“...Using the magic of the Elements of Harmony, the Princess Sisters defeated the traitor Darklight Star, and banished her permanently inside the North Star. The Princesses took on the responsibility of protecting the Elements of Harmony...”
"... and Harmony has been maintained in Equestria for generations since." Twilight Sparkle closed the heavy tome, digesting what she'd read. "The Elements of Harmony?” she mused. “I know I've read that somewhere before, but where?"
It was a simple tale, really. Just a fairy tale for foals. And yet... and yet...
Since she was little, Twilight had heard stories of Darklight Star, the traitor who had gone mad and attempted to steal the Elements of Harmony and all Equestria from the Princesses. She’d never quite known why, but she found them fascinating. Now, having finished what was likely to be the most historically accurate accounting of the event available to her, Twilight found herself wondering where the legend came from. All legends had a grain of truth hidden within them somewhere.
The Elements of Harmony. The truth was there somewhere, Twilight decided. She’d read about them somewhere before; she just needed to find it again.
Focused on her train of thought, she cantered back to the private library reserved only for the Princesses and their students. That included Twilight Sparkle, her assistant Spike, and the pony who was like a sister to Twilight: Trixie, personal protege to Princess Luna.
Within the private library, Princess Luna was instructing her prized student. "Excellent work, Trixie," Princess Luna said. "Your illusions are getting better." The alicorn walked around the image, examining it carefully. It was a scene Luna knew well, from nearly a thousand years ago: her sister, the regal Princess Celestia, having tea with a blue unicorn pony, a famous pioneer of magical theory by the name of Blue Star. The two were laughing at some joke or other while a flustered maid stood to the side with a teapot. Princess Luna turned back to face Trixie. "You based it on Lionheart's 'The Last Teatime,' didn't you?"
"Your Faithful Student Trixie did indeed, my mentor!" A wide smile graced the blue unicorn's face. "However, Trixie did some research on contemporary accounts with your sister's protege, Twilight Sparkle, to get their manes right. Trixie was surprised to discover that Blue Star had such a modern sense of style..." She trailed off as she noticed Luna looking oddly distracted. "Princess?"
"It's nothing, Trixie." Luna shook herself from her reverie and smiled at the young unicorn. "One of the curses of an alicorn's lifespan is our long memories. You just happened to get 'Tia’s expression exactly right for that moment. Her mane was slightly lighter then, however." Her eyes took on that faraway expression again, frowning as though contemplating something, or remembering something unpleasant. She quickly recovered, however, and gave her student a look of mock severity. "And what have I told you about referring to yourself in the third person, Trixie?"
"That I shouldn't?" Trixie said meekly.
Suddenly, the pair was interrupted by the sound of the door downstairs slamming open. “Spiiike! Triiiixie!” Twilight’s voice called from downstairs.
Trixie winced. “Sounds like Twilight has something on her mind.”
Luna chuckled as Twilight galloped up the stairs. “Trixie, have you seen Spike? I can’t... OH! P-Princess Luna!” Twilight immediately went from the borderline-obsessed expression she got when a new research topic caught her attention to meek respect. “I’m so sorry, Princess, I didn’t mean to interrupt your lesson.”
Trixie hid a grin; the presence of one of the Princesses was so far the only thing Trixie had discovered that could snap Twilight out of her “impatient researcher” mode.
“Oh, that’s quite alright, Twilight,” Luna said with a kind smile, standing up. “I was just about to leave, anyway. I’m sure you’re quite busy. Have fun, you two!” A bright flare of silvery-blue magic, and Luna vanished.
Immediately, Twilight returned to her “impatient researcher” mode. “Trixie, have you seen Spike? I need to look something up and I can’t find him anywhere!” Her horn lit up as she began pulling books off the shelf. “No, no, no... gah! Where is it?”
“I think he’s out finding a present for Moondancer’s party,” Trixie said, trotting up beside her. “Remember? You promised you’d go this time.”
Twilight’s face turned bright red. “T-that... promises made under duress shouldn’t count! You tickled me! Besides, I don’t have time for that kind of thing, I’m far too busy...” She tried to pull down more books, but found her magic blocked by a bright blue barrier.
“With what?” Trixie sighed, her own horn glowing. “We’re on a break, Twilight. I know you’re more comfortable with books than ponies, but... YOW!”
Twilight closed her eyes and forced her way through Trixie’s barrier, causing a mildly painful spark to leap from the blue unicorns horn. “That has nothing to do with it, Trixie. As Princess Celestia’s personal student, it’s my responsibility to keep up with my studies, regardless of the time of year. Now help me find my old copy of Predictions and Prophecies, would you?”
“Fifth bookcase, top shelf,” Trixie replied automatically. After years of helping Twilight in the library, the positions of the books were printed permanently on her consciousness.
Twilight immediately dropped the books she was levitating and yanked the tome in question from the shelf with a satisfied ‘aha!’
Trixie stamped her hoof impatiently. “Now come on, Twilight, it’ll be good for us to get out some! We hardly ever leave this stuffy old library!”
“If you want to get out more, you could always go by yourself, you know,” Twilight said with a sly grin. “Elements, Elements, E, E, E....”
“B-by myself?” Trixie said, her smile vanishing at the thought. An image went through her mind of being in a huge room, surrounded by dozens of unfamiliar faces... “I-I couldn’t... I mean, b-by myself I... AHEM!” Her posture straightened up, and a haughty look came across her face. “I mean, the Great and Powerful Trixie could hardly attend by herself. It would be beneath her dignity to mingle with such common ponies.”
“Which is another way of saying you’re too scared of talking to anypony to go without me,” Twilight said with a smirk, causing Trixie to frown at her. “Aha! Elements of Harmony: see the Story of the Sealed Star.”
“The Sealed Star?” Trixie asked, as she levitated the books Twilight had dropped back into their shelves. Twilight was a messy reader. “I didn’t think you were interested in old legends, Twilight, or prophecies, for that matter. Didn’t you tell me that predicting the future was impossible?”
“Receiving visions of the future is impossible,” Twilight said distractedly, flipping through the book. “According to Blue Star’s Theory of Arcane/Temporal Entanglement, it is possible for magic to interfere with the flow of time, and actively perceive the future. It’s entirely different than the mumbo jumbo of that Zebra fortune teller you tried to take me to last year. AHA!” She proudly pointed her hoof at the passage. “Here it is. ‘The Sealed Star, a myth from olden pony times. The prison of a powerful pony who wanted to rule Equestria. Defeated by the Elements of Harmony and imprisoned in the North Star. Legend has it on the longest day of the thousandth year, the stars will aid in her escape, and she will conquer all of Equestria.’” She gasped, her eyes widening. “Trixie! Do you know what this means?”
Trixie shrugged as she finished shelving the books. “Let me guess. The imprisonment happened exactly one thousand years ago?”
Twilight paused briefly, lips moving soundlessly as she preformed some quick mental arithmetic. “As near as I can tell, yes!” Twilight began pacing frantically. “I mean, it’s impossible to be certain, but by cross-referencing the biographies of Starswirl the Bearded and Blue Star the Enlightened with the History of Ancient Equestria I’ve been reading-”
Trixie trotted over and covered Twilight’s mouth with a hoof. “Twilight, take it from a pony who convinced her entire class she defeated an Ursa Major for her entry exam. This is just another story. Even if it was true, I think the Princesses would be prepared for it. Something like this wouldn’t escape their notice.”
Twilight shoved her only friend’s hoof away. “We can’t be certain of that! I’m going to go find Spike and write Princess Celestia a letter right away, just to be safe. See you later!” She galloped out the door, predictably leaving the book sitting out.
Trixie sighed as she re-shelved it. “What am I going to do with that filly?”
You are confused. That is understandable. This is not the Equestria you know. The timeline has changed and you, an observer from beyond our borders, are left stranded, wondering what has happened. But fret not. I will explain everything.
In order to understand, we must turn the clocks back... then forward again... then twist them sideways to see things as they were. Let us return to an Equestria more familiar to you. A nearby town called Ponyville that is very far away, a long time ago in the near future, with a very different Twilight who is exactly the same.
Read on, dear observer. And judge me not too harshly, for I did the very best I could to change things for the better...
May Celestia and Luna forgive me one day.
Some ponies might call Applejack stubborn, though never to her face. She preferred to think of herself as determined. Once she had decided on a goal, it was quite difficult to dissuade her. She also cared very deeply about her friends and their emotional and physical health, and had very little respect for the scholarly arts.
Spike, Ponyville’s resident baby dragon and assistant to one Twilight Sparkle, was discovering this first hand as he tried to explain to the stub- determined farmpony that Twilight was extremely busy with her latest, very delicate experiment and had given strict instructions that she not be disturbed for anything except food, bedtime, or a life-threatening crisis. Even then, Spike had had to insist on the first two.
“Look here, Spike,” Applejack said, stamping her hoof down. “Ah don’t care what crazy experiment Twi’s workin’ on. That crazy filly’s been cooped up in here for just about a week, an’ it just ain’t healthy! Ah’m gonna drag her outta that lab’a hers by her tail if Ah gotta, and y;all ain’t gonna stop me. Y’all can either move, or have me move y’all.”
Spike considered his options carefully. He was secretly a bit worried himself. There had been a number of disturbing explosions from the lab, par the course for Twilight, but far more than usual. Even more disturbing, Twilight wouldn’t let him observe the experiment, assist her, or even give him any hints as to what she was doing. All she’d say was “it’s a special assignment from the Princess!” Which of course meant very little else mattered.
Finally, the tiny dragon made his choice. “If Twilight asks, you had to move me,” he said finally, stepping aside and letting Applejack into the library. “I don’t want her to think I just let you in. She promised to buy me some rubies for dinner on Friday.”
Applejack just chuckled. “Don’t you worry none, Spike. Ah have a feeling once I got that crazy filly out into the fresh air and let her head clear a bit, she’ll thank ya fer gettin’ her head outta the books.”
“I won’t hold my breath,” Spike grumbled, returning to his book on proper mustache care.
Applejack just shook her head in amusement and headed down the stairs to Twilight’s basement laboratory. “Twi?” she called out as she descended into the lab. She came to a door, which she tried to open, but it was locked tight. “Twi, it’s Applejack! Open up!”
Applejack heard some shuffling on the other side of the door. “If I tell you to go away, you’ll just buck the door down, won’t you?” Twilight’s voice could be heard from the other side, sounding exasperated.
“‘Fraid so, Sugarcube.” Applejack replied, grinning.
Applejack just barely caught Twilight’s sigh before hearing the door unlock. It swung open, the doorknob glowing the bright purple of Twilight’s magic. “Come on in, then. I guess I should’ve known Spike couldn’t keep everypony out forever. But you’ve got to promise not to tell anypony what you see here.”
“‘Course, Sugarcube,” Applejack replied, not terribly interested in whatever fancy science experiment Twilight might be working on, even if it was for the Princess. She stepped into the lab, trotting down the last flight of stairs. It was mostly as she remembered it from the last - and only, really - time she’d been here. Twilight had those fancy computers and machines of hers set up all around the room; the sheer extravagance of it still overwhelmed Applejack a bit. Computers were tricky to make, and that made them expensive. Princess Celestia must have gotten them for her.
There was something new, though. In the center of the room set a large metal podium with a forcefield enclosing the top. Within the forcefield hovered what seemed to be a fairly normal, if ornate, helmet made from a silvery material. It looked vaguely familiar, but Applejack couldn’t quite put her hoof on it.
“Hi Applejack!” Twilight said, coming into Applejack’s view. She was wearing a white lab coat, a hard hat and a pair of safety goggles. “Sorry it’s a bit of a mess down here. I’ve been kinda busy.” She used her magic to pull her goggles off and set them on a nearby table.
“So Ah noticed.” Applejack said dryly. “Twi, y’all ain’t come outta this here lab for nearly a week now! It’s time ta go get some fresh air.”
Twilight scuffed her hooves on the floor. “Has it really been a week?” she asked, sounding somewhat embarrassed.
“‘Fraid so,” Applejack said. “What exactly are y’all working on that’s so gosh-darn important, anyway?”
Twilight look even more embarrassed at Applejack’s question. “Sorry, AJ. Princess Celestia said I wasn’t to tell anypony, for any reason. I can’t disobey a direct order.”
Applejack shrugged; it didn’t really matter to her. “Whatever y’all say, sugercube, but it’s time y’all left it alone for a bit. The girls and Ah are all gettin’ together fer a picnic later, and Ah promised I’d get y’all to come along.”
“A picnic?” Twilight said thoughtfully. “I am awfully hungry...” She glanced down at her protesting stomach. “I have one last experiment I want to try,” she said finally, turning towards the helmet hovering within the protective forcefield. “Just a proof-of-concept, really; shouldn’t take me more than an hour or so.”
“Twi,” Applejack said flatly.
“Don’t worry, AJ.” Twilight smiled at her friend. “Tell Spike that if I don’t come out in time for the picnic he has my permission to come down and drag me away. I just have a theory I want to test; I’ll be done in time. I promise.”
Applejack studied Twilight for a long minute. “Pinkie Pie Swear?”
Twilight’s face fell. “Seriously?”
“Do it.” Applejack insisted.
Twilight sighed. The Pinkie Pie Swear was not to be invoked lightly, as it seemed to give Pinkie Pie carte blanche to violate the laws of physics to ensure you kept it. For anypony that knew Pinkie Pie, it was a serious oath. No chance of getting Applejack to back down, though... “Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cup cake in my...” pause, close eye, then touch. “Eye.”
Applejack immediately became friendly again, smiling happily. “Alrighty then! I’ll see y’all at the park!” Applejack cheerily galloped up the stairs, presumably to give Spike his orders.
Twilight sighed in relief as her friend left. She’d been terrified that Applejack would recognize the helmet, but she supposed she needn’t have worried. It wasn’t a particularly memorable piece of armor without its occupant. Twilight supposed she should be thankful - if Applejack or anypony else discovered she had the helm of Nightmare Moon in her basement, the fallout would be... unpleasant at best.
The helmet had begun as a perfectly normal if beautifully crafted piece of armor, which Nightmare Moon had crafted out of magic for use in her intimidating costume. Once it had sat upon the head of an imprisoned goddess for a thousand years, however, it absorbed quite a bit of her magic, transforming it into a potent artifact; it could act as a storage of vast amounts of magical energy. With whatever traces of evil it might have contained purified by the Elements of Harmony at the same time as Luna, the helm became a potent tool for any talented unicorn. What’s more, it had a direct link to Princess Luna, allowing one to open a magical channel to her, another reason for the secrecy. Such an item could be incredibly dangerous in the wrong hooves.
Thank Celestia it was in Twilight Sparkle’s.
Celestia had given Twilight the helmet along with a seemingly impossible task - using the helmet’s magic and its link to Luna, determine what, if anything, caused her transformation into Nightmare Moon. The storybooks all said it was Luna’s own jealousy which caused her to fall, but Celestia believed otherwise and Luna’s own memories were hazy at best. Twilight’s job was to determine if there might have been any outside forces at work, and she took the task very seriously.
Twilight supposed it would be good for her to get out of the lab and into the fresh air for a bit, but she had one last thing she wanted to try on the helmet. It was a tricky branch of magic, and little research had been done on it, but it was safe enough for a careful unicorn. Twilight trotted over to the table where she left her experiment log and picked up a quill with her magic. She dictated quietly as she wrote, a habit gained from years of dictating to Spike.
“Experiment number twenty-nine: Chronal rupture by way of temporal entanglement,” Twilight murmured as she wrote. “Colloquially, a ‘time window’. The requirements for such a rupture are: a clear idea of the event intended for viewing; a magical, physical, or personal link to the event; and an abnormally large amount of magical energy.” She glanced over at the checklist she’d drawn up for the experiment shortly before. “Let’s see... A clear idea of the event. Easy enough, I want to see Luna’s transformation into Nightmare Moon.” She checked off the first item. “The helmet is linked to Luna and it’s symbolic of her transformation, that’ll be the link.” Another checkmark. “And the helmet’s own magic combined with mine should be more than enough power.” A third check and she gave a satisfied smile.
“Okay. Everything’s all set,” she said, her horn glowing as she delicately powered down the forcefield protecting the helm. Her magic took hold of the headpiece, levitating it towards her as she continued to write in her log, effortlessly controlling both the helmet and the quill. “I’ll only be using the bare minimum amount of magic necessary to galvanize the helmet’s own energy, and open a small window. All I need is to know that it’s possible; practical trials will commence at a later date.”
She gently lowered the helmet onto her own head. It was a surprisingly close fit, if just the slightest bit too large, but she resisted casting a resizing charm. Messing around with the incredibly powerful magical artifact was generally a bad idea.
She breathed in deeply, then let it out slowly. “Okay. Here goes nothing...” she whispered. Time magic could be dangerous if you weren’t careful. It was why almost nopony studied it; there were next to no guidelines, no studies, and no experiments; only the barest minimum of knowledge existed and it was all centuries old. Twilight had done her research, though, and she felt reasonably confident she could handle it. So before she could talk herself out of it, she lit her horn and focused on the helmet.
‘Okay, easy, Twilight. Easy, just feed a little magic into the helmet...’ She felt the helmet respond, growing slightly warm as it began to radiate magic. ‘Okay, good... now just focus on what you’re looking for... remember what the books said... pull the fabric of time together like a bed sheet, then push through the wrinkle.’ It was an infuriatingly vague description, but quite a bit of magic was done more by feel than by formula, and so sometimes such textual descriptions were necessary. She could feel what the old tome had meant, anyway; she could feel the texture of time flowing by her like a stream of soft velvet. She focused on the feeling, grabbing hold of a small portion of it with the helmet’s magic as gently as she could. She could feel the time-fabric around her tensing up like a captured animal as she bunched up a small wad, and, with another magical tendril, tried to poke through.
Nothing happened. The fabric resisted her efforts and tried to pull from her grip. Annoyed, Twilight fed more magic into the helmet, strengthening her grip and pushing against the wrinkled portion harder. Still it resisted.
Twilight felt angry now, angry at this stubborn magical abstract for defying her. It wasn’t even real, it was just a nonsense sensation her mind made up to process things it wasn’t meant to deal with. She was the personal student of Princess Celestia! She wouldn’t be beaten by some magical abstraction!
She forced more magic into the helmet, a bright-white aura forming around her horn as she began to exert herself. The force of her push multiplied rapidly, forcing itself harder and harder against the very fabric of reality, until suddenly... the helmet glowed brightly, and Twilight felt something give.
All too late Twilight remembered to visualize the event she was looking for and hurriedly tried to construct an image in her mind. It was too late; the window was open now, only it was more of a giant tear than a window, and it was growing. Twilight felt the wind whipping up around her, pulling her in.
“No! No, no, no, no, not good!” she said, her horn glowing as she frantically tried to repair the rip, but it was too late. An uncontrolled time-rip was not to be trifled with; the only thing she could do, she dimly recalled from the ancient tome on time magic, was try and keep her destination firmly in mind, in hopes that she could find the other end of the rift and reenter, returning to her own time.
Twilight shut her eyes and let herself be sucked in, focusing as hard as she could. “Princess Luna,” she whispered. “I need to see Princess Luna, just before the Nightmare...”
Suddenly, she was gone, the helmet and rip in time with her.
A brief but endless sensation of falling...
An explosion of colors that ponies had no name for...
Time pulled away from her, then came rushing back in an explosion of light...
Twilight opened her eyes.
She was laying in a crumpled heap in what appeared to be a small alleyway. Her entire body ached, especially her horn. “Ugh... where...?” She struggled to her hooves.
Time travel. Right. Twilight imagined pony bodies weren’t meant to travel the wrong way through time. Sadly there was no experimental data to corroborate this, as far as Twilight was aware, successful time travel had never been recorded. Until now, she supposed.
“Oh my gosh...” Twilight breathed, reality finally setting in. She traveled in time. The book specifically said don’t do that! In big letters and bright red warning ink! The ramifications of interfering with the past were entirely impossible to predict. What if she nulled her own existence? Caused a temporal paradox that imploded the universe? Oh dear Celestia, what if she accidentally erased one of her friends from existence? Or all of Ponyville?
Twilight noticed she was huddled against the alley wall.
She had to calm down. Panic wasn’t helping anypony. She needed to organize her thoughts. A checklist. Yes. That was what she needed. A way to line up her thoughts in a neat little line and deal with them one at a time. The world would make so much more sense if she had a checklist...
First of all, she needed something to write with. She looked around, checking for anything that might have been pulled into the rift with her. Just a few feet from where she’d awoken, the Helmet of Nightmare Moon was glowing dimly on the ground as residual magic slowly leaked away from it. Beside it, smoking slightly, was Twilight’s experimental logbook, with the quill still inside. With a relieved smile, Twilight seized the book with her magic and levitated towards her. Her horn was still sore, but a simple levitation charm was easy enough.
The book was slightly singed around the edges, causing Twilight’s inner librarian to cringe, but its contents were mostly unharmed. She took a deep breath and opened to a clean page, levitating the quill as she hurriedly constructed a checklist. Her penmanship was sloppy, and it certainly wasn’t the most orderly or specific checklist she’d ever written, but given her situation Twilight felt it was a forgivable lapse. She built the checklist around her memories of wilderness handbooks and guides on how to handle being lost in an unfamiliar place. Of course, she made some changes as there were no guides to being lost in an unfamiliar time. Twilight resolved to write one at the soonest opportunity.
Finally, she set the quill down and took a deep breath. She felt a lot calmer now; problems never seemed so bad once you disassembled them into a checklist. “Step one,” she said quietly to herself. “Take stock of your immediate surroundings, supplies, and physical condition.” That she had gotten from the guides; most of them agreed that the first thing to do was understand the immediate situation.
Well, she was sore and aching all over, but it was fading quickly. Her... somewhat active lifestyle had made her adept with dealing with pain; hanging around Pinkie and Rainbow Dash had a tendency to be painful. Her horn still throbbed; it would be a while before she could preform any magic more complicated or powerful than simple charms. For supplies, she had only her book and the Helmet, still softly glowing at her feet. That only left her immediate surroundings.
Twilight looked around, analyzing the buildings on either side with the studied eye of a filly who had memorized many a book on architecture and history. “Definitely Canterlot,” she muttered, taking note of the fine construction and elegant roofs. “Maybe... late classical era?” That seemed right, exactly what she’d been aiming for, in fact. Nightmare Moon had appeared in Canterlot, and her appearance had more or less marked the end of the classical era. For a minute, Twilight harbored a brief hope that she’d find the other end of the time rift, which could lead her back home. But the rift would only be open for a space of about ten seconds, and she was likely years off the mark.
So she was in Canterlot, late Classical-era, in reasonably good condition but without much in the way of magic. She had nothing to her name save a book and a very dangerous magical artifact. She had no bits and no job with which to obtain bits. Her first instinct was to go find the Princess and ask her for help, but she quickly discarded it. Even if the Princess was capable of sending her into the future, something the tome she’d studied had said in no uncertain terms was impossible, this Princess wouldn’t recognize her. She hadn’t even been born yet.
Oh Celestia, she hadn’t been born yet.
Where would she sleep? How would she eat? Would she ever see her friends again? How-
Twilight noticed she was huddled against the wall again.
She forced herself to her hooves and looked back at the checklist. She could panic later. In fact, she added that to the bottom of the list: “Panic later.” She then returned to where she left off. “Step two,” she read aloud, the sound of her own voice calming her. “Minimize impact to the timeline.” Well, she didn’t intend to impact the timeline. All the same, she was Twilight Sparkle. She had a habit of finding problems to solve. The best solution, of course, was to avoid civilization all together, which wasn’t acceptable. The next best thing was to attempt to avoid all momentous events, which wasn’t really feasible. Besides which, Twilight doubted her ability to withhold help when needed. So, the final solution, a disguise. If she wound up in the history books, and knowing her luck, she would, she needed to at least ensure it wasn’t Twilight Sparkle in those books. She didn’t want to think of what might happen if she showed up in history a good thousand or so years before she was born (don’t think about not being born yet, don’t think about not being born yet...).
Illusions were never Twilight’s forte, and her horn was too sore for anything complicated. Luckily, being friends with Rarity (no don’t think about your friends that you’ll never see again) had taught her a few handy charms. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, placing the book back on the ground so she could focus completely on the spell she was casting. Her horn ached in protest, but the spell was simple enough. She felt a sensation like warm water washing over her, and opened her eyes. She glanced down at her hooves, then back at her flank.
Her coat had turned bright blue.
Sadly, Twilight didn’t have a mirror and didn’t have the energy to conjure one, but from what she could see the disguise was adequate enough. Now she just needed to disguise her most noticeable feature, her Cutie Mark. Being magical itself, a Cutie Mark was difficult to disguise, but a simple alteration with an illusion... Twilight turned to look at her Cutie Mark, concentrating for a moment. It shimmered, before changing slightly. It was still fundamentally the same, but a different color (dark purple), and the orientation of the stars had shifted. It was the best she could do at the moment; it would have to suffice.
Having taken all reasonable steps currently available to reduce her impact on the timeline, Twilight returned her attention to her checklist, levitating the book back up to eye level. “Step three,” she read, checking off the previous step. “Gather information and ascertain time period. Step four, obtain lodgings and a source of income.”
She lifted her gaze up towards the mouth of the alleyway. Both steps three and four required her to go out there. To interact with the world of one thousand years ago. It was both exhilarating and terrifying. One the one hoof, she had an unprecedented opportunity to observe history in action. On the other hoof... she was trapped in a time period one thousand years before she, or nearly anypony else she knew, was born. The only ponies she knew would be the Princesses, and they wouldn’t even recognize her.
She glanced down at the floor. The Helmet. She’d need a way to carry that. She levitated the Helmet off the ground, contemplating what she could do with it. Briefly, she found herself wishing Pinkie Pie was here. Pinkie had a way of carrying objects on her body that by all rights she shouldn’t be able to...
“Need some help carrying that?” asked a chipper voice.
“Oh, yes, that’d be greeeeaaaah!” Twilight began to reply automatically, before she realized somepony was, somehow, standing right behind her.
“Is something the matter?” asked the mystery pony. Twilight turned around to confront whoever had managed to sneak up on her, and was greeted with a surreal image. For a brief moment, she thought, in some bizarre way, Pinkie Pie had heard her call and managed to follow her back in time. The voice was eerily similar, as was the manestyle, the general body shape, and even the Cutie Mark - three purple balloons. But the similarities ended there - rather than a pink Earth Pony, this pony was a pegasus with a coat that was, somehow, the exact same shade of white as a cloud. Her mane was an almost painfully bright blond, and she had a cheerful smile that was nonetheless more subdued than Twilight was used to from her party-crazed friend.
“I... uh... you... startled me,” Twilight explained, lamely.
“Oh, that!” the strange pegasus said, waving a hoof dismissively. “I do that all the time! Surprising ponies is my special talent; that’s why my name’s Surprise!”
Twilight jumped a bit as the pegasus, named Surprise apparently, shouted her name suddenly. “Uuuh... nice to meet you, Surprise. I’m... Blue Star.” Not Twilight’s most inspired idea, but all she could come up with on short notice. “How... how long were you standing there?”
“Oh, not long!” Surprise said cheerfully. “I just saw you standing all by yourself in an alleyway and wondered what you were doing!”
“Oh, I... um... I was looking for my helmet!” Celestia dammit, she really was bad at this whole ‘making up excuses’ thing, wasn’t she? Undeterred, she held up the helmet. “It’s... a family heirloom. Yeah, that works. I dropped it and it rolled in here. That’s all. Nothing strange about that!” She smiled desperately.
Surprise gave her a blank look, staring straight into her eyes. Twilight grinned back desperately, sweat beading on her brow. Come on, buy it, buy it...
“Makes sense to me!” Surprise suddenly exclaimed. Twilight gave a sigh of relief as Surprise leapt into the air, hovering over the now-blue Unicorn. “Hey, wanna go get some cookies? I know this really neato place that makes the absolute best pastries ever!”
Twilight stared open-mouthed at the pegasus. She again harbored a brief suspicion that this was somehow Pinkie Pie in disguise, except she was now doing backflips in the air. “Umm... I’d love to Surprise... but... I don’t have any bits to pay for it.” She rubbed the back of her neck with a hoof in embarrassment. “I, ah, just got to Canterlot, and I don’t have a job yet.” True enough. “I don’t even have a place to stay...” Her head drooped as the enormity of her situation hit her again. How was she going to survive?
Surprise gasped in sympathy. “Oh, you poor thing!” she exclaimed. Suddenly Twilight found herself the victim of an airborne glomp, as Surprise swooped down and wrapped her forelegs around her in a big hug. “Don’t worry, Bluey! You can stay with me until you find a place!”
Twilight blinked in surprise. “R-really? Would that be okay? I mean, you only just met meaaaaaaah!” She suddenly found her scooped off her hooves as Surprise displayed a surprising strength, lifting her up and carrying her from the alleyway. Twilight barely had time to seize her logbook and the Helmet with her magic before she was whisked away.
“Woohoo!” cheered Surprise as they zoomed out into the busy street. Twilight took a brief break from panicking to marvel at the architecture. It was like a trip through an incredibly realistic museum recreation. “My very own houseguest! We’re gonna have the bestest time ever!”
Twilight couldn’t help but laugh. “I hope so...” She looked up at her new friend. A new friend... it gave her a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, being trapped in this time.
Oh! That reminded her. “Hey, Surprise!” she called up to the pegasus. “I can’t seem to remember; do you know what year it is?”
“Sure I do!” Surprise said amiably. Apparently she didn’t find forgetting the year at all odd. “It’s the year six hundred and fifty-two!”
If this was the year 652, then... Twilight quickly checked the date in her mind. Assuming Nightmare Moon’s escape happened exactly one thousand years after her imprisonment, then... she was five years too early.
Meanwhile, a little less than one thousand years later...
A little purple filly stood in the doorway of the Royal Canterlot Library, staring at the shelves and shelves of books with eyes as wide as dinner plates. Today had already been overwhelming for the tiny pony, discovering immense magical talent, being accepted by the Princess as her personal student, gaining her Cutie Mark... and now this! “Is this... all for me?” she asked, amazement in her voice.
Beside her stood the majestic Princess Celestia, co-ruler of Equestria and Goddess of the Sun, smiling down at her new protégé fondly. “Not just for you, Twilight Sparkle, but yes. As my personal student, you are among a small number of privileged ponies to have access to the private section of the Canterlot Library. This library contains a copy of nearly every book relating to magic and magical phenomena in Equestria.” She didn’t mention that the truly dangerous books were kept separately, so the students and researchers allowed here wouldn’t find something they shouldn’t.
Twilight was only half-listening, though. She was busy trying comprehend the sheer number of books she now had access to. More books than she could read in a hundred thousand years! Her mind raced with the possibilities. “Can I start reading right now?” she asked excitedly.
Celestia chuckled at the eager filly. “Of course, Twilight. Just be sure not to stay up too late; your classes start tomorrow. I’ll be certain to send somepony to check on you in a little while.” The Princess realized that she was talking to the air; Twilight had already galloped off into the depths of the library, eager to discover its secrets. Celestia shook her head and shook her head in amusement. “Such an energetic filly.”
Her mind flashed back to the power Twilight had shown in the testing room. The tiny filly would make an excellent student, but more importantly, she was an excellent candidate for the Element of Magic.
Celestia wondered if her sister had had any luck finding her own candidate.
Twilight hardly knew where to begin. Everywhere she looked was another shelf stuffed with potentially fascinating books. She’d never seen so many tomes in one place before! Magic, science, nature, biology, history; any and every subject her young mind could imagine was here. It was almost enough to make her cry...
Wait. That wasn’t her crying.
Twilight stopped bouncing about excitedly and listened. Now that she was paying attention, she could distinctly hear some quiet sniffling and sobbing coming from a few aisles over. Twilight, curious filly that she was, followed the sound, hoping to investigate its source.
It only took a minute to find the source. Twilight turned a corner, and was confronted with the sight of a blue unicorn filly about Twilight’s own age, huddled in a small alcove between bookshelves, sniffling.
Twilight curiously crept forward, but before she could say anything to the other filly, she suddenly stopped crying and snapped her head up to glare at her purple counterpart. “What do you want?” she snapped, furiously rubbing at her eyes in an attempt to hide her tears.
Twilight blinked in surprise at the harsh response, but her mother had raised her to be polite no matter what. “I was just wondering why you were crying. Are you okay?”
“Trixie was not crying!” the blue filly insisted, despite her tearstained face and bloodshot eyes. “Trixie merely had something in her eye. Er, eyes. Both of them.”
“Are you sure?” Twilight asked, tilting her head. “It sure sounded like-”
“Trixie does not cry!” snapped the blue filly, Trixie, apparently. “And she doesn’t need your pity, either.”
Twilight frowned. Her interaction with other fillies her age was woefully limited, and she wasn’t quite certain how to go about comforting another pony who wouldn’t even admit to needing comforting. There was only one thing she could think of...
“I know what’ll make you feel better!” Twilight exclaimed as the answer dawned on her. “Wait right here!” She rushed off, leaving a bewildered Trixie in her wake. She retraced her steps, trying to remember where she’d seen that shelf she’d passed earlier. When Twilight finally found it, it took her several tries to get her horn to light, levitating down the book she wanted. Once she had it safely in hoof, she galloped back to Trixie at top speed.
Trixie was still sitting exactly where Twilight had left her, still looking bemused. Twilight levitated the book over to the distraught filly and placed it gently before her. “Whenever I’m upset, books always make me feel better! This is one of my favorites to read when I’m in a bad mood. Try it; I bet it’ll cheer you up!”
Trixie snorted dismissively. “Trixie does not need your charity.” Then she glanced down at the book. “Daring Do and the Quest for the Sapphire Statue?” She glanced back up at Twilight’s eager face, surprised. “You like these books too?”
“Of course!” Twilight exclaimed. “They’re my favorites!”
Trixie seemed to hesitate for a minute. “What was your name?”
Twilight extended her hoof. “I’m Twilight Sparkle! I just got accepted as Princess Celestia’s personal student! Nice to meet you, Trixie.”
“Ah... l-likewise.” Trixie said, hesitantly shaking Twilight’s hoof. “I-I was just accepted, too! I’m P-Princess Luna’s student.” She suddenly looked as though she was about to cry again. “At least... I think I am...”
Twilight tilted her head to the side. “You think so? Didn’t the Princess tell you?”
“Yes...” Trixie said slowly. “But that was... before I messed up the spell she wanted me to show her, after the test...” She stared down at her hooves. “I spilled maple syrup all over her mane.”
Twilight winced in sympathy. Then she smiled at her fellow student. “I’m sure it’s okay! I mean, I tore a hole in the ceiling and almost turned my parents into plants, and Princess Celestia still wanted me as her student. I’m sure Princess Luna isn’t that mad.”
Trixie perked up. “Maybe you’re right, Twilight! Thanks a lot.” She straightened up again, and her voice regained it’s haughty tone. “Not that Trixie needed comforting, of course. She merely appreciates the attempt.”
Twilight giggled. “Of course not, Trixie.” She gestured to the book that still lay at their hooves. “Want to read together?”
“Sure!” Trixie exclaimed excitedly, forgetting her affected voice again.Then she glanced around at the cramped alcove she was sitting in. “Uh... maybe we should find a table first.”
“Maple syrup,” grumbled Luna as she vigorously scrubbed at her sticky hair with a sponge. “Why did it have to be maple syrup? This stuff is an absolute nightmare to get out of your mane, I should know.”
Celestia lounged on a large cushion in the private study she and her sister shared, watching with amusement as her sister attempted to clean her mess of a mane in the adjoining bathroom. She and her sister both had magical powers so great that their very manes partially became etherial clouds of pure magic, but the rest of it was still hair, and maple syrup was sticky stuff. “You must admit, it was rather impressive,” the elder princess remarked cheerfully. “Considering you gave a filly who’d just earned her Cutie Mark a spell too complicated for anypony below fourth year.”
“It was supposed to teach her to deal with failure, like that fake dragon egg test of yours.” Luna sighed. “Though I suppose that backfired on you as well.”
“Indeed.” Celestia glanced down at the baby dragon playing at her hooves. “To think, a little filly with enough power to turn a fake dragon egg into a real, living baby dragon - and then have enough power left over to require my help to control it!” She shook her head in disbelief, absentmindedly stroking the baby dragon with a hoof.
“It almost makes my candidate seem insignificant,” Luna agreed. She telekinetically flung the sponge down. “Ugh, Celly, can you help me? This stuff simply will not come out!”
Celestia chuckled and lit her horn. A bright flash of light later, Luna’s mane was completely clean. Luna grumbled something under her breath about ‘showing off’. “I’d hardly call Trixie insignificant,” Celestia mollified. “She might lack Twilight’s raw power, but she was able to grasp the basics of a fourth-year spell enough to produce an effect, even if that effect was maple syrup.” She giggled as Luna trotted back into the room. “Considering her complete lack of formal training, that’s very impressive.”
Luna nodded her agreement, curling up on another nearby cushion. “As far as I saw, the orphanage I found her at had barely the basics of education, much less any magic training. We really must do something about the shelters in Manehatten, Tia. It’s awful. Poor Trixie was so thin when I found her...”
Celestia nodded, her horn lighting up as she brought a scroll and quill over to her. “I’ll make a note of it, and bring it up at the next meeting with the mayor of Manehatten.”
“Good,” Luna said with a sigh. She gazed out the window, up into the sky. The North Star burned as brightly as ever - perhaps even more so than before. Celestia followed her gaze.
“Thinking about her?” Celestia asked quietly.
Luna nodded slowly. “It’s just... this is exactly the kind of thing she’d have found funny. Princess Luna, with maple syrup in her hair. She w-would’ve laughed at that...” Luna’s voice cracked a little, and she turned away before her sister could see her cry. “I miss her, Celly.”
“Just a few years left, Lulu.” Celestia said quietly, extending a wing to drape over her younger sister. “The spell is unwinding; we can both feel it. One thousand years, that’s what the prophecy said. The longest day of the thousandth year; it’s coming, Lulu. She’s coming back.”
“Except it won’t really be her, will it?” Luna asked, sadly. “It’ll be that... that thing again. The monster she became. Darklight Star.”
Celestia’s face grew hard. “She made her choice,” she said sternly.
“I’m not so certain.” Luna said, quietly. “What could’ve driven her to do what she did? The pony I knew had a kind, gentle heart... Darklight Star is nothing but coldness.” She shook her head sadly. “I just can’t help but imagine her trapped in there...”
Celestia’s face softened again, snuggling close to her sister. “If there is anything good left in her, we’ll find it. The Elements will save her if anything can.”
“Assuming the plan works.”
“The plan will work” Celestia insisted. “All those years of planning... encouraging matches between just the right ponies, to produce the perfect bearers; establishing a town near the old castle; scheduling the Summer Sun Celebration in Ponyville; we’ve planned too long and hard for it to fail. With Twilight or Trixie as the sixth element, we’ll be ready when she returns.”
“I hope so.” Luna whispered. “I hope so...”
Over in Cloudsdale, a clerical error was made. The wrong mark was made on the wrong form, and as a result a large storm was headed towards Canterlot. Rather than send some pegasi on a dangerous storm-wrangling mission, it was determined that the storm was tame enough to let it run out of steam on its own. It was not a threat to anypony.
This was of little comfort to Twilight, who hid under the sheets of the too-large bed in the too-large private room the Princess had granted her. Secretly, Twilight wished she had a roommate, if only to have somepony to talk to while the storm raged on outside. The room, so much larger than what she was used to at home, felt empty and lonely with just her in it. The sounds of the storm echoed through the huge chamber, making it seem even louder then it was.
All in all, it had been an amazing day. All day long, Twilight had been worried she would suddenly awaken to discover it had all been a dream. Her Cutie Mark, her magic, her acceptance into the Academy, the Princess, her new best friend Trixie. It had seemed that everywhere Twilight looked a new wonderful event was unfolding before her. But no matter how many times she tried to console herself with memories of that wondrous day, at the end of the day Twilight was just a tiny filly in an unfamiliar room, hiding under a blanket from a storm.
There was only one cure to such loneliness and fear, books! Twilight peeked her head out cautiously, before concentrating briefly on her horn. It only took a moment for her horn to light up, levitating the book on her nightstand into her waiting hooves. Twilight pulled the book under the covers with her, using her horn for illumination as she hid herself beneath the warm blanket once again. The book was her current favorite, Daring Do and the Quest for the Golden Horseshoes. If anything could banish her fear, it was the exciting adventures of Daring Do and her friends.
Twilight opened on the book and leapt into the fantastic world of her favorite hero. Within mere moments, the empty room and angry storm outside faded away, to be replaced with the high-speed world of Daring Do. She was so engrossed in her reading, in fact, that she failed to notice when the door to her room creaked slowly open. She kept reading, oblivious to the sound of hooves slowly approaching her bed. As immersed in the book as she was, she didn’t even notice when the intruding pony called her name. It wasn’t until the third time her name was called that Twilight finally poked her head from the covers to behold her newest best friend.
“Trixie?” Twilight asked, surprised. “What are you doing here? Can’t sleep?”
Trixie looked about nervously, pawing anxiously at the floor. “T-Trixie is fine,” she mumbled. “Trixie merely... wished to check on you.”
Twilight’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Check on me? Why?”
“Trixie simply thought that... p-perhaps you were frightened of the storm.” Trixie was an awful liar. Twilight could tell by the way Trixie kept glancing nervously at the window that it wasn’t Twilight that Trixie was worrying about. “Besides, since you were all alone... Trixie thought you could use the company.”
Twilight grinned. “Trixie... are you afraid of the storm?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” Trixie snapped. “I’m fine! Trixie was merely worried for you, is all.” As if in answer, the sky outside the window flashed bright white, followed by a loud rumbling. With a frightened squeak, Trixie dove into Twilight’s bed, hiding under the covers.
A few minutes passed before Trixie stuck her head out of the covers. “Don’t you dare tell anypony about this,” she said severely.
“Of course not.” Twilight chuckled. There was more than enough room for both fillies in the bed. “It’s okay to be scared, Trixie. I was scared too. I’m glad you’re here.”
Trixie was silent for a while. Then, finally, she spoke. “Until now, I lived with a lot of other ponies,” she whispered. “We all slept in a real big room all together. Whenever there was a storm, we’d all drag our beds together and all the older ponies would cuddle with the younger ones all night.” She fidgeted about uncomfortably. “I’ve never slept alone before... I don’t like it.”
Twilight frowned upon hearing her friend’s story. “It’s okay, Trixie. You can sleep here if you want. There’s more than enough room for us both.” Twilight cuddled close to the cowering filly.
Trixie stiffened as Twilight put her hooves around her, but after a moment she relaxed. “Thanks, Twilight,” she murmured. “I’m glad I met you.”
The girls huddled together in the oversized bed for some time, listening to the storm outside. Oddly, it no longer seemed quite as frightening anymore.
Finally, Twilight spoke. “Trixie... why were you living with so many other ponies? Did you have a lot of brothers and sisters?”
Trixie looked away. “No... we weren’t related. They were all... like me. We all...” She fell silent.
Twilight peered curiously at her friend. “You all what?”
Trixie hesitated. “We... all have no parents.”
Twilight’s eyes went wide, and she hugged the blue filly tightly. Trixie silently hugged her back. “I’m so sorry, Trixie.”
“It’s okay,” Trixie said gruffly. “Trixie doesn’t care. Trixie d-doesn’t need a-anypony...” She sniffled, holding back tears.
Twilight fell silent for a bit, before pulling her book towards the pair of them again. “Want to read Daring Do with me again?”
Trixie shook her head. “I just want to go to sleep.”
“Alright.” Twilight said reluctantly. “Good night, Trixie.”
“Good night, Twilight.”
A/N: Hey look, a chapter!
I am SO SO SO sorry this took so long, folks. I’ve been having a tough time of things, and I haven’t had the time or inspiration to write for a LOOOOONG time. But! I’m still here, and this story still lives! So enjoy!
“That’s the last one!” Blue Star exclaimed, levitating the last envelope onto the pile on the small wooden table in front of her. Though she’d only been in the past for a week, Twilight had already adjusted to her new name and found herself responding to it just as quickly as her old one.
“Thanks a bundle, Bluey!” Surprise chirped happily, stuffing the stack of letters into her courier’s bag. Blue Star winced slightly as her neat pile, carefully arranged in alphabetical order by the recipient's name, was turned into a wadded mess. “It was super-duper nice of you to help out with all these letters, you know! So many ponies show up with messages and I have to memorize them all and sometimes they get all jumbled up in my head. With you here, I can just deliver them instead!”
“It was my pleasure, Surprise,” Blue Star replied cheerfully, setting down her quill.
After learning Surprise delivered messages for a living, Blue Star had inquired if she had any use for a scribe. Apparently, in this time period, literacy was a rare and treasured talent, preserved only for learned scholars, powerful magicians, and the nobility. At first, Twilight thought that writing down the letters, rather than having them delivered vocally, would be pointless in a day and age when nopony could read. However, she remembered a simple cantrip she’d once learned, when she’d gotten an eye infection and couldn’t read - a self-reading spell. Simply cast it on the letter, and it would read itself out to the recipient upon opening it. Surprise had approved whole-heartedly, calling it “The Best Surprise EVER!”
“After all,” Blue Star continued, “you’ve been so kind to me this past week.” She gestured with a hoof at the small house, out of which Surprise ran her courier business. “You’ve let me stay here with you, at no charge. You’ve fed me and even bought me more ink for my journal. Helping out is the least I can do; consider it my way of paying for your hospitality.”
Surprise giggled. “You don’t need to pay me, silly! But I really do appreciate the help, so I’ve decided to get you an extra-special surprise!”
“Oh, Surprise, you didn’t have to do that,” Blue Star said, smiling. “I’m happy to help, you know that.”
“I know. But I promised when we first met we were gonna go get cookies together, right? So we’re gonna go to the bakery, and I’m gonna buy you cookies... AND cake!” Surprise performed a little aerial dance, zooming around the room gleefully. “The bakery is really close by, so we can go there before I go deliver the letters! Come on!”
Blue Star just laughed as she followed the excitable pegasus out the front door and into the city. Though they hadn’t known each other long, Surprise was fast becoming a close friend; though Twilight still had frequent pangs of homesickness when she looked at her. Despite the different color and species, the pegasus was a scarily similar substitute for Pinkie, another dear friend that Twilight might never see again. Twilight had so far dealt with the emotion by shoving it forcibly to the back of her mind, which she was fully aware probably wasn’t healthy. She should be trying to deal with the idea that she might be stuck here, but she wasn’t ready yet. She wasn’t willing to accept never being able to go back home, not until she’d explored all the options. When she had some free time, she was going to take that Helmet and her journal and do some experiments...
“Hey, where’s everypony going?” Surprise wondered aloud, startling Twilight from her musing. Blue Star looked up to see crowds of ponies moving through the streets, all headed in the same direction. There was a festive mood in the air, ponies chatting amongst themselves excitedly as they all hurried towards the center of the city.
“You’d know more than I would, Surprise,” Blue Star said, curious. “Is there some sort of festival or celebration today?”
“I dunno!” Surprise said, already following the moving crowd of ponies. “Let’s go find out! Come on!”
“Huh? But... your letters! You... job... deliver...” Blue Star gave an exasperated sigh. “Oh, why do I even bother?” She trotted after Surprise, hustling to keep up.
The pair followed the crowd to the town square, the same place where Celestia rose the sun during the Summer Sun Celebration in Canterlot. That very same stage where Twilight had seen her mentor for the first time was out again. This time, however, it was not Celestia but a tall, pale blue unicorn who stood there. He had a sort of demonstration table out, with a candle in a bright silver candle holder and several pieces of parchment on it. Behind him was a chalkboard with a complex arcane formula written on it in precise, neat rows. Blue Star felt she’d seen that same formula elsewhere before, but before she could figure out where, Surprise landed beside her.
“Hey Bluey, what d’ya think he’s gonna do? Is it a show? Oooh, is he a clown? Is he gonna start juggling? Or throwing pie?” Surprise beat her wings in excitement.
Blue Star resisted the urge to facehoof. “No, Surprise, I doubt he’s a clown. He looks more like a scholar to me.”
That much was true; the unicorn on the stage was a tall, stately unicorn, with the regal, graceful bearing that was common among those of noble bloodlines. He wore a long, impressive cloak with the traditional stars of Equestria’s magical elite upon it, which unfortunately covered his Cutie Mark as well. Blue Star had a nagging feeling she should know this stallion, but without seeing his Cutie Mark is was difficult; there were few accurate pictures of anypony this far back in time. “Maybe he’s here to give a lecture.” Her eyes lit up at the thought, but Surprise just stuck out her tongue.
“A lecture? BOOOORING. I’d rather go deliver letters than listen to some boring old magic lecture.”
“Lecture’s aren’t boring, and you’re supposed to be delivering those let-”
“FILLIES AND GENTLECOLTS!” the stallion on the stage boomed, his voice magically amplified. “MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE?” The general chatter amongst the assembled crowd quieted down, and Blue Star directed her full attention at the naggingly familiar pony and his even more naggingly familiar equation. “Thank you, everypony.” The unicorn continued at a more reasonable tone, though he was still loud enough to be heard throughout the crowd. “As you may or may not know, I am Starswirl the Fifth, a Court Magician in the employ of our beloved Princesses Celestia and Luna, and an arcane researcher of some small renown.”
Blue Star’s mouth fell open as her mind raced through the texts she’d memorized on this pony. Starswirl the Fifth, aka Starswirl the Innovator, aka Starswirl the Inventor, aka the Father of Modern Magic, was a descendent of the famous Starswirl the Bearded, inventor of the amniomorphic spell. While he lacked his ancestor’s natural talent and raw power with magic, he was renowned in history for applying magic to everyday use. He was credited for a great many spells and inventions that were used in nearly every modern household, even those of Earth Ponies and pegasi. What most historians felt was more important, however, was that it was his influence that started the idea of magic being for everypony, not just the elite, the rich, and the magically gifted. It was he who strove to make magical conveniences available to all ponies, regardless of race.
To think, he thought of himself as a ‘researcher of some small renown’. Hah!
Blue Star was almost too caught up in her hero worship to notice that said hero was still speaking. “I have called this gathering today in order to display my latest breakthrough in magical communications,” Starswirl the Fifth continued, gesturing to his table. “While most inventions are brought to the Court of the Twin Princesses, I felt this invention would be better shared with you, the ponies of Equestria.” His horn lit with a silver-blue light, and ignited the candle. The flames burned bright green. “This enchantment can be cast on any flame, with only the slightest effort. It can also be cast on anything that can create fire, such as this candle. Now observe.”
He levitated one of the pieces of parchment into the air, and showed it to the crowd. On it was a picture of a stylized sun, identical to Princess Celestia’s Cutie Mark. “Merely visualize the pony with whom you wish to communicate, and burn the message you wish to send to them in the enchanted fire.” He looked out into the crowd, before gesturing to a tall, stately unicorn mare with a pure white coat. “Miss, would you mind assisting me?”
“Not at all, Mr. Starswirl.” The mare replied helpfully.
“Thank you,” Starswirl said with a small smile, before he dropped the parchment onto the flame. The parchment disappeared in a puff of very familiar green smoke, which snaked its way to the white unicorn before re-materializing into the parchment. The unicorn looked at it, clearly surprised, before holding it up for everypony else to see. It was the same picture.
Blue Star realized with a start where she’d seen the spell on the blackboard before. It was the same spell she’d cast on Spike ages ago, to turn him into a living mailbox. It was one of the earliest spells she’d ever learned! She looked at the chalkboard again, frowning. She knew that spell almost by heart, and something about the formula on the chalkboard looked... off...
As Blue Star zoned out, Starswirl continued to speak. “As you can see, this simple enchantment allows for instantaneous communication between any two points, over a distance of one hundred miles,” he explained proudly. “Of course, you can only send that which can be burned, such as notes, which I understand is of limited use to many of you. That is why I have also created a simple spell which, when cast on a parchment, will cause it to read out its...” Starswirl paused, staring at the blue mare who’d climbed up on the stage and began rewriting his formula. “Excuse me, what on Equestria do you think you’re doing?”
Blue Star barely looked at him, too focused on the equation. “Oh, don’t mind me, I don’t want to interrupt. You just made a small mistake right here...” She corrected the faulty equation and stood back, smiling proudly. “There! That should more then triple the range of... the...” Blue Star trailed off as she realized everypony was staring at her. Starswirl, in particular, looked shocked and visibly angry. “Is... something wrong?”
Starswirl looked too taken aback to speak for several moments. After a few seconds, he brought himself under control, and spoke in quiet, measured tones. “You dare to interfere in the work of another mage?” There was a quiet, measured anger in his voice, like an adult speaking to a misbehaving foal. “Do you even realize the insult you’ve given me?”
Blue Star felt her pulse quicken as she tried to understand what was happening. Why was Starswirl so angry? She was just trying to help fix his spell. She reached back in her mind, trying to remember something - anything - that she’d read that would explain this behavior. Suddenly, she recalled a passage from a book she’d once read, The Progress of Magic.
While the classical era was a time of great prosperity and economic growth, very little progress was made in the development of magical theory. This is attributed largely to the strange sense of propriety held by many mages, wizards, and magical scholars that prevented them from assisting or using the theories and studies of each other. Unicorns were prone to taking insult at even a mere suggestion that their spell could use outside assistance, and as a result magical theories could only be expanded on by others after its inventor’s death.
Oh, horseapples. Blue Star finally got to meet Starswirl the Fifth, and she’d gone and insulted him. Her heart fell further as she realized not only had she delivered a dire insult to one of the most famous ponies in history, but she’d done it using a formula that wasn’t supposed to be invented for another three hundred years. Perhaps it would be better if she just left before she embarrassed herself further...
“I’m really sorry... I wasn’t thinking,” Blue Star said, blushing furiously and backing away swiftly. “I-In fact my formula was probably wrong anyway, you should probably just erase it...”
“Enough,” Starswirl said. “You have insulted me and challenged my work. There can only be one answer to this stain on my honor.” He fixed her with a hard, unyielding gaze. “A wizards’ duel.”
Blue Star’s eyes widened in shock. “A w-w-wizards’....” Her mind locked up in panic as she tried to comprehend what was happening. On reflex, her mind called up a passage from Customs of the Classical Age.
Wizards’ duels were an ancient tradition, typically invoked when a unicorn felt his honor had been wounded by another unicorn to the extent that violence was the only recourse. While barbaric by today’s standards, wizards’ duels were fairly common in their time and were actually considered quite civilized. Such duels typically involved both unicorns attacking each other with spells - using one’s hooves or teeth was considered a foul - until one or the other unicorn was rendered unconscious, killed, or otherwise made unable to continue. Spells that were instantly lethal, as well as mind-affecting spells or spells that directly affected the body of one’s opponent were considered out-of-bounds. While death was not strictly common, it was not unusual for one or even both mages to be severely wounded after such a duel.
How could she duel Starswirl? What if she hurt him? Oh Celestia, what if she killed him? With her power, it wasn’t impossible. Bad enough she’d interrupted him and introduced a formula from the future, if she killed Starswirl - or even just seriously wounded him - the effects on the timeline could be disastrous! There had to be a way out! But no - further reviewing of her mental copy of Customs of the Classical Age informed her that a challenge to a wizards’ duel was legally binding - to refuse was literally illegal. Unless Starswirl rescinded the challenge - which appeared unlikely - she had no choice.
While Blue Star had been panicking, Starswirl had already found a judge for their duel. The pure white unicorn from earlier, apparently a wizard of some talent herself, had offered to oversee the duel, and had climbed onto the stage, standing off to the side and well out of the way of the other two unicorns.
As Starswirl trotted to the opposite side of the stage, Blue Star realized, numbly, that she was going to have to go through with this barbaric custom. She slowly trotted to her side of the stage, turning to face her long-time hero from across the stage-turned-battlefield. She barely registered the mare’s voice as she informed both ponies of the rules of a traditional wizards’ duel, the same ones Blue Star recalled from her book.
As the mare spoke, Blue Star forced her mind back into gear. She needed to organize her thoughts. She had no time to write a checklist, sadly, so she’d have to line up her thoughts without one. Step one, she reasoned, was to remain calm. Panic clouded the mind and made sound judgement impossible, a lesson she’d learned more then once. She took a deep calming breath, forcing her heartbeat to slow. There. Calm.
Step two was to decide what to do. This duel was happening; she had no control over that. What she could control was her reaction. Her first thought was to throw the fight before anypony got hurt. However, she doubted Starswirl would let her just surrender, and if she tried to fake it, she could get hurt! Starswirl was clearly not going to hold back, and all the history books Blue Star had ever read indicated he was a very powerful wizard. So the only option was to fight back. However, she’d have to be very careful and pull her punches - even if Starswirl wouldn’t. A serious injury could be disastrous to the timeline, and if she killed him... She refused to think about that. She’d never killed anypony, and she didn’t intend to start now.
So, she reasoned, the only logical course of action was to attempt to restrain Starswirl, without hurting him. If she didn’t, she could die, or risk damaging the timeline beyond repair. No pressure, then.
Oddly, Blue Star noted a very small part of her was actually looking forward to this. She’d always been proud of her magic, and Starswirl the Fifth was reputed to be one of the most powerful wizards of his era. A part of her was eager to test her magic against the renowned unicorn, to see who was truly stronger.
Blue Star shook herself from her thoughts as the white mare finished with the rules. “Do both wizards understand the terms of this duel?”
“I do,” Starswirl said solemnly.
“I-I do,” Blue Star said nervously. Here we go...
“Very well,” the mare said formally. “On my signal then. Ready...”
Blue Star drew in a deep breath.
Starswirl began immediately, his horn wreathed in a brilliant, pale blue light as a lance of white energy leapt from it. Blue Star, caught off guard, scrambled to light her own horn, hastily constructing a magical shield against the attack. The shield took the form of a thin purple barrier, which shattered almost immediately as the white spell impacted it. A numbing spell, she thought distantly, even as her clumsy shield shattered. At least he’s not using anything lethal. She could see how the spell worked. It was pretty simple, actually. She could practically see the formula for the numbing spell in her head, and, almost on autopilot, she constructed a ward against it.
Starswirl lit his horn again, and Twilight could feel him straining against her ward, clearly intending to batter against her apparently weak defenses with the same spell. She didn’t have much practice with wards, but this one was keyed to that specific attack. It wouldn’t break. Starswirl raised an eyebrow as he felt the ward smother his spell. “You constructed that ward very quickly. You must have a good grasp of arcane formulae.”
Blue Star managed a weak smile at the praise. “I study a lot.” Even as she spoke, though, her horn was glowing. She needed to end this quickly. She enchanted the stage beneath Starswirl with a come-to-life spell, which she’d practiced carefully ever since the disaster at Applejack’s farm last winter. The concrete beneath him rumbled and cracked, opening up to try and pull him down into a pit.
Starswirl, however, appeared to be a speedy spell-caster. His horn ignited, and iron bars appeared, sealing the opening in the ground shut tightly. A cloud of smoke billowed up from his horn, covering the stage in smoke. Blue Star could feel him casting another spell in the cloud, but she couldn’t see clearly enough to identify the spell. Nervously, she raised another shield, this one stronger then the hastily-constructed one she’d used earlier. She surrounded herself in a nimbus of purple light, and waited.
She didn’t have to wait long. She noticed a disturbance on the smoke a split second before a large block of granite fell from above her. Her shield was designed to repel magical attacks; it was useless against conjuration. She barely managed to leap away in time. Even as she dodged, she could feel Starswirl casting again.
“Enough of this,” she muttered, casting a simple cantrip to summon a powerful gust of wind. The smoke blew away, revealing her opponent already finishing his next spell. Bands of magical energy leapt from his horn towards Blue Star, who realized too late she’d dropped her shield to summon the wind. The magical energy wrapped around her hooves, hogtying her like Applejack’s lasso. Effectively hobbled, Blue Star fell to the floor.
For a moment, Blue Star thought it was over, and let herself feel relieved that nopony had gotten hurt. Then she saw Starswirl preparing another spell, and realized that, as long as her horn was free, she could still cast and the contest would continue. Sweat broke out on Starswirl’s forehead as he concentrated on the spell, and Blue Star hurriedly tried to dispel the binding spell so she could get out of the way. From the amount of magic she could feel building in Starswirl’s horn, she doubted she’d be able to block it with a simple shielding spell. If she had time she’d construct the force field she used against Discord - and against the Cutie Mark Crusaders, once - but that took roughly three minutes to cast without the Element of Magic, and Starswirl was casting now!
From the older unicorn’s horn erupted a pair of spiraling red missiles. Time seemed to slow, as Blue Star looked at them and realized what, exactly, they were - nerve-severing spells. Doctors used them sometimes before amputations; it wasn’t lethal, but if they hit her, she’d be crippled. For life.
Panic overtook Blue Star’s mind, adrenaline flooding her bloodstream as her survival instinct kicked in. Magic flowed through her in rush, more magic than she’d channeled by herself since the Ursa Minor incident. Her horn gave off a brilliant purple glow that lit up the entire stage, and her eyes went white with an unearthly light.
The pair of red missiles fizzled in midair as Blue Star cast a powerful blanket ward, crude but backed with incredible power, to cancel all spells composed of pure energy. Starswirl watched in shock as the binding spell holding Blue Star’s hooves dissolved like wet tissue paper.
Rather than stand, Blue Star floated upward from her prone position, hovering in midair as her glowing, pupil-less eyes fixed on Starswirl. She formed a massive hoof of purple energy before her, her own spells unaffected by her ward, and brought it down on the other unicorn, pinning him to the ground. She felt him trying to cast, and fizzled it as easily as snuffing out a candle.
She floated to where he laid pinned and helpless, and gently landed on the ground in front of him. Her horn’s glow lessened to its normal intensity, but her eyes continued to shine. “Surrender,” she commanded, in a surprisingly calm voice.
Starswirl looked up the mare from the future, and for several moments he didn’t speak. Then, finally, he let his head drop, and in a low voice, said “I yield.”
Blue Star felt dizzy and exhausted as she let the surge of magic fade, her eyes returning to normal and her horn going dark. She staggered slightly, and her vision dimmed for a moment before she regained control of herself. She hadn’t pushed herself that hard in a long time; in the heat of the moment, she’d forgotten her own limitations.
Starswirl was climbing to his hooves as the enormous magical hoof that had pinned him vanished. Once upright, he turned to Blue Star and, to her astonishment, bowed to her.
“I apologize for my behavior,” said the Father of Modern Magic. “You are truly the superior wizard.”
There was a murmuring in the crowd, which up until this point had been so quiet Blue Star had forgotten they were even there. A wizard’s duel rarely happened in such a public place, and to see a well-known if not quite famous (yet) wizard humble himself before this newcomer was nothing short of shocking.
Blue Star, however, just felt awkward. “Don’t say that,” she muttered, looking away. Starswirl lifted his head curiously. “I’m talented, sure, but all my spells I learned from somepony else. I just study a lot. You’re the real genius.” She gestured to the forgotten chalkboard, on which his fire-message spell was still written, with Blue Star’s modifications. “I mean, you invented that spell from nothing! That’s a lot more impressive than just throwing a lot of flashy magic around.”
“WE THOUGHT IT QUITE IMPRESSIVE, OURSELF,” boomed an eerily familiar voice. Blue Star turned to look at the white mare who had been serving as judge for the duel; she was glowing with a near-blinding inner light, floating up off the stage slowly as the light grew more intense.
“Oh no,” Blue Star whispered to herself. “Please, no, not in front of her.”
The mare grew much taller, and her elegant pink mane grew into a familiar flowing rainbow. Her horn grew several inches and gained an imposing sharpness, and a pair of large, majestic wings unfurled from her back. Finally, the iconic sun symbol appeared on her flank as Princess Celestia descended back to the ground, head held high.
This wasn’t the Princess Celestia that Twilight remembered, the kind, gentle teacher who had become like a second mother to her. This Princess Celestia was huge and imposing, with a regal air and an aura that radiated majesty and power. Her presence was warm and comforting as the sun, but at the same time just as fierce and distant.
If Blue Star were to choose a word to describe this early version of her mentor, it would be... ‘queenly’.
“WHAT IS THY NAME, YOUNG UNICORN?” asked the Princess. The Royal Canterlot Voice may have seemed silly a thousand years later, but Princess Celestia used it to magnificent effect, her voice echoing throughout the town.
Blue Star swallowed heavily, trying to still the maelstrom of thoughts and emotions swirling in her mind. “B-B-Blue Star, your majesty,” she forced out, remembering at the last moment to kneel. It felt so strange; this was Celestia, her Celestia, but she was so... different. It was terrifying.
And she was lying to her. Horseapples.
“LADY BLUE STAR, WE WERE MOST IMPRESSED WITH THY ABILITIES, AND THY CHARACTER. WE WOULD LIKE TO OFFICIALLY INVITE YOU TO BE OUR NEW MAGICAL ADVISOR!” Blue Star felt her heart leap into her throat as Princess Celestia gazed down at her inquisitively. “WHAT SAY YOU, LADY BLUE STAR?”
Blue Star didn’t say anything for several long moments; she was far too busy panicking. Magical Advisor to Princess Celestia was normally a job title she’d leap for with both front hooves outstretched, but now the only thing she could think of was how to politely decline the greatest honor any unicorn could ever hope to achieve.
Not interfering with the timeline had proven hard enough when she was rooming with an eccentric but ultimately inconsequential courier pegasus. How was she supposed to remain hooves-off with a position in the royal court? What’s more, Starswirl was supposed to be the one who received this position. It was well documented; the majority of the reforms he’d supported were only enacted due to his position. Removing him from his proper place in history could be catastrophic to the future as she knew it! But how could she decline a royal request from Princess... Celestia... herself...
A spark lit in Blue Star’s mind as a memory resurfaced. It was only about two weeks old, but it felt like a lifetime ago: another request made by the Princess herself, to investigate the helmet of Nightmare Moon and discover what, if anything, had caused Luna’s fall. To Blue Star’s shame, she’d forgotten about it completely ever since her ill-fated experiment with the time window, but it was still a mission from the Princess. Even if she’d never be able to report her findings, even if this Princess Celestia knew nothing about it, it was Twilight’s duty as her student to carry out her task. And then...
She’d prevent Nightmare Moon’s rise.
Blue Star wasn’t sure where the thought came from. After all this time trying not to affect the timeline, she was considering causing a change so drastic it could alter the entire course of Equestrian history. And yet... and yet...
It was time to face facts. The odds of Twilight returning to her home time were very slim, and while that thought caused a dull ache in her chest, it also meant she couldn’t concern herself with the possible changes she was causing. She had the opportunity to do some real good. As Magical Advisor, she could not only perform all the same reforms Starswirl would, she could do more, better. She could advance magical and scientific research by centuries.
Most importantly, she could save one of the most important ponies in her life the heartbreak of having to fight and banish her only family.
Blue Star blinked, realizing she’d been silent for nearly a minute. Princess Celestia was still watching her carefully, her inquisitiveness giving way to puzzlement and mild concern. Blue Star took a deep breath, and bowed down before the Princess.
“I would be honored, your majesty.”
A/N: Hey look, a chapter that didn’t take months! Huzzah! Also, an advance warning: This chapter contains heart-exploding levels of HNNNNNNNNG! If you have a weak heart or are diabetic, please take precautionary methods before reading. Thank you.
It was 9:05 AM on a Monday morning, and Twilight Sparkle had not arrived for her lesson. Princess Celestia was worried. Twilight had only been her student for a few short weeks, but in that time she had never been late for a single class, always arriving exactly on time. For her personal lessons with Celestia, like the one meant to start at 9:00 this morning, she often showed up several minutes early. Today, however, she was running five minutes late. While Celestia did not know the filly too well yet, it seemed very odd.
Celestia considered what might have happened. It was entirely possible that Twilight was simply running late. She was a filly, after all, and even the most eager and studious of fillies could be distracted or sleep in. Little Twilight, on the other hoof, had a sort of single-minded devotion to learning Celestia was accustomed to seeing only in older scholars, and she found it hard to believe such a pony, even a little filly, would ever be late to a class.
Celestia resolved to give her student another five minutes to arrive before she began searching for her. After all, every young filly deserved a bit of leeway. It was early Monday morning; who wanted to get up for that? So, she waited.
At about 9:08, Twilight finally came shuffling in. Normally, when Twilight arrived for their private sessions, she was eager and excited, racing in with a big grin on her face and eagerly inquiring what today’s topic would be. Today, she dragged her hooves as she entered the little private classroom, her head low. There were bags under her eyes from lack of sleep, and she looked as though she’d been crying.
“Sorry ‘m late, Princess,” Twilight mumbled as she trudged to her seat. “I slept in.”
The Princess’ eyes widened in concern. Even ignoring how unusual it was for Twilight to sleep in, the poor thing looked terrible. “Is something the matter, Twilight?” the Princess asked diplomatically. “You look exhausted.”
“‘m fine, Princess,” the disconsolate filly mumbled. “Didn’t sleep much.”
Celestia considered for a moment. It had been, oh, a couple centuries since she’d last interacted with a foal, and she felt slightly out of place. However, she had always treated all her little ponies like her own foals, and seeing her normally exuberant student so distraught was downright upsetting. Finally, she patted the cushion she was laying on with a hoof. “Twilight, come here for a moment, would you?”
Dutifully, Twilight came to Celestia and lay down at her side. The pillow was very plush and comfortable, and Celestia watched with a small smile as Twilight got comfortable despite herself. Once she was settled in, Celestia extended a downy white wing over Twilight like a comforting blanket. “Now, Twilight,” Celestia said soothingly. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
Twilight was silent for several moments. “Princess, why are some ponies mean to other ponies?”
Princess Celestia raised an eyebrow. “There’s lots of different reasons, Twilight. Usually, though, it’s because they’re hurt inside, and don’t know how to show it. Why, was somepony mean to you?”
“Not exactly,” Twilight sniffled. “Um... I don’t want to get anypony in trouble...”
“If ponies don’t get in trouble when they do something wrong, they never learn to do it right,” Celestia said in her most reasonable tone. Then she looked down and saw Twilight’s distraught face. “But why don’t you tell me what happened, and we can discuss if punishment is necessary.”
“O-okay,” Twilight said quietly. “Um... y-you know Trixie? Princess Luna’s student?”
“Yes, I know her. I met her briefly just last week.” Celestia peered down at Twilight. “From what I heard, the two of you were getting along very well, weren’t you?” Celestia had been relieved when she’d heard the two fillies had become friends. Despite their prodigious magical talent, both of them had displayed distinct anti-social tendencies, which was worrying. The Element of Magic required more than just power.
“Well... yeah...” Twilight said slowly. “I thought she was really great... at first. But...”
Celestia listened closely as Twilight began to explain what had happened.
“Hey Trixie? You wanna go... huh?” Twilight peered into her friend’s room to find the place a shambles. Drawers were flung open, her bedsheets were strewn about and her saddlebags had been emptied on the floor. Trixie was frantically yanking out everything in her closet, tossing it carelessly behind her.
“No, no, no... GAH!” Trixie shrieked, stamping her hoof angrily. “Where is it?”
“Trixie? Is everything okay?” Twilight nervously trotted into the room, eyeing the other filly carefully. She’d never seen Trixie like this before; admittedly, they hadn’t known each other very long, but the behavior still seemed very much unlike her.
Trixie gave Twilight an irritated look. “Okay? Okay? Does this look okay to you?” The blue filly seemed almost hysterical; Twilight had to admit that she did not, in fact, look ‘okay’. “I lost my locket!”
“You have a locket?” Twilight asked, tilting her head to the side. “I’ve never seen you wear one. What’s it look like?”
“That’s because I keep it in my saddlebags for safekeeping!” Trixie explained, returning to her frantic search. “It’s a gold locket with a silver chain and a bright blue sapphire on either side. There’s some sort of pattern on the cover but it’s really worn away. If you look close, it kinda looks like a porcupine.”
Twilight concentrated for a moment, trying to construct a picture of the missing locket in her mind. “What’s on the inside?”
“I dunno,” Trixie answered distractedly. “I can’t open it. It’s got some sort of super-complicated magic lock on it. That’s why I wanted to come to this stupid school in the first place! So I could learn to open it!” She gave another frustrated screech. “I can’t find it anywhere!”
“Don’t worry, Trixie! I’ll help you find it!” Twilight said confidently. Trixie looked at her, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. “I’ve read a bunch of detective novels, so I know just how to find it! It doesn’t look like it’s here, so the first thing to do is retrace your steps. Go to all the places you’ve been since the last time you saw your locket, and see if you dropped it anywhere.”
Trixie’s eyes widened, and she finally smiled a bit. “Hey - good idea, Twilight! What are you gonna do?”
Twilight smiled proudly. “I’m gonna go to the Library and look up a finding-things spell! I’ve got a pretty good idea what it looks like now, so I can probably find it with the right spell - and if I can’t, you might be able to!”
Trixie was smiling broadly now. “That’s a great idea, Twilight! I’ll go looking right now; I’ll meet you back here in an hour, okay?”
One Hour Later...
Trixie was significantly less enthusiastic as she returned to her room than she had been when she left it. She searched all over the school’s campus, checking every room she could remember visiting since she’d seen her locket that morning. Nothing. Her precious locket was nowhere to be found. Her only hope now was that Twilight had found something in the library.
As she approached her room, she noticed somepony else standing there. It was a unicorn colt, about her age, fidgeting and looking nervous. Trixie vaguely remembered him from one of her classes. Cotton Tail? Cabbage Trail? Something like that.
What was more important was that he was loitering outside Trixie’s room, and Trixie was in no mood to deal with anypony. “What are you doing outside Trixie’s room?” Trixie demanded rudely.
The colt started in surprise, spinning around to face her. “O-oh, I, um...”
He never got to say anything, though, because the second he turned around Trixie’s eyes locked onto something very familiar hanging around his neck. “MY LOCKET!” she roared, her horn lighting up as she telekinetically tore it from the colt’s neck. “How dare you take Trixie’s locket, y-you thief!”
The colt stood there, mouth open in shock. “B-but I d-didn’t...”
Trixie didn’t bother listening to the stuttering pony, not interested in what would no doubt be a cunning lie. “Go away, you horrible little locket-stealer!” Her horn lit up, and the nasty little locket thief let out a gasp of surprise as a loud bang went off in front of his eyes, accompanied by a bright illusionary flash. With a terrified squeak, he ran away, tears in his eyes. “And be thankful Trixie doesn’t call the guards on you!”
Trixie, now feeling much better after retrieving her locket and venting her anger, fastened her locket around her neck with no small amount of satisfaction. “Ah, much better,” she sighed happily.
“T-Trixie?” Trixie looked behind her, where a shocked Twilight stood, staring at her.
“Ah, Twilight!” Trixie exclaimed. “Look! Trixie has found her locket!” She lifted it up with a hoof, showing it off proudly. “And she scared off that thieving little nopony who took it, too!”
Twilight didn’t appear to share her friend’s enthusiasm. “Trixie, Comet Tail didn’t steal your locket!” she shouted, looking mortified. “Why would you even think that? He found it for you! I found him holding onto it at the library; he was looking for you so he could return it!” She stamped her hoof angrily. “I sent him on ahead so I could return the book I was reading.”
“Really? Oh.” Trixie considered this for a moment, then shrugged. “Oh well. At least he’ll think twice before crossing Trixie again.”
Twilight watched her friend in growing horror. “‘Oh well’? ‘Oh well’? You made poor Comet Tail cry and all you can say is ‘oh well’? W-why would you... how could you... gah!” Twilight was growing so agitated she could hardly speak. “Y-you... you’re the worst pony I’ve ever met!” She spun on her hoof and galloped away, tears in her eyes, leaving Trixie to stare after her in puzzlement and hurt.
“I see,” Princess Celestia said comfortingly, levitating a handkerchief to wipe at Twilight’s tears. “It’s never nice to see the darker side of those closest to us.” Celestia remembered her own personal experience with that uncomfortable truth; luckily Twilight didn’t see the brief grimace that passed over her face. “I assume you haven’t spoken to Trixie since?”
Twilight shook her head tearfully. “I-I was so angry,” she sobbed. “I thought Trixie was so nice before! How could s-s-such a n-nice p-pony be s-so mean?”
“Shhhh.” Celestia drew the little filly closer, comfortingly. “I’m not sure Trixie understands what she did was so wrong.”
“How could anypony not understand?” Twilight asked, confused. “She made poor Comet Tail cry!”
“Yes, and it was very wrong of her,” Celestia agreed. “But Twilight, you must remember that Trixie has lived a very different life from yours. You’ve spent your entire life in Canterlot, the daughter of a moderately wealthy and influential family. From what my sister tells me, Trixie grew up as an orphan on the streets of Manehatten.” Celestia paused to ensure Twilight was paying close attention; she was. “Manehatten is not a very nice city, Twilight. I’ve done my very best to help improve the lives of the ponies living there, but there’s only so much I can do, legally. Theft is a serious problem there, and I don’t doubt it’s an unfriendly place for a filly with no family to grow up.”
“B-but Trixie said she grew up with a lot of other ponies!” Twilight protested. “She said she slept in a big room with a bunch of other ponies with no families, just like her! She wasn’t alone!”
Celestia sighed. “Unfortunately, the orphanages in Manehatten are not very well-funded, something I hope to fix. Trixie’s ‘home’ was little more than a place to sleep and a kitchen that gave two bowls of thin gruel a day. From what my sister tells me, Trixie had few friends there, and spent as little time in the building as possible.” Celestia dropped her head down to be level with her student’s. “You see, Twilight, Trixie has grown up having to protect herself from other, bigger ponies. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had problems with other ponies trying to steal her locket before; it’s a very valuable item for such a young pony to be carrying. Trixie probably thinks behaving the way she did was smart; that she was protecting herself and her property from another pony.”
“But Canterlot isn’t like that!” Twilight exclaimed. “Nopony’s gonna hurt her or steal her stuff here! She doesn’t need to act like that anymore, does she?”
“No, she doesn’t,” Celestia agreed. “But I’m not certain she knows that. I’m not saying this excuses her behavior, but perhaps it makes it a little more understandable?” She met Twilight’s eyes with a steady gaze. “You should forgive Trixie, and try to be her friend again. She’ll need a friend to teach her that it’s okay not to be afraid anymore. Consider this a homework assignment, okay?”
“O-okay Princess!” Twilight said, and Celestia felt her heart swell as the little filly finally smiled. “I’ll go talk to her right after class!”
Celestia chuckled at her student’s dedication as she stood, freeing Twilight from the comfort of her wing. “Why wait? I’m sure Trixie is as eager to make up as you are.”
Twilight blinked. “But... what about lessons?”
Celestia bent down to meet her student’s gaze again. “Listen to me very carefully, Twilight Sparkle, because one day it might be very important. Your studies are very important and you should never neglect them, but there is nothing in the world more important or more valuable then friendship. Do you understand?”
Celestia could tell she didn’t, not completely, but she nodded her head anyway. “Y-yes Princess,” she squeaked out.
“Good.” Celestia’s horn glowed briefly as she cast a simple location charm. “Trixie is in her room. Go on, hurry now!”
Celestia smiled as Twilight scampered from the room.
Twilight knocked on Trixie’s door, slightly out of breath from having galloped all the way here. Unfortunately, there was no response. “Trixie? It’s Twilight! I want to talk!” Still no answer.
Twilight was undeterred. She tried to open the door, but it was locked. No matter; Twilight’s horn lit up, and there was a click of an opening lock. Twilight nudged the door open, poking her head inside. “Trixie?”
Trixie’s room was still a mess from her frantic search last night; it appeared she’d never bothered to clean up. Trixie herself sat on her bed, buried a messy bundle of blankets. The bundle stirred, and Trixie’s head poked out, staring at Twilight with teary eyes. “Twilight...?” she whispered, sounding surprised.
Twilight opened the door further and walked inside. “Umm... hi Trixie. I... I wanted to... see how you were doing. I mean, I wanted to... I wanted... ummm...” It had seemed so simple when the Princess had told her to make amends with Trixie but now that she was here she didn’t know what to say.
She was saved from having to think of something by a flying tackle from Trixie. With a surprised oof, Twilight was suddenly bowled over by an overly-enthusiastic hug from the crying filly.
“Twilight!” Trixie sobbed. “I am so so so sorry, I didn’t mean to make you mad at me, please please say you’re not mad!” Trixie hugged the other filly so hard Twilight was afraid her ribs might crack. “I was so scared you would never want to see me again! You’re my first friend ever, please say you don’t hate me!”
It took Twilight a moment to catch her breath, and another moment to get a word in edgewise between Trixie’s apologetic babbling. “I don’t hate you, Trixie,” she reassured her friend, hugging her back. “Though I’d appreciate being able to breathe...” Trixie immediately released Twilight from the bone-crushing hug, but stayed nearby, cuddled up against her. “I’m not mad, Trixie,” Twilight assured her again. “I was just upset. You shouldn’t have yelled at Comet Tail like that.”
Trixie just nodded, eager to agree with anything if it meant her first, only, and best friend would like her again.
“I’m serious, Trixie,” Twilight admonished, with the extreme seriousness only a child could achieve. “Princess Celestia told me about how you grew up in Manehatten and it was really hard for you, but you don’t have to worry about ponies being mean to you or taking your stuff anymore, okay? Ponies aren’t like that here. And if somepony does try to be mean, I’ll help you. Because that’s what friends are for.”
Trixie sniffled and nodded, cuddling up closer. After a moment’s silence, she spoke. “I’m sorry, Twilight.”
“It’s okay, Trixie.”
“It’s not okay! You said I was the worst pony you ever met!”
“I didn’t mean it!”
“I know. But it wasn’t right.” Trixie looked down at her locket. “I get really mad when somepony tries to take my locket. I had it around my neck when the orphanage found me as a little foal. It’s the only thing I have that might connect me to my... my parents.” She stifled another sniffle, and Twilight put a leg around her, hugging her close. Trixie was quiet for another moment, before speaking again. “Do... do you think I should go apologize to Comet Tail?”
Twilight smiled. “That’d be a good idea.”
Just outside The Princess Sisters’ School for Gifted Unicorns was a small, carefully cultivated garden. It was sparsely populated, save for the gardener, a few older students who preferred to work outside, and some younger students who liked to play outside. All these ponies were easily avoided if you found a good, secluded spot, making it an ideal meeting place for those who don’t wish to be observed.
In a small secluded clearing, hidden from the rest of the garden by a well-placed hedge, stood two ponies, conversing in hushed tones. One was a gray unicorn pony, who looked vaguely uneasy and occasionally glanced over the edge to check for eavesdroppers. By contrast, his companion was nearly invisible beneath her cloak, and all that could be seen was a single golden eye which never wavered. She hardly even twitched.
The unicorn’s name was Stalwart, and he was a member of the Royal Guard assigned to security at the School. However, without his distinctive golden armor, he was near impossible to recognize; he was forgettably bland without it. An unicorn with a dull gray coat, brown eyes, brown mane, and a simple brick wall for a Cutie Mark, few ponies remembered meeting Stalwart unless they knew him well - which was exactly why he was chosen to meet with the cloaked pony.
“Are you absolutely certain it’s her?” the cloaked pony asked quietly. Her voice was a bit deeper then one might expect for such a petite pony, though it was difficult to tell gender beneath the cloak. “We’ve waited too long to make a mistake now.”
The guardpony shook his head. “No ma’am, I’m pretty sure. My little brother Comet Tail showed me the locket himself; I saw it with my own two eyes. He said it belonged to a filly in his Basic Charms class, a filly named Trixie. Princess Luna’s student.”
The cloaked figure breathed in slowly. “And it was the locket? You’re absolutely certain? His locket?”
“Yes ma’am.” Stalwart tapped his horn. “It’s easy to miss if you don’t know what to look for, but the magic signature is very old, and very powerful. It’s almost identical to the other Artifacts in the Vault. If that wasn’t enough, I saw the sigil on the front; it’s faded but recognizable if you know what it’s meant to be. It’s the right locket, no question.”
The cloaked figure was silent for a minute. “If it wasn’t meant to be hers, it wouldn’t have stayed in her possession.”
There was a slow sighing sound from beneath the cloak. “ It’s just like the prophecy foretold, then. The time is approaching.”
“Yes ma’am.” Stalwart grinned slightly. “I’ve waited my entire life for this, you know. I can hardly believe it’s happening. Right here, at my post!”
“I know, Brother Stalwart. We’ve all waited a long time for this.” The androgynous voice actually sounded a little excited as well. She glanced up at the sky; the sun was going down, and the stars were just beginning to become visible. One star, in particular, was shining particularly brightly. “Look up, Brother Stalwart. Our Mistress’ Star burns especially bright tonight. She is blessing our efforts today.”
Stalwart looked up and smiled, feeling slightly giddy. “Sister... do you think she’ll reward us?” he whispered quietly. “Do you think she’ll remember us?”
The cloaked pony rested a hoof on Stalwart’s shoulder. “I’m sure she will. Our Mistress would not forget the Order of the Stars so easily, not after a thousand years of service. After all our waiting, and watching, and careful planning. No. Our Mistress is sure to be grateful. Not that we ask for any reward.”
“Right. I was just asking.” Stalwart breathed in and out nervously. “We do this for the Mistress. For a better future. That’s what the Manuscript says.”
“That’s right.” The cloaked figure removed her hoof and stepped away, spreading her wings as she prepared to leave. “Stay strong, Brother Stalwart, and stay watchful. May the stars watch over you.”
“May the stars watch over you, Sister Bright Eyes.”
A/N: I’d apologize for this chapter being about twice the normal length, but I doubt anyone really minds.
Posey stood outside the new Lady’s room, trembling. On her back, clinking as it trembled with her, was a precariously balanced tea set. She knew she should go on before she spilled the Lady’s tea, but she was nervous. Actually, she was flat-out terrified.
Posey was mostly happy with her job as a royal hoofmaiden - an Earth Pony in Canterlot, born to a poor servant family, rarely could hope for such a prestigious post. However, more than once, Posey found herself waiting on noblemares who... Posey would never dare to say anything bad about anypony, especially a noblemare. But there were some noblemares she would happily never see again.
Nopony knew anything much about the new Lady. However, news traveled fast in Canterlot, especially amongst the servant class. If there wasn’t any news, servants would happily swap rumors and gossip, and the gossip about the new Lady made her out to be some sort of monster. They say she did battle with Mr. Starswirl - one of the few kind unicorns in the castle, and a very powerful wizard - and that she defeated him with a display of magic so terrifying she frightened even Princess Celestia. They say she glowed like a star when she worked her magic, and that she would have crushed Mr. Starswirl like a bug had he not yielded.
Posey knew better to trust rumors, of course. She kept telling herself that.
What’s worse, this wouldn’t be as simple as merely delivering the Lady’s tea. Princess Celestia herself had arrived at the kitchens to speak to Posey. The Princess was a common sight around the Castle, so it wasn’t so surprising to see her - she often visited the kitchens to request specific meals, preferring to arrive in pony rather than send a servant. However, she spoke directly to Posey - the daisy-yellow pony’s knees still went weak at the thought - and requested that she serve as a personal hoofmaiden to the new Lady. Permanently.
Posey had wanted to refuse, but nopony refused the Princess. Not ever.
Finally, Posey sighed and approached the door. There was nothing to be gained from standing there terrified. It was time to get this over with. She hid behind her bright pink mane as she knocked timidly on the door.
Posey’s brow furrowed. The Princess had said the Lady was in her room. She had requested tea. Was she sleeping? Posey didn’t dare rouse the fearsome Lady if she was sleeping. Still, the tea was getting cold, and she knew from experience how much noblemares despised their tea getting cold. Never mind a simple spell could heat it back up; it should never have gotten cold to begin with.
Summoning all her meager reserves of courage, Posey knocked again, harder this time. She heard a shuffling inside, and a distant voice saying, “Come in.”
Taking a deep breath and willing herself to stop shaking, Posey pushed the door open and entered the chamber.
The Princess had spared no expense in her newest advisor’s room. Posey remembered the rumor that even the Princess was frightened of the Lady as she looked around. The floor was richly carpeted, with fine silken drapes on the window. The walls were decorated with several fine paintings and tapestries, as well as several spell-lanterns that kept the room brightly lit. There was a fine bed with silken bedsheets and a canopy, and a fine dresser with a silver mirror. On top of the dresser sat what appeared to be an ornamental helmet of some kind and a mildly scorched book. Posey supposed they belonged to the Lady.
A short distance into the room, just past the bed, was a small sitting area populated by fine plush couches and sitting-cushions. On one of these cushions sat the Lady, and immediately Posey forgot the terrible rumors and gossip about her and her supposed terrifying magic.
The Lady had been crying.
She tried to hide it, of course. She wiped at her eyes with a hoof and forced a smile, but Posey had experience telling when ponies had been crying. As a senior hoofmaiden, she often comforted a younger servant after a noble had been particularly mean or cruel to them, and she recognized the signs. Puffy, blood-shoot eyes; a catch to her breathing; a certain curl in the fake smile that indicated the pony wearing it was trying not to sob. The Lady was quite clearly distressed.
The Lady peered at her curiously. For a second, there seemed to be a glimmer of recognition in her eyes, but she said nothing. Nervously, Posey curtsied as best she could with the heavy tea set on her back.
“M-my name is P-P-Posey, my Lady,” she whispered. “I-I’m your new hoofmaiden. U-um... I have your t-tea.” Silently she cursed her stammer. No matter what she did, she’d never managed to rid herself of it, and it made her seem even more timid than she was.
The Lady was silent for several moment, before a warm smile appeared on her face, quite surprising Posey. “Thank you, Posey.” Posey gave a quiet gasp as the weight on her back suddenly vanished, thinking she’d dropped it, but breathed a small sigh of relief as the tray floated over her head, encased in a purple magic glow. It landed gently on a nearby table. “Do you know, you remind me of an old friend?” the Lady continued. “It’s funny, I was just thinking about her. It was something of a surprise seeing somepony who looks so much like her.”
“I’m s-s-sorry to have startled you, my Lady.” Posey said uncomfortably, as she approached the table to pour the tea. “Umm... w-what was her name? I-if... if you d-don’t mind my a-asking. I m-might know her; I have a b-big family.”
The Lady smiled. “I doubt it. Her name was Fluttershy.” Posey glanced at the Lady; she was smiling, but it was a sad, distant smile. A light clicked on in Posey’s mind.
“My L-Lady, m-may I ask a q-question?”
“You just did,” the Lady quipped. “But yes, you may.”
Posey breathed in deeply. “Where is my Lady f-from?”
There was silence in the room. For a minute, Posey was terrified she’d said something wrong, and the Lady would begin glowing and crush her like an ant, like the rumors said. Finally, the Lady sighed. “Far away, Posey. Far, far away. And I don’t think I can go back.”
“It is always hard to l-leave home, my Lady,” Posey said gently as she gently lifted the tea kettle in a hoof. She’d gotten very good at using her hooves to pour; many nobles found using your mouth for such a thing repellent. “I i-imagine it’s harder if you c-can’t go back.”
The Lady peered at her curiously. “You’re very wise for a hoofmaiden, Posey.”
Posey allowed herself a small smile. “Thank you, my Lady.”
“Please, don’t call me that.” The newly filled teacup floated into the air and towards the Lady. “It’s so... formal. If you’re to be my new hoofmaiden, I’d rather have you treat me as a friend than a superior. Please, call me... Star. Blue Star if you must.”
“Th-that wouldn’t be very p-proper, My La... Lady Star,” Posey said nervously, hiding further behind her mane. Often she wished she could grow it out more, to hide her face better, but it wasn’t proper for a servant to have a long mane, so she kept it short. “I can c-call you L-Lady Star, if you prefer.”
“It’s a start, I suppose,” Lady Star said with a light chuckle, already looking more cheerful. She took a sip of her tea.
“My Lady!” Posey cried, forgetting herself as Lady Star began to sputter and cough, barely able to put the teacup on the table without dropping it. Her eyes watered and she doubled over in apparent pain. Posey’s mind raced. Had the Lady been poisoned? Oh no, her first day as her personal servant and she’d already been poisoned, Posey just knew she was going to be blamed for this... “My Lady, are you okay?”
Lady Star already seemed to be recovering, thank Celestia. “I-I’m fine, Posey,” she said with a smile. “Somepony, it appears, likes to put... pepper in their tea. Very, very spicy pepper.” She sighed as she righted herself. “Interestingly, this is not the first time something like this has happened to me.”
“I am so, so sorry, Lady Star!” Posey said, wide-eyed. “I-I d-don’t know what c-could have happened... I d-don’t know how a-a-anypony c-could have...”
“I already know who did it,” Lady Star interrupted. Posey’s eyes widened in surprise. Had she cast some sort of divining spell? She hadn’t seen her horn light up. “Don’t worry about it, Posey. I have a feeling it was... somepony’s way of welcoming me to the castle.” Her horn lit up, and a scroll and quill floated over to her. Lady Star muttered something to herself as she scribbled something on the scroll.
Posey frowned, thinking that was an awful way to welcome somepony, but said nothing. If the Lady said not to worry, then she wouldn’t worry. She glanced at what the Lady was writing; it appeared to be some sort of schedule or to-do list. Her brow furrowed in puzzlement as she read one of the items. “Mane dye? Why does Lady Star need...” Posey’s eyes widened as she realized she was speaking aloud, and clapped a hoof over her mouth. It was too late, though; Lady Star had heard her, and turned to look at her curiously.
“Posey...” Lady Star began slowly. Posey’s heart began to pound. “Who taught you to read?”
Posey immediately threw herself to the floor at Lady Star’s feet, much to the unicorn’s surprise. “I am s-so sorry, m-my Lady! I-I know it’s n-not proper for an earth pony to r-read, e-especially not a s-s-servant. O-oh, p-please don’t be a-angry, I’m sorry I r-really am, I won’t r-read again, I p-promise...”
“Stop that!” Posey froze at her Lady’s irritated command. “Stop begging! And stand up!” Posey scrambled to her hooves. “I hate it when ponies beg.”
“I’m s-sorry, my Lady!”
“I told you not to call me that. And stop apologizing!” The Lady appeared more exasperated than angry, and Posey allowed the knot in her chest to loosen a bit.
“I’m sor- er, yes, L-Lady Star.” Posey shrunk back and hung her head, hiding behind her mane. She gave a sudden start as she felt a gentle hoof on her shoulder.
“You don’t need to apologize, Posey.” Lady Star’s voice was kind and gentle. “I’m not angry.”
Posey looked up at Lady Star’s compassionate face. “Y-you’re not?”
“Of course not. I think it’s wonderful that you can read!” Posey blinked in surprise at Lady Star’s enthusiasm. Most nobles would be furious at a earth pony, a mere servant, being able to read. Reading was the providence of the learned and the nobility, not servants. “Knowledge is something to be shared, not hoarded like... like a greedy dragon. A scholar who gets angry at a pony for being knowledgable has no right to call themselves a scholar.”
“T-thank you, Lady Star!” Posey managed to stammer out.
“If you ever want to read anything, a particular book or something, just ask me and I’ll fetch it for you,” Lady Star offered, to Posey’s growing amazement. “You can read it here, if you like, so nopony gives you a hard time about it.” She chuckled at Posey’s disbelieving stare. “I told you, Posey. I’d rather treat you as a friend than a servant. This is something I’d do for any friend.”
“Th-thank you, Lady Star. Th-thank you! I-I’m honored!” Posey said, nearly bouncing for joy. Books! Free, unrestricted access to any book she wished! She hadn’t been allowed to set hoof in a library in many years, not since she was a little filly.
Lady Star smiled at her overjoyed hoofmaiden. “I’m glad you’re so pleased. Though I would like to meet the pony who taught you. I’d like to thank her.”
“O-of course, Lady Star! I-I’ll introduce you right away!”
Lady Star smiled. “I have quite a lot to do today, actually.” She waved her to-do list in the air. “But I’ll see if we can work it in.”
In the outdoor training ground, the pegasus guard went through their drills with the furious energy of soldiers who knew somepony important was stopping by. The castle was abuzz with the news of the new Magical Advisor, which was normally a boring post filled by a boring scholar. However, the news had gotten around that this particular scholar was, in fact, some sort of powerful warrior-mage who’d defeated Starswirl the Fifth in pitched combat.
One pegasus, in particular, could hardly contain her excitement. Firefly quivered with eagerness, which unfortunately threw off her drills a bit. She hardly cared, because out of all the pegasus guards, the Princess had chosen her to be this super-awesome wizard’s personal bodyguard!
The commander gave a thundering yell for the pegasus guard to assemble, and they all dived in formation to land before him. The commander spun about to face two ponies Firefly didn’t recognize. In the lead was a youngish looking unicorn mare with a bright blue coat and a starburst Cutie Mark, with a timid-looking yellow earth pony in tow, probably a servant. Firefly vaguely recognized the flower Cutie Mark on the servants flank; she was probably castle staff. With a start, Firefly realized that the unicorn was probably Blue Star.
“Lady Blue Star!” the commander greeted enthusiastically, confirming Firefly’s suspicions. She grinned broadly in excitement. “Nice of you to pay us a visit. I wasn’t sure you would take us up on our offer.”
“Of course I would!” the new arrival answered cheerfully. Firefly frowned. She sounded... young. And... well, kind of normal. She’d been expecting booming, impressive tones, sort of like the Princesses when using their Royal Voices. “I’m a very important pony now, or so they tell me. I’m as concerned for my safety as anypony else.”
“Of course, of course,” the commander said agreeably. Firefly rolled her eyes; the commander had always been a suck-up for the nobility. “A great wizard like you can hardly be bothered with every little thing that comes along, right?”
“Er, right.” Firefly noticed that Blue Star actually looked a bit uncomfortable, which clashed even further with her previous mental image. Still, the commander was enough of a toad to make anypony uncomfortable.
The commander didn’t notice Blue Star’s discomfort, or at least chose to ignore it. “Private Firefly!” he bellowed, turning to the assembled guards. “Front and center!” Firefly zipped to the front, saluting smartly. The commander turned back to Blue Star. “My Lady Blue Star, this is Private Firefly. She’s a bit deaf in the ears when it comes to orders, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more loyal pony. She’s a strong fighter, and fast enough to travel from one side of Canterlot to the other in the blink of an eye.”
Firefly grinned at the praise as she inspected her new boss. Blue Star was less and less what Firefly expected with each passing moment. She was a bit on the short side, clearly too young and too soft to have seen many fights. She had a cheery, open expression and the studious eyes of a scholar. Either the rumors had exaggerated, Firefly decided, or this unicorn had gotten very lucky. Still, no backing out of the job now.
As Firefly inspected Blue Star, Blue Star was simultaneously examining her new protector. As with a surprising number of ponies she’d met recently, Firefly was achingly similar to one of her friends from the future, in this case Rainbow Dash. They had similar tomboyish manecuts, similar expression, similar belligerent stance; even the two blue lightning bolts on Firefly’s flank reminded Blue Star of her rainbow-maned friend.
However, the similarities ended there. Firefly’s coat was a bright, bubblegum pink that reminded Blue Star more of Pinkie than Rainbow, and her mane was a dark blue. Where Rainbow Dash had been slim and petite, Firefly had several inches of solid muscle that made her a taller, more imposing figure. There was a small array of scars on her front legs and chest, likely from battles and sparring matches. Most telling, though, was the way she moved. Rainbow Dash had always been a hurricane of motion; she was everywhere at once, twitching and fidgeting and racing about. Firefly was in full control of every movement, not a single motion was wasted. There was no doubt; Firefly was a soldier.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Firefly,” Blue Star finally said, breaking the silence.
Firefly put on a grin and stuck out a hoof. “Nice t’meetcha too!” Then she remembered herself, and hurriedly switched to a bow. “Er, my Lady.”
Blue Star laughed. “You don’t need to bother with the formalities if you don’t want to, Firefly.” She gestured to the servant filly behind her. “Like I told Posey here, I’d much rather have friends than servants.”
Firefly stood up, a real grin on her face this time. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. “Heh. Thanks. You’re alright, Blue Star.”
“Thank you.” Blue Star turned to the commander, who looked uncomfortable at this breach of protocol. “Thank you very much, commander! I’m afraid I have a great many errands to run, so I must be on my way.”
“Of course, my Lady!” the commander said with a forced smile. He was determined to stick to protocol, even if nopony else would. “If you ever need anything, you need only ask!”
“Thank you,” Blue Star said sweetly. “Alright, come on Posey, Firefly. We have a lot to get done today!”
Firefly took to the air, flying low as she followed behind the Lady and her hoofmaiden back into the castle and down a long hallway. She came up beside the yellow earth pony, and whispered to her quietly. “Hey. Posey, right? What’s the deal with her?” She gestured with a hoof to Blue Star.
The hoofmaiden looked confused and slightly intimidated. “The d-deal?” she whispered back. “What d-do you m-mean?”
“You know! What’s she like? You must’ve heard the rumors! Are they true?”
“Oh!” Posey thought for a minute. “I d-don’t think so. She’s very n-nice and not s-scary at all. She was very k-kind to me. B-but then, I’ve only j-just met her.”
Firefly frowned. That wasn’t the answer she’d been looking for. After a moment’s hesitation, she decided to go straight to the source. Blue Star seemed to be the easygoing sort; Firefly doubted she’d mind.
Firefly flew ahead and drew level with the unicorn. “So, where we going, boss?”
“Oh, just a few simple chores,” Blue Star answered with a shrug. “Nothing interesting, really. You’ll probably find them boring.”
Firefly gave a mental sigh of frustration, but outwardly she just nodded. After another moment of hesitation, she spoke again. “Soooo... there’s a lot of rumors going around about you.”
“Are there?” Blue Star looked curious, but behind her Posey’s eyes widened in alarm. “What kind of rumors?”
“They say you pummeled that wizard Starswirl in a duel!” Firefly exclaimed enthusiastically. “They say you’re so strong you scared Princess Celestia!”
Blue Star’s eyes widened. “They... they really say that?”
“Mm-hm! Any of it true?” Firefly grinned eagerly at the smaller pony.
Blue Star cringed. “I think it may have been exaggerated a bit... but I did defeat Starswirl in a duel.” She paused, cocking her head to the side in thought. “I’m not sure ‘pummel’ is the word I’d use, but I can see how it might be appropriate here...”
“Hah! I knew it!” Firefly preformed a triumphant loop in the air. “You don’t really look like the warrior type, though.”
“Oh, I’m no warrior!” Blue Star assured her, much to the pegasus’ disappointment. “I don’t even like fighting. I prefer learning to fighting.”
Blue Star paused to look at Firefly. The pink pegasus looked heartbroken, as if Rainbow Dash had gotten turned down at Wonderbolts tryouts. Blue Star decided to throw her new guardian a bone. “Besides, it’s too dangerous for me to learn to fight.”
Firefly looked up at Blue Star curiously. “Dangerous? What do you mean?”
“Well, I could hurt somepony!” Blue Star said with exaggerated concern. “With my magic, even if I only tried to restrain them I could cause serious injury. I’m very lucky Starswirl was so talented; otherwise, I might’ve killed him by mistake!”
Firefly chewed this over in her mind. She’d been expecting a battle-hardened warrior-wizard, a grizzled veteran with mighty combat magic and a general’s keen mind for strategy. Blue Star hardly fit the image. No, she was more the unassuming young mare that nopony suspected, the one who pleaded with her enemies not to fight - not because she feared them, but because she was so strong she might kill them by mistake. She was the young filly that got attacked by foolish muggers in the alleyway, assuming her to be an easy mark, only to leave them broken and aching by the side of the road.
Firefly felt a grin spread across her face. No, Blue Star wasn’t at all what she expected. She was better.
Blue Star had already met an unusual number of ponies that bore an uncanny resemblance to her friends in the future. So far, however, there had been little differences, variance that made them unique. Surprise was a pegasus and lower-key than Pinkie; Posey had her stammer and was more likely to beg forgiveness than run when panicked than Fluttershy; Firefly was more controlled and hardened than Rainbow Dash. These differences, while small, had reassured Blue Star that it was nothing more than a coincidence.
Then she met Sparkler.
"But darling!" Sparkler moaned melodramatically, while Blue Star marveled at how closely the royal beautician resembled her friend Rarity. If not for her light blue coat and mirror Cutie Mark, they'd be indistinguishable. "Why in all Equestria would you want to dye such a lovely mane? It's such a delightful shade of blue..."
"W-well..." Blue Star took a deep breath. She wasn't a very good liar, but then, Rarity was never very good at noticing things when focused on a conquest of fashion. She had a tendency to jump to conclusions, and half the time provided the lie herself without realizing it. Blue Star only hoped that her new and old friend were as similar as they appeared. She glanced behind her to see if her entourage was listening. Firefly was loitering in the air, looking painfully bored, while Posey hovered at the doorway, clearly uncomfortable with entering the opulent beauty parlor. "That's just it. This... isn't actually my actual mane color." Technically true. "I've been hiding it with magic, but I'd much rather change it physically... it'd look better, and be easier to maintain." Also true.
Sparkler's eyes lit up. "Oh, of course, darling!" she gushed. "I understand entirely. There are plenty of ponies whose manes simply don't match their coat; why, just last week I met a poor mare by the name of Golden Harvest with a bright green mane and an orange coat. Green hair, can you imagine? Naturally I helped the poor dear, and I'll do the same for you." She rummaged around in a nearby basket of beauty supplies. "Now where did I... aha!" She pulled out a small bottle. "Here you are, darling. Just apply this to your mane once a week; it'll keep it a wonderful shade of blue and it'll match your coat splendidly! And feel free to come for me if you ever need any more."
Blue Star smiled as she took hold of the bottle with her magic. "Thank you so much Rar- Sparkler. I really appreciate it. How much do I owe you?"
"Oh no, Blue Star, dear! I wouldn't dream of charging a personal guest of the Princesses a single bit for such a small service." Sparkler smiled cheerfully. "Just promise to come and visit every so often. Deal?"
"Deal." Blue Star said, smiling back as she stowed the bottle in her saddlebags. "Oh, and don't mention this to anypony else, if you don't mind. It would be... embarrassing."
"Oh, I quite understand." Sparkler said with a sympathetic smile. "Now do go on, dear. I'm sure you have lots to do."
"Actually...” Blue Star said, causing Sparkler to give her a curious look. “There was something I wanted to discuss with you. Posey?”
Posey still looked uncomfortable, but she trotted into the parlor, coming to stand beside her Lady. “H-hello, Sparkler,” she said shyly.
“Why hello, Posey!” Sparkler greeted her enthusiastically. “So wonderful to see you again! Do relax, dear; I’ve told you before, you’re always welcome in my parlor.”
“Posey has been assigned to be my hoofmaiden,” Blue Star interjected. “And I was a bit surprised to discover she had a... unique skill. One she said you taught her.”
Sparkler blinked slowly, before forcing a wide grin. “Why, whatever do you mean, darling? I may have taught her a thing or two about styling manes, but...”
“I’m talking about reading,” Blue Star interrupted. “Posey told me you’re the one who taught her to read.”
Sparkler’s face went from feigned confusion to horror in moment, and she cringed. “W-well, I wouldn’t say I taught her... she may have... picked up a thing or two b-but I...”
“Sparkler, please.” Sparkler looked up in surprise as Blue Star heaved an irritated sigh. “Why does everypony behave like it’s illegal for an earth pony to read? It’s ridiculous!”
It took Sparkler a moment to register that she was not, in fact, in trouble. “It’s not illegal, perhaps, but it’s certainly improper,” she explained to the unicorn. “If anypony were to discover I taught an earth pony to read, my reputation would be ruined!”
“Your secret is safe with me,” Blue Star reassured her with a smile. “I find it admirable that you were willing to teach a less privileged pony to read. Why did you do it?”
Sparkler smiled distantly at fond memories. “Posey’s mother served as my mother’s hoofmaiden, back on our estate. It was a small place, and isolated; there weren’t many ponies there aside from my family, and Posey’s family.” She directed her smile to Posey, who shyly returned it. “As such, Posey was the only pony anywhere near my age growing up, so we became friends of a sort. Though I never could make her stop calling me ‘Lady Sparkler.’”
“I’ve been having the same trouble,” Blue Star chuckled, winking at her hoofmaiden. For her part, Posey just blushed and hid behind her mane, smiling softly.
“Posey would let me practice mane-styling on her - she has such a luxurious mane, you know - and in return, I taught her to read. You’d think her Cutie Mark was a book, the way she went through our library.” Sparkler sighed sadly. “Unfortunately, my mother believes very strongly in tradition, and threw Posey and I out of the house when she discovered what we’d been doing. Fortunately, we were old enough to care for ourselves. I had some contacts here in Canterlot, so I used them to get the two of us jobs here, so we could start over.”
“I see.” Sparkler started slightly as Blue Star lightly patted her shoulder with a hoof. “That was a beautiful story, Sparkler. Posey is very lucky to have a friend like you.” From behind her mane, Posey nodded eagerly in agreement.
“Thank you,” Sparkler said with a tiny sigh. “It... actually felt good to tell somepony about that. It simply isn’t fair that an earth pony cannot so much as open a book without a great scandal.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I intend to do something about that." Sparkler gave Blue Star a curious look, but she’d already turned back towards her entourage. “Come on, girls, we have a few more stops to make!”
Sparkler stared after her for several long minutes. "What an... interesting mare," Sparkler mused, as she returned to her sketchpad, designing new manestyles to try.
Starswirl was in his lab, very pointedly not moping. Wizards did not mope. What did he have to mope about, anyway? There was no shame in losing a duel to a superior wizard - and Lady Blue Star was clearly superior. If her uncanny grasp of magical formula wasn’t proof that she was the better wizard, the amount of raw power she brought to bear in their duel was. Even when he was backed into a corner and forced to use his strongest, most dangerous non-lethal spell, Blue Star revealed she had been holding back throughout the entire contest.
These thoughts did little to cheer up Starswirl, who stared glumly at his alchemy equipment. The fire-sending spell was to be his moment. It was when he would go from just a ‘known face’ in the Princesses’ cadre of Royal Magicians, to a prominent figure. Perhaps even a Court position. From there, he could exert influence to change the whole of Equestria for the better.
It was not meant to be, it seemed. A young sorceress from nowhere, whom nopony had heard of ever before, appeared from thin air to snatch away his triumphant day. The worst part was, he couldn’t even be angry with her, because she clearly had no ill intent. Aside from the insult she’d accidentally dealt him, Lady Blue Star did nothing wrong. She fought a duel that had been forced upon her, and accepted the Royal Court appointment like any sane pony would. Starswirl almost wished she’d done it purposefully, if only so he’d have somepony on whom to lay blame.
Starswirl was roused from his torpor by the sound of hoof-steps and voices outside his door. Normally, his lab was so alive with experiments that he couldn’t hear an approaching pony until they knocked, but today the lab was silent.
He approached his door, listening carefully. He heard two voices, one of which he didn’t recognize. The other, however, was clearly Lady Blue Star. Starswirl frowned. His laboratory was at the top of a tall, lonely tower; nopony would climb it unless they intended to speak with him. What did the newly appointed Lady want with him? Revenge? Starswirl’s last spell of the duel had been potent and could permanently cripple a pony; perhaps she wanted recompense for nearly doing her such damage.
An icy cold fear gripped Starswirl’s heart. What if she took his lab? All of Starswirl’s lab equipment was on loan from the Court; as Magical Advisor, Lady Blue Star was technically a court official and had the right to revoke his access to it, or commandeer it for herself. Even if she bore him no ill will, she might claim his lab anyway, as it was extraordinarily well-equipped and had some very rare and valuable reagents and equipment.
Without his lab, Starswirl would be out of a job. Oh, he’d technically still be a court magician, but his real passion, arcane research, would be beyond him. Even if he gained a replacement lab, this lab had materials that were nigh-impossible to find elsewhere. Losing them would cripple his research indefinitely.
Starswirl realized, finally, that all this worrying and panicking was doing little good, and was not founded on any logical basis. He resolved to put his worst fears on hold, and listen to the Lady’s conversation with what appeared to be a servant of some kind.
“Come on, Firefly. I really need this delivered before sundown, and it’s getting late!” That was Lady Blue Star, sounding... rather petulant, actually. Starswirl was reminded of her youth; astounding that such a young unicorn would be so skilled.
“No way!” replied a brash voice that Starswirl did not recognize. A servant disobeying an order? From a Lady of the Court, no less! Oddly, Blue Star did not appear to be outraged, merely put out. “The Princesses’ orders were to guard you; I ain’t leaving your side for a minute!” Ah, that explained it, then. The servant was in fact a bodyguard, and answered to a higher authority.
“At your speed, you could get this to Surprise and be back before I’m even done talking to Starswirl,” Blue Star argued. “What could possibly happen to me; between me and Starswirl there aren’t a lot of creatures out there that could be much of a threat to us.” That was surprisingly trusting of her. Perhaps she didn’t come to antagonize Starswirl at all. “Please, Firefly, it’s really important! I don’t have time to deliver it myself.”
There was silence for a minute, then the bodyguard - Firefly, groaned. “Ugh, fine. But you better be right here when I get back!”
“Thank you!” Lady Star chirped. There was a brief pause, then a gentle knock on the door. Starswirl quickly hurried away from the door and to a nearby spellbook, trying to look busy.
“It is unlocked!” he called out. The door opened slowly, and as Starswirl suspected, Blue Star poked her head in. “Ah, Lady Blue Star. How may I help you?”
Blue Star stepped into the lab, while a yellow earth pony servant remained respectfully outside. She looked too meek to have been the brash Firefly, so she was probably a different servant. Firefly had likely already left on her mistress’ errand.
“Hello, Starswirl!” Blue Star said with suspicious cheer. Was she truly not angry about the duel? Or at least wary of him? It seemed the Lady Blue Star grew more peculiar the more he observed her. “I hope I’m not bothering you.”
“Not at all,” Starswirl said, closing the spellbook he was pretending to study. “I am at your service, my Lady.”
Blue Star winced. “Please. I’ve been ‘My Lady’ied all day. If anypony has the right to use my name it’s you.”
“As you wish, Miss Star.” It felt awkward to be so informal with her, after seeing the amount of power she could muster when motivated. All the instincts Starswirl had cultivated over his (relatively brief) academic career were screaming at him to start groveling before this mighty wizard. He restrained himself. “Is this a social call, then?”
“Something like that.” Blue Star fidgeted uncomfortably. “I... um... you’re not angry at me, are you?”
Starswirl blinked in surprise, before he gave a soft, amused chuckle. “Why in Equestria would I be angry at you? I was the one who challenged you to a duel.”
Blue Star looked equally surprised. “Well, yeah... but I messed up your presentation by trying to corre- er, change your formula. And, well... I won that duel.”
“There’s no shame in losing to a superior wizard,” Starswirl said with a shrug. “And in winning that duel, you won your right to correct my formula if you so wished.” I only wish you hadn’t done so in front of Princess Celestia, he didn’t say, because that wouldn’t have been proper. “I was honestly worried you’d be angry over my... last spell.”
“Oh.” Blue Star looked away. “Well... I was, at first. But then, I realized if you hadn’t done that, I probably would have lost the duel.” Seeing Starswirl’s confused expression, she continued. “I’m not normally that strong, not unless I concentrate really hard. That last spell of yours panicked me enough to scare all my power out of me, so to speak.”
“I see...” Starswirl said, turning this over in his mind. It made a sort of sense. Ponies could do all kinds of things when panicked enough. It was like that old tale of mothers lifting chariots off their foals. Still, Blue Star implied that she could always conjure up that much power, it was normally just harder. It was still a frightening prospect. “Well, I suppose it’s comforting to know you weren’t merely toying with me during our duel.”
“And it’s comforting to know you’re not angry with me,” Blue Star replied. “I’m actually quite a fan of your work. I... I came to Canterlot to meet you, in fact.”
Starswirl’s eyebrows shot up. “A fan... of my work?” he parroted dumbly. “I don’t believe I’ve ever met anypony who’s even read my work, much less approves of it.”
Blue Star looked mildly surprised herself. “Really? Nopony? That’s odd. Your works are some of the most brilliant pieces of magical theory I’ve ever read.”
The sheer honesty and earnestness of her voice was what got to Starswirl, more than her mere words. She really, truly meant it. Humbly, he bowed low, sweeping off his hat and pressing it against his chest as a sign of respect. “Coming from a magician of your caliber, Miss Star, that means more than a commendation from Princess Celestia herself.”
Blue Star smiled warmly, in a manner that suddenly made Starswirl aware that she was not, in fact, that much younger then him. “I don’t know if I deserve that much praise, but thank you.” She inclined her own head in acknowledgement, and Starswirl stood again. “The real reason I came here, actually, was to offer my support. Your ideas are magnificent but they’re relatively obscure. With my position as Magical Advisor to Princess Celestia, I could endorse your works to the Princess. And I don’t just mean your magical works; your treatise on the Magic of the Three Races was one of the most... enlightened works of literature of its... I mean, our time.”
Starswirl had to concentrate to stop his jaw from falling open in a most unseemly manner. His Three Races treatise was a very recent work, one he was certain nopony would ever read. He had no idea on how this strange filly had even gotten a copy.
Nevermind how, Starswirl chided himself. She’s offering to sponsor you! To endorse you to Princess Celestia herself! Even if Starswirl never obtained the Court position he’d hoped for, with that kind of support he could alter the face of Equestria. It was as if he’d received every Hearth’s Warming present he’d ever be entitled to, all at once.
“I... I don’t know what to say, My Lady!” he said, bowing deeply again, much to Blue Star’s embarrassment. “Thank you! Thank you so much! I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you, but I-”
“Stop that!” Blue Star said, with good-natured irritation. “I told you not to call me My Lady.”
“I’ll call you My Lady whether you like it or not, My Lady,” Starswirl replied stubbornly. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a title you deserve. Not just by magical talent but by dint of your character. You are, in fact, the very first pony I’ve met who truly deserves the title.”
Starswirl took a small amount of pleasure in watching Lady Blue Star’s face turn bright red at the compliment. “That’s not... I mean... I’m not really... Thank you,” she stumbled over her words before settling on a simple response. She turned and made a beeline for the door. “A-anyway, it was nice meeting you again but I really have to go now just send me anything you want me to endorse gottagobye!” She dashed out the door at a speed that would put a pegasus to shame.
Starswirl chuckled to himself and turned to his spellbook. Fresh ideas were already churning in his head. He had work to do.
He couldn’t disappoint his new Lady, after all.
Posey observed her Lady’s bright red face as she hurried from Mr. Starswirl’s laboratory. “C-come on, Posey!” the Lady said hurriedly, as she led the bewildered earth pony down the tower’s steps.
“Is s-something wrong, Lady Star?” Posey asked worriedly. Had something gone wrong? Did Mr. Starswirl threaten the Lady somehow?
“No, no, everything’s fine!” Blue Star said a bit quickly. She slowed down in her mad dash, and sighed. “I guess I’ll have to get used to... that kind of treatment, now.”
Posey inspected her Lady’s expression, and understanding dawned. “You’re a v-very important L-Lady now, Lady Star. And very p-pretty.” Posey blushed slightly; it was a bit improper to comment on her Lady that way, but she doubted Lady Blue Star would mind. “And Mr. Starswirl is a v-v-very handsome s-stallion. Very k-kind, too. He always th-thanks the s-servants for t-tea.”
Blue Star smiled wistfully. “Yes, I suppose he-”
“SURPRISE!” Blue Star was interrupted by a sudden impact from a white-and-yellow missile. If not for said missile’s wings, she likely would have fallen down the stairs.
“Surprise!” Blue Star exclaimed angrily, glaring at her pegasus friend. Sheepishly, Surprise lowered Blue Star back to the stairs. Behind her, Firefly flew up the stairs, looking slightly out of breath. “Be more careful! You could hurt somepony!”
“Sorry!” Surprise said, not looking very sorry. “But I haven’t seen you since that super-awesome duel! I never got a chance to congratulate you! Or give you the super-stupendous celebration cake I got you!” From nowhere, Surprise pulled out an exceedingly decadent cake and held it out for Blue Star.
“Surprise... this must’ve cost a month’s wages!” Blue Star said, firmly taking hold of the cake with magic. “You shouldn’t have.”
Surprise shrugged. “I hardly spend my money anyways!” she chirped. “I had a whole bunch of bits saved up, and what better to spend them on then my bestest friend becoming a Lady!” She bounced up and down, wings flapping excitedly. “Oooh, I’ve never had a Lady for a friend before! This is gonna be so cool!”
Blue Star shook her head, giving up on talking sense into her friend. It was about as futile as trying to make sense of Pinkie Pie. “Surprise, on another subject, did you bring the stuff I asked for?”
“OH! Yeah, I almost forgot!” The excitable pegasus pulled a small bottle from her mane. “Here it is! Who are we going to surprise with it?”
Blue Star grinned as she gently levitated the cake to Posey, letting go of it to take the bottle in her magic instead. “Oh, that’ll be a surprise in itself. Come on, girls; let’s go eat that cake and I’ll tell you what I have planned.”
Princess Celestia eyed the package suspiciously. A very nervous servant had delivered it to her room, handed her a small card and ran away in a hurry. Celestia for the life of her never could figure out what all the servants were so scared of all the time.
The package was a fairly normal-looking box, wrapped in red ribbon. On the top was printed ‘For Princess Celestia’ in very neat hornwriting. It wouldn’t be the first time one of the Princess’ enemies had sent her a package in an attempt to assassinate her. They all failed, of course - it took a lot more than a simple exploding gemstone to kill an alicorn - but it was a painful, unpleasant experience that panicked her guards and was to be avoided.
After checking the box for any traces of magic, she sighed and finally opened the box. Inside, neatly packaged, was a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Princess Celestia was taken quite by surprise; it had been a long time since she received such a simple gift. An admirer, perhaps?
She levitated the flowers into the air. Of course, she thought distractedly, it could be an elaborate delivery system for a poison, but then she was immune to most poisons anyway. She resolved to treat it as the gift it appeared to be.
She pulled the flowers close, taking a deep whiff. They smelled magnificent.
Princess Celestia’s face twitched. Her nose itched.
She was suddenly overcome by a great sneeze, dropping the flowers. She blinked, and her brow furrowed. Since when did an alicorn ever need to sneeze? She was distracted from her thoughts by another sneeze. Just as she was recovering, she was overtaken by a third sneeze, this one so strong it knocked her off her hooves. As she was struggling back to her hooves, another sneeze knocked her down.
This went on for about a minute, the Princess sneezing uncontrollably on the floor of her room. Thank myself, she thought, that none of my subjects can see this. It would quite destroy their faith in me. And Luna would never let me hear the end of it.
Finally, with one final sneeze that rivaled the Royal Canterlot Speaking Voice in volume and shook the walls of her room, the sneezing fit ended. Celestia remained still for a minute or so, before climbing back to her hooves and inspecting the harmless-looking bouquet.
Determined to discover the cause of her mysterious fit, she cast a vision-enhancing spell, narrowing her sight to the microscopic level. It didn’t take long to discover that the flowers’ petals had been coated in a white, powdery substance. No doubt the cause of her sneezes.
Celestia remembered, abruptly, that the flowers had come with a card. Gently placing the flowers aside, she levitated the card up from where it lay on the table and opened it. Inside were four simple words, and a signature.
Thanks for the tea. Blue Star.
Princess Celestia stared at the card for a long, long time, uncomprehending. Slowly, her look of puzzlement morphed to one of amusement. A small, genuine smile crossed her face for the first time in a long, long time. The smile grew, and a small chuckle escaped her lips. The chuckle swelled to a chortle, then to a full belly laugh.
Princess Celestia, whose only relief from the terminal boredom of being an immortal monarch were harmless pranks on her unsuspecting subjects, had her first real laugh in centuries.
Outside, the royal guards wondered nervously what Her Majesty was laughing about.
A/N: Sorry this one isn’t as long as the jumbo-sized chapter I wrote last time, but hopefully this chapter is awesome enough anyway. The plot thickens!
Trixie sat in Twilight’s room, idly playing with her friend’s baby dragon Spike. She levitated a small rubber gemstone just out of the tiny dragon’s reach, who cooed and giggled excitedly as he reached for it. Every so often, Trixie would let the toy bob downwards into Spike’s reach, just to pull it back up again as he tried to grab it. Spike never seemed to get bored of this game, and watching him was quite soothing.
Suddenly, the door banged open, startling Trixie and causing her to drop the toy, much to Spike’s delight. In the doorway stood Twilight, panting from her run. “T-Trixie!” she panted, grinning from ear to ear. A piece of paper floated behind her, encased in her magic. “I just got a letter from my parents!”
Trixie leapt to her hooves excitedly. “What’d they say? What’d they say?” She danced about impatiently. “Well?”
Twilight beamed triumphantly. “They said they’d love to have you over for Hearth’s Warming!”
Trixie gave a delighted squeal and tackled her friend in an exuberant hug. “Oh thank you thank you thank you!” she cheered. “This is gonna be the best Hearth’s Warming ever!”
Twilight giggled and hugged Trixie back. “You bet! I can’t wait to introduce you to my family! And I’ll show you my room and all my boardgames and my books! I don’t have as many books as the library here but I have all the Daring Do books, and some other really good fantasy books I’ll bet you’ll like!”
Trixie was equally excited. This was going to be her very first Hearth’s Warming, in a way. It had always existed, of course, even on the streets of Manehatten, but it was something that happened to other ponies. The Spirit of Friendship that Hearth’s Warming was supposed to be about always seemed to be missing when Trixie went looking for it.
Not this year, though. This year would be different, because this year she had Twilight. Together, this was going to be the best Hearth’s Warming in all of Equestria!
This was going to be the worst Hearth’s Warming in all of Equestria!
Trixie squirmed in her seat on the chariot uncomfortably. Beside her, Twilight sat contently, oblivious to her friend’s discomfort as she buried her nose in a book; Trixie didn’t know or care what book. The pair were on a royal chariot loaned to them by the Princesses, and two Royal Guards served as escorts and bodyguards as they pulled the chariot along.
What if Twilight’s family didn’t like her? Trixie was painfully aware that unless one counted her teacher, Princess Luna, Twilight was the only friend Trixie had ever had. Normally, this never bothered Trixie - she had never felt like she needed friends before, and even now that she had one she didn’t see why she needed more. However, this was Twilight’s family; if they didn’t like her, they might make Twilight stop being friends with her! Trixie remembered how awful it had been, a few months ago, when she and Twilight had their first fight. She didn’t want that to happen again.
She needed to impress Twilight’s family. Unfortunately, she also needed them to like her, and most of Trixie’s methods for impressing other ponies involved antagonizing them.
Suddenly, an idea occurred to her, and she looked down at the package in her hooves. It was her Hearth’s Warming present from Princess Luna, which she’d been allowed to open a day early since Princess Luna wanted to see the look on her face. Trixie had been practicing with it nonstop since the moment she got it, and she was already pretty good at it. Princess Luna remarked it might have been an offshoot of her special talent, which the Princess suspected wasn’t ‘just’ magic the way Twilight’s was.
“Hey, Twilight?” Trixie spoke up suddenly, still staring at the package.
“Mmm?” Twilight didn’t bother to look up from her book.
Trixie reached into the package and pulled out her favorite part. It was a purple, pointed hat decorated with many stars of different sizes and colors. She swept it onto her head and grinned. “Do you think your parents would like a magic show?”
“And for my final trick, the Great and Powerful Trixie will need a volunteer!” Trixie pranced across her imaginary ‘stage’, which was really just an open space in the Twilight family’s living room. In front of Trixie was her small but attentive audience of three: Twilight’s mother Twilight Velvet, and her father Nightlight, with little Twilight Sparkle between them. “Is there anypony brave enough to assist the Great and Powerful Trixie in her most stunning feat yet?”
“Ooh! Ooh! Me! Mememe!” Twilight practically leapt from the cushion where she sat with her parents, waving as hoof in the air. Ms. Velvet smiled affectionately at her daughter’s enthusiasm.
“Hmmm...” Trixie made a show of trying to pick, despite the lack of options. “The Great and Powerful Trixie chooses... you!” She dramatically flung back her starry cape to point a hoof at Twilight, who promptly squealed in delight and ran up onto the ‘stage’. “What is your name, miss volunteer?”
Twilight giggled and played along. “I’m Twilight Sparkle!” she chirped.
“Very well, Twilight Sparkle! Prepare yourself, for the Great and Powerful Trixie’s most outstanding magic trick of all time!” Using magic, Trixie whipped off her cape and turned to her audience, who were smiling encouragingly at the young fillies. “Watch and be amazed, as the Great and Powerful Trixie makes Twilight Sparkle... DISAPPEAR!”
Twilight’s parents dutifully gave a shocked gasp as Trixie dropped her cape over Twilight, subtly adding a resizing spell so the cape covered her completely. Then she extinguished her horn’s glow; the point was not to be seen using magic. The audience wasn’t supposed to know how it was done; she couldn’t just cast the key spell in the middle of a show. Luckily, there were other ways.
“Watch carefully now!” Trixie commanded her audience, before holding her hooves out towards the covered Twilight. “By the great greatness and the powerful powers of the Great and Powerful Trixie, I command you... DISAPPEAR!” She reached out with a hoof and swept the cape away, revealing empty space where Twilight had been.
Unfortunately, Twilight’s giggling rather spoiled the effect created by the Delayed Invisibility Spell on Trixie’s cape - the enchantment cost extra, of course, but Princess Luna appeared to be generous with Hearth’s Warming Gifts. Trixie resolved to study enchantment until she could add a silence spell as well. For now, she just ignored the giggles. At least Twilight’s parents appeared entertained.
“She has vanished, to the depths of the unknown aether! Even Trixie does not know exactly where!” Trixie announced, while Twilight’s parents put on expressions of mock horror. The invisible Twilight’s giggling increased. “But never fear, for the Great and Powerful Trixie shall bring her back!” She telekinetically held out the cape in front of whereTwilight stood, still hidden. “By the powerful greatness and great powers of the Great and Powerful Trixie, I command you.... REAPPEAR!” With her horn already glowing from holding out the cape, the Dispel Magic spell was nearly impossible to notice. Trixie swept the cape away to reveal Twilight, standing there and waving at her parents.
“And that, fillies and gentlecolts, is the end of my show!” Trixie put her cape back on with a flourish and a bow.
Twilight’s parents stomped their hooves in polite approval. It had been a very nice show, especially for a filly of Trixie’s age. “That was wonderful, dear!” Twilight Velvet exclaimed with a warm smile. Trixie beamed. “You must be very proud of yourself.”
“Th-thank you, Ms. Velvet!” Trixie’s face hurt from grinning so broadly.
“Oh, just call me Velvet, sweetie. Everypony does! Now come on, I have brownies in the oven.” Both Twilight and Trixie leapt up at the mention of brownies.
“Brownies? Sounds like I got home just in time!” Trixie didn’t recognize the voice that came from the front door, but it seemed Twilight did. She squealed and turned about, launching herself towards the pony that had just arrived.
“Shiny’s here! Shiny’s here!” the enthusiastic filly exclaimed, hugging the tall white colt around his neck.
“Easy on the neck there, Twily,” laughed the colt, telekinetically plucking her off and setting her down lightly. “It’s good to see you too!”
Twilight scampered off and grabbed Trixie’s hoof, dragging the surprised filly over to meet the older pony. “Shiny, this is my best friend in the whole world Trixie!”
‘Shiny’ stifled a bout of laughter, putting on a face of mock hurt. “Really? What am I, chopped cabbage?”
“No, silly!” Twilight giggled. “Trixie, this is Shining Armor! He’s my BBBFF - that’s Big Brother Best Friend Forever,” she clarified. “Which is completely different from a best friend, silly!”
“If you say so, squirt.” Shining Armor laughed, mussing up his sibling’s mane with a hoof. Then he held out a hoof to Trixie. “Nice to meet you, Trixie. Good to see my lil’ sis is making some friends.”
Shyly, Trixie took his hoof and shook it. Twilight had mentioned she had an older brother, but she hadn’t mentioned he’d be so... big. Yes, that was it. That was why her knees felt wobbly and her stomach felt jittery. She was intimidated by his size. It had nothing to do with how strong and handsome he looked, or how nice his mane was, or how long and impressive his horn was...
Ponyfeathers, was she blushing?
“N-nice to meet you too!” she squeaked out.
Shining Armor smiled, and Trixie’s knees turned to water even as he turned away from her. “So, mom! You said something about brownies?”
“That was the best Hearth’s Warming Eve ever.” Trixie announced, collapsing on the bed. She and Twilight were in Twilight’s old room, and they’d agreed to share a bed - they did so frequently anyway, back at the school. Trixie was still a bit uncomfortable with sleeping entirely alone. “And tomorrow is going to be even better.”
“I’m glad!” Twilight said cheerfully, leaping onto the bed beside her. “I think my family really likes you, Trixie! Maybe now we can be sisters!”
“You think so?” Trixie entertained the thought for a moment. She wasn’t really sure what having a sister would be like, but she knew if she was to have one, Twilight would be the best sister ever. However... an image of Shining Armor flashed through her mind. “I dunno...”
Twilight gave her friend a concerned look. “What’s wrong, Trixie?” Her lip quivered. “Do you not want to be sisters...?”
“No! I-I mean yes!” Trixie hurried to assure her. “Of course I would! I-it’s just...”
“Just what?” Twilight pressed.
Trixie turned away to hide her blush. “Y-your brother.”
“What about him?” Twilight asked, brow furrowing. “Don’t you like him? He liked you!”
Trixie just blushed deeper at Twilight’s unintentional encouragement. “N-no... you just never mentioned he was so... so...”
“Yes....?” Twilight leaned in, smiling encouragingly.
“H-h-handsome...” Trixie squeaked out.
Twilight blinked at her, trying to process that. “What.”
“Nothing! Forget I said anything!” Trixie dived under the covers.
Twilight’s horn glowed as she seized Trixie’s tail in a magical vice grip, pulling her back. “You like my brother?” Twilight asked incredulously. “My brother?”
“I-I just said he was h-h-h-handsome!” Trixie squeaked. “I-I mean, he seems nice, but I barely know him!”
“But... he’s my brother!” Twilight repeated, uncomprehending. “That’s just so... so...”
Trixie was now blushing so hard her whole face seemed to be turning red. “F-forget it!” she insisted, levitating a pillow over to her and covering her head with it. “Trixie is sorry she mentioned it.”
Twilight sighed. Whenever Trixie started using her own name, it always meant she was upset. She laid down next to her friend and pushed the pillow off her. “Shining Armor is the best big brother in the whole world,” she told Trixie. “So I guess he’s probably the best coltfriend in the world, too.”
Trixie looked at her, startled, before grinning broadly. “Thanks, Twily.”
“Only Shiny can call me that!”
“Yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes!” Twilight exclaimed gleefully, leaping about in a circle. Her newly unwrapped present floated around behind her like a faithful puppy. She stopped suddenly and levitated the book closer to her face, grinning broadly. “Blue Star’s Guide to the Night Sky! The best astronomy book in all Equestria!” She hugged the book to her chest excitedly, before turning and hugging her parents. “Thanks Mom! Thanks Dad! This is the best Hearth’s Warming gift ever!”
“I’m glad you like it, dear.” Twilight Velvet laughed, hugging her daughter in return.
Suddenly, Twilight leapt away. “Oh! I just remembered, I have a gift for you, too!” She turned to where Trixie was watching the unwrapping quietly. “Come on, Trixie, I need your help!”
Dutifully, Trixie got up and trotted over to her friend. Twilight had been a mess last night, having just realized she didn’t have a gift for her family. Trixie, however, had come up with an idea that would combine their magical talents into the perfect Hearth’s Warming present. “Ready, Twilight!”
Twilight’s family watched curiously as the fillies lit their horns simultaneously. First, Twilight performed a simple conjuration, willing three blocks of wood into existence. Trixie could have done that herself, of course, but Twilight’s conjurations were sturdier, longer lasting, and more ‘real’ then hers. With the raw materials provided, Trixie concentrated on a tricky transmutation spell, forcing the blocks into the proper shape and color. There was no formula for this specific type of transmutation, so Trixie was forced to go by feel and sight, manipulating the blocks into the shape she wanted. Once she was done, Twilight quickly ‘grabbed’ the transmutation spell and added more power to it, lending it permanency. Finally, the two of them concentrated, combining their magic into one final spell.
There was a bright flash of light, and three little wooden figures clattered to the ground. Twilight’s family gasped in amazement as the perfect little replicas of the three of them got up on tiny wooden hooves and galloped towards them. Shining Armor picked up the little wooden Shining Armor, marveling at the detail. “This is amazing, sis! How did you two do that?” He dropped the miniature onto his leg, and it quickly clambered up onto his shoulder, then dove into his mane.
The two foals stood side by side, panting but grinning proudly. “I did the conjuration, and Trixie shaped them.” Twilight explained.
“Then we both worked together on the come-to-life spell.” Trixie continued. “We thought it up last night. The figures are permanent, but the come-to-life spell will probably only last a month or so.”
“This is quite the achievement, girls,” Nightlight said, sounding impressed. “What a wonderful present.”
The two fillies gave each other a triumphant hoof-bump.
“I’m so sorry we haven’t any gifts for you, Trixie,” Velvet apologized. “If we’d had more notice that you were coming...”
“It’s okay Ms.... I mean, it’s okay, Velvet,” Trixie interrupted. “This is my first Hearth’s Warming party ever! I don’t need any presents.”
Shining grinned and mussed up Trixie’s hair with a hoof, causing the filly to blush profusely. “Well now, that’s new. A filly who doesn’t want any presents? Hey mom, think we can trade her for Twilight? We’d save a fortune on birthdays and Hearth’s Warming!” Twilight pouted playfully as everypony else chuckled.
Suddenly, everypony jumped as a loud crash came from the front door. “I wonder who that could be...” Velvet mused, going to the door and opening it cautiously.
“Muffin call!” came a cheerful voice. In the doorway stood a grey pegasus mare with a bright blonde mane and a heavy-looking package on her back. Her eyes were crossed, but she looked straight at Velvet without much apparent effort. “Special Hearth’s Warming Muffin - er, package for...” She paused and craned her neck around to look at the label on the package. “Ummm... T... Tri... Trixie! That’s it! Trixie!” She turned back to Velvet. “Special Delivery for Trixie!” She saw caught a confused look on Velvet’s face, and frowned. “Did I get the wrong house again?”
Velvet shook her head. “Ah, no, no my dear! Trixie is right here. I’m just a bit surprised you knew where to find her, is all. She doesn’t normally stay here.”
The mailmare grinned proudly. “I always find the pony I’m delivering to!” Her face fell. “Well... eventually.”
Velvet just smiled and levitated the package of the mailmare’s back. It wasn’t as heavy as it looked. “Well, thank you very much for working on Hearth’s Warming. Happy Hearth’s Warming, and good night!”
“Happy Hearth’s Muffin - er, Warming!” the pegasus chirped, before turning and launching into the air. Almost immediately, she slammed headfirst into a lamppost. “...I’m okay!”
“Oh dear. I hope she’ll be alright.” Velvet made sure the pegasus could continue to fly before closing the door and bringing the package into the house. “This is for you, it would appear,” she said, dropping the package in front of Trixie.
“For me?” Trixie eyed the package warily. It was covered in festive wrapping paper and a bright ribbon. On top was a tightly-sealed envelope with her name scribbled on it in messy but energetic hoofwriting. “Who would send me a package?”
“Open the card, maybe it has a name!” Twilight suggested eagerly.
“O-okay...” Trixie said uncertainly, her horn lighting up as she levitated the envelope towards her and slowly opened it. Inside was not a card, as Twilight had assumed, but a letter, written in the same energetic style as the name on the envelope. Thankfully, it wasn’t so sloppy as to be difficult to read. Twilight and her family watched in anticipatory silence as Trixie began to read the letter.
With a sudden gasp, Trixie’s magic cut out and the letter fluttered to the ground. Trixie didn’t budge an inch; she stood stock-still, staring at the letter with wide, disbelieving eyes.
“What’s wrong, Trixie?” Twilight asked, bounding to her friend’s side. Trixie remained voiceless, and merely pointed a hoof at the letter. Her mouth opened and closed as if trying to speak, but nothing came out.
Twilight, curious as to what could have caused such an extreme reaction in her closest friend, picked up the letter. She glanced at Trixie, who gave her a wordless nod, before beginning to read out loud.
Happy Hearth’s Warming! At least, I hope it’s Hearth’s Warming; I paid forty bits for this package and letter to reach you on time. I suppose you’re wondering why some pony you’ve never met would spend so much money to send you a Hearth’s Warming present, but you can consider it a partial apology for taking so long to contact you. My only excuse is that I had been unable to locate you until your new position as Princess Luna’s personal student became common knowledge.
You see, I have a friend on the Royal Guard recently mentioned, in passing, that the student of Princess Luna had a very distinctive locket in her possession. After asking him to describe the locket, I am quite certain it is the very same locket that once belonged to my close friend Guiding Light. I lost contact with her some years ago, and never learned what had happened to her or her baby foal. Now, I believe I know, at least in part.
Trixie, from the descriptions of you and your locket, I am quite certain that you are the daughter of my old friend. If this is so, then that would make me your godmother.
I’m sure this is something of a shock to you, but believe me when I say that I was just as surprised. I dearly wish I could come greet you in person, but sadly my job requires me to stay in Stalliongrad for the time being, quite far from Canterlot. Still, I hope this Hearth’s Warming present I’ve sent you will be of some comfort. It once belonged to your mother, and was left behind in her old house when she disappeared. I believe it to be some form of magical artifact, though I’m afraid my magical skills are somewhat lacking. Perhaps, as student to the Princess, you can unravel its secrets.
Again, I dearly wish I could meet you in pony. My job keeps me very busy, so I am unsure if and when I will be able to travel to Canterlot to meet you. Still, I look forward to the day we finally meet, and I hope you do as well. In the meantime, feel free to send me letters at the return address on this package; I’d love to hear from you!
Happy Hearth’s Warming
Twilight looked up from the letter with a broad grin. “Trixie, that’s great! Somepony who knew your mom!”
Trixie still had barely moved, but a wide smile had spread across her face. “I can’t believe it,” she mumbled. “This is... this is...” Her entire body quivered for a moment, before she suddenly leapt straight up with a gleeful shout. “THE BEST THING EVER!” She squealed excitedly and gave Twilight an enormous hug, grinning like a madmare.
“Oh, sweetheart, I’m so happy for you!” Twilight Velvet cooed, stepping forward to give a hug which Trixie gleefully accepted. “What a wonderful gift for Hearth’s Warming.”
Trixie broke away from the hug to dance about excitedly some more. “I can’t believe this! I have a godmother! A godmother! Oh, I can’t wait to meet her.”
While Trixie was celebrating, Shining Armor had picked up the letter and was silently rereading it to himself. His brow furrowed. He was currently training to enter into the Royal Guard, and while that day was a long way off something about the letter set off his budding investigator’s instincts. The letter was worryingly vague; not only didn’t this “Bright Eyes” name her “friend in the guard”, but she hadn’t elaborated on her mysterious “job” either. He supposed she could have just left it out, but it bothered him. What’s more, Stalliongrad was a week-long trip from Canterlot even by airship; unless you took an extremely fast chariot it was too long a journey for a young filly, not to mention expensive. The only way to have been further away would have been to be in a different country altogether, and if you did that then the Equestrian Postal Service wouldn’t be able to deliver your mail. Shining Armor couldn’t shake the feeling that it was intentional, to keep little Trixie from visiting on her own...
He shook his head. What was wrong with him? The poor filly had just discovered she had family of a sort, and here he was suspecting her godmother’s good intentions. He wasn’t even a guardpony yet; he wasn’t trained for this kind of thing. With a sigh, he placed the letter on the table and rejoined the others, who were gathering around the brightly-colored package.
“Open it! Open it!” Twilight cheered, and Trixie hurried to comply. Horn glowing brightly, she magically tore away the ribbon and wrapping paper around the package, eagerly pulling the box open. Inside was a mess of packing peanuts, which Trixie eagerly dove into in search of her gift.
“Well? What is it?” Shining asked, genuinely curious.
“Hang on... got it!” Trixie pulled her head out of the box, her gift held triumphantly in her hooves. “Wow... it’s so pretty...”
“I can feel the magic from here,” Twilight whispered, in a slightly awed voice.
“My... what an exquisite work of craftsmanship,” Velvet commented.
Trixie grinned as she hugged the ornate silver helmet to her chest. “Best Hearth’s Warming ever,” she confirmed.
Blue Star winced. “Firefly, please. Lower your voice. You’re startling Posey.” Posey, for her part, had nearly dropped the teapot at Firefly’s yell. The three of them were gathered in Blue Star’s room for a bit of tea; conversation had wandered to the events of yesterday, and what Blue Star had done with Surprise’s little ‘gift’.
Firefly looked ready to yell again, but she took a deep breath. “Please,” she said in a slow, calm voice. “Please tell me you did not actually prank the only pony in this entire castle who could beat you in a fight.”
“I’m flattered you think so highly of me,” Blue Star said, as Posey filled her cup. “Ah, thank you, Posey.” She took a sip; no pepper this time. “Aaah... this is excellent tea, Posey. Thank whoever made it for me, would you?”
“O-of course, Lady Star,” Posey replied with a small smile.
“Forget the tea!” Firefly slammed a hoof against the table.dic
“Firefly! Shouting!” Blue Star admonished, sounding vaguely aggravated. “And if it makes you feel any better, I’m pretty sure she pranked me first. With a spiked cup of tea, no less.”
Firefly gaped. “You’ve got to be joking! The Princess wouldn’t-” She was cut off by a sudden gasp from Posey, who’d gone wide-eyed. “What’s with you?”
“I-I just r-realized,” Posey mumbled. “B-before I came up h-here yesterday, the P-P-Princess visited me in the k-kitchens to assign m-me to Lady Star.” Her eyes went even wider. “She even l-levitated the teapot onto my b-back for me!” She set the teapot down, a little unsteadily, before she dropped it. “I said she d-didn’t have to, b-but...”
Blue Star nodded. “There, you see? The Princess must’ve slipped the pepper into my tea while she was helping Posey.”
“Seems awfully shaky to me,” Firefly mumbled.
“Don’t worry!” Blue Star said cheerfully. “The Princess has a good sense of humor. She won’t mind.”
“How would you know? You only met her once,” Firefly challenged.
Blue Star was saved from having to answer that by a knock at her door. Posey immediately trotted over and opened it, revealing a pair of intimidatingly large Royal Guards in full golden armor. “O-oh m-m-my...” Posey gasped, before remembering herself. “C-can I help y-you?”
One of the guards spoke in clipped, professional tones, without directly looking at Posey. “Her Majesty Princess Celestia requests the presence of Lady Blue Star in her chambers, immediately. She apologizes for the inconvenience.”
Firefly buried her head in her hooves. “I knew it,” she muttered. “My first ever assignment, and she commits suicide by Princess. Just my luck.”
“Don’t be silly, Firefly,” Blue Star said reassuringly. “I’m sure the Princess just wants to talk. We’ve barely met, after all; she probably just wants to get to know me better.” She got up from her cushion and trotted over to the door. “I’ll try and come back soon, if only to stop you from panicking.”
“I won’t hold my breath,” the pegasus muttered.
Blue Star joined the two guards, smiling cheerfully. “Lead the way, sirs.”
It was a bit of a walk to Celestia’s quarters from Blue Star’s room. It wasn’t in the same location as it was in Twilight’s time, she noticed. In the future, Celestia’s room was in the same part of the castle as the rest of the living quarters. In this time, however, they were set apart, in a secluded section of the castle that contained little else. Blue Star was familiar enough with the castle to note it was directly over the throne room.
The guards weren’t exactly big on small talk, so Blue Star found herself with time to think during the walk. Unfortunately, they weren’t good thoughts. Ponies could change a lot over the years, and a thousand years was an awfully long time to change. What if this Princess Celestia was different from the one she knew as Twilight? What if she hadn’t yet developed that playful streak, that great sense of humor that she’d come to expect from her? The Celestia she’d seen in the town square was not the Celestia she was accustomed to; even when angered, like the incident with the Want-It-Need-It spell or the fight with Queen Chrysalis, she’d never appeared to be so... imposing.
Blue Star started to sweat. What if Firefly was right? What if her tea had been spiked by some completely different pony, and now the Princess was furious with her for her prank flowers? Oh dear, she was in so much trouble, wasn’t she? The old (new?) Princess might have just sent her back to Magic Kindergarten, but this Princess would probably just boil her on the spot with solar magic, then call some ponies in to replace the rug!
The Blue Star who arrived at Celestia’s massive double doors was noticeably less confident than the one who’d left her room five minutes ago. She was practically shaking in her horseshoes as the guards took up their posts on either side of the door. “Her Majesty is waiting inside,” proclaimed one of the guards, staring straight ahead.
“Right...” Blue Star swallowed quietly, before pushing open one of the doors. “Here I go then.”
The best words Blue Star could think of to describe Princess Celestia’s room were ‘huge’ and ‘opulent’. Blue Star had thought her room was fancy, but this blew away even the Princess’ chambers from Twilight’s time. The place was decorated with the finest silks, expensive furniture, breath-taking tapestries... if it was impressive and could be placed in a bedroom, it was here. It was somewhat overwhelming.
At the very center of this dizzying vortex of wealth and color was Princess Celestia herself, calmly laying on a large cushion that had been placed on a raised dais, with smaller cushions arrayed below it. She was still wearing her royal jewelry, which was another oddity; the Princess Twilight had known never wore her regalia when entertaining guests in private.
“Lady Blue Star.” Princess Celestia’s tone was formal and cool, though she thankfully forwent the earsplitting volume of the Royal Canterlot Voice. Blue Star supposed she reigned it in while indoors. “Please, join Us.”
Trying desperately not to betray her nervousness, Blue Star slowly made her way across the room. Her hooves sank into the carpet at least an inch; she felt like she was walking through tall grass. She reached one of the smaller cushions, and laid herself down on it. She marveled at how soft and smooth it was; she’d thought the furniture in her room had been nice, but clearly the best had been saved for the Princess.
“We understand We interrupted your tea. We apologize,” Celestia continued. Blue Star didn’t bother asking how Celestia had known what Blue Star had been doing. The Princess knew everything that happened in the castle.
Blue Star swallowed the lump in her throat, finding her voice after a few false starts. “N-not at all, uh, Your Majesty.” The unfamiliar title felt odd in her mouth; she’d always just called her ‘Princess’, but somehow even that felt too informal for this regal creature before her. She felt the certainty she felt yesterday about the tea prank’s culprit drain away. There was no way in Equestria this majestic being would commit such a childish act. She was doomed. “I’m at Your Majesty’s disposal.” There, that was a properly formal thing to say, wasn’t it? Blue Star’s fraying nerves clung desperately to the rules of formality, in the half-serious hope that the Princess wouldn’t vaporize her if she was polite enough. Though maybe ‘disposal’ hadn’t been the right word...
The barest flicker of a smile passed over the Princess’ face, so quickly Blue Star wasn’t sure she saw it. “We understand you enjoyed the tea We sent you.”
Blue Star cringed ever so slightly. “A-ah, yes, Your Majesty. I... like tea.” GAH! Bad brain!
The Princess raised an eyebrow slightly. “Indeed. We rather liked the flowers you sent Us, as well.”
Blue Star made herself relax a little. That was a good sign, right? She liked the flowers. Maybe she didn’t realize the sneezing had been intentional. Maybe it just didn’t affect her; she knew the Princess was immune to poisons... “I’m glad to hear it, Princ- er, Your Majesty.”
Princess Celestia nodded slightly, her eyes taking on a faraway look, as if thinking about something else. “Do you know when this castle was built, Blue Star?”
Blue Star blinked at the sudden, unexpected question. Was this some kind of... test? She latched onto that thought. A test was good. She knew how to handle tests. She closed her eyes, rifling through her internal library of historical facts. “Umm... the year four hundred and sixty... three?”
“Sixty-four, actually,” the Princess reprimanded mildly, and Blue Star cringed. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Celestia didn’t seem terribly upset, though. “But yes. In the nearly two hundred years since, this castle has been the center of Equestrian government, as well as Our home whenever Our work was too great for Us to return to Our usual home, the Castle of Two Sisters, which is often. We spend a great deal of time here, and We’ve become very familiar with every servant, noble, and court member to reside within these walls.” Another slight smile passed over the Princess’ face; it was gone again quickly, but this time it was unmistakable. “And in those two hundred years, not a single pony ever discovered where the minor mischief that beset this castle originated, much less had the nerve to retaliate in kind.” She settled back on her cushion. “We - that is, I am impressed, Blue Star.”
It took Blue Star several long moments to register the Princess’ words. Oddly, the first thing she noticed was that the Princess hadn’t used her title. It took a few seconds before she realized the Princess had actually just admitted to being the one who’d spiked her tea. “So it was you!” she blurted out, before covering her mouth with a hoof.
“Indeed.” If Celestia was perturbed by the outburst, she didn’t show it. “You had doubts? Even after you sent a rebuttal to my room?”
Blue Star considered denying it, but concluded it was pointless now, hanging her head in defeat. “I was so sure at first... but then you sent the guards, and everything was so... so fancy and regal, I... wasn’t as certain.”
“Ah” the Princess nodded her understanding. “Then let me set your mind at ease, young Blue Star. I, Princess Celestia, when not ruling Equestria as wisely and fairly as I can, am a trickster, jokester, mischief-maker and inflicter of harmless but amusing torments. It is my way of combating boredom, the greatest enemy of the long-lived.” The Princess finally gave Blue Star a genuine smile. “Further, I found your flowers to be most amusing.”
Blue Star felt a tremendous relief at the Princess’ proclamation. Not just because she wouldn’t be getting vaporized - though that was certainly good news! - but because it proved that this was the Princess Celestia she knew. She might look, act, and sound different, but beneath the mask the culture of the time required her to wear, she had the same sense of humor. It was the thread that linked Blue Star to Twilight, however thin, and she grasped it eagerly. “I’m... glad to hear you say that, Princess,” Blue Star said with a relieved grin.
The Princess smiled back. “Now then, I feel quite terrible for interrupting your tea. Perhaps you’d accept taking tea with me as an apology?”
Blue Star lit up like a Hearth’s Warming tree. “Oh, that would be excellent, Princess! Thank you!” Her enthusiasm died a little. “Oh, but I can’t stay too long. My bodyguard is convinced you were going to vaporize me for the flowers,” like I was, a few minutes ago, “and I don’t want to worry her.”
“Ah, yes, Miss Firefly, isn’t it? Well, we wouldn’t want her to think her Princess is in the habit of vaporizing her subjects.” The Princess laughed slightly, and it was the same gentle laughter she had (will have?) a thousand years in the future. “We’ll try to be quick.”
As if responding to some silent signal, an earth pony maid entered the room, pushing along a tea cart. She carefully set the tea set on the table, pouring both mares a cup. She placed a single cube of sugar into the Princess tea, before turning to Blue Star. “Cream or sugar, My Lady?”
“Ah, no thank you.” Blue Star said, taking her cup.
“Thank you, Fragrance,” the Princess said. “You may go.” The maid curtsied to both mares, then hurried from the room. “I do hope you enjoy the tea. It’s quite a rare blend; I think you’ll enjoy it. I promise, no pepper this time.”
“Thank you, Princess,” Blue Star said, before eagerly tasting the tea. Years of taking lessons with the Princess had imparted to Twilight a strong tea habit, and taking tea with the Princess had always been one of her favorite activities, even over reading historical accounts or studying magical texts.
Her eyes lit up at the familiar taste of the tea. “Rooibos!” she exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. “This is rooibos tea! I didn’t think you could get this in Equestria; it’s my favorite!”
The Princess seemed surprised, and mildly impressed. “Indeed you can’t; it was a gift from a Zebra ambassador. I must say I’m surprised you recognized the taste; I was unaware there was anypony in Equestria who had the opportunity to taste it before.”
“My zebra friend Zecora introduced me to it,” Blue Star explained, unthinkingly. “We took tea together every week.”
“Indeed?” The Princess gave Blue Star an appraising look. “You must have traveled far to have become such close friends with a zebra.”
“Huh?” It took Blue Star a few seconds to realize what the Princess meant. Even in Twilight’s time, zebras were a rare enough sight that some ponies didn’t recognize them. In this time, they’d be nearly unknown inside Equestria. “Oh, uh, yes. I’ve... traveled a great deal.” Well, that was true, wasn’t it? She doubted there was any pony who’d traveled as far as she had; through time, at any rate.
“Fascinating.” Princess Celestia sipped her own tea. “I would very much like to hear stories of your travels, if you have the time.”
Oh, horseapples; she’d backed herself into a corner now. She could make her excuses and leave now, saying she had to get back before Firefly began to worry, but that would only delay the problem, not solve it. There had to be some way to... aha! She found her answer not in her knowledge of history, but in her experience with fiction novels. What sort of Mysterious Advisor would she be without an equally Mysterious Past? “I... don’t like to talk about my past, Your Majesty.” Blue Star faked reluctance and muted sadness as best she could. “There are things a pony is better off not remembering.” Well, that was true enough; a home you couldn’t return to was a good example. Thinking about her old home made her feel vaguely depressed, helping to add to the illusion.
Celestia watched her carefully for a long moment. “I see,” she finally said. “Is that why you disguise yourself with illusion, mane dye, and answer to a false name?”
Blue Star very nearly choked on her tea. She sputtered and coughed for several seconds, while Princess Celestia looked on in mild amusement. After getting her breathing under control, Blue Star practically shouted “You knew?”
“Lady Blue Star, there is very little within my castle I do not know,” the Princess gently admonished. “I sensed your illusion spell the moment we met, and the security scrying spells placed throughout the castle noted your meeting with the Royal Beautician.” She sipped her tea as Blue Star looked on in amazement. “As for your name, aside from ‘Blue Star’ being unusually bland for a pony name, your coat is not truly blue, and you frequently hesitate slightly whenever that name is used, as though you are not yet used to being called by that name.” She glanced up at Blue Star’s horrified expression. “Before you ask, no, I have not attempted to pry into your personal secrets or your past. It is information I could easily obtain, but I wouldn’t dream of invading your privacy without permission. You passed through the castle wards, meaning you have no ill intent and are not a servant of my enemies, and that is good enough for me. Whatever your secrets are, you are free to keep them, so long as you can promise me that they will bring no harm to my nation or my ponies.”
Blue Star swallowed hard, and bowed her head. “I swear, Your Majesty, my only goal here is to help Equestria.”
“I’m glad to hear it. Now please, do drink your tea; it’s getting cold.” Blue Star smiled, and picked up her teacup again. The Princess regarded her for a few moments, before speaking again. “You have an uncommon talent, Lady Blue Star.”
“What do you mean, Princess?” Blue Star asked quizzically. “Do you mean my magic?”
“Your magic is exceptional, yes, but that is not what I meant.” The Princess set her teacup down gently. “I mean your charisma. You have only been here a day, and yet your hoofmaiden dotes on you, your bodyguard hero-worships you, my own beautician has yet to cease speaking of you, and even the wizard Starswirl, whom you so thoroughly defeated in a duel, seems greatly fond of you.”
Blue Star blushed deeply. “I... I don’t know about that... I just try to be friendly.”
“A rare thing indeed, in this society,” the Princess said, with a faraway look in her eyes. “Another unicorn in your place would be unlikely to treat her servants as anything but furniture. They would not forgive an earth pony for reading, or go out of their way to thank the unicorn who taught them. They especially wouldn’t make peace, much less an alliance, with a rival magician.” Celestia’s eyes focused again on Blue Star, and she leaned forward. “Friendliness is, alas, not a quality often found in this world. What’s more, I fear that the one pony who needs that friendship the most is the one who receives it that least.” There was a gleam in her eye Blue Star wasn’t sure she liked. “Blue Star, I have a special favor to ask of you.”
Nighttime. The time when the world was at its very best. The moon shone gently. The stars twinkled in their intricate patterns. The night sky was a beautiful velvet shade, pierced through by dots of light and intricate shapes of darkness.
It was, Princess Luna thought to herself, some of her finest work.
She stood in the castle observatory, a very special room which she had commanded be built specifically for her own personal use. The roof opened, so that the night sky could be seen. Her telescope, an impressive brass structure nearly as large as she was, sat in the very center, mounted on a pedestal. On the walls of the circular room were her paintings and drawings, some of her favorite skies which she had saved, rather than simply discard at the end of her night’s work. Opposite the door stood her easel, and this was where Princess Luna stood now, carefully adding the finishing touches to her masterpiece of a sky. This one, she thought, would receive a place of honor on her wall.
Maddeningly, her artistry was interrupted by a knock on the observatory door. Luna cast a baleful glance at the hateful portal, as if the door itself was somehow responsible for disturbing her. “Enter,” she ordered. She didn’t use the full power of the Royal Canterlot Speaking Voice - not indoors, and certainly not around her paintings and her fragile telescope - but it was important to keep up appearances so she enhanced her voice by several decibels regardless.
The door opened to reveal, not a member of the Night Guard like Luna had assumed, but a young mare with a bright blue coat and the eyes of a scholar. Luna found she could learn a lot from a pony’s eyes, and the mare’s eyes scanned the room she’d just entered as if to record everything she saw. “Princess Luna,” the mare said respectfully, bowing low. Luna accepted her greeting with a curt nod. “I’m sorry to disturb you. I was told the observatory had a magnificent view of the night sky; I was hoping to see it for myself.”
Luna was mildly surprised by this; as far as she was aware, the observatory rarely saw use by anypony but herself, and the occasional pair of young lovers looking for a private space. Still... “Thou art welcome to join Us, if thou wishest. We meet very few with an interest in Our work.”
“That’s a shame, Princess.” The mare stepped into the center of the room, looking up at the sky. “Ever since I was a filly, I’ve been fascinated by the sky, regardless of the time of day. During the day, the sun would shine brighter than anything I’d ever seen; and at night, the moon would glow gently, and the stars would be woven into an intricate pattern so complex I could spend hours trying to understand it.” She let out a small sigh. “It’s very beautiful tonight, Princess,” she remarked. “You did an excellent job with the Minotaur constellation, especially.”
“Thou knoweth the constellations?” Luna asked, genuinely surprised. The constellations were her favored designs; themes that appeared in most every work she created. Very few ponies knew of them. Who was this mare? She could not recall seeing her in the castle before, but then, Luna knew very few of the castle’s residents; only her guards, her sister, and the few members of the nobility who attended the Night Court.
“Oh yes!” the mare replied enthusiastically. “I’ve studied them since I was young! The Minotaur, the Alicorn, the Snake, the Phoenix... the stars have always been a passion of mine.” She turned to the Princess with an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Blue Star; I was just recently appointed Magical Advisor to the Royal Court a few days ago.” She made as if to extend a hoof to shake, before remembering herself and bowing again instead.
“Ah, yes. We had heard. Our Sister was most impressed by thee.” Impressed was putting it lightly. Princess Celestia had even raised the topic of the Elements of Harmony; they had not had a proper wielder in a long time, and Celestia seemed to think this mare could fill the position of the Element of Magic. Luna doubted it; it was a rare mortal indeed who could wield the Elements. It took the perfection of a goddess to control. “We are pleased to meet thee, Lady Blue Star. Thou mayst go now.”
Luna took some small pleasure in Blue Star’s surprised, puzzled look. “Go? But I just got here!” Her surprise turned to nervousness. “Have I offended you, Princess?”
“Thou hast offended Our intelligence,” said the Princess, feeling mildly smug. “Everypony in this castle knowest this observatory to be Our domain. If We receive a visitor, it is because they require something of Us. Not because they wish to ‘admire the view’.” Blue Star’s jaw hung open in shock; Luna took this as a sign she was correct. “We appreciate thy interest in Our work, which appears genuine, but We have a strong distaste for games and dishonesty. Good night.” Luna turned away.
There was silence for several long moments. Then Blue Star spoke. “Princess Luna,” she began. “I’m sorry if I offended you. It’s true that I did come here to see you, but not for the reasons you think. I do have a proposal I wish for you to hear, but it’s one that will benefit you greatly, and in any event it has nothing to do with my primary reason for seeing you. Please, let me explain myself.” Princess Luna paused for a moment, before turning back around to face Blue Star again. She said nothing, but inclined her head as a signal to continue. “Earlier today, Princess Celestia invited me to her room for some tea. She said she was impressed with me - not only in my magical abilities, but in my skills at speaking to other ponies. She asked me, personally, to come here to talk with you.”
Luna stared at her, stunned. “Celly asked... I mean, Our Sister asked thee to visit Us?”
Blue Star gave a faint smile. “Yes. She thought you could use the company. I’m sorry if you thought I was trying to deceive you; I was just trying to make small talk.” Her eyes were direct and focused; her scholarly eyes had been replaced with the eyes of a born diplomat, or a religious leader. They were the eyes of an honest pony, one who could lead armies or stop wars with nothing but her words and her compassion.
There was another pause, before Luna lowered her head. “We would... that is, I would like to apologize to thee, Lady Blue Star. Our... my behavior was most inappropriate. I am not a popular leader, as thou mayst know. I receive visitors only rarely, and almost without fail they wish to manipulate me to their own ends. I have developed a lack of patience for such games.”
Blue Star nodded, smiling again. “It’s quite alright, Princess Luna. I understand. In fact, your popularity is what I wanted to talk to you about. It’s actually the basis of the proposal I mentioned.”
Luna raised an eyebrow in interest. “Very well,” she said, returning to her more formal mode of speech. Her horn lit up, and a pair of seating cushions appeared on the floor near her easel. She settled down on the larger one, and gestured for Blue Star to join her. “We shall hear thy proposal. If Our sister trusts your good intentions, so shall We.”
Blue Star smiled and nodded. “Thank you, Princess.” She took a seat. “Ever since Princess Celestia asked me to talk to you, I’ve been thinking about your... popularity problems. Why do you think you’re so unpopular, Princess?”
The Princess blinked at the unexpected question. “We rule the night. Ponies sleep through it; they take no notice of Our sky. If they speak of the night at all, it is in fear and distaste. To them, the night is a time of danger, and time of dark deeds and mistrust. We are a representation of this fear. It is Our unfortunate nature to be disliked and mistrusted.”
“Princess, I don’t wish to contradict you, but I’m not sure that’s true anymore.” Princess Luna raised her eyebrow again. “Maybe a couple hundred or so years ago, but times have changed. It’s probably hard to notice change when a decade feels like minutes to you, but not everypony fears the dark, not anymore.” Blue Star leaned forward earnestly. “Did you know, the moon is considered a symbol of romance, mystery, dreams, and fantasy by many ponies, especially poets and writers? Your night is still a frightening thing to some, but to others, it is much more than that. Scholars study the stars; philosophers search them for meaning. Sailors and travelers use them to find their way. Poets, artists, musicians and writers all draw inspiration from the moon and night sky; the famous poet Blank Verse wrote a very stirring poem called Moonlight Sonata in your honor. Lovers sneak out at night and...” Here she blushed brightly like a schoolfilly. “Well, I’m sure I don’t need to spell it out for you, Princess. So, you see, more ponies appreciate the night than you think.”
Luna did not answer immediately, processing the information. She took a deep breath, before replying “We understand thy intention, Blue Star. We are aware there are some ponies who appreciate Us. But these enlightened ponies are few and far between; there simply are not enough philosophers and poets in Equestria. Such jobs are rare choices, and their opinions of Our work even more so. Equestrians simply have no appreciation for the arts or intellectual pursuits, save for a wise few, such as yourself and our other magicians.”
Blue Star grinned, and Luna had the oddest sensation that she was trotting into a sort of trap. “Why do you think that is, Princess?” Blue Star asked eagerly. “Why do you think so few ponies study art or literature or things like that?”
Princess Luna furrowed her brow in confusion. “I... We confess We do not know. Most ponies simply do not have the education to-”
“Exactly!” Blue Star interrupted, startling Princess Luna. How dare she interrupt a Princess! Such impertinent... Luna smothered her anger. Blue Star was merely excited; it was understandable. “I’ve already made some friends here, Princess, so I’ve asked around a bit. My friend Sparkler tells me even the nobility only receive minimal education, from tutors and their parents. The only way for a pony to acquire any real knowledge is to apprentice themselves to a scholar, philosopher, or magician and learn from them, and it’s practically impossible to find one who will agree to it. Even then, the apprenticeship tends to be hard and unpleasant; many ponies who might otherwise go on to be great poets or scholars instead never even learn to read. And if you’re an earth pony, or a pegasus? You may as well forget about even being allowed in a library.”
“What art thou driving at, Blue Star?”
Blue Star leaned forward again, her voice intense. “The first friend I made in Canterlot is a pegasus courier. She delivers messages for a living, but because neither she nor her customers can read or write she has to memorize every message herself, and every time she forgets one she loses money. My hoofmaiden, an earth pony, is terrified of anypony learning she knows how to read, and her unicorn friend is equally terrified that somepony will learn she was the one who taught her. When I went to the library earlier, my bodyguard was required to wait outside, because she was a pegasus.” Blue Stars voice was tight, almost angry. “I went to the farms just outside Canterlot, and saw ponies breaking their backs to farm fields barely large enough to support their families, when a little applied science could improve their production while reducing their cost and effort - and even then, they have to hire a unicorn to draw up contracts and assist with finances at an exorbitant cost. Equestria is an uneducated nation, especially the pegasi and earth ponies, and it is suffering because of it.” Princess Luna was taken slightly aback by the passion in the younger pony’s voice. “When I see suffering, Princess, I want to end it. I’m sure you feel the same. Knowledge is a right, not a privilege, and it belongs to all ponies. It’s meant to be shared, and when it isn’t, ponies are lesser for it.”
Princess Luna recovered from her surprise quickly. “It is the way of things. Knowledge can be dangerous in the wrong hooves.”
“Princess, no offense but as a patron of the arts and a scholar yourself, you should know that accepting ‘the way of things’ is the enemy of progress and invention.” Princess Luna was growing more and more impressed with this mare with each word she spoke. Blue Star’s convictions were strong and well argued, even if Luna wasn’t quite convinced. “And who decides whose hooves are the wrong ones? Who has that authority? You? Princess Celestia?” Princess Luna remained silent. “You said it yourself, Princess. One of the primary obstacles to ponies appreciating you is that they lack the means and knowledge to do so. Of course, if you had more of a public presence and interacted more with your subjects on a friendly or benevolent basis, it would certainly help matters.” Blue Star smiled the smile of a pony whose plan is coming together. “Fortunately, I have a plan that will not only accomplish that, but promote education throughout Canterlot, and eventually all of Equestria. It will turn you from the mysterious Princess who lurks in the night into a revolutionary figure who brought enlightenment and reform to Equestria. You will be a patron of arts and education to every single pony within Equestrian borders.”
Luna was speechless. What Blue Star was promising was... beyond her power to imagine. The idea of stepping from the shadows, of becoming a public figure like her sister... “What is it thou proposest?”
Blue Star grinned. “A school.”
Jonathan Apple was a pony used to hardship. Apple farming was a difficult life, where the nobility bleed you dry with taxes and you barely had enough of your own product to eat at the end of the day. A sudden disaster like a drought, a heat wave, cold front, blight or any number of other problems could suddenly arise and decimate his fields in the space of a day, and he couldn’t afford a pegasus squad to protect his crop.
Almost more than hardship, however, Jonathan Apple was used to bad news. Jonathan was once a cheerful pony, but a long, hard life had made him a pessimist. It was his learned opinion that if a pony visited his farm, for any reason, it was bound to be bad news for him and his kin.
So, when his youngest daughter Applejack came barreling through the orchard, shouting something about a stranger at the gate, Jonathan Apple felt his heart sink. It had been a hard season; if his family was to survive the winter they might have to sell the farm. He wasn’t certain he could withstand any more bad news.
“Woah there, haystack.” Jonathan caught Applejack as she stumbled to a stop in front of him. “Take it easy, AJ. Now, take ah deep breath, and tell me what’s goin’ on.”
Applejack was an excitable young filly, though she was hardly as young as she acted anymore. She never outgrew her earnest enthusiasm, though, or her childish clumsiness. Still, Jonathan thought proudly, she was a hard, honest worker who never hesitated to help those in need. She was a fine Apple; now if only she could manage to use all four legs at once without tripping over herself.
The bright orange filly took a long, deep breath, just like her father had taught her. “There’s a unicorn at the gate, papa,” she informed him. “She says it’s really really important she talks to you. And...” Here Applejack leaned close to whisper. “Ah think she’s from the palace!” Applejack might be nearly an adult, but she still held the filly-like belief that the palace was a wonderful place of gingerbread and princesses.
Jonathan, however, felt cold dread grip his heart. Nothing good came from the palace, not for an earth pony. A visit from a noblemare, if indeed that’s who this pony was, could only bode ill. “Show me.”
Applejack, innocent and cheerful, led her father to the front gate of their farm, where a trio of strangers awaited them. Jonathan saw immediately why his daughter had assumed they were from the palace. While the blue unicorn who was evidently the leader of the group wore no clothes or finery, hovering only a short distance behind her was a armored pegasus guard, dressed in the uniform of the Royal Canterlot Guards. There was also a young earth pony standing several respectful paces behind the unicorn, but Jonathan disregarded her quickly. There were more pressing matters at hoof than the servant.
Like, for example, how this noblemare was casually eating one of his apples.
He stormed towards the gate, full of righteous fury. “That apple is Apple Family property, my lady,” he said with a not-quite-a-snarl. “Unless th’ property laws in Canterlot have changed, that means it’s mine.” Talking to a noblemare that way was suicidal, he knew, but at the moment, he was too angry to care. He was a big stallion, nearly twice the size of the noblemare, and a giant red stallion like him could be awfully intimidating when angry. Perhaps he could intimidate her right off his farm - not likely, though.
Rather than the smug retort he expected, however, the mare only gave him a puzzled and slightly hurt look. “Your daughter gave me this apple as a gift, Mr. Apple. I offered to pay, but she said I should speak to you about it. Apparently she didn’t remember how much it cost. She was very kind when I mentioned I hadn’t eaten today.”
Jonathan blinked in surprise, feeling the anger drain from him. That sounded exactly like Applejack, actually. He glanced over to his daughter, who stared at him with confused dismay. She nodded slowly. He turned back to the noblemare. “...I’m sorry, my lady. Times have been hard.”
“I absolutely understand,” the noblemare said kindly, sounding so sincere Jonathan almost believed she did. “How much do I owe you for the apple?”
Jonathan considered this for a minute. It actually only cost two bits, but she was a noblemare. It wasn’t like she’d miss the bits... “Ten bits, my lady.”
The pegasus bodyguard let out a low groan, which elicited a confused look from Jonathan and a smile from the noblemare. “Posey?” At her mistress’ bidding, the earth pony stepped forward, digging into her saddlebag. She paused before pulling out the money, glancing at the noblemare nervously. At the unicorn’s nod, the servant pulled out a hoofful of coins and gave them to Jonathan.
Jonathan counted the coins quickly, and his brow furrowed in confusion. “There’s twenty bits here.” He glanced at the servant, assuming she’d made a mistake, but she avoided his gaze and scampered back to her place behind the noblemare.
“Yes, there is,” said the unicorn. “Though to be fair, ten of those bits are actually my bodyguard Firefly’s.” She gestured to the pegasus. “She bet me ten bits you’d overcharge me by at least ten times, but the market price for a Jonagold apple at the moment is a depressingly low two bits. Even ones as high-quality as these, sadly. That means you only overcharged by five times.” She noted Jonathan’s shocked look with a bit of amusement. “Don’t worry, Mr. Apple, I’m not angry. I have more bits than I know what to do with these days; I don’t mind helping out a struggling farmer here and there.”
Jonathan hesitated, then relaxed slightly. If nothing else, this particular mare didn’t seem to be adversarial at the moment. Of course, nobles could be notoriously fickle, so he planned to reserve judgement. “Thank ya kindly, my lady,” He said finally, bowing his head slightly. “If you’ll pardon mah asking, what exactly brings ya’ll ‘round here? We don’t get many visitors, ‘specially from the castle.”
“Finally! Somepony with some directness.” The noblemare gave a relieved sigh. “Too many ponies at the castle like to dance around the issue for ten minutes before getting to the heart of things.” She smiled a seemingly genuine smile at the farmpony. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Blue Star, Magical Advisor to the Royal Court.”
Icy fear gripped Jonathan’s heart again. A member of the Court. Here. On his farm. This was beyond just some run-of-the-mill noblemare complaining about rotten apples. Court members spoke to the Princesses, regularly. This was... big.
He forced himself to take a calming breath. This Blue Star had been perfectly civil throughout their whole conversation, despite his hostility and deceit. He could at least hear her out before panicking. “Jonathan Apple,” he introduced himself. “Mighty fine to meet you, my lady.”
Blue Star’s looked like she’d just bit into a very sour apple. “Please. I hate being called ‘my lady’. Lady Star will do, if you absolutely must use my title.”
Now Jonathan was just confused, but there was no profit in insulting a member of the court. “Lady Star, then. What can th’ Apple Family do fer you?”
“Wrong question!” Lady Star proclaimed with a smile. “The correct question is, what can I do for you?” She gave Jonathan an expectant look.
After a brief moment of hesitation, Jonathan took the bait. “Alright, then. What can you do fer me?”
“I’m glad you asked!” Blue Star said cheerfully. She finished her apple, casually tossing the core aside. “May I come in?”
“...Ah suppose.” He unlocked the front gate, and held it open as Lady Star and her entourage stepped onto Apple land.
“Now, Mr. Apple-”
“Jonathan,” he interrupted, firmly. She gave him a surprised look, and he felt a bit of smugness at finally managing to surprise this strange mare, instead of the other way around. “If Ah’m calling you Lady Star, ya’ll c’n call me Jonathan.”
Lady Star smiled at this. “Jonathan, then. I’ve been told you’re the colt to talk to if you want to gain the support of the earth pony community. Would that be accurate?”
Jonathan raised an eyebrow at this. “Ah suppose ya’ll could say that. I like to think ponies ‘preciate mah thoughts. Ponies listen to me, y’see.” He shrugged. “Dunno why a unicorn would care ‘bout that, though. Beggin’ yer pardon, Lady Star, but a member of the Royal Court don’t need ‘support’ from the likes of us. Ya’ll want us to do something, it gets done. ‘S how it works.”
Lady Star’s face went hard for a minute. “Well, that’s not how this will work, Jonathan. I don’t work that way, and I think less of anypony who does.” Her face softened. “I have a plan, you see, and it’ll only work if everypony involved wants to be a part of it. If I can get you on-board, you can help me convince the rest of the earth ponies.”
“And if Ah say no?” Jonathan asked suspiciously. Nobles never really gave you a choice.
Lady Star bit her lip nervously. “Then my plan fails, probably. This is something I can’t force you to do - well, I probably could, but it would ruin the whole point if I did. And if you’re against it, I probably won’t be able to convince any of the other earth ponies either. In that case, the whole plan falls apart.” She smiled nervously at the dumbstruck Jonathan. “I’m really hoping you don’t say no. Will you at least hear me out?”
Jonathan managed to marshal his thoughts. A noble was actually asking for his opinion. She wanted - no, needed his cooperation. Half of him wanted to just flat out say no, before even hearing her proposal, just to ruin her day. Thankfully, the other half of him recognized this for the petty act it was, and stopped him. “Ah’ll listen. No promises.”
“Of course,” said Lady Star with a relieved smile. “Let me start at the beginning.” She gestured to her earth pony servant, who dug out a scroll from her saddlebag and held it out to the Lady. Grabbing it telekinetically, Lady Star unrolled it and held it in front of her. Jonathan glanced at it, but other than the numbers he couldn’t make heads or tails of it. “This is your farm’s financial record - your taxes, how much you make for your apples, how much you pay for services like reading and writing out contracts, stuff like that. It took forever to dig out, but thankfully somepony in the castle believes in accurate record-keeping.” Lady Star sounded aggravated, as though the shoddy record-keeping in the castle was a personal affront. “What I’ve noticed is that you’re dramatically overpaying for taxes, services, repairs, bookkeeping; you’ve been overcharged for every service you need to keep your farm running.” She cast a wry glance at the large stallion. “Much like how you overcharged me for that apple, but on a much larger scale.”
Jonathan shrugged at this depressing news. “Ah figgered as much. Nobles overcharge fer everything.” He forgot for a moment that he was in fact talking to a noble, but she didn’t seem to mind.
“Yes, indeed,” Blue Star agreed, closing the scroll and returning it to her servant’s saddlebag. “Why do you think that is?”
“Because’a greed,” Jonathan said, in the voice of a pony who knew the world was unfair and had resigned himself to it. “The nobles have all the power and they use it to trot all over us.”
“Well, yes, partially.” Blue Star nodded agreeably. “But do you think they’d tax you quite as much if you actually knew how much tax you owed? Do you think you could make more money on contracts if you could write them yourselves, or at least check them over before signing away a year’s profits? Mr. Apple... Jonathan. I have a plan that could save your farm from bankruptcy. Not only will it give you the knowledge to be on more equal terms with the nobility, it will arm you with the tools you need to more efficiently run your farm, and assign better prices to your produce. It won’t be immediate; it might takes months, even years. It might not even happen within your lifetime. But what I’m offering could save your farm, and your family.”
“What are you offerin’, Lady Star?” Jonathan asked, bluntly. “So far, ya’ll’ve made pretty speeches and said how much you need me, how much this’ll ‘change mah life’, but you ain’t told me what ‘this’ is.” He gave the smaller mare a stern glare. “Ah don’t need no snake-oil given’ mah family false hope. Ah know better than to hope for miracles.”
Rather than be upset or dismayed by his proclamation, Blue Star seemed positively gleeful. “I had a feeling you’d be a good candidate. Don’t worry, Jonathan. I’m not selling miracles. I’m offering - completely free of charge, I should add - something a practical stallion like yourself should appreciate. Education.”
Jonathan furrowed his brow in confusion. “Pardon?”
“Education, Mr. Apple.” Blue Star was grinning ear to ear. “I am opening Equestria’s first public school, available to all ponies regardless of race, occupation, or wealth. At first it will only cover Canterlot, but I hope to soon have one open in every major city in Equestria. Princess Luna is directing the project personally, and has appointed me Headmaster of Princess Luna’s First Center of Education. Princess Celestia has even lent her full support to the project. I intend to ask all young fillies and colts under fifteen years old to attend. Your daughter Applejack should fall into that range, I think.” Upon hearing her name, Applejack, who’d wandered off a short ways, perked up and came running back to listen in. “While there, she’ll be able to learn reading, writing, math, law, science, magic-”
“Magic?” Jonathan narrowed his gaze, and wrapped a protective hoof around his daughter. “Mah daughter’s no unicorn.”
“All ponies have magic, Jonathan, to a degree. My good friend and colleague Starswirl has proven this conclusively; his treatise on the Magic of the Three Races will actually be a part of the curriculum at the school. Knowledge of how her natural earth pony magic functions will allow her to train and harness it consciously, which I believe will enhance its natural ability to physically strengthen her and enhance her ability to encourage proper plant growth. It’s a talent all earth ponies possess, but depressingly few are aware of and consciously harness.”
Jonathan Apple very, very nearly called her out then and there. Earth ponies having magic? Preposterous! Only unicorns had magic, everypony knew that. For a split second, he was convinced that this mare was indeed just selling snake-oil, and that he should kick her off his farm.
But he hesitated.
Earth ponies were strong. Everypony knew that. And earth ponies grew crops better than anypony. Everypony knew that, too. What nopony knew was why - except this mare seemed to know. Was it really that far-fetched? And more importantly, did it matter? The rest of what this mare was talking about sounded promising. He thought of all the times he’d had to hire a unicorn to read, or write, or handle his money. If his daughter could do all that, free of charge...
Lady Star, apparently worried by Jonathan’s silence, nervously continued. “There’s more than just the academics, of course. The children will be given break times to eat and play between work; it helps keep the mind active. There will also be an exercise class, which will help them stay in shape and physically develop - something I’m sure you’ll appreciate.” She smiled at Applejack. “She’ll also get to meet and interact with ponies her own age on a regular basis. Not just earth ponies, either - she’ll be able to meet pegasi and unicorns, as well, though I intend to keep the classes separate to start with, if only to avoid problems with the parents.”
Applejack’s eyes went wide as saucers. “Um... Miss... I mean, Lady Blue Star, ma’am?”
Blue Star bent down, bringing herself level with Applejack. “You can call me, Miss Star if you want, Applejack. What is it?”
Applejack nodded slowly. “Will you teach us to build castles, Miss Star?” Her eyes shone with all the enthusiasm of a filly with a dream.
Blue Star seemed slightly taken by surprise at this, which gave Jonathan a brief surge of enjoyment. “Um, that’s a bit of an advanced topic...” Seeing the enthusiasm drain out of the little filly, Blue Star hurriedly continued. “Buuuut, if you study hard to learn things like math and physics, in a few years, you can study structural eng- I mean, we can teach you to build anything you like.”
Applejack lit up like a candle, smiling like only a filly could. “Papa! Can Ah go? Can Ah? Please?”
Seeing his daughter so enthusiastic was the deciding factor for Jonathan. Still, he maintained a guarded expression, pretending to think it over. Finally, he said “Ah won’t abide any bullyin’ or teasin’. Ah don’t want mah daughter treated different on account of her being an earth pony.”
Blue Star smiled widely, and nodded. “You have my word, Jonathan. As long as I’m in charge of the school, everypony will be treated equally and fairly.” If Jonathan had enough energy to be surprised yet again, he would’ve been shocked at what Lady Star did next. Though she winced slightly when she did it, she spat into her hoof and held it out to shake. “Do we have a deal?”
Jonathan looked down at the offered hoof. “Ya’ll are a strange, strange unicorn.” Then he smiled, and spat in his own hoof. “But Ah like your style.” He shook her hoof; she had a surprisingly strong grip for a unicorn. “Take care’a mah daughter now. You teach her good.”
“I will. I promise.
A/N: Aaaaand here it is! Fun fact: This is the longest ‘Future’ chapter to date, and the first ‘Future’ chapter to exceed 5,000 words.
“Come on, Shiny! Pleeeeease?”
Shining Armor steeled his will and refused to look down at his sister’s face. Once they made eye contact, he knew his will would crumble like a castle under siege. “Sorry, Twily. I’ve got some things of my own I need to do. I don’t have time to-”
“PLEEEEEEASE?” Even without looking at her face, the voice of a pleading young filly held a power more insidious than the most powerful mind-affecting spell. “The only city Trixie’s ever seen is Manehattan, and she says it’s really dirty and boring. We need to give her the Grand Canterlot Tour!”
“Go on, Shining.” Shining Armor shot his mom a look as she sided with the enemy. “Take your sister and her friend out on the town. I’m sure they won’t mind tagging along while you go shopping for your marefriend.”
Off to the side of the room, Trixie’s face became a picture of horror.
“MOM!” Shining’s face went beet red. “Cadence isn’t my marefriend!” He sighed, not noticing Trixie’s hopeful look. He made the mistake of glancing down at Twilight’s wide, pleading eyes, and his will immediately caved in. “Aw, I never could win an argument with you, Twily.”
He smiled as his sister turned to give her friend a triumphant hoof-bump. Well, there were worse ways to spend the day than with his sister and her friend. At least it wouldn’t be boring.
Celestia found her sister overseeing the delivery of a few small packages in the private section of the student dormitories. “Luna? What’s happening? Have the girls returned?”
“I’m afraid not, Celly,” Luna said with a smile. “They sent their presents and their overnight bags ahead, but apparently Twilight’s brother Shining Armor has taken them out for a tour of Canterlot. Trixie sounded quite excited in her message.”
The elder Princess nodded her approval. “I’m glad. It’ll do them some good to get out of the dorms more often.” Suddenly, she frowned. “Luna, did you feel that?”
“Feel what?” Luna asked, but Celestia was already in motion. She intercepted one of the guardponies that were carrying Twilight and Trixie’s belongings.
“There’s something here...” she muttered, as she lit her horn, opening the box the guardpony was carrying. “Something very old, and very powerful...” Her eyes widened as the box opened, and she felt the full power of the object concealed inside. Behind her, Luna gasped as her own horn picked up the intense magic. Shivers ran down the backs of both Princesses as a wave of magic washed over them.
Very, very carefully, Celestia levitated the helmet out of its box. “Now how in my name did a young filly get ahold of something like this?”
Trixie looked around excitedly, her eyes restlessly darting around. There was so much to see, she didn’t know where to start! She had arrived in Canterlot on flying chariot, and had never had a chance to really see any of it, until today.
There were so! Many! Ponies! Oh, sure, Manehattan had always been crowded, but this was different. Manehattan was dirty and overcrowded, and all the colors there were muted. Even the most brightly-colored pony seemed dull and washed-out in that unkind city. But Canterlot? Canterlot was bright, cheerful, full of colors and life and bright lights and ponies! Unlike the crushing, claustrophobic crowds forced together by Manehattan’s narrow streets, these crowds were thin enough to slip through, and yet somehow bigger.
It wasn’t just ponies, either. There were zebras mixed liberally into the crowd, which wasn’t very surprising, along which several griffons, which was. Trixie had seen griffons before, but never so many. There were even some Diamond Dogs, which Trixie had only heard about, loping along the streets on various errands. Trixie could swear there was even a hippogriff or two in the crowd.
And this was only the start.
“Hey, Trixie, you okay?” Trixie was startled from her crowd watching by a mildly concerned Twilight.
“I’m fine. I’ve just... this is so different from Manehattan. It’s so... alive!” Trixie’s voice was laden with wonder and excitement.
“Well, try not to get too excited just yet,” Shining Armor said, sounding slightly amused. “We haven’t even gotten started yet!” He gestured at the large, open town square they were standing in. “This is the Shopping District. It’s where all the biggest and best stores are, so there’s a lot of traffic through here. Mostly tourists, of course, but plenty of locals too.”
“Come on!” Twilight said, grabbing Trixie’s hoof and dragging her over to a nearby building. “I wanna show you my favorite store!”
Trixie expected a book store, or perhaps a store that sold magical trinkets, but she was surprised to find herself at the storefront for AstroTek Incorporated, the leading manufacturers of the latest in cutting edge technology. Over their door was a crystal-screen display showing their logo - a galaxy of stars, slowly spinning against a dark blue background. Trixie had never been terribly interested in technology; when she’d first arrived at the School for Gifted Unicorns, she hadn’t even been able to operate the school computer. Twilight had showed her how it worked, but Trixie hadn’t noticed her friend’s enthusiasm for the mechanical until now.
Bouncing with enthusiasm, Twilight practically dragged her friend into the store, Shining Armor hurrying in behind them, trying to keep pace. “This place is great!” Twilight squealed excitedly, bouncing up and down as they came inside. “All the latest advancements in magitechnology come from here. Isn’t it exciting?”
Twilight’s enthusiasm was infectious, and Trixie couldn’t help but agree. The inside of AstroTek was impressive to say the least. Everywhere Trixie turned there were sleek-looking gadgets and impressive gizmos, all with signs proclaiming their various functions. Twilight led Trixie over to a particular display: a large, flat device that was mostly screen. “This is an A-Pad,” Twilight explained. She reached out and, careful only to use the tip of her hoof, demonstrated how a touch-screen worked. Trixie couldn’t help but be a little impressed. Then Twilight took her to a small, cylindrical device with a gemstone on the top. When Twilight gave it a poke, it let out a holographic recording of some popular vid-show Trixie wasn’t familiar with; the hologram was so realistic Trixie could almost believe it was real. Twilight showed Trixie half a dozen devices (electronic readers that could hold hundreds of books in their gemstone recorders, com-gems that could replace Sending Candles, portable vid displays that could be worn like sunglasses), but by far the most amazing was a new computer, much smaller then the one at the school. In fact, Twilight explained, it was meant to be portable. The processing unit fit comfortably on your back or in a saddlebag, while a small device strapped onto your foreleg. The device projected the display as a hologram only a few feet away from you, and then (this was the cool part) could read your intentions through a telepathy crystal in the device, allowing you to interact with the computer telepathically.
“How do they make all these things?” Trixie finally asked, breathless with wonder. She was starting to see why Twilight got so worked up over this place; it was a store full of miracles.
Shining Armor chuckled. “Mostly gemstones. Helpful things; they can hold a spell charge for years and never run out. Industrial spellcasting is a pretty good job these days; boring work, mostly, just casting the same spells into gemstones over and over, but I hear it pays real well. Combine that with a little earth pony construction and some pegasus ingenuity and a bit of lightning for power, and you can build almost anything.” He picked up the vid-glasses with his own magic to examine them. “Twilight’s really into this stuff.”
“You bet!” Twilight said enthusiastically. “It’s like magic anypony can use!”
Trixie mused on that as Twilight tried to convince Shining to lend her enough bits for a portable computer. Magic anypony can use.
Princess Celestia paced restlessly around the table the mysterious helmet now sat on. She shot a glance at the helmet, as though it was personally responsible for her current state of heightened stress. To some degree, it was; magic practically oozed from the thing, filling the room with the powerful, echoing resonance of decades-old magic. A normal unicorn would only just be aware of it, as a vague tickling or itching on their horn, but the Princess could feel it quite clearly. It gave Celestia goosebumps just being in the same room as it.
“Well?” she asked her sister impatiently. “Anything?”
Luna looked up from her intense concentration to shoot her sister an irritated look. Celestia was easily the stronger of the two, both physically and magically, but Luna had spent the past thousand years as a patron of scholars, artists, and wizards, and so her knowledge of artifacts was far greater. “Nothing that I haven’t told you five minutes ago, Celly. Would you sit down? You’re making me nervous.”
Celestia sighed and settled herself on a sitting cushion. “I’m sorry, Luna. I’m just concerned. You know I have great faith in your skill.”
Luna gave her sister a brief smile before pushing the helmet aside. “Thank you, Celestia, but whoever crafted this helmet is - or rather, was - at least as skilled as I am. There’s something like half a dozen spells wrapped up in it, all intricately and delicately woven to each other and the internal reservoir of mana it contains. At least three of these spells are seals - one to contain or trap something, one to protect against outside interference, and another that draws on the magical reservoir to preserve the spells.”
“Can you disable the seals?” Celestia asked curiously. “If you can’t, I might be able to-”
“No,” Luna said bluntly, shaking her head. “I can only glimpse some of the other spells, but one of them is clearly a ‘bomb’ that will shred the other spells if the seals are opened in anything but the proper fashion - and there’s no way to determine what that fashion is.” She glanced at the helmet. “With your power, you could conceivably force the seals open, or just rip them out, but doing either would destroy the containment spell. I don’t know what it’s meant to contain, but as a side effect it’s also keeping the internal reservoir in check. Destroy it, and the resulting detonation would make the liquid rainbow detonator we decommissioned ten years ago look like a foal’s plaything. At the very least most of Canterlot would be destroyed in the blast.” She pressed a hoof to her forehead. “Whoever made this helmet was very, very careful, and very clever. A setup like this... it simply isn’t possible to unseal it without knowing the trigger. And that could be literally anything.”
“So why is such a powerful and intricate artifact in your student’s possessions?” Celestia asked. She picked up the helmet gently and stared at it, as if it would provide answers.
“She didn’t have it when she left,” Luna replied. “She must have gotten it at Twilight’s house... but where would they have gotten it? And why give it to Trixie?”
“We could just ask,” Celestia remarked, smirking slightly. Luna looked up at her, surprised, then smiled.
“It’s been so long since anything has been so straightforward, I’d forgotten how it felt.” Luna laughed as Celestia set the helmet down. “I’ve gotten too used to conspiracies and secret plans. You’re right, of course. We’ll ask her when she gets back.”
Trixie couldn’t stop playing with her new gadget. It had taken a bit of practice to use the very tip of her hoof on the touch-screen, but the image-creation program was simple and user-friendly, taking just a few minutes to learn. Then, once she had the image she wanted, she just pressed the green button and a holographic representation appeared in full color, hovering over the device. It was slightly transparent, of course, and couldn’t create anything much bigger than her head, but it was still cool, and more importantly it was hers.
Besides her, Twilight chuckled as her friend continued fiddling with the device as they walked. “I guess you like it, huh?”
Trixie nodded enthusiastically. “Thank you, Mister Armor!” she chirped happily.
Shining Armor chuckled and ruffled the filly’s hair, not noticing the resulting blush. “I told you, just call me Shining, Trix. And it’s no problem, really. Mom and Dad felt bad about not having any gifts for you, so they gave me a bunch of bits to buy you stuff. A cheap holo-display is no big deal.”
“Well it’s a big deal to me,” Trixie said, hugging the slim, silvery device to her chest. “Nopony’s ever bought me a gift before.” Twilight grinned as she noticed her friend still blushing faintly.
“Really? Nopony?” Shining looked mildly surprised. “Well, you want anything else, just let me know. We’ve got plenty of bits.” Suddenly, the older colt came to a halt, staring in at the window of a shop they were passing.
Twilight gave her a brother an odd look. “What’s wrong, Shiny?”
“Uh, nothing,” Shining Armor said distractedly. “I, uh, just remembered I didn’t get a... friend of mine a Hearth’s Warming gift. Just a sec.” He entered the shop.
Twilight and Trixie exchanged glances, then stood up on their hind legs to see through the window. Inside, the counter doubled as a display case, housing a wide array of shiny, fancy-looking jewelry. A large, slightly pudgy but very well-groomed Diamond Dog stood behind the counter, speaking with Shining. After a few moments, Shining gave the store-owner some bits, and received a jewelry case in return. He glanced inside, and while the young fillies couldn’t see inside, they could see the sparkle.
“Who do you think that is for?” Trixie whispered to Twilight.
Twilight was not what anypony would describe as socially apt, but neither was she stupid. She could add two and two together, and in this case it didn’t add up well for her friend. Diamond Dogs were known for both painstakingly high quality and grotesquely high prices for all their crafts; one did not shell out the bits for fancy Diamond Dog jewelry for just anypony.
However, she also knew that telling her best friend that her older brother might already have a very special somepony might not be the best idea. So she whispered back, “No clue.”
Shining emerged from the store, smiling brightly. “Alright, girls!” he said cheerfully. “Who wants to go to Broadway?”
“Ooh! Ooh! Me! Me! I do!” Trixie said enthusiastically. “Let’s go!”
“Can we eat first?” Twilight asked. “I’m hungry.”
“I think there’s a real good Zebrican place right near here,” Shining said, creasing his brow in thought. “We should be able to stop there on our way to the theater...”
Twilight grinned broadly. “Oooh, I love Zebrican food!”
Trixie looked puzzled. “Zebras have their own food?”
Twilight giggled. “Sort of. It’s the food they eat back in Zebrica. It’s really spicy, which is good because it’s so cold out. And there’s singers and dancers and stuff while you eat, it’s really cool!” She turned away, pointing a hoof ahead dramatically. “Leeeeet’s go!”
“It’s the other way, Twily.”
“I knew that!”
“I thought we agreed to leave it alone until the girls get back, Lulu.” Celestia gave her sister a look of mild disapproval.
Luna looked up from the helmet, looking vaguely guilty. “I’m just taking another look, Celly. It really is an education; the spell-work is really spectacular. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Celestia sat down beside her sister. “You never could leave a mystery well enough alone, could you? Find anything useful?”
Luna sighed, directing her attention back down at the helmet. “No, not really. It’s old, I know that much. Ancient. And there’s more magic in here then even I could conjure up at once, though you might be able to match it.” She stared at the helmet, deep in thought. “The magic itself is older than the spells, which means somepony added them after its creation. Whoever created this wanted to make absolutely certain that nopony would be able to use it unless he meant for them to.”
Celestia put a wing around her sister. “Give it a rest, Luna. Picking at it won’t solve anything. Once we know where Trixie got it, we can use that as a starting point for our investigations. Until then, there’s no point in agonizing over it.”
Luna gave her sister a small smile. “It’s like you said, Celly. I never could leave a mystery alone. I like knowing things.”
“So do I, Lulu,” Celestia said softly. “But sometimes, we have to be at peace with not knowing.”
A strange expression came over Luna’s face, halfway between anger and sadness. “I’m surprised to hear you say that, sister,” she said quietly. “You had quite a different opinion one thousand years ago.”
A cloud passed over Celestia’s face. “That was the first time I was ever presented with a mystery I could not solve,” she said stiffly. “I have since made my peace with not understanding. She made her choice, and I don’t think either of us will ever know why.” She gave her sister a cool, dispassionate glare. “In any case that has nothing to do with this.”
“Actually, I’m not so certain about that.” Luna said, turning away from her sister to look at the helmet again. “The spells... they’re almost one thousand years old. And the last time I’ve seen spellwork this skilled...”
Celestia’s eyes widened as Luna’s words sunk in. She looked at the helmet again. “A family heirloom...” she whispered.
“Blue Star had a helmet she kept in her room. She said it was a family heirloom... I never asked about it...”
“Was it magical?” Luna had to try and hide her excitement, the earlier tension between the sisters forgotten.
“...No. Not then. At least, I don’t think so; I never examined it. There was no reason to. But it was certainly nowhere near this powerful.” Celestia glanced at her sister. “Is that important?”
Luna slumped. “Probably not the same helmet, then. The magic reservoir is at least twice as old as the spells on it. I doubt you’d have missed it.”
Celestia returned her gaze to the helmet. “Yeah... you’re probably right...”
“SO COOL!” Trixie squealed as they left the Broadway theater. Her smile was dangerously close to splitting her face open as she bounced along. Twilight could literally see the stars in her eyes.
“Broadway’s always pretty fun,” Twilight agreed. “Although that play’s not very historically accurate. I’m pretty sure Starswirl the Bearded never fell in love with a griffon.”
“I’ve always preferred the movie theater,” Shining said with a shrug. He was rewarded with a pair of glares from the two younger fillies. “What?”
Trixie shook her head in mock pity. “Hopeless.”
Twilight sighed in agreement. “Absolutely hopeless.”
Chuckling amongst themselves, the trio arrived at one of the last stops of their Canterlot tour - the Observation Cliff, one of Canterlot’s number one tourist attractions. A rocky outcropping at the very edge of the mountain the city was built on, the Cliff offered a breathtaking view of the Equestrian landscape. Eagerly, Trixie and Twilight scrambled through the crowd that was always present on the Cliff, managing to wiggle their way up to the guardrail while Shining Armor struggled to keep up. They arrived at the front of the crowd and put their front hooves up on the guardrail, eyes boggling at the view.
The view was spectacular, stretching on for miles and miles. The young fillies could see everything; green hills, lush forests, flat scrublands, cities and towns and mountains and farms all spread out before them in miniature. If they strained their eyes, they could even see the edge of the desert where the frontier towns thrived. Celestia’s sun was just beginning its descent on the horizon before them, casting the entire scene in warm, golden light.
Trixie reached into her saddlebag and pulled out her holo-imager. Twilight gave her a puzzled look as she began fiddling with the controls, an intense look of concentration on her face. “What’re you doing, Trix?” Twilight asked curiously, trying to peek at her friend’s device.
“I don’t have a camera, and I want to remember this,” Trixie explained, not looking up. “I’m trying to make a copy with my imager but it’s kinda hard...”
Trixie was so focused on her task, she didn’t notice until too late when somepony bumped into her from behind. The holo-imager fell from her startled hooves, toppling over the guardrail and falling to the picturesque landscape below. “MY IMAGER!” Trixie cried out, eyes wide. Twilight screwed her eyes shut, horn glowing as she tried to catch the falling gadget telekinetically, but it was moving too fast for her to get a good grip.
Trixie was watching her precious toy fall when a black and green blur swept over her field of vision, snatching up the toy and vanishing. Trixie blinked in confusion, looking around her at the crowd. “Where’d it go?”
“Excuzzzze me, mizzzzz.” A strange, buzzing voice came from behind Trixie, prompting her to spin around. “Did you drop thizzz?” Hovering a few feet off the ground was the strangest creature Trixie had ever seen. It was shaped like a pony, but covered in insect-like chitin, and it had both wings and a horn. Its wings weren’t like a pegasus’, either; they were insect wings, thin and transparent and beating against the air so fast they blurred and produced a low buzzing noise. Its eyes glowed blue with white pupils, and its horn was oddly curved and sharp. Strangest of all, however, were its legs and tail, which actually had holes in them. How could it stand up? Could it stand up?
Twilight gave her friend a hard nudge, startling Trixie from her slightly terrified musings. “Yeah, that’s hers!” Twilight said, accepting the holo-imager that Trixie belatedly noticed the creature was holding. “Sorry, she’s just never seen a changeling before.”
The creature blinked, then smiled broadly (Trixie noticed its huge fangs and was not reassured). “Zzzzorry! I forget.” Abruptly, the creature covered itself in green fire, completely hiding itself from view. Trixie gave a terrified squeal and dove behind Shining Armor, who’d just managed to reach the girls. Twilight gave her friend an exasperated look as the flames faded, revealing a perfectly ordinary-looking earth pony. “I need my wings so I could grab your toy, and there wasn’t enough time to think of a pegasus form,” explained the now normal-seeming pony. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Trixie peeked out from behind Shining Armor, looking the creature’s new form over carefully. He was a short pony with a yellow coat and a bright red mane, and a movie-star smile. He seemed oddly familiar, but it wasn’t until she saw his cutie mark the Trixie recognized him - the rising curtains of a theater’s stage. “I know you!” she exclaimed suddenly, her earlier fear forgotten in her excitement. “You were in the play we just saw!”
The strange pony smiled brightly at the recognition. “Yes I was! Name’s Curtain Call; nice to meet you.” He held out a hoof to Trixie, who eagerly scampered out of her hiding place behind a vaguely amused Shining Armor to shake it. “I’m guessing you enjoyed the show?”
Trixie nodded excitedly. “It was amazing! It was my first time seeing a play like that.” She paused, uncertain. “I didn’t know you were a... a....”
Curtain Call laughed even as Twilight made a horrified face at her friend. “A changeling? That’s sort of the point, you know. We try to keep it to ourselves; it makes ponies uncomfortable. Don’t worry, though; I’m harmless, I promise.” He ruffled Trixie’s mane playfully. “Now, I need to get going-”
“W-wait!” Trixie said, snatching her holo-imager from Twilight and holding it out to Curtain Call. “Can I get your autograph first?”
Curtain laughed and took the imager, nodding. “Who should I make it out to?”
Smiling, Curtain opened a new project on the imager and carefully signed ‘To My Enthusiastic Fan, Trixie. Remember to keep an open mind! Curtain Call.’ Then he handed the imager back. “Have fun in Canterlot, Trixie!” he said, before turning and trotting off, leaving a starstruck Trixie behind.
“Trixie!” Trixie was startled from her reverie by Twilight’s half-horrified, half-angry shout. “You were supposed to stop being rude to other ponies!”
Trixie cowered behind her imager. “I-I wasn’t trying to! I’ve never met a changeling before!”
“Actually, you probably have,” Shining Armor spoke up, rejoining the girls. “You were brought up in an orphanage, right?” Trixie nodded, uncertainly. “Lots of changelings get into charity work; they need love to survive, and taking care of orphans is a good way to get it. Like Mr. Call said, though, they keep to themselves; you might have known a changeling and never known it.” Trixie’s eyes widened at the revelation as Shining continued, “Others go into show business like Curtain Call; changelings are natural-born actors, and the admiration of fans is close enough to love for them to feed off it. You can actually find changelings in any job where a pony is likely to appreciate them - social work, psychology, entertainment, you name it.”
He didn’t mention the rash of changeling crimes on the rise recently; putting aside the criminal opportunities of being able to change your shape and even cutie mark, even copying someone else’s appearance, the Equestrian Royal Guard had recently had to contend with a rising amount of ‘love theft’. Apparently, ‘stolen’ love meant for somepony else was something like an addictive drug for changelings as well as food, and too many changelings fell back on kidnapping and replacing other ponies to feed off the love from their friends and families. It was a serious problem these days, actually, but not one that two young fillies like Twilight and Trixie needed to worry about.
“Wow...” Trixie said slowly, smiling. “I never knew... I just thought changelings were really rare.”
“There’s always been lots in Canterlot,” Twilight explained. “I think it’s because of all the love everypony here has for the Princesses!”
Shining Armor smiled at his idealistic younger sister. “Or it could be that Canterlot is the biggest tourist attraction in Equestria, so there’s always a lot of tourists to come watch their shows.”
Curtain Call proceeded nonchalantly down the street, pretending not to notice he was being followed. Acting as casual as could be, he strolled around a corner and into an alleyway. He waited a moment, until he heard the sound of hooves enter the alley behind him.
The alley was so dark, even the changeling’s superb night vision could only just make out the form of a pegasus. “I assume you’re my contact?”
“That’s me,” came a voice from the pegasus’ direction. It was a tough voice to place; deep but still strangely androgynous. It sounded much younger than Curtain knew the pegasus had to be by its size, but it had a level of articulation not normally found coupled with such a young voice. “You can call me Bright Eyes.”
“Well, ‘Bright Eyes’, I hope you know I don’t like this.” Curtain glared angrily at the mysterious pony, though the effect was lost as he couldn’t quite tell where to stare at. “Spying on fillies like this... what’s so important about this Trixie that you have to entangle a little filly in your schemes?”
“Well, that’s new. A changeling who questions orders.” Bright Eyes actually sounded amused. “Maybe there’s hope for your species yet.”
“My Queen’s orders are the only reason I’m helping you at all,” Call replied severely. “If my hive didn’t owe your Order so much, I’d tell you to go buck yourself. I just wanted you to know that.”
“Duly noted,” Bright Eyes replied, sounding altogether too cheerful. “Now, your report? I assume you got a sample of her love, right? We pulled quite a number of strings to make sure you played at her show, I’d like to know if it paid off.”
Curtain Call sighed. “I got the sample. It was practically gushing from her after she realized who I was.”
The shadow of a pegasus leaned forward, just enough for Curtain to make out a single golden eye. “And?” Bright Eyes was almost breathless with excitement.
“There was a trace of magic in her, strong enough for me to taste.”
“It matched the sample you gave me, from the helmet.”
The pegasus leaped into the air suddenly, startling the disguised changeling. “Perfect!” Bright Eyes exclaimed. “She’s bonded with it! That’s just perfect!” She dropped back down to the pavement. “Thank you, Mr. Call. You’ve been extremely helpful. Be sure to give your Queen my regards the next time you see her, and tell her that your hive’s obligation to the Order of the Stars has been fulfilled.”
Call blinked. “Just like that? After everything you’ve done for our hives - for every changeling hive - and all you want is for somechangeling to confirm something I bet you already knew?”
“I didn’t know,” Bright Eyes corrected. “I suspected, and the confirmation you just gave me is the best news I’ve heard for longer than you’ve been alive. What you’ve just given me is more than worth all the aid we’ve given your hive over the years.” The shadow of a pegasus receded, heading towards the exit of the alley. “Thank you so much for your help, Mr. Call. I’m a big fan of your plays, by the way; keep up the good work!”
Curtain was alone in the alleyway.
He shook his head in bemusement. Bright Eyes, the chief representative of the Order of the Stars, was always kind of an oddball, but this took the cake. Her claim that she hadn’t heard good news longer than he’d been alive didn’t make any sense either, though little about her did. Maybe she just didn’t know that the average changeling worker could live for a few centuries?
Twilight and Trixie filed into the office the Princess sisters used when conducting official business at the school. The two were clearly in high spirits, with saddlebags full of trinkets and souvenirs and wide grins on their faces, but Twilight at least seemed slightly apprehensive at being called into what was essentially the principals’ office.
Celestia and Luna were both seated on cushions by a table in the center of the room. Trixie’s eyes widened when she saw what the table contained. “My helmet!” she exclaimed, rushing forward. “Is something wrong with my helmet?”
Celestia and Luna exchanged a brief look. “Of course not, Trixie,” Luna said soothingly. “At least, we don’t think so. Please, sit down, both of you.”
Twilight and Trixie each found a cushion and sat down around the table. “We’re just a little concerned, that’s all,” Celestia explained. “This helmet is an extremely potent magical artifact; they can be very dangerous if you don’t handle them properly.”
Twilight tilted her head to the side. “Um, Princess, aren’t all the really powerful magical artifacts in the Canterlot Vault under the castle? That’s what A Young Enchanter’s Guide said.”
“Some are, yes,” Celestia agreed. “Others are in various other safe locations. Some are missing, but their existence is at least noted and recorded in our official records. This helmet isn’t, which means somepony has been hiding it - possibly for a very long time. I’m sure you can understand why Luna and I are a bit concerned.”
“We were wondering where you managed to find something like this, Trixie,” Luna continued. “It could be very important. If somepony has been hiding an artifact of this power for as long as we think they have, we would like to know who and why.”
Trixie bit her lip. “I didn’t find it; it was a gift.”
Celestia raised an eyebrow. “From Twilight’s parents?”
Trixie shook her head. “No, from my godmother!” She dug into her overcrowded saddlebags, rummaging around for a minute before pulling out a letter that was crumpled and creased from sharing space with an assortment of trinkets Trixie had acquired during her tour of Canterlot. “Her name is Bright Eyes, and she gave me the helmet for Hearth’s Warming!”
“Bright Eyes?” Celestia took the letter in a glow of golden magic, floating it over for Luna and her to read. There was a long silence after they had finished, then the two Princesses turned aside and held a whispered conversation. Twilight and Trixie fidgeted nervously and shared worried glances while they waited for their mentors to finish deliberating.
After several uncomfortable minutes, the Princesses returned their attentions to their students. “The helmet seems harmless, for the most part,” Luna told Trixie kindly. “Since it was a gift, we’ll let you keep it. You’ll have to keep it in a special security case, though. And you have to promise you won’t try to tamper with it or interact with it magically. Not at all, do you understand? We don’t know exactly what it can do, and using magic you don’t understand is dangerous.”
“Y-yes Princess!” Trixie was too elated that she got to keep the helmet to care that she couldn’t experiment with it.
“But what about the ponies who were hiding it?” Twilight asked curiously.
“We’ll conduct some investigations,” Celestia answered. “A background check on this Bright Eyes, to start with. If she contacts you again, Trixie, we’d appreciate it if you let us know, especially if she sends you another package. Okay?” Trixie nodded. “Very good. Now go ahead, girls. You’ve had a long day, and I expect you’re tired. Go get some rest; we’ll keep the helmet here until we can install the security case in Trixie’s room. Remember, lessons start again tomorrow!”
Once the young fillies were gone, Luna turned to her sister, her kind smile giving way to worried frown. “Are you sure that was wise, Celly? Even if she doesn’t try to use the helmet - and I’m not sure I trust a filly her age not to be curious - if it exerts a passive influence of some kind over her...”
Celestia smiled calmly at her sister. “Like I said, I have some suspicions as to who sent that helmet. I’m quite certain it’s harmless; I’ll make some inquiries to make sure, of course. If I’m wrong, we’ll secure the helmet immediately, but I don’t think I am.” She winked at her younger sibling. “Just trust me on this, Lulu. Your big sis knows what she’s doing.”
Luna shook her head, but she was smiling slightly. “Very well, Celly, we’ll do this your way. I just hope you’re right, for Trixie’s sake if nothing else.” There was a flash of silvery-blue light, and Luna was gone.
Celestia stood alone in the office, her mischievous smile giving way to a pensive expression. Her horn lit as she closed the door and drew the blinds over the windows. She cast a few dozen privacy spells, ensuring that she would not be spied or eavesdropped on. Then she turned to the deepest shadow in the corner of the room and spoke. “I see the Shadow Cloak I loaned you is still working well.”
“It’s pretty useful,” agreed a deep, androgynous from the shadow. “I’ve been getting a lot of use out of it; I’ll be sad when I have to give it back. Have I mentioned recently how invaluable your contributions have been?”
“No. You haven’t.” The light in the room intensified, though it didn’t appear to have a particular source. The shadows burned away, revealing a cloaked pegasus hiding in the corner. Her face remained hidden, but only because she kept it down and hidden behind the fabric. Celestia strode towards the smaller pony, her face an expression of glacial calm. “And I don’t appreciate my students, or my sister’s students, being wrapped up in your schemes. You have some explaining to do, Bright Eyes.”
A/N: DUN DUN DUUUUUUN! Remember, I exist on a diet of hamburgers, bacon, cheese, junk food and COMMENTS COMMENTS COMMENTS!
A/N: This chapter is brought to you by CANADA! Because I wrote it there. It was cool.
“Lady Blue Star! Lady Blue Star, I need to talk to you!”
Blue Star groaned quietly as a voice that she was learning to dread even after only a few months at the castle called out for her. She debated ignoring the shrill command and continuing down the hall to the conference room, but ultimately, it would cause more problems than it would solve. So, putting on her politest face, she turned around to meet a pony she was quickly growing to regard as a nemesis. “Yes, Lady Blueblood? What can I do for you?”
Behind her, huffing and puffing as she attempted to keep up, was the bane of all freedom and progress, the one and only Lady Blueblood. Blue Star had been somewhat dismayed to learn how far back the Blueblood line stretched, and even more dismayed to learn how similar her assumed name was to that less than esteemed family - a fact Lady Blueblood had attempted to take advantage of by claiming to be related, before Blue Star made it clear how different their priorities were. Lady Blueblood was, in Blue Star’s opinion, wasted opportunity incarnate - she was a member of the Royal Court, one of the richest ponies in Equestria, a society lady and the holder of most of the work contracts for earth pony and pegasi laborers in Canterlot. Her position could work wonders to reform Canterlot and all Equestria, but instead she used her influence to squeeze every last bit from those unfortunate enough to not be born with a horn on their head.
The same theme of wasted opportunity carried over to her appearance. Lucky genetics had gifted her with what most ponies considered the ideal of beauty: white coat, blonde mane, and the naturally tall, long-legged appearance that was supposedly a remnant of Celestia’s stint as a fertility goddess a long time ago. Unfortunately, she was noticeably overweight and lacked the grace and elegance normally associated with her build, and attempted to make up for it with dresses, jewelry, and makeup that Rarity would have called gaudy.
Lady Blueblood puffed herself up in a way clearly intended to make her look imposing and indignant. “My Lady Blue Star,” she began, with that haughty false politeness Blue Star had come to dread, “I really must protest your latest policy at that... school of yours. Bad enough you let common ponies attend at all, but now I hear you intend to place them in the same classroom!” Silently, Blue Star marveled at Blueblood’s unique command of the Equestrian language; she’d never before met a pony that could take innocent words like ‘common’ and turn them into vulgar swear words. “I have spoken to you before about your dangerously radical policies, but if this continues I will have to go over your head and speak to Princess Luna herself!” She pointed an accusatory hoof at the smaller pony. “Your fantastic ideas about the three races threaten the very fabric of Equestrian society, and I will not allow it!”
‘I’m trying to save our society, you pompous, bullheaded Princess wannabe; all it threatens is your already astronomical income,’ Blue Star did not say, as much as she’d had liked to. Instead she breathed in deeply, composing herself. “First of all, my plans for integrated classrooms are more of a long-term goal. I certainly don’t intend to implement them until the school has been running successfully for at least a few years. In fact, I question how you knew of those plans at all - I’ve only ever mentioned it to ponies I know would not have told anypony else, and I’m sure you know it is illegal to spy on a member of the Court.” Lady Blueblood blanched a bit at that; it was a very blunt threat by the standards of Court politics, but then Blue Star tended to wield her political power like a berserker griffon with an axe. “Secondly, I’m quite certain that, far from threatening our society, my school and the others like it that are under construction will revitalize what has become, if you’ll excuse my saying so, a stagnant and corrupt culture.” Lady Blueblood was turning red with anger now, but Blue Star stopped her before she could begin a tirade. “Thirdly, I doubt speaking to the Princess will yield any results for you; she supports my work, and does not appreciate your bull- er, aggressive style of negotiation.”
Blue Star politely waited for her fellow Court member to get herself under control. “You think you’re the first pony to try using Luna to back their plans?” she hissed angrily. “Whatever you’ve promised her, I guarantee you it won’t last. Her support will evaporate eventually, and when she does your entire little game will fall down around your ears.”
Blue Star smiled smugly. “Oh, I don’t think so. Princess Luna won’t get tired of what I have to offer so easily.” Friendship wasn’t something one tired of, after all. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a very important appointment to attend.” She turned away from Lady Blueblood in dismissal, but the obese noblemare wasn’t through with her yet.
“Oh yes, I heard about that as well. Inviting barbarians and animals into Canterlot for ‘diplomacy’, as if they were ponies!” Blue Star gritted her teeth and ignored the other pony’s mocking tone as she trotted away. “I’m surprised you were born a unicorn at all, considering how much time you spend with lesser races!”
Blue Star studiously ignored her until she turned a corner, letting out a sigh of relief when Blueblood declined to follow. “Arrogant no-good complacent overweight oppressive little...” she muttered to herself.
“Another encounter with ‘Lady’ Blueblood, I take it?” Blue Star looked up and smiled when she saw Starswirl approaching. “I wouldn’t let her get to you. She’s a powerful pony, but you have more support than I think she realizes. The school has just received donations from three more members of the Court.” Starswirl had spent the last few months proving he was not only a talented magician, but a skilled teacher as well. Blue Star had made him assistant headmaster of the school, at his request.
Blue Star smiled broadly. “That’s great news! That makes eleven Courtly supporters so far; that’s nearly half!” She felt her spirits lift, which was desperately needed after her encounter with the dreaded Lady. “And the wizards?”
“Most of the younger magicians support you,” Starswirl said cheerfully, as they began to walk together towards the conference room. “The elder wizards are more stubborn, but I have some connections. I’m confident I can convince a least a few. How goes the search for teachers?”
Blue Star’s smile vanished. “Not as well as I’d like. That’s why I wanted the wizards on board so badly. Earth pony and pegasus teachers don’t have the qualifications, and it’s getting harder and harder to find a unicorn with the right temperament. At least Posey’s interviews seem to be weeding out the most unsuitable ones.”
Motivating ponies to take the job had been easy - everypony could see that Blue Star was making waves, and most would prefer to ride that wave rather than drown under it. Unfortunately, there were far too many applicants for Blue Star to interview personally - and the interview really was necessary, not just to determine qualifications but to ensure they wouldn’t abuse their authority and torment the earth pony and pegasus students. Thankfully, Posey had devised a clever interview method to weed out the worst of the lot; she’d escort the potential teacher into a waiting room, give them a questionnaire Blue Star and Starswirl had developed to test their qualifications, and assure them that the interviewer would be along soon. She would check on them frequently to apologize for the wait and offer tea and other refreshments; if the applicant restrained their temper for forty-five minutes, Posey would call Blue Star for the actual interview. Sometimes, she’d leave it longer for particularly rude applicants. There had been a small problem early on when a particularly incensed unicorn had actually attempted to assault Posey, but Firefly stopped the violence before it went too far and asked some friends to act as bodyguards to prevent a repeat. It was a far more devious scheme then Blue Star had expected from her timid hoofmaiden; she’d been gaining confidence rapidly ever since she’d begun working for Blue Star. She was still timid and stuttered constantly, but she no longer feared the unicorn nobility like she once did; Blue Star was surprised at how firm she was with those who failed her test.
“I’m sure some suitable teachers will turn up,” Starswirl reassured her. “If nothing else, we just have to wait ten years or so and we’ll have former students to draw on.” Blue Star frowned but said nothing; Starswirl didn’t realize that ten years would be five years too late for the school to succeed. “In the meantime, worrying about it will just distract you. You have an important meeting to get to, don’t you?”
Blue Star’s eyes widened. “Ohmygosh, I’m late! Starswirl, I’ll meet you for our study session later, okay?” Not waiting for an answer she galloped down the hall, leaving a chuckling Starswirl in her wake.
Thankfully, she was already close to the conference room, and arrived a mere three minutes late. She took precisely five seconds to catch her breath and cast a translation spell, then entered with a bright grin. “Sorry to keep you waiting, everypo- everybody. I had a minor emergency to attend to, but I promise you all have my undivided attention now.”
Seated in the room was a sight that, even in Twilight’s time, would have been the most unusual gathering of species in Equestrian history. Seated to the left of Blue Star’s own seat at the circular table was Zaraha, a mischievous Zebra shaman from the most respected village in the loose allegiance of Zebra tribes that made up their nation of Zebrica. Blue Star had impressed him by greeting him in his own language, without use of a translation spell, and with the sort of proper, but quite clever, rhyming pun that Zebras were so fond of. Next to him was Chief Ironhorn, a massive buffalo from the Buffalo League whose tribe had been selected to represent the League as a whole. He’d hardly spoken a word since his arrival, but had been polite and gracious with what he did say. Beyond the Chief was Warrior-Prince Gunnar of the current High Clan of the griffons. He was still a bit bruised from what Blue Star delicately termed a ‘minor misunderstanding’; what one nation considered a polite greeting, the other considered treachery and assault on an acting diplomat. Luckily, Blue Star knew griffon culture well enough that she was prepared for the attack, and ended the fight quickly with a few choice spells before Firefly and her comrades could cause a diplomatic incident. The Warrior-Prince was honestly a friendly sort, once you got past the necessary cultural differences between an herbivorous race and an omnivorous one. Beyond the Prince, and seated on Blue Star’s other side, was Rex, Low Lord of the Diamond Dogs - actually a title of great honor, as Diamond Dogs used ‘Low’ in much the same way other races used ‘High’; they were ruled by a Low King, for example. He’d been impressed with the castle’s opulence, as material wealth was very important to Diamond Dogs.
“Waiting for you we did not mind; in truth, you wasted little time,” Zaraha said cheerfully, his voice light and musical. The translation spell Blue Star had cast filled the room, translating the Zebrican words in the native language of each species present. Most of them spoke at least a little Equestrian, but they all found their own native tongue easier.
“I agree with the stripy one,” spoke Gunnar, in a deep, heavy voice that nonetheless sounded amused. “In my homeland, you’re lucky if griffon nobility show up within a few hours of the appointed time. As far as I’m concerned, you’re right on time.”
“Enough talking,” said Rex, in a voice that sounded like he gargled with gravel daily. “Rex here for trade-talk, not boring time-talk.”
“Of course, Lord Rex,” Blue Star said smoothly, seating herself at the table. “Shall we begin, then?”
“Blueblood did what?” Blue Star very nearly screamed.
Starswirl winced. “My Lady, please. There’s some very delicate equipment in here.” The pair were in Starswirl’s lab, drawing a complex magic circle on the floor in chalk. Or, at least, they were a second ago; Blue Star had dropped her chalk in shock.
“Sorry, Swirl.” Blue Star had taken to using a nickname with the elder scholar, which Starswirl found he didn’t mind. She turned to Posey, who stood nearby in a corner, quivering at her mistress’ outburst. “But please tell me I misheard you, Posey. It’s too soon!”
Posey stared down at the ground, clearly wishing she had better news. “I-I’m sorry, L-Lady Star. My friend B-Bluebell says Lady Blueblood is p-planning to force a vote - s-several, actually - at the next C-Court meeting.”
Starswirl’s face was grim. “If Posey’s source is correct, Blueblood is probably planning a major offensive on our policy changes. She’ll go after the school, the diplomatic meetings with the other species, the public libraries... she may even go after the ideas you haven’t put into motion yet, like the patent office.”
Blue Star was frowning, as well. “We don’t have enough support in the Court yet to block her, do we?”
“No, probably not.” Starswirl sighed deeply. “We have a lot of support, but if it comes down to a straight show of hooves Blueblood simply has more friends in the Court than we do. A lot of our support base is outside the Court, among the wizards, the lesser nobility, and the other two pony races. Great for gradual social change, not so much for politics, I’m afraid.”
“What about Princess Celestia? Can she block the vote?” Blue Star asked hopefully.
“Not without declaring open support for our- your policies.” Starswirl’s voice was heavy. “Even the Princess has to play politics; there are some friends she can’t afford to lose. What about Princess Luna?”
Blue Star shook her head. “I’m making progress with her, but she won’t help. I still can’t get her to interact with Equestria in the daytime, much less attend Court.”
Starswirl looked across the half-finished circle at his defeated-looking counterpart. “I told you it was too soon. You pushed too far, too fast. If you had waited for the schools to properly hit their stride, given the others time to adjust, we could have made the change so gradual that ponies like Blueblood and her ilk would have barely noticed. But you insisted we go all in, and now she’s pushing back before we’re ready.” His gaze was mildly accusing; there was no venom, but there was a certain tone of disappointment.
Blue Star wished she could explain the urgency to him, but he probably wouldn’t believe her. He didn’t realize the true purpose of the school, the libraries, the patent office, the diplomatic meetings, none of it. Nopony did, not yet. But each and every one of these things had Princess Luna’s image on them. It was her signature on the decrees, her approval that moved the projects forward. More and more, Princess Luna’s presence was being felt in Equestria, and Luna herself was taking more of an interest - she’d thought of the libraries herself, with a minimum of hinting from Blue Star.
Starswirl thought it was just about changing the world, and it was, but there was more to it. It was a propaganda campaign, pure and simple. Blue Star was not, by nature, a subtle or politically minded pony, but her detail-oriented mind was remarkably suited to finding all the little ways to put Princess Luna’s name out there. The problem was, this campaign had a time limit of five years, which was not very long at all in politics. Starswirl didn’t see that time limit, didn’t understand how little time they had to make Luna feel popular and loved before her loneliness drove her mad.
Knowing the future really bucked sometimes.
“U-umm, excuse me.” The two scholars turned their gaze to where Posey sat, nearly forgotten. She blushed at the sudden attention, but continued. “Umm, I d-don’t mean to interrupt, b-but... I might have an idea.”
“You do?” exclaimed Blue Star, eyes widening.
“Um... maybe...” Posey took a deep breath. “Umm... d-do you mind if I’m honest for a minute, Lady Star?”
Thoroughly intrigued now, Blue Star nodded. “You can always be honest with me, Posey. What is it?”
“Well... see... the thing is... I’ve spent a lot of t-time around the nobility... just listening. N-nopony notices me, you see. I’m j-just a hoofmaiden. So they talk about things, and I l-listen. I know how they think, at least a l-little bit, and...” she took another deep breath, steeling her nerves. Blue Star had seen her do the same thing before telling an applicant at the school they’d failed the interview. “You’ve been going about this all wrong. Convincing the other n-nobles, I mean.”
Blue Star and Starswirl shared a glance. “What do you mean, Posey?” Starswirl asked, not unkindly. “We’ve already got a lot of support from the nobility.”
“Well, yes,” Posey admitted. “But those are only the n-nice ones, and there’s a lot more m-mean ones than nice ones. And the mean ones have more m-money and p-power, too. Like Lady Blueblood. I’ve m-met them all, so I know. You won’t c-convince them to help pegasi and earth ponies just because it’s right.”
Blue Star’s brow furrowed. “What then? Do you have a better idea?”
“Umm... y-yes. I do.”
Blue Star and Starswirl listened intently as Posey explained her simple idea. It only took a few minutes, but afterwards both scholars were grinning ear to ear. “Posey, you’re a genius,” Blue Star said.
“An absolute genius,” Starswirl agreed. “I’m surprised it took us this long to think of it.”
“It’s my policies they’ll be voting on, so I should have the right to address the Court before the vote’s taken,” Blue Star continued, still grinning. “Good work, Posey.”
Posey beamed at the praise.
“In the meantime, though, let’s finish this experiment.” Starswirl said eagerly, his attention returning to the chalk circle. “I can’t wait to test this theory of yours. You really think we’ll be able to open a stable window into the past?”
Blue Star nodded. “With the added stability of the formula you invented? I’m sure of it. I wouldn’t recommend doing it by feel, though. I had a... very narrow escape the last time I tried that.”
“I would imagine!” Starswirl laughed. “A fundamental force like time isn’t something to meddle with lightly. I would have thought you’d be more cautious, My Lady.”
Blue Star blushed and ducked her head, focusing on the chalk drawing.
“WE NOW DECLARE THE ROYAL COURT OF EQUESTRIA TO BE IN SESSION.” No matter how many times she heard it, Blue Star would never be able to reconcile the sound of the Royal Canterlot Speaking Voice with the image of Princess Celestia. Then again, the Princess Celestia who sat on her throne at the head of the long, rectangular table bore little resemblance to the one Blue Star remembered from her time, or even to the Princess she occasionally met privately for tea in this time. She was in full queenly form today, towering over the table, her face a mask of majestic calm. “LADY BLUEBLOOD, WE BELIEVE THOU HAST A MOTION TO PROPOSE?”
Blueblood waited a moment for everypony’s hearing to recover; the Court chambers were large, but that just meant there was an echo to amplify the Voice’s effect. Once everypony could properly hear again, she stood up. “Yes, thank you, Your Majesty. I have a matter of great importance to bring to the Court, one that threatens our very way of life!” Her voice was irritatingly melodramatic, Blue Star thought. “I urge the Court to swift, decisive action to deal with this threat as quickly as possible.”
Here it comes, thought Blue Star. The Royal Court held a great deal of power in Equestria. While the Princesses were the unquestioned rulers, and could even award seats on the Court that were not currently controlled or occupied by a noble family, even they - in theory - had to answer to their subjects. In practice, they answered to a small group of unicorns, each of whom controlled a different aspect of Equestrian life or performed a function for the Princesses. Blue Star’s function was, technically, to advise the Princesses in all matters involving magic and scholarly matters; Blueblood’s job was to regulate and control the city’s labor forces, which she did very poorly. Unfortunately, her real job, as was the case with most of the Court, was politics, and at this she excelled. If she forced a vote now, there was a very real chance she could cause all of Blue Star’s plans to collapse.
“The problem at hoof is, shamefully, one of our own. The so-called Lady Blue Star!” This sent a wave of mutters around the table, and Blue Star’s eyes widened. A personal attack was... unexpected. She glanced at the Princess, but her expression had not changed. Personal feelings were dangerous in politics; Blue Star was on her own.
“Blue Star, despite not truly being of noble birth, has sorely misused the authority entrusted to her by our benevolent Princess Celestia,” Blueblood continued, her chins wobbling as she really got into her speech. “She has shown flagrant disrespect for our traditions, openly insulting the way we have done things for hundreds of years! She seeks to overturn our society - indeed, she told me only yesterday that she considers our society to be ‘stagnant and corrupt’.” Blue Star had to exert herself to keep from defending herself. Wait your turn, she told herself fiercely. Let her say what she likes; in five minutes it won’t matter what she says.
“Her policies seek to upset the status quo, distracting our laborers with unnecessary knowledge and burdening them with unneeded concerns.” Blueblood was practically quivering with excitement and rage. “She seeks to muddy the purity of noble bloodlines, allowing the children of noble unicorns to interact freely with those of earth ponies and pegasi! She even meets with representatives of other species, giving access to our utopian Equestria to heathen barbarians!” Blue Star felt her temper rising, and clamped down on it hard. “Mares and stallions of the Court, I move that ‘Lady’ Blue Star be expelled from her position as Magical Advisor to the Court, and that her policies and institutions be dissolved immediately! All in favor?”
Blue Star’s heart skipped a beat as she realized Blueblood had already moved to vote. “Wait!” she exclaimed hurriedly, the sound of collapsing plans echoing in her ears. “Don’t I get a chance to defend my case?”
Blueblood sneered at the smaller noblemare. “We have all heard your petty justifications, ‘my lady’.” Again, innocent words turned to ugly swears in the overweight mare’s mouth. “We tire of your endless talk of equality and education. Such things are simply not needed. Equestria has functioned without them for centuries, and it will continue to do so for centuries more.” Despite her confidence, though, the other ponies around the table looked ill at ease. Expelling a Court member was not lightly done - if one did it without due consideration, what if they were next?
“I understand now that my previous arguments were not, in your view, terribly convincing,” Blue Star said, with a bit of relief. She was back on script. “But I’ve prepared some new ones I think you’ll find a bit more convincing.”
Blueblood opened her mouth to speak, but she as cut off by a far more impressive voice. “WE WILL HEAR BLUE STAR’S CASE,” boomed Princess Celestia. “THY CHARGES ARE SERIOUS ONES, LADY BLUEBLOOD, AND LADY BLUE STAR HAS A RIGHT TO DEFEND HERSELF.” She nodded to Blue Star, who smiled gratefully at her monarch.
Blue Star took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts. The direct assault on her character had been unexpected, as was the motion to have her expelled from the Court. Still, in the long run it didn’t matter. Blue Star had a Plan, and that made her confident and invincible. What’s more, it was a plan that let her do what she did best - lecture.
“Mare and stallions of the Court, Lady Blueblood claims that my policies would disrupt Equestria’s status quo. She believes that I would cause change and uncertainty, and this frightens her. What’s more, she is not wrong.” This sent a wave of concern through the Court, but Blue Star was far from done. “Where she is mistaken, however, is in her assumption that change and reform are inherently bad, and that my policies will somehow harm or degrade the quality of life here in Equestria. I intend to prove, conclusively, that not only is this not so, but we all stand to benefit greatly from my reforms.”
Blue Star had their attention now; she had a talent for oratory. She had allies on the Court, sure, but many of them were allied more out of the desire to back a winner than true belief in her cause. That would change now. “I’ll start with my diplomatic overtures to other species, as this seems to have caused Lady Blueblood a great deal of distress.” Ignoring Blueblood’s frown, Blue Star gestured to Posey, who lurked silently by the chamber door. Posey approached just long enough to gently place a saddlebag on the table, before hastily retreating. “I understand the anxiety in interacting with cultures so fundamentally different from our own. Ponies fear what we don’t understand; it’s our nature,” Blue Star said, remembering her own experiences with Zecora. “However, while other cultures may not be quite as advanced as Equestria, they are not barbarians - in fact, they have much to offer us.”
Blue Star magically opened the saddlebag and telekinetically lifted out the first object. It was big, flashy and ostentatious - sure to catch their attention. It was, in fact, a nearly flawless diamond slightly smaller than the head of a fully grown stallion. Every pony in the room immediately locked their gaze onto it. “This was a gift from Low Lord Rex, of the Diamond Dogs, from his own private hoard. While still valuable in their culture, diamonds like these are considered negligible in value when compared to a Low Lord’s hoard. When it comes to precious stones, they are wealthy beyond the most opulent dreams of ponykind. However, they do not have much in the way of advanced magic, and therefore are forced to live hard lives in caves and mines, searching endlessly for gems. They are willing to pay handsomely for magical assistance to make their lives easier - and a handsome payment from a Diamond Dog is enough to make us all rich beyond measure.”
She had their attention now, no doubt. Posey had been right - these ponies were practical ponies, not philosophers. In a way, they were rather like Jonathan Apple. The morality of her policies didn’t do much to sway them - but profit? Profit would convince the most traditional of ponies to join her cause. It was a dirty tactic, but if it worked Blue Star would gladly use it. She set the diamond down, making sure it was still in clear view, and pulled out her next present; a small vial of blue glass filled with liquid. “This vial was a gift from Zaraha, a very pleasant Zebra shaman. He used his homeland’s native alchemy to craft it, specifically for me. He thought I’d find it interesting.” She pulled the stopper on the bottle, and poured a little onto the table. The Court ponies all craned their necks to see what was happening. A collective gasp arose as the liquid soaked into the table, leaving the area it touched bright gold. “Feel free to inspect it magically, that’s solid gold. The transformation is permanent, and it’s real gold in every way. This potion is difficult to create for all but the most talented shaman, but its ingredients are cheap. Zebras consider the formula almost worthless, as they have no concept of money, but they are quite willing to trade this and other alchemic secrets and ask to be paid in their primary currency - stories and knowledge.”
Murmurs of disbelief and excitement were circulating around the table, but Blue Star spoke over them. “The other races have their own wonders to offer. Buffalo know the secrets of the desert, like a flower whose petals grant a moment of pure joy when ingested, and ask only for food and medical aid in return. The griffons craft metalwork so exquisite it makes our own forges seem primitive in comparison, and ask for pegasus assistance in weather regulation.” She smiled at the Court as she removed a magically protected potted plant and a small, beautifully crafted dagger from her bag. “Are these offers we can afford to pass up?”
The answer, if the general sound of chatter was any indication, was ‘no, they are not’. Blueblood was looking nervous; Blue Star pressed her advantage. “As for the other matter, that of my schools and libraries, I’m surprised this matter is even up for debate. Surely it is self-evident that education will increase production in almost all trades and jobs, as better, more efficient ways of doing things are discovered. Ponies who might otherwise never become educated may one day invent something incredible; even if they do not, education opens avenues to new jobs, new opportunities, and new ways of revitalizing the economy.” That was a good phrase, revitalize the economy. She meant “the poor ponies would no longer be poor”, but the Court nobles heard “you will all make even more money”. The beauty of it was, they were both right. “As for integration, well, I’ve already shown the benefits of working hoof in hoof with entire other species. Are the benefits of working with others of our own kind really so hard to see? It promotes cooperation and the free sharing of ideas, which can only work to help Equestria progress even further as the most advanced nation in the world.”
She took a deep breath, slightly drained from her speech but satisfied. “Now, the Court may vote however it wishes. I only ask that they carefully consider what I have said, and that they make the choice that is best for everypony. In the interests of fairness, I will abstain from the vote.” She packed away her gifts, slowly, and deliberately put the most impressive one - the diamond - away last.
The Council deliberated for some time. Blue Star was politely asked to step aside, as she was abstaining from the vote. She waited patiently, outwardly calm though her heart was pounding. The plan would work. She just had to keep repeating that to herself. The plan would work.
Finally, she was called back to the Court table. Blueblood was looking sullen, while Princess Celestia looked - to those who knew her very well - pleased. However, it wasn’t either of them who spoke, but an elderly stallion near the head of the table, Lord Platinum. He was a powerful pony with a reputation for level-headedness, and claimed to trace his ancestry back to the original Royal Family of Unicorns from the founding of Equestria. He was in charge of records, scrolls, and general knowledge in the Canterlot and all Equestria, and so he and Blue Star were at least friendly acquaintances. He had yet to support her openly, though she knew he’d been considering it.
“You make a convincing argument, Lady Blue Star,” Lord Platinum said mildly. His face betrayed little of his thoughts. “However, there is some value to Lady Blueblood’s fears. Your policies are radical, and pose a potential danger to our way of life.” He paused briefly, during which period Blue Star nearly had a heart attack. “That said, the potential benefits cannot be ignored. So, the Court has decided to vote against your expulsion from the Court. The Court has further voted that your policies be allowed to continue - under a condition, of course.” Lord Platinum met Blue Star’s eyes with an intense gaze. “We require proof. The mingling of the three races of ponykind are by far the most radical change you have proposed; prove to us that unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies can cooperate peacefully, and the Court shall support you. You may use your school as a test group, if you wish.”
Blue Star was stunned briefly by this bizarre request. How could she prove something like that? There was no formula for cooperation - she should know, she’s looked for one. There was no way to collect hard, scientific evidence that ponies were capable of looking beyond a horn or pair of wings to see the pony underneath...
Wait a minute...
Blue Star grinned. “I think I can manage that.”
Blue Star watched as the students were lead into the school’s assembly hall, filing in through three separate doors. Earth ponies through one door, pegasi through another, and unicorns through the third; three classes worth of each. Enough to ensure random selection; the ponies wouldn’t know each other very well, and would be unlikely to recognize each other on sight.
The students were nervous, which was understandable. If there was one constant at Princess Luna’s First Center of Education, it was that everything ran according to schedule. Blue Star insisted on it, with a vehemence most ponies reserved for mortal enemies, as if disorganization itself was some malevolent entity she must vanquish. This assembly, however, was not on the schedule - it was a last minute change, which was doubly strange as it was Blue Star herself who made the change.
The fact that the entire Royal Court was in attendance, Princess Celestia included, probably contributed to the nervousness too. Blue Star was pretty sure it was mostly the abrupt schedule change, though. Celestia knows it upset her enough.
The Court members sat on the stage at the front of the room, arranged in a semi-circle with Celestia in the center, and Blue Star at her right hoof. To Blue Star’s right, looking bewildered, was Lord Platinum. “I’m not sure I see what you’re trying to accomplish here, My Lady,” the elderly stallion said quietly. “Would it not be better to preform your test on a smaller scale? Just a few foals from each race?”
Blue Star smiled cheerfully. “This is an experiment, Lord Platinum. It’s important to have a large sample size in order to obtain the most accurate results. You’ll see.” She stood up from her cushion and strode to the front of the stage; immediately, the chatter from the students ceased as their gaze fell upon her.
“Hello, my little ponies!” Blue Star said cheerfully to the crowd of fillies and colts, her voice magically amplified so everypony could hear. “I’m very sorry to disrupt your classes today, but I think you’ll find this just as enjoyable. We’re going to play a little game today, in order to improve your skills at making friends and talking to other ponies. You won’t be graded, but...” she gestured to Firefly, who was hovering nearby. The bubblegum pink pegasus flew over, holding out a jar filled with sweets. “Anypony who does well will receive a reward of one piece of candy per point.” That got their attention; nothing like candy to get foals to focus.
“Now, here’s how the game will work. Right now, your teachers are handing out capes and hats for everypony to wear. Make sure you keep them on; if you take them off, you’ll be disqualified and you won’t win any candy.” As she spoke, the teachers did as instructed, pulling around carts full of hats and capes to hand out. Surprise had been a huge help in finding all the supplies, and what she couldn’t find, Sparkler had made. The result was a mishmash of a hundred styles of hats, and a veritable rainbow of capes. “At the same time, you’ll also be receiving ten pieces of paper and a pencil. Don’t lose these; you’ll need them for scoring. Make sure you have the right number, and put your name or Cutie Mark on the back of each one.”
Blue Star waited a bit for everypony to settle down; every colt and filly was now wearing a hat and cape, looking simultaneously excited and confused. The teachers, too, were wearing their own outfits. With a smile, Blue Star put on her own hat and cape, nodding behind her to the Court. With varying degrees of trepidation, they all donned their own outfits, though theirs tended towards the dignified, rather than the silly combinations everypony else was wearing. Nonetheless, a brief spat of laughter ran through the crowd as Princess Celestia herself donned a top hat and a comically small shawl.
Everypony looked ridiculous, of course, which helped lighten the mood considerably. The important thing, however, was that it was now impossible to tell merely by looking whether any particular pony was an earth pony, pegasus, or unicorn. With capes to cover wings and hats to conceal horns, race was more or less invisible.
Once everypony was properly attired, Blue Star began again. “Now, here’s how the game will work, everypony. Once I say ‘start’ you’re going to walk around and talk to each other. Try to talk to ponies outside your class; ponies in the same class as you won’t earn any points. After you’ve talked to them for a bit, write down their name on one of your pieces of paper, along with what race you think they are. If you don’t know how to write yet, or just can’t spell very well, you may use that pony’s cutie mark and a picture of a hoof, wing, or horn instead. If you’re caught cheating, whether by trying to peek under a hat or cape, or by just asking somepony their race, you’ll be disqualified. For every name you match correctly with their race, you’ll get one point, and one piece of candy. You have one hour to fill out all ten pieces of paper and leave them in one of the baskets for your class. Once you’re done, you can go and sit with your teacher, or continue to walk around and talk to the others. Any questions?” There were waves of muttering and chatter, but nopony raised a hoof. “Very well! Everypony ready.... START!”
Blue Star smiled as she returned to her cushion as the foals began moving about and mingling. Chatter filled the assembly hall as they began to talk to each other, quietly at first but quickly gaining in volume. Lord Platinum and Princess Celestia were both giving her impressed looks, while Lady Blueblood’s stare could have curdled milk. The other Court members watched the game with varying degrees of interest and nervousness.
Lord Platinum leaned over to Blue Star. “I think I understand. You don’t expect any of them to win this ‘game’ of yours, do you?”
Blue Star shrugged. “Oh, I’m sure some will. Even with the horns and wings covered, there are hints. Accent, behavior, even names and Cutie Marks. The cleverest students will get their candy. And I’m sure at least a few students will get away with cheating. But that’s not actually the point. The point is to get them talking to each other, as ponies, not as a unicorn or pegasus or earth pony. If I can just get them talking...” She trailed off.
Lord Platinum nodded and fell silent. They watched the mass of students as they milled about, chatting amicably amongst themselves. Blue Star quietly cast a sight-enhancing spell on herself, to better track the progress of her project. It took her a few minutes to find somepony she recognized; little Applejack was chatting amicably with Star Chaser, a unicorn from a minor noble family. As Blue Star watched, both ponies turned away to secretly scribble on a piece of paper. Applejack made a crude but recognizable sketch of Star Chaser’s Cutie Mark, with an equally crude hoof drawn beneath it. Star Chaser, for his part, wrote Applejack’s name in elegant script, with the word ‘unicorn’ carefully scribed beneath it. Blue Star felt her smile grow as she dismissed the enchantment, settling down onto her cushion.
An hour later, the game ended. Most of the students had finished filling in the stacks of paper with the names of new friends, but they continued milling around, happily jabbering away with their newfound friends. It took a bright magical flare from Blue Star to get them all to sit down by their teachers. “Alright, everypony! The game is over; time to award points! Let’s start with Ms. Polar’s class...”
They went class by class, reading off each slip of paper. Blue Star felt smug as only a tiny hooffull of candy was handed out in the first class. The second class was a bit more successful, but the majority of the guesses were still wrong. Same with the third class, and the fourth. Even more interestingly, each pony seemed more likely to put their own race down, assuming whoever they spoke to must be the same as them. The earth ponies assumed all their new friends were also earth ponies; same with pegasi, and especially the unicorns.
As the fifth and six classes went by with a minimum of candy awarded yet again, the Court members began to shift uncomfortably. They saw the trend, too. With horns and wings covered, the differences between the pony races were nearly invisible, especially to foals. By the time the ninth class finished reading off their guesses, even Lady Blueblood hung her head in defeat. Blue Star, however, was not quite finished.
She took her spot on the front of the stage again, once again amplifying her voice. “Congratulations, everypony! You all did great! Now, can anypony tell me what they learned?” A veritable forest of hooves leapt into the air. Blue Star pointed a hoof at a pegasus filly near the stage.
“It’s really really hard to tell ponies apart if you can’t see their wings or horn!” the little filly chirped eagerly.
“Yes, that’s true, but that’s not quite what this game was about. Anypony else?” Blue Star surveyed the crowd, before pointing a hoof at little Applejack.
Applejack was bouncing up and down in place as she answered. “If’n you can’t tell ah unicorn from ah earth pony, then they’re like the same thing!” she exclaimed, beaming. “My papa always said unicorns were completely different from normal ponies, but they’re really just the same thing, aren’t they?”
Blue Star beamed back at the energetic filly. “That’s exactly right. Everypony is born with different abilities, but that doesn’t make them any different from anypony else. In a way, it’s sort of like a Cutie Mark. Now, one more question before I let you all go back to class. I’m sure you all made a lot of new friends, many of whom weren’t the species you thought they were. Who here would want to keep being friends with these ponies, even if they’re a different type of pony?” Nearly every pony in the room threw their hooves up. “Who wouldn’t want to continue being friends, now that they know the truth?” Their were a few half-raised hooves, but they fell quickly upon noticing how alone they were. “Excellent! Thank you, everypony, and good work! Remember to pay attention in your classes, and do all your homework. Back to classes now!”
As the young fillies and colts filed out of the assembly hall, Blue Star turned back to the Court members, smiling proudly. “How’s that for proof?”
There was silence for several long moments. Then Lord Platinum spoke. “All in favor in allowing Lady Blue Star to continue her reforms of Equestrian social and educational reform, raise your hoof.” He lifted his own hoof, and those of the rest of the Court followed swiftly. Only three ponies sitting at the end of the semicircle did not; Blueblood and two of her allies. Blueblood glared hatefully at Blue Star, while her two cronies slowly raised their hooves, shooting apologetic glances at Lady Blueblood. “Motion carried. Congratulations, my Lady.” Lord Platinum nodded amicably at Blue Star. “I move that the Court adjourn.”
Blue Star was humming merrily to herself as she worked her way through the piles of paperwork that went into running Equestria’s first public school. It was a lot of work, but she didn’t mind; she found paperwork relaxing. Redundancy, organization, filing... what’s not to love? The sheet she was working on now held a particular place in her heart; it was a form authorizing the first mixed-race trial class. She didn’t need it yet, of course - Equestria wasn’t quite ready - but it was good to be prepared.
A knock came at the door of her office, rousing from her pleasant, paperwork-induced haze. “Come in!” she called cheerily.
The door opened slowly, revealing Princess Celestia, smiling softly. Blue Star stiffened suddenly, old habits kicking in. “Princess! I wasn’t expecting you; aren’t you needed back at the castle?”
“The castle can get along without me for five minutes. I wished to speak with you, Lady Blue Star.” Celestia strode into the office; Blue Star hurriedly cast an enlargement spell on the cushion in front of her desk for Celestia to sit on.
“Of course, Princess,” Blue Star said respectfully, neatly arranging her paperwork on the side of her desk. “How can I help you?”
“The question is not how you can help me. How can I help you, Blue Star? What do you want?”
Blue Star tilted her head in confusion. “Princess?”
“Blue Star, among all our subjects, nopony has done as much as you to improve Equestria and the lives of its citizens for centuries.” Celestia leaned forward slightly, her face kind. “More than anything, you have shown yourself to be a loyal subject, never asking for anything for yourself. In return, you’ve received very little other than gratitude from the poor and grief from the rich. It is time you were properly rewarded. So I’ll ask again, Lady Blue Star. What do you want? If it is within my power to grant, it’s yours. Think of it as a free wish.”
Blue Star froze. Her brain simply wouldn’t function; paralyzed by opportunity. She could ask for anything... all the knowledge in the world; more power to bring to bear for her reforms; magic to fuel her research; anything. There were so many choices, she could hardly breathe. How could she choose one?
What do I want more than anything in the world?
And then the answer was clear.
Blue Star smiled softly. “Thank you very much for the generous offer, Princess Celestia. However... other than being allowed to continue my reforms to help other ponies, I don’t think there is anything else I need.”
Princess Celestia looked stunned. “Nothing? Surely there is something. Everypony has a wish. Something you desire above all else, something you cannot gain alone.”
Blue Star paused for a moment, letting a memory echo in her mind.
“The girls and Ah are all gettin’ together fer a picnic later, and Ah promised I’d get ya’ll to come along.”
“I just have a theory I want to test; I’ll be done in time. I promise. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”
“Alrighty then! Ah’ll see ya’ll at the park!”
“There is something, Princess...” Celestia leaned forward with anticipation as Blue Star spoke. “But... I’m afraid it’s beyond even your power to grant. Thank you, Princess, but there’s nothing else I need.”
Blue Star took a tiny measure of amusement at seeing the great Princess Celestia so flustered and confused. “As... as long as you are certain, I suppose. The offer will remain open, of course, should you change your mind.”
“Thank you, Princess,” Blue Star said as she retrieved her paperwork. “Perhaps... perhaps a thousand years from now.” She smiled, as if at a secret joke. “Was there anything else?”
“No, I suppose not.” The Princess said, standing up. “Good day, Lady Blue Star. Do try not to overwork yourself.”
Blue Star watched as the Princess left the room. Once she was gone, she ran to the door and glanced outside, ensuring nopony else was there. As soon as she confirmed she was alone, Lady Blue Star, Magical Advisor to the Royal Court and social revolutionary, locked the door and allowed herself to become Twilight Sparkle again. Twilight Sparkle, student to the Princess, Ponyville librarian, Element of Magic, who had six close friends that she’d never see again. Twilight Sparkle, who had a picnic to attend that she would likely never make it to.
Twilight Sparkle, who promptly burst into tears and did not stop for quite some time.
A/N: I’m beginning to suspect I may be a horrible person. Ah well. Remember, I feed on comments and speculation, and I’m quite hungry today! Also, don’t forget to visit my brand new TVTropes page!