Chapter Thirty-Six - Madness in Love
"There is always madness in love. But there is always some reason in madness."
- Friedrich Nietzsche
It was well known in the upper echelons of society in Canterlot that if you needed to impress a griffin, be it for business, politics, or any other reason, you absolutely had to take them to Dorsia. It was one of only a handful of restaurants that catered to omnivores in the city, and it did with aplomb. It had even garnered attention from food critics all across Council space. The only problem with it being one of the most desirable places to be seen was that it had a waiting list to match its demand. Ponies and griffins often found themselves waiting an upwards of six months to get a table.
There were certain perks that came with being Princess Celestia's prized pupil, and brushing through lines and getting into the most exclusive and private haunts in Canterlot was one of them. That wasn't to say that Twilight abused the privileges she enjoyed, but after several long talks with Celestia, she had grown to appreciate letting loose every now and then.
Her first official date with Gilda definitely seemed to be the perfect occasion to flex her connections, and a single call to Dorsia had only confirmed that.
Twilight had done her best to surprise Gilda, simply telling the nervous griffin to dress up for a special occasion. That led to her realizing that Gilda didn't actually own many clothes, and the resulting shopping spree had left both the unicorn and the griffin slightly nervous wrecks. Gilda had made a mental note to never go shopping with Twilight again after that. The categorized lists of every item that someone would need to make a complete wardrobe had been overwhelming and caused more than their fair share of anxiety.
Going by the state of her overflowing closet though, Gilda was definitely relieved that she wouldn't need to undergo such a process again for at least a decade. She wasn't sure that she'd be able to survive such a thing if she needed to do it much more than that.
Having just been given her freedom again after so long, Gilda would much prefer to stay among the living for as long as possible, thank you very much.
Gilda had followed Twilight nervously through the streets of Canterlot, trying not to struggle at her newly tailored suit (she wasn't going to be wearing any silly dresses, much to Twilight's chagrin). She did her best to ignore the looks that she could feel from everypony they passed. She didn't know why they were looking at her anyway, not when there was an absolute vision of beauty in front of her.
She had honestly never seen anything as beautiful as the unicorn in front of her. Twilight wore a shimmering dress that complemented her violet coat, her mane shining in the light of the lamps that lined the streets.
Compared to her, Gilda could only feel like she was just a pale shadow of somepony worth the unicorn's love and affection.
As the capital of Equestria, Canterlot represented nearly every culture from across the planet. In the twisting beauty of the towers of the Royal Castle, the hidden strength was there for those who bothered to look. It was so different from the cold and utilitarian architecture that Gilda was used to seeing on the rare chances she ever left her master's… on the rare chances she ever left the bastard's home. Batarians were not particularly known for their artistic prowess, and everything they built was simply functional and nothing beyond that.
Arriving at Dorsia was an experience in and of itself. It was surrounded on both sides of the entrance by photographers trying to capture a picture of the latest celebrity and whoever might be accompanying them. The moment that one of them spotted Twilight though, their attention shifted instantly. The shy student of the Empress out on the town, with a griffin in hoof no less? No doubt their entire evening together would end up plastered all over the news tomorrow morning.
Gilda did her best not to think about that. If she did, there was every possibility that she'd just turn tail and run away as fast as she could.
That wouldn't be a very good way to end her first date with Twilight Sparkle.
Even as she thought about, Gilda couldn't help but wonder if this would be her only date with the unicorn.
That line of thinking made her uncomfortable, and Gilda tried to shove it to the back of her mind. Much to her annoyance, it lingered, a ball of anxiety that refused to leave her chest.
As soon as the maître d' spotted Twilight, she led them to a private booth near the back of the restaurant that overlooked the drop off at the edge of the city, with an absolutely breathtaking view of Equestria and all the lands beyond. The restaurant itself was subtle and subdued, the lighting low and golden, with slick edges and design that left Gilda feeling slightly lesser for being in its presence. She couldn't even calm her racing heart long enough to enjoy the view.
The dinner itself went smoothly enough, with quiet, if awkward talk between them. Their conversation ranged over everything and nothing at all. Gilda tried her best to enjoy the whole experience, but all she could feel was a rising sense of dread that threatened to make her curl up in a ball and hide from everyone and everything underneath the table.
Thanks to their relatively private table, the two of them had managed to avoid most of the other patrons of the restaurant, though Gilda still fidgeted uncomfortably whenever she felt eyes linger on her. It helped that she managed to sit facing away from the rest of the restaurant. She simply pretended that there was no one else around her.
The fact that Twilight was sitting across from her, looking as adorkably cute as the day Gilda first met her back on the Citadel certainly helped matters. If she just focused on Twilight, the rest of the world simply fell away.
Doing her best to try and ignore the blush that made her feathers prickle, Gilda traced shapes in the tablecloth, trying to think of something to say. "What made you pick this particular place?"
"I spent the entire day yesterday researching the best griffin restaurants in Canterlot, and this was the best of the best," Twilight all to cheerfully told Gilda, apparently not noticing the sheer amount of nervousness boiling just under the griffin's surface. "Everyone said so, and none of the reviews were lower than four stars. I made a chart and graph to make sure!"
"That's…" Gilda didn't know whether to laugh or shake her head. Only Twilight would graph out the best place to go on a first date, "very efficient of you."
"I know, isn't it!" Twilight clapped her hooves together, her face split in an enormous grin, completely missing Gilda's sarcasm.
They fell silent, neither quite sure what to say. What a great way to start a date, Gilda grumbled to herself in her head. Emotions and thoughts and feelings all roiled through her body, smashing together passionately. She wanted to jump up and cry out how absolutely grateful she was to Twilight Sparkle for everything that she'd done for her, but she was instead met with a rather uncomfortable sense of paralysis. She wanted to shout out for everyone to hear, but at the same time, she wanted to curl up into a ball and fall asleep. It felt like every molecule in her body was trying to pull itself apart in every direction.
The stumps of Gilda's wings fluttered anxiously, and she couldn't help but reflexively rub the plastic part of her beak nervously.
"Twilight…" Gilda paused, staring down at the table. She played with the tablecloth, scratching it between her claws. It didn't so much as fray, even against the sharpness of her talons.
"What is it, Gilda?" Twilight asked, completely unaware of the broiling mess of thoughts and emotions and emotions that had taken over Gilda's entire world.
"I wanted to ask…" Gilda paused, her beak opening and closing as if the words themselves didn't want to come out.
"You can ask me anything, Gilda." Twilight held Gilda's gaze, smiling the entire time.
Gilda hesitated for just a moment longer, but finally managed to force out the one thought that had dominated her entire being. "Why me?"
"What?" Twilight leaned back, blinking, not quite comprehending what Gilda had asked her.
"Why me? Out of everyone you could have picked, why me?" Gilda winced, fidgeting in her seat. She sent a few longing glances towards the entrance of the restaurant, but somehow she managed to find the strength to remain in her seat.
"Why wouldn't I have picked you?" Twilight finally managed to speak after nearly a minute of opening and closing her mouth in confusion. "You're so brave. You survived things that I can't even imagine and came out of it even stronger."
"You're the student of most powerful alicorn in the galaxy, and you're a member of a Noble family. You could have anypony that you wanted, but you picked me?" Gilda wondered if the smarts that Twilight obviously had sometimes impaired her common sense. The unicorn seemed oblivious to quite a lot of the world around her.
Twilight sat quietly, chewing on her bottom lip, her eyes furrowed. She couldn't think of anything to say. She wasn't Cadance for crying out loud! This wasn't her area of expertise. "I don't…"
She stopped, shutting her mouth. She had to think about that.
A minute passed, and then another.
The door was starting to look more and a more like the best option, calling enticingly to Gilda. Was Twilight rethinking all of this? Her and her big beak... She should have known better than to ruin the best thing to ever happen to her.
Just as Gilda was about to leap up and run gallantly away in fear, Twilight finally spoke.
"Have you ever just... known... something?"
"Known something? Like what?" Gilda was surprised that she managed to keep the quivering of fear out of her voice.
"I don't know how to explain it, but I'm going to try…" Twilight took a deep breath, glancing away before focusing her entire attention on Gilda. "I just knew. When I walked into that hospital room, I just knew."
"I knew that you were the one. I don't know how, and I can't explain it. It was just like there was something inside me that... I just knew." Twilight looked down in embarrassment and rubbed her hoof on the tablecloth in little circles. "You were the one, and I don't want anyone else. There is nopony else."
"But... But why?" Gilda couldn't make sense of it. She absolutely loved it, but it didn't feel… real. Nothing felt real, like if she looked around a corner, she would find the seams of reality and the entire illusion would crumble away.
"I can't explain it, it just... is." For someone who lived in a library, Twilight wasn't sure how she wasn't able to come up with the words necessary to assuage Gilda's worries. At the end of the day though, she was a scientist, not a poet.
She should have been a poet. Gidla deserved someone who could elegantly spin reassuring words in sonnets and rhymes.
They both fell silent after that. It began awkward, but as they met each other's eyes, that faded away, leaving only them. They relaxed and just enjoyed the moment. Twilight blushed so hard that she was worried the heat radiating from her cheeks might set the restaurant on fire.
A quiet cough startled both of them, and they turned to find a waiter standing at the table, a pitcher of water held in her magic. After refilling their glasses, griffin waiter left. Twilight and Gilda tried to draw themselves back together, but neither felt quite able.
"Well... That was a bit more heavy than I wanted to get into on our first date," Twilight said, coughing into her hoof.
"No... No... It's fine. Perfect."
Twilight giggled, looking at Gilda. The griffin was surrounded ever so faintly by a halo of light. She knew that it was just an optical illusion, thanks to the placement of Gilda and the light sources the room used, all coming together in her eyes to make it seem like the griffin was glowing, but it didn't matter. It was one of the most beautiful sights she had ever seen.
"Let's get out of here," Twilight said, hopping down to the floor. Reaching into her small coin purse, she dropped a generous amount of bits on the table, far more than enough to cover their meal.
As in every relationship, there were ups and downs. Though it was love at first sight, they had received more than their fair share of concerns from those they had hoped would be the most supportive.
Twilight had honestly expected the majority of problems to come from Gilda's family. It was much to her surprise when she found the exact opposite was true. They had been supportive, though quick to offer advice any way they could. What had really surprised her was the amount of resistance that came from her own family.
Growing up in Canterlot had protected Twilight from the prejudice that ran rampant through the rest of the galaxy. Being Celestia's student had only further sheltered her from the realities that everyone else took for granted. This had led to Twilight sometimes being completely oblivious to societal norms and customs. Things that others held as universal truths had never even crossed her mind, one of them being that you probably shouldn't jump straight into a committed relationship with someone who had only recently been freed from slavery by the Batarians.
The first few weeks after their return to Equestria from the Citadel had been incredibly tense. After Gilda's reunion with her parents, Twilight had been eager to show off her marefriend to her family.
What she had been expecting was happiness, love, and acceptance, like she had seen when Shiny brought home Cadance. She was looking forward to family game nights, her parents teasing her while telling Gilda all about embarrassing stories from her youth. She expected to spend spa days with Gilda and Cadance, giggling and being girly. She had imagined Shiny taking to Gilda's griffin strength and athleticism, bonding over the social blunders of their little Twily.
The reality was much, much different.
The first meeting had been a real eye opener for Twilight. It was a dinner at her parent's house, and it had all gone perfectly well, at least if you didn't look under the surface.
Velvet and Night Light had been polite enough that Gilda hadn't noticed their silent disapproval, but Twilight certainly had. She'd beat a hasty retreat back to her tower at the castle as fast as she possibly could, and the rest of her night had been a restless, sleepless affair consisting of her pacing back and forth, trying to figure out what had gone so wrong.
Somehow, she managed to convince herself that all of that disapproval was in her head. It had made the next week extremely good for her, but it didn't last.
Their next meeting with Twilight's parents was at a nice neutral location where they could all try this whole thing over again. After investigating and searching high and low (as well as coming up with a series of charts to ensure her choice was perfect), Twilight decided that Hayburger was the perfect place.
Admittedly, the hayburgers had been delicious. The meeting itself hadn't met the quality of their meal.
From the moment that Twilight's parents had arrived things had been strained, and this time even Gilda was able to notice it. They had left as soon as they could, and as soon as they were able to beat a polite retreat.
Shining Armor and Cadance had been at least a little more subtle about their worry and misgivings. Not by much, but enough that Twilight was at least able to pretend that everything was normal.
The following week had been extremely stressful for Twilight, to the point that she found she wasn't even able to focus on her books or her studies. It got to the point that even Celestia began to notice. She pulled her aside to speak to her privately on the matter over a nice cup of tea and a slice of cake from the Royal kitchens.
At the Alicorn's prodding, Twilight spilled everything that she'd been feeling about her family's reaction to her marefriend. She was hurt, confused, and more than all of that, sad that they just couldn't see what she saw in Gilda.
"And what if your family is right?" Celestia had said, her voice gentle and understanding, but despite that Twilight still wilted under her words. "What if Gilda isn't the wisest choice for you?"
Twilight could only sit there stunned, staring down at the table, feeling lower than she ever had before. Her mind tried to come up with answers, and she struggled, but no words would come. It felt like a great weight had settled on her jaw, keeping her from opening her mouth.
The question didn't leave her mind, even hours after she'd left Celestia and returned to her tower. Sleep refused to come, and she found herself tossing and turning uncomfortably under her covers. Gilda was fast asleep next to her, her claws twitching in a dream, soft churrs escaping her beak every so often. It was cute enough that Twilight couldn't resist leaning over and kissing her marefriend. The griffin stilled, settling deeper into the covers and drifting into an even deeper realm of sleep. Twilight just lay there and watched her for what felt like hours.
After admitting to herself that she'd be getting no sleep anytime soon, Twilight forced herself out of bed. Maybe a snack would do her some good.
Being the Princess of the Night was hard work, even for an immortal Alicorn. It certainly was a plus that with two rulers, one for the night, and one for the day, together they were able to react instantly to any situation that might arise throughout the galaxy, but that still left the ruler of the night with far more time to herself than she would have liked.
Her omni-tool set to alert her if anything requiring her attention were to happen, Luna left her throne and meandered her way through her castle. The first few months after the return of the slaves had been hectic, dealing with the numerous ambassadors from every corner of Council space trying to take advantage of the situation in their unique ways, to the problems that arose with settling the victims into something approaching a normal life again.
As with all things, that had quieted down as more interesting and pressing issues arose, like the upcoming release of an all Elcor production of Hamlet.
With the event and the newsworthy stories done with for now (and she was sure that they'd be back, for something else they deemed important enough to sink their fangs into), Luna's nights were once again filled with quiet meetings in dark rooms and more paperwork than she wanted to deal with. Thankfully, Alicorns were blessed with an incredible metabolism, and Luna made great use of hers on nights when absolutely nothing was happening, which was quite often. The chefs had learned long ago to always have something she could nibble on in the kitchens, even after they'd gone home for the night.
Luna took her time, meandering through the halls of the Royal Castle towards the kitchens, enjoying the artwork that hung from the walls. The sheer quantity of works donated by artists from across the galaxy meant that the staff were constantly changing older pieces out for new ones. It was always a treat to see what had appeared since the last time she had looked.
Art appreciation aside, Luna arrived at the kitchens only an hour after she had determined she could do with a snack, the majority of that time spent staring at a painting from a Turian artist, depicting the end of the struggle of the Relay 314 incident.
Nudging the door open with her wing, Luna paused at a soft sound that reached her ears. It only took her a moment to realizes that she was hearing someone crying.
"Hello?" Luna called out, careful to keep her voice calm and hopefully comforting. Whoever was crying in the kitchens most likely was hoping for no interruptions, and it wouldn't do to force them from their spot. Regardless of how she felt about wanting to give her little ponies their privacy, Luna still desired cake. She resolved to be quick about it, in and out with no time to embarrass the pony beyond the necessary amounts required to get her treat.
As soon as Luna spoke though, the crying stopped, but whoever was attempting it did about as well as anyone else trying to stop their sobbing immediately would, which was to say that they failed miserably. The occasional sob still escaped every few seconds, followed by a round of hiccups that made even Luna wince.
"Who's there?" Luna asked, deciding that her attempts of non-interference were decidedly impossible now. Nopony answered her, but the sobs continued.
Luna figured that whoever was crying wasn't going to announce themselves, but they weren't trying to gallop away in a panic. Taking that non-action as acceptance, she stepped around one of the many preparation counters to find Twilight Sparkle on the ground, the crumbs of a legion of cookies surrounding her.
"Twilight Sparkle?" Luna hadn't been expecting that. One of the maids wailing away, certainly, but Twilight? That drew her up for a pause.
Twilight startled, her hooves scrambling on the floor as she looked up at Luna in surprise. She hurriedly tried to wipe away her tears with her hoof, but all she really managed to do was mess up her coat and make herself look more like a mess.
"What's wrong, Twilight?" Luna knelt down on fours, trying to get as close to eye level as possible with the much smaller unicorn. Though Twilight was her sister's student, Luna had spent nearly as much time with her as Celestia had. She had seen the unicorn grow from a rambunctious little filly to a curious and delightful mare.
"I…" Twilight sniffled in embarrassment, shrinking in on herself. "It's nothing."
"That's not true." Nuzzling against Twilight, Luna ignored just how many cookie crumbs were stuck in Twilight's coat. She hadn't seen this amount of cookie carnage since Shining and Cadance had gotten married. Twilight hadn't taken her brother and her favorite foalsitter leaving her alone in Canterlot very well. "You wouldn't be crying in the kitchen gorging yourself on cookies if it was nothing."
Twilight didn't answer, staring at nothing in particular as she scuffed her hoof against the floor.
"It's okay Twilight, you can tell me anything," Luna reassured her, laying a wing out across Twilight's back.
'It's…" Twilight unconsciously snuggled closer to Luna's side, seeking comfort from someone she had known since she was just a little a foal. Gulping, she looked up at her and managed to force out, "It's Gilda."
"Gilda?" Of everything to make Twilight cry in the middle of the night, Gilda was certainly not one of the things that Luna had expected. A pit formed in her stomach, but before Luna could ask if Gilda had been the one to make Twilight cry, she continued speaking.
"Well, not with Gilda, but…" Twilight chewed on her lip.
"Everyone's response to your relationship with her," Luna said, deducing what had been left unsaid.
Twilight just nodded, unable to meet Luna's eyes.
"I see." Luna bowed her head sagely. This wasn't an unfamiliar situation for her. "That does sound problematic."
Luna stretched her wings out before resettling them back against her side, shifting uncomfortably against the cold marble floor. Someone her age definitely shouldn't have to spend more than a few moments on the ground… not that she couldn't take it, but Luna was of the firm opinion that being older than some planets meant she didn't have to put up with some indignities.
"Have you ever thought that they might be right?" Luna asked.
Twilight met Luna's gaze before returning to staring down at the floor. Luna could practically see that she was wondering what she'd gotten herself into. Twilight's chest felt tight, and anxiety threatened to turn her into a sniveling wreck.
"I-I…" Twilight bit her lip, rethinking everything she'd been about to say, then rethinking once again and forcing it out. "I see what they're saying, but... they don't understand."
"That's a very difficult situation indeed." Luna nodded in understanding, doing her best to look sagely.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, Twilight wondering if every choice she'd made since she met Gilda had been wrong, Luna cursing whoever had decided floors couldn't be exclusively made of pillows and cushions.
"I love her," Twilight finally said.
"Do you?" Luna prodded.
Twilight hated that she had to think about that. She hated that question, but she forced herself to look past it. Luna was wise, and she knew what she was talking about. She wouldn't ask that if there wasn't something she needed to look at.
She thought and she thought and she thought some more. Possibilities, probabilities, and statistics flew through her mind as fast as someone intimately familiar with deductive reasoning was able.
She came to a conclusion, straightening, though when she spoke she was unable to meet Luna's gaze. Twilight couldn't stop blushing.
"I do. I really do."
Luna nodded, not reacting to what Twilight said one way or another. "Then you have to ask yourself, is she worth it?"
"Yes," Twilight said, without hesitation this time.
"Even if no one else understands?" Luna looked down at Twilight, arching an eyebrow inquisitively. "Even if you're judged every time you're with her? Even if your family decides they cannot accept it?""
Twilight swallowed around her tongue, and really thought about it, beyond cold science and to the emotional side of her life that she was never as good with. What if her family did start to push her out? What if she could never be with Gilda out in public without everyone staring at them? Was it worth it? Was her love strong enough to last through all of that judgement?
Was she willing to go through all of that?
She turned her thoughts to Gilda. What did she offer her? Was their entire relationship doomed to fail?
No. No it wasn't.
She won't let it, Twilight decided.
There was something about Gilda. Something she couldn't put her hoof on, but she knew it with every fiber of her being. She was meant for Gilda. There was no pony... no griffin... no one else for her.
It's as if her very soul is calling out, reaching out to Gilda. She's never read anything about that before, or heard any stories about it, but she knows it.
"Yes." Twilight said with firmness and a resolute set to her jaw.
Luna studied her, and she saw that Twilight was telling the truth. "Then you're going to have to fight for every second. It's going to be hard, but you are a smart young mare. My sister wouldn't have chosen you as her student otherwise. You can make it work. Don't worry what anyone else thinks, just love her, and you'll work everything else out as it comes to you.
Luna stands, stretching her neck."
Luna stood, stretching her wings and her back before smiling mischievously. "Now, we're surrounded by the finest pastries all the chefs in Canterlot can make. Enough of all of this serious talk. Cake awaits."
Twilight giggled in the way people did after leaving a rather emotional conversation, standing at Luna's side as the alicorn cut a rather generous slice from a cake sitting on the counter.
One of the more irritating if understandable things that came along with being a sailor in the 22nd century was the amount of time that you would inevitably spend inside of an airlock thanks to decontamination procedures. No one was able to quite say how many lives had been saved because a lingering virus or pathogen had been scoured away before entering or departing a ship, but outbreaks had dropped drastically as soon as they had hit the market. It was everyday routine, no matter the species or the ship.
Still, it would have been nice if someone had made them a little faster.
Rainbow trotted in place as the blue light passed over her and Riley once again, and she did her best to ignore how it tingled ever so slightly with static electricity, making her coat stick up in every direction. That'd take hours to straighten back out, she groused, snorting in annoyance.
"Decontamination is progress," the Night Fury's VI calmly said as the blue light began another pass. Both Rainbow and Riley ignored, instead focusing on what had brought them to the ship.
"I get why you're here, but why would the Princess want to speak to me?" Rainbow had been going over and over the message they had received ever since they'd left the Normandy. She still wasn't able to come up with an answer that satisfied her curiosity.
"You already asked me that," Riley said, her voice flat and more than a little annoyed at her little sister. "I don't know."
"But don't you have a single little idea about why I'm here?" Rainbow ignored Riley's annoyance, continuing on like she always did with no concern for life or limb. "I had this whole thing I was going too…" She froze when she realized just what she was about to admit to (she hadn't had a chance to introduce the crew of the Normandy to her pranking and it was about time to amend that). She looked at Riley in wide-eyed terror and wondered if she'd just blown all of her plans. She'd had such a great thing to do to Joker and Spitfire too…
"Is it illegal?" Riley just glanced at her from the corner of her eye, too tired to fully care what Rainbow was planning.
"No." Rainbow answered nearly as soon as Riley asked the question. She hoped not, at least. She wasn't made for prison! No cage could hold after all.
"Is it going to break anything you can't pay for?" Riley wasn't at all impressed by Rainbow's conviction and flair. She just stared at her, unblinking.
"No." She just barely managed to keep from giving anything away, and that was a chore in and of itself for her.
"Then I don't want to know." Riley wisely distanced herself from whatever it was that Rainbow was planning. She'd gotten tangled in more of the Pegasus' little plots than she ever wished to admit, and she wouldn't fall for it this time.
Rainbow relaxed as the airlock slid open, Riley's attention shifting away from her.
On the other side, one of the attendants was waiting for them, a unicorn mare. She was dressed in a simple outfit, a violet skirt and a white blouse that went well with her light blue coat and yellow mane. She gave both of them a short bow of her head, not as low as she would for the Princesses, but respectful enough. "This way please. The Princesses are waiting for you."
The mare led them through the Night's Fury in silence, and it was then that Riley noticed there was a noticeable sense of sadness hanging over the entire ship. The mare simply reflected that, keeping quiet with her head down, respectful of whatever had caught the emotions of those far above her.
She stopped just outside of one of the ship's many conference rooms before turning to the two of them. "If you would wait outside, Lieutenant, the Princesses will summon you when they're ready."
Rainbow didn't argue, instead just sighing and taking a seat in one of the nearby chairs, opening her omni-tool to play the game that had currently grabbed her attention: Daring Do and the Fists of Angmar. She was almost at level forty, and maybe she'd have enough time to crack it.
Seeing what Rainbow was doing, Riley rolled her eyes and entered the room at the mare's request. The doors slid shut behind her.
If the rest of the ship had been filled with sadness, the conference room where both Celestia and Luna were waiting for Riley was a swirling void of grief. As she stepped inside, Riley watched as the two of them had a silent conversation, conveyed only through looks and body gestures.
Luna looked uncharacteristically disheveled, her mane having lost some of its signature luminance. There were almost imperceptible bags under her eyes, which were bloodshot. It looked like she'd been crying for quite awhile and had only just managed to pull herself together.
"Riley, thank you for coming so quickly." Celestia spoke first, acknowledging her as she entered.
"It's not a problem, Princess." Even as she spoke, Riley couldn't quite pull her gaze from Luna. Her heart went out to her, and if it wasn't completely inappropriate she would have hugged her. If she was anymore sure of herself, she just might have.
They fall silent, none of them quite willing to broach the topic they all knew had brought them here.
"Riley," Celestia was the first to break the silence, though she sounded regretful at having had to do such a thing. "Do you have any reason to doubt Chrysalis's word?"
"No." Riley shook her head. "She's been nothing but honest since I met her."
"This is still a major thing to claim." Celestia glanced at Luna.
"She was speaking the truth." Luna spoke up for the first time, her voice cracking. "You can't lie, not in your dreams."
"If you're sure, Lulu." Celestia looked torn, as if she didn't know what to do. She wanted to comfort her sister, but there was just no way she could think of to do that.
Luna just nodded, not reacting to Celestia's pet name for her. Celestia sighed, turning her attention back to Riley.
"Aurora is alive, then." Unable to comfort Luna, Celestia did the one thing she knew she was good at. She began to plan. "That's where the problem presents itself."
"Problem?" Riley furrowed her brow, crossing her arms. "Why is that problem?"
"If she's alive, then she was taken from me," Luna said, her voice quiet and uneven. She'd been thinking over the entire matter ever since she'd fled from the Normandy. "She's been gone for longer than humanity has even been walking your planet. Alicorns do not age. We exist outside of time, mortal embodiments of the universe itself. Aurora was still learning to walk when she was... when she was stolen from me. Wherever she is now, she would have no memory of me, of Tia, or even Equestria itself."
Luna looked like she wanted to cry, but she had no tears left to give, only a deep, terrible sadness." There's nothing to say she's even still in this galaxy. She might be alive, but the distances that separate us might be so large as to be insurmountable. Whoever took her had enough power to do it without drawing my attention. If they could do that, it's easy to imagine that they'd have enough power to take her wherever they wished."
"Why do you think she's not here?" Riley understood everything that Luna was saying, but not quite her reasoning.
"We would have heard of there being another Alicorn if she was still around."
Riley was unconvinced, and from the looks of it, so was Celestia. They both separately came to the conclusion that Luna was trying to hide from her pain as much as possible.
"Whether she's here or not, she'll have left traces of her presence." Celestia wisely didn't say anything about Luna's thought. "She's an Alicorn, it would be impossible for her not to. We'll use every resource available to search for her. We will find her."
"It won't be enough." Luna's voice was small, in a way that no Alicorn's ever should be. It actually surprised Riley, and she couldn't help but stare.
"We'll see, Lulu." Celestia nodded to herself, trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince her little sister. She turned her attention to Riley. "Can you get Rainbow Dash. There's something that we must tell the both of you."
Riley nodded, confused, but did as Celestia asked. As soon as she'd left the room, she spoke again.
"I'm going to rest."
Luna left the room through another door as Rainbow entered at Riley's side. Rainbow was obviously trying to keep herself restrained from asking every question she had racing through her head.
"Thank you for waiting, Lieutenant Dash." Celestia greeted her, uncaring for the questions that she knew Rainbow was trying to keep from firing off as quickly as a machine gun.
"No Problem, Princess." Rainbow responded with all of the grace of a highly decorated Wonderbolt.
"I know both of you are friends with Twilight." Celestia took a breath, looking so very, very tired.
"Twilight?" Rainbow perked up at the mention of one of her best friends. "What about her?"
"You don't know…" Celestia said to herself, realizing what must have happened. "Of course you don't know."
"Know what?" Riley tilted her head, a sinking feeling in her stomach. "We've been running in the black for the past few weeks."
"Of course…" Celestia sighed in understanding. "It was too much to hope that you already knew."
"Princess?" Riley didn't like were this was going.
Celestia closed her eyes and prepared herself for what she's about to say. She wondered why the galaxy was throwing so many problems at her. "Twilight Sparkle was taken hostage-"
"What?!" Rainbow's wings flared out in surprise but before she could do anything rash, Riley put a hand on her shoulders, keeping her from going anywhere
"Twilight was taken hostage while she was on Thessia recently."
"Why?" Riley asked.
"That is a long story." Celestia sighed, her head drooping low.
"We have the time." Riley urged Celestia to keep on talking.
"You experienced the nightmare, didn't you, Rainbow Dash?" Celestia asked.
Rainbow and Riley were both taken aback the sudden apparent shift in the conversation.
"What?" Rainbow blinked in confusion. "Yeah? What does that have to do with anything?"
"Everything." Celestia finally looked up at the two of them. "That wasn't the first time I ever experienced that dream. There was a prophecy-"
"A prophecy?!" Rainbow hopped up, excited, her eyes going wide. "Awesome."
"Quit interrupting, Lieutenant," Riley warned her.
Rainbow at least had the presence of mind to look abashed.
"Yes, well…" Celestia pursed her lips before continuing, "there was a prophecy that I uncovered over a thousand years ago, or... well, it was before the sphere was put in place."
"What was the prophecy?" RIley asked the obvious question.
"The dream came for the first time just a few weeks before Luna gave birth to Aurora. It took me nearly a year before I discovered what it actually meant." Celestia shuffled her wings nervously. "This isn't a prophecy like you might find in a Daring Do novel, or Star Wars."
"We don't talk about the prophecies." Riley blushed when she realized she had said that out loud. Celestia took it with a laugh though, grateful for the levity.
"Indeed. It was more a sense of ideas and concepts than it was a little rhyming message full of vague thought and direction. What I was able to glean from the prophecy though, 'said' that there was a storm coming, and that Princess Aurora would give her life to save everyone. It led to a fight to the death between Luna and I that ended in what we thought was Aurora's death."
Rainbow obviously had questions, but at Riley's quick shake of her head, decided she'd ask her sister later. Instead, Rainbow asked the obvious question. "This is interesting and all, Princess, but what does this have to do with Twilight?"
"We foolishly thought the prophecy had been ended after Aurora's death." Celestia shook her head, angry at herself. "The new dream proved otherwise. It's why we tried to get the Elements of Harmony."
"Which are what?" Rainbow asked, completely clueless.
Celestia sighed, annoyed at just how much she needed to explain to the two of them. Keeping her secrets for so long was coming back to bite her in the ass. "Ancient artifacts of all consuming power that represent the values that form the base of our society."
"Huh…" Rainbow had no understanding of what Celestia just said.
"They were missing," Celestia continued, too tired to explain everything again. "Twilight found a journal and a map that whoever had stolen them had left behind."
"Like Daring Do?" Rainbow tried to connect concepts in her mind with things she was familiar with.
"Yes." Celestia allowed for Rainbow's benefit. "If Daring Do ever found a map that predates everything it contains, with specific knowledge on where the home planets of every major Council species in the galaxy would be two billion years before they evolved, then yes."
"What does this have to do with Twilight being tortured?" Riley moved onto the important issue, still trying to wrap her mind around anyone hurting Twilight. The unicorn was cheerfully naive. She didn't deserve any of that. No one did, but especially not Twilight.
"I was naive." Celestia lowered her head in defeat. "I sent her on a journey to follow the map and retrieve the Elements. Someone took notice, and they wanted to find out what had made her stray so far from my side."
"Who's that someone?" Riley asked, already planning what she'd do if she ever met the scum who dared to do such a thing.
"I have every resource at my command looking into that." Celestia didn't answer Riley's question. "I will find them, and I will kill them for what they did to her. All we know for sure is that the man who took Twilight is human, with money, power, and a worrying amount of influence."
"I can help-" Riley started to offer, but Celestia cut her off.
"No, no." Celestia shook her head. "What you're doing is important, and I have more than enough ponies to take care of this myself. I just thought I should tell you in person before you learned about this disgusting matter in the news."
Riley and Rainbow looked at each other, unsure of how to respond, and what they should do. They both felt rather helpless.
"Thank you, Princess." Riley bit her lip, straightening up and acting professional even as a fire burned inside her chest. "If you need any help at all, Twilight's our friend. Having extra-legal authority to knock down doors might be helpful."
"I'll keep that in mind, Riley. Thank you."
Riley could see it in the Alicorn's eyes. Celestia had been so overwhelmed with a multitude of emotions over the past few hours that she simply looked tiredly grateful now.
"If you'll please excuse me, Luna shouldn't be alone right now." Celestia stood, rolling her shoulders.
"Of course, Princess. If you need anything, just let us know." Riley stood at attention, though she didn't salute. She'd known Celestia long enough to understand that she didn't want any formalness. It was all meaningless after all.
Celestia nodded and walked out of the room, leaving Riley and Rainbow alone. Rainbow looked conflicted, like she wanted to fly away as fast as she could to find Twilight and never let her out of her eyesight again, and like she wanted to just curl up in a bed and cry for a few days.
"Come on." Riley was the first to break the silence. "Let's get back to the Normandy."
Rainbow nodded, following her older sister out of the Night's Fury, her hoof steps heavy.
Riley entered the hangar of the Normandy after going through all of the Alliance security checkpoints, her shoulders sagging under the weight of everything she'd gone through over the past few days. Loading all of the ship's supplies was almost complete, and compared to when she had let, it was actually a little peaceful right now.
Garrus and Wrex were nowhere to be seen, probably enjoying the brief shore leave they were having. Maybe they'd run into Rainbow while they were out. On their way back, Rainbow had decided that she needed to visit a bar before she could even do anything resembling resuming normal life.
Walking towards the equipment lockers, Riley was just about to open hers when she heard someone come up behind her. Turning, she found Chrysalis behind her, in her human form.
"Oh... Hey." Riley turned back to her locker, resting her head against the cool metal. It soothed the beginnings of the headache she felt coming on.
"You don't have to sound so excited to see me." Chrysalis shook her head, leaning against the lockers beside Riley.
"No, no, sorry," Riley turned her head, until she was looking at the side of Chrysalis' face. "It's just... I've had a rough day. It has nothing to do with you."
Chrysalis nodded in understanding. She'd definitely felt that before. Still did, actually, if she wasn't fooling herself.
"Is there something you needed?" Riley stood up straight, pulling her Commander mask back over herself, settling in with practiced ease.
"I just wanted to tell that I'm staying." Chrysalis turned, meeting Riley's gaze.
"What?" Riley blinked, confused.
"I mean, I'm staying on the Citadel, my whole hive is." Chrysalis glanced down at her hands nervously, as if she was afraid of what Riley might say in response. "Princess Celestia gave us enough money to get on our hooves and make something of our place in the galaxy. We just need to keep our heads down and everything will work out from there."
"Oh... Well…" Riley caught up with what Chrysalis was saying, throwing a smile onto her face. "Congratulations!"
Riley stepped forward and pulled Chrysalis into a hug, not noticing the blush on Rachni's face.
"Thank you," Chrysalis stammered out.
Stepping back, Riley wondered how Liara was going to take her new little Rachni friend leaving her. "I better break this to Liara…"
"Break what?" Chrysalis asked.
"That her new little friend is going to be leaving." Riley had definitely noticed that Liara had started to grow attached to her little shadow.
"Friend?" Chrysalis' face screwed up in confusion, until she made the connection. "The hatchling."
Chrysalis smirked, amused. "I'm afraid you're stuck with the little one. She wouldn't come with me even if I wanted her to."
"Why not?" Riley didn't know how to take that, a feeling of defensiveness in her chest for the little Rachni hatchling. Nobody liked to be abandoned after all.
"I may have given birth to her, but Liara is her Queen Mother now."
"Queen Mother? What are you talking about?" Though they were speaking english, Riley didn't forget that Chrysalis was a completely different species than her.
"My children were trying to make Liara their new Queen," Chrysalis explained. "They had no one to guide them, no one to protect them, and it's why they started to transform her into one of us. It doesn't matter that the transformation never finished. Enough within her was changed that she is a true Rachni Queen. The hatchling latched onto her like baby to its mother's breast, and they're bonded as tight as that suggests."
"So, she's a mother now?" A new mother at one-hundred and six. There was so much wrong with that statement that Riley didn't even know where to start. She was both too young, and far too old in asari and human terms.
"Essentially, yes." Chrysalis smirked, amused.
"Huh... Don't know what I was expecting." Riley shrugged to herself.
Chrysalis giggled at that, and Riley was reminded once again that the Queen was not much older than her children. "I guess that this is goodbye, then."
They both stand there awkwardly, not sure what to do.
"Thank you…" Chrysalis looked down at the floor, bashful. "Thank you for saving me and my children."
"You didn't deserve what they did to you. If you ever need anything, don't be afraid to give me a call."
Chrysalis blushes before pointing over her shoulder with her thumb. "I should... I should go."
She turned away to leave, only to stop, turn, and wrap Riley in a big hug, nuzzling into her shoulder.
"Thank you." She whispered into Riley's ear.
And with that, Chrysalis walked out of the hanger and away from the Normandy. Riley was left standing alone, feeling more than a bit overwhelmed.
Turning, Riley headed towards the elevator. As she waited for it to arrive, she thought over what Chrysalis just told her. Liara was a mother now. How was she going to take that?
Riley's thoughts then turned to what it might be like dating someone with a child. Was she going to have to impress the hatchling? Did she have a name? Did the hatchling like chocolate? She could work with that if she did. She was a big sister after all. She was good with kids.
Riley smiled, feeling loads better than when she had first stepped into the hanger.