The Powers of Harmony
To Protect a Sister
A teal stallion clad in the golden armor of the Royal Guard galloped through the cavernous halls of Canterlot Castle. His hoofsteps echoed off the walls as he passed through well-known corridors and took familiar shortcuts. His heart raced as a small contingent of soldiers passed him by, the vibrations of their steps adding to the subtle shaking that he fought to hide.
The carpet faded to midnight blue as he rounded a corner and stood at the beginning of a long hallway. The windows were draped in thin, violet curtains that subdued the early morning light, covering the walls in mysterious, seductive shadow. A large set of silver doors inlaid with a dark circle stood at the opposite end. As he ran down the hall, the darkness gave way to light, forming into a waxing crescent. By the time he had closed the distance, the orb was full, shining with a soft luminance.
Six stallions wearing dark navy blue armor in the same style as his stood in front of the door, blocking his path. The guards frowned as he approached, eyeing him as if he were a slavering beast. One of them stepped forward.
"State your business."
The golden-armored stallion gave a curt bow, his sides heaving. "First Lieutenant Blair of Her Majesty's Royal Guard here to see Princess Celestia."
The dark-clad guard looked him over for a moment, then gave a nod to his comrades. Three of them surrounded Blair, searching him from nose to tail. Finding nothing of interest, a unicorn stepped forward. He started to lower his horn to Blair's forehead.
The unicorn was stopped by the first guard. "That's not necessary. First Lieutenant, you may go in."
He nodded his thanks. The painting of the moon split in two as the doors swung open on unseen hinges. As the doors shut behind him, he gave a small sigh of relief.
Blair climbed a set of wide spiral stairs before coming into a newly-furnished apartment, decorated in a nighttime motif. The dark ceiling above was streaked with violet and awash in countless pinpricks of light. Bookcases and star charts lined the walls, with a full, detailed map of the moon displayed in a corner. In the center of the room was a long oak table covered with scrolls, books, a sextant, and an abacus. Two alicorn mares sat at the table in calm discussion.
The first one was regal and ageless, with a coat white as snow. Her long, billowing rainbow mane hid half her face as she spoke.
"…second-person singular, and second-person plural. Instead of 'thou', use nominative verbs and pronouns. The pronouns are: I, you, he, she, it, they, and we."
The second alicorn, a filly with a periwinkle coat, scribbled furiously on a piece of parchment. She ceased her note-taking and looked up. "What of 'thy' and 'thine? Are those still in use?"
The elder mare shook her head. "Use possessive adjectives instead."
"Fie on this accursed modern grammar!" The filly crossed her hooves and pouted. "The old ways suit thee much better, Tia. I have half a mind to—"
They both looked up to see Blair bowing at the entrance of the room. His eyes were glued to the floor as he spoke. "Forgive me for this slight, Your Majesties. I have something of urgent importance to bring to your attention."
Celestia shone with a bright light. It enveloped her as she disappeared in a flash, reappearing at the entrance of the room before Blair. She radiated calm from her entire visage, the barest hint of sharpness in her voice the only indication of her true feelings.
"What is it?"
Blair felt her violet eyes boring into the top of his skull. "The storm is breaking on the Horizon."
There was a silence. After a moment, Blair felt the warm, soothing presence of Celestia's mind touch the corner of his own. He allowed her to confirm what he had already discovered.
The touch withdrew. "Meet me in my chambers after midday court," she said.
"As you wish, Princess." Blair turned and walked out of the room and descended the stairs. Celestia heard the doors below close behind him with an echoing clack.
"What hast thou done?"
She turned to see the filly still at the table, staring wide-eyed at the place where Blair had stood. Celestia put on an innocent look. "What was that, Luna?"
Luna's narrowed her eyes as she turned to Celestia. "Thou canst not hide thy spellwork from me, no matter how hard thou mayest try. I know not what that... thing was, but it certainly was not a pony. I ask again: what hast thou done?"
Celestia hesitated. Years of practice had taught her how to keep her emotions in check and think on her hooves. She'd perfected the art of deflecting pointed questions, and knew that it would be easy to divert Luna away from the truth. In fact, several false answers had already come unbidden to her mind, each of them completely plausible.
However, she didn't like making the same mistake twice.
Celestia sighed and brushed her mane out of her face. "What have we done, is the better question."
Luna blinked. She dropped the quill and parchment and stormed over to her sister. "Straighten thy tongue! Of what dost thou speak?!"
Celestia felt the old, practiced stoic mask slipping over her face at her sister's outburst. However, with great effort, she forced it away. This was not an angry diplomat, a pompous noble, or a jealous rival. This was her sister, her fellow ruler, equal in power and authority. The only one who could stand with her and watch the passing of the eras. The time they'd been apart was like a gaping hole in her heart that had ached every second for a thousand years, and now, at long last, that hole had been filled.
She wouldn't jeopardize that. Not for anything.
"It's a long story," Celestia said.
For the briefest of moments, a shadow fell over Luna. Her mouth twitched as her eyes flickered. After a moment though, she relaxed and spoke in a softer tone. "Keeping secrets hath not served us well in the past."
Celestia barked out a harsh laugh. "That's putting it lightly." She walked back over to the table and perused the collection of scrolls. An ancient one that still bore the scars of a flame caught her eye. "We've both made mistakes, Lulu: Past and present. I don't know if you're ready to hear this."
Luna spread her wings and flew back over to the table. "Thou hast checked enough times to know I am in no danger of—what new word didst thou use?"
She nodded. "Yes, that one. "
Celestia's voice dropped to a cracked whisper. "I've been wrong before."
Luna raised her hoof, tilting her sister's head so that they were looking into each other's eyes. "Do not fear. It is her most powerful tool, and thou hast not any idea how well I know her ways. Never again shall I succumb to her, not in any way, shape, or form."
She nuzzled Celestia's cheek. "Nor shall I allow thee."
Celestia felt her throat and chest tighten. She fell back behind a practiced mental wall to prevent the emotions from taking hold. It'd been trying for both of them over the past few months, the simple realization that they were together again being enough to break them both down. Celestia was extremely grateful they'd gotten better about it. Holding court with red eyes and tear streaks is rather bad for appearances, after all.
Celestia maintained the contact for a moment before backing away, turning to look over at the detailed picture of the moon. "I'm just worried about you."
Luna followed her gaze. "Thy concern cannot influence thine actions. Slipping into the same destructive habits wilt lead us to ruin yet again." Her eyes lingered on the portion that until very recently, was covered with the silhouette of a mare. "Of course, such advice I must also keep in mind. We are together again, sister. Let us share our burdens once more."
Celestia got up from the table and walked towards the window. Up a nearby set of stairs was a balcony, where a massive, ancient telescope stood tilted to the heavens. She regarded it thoughtfully before turning back to Luna.
"I'll make you a deal."
Luna remained seated at the table. She scoffed and gave her sister a reproachful glare. "Thou dost not make deals with kin. If thou wishest for mine help, thou needest only ask."
"Okay then," Celestia said, waving her hoof in apology. "I'll tell you everything. But first, I need you to do me a favor."
Celestia pulled out a fresh piece of parchment and set it before her. "Can you write somepony a letter?"
Luna blanched as she eyed the paper with parted lips and scrunched eyebrows. "Prithee it may be written in the old style."
Celestia chuckled. "I think Twilight will get a kick out of that."
( *** )
Twilight Sparkle trudged out of the dim recesses of Canterlot University into the blazing sunlight of a beautiful late summer day. The wind was gentle, and the air was warm. Sparse, puffy clouds dotted the skyline, and the twittering of songbirds mixed with the laughter and milling about of other ponies as they enjoyed the season.
Twilight tossed back her mane with a snort as a strand of hair fell in front of her face. She walked to a fountain in the center of the courtyard. As she did, she adjusted her saddlebags, which were filled to the brim with heavy spellbooks, components, and her own research notes.
She stood in silence, her movements sure and fluid, her face a calm and emotionless mask as she looked out across the foyer.
Her thoughts however, were another story.
Of all the most redundant, idiotic, asinine things they could—where in the world do they find these ponies?! Is this really the quality of professors that they have? Thank Celestia I don't actually attend class here, because if I did, I'd probably get kicked out for pointing out all the problems with their ridiculous curriculum! Honestly, do they think I'm a freshman straight out of Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns? No wonder so few seniors get their degree!
This was Twilight's first time coming to the University in a few months, and she wished it could be her last. She knew it wouldn't be, of course. But fortunately, the assignments that came from being Princess Celestia's personal protégée were a bit more important than University work. Even the dreaded members of the stuffy school board couldn't argue against that.
I told them that my work wasn't in a state to be shown. But do they listen? Noooooooo. 'Presentations of your progress are mandatory', they say. Mandatory, my flank! They just want to make sure I'm not going to blow myself up!
One such assignment was to live in the small nearby village of Ponyville, to study the unique but powerful magic of Friendship. Because of this, the University was forced to recognize her as a special case, and allow her to continue her studies from the town.
Today, however, Twilight had had to make a presentation to a committee for her thesis spell, the final step in acquiring a Doctorate in Arcana. And as the committee couldn't really come to her, she had had to make the trip to Canterlot.
Twilight picked up a stray pebble with her magic and threw it into the water, watching the ripples slowly spread outward. Her ranting was interrupted by a pang of hunger. It felt like I was in there all morning. What time is it? I'm supposed to meet with Shining for lunch at one.She glanced up at the clock above the main entranceway.
"Ahhhh!" She turned and sprinted out of the University, drawing several curious glances from her fellow students.
A minute later, Twilight cleared the University's safety wards that prevented teleportation. She focused on an image of her favorite restaurant, the Daft Daffodil. It's a bit on the far side, but desperate times call for desperate measures! Stupid committee and their endless questions!
Her horn flared brightly as she drew upon her magical font and cast the spell. The world turned magenta.
Twilight re-appeared beside a sign of a bright yellow daffodil with mismatched eyes doing a jig. Surrounding her were several well-dressed, and now extremely surprised unicorns. Their surprise however quickly soured into angry glares as they started muttering.
Twilight felt herself go red as she stammered out an apology. The unicorns continued to shoot daggers at her, unabated. Confused as to what warranted such hostility, she turned to check herself. What's the matter? I didn't singe my coat again, did I? I don't want to show up smelling like burnt… hair... oh.
She saw she had teleported to the front of a line some fifty ponies long. She gave a nervous laugh and put a hoof behind her head.
Oops. Should've figured it'd be busy. I wonder i—
She turned at the voice to see a familiar white stallion with a blue striped mane waving at her from a table in the outside seating area. She squeed and pointed him out to the hostess, who nodded and let her in.
Shining Armor rose as she approached. "Nice entrance, sis."
Twilight chuckled. "Thanks. I think next time I'll try to appear on a table and put on a nice song and dance number. I could earn a few bits that way." For a brief moment, all of her stress faded away as she looked into the eyes of her brother. "It's good to see you, Shining."
Shining gave her a warm smile, and then glanced over her shoulder to her saddlebags. "Did you teleport all the way here from the University?"
Twilight sighed as life resumed. She removed the heavy bags and sat down. "I had to. They wouldn't stop asking me questions about safety protocol. I only just got out."
Shining raised an eyebrow. "That's almost three miles from here. You've stepped up your game."
She averted her eyes and coughed to prevent herself going red for a second time.
He pretended not to notice and continued on. "So, is it going well, then? Your thesis spell, I mean."
"It would be going better if they didn't want me to send them three progress reports a week now," Twilight fumed. "Seriously, what's the point of a progress report if they don't give me enough time to make any progress? It's a waste of time."
"I'm sure that they just want to make sure you're using your time appropriately."
Her irritation resurfaced as she eyed him skeptically. "Does it really sound necessary to check up on students that much, especially at this point in our education? This isn't Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns. Do they honestly think I'm going to slack off on this?!"
Shining listened in silence as his sister continued to vent. He could tell that she'd been stressed about this for a while, and needed to get it off her chest. She kept going for a while, but just as abruptly as she'd started, she stopped.
"I'm sorry." Twilight pursed her lips and looked at the floor. "I didn't want the first thing we talked about to be my thesis woes. I imagine you've got your own hooves full with the Royal Guard."
Twilight was startled by a laugh. She jerked up to see Shining smiling and shaking his head. "I'm your brother, Twily. You know I'll always listen and help in any way I can. You used to do the same for me all the time, after all."
She gave him a grateful smile. "I suppose that's kind of what family does."
The waiter came. He took their orders and walked off with a bow.
"So then," Twilight said, "how are you? I haven't seen you since I left for Ponyville."
"Busy," he replied as he sipped at his water. "Eight of our members retired this year, so we've had a lot of newbies to break in. Between that and the return of Princess Luna, the Guard's been undergoing a lot of changes."
"I suppose you've had to appoint new members to form Luna's Royal Guard as well," Twilight surmised.
"Sort of," Shining admitted. "Princess Celestia has been making all of the final decisions. I've just been giving a few recommendations here and there. But let me tell you, it's taken a while."
"How so? I can't imagine that Princess Luna would have more guards than Princess Celestia."
"You'd be wrong." Shining absentmindedly folded his napkin into squares. "She has more than twice the amount Celestia has. Your mentor is a little protective of her sibling at the moment."
Twilight was surprised at first, but then considered. She just got her back after a thousand years of separation, after all. I suppose I can't blame her for going a little overboard. I've missed Shining after not seeing him for a few months. I can't imagine what a millennium would be like.
"Do you think she'll keep that many for long?"
He shrugged as he leaned back in his chair. He looked to the north, beholding the pearlescent windows of Canterlot Castle as they shone like mirrors in the midday sun. "Not my place to say. I imagine that Princess Luna will get tired of being under such heavy security. But when that'll be, I have no idea."
Silence fell between them. Twilight waited for Shining to continue, but he just stared off into the distance. Then, with a deep breath, he straightened himself in his seat, placed his shoulders back, and turned to her. His eyes were hard and unrelenting, catching her gaze and holding it in place.
Oh, for crying out… really? The Big Brother Stare? Why does this still work on me?! Twilight winced."What is it?"
"While we're on the topic of additional security—"
Not this again. She gave a derisive snort and rolled her eyes.
Her body language wasn't lost on him. "You're exposed out there, Twily. You need protection."
Twilight shook her head. "There is no threat to Ponyville outside of the Everfree, and there hasn't been a monster raid in decades."
He jabbed a hoof at her. "I'm not talking about dangers to Ponyville. I'm talking about dangers to you and your friends."
"We're nopony special! We're all just simple—"
Shining leaned across the table, his face inches from hers as he spoke in a low tone. "You and your friends are the wielders of one of the most powerful and ancient pieces of magic in Equestria. Nopony save for you six can use the Elements of Harmony. Not to mention you're the ones who rescued Princess Luna. Like it or not, all of you are important ponies with ties to both of the Princesses; ties that could be easily exploited."
He maintained the eye contact for a few more seconds, then blew a puff of air in her face. She jerked back as her hair went askew, and Shining leaned back with a grin. "What kind of B.B.B.F.F would I be if I let you stay in danger?"
Twilight blinked several times as she fixed her mane. Horseapples, he brought some good ammunition this time. But the underlying problem is still there: I don't want guards in Ponyville. I don't want anypony to treat me differently. And I especially don't want my friends to have to deal with any of this. If Shining has his way, we'll all have an armed contingent with us everywhere we go.
Twilight's thoughts drifted to the trials they had overcome. "My friends and I are not helpless."
"No, you're not," he agreed. "And I'd be a foal to think that any of you were. After you and your friends defeated Nightmare Moon, I went and found everything I could get my hooves on about the Elements of Harmony. Information on them is… sparse, to put it lightly, but being a Captain of the Royal Guard gives you some pretty nice privileges."
He looked at his hoof as if he found it intensely fascinating. "Including access to the Millennial Archives."
Twilight's jaw dropped. The Millennial Archives was the most restricted section of books in the Canterlot Library. They weren't even in the library, per se, more like several hundred feet behind it, deep within the mountain's heart. Only those who had a Doctorate in Arcana or a similar level of authority were allowed to read those tomes.
"There was a surprising amount of information in there about the Elements," Shining continued casually. "So I've a pretty good idea what you're all capable of. Or perhaps, what you will be capable of is a more accurate choice of words."
Twilight shook her head. "What do you—"
Their conversation was interrupted by their food arriving.
( *** )
Twilight ate her cauliflower and rye sandwich in silence. I don't want to admit it, but he's got a point. We are all connected to the Princesses, and it's not exactly a secret that we're the bearers of the Elements of Harmony. It only makes logical sense to have some kind of additional security. But still…
"I'm sorry," Twilight said after a few moments. "Call me whatever you want: Selfish, foalish, overconfident, naive… but I refuse to be responsible for disturbing the peace of Ponyville. I believe Princess Celestia sent me there because everypony there treats me like an equal. Not some detached, vaunted special subject that's been meticulously groomed by royalty."
Shining sighed and put down his cucumber salad. He looked up at his sister. "First off, I would never call you any of those things unless you were actually being them, which you're not. Your concerns are justified."
Twilight breathed a sigh of relief.
"But so are mine," he continued in a voice as hard as stone, "and I'm not going to wait for you or your friends to get foalnapped, assaulted, or worse for the reality of all this to sink in."
"So what, you're just going to—"
"And neither are the Princesses," he interjected. His horn glowed, and he produced a letter from his bag. Twilight gasped.
The Royal Seal. Only letters written by the Princess bore that mark. Shining gave it to Twilight, who took it in her magic and opened it. As she did, she realized there were two letters: One was a normal beige parchment written in black ink, the second a dark indigo page, its message written in a silver script. She recognized her mentor's elegant hornwriting on the first, so she began with that one.
Your brother asked if he could give you this letter personally in the event that you still declined the offer of providing additional security for you and your friends in Ponyville. I am afraid I must agree with Shining on this. While the threat of danger is not definite, the simple fact is that by being directly associated with both myself and Luna, you all stand at risk to be manipulated or controlled by forces that conspire against the crowns.
You must understand, Twilight, that you and your friends mean very, very much to me, and that your safety is my top priority. I couldn't bear it if any of you were harmed, and if you were abducted, I'd use any means necessary to rescue you. And that's to say nothing of what Luna might do, as she feels indebted to all of you for saving her.
I understand you might be worried about the guards disturbing the citizens of Ponyville. I apologize for this. As a compromise, the guards that will be assigned to you will keep their presence to a minimum, and they will only be in uniform when the situation calls for it. After all, I sent you to Ponyville to learn more about Friendship. I realize that the presence of a fully armed squad following you around may be a slight detriment to that goal.
If nothing else, do this for the peace of mind of a worrying old mare. I will sleep better knowing you are protected, and I know Luna will as well.
Send your friends my greetings-
Twilight's mind was racing and her muscles were tense as she finished the letter. Calm down, calm down. Let him explain before you fly off the handle.
"You didn't tell me that the guards wouldn't be in uniform," Twilight said in a careful tone. "That makes a difference."
"You've been vehemently opposed to this idea ever since I first brought it up," Shining said patiently. "That wouldn't have been enough to convince you."
Twilight's thoughts slowed down as she realized he was right. A part of her was indeed still defiant.
"Only you would know that," she muttered.
Shining looked at the second note. "You should probably read that one, too."
"Do you know what it says?"
He shook his head. "No, but I imagine that the first letter Princess Luna has sent to anypony since her return is a tad significant."
Twilight flinched. "The… first…"
Her brother gestured at the scroll.
She now had goosebumps as she unrolled the second parchment and took a proper look at the motif. The paper was the color of the night sky, the ink was like silvery starlight, and Luna's hornwriting was thin and spidery. Twilight took a calming breath and began to read.
We cannot convey to thee the level of gratitude we have to both thee and thy friends for saving us from ourselves. As our sister has said, we know not if such a debt can truly ever be repaid, though if the Stars are willing, we will most assuredly try.
While we understand that the presence of our Guard shalt inconvenience thee, we do implore that thou shouldst indulge us in this. We are ashamed to admit, however, that our motivations for this appointment are selfish. For verily, while we are recovering rapidly from our Purification, we still currently find ourselves to be somewhat… weak. And in our lingering weakness, we harbor a fear. A fear that if our noble Saviors were to come to harm so soon after our Redemption, we may succumb to the same Darkness as we did before, and have something akin to, as you say, a 'relapse'.
We sympathize with thy disdain and resistance to the imposition on thy privacy and anonymity. We ourselves are under a similar arrangement until we have regained our strength. And while it is indeed the epitome of malcontent, it is a necessary burden. So too is thy lot, Twilight Sparkle. It is the price to pay for having Power, as well as being close to those in Power.
We pray that thou seest the truth of the matter, and that thou wilt acquiesce to the arrangements that thy brethren hath established. And perhaps, when we are recovered, if thou and thy friends are inclined, we may be able to visit at thy hearth and home in Ponyville.
We wish thee and thy friends well-
The butterflies in her stomach made Twilight's actions jerky and tense as she rolled up the letter with her magic and placed it in her bags.
"The contents of that letter were meant for your eyes only," Shining mumbled. He had returned his attention to his salad. "You don't have to say anything about it if you don't want."
Twilight stared at her food, taking in this new revelation. Could the Princess really have a relapse? She thought back to what she had researched on the legend of the Mare in the Moon.
According to the story, Princess Luna had become jealous of Princess Celestia and the daytime that was her charge, as all the ponies loved both her and it. Luna had desired the same level of love and affection from the little ponies that her sister enjoyed, but all of them shunned her and the night by staying indoors and sleeping through it. Luna slowly became bitter, jealous, and angry, and after nursing those dark emotions for years, she finally gave in to them, undergoing a terrible transformation and thereafter was known as Nightmare Moon.
What followed was a terrible series of battles later referred to as the War of the Sun and Moon. Most of the fighting was restricted to the lands now known as the Everfree Forest, but eventually the conflict became so severe that it threatened to spill over into the rest of Equestria. Princess Celestia, left with no other choice, decided to use a set of powerful relics against Nightmare Moon called the Elements of Harmony.
While the Elements were made to purge corruption and correct imbalance, Celestia was too torn by grief and sadness to wield them at their full power against Nightmare Moon. So instead, she used the ancient magics to banish her to the celestial body that was once her charge, where she would stay imprisoned for one thousand years. However, when that millennium had passed, Nightmare Moon would be released from the heavens, free to terrorize Equestria once more.
Two months ago, freed indeed Nightmare Moon was, but no terror could she sow. For she was stopped by six mares who used the same Elements of Harmony against her to their full power, and in doing so, reverted the fallen monarch to her former state of Princess Luna. Those six were Twilight Sparkle and her friends.
Part of her fall was caused by anger. And if the ones who she feels so indebted to were put in danger, I imagine that she'd be rather… enraged. And if she's still recovering, it might be possible…
Twilight rubbed her eyes, then let her hoof fall on the table with a light thud. "All right, Shining. You win this time."
Shining resumed his normal posture with a sigh. "I've heard through the grapevine that Princess Luna is a rather eloquent speaker. I guess that holds true in written form, as well."
Twilight stared at the indigo scroll in wonder. "She writes in the Old Equestrian Grammar. That hasn't been used in centuries. Her prose is almost naturally poetic."
"Well, she hasn't been around for centuries," he reminded her. "It makes sense."
Twilight picked up her glass of grape juice. "How many guards will each of us have?"
"Two for each of you," Shining replied as he wiped off his mouth. "In total there will be a dozen soldiers that will be assigned to Ponyville, disguised as civilians. They'll do nothing but monitor from afar unless a situation arises."
She nodded and took a drink. I suppose that's not so bad.
His eyes flickered. "And, in addition Twily, you specifically will have a personal bodyguard who will stay by your side at all times."
Twilight spat her grape juice across the table.
Shining blinked as the beverage slowly faded into his coat, turning him a faint shade of purple.
Twilight didn't even know where to start: Whether to protest against having a complete stranger be with her all the time, to apologize, or to make the observation that they looked even more like siblings now. She simply stared wide-eyed as all three thoughts got stuck together in her mind, vying for dominance.
Shining closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment. His horn glowed, and the offending liquid separated itself from him all at once. It rose into the air, hovering above the table in a cohesive sphere and floated back over to Twilight. It re-inserted itself back into her glass in a thin stream.
"As I was about to say," he said calmly, "this wasn't my idea. The Princesses themselves requested that you have additional protection."
Twilight didn't respond. She was making funny faces as she tried to untangle her thoughts. Shining recognized the episode as one of her notorious 'Brain-Jams'. He leaned on his hoof, waiting for her to correct herself.
"Why me?" she finally said.
Shining sighed. He swallowed hard, wetting his lips before setting his jaw. "I think it's time you took a better look at yourself, Twily. Did you think that being Celestia'spersonal student only meant that you got to read rare books and live in the castle?"
"O—Of course not! I—I've always—"
"What is Princess Celestia to you?"
"She's my mentor! And she's my friend!"
"And how many other ponies can say that about her?"
"I'll answer that for you—none to the former, and very few to the latter." Shining motioned at Canterlot Castle. "Now, let me ask you something else: what is Princess Celestia to everyone else?"
"She's… one of the Rulers of Equestria." Twilight admitted.
"Yes," he said with a curt nod. "And you didn't mention that at first. I know you don't think of her that way, but you still have to understand that's what she is."
Twilight's hair bristled. "I know that! It took us years to break down that wall!"
"And I'm happy that you're able to have that kind of relationship with her," he replied in a soothing tone. "But you need to realize that's what makes you important. You may not know this, Twily, but because of your association with the Princess, most ponies think of you as something like pseudo-royalty."
Shining paused to let that sink in. "And on top of all that, you're a Bearer of an Element of Harmony."
Twilight closed her eyes and ground her teeth. I just want to be left alone with my books, my studies, my friends, and the Princess. I don't want to be treated differently, be recognized, or be in the spotlight. Why can't I just be Twilight Sparkle, a regular old unicorn who likes magic? Is that so much to ask?
She hadn't wanted to see the big picture. She'd been ignoring it, hoping it would go away. And now here was her brother, refusing to let her run anymore. It was like being shoved outside on a bright summer day after spending weeks underground. She wanted to hate him for it. She wanted to yell, scream and fight tooth and nail to keep herself from seeing what everypony else did, but she knew she couldn't. It was time to face facts.
Twilight hung her head. "I'm kind of a big deal, aren't I?"
Shining nodded solemnly. "Yeah, you kind of are. And unfortunately, ponies who are a big deal have the side effect of becoming targets."
Twilight's heart beat faster as she looked at the ground. He'd shattered the perfect world she was living in, and now the shards were cutting deep. Unbidden images began to surface, each one of them lancing straight through her heart. Waking up one night and finding herself bound, gagged, then being savagely beaten while being held for ransom. She and her friends being dragged off into the night, their screams the last thing anypony heard of them. Walking into the homes of her friends and seeing the remains of their broken bodies, covered in wounds and lying in pools of their own blood.
A lump formed in her throat as a soft sob escaped her. If anything were to happen to them...
Twilight felt a hoof on her shoulder. She looked up and saw that Shining was now standing beside her. His attention was focused on her mane, refusing to meet her watery eyes. His lips twitched, and she saw that he was gritting his teeth. Finally, he met her gaze, and she saw the pain he was trying to hide.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't want to make you upset. But that's the point I'm trying to make: you don't need to be."
He leaned down close to whisper in her ear. "Because if you'll let me, I'll never, ever let anything bad happen to you."
A single tear ran down Twilight's cheek. She nuzzled the crook of his neck, burying her face in his mane. He sat by her side, his foreleg around her shoulder in a loving embrace.
After a shared moment, Shining returned to his seat and they resumed eating.
"So, who's the lucky stallion you've set me up with?" Twilight said sarcastically in a thick voice. "Seeing as there are no mares in the Royal Guard."
"One of my lieutenants," Shining managed through a munch of lettuce. "His name's Blair. He'll arrive with the other soldiers on the train to Ponyville tomorrow."
"Tomorrow?" she echoed as she finished her sandwich. "That seems awfully fast for something that I just agreed to."
"Sorry Twily, but this was going to happen whether you agreed to it or not. Royal orders."
"It was?" She stared bewildered at her brother. "Then why didn't you just say so in the first place?"
"Because you don't like being told what to do," he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "I wanted to make this easier for you to accept."
She put her elbows on the table and rested her head on her hooves. "It must be a family trait. I still don't know how you deal with being in the military."
He gave a devious smirk. "Why do you think I made Captain so fast?"
( *** )
A Few Hours Later-
Blair hovered at the door just inside Celestia's chambers, waiting for her to finish the monotony that was midday court. He'd been here many times, but he still tried to prevent his eyes from intruding on the specifics of the Princess's limited privacy. He coughed and focused his wandering eyes on a sunken circle in the center of the room filled with cushions, chairs and tables.
This room always makes me feel small. Makes sense, I guess. It's built to accommodate a pony more than twice my size, after all. Poor Luna probably feels like a stranger in her own home now that she's a filly again. In wonder how long it'll be before she's back to full s—
There was a brilliant flash from the center of the sunken circle. Blair shielded his eyes. The light faded, and Princess Celestia now stood in the room. He quickly bowed.
"You know formalities aren't needed when we're alone, Blair."
He maintained his gesture of respect. "Old habits die hard, your Majesty."
Celestia rolled her eyes. "Don't I know it." She walked out of the circle to a large mahogany desk littered with parchment, quills, wax, and a bottle filled with green fire. She sat on a large, fluffy white pillow and gestured to an olive cushion in front of the desk.
Blair went to it and sat down, staring at the assorted items on the desk. "Sorry about interrupting your time with your sister."
She waved a dismissive hoof. "It's all right. Luna understands the rigors of being a Princess better than most."
"True enough," Blair said with a wan smile, which faded as quickly as it had formed. He looked into her violet eyes.
"Your Majesty, the barrier is falling apart."
Celestia gave a small nod, her voice just above a whisper. "I know."
"We need to use the Elements of Harmony to—"
She shook her head. "They can't be used right now."
Blair gave her a pleading look. "Horizon will die if we don't."
"I realize that," Celestia said, "but it's not just a simple matter of using the Elements whenever we please. They have rules."
"Could Luna help?" Blair asked. "I've read that the two of you wielded them together in the Era of Discord."
"We did," Celestia admitted. She looked to a stained glass window on the far wall. On it was a picture of herself and her sister using six shining relics against a bizarre creature. "But after the War of the Sun and Moon, our connection with them began to fade. That's the reason why I haven't been able to help you more these last twenty years."
She gestured out the window behind her, where a tower was visible. Navy blue curtains adorned its windows, and long draping banners with the emblem of the moon hung from its walls. "Besides, you've seen her. Luna is in no state to be casting spells of that caliber, let alone the very one that was just used against her."
Well, I knew the answer to that one, but it was worth a shot. Blair nodded, his gaze downcast. "So that leaves the Bearers."
Celestia picked up a wrapped up scroll in her magic. "They're not ready to use the Elements again. I fear that they may become injured in the process, and I'm not going to risk their safety."
What? First time I've heard about this. He looked up with furrowed eyebrows. "Injured? How so?"
Celestia put down the scroll and raised her gaze to the ceiling. There was a long pause before she finally spoke again.
"What I am about to tell you is strictly confidential. The only ones who know this are myself, Luna, and Captain Shining Armor. Do I make myself clear?"
Blair swallowed hard, and gave a slow nod.
Celestia sighed and looked down at him. "During the battle against Nightmare Moon, one of the Bearers, Twilight Sparkle, got cut off from the others and was forced to fight her alone. Left with no other choice, Twilight tried to activate the Elements by herself. She only got halfway through before Nightmare Moon saw what she was doing, stopped her, and smashed the Elements to pieces."
So that's how they became turned into necklaces. I was wondering about that. Blair leaned forward and motioned to let Celestia continue.
Celestia shook her head. "I can only imagine that Nightmare Moon thought that by destroying the Elements, they couldn't be used against her. Which might have been true, had they not been partially activated. Perhaps she didn't realize how far Twilight had gotten, or the heat of the moment prevented her from thinking clearly. Regardless, that was a very foalish thing to do. Magic, like all forms of energy, can't be destroyed. It merely goes somewhere else. And the first place it will always try is the nearest, most conductive vessel."
She tucked in her chin and looked at Blair. "Can you guess what those vessels were?"
Blair's eyes were bulging out of their sockets. "The… Bearers? The power of the Elements went to the Bearers?!"
"Half of it," Celestia corrected. "The remaining portion was still unfocused, ambient magic lingering in the air. It manifested a short time later into the necklaces that are in Canterlot Tower."
"But, Your Majesty," Blair began, "even if that's the case, why can't they just wear the necklaces and—" he stopped as he saw the calm, expressionless mask on her face.
Blair's lips parted. "They don't know, do they?"
"No," Celestia said. "They don't."
"Why haven't you told them?" Blair asked.
"Because the magic is dormant," she said. "The Elements have always needed time to recharge after use. Having half of their power reside in living vessels doesn't change that fact. And in answer to your other question, you must trust me when I say that I've my reasons for not telling them at this time."
So is that it then? Do we just wait to fade away? No other magic other than the Elements of Harmony can restore the barrier. And if they can't be used... "Well then," Blair said as he fought to keep his shaky voice level. "What can we do?"
She eyed him gravely. "There's only one thing."
He blanched. "But you said a Temporal Stasis spell would destroy the barrier for sure!"
Celestia nodded. "When it runs out, the barrier will be destroyed by the resulting timesnap. But the clock has already begun to tick. It's going to fall apart in either case. This will at least buy you some more time."
Blair's eyes shifted back and forth. "How long do we have without it?"
She gave him a condescending look. "I've told you many times that I'm flying blind here. Nopony's ever fused together two advanced barrier spells before, then saturated the unstable result with enough magical energy to level everything within a two-mile radius."
He lowered his head. "Sorry, I meant to ask how long do you think we have."
She glanced to the side. "It's safe to say that the degradation will speed up over time. My best guess is a week, maybe two at the most."
"And how long will the Temporal Stasis spell last?"
Three months? That's so short of a time... we all knew that this day was going to come, but still, facing oblivion is no easy feat. Blair suppressed a shudder."I guess we have no choice."
Celestia nodded and got to her hooves. "Stand up."
She walked around the desk as he obeyed the command. Blair's heart was hammering in his chest as he stared at the marble floor, waiting for Celestia's approach. He jolted in surprise as a set of gold-trimmed hooves appeared noiselessly in his vision. He looked up, and was gripped by panic as he was reminded of how tall Celestia was. She towered over him, his nose just shy of the underside of her barrel. Blair craned his neck up to look into her face for comfort.
He found it. Celestia's eyes were warm and serene, and she gave him a smile that filled him with a sense of peace. As her horn began to glow with golden radiance, Blair fought down a sudden, powerful urge to nuzzle her leg like a frightened foal.
Celestia bent her slender neck and whispered in his ear. "Hold still."
He closed his eyes as her horn touched the tip of his brow.
Celestia hovered in the interior of an opaque, multifaceted sphere that looked like fine glass. It was ravaged by vicious, massive cracks, and a soft tinkling sound could be heard as bits and pieces of it slowly fell away. Inside the sphere was the silhouette of a pony covered in twelve chaotic, swirling colors. The entire structure looked like it was about to collapse.
There was a sound of swirling wind, and the warmth of Celestia's magic enveloped the sphere in a golden aura. It shimmered and made a sound like lava cooling as the magic took hold. The pulsing of the sphere now ceased, but it had an unnatural feel to it, as if a slow tension was beginning to build. The colors in the silhouette still moved about, but the sound of falling glass had stopped.
Celestia removed her horn and stepped away. "I've stopped the barrier's deterioration for now."
Blair felt the last fragments of the spell tingle and move about like eddies in a river. He opened his eyes. "Thank you, Princess. How soon until the Bearers can use the Elements again?"
Celestia walked back over to her pillow and sat down. "I can't say for sure, but there will be telltale signs."
Blair cocked his head. "Signs?"
She nodded. "Each of them will be developing unique powers associated with the Element they represent. Think of them as progressive stages of their recovery. At first they'll be subtle; the Bearers themselves most likely won't even notice them."
"Are they dangerous?"
"Not yet… or at least, no more than normal ponies are," Celestia said with an odd smile. "The Elements are activated by the emotions and desires that they represent. A particularly strong surge may cause them to draw out their powers for a short while, but it won't last long enough to have any negative effects on them."
Blair scratched his chin. "So they have to consciously activate their powers?"
Celestia shook her head. "As I said, they draw their powers from emotions. In times of duress, they may activate them unintentionally. Also, some are passive effects that merely enhance their natural abilities and characteristics, and will be active at all times. I'd guess that they're already manifesting those."
Her voice took on a wry note. "I want to keep tabs on them myself, but being the ruler of a country that just regained a long-lost monarch tends to eat up a lot of your time. I've been trying to get somepony else to monitor them for me."
"What's been stopping you?"
She looked calmly at him. "I haven't forgotten about any of you, you know. I've been trying to get this moving ever since I found out what happened. My protégée has been stubbornly refusing to cooperate, and I only just got her to agree earlier today. "
Celestia's eyes flickered back to the window. "In order to do it, though, I played a card I didn't want to use."
Blair's skin prickled as he noted her action. "Your Highness?"
Celestia straightened and assumed a regal tone. "First Lieutenant Blair—starting tomorrow, you and the Thirty-Second Platoon are hereby re-assigned to Ponyville. Your orders are to monitor and protect the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony from hostile threats. You're not to be in uniform, nor will you interfere in their daily lives and activities unless they ask you to do so. Split your platoon into groups of two, and assign one pair to each of the Bearers. Second Lieutenant Vigil will also accompany you. I've already notified him of the assignment, but he doesn't know your true purpose, or what any of you really are. You're to keep it that way."
Vigil? That stick in the mud? Why would she want to send him, too? "That'd make for thirteen," Blair said. "Who gets the extra?"
"Twilight Sparkle, Bearer of the Element of Magic and my personal protégée," Celestia replied. "Of the six Bearers, she's the most likely to develop her powers first. You'll be by her side at all times as her personal bodyguard."
Blair snorted derisively. "If she's the one who's been refusing this, I'll imagine she's not going to be happy."
"She already knows. And no, she's not," Celestia said with a note of pity. "You'll have to find a way to get along with her, I'm afraid."
"I'm sure I will," he replied with a small smile. "If nothing else, I'm told I can be rather addictive to be around."
Celestia groaned. "That was terrible, and you should be ashamed."
Blair jokingly winced. "Was it really that bad?"
"Not the worst I've heard," Celestia admitted with twinkling eyes, "but definitely in the top ten."
The two of them laughed. Celestia rose from her pillow and began to walk towards the door of her chambers. Blair got up after her and followed in step.
"I sometimes wonder if it'd be better if we were to simply fade," Blair said as they crossed the room. He looked up at her. "What kind of life is this for him, anyway?"
Celestia stared straight ahead. "As long as the flame still burns, there is hope. But once it is lost, it can never be recovered. Horizon is alive. Not only that, but from what you've told me, very active… even if only on a subconscious level."
Blair groaned. "Don't get me started on that thing."
Celestia chuckled as they reached the door. "Notify the Thirty-Second that you will be leaving on the six a.m. train to Ponyville. Tell them the nature of the Bearers' condition, and once all of them Bearers recovered, contact me at once."
"As you wish, Your Majesty." Blair opened the door and began to walk out.
A thought struck him. He stopped and turned back to her. "I just realized you haven't told me what their powers actually are."
Celestia raised an eyebrow. "I didn't?" Her eyes widened. She motioned for him to come back inside and shut the door behind him. "I suppose that's rather vital information, isn't it? I'll get you a quill and some parchment."
( *** )
Twilight hadn't had anything else to do after her lunch with Shining, as their parents were still on vacation in the Zhevra Flatlands, so now she sat in a window seat on the slow, steady train ride back to Ponyville. As she watched Canterlot slowly shrink away in the distance along with the sun, she debated the best way to break the news to her friends.
I can't just dump all of this on them. How would I feel of one of them came up to me and said, 'Hey, you know that whole Elements of Harmony thing from a few months back? Because of it we're now all a threat to National Security, so we have to have guards watching us at all times. Hope you don't mind losing all of your privacy!' She facehoofed as she visualized the looks of shock and indignation on her friend's faces.
We're not even supposed to know they're there. Maybe I can just not tell them… no, that would lead to more problems, especially when they see my bodyguard. They need to know, tonight.
Twilight's thoughts were startled by the train going through a tunnel, enveloping her in darkness. A few minuteslater they emerged into the vast, lush Equius Valley, home to the Everfree Forest and Twilight's beloved town of Ponyville.
The train began its descent into the valley. I shouldn't hold anything back. I don't want to scare them, but that might be what it takes for some of them to agree to this.
A certain duo of cyan and orange mares came to mind. She stifled a groan. Those two might be a problem. As for Luna and her current condition, they probably need to know about that, too. No one wants her to be anything but Princess Luna, but if the worst were to occur…
Twilight shunned the dark thought and watched the scenery. Ten minutes later, the train rounded a bend and came into its final straightaway. She could hear and feel the brakes starting to slow the steel locomotive. She glanced out the window and caught a glimpse of the top of her tree house before it disappeared among the other thatched buildings of the village.
Twilight rubbed her eyes and collected her bags. I'm not sure how I'm going to do this, but I know one thing for certain... it isn't going to be pretty.