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    In retrospect, she probably shouldn’t have downed that glass of punch.

    “Twilight?” Cadance’s voice rang in the air as Rarity rubbed her hoof in circles on Twilight’s back. “Are you okay?”

    “I’m working on that,” replied Twilight, massaging her forehead and looking up.

    Gathered around a large table, her eyes scanned the plethora of strangers who awaited what she had to say, and… And it was a sobering thought, if she had to admit to anypony but herself and maybe Rarity; that out of everypony present at the table, she was the stranger.

    It had never actually hit her so profoundly until that moment, when she realized they all knew each other in some way or another, forming friendships and bonds she had missed in the two years she’d been… gone. Friendships and bonds all intertwined and brought together by a single force of nature.

    “Darling?” asked said force of nature, “is it too much to take in?”

    If Twilight didn’t love Rarity, she would have doubtless offered a very sarcastic reply.

    She did it anyway but added a small playful smile to make it better.

    “You think?” she asked, and Rarity’s laughter helped clear her mind right up until she again felt everypony’s eyes fixed on her. It was uncomfortable, and yet she did not feel able to, well, ask them to leave. She was the main event, after all, and everypony at the party was there for her.

    She turned to Cadance, seated at the opposite side of the table, and asked, “You really don’t have a barrier?”

    The Princess shook her head. “No, but as I said…” She gestured to her transparent body. “I don’t need one to stop me from going outside. I didn’t even know there was supposed to be a barrier until I found out about yours and Auntie Luna’s.”

    Twilight buried her face in her hooves. “But—! But it doesn’t make sense! Why did we have a barrier, then?”

    “Didn’t you create that barrier, Princess?” Rainbow Dash asked. “Rarity said—”

    “I said she was powering it,” Rarity quickly corrected. “Not that she created it. That’s what Discord had told me.”

    “And you’re going to believe what Discord says? Come on, Rares!”

    “But I was,” Twilight said, face still buried in her hooves. Truthfully, she had been avoiding the topic, been avoiding trying to dwell on her scenario and her reasoning, if only because she knew very well what the answer was. “I didn’t want to leave.”

    “What? Yes, you did!” Pinkie protested.

    “No,” Twilight said. “I didn’t.” She paused and finally looked up, feeling uncomfortable at the dozens of eyes set on her. If she had to confess her crimes, she wanted a jury of three, not twelve, but confess she did regardless. “I… I wanted to leave, and I was getting better because of Rarity and everypony else, but then…”

    “Then you found out about me,” Cadance said, and Twilight noticed Rarity had stopped rubbing her hoof on her back.

    “Y-yes,” she said, and yet she knew that wasn’t all of it. To find out everypony she loved from back then had been damaged by her actions was devastating, but the only thing it really did was convince her that she had no right to be freed.

    It was Rarity who, ultimately, had sealed the deal by willingly deciding to throw her life away for Twilight’s then-hopeless cause.

    “And if that doesn’t work?! Then what?!”

    “Then we find something else! We find another way! I’ll find a way to free you even if I have to spend the—”

    “The rest of your life?! And then you die, and what then?! I get to spend the rest of eternity sitting here wishing I could have died with you!”

    She shook the memories away and continued. “But, if not having a barrier freed me, then why are you still displaced in time?” she asked, even though she was unsure of whether Cadance was displaced in time or not.

    “I don’t know,” Cadance said after a moment. “Discord never told Shiny and me how to free me. Is it true he told you there was a map hidden in your library?”

    Twilight nodded, shame burning her. “He said that he’d… that he’d trapped Spike, and only a map in my library could lead me to him, but if I left the library without finding it, it would disappear forever.”

    “He told me the same,” Spike said suddenly, brow furrowed. “That he’d hidden your library under a tree in Equestria, and I’d have to dig out every single tree in the realm if I wanted to find you. He also…” He drifted off, lost in thought.

    “He also what?” Rarity prompted.

    Spike grimaced. “It’s not really something importa—”

    “Is it the thing about coming back for you?” Rainbow asked, perched atop his head, and when Spike nodded, she turned to the others. “Yeah! See, tell them!”

    “I told him I’d fight him when I was older,” Spike said, and Twilight could vividly picture a little baby dragon cursing the Spirit off. “And he said that he’d deal with me before I could even hope to grow older, except…” He faltered. “Well, I never saw him again until last week.”

    And, inside Twilight’s mind, something clicked.

    “But he came back for me.” The words tumbled out her mouth unexpectedly, and she was faced with looks of surprise from all around save for Rarity.

    “That’s right! You mentioned that once, didn’t you?” she exclaimed.

    Twilight nodded. “He said there was no map and I could walk out if I wanted to, and I didn’t believe him, but…” He hadn’t been lying, had he? “Did he ever come back for you?” she asked Cadance, the wheels in her mind turning and turning.

    “…I wouldn’t know,” Cadance said. “Shining and I created a barrier to detect him if he went too far into the castle. If he ever tried to come see me, he wouldn’t be able to make it into the inner chambers without raising alarm.”

    Twilight gritted her teeth. But why? Why would he… Why would he come to try and get her out of the library? It didn’t make sense! Why her?

    “What are you thinking, Twilight?” Rarity asked, doubtless having noticed Twilight’s serious expression.

    “Pinkie,” Twilight said, now looking at the mare in question. “Did he ever try contacting Princess Luna again?”

    She shook her head. “Nope! Princess Luna never told me that he did, and she would tell me if he had because she tells me everything because I’m her best friend ever!”

    Twilight paused for a moment, processing the facts and the idea that, in a thousand years, only she had seen Discord, until she realized she had not accounted for everypony.

    “What about Princess Celestia? Why haven’t you contacted her?”

    Silence fell at the table. A wide variety of expressions were thrown at her, ranging from confusion to severity to everything in between.

    Professor Awe spoke first. “Rarity, you… Have you shown her the—”

    “The painting in Granite’s Rest? Yes, she saw it already,” Rarity said, cutting him off before turning to Twilight and licking her lips. “Twilight, darling, what do you mean contact her? We don’t even know where she is.”

    “I know that, but why haven’t you contacted her?” she insisted, and it was Spike who spoke before Rarity could.

    “She won’t reply,” he said, having already caught on to Twilight’s intention. “I tried. I sent her a jillion letters, and she only ever replied once, and that was centuries ago.”

    “Wait, wait, wait, I’m lost now,” Incantation chimed in. “Somebug explain to the new crew, please.”

    “Spike isn’t any dragon. He’s a rare breed with magic fire capable of conveying messages,” Twilight explained. “Anything he burns can be sent to Princess Celestia, no matter where she is.”

    “And, as I said, I sent her a jillion letters, and she only replied once, and it was to tell us there wasn’t any hope for you or the other Princesses.”

    Twilight frowned. She seemed to be doing that a lot, and she had a feeling it wasn’t about to stop. “Did you ask her why?” she inquired as though it were the most obvious thing in the world, which apparently wasn’t the same idea Spike and Cadance had.

    “Ask her?” Cadance asked.

    Spike snorted. “Twilight, out of like a hundred letters, she only replied to one and it was to tell us that? What was the point of sending her a letter again? She wouldn’t reply, anyway.”

    “What if she ran out of ink?” Twilight asked, and Spike gawked at her.

    “Twilight, I—”

    “Twilight has a point,” Rarity said, taking a sip of her drink. “I’m rather surprised this didn’t occur to either of you.”

    “You’re just saying that because she’s your marefriend!” he protested.

    “I am not!”

    Applejack smirked. “Sure you ain’t, sugarcube.”

    “Well, I never!” Rarity huffed, turning away.

    “Spike is right,” Twilight said matter-of-factly. “It is a chemical, mental and survival instinct to agree with and support your desired partner and their ideas so as to avoid any potential conflict that might destabi—”

    “Princess Twilight!”

    She looked around and noticed the two changeling guards had returned, bringing with them the book Rarity had lied about Twilight needing.

    Rarity sighed. “Thank the stars.”

    “Your Highness!” one said in a breathless huff as the other hoofed over the book. “Your book, as requested!”

    “Uh, thank you,” she replied, taking it and putting it to the side. “I need a quill, ink, and parchment now.”

    “We can bring that, your Highness!” one of the guards blurted out, but just as he was about to reiterate in extreme detail that it would be his honor to serve Twilight as it had been for generations in his family since—

    Hoo!”

    The single most scandalized hoot erupted into the air, and Twilight smiled kindly at the guards. “Thank you, but that won’t be necessary,” she said, watching as a sleepy white owl flew up in alarm and then regarded Rarity with an equally alarmed stare.

    “In my bag, darling,” Rarity said with an amused smile, prompting Elara, her mate, and their trio of owlets to fly off and then return moments later.

    Amalthea and Metis set down before Twilight the spiral-spined notebook they’d brought, Themis helped Ginny put down the inkwell and, finally, Elara perched herself atop Twilight and pecked a white feather free from her wing, offering it to her master before turning to the guards and narrowing her eyes.

    “Hoo.”

    Twilight smiled at the guards and then proceeded to open the notebook and uncork the inkwell. “I’m going to write to her,” she proclaimed, not bothering to wait and see what the others thought. In fact, the only bother she had was the realization that she didn’t know what to write about. A letter to Princess Celestia wasn’t something she could take lightly! It required deep meditation and thought, as well as least seven drafts, plus editing, plus proof-reading, plus—

    “Soooooooo,” Rainbow Dash said, having grown bored with waiting, “what’re you gonna write?”

    Twilight hesitated. “Well… I was going to start with an introduction and the biographies of ponies I’ll be mentioning, as well as the locations, and then I was going to try and summarize the past thousand years in five to twelve pages, which should give me—” A polite cough interrupted her, and she noticed Rarity’s pained smile. “What?”

    “Princess,” Fluttershy said, calling her attention. “The painting.”

    The image of the painting arose in her head, of Celestia sitting with tears streaming down her eyes, maintaning a spell with her cracked horn.

    “Twilight, we don’t know what condition the Princess is in. For all we know, that might be the reason she’s not replied, rather than a lack of ink,” Rarity filled in. “I don’t know if a…” She gestured with her hoof. “…A fascinating but long letter is the appropriate course of action. Why not start with a question?”

    “Oh…”

    She turned back to the notebook, daunting and unused. She dipped the quill in the ink and finally wrote out in large clear letters.

    PRINCESS CELESTIA, WHERE ARE YOU?

    – TWILIGHT SPARKLE

    The words stared back at her, the question she’d not had an answer to in centuries, and… and she found she was afraid of its answer, or the potential lack thereof.

    Forcing the thoughts away, she carefully tore the page from the notebook, along with the blank page behind it, and she folded them together, Elara’s feather trapped in-between. That done, she levitated her letter and the closed inkwell over to Spike, who regarded the objects with plain hesitation.

    “Please, Spike,” Twilight insisted.

    He relented, and a single burst of green flames shot out his mouth and turned the letter to magical ashes that floated off and disappeared.

    A heavy silence fell, and everyone at the table did like Twilight and stared at the visibly uncomfortable dragon. Stared and waited, and waited, and waited for a reply to come.

    An eternity seemed to pass during that silence, and yet the more seconds went by, the more Twilight’s mind filled in the silence. What if she wasn’t replying because she held Twilight accountable? What if she wasn’t replying because she didn’t want to be found? What if she… what if she couldn’t reply because she was…

    Why couldn’t Twilight live for a single second without her brain tormenting her?

    Her eyes turned to Cadance, who in her position could do nothing else but smile, and Twilight theorized once more about her barrier and Cadance’s lack thereof.

    And it was, to be clear, a painful theory.

    “Princess Twilight?” asked Professor Awe all of a sudden. There was a severity in his face that made her uncomfortable, and she shrank back when he continued to speak. “Princess Twilight, what happened to you during the time you were possessed in the library?”

    Once again, one by one, all eyes at the table focused on her, and her chest compressed with memories. She tried to reply but was startled when her deeply rooted objections to discussing the topic were voiced not by her, but by Rarity.

    “Professor!” she snapped.

    The Professor didn’t flinch. “If we want to understand what happened with the Princess, we must know all the facts.” He turned back to Twilight. “Princess, I ask again.”

    And again, before Twilight could reply, Rarity did.

    “Professor, really,” she protested, and Twilight noticed the uncomfortable looks on every single pony seated at the table. “Discord possessed her, for Denza’s sake! That’s all there is to know!”

    “No, it isn’t. Things are never black and white. Facts are what will help us here, not miracles,” the Professor insisted, yet unlike Rarity, he had not raised his voice. “She is the only one who was there when the curse broke. In fact, the more detailed you can be, Princess, the better for all of us.”

    “That’s all right,” Twilight quickly said, trying to intervene before Rarity could. The Professor was right, after all, and the anxiety the memories of the possession had brought her were quickly beginning to wane compared to her growing distress at Rarity’s reaction. “I can ta—”

    Rarity interrupted. “But Twilight, why—”

    “Why not?” she asked, now wanting nothing else but to deconstruct whatever was behind Rarity’s words. She wanted answers, not roundabouts. “Why don’t you want me to talk about it? And you can’t say ‘I don’t know’. You have to have a good reason.”

    Rarity held her tongue, and Twilight’s ears fell, finding herself torn between hurt and concern.

    “Rarity.” Cadance’s voice was soft but firm, and Rarity’s disposition changed entirely, from thrown-off to chastised. “We talked about this, didn’t we? It’s better to know than not to.”

    Rarity’s eyes traveled back and forth between Twilight and Cadance until, finally, they settled on the former. “Do you really want to talk about it, Twilight?” she asked quietly.

    “Yes, I do.”

    “Will it help you to do so?”

    “Yes, it will,” Twilight said, hoping it wasn’t a lie.

    “Very well.” Rarity relented, taking her empty glass of water. “I… Will you be alright if I go refill my glass of water meanwhile?”

    Twilight would be fine, technically, but… “Yes.”

    She watched Rarity trot off, and though her first instinct was to get up and go after her, it was Fluttershy who reacted first. “I should get more water too,” she said quickly as she rose after Rarity. “Wa-wait, Rarity!”

    Princess?” Professor Awe said, once again capturing her attention. “Can you elaborate on the possession?”

    Her eyes drifted towards Rarity and Fluttershy in the distance, the former talking animatedly to the latter, and though she was still bothered by the outburst, and though she still longed for her partner to be there with her, she sat down and faced the Professor and the others.

    “Were you aware?” he asked. “Rarity told me you were possessed by a chaos magic force. Were you cognisant? Do you remember anything?”

    Twilight swallowed. “No,” she replied with confidence, and yet it wavered moments later. She did remember, bits and pieces maybe, but she did remember. “Y-yes. Maybe. Some parts.”

    “Some parts…” He narrowed his eyes, in thought for a moment, and then simply asked, “What did you feel like when you were possessed? Were you a puppet?”

    Twilight’s wings ruffled beside her, and she began to wish she’d paid attention to Rarity. “I… No? I don’t know?” She closed her eyes and buried her face in her hooves, trying to make sense of something she did not want to make sense of. “It wasn’t me, but it was also me. I l-let it, I just wanted it to be over. I…”

    A thought nested in her mind.

    I didn’t want to be responsible anymore.

    It was easier, she knew, to deal with her fears by letting herself be unable to deal with them at all.

    “Were you in pain?” the Professor asked.

    “I don’t remember. I think at first I was.”

    Silence fell again, and just as she withdrew her hooves and looked up, the Professor asked, “Do you know what triggered it?”

    “Rarity.”

    The reply tumbled out her mouth with startling ease. Rarity had always been at the center of every recent change in her life, and so it had been the logical conclusion that she’d been at the center of the event that allowed her eventual freedom. It had been Rarity who’d given her something to lose, and something to fight for.

    Rarity had saved her, she thought, and yet the looks on everypony else relayed a very different message.

    “Wait,” Rainbow said, “you’re saying it’s Rarity’s fault Discord possessed you?”

    “What? No!” Twilight immediately protested, the mere thought of such an idea horrifying her. “I never said that! I said she triggered it!”

    “Princess Twi, that’s literally the same thing,” Rainbow said.

    “No, it’s not!” Twilight protested.

    “Princess Twilight, let me phrase it differently.” The Professor cleared his throat. “Would I be accurate in stating that, if Rarity had never intervened in your life, you would have never been possessed by The Spirit’s chaos magic?”

    “Y-yes,” she said, and yet she felt wrong to say it, and she hated that she did.

    “Right. Moving on,” the stallion said. “Rarity mentioned you were powering the barrier keeping you in your library. Can you elaborate?”

    “I… I didn’t…”

    She wanted to speak, but the words were stuck in her throat. It was hard to confess, hard to analyze when all her analysis and hypotheses only made her feel and seem worse than she already felt and probably seemed.

    And to voice them in front of everypony?

    She could only think of two ponies she wanted to freely discuss the issue with, and one of them had already excluded herself from that possibility.

    “I’m sorry, everypony,” she said finally, smiling apologetically at the Professor and the others. “Can I have a moment alone with Cadance?”

    Though it was clear everypony wanted to know what was to be said, nopony denied Twilight’s request. One by one, they all ambled off with hasty excuses, and the commotion was enough that Fluttershy and Rarity turned around in the distance.

    For the briefest moment, Twilight met Rarity’s eyes. She wondered whether to keep looking or to turn away, but the decision was made for her when Rift Shield approached the unicorn and caught her attention.

    “Are you worried about her?” came Cadance’s voice.

    Twilight kept her eyes on Rarity, processing the question. “Yes,” she said eventually. Her ears lowered and she turned to her sister-in-law, who now sat next to her. “What did you mean?” At Cadance’s raised eyebrow, she elaborated. “When you said you had talked about it with her, what did you mean?”

    “You should ask her,” Cadance said.

    “What if she doesn’t tell me?” Twilight replied, and she wondered where was the line between resentment and concern. “I’ve asked her about other things before, and she didn’t really tell me what’s wrong? And then I think we’re doing all right, but then… then something like what happened today happens and it turns out we’re not. She keeps telling me she just needs time, but…”

    “She loves you,” Cadance said, watching Rarity as Twilight had moments ago.

    Twilight was thrown back. “I know,” she said, looking at her sister-in-law with a confused gaze. And?

    “Then have some faith in her, Twilight.”

    Twilight grimaced, heart heavy in her chest. It was so… so… frustrating! It was frustrating that ponies kept thoughts to themselves, and instead of streamlining the process of communication, it just made it complicated for everypony.

    “It’s hard for her, Twilight. Try to understand. It hurts to hear about when your loved ones were in pain.”

    Neither spoke for about a minute, each lost in their thoughts, and it wasn’t until Twilight’s eyes landed on the Professor that she remembered his question.

    “Rarity mentioned you were powering the barrier keeping you in your library. Can you elaborate?”

    “Cadance…” She weighed every syllable in her mouth, every word that betrayed things she did not want to confess or admit to. Communication was hard, but she was trying. “Do… do you feel guilty?”

    Cadance turned away from the others and directed her entire undivided gaze at Twilight. “About what?”

    Twilight gawked at her. “About cursing all of Equestria into not being able to find us,” she said without missing a beat.

    “Oh, that,” Cadance said with surprising levity for such a… well, for that. And yet, much more than the levity, what really surprised Twilight was her reply. “No, I don’t.”

    Twilight was at a loss for words, unable to comprehend the concept. Didn’t she feel a little guilty? Not that she wanted Cadance to feel guilty, but…

    Cadance must have noticed her inner turmoil, for their eyes met and her expression changed. The levity vanished, the warmth dropped, and Twilight had the distinct impression that she was talking not with her sister-in-law anymore, but with the Princess of Equestria and all that this implied.

    She was reminded of Princess Celestia, and she regretted asking her question.

    “Do you remember what Auntie Celestia used to tell us whenever we had to hold court?”

    Twilight nodded. She’d forgotten many things, it was true, but Princess Celestia’s teachings remained.

    “Intent is what defines us.”

    “Intent is what defines us,” Cadence repeated with severity, imitating Princess Celestia’s demeanor and inflection to near perfection. After holding the pose for a moment, she relaxed with a string of giggles and continued, “I remember how she’d say it! Just before one of her big speeches.”

    “And then Princess Luna would roll her eyes,” Twilight added, a heavy smile pushing its way to her lips. She missed them. She missed Princess Celestia’s big speeches, and she missed Luna’s pouting and her own big speeches.

    Their laughter faded after a moment, and Twilight’s momentary reprieve left her as Cadance’s severity returned.

    “I always did what I thought was best,” she said. “I tried to do good, and not everything I do can be good, but… intent is what defines us.”

    “But…” Twilight swallowed. “Does intent matter when everything goes wrong?”

    Cadance was silent for the longest time until her sight set on Rarity and she asked, “Do you blame Rarity for what happened to you? Even knowing it happened because she met you?”

    “Of course not,” Twilight said.

    “Why not?”

    “Because she didn’t mean to—” She looked down. “Oh.”

    “Bad things will always happen, Twilight,” Cadance said, smiling down at the alicorn. “No matter how good our intentions are, bad things will happen, but… but feeling guilty or sorry for yourself will only stop you from doing the right thing.”

    “Which is?” Twilight asked.

    “Taking responsibility for your actions.”

    Twilight didn’t know what to say to that. The two words sank into her like a dagger, having been all but called out. Guilt had stopped her from taking responsibility, and instead, she’d hidden away in a library.

    “Shining Armor said that,” Cadance continued. She set her eyes on Rift Shield giving out orders to nearby guards. “He said that to the changelings who first worked with us before all this happened.”

    “Because they felt bad for what they did?”

    “Yes,” Cadance said. “And, as you can see, I don’t know how to make them stop.”

    Twilight looked down, offering a humorless smile. “It isn’t easy.”

    “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though, does it?” Cadance asked, and she sighed. “I did feel guilty, Twilight. At first, but I had to take responsibility and do something to help.”

    “Is that why you used the changelings to…?”

    The Princess’s expression softened. “No. Well, not at first. I tried to tell ponies, I tried to be honest, but…” She closed her eyes, grimacing. “They were afraid, Twilight. I only told the Canterlot Council and…”

    “And what?”

    “And it went as well as you can expect. Spike was there. He must remember the confusion. The denial. The panic that followed. And I don’t blame them, Twilight.” She looked away from the changelings and towards the dragon in the distance. “I was afraid. Spike was afraid. You and my Aunties were missing, Discord was free, and I was…”

    “But lying?”

    “We thought we would find you,” Cadance said with difficulty. “We… we thought we would find you all, but we didn’t, and we couldn’t go back. We couldn’t give the throne to somepony else because they’d find out Discord was still free, and that I was a spirit, and then what?”

    Twilight felt a knot in her throat.

    “I didn’t want this, Twilight,” she said. “But I had to take responsibility, and the changelings wanted to help us. Like I said, not all of our choices can go as we hoped, but we have to try and make up for it because nopony will do it for us.”

    “Right.”

    Cadance breathed in. Mere habit, no doubt. “I just want the others to be free. I want this to be over, and after that…” She laughed softly. “After that, I’m giving the crown away and taking a long vacation.”

    The two friends shared a sympathetic laugh up until a loud gagging noise caught Twilight’s attention and she looked around to find the source of the sound: Spike.

    There he was, in the distance, wide-eyed and looking as though he was choking on something, his claw on his neck as he loudly coughed and hacked.

    The first thing Twilight thought was that he’d eaten too much, too fast.

    The second was too good to even hope for, and yet it miraculously came when he let out a thunderous belch, flames, smoke, and a folded letter coming out. Cadance wasn’t able to exclaim a single word before Twilight teleported herself to him.

    Spike!” a scandalized Rarity gasped from the other side of the party. “Where are your mann—eek!Twilight Sparkle!”

    Not bothering with Rarity’s protests, Twilight finished levitating the unicorn over in a peculiar silencing act and plopped her down on the ground.

    “Really!” Rarity continued, getting up and brushing the dirt off her coat, oblivious to the letter everypony was staring at. “I’m starting to tir—” She blinked around. “What’s wrong wi—?” Twilight’s magic took hold of her muzzle and directed her view towards the letter. “Ah.”

    There it lay on the ground, neatly folded, the first contact Twilight had with Princess Celestia in over a thousand years.

    It was terrifying. It was terrifying to open it, and see what Celestia actually thought, if she hated or still loved Twilight, if she—

    A cough caught her attention, bringing her back to the reality where everypony was watching and waiting, and even if it was scary…

    She had to take responsibility.

    With all the care in the world, she levitated the letter in her magic, took a final breath, opened it and… and frowned.

    “Well?” Pinkie asked. “What does it say?! What does it say?!”

    “She wants to know where I am,” Twilight lamely replied, turning the message around for all to see.

    Twilight, where are you?

    There it was.

    Twilight’s first communication with Princess Celestia in over a thousand years.

    And it explained nothing.

    As everyone began to murmur between themselves, Twilight turned the letter back towards herself, trying to glean any additional information.

    “Are you certain she wrote it?” Rarity asked, peering down at the letter.

    Twilight kept her frown. “Yes, but…”

    It was unmistakably Celestia’s calligraphy, and yet there was something wrong. The lines, usually straight and elegant, were shaky and messy but not in the way they would be when writing in a hurry, but more like when writing under some kind of magical duress.

    “I don’t know what, but something’s wrong. Princess Celestia never replied to my questions with questions unless she was testing me or something was wrong,” she elaborated, hoofing the letter over for Rarity to inspect before turning around and teleporting the notebook over. “Rarity, do we have more ink and—?”

    “In my bag,” Rarity replied, still looking over the letter.

    Once she’d acquired new ink and a new feather, Twilight opened it up to a new page and wrote.

    I’m in Canter Capitol with Spike and Cadance.

    Are you safe? Where are you? What do we do?

    The letter done, she quickly ripped it and another blank page before folding them and practically throwing them at Spike. She watched as his fire engulfed and turned it to ashes, and then…

    Well, she waited.

    And waited, and waited, and waited, and after a few minutes of waiting, she wasn’t the only one to feel impatient.

    “So,” Rainbow Dash said to Spike, “you really never thought of just sending her paper and ink?”

    His face turned several shades of pink, and yet instead of a protest, another belch came out of his mouth and with it a new letter.

    Twilight snatched it in her magic, opening it up and reading aloud:

    For now. Complicated. Free Luna.

    “For now?” Cadance asked.

    “Complicated?” added Fluttershy.

    “Free Princess Luna!” exclaimed Pinkie Pie, hopping up and down in place.

    Twilight allowed herself a minor breath of relief. ‘For now’ wasn’t the best reply she could get, but it at least meant she probably wasn’t in the situation depicted in the painting anymore. Only the knowledge of this made it easier to cope with the fact that she hadn’t disclosed her actual location.

    “I don’t get it!” Spike exclaimed. “She said there was no hope for you, and now she’s asking you to save Princess Luna?”

    “Spike,” Rarity said, “I rather think a pony can change her mind every other century.”

    “But why?” Twilight asked, finding herself frustrated at the, well, lack of concrete explanations. What exactly had happened with the Princess? Was it Discord? Was it somepony else? And how did she expect them to free Princess Luna?

    She opened the notebook again, dipping the quill in ink before writing down:

    How do we free her?

    There. The worst case scenario was that Princess Celestia would have no idea, but considering that was Princess Celestia, and Princess Celestia always had a plan, Twilight knew that she would know how to do it. Of course, then one could wonder why hadn’t Princess Celestia already freed herself but Twilight chose not to think about that too much.

    Again, she ripped out the letter along with a blank piece of paper before folding them and repeating the process with Spike.

    “What did you ask her?” inquired Cadance.

    “How to free Princess Luna,” Twilight replied. It was straight and to the point, just as she hoped Celestia would reply.

    “Can’t you, like, send her your necklace thing and that way it’ll be much faster than this?” Rainbow asked, prompting Rarity to put a hoof on her necklace in a defensive motion.

    “The necklaces don’t work that way, Rainbow Dash!” she said, and then faltered. “Though our current process could stand to be less uncouth.”

    As if her words had been heard, Spike belched again, and though a letter came forth, so did the inkwell and quill.

    “Well,” the Professor said, “that’s one way of saying the conversation is over.”

    Twilight took the letter, heart thumping in her chest. Pinkie had now rushed to her, practically crawling on top of the alicorn in an attempt to see the reply. If that letter held the answer to freeing Luna, then…

    Without further delay, she opened it up and read aloud:

    The Winter Moon Observance

    “Even now, my brightest light is nothing but the remains of yours.”

    An air of confusion swept across the creatures gathered together, marring all their faces save for the two princesses and the dragon, who all shared a worried glance.

    “The Winter Moon Observance?” Pinkie asked. “That sounds fun! How come I’ve never heard of it?! Is it secret?”

    “You wouldn’t have heard about it,” Cadance said. “There’s only been one Winter Moon Observance, and that was even before our first war with Discord. It was supposed to be a yearly event to honor Princess Luna, but it was canceled.”

    Cancelled?!” Pinkie gasped, horrified. “By who?! Why?!”

    “By Princess Luna,” Twilight replied, “and we don’t know why. Princess Celestia never told me.” She looked back down at the letter, pursing her lips. What did The Winter Moon Observance have to do with Princess Luna being trapped? And what light?

    “Cadance, do you remember anything from it?” she asked, turning back to her friend.

    Cadance shook her head. “No. It’s been so long, I don’t really remember anything.”

    “What about Princess Luna’s room?” Twilight continued, the words trying to catch up to the speed with which new thoughts appeared in her mind. “Does she have any books about it? Or Princess Celestia? What about the library?”

    Cadance blinked. “I… I don’t know, Twilight. I can have my guards look them over, but there are thousands of books in there.”

    “We would only have to read books written before our imprisonment,” Twilight said.

    “Twilight, that’s still several thousand!” Cadance pointed out.

    Twilight blinked. “And? A book is about two-hundred and forty pages on average. Though it’s below my own reading speed, your guards should be able to read two pages per minute. Following that, ten guards could read ten books in two hours, and therefore a thousand books could be read by ten guards in two hundred hours. If you use fifty guards, that would mean each guard would read twenty books, one every two hours, and we could go through approximately a thousand books in forty to fifty hours.”

    Rarity hummed. “Did you by chance consider the fact that guards need to eat and sleep?”

    “Oh. That’s important.”

    “I would think so, yes, darling,” she replied. “Not to mention that not all of us can read non-stop without getting distracted.”

    “Distracted? But they’d be reading books! Why would you get distracted?”

    “Tragically, not all of us can be as perfect as you, Twilight,” she replied.

    Twilight groaned and rubbed her forehead. Ugh! Why were ponies so complicated? “What about shifts? It would prolong the search, but the pace would continue and we could have the entire library read in… fifty changelings… shifts of…. Multiplied by…”

    “Princess Twilight, if I may,” Rift interrupted. “With all due respect, we can’t have the entire guard reading books for days!”

    Twilight frowned. “Well, if we take into account that—”

    “You could ask Princess Luna…?” said a soft-spoken voice.

    Interrupted, Twilight fell silent and turned to find Fluttershy smiling nervously at her.

    “You could ask Princess Luna why she canceled it,” the pegasus clarified. “I’m sure she would tell you.”

    “She would!” Pinkie burst in. “And then we’ll know how to free her! And then we can do all the things I want to do with her when she’s free! Do you want to know what they are?!”

    Spike laughed. “I don’t think you’re gonna give us a choice.”

    And so, as she began to ramble on, Twilight kept quiet.

    And then we’ll know how to free her, Pinkie had said, and yet she couldn’t believe it would be that simple. If her experience had taught her anything, it was that things were never as simple and straightforward as she wished. She watched Pinkie talk and talk, the twinkle in her eyes, the enthusiasm and drive, and…

    And then her gaze shifted towards Rarity, and she found the unicorn did not share the rest of the group’s enthusiasm. There was no smile on her lips, no glimmer in her eyes, nothing but the mild apprehension that seemed to suffuse her every action.

    Two years ago, Twilight thought, Rarity would have been the first to force Twilight to talk about the possession.

    Two years ago, Rarity pushed and pushed and pushed through every defense, every barrier, every tangle of Twilight’s existence.

    But now? Now Twilight struggled to find the fearless unicorn who’d faced dragons, spirits of chaos, and Twilight herself.

    Their eyes met for a moment, as if Rarity had heard by Twilight’s thoughts, and so the alicorn quickly looked back down at the letter Celestia had sent.

    Even now, my brightest light is nothing but the remains of yours.

    Her eyes focused on the line, trying to distract herself from her troubled thoughts until she felt something shift and Rarity sit next to her, their coats brushing and the unicorn exhaling a long sigh. The conversation went on without them, Twilight only barely paying attention to the ongoing discussion between Pinkie, Spike and the Professor up until Rarity finally nuzzled her.

    “Are you very upset with me?” she murmured.

    Twilight avoided her gaze. “I don’t know.”

    “Stars,” Rarity replied after a moment. “That is a frustrating reply to receive, isn’t it?” she noted, and Twilight couldn’t help but laugh.

    “Maybe a little,” she said, finally allowing herself to return Rarity’s affection.

    “And maybe I’m a bit of a mess,” she continued, levitating her drink and taking a sip. “A fashionable one.”

    “I’m not sure that makes it better.”

    “Well, it certainly doesn’t make it worse, hm?” She put down the glass and took hold of the letter, reading it over. “I wonder wha—”

    “Rarity, why didn’t you want me to talk about my possession?” asked Twilight abruptly, the words tumbling out her mouth without her permission. But there they were.

    A pause followed.

    “If you were in my position, would you be able to easily stomach listening to my two-year long possession?”

    Twilight didn’t immediately reply, for she knew the unicorn was right. Just remembering the fact that Rarity had nearly been mauled by a timberwolf was still sickening to her, after all.

    Yet something told her there was more, and Rainbow Dash’s words tore at her mind.

    “Rarity, you…” She swallowed, for the idea of it made her sick. “You don’t blame yourself, do you?”

    “No,” Rarity replied simply.

    Nothing more, nothing less, and Twilight forced herself to believe it was true.


    He sat in silence next to the fire, watching her with curious eyes.

    “You told her no,” North Ridge said as she stared up at the stars. “And there weren’t any other reasons?”

    “I feared she would blame herself,” Rarity said after a pause. “The thought sickened me. To hear her say those three little words. I can understand why she was afraid I’d feel the same.”

    “But there’s something else,” he said.

    “Isn’t there always?” She paused again, and her chest fell and rose with a breath. Mere habit, no doubt. “Care to share your thoughts?”

    “Two years,” he said, “is quite a long time to think.”


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    1. Zanna Zannolin
      Oct 14, 22 at 10:05 pm

      aw YESSSS we’re back in the thick of the plot. i simply love when it gets plotty like. youuuuu how do you write a plot more engaging and intriguing than an agatha christie novel. i love this plotline so much i have no idea what’s going to happen and it is delightful to me. it’s such a wild ride and it’s a win when i’m right about things and i’m NEVER mad when i’m wrong because it’s always so well done i’m like holy shit why didn’t i think of that!!!! i love it sm.

      at this point the thought of getting to crawl in bed and read a chapter of this every night is really getting me through life one day at a time and i am grateful for that. thank you for brightening my days 🙂 okay sappy stuff over.

      winter moon observance hmmm so like the companion to the summer sun celebration? oh i’m so interested. i’m delighted we’re going to explore luna more because that is a whole bucket of issues i for one am THRILLED to explore. i think i’ve mentioned but luna is one of my favorite characters in all of mlpfim so i’m VERY pumped to be seeing more of her.

      also fuckin’. the fact that they NEVER CONSIDERED giving celestia ink is so funny to me. like it’s a completely rational thought, that she might need more ink, but also something that just DOES NOT occur to you and it is. incredibly funny. that they spent several hundred years just Not considering celestia COULDN’T write back instead of didn’t want to. i’m just. that’s so them. peak dumbassery. i love them.