Old Wounds

by Martian

First published

They must not be forgotten.

Sometimes you just have to remember who they were...

-- Cancelled --

Chapter 1 - Insomnia

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{{ To clear up some confusion: this story begins three days after Twilight's coronation. Her friends are all alive and well; they simply aren't part of the story. }}

Old Wounds

“Couldn’t sleep?”

Twilight blinked blearily at the question, peering about through the gloom of the midnight library. It was a gentle voice, warm and familiar, but with a tired edge that reflected Twilight’s own state.

“Mmn,” was all she managed in reply, striding deeper into the great room, hooves whispering on the plush rugs.

“I’ve had difficulty as well, though more from long habit than anything else. Want company?”

“Mmn,” Twilight repeated, then took in a deep breath and let out a yawn wide enough to cause her jaw to pop. “I mean, I would enjoy that, Princess.”

“Then please join me, Princess,” said the voice from the balcony far above, the playful lilt on the last word nudging a grin to Twilight’s tired lips. Princess Celestia had insisted that the young pony had no need to address her by title when in private, but habits die hard, and Twilight couldn’t help but feel a twinge of uneasiness at simply calling her ‘Celestia’. It felt disrespectful somehow, even if the Princess herself had reassured her that it was perfectly acceptable.

Twilight could certainly understand the want to just be known by her given name though; it had been three days since being crowned as a princess, and the young librarian was still quietly horrified when anyone bowed to her or used her new title... and that was a thought. The Princess- no, Celestia- had so few ponies who could ever even consider themselves on equal footing with her, how simple a pleasure it must be to hear her own name, unadorned by the glitter and fuss of the court...

Twilight peered upwards through the dim light of the grand library, picking out the balcony she had caught a glimpse of white from, then started to open her wings. Her feathers made a silken sound as they flexed and spread. This was followed shortly after by aches in her shoulders and flanks and ribs, reminding the pony that she had been spending enough time in the air as of late and that maybe she should consider simply using the four things at the ends of her legs that she had started out with.

Flying was a feeling on par with discovering an unread book for Twilight, but reading didn’t leave one hurting from nose to tail afterwards. A knack for flight might have come with the gift of her wings, but the muscles that powered them were still very young...

She followed the winding circuit of the iron stairs up to the little balcony that opened into Canterlot’s observatory.


“I have some tea, if you would like.”

"Thank you, no, P- er, Celestia. It would keep me up.” There was no doubting the smile that showed on the Princess’ face at the use of her name, unadorned. It was a small thing, certainly, but it seemed to fill the room with the warmth of a spring day.

“It’s just chamomile and a bit of peppermint, if you change your mind. I find it relaxing.”


Actually, the idea of chamomile tea did garner some interest, and Twilight found herself deftly pouring a cup from the pot with a small effort of will. The steam filled her nose with hints of sunny mornings and fragrant daisies, the peppermint a cooling counterpoint. A sip warmed her tongue and throat, sent pleasant tendrils curling from her belly to her legs, soothed her aches.

To call the room a mere observatory was a bit of an insult to the craft that had been put into its construction. It wasn’t just a room to house a telescope: the Canterlot Astrolabe was a work of art that could, and indeed has, made experienced astronomers fall to their knees and weep. The walls were great brass rings etched and embossed with the patterns of the constellations, glinting and shimmering with tiny gems of a thousand hues to mark their stars. Even more, an array of twelve wire-thin rings circled the entirety of the room, each notable for their lack of ornament or engraving save for a single gem set into their faces, each half as broad as a hoof. These rings moved, each tuned through magic to the movement of the planets, so that an observer standing at the center of the room would know precisely where to find the elusive target they hoped to spy.

The room was a perfection of science and magic; the two schools interacting with seamless harmony to improve knowledge. It was a beautiful thing, but just mere decoration this night: Twilight had practically lived in the Astrolabe for a whole three months, once. She had discovered a particularly interesting book about the cosmos, and had become infatuated with the night sky. That must have been some seven years ago now. She wondered...



“You are just about to ask what I am looking at,” said Celestia, not turning her head from the grand telescope’s eyepiece. “It’s Podarkes.”

“I’m that predictable?”

“You are impossibly curious about everything, Twilight. I recognized that in you a very long time ago. It might be one of your very best attributes.” Celestia drew back from the telescope, and nodded to the space next to her. “It’s a good night for stargazing.” Gratefully, the younger pony settled next to her mentor. It was a familiar and comfortable position they had often shared, though made new again by the extra pair of wings that had lately been added to the equation.

“Podarkes,” Twilight murmured, leaning to peer into the ocular lens set in the ornate bronze housing. There, familiar as family, she saw the orb of the distant planet, little larger than a grain of sand even through the magically-enhanced lenses of the Astrolabe’s centerpiece. It was a tiny shape, its face a swirl of blues and greys... a mystery that could never be plumbed.

It was that which had drawn Twilight in all those years ago, had seen her burning the midnight oil for weeks at a time bent over piles of books, trying to glean the truth of the cosmos from vague words and musings of ponies that had come before her. In the end, she had to admit defeat and move on to other subjects, though only after the Princess herself had intervened and coaxed the unicorn from the nest she had built for herself in the far corner of blankets and books and cushions, and more than a few dirty dishes.

“It was named after a pony you knew, wasn’t it?”

“They all were,” said Celestia. “Podarkes, Aithon, Bronte, Notos, Boreas...”

“Hippokampa?” Twilight had named it as a kind of joke, but it earned her a little chuckle that carried much more weight than mere amusement. Twilight leaned back a bit, glancing to the tall mare at her side. Celestia was just smiling her little smile, breathing in the sweet steam of her tea, in no rush to answer. She often did this when she wanted Twilight to think for herself.

Hippokampa... That was a name stretching far and further back, and indeed, reaching down into the depths of the sea. Hippokampa, the queen of the Hippokampoi, who had led a rebellion to save her people from the Storm Tyrant, a monster that had held much of the seas beyond Equestria in thrall. It was an old story, little more than a fun legend told to fillies and colts, about a wise and brave ruler who would do what she had to in order to keep her people safe. Everyone like the image of seaponies...

Twilight had just thought it a neat twist on Celestia’s own legendary life, given the echoes of Discord and the elements. But, if that little smile on the regent’s face was any clue, then...

“When she bargained with the spirits of fire and light for the strength to destroy the Tyrant...”

“She had asked of Luna and myself to help her. There was no bargaining, really; the Storm Tyrant was a terrible thing that had to be dealt with, yet he held sway over the sea, where neither Luna nor myself could venture safely. Cloudhopping is all well and good, but not when those clouds were part of the Tyrant himself. The seaponies gave everything they had to help us, and together we cast down the storm.”

“Then, how come no one has seen a seapony in so long? If they are free...”

“Not all ponies like to gather and play, Twilight. Seaponies are quiet and very shy, much preferring to be amongst one another. Though, from what I hear, there is the occasional sighting that is announced.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, “Rum-soaked sailors aren’t the most credible of witnesses.”

Celestia tittered sweetly, a musical sound, “Well, seaponies do enjoy the occasional practical joke.”

“And those stories of seamares, pulling sailors down to the seafloor to...” Here Twilight stumbled a bit, a faint blush creeping across her cheeks.

“They have this special magic that lets one breathe water. It’s actually quite pleasant, once you get used to it. Trying to breathe air afterwards again is a bit of a shock, though.”

“So the sailors...”

“Seaponies are still ponies, Twilight. They like to have fun as much as anyone else.” Here, Celestia’s expression grew distant, though her smile only got wider, “My, don’t they just.”

Twilight’s brow creased. She opened her mouth to say something, stopped, tried again, then stopped a second time. Her features gently slid into a rictus of shock as the weight of implication settled on her mind. Celestia, for her part, simply enjoyed the quiet and her tea.

The Astrolabe was never truly silent, as beneath all the grand faces of etched brass were myriads gears and cogs, ever turning, tracking the path of the planets across the sky. The machinery was magically fueled and carefully maintained, running with the oiled precision that would have made even the most jaded clockmaker weep. It was a tremendously slow piece of artwork though; the paths of worlds were not measured in days and weeks, but usually in years and decades. The speedy Konabos cruised through its orbit in only a few months, but the distant Euros, a mere pinprick of light through the telescope, had only completed two full circuits of the Astrolabe in all the time since it had been built. An orbit that took no less than two hundred and fifty years.

“So...” Twilight started, having managed to avoid having her brain short out, “You and Hippokampa...?”

“Mmn? Oh, no. She was...” Celestia’s smile faded some, her body shifting slightly as she lifted her head, thinking back. “I’m not sure how I would describe her. Hippa was a very warm and kind pony, but she had to fight and win a war before she was your age, then rule a kingdom. Her world was just too big, and her heart too scarred, to pursue love.”

Mixed feelings swirled through Twilight’s mind. On the one hoof, Hippokampa sounded like a tragic figure and one that the Princess obviously thought fondly of. On the other, though... Well, jealousy was not something Twilight often experienced, but there it was; an oily green tendril that wrapped around her heart, made her blood flow just that little bit hotter. Had she not been so tired, she might have been able to avoid saying what she did.

“Sounds familiar...”


Cold now, the tea didn’t taste near as good, but Twilight was desperate for something to use as a cover while she thought for something to deflect the potential topic she had just brushed. She also hoped that the Astrolabe was dim enough to hide the slight glow that had appeared on her cheeks.

She only had a second worth of time though, and that ran out much too quickly. Twilight let out a small sigh; her usually sharp mind had failed her. She plumped for honesty.

“A warm and kind pony who had to fight and win a war while still so very young... then had to rule a kingdom. It sounds familiar, Princess.”

“Mmn... I suppose it does, though all stories of our sort sound the same, really.”

“What happened to her?”

“Hippa? I’m not really sure. Seaponies can live long lives, but she lived a very long time ago indeed. She is gone now, of that I am sure... but what she built would have stayed. The seas are calm after all, and it sounds like the mares still frolic.” This was said with a playful air, but it was easy to see the ache beneath the expression, the sadness in the eyes. The two lay still for a long moment, listening only to the faint, distant whirr of gears and the whisper of their own private thoughts.

A slight shift of weight, the faint rustle of feathers as Twilight set one wing around her mentor’s shoulders. She was warm, her tall frame surprisingly solid, yet no less gentle for all that. The young pony could feel a slight chill curling up Celestia’s spine, could feel the tension in her muscles relax; the tall, beautiful mare leaning just a little into that comforting embrace.

Twilight bowed her head, “I didn’t mean to open any old scars...”

“Scars as old as some of mine need to be opened from time to time, Twilight Sparkle... They remind me of just who I am.”

They stayed like that for a long time, each nursing their own silence, relishing the closeness and warmth of the other.

“Do you know about Podarkes?” Celestia’s voice was soft, breaking the silence and gently drawing Twilight out of her personal reverie.

“Mmn? Podarkes. She was... She was a captain of the Solar Guard, when there was a private guard for Luna and yourself.”

“The last captain of the Guard...”

“She...” Twilight’s voice faltered, the knowledge flickering into focus in her mind’s eye. Last captain of the Solar Guard, slain in the final battle that ended the reign of Nightmare Moon. She had given her life to buy her regent time, time to banish her only sister for a thousand years...

“She did many things,” said Celestia, her eyes closed, a sad smile showing on her lips. A broad white wing, softer than one might think it could be, settled across Twilights back. “Her life was an adventure. She was the youngest to be victorious in the Pegasus melee, youngest ever to be made a captain. She could fight like no one else, could shout and yell with such a voice that it rattled the mortar from the walls. But so too could she sing, could put a song in the heart that would make a pony want nothing more than to follow her, no matter where she led. And even more, she was the kind of pony anyone would genuinely want to follow, for she would never ask of another what she wouldn’t do herself.”

“And you knew her?” It was such a stupid question, but Twilight couldn’t help but feel awed by the mere memory of the pony Celestia was relating.

“Yes. I knew her very well. She was brash and brazen, loud and obnoxious and headstrong beyond all reproach.” Here Celestia laughed. It was a genuine laugh, bubbling up from deep inside and scored by an honest tear that shone gently on one cheek, “And there was nothing she needed more than being held at night, when thunder threatened. My brave warrior, my fearless protector: mighty and peerless beyond reproach, reduced to a cowering filly with a clap of thunder...”

That last word was punctuated with a sob, a sound that wrenched at Twilight’s heart. She pressed close to Celestia, her wing squeezing tight, nestling her cheek against her mentor’s neck, all to reassure her that she was not alone, that she had a friend close by. The tears came, and with them the shuddering sobs of feelings that had been so long kept in check.

Celestia wept, but for the first time in a very long time, she did not weep alone...

Chapter 2 - Fresh Scars

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The late afternoon sun was filtering in through the window, catching the old wooden table and giving it a deep, fiery glow. Atop it, two sizeable piles of books, their covers greying and cracked with age, with one of their number set open upon the small stand between them. Twilight sat before it on the worn old stool that she had been using since she was first allowed in the High Archive, years ago. Her hooves were crossed before her on the same desk, a position she has occupied so frequently that there was a subtle indentation in its surface that perfectly fit her.

The first planet in orbit of Celestia’s Sun. It is believed to be roughly half the size of Luna’s Moon, though its proximity to the sun makes this difficult to ascertain. Its orbital period has been measured as taking eight months and ten days to make a complete circuit. The best time to view Konabos is immediately after the sun sinks below the horizon, though it might only be visible for a few moments to the unaided eye. With a suitably tuned telescope, one can just make out the faint trail of gasses and dust that follow in the planet’s wake. When our world and Konabos are at a certain angle to one another, this dust trail acts as a sort of prism for the light of Celestia’s Sun, giving the planet the appearance of being trailed by a rainbow.

Twilight frowned a bit, flipping the page and scanning quickly over the next few paragraphs of theories about the planet’s composition and atmosphere and any number of other things. The piece she had wanted was near the end of the entry, little more than a footnote. She had read it all those years ago when she had developed her little cosmic obsession, but she had been wanting to figure out what the planet were, not the origin of their names.

The planet’s rapid orbit and spectacular transit are the source of its name: Konabos was the spirit of travel and messengers, held in legend as being the envoy of our noble regents. Some stories credit Konabos with travelling for an entire day and night without stopping to warn the still-new kingdom of Equestria of a dire threat from the north, thus saving pony civilization.

“I wonder if they mean King Sombra,” mused Twilight, nibbling on her bottom lip and flipping through the next few pages. That was the end of the entry though, near identical to the other six cosmology books she had essayed. She wasn’t really surprised at the outcome; there was plenty of good speculation of the science in them, but by its nature, science didn’t have much interest in old myths. Still, Twilight was nothing if not diligent, and it was worth covering all her bases.

It was also kind of fun to revisit those old books she had poured over while she camped out in the Astrolabe.

An effort of will saw the old book lifted gently in a faint nimbus of magic, to be settled atop the rightmost pile as a different book was drawn from the left.

“Myths and Legends of Old Equestria,” Twilight read aloud, albeit in a soft voice that wouldn’t carry. Princess she might be, but in the High Archive even Princess Celestia bowed to the authority of the hard-eyed old librarian mare. Mrs. ShadyOak was actually a very pleasant pony... just so long as you didn’t break the rules. They were simple rules, at least, and posted above her desk for all to see:

1. Silence.

2. Books must be returned no later than the date shown.

3. Do not meddle with the nature of causality.

The last rule had always struck Twilight as a kind of joke, until she had gotten her hooves on the time spell, at which point it made perfect sense. Just why it was a rule being enforced in a quiet, non-magical wing of a library was baffling, but that wasn’t the kind of question you asked Mrs. ShadyOak. Not if you wanted to continue to go through life without the memory of her slowly tilting her head down to peer at you over her precise little half-moon spectacles.

Ponies on the receiving end of that look described it as something like what a mouse must experience when the hawk is an instant away from striking.


The books were little help. What entries there had been on Konabos were vague at best, and two of them were actually contradicting one another on several points. For a dedicated lover of books and the knowledge therein, it was practically heartbreaking. Twilight dejectedly reshelved her takings and strode from the library.

She could ask the Princess about Konabos, but Twilight wasn’t so certain that she wanted to stir those memories again so soon. The loving regent had thanked Twilight last night in the Astrolabe, after the tears had dried and the sobs had been stifled, her smile as genuine as it could be... but Twilight didn’t want to put her mentor through that pain again to merely sate her curiosity.

She considered travelling down to the Starswirl wing and delving through the older tomes there, though it was an unimaginable pain in the rump trying to sift through the mess. Mrs. ShadyOak ran her High Archive like a well-oiled machine, with nary a paper out of place, but the Starswirl wing had no such guardian. It was a wild place, as libraries go. This might not sound like much a thing for the uninitiated, but those contemptuous feelings swiftly vanished when one experiences their first magical discharge from a carelessly nudged scroll. Most learned immediately after that to take extra special care when in the wing. The others... they received a heartfelt entry in the obituaries section of the Canterlot Gazette.

Twilight took a brief detour to the rooms she was staying in during her visit, gathering some ink and quills, as well as a small bottle rather fine hard cider Applejack had given her before she left. Such contraband in the High Archive might have earned a lifetime ban, but there was no such eagle-eyed watch dog down in the old stacks. It was a guilty pleasure, but Twilight did enjoy a few sips of AJ’s special hard cider while browsing books. Anyways, if it wasn’t allowed, then they should have cleared away the unmistakable whisky bottles that still littered Starswirl’s desk down there after who knows how many years.

Well, what did you expect? No pony in their right state of mind would willingly wear a hat with bells on all the time.

Her tools and supplies gathered, Twilight departed her rooms and trotted her way down the great stairwell, her wings spread slightly for that extra bit of balance. A friendly envoy bowed to her as she passed, and a grizzled old guard she recognized gave her a wink and deftly tossed a peppermint her way; a tradition between them that felt as old as time, and not the least bit changed by Twilight’s new status.

Her mouth a pleasant tingle of mint, warm sun streaming through the tall window, an entire evening of sifting through mountains of books ahead of her. Twilight was quite possibly having one of her best days, and it only got better when she spied Princess Luna seated in the small courtyard that Twilight had to pass through to reach Starswirl’s wing.

She hadn’t even thought of asking Luna about Konabos and the others. Excited now, she trotted down the steps towards the regent, who was browsing a book of her own, though with what looked like little interest. When she saw Twilight approaching, she sat up a little straighter and regarded the younger pony with an aloof expression. Luna was indeed getting better with ponies as late, but the ancient habits died hard, and she wasn’t entirely at her ease yet with being addressed in casual fashion.

As Twilight had understood it, before Luna was banished, it was customary for most ponies to address the princesses from the opposite side of a line of armed and armoured guards. It was also dreadfully impudent and rude to looks at anything but the regents’ hooves. It had been such a different time...

“Princess Twilight. How do you find the day?” The good news was, she had her voice under perfect control now, and was even starting to drift away from the archaic “thou”s and “thee”s.

“Very well, thank you Princess Luna,” replied Twilight, giving a slight but respectful bow, and not failing to note the slight grin that showed at the corners of Luna’s mouth. Their prim and proper greeting completed, the two visibly relaxed to something closer to companionable ease.

“You look ready for an excursion,” said Luna, nodding towards the ends of no less than five quills peeking from the small saddlebags Twilight had prepared. “What is the occasion?”

“Fact-finding!” said Twilight, all cheer. She drew forth the small glass flask from her bag and held it up for Luna to inspect. “Care to share? Apple family specialty: you couldn’t buy some for all the gems in Araby.” Luna had little taste for drink, but one simply does not turn down an offer like this.

Wars had been fought over less.

“I would love to. What are you after?” asked Luna, taking hold of the offered flask with her magic and carefully cutting away the wax seal with a small effort of will.

“I was talking with Princess Celestia last night, and she brought up a bunch of names. I was actually rather interested in trying to find information on them, but the High Archive is pretty barren.” A quill, a bottle of ink and some parchment slid slowly free from the saddlebags as Twilight tried to look innocent, her voice taking on a wheedling tone. “I was sort of hoping I could maybe ask you about them?”

“Surely a genealogy collection would serve a better purpose?”

“I wish... though that would be interesting to look into later. These names are really old, though.”

“Mmn? What names?” asked Luna, peeling away the last of the wax from the cork.

“The ones we gave to the planets, actually. Bronte, Aithon, Hippokampa, Podarkes...” Twilight popped open the cap on her ink bottle, the quill’s nib drinking deeply of the black liquid within. “She had said those were the names of ponies she had known personally.”

Twilight was so drawn up in the anticipation of learning something new that she did not notice the flask being gently set down on the ground beside her saddlebags. The cork was still set firmly in the neck.

“She had told me quite a bit about Hippokampa, and some stuff about Podarkes, and I’m wondering if you could shed some more light on them?”


“Oh, yes! Celestia had said so much about her, she sounded wonderful. You knew her, right?” She was excited, practically buzzing with energy... and absolutely oblivious to the chill that radiated from the starry-maned mare at her side. Too late, she realized what she had just said, too late did she remember what happened to Podarkes, in the mist-shrouded ages long ago.

Luna’s gaze was cold. Not merely expressionless; this was something beyond that, an expression that echoed the starless black depths of the cosmos. That look pinned Twilight to her seat, pushed icewater into her veins. The ink bottle dropped to the ground, spattering the grass with oily midnight. The quill fluttered down, laying within the pool. The parchments rustled as they tumbled away.

“I killed her.”

It was a long moment before Twilight was able to breathe again, and it was longer still for that oppressive weight to fade from the courtyard, though the young pony didn’t dare move but simply stared, wide-eyed at the pony beside her. Luna hadn’t changed, hadn’t shifted back into the hateful creature that had taken her over before, did not scowl or frown or curse. Somehow, Twilight felt it might have been better had she done any of those things. Luna simply going cold like that was beyond terrifying.

“P-princess, I-”

“As Nightmare Moon, I slew my sister’s lover, then laughed as she wept over the body.” Luna rose to her hooves, stepping away from the bench. “Is that something you wanted to hear, Twilight Sparkle?”

“N-no, I just. I’m sorry; I wasn’t thinking...”

Luna’s wings were spread wide, great midnight blue feathers seeming to drink the light of day. Her muscles were taut, her jaw clenched tight, her eyes staring straight ahead and burning with a barely suppressed rage. It wasn’t a hate that was directed at the world, though: this was a fury turned inwards.

“No, you weren’t thinking. You are asking about very old names, Twilight. Names that have deep echoes in scarred hearts.” Here a breath. Luna took it in, then blew it out, and with it much of the tension eased from her shoulders. She stood there, head hanging now, her wings drooping low until the tips of her vanes just brushed the ground.

Twilight didn’t move a muscle, barely dared to draw a breath. The fear was fading, but in its place came an awful guilt that drew the beginnings of tears to her eyes.

“Luna, I am so sorry.. Please, I never meant to...”

A gentle answer, almost kind. “I know. Calm yourself, Twilight...” Luna turned back to the younger pony, settling beside her again, closer this time, a wing draping across the trembling Twilight’s shoulders. “I did not mean to frighten you so.” A long breath. “Those names... they carry a great burden in my sister. But you have to understand, Twilight: what has been a thousand years for Celestia has only been two years for me.”

Twilight tried to scrub the tears from her cheeks with the back of a hoof, only managing a faint sniffle.

“What are just faint echoes and misty images to her are still vivid in my mind. I can still hear their voices, the cry of the trumpets, the smell of the flames. I can still see my sister weeping over what I had done, as readily as you can remember freeing me from my curse just those months ago.

“You are curious, you want to know things... but you have to remember that sometimes what you are trying to find is not mere trivia.”

“I’m sorry,” quavered Twilight, but she was gently hushed by Luna.

“You are forgiven. Take a breath now...”

The two stayed there together for a long while, sitting in silence, listening to the whisper of wind and the calls of distant birds. No words passed between them, no questions or conversation. So very different they may be, but they had become near sisters only days ago, and even such a painful moment would pass and be forgotten.


In time, Twilight felt herself calmed enough to venture, “Celestia asked if I would share more time with her, to ask her about those names...”

“I hope you will take her up on that offer, Twilight. Her memories are old, and she fears to forget them. It’s why the worlds beyond ours bear those names, and why she had Sage Wisdom build her the Astrolabe. Many of those names will ease her heart to hear, but they will bring with them much pain.”

“I know, I saw... when she spoke of Hippokampa and of... of her.”

“Comfort her, then. She holds you very close in her heart, Twilight. Help her remember those fond faces lost to the past.”

“I will,” said Twilight, making her way a little shakily to her hooves. Her things were gathered slowly with a wisp of magical power, the only sound the faint clink of the bottles rattling together as they were set back into the bags.

“And Twilight... if you would like to ask me of Konabos, or Bronte... I knew them well, and their stories don’t carry such a black weight.”

Twilight turned back to the princess, a faint but hopeful smile showing beneath tired eyes. “I think I would like that, Luna... But maybe, not for another few days.”

“That may be for the best. Sleep well, Princess Twilight,”

“Fair winds, Princess Luna.” Twilight left the courtyard the way she had come, slowly climbing the stairs back to her rooms.

Beyond the walls and windows, the last of Celestia’s sun drifted down for the horizon, painting the sky in a riot of orange and violet, celebrating the close of the day and the coming rise of the moon.

Interlude 1 - The Guard

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Twilight would go to the Starswirl wing, but she would let a few days pass before venturing down into those ancient stacks. Luna’s revelation had left Twilight shaken, and the pony had opted just to go about the small duties she had to attend to with her new rank and just let her need to discover simmer on the backburner.

Her new life as a princess wasn’t quite so far removed from her old life as she had thought. There were certainly new customs to learn, and her authority meant she could be asked to see to small matters of state, but they weren’t anything near so harrowing as she had expected. Actually, the minor matters of state that Celestia delegated to her generally came in the form of envoys who used the excuse of discussing trade matters simply to meet with the new princess.

Celestia had confided in Twilight the day before she was given her duties that the envoys were wanting to gauge her ability, and so Twilight should do everything she could to impress them. No one would question her station, for the mere existence of her horn and wings was the indelible mark of a pony who had been crowned, but they had to see that she was not some one-trick pony. It was a matter of earning respect and love rather than contempt.

Well, Twilight had dressed herself in her elemental crown, had worn the elegant golden peytral around her neck, and the matching sollerets upon her hooves. She had combed her mane straight, as she preferred, and ventured forth to meet the dignitaries. Twilight had been perfectly pleasant, intelligent, and even managed to break through her nervousness when she saw the ledgers they had brought to the table: there was nothing like the dance of numbers and values to really make Twilight feel comfortable. By the end of the meeting, she had been playfully bantering with the Germaneigh envoy and learning a few words of Prancian from a rather elegant unicorn mare with the kind of presence and posture that would have quite probably caused Rarity to abandon reason and abduct her for use as a model.

This, while improving trade income and efficiency by 1.5%.

To say she left a good impression was a bit of an understatement, as Celestia had told her later. The young mare had spent the rest of the day in the kind of good mood you only really get a few times in your life.

Her new royal duties were actually a fair bit more fun than expected, though the selection of her personal guard was a different bushel of apples. A princess could call upon any of the guards in Canterlot for any particular duty, but each had half a dozen ponies assigned specifically to them to act as bodyguards, advisors, and servants.

It was a personal selection from any of the soldiers in Canterlot, each princess choosing for the traits they found necessary. Celestia had six ponies well known for their calm demeanor and compassionate nature, while Cadence had chosen particularly playful and friendly members for her staff. Luna’s guards were rarely seen, though given that each had been willingly changed through her magic to become night-ponies, it wasn’t quite so surprising. Bat-winged and strange-eyed, they were viewed with some suspicion and fear by many, but Twilight had found them to be perfectly polite and little different than anyone else, save for perhaps reflecting the usually somber mood of their mistress.

That isn’t to say they were joyless; Racing Star had been quite tickled about beating Twilight three games to two at chess, and spent more than a bit of time letting her comrades know about it. Being a princess meant Twilight did command a fair bit of respect now, but that apparently did not exempt her from some playful ribbing. ‘All was fair in love and war,’ Racing Star had said, and chess was just a different kind of war.

Not so long ago, the very idea of Twilight Sparkle going out of her way to meet new ponies and interact with them would have caused one’s brain to short out. It said much of her life in recent years that she not only did so, but genuinely enjoyed the activity of making new friends whenever she could.

And now was the matter of selecting her own guard. Twilight still had no idea just what she should have been looking for, and so far had only two wearing her crest on the circlet about their shoulders. They had been suggested to her by Princess Celestia, and they had proven to be capable ponies indeed, though Twilight was uncomfortable with the idea of giving orders. She had asked Glitter Shine to find her some fresh parchment and ink once, two nights ago, and had been so embarrassed by the unicorn’s genuine smile and willingness to do so that Twilight couldn’t bring herself to ask neither her nor Wingsong to do anything else.

It was the strangest feeling. She had no problem asking Spike to do all kinds of chores, and he was, more or less, just a friend. Glitter Shine and Wingsong were essentially employed to do exactly what Spike did for her, not to mention being potent soldiers dedicated to protecting her, and she felt like anything she asked of them was so petty that it insulted them somehow.

And she still had to pick four more from the hundreds of guards that protected the castle.

The young pony had confided all this to Celestia the morning after the last of the trade envoys had been seen to. The advice the Princess had given her in return was so unbelievably simple that it made Twilight feel worse.

“Did you take the time to meet them as ponies?”

She hadn’t. So embarrassed with the idea of having a personal guard, of having ponies at her beck and call at any time of the day or night, it caused her to distance herself from them even as Twilight went about meeting any number of other ponies. Twilight had actually spent an entire evening with Princess Luna’s personal guard, getting to know them and asking all kinds of questions about the changes they had gone through when they took on their mantles, all the while neglecting the ponies who wore her own crest.

She felt awful.

So, when the noon-day bell rang, she peeked out the door of her chambers and asked Wingsong to find Glitter Shine, so they could both join Twilight in her study.


It took only a few moments for Wingsong to find his comrade, as their personal quarters were just steps away from Twilight’s chambers. Apparently, Glitter Shine was just about to venture out for some exercise, as she came in wearing the light khaki jacket and matching cap that all the guards wore while training. It was a colour that went well with her sunny orange coat and artful mess of yellow and red curls, pierced through with a tall horn. Shine was tall and lean, of a stature that was somewhere between Twilight’s and Cadence’s, and carried herself with a breezy confidence. Opposite her in most every way was the stocky Wingsong, all pale blue with a white mane, strong wings nestled against his armoured sides. It was the same golden armour all Canterlot guards wore, though the plates along his breast and sides had been engraved with a subtle pattern of swirls and stars, and the crest just beneath his neck was the pointed star of Twilight’s crest, all in shining amethyst.

“Princess,” they greeted her in a formal tone, though not unfriendly. It had been a week now, and the title was still not getting any easier to wear.

“Please, you can just call me Twilight,” she insisted, but saw a look pass between the two.

“Begging your pardon, Princess, but that would be absolutely improper,” said Glitter Shine. She had a voice that matched her stature; strong, but no less pleasant for it. “And, well, it was drilled into us since enlisting. It’s not a habit you can break easily.”

“Mmn. I called Princess Celestia ‘Miss’ once, on accident,” said Wingsong. “I had been awake for two days straight and she had come out to see us training. I didn’t recognize her, if you can believe it. Just too tired; I thought she was any other mare. Spent my next week moving a mountain of sandbags from one side of a statue of her to the other, one bag at a time. By myself.” Here Wingsong chuckled ruefully, rubbing a hoof against his nose. “Every time I picked one up or put one down, I had to shout ‘Princess’.”

That was promising, at least. Not so much the difficulty with her appellation, but the two seemed to be remarkably candid and forthright with her. Twilight had been fearing that they’d be the iron-jawed and stoic sort that answered every question with single syllables or grunts or something. It was how most saw the Canterlot Guard; armed and armoured, standing tall and straight and silent in any weather. It was an accurate picture, but thinking on how Luna’s guard had been perfectly normal with her, and the way that one friendly old stallion in Celestia’s staff always had a peppermint for her since she was a filly. Perhaps that rigid discipline was relaxed when they wore a princess’ crest.

“Ah, so that’s where the rumours came from,” said Shine, grinning to her compatriot.

Wingsong coughed and rolled his eyes, “Not in front of the royalty, Sputters.”

Twilight couldn’t help but smile at the exchange. She gave the tall unicorn a curious look, “Sputters?”

“Ugh. Sputter Shine,” she answered, shaking her head. “I used to have a stutter. I would appreciate it if you didn’t use it, Princess,” Shine added, sheepishly.

“No problem!” There was a beat of silence before Twilight remembered just why she had asked the two to join her. “Oh! I was hoping you would both share a drink with me.”

“I would love to,” said Shine, starting to follow Twilight. Wingsong hesitated.

“Er, it depends on just what it might be, Princess.”

“Apple brandy?”

“I am technically on duty-”

“Apple Family Private Reserve~” said Twilight, giving her voice a come-hither curl.

“But I’m certain I can handle one glass,” finished Wingsong quickly, hurrying after the two.

It was remarkable just what kind of power the Apple family held for such a genial and humble bunch of ponies.

“I wanted to apologize to the two of you,” said Twilight as she drew a trio of small glasses from the cabinet in the corner of her study, along with a long-necked bottle in dark green, stoppered with a cork and bereft of any label. When you were lucky enough to have been giifted a bottle of A. F. P. R. Apple Brandy, you did not forget what container it was in. Ever.

“I’ve barely said three words to either of you in days.” Twilight unstoppered the bottle with a brief effort of will, then carefully poured a measure of honey-gold liquid into each glass. The entire world became scented with crisp autumn apples. “I just wasn’t comfortable having guards. I’m... still not entirely sure about it, to tell you the truth.” She dispersed the glasses to the two others, watching their expressions. They were grinning. Not at the near-priceless offering set on the table before them, but at one another, then to her.

“Princess Celestia warned us,” said Wingsong, cheerfully.

“I think she had a bet with Princess Cadence over how long it would take you to apologize to us,” added Glitter Shine.

Twilight stared at them for a long time. “What.”

“Mmn. I think one would have to personally polish the other’s sollerets every morning for a week.”


“I think cake might have also been mentioned.”

Twilight planted her face in both her hooves with a groan. She scrubbed her cheeks for half a second, then leaned back with a laugh, a genuine one that came from the belly. Shine and Wingsong were both grinning.

“Aah, I should have expected that. It is very Cadence,” she thought for a moment, “And Celestia.”

“To the princesses?” said Glitter Shine, lofting her glass gently with a nimbus of golden magic.

Twilight lifted hers likewise, and Wingsong deftly held his in a hoof. “To the princesses!” they said together.

“Present royalty included,” said Glitter Shine with a grin. The three took a nip from their respective glasses, and Twilight amused herself by watching their expressions.

The Apple family were one and all robust ponies, and they distilled their brandy to reflect this. It may have smelled like the finest, fresh-cut apples you could ever find, and it did indeed taste as good at it smelled, but that crisp sweetness was backed with some rather intense alcoholic heat. Applejack had shared a fair bit of it with the girls over the past two years, and while Twilight would never be a hard drinker, she had developed a tolerance, and even a love, for the burn.

Apparently, neither Glitter Shine nor Wingsong had a problem with the heat because they didn’t sputter, or shiver, or do any number of other reactions many ponies had when first presented with an Apple family specialty. What they did do was sit very still for half a moment before their eyes went wide. Then, in perfect unison, the two looked down to their glasses and very carefully tried a second, longer sip.

“Wow,” breathed Shine after a few quiet seconds.

“This knocks the teeth out of scumble,” added Wingsong.

“Scumble?” Twilight stoppered the bottle again. Sharing a drink was grand, but getting drunk would probably be improper.

“Mmn, a back-alley liquor, Princess,” said Shine over the rim of her glass, testing the aroma with a heady grin across her face.

“It is made from apples,” Wingsong explained, doing likewise before finishing the last of the brandy in his glass. “Well, mainly apples.”

“And bleach. And floor polish. And rat.”

“Only for the colour.”

Twilight giggled at the two bantering back and forth. “Sound delightful.”

“I’ll make a gift of a bootful to you, Princess.”

“Attempted regicide, right there.”

“I’d make sure it’s a clean boot.”

It went on like that for awhile. Glitter Shine and Wingsong constantly fenced words with one another like practiced professionals as they answered the questions Twilight ventured their way. It was just small talk really, but it was some of the best fun Twilight had had in awhile. She did still feel bad about practically shunning the two for a full week, but there looked to be no hard feelings.

Wingsong had enlisted with the Canterlot Guard some fifteen years ago, which made him a fair bit older than Twilight had expected. Glitter Shine had been much more recent, having just finished officer’s training a few months before being tapped by Celestia for Twilight’s guard. Technically she was a Lieutenant of the Guard, outranking Wingsong as he was a sergeant when he was selected, but the playing field had been levelled when they were graced to wear Twilight’s crest.

“There are only two ranks for us now, Princess,” explained Shine. Their glasses were set in the center of the table, drained of their delicious liquor. The air still carried with it the lingering scent of the brandy though, and it made for a pleasant atmosphere. “Guard Cohorts-”

“Which is us.”

“- and a Captain, whom you select from the Cohorts when you have a full complement.”

“‘Cohorts’ doesn’t sound like a special kind of rank,” said Twilight, rubbing her chin thoughtfully, “Actually sounds kind of like something you’d expect some group of thieves to adopt.”

“Well,” said Wingsong, spreading his hooves with a grin, “I was a sergeant.”

“Uh huh. That explains a lot,” said Shine dryly to her partner, then turned back to Twilight. “The word is actually an evolved form for Cohors, which was the old word for ‘soldier’. Stretches way back to when we still used legionnaires and centurions.”

“I did not know that,” said Twilight, then a thought struck her and she beamed, “Do you study a lot of military history?”

Glitter Shine nodded, “I was actually lining up to be an archivist for the Guard before I was graced with the opportunity to be here, Princess. I spend a fair amount of time in their records when I was able to.”

Twilight was practically vibrating with excitement. “I think we shall get along splendidly, Glitter Shine.”

“Oh? And what about me?” complained Wingsong, sounding hurt.

Twilight leaned on the little table, one hoof on her cheek, giving the pegasus a slow thoughtful look. “What was that rumour about you, that Glitter Shine mentioned?”

The unicorn burst out laughing, very nearly falling over backwards from the force of it. Her cap ended up on the ground, letting her long tangle of a red-and-gold mane tumble free. “Spill it, Wing! Spill it or I will!”

Wingsong let out a long groan, planting his face firmly in his hoof. Twilight just kept grinning.


“Guard Cohort...” Twilight warned, though it was hard put to an authoritarian edge on a title when you were grinning as wide as she was.

Wingsong gave Glitter Shine a dirty look, then let out a defeated breath and hung his head.

“Word is... I’ll bend over for a princess...”

The laughter started with the two mares, filling the room with unbound mirth. It was just a second before Wingsong’s shoulders started to shake, and a moment more for his basso laugh to join theirs.


Chapter 3 - Echoes

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It took a short while for the three to catch their breath again. It certainly felt good to laugh though, and Twilight felt the tension between herself and her guard vanish. They weren’t some faceless ponies that were there to see to her beck and call: they were ponies with lives and habits beyond their duty, and Twilight felt herself warming to them as friends as the conversation continued.

It had hiccuped with Wingsong asking Twilight about one of the many rumours that seemed to follow the six Elements around. His answer came in the form of Twilight giving an immediate and emphatic ‘no’, and Glitter Shine swatting him one upside the head hard enough to make his helmet ring. It was a rather personal question, Twilight thought, and one he should have known better than to ask his princess...

But, well, she had been questioning it herself as of late, and it left and ache in her heart just thinking of the girls she had grown so close to...

Was she going to stay and live in Canterlot?

It would mean leaving the quaint little library in the valley, would mean hardly ever getting to see her first real friends; the ponies who had stuck with her through thick and thin, and who had not only saved Equestria half a dozen times now, but had made her what she was today. Without them, she’d have failed everybody...

“You just have no way of keeping that tongue in check, do you?” hissed Shine to her companion, her face a frown. “You should staple your yap shut sometimes.”

“It was a genuine question,” Wingsong muttered, straightening his helmet, “I meant no disrespect, Princess, truly. I just wanted to know if I would have to move my family...”

“It’s alright. I’m honestly... not sure just yet.” Twilight knocked her forehooves together a moment, staring at the polished tabletop in front of her. Could she leave her friends, just like that, just because she got a new pair of wings? Certainly, visiting one another would be easy enough, but having to go for days, or even weeks, without a Pinkie Party? Not listening to Rainbow Dash boast about her successes at the flight academy? Missing out on tea with Fluttershy and spa days with Rarity, and the regular helping with the organization at Sweet Apple Acres...

It was unthinkable, but, well... Twilight had new responsibilities, and it seemed like she would have to stay. It was a painful thought.

“Well done. You broke her.”

“No, I’m fine.” Twilight took a breath and straightened, trying on a brave face. “It’s just not a question I can really answer yet.” She thought a moment, then nodded to Wingsong, “You have a family?”

The pegasus’ chest swelled at the mention, his face breaking into a broad smile. “Indeed I do; a missus and two foals. One of each, twice over.”

The last comment made Twilight blink. Wingsong chuckled, “Missus is a unicorn, filly is a pegasus, and my colt happened to be an earth pony. One of each, twice over.” He managed to puff out his chest just that little bit more, “Could say I am rather lucky.”

“Four whole horseshoes must be buried up your arse,” said Shine, laconically.

“The missus is not shy about letting her displeasure be known, true.”

“Keep being a twit and I may add to that number.”

“Love you too, Sputters. Just don’t let Ivy Glass know.”

Twilight giggled at their easy banter. “Hold old are your foals, Wingsong?”

“Oh, Raindance just turned six and is already making short branchings, I might add.” Twilight was fairly certain that if the pegasus managed to puff himself anymore with pride, he’d actually burst.

“Wait, branchings?” asked Glitter Shine.

“Short flights,” explained Twilight, who had heard pretty much everything there is to know about flying from Rainbow Dash, and that was before Twilight had gotten her own wings. It may have been the first time in her life where Twilight thought she had been learning too much. “Little hops and glides when they first start out.”

Wingsong nodded, “Five whole yards on her own, last night.” Twilight waited for the expected ‘pop’, but it didn’t happen. “Tumbledown will be five in a few months time.”

“Moving with two foals that young would make for a challenge,” Twilight admitted. Wingsong held up both his hooves.

“Don’t you worry about it, Princess. It comes with my duty, and Ivy Glass knows what it means. We can handle a change in scenery.”

“I’m really not sure just what I’m going to do yet... and I really never even gave thought to you having to follow me, much less with a family in tow.” Twilight glance to Glitter Shine, who shrugged a shoulder.

“My parents live in the city, my sister has her family over in Manehattan. I’ve lived in the barracks since I left home, and I just moved into the Cohorts quarters down the hall. I’d just need time to pack my books.”

“Well, don’t start making plans. I really don’t know what will happen, but I’ll give you plenty of time to make arrangements if some have to be made.”

“Thank you, Princess.”

“Now then,” Twilight clapped her forehooves together with a grin, “It has been great to get to know the two of you, and I think we should do this again, but just now I am feeling the need to research.”

Wingsong smiled pleasantly and nodded to the long-necked bottle, “If it includes another taste of that, I’ll be here with bells on, Princess.”

“Likewise,” said Glitter Shine.

“Then we’ll make an evening of it.” The three walked back to the hallway. “Glitter Shine; could I get your help, please? I think you might be just the pony I need to find something down in the archives.”

“Uh, Shine is off duty, Princess,” Wingsong started, but Glitter Shine just waved a hoof airily.

“I’d be happy to help. Anyways, this will involve books. Booooks,” she stretched out the word, like she was speaking to a particularly slow child, “Those things made of paper, with ink on them.”

“I will have you know that I am, in fact, literate.”

Glitter Shine stopped and stared at Wingsong, putting on a face of wide-eyed incredulity. “You can read?”

Wingsong strutted, just a bit, and polished a hoof against his peytral. “Indeed. I have even been known to recite the alphabet on occasion, and get it right, two tries in three!”

“Are you two always like this?” Twilight asked, forcing down a giggle.

“Only on days that end in ‘y’, Princess.”

“Well,” Twilight led the way out into the sunny hallway, Wingsong shutting and locking the door behind them. “There is no rush for it, so if you want to take care of it later is fine. What I need is information on Podarkes.”

“The planet, or the captain, Princess?”

“The captain, definitely. Old records, journals; whatever we have.”

Glitter Shine tilted her head back a bit, her eyes scanning the air before her as if reading from an invisible book. “I know I read some things about her, but there wasn’t much. I don’t think there’d be anything particularly new in the archives, Princess. Most anything you’d have found in the history books would have come from them...”

“Ahem.” Twilight and Shine glanced to Wingsong, who was trying on a very smug air. “I know where you can find information that is not in general circulation.”

“Your drunken friends are veritable fonts of things no one else could have possibly thought of, Wing, but I don’t see how-”

Ahem. I will say though, that this information comes with a price, beggin’ your pardon, Princess.”

That was certainly not the kind of thing a guard was supposed to do with their superiors, let alone a princess, but Twilight hardly thought of herself as a superior let alone as a princess yet, so she was quite happy to play along. She sat back, giving the pegasus one of her most studious looks; the sort that felt not unlike being measured by an undertaker, albeit a pretty one with a smile on.

“Leave it to a sergeant to try and barter with a princess,” Shine muttered.

“Everyone will come out happy from this, though,” Wingsong said, his basso voice relaxing. He glanced up and down the empty hall, then pulled the golden helmet from his head. His white mane was short and slicked back along his head. It looked to be thinning at the front. “What I need is a day off.”

Wingsong glanced between the expressions on the two mares and huffed. “What? You’re looking at me like you were expecting me to ask for a date or something.” A beat of silence, then Wingsong threw up his hooves. “Oh come on; I’m a married stallion!”

They had to laugh, but Twilight could see that the pegasus was on the tired side, and extrapolating from this new information about his young family, it was easy to discern the reason for his offer. “Not enough time for your family?”

Wingsong winced slightly and half-shrugged one shoulder, “Ivy is as patient as you could imagine a pony to be-”

“Not surprised, given who she married...”

“Ah haaaa, Shine. Ivy is a wonderful mother, but she’s been pretty much taking care of things on her own for over a week now. Two foals, no time off, and a hubby who is only good for doing anything for about two or three hours in the day; it wears a pony down. I’d like to give her the day off and, well, have a chance to play with my kids.”

The sentiment was moving, and Twilight had to smile. “You two have been sharing the day all this time?”

“Twelve hours each, Princess.”

“Twelve hours? Straight?”


Twilight was taken aback. “That’s a horrid schedule!”

“Well, with a full complement among your Cohorts, we’d do eight hour turns, so that is easy enough.”

“Yes, but we don’t have that yet! You should have told me...”

“Not our place, Princess.”

Twilight frowned at that familiar response. Respecting a rank was one thing, but being foolish was another. “Well, I am going to set my hoof down about something right this moment. Neither of you are slaves to my whims, nor should you ever just do something you might have worries over just because no one has told you otherwise.” Twilight stood up now, looking between Glitter Shine and Wingsong. “If you are going to be my Guard Cohorts then you have to be able to think for yourselves, and you shouldn’t be shy about letting me know if you have a better idea about something. The same goes for every other member that will join you. I’m still new to everything here and I need help, not ponies who only do what I say...” A thought struck Twilight now, and she found herself grinning.

“And that will be the first thing both of you should help me with! A list... a list of ponies you think stand out and would be worth inducting into the Cohorts.”

“Er, that really isn’t our pla-”

“And if you ever tell me that something ‘isn’t your place’ again, I’ll- I’ll...” What would a princess threaten her personal guard with? Twilight couldn’t imagine Celestia ever doing such a thing, and neither could she see it with Cadence. Luna? Her guard were practically family to her... Twilight fell back on the only real punishment she could think of.

“I’ll shut you up in a small room with Pinkie Pie for an hour, after winding her up on candy floss and a book of very dumb jokes.”

Wingsong and Shine shared a curious look with one another. Neither actually knew much about Pinkie Pie other than vague rumours, and those weren’t enough to stir any kind of fear... but there was something about Twilight’s threat that echoed down through eternity, that got into the very bone and resonated with some barely-conscious part of the soul. It made a nameless dread settle in the pit of the stomach like a lead weight, causing the one hearing this threat to know that this was not something they would wish upon their worst enemy.

Or their pancreas.

“Er, fair enough, Princess.”

“And I will get back to you about this whole ‘Princess’ appellation. Celestia might be used to it, but I’m not, and I have it on good ground that Cadence’s guard only use it half the time, and Luna’s ponies only refer to her as ‘mistress’.”

Twilight found herself pacing back and forth before her two guards, who had in turn found themselves standing straight and tall, much like ponies being berated by a general for slacking off. Calm, quiet, and bookish Twilight might be, but that is only until she found something that needed re-organizing, at which point others might think fondly back to those memories of a drill sergeant shrieking in their ears.

Okay, so Twilight at her most neurotic was still miles better than a drill sergeant, but you get the idea, yeah?

“Er, yes, Princess...” said Shine, stunned.

“So...” started Wingsong.

Twilight came back to the here and now, ceasing her pacing and grinning to the two. “So. You both have the rest of today and all of tomorrow off, and I’ll not hear a word otherwise. There are enough guards here that I am in no danger, and I had to do most things myself while I lived here so it’s not like I am going to starve to death or get hopelessly lost without you.” She clapped her hooves together a few times, looking quite cheerful. “And when you come back, I’ll have a new schedule drawn up that splits the time fairly while giving you both more free time!”

It took a moment for the two Cohorts to sort their brains out, as both had the uncanny feeling of having been transported back through time to grade school.

“Ah, thank you, Princess?”

“Someone should be guarding you...” Shine essayed, but her attempt at reasonable worry was rebuffed outright.

“The last thing I need is for two talented ponies to be standing around for hours on end staring at nothing for my benefit. That is so inefficient I can’t even think of something to compare it to.” Twilight rubbed her chin thoughtfully, “Which gives me a second idea that I will get back to you about, but I think we should expand those lists I want you to do to include ponies that aren’t guards as well - talented ponies in magic, architecture, literature...”

“Princess, please..." Shine looked pained, "The Cohorts are sworn to protect you with their lives; you can’t expect just any pony be willing, or able, to do that.”

Twilight leveled a look on Glitter Shine. There was a frown in it. “I have two capable soldiers in my Guard now, that should be suita-”

“No, Princess. I do beg your pardon,” said Wingsong, shaking his head vehemently, “This is one thing you cannot command us to do. Our duty, over all things, is to keep you safe. We can, and will, disregard any order you give if we think it is in your best interest, and this is one of those times.”

Glitter Shine nodded solemnly, “I think I see what you are striving for, Princess, but first and foremost the Cohorts must be soldiers.”

Twilight’s frowned deepened, but she could tell by their expressions that they were not going to budge an inch on this. She let out a pent-up breath, “Ahh... okay then. Well. You two will both take your time off, and I will see to it there are two palace guards in my company during that time.” She pointed a hoof at the two somewhat sheepish-looking Cohorts. “But during that time I want a list of at least ten ponies from each of you, and ones with notable skills outside of being good soldiers.”

Shine and Wingsong glanced to one another for a moment, then nodded in unison, “We can do that, Princess.”

“Good. And Wingsong, you are going to have that information for me when you get back as well, yes?”

“Should be simple enough.”

“Speaking of that information, Wing,” Shine eyed the pegasus suspiciously, “Your source wouldn’t happen to involve a collection of records that are not supposed to ever leave the Solar Tower, does it?”

Wingsong strived to look innocent as can be, a look which did not suit him in any way, shape, or form. “Maybe.”

“And how do you propose to get them out of the sealed locker in the Solar Guard’s conservatory?”

“I was a sergeant, Sputters. If I can’t get my hooves on something, it’s because it doesn’t exist. Anyways, Cohort Sundance is my great aunt and the namesake of my daughter. Plus, I am on business for Princess Twilight, who is very well noted for her love and care of all things bookish. Frankly, they should be overjoyed that I am going to be pilfering them.”

Borrow,” said Twilight, with emphasis. She didn’t much like the idea of stealing something, even if it was just temporary, but well... she had to know.

“Yeah, sure.”

“And if you could do it without getting anyone in trouble, it would probably be for the best,” Twilight added, hopefully. Wingsong shrugged a shoulder.

“Well, one way or another, hah.”

“Didn’t my brother suggest you for my guard when Celestia asked him?” Shining Armour seemed to have offered up a thief...

“Indeed,” Wingsong smirked, “As I recall, he said you’d need someone who could get things done. Given that I ‘motivated’ his flank back and forth across the training yard for the better part of a year, he could appreciate just how dedicated I am to getting said things done.”

That was news. “You’re ‘that blue-flanked bastard’?!”

Wingsong look proud, “That is one of my many titles, yes.”

“He complained so much about you when he was home!” Twilight laughed, “Generally from the depths of a hot bath.”

“Well, it did him good in the end.”

That was a fact that couldn’t be contested. The three ponies chatted for a few moments more before separating, though not before Wingsong whistled up a rather imposing stallion in armour and ordered him to keep Twilight safe. Further, she was made to promise that she would see to it there’d be additional guards about her until they returned.

After all was said and done, both Wingsong and Glitter Shine strode off, at least somewhat comforted that their charge wouldn’t be without help, albeit the more usual sort. Twilight had stolen back into her study quickly to scribble down a few notes for either pony, outlining a vague concept of what she thought might be suitable in additional Cohorts.

The two walked in silence for a while.

“Shine,” said Wingsong slowly as they descended a spiral stair. “Did we just get sent off with homework?”

The unicorn was quiet for a moment. She lifted Twilight’s note from her pocket with an effort of will and examined it carefully. It was a very orderly list, with bullets.

There was a smiley face drawn at the bottom.

“Yes... yes, we did.”


Twilight spent the rest of her afternoon working out the details of a schedule that would work comfortably for two guards, one with a family. Since this only took her some fifteen minutes, she decided to make drafts of schedules of three, four and five guard complements as well, just in case she didn’t fill all the places at once. To this, Twilight also attached an appendix that made time allowances for family ponies, should there be more in such circumstances.

Once this was done to her satisfaction, the preternaturally prepared pony went on to write some vague notes about just what kind of duties her guard could have other than just standing around and staring at nothing. It wasn’t so hard to think on what Glitter Shine could do, so long as Twilight got permission from Celestia first, though Wingsong was a bit trickier. Sergeant’ing wasn’t an occupation much in demand per say, and dedicating him to the grey-area occupation of Quarter Master wasn’t really in the cards; Twilight had everything she needed, and there wasn’t that much to sort.

By the time the shadows were starting to grow long, Twilight had run out of steam and parchment, and so had decided to call it a day. She carefully cleaned the tall black quill and set it in its holder, shut the caps on her collection of ink bottles, gave her eyes a brief rub with the back of her hooves, then ventured out from her study.

The sunlight streaming through the hallway’s arched windows had that slightly deeper golden feel of light preparing to close the day. It still had the delicious warmth that made one just want to sit and bathe in the glow, but this was a softer radiance than the energetic heat of the noon-day sun. Twilight stood there in the hall for a moment, just letting the light warm her hide for one blessed moment before turning and venturing down the hall, hooves sounding softly on the marble, soon echoed by the steps of a pair of the stoic stallions she had promised to keep in place.

They were tall, imposing figures, one white and one smokey grey, armoured all in gold and helmeted, each carrying the same bland expression that betrayed no emotion other than dutiful alertness. Twilight had tried to coax something other than a ‘yes, Princess,’ out of them, but neither seemed inclined to talk and both became somewhat nervous by her attempts, so Twilight had eventually given up to work on the schedules.

She already missed the banter and playful bickering.

The halls were quiet now, the usual bustle even in the usual government areas faded to no more than a few busy groundskeepers and a few overly-dedicated workers gathered together in a small group and discussing the day’s work. Their soft murmurs were a susurration that gave the world an empty, somehow tired feeling; like the air itself was reflecting the exhaustion of a day’s work. It reminded Twilight of those late nights when she was much younger, busily hurrying through the deserted hallways of her school to reach the library before it shut. Nothing felt quite so empty as a school with no students, and there was an echo of that feeling here, though softer. Perhaps it was something to do with the cheers and cries of foals at play rather than the murmur of adults at business. That vibrant energy of young life, filling every inch of space...

Taken away, it left a hollow: like the building was crying out silently for that energy to fill it again.

Twilight found herself following her hooves, drifting down corridors with no particular goal in mind. She only half-saw the grand pillars and vaulted ceilings, barely registered the view of Canterlot from the arched windows, was only vaguely aware of the tiled mosaic on the walls. Her mind was wandering back through time, listening to the ghost sounds from her childhood; breathless laughs and bright cries, here and there the needless tears over some silly thing that didn’t deserve crying over, yet was somehow capable of shattering a young foal’s world, at least for a few moments.

It was funny, looking back on all that now and seeing herself there during recess, sitting quietly in a little corner she had picked out. She had been a point of stillness in all that play, a little dot of silence amidst the raucous chaos, and as much as the pandemonium had gotten on her nerves back then, she found herself missing it now.

Someone had said her name. Twilight realised she had stopped. She blinked away the mists of time from her eyes and glanced about, gathering her bearings.

The crest upon the heavy door was a crescent moon, an unmistakable emblem, made all the more clear by the pair of tall ponies standing guard before it; their eyes were slitted amber rather than soft and round, and leathery wings were folded tight to their dark-armoured sides. They were looking at Twilight expectantly.

“I’m sorry; I was miles away,” said Twilight, giving her head a slight shake. “Is Luna busy?”

“Not that I am aware, Princess,” said the leftmost night-pony, whom Twilight recognized as Buttercream. It was not the sort of name one expected of bat-winged ponies, but then, it was silly to expect them all to have dark, edgy names just because they now had the look. “Would you like me to see if she is taking visitors?”

“I would appreciate it, thank you,” Twilight nodded to the stallion as he bowed and disappeared behind the grandly carved portal. The other guard Twilight recognized immediately by the slightly smug grin. “Hello Racing Star.”

“Princess,” said Racing Star, bowing politely.

The two eyed one another.

“Queen Pawn four,” said Twilight.

Racing Star’s eyes glittered. “Knight to Bishop six.”

“King Pawn three.”

“Knight to King four.”

Cautious salvoes were exchanged, each player testing the other’s strategy with probing attacks. The two palace guards that had been following Twilight took a rare moment to break their stoic stare and glance at one another. It certainly wasn’t every day one saw two ponies playing chess without a board or pieces.

Buttercream returned before any serious plan of attack could be enacted, though. “She would be happy to receive you, Princess.”

“Ah, thank you,” said Twilight. She glanced back to the two armoured stallions, “And thank you as well, gentlecolts. I’ll likely be here for awhile, so you can return to your normal duties.”

The two bowed in unison as Twilight passed through the portal into Luna’s chambers.


“Pleasant afternoon to you, Twilight.

“And to you, Princess Luna.”

It was easy to imagine that Luna’s chambers would be dark and cloistered. Maybe it would be a grand, round room with a vaulted ceiling, the walls hung with mystic-themed tapestries or dark cloth that blotted out every trace of sunlight, leaving only two or three magic-fueled ghost lanterns. Those would shed an eerie blue or sickly green glow that barely lit anything, though the runes etched across the cold stone floor would gleam with the ancient and terrible power of the night...

It was a relief then to know that Luna’s chambers were actually quite bright and airy.

It was indeed a grand, round room, but the light-blotting curtains were actually breezy blue silk that were drawn aside from the tall windows which were themselves open to let in the warm summer breeze, scented faintly with the perfume of the castle garden. Sunlight lit the deep blue rug that covered much of the floor, the tiny stars picked out on it in silver glittering like the night sky it was meant to echo. The perimeter of the room was a collection of shelves, pedestals, paintings and long chairs, all set between the even spaces of the tall windows. At the very center of the room, a winding stairwell wrought of black iron circled a broad marble pillar, climbing upwards into the heart of Luna’s tower to her private quarters.

Luna herself was reclined on a collection of cushions set in the sunlight before an open window, a picture of relaxation, her tall horn lit with a faint nimbus as she manipulated a brush. She was painting.

“To what do I owe the pleasure?” asked Luna, glancing away from her easel for a moment, brush drifting to the pallette resting on the stand beside it.

“Honestly, I’m not sure. I was just walking and I found myself here,” said Twilight, striding across the room to join the princess, leaning a bit to steal a glance at the face of the canvas. It was an abstract piece, all blues and oranges and yellows mixed in drifting lines, here and there highlighted by a soft pink swirl. Reaching upwards from the bottom of the canvas were black lines, thin and spindly and slightly feathered.

“A sunset?” asked Twilight, settling on some offered cushions.

“Or a sunrise; I’m not entirely certain myself. It was an image in my head that I felt the need to put to canvas.”

A comfortable silence descended as Luna gave the brush a quick clean, the selected a different one from the collection resting on the tray. A deft effort of will had it picking a drop of dark blue oil paint followed by a larger dollop of snowy white, then mixed them together briefly on the palette. Twilight’s eyes followed the brush as Luna added pale lines just there and again there. It was such a simple addition, yet those little lines drew the shapes of the faint clouds into sudden focus, painted with the fading (or building,) light of the sun on the very edge of the horizon.

“Perhaps,” Twilight started, a slow thought bubbling to the surface of her mind, “Perhaps it’s both?”


“A sunset in one place is a sunrise for another, so...”

Luna lifted the brush away and regarded the canvas anew, head tilting a little to one side. A smile, “An attractive thought. I think you may have it, Twilight.”

Brush met canvas again, bringing with it a warm silence that folded over the two ponies as the colours mixed and marked just so, bringing out more detail in the vague shapes, though never quite bringing the whole of the piece into focus. Moments passed in companionable quiet, disturbed here and there with the knock of a brush handle on the palette or a shift in weight by either of the two upon their respective cushions.

Time was passing in no great rush, though Twilight could feel a second question coming to her mind, and it was one she had been wanting to ask for many days now.



“The other day in the garden, you said I could ask you... about the ponies Celestia knew.”

Luna hesitated a moment before answering, “Yes, of course.”

“Would you have some time just now?”

A last bit of paint was put to the canvas, then the brush set down. Luna regarded what she had created with quiet eyes.

“I can, and would, though I would like to ask you a question first, Twilight.”


Luna turned her head and considered the smaller princess, her expression soft and somber. “Tell me, Twilight; why do you want to delve into these memories?”

Twilight opened her mouth to answer, but found herself hesitating. A frown creased her brow as her thoughts collided. Knowledge? Was it really such a simple and callous thing that drove her in this? No... curiosity had kindled the fire, but the emotions those names had driven out of Celestia with the mere mention, the way she had cried that night...

“Because I love her... She has been a great mentor, idol and friend to me, I’d like to do what I can for her in return. I need to know who she is, and who she was, and those ponies that had shaped her to be who she is now...”

The silence weighed heavily now. Twilight looked down to her hooves, touching them together a few times. Eventually, Luna broke the quiet.

“Remember then, that by sharing this I am placing a burden on you, and taking a promise. My sister is Celestia; regent of the sun and Princess of all Equestria, but beneath the white armour she wears, she is weary and vulnerable. You must take care of her, Twilight. Be careful with this knowledge.”

Twilight bit her lip, but nodded, “I understand.”

The world went on for a few moments without them, the two receding into their own private worlds, steadying themselves for what was to be asked.

Twilight cleared her throat and looked up.

“Tell me about Konabos...”


Chapter 4 - Konabos

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“Konabos. What is there to be said of Konabos? An old name from an old place, yet you might not recognize the meaning of it, nor realize the weight that it carries. I’ve read the legends and myths that had been written of him, Twilight Sparkle, and I can assure you that none reflect the pony that he was.

“A great warrior he was not: Konabos lived out most his days in peace and tranquility, surrounded with love; not once had he raised a hoof in anger. Divine messenger bound to the Sisters Regent? A poetic lie founded with only a sliver of truth, likely written in fit of creative abandon by some historian needing to increase his sales. I have even seen it written that he was some fire-breathing, half-dragon abomination under the dominion of my sister, which is so patently absurd I cannot even think of what the author was taking to have come up with it.

“No; Konabos was a pony. He was a pony and nothing more, though how he came to be known to us is a story indeed.”

Luna pushed herself upright from her small nest of cushions, with Twilight following suit. The Night’s Princess trotted towards the center of the room, mounting the stairs that circled the grand pillar. Her silver-shod hooves rang softly on the metal, echoed by Twilight’s own as she followed the princess upwards.

“To know him, you have to understand the time he had come from. It was less than one hundred years since the defeat of Discord: the lands that you know as Equestria had only just been tamed by harmony, though much of it was still wild. The ponies here were still soothing the land and forging their cities, building the world that you know today. In the north however, there stood a city that had not been touched by chaos, and had been a flourishing civilization since even before Celestia or myself had gained dominion over the heavens.

“The Crystal Empire was built with order and fueled by love; its very nature rebuffed the chaos of Discord and stood strong as a bastion of harmony for the world. It could not fight against him, for the strength of the Crystal Empire lay in its foundations, but it stood as a beacon for hope, its light shining across the sky for all to see. It was a powerful thing indeed, and the aurora it cast long into the night gave us the courage to fight on until we had our victory.”

The two ponies passed beyond the ceiling of the floor below and now they stood in a room much the size of the other, though the windows were shut and the curtains drawn, filling the room with a soft blue glow. The comforts were fewer here; a single chaise longue resided beneath one window, on it a few cushions that looked a bit threadbare. Half the room had bookshelves arranged like the spokes of a wheel, reaching towards the center, though half of them were empty.

Twilight’s discerning eye could see the age on some of those shelves, could smell the scent of gently rotting paper that permeated any library, and could certainly sense the magic on those shelves, slowing time for those books so they could last far, far longer than any book could on her shelves. Twilight couldn’t tell the age of them at a glance, but given that Luna has been locked away for a very long time indeed, some of those tomes had to contain some very old knowledge.

Luna briefly exercised her will, drawing open a few of the curtains behind the chaise longue to let in the golden sunlight. A second wisp of magic unlatched a pair of tall windows and drew them open, a fresh breeze wafting into the cloistered room.

“It makes sense,” said Twilight, joining Luna at the window, setting her hooves upon the balustrade to peer out across the garden. “Crystalline structures are precisely ordered and uniform. Strengthened with a touch of natural magic... Discord wouldn’t have been able to effect anything. And, since the ponies there themselves share that crystal trait, he couldn’t manipulate them either.”

“Indeed. In the Crystal Empire, Discord is very nearly powerless. He could do small things, but they would only last a few instants before returning to normal. That power frustrated him beyond all belief, and my sister and I used what we could of it to defeat him.”

“Didn’t you say that power couldn’t leave the Empire?”

“As a race, the Crystal Ponies had to stay within their borders to maintain their immunity to chaos. Much as they would have liked to help us, they had no answer to a Discord outside of their city. Even so, they pledged to help us build a home for the ponies beyond their borders, and they welcomed our best minds into their city to study their magic. Twenty years of work, of ceaseless study, to produce six very special crystals...”

Twilight’s eyes went wide, and Luna had to smile.

“It is as you think. Six crystal they forged, using magic that only they knew, and imbued them with an echo of their harmony. The power in each crystal was weak, and near useless without the others, but by combining them together and fueling them with true love from the depth of one’s heart, they would resonate and redouble that power. Two-fold, ten-fold, a thousand-fold...” Luna trailed off, smiling faintly. She leaned against the balustrade before the window, forehooves crossed upon it. “I’m certain you understand the feeling.”

“Yes,” Twilight breathed, a warm smile touching her own lips. The beauty and goodness of true harmony flowing around and through you was not something that could be described: it could only be experienced. “But I thought there were only five physical crystals?”

“Six were forged, but that sixth element was what bound the other five together at the same time as they bound it. It existed outside of reality in a way I can’t really explain. My sister would likely know more than me in this case; I never had a mind for studying magic, truth be told. It was Starswirl and Celestia who loved to tinker with that realm...” A pained expression flitted across Luna’s features just then, though Twilight was too absorbed with the knowledge to notice. The taller pony turned away from the window and strode towards the rows of shelves.

“You know, it is actually pretty obvious once you look at it objectively. I’m kind of ashamed that it never occurred to me.”

“Much of the information on the Elements were purposefully purged,” said Luna from somewhere among the shelves and books. “For the study of the magic that forged the Elements of Harmony was what allowed King Sombra to seize power.”

“What?!” Twilight was shocked to her core.

“Think of it. All of the Crystal Ponies are tied together with their love; they feed their love into the Crystal Heart, which in turn protects them, one and all. Starswirl and his staff spent some twenty years studying that magic: how it worked, how it resonated, how it reacted to our magic and crystal magic, and both at the same time. They found how to focus and strengthen the natural magic of love and friendship... it is almost too obvious that a pony would steal that knowledge for himself. Sombra was indeed a powerful unicorn, Twilight, and he was once highly trusted.”

Luna stepped out from the stacks, carrying with her a slender volume in a faint blue nimbus. The cover was green, turning grey in places and cracked with age.

“Sombra used... the elements to-”

“No, Twilight Sparkle. The Elements could never be used in such a fashion, but the knowledge that had built them was neutral. Sombra discovered he could use the power from the crystal ponies to fuel his own magic.”

Twilight’s legs felt shaky. She sat down slowly, eyes wide and staring off into the middle distance. Knowledge, pure and good knowledge, something that she herself loved and very nearly lived for, had caused such suffering. It had been used to build the Elements of Harmony, a true power for the good of all, and that very same knowledge had been put to use to enslave an entire people. She wanted to say something, to deplore this act that went against everything she stood for, to curse Sombra with every iota of her being, wanted to rant and rave... but all she could do was sit, and stare.

Luna settled upon her chaise longue, setting the book she had found on the cushion before her. She did not open it, instead just waited quietly for Twilight to come back to the real world.


“Knowledge is power, as you well know, Twilight, and how it is used means everything. Sombra decided to use it for evil. Eighty three years after Celestia and I cast down Discord and trapped him in stone, Sombra crowned himself and seized the city and all the ponies therein, or very nearly all...”

“Who was he?” Twilight interrupted, trotting briskly over to stand before the reclining Luna. The younger pony’s jaw was set hard, her eyes glittering with righteous outrage. “I never read anything about a contemporary of Starswirl with the name Sombra. Who was this pony?”

Luna met Twilight’s gaze, her own expression blank. That moment of strained silence stretched into two, then into a full minute. Luna never looked away, never blinked, and Twilight did not budge an inch.


The answer was soft, barely more than a whisper, yet it carried a weight that could shatter mountains.

“Celestia told you, not long ago.”

Twilight searched Luna’s eyes, then sat back and scanned her own memory, searching everything Celestia had told her in the past weeks, but there was nothing... unless... Twilight blinked, focusing on Luna again as several pieces fell into place.


“Starswirl did not understand friendship as you do, Twilight Sparkle.”

“The harmony of love and friendship is give-and-take. You know well that it requires trust and effort on both sides; it is what gives you and your friends such strength. Starswirl was always ambitious, always wanted to achieve greater skill with magic, and he did not often care what the consequences were. It made him strong indeed, but...”

Luna let the silence fall, turning her head down as she opened the cover on the book she had taken from the shelves. Twilight was staring straight ahead, seeing nothing, her mouth opening and closing silently as this new information filtered through her mind. Her blood felt like ice water. Twilight had practically worshiped Starswirl since she was a foal. The greatest unicorn magic-user ever to stride the world, the founder of five distinct schools of magic, the creator of twenty-six new spell frameworks, and more than 200 individual spells that themselves had become the root of some three thousand other spells...

He had become one of the worst monsters in history.

“How is it no one knew this?” she breathed, voice quavering.

“Before he turned, Starswirl did great things for Equestria, Twilight. He was the key figure in the forging of the Elements of Harmony, had been on the front lines when we defeated Discord, had been crucial to expanding our knowledge of magic. Starswirl was a hero, an idol for an entire nation, an inspiration to one and all... Had it become known that he had turned his back on all that was good, for his own ends, the results would have been disastrous.

“The ‘official’ history was that Sombra slew Starswirl when he seized control, and I believe that is true, in a way. Starswirl ceased to be Starswirl when he became Sombra. It was a death of a different sort.”

“But why would he do such a thing, Luna? He had everything a pony could have hoped for...”

“No one knows, Twilight. All we have is speculation for his reasons; Sombra did not detail any demands or give reasons for doing what he did. Celestia and I did not even know the truth until we faced him. 'Why' is a mystery no one can truly answer.”

Twilight thought back to the grand mess of the Starswirl wing, of the dusty tomes scattered everywhere, of the scrolls piled haphazardly across tables, of a desk not touched in a very long time. She wondered on the journal she had been given, on the others that no doubt lay in the chaotic mess of those archives, wondered just what insight could be gleaned about that horrible betrayal of trust... but the thought of sifting through that place to find it sent a chill down Twilight’s spine, and she found herself not wanting to venture through that barred door.

A page rustled, drawing Twilight back to the present. Luna was browsing through the book, briefly scanning the writing as she went.

“I was not playing with hyperbole when I told you that these names carry great weight, Twilight. The story of Konabos is bound up tight with the final act of Starswirl the Bearded, when he betrayed all of ponykind to take up the mantle of King Sombra; one story cannot be told without the other.”

Luna lifted the book with an effort of magic, and turned it so the pages were facing Twilight. The writing there was small and neat, but in a script that she had never seen before, much less understand. At the top of the page however, picked out in simple but beautiful colours, a symbol...

“Konabos and his family escaped the Empire before Sombra’s coup could claim them. They had lived on the outskirts of the city, close to the border with the winter lands. When they saw the Crystal Palace go dark, and saw the corruption spreading, they fled across the border and into the snow with only what they could carry on their backs. Sombra’s magic was tied to the Empire’s boundary spell at that time, so those few ponies escaped being captured by his power.

“They came south. What trials and difficulties they suffered in that journey, we do not know. Konabos’ family numbered half a dozen when they marched out into the snow, but he was alone when I found him.”

Twilight sat up straighter, “You found him?”

“Indeed. I had just raised a winter moon; a slender crescent that nonetheless lit a slumbering Equestria. I was at the top of my tower here, and I caught a glimmer of colour in the darkness beneath the city; a sparkling rainbow cast across the snow. When I flew down to investigate, I found a crystal pony- a foal no older than eight- struggling through the snow. Konabos’ crystal coat acted like a prism for the light of my moon and made him a beacon in the night.”

Luna turned the book back to herself and looked for a moment to the image there before closing the covers. “How he survived, we don’t know. He didn’t remember the journey, and the search parties we sent out to follow his tracks found no one else. What Konabos did remember was the image of the city turning black, of his parents shouting to get away.

“Konabos had brought a warning to us, and because of him my sister and I were able to confront Sombra before he could consolidate his power and strike beyond the borders of the Empire.” Luna set the book down next her foreleg and looked to Twilight. The younger pony was chewing on her bottom lip.

“So, the myth of Konabos being a messenger and saving Equestria...”

“Is true in essence, though he was not a spirit of the wind or a noble envoy bound with golden laurels. He did not have control of any clouds, nor could he shout his missives through stone, nor did he have wings that glittered in every colour of the rainbow. He was a young and frightened pony, lost in the snow.”

“What happened to him?”

“He was cared for here in the castle while my sister and I marched on King Sombra. Konabos was hypothermic and very ill, though crystal ponies are fortunate in that they cannot contract frostbite, otherwise it might have been far worse. I was told he slept for many days, only awaking when we returned.

“We defeated Sombra and cast him into the ice with the power of Harmony, but we were not triumphant. He cursed the Empire before he went, so when the ice closed over him, so too did it seal away the Crystal Empire and all the ponies trapped therein.”

Luna turned her head to gaze out the window, eyes tracking the slow passage of a distant cloud. Twilight turned her eyes down to the book, reaching with her magic to draw it gently towards herself, opening the covers to look at the symbol marked there on the page; a comet with a rainbow tail, passing before the crescent moon.

The princess’ voice was soft now, “Konabos was the last crystal pony in all the world, until you and your friends freed them a thousand years later.”

Twilight let out a slow breath, understanding now the weight of what she had been told. No mere name, indeed. “Did he... die?”

Luna looked mildly taken aback. She gave Twilight a curious glance. “All things die eventually, Twilight: one day even the sun will burn out. If you are asking if he died after we returned...”

The lemon sorbet was bright and tart on the tongue, tasting like chilled sunshine. It was the perfect counterpart to the sweetness of the cherry pie. Crumbs were flecked upon Celestia’s elegant throat, and Twilight’s own coat was spotted with a few errant pieces as well, but neither much worried about it; they were much too busy laughing.

“And then, Konabos jumps up onto the table, one hoof in his soup, and pilfers my bread roll right out of the air! In front of everypony! Half a nation worth of dignitaries here for a visit at a sixteen-course grand supper, and Kona couldn’t care less, hah!”

Their laughter rang in the confines of the Astrolabe, the two princesses seated next to one another behind the viewing bench, which was actually being used as an impromptu table. Several bottles and empty plates were scattered across it, most devoid of anything but crumbs, though one or two still held a few remnants of the meal. Above them, the great brass dome was opened to the night sky, only just beginning to fill with stars as the sun receded beyond the horizon.

They had watched the transit of Konabos together through the great telescope, though it was the wrong season to have been able to see the planet’s beautiful rainbow tail. As it was, they could only make out the faintest colour in the dusty wake of the tiny world, but it had been enough to steer their conversation to the pony who had owned that name.

Twilight had been expecting to have to comfort a tearful Celestia, or to have to gently coax the story from her, but what she had gotten was something else entirely. There weren’t tearful stories of a lost pony, or heartbreaking remembrances of a family vanished into the swirling snows: Konabos was a wild and carefree young colt who loved few things more than raising merry hell with the palace guard. He had lost much in his young life, had gone through a terrible time, but in the warmth and safety of the castle he had found a new family.

Celestia wiped the back of a hoof across one eye, sweeping away a tear between barely contained girlish giggles. “Ohhh, you have no idea just how insulted the Grand Duke was. He was this big, puffed-up oaf with the kind of moustache you could lose a rat in; incredibly prim and proper for someone who looked like a walrus. He tried to tell Kona off and get him to sit in his seat,” Celestia cleared her throat and tried on a rumbling basso voice that didn’t fit her in the least, “‘Like a proper young stallion, wot!’. Konabos just looks at him, and bounces this breadroll off his forehead.”

“Speaking as a pony who had met with someone very similar during the last round of trade envoys, I can understand the sentiment,” Twilight tittered, exploring the possibility of tea from the pot that had been brought in a few moments ago.

“So did I. You have no idea just how many breadrolls I would have been hurling if I had the chance, but it probably would been frowned upon.”

“Was Kona allowed back to those big suppers?” Twilight poured out a second cup of smoky-smelling lapsang tea and set it before Celestia before trying a sip from her own.

“Allowed? Twilight, I practically had to bribe him to attend every one. I might not be able to get away with doing all the foalish things I want to, but a colt of nine years? His name might as well have been Carte Blanche,” here Celestia grinned, sly as a fox, “And I may or may not have guided him in just which dignitaries to target.”

“You’re awful!” Twilight laughed, “Corrupting young minds!”

Celestia tried on a dignified and regal air, which suited her extremely well, though the effect was lessened by the crumbs on her chin and the fleck of cherry pie filling on one cheek. “I will have you know I gently guided a young colt into a perfect understanding of the political process...” The grin came back, “And how to apply it in a direct fashion. Anyways; if Grand Duke Farsi didn’t want to have to comb breadcrumbs out of his mane, he should have thought his comment through before opening his mouth.”

The tea was good; all smoky oak flavours, tasting the way a campfire smells, settling as a pool of warmth in Twilight’s stomach and sending tendrils through the rest of her body. “You know... That kind of sounds familiar, Celestia.”

“Mmn?” The princess tried to look innocent. It also fit her incredibly well, yet that perfection just made her look all the more suspicious.

“Inviting a bunch of ponies to the Grand Galloping Gala, four of whom had never had any kind of experience in such company?”

“Oh my, truly?”


They grinned at one another over their tea. Celestia set her cup down and leaned back some where she sat, craning her neck from side to side as she stretched. “Ooh, that was some time ago. Farsi’s Duchy was amalgamated into the Prancian state not too long after that. Served the old nag right; he was a dreadful pony.”

“What was he like later on? Not Farsi, I mean Kona?”

“I’ve made him sound a bit wild and headstrong, and maybe he was, but once he got a bit older he was actually quite calm. He liked to keep busy more than anything else; his family had been farmers, and the habit of working is etched on the very bones of those ponies.”

“Applejack would certainly agree. Her little sister doesn’t even have her cutie mark yet but she insists on doing a mare’s share of the work on the farm, even if she is only just a bit bigger than a bushel.”

“Yes, that sounds about right. He dabbled in any number of things as he grew older, but it was always the earth that called to him. When he was, ooh, I think twenty or so, he had decided to be a gardener.”

Twilight blinked. “A gardener? Really? The last crystal pony in Equestria?”

Celestia chuckled softly and nodded. “Really.”

“I would have thought he could be... well. I don’t know, but it just seems like an paltry line of work for someone so special.”

“That’s just it, though. Konabos never saw himself as special, and there was nothing particularly incredible about him, Twilight: he was just a pony. The myths and legends that surround him are just stories; puffed up embellishments made for a fun tale that eventually got taken a bit too seriously. That isn’t to say that he wasn’t special to some of us, however.”

They talked until the face of the moon was peeking through the opening in the Astrolabe. There were some tears, but it was laughter and smiles that ruled the evening, and it left Twilight feeling warm inside when the need to sleep became too strong to put aside. She took her leave of Celestia with a fond hug before trotting slowly out the door and off to her bed.

Celestia herself stayed there in the Astrolabe, her eyes turning to a bright white gem set into one of the slender but long brass rings that slowly moved with the pattern of the planets in the sky. This was the swiftest of them, always chasing the ring that held a familiar image of the sun, never venturing far from it.

Quiet whispers in her mind’s ear, distant and vague. A smiling face and green eyes, green eyes that themselves glittered with life and smiles, emerging from the mists.

What of the roses?

They are beautiful, Kona, though they never seem to last long.

What really does? Carved from stone they could last forever, but they would never be so soft nor smell so sweet, mother.

Celestia smiled quietly at that memory. “You were a wise one in your old age, colt...”

Twilight settled in her bed, drawing the warm covers up to her chin and nesting her cheek to her pillows with a contented sigh. The room was dark and quiet; the only sound the pony’s own breathing and the whisper of cloth against her body as she made herself comfortable. Her body was relaxed, but Twilight found her mind awhirl with new questions. She had learned so much, but with that knowledge came ever more questions...

Starswirl and Sombra, the nature of crystal magic, the origin of the Elements of Harmony... New worlds were opening for her to explore, but some of them held a frightening aspect that she wasn’t sure she could face.

Her mind turned to her evening with Celestia, to the warmth and laughter in her mentor’s voice as she recounted tale after tale of one singular pony that had meant so much to her...

Luna’s voice echoed in Twilight’s thoughts as she felt herself drifting off, and the words made her smile.

”He lived, Twilight Sparkle. For some sixty years he lived here in this castle, and he was loved all his days.”


Chapter 5 - Aftershocks

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The smoke was thick and acrid, burning her nose and lungs, stealing her air, making her cough. Broad white wings pounded at the air, an effort of will bringing a swirl of magic-borne wind through the air about her, clearing away the black and grey mists, and revealing a scene from the reddest hells.

Black crystals, jagged and vile, towered over the land, reaching towards the sky, glittering with black malevolence. The land, once green and verdant and alive, now scorched and brown and dead, made red by the struggling sun on the horizon, filtering through the ash and smoke of a war long waged.

The fires raged across the land, swallowing what had once been vibrant orchards and vineyards, now poisoned by corruption. Even their smoke had become toxic...


The shout of warning wrenched her about, and she looked up into the cloud of... things. Pony-sized, pony shaped, but their bodies were black and oily, segmented like the carapace of an insect. They shrieked as they dove, the sound grating to the ears: worse than knives on a chalkboard.

Aspidai forward! Pila at the ready!

Wings sounded in the air all about her, the rattle of armour and shields loud as a thunderstorm, but blunted by the terrible cries descending upon them. Pegasi clad all in gleaming bronze close to her flanks, great round shields held before them with one hoof, the other holding ready a spear, points glittering with terrible sharpness.

“My Regent, be ready!” A pony at her right hoof, strong and lean and cradling a poleaxe with both hooves. Her armour was cracked and broken in places, a line of crimson running down her pale blue throat, one eye swollen shut beneath a viciously dented visor: all the result of a skirmish only moments before.

Celestia looked back up to the closing horrors, a frown crossing her elegant, smoke-stained face. Her tall horn began to gleam, her body flexing as she willed her wings to loft her just that little bit higher than the wall of shields and ponies before her. Magic electrified her nerves, made her skin tingle all over as she dredge forth the power not of mere mortality but that of the sun itself. The tingle gave way to warmth, then heat, then to the burning brilliance of the solar furnace rising above the horizon.

The flare lanced into the swarm of Harpies, raking through their bodies like a blade cutting through water, but they did not die as ponies would. Their bodies did not burn or split, but instead shattered; breaking into pieces where the light struck them. They fell screaming as loudly as they had in life, but for every Harpy Celestia struck down, there was another to fill the rank. They fell towards the phalanx, heedless of the pila flung into their midst, to slam into the ranked shields like a force of nature. They raked at wood and bronze and flesh alike with hooves made strange and jagged like broken glass, their shrieks unceasing, even for breath.

The pegasi before her fought hard, snarling through grit teeth as they used shields and hooves in unison to sunder their foes in the swirling maelstrom of the aerial battle. Celestia herself was not a forgotten force; where she could, she scythed down the twisted creatures with her magic, doing what she could to keep her defenders safe, but even with all her might there were bodies clad all in bronze that were falling from the sky...

No, no more...

A harpy forced its way through the line, black jaws wide in its eyeless head, teeth of silvery crystal dripping with crimson. Celestia smashed a hoof into that mouth, the beautiful gold plating chipping away from her solleret to show the cold, dull iron beneath. A second hoof sent fractures crazing all across the thing’s darkly shining hide, and a third smote it from the sky, sending it tumbling down to meet the earth below.

Her breaths were coming in gulps, sweat sticking to her beneath the gilded armour she wore, but there was no time to be tired. She caught another harpy as it tried to rake at the flanks of one struggling pegasus, blasting it apart with an effort of will, though all for naught; the pegasus screamed as her shield was sundered by the creature she was facing. It latched onto her body with all four limbs and dragged her from the sky, heedless of its own survival.

Please, no more...

Light glittered off the blade of the axe as it was swung, catching a harpy in the shoulder as it reached for Celestia, hacking the crystalline limbs from the trunk and just as quickly reversing to shatter the entirety of the body. The pale blue pegasus flew close to Celestia, grimacing through a split lip. Her helmet had been lost in those handful of seconds, and her eye looked little better for it. Dozens of fresh scratches showed on the opposite side of a face that had been handsome only hours before.

“Regent!” the pony shouted, her voice carrying over the cacophony, “Your sister-” A hoof raised, pointing. Celestia turned her head upwards, and saw the flitting, half-visible darting through the clouds of roiling black smoke.

The night ponies fell upon the harpies like thunderbolts from a clear sky, slamming into them with star-iron shod hooves and dashing them to the earth below to the cheers of their bronze-clad brethren.

Dark wings swept the air before her; a pony all in gleaming metal, the living embodiment of the merciless night and the nameless dreads that dwell within it...

No... not merciless. She is Luna here, not the Nightmare...”

Luna, armoured in shining silver: noble and beautiful. “Sister!” the Night’s Princess cried, “You must hear me!” But her voice was distant, faint somehow...

"Regent!” The axe-pony at Celestia’s side had a voice like a storm. She was pointing a mailed hoof down to the earth and to the ponies advancing thereon, across the dying grass and smoke and flames. Without wings, they could not engage the harpies that harried them from the sky, but for every earth pony armed and armoured there was a unicorn, and they cast shields above the heads of their comrades and sent bolts of scintillating colour into the air to swat harpies from the sky, even as their cousins fought through the ground-borne monstrosities the usurper had created.

It was not the steadily advancing tide of bronze that drew Celestia’s eye, but the heaving of the earth before those solid ranks. Black crystal towers swayed and cracked and collapsed as something stirred beneath the tortured ground.

The world seem to draw in a breath, everything going silent as great cracks fissured across the heaving earth, and forth from the depths came a great gaping maw, wider across than a dozen ponies standing nose to tail and lined with horrid teeth. Its body was segmented like a centipede’s, but legless; instead from its ugly brown body, all in jagged lines, grew thousands black shards of crystal that flexed and heaved as it levered itself ever upwards from the ground. The bravery and experience in the ponies before it showed as they arrayed themselves hurriedly into ranks, and gleaming shields of energy flashed into existence before them.

Time was standing still, and all Celestia could do was watch as the behemoth slowly turned its great head towards those shining ranks of brave ponies. A low, awful groan came from it, filling the entirety of the world... and then it’s whole body heaved, and it spat a spray of murderous shards into those ranks. The magical shields flashed as the crystals scattered and chipped across their surfaces, but they held strong... at least, until the wyrm began to sing.

The song of the chorus wyrm began as the low, awful groan, but it rose in pitch within seconds, becoming a howl, then a shriek, then a mind-rending scream that jammed jagged aural spikes right into one’s ears and into the brain. Pegasi began to scream and falter in the sky all around Celestia, the princess herself grabbing at her helmeted head to try and drown out that terrible sound, but nothing could block it out. It hurt like nothing else could hurt, made stars flash in front of her eyes, made her legs go numb...

And then it spat again. Shards of corrupted black crystal raked into the tortured ranks of the ponies before it... while the unicorns amongst them were powerless to defend their comrades.

Ponies fell by the dozens, screaming in agony, unheard under the dreadful song of the chorus wyrm.


She turned to Luna, tried to grab at her sister and shout to her, but her words were swallowed by the world-filling noise. She thrust a hoof at the creature below, tried to pull her sister with her to go and help her ponies, but was hit on the shoulder by another hoof. She looked into the grimacing face of Aithon, still clinging grimly to her poleaxe, her pale ears flattered to her head, blood trickling from one into her yellow mane.

Go!’ she mouthed, pointing with the tip of her axe to the great crystal spire at the center of the corrupted city.

The skies were cleared; night ponies were struggling with the last of the harpies, bravely giving their worth even under the agony of the song. An ugly purple light was glittering at the top of that tower, at its heart a familiar emerald fire that she had known so well...

Go!’ the silent shout again, and another shove. Celestia reached out with a hoof, tried to hold Aithon back, tried to keep her safe, but the brave pegasus pulled away before she could reach her. The captain of the Solar Guard raised her axe above her head and bellowed with all her might, and mighty indeed were her lungs for not even the song of the wyrm could drown her out.

For love! For light!

All around Aithon, silent cries of answer went up. Hooves and shields and lances flashed, and as one creature two dozen pegasi clad all in shining bronze dove from the sky onto their prey.

She saw the wyrm rake them, saw brave pegasi fall, saw a shining axe slip from lifeless hooves... and saw the wyrm collapse as the remaining lances were driven deep into its flesh.

Celestia! Sister, hear me!

Tears burned in her eyes as she wrenched them away from the sight, as she and sister bent their wings to converge upon the tower, upon the traitor therein.

The harpy struck her from below.

Her breath stuck in her throat as she felt those awful jaws close onto one leg, as she felt jagged limbs rend and tear at the thin armour protecting her belly. She felt her wings break, felt the earth rushing up to meet her, heard the dreadful laughter sounding in her ears.

No... no, this is not how it was! No!

Luna was there, not clad in silver armour but only crowned and crested, reaching out with delicately shod hooves, her face contorted with effort. Celestia reached out to her even as the darkness filled her vision...


The grass was cool beneath her. Damp... smelling sweetly of a late night rain fallen only moments before.

She was laying on her side, her wings folded tightly to her, neck stretched out upon the soft earth, tickled by a few curled blades of long grass that rippled a little with the slightest movement.

There was a body pressed tightly to hers, hooves about her neck, clinging...


Barely a whisper, “Sister, please...”

“Shhh...” Celestia lifted herself slightly from the soft grass, unfolding a wing and circling it about the smaller frame of Luna, holding her close. “I’m here, it’s okay.”

“It’s not okay,” Luna shuddered a little, and Celestia could feel warm tears against her neck. “You were so deep in that dream, I couldn’t reach you...”

“You did reach me, little sister. I saw you there, you came for me and I knew...”

Luna let out a small sigh, followed by a sniffle. She shifted a bit, releasing her clinging grip around Celestia’s neck to brush the back of a hoof across her face. “No you didn’t, Tia. Believe me when I say that I know dreams a little better than you do...”

Celestia had to concede that point. She let the silence fall, though did not pull away from her sister, instead holding her, still hidden beneath the soft snowy down of her wings; a protective canopy that the younger had always so loved. Soft eyes turned to look out over the world, and found what she had first thought to be the castle garden to actually be a broad, endless plain that stretched to every horizon. The grass flowed and wavered as if kissed by a nightly breeze, through the air did not stir.

Delicate lights danced amidst the countless blades, lighting them as if from within, drifting along with the ghostly wind in rippling tides that mimicked the swirl of the ocean. Above, the sky was barren of clouds or moon, instead decorated with the perfection of the night, of countless stars painted across the depths of a deep blue canvas in great swirling waves that glowed with such colour and light.

Luna’s realm, halfway between the dream world and the waking; a place of peace and gentle repose, of quiet solitude for a pony that had always preferred her own company to that of others.

“Your night is beautiful, little sister,” Celestia murmured, and smiled when she felt the younger pony shift a little beneath her wings.

“Thank you...”

There was no time in this place, not as there was in dreams or in the waking world, but it did pass all the same, in its own way. Celestia watched the rippling glow of the spectral grass, watched the swirl of grand galaxies far above in their ageless dance, closed her eyes and listened to the slow, steady breathing of Luna pressed close to her side.

After minutes, hours, or centuries, Luna stirred and gently pushed aside Celestia’s protective wing, drawing her head out into the sweet, cool air, to be met with a fond nuzzle from her older sister, gratefully returned.

They lay there together, watching the endless night in gentle silence, eyes tracing the paths of falling stars as they arched across the entire length of this world.

“I’ve never experienced such a dream before, Tia... nothing so deep, so powerful...”

“You might think that old memories fade in time, and they do in a way, but in others they become stronger.” Celestia thought on that a moment, “Think of it perhaps as an oak tree. It will grow and become verdant, alive and well while green, but eventually that grandeur will fade. It will cease to grow, the leaves will fall away, bits and pieces will fall off here and there... but sometimes there will be a part of it left, or it will have grown in just such a place that instead of growing weak, those parts will harden and toughen, and become as firm a part of the landscape as a mountain. Axes will go blunt and bounce off before they can cut it, nations will rise and fall around it, and all the while it will remain: unchanged and unwilling to ever give up its place.

“The roots go deep sometimes... and the siege of the Empire was one such time.”

“I remember Aithon falling...”

Celestia nodded slowly, remembering that time very well, though any tears she had to shed for the brave captain had long since fallen. “Aithon fell, as did hundreds of other brave ponies. Not in vain, though it did not feel so at the time...”

A snarling face, mad with power, “If I go, I shall take them with me! They are mine: my crystal ponies!”

Luna let out a slow breath, head bowing just a little. Celestia eyed her a moment, then huffed and gave her sister a little nip on the ear, earning a startled yelp from the younger pony.


“Don’t dwell on it,” Celestia said, a playful smile showing. “It happened a very long time ago, even if it doesn’t seem that way for you. The Empire has returned, and it is thriving and happy. Remember that over all else.”

“So I’m not allowed to be melancholy over such tragedies?”

“Not while I am around, no.”

Luna huffed and rolled her eyes, growing sulky. “You are impossible.”

“So I have been told, and often on a daily basis.”

A moment of silence, eventually broken by a little giggle. A few seconds more and both ponies were laughing.

The galaxies turned, not caring about such trifling things.

“I suppose it is my fault for this,” said Luna eventually, after the two had calmed down.


“Yesterday, I had told Twilight a little about Konabos, after she had asked me of him.”

“Oh, that is not your fault; I was actually hoping she would.”

“So she had said. Had I known it would have sparked such awful dreams for you though, sister, I might have been more careful in choosing what I told her...”

“Would you like to know just what she asked me about, sister?”

“What do you mean?”

Celestia shifted her weight a little on the ethereal ground, settling with her belly touching the soft, ghostly grass, with Luna tucked in beside her, beneath her wing. “You want to blame yourself or Twilight for my nightmare, but neither of you is to blame.

“Twilight simply asked me about that young pony, and I told her what I remembered: when he stole that Solar Cohort’s helmet, of the grand feast when he horrified that wretch Farsi. I even told her about that one filly he had found feelings for; Late Rose, and how it was her love for flowers that turned him to gardening.

“The evening was spent remembering all those good things that I had sorely missed, sister. I cannot thank Twilight enough, nor you for helping her understand just that little bit more about him.”

Luna felt the start of tears forming in her eyes, and she tried her best to stifle them, though she did feel one curl down her cheek.

“Truly,” Celestia continued, smiling softly and nuzzling the younger pony, “Thank you.”

They stayed that way for a time, simply appreciating the other’s embrace, but eventually Luna’s voice broke the stillness. “I can do more for you, sister...”


“I can guide you, through your dreams. You do not always have to watch the terror and the loss...”

“Those are a part of some of those memories, sister...”

“Yes, Tia... but you don’t always have to visit the pain. I can help you.”


Some incredibly evil little demon was tugging at her ear.



“Get up! You’re going to be late!”

“A princess is never late, young stallion, nor is she early: she rises precisely when she means to...”

“Uh huh...” The voice did not sound entirely convinced. Celestia opened one bleary eye and peered suspiciously at her tormentor.

He was small in stature, and maybe a bit pudgy, but his coat glittered like diamond dust in the soft light of the waning moon. He also made a noise something like a squeal when Celestia caught him with one languid leg and dragged him down into her warm bed, to be cuddled despite his feeble and half-hearted protestations.

So the sun rose a little late that day; it didn't matter near so much as the smile on the little pony's face.


Chapter 6 - Priorities

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There was a knock at the door of her study.


The door cracked open and the helmeted head of a guardsmare peeked in, “Princess; your Cohorts wish an audience.”

“Oh! Please let them in, thank you.”

The door was pushed open and Glitter Shine strode in, her mane combed and tied into a single long braid that hung over one shoulder. She was wearing a neat white uniform with golden epaulettes, on her breast a pin formed of a six-pointed amethyst star. Behind her came Wingsong, in much more common garb that included a rather ratty flat cap perched on his head. It would have probably been in style fifty years ago, and by the looks of it, it may have been around during that time.

“You know, I technically outrank you now,” he was saying to the guardsmare as he passed her. Twilight couldn’t see the guard’s reaction, but it was easy to picture her rolling her eyes so hard they risked falling out of her head. Wingsong was grinning as he closed the door behind him, and Twilight couldn’t help but feel a bit giddy when she saw the saddlebags he carried, both pouches looking quite squared and weighty.

“Glad to see you two! I hope you’ve been enjoying your days off?”

“Haven’t been sure just what to do with myself, to tell you the truth Princess,” said Shine, though she did look quite fresh and relaxed.

“I have. My kids nearly hit the roof when I surprised them with breakfast this morning, and Ivy Glass has pledged her undying fealty for your kindness.”

Twilight found herself blushing, “That is awfully nice of her, but I don’t need ponies swearing fealty to me...”

“I didn’t say she swore it to you, Princess.” Twilight looked confused for a moment, then noticed the grin on the pegasus’ face. She rolled her eyes as he chortled.

“I’m rather impressed with your guard detail, if I may say,” said Shine, nodding towards the door. “Comforting to know you took our warnings to heart. How did you convince a colonel to watch your door?”

Twilight looked taken aback. “A colonel?”

Wingsong nodded, “Golden Gleam. Fourth Colonel under General Black Jack. Certainly an impressive door guard, Princess.”

“Oh dear... I had just seen a pair of armoured ponies in the hall, and the ones that were watching out for me this morning had been at it for six hours. I just asked and they fell into step...”

Wingsong chuckled, “That there is the ‘ol Canterlot discipline. She wouldn’t have questioned you if you had asked her to clean your privy... though she may have gone out of her way to order someone else to do it for her, hah.”

Twilight sighed and rubbed her cheek with a hoof, “And here I thought I was doing well. I didn’t even know she was a different rank; how can you tell?”

Glitter Shine tapped the shoulder of her uniform, “Pattern on the left roundel when in armour. The royal crest with two pips beneath signifies a colonel. Any high officer rank will have the royal crest on it; colonel, brigadier, general, and so on.” The unicorn blinked, “You spent years in the castle, Princess. You didn’t notice?”

“My brother is the military mind of the family. I was pretty much entirely focused on magic, to the point where if I wasn’t studying, it was because I was asleep.” She perked up, “Speaking of studying; have you brought me those lists?”

Indeed they had; two lists were produced for Twilight, and she was quite pleased to see that the one from Glitter Shine was not only neatly collated but contained tidy paragraphs and notes beneath each name denoting their skills and just what Shine thought of them, favourable and not. Wingsong’s list was much more frugal, consisting of a single page with just names and ranks.

Twilight flipped through Shine’s bundle, “Graceful Edge, Rook, Petronel, Northward Star...”

Wingsong eyed his comrade, “Petronel? Really?”

“He is a very skilled magic user.”

“Sputters, on a scale of one to arsehole, he’s a twelve.”

“A talented arsehole.”

“You realise those are only good at one thing, right?”

Ahem.” Twilight was actually blushing a bit from the candid and somewhat uncouth exchange. “I will certainly take their... personalities into consideration, thank you.”

“Sorry, Princess,” said the two, nearly in unison.

“It’s alright,” she said, turning her attention to Wingsong’s list, scanning it briefly then glancing back to Shine’s. “You both have Rook listed, a... corporal, I see.”

“You mentioned architecture, Princess. Rook is in with the 3rd Royal Sappers; A big lad with a head for walls and towers, both knocking them down and building them up.”

“He’s been noticed by the brass. Give him a few more years and he will be jumping ranks quickly.”

“Huh,” said Wingsong, rubbing his snout, “Fifteen years service, and I’m stuck at sergeant. This young pup knocks a few rocks together and suddenly he’s getting pips thrown at him.”

“I am fairly certain Rook hasn’t seen the inside of a brig, and certainly not as many times as you have.”

“They never proved that I was operating that still, and you know it.”

“Which one was yours, again?”

He looked smug. “All four of them. My blackstrap rum was actually quite popular.”

Shine rolled her eyes, “That is Wingsong for ‘cheapest industrial degreaser money could buy.’”

“Aww, you’re just mad because I was put out of business before you could try it.”

“Bootleg liquor aside,” said Twilight, “Thank you for the lists, I’ll give them a looking over tonight. I’ll probably have some questions for you tomorrow. Oh, and speaking of tomorrow,” Twilight set the lists onto her desk and pulled out a pair of papers from the drawer, offering them to the two. “New schedules for you. Three hour turns throughout the day, so Wingsong can go home and look after his family more often. Shine, I hope you don’t mind that I’ve given you the late stretches...”

The unicorn shrugged a shoulder, “I enjoy the nights here; quiet and calm. Gives me time to think.”

Wingsong looked relieved, “Thanks kindly for that, Princess. You too, Shine.”

Twilight smiled brightly, “I’m glad it works. If there’s anything you need to adjust, feel free. Now, to that second thing I had asked about,” she said, lifting her chin a bit to peer hopefully at Wingsong’s saddlebags.

“Yes indeed,” said the pegasus, pulling the bags from his flank and setting them down before Twilight. “Four volumes, in fact, but there’s a problem, Princess...”

“Mmn?” Twilight eagerly opened the bags with an effort of will, drawing out four roughly identical books, their covers greying with age but looking to have weathered the time well, no doubt from a keeping spell similar to the one Luna had on her own shelves. She arranged them in the air before her.

Three of them bore the familiar crest of Equestria that had been reimplemented since Luna’s return: the two sisters, stylized, chasing a sun and moon. No mere paint or ink these; the shapes had been picked out in brass, inlaid with pearl and jet, with fire opal and sapphire and tiny, glittering diamonds for their eyes. It made Twilight smile to see that sygil, and to know it was being flown again.

The fourth book was different; there was the same symbol as the other three, but it only took up the top half of the cover; the bottom was separated by a line of tarnished bronze, almost crudely riveted into place with brass tacks.

In the space below the symbol of love and harmony, the still familiar flag that Twilight had known and loved since she was a filly; the silhouette of Celestia, upright, her great wings spread wide, dancing before the brilliant orange flare of the sun. Above her shoulders, a small sun and moon, showing her dominion over the sky...

“This must have been written during the transition,” she breathed, drawing that unique tome close, “She must be in here.”

“That’s the problem, Princess, and that’s why I bribed Sundance with a visit from my kids to let me take the three volumes before it.”

“What do you mean?” said Twilight, and carefully opened the book, listening to the creak of the ancient cover. The smile that had been borne from that sound faded when she turned a page, and grew deeper as she tried the next few.

“What language is this?”

Shine shook her head, “I thought it was Old Equus when Wing showed it to me. I studied Equus a bit during my last year at school. The words are familiar, but the grammar here is strange-- almost backwards somehow-- even though this must have been written well after the tongue fell out of fashion.”

Twilight let out a breath and flipped through a few more pages. The words flowed and twisted and moved in their strange way, telling a story that she couldn’t decipher. The script was tidy and beautiful in the artistic way that the written word can be, but in this case it felt almost like it was mocking her. Page after page of of it, lines and paragraphs of letters and marks...

Then she noticed something curious; here the words ended, with fully half a page of space left beneath the final line. When she turned to the next, Twilight found a symbol carefully painted into the old parchment; a stylized hammer standing upright, its head a rectangle painted in grey and decorated with angular designs. The haft of it was a simple, but furled around it was a flag in brilliant blue lapis paint, checkered with flaking gold leaf.

“I wonder if this is the same...” Twilight mused aloud. She remembered that there were other ponies in the room when Glitter Shine leaned over her shoulder to peer at the design.

“What do you mean, Princess?”

“Luna showed me something in one of her journals...” One of her journals that stretched back a thousand years.

Twilight was suddenly up on her hooves, staring hard at the curling, flowing script. She only caught a glance of what was in Luna’s book, but there was no denying that the script in the two were at least similar, if not the same. Twilight starting flipping through the pages. After half a dozen more, the script ended with another large point of empty space, and on the next facing page it began again, this time under the symbol of a cluster of seven stars centered on a blue circle.

“These are cutie marks,” she said, searching in earnest now. The next was a spear crossed before a shield, then an array of three tall trees, then a cloud raining arrows.

Rising sun, falling star, a cracked shield, a single maple leaf all in green... Some of the entries spanned several pages, while others were only a few paragraphs in total, with a number of blank pages following after, no doubt placed in the optimistic hope of being filled. Twilight paused briefly at one such short entry; a mere two paragraphs worth of neat script set beneath the silhouette of a bird in flight, with what looked like a flower clutched in its feet. She wondered what twist of fate would have cut short that pony’s service in the Solar Guard, wondered what tragedy was spelled out in the enigmatic text.

Twilight very nearly dropped the book when she turned the page.

It was not an entry, but rather a painting in watercolours there upon the old parchment. A pony, all in brilliant white and armoured in gold with a halo shining in orange and yellow about her head was standing upon shattered stonework, head raised majestically. Above her, a darkened sky flecked with stars...

The sun, eclipsed.

“I wonder,” Shine had opened one of the other tomes, "Without a doubt Princess Luna could read this. Do you think she might be willing to help?”

Twilight shook her head, coming out of a reverie of a dark night lit by burning fires. Her eye was drawn to the image on the opposite page, a tall mare in every way the opposite of the beautiful Celestia: armoured in star-iron, snarling, about her head a halo of living midnight...

As Nightmare Moon, I slew my sister’s lover, then laughed as she wept over the body.

“No,” said Twilight, slowly. “I don’t think that would be polite... actually, it would probably be cruel.” She closed the book and set it carefully upon her wide desk, amidst the other books she had been studying. “Do you think you could translate it, Glitter Shine?”

The unicorn looked pensive, “It might take some time, and it might not even be accurate; grammar means a lot in Equus, enough to change the meanings of some words.”

“Maybe try the college for some linguistics professors?”

“That’s an idea, certainly.”

Wingsong made a sound, “I am surrounded by eggheads.”

“Just because some of us can think and breathe at the same time, you get jealous.”

There was another knock on the study door, though instead of Golden Gleam peeking through to inquire for permission, the door was pushed open entirely, revealing the shining form of Celestia.

All three ponies in the room bowed to the Princess as she entered. “Hello, my little ponies.”

“You are much too kind, Princess; I ain’t that little anymore.” murmured Wingsong.

“Not with that gut,” rejoined Shine.

Twilight was horrified for a brief moment, but Celestia’s cheerful laugh brushed it away. “Now now; he hasn’t gotten that fat. I’m certain the effort with the sandbags after the little faux pas instilled a need to keep in shape, hmm?”

“Ahh haaa,” said Wingsong slowly as they all straightened. “I see how it is. I got hired to be the butt of everyone’s jokes, right?” He glanced to Twilight, “Princess, I humbly ask that the next cohort you select be dumber than me.”

Shine seized the moment. “We can’t induct a cabbage, Wing.”

The pegasus hung his head and let out a slow sigh. “Walked right into that one.” He grinned sheepishly as Celestia gave his shoulder a friendly pat with a hoof.

“If it makes you feel any better, Cohort Captain Threetrees doesn’t get a reprieve either, even with the rank.”

Wingsong thought a moment, “Well no, it doesn’t, really.”

“Ah, I see your point,” said Celestia, giving him a second comforting pat on the back. “Might I have a moment with Princess Twilight, please?”

“Certainly, Princess. With your leave?”

“Of course,” said Twilight, “Thanks for everything, and enjoy the rest of your day, you two.”

Celestia looked on as the two off-duty guards left. She was smiling faintly, “I’m glad to see you getting along with them.”

“Oh, they’re a lot of fun! I felt so bad about ignoring them.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I did have faith in you.” Celestia lifted a hoof and grinned at the shiny solleret upon it. “And don’t you find Cadence’s polishing quite lovely?”

Twilight giggled, “You won the bet, I take it?”

“In a way. As it happens, she isn’t quite so talented at baking, so I did have to suffer a bit in victory, as it were.” She thought a moment, “Not often you find a cake that is burnt and undercooked at the same time. I was actually impressed, though that may be the wrong word.”

“Mmn. I will say though that burnt gingerbread is actually not bad. Cadence is kind of the reason I ask Pinkie to overcook mine during Hearth’s Warming now.”

“I will put that to being an acquired taste,” said Celestia, smiling and giving her favourite pupil a hug. “Speaking of Pinkie Pie, I have received a message from Spike.”

Twilight had left Spike in charge of the library and hired on Roseluck as a temporary helper. Between them and Owlowiscious, she couldn’t imagine there’d be a problem there, other than controlling her number one assistant’s chronic need to sleep in until the late afternoon. “Oh dear, is it serious?”

“Well, it did raise a question.” Celestia drew out a rolled piece of parchment and set it on the little table at the center of the study. “Twilight; how long has it been since you last saw your friends?”

The younger pony sat down beside her mentor, her brow furrowing a little as she stared at the paper. Two weeks now, maybe a little more? She had been so busy that the days just seemed to fly by, but remembering their names now, it felt like forever. “There’s been so much to do,” she started, prodding at the floor with a hoof.

The elder’s voice was gentle, one snowy wing lifting to rest across the younger’s shoulders. “Twilight; there is nothing here that hasn’t been handled before. I welcome your efforts to help, but your old life didn’t end just because you have been crowned. You are still the librarian of Ponyville, with all the responsibilities that entails. You have friends and family to see to and a life to lead.”

Twilight sniffled faintly and brushed the back of a hoof across her eyes, trying to stifle the tears before they started. She felt silly; it had only been two weeks, and she was ready to fall apart? It was embarrassing...

Celestia drew Twilight close and pressed as gentle a kiss as could be to the top of her head. “Now now, don’t fret. They understand you’ve been busy; they just want you to know they love you and miss you, and hope you will be down to see them again soon.”

“It has been a little too long,” Twilight agreed, “Would I be able to have some free time next week?”

Celestia laughed a little, “Twilight; you aren’t on any schedule. I asked you to handle some affairs for me last week just to put on a show for some of the stuffed shirts. You can come and go as it pleases you, now. If anything, I would insist that you take your leave and return to Ponyville for a few weeks. You are always welcome to come back, of course. Having someone else to do some of my work for me has been rather refreshing.”

“Mmn.” Twilight leaned against Celestia, letting her thoughts drift for a moment, simply enjoying the warmth and closeness.

It was the Princess who eventually broke the silence, “Oh, I had almost forgotten to mention; I’m having your parents over for a dinner again this evening. Shining Armour and Cadence will be there as well, so I hope you’ll join us.” It was practically a tradition now. A lot of ponies thought that Twilight had pretty much just abandoned her family when chosen to be Celestia’s pupil. While certainly she had to accommodate a new life of study away from them, her parents had become honoured guests at the castle and visited often, even after Twilight had gone to Ponyville.

Kings and queens and dignitaries from a dozen lands visited Canterlot castle, sometimes waiting for days for a simple request for a signature. No doubt they would have been a bit insulted at the idea of two normal ponies, one a children’s author and the other a textiles manufacturing supervisor, being granted private dinners with the Solar Princess nearly every week.

“I would be delighted to,” said Twilight, growing happy at the thought of seeing her mum and dad again; she hadn’t even had time to see them, and they lived in the city itself. “Actually, I was hoping to talk with my brother today as well, so that works out perfectly. Formal attire?”

“By the stars, no. Their visits are practically the only time I can get away with taking my crown off; you’ll look silly if you come all dressed up.”

“Casual it is,” said Twilight, grinning.

“Now if you will pardon me, the Zebrican ambassador has challenged me to a game of Go, and she is both a masterful player and terrific hostess.”

The two rose to their hooves, with Twilight leading the way to the door. “What time should I come?”

“Most any time after six. We haven’t really cared to pin it down to an exact time in months. It’s promising to be a lovely evening, so it’ll be in the statue garden.”

“It’s a date, then.”

“Oh my, is it?”

Twilight was about to take hold of the door with her magic, but her magic faltered, with her knees very nearly following suit. She hoped that the sudden blush across her cheeks wasn’t as visible as, say, the glow of the unfiltered sun, which is roughly as warm as they felt. “Uh, I mean to say, yes, I shall certainly be there, Princess.”

“Very good, Princess,” said Celestia, adding a playful curl to her voice as she departed through the door.

Twilight very carefully closed it behind her and let out a slow breath. It took some time for her to gather her wits again, but her mind did eventually sort itself out and get back to the matter at hoof. She started towards her desk, fully intent on taking another good look through those pages to see if she could find any hint as to just which entry belonged to the mysterious Podarkes, when she found her gaze being pulled to the solitary roll of paper sitting on the table.

Dear Twilight;

Hi! How have you been? It’s been like, forever since we last saw you, and everyone was all getting sad and stuff. I’ve been trying my best to keep everyone’s mood up, but you know how mopey they get when you aren’t around! I tried throwing a come-home-soon party at the library, but everyone said it wouldn’t be the same, and anyway, Spike and Roseluck gave me the exact same look you gave me when I suggested we have a pool party in your basement!

Oh wait, Spike says this goes to Princess Celestia, not to you.

Dear Princess Celestia;

Hi! How have you been? It’s been like forever since we last saw you, and everyone was getting all sad and stuff, even though we always see the sun come up every morning. Could I ask you a super-huge favour, please? Could you maybe kinda sorta give this letter to Twilight the next time you see her? I promise I’ll make it up to you next time I come visit or you come visit us; I’ll throw the biggest most super-huge party you’ve ever seen, and it won’t be all stuffy like the Grand Galloping Gala was! I remember how you said you thought that kinda stuff was boring, so I’ll make sure it’s as loud and fun as anything has ever been! Oh, we could invite Princess Luna to sing; she wouldn’t even need a microphone! OH. KARAOKE. That is such a good idea!.

Twilight blinked and unfurled the paper a bit more, discovering nearly a dozen paragraphs, all of which seemed to pertain to planning a thank-you-for-delivering-this-letter party.

An abrupt change in the script drew her attention again, though her smile did not lessen in the least.

Dear Princess Celestia;

Please forgive Pinkie Pie; she had become somewhat excited and ran off a moment ago, shouting something about coffee hats. We aren’t certain just what she meant, but judging by what was written... neither will you.

Could you please give Twilight our kindest regards and love? We all do miss her and hope she is doing well...

There was more, but Twilight found that she couldn’t read it for the happy tears that began to blur her vision.