust me.” Rarity nuzzled her affectionately. “For now, clean up, get sober, and come find us when you’re ready. You’re welcome to stay here for the night, if you’d like…”

“No…” Twilight sighed. “I’m on a different schedule for now… Like it or not, this is like… Mid-day for me.”

“Hmm. Cross Stitch worked the graveyard shift before, so I can identify. Well, we’ll be waiting for you in the dining room. Get cleaned up, my dear.”

“Thank you, Rarity. I owe you.”

“You owe me nothing, darling. What else are friends for?” Rarity smiled and left Twilight alone in the bathroom. With a sigh, she turned on the water and stood under the hot shower for a few moments, letting the heat sap away her stress and arousal. It seemed she had both in about equal measure…

When she finished, she was clean, her mane styled, and her coat gleaming thanks to Rarity’s designer conditioner. She re-entered the dining room, feeling composed and relieved for the first time since the practice session that morning.

“There she is! So, Rarity just said something WAY crazy-important!” Pinkie Pie bubbled. “And Crossy here-“

“Cross Stitch. Or Stitch.” The earth pony mumbled.

“Said that your pipes are clogged up! Soooooo, what do you do to unclog pipes?” Twilight tried to think about the analogy, and not the implications.

“Call… A plumber?”

“Bingo! You need somepony to get it all out of your system, and get you thinking right again! Somepony skilled, who’s like, a super-dooper expert at this sort of thing!” Despite her words, and the sickening implication behind them, Twilight immediately thought of Luna. ’He passed away before we had the chance to meet. Nevertheless, I’ve studied this, and other works by him very well. I dare say I could… Ahem… Get into his mind.’

“Pinkie, I don’t think… That’s a wise decision.” Twilight said softly. Now, she couldn’t help but see Luna in a new light… Before, she would be appreciative of a smile or maybe a stray embrace from her new teacher. They were platonic, though. At least to Twilight. Despite the topic, Luna always struck Twilight as a knowledgeable sort of mentor… A teacher, not unlike Celestia. A friend, sure, but a teacher first and foremost.

“Twilight.” Cross Stitch spoke again. “Have your dreams changed at all?” She froze.

M… My dreams? Have they changed? She remembered the dream she had had just the last time she slept. The grey figure that slipped through her memory.

“Oh no…” Twilight groaned. “I think I’m in love with Luna.” She wailed helplessly, collapsing onto the table. Her friends were immediately there to comfort her, the three mares embracing her gently, patting her back, wiping away her tears.

“Shh, shh. It’s okay, darling. Relax.” Twilight sniffled, barely managing to control herself. It was the alcohol again, she told herself. “Just… Take it easy. Are you sure you’re not… You know… Just lusting after the princess?” Twilight blinked. She had never thought about it like that…

“Am I?” She asked herself, thinking hard. Luna was a friend and a mentor, but the subject matter had definitely sparked something in Luna… Spurred her on to action. After they had read the erotic passages about technique and positions and… All of that. Anypony with even a drop of libido in them would have reacted similarly…

But then the thought struck her. Luna had been the one to pick the book out. After their sparring, she invited Twilight back to her quarters, had given her the drinks, had picked the book, and even the passage for her to read.

Inversely, Twilight was dreaming erotically about Luna before they had even met that day. No, Twilight was not just lusting after Luna.

Twilight was beginning to develop feelings for her.

“I’m… I’m really falling for her, girls.” Twilight looked up at her friends with tears in her eyes. “I’m falling for… For…” She broke down again. The last thing she saw before her eyes closed was Cross Stitch, his disapproving glare… His stocky form as he left the dining room.

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“Twilight! Thank goodness. I suppose you came to talk?” Twilight was, very thankfully, not hungover. She slipped inside of Luna’s quarters, gently shutting the door behind her.

“Yeah… We need to talk.” Twilight said gently. Luna nodded and offered them both to sit in front of the roaring fire. The weather team was orchestrating a rather large winter storm over Canterlot today, and the fire was a welcome relief from the cold. She curled up atop a comfortable pillow, while Luna did the same opposite her. The princess’ expression was hard to read, a mixture of embarrassed, apologetic, and concerned…

“I never should have made you drink. For that I am sorry.”

“Okay, apology accepted.” Truth be told, the drinking was probably the furthest thing from Twilight’s mind.

“And… I probably shouldn’t have picked that particular book to start you out on-“

“That’s… What I wanted to talk to you about.” Twilight said gently, cutting her off. “It… May not have been… Entirely unwelcome.”

“Twilight?” Luna asked. She could see it in her eyes. Luna was excited to hear that. Even if only marginally, as a shred of hope, but she was.

Twilight didn’t intend on letting her down. Slowly, Twilight rose to her hooves, walking across the warm carpet towards Luna. She pressed her lips against the princess’ smoothly, catching her almost completely by surprise. She could feel Luna, rigid against her, shuddering just a little as Twilight deepened the kiss with a soft whimper.

“Haah… Twilight, I don’t-“

“I…” She cut her off again. “I’ve been having dreams… Last night, the night before…” She blushed, settling on her haunches. “About… Sex. About you. Sex. With you.”

“Oh…”

“And… I never should have left last night.”

“Uh huhn…”

“I should have kissed you back,”

“Go on-“

“And… And…” Twilight whimpered as Luna’s lips met hers once more. She flushed bright as the kiss stretched on for a minute, her heart thundering a million miles an hour. It felt like her chest was going to burst. The anxiety flooded through her, melting her muscles, making her quiver from anticipation and excitement as she shyly pressed her lips back. Luna moaned in approval, wrapping a foreleg around Twilight, drawing her into a gentle, tender hug.

“Twilight,” Luna groaned as the kiss ended abruptly. The unicorn’s chest heaved as she panted for breath, her own hooves rising to wrap around Luna in return. “I don’t… I don’t want you acting solely out of duty…”

“Stop.” Twilight whimpered. “Don’t… Don’t bring… That part into it. Please.” She fought tears, her eyes welling up. “I… I won’t lie when I say this is for my studies. But this is also for me. I... I won’t call it love, but so help me... Luna, my dreams tell me, my thoughts scream at me, for the love of everything I hold dear, my own body wants it. Please.” She nuzzled into Luna’s neck, two tears sliding over her cheeks. “Please… I want it to be you.”

“Okay, Twilight.” Luna spoke after a very long silence. “Okay… “ Her hoof gently slid through Twilight’s mane, relaxing her, caressing away the stress. The next words she spoke made Twilight’s breath catch in her throat.

”Open yourself to me.”

Matters of the Heart

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Archmage Chapter 7 - “Matters of the Heart”

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It felt like Luna’s lips were everywhere. Twilight whimpered as the princess kissed her mouth, her jaw, her cheek, even her ear. She shuddered when Luna pulled on her ear, and whimpered when the soft, teasing kisses brushed down her neck. Everywhere, it seemed, Luna’s hot breath washed over her coat, made her feel more aroused than she ever had before. She was ready for this. She wanted it, Luna wanted it… Together, they were about to share something special.

“Twilight,” Luna panted, her lips hovering just over hers. “Move to the bed?”

“Yes. Please.” Twilight nodded, her tone eager and breathy. Luna pulled away, leaving a shiver and a soft whimper in her absence. Twilight followed Luna to the bed, though as they walked, she noticed a very marked difference in the way Luna’s hips swayed. Her round haunches seemed much more attractive, and her beautiful tail was incredibly alluring. Twilight was viewing Luna in an entirely different light, it seemed… And it most definitely was not unwelcome. As Luna slowly slid up onto her bed, turning about and slowly lowering herself, Twilight felt the anxiety and nervousness build up within her once more. Hesitantly, she lifted herself onto the dark spread.

“Nervous?” Luna asked, touching the feeling in Twilight’s chest perfectly.

“Very.” Twilight groaned, slowly settling next to the princess. Before, sitting atop a bed with Luna would be something that Twilight would have thought preceded a study session or a meaningful discussion… Now, when it was leading up to lovemaking… Twilight felt like she would combust at any moment.

“That’s understandable. Trust me,” Luna leaned in, giving Twilight’s neck a soft, reassuring nuzzle. “It doesn’t help. Try to relax. And let me take the reins, so to speak.”

“O… Okay.” Twilight whimpered. She felt a cool wave of relief pass through her body as Luna leaned in for another kiss. The shudders stopped, and her breathing came deep and easy. Whatever it was about the princess, it had a remarkable, calming effect on her. Twilight sighed as the kiss ended, hungry for more, but patient. Luna wouldn’t leave her hanging. Not now. She scooted closer, leaning forward for another kiss, and was not disappointed. Luna’s lips met hers once more, and this time, Twilight felt the princess’ tongue enter her mouth.

She groaned audibly, straight from the throat, happy to accept Luna’s tongue. It was flat and slippery, very warm, and the way it slid against hers was nothing short of addictive. She met Luna in the middle, groaning as her partner twined their tongues in an intricate pattern, breathing heavy between them. Twilight whimpered softly, feeling the warmth flow into her entire body. This is unreal, she thought to herself. Am I really about to do this? Am I going to lose my virginity to Princess Luna? Twilight had to reprimand herself mentally. This wasn’t Princess Luna anymore. It was just Luna. Her friend, her mentor, and more importantly… Her first.

She leaned closer, and Luna’s hooves wrapped around her gently. Inch by inch, Twilight felt her body press up against the princess’. She tucked her forelegs tight against her body, giving Luna more room to press them tighter, and when she felt Luna’s leg slide between her own, she nearly gasped. The kiss continued to stretch on, their lips now slippery with saliva as their tongues moved faster and more pointedly against one another’s. Twilight was thoroughly aroused now, her crotch aching with the sensations running through it. They radiated throughout her entire body, making her whimper and shudder against Luna’s firm embrace.

“Haah… Twilight,” Luna groaned, breaking the kiss and resting her forehead against hers. Their horns were right next to one another, brushing together now and then. “So help me, I’ve wanted this for a long time now…”

“How… How long?” Twilight whimpered. She felt rather embarrassed that she hadn’t noticed the signs earlier, about how she felt, or rather; about how Luna felt towards her.

“A while.” Luna said cryptically, smiling at the exasperated expression that crossed Twilight’s face.

“Lunaaa…” Twilight groaned, pressing herself closer. “Please tell me?” Luna chuckled and squeezed her gently, the leg that rested between hers slowly rising upwards… Twilight whimpered as the first tantalizing bit of pleasure pulsed into her, the soft tendrils running through her stomach and up into her chest. “Aah…”

“Hmm? Feel good?” Luna teased, putting just a little more pressure against Twilight.

“Y-yes…” She whimpered, her stomach tensing as she fought the urge to grind her hips against Luna’s knee… In the end, though, she lost against the desire… With a thin, pathetic whimper of want, she moved her hips, feeling the damp fur on Luna’s coat slide against her slick marehood. “Oooohh…”

“Easy, Twilight…” Luna cautioned, her hooves pulling Twilight’s hips closer. “We have the entire night. Relax.”

“But…” Twilight looked up at Luna, her eyes wide as she rested her chin on the princess’ chest. “I want it now…” Luna looked down at her for a few long moments before letting out a soft chuckle.

“Very well, then…” Luna said gently, leaning in for another gentle kiss. “Relax, Twilight. Lay on your back.” Obediently, Twilight let Luna guide her down to her back, sighing as she felt the larger pony slowly rise above her. Luna filled her vision, from her beautiful face and mysterious mane all the way down to the smooth curves of her stomach. Twilight saw her tail flick aside, and Luna took a few moments to look her body up and down several times.

Apparently, she liked what she saw. Twilight felt something impact her stomach, just above her pubis. Something wet. Luna was dripping… Twilight whimpered softly, looking up at Luna with a pleading expression. Twilight had been waiting for this moment… Before, her arousal had been debilitating. It kept her from studying properly, or had been an unwarranted distraction. She had undertaken masturbation as a tool to keep her level-headed and lucid. While it was pleasurable, she had never really enjoyed it. It was more for the sense of relieving stress that Twilight even did it in the first place…

Now, though… Twilight had never needed an orgasm more in her entire life. She whimpered as Luna began kissing her again. Her thoughts became muddled, dulled over into this warm, pleasant sort of haze. The warm pair of lips trailing up and down her neck made her whimper, her hips squirming atop the bed. Luna kissed lower and lower, inch by slow inch. Each kiss left behind a little saliva, enough to dampen Twilight’s coat, make her moan for more. The heat began to build up to uncomfortable degrees inside Twilight’s core. She flexed her muscles, getting more than a little wet, and whimpering as she was subject to Luna’s teasing kisses.

The torture didn’t last too much longer… Twilight felt Luna’s kisses trail down past her ribcage and over her stomach. She twitched underneath them now and then, but for the most part, was really relaxed and happy. Save for the rampaging desire that threatened to spill over into pleading any second. She tried to do anything to allay the sensation, from squirming her hips to clenching her eyes. She got so wrapped up in trying to stop the pulsing sensation of arousal that she barely realized it when Luna’s kisses began to tease the inside of her thighs.

Twilight had to force her body to obey her mind. She opened wide for Luna, panting as she felt the next kiss just barely brush the edge of her labia. Luna was making sure Twilight was fully prepared for what came next… Not that she wasn’t already. Quite the contrary, Twilight had been aroused since the very first kiss. Now, Luna was just coaxing more and more liquid from Twilight’s aching marehood.

“Hmm… Are you prepared, Twilight?”

“Yes… Please…” Twilight whimpered, closing her eyes and letting her head fall to the pillow. Her chest rose and fell with deep, easy breaths, her attempt at relaxing. Her muscles were loose and charged with energy, but she still felt this oppressive sense of anxiety. It shuddered in her core, gripping her chest tight and making each deep breath she took an almost painful experience…

Blissfully, it all faded away… With another very pointed, hot breath, Luna opened her mouth. Twilight inhaled softly…

The first touch was nirvana. It was so much more different from any sensation she had ever experienced on her own. Not the machine-like buzzing of her vibrator, nor the smooth ministrations of her hoof… This was a whole new brand of pleasure, very intense, and very… Slippery. Luna’s long, flat tongue rubbed her entire vagina, spreading her lips apart and sliding over every last inch. Twilight gasped and threw her head back as the first waves of pleasure rocked through her. She could feel her juices mix in with Luna’s saliva, the wonderful combination of wetness dampening her thighs and the sheets beneath her hips.

Luna licked smooth and easy, never resting or leaving Twilight without for more than a few heart-hammering moments. She alternated between running her tongue over the entirety of Twilight’s aching core and flicking her clitoris, the latter of which had the effect of turning Twilight into a whimpering mess. She oozed a prodigious amount of arousal, more than she could ever recall. Luna lapped eagerly at the plentiful juice, moaning as she delved deeper and deeper with each lick, but stopping without ever really entering.

She didn’t have to. Twilight flexed her core muscles, the pink flesh of her tight walls pulsing visibly as Luna flicked her swollen clitoris. “Luna!” She gasped, unable to hold back her vocalizations any more. “Luna! I’m cumming! I’m gonna cum! Aahn! LUNA!” Twilight’s spine curved upwards, lifting her chest into the air and burying her head into the pillow. With one last shuddering cry of ecstasy, Twilight let loose a thin stream of clear fluid. Luna’s open mouth caught the large amount, but a fair bit of it darkened the princess’ coat, dripped from her chin and further soaked the sheets beneath them.

Twilight relaxed after a short while, her open mouth panting heavily. She couldn’t bring her breathing down, her muscles still twitching as Luna continued to lick her slick, oozing labia. “Oh my goodness…” Twilight panted, feeling the need to tell Luna. To inform her how amazing it was. “I… That was amazing. Please, Luna… I… I’m-“

“Shh.” Luna reached a hoof up to Twilight’s mouth, pressing it firmly into her lips. “Don’t talk, Twilight…” She slowly picked herself up, looming over Twilight once more. She smiled warmly, her muzzle still dripping as she leaned in for a passionate kiss. Their lips met wonderfully, and Twilight could taste the musky flavor of her own arousal on the princess’ tongue. She eagerly slid her own into Luna’s mouth, twirling them together, whimpering as the desire began to slowly build again.

“Twilight,” Luna panted as they broke the kiss apart. She slumped down once more, opening her eyes to peer up into Luna’s.

“Yeah?” She panted, still struggling to control her breathing.

“You’re… Not the only one who would like some attention… Might I-“

“Shh.” Twilight grinned as she raised her own hoof to press against Luna’s lips. “Don’t talk, Luna.” She drew a smile and a soft groan as Luna kissed her hoof before slowly stretching out beside her. Twilight rolled over, taking the dominant position. Luna was a larger pony, but not by very much. Twilight could stretch out atop her comfortably, just not entirely. As she kissed Luna’s neck, a thought occurred to her.

She’s just big enough… We might be able to try congress of a crow with me on top… Maybe not the first time… But sometime. I hope. She trailed wet kisses all down Luna’s front, moaning into the warm fur as she went. Luna groaned or gave small gasps of encouragement, her stomach twitching not unlike Twilight’s did. She took a moment to smile up at the princess’ expression before moving lower. At first, Twilight was oddly curious. She pulled her head back to peer at the delicate pink slit before her. She had studied diagrams, seen her own in passing… But this was different. This was real flesh and blood, living and flexing right before her eyes. What she would have given to experiment further, to explore…

But her heart said no. The greater compelling need of the moment told her she needed to pay Luna back. To make the princess feel the same way she did. With more than a small amount of eagerness, Twilight opened her mouth and set in on her task.

“Oh… Oh!” Luna gave a soft moan at first, followed almost immediately by a second, more intense one. Twilight moaned at the implication of doing even partially well, given that she had never made love to another mare… Or anypony, for that matter.

“Haah… Ummn,” Twilight let her breath wash out of her mouth as she worked her tongue over Luna’s marehood, licking eagerly at the fleshy, pink lips. It was almost completely different from what she had been expecting. The taste was musky and very prominent, much more so than when she had tasted it second-hoof from a kiss. Then, it had been subtle and not very fresh… But now, straight from the source…

Twilight didn’t want to stop.

“Don’t stop!” Luna gasped.

Luna didn’t want to stop.

Together, the two of them went over the edge. With a daring move, Twilight pushed her tongue between Luna’s slick lips, feeling the smooth flesh inside her pulsing gash hug her tight. Luna’s hips arched upwards, pushing her deeper, burying Twilight’s muzzle firmly against her pubis. A fresh wave of feminine arousal washed over her tongue, coating it almost completely. She felt it dribble from her chin, add to her own mess on the sheets. It was a different taste, almost vile to begin with. But as Twilight came to the realization that Luna was mid-orgasm, she began to like it… No, she began to love it. She tried to make it last longer, her tongue wriggling about inside Luna eagerly. The princess shuddered, but slowly relaxed into the sheets, coming down from her peak.

“Pwah!” Twilight pulled away with a hot breath, panting as she licked her lips. She hadn’t realized, but apparently she hadn’t taken a breath since beginning. Now, with Luna panting beneath her, Twilight could catch her breath, and try to still her thundering heartbeat. She wanted more. She wanted to feel Luna’s tongue on her again, something, anything. She walked forward, laying against Luna, kissing her lover’s neck up and down, from her jaw to her collarbone. Luna’s deep breaths lifted Twilight up and down, now and then giving a soft moan as Twilight continued kissing or nipping.

“Twilight.” Luna groaned softly. “Another… Please…”

“Yes.” Twilight met Luna’s mouth with her own, kissing between each panting, eager word. “Please. Yes.” She knew what she needed to do. One more deep, meaningful kiss, and Twilight lifted herself up. She twisted around so her body was opposite Luna’s, her hooves open on either side of her face. Leaning in, she was able to taste Luna once more, while the Princess only had to lift her head a short ways to return the favor. With a shuddering breath, Twilight began licking once more.

“Hmmn-“ Luna’s own tongue slid over her aching core once more, sending a wave of relief through her veins. Twilight shuddered, her knees threatening to give in to the strength-robbing pleasure. But she had to keep the pleasure a constant for Luna, too. She had to give back as much as she was receiving. All through her body, pleasure and desire inundated Twilight.

It didn’t take them very long at all. Luna’s skilled tongue matched Twilight’s exuberance, making the unprepared unicorn whimper with the helpless pleasure shooting through her very body. Luna was responding in kind, too… Each time Twilight’s tongue pulled away to flick her clit, the princess would gasp or her stomach would twitch… It seemed the two of them were matching one another perfectly.

All the better when Twilight’s next orgasm came. She gave one last sloppy lick to Luna’s dripping vagina before throwing her head back. Her mane whipped through the air as she cried out with pleasure, her strength giving out. She couldn’t help but drop her hips against Luna’s muzzle, dripping another fairly large amount of liquid. Beneath her, Luna writhed, moaning upwards into Twilight’s core. Even in the throes of an intense orgasm, Twilight couldn’t ignore her partner. Her hoof slid over Luna’s pubis, catching her clitoris with the edge. The princess shuddered and moaned, and as Twilight began to rub in small, quick circles, she squirted a stream of liquid out onto the sheets.

Panting, the two mares separated, breathing deep as they lay spread-eagle next to one another on the damp bed. Twilight stared up at the ceiling, feeling warm and fulfilled, happy and oh so very content. She had just given herself, mind, body, and soul to another mare… She was no longer a virgin.

“Luna…” She panted, rolling her head to the side. “That was amazing.”

“Was it not?” Luna replied, her chest heaving with each deep breath. “Come here,” She pulled Twilight close, adjusting so they were laid head-to-head, hoof-to-hoof… Twilight nuzzled close into Luna’s warm chest, feeling the strength leave her body suddenly. She had no more energy, it seemed, and sleep sounded like such a wonderful option. As her breathing finally evened out, Twilight tucked her hooves in close to her body, feeling the reassuring warmth of Luna pressing close. With a soft voice, she spoke her heart.

“I love you, Luna…”

Consciousness fled her before she heard Luna’s response.

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Twilight was alone atop the castle. No wind blew, not even a puff of a breeze. All around her, the night sky stretched on from horizon to horizon, millions of glimmering stars shining down upon her. The full moon hung low over the mountains, bright enough to cast her shadow on the stones beside her. Twilight inhaled the fresh, clean scent of the night, feeling cool and relaxed. When the voice came to her, it was welcome.

”At long last, Twilight… You have shared something special with somepony else. Don’t think of this as losing your innocence… No, it is something far, far greater…” Twilight bowed her head low as the mysterious night materialized before her. Still every bit as frightening and awe-inspiring as before, the large pony that seemed to made of nothing more than shadow and moonlight appeared before her. It smiled down at her, it’s expression soft with meaning and understanding.

“Thank you… I am unworthy.”

”I disagree. I see a pony perfectly worthy to share my secrets with. All of them. As Archmage, you are alone amongst other unicorns. You hold a unique position that helps to maintain the balance not only between night and day, but all magic in Equestria… With the guidance of the princesses, your friends, and your own strong will, you will continue to guide Equestria through calm and peaceful times. I will help you, Twilight. With all the power of the night you are able to handle, I will stand by your side. Your ally, your rock, your champion and your confidant. However. Remember your place, Twilight. Remain reverent, and I am yours.” Twilight raised her head, smiling wide into the beautiful face of the night.

“Thank you so much. I will never dishonor or disrespect you.”

”We shall see, Twilight…”

She awoke with a soft gasp. The feeling she got when waking, like the sensation of falling, startled her awake. Looking around, she saw it was still dark, and she was still curled up atop Luna’s bed. She blinked the sleep from her eyes, feeling a little restless and somewhat sore… When the memories of the recent experience came back, though, Twilight couldn’t help but smile. She leaned backwards, searching for the soft warmth…

But it was nowhere to be found. Luna was gone, leaving only a slight indent in the sheets behind Twilight as evidence that she was even there at all. Twilight couldn’t fight the long, drawn-out sigh that escaped her as she slowly slid off the bed. Luna was likely off handling important business, or something… Twilight listened for a moment… No, she wasn’t in the bathroom. Unless she wasn’t taking a shower, but a bath instead… Hesitantly, Twilight made her way to Luna’s bathroom, peeking her head inside. No, not here… It was dark inside. She needed to handle business anyways, and she didn’t think Luna would mind. As she slipped inside, she turned on the lights.

“Oh!” In the tub, a full bath of steamy-hot water sat, foaming over with bubbles and looking incredibly inviting… Curiously, Twilight approached, noticing a note left on the edge of the tub. It was fixed with Luna’s magic, and as Twilight pulled it free, she recognized the princess’ elegant penmanship.

Twilight,

The time has come for you to experience the night in all it’s power. I’m assuming you’ve had the dream, and know of the change already. Nevertheless, you will need a guide for your first true steps, and due to the considerable amount of power you command, I believe it would be fitting to do so atop the mountain we have been practicing on lately.

Wash up, help yourself to anything you see fit (Candles, oils, etc.) and meet me atop the observatory tower as soon as you feel prepared.

Sincerely,

-Princess Luna

Twilight didn’t think much of the letter… Just the princess’ way of telling her she should take a bath before they continued studying. While she was glad they were advancing quickly, she wondered what the lovemaking session meant to Luna… There were things other than magic that Twilight wanted to discuss… Personal things.

Still, she did need to get started on studying shadow magic one way or another. Trying not to think about the less-than-passionate note, Twilight slipped into the bath, taking a little bit longer to enjoy the hot water and clean herself. When she was finished, she felt refreshed, awake, and energized. If nothing else, she felt similar to the way she had before… But there was still something more, there… A sense of maturity Twilight hadn’t known before. A sense of… Understanding.

The castle was always quiet at night. Luna’s clock told her it was three eighteen in the morning when she left, with plenty of time to go until sunrise. Twilight would be able to explore her new powers for a short while, and give Luna ample time to return so she and Celestia could handle the dawning of the new day… Twilight smiled to herself, her thoughts returning to the intense experience she had just shared. She almost didn’t notice when a stray steward bowed and addressed her by title.

“Good evening. How are you?” She asked cheerily. Apparently, the poor cleaner didn’t know how to handle such a question from the Archmage. He blushed and stuttered for a while.

“F-fine, Archmage… H-h-how are you?”

“I’m doing well, thank you. “ She smiled kindly at him, which seemed to relieve the poor fellow. “Oh,” She paused for a moment, and his worried expression flashed across his face once more. “You missed a spot.” With a quick glimmer of magic, Twilight buffed away a stray skid mark on the floor, likely left by a careless soldier or perhaps somepony visiting. The servant stuttered as she walked away, though she took a moment to glance back and wink at him. It was moments like those that Twilight hoped she would be known for… Almost commonplace that the Archmage had a unique sense of humor, and was generally friendly to his constituency.

Then again, it was also written that the Archmage sometimes had to make decisions that hurt or damaged ponies… Those were the decisions Twilight hoped to avoid. She would make them if she had to… But she hoped she didn’t…

Nopony else walked the halls this late at night, and Twilight made it to the observatory tower without incident. Stepping into the chill air atop the tower, Twilight smiled at the beautiful sight of Luna, standing near the edge with her wings open.

“Good evening, Luna.” She said cheerily, walking forward to nuzzle her side.

“Good evening.” Luna replied, glancing down at her, but not returning the gesture. “Are you prepared?” Right into business… Twilight wondered why Luna wasn’t at least smiling at her… Her own smile faded away as she stepped back, nodding slightly.

“I am… Luna, are we-“

“Good.” Luna cut her off, turning her gaze back to the night sky. “One moment, and we’ll arrive… Brace yourself.” Twilight felt the familiar tingle of Luna’s magic pulse through her, drawing her away from the observation tower. It felt like a hook had dug into her stomach, tugging her through the air at an impossible speed… Teleportation was always a mildly disorienting experience, more so when Twilight herself wasn’t the one casting the spell. Thankfully, the past week or so had steeled her to it, so when they landed, she only blinked from the disturbance.

“Luna, can we talk?” She asked gently, suddenly very afraid to look directly at the princess.

“Not right now, Twilight. This is important.” Luna still had her back turned, her eyes on the sky. “There… The sign. Now is the time, Twilight. The night comes for you. Remember your training, and speak with her as you did in your dream. You did dream of the night, correct?”

“Y-yes, but-“

“Good. Go on, Twilight. Open yourself.”

“I-“ Twilight began to protest, but Luna’s apathetic look silenced her. She struggled with her words for a few long moments, feeling tears and embarrassment fill her up once more. Her mind raced a million miles an hour, trying to figure out why Luna was acting so cold, so distant… Especially after what they had shared. She couldn’t think of anything. Sniffling slightly, she opened her heart, letting all thoughts of emotional betrayal, anger, and sadness leave her. Behind, she left a clean slate, a calm, peaceful center of emotion unmarred by Luna’s confusing and hurtful behavior…

”Hmm… You are troubled, young one…” The night’s voice reverberated through Twilight. She could feel the scintillating energy wrap around her, shivering over her coat. Already, the dark crackles of energy arced from her horn to the ground. The night was filling her with power once more, even just by being in her presence. Twilight bowed her head, closing her eyes and speaking respectfully.

“I’m sorry… I can’t expect you to care for my silly emotions, or my feelings…”

”Perhaps… But I do, youngling… I care for how you feel. Confused. Angry. Saddened…” Twilight felt a small bit of pressure curl under her chin. She gently lifted her head, opening her eyes to stare into the night… The intimidating creature’s eyes were alight with billions of stars, and it seemed as if all of eternity was there in them… Twilight’s jaw dropped in awe. ”Passion and emotion are powerful things, Twilight… Whether you learn to control them or let them run free is up to you… But do be careful that you don’t misuse the powers they may grant you. Alas,” the night pulled away, leaving Twilight without her strength, making her blink several times to re-focus her attention. ”That’s not the reason I have come… You, Twilight Sparkle, Archmage of Canterlot, are destined to accomplish great things. Using many, many forms of magic, you will continue to guide Equestria through peaceful times. My magic and others will be free for you to use… And use it you will. All of them. Equestria’s enemies will tremble at the mention of your name, and it’s citizens will sing your praises for many, many years to come…” Twilight’s eyes went wide as the shadowy mare leaned forward yet again, their horns touching at the very tip.

”You have my secrets, Twilight. Become familiar with them… I dare say you’re going to need them.”

And then it was over. Twilight’s mind was filled with information. New spell-forms, enchantments and formulas… All of them were complex and different, but fundamentally the same as any other. She let them all run through her mind, thinking over each one, inspecting it, thinking on it. They had names. They had purposes. She could cast a few of them. Others would take practice and study. Others still were a complete mystery to her. But Twilight had them. Their knowledge was hers.

She couldn’t stop smiling.

------------

Sadly, Twilight’s smile did not last. After teleporting them back, Luna immediately launched into an intricate and long-winded lecture about specific advanced theories. Twilight had sat through difficult lessons before, and this one definitely gave Celestia’s ‘Major incantations of the fourth node in bi-fractural ellipses’ a run for it’s money. Afterwards, Luna left her with a long list of books to read, and the simple instruction to practice shadow magic in a safe environment whenever she found time. Her schedule was her own, but Luna expected a detailed report within a week.

Then she had vanished. Gone in an instant with nothing so much as a farewell, Twilight was left alone in her quarters, with books to read, magic to practice, and a rather painful ache in her heart. Somehow, Twilight couldn’t help but shake the feeling…

Luna had used her.

She had seduced Twilight, lured her into her bed, took her innocence, and then turned around and left her alone. Why, though? She seemed so sincere… So kind and loving, warm-hearted and understanding… What reason could Luna have to lead her on, and then dump on her like that? Was it because she was the Archmage, and Luna really only wanted to advance her studies so she could take over? Was it for her own personal gain?

Twilight was unable to find out. Chiefly because Luna was nowhere to be found… Twilight could wander the castle for hours and never find the princess… Her chamber door was locked, and nopony answered when she knocked. Twilight began to search in earnest for Luna... Just her luck, then, when she ran into Celestia.

“Hello, Twilight.” The solar princess smiled kindly at her. “Are you advancing well?”

“Remarkably well, I should think... I had a question for you, though.” Twilight smiled, thankful that she had run into Celestia. “Have you seen Luna around? I’ve been looking for her for some time now, and I can’t seem to find her...”

“Funny you should mention,” Celestia raised a hoof to her muzzle, rubbing it thoughtfully.
“I haven’t seen Luna outside of our ceremony, where we raise or lower the sun and the moon...”

“Oh...” Twilight appeared crestfallen. “Okay. Thank you...” She was now thoroughly convinced that Luna was avoiding her. Not just her, but everypony. Even her own sister.

Twilight went seven full days without hearing a peep from Luna. There was more than one night she spent curled up on her bed, crying from frustration, anger, or sadness. Sometimes, she found it difficult to focus on studying or practicing. During those times, Twilight remembered one thing.

That night with Luna… She had been so vibrant and alive. Her lips were hungry, everywhere, kissing Twilight until she thought she would melt. The way she shuddered and gasped and moaned, the way her hooves slid over Twilight’s coat, pulling her close… The way she ever so gently guided Twilight from one position to the next, eager to please and be pleased by her… Luna could never hide those feelings from Twilight. No matter how hard she tried. Deep down, Twilight knew that Luna cared for her. She had to have… Right?

After that week alone, Twilight began to doubt it…

Feeling markedly more depressed than she usually did, Twilight started the seventh day like she had all the others before it, with practice. From the top of the observatory tower, she teleported to one of the nearby mountain tops she had used recently. The ground was scorched and broken, long ruts of earth torn up here and there. She walked around one crater that was roughly the size of Ponyville, admiring her work… Shadow magic was powerful stuff…

“Okay,” She sighed, setting her haunches down on the wet snow. She closed her eyes, focusing her mind. The shadowfire spell came to her readily, erupting into life immediately. She opened her eyes, her horn vibrating with a dense, dark glow. All around her, wicked flames with curved, hooked, and sharp ends writhed on the ground. The snow melted with hissing noises, and the sound of dark energy filled the air. Twilight opened herself, allowing more energy to flow through her.

The spell intensified tenfold, enveloping an area larger than she had ever managed previously. The night was granting her more energy, more power to do with as she could direct it… She hadn’t even winded herself with that spell… Time for something more advanced…

“Hmm… Hah!” Dark lightning, thundering loud and long through the air, arced from her horn across the ground. Where it struck, it dug up the earth, throwing rocks and boulders the size of houses through the air like playthings. Twilight ran it over the mountainside, her magic carrying it almost an entire mile away from where she stood. Yes, the night was trusting her with more and more responsibility. Time for a new spell. She took a few deep breaths, steadying herself, preparing…

The last pony who would have been able to even cast this spell would have been Nocturnal Glow. No other unicorn had such understanding, or had researched this particular spell so thoroughly. She marked her target on the ground, set the waypoint halfway between the tip of her horn and the epicenter, and focused her mind…

When she opened herself up, the smite spell crashed into the mountainside with enough force to make Twilight fall. “Aah!” She cried, scrambling to her hooves. The spell flared in her absence of concentration, the dark energy shooting out to catch her in the chest. She grunted at the impact, fighting the searing pain that rocked her body. Her horn glowed brighter as she focused, praying the spell to end, to stop the maelstrom of destruction. Instead, it intensified, boring into the mountain at an angle. Twilight couldn’t stop it. She didn’t want to ask. She couldn’t control it, or it would likely destroy her. Instead, she channeled the energies, letting the spell run it’s course. This was a spell designed for utter obliteration of anything within it’s borders. It wasn’t going to stop until it was done.

When it was finished, scintillating shards of dark crystal energy skittered across the ground, rimming a massive hole in the mountainside. Twilight panted, her body lathered with sweat, and the dark burn mark on her chest throbbed painfully. Before her, a perfectly round, smooth hole dove into the mountain. Looking into it’s depths, Twilight couldn’t see the end… She lit a small ball of energy, light to illuminate the walls, and she sent it down into the makeshift cavern…

It went down, down, down… Twilight lost sight of it’s glimmer. This dark, smooth-bored hole dug three miles deep into the crust. At least. After that, Twilight didn’t know how much deeper… She couldn’t see that far. Her new powers were potent and frightening. Twilight was glad she didn’t practice in Canterlot… Lives would have been lost if she attempted it there. As she raised a hoof to her chest, she winced in pain. Pulling it away, she saw blood.

Lives most definitely would have been lost.

Twilight returned to Canterlot after healing herself as best she could. The dark mark still remained on her chest, and throbbed in time with her heartbeat, but she was no longer bleeding, and she could at least breathe normally. She drafted her report to Luna, including specific details about locations, times, spells practiced or learned, and the most recent even, including her injury. By the time she was finished, it was close to nine in the evening, and Luna would be expecting her. Twilight sealed the scroll and left her quarters, wincing as her burn throbbed again.

This early in the night, some servants still wandered the halls. Twilight came across pairs of them here and there, surreptitiously listening to their conversations. One such hushed conversation caught her attention.

“Did you see that massive pillar of darkness? Bubbles thinks it’s the return of Nightmare Moon…”

“No, don’t be foalish. Princess Luna is perfectly fine. It’s the new Archmage practicing.”

“What? Where did you hear that from?”

“Oven Mitt, in the kitchen. He says she asks for food to go, packed well for teleportation. Then, like an hour later, boom. That happens.”

“Wow, so is it really her? Twilight Sparkle?”

“I think so… I mean, you were at the ceremony… You know how powerful she is…”

“Yeah, but… that?! The thing was miles high! I could feel it shaking the mountain from here! No way anypony could do that.”

“I’m not about to doubt her… After that ceremony… Ugh…”

“Tell me about it… That was scary… If she can do it, though…”

“She’d be more powerful than Nocturnal Glow. And that was a powerful pony.”

“Yeah… I gotta go. Tomorrow?”

“See you.”

Twilight felt moderately bad for eavesdropping, but it did give her some insight… Apparently, ponies around here feared her, or at least respected her. The way the two servants had spoken told her that they were in awe of her power. Truth be told, Twilight was as well… She had never been able to summon something so large or so powerful… Idly, she was reminded that her new skills would have come in handy when Trixie had returned to Ponyville, quite some years ago…

But that was all in the past. As it stood, Twilight needed to deliver her report to Luna, and then see about getting the burn on her chest looked at. As she entered the library wing, though, a guard spotted her. Normally, they would have waited until she passed to bow, but this one turned from his post and trotted towards her urgently. She stopped and waited for him to approach, peering at him quizzically. “Is something the matter?” She asked. The guard wasn’t even winded as he bowed before speaking to her.

“Archmage, Commander Shining Armor has requested your presence. Immediately.” Twilight blinked at the guard, wondering what he was on about.

“Shining Armor’s up north, in the Crystal Kingdom-“

“I only just spoke with him but ten minutes ago. He is waiting for you at the hospital, just outside of the castle.”

“The hospital? What, why?!” Twilight felt panic and confusion set in. Why was Shining Armor in Canterlot? What was he doing at a hospital? “What happened?”

“I do not know, Archmage. He just told me to spread the message amongst the guards to find you. He asks that you go to him immediately.”

“I don’t-“

“Allow me to speak freely?” The guard cut her off again. The poor pegasus was obviously distraught.

“Of course.” She blinked.

“I was under Shining Armor’s command for five years. I know him well. I have never seen him this way, Archmage… Not ever.”

“Oh… Oh my. I… I have to deliver this report, and it’s urgent…”

“I urge you to reconsider, Archmage.” The pegasus leaned in. “For your brother.”

--------

“Shining!” Twilight spotted him across the sanitary lobby of the hospital. Boy, he had seen better days… There were bags under his eyes, and his mane and coat looked like they were in ruddy condition. He looked up at her, a crazed expression on his face as he spotted her.

“Twily! Come on!” He stood up and immediately trotted away, expecting her to follow.

“Shining! Hey!” She galloped to catch up, staring at him incredulously. “What the hay is going on?”

“Come on.” He grunted. “Can’t believe they didn’t tell you. It’s horse shit.”

“Shining, I don’t understand.”

“You will.” He mumbled, turning a corner. Nurses and doctors stepped aside, looks of confusion, panic, and solemn understanding across all of their faces. Twilight felt her heart hammer in her chest.

“Shining, what’s going on-“

“Here.” He stopped abruptly outside of one door in particular. Twilight stumbled before coming to a stop next to him.

“Seriously. Shining. Talk to me. I’m your sister, you have to-“

“Shut up and get inside.” Shining looked from her to the closed door. “They don’t have long.” His tone was a cross between demanding and desperate… For a pony she hadn’t heard from in years, it was shocking. He looked so strange. So off. With a quizzical look of apprehension, Twilight opened the door.

Her heart nearly stopped.

“Mom. Dad.”

Moonfalls and Mourning

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Archmage Chapter 8 - “Moonfalls and Mourning”

----------

Shining armor slipped into the room behind her, closing the door. Twilight’s eyes were affixed on her mother and her father, laying in beds side-by-side. The idle beeping of machines was the only sound in the room that could make it through the noise of her own heart beating in her ears. She glanced at the twin glowing monitors, the only light in the dark room aside from one solitary, dim lamp…

Twilight swallowed hard, but had nothing to go down… Her mouth was entirely dry as she slowly approached the two of them. Glimmer and Orion lay with I.V. needles stuck in their forelegs, their eyes closed and their breathing shallow. As she watched, her mother’s heartbeat went erratic for a few seconds before returning to the faint, slow beat it had had for a few moments. The break in steady, static beeps was enough to make her close her mouth and work up the courage to speak.

“What’s wrong with them?”

“The doctors say it was an illness… Something they ate, or somewhere they travelled, or just something wrong with them.” Shining stood next to her, both of them looking at the weak heartbeats coming through the machine. “You know them, they kept it secret from us as long as they could. But mom collapsed just two days ago, and dad wasn’t in much better shape. They took them in, but by the time the doctors diagnosed it, it was too late…” He lifted a hoof, feebly waving it over the two prone bodies. “They were too far gone. They’ve done everything they could to keep them alive, but there’s nothing more to do.” Twilight felt the tears build up immediately.

“They’re dying.”

“Any minute…” Shining Armor’s voice quivered, broke. Together, they pressed against one another, and broke down… The beeping of the machines broke into another erratic set. Twilight gasped and shot forward, her horn aglow. She scrambled. Something, anything. She couldn’t lose her mother, or her father. Not yet. She hadn’t even talked to them in… years! Twilight’s horn glowed brighter as she fought to heal the illness, to purge the sickness from their body.

“Please.” She whimpered, feeling through her father’s prone body. “Please, something… Anything.” There! She felt the disturbance. In his heart, there was a growth… It was blocking passage of a major artery, and his heart was struggling to pump new blood into his system… “No, no, no, please…”

“Twilight,” Shining Armor laid a hoof on her flank.

“I can do this.” The tears fell from her cheeks to the sanitary cotton sheets, darkening the fabric with dots. “I can heal him!”

The long, steady tone signaled the end.

Orion was dead.

Another tone.

Glimmer was gone.

Inside, Twilight broke.

----------------

“There.” Celestia said to Luna. “It’s done… She was with them in the end. That’s the important part, right?”

“I don’t know, Tia…” Luna heaved a heavy sigh, both of them looking down at the hospital next to the castle. “I just don’t know anymore… I should have told her. I should have told her so many things…”

“It’s done now, Lulu.” Celestia said softly. “Nothing we can do to bring them back…”

“We could-“

“No.” Celestia’s tone was firm. “Not again. Not ever.”

“Okay… I thought, just maybe for a-“

“Not. Ever.”

“Not even to allow her one last moment? To say goodbye? I mean, we didn’t even tell her of it… We knew. We both did. But we didn’t say anyth-“ Celestia’s gaze was enough to stop her. Luna let her sentence trail off, felt tears well in her eyes. “I feel so horrible…”

“You and me both, Luna…” Celestia’s tone was melancholy and sad. It reflected the ache in Luna’s own breast perfectly. “I wish there were some words that I could say… Something, some small morsel or gem of knowledge that I could share with her, to make this passing easier. In all the thousands of years I’ve lived, all the knowledge I have at my command…” Celestia sighed, looking up at the stars. “I don’t have anything I could say to her…”

“I think I do…” Luna muttered.

“Do tell.”

“’I’m sorry?’”

“But you aren’t.”

“Don’t say that, please…” Luna whimpered.

“You aren’t, though. Don’t say that you are. If you were sorry, you’d have informed her the moment Glimmer collapsed. If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have treated her as you have. If you were sorry, Luna, maybe that mountain wouldn’t be suffering so much.” Celestia’s words cut to the bone and deeper, striking Luna in her soul. She wept silently for the things she had done, or rather had not done, and how profoundly it affected Twilight. Celestia continued relentlessly.

“In all my years of life, there is only one moment in all of our history that I can ever recall being this upset with you.” Luna knew what she spoke of… She remembered that millennium alone. “I don’t know if I’m disgusted, sympathetic, enraged, or apathetic… Or any of them, or maybe all together. Luna, you really need to consider what you did. How much it affected Twilight.”

“I know,” She sniffled, dripping tears onto the stones beneath their feet. “I know, trust me-“

“I can’t trust you anymore, Luna.” Celestia cut her off. “I thought you could handle this. I thought you had reached a solution. If I had known it involved you doing the deed yourself, I would have… I would have-“

“Stop. Please.” Luna looked up at Celestia with tears in her eyes. They coursed down her cheeks, landing audibly on the cold stone.

“You KNOW the implications, Luna!” Celestia didn’t stop. She planted her hooves, leaning in to emphasize. “You know what happens when you get like this! And what’s worse, this time around it isn’t some two-timing scumbag of a pegas-“

“STOP!” Luna wailed, sobbing helplessly. Celestia stared at her with fire in her eyes for several long moments, watching her dear little sister cry. “Please.” She blubbered. “Stop.”

“I won’t stop, sister. You need to be reminded of your mistakes constantly.” Celestia reached a hoof out to lift Luna’s chin, looking deep into her teary eyes. “Just like I am constantly reminded of mine.”

“Tia…”

“Now go. If you want to ruin what chance you have of salvaging this, this… Whatever.” Celestia released her chin and turned to leave. “Then go. Apologize to her and beg for the forgiveness of a unicorn. Just like you begged for the forgiveness of a pegasus. But so help me, Luna. If it comes back, I don’t know what I’ll do.” Celestia left Luna alone on the balcony… But Luna wasn’t alone for long at all.

”You know,” The soft voice made her shudder. ”We could ally this time. Celestia would surrender. She wouldn’t harm her sister… You could get her back for those things she said… For all this pain.” Luna gasped and looked up at the night, the mysterious and dangerous entity she was so familiar with.

“I… I couldn’t-“

”Not alone, no… And certainly not if you try to take over again. But think about it, little one…” The night appeared behind her, whispering into her ear. ”With me at your side… Together… We could accomplish great things.” It swung around, whispering into her other ear. ”We could rule this land… Forever.”

“Please,” Luna whimpered, crying harder. “Please, no… I don’t want that. I don’t want to hurt Tia… Not anymore.”

”You hurt her every day she has to look at you. You heard what she said. ‘Just like I am constantly reminded of mine.’ Every time she looks into your eyes, Luna… She doesn’t see ‘Luna.’ She sees me.”

“Please…” Luna’s eyes clenched shut as she continued to weep. Her muzzle was lined with the streaks her tears had taken falling down. “Please, no.” The night looked down at her, at this pitiful princess crying her heart out because somepony she cared for had lost her parents. Because she was afraid to fall in love again.

”Very well… Come here.” Luna rose to her hooves and slowly stepped forward, letting the night embrace her and comfort her… For the first time in her life, Luna did not feel warm and safe in those arms. She felt very vulnerable and weak.

Behind the door, Celestia’s brow furrowed.

“Well done, sister…” She said softly. “Guard.”

“Yes, princess?”

“Send a message to the weather team…” Celestia looked out of the window at the clear night sky. “I think…” Her words trailed off into silence…

“Princess…?” The guard asked hesitantly. Celestia blinked and looked at him, a serene, melancholy smile spreading across her lips.

“I think it’s going to rain tomorrow.”

------------

Twilight handled all of the funeral preparations, as usual… Shining Armor was there for support, and Cadance managed to come as well. Twilight sought the console of all her friends. It appeared their happy trip together would have to wait… Fluttershy and Applejack were visiting on the day of the funeral.

Twilight didn’t sleep, hardly ate, and drank little. She pushed herself night and day, studying, planning, preparing, practicing… What’s more, she had these moments where she just started crying. Out of nowhere, the tears would burst forth and she would bawl until it was over with. Her friends were there when she broke down, and if they weren’t, she was soon met by Cadance. Her foalsitter had always been akin to a big sister to her… Now, whenever Twilight broke into tears on the mountainside, or in her chambers, Cadance was always there to hold her. To comfort her. Twilight didn’t sleep after she cried. She muttered a soft thanks to her friends, or her brother, or Cadance, and went back to her self-imposed duties.

When she collapsed two days into the preparations, Cadance carried her to her bed. Twilight slept for more than four hours this time, but what little sleep she got was plagued with unintelligible nightmares, dreams that made her feel sad and unfulfilled, like somepony important was extremely upset with her. When she woke, though, Rarity was sitting in a nearby chair. She was reading some book, and a steaming cup of coffee sat next to her on the table.

“Hey,” Twilight muttered gently.

“Oh, you’re awake. I hope you’ll forgive me, darling. I borrowed your copy of ‘Great Tips for Housemares.’”

“Didn’t even know I had that one…”

“It wasn’t an easy find.” Rarity chuckled and set the book down, sipping at her coffee before padding over to the bed. She carried something in her magic, something that Twilight couldn’t quite make out in her post-sleep haze.

“Have you been watching me?”

“Somewhat.” Rarity admitted. “I just think you need your friends and family in this moment, Twilight. I’m happy to put my own responsibilities, few as they are, aside to be with you. I know you would do the same for me.” Twilight cringed at that statement. “Within reason, darling.”

“Yeah… What’s that?” She asked, nodding at whatever it was Rarity held in her magic.

“Shining Armor stopped by a few hours ago. He said he was searching your home-“

“Their home.” Twilight corrected. Her own home had been Ponyville for a long while… She didn’t think of the house her parents lived in as home anymore. Especially not now…

“Well, yes… But he said he found this. It’s dated, and it’s from your parents.” Rarity hovered the item closer, and Twilight saw it was a letter. Hesitantly, she took it from it’s envelope and unfurled the paper.

“This is… Rarity, it’s dated the day they went to the hospital…” Twilight’s eyes went wide. “This is their final letter… To me…”

“Go on, darling. I’m here for you.” Twilight nodded and started to read…

Our Twilight,

We are very, very sick… Admittedly, we have been for a long while now. We haven’t told you, or Shining, for our own reasons… I hope you’ll forgive us for that. But this can’t go without being told to you in one way or another… Again, I hope you’ll forgive us for our vagueness…

When we heard you became Archmage, we both knew it was our time to go… We stopped trying to heal one another, to heal ourselves, and began the descent. We held off for as long as we could, always hoping to hear from you, always hoping we could last… We made it, Twilight. We lived through to see your destiny come true. Your mark, Twilight, is that of an Archmage. We knew from the moment you acquired it what it meant. We never said it. But we knew. Your mother and I. Please, understand that if we had told you, it might have changed things drastically… You know how prophecy works, Twilight. This is much the same.

We don’t have long… Your mother has collapsed, and I’m not far behind her… Please, Twilight… Don’t-

The writing cut off there, with a long, garish scrawl sliding down towards the edge of the page. Twilight felt Rarity take her hoof as the tears started once more, flowing fast and free. At the bottom was one last note, scrawled in hastily-written, wobbly penmanship.

dont worry

we are so proud.

---------

The funeral was a small, quiet affair. Twilight, Shining Armor, and Cadance stood closest to the two caskets, while Applejack, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Cross Stitch, and Fluttershy stood behind them. Celestia presided, all of them trying not to think of the grey, overcast sky above them. Celestia looked between the two holes dug in the ground, the small group of ponies gathered around.

“Are you sure, Twilight?”

“Our entire family is buried here… Grandma and Grandpa, everypony back as far as we can trace… It’s tradition.” She said quietly, looking around at the multitude of gravestones. There had to have been a thousand… More, even.

“Very well.” Celestia bowed her head, taking a step back.

“You or me?” Shining Armor said quietly, nudging Twilight.

“Tradition says oldest…” She returned, nodding her head. “And… I don’t think I can handle it right now.”

“Okay… Thank you.” Shining Armor raised his head high. For a moment, Twilight thought he looked very dignified, with his head held upwards against the cold, heartless wind… But the dark backdrop of grey clouds killed the vision. She instead turned her eyes to the twin caskets, watching as her brother’s violet glow enveloped both of them. Slowly, he lowered them into the ground. Twilight cried again, this time it was a silent affair. The tears ran down her cheeks slowly, falling to the grass without so much as a sniffle from her.

At long last, her parents were in their final resting place. Together, she, Shining Armor, and Cadance shoveled the dirt in, scattered the grass seeds over their graves, and cast the spell that made it grow over… Only their shared headstone was any marker that anypony was buried here.

“C’mon, y’all…” Applejack said quietly. “Let’s give them some time…” She heard the shuffling hoof-falls as her friends left her alone with her family. Celestia was gone as well. There were only the three of them left at the grave, staring blankly at the headstone. Silence reigned, yielding only to the soft sound of rumbling thunder.

“I wonder why…” Shining Armor finally said. “They never told us…”

“Their letter said they had their reasons… I’m sure they were good, whatever they were.” Cadance replied. She tucked up close to Shining Armor, tears in her eyes as well.

“No reason could be that good.” Twilight murmured. Silence again.

“Come on, Twily.” Shining Armor nudged her side just a little. “Let’s get inside with your friends. This rain is gonna fall any second.”

“Just… Give me another minute or two. To… To say goodbye…”

“Okay. Be careful…” Cadance nuzzled her neck as she and Shining Armor left, leaving her alone at the grave of her parents. Alone, but not for very long.

“Luna…”

“Twilight.” The princess swooped in out of the sky, landing smoothly next to Twilight. Together, the two of them looked down at the gravestone, and they were silent for a long while. Twilight spoke first, her tone thin and choked through with tears.

“I… I hadn’t even heard from them. For years.”

“I know.”

“Not a letter, not a visit… The same with Shining… Why?”

“Their reasons were their own, Twilight… Nopony could have known if they did not wish to tell them.”

“But… WHY.” Twilight shuddered. “Why wouldn’t they tell me?” She glanced back at her mark, at the starburst and pinpricks of light… She knew now that it was her true destiny to be Archmage… But she could have known sooner if her parents told her. She could have prepared. She could have studied shadow magic, could have been ready to accept the position. Nocturnal Glow had picked her to take over… He had to have known somehow… Idly, she remembered her father and Nocturnal Glow were on the same council. They had probably been friends. They had probably told him about her…

But nopony had told her.

Luna’s presence reminded her that nopony told her anything anymore.

“I think you should leave,” Twilight said gently.

“You know I can’t…”

“Why not? It didn’t stop you before.”

“Twilight, please… Don’t guilt me. It’s the last thing I need right now.”

“Yeah. Tell me about things that you need, Luna.” Twilight spat bitterly, turning her attention to the lunar princess. “Tell me all the things that you don’t need piled on top of you right now. Tell me about all the stress in your life, about how bad you have it.”

“Please, Twilight… I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“Not enough, apparently.”

“Stop. Please. Before you say something you regret.”

“WHY NOT?!” Twilight roared. She snapped. The emotion was running fast and free now. These tears weren’t form sadness… They were from anger, frustration, exasperation and rage. “I’ve already DONE something I regret!” Luna gasped. Her own eyes spilled over with tears.

“Please… You don’t mean that.”

“APPARENTLY YOU DIDN’T EITHER!” She raged, advancing on Luna. A lesser pony would have run screaming, but Luna stood her ground as Twilight spat at her all the words that had built up over the past two weeks. “Apparently you don’t care in the slightest about me or my feelings! Apparently you’re just teaching me a lesson! You just want me to learn your magic and get off of your back so I can go on and do whatever it is the Archmage does! I get it! I do! But you could have at least told me you were just getting it out of the way! You could have told me you were just going to take all of those emotions and… And… AND FUCKING DASH THEM ON THE ROCKS!” Twilight’s horn erupted in a brilliant light, casting a dangerous spell at Luna. Without even blinking, the princess dispelled it.

“RRAH!” Twilight cast another, more powerful one. It crackled into nothing. The rain fell then, fast and hard, coming from the laden clouds in torrential sheets. There was no warning. No spattering, or misting first… It was just there. In an instant. Twilight used it to her advantage. Electricity crackled from her horn as she shot lighting at Luna…

A single spark shot out of the tip of her horn, to be immediately extinguished in the rain.

“AAAAAAUGH!” Screaming, Twilight opened herself to the night.

Aftermath

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Archmage Chapter 8.5 - "Aftermath"

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As she pushed through the front door, dripping water all over the tile, she drew the stares of everypony in the room. With a wail, Rarity dashed forward.

“Twilight! Goodness, you’re soaked! Come here, darling.”

“Thanks, Rarity…” Twilight mumbled.

“You weren’t out there very long… I guess the weather team started the rain a little abruptly.” Dash chimed in, flapping her wings to help Rarity dry Twilight off. She felt the water evaporate off of her coat, hissing away as Rarity used her magic to dry Twilight inch-by-inch.

“Come on. We have hot cocoa, coffee, tea… What do you want?”

“Cocoa… Please.” Twilight offered a smile to Pinkie Pie as she entered the reception room. Slowly, everypony turned away from her, going back to their own conversations. Here and there, though, a stray pony or two would smile at her, or greet her. While their ceremony was a private affair, everypony that knew Orion and Glimmer was welcome to the reception. Twilight had just emerged from the graveyard into the hall, dripping wet, and downtrodden. But the look on her face…

“Did she just smile?” Fluttershy asked quietly.

“Y’all saw it, too?”

“I haven’t seen her smile since she found out.” Shining Armor chimed in, watching Twilight follow Pinkie Pie to the refreshment table. “She must have made her peace, I guess…”

“Huhn… C’mon, y’all.” Twilight and Pinkie Pie chose a large empty table, and they all sat together. They socialized, chatting about Orion and Glimmer, about the things they had done or the life they lived. The stories were warm and cheerful, with more than a few laughs being shared. Twilight laughed along with them, drinking hot cocoa and sharing her own happy stories. She seemed to be normal again…

“Hey, Twily…” Shining Armor drew her attention. “About that letter…”

“Oh. What of it?” Twilight asked, suddenly serious.

“There was that passage at the bottom…I didn't get to read it... What did it say?"

"Oh yeah, that..." Twilight smiled to herself, looking down at the cocoa before her. Slowly, she raised her eyes to the door leading out to the graveyard... Out to where she last saw Luna.

"They said... They were proud of me."

Confession

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Archmage - Chapter 9 “Confession”

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Twilight growled as she cast a fire spell, but Luna dispelled it without even batting an eyelash, her cold expression still drawn. Twilight grunted with exertion, fuming over her failed attempt at burning the princess. Luna knew she was acting out of anger, frustration, and probably a fair amount of sadness. It fueled her spells, making them stronger and more wild than she normally would have allowed. But Luna was much stronger than that. “RRAH!” Twilight cast another spell. Luna watched as her magic nulled Twilight’s, turning the lethal spell into nothing more than a soft breeze...

Then came the rain. It fell suddenly, the approaching wall of water was almost audible before it even hit the ground. The weather team had a knack for starting storms automatically, and it seemed this one was no exception. No warning, no chance to dash for cover. Within seconds, both of them were soaked... Luna saw Twilight connect the dots in her mind. She prepared for the spell, and when Twilight tried to summon lightning between them, all that she managed to emit was a single spark.

“AAAAAAUGH!” Twilight opened her mouth in a scream, her head lifting to the heavens. Luna’s eyes went wide with what she saw then. She hadn’t expected Twilight to do that. When Twilight’s head lowered back down, her eyes opened, and Luna saw the change. Twilight’s pupils had turned to vertical slits. Her mane, previously a dark purple with her signature pink highlight, was slowly turning more and more... Ephemeral. From the edges in, inch by slow inch, it began to waft away from her neck and body, lifting despite the heavy rain. In those long, pitch-black strands, Luna could see the stars glimmer.

Twilight was opening herself to the night.

More than that, she was making a very grave mistake... She was trying to control it. To take its power for her own.

”You know what happens if she continues,” Luna froze as she felt the soft breath wash over her ear. Her muscles went rigid, quivering with fear and anxiety. Twilight’s eyes flashed as she saw what Luna could not... What Luna did not want to see. Behind her, she could feel the presence of the night. The ominous, dark being that Luna herself would not dare to oppose. And yet, here before both of them, Twilight was making the same mistake Luna did long, long ago...

“I would have been fine, Luna.” Twilight spoke. Her voice thrummed with power, with an underlying current of shadowy energy. “I would have understood... If you would have talked to me.”

”She’s making the same mistake you did...”

“I would have understood. If you would have offered to take my virginity just so I could advance. I would have agreed... For the love of all things, I would have enjoyed it...”

”This is escalating too quickly, Luna... She’s changing already. You know how this works. I won’t stop her.” The night’s voice lowered. Luna could feel the very edge of the night’s lips on her ear. ”But I will destroy her... When she’s done.”

Luna shivered. Before her, Twilight’s hooves began to glow slightly. The hoof-cuffs were dark as the deepest night, yet shone with a brilliant sheen... Luna was still frozen, unable to do a single thing as she watched the shadows form around Twilight and slowly shift into the armor she knew all too well. The presence behind her vanished, moving instead to stand behind Twilight. Behind the changing unicorn, the night leaned in, whispering the same words into Twilight’s ear that it had whispered into Luna’s all those years ago...

Twilight wore the full regalia of the night, and her mane was all but changed. Next, her coat... Luna fought against her instincts, trying to will herself to move, to say something, to speak the words on her mind and in her heart. Instead, she could only watch, drenched through and through, as Twilight’s change began the last leg of it’s journey. Starting from her hooves, her beautiful purple coat began to fade away into a dull, ashy grey.

“Twilight,” Luna managed to croak weakly. In the downpour of rain, Twilight didn’t seem to hear her... An inch at a time, her coat continued to fade away, turning from it’s natural color into something akin to the dull surface of the moon. Luna would know that color. She spent a thousand years looking at nothing but that dull, washed-over, lifeless hue. Marginally, Luna recovered. She was able to lift a hoof, tentatively taking a single step forward.

“Twilight, please...” Another whimpering tone. Twilight spoke again, her voice throbbing with the same power the night had when she whispered into Luna’s ear.

”I would have even come to forgive you, Luna...” Her legs were completely consumed now. The grey color seeped onto her midsection, creeping over the edge of her cutie mark. ”I might have found it in my heart to call us friends again at some point...” Luna took another step, feeling tears build up in her eyes.

”But you... You... You took my hopes, and my expectations... And you... YOU DASHED THEM ON THE FUCKING ROCKS!” Twilight screamed. ”The way you said my name, the way you touched me... Just a small motion here or there... You know just as well as I do the meaning behind it.” Twilight narrowed her eyes, glaring at the shaking princess that slowly approached.

”You LIED To me. You hurt me. You used me, Luna. And then you left. You... JUST FUCKING LEFT! And don’t you dare deny it.” The color had washed over Twilight up to her shoulders. As Luna watched, it began to crawl up onto her neck. Twilight hummed with dark energy, the air around her crackling as if it were alive. Even her horn was beginning to change... It shifted from it’s moderate length with a rounded tip, growing longer and more pointed... As the grey crawled up her neck, it became more sharp, more slender...

”But worst of all, Luna...” Twilight’s voice was hardly more than a whisper as she glared at the princess. Luna was hardly a step away now, staring straight into the menacing eyes of Twilight.

”You let me think you cared about me.”

“Twilight,” Luna gasped again. She was almost consumed. The grey washed up onto her cheeks, curled over the top of her head. “Twilight, I... I...”

Twilight’s eyes narrowed suspiciously.

Luna poured her heart out.

”I love you!”

“Wh... What?” Twilight whispered, her expression shocked.

“So help me, Twilight,” Luna gasped, her entire body sagging. Fear gripped Luna’s heart as she struggled with all of the pent-up emotion from the last two weeks. “I love you. But I’m... I’m...” Twilight blinked at her. Luna took a steadying breath, her eyes brimming with tears.

“I should have told you so many things. I understand. I made a very big mistake,” She continued to sob, her shoulders shaking. “But I’m so scared... Scared of making the same mistakes I did long ago, scared of... Of... Of turning into-” She looked up, her eyes brimming with tears as she met Twilight’s eyes. “Turning into this.”

“Twilight, I’m so sorry.” Luna continued. “I should have said something... I should have said anything! But I... I don’t know, I just...” Luna whimpered, her tears coursing fast and free now. They were lost among the rainwater covering her face, all of it dripping to the ground beneath them. “I didn’t want to turn into... Into that again.” As Luna looked up, she watched a small patch of purple on Twilight’s face begin to grow... Inch by agonizingly slow inch, the pale grey color receded. Luna continued to speak her heart.

“I cared so much for you... Watching you develop, seeing your brilliant mind at work. I couldn’t help myself, I- I began to grow attracted. I never should have... Haah.” Luna took a deep breath, steadying herself. When she looked back into Twilight’s eyes, she could see all the emotions brewing there beneath the surface. Confusion. Elation. Sadness.

“I never should have led you on, Twilight. I never should have let you drink, I... I should have known when you ran, that we weren’t... We might not be-”

“You’re lying.” Twilight whimpered. It was a weak argument, but it seemed to be all she could muster.

“Look at me,” Luna returned, her expression meek as she looked back up to Twilight’s eyes. “I’m a mess, Twilight... I have been since that night.... I couldn’t sleep properly... Ask Celestia, I could hardly even do my duty. I was so distraught, I just... Just...” Her head sagged. “I’m not lying. I swear it...”

“I don’t... Luna, I’m so confused...” Twilight’s tone was cautious, as if she didn’t want to trust Luna... “Why wouldn’t you talk to me?”

“I didn’t know... I was in denial. I didn’t want to have these feelings for you. I really didn’t. The last time I fell in love with somepony, it... It didn’t end well.” Luna continued to cry. She felt like she couldn’t stop her tears. She sniffled and drew a shaky breath. The cold rain was beginning to make her shiver. “I don’t want to fall in love again, Twilight, but so help me I can’t help it!” Luna wailed and hung her head once more, crying helplessly. She only managed to compose herself when Twilight lifted her head, a hoof under her chin. She was forceful, but the grey was almost completely gone from her coat.

“Explain yourself.” Twilight said coldly, her serpentine eyes staring straight into Luna’s. The princess sniffled and stared right back.

“I fell in love with a pegasus long, long ago... A short while before I was banished to the moon, however, we... Well, it ended badly... Very badly.” Luna’s heart fell with the painful memories of the distress her previous lover had put her through. While it was over a thousand years ago, the memories surfaced readily. She remembered his warm embrace, the way he would make her feel...

The things he had said and done to her.

“Luna,” Twilight said, releasing her chin. Luna hung her head until she was looking up at Twilight. “I’m not pleased with you.” Twilight’s eyes slowly changed back to a circular shape. “And you still have much explaining to do.” Luna felt hope fill her body. Twilight was upset. Very much so, it seemed... “But I’m willing to hear you out.” She glanced over her shoulder, at the dark shape of the mortuary behind them. The soft sounds of socializing began to carry through the rain...

“Not right now, though... Obviously. I’m in mourning. My parents just passed away, and... Ugh.” Twilight sighed, her body sagging visibly. “I’m so stressed... I honestly want to just collapse and cry. So... Not right now, okay? But soon. Will you talk to me this time?”

“Yes.” Luna nodded as boldly as she could manage. “I promise... No more secrecy.”

At that, Twilight gave her a sad smile. It wasn’t much... But it was much better than what Luna had just seen... “Later, then.” Twilight turned and left her, going towards the reception hall. Luna felt like she had lived through her worst nightmare, but that smile was worth it all... Luna would have gone to the ends of Equestria and back to see that smile.

She’s okay now... If nothing else, Luna could take solace in that fact. A shuffling sound came across her, and Luna glanced to the side as Celestia came in out of the dull grey sky.

----------

“Hmm.” Celestia nodded as Luna finished her explanation, her expression still rather blank. “Well... I must say.” Luna swallowed hard, afraid of what Celestia was going to say next. She had just explained the fiasco in the graveyard to her sister, probably the only pony that Luna would ever trust with such a serious occurrence. “I’m proud of you.”

“R-really?!” Luna perked up, her expression hopeful as she looked up to her sister.

“Yes. Not only did you avert Twilight from danger, but you confessed your feelings. For once.” Celestia’s soft scoff was playful. Light-hearted. In light of the news Luna had just shared, she honestly doubted Celestia would do anything so cheery as scoff at her and smile.

“But... She very nearly-”

“But she didn’t.” Celestia cut her off, smiling again. “Believe it or not, you helped her with that... What I want to know is why the night didn’t destroy Twilight outright... Or how she was able to be forgiven...” The solar princess shook her head, as if in disbelief. “I’ll never understand this shadowy mare you describe.”

“Not a mare,” Luna muttered under her breath. It was an age-old discussion between the two of them. Celestia didn’t believe in Luna when she spoke of the night, and how it materialized in the form of a powerful and mysterious pony. More often than not, it was asexual, in that it had no distinguishing characteristics. But Luna could have sworn it was a mare sometimes... Still, the visage that had whispered into Twilight’s ear during her transformation was genderless. Luna would never be able to tell who or what it was, it seemed...

“Well, anyways.” Clestia waved a hoof. “I’m glad you decided to share this with me. Twilight is most definitely learned in the ways of shadow magic by now. I dare say she’s balanced.”

“Do you think...?” Luna raised her head again. They were discussing business now. Personal talk was behind them...

“I do. I think Twilight is prepared to begin exploring the other branches of magic. She’ll likely pick them up without any issue. In the meantime, she can replace the two we have handling a few of the Archmage’s responsibilities.”

“Is she ready to handle that and learn magic?”

“You should know, sister, how well Twilight can handle herself.” Celestia smiled again, the infectious gesture spreading to Luna’s own lips. Twilight certainly could handle herself when it came to powerful magics. And, as Luna had just witnessed, Twilight herself was very powerful... Powerful enough to attempt to control the night. It was a horrible thought, but Luna would be willing to bet that Twilight could complete the transformation if she tried...

In fact, if Twilight harnessed the night as Luna had, even for a short while... The results would likely be catastrophic.

“Very well. I’ll inform her tomorrow.” Luna said softly, offering a brave smile to Celestia.

“One thing, sister.” Celestia stopped her before Luna turned to leave. “Be very careful. Twilight is very upset. In all my years of knowing her, I’ve never seen her seem so distraught. Just... Tread with caution, would you?”

“I will.” Luna nodded with a brave smile, her expression hopeful.

“Very well, then. See you in the morning.”

“Good night, sister.” Luna nodded farewell to Celestia, who promptly exited the lounge they had met in. Luna sighed and looked out of the window at the new night, the moon hanging low and full in the sky. She sighed softly, closing her eyes and preparing herself... This was going to be a difficult discussion...

---------

Twilight gently pushed the door open, immediately spotting Luna at the solitary table. “Good evening, Twilight.” The princess smiled at her as she slipped inside and closed the door behind her.

“Hey,” She muttered meekly. After their discussion in the graveyard just two days ago, Twilight didn’t know how friendly she should be with Luna... She didn’t even know if they should be friends anymore. Slowly, Twilight crossed the room, sitting opposite Luna at the table. Luna’s smile faded as she noted Twilight’s dour expression. Rather than address the elephant in the room, so to speak, Luna moved on to business. Twilight felt a little disconnected, as she had been grieving the past two days. Mostly, it involved spending time with her brother, handling family matters... But for the most part, she stayed in her room and cried quietly to herself. Now, she was ready to face the world again. She hoped nopony held it against her...

“Your progress has been remarkable lately. Celestia and I both agree that you’re balanced enough to begin studying other branches of magic. You understand the shadow and the light well enough to command both in equal measure.” Twilight perked up at the words Luna spoke. “We’re going to leave it to you to study them all, but you will receive help here and there from knowledgeable ponies. In addition, you will begin assuming the roles of Archmage. Specifically, you will be assisting Celestia and I with the raising and the lowering of the sun every night, and every morning.”

“Wh... Wait, really?” Twilight’s depressed expression slowly faded into something a little less melancholy.

“Indeed.” Luna smiled at her again, and this time was given one in return. “Every morning and evening, you will assist Celestia and I. Mainly, it’s documenting arcane energies, and making sure the azimuth angle is correct. The energies Celestia and I deal with during the process are dangerous to other ponies, but the Archmage can shield herself well enough, I would think.”

“I... I get to assist with the setting of the sun?” Twilight asked quietly. Despite herself, Twilight began to feel something akin to excitement welling up within her.

“This is a priority replacement, Twilight.” Luna cautioned. “We need you to begin as soon as you are able. The two ponies who have been helping us recently have been very stressed. It’s difficult for them to help us for much longer. To be honest, I’m surprised they’ve lasted this long.”

“Oh,” Twilight felt crestfallen. She realized, then, that there were probably more responsibilities as Archmage than she had previously thought of... Responsibilities that were being covered by other unicorns. She hadn’t thought of the repercussions her delay would have on them. In fact, they probably thought less of her because of them.

“Don’t worry. I assure you that Harbinger and Crest have handled that particular branch of your duties well. In the past, ponies have been seriously injured during the process. Not so for either of them. They are both strong and dutiful.” Luna leaned in, smiling at Twilight kindly. “Though a gift basket wouldn’t hurt.”

“Of course,” Twilight chuckled, though she still blushed. Rumor had it the team taking care of her constituency was twenty strong. Minus the two she would replace, there would be eighteen... Eighteen unicorns handling magic across all of Equestria that she would have to handle herself. Soon enough, Twilight would be a true Archmage. This was a step in the right direction. If only a step...

“If you’ve nothing else, then-” Luna moved to stand, but Twilight laid a hoof over hers, stopping the princess. She didn’t have to say anything, but the look shared between the two of them was enough to say the words on Twilight’s mind. Luna took her seat once more, looking expectantly at Twilight. Her lips were curled in a soft smile, subtle and serene... But her eyes spoke volumes. In them, Twilight could see every emotion from hope to despair, and everything inbetween. With a soft sigh, Twilight managed to speak her heart.

“I was very hurt, Luna... After that night, it seemed like you were just so distant and cold. Like you didn’t even care about me, or what I was thinking. I can understand if you had some personal things to go through, but I tried talking to you. I spent hours searching the castle for you...” Twilight could tell what she said was hurting Luna. It was likely a painful reminder of those desperate days filled with despair and questions. The death of Twilight’s parents didn’t help, either.

“Even if we had just done it to advance my studies, could you imagine what was running through my head? Could you possibly understand? Me, a lowly unicorn, making love to a princess for her very first time. All of the emotion and confusion and... All the feelings behind it? I needed somepony to talk to. It didn’t have to be a lover, but I could have used a teacher.”

“What of your friends?” Luna’s question disarmed her slightly. Twilight realized then that she hadn’t gone to Rarity or Pinkie Pie or any of her friends during that time... Then she remembered.

“I can’t tell them about us.” She muttered softly. “What would they say?”

“True friends would be supportive.”

“I-” Twilight struggled to find an argument otherwise. What Luna said was true... Her friends would likely have encouraged her, or at least lifted her spirits. Twilight had all but shut down during that time... She didn’t seek the counsel of her friends or even her extended family... She was sure Cadance had been there for her, but she couldn’t even recall when...

“I see your point.” Twilight muttered quietly.

“You would be wise to seek their opinion on these matters in the future.”

“But what about... You know, decency?”

“What, mine? Twilight, please...” Luna chuckled. “My personal life has long been of interest to the public. More often than not, it’s been exposed. Whether I wanted it to be or not.”

“Oh... But... Isn’t that annoying?”

“Oh, it is. Very much so. But it’s just part of who I am. And, as you’ll come to find, part of yours as well. The Archmage can be somewhat of an idol amongst the Equestrian citizens. You know how many ponies looked up to Nocturnal Glow in his lifetime. That mysterious, shadowy pony constantly pulling the strings in the background. Everypony knows he’s there, but nopony sees him... For anypony in a position like that, their personal life will almost constantly be under scrutiny.”

“I see,” Twilight said softly. They were getting side-tracked. Twilight re-affirmed her point, leaning in. “But I needed you, Luna. Maybe not as a friend or a lover, but as a student.”

“I think you got along just fine, Twilight.” Luna chuckled, glancing out of the window. Twilight followed her surreptitious gaze, spotting the dark scar in the side of the nearby mountain side. Evidence of her most recent practice session.

“Okay, so I over-reacted-”

“We both did.” Luna cut her off, raising a hoof. “You’re right, Twilight. I should have been there for you. Disappearing as I did was not only foolish, but wrong. I should have been there for you. As a friend,” Luna’s hoof lowered to Twilight’s resting gently over it. “And a lover.”

Twilight felt her heart jump at the touch. This was the tender, passionate Luna she remembered. The serene expression on her face, the way she smiled at Twilight, and the gentle touch of her hoof... Gone was the stoic, professional princess that so many ponies knew... This was Luna. Her teacher, her mentor, her friend...

Her lover.

“So, are we...?”

“Are we?” Luna teased, winking at Twilight as she stood. “You should get some rest, Twilight. In the morning, Celestia and I will require your assistance raising the sun and laying the moon to rest. You would do well to rendezvous with Harbinger and Crest before the morning. They will brief you on your duties.” Luna smiled over her shoulder at Twilight as she strode away.

“Luna-” Twilight said, looking down at her hooves. The princess stopped, but didn’t turn around or look back at her again. “I... Thank you.”

“For what?”

“For stopping me...” There was a long silence between the both of them, the two ponies not moving or saying anything for quite some time. Finally, Luna spoke.

“I only wish I had somepony like you to talk some sense into me a thousand years ago, Twilight...” Twilight looked up at Luna, the princess’ head hung low as she spoke. “Perhaps then, I wouldn’t have made the mistake that I did. Maybe, just maybe...” She swung her head around, giving Twilight the saddest, most humble smile she had ever seen. “I would have seen the light.”

------------

Harbinger and Golden Crest were only all too glad to hand their duties off to Twilight. It was close to four in the morning as she met with the two other intimidating unicorns in the pre-dawn darkness. As she entered the library room where they had requested her presence, she saw both of them bent over the same book.

“Good morning.” She said softly, smiling as they turned to her. Harbinger was a bulky unicorn, his build rather muscular, all the more accentuated by his surprisingly bright coat. His mane was short-cropped and a rich, emerald green. His coat was a vibrant red, making the contrast between it and his hair all the more striking. Golden Crest was a white pony, slender and tall, his coat a milky-smooth white and his mane a shining golden blonde. The latter offered her a kind smile, while Harbinger scowled at her. The two made a surprising contrast, she thought.

“Archmage,” They both said, respectfully bowing their heads as she approached.

“Thank you, Harbinger. Golden Crest. But you’re welcome to call me Twilight.”

“No offense, Archmage.” Harbinger grumbled at her. “But I’d rather keep with the traditional title.”

“Lighten up,” Crest chuckled, nudging the other unicorn. “If it would so please you, you’re welcome to call me Crest, Twilight.”

“Of course.” Twilight sank to her haunches before the two unicorns, smiling slightly. “Shall we begin?”

“Come on, then.” Harbinger sighed, ushering Twilight in. “There’s a bit you need to know before starting...” Golden Crest and Harbinger went on to teach Twilight about the specific azimuth angles and energies associated with setting the sun and the moon. The entire process took approximately ten minutes, but was subject to change. They worked quickly, and both ponies seemed relieved that Twilight was already as familiar with astronomy as she was. They finished with well over a half an hour before the ceremony, Twilight shutting the book before them.

“Thank you both very much,” She said, smiling at Crest. Harbinger didn’t seem to appreciate kindness... He was rather gruff, and slightly offensive. His behavior didn’t seem to faze Crest, though. In fact, the white unicorn seemed to think it was all but commonplace. Twilight chose to ignore the mumbled comments and the scowl on Harbinger’s face. “Is there anything else?”

“Hmm... I don’t think so.” Crest muttered, raising a hoof to his chin. “Harbinger? Anything?”

“Fuck no.” The red unicorn grumbled. He appeared to have grown more irritable over the course of this study session. “Just glad to be done with this damned duty.” He stalked away, leaving the two of them behind. Even though she had just met him, Twilight could tell that was a rather unnecessary comment. Even Crest seemed offended.

“Is he...?”

“A little bitter? Yes... I didn’t want to mention it, but the two of us have been kept from our own duties as of late because of this.” Twilight was loathe to discover her assumption was true. There were other ponies counting on the Archmage, and her absence was weighing heavily on their minds. “He was injured slightly last week... Just a minor burn, but it was the first we had sustained since we began. It’s weighing heavy on his mind, it seems... I’ll have a chat with him. I dare say we’ll both be well rested enough after today.”

“Of course... Thank you, Crest. You two have been remarkably helpful.” Twilight smiled and offered a hoof. Crest chuckled and wrapped her in a hug instead, pulling her close in a surprisingly strong embrace.

“Think nothing of it, Twilight. Harbinger’s always been a rough individual. You learn to take it in stride.”

“It seems as if you two-”

“Before you ask,” Crest chuckled, cutting her off. “We are partners. In more ways than one.”

“I see.” Twilight smiled. “I’m glad. I hope you’re good to him.”

“I’m one of the only ponies who’s good to him, it seems...” Crest looked across the chamber at the door Harbinger had disappeared through. “We’ve always been friends, ever since academy... But it’s only lately we’ve begun to realize our true feelings for one another. Give him time, Twilight. Harbinger will come around, and be only slightly offensive.”

“As opposed to moderately offensive?” Twilight teased. She and Crest shared a laugh before the white unicorn excused himself, trotting off to catch up with Harbinger. Twilight sighed and looked down at the book they had been studying before leaving the room. She walked slow, going over the formulas and spells she would need to cast for her new duty. There was still quite some time before she needed to be there, though the sky was beginning to turn from pitch black to a deep purple. She was the first to arrive at the Northern tower, followed shortly by Celestia.

“Aah. Twilight, good morning.” The princess smiled at Twilight as she came up the stairs onto the highest balcony. Twilight turned around, a smile on her face as she walked forward to embrace her teacher.

“Good morning to you too, princess. Did you sleep well?”

“Foals don’t sleep that well, Twilight.” Celestia nuzzled Twilight’s neck affectionately, filling her with a sense of motherly affection that Twilight hadn’t realized she missed so much... Twilight wondered if Celestia felt the same way... Luna joined them shortly, and was greeted by two smiles as bright as day.

“You two seem awfully happy.” She led into the conversation hesitantly, her own lips curled upwards only slightly. “What’s the occasion?”

“Just happy to be making progress.” Twilight sat on her haunches, beaming at Luna happily. While there were still many things she and the princess had to hash out, there wasn’t any reason to be outwardly angry with her anymore. At the very least, Twilight could be professional. This morning, it seemed, she was just in a good mood... Here she was, Archmage of Canterlot, performing real Archmage duties, at the assistance of both princesses simultaneously.

“Hmm. Well, let’s see how well you can withstand our combined power.” Luna flapped her wings, as if she were stretching, before nodding at Celestia. “Sister. Are you ready?”

“Always, Luna. Twilight, are you prepared?”

“As I’ll ever be.” Twilight nodded. She moved to the position Harbinger and Crest had indicated on a diagram in the book, standing firmly, her magic at the ready.

“Very well... Let us begin.” Luna smiled and strode to the left side of the balcony, turning to the West and the moon hanging low in the sky. Celestia stood opposite her, facing the dark purple scar on the Eastern horizon. Together, both princesses glanced at Twilight.

Okay... Prepare the shadow shield first, as Luna lowers the moon... Twilight sought her inner calm, bringing to mind the formula for her shield. With a soft breath, she opened herself up, letting the night fill her veins with energy. Her horn pulsed with dark energy, pulling the shadows in and around her in a bubble. Luna, seeing the shield in place, summoned her own dark magic. From her position on the balcony, Twilight could see the shroud of shadow pulse outwards, covering the white glow of the moon. Luna’s magic was so powerful, it reached through the atmosphere and out into the heavens, gripping that massive orb of rock. With a shudder and a soft grunt, Luna began to lower the moon beneath the horizon...

“Adjust two minutes North.” Twilight said, noting the position of the moon against one of the mountains.

“Understood.” Luna made the adjustment, the slight shift in the moon almost imperceptible.

“Four-point-two minutes northwest, half a degree clockwise.”

“Understood.” Twilight was guiding the moon through Luna, each small adjustment ensuring the moon set where it was supposed to.

“That... Looks good.” Twilight affirmed, nodding at Luna.

“Here we go...” Luna’s horn glowed more densely as she pushed the moon down below the horizon. The pulsing energy radiated outwards much more firmly, the long tendrils licking at Twilight’s shield. She grunted with the effort of keeping it intact, her hooves spread wide. She could handle it, she just needed to focus... It was at that point, though, that Celestia began to raise the sun. With a gasp, Twilight changed her psyche. While the shadow shield was still intact, Twilight harnessed the incumbent energies of Equestria, her inner will bending the forces of magic and the arcane to her beck and call.

“Haah!” With a vocalisation, Twilight cast a shield of pure, golden sunlight, just as the first radiant wave of energy crashed into it. She skidded a few inches across the stone, fighting to keep both shields intact at the same time. In that moment, fighting the powerful shadow energy Luna was emitting, and being subject to the vicious waves of golden light coming off of Celestia, Twilight understood something...

Balance.

The Archmage was about keeping the balance steady between magic. Not just shadow and light, but love and hate, nature and the arcane... All of the magics in the world opposed and countered one another. It was up to Twilight to walk the thin line between them all...

“Point four-three minutes north, three degrees left!” Twilight shouted over the rushing, swirling sound of magic.

“I got it!” Celestia answered. The sun adjusted it’s direction just barely, and then began to rise... The magic all around her intensified, and Twilight doubled her efforts to keep the shields intact. Before her very eyes, light and shadow swirled together, the combined tendrils of power crashing against her over and again, but she never yielded. The night gave her enough power to keep her safe from Luna’s power, and she was commanding enough energy to block the secondary rays of brilliant magic from Celestia.

Simultaneously.

“Aah,” Twilight groaned, both the shields dropping. It was daytime now, the sun casting long shadows over the ground, bathing everything with it’s muted, early-morning glow. Twilight was safe. The moon rested beyond the horizon, and the sun was slowly coming over the edge of the mountains.

“Three minutes, fourteen seconds.” Twilight reported, her coat broken out in a thin sheen of sweat.

“You performed well, Twilight. Do you think you can do that every morning and every night?” Celestia smiled down at her, the princess’ mane much more lively and animated in the sunlight. Luna, on the other hoof, seemed rather fatigued. As if she were tired. Her mane drooped listlessly and her royal regalia didn’t seem to shine or glimmer as it had.

“I believe so, yes.” Twilight nodded with a soft smile.

“Very well, then. I will see you this evening for sunset.” Celestia smiled and left the balcony, leaving a fatigued Luna and Twilight alone.

“Did you want to talk some more?” Luna asked softly, managing a smile despite her tired experience.

“Uum... If you want to rest, then-”

“Thank you.” Luna nodded, her head sagging slightly. Twilight hadn’t noticed before, but Luna seemed oddly spent during the day. Twilight knew it was because of her element, but this morning seemed much worse than she had ever seen before... The morning of Nocturnal Glow’s ceremony, for instance, Luna seemed very healthy and awake. Now, though, Luna just seemed so off... Twilight followed her off of the balcony and into the cooler recesses of the northern tower, her expression slightly concerned.

“Luna,” Twilight said, stopping the princess. Now that she was out of the direct sunlight, Luna looked slightly better, but only marginally...

“Yes, Twilight?”

“I... I just wanted to say that...” Twilight heaved a sigh, trying to collect her thoughts. The raising and setting of the sun, learning all the formulas and observations she needed to take care of, all the things it felt like she needed to take care of, Twilight hadn’t had much of a chance to speak with Luna. Let alone explore her own feelings on the matter. But she could say this much... She raised her head back to Luna, looking at her in the eyes.

“If... If we want to give this... Us... A try. We can.”

Luna smiled before wrapping her in a warm, passionate embrace.

Relationships and Responsibilities

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Archmage Chapter 10 - “Relationships and Responsibilities”

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After that hug, Twilight had things to do. Luna wasn’t quite as grim-and-dour as she had been during the setting of her moon, and in fact she seemed to be humming a tune to herself as she left Twilight in the cool, dark hallway. Not that Twilight minded being left behind. She still needed some time to herself to think things through, to decide how she felt about the whole thing… She was confused, slightly angry, emotional, and worst of all, unsure of her own feelings.

The only thing that Twilight knew for sure was that she didn’t want to let Luna go.

That passionate night, every detail up to the cold cutoff, was so ideal, so brilliant and amazingly beautiful that she honestly couldn’t get it out of her head no matter how hard she tried. Despite the heartache and the pain, the confusion and anger, the thought of Luna and that amazing night together still permeated her mind… Twilight would be crazy to let that go. Anypony would.

Still… Twilight might just have to be crazy. For herself. For the Archmage’s position. And maybe even for Luna. She sighed heavily and shuffled off to the library… Before they set the sun and raised the moon that evening, Twilight had research to do…

Thankfully, the book she was looking for was in the royal library. While it was also in her personal collection, Twilight wanted to avoid isolation as much as possible. While social interaction wasn’t exactly what she had in mind, she most definitely didn’t want to be alone. Reading in public seemed like the perfect solution. She set the book down on a table in the middle of a fairly active portion of the library… Quiet enough that she wouldn’t be distracted, but with enough ponies that her thoughts would be discouraged from wandering too far.

Twilight studied the cover of the book before flipping it open. This was a book about the Archmage, and while many ponies disregarded it as a dry and dull text about long-lost ceremony, Twilight saw it for what it was… A book of her very own responsibilities. While it wasn’t so cut-and-dry, it did tell Twilight the duties of the Archmage in one way or another.

As it turned out, fifteen of the remaining eighteen positions that were being taken care of for her at that moment were advisory ones… The Archmage traditionally only had a few overt responsibilities that they had to perform on even a semi-regular basis. A large section of the book was devoted to recordings and tables of solar and lunar documentation, diagrams and formulas, and theories regarding the rising and setting of the sun and moon. Twilight had a separate book to study for that, and had already experienced one such transition… It was the rest of the book that had her intrigued. It detailed other duties that the Archmage performed. One, in particular, caught Twilight’s attention.

The Archmage was, traditionally, in charge of protecting the crystal caverns beneath Canterlot. Twilight was reluctantly familiar with those caverns. She had been imprisoned there for a short while during her brother’s wedding long, long ago… While there was plenty of documentation on the caverns, Twilight decided she needed a refresher.

In fact, there had been a new publication on the caverns since the incident… Twilight sought the volume to brush up on her recent history. The librarian helped her locate the short book quickly, and Twilight opened it next to the one she was already reading… In the investigations following the royal wedding incident, Celestia and Luna themselves had revealed a fair bit about the caverns that previously had been unknown, or at least unexplored.

The caverns were a mysterious labyrinth that had never been fully explored due to the dangerous incumbent energies stored there. Greedy ponies sought to harness the spells and energy stored in the crystals, and many had lost their lives in the attempt. Celestia and Luna had seen fit to seal away the caverns, to keep any more ponies from wasting their lives trying to harness something beyond a normal unicorn’s power. They had shielded against unicorns and pegasi… But they hadn’t thought of the changelings. Apparently, their shields were ineffective against the changeling’s magic. Hence the reason Chrysalis was able to trap Cadance in the caverns for so long…

After the fiasco of the wedding, Celestia and Luna had tasked Nocturnal Glow with retrofitting the shields to ensure that no more changeling break-ins would happen. The Archmage had done so brilliantly, and this book held a little bit of information about those shields… In addition, there was a quick footnote added… It was about the pony assigned to tend the shields during the time between Nocturnal Glow and his successor…

The pony currently handling that particular portion of her duties was named Bastion. She recognized the name as a high-ranking unicorn officer, whose specialty lay in shielding magic. While her brother and Cadance were, technically, the forerunners in shield magic, Bastion was the best behind them. In fact, it was rumored that Bastion was more powerful than her brother when it came to casting shields. It was just rumor, however... Not to mention it was difficult to imagine, given that her brother could shield all of Canterlot. But still, there were other skilled unicorns out there besides herself… And with Shining Armor and Cadance being gone in the Crystal Kingdom, it likely fell to Bastion to protect Canterlot from harm.

She had never met Bastion face-to-face, and Twilight hoped she could change that. Research completed for the day, Twilight trotted off to find the unicorn officer; a short search and a few questions directed her to the barracks. The portion of the palace where all of the on-station guards slept and lived. Hesitantly, she inquired about Bastion with one of the roving guards. Even when they weren’t on duty, these ponies were highly professional, and even regarded her by title rather than name.

Bastion was fetched, and when Twilight first saw him, several thoughts and emotions ran through her head…

The first being intimidation. Bastion was the largest unicorn that she had ever seen… He was incredibly bulky, short, and looked to have a bad temper. He couldn’t have been much taller than Twilight, yet he exuded this presence of command and power. His bulging muscles rippled as he walked towards Twilight, all the more offset by his surprisingly graceful and easy steps… Bastion looked less like a pony and more like a tank. A graceful and poised tank, but a tank nevertheless…

His coat was, at first glance, a bright white. But as he stepped through a shaft of sunlight lancing in through the window, she saw his coat actually appeared to be made of solid, frosted steel. It was surprisingly enchanting… Combined with his massive stature and reputation, Twilight could see why this pony was regarded as the best in his field… He looked like he could withstand a siege by himself. His mane was a dark brown, and reminded Twilight of leather straps… Like those on the back side of a large shield.

His cutie mark, even, was that of a shield… Not dissimilar to her brother’s... It was a dark grey, full-bodied crest shield, framed with two green olive branches. All-in-all, from his mark to his stature, Bastion was frightening, intimidating, and all around scary. Twilight had to remind herself that she was the Archmage on official business, and there was no reason to be scared of him, let alone nervous or unsettled.

“Bastion. I had hoped we would have met sooner.” She smiled at him warmly, but the expression was not returned. Her smile slowly wilted into a blank expression, while Bastion continued to scowl at her.

“What do you want, Archmage?” He grunted. His voice matched his body. Full-bodied, deep, and brimming with power. Twilight suppressed a shudder.

“I… Was hoping we could talk.”

“Oh? You want to chat about daffodils and flowers and daisies and skipping through the gardens? Feh.” Twilight blinked as Bastion snorted at her, like she was some schoolfilly. “I’ve been up all night calculating formulas on shields the likes of which you couldn’t even begin to fathom, Archmage.” He spat her title with so much disdain, Twilight almost expected to see him eject an acidic bit of phlegm onto the cobblestones beneath their hooves. Again, she blinked in disbelief. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to get one last hour’s rest without some damned pony bothering me about things she isn’t remotely prepared for.” Bastion turned around to leave, flicking his short-cropped tail at her as he plodded away.

“Bastion!” She called, trotting after him. “Can we- are we going to talk? At all?”

“I’m done talkin’ to you.” He answered gruffly, not even bothering to look back at Twilight over his shoulder. “I need to get some sleep under my belt if I’m going to do my job and yours today.”

“Th-that’s what I wanted to talk about!” Twilight caught up with him, looking up at the massive pony beside her as Bastion continued to lead her deeper into the barracks. “I want to assume my duties as soon as possible!” With that, Bastion finally stopped, glaring down at her. Twilight skidded to a halt, her hooves scrambling over the floor before she spun to a stop, facing him.

“Bet you read that in a book, huhn?” He grunted.

“I… Yes, but I don’t see what that has to do with-“

“And I bet that book told you that, since the changeling invasion, the Archmage has been the one to take care of the shields beneath Canterlot.”

“I, yes, but-“

“And I’ll bet that out of some silly pre-conceived notion of duty and honor, you think it’s your job to just up and handle those shields, the same ones that you read about in some bloody book, just because you think it’s your duty, or your responsibility to do so?” He scoffed at her again, his quick, derisive laugh slowly developing into a rumbling, gut-rolling belly laugh. Bastion threw his head back, roaring with laughter at Twilight, who was steadily growing aware that the two of them were slowly gathering more and more attention. Bastion wiped his eyes free of tears, chuckling still as he looked back down at her.

“The princesses themselves cast those shields thousands upon thousands of years ago. After the invasion, Nocturnal Glow cast even more shields. Now what, pray tell, can a mare who has hardly lived a fraction of those ponies’ lives, know about those shields?” Suddenly, Bastion’s tone was dangerous. What he spoke was truth… Twilight knew next to nothing about the shields themselves… Only that they were there. She didn’t know if they were barriers or seals, glyphs or incantations, evocations or summonings… In fact, Twilight didn’t even know what school of magic they were from. Bastion took a step forward, looming over Twilight as he continued.

“I’ve spent the last four years of my life under Nocturnal Glow, learning about those shields… Not because I was going to be the next Archmage, no… We all know I’m not cut out for the rest of that mumbo-jumbo… No, I spent four years, every spare moment of my time, scrutinizing and inspecting, evaluating and testing… I know each and every shield down there more than anypony, save the princesses themselves.” He loomed over her, looking down his muzzle at the sheepish mare before him.

“And you, Twilight Sparkle, Archmage of Canterlot… Are not prepared to accept my responsibility.”

Sadness. Despair. Discouragement. Twilight felt all of these and more flow into her heart, flooding her emotions with these dark, dull feelings… What Bastion spoke was the truth. This was one portion of the Archmage’s constituency that Twilight knew nothing about… Only that it was there. What’s more, Bastion was proving it in front of nearly every guard pony that wasn’t on-duty at that moment. Silence reigned in the barracks… Not a cough, not a sniffle, not even a shuffling of a hoof here or there sounded. All was quiet. Slowly, Twilight raised her head. She met Bastion’s eyes with her own, her tone brimming with something she hadn’t felt in quite some time…

Anger.

“No, Bastion.” She growled. She took a step forward, her head lowered as she glared up at the imposing unicorn. “You will teach me. You will show me the shields. And most importantly,” She took another step towards the looming unicorn, the very tip of her horn pressing against the hollow of his throat, power brimming beneath the surface of her cool, collected expression.

“You will respect my authority.” The thrumming undertone of power in her voice carried her words to all present, asserting her dominance over what was possibly the most intimidating unicorn in the entire guard.

The pause between them could have lasted an eternity.

“Hah!” His lips cracked in a wide grin, and he threw his head back. Howling with laughter, Bastion threw a hoof over Twilight’s shoulders, drawing her into a crushing embrace. “You’re alright, kiddo!” He roared, ruffling her mane with his free hoof. Twilight gasped under the weight of his embrace, and felt pain lance through her head at the rough feeling of his hoof. Still, she felt something… Something warm and friendly. It was almost brotherly, the affection he showed to her in that moment. Rough and maybe a little callous, but caring and tender at the same time. The guard ponies all around smiled and went about their way as Bastion released Twilight.

“You got guts, Archmage… You’re gonna need them for what lay ahead.” He nudged her hip with his own, a gesture that threatened to send Twilight careening off into the wall. She caught herself, smiling sheepishly as she fell into step beside Bastion. “Oh, the things I need to teach you… It’s gonna take a little time, Twilight… I can call you Twilight, right?”

“Only if I can call you Bastion.” Twilight chuckled, her hoof raising to try to return her mane to some sort of semblance. Bastion chuckled and nudged her again, turning the corner to a warmly-lit hallway. Now that they were alone, Bastion turned upon Twilight with a smile.

“Forgive me, Twilight. But there is some ceremonial importance to be taken care of here.” He bowed his head low, stooping until his horn almost touched the ground at her hooves. “I, Bastion of the Royal Guard, herby pledge my alliegiance to Twilight Sparkle, the Archmage of Canterlot, and vow to teach her my knowledge of the shields beneath Canterlot.” When he lifted his head again, Twilight smiled at him.

“You didn’t have to do that.” She muttered. “Harbinger and Crest certainly didn’t do anything special...”

“Pardon me for observing ceremony. C’mon.” He rolled his eyes and nudged Twilight with his flank, urging her further down the hall. He led her to a door near the end, the inside of which appeared to be a fairly well-appointed room. In fact, it reminded Twilight much of her own home in Ponyville. Books lay open or stacked everywhere, all of the open surfaces occupied by scrolls or letters, parchment and ink and quills and even more books. It was a unicorn’s room. She felt at home almost immediately.

“Here. Read up on this,” He grasped a sheaf of parchment in his telekinetic hold, which Twilight noticed was a very natural, dark grey. “It’s my personal notes on the shields. Particularly, these sections here.” He opened the scroll and indicated a set of formulas with his hoof. He went on to talk about several very important things that Twilight noted with a soft nod. At his permission, she marked in spots, added a note to herself, or asked a question. Bastion would drop a hint of tiredness now and then, but each time Twilight asked if he’d like to sleep, he waved her off and continued talking…

Before she knew it, it was noon, and Bastion appeared to be winding down.

“So, as you can see, the occipital fracture in the bi-nomial interface is the most important, because…?”

“Because it roots the formula in the earth. I got it.” Twilight smiled and added one last note. “Is that everything?”

“For now. Return to me with your thoughts and impressions on my notes, as well as a full review of this book, here.” He levitated a book over to her. It was relatively new. “Those are Nocturnal Glow’s own equations and formulas on the supplementary shields… While Celestia’s and Luna’s focus on keeping ponies and most normal lifeforms out, his specifically targeted changelings, thanks to the invasion. What I want you to study here is how well he got them to meld with the shields already in place. I’ll give you a week to research all this, then. Return to me with your findings, and if I find your progress satisfactory, I’ll start taking you through the motions with upkeep and maintenance down in the caverns. Deal?”

“Deal.” Twilight smiled as she and Bastion shook hooves, sealing it between them.

“Oh, and about earlier-“

“Don’t worry about it.” Twilight smiled at him, tying the bundle of parchment and books together with a summoned bit of twine. “You’re stressed, tired, and probably not too happy about having to do my job while I’m off… I dunno, being silly or whatever…” Bastion blinked at her before slowly covering his face with a hoof.

“You’ve got it all wrong, Twilight.” He grumbled softly. “Listen… I know you’re busy and all, but one more minute of your time?” He asked, indicating two chairs nearby. Twilight furrowed her brow, but nodded and took the seat offered to her.

“What am I missing…?” She asked softly. Bastion sighed and rubbed his eyelids, as if debating how to approach the situation.

“One thing the book doesn’t tell you is this,” He said, cutting right to the point. Twilight leaned in intently. “The ponies filling your spot right now have the ultimate say on when they hand it over… It’s been a controversy in the past, and I can imagine it isn’t very well documented… But when the new Archmage is selected, they have a group of ponies that cover their jurisdiction in the meanwhile, right?”

“Right…”

“Well, those ponies get the final say-so on whether or not the Archmage is prepared to accept their duties… Well, not the final final say-so… Princess Celestia and Princess Luna can override the decision at any time. But since the Archmage is a position they made, they sort of have to follow the rules; just to be fair.”

“I follow.” Twilight felt worry build up in her chest. Those twenty ponies got to decide if she was ready to take their positions… No, her position. That just seemed wrong to her…

“Well, the reason I said those things I did is because I want you to be one hundred percent certain you’re prepared for what’s to come… Trust me, if you’re going to be working with some of the most powerful shields in all of existence, you’re going to have to be strong…” Bastion emphasized his point by staring straight into Twilight’s eyes.

“If I don’t think you’re ready to assume your own duties, Twilight, I will say so. Celestia and Luna already pulled enough strings to get Harbinger and Crest to step down. I won’t budge so easily.” Twilight swallowed at his words. It seemed she had gone from proving herself to one teacher, straight do doing the same with another. This time, her study was that of shields.

Good thing Twilight was great at studying.

“I understand.” She said softly, bowing her head. “I’ll work hard, and do my best to take over. But only if you think I’m ready.” When she lifted her head, Bastion was smiling at her.

“Atta girl.” He chuckled, punching her shoulder playfully. To Twilight, it felt like a full-blown kick from Applejack. She wheezed slightly, rubbing the spot with a wince. “Now get going. I still have three meetings to attend, then the south-western barrier needs to be refreshed. Long day ahead of me.” He nudged Twilight to the door, who only all too happily left the gruff unicorn’s chambers. They said their goodbyes at the door before Twilight retreated to her quarters…

She had another goal. Before, it was Luna and shadow magic. Now, it was shields…

While Twilight was an accomplished shield-caster, just one glance at the formulas in Bastion’s notes made her realize…

There was still a lot for her to learn.

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Twilight spent the rest of the day studying in her own quarters, this time rather focused on the subject material rather than her own thoughts… Though, as a gentle knock sounded from her door, Twilight realized the time. She was soon due to raise the moon and lower the sun.

“Coming!” She called to the door, scrambling about. She really only needed a few things, so when she opened the door, she was still packing her saddlebags with parchment, quills, ink, and a notebook. Twilight had taken it upon herself to begin documenting the rise and fall of the sun and moon… Adjustments made, time taken, and other things. When she opened it, a burly-looking pegasus guard stood at the ready, and he snapped a crisp salute when she smiled at him.

“My apologies, Archmage, but Princess Celestia asked me to remind you it’s time for the setting of the sun.”

“Yes, thank you. I appreciate it. I’ll head there immediately.”

“Very well. Would you like… Ahem… A lift?” The guard asked. Twilight blinked at him for a few moments before the switched all clicked, and she understood.

“Oh… Oh! No, thank you. I think I can teleport there from here.” In the interest of time, Twilight almost had to… She had gotten carried away with the new material that she hadn’t remembered to watch the time. Closing her eyes, Twilight focused her attention…

Time seemed to stop. In a pulsating wave outwards, not dissimilar to a bat’s echolocation, Twilight could feel each contour and curve of the castle… Each small nook and cranny, each rustle and bustle of life… For Twilight, this was an ability she had developed over time. It didn’t require spell-forms or formulas or anything of the sort… Instead, it hinged on the individual unicorn’s ability… How wide they could extend their ‘bubble’ of teleportation, or as Twilight liked to call it, how far they could ‘see.’

Indeed, she could see everything like this… Every detail of every fine hair in the guard pony’s coat, every slight crack in the stone of the castle… While time seemed to stand still in that moment, it was over awfully fast. Out of the nearby balcony window, across a wide, open space, and up into the northern tower about seven eighths of the way, Twilight could feel her destination. With a breath, she pulled herself across the distance, closing the gap…

With an audible crackle of magic, Twilight disappeared from her spot in front of her quarters in the Eastern wing, all the way to the fourth-highest balcony in the Northern tower. She had done it. She had teleported half the distance of the castle in the blink of an eye… A feat that many unicorns could never even dream of accomplishing. Humming to herself, Twilight ascended the last steps to the highest balcony, and greeted the two princesses with a sheepish smile.

“I’m sorry for my tardiness… Bastion gave me some material to brush up on, and I couldn’t help but get a little lost…”

“Bastion?” Celestia raised an eyebrow. “You’ve already spoken with him?”

“Eer, yes… Long story short, I want to at least start talking to the ponies whose responsibilities I’ll have to take over…” Twilight muttered. She realized then that she probably should have spoken with both the princesses… But Luna had told her that she was free to study other branches of magic, right? She had said that both she and Celestia were of like minds in that aspect…

Right?

“Well…” Luna sighed, smiling faintly. “I have to admire your initiative.” Relief washed over Twilight. She feared that the princesses would have disapproved of her moving onwards… Apparently, though, they trusted her to make her own decisions… A silly revelation, she realized, since this was commonplace throughout all of her studies thus so far. She began to prepare herself for the procedure, setting up paper, quills, and ink, mentally preparing herself for the shields.

“I’m prepared, Princesses… Whenever you’re ready.” She nodded, signaling that they could continue whenever they liked. With one last nod to one another, both of the princesses turned to their task…

Twilight was much more prepared for it this time. The initial shockwave of magic crashed against her shield, sizzling into the air as it burned and raged, but did not penetrate. Twilight scribbled some quick notes before adjusting half a minute, and then turned her attention to the moon… Simultaneously, she summoned a shield of light and of darkness, protecting herself from Luna’s shadow magic, and Celestia’s light at the same time.

Balance.

“Two minutes, twenty-four seconds.” She nodded, recording the time as she let the shields slowly fade away. When they were done, only a dark purple scar remained on the horizon, the only evidence of the passing day. On the opposite end of the sky, a full, brilliant moon hung low on the horizon, fresh and new to the night… It was going to be a beautiful one.

“Right then. Are you adjusted well, Twilight?” For it being only her second time, Twilight actually felt rather… Accustomed to it. Maybe not completely familiar just yet, but it was well within the range of her capabilities. To learn that there was actually a duty of the Archmage that she could do, and do well, was nothing short of exciting.

“I believe so, yes.” Twilight nodded, smiling up at the princesses. Celestia smiled back at her, and Luna offered a reassuring nod.

“Very well. I believe I shall turn in, then. Good night, Sister. Twilight.” Celestia smiled at each in turn as she left the balcony… Unless Twilight was mistaken, however, Celestia’s departure seemed almost… Rushed… Like she was eager to get away from Twilight and Luna. Not that Twilight was complaining. She had a lot that she wanted to talk to Luna about.

“Are you free?” Twilight asked quietly. Gone was her smile, replaced only by a somber, almost downtrodden expression.

“Alas, I am not…” Luna sighed. “I have much business to attend to this night, for once… You sound tired, Twilight…” Luna leaned in to nudge her softly, but Twilight curled away from the affectionate gesture. As much as her heart ached to feel the soft touch of her lover, Twilight still had some very urgent questions that needed to be answered. Two of them, above all else, were at the fore of her mind. Luna pulled away slowly, her own sweet smile gone. Twilight had made her point… If they were going to be affectionate, it would happen after the discussion. And even then, it was only a maybe. The look Luna gave Twilight was one of understanding and acceptance, but with a somber overtone. She understood that she wouldn’t be able to even really touch Twilight until after the talk.

“You look tired,” Luna said gently. “And I have much to take care of tonight… Perhaps we should say our farewells?”

“I think so.” Twilight nodded. She realized then that her day truly had been very long… Between raising and lower the sun and the moon twice, speaking with Bastion, and studying so hard, Twilight was ready for some sleep. She yawned widely before rising to all fours and offering a weak smile to Luna. It wasn’t much, but it made Luna smile as well. Twilight felt happy as she watched the princess spread her wings and leap off the balcony, off into the new night, to take care of whatever it was the princess took care of…

She took her time making it back to her quarters, walking slow and admiring several of the art pieces that lined the walls along the way. When she arrived, she was thoroughly tired, and all she could do was pad slowly across the floor to her bed, lift the covers, and crawl in… She was asleep before her head even hit the pillow.

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Waiting for the weekend, it seemed, was more difficult than Twilight thought. She was thankful that she had Bastion and Nocturnal Glow’s notes to study, or she might have gone insane. Luna slept during the day, when Twilight was most active, and during the two times they met to raise and lower the sun and moon, she was either tired or had business to attend to. At long last, though, the two days finally slipped by, with most of the time spent poring over Bastion’s notes, practicing her magic, or doing more research into the Archmage’s position.

“Good evening, Luna.” Twilight smiled at the princess as she stepped out onto the balcony. It was evening on Saturday, and Celestia hadn’t yet arrived to lower the sun.

“You seem awfully cheerful this evening.” Luna said with a soft smile, turning her gaze away from the dying day down to Twilight.

“Well… It’s only been two days since we-“

“Yes, about that.” Luna cut her off, which seemed rather uncharacteristic. What’s more, her tone indicated that something about the plans had changed. “Where would you like to meet?” Twilight breathed a sigh of relief before thinking.

“Would my quarters suffice?” She asked. It seemed perhaps a little too… Intimate… But Twilight figured she would have better control over the conversation if she were in a comfortable, familiar place. Her home, really…

“I should think so. Should we meet immediately after this?”

“If that works for you.” Twilight’s day had been relatively easy. She had caught up with Bastion since she had a question about his notes, and hadn’t practiced her magic. She was rested enough to handle the conversation between her and Luna, which was bound to be stressful one way or another.

“Very well. Ah, good evening, Sister.” Celestia offered a surprisingly weak smile as she nudged open the balcony doors. Twilight’s heart fell slightly at the sight of her mentor and friend.

“Is everything okay, Celestia?”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m fine.” She yawned widely, her lips curling in a soft smile at the end. “Just… A touch sleepy is all. Long day.” Celestia certainly had seemed preoccupied that morning… She had probably been busy handling many different things that day. “Shall we get started?”

“Whenever you’re ready. Twilight?”

“I’m set. Shall we?” Twilight grinned as she summoned her magic forth. She was getting accustomed to this procedure. In fact, she nearly had it mastered by now. She maintained both shields without breaking a sweat, and managed to take some very detailed notes about one particular aspect or another of the arcane energy around them. “Two minutes, fifteen seconds. I believe that’s a personal best.” She smiled, tapping the parchment with her quill.

“It’s not a race, you know.” Celestia teased, though her mouth quickly stretched into a yawn. “I think it’s time… Aah… For me to turn in.”

“Good night, sister. I hope you sleep well.” Luna and Celestia shared a quick nuzzle before Celestia left them on the balcony. Like Luna three days ago, Celestia seemed rather… Wilted. Her mane didn’t drift as if in a wind anymore, and her head hung slightly. All-in-all, she just seemed to be rather off. Twilight guessed that even princesses grew tired sometimes…

“Shall we?” Luna said softly, distracting Twilight. The purple unicorn shook her head and smiled, nodding up at Luna.

“I’ll meet you there?”

“Naturally.” Luna spread her wings and dove over the edge of the balcony, just as Twilight turned to leave herself… As she made her way down out of the tower and into the Eastern wing, she couldn’t help but feel slightly envious of the flight-enabled princesses… Having wings would be awfully neat… In fact, Twilight wondered if she could try the wing spell she had cast on Rarity so long ago… It would certainly be easier, now that she was quite a bit more skilled…

Before she knew it, Twilight was at her own quarters once more, and she gently pushed her way inside. Luna was already seated at a nearby table, looking out of the wide bank of windows wistfully. Twilight swallowed as she approached the princess, preparing herself… Fanciful thoughts of flight left her as she slowly took her seat opposite Luna.

“I have many, many questions to ask… Some of them important, most of them rather silly…”

“Ask away, Twilight. I owe you an explanation.” Luna said, turning her serene gaze downwards. “At the very least, I should imagine…”

“Yeah…” Twilight inhaled through her nose, preparing herself. Time to get some answers.

“You said you fell in love before. Who were they? Why did it end so badly, so horrifically, that you’re afraid to ever fall in love again?” Luna blinked once before launching into her explanation. Twilight could clearly see, though, that revisiting this particular memory was not only painful, but difficult for her. Still, Luna readily offered the information about her previous lover…

“His name was Nightshade, a pegasus whose natural talent was botanicals. He specialized in plants that grew during the night, and worked as a greenskeeper for my own personal garden here in the castle. Typically, the greenskeepers would remain all but unseen, tending to all the needs of the plant life here without ever being spotted… But I did spot him one evening, outside of the castle walls, gathering nightshade under a tree. He fascinated me right from the start… I watched him for a short time, noting that he was careful, smooth, and precise with his movements. He was knowledgeable and methodical, but tender and caring at the same time. He would gather leaves without damaging the plants, to make sure that they would continue to grow.

“When he finished, he returned to the castle, and used those same plants for an arrangement in my garden. Needless to say, I had to at least talk to him. It wasn’t customary, especially way back then, but I had to know at least his name…” Luna sighed as she looked back out of the window, almost as if she were looking out for the same pegasus she told the story about.

“We seemed to just hit it off. He was respectful, of course, and back then calling a princess by name was almost unheard of. Even Celestia and I didn’t refer to eachother by name, at least not around our subjects… But helplessly, I fell for him… And he fell for me.” Twilight could sympathize… Luna was a princess, after all… Falling for her was almost impossible. Luna continued, her tone wistful. “We talked, we walked, we spent our nights together… There were nights I would work, and others that he would be busy, but for the most part, we made it a point to see one another… Eventually, it evolved into something… More…” Twilight swallowed. This was the part that appeared to be the hardest for Luna. Her voice didn’t shake or crack, but Twilight could see the tears well up in her eyes.

“We had to keep it secret, of course… A lowly groundskeeper making love to a princess? Unheard of. Never before. Even high-class political engagements were scandalous and only ever accomplished some diplomatic means… There was never romance involved. Well, Celestia was lucky one time, but that was long ago…” Luna sighed and wiped a hoof over her eyes. Twilight could see glistening fluid on the back of her hoof… Luna was struggling mightily with the telling of her story.

“We did fine, too… Being citizens of the night, we could meet in the shadow, in private, and emerge with nopony the wiser to our antics. He was such a passionate and wonderful lover, I-“ Luna’s lip trembled. Twilight reached a hoof out to lay across hers.

“You don’t have to share that much, if you don’t want to…” She said quietly. Luna nodded, giving a soft, shaky sigh.

“Needless to say, I was head-over-hooves for him… I never neglected my duty, but all of my spare time was spent with him… I began to grow more attached than I ought to. I spoke of marriage, of inducting him into the royal family… A princess, marrying for love? Why not? We have the right, don’t we?” Luna shuddered. “But then he started to grow distant… We met less and less, and whenever we did, he acted strangely. Affectionate, but never passionate…” She sighed. “We went a month without even touching one another before I asked… But he didn’t give me a straight answer. He didn’t even look at me… I asked him ‘Nightshade, why art thou acting so distantly? Am I becoming over-zealous in mine displays of affection?’ He smiled at me… Just a smile, but it spoke volumes. He said back to me, ‘Perhaps just a little… But I like it…’ And then he left.” Luna’s tone dropped low, her voice mirroring her expression. Dull. Flat. Lifeless. The expression of somepony who had been through something heartbreaking…

“I followed him when he left me that night… I had to know what it was he was up to when he wasn’t around me…” She trembled visibly. Twilight reached a hoof out to hers. That seemed to calm her enough to continue. “I had to… Break the law to follow him. You know that there are laws forbidding invasions of privacy… Those exist for a reason, Twilight.” Luna said softly. “I… I slipped through his door… And I found him…” The tears flowed fast and freely now, coursing down Luna’s face and falling to the table. “I found him… Fucking another mare.” She collapsed onto the table, her shoulders heaving with the heart-wrenching sobs.

So that had been it… Luna had fallen in love and had been cheated on. Twilight tried to imagine… Thousands of years old, having fallen in love for the first time, experiencing the joys of lovemaking and having somepony special to hold and to have for your own… Only to discover that they didn’t love you as much as you loved them… Twilight didn’t think she could ever relate to that gut-wrenching feeling that could drive a princess to tears. This was the mare who had seen entire kingdoms rise and fall in her lifetime… Had suffered the loss of countless loved ones, from old age or otherwise… In all her time being Luna’s friend, her student… Twilight had never seen Luna cry.

And this was beyond crying. As Luna broke down completely, Twilight realized that some emotions couldn’t be properly displayed through mere words… Sometimes, one just had to cry to express how profoundly they were impacted. Not just cry, but break down… To be reduced to sniffing, sobbing wreck of a pony that couldn’t even breathe properly. Even now, what Twilight guessed to be a thousand years later, Luna was still effected.

Twilight gently rubbed Luna’s back, trying to calm the princess. Her touch seemed to have a calming effect, and Luna slowly composed herself. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, though they were bloodshot and puffy. Twilight couldn’t blame her. She levitated a box of tissues forward, which Luna gratefully took a few before continuing.

“Naturally, I was furious… Depressed… Enraged. So many emotions, Twilight… I wanted to watch him burn, I wanted to see her hang… I had never considered killing any subjects of my own in my entire life, save for those two in that one moment…”

“You didn’t…”

“No.” Luna said quietly, her voice shaking. “No, but I very nearly did… He lost his wing, and she suffered a broken leg… Celestia arrived just in time to stop me, but the damage had been done… I had attacked them both out of anger… And that’s what started it.” Luna shook again. “I started blaming everypony and everything but myself… And I don’t even know if that’s where the blame lay… But I did. I even blamed my sister, and her accursed day… All the ponies that frolicked and played and laughed and loved under it’s light… Eventually, I stuck on that… And I attempted to harness the night…” Luna shook her head slowly.

“The rest is history…”

There was a long, long silence between them. Twilight understood now where Luna was coming from… It was all but impossible for anypony to forgive after that… And to fall in love again? To risk feeling that same heart-wrenching sensation of being ripped apart? Twilight would never even dream of cheating on Luna, or anypony that she might be in a relationship with… But she could understand if Luna didn’t want to risk it. In fact, Twilight was rather scared, being the object of Luna’s affections now…

Perhaps not scared, but certainly something… Twilight couldn’t put her hoof on it just yet.

“Did you have any other questions?” Luna said quietly. From the tone of her voice, it sounded as if Luna thought Twilight would hate her forever. While she was shocked that Luna would go so far as hurting her subjects, Twilight couldn’t hate Luna. She had acted brashly. But she had paid for her actions… For a thousand years, Luna had suffered for what she did. Twilight could understand if Luna didn’t want to love anypony again… In fact, it became clear why Luna hadn’t spoken with her after they made love the first time. She was simply afraid of growing attached again… Of being hurt again. Or hurting somepony like she had.

“I… Just one more, really.” Twilight said quietly. “You might not know the answer, or it might not be of much importance, but… I don’t know, maybe you had somepony at the hospital that you knew that might have told you, or maybe… I don’t know…”

“Speak your mind, Twilight.” Luna said. She had composed herself, her tone calm and even. Twilight took a deep breath before looking up at Luna.

“Did you know about my parents? Before they passed?”

The look on Luna’s face said it all. Twilight knew the answer before the princess spoke the words.

“Yes… We both did. Celestia and I.” Twilight felt herself choke. Shaking, she managed the next question, but only just barely. Tears filled her vision, and soon spilled over to run down her cheeks.

“Then why… Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Because…” Luna’s tone was cold and even. Twilight could tell, just by the tone, that this hurt Luna to say probably more than anything else they had shared that night. “Because if we told you, it would have distracted you from your studies.”

Twilight felt her heart break.

Professionalism and Prophecy

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Archmage Chapter 11 - “Professionalism and Prophecy”

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Twilight sobbed atop the table, despair weighing heavily on her heart. It gripped her chest with an iron hold. She shook and cried, tears coursing freely from her eyes as she stewed in the pain and agony and utter despair.

“I know you’re angry, Twilight…” Luna said softly. Her words came to Twilight through a haze. She heard them… She didn’t want to hear them, but she did. “But someday you’re going to see why we did what we did.” Twilight choked, feeling the despair slowly lift off her chest. She inhaled deeply, her eyes still crying, but her chest no longer shaking so violently. She looked up at Luna, her lower lip trembling as she looked into those cold, serene eyes.

“Angry?” She whispered softly, her tone thin and pained. “You think… I’m angry?” Luna blinked at her, almost as if she were saying ‘you’re not?’ “I’m not angry, Luna…” Twilight sniffed, slowly raising to her hooves. Her tears slid off of her muzzle, falling to join the others on the table.

“I’m done.”

“What…”

“I’m done with you.” Twilight shook her head slowly, turning to leave the room. “I don’t want to see you… I don’t want to speak to you… Outside of my duties as Archmage, I don’t want to have anything to do with you.” She started to walk away, her head hung low and her tears still dripping to the floor. “I’ll see you in the morning,” She turned her head back once more, looking at Luna, whose eyes were wide with shock, hurt, and disbelief.

”Princess.”

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Twilight barely made it back to her quarters before she collapsed. The door closed and locked behind her just as she fell down on the rug. She let out a long, loud wail of despair as the tears came once again. Curled into as small a ball as she could manage, Twilight cried harder than ever before. Harder than she had when Shining Armor hadn’t believed her before his own wedding. Harder than when Luna had left the first time. Harder than she had when her parents had passed… Not just because Luna had been dishonest. It wasn’t just Luna this time; it was Celestia as well. Her most trusted mentor and friend.

Both of them had betrayed her. She knew their reasoning. She could come to the conclusion on her own. According to them, if she had learned about her parent’s illness, her studies would have suffered. So they refused to tell her. From the sound of it, they hadn’t even told Shining Armor until it was too late. What’s more, if they knew about it, why didn’t they help her parents? Why couldn’t they have healed Orion and Glimmer? Celestia could have certainly done it. Luna could have as well. But they didn’t do anything about it. Did they not care? Were Orion and Glimmer not important enough? All of these questions and emotions piled up on Twilight, and the only thing she could do that seemed to help was cry.

So she cried. Long and hard, screaming and wailing, sobbing and sniffling until she was nothing more than a blubbering, sore mess curled up on the cold stone of her floor. She tried not to think about so many things at the same time, about all of the huge questions that threatened to overwhelm her. She felt so close to snapping. She wanted to destroy something. She wanted to lock herself away. She wanted to run. Instead, she curled tighter, bit her lip until she tasted blood.

After some time, Twilight wasn’t sure exactly how long, she finally managed to collect herself. With one last choking sob, she slowly got to her hooves. It was close to midnight now, judging by the moon’s location in the sky. Her eyes felt waterlogged and her entire body was sore, but she wasn’t tired. It felt like there were still many, many things bothering her. So many questions.

Why wouldn’t the princesses tell me?

Because they thought me studying to be Archmage was more important than being with my parents.

If that’s true, were they right?

Well, my parents never did write… It seemed they didn’t really care about me, ever since after the wedding. Even then, they were more focused on Shining than they were on me…

But they do care about you. You’re their daughter. They have to care about you, right?

The letter said they were proud… But the letter also said they couldn’t tell me about my mar-

Twilight sat up with a gasp. She scrambled to the table, pushing aside sheafs of paper and books until she found it. The letter. Her eyes wide, Twilight read through it carefully. There it was… Halfway through the second paragraph.

Your mark, Twilight, is that of an Archmage. We knew from the moment you acquired it what it meant. We never said it. But we knew. Your mother and I. Please, understand that if we had told you, it might have changed things drastically. You know how prophecy works, Twilight. This is much the same.

Twilight’s cutie mark meant she was destined to be the Archmage. She looked back at her flank, at the familiar sunburst pattern, the five white stars. For many ponies, their marks were easy to decipher. It told them their talent outright, what they were destined to do… But Twilight’s had been a mystery. It pertained to magic, of course; she was meant to be a magician. So she had studied magic. But magic, in and of itself, was vastly different and varied. Ponies had devoted their entire lives to studying one branch or another, and very few ever obtained all the secrets.

Twilight’s mark meant her destiny was to be the Archmage.

But how?

In the letter, her parents had mentioned that she was destined to be Archmage. So they knew. Somehow, someway, they knew. They had some proof. Some definite, concrete evidence. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have put it in their final goodbye to her. Twilight’s mind raced with how they possibly could have known. It had to be prophecy. Prophecy was written in books and on scrolls. Her parents had a private library. If they knew Twilight was going to be Archmage, the proof would be there.

Wiping a hoof across her eyes, Twilight stuffed the letter into her saddlebags and hoisted them onto her flanks. She left the castle at a gallop, hardly even glancing at the guards as she dashed out of the main gates and into the city proper.

Glimmer and Orion’s home was not too far away. Her parents held positions of great importance on two of Canterlot’s councils, so they lived close to the palace. Twilight arrived before she even began to breathe heavily. The door was locked, but this was her home. Well, not for a long time, but it was her home. She used her magic to throw the lock and step inside.

The interior was almost painstakingly cleaned. All of the personal effects that sat on tables and cupboards around the living room had been packed. Twilight was thankful for that much… She pulled the first box off of the top of the stack and started to sort through it. Pictures. Momentos. Nothing. The second box was cushions from a couch. Nothing. The third was more pictures. Nothing.

Twilight methodically searched every packed box in the living room, the kitchen, and the den. Nothing. Upstairs to the library. Her parents had a collection almost as impressive as Twilight’s own. She set in on them book after book, scanning the titles, setting aside ones that weren’t important. That pile grew larger and larger as she frantically looked around. She would shake out each book, making sure nothing was contained within, nothing was missed… Each book, though, held nothing. She grumbled and started tossing them aside, clearing entire shelves in a matter of minutes.

She was beginning to run out of room. There was only one more case to search, and Twilight set in on it faster than ever. ”Master’s Guide to Herbology. No. Genealogy in Griffons. No…” She mumbled each title, one by one, tossing them across the room. ”Generations. No. Advanced Summoning. No-oh?” Twilight paused mid-toss, the book hovering in her telekinetic grip as she looked at the case. There, behind the book she had just pulled free, was a crack. A very thin one, but the dark line was easy enough to pick out in the dull glow of light her horn offered. Twilight set ’Advanced Summoning’ down and took a closer look at the shelf. Yes, that was most definitely a line. Slowly, she pulled the next book out, and saw the beginning of a square.

A secret compartment! Her own library back in Ponyville had a few of these. Of course her own family would! Excited, Twilight pulled the rest of the books off of the shelf, a cascade of paper and hard covers thumping to the floor as she pushed a hoof against the panel.

*click*

Grinning, Twilight pulled her hoof away, and the spring-loaded door popped outwards just a bit. She pulled, swinging the door open, looking inside…

To see nothing.

Just a thin layer of dust and a solitary cobweb in the corner. Twilight’s spirit fell immediately. She almost broke down crying again… Leaving the compartment open, she searched the other shelves, dumping books onto the floor, but found nothing. No more compartments, nothing more than this one empty one. She laid her chin on the shelf, looking into the dusty compartment. Whatever it was that was held here, it was important. So important that it had to remain hidden away… Twilight focused her energy, casting a detection spell…

The residual energy was weak and faint, but there. More importantly, Twilight recognized it as her father’s own. This compartment had been sealed with his magic. When he passed, the shield had died, and this compartment had been opened. Somepony had come in here and taken whatever was there after he had died. Either that, or he had removed it before his death. It could be any one of these other books laying around in piles or scattered across the floor.

But why hide it in plain sight if there was a compartment specifically for it? It didn’t make sense… No, somepony had come along after Orion died and taken whatever was here. Twilight looked closer, her horn glowing brighter as she studied the layer of dust.

There was a rectangular patch of regular wood set in the middle of the dust. Roughly the size of a book. What’s more, it was almost completely clean… So much so, in fact, that the wafting dust particles that Twilight could pick out had hardly begun to settle in the open space. The scuff marks were fresh. Twilight’s eyes went wide.

Whoever had taken the object from this compartment had done so recently.

Probably within the past few hours.

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“Here.” Shining Armor tossed his package onto the table unceremoniously, a cloud of dust kicking up from the cloth-wrapped bundle.

“Is this it?” Celestia asked softly, glancing between the package and Shining.

“It was hidden in a compartment. The shield was gone, so it was easy to find.”

“I see… Very good, Shining.” Celestia immediately walked forward to the table, joined shortly by Luna at her side. Together, the two of them carefully peeled the cloth aside, laying it aside to reveal a very old, very dusty, yet very well-kept book. The cover was intact and the pages, yellowed with age as they were, appeared to be well-bound. Somepony obviously cared greatly for this book.

“Amazing.” Luna said. “So this is where it was… All along, Orion had it.”

“I guess so…” Celestia said softly, looking down at the title. She carefully drank in the words before looking up at Shining Armor. “We cannot thank you enough, Shining. You continue to serve us wonderfully.”

“About that.” Shining said softly, slowly lowering to his haunches. “Consider this my retirement.” Both the princesses blinked at him.

“Sh-shining, you’ve served the guard your entire life. Not too long ago, you seemed determined to devote your life to it... I-I don’t understand.”

“Yeah, well…” Shining flicked his tail aside, glaring at the two princesses. “When the very rulers you serve neglect to tell you that your parents are dying… Kind of makes you wonder a few things.” Both Luna and Celestia shared a look. “How long did you two know?”

“Three weeks before Glimmer collapsed… Shortly after Nocturnal Glow passed.” Luna said quietly, hanging her head. “But Shining, we-“

“But nothing.” Shining cut her off, his tone as hard as his expression. “That’s almost an entire month that you didn’t tell me or Twilight that our parents were dying. Do you have any idea what that’s done to me?” His tone dropped to a growl, laced with anger and hatred. “What that did to Twilight?”

Luna winced.

“Shining, please… I urge you to reconsider.” Celestia said softly. “Believe me when I say that we had our reasons for not telling either of you… Think about it… If we had told Twilight, how far back do you think that would have set her in her studies?”

“Read that book.” Shining said, nodding to the tome on the table. “You’ll see that telling or not telling Twilight certain things can have the most devastating consequences. Twilight is destined to be Archmage. I know that now. After reading that book, I’ve learned that much.” He sighed, shaking his head. “My little sister… The most powerful unicorn in history.”

“In history?” Celestia’s eyes widened. “Surely it doesn’t-“

“Oh, it sure does.” Shining nodded, cutting her off yet again. “It says that and more. But you don’t need to take my word for it. Read for yourselves. You’ll both see the mistakes you’ve made. Before I leave, consider this…” He glared at both the princesses, his anger with them apparent in his expression. “If you had told Twilight as soon as you found out… Do you think she would have made her peace sooner? Or later?”

By the looks of defeat on their face, it appeared as if both princesses realized they had made a mistake. If Twilight had known about her parent’s illness before they passed, she very well might have spent less time mourning than she did. Her progress had likely been impacted by the princess’ decision more than if they had kept it secret.

“Shining we-“

“Stop.” Shining shook his head. “I shouldn’t have even brought you that.” He nodded to the book on the table, his expression still drawn in anger. “I shouldn’t have done a lot of things…”

“But… Shining, the guard needs a commander.”

“The guard.” Shining scoffed. His horn glowed as he gripped the badge on the front of his uniform. With hardly a wince, he ripped the seal of the commander off with an audible tearing sound. After a short pause, he ripped the rest of the uniform off. The shredded fabric fell to the floor in a pile, with the polished badge resting on top of it. “The guard needs a lot of things. The guard’s taken a lot of things.” He nodded to the book. “That book is the last thing I’m going to let the guard take from me. I have things that I need to worry about now. I have a kingdom to protect. I have a wife to think about.” His tone lowered slightly, laced with pain. “I have a family to take care of.”

“Cadance is…?”

“I’m not going to take Cadance from you.” Shining continued. “But she is my wife, and will soon be the mother of my child.” He stood tall, his head held high with pride. “I’m done giving everything to the guard. It’s about time I gave myself to something that mattered.” He glanced between the princesses and the book on the table. He spat the next words with so much hatred and vehemence.

“Something I can trust.”

Celestia and Luna watched, completely stunned, as Shining Armor left the room. The door slammed behind him, echoing through the room. Celestia and Luna sat in silence for a long while before Luna spoke.

“Tia, what have we done…?”

“Something awful, sister…” Celestia looked down at the package, at the book laying on the cloth.

The cover was Twilight’s cutie mark.

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Twilight didn’t sleep. She spent the entire night searching her family’s home for whatever might have been in the compartment, but didn’t find anything of interest. It was close to six in the morning when she gave up the search. Plodding back to the castle tiredly, she arrived in the Northern tower just in time to meet Celestia and Luna.

“Goodness,” Celestia said quietly, noting Twilight’s red eyes, her coat and mane out-of-shape. “Twilight, are you okay?”

“Fine, thank you, Princess.” Her exhaustion seemed to burn away when she looked up at Celestia. As far as Twilight was concerned, Celestia was just as guilty of betrayal as Luna. Neither of them had told her about her parent’s illness. She felt the pain of being hurt so badly by both of them ache in her chest. “Are you both prepared?” Both Celestia and Luna blinked before they glanced at one another.

“I guess…”

“Come on.” Luna took her spot, glancing once at Twilight before she and Celestia began the process. Twilight shielded herself and guided the whole thing well enough, though when she dropped her shields at the end, she sagged with relief.

“Haah… Two minutes, four seconds…” She panted, her chest heaving. She was exhausted, beyond tired.

“Twilight, are you sure you’re okay?” Celestia said gently, advancing on the exhausted unicorn. Twilight pulled away before Celestia could nuzzle her affectionately, as she used to. She stood tall, nodding firmly.

“I assure you, Princess, I’m fine. I’ll see you again this evening.” Before either Luna or Celestia could respond, however, Twilight turned to leave.

“Twilight.” Celestia’s voice was firm, causing her to stop. Twilight looked back at her.

“I’m sorry, was there anything else you needed from me?” Twilight’s tone was both condescending and clipped, like she wanted nothing else to do with either princess. Celestia blinked at her, looking awfully confused.

“I… Eer, no… We don’t need anything… I was hoping we could chat about some things.”

“If that’s the case, then you’ll excuse me.” Twilight flicked her tail, turning back to the door. “I have business to attend to.” Celestia and Luna didn’t stop her as she exited the balcony. As she had said before, she didn’t want anything to do with either princess outside of a professional capacity. Besides, she had more important things weighing on her mind.

Despite her exhaustion, Twilight couldn’t sleep. Not for lack of trying, though. She rolled around in her bed, trying to get comfortable for almost an hour before giving up on sleep. She pored over the letter again and again, trying to figure out what her parents could have meant. They mentioned prophecy, that her situation was similar. Twilight tried to think about her becoming Archmage as prophecy.

Prophecy was a very vague and difficult branch of magic. Twilight hadn’t quite studied it in depth, as there were very few published works, and the only ponies alive who knew anything about it refused to teach what they knew to anypony other than their disciples.

What Twilight did know, though, appeared to suffice. Prophesy was the magical process of predicting events before they came to be. It could be something major like a political upheaval, war, or natural disaster, or something so minor it had no impact on Equestria at large. Something like a spring rain or a single flower being picked. But prophecy in all forms was highly dangerous. To the untrained mind, prophecy could be a devastating tool, or one’s ultimate demise.

Prophecy was rare, though. She could recall only two given in the entirety of her life so far. She didn’t know the subject matter, only that they had been made. In addition to prophecy being rare, it was also very well guarded by Celestia and Luna themselves. Probably because of it’s destructive capabilities…

But what did that have to do with Twilight? The letter indicated that her parents knew she would become Archmage as soon as she got her mark. That would be akin to prophecy. Therefore, if Twilight hadn’t become Archmage, the prophecy wouldn’t have come true. If the prophecy didn’t come true, then…

Twilight remembered the crater, and how large of an area it had impacted. When prophecy failed to come true, the magical imbalance typically resulted in an explosion, or some other arcane phenomena. In this case, it had been an explosion, and it had claimed half of an entire town. That particular failure in prophecy had been minor. Prophecy could be anything from major, world-changing events to minor details about something very insignificant. This one had been about a small thunderstorm over a fishing town. Ironically enough, a weather pony had seen fit to divert the storm off to the north. Doing so had caused the prophecy to not be fulfilled properly, and had resulted in an explosion that had nearly devastated the entire town.

For a prophecy about the Archmage of Canterlot to not come true...Twilight shuddered and set the letter aside. She didn’t want to think about it. But a thought did come to her.

Twilight was Archmage right now, but only in name and perhaps spirit. There were still many duties that she couldn’t perform just yet. Like taking care of the shields beneath Canterlot, or any one of the advisory roles she was in charge of. Therefore, she wasn’t Archmage. Not completely.

If it was indeed a prophecy that said Twilight must become Archmage, then she hadn’t fulfilled it just yet.

Twilight had never ran faster in her entire life.

“Bastion!” She gasped, bursting into his quarters. They were empty. Panic set in as she dashed back through the hall, skidding to a halt in front of the first guard she met.

“Archmage! What’s wrong?” He asked, noting her panicked expression.

“Bastion! The shield unicorn! Where is he? He’s no longer in his quarters! They’re empty.”

“Oh. You didn’t hear?” The guard chuckled. “Shining Armor has retired. Bastion has been promoted to the position of commander.” Twilight disappeared in a flash. When she re-materialized, it was within the commander’s quarters.

“Well hello there. Ever hear of privacy?” Bastion’s low voice rumbled out from before her.

“Whaddya MEAN Shining Armor retired?!” She sputtered immediately.

“Nice to see you too, Twilight. How goes your studies? Oh, me? Nothing, really. Just moving into my new place. Now move, you’re on top of my clothes.” Twilight gasped and jumped down off of the large bag she had teleported on top of.

“S-sorry. Damnit.”

“It’s fine. Just be careful… You know the laws about teleporting and privacy.” Bastion grunted, hauling the massive bag up onto his nearby bed.

“B-but… Shining Armor…?”

“Yeah,” Bastion sighed, setting down on his haunches before Twilight. “It’s a shame, too… But he has a family on the way now. I can’t blame him… I don’t think I’m the best pony for the position, but Celestia and Luna themselves approached me earlier this morning. Before sunrise. I was moved in here before I knew it.”

“Oh…” Twilight slowly lowered herself as well, feeling rather downtrodden. “I… I didn’t know.”

“Hell, half the guard doesn’t know yet… Particularly those stationed in other places across Equestria. Normally, this sort of thing is handled with balls and pageants and awards and ceremonies… Not this time, I guess. I’ll probably be replaced in a week.”

“Hey, don’t say that…” Twilight said quietly. “You’re… You’re a good pony.”

“I’m cut out for defense, Twilight. Not offense. Which doesn’t really matter either way, since we’re in a time of peace… But still. I’m just not cut out to lead an entire guard. Not to mention, this means I’m going to be much more busy, and I likely won’t have enough time to help you out with the shields.” He sighed and raised a hoof to his eyes, massaging the bridge of his nose. “It looks like we’re just going to have to put it on delay…”

“But, that’s what I came to discuss.” Twilight said quietly, taking a few steps forwards. “I think I’m prepared. If you would like to hand the shields off to me, I can take care of them now… I think I’m strong enough.” Bastion removed his hoof to look her up and down, his expression hard as stone.

“Cast a shield.” He said gruffly. Twilight blinked.

“What?”

“Cast a shield. A hard one. Now.” Twilight swallowed, but did as she was asked. Harnessing her power, she summoned a radiant shield of brilliant golden light, dense and hard. An entire castle could have fell on her and she would have been safe.

Much to her surprise, then, when Bastion stepped through the barrier, his face close to hers as the spell shattered around them. “You’re unstable.” He said quietly, his eyes staring straight into hers. “Emotionally. Physically. Mentally. Twilight, for your shields, or the shields you’re repairing to be of any use, you yourself must be as strong as they are.” He sat back down, frowning at her. “I’m sorry, but you’re not prepared. Something’s bugging at you, and I don’t know what it is.”

Twilight swallowed back her tears, fighting to keep from crying in that moment. “I’m sorry,” She whimpered. “I guess I’m just not strong enough right now…”

“You will be.” Bastion nodded sagely. “You probably are. But look at you. No offense, kiddo, but you look like shit.” She hadn’t slept in over a day, and the extended crying session made her face look a dozen years older than it was. Her mane was a mess and her coat had most definitely seen better days. Twilight sniffed, trying to keep from crying again, as she nodded. “Go get some rest. Clean up. Rest up. Come see me tomorrow. I’ll still be getting settled, but I think I can take a moment to see if you’re okay.” He said quietly. Twilight nodded again before raising to her hooves.

“Thank you, Bastion… And congratulations on the promotion.” She said quietly.

“Thanks.” He muttered, rubbing the back of his neck with a hoof. “You’re the first pony to actually say that… Feels kind of hollow, doesn’t it?”

“The congratulations or the promotion?” Twilight asked quietly. Bastion looked up at her seriously.

“Both.”

----------

Twilight’s sleep was fitful, but it was sleep nonetheless. She woke and took a long, hot bath to sort her thoughts out, clean herself up, and prepare to set the sun and raise the moon. This time, however, she didn’t say a word to either princess. She stood in her position and nodded at the two of them, only speaking to correct the angles of descent or ascent. Once the ceremony was over, she turned and left without a word.

“Twilight-“ The door closed on Luna before she could finish even that one word. Twilight was already halfway down the hall. When she arrived back in her room, Twilight needed to rest some more. She was exhausted, and had to be prepared for Bastion the next day. Thankfully, this round of sleep came much easier to her. Twilight slept up until four in the morning, which gave her plenty of time to wash up once more. Her last bath, it seemed, didn’t get everything.

Come five-thirty, Twilight felt rested and refreshed, though she didn’t look like it. If anything, she looked downtrodden and melancholy. Once more, she didn’t speak a word to Celestia and Luna until the ceremony was complete. This time, however, the door glowed as Twilight approached it. She stopped and looked back at Celestia, the princess’ horn glowing bright as she shielded the door.

“Something the matter, Princess?” Twilight asked gently.

“That’s my question.” Celestia returned. “You’re off, Twilight. Something is wrong with you. I don’t know what it is-“

“I sincerely doubt that.” Twilight clipped her off.

“Ugh, what IS it with you and your brother?! You’ve both been cutting us off SO much lately!” Luna groaned and rolled her eyes. She seemed to be very annoyed. Angered, even. Twilight arched her eyebrow.

“You spoke with my brother?” She asked. This was of importance to her. Shining Armor had likely told Celestia and Luna directly that he was retiring. Which had led to Bastion’s promotion, and his inability to help Twilight with the shields any longer.

“I dare say we caused him to retire.” Luna muttered quietly, hanging her head a little. Twilight flicked her tail.

“Explain. Please.” Celestia and Luna shared a look before continuing.

“We knew about your parent’s illness approximately three weeks before their passing. This was shortly after you were named Archmage. We assumed that, if we were to tell you, your studies would be impacted.” The next words rather shocked Twilight. “We were gravely mistaken.” Celestia’s tone was sincere. Twilight narrowed her eyes a little, but didn’t speak. “We realize now that, from both perspectives, telling you would have been better for everypony. You could have made your peace, and likely would have taken their passing in stride, rather than taking two whole weeks to mourn. In addition, you could have caught up with them, perhaps even made some more memories…”

“In short, Twilight…” Luna picked up. “We made a mistake. A very large one. There is no excuse, and there are no words to express how very sorry we are.” Both the princesses hung their heads to Twilight. While this was a new and interesting development, Twilight still frowned at them. She didn’t know how she felt about this just yet, but at that moment, Twilight knew she was still upset with both princesses. Her tail flicked once more.

“You didn’t answer my question. Did you speak with my brother?” Celestia and Luna shared another glance as they stood upright.

“Eer… Yes, we did…” Celestia said quietly. “He… Informed us of his retirement. In all likelihood, what we requested of him forced him into it.” Twilight was silent for a few moments.

“What did you request of my brother?” She asked at last.

“A book… A book that your family has held for a long while.” Luna replied. “A book about prophecy…” Her eyes flicked downwards, to Twilight’s mark. “And you.”

The compartment.

The book.

Shining had taken it! Why, she couldn’t guess. She would find out, alright…

“I would like to see this book.”

“If you’d like.” Celestia sighed. She strode forward, past Twilight, indicating she should follow. Twilight fell into step behind Celestia, who led her just a few floors down. They entered a small library with many tables and books laid out and open. One in particular, though, caught Twilight’s attention. It lay on a square of cloth, and looked to be very dusty and old.

“Is that it?” Twilight asked quietly, nodding towards the book.

“It is… Shining brought this from your parent’s home. He said it was in a compartment in their library.” That confirmed it. This was what had been in that compartment. She was already advancing on the book, her eyes open wide with an odd sense of wonderment and discovery. Shaking slightly, she used her magic to pick it up. Her eyes went wide as she saw her very own cutie mark emblazoned on the front of the book. Celestia spoke next, and this time, Twilight listened.

“This book was taken from the Royal Canterlot Library about fifty years ago. Nopony knew where it was or who had taken it, but it just vanished one day. It’s been around for some time, and to be honest, both Luna and I had forgotten about it’s existence… That is, until Orion’s spell faded. When he passed, we both re-learned the knowledge he had sealed away with that spell. We realized that there was a book of prophecy, and that prophecy is related to you, Twilight.”

“Is this… Is this real?” She whimpered. “Maybe it’s about a different Archmage? One after me, whose mark is similar?”

“It’s real, Twilight. And it’s about you.” Celestia whispered. “Open it.”

Love and Liabilities - Part 1

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Archmage Chapter 12 - “Love and Liabilities Part 1”

---------

Twilight’s hoof shook as she steadily lifted the cover of the old book. Just as she thought, it had been preserved with magic… She could feel the texture of the spell that kept it in it’s condition, that slowed the aging process on the yellowed and dry pages. If it weren’t for that spell, this book would have crumbled to dust long, long ago…

This spell was thousands of years old, which meant the book it protected was as well. If this was the book that she thought it was, then her becoming the Archmage had been foretold long, long before she had ever been alive. She felt something else there, too… The remainders of another spell. Something else had been cast on this book.

“A memory loss spell.” Twilight breathed.

“That’s what we suspect, yes.” Celestia nodded. “Whatever shield this book lay behind, it made everypony forget of it’s existence as long as it was behind that shield. This was powerful magic. It affected everypony who had ever studied this book of prophecy. Even Luna and I.

“That’s… That’s impossible. My father was a skilled unicorn, but he… He couldn’t have accomplished that.”

“We’re still speculating, Twilight. Since we only received this last night… But we believe Nocturnal Glow might have been the one to cast it.” At Celestia’s explanation, Twilight blinked.

“Nocturnal Glow?”

“Yes… There was a period of time when both Orion and Glimmer studied under Nocturnal Glow. He was the one who gave them their house. It would make sense that he was the one to cast the spell and lock it away within their own library. He would have told them, of course… Which would make the magic null and void against them.” Celestia rubbed her bridge of her nose with a sigh. “Why he didn’t tell us that he took it, I’ll never know… Damn that pony for his secrets. Makes me wonder what else he kept from us.”

“Please,” Luna said quietly. “Let’s not talk about him in such a fashion… Nocturnal Glow was a great pony, and he did many great things for Equestria. I think he can be forgiven for this one small mistake.” She shot a glance at Twilight, and when she spoke the word ‘forgiven,’ Twilight felt something in her chest. A slight… Twinge. Of something. Regret, maybe. Or perhaps sadness. But whatever it was, it faded away, leaving behind a cold, stone feeling that Twilight was so familiar with recently.

“Well either way. We now have the book,” Celestia pointed to it again. “It doesn’t matter where it went, only that we have it, and what it means to us now.”

“What does it mean to us now?” Twilight asked, still looking at the book. It felt so ominous, strange and mysterious. Twilight couldn’t help but wonder what secrets lay inside. What did it all mean to her?

“Find out,” Celestia said quietly. “Open the book, and discover for yourself.”

Twilight swallowed, and slowly, carefully opened the cover. The text was ancient, and very convoluted. As with all prophecy, it went on describing long, intricate chains of events. Genealogy and history, families and lines of heirs and successors to titles and positions… It even went so far as to describe the weather, and how it reflected the mood of one particular pony or another… Twilight kept reading until she reached cutie marks she was familiar with. Prophecy sometimes mentioned names, but mostly stayed with vague descriptions, or at most a pony’s cutie mark. She recognized these descriptions mostly from family photographs. The first she realized were her grandparent’s, and her father and mother’s shortly after it.

’Let it be foretold that the pony whose cutie mark is a moon within a moon shall marry a pony whose mark is that of three grey stars. From their bond, they will birth the Archmage.’ Twilight furrowed her brow. The book was talking about her now. The description of the cutie marks matched her father and her mother. It went on to explain the difference between her and Shining Armor, but after that, the text seemed to refer to her as ‘Archmage.’ It got a little confusing at that point… Twilight knew the reason was because Nocturnal Glow had named her to be the Archmage before he had died. The text still referred to Nocturnal Glow as Archmage, as well as her. One such passage had her confused.

’The Archmage will be told by the Sun and Moon of her duty, and outside of the Archmage’s resting place, will come to the realization of her destiny. Henceforth, the Archmage proceeds to begin the Resting ceremony, and will carry the Archmage in front of the Sun and Moon. The Archmage’s display of power at putting the Archmage to rest will concern the Council, but bolster the hopes of the ponies subject to the Sun and the Moon. A new constellation will fill the sky with it’s light, bathing the Archmage with the Archmage’s blessing, and the secrets of an age will come to bear.

Twilight blinked at that last part. She looked up at Celestia and Luna with a concerned expression. “Princesses, did you notice this part about the secrets of an age?” She asked. Both Celestia and Luna looked confused as they circled the table, both standing on either side of Twilight. “Here,” She pointed at the passage. “Where it says ‘A new constellation will fill the sky with it’s light, bathing the Archmage with the Archmage’s blessing, and the secrets of an age will come to bear.’ What does that mean?”

“That’s so strange…” Celestia muttered. “This passage wasn’t here before.”

“What?”

“Luna, was it not?”

“No… Most definitely not. This is new, Twilight.” Luna whispered softly. “And so is this, here…” She pointed to a portion of the text a little later on. “This is so strange…” Twilight thought for a few long moments about what could have caused the text to suddenly appear. With a flash of understanding, it came to her.

“This is a contact web. This book has been enchanted. There are parts of the text that were hidden until I touched it...”

“No… Is it?”

“It has to be…” Twilight nodded to herself, swallowing. “There’s no other way. That had to be my father’s doing… There’s no way Nocturnal Glow could have tailored it to me.”

“Well…” Celestia murmured. “It appears our subjects might not be as happy with us as we originally thought… Both Nocturnal Glow and Orion have been keeping secrets from us.” Celestia stood and walked away, heaving a sigh. “There’s only one reason Orion would have cast a contact web on the book, Twilight. Both Luna and I have touched the book since Shining Armor delivered it, so it wasn’t tailored to us. But it was tailored to you.”

“Wh… What does that mean!?” Twilight demanded.

“It means,” Luna picked up, joining her sister at the opposite side of the table. “There are certain passages of text in this book that both Nocturnal Glow and your father only intended for you to read.” She shared a look with Celestia. “Not either of us.” Twilight looked between the book, then back to Celestia and Luna, and back down to the book. She shot them both an angry scowl and continued to read…

From then on out, Twilight realized that the book was almost solely dedicated to her and her lifestyle as Archmage. It went into very deep detail about her daily life for the next hundred pages or so. From her daily routine of waking and assisting with the sun and the moon, on to studying new forms of magic, and all the way up until she fell asleep after setting the sun and raising the moon once more. Some of the details were frighteningly accurate…

Celestia and Luna stood by silently, not saying anything, content to merely watch Twilight read. In fact, they didn’t make any noise whatsoever… At a certain point, Twilight couldn’t stand it. She had just caught up to current events when she looked up from the book. “Is there… Something else you two have to do?” She snapped.

“Truth be told, Twilight, we need to discuss this and the importance of it with you.” Luna said quietly. “How far are you?” Twilight glanced back down at the text.

’In a meeting with the Sun and Moon, the Archmage will discover the words of this prophecy, and her decision will impact-‘

“Right now.” Twilight said, her heart hammering as she tore her gaze away from the book mid-sentence. “This… This very second.”

“Okay. Good.” Celestia appeared to breathe a sigh of relief, her hoof raising to lay over her own heart. “It mentions a decision. Do you know what that decision is?” Twilight thought for a few long moments, about prophecy and the way it was handled.

“I think so… My decision is whether or not I continue reading.”

“Precisely.” Luna nodded, a ghost of a smile on her lips. “This is a very tricky prophecy… More so now that portions of the text have been revealed to you that Celestia and I don’t know of… Twilight, it’s your decision to continue reading, to learn of your future, or keep it a mystery.”

“You know better than I how prophecy works, Princess,” Twilight said patronizingly, closing the book. “If I learn of my own future, I may impact it. Directly or otherwise. And if the written prophecy doesn’t come to pass, then-“

“It’s a fractured prophecy, Twilight.” Celestia said gently. “And the split pivots on your knowledge of the text.”

“It’s a fractured prophecy?” Twilight frowned. These were the most dangerous and difficult to decipher. “I… That’s not good.”

“No, it most certainly is not… So the question is, do you read on to discover your fate, and lock it in one path? Or do you keep yourself in the dark, and boldly step into the future on your own?” Luna’s words impacted Twilight, each one making her heart hammer faster. She could continue reading, learn the secrets of the book and choose one path. Or she could forgo reading, and forge her own destiny, and in doing so lock herself to the other path of prophecy.

Walk blindly down one road, or know the twists and turns of another.

Without another word, Twilight stood, turned, and left the room.

------------

“So she’s chosen free will…”

“The question is, which fork did Twilight just choose?” Luna nodded to the book, her expression a mix of seriousness and concern.

“Well… She’s initiated the contact web. The mysteries of the hidden text are now revealed to us… Let’s read, shall we?” Celestia and Luna slowly opened the book and read through it together, commenting on changes in the text, additions or modifications to passages that previously had been hidden from their view. At a certain point, though, both princesses froze.

“Celestia,” Luna said quietly. “The text… It’s gone.”

“Relax, Luna.” The elder sister replied. “It just means Twilight has locked us on one fork… Let’s find out which one.” Previously, both sisters knew both forks. They knew the result of Twilight’s decision, or at least the major part of it. Now, though, one of the forks had been obliterated from the text. As with prophecy, once it came to pass, it vanished. Or in this case, once a decision had been made. Twilight’s decision was to remain in the dark about her future. To use free will and personal choices to make her own destiny, rather than know what lay ahead of her, and act accordingly. That meant that the prophecy pertaining to her knowing the contents of the book never happened, and never would. It had vanished, never to occur.

When the book was finished, and the last words read by both princesses, they sat in silence for a long, long time.

“Well,” Celestia finally said. “That was new…”

“The contact web must have been concealing that little tidbit of information…” Luna said quietly. It was clear from her tone that the new development was weighing heavily on her mind. It was for both princesses, it seemed. “But what does it mean?”

“Well, for one thing… Twilight has chosen the path of free will.” Celestia sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose once more. “We cannot interfere with her. No matter what. Doing so would cause the prophecy to fail, and you know what happens then…”

“Right,” Luna muttered quietly. “But… But, what do we do?” Luna sounded so confused and exasperated; she was at her wit’s end.

“Like I said… We don’t interfere. We let Twilight live her life as she sees fit… Prophecy has a way of working through free will, so we have to trust Twilight to make the right decisions and walk her own path... Just because we know how it’s going to happen, doesn’t mean Twilight’s decisions will mirror that. We cannot interfere, not ever.”

“But…”

“But nothing, Luna… Look, if there’s one thing that we have to change about the way we act towards Twilight…” Celestia shook her head slowly, looking at the door Twilight had exited through. Luna followed Celestia’s gaze to the closed door.

“We shouldn’t treat her as just a subject anymore...”

------------

“Twily!” Shining Armor’s voice made Twilight stop and raise her head, blinking as she watched her brother walk down a side hall towards her. “I’ve been looking for you.” He was smiling. Shining Armor, who had just retired, was smiling at Twilight. His smile wilted though when he saw her withering glare.

“You retired and didn’t tell me?” She grumbled, continuing her walk.

“I just found the time!” Shining Armor fell into step beside her, looking down at his sister with a concerned look. “Retirement is kind of a big deal around here. I had papers to sign, and the matter of my duties to allocate.”

“You could have picked someone other than Bastion. I need him, Shining.” Twilight continued. “If I’m going to be Archmage, I need to learn about the shields in and around Canterlot. Primarily the ones in the caverns. I can’t learn from Bastion if he’s busy commanding the guard.” She sighed and shook her head. “I guess I’ll just have to wait, then.”

“Hey,” Shining nudged her neck playfully. “Listen to what I have to say, will you?” The look she gave him said ‘piss off,’ but he continued anyways. “There are other duties for you to learn about, Twily. And other branches of magic for you to study. Like the magic of love.” The mention of the word made her perk up just a little.

“I’m listening.”

“Cadance is too busy in the north to come visit and teach you about love. Heck, she barely made it down here for the funeral…” Cadence had a government of her own to run; for her to abandon her duties to come to Canterlot for the funeral of her husband’s parents was probably very difficult to accomplish. Not to mention maybe a little selfish.

“So, now that I’ve retired,” Shining Armor continued, snapping her out of her reverie. “I can help out more in the north, which should free Cadance up, if only a little. But that little bit might just be enough that she can, oh, I don’t know… Take on a student?” Twilight perked up immediately, looking up at her brother with wide eyes.

“R-really?”

“You’d have to come back with me, but yeah. I don’t see why not. I mean, who else is going to teach you about true love?” Shining Armor chuckled. “Somepony around here? Fat chance. I’m leaving soon, so go pack your bags.” Twilight felt torn. Go North with her brother to study the magic of love, or remain in Canterlot and try to force Bastion to teach her about the shields, and try to learn the magic of love from somepony else. Twilight mulled the decision over and over in her mind, thinking hard about the implications of both.

“I’ll pack my bags now.”

With a gleeful smile, Twilight galloped away down the hall, running to her room as fast as she could. Halfway there, though, Twilight was struck with a sudden realization. Somepony had to cover her helping with the sun and the moon. She needed to talk to Golden Crest and Harbinger immediately.

“Guard!” She spotted a pegasus standing at the entrance to a court room nearby. “Golden Crest or Harbinger. Do you know them?”

“Yes, Archmage.” The guard nodded with a helpful smile.

“Do you know where either of them are located?”

“Harbinger’s quarters are in the western wing, fourth floor. Golden Crest just passed by not a minute ago. He appeared busy.” The guard lowered his spear to a side hallway. “That way.”

“Thank you!” Twilight teleported down the length of the hallway, catching the tail end of Golden Crest’s backside turning a corner. Twilight immediately teleported down to the fork. “Crest!”

“Shit!” Golden Crest gasped and threw the papers he had in his telekinetic hold, scattering them about the hall. “Archmage! You scared me!” He gasped, laying a hoof over his heart.

“Sorry. I have a favor to ask.” Twilight helped him gather the papers, stacking them in the proper order with hardly a thought.

“Sure. Anything.”

“I need you and Harbinger to cover me while I go to the crystal kingdom. Can you?” Crest blinked at her for a few moments, his expression slightly dumbfounded.

“Eer… I know that I can agree to this, but I cannot speak for Harbinger… I know he’s nearby. Would you like to go speak with him?”

“Together, if we could. Please, this is important to me.” Twilight hoped Harbinger would agree. Not just because Twilight needed to learn the magic of love, but because she felt like she simply needed to get away from Canterlot for a while. The stress, the pain, the emotional duress… Twilight needed a break. Even if it was to go study some more.

Golden Crest led Twilight into a separate library, where, sure enough, Harbinger was reading a book intently. He looked up as they approached, and Twilight thought she could see the ghost of a smile on his lips before he spotted her.

“Archmage,” He closed the book, grunting at her. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Truth be told, I have a favor to ask.” Twilight sat down opposite Harbinger, flicking her tail. “I would request you and Golden Crest cover me with assisting Celestia and Luna raise and lower the sun and moon.”

“What for?”

“I need to travel to the Crystal Kingdom. Princess Cadance will be teaching me the magic of love. I’ll only be gone two days.” Harbinger and Crest looked at one another for a few long moments before Harbinger heaved a sigh.

“Very well… I agree. Two mornings, two nights. That’s all.” Twilight bowed her head, a small smile on her lips.

“Thank you. Both of you.” She disappeared in a flash. She had bags to pack.

---------

Twilight sat opposite Shining Armor in the rattling train car, mentally preparing herself for the talk she knew had to happen.

“How are you holding up?” Shining asked first. Twilight sighed and took a moment to reflect on the past few weeks.

“I’m not, Shining…” She said quietly, her voice shaking. “It’s not just mom and dad, either… There’s been some other stuff going on.”

“Like?”

“Well…” She could trust him, right? Of course. Shining was her brother, he wouldn’t betray her trust. “I… To learn the magic of darkness, I had to lose my virginity to somepony, and it was Luna. I felt like I was falling in love with her, but she became distant and mysterious, which hurt me and I took it a lot more personally than I probably should have and I really just wanted to talk to her, but she wasn’t anywhere to be found, and then she told me at the funeral that it was because she was afraid of falling in love because the last pony she fell in love with hurt her really badly but this was at the same time as the funeral and I was already feeling bad so I took it out on her harder than I really should have, so we finally got to talk but then she told me that she knew about mom and dad before they passed and I snapped and told her I was done and now I just don’t. Fucking. Know.”

It all rushed out as fast as she could blurt it, a single long-winded exhalation of emotion and frustration that ended in three pronounced words and another breakdown. Shining slid into the bench beside her, looping a foreleg over her shoulders and holding her close as she wept for what felt like the millionth time since she had left Ponyville. She sobbed and shook into Shining’s hold, though it didn’t do anything for her. It seemed crying never did anymore. If anything, it just made her more frustrated that she couldn’t control her emotions anymore.

“You done?” Shining asked when she finally brought herself under control, sniffling and wiping her nose pathetically.

“Yeah,” She groaned, wiping her eyes next.

“Okay. Now here’s my input on all that:” He moved back to his own seat and leaned in to her, his expression serious. “You had sex with Luna?” Twilight blinked twice before the blush came to bear on her cheeks.

“Well, yeah…”

“You lucky little minx!” He punched her shoulder playfully, laughing as he sat back in his own chair.

“Ow! Wait, what? Why are you congratulating me?!” Twilight rubbed the spot, looking both confused and offended.

“Think about it, Twily. Luna is a princess. If she’s going to risk all of that poise and grace on one night of lovemaking with you, well, you should be honored.” He chuckled, shaking his head. Twilight blinked again, thinking hard on it… He struck a chord on more levels than one. Not only was Luna a princess, whose personal life was of great interest to the public, but she was emotionally hurt thanks to a past lover. For her to even open up to Twilight at all was incredible, let alone make love to her.

“But… There was this whole period of time where we were talking about how I can’t learn shadow magic until I lose my virginity…”

“True,” Shining Armor mused, rubbing his chin. “Important as it might have been for you to learn, though, imagine how it impacted Luna. I mean, she’s… Well, she’s a princess. Cadance and I are going through the same thing right now… It’s tough for them, Twilight. They live to be thousands of years old. They see countless ponies in their lifetimes, many of them are only alive for a fraction of their very own. Do you really want to love somepony so profoundly, only to lose them in what seems like the blink of an eye?” Twilight saw the wisdom in his words… Like it or not, Twilight’s time on Equestria was finite. There would come a day when she would die, and if Luna cared for her so intensely, what would that mean to her? How well would she recover? Could she even recover at all? Despite their long lifespans, the princesses were still ponies through and through. The laughed, cried, lived and loved just like anypony else…

“I hadn’t thought of it that way…” Twilight muttered. “How are you and Cadance doing with that?” Shining Armor smiled at her, leaning back in his seat a little more.

“Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Twilight considered his words very seriously for a long time. She stared blankly out of the window as they began to leave the mountains around Canterlot and make their way into the northern plains… Only when the fields began to gather a light dusting of snow that steadily deepened into drifts did Shining speak again.

“Did I tell you you’re going to be an aunt?” Twilight rose out of her reverie with a dumbfounded look on her face. She looked at Shining’s stupid grin for the longest time before a smile mirroring his own spread across her face.

“Cadance is…?”

“We expect our first foal in six months.”

“Ohmigosh!” Twilight bounded out of her seat and embraced Shining with a happy laugh, nuzzling into his mane as he held her tight. “That’s incredible! I mean, how? I… It’s personal, I know, but I just have to ask! I thought reproduction between alicorns and regular ponies was… Well, impossible?”

“Well, it took some doing…” Shining chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck. “But I don’t know if Cadance would want me sharing the details… You know, personal preference and all that…”

“Oh. Right.” Twilight’s expression fell, but only for a moment. “Still! That’s amazing! I’m so happy for you two!” Despite the depressive mood Twilight had been in, she felt happiness bubble over, filling her chest with a warm sense of glee she hadn’t felt in a long, long time. “Oh, I can’t WAIT to see her now!” She squirmed in her seat, looking out of the window once more. It was winter in the north, so the vast green plains surrounding the crystal kingdom were covered in snow. Though, over the next rise in the terrain, Twilight could see the glimmering tip of the capitol, the magnificent tower of crystal that marked the center of the kingdom that Shining Armor and Cadance ruled together.

“You know, she’s fairly open about that stuff… And if it means advancing the understanding, I’m sure she’d be willing to answer a few questions on the matter.”

“Do you think?” Twilight asked quietly, looking up at Shining with big eyes. “It’s not even documented in history! The only alicorns we know of are Cadance, Celestia, and Luna… In a study about two thousand years ago, Celestia admitted that not even she knew if it was possible to reproduce, and she couldn’t remember how she and Luna came to be. This is a very important development in Equestrian history!”

“Easy, there, Twily.” Shining Armor chuckled. “My wife is an expecting mother, not a test subject.”

“Right.” Twilight blushed, though she couldn’t help the thrill of discovery, and the happiness of hearing the good news as the feelings mixed within her to take over the oppressive mantle of depression she had been suffering under. “STILL, though… I can’t wait to get there!”

“About another half hour or so,” Shining nodded out of the window at the tall spire of crystal steadily drawing nearer over the snow-covered ground. “I wanted to ask, though… Were Celestia and Luna okay with you leaving?” That put a damper on Twilight’s mood. She had been torn about leaving Canterlot. But in her heart, Twilight knew she had to take a break. Harbinger and Crest had reluctantly agreed to resume her duties, and she assured them she would return shortly.

“I’m only able to stay for two days,” Twilight said quietly. “I think any longer, and that would be pressing my luck… So for two days, I need to study as much as I can…”

“The magic of love isn’t very complex, Twilight. And for somepony who could master the shadow in, what, a month? Two? I think you’ll do just fine.” Shining nudged her gently, the small gesture assuring Twilight even more.

“Yeah… I think I’ll be fine. I just… Ugh, I needed to get away. If only for a while, I just… I just needed to get away from them. The pressure. The princesses…”

“I understand.” Shining nodded again, looking out of the window. “But just two days?”

“That’s all I can afford.” Twilight muttered quietly. “I mean, there are still eighteen ponies doing my job right now… Harbinger and Golden Crest make it twenty for the next two days. I can’t stay away any longer…”

“If you say so. I just think you’re over-working yourself. Trust me, as a career guard pony, I know what it’s like.”

“Right…” Twilight sighed. “You don’t think I’m…?”

“Maybe a little.” Shining nodded. “But this break should do you well. I don’t think anypony will hold it against you. I mean, look at history. Every Archmage in the history of Equestria was a student of the Archmage before them. Not to mention every one of them aside from Nocturnal Glow took at least a month to assume all their duties properly. Some of them took as many as three or four.”

“Really?” Twilight perked up. “Where’d you learn that from?” Shining shrugged.

“When I heard you had been named Archmage, I did some research… There are some books in the crystal kingdom’s library on the subject. One of them was a log of the board meetings that the stand-in for the Archmage attended in their place… It isn’t much to go off of, but you can roughly map the time it took for each Archmage to assume their duties fully. One of them, Ephemeros I think his name was, took five months before he was ready to tend to the shields in the caverns.” He leaned forward, speaking very pointedly to her then. “Just because Nocturnal Glow took less than a month doesn’t mean you have to.”

“Hmm…” Twilight looked out of the window at the rolling terrain. “Perhaps…” She thought about how long it had already been since she was named Archmage, and the circumstances behind it. She hardly even knew Nocturnal Glow, and certainly hadn’t studied under him. In fact, she hadn’t studied much outside of Celestia’s teachings about friendship and the light. That, coupled with her young age, Twilight could understand why she was taking so long to assume her duties. But still… There had to be a point somewhere that she took over. Sooner rather than later, she hoped.

“We’re here.” Shining Armor nudged her knee, snapping her out of her thoughts once again. Sure enough, the train platform closest to the kingdom sat outside of the opposite window. Together, she and Shining Armor unloaded their slight amount of luggage and readied themselves for the short hike into the kingdom.

Since it’s reappearance five years ago, the kingdom had expanded slightly. But the railroad that ran to the north hadn’t changed to adapt it just yet. There were plans in place to make a branch close to the current junction that ran right past the kingdom, and would allow for easy transportation, but the winter weather had halted those for the second year in a row. For now, Twilight and Shining Armor hoofed it through the thin layer of snow towards the grand, shining tower that wasn’t too far away.

Before long, they started passing magnificent homes and other crystal ponies. Now and then, the sun would break through the clouds and bathe a portion of the kingdom in a shaft of brilliant light, which made all the ponies and homes caught in the ray glimmer and shine beautifully. Twilight had only visited twice since the first time, but each visit had taken her breath away. Such a beautiful and magnificent place…

Still, they were here for business. They made a bee-line for the tall tower at the middle, which was the de-facto home of Cadance and Shining Armor. Once they arrived, Cadance was waiting for them, and upon seeing Twilight, the two immediately rushed forward to greet each other in their unique style. After their little dance, Twilight threw her hooves around Cadance’s neck, hugging her tight.

“I missed you so much!” Twilight felt tears of joy well over at the meaningful embrace.

“I’m glad to see you’re not so grim-and-dour.” Cadance teased. “During the whole funeral ordeal, I only ever saw you smile once.” She kissed Twilight’s cheek with a happy grin. “I’m glad to see you happy again, Twilight. Come on, let’s get you settled in.” They chatted about nonsensical things, mostly how beautiful the kingdom was, how the snow made everything seem to glimmer and shine even more. Only after they had deposited Twilight’s bags in the guest room and retired to a nearby lounge for tea did they finally discuss anything important.

“I’m sorry, Cadance, but I have to ask… How were you able to get pregnant?”

“Aah. I figured you’d want to ask. Well, as it turns out, it isn’t impossible.” Cadance smiled and scooted a little closer to Shining Armor before explaining. “I still produce eggs, and Shining of course has sperm… But the magic involved in the procreation process is more often than not interfered with. More so since he’s a unicorn. Surprisingly enough, though, it just comes down to repetition.” Twilight furrowed her brow.

“Lots of sex?”

“Lots.” Shining and Cadance shared a look, one that Twilight fought to keep from gagging at. It was warm, passionate, and loving… But at the same time laced with hidden meaning and, unless she was mistaken, desire. Still though, there was something about the way they smiled at one another. It seemed ideal.

“As I was saying,” Cadance cleared her throat and continued. “It just takes time. There were several moments when the timing was just right. My magic didn’t interfere with his, and I happened to be… Ahem. Fertile. It seems like it’s a random effect, and hinges on quite a few things that are difficult to pin down. Diet, energy, even the specific time of the night. We tried many different things-“

“And positions.”

“Yes, and positions. So I can’t tell you exactly what it was… But one time we got it right. I mean, if this is for science, I can give you a window…”

“I’m not sure… I want to know the specifics about my brother and my foalsitter’s lovemaking tactics.” Twilight laughed with them for a few moments, everyone feeling happy and warm. “But at the same time, this IS the first time in recorded history that anything like this has happened… If you’d be willing to write them down, perhaps?”

“Certainly.” Cadance smiled warmly at Twilight. “But enough about us. Tell me about you! Archmage, eh?” Cadance looked expectantly at Twilight, but her smile faded when she saw how her question impacted her little sister. “Not good?”

“You could say that…” Twilight mumbled softly. “It’s just… Ugh, there’s so much stress and pressure and… And expectations. Nopony has said anything, but I know they’re thinking it.” She sighed, drooping her head. “I can see it in their eyes… When I asked Harbinger and Crest to cover me for two days, you should have seen the look I got. I mean, from Harbinger, I can understand. He’s kind of abrasive… But Golden Crest? I… I never expected HIM to look so… Upset.” Twilight sighed and hung her head, remembering that even without Golden Crest and Harbinger, there were still other ponies counting on her. Like Bastion, and all of the council members that sat in for her position on board meetings and committees.

“That sounds awful, Twilight.” Cadance said softly. “I remember Golden Crest, he was always very kind and helpful… And Harbinger had his own rough brand of friendship, if I remember correctly.”

“Harbinger’s an asshole, but he’s a nice kind of asshole. The kind you can count on to be rude when you need it.” Shining Armor muttered. “Now it sounds like he’s just plain rude…”

“It isn’t just them, though,” Twilight said softly. “Your retirement has got Bastion tied up, so I can’t get much help from him, and I don’t even know all of the boards I need to sit in on… There’s just so much for me to take care of, and everypony I meet tells me I’m not ready to accept their positions just yet.” Twilight sighed and shook her head. “I just need a break to refresh.”

“I understand.” Cadance nodded with a warm smile, reaching a hoof out to rest on Twilight’s. “Rest up, see the sights, and I’ll teach you what I can about the magic of love. I’m sure you’ll be able to pick it up quickly.” Twilight smiled at her warmly, feeling calm and relaxed in the two ponies’ presence. After that discussion, though, they continued talking about nonsensical things. Mostly Cadance’s pregnancy, and what plans they had for the foal. Since it was a mystery whether or not it would be a pegasus, unicorn, earth pony, or even another alicorn, they were going to hold off on naming it. Cadance seemed to bubble with emotion, and each time she looked at Shining, it was with such a warm and kind smile that Twilight felt her heart nearly melt.

Cadance and Shining Armor were always a happy couple. Each time Twilight had seen them, they were affectionate and warm, always close to one another and not afraid to show their love. But now, when the matter of pregnancy was on the table, Twilight realized that they were perfect for one another. These were two ponies that, together, could tackle any problem this crazy life could throw at them. Not only that, but they could bring a new life into this world, protect it and nurture it, help it flourish and grow. In that moment, Twilight realized that they were destined to be together.

“Twilight? Are you crying?”

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The next day dawned bright and clear, with the sun shining across the entire crystal kingdom, making the entire land sparkle brilliantly. Twilight took a long time to stand on the balcony of her guest room, looking out at all of the beautiful lights and shining ponies going about their day below. This place was so beautiful in all aspects. She thought the glimmering lights would be troublesome after a while, but the pretty sparkles never seemed to wear on her eyes or get annoying. She could stare at them for hours…

Nevertheless, she was here to study first and foremost. She met Cadance at the massive library, smiling at her sister-in-law. “Sleep well?” Cadance asked with a soft smile, her horn glowing as she began to pull several books off of the shelf.

“Amazing, thank you.” Twilight nuzzled Cadance close for a moment before looking down at the small stack of books Cadance had gathered for them. Many of them had frilly, pink-lettered titles with looping cursive print or ridiculous emblems on the front. She furrowed her brow at them. How could such silly books relate to powerful magic? Twilight had seen herself the power Cadance and Shining Armor commanded. Twice. These books made her suspicious.

“Good. We have quite a bit of ground to cover, but Tia tells me you’re a fast study. Shall we?”

“Try to keep up,” Twilight teased, picking up the first volume. Cadance laughed and stood at Twilight’s side as they began.

As it turned out, the magic of love drew on many different schools of magic, combining them all into one unique power capable of great things. From the shadow, it drew the magic needed for conception, which was why ponies were only able to become pregnant if they made love during the night time. From the light, the strength of the bonds between two ponies in love. Unshakable and infallible, the day lent love the strength needed for two ponies to face the harsh world together. From nature, love took it’s nurturing and caring tendencies, particularly the desire to see the pony you loved grow and flourish.

There were parts of magic, though, that Twilight was surprised to learn were incorporated into love. Fear, for instance, was a rather large part of it… To love somepony, you had to be afraid to lose them. Afraid of hurting them. Anger, too… Twilight was surprised to learn that being angry at the pony you loved was not only acceptable, but encouraged. Conflict made couples stronger. Arguments were a healthy and normal part of any relationship. When Twilight asked why, Cadance had replied with ‘Because the make-up sex is fantastic.’

More than that, though, was the fact that it made the bond between the two stronger. Like how broken bones would go through ossification and become stronger. That, and ponies who loved one another could make it through anything, even nasty arguments. Cadance had given Twilight a few examples with her and Shining, and they all made sense to her…

In fact, all of the things Twilight was learning could be applied to her feelings for Luna. She was afraid to lose the princess, even though she was angry at her for what she had done. Twilight didn’t want to lose what she had with Luna. At the same time, she didn’t want to hurt Luna when she died. She was scared to let Luna get too attached that her death would trigger another episode similar to what she had suffered with Nightshade. It was a different kind of pain, but still frightening. That Luna could get so attached to her that her death could make her act so irrationally.

“Twilight?” Cadance asked quietly, bringing Twilight out of another self-imposed reverie. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah. Fine.” Twilight shook her head to clear the thoughts of Luna, but found she couldn’t shake it. Luna, and the way Twilight felt towards her, stayed firmly in her mind.

“You don’t look it.”

“Ugh,” Twilight sagged. “You know me too well.”

“I’ve known you since you were a foal, reading you has become easy.” Cadance smiled and nuzzled Twilight affectionately, which drew another smile from her. “Tell me, what’s wrong?”

“It’s this,” Twilight waved a hoof over the books spread open before them. “Love.”

“Do you love somepony?” Cadance asked. Twilight realized that she hadn’t told Cadance about her experience with Luna.

“Yes. No… I don’t know.” Twilight sagged, still struggling with her rampant thoughts.

“Well, first things first, tell me who it is.” Cadance chuckled, settling on her haunches opposite Twilight. Twilight slowly lifted her head, staring into Cadance’s eyes as her lips quivered and worked with the single name.

“L-Luna.” Cadance blinked at her, the sudden silence between them stretching well into the realm of uncomfortable. After a long time and much thought, though, Cadance smiled wide.

“That’s amazing, Twilight.”

“Really?”

“Mmhmm. Trust me, I’ve known Luna for a very, very long time. I knew her back when she was seeing Nightshade, and I was one of the few she confided in about him.” Cadance’s expression darkened slightly. “I was the one to stop her attacking him…” Cadance shook her head, snapping out of it. “But that’s besides the point. Nightshade fell out of love with Luna. You’re falling into love with her. The problem between the two of them was that Nightshade didn’t return Luna’s feelings. So if you feel the same way about her that she does about you, then everything should be alright.

“Twilight, you’re a perfect match for her. Intelligent, beautiful, mysterious… There’s as much to discover about you as there is about the night Luna embodies so well. I can tell, Twilight. You would make a very, very good mate for Luna. Perfect, dare I say…” Cadance’s smile wilted when she saw the troubled expression on Twilight’s face, though. “Not what you wanted to hear?” Twilight shook her head. Cadance had to have picked up on it, though… Steadily, she leaned in, lifting Twilight’s gaze to her own. “Twilight…” She spoke softly. “What happened?”

She shared everything. From Luna’s words after the ceremony all the way up to the day before she left. All the pain and misery, the hurt and the depression… Cadance shed a few tears of her own, particularly at the part where Twilight re-visited her parents dying. For the first time, she shared what had happened in the graveyard as well. How she had opened herself to the night, and nearly made the same grave mistake that Luna herself made so long ago… When it was all over, Cadance’s eyes shone with her tears, and she gently drew Twilight into a warm embrace.

“Twilight, I… I have no words for you.” Cadance said softly, both of them shaking. “I’m so sorry you had to go through that…”

“It’s fine,” Twilight sniffled as she pulled away, wiping away a stray tear. She honestly didn’t think she had any left to cry at that point. “I just… I don’t know anymore.”

“Well,” Cadance wiped her own eyes with a soft, nervous chuckle. “Remember what I said about anger… It can help a relationship just as much as it hurts it.” Cadance leaned in close to Twilight, her sad smile reaching Twilight at her heart of hearts, making it beat faster in her chest. “The question you have to ask yourself is this, Twilight…”

Cadance laid her hoof directly over Twilight’s heart, smiling as she spoke in a soft whisper.

“Are you ready to forgive Luna?”

Love and Liabilities - Part 2

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Archmage Chapter 13 - “Love and Liabilities Part 2”

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“Welcome back, Twilight.” Much to her surprise, both Luna and Celestia were waiting for her at the train platform as she got off at Canterlot’s central station. Her short vacation was over, but Twilight was at least hoping to get the chance to drop her bags off before attending to business. It appeared as if that wasn’t going to happen.

“Princesses. Hello.” Twilight smiled bitterly at them, bowing her head low.

“We have things to discuss, Twilight.” Celestia said in a rather clipped, brief tone. Twilight couldn’t help but feel a sense of trepidation at Celestia’s curt tone. Perhaps it was because they were in public, or maybe Celestia was really being short with her out of anger. Either way, Twilight quickly felt the relaxation and relief that the short vacation gave her flee like cotton tufts on a strong breeze.

“Very well. Where would you like to go?”

“Follow us back to the castle, please.” Luna and Celestia turned together, leading a hesitant Twilight all the way through town. Twilight fought to keep a smile on her face as she passed all the inquisitive ponies looking at the odd procession. Twilight, the Archmage of Canterlot, hauling her luggage behind two regal princesses. It was going to be all over the headlines the next day. She breathed an audible sigh of relief as they made it to the castle, though she was slightly miffed that she couldn’t at least drop her bags off in her quarters before they spoke. Instead, Celestia and Luna immediately made for the judicial chambers, choosing an empty conference room to have their discussion.

“We understand that you must study all forms of magic, Twilight,” Celestia began immediately, cutting through to the issue at hoof. “But you have responsibilities to manage here in Canterlot.”

“Yes, I enjoyed visiting what’s left of my family in the crystal kingdom, thank you for asking.” Twilight muttered under her breath. She knew Celestia and Luna heard it, but they didn’t address it.

“First and foremost, I think you need to see Harbinger and Crest.” Celestia continued. “I think a visit is in order.” Twilight blinked at Celestia’s odd statement.

“Why is that?” She felt even more annoyed now. What reason would she have to go to Harbinger and Golden Crest?

“They are in the hospital. There was... An incident in your absence.” Her grave tone said it all. Twilight felt her heart skip a beat.

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Twilight realized that she hated hospitals. The sanitary smell, the eye-aching white linoleum tiles, the painstakingly-cleaned receptions areas filled with generic magazines. It made her stomach churn.

“Archmage?” The doctor’s voice made her head snap up. “Sorry for the delay, but they’re ready to see you now.”

“Yes, of course. No issues.” Twilight slid off of her chair, thankful to be doing something other than sitting. She followed the doctor out of the reception area and into a series of long, uniform hallways, past bustling nurse’s stations and busy ponies all around. Here and there, Twilight could glance into rooms and see doctors and patients, nurses and visitors. At least in here, there was healing to be done. Magic was being cast, helping ponies to get better. Out in the reception area, things seemed so… Grim.

Twilight had only received the news earlier that day. She had rushed to the hospital immediately, hardly even giving Luna and Celestia time to explain exactly what had happened. Never in a million years would she have expected something so tragic to take place… Especially not because of her mistake. “Here we are. Again, sorry for the delay.”

“Not at all. Thank you, doctor.” Twilight smiled and hastily ducked into the room, gasping slightly at what she saw.

“Trust us, Archmage,” Golden Crest smiled at her. “It’s not as bad as it seems.”

“Hhmph.” Harbinger grunted.

“Oh my goodness… You’re…”

“Burnt? Crippled? Deformed?”

“I think ‘injured’ would have sufficed, Harbinger.”

Both ponies sat in beds against the wall, leaning back and wrapped in various casts and bandages. Here and there through the edge of the white cloth, Twilight could see the discolored edge where their coats had been burned away, the skin beneath bright red and ruddy with their injury. According to Celestia and Luna, it had happened when the two were covering for her. For one reason or another, their magic had failed and the shields protecting both of them had dropped. Thankfully enough, it was near the end of the process, or the burns they sustained would have been much worse.

“So,” Twilight’s tone was a mixture of confusion and seriousness. “Tell me what happened.”

“Fuck off.”

“Harbinger, please…” Crest rolled his eyes. “I’ll tell you, Twilight… You might want to sit down.” Twilight obliged, pulling a rolling chair close as she sat in the space between their beds. Harbinger, it seemed, had suffered the worst of the two. His entire midsection was wound with bandages, and a large square one covered the side of his face. His left foreleg was wound, as well, and supported in a sling. Golden Crest wasn’t without his own injury. Both of his forelegs were wrapped tight and sat at his sides, and as far as Twilight could see until the blanket covered him, his entire left flank was covered with a blue bandage. The hum of passive healing spells was audible, even over the soft beep of the monitoring machines.

“As requested, Harbinger and I were covering for you while you were in the crystal kingdom. As it turns out, though, we were out of practice… The first night you were gone went fine, and so did the next morning… But that evening, we made a mistake…” Crest shifted slightly, wincing as he adjusted atop his bed. Twilight caught Harbinger shooting a glance his way, though the darker pony went back to staring at the far wall as soon as he noticed Twilight looking at him. “I wasn’t shielding properly, and I got distracted by an adjustment that needed to be made… When the next wave of energy hit my shield, it broke, burning Harbinger… He dropped his shield, and Luna’s magic burned me. We laid there for thirty seconds while the princesses rushed the process, trying to work hard enough to finish it out, but not hard enough that we would be burnt. Really, it’s thanks to them that we’re even alive…”

“Oh my gosh,” Twilight breathed. “I’m… I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Harbinger growled, fixing her with an intense glare. “Not yet, anyways. Crest and I have been talking, Archmage.” Twilight blinked at him, her heart beating a little faster. “As soon as we’re discharged, we’d seek an official audience with you.” He glanced at Crest for a moment before looking back at Twilight. “The entire council.”

“The… All twenty of you?” Twilight asked softly, her eyes wide. Crest nodded softly, his expression a little sad.

“I… I’m a very supportive pony, Twilight. Anypony else can tell you that… But there has to be a line drawn somewhere.” He smiled at her sadly. “We’ve spoken with the other council members. We have agreed that a discussion is needed. But not until we’re discharged.”

“Right. Of course. I understand.” Twilight stammered slightly, her heart fluttering. Why would the council want to talk to her? What could it mean? She hadn’t met more than half of them, and only knew them by name and title if nothing else. Meeting all twenty at the same time was going to be overwhelming… The twenty unicorns that collectively made the Archmage’s position. “I’ll… I’ll be leaving now, I suppose…”

“That would be best,” Crest smiled at her.

“Good riddance.”

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“Words cannot express,” Twilight muttered, her shields lowering and her muscles relaxing. “How sorry I am for those two…” Celestia and Luna shared a look before turning their eyes down to Twilight. Twilight was much more careful when helping Celestia and Luna cycle the sun and the moon, since she had seen the injuries the princess’ magic could inflict just a few short hours earlier. What’s more, Celestia and Luna had been cycling the sun and moon without guidance for a full day before then. Twilight had quite a few adjustments to make. On top of making sure her shields were more sound than usual, she was exhausted.

“We all make mistakes, Twilight. Harbinger and Crest are no exception. Neither are you, that is certain, but you mustn’t blame yourself.” Celestia’s calm tone made her look up sheepishly. “Learn from this mistake, Twilight. All of us will. That’s the best thing to do… With any mistake.” Of course, Celestia spoke the truth… Letting mistakes weigh oneself down was just counter-productive… The best thing to do was to learn from them, make amends, and move on. Twilight couldn’t help but wonder how she could possibly make up for what had happened…

“I’m so sorry, Princess… I never should have left.”

“Look at it this way, Twilight,” Luna said gently. “Did you learn anything while you were with Cadance?” Twilight looked up, thinking over all of the spells and theories that Cadance had shared. Love was a simple magic, but it’s scope was incredibly grand… It drew from many different schools to make it’s own unique set of principles, and used them in the most effective and simple ways possible. Anypony who truly, fully loved another could accomplish amazing things with that simple magic.

“I learned a lot,” Twilight nodded. “I dare say I understand the magic of love completely.”

“Aaand that’s my signal to leave,” Celestia smiled down at Twilight as she swept past.

“Wh-what? Wait, Celestia!” Twilight whirled around, catching the princess on the threshold of the balcony. “What do you mean?”

“I mean I ought to leave,” Celestia winked at her. “If you and Luna are going to talk.” The door shut behind her, leaving Twilight alone on the observatory tower’s balcony with Luna.

“I… What?”

“I had to tell her, Twilight.” Luna said softly. “She’s my sister. More than that, she and I rule this land together. We have to work with one another if we’re going to work effectively.”

“R-right,” Twilight muttered, feeling a blush creep onto her cheeks. Great, so now Celestia, her mentor and ruler, knew that she had lost her virginity to Luna. It was no surprise, of course, but it was still embarrassing. “So…”

“What did you learn with Cadance?” Luna asked, her wings shuffling slightly as Twilight turned to look at her. Twilight heaved a heavy sigh before raising her gaze to look up at Luna. She took a few long, pointed moments to look deep into Luna’s eyes, searching through the brilliant depths held there… Twilight had been struggling with these words ever since she and Cadance had spoken.

“I love you, Luna.” She said quietly. “I realize that… Well, I knew that, but I didn’t want to believe it.” Luna’s expression remained stoic as she slowly sat down, looking at Twilight expectantly. “I mean… That night with you was the most fantastic thing to ever happen to me. The things you said, the way you touched me…” Twilight shuddered as she closed her eyes, her mind fleeing to that blissful night for a few moments. “I’d have to be mad to give that up…”

“So-“

“BUT.” Twilight cut her off, her expression serious. “You hurt me so much, Luna…” Twilight’s voice shook with a different memory now, her eyes filling with tears. “Running afterwards, and being as distant as you were… And then you and Celestia betrayed both Shining Armor and I. Individually, I might have been able to handle those two things… But together?” Twilight shook her head, still shuddering slightly. “That hurt me so much… I can’t possibly tell you how hard it was to cope with that pain…”

“Twilight, I’m so sorry…” Luna cut in, her own voice shaking with the emotion and pain. “I… I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for what I’ve done to you. We were so wrong keeping that secret from you, we realize that too late… And for running, I was being foolish. I never should have hidden my feelings from you.” Luna sobbed once, a single tear tracing it’s way down her cheek. “I was so scared that I’d do the same thing as last time, that I-“

“Luna,” Twilight cut her off, rising to her hooves and advancing on the crying princess. Gingerly, she raised a hoof to the Princess’ chin, cupping it with a tender touch as she looked up into Luna’s watery eyes.

“I’m not Nightshade.” Luna froze in her grip, trembling slightly. “And I’m no fool, either…” She smiled sadly, leaning in to kiss Luna’s lips ever so gently. “I love you, Luna… And I forgive you for everything you did. You and Celestia. Yes, it hurt, but I’m a better pony for it. It’s made us stronger.” She paused, stepping forward. “Will make us stronger… I hope?”

Luna pulled Twilight into her embrace with a choking sob.

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It took Harbinger and Crest all of two days to be discharged from the hospital. Twilight was informed by a messenger that found her in the main library one day. He handed her an official summons, which detailed the meeting between her and the council responsible for her duties. That evening before the sun and the moon were handled, she was to report to the main court room for discussion. Thanking the messenger, Twilight began to prepare herself. Whatever was going to happen, it was going to be major. She didn’t know if she would need notes, a presentation, or what. But she did know that there would be discussion. Discussion, if nothing else, was something Twilight excelled at.

When the time came, she was surprised to find Celestia and Luna waiting for her outside of the main court room. “Celestia. Luna. Hello.” She said cautiously. “This isn’t something you need to be here for, is it?”

“Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence.” Luna chuckled as she nuzzled Twilight affectionately. The small gesture helped to relax her, and she smiled at Celestia’s patronizing eye-roll.

“As it stands, yes. We do need to be here. Mainly as advisors for the discussion, but also to oppose the council, or you, if need be.” Celestia said, nodding towards the wide double doors. “Are you ready, Twilight?” She heaved a sigh, calming her nerves with a deep breath. Over the past two days, she had resumed her duties once more, at least those that she could perform. In addition, however, she had spoken with two of the other council members. Paper Prose, who filled her position on the Acquisitions Committee, and Measure, her stand-in for the Education Committee. Both of them seemed to be rather indifferent to their roles, as both committees were easy to manage, and met very infrequently. But they did express general concern for her as the Archmage. While their duties for this meeting were only to provide input on their specific committee, it was still nice to hear how they felt in general.

When the doors opened, Twilight wore a confident smile.

That quickly faded when she saw who was in attendance. It wasn’t just the twenty unicorns filling her position… There were probably a hundred packed into the courtroom, and each one of them looking at Twilight and the two princesses.

“Oh my,” Celestia mused, looking around. “This isn’t what I had expected…”

“Most definitely not… Come on, Twilight.” Luna nodded towards the empty center of the packed court room, hushed whispers shared between all in attendance at the suddenly-frightened expression on Twilight’s face. She fought to control her thundering heart, to put something other than fear on her face. She managed an odd, platonic sort of expression. Stoic and cold for the most part. She couldn’t stop frowning.

Celestia and Luna left Twilight in the middle of the room, both of them ascending twin sets of steps up to a large, circular dias overlooking the entire courtroom. All around the outside edge of the large, rectangular room were risers for ponies to sit on. Twilight could count four empty seats. Every other chair was full. Before the circular dias, and immediately before Twilight, was a set of twenty chairs, stacked in two rows of ten. On each of these chairs sat the council members. At the front sat Bastion, with Harbinger and Golden Crest on either side of him. She spotted Paper Prose and Measure in the back row, but nearly every other pony there was a mystery to her. The only other one she recognized was the head gardener, though she couldn’t recall his name just then…

“Very well, then.” Celestia’s voice sounded from atop the dias, silencing the hushed whispers going all about. Twilight slowly sat down, holding her head high as she blankly looked at the twenty before her. “The council has seen fit to summon the Archmage for discussion of her duties, and failure to assume them in a satisfactory capacity. Twilight Sparkle, Archmage of Canterlot, will plead her case to the council, who will then decide whether or not she is fit to fulfill the role of Archmage.” Twilight’s heart leapt into her throat. Plead her case? The council would decide? What was happening? Luna continued.

“Ultimately, the decision of whether or not Twilight Sparkle will remain Archmage lies with the Royal Pony Sisters, Princess Celestia and I. However, being a self-governing body, we will remain as partial as possible to the decision of the council.” She was serious now, her expression that same stone-cold that it always was when she was handling business.

“Bastion, Commander of the Royal Guard and unicorn in charge of maintaining the shields protecting Canterlot, will represent the council as a whole, though his opinion will be counted as an individual amongst them. Twilight Sparkle, Archmage of Canterlot, will represent herself. Council, do you agree to this?”

“We do.” Bastion’s gruff voice sent a shiver down Twilight’s spine.

“Twilight Sparkle, do you agree to this?”

“Yes, your highness.” Twilight surprised herself with how solid her voice sounded. It steeled her resolve. Her stoic expression returned. Her heart beat normalized. She was the Archmage. She could handle this.

“Very well. Council, make your plea known.”

“Thank you, your highness.” Bastion rose to his hooves, standing between Twilight and the dias, his tone loud and clear for everypony gathered to hear, though he looked straight at her, unwavering and solid. “Twilight, the council has made it known that they are dissatisfied with your inability to assume your duties as Archmage. It has been a total of two months and fifteen days since you were named, and you have accepted a grand total of two of your positions. The act of doing so, might I add, only requires you to be present with both princesses for no more than ten minutes every morning and evening.

“Additionally, this duty has been neglected just recently, and your irresponsibility led to the injury of two council members. Do you deny this claim?” Twilight rose her head high, staring straight into Bastion’s eyes.

“I do not.”

“You understand admittance of that fact places you in a position of responsibility for the injuries sustained by said council members?”

“I do not.”

“OBJECTION!” Harbinger shot to his hooves, flustering at Twilight. “It’s thanks to you that I was burned! Crest too!”

“With all due respect, Harbinger,” Twilight said coolly. “Your injuries were not a direct result of my negligence. They were a result of Golden Crest’s. He failed to maintain concentration during the process, and as a result, his shield broke, injuring both himself and you.” Harbinger flagged, his eyes wide. “As a result, your own shield broke, further injuring you both. Furthermore, the morning before my departure, I made a request of you both. But that’s what it was. A request. If you or Golden Crest felt you were unable to perform the duty requested, you should have denied. I would have allayed my plans, and remained to perform the duty that injured you both. Therefore, any injuries sustained during the process were the fault of yourselves, and not me. I forgive the council for it’s false accusation against me.”

Twilight could see the ghost of a smile on Celestia’s face. Harbinger had no words, and sat down shocked. The entire courtroom was silent in the aftermath of Twilight’s scathing rebuttal.

“Very well,” Bastion cleared his throat to continue speaking. “The council would also like to make it known that you have failed to take your position as advisor to the Homeland Committee, which has met a grand total of four times and has suffered thanks to your absence.”

“Might I ask which council member has filled my spot on that committee?” Twilight asked calmly.

“That would be me, Archmage.” The pony who spoke out was a blue-coated pegasus with a white mane, his mark that of two swords crossed over a shield. “My name is Homefront, and I act in an advisory capacity to the Homeland Committee in place of the Archmage.”

“Thank you, Homefront. Please, what is your claim against me?”

“As mentioned before, it has been some time since you were named Archmage. Not once have I received any notification or correspondence from you expressing interest in the Homeland Committee. As a soldier in the Guard, and a subject passionate about the defense of his home, I am both offended and outraged that the Archmage has neglected her duties to home and country.”

“Your anger is understood, Homefront. But for your claim, I have a question to ask of the council.” Twilight stood up, letting her gaze slide across each of the twenty council members before her. “Prior to this discussion, how many of you have sent correspondence to me, expressing interest or concern in my inability or ‘neglect’ to fulfill my role in a satisfactory manner?” Silence. Twilight pressed her advantage.

“As many of you know, I was not a student of Nocturnal Glow before his passing. Why he named me over any of his students remains a mystery. Trust me, I wish I knew the answer myself sometimes. But alas, he named me, the princesses agreed, and here I am today, standing before the council as the Archmage of Canterlot.” She started pacing back and forth, addressing everypony in the court room.

“What duties I have assumed, I did so on my own volition. I accept full responsibility for any and all failures to perform them, on behalf of myself, or the ponies designated to fill my role while I adjust to the position.” She shot a glance at Harbinger. “Provided the blame is mine to begin with,” She let her eyes slide over everypony in the risers, the council and even up to the princesses. “However. I would let it be known to the council and everypony in this court room that I have not once received a single letter, document, complaint, memoir, or note regarding my failure to perform a single one of my assigned duties.” Murmurs broke out in the audience, and Twilight spoke louder to drown them out.

“I have researched and toiled away, but documentation on the Archmage and their duties is difficult to find. What I have discovered in the two months and fifteen days since being named Archmage is this:” She turned back to the council, the murmurs having died down so she could speak quietly. “Harbinger and Golden Crest are responsible for assisting the princesses in the raising and setting of the moon and sun. Bastion is responsible for maintaining the shields protecting the crystal caverns beneath Canterlot. And two ponies amongst the council are heads of two opposing parties. The Movement for Magical Superiority in Canterlot, and the Canterlot Preservation group. These parties were founded to replace a role the Archmage fulfills. That role being to maintain the balance between magically-enhanced and fortified buildings being erected, and natural gardens or features.

“I do not know the names of the ponies who are fulfilling my duties as advisors to the numerous committees, save for two of you. Truth be told, I haven’t been informed of any of these committee’s meeting times, places, or protocols for attendance. I have not been contacted with regards to any committee member’s names, positions, or the impact this has had on their personal lives. In addition,” Twilight continued. “Keep in mind that every single Archmage from the first to the one before me has been a student of their predecessor. Not so with me. I had met Nocturnal Glow maybe twice in my entire life. I never once studied with him, or even held a meaningful conversation.” With a sigh, she sat back down, her head still high. “Everything I know about my position I have learned on my own. With no help from the council. My counter-question is this, Bastion:” Twilight pointed to the entire committee with her hoof, her tone low and heartfelt.

“What would any of you do in my position?”

Again, silence.

Bastion turned to Celestia, looking up at her as he spoke. “Princess, with your permission, the council would like to recess.”

“We will re-convene after sunset.” Celestia nodded. “And continue this discussion further.”

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“After deliberation amongst the council members, we have decided to rescind our complaint against the Archmage and her alleged inability to fulfill her duties, but there are conditions to be fulfilled. Should the Archmage agree to these conditions, we will proceed. If she should disagree, the council will adjourn and re-convene at a later date to continue deliberation. Does the Archmage agree?” Bastion spoke clear and loud, though it was apparent by his expression that the council was feeling the pressure from Twilight.

“I agree to hear the conditions.”

“There are a total of two. The first is this: Twilight Sparkle will assume duties monitoring and maintaining the shields beneath Canterlot within a period of three days. The second: Twilight Sparkle will be responsible for finding a replacement for Harbinger, and must do so within the same three days.” Twilight frowned, glancing at Harbinger and his very disgruntled disposition.

“Am I to assume that Harbinger is retiring from his position on the council?”

“That is correct.” Bastion grunted. Twilight saw him glance over his shoulder at Harbinger, sitting with his hooves crossed on his chest

“Very well, then.” Twilight nodded towards the council, and then again up at Celestia and Luna. “I, Twilight Sparkle, Archmage of Canterlot, agree to the conditions. Provided I do not meet them within the allotted time, I will happily address the council once again on the subject of my inability to perform my duties satisfactorily.” She rose to her hooves, nodding stoically at the council. “If you’ll excuse me, it appears I have some studying to do.” With a flick of her tail, Twilight left the council chambers, leaving in her wake over a hundred impressed ponies, and one very disgruntled Harbinger.

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“Twilight! That was incredible!” Luna wrapped her forelegs around Twilight, sweeping her off of her hooves and into a warm, passionate embrace. “I have never seen anypony handle themselves so magnificently! And in front of the entire council, nonetheless! That was simply amazing! Outstanding!”

“If ever I was more proud to call you a student of mine, I have yet to remember it.” Celestia moved to embrace Twilight after Luna had released her, and after both gentle hugs, Twilight felt happy and warm inside. In fact, it felt like the depression and sadness that had weighed so heavily on her heart before would never return. She heaved a long sigh, smiling up at both princesses.

“I’m just glad I read the log books for courtroom proceedings. I knew that would pay off.” They all shared a laugh and smiled wide at one another. The entire discussion had taken less than an hour, between talking, cycling the sun and moon, and returning to hear the conditions of the council. Twilight’s rebuttal had convinced everypony on the council that she was doing all she could to assume her responsibilities as quickly as possible. Not to mention she had made a very important point that would make moving forward much easier.

“Still... I don’t see know how the council expects me to pick up the shields in just three days... I mean, with Bastion’s schedule and trying to find Harbinger’s replacement, I just... It’s impossible.” Twilight sighed and hung her head. She was not unused to handling monumental tasks, but this one seemed to be ridiculously difficult.

“Well, the Archmage is renown for making the impossible possible. So, study up, I guess?” Luna smiled over the rim of her own cup of tea, and Twilight frowned down at her half-empty one.

“It’s your problem, not ours, Twilight. You’re going to have to stand up on your own this time.” Celestia teased, nudging Twilight. She sighed again, mumbling into her cup of tea.

“And what about Harbinger’s replacement? I don’t even know anypony who can use shadow magic…”

“I can help you there. For what it’s worth, I might have a few names I can give you. It’ll be up to you to interview them and decide which one is a suitable replacement, but you’re not alone on that front.” Luna smiled and rested a hoof over Twilight’s, making her smile in return.

“Thanks. I’ve got three days… Three days to do all of that...”

“Well,” Celestia finished her tea off, raising to her hooves with a tired smile. “If anypony can do it, Twilight, it’s you. Good night.”

“Night,”

“Good night, sister. See you in the morning.” Celestia smiled back at them before leaving the lounge... Leaving Twilight and Luna alone together.

They rushed into the kiss so fast, Twilight felt their teeth scrape together. She didn’t even care. Her hooves pushed through Luna’s mane, clinging tight, feeling Luna wrap both her hooves and her wings around Twilight. Their tongues met in a hungry, eager dance, the two twining and swirling together so eagerly that Twilight forgot to breathe.

“Stop.” She whimpered, pulling away suddenly.

“S-sorry,” Luna panted, withdrawing. “I… I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s fine… Just…” Twilight paused for a moment, drawing a shaky, uneven breath. “Moving a little fast…”

“Hehe.” Luna blushed and hesitantly approached for another kiss, this one much slower and meaningful. Afterwards, Twilight could hear her heart hammer in her ears, making her legs quiver slightly. “You’ll do fine, Twilight… The council is obviously impressed with you, or they wouldn’t have even given you conditions. Like I said, I’ve never seen anypony handle themselves so admirably… I’m so proud of you.”

“Thanks, Luna.” Twilight said gently. “But… About us…”

“Oh? There’s more?” Luna looked genuinely shocked.

“Just a little bit… Look, we’ve all make mistakes.” Twilight sighed, fighting the tears that threatened to well up within her again. “You and I are no exception to that rule. At all… But that’s all they were. Mistakes.” She looked up into Luna’s beautiful eyes, smiling brightly. “I’m not perfect, Luna… I’m just a young unicorn… But I’m not foolish. I understand that life is just plain too short to miss out on something good…” She reached out, cupping Luna’s hoof with her own, drawing it up to her cheek so she could feel the soft, gentle touch. “You’re the best thing to happen to me… And I want you to keep happening to me.” One tear escaped, staining Luna’s coat with it’s moisture.

“But I’m scared… I don’t want you to fall so deep in love with me that you’re hurt when I… When I pass… I’m just a unicorn, and I can’t live forever. Please, Luna, just…”

“Shh,” Luna silenced Twilight gently, wrapping her forelegs around the trembling unicorn. She drew Twilight close, rocking back and forth as Twilight cried again. “Shh, shh… It’s okay…” She kissed Twilight’s forehead softly, tears of her own falling into Twilight’s mane. “I love you too, Twilight… And I will love you forever…”

“B-but, I’m not going to be around forever.” Twilight sobbed, burying her face into Luna’s chest and crying more.

“It’s okay, Twilight.” Luna leaned in to whisper into Twilight’s ear, her horn glowing as she cast the sleep spell. Twilight slumped in her hooves, her chest rising and falling steadily. Luna held her for a few more moments, crying silently for fear of breaking the spell. Once she was calm enough, Luna gingerly carried the slumbering pony to her nearby quarters, carefully and easily setting Twilight down atop her bed. Luna took a few long moments to run a hoof through Twilight’s mane, watching her love slumber quietly. Luna leaned forward to kiss Twilight’s forehead, shedding one last tear.

“If only you knew, Twilight… If only you knew.”

Replacements and Repercussions

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Archmage - Chapter 14 “Replacements and Repercussions”

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Twilight woke the next morning with a slight headache and a dry mouth. Smacking her lips, she rubbed baggy eyes and slowly slipped out of bed. In her bathroom mirror, she looked like a nightmare. Moaning to herself, she decided to take a little extra time getting ready that morning. A long, hot shower and plenty of mane care later, Twilight looked presentable at least. The memories of last night flowed fast and free through her mind, making her frown at her reflection in the mirror. The things she and Luna had shared with one another, what she had said… But at the end of the night, the last thing Twilight remembered was Luna comforting her.

And smiling. Like she was okay with losing Twilight.

“Ugh,” Twilight turned from the mirror, hanging her head as she left to help with the sun and moon. Her own thoughts and emotions were beginning to confuse her again. Granted, she had forgiven Luna and Celestia for what they had done, but the pain was still fairly fresh in her mind. It would take some time to build up trust in both the princesses once again. But Twilight was willing to work at it if they were. She emerged onto the observatory balcony to the sight of a slightly surprised Celestia.

“Goodness. You two didn’t… Do anything last night, did you?”

“Good morning to you too, Celestia.” Twilight grumbled. Celestia chuckled and shook her head, smiling down at Twilight.

“You didn’t, though, did you?”

“No,” Twilight sighed, hanging her head and dropping to her rear on the cool stone tile. “We didn’t do anything. Chances are, we won’t be doing anything for some time to come.”

“Aww, why’s that?” Celestia asked. Twilight looked up at her with narrowed eyes.

“What interest do you have in my sex life?” She asked, her tone cautious.

“Oh, none.” Celestia said wistfully, leaning in to nuzzle Twilight’s neck affectionately. “Not in yours, anyways… But Luna’s is still of interest to me. If only marginally.”

“Eew. Why?” Twilight asked, smiling despite the uncomfortable topic of conversation. Celestia had a way of making her do that…

“She’s my sister,” Celestia looked down at Twilight, smiling. “I want to know that she is happy.” Twilight grumbled as she reluctantly answered Celestia’s question.

“I don’t want things to move too fast between us…”

“Oh? The way Luna made it sound, you were eager to get back into a relationship, for fear of your life ending too soon.” Twilight sighed.

“Does Luna tell you everything about us?”

“Almost everything.” Celestia confirmed with another soft chuckle.

“Look, you two are all but immortal, from my understanding. Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t it hurt losing somepony you care about?” Twilight had only speculated or heard from a third party about an alicorn’s feelings on those they held dear… Twilight had neglected to ask any of them this very important question.

“Of course it does. When Nocturnal Glow passed away, I was very heartbroken. He was a dear friend. Your parents had a rather profound effect on me as well. Time and again throughout history, I’ve seen relationships forged and broken in the flames of death… But there’s a saying we hold dear to our hearts, Twilight. It’s somewhat bitter, and perhaps a little cliché, but it’s how we feel.” Twilight said it before Celestia could.

“It’s better to have loved and lost than never loved at all?” Celestia’s bright smile was infectious.

“Exactly. Think about it, Twilight. Do you think I’d rather be this cold, heartless dictator, never once opening herself to experience the joys of friendship or happiness? What kind of mentor would that have made me to you?” She shook her head as if the idea were silly. “No… Luna, Cadance and I all understand the importance of loving another in our lifetimes.”

“Have you,” Twilight asked after a short pause. “Ever loved another pony?”

“Loved as in the way I love you, or Luna? Or loved as in the way Luna loves you?” Celestia’s question made Twilight blush.

“The latter.”

“Aah. Alas, I have not.” Celestia sighed and looked out over the balcony. “I… May have, once. But he loved another. No, I’ve been content with friendship throughout the years.”

“But… Does that mean you’ve never…?”

“Celibacy has it’s own benefits, Twilight.” Celestia winked at her teasingly, her wings shuffling a little. Twilight opened her mouth to ask another question, but Luna emerged onto the balcony, cutting her off.

“Good morning.” She said cheerily, leaning in to nuzzle Twilight as she passed. “Sorry I’m late. The archivist had an important matter to discuss.”

“You’re not late at all. Right on time, I should say. Shall we?” Celestia and Luna nodded at one another before Twilight took her place and they began. Twilight still felt a bit of caution at the princess’ magic, the burning waves of energy seemed a little bit more ominous in light of Harbinger and Crest’s recent injuries. But Twilight was familiar enough with the specific energies involved by now that she made it through the process without breaking a sweat.

“Twilight,” Luna said with a soft smile after the process was completed. “I know you have a limited amount of time to fulfill the council’s requests. So I’ve made my schedule free to assist with finding Harbinger’s replacement. We can begin today, if you’d like.” The sudden reminder of her requirement from the council made Twilight all but forget about the discussion she had been holding with Celestia just a few short minutes ago.

“That… Would be best, actually. The sooner, the better.”

“Great! I have several ponies in mind. None of them are quite as strong as Harbinger, but all of them are well-versed in shadow magic. Come on.”

“Have fun, you two.” Celestia gave Twilight a teasing wink as she and Luna left the balcony. And unless Twilight was mistaken, there was more to that wink than there should have been. She was quickly distracted as Luna began talking, though.

“I took the liberty of asking the candidates to prepare for an interview either today or tomorrow, so they should all be prepared. I have four in mind, but the ultimate decision falls to you. Keep in mind that you don’t need to pick any of them, either. If you can think of anypony at all who would fit the role better, you only have to say the word.”

“I trust your judgment.” Twilight smiled at Luna as they made their way out of the observatory tower. “On this matter, at least.” She added in hindsight. Luna gave her a playful pout, which only made Twilight smile and nudge Luna’s neck as they entered the castle proper.

“Guard,” Luna nodded to a nearby unicorn standing at the entrance to a library. “Please inform Silver Tongue, Yellow Jacket, Night Dancer, and Silvia Noctem that they are summoned to my personal library immediately.”

“Yes, Princess!” The unicorn saluted, but Twilight stopped him with a gesture.

“If you could, please inform Harbinger that the Archmage wishes to speak with him privately as well.”

“Of course, Archmage. Right away!” With another salute, the unicorn dashed off on his task. Luna arched an inquisitive eyebrow down at Twilight.

“Why do you want to speak with Harbinger?” She asked cautiously.

“If he’s going to retire, he had better be mature enough to tell me himself.” Twilight grumbled. “I’m offended he’d use a spokespony in his place.”

“Hmm… Tread carefully, Twilight. You know how much of a temper Harbinger has.”

“What’s he going to do?” Twilight scoffed. “Attack me?” Luna looked down at her once more, her expression very pointed. “Wait… He wouldn’t, would he?”

“No, I doubt that... He has problems with his temper, but no more so than you or I.” Twilight gnawed on her lip as she considered Luna’s words. Would Harbinger really go so far as to attack her? The Archmage herself? The thought escaped her mind as Luna led Twilight into the Western wing, and into a library Twilight seldom visited. She inhaled the mildew-y scent of decaying pages, dust, and knowledge. Luna’s personal library was one that Twilight enjoyed the most, but didn’t visit often because she needed Luna’s express permission to do so. With how much Twilight had been avoiding the princess lately, she hadn’t set hoof in this library for close to three weeks.

Compared to the others in the palace, Luna’s personal library was much darker and warmly-lit, using candles and muted spells instead of the brighter, more harsh lighting other libraries seemed to prefer. What’s more, it had been left alone for dozens of years at a time during Luna’s time on the moon, which meant there was an entire wealth of knowledge hidden here that very few ponies had had the chance to explore themselves. Twilight wished she could get the time to explore the tomes stored here fully. It was moderately-sized, but had plenty of tables ready to be laden with books for study, and a fireplace set into a nearby wall with several large, comfortable chairs just begging to be sat in for a long, extended reading session.

“Aah…”

“You like it in here?” Luna asked with a soft smile.

“Very much so.” Twilight nodded with a slight smile.

“I can arrange for the guards to let you past permanently, if you’d like.”

“Could you?” Twilight perked up with a smile. “There are so many books I haven’t read in here… And it’s so comfortable.”

“Of course. I should think you’re more than responsible enough to handle the knowledge of these books without abusing it… I’ll speak with the guard after we’re done here. Aah,” Luna smiled at the sound of a gentle knock from the door. “Our first interviewee. I’ll go get them.”

“Uum, Luna?” Twilight stopped the princess, blushing slightly. “No offense, but… This is my duty… After all…”

“Oh… Oh! Okay.” Luna smiled, which made Twilight relax, and gave her a soft nuzzle. “Do you think you’ll need any help today?”

“I can’t thank you enough for the help you’ve already given me,” Twilight smiled and leaned into give Luna a soft, tender kiss, quick and easy. The princess’ cheeks were flushed as Twilight pulled back. “Go get some rest, Luna. I think I can handle it from here.”

“O-of course…” Luna stuttered, still blushing furiously. Twilight thought she looked remarkably beautiful when she blushed. It was such a natural, feminine gesture. “I’ll be going, then.”

“Luna?” Twilight asked, drawing her lower lip between her teeth. The princess stopped and looked back at her.

“Hmm?”

“One more…?”

“Oh, come here.” Luna turned back to Twilight, meeting her halfway for one more passionate, deep kiss. Twilight felt the very tip of Luna’s tongue brush her lip, but it quickly pulled away, leaving just a tingling sensation behind that made Twilight’s knees weak. She wrapped her hooves around Luna’s neck, deepening the kiss for a few long seconds before they finally pulled away.

“S-sorry,” Twilight groaned, wiping her lips, hoping her blush wasn’t too noticeable.

“Don’t you dare apologize,” Luna panted, her own cheeks flushed still. “I’ve missed that so much.” Twilight groaned at that, since she felt the exact same. The building heat between her thighs was enough of an indication of her suppressed desires. Still, Twilight didn’t want things moving too fast. She took a deep breath and pulled away, fanning her face with a hoof to cool down.

“You should get going.” Twilight muttered quietly. Luna smiled down at her before kissing Twilight once more on the cheek. She trotted to a nearby window, pushing it open and standing up on the sill.

“Won’t do to have my subjects seeing me blush. Take care, Twilight. And if you need anything, you only have to ask.”

“Thank you.” Twilight smiled at her, watching Luna slip out of the window and spread her wings wide. She flapped off into the new day, heading for the opposite end of the castle and her own quarters. Twilight watched her fly off, entranced by the simple and easy motions of her wings. She started when the soft knock came once again, more insistent this time.

“Sorry for the delay,” Twilight said as she opened the door. A guard and a green-maned unicorn stood on the other side, looking slightly confused. “Your name?” Twilight hoped the blush was gone as she fixed her expression into something more serious. The unicorn blinked at her before speaking.

“Dark Glow, Archmage. Luna sent a summon for me.”

“Right. Come in, please.” Twilight held the door open, smiling softly as Dark Glow slipped in. She was a tall unicorn with a slender frame, her green mane off-set by her dark blue coat. Her mark was two crossed wands tipped with crescent moons, wreathed by one large crescent. Twilight smiled at her softly as they took seats opposite one another at the nearest table. She launched into the discussion immediately, making Dark Glow blink with the abrupt transition.

“What makes you think you’re a good pony to take Harbinger’s place on the council?”

----------

Twilight interviewed all four candidates thoroughly, asking very detailed and specific questions about their skills and abilities, personal desires, and even their thoughts on Twilight being Archmage. The last question more out of curiosity than anything else. Each candidate, she felt, was impressed with her so far. They had all seen what Twilight had accomplished on the nearby mountainside, and knew that she commanded great and powerful shadow magic. They all seemed respectful, humble, and most importantly, knowledgeable. Twilight had a list in her mind of the strengths and weaknesses of each one, and believed she had found the perfect candidate when the last soft knock came from the library door.

“Enter,” Twilight said, trying to recollect where she had been in her deliberation.

“Oh. It’s you.” Harbinger’s voice made Twilight look up with wide eyes, spotting the red-coated unicorn standing on the threshold of the library. “I was under the impression Luna had summoned me.” Twilight narrowed her eyes and swept a hoof out to the seat opposite her.

“I guess the guard got it wrong, then. Have a seat, Harbinger.”

“I’d rather stand, thank you.” Twilight glared at him, slipping off of her own chair.

“Too afraid to relax around me?” Twilight asked, slowly walking towards him. She had been offended by his sudden retirement, and had considered confronting him directly after the council meeting last night. She had let it slide for the moment, but as the day had moved on, she realized that she was more and more annoyed at Harbinger’s constant disapproval of her.

“If you summoned me just to insult me, then I’d rather take my leave, Archmage.” Harbinger growled at her.

“If I wanted to insult you, Harbinger,” Twilight stopped ten feet from him, both of them squared off in the middle of the library. “I’d have done so at the council meeting. Like you insulted me.” Harbinger blinked at her, looking confused.

“How did I insult you at the meeting?” He asked. Twilight flicked her tail.

“Admitting your retirement in front of the council, the princesses, and every unicorn in that room. I found that to be very cowardly and insulting. I’m no colt, so I might not have the same sense of pride you do, but I don’t take kindly to ponies using a proxy.” Harbinger’s face turned down into a scowl, his hooves spreading a little on the carpet.

“This isn’t a matter of pride, Archmage.” He growled. “It’s personal. I don’t want to fill in for some foal who can hardly control her powers, let alone use them for the betterment of Equestria.” his next words were hardly more than a whisper. “Let alone one who allows her so-called friends to be injured in her place.” Twilight felt her anger rise as he spoke, using such a condescending tone to reproach her.

“I thought I made it perfectly clear at the meeting. Your injuries were a direct result of your own negligence. If you want somepony to blame, Harbinger, blame Golden Crest.”

“Don’t you DARE put the blame on Crest for this!” Harbinger snapped at her, his eyes flashing dangerously. Twilight felt her hackles raise as the energy in the room seemed to rise. “You know just as well as I that our injuries were a direct result of your own negligence! Just because you managed to save face before the council does not mean you are not responsible!” His horn began to glow, filling the room with a dull, red aura of magic. Twilight’s defenses rose, her own magic standing at the ready just in case he acted brashly.

“I am not responsible, Harbinger. I accept no blame for what happened to you and Crest. Calm yourself right now. This is a very bad place to lose your temper.” Twilight was not scared for herself, but rather the old and ancient tomes lining the shelves all over.

“To the abyss with your books, Archmage!” Harbinger continued. “And you can go with them! You and that traitor Celestia! HAAH!” A dark bolt of energy erupted straight from the tip of Harbinger’s horn, crackling through the air as it shot straight towards Twilight’s chest.

In a flash, Harbinger was on his back, with Twilight’s horn pressed to the hollow of his throat.

“Don’t you dare,” Twilight whispered, her horn humming with it’s own brilliant purple glow of energy. “Speak of the princess that way.” She felt Harbinger swallow, his throat swelling against her horn for just a moment. He was trembling beneath her, his hooves raised in surrender, but his tone still insolent.

“Why not?” He chuckled, trying to scoot away. “It’s true. Luna is the true ruler of Equestria. Always has been. Always will be.” Twilight let him crawl away, her head rising to watch him as he rolled onto his hooves. “I curse the day Celestia ever struck her own sister down and banished her to the moon. Luna’s night is the most beautiful and sacred thing I’ve ever beheld in my life… Tarnished by Celestia’s burning day every time they cycle the sun and moon.” He chuckled at her, his lips spread in a wicked grin. “You’ll see it for yourself soon, Archmage… There are secrets about Equestria that not even you can begin to fathom.”

“Watch your tongue, Harbinger.” Twilight’s defenses were still ready, her horn brimming with energy ready to be released.

“Why?” He laughed at her. “Did you know it’s treason to speak of such things anymore? That Celestia outlawed discussions about which was better, the sun or the moon?” Twilight blinked. He was right. Twilight knew the very law he spoke of. “Night and Day… The two will clash before long, Archmage. You’ll see.” Harbinger slowly began to turn towards the door, his lips still curled in a grin. Twilight remembered something somepony told her, not too long ago; about there still being ponies loyal to Luna. The old Luna.

“You’re wrong, Harbinger.” Twilight straightened her back, glaring at him as her head rose proudly. “The night and day exist in harmony. The princess’ aren’t just sisters, they’re friends. They get along very well.” She watched as he froze at the door, shaking slightly. “There will never come a day when Celestia and Luna oppose one another. Not even secretly.”

Another flash of dark energy. Twilight dispelled the bolt before it ever came close to her, and the one after it. Harbinger snarled as he launched attack after attack on her. Each one, Twilight met with equal force, watching it fizzle into nothing before her eyes. She wasn’t just defending herself, but the books as well. Harbinger was too focused on her to cast a spell their way, but the fallout was a concern. All the while, Harbinger howled and snarled at her, screaming obsencities.

“YOU LIE! YOU BITCH! I’LL WATCH YOU BURN FOR YOUR HERSEY! DIE!” The racket drew the guards from outside of the room, but in light of the intense magic flying between them, they couldn’t do a thing. Twilight glanced over Harbinger’s shoulder at the two wide-eyed pegasi, their spears leveled at the screaming red unicorn.

“Fetch Golden Crest!” She called to them. “He can help control Harbinger! I’ll hold him off here!” The guards blinked at her for a few moments. “GO!” She roared, casting a quick spell that pushed both pegasi out of the library. The short lull in her concentration was nearly a grave mistake. A black bolt of electricity arced around her shield, aimed straight for her chest. Twilight teleported out of the way, but cursed as she saw Harbinger’s attack catch the bookshelf behind her. The dry, yellow paged erupted into flame even as Harbinger spun about and continued his attack. She needed to end this, or the fire would spread and damage more books. She needed to incapacitate him.

“Harbinger,” She muttered quietly. “I hope you’ll forgive me for this.”

“DIE!”

“HAH!” Twilight spread her hooves wide, her brilliant shield making the last bolt of dark magic fizzle out harmlessly. Immediately after, Twilight spun an intricate web of steel-like magical threads that draped over Harbinger. They crackled where they met his horn, making the unicorn wince and curse. He started the dispelling process, making Twilight’s web begin to fade around him, but she was already working on her next spell. In the blink of an eye, Twilight had turned the tide of the fight, and was now pressing her advantage on Harbinger. It was him that was countering her spells now, gasping and cursing as blast after blast of lavender light broke upon his shields. Inbetween spells, Twilight suppressed the fire that had caught on the books, and had soon reduced the flames to smoldering coals.

“Augh! TWILIGHT!” Harbinger roared, his horn blazing with dark energy. Twilight gasped at what she saw. Harbinger’s eyes had narrowed to slits. His dark green mane was slowly turning darker, black and ephemeral.

“Harbinger!” Crest burst through the door behind Twilight, his eyes wide with shock. “Harbinger, no!”

“Don’t!” Twilight caught him as the white unicorn rushed forward. “He’s trying to command the night! He’ll kill you!”

“NO!” Crest cried, tears streaming from his face. “Harbinger, stop this!”

”NO!” Harbinger’s voice thrummed with dark energy, making the shelves rattle and dust sift to the ground all around them. ”I can feel the power! Yes! The same power our blessed Nightmare Moon commanded! Yes! I will be the one to usher in the new night! I will shroud the land with darkness! Sweet and sacred darkness!” Harbinger threw his head back into a long, loud cackle, his voice booming through the library violently.

Twilight stepped forward, her tone low and dangerous as her horn began to glow.

“Stop this now, Harbinger.” She growled.

”Or what, Twilight?! You’re going to stop me?!” She fixed her eyes directly on Harbinger’s, her hooves spread wide as her horn began to glow as bright as the sun.

”Yes.”

The sudden flash of golden energy erupted through the library, dwarfing the shadow and throwing Harbinger back into the smoldering book case. It collapsed under the impact, throwing embers and dust into the air. Twilight hovered in midair over Harbinger’s prone body, his eyes wide as he looked up at her.

Harbinger was normal once more. Twilight was not. Her mane and tail blazed with golden and yellow flames, filling the library with a bright blaze of luminescence. Her horn was long and pointed, and her eyes flashed red from underneath the golden glow of her magic. Slowly, though, she set back on her hooves. The flames died down, leaving her regular purple mane and coat in their wake. Receding in a wave from her backside up to her horn, the radiant energy died down until it was nothing but a glimmer, and then nothingness.

“What… how?” Harbinger panted, looking at Twilight with wide eyes. “What did you do?!” Panic set in as Harbinger fought to get to his legs. He struggled to stand, his breathing coming fast and hard as his horn glowed. It wasn’t with a dark pulse of shadow any longer, though… Each time Harbinger’s magic came to the fore, it was yellow, and dull. His eyes went wide as he stared at Twilight.

“She’s gone… The night… She’s…” Twilight rose her head high, looking down at Harbinger angrily.

“The night has forsaken you, Harbinger. You tried to control it’s power for your own. You foolish, selfish pony…” She shook her head, watching Harbinger slowly fall to the floor. “You’re lucky it didn’t destroy you. But I doubt The Night will ever grant you power again.” Realization set in on Harbinger’s face as Twilight stepped forward, her hooves just in front of his face. “That’s the price you pay for insolence, Harbinger. You forgot the most important lesson of the night. Humility. You tried to take control, instead of letting the night empower you as it saw fit.”

“I don’t understand…” Crest said softly, his own eyes wide. Twilight looked back at him, at his shaking legs. “You… You glowed just then. I’ve… I’ve never seen anything like it.” Twilight smiled at him.

“I’m the Archmage, Crest… I’m responsible for maintaining balance between all aspects of magic. Love and hate, fear and courage, night and day.” She glanced down at Harbinger. “I just summoned the same amount of power from the day that Harbinger was from the night. The two balanced one another out, and cancelled each other.” She nudged Harbinger’s horn with her hoof, watching the red unicorn wince. “But it appears as if the night had it’s own agenda for Harbinger. It didn’t destroy him, or hurt him… No, it did something much worse.” She leaned down, looking into his eyes. He was frightened. Scared out of his wits. He shook as Twilight sighed.

“It abandoned him.”

---------

“Mind telling me why Harbinger is in one of my prison cells, Twilight?” Bastion spoke loud and clear as he burst through the door, two guards at his tail as he approached her. Twilight sighed and set the charred remains of the book down, straightening her back with an audible pop.

“Treason. Destruction of royal property. Destruction of knowledge. Assault. Consipracy.” She said, sighing as she turned to him. Bastion stopped opposite her, looking very angry.

“I know the charges, Twilight. It’s my ponies interrogating him. But you didn’t answer my question. Why is he in one of my prison cells. The ordinary ones. Why isn’t he in a specialized cell, designed to keep in more powerful unicorns?” Twilight sighed again, nodding to a nearby chair. Bastion glared at her for a few moments before taking the seat.

“He no longer has his power.”

“WHAT?!” He shot back to his hooves, eyes wide with shock. “That’s impossible! Harbinger’s one of the most advanced shadow magic users in Canterlot! In all of Equestria!”

“He used too much.” Twilight said. “You understand at least a little about the night, right?” She asked.

“A little,” Bastion took his seat once more, his expression still wide with disbelief. “I… I know you have to be humble, and let the night do what it will with you.”

“Well, he made the same mistake that Luna did over a thousand years ago. He tried to command the night for himself.” She shook her head. “But I stopped him. When he reverted to his normal form, he was unable to use his magic anymore. It seems the night has seen fit to abandon Harbinger for his transgressions.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose. “I’m speculating, of course… It won’t talk to me right now for one reason or another. I think it’s angry with me.”

”Not angry, child…” Twilight froze as the mysterious voice drifted over her ear, sending a shiver up her spine. ”I am saddened…”

“Archmage? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Shh.” Twilight hushed Bastion, her eyes wide as she listened to the whispers of the night.

”Harbinger was a good friend of the night… But he held his secret for too long, and from those he cared for. His foolishness has cost him his power, and very well may have endangered his cause.”

“His cause?” Twilight asked softly. “What cause is that?”

”There are ponies, dear Twilight, who want to see the night cover Equestria once more… They and their ancestors worship the night rather than the day, and would see Luna come to power again. They want to see her triumph over Celestia, to bring the shadow back into the hearts and skies of ponies everywhere.”

“But… Why?”

”I do not care to tell you, Twilight. Just know that I do not plan on stopping them.” Twilight felt a breath wash over her ear. Opposite her, Bastion froze, his eyes wide. She didn’t have to look to know the mysterious embodiment of the night hovered over her shoulder. ”Why would I want to? I’d love to see Equestria shrouded again. But it’s your job to stop them, Twilight. After all… You’re the one responsible for maintaining balance. Right?”

Twilight felt the oppressive, heavy feeling of the night vanish in an instant, like lifting a great weight from her shoulders. She sagged with relief, and even Bastion sighed in it’s absence.

“Well,” Bastion grunted. “I guess I don’t have to worry about Harbinger breaking free any time soon, then…”

“Yeah,” Twilight whimpered. She tried to forget the fear that had suddenly gripped her heart. Still, she felt shaken. “Ahem. You… Said you were interrogating Harbinger?”

“Y-yeah. He wouldn’t stop rambling on about the night and the shadow, so we started asking questions… He mentioned some group or other that wanted to ‘see the night reign supreme once more.’ Celestia had given Shining Armor some intel on a few underground groups that had it in mind to sabotage her, and raise Luna up to a position of supreme power.”

“I’ll tell you now, that’s utterly ridiculous.” Luna strode into the library suddenly, making Bastion and the two guards with him snap to attention and salute. “At ease. All of you. Twilight, what happened here?” She asked, her expression and tone serious. Twilight went on to explain how the conversation with Harbinger had gone, how he had snapped and began ranting about the night and Luna returning to power. “I see,” She mused, looking at the wreckage. “Well, I’m glad he only hit the case with textbooks. There are copies of all of those books in the archives.” Twilight breathed a sigh of relief at that. “Bastion, could you give us a moment? I need to speak with the Archmage.”

“Certainly, princess.” Bastion saluted once more before he and the guards left, leaving Twilight alone with Luna and the wreckage of the books. As soon as the door closed behind him, Luna rushed forward and wrapped Twilight in a tight embrace.

“Tell me what really happened, Twilight.” She pleaded. Her words were serious, but her tone told Twilight she was nothing but concerned.

“I’m fine, Luna. Really.” She said, pulling away from the embrace with a brave smile. “But… Harbinger, he…” Twilight glanced at the remains of the bookshelf he had destroyed. “He tried to take control of the night.” Luna seemed to pale, her mane going limp for a few moments.

“No…”

“He made the same mistake I did in the graveyard, Luna… He began to change, his eyes, his coat, his mane…” Twilight shuddered visibly. “So, I did the only thing I could think of… I… I balanced him out.” Luna calmed slightly, lowering into a chair as she gestured for Twilight to continue explaining. “I summoned an equal amount of power from the day. Just like him, though, I… I changed.” Twilight thought back to the recent occurrence, the way her mane and tail had been ablaze, the radiant light she had emitted… “Just like the night changes those who harness it, so does the day. I’ve… I’ve only done it once or twice before, but this time it just came so naturally to me. Like taking a breath. Luna, you should have seen it!” Twilight was excited now. “Unlike commanding the night, taking hold of the day had no negative consequences. It just takes a considerable amount of power to accomplish. Anypony who studies and practices hard enough, who had the drive and the will to train and toil away until they could master it could accomplish the same feat.” Twilight hadn’t done it herself in a long time, and Luna seemed rather amazed that such a thing could even be done.

“I know of what you speak.” Luna said quietly. “I’m proud of you, Twilight. You can command the night and day equally. Balanced.” She leaned in, laying a hoof over Twilight’s. “But what did you do then?”

“Nothing.” Twilight said softly, looking at the collapsed bookcase. “I didn’t have to… The transformation was enough. I was close enough to Harbinger that the light and the shadow were equal. We both burned out, and the power of the night left him.” She shuddered again. “But it didn’t just fade… It left him completely, Luna.” She looked up at the princess, her eyes wide. “The night abandoned Harbinger completely.”

“I know,” Luna said softly, her expression sad as she looked down at the table. “That was what woke me… The night came to me in my dreams, and told me of Harbinger’s foolishness. When he was done it left him. The night will never again bless Harbinger.” Luna shook her head. “He was a fool for ever trying to control it… He’s lucky the night didn’t kill him. It’s happened before…” Luna shivered. “It isn’t pretty.”

“I can imagine. But… How is Crest taking it?” Twilight asked gently. Luna sighed again.

“He isn’t… All he can do is cry and beg to see Harbinger. We had to imprison him, as well… He tried to take his own life from grief.” Twilight whimpered a little, feeling sympathetic for Crest and his loss.

“That poor colt…”

“Nevertheless, both Harbinger and Crest are unable to handle their duties properly. Celestia has taken it upon herself to find Golden Crest’s replacement, but Harbinger’s replacement still rests with you. Have you decided?” Twilight shrugged off the oppressive feeling, straightening up at Luna’s question.

“I have.” She nodded, smiling softly. “After much thought, and in light of the recent development, I’ve decided to appoint Night Dancer to Harbinger’s position, and provided I cannot perform my own duties in assisting you and Celestia with the sun and moon, she will fill my spot.” Luna grinned at Twilight, the look surprisingly out-of-place in light of the serious events that had taken place. “What?”

“That’s a good choice, Twilight.” Luna chuckled, raising Twilight’s hoof to her lips. Twilight arched an eyebrow at her.

“Why is that?”

“Hmm? Oh, no reason... She... She didn’t tell you anything, did she?” Twilight furrowed her brow at Luna.

“She told me plenty, but that’s because I asked her... What are you getting at?”

“Oh good. I asked her not to tell you outright...” Twilight blinked.

“Tell me what?”

“Night Dancer was my student before you were, after being named Archmage.”

-------

“Archmage? You summoned me?” Bastion poked his head into Twilight’s quarters cautiously, and she smiled at him, gesturing for him to enter fully.

“Yes. Please, have a seat.”

“A-alright,” Bastion’s blush was impossible to miss as he slipped inside and shut the door behind him, looking incredibly uncomfortable for some reason.

“Is everything okay?” Twilight asked, cocking her head to the side. Bastion blushed deeper, glancing up at Twilight as he shuffled across the carpet into her living room.

“I-it’s fine, really... It’s just that guard ponies aren’t allowed to enter a female’s quarter’s...” He fidgeted some more, glancing about furtively.

“Relax, Bastion,” Twilight chuckled. “I didn’t summon you here for any funny business. Besides, I already have somepony special.” Bastion perked up, looking at her inquisitively.

“Really? Who?”

“None of your business.” Twilight teased, smiling at him. Bastion chuckled and shook his head, relaxing a little more now that he knew Twilight didn’t want anything more to do with him than their professional business. “I summoned you here to inform you that Night Dancer is my decision to replace Harbinger on the council.”

“Night Dancer… Oh, I know her! She’s the one with the crescent moon wrapped in ribbon for her mark, right?”

“That’s the one.” Twilight smiled. “She’s a former student of Luna’s, and very competent with shadow magic. She can fill Harbinger’s regular spot on his own committee, as well as cover for me with raising the sun and moon when needed.”

“Well… I can tell you that the council will be pleased with your rapid attention to this matter. You figured it out in just over a day.” Bastion shook his head, smiling at her. “AND you exposed Harbinger for the traitor he was. Well done, Archmage.”

“Oh, shush.” Twilight smiled, sitting back in her chair. “But as for the other matter…”

“Right. The shields.” Bastion straightened up more, his expression serious once more. “This discovery of a traitor so close to the council will have the guard in an uproar. I have my best generals working on the problem, and more resources have been authorized from Celestia. That means more ponies on the streets, walking the beat, gathering the information I need. Believe it or not, this means I can focus on other things. My generals will handle this situation, using the resources Celestia offers, meaning I’ll be free to instruct you on the shields.” Twilight’s heart raced as he spoke, feeling hope and excitement build up within her.

“When can we start?”

Foundations and Fear

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Archmage - Chapter 15 “Foundations and Fear”

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Twilight and Bastion spent the rest of that night reviewing some books of shield theory that Twilight had in her personal library. Bastion wasn’t too pleased with the selection, but used what she had to explain a few things that Twilight would have to know going into the next few days. Twilight was naturally skilled in shielding magic, but Bastion was a pony that had close to twenty years of experience with shields alone. Before he became commander, Bastion was the guard’s leading shield technician. He was responsible for evaluating and developing new shield equations and spells, and had contributed to the field immensely in his relatively short career.

Bastion was hailed as the leading authority of shield magic across all of Equestria, so naturally, Twilight had much she could learn from him even if she was skilled. After that evening, Twilight slept well and woke early to assist with the raising and lowering. Luna and Celestia understood when Twilight said she had business to attend to, and Luna didn’t keep her for longer than a quick kiss to the cheek. Twilight smiled as she dashed through the tower, intent on meeting Bastion at their designated spot. She arrived promptly, and even managed to beat Bastion there by about five minutes.

“Good morning, Twilight.” He said with a ghost of a smile. Twilight rose from her haunches as he rounded the corner, smiling at her mentor for the day.

“Did you sleep well?” She asked, smiling as they fell into step beside one another.

“Like a baby. I tell you, having my generals focused on the investigation behind Harbinger’s claims really takes a lot off me. The few council members I’ve met with agree that it’s more important for me to focus on handing off the shields to you immediately. We’ll be advancing quickly, and it’ll likely take us all day to cover everything we need. Are you prepared?”

“Always.” Twilight hefted her saddlebags, stuffed to the brim with reference books, spare parchment, quills, ink, and other note-taking devices.

“Alright. Let me stress this point, Twilight… The shields take years to become accustomed to. Even for an Archmage like Nocturnal Glow, it took him some time to get used to it. You are going to try and pick it up in just a day.” Bastion stopped in front of a heavy door, meeting Twilight’s eyes with his own. “This has never been done in all of history. Are you sure you’re prepared?” Twilight knew full well what she was trying to accomplish. She had spent the better part of last night worrying over her preparations. But after a full breakfast and plenty of good rest, Twilight was as ready as she ever would be. At this point, it came down to one simple factor:

Either Twilight would succeed, or she would fail.

“I’m ready, Bastion.” She smiled courageously at him. “Let’s do this.”

Bastion’s horn glowed as he opened the door, revealing a long, winding staircase cut straight into the heart of the mountain the palace rested upon. “Come on, then.” He nodded and lit their way, his horn casting an eerie glow upon the damp stone walls all around them. This staircase was very roughly hewn, the surface of the stairs uneven underneath Twilight’s hooves. Unlike other caves and tunnels that were cut into the mountain, this one seemed to be very rushed…

Almost like he was reading her mind, Bastion immediately launched into an explanation. “This particular entrance to the caverns was constructed rapidly. Records indicate an excavation crew was trapped down there thanks to a cave-in, and had to dig their way out. This was their exit route. When they got out, the route was kept, and finalized into this rough staircase. There are four entrances into the caverns, and this is the southern-most route. From here, you can move North through the caverns, hitting every single shield in sequence.” The stairwell continued down in a spiral, moving deeper into the mountains. Twilight took notes as she followed, the lavender glow of her horn accentuating Bastion’s.

After just a few minutes, they emerged from the stairwell into a very large and open part of the cavern. As they crossed the threshold from the borderline-claustrophobic stairwell into the expanse of rough stone before them, Twilight couldn’t help but stop and stare in wonder. The caverns had always mystified Twilight. They were one part of obscure Equestrian history that not many ponies knew about. Twilight was privy to some knowledge, being Celestia’s student. Canterlot had been founded atop this naturally-occurring magical phenomena long, long ago. The power contained within the crystals was the single largest deposit of arcane energy anywhere in the known world. In an attempt to keep greedy unicorns from abusing the power, Celestia and Luna had erected Canterlot atop all the entrances to the cavern, and had tasked themselves with protecting the power underneath.

“Wow.” Twilight whispered, her eyes wide as she turned in a slow circle, looking at the massive opening in the middle of the cavern. The walls were embedded with crystals as large as the bulky Bastion, and some even larger than a small house. All around, Twilight could feel the thrum of power, the humming heartbeat of so many spells and shields that thrived and mingled together in a delicate balance of ancient, foreboding energy. It pulsed through her horn, it made her coat stand on-end, and gave her the chills. Twilight felt like she could spend hours staring into the depths of one crystal, or rush through the caverns in a headlong flight of fancy, and never once unlock a single secret of the power contained here.

“It’s intense.” Bastion said quietly, walking up to a nearby crystal. “And it takes time to get used to… But a pony could lose their mind down here. There are so many mirrored surfaces and spells running rampant that you start to see things. Hear things.” He reached a hoof out, his eyes closing as he laid it on the surface of the crystal. Twilight gasped as a spell-form leapt into existence around Bastion, encasing him in a perfect sphere of skittering lines, incomprehensible script, and archaic symbols. This was no spell known to modern magic. This was something ancient and very, very complex. Not even Twilight recognized the writing, or the symbols… The overall pattern of the spell, though, was not unknown to her.

“That’s a leveling spell…” She breathed, slowly walking a circle around Bastion.

“Glad you recognize it.” Bastion nodded, his hoof lowering. The spell remained, though, turning a slow circle. “It’s so old that nopony alive recognizes the specific patterns. We’re all too scared to study it further, but many of us understand that the power contained in this spell could destroy all of Canterlot.” Twilight leaned in, her horn glowing as she furiously scribbled notes on a spare piece of parchment. This was such an intriguing spell. It was so dangerous and old. Twilight blinked when the symbols disappeared, and she was staring directly at Bastion’s hoof.

“Let’s move on. You’ll have time to study these spells later.” Twilight blushed slightly and finished off her notes, tucking them away so she could return. Bastion turned away from the crystal, leading Twilight deeper into the cavern. “There are twelve shields in total. Seven of them, though, can be serviced from one point. The rest were cast individually by Nocturnal Glow or other Archmages, to supplement the defenses. We’ll touch on them all, but we’re saving those seven for last.”

“Right. The first?”

“Here.” Bastion gestured to the first opening Twilight had noticed in the entire cavern, nestled between two large boulders. Bastion squeezed through the aperture, his flanks scraping the walls with a soft sound. Twilight slipped in behind him, following his glow, cursing the darker interior. They shuffled along for what felt like an hour, but was likely only close to fifteen minutes or so. The narrow passage was at least uniform, and didn’t widen, but didn’t narrow either. Bastion grumbled now and then, but maintained the same pace until they emerged once more into an open area.

“Doing okay?” Bastion asked, glancing back at her.

“Fine.” Twilight nodded. She was feeling a touch claustrophobic, but having Bastion blocking her view up front wasn’t very helpful. If she led next time, Twilight was sure she’d have done even better.

“Right then. This is the first shield.” Bastion’s horn glowed brighter, and two spheres of energy split off from the very tip. They rotated lazily around one another as he guided them out into the chasm, illuminating the wide space fully. The twin spheres of light settled on two crystals, and from their the light multiplied over and again, hundreds of times over until the small orbs had lit the entire cavern bright as day. Before them, Twilight saw the shield.

Massive didn’t even begin to describe it… The whole shield was likely as large as Ponyville itself. The glimmering surface shifted and pulsed, almost like oil on the surface of water. Twilight watched, entranced as the shield shifted and moved, the grinding sound of stone against magic making her hackles raise with alarm. “Relax, Twilight.” Bastion calmed her with a hoof on her shoulder. “It’s designed to do that. This shield protects against changeling intruders. It has to change and shift, just like they do, to prevent entrance. This is the most recent shield, cast just five years ago by Nocturnal Glow himself. This is the first shield I check, and the easiest to introduce you to. Go on, Twilight. Take a look.” Bastion stood back, nodding for Twilight to approach the shield. Swallowing hard, Twilight walked forward, her horn slowly beginning to glow brighter…

“Oh my goodness…” She breathed. “I can… I can feel the shield. It’s alive! Bastion, this shield is alive!” Twilight’s magic reached out to touch the shield, and it reacted to her. It shifted, pulsing away from her in fear. Like a scolded dog shying away from an unfamiliar touch.

“It’s alive, because the changelings it repels are alive as well. The shield needs to think for itself, to adjust and shift it’s perspective. Touch it again, Twilight. Let the shield feel you.” Twilight swallowed again, reaching her magic out once more. The shield recoiled again, the entirety of the shimmering surface drawing away from her… But then it paused. Twilight’s eyes widened in the breath of a moment it took for the shield to press against her magic once more. She shuddered as it wrapped itself around her magical field, hugging it tightly, pulling itself closer. She could feel the texture of the magic, and see the diagram behind the spell. She understood the shield in that moment.

“There’s a flaw.” She whispered softly.

“I feared as much. Fix it, Twilight. I know you can.” The flaw was minor. Small, but significant. Twilight stepped forward, letting the shield draw her closer. Before her eyes, a spell-form filled the air. The magical diagram that lent the shield structure and guidance shone with a brilliant white light, pulsing slightly as she looked at it.

“Here.” She used her magic to empower one section. A broken link in a chain of symbols was interrupting the flow of magic to the shield’s stability equation. She leaned in, her horn glowing with a brilliant lavender light as she grasped the frayed and broken ends. The spell-form slowly knit itself back together, pulling the strands tight until the entire equation glowed bright once more. “I did it.” Twilight gasped as she pulled away, the tendrils of the shield slowly receding from her body. “I fixed it.”

“Indeed you did, Twilight…” Bastion grunted. His own horn glowed with magic. He was undoubtedly examining the shield, to ensure Twilight had mended it properly. As she watched, Bastion nodded his approval and let his magic fade away. “Good work. This shield is normal again. That little bit had been troublesome for the past few weeks, and just broke yesterday evening. You understand this one well enough, Twilight. One down, eleven to go.” Both of their horns slowly died down, the magical hum of energy still present all around them. Once more, Twilight reached out to touch the shield. Instead of pulsing and moving violently, it thrummed against her. Almost like a hearbeat. Still alive, but not as erratic and pronounced as before.

“A living shield… I never knew Nocturnal Glow was so powerful…” She breathed, barely managing to tear her eyes away from the glowing surface.

“There are a lot of things about Nocturnal Glow you don’t know, Twilight.” Bastion said quietly. “A lot of things I don’t think you would want to know…”

“How well did you know Nocturnal Glow?” She asked, reluctantly following the buff unicorn away from the shield.

“Too well…” Bastion sighed. He paused at the entrance to the small passage they had taken to get to the shield, looking back at her. He appeared to be struggling with the next words, his eyes flickering up and down her face. Twilight pressed forward, her expression and tone pleading.

“Bastion. Tell me.” Again, his eyes flickered over her expression… With a sigh, Bastion gave in.

“He was my grandfather. And after my father passed, he raised me himself. But he was always busy with the Archmage’s duties… Only once I graduated from the academy and became an officer did he even give the time of day. Even then, it was only to teach me. Never to be there for me.” Bastion’s expression looked as if he was on the edge of crying.

“I’m so sorry…” Twilight whispered softly. “I… I never knew.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Bastion grunted, his cold, stoic expression returning in a flash. He cleared his throat and turned to the cave. “I’m not. Come on. We have more shields to survey.”

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“This is the apex.” Bastion panted as they pushed through the last opening. Twilight never knew there would be so much activity involved in maintaining the shields… According to Bastion, he made this trip once a week, and would visit every single shield once to ensure all was well. Without tutoring another, he could usually accomplish the feat between lunch and dinner… But with Twilight, they had started early and it was already well into the night. Twilight had asked the princesses if they would be okay without her assistance for one night, and they had agreed. Now, judging by her time-telling spell, it was almost midnight. They had only just covered the fifth shield, and had moved on to the junction of the seven most powerful shields in all of Equestria.

Twilight gasped at what she saw. She was tired, she was irritable, and sweaty to boot… But in light of the magnificent sight before her, Twilight could do nothing but stare. “Here,” Bastion continued speaking. “Is the site where Celestia and Luna cast the first shields that protected the caverns, shortly before the city of Canterlot was founded. Together, the entire casting process took the two of them four days and four nights.” Twilight managed to close her mouth and follow Bastion as he moved around the edge of the massive chasm.

“The energy contained within is enough to kill a pony. It’s the single largest deposit of arcane power, and it needs every single drop in order to fuel the shields adequately. We must add power ourselves every week or so to keep the shields running. In the downtime, problems crop up. Spell-forms become frayed, cracks start, or other problems arise. This is the largest time-sink, and can take anywhere from an hour to seven to repair fully.” Bastion sighed as he plopped on his haunches at the edge of the chasm, looking down at the core beneath them.

“This is going to take us both close to twelve. I need to teach you everything there is to learn about this shield, and fix the problems with it, all in one go.” Twilight still couldn’t get over the size of the apex, as Bastion called it. The chasm they both stood in was easily the largest yet, and if Twilight had to guess, the whole of Ponyville could have fit inside this cave. It was miles across, and consisted of a massive, vaulted, crystallized ceiling that sunk down into a wide, perfectly-smooth bowl. Stretching from the very edge of the bowl, maybe fifty yards to Twilight’s right, was a large stone bridge. It stretched across the chasm, a single long, thin finger of magically-enchanted rock. It speared straight into the middle, and was lost in the light.

The core itself, or the apex, was both frightening and awe-inspiring to behold. Twilight had to remind herself to blink now and then, even though she was terrified of missing a single nuance or shifting pulsation of the ball of energy. Reds and blues, purples and yellows, black and white all mingled together to form the shifting orb of essence that served as the de-facto battery for the large shields beneath Canterlot. It was the shape of an egg, longer and thinner on one edge than it was all-around, with the bridge of stone splitting it from the top down to the bottom. It looked like an egg had been set on a toothpick, and had sunk down until it was impaled upon it.

What’s more, the entire thing hummed, even from where it sat. Twilight guessed the distance to be close to half a mile. Maybe even more. Fingers of energy would break off now and then, wafting through the air as they waved and splintered away. “Twilight?” Bastion said softly, nudging her side. “Are you okay?”

“Y-yeah.” She managed to stutter, blinking a few times as she glanced at him. “I’m just… Blown away. This is incredible.”

“Rest,” Bastion patted the stone next to him. “If you brought anything to eat, I suggest you do so now. This will take us a while.”

“I didn’t bring anything…” Twilight admitted, realizing that she had neglected the need for food in favor of bringing more note-taking material.

“No worries. I have us covered. Here.” Bastion’s horn glowed brightly, and an intricate pattern flashed through the air before settling on the ground. Where it touched the rough stone floor of the cavern, it glowed brightly before suddenly being filled with a steaming loaf of bread, two tall glasses filled with ice, and a whole pitcher of cool-looking water. “Nothing fancy, but it’ll hold us over. Butter?”

“Please.” Twilight smiled and accepted the slice of bread from him, washing it down with water afterwards. They ate in silence, splitting the loaf of bread evenly and drinking the entire pitcher of water. Once they were done, Bastion cast a similar spell to dismiss the dirty dishes, smiling at her as he stood up.

“Ready?”

“As I’ll ever be… Wait, are we going into that thing?” She asked, nodding towards the core.

“We have to.” Bastion sighed, turning to head for the long bridge. “We have to repair it from the inside. Prepare yourself, Twilight. The energy is intense, and could very well take you by surprise. Shield yourself when we get near, and don’t drop it for anything.” He turned to look back at her, his eyes cold as the stone around them. “No matter what you hear, or what you see.”

Without another word, they set out on the bridge. So thin was the passage that Twilight had to follow Bastion, her hooves hanging a fraction over the edge. Thankfully, the air was still, else she could have slipped off to fall into the smooth bowl below. The surface looked so slick, she doubted that she would ever be able to climb back out. As they advanced, the fall only grew larger and larger, the floor of the smooth bowl shrinking beneath them. The air around them began to hum louder and louder, crackling now and then with the incumbent energies that swirled around them. Bastion slowed his pace, taking each step carefully, and Twilight had no choice but to follow his lead. The massive orb of energy was closer now, and Twilight could feel the shivers of energy run over her flanks, making her shudder and take each step more carefully than any before in her entire life.

“Almost there.” Bastion said loud and firm, his voice carrying over the rushing sound of energy around them. “Stay strong, and don’t stop for anything.” He looked back at her once again. “No matter what.”

“I understand.” With a nod, Twilight and Bastion set in on the last leg of the journey. Both of their horns glowed as they cast the shields around themselves. The long tendrils of energy would break off and reach out to brush against them. Whenever any of them came close, Bastion and Twilight would stop, and brace themselves against the impact. What had originally seemed like a rather graceful and beautiful feature suddenly became lethal as the long finger of magical energy smashed against their shield, making them sag with the effort of deflecting the blow.

“Move now.” Bastion grunted, his shield dropping as he shuffled forward a few steps. Twilight stayed as close as she dared, stopping to deflect one bit of magic or another. It was grueling, agonizingly slow progress, but they inched closer and closer to the apex of seven shields, close enough now to see the distinction between all the different swirling colors. “Brace yourself!” Bastion called out. A large arch of energy peeled away from the core, lancing across the bridge towards them. She and Bastion cast a shield together, the force crashing against it violently. Twilight felt her hoof slip over the edge, her heart pumping fast with adrenaline as she re-centered herself.

“Go! Now! Run!” The wave passed over them, giving a rare window of opportunity to reach the apex. Bastion dashed across the narrow bridge as fast as he could, and Twilight shuffled behind him. They approached the wall of energy, horns glowing again as they dove in…

“Woah!” Twilight gasped. She was standing in a library. The scent of aged paper and ink came across her nose, tainted with dust and warm sunshine. She inhaled deep, feeling herself relax, the comforting smell filling her lungs. She took a step forward, and nearly slipped off of the bridge. “Augh!” She scrambled, dropping to her chest and clinging the stone tight.

“Keep moving, Twilight!” Bastion’s voice was clear as day, sounding as if it came from just in front of her. “It’s an illusion from the shield! Trying to protect itself! Just keep moving forward!” Shakily, Twilight rose to her hooves, blindly groping the air in front of her, searching for the next safe step. Inch by inch, she moved through the library, eyes wide in disbelief.

“Twilight,” The soft whisper made her freeze. She swiveled her head around, searching for the source of the voice. With a gasp, she saw them.

“Mom. Dad.” Orion and Glimmer stood off to the side, frowning at her. “What… You’re dead.”

“Dead because of you, Twilight.” Glimmer growled at her. “If you had written, we could have told you our sickness. You could have helped us. We would be alive if it wasn’t for you and your ignorance.”

“But… But I-“

“But nothing, Twilight.” Orion cut her off, his frown deepening. “You’re to blame for our death.”

“TWILIGHT!” Her parents disappeared in a flash, though the library remained. “Keep moving, damnit!” Twilight shuddered and took another step. Just an illusion. Just a defense. It was playing with her emotions.

“Subject.” Another voice, this one almost painfully familiar. Celestia stood off and to her left, frowning at Twilight. “You’ve failed me time and again.”

“Celestia”

“I can no longer trust you, Twilight. What’s more, your progress is unsatisfactory. You’re no longer fit to be my student.”

“Celestia, wait! I- EEP!” Twilight raised a hoof, and felt herself nearly tip over the edge.

“Twilight! FORGET THEM! It’s an illusion! KEEP MOVING!” Celestia vanished, leaving Twilight clinging to the bridge once again. With shaking hooves, she rose up and continued to inch forward.

“You bitch,” That voice. Twilight froze. Right before her eyes, Luna stood tall and proud, though her expression was anything but cheery. Tears streamed from her eyes, matting her coat and making her look so miserable. Twilight fought tears of her own at the mere sight.

“Luna…”

“You left me. Time and again, over and over, you just keep leaving me… And soon, you’re going to leave me for good. You don’t care about me, Twilight. You won’t even forgive me.”

“Luna! I do forgive you, I-“

“Twilight! Focus, damnit!”

“You hate me, Twilight… I’d rather die than feel this pain in my heart.”

“Luna… I-“

“KEEP MOVING!”

“You’re so cold, Twilight… Cold and dead and… Gone.” Twilight stepped through the image, and it vanished. Tears coursed freely through her eyes as the library, Luna, and everything else faded into nothingness. She was through. Inside, a wide stone platform, large enough for maybe a dozen ponies to stand on comfortably, waited for her. She collapsed, shaking as she curled into a ball and wept.

“It isn’t easy, Twilight…” Bastion said softly, sitting close to her head. He stroked her mane as she wept, frowning down at her. “The first time is always the hardest… If I had told you what it did, though, the fear would have been worse. Trust me.” Something about the way he said it made Twilight believe him. Twilight sniffled and brought herself under control, standing on shaking legs.

“That was horrible.” She groaned, wiping a hoof across her eyes.

“The first time always is. Trust me, Twilight… It gets easier from here on out. And look.” Bastion waved a hoof out, drawing her attention away from the memories of her worst fears. “We’re inside the apex.” All around them, the spells shifted and changed, pulsing and swirling across the surface of what Twilight guessed was the seventh shield. Outside, night and day, nature and arcane, even love and hatred swirled together to form six independent fuel sources for the shields protecting the caverns. In here, the seventh shield protected Twilight and Bastion from that energy. What’s more, they could see directly into the spell-forms for all seven shields.

“This is the most important and central place in all of the caverns beneath Canterlot.” Bastion said quietly, looking around them in a slow circle. “This was the same place that Celestia and Luna cast these shields from long, long ago… Over the years, every Archmage has stood here, tending and fixing the minor errors that crop up over time. Nocturnal Glow, Ephemeros… All of them.” Bastion sighed, rubbing the ground with a hoof. “And soon, it’ll be you. Come on. Let’s get started.” Twilight took a breath to steady herself before following Bastion to the nearest spell-form.

---------

“Ooh… It’s late.” Twilight groaned, willing her tired muscles to carry her up the last flight of stairs. Bastion closed the door behind her, locking it with magic and shielding the lock itself.

“It’s past five in the morning. Go and get some rest, Twilight. You have to help Celestia and Luna soon.” He nudged her neck gently, pushing her one step down the hall back towards the castle proper.

“But…” Twilight stopped, looking back at him with red and puffy eyes. “The council said I have to-“

“And you have.” Bastion cut her off with a weak smile. Both of them were exhausted. “Twilight, I never even thought anypony could handle themselves so well. You learned every nuance of the shields in short order, and got us out of there three hours before we possibly could have done were you anypony else.” He straightened up, his tiredness vanishing for a moment as he smiled at her.

“I am honored to call you Archmage.”

Deliberation and Duty

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Archmage - Chapter 16 “Deliberation and Duty”

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When Twilight awoke later that evening, it was to a splitting headache. She groaned inwardly, rolling out of bed and staring blearily into the mirror. There were bags under her eyes, and her mane was a mess. What’s more, each nuance of light in her dimly-lit quarters seemed like a lance piercing straight into her brain. As she raised a hoof to run through her frazzled mane, she realized why.

The first gentle touch to her horn made her wince and nearly cry out in pain. She had used so much magic learning about the shields yesterday that she was sore. Her horn throbbed in time with her heartbeat, and the slightest touch sent pain throughout her whole body. “Well, shoot...” She grunted into the mirror, using her hooves to clumsily maneuver her brush. “No magic for me today.” Sore horns were a common occurrence amongst unicorns, particularly the studious ones. Twilight hadn’t suffered from one for a long time, and had hoped she was strong enough to overcome any expenditure of magic. However, the vicious and unrelenting headache was evidence to the contrary. She was still just a unicorn, and was subject to the same aches and pains that any of them were.

She somehow managed to wrangle her mane into some semblance of order before making her way out of her quarters. It had been too long since she had assisted with the raising and lowering of the moon and sun, so pain or not, she had to help the princesses. Grumbling to herself, Twilight cursed her luck at developing soreness on the night she was likely needed most. She was surprised, then, when two ponies other than the princesses were already waiting on the observatory balcony.

“Oh. Night Dancer. Hello.” Twilight managed a smile at Harbinger’s replacement. Night Dancer was a very slender unicorn, standing maybe an inch taller than Twilight, but much more lean than her. Her coat was a pale milky white, and her mane a brilliant, fiery red. She sported a tight braid this evening, and even her short tail was tied tight. Twilight glanced down at her cutie mark, remembering what it was Night Dancer’s special talent was. Her cutie mark was a crescent moon wrapped with red ribbon, and mirrored her talent well.

She was a ballerina, for lack of a better word. Twilight had seen one of her performances in the past. She excelled at summoning very complex and intricate patterns of ribbons, her magic making the whole apparatus dance and swirl around her as she herself executed some complex choreography. Twilight hadn’t known that Night Dancer was Luna’s student at the time, but she had been mystified by her skill and technique nevertheless. It was an entrancing dance, one that still struck Twilight to this day. Before the interview, she had had no clue that the ballerina was actually an incredibly skilled purveyor of shadow magic.

Dancer or not, she was very competent and could cover Harbinger’s position well. Twilight was happy that she had picked this pony. The other guest, though, was a stranger to Twilight. She cocked her head and smiled warmly at the other unicorn. “I’m sorry, I don’t think we’ve been introduced…?”

“My name is Warden, Archmage.” He said curtly, bowing his head low. “Princess Celestia has picked me to fill Golden Crest’s vacant position in his absence.”

“Oh. I see.” Twilight took a moment to look over him. He was roughly the same size and build as Shining Armor, though his coat was a dark blue, and his mane a steely grey. In the late-evening sun, Twilight could tell his mane shone with a brilliant sheen. In full light, he was probably a very striking visage. His mark was two swords crossed over a shield, but his demeanor seemed rather kind, as opposed to some other guard ponies Twilight had come across. “Well, I’m glad you’re here, Warden. Do you have any questions? Either of you?”

“I believe we can answer those,” Twilight spun around as Celestia and Luna emerged onto the balcony simultaneously, smiling at the small group before them. “Good evening, everypony. How are you?” Twilight managed a smile despite the throbbing headache. The sight of Luna, looking as majestic and regal as ever, still made her feel warm and happy inside. She fought the urge to rush forward for a hug, but settled for a sly wink instead. Luna smiled at that, standing beside her sister as they addressed the three ponies present.

“Warden, Night Dancer, Twilight. I’m glad you’ve all managed to make it here at the same time. I-“ Celestia paused, her expression darkening slightly as she looked at Twilight. “Are you feeling alright?” She asked. Twilight’s heart thundered in her chest as she blushed a little.

“I… May have overdone it with the shields last night. I’m just a little sore, is all.” She winced as her horn throbbed, almost as if to drive the point home. Celestia and Luna shared a quick glance before smiling at her.

“Twilight, we can’t expect you to properly shield yourself if you’re sore. It’s not a matter of pride, either. It’s your safety. No sense in hurting yourself by pushing too hard. If you’d like, Twilight… Night Dancer and Warden can cover you for the next few days.” Twilight perked up slightly, glancing over her shoulder at the confident expressions worn by the two ponies behind her.

“Would that be… Wise?” She asked, her brow furrowing slightly.

“I should think so. Luna and I can teach the two of them directly how to help with the transition from night to day. With a little help from you, perhaps, but all-in-all I think it’d be best for them to get some practice in.” Celestia smiled at Warden and Night Dancer, then over at Luna. “Go get some rest, Twilight. Luna and I will teach Warden and Night Dancer how to assist with the process. Perhaps you can do a little research, maybe get in touch with some of the committees?” Twilight flicked her tail as she thought of the possibilities before her.

“I think…” She smiled over her shoulder at Warden and Night Dancer. “That would be fantastic.”

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Twilight was surprised to discover she had quite a large influx of mail after the council meeting. Previously, she had had very few letters and memos, all of them minor and negligible, along with one persistent letter insisting that she should get a horn enlargement. Now, though. Twilight struggled to heft two full saddlebags of mail to her quarters. When she set them down just inside the door, she was fairly winded. Helping herself to a glass of orange juice, Twilight then dragged the two bags full of material to her study table and dumped them out.

“Oh thank goodness,” She breathed. “They’re time stamped.” Each letter had the date and time of delivery printed on the back near the crease of the envelope, so she could address them in order of first to last. “Got to thank the mailmares for their attention to detail…” One by one, Twilight began to go through each envelope, opening and reading every single one of them. Many of them were formal requests for her attendance to one function or another. Some of them were balls or charities that Twilight didn’t have time or patience to attend, others were important meetings, seminars, or committee meetings that needed to be addressed.

That made Twilight smile. She was very, very good with scheduling. Pulling a calendar close, Twilight began to map out committee meetings, seminars, and other important things that required her attention in detail. For schedule conflicts, she hastily drafted a return letter to the sender, explaining the reason she wouldn’t be able to attend. The whole task called for very minor telekinesis, which Twilight seemed to be able to manage with very little pain. She still took frequent breaks to rest her horn, using that time to read or take a quick walk.

She had slept through the entire day, and now her sleep schedule was off-kilter. That actually turned out to help her, since the castle was quiet as a whisper and nearly abandoned. She walked moonlit corridors and padded through expansive gardens, enjoying the quiet sights and sounds. It was on one particular trip outside of the castle proper that Twilight noticed somepony else…

“Is that… No way. Dash!” Twilight waved a hoof at the inky black spot darkening the stars above. As she watched, the spot shifted and dove low, gaining definition against the backdrop of the nearby mountain. Through the night, the cyan mare flapped her wings and stopped short of Twilight, grinning from ear to ear.

“I knew pulling night watch was gonna help me tonight.” She and Twilight hugged one another then, smiling brightly. Twilight realized then that she had spent next to no time with her friends since coming to Canterlot. How many weeks had it been since the funeral? She hadn’t even written any of them a letter.

“I missed you guys,” Twilight admitted with a blush. “I’m so sorry I’ve been busy…”

“Hey, it’s no big deal.” Dash shrugged. “I’d be lyin’ if I said I wasn’t missing you, but I understand that you’re busy.” She flared her wings, grinning at Twilight. “You’re the Archmage. Not like I can expect you over for tea every Friday night.” Twilight smiled softly, feeling her dark mood lighten at that.

“And do the others share your sentiment?” She asked gently, nodding towards a nearby bench. She and Dash trotted over, setting easily on the cool stone as Dash smiled at her.

“I talked to Pinkie just the other day. She’s busy herself. Sugarcube Corner is doing really good in Canterlot. Rarity’s busy, as well. She had me model for a fashion show last week.” Dash blanched at the memory, cringing as she shook her head. “I don’t like modeling.”

“I bet you looked wonderful.” Twilight smiled at her.

“I look wonderful as I am!” She huffed, flapping her wings a few times. “That dress had too many frills. Those things are not aerodynamic.” Twilight chuckled as she bumped Dash’s side with her elbow. Dash bumped back, but in doing so her wing brushed Twilight’s horn.

“Ow,” Twilight hissed a breath between her teeth, making Dash look at her with worry.

“Your horn?” She asked.

“Yeah… I’m picking up my duties one-by-one, but the council forced me to pick up one really big one in just three days. Last night, I went down into the caverns beneath Canterlot to learn about the shields… I guess I just went a touch overboard.” She rubbed her forehead, close to the base of her horn, groaning as the pain slowly faded away.

“Huh… But, you’re doing alright, aren’t you?”

“I’m fine, Rainbow Dash.” Twilight smiled bravely, her eye twitching as another twinge of pain shot through her. “I’m taking it easy for the next few days, then I’ll be back on track.”

“That’s good. We all need a break sometimes. Oh! Hey, that reminds me!” She jumped up, spinning a circle happily before landing in front of Twilight. “AJ and Fluttershy are visiting again soon! You should try to hook up with us if you can!” Twilight blinked, thinking back to her unfinished schedule. She could fit the time in for her friends, couldn’t she? Yes, of course she could. Friendship was a legitimate branch of magic, and she couldn’t neglect it any more than the others. She smiled confidently at Dash.

“Count me in.”

“Yyess!” Dash jumped into the air with glee, spinning a barrel roll before swooping in to hug Twilight affectionately. “I’ll tell the others right away!”

“Woah, woah, wait a minute.” Twilight chuckled and disentangled herself from Dash. “When it is?”

“Hmm? Oh, the fifteenth. That Saturday night, we’re all meeting at Rarity’s boutique.” Dash fidgeted slightly, glancing around them. “Say, I gotta fly… I do have a patrol to finish. Will I see you around?” Twilight frowned again, heaving a soft sigh.

“I doubt it, Dash… I’m going to be really busy these next few weeks. But I promise,” She smiled up at her pegasus friend confidently. “I’ll be there the fifteenth. And I’ll try to write more letters.”

“Great!” Dash rushed forward for another hug, smiling as Twilight returned it passionately. “We’re missing you, Twilight. Keep up the good work.”

“You too, Dash.” Twilight smiled as she watched the cyan pegasus jet off into the sky. “You too…”

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Luckily enough, the fifteenth was a fairly open day. Twilight had a meeting with the weather team that morning, but it was supposed to be wrapped up shortly after lunch. She penned in the time for Rarity and the others, underlining and highlighting the event. Compared to all of the other things she had scheduled, that was by far the one she looked forward to the most. As the sun began to peek up over the horizon, Twilight shoved her half-finished calendar away and made for the observatory balcony. Luna was waiting for the small group, giving them just a few minutes together.

“Twilight,” She smiled as Twilight made her way towards the edge. “Have you been awake all night?”

“Yeah,” Twilight admitted with a soft blush. “I got my schedule turned around a little… But I just focused on replying to all the committee requests and stuff… There sure were a lot of them.”

“That’s good,” Luna smiled and stole a quick kiss, the kind that made Twilight’s knees weak. She blushed furiously, suddenly remembering that it had been quite some time since she had relieved some stress. She guiltily snuck in for another passionate kiss, moaning a little into Luna’s lips. “Somepony is awfully eager,” Luna teased. “You should have told me you’d be up this evening. I might have come by for some extra-curricular activities.” Twilight groaned and nuzzled into Luna’s neck, inhaling the clear scent of her coat.

“That wouldn’t have happened, I’m afraid…” Twilight muttered softly.

“Aah. Right. Sore.” Luna smiled and ran a hoof through Twilight’s mane.

“And… You know. That time.”

“Oh. Oohh! Really?” Twilight nodded to affirm, burying her face deeper into Luna’s mane. Thankfully, she didn’t pull away. Instead, she leaned in to kiss Twilight’s temple softly. “Still. I could have at least stolen a few more kisses.”

“Oh, bug off.” Twilight laughed and pushed Luna away playfully. Just in time, since Night Dancer pushed through the balcony door a moment later.

“Having fun, you two?” She teased.

“Hmm? What do you mean?” Luna’s stoic expression flashed onto her face in an instant, making both mares frown a little. She was really good at killing a mood.

“Archmage. It’s good to see you again,” She offered a soft smile to Twilight, bowing her head.

“Please. You can call me Twilight. You and Warden.” Twilight smiled warmly at Night Dancer before continuing. “How are you adjusting to the position?”

“It’s… Different.” Night Dancer said quietly. “I’m used to using my magic on the move. Twirling, spinning, being flexible and fluid… Standing here to withstand an onslaught of energy is difficult for me. Well, not terribly difficult. Just… Different.” She shrugged, clearly at a loss for words.

“Do you think you’ll be able to continue doing it?” Twilight asked gently.

“Oh, I’ll be able to just fine.” Dancer smiled confidently at her, nodding her head quick enough to make her braid flip over her head. “Warden friggin’ loves it, though.” She rolled her eyes. “I swear, that pony wouldn’t break under the weight of a mountain.”

“While I thank you for the compliment,” Dancer gasped and spun around as Warden slipped quietly through the door. “I don’t think anypony could withstand that much.” His eyes flashed as he glanced at Twilight. “Aside from maybe the Archmage here. Rumor has it you’re the one that caused that,” He pointed over the edge and off to the South, towards the mountain that still bore the scars of Twilight’s training.

“Oh. Yeah.” Twilight frowned at the dark scars visible even in the dark against the pale purple slope of the mountainside. “I should probably fix that…” Silence. Twilight blinked and looked around. All three ponies were looking at her incredulously. “What?”

“F… Fix a mountain?!” Dancer sputtered. “Th… That’s impossible!” Twilight chuckled and looked back at the wounded mountain with a grin on her lips.

“The Archmage is known for making the impossible possible.”

“Using my words, I see.” Twilight, Warden, and Night Dancer all spun at the sound of Celestia’s voice, bowing with warm smiles on their faces. “Oh please,” Celestia scoffed. “No need for pleasantries amongst us. I’d go crazy if I had to be formal all the time. How are you feeling, Twilight?”

“A little sore still,” Twilight massaged the base of her horn gently. “But better, now that I’ve had a little rest… Thank you, Celestia.”

“Good. We wanted your input on something, if that’s alright with you?” Twilight blinked at Celestia before glancing at the other ponies.

“Of course. What can I help with?”

“Dancer had a question about the azimuth angle of the southern constellation.”

“Oh! That’s right! Eer, I can’t really point it out now, though…” She frowned over the edge of the balcony, her gaze fixed on the southern horizon.

“I can stick around for the process…” Twilight said gently. “As long as I can sit inside one of your shields.” All five of them considered the options for a few moments, looking between one another.

“I can handle it.” Warden said confidently. “Whenever you’re ready.”

“Great! Let’s begin, shall we?” Luna swept a hoof out as they all took place, Twilight standing close to Warden. It felt like the first time in forever since Twilight had sat in on one of these, though it had really only been two days. Shadow magic didn’t come directly from her horn, so she managed to shield herself adequately against Luna’s energy, while Warden shielded all three of them against Celestia’s. Twilight answered Dancer’s question in the middle, and with a little help from all three of them, the sun rose into the sky and the moon sunk below the horizon over the course of just two minutes.

“That’s our fastest yet!” Dancer spun a happy circle, her smile infectious as she threw her hooves around Twilight. “Thank you so much!”

“Hey, I should be the one thanking you two,” Twilight chuckled and returned the hug affectionately, blinking unevenly in the bright sunlight. Had she always been so sensitive to the daylight? Her horn seemed to throb worse now that it was daytime, and she tried hard not to close her eyes.

“Twilight?” Warden said cautiously. “You look awfully tired…”

“Hmm? Yeah, I guess I am…” Twilight fought to suppress a yawn, but ultimately failed. Blushing sheepishly at the other ponies, Twilight rose to her hooves. “I guess I’m going to turn in…”

“I am as well,” Luna said softly. “I have something to discuss with you first, Twilight. Might I follow you back?”

“O-of course.” Twilight barely managed to keep that blush under wraps, remembering that Night Dancer and Warden didn’t know of the relationship between them. Or at least, she thought they didn’t. If Luna’s behavior was any indication, she hadn’t told either of them.

“Well then,” Celestia nodded at all of them. “I have a meeting to attend. Have a good day, everypony. I will see you again this evening.” She took off over the edge of the balcony just as Twilight and Luna excused themselves. Twilight waited until they were well away from the observatory balcony before speaking.

“You really don’t have anything to discuss, do you?”

“Not a single thing,” Luna chuckled, kissing Twilight’s cheek softly. “But I figured… You might want just a little company.” Twilight glanced at Luna over her shoulder, smiling warmly as they rounded the corner to her quarters.

“I thought I told you I was-“

“I don’t mean in that way, Twilight.” Luna nuzzled her neck gently, ushering Twilight down the hall past her own room. She stumbled a little, but followed Luna’s lead. “I think all will be clear when we get to my own quarters.” Blushing again, Twilight followed Luna up a few more floors and into the princess’ personal chambers. She sighed at the smell of so many books around them, and the warm memory of the night the two of them had shared on the nearby bed. Much to her surprise, then, when Luna made a beeline for the bed, hopping up onto it and flopping down with a soft sigh.

“Luna…?” Twilight said hesitantly. The princess opened one eye to peek at her before beckoning with a hoof.

“Come here.”

“Luna, I thought I told you I was on my-“

“For cuddling, Twilight. Nothing else.” Luna sighed, rolling her eyes at Twilight’s blush intensified.

“Oh… Okay…” Feeling slightly uneasy, Twilight plodded across the thick carpet, uneasily slipping up onto the bed, well away from Luna.

“I won’t bite, Twilight. Come closer.” Luna beckoned her closer. Twilight scooted maybe half the distance. “Oh for the love of… Here.” Luna’s horn glowed as she effortlessly picked Twilight up, making her squeak from surprise as she was suddenly pressed against Luna’s chest.

“I… Oh.” Luna pressed her lips gingerly against Twilight’s, stealing her breath and making her muscles relax almost immediately. When her eyes closed, she felt like she never wanted to open them ever again. Luna hummed softly into the kiss, which made Twilight sigh contentedly. She relaxed almost completely, her body sagging down into the sheets with relief. Luna gently held her close, lending Twilight warmth and comfort the likes of which she hadn’t felt in a long, long time…

Twilight had never slept so soundly in her entire life.

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“Twilight,” The soft, whispered tone of her name stirred Twilight out of her rest. She reached her hooves out blindly, seeking Luna’s warm body to pull herself closer to. “Not there, silly.” A soft pair of lips pressed to her cheek from behind, making her reluctantly open her eyes. She was alone on the bed, blindly groping the air in front of her for a pony that wasn’t there. Rolling over, she saw Luna standing off to the side, smiling serenely down at her.

“How long ‘s I out?” Twilight grumbled softly, rubbing a hoof into her tired eyes.

“Nearly fourteen hours. I thought you’d sleep through the night unless I woke you.”

“’M sorry…”

“Don’t be. The sun and moon have already been cycled, and I’m afraid I have business to attend to… You’re welcome to stay here, if you’d like…” Twilight blinked a few times, her thoughts still a little muddy.

“Can I?” She asked gently, peeking up at Luna with wide eyes. Luna smiled at her, leaning in for a soft, passionate kiss.

“Of course you can. Though you may want to get some water and maybe a little food.” As if to punctuate the point, Twilight’s stomach grumbled audibly, making her blush and shrink down into the sheets.

“Maybe I should go… I have things to do…” She mumbled quietly.

“If you’d like. Though I have to say,” Luna leaned in to nuzzled Twilight’s mane carefully, her lips brushing along the edge of Twilight’s ear in the most tantalizing, torturous way possible. “I really enjoyed sleeping with you.” Twilight blinked at that. That had been the first time since they made love that Twilight had slept alongside Luna. The only difference between this time and the last was that Luna was there when she awoke. That made her happier than she could ever hope to describe. With a happy whimper, she threw her legs around Luna’s neck and hugged her tight.

“Thank you, Luna.” She whispered. “That was amazing…”

“A little counter-productive…”

“Oh, shush.” Twilight nuzzled Luna’ ear gently before pulling away. “I’ll see you later on tonight?”

“If you’re feeling well enough, Warden and Night Dancer have had enough practice. You’re welcome to resume your duty of assisting Celestia and I.”

“Thank you.” Twilight smiled, focusing her attention on her horn for a few moments. No soreness. No pain. Her headache was gone, and she felt more rested and relaxed than she had in the past two days. “I think I will.”

“Of course. Oh, and I saw your schedule when I went to pick these up for you,” Luna hovered a small bag over to Twilight. Inside, Twilight could hear several items shifting about. Upon inspecting, she saw it was her toothbrush, hairbrush, some mane care products, and some other feminine hygiene articles. “It seems like you’re going to be busy for a few weeks.”

“Why did you bring this?” Twilight asked gently, looking up at Luna.

“In case you decided to stay,” Luna shrugged. “I know I can’t go anywhere without my own toothpaste… I hate using others’.” Twilight swallowed and closed the bag.

“If… If it’s okay with you…” She blushed as she looked up at Luna. “Can I… Leave this one here?” Luna blinked at her. “For backup?”

“That…” Luna smiled before leaning in to rest her forehead to Twilight’s. “Would be amazing.”

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Twilight took the rest of that night to catch up on the backlog of requests, and finished out her schedule for the next three months. She had a healthy balance of committees, seminars, meetings, groups, studying, spending time with friends, and researching other forms of magic. If all went well, Twilight would have attended at least two of every committee within two months. Provided the council saw her fit to continue the duties of Archmage, she would be prepared to assume all of them within two short months.

A thought struck her near the end, however. She glanced at her calendar, flipping back two months to the current date. It was circled with a bold red pen. The council’s decision was that day. “Oh my…” Twilight’s heart hammered for a few moments. Had she done everything she needed to do? Was she prepared? Did she meet the requirements? Panicked, Twilight teleported halfway across the castle, appearing with a flash just outside of the barracks. Two pegasus guards had spears leveled at her sudden appearance, but relaxed upon seeing who it was.

“Archmage.” They saluted crisply. “What can we help you with?”

“Bastion.” She gasped. “Is he awake?”

“The commander is awake, Archmage.” They nodded at the doorway they were guarding. “Would you like to see him?”

“Immediately if I can.” She nodded. The guards pushed the doors open, giving her access to the closed barracks.

“First hall on your left, all the way to the end. He requested coffee just fifteen minutes ago.”

“Thank you.” Twilight trotted down the hall, pushing through the indicated door with a fluster.

“Bastion,”

“Good morning to you too, Archmage.” Bastion grunted over the rim of his cup.

“Am I ready?”

“Ready to ruin my morning? Yes. I just woke up. For pony’s sake, the sun isn’t even up yet.”

“Ready for the shields?” Bastion paused mid-sip, looking up from the paperwork he had presently been engaged in. The silence between them stretched for a few moments before he set his cup down and leaned forward across his desk.

“I thought I made it clear the morning after we were finished. You’re more than prepared to handle the shields, Twilight. I am both honored and proud to call you my Archmage.” Twilight’s hopes soared. She had done it! She had found Harbinger’s replacement, and assumed control of the shields. The council would have no reason to deny her her rightful position now.

“Thank you!” She cried out, throwing her fore legs around his broad shoulders with a laugh.

“Oof! Hey! Gerroff me!” Bastion grumbled at her, ineffectively pushing at her legs as she squeezed him tight. “It’s too early for this shit,” He grunted, finally managing to extricate himself from Twilight’s embrace. “Go. Get outta here. I got business to take care of.”

“Right,” Twilight was so elated she didn’t even feel his grumpy attitude affect her. “Have a good day!” She turned to bounce out of the door, but stopped at the threshold.

“Something the matter?” He asked, not even looking up at her. She looked back at him for a few moments, smiling at the sight of him holding a piece of important-looking paper, his brow furrowed with concentration.

“Shining Armor would be proud to call you his commander, Bastion.” That made him look up. She saw confusion and pride mingle together in his eyes as he looked at her.

“What?”

“My brother,” She turned to him fully. “You do him well. Celestia was right to pick you for his replacement.” It wasn’t customary, since Twilight wasn’t in the guard, but it felt proper. She clicked her hooves together and rose a foreleg to her brow. Bastion’s eyes went wide as he watched Twilight salute him.

“I… Thank you. Thank you, Twilight.” He blushed, clearly at a loss for words.

“Have a good day, Bastion.” Twilight grinned as she dropped the salute.

“Yeah… You too…” Without another word, Twilight left.

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The next time Twilight saw Bastion, it was when she strode through the double doors into the main court room. As with last time, it was packed from wall-to-wall with unicorns, though a few minor changes were to be noted. Warden sat where Golden Crest had previously, and Night Dancer took Harbinger’s chair. Aside from that, the situation was almost a mirror of what had happened three days prior. Twilight swallowed her anxiety and stopped in the middle of the floor. A silence fell, deafening in its oppressiveness. Bastion broke it with a clear, deep tone.

“Twilight Sparkle.” She rose her head to it’s full height, looking at the council of twenty ponies before her. “This meeting has been called with regard to your obligations, as set forth by the council three days ago. Do you have anything to share before we begin?”

“I do not.” She said curtly. Bastion nodded before continuing.

“Previously, you were given two conditions for the council to officially recognize you as Archmage. The first was that you were required to find Harbinger’s replacement. Have you fulfilled that requirement?”

“Council member Night Dancer can attest to my success. Yes.” Twilight grinned at Night Dancer, sitting just to the right of Bastion. She shot Twilight a sly wink in return.

“The second requirement was that you must assume direct responsibility for the shields protecting the crystal caverns beneath Canterlot. Have you accomplished this?”

“You yourself have relinquished duty to me. Yes.” Twilight nodded.

“Very well. Twilight Sparkle, the council recognized you as the Archmage of Canterlot. Furthermore, future claims against your title will be disregarded in light of steady progress, or satisfactory duty.” Bastion turned to the circular dias behind him, looking up at Celestia and Luna seated above them all. “Princesses, the council has concluded it’s summary of grievances against Twilight Sparkle.”

“Understood, Bastion. Twilight, have you anything to add?”

“No, your highnesses.” Twilight said firmly, smiling at Celestia.

“Very well. Without any more delay, I have another issue to bring to your attention.” Everypony in the courtroom gasped. This hadn’t been a part of the proceedings… Twilight swallowed as she waited for Celestia to continue speaking.

“I am here to affirm or dismiss the rumors that have been circulating about the former council members.” Confused whispers and low murmurs rippled through the crowd as Celestia spoke, but died down when she continued on. “Harbinger has been imprisoned for the crime of treason, destruction of knowledge, and assault. After extensive questioning and much investigation, it has been discovered that an underground clique of ponies has been secretly plotting Nightmare Moon’s return to Equestria.” Celestia stepped back, glancing at Luna. “Here to explain is Princess Luna.”

“Thank you. Let me begin by assuring you that Nightmare Moon is no more.” Luna spoke loud and clear, looking around at all the ponies gathered in the courtroom. “Twilight Sparkle and her fellow elements of harmony cleansed me of my darker side. Seven years ago, she and her friends stood up to me, using a powerful and ancient magic to dispel the curse I had put on myself, and show me the light. Since that time, I have been nothing but kind and benevolent to everypony under our joined rule.” Twilight’s eyes went wide as she heard something else enter Luna’s voice then. It was anger. And sadness…

“To anypony who wants to bring back those dark, miserable days under my nightmarish reign, I say this to you: Step forward now, and maybe I will spare you from life in prison.”

Silence. Not a single whisper or word was spoken. Every single unicorn in the room, from Twilight to the council, all the way back to the highest row of risers, not a single pony even whimpered.

“Very well.” She rose her head high, addressing them all clearly. “Any and all ponies who are discovered as practitioners of malevolent shadow magic in an attempt to restore my previous self to it’s nightmarish form will be convicted of treason and sentenced accordingly. This is non-negotiable, and all cases of treason will be addressed by Celestia and myself together. Furthermore, let me assure you of this…” Luna’s tone softened, her lips curling in a sad smile as she looked down at them all.

“I do not hold any regret or remorse in my heart for what happened all those years ago… I am sorry if I mislead anypony into thinking I was a remorseless, evil ruler, as dark and frightening as I was long, long ago. I assure you that Celestia and I want only what’s best for every single one of the ponies in Equestria, and together with the Archmage, the council, and every pony willing, we will continue to guide Equestria through peaceful and prosperous times.” She raised her head high, smiling widely at everypony. Twilight smiled up at her, at the mysterious and proud beacon of hope that Luna embodied so well.

“Please. Spread the word. Let everypony who holds evil intent in their hearts that I mean no harm. That I will not turn back into my old, evil self. That together, Celestia and I are united as one. Your ruler. Your confidant. And most importantly,” She smiled directly down at Twilight, though her words struck a chord with everypony in the room. “Your friend.”

“LIES!” Twilight froze.

“She’s under Celestia’s spell! She’s been brainwashed!” A second pony cried out, his voice lost among the confused masses.

“Rise up now!” A third.

“Fight the oppressor!” An angry fourth voice joined the others. Twilight watched as dozens of ponies all throughout the courtroom suddenly shot to their hooves, their voices united as they chanted in unison.

”For Luna! For the Night! FOR EQUESTRIA!”

Pandemonium erupted.

Archmage's Nightmare

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Archmage Chapter 17 - “Archmage’s Nightmare”

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Twilight cried out as magic and ponies began to pulse and move together, pouring off of the risers onto the middle of the floor. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen of the ponies who had incited the panic in the first place, but amidst the chaos that ensued, they were lost in the crowd. Bolts of magic flew overhead, and for each dark blast of shadow magic, there were two bright-colored shots to match it. Twilight was jostled and shoved, pushed and on more than one occasion attacked. It finally came down to the point that she had to shield herself just to avoid being trampled.

“Luna! Celestia!” She called out, trying to get their attention. The top of the circular dias was bare. The princesses were somewhere in the fray. Through the teeming mass of unicorn bodies, Twilight could catch glimpses of faces or marks she knew. Bastion, Night Dancer, and on one occasion she saw Luna’s wings flare out. But for each step she took in their direction, she was pushed back four feet. It seemed all of them were intent on an exodus from the courtroom, and Twilight couldn’t do anything to stop the inexorable tide of bodies intent on fleeing.

“Stop! Let me go!” Twilight cried out. She could have cut her way through the crowd to remain in the courtroom, but that would mean injuring innocent bystanders. Twilight wanted to avoid that if she could. Still, screams of panic and terror drowned her out and pushed her back towards the door. She was helpless to stop it as she was swept away and into the hall. From there, in the open corridor, ponies bolted left and right. Some of them burst through the windows, raining broken glass out onto the courtyard below, using featherfall spells or levitation to save themselves.

There were injuries. Bodies lay slumped in heaps, or cringed and moaned, clutching grievous injuries. Twilight saw one unicorn with his leg laying a few feet away. She ignored the blood and the horrible moans and screams, and fought her way back into the courtroom. Now that most of the room was gone, Twilight was able to tell what exactly was happening. Most of the council had fled, but Bastion, Night Dancer, Warden, and two others remained. They stood in a semicircle around Celestia and Luna, their horns glowing as they blocked the rapid-fire bolts of shadow energy arcing through the air towards them. Surrounding the small group was another larger one, at least twenty strong, all of them with their gazes intent on Celestia and Luna.

They couldn’t last forever. Bastion, for all of his fortitude and skill, couldn’t find the time to cast a proper barrier. He had to resort to rapid-fire, lesser-strength shielding spells, his horn blazing bright as he blocked dozens of incoming spells. Warden and Night dancer counter-attacked when they could, and the other two ponies from the council were doing admirably well… But they were outnumbered four to one at least. Twilight watched as Bastion planted his hooves with a scream, his horn burning bright enough to make everypony wince.

“He’s casting a barrier! Stop him!” Twilight glanced to the side and saw a group of four rush forward, intent on breaching the hastily-erected shields and interrupting Bastion. Night Dancer and Warden shot at the approaching group, but their spells were intercepted. The clashing magic resulted in a small explosion, and through the dust the four ponies charged. Twilight acted. In an instant, she was before them.

“Archmage!”

“Oh fu-“ The terror and fright in their eyes didn’t even faze Twilight. Her horn shot forth a thick wave of lavender light, the shockwave of energy lifting the four charging ponies off of their hooves and back into the wall, at least thirty yards away. They slumped to the floor with a groan. She had bought Bastion just enough time to finish the barrier spell. A solid sphere of blue-colored magic swirled in the middle of the courtroom. There would be no getting out of that sphere, and certainly no getting in. Not without some serious time and devotion…

“Damnit… It’s going to take us hours to get through that.” Twilight spread her hooves wide. As soon as the barrier had been cast, the group of ponies that had incited the panic seemed to relax a little. Magic stopped flying to and fro, and they slowly began to make a half-circle around Twilight. Who was alone against them.

“What do we do?”

“We stick to the plan. You three, form a rear guard. Barricade the entrances if you can. If it’s going to take us two hours to get into that, then I want every unicorn in Canterlot to take at least three to get in here.” The ringleader, a unicorn whom Twilight didn’t recognize, appeared to take the lead over the others. He began barking demands at them, urging all of the gathered ponies to rush and get to work. Meanwhile, a large group stayed around Twilight, their horns leveled towards her. She was backed up against Bastion’s barrier, surrounded by sixteen very dangerous ponies, and slowly getting locked in the envelope between barriers. Soon, she would be trapped.

Her mind raced. Plans and spells formulated in her mind, only to be shot down one way or another. Too much opposition, too much interference, too little time… Twilight felt utterly helpless. If she made a break for the door, she would likely be overpowered. If she tried to blast them all, she would be over stretched. And if she tried to barricade herself up against Bastion’s barrier, she would probably be stopped. For the first time in what felt like a long, long time, Twilight felt utterly helpless.

The barriers went up, locking the group of twenty ponies inside the courtroom along with Twilight. It would take hours for even a skilled unicorn to dispel the barriers, and just as long for these ponies to dispel the one protecting the five council members and the princesses. That left Twilight alone with twenty dangerous shadow-magic users for a minimum of about two hours. One of the group asked the same question she had on her mind.

“What do we do with her?” The ringleader turned his attention to Twilight the same time as all of the others. The four she had blasted against the far wall had picked themselves up, though they looked rather worn already. Still, that was four more ponies that Twilight didn’t want to have to deal with at that moment. As far as she could tell, none of the others had been injured in the brief, furious exchange. Sixteen healthy, dangerous, powerful unicorns and four moderately injured ones.

Against one measly unicorn.

“Knock her out for now. We’ll deal with her later.”

Twilight fought it, but her shield shattered under the force of a dozen stun spells. The black tide of shadow magic crashed into her.

Twilight saw nothing.

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“Mom… Dad…” Twilight muttered gently. She was cowering under her blankets, trying to hide from the monsters out in the scary world that wasn’t protected by her impervious shield of fabric. “Mom! Dad!” She called out, her words feeling hollow and quiet. She was just a young filly once more, without her mark and as gullible as ever. She could hear the panting breaths of the monsters just on the other side of her blankets, no doubt contemplating the best way to strip away her defenses and devour the delicious morsel of pony flesh beneath.

“MOMMY! DADDY!” Twilight cried out in fear, tears coursing from her eyes as she made one last plea for safety…

But it never came. What did come instead was the claws. Wicked and curved, the long, thin claws ripped through her blankets, tore into her flesh.

Twilight sat up with a gasp. She was in her library in Ponyville, her head resting on a book.

Oh… Okay… I fell asleep reading again… Rubbing a hoof over her face, Twilight sighed and closed the cover to ’Advanced Lunar Diagrams and Spell-Forms’

“Twi?” Spike’s soft voice made her pick her head up, a helpless smile washing over her lips.

“Spike!” She nearly cried as she scooped the juvenile dragon up off of his claws and into a crushing hug. “Oh, Spike! I’ve missed you!” Tears of joy streamed from her eyes as she hugged Spike close to her chest.

“Sheesh, Twilight… Calm down.” Spike gently extracted himself from the crushing embrace, coughing slightly as he landed back on his claws. “What’s gotten into you? You just saw me yesterday…”

“Huh?” Twilight blinked. “What day is it?”

“Wow. You’ve been hitting the books too hard, Twilight. Here.” Spike grabbed a paper from the nearby table, handing it off to her. Twilight grasped the periodical in her magic, flipping it open and reading the date at the top.

“But… This is impossible. This is before I was named Archmage…” Spike blinked at her a few times before bursting into laughter, dropping to the floor as he rolled around helplessly.

“Hahaha! Good one, Twilight! You, being Archmage!” He wiped tears of mirth from his eyes, rolling up to his claws once more. “Come on. Since you’re up, we might as well get started.” Twilight’s mind reeled. Why did the paper say the date it did? This wasn’t just a few days before her being named Archmage… It was several years! How? This all felt so real. The worn wood beneath her hooves, the smell of paper and dust all around, every minute detail all the way down to Spike’s scales and the calendar on the wall…

But her memory of what had happened was real as well. Vividly so. She remembered everything up until the moment she blacked out in the courtroom, subject to the stun spells from the other ponies. What was the dream, and what was the reality? She felt vertigo set in, her senses giving way to confusion and panic. The room spun around her as she fell over, landing with an audible grunt.

“Twi? Hey! What’s wrong?” Spike was at her side, gently lifting her up. It didn’t help, as the room spun more violently. She shrugged away from him and lay back down, her eyes closed as she fought the urge to vomit.

“I’m… Woah.” She whimpered and clutched her head in her hooves, trying to wrap her mind around what was happening to her. Was she the Archmage? Was she the bookish librarian from Ponyville? Was Spike really there? Was it really all those years ago, close to the time Twilight had first arrived in Ponyville? What was going on?

“Twilight, I’m getting worried… I’m gonna go get the doctor…” Spike turned to leave, but Twilight stopped him by pinning his tail to the ground with a hoof.

“Don’t. I’m fine… Just a little light-headed… Probably from sleeping like I did.” Clarity returned along with a fresh wave of chills as Twilight offered a brave smile up at him. The room had stopped spinning, at least, and she wasn’t nauseous anymore. Just in time, too, since Spike looked ready to dash off in search of a doctor at any moment. “I-I just need some food, and maybe a shower…”

“Okay…” He said warily, slowly pulling his tail away from her. “I can make you some toast, if you’d like…”

“Yeah… Yeah, that’d be good…” Twilight said gently, smiling up at him. “I’ll go shower real quick. Just to wake myself up.” She rose on shaky hooves, watching Spike scamper off, though he looked over his shoulder at her with more concern than she would ever wanted to have seen on his adolescent face. He disappeared into the kitchen, where she heard rustling about. Twilight made her way up the stairs one at a time, slowly going faster as she became more and more confident in her strength. In the upstairs hall, she passed another calendar, this one reading the same year and day as the paper did. So strange…

As she cranked on the water, Twilight asked herself more questions, letting the dull drone of the water splattering to the floor drown out her more irrational fears.

Was I just dreaming, then? Were all those years just some spell or something? Some fanciful dream? Do other unicorns go through this? I mean, it’s all so real… My memories of everything. Spike leaving, that afternoon with Celestia, arranging Nocturnal Glow’s funeral, being named Archmage, the ceremony, learning new magic under…

“Luna…” Twilight said the last out loud, though it was hardly more than a whimper. Was that just a dream, as well? That amazing night, and all the memories of every wonderful kiss? Had she imagined the whole thing? Was it all fake? As she cranked off the water, it was like shutting the door on a hopeful young pony. She shut away all of her thoughts. Twilight was a scientist. A magician. A scholar. The only things that existed were observable. So she had to observe. Stepping out of the shower, Twilight dried off hastily and descended to the scent of toast.

“Hmm… I’m starved.” She smiled as Spike fished two slightly-burnt slices of bread from the toaster, blushing a little as he handed them off to her.

“Sorry about that… I always seem to burn it.”

“It’s fine.” Twilight happily started scraping butter and jam onto the bread, smiling at him. “I like it crunchy.”

“Aah. Alright. Well, I’ll go get started. I think I can find where we left off the other day…” Spike sighed and padded off towards the kitchen exit. He had a demeanor about him, a look that told Twilight he was ready to do some serious work.

“Uuh, Spike?” She stopped him with a word, setting her toast down as he turned to her. “I was actually hoping we could… I dunno, take a break?” She wasn’t sure what this work was, or what they had to do, but Twilight wanted to get out and see what was different, if anything was different. “Maybe go for a walk… See our friends?”

Spike looked at her like she was crazy. “Friends?” Twilight blinked at him.

“Yeah. Our friends.” Spike continued to look at her. “You know… Fluttershy? Rarity? Rainbow Dash?” The look intensified. “Our friends, Spike! Come on! The elements of harmony? Six ponies come together to defeat evil and triumph over good?”

“Twilight, you’re scaring me…” Spike said softly, backing away from her. “What are you talking about?”

“Oh come ON!” Twilight huffed, shooting to her hooves.

“Hey! Twilight, calm down!” Spike scrambled backwards, tripping over the edge of a rug and falling on his rear. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Twilight stopped, her heart hammering in her ears.

“Twilight, you don’t have any friends.”

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“I can’t see past this bloody thing… Bastion, why did you skip on the transparency arch?”

“Pardon me,” Bastion grunted. “Who knows how many ponies shooting shadow bolts at us, and I forget to make the damned thing see-through. Fuckall if I didn’t just cast a barrier in record time.”

“Arguing will get us nowhere.” Celestia’s calm and even voice cut them off. Night Dancer huffed impatiently, but bowed her head as Celestia continued. “We’re here now, let’s do the best we can with what we can. Does anypony have any suggestions?” Silence reigned for a few moments as the seven bodies shuffled around uncomfortably. As impressive as summoning a full-fledged barrier in the middle of a fight was, the whole thing was rather cramped. With seven ponies stacked tight inside of it, space was in high demand.

“Can’t you dispel the barrier?” Warden asked, the first words he had spoken in a while.

“I could,” Luna said softly, looking around at the shifting blue walls keeping them safe. “But dispelling such a young barrier so quickly would undoubtedly make it explode… The spell would keep us safe, but what about Twilight?”

“That’s right,” Bastion grunted. “She jumped in there at the end. Probably saved us all by stopping that charge… If we dispel it now, we might hurt her…”

“Assuming she isn’t already dead…” Warden’s dour statement sobered every one of them, expressions turning cold as they all looked at the ground beneath their hooves.

“There is still hope…” Celestia said softly. Everypony inside the barrier looked up at Celestia. The solar princess’ smile bolstered the hopes of every single one of them, making them lift their heads high with hope. “We may be trapped behind this barrier, but Twilight is out there with them.” She smiled smugly, almost as if enjoying a personal joke.

“Woe to the pony who thinks they can defeat the Archmage.”

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Twilight huffed as she urged her burning muscles to run faster. The trees and leaves blasted past as quick as can be, the sound of the wind rushing through her ears the only thing she could hear at all. Ponyville lay behind her, and Sweet Apple Acres was before her. As the signature red barn broke over the horizon, Twilight poured on the power, running faster than she ever had.

“Applejack!” She screamed, bursting through the barn doors. Silence. “Applejack!” She hollered out to the fields. “APPLEJACK!”

“What’re you doin’ here?” The scathing tone of a young filly’s voice caught Twilight off guard. She wheeled around, spotting a very angry-looking Applebloom glaring up at her.

“I’m looking for Applejack,” Twilight panted. “Where is she?!”

“Yer joking, right?” Twilight blinked. Applebloom was normally such a sweet and happy young pony; full of adventure and curiosity. At that moment, Twilight had never seen anypony look so angry.

“I’m not!” Twilight pressed on, despite the nagging fear in the back of her mind. “Where is Applejack?”

“Wow. You must have lost it.” Applebloom swallowed hard, tears brimming in her eyes as she looked up at Twilight. “Maybe you’ve finally gone off th’ deep end. C’mon.” Applebloom jerked her head to the side as she turned around.

“Are you going to take me to Applejack?”

“Yeh,” Applebloom sighed. “Ah’m gonna take you to her…” Applebloom turned the corner of the barn, to a section of the yard Twilight hadn’t visited just yet. What she saw almost made her heart stop.

Here lies Applejack,

Beloved Sister, Granddaughter. An honest pony through and through.

“No…” Twilight’s back legs gave out, the tears falling from her eyes as she stared in disbelief at the headstone.

“An’ it was all thanks to you.” Applebloom said quietly, standing before Applejack’s grave. Her tears darkened the dirt at her hooves, and she shook visibly. “Now leave… B’fore I do somethin’ granny told me I should never do…” Twilight didn’t need the encouragement. She left Sweet Apple Acres just as fast as she could, fighting the urge to vomit the entire way. Her next stop wasn’t far away. She followed the edge of the Everfree Forest, skirting the border between Equestria and the unknown. But she never came upon it. There it was, the creek flowing out of the forest, the bridge over it… But just on the other side, there was nothing but a large, wide stump in the ground.

Fluttershy’s home had been chopped down. Her animals were gone. She was nowhere to be found. Twilight turned tail and ran fast and hard back to town. Rarity’s boutique was boarded through and through, the ‘closed’ sign hanging loosely in the barren window. Mr. and Mrs. Cake just glared at her when she asked where Pinkie Pie was. Her only hope left was-

“Twilight? Is that you?” She froze in the middle of the street, shaking as the haunting voice came to her. Sure enough, as she turned around, she saw her old friend.

“Dash…” She whispered, sagging with relief. But caution and fear returned as she saw the state of the cyan pegasus. Dash’s left wing was missing, and her right was bandaged tight. She wore an eyepatch over her right eye, but Twilight could see the jagged edge of a scar, still red and raw, cut from her skull down to her cheek. She approached Twilight with a very pronounced limp, and she could see the scars from a major surgery cutting through the coat on her chest. She wheezed audibly, and all of those things attributed to the angry, cold glare she had fixed on Twilight.

“Oof!” Twilight grunted as Dash’s hoof buried in her chest, driving the wind from her lungs and lifting her from her hooves. She tumbled backwards, kicking up clouds of dirt as Dash followed after her.

“You bitch!” She roared, looming over Twilight. She could clearly hear Dash’s curses over the sound of her blows, each one catching Twilight and propelling her further along the ground. “How dare you show your face again! I’ll fucking kill you! Just like you killed them! YOU KILLED THEM ALL!” Twilight shivered in a ball as some bystanders intervened, pulling the raging pony off of her. Twilight saw blood. Half of it was hers, half of it was Dash’s. Shaking, she rose to her hooves, tears brimming in her eyes as she looked over at Dash.

“What… What did I do?” She whimpered.

“Well, you left your prison for one.” An anonymous pony said to the side. “This is the first time anypony has seen you in a year. But if you left, that means she’s undoubtedly on her way here to punish you. You ought to go back as soon as you can.” Twilight swallowed, tasting bile and blood in her mouth.

“Prison? She? Who? What’s happening?” Twilight spun in a circle, noting the scared and horrified expressions all around.

“Her!” Somepony’s hoof shot into the sky, pointing towards the horizon. “Here she comes!”

“Run!”

“Get away!”

“AAUGH!” Ponies scrambled and ran, bolting every which way to get out of the street. Even Dash hobbled off, though she did pause to shoot Twilight a glare over her shoulder. If looks could kill, Twilight would have died on the spot. But the look wasn’t what had her choked up just then. It was the pony soaring out of the sky towards her.

”TWILIGHT SPARKLE!” The booming effect of the Royal Canterlot Voice nearly swept Twilight off of her hooves. Princess Celestia landed before her, wings flared wide, her horn already glowing brightly. This was not the benevolent mentor Twilight knew and loved. This was a frightening and intimidating despot, a tyrannical ruler of a sad land. She glared down at Twilight with bright eyes. ”You have left your prison voluntarily. Do you understand the gravity of your crime?”

“Crime?” Twilight panted, looking around. Nopony was in the street. They didn’t even peek out of the windows. “What crime? What have I done?”

”YOU KNOW FULL WELL WHAT YOU HAVE DONE!” Celestia roared, sweeping Twilight off of her hooves. She tumbled several times backwards, grunting and wincing at each lancing jolt of pain. ”You misused the Elements of Harmony! You betrayed my trust! You hurt hundreds of ponies! You KILLED your only friends!” The next she spoke in a whisper, so full of the promise of more pain and suffering that Twilight felt like she was going to die then and there.

”But worst of all… You killed my sister.”

“What? No! No! I didn’t! I didn’t kill Princess Luna! I didn’t kill anypony!”

”TWILIGHT SPARKLE! For you lies and your crimes, I have no choice!” Celestia’s wings flared wide, flapping several times to carry her into the air. Twilight looked up at her with fearful eyes.

”I sentence you to death!”

Twilight screamed.

Her world broke.

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“I think she’s coming around…”

“What? Really? Put her out again, then. We’re not done over here.”

“She already took, what, a dozen? More? One more stun spell, and we’ll risk brain damage. We need some sort of bargaining chip if this goes sour; we should keep her alive... For now.”

“Ugh. Fine, move you idiot. I’ll do it myself.” The words came through a haze, making Twilight groan as she began to emerge through the blackness. Her eyes fluttered slightly, feeding her the fuzzy image of a pair of hooves coming closer.

“B-but, she could die!”

“You know what they say… Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” The scintillating sound of a shadow spell being cast snapped her to attention. She gasped, looking up at the smug expression of the ringleader. In a flash, quick as can be, the space between the two of them erupted. Twilight was flattened against the barrier behind her, but the ringleader was thrown backwards. He crashed into the risers at the far edge of the room, collapsing in a heap of splintered wood and bent metal.

“Woah!”

“She’s up! Get her!”

“Attack!”

“Over here! Focus, you idiots!”

“Forget the barriers! Get her!” Twilight was very suddenly the target of a dozen spells, each hissing with lethal intent as they shot through the air towards her. Each one of them shattered into a million glimmering lights as she thrust her head into the air, her horn blazing as bright as the day itself. Her shield gleamed with a brilliant light, casting radiant rays of energy down and around her. The follow-up spells bounced off harmlessly, and she stood in the middle, commanding tremendous force. She rose her head, looking out at the group of usurpers.

Twilight’s eyes lit with an ephemeral power. While her horn blazed with a golden light, her eyes began to shift... To grow more narrow. From the edges of her mane, a darkness crept along it. Darker than the night sky, her coat began to change as well. But at the same time, the glow intensified. Tendrils of shadow-like energy crept over the bubble of her shield, empowering it. The two powers mixed and mingled. In her eyes and across her body, Twilight was the perfect embodiment of balance. Night and day came together, their powers at her disposal.

”Stop this madness,” Twilight’s voice reverberated with power, echoing through the chamber. She slowly settled on her hooves, the carpet lighting beneath her weight. The smoke curled up over her body, wreathing her in flame and shadow. ”Enough have died this day. We need no more bloodshed.” The usurpers were shocked. All of them watched the mysterious mare before them as she took several slow steps forward.

”I understand your pain and anger. This world is not ideal for you... It is fraught with imperfection and ignorance. You seek to change the views of others by forcing them to see the majesty of night, and the shadow you hold so dear.” She stopped in the middle of them all, looking over each of their shocked faces with her piercing gaze. ”You fight and plot, wait for the perfect moment to strike so you may overthrow that which so many hold dear.” Twilight’s horn blazed once more, shooting a wave of darkness and light over the heads of everypony there. It crashed against the barriers, sparking and trembling with it’s awesome force.

”But it’s wrong! They cowered under the terrifying display of power. ”It’s imbalanced! It’s improper! It’s hurtful!” She calmed slightly. The glow died down, her radiance dimming and the shadow fading as well. In a slow wave, it slipped off of her coat. Inch by inch, Twilight returned to herself. As she stood in the midst of over a dozen advanced magicians, Twilight wore a sad smile.

“You want to see Nightmare Moon return to Equestria, to see the night shroud all the land, so ponies can bathe in its majesty and understand the beauty you all hold so dear to your hearts. Do you not?” She took their silence for acquiescence. “I can identify... I myself have looked into the night, and seen the muted beauty there. How many ponies know that nightshade only blooms in moonlight? Or that on a full moon, the creeks running through Canterlot appear to be molten silver?” She heaved a sigh.

“A life under a dark sky would be beautiful indeed... But it’s better than a life of darkness and anger. What you have been trying to accomplish is not only wrong, it’s hurtful. It’s painful. And it’s imbalanced. Where is the happiness in your eternal night? Where is the sunshine to your sacred shadow? Where is the happiness to the despair and corruption you seek?” Twilight shook her head slowly, frowning at the group of ponies before her.

“As the Archmage of Canterlot, I cannot allow you to follow through with this plan. I will not allow you.”

“Wh… What are you going to do to us?” One frightened pony asked softly. Twilight glanced up at him.

“Me? I won’t do anything to you. I can’t. It’s against our laws.” She nodded behind them, her horn sparking for just a moment. “But they can.” With frightened expressions, they all turned around. The doors burst open, and in only a few seconds, close to a hundred guard ponies filed into the room. Spears leveled at the huddled group of usurpers, and horns glowed at the ready. The barriers that close to twenty advanced shadow magic users had dissipated in an instant, with no repercussions.

“What?” One of them whispered in disbelief. “The barriers… How did she do that?”

“Archmage!” An officer approached Twilight, his expression haggard and drawn with concern. “Is everything okay?” He looked just as shocked as the others. Twilight could tell that he was just as surprised to see the barriers dropped so suddenly.

“No, it is not.” Twilight said softly. “We have wounded. Get the medical corps in here immediately. You there,” She fixed one of the usurpers with a mean glare. “What did you do with the wounded?”

“O-over there,” He pointed with a shaking hoof. Twilight followed his hoof to a section of the risers filled with prone bodies of ponies. Immediately, a dozen unicorns laden with bags and wearing white aprons set in on the survivors, their horns glowing as they immediately began to heal what they could.

“What about them?” The guard asked, nodding towards the surrounded usurpers. “What do we do with them?”

“Hmm…” Twilight looked down at them for several long moments. “I don’t know… But I’m sure they know what to do.” Twilight’s horn sparked once more, and the last barrier dropped.

“Woah! What the-“

“Archmage!”

“Twilight!”

“Huhn?” Bastion blinked in confusion as the barrier protecting himself and the princesses suddenly vanished. “How did you… I don’t… What?”

“Princesses,” Twilight said, drawing everypony’s attention as she approached the two sisters. “The usurpers have been subdued. They have injured quite a few ponies, and killed a few as well…” Twilight slowly looked to the section of risers, noting several bodies were covered with thin, white sheets.

“Goodness,” Celestia said softly. Her expression was sad as she looked over the wounded and dead, as well as the group of ponies ringed by guards. “Was this your plan?” She asked. There was no answer. “Who is the leader among you?”

“H-he was…” One pony pointed with a shaking hoof at the collapsed section of risers. In the shadows of the wreckage was one more mangled body, unmoving. “I guess… I am now.”

“Hmm. How long have you planned this?” Celestia asked coolly.

“F-four years, princess. Ever since Nocturnal Glow’s health began to fade… We had hoped to launch our assault while he was sickly, but the chance never came before he passed… Nor did it come while Twilight Sparkle was training… We thought we had the opportunity at one of the council meetings. Especially since the council doubted Twilight’s power… We thought we could accomplish it in one fell swoop…” He hung his head. “We hadn’t counted on the Archmage’s skill… We thought she would still be developing… We had no idea that she would be so…” He looked up at Twilight, with fear in his eyes. “Powerful.”

“I see. Guard, take them away. Imprison them all for further questioning. Archmage, a word if you please.” Celestia and Luna turned and swept away. The bustle of activity that followed was strange and difficult to follow. The guards cast spells on the usurpers, carrying their bound bodies away. Healers continued to work on the wounded, but the dead were carried away. Twilight fought tears of sadness, that ponies had to die for this foolishness. Such a waste of life… She followed after Luna and Celestia, meeting them in the adjoining conference room. Gone was the cold, professional expression. Instead, both princesses looked at her with concern.

“Twilight,” Luna said softly, drawing her attention. “Tell us what really happened.”

Twilight shared everything with them. After the barrier went up and she was alone with the usurpers, they stunned her and she had nightmares. She explained in detail all that was wrong with the dream world, how it had seemed so vivid and real to her. She went on to explain the dreams she had afterwards, how it was so close to the reality they already had. She told both princesses how happiness and sadness together waited for them all, but they would be stronger for it in the end. Luna seemed to pale when she described the part of Twilight’s crime, how her friends had died, how she had killed Luna using the power of the Elements of Harmony, how doing so had also killed her friends, and nearly killed Rainbow Dash and herself. At the end, Twilight was in tears and shaking.

“Twilight,” Luna said gently, drawing her into a hug. “It’s okay, relax.” She stroked Twilight’s mane soothingly, letting the distraught unicorn weep into her coat. “It’s over now. You beat it.”

“Luna,” Celestia said quietly. “We need to speak privately. I think Twilight could use some rest after all of that…”

“Okay.” Luna nodded, stroking Twilight softly. “I’ll handle it.” Celestia left them, and Twilight cried for a long while. When she finally calmed down enough, Luna took her to her quarters, using back halls and passageways not used normally. They arrived without anypony seeing Twilight, and Luna guided her to bed. Twilight collapsed on the covers, gone to the world before Luna could even tuck her in.

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“She’s advancing quickly… I dare say she’s prepared for the rest of her responsibilities.” Luna said quietly, sitting opposite her sister.

“I’m more concerned about this nightmare she had,” Celestia muttered. “She said I sentenced her to death. And you know the power behind the elements of harmony… What she dreamt very well could have happened, if Twilight had had half a mind to accomplish it…”

“I think we can both be glad she chose not to… It scares me, Tia…”

“Hmm? What, having a counter to our immortality?” Celestia sighed, hanging her head. “All things must have balance, Luna… But I think we can trust our lives to the bearers of harmony.”

“Do you think they’ll ever understand the true power of the elements?”

“I doubt it… Twilight is intuitive, but the elements are as old as you or I. She’d just as soon discover how to raise and lower the sun and moon herself before she discovers the true purpose behind the elements of harmony…” Celestia looked out of the nearby window, down into the gardens. The statue of Discord still stood where it always had, save for the one fiasco involving Twilight and the other elements long ago.

“Then again…”

“Indeed. She’s nearly done it before…”

“Does she even realize how close she came to taking Discord’s immortality?” Luna’s whispered question made both princesses squirm.

“I don’t think so… I think that secret is still safe…” Celestia sighed again, drawing the blinds on a dying day. “Is she asleep, then?”

“Yes… Slumbering like a newborn foal.” Luna smiled, despite the grave circumstances. This was a dark day in Equestrian history… Blood had been shed in the capitol, and it wasn’t thanks to some invading force of changelings or chaos wrought by the god Discord himself… This was something else entirely. Unrest. Uprising. Usurpers. The fact that ponies would kill others in an attempt to bring about their own selfish means was a sad sign indeed.

“We’ll get Night Dancer and Warden to help us again. I think they’ll understand, given the circumstances…” Celestia glanced at the low-hanging sun. It was time for them to cycle.

“They’ve had their fair share of strife this evening,” Luna shook her head slowly. “Let them rest. We can handle it ourselves.”

“Hmm… You’re right. Come on, then.” Celestia and Luna flew to the observatory balcony, going through the motions silently. Afterwards, Celestia yawned widely. “Will you be alright this evening?”

“I should think so… Nothing ever happens at night around here, anyways… I’ll watch the night as always, sister. Get some rest. Tomorrow, we obviously have much to do.”

“Too true, Luna…” Celestia smiled and nuzzled her sister for a moment, making both of them smile brightly. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Tia.” When Celestia was gone inside, Luna stood on the balcony for a while, watching the stars and the moon in the sky before making her way to Twilight’s chambers. Quiet as a shadow, she slipped inside, standing over Twilight’s bed as the purple unicorn slumbered peacefully. She watched Twilight’s chest rise and fall slowly, the peaceful rhythm calming to her. Slowly, she slipped into bed.

“Mmn…” Twilight moaned and automatically curled up against her, nuzzling closer against Luna’s warmth. The princess smiled as she held Twilight close to her chest, running a hoof through the slumbering pony’s mane.

“I’m so glad you’re safe, Twilight…”

Twilight’s dreams were peaceful that night.

Anger and Apathy

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Archmage - Chapter 18 “Anger and Apathy”

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Twilight slept peacefully through the night, but her morning started out very stressful. She woke to the sound of hushed voices, speaking in whispers as if they were afraid of waking her. From the inflection of their voices and the sounds of pacing, she could guess that whoever was engaged in the hushed conversation was arguing. Her eyes flickered open and she looked at her surroundings, but couldn’t quite see everything. Luna was talking with somepony, she wasn’t sure who...

“Oh,” A soft gasp reached her ears as she sat up, rubbing a hoof into her eyes. “I didn’t mean to wake you, Twilight.” Blinking the sleep away, Twilight focused at last on the visitor to Luna’s personal chambers. It was Celestia, and she looked rather disgruntled.

“’S okay,” Twilight muttered with a soft yawn. “I should probably get an early start… What brings you here, Celestia?”

“Business, mostly.” Celestia blinked for a moment, but seemed to reprimand herself with a smile. “About what happened in the courtroom yesterday. We have a total of forty-seven ponies in custody, all of whom have sworn outright allegiance to the night, and are either confirmed or believed to be actively bringing it about… I was speaking with Luna about what we should do.” Twilight yawned and rolled out of bed, shaking her mane out as she walked over to the two princesses.

“I think we should launch an investigation immediately.” Twilight forced herself to consciousness, using her mind to burn through the fog of post-sleep grogginess. She was already clear-headed and ready to face the day. “I’d like to ask some of the ponies involved a few questions of my own… Provided you two have no issues with that?” She looked between them, noting their shocked expressions. “What?”

“Nothing, it’s just… Wow.” Celestia shook her head in disbelief. “You’re becoming the Archmage more and more each day…” Now it was Twilight’s turn to look shocked.

“Of course I am. It’s my job. My destiny, right?” She glanced over her shoulder at her cutie mark.

“Of course. I’m just surprised that you’re taking to it with such… Gusto. I mean, you haven’t even learned all of the schools of magic just yet.” Celestia gestured with a hoof out of the nearby window, at the slumbering Equestria. “You have yet to cover Hatred, Anger, Nature, or the elements. At least, not officially.” Twilight blinked and thought for a few moments. Celestia was right. She really hadn’t learned any new fields of magic aside from the night, shielding, friendship, and the day… While she was powerful, she still wasn’t knowledgeable. At least not yet.

“Well,” She straightened up, gnawing on her lower lip as she thought. “Nopony’s saying I can’t do both, right?” Luna and Celestia looked doubtful. “Oh, come on… At this rate, I’ll never cover all of my duties. I need to start somewhere, and with how skilled I am, I could probably pick all of those up in a few short weeks.” Twilight huffed slightly, gesturing with her hooves. “I’m smart, talented, and dedicated. I need to start learning, and I need to start right away. Without learning all of those schools of magic, there will a dozen members of the council still covering me.”

“Well… There’s nopony covering any form of hatred magic… Powerful as it is, it doesn’t have it’s place in the government… It’s more or less just a tool for you to use.” Luna cut Celestia off as she opened her mouth, stepping between her and Twilight.

“The only ones who can effectively use the magic of hatred are Celestia and myself. At least, that we know of… You’ll have to learn directly from us. If you think you can handle covering the committee meetings, learning new magic from us, and an investigation, then by all means, Twilight. We’ll help you out by any means necessary.”

“Thank you,” Twilight heaved a sigh, smiling warmly at Luna and Celestia. “I appreciate the help… But I’d like some input. Where do you think I should start?”

“Hmm… Well, we still have Harbinger in custody. Rumor has it he was the ringleader before his confrontation with you in the library. Why don’t you start by talking to him?” Twilight smiled and nodded.

“Sounds good.” She glanced at the clock, noting it was just before dawn. She had actually slept a fair amount. “It’s about that time… Should we move to the balcony?” Celestia and Luna followed her gaze to the clock before nodding themselves.

“Yes, I should think so… Though, Twilight… A word of caution.” Luna raised her hoof pointedly. “Harbinger owes his life to the night. Remember that before you approach him… Any bad talk of his sacred night, and he’s likely to become irrational.”

“I understand.” Twilight smiled softly, but made a serious mental note to be careful when addressing Harbinger.

----------

“Archmage.” The guard saluted as she approached the prison cell, and she nodded stoically at him.

“Is the prisoner doing okay?”

“He keeps screaming incoherently, though occasionally he’s lucid enough to rant about the night. Our doctors believe he’s taking the loss of his shadow magic too roughly. They speculate C.M.L.I.S.” Twilight started at that.

“Cutie mark loss insanity syndrome is a serious claim… Could it really have manifested so quickly?”

“Harbinger owed his life to the night. He devoted his own to it in return. To be abandoned…” The guard shivered visibly. “I can imagine no worse torture than that…” Twilight frowned with thought.

“Very well. I’m going in. Suppress him please.”

“Yes, Archmage.” The guard took his spot next to the door, his horn glowing brightly as he leaned into touch the frame. Twilight heard the scintillating sounds of powerful magic at work behind the door, followed by an almost painfully audible grunt. She grimaced slightly and nodded at the guard and pushed her way in.

Harbinger looked horrible. His eyes sported heavy dark bags, and they were red with either tears or many nights of lost sleep. His mane was ratty and hung about him in locks. He hadn’t been imprisoned for more than three days, but he already looked like he had been here for weeks. At least the smell wasn’t bad. Though the glare he shot Twilight stunk heavily of hatred and a desire for vengeance. Around each of his four legs was a bright band of glowing light, and another settled around the base of his horn. The spell on this cell was designed to suppress a unicorn’s powers completely, in case a visitor wanted to see them. When the spell itself wasn’t active, the cell was designed in such a way that no unicorn would be able to break out. The walls were enchanted to reflect the full force of a spell back on the user. Even if Harbinger were strong enough to cast spells on his own, they would simply rebound and hit him instead. Twilight hated that they even had these prison cells, though she took solace in the fact that they were almost never used.

Until yesterday… Now, they were almost full.

“Oh look,” Harbinger growled. “The Archmage has seen fit to grace the lowly traitor with her presence.” His tone dripped with vehemence, and there was no shortage of sarcasm to be had either. Twilight frowned at him.

“What happened to you, Harbinger? Just a few short weeks ago, you were assisting me with the shields. You seemed only all too glad to help. To be rid of my burden. Now, this? How long have you been hiding your true intentions?”

“What happened?” He scoffed, looking down and away. “Nothing happened. I and the ponies allied with me have been seeking a way to bring Nightmare Moon back for… Generations
now. My father, and his father before him, and all the way back a thousand years. They all worshipped the night. In secret of course… Did you know, Archmage…” Harbinger looked up at her. “After Celestia condemned her own sister to the moon, she passed laws forbidding open worship of the night?” Twilight blinked at him.

“There are no laws like that.”

“Not anymore there aren’t.” Harbinger grunted and nodded towards the door. “But Celestia couldn’t even stay resolute. She changed the laws just over two hundred years ago, before you or I ever drew breath…” Twilight lowered her eyes at him.

“I would have read about that. I’ve studied history extensively.”

“You don’t think she’d strike the records?” Harbinger’s defenses were up. He was getting more irritable. “You don’t think the dear, sweet, benevolent princess of the day wouldn’t hide her failure? She can’t even stand behind her own decisions. No, she gets her filthy Archmage to do it for her. Nocturnal Glow personally wiped all records of the law ever having existed.” Harbinger spat on the ground, but Twilight felt her hackles raise.

“Don’t you dare insult Princess Celestia. Or Nocturnal Glow.” Twilight growled.

“Or what?” Harbinger teased. “You’ll run to your precious mentor? The student, cowering behind her teacher’s legs, like a frightened filly on the schoolgrounds… You disgust me, Twilight Sparkle. I thought you had some promise when you were named Archmage. I thought you, of all ponies, would understand the tyranny and suppression Celestia is capable of.” He looked her up and down, spitting the next words. “I thought you had a brain inside that head of yours.”

“Watch yourself, Harbinger.” Twilight growled. “I’ll not hear you disrespect my princess in my company.” Harbinger continued on regardless.

“I thought you had some promise! The seemingly stuck-up student of Celestia actually started to show some individual thought. I figured you’d be able to see clear as crystal the differences between Luna’s sacred night and Celestia’s baleful day. I thought you’d want what was right for Equestria. I thought you’d want the same thing I wanted! That we wanted!” He spat on the ground again. “I was wrong. You’re a moron. An imbecile. The same as the damned princess you owe alliegance t- OOF!” Harbinger grunted as Twilight’s spell caught him full on the chest. Eyes wide with shock, he was flung back against the wall of the prison. He slid down the stone, slowly slumping onto the floor.

“QUIET!” Twilight roared at him, her eyes suddenly flaring. Her horn was wrapped in a dark glow, though this one was markedly different from the shadow magic she had used before. No, this was something else entirely. Harbinger looked at her with wide, fearful eyes.

“Wh… What are you-“

“I’ll not suffer through any more of your ignorance, Harbinger!” Twilight advanced on him, her horn glowing even as her eyes began to change. She felt a not unfamiliar sensation flooding into her body from her horn, wrapping itself around her heart. She caught the edge of her glow in her vision, noting the dark glow and the mysterious aura. She had seen this before. She had commanded it before… What’s worse, she knew exactly what it was. She forced herself to take a deep breath. The glow dimmed, but didn’t fade. She still felt the anger grip her heart, holding her rational thought process in its iron grip. She wanted to hurt Harbinger. She wanted to see him bleed.

“Haah! Woah!” Twilight gasped as the dark glow faded away suddenly, leaving behind fatigue. She felt weak in it’s absence. Shaky. But the magic hadn’t left without leaving it’s mark. In a small ring around her hooves, dark red crystals had begun to form. They were small, and crunched when she shuffled her hooves, but they hadn’t been there before. Twilight shuddered and backed out of the room, leaving Harbinger behind with a shocked expression on his face.

----------

“You did what?!” Celestia wheeled her head about, looking at Twilight instead of the stack of documents on her desk.

“I… I almost lost control. I was so scared, Princess, I… I don’t know what it was.”

“Tell me again,” Celestia pushed herself away from the desk, rising to her hooves and slowly walking towards Twilight. “Now that I’m not distracted with this cursed paperwork. What happened when you questioned Harbinger?” Twilight shared all of the details she remembered, mostly the part about her feelings slowly growing out of control. She remembered the way the anger gripped her heart, the oppressive feeling in her chest, and the way she acted so irrationally. But most importantly, the crystal formation.

“Did you bring any with you?” Twilight nodded and lifted the flap on her saddlebag, levitating a small glass phial out. Inside, three of the miniature red crystals clinked and rattled, though the sound was more akin to a sharp hoof being dragged across a chalkboard. Twilight shuddered as Celestia rattled them around once more. “There’s no doubt…” Celestia said quietly. “These are a product of the magic of hatred. Like it or not, Twilight, your emotions got the better of you in there. I can’t have you interviewing suspects when you can’t properly control your anger.” Twilight swallowed, feeling the anxiety well up in her chest.

“Does that mean I can’t run the investigation?”

“I can’t allow it, Twilight.” Celestia set the crystals on her desk, shaking her head. “For somepony who doesn’t know how to control their anger, it’s dangerous to be around those who can so easily incite it… If you’re going to be questioning the prisoners, they’re going to be angry with you. They’re going to try to make you angry in return. When ponies don’t know how to control their anger… Particularly ponies that are powerful like yourself…” Celestia’s gaze slowly turned towards the window, and Twilight followed it. She looked North, towards the crystal kingdom.

“Oh… Okay.”

“Sombra was not unlike you, Twilight. He was powerful, skilled, and had much promise… But he didn’t know how to control himself.” Celestia sighed and looked back at Twilight, frowning sadly. “I can’t stop you from leading the investigation, Twilight.” She said gently. “I want to leave that decision up to you. But I would appreciate it if you let the guard handle this one.” She gingerly reached out, taking Twilight’s chin in her hoof, lifting her eyes up. They locked gazes, staring deep into one another’s eyes. “Allow me and Luna to teach you the magic of hatred. In a controlled environment. Where you can be sure you won’t harm anypony.” Twilight weighed her options.

If she abandoned the investigation, it could be seen as weakness by the usurpers. To have the Archmage, who was so actively involved in the uprising’s demise, vanish to take lessons from the princesses would seem weak and cowardly. What’s more, Twilight would be out of touch with the investigation as a whole, and wouldn’t be able to help, should the guard require it. On the other end, though, she would be learning another branch of magic. Anger wasn’t incredibly important to learn for the Archmage, but she did need to learn how to control herself. She would by lying to herself if she said she knew how to control her own anger. Heaving a sigh, Twilight conceded.

“I understand. I will abandon the investigation in favor of learning the magic of Anger. When can we begin?”

“Tonight. Though, we do not want to risk collateral damage.” Celestia smiled warmly at her, releasing her chin. “We’ll give you your lessons on the same mountain you practiced shadow magic on. After all, no risk of damaging anything there.”

“Right…” Twilight chuckled nervously. “I suppose I could go tell Luna…?”

“That would be nice.” Celestia glanced over her shoulder at the waiting stack of paper. “I do have to wrap this up, after all… I’ll meet you tonight when we cycle. You may want to get some rest, Twilight… It’s bound to be a long night.”

------------

“Right then,” Both Celestia and Luna stood opposite Twilight, nodding at her with serious expressions. Luna cleared her throat before continuing. “The magic of anger and hatred are incredibly similar. There are those who argue that they are one and the same, but they are not. They go hand-in-hand, but there are key differences between the two.” Twilight furrowed her brow.

“I was told they were the same. How do they differ?”

“The difference is this,” Celestia went on to explain. “You can hate somepony, but not get angry at them. Instead, you might feel sadness, or remorse, or maybe even sympathy. Inversely, you can be angry at somepony, but not hate them. You can even be angry at unspecific things, like a specific situation or an inanimate object.” Twilight could definitely identify with the latter… She certainly felt angry at the entire uprising. Who would want to overthrow the day and let night reign eternal? Even just thinking about it made Twilight grumble unhappily.

“You yourself confronted Sombra just over five years ago in the Crystal Kingdom up north. While history says it was Spike who saved the kingdom, we both know it was you who orchestrated the entire event. We know you overthrew Sombra, and survived the full brunt of his magic. Twilight, you know the awesome power hatred and anger can command. You know that if you unleash your hold on those emotions, they could destroy many, many things.” Luna stepped closer and closer to her as she spoke. Twilight watched as Luna’s eyes began to seep a strange, dark aura…

“Anger is a destructive magic. It creates nothing. It has no benefits. It has no ulterior motive. It just wants to destroy. To watch things break under its power, to see the object of its torment destroyed completely. Hatred wants to watch things suffer. To inflict pain and see them miserable and downtrodden. It uses its power to suppress and overthrow, to dominate and harm.” Luna blinked twice, and the aura left her eyes. Twilight shuddered as a whisper of power passed over her, the fallout of Luna’s magic.

“If you utilize your magic properly, Twilight,” Luna looked down at her sadly. “You will be able to destroy your opposition, suppress your oppressor, overthrow any and all obstacle. But only if you control it. If you let it control you, just the opposite will happen. Your own magic will overthrow you. Will turn you into less of what you are.” She looked Twilight up and down pointedly. “You don’t want to go down the same path Sombra did.”

“Oh…” Twilight looked between Celestia and Luna, suddenly very concerned. “Have I… Already started?”

“You have, but certainly not to any harmful extent... Not yet, at least. You’re lucky Luna and I are here to help, Twilight. We are the only two that we know of who can properly control their anger; we have helped others with theirs before. If you tried to do this on your own, chances are you would fail.” Celestia smiled and gave her a reassuring nudge. “There’s a simple exercise to help you control yourself. We’ll be doing this until you can contain it properly.” Celestia and Luna both turned around, their horns glowing as their magic reached out around them. Twilight gasped as the princesses ripped a massive chunk of the earth out of the mountainside. Together, they hoisted a boulder roughly the size of a house onto the mountaintop.

“We want you to think of what makes you angry, Twilight.” Celestia said, nodding down at her. “Be it Harbinger, the uprising, the fact that you haven’t been laid in three weeks.”

“Hey!”

“Shush. Whatever it is that sets you off, Twilight. Think about it. Let it fill you up. Then let it go. Like opening yourself to the night, you let the power fill you, but instead of letting it take action, you push it out. Force it into existence. And you do it with conviction, Twilight.” Celestia glanced at the boulder. “Your goal is to channel all the anger you have into destroying that boulder. Obliterate it. Remove it from existence.”

Twilight swallowed as she listened to the words coming from Celestia’s mouth. This was unlike her mentor, and the things she was saying made Twilight shiver with fear. She had blasted Harbinger against the wall hard enough to crack the stone and break his ribs. That was without trying. Now, Celestia wanted her to let loose… To destroy this boulder entirely. Shivering slightly, Twilight stepped forward.

Twilight furrowed her brow and frowned at the boulder, focusing on it. Much to her surprise, she couldn’t get angry again. Her thoughts wandered to multiple things, and never really came to focus on the anger inside of her. What’s more, she couldn’t direct those thoughts at this boulder, this nondescript hunt of rock. With a soft sigh of effort, she tried to release the energy.

“Wow.” Celestia watched the single spark of magic drop off of the tip of Twilight’s horn, burning out before it ever even reached the ground. “That was... A first try. I suppose.”

“Try again, Twilight.” Luna laid a hoof on her side. “And try to picture somepony’s face on the boulder. Don’t think of it as a boulder, just think of it as Harbinger. Or somepony else. This is just the practice, so it’s natural if you can’t get angry properly.”

“Okay…” Much to her surprise, Twilight found that thoughts of what made her angry were ready to come to the surface when she pictured Harbinger in place of the boulder. Most prominently were thoughts of the uprising. As she thought on it, she realized how ridiculous and stupid the entire plan really was. They would imbalance so many things by making it permanently night time! Ecosystems would be destroyed without sunlight. Crops would suffer, markets would be a thing of the past, and worst of all, schedules would be shot! With no sun to tell them when it was daytime, the passing of seasons would fall by the wayside, and everypony’s psyche would suffer. Some ponies had to sleep during the night. Twilight was one of the rare few who could sleep satisfactorily during the daytime, when the sun was out and shining. Others couldn’t handle it. They required sleep during the night time, and could only be active during the day.

What’s more, Harbinger was a fool for ever thinking his plan could go over. What little she had gathered from other usurpers indicated some of them were forced into cooperation, under threat of physical harm, or worse, their families were threatened. While some were okay with the night and day reigning equal, it seemed Harbinger and his cronies had forced them to cooperate anyways.

Not to mention, it had been a long time since Twilight and Luna had made love! Every time she was in the mood, she would seek the princess out, but to no avail! Luna was almost always gone, or busy, or had some business to attend to, or simply couldn’t be found. Twilight hadn’t even taken the time to fix the problem on her own, but to her, going back to solitary stress relief seemed so… Tedious. She needed Luna to help her. Or at the very least, she felt like it… And who was Luna to say otherwise?

The boulder didn’t even stand a chance. With a rage-filled scream, Twilight’s horn erupted in a dark blast of pure energy. Her magic lanced through the air, cutting through the boulder in it’s entirety, and into the mountain beneath it. Growling and cursing everything that made her angry, Twilight’s magic crackled and screamed with it’s vicious intent, and didn’t stop until the boulder and the ground around it was reduced to nothing.

“Well, then…” Celestia and Luna both swooped inbetween Twilight and the boulder. “That’s enough.” Twilight stopped, her eyes snapping back to their original configuration. She blinked several times, but frowned at the two before her.

“Move.” She growled. “I’m not done.”

“The boulder’s gone, Twilight. There’s nothing more to destroy.”

“Bullshit! Move aside, I’m going to level this damn mountain!” Her horn glowed again, her own telekinetic grip intent on ripping another boulder from the mountain. Luna intervened, her horn glowing as the perfect counter to Twilight’s. She grunted and tried to force it, but for every ounce of pressure she put on the ground to rip it up, Luna put an equal amount down. Twilight gasped, her effort expended, though Luna hardly looked winded.

“Calm down, Twilight. That was just a test.” Celestia’s voice was soothing and low, and even though she didn’t want to, Twilight felt herself calming down. “Do you see what we mean now?” Celestia continued once the tension had left Twilight’s muscles. She panted through her open mouth, feeling winded and suddenly very weak. “Hatred and Anger can control you, turn you against your best friends or even your loved ones. That’s the other thing… You must train with Luna and I, because we believe nopony else could withstand the full brunt of your magic. Save for maybe Bastion, but he’s busy with the investigation… Twilight, you need to learn to control these emotions. See…” Celestia’s horn glowed, and Twilight felt the tingle of her magic close to her hooves. With a gasp, she jumped back, crunching crystals under her hooves.

“Wh-what?!” The dark red formations crumbled easily enough under her weight, but they resisted quite a bit more than they had previously. They were growing stronger. Celestia held in her magic a decent-sized chunk of crystal, the formation brittle and rough but still larger than before. It had to have been close to four inches long, and at least an inch wide. “Those are…”

“The same crystals that Sombra used to cover the Crystal Kingdom…” Celestia nodded. “They represent the excess hatred you use. Use too much of your magic, and these begin to form. The longer and more of your hatred and anger you pour into the object of your ire, the stronger and larger they become…” Celestia crushed the crystal between her hooves, frowning slightly as the shards left behind fell to the ground.

“I had no idea…” Twilight said softly. “I had so much hatred in me… I thought… I thought I had it under control.”

“Hey,” Luna stepped forward, pressing against Twilight’s neck gently. “That’s what the two of us are here for. To help you control it.” Twilight smiled despite the sudden fear inside of her, pressing closer against Luna’s warm form. “Our goal, as with teaching anypony else to control their anger, is to make it so you can use that magic and destroy your target, but without forming any crystals.”

“Okay.” Twilight nodded, though she couldn’t suppress the whimper that escaped. “I think I can do it…”

“Alright, then.” Luna pulled away just as her horn began to glow. Together, she and Celestia ripped another massive boulder from the ground, hoisting it into the air and setting it before her. “This time, Twilight, try to control it. Don’t be surprised if you fail, since this is your first attempt at controlling it. But try to destroy just this boulder. Nothing else.”

Twilight nodded once again, taking a deep breath as she focused her attention.

Just one mountain over in Canterlot, everypony could hear the echoing crack of power.

------------

“Hey,” Luna drew Twilight’s attention with a soft voice. She raised her weary head, casting a half-lidded gaze her way. “Do you have a moment?”

“I’m really tired…” Twilight said weakly. The practice session had gone on for hours, with Twilight destroying boulder after boulder, never once managing to cut down on the amount of crystals she produced. It was exhausting. Both princesses pushed her, urging her to do just one more, just one more. Finally, Twilight had collapsed. Luna herself had carried her on her back to the castle, and now Twilight was intent on reaching her bed.

“Just a moment is all,” Luna’s expression was pleading. Twilight couldn’t say no. She nodded and looked up at Luna expectantly, waiting for the princess. “Celestia mentioned when we began things that might make you angry… One of them was about, you know, us…” Twilight remembered. She blinked at Luna, nodding her head. “You’re not… Angry that we haven’t done anything, are you?” Twilight would be lying if she told herself the question didn’t take her by surprise. She opened her eyes the rest of the way, looking up at Luna’s worried expression seriously.

“Well… I mean, it’s annoying, yeah…” She felt the anger slowly surface once again, filling her weak muscles with just a little more strength. Enough to raise her head, at least. “But you know how after you have something so good, you can’t go back to what you had before… It’s kind of like that.” Luna’s frown deepened as she lowered her head, nodding sadly. “I just want another night with you is all, Luna… And this time, without having to wake up to an empty bed and a note.” Twilight managed to reach a hoof out, wrapping it loosely around Luna’s neck. “Is it too much to ask to make love to you one more time?”

Luna stepped forward into Twilight’s embrace, loosely wrapping her own foreleg around Twilight for a soft hug. It wasn’t anything sensual, or even meaningful… Twilight thought the hug could just as easily have been shared between her and one of her friends. But slowly, it turned into something more. Luna’s neck curled around her own, and she felt the princess inhale the scent of her mane. Twilight’s other leg looped around Luna’s neck, and she pressed herself tight enough that their chests were together now.

“I’m sorry, Twilight,” Luna whispered softly. “I don’t mean to push you away like that… I guess I’m still a little scared…”

“It’s okay, Luna.” Twilight said softly in return. “I just thought I’d let you know how I feel…”

“I understand.” Luna sniffed slightly, but when Twilight pulled away to look in her eyes, there were no tears. Just sadness. “Just… Give me a little more time? Okay?”

“Okay.” Twilight nodded, smiling bravely. It felt like the first smile she had given all day. “Take all the time you need, Luna… I just don’t want to lose you.”

“Nor I you, Twilight.” Luna pulled her close for another hug. “Please… Forgive me?”

“Of course,” Twilight breathed. The strength left her senses. If Luna hadn’t been there, Twilight would have collapsed. Her eyes closed against her will, and she slumped in Luna’s embrace. “I forgive you,” She managed to whisper before consciousness fled.

-----------

“Very good, Twilight!” Celestia called out over the roaring blast. Shards of the destroyed boulder skipped across the ground, but the mountainside was more or less left intact after her most recent attempt at destruction. “That’s brilliant! And look, no crystals!” Twilight glanced down at her hooves, then over her shoulder, and even up to the tip of her horn. No crystals had formed. She was finally beginning to control herself.

“Progress on the second day. You never cease to amaze me, Twilight.” Luna said softly, smiling down at her. Despite the rage and emotion that had just flowed through Twilight’s veins, she smiled. She actually felt rather happy for the praise. “We’ve instructed a few in the past, and they always struggle to control themselves at first. Some of them see an increase in crystal production. But you’ve managed to rein it in effectively. Come, let’s do another.” The day had really only just begun. This was the fifth boulder that Twilight had destroyed, though it was the first time she had avoided any crystals.

“Okay. I’m ready.” With another horrendous crack and a glimmer of magic, the princesses prepared another chunk of rock for her, and this time, Twilight’s focus was impeccable. Hooves spread and eyes alight with the dark glow of energy, Twilight blasted the rock into oblivion. The energy was so precise and spot on that not even a pebble remained. No shards of rock had bounced away, not even any dust had sifted. Where a boulder had once been, it was now gone. Twilight relaxed with a grin, and looked down at the ground. No crystals.

“Fantastic, Twilight. You’ve passed the first portion of our lessons.” Celestia approached her with a satisfied smile. The kind of smile that Twilight had always strived to give her. “Now, we need to move on to controlling your rising anger.” Twilight sat down and nodded, indicating that she was ready to advance.

“When you’re here, thinking of the things that make you angry, you’re actively bringing these emotions about in yourself. By yourself. With no outside input. While that might be a relatively effective way to bring about results, these lessons aren’t to teach you how to destroy boulders. They’re to teach you the proper way to handle your anger and your hatred when somepony or something else is making you that way. Take Harbinger for instance.” Luna nodded back towards Canterlot. “During the interview, he angered you, and you reacted. We need to make it so that no matter how angry somepony else makes you, you can control your emotions.” Twilight felt a sense of dread slowly settle over her. She didn’t like where this conversation was going.

“Are you… Implying that you two are going to make me angry?”

“Any way we can, Twilight.” Celestia nodded in confirmation. “We may subject you to illusions of things that might make you angry, or tell you things directly. For the first step, we just want you to handle them without reacting. For the second step, you’re going to try and reason with us. Calmly. Without letting our counter-arguments anger you.” Twilight frowned.

“I don’t like this idea…”

“It’s the only way, Twilight. We’re the only ones who can handle you if you get out of control again.” Luna appeared conflicted herself, like she didn’t want to intentionally anger Twilight.

“Before we begin,” Celestia continued. “I’d like to just let you know that the things Luna and I say, or the way we act, it’s just that. An act. You know we wouldn’t act that way, or say those things to you. This is just for the exercise. Do you understand.” Twilight nodded stoically, but didn’t say anything. She was loathe to think what lengths the princesses would go to just to teach her how to control her anger. Now, it seemed, she was about to experience one of them.

“Very well,” Luna sighed. “Let’s begin.”

Twilight swallowed and steeled herself. Though it seemed nothing would be able to withstand the onslaught of insults the two princesses began volleying at her. One right after the other, both Celestia and Luna began to chide her about her magic, her studies, her love life, her hygiene, or even her appearance. None of them were important or major to start. But soon enough, Celestia was talking about how she regretted ever letting Nocturnal Glow pick her to become Archmage. Luna was spitting insults about the way she tasted down there. They were doubting her ability to handle the stress of her position. How they were upset with Twilight for acting so brashly during the uprising.

Through it all, Twilight didn’t give any outward indication of anger. Inside, though, she felt the worst. The things the two princesses were saying to her made her sad. Depressed, even. Her heart beat fast with each new wave of angry, frothing comments. She felt tears begin to well up within her. But the sadness quickly changed to anger. She was not angry at what they were saying. She knew well enough that nothing they were spitting at her was of any consequence. They were just saying it to try and provoke her, so they could teach her a lesson.

That wasn’t what Twilight was getting angry at. She was getting angry at the situation. At her incompetence. At the princesses for doing this at all. Each new comment they made on her skill made her teeth grit harder. Every time Luna chided her sexual performance, she wanted to blast the mountainside to oblivion. It felt as if the heat was radiating from her body in waves, sifting through the air as she emanated pure anger. But she didn’t give any outward indication of being angry. She hardly even blinked.

“Twilight.” Luna said. The sudden, gentle utterance of her name nearly took her by surprise. She blinked and looked at Luna, who was smiling faintly. “You pass. Congratulations.” There was something behind her tone of voice, something akin to anxiety or maybe even fear. But it was far outweighed by the sense of relief and pride coming from her. She let the tension leave her muscles, her shoulders dropping slightly.

“Is that it?” She breathed.

“Yes. Luna and I will no longer try to provoke you.” Celestia confirmed. “Congratulations, Twilight. You’ve mastered your anger. I’m so proud of you.”

-----------

“She picked that up quickly…” Celestia sighed as she and Luna sat opposite one another in the warm lounge. “Almost too quickly…”

“I’m frightened, Celestia…” Luna said quietly, looking down at the table. “She… She didn’t react to anything we said. At all.”

“That should be a good thing.”

“But she didn’t even react when I told her I didn’t love her…”

“Did you mean it?”

“Of course not!” Luna looked appalled. “I love her very much! Why would you ever-“

“Because Twilight knows you love her. She knows we weren’t being serious. But you saw it. The muscles in her jaw, the way her tail would flick now and then… We were angering her, Luna. Very, very much so. Twilight controlled herself to magnificently well…” Celestia shook her head slowly, as if she were amazed. In truth, she really was. Twilight never ceased to astound both of them. “In two short days, she did what would take an average unicorn three for four weeks to accomplish.”

“I don’t know, Celestia… I feel so dirty for the things I said to her…”

“So go apologize.” Celestia shrugged and poured them both a cup of tea. “Or take a shower. Whatever you need to do.”

“Do you think she’d accept it?” Again, Celestia shrugged at her.

“How do I know? Powerful as I am, I cannot read another’s mind, or feel their emotions. There’s one way you can do that, and that’s by talking to her. Go and ask her how she feels about the lessons. Heavens forbid you help her relieve the stress.” Luna flinched slightly and frowned down at the table. Celestia set her tea on it’s saucer with a painfully audible clink. “Oh come on! Don’t tell me you’re still afraid!”

“Can you blame me?” Luna whimpered fearfully, staring intently at the table as she felt the heat rush to her cheeks. “Yes, I know it wasn’t my fault. Yes, I know Nightshade did what he did because he was a horrible pony who shouldn’t be forgiven. I know I’m being irrational in my fear to love Twilight… But, after reading the book, and knowing what we know, I…”

“Luna.” Celestia calmed her just by speaking her name. She looked up at her bigger sister with wide, tearful eyes. “Twilight has chosen the path of free will. Our knowledge of the book notwithstanding, that has allowed us to act similarly. If you love Twilight, you’re free to explore that love. Aah!” She raised a hoof, cutting Luna off as she opened her mouth to speak. “With or without the knowledge of the book.”

“But… I just don’t-“

“Twilight isn’t acting according to her prophecy.” Celestia sighed as she started to explain again. “In doing so, she’s changed the course of the prophecy itself. Now, she doesn’t know what her own future holds for her. She’s forging her own way into her destiny on her own terms. Tell me you don’t want to be a part of that.”

“No, I do, it’s just-“

“So do it!” Celestia huffed, rolling her eyes as if she were dealing with a teenage filly. “Love her! And be loved in return! Forget what the book says, Luna. Ignore the knowledge we have. If we’re going to let Twilight make her own destiny, that’s what we have to do for this to work. At least, that’s the easiest way… If we want to act like we’re constantly walking on eggshells around Twilight, then go ahead and do that.” She shook her head slowly. “I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to let her do as she pleases, and I choose to remain ignorant of the knowledge of the book. If I stress over every decision she makes, I might end up impacting them.”

“Oh… Oh, I see…” Luna muttered softly.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened, either… Luna, there are times when we must intervene directly to make prophecy happen. Other times, we must let destiny run it’s course, free of our knowledgeable interference.” Celestia lifted a hoof and tapped the table. “This is one of those times. We have to act as if we know nothing of the prophecy. Of Twilight’s destiny.”

“I see.” Luna repeated, sighing softly. “I just don’t like it…”

“I don’t see why not…” Celestia sipped at her tea calmly. “This means you’re free to do as you please with her. Just, do me a favor? Don’t tie her up?”

“I’m over that phase.” Luna sighed. “Long, long ago…”

“Good… I hated checking on you in your quarters only to find Nightshade plastered to the sheets with his hooves stretched out…” Luna blushed despite the embarrassment, smiling in memory.

“Well, it was fun…”

“No.”

“But…”

“Don’t even consider it.”

“What if she-“

“Stop.” Celestia raised a hoof, though there was a ghost of a smile on her lips. “No more. I don’t want to know any more than I already do about your sexual exploits with my student.”

“Our.” Luna muttered into her own cup of tea. “Our student.”

“Ugh. Even worse.” The two princesses looked at each other for a long while before bursting into laughter.

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Twilight woke the morning after her last lesson feeling moderately sore, but for the most part refreshed and relaxed. Celestia and Luna had tried to evoke the worse sort of emotional response from her and failed. She could keep her cool, even with some of the most privileged, horrific knowledge being thrown back into her face. She sincerely doubted anypony would ever even think to say some of the things to her that the princesses had. She would be safe controlling her anger from here on out.

“Hmm… Ngh!” She stretched out happily, smiling to herself as she rolled out of bed. As she went about her morning routine, she smiled to herself, feeling the sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that had seemingly been absent for a long, long time. It was a sense of accomplishment. Of progress. Bit by bit, Twilight was becoming the Archmage. As it stood, the only schools of magic left for her to learn were nature and the elements. Twilight knew a fair bit about both of them already, so it was just a matter of covering the formalities.

With an hour until she was required to help with the cycle, Twilight did a little research. The castle’s head greenskeeper was a knowledgeable unicorn who had held the position for close to forty years. He would probably be the best candidate to teach her the magic of nature. There were plenty of reference books on the subject of elemental magic, so Twilight felt confident she could teach herself. Then a thought struck her. Twilight pulled a copy of ’Equestrian Magic: A Preliminary Study’ from her shelf and leafed through the sections, mumbling to herself.

“Let’s see… Friendship, Love, Day and Night, Hatred, Anger, Nature, and Elemental…” She ticked each one off in her head, and then was struck with a sudden realization.

I only have two more schools of magic to learn.

Tender Loving Care

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Archmage Chapter 19 - “Tender Loving Care”

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Following her self-realization, Twilight became awfully cheerful. At the cycling of the sun and moon later that morning, both Celestia and Luna made passing remarks on her improved behavior.

“It’s nothing bad, Twilight,” Luna had to explain herself when directly confronted her on the admittedly odd behavior. “You just seem awfully happy…”

“Hmm… Why is that, do you think?” Twilight pondered out loud, tapping her chin with her hoof.

“I can speculate.” Celestia said quietly. “You might not like the implications, though…” Twilight gestured with a hoof anyways, smiling at her. “Well… My thought is this: When young foals are given their cutie marks, they’re incredibly happy. Right?”

“Of course.” She confirmed.

“Why is that?” Twilight blinked at the odd question. This was elementary knowledge.

“They’ve discovered their special talent. The thing that they’re good at, or most importantly, their purpose in life.”

“Right. Their purpose. Twilight, when you received your mark, you still felt somewhat unhappy. Did you not?” Twilight’s heart nearly stopped. She thought over it long and hard. Initially, she thought she was supposed to study magic. Studying sure made her happy. But even she suffered fatigue now and then. And studying the same subject for an extended period of time tended to make her cranky.

“I mean, after the initial rush, I guess you could say that…” Twilight muttered gently. “I… Would be happy studying for a while, but right around the time I discovered the legend of Nightmare Moon, I felt rather unfulfilled… Like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything with my life.”

“And then…”

“Then you sent me to Ponyville… I made friends, and I became rather happy, I guess…” Twilight furrowed her brow. Had she been happy? “I… Oh my goodness, I wasn’t… I wasn’t happy. Well, for a while I was… For three years. After that, I was just kind of going through the motions. Wake up, read, spend some time with friends, sleep, repeat…” Celestia nodded at her explanation and continued on.

“My hypothesis is this: you weren’t happy, because you technically weren’t fulfilling your purpose in life.” She nodded to Twilight’s cutie mark. “You weren’t the Archmage. Now, that you’re in the position your destiny says you would be, you’re finally becoming happy.” It made sense to Twilight. The previous few years living in Ponyville had been bland and unremarkable. She had felt unfulfilled. Bored. Now, though, she was living her life in an exciting environment. Day in and day out, there were problems to fix, or issues she needed to address. Ponies were mailing her questions on specific spells or requesting her input with one ceremony or another. She had started to sit in on committee meetings, just to learn the proper procedures. Passing unicorns in the hall would smile and address her as ‘Archmage.’ Every now and then, they would ask her for advice.

She was only two schools of magic away from being the most knowledgeable unicorn in existence. She was the Archmage, and she was very, very happy with herself.

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“Luna?” Twilight poked her head into the princess’ bedroom cautiously, peering about. “Are you here?” She had received the note just a few minutes ago, requesting she come to Luna’s room right away. Rushing more from curiosity than anything, Twilight had arrived in short order.

“In here, Twilight.” She followed Luna’s voice through the main library and bedroom into the adjoining kitchen. Much to her surprise, Luna was busy over a hot stove, using her magic to stir several steaming pots of food simultaneously. Twilight was assaulted with the mingled delicious smells, all of them making her mouth water like mad.

“What are you doing?” She asked incredulously. Twilight didn’t know Luna could cook. Why would she want to? The kitchen staff at the palace could make anything and everything at a moment’s notice, and was on standby the entire night. Luna could make one call to the kitchen and have a five-course meal ready in half an hour. Why would anypony ever want to cook in the palace? Twilight thought she had the kitchen in her quarters as more of a formality than anything else…

“I thought I’d cook us dinner tonight.” Luna smiled at her, lifting one of the wooden spoons out with a small helping of the stew inside. She hovered it close to Twilight’s lips, the hearty-looking liquid still steaming. “How does it taste?” Twilight hesitantly sipped at the broth, rolling Luna’s concoction about her tongue thoughtfully.

“Oh my goodness… I’m… I’m blown away. If you called me away from my books for this, then I can’t say I’m angry with you. Wow!” Luna chuckled and offered her another spoonful, which Twilight accepted eagerly.

“I figured we should… Ahem… Take some time to get to know one another a little more.” Twilight narrowed her eyes suspiciously, looking up at the princess.

“No joke?”

“No joke.” She smiled down at Twilight, nudging her with her hip. “I think I owe it to you.”

“I… Wouldn’t take it that far. But what brings this whole change about?” Twilight asked, leaning close to take a hearty sniff of the stew.

“I guess you could say I just got over my fear… I realize you might not be around forever, so I want to spend as much time as I can with you…” She leaned in and gave Twilight’s cheek a soft kiss, making her blush slightly. Luna was going to the trouble of cooking a meal for her, just to impress her. Twilight smiled slightly and nuzzled her neck, suddenly feeling rather bad for saying the things she had to Luna just two days ago.

“It smells delicious.”

“It’s almost ready. Do you want to set the table for us?”

“Sure.” Twilight grabbed two bowls, spoons, and all the necessities and began to set one of the tables in Luna’s library bedroom for them. There were already several candles lit on the table, so she didn’t need to go through the trouble of doing that herself. She nearly reprimanded herself for even thinking a candlelit dinner was okay. Twilight didn’t feel that way, did she? Candles at dinner were so cliché. It was almost painful. But still… She didn’t blow them out.

“Here we are.” Luna emerged from the kitchen with two steaming pots, smiling at Twilight as she set them on the table. “Hope you’re hungry… I made a lot.”

“Starved.” Twilight immediately began dishing both of them hearty portions, inhaling the sweet scent of stew. Luna was apparently quite the cook. She had made a potato stew with thick broth, chunks of broccoli, mushrooms, and diced cilantro. It had a creamy and thick texture, with enough body to fill her up, but it wasn’t bland or uninteresting. Twilight powered through her first bowl eagerly. The other was filled to the brim with full ears of cooked corn, which Twilight doused with butter, salt and pepper before eating long rows of in one bite.

“I haven’t had corn in a long time.” Twilight moaned, wiping the buttery mess from her mouth with a slightly embarrassed smile. “Where did you get it?”

“Imported from Trottingham. I had the kitchen buy some from the market just yesterday.” Luna munched at her own ear happily, and with quite a bit more poise than Twilight. Blushing, Twilight wiped at her lips before setting in on the second bowl of stew a little less eagerly.

“Thank you, Luna.” She said quietly.

“No big deal, Twilight. I’ve been wanting to cook for a while now.” Luna smiled and sipped at her stew. “The whole fiasco with the courts and the shields and all of that drew me off. Now, it seems things might calm down a little.” Twilight looked down at her own bowl of stew, pondering her words.

“Do you really think so?”

“Hmm?”

“That… Things are going to calm down now?” She sounded more hopeful than anything as her eyes met Luna’s. She was given a genuine smile and a gentle touch as Luna spoke quietly.

“I have the feeling that, with your help, Equestria will see the calmest and most peaceful time it’s ever known.” She sounded so sure. Twilight felt her heart beat faster at the gentle touch and the heartfelt words from Luna. She couldn’t stop herself as she leaned forward and eagerly pressed their lips together.

“Hmm…” Luna’s soft moan of approval spurred Twilight on. The kiss grew more intense, and Twilight could feel the very tip of Luna’s tongue peek out of her mouth. She broke away with a heavy breath, panting slightly as she looked up at Luna.

“Bed?”

“Bed.”

They nearly ran for the nearby four-poster, both of them stretching out languorously on the silken sheets. Twilight immediately tucked up against Luna’s chest, though her lips were far too busy kissing all the way up and down Luna’s neck. The princess shivered against Twilight, and she could feel the soft vibrations of another heated moan. It spurred her on again, her mouth opening to make her kisses a little more wet, a little more heated…

“Ooohh, Twilight…” Luna muttered softly. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted this…”

Oh yes I do… Twilight thought as her lips nipped at a soft portion of skin near Luna’s jaw. The princess wrapped her hooves around Twilight, drawing her hips tight. Twilight found her legs opening readily, the heat between her thighs almost too much to handle. Luna did nothing to assuage the fire in her crotch, but instead helped stoke it. She gingerly drew Twilight’s ear between her lips, rolling the sensitive flesh in a soft circle. Twilight gasped as the tingle of pleasure shot down her spine and directly into her marehood.

“L-luna!” She stuttered softly, blushing as Luna continued to tease her ear. “Th-that tickles. Aah!” Luna’s hoof slid low down Twilight’s back, settling just above the base of her tail and pulling her tight.

“I’ve wanted you for so long, Twilight…” Luna didn’t have to do anything more than breathe the words, her lips so tantalizingly close to Twilight’s ear. “All those weeks of nothing, I’m dying here… I want you so badly. Everywhere. Everyway. Please…” Twilight swallowed hard, her heart hammering in her chest as she softly nodded.

“Okay… We have all night.” Twilight moaned into Luna’s neck, shuddering slightly.

“Kiss me.” Luna muttered softly. It wasn’t a request as much of a command, or maybe a statement of intentions, since Luna quickly ducked her head down, mashing her lips tight against Twilight’s. The movement was so quick, so strong, Twilight couldn’t have stopped it even if she wanted to. The way Luna’s tongue immediately pushed into her mouth, pulsing and swirling like mad, Twilight couldn’t focus properly. She drew heavy, panting breaths through her nose, whimpering as Luna took absolute control.

“Mffh!” Twilight was suddenly sandwiched between the bed and Luna as the princess rolled on top. She stretched out, using Twilight’s open legs to her advantage. Twilight suddenly had a very firm knee rubbing against her sensitive parts, grinding hard enough to touch her pelvis. It was an intoxicating, torturous experience. Luna’s coat was soon slick with Twilight’s arousal, making the fine hairs slide against her marehood with incredible ease. She whimpered and panted, but couldn’t beg for more as Luna’s tongue was making for a very effective gag.

She didn’t have to beg, though, because Luna was of like mind. The kiss broke, leaving a shining strand of saliva between them, which Luna slowly trailed down the length of Twilight’s body. Her mind was in a haze. She hardly even realized what was happening until Luna’s ravenous mouth plastered tight to her crotch. Twilight’s back arched with a sudden gasp, and her senses were kicked into overdrive. Pleasure ripped through Twilight’s midsection, gripping her muscles in an iron hold and not letting go even a little. She shuddered and twitched as Luna’s tongue slid deep inside of her before pulling out to flick her clitoris rapidly.

“Aah! Hmm-nn! I’m, I’m-!” Twilight couldn’t stop it. After an untold amount of stress and too many days without relief, Twilight’s first orgasm was inevitable. Crying out with rapturous release, Twilight bucked her hips against Luna’s mouth and grunted in a very uncivilized manner. Relief, like a cool rainstorm, washed over her in waves. Her chest rose and fell as she drew breaths in through her nose, her vision swimming in the aftermath of what was possibly the best orgasm of her entire life.

“That was fast.” Luna teased, kissing Twilight’s stomach softly. She groaned and let her hooves fall to Luna’s mane, stroking the ephemeral strands with a gentle touch. At least, as gentle as she could manage with how badly she was shaking.

“You try going without for weeks on end.”

“You try going without for a thousand years.” Luna shot back in return. Twilight grimaced and let her head fall back down.

“Sorry…”

“Don’t be.” Luna smiled as she rose above Twilight, standing over the prostrate unicorn with a teasing smile. “I have you here to help me burn through all the stress.” Twilight blushed furiously as she looked up at Luna, her breathing finally returning to some semblance of normalcy.

“Can I?”

“Of course.” Luna immediately lay down on her side next to Twilight, smiling as they shared a quick, passionate kiss. Twilight could taste herself on Luna’s lips, the gentle muskiness only all too arousing for her. She switched roles with Luna, gingerly guiding the princess onto her back and kissing her way down her body. She left damp marks behind where her lips pressed into Luna’s chest and stomach, all the way down to the smooth dip before her hips. Luna groaned when Twilight put a fair amount of pressure into her stomach, and drew a hissing breath through her teeth as Twilight gave her a teasing nip.

“N… No teasing.” Luna whimpered, her hips squirming in the most seductive, teasing way. Twilight smiled up at her, kissing the gentle dip in her hips again.

“Hmm… You don’t like being teased, do you?” Twilight’s tone was a mix between curiosity and demure intent. Luna glanced down at her, blushing a little more. She was awfully cute when she blushed.

“No…” She whispered, her breath catching in her throat as Twilight kissed the very edge of her marehood. She could smell the faint scent of arousal already, the intoxicating musk nearly making her dive in then and there.

“Wonder why…” She continued teasing, moving down to Luna’s thigh. The princess groaned and rolled her head to the side, her chest rising and falling rapidly.

“Nightshade… Was an incorrigible tease.” She panted through Twilight’s continued teasing, though Twilight was listening intently. “He… Would do it relentlessly. With no end.”

“Hmmn, did you get upset?”

“Only teasingly, but yes… It seemed to spur him on, if anything.”

“Haahn… Did you do anything about it?” Luna’s sudden lack of movement made Twilight look up at her, at the wide grin she had on her face. Twilight was suddenly regretting her question.

“Oh, yes I did…” Time for another question she was going to regret.

“What… Did you do?”

“I showed him the true meaning of teasing.” Twilight swallowed, her bottom lip just barely brushing Luna’s damp marehood. Her inquisitive gaze spurred Luna into explaining. “I tied him up and made him watch while I pleasured myself.”

Twilight coughed out loud, grunting as she looked up at Luna with wide eyes. “You didn’t.” She choked, panting to recover her breath.

“I did. And I’ll do with you if you ever become like him.” Luna teased, her hips squirming again. “So you might want to get to it.” While Luna didn’t have to do much to spur Twilight into action, this made her take to her task with gusto. While she licked, though, Luna kept talking. “Though, I might- hmmn! Just do it anyways… It was -aaahh… Awfully fun-nnh!” Twilight dragged her tongue up the entirety of Luna’s flared marehood, her tongue sliding over the slick flesh with an intoxicating sort of ease. She moaned into Luna’s crotch, her tongue rapidly getting more and more wet with the combination of saliva and arousal present.

“Haahn… Mhff.” She moaned and started to alternate between long, pointed licks and sliding her tongue inside. Luna’s reaction was nothing short of pleasurable, and Twilight savored the taste that clung to her tongue. It wrapped itself into every little crevice, and Twilight felt like no matter how much saliva she worked up, no matter how many time she tried to suck the taste off, it wouldn’t leave. She loved it. She wanted more. Luna wanted more. Her hooves slid under Luna’s thighs and up onto her stomach, holding Twilight’s face closer as she delved deeper, pushed her tongue along the warm, slick surface of Luna’s most private area.

“Twilight,” Luna moaned, her head rolling back and forth slowly. “I’m really close…” Luna was quite the opposite from Twilight, in that she was at least coherent in the throes of lovemaking. Twilight would have been gasping and whimpering like a helpless foal at this point, or any point, since she was completely hopeless as a lover. But Luna was enjoying herself, probably just as much as Twilight was, so she kept on. Her tongue was restless, pulsing and twisting eagerly, folding in upon itself and poking about within her. Luna would gasp and moan, her back arching now and then, but steadily increasing in both volume and frequency.

“Twilight!” She finally gasped. “I’m… Hnn-AUGH!” With a very un-princesslike grunt, Luna lifted her shoulders up from the bed, her hooves gripping Twilight’s head and pulling it tight against her own pelvis. Twilight gave light, muffled groans as her mouth was suddenly filled with a vile-tasting liquid, almost completely dissimilar to the arousal she had tasted so far. At first, she wanted it gone. It was disgusting and almost made her gag. But soon after, it changed in consistency and flavor. Her tongue was soon wrapped in pleasantly musky, thin liquid, the kind that made her moan and lick harder.

“S-stop,” Luna pleaded with her, but she didn’t pull Twilight’s head away. “I’m… Ah! Ooh, no more! Twilight…” She didn’t really want to stop, but Luna’s pleading was beginning to grow desperate. “Twi… Twi, I’m gonna… I’m gonna cum again if you keep go… Go-ing!” Luna’s hooves shot into the sheets, her back arching as Twilight brushed over a certain spot deep within Luna. It was round, and actually felt somewhat solid. Twilight searched for it again, her curiosity out-weighing Luna’s whimpering. She found it, the very tip of her tongue pressing against the solid sphere a little more firmly. Luna cried out loud, her eyes clenching shut in response.

“Woah! What is that?” Twilight asked, looking up at Luna. Her tongue pulsed a little, the beginning of soreness. But Luna looked down at her with a half-lidded, glazed-over expression.

“Don’t. You dare. Stop.” She panted. Twilight grinned and delved back in, ignoring the dull ache in her muscles as she searched for the solid part again. “AUGH!” Luna gasped as Twilight found it again, her stomach twitching firmly. The spot had grown! Twilight wasn’t imagining things, the solid bit had actually grown in size, becoming easier to find. Now, her tongue was sliding around the outside, exploring just how large it was. If she had to guess, it was about an inch, maybe a little more in diameter.

“Hnn… Twilight, don’t stop. Please. I’m gonna cum again.” Luna panted, her eyes now firmly clenched shut. Twilight obliged willingly, her tongue circling the solid sphere several more times before pressing up into it firmly. Luna’s breathless gasp told Twilight she had climaxed once again, to say nothing of the way Luna’s muscles flexed around the invading tongue. Twilight moaned at the refreshed taste of release on her tongue, her hot breath washing out over Luna’s midsection. Twilight’s hooves rubbed gentle circles into Luna’s stomach, calming her down, relaxing the twitching muscles one by one.

“Oh goodness…” Luna moaned, her eyes still closed as her chest rose and fell with deep, smooth breaths. “That was… Incredible… Twilight, I… I…”

“Shh.” Twilight stood and straddled the princess, leaning her head in for a soft, passionate kiss. “Don’t talk… Not unless you’re going to tell me you love me.” Luna chuckled and nodded her head, returning the kiss with a deep breath inhaled through her nose.

“I love you, Twilight Sparkle. More than anything this world has to offer…” Twilight’s heart hammered in her chest as Luna spoke, her soft words striking a chord somewhere deep within her.

“I love you too, Luna… So much.” Twilight whispered back, her lips hovering just above Luna’s. “You’re so amazing, I don’t want to miss another minute without you…”

“Nor I you, Twilight.” Luna’s words came faster, more heartfelt as she reached up to pull Twilight closer. “I’ll spend every second I can by your side. I’ll never leave you again.” The next words she spoke made Twilight freeze. “Marry me.”

Her heart skipped a beat. Her mind raced. She felt her legs grow weak. Twilight managed to find the strength for one word and one word only.

“Yes.”

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“Archmage! Over here!” Twilight lifted her head to spot the frantically-waving unicorn across the interior garden. She smiled warmly and trotted over the lush grass to meet him.

“Gable. Nice to meet you at last.” Green Gables, or just Gable as the palace staff called him, was the palace’s lead greenskeeper. He was also the head of the committee opposing the movement for more buildings and unicorn superiority in Canterlot. He was a stocky unicorn, just a little bit shorter than Twilight herself, but with a brilliant yellow mane. He wore it long and free, the locks falling gracefully around a toned neck and muscular shoulders. His coat was a pale ochre color, which seemed to highlight the vibrant hue of his mane. He struck Twilight as the sort of unicorn that wasn’t a stranger to a hard day’s work, like many of the Canterlot elite seemed to be. His mark was a series of olive branches twined together, their leaves in full bloom and colored a dark, lush green.

“It’s an honor, Archmage, truly an honor.” He was eccentric, or as some would venture to call him, ‘twitchy.’ Twilight chuckled as he took her hoof and shook it vigorously, smiling stupidly the entire time.

“Just Twilight is fine. If I may call you Gable?”

“That’s what they all call me ‘round here, Arch- Twilight.” He corrected himself, chuckling nervously. Twilight fought the urge to tell him to relax. Luna had cautioned her about Gable, and his eccentricity. One just had to take it in stride, and try not to be put off by him.

“Thank you, Gable. Have you taught anypony before?”

“Hmm? Oh, yes! I teach the entire groundskeeping staff myself. Pegasi, earth ponies and unicorns alike. Some of the other unicorns don’t know the first thing about nature magic before they get on with the staff, while others already know a good deal. Either way, I’ve taught unicorns who are very, very good at magic, and others who aren’t very good at all. I think I know the right way to start with you.” He smiled confidently at her, bouncing a little on his hooves. “Do you want to get started right away?” Twilight smiled and nodded firmly.

“As soon as we can.”

“Right this way.” Gable turned and trotted off, spurring Twilight into a short gallop of her own to catch up. He spoke as they trotted through the garden, his tone steady and easy despite the somewhat rapid pace he kept. “The palace has a total of forty-seven gardens, each with an area ranging in size from forty-three square feet to eight hundred and ninety-three. The grounds are four square miles in size, and include the royal hedge maze, the fountains, the main lawn, and the ballroom courtyard.” He ducked into a side-passage, one that Twilight wasn’t entirely familiar with. She reminded herself that Gable was an employee with the palace first and foremost, and probably knew the inner hallways and ins and outs better than she did. She updated her mental map of the palace as he trotted along, squeezing past other bustling ponies. Some of them stared at her incredulously, like they were appalled that the Archmage would stoop so low to take the service corridors. Others just blinked once and went about their ways, though with a small smile on their lips.

“I supervise most of the major maintenance issues with plant life both in and around all the gardens. Each garden has their own attendant whose job is to know every last inch of the garden. This one here,” He emerged into a regular hallway before stepping out into another garden. “Is the one I am personally in charge of.” Twilight was stunned with what she saw. A small cobblestone path wound it’s way in a lazy pattern through the garden, meandering aimlessly through beds of vibrant flowers and among tall bushes. A small fountain gurgled happily near the far wall, cool clear water flowing from the spout and down a series of stone dishes into the basin at the bottom. Twilight could see two fish lazily circling one another in the basin.

The grass was lush and thick under her hooves, and she didn’t leave a print behind her when she followed Gable’s path. It sprung right back into place, leaving no trace of any passing. Gable continued to speak, explaining the garden specifically. “This is the fourth-largest garden in the castle, and is Celestia’s private haven. Other ponies are free to come and go, but she sometimes asks them to leave so she may have the garden to herself. During that time, nopony bothers her. She sits there at that bench, watches the fish, and thinks about how to run Equestria.” Gable slowed down a little, coming to a stop next to a beautiful rose bush. “There was a time when she would spend nearly every night here, looking up at the moon. I heard her once, by accident… She was signing a lullaby to Luna.” Gable sighed and shook his head.

“Sorry. I’m getting sidetracked. Magic. Right. Celestia has agreed to let me use this garden to instruct you over the course of however many days it takes for you to grasp the magic. You’re a powerful unicorn, and have a very comprehensive grasp on magic in general. So, aside from specific spell-forms and formulas, I’m only going to instruct you in the fundamentals. Sound okay?” Gable finally came to a stand-still, arching his eyebrows expectantly at Twilight. She smiled and nodded at him firmly.

“Perfect. Let’s begin.”

“Right. Do you love somepony?” Twilight nearly coughed.

“Wh-what?”

“Do you love somepony?” He repeated himself, tilting his head to the side slightly. “Seems like an easy question.” She frowned slightly at him.

“I do, but I fail to see how-“

“Good! This will be easier then. Because you love that pony, you want to see them flourish, right?” He cut her off, his eccentricity returning as he bounced slightly on his hooves.

“O-of course,” Twilight rolled with it, still frowning but answering his questions.

“The magic of nature is much like that. It’s a will to see things flourish and grow, to be prosperous and healthy. When things are sick, you want to make them better. When they grow old, you help ease their passing. When they’re young, you nurture and protect them, to help them be strong.” Twilight nodded as he finally got to the explanation. “You see, I have a certain love for all plant life… From the delicate Trottingham Fern to the malicious Everfree Rose, I can see the beauty and purpose behind much of anything that grows.” He gestured around to the garden, smiling to himself. “Gardenias, Tulips, Ferns, all of the plants in this garden I know like the back of my hoof. I know what purpose they serve, be it simple pollination or defense of the creatures that call it’s roots home, I’ve helped guide them. You see,” He gestured Twilight closer to the rose bush they stood next to. “This bush here is Everfree Rose. It’s thorns are tipped with a debilitating venom that causes lactic acid to build at extraordinary rates. If you’re pricked with this, walking a quarter of a mile will exhaust you beyond the capability to move.”

“Wow, really?” Twilight frowned and looked at the plant. The thorns were much larger than a regular rose bush, and had a slightly lighter hue to them.

“Mhm. That’s why the rose’s petals are so vibrant. Much like a snake is brightly colored to warn would-be predators of it’s deadly venom. It’s a beautiful bush, but predators use this to hunt down prey. What’s more, the rose emits an irresistible scent… Here,” Gable leaned in and sniffed deeply, moaning with a smile on his lips. Twilight mirrored him, giving a soft moan herself.

“It smells like… Like nothing I’ve ever smelled before.”

“To many vegetarians, it’s irresistible. To predators, the smell is noxious. They give it a wide berth, but will watch their prey eat the leaves, which carry the same poison the thorns do. They’ll pounce shortly after, and either take the exhausted prey there, or chase them down. Fascinating, isn’t it?” Twilight shuddered at the thought of being chased through the Everfree Forest by some timberwolf after eating a few petals of the admittedly delicious-smelling bush. She backed away slightly, suddenly very afraid.

“You see,” Gable smiled as he followed her. “Everything in nature has a purpose. Once you learn that purpose, you can better help the plant to grow and be healthy. Make sense?”

“Perfectly.” Twilight chuckled nervously.

“Nature magic isn’t just plants, though. It’s animals, too. Much of what I do is simply knowledge-based. I hear you’re good at studying, so I’ll recommend a few studies and books for you to brush up on, but for the most part, what we’ll be studying ourselves is just basic theory.”

“Sounds good.” Twilight grinned at the chance to study some more. Lately, she had found herself at a disappointing lack of material to study.

“Right then. Follow me.” He turned away and trotted through the grass towards the solitary tree in the middle of the garden. Underneath it was another stone bench that looked to have been there for a very, very long time. “This is the first tree ever planted in a Canterlot palace garden.” He laid a hoof on the trunk, smiling at Twilight as he gestured for her to mimic him. Twilight reached out to lay her own hoof on the trunk of the tree. “Close your eyes,” Gable said in a soothing voice. “And feel for the heartbeat of the tree… Listen to the sap flowing through it’s veins. Hear the wind sigh through the leaves and the branches…” Twilight did as he asked, her eyes closed as she focused on the bark beneath her hoof. At first, she felt nothing. Just the rough texture of bark and tree. But then something interesting happened.

“Oh. Oh!” Twilight’s brow furrowed, but her eyes remained closed. “It’s… It’s breathing.”

“You can feel it, then. See? It isn’t just earth ponies with a special connection to the living things around them. Feel the pulse of the tree, Twilight… Let it speak to you.” Twilight narrowed her focus, clearing her mind of distraction as she felt the tree beneath her. The soft sound of magic filled her ears, adding a beautiful undertone to the sound of the wind through the trees. She breathed in time with it, her chest rising and falling slowly. In and out.

“It’s old.” Twilight said softly. “It’s very old, and very sick…”

“You’re right. What’s wrong with the tree, Twilight?”

“It’s dying… Old age.” She opened her eyes, looking at Gable with a worried expression. “You weren’t kidding when you said this tree was thousands of years old… How could it have lived so long?”

“The princesses, the greenskeepers, myself… We’ve all fought to keep this tree healthy and alive. Alas, I fear it’s time has come… This is the last bloom we’ll ever see…” Twilight looked up at the branches of the wide old oak, frowning as she noticed then that many of them were barren and shriveled. It still had a fair amount of it’s leaves, but close to half of the branches were dead.

“How… How do you go about this?” Twilight asked quietly.

“Like this. Follow my lead, Twilight.” Gable and Twilight backed away from the tree. His horn began to glow with a pale blue aura, the scintillating sound sending a shiver down her spine. She followed his energy, matching the output and formulas as he spoke them to her. Together, their magic reached out to the tree. She watched as the blue and lavender fingers of magic slid over the trunk and branches. Before her very eyes, the tree shriveled away into nothing, it’s branches dropping and disappearing into the soil. The whole display nearly made her cry. It was awfully sad, watching a tree die. Beside her, Gable seemed to be going through the same thing. As she glanced at him, she saw a tear sliding down his cheek.

“It’s done,” Gable stood up after they were finished. Where the tree had once stood was now flat ground and a stone bench. “But go stand on the spot.” He wiped a hoof over his eyes, sniffling slightly. Twilight gave him a moment to collect himself as she went to stand in the lush grass where the tree had been just a few short moments ago. It was an awfully humbling experience. She was standing in the spot where some living thing had previously stood against the test of time for longer than she would ever draw breath on Equestria. This space had been inviolate since before Luna had been sent to the moon. Before Ponyville had been founded. Now, she stood there, with nothing to stop her.

“Just like you did with the tree.” Gable nearly startled her as he stepped up to her side. “Feel the ground, Twilight.” She flushed a little and nodded before focusing on the ground beneath her hooves. At first, she felt nothing, just the soft texture of grass and firm ground. But then something brushed at her… A soft, small filament of nothing. Almost like a strand of spider silk touching your face as you walked down the hall. She nearly jumped, but soon grasped at it, seeking the source.

“Woah…”

“Say hello to your tree, Twilight.” Gable smiled as she opened her eyes at him. “Your test from me is this: Give this new tree a strong foundation, firm roots, and a healthy start. If you can do that, I will train you in nature magic. Provided you pass this, I will happily hand over my spot on the committee.” Twilight swallowed hard before smiling at him.

“Thank you, Gable. I appreciate it very much.”

“Here’s the thing, Twilight. You will not be an expert at nature magic. Being an expert takes a long, long time. Years. Much of it is knowledge, and quite a bit is just plain experience with the way things work. If you can do this.” He pointed to the roots. “You will have proven yourself to only have the ability. Which is enough for me to relinquish my spot on the committee. But you will not be a master for a very long time to come. With or without my help. Do you understand?” Twilight mulled his words over for a long while, thinking on what he said.

“So... If I fail this, it isn’t the end?”

“No it is not. It’s my duty to help you, Twilight. Pass or fail, I will help you learn the magic of nature. But.” He strode up next to her, nodding at the ground beneath her hooves. “Pass now, and I can fast-track you. Make it so you learn the magic faster than anypony I’ve ever taught before.”

Twilight grinned at him.

“Sounds like a deal.”

Friendships and Flora

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Archmage Chapter 20 – Friendships and Flora

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Twilight did not abandon her duties in order to tend to the tree, but she did cut back wherever she could. A few committee meetings were respectfully rescheduled, and she dodged quite a few others. She also cancelled all of her minor plans. For instance, she had planned to read ‘The Life and Times of Starswirl the Bearded’ for the fourteenth time, but instead went to go water the tree and read up on the flora of the gryphon territories. Little things like that, which would be deemed important for her to do on any normal day, she would completely ignore in favor of the tree.

Twilight would spend hours at a time just standing on the ground above the seed, her horn glowing as she fought to feel the whispers of power, the telltale sign of life from below. Each soft caress of magic would send a chill down her spine. She could feel the quiet breath of the tree as it started to go about its normal routine, breaking free of it’s hard shell, reaching out into the soil around it. She could feel the whisper of it’s life, just beginning.

Still, she was present for every cycle of the sun and moon and major committee meeting. When she woke on the morning of Saturday, February 15th, the first thing she saw was her calendar. The day was circled. In red. Twilight jolted upright and dashed over to it, her mind racing as she fought to think of what she had planned.

With a sigh, she realized it was the meeting with her friends. She had cleared her schedule that day to make sure she could be with them. Smiling happily, she made a note of the time and went to prepare for the day. After her shower and regular routine, she went to go check on the tree. To her surprise, Gable was waiting in Celestia’s garden. He smiled when she rounded the corner.

“Good morning, Archmage.” He greeted her cheerily as she crossed the cobblestone steps.

“Good morning, Gable. I trust everything is alright?”

“Just fine, thank you. Though I did have a matter I wished to discuss with you.” She furrowed her brow but nodded, indicating he should continue. “I noticed you’ve been spending a lot of time tending to the tree. Here, in the garden.” He gestured around them, and Twilight’s gaze flickered to the spot where her tree was growing. “I thought I should let you know that, as a career gardener, it’s nice to have a passion for what you’re doing. But the more time you spend with your mane in the plants and the less time you spend in the garden, the more stressed you’ll become. Do you understand?”

“You’re saying I’m working too hard.” Twilight frowned as Gable nodded at her.

“Just that you should take it easy. The magic of nature involves tending and caring for plants and animals… Not smothering them like a vine.” His horn glowed as he plucked one such vine from among the nearby rosebush He held it between them, talking as the vine rotated lazily in midair. “Spend too much time with your plant, Twilight, and you may end up doing more harm than good. Believe me, that’s not something you want to happen…” His own gaze flickered to the spot of her tree, and his words struck a chord within her. She suddenly realized she had been spending perhaps too much time tending to the tree.

“Okay, Gable. Thank you.” She sighed and hung her head, turning to leave.

“Twilight.” Gable said softly, stopping her. “I’m not saying you can’t spend time here. In fact, that may be just what you need. Take a walk around the bushes. Sit by the fountain. Soak up some sunlight.”

“Thanks, Gable… But I think I’d rather spend time elsewhere, if that’s the case.” She raised her head, smiling up at the brilliant blue sky. “Besides. I have somewhere to be.”

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“Twilight! What a pleasant surprise! Come in, darling, come in!” Rarity greeted her at the door, positively brimming with energy as she ushered Twilight inside.

“I hope I’m not too early.”

“Well, I can hardly say you’re within the realm of ‘fashionable,’ but it’s no big deal. How have you been?” Rarity wrapped her in a warm hug, which made Twilight smile from the bottom of her heart. She returned it readily.

“I’m doing well, Rarity. Thank you.”

“Tea? Are you hungry at all?” Rarity slipped away, smiling at Twilight as she made her way up the nearby staircase. Twilight followed happily, nodding as she felt her stomach grumble.

“I could stand to eat, if it isn’t any trouble.”

“None at all! Come, sit down. I’ll have something prepared in just a moment.” Rarity bubbled as she deposited Twilight at the kitchen table, her horn glowing as she started pulling various ingredients out of the cupboards and cabinets, along with all the cookware she needed. Twilight was speechless, watching Rarity bustle about making what was shaping up to be a very delicious-looking meal. Her mouth watered at the incredible scents wafting past her nose.

“Rarity, when did you become such a good cook?”

“Hmm? I don’t know what you mean. I’ve always been able to cook well.” Rarity dismissed her, though Twilight didn’t miss the blush on her cheeks. Just as she opened her mouth to address the point, Rarity cut her off. “Have you seen Cross Stitch?”

“Right here.” The aforementioned pony pushed into the kitchen, lugging several packages.

“Oh good! I need those onions.” Rarity plucked a particularly plump one off the top, leaving Cross Stitch behind as she trotted to the cutting board.

“Yeah, thanks.” He grumbled, hoisting his burden higher.

“Here. Let me help with those.” Twilight smiled and lifted half the load with her magic, setting them on the countertop nearby. Cross Stitch smiled at her thankfully before depositing the rest.

“Thanks, Twilight. How you been?” He asked, wiping a hoof across his forehead.

“Oh. You know. Learning magic. Shaping the future of Equestria day by day. The usual.” Twilight joked, smiling at Cross Stitch’s shocked expression.

“Well then,” He poured himself a glass of milk and joined her at the table. “How about you and Luna?”

“Stitch!” Rarity spun around, glaring at him. “That’s highly improper!”

“What? It’s on my mind, so I asked.” He shrugged it off, looking back at Twilight as Rarity harrumphed at him. “Well?”

“We’re doing just fine, Cross Stitch.” Twilight smiled, remembering that she hadn’t informed him of their progress. “The whole… Night magic thing. It went over well, and Luna and I are… Well, we’re actually kind of steady.” Twilight caught herself, realizing that she nearly blew the lid off of their engagement. When she remembered just the soft, whispered words she and Luna shared in bed, their promise to one another, it made her smile.

“Well I’ll be.” Cross Stitch sighed. “I never thought anypony could have a regular relationship with a princess…”

“You weren’t there for my brother’s wedding, were you?” Twilight asked, chuckling when Cross Stitch blinked.

“Oh yeah… I guess I forgot…”

“It’s not uncommon, Cross Stitch.” Rarity chimed in over the sizzling pan on the stove. “There have been whispers and rumors since… Well, since forever, about the romantic interests of the princesses. It seems that Princess Celestia is more or less… Independent. And as for Princess Luna… Well…” Rarity smiled knowingly at Twilight, who blushed despite herself.

“I’m glad you two have such a healthy interest in my love life.” Twilight mumbled with a roll of her eyes.

“Don’t get the wrong idea, Twilight… I just thought I’d ask, since it seems we left one another on such bad terms last time we met.” Twilight grimaced in remembrance of the last time she and Cross Stitch had talked. It was right here, at this table, and he had been less than pleased with her interest in the princess of the night.

“I hope you don’t feel the same way now…?” Twilight asked softly, leaning in towards him. Cross Stitch looked at her blankly for a few seconds before smiling at last.

“I’m not angry at all, Twilight. If anything, I’m happy for you. It seems you’re happy. I’d assume that she is as well.” Twilight smiled and reached across the table to lay her hoof atop his, smiling warmly. They held the look for a few moments before Rarity swept between them with three plates filled to the brim.

“Hash browns, eggs garnished with onions, green peppers, cheese and just a dash of seasoning, toast, and fresh greens.” Rarity beamed as she set the plates down before them. Twilight blinked at the veritable feast.

“Okay, Rarity… No more secrets. Who’s been teaching you to cook?”

“Why, nopony!” Rarity looked hurt. “I taught myself!”

“She’s nesting.” Cross Stitch grumbled before setting in on his own plate of food. Rarity sputtered into her drink.

“I am not!” Rarity flustered, shooting him an incredulous look. Twilight blinked between them.

“That’s right. You two are engaged, aren’t you?” Rarity and Cross Stitch glanced at her for a moment before sharing a sympathetic look.

“We are.” Rarity admitted. “I guess I am nesting a little… Aren’t I?”

“A little.” Cross Stitch chuckled. He jumped as Rarity aimed a kick at his knee. “Ouch.”

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“Howdy, y’all!” Applejack beamed wide as she pushed through the door. Twilight grinned as she wrapped the farmer pony in a warm hug, to be joined just a short while later by Rarity. The three of them hugged long and hard, happy to see one another after so long. “How’s things goin’ here in the big city?”

“Oh Applejack…” Twilight sighed tiredly. “ So much has happened, and I have so much to tell you...”

“Uh oh. Well, Fluttershy ain’t too far behind me, and Dash and Pinkie Pie can’t be too far either. Why don’tchya wait fer them b’fore y’all tell us?” Applejack rested a hoof on her side, making her smile bravely. True to her word, Applejack preceded Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie by only a few minutes. Fluttershy’s conservative hug was still heartwarming, and Pinkie Pie’s boisterous greeting was nothing short of eccentric. Lastly, Rainbow Dash came in, looking just as sleek and lean as ever.

“Mah goodness…” Applejack said softly once all six of them were seated around Rarity’s dining room table. “Y’all realize… This is th’ first time all six of us have been together in…”

“Months.” Twilight answered, heaving a soft sigh. “Since I was named Archmage.”

“She’s right.” Fluttershy said softly. “It’s been too long.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” There was a moment of silence between all of them as they recollected the past few months apart, how difficult it had been to be apart from one another. Twilight felt a profound ache in her breast at the thought, her gaze suddenly fixed on the tea before her. She had to shake herself from the sad thought, smiling up at the group before her.

“Let’s not focus on it.” They all looked up at her, smiling hopefully. “We’re all here now, and what matters is making the best out of this night.”

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The night was easily one of the most memorable ones in Twilight’s entire life. She spent hours talking, laughing, and joking with her friends. It was such a great reprieve from the recent string of depressing events, a wonderful breather. Cross Stitch had made himself scarce, so it felt not unlike any other day with her friends that she might have spent long, long ago.

Now, though, the night was starting to wind down. Fluttershy was yawning, and the gesture was infectious. Even Rainbow Dash appeared to be flagging. Twilight finished the last of the Sweet Apple Acres cider and stood. “I think it’s time, girls.” She sighed. Everypony in the room nodded, including Rarity.

“You’re more than welcome to stay here tonight, Twilight. I have plenty of room for… Well, all of you.”

“I’d love to, believe me.” Twilight smiled. “But I’m afraid I have something to take care of…” She had to at least check on the tree before the night was out, and something she had found in a bundle of notes the other day was bugging her... Not to mention, she should probably get some rest, since she was due to check on the shields in two days. It would be her first time alone. Twilight was both excited and frightened at the thought.

“Well, I don’t mean to impose or anything darling...” Rarity drew her attention back to her friends, and she cocked her head curiously. “But we were looking at making this a... Regular get-together.” Twilight couldn’t help the silly smile that spread across her face.

“That would be incredible. Count me in.” Rarity wrapped her in a warm hug, and was soon joined by the others. Twilight’s lips seemed to be temporarily fixed in a happy smile as her friends embraced her, all of them pressing close for a few heartfelt, warm moments. When it was over, they all grinned at one another one last time and said their goodbyes.

As Twilight stepped into the chilly Canterlot air, she held her head high.

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Twilight doubled her efforts learning nature magic. She didn’t spend quite as much time tending to the young seed, the budding tree… But she read twice as much. Each book she could find on the subject of nature magic and life in general made it’s way to her reading list, and soon after to her desktop. She was averaging two books a day, and some days would read as many as four.

It wasn’t long, however, before she began to draw worried looks from the few ponies close to her. Most prominently, her fiance’. Twilight couldn’t fight the blush that crept onto her cheeks each time she caught a stray glance from Luna, or stole a quick kiss, all of it fueled by the heart-pounding thought of being actually engaged. One night, Luna took her by surprise.

“You’re working hard.” Luna said softly. Twilight blinked up at her, looking away from the current book on Gryphon-territory trees. She rubbed a hoof to the bridge of her nose and checked the time as well. It was nearly three in the morning. Last she checked, it was just before nine.

“Gable says much of nature magic isn’t individual skill or power… But it’s more about knowledge and experience. Experience takes time, so I have to work on building my knowledge base.”

“There’s a difference between working and over-working, Twilight.” Luna’s soft nuzzle melted Twilight down, made her knees weak as she felt Luna press closer. “You ought to take a break.”

“Maybe…” Twilight grumbled, pressing her face into Luna’s neck gently. “Just… Let me check on the seed once more?”

“Twilight,” Luna pulled away and rested a hoof on her cheek, looking deep into Twilight’s eyes. “I’ve been missing you for almost a week now… I know you’re worried about taking Gable’s position, but you need to focus on some other aspects of your life.” She kissed Twilight gently, stealing her breath away. Twilight felt the strength leave her knees, and she realized then how exhausted she was.

“Okay.” She whimpered gently. “Okay. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize,” Luna whispered as her lips brushed Twilight’s ear. “Make it up to me.”

Twilight chuckled and pressed her lips against Luna’s jawline, brushing over the small batch of hairs that she knew would set the princess off. Luna whimpered and pulled Twilight closer, her hooves sliding down Twilight’s back to the joint of her tail where it met her back. Twilight released a gentle yelp, making Luna grin as she nodded towards the nearby door.

“Shall we move to bed?”

“Yes. Please.” Twilight led the two of them to the bed, slowly slipping up onto the sheets. Luna followed after, smiling to herself. Her lips found Twilight’s once more, pressing firmly together as her hooves slid down Twilight’s body.

“Is there anything you want me to do…?” Luna whispered, her lips kissing down Twilight’s front. She got no reply. “Hmm?” She kissed Twilight’s chest. “Twilight?”

Twilight’s eyes were already closed, her chest rising and falling smoothly. As Luna watched, she started to snore.

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Twilight woke late into the morning, close to noon if anything. She moaned as she lifted her head, looking across her room to the soft silhouette of Luna. “Oh no…” She groaned, remembering back to the night prior.

“Yes, before you ask, you did fall asleep on me.” Luna didn’t sound upset, so Twilight relaxed a little. But that didn’t stop her from feeling horrible.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.” Luna said gently, crossing the floor to kiss Twilight’s cheek. “If anything, it just proves my point. You need to take a break.”

“I know.” Twilight groaned, wrapping her forelegs around Luna’s neck. “I’ll… I’ll take a break. I promise.” The meeting just a few days ago with her friends had been just the breather that Twilight needed, but she had pushed herself harder than before after she left. She hadn’t thought of how that might have affected Luna. With a soft sigh, she pulled away and smiled at Luna.

“Okay. How about you stay with me in my room for a few days?” Luna’s suggestion made Twilight’s heart hammer. She couldn’t fight the grin that spread across her lips. “We could stock up on food, call off the committee meetings, and just…”

“Make love?” Twilight teased, leaning forward to kiss Luna’s cheek.

“Well... Yes.” Luna smiled back at her, nodding towards the door. “Just for a day or two. Just so I can have you to myself.”

“That sounds incredible…” Twilight sighed, nodding her acquiescence. “I’ll make a note to the Sunrise Committee, and ask Night Dancer and Warden to cover for me…”

“Already done.” Luna cut her off. “I asked them this morning, when they covered for your absence. It seems the two of them rather enjoy assisting Celestia and I.” Twilight grimaced but nodded softly.

“Okay. Thank you.” She was loathe to hand over responsibility so readily, to say that she was weak and unable to shoulder the burden of the position. But she needed a break. Any way she looked at it, she needed to relax and unwind. If only for a day, it’s what she needed. “Just one thing.”

“Hmm.” Luna mumbled, her lips preoccupied with kissing Twilight’s neck.

“Let me check the tree. One last time.” Luna sighed but nodded.

“One last time. Then you get your tail straight to my quarters. Understood?” Twilight chuckled at the light, teasing tone.

“I understand. It won’t take me long.” She rolled out from under Luna and slid off the bed, trotting off happily.

She made her way to Celestia’s garden surreptitiously, moving fast and quietly. She met only two servants, both of whom bowed and greeted her as she past. Upon arriving, Twilight smiled as she approached the spot where her tree was growing. Happily, she closed her eyes and let her magic penetrate the ground beneath her.

She felt nothing. Panic set in. She probed deeper, feeling around for the seed. It was there, it had to be, in one form or another. Twilight clenched her eyes and focused harder. “Oh no, oh no, oh no…” She closed her eyes and shook with the force of concentrating on the ground. Her horn began to glow as she reached out, searching for the seed, hoping against hope it was still alive…

“There!” With a gasp, Twilight found the object of her focus, her horn pulsing as she sent out waves of energy to the seed nestled in the soil. Her thoughts raced, trying to think of what to do. Gable’s words came to her.

It’s a will to see things flourish and grow, to be prosperous and healthy.

Tears build up behind her eyes as she lay down on the grass, touching her horn to the ground where the seed lay buried.

Live. Take root and grow strong, little seed. I want you to live. Her magic flooded the ground, filling the air with the sound of her energy.

Don’t give up. Never quit. Break free of your shell and spread your roots far and wide.

The seed was fading. Little by little, the soft tendril of life she felt was withdrawing back into the soil, slipping away.

NO! Don’t stop! Don’t give up! Keep growing! You can do it! Twilight’s eyes were clenched so hard tears began to seep out, falling to the ground beneath her, even as she intensified her magic. Despite her efforts, the seed kept fading. It was nearly gone. Twilight sobbed as she buried her horn into the ground.

LIVE!

Synthesis

View Online

Archmage - Chapter 21 “Synthesis”

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“Princess!”

“Gah! What?!” Luna momentarily forgot her royal standing as the guard burst through the door to her chamber. She had been expecting Twilight, and the sudden intrusion of the guard made her fluster uncontrollably. Her magic quickly threw the sheets back over the bed that she had been setting, and she glared at the intruding guard, trying hard to get her blush to fade.

“Come quickly! Gable sent me, he said it was urgent!” Indecency forgotten, Luna scrambled to catch up with the guard, her heart hammering in her chest as she galloped after him. Why would Gable be summoning her at this odd hour? And with such rotten timing! She had been expecting Twilight back any moment so that they could spend a few days together alone. Such was the life of a princess, she chastised herself while catching up with the guard. He led her down the hall and out onto a balcony, leaping into the air and spreading his own wings. Luna followed after without a moment’s hesitation, her own wings spreading wide to take the night air in stride. They both wheeled wide, coming around back to the castle. Luna’s heart hammered even more when she realized the guard was leading her towards the same garden Twilight had been spending so much of her time in.

“Gable.” Luna addressed the greenskeeper as she landed, her wings fluttering as she tucked them back against her body. “What’s the occasion?”

“Look.” The unicorn lifted a hoof to point off a ways, his expression a mixture of concern and… Was that reverence? Luna looked at him curiously for a few moments before following his hoof.

“Twilight!” With a gasp, Luna rushed forward, skidding to a halt over her prone lover. Twilight’s chest rose and fell slowly, smoothly. She was alive, just unconscious. Luna laid a hoof on her neck, gently shaking Twilight. “Twilight, wake up. Come on.”

“She won’t wake up any time soon, princess.” Gable approached her slowly, speaking even. “She’s exhausted. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anypony use that much magic.” He stood at her side, both of them looking down at the slumbering Twilight with frowns of curiosity. “There. Between her hooves.” Luna leaned in and gingerly lifted one of Twilight’s forelegs away, revealing a tiny, small sapling. “She did it.” Luna breathed a soft sigh of relief.

“Thank the stars…”

“She shouldn’t have, though.” Gable said quietly. His expression was very serious. Luna glanced at him with an arched eyebrow.

“How do you mean?”

“The tree was doomed to die from the start. I made it so. I wanted Twilight to know the taste of failure, to know that not everything she’s going to do in this particular branch of magic is going to work out to her advantage… I guess she wanted to prove me wrong no matter what.”

“Are you saying… You tried to sabotage her lesson?” Luna asked in a hushed tone.

“Not sabotage. Enhance. I didn’t get where I was without letting a few plants die in my day, Princess. Twilight needs to know that there are some plants that just plain can’t grow. However, she’s just proven me wrong.” He shook his head and turned away. “She’s skilled, princess. With the proper knowledge, she might surpass me someday very soon. Sooner than I’d care to think about.” Luna frowned at his serious tone, but remained silent as he started to walk away.

“I’ll teach Twilight what I know, and she should be more than ready to accept my position on the council. Congratulations, Princess. Your Archmage is on her way to learning everything she needs to know.”

My Archmage?” Luna rose her head, her expression borderline annoyed.

“I see the way you look at her, Princess.” Gable spoke over his shoulder with a lazy drawl, very uncharacteristic of the normally-eccentric gardener. “Just remember to invite me to the reception. I’ll be happy to arrange the bouquet for your ceremony, as well…”

“I- hey!” Gable disappeared behind a hedge, leaving Luna alone with Twilight, who shifted slightly in her exhausted slumber. Luna sighed and hung her head. “Bugger.”

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“Mnn…” Twilight rose her head slowly, peering about at her surroundings with a bleary expression. “Wha…”

“You collapsed after bringing the tree back to life.” Luna’s voice stirred her from her slumber even more, and Twilight blinked the sleep away as Luna strode up to the edge of the bed. “You’ve been asleep for almost a whole day.” Twilight sat up at last, holding a hoof to her fuzzy head. “I don’t… What happened?” Luna smiled at her before nudging her neck with her muzzle. “Lay down, Twilight. Relax. You’re okay.” Twilight obliged with a groan, falling to her side and looking up at Luna with a slight blush on her face.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. Gable seems to think you performed admirably. He’s offered to let you take his council position, with a little instruction, of course.” Twilight sat back up, suddenly very awake.

“R-really?!”

“Of course.” Luna smiled at her. “He was impressed with your efforts in keeping the tree alive. In fact, the entirety of the lesson was designed to make you fail. You’ve managed to keep something alive that wasn’t supposed to live.” Luna nuzzled Twilight’s neck affectionately, smiling as Twilight shuddered at the soft touch. “I’m proud of you, Twilight.”

“Th-thanks,” Twilight muttered with a blush.There was something about it, the way Luna praised her seemed so much more meaningful than when it came from anypony else. Praise from Luna was possibly the sweetest thing she had ever experienced. She returned Luna’s soft nuzzle with a smile, trying to reign in the welling sensation of pride in her chest. Luna cut it off with a warm kiss, the kind that forced Twilight’s eyes to close and her breathing to jump. It stretched on for a few long moments, and Twilight didn’t even notice when Luna slid up onto the bed with her. The reassuring warmth of her lover, nay, her fiance’, pressed up against her. Twilight shuddered and opened her lips to the kiss, granting Luna’s tongue passage into her mouth.

“Don’t forget,” Luna pulled away with a breathy gasp, smiling as she rested her forehead against Twilight’s. “You’re mine for the next two days.”

Twilight shuddered at the thought.

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“Aah. Archmage. Glad you could make it.” Gable lifted his head as she entered the chamber, greeted by half a dozen members of the green keeping staff, and approximately ten other ponies she didn’t know. “Welcome to the Canterlot Preservation Committee. I’m glad you could finally join us.”

“It’s my pleasure, Gable. I figured for today, I would just observe? See how things are run around here?” She asked, looking about at the sixteen ponies smiling at her. Several of them looked starstruck. The others were all smiling and nodding their agreement.

“I see no reason why not. This is a progressive thing, so I’m fine with you watching this time. Though next meeting, I’d hope you would take a more active role?”

“Tell you what. If I feel comfortable contributing, I’ll jump in. That sound okay?”

“Sounds fine. Now then. I call this meeting to order at seven-forty.”

“I second.”

“Any opposed?” Twilight heard the resounding call of ‘nay’ go about the room. “Very well, meeting is in session at seven-forty. Our first order of business, as always, is to address the encroaching city limits and new buildings on our parks and woods. The Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot has issued us an ultimatum, Mares and Gentlecolts.” Gable lifted his head and with it, a document onto the table. He read from it directly.

”The Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot is issuing a notice of ultimatum to the Canterlot Preservation Committee, and it’s terms are as such: The Preservation Committee must issue a counter-demand satisfactory to the Greater Canterlot Council, detailing adequate plans for preservation of any and all flora and fauna within Canterlot city limits throughout any proposed expansion plans to be executed for a period of time to be decided upon at the next Greater Canterlot Council meeting.” He closed the document and sighed.

“Essentially, they want us to come up with a plan to protect plant life throughout any building projects that might take place, present or future… While I had originally planned on drafting this plan, they are pushing me to make it sooner rather than later. I fear I might not be ready to present it to the council by the time they want it to be ready.” One of the other committee members spoke out, lifting her hoof to gain attention.

“What is their counter-proposal? A notice of ultimatum can’t be issued without one…”

“Let’s see…” Gable unfolded the document one more time, looking it over with a serious expression. “Aah. Here we are. Failure to submit a satisfactory plan, or failure to submit a plan at all will result in the immediate and final dismissal of the Canterlot Preservation Committee, to be rectified only by a nine-tenths majority vote of the Greater Canterlot Council, and after a period of…” Gable paled obviously as he whispered the next words. “Twenty-five years…”

“That’s not right.” Twilight spoke up automatically. “Twenty-five years is much too long to disband a committee. No more than a year should suffice. And even that’s a gross overage.”

“On the contrary.” The double doors leading into the committee room burst open, and seven unicorns swept into the chambers suddenly. Twilight and the rest of the committee gasped at the sudden intrusion, though the unicorn at the lead spoke loud and clear over the muffled gasps of surprise. “Equestrian law states very clearly that the maximum amount of time any one organization or group can be disbanded is fifty-four years. If this committee fails to meet the terms of the ultimatum demand, they will be disbanded.”

This unicorn, whoever he was, was probably one of the most striking figures Twilight had seen in quite some time. He was tall and well-built, standing easily higher than Twilight, though not quite as tall as Celestia or Luna. His coat was a deep, burnt brown, dusted through with lighter shades of sage. His mark, she caught a single glimpse, was a crest of sorts. Not unlike Shining Armor’s. What’s more, he was learned... Twilight knew exactly the passage from Equestrian law he was quoting, and it wasn’t one that was found easily.

“This meeting is in session, and closed to anyone not a member of the Canterlot Preservation Committee!” Gable stood smoothly, sneering at the seven unicorns in front of him. Twilight looked between the leader and Gable several times. “You are not legally allowed to be here!”

“Again, to the contrary.” The leader of the seven unicorns pulled another document out of his saddlebags and hovered it to Gable, who snatched it up with a withering glare. “Princess Celestia herself cleared me and my six representatives of the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot to attend your meeting, to ensure there was no confusion about our demands.

“Damnit,” Gable hovered the papers back. “Fine. What do you want? We understand your demands clearly.”

“Do you? Here to clarify is Representative Rarity.” Twilight’s eyes went wide as her friend stepped forward, previously unnoticed by Twilight.

“Rarity? What is the meaning of this?” She asked, rising to her hooves.

“I’ll discuss it later, darling. Now’s not the best time.” Rarity offered her a brave smile before her expression turned serious once again. “Consider the following to be a declaration of intent by the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot. Provided the Canterlot Preservation Committee cannot meet our demands, and thus will be disbanded, the Movement will level all forests, woods, and standing trees in Canterlot, to be replaced with synthesized buildings, apparatus, or works of art of a magical nature in an effort to promote Canterlot as the magical capital of Equestria, and provide a better environment for magic of all kinds to flourish and prosper.” Silence rang as Rarity fell back to stand with the other six unicorns, looking surprisingly happy despite the seemingly horrific ultimatum that they had just been given. Twilight felt anger and incredulity well up within her, ready to brim over the surface. Just as she opened her mouth to retort, Gable cut her off.

“I understand. Thank you, Representative Rarity, for your clarification. If there is nothing else, I would appreciate if the representative left us to finish our meeting.”

“As you wish. Good day, Gable.” The lead unicorn flicked his tail as he gave them all a mock bow before leaving. As soon as the door closed behind them, Gabe spoke in a low and even tone. “I motion for the meeting to adjourn.”

“I… Second.”

“Any opposed?” Silence. “The motion passes. Meeting is adjourned. Thank you all for coming.” Gable turned to Twilight, his eyes flashing with something that honestly frightened Twilight. It was anger and indignation. “Archmage. Might I have a word?”

“Of course…” Twilight stayed behind until it was just her and Gable in the committee chamber, her expression worried and confused at the same time. When the last member left and the door closed behind them, Gable launched into a long-winded tirade.

“Of all the nerve! Getting the Princess involved in such trifling matters as one pony’s vendetta against me and everything good in Canterlot! He just waltzes in here with that damned mare, spouting demands and ultimatums and, UGH! I’m SICK of bureaucracy! What happened to the days when two unicorns would settled their differences with a duel, and the winner would have his way?”

“Hey, that mare is my friend.” Twilight drew her brow down, feeling defensive as Gable sputtered. He glanced at her, the fire dying in his eyes for a moment.

“That was…?”

“The element of generosity herself. But don’t get me wrong. I’m just as shocked as you are.” She looked at the door that Rarity had left through, frowning as she thought about this new development. “Let me have a talk with her, Gable. I’m sure she’ll be willing to tell me what the movement is up to…” More than that, it was Rarity speaking of buildings of a synthetic nature that had her worried.

“Okay. Oh, and Twilight?”

“Hmm?”

“I know there’s a lot on your plate right now, but… Might I ask something of you?”

“Of course, Gable. You can ask me anything.”

“Well... This is more as your teacher than anything else, but I think you should draft the counter-proposal. It’ll help you to learn the proper council proceedings, and get used to holding my position at the same time. Besides, I’m lousy at that sort of thing... I doubt I’d even be able to get it done before the Greater Canterlot Council.” Twilight brought the mental picture of her schedule up, thinking hard on all the things she had to do.

“Yes,” She said confidently. “Yes, I think I can help you out…” After the weekend with Luna, Twilight felt like she could do anything. This was within the realm of possibility for her. She smiled bravely at Gable, feeling happy at the warm smile she got in return.

“Thank you, Archmage. It means much to hear you say that.”

“Just glad I could help, Gable. Now, if you’ll excuse me… I need to have a chat with Rarity.”

------------

“Darling! So good to see you again!” Rarity beamed as Twilight stepped into her boutique, wrapping her in a warm hug. “Fancy meeting you at the meeting earlier. I assume you’re here because of my involvement in the movement?”

“Eer, yes, actually.” Twilight furrowed her brow at Rarity, though she didn’t miss the happy exuberance behind the hug. “Rarity, why?” Twilight was honestly shocked to learn that Rarity stood behind such a ridiculous proposal as the one the movement brought to the table.

“Oh, darling, you don’t even know!” Rarity seemed suddenly swept up with happiness. “Come, sit down, I’ll tell you all about it.” Rarity ushered Twilight into her sitting room, bustling about as she came up with two steaming cups of tea. “How have you been, dear?”

“Fine, Rarity. The movement?”

“Right. Well, Regal has the most brilliant plan-“

“Regal? Who’s that?”

“Oh, the leader of the movement, dear! The one who showed up at the committee meeting.” Rarity grinned over the edge of her cup at Twilight. “He’s Saddle-Arabian.”

“Huh. What does he have to do with the movement?”

“He’s the one who organized it! You see, he discovered this whole new branch of magic that-“ Twilight didn’t hear anything past that. Her heart thundered in her hears, the cup of tea held in her shaking hooves unsteadily. A whole new branch of magic? Twilight was only vaguely aware of Rarity prattling on about the noble ideal of saddle-arabian royalty and how important they were to Equestrian culture, and how amazing Regal was, whoever he was. Twilight had to stop her after a while.

“You said he discovered a whole new branch of magic?”

“Hmm? Oh yes, darling! It’s simply incredible!” Rarity set her tea cup down. “Forgive me. I know you’re the Archmage, I nearly forgot.” Rarity slid off of her chair, walking a short distance into the room. Twilight watched, completely stunned, as Rarity’s horn began to glow with a brilliant blue light. With wide eyes, Twilight saw something begin to swirl in the air. Hovering just a few inches away from Rarity’s horn, something began to materialize. Twilight realized then what was happening. Rarity was creating.

“Rarity…”

“Almost done… Aah! There.” With a flourish, Rarity’s magic died off, leaving behind a bright bolt of cloth before them. “You see, darling? Using nothing but my magic, I can create things. Mind you, it’s only temporary. It’ll fade after about a week, though there are spells to make it more permanent. I can cut out the cost of fabric for my dress lines almost entirely!” She waved the bolt in front of Twilight's face, as if taunting her with it. “Go on, darling. Give it a feel.” Twilight obliged, raising a tentative hoof to run over the fabric.

“It’s… Silk.”

“You’ve got it, dear. Fine silk, the likes of which is incredibly difficult to make naturally. With our magic, we can now create things of finer quality than those… Rough and unrefined things you buy in the market.”

“Rarity, this is…”

“Oh dear…” Rarity’s tone was ominous.

“This is incredible!”

“Say what now?”

“This is fantastic!” Twilight deposited the bolt of silk cloth onto the couch, bounding up energetically. “This is a development the likes of which Equestria hasn’t seen in… Ages! Why, I doubt there’s anypony in history who could have accomplished such a thing!”

“Oh. Dear. I was afraid you’d oppose it.”

“No, don’t get me wrong, Regal’s a complete moron for thinking he can take over Canterlot with this movement. But this magic!” Twilight’s mind was brimming with questions and possibilities. They all came to one conclusion. “I have to meet him!”

“Huhwha?” Rarity was dumbstruck. “Meet him?”

“Immediately! It’s important!”

“Oh, uuh… I don’t think.”

“I don’t think he’ll be able to deny a request from the Archmage.” Twilight grinned and trotted to the door of Rarity’s boutique, flicking her tail with excitement.

“Twilight?” Rarity’s voice stopped her. “Promise me you won’t go overboard? The movement…”

“Hmm? Oh, I’m stopping the movement. You’d be foolish to stand behind it, Rarity.” Twilight waved her off, but Rarity flustered, holding her up.

“Wh… Why?! Twilight, you don’t honestly think-“

“I don’t think Canterlot, or all of Equestria for that matter, is better off without plant life. Rarity, you want to uproot every plant that exists in the city! Do you know how foolish that is?”

“But, you see…” Rarity’s mouth opened and closed a few more times, but she couldn’t come up with anything.

“I’d disassociate yourself with the movement now, Rarity. If this Regal character pushes the matter any further, he might be met with opposition, and legal action might be taken… I don’t want you mixed up in any of that.”

“Oh, okay… But, Twilight?” Rarity stopped her yet again. Twilight huffed at the door.

“Yes?”

“Take it easy on him…?” She blinked at Rarity a few times.

“Take it easy on… Regal?” Twilight narrowed her eyes. “Why?”

“N-no reason! I just… Oh, get going. I have to write some letters.” Rarity turned and left Twilight at the door. Any other time, Twilight would have pressed the matter further, but she was too excited. There were plans to be made. Letters to be written. Proposals to be drafted. And most importantly, foreign ponies to question. Twilight grinned as she made her way back to the castle.

New magic. The magic of synthesis.

Creations and Clarifications

View Online

Archmage - Chapter 22 “Creations and Clarifications”

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Twilight was able to find the meeting place for the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot with just a few questions around town. Much to her surprise, the movement seemed to be a prominent topic of discussion among the high-brow unicorns she conversed with. She had actually learned about the location from two ponies talking about it sitting at a table at an open-air café. They had been going on about how the trees and parks were so ‘dirty’ and ‘unsightly.’ After dodging a few scathing remarks about the Canterlot Preservation Society, Twilight was finally directed to a small council chamber just off the main shopping center. She stood in front of the wooden doors, mentally preparing herself for what lay within. With a breath, she pushed her way inside.

“Archmage.” Regal, the same pony who had led the entourage into the meeting just yesterday, greeted her with a small smile. He sat at the head of a table littered with books and documents, along with four of the six ponies who had accompanied him. He still looked as striking as ever, and even moderately intimidating, but Twilight held her head high.

“I have come to observe the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot’s proceedings. Please, continue.” She said curtly. The four unicorns sitting adjacent to Regal blinked, but turned their heads to him. With a soft smile, Regal gave a nod.

“Very well. Thank you, Archmage.” With little less than a ghost of interest in his voice, he moved on to the next topic, almost ignoring Twilight completely. “Next order of business, we have a cease and desist from the Homefront Committee. It seems they’re siding with the Canterlot Preservation Society, and want us to disband… Prose, would you mind?”

“Certainly.” There was a telekinetic exchange of paper, and the unicorn to the far left began to read the document carefully. After a few moments of silence, he smiled and tapped the page. “Right here. This statement is incongruent with our own mission statement. Their cease and desist is null.”

“Very well. I will return it with our counter-statement right away. Thank you, Prose. Last order of business: The fundraiser has been approved, and will be held in four days in Canterlot’s ballroom. I’ve seen to it that invitations have been sent to all pertinent parties, and the silent auction items have already been imported from across Equestria. Has everything else been arranged?”

“Hmm, yes… It seems there’s a bakery store owner here in Canterlot whose specialty involves organizing parties. I’ve already contacted her, eer, let’s see… Her name is Pinkie Pie. She’s agreed to decorate and organize the festivities.” Twilight drew her brow down at the mention of Pinkie Pie. Were all of her friends involved in this harebrained scheme? She held her tongue, though, as Regal cleared his throat and started to wrap up.

“Very well, then. I believe that concludes this meeting. I motion to adjourn.”

“I second.”

“Any opposed?” Twilight’s tail flicked as silence reigned for a few moments. “Very well. Meeting adjourned at four-fourteen. Thank you all for attending.” Regal stacked several sheets and straightened them as activity finally broke out amongst the gathered unicorns. As if sensing the underlying tension in the room, everypony aside from Twilight and Regal bustled to leave. They shuffled past her with the cursory nod of their heads, but for the most part ignored her. Before long, it was just her and Regal in the council chambers. He sat at the head of the table, silent as he scrutinized her. Twilight stared right back at him. The silence was nearly oppressive.

“So.” Regal finally spoke. “You’ve decided to intervene at last?”

“More from personal interest than anything else.” Twilight said with a quick flick of her tail. “It’s come to my attention you’re the purveyor of a new branch of magic. I’m intrigued.” That much seemed to take Regal by surprise. He arched an eyebrow at her.

“You’re… Not here on behalf of the Canterlot Preservation Society?”

“Rarity demonstrated for me what she’s learned from you. How can you create something from nothing?”

“You’re… Seriously not here for the Cant-“

“I mean, it goes against all the laws of physics… I understand that they fade with time, which I guess would make sense if they’re conjured from pure magical energy, but-“

“I’m shocked, I thought you’d at least be here to-“

“-to make them permanent! I don’t get it.” They both rambled on despite one another for a few moments, but both stopped once they realized they had been talking over the other.

“Go ahead.”

“No, you. I insist.”

“I interrupted, it’s rude.”

“Ugh. Fine. Look.” Twilight took a few steps forward, suddenly serious once again. “You have knowledge I want. Whether you become my teacher or point me in the right direction, I want to know more about this new branch of magic. Synthesis.” Regal frowned at her, his expression a hybrid of concern and curiosity.

“I don’t think with the Greater Canterlot Council meeting on the horizon, that it’d be a wise decision for you to undertake a new field of study. Besides, I’m awfully busy. We have meetings, deadlines, fundraisers, one thing or another scheduled for… Well, almost every weekday from here to the end of the season.”

“So we work on the weekends.” Twilight was resolute.

“You’re not seriously suggesting I take time out of my personal life to instruct you…?”

“I’ve devoted all of my personal time to serving Canterlot and Equestria. I think you could find time, Regal.” Twilight countered confidently. Regal blinked at her a few times, obviously taken aback.

“I suppose I could take Saturdays to-“

“Your whole weekend.” Twilight stepped closer.

“I might be able to take a few hours Sunday eve-“

“The whole weekend.” Twilight stood just opposite him now, her hooves resting on the table. She would not budge on this. She had found no recorded evidence of the magic of synthesis, and she hadn’t been able to ask Celestia or Luna about it yet. According to Bastion, they were in a private meeting with some dignitary from the gryphon territory all day yesterday, and she hadn’t been able to track them that morning. As far as she understood, Night Dancer and Warden had helped with the sun and moon for the past few days. Why, she wasn’t exactly sure, but that was beside the point. Twilight needed to learn this new magic, whatever it was, and Regal was the pony to teach her.

“Fine.” Regal bowed his head with a soft sigh. “I’ll teach you the magic of synthesis. I’ll see you tomorrow. Will this place work?”

“Just fine, thank you. See you tomorrow morning, Regal.” Twilight turned to leave then, flicking her tail as she began to adjust her schedule in her head.

“Uum… Archmage?” She stopped at his hesitant question, turning to look at him over her shoulder. “About the movement… Where do you stand?” She turned her head back to the front, sighing gently before moving forward.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Regal.”

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Twilight finally caught up with Luna and Celestia that evening as they prepared to cycle the sun and the moon. Night Dancer and Warden were there as well, affording her the chance to finally catch up with everypony.

“How are things in my absence?” She asked the small group as soon as the sun began to dip lower and lower towards the horizon. It was almost time to cycle, and Twilight seemed to be delaying them. Celestia and Luna shared a look, but Night Dancer spoke immediately.

“Archmage, a proposal if you will.” She stood between Twilight and the others, holding her head high. Twilight blinked but nodded her head to give her permission to continue. “It seems that you have a lot on your plate, with all of the committees and magics you need to be studying. If you would approve, I think Warden and I can handle the raising and setting of the sun ourselves. To help free up your schedule.” Twilight blinked at her, then looked back to Warden and the two princesses.

“Do you agree with this?” Twilight asked carefully. Celestia and Luna remained stoic, but Warden stepped forward.

“It’s not just freeing up your schedule, Twilight. It’s allowing Night Dancer and I to practice a valuable skill. Not to mention, it’s the chance of a lifetime. We’re all young unicorns with long lives ahead of us. The more practice we get in now, the easier we’ll be able to assist you later on in life. Think about it. We’ll all be around for... A hundred years. Maybe more.” Twilight tapped her chin thoughtfully.

“Princesses? Can I please get your input on this?” Twilight asked, looking back to Celestia and Luna. Both of them shared a quick glance before looking at the three of them.

“This is a decision you must make on your own, Twilight.” Celestia said softly. Was she mistaken, or was there a melancholy hint to her mentor’s voice? Twilight’s brow drew down for a moment out of concern, but she didn’t press the matter. Luna’s silent nod signaled her acquiescence to Celestia’s words. Twilight heaved a sigh and turned to Night Dancer and Warden.

“Very well.” She hung her head with a sigh. “I’ll give you complete control over raising the sun and the moon for the next two weeks. That should be plenty of time for me to brush up on the other magics I need to learn.”

“Oh, thank you!” Night Dancer, in a completely uncharacteristic display of enthusiasm, lunged forward to throw her arms around Twilight. Eyes wide, Twilight stumbled under the embrace, but smiled nevertheless.

“Wasn’t quite expecting that reaction, but okay.” Twilight released the darker unicorn with a slight blush, but Night Dancer’s own cheeks were heated in return. She was about to comment on her exuberance when Warden took her hoof and shook it vigorously.

“You won’t regret this decision, Archmage. I promise it.” Twilight felt a little jostled, but she smiled nevertheless.

“I don’t usually regret any of my decisions.” She muttered. “You sure the two of you are capable of filling in for me for two whole weeks?”

“Easily,” Night Dancer nodded firmly. “I have nothing other than assisting the Princess on my plate. We’re around one another most of the time anyways.” Twilight glanced at Luna, who silently mouthed the words ‘assistant.’ Twilight nodded, but indicated they should talk anyways with a simple expression.

“I have nothing major going on. The investigation is going smoothly, and Bastion hardly needs my help as is. My mornings and nights are quite free. And even if he does need me, I’m sure he’ll understand the reason for my absence.”

“Alright. Thank you, both of you.” Twilight smiled. “I really do appreciate it.” She nodded to Celestia and Luna, indicating she was ready. “I think we’ve postponed long enough. Shall we?” The two princesses smiled at her and turned to their respective ends of the balcony. Night Dancer and Warden stood behind Twilight, all three of their horns glowing in conjunction. The shields went up, and the power of the princess’ magic washed over them. Twilight grimaced at the impact, though it quickly turned into a grin. It felt good to exercise her magic again. Something about watching waves of energy break against her defenses made Twilight feel fulfilled. Refreshed. Like she could handle anything.

It took them two minutes to cycle the sun and moon, after which Twilight, Night Dancer, and Warden stood tall and proud. The princesses turned back to them with a smile. Twilight couldn’t help but capture Luna’s eyes, looking at her lover long and hard. Twilight would have given anything to press close and sneak a kiss from her in that moment. She wasn’t lonely or needy in particular, but she did want to be close.

“Well then,” Luna interrupted the moment with a quiet voice. “If there’s nothing else, I do have some reading to catch up on.”

“Thank you, sister. I shall see you in the morning.” Celestia nodded as Luna walked away, but Twilight didn’t miss the hint. A ghost of a smile on Luna’s lips betrayed her intent. She meant for Twilight to follow.

“I should be going as well,” She kicked a hoof. “I need to get some rest before my lesson with Regal tomorrow.” Celestia arched an eyebrow at her, and the other two looked shocked.

“You’re… Studying with Regal?” Warden asked, his tone slightly defensive. Twilight felt as if the three ponies left standing on the balcony with her weren’t very keen on Regal.

“Yes. He’s teaching me the magic of synthesis. Apparently he just discovered it, and knows more about it than anypony else… He agreed to teach me. Why are you all looking at me like that?” Night Dancer and Warden looked furious. Celestia’s expression, however, worried her the most. She swallowed and looked up at her mentor fearfully. “Wh… What?”

“Twilight,” Celestia said with a soft tone. “The magic of synthesis is nothing new. It’s been around for thousands of years.”

---------------

“Regal!” Twilight stormed into the headquarters of the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot with a very serious expression on her face. To anypony, a furious Archmage was the stuff of nightmares. Regal, however, looked mildly disinterested. He barely even glanced up from the book he was reading. With a growl, Twilight slammed the book closed with her magic, forcing him to look up at her. “You didn’t tell me synthesis has been around for years.”

“Aah. That. Well, a smarter pony might have been able to figure it out sooner.” His nonchalant answer took Twilight by surprise.

“What do you mean?” She asked hesitantly.

“Think back on it, Twilight. In all of the magic you’ve seen and performed in your entire life, can you imagine any scenario where something came from nothing?” Furious as Twilight was with the development Celestia had shared with her last night, his simple question disarmed her. She remembered many different spells, of the things she had learned and done. A few things in particular stood out in her mind. Times when she had conjured something from nothing. It was so long ago, and she had done so almost reflexively… How HAD she done it? Then things began to make more and more sense. The fireworks Trixie made upon her first arrival in Ponyville, the massive glass globe she had summoned upon her return… There were even regular spells that had been enhanced or improved by adding or summoning small things.

In fact, Twilight specifically recalled a dress Rarity had fashioned from a single bolt of cloth, and she had summoned the thread and needle magically… Realization washed over her in an instant, and Twilight suddenly felt very foolish for not realizing it sooner.

“Oh.” She muttered.

“Yeah.” Regal lifted the cover of his book once more, searching for the place he had been. “You’d do well to think through your arguments through before letting your anger get the best of you, Archmage.” He was right, of course, but she didn’t appreciate the condescending tone. She sat down and studied him for a few moments, taking in the finer points of his mane and face. The silence stretched on, as it seemed Regal had found his place in the book. Twilight was beginning to grow impatient, despite the thoughts racing through her mind. Old or not, she still needed to learn the magic, and Regal was the best to teach her that. After a little while longer, she cleared her throat. Regal just glanced up at her.

“We’re waiting for my assistant. We’ll begin when she arrives.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry.”

“Hmm.”

Silence again. Twilight busied herself going through her schedule in her mind. It didn’t keep her busy for long. Thankfully, the door behind her opened just as she was about to go through her schedule a third time.

“Good morning.” Twilight turned to see Rarity, looking as beautiful as ever, trotting happily across the threshold. Twilight was shocked.

“Rarity? I thought… I thought I told you not to get involved with the movement.”

“Oh come now, darling.” Rarity strode forward to greet her with a quick hug. “It’d be silly for me to just give up on something I believe in. And besides, Regal asked me to assist him with your lesson.” Twilight only barely returned the hug before stepping back to shoot Regal a glare.

“Don’t tell me you actually agree with the movement, Rarity…”

“Oh, but I do! You see, Regal has this plan to-“

“I think,” Regal cut them off by closing the book with an audible thump. “There’s a better time to discuss that particular matter. Right now, we need to focus on Twilight’s lesson.” Twilight grumbled unhappily but nodded.

“Fine. Let’s begin. But I’m not done with either of you.”

“Fair enough. Honestly, Archmage… You’ve done nothing but make demands of the movement since you first walked in that door.” Regal nodded to the open door behind them, shutting it with a small glimmer of magic.

“Well I’m sorry.” Twilight huffed in annoyance. “But I’ll tell you why that’s so when we’ve finished.”

“Alright, then. Rarity, thank you for making it. I know it’s troublesome asking you to take time from your busy weekend.”

“Not at all! I didn’t have anything to do this weekend, and Cross Stitch was busy with something else. I’m glad to assist.” Rarity beamed at him, and off to the side, Twilight fought to keep from retching. Regal glanced at her before straightening his head.

“Twilight, tell me what you know about the magic of synthesis.” He stated simply. Twilight furrowed her brow up at him and heaved a soft sigh.

“Very little. Celestia says there is very little written evidence of the magic, and over the years, it has fallen out of practice. It’s existed in one form or another over the millennia, but it’s been fading more and more through the course of time. Now, it exists solely in practice. There are no known written books on the subject, and what little has been practiced has been done so very poorly. I’ve been able to replicate the magic based on what I think the desired product would be, but what I have is very rough and imperfect.” She sighed and let her horn build up with the magic, slowly summoning a thread from midair. The thread appeared from nowhere, sheathed in Twilight’s lavender glow. It was frayed, and even broke off somewhere in the middle. The act of summoning it made Twilight grit her teeth with effort. It seemed almost like she was trying too hard.

“Impressive.” Regal nodded. “You’ve managed to accomplish this much without any studying or instruction. You’ve done this much merely from observing Rarity’s technique, as she’s told me she gave you a demonstration. I’m surprised, Archmage. You’re bound to be a very promising student. Now, imagine what you could do with this.” Regal’s horn lit up as he lifted the same book Twilight had slammed shut on him. She watched him hover it closer, until the title was readable.

”’Synthetic Elements.’ Regal, where did you get this?!” Twilight’s eyes were suddenly wide. A book on synthesis! It existed! They were still around! Such a book was priceless. It contained knowledge long-lost to all of ponykind. For Regal to be in possession was nothing short of amazing!

“In the Saddle-Arabian desert, there is a library. It was long ago buried underneath the sands during a terrible storm. Only recently has the excavation begun, and this was one of the books recovered. I knew it was of importance to Equestria and unicorns everywhere, so I immediately came to Canterlot to present Celestia with the book. I knew she would do what was right.” Twilight felt the hairs on the back of her neck raise. His tone was slowly becoming more and more heated. “But when I got here, all they did was re-direct me to the Canterlot Preservation Society. I wasn’t even granted an audience.” Twilight had the feeling this was no longer a lesson. Regal continued. Rarity seemed enthralled. Twilight was debating just taking the book and leaving.

“Then I discovered the truth about the Canterlot Preservation Society. In the absence of conflict and strife, they had become treehuggers and greenhooves. They were more worried about the life of some damned fern than a discovery of magical importance. Trees and bushes and grass were all the society cared about. They don’t know what the true purpose of the preservation society is.” Now Twilight was listening. Regal was making it sound like Gable was doing something wrong.

“The preservation society is supposed to ensure all things withstand the test of time. Traditions, spells, books, and yes, nature, but not just nature! It’s sickening to see so many things in Equestria’s capitol fading away because some haughty earth ponies think the oak down the street is more important than the history of magic.” Regal shook his head with a snort. “So I studied your laws, and began to take the action necessary to right this egregious wrong against Equestria. The only way to make that happen was for the Canterlot Preservation Society to be disbanded. So I founded the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot. When I’ve disbanded them, I’ll make sure a new order is founded, one that’s suitable to take their place, and see that all things are preserved.”

Twilight slowly sat down, looking between Regal and the book. Silence reigned for a few long moments as Twilight mulled the options over in her head. At long last, she spoke.

“You’re crazy.”

In a flash of magic, she was gone.

--------------

Author's Note:

I understand this chapter is very long in coming, but we have our reasons. Iroh was very busy with his family the past few weeks. Additionally, the second half of this chapter was VERY underdeveloped and unrefined. We decided to remove the second half in favor of refining and polishing it just a little more. This will help make the story longer and more well-developed, rather than an unrefiend and unfinished piece of work.

Again, my apologies for the very long delay. But here you are. I promise, Iroh and I will work hard at uploading the next few chapters as rapidly as we can. While I cannot give a time, I can tell you it won't be another three weeks.

Thank you all from both of us,

-Loyal2-1 and Iroh

Copies and Courts

View Online

Archmage - Chapter 23 “Copies and Courts”

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Twilight appeared three blocks away, and then she started to run. Her horn glowed, carrying the book behind her. She had managed to grip it the last second before teleporting, which carried it with her. Now, legs pumping as fast as they could, Twilight ran for the castle. Regal would be furious with her, and might try something brash. As easily as she knew she could defend herself and probably even subdue him, she couldn’t guarantee the safety of the book. So she ran to the one place and the few ponies who could.

“Princess!” Twilight burst into Celestia’s office a few short minutes later, dropping the book on the table.

“Twilight! What’s happening?” Celestia stood from her desk, ignoring the ever-present stack of papers before her.

“This book,” She panted, gulping air. “It’s a manual.”

”Synthetic Elements. Twilight, I haven’t seen this book in… Why, over a thousand years! It’s ancient! Where did you find this?!” Celestia’s eyes went wide as she delicately lifted the book as if it were a newborn foal.

“Regal.” Twilight plopped her haunches on the ground, gulping air as deeply as she could. “He’s had it since he arrived. He said he discovered it in some buried library in the Saddle Arabian desert…” Celestia stiffened and looked at her. Twilight could see the gears turning in her head.

“Blaze.” She whispered at last.

“The former Archmage?” Twilight panted. Blaze had been Archmage long, long ago.

“Yes. He was the last pony to have seen the library. Nopony knows why he made the trip, but during his time as Archmage, he left Canterlot for a full month.” Celestia turned away from her desk and strode towards a bookcase. Her horn glowed, and the case seemed to waver. It disappeared in an instant, and Celestia jerked her head towards a short hallway concealed behind the illusion. Twilight followed eagerly. As Celestia led her down the short hall, she continued to explain. “He said nothing to anypony, not even to Luna or me. He and Cadance were close, however. He kept correspondence with her while he was gone.” The hallway led to a set of double doors, and here Celestia cast another spell. Her horn glowed brightly for a few long moments before the seal on the door’s lock vanished, and the door swung inward. Twilight knew this was advanced magic, the likes of which even she wouldn’t be able to cast. Whatever was behind these doors, it wasn’t meant for anypony other than a princess to see…

“Don’t touch anything, Twilight. There are articles behind these doors that could kill you. Come, now.” Twilight’s eyes went wide at the sight of what lay beyond the doors. First off, she was in awe of the sheer size. The chamber, whatever it was, had to have been enchanted a few thousand times over to fit anywhere near the castle. For miles upon miles, as far as the eye could see, were nothing but bookshelves, pedestals displaying magical artifacts, and above them in the air, were massive floating diagrams and spell-forms, magnificent displays of arcane prowess that left her stunned. This room was impossible. It couldn’t exist. The sheer spatial implications of the room were impossible to comprehend. She tried to wrap her mind around it, but simply couldn’t. Whatever it was, Twilight was awestruck to say the least. Celestia strode forward, leading her down a long set of stairs and among the millions of book cases. Twilight would have given anything to spend just one day in this place. The knowledge and wonders held here were of untold worth, and were likely more dangerous than anything she had ever seen before. Celestia didn’t seem fazed. If anything, she wore a business-like expression, and walked quickly.

“Here.” Celestia stopped at one aisle among the bookshelves, turning abruptly and walking down it. She stopped maybe fifty feet in, her horn glowing as she pulled forth a sheaf of bundled papers from one shelf. “These are the letters Blaze sent to Cadance during his trip. He didn’t say specifically where it was located, but he gave her this.” Celestia unfurled the ties holding the papers together and pulled one free, opening it for Twilight to see. On the paper was an intricate rendition of a magnificent building, with sweeping spires and well-formed crenellations. Twilight didn’t need to guess to know this was the library Regal had spoken of. “These letters go on to describe some of the knowledge held here. It is in a remote part of the desert separating the gryphon territories and Saddle Arabia… Far out-of-the way, and lost to the passage of time. At least, that’s what Blaze said to me…” Celestia turned, carrying the papers with her. Twilight followed along, trying very hard to keep from looking around at all of the interesting things around them. Celestia was quiet as she led Twilight through the maze, but she moved quickly enough that Twilight didn’t get much time to browse.

“Here are the remains of every bit of synthetic magic we know of.” Celestia said after a short hike through the book cases. Before them was a large orb of glowing magic, and inside were what appeared to be black chunks of rock. Upon closer inspection, Twilight could see they were, instead, ashes. Thousands of them, clumped together in varying states of destruction. Some of the particles were nothing more than suspended dust, while others were portions of spines or covers. All of them were illegible. “I’ve kept them in suspended animation, searching for a way to reverse the damage done. I don’t think I’ll ever find one, however. But, it seems all is not lost.” Celestia nodded to the book Twilight carried with her.

“I don’t understand.” Twilight furrowed her brow. “What did Blaze do?” Celestia sighed and looked down at her.

“He went mad. In a spree of destruction the likes of which nopony had seen, he leveled the library we had at the time. But not before he burned every last book on synthetic magic. Then he left for the library in the desert. I thought we had lost every book, but he took one with him. Apparently, he meant to seal it away in the desert library… After he returned, anypony who made a journey to the library either returned with stories of terrible, nightmarish figures in the sand, or didn’t return at all… The library has been lost to us ever since. That is, until now…” Celestia’s frown deepened as she turned towards the staircase that led them into this magnificent area. “I want to know how Regal managed to get into the library. Or get back out. More importantly, I want to know how he recovered that book. I’d assume the creatures in the sand are there to protect the contents of the library. Why they let him pass, I can only imagine. How… Well, that’s even more intriguing to me....”

“Princess… What happened to Blaze after he returned? A pony, even the Archmage, doesn’t destroy valuable knowledge without suffering the consequences… What became of him?” Twilight’s question stopped Celestia in her tracks. With a melancholy look, Celestia looked back at Twilight, her eyes cold and heartless. In that moment, Twilight was more scared than she had ever been before.

“When he returned, he was insane. He strode down the main road, killing anypony in his path. When he arrived at the throne room, he made an attempt to take my life. I did what I had to, Twilight.” Celestia’s gaze lifted to the ceiling of the room. Twilight followed it. When she saw what Celestia intended her to see, she felt her knees grow weak. A wave of nausea passed over her.

“I killed him.”

Blaze, or what remained of him, hovered in a spell, and was the focal point of the entire room.

-------------

“She keeps him as a reminder.” Luna said softly, nuzzling Twilight’s neck. “Of her mistake, and of his. The first and last she’s ever made, as far as I can tell... Or at least, the one that affected her the most.”

“That seems a little dark…” Twilight muttered, shaking slightly. She had fled to Luna’s room after seeing Blaze’s remains in Celestia’s private library. The thought of the magical room and all of the knowledge there had fascinated her at first. Now, she never wanted to go back there.

“There are things about my sister and I that you might think are dark or morbid, Twilight. To us, they’re normal. The price of staying alive as long as we do… Trust me, should you ever live to be more than a thousand years old, you might do something that would worry other ponies as well. But that’s the reason she keeps him hidden in there. So nopony learns of her dark secret, or thinks their ruler mad. Celestia is just as normal as you or I, Twilight. She just… Has some skeletons in the closet.”

“Hmm.” Twilight wasn’t sure she could identify with keeping thousand-year-old corpses around as reminders, but then again, she wasn’t thousands of years old herself. She couldn’t rightly imagine anything until she had lived to be that old… Instead of dwelling on it, she let it die. They had more important things to focus on. “How is Regal reacting to the loss of his book?”

“He’s railing at the authorities now,” Luna said with a sigh. She nodded towards the balcony of her bedroom where they were, and Twilight followed her. Together, they looked out into the night, down at the city beneath them. There seemed to be some sort of gathering along the main road. “He and the other ponies who stand behind this movement of his are demanding justice. They think you’ve sabotaged the entirety of synthesis magic, and are claiming you should be hanged for your crime.”

“You don’t believe them, do you?”

“Oh goodness no,” Luna scoffed. “He’s insane. If anything, it’ll be him who hangs at the end of this.” She shook her head and turned away, leading Twilight back into her room. “Don’t worry yourself about the movement or Regal. We have more important things to focus on.”

“Like the book.” Twilight nodded to the nearby table, where she had first set the book upon entering Luna’s room, after she had left Celestia’s office. Twilight wasn’t quite worried about the movement in that moment, or even Blaze’s remains in Celestia’s private library. What worried her right then was Luna’s demeanor... Now that Twilight thought about it, something seemed off about Luna in general.

“We need to make sure it’s preserved properly..” Luna said, nodding towards the book. At the word ‘preserved,’ Twilight remembered something.

“About Regal…”

“I thought we had moved on from him?” Luna seemed annoyed.

“No, it’s about the movement. And the Canterlot Preservation Society. Luna, do you remember when the society was first formed?” Twilight asked softly. Luna blinked at her a few moments before frowning.

“Vaguely. Political matters were never my forte’, even when I was a prominent figure in Equestria. I always left matters of importance in Celestia’s hooves, while I focused on more… Intimate things. Many of the old Archmages and I were close. Why?”

“Some of the things Regal told me… I don’t think he’s as crazy as we originally thought.” Twilight went on to share all of the things Regal had told her, about how corrupt the Canterlot Preservation Society had become, about how their charter had been changed long ago, and it was now much different from what it had originally been. Regal’s plan wasn’t to destroy all the plant life in Canterlot. That was just his distraction. His real goal was to disband the current preservation society and reform it properly.

“You said he studied Equestrian law, correct?” Luna asked once Twilight had finished.

“Yes. He’s actually rather well-versed, from what I’ve seen…” Twilight nodded.

“Then he should know there are other ways to go about this. Statements of Distrust and disputes. Civil debates. Trials, courts, and procedures for this sort of thing… Why is he relying on subterfuge and intrigue? I’m perplexed…”

“Well…” Twilight muttered. “He hasn’t been in Canterlot very long, has he?”

“About a year now. Why?”

“Maybe he just didn’t read up on that particular bit… Knowledgeable as he is, it’s plausible that he has missed some parts…”

“Not likely. He’s a unicorn, Twilight. He’s probably studied law as extensively as he could have in that time. I doubt he’s missed something so basic and important… No, he has ulterior motives, that one…” Luna sighed and looked back out the balcony, towards the main road and where the group of ponies had gathered. “Perhaps I ought to go check on them. See what they want.”

“We do need to cycle soon.”

“Aah, thank you for reminding me. Will you be joining us this evening?” Luna smiled at her as she walked towards the door. With a sigh, Twilight shook her head and grasped the book in her magic.

“I need to get started replicating this.” She said quietly. “Night Dancer and Warden will help you. They’d be upset if I went back on my word, anyways.”

“If you say so. Will you join me afterwards, at least?” Twilight looked out of the balcony windows, down at the filled main street of Canterlot.

“And get lynched? No thanks.”

---------------

Twilight devoted herself to copying the book word-for-word. There were several diagrams and equations she would need to devote more time and attention to, but she got many of the major articles and chapters copied in short notice. Working through the night and well into the next day, Twilight had replicated the entire book. Luna and Celestia checked in on her mid-afternoon. She barely even glanced up as the door to her chambers opened, but had to stop herself when she saw both princesses.

“Luna, Celestia… Is everything okay?”

“Well… I wouldn’t say it’s an ideal day, but there’s nothing dangerous happening.” Celestia said with a warm smile. Twilight suddenly realized how tired she was, and fought to keep her eyes from closing right then and there.

“What happened?” She asked, rubbing a hoof into her sore eyes.

“We spoke with Regal and his followers. They’re crying for blood, but it’s all idle threats.” Luna waved a hoof nonchalantly, though Twilight shuddered a little at the thought of all those ponies being angry with her. “He’s settled to file charges and face you in court. Mainly for theft. Then again, in light of his own crimes, I doubt he’s going to accomplish anything.”

“Hhmph. Let him try to best me in the courtroom.” Twilight muttered.

“He’s just trying to get results, Twilight. Don’t let him ruffle your coat. What’s this?” Celestia lifted the copied book gingerly, looking it over.

“I’m going to make a few copies of the book. We need to have them on-hoof just in case anything happens to the original.” She returned, hefting the original copy of Synthetic Elements so Celestia could look at them side-by-side. “There are diagrams that I can’t accurately copy without some help, though. Specifically on pages fifty-eight, ninety-four, three-forty-two and five-eighty-seven. Oh, and there’s a few tricky equations too…” Twilight yawned wide, her head dipping a little. Luna didn’t miss the gesture.

“You should get some rest, Twilight. Regal will want to see you in the courts tomorrow.”

“So soon?” Twilight asked, arching an eyebrow skeptically.

“Well…” Celestia sighed, setting both the copy and the original down. “You are the Archmage, and he’s a foreign dignitary… This kind of takes precedence over other trials. The courts have agreed to free their schedule up to give the two of you time to settle your dispute before the Greater Canterlot Council. That gives you a week to settle your dispute with Regal personally. Before the council meeting.”

“One week? Is it really that close?” Twilight perked up a little, frowning at both princesses.

“Yes. All of the council members agree that in light of the circumstances, it’d be best to start early on this year’s issues. Not only do we have a new Archmage, but this business between the Canterlot Preservation Society and the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot has been creating quite the uproar. It seems the Greater Canterlot Council will play host to the largest debate in… Well, in a very long time. I honestly can’t remember the last time we’ve had such dissention among Equestrian citizens.” Celestia added the last bit as an afterthought, rubbing her chin.

“Hmm. That’s not good.” Twilight groaned, rubbing her eyes yet again.

“Twilight, you’re stretching yourself again.” Luna stepped forward, laying a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder. “Let Celestia and I handle the rest of the copies. You should start focusing on your case with Regal, and the council meeting next week.” Luna leaned in to kiss her cheek gently, which made Twilight flush as Celestia was watching them. She pulled away and mulled over her options.

“That’s a good idea.” She said at last, nodding slightly. “I’ll ready my case against Regal and get ready to settle this dispute between the movement and the preservation society next week. Thank you, Luna.”

“It was actually Celestia’s idea.”

“I think she gets the meaning.” Twilight smiled at Celestia, who returned the gesture kindly. Twilight fought to stifle a yawn, but failed and let it escape into the space between her and Luna. “I should get some rest, first…”

“That I cannot argue with. Get some sleep, Twilight. You’ll need your rest if you’re going to go hoof-to-hoof with Regal tomorrow.” Luna nuzzled her neck lovingly and guided her towards her bed with a few gentle nudges. Twilight wearily climbed under the covers and slipped away into the night, leaving Celestia and Luna alone in her chambers. She didn’t even notice as Celestia stood next to her sister, both of them looking down at her.

“She’s showing more promise than I thought.”

“If she pulls this off, the book might have been right about her…”

“What do we do, Tia?”

“Nothing.” Celestia sighed. “Twilight’s walking her own path now… We can’t interfere. But we can help. Come on, help me copy this book.”

“Right…” Together, Celestia and Luna left Twilight to her slumber.

---------------

“This meeting is now in session. Judge Gavel presiding. Regal, representing the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot, and Twilight Sparkle, Archmage. The defendant will begin with her opening statement. Twilight?” Court was in session, and Twilight was ready for anything. She had slept six whole hours after Luna tucked her in, and had taken all the time she had available to prepare her case against Regal. She strode to the front of the courtroom, turning to face all the ponies gathered.

“Thank you all for coming today. I stand before you an alleged thief, responsible not only for stealing something that doesn’t belong to me, but destroying it and the magic along with it as well. Your honor, mares and colts of the jury, there is not much I can say to sway your opinion of me. But I can provide hard evidence and plenty of data. As we move through the motions today, I hope I can prove to you the truth. That I am innocent, or at least justified, in my actions. Thank you.” She kept it short and sweet, and as she went to take her seat once more, she noticed one of the jury members nodding solemnly.

“Very well. Does the prosecution have any opening statements?”

“Only that justice be served today.” Regal stood up as he spoke, shooting a quick look to Twilight before facing the jury. “I would like to begin immediately, if that is okay with you, your honor?” The judge gestured with a hoof, acquiescing to Regal’s request. “Thank you. I’d like to begin by calling a witness to the stand. Miss Rarity?” Twilight braced herself for this. She watched her friend approach from the area behind them, where a fair amount of court-going ponies sat to watch the debate of the century go down. Rarity sat at the witness stand and went under oath, vowing to tell nothing but the truth. Regal stood before her, smiling softly. “Miss Rarity. What is your profession?”

“I am a dressmaker, sir.” Rarity answered formally, her own lips mirroring Regal’s.

“You have great attention to detail, then?”

“I dare say I’m unparalleled in my field.”

“Good. Then I can count on you to give an accurate rendition of everything that transpired in the council chambers for the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot, no?”

“I certainly can. Shall I begin?” Rarity asked, and Regal nodded in return. She launched into her description right away. Twilight didn’t know if she was upset or relieved that Rarity didn’t lie, but she didn’t include all of the details, either. Particularly Regal’s statement of intention with the movement, or how he wished to disband the current Canterlot Preservation Society.

“Miss Sparkle, is this rendition of the events true?” The judge asked once Rarity had finished.

“It is, your honor.” Twilight said with a soft nod. The fact that Rarity omitted some of what happened worried her. She hoped Rarity’s inclination for the movement wasn’t masking her friendship. As much as Rarity was infuriating her, she was still a friend. Twilight grit her teeth and listened to Regal as he began his prosecution.

“Your honor, the Archmage has stolen a very important book from my posession. I returned from a long-buried library between Saddle Arabia and the gryphon territories, and suffered great personal peril to recover that book. What’s more, it’s one of the few remaining manuals for instruction on how to use the magic of synthesis. We have reason to believe that Twilight Sparkle has destroyed this book in an attempt to stop the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot.” Regal turned to glare at her, though his lips bore a hint of a smile on them. Twilight set her jaw and stared right back at him.

“Twilight,” The judge broke her gaze. “Is this true?”

“No, your honor, it is not.”

“Do you have proof otherwise?”

“I do. If Regal is finished with his witness, I would call one of my own to the stand.”

“Regal?”

“Yes, your honor. Miss Rarity, thank you for your time.”

“My pleasure, darling.” Rarity smiled and slipped off of the witness stand, though Twilight didn’t miss the smug look shot her way as Rarity passed. She shrugged it off and stood herself, addressing the judge.

“I would call to the stand Princess Luna.” Gasps sounded out as Twilight turned to the doors leading into the courtroom. Luna, in all her dark and mysterious beauty, strode boldly into the courtroom. Everypony immediately shot to their hooves and bowed low.

“At ease, my subjects. I’m here merely to serve as a witness.” She spoke calmly. Regal was obviously ruffled, and the glare he shot Twilight was nothing short of priceless. She grinned in return and turned to watch Luna take her place on the witness stand. “Very well, Archmage.” Luna said, after taking the vow. It was rather unsettling to watch her do so... For Luna to swear on anything was unlike her. “Ask your questions.”

“I’d like to remind you that you’re under oath, Princess. Not only that, but you are co-ruler of Equestria. Your words will likely go down in history.”

“I understand.” Luna said, drawing her brow down. Twilight nodded and began pacing back and forth.

“Can you confirm or deny the existence of the book Synthetic Elements?”

“I confirm. The book exists.”

“And what state is it in?”

“Excellent condition. For it’s age.”

“Given average wear and tear over the next few years, how long would you say the book could last?”

“That’s a difficult question. For a book like this to even be studied is a rigorous process to ensure the book is not further damaged. For anypony to even remotely study the original copy right now, it’d be a very delicate procedure. If an unskilled pony handles it, the book is likely to be ruined.”

“So you’re saying the book can easily be destroyed if handled by unskilled hooves?” Twilight faced Luna, her tail flicking interestedly. Luna nodded after a moment.

“Yes. Even a trained pony could make a simple mistake and damage the book beyond repair.”

“Thank you, Princess. Now, can you tell me what you have been assisting me with since last night?”

“I... Have been busy refining your copy of the book. Checking and double-checking it for accuracy.”

“So you confirm that I’ve actually made a copy. How accurate is said copy?”

“After two full checks, I can say you’ve copied everything to the letter.” The jury murmured at the contradictory statements being shared between Regal and Twilight’s witness. Regal claimed she had destroyed the book, but Luna was saying she had done anything but. In light of Luna’s significance, his entire claim had just been debunked. He appeared to be fuming. “From your copy, which is healthy, we can make more. Synthetic Elements will soon be free for the whole world to study. Synthetic magic is healthier now more than ever.” Twilight nodded her thanks to Luna and turned to the judge.

“Your honor, as the princess has made abundantly clear, I have nothing but the best interests at heart for synthetic magic and the book Regal proclaims to be his. I have nothing further. Princess, thank you for your time.” Twilight bowed low as Luna stood from the witness stand and strode out of the courtroom smoothly. In her passing, ponies bowed along with her, and none of them rose their heads until Luna had exited the courtroom. Twilight took her seat and sat patiently, looking stoically up at the judge.

“Very well. Does the prosecution have anything further?”

“Nothing, your honor.” Regal nearly spat the words, which got him a raised eyebrow from the judge.

“Very well. The jury will adjourn and come to a verdict.” The judge and jury rose from their seats and left the courtroom through the back, leaving Twilight, Regal, and all of the other ponies waiting. Twilight tried her hardest not to look at Regal, but the few quick glances she spared him showed he was staring daggers at her. If looks could kill, the trial might have turned to a murder case. Twilight stared straight ahead, her jaw set. Though her defenses were raised. She doubted Regal would confront her in the courtroom, but she also knew he wasn’t above it.

After what seemed like an eternity but realistically wasn’t more than fifteen minutes, the judge and the jury returned. One pony stayed standing among the jury, and he spoke out loud, silencing the whispers of the other ponies behind Twilight and Regal. “On account of destruction of knowledge, we the jury find the defendant, the Archmage, not guilty. On account of theft of personal belongings, we the jury find the defendant, the Archmage, not guilty.”

“That’s outrageous!” Regal shot to his hooves, nearly screaming the statement. Everypony in the courtroom looked at him incredulously. “Your honor, that book belongs to me! I carried it thousands of miles!”

“On the contrary, Regal.” Celestia’s voice rang true and loud, Everypony immediately bowed their heads as the royal princess emerged from the jury chambers. “The desert library that was lost just over a thousand years ago was primarily the property of Equestria, and as such, myself. My records indicate that Blaze, the Archmage at the time the library was lost, travelled to the library. We’re assuming he did something nefarious, and since his return, the library has been untouchable. Until you arrived with the book. Which wasn’t yours to begin with. Therefore, Twilight wasn’t stealing your property.” Celestia’s gaze swung to Twilight, who swallowed involuntarily. “She was stealing mine.”

“Are you saying... You wish to press charges, milady?” The judge said shakily, leaning forward a little.

“Not at all! In fact, I wish to congratulate and commend Twilight on returning my property! With the rise of Nightmare Moon, I had all but forgotten about the library being lost. Hearing it has been accessed, and having one of the precious books inside returned to me, I dare say I’d pardon anypony who ‘steals’ any such books and returns them to their rightful place.” Silence reigned after Celestia’s statement, though Twilight thought she could hear Regal’s teeth gritting together.

“Very well... Does the jury have anything to add?”

“Nothing, your honor.”

“Twilight Sparkle has been found not guilty on all charges. This court is adjourned.” With a smack of his gavel, the court was excused. Just as Twilight spun to leave, Regal laid a hoof on her shoulder. In the bustle of activity, nopony seemed to notice as he leaned closer to her.

“This isn’t over, Archmage. The movement will succeed, and I’ll see the preservation society in shambles before the week is out.”

“So you say, Regal.” Twilight returned, her tone dead serious. “But you’re forgetting one thing.” Regal blinked at her as she raised her head high, looking down her nose at him. “I’m the Archmage. It’s my duty to preserve the balance between all things. Your movement will fail, and I will be the one to set the preservation society straight. Not you.”

Regal glowered at her before leaving, though she didn’t miss the meaningful glance over his shoulder. This time, it was Twilight staring him down.

Subterfuge and Subtlety

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Archmage Chapter 24 - “Subterfuge and Subtlety”

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After the proceedings, Twilight left almost directly for Luna’s chambers. She had a few things she needed to talk about with her. When she arrived, Luna appeared to have been expecting her. “I didn’t stay for the sentencing. How did it go?” The lunar princess asked, nuzzling Twilight gently. “You aren’t in cuffs, so I’d assume it went well.”

“That comes later tonight.” Twilight shot Luna a teasing smile before returning the gesture with a soft smile.. “It went perfectly well, actually.” She said gently, straightening her expression a little. “Though I’m concerned… Regal strikes me as somepony who’s not exactly stable… I fear he might take matters into his own hooves.”

“Well the original is locked in Celestia’s library. Nopony will be getting in there. There are three copies already, and we have a team working on more.”

“Did you simplify it enough?” Twilight asked, perking up a little at the mention of a copy.

“Enough. It’s going to take a team of five unicorns working around the clock, but provided they’re well-trained, they can handle it. Last I heard, their first copy was completed. We have a total of four now. Two of them are under guard at the archives. The other two are in a secure laboratory. You can relax, Twilight. The book will survive. Thanks in no small part to your efforts.” Luna guided Twilight to a nearby table as she spoke, and her words helped Twilight relax quite a bit.

“Thank you, Luna… It means a lot to me to hear you say that.”

“Of course. Now, I wanted your input on something.” Luna said, pulling a book closer to them. Twilight perked up.

“You wanted my input?”

“Of course. Did you forget? The Archmage acts primarily in an advisory capacity to Celestia and myself. Now, take a look at this, will you?” She tapped a hoof to the page before them, and Twilight blushed a little as she leaned in. She had nearly forgotten about that particular bit of being Archmage. She was, first and foremost, and advisor to the princesses. Not just to them, but to other unicorns as well. Most of the committees she sat on was only to offer input on certain issues. Twilight leveled her gaze at the page and immediately frowned.

“This equation is wrong.” She muttered quietly, raising a hoof to the page. She ran over the numbers and lines, looking through the patterns that painted themselves in her head. After just a short while, she saw it. “Here. This computation is wrong. They’ve arrived at the wrong value. It should be forty-seven, not fifty-two.”

“You’re right.” Luna said, looking over the mentioned line. “I wonder how I missed that… Hmm. Well, thank you, Twilight. I’ll have this fixed right away. Now, you look like you have something on your mind.” Luna sat on her haunches and smiled down at Twilight. She remembered why she had came in the first place.

“That’s right. Tell me about the library in the desert.” Twilight sat down herself, and prepared for a lesson. Luna, however, just frowned at her.

“I’m really not the pony to be asking about that, Twilight… Celestia would be able to tell you more. She was more directly involved.”

“I plan on asking her about it.” Twilight countered. “But the more information I have, the better I can understand the situation. I know it may not be much, but please tell me what you know. About Blaze. The library. Synthesis magic. All of it.” Twilight was resolute. She wanted answers, and she wanted them from as many sources as she could get. Luna was silent for a few long moments before closing her eyes with a sigh.

“I’ll tell you what I know of Blaze. He was… Abrasive. He wasn’t very kind, or friendly. He always kept thing short and business-like, but he did converse extensively with Cadance whenever he had the chance. Rumor had it he was smitten with her. Cadance is and was a beautiful pony, and always had many suitors. From what I understand, one of them was a talented unicorn by the name of Bolt, who was a professor at the magic school on synthesis magic. Despite Blaze’s natural ability and considerable power, Cadance favored Bolt’s presence. Perhaps because he was more humble about it. In those days, magic duels were nothing out of the ordinary, nor were they very much frowned upon. Blaze challenged Bolt, who foolishly accepted on behalf of Cadance, and he promptly lost…” Luna’s eyes glimmered as she looked down at Twilight, and her tail flicked across the ground.

“Blaze shattered his horn, and left him burned and crippled in the street. Afterwards, he proposed to Cadance. But she would have none of it. She turned him down and instead ran to Bolt’s side, to nurse him. Blaze lost it. He vowed to destroy not just Bolt, but everything he stood for. He made an attempt on the wounded Bolt then and there, but Cadance stopped him. Instead of thinking on his error, as he should have, Blaze made good his other half of the promise. Before anypony could stop him, he burned every book in the Royal Library on Synthesis magic, and proceeded to level the entire library. Celestia managed to intervene to prevent total destruction, but in doing so lost him. He fled Canterlot, and the last report we had was from Baltimare, where he chartered a ship to take him into gryphon territory.” Luna’s expression darkened a little. “He was gone for months. When he returned, I swear it was on a whirlwind of fury. Hundreds of guards died to him before Celestia… Well, you know…”

“So what happened to Bolt?” Twilight asked after a short pause.

“Aah, now that’s another story. Well.” Luna adjusted with a soft smile on her lips. “He was crippled, not just magically, but physically as well. Cadance nursed him, but he never made a full recovery. His horn was beyond repair as well. But he professed there was a way for him to regain his power. Far to the north, past the frozen lands, well off and into areas nopony had been. He left for the crystal kingdom right around the time Sombra came into power. In the fallout, we had assumed he had been lost along with the other ponies. But he didn’t re-surface when you and your friends went to help them. Nopony knows where he went after that. Some say he died. Others say he escaped Sombra’s reign and continued North on his journey. Others still say he still lives, but has forgotten who he was…” Luna lifted a shoulder indifferently. “It’s difficult to say.”

“Hmm… This is all so intriguing… I don’t see any connections, but I swear they’re there.” Twilight stood and began pacing, mulling over everything. “Blaze disappeared to the East, right? Past the gryphon territories, and into Saddle Arabia?”

“No. The library used to sit on the northern border of the gryphon territories, just a little south-west of Saddle Arabia. Here.” Luna’s horn glowed as she pulled a thick book from a nearby shelf, opening it to a map of the known world. She pointed to one spot, north of the gryphon area, but west of Saddle Arabia. “It was nestled between these two peaks, in a place called the ‘Valley of Knowledge.’ For the library there. The only way in or out is from the south. The winds are too fierce for pegasi to fly into the valley, and the northern passage is impassable. It’s easy to find, but impossible to pass… At least, from the stories we’ve heard…” Luna said, gesturing to each area. Twilight looked at the map, frowning.

“Tell me more about the stories of ponies who have returned.” She said softly, still looking over the map.

“Most of them are insane. They come back one way or another babbling about dark figures and sandstorms. They rant of terrible, unimaginable stories of beasts as tall as towers with claws that can rip anything apart.” Luna gestured with her hooves as she spoke. “None of them have ever reached the library.”

“Except Regal.”

“Apparently…” Luna shrugged once more. Twilight gave a soft ‘hmm’ and went back to looking at the map.

“Have you ever been there?”

“To the library? Never. Nor has Celestia. We must remain in Equestria. Going to the library would be too risky. Trust me, I’d love to get to the bottom of this. But some of the best researchers and magicians we’ve sent have perished. We decided not to risk any more lives, and just cut our losses.” Twilight nodded and closed the book before looking up to Luna.

“What about the preservation society. Tell me what you know about them.”

“Wow, now there’s a vague memory.” Luna said with a soft sigh of exasperation. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and groaned, as if trying to bring clarity to a long-forgotten thought. Eyes still closed, she spoke slowly. “I remember… It was founded… Just a little after the incident with Blaze, actually. Their job was to ensure most things withstood the test of time. In fact, under their orders, the laws regarding destruction of knowledge were formed. Ugh, I can hardly remember… Celestia would know much more than I do.” She grumbled, shaking her head. “It was so long ago, and so much happened… I’m sorry, but I just can’t remember any more.” Luna frowned at her, and appeared to be upset at her own failure.

“It’s okay, Luna. I can’t blame you.” Twilight said reassuringly, laying a hoof over the princess’. “I plan on asking Celestia about it anyways.”

“She’d most certainly know more than I do.” Luna affirmed with a nod, stepping closer. She gave Twilight’s cheek a gentle kiss. “Though she’s probably very busy right now…”

“Hmm, do you think I should wait?” Twilight asked, inadvertently stepping closer. Luna kissed her cheek again.

“I think you should.” She leaned forward, her forehead resting against Twilight’s. Their horns met at the base. “If only so I can hold you a little longer.” Twilight couldn’t help but shudder at the whispered sentence, her entire body aching to be close. She drew her lip between her teeth and glanced up at Luna’s beautiful face.

“Luna, I… I’m…”

“Hmm?” Luna pulled away, though Twilight noticed she didn’t miss the furious blush on her own cheeks.

“I’m… On my flow.” She whispered. Luna blinked at her once before shrugging.

“So? Does that mean I cannot hold you?” Twilight opened her mouth, about to go on about how she thought Luna wanted to make love to her, and she was sorry for assuming such a thing, but soon she realized how foolish that was. Blushing more, she just closed her mouth and shook her head. “Come on, Twilight.” Luna said softly, nudging her shoulder. “You can talk with Celestia after we cycle the sun and the moon this evening. Until then, I’d happily lay by your side.”

“Th-thanks.”

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“Hello, Twilight.” Night Dancer said with a shocked blink, giving her a hesitant smile. “What brings you here?”

“Nothing, really.” Twilight said with a nonchalant shrug. “I just wanted to ask Celestia a question. I figured this would be the best place to meet up with her. Trust me, I’m not here to take back my duty just yet.” Night Dancer and Warden both seemed to sag with relief, though they didn’t relax entirely. Twilight could see the tension between them, almost as if her presence was pressure for them to perform well. Twilight smiled and left it at that, opting to wait for Celestia.

“Good evening, Twilight.” Celestia’s gentle words turned her around, to the door she had just strode through. Twilight smiled brightly up at her.

“Hello, Celestia. Sorry to be so blunt, but I was hoping I could speak with you after this is over?” Twilight’s eager questions appeared to have sparked a little curiosity from Celestia. After their little scene in her private library, she was apparently confused at Twilight’s eagerness to speak with her again.

“Of course. I’d be happy to talk with you, Twilight. Shall we get to it, then?”

“I’ll wait out here.” Twilight motioned to the door, smiling at the small group. “So I’m not in the way.” Night Dancer and Warden shared another look, this time with a bit of a blush between them. Twilight’s lips curled in a smile as she exited the balcony, going to wait patiently outside of the door. From the other side, she could hear the scintillating sounds of powerful spells being cast, and the slight tremor of impacts against shields. The air positively crackled with energy, though she was safe on the other side of the door. Not two minutes later, the door opened once more. The sky outside was markedly darker than it had been, and the stars shined beautifully. Night Dancer and Warden smiled as they passed, followed by Luna. Twilight snuck a quick kiss to Luna’s cheek behind the other two unicorn’s back before meeting Celestia on the balcony.

“I thought you might want to talk about what happened in my library.” Celestia said softly. Twilight lifted a hoof, cutting her off.

“It’s not so much the library that has me worried, Princess. I actually came here to talk about the library in the desert, and the preservation society.” Twilight sat on the cool stone opposite Celestia, flicking her tail once before settling. Celestia blinked at her.

“You’re not… Concerned about Blaze?”

“Concerned doesn’t quite touch on how I feel about it, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about…” Twilight glanced off of the balcony, over Celestia’s shoulder to the East. “Maybe after I’ll ask for an explanation…”

“I think I owe you one anyways. But no matter. Ask your question, Twilight. I’ll answer as truthfully as I can.” Celestia ruffled her wings before sitting down opposite Twilight.

“Tell me about the Canterlot Preservation Society. Why it was formed, what its intention was, why it’s been changed.” Twilight’s question was no different from the one she had asked Luna just a few hours prior. Celestia looked at her for a short while, and appeared to be collecting her thoughts. When she spoke at last, it was with a fair amount of melancholy to her voice.

“After Blaze burned every book we had on Synthesis magic and very nearly destroyed all of the others, I left it to a group of skilled unicorns to see to it that such an incident never occurred again, or at least if it did, we wouldn’t lose all the information we had. Their task was to take old books and data and copy or store it securely. Additionally, any new spells, traditions, or whatnot, would be catalogued so it could either be copied or re-created in event of its loss. This included plant life, traditional dinner recipes, and all manner of things. I left it to the committee chair to decide what would and would not be preserved accordingly.” Her tone darkened considerably as she looked down at the ground. Twilight’s heart broke to see her so sad.

“And then Nightmare Moon happened. In the fallout of the event, I lost track of many, many things. The preservation society was one of them. Among a few other committees. While I checked in occasionally, other things tended to distract me. Things like keeping the peace between us the and Gryphons. Apparently Luna’s absence nearly opened Equestria to attack… Anyway, I didn’t realize it until too late that the Canterlot Preservation Society had changed so drastically. They had almost completely forgotten about preserving magical spells and traditions, and had focused solely on nature, and preserving plants. Every new exotic flower, each new vine and tree, they just had to document and make sure to have it’s seeds on standby, in case they didn’t survive.” She sighed and rubbed a hoof into the bridge of her nose, as if trying to repress a headache. “I don’t have the time or the resources to fix them right now, since I’ve taken on their duties.”

“Wait,” Twilight intervened. “You just did their job for them, instead of set them straight?”

“I had to. There was some sensitive material on the brink of destruction, and I was kind of handling the return of my sister at the time… The changeling attack didn’t help, either. I meant to set things straight, but everything kind of fell by the wayside after all that… I just never got around to it. Now, it seems, Regal is intent on tearing the society down and rebuilding it from the ground up. I wish he would have done so by normal means. I’d have been glad to let him handle it. Instead, he’s gone and done this… This whole movement thing.” She sighed again and shook her head. “I’d hate to have somepony else step in and handle my issues, but it seems the Greater Canterlot Council is going to have to settle this dispute once and for all.”

“I think I can figure this out.” Twilight stood then, her mind forming thoughts and plans. It seemed things might just work out in her favor, if only she could get everything prepared in six days. Six days to set things straight.

“Can you? With the investigation into that uprising on top of the whole debacle between Regal and Gable, I’m just too busy to look into the details. Can you fix it?” Celestia asked. Twilight looked up at her mentor with a brave smile on her face, her expression filled with confidence. The smile she got in return was one of the most beautiful things Twilight had ever seen.

“I can handle it, Celestia. Leave it to me.” Twilight nodded, and Celestia sagged so visibly it looked like she had just been relieved of a great weight.

“You’ve no idea how easy you’ve just made things on me. I’m counting on you, Twilight. If there’s anything I can do to help, just say it. I’ll do what I can.”

“Hmm…” Twilight thought over her plan in her head before settling on a course of action. “I’ll need to see the original charter, and a current copy if I can.”

“I’m not sure about the original, but the current copy of the charter should be on-file in the archives.” Celestia said. “I can send a letter ahead to give you access. They’re public files, though, so you shouldn’t need to worry.” Her warm smile filled Twilight with courage and determination. First thing tomorrow, she would start doing some research. She had a lot to do before the Greater Canterlot Council, and not a whole lot of time to do it.

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“What do you mean it’s been checked out?! I didn’t know you could check out files like those!” Twilight fumed, planting her hooves on the archivist’s desk.

“Well, we have an expert survey the document before and after it’s checked out to ensure nothing’s been changed or damaged, but since it’s a public file, anypony can check it out. They’re held liable if anything goes wrong, but that rarely happens.” The archivist waved his hoof as he explained what the procedure was, even as he shuffled through a stack of papers on her desk with magic. Twilight had gone to the archives first thing in the morning and had waited outside of the main doors for close to an hour in the bitter cold before she was even helped. Then she had discovered that the charter had been checked out. This archivist was helping her now.

“Who checked it out last?” Twilight asked, trying to keep a level head through the frustration.

“Come with me.” The archivist levitated a set of keys off of a nail in the wall and nodded towards the door to his office, leading Twilight out into the hall. Both of them walked fast, staying relatively quiet, though Twilight couldn’t repress the occasional grumble of anger. The archivist led her down the hall, into the main foyer of the archive building, and then down a musty staircase. Three floors underground, they reached the level they needed. Here, records and books were stored. Despite the early morning hours, there were already a dozen or so ponies, unicorns and pegasi alike, bustling through the aisles. Some of them were taking inventory, others were filing, and one pegasi was dusting the tops of shelves. They ducked underneath her hooves on the way to their destination.

“Here we go. Charter, Canterlot Preservation Society, Fifteenth edition.”

“Edition? How many do you have?” Twilight knew such things were subject to editing and additions, but fifteen in such a short time definitely spoke of something devious.

“All of them. Except…” The archivist pulled the drawer with the label on it out, revealing nothing but fifteen empty folders. “They were all checked out. Just yesterday, in fact.”

“By who? Do you keep the record?” Twilight was beginning to get angry.

“We have a signature. Here.” From a small compartment on the front of the drawer, the archivist pulled what looked to be a log book. He flipped it open a few pages, and Twilight could see different entries for different ponies who had checked out the charter for years and years in the past. Some of the dates were hundreds of years old. As he flipped a page to the end, though, she saw a thick column of similar type. “Here we are. As you can see, all fifteen editions have been checked out by the same pony.” Twilight glared at the paper. The signature was unmistakable.

“Rarity.”

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“What do you mean she isn’t here?”

“I don’t know.” Sweetie Belle shrugged nonchalantly. “She hasn’t been home for weeks, actually. I thought she was staying with that Saddle-Arabian colt. What’s-his-face. Regal.” Twilight blinked at that.

“You mean she’s been gone for a whole week?”

“After Cross Stitch left.”

“Cross Stitch left?” Twilight blinked again.

“Yeah. He took off a while ago. He and Rarity broke up. You didn’t hear?” Sweetie Belle seemed legitimately shocked. Twilight’s head reeled suddenly. Cross Stitch meant the world to Rarity. They had been living together for close to three years. For him to just leave like that was shocking to say the least. She thought of him as a close friend. Almost as close as Rarity herself. Twilight had stormed straight to the Carousel Boutique from the archives, intent on hunting Rarity down and ripping into the fashionista for her terrible behavior. Now, things were definitely suspicious. Twilight’s instincts were going crazy.

“Where does Regal live?” She asked Sweetie Belle.

“Look, I don’t know. I really only crash here between classes.” The white unicorn shrugged again, yawning a little. Twilight had likely awoken her with the pounding on the door.

“Sweetie Belle.” Twilight said seriously. “I think Rarity might be in trouble. I’ve seen her off and on for the past week, and she never told me about Cross Stitch. In fact, she made it sound like they were together still, the last time we met. She’s been acting different lately. Not herself.” Her serious tone perked Sweetie Belle up a little, and the white unicorn frowned at her.

“That’s not good… I haven’t seen her since Cross Stitch left. I thought she was just in love with Regal. I thought that’s why Cross Stitch left. No, you’re right. Something’s off. What can we do, though? I don’t know where she is…” Sweetie Belle was awfully intelligent. Twilight couldn’t help but grin with a surprising sense of pride before she turned and walked off.

“She checked out the Canterlot Preservation Society’s charter yesterday. Chances are she’s with him now. We find Regal, we find Rarity. Come on.” Sweetie Belle fell into step beside Twilight, both of them with set expressions. Twilight’s gut feeling was that something was incredibly wrong. The whole situation was starting to become more and more clear. Rarity had been acting almost completely unlike herself. Whatever it was that was going on, Regal was behind it. She could see the strings being pulled behind the scenes. Why Rarity had spoken during the preservation society meeting, why she had showed up at Twilight’s first lesson in Synthesis magic. Why she was so involved in the movement. Why she was being such an insufferable bitch. None of it was her fault at all.

It was all Regal.

Twilight broke into a run.

Ulterior Motives

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Archmage - Chapter 25 “Ulterior Motives”

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“Regal!” Twilight burst through the front doors to the council chambers, shouting his name at the top of her lungs. There was no response. Sweetie Belle slipped in behind her, both of them panting from exertion. “Damnit. I thought he’d be here.” She looked around the council chambers for the movement, searching for evidence of anypony’s presence. The place was abandoned. “Any idea where they might be?”

“Maybe his house?” Sweetie Belle offered, jerking her head a little. “He sent a letter to the boutique once, and it had a return address. Maybe we can use that?”

“Okay.” Twilight nodded, turning tail to leave the council chambers. Something caught her eye, though. Upon closer inspection, she found the seal for the preservation society on the bottom of a page. Gingerly, she picked up the sheaf of papers, scanning the contents. “This is… A new charter for the Canterlot Preservation Society.” She muttered, reading as fast as she dared. “He’s… This isn’t good.”

“What?” Sweetie Belle asked, peering over Twilight’s shoulder.

“He wants to put sole executive power in his hooves… Every little spell and tradition will be preserved or destroyed on his order. If this passes, it’d be terrible… Who knows what he would do with it…” Twilight rolled the paper up and carried it with her, nodding for Sweetie Belle to lead the way.

“But he might choose properly… You never know…” Sweetie Belle offered. Twilight had to admit it was honorable that Sweetie Belle would consider alternatives, but she knew better.

“No. The Preservation Society should preserve all things. They shouldn’t have to pick and choose what they do and don’t preserve. No, he has ulterior motives. Whatever they may be.” Twilight picked up the pace a little, spurring Sweetie Belle into a brisk trot.

“You’re right.” Sweetie Belle conceded, hanging her head a little. “Besides, he’s got Rarity spelled or something. She hasn’t been acting like herself.”

“That much is true.” Twilight scoffed. “Let’s hurry and find them. I need to end this.”

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“This is the place.” Sweetie Belle cross-referenced the number on the house with the envelope she carried. They had found the letter amongst the others, and it had the return address of Regal’s home. Twilight knew she couldn’t teleport inside, but she could certainly rouse Regal’s attention. Boldly stomping up to the door, Twilight pounded on it several times. There was a long pause, but Twilight was persistent. She pounded again, this time calling his name. The sound of hooves approaching the door reached her ears, and she stopped pounding. The door opened inwards, and there stood Regal.

“Archmage.” He growled, glaring at her. “Why, pray tell, are you pounding on the door to my home? Give me one good reason I shouldn’t call the guard right now.”

“This.” Twilight brandished the draft for the new preservation society’s charter at him, matching his glare. “Mind explaining yourself?”

“I don’t need to explain anything to you.” Regal growled, trying to snatch the charter. Twilight pulled it back.

“How about what you’re doing to Rarity?” Twilight pressed her advantage. “She’s been my friend for seven years. You’ve done something to her. She is not acting the way she should be.”

“What have you done with my sister?!” Sweetie Belle interjected, standing beside Twilight. Regal flagged at the sight of two determined mares standing before him, backing away a few steps. “She let Cross Stitch leave, and she’s been treating Twilight terribly! You’ve got her under some sort of spell, don’t you?!”

“S-spell? I haven’t spelled Rarity! You can ask her yourself.”

“Ask me what?” Rarity stepped into the hallway behind Regal, looking inquisitively at Twilight and Sweetie Belle. “What are you two doing over here?”

“What are you doing over here?!” Twilight leveled her gaze at Rarity.

“I’m assisting Regal with some research. Twilight, I don’t understand… Why are you here?”

“Research?” Twilight perked up a little. “Is that why you checked out all of the old preservation society charters?”

“Yes, we were looking over the older copies to get a handle on where they were and where they are now… Twilight, what are you doing here?!” Rarity stepped forward, drawing her brow down. “What’s this nonsense about a spell?”

“Regal has you enchanted, doesn’t he? He’s been manipulating you.” Twilight decided now was the time. She needed to confront Rarity on her behavior, and find out what was making her friend act so differently than she normally did. “Rarity, please, try to break it. Or let me disenchant you.”

“What?” Rarity looked stricken. “Twilight, you’re being ridiculous. I’m not under any spell! I know Cross Stitch left. He forced me to choose between him and Regal! I chose the pony who was more of a colt than he could be, of course!” Rarity stood next to Regal, her head high. “Go ahead and try to disenchant it, Twilight. I’m under no spell.” She shared a glance with Regal, who took a step back and nodded.

“Go ahead, Twilight. I’ll show you I’ve done nothing to Rarity.”

“Wait, really?” Twilight perked up. “You’re going to let me test her?”

“Of course.” Regal’s expression was serious. “I have nothing to hide. If she agrees, then go ahead.”

“Fine then.” Twilight lowered her horn and summoned her magic, reaching out to wrap her energy around Rarity’s body. She was slowly lifted from the ground, hovering a few inches as Twilight’s magic began to search for traces of spells on her. Twilight wasn’t exactly sure how a mind control spell would work, but she knew the signs and tells for every spell in Equestria, what to look for and what not to look for. Whatever it was, she would find it.

“I don’t understand.” Twilight set Rarity back down after a minute or so. “There’s nothing. No spell. You’re not enchanted, Rarity, you’re… You’re acting of your own free will.”

“Of course I am, Twilight.” Rarity rolled her eyes. “I’d have hoped you’d see the good in Regal’s plan. He means to restore the preservation society. He told you just last week how the movement was a ruse. He doesn’t mean to destroy every plant in Canterlot. He just wants to see the preservation society function properly again. Not under the control of that… Gable.” She scrunched her nose at his name, which made Twilight’s defenses rise.

“You mean to tell me that all this time, you’ve been advocating the movement, letting Cross Stitch leave, treating me like some enemy, and generally just… Being a bitch… All because you actually agree with this psychopath?!” Twilight spat. She felt her anger and frustration beginning to build up, and she had to take a few even breaths to get the passionate haze of anger to recede from her mind. Rarity and Regal were both frowning at her.

“I think it’s time you left, Archmage.” Regal said curtly. “You’re insulting me in my home.”

“Fine.” Twilight flicked her tail and turned to leave, though she paused on the threshold to look over her shoulder. She met Rarity’s gaze, looking at the white unicorn long and hard. “I thought I had a friend. Clearly I was mistaken.” Then she left. Behind her, the door slammed shut. Twilight and Sweetie Belle stomped away from Regal’s home, both of them brooding over dark thoughts. Just as they were about to make it to the street, Twilight heard the door open behind her.

“Twilight,” Rarity’s voice called to her. Twilight almost continued walking, but the sound of approaching hooves halted her. She raised her head and glared back at the white unicorn trotting towards them. “I don’t much appreciate you casting a shadow like that and then leaving. Can we discuss this? Like sensible ponies?” Twilight looked over Rarity’s shoulder, at Regal standing in the doorway. One glare, though, and he turned and closed the door. They were alone. Twilight looked back to Rarity and sighed.

“Fine. I want an answer, Rarity.” Twilight sat on the pavement, looking at Rarity with her keen purple eyes. “Why are you advocating somepony who is obviously so crazy?”

“Regal is not crazy, Twilight. Trust me.” Rarity sighed, almost as if she had had this argument before. “If you’d just sit and talk to him for a little while, I’m sure you’d see he has nothing but the best of intentions for the preservation society, and all of Equestria.”

“I did talk to him, Rarity. You were there for the lesson. The things he said were just… Insane. Rarity, please.” Twilight leaned in. “Try to listen to reason.”

“I am listening, Twilight. It’s you who won’t listen to me. Give Regal a chance to explain his motives. Please.” Rarity reached a hoof out to lay on Twilight’s shoulder, her expression pleading. “He’s a good unicorn, Twilight. He just wants to see the preservation society returned to what it was, and he thinks the best way is to disband the current one. Trust me, we’ve tried to petition Gable, to speak with him reasonably. He just won’t have it. He won’t listen to us anymore. So we have to resort to… Other means.”

“Rarity,” Twilight sighed. “There are ways to remove Gable from his position. Honest ways. Not some underhanded scheme. This whole movement thing, it’s causing an uproar. Do you honestly think once Regal shows that the movement was founded just so he could be the new chair of a new preservation society that all of his backing, which is founded on a lie, is just going to forgive him? He has ponies all across Canterlot riled up and ready to see every last blade of grass removed from the city.” Twilight shook her head once again, shrugging Rarity’s hoof off of her shoulder. “Regal knows there are other, more efficient ways to remove Gable from his office. If he truly had Equestria’s best intentions at heart, he would have used them. No, Regal has ulterior motives, Rarity. You have to see it.”

“I… I just don’t know what to say, Twilight.” Rarity sighed. “I thought you, of all ponies, would want to see the preservation society flourish once again.” The white unicorn stood up, looking pleadingly at Twilight. “You won’t listen to me or Regal. So maybe I can give you some proof. In his office, Regal has a book he keeps hidden. It’s in a false panel underneath the desk. You can throw the latch with magic and retrieve it. I don’t know what the book is, since I trust his word, but he reads it often and will refer to it whenever we draft a new charter. If you won’t listen to me or Regal, maybe you can read his inspiration. Maybe then you’ll see he has the best of intentions.” Rarity paused for a moment, watching Twilight’s expression as she processed this new bit of information. Twilight tried to make sense of what this meant to her, of how she might get her hooves on the book, to see what it was Regal had planned. She stopped when she saw Rarity’s lip tremble.

“I thought… You of all the other unicorns, would at least give him a try, Twilight…” Rarity’s chest shook with a silent sob, and she drew a shaky breath. “I don’t want to lose a friend. Do what you can to read that book, Twilight. Maybe then you’ll see that Regal is innocent. Maybe then you can find it in your heart to forgive me.” Rarity let a single tear leak from her eye. Twilight watched it drip down her chin, falling to dot the pavement at her hooves.

“Rarity…” Twilight reached a hoof out, but Rarity stepped back, shaking her head.

“Don’t. Twilight. Just don’t.” Rarity held her head high, a few more tears leaking out. “I’m betraying the one colt I believe in more than others just to keep your friendship. I hope you’re happy.” Tears still dripping from her eyes, Rarity turned and walked back to Regal’s home, leaving Twilight and Sweetie Belle shocked on the pavement. When she disappeared behind the door, the two of them still sat there in stunned silence for a long while. Sweetie Belle was the first to speak.

“I never knew she was actually supporting him…” She muttered quietly. “I honestly thought she was under a spell or something… I never would have imagined that she believed him so fully.” Sweetie Belle turned to Twilight, her own eyes brimming with tears. “What have we done?”

“Something terrible.” Twilight whispered, her eyes staring intently at the dot on the pavement where Rarity’s tears had landed. “But I’m not about to lose a friend. She wants me to give Regal a chance. Fine. I’ll give him a chance. We’ll get that book, see what it says, and maybe then I can see the reasoning behind Regal’s plotting.” Twilight looked up at the house, her mind churning with thoughts and information. “But first thing’s first, we need that book. Come on.” With Sweetie Belle in tow, Twilight turned and walked away briskly.

She was going to need some guards.

----------------

“Regal, upon order of the Canterlot Guard, we are authorized to search your house and seize any and all items related to our investigation behind the recent attempt on Princess Celestia’s life. You are ordered to stand down and vacate the premises while the search is conducted, and a list of any confiscated items will be presented to you after completion. From there, you are welcome to dispute any seizures in a court of law. Do you acquiesce?”

“I don’t understand, sir.” Regal blinked in shock at the dozen or so guards on his front porch. “I’m not involved any way with those ponies. I have nothing but the princess’ best interests in mind… How could I have been linked to the attempt on Celestia’s life?”

“We have it from an anonymous source that you may or may not have supplied information crucial to the uprising’s recruitment process. We have authorization to take you into custody should you not agree to the search, sir.”

“No, no, that won’t be necessary. I… Can I pack a bag?” Regal asked, looking around the guard. Twilight shifted her weight, concealing herself from his line of sight behind a brawny pegasus.

“We won’t be long, sir. Just a few hours. We suspect we’ll finish around four p.m. If you honestly feel you cannot stay here after the search, then I will give you a few minutes to prepare a bag. But I doubt your house will be altered in any major way.” The captain Twilight had recruited to lead the search was doing an incredible job alluding to her involvement. Twilight was not the lead of the investigation behind the recent uprising anymore, thanks to her angry outburst that nearly claimed Harbinger’s life. But Bastion was. With a word to her mentor and friend, Twilight had been able to rouse a search party to search and seize anything in Regal’s home. Bastion had apparently twisted some forelegs to get the proper authorization, but he had done it after all. Twilight now stood concealed behind several guards, ready to search Regal’s office for the fabled book Rarity spoke of.

“Fine.” Regal admitted with a sigh. “I have nothing to hide. But I have it on your word that nothing other than evidence pertaining to the investigation behind the attempt on Princess Celestia’s life will be seized?”

“If you’re asking, no, we are not here to investigate your ultimatum with the preservation society. We can and will only confiscate evidence pertaining to the attempt on the princess’ life. On my word.” The guard answered so smoothly, even Twilight was impressed. He sounded as if he really was here only to investigate the uprising. Regal relaxed a little and stepped aside, ushering the search party inside. Twilight, to not risk being seen, quickly and surreptitiously teleported inside and down the hall a short ways. Glancing around a corner, she saw Regal didn’t even notice her. He was busy chatting with the captain of the guard. Smirking just a little, Twilight turned and dashed up the stairs.

“Office… Office… Office… Here we go.” Twilight looked in each door in the upstairs hallway, finally finding what she was looking for. A rich mahogany table sat in the middle of a warmly-lit room, and was stacked with papers and books of a legal nature. Twilight scanned these briefly, but found nothing of interest. They appeared to be rough drafts of the new charter he had penned. With Rarity’s help, of course. Twilight blanched a little and gingerly scooted the chair away from the desk. Looking underneath the dimly-lit bit of upholstery, she could see the faint outline of a false panel. Her horn glowed as she probed behind the wood. Blinking slightly, Twilight could feel the latch. Rarity had told the truth. With a gentle tug, she pulled the false panel open and caught the book as it tumbled out. Rather than look at it, she tucked it away in her saddlebags and closed the panel once more.

“Archmage.” The captain poked his head inside of Regal’s office, whispering softly. “He’s left. Did you find what you needed?”

“I have it, captain.” Twilight nodded. “Thank you for your silence on the matter.” She stood up from the desk, replacing the chair. The captain frowned a little and walked around the desk, looking under it at the false panel.

“What’s under there?” He asked, staring intently up at the underside of the desktop.

“You don’t see it?” Twilight asked, frowning a little.

“See what?” The captain asked again. “There’s nothing under here.” Twilight blinked and lit the dark underside with her horn, leaning in closer to the captain. “Yeah, just some dust.” He grunted, standing straight again. Twilight looked back under the table, squinting up at the underside. It looked completely flawless, like there was no compartment there. Twilight hadn’t realized how well-hidden the secret hiding place really was. Unless somepony specifically knew what they were looking for, they would likely never find it.

“That’s interesting. Well, no matter. I have what I came for. Thank you for your participation, Captain.”

“Thank you for the padding to my retirement fund.” The captain winked. “Mum’s the word. I expect you to disassociate yourself with this search promptly.”

“Naturally. Thank you again, captain.” Twilight slipped past him and down the hall, though she didn’t miss the friendly smile he shot her before his face turned serious once more.

“Private!” He called after Twilight. Ducking around a corner, Twilight hid from sight just as a recruit dashed forth to stand before the captain.

“Sir!”

“Search this office for pertinent information. Leave no stone unturned.”

“Yes, sir!” As the recruit disappeared into the office, Twilight slipped down the stairs and out of the back door. A quick teleport to the other side of Regal’s back fence, and she was on the road once more. The book in her saddlebags burned with the desire to be read, and Twilight could hardly control her heart as she made haste for the castle.

“Alright, Rarity.” She muttered, smiling softly. “Let’s see how innocent Regal really is.”

---------------

Twilight took the book to the one safe place she knew would not be disturbed, and to the one pony who could give her an alibi. Luna opened the door to her chambers with a smile, ushering her inside.

“Any luck?” She asked, shutting the door behind Twilight. With a flourish, Twilight produced the book from her saddlebags, smiling deviously.

“Unless he checks, Regal won’t know the book is gone. The guards would have been unable to find it, and Regal doesn’t know that I know about his secret…” Twilight set the book down, smiling at Luna, though all she got in return was a frown.

“You mean you took this book from him without his knowledge?” Luna seemed dubious.

“Rarity told me about it.” Twilight said gently, frowning down at the well-worn cover of the book. “She said since I can’t trust either her or Regal, this would prove his innocence. That he has the best intentions at heart.”

“Well then.” Luna said gently, sitting on her haunches. “Regal likely has this book guarded for a reason. Chances are, it might be further protected. Shall we check it first?”

“Would you like to do the honors?” Twilight asked, smiling at her love. Luna chuckled and kissed Twilight’s forehead before her horn glowed with a dense hum. Twilight watched as Luna’s powerful magic wrapped around the book, caressing each inch of the dusty and worn cover. When she glanced up at Luna, however, she was frowning. After a few long moments, Luna set the book down with a soft gasp.

“An empathy spell.” She whispered, breathing heavily. “A powerful one.”

“Empathy spell? You mean…”

“This book is enchanted.” Luna nodded, swallowing gently. “So that whoever reads it will feel whatever it was the writer was feeling at the time they wrote each different word.” Luna’s expression was grave as she set her jaw. Twilight looked at the book fearfully. Empathy spells were incredibly complex and difficult to execute. Only very skilled unicorns could cast them. Regal might have been clever, but he wasn’t this powerful. Very few unicorns were. “Twilight.” Luna continued. “I got a glimpse… This book has got… Powerful, dark magic woven into it’s pages. I cannot dispel it without damaging the book. If you read this, you will be subject to it’s effects.” Luna’s tone was serious, and sent a chill up Twilight’s spine. She hadn’t noticed it before, since she had been keen on leaving as soon as possible, but now that she focused on it, the book did seem to hum with power. It filled her with a sense of dread and foreboding. She feared to read what it held. Alas, she couldn’t ignore such an important thing. She had to know what secrets it held. Swallowing hard, she slowly opened the cover.

“Stop.” Luna said, halting Twilight. “Not yet.” The princess left Twilight’s side, going to stand on the other end of the table. Twilight looked at her inquisitively. “If both of us read this book, we’ll both be subject to it.” Luna shook her head slowly, frowning a little. “As much as I dislike letting you reading such a dangerous thing, I know we need to know what’s inside. You read it, and I will monitor you. To keep you safe.” Luna clearly didn’t like this idea. The more Twilight thought about it, neither did she. But they had to know what was inside. She swallowed hard and nodded to her lover.

“Thank you, Luna. And if… If I should…”

“Stop.” Luna lifted a hoof. “I will protect you, Twilight. No matter what.” Even more than the thought of reading the book, Luna didn’t like the thought of Twilight suffering because of it. Her frown intensified, and she fixed Twilight with a meaningful look. “Just… Be careful, okay?”

“Okay.” Twilight nodded with a set jaw, swallowing hard. “Luna, I love you.”

“I love you too, Twilight.”

With a breath, Twilight opened the book.

“The Personal Journal of Archmage Blaze”

Protection and Proceedings

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Archmage Chapter 26 - “Protection and Proceedings”

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Her mane is so beautiful… The beautiful colors remind me of a fresh spring rain and flowers. Rainbows and sunlight. She’s so joyous to merely look at, let alone converse with. All around me, I see the depression and anxiety of other ponies, too caught up in their own daily lives to even stop and look at the beautiful things. Their presence has hardened me to my reality, but she… She is the relief I seek. I want to be with her always. I will spend my life pursuing her if I must.

Joy. Happiness. A little bit of melancholy, but for the most part, this entry was warm and fuzzy. It made her smile as she read it, and feel happy just as the writer felt.

She alludes to a platonic friendship, but I can see it in her eyes… Cadance feels for me. The way she smiles at me is unlike any other colt. She feels the same way I do. When I confessed my love to her, she laughed. Not derisively or coldly… No, this was something more. It was warm and light-hearted. She enjoyed it. Though she told me she was not interested, she felt the same thing I did.

She loves me too.

Pure bliss. This passage made Twilight nearly cry with the sweet sensation of acceptance and happiness.

Bolt. What a fucking douche. There I was, sitting at the café with the princess, and here he comes, bothering her with official business. I swear, some ponies just don’t understand professional courtesy. Alas, I was about to propose to her when he interjected. I will try again on the morrow. Cadance will be mine, and I will be hers. I swear.

Anger and annoyance. Twilight recognized the name Bolt in her own mind, but under the influence of the spell, she only recognized it with contempt and anger. Whoever this Bolt was, he was clearly discourteous to Cadance, whom she loved very much… No. Whom the writer loved. Not her. She loved Cadance…

I don’t believe it. She denied me… She wants to remain friends. And then… Then Bolt comes from nowhere. I swear, he just walks up to her, and the way she smiled at him… That’s my smile. The smile I deserve. I want him out of the picture. I want him gone. I challenge him tomorrow.

Pure, seething hatred. This passage made Twilight shake with anger and rage. She wanted Bolt dead. She wanted to inflict pain so sanguine that nothing the likes of which had ever been seen before. Her horn crackled with the desire. The energy. She wanted him dead. Gone. Cadance was hers. She owned Cadance. And Cadance owned her. Bolt would die. The next passage…

Burn it all.

“Twilight!”

”BURN!” Twilight glared at Bolt with anger in her eyes. Her horn lit up with deadly energy, leaping forth in the blink of an eye. She screamed with lethal intent, even as the vicious fire screamed across the room towards the object of her hatred.

“Twilight, stop this!” Bolt pleaded with her. He would burn. Cadance was hers, and nothing would stop her.

”DIE, BOLT!”

“I AM NOT BOLT!” The feminine voice screamed out loud, wracked with tears and pain. Feminine? Bolt was male. Who was this female before her? She hesitated, and in a flash, Luna emerged from where Bolt stood. Amongst the waves of magic radiating from her horn, Luna dove forth, her own horn glowing with powerful energy.

All Twilight saw was black.

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“Twilight, wake up.” The soft, gentle voice roused her from her slumber. She had been out cold, not even a dream marring the surface of her perfect sleep. With a soft moan, she stirred amidst the warmth around her. A soft pair of lips pressed to her neck, gingerly rousing her further.

“Hmm… Wha…”

“Wake up, love.” Luna’s voice whispered over her ear, accompanied by another soft kiss. Twilight’s eyes fluttered open.

“What happened?” She groaned, wincing against the sudden headache that ripped through her head.

“Shh. Relax, Twilight. It’s okay. You’re okay now.” Luna’s soothing voice washed over her, and she felt the tender sensation of magic running through her head. The pain from her throbbing headache melted away, leaving only soft and serene relaxation in it’s wake. Twilight struggled through the pain, and with the help of Luna’s magic, finally roused herself.

“What… Was that?” Twilight asked, finally able to think properly. The last thing she remembered was opening the book. After that, there was nothing.

“I don’t know.” Luna said gently, shaking her head. “But I didn’t like it. You called me Bolt, Twilight. You tried to kill me. I only just saved the book and defended myself. It’s thanks to your hesitation that I was able to subdue you.” Luna kissed Twilight’s neck once more, nuzzling into her coat after the tender motion. Twilight shuddered a little, but not from the kiss.

“I… Attacked you?”

“That book is dangerous, Twilight.” Luna muttered quietly.

“I called you Bolt?”

“I don’t want you reading it anymore.”

“Luna, I…”

“Shh.”

“No, listen to me.” Twilight shrugged out of Luna’s embrace, slowly getting to her hooves. Her headache was gone and she felt lucid, if a little shaken.

“Twilight,” Luna stood as well, reaching a hoof out. Twilight fixed her with a pleading expression, begging her to listen. Worried, Luna nodded and pulled away. Twilight, however, went back to the table with the book. Luna followed.

“I know what this is.” She said, staring intently at the blank cover. “It’s Blaze’s journal. From when he was in love with Cadance.”

“This book is over a thousand years old, then.” Luna said quietly, standing next to Twilight.

“He… He was insane.” Twilight remembered parts of what she had just read. “He… He loved Cadance. Obsessed over her, even…” The more she talked, the more she remembered. Staring intently at the cover, Twilight continued to talk. The memories flowed fast and free, coming with more and more clarity. “But Bolt interjected. Blaze was happy until he came into the picture. But Bolt ruined that for him. He challenged him…” Twilight pieced what Luna had told her of Blaze and Bolt along with the journal. After wounding Bolt and being thwarted by Cadance, Blaze had tried to destroy everything Bolt stood for. Synthesis magic.

“Twilight. Your jaw.” Luna’s soft words made Twilight blink. She had her jaw clenched so hard, the muscles in her neck were bulging. Her teeth were sore with being clenched too hard. Shaking her head, Twilight looked away from the book.

“Sorry.” She muttered, raising a hoof to her forehead.

“No more reading this book.” Luna said, lifting the journal with her magic. Twilight nodded, for fear that she might attack somepony again. “Not until we analyze it more. Learn to protect the reader. I’ll take it to my sister. She will know what to do. Together, we will learn to protect whoever reads this.” As Luna turned to leave, Twilight spotted something slip out of the covers and fall to the floor.

“Luna,” She said, stopping the princess. “Look.” Both of them stared at the paper. It appeared to be several sheets folded neatly. With a careful touch, Luna set the book back down and lifted the paper instead.

“It’s safe.” She said gently. “No enchantments. Here.” Luna handed the paper off to Twilight, who slowly opened it’s pages. She frowned at the contents, flipping the first page over, then the second.

“It’s a list… With plans.” She muttered. The first and foremost was the Canterlot Preservation Society. Written in bold letters at the top of the page, it had a smaller list of bulletins beneath it. “Make a name, associate with higher society, become prominent figure in politics… Luna, this is Regal’s plan to take over the preservation society. Or more accurately, his goals…” Twilight flipped the page again, though what she saw made her swallow. “The Homefront Committee. He plans on taking that over next.”

“What? Why?” Luna asked, standing beside Twilight. She muttered the next list of bulletins. “Agitate outside threat. Draw guard away from Canterlot. Weakened presence in city. Get closer to royalty? What does he want with that?”

“It sounds like he wants to lessen the guard’s presence in the city… And he’s going to do so by creating an external threat.” Next to that bulletin were several suggestions. In his handwriting, Regal had written ‘Dragons? Gryphons? Saddle Arabia?’ Twilight turned the page once more, frowning at the next and last passage. “The Grand Galloping Gala?”

“Twilight.” Luna breathed. “He’s…” Twilight read down the list rapidly.

-Obtain invitation

-Socialize, mingle, act drunk

-Request private audience with Celestia

Twilight’s heart nearly stopped. Her eyes went wide at what she saw next.

Do it then.

“He’s planning to kill Celestia.”

“How, though?” Luna asked, staring wide-eyed at the paper before them. “How can he kill Celestia? That doesn’t make sense… There’s…” She paused, shooting Twilight a furtive glance before blushing a little. It seemed like she was about to say something but had caught herself. Twilight opened her mouth to address the near slip, but Luna continued. “It’d take powerful magic the likes of which I haven’t seen in ages… And even then, it may not be enough. Celestia is powerful beyond reason. She couldn’t be killed very easily. Not by anypony that lives today…” Luna pulled away from the disconcerting sheet with Regal’s plans on it and began pacing back and forth.

“Luna,” Twilight said gently, stopping her love by gently laying a hoof on her shoulder. “I won’t let him get the first glance at Celestia. We’re going to stop him at the Greater Canterlot Council.”

“Well that goes without saying. But how?” Luna said quietly, still frowning as she sat opposite Twilight. “This paper gives him deniability. He could say we planted it there. Especially since the book has been removed from it’s place in his desk. How can we corner him?”

“With this.” Twilight said, offering Blaze’s journal. “The spell has a signature, right? We can cross-check the book with Regal, to see if he’s read it.” She grimaced at the cover of the book, and the dark things held inside.

“That’s an idea. But we need to be thorough… And I don’t want you reading another word of that thing.” Luna said, glaring at the book as if it were something sentient and evil. “I’ll read it.”

“No. I don’t want to risk it.” Twilight cut her off immediately. “I know you’re a princess, but there are things in this book that… That I just don’t want you to read.” Twilight shuddered, walking forward to press her face into Luna’s mane. “It’s not that I’m afraid… I just don’t want you to see them.”

“If only you knew, Twilight.” Luna said, gingerly stroking Twilight’s own mane. “But, since you insist, I won’t read it. I promise. There is another way, though…”

“Another way?” Twilight pulled back, frowning up at Luna inquisitively. “What other way?”

“Well, I didn’t propose it before because of the… Side-effects.” Luna frowned, nodding towards the book. “But I can shield your mind from the spell’s influence.”

“What? Why didn’t you do that before?” Twilight asked, her eyes narrowing at Luna.

“Because. Here, just let me show you.” Luna nodded to Twilight as her horn began to glow. Twilight was unfamiliar with the spell, but portions of it she recognized. Whatever it was, Luna was targeting her mind. Naturally, Twilight trusted her. She closed her eyes and opened herself. The first thing she noticed was the hum. It permeated the air, making her entire head vibrate with it’s intensity. When she opened her eyes again, everything was fuzzy. She felt like she was on some theme park ride, but she wasn’t moving. The entire effect made her feel rather wobbly. She swayed a little, blinking several times to try and clear the fuzziness. A muffled voice came to her, but the words were undistinguishable.

The effect finally left her. Everything snapped back into perfect clarity, which in and of itself was disorienting. Twilight blinked a few more times and shook her head.

“What was that?” She muttered, fighting the urge to vomit.

“That’s what the spell does. It’s meant to protect the mind, meaning it muddles all of the other things your brain does for you. Like vision, hearing and such. Some things it shuts off completely. Like taste.” Luna explained, stepping forward to lay a hoof on Twilight’s shoulder, steadying her. “You see why I didn’t propose it before.”

“Well,” Twilight grimaced, smacking her lips; her tongue felt a little dry. “We don’t really have a choice, do we?” With a serious look, she turned to the journal. “We need to find out what’s in this book that Regal needs to keep secret.”

“Twilight, I-“ Luna began to say something, but one look from Twilight cut her off.

“We need this, Luna.” Twilight said seriously. “Shield me.”

“Twilight…” Luna’s pleading expression almost made Twilight rescind her decision. There were other ways to decipher what the book held, but they were short on time. The council meeting was in four days. Twilight didn’t change her expression. Luna bowed her head at last. “Very well.”

Luna’s horn glowed once more, enveloping Twilight in the numbing feeling of sensory deprivation. She focused as best she could, opened the journal, and took the dive once again…

-------------

“I hereby call the Greater Canterlot Council to order. Princesses Celestia and Luna presiding. Gentlecolts and mares, welcome. We have many pressing topics to discuss over the next few days. Chiefly that of the re-discovery of Synthesis magic. Regal, of the Movement for Unicorn Superiority in Canterlot, has something to share with you all.” Bastion sat high on a pedestal above the largest gathering of ponies Canterlot hosted, aside from maybe the Summer Sun festival. Unicorns, Pegasi, and Earth Ponies alike filled the largest council chamber Canterlot had to offer, and were packed in as tight as they could be. All of them were open to voice their opinions, offer advice, and present problems for the council’s deliberation.

The whole process took four days, with issues being discussed for no less than fourteen hours out of each day. They were allowed eight hours for rest, two separate hour-long breaks. It was a taxing experience for everypony involved, but it was thanks to the Greater Canterlot Council that many of Equestria’s major problems were solved. Above Bastion sat Celestia and Luna, to help officiate and discuss issues further. But all around them on the ground, in the risers at the edge of the room, and even up in the rafters, were the ponies who had gathered from all across Equestria. It was the single largest political congregation, and only took place once every six years.

“Regal. If you’d please.” Bastion gestured to the proud Saddle-Arabian unicorn, offering him an audience. In the middle of the floor was the only open space the entire chamber offered, and was host to the pony who currently needed to speak. Regal strode forward with his head held high, smiling up at Bastion, Celestia, and Luna.

“Princesses. I have a story to share with you. As many of the gathered ponies know, there was once a great library in the desert between Saddle Arabia and the Gryphon territories. Long, long ago, before Nightmare Moon, the library was lost to us. A powerful spell protected it’s contents from ever being studied again, and thus, it’s knowledge was lost.” Ponies all around nodded at Regal’s story. Some of them were familiar with it, most of them were not. Regal continued. “My family has been interested in the library and it’s contents for a long, long time. Finally, we managed to get the resources to lead an expedition into the maelstrom, in an attempt to recover the lost knowledge.”

“You didn’t.” Celestia cut him off, frowning intensely. “That storm is dangerous. I have lost many, many good ponies; unicorns every bit as skilled as yourself, trying to reach that library.”

“So have we, Princess.” Regal hung his head. “Hundreds.” Celestia grew still, letting Regal go on. “But. We finally managed to lead an expedition of eighty-four ponies into the storm.” When Regal rose his head once more, tears shone in his eyes. “We were attacked. By monstrous, terrible creatures. Constructions of bone and magic that were every bit as vile as the most horrific nightmare you can imagine. They set upon us throughout the blinding sandstorm. I watched many of my colleagues die before my eyes… When there were only four of us left, I ran. I ran straight into the heart of the storm.” Regal closed his eyes, and two tears dripped from either of his eyes, falling to the tile below. He shook visibly, but continued to speak.

“I could hear the terrors setting on my friends, my co-workers.” He whispered the next. “My family.”

“Regal… If this is too much for you,” Bastion offered, but Regal raised a hoof to cut him off.

“I’m fine.” He took a deep breath before pressing on. “When I stopped running… I was there. On the front steps to the library. In the eye of the maelstrom, it sits, every bit as pristine and mysterious as it had been long, long ago. Out in the sands, I could see the terrors, shifting and pacing about. They howled and screamed and roared at me, furious I had slipped past them… None of them, it seemed, could enter the eye. But I could. And I did. I entered the library… There, I found so many wonders. So many books of knowledge and records of past events. There are traditions lost to time, books of spells and enchantments that I can never hope to comprehend or learn. Not in a hundred lifetimes. There is just… So much there…” He shook his head, smiling softly.

“I stayed there for days. Reading, exploring, archiving. The lost knowledge of this place is beyond comprehension. The books there are all in good condition, only very slightly worn. They would be so easy to study. There is so much we can learn from that place…” Regal’s expression turned foul then. Nearby, Gable stood on the floor, and it was he whom Regal glared at. “Were it not for… Current events… We might have recovered the knowledge long ago.”

“What are you implying?” Bastion spoke out loud, silencing the soft murmurs that had begun to spread through the chamber.

“Hang on.” Celestia said after him. “Regal has not yet finished his story.” Silence followed her, and every eye in the chamber was then directed to Regal. He cleared his throat once.

“Alas, despite my best efforts, I only managed to recover one book. That book was only recently stolen from me, by none other than your Archmage, whom I would like to note is not present.” Everypony looked around the chamber at his statement, and sure enough, Twilight was nowhere to be found. A more observant pony would see Celestia and Luna share a quick glance. Murmurs broke out once more, likely commenting on the Archmage’s mysterious absence. Regal spoke over them all. “I was in the middle of a lesson, doing my duty as a loyal liaison to Equestria, when the Archmage teleported from my council chambers with the book in her possession. At first, I was infuriated. I had gone through much to retrieve that book. But then I realized what she was going to do with it. Your Archmage has taken the book and duplicated it several times over, so the copies are now free for anypony to study.” He stepped forward, speaking louder and more fervently.

“That is the same I wish to do, not just for one book, but a million! I wish to unearth the secrets of that lost library and make them publicly available, so that anypony can read them freely! Their knowledge should be free for the world to enjoy, not just to sit in the dark, never being read!”

“He lies.”

Every head in the council chamber snapped to the entrance. There, silhouetted against the early-morning sun, was Twilight. Her sole voice rang out above all others, invoking a silence the likes of which would make a pony wonder if they had gone deaf. She slowly walked forwards, and despite the tight quarters, everypony jostled and moved to give her a wide berth. She carried her saddlebags with her, and despite their apparent weight, she walked straight and tall.

“Do you have any proof?” Bastion said after a while, his voice both hesitant and inquisitive.

“Before I am done, Bastion,” Twilight entered the open space next to Regal, gingerly setting her bags down. “You will see many, many things about Regal that you wish you hadn’t.”

“What are you doing?” Regal growled underneath his breath, glaring at Twilight.

“Stopping you.” Twilight returned. “For good this time.” The two stared at one another for a few long, heated moments before Twilight flipped open the flap to her saddlebags. She spoke loud and clear for everypony to ear. “Regal recovered this book from the library in the desert.” She withdrew the original copy of Synthetic Elements and held it up for all to see. “It is a basic manual for the use of Synthesis magic, and has been integral in the return of synthesis magic. Why Regal did this need not be questioned. Any pony who knew Equestria lacked synthesis magic would have done so in the same situation. But instead of returning the book directly to the care of those who would have done the right thing with it, Regal did the opposite.

“He used this book to gain influence. He kept it secret for the few years he has been in Canterlot, and used it’s knowledge to gain followers. Why, you ask? Here.” Twilight lifted the draft of the charter from her saddlebags next, holding it up as well. “Regal was under the impression that the Canterlot Preservation Society has been corrupted since it’s creation long, long ago. The preservation society originally functioned to preserve magic across all of Equestria. New spells and enchantments are supposed to be documented and filed away so they will not be lost. But, over the years, the charter has been changed time and again, until the Canterlot Preservation Society functioned in the capacity that it does today.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” Gable interjected, stepping into the circle. Twilight sighed and set down the two articles she had before drawing a thick stack of papers from the other side of her saddlebags.

“These are all of the revisions and amended copies of the Canterlot Preservation Society’s charter. From the very first, the original, all the way to the charter in effect today. It’s all very technical, and for time’s sake, I’ll save the council the effort of reading through it. Effectively, the first charter tasked the preservation society with protecting all things against the test of time. That means everything. Spells, traditions, plants, animals, buildings, roads, towns, cities… Anything that can and will be lost to time, it was this society’s job to make sure that it wasn’t. Today’s charter…” Twilight shuffled the papers around until she withdrew the one on the bottom.

“States that the ‘Canterlot Preservation Society shall only be concerned with the well-being of all plant life in and around the city of Canterlot.’” She quoted the text directly before handing all of the charters off to Gable, whose face had paled considerably.

“Is this why Regal has been doing all this? The movement, the hostility…?” Gable asked shakily.

“No.” Twilight sighed. She picked up Synthetic Elements again, turning to Regal with a serious expression. “I will get to Regal’s motives later. But for now, I will say this.” She lifted the book high, speaking loudly. “This book was not the only one that Regal retrieved from the library.” At her words, Regal’s expression turned down. Twilight grinned. “He recovered something else. Something very important, something dangerous…”

Twilight withdrew the journal from her saddlebags. Everypony leaned in, trying to get a good look at it. Regal’s face was a mixture of rage and shock. Twilight triumphantly held the book high.

“This is Blaze’s journal. The Archmage at the time the library was lost. This book is enchanted with an empathy spell, so that the reader will feel what the writer was feeling when he penned the words onto the pages.” Worried murmurs broke out through the room, but Twilight continued to talk over them. “The journal goes on to talk about Blaze’s journey. It begins from the point where he had fallen in love with Princess Cadance, over one thousand years ago. It goes on to describe how Cadance left him for Bolt, another unicorn. Blaze nearly killed Bolt in a magical duel, but was thwarted by Cadance herself. Mad with jealousy and rage, Blaze vowed to destroy everything that Bolt stood for. That included not only Bolt, but the magic of synthesis in it’s entirety.” The whispers had died down by then, and everypony, even Regal, was listening to Twilight.

“Blaze very nearly succeeded in destroying every book on synthesis magic in existence. He destroyed all that Canterlot’s library had, but there were still more in this desert library. So he traveled there next. An exile from Equestria. When he arrived, he nearly managed to destroy them as well. But somepony stopped him.” Twilight looked up at Celestia, smiling faintly. “Bolt. Despite his injuries, Bolt had pursued Blaze to the library. He was out-matched, overpowered, and injured. But he would not be beaten. His love for Cadance and magic fueled one last spell, and he gave his life to it.” A hushed silence fell on the room. Twilight lowered both books, gingerly setting them back in her saddlebags.

“He gave his life to defend the library, so the library remains defended in the best way it can be. Those monsters and the sandstorm are products of Bolt’s life-giving spell. They have stayed there for over a thousand years, standing watch over the knowledge, protecting it from Blaze. Blaze was trapped inside the library. He couldn’t destroy the books, and he couldn’t escape. His madness intensified to all new levels. Madness that he poured into his journal, helping fuel the spell. He managed to find a way to escape in the end. But he left his journal behind. In it, he promised to destroy the last thing Bolt held dear. He vowed to kill Princess Cadance. How did Bolt escape, Regal? Hmm?” Twilight turned to the obviously-enraged Regal, whose chest was heaving with each heated breath he took.

“There is a tunnel. Deep in the basement of the library, it leads out into the storm.” He growled, obviously none too pleased with having his secret exposed. “It’s the same way I escaped.”

“There you have it.” Twilight turned to look up at Celestia, though she spoke for everypony in the room. “Blaze escaped through the tunnel, and came to Canterlot with the intent of murdering Princess Cadance. But along the way, thanks to his insanity, he targeted Celestia instead. He killed hundreds of ponies, guards and otherwise, in an attempt to reach the princess. But after he was killed in return, he left a portion of his madness behind. Here, in this book.” She pulled the journal out again, turning to Regal with an accusatory glare. “The same book that Regal has read, day in, and day out. The same book that fueled his own insanity. Which is why Regal did not return Synthetic Elements immediately upon coming to Canterlot. It’s why he’s founded the movement. He wishes to disband the Canterlot Preservation Society, and then re-form it, so that he controls it. Why? So he can be seen in a positive light by Celestia.” She pulled the last bit of intellectual weaponry from her saddlebags, brandishing it for all to see.

“These plans detail it all, for everyone to see plain as day!” Twilight’s voice rose as she stepped forward. Regal’s face was twisted into an expression of pure hatred. “Regal plans on heading the Canterlot Preservation Society, and then the Homefront Committee next! He plans on creating an external threat against Equestria so that the guard will be drawn away from their homes! Then, with Canterlot weaker than it’s been in ages, he strikes.” Twilight slammed the journal and Regal’s plans down on the ground vehemently.

“He’s going to kill Celestia.”

His plans were laid bare. The proof lay open on the ground, ready for anyone to read. To see his ugly machinations, and what he intended to do with them. Regal’s eyes were beady, and sweat broke out on his hide. Twilight could see his muscles bulge along his neck, evidence of how hard he was grinding his teeth. If looks could kill, Twilight would have died.

Then it happened. His eyes darted up and to the side just once. Twilight followed, and saw what he intended to do.

Only Regal beat her to it. With a primal scream of maddened rage, Regal turned to Celestia and cast a spell. It was unlike any Twilight had ever seen before. The sound of thunderous energy filled the air, even as Regal aimed the lethal spell at Celestia, sitting above everypony else.

Then, all Twilight saw was white.

An End to the Madness

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Archmage - Chapter 27 “An End to the Madness”

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Twilight felt like she had been blinded. No matter how many times she blinked, she could only see white. It was clear and pristine. Flawless, even. It filled her vision from all sides, ensuring that she couldn’t see anything other than the pure, unblemished surface of whiteness. The only thing that told her she wasn’t truly blind was the darkness whenever she closed her eyes. So why was everything white? Instead of focusing on her eyesight, Twilight tried to focus on her other senses.

The ringing in her ears was difficult to distinguish at first. But the more she focused on it, the more Twilight could pick out the slight nuances in the otherwise droning noise. She could hear a faint crackle throughout the thrumming, scintillating sounds assaulting her ears. It was really loud, too, to the point she thought she could have gone deaf from it. Soon enough, though, she became accustomed to it. She could hear the crackling energy that sounded out, filling the council chambers with it’s powerful emanations.

But the sound wasn’t conclusive enough. Smell wouldn’t tell her anything, and she dared not move with so much energy filling the air around her. She needed to see what was going on. A thought struck her then, and she cast an impromptu spell. There was a lot of interference in the air, with the powerful spell that Regal had invoked, and Twilight had some trouble casting her own spell. When she did, her pupils contracted and allowed much less light into her eyes. Though it was still bright, Twilight could finally see. Then again, she almost couldn’t comprehend what she saw anyways.

Regal, with his hooves planted wide and his horn ablaze with energy, was standing underneath an oppressive beam of pure light. The light emanated from a source high above the crowd of shocked ponies, and even with the benefit of her enhanced high-light eyesight, Twilight couldn’t see what it was exactly. The one thing she knew for sure, however, was that Regal was no longer casting the spell he had been just a few moments before that. Twilight, just like everypony else, was utterly stunned.

Celestia hadn’t just resisted the deadly spell aimed at her. She had overpowered it, and was now subduing Regal. She watched as Regal’s horn began to splinter under the force Celestia put upon it. With an ear-splitting scream of pain and defeat, Regal’s horn was shattered, until nothing but a few sharp shards were left jutting from his forehead. Celestia completed the spell, and a shockwave of energy shot through the room. Twilight was pushed back a few feet, while other ponies would have been knocked over or flattened to the walls. The light faded away enough for Twilight to see normally then.

Celestia walked on the air, her wings spread wide but not flapping. Her eyes were ablaze with an energy not unlike the one she had seen herself emit when under the influence of the shadow. The princess descended from her place above the congregation of ponies, walking slow and surely on nothing but the air. When her hooves met the floor, the effect faded from her eyes, and her wings tucked back against her sides.

“Regal.” She spoke calmly, but loud enough for those gathered to hear. “For your crimes against Equestria, and your attempt on my life, I hereby condemn you to prison until a time your fate will be determined. Twilight, will you please see to it that Regal is imprisoned properly?” Celestia looked to Twilight then. In her gaze, Twilight didn’t see her mentor, or her friend. Gone was the warm and tender pony that Twilight had come to love and care for.

In her place was Celestia. Ruler of Equestria. Awesome and fearful. Twilight could only swallow and nod.

“Yes, princess.” Her horn glowed as she picked up Regal’s unconscious form from the floor. She could see his chest was rising and falling smoothly. He was alive, if only just barely.

“Twilight,” Celestia’s voice stopped her on her way to the door. “See to it he gets proper medical attention. I’m sure that before the day is done, we will have many questions for him. I’d rather he not die…” She opened her mouth, as if to say something more, but she stopped. Twilight could see it in her eyes, though. She didn’t want the blood of yet another pony on her consciousness. Twilight nodded firmly and hefted Regal’s weight with ease.

“Leave it to me, Princess. He will survive. I’ll make sure of it.” Without another word, Twilight left the council chambers. She was still shocked at all that had happened, but there were a few things that she knew for certain. The first was that she had a newfound respect for Celestia’s power. Whatever spell Regal had used, it was designed to kill alicorns. Perhaps he hadn’t used it under the proper circumstances, or maybe he wasn’t skilled enough to execute it, but it was powerful, and unlike anything Twilight had ever seen before. Celestia hadn’t just stopped his spell. She had powered through it and subdued Regal by eliminating his source of magic. Twilight could accomplish the same thing, sure, but the fallout would have been devastating. Celestia had done it all without harming a single pony with the dangerous by-product of such a spell.

The second thing Twilight knew was that Regal had to live. As soon as she left the council chambers, she called out for the nearest guard. When two unicorns rushed to her, she talked quickly and concisely.

“I need you to get a medical unit right away. His horn has been shattered, and he might have suffered a severe concussion. Additionally, he’s suffered mental trauma. Get somepony who’s an expert in the mind and damage it’s taken. Have them meet me at the prison. I need this right away. Understood?” Twilight walked while she talked, towing the two guards along with her.

“Yes, Ma’am!” Both of them said in unison. She heard their hoof-falls as they both took off. Twilight took a moment to pass over Regal’s body, making sure nothing had been damaged that she could help. Sure enough, he was physically sound. But the way his horn had been shattered and his mind assaulted with such power; whatever was keeping him from consciousness was mental. The best she could do for him then was to get proper help. Breaking into a brisk trot, Twilight carried him down into the hallways beneath the castle, towards the prison cells.

“Archmage!” The guard on-duty saluted as she approached. She barely even looked at him as she brushed past.

“Open cell.” She muttered. “Quickly.”

“Right! Sorry!” Fumbling with the keys, the guard unlocked a nearby door, and Twilight set Regal on the cot inside. He was still breathing normally, but his eyes wouldn’t open. “I have to say,” The guard diverted her attention. “I’ve been waiting for this day for a long time. Bastard got what he deserved, didn’t he?” The guard looked young to her, a unicorn with a light coat. Twilight looked at him with a slight scowl.

“Nopony deserves this.” Twilight said sternly.

“S-sorry. I’ll leave.” With an embarrassed flush, the guard backed towards the door.

“A medical unit will be arriving soon.” Twilight grunted as she looked back to Regal. He was her charge now. She wasn’t going to leave him alone for anything. He looked pained. Twilight wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Instead of trying to figure out her emotions on this most recent development, she resigned herself to keeping solitary watch over him. She didn’t have to wait for long.

“Archmage. How is he?” The medical team swept into the cell, four unicorns strong. Twilight stepped back against the far wall, letting them take over.

“Unconscious. His horn has been shattered. Breathing appears normal, but he won’t wake.” Twilight spoke calmly and evenly, passing off the pertinent information.

“Pulse?”

“Regular.”

“Right. I’ll need to do an introspect spell.”

“Okay. I’ll keep the cell clear.” Twilight nodded to the leader, making her way out into the dim hall as the medical team prepared themselves. The door shut behind her, and the hum of magic permeated the air. The guard stood next to her, shifting nervously as she stood watch.

“Is he going to be okay?” He asked after a while.

“I don’t know.” Twilight muttered. “I hope so.”

“You know, I can keep watch-“

“Princess Celestia tasked me with this herself.” Twilight cut him off curtly. “I’d rather I stayed by his cell specifically. Please, don’t let me distract you from your regular duties.” The guard fell into hushed silence, but he didn’t leave her side. Twilight was fine with him staying beside her. It didn’t matter who was at her side. Nopony was going to enter that cell without her say-so. Behind them, the hum of magic went on.

“Would you like some water?” The guard asked after a prolonged silence.

“… Yes. Thank you.”

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Twilight stood watch over Regal until Celestia herself arrived. She didn’t say anything to her mentor. There was no need. She just stood aside and let Celestia into the cell. The conversation, or whatever it was that transpired inside of the cell, was completely quiet. She won out against her curiosity, though, and managed to keep from peeking inside. When Celestia re-emerged, it was with a sad look.

“There’s no need to stand watch anymore, Twilight. Regal will live, but I doubt we will learn anything from him. He will not talk.” Celestia walked past Twilight, indicating she should follow with a tilt of her head. “The danger has passed us, but there are issues to address… The movement should be debunked now that it’s leader and primary backing has been imprisoned, but the ponies who followed him might not be so ready to give up the cause… Silly as it was in the first place. Additionally, this business with the preservation society needs to be addressed. I think Gable might see the light now.”

“Right.” Twilight agreed wholeheartedly. Something was bothering her greatly, though. “Princess?”

“Hmm?”

“… Nevermind.” Now wasn’t the time. Twilight didn’t want to bother Celestia with even more issues. “I was thinking about Regal’s plans. I guess it means nothing now, huh?” She lied, but Celestia appeared to buy it.

“Indeed. Honestly, I’m surprised he would go to such lengths to control even the Homefront Committee, just to get a shot at me… But why would he create an external threat against Equestria?” Celestia mused, hanging her head as they walked out of the prison and into the castle proper.

“I’ve been thinking that over,” Twilight offered. “I think it’s so he could make a clean escape. If he tried to take your life at the gala, the guard’s presence throughout the city would catch him in no time. But if the guard were deployed elsewhere, fighting some other threat... He would have a better chance of escaping.”

“Hmm. Good point.” Celestia muttered. “That makes sense. If he simply wanted me dead, he would have made an attempt earlier. No, he wanted to kill me and live himself.” Celestia gave Twilight a meaningful smile. “Talk about balance, eh?”

Despite the situation, Twilight chuckled.

“What’s next, then?” She asked after a short distance. Celestia sighed as she stopped short of the council chambers.

“The council’s been postponed until we sort this mess out. I don’t think with all that’s happened, we can ignore the more pressing issues. We’ll do what we can to stabilize Canterlot before holding the council again in the near future. Perhaps a month or two. Meanwhile, Twilight, I need you to focus on taking over the Archmage’s position.”

“About that.” Twilight said with a soft voice. She didn’t want to address this point just yet, in light of what had just happened, but it appeared as if Celestia was pushing her into it. “I don’t think that’s what I need to do.” Celestia raised an eyebrow at Twilight, her wings ruffling a little.

“Oh? You think your efforts would be better appreciated elsewhere?” Celestia slowly lowered herself to her haunches, peering down at Twilight. She could tell that with everything that had transpired, Celestia wasn’t really in the mood to be challenged. But Twilight felt strongly for what needed to be done.

“Regal managed to not only make it to the library, but escape from it as well. Never mind his insanity, that was thanks to the book. I think I need to go to the library, Celestia. I think it’s about time somepony did something about all of that lost knowledge.” Twilight held her head high and spoke confidently. Celestia’s expression didn’t change at all. She just stared at Twilight with her intense eyes, as if staring past her conviction and right into her heart of hearts. The silence between them was almost palpable. It stretched on uncomfortably long, but Twilight remained vigilant.

“Is this what your instinct is telling you?” Celestia finally asked after a long silence.

“It is.” Twilight nodded. Celestia continued to stare at her for a while longer before hanging her head with a sigh.

“Tread cautiously, Twilight. I’ve lost many good friends and colleagues to the defenses of the library. I don’t want to lose you, too.” Celestia’s acquiescence nearly made Twilight’s heart leap from her chest. Despite the danger and trials that lay ahead, Twilight found she was both relieved and excited for her most recent task.

“Give me one week to prepare. I’ll cover my constituency. I promise you.” After a quick, furtive glance about the hallway, Twilight rushed forward for a quick embrace. Celestia returned it with a smile on her face.

“Be safe, Twilight. That’s all I have to say for you.”

“I will. I promise. I’ll make sure I know how to find the entrance before I ever even leave Canterlot. Thank you!” Giving one last grin of confidence, Twilight took off down the hall.

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Regal stirred on his cot as the door to his cell opened. His eyes had adjusted to the dark, with no thanks to the pounding headache that came with his humiliation. He couldn’t see much more than the vague outline of a hooded figure as they stealthily slipped into the dingy room.

“Who is it?” He muttered, blinking unevenly at the intruder. As they pulled their hood back, though, Regal couldn’t help but grin. “Rarity. Light of my life, I’m so glad you’re here…” Rarity rushed forth to embrace him passionately. She was trembling. “Relax, my love.” Regal said softly. “I’ll be okay.” His fuzzy thoughts moved slowly, but her being in his prison cell made no sense. “How… How did you make it in?”

“I attacked the guards; myself and several other members of the movement. I’m so sorry they did this to you.” Rarity choked, her chest shaking with suppressed sobs. “Regal my darling… I’m so glad you’re alive. Celestia could have killed you!”

“I’d almost prefer she did.” Regal muttered, gesturing to the shattered remains of his horn. Rarity had attacked the guards for him… He truly was blessed to have her.

“Don’t say such a thing!” Rarity gasped, her eyes wide with shock. “I don’t know if I could bear losing you…”

“Oh, Rarity.” Regal groaned, pulling her close for another hug. “You’ve always been so good to me… I honestly don’t know what I would have done without you…”

“Shh, it’s okay.” Rarity cooed. She really was a soothing pony to be around. Despite his contempt for all of Canterlot’s high society, Regal could say beyond the shadow of a doubt that he loved this unicorn. He would trust her with his life. In fact…

“Rarity.” Regal said, drawing her close yet again. “You don’t believe them, do you? About my plans to kill the princess?”

“Darling, you were defending yourself!” Rarity said incredulously. “What Celestia did to you… Why, it’s unforgivable!”

“I knew you’d see reason.” Regal smiled as he kissed Rarity’s cheek. “You’ve always been by my side.”

“I’m on your side still, my love.” Rarity leaned in, her eyes wide with fear. “That’s why I need you to tell me the way to the library.”

“To the library? Rarity, it’s too dangerous… You wouldn’t make it.”

“We have to risk it, my love.” Rarity took his hoof in both of hers, leaning closer still. He could feel her panicked breath on his cheek. “The princess, she wants to destroy the library. She fears you’ve gone mad, and the library is to blame. She won’t listen to me, or Twilight.”

“All the more reason for you to run, my dear!” Regal clutched her tight, burying his face into her mane. “I don’t want to lose you too…”

“What’s worse?” Rarity asked, sobbing now. “Losing me, or losing the thousands of years of knowledge in the library? Please, Regal. Just tell it to me… I’ll go there before any of them. I’ll… I’ll… I’ll give my life! Just like Bolt did! I’ll make sure none of them ever get to look at those books, Regal… Only you and your family will ever see them. To do what’s right. To make them free for the world to see.”

“Rarity! You cannot!”

“I must!” Rarity pleaded, tears flowing from her eyes. “My love for you will fuel the spell, and keep everypony away. I will protect the library, Regal! I have to! I love you!” She broke into sobs then, collapsing against him. Regal winced against the pain, but held her close anyways.

“Shh. Shh. Okay, okay.” Regal muttered, stroking her mane gently. “Okay, I’ll tell you…” She calmed then, sniffing as she pulled away. He looked her deep in the eye, and despite everything, despite the agony and the shame of his defeat, he smiled at her. “I love you, Rarity.”

“And I love you, Regal.” She returned, smiling at him. Regal took a steadying breath and began to explain.

“At the south-western corner of the entrance to the Valley of Knowledge is a tall oak tree, the last in a stand of maples before the maelstrom. It will be marked with a circle in it’s trunk. From there, face the constellation of Canis Major, and walk five minutes. This will take you into the storm. After five minutes, you will come upon a boulder. Turn left ninety degrees, following the pointed edge of the northern face of the rock. From there, you run. Run like you never have before. You will come to an outcropping of rocks. The entrance is hidden there, between the two that look like Canterlot’s peak. Once you are inside, you will be safe. Follow the stairs down to a long hallway, and into the library itself. But do not leave the main entrance, for the creatures will have you. Do you understand?”

“Perfectly.” Rarity’s cold tone took Regal by surprise. She pulled away from his embrace and wiped her eyes free of her tears. He reached out to her, but she batted his hoof away with a scowl. “Don’t touch me, you fiend.” She growled. “Guard. I’m finished in here.” The door opened once more, and this time a blinding light came with it. Two guards, hefting lanterns lit with candles, entered the cell. With the blinding light of their lanterns came clarity. Regal’s muddled mind began to connect the dots.

“You… You traitor!” Regal struggled to get to his hooves, but only managed to fall off of his cot onto the dirty floor. Rarity took a step closer, leaning to whisper in his ear.

“I loved you, Regal. With all of my heart. But you… You are not who you appeared to be. You are an insane pony who needs serious help. I will never forgive myself for doing what I did to my friends and family on your behalf. But I can try to make it up to them. I’ll begin by taking Twilight to your library. She will do what you never could. She will protect the knowledge there.” Rarity stood back up, scowling down at Regal. Broken, battered, and barely alive, this pony was truly at his lowest. And yet, Rarity could not find compassion in her heart.

She could only find hatred.

“Goodbye, Regal.”

The door shut on him.

-----------------

“You’re sure this is the way?” Twilight asked, looking over the written instructions Rarity brought her.

“He did not lie to me, Twilight. It was a good story, the one you gave me.” Rarity sounded more exhausted than any pony rightly should be. Twilight frowned at her, placing the sheet of paper with the instructions on her nearby desk.

“Rarity,” She said with a soft tone, laying a hoof on the white unicorn’s shoulder. “You loved him, didn’t you?”

“Past tense.” Rarity shrugged out of the gesture, turning her back with a soft whimper. “I never knew he was mad… Everything he said made sense to me…” She sniffed, her lower lip trembling as she fought with the next words. “I fell for him. Hard. I abandoned Cross Stitch… Sweetie Belle… I… I abandoned you.

“Rarity…”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself.” Rarity continued, turning back to Twilight. Tears brimmed in her eyes, but she stood tall and strong. “What I did was terrible. There is no denying that. While I don’t think I’ll ever make it up to you, I can at least try.” She took a step forward, taking Twilight’s hoof in her own. “Let me come with you to the library, Twilight.”

“What? Rarity, I-“ Twilight stepped back from the touch, closing her eyes.

“Twilight, please.” Rarity insisted, following her.

“It’ll be dangerous.”

“I don’t care.”

“It’ll take weeks to get there…”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Even a powerful unicorn would have trouble navigating the storm…”

“Twilight, you cannot dissuade me from this.”

“I’m not.” Twilight opened her eyes, looking at Rarity with a smile. “I was just saying I couldn’t ask for anypony better than you.”

With a cry, Rarity collapsed into Twilight’s forelegs, sobbing with relief. Twilight held her old friend close, stroking her mane with a soothing touch.

“You might want to pack your bags, Rarity.” Twilight said. She looked up, smiling resolutely. “We leave tomorrow.”

Feelings and Farewells

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Archmage - Chapter 28 “Feelings and Farewells”

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After Rarity left her chambers, Twilight set about to packing right away. She wasn’t entirely sure how well she would survive out in the wilderness. The terrain between Canterlot and their destination varied from ocean to forest to desert, highlands, and even a bit of tundra from the crystal empire’s frozen northern area… What to bring along was making her worry.

“You’re absolutely sure you need to do this?” Luna’s sudden appearance made Twilight jump, her pulse racing.

“Gah! Luna!” She gasped, panting as her heart thundered in her chest.

“Hehe. Sorry.” Luna smiled at her, slowly walking forward. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“’S fine.” Twilight blushed as she took a deep breath, her cheeks flushed. Luna nuzzled her neck affectionately, making her relax a little more. “Sorry, Luna... I should have told you sooner…”

“I think I found out on my own well enough.” Luna teased. She kissed Twilight’s cheek. “Getting Rarity to visit Regal was bound to raise some alarms somewhere along the way, right?” Despite Luna’s friendly demeanor, Twilight could tell that she was bothered with the sudden development. It had been yet another stressful day, and it wasn’t even over yet. Twilight looked Luna in the eyes, frowning slightly.

“Talk to me, Luna.” She said quietly. “What’s on your mind?” Luna looked back at her for a few long moments before giving a soft sigh.

“Do you really think leaving Canterlot is the best thing right now?” Luna pulled away and looked down at Twilight. She could tell this was a serious question, not one posed by a teacher, or a lover, or even a friend. Luna was asking as a princess.

“I do.” Twilight nodded firmly. “It’s my job to preserve the balance in all things, Luna. I can’t just ignore an entire library’s worth of lost knowledge. If what Regal speaks is the truth, and I have reason to believe it is, then we must act quickly.” She felt strongly about this. Probably because of all the trouble Regal had been making the past two weeks, but mostly because she didn’t want to lose the knowledge kept in that library. Luna looked at her for a long while, her expression very serious. After a few minutes, she gave a soft sigh and hung her head.

“Very well, Twilight. But consider a few things… If Regal’s party of eighty only managed to get one pony through the storm… How do you plan on getting through it alone?”

“I’m not going through the storm.” Twilight said, turning back to her packing. “At least, not for very long. Not all the way to the library. The way his directions sounded, I won’t be in the storm for more than about ten minutes. I’ll defend myself, or counter-attack if I’m targeted. I can make it ten minutes.” She hefted two books, trying to decide which would be better for her to take along to the library.

“You can… But what about Rarity?” Luna’s quiet question made Twilight pause. She stared intently at her bags for a few long moments before slowly turning to Luna.

“I can’t ask her to stay here.”

“Yes you can.” Luna said curtly. “It’s not that hard.”

“It’s not that easy, either.” Twilight slowly sat on her haunches, frowning at Luna. “She feels like she owes this to me. I can’t come between somepony else and their debt. Not Rarity. Not my friend.”

“She’s hardly been your friend the past few weeks.” Luna glanced to the side.

“She was duped. Granted, it’s not that difficult to influence her, but I don’t think she’s to blame for the things Regal made her do. And even if she were to blame, who are we to keep her from trying to redeem her mistake?” Twilight’s counter-point made Luna fall silent for a while, so she pressed her advantage. “I can protect both of us, Luna. Even against the creatures in the storm. If I must.”

“I hope so.” Luna whispered, still looking away from Twilight. “For both your sakes.” Twilight looked closer, and saw tears glimmering in her lover’s eyes.

“Luna…” Twilight slowly walked forward, drawing the princess’ attention. “I have to do this. Not just for me, but for Equestria.”

“I know.” Luna muttered. She stepped closer, wrapping her forelegs around Twilight. “I just don’t have to like it…” Twilight sagged into the embrace, breathing deep the scent of Luna’s mane. With the stress Regal had put on her, Twilight hadn’t had much time to spend with Luna. Though, there was the few days she had spent reading Blaze’s journal underneath the protection of Luna’s spell. Those didn’t really count, though. Twilight had spent hours on end squinting at fuzzy words, with Luna’s magic running interference on the spell’s influence. They didn’t break often, and definitely didn’t partake in anything more than a quick discussion. Despite the stress of packing for what was likely a month-long trip, Twilight found herself pressing closer to the princess.

“Somepony’s awfully eager.” Luna teased, running one hoof up and down Twilight’s back.

“It’s been a while…” Twilight returned, her words slightly muffled in Luna’s beautiful mane. Luna’s hoof was rubbing all the right spots along her back, and felt incredibly wonderful.

“That it has.” Luna chuckled and gave Twilight’s collarbone a gentle kiss, sending shivers up her spine. “What did you have in mind?”

“Well…” Twilight pulled back just enough to look at Luna in her eyes, blushing a little as she spoke. “I’ve always had a thing for… The shower…”

“Say no more.” Luna’s horn glowed as she lifted Twilight in the air, eliciting a gasp and a giddy smile. Twilight let Luna carry her all the way to the bathroom, grinning like a schoolfilly the entire way. Luna made a beeline for Twilight’s shower, using her magic to crank the water on hot. Twilight exhaled as the scalding stream of water washed over her back, releasing even more tension from her stressed muscles. Luna pressed close against her side, their legs soon becoming tangled. Twilight wasn’t even sure when it happened, but both of them were laid out on the flat floor of her shower, kissing passionately.

“Hmmn.” Luna’s soft moan spurred Twilight on, her hooves roaming over Luna’s shapely flanks. The princess groaned at Twilight’s touch, her head rolling back as she opened her mouth in a breathless gasp. Twilight’s own mouth began to travel lower, kissing along Luna’s jawline and down to her neck. Her hooves travelled lower and lower as well, dipping in to tease the very insides of Luna’s thighs before sliding around to the base of her tail, back up to her cutie mark, and around again. Luna was panting by the time Twilight pressed her lips to her stomach, and as she went lower, the sounds became louder. Twilight took her sweet time, enjoying each new inch she kissed. The hot water had matted Luna’s coat to her skin, making the soft hairs all that more addictive to kiss and tease.

By the time Twilight’s lips were pressing against the inside of Luna’s thighs, the princess was all-out moaning. Twilight would have feared somepony hearing them under different circumstances. As it stood, though, nopony would have been within earshot. With a hot breath, Twilight began kissing higher and higher.

“T-twilight.” Luna moaned her name, the sound of which made Twilight shudder between Luna’s legs. “Please… I’m begging you.” She actually liked the sound of that… Her lips curled upwards in a devious smile, grinning at Luna.

“I think you can beg a little better than that.” She teased, kissing further and further away from Luna’s core. Luna dropped her head to the floor with an audible thump, groaning as her hooves rested on Twilight’s neck, urging her lower. Twilight resisted, keeping her lips firmly on Luna’s stomach.

“Please…” Luna moaned, her eyes fluttering closed. “Please, Twilight… I want it.”

“Oh come on.” Twilight teased, kissing Luna’s stomach even higher. “You’re not even trying.” The further and further Twilight moved away from Luna’s core, the more she whimpered and moaned. Luna lay there panting for a few long moments as Twilight worked back up to her neck, teasing the edge of her lips.

“You. Are. The. Worst.” Luna’s hips began to squirm. Twilight caught the faint scent of arousal, even from where she was, with the water falling about them. She grinned against Luna’s lips, her words coming as hardly more than a whisper.

“You know what you need to do.”

“I swear, I’m going to get you for this… Making a princess beg for release…” Luna growled teasingly. Twilight chuckled and kissed her lover deep for a few long moments.

“Say it.”

“Twilight, please…”

“Come on. Say it.”

“Fine.” Luna sagged down to the tile, looking up into Twilight’s eyes for a few long moments. The only sound was the patter of water hitting their coats and the tile around them. Luna’s half-lidded expression spoke volumes to Twilight. She could see the burning desire and passion for Twilight in those eyes, could feel the heat and emotion that the princess felt for her. Even if they were about to engage in wet, filthy lovemaking, Twilight knew in her heart of hearts that Luna loved her. And Twilight loved her as well.

Luna’s forelegs rose to wrap around her neck, and she pulled Twilight’s ear down to her lips.

“Lick me, Twilight. Please.” Luna moaned. “Lick me until I can’t walk straight anymore. Don’t stop, even if I beg for it. Bury yourself between my legs, and drink your fill. I want you to lick every last bit of me, Twilight…” Luna’s passionate words spurred Twilight into action. She could hardly resist anymore. With a soft whimper and a hot breath of desire, Twilight settled on the tile floor between her lover’s spread legs, and set in on her.

The taste was incredible. Twilight could hardly get enough of it. The hot water in combination with Luna’s musk was a combination that Twilight wasn’t about to forget. She licked fast and hard, her tongue digging deep into Luna’s entrance. The hot gasps and throaty moans that the princess gave her spurred Twilight on even more. She delved her tongue as deep into Luna’s pulsing core as she could manage, swirling it around to find that one spot.

“AHN!” Luna cried out as Twilight found it, her hips lifting to dig against Twilight’s open mouth. With an eager touch, Twilight swirled the tip of her tongue over the spot until it grew larger, easier to manipulate. She was able to depress the hard sphere, which in turn made Luna shudder and cry out even more. “TWILIGHT!” Her voice lifted in a scream, echoing around the tiled bathroom. “I’M… I’M… I’M CUMMING!

“Woah!” Twilight managed to pull her head away just as Luna’s slick marehood squirted a prodigious amount of thin, clear liquid. It spattered all over her front and into the tile floor, coming out at an incredibly fast rate. Twilight likely would have choked if she tried to swallow all of it. But she wanted to try. Diving in, she caught half of the long stream in her mouth, savoring the delightfully vile taste, the way it covered her tongue and swirled around her gums. Some of it sprayed onto her face, forcing her to close her eyes. The muscles inside Luna’s vagina flexed and pulsed as she continued to ooze the delicious fluid, and Twilight felt like she couldn’t drink enough of it. Luna’s legs twitched and shook as she kept licking, moaning directly into her lover’s crotch.

“Haah… Haah… Haah… Guh.” Luna’s chest heaved as she fought to catch her breath, and Twilight stretched out between her legs. “By… The night… That was… Amazing.” Luna panted, raising her head just enough to grin stupidly down at Twilight. Twilight returned the silly grin, her chin resting on Luna’s twitching stomach.

“I’ll say. You’re delicious.” Twilight punctuated her sentence by licking her lips, grinning up at Luna.

“I don’t suppose… I’ll be able to return the favor?” Luna panted, her chest slowly steadying as she caught her breath.

“I don’t think you can stand right now. And besides.” Twilight grinned at her. “I’m not done with you yet.”

“Twilight, what are you- AUGH!”

------------------------

Despite her exhaustion, Twilight couldn’t sleep. Luna slumbered peacefully at her side, her chest rising and falling slowly atop the damp sheets. But Twilight couldn’t get her mind to calm down. All of the recent developments ran through her head over and over, playing out one after the other. Her memories began to go further back, as well… She remembered when she was first named Archmage, at Nocturnal Glow’s ceremony. Shortly after that, the whole fiasco with her virginity, and then her parents passing away. Then came the ordeal with Bastion and the shields, the uprising and the first attempt on Celestia’s life.

Even then, she didn’t get to rest. She had to master her anger, and began studying the magic of nature, which uncovered the whole plot with Regal and the movement… Now that that was wrapped up, Twilight had to go and investigate this library. She lay next to Luna, looking at her lover’s beautiful face as she slept, and Twilight felt a profound sense of sadness. Carefully as she could manage, she reached out to stroke Luna’s mane, and whispered a simple question to herself.

“Will things ever be normal?” Twilight’s whispered question roused Luna from her sleep. Her brilliant eyes blinked a few times before settling on Twilight.

“Can’t sleep?”

“No… I’ve got a lot on my mind.” Twilight muttered, tucking herself closer against Luna. The princess drew her tight, running a hoof through her mane. Even now, tucked in her arms, Twilight couldn’t stop the whirlwind of thoughts and ideas.

“Maybe you should go for a walk?” Luna suggested, kissing Twilight’s jaw gently. Her muscles were kind of tight… Twilight might actually benefit from a calming walk.

“I think I will. Come with me?”

“I think I’ll stay here.” Luna gave her another teasing kiss. “Keep the sheets warm for you when you get back.”

“Hehe. I won’t be long.” Twilight kissed her softly, moaning into the princess’ lips for a few long, blissful moments. When she slipped out of the bed, Luna laid her head back down and drifted off once more. Twilight watched her chest rise and fall for a few moments before turning and leaving her quarters.

The castle was deserted at night. She met one pony on the cleaning crew, and smiled at them as she gingerly stepped around the area of the tiled floor they were scrubbing. After that, she met no one. A thought struck her, and she made her way through one back hallway, out into a major intersection, and out into one of the castle’s gardens. The moonlight hit the fountain perfectly, and Twilight could see the two fish circle one another lazily in the bottom bowl. She watched them for a few moments before making her way across the lawn to the lone sapling, hardly as tall as she was.

It was the same tree she had fostered back to life after Gable had poisoned it. The first tree that had ever been planted in a Canterlot garden. It looked healthy, and it’s leaves were a vibrant green. Glancing to the side, Twilight saw the same watering can she had used when caring for the seed. She sprinkled a little more over the leaves, smiling as the silver moonlight reflected off of the droplets, making the leaves of the tree shine and glimmer, almost like metal.

Her tiredness came then. Her eyes began to droop, and her muscles ached for rest. Whatever it was about the tree, it calmed her. She made a note to return here if ever her thoughts ran wild again. She made it back to her room and curled up next to Luna, sleeping peacefully through the night. Luna woke her early in the morning with a gentle kiss.

“Come on, Twilight.” She said quietly. “It’s time.”

“Hmm… Five more minutes.” Twilight muttered, laying a hoof over her head.

“Come on, silly. The sun doesn’t wait.”

“Ngh… Fine…” Twilight gave Luna a tired smile as they both left her bed. Luna left to her own quarters to prepare for the day, while Twilight double-checked her packed bags and showered. They met again on the observatory balcony, and only had to wait a few minutes before Celestia arrived.

“Good morning, Twilight. I hear you’re taking a little trip.” Celestia smiled warmly at her, both princesses sharing a quick embrace atop the tower.

“Nothing gets by you, does it?” Twilight smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of her neck. “I don’t need to explain myself to you, too, do I?”

“Well…” Celestia sighed and frowned at her. “Just know that I’ve sent many ponies to this library, Twilight… None of them have returned.”

“How many times have you sent an Archmage?” Twilight’s return made both princesses look at her with wide eyes for a few moments. After a short while, though, Celestia smiled at her.

“Not even once. Come now, let’s begin.” Celestia and Luna turned towards their horizons, and Twilight shielded herself. The burning waves of energy hardly even made Twilight blink as she helped the princesses adjust the sun and the moon. When they were finished, the sun’s warm golden glow cast long shadows across Canterlot, and beneath them in the city, ponies began to stir about and begin their day. Somewhere amongst them was Rarity. For everypony but the two of them, it was just another day. They would wake, go to work, or school, and have a normal life. But not the two of them. Twilight and Rarity were about to make a trek across perilous country to a library only a few select souls had ever visited in the past thousand years, brave a magical storm full of danger and death, and somehow return to Canterlot.

And yet… Twilight couldn’t help but smile.

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Rarity met her at the train platform. At first, Twilight almost didn’t see her. She was looking for a pony with much more luggage. When she realized the solitary mare carrying two saddlebags and a single messenger bag was Rarity, Twilight almost couldn’t believe it.

“Hello, darling.” Rarity smiled warmly at her, reaching out to give her a quick hug. Twilight returned it in kind, looking over Rarity’s provisions.

“I… Almost didn’t recognize you. I thought you’d have… I dunno, more stuff.”

“Hmm? Well, I took a look at the map just last night.” Rarity lifted her bag with a soft smile. “I don’t think I’d be able to carry it all that far.”

“Do you really think you can do this?” Twilight asked. She had her doubts about taking somepony like Rarity on such a dangerous journey, but seeing Rarity packed with the small amount of luggage she had, Twilight was beginning to re-think her trepidation.

“I’m allowed to be sensible now and then.” Rarity almost sounded hurt. “I know this whole business with Cross Stitch and Regal has made me out to seem almost like a criminal, but I’m not about to haul half my wardrobe across Equestria.”

“Hmm.” Twilight was honestly taken aback. She had almost planned on helping haul Rarity’s luggage, or at least putting up with a heavy load. Instead, she found herself standing opposite a perfectly capable and prepared friend. “Well. I’m surprised. Shall we?”

“I should think so, yes.” Rarity beamed and turned towards the train waiting on the platform. Twilight looked back at the city behind them, giving a soft sigh. Just as she was about to follow Rarity, though, something caught her eye. She squinted at what she saw, trying to make sense of the small dot in the sky. It steadily began to grow larger, until Twilight saw who it was.

“Luna.” She breathed, watching the princess land gracefully on the platform before her. Ponies all around gasped and backed away as Luna descended among them. “I-I mean, Princess… What brings you here?”

“Enough of the formalities, Twilight.” Luna’s expression was a cross between annoyance and a frown. She was blushing a little. “I came to say goodbye… To the pony I love.” Murmurs broke out in the crowd at her words, and Twilight found her blush mirroring the princess’.

“I don’t… Luna, I thought we were-“

“I don’t care anymore, Twilight.” Luna cut her off. Twilight saw tears welling in her eyes, threatening to spill over at any moment. “I’ve hidden my feelings for the ones I care about for too long. I think it’s time I show Equestria that their ruler isn’t some heartless despot.” Twilight watched as Luna’s horn began to glow. The light on the platform began to fade, dimming into shadow as she cast a spell. Before their eyes, a beautiful chain began to materialize, delicate and thin. Around the chain grew a pendant, in the shape of a teardrop. The shadows began to coalesce and form in the middle, filling out the bit of jewelry.

“Take this.” Luna said as the necklace finished materializing. “And wear it with you always. Wherever you go, Twilight, you’ll carry my heart with you.” The clasp fastened behind her neck, and Twilight felt the reassuring weight of the pendant rest against her chest. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she looked up at Luna. “I love you, Twilight.”

“I love you, Luna.” Before everypony on the platform, the two of them came together, sharing a passionate kiss. Twilight didn’t register the shocked whispers and murmurs all around them. She couldn’t hear anything. She didn’t want to. The only thing that registered in her mind at that moment was Luna, and her tender embrace. The kiss ended, leaving both of them breathless and blushing.

“This isn’t goodbye,” Luna said quietly. Their foreheads rested together, and she spoke the next words so softly that only Twilight could hear them.

“It’s ‘see you later.’”

Knowledge Lost - Part 1

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Archmage - Chapter 29 “Knowledge Lost - Part 1”

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Twilight looked out of the train window at the rolling countryside. In her heart, she felt a sense of profound sadness at leaving Luna and Canterlot behind, but at the same time, the pendant lifted her spirits. Her face, it seemed, was stuck in halfway between a contemplative look and a silly grin. Rarity called attention to it about three hours into the ride.

“You seem happy.”

“Hmm?” Twilight snapped out of her reverie, looking up at a smiling Rarity. “Oh. Yeah… I guess I’m just… Confused.”

“Don’t be.” Rarity quipped, waving a hoof dismissively. “You have somepony who loves you. Princess or not, that’s something you should hold onto, darling.” Rarity’s sly smile slowly wilted into a frown. Twilight knew what was on her mind then. It was the same question that had been bugging her since she learned of it. Gently, she leaned in.

“What happened with Cross Stitch?” Twilight’s soft question made Rarity heave a sigh. Already, Twilight could see the tears well up in her friend’s eyes. She almost regretted asking. But she needed answers, and talking over it might just help Rarity as well. With a shaky breath, Rarity began.

“We were doing fine. I was handling commissions while Cross Stitch kept a handle on our inventory, made acquisitions, and took care of minor repairs. Then we both learned of the movement. I was intrigued at first, nothing more than a passing interest. But then I started to read more into it. I attended one meeting, and then another. Soon I was trying to meet with other members every day. I was fascinated. I began putting off commissions just to attend meetings. Cross Stitch picked up the slack well enough, but… Well, there’s only so much an Earth Pony can do with a needle and thread.

“We went on like that for weeks. I began running myself ragged helping the movement. Cross Stitch was tolerant, of course, and helped when he could. But then I became involved with Regal. Not romantically, mind you. Just professionally. But Cross Stitch didn’t see it that way. Each lunch date, business meeting, or charter draft he thought I was off seeing my ‘lover.’” Rarity scoffed and rolled her eyes. She seemed almost annoyed, but her expression soon fell. “Perhaps he was right to doubt me… I began to fall for Regal. And Regal knew it as well. Looking back, I see how much he manipulated me… And what’s more, he never once gave me anything in return.” Rarity shuddered visibly, wrapping her forelegs around herself. Twilight’s brow drew down.

“Rarity… You didn’t… Do anything with him… Did you?” Twilight leaned forward, laying a hoof on her friend’s leg. Rarity’s eyes welled with tears, some of them already slipping down her cheeks.

“I… I’m a terrible pony, Twilight…” She whispered, slowly breaking down. Twilight switched seats, wrapping her friend in her forelegs, holding her close as Rarity sobbed.

Inside, Twilight wasn’t sure what she felt. Disgust. Contempt. Pity. Sadness. Whatever it was, she didn’t like it. Silently, she held Rarity, looking out of the window at the rolling terrain.

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“First stop.” Twilight announced cheerily. “Baltimare. From here, we’ll gain passage to the Gryphon Territories, just across Horseshoe Bay. It shouldn’t take us long. Come on!” The train ride to Baltimare had been a long affair, taking almost eighteen hours. After Rarity’s breakdown, Twilight had let her friend sleep on the solitary, tiny bed they shared. Rarity woke eight hours after that, handing the bed off to Twilight. When she woke, they were already passing through the outskirts of the urban metropolis.

Baltimare was a massive city, and one of the industrial powerhouses of Equestria. It boasted several large factories and production facilities, alongside bountiful fisheries and shipping companies. It was the main outlet for all of Equestria’s imports and exports. Their main trading partners were the Gryphons, just across Horseshoe Bay to the East. The bay opened up into the great Southern Sea, which wrapped around the southern borders of both the Gryphon Territories and Equestria. The relation between Equestria and the Gryphons was always a solid one. Both parties had relied on one another through difficult times. The gryphons could grow certain crops that couldn’t be found in Equestria, and Pegasi were surprisingly accomplished fishers. Being vegetarians, the ponies of Equestria had no need for the fish they caught, so one hundred percent of that particular export returned a profit. The gryphons, in return, would supply strong workers and other crops.

Twilight was looking for a boat, or a ship, something to take them across the bay and into The Aerie, which was the Gryphon Territory’s lone city. From there, they would hire a guide to take them north, towards Saddle Arabia. Equestria traded with Saddle Arabia as well, but travelling to the desert country was difficult, and during certain seasons, impossible. Twilight was thankful that the weather would be mild, and should allow them easy travel.

As they disembarked the train, Twilight turned their party of two towards the harbor. Rarity kept pace remarkably well. Twilight felt lucky that the train depot was nowhere near Baltimare’s glamorous fashion district, else she might have lost the fashionista. After a few questions and directions from a gruff but friendly shopkeep, Twilight and Rarity arrived at a charter. Cautiously approaching the desk, Twilight rang the bell and looked around for the owner.

“Hey there!”

“Gah!”

“What?!” Twilight and Rarity spun around, just as an impossibly large pegasus swept through the door behind them.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to scare ya!” The colt’s coat was a deep, stormy grey, and his mane was short-cropped, close to his head. His voice was deep and low, vibrating with a mysterious timbre that Twilight hadn’t encountered. There was something else about him, though… Not just his stature. He certainly was bulky. Standing a full head taller than Twilight and Rarity, perhaps a few inches shorter than Princess Luna, he was thick and muscular. He probably weighed twice as much as either of them. A quick glance, and Twilight saw that only one of his flanks boasted a cutie mark. The other was darkened, almost as if something was supposed to be there, but hadn’t developed fully. The one mark that was developed was that of a blue wave, just about to break and shot through with white foam.

“Name’s Bran. Nice to meetchya, ladies.” He grinned wide at them, tucking his wings back against his muscular sides. Twilight looked him up and down once more, and finally found out what it was about this mysterious pegasus that struck her so. His chest, where there should have been a flat coat of fur, was instead a downy patch of feathers.

“You’re half-breed.”

“Quarter, actually.” Bran chuckled. “But good catch. Most others just think I burned my cutie mark off.” The feathers were the same color as his coat, so to anypony who merely glanced at him, they could easily mistake him for a barrel-chested pegasus.

“Half… Quarter-breed? What’s that?” Rarity quipped, glancing between Twilight and Bran. The imposing pegasus swept past them, smiling wide as he began his explanation.

“My mother was half-gryphon, half-pegasus. My father a fisherpony.” Bran settled behind the desk with a somber look, resting his chin on his hoof with a sad smile.

“Oh, I see… Is that a common thing?” Rarity asked.

“It is.” Twilight muttered. “I’m sorry, Bran. I didn’t mean to… Impose.”

“Bah. No issue.” He waved her off. “Some folks just don’t talk about it. They think it’s rude. I honestly don’t mind.” His eyes flickered up to Twilight’s forehead, then back to her face. “Unicorn, eh? Know any magic?”

Rarity snorted under her breath. Twilight shot her an incredulous look before turning back to Bran.

“Yeah, you could say that…”

“Could you show me?”

“What, like a spell?” Twilight blinked.

“Ooh! I know! Fireworks!” Bran leaned forward, his eyes wide with excitement.

“You… Want me to make fireworks?” Twilight cocked an eyebrow, slightly taken aback.

“Yeah! I mean, if it’s too much you can always- WOAH!” Bran jumped back as Twilight’s horn blazed to life. Brightly-colored sparks of light shot into the air, popping and fizzing loudly. Even Rarity backed away a few steps. They were all illusions, and all the smoke and fire that filled the small charter’s office was totally harmless. Nevertheless, Bran bolted around, cursing and flapping at the colorful flames with his wings.

“Okay! Stop! Before you burn the place down!” Bran roared, his voice easily carrying over the commotion. Twilight blinked once, and the entire display vanished. Not a single wisp of smoke remained, though Twilight wore a sly grin. “Alright.” Bran panted, laying a hoof over his heart. “So I guess you know magic.” He took a deep breath, chuckling a little. “What brings you ladies here?”

“We need passage to The Aerie.” Twilight returned, resting her forelegs on the counter.

“Heh. No problem.” Bran looked at the clock on the wall for a few seconds. “I’ve got a ship leaving port in… About an hour. They’re destined for The Aerie after stopping off at a few places along the southern shore. I can get you passage in two days, for… Twenty bits apiece?”

“Sounds fair.” Twilight nodded to Rarity, who smiled in acquiescence. Twilight fished the currency from her saddlebags, levitating them onto the desk in front of the imposing pegasus. He unceremoniously shoveled them into a small sack he retrieved from under the counter and deposited it in the lone register.

“C’mon. I’ll show you to the ship.” Bran jerked his head, indicating they should follow. Rarity shot Twilight a look before following the big colt out onto the large docks. “You’ll be taking passage on the ‘Frothy Mare.’” He nodded to one moderately-sized ship ahead of them.

“Frothy Mare? Really?” Twilight asked, arching an eyebrow at Bran.

“Don’t read too much into it, darlin’.” Bran grinned over his shoulder at them. “The crew’s solid. There aren’t many quarters, and what we do have is reserved for captains and whatnot. I hope you can make do with camping out on deck, or in the storage areas.”

“No need, boss!” Another pegasus swept in out of the sky, landing smartly on the wooden planks beneath them. She grinned at Twilight and Rarity kindly. “If it’s these two comin’ on board, I’ll give up my own quarters.” This pegasus was much smaller than Bran. She had a slender, delicate-looking frame. Her coat was pure white, with a large, golden fish for a cutie mark. Her blue mane was pulled back in a tight braid, and didn’t bob or move when she turned her head. If anything, it appeared to be fastened to her neck.

“I can’t ask you to do that, Star…” Bran rumbled, frowning at her.

“Bah. You don’t hafta.” Star’s eyes glided along Rarity and Twilight’s bodies, in a very pointed fashion. Twilight could immediately tell; this was the sort of mare that didn’t mince words. “I’ll sleep under the stars with my colts, thanks very much.”

“Suit yourself.” Bran shrugged. “They’re headed to The Aerie.”

“On for two days? Plenty of time to… Chat.” Star looked them over once more. Twilight could feel Rarity shift uncomfortably next to her.

“Behave yourself, Star.” Bran’s cautious tone made the pegasus mare straighten up.

“Aye, cap’n!” She saluted smartly, but Twilight could see in her devious smile she most certainly wouldn’t. “I’ll show these two to their quarters, then.” Dropping the salute, Star smiled at the two of them. Twilight glanced to Bran one last time, who mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry for her’ before turning away, shaking his head.

“He’s not… Leaving us with her, is he?” Rarity muttered.

“I’m afraid so.” Twilight grimaced. “Come on.” Twilight nodded to Star, who beamed and trotted up the slanted gangplank to her ship. All around them, earth ponies and pegasi bustled about, climbing or flying around the ship. Twilight watched them work ropes and tug on pulley systems, moving crates, boxes, and other supplies all over the ship. Star steered past the major hubs of activity on the ship’s deck, leading them towards the cabin near the rear. After squeezing down a tight stairwell, she pushed through one of four doors and turned with a flourish.

“Here you go, ladies.” Star beamed. “These are my quarters, but you’re welcome to stay here for the trip.” Twilight looked over the small room with a light smile. Despite Star’s brash attitude, the small room was warmly furnished with a mahogany vanity, a decently-sized bed, and a dresser. The bed was messy, but she quickly remedied that with a telekinetic field. Star blushed a little.

“Sorry ‘bout that… Had some… Ahem… Company last night.”

With a grimace, Twilight made a mental note to change the sheets before they slept that evening.

----------------

My dearest Luna-

As it turns out, I am not a seafaring pony. I spent the majority of the morning hurling over the side of the ship’s railing, and most of the night laying in bed, praying I didn’t add any more to the bucket at my bedside. Rarity’s no better off, trust me. Both of us are miserable. Oh, and the saltwater is murder on our manes. Now I see why the ship’s captain keeps hers in a braid.

Speaking of which, the captain is incorrigible. She constantly teases us about our aversion to the rocking motions of the boat. And if she isn’t teasing us, she’s making passes. She means no harm, so I forgive her, but it gets old when you’ve just upchucked, and found she’s been staring at your flank while your face is buried in a bucket.

Alas, we’ve nearly arrived at The Aerie. I can see the gryphons circling some imposing pillar from here. If the diagrams are true, then this place should be the single largest geographical feature in the world. Rumor says there’s a massive, intricate series of tunnels running through the mountain, leading to and from all of the different balconies and ledges. I’d love to take a tour sometime, but Rarity and I are on a mission. The library first, sightseeing second. Still, we might have to get a guide from there. Maybe I’ll take a minute to get lost.

On the rare moments I’m not sick, I can understand why ponies enjoy the sea… Standing on the deck with the spray on my face is an exhilarating experience. I can feel the large waves impact the sides of the boat, rocking us to and fro. It’s magnificent, seeing the majesty of the sea. It really reminds a pony how small and insignificant they really are. When I look South, out of the bay and into the ocean, I can’t see the end. It’s mystifying. Terrifying, really. But that leads me to the topic of this letter, aside from just letting you know of our progress:

I think I felt something. With the wind in my face and the water beneath me, I felt a presence. Nothing extraplanar or magical, but something else entirely. A… Calling if you will. It was strange, but comforting. Is this what elemental magic is? I really haven’t read many books on the subject, and none of them described anything of the sort. I doubt I’ll receive a response from you, but it’s certainly something to consider.

Rarity and I are nearly to The Aerie now. I’ll see about sending this letter to you via courier before we depart for the library. Oh, and one last thing:

Whenever I was terribly sick, I’d lay my hoof on your necklace. And everything seemed okay. I love you, Luna. With all of my heart. I ache for the day I get to see you again, and while I know it’s not that far off, I still miss you.

Yours now and always,

-Twilight

------------------------

The Aerie was imposing, to say the least. Twilight had first seen it halfway through the second day, when the noon sun was high in the sky. Over the wide expanse of rolling water, the small finger of land had seemed miniscule. Negligible, even. The books she had read on the home of the gryphons had seemed to have embellished on the size of the thing. But then they sailed closer, and closer, and closer still.

It really didn’t strike her until they entered the shadow of The Aerie. Star swooped in out of the sky to land on the deck next to her, smiling warmly. “We’ll arrive at the dock in about an hour.”

“An hour?” Twilight asked, turning towards Star with wide eyes.

“Mmhmm. In the shadow, there’s not much wind. We have to rely on the current to carry us in. That, and it’s another two miles.” Star bumped her flank with a grin. “Relax. You’ll be off this deathtrap sooner than you think.”

“Right. Hey,” Twilight turned to Star with a frown. “About… Us.”

“Hey, look, I should apologize.” Star shrugged.

“No, it’s not you. Trust me.” Twilight chuckled. “I have somepony I love, and Rarity is… Well, she’s recovering.” Rarity’s story about the relationship between her and Regal still made Twilight frown. She shook her head, trying to focus on her explanation. “Under different circumstances, I’d have returned your attention readily. You’re… Well, you’re obviously very attractive.” Twilight blushed. “Just… You know… Extraneous circumstances.”

“I’m not but a humble fisherpony, Twilight…” Star frowned.

“Right. Eer. Well, things are just complicated.”

“Aah. Gotchya. Hey, thanks for the compliment.” Star grinned and nudged Twilight’s flank once more. “Besides. I’m too much for you to handle.”

“Oh, if only you knew.” Twilight muttered under her breath, laying a hoof on the pendant.

“Whussat?”

“Nothing.” Twilight grinned as she waved Star off, turning back to look at the approaching shoreline. “Nothing at all…” Star left her with a quizzical look, but was soon replaced with Rarity.

“I swear,” The white unicorn moaned, leaning against the ship’s railing heavily. “The sooner we’re on solid ground, the better…”

“I feel you there.” Twilight chuckled, using a thin thread of magic to pull Rarity’s mane away from her face as she emptied over the side of the boat once more. The hundredth time, it seemed.

“Ooh… Shade…” Rarity fanned her face as the ship slipped into the dark shadow of The Aerie. Twilight relished the cool feeling of the darkness on her coat, a stark contrast to the burning sun. Out here on the water, the seasons didn’t seem to matter much. It was either the middle of the night and freezing cold, or bright and hot. “How much longer, do you think?”

“Star says another hour.” Twilight returned, squinting at The Aerie. She could see tiny black dots circling the top of the column of stone.

“Star… I swear, under different circumstances…” Rarity glanced over her shoulder, looking for the brash captain.

“I feel you there. She’s cute.”

“Cute doesn’t do her justice…” Rarity groaned and pressed her hooves into her temples.

“I didn’t know you swung that way.” Twilight quipped, smiling at Rarity from the corner of her eye.

“Well… We are called ‘the fairer sex’ for a reason.” Rarity returned, waving a hoof dismissively. “Cross Stitch isn’t my only lover, darling.” Twilight was suddenly aware that she was going to be alone with Rarity for the foreseeable future.

“You’re not… We aren’t…”

“Hmm? Oh, no!” Rarity scrunched her nose. “I don’t go in for my friends. It tends to make things awkward.” Twilight sagged with relief, smiling faintly. “You weren’t worried, were you?”

“Well… I’d be lying if I told myself you weren’t pretty.” Twilight blushed. “But you’re right. Doing… That stuff… With friends. It just seems wrong.”

“Take it from Dash and I, it’s not healthy.” Rarity’s frown intensified.

“Really? You and Dash?” Twilight arched an eyebrow.

“Long, long ago, darling. A little bit after the whole crystal kingdom fiasco.” Rarity moaned, lurching again. Twilight pulled her mane up once more, waiting until the coughing died down. “It didn’t end well, but we made up…”

“I think I remember that…” Twilight mused, looking up into the sky blankly. “You two wouldn’t talk to each other for like, four weeks…”

“And she had Fluttershy relay messages between us.” Rarity chuckled, wiping her mouth with the back of her hoof. “Poor girl. She nearly broke down. She thought she was the one driving us apart.”

“Oh, I remember that now… Spike said Fluttershy would burst into tears whenever she was alone for even a little while.”

“Oh that dragon.” Rarity muttered. “Sticking his nose where it didn’t belong… How is he, by the way? You haven’t heard from him?” Twilight solemnly shook her head.

“No… He went off for a century-long nap, Rarity. I’ll be lucky if I see him again. And even if I do, he’ll be an entirely different dragon.” The sudden reminder of her former assistant put a severe damper on Twilight’s mood. She hung her head with a sigh, looking down at the frothing, steely-grey water. She and Rarity were quiet for a few moments before Twilight spoke again. “He fancied you, you know…”

“I had my suspicions…” Rarity said sarcastically. “I never knew how to react around him… He was awfully endearing, but he was so…”

“Young?”

“Scaly.” Rarity countered, scrunching her nose. “Could you imagine? Catching the edge of one of his scales? You know… During?”

“Eew. Okay, stop.” Twilight blanched. She and Rarity looked at each other for a few long moments before they both burst out laughing, leaning against one another for support.

-------------

They made dock shortly after that, and Twilight was extremely thankful for the solid ground beneath her hooves once again. They said farewell to Star with a slightly more-than-friendly hug and turned towards the imposing pillar of stone before them.

“It’s… Massive.” Rarity breathed.

“Agreed. I don’t think we’ll be able to make it to the top…” Twilight frowned at the imposing feature before them. The Aerie was the single largest mountain in the world. How the massive series of tunnels had been constructed was still under speculation, but experts believed it was an extinct race of massive, burrowing insects. When the first gryphons settled there, the tunnels let them traverse the interior of the mountain, and set up their nests and roosts when the tunnels breached the outside. With the help of miners from Equestria, the tunnels had been expanded and fortified, and soon enough, the gryphon’s only city had taken root in the massive mountain. Now, it was the hub of Gryphon-Equestria trading, and home to thousands of the feathered race.

Being unicorns, Twilight and Rarity drew a lot of curious looks from the gryphons they met. They were mostly amiable, though Twilight could sense a little bit more abrasiveness from them than she had expected. Still, they managed to procure directions from one trader, who sent them about a quarter of the way up into the mountain. Twilight followed the directions she had been given, but that didn’t stop her from staring in wonder. Every now and then, inside of the mountain, were massive chambers, hundreds of feet tall. Gryphons milled about in these common areas, meeting with friends or family, trading goods, or just relaxing.

It took them the better part of an hour, climbing up constant inclines and stairways, but the two of them finally arrived at their destination. A swinging sign fixed to the stone of the wall bore the symbol of a map, with a dotted line leading to an ‘x.’ Twilight smiled as she poked her head into the entrance. “Hello? Anyone here?”

“Hi there.” A burly-looking gryphon emerged from a back chamber, nodding to the two of them. Twilight realized it was rather difficult to smile with a beak, which was why most gryphons appeared to be angry or sulky most of the time. “What can I help you with?”

“Aah. Hello.” Twilight approached the male gryphon with a smile on her lips. “We need a guide.”

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. Name’s Gregor. Do you know where you’re headed?” The large gryphon nodded towards a large map pinned on the wall behind them. Twilight turned to the map, looking it over with a slight frown for a while.

“Here.” She said after a while. “The Valley of Knowledge.”

“No can do.” The gryphon frowned immediately, shaking his head. “You can find someone else to go on your suicide trip.”

“Wait, hey!” Twilight called after him. He disappeared into the back of the chamber, going out of sight around a corner. She didn’t receive a reply, and following would have been rude. Twilight’s mind raced as she fought for the words to say. “Double! We’ll pay double!”

“No dice!”

“Triple, then!” Her desperate plea elicited a long silence from the chamber. After a long pause, Gregor emerged, his brows drawn down.

“Triple th’ price?”

“And we’re not asking you to take us into the maelstrom.” Twilight nodded seriously. “Just get us there. We’ll handle the rest ourselves.”

“Look, miss…?”

“Sparkle. Twilight Sparkle.”

“Twilight. My family’s been guides through the gryphon territories for six generations. Each of us have taken ponies and other gryphons to that place.” He gestured with a claw to the map. “And none of them have returned. Not even one.”

“I’m not asking you to take us in.” Twilight stepped forward, re-affirming herself. She looked up at Gregor, her expression serious. “Just get us there. Then you can turn around and return, payment in-claw.” The imposing gryphon stared her down for a long while. She could see the gears turning in his mind. He was considering their offer.

“Three and a half. And I turn back th’ day before we arrive.”

“Done.” Twilight offered a hoof. Gregor took it with his claw, shaking to seal the deal.

“You can stay here for the night. We leave tomorrow. Pre-dawn.” Gregor grumbled, sauntering towards the back of the chamber. He indicated Rarity and Twilight follow with a nod of his head. Twilight followed him into what she could only assume was his home. It was warmly lit with a dozen candles, and maps and charts lay open on the floors and littered the lone table. “You’ll be sleeping here.” He grumbled, shoving a stack of books off of the solitary couch in the room. “Bathroom through there.” He pointed through a fortified archway. “My room through there. There will be another gryphon through here, as well.” He went through the third and last archway, and Twilight heard the clinking of plates and cutlery.

“All I got is oatmeal. You don’t eat fish, right?”

“No.” Twilight scrunched her nose, and Rarity blanched openly.

“Heh. Your loss.”

“You mentioned another gryphon?” Twilight asked, craning her neck to look into the room Gregor was in.

“My daughter.” He grunted in return, hoisting a bag of oatmeal out of storage. He poured two bowls worth and set some water on a small fire to boil. “Her name’s Gilda.”

“Gilda…” Rarity muttered, tapping her lower hoof with a lip. “I know I’ve heard that name before.”

“Hey, yeah…” Twilight frowned. The name certainly rang a bell. Twilight ran through all of the gryphons she had met in her life. There were a few emissaries in Canterlot, whom she had met in passing, but none of them clicked with the name either. She wracked her brain, trying to put a name to a face. In an instant, it clicked.

“Dash’s friends.”

“Yeah, she was one of Dash’s friends. From flight school!”

“From Ponyville.”

“Wait, what?” Twilight and Rarity both spun around, looking at the source of the new voice. Sure enough, Gilda stood in the doorway, looking at the two of them with a shocked expression.

“No way.”

“You’re…”

“It’s…”

“Dad?” Gilda called out. “Mind telling me what Rainbow Dash’s friends are doing here?” She was obviously shaken. Both Twilight and Rarity were taken aback as well. This was the gryphon who had caused quite a bit of trouble between Dash and the rest of the elements of harmony, a long, long while ago. Twilight had nearly forgotten about the entire incident. If she remembered correctly, Gilda was upset with Dash for having changed, and having acquired new friends.

“Whaddya mean, Rainbow Dash’s friends?” Gregor poked his head out. Twilight knew smiling was out of the question for gryphons, but frowning obviously wasn’t. “You’ve got to be kidding me. These are her two unicorn friends?”

“Yeah. Rarity, and the purple one… Twist? Tango?”

“Twilight.”

“Right. Twilight.” Gilda didn’t look angry with them, just shocked. Twilight honestly was, too. Rarity, however, looked to be on the defensive. Twilight could almost see the hairs on her neck standing on-end.

“I think it’s best we find another guide, Twilight.” Rarity muttered under her breath.

“What? Why?” Twilight looked between Rarity and Gilda. Rarity seemed to be seething anger. Gilda’s shock slowly faded into a sheepish look, one of shame and apology. Slowly, the gears began to click.

“You’re not telling me…”

“Mind if I share the story?” Gilda asked.

“Only if you tell it properly.” Rarity growled. The smaller gryphon frowned, but nodded.

“A few years after the incident with Pinkie Pie, I tried to get back in touch with Dash. We actually kind of hit it off. ‘Water under the bridge,’ she called it. I apologized to Pinkie Pie, and we started talking regularly…” Gilda slowly lowered herself to her haunches, sighing gently. “We were friends again. It was really nice. But Dash started to become a little bit more than friendly…”

“Properly.” Rarity glared at Gilda. The gryphon’s frown intensified, but she continued.

“Okay, I was the one who came onto her. Rarity, I swear, I had no idea you two were-“

“Oooohh.” Twilight connected the dots. “She’s the reason things went bad between you and Rainbow Dash?”

Rarity’s solemn nod sealed the point. Twilight awkwardly looked between the two of them, at a complete loss for words.

“Awkward.” Gregor grumbled. “Oh. Hey. Oatmeal’s ready.”

“I’m not about to break bread with the likes of her.” Rarity spat.

“Rarity.” Twilight cut her off, frowning intently at the white unicorn. “Relax. We need a guide to take us to the library. If you want to hike around this place for another six hours looking for another guide, fine. But I’m sticking here with Gregor.” The way the imposing gryphon made it sound, she was going to have a hard time finding another guide to take them to the library.

“Come on.” Gregor mumbled. “It’s gonna get cold.” The four of them entered the miniscule dining room, awkwardly sitting around a table that was obviously designed for just two. They huddled together, with Rarity sitting opposite Gilda. Twilight didn’t miss the nasty looks the two of them were throwing each other, but they remained civil. For the most part. After a short while, though, Gilda hung her head.

“I’ve been thinking, I really messed up, back then. The winds know I haven’t gone a day without regretting what I did to you and Dash. So let me make it up to you.” She leaned across the table, tapping the hard wood with a claw. “Let me take you to the library. Free of charge. And I won’t leave you the last day. I’ll walk straight up to the edge of the storm with you. Heck, if you ask, I’ll go in by your side.”

“Thanks, but I think we’ll take your father’s more professional help.” Rarity spoke out before Twilight could get a chance, and earned an intense frown in response.

“Let’s consider this.” Twilight said evenly. “Gregor, how well does Gilda know the way?”

“She’s taken two groups to the area before… Not to the library, mind you, but she knows how to find it. I can say that much for certain.” The elder gryphon stroked the bottom side of his beak with a claw thoughtfully. “Might take you an extra day or two without me, but she can get you there.”

“I’ll not allow it.” Rarity frowned.

“Don’t let your pride get in the way of this, Rarity.” Twilight frowned at her friend. A half-boiled plan began to form in her mind. She took mental inventory of how much money they had left. The trip was, of course, funded by the Canterlot bank. But Twilight had only been allotted so much. If she blew three point five times the regular going rate for a guide just to get to the library, they might not be able to get back to The Aerie, and finding passage back across Horseshoe Bay was also going to be troublesome. But if Gilda guided them pro-bono, they’d have plenty to afford the return trip. And besides, maybe Rarity would bury the proverbial hatchet between the two of them.

“I think we’ll take you up on your offer.” Twilight nodded firmly.

“Twilight, you can’t seriously-“

“It’s going to happen, Rarity.” Twilight frowned. “We need to save on the cost. And besides, would you really deny someone the chance to redeem themselves? After what you’ve been through?” Rarity balked at that, and finally dropped her head.

“Fine.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, Twilight.”

“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.” Twilight muttered. She and Gregor shared a sympathetic look and a shrug as Rarity and Gilda engaged in a staring contest. Neither of them won, it seemed. Twilight knew their disagreement wasn’t over. But she had just secured them a guide, and had done so free of charge. In the back of her mind, she thanked the heavens for small miracles.

“Right then.” Gregor stood from the table, licking his beak free of the last bit of oatmeal. “I’ll get your things prepared.”

“We leave in the morning.” Gilda said.

----------------------

My dearest Luna-

Small miracles notwithstanding, Rarity and I are well on our way. We’re two days journey away from The Aerie, and are being escorted by what I guess you could call an old, old friend. The whole story is rather long and drawn-out, but if you really must know, Celestia has my letter on friendship about the matter. Ask her about the Gryphon named Gilda. I’m sure she’ll remember that particular letter well enough.

Anywho, I’m surprised at the beauty of this land. It’s dominated mainly by a pine forest, though Gilda assures me we’ll be entering the northern plains that separate what she calls the ‘Howling Pines’ and the tundra, a product of the Crystal Kingdom’s frigid environment. We’re travelling due North-East, with the Crystal Kingdom to our left, and the sea far, far to our right. In another day’s time, we’ll reach the plains, and then the foothills leading into the valley another four days after that. Gilda says another three days past the valley is the beginning of the Saddle Arabian desert.

I could have asked for better travelling company. It seems Rarity and Gilda have a past, with their mutual friend Rainbow Dash. I won’t get into specifics, but it’s making for a very unpleasant experience. The two of them bicker and argue frequently, and the rest of the time is spent in a seething sort of silence. I swear, I could light our campfires with the sparks these two throw between each other. It’s tense. It’s stressful. I swear, I found a grey hair in my mane this morning.

Alas, I will persevere. The library lies ahead of us, and I cannot wait to glean even a little bit of information from the books there… I swear, my dreams have been of nothing but them lately. Well, they seem to sway from the lost knowledge to you. There are times when I dream of both. Those are my favorites. I’m anxious, really, at what lies ahead of me. Hundreds of others have failed before. I keep reassuring myself that none of them were the Archmage, that they weren’t nearly as well-trained or as knowledgeable as I am… But still. I’m scared.

On an unrelated note, the stars here are beautiful. Gilda took us through small villages the first two days, but just last night, we camped underneath the stars. And oh my goodness, Luna… You cannot possibly imagine how magisterial they are. Well, actually, you can. But still. I had never imagined in all my years how clearly you can see them. Millions of them. At points, they’re so dense you can hardly make out the individual constellations. Other times, you can pick them out as if they were on the diagram before you. I could have spent hours staring at them, but the uphill trek had worn me out. I slept more soundly last night than I have in a long, long while.

We’re getting closer now. The plains lay before us, and the foothills beyond. Three short days, and we’ll arrive. I don’t know if I’m excited, anxious, or nervous. But whatever this feeling is, I kind of like it. It empowers me. It makes me feel strong; almost like I can do anything. It happened again, by the way. When we were walking through the plains, with dew on our hooves and wind in our manes, I felt it. That strange feeling I got when I was on the boat. I think that’s an elemental connection, isn’t it? We’ll talk about it when I return.

I’m still missing you terribly. The cold, hard ground might not be so unforgiving with you by my side. I hold your pendant in my hooves before I sleep each night, and it helps me drift off. It really is beautiful, Luna. Thank you so much for this wonderful gift. We’ve run across a trading company. They’ve agreed to take this letter to The Aerie, and send it on to Canterlot for me. I’ll wrap this up by saying I love you.

Yours always,

-Twilight

----------------------

“We’ll reach the storm today, won’t we?” Twilight asked, hoisting her saddlebags onto her rump. Gilda nodded as she stretched, yawning wide.

“About four hours hike from here, and we’ll be there.” She curled a talon towards the mountains before them, pointing out two peaks. “That’s Featherhome mountain there, and Beak peak beside it. Between them is the Valley of Knowledge. Above the peaks, the winds are so intense even the strongest fliers can’t cross the mountain, let alone descend into the valley. That’s the border of the Gryphon territories. Beyond that, no one knows what there is.” She swung her claw far to the right, off to where the line of mountains descended past the horizon. “Three days hike that way is the Saddle Arabian-Gryphon border, and the beginning of the desert.” She swung it back to the left. “And over there is the Crystal Kingdom. But you have to pass through Timberwolf territory to get there, so anyone wanting to travel to the Crystal Kingdom usually swings to the south, through Horseshoe Bay.”

“Hmm.” Twilight’s gaze returned to the twin peaks, and the valley between them. Today, she would reach the library. Her heart was already pounding with anticipation. “We’ll need to arrive at the Western edge of the valley, can you do that?”

“Sure.” Gilda shrugged, though her expression turned back to worried. “You won’t… Need me to come with, will you?”

“I don’t think so.” Twilight said softly, shaking her head. “But I won’t stop you if you want to come along.”

“No offense.” Gilda followed Twilight’s gaze to the valley. “But I’ve seen enough ponies not come back from that to know no gryphon stands a chance.” They all fell silent after that. They ate a small breakfast in silence, and wrapped up their small camp in short order. When they set out, it was with grim expressions. The last bit of the uphill hike was arduous, but they went about it briskly. Twilight was surprised that Rarity managed to keep up as well as she did. When they crested the last hill, Twilight’s breath was taken away.

“Oh wow.” She whispered softly.

Before them was the opening to the valley. The steep walls of the two mountains soared up to impossible heights, leaving maybe a mile-wide gap between the two of them. The gap, it seemed, consisted of nothing but a shifting, swirling wall of sand. Even from here, Twilight could hear the terrible, howling noise of the magic-fueled winds swirling about, kicking the sand up in a perpetual storm. For over a thousand years, the storm had raged, and concealed nightmares the likes of which nopony should have been submitted to. The three of them paused atop the hill, watching the storm rage with transfixed expressions.

“Come on.” Twilight managed, swallowing past the lump in her throat. Gilda and Rarity followed her down the hill towards the valley’s entrance. Off to her left, at the western-most edge of the opening, she could see the hunched, huddled mass of what she assumed was Regal’s tree. They wound through a small stand of maples on their way there. Even these were twisted and shriveled hunks of what they should have been. Twilight’s heart throbbed for the pain and torture she knew these trees were enduring. She knew if she reached out to touch them, as she had done with her tree in Canterlot, she would hear their tortured screams. Shivering, Twilight picked up the pace, walking towards the shriveled oak.

“There it is.” Rarity breathed. At the very South-Western opening to the valley sat a solitary tree, shriveled and hunched over. Twilight approached it, searching the trunk.

“There.” She laid a hoof on a smooth circle, ground into the tree’s trunk. Regal’s directions had been true so far. “This is it. Rarity, this is the line into the storm.” This close to the swirling wall of sand, Twilight nearly had to shout to be heard. Now and then, a few stray grains of sand would whip out of the storm to pelt her hide.

“Are you prepared for this, Twilight?” Rarity shouted over the high winds, her expression serious.

“As I’ll ever be. Gilda.” Twilight turned to their guide, smiling warmly at her. “Thank you for your help. It means much to us.”

“I did it for Dash.” Gilda shouted gruffly. “I’m still so sorry for what I did to her. Listen, if you make it out of there alive-“

“When.”

“When you make it out of there… Tell her I’m sorry?”

Twilight held a hoof out, grinning warmly.

“Consider it done, Gilda.” The gryphon gripped her hoof in a firm shake before shrugging out of her pack.

“Supplies for the return trip. I’ll leave them here for you.” Gilda shoved the pack underneath a jutting root of the oak tree, nodding firmly at them. “Good luck, Twilight.”

“Fair winds, Gilda. See you again!”

Twilight and Rarity were alone then. The two of them stood at the edge of the storm, their faces hardly a foot away from the swirling maelstrom. Twilight stared into the shifting depths for a long while. She felt Rarity press to her side then, the warmth of her friend an odd comfort in the face of madness. Twilight looked up to the heavens, and spotted the area of the sky she knew Canis Major rested in.

“Are you ready?” Rarity called out. Twilight glanced at her once more before looking back into the storm. She knew what lay in there. It wasn’t the monstrous beasts, or the disorienting storm. It wasn’t even the library, with all of the lost books of ages past.

It was her destiny.

Twilight stepped forward, into the heart of madness.

Knowledge Lost - Part 2

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Archmage - Chapter 30 “Knowledge Lost - Part 2”

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“Rarity!” Twilight screamed at the top of her lungs. The sand pelted at her mercilessly. She could feel it driving into her side, first hammering her left, then her right. Then it would sweep in from behind, sending lancing pain through her stomach and hindquarters. The worst of it was when it came from the front. Twilight had to use her magic to shield her sensitive eyelids, and even then, she couldn’t see anything in front of her.

“Rarity! Where are you?!” The storm was so intense, she had almost immediately been separated from her friend. Rarity’s reassuring presence had left her side, not five steps into the storm. Twilight opened her mouth to call out again, but something stumbled into her right side. She spun about, horn already blazing. Through the briefest break in the storm, Twilight saw Rarity’s frightened expression. Twilight nearly blasted her on the spot. Instead, she rushed forward, pressing firmly to her friend’s side.

“Stay with me!” Twilight called out. The storm was deafening. She couldn’t hear Rarity’s response, but the white unicorn’s neck shifted beside her, indicating a nod. Together, the two of them trudged onwards. Twilight could seldom see further than a few feet in front of them at any given time. But she trusted in Regal, in his directions. They kept walking. Twilight counted the seconds in her head. ’One. Two. Three. Four…’ The storm shifted, pushing them along from behind. She let the fierce wind do her walking for her, while she focused on staying close to Rarity. When it shifted again, Twilight smoothly transitioned, leaning to her left into the fierce, driving wind.

Five minutes in, Twilight and Rarity suddenly came to a large boulder. “This is it!” Rarity called out loud. “Regal said it’d be here! He was right!”

“Ninety degrees left, facing North.” Twilight mumbled to herself. She followed the face of the boulder a quarter of the way around. Sure enough, the pointed edge pointing North directed her along her path. She stared into the storm ahead of them, looking for any indication before them.

“Twilight!” Rarity’s voice came to her again. She glanced at her friend, who looked back at her with a serious expression. “We can do this!” Rarity pressed closer. “Together!”

Twilight nodded.

“Together!”

Together, both of them looked straight ahead. Their voices lifted together, in one single word.

”RUN!”

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“Rarity.” Twilight sobbed, collapsing on the stairs. Tears streamed from her stinging eyes, washing away the sand built up in her eyelashes. “I’m so sorry, Rarity…” She shook and sobbed harder, all but completely giving up on the stairs right then and there. “Please…” She whimpered, sniffling as she rose to her hooves on the stairs. “Please be okay.”

They had ran side-by-side through the storm for about a minute before the first monster turned on them. Twilight had blasted it aside, just enough for her and Rarity to slip by and keep running. The second had loomed up out of the sand beneath their hooves. Twilight had been thrown onto her face, but managed to use a quick teleport to right herself and blast it aside as well. In the aftermath of the devastating spell, she had spotted Rarity in the commotion, and managed to rejoin her. They were home free, it seemed. They ran faster and harder than either of them ever had before. Twilight thought they would get there.

And then Rarity was ripped away from her side. Twilight had suffered three cuts, where the beast’s claws had wrapped around Rarity’s midsection. The last things Twilight heard were Rarity’s scream and the impact of a spell that her friend had cast in desperation. Twilight stood on the spot for a full minute, casting spells out into the storm, hoping to spot Rarity or hit her captor. Nothing. There hadn’t been anything but another two monsters. Twilight ran for the rock outcropping, hoping against hope she was still oriented properly.

She had found the rocks after another two minutes. Diving between the two that looked like Canterlot’s peak, Twilight had landed on the stairs. And there, she had collapsed. “Rarity,” She choked, coughing against the sediment in her lungs. After retching on the stairs, Twilight wiped her mouth, still crying for her loss. “I never should have brought you along. I’m so sorry. Please, for the love of everything I hold dear, be okay… Please…”

A new type of determination filled Twilight’s muscles. Before her was a long, dark hallway. It bore into the ground at an angle, beneath the fierce, howling storm. Behind her, Twilight could hear the terrible screams of the monsters that stalked the storm. The screams of the creatures that had taken Rarity.

Ignoring the burning pain in her side, Twilight pushed forward. She walked down the long hall, not even limping. She tried to ignore the pattering sound of her blood hitting the rough stone floor. Her horn glowed with a soft light, giving her vision of the hall before her. Her lungs burned, her eyes stung, and her side ached. But more than those trivial pains, Twilight felt something much more intense, and much more profound. She felt loss. Rarity’s loss. Her friend was dead in the storm.

“No.” Twilight growled at herself, walking faster. “No, she didn’t die. She’s alive. Rarity’s alive.” Her hoof-falls echoed down the hall. The only sound aside from her heavy breathing. “She’s alive.” Twilight groaned. “She’s alive.” It became her mantra. A chant. She repeated it, even as she began to walk faster. “She’s alive. She’s alive. She’s alive.” She was trotting now. “She’s alive. She’s alive. She’s alive.”

Twilight broke into a full sprint.

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“Urgh.” Rarity crawled into the opening, dragging her limp leg. Her white coat was shot through with streaks of blood. The gruesome wound was caked with sand. Her forelegs gave out on the first step, sending her tumbling down them. She ignored the impacts on her broken and sore body. When she landed at the bottom of the stairs, on the cool stone, she didn’t move. She didn’t want to. She looked up at the dark ceiling, feeling her blood begin to pool around her. Slowly, she closed her eyes.

“Aw fuck…”

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“Stairs!” Twilight gasped as the stairwell loomed out of the darkness. “I did it! Rarity, I did it!” Sobbing with relief, Twilight scrambled up the staircase. She slipped and fell more than once, but desperation fueled her. Twilight wasn’t about to let her own tiredness stop her now. Willing her muscles into motion, she crawled forward, her hooves scrabbling on the stone. Ahead of her, a light shone. The top of the staircase. The library.

With an exhausted gasp, Twilight spilled out onto the landing. She felt cool tile underneath her. Not stone, not sand… Tile. Above her, she could see a vaulted ceiling, shining with the magical glow of whatever lit the library.

“I made it.” Twilight panted. Her eyes closed, and a smile spread across her lips. “I did it… Luna.” Consciousness fled her. Twilight sank into a deep sleep, borne of exhaustion and depression. She didn’t stir, her only movement that of her chest rising and falling. In her dream, a figure approached her.

“Bolt.”

“Hello, young one.” The ancient unicorn smiled warmly at her. Twilight knew that he was over a thousand years old, but didn’t look a day past thirty. He was handsome, tall and strong, but his horn was shattered off of his forehead. Twilight slowly rolled to her hooves, wincing as the pain in her side intensified for a second. With a steady breath, she stilled herself, looking up at Bolt’s kind smile.

“What are you doing here?”

“I live here.” Bolt said simply. Twilight looked around, noting that she was no longer in the middle of a library. Instead, she stood on a flat landscape, shot through with multi-colored diagrams of a very intricate and complex spell.

“Woah… What is this?” Twilight breathed, looking around in awe.

“This is the spell that protects the library.” Bolt said simply. He smiled faintly at her before looking around at the spell. “It’s what I gave my life to do. In short, little one…” He looked back at her, his smile turned sad. “It’s me.”

“Wait… You exist in this spell?” She asked, straightening up a little. Bolt nodded sadly, heaving a gentle sigh.

“It’s all very complicated, but I know you’ll be able to follow. Come.” He nodded his head, indicating she should follow. Twilight limped after him, grimacing, but driven by her pure interest in the magnificently large spell around them. It was larger than some of the shields beneath Canterlot. Maybe not quite as powerful, but it certainly was strong. Bolt led her a short distance away, to what appeared to be the central part of the spell. “This is the essence of the spell here. All of the formulas and equations are out there, but this is the battery. The life of the spell. From here, the creatures and the storm are fueled. As you can see, it’s still strong. And it will remain strong for many, many years to come.” Bolt turned to her, frowning slightly.

“But I made a grave mistake.”

“What?” Twilight asked, her eyes wide at the core of the spell. Bolt’s frown intensified.

“The manifestation of the spell is wrong. The parameters.” He waved a hoof over the entire landscape. “It’s all wrong. When I gave my life to the spell, I gave it to protect the books.”

“Right… What’s wrong with that?” Twilight asked. Bolt shook his head slowly. As she watched, he began to fade. His voice faded in and out. Twilight’s heart thundered with panic.

“-sit, ick… -or, it’s-… And there-… ge.” The image of Bolt began to flicker and fade. Panic took hold as Twilight stepped forward.

“Bolt! Tell me what’s wrong! BOLT!”

One last statement reached her ears.

“Save me.”

With a gasp, Twilight woke. She shot up, ignoring the pain in her side. Panic gripped her heart. She looked around with wide eyes, staring intently at the library around her. Her first impression was that the library was massive. As far as she could see, shelves of books stretched into the distance. At first glance, they all seemed only lightly worn. They were in excellent condition, for being thousands of years old. But the books didn’t worry her at that moment. Twilight had to find the spell. She had just been there in her dream. What would it look like for real? Limping away from the underground tunnel, Twilight went deeper into the library.

She soon discovered it wasn’t just long, but tall as well. Several staircases were built into the middle of the floors, and along the walls. They led to what she assumed were four different floors, each as massive as the last. Furthermore, there appeared to be quite a few basements and cellars, filled with cleaning and upkeep supplies. These, too, were in good condition. Twilight gleaned over them all. She needed to find the source of the spell, and she needed to find it fast. Still dripping blood from her wounds, Twilight walked as fast as she dared, searching and searching.

Finally, on the top floor, she found it. Not that it was hard to miss. In fact, about ninety percent of the floor was devoted to it. The spell matrix consisted of a massive apex, swirling and shifting as if it were a fog trapped in suspension; constantly being pulled by a gentle breeze. All around it on the floor were the skittering lines of the equations and formulas that gave the spell’s power shape and purpose. She glanced over each of them, taking in the expert calculations as fast as her brain would allow. Slowly, she walked into the diagram, feeling the energy crackle and shift all around her.

“What did you mean, Bolt? What’s wrong with the spell?” Twilight asked nopony in particular, her eyes wide. She looked over two different parts. One of them was the formula giving shape and life to the creatures that walked the storm. The other was the formula for the spell itself. The two were intertwined, containing the creatures within the bounds of the storm. The storm itself wrapped around the library, but didn’t quite touch it. There was a standoff distance of about fifty feet. The monsters protecting this place never had nor would they ever be able to set foot inside of the library.

“Come on…” Twilight muttered, looking over each section carefully. “What’s wrong with the spell?” She came upon another section of the spell, her eyes going wide. This one was a formula that protected each book within the perimeter of the spell. If ever a book were removed from that perimeter, the creatures would automatically converge on them, and kill them, then return the book. So even if anypony made it to the library, they wouldn’t be able to leave. Except by the tunnel! Twilight leaned in, looking at the specific diagram of the tunnel. It acted as a sort of pressure equalization system. Spells, like carbonated beverages, built up pressure when they were sealed. To prevent the pressure from building up too much, a ‘hole’ or a vent had to exist, to allow the energies to go back and forth, without consequence. That tunnel was the failsafe for the spell. It was difficult to reach, and certainly had been well-defended, but any book removed through that tunnel wouldn’t call the creatures to it. At least, not specifically.

“So where did you go wrong?” Twilight whispered, looking around at the rest of the diagram. “This is all sound. It’s functional. It works… So what’s wrong with it?” Twilight fell to her haunches, feeling despair settle heavily on her shoulders. She had been defeated. Any spell designed to protect something would automatically destroy that thing if it were dispelled, or at the very least damage it. If Twilight dispelled this, which would be an undertaking in and of itself, she would destroy the books. What’s more, she would destroy Bolt, whatever remained of him. The tears came then, falling to the stones beneath her hooves.

She fell onto her front, sobbing helplessly. “I’m done.” She whimpered, shaking and crying. “I can’t do this. It’s too much. I’m so sorry. Luna, Rarity, Celestia… I’m so sorry.” Sobbing, Twilight blubbered her heart out onto the cold tile. “I’ve failed you. The books are lost. We’ll never read them. The knowledge is lost to us. Knowledge…”

It hit her.

“Knowledge!”

Bolt had given his life to protect the books. Books were physical. Books could be destroyed. Books could be moved. But knowledge. Knowledge was absolute. Her quick gaze slid over the formula once more. She could do this. She could fix this. She was the Archmage. This was her destiny. This was her purpose in life.

With a triumphant cry of victory, Twilight thrust her horn into the air, filling the entire chamber with a blaze of lavender light. Her magic pulsed outwards, screaming with intensity, crackling with power. She gripped the formulas, spinning them about, changing them, fixing the wrongs.

”The manifestation of the spell is wrong. The parameters. It’s all wrong. When I gave my life to the spell, I gave it to protect the books.”

Twilight was changing the spell. She wasn’t going to protect the books. She was going to protect the knowledge the books held.

”RRAGH!”

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“Archmage.” Twilight’s eyes opened. At first, she blinked, but then she realized she was standing normally. Around her, the shifting light of the new spell pulsed with a warm heartbeat. Before her stood Bolt.

“Did it work?” Twilight asked. She felt awfully dizzy.

“I’ll say.” Bolt chuckled, turning a circle for her. “You even changed the manifestation arc. I now have a corporeal being.” He wore a silly grin. He had a horn again.

“Yeah… That was tricky…” Twilight lifted a hoof to her horn, wincing as she felt the soreness tweak just a little.

“You did it, Twilight. You fixed the problem.” Bolt turned to the spell form, looking over the revised equations and formulas. “You didn’t dispel it, which would have destroyed the books and the knowledge. You changed the parameters of the spell. Come.” With a nod of his head, Bolt ushered Twilight towards the wall. His horn glowed with a brilliant silver glow. Twilight watched as he pulled several bricks free of their mortar joints, re-arranging them until he had a neat window.

“Woah.”

“The storm is gone, and the monsters are dead.”

All around the library, a lush meadow flourished. The grass was thick and overgrown, perfect for stretching out on with a good book. Several trees cast cool shade in the high-noon sun. No more sand. No more wind. No more monsters.

“But… If the storm’s gone, anypony can come in here… And steal the knowledge.” Twilight said. “Or worse, destroy it.”

“Aah. I beg to differ. Follow me.” Bolt turned towards the stairs, leading Twilight down one floor. He approached the nearest book shelf, and pulled one heavy tome free. “Try to destroy the book, Twilight.” He smiled confidently. Twilight frowned at him.

“I’m not going to destroy a book.”

“Oh for the love of-“ With a sigh, Bolt flung the book into the air, his horn glowing intensely.

“NO!” Twilight lunged forward, but was too late. A silver bolt of energy shot through the air, hitting the book full-on. It vanished into thin air. Twilight nearly turned to Bolt in her anger, until she heard it. A soft thud. Almost like a book landing back on a shelf. With wide eyes, Twilight turned to the shelf Bolt had pulled the book from. Where the spot had previously been empty, it was now filled. With the same book.

“You see?” Bolt teased, smiling at her. “The books, or more importantly, the knowledge stored within the books is protected. Rain, fire, wear and tear… Nothing will destroy them. Not even time.” Bolt’s eye twitched. “Well… As long as the spell remains fueled, time won’t take these books. One condition.” Bolt lifted his hoof. At the same time, his horn began to glow. He pulled another book from the shelf, while he opened another window in the nearby wall. He levitated the book out of that window. Twilight followed it, watching the miniscule dot as it shot away from the valley.

“Woah!” The book came screaming back through the window, nearly hitting her head as it shot past. Smooth as can be, it landed back in it’s place, almost as if it were never taken away.

“The books can never leave this valley.” Bolt said solemnly. “Anyone and anything is free to come and go as they please, and study these books. But their knowledge cannot be removed. Copied, yes. But not removed.”

“That’s… Wow…” Twilight breathed. Her head swam with all that had happened. She frowned, then. “I came with a friend. Rarity. I lost her in the storm on the way in… Is she…?”

“Your friend?” Bolt smiled. “She’s alive. Barely, but she’s alive.”

“What?” Twilight’s eyes went wide. “Where? Where is she? Can you find her?”

“There.” Bolt pointed out of the window. Twilight followed his hoof. She saw the outcropping of rock. The tunnel entrance.

Twilight ran faster than she ever had before.

In Spirit, if not Name

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Archmage - Chapter 31 “In Spirit, if not Name”

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“Princess! Princess Luna! Princess Celestia!” The guard gasped for breath, panting hard and fast as he burst through the doors.

“What? What is it?” Luna shot to her hooves, eyes wide. Celestia followed, every bit as concerned as her. The committee they were sitting in on fell silent at the disturbance. The guard looked up at them. He was lathered with sweat, his chest heaving with each breath he took. “Guard, are you okay? Somepony, fetch water! Quickly!” Luna rushed forward to aid the guard. But she was cut off as the guard lifted a hoof. His lips split in a grin as he gasped two last words.

”She’s back.”

Luna looked up. It clicked.

“Twilight.”

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“C’mon, Rares. You look fine.”

“Ugh. A whole month on the road, that terrible boat again, and then the accursed train. I must look a mess.” Rarity grumbled as she limped out of the train and onto the platform. “Can’t we do this later on? Like, tonight? When it’s dark?”

“That’s at least nine hours from now, silly.” Twilight leaned against Rarity’s side, giving her support. “Come on.” Rarity begrudgingly followed Twilight, leaning heavily on her friend and favoring her right hind leg considerably. Together, the two of them limped out of the train and onto the platform. Twilight was suddenly aware of how quiet everything had just turned.

“Oh no. Twilight, they’re staring at us.” Rarity’s blush could almost be felt from where Twilight stood. Glancing up, Twilight saw a throng of shocked ponies looking at the two of them. They certainly must look a sight. The Archmage escorting a wounded unicorn off of the train, both of them covered in a fair bit of dust, looking beaten, scarred, and frayed. Twilight honestly didn’t care.

“Let them stare.” Twilight said softly, raising her head to them. She raised a hoof to touch the pendant on her breast. As the two of them slowly made their way off of the platform, a crowd gathered. They parted for her, silently looking on. Rarity did her best to hide her face. Twilight held her head high. Together, they turned down the main road, towards the castle. Twilight could see before them a wide open lane, with ponies on either side.

The worst part about the experience was the silence. It was oppressive. Twilight could hear every little detail around them with a shocking sense of clarity. So much so, in fact, she began to wonder if the ponies all around them were even real. But slowly and surely, it began. In whispers and mutters, she could hear the words begin to circulate. They were unintelligible at first, drowning themselves out. But soon enough, Twilight could hear them clearly.

“She’s back.”

“Twilight’s returned.”

“The Archmage…”

“She’s back!”

The sound began to swell around her. It built to a head, reaching its zenith in one decisive, shared cheer.

”The Archmage has returned!”

Twilight was carried on a wave of sound and emotion. Tears streamed from her eyes as ponies to the left and right cheered her on. Even Rarity held her head high. The two of them shed tears of joy and elation. A group of armored pegasi fell in around them, protecting the two from the crowd. Even then, they were smiling warmly at her. Normally very stoic and cold, these guards were all smiles as they escorted the two unicorns down Canterlot’s main drag. Twilight could see it in their eyes, and their faces. Not just them, but everypony in Canterlot. They were all cheering for her.

Yet, there was only one pony she wanted to see on her return. The tears stopped as she set her sight on the castle, doubling her effort. Rarity struggled to keep pace, the two of them walking rapidly forward. Twilight felt a sense of determination and purpose fill her, then. The pendant thumped against her chest as she made for the castle as fast as her fatigued legs would carry her. Rarity began to flag behind.

“Go.” She said with a soft gasp. A guard slipped up to her side, taking her weight off of Twilight. “Go to her.”

“Thanks.” Twilight smiled at her friend before turning back to the castle. The exhaustion and fatigue of coming back from the library was all but forgotten. Twilight spurred her muscles into action, breaking free of the ring of guards as she ran towards the castle. But she didn’t have to run for long. She saw the black shadow detach from one of the towers and swoop down the main road. All around her, ponies gasped and cried out as they realized what was happening. Tears streamed from Twilight’s eyes as she sprinted forward.

“Twilight!”

“Luna!”

Her muscles gave out just as she launched herself into Luna’s embrace. Their lips pressed together, borne of a need more primal and deep-seated than either of them had felt in their entire lives. All around them, a stunned silence persisted.

But only for a second.

The cheers were deafening.

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“Rarity will make a full recovery, with therapy.” Celestia answered Twilight’s question before the bedridden Archmage could even ask it. Twilight closed her lips with a thankful smile, beaming at Celestia as the solar princess approached her bed. “You, however, will not.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” Twilight had only just started to relax when Celestia’s most recent statement made her tense up yet again. Even Luna, seated at her bedside, looked at Celestia quizzically.

“You’re going to be far too tired with all the duties of a true Archmage.”

“Don’t scare me like that, Tia.” Luna breathed, laying a hoof on her breast. Twilight sagged into the sheets with a heavy breath.

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t resist. How are you, Twilight?” Celestia leaned over the bed to give Twilight an affectionate nuzzle. Twilight returned the gesture with a warm smile.

“I’m feeling okay. Tired, but okay.”

“I’m sure. Coming all that way with an injured friend and six books? I’m impressed.” Celestia slowly lowered herself beside Twilight’s bed, smiling warmly at her. “Do you have enough energy to share your story?”

“I think so, yes.” Twilight grimaced as she sat up, trying to ignore the searing ache in her muscles. She had pushed herself awfully hard in returning to Canterlot. She would be in bed for at least a few more days before she was ready to resume her duties. One of her waking concerns had been just that, but Luna assured her up and down that Night Dancer and Warden had her covered, and Bastion was handling the shields for the time being. Her main concern was to rest and recover, so she could quickly relieve them.

She shared her story with Celestia and Luna. For Luna, it was the second time hearing it. But for Celestia, it was her first. She stopped Twilight only twice, to ask about the connections she thought she had felt with the elements. Otherwise, she listened intently to the entire journey, from meeting with Bran and Star, to Gregor and his daughter, Gilda. She went on to share the week-long trek to the library from The Aerie, the storm, losing Rarity, and the spell.

The last bit took the longest, since Twilight didn’t know all the details about what had been changed. “Essentially,” Twilight gestured with her hooves. “I knew the parameters of the spell that I wanted to change, but I didn’t know what body those changes would be taking.”

“You let the spell work itself, then?” Celestia asked. Twilight grimaced, but nodded.

“I guess you could say that. During the time we took to recover, Bolt told me a little bit more about it. If I remember properly, Bolt was more-or-less trapped inside the spell he had made with his last breath. All these years, his spell had been functioning self-sufficiently, but only in the way that he had originally designed. With the storm and the monsters. He realized that wasn’t the best way to handle things shortly after that, of course.” Twilight remembered Bolt telling her about all of the ponies who had lost their lives in the storm. Bolt, being a creation of magic borne of a dire and circumstantial need, didn’t feel too strongly about it. For Twilight, that was perhaps the most frightening part. He had seemed so uncaring.

“Bolt knew there was a way to protect the library without the storm and the monsters, but in the spur of the moment, that’s what he had cast. Once the spell was cast, he couldn’t change it, not from the inside. He was a part of it. He needed an outside influence to put his own parameters in place. I was that influence.” Twilight smiled up at Celestia. “Bolt used my energy to change his own spell. I made a few changes, like in the manifestation arc, but I honestly didn’t have much time to see anything else.”

“Did you make any other changes?” Celestia asked. Twilight thought for a few moments.

“I changed the manifestation arc, giving what remains of Bolt a corporeal form. I seem to remember him asking me for input on something else… Something to do with the monsters. It seemed to me like he was kind of attached to them, like he didn’t want to let them go.” Twilight frowned as she tried to remember. The memory was slipping away, like grains of sand through her hooves. “He… He wanted me to… To change that part of the spell. He didn’t want it removed entirely.”

“Twilight, you didn’t keep them around, did you?” Luna asked. Twilight shook her head firmly.

“I don’t think so. I think I convinced him to let them go.” Twilight's frown intensified. The memory was returning, if only marginally. “But I think he can summon them if he needs to.”

“You can’t be serious.”

“I think… If anything, like an organization or an individual… Tries to take over the library, he can use the monsters then. Then and only then. That’s it.” The memory flashed back to her, and she smiled up at Celestia. “He called it an ‘invocation of force.’ He can only summon the monsters if the library is being taken over in some way. For example, if Saddle Arabia sends a force to ‘secure’ the library, and keep anypony else from accessing it by force, Bolt can intervene directly, using the monsters. But that’s the only time. And doing so will sap the spell’s overall strength.”

“Oh, I see… So the happy meadow and trees you mentioned aren’t stalked by fearsome creatures still.” Luna rolled her eyes, even though it was with a patronizing grin. Twilight chuckled at her before nodding.

“It was remarkably peaceful… I spent six days there while Rarity rested for the trip to The Aerie. That’s when I managed to copy some of the books I found most interesting. Those are the six copies I returned with. Featherhome, Synthetic Elements volumes two, three, and four; Dragons: A Study, and Major Ellipsi of the Fourth Bi-node Arch in Arcane Inversions.” Twilight blushed a little. “That one was a personal choice… But I chose them carefully. Those three volumes of ‘Synthetic Elements’ come together with the first to make a complete manual on using synthesis magic. Essentially, a beginner’s guide. It’s perfect for circulating to major libraries and schools across Equestria. ‘Featherhome’ has a few sections that might give us a little bit of insight into the origin of the library itself. And, since we don’t have many books on dragons in the first place, I recovered ‘Dragons: A Study’ in hopes of expanding our current reserves.” Twilight smiled a little at the stack of books sitting on a nearby table. “I hadn’t seen it anywhere in our libraries.”

“No, that book most certainly isn’t in our collection.” Luna breathed. Twilight noticed then that the two princesses were smiling warmly at one another, their eyes locked in what Twilight would have mistaken for an intense staring contest. “Were there any other changes?”

“None that I made…” Twilight shook her head slowly. “As I was saying, Bolt had devised a much better plan for protecting the library, but also making the knowledge safe to access. He couldn’t change it the way he was. Instead of changing everything myself, I enabled him to make the changes he saw fit. I… I guess you could say I gave him a jumpstart.” Twilight grumbled, rubbing her mane with a hoof. “Does that make any sense?”

“Plenty.” Luna said firmly. As Twilight looked up, she realized Luna and Celestia were looking intently at one another, almost as if they were carrying on a conversation without her there.

“I’m certainly convinced.” Celestia said with a warm smile.

“She’s sold me.” Luna nodded.

“Of?” Twilight sunk into the sheets underneath the two of them, blushing a little.

“Your destiny.” Luna bubbled. “You’ve most certainly fulfilled it.”

“Already?” Twilight perked up a little.

“Yes.” Celestia waved a hoof as she explained. “The book spoke of a ‘great wealth uncovered for the world.’ After listening to your story, I think we can say you’ve most certainly fulfilled that part.” The princess’ expression darkened just a little as she spoke, causing Twilight to worry. Just as she was about to open her mouth to ask what was wrong, Celestia continued. “I think we passed the major tripping point.”

“Tripping point?” Twilight asked. “I don’t understand…”

“Well… There was another fork.” Luna said quietly. Twilight looked at her with a shocked expression.

“Another one? Not just my knowledge of the book?”

“Indeed.” Celestia affirmed. “The other fork was this: You were either going to unearth the knowledge contained, or die trying. If you died, the library would be forever lost to us.”

“But… I don’t understand.” Twilight frowned. “Couldn’t you have assisted me? I mean, Rarity almost died… I almost lost my friend.”

“We couldn’t have, Twilight.” Luna said quietly. Twilight could tell from the sound of her voice, that very issue had been weighing heavily on Luna’s mind “If we interfered, we might have influenced the outcome. If the prophecy didn’t come to pass, the fallout would have been catastrophic.”

“But…” Twilight grimaced as she sat up, frowning intently. “If you helped me, then I would have unearthed the library, and everything would have been fine. We wouldn’t have-”

“Or,” Luna cut her off. “You could have died in the storm, and either Celestia or I would have made it through. We could have modified the spell as you did, but since you weren’t the one to do it, the prophecy would have failed.”

“Oh.” Twilight dropped her head, remembering the catastrophic fallout that occurred in the event of a failed prophecy. “Too much of a risk. I see.” She muttered. A thought struck her then. “If… If I did fail, couldn’t somepony else, like one of you, just go in after me? To finish what I had started, or rather, had failed at?”

“No.” Celestia shook her head. “It was either you uncover the library, or die trying. You had to have been the one. You had to change the spell, you had to brave the storm. Not myself, not Luna, not Cadance, not some Archmage farther down the road… You. If somepony else uncovered it, either before or after you did, the prophecy would fail.”

“I don’t believe it.” Twilight frowned. “All of that knowledge hinged solely on me? If I fail, that’s it?”

“That’s it.” Celestia nodded. “Lost forever. I’m not saying somepony couldn’t have infiltrated the library, and began to retrieve what little they could. If Regal knew the secret of getting to and from the library, somepony else could have made it.”

“Rarity almost died trying to make it to that library.” Twilight could feel her anger build. “I was cut open myself. Anypony else very well could have died.”

“We understand, Twilight. But you’re missing the point. The prophecy said ‘a great wealth uncovered for the world.’ For the world, Twilight. Not just a select few strong and talented unicorns.” Celestia leaned forward to emphasize the point. “Either you uncovered the knowledge, which you did, or it would be lost forever.

“I don’t believe it.” Twilight grumbled.

“We couldn’t either.” Luna shook her head slowly. “That’s why we were so scared to do anything. Because we knew if we interfered the prophecy would have failed… It was like walking on eggshells around you. Between trying our hardest not to give you hints at the other prophecies the book holds and this one in particular, it’s like dodging arrows.” Luna shuddered visibly. Twilight was still trying to come to grips with the impossible odds she had just gone up against.

“You have no idea…” Luna continued, her voice shaking. “How difficult it was to say goodbye to you without breaking down.”

“She was a mess after you left.” Celestia sighed, adding her solemn nod to affirm the point. “It was difficult for both of us, saying goodbye to you, knowing you very well might not return. Luna tried to get you to stay, since the prophecy wasn’t rooted in time. If you had more time to prepare, you’d have a better chance of succeeding. But, alas, we both knew you were too determined to go. It was then or never.” Both Celestia and Luna were suddenly very quiet and solemn, frowning intently. Twilight mulled their thoughts over in her head, trying to imagine how hard it must have been for Luna to say goodbye when she didn’t know if Twilight was ever going to return. Instead of dwelling on the negative, Twilight forced a smile onto her lips.

“But!” She perked up. “It all went off without a hitch! Everything turned out okay, right?” Rather than focus solely on the negative, Twilight tried to remain positive. She chose to ignore the fact that the princesses didn’t help her. She didn’t want to think about how close they had come to disaster, or worse, losing all of the knowledge the library held.

“Right.” Luna managed to smile at her. Was it just her, or did Luna’s smile seem rather… Sad? Just as she opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, Luna stood, and so did Celestia. “We’re going to let you rest, Twilight. Sleep well, okay? I love you.” Luna kissed her cheek quickly. Twilight opened her mouth to protest both of them leaving so suddenly, but a sudden wave of exhaustion swept over her. She sagged into the sheets against the protest in her mind, her eyes already drooping low. She wanted to ask Luna what the real problem was, but her mind was so fuzzy and uncoordinated. The last thing she saw was both princesses leaving her quarters. Sleep took her quick and easy, with not a single chance of resistance.

---------------

“It’s not over yet.” Luna said quietly, though her hushed voice still echoed around the massive chamber ominously.

“Not yet.” Celestia nodded, both of them looking down at the prophecy. The first major portion of the book was empty; since all of its events had come to pass. But the last section was still fraught with peril. “I dare say she still has the hardest bit to go…”

“And another fork.” Luna muttered, turning to the last page. “I’m scared, Celestia…”

“And I’m not?” Celestia pressed to Luna’s side, giving her a reassuring nuzzle. “Be thankful, Luna. You at least have somepony to stay by your side through these trials.”

“You do too, you know.” Luna muttered, nuzzling into Celestia’s mane. Her sister smiled and nodded.

“Maybe not like you, but yes, I suppose I do… Still, though.”

“Yes, definitely concerning.” Luna muttered, looking back to the last page. She shuddered and shut the cover, walking a short distance to the window. She and Celestia looked out over the city, where everypony was busy celebrating the return of the Archmage. The news that the library was now open was spreading like wildfire. Ponies were making plans to travel there already. Some of them had already left. Others were arranging more major trips, with enough supplies to copy the books. Every major scholar in the city was preparing for the journey.

“At least there’s this.” Celestia said quietly, smiling down at the bustle at the train station. “Ponies everywhere will want to read the books in the library. They’ll become smarter. More intelligent. More skilled. Twilight has ushered in a brand new age of magical and intellectual development, the likes of which we haven’t seen in thousands of years.”

“Yes, at least there’s that.” Luna sighed. “But… What she said about Bolt.”

“It’s not what you think, sister.” Celestia shook her head. “She didn’t bring him back. He never left in the first place, to be specific.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, he always existed. In the storm, the monsters, the spell to protect the books. Technically, Bolt never died. Twilight didn’t bring him back from the dead, she gave him a new form. Flesh and blood, so he can finally explore his prison.”

“And a prison it is. He’ll never be able to leave.” Luna sighed. “The poor fellow… But I wonder… How will Cadance take this news?”

“I’ve already told her.” Celestia said quietly. “She left just an hour ago.”

“Oh.” Luna frowned. “How did Shining take the news?”

“Surprisingly well. He supports her. He knows his heart belongs to her, and hers to him.” Celestia smiled serenely. “She picked the right colt, it seemed.”

“That pony is going to be an amazing father.” Luna mused. Though, she couldn’t shake the troubled feeling in her heart. Cadance was already en route to the library. How would the meeting between her and Bolt go over?

-----------------------

“Good morning, sleepyhead.” Luna’s soft voice stirred Twilight from her rest. With a soft moan, Twilight’s eyes fluttered open. She smiled up at Luna’s beautiful face, a sight she had sorely missed for what felt like forever. Ignoring the tightness in her muscles, Twilight wrapped her forelegs around Luna’s neck, pulling her lover down for a gentle kiss. Luna deepened it by curling up next to Twilight, the two of them stretched out beside one another.

“Hmm… I missed you.” Twilight moaned as the kiss broke, resting her forehead against Luna’s. She vaguely remembered the conversation the three of them had shared before she had fallen asleep. She remembered she had something to ask Luna, but it was slipping her mind.

“And I you, Twilight. You were gone for what felt like ages.” Her soft words made Twilight frown. Gently, she pulled away to look into Luna’s eyes.

“I’m not going to be around for forever, Luna.” She whimpered. “I will die eventually. You know this.”

“I know,” Luna whispered. “And I don’t care. To go the rest of your life without having this… I don’t think I could stand it.” Her sad smile reflected into Twilight’s neck, even as Luna began kissing her. “Please, Twilight. Don’t take this from me.”

“No, no… You misunderstood.” Twilight whimpered, pulling herself away from Luna’s insistent lips. “I was saying… I want to give you something. Something that will last longer than me. Something to remember me by.”

“Twilight?” Luna’s questioning gaze made her smile. She slipped away just a little, her horn glowing in the dull morning light. Luna watched with wide eyes as Twilight began to materialize a small necklace. The delicate chain glowed faintly, is if it were permanently cast in moonlight. From the middle hung a small pendant, a teardrop just like the one Twilight herself wore. But emblazoned on the stone was her cutie mark. The pink sunburst and five white stars glimmered faintly.

“Twilight, I… It’s beautiful.” Luna’s eyes brimmed with tears. Gently, Twilight wound the chain around Luna’s neck, throwing the clasp and securing it.

“Look.” Twilight leaned forward gently. Her own necklace twitched as it came closer, and when it came close enough, it snapped against the other. “They’re magnetized. So whenever we come close, like when we kiss… We’ll be joined.”

“Twilight…” Luna muttered softly. The two looked at one another for a long while before finally coming together. Their lips met sweetly, and Twilight embraced her love as completely as she could. Luna’s own legs wrapped around her, drawing Twilight tight to her chest. And just like that, wrapped in the warm embrace of the one pony she loved, Twilight drifted off once more.

Luna, however, did not. Carefully, she disengaged the necklace and slipped from Twilight’s embrace, leaving her love to slumber peacefully. She left the room with a smile, going to Celestia’s office. “Sister.” Luna said softly, slipping into the simple office.

“Hello Luna. Nice necklace.” Celestia smiled at her. “I like it.”

“She made it for me.” Luna muttered, raising a hoof to touch the teardrop. “But we need to talk about her… And her constituency.”

“Ahead of you on that one.” Celestia lifted a sheaf of papers, floating them over to Luna. “These are written essays from each of the council leaders. They have put in writing their full trust in Twilight’s intelligence and natural ability, in light of her recent achievement. They have determined that she is able to advise any committee, as she currently is.”

“Wait, then this means…”

“Yes.” Celestia smiled at her. “Twilight is one step away from becoming a true Archmage.”

Connections

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Archmage - Chapter 32 “Connections”

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Twilight felt like she was drowning. Her lungs burned for air. In the next instant, she felt like she was falling. The cold wind bit into her drenched coat, making her wince with the chilled feeling. Then she was crushed. All around her, the walls pressed in, hugging her sides, weighing her down from every conceivable angle. But the worst of all of the feelings was the burning. Fire scorched away her hide, set her lungs aflame as she drew a breath to scream. A scream that never came.

Not until she shot up.

“What is it?!” Luna’s worried voice was what ultimately calmed her. Twilight’s chest heaved with each ragged breath, and the chain she wore around her neck with Luna’s pendant dug into her hide. She winced as she lay back down, looking up at the ceiling with wide, frightened eyes. “Nightmare?” Luna asked, nuzzling her neck gently.

“A pretty bad one…” Twilight nodded, shivering despite the warm covers Luna gently pulled up around the two of them.

“I’m sorry, Twilight. I should have done something about them. You must have seen some terrible things on your trip to the library…” Luna whispered, nuzzling her neck affectionately. Twilight idly wrapped a hoof around Luna’s shoulders, pulling her closer.

“I don’t think this one was related to the library. It felt like I was drowning, and then falling… Then it was like I was being crushed.”

“Oh.” Luna’s soft utterance made Twilight turn to her with a quizzical look. Luna was smiling back at her. “The connection dream. I know of it.”

“Connection dream?” Twilight asked, her frown intensifying.

“Don’t worry about it for now, Twilight.” Luna said gently. “You haven’t slept more than three hours. Go back to sleep. I’ll guard your rest.” The princess’ horn glowed as she cast a sleep spell on Twilight, putting the exhausted Archmage to rest despite her questions about the dream Luna mentioned. True to her word, though, Luna guarded Twilight’s rest. Her sleep was dreamless and blank. It felt almost as if the moment she closed her eyes, they were open again, and she felt more rested.

“Hmm…” Twilight’s legs stretched out a little as she tested her sore muscles. Despite the dull ache of not being used for the past two days, she felt somewhat rested. Luna was gone from her side, likely off handling some business. Rather than wait for her lover’s return, Twilight rolled out of her bed. Landing on her hooves made her wince, but she had to move or she’d go crazy. Moving carefully against the tightness in her muscles, Twilight went to the kitchen to drink a glass of water as slowly as she could manage.

“You’re awake.” Luna smiled as she swooped in through an open window, landing without so much as a whisper on the thick carpet. “And moving. This is good.”

“I couldn’t lay there any longer.” Twilight admitted with a sheepish grin. “I need to stretch my legs. Just a little.”

“I can’t blame you.” Luna shrugged. “I couldn’t possibly imagine having to lay there for two whole days. I’d go insane.”

“Nopony’s saying you haven’t already.” Twilight laughed at the look she got from Luna, limping forward to give her lover a quick, tender kiss. The distinctive sound of their necklaces clacking together made Twilight smile against Luna’s lips, pulling away from the breathless kiss with a teasing grin. She glanced down at the joined pieces of the jewelry before slowly pulling away. When they separated, the dull impact against her chest was a reassuring reminder of all the times Twilight had felt the simple necklace during the long trip to the library and back. Luna’s own face mirrored Twilight’s smile, assuring her the lunar princess felt the same way.

“Come.” Luna quipped. “I’ll cook you some food.”

“Oh, yes.” Twilight nodded with an eager smile. “I’m starved.” Together, the two made their way back into the kitchen to prepare a simple meal. Twilight didn’t eat much, but what she had filled her up plenty. Afterwards, Luna helped her shower, and set her gently back on the bed.

“I think you’ll be ready to return to your duties tomorrow.” Luna nuzzled Twilight’s neck gently.

“Do you think?” Twilight asked with a soft yawn. The relatively small amount of activity had taxed her fatigued muscles considerably, and she felt another nap coming on.

“You’ll need to drink a little more water, and taking it easy for a day or two would be recommended, but yes. I think you’re more or less ready to return to the world of the living.”

“Har har.” Twilight rolled her eyes sarcastically before setting her head down on the pillow. “Will you come back to me?”

“After I set the moon, I will.” Luna gave her a quick but passionate farewell kiss. “See you soon, Twilight.”

“See you.” Twilight watched as Luna departed through an open window, leaving her alone to sleep through the rest of the night.

-----------

Twilight’s recovery took just one more day after that. She felt Luna press against her side in the early morning, and after casting a few simple rejuvenation spells, the two emerged from her chamber with a mission.

“Since you’ve had the connection dream, I think it’s time you started learning elemental magic.” Luna explained, leading Twilight down a previously-unvisited hallway. She followed silently, but was listening intently. “There are many ponies throughout Equestria who are at least familiar with the magic, but this isn’t the sort of thing you can learn from a book or even from example. Elemental magic depends on how strong the connections between you and the incumbent energies of Equestria are. They can be developed over time, strengthened through training like you would a muscle. Or they can be natural, depending simply on how well your magic attunes itself to the forces around it.” Luna led them out into a wide open field at the edge of the castle. Glancing over her shoulder, Twilight noticed Luna had just led her out of what was effectively the back door. Before them was the garden and the hedge maze. It was there that Luna turned them to next.

“Elemental magic isn’t how strong your own magic is, it isn’t about spell-forms and diagrams and formulas. It’s simply how well you connect with the land around you.” Luna waved a hoof around them, her horn glowing faintly. “Air. It’s everywhere. We breathe it, we live in it, day in and day out. But it is mastered by nopony.” Twilight felt a breeze kick up around them, swirling around the two ponies. The leaves in the hedges sifted and rattled together, making a calming melody to the soft breeze.

“Water. It’s everypony’s life force. Without it, we cannot live. We would die of thirst. Water sustains us, but can also be cold and unforgiving.” Twilight watched in wonder as Luna lifted millions of tiny droplets from the grass all around them. She hovered the dew together in a medium-sized ball, which steadily continued to grow. The way the water hovered above the ground mystified Twilight. She felt a giddy sense of excitement and wonder begin to well up within her.

“Earth.”

“Aah!” Twilight gasped as a large section of ground before them tore itself from the rest of the grassy path, dropping large chunks of itself onto the grass. Twilight stilled her racing heart in appreciation of Luna’s prowess.

“Earth is strong, but immobile. It doesn’t yield, at least not easily. You must be strong to command it.” Luna set the chunk back in the ground, and with a flourish of magic, covered the spot over as if it had never been disturbed. Twilight made a connection in her mind in that moment.

“You and Celestia used earth elemental magic when teaching me about hatred, didn’t you?” She asked. Luna smiled down at her.

“Indeed we did, Twilight. We have used it many other times, as well. For instance, we hollowed out a large portion of Horseshoe Bay, to give the griffons the access to the sea they needed.”

“Wait...” Twilight paused. “You hollowed out all of Horseshoe Bay?”

“Well... I hate to brag, but...” Luna blushed and smiled. “It was an exhilarating experience.” Twilight looked at her for a long time, completely and utterly shocked that Luna and Celestia had done something so monumental. “Come on. We’re nearly there.”

“But... There’s one more.” Twilight fell into step beside Luna, looking up at her.

“Aah. Fire. Well, it’s not very practical, and it’s difficult to control even for somepony like myself. Not without doing some harm to the gardens here. But, let me see...” Luna looked around, frowning intently for a while. She spotted what she needed and trotted to it briskly. Twilight watched as she used her magic to hollow out a small indent in the earth, and place a dried bundle of sticks in it. She watched in awe as Luna’s magic sparked an intense blaze on the sticks, making a roaring blaze leap to life before their eyes.

“Fire is destructive, Twilight. It cannot exist without burning at least something. But it is also a useful tool. Without fire, we wouldn’t have metal or cooking.” Luna sighed as the blaze died down, leaving nothing but a pile of blackened sticks, half of them turned to ash. “Fire is emotional, and difficult to control. You have to find the delicate balance between guidance and letting it burn freely.

“All of these things come together to make elemental magic.” Luna concluded, indicating Twilight should follow her with a tilt of her head. “What I want you to do is meditate. That’s how we make the connection to the elements. However, Canterlot isn’t a very good place for you to try and establish a connection. There is a lot of interference in the air, what with the caverns beneath us, and all of the spells being constantly cast throughout the city. Even the presence of Celestia and I might hinder somepony from making the crucial connections they need. Therefore…” Luna turned the corner of a hedge maze, smiling at what lay before them. Twilight blinked at what she saw.

“A partition?”

“Correct. Inside, the space is free of magical influence. Not mine, not Celestia’s, not anypony’s magical energy will interfere.” Luna stopped before the partition. It was, effectively, a shield. But instead of absorbing and negating magic, this one rebounded it in full. On the outside, the partition appeared to be a soapy bubble. The surface was transparent, but shot through with rainbow-colored energy that swirled and shifted. Inside, Twilight could see nothing out of the ordinary. The partition appeared to be covering a simple patch of grass.

“Let me guess.” Twilight glanced up at Luna before focusing on the bubble before them. “You want me to meditate inside of there?”

“Precisely.” Luna confirmed. “Specifically, focus on the elements. I’m sure you’ve read on them, and I’ve just showed you each element, so just remember; strength of the earth, flow of the water, intensity of the fire, and freedom of the air. Think on their properties, and how well-suited you might be to one or the other. I find it’s best to try and have a conversation with yourself. Talk over your perks and your flaws. Find out what makes you who you really are. Then, the elements will be yours to control.”

“I understand.” Twilight smiled up at Luna. “I’m sure I can do this.”

“Confidence. That’s good.” Luna gave her a quick, reassuring hug. “It’s easy to lose track of time in there, so I’ll come retrieve you in a few hours.” She left with a passionate kiss, leaving Twilight standing alone before the partition. With a soft breath, Twilight made sure she had no magical influence in or around her, and slowly stepped into the partition. The bubble-like wall bent under her weight before sliding over her, feeling not unlike a slippery fish against her coat. She shivered as it passed over her tail, closing behind her, locking her inside.

“Woah.” Twilight realized then how much interference there really was in Canterlot. In the absence of the shield beneath her hooves, deep down in the caverns, without the hundreds of spells and levitations being cast by unicorns at all hours of the day and night, Twilight felt surprisingly clear and lucid. It was like putting earplugs in at a loud event. All around her, there was a constant hum of energy. It permeated everything, even the thickest wall wouldn’t protect her from it.

But inside the partition, it was all gone. She was alone with herself, with no magical energy to interfere. It was like shutting off a switch. The oppressive silence was remarkably peaceful. Twilight took a few moments to relish the feeling of being completely free of any magical interference. Alas, she had something to accomplish. With a soft breath, Twilight sat on the grass and closed her eyes. Her breathing began to grow deeper and more even. She inhaled through her nose and exhaled through her mouth, letting her muscles relax until she was at ease.

“The elements. Earth, wind, fire, water. To all of Equestria, these are the four building blocks of the world. The earth provides us a solid anchor, and keeps us all oriented. The wind refreshes us, and carries seeds across the world to help plants grow. Fire keeps us warm in the cold, and enables us to build and create things we normally couldn’t on our own. And water keeps us alive, hydrated, and clean.

“Earth is the strongest of all of the elements, but is also stubborn. It doesn’t yield easily, and can be difficult to work with. But for those of us who are strong and can shape the earth to our needs, we find happiness and fulfillment in our lives. Through our blood, sweat, and tears, we make things that are concrete and stable. Finite, but warm and comfortable.

“Air is free and wild. It cannot be tamed, will never be mastered, and exists solely for the sake of being unhindered. Which is also it’s greatest flaw. The air is undedicated and wanton. It floats to and fro of it’s own accord, and cannot be forced to do as anypony pleases. For those of us who try to stand and scream at the wind, willing it to do as we please, we are met with failure. But there are some who can let themselves loose into the flow of the wind, and let it carry them where it will. One way or another, through some miracle that will never be known to the world, they find themselves where they need to be.

“Water is flexible and adaptive. It flows into the cracks and washes past the most obstructive of obstacles. A little water cannot accomplish much. But great amounts of water can level mountains. From the smallest stream to the mightiest river, all water is free and unhindered. In small amounts, it is manageable, and easy to work with. But the more and more one tries to control, the easier it is to get swept away. Only those who have great reflexes and much skill can master the water and what it has to offer. Even then, they cannot stand against the flow. They must lose themselves to it, and learn to overcome their obstacles in ways other than meeting it head-on.” Twilight took a breath, opening her eyes as she came to the last element.

“Fire. It is powerful and destructive. Without the proper respect, a fire can rampage out of control, and burn even those we care the most about. But taking small steps, and keeping our passions in check, we can accomplish great things. Using fire is both dangerous and fulfilling. It is a wonderful tool to have at our disposal, but a terrible weapon to behold if wielded improperly. Connected almost directly to our own emotions, fire can either be cool and calm, or blazing hot and wild. Only by controlling ourselves can we control fire.” Twilight’s lips drew down in a soft frown. She took several more deep breaths.

“So which element am I? Am I Earth? Strong and hardy, able to withstand anything thrown at me? No… I am not very stubborn, nor am I all that reliable. I’m more likely to step back and look at a problem rather than rush into it, fixing things my way… Am I fire? Passionate and strong? I don’t think so… There was a point in time when my anger would get away from me, but I’ve learned to control it. I can-“

“Twilight.”

“Aah!” Twilight’s eyes snapped open at the sudden interference. Luna stood before her, smiling faintly. Twilight gulped air, trying to get her heart to calm down. “You frightened me.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you. But it’s been six hours.”

“Six hours?” Twilight rubbed her temple with a hoof, frowning down at the grass. “It didn’t feel that long… It only felt like a few minutes.”

“Such is the nature of meditation.” Luna teased. “You haven’t done it yet, so I wouldn’t expect you to understand. But you’ll find spending even a few minutes thinking away from the influence of so much magic will soon evolve into hours or even days. Are you hungry?”

“No…” Twilight frowned. “I’m really not… In fact, it feels like I just ate.”

“Another side-effect. When you meditate, your body doesn’t use much energy. Ponies have gone months in meditation without eating.” Luna nuzzled her neck gingerly, coaxing her towards the walls of the partition. As the two of them stepped through the oily surface of the shield-like bubble, Twilight could feel the buzz of magic all around her. It was like the droning of a thousand bees. It permeated her head and her ears, making her frown intently.

“I never knew it was so prominent. I’ve lived my whole life without entering a partition. Wow.” Her senses began to dull over a little, to compensate for the sudden change. Stepping into the partition was blissful, almost like slipping inbetween cool sheets on a hot summer afternoon. But stepping back out was an experience in and of itself.

“I’m sorry to put you through this, Twilight.” Luna said softly, nuzzling her yet again. “But meditating around Canterlot is almost impossible. You’ll have to get used to it, I’m afraid.”

“I’ll be fine.” Twilight grumbled, shaking her head slowly. She felt a headache beginning. “Just takes a little getting used to is all.”

“Hmm. Come on, let’s get you some water. I’m sure that’ll help.” After a quick break and a short conversation with Luna, Twilight was ready to re-enter the partition. Bidding the princess farewell, Twilight stepped through the oily surface, sighing as the influence of Canterlot left her, leaving nothing in it’s wake. She took a moment to enjoy the sensation of being free of magic’s influence before closing her eyes once again.

“Where was I? Right. Fire. Emotional and wild, it can burn through any obstacle in it’s path. Fire can melt stone and metal, burn away water, and even ignite the air. But it will also burn the ones you care about. I don’t think I’m the type to let my friends or loved ones be injured by my lack of control. Fire certainly doesn’t suit me.

“I am most definitely not air. I can seldom relax for more than a few hours at a time. Letting my problems go, not worrying, that certainly isn’t me… I can’t just let things be. I have to have control over the situation. Some sort of input, or handle on what’s happening. A master of my own destiny. No, I am most certainly not air…” Twilight’s eyes opened then, and a faint smile played across her lips.

“I am water. Cool and refreshing. Always in control, but never concrete. I can flow and adapt. My obstacles are best met on my own terms, when and where I please. If the situation isn’t ideal, I will change position, and attack from a different angle. If all else fails, I will wear it down until nothing remains. I can grind mighty mountains to sediment, and carve deep trenches in the earth. In small amounts, I am easy to control. But the more power I devote to something, the harder it is for me to control it. I never step outside of my comfort zone, and will often take the path of least resistance.” Twilight breathed out, and inside the partition, the solitary hum of her own magic filled the air. From the grass beneath her feet, hundreds of tiny droplets began to rise.

She could feel it deep inside of her. Twilight was connecting directly to the elements. Her horn glowed with a pale purple light, lifting and guiding the water around her. It condensed in the atmosphere, and came out of the ground beneath her hooves. Twilight was surrounded by a ring of water, hundreds of thousands of tiny droplets of liquid all floating together.

“Well done, Twilight.”

“Aah!” With a start, Twilight’s eyes snapped open. Luna stood in front of her once again, though this time she was laughing at Twilight. The water she had been controlling fell back to the grass, painting the blades around her with a shining ring of precipitation. “Seriously,” Twilight blushed, her heart hammering against her ribcage. “You have got to stop doing that.”

“It’s difficult to get your attention. I stood there for fifteen minutes, watching you play with your water.” Luna chuckled, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. Twilight glowered at her, but went to give the princess a gentle hug anyways.

“I felt a connection, Luna.” Twilight muttered seriously. “I think I’ve discovered my element.”

“I always suspected you would be connected to water.” Luna returned, stroking Twilight’s mane tenderly. “it’s a strong element to align yourself with. You should be happy.”

“I am.” Twilight smiled up at her, pulling away from the embrace. “It’s kind of a relief, knowing what it is you’re best at doing.”

“Hmm.” Luna nodded at her before sweeping a hoof out, inviting Twilight to step out of the partition. With a grimace, Twilight pushed through the oily surface and into the humming Canterlot air. It wasn’t as bad as the first time, but the sensation was still intense. Twilight blanched visibly. Luna, however, seemed unfazed. “You’ve made your connection to the element you identify with the most. Tomorrow, you’ll learn how to control the others.”

“Tomorrow?” Twilight looked around, frowning intently. It was dusk already. They had started close to dawn. It felt like the day had just barely begun, but here she was, standing on the brink of night. “Huh. I’m not even tired.”

“Well, nopony’s going to stop you from meditating through the night.” Luna gave her a quick kiss. “Come. Let’s meet Celestia.” Together, the two of them made their way out of the hedge maze and back to the castle proper. After ascending the observatory tower, Twilight and Luna pushed out onto the balcony, smiling at the small party gathered there.

“Hello, Twilight. Long time no see.” Warden gave her a kind smile, stepping forward for a quick, friendly hug. Twilight returned it readily, smiling at the sturdy unicorn.

“Good to see you again, Warden. Night Dancer. How are you?”

“Peachy.” Night Dancer bubbled, giving Twilight a friendly embrace. She and Warden stood side-by-side, smiling brightly at her. Twilight felt her own lips spread in a silly grin.

“I trust everything went well in my absence?”

“I’d say so.” Celestia offered, pushing her way onto the balcony behind Luna. “These two have performed admirably these last few weeks. I dare say they’re the best we’ve seen, aside from yourself of course.”

“I’m flattered.” Twilight teased. “But I think it’s time I take my responsibility back.”

“No complaints here.” Night Dancer chuckled. Twilight watched as she and Warden shared a quick glance and a nod. “We’ve nothing to share. This morning’s cycle went over perfectly. The azimuth and vector angles should all be aligned properly.”

“Perfect.” Twilight smiled, turning to Celestia with a firm nod. “Whenever you’re ready, princess.” At her signal, both Luna and Celestia took their respective places. Twilight braced for the impact, and was soon engulfed in the energy of both princesses. She shielded herself, Night Dancer, and Warden together, withstanding the energy perfectly. Once they were finished, the sun sat well over the horizon, and the moon hung half-full, low in the sky. It was going to be a beautiful, cloudless night.

“I’ll say good night now,” Celestia sighed. “I have something to take care of before I rest. Good bye, you four. See you in the morning, Twilight. Sister.” With one last serene smile, Celestia dove off of the balcony, turning in a wide, banking turn away from the observatory tower. Luna and Twilight stood opposite Night Dancer and Warden, who hadn’t quite left yet. It appeared as if the two had something to share with them.

“Something the matter?” Luna asked after a brief silence.

“It’s no secret the two of you are a couple.” Night Dancer started, stepping forward just a little. “I would have hoped you felt confident in the two of us that you would have shared this either way. With or without your little returning episode.”

“I’m not sure what you mean…” Twilight frowned.

“She’s saying she hoped you two would have told us one way or another.” Warden offered. Night Dancer glanced at him before lifting a shoulder. Twilight and Luna shared a look.

“We… Hadn’t exactly intended to go public.” Twilight offered. Luna