Chapter Eight - Hidden Threshold
Everfree Castle, Everfree Forest, Equestria
April 6, 2183
Princess Celestia received Twilight's message just before she raised the sun. It was surprisingly brief, considering some of the messages that Twilight had sent her before, which could have been classified as novella, or research papers to be submitted to the proper academics. The message only held five lines.
Dear Princess Celestia,
We have found something that we cannot explain at the castle. We need help.
Your Faithful Student, Twilight Sparkle
There was very little that Twilight couldn't explain, and Celestia couldn't help but wonder just what had stumped her student. The fact that she was investigating what had happened to the Elements of Harmony only raised her interest. If there was something she couldn't explain, there might be a clue that could lead them to the Elements. Rushing from her tower, Celestia hunted down her sister, finding her leaving her night-court after lowering her moon. As soon as she had learned of the message, they made the only decision that they could. Celestia cancelled her day court, and together, they took flight, making all speed to their old castle.
It didn't take them long make the journey. Being an immortal alicorn with the power of the universe coursing their bodies granted them speed that could only be matched by the latest in engine technology.
Landing just outside the entrance to the castle, Celestia could taste the remnants of Twilight's magic in the air behind her, stretching over the gorge. Glancing back, she could see why. The bridge was beyond repair, and her student must have created a solid construct of magic instead of putting her trust in the rickety wooden slats and rotting rope.
Turning back, Celestia found Luna watching her. "Luna?"
"Shall we go in?" Luna gestured inside the castle with a wing, tilting her head just a bit to the left. "Twilight is waiting."
"Yes…" Celestia nodded, biting her lip. "Yes. Let's go."
Together, they entered the castle, retracing the path they had walked three days ago. The castle looked different in the daylight. The sun broke up the shadows, shining through the broken holes and rotted ceiling. It struck home then for Celestia, just how long it had been since that night one-thousand years ago. It had felt like a blink of they eye, but more generations than she could even remember had passed her by.
Finding their way to the entrance of the throne room, the sister's found a small tent set up just outside the doors. The remnants of a small fire inside of a tiny stone pit still smoldered, coals glowing a dull orange. Smoke wafted from the remains of the logs, and two clean plates were stacked just next to the pit, two cups sitting beside them.
Seeing a pot of still steaming coffee in the coals of the fire, Luna eyed it thirstily. Lifting it with her magic, she pulled off the lid and gave it a tentative sniff. With a smile, she decided that it was still perfectly good and drinkable. Lifting one of the cups, she surrounded it with a ball of fire hotter than the surface of the sun, cleaning it thoroughly. By the time that she had finished, the cup was glowing white hot and she surrounded it with a ball of ice, the ball practically turning to steam the second it manifested, still contained within Luna's magic. As the cup rapidly cooled, she poured more magic into it, and the steam turned to water, cooling it even further.
Satisfied, Luna let the ball dissipate and the water dropped to the floor. Lifting the pot of coffee once again, she poured it into her cup. Taking a sip, she noticed the look that Celestia was giving her.
Celestia didn't say anything.
"I'm tired!" Luna protested, sniffing haughtily. She pulled the cup close protectively, turning her nose up at her older sister.
Celestia rolled her eyes but didn't say anything. She walked past the small tent and to the open doors of the throne room beyond. Despite the fact the sun was high in the sky, the room itself was dark. There was a sudden drop of several feet just at the doorway that hadn't been there the night before. Celestia turned, sharing a look with Luna.
"It certainly explains the letter," Luna murmured, taking a sip of her coffee. "After you, Tia."
"Twilight?" Celestia called, leaning in through the doorway. "Are you in here?"
Silence was the only reply.
Tentatively, Celestia made the step down to the floor below. As Luna stepped down beside her, Celestia pulled from the heart of her sun and she began to glow, illuminating the room around her in a gentle golden glow.
Celestia turned to find Luna staring at the floor with wide eyes. "What are you doing, Luna?"
"Look." Luna pointed.
Celestia followed Luna's hoof to find that she was standing on a planet, Earth if she was not mistaken. She stepped back, taking a closer look. It didn't take her long to realize why there had been a drop stepping into the throne room. A map of the entire galaxy was laid out before her, and it was astounding in its complexity.
"That's new." Luna scuffed a hoof over the Earth, taking a moment to admire its artistry. It had been constructed from finely ground pieces of sapphire and emeralds.
"Twilight?" Celestia called again, louder this time. Whatever her student had uncovered, it was a much bigger deal then she had first imagined.
"Over here, Princess!" Twilight called out, poking her head out from around the pedestal that held the Elements of Harmony, waving happily at the two Alicorns. "Isn't it amazing?"
"It is certainly… something." Celestia and Luna glanced down at the map before starting forward, careful not to drag their hooves so their shoes wouldn't damage it. Coming around the pedestal, they found Twilight sitting on her haunches, scribbling intently in a journal that her brother had given to her on her last birthday. Gilda was sitting a few feet away, watching what looked like a quarian film on her omni-tool. "What… What is all of this, Twilight?"
"I have no idea!" Twilight shrugged, looking up at Celestia with a grin that was on the edge of manic. She turned back to her journal, trying her best to make a direct copy of the map as best as she possibly could. She gestured at the map with a hoof. "The moment we stepped inside, so much started to happen. The pedestal opened and revealed this!"
Using her magic, Twilight lifted another journal out of her saddle bag and held it up for the two princesses to see. Celestia took it in her magic, turning it every which way as she looked it over. An eyebrow raising, she passed it over to Luna. "What happened Twi—"
"I'm not hallucinating, am I?" Luna interrupted her sister, looking at Twilight with wide eyes. The journal was cracked open in front of her, and Celestia had to wonder just what she had read that had surprised her so much.
"No." Twilight shook her head. "I've been trying to make sense of it all night."
"She's not lying. She was up most of the night with it," Gilda drawled, nodding, and Celestia noted for the first time how bloodshot the griffin's eyes were, with deep bags underneath. "Kept me up too," she grumbled.
"Let me see." Celestia took the journal from Luna and began to read. Within moments, she understood her sister's confusion. She couldn't help but read aloud.
Once again, the Magic of Friendship and the Elements of Harmony have proven to be the solution to the most challenging and horrible threats against Equestria. And while I've been scouring for hints in every book and scroll on where to find the keys to open the chest, it turns out that the clues were right here in the Journal of Friendship!
I didn't discover this on my own. Discord read our Journal of Friendship and highlighted specific entries. In each of them, my friends faced a difficult choice, but they remained true to themselves and embraced their Element. In turn, this helped another pony make the right choice in her life. Because of this act, each of my friends was then given an object, or key, from the pony whose life they helped change…
"I see…" Celestia stopped reading when she caught a glimpse of the name at the bottom of the page.
Princess Twilight Sparkle.
Celestia blinked. For the first time in a long time, she felt completely and utterly confused. She couldn't think of a single thing to say, trying to take in everything that she had just read.
"As soon as the journal appeared," Twilight said, continuing. She didn't notice Celestia's flummoxed look. "The floor lit up and opened. The map was right there. It's fascinating!"
Luna followed Twilight's gaze, giving the map another look. She blinked, looking to Celestia. "I would know if this was a dream…"
"Are you sure?" Celestia asked, almost begging.
"Then…" Celestia looked back down at Twilight.
"Yes." Jumping up to all four of her hooves, Twilight stood proudly like she was delivering a lecture before the Royal Academy. "As far as I can tell. This shouldn't exist. It should be impossible, but it isn't! I used every spell I could think of, and it's one-hundred percent real."
"There are still some things that I have yet to teach you, Twilight." It wasn't that Celestia didn't believe Twilight, but she would only be satisfied if she could see it for herself. There were some spells that she had purposefully seen kept from the textbooks, things that were best kept from the rest of Equestria. She let herself fall into her magic, and for the next thirty minutes, she cast a slew of ancient and forgotten spells until the throne room was crackling with energy.
Celestia blinked, stunned. She looked down at her student, who was staring right back at her with wide eyes and open jaw.
"You are right, Twilight." She held the journal back out to Twilight, who blinked in surprise at hearing her name.
"It doesn't make any sense…" Twilight shook her head, gathering her thoughts back together as she took the journal from Celestia, flipping to a page. "Listen to this."
All I wanted out of today was a nice relaxing day with Cadance. After all, the two times we were together, things hardly went smoothly. Her wedding to my brother? She'd been trapped at the bottom of the castle and was being impersonated by the changeling queen. My visit to the Crystal Empire? King Sombra attacked! Just once I'd like to have a day with Cadance when the of Equestria wasn't hanging in the balance. And I had such a great day planned! What could be better than spending the day with my best friend/sister-in-law combo? That is, until Discord showed up with his "Blue Flu", mucking up all my plans to try and have a nice mellow day with Cadance. And it wasn't bad enough that we had to play nursemaid to his fake illness. He sent us on a wild-goose to the end of Equestria for a remedy and had us battling Tatzlwurm. On the one day when the fate of Equestria wasn't in our hooves! I think it's pretty clear that my visit with Cadance didn't go quite the way I expected. But in the end, I realized that when you're with a good friend, even the most chaotic day can wind up being a great experience that brings you closer.
Celestia turned and looked at Luna, seeing the confusion she felt mirrored on her sister's face.
"Changeling… Queen?" Celestia murmured.
"Discord?" Luna rolled the word around in her mouth, tasting its unfamiliarity.
"King Sombra is the only one I've heard of," Celestia said.
"Could the journal be speaking of Penance?" Luna asked, tilting her head. She had never heard of any Discord before in her life.
"No." Celestia hook her head, frowning. "I don't believe so. His name would not be so casually written."
"I have a theory!" Twilight shut the journal, setting it back down almost reverently into her saddlebags.
Both Celestia and Luna turned to look at Twilight, the little unicorn drawing their attention.
"Please, Twilight," Celestia said, urging her student to continue.
"The journal," Twilight said, pacing back and forth. Gilda watched her, following her as she turned, "against all impossibilities, seems to have been written by me. Well, me and several other writers."
"Five other names are repeated over and over again." Twilight lifted up her own journal, more for reference than any sort of need to remind herself. "Applejack, Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Rainbow Dash. From what they've written, it seems like they are the bearers of the Elements of Harmony."
She blushed, closing her journal. "It's just that… it was never in our universe."
"Rainbow Dash?" Luna asked, almost incredulous. She had spent more than her fair share of time around the filly during Twilight's childhood, and she had to wonder just what Element the brash Pegasus would bare.
"Yes." Twilight nodded.
"Tell me what you're thinking, Twilight," Celestia said, her ears swiveling forward, focusing her entire attention on her student.
"I believe that this journal has come from another universe!" Twilight stomped a hoof against the floor for effect. "One that is similar to ours, but different all the same. There's no mention of the Dyson Sphere, or of Mass Relays, or even any form of space travel at all! One where Rainbow's family never adopted Riley Shepard and stayed in Cloudsdale. One where Princess Luna was banished to the moon."
She couldn't help but hop in excitement. "It's a looking glass to what could have been!"
Celestia and Luna fell silent. When they had left Canterlot, they never would have been able to guess that this would have been the conversation they would end up having.
"I would like to read the journal for myself," Celestia murmured, settling back onto her haunches.
"Of course, Princess!" Twilight chirped. She pulled it back out of her saddle bags and floated it over to Celestia. The Princess took it, opening it to the first page and beginning to read. She devoted all of her attention to the old journal.
"Twilight, what are your thoughts on the map?" Still standing, Luna looked over the galaxy.
"The map?" For a moment, Twilight looked surprised, but she quickly realized what Luna was asking. She looked down, blushing when she remembered what she was standing on for the first time since the Princesses had arrived. "Right, the map!"
Almost as if she could read her marefriend's mind, Gilda handed Twilight the sketchbook that she had been using before the Princesses had arrived. Twilight held it up to Luna proudly, showing off to the Princess.
"I think it's more impressive than the journal, actually." The drawing was truly impressive. Twilight had faithfully laid down every single bit of the map on the sketchbook. "It has to be at least a thousand years old, which would mean it would have to have been laid down at least two-million years ago."
"That seems like a correct assumption." Luna nodded her head, the mathematics sounding right to her.
"Right!" Twilight nodded, her hair bobbing along with the movement. "What it doesn't explain is how whomever made it knew the shape of the galaxy."
"I have been aware of the galaxy for nearly as long as I have been alive." Luna pointed out the flaw in Twilight's argument.
"Sorry!" Blushing, Twilight shook her head. "That wasn't what I meant."
"Two million years ago, none of the races we know of today existed. The Protheans hadn't built their empire. Thessia was just some world that had yet to have evolved any meaningful form of life, much less the Asari." Twilight trotted past Luna, Gilda trailing after her a few paces behind. Twilight sat down right on Thessia. "Despite that, Thessia is right here! All six of the locations are important to the galaxy at large today. How could anypony have known that?"
"I see." Frowning, Luna took the map in with new eyes. Sitting back on her haunches, she finished her cup of coffee as Gilda settled down next to Twilight. "That is indeed quite a conundrum."
"What if someone did know?" Gilda asked softly. It seemed the most obvious answer to her, and she clacked her beak in embarrassment as Luna and Twilight stared at her silently.
"What?" Twilight blinked.
"What if someone travelled through time and left this here?" Gilda shuffled her claws, rubbing her thumb up and down her foreclaw.
Twilight chewed her lip, thinking it over.
"That would be impossible." Luna was the first to speak. "There are spells that allow a pony to travel through time, but I am afraid that two-million years are beyond all of them."
Twilight nodded her agreement. "It has to be something else."
Celestia's soft whisper captured the attention of all three of them. They turned to find her staring at the last page of the journal, her eyes focussed.
"Why didn't you mention the note?" Celestia glanced at Twilight for only a moment before her gaze darted back down to the journal.
"What note?" She hadn't noticed any note when she had pored over the journal.
Holding up the journal, Celestia showed them the last page, written in scrawled handwriting, different from any of the other entries within it. Trotting to her mentors side, Twilight took a closer look.
"To the Empress of Equestria, Celestia Sol, and her sister, Princess Luna Selene…" She read aloud.
Luna's eyebrows rose. "Sister…"
"I know." Celestia didn't like anything that had happened over the past morning.
"What?" Gilda asked, staring at the two sisters in confusion.
"I wasn't the Empress of Equestria at the time this journal would have had to been written," Celestia whispered.
"Another mystery." Luna didn't like mysteries. They caused so many headaches. For a being who saw events occur at a macro level, things that came along and ruined the plans she so often carefully put into place were too much of a headache.
"By now, you have most certainly realized that the Elements of Harmony are missing," Twilight continued reading aloud. "I have taken them, for Equestria's own good. Signed…"
"There's no signature." Sitting back on her haunches, she looked up at Celestia and Luna, confusion written on her face. Her eyes pleaded Celestia to believe her, her legs shaking. She had missed something. How could she have missed something so big? "That wasn't there before."
"I believe you, Twilight." Celestia reassured the little unicorn. Turning her gaze to the map, she hummed to herself, eying each of the six locations.
"What are you thinking, sister?" Luna asked, following her gaze.
"There are six Elements of Harmony," Celestia noted.
"Ah." Luna nodded, a little embarrassed that she hadn't made the connection earlier. "I see."
"You don't think…" Twilight caught on, taking in the map with a new appreciation.
"It seems possible." Celestia stood, readjusting her wings into a more comfortable position. "It certainly would not be outside of the realm of possibility."
"What?" Gilda felt like the dumb one in the room. "What are you saying?"
"The map!" Trotting over to her marefriend, Twilight explained. "It must show where the Elements of Harmony are!"
Celestia and Luna shared a look before turning back to Twilight and Gilda.
"Twilight," Celestia started. "Would you give Luna and I a moment?"
"Of course, Princess!" Bowing, Twilight started trotting back towards the entrance of the throne room. "Are you hungry, Gilda? I'm feeling hungry."
"I could eat," Gilda murmured, following after Twilight.
The princesses had been speaking for hours, and Gilda had watched in amusement as Twilight had flagged, struggling to keep her eyes open. After eating lunch, they had crawled back inside their tent and settled down. Twilight had lost her battle about an hour ago, and Gilda had pulled a blanket over both of them as the little unicorn snored, curling around her marefriend.
The volume on her omni-tool turned down as low as she could get it, Gilda had been watching cartoons ever since Twilight had fallen asleep. She giggled, struggling to keep from guffawing and waking up the unicorn who really needed to work on her sleep habits.
At the sound of hoofsteps approaching, Gilda shut off her omni-tool and looked up to see Celestia and Luna climbing up out of the throne room.
"Princesses!" Immediately, she clamped her claws over her beak, looking down at Twilight, hoping against hope that she hadn't woken her up.
No such luck.
Groaning, Twilight blinked groggily, struggling to focus on everything surrounding her. The moment that she saw her teacher and her sister, she jumped to her hooves, throwing aside the blanket.
"I'm awake!" She cried, and the fact that it wasn't slurred was an impressive feat. She blinked, looking at the princesses, then checked her omni-tool. When she realized it was now mid-afternoon, she dropped down to her haunches. "Huh…"
"I apologize, Twilight," Celestia murmured, nuzzling her confused student. "Our conversation took a little longer than I expected."
"It's alright." Leaning into the nuzzle, Twilight blushed.
"Thank you." Standing back to her full height, Celestia composed herself. "I don't believe that others would be as understanding."
"I'm sure that it was important." Twilight rubbed sleep from her eyes with her hoof, yawning.
"It was indeed." Luna nodded her head, offering a warm smile to Twilight. Coming around the small fire pit, she took a seat next to them, surprisingly grim. "Celestia told you about the prophecy?"
"She did." Twilight shrunk a little, embarrassed to know one of the secrets of one of the immortal rulers of Equestria.
"She didn't tell you every detail," Luna admitted, her head ducking ever so slightly.
Twilight glanced at Celestia, who nodded in confirmation.
"I'm sorry, Twilight. It wasn't my place to say." Celestia sat down on the other side of Twilight and Gilda, basking in the warmth of the fire. Twilight edged closer to her teacher, seeking comfort. Gilda just watched on quietly, pulling a bag of cookies from Twilight's saddlebag.
"It is mine, however," Luna said, putting on a brave face. She took a deep breath, letting it out in a long sigh. She blinked, tired in more ways than one. "And you do need to know."
She was silent for a moment, staring deep into the flames of the fire. "Starswirl the Bearded was the stallion to make the original prophecy."
Twilight's eyes lit up at the name (Starswirl was only one of her greatest heroes), but she restrained the questions that threatened to bubble out of her mouth at Celestia's reprimanding look.
"We have kept a careful hoof on history, and I'm sure that scholars would be horrified if they learned just how much we have kept from being written down," Luna gestured at Celestia. Very few knew just how much they had guided Celestia's creation. "If they knew how many books we had rewritten or destroyed."
Twilight looked accusingly at Celestia, who wilted a little under her students gaze. She wondered just what had been lost in all of the centuries.
"I had a daughter once."
Twilight understood all of the words. I. Had. A. Daughter. Once. She was well-versed in the Equestrian language, and had achieved top scores in all of her classes. Despite all of that, she didn't understand a single thing that Luna had said. Maybe she had aphasia? She didn't feel like she had a stroke, but who was she to make a self-diagnosis.
"I'm sorry," she managed to choke out, her voice weak. Looking over, she saw Gilda's beak hanging open as she stared at Luna like she had just laid an egg. "Could you repeat that?"
"I had a daughter once."
That would be a no on the aphasia then. Or was it? Twilight had to think about that? Did aphasia mean she couldn't speak… she blinked, dropping back to her haunches. She simply let out a whispered, "What…"
"The prophecy Starswirl made was horrifying." Luna continued onwards, not noticing Twilight's stunned face. "She was so young, barely even a year old, and already her fate seemed to be set in stone."
"Princess…" Seeing that her marefriend seemed incapable of speech at the moment, Gilda asked the obvious question. "What was the prophecy?"
Luna was quiet for a long moment, fighting back the tears that threatened to overwhelm her. She looked away from them, unable to even look in their direction. Choked up, she began to speak. "Starswirl foresaw a coming darkness, a storm that threatened to destroy all of Equestria. He saw the death of everyone, and he saw that there was only one who could save us all."
"Your daughter," Twilight murmured, making the connection.
"Yes," Luna whispered, shame filling her.
Celestia stood, stepping over the fire to sit next her sister, wrapping a wing over Luna's back comfortingly.
"I could not accept that." Luna offered Celestia a small, but thankful smile, but ducked her head in shame. "I would not allow my only daughter to perish."
"You must understand, Twilight," Celestia took over for her sister. Luna had not been completely in the wrong. "Alicorns are the rarest of the four pony races. There have only been six in the entirety of Equestrian history. Each and every one is precious beyond all reckoning."
"Six alicorns?" Twilight struggled with the math, her mind still racing from what she was learning.
"Our mother and father." Celestia said, helping Twilight along. "Luna and I. Aurora, Luna's daughter. Cadance."
"When you live a life that can be measured by the turning of the galaxy, our companionship is something rare, to be treasured above all else." Gathering herself together, Luna continued. "Who better to serve as companions then other immortals. I was foolish."
She looked around at the scars of the Everfree Castle, wincing at the memories they brought up. "In my desperation to save Aurora, I turned to dark magic to try and stop her fate."
Twilight and Gilda followed Luna's gaze, understanding just how much power the alicorns wielded in the melted stone that surrounded them.
"When I said that I almost had to use the Elements one-thousands years ago…" Celestia's voice cracked.
"What happened?" Her voice soft, Twilight couldn't help but ask the question.
"I became a creature of evil to try and save my daughter." Luna stood, moving out from under Celestia's wing. She bowed her head, avoiding eye contact with everypony else. "I didn't care if I had to kill everypony to do it. Celestia had no other choice but to stop me. In my own anger, I tried to kill Celestia…"
Celestia stood, cantering up and nuzzling Luna. "I forgave you long ago for that, Luna…"
"All that I accomplished was killing my own daughter." Luna turned, meeting Twilight's eyes. "Do you understand, Twilight?"
"By trying to save your daughter from the prophecy, you accidentally fulfilled it…" Gilda spoke first, stepping close to Twilight. She felt the need for comfort.
"That is what we believed, at least until three days ago." Seeing that her sister did not have the ability to continue speaking, Celestia took over for her. "It seems that my sister's transformation was not the darkness that Starswirl foretold. You saw the dream. The Elements are our only hope."
"And they're missing." Twilight glanced over her shoulder at the throne room behind them.
"Yes." Celestia stood tall, flaring her wings. She took a calming breath, and Luna joined her, though she was much more sullen.
Twilight and Gilda straightened, sensing that something had changed in the atmosphere of the room. Things had just gotten a whole lot more formal.
"Twilight, we have no right to ask this of you." Celestia spoke with her princess voice, the same that she had used to make the Council bow to her will. She winced ever so slightly when she saw Twilight's back straighten even further. "You do not deserve the burden of trying to correct our mistakes. Nevertheless, we find that we must ask you a question."
"Princess Celestia, I'm willing to help in whatever way I can." Twilight tried to be as formal as possible, calling on every single bit of training that she had received from the school.
Celestia sighed, closing her eyes. "As Empress and Princess of Equestria, I must ask if you are willing to hunt down and retrieve the Elements of Harmony."
"I…" Looking over at Gilda, overwhelmed by the enormity of what Celestia was asking of her. She saw nothing but encouragement and love from her marefriend. Gulping, Twilight turned back to Celestia, straightening herself like she had seen her brother do so many times before in his duties as part of the Royal Guard. She coughed, clearing her breath. "I am willing, your Imperial Majesty."
"Very well." Celestia bowed her head, before accepting that Twilight would never change. "On this date, April 6, 2183, let it be known that Empress Celestia Sol the Dawn Bringer, confers upon Lady Twilight Sparkle the rank and duties of Celestial Emissary. She shall speak and act with my authority, and all of the power of Equestria at her back. Let it be known."
The weight of Celestia's words hit Twilight, and she dropped down prostrate in front of her teacher. What had she just agreed to? What had she just promised to do?
"Princess, I—" She gulped, a sudden bout of worry and panic filling her. "I won't let you down, Princess."
"I know that you won't, Twilight." Stepping forward, Celestia nuzzled Twilight, using her wings to pull the unicorn into a tight hug. "There is no way that you could. I'm already so proud of you, my—"
Her voice hitching, she ducked her head, kissing Twilight's forehead. "I'm already so proud of you, my faithful student."
Holding out a hoof for Twilight, the unicorn took it and Celestia helped her to her feet.
"I'm not sending you out unprepared." Celestia tried her best to reassure the unicorn. "You are better than even Starswirl was. You wield magic as naturally as you breathe. I'm giving you my ship, and every resource you could possibly need for this quest, Twilight."
"Your ship?" Twilight was already too overwhelmed to be surprised even further. "But—"
"I have no need of it, Twilight. It will serve you far better than it ever did me." If only Twilight could understand just what she saw in her.
"Thank you, Princess." She couldn't think of anything else to say, and instead leaned forward and nuzzled Celestia's warm chest, just underneath her golden peytral.
"You are very, very welcome, Twilight." She turned to face Luna for a moment before looking back at the little unicorn, apologetic. "I believe that we must be going now, Twilight. There are things we must prepare for before you depart."
"I'll be back later this evening, Princess." Twilight trotted back to Gilda, feeling more than a little embarrassed that the griffin had had to sit through all of their conversations.
"May I ask why?" Celestia asked.
"The journal mentioned some things that I want to investigate first," Twilight admitted. Ponyville held answers. Whether they were good or bad would only be seen in time.
"Very well, Twilight. Stay safe." She offered a brief, but warm smile to her before turning back to Luna, who stood on shaky legs. "Are you ready Luna?"
"Yes, Tia," Luna whispered. She attempted to raise her head and stand proud, but it was too much. Instead, she kept her gaze firmly planted on the ground. Ancient memories were a terrible thing. Time often only allowed reminiscence, and Luna had only added to her guilt and grief of that terrible night.
Celestia walked up next to her sister, igniting her horn. In a flash of magic, the two alicorns disappeared, leaving Twilight and Gilda alone in the Everfree castle.
They were silent for a long moment, before Gilda looked at Twilight.
"Celestial Emi…" She paused, eyes narrowing in frustration as she tried to pronounce the word. "Ema…"
"Emissary," Twilight murmured.
"What does that mean?" Gilda had been gone from Equestria for a long time, but she had figured that she had at least been around long enough to know the basics of how her home planet ran. Celestia's proclamation had thrown a rather large kink in that idea.
Twilight was still for a whole minute, and Gilda wondered if the unicorn had even heard her. When she saw how wide the unicorn's eyes were, she realized why. Twilight was in the middle of a panic attack.
Creeping forward, eying the unicorn carefully, Gilda settled down next to Twilight. She reached out her claws, pulling her closer, and the unicorn rested her head on Gilda's shoulder. This close, she could feel the unicorn's racing heart, her frenzied breathing.
"What does that mean?" Gilda asked again, softer this time.
"It…" Twilight's voice hitched. "It means that I'm now the third most powerful Equestrian in the galaxy."
"What." Gilda's heart plummeted, and she started to realize just what Twilight had been gifted.
"Princess Celestia just gave me the right to act and speak in her name." Twilight calmed nearly instantly, though it was a false calm. She had grown well accustomed to putting on a facade in the courts. As much as she wanted to hyperventilate and curl up into a ball, she didn't. She had never asked for any of this! She was a book worm, not an adventurer. "That means that for all intents and purpose, I am an extension of her will. Anything I say might as well have come from the Princess herself!"
"You'll be fine." Sensing her marefriend's distress, Gilda wrapped her forelegs around her, rocking her gently back and forth. "The Princess trusts you. I trust you."
They stayed in their embrace for several minutes, drawing comfort from each other. Slowly, they began to be aware of the chirping of birds outside the castle walls, a soft breeze blowing through the forest. There was peace to be found, even in the heart of the Everfree forest.
"Thank you." Gathering herself together, Twilight straightened, taking a deep breath. Leaning forward, she kissed Gilda.
"No problem." Gilda nuzzled Twilight's muzzle.
"We need to go back to Ponyville," Twilight said. "The other Twilight lived in Ponyville with the rest of the Elements of Harmony. If I can talk to them, we might find some sort of clue. We might have a chance to figure out what is happening."
"Alright." Gilda nodded. She picked up her little saddle bag, wrapping it around her middle. "I'm ready."
Igniting her horn, Twilight packed up their little camp. Everything that she had transformed earlier, transformed right back into what it had originally been, just a lot of rocks and debris.
"Let's go." Twilight pulled on her own saddle bags, trotting back towards the entrance of the castle.
They made their way back through the Everfree forest and were back in Ponyville in only an hour. There was something different about the forest that neither unicorn nor griffin could quite place. It was almost as if the events that had occurred in the ruins of the castle had changed the forest. What were monsters after all, when time and space itself had been broken before the two oldest beings to live.
Together, Twilight and Gilda entered the town hall. They ignored all of the trappings of the entrance and made their way to the mayor's office. It was easy to find, clearly marked, Mayor, Mayor Mare.
Raising her hoof, Twilight knocked on the door.
"Come in!" A warm, feminine voice called from inside.
Pushing the door open, Twilight and Gilda stepped into the mayor's office. It was a quaint room, the majority of it taken up by a large desk covered in piles of paperwork, scrolls, and almost buried completely underneath the former, a small hologram emitter. Sitting behind the short desk was presumably the mayor. She was a mid-aged grey earth pony with a scroll for a cutie mark, a pair of half-moon glasses perched on her muzzle.
"How can I help you?" The Mayor asked, looking at Twilight and Gilda kindly, if slightly removed.
"My name is Twilight Sparkle." She gestured over at her marefriend. "This is Gilda Blackwing. We're trying to find several mares who we presume are living here."
"I'm Mayor Mare." Standing, she trotted out from behind her desk. "I certainly hope I can be of help. I know most of the ponies in town."
Pulling out her own journal from her saddle-bags, she gave a warm smile to the Mayor. She didn't truly need the journal to remember the names, but it was a quirk that Gilda had long since grown used to that Twilight always wanted to be prepared, in the unlikely case that she actually forgot something. "I'm looking for four ponies. Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, and Applejack."
"Hmm." Mayor Mare frowned, apologetic. "Applejack is the only of those names that I recognize. She's a young earth pony that owns a farm on the south side of town. Sweet Apple Acres."
"You don't know any of the others?" Twilight believed her, but it never hurt to double check. Things often revealed themselves if one just pushed themselves a little further.
"No." Mayor Mare shook her head, smiling apologetically. "I'm sorry."
"It's alright." Despite the bitter sting of disappointment, Twilight let none of her frustration show on her face. "Thank you. We won't take up anymore of your time."
Together, Twilight and Gilda left the town hall and stepped back out onto the dirt paved streets of Ponyville.
"Excuse me!" Twilight called out, flagging down a passing earth pony. "Can you give me directions Sweet Apple Acres?"
"Sure!" The magenta coated earth pony smiled helpfully. She pointed down the road, towards gently rolling hills to the south. "Follow that road all the way down. You can't miss it."
"Not a problem." The earth pony continued on her journey.
"Well, let's go." Twilight and Gilda started trotting down the path. Just as the mare said, they really couldn't miss it. As soon as the hills began, they found that the apple trees began, fenced in neatly. The fence grew steadily larger and more elaborate the further they went, until it eventually turned into an entrance, with a sign proudly proclaiming in great carved letters, Sweet Apple Acres.
"This is it?" Gilda could only barely read the sign, but she didn't think she was wrong.
"That's what it says." Twilight took in the farm house and the barn a little ways up the path past the entrance. "Fitting, I suppose, that a pony named Applejack would own an apple farm."
It only took a few minutes to walk up the path to the farm house. Together, they trotted up the steps onto the porch, and Twilight knocked on the front door. A minute passed, and no one answered.
Glancing at Gilda, who only offered a shrug, Twilight knocked again.
"Hello, is anypony there?" Twilight called out. Maybe they were asleep and just didn't want to answer.
There was still no answer.
Frowning, Twilight trotted over to the nearest window to peer inside, only to trip over a rocking chair which held the oldest looking pony that she had ever seen, lying limp and unresponsive. Jumping back, Twilight screamed.
"Ahhh!" She fell back into Gilda's arms, wondering if she had just seen her first dead pony. They both stared at the ancient green mare, hoping against hope that she wasn't dead.
The mare didn't so much as twitch.
Gilda and Twilight backed up to the other side of the porch.
"Is she dead?" Gilda asked, whispering to Twilight.
"I don't know!" Twilight was just thankful that she hadn't started to rot yet. That would bring nightmares that she simply didn't need.
Ever so slowly, Twilight crept forward, Gilda following just behind her. Seeing a stick lying on the ground nearby, she grabbed it with her magic. Timidly, she poked the mare.
The mare simply limped floppily.
"Maybe?" Twilight shrugged, eyes wide and terrified. "I don't know."
Twilight poked her again, lifting her head up with the stick then letting it drop.
With a gurgle, the mare woke up with a startled shout, and Twilight and Gilda screamed in terror.
"Whoasawhatsayzit?" The mare mumbled, looking around blindly, still half asleep.
Twilight and Gilda struggled to catch their breath.
"Applejack, izat you?" The mare asked, squinting as she tried to see just who was in front of her.
Twilight and Gilda looked at each other in confusion.
"Uh…" Twilight stammered, glancing at Gilda. "No, ma'am."
"Applejack," the mare said, lolling about in her rocking chair. The chair creaked on the porch, a constant sound that was just like what Twilight had always imagind farm life would be like. "I've been needin' me a bath, but I just can't run the wash."
"Um… madam," Twilight said, eying the mare like she could spring out of the chair and attack them at any moment. "Ma'am. Where is Applejack?"
"Applejack?" The mare asked, frowning.
"Yes, Applejack. Where is she?" Progress, finally! Twilight bounced happily on her hooves.
"Who's Applejack?" The mare asked, her face screwing up in confusion. She leaned forward, squinting at the two of them. "Izat you, Pa? Ya' come to take me home?"
"Uh…" Twilight didn't know what to make of that. "No?"
"Damn straight!" The mare pounded a forehoof against the armrest of her chair. "I ain't goin'! This is my farm, ya' hear me. I'll die when I'm good and ready."
The mare's head fell back and she started to snore.
Cautiously, Twilight and Gilda backed up off of the porch. They didn't want to wake the mare again. They had no clue what just happened, but they didn't want to risk it.
"What was that?" Gilda asked as soon as they were a safe distance away.
"I don't have a clue." Twilight shook her head, still processing everything that had just happened. "That doesn't make any sense."
"What doesn't?" Gilda asked, looking over her shoulder back at the mare on the porch.
"The Journal said they all lived in Ponyville." Twilight's muzzle scrunched up in confusion. "Everything happened in Ponyville."
A thought struck Gilda then, and she looked at Twilight in realization. "Dash never moved to Ponyville."
"Of course!" At that, Twilight's eyes lit up. She kissed Gilda's beak, doing a little celebratory dance. "Rainbow Dash never moved to Ponyville! I forgot. We are living in a different universe after all. It only makes sense that nothing else is the same!"
She started trotting back down the path towards Ponyville, then paused, lowering her head to the ground.
"Dammit," Twilight muttered. She looked back forlornly at Gilda, her face grim and annoyed. "They could be anywhere."
"That doesn't sound like a problem," Gilda observed. Nuzzling under Twilight's chin, Gilda lifted her marefriend's head back up to a proud height. "And you're just the mare to do this mission. You'll figure everything out, and I'll be right beside you."
"Thank you," Twilight kissed Gilda, taking a breath.
"You're welcome." Gilda purred, following after Twilight.
Twilight Velvet and Night Light were proud of their children. Their oldest son, Shining Armor, had made his name in the Royal Guard and earned his rank as Captain through hard work and careful tending of his subordinates. He had a lovely marefriend, whom they both believed they would be calling her daughter soon.
Their youngest daughter, Twilight Sparkle, had proved herself even more impressive. Personal student of the Empress of all of Equestria, she had proven herself to be the most powerful unicorn that Equestria had ever seen.
Despite having such decorated and wonderful children, they loved nothing more than to curl up at night on their couch in their living room, reading their books and watching the news.
That was where they were now. Curled around each other, Night Light was reading the latest astronomical texts to come from the head of his observatory, a rather interesting paper on the existence dark matter, and the way it moved and acted in the universe. Velvet was reading something far less heady, mid-way through the latest Daring Do novel.
Quietly, the news played in the background, nothing more than white noise, though they each had an ear swiveled toward the speakers.
"Empress Celestia proclaimed on her return to the Royal Castle that she has appointed a Celestial Emissary."
Setting down her book, Velvet turned her attention to the news program, drawing her entire attention.
"Lady Twilight Sparkle—"
Night Light looked up as he heard his daughter's name.
"—Has been given the most power in Equestria, more than any unicorn has ever wielded before in history."
"Dear…" Night Light cocked his head, staring sightlessly at the holo display. "Did I just…"
"Hear Twilight's name?" Velvet asked, her voice a mere whisper.
They were silent for a moment.
"Did we miss something?" Night Light knew that he could be absent minded at times. He had met Velvet after walking into a light post while reading a book after all, but he liked to believe that he wasn't this dense.
"I think we both did."
"I'm going to call her."
Getting up off the couch, Night Light shut off the news program, leaving the holo-display on as he also opened his omni-tool. With several quick presses on the haptic display, he called his daughter.
It rang once before the call was answered. Twilight appeared on the holo-display, replacing the news program. When she saw who had called, she smiled and waved at her parents.
"Mom! Dad!" She chirped. Shifting her own omni-tool, she revealed that Gilda was sitting next to her. Through the window behind them, Night Light and Velvet could see the side of a mountain rushing by. They were on train, going who knows where.
"Hello, Mrs. Velvet. Mr. Light." Gilda gave a little wave, her voice quiet.
"Hello, Gilda." Velvet wasn't cold, but her voice certainly couldn't be confused for welcoming.
"So, Twilight." Pleasantries out of the way, Night Light moved onto the important matter of the evening. "We just saw an interesting thing on the news."
"Oh?" Twilight blushed, sinking a little into her seat. "You did?"
"Mm-Hm." Night Light nodded, his eyes narrowing as he took in the nervous hunch of his daughter's shoulders. "Do you want to explain anything?"
"Well, I…" Twilight blustered, her cheeks blushing. "Um…"
"Twilight?" Velvet cocked her head. "What is it?"
Twilight looked like she wanted to hang up, to run away, but she knew that would only draw her parent's ire. Gulping, she began. "I have a mission I need to complete, and Princess Celestia agrees. She gave me her ship."
"She gave you her ship?" Night Light blinked. That wasn't normal.
"What's so important that she practically made you a Princess, Twilight?" Velvet leaned forward, waiting for the answer.
"I can't say," Twilight squeaked, sinking even lower.
"It's not that you can't, you won't!" Velvet pointed an accusatory hoof at the screen, and Twilight flinched.
"I'm sorry, mom, but I really can't." Twilight bit her lip, her expression begging her mother and father to understand. "It's bad enough that I have to do this. If somepony… someone else figured out what I know, things could go badly."
"Twilight…" Night Light couldn't think of anything to say, so instead he just murmured his daughter's name.
"I'm sorry, dad." Twilight apologized.
Night Light sighed, shaking his head. "It's alright, Twily. Just… come and visit when you can."
"I'm sorry. We're leaving as soon as we get back. I don't know when we'll be in Canterlot again." Wincing, Twilight bit her lip and looked away. She looked off-screen as Gilda leaned over and whispered in her ear. "I'm sorry mom, dad. We've got to go."
Velvet had so many things that she wanted to say. She wanted to shout and scream. She wanted to demand. She wanted to beg. She did none of those things. Instead, she said, "Stay safe, honey."
"I will mom." She smiled at Night Light and Velvet. "I love you. I love you too, dad."
"We love you, Twilight." Night Light answered back.
Before they could say anything else, the call ended, leaving Velvet and Night Light feeling very unsure of themselves.
When the train had arrived at Canterlot, Twilight and Gilda had found a chariot waiting for them, pulled by two of the finest Pegasus guards. They had ferried the two to the Royal Docks, where they had received a wonderous sight of the two fastest ships in the galaxy sitting side by side. Luna's ship, the Night Fury, was dark, proud beast, the opposite to Celestia's ship. Solar One was proud and stately, every bit as regal as her formal owner.
As always, they were both ready to fly at a moments notice.
The chariot landed before Solar One, and after a quick word of thanks, Twilight and Gilda trotted up the gangplank to the ship.
At the top, Commander Honey Dawn waited. A Pegasus, she was a highly decorated member of the Wonderbolts and Twilight had known her for years. Wonderbolts made the best pilots, and Honey Dawn was one of, if not the best.
"Ma'am!" Honey Dawn saluted Twilight, startling her for a moment.
Twilight stared at her for a moment, before fumbling and sloppily saluting her back. "Hello. You… You don't have to salute me, Honey Dawn."
"Yes, ma'am." A little smirk spread over Honey Dawn's lips, and she shook her head.
"Are we ready to depart?" Twilight asked, marveling for a moment at the fact that the ship was now hers.
"We always are," Honey Dawn said, a hint of pride in her voice.
"Well." Twilight nodded, satisfied. "Let's get going then."
"Of course, ma'am." Honey Dawn said, stepping aside to let Twilight and Gilda onboard. When they passed, Honey Dawn gave another salute. Some ponies were worth respecting after all. As soon as she stepped onboard herself, the airlock slid shut with a final hiss.
"What is our destination, ma'am?" Honey Dawn asked, waiting patiently for an answer.
"The Citadel." Honey Dawn didn't have to wait long. "And please, call me Twilight. You never called me ma'am before."
"The Citadel it is then, ma'am." Honey Dawn grinned, bowing before Twilight, as deep and respectful as she could get. Before Twilight could say anything in protest, she turned and left to go to the bridge.
"Lousy, no good nag." Twilight grumbled under her back, scowling at the retreating form of Honey Dawn.
"Where do we go?" Gilda asked. She had been onboard Solar One once before, but she had never been brave enough to venture out from her room. Twilight had been kind enough to stay with her the entire time.
"Follow me!" Twilight smiled, realized something. The ship was now hers after all.
With a jaunty step, Twilight led Gilda deeper into Solar One. The ship itself had five decks. It was designed to be able to carry out diplomatic meetings and ferry dignitaries and all their aides and secretaries with them.
Coming to a set of wide stairs, Twilight led Gilda up to the second deck of the ship. The second deck contained the Princesses private chambers. The entire ship was decorated in sun motifs, made with golden woods, and red and brown stones.
Startling a little at the shout, Twilight and Gilda turned to find Spike waddling up to them, a little backpack held in his claws. Trotting over to him, Twilight wrapped the little dragon in a warm hug.
"Spike, you're coming too?"
"The Princess said you'd need my help!" Spike puffed out his chest proudly.
"Well," Twilight said. Pulling back, she ruffled his head spines. "Where would I be without my number one assistant?"
Smiling proudly, Spike continued onward, trying to find his room. As he turned a corner and disappeared out of sight, Twilight and Gilda continued onwards.
A little bounce in her step, Twilight led Gilda down a long, large hallway. At the end, there was a pair of double doors, a large sun painted across both of them. With a little squeak, Twilight pushed the doors open, revealing the Royal Suite of Solar One.
Gilda took everything in with wide, curious eyes. The bed was big enough to fit both Celestia and Luna with their wings spread. It was made up with the finest possible sheets and more pillows than could ever be necessary. Sitting on the bed were two identical cases.
"Huh?" Twilight stepped forward. She pressed the open button on the closest. The case opened with a hiss, revealing a state of the art set of griffin armor.
"Is that for me?" Gilda asked, letting the doors to the suite swing shut behind her.
"I think so…" Twilight opened the other case. Inside, it was the same, but the armor was clearly built for a unicorn. She caught site of an elegant note beside the cases, the royal seal of Celestia binding it shut.
Carefully, Twilight opened it and began to read. It was a letter from Princess Celestia.
Dearest Twilight Sparkle,
I regret that I won't be able to help you with your search, but I have the utmost faith in you. I love you as if you were my own, and I want to see no harm come to you, which is why I have had these commissioned for you.
I pray that you stay safe and find what we need.
Your Most Faithful Teacher,
"They're from Princess Celestia." Twilight turned to Gilda, smiling.
Reverently, Twilight folded the letter back up. Taking off her saddle bags, she lifted out the Journal of Friendship and placed the letter between the cover and the rest of the book.
"Prepare for takeoff." Honey Dawn's voice came over the intercom. "We are heading for the Citadel."