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Similar Deviations
    I hate myself.

    I'm plain. I'm boring. I don't have any sexual appealing qualities.

    Heck, I'm a C cup for goodness sakes.

    I never went outside during the entirety of my middle school life. The only time I stepped outside was when I went to take my precious dog to go do his business and to go to school. If I went to the mall, it was rare. I had a tendency to lock myself in my room the minute I got home to read a book or to do homework. I sometimes studied when I had a test the next day and I barely ate because I never did anything to have my stomach weep for hunger.

    I was lonely. I was depressed. I rarely ever smiled.

    Geez, I was like a scary frowning clown.

    The moment I entered mid-high, I only had a few friends. Those friends were entirely online.

    Yes, I had a boyfriend. He was my childhood friend. He doesn't count, he's a boyfriend, and he's not someone I can go complain to about my girlish problems and fangirl about my many fandoms with.

    I started writing. Just, typing words in Microsoft Office. Just a couple sentences about a small idea of romance I wanted in my life. It was based around Pokemon, of course, since it was the only fandom I had my heart set on at the time. People commented with such enthusiasm and excitement, it made me feel pleasure for once in my life.

    I decided to continue writing for this purpose. To interact. Though, when I continued to actually write, I began to love it. I could play out the many scenes I wanted to happen in my own life and force them onto characters that had no limitations.

    For the first time in my life, I felt happy, content, and no sadness lingered, for I had found my real source of happiness. My own hobby and people who adored the same fandoms I did.

    I am acknowledged. I am happy. I can't stop smiling.

    Geez, I am like my baby cousin who can't seem to wipe that cutesy little grin off her face.

    As I began to open up online through people who I have never met, I had begun to know them and love them. I began to have idols. I began to actually have conversation with a human being through the sole text of the words I wrote.

    There were certain people that encouraged me to try harder, to reach my goals in life. No, no, not my writing. They wanted me to reach for a bigger picture.

    I began to talk to people in school, and befriend them as well. All because of these several people telling me "You can do it!"

    I'm colorful. I'm hyperactive. I couldn't be any more beautiful on the inside than I am on the outside.

    Heck, who cares what anyone says?

    I love myself.
I can't thank you all enough. :iconaawplz:

Happy 2013!

now let's be honest. Who actually thought up a "cheer up Masq" response when reading the first half of this?

Edit: I mentioned having a C cup. C CUPS ARE GREAT, OKAY. The piece reflected what I thought at the time (which was during middle school). I didn't know this was going to go viral overnight so I deeply apologize if you were offended while reading "I". I honestly didn't mean it to be bad. If you took it that way, I deeply apologize. Everyone that I knew sort of pointed at me and said I was too "small" and if you look at how I organized the piece, if you align the repetition (or whatever literary element I used :XD:) It would sort of say something like "I'm a C cup for goodness sake's, who cares what anyone says?"

Hope that cleared things up :meow:
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The bond of sisters is never stronger than when faced with adversity. And never weaker when left to ourselves.
           —Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia as recorded by her friends



The border between the unicorn controlled forest and the wilds remained unclear, but Celestia saw she had passed it. Accustomed to a clear floor, telling trail signs, and the subtle influence of magic cultivation, the white mare with the pink mane now ran through a forest filled with underbrush, decayed logs, and hanging vines. Choosing clear paths amidst the uncared growth, she slowed to a smooth gallop. Immediate danger laid out of reach, now she needed to sustain the flight and gain distance. But her thoughts kept turning inward to an anxious question. Where is she? For all the reassurance of the spell's message, her sister's  escape remained just that: a spell's message.

Shoving through the clinging branches of a shrub, Celestia found herself in a small clearing.  A freshly fallen tree had left a hole in the forest canopy, and grass sprung up eagerly at the chance for light. Ahead, a midnight blue pony stood as if waiting where the grass mounded in a hill.

"Luna!" Celestia called, at once desperate and relieved. Redoubling the gallop, she shoved, heedless, through the clinging branches of a shrub.

Blue eyes came up at the call of the name, and a smile rose on Luna's cheeks. She ran to her sister in an excited canter.

Digging her hooves into the ground to slow, but just barely, Celestia flung herself to Luna and wrapped her neck half around in an equine embrace. "I thought I lost you." The words choked with emotion as tears pooled in her eyes. "I thought I lost you several times over." She clung hard.

Luna returned the embrace, her head resting on Celestia's shoulder. A deep sigh lifted her frame, like one letting go of a long held burden. "I was never lost, big sister. You just didn't know where to find me, yet." A smile remained at the corners of her lips and she closed her eyes.

For a long time, Celestia merely held Luna. Weeks of struggle, of desperation, of hope and despair, of planning and action, all culminated in this embrace. She had her sister. She had Luna leaning against her, safe and sound. And most of all, they were free. Joy welled up from within and forced out blissful tears, content to silently roll down her cheeks.

The spell that had connected them faded, in that time. The will that sustained it dwindled, neither pony pouring energy in now that it served its purpose. But as the spell faded, so did the relief from pain. Celestia's breathing grew shallower with each passing moment as the very act of drawing in breath aggravated the injury on her ribs.

Feeling the shift, Luna let go and took a step back. Her gaze traveled over Celestia, from hoof to head. "You look awful."

"Thanks." She said with a sarcastic sneer.

Exhaling, Luna rolled her eyes. "That's not what I meant. Who did this to you?"

"Silver Spear."

Jaw dropped in shock, blue gaze tinged with a betrayed sting. "But . . . why? He was always so nice to me."

Celestia raised her nose with a thought, then lowered it. "I . . . may. Have thrown a fireball at him first."

"Oh," The younger sister fell into a surprised silence, her question answered. Turning her head, she gazed off into the distant brush toward the unicorns' home, worry evident  on her features. "Do we have time to rest?"

"I think so." Worn legs complained from exertion and Celestia winced as she laid down, atop her knees. She spoke quickly, between the shallow breaths. "The Ursa. It tripped. They're scared now. We have time."

"So . . ." Luna lightly and nervously kicked the ground with a forehoof.  "What happened to you, while I was gone?"

Celestia shook her head. "You first."

"Alright." The younger mare paused to think, then related her tale starting from the night she was abducted. Few details were spared in her style of pursing loose memories together into cohesion. She told of Silver's polite vigilance, the bubble spell, her frustrations at crossing it and the stroke of luck with the butterfly.

When she reached the stand against Phantom Spell, Celestia raised a brow. First, curiously at Luna's adamant defiance, then both brows in surprise over the ensuing battle, one against seven.

"When I opened my eyes, I was flying on wings."

"Wait! Wings?" Celestia nearly rose to her feet, except pain sent her back down.

A feathered wing, cradled close to Luna's side and unnoticed, stretched out in demonstration, wide and strong and colored a matching blue. Luna gave it a long glance, still caught in admiration for the new limb.

"Wh-, how?"

She shrugged her shoulders and folded it back in place. "I don't know. So much magic was being thrown everywhere, and I was just trying to stand my ground. Suddenly, I had wings, and I was in the air on them."

"Wait! No . . ." Celestia's gaze drifted to the ground in thought. "This is good. Very good."

"What is?"

The elder sister glanced up with narrowed eyes beneath her pink mane. "And somepony saw you flying?"

"At least . . . one." Luna searched her memory. "If not more."

Celestia grinned. "Then we have a lot more time. Than I thought." She unfolded a portion of her story, falling breathless when sentences grew too long. With struggle, the meeting hall evaluations eventually came out, including her appeal on the last day. "Those were elders. And not all of them. I tried to tell that I was Earth pony. You know how stubbornness sets in when old. They didn't believe. But when they hear about the wings. Maybe some will believe. Even after the Ursa goes. If Phantom wants to chase us. It'll be hard now. Craft leaders will argue."

Luna pursed her lips. "You sound awful. Maybe we should check you out?"

"If you think it'd do any good." Celestia spoke incredulously, rather than giving the idea support. Healing magic was complex, and raw power or talent meant little. Pouring energy into the simple thought be healed did nothing. Healers spent many seasons trained on how to properly imagine mended injuries, for even a part as simple and innocuous as a bone was a complex arrangement of shape, life, marrow, and connected to many points of muscle, padding, and sinew. The other half of healing consisted of rote memorization. This herb did that, a fever meant this. Neither Luna or Celestia had anything more than passing knowledge.

A glow of midnight's light engulfed Luna's horn, and she bent her head, eyes closed, as magical antennae felt along and inside Celestia's chest.

It tickled. "Ha, ha!" Laughing sent a fresh jolt of agony. "Stop! Stop that!" Celestia slapped away the feelers with a swat of her hoof.

Glow extinguished, Luna shot her sister an annoyed glare. "Do you want help or don't you?"

"Make it feel less oogly."

A sigh left her lips, and Luna closed her eyes again to reach out and feel, changing the sensory magic to be like warm, flowing water.

It was no less oogly to have foreign magic pass inside, but it no longer tickled and Celestia resisted swatting again.

In utmost concentration, Luna twisted her head. "I . . . don't think anything is broken. Or if it is, it's only a small crack. I . . . think it's just a bruise, swollen and sensitive since its fresh." She dropped the spell and opened her eyes, panting heavily. "Rubbing it might reduce some of the pain."

Celestia nodded. Finding the center of the bruise left by Silver Spear's kick, she shaped her will into a warm and gentle caress that massaged the swelling. The tactile sense softened the pain, if not removing it. Knotted muscles uncoiled to the touch and Celestia turned back to find Luna half lying on her side, gasping deep. Legs tucked underneath, she held her head tired and low.

"Luna?"

"Hmm?"

As her sister rose, Celestia saw the haggardness on Luna's face, half covered by dark bangs. Two and two suddenly came together. "That spell you used, when you gave me strength . . ."

She nodded slowly, gaze drifting and unfocused.

"That was your strength, wasn't it? You sent me your magic to use." Enough to trip an Ursa Major and have plenty to spare. That was, after she fought Phantom Spell with six unicorns at his side, and cast a complicated link spell. The desperate situation might have drawn out force of will in abundance, but not made it limitless. The magic examination her sister gave was not free either, and not aided by dire circumstances. It must have used up anything she had left, including the strength to keep composure.

"A spell for pain, too, in case you were hurt." Luna added lethargically before lowering her head.

"Rest, then. We have time." Celestia crawled over alongside, propping Luna up and giving her a warm body to lean against.

"I'm thirsty."

A pink glow lit Celestia's horn. Magic gathered latent moisture from the air and extracted what it could from plants. It wasn't much, but enough for a few gulps. Celestia brought the moisture to Luna's lips, cradled in a bowl-shaped leaf, .

Draining the water, Luna let a satisfied sigh escape her lips, some small portion of strength regained. A question now hung in the air, one they both felt coming. "So . . . what now?" A spark of hope lit her words. "Do we go home?"

To see their parents again. A dull, bittersweet ache came with the thought. To be among their own kind, or as close to anything that approximated kind for sisters such as them. That had been the plan that set this whole chain of events in motion. They were going to return home and bring the aid of magic. The dull ache grew as Celestia imagined the faces of Whip Scar and Lightning Kick at a reunion. Yet . . .

Celestia raised a hoof and poked at Luna's wings.

"Hey," The wing and her back fidgeted under the touch. "That feels weird."

"How so?"

"It's like," Luna paused to give it thought. "suddenly having six legs. It's weird to have extra limbs hanging off."

"And you can use them well?"

"I don't know. I don't even know what 'well' is for these things. I fly, I know that."

"But you know only that." Her mother's parting words coalesced in thought. Promise me that you will make good on that gift the stars have given you. That you won't let sentiment be your guide. The dull ache turned into an inner soreness, a plea, a reminder of how much she missed mom and dad, and longed for their company, their presence, their comfort. But I promised. "No, we're not going home."

Luna blinked her surprise. "Then where to?"

"If the Unicorn taught us how to use magic, then we'll get you taught how to fly by the Pegasus pony."

The younger sister met that with a contemplative silence and the distant look she wore more often than not in her observant eyes. A slow nod followed. "How will we find the Pegasi?"

"What do you remember about them from our histories?"

Blue gaze drifted in recall. "There is Ariel, the pegasus that told the heroic chief Virtue Blaze where she flew over water during the Great Drought.  Fore Runner, who carried a message of warning to the unicorns of the devouring sprite horde." Luna shook her head. "None of this is of any use. Pegasi had such a minor part to play in our lore. Just nomads and travelers, living more in the air than anything."

"I think I might know just a little more." Celestia peered up at the hole in the forest canopy. The sky looked down from far above, spotted by neither bird or cloud. Leaf and branch shrouded all else."You were just a foal and couldn't speak when a pegasus came to rest with our herd." She glanced down at the young pony. "You'd probably remember it too, if you were just a little older. I stayed up, listening. I forgot most of what happened now, but I do remember one thing. She said she was heading to the mountains, where her kind herded."

"The mountains?" Luna turned abruptly to her sister in realization. "Could it be the White Top Mountains?"

"That's my hope." Celestia bit her lip. The mountain range that sat west of the Sun's rise and east of the Sun's set, was one the symbols that meant home. No matter where the herd stopped to graze, as a foal, Celestia could crest a hill and see the thrust of Earth reaching so far above the forest that the tops turned white. It was also the only mountains she knew of in any travelling distance. "It's all I have to go on. And it seems reasonable enough. Can you walk?"

Luna sent her a skeptical glance from the corner of her eye. "Can you?"

In response, Celestia hoisted herself to her hooves. Luna struggled a second longer, but got her hooves under her with a little assistance of her wings. It struck Celestia as odd to see the new appendages stretch out, flap briefly like a giant bird's, and shift for balance. Her whole life, she'd grown accustomed to Luna's appearance as a pony, horn notwithstanding, and the change was alien.

Stepping forward, Celestia led the way. Luna followed behind, unconsciously falling into the same place she had since she was a filly, on the hunt for turquoise with her sister. Heads and ears remained alert, seamlessly adopting the sweeping gaze of the sentry while Celestia weaved her way through the untamed forest.

Forest navigation was a rare skill which few Unicorns possessed, and even fewer Earth ponies. Whip Scar had been one such to learn it, by necessity and luck on his flight from his human master, and he taught some of the dangers. Unlike a field, where one can see far and walk in straight lines, a forest required a curving, winding path around obstacles. Each turn made a little error off the original path. Over miles, that error compounded, throwing ponies far off course, or in giant circles forever lost in an endless maze until—Celestia banished the thought of bloody end at the end of a fang and continued forward, judging her path by the angle of light that crept through the branches. West of where Sun rises, east of where Sun sets. It would do for finding a mountain range, at least.

Walking was a kind of rest in and of itself to a pony. Celestia and Luna spent a life time on their feet, running and playing when fillies, or walking to and fro for duties as mares. With a light pace, the travel allowed them to recuperate.

Until they encountered their first problem.

Leaves grew thick and broad, trees high and tall, as the nature of the land changed. Greedy in their drinking of light, the trees expanded their branches, thickened the canopy, and let nothing but shadow fall to the forest floor. Celestia's orientation was gone and she froze, unsure.

"What is it?" Following, for Luna, let her mind wander and it did not appear to include thinking about how they navigated.

"I'm lost." Celestia gestured ahead with her neck to where the forest grew even darker. "Or will be, if we keep going."

Halting the unconscious vigil, Luna took a more active glance at her surroundings. " I've been thinking."

The white mare turned around and sat. "About?"

"About this trip to find the pegasi. We shouldn't go."

Taken aback, Celestia blinked. "What? Why?"

"Too much is risky." Luna continued in a neutral tone, a faint sign of worry along her brows. "We're going on an old memory and an assumption, either of which could be wrong. And we're travelling dangerous paths where we have little skill to go. What if the pegasus ponies aren't even at White Cap? Maybe we should go back. If we stop at home first, we could get help."

A mirthless smirk pulled one side of Celestia's lips. "And where, pray tell, is home?"

Luna hesitated, blinking. "Ehh . . ."

"Exactly." Self-satisfaction filled her voice. "I got a little confused in the rush to escape, and I bet you did, too. But I know how to find the mountains. Our choices right now are go to White Cap, or back to the unicorns." A hint of sarcasm filled her words. "I don't know about you, but I'm not so eager to throw my trust back on Phantom Spell, wings or no. So, we're going to the mountains."

"And if the pegasi aren't there?"

"Then, we will simply go back."

"Simply go back?" Dismay evident in the midnight pony. "Simply?"

"Going back to the unicorns is my last choice. I'll take my chances on the extra trip."

"But I could fly!" Luna threw out in a hurry. "From the air, maybe I could—"

"That's right!" Celestia jumped to her hooves and excitedly pranced in place. "You can!" She pointed overhead. "Could you fly through the canopy and see White Top?"

Blue wings stretched out wide, but hesitant. "I guess so . . ." Flapping softly, Luna looked straight up into the air, focused and intent. A moment later, her feet lifted off the ground.

For the first time, Celestia realized, she saw the wings in motion. They beat the air in a relaxed manner, giving Luna a characteristic incomparable to any bird. Birds battled the tendency to fall, flapping rapidly or stretching feathers to catch gusts of wind and keep aloft. Luna's wings treated that tendency with a casual disregard, as if obeying gravity was optional, and one they disdainfully chose to ignore. It contrasted the determination on Luna's face, to make the wings do something as simple as carry her up to the trees. Perhaps she really does need to see the pegasi . . .

Staring with that thought, she returned to her senses when Luna stopped at the canopy and looked down expectantly. "Oh, right." Luna's magic was still exhausted. A pink glow of her horn, and Celestia opened a hole in the trees. Though this allowed sunlight to flood in once more, though Luna's direction would be far more accurate than the angle of Sun.

She tarried above the trees, glancing all around and taking in more of the view than what was needed. But she found her mark and raised out a hoof to point. Gingerly, she lowered to a few pony lengths above the ground, careful to keep her arm as straight as a pine. "That way."

"Good," Matching the direction as close as possible, Celestia set off again, winding through the forest. "We'll need to repeat this every hour or so, to stay on course." She said, any argument about the trek as good as over.

A creeping sensation crawled down her spine and settled at the base of her hips. Instinctively, ears shifted for sound and she realized she'd yet heard the footfalls of her sister. Peering over her shoulder, she found Luna still hanging in the air, banking in side to side arcs on her wings as she followed. Celestia turned her head back to the trail at hand, but found her thoughts still back there and her spine still crawled. "Luna? Would you mind coming down for now?"

"Aww," Leaves softly crunched where hooves settled. "Why?"

"It's a bit weird."

"How?"

"I don't know. It just is." It was one thing to become a unicorn; a foal's fantasy to listen to the stories of ponies that played with the elements of creation and wish to join those ranks. Even with the tempting thought of flight, foals rarely fantasized about pegasi, they being largely uninvolved in the histories passed down to through generations. But Luna was neither unicorn or pegasus now, or even Earth pony. She was something new, different, unheard of, and unseen in any lore. While not bad –at the least, Celestia hoped not – the change went beyond juvenile fantasy and into something estranged.

And she took for granted that sometime soon, she'd wake up with her own wings.

"Celestia?"

"Yes?"

"I'm still thirsty."

The pink-maned mare halted their progress. "That's right, I forgot. We both could use some water, and some food."  Chewing her lip, she glanced to the dark trees, and leaf-covered forest floor, mind working over the problem. Eyes closed, her horn lit with summoned will and  she began to shape it under guidance of thought.

"What are you doing?" Luna asked with innocent curiosity.

"Finding water." A hint of annoyance in her tone as she tried to keep the spell active.

"Why are you using that?" Luna glanced off to the side. "Water is that way."

"What?" The horn's glow vanished in an instant, and Celestia jerked her head in the direction of Luna's gaze.

"Can't you see it?"

The elder sister stared long and hard, squinting. "No. Nothing."

"But we'll find water that way."

Celestia shook her head, trying to clear her vision, then turned to Luna. "How do you know?"

The blue mare hesitated. "I'm . . . not sure. It feels like there should be." She gave an inquisitive look to her sister. "Earth pony sense?"

The ancient inheritance and part of the Oldest Story. Celestia could recall by heart every beat in the tale her mother recited.

Long, long ago, before the stars turned their eyes to Earth, before Sun grew jealous of the beauty down below, and before Moon answered the call of her sisters, the Earth was naked. Cold winds swept through barren hills, the sky existed in darkness and chaos, and nothing stirred or lived.

One day, the Wild Magic passed over the Earth and found it wrong that such a place should have nothing but darkness and nakedness. So, the Wild Magic began to play. It touched the Earth and made things grow. Small at first, the Wild Magic played long and danced with joy at what it saw. Things grew bigger, taller, more imaginative as it got carried away in the throes of creation. Eventually, the Wild Magic covered the Earth with the forest we call Everfree, and made all manners of creature to live and play, too, so that the Earth would never be naked again.

Before the Wild Magic left to continue its journey, it made one last creature that it loved more than most. From the Earth itself, it made a mare called Pony, and gave her a companion called Stallion. Because they were made from Earth, they understood it, and the creatures closest to it.

Now, we call ourselves Earth Pony, for we came from Earth. And still, many of us remember our connection to the ground where we walk and live.


Seldom had Celestia given that innate sense thought. Amidst the herd, grass was plentiful, and others always marked rivers or ponds for water, no matter where the Earth Ponies rested. But here, now, what if she did not have that sense? What if it was a story so old, it was mere legend? Then, what was it that Luna saw?

Closing her eyes, she swallowed and  emptied her mind. The magic of the unicorn dimmed and constant voice of conscious thought grew quiet, opening the field of her mind to feeling and intuition. When she looked again, she saw nothing new. No magical sight. No empathetic connection to Earth. No ancient heritage awakened.

She just saw what she overlooked before.

The dirt beneath her hooves was dark and soft, giving ample nourishment to the trees and allowing them to grow with their thick branches and wide trunks. The slope of the land channeled rain water though this area, but not so much to cause flooding or turn the soft ground to marsh. Winter would pass by every year, which caused the carpet of dry leaves, but the cold would not be so harsh as to give evergreens an advantage over their sturdy, wider leafed cousins. And somewhere, down the direction where Luna guessed, the rocks had moved and allowed a spring to well up with cold, refreshing water.

All of this she understood without being taught, as natural and instinctual as language. Afraid the epiphany would suddenly vanish, Celestia marched slowly, wordlessly, toward the spring. Luna fell in rank behind, already drifted off in thoughts only she knew. Soon, the sound of water lapping on rock disturbed the air.

Leaping with excitement, Celestia cantered headlong to the spring. Luna broke into a gallop to keep up, and both pranced in, forehooves first, quickly followed by lips slurping clear water.

The spring welled up from between a rocky outcropping and flowed in a gentle, constant stream where it ate away dirt and splashed downhill across smooth stone. Frigid for coming from cold places of the Earth and all the more pleasant for it, Celestia dunked her face in the pool to ease the swell of bruises. The pink mane soaked in the liquid and dripped it down her shoulders, sending her skin to goose bumps. "Brr!" With a shiver, she shook out her mane and sent the water splashing all about. Luna squealed, the cold droplets chilling her side, and it gave her a burst of energy to summon a translucent shield against any more.

Smirking mischievously, Celestia bent low and let her hair soak again.

Luna's eyes widened. "Oh, you better no-"

Celestia flicked her mane.

The blue mare squealed again as a shower of frigid rain tickled her side and sent shivers down her flank. She ran, breaking off into a high-pitched laugh while Celestia gave chase and shook herself out to send more freezing water at her sister.

The mane ran dry and Celestia stopped. Only to find Luna already soaking her tail, a wide, mischievous grin on her face.

"You little—" The tail flipping water across her chest cut that statement short with a gasp.

The play sent both mares up and down the spring's banks, tables turned every few minutes. Squeals, laughs, shrieks of surprise broke the otherwise tranquil forest. But the burst of playful energy could not last long before the exhaustion of the day caught up.

"Okay! Okay . . ." Luna was the first to slow, sprawling herself across the ground, wings and legs akimbo.  "I give."  Her coat sopped wet in places as she heaved for breath.

"I win! Princess of the spring!" Celestia posed triumphantly before collapsing in a sprawl herself, a laugh still on her lips. "My first order as princess is to declare you . . ." She touch a hoof to her chin. "Umm, second princess."

"Second princess?" Luna raised a skeptical eyebrow, smirking.

"Well, of course! Being my sister means you are also princess."

A light wind blew through the undergrowth. Leaves rustled, tree branches swayed, and both ponies shivered with a sudden chill. At once, the sisters scrambled toward each other and clung tight for the warmth.

"Celest?"

The white mare stopped shivering to look down at the blue pony she'd wrapped her forelimbs around. "Huh?"

"I'm glad you're back." Luna leaned her head against her big sister's side. "That's all."

"Yeah. Me, too." Closing her eyes, Celestia called forth her will and sent out a spell to dry the water collected from the game.

A stomach growled. Loudly.

Speechless, Celestia glanced down, a wry smile slowly growing.

Luna blushed and averted her gaze. "Sorry. I didn't want to be constantly complaining on this trip."

"I think asking for food is qui—" The word food caused an answering rumbled from her own stomach. "Quite okay." Though held with a straight face, the pink of her cheeks started to out due her hair.

A private snicker became Luna's answer.

Rising to her feet, Celestia surveyed her surroundings. Tall trees, non-nutritious leaves surrounded the spring's banks. On second thought, she realized the assessment of the foliage came without traceable reason. Instinct told her they tasted bitter and held little value. Earth pony sense. Once she was aware, the knowledge became easier to draw from. Following those instinctive hunches, she walked a path unseen, based on rainfall, plant competition, and soil. But this was different than finding the spring, the goal less assured. Celestia didn't know where an edible grass or tree grew, just the most likely place they would.

Stomach complaining all the while, time eventually paid off. The white mare stopped and looked up with a smile. The tree above carried branches weighted with ripe, purple figs. A simple telekinetic spell plucked several from their stems and gingerly lowered them to the ground.

Pupils dilated in Luna's eyes until the whites nearly disappeared. Drool dribbled at her lips as the prize came to rest on the floor. She chose one and launched forward, just short of a pounce. The smell of fresh torn fruit  wafted through the air as Luna devoured the fig. Standing up straight, words came from a mouth still chewing. "It's really good."

Plucking several more, Celestia finally lowered her neck and popped one into her mouth. Sugary juices exploded in her mouth, squeezed from a fruit with savory texture. Swallowing quickly with intense hunger, her lips picked up another and crunched the skin beneath teeth. Her eyes rolled back in pure overwhelming bliss."Mmm,"  No food on Earth had ever grown finer than these figs, at this moment.

As the purple fruit disappeared one by one beneath greedy lips and empty bellies, the distraction of hunger dissipated and ambient sounds grew clear.

The tree existed as a hub of activity. Monkeys made mocking, cacophonic noises of play and battle. They swung nimbly from limb to limb, shaking branches and rustling leaves as they chased away rivals, groomed, or gathered their own food. Birds squawked, sang, flew, danced, courted, centering themselves around this ample source of nourishment.  Glancing up, Celestia made out a myriad of other, quieter animals. Tree climbing foxes with a taste for figs, chameleons stalking bugs, squirrels and other mammals.

"Luna?"

"Hmm?" Juice dribbled down her chin.

"Grab what you can." Celestia forced her voice to remain calm. "We've got to go. Now."

The younger sister moved without questioning, tucking fig after fig beneath her wings,  one final fig kept pinched in her teeth. Fruit followed in a trail behind Celestia, scooped by magic as she resisted the impulse to flee in gallop, instead striding briskly, direction unimportant. Luna in tow and wide eyed, looked at all her surroundings in muffled silence.

In only took a moment for curiosity to get the best of her younger sister. Midnight's light engulfed her horn and magic carried the fig from her mouth just long enough for a question. "What was it?"

"Did you see all that activity around the fruit tree?"

Mouth full again, Luna nodded.

"It was so different than everything else we've passed." Celestia gestured with her horn to the expanse of trees overhead. "These support so little, by comparison. So, all of the animals gathered for the tasty and easy food."

Luna drew in a sharp breath as realization dawned.

"And where the prey gathers, so will the predators. It'll be safer if we stay away." A sigh left her lips and she stopped, gently setting down the three or four figs she took with her. "This will be far enough for now. We need to find our orientation again." She turned around to her sister, expectantly.

A fig dropped from her lips. "Oh, right." Luna lifted her wings. A heaping pile of purple fruit tumbled to the ground at each side, more than two or even three ponies could eat in one sitting.

Celestia stared silently.

"What?"

A single brow raised.

"They're good."

She just shook her head. "Go on." A pink glow danced at the tip of her horn, and a hole opened up in the canopy. "Watch out for tree snakes on your way up. We're still kind of close."

With a brisk nod, Luna concentrated and the wings carried her aloft. Reaching a height above the trees, Luna briefly glanced to all sides. Her eyes fixed on something and she gasped, body going rigid with tension. She scrambled down to the forest floor, limbs moving awkwardly and hurried.

"What? What is it?!"

Blue eyes rose and met Celestia's. They held a look rare for Luna, always so distant and calm, an observer from far away. But now, they sent ice through Celestia's veins. In those seas of liquid cerulean, she saw a child-like, primal terror. Luna's voice cracked as she answered. "The Sun."

Realization blossomed in a physical wave through her body, from nose, to the hairs of her flank. How many hours had past? So much had happened that it was hard to keep track. Neck craned, head shot upwards, and she threw open a hole in the canopy again to look at the sky. Bright afternoon's light faded, darkening slowly to the beginnings of a burning red-yellow.

Fear and adrenaline quivered her lips and she found herself slowly backing away from nothing.

Night.

Night was falling on the Everfree forest.

And trapped under leaf and branch, far from home, Luna and Celestia stood awaiting the coming of darkness.
For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

This picture also done at request from Madmax. [link]

Chapter 2 [link]
Chapter 3 [link]
Chapter 4 [link]
Chapter 5 [link]
Chapter 6 [link]
Chapter 7 [link]
Chapter 8 [link]
Chapter 9 [link]
Chapter 10 [link]


And more to come!
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As the years and generations pass before me, there are some things that never diminish. Love, hope, friendship, and learning. Perhaps the last of these is why I decided to make Canterlot a university, for I am ever a student.
—Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia as recorded by her friends


The camouflage cover to their room flew open, rustling in the motion. Light, sharp and bright, flooded in and stung Celestia's eyes.  She turned her head away, groaning. Luna shifted against her, burying her face under Celestia's mane.  Their first night here had little sleep and they clung to what more they could get. But in vain.

"Get up." Phantom Spell's even tone demanded obedience without delay.

Tendrils of sleep still slackened Celestia's muscles, and it took some effort to rise. Luna made a squeak of complaint as she lost the comfort of curling against her sister and she too had to find her feet. It was strange to wake up here. The sun had always been gentle in its beckon to rise, shining gradually brighter and slowly warming those who fell under her gaze. But here in the darkness of the hidden room inside the tree, it came as a slap in the face, as if night had been torn away in one swift jerk.

"Come." Phantom Spell turned from the hole and his hooves could be heard trotting away in an impatient gait.

Celestia shook herself, mane and tail flying, to send a jolt of energy down her body. Tapping Luna on the flank with her nose, she motioned to the hole. "Come on, before he turns into Grumpy Gus."

The two sisters stepped out of the tree and onto the living bridge at a quick trot. Phantom paused, but resumed his walk as they closed. "I have consulted the heads of the crafts. Your arrival has thrown an unexpected twist in our vines. You know nothing of our ways, and nothing of magic. You are like foals."

Celestia bit her lip to still her tongue, but it failed to stop a huff.

Curiously, Phantom peaked over his shoulder before turning his attention back to the path. "But you are not foals. Had you been younger, we could have merely tossed you into class with the rest of the fillies, and that would have been that. But now, you need special arrangements. Special considerations due to your age. That means time and resources." Arriving at his destination where the bridge met the trunk of another converted tree, he turned around and sat back on his haunches, lifting one hoof to gesture. "We have to draw teachers away from their normal duties, arrange for times, lessons, we have to expend yet more in giving you chaperones and teaching you the basics of what every foal knows." He stomped his hoof down against the wooden bridge where it punctuated his sentence with a bang.

The action startled the mares straight and stiff, eyes wide as they listened.

"As you can imagine, the situation is precarious. Here is how it will go. You get those arrangements. For now. Your tutors will report directly to me with your progress.  Show talent or skill that justifies the resources, you get to keep the personal  tutors. You don't, and you learn with the fillies."

In the pause, Celestia swallowed a lump in her throat, only after realizing that Luna did the same at the same moment.

Phantom's eyes shifted between the sisters. "It's not a threat, but simply a fact. You are unknowns thrown into a very efficient system. It will take some trial and error before we find out the best way to make use of you." The pale horn on his head took on a gray glow, and the camouflaged cover of the tree peeled back. "On to your first lesson."

Celestia and Luna lurched forward, tension driving them into the hole without delay. Behind, the cover fell closed, and the sound of Phantom's hoof-beat  drifted away.

"Hello!" A cheerful, female voice called their attention.

A fraction of a second passed before Celestia could see clearly in the lesser light of a fairy lamp suspended from the roof. Shadows danced and played as the creature fluttered around its small prison, perhaps too primitive to understand its cage. Unlike many rooms, this one appeared built with a specific purpose.  Indents, in rows in columns just large enough for a small pony, sat in a floor that sloped to focus point. At that center stood a pony of brown with a mottled white midsection and a pale horn.

The teacher wore a smile that lacked sincerity. It sat on her face like a decoration, a friendly mask she could wear to hide any other feelings. Despite that, her demeanor did not seem sinister in the slightest. "Welcome to your first class day!" Her voice matched her smile, bubbly and approaching singsong in delivery. "My name is Levity, and I teach the basics of magic."

Despite the fatigue, the abrupt morning, stern Phantom, or this silly mare, it only took one word to wipe it all away: magic. Giddy feelings bubbled up in the white mare with the pink mane. In a surge of energy, she bounded down the sloped floor and rested her haunches on a front row indent.

Skeptical at first at this teacher, Luna's eyes sparkled and a grin spread her features as she took a seat next to her sister. Sitting tightly on her forelimbs, she eagerly awaited more.

"First, let me get your names!" Levity beamed her masking smile.

Both answered curtly.

"Celestia,"

"Luna."

"Ahh, those are good names!" Her singsong voice replied. "So this will be your first lesson in magic, will it? I'm sure this is quite exciting for the both of you. Never before cast a spell? We'll start at the very beginning."

Celestia gave a glance to Luna, who mirrored her incredulous expression. "No offense, Levity, but we are not foals."

Surprise wiped the smile off her face. "What? Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend. I'm so use to giving this lesson to the younglings that I guess I just fell into my old habits." She cleared her throat, most of the singsong gone. "I'll try to speak more at your level. So," she paused to think. "do you connect to your horns, yet?"

A blush reddened Celestia's cheeks, finding the concept unfamiliar. On the heel of what she just said, she felt quite foal-ish. "I'm, uhh, not sure."

Taking a deep and calm breath, Levity half closed her eyes. In relaxing tones, she recited a litany that felt well practiced. "Close your eyes, and follow my instructions."

In the pause, Celestia did so.

"Relax. Breath in until you fill your chest completely. Now relax as deep as you can, letting the air flow out. Reach deep into your thoughts with a still mind and feel what is there. Pay attention to what you experience. In the quiet, do you feel that inner thrum, like a heartbeat? If you don't, reach for it, let it gush to you like a spring. This is your will. It is a power inside you that wants change things. For other ponies, their will is separated from the world. It can only change themselves. But we are unicorns. Our will has a way to the outside world: our horns. Now, take that will you have, it responds to what you want it to do. Take hold of that will and guide it forward. Project it out of you, but don't release it." Her tone changed to hold the tiniest amount of giddy mischief. "Now, open your eyes."

Two new glows bathed the room. One a dark blue, the other a pale pink. Celestia gasped aloud. She kept her thoughts on her horn, sustaining the light, and bounced in excitement. "Ohmystars! Luna!"

Her younger sister proudly displayed her radiant horn with a wide smile.

"We're doing it, Luna! We're doing it!"

Levity's melodious laugh caught their attention. "Almost, almost! But what you have right now is nothing more than a lamp." With a green shimmer from her horn, Levity drew out a round stone no bigger than a hoof, and placed it directly in front of her. "Now that you have it glowing, though, it's ready to channel magic." Her masking smile returned as she fell into habit. "A skill every young unicorn must learn is simple telekinesis, otherwise known as moving something with your will! Practice on this granite ball. Your goal is to lift it up, off the ground!" She gestured to Celestia with a forelimb. "Oldest first! Your will that you have up in your horn. Shape it into what you want to change, give it guidance. Connect your will to what you want to accomplish. Then, release it."

Phantom Spell's voice echoed in the back of Celestia's mind as she stared down at the stone. "Show skill or talent . . . or be thrown to the fillies." The thought quickened her heart beat. She drowned out the voice by focusing on the task. The rock. Lift that rock. She envisioned it happening, the stone rising off the ground at her command. She lent that image to the power channeled in her and felt it take a specific shape, molding as easy as water yet retaining the desired form like clay. It had a purpose now, ready to impose itself on reality. Celestia stared intently at the ball and released the energy of her will toward where it sat.

The stone blasted into the air with the fury of a shooting star. Levity shrieked and threw herself to the ground. It struck the solid roof, splintered a section of wood, and bounced around the room like a hyperactive grasshopper. Luna took a cue from Levity and laid low, covering her head with her forelimbs. Celestia stared dumbfounded, trying to track the rock's frantic flight as the energy bled off in each collision. Eventually, it came bouncing to a stop, then rolled down the floor to bump the cowering, brown mare on the flank.

Levity rose, horrified and staring at Celestia. Her chest heaved in a fearful pant as she tried to catch her breath.

Celestia glanced around the room, noting each dent and each shatter of wood. A split piece of lumber the size of a branch fell from the ceiling and thumped on the floor. Turning back to Levity, she smiled wide and innocent. "Sorry?"

"N-next lesson." Levity squeaked. "Will be about control."

She didn't make the same mistake twice and produced a feather for Luna, rather than a stone. Using these small objects, she put them through the basics of managing their magic, releasing just the amount needed and no more. So engrossed in the reality before her very eyes –in the floating of objects by thought, or creating light at will— time passed in a blink. The next thing she knew, Ebon Swift stood at the entrance, leaning against the wall with a wry smile. Levity took notice and ended the lesson with teaching mental exercises they could practice away from class.

"Already on to control?" The black stallion made room for Levity to file out. She went in a rush not staying a second longer in that room with those two mares than she needed. "You must have left quite an . . . impression?" His dark eyes caught the fresh split wood on the ceiling and he raised a single brow.

"Umm, you could say that." Celestia blushed but smiled, happily trotting up the incline to greet Ebon. Luna followed in her wake. "What brings you here?"

"Oh, just your next lesson." He shoved off of the wall with his shoulder and opened the canvas with a white glow of his horn. "More pathways and hidey-holes."

The blue unicorn let out a tired groan, and Celestia sighed with disappointment.

A quirk found its way to his lips. "Or, tell you what. I'll show you a little something at every place we stop. Take you around the other unicorns and show you what they do."

Luna gasped and her wide eyes sparkled at the prospect. Celestia raised her head with some curiosity.

"Out we go!" Ebon went with fresh excitement, holding the canvas open for the girls until they followed him out. The bridges they cross twisted, joined, and forked with no obvious pattern. A pattern would have been a flaw in the camouflage,  Ebon explained. So the bridges were erected trying to mimic the forest in all its chaos. Yet, there were signs for those who knew how to look. Vine arrangements, leaf  or bark patterns, other things that would not stand out in the canopy, yet could be seen by trained eyes.  It was by these things which the web was navigated.

"Hey! Good day to you, Cres!" Ebon nodded his head to an older mare sitting at the edge of an out of the way branch, deep in thought with horn aglow.

She glanced up from her work and the corners of her lips stretched in a soft smile. "Ebon, how good to see you."

"Cres, I've brought you a couple of mares who I'd like you to meet." He moved to the side and gestured to his followers. "This is Celestia, and her sister Luna. They are the new arrivals from the Earth ponies." He gestured to the older mare. "Celestia, Luna, this is Crescent Change. She is one of the best weavers of the craft."

"Weaver?" Luna lifted her head in curiosity, throwing back her mane from her eyes to see more clearly.

"It means I make all the curtains that cover the doors."

Celestia exchanged a glance with Luna. "Doors?"

Surprise came over her face. "Oh my! The Earth ponies are really different, aren't they?" She drew up what had been tinkering with. On the pathway, she laid out a bundle of multicolored hairs—browns, whites, grays, blacks— wrapped together like a single pony's tail at one end. At the other, the strands separated then joined together in a crisscross pattern, formed into a broad square. "This would be a curtain, in the making, anyways. Weaving we call it. When I am done, it will vanish on the bark, like all the others we use to hide. We put it in front of doors."

Thoughts of the trees she had been going in and out of all day struck her. Even if life on the fields had no doors or curtains, her question took on a humiliating edge in retrospect. "Oh. Those."

But it did not deter Luna from her curiosity. "Is this pony hair?"

"Yes, it is."

Apprehension filled her voice. "Where do you get it?"

A good natured laugh shook Crescent's frame. "Volunteers, and they are quite happy for the exchange."

Ebon cleared his throat and looked to Luna. "Would you like to volunteer?"

The pony took a hesitant step back. "I don't know."

"You'd be able to see how this all is done." Ebon offered with a raise of his hoof.

"I don't want to be bald!" Luna blurted out in panic and took several steps back.

Ebon and Crescent Change turned to each other with a wide eyed stare, then burst into riotous laughter. Luna shrank to Celestia's side as Ebon sat on his haunches and clapped a hoof against the ground. "Ha, ha, oh no! Nothing like that!"

"No." Crescent wiped a tear from her eye. "No, dear, I won't make you bald. We only take every third hair or so. In exchange, I groom your hair. Take out the knots and straighten it."

"Oh," Sheepishly, Luna left Celestia's side and walked forward. "O-okay. You can take my hair."

Standing up from where she sat on the side of the bridge, Crescent moved over to Luna with her horn shining purple. Luna pinched her eyes closed and stiffened her body as she lowered her head for Crescent to look. Gracefully, Crescent bent close to Luna and began to manipulate her hair. She unweaved the knots and tangles, taking the occasional strand from her mane. She cleaned the hair of blemish or oil, and arranged it so it fell around Luna's face and neck anew. Luna blinked her large eyes open. Gentleness calmed her nervous feelings as the older mare worked, curling the ends of some strands, straightening others and arranging them around her horn. Ebon, thinking ahead, gathered dew and water from among the leaves, and suspended it in air so Luna could see her reflection clear as day.

"Oh my!" The young pony gasped and slowly shifted her perspective to see all sides. Never before had her mane been arranged by anything more than the dalliance of rain or broad gestures of a pony's hoof."It's . . . beautiful!"

"Your hair," Crescent responded with her own amazement. "It's exquisite. Soft in texture, but with the richest, most pure blue I have ever seen. I love your mane."

Luna flushed  and she giggled to see the reddening of her cheeks in her reflection.  "Hey, I have a question?"

"Yes, dear?"

"You can change the color, right?" She lifted a hoof and pointed at the multicolored mat that lay across the bridge.

"That's right."

A mischievous grin spread on her. "Can you make mine pink?"

Crescent chuckled and concentrated on the mane for a fraction of a second. In a swirl of purple magic, Luna's rich blue turned vibrant rose.

Seeing her reflection, Luna clomped her forelimbs against the branch in a bounce and giggled impishly.

"Now, for a living mane, the change won't last. It will gradually fade back to your natural colors."

Celestia caught sight of Luna's playful glance and shot her an irritated look.

Luna teasingly stuck out her tongue in reply. "Okay, I was just curious, auntie Crescent. But better change me back, I don't think Celestia will like my new look."

The elder sister contorted her features and rolled her eyes in a silly face.

Another brief gleam of purple and Luna's mane was restored blue. "All the better, probably. Phantom Spell would not approve of me changing colors of all the adventurous mares that come my way." She gathered up the bundle of freshly cut, blue hair and sighed at the sight of it. "Wasted effort or some such."

Catching a grim look from Ebon at the sigh, Celestia felt a strange impulse. Like an inkling of something greater sat just below the surface . "Is something the matter, Crescent?"

"You have beautiful hair, both of you." She tied the new strands together and set it aside, next to the larger, half woven curtain. "It's a joy to fix manes, but Phantom insist on restricting the arrangements to being practical. Then there is this weaving. For once, I'd like to create styles, or sew a curtain into something to be admired and nothing more. Not for hiding or other things. But," She shrugged her shoulders. "It's not deemed important by Phantom."

"Oh," Celestia nodded her head then dropped her gaze in thought. Luna knelt close to the curtain itself and occupied herself with watching Crescent spin new strands into the design. Something felt wrong. Quickly, her mind went awry when she realized again she was standing on a branch, close to several pony-lengths off the ground, sea of green leaves anywhere she looked. Vertigo clouded her and she began to sway.

"Whoa, now!" In an instant, Ebon was by her and she was leaning against his broad side. "You okay there, Celest?"

She blinked, then sat down. "I-I-I think so. I'm sorry." With a forelimb, she wiped off her face, trying to rub sense back into it. "Just had a sudden rush." So much was new, so much different. Her friends gone, parents, starry nights. Left back home.

"Alright, go ahead and just lie down a moment. Let Crescent fix up your hair while you catch your breath. Maybe that lesson was tougher than you thought."

Wordlessly, Celestia complied and the older mare cleaned up her mane and tail, adding stylized curls much as she did for Luna. Once done, Ebon lead them to the ground level and continued to teach markings.

"What's that!" Luna interrupted him midsentence. "Over there!"

"That!" He laughed. "Is what I will show you next."

A streak and flash of blue-white light blinded Celestia. A pop, a pale reflection of lightning and thunder, crackled up ahead. Closing her eyes, she shook her head to wipe the after-image from her vision, then peered through the trees. Several young colts and an equal number of intense fillies stood in row, finding space in the underbrush.  One of the fillies bent her head low and her spread her legs wide and aggressive. Her horn gleamed yellow, flashed, and released a burning ember that shot through the forest and exploded on a tree in a shower of sparks.

Silver Spear was there, behind that filly. He whispered something to her ear.  She nodded and her horn glowed yellow once more. The fires caused by that ember became smothered in their own smoke, burning dimly than dying. The filly looked up to Silver Spear for approval and he gave a brief nod that brought a smile to her face.

"Combat training." Ebon answered. "You are a ways off from even considering such a thing, but I thought you'd like to see some wild spell casting."

Luna moved to Ebon's side, observing carefully. A colt bent low next, and a gush of wind stripped a branch of all its leaves. "Can you do stuff like that?" She asked, looking up to the stallion with wonder.

"No," He shook his head with a smirk. "I do other things."

"Could you if you tried?"

"No, probably not."

"Why?"

"Magic is complicated." He peeled his attention away from the practice range and looked down to the young mare. At that instant, Luna's blue, wide eyes had captured him. Distant eyes of the observer nevertheless held the impression of deep intelligence. She'd understand what he had to say.  "It's a lesson you'll probably soon have covered, but most unicorns can only use their best magic in a single given skill."

A slight inquisitive twist of Luna's head signaled for him to explain.

"So, magic comes from your inner will, right? A lot of things influence that will. Mood, sleep, and so on. One giant influence is your passion, what you are passionate about. Crescent Change," He gestured up to the canopy of trees from where they came with a flick of his neck. "She is passionate about design, or being creative, or maybe just hair." Ebon gestured to the practice field where the colts and fillies cast spells. "They are passionate about defending those who need it, or maybe just passionate about fighting or seeing fireballs explode. The specific passion can be very different for two unicorns, even if they use it in the same skill."

Luna smiled to him, and nodded her head, pleased. A brief pause brought forth another question. "What's your passion?"

Celestia was shaken from her thoughts and leaned in to listen. "I'd like to know that, too."

Ebon blinked at that remark, blushed deeply at a thought on the tip of his tongue, then shook his head laughing. "I'm not really sure. I just know how I use it. I shape the branches we all use to cross the canopy. My passion is related to . . . bringing ponies together, I guess."

"Ahh," Luna nodded, letting her eyes linger on his face as his attention distracted him.

Celestia stepped forward along Ebon's other side. "That's a wonderful passion." She found herself smiling before a nagging thought resurfaced. "So, who is Silver Spear?"

"Huh?" Ebon was shaken from his introspective moment. "Silver?"

She pointed her horn down the field at the stoic stallion. "Silver. He was with Phantom when we arrived."

"Phantom often calls him when there might be trouble." Ebon responded matter-of-fact. "A close ally, friend maybe even? Either way, Phantom feels just a bit safer when Silver is there, but I guess we all do."

Celestia stopped her expression somewhere between a chuckle and a grimace. "Isn't he a bit . . ."

"Quiet?"

"Short."

Ebon snorted with an unexpected laugh. "Yeah! Yeah he is. But let me put it this way." Ebon knitted his brow in thought. "He's not the most powerful --magically or in size. If you wanted to lift a big rock, or buck a giant tree, you wouldn't go to him. But if you were being chased by a hungry . . . manticore, the first pony you'd call is Silver Spear."

On ahead, a filly summoned a stream of water, only in her inexperience, she summoned it all over the entire line of students in a shower. They screamed like children and scattered to keep dry. Meanwhile, Silver Spear lifted a hoof to his face and shook his head with a sigh.

Luna, Ebon, and Celestia all burst into laughter.

That night passed easier than the first. It was no less uncomfortable to sleep up high in that tree, cut off from the ground, from the stars, and from the herd. They shared a bed again in the pitch black, the touch their only reminder that they were not alone. But the second night, it was less of an alien place, less of an unfamiliar herd, and it was less difficult to fall into a peaceful sleep.
For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

This picture also done at request from Madmax. [link]

Chapter 2 [link]
Chapter 3 [link]
Chapter 4 [link]
Chapter 5 [link]
Chapter 6 [link]
Chapter 7 [link]
Chapter 8 [link]
Chapter 9 [link]
Chapter 10 [link]


And more to come!
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Sister, or brother: I hear the term used sometimes in affection among close friends. Sometimes I wonder if they really understand the complexities of siblings.
—Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia             as recorded by her friends

"The elements of harmony are a form of magic that unicorns must be at least aware of."

Celestia laid her head against her hoof, bored and slouched in one of the indentation meant for sitting. One of only two students in the class, there was no hiding such blatant displays. The tutor, an old stallion who had decidedly little patience and even less charisma, glanced in her direction with an increasingly irritated look. But for the moment, he continued his longwinded lecture, segueing into a topic only loosely related.

The pink haired pony shifted, glancing over to Luna. Her little sister put up a much better front at remaining interested, sitting soundly in her place, hooves tightly nestled between her legs. She even came to life once the old grump actually covered magic, but her eyes glazed over when the tutor prattled.

"I had first learned of the elements under my sixth master, when I was but a colt and he instructed me . . ."

Luna nodded off.

Their days among the unicorns had fallen into a rhythm, rising in the morning for magic lessons and spending their afternoons under a guide teaching the way of life. Phantom stayed true to his word. Or if he broke it in some way, they never experienced it. The arrangement stuck and a new private teacher was provided each time Celestia and Luna completed the lessons of the last.

But Arcane Pride, the current one, deemed himself doing the two girls a favor, pulled away from whatever his other duties were, and did not appreciate their lack of respect.

"On using the elements!" He raised his voice and stamped a hoof against the wood floor.

Luna started and came awake with a yelp, then sat carefully paying attention once more.

"There are five elements which are utilized: Honesty, loyalty, mirth, generosity, and benevolence. They augment magic and open a vast number of unique spells. Today, you will use one of these elements for a desired effect." Arcane blinked and leaned forward, trying to see passed his poor eyesight. "Ehh, yes, Luna?"

A raised, midnight blue hoof lowered once he called on her name. Another strange custom he insisted on maintaining. "If the elements of magic are emotion, how is honesty or loyalty an emotion?" Questions, at least, guided the topic and made Arcane more tolerable.

"While those values are typically displayed through acts, they are associated with emotional motivators. There is an impulse that drives an individual to be honest or loyal with their fellow pony. It is that impulse which we use as an element." The old stallion cleared his throat to stall for his next thought; a sickly sound. "Will is the base and can be used on its own for most spells. Think of will as water. The elements are herbs.  Water alone is very adaptable and useful. It quenches thirst, soothes, or cleans. But when combined with herbs, the water vastly expands its range. Some herbs deaden pain, others bring about a pleasant taste. Think of magical elements in this way."

"Are there other elements?"

Arcane lowered his nose and scrutinized the young mare.

"Oh!" Luna lifted up her hoof.

He motioned for her to lower it. "Yes, there are other elements, but never use one that is not an element of harmony."

"Why not?" Luna hoisted up her hoof again as she blurted out her question.

"The elements of harmony," his voice came at a hushed tone, "are safe in magic." Arcane Pride stared at Luna with an intense gaze, his expression grave as any Celestia had ever seen. "If you use another emotion as your element, it changes you. Don't ever augment another feeling."

A shiver crept down Celestia's spine. The gravity of the moment was out of place on such a dull pony like Arcane. The most she ever seen from him was irritation.

"Now, for your task. " His resumed the deadpan delivery, but it was easier to pay attention as his phrase signaled an upcoming exercise. "Using the element of loyalty, entwine these saplings." His horn took on the color of gold as he brought forward four uprooted, tiny trees that he placed between them. Two in front of Celestia and two in front of Luna. "A chief feature of loyalty is binding two separate things. It should compliment such a spell so that the saplings become like one."

Celestia hoisted herself up from the slouch and into a proper sit. The blue light of Luna's horn washed over the green buds of the saplings as her sister spoke. "I've heard of these elements before. The basis of unicorn society, right?" She called her own will forth and added a pink light to the room.

"That is correct. The elements were discovered by Kong Qiu, that being his name in the old tongue, during the chaotic times, when he tried to unify magic philosophy with societal functioning . . ."

As Arcane droned on, Celestia toned him out, concentrating on the spell. Loyalty, that was the element. It only took a single thought to find that impulse in her: Earth ponies. The herd. Whip Scar, Lightning Kick, all her friends.  The binding force that kept even those she didn't like together while living in the danger of the Everfree Forest. Loyalty. Taking that feeling to her will, she felt the magical nature change and she unleashed it at the saplings. Pink magic swirled around the baby trees, and in a flash, the bark meshed so completely that the two appeared as one. "So, they are like suggestions I guess." The act had taken little effort and Celestia showed that by slouching back in her seat.

"For magic, if thinking of the elements in such a w—"

"I meant for unicorns."

In confusion, and with a hint of indignity, Arcane blinked and tried to stare passed his eyesight at the mare. "I beg your pardon, young lady?"

"The elements of harmony." Celestia shrugged. "Generosity, benevolence . . . " She lazily poked each thought in the air as if they had manifested before her. "I'd have expected to see more of it, being the ideals and all."

"That is a very momentous statement from the mouth of a foal such as you." Arcane's nostrils flared and he snorted in mounting frustration. "One that makes you look the fool as well. You, of all, could learn much from how we behave. Our society respects the elements."

Celestia flew to her hooves and leveled a glare back at Arcane. "Yet, our cousins in the fields, the Earth pony, are left to fend for themselves. I suppose generosity doesn't apply to them?" Something invisible struck the side of her face and threw her head around. The thing curled around her muzzle like growing vines and pinched her mouth shut so only grunts could escape.

Arcane's chest heaved, his horn wreathed in gold flame."Enough! This is a classroom, and you are a student! You will keep your mouth closed until the end of this lesson, whether you will it or not." He took a deep breath, and on exhaling, released most of his fury, if not his annoyance. "Why, if you had been my filly, I'd have tanned some manners into that hide of yours. Something your Earth pony caretakers evidently failed to do."

Luna sat dead still in shock. Glancing over at her elder sister, whose lips pressed together awkwardly under the binding, she began to smirk, then giggle. Seeing Arcane's, flustered, red face, the giggling turned into out right laughter.

Celestia rolled her eyes.

The rest of the class passed with the muzzle of sorts in place. But she spoke plenty with her eyes, fuming, or rolling sarcastically, or generally holding contempt at her teacher. Yet, she obeyed, casting spells or sitting in silence. Arcane exchanged an occasionally angry glance at the young mare and only once he was already half way out the door, did he loosen his spell.

Luna laughed again as Celestia shifted her tight jaw and worked her lips. "Heh, heh. Wow, you really made him mad this time. I think he even ended class early."

The pink maned unicorn shrugged. "Whatever." But upon setting foot outside, she saw the sun several lengths low, early from its usual place at the end of class. She smiled. "Worth it."

"They won't expect us for awhile." Luna added, echoing Celestia's thoughts.

"Let's go find Ebon."

A frown doured the sister. "I wanted to go see Crescent Change."

Celestia, already taken a step to go, looked over her shoulder at Luna. "Why?"

"All the unicorns are talking about her." Her face lit up. "They say that she made this—this  . . . thing from hair and wood.  She's treated the hair and bound it so it's pulled taught by the wood. By plucking the strands, the thing sings. It must have taken her hours and hours to make it just right. Apparently, she never got permission and built it in secret. Phantom is mad, but others are begging to keep it. They say that it's as if she's given the stars themselves a voice and it weaves a magic all its own."

"Huh, that's weird." She looked ahead again, tensing to go. "But let's see Ebon, today."

"What?" Luna sat back, dismayed. "But what if they take it away? This might be our only chance."

Celestia shook her head. "No, not today. Crescent will be in the middle of work, and you want her to stop, dig it out of whatever hidey hole she's put the thing in, and then play it for you. Too disruptive."

Luna pursed her lips in a pout. "Crescent likes talking to me. She'll probably be happy to take a break. And Ebon is at work, too."

"Only probably, not definitely. And Ebon can chat while he works. If we go to Crescent, we might waste our free time. No, we're going to see Ebon."

A deep sigh lifted Luna's chest, and she exhaled dejected. Celestia went, Luna followed behind.

Finding him, at work or even in general, was among the easier tasks Celestia went about. When it came to Ebon, she knew his job and where it took him. The bridges and homes were still living trees, growing and changing as they are prone to do. Given time, they warped at their interconnections and needed routine care, the kind Ebon was skilled at. All she needed to do was remember which places she passed that were still smooth and which were in need of attention. Narrowing the list down, she trotted at a youthful pace across the canopy of the forest, checking them out one by one.

"Ebon!" Seeing the black stallion up above, she broke into a gallop and chose a ramp that would lead to him. Luna came up from behind, galloping just to keep up.

"Celestia, Luna!" He smiled wide and pleasant. White teeth gleamed in contrast to his dark coat. "You're out of class!"

"Yeah," Celestia smiled in return, and giddily trotted her forehooves. "Got out early, and going to see how long I can escape the next duty."

He laughed good naturedly. "Heh, heh! Always keeping your chaperones on their toes, like usual. Walk with me as I work." He trotted to the next interconnection with a pale glow of his horn. "So, what's new?"

"Ugh, so much!" Celestia  grimaced and rolled her eyes. "You won't believe what Arcane did to me today! Threw a spell on my mouth to get me to stop talking."

A snort erupted from him as he laughed hard and unexpected. "Wow, I mean, I know each of your teachers must have thought about doing that at least once, but you must have really had Arcane going if he went that far."

She raised her lip in contempt. "Psh, it's been building a while. He goes on and on about whatever, and acts like I should enjoy his blah-blah-blah. Don't get me wrong, I like magic, I really do. I can respect teachers who, you know, teach. But Arcane Pride only gets around to teaching after a saying a bunch of random details and it's soooooo boring."

"Pride may be a little hard to pay attention to, but he's also one of the smartest unicorns in the herd when it comes to magic." He bent low and parted the bridge from its neighbor, molding it in white-colored magic.

"Whatever. He's a hypocrite, too. I'm so ready to be out of his class."

"You may get you wish soon." Ebon chanced a glance at her while he reshaped the wood. "The craft elders are just short of exchanging blows to get the both of you."

"They're doing what?"

"Arguing like mules. You're approaching the end of training. Actually, you've had more than most, especially advanced stuff. You'll be getting into actual crafting now. Phantom had hoped you'd show a specific skill and then you could simply go with that. But if at this level, neither of you have shown leanings, then that's a griffin's hope. He's going to have to make a decision soon, and even if he divides you and your sister, a lot of ponies will be unhappy."

A vague, uncomfortable feeling followed Celestia at the thought. "Why are they all fighting over me?"

The glow faded and Ebon raised his head in surprise. "Are you kidding? As far as I know, nobody has ever seen anyone like you. Just look at you." He turned and gestured over her body with nod of his head. Celestia felt her heart skip a beat as his eyes traveled down then up again. "Your horn is taller than anyone else's, you've got a coat and mane that can only be explained through magic, and you are quite beautiful to boot. Every knows you are special, and your sister too. And that was before you started to show magical talent the likes of which have never been seen in living memory."

Celestia blushed brighter and brighter as Ebon went on, feeling like she grew as red as an apple. Shyly, she averted her gaze from him and tried to resist speaking, knowing it'd come out as a squeak.

"So, anyways," Ebon bent low to his task again, fusing the pieces back together in a seamless join. "Each group wants you for their own reason and are arguing where you'd be best. The sentries are convinced that'd you drive anything short of a dragon away with the volume you can unleash spells. The wood workers believe you will expand our network many fold. The weavers think you'd be able to make new kinds of veils the likes of which are only in imagination. So on, and so on, among all the rest. They go back and forth."

"D-don't I get to decide?" She fought through the flush to say, that idea still making her uncomfortable.

The stallion pursed his lips into a smile, then chuckled. "Ehh, you just might. Phantom might think that'll be the best way to end the fighting."

"I should hope so." Celestia poked Ebon's side. "I just heard today that he was going to destroy someone's toy, that they made on their own. Grumpy Gus is a name well earned for him."

Ebon Swift raised his head and took a glance to both sides before motioning silently for her to keep it down. "I'd rather not have him learn that nickname from me."

Celestia sat down on her haunches, giving Ebon a teasing smirk. "Someone scared of ol' Grumpy Gus's grump?"

"Hey!" He lifted his nose with playful indignity. "I use to have classes under him. You don't know how scary he can be. Phantom was the only teacher who ever got me to stop goofing off. As for the toy, I assume you mean Crescent's invention."

"Who else? If I understand what I've heard, that thing she's built is the talk of the herd. And Grumpy wants to break it."

"Break it? Well, who knows. That's just hearsay. I'd guess he'll just confiscate it. It won't be good for him to leave Crescent's actions unanswered. She spent too much time away from her duties to finish that instrument she made. It'd set a bad example."

"What a serious killjoy! No element of laughter for him." She managed to sit back and cross her forelimbs over her chest with a huff.

"Look, I know you don't really like what he does, but Phantom is a good pony when it comes down to it." With a brief flicker of white from his horn, he merged the pathways. Lifting a hoof, he gestured to the expanse of the canopy. "We owe this all to him. Before Phantom took charge, we were all disorganized. The pathways were unusable, we crowded in the few unbroken hidey holes like rats, food was hard to come by. Unicorns died, Celestia. I was a colt, I remember it happening. Then Phantom stepped forward. He made things work. So many fewer have lost loved ones, now."

"Oh," Celestia slowly placed her hooves back under her. She thought of Painted Hoof and Chosen Oak. Of all the ponies that sent her here at great danger.

Ebon craned his neck, looking back over his shoulder. Following his gaze, Celestia noticed Luna sat quietly at the edge of the limb, some few pony-lengths away. The dark pony stared up at the canopy and tilted her head, flopping one ear as a butterfly of black and turquoise fluttered across a tree's blooming flowers.

"I'll be heading to the next one." Ebon motioned on ahead at another joint, cracked at the seams. "If you give me a moment, I'll meet you up there."

"Alright," Celestia nodded and trotted on.

Ebony Swift turned the other way and closed the distance between himself and the midnight unicorn. "Hey, you." He offered in quiet greeting.

Luna jumped, and jerked her head around, blue eyes large as saucers. "Oh, hey," Her soft spoken voice strained under some hidden unease.

"What's going on?" Ebon chose a spot next to her and sat down.

Luna turned away to gaze at the butterfly once more. She had a curious way of watching it, not marveling at the beauty so much as studying it with interest. "Not much," She shrugged.

"Your sister told me there was some excitement in your class today."

Luna nodded. "Celestia accused the unicorns of being generous only when it suited them."

Ebon choked in surprise and coughed on the saliva, beating his chest with a hoof. "Oh, wow! No wonder Arcane was upset. Do you think your sister was right?"

She shrugged.

"Is anything bothering you?"

"No," Only then did she glance at Ebon again, marking him with a curiosity. "Why do you ask?"

"You seem very quiet. You use to come to me with a lot of questions and liked to listen to me as I'd ramble on about them. But recently, you kind of sit by yourself in your own little world. I guess I wonder why. If there is something wrong, I'd help in any way I can."

"Oh," Curiosity gone, she looked away, distant once more. "Not sure why. Nothing is wrong."

The black stallion frowned as he regarded her in silence. It had been some time since he had seen a smile on her face in regards to him. Always in tow of her sister, too, but that could be merely a similar schedule of duties. She sounded honest, at least in her confusion. She wasn't sure why.

"Alright," Ebon stood up. "I've still got things to mend. I'll be just up ahead if you want to talk. Don't hesitate to ask if you need anything." He managed a smile.

"Okay," Luna nodded. "Oh, and thanks."

Ebon's hooves trotted off, down the bridge.

Luna turned over her shoulder and watched him go with a raised eyebrow. But did not think much more on it. Watching the butterfly, she sighed, her mind trying to guess at what stars sounded like and how hair could make sound. As if it heard, the butterfly descended down from the blooms and landed on the tip of her horn, investigating the enamel with a curled-straw mouth. Luna giggled and stared up at the insect. Then blew a puff of air at its wings, causing it to flutter in the air again before landing back on her horn. Giving it another puff, her eyes caught the purple glow of magic shining dimly through the foliage.

With a gasp of delight, Luna was off like a shot, galloping through the trees and down a hidden ramp that led to the forest floor. Hearing the melodious hum from a skilled voice, she doubled her pace. "Crescent!"

The mature mare sat upright and turned in her direction. Seeing the young pony, she smiled softly.  "Luna, how good to see you."

When Luna closed, she exchanged a hug. "Crescent! What are you working on?"

"Oh, you know." The mare sent a purple jolt to flop a canvas over, half covered in bark that didn't quite blend. "Making these things, like always."

Luna took a step back to a comfortable conversation distance and sat down on her haunches, keeping her hooves close together. "I heard you made something beautiful."

Crescent smiled with some satisfaction. "That I did, finally following my whim."

"I heard they were thinking about taking it away." She frowned, disheartened.

"Well and so, I am pleased to have built it and it has already been shown off. Let them burn it now, if they wish, for I am happy."

"Not yet!" Luna cried out in horror. "I haven't seen it!"

"Ah, yes! I nearly forgot that." Crescent stood up like an excited filly, prancing off with youthful energy. She must have kept it close, because she returned as quickly as she left. "I thought you'd appreciate this more than most."

Hovering before her in a purple light sat a creation unlike anything Luna had seen, among the Earth ponies, unicorns, or in nature. The wood was shaped like a giant pony's horse shoe, bowing deeply at the center, and fashioned perfectly smooth. At the center, a series of strands, also treated in a way Luna had never seen, sat taught, strung from a bar at the top to the bottom of the bow. Luna touched the strings, in all the gentleness she could muster, afraid to break such a delicate looking device.

"Do you remember those human pathfinders who came through our woods, some months ago?" Crescent broke the silence.

Mesmerized by the instrument, Luna nodded. "I was holed up with everyone else."

"Well and good that you did, we're not suppose to peak out." Crescent giggled. "I did anyways." She smiled, the memory as sweet as honey. "At one point, before they left, they sat down to rest. I heard a sound that I thought came from Moon herself, so I poked my head out to see what such a creature was. In the hand of one of the humans was this." She sent a purple shimmer over the instrument she levitated. "He plucked at it with his fingers and it sang such a lovely tune that I never forgot. That night, I went back to my work and secretly began to make what I saw. It was fraught with problems, but here it is now. A work of pure beauty."

Drawing it close to her body, she held it upright in her hooves and closed her eyes. With magic channeled through her horn, the strings began to pluck and song wept forth as if the wood and strands themselves mourned some loss that no one could understand. Crescent Change hummed with the tune, wordlessly creating a duet, voice complimenting voice. By the time the last note was plucked, both ponies wiped tears from their eyes.

"That's . . ." Luna smiled, cheeks still wet. "That's heavenly."

"Yes, yes." Crescent recovered quickly. "But, enough of it, or my soul will never stop it's anguish. Where is your sister? It's rare that I see you alone."

"Oh," Luna shrugged and sniffled the last song-induced sorrow away. "She's just up there somewhere." She gestured at the trees. "Talking with Ebon."

"Ebon?" Crescent laid down atop folded legs, leaning closer to Luna. "Ebon Swift? And you are not there with her?" She cocked an eyebrow. "Didn't you use to like him?"

"He's alright."

Crescent shook her head with a smile. "I mean like him. I saw how you use to gaze at him, so deeply whenever you could steal a glance. I may look old to you, whippersnapper, but I am a mare in my prime, and I know he cuts a handsome figure."

"Oh," Luna averted her gaze, staring down at her hooves. "No. Or . . . I don't know, maybe I did?"

"So, what happened?"

Unsure why, a thought surfaced and propelled itself to Luna's tongue with the piercing force of a needle. "Celestia likes him, you know."

"She does, does she?" Resting her elbows on the ground, Crescent propped up her chin on her hooves. "Did she tell you not to like him?"

"No,"

"Does she know you like him?"

Luna shook her head. "I don't know."

"Why did you find this important to say, I am curious?"

Luna rocked once, side to side, while looking up at the trees. "I don't know. It seemed important. When you asked."

"So I see." The mare paused to consider what she heard. Looking back at Luna like an aunt, she continued. "He likes you too, you know. He told me he found you adorable."

Grimacing at the word, Luna shook her head emphatically. "Adorable? That doesn't sound like like to me. My parents, and my sister find me adorable." She reconsidered. "Okay, she finds me adorable when not annoying her."

"I know little Swift well, I know how he talks and acts. He likes you."

Her heart beat fiercely in her chest with some icy fear. She stared down in thought. The information Crescent gave sat on her mind like a stick above water, ever floating atop the rapids. But she could not pierce below the waves and understand past the turmoil. "Does he like Celestia?"

Crescent shifted her gaze that sat back up on her haunches. Solemnly, she replied. "He likes her, too. Ebon Swift has a little bit of a reputation among mares here. He's a charmer, that they all know, and he has stolen several hearts before, not all intentionally. However, he often lets a number steal his heart back, for good or ill. He is a kind boy and he means well by his charm. I think it hurts him to have to hurt others. You and Celestia both share his heart right now, and he would not like you giving up on him to defend your sister's feelings. It's not fair to either you or him to act in such a way."

Luna nodded in silence. The tumult ran deep, deeper than Crescent even realized or understood. Thoughts of Ebon swirled the water fiercer and fiercer, until she felt uncomfortable sitting down, agitated and fearful of something in the depths which lurked like a leviathan. She got to her hooves, and shook her body, from head to tail, trying to shake away the lingering thoughts until only silence remained. The tumult faded, as she shifted her attention elsewhere, putting distance between her and that unease.

"LUNA!" Celestia's harsh voice cut through the silence like a shard of obsidian.

The younger sister whirled around, then lowered her head in shame.

"Luna! Where did you go?" Her brow creased in anger and she spoke through teeth half gritted, galloping the last few steps.

Ebon was there behind, but started to give distance as he sensed trouble.

"Because you went off without telling me, I had to lose the last of our spare time looking for you! We're late for the next duty, past any excuse they'll believe. We're going to be in trouble, again, and I've still got a stop to make."

"Sorry," Luna flattened her ears and used her mane to cover her face. She knew well she should have told her sister and couldn't find an excuse that justified her position. It had been a willing choice to leave without speaking.

Ebon's voice jumped in at the slight pause. "Time just gets away from even the best of us, every now and then. You might be alright."

Celestia hissed through her teeth as she turned, rearing up on hind legs as she scouted for a path up. "C'mon, Luna, and hurry."

The sisters left at a gallop, Ebon letting them go on ahead. At this point, navigating the forest's secrets was easy, if slow going. She found a tree with an inner ramp up, and her hooves clattered on the wood in the reckless speed which she ran; up into the forest canopy, across the ramps, the sound of Luna keeping up behind if just barely.  Sweat soaked through her back, the sustained and vigorous gallop combined with midday heat. Breathing hard, she peeled around turns with hooves sliding under momentum.

"SORRY!" She yelled while squeezing past a startled old mare on a narrow ramp.

"Sorry." Luna meekly added, herself.

The white unicorn slid to a stop, staring at another hidden door. Luna skidded her hooves against the wood, but too late. The midnight pony bounced off her sister's backside and fell into a heap of fur and hoof. The impact sent Celestia to the ground in the other direction and she cursed allowed. "Horse apples! Clumsy mule!" Though to the air rather than her sister.

Horn aglow in sparkling pink, Celestia rose while channeling a spell that cast off the sweat she collected. Taking a deep breath, she gathered her composure.

Which she lost when the curtain flew open and Phantom Spell stood at the entrance. He, and Silver Spear, came trotting out and stepped around the stunned mares with little concern.

"W-wait! Chief Phantom!" Celestia ran a few paces to keep up, then fell into a trot next to him. "Do you have a moment, I'd like to talk."

Phantom eyed her coolly without slowing. "You have until we make our next destination."

"Thank you," She cleared her throat and let out the words in a hurried gush. "So, I have been studying the elements, and that got me thinking, as I learned more and more about the set, you know, honesty, loyalty, funny, giving, and niceness –all that stuff— about the part of unicorn life and how it all worked."

"Better out with it, filly, we're almost here."

Celestia took a deep breath and answered in a burst. "IthinkweshouldletEarthponieshere."

Phantom Spell froze in place, turned, and narrowed his gaze. "What?"

She repeated slower. "I think that we should expand our herd to include Earth ponies." But nervousness compelled hasty additions. "Maybe just a few at first until we figure out what to do and then more as we're capable of adding them , I am sure we could-"

"Stop." He raised a hoof, and stilled her tongue with the simple gesture. "Enough. And absolutely not. What would we do with a bunch of powerless ponies?" He resumed his walk, though he went a bit slower, Celestia half in his gaze.

"But, they're not dumb!" She lurched forward to stay at his side. "And they aren't weak. They could help if we find a way, magic or no."

"My answer is still absolutely not. Last thing we need here is more mouths to feed, more hooves tearing up dirt and branch, and more bodies to fill our rooms. Let alone ones who will be as ignorant to our system as you were when you first arrived. Even more so, let alone useless ponies who will have no powers, and no way to contribute."

Celestia's jaw dropped in horrid dismay. "Just one or two, until we give them work. What of kindness, or generosity? Does that have to stop at the end of a horn?"

"Filly, I know it was your home, but the answer remains no. Trees need mending, food needs collecting, and we must watch the skies and ground for threats. Despite how cozy it must feel to you in the classroom, we are ever at the edge of disaster. Every day, there is a battle against the Everfree Forest's propensity to chaos." Stopping at the edge of a door, Phantom turned around while Silver Spear parted the curtain. Using a forelimb, Phantom gestured for emphasis. "One forest fire, one rampaging hydra,  one hurricane, and what ground we gained will be lost. I cannot spare ponies for frivolous tasks or flights of fancy. Now," He stepped through the door. "You had your moment. Return to the tasks assigned to you."

The curtain fell closed behind him.

The scolding they received was not at all as harsh as Celestia expected. The chaperone, a mare of middle years, treated the whole affair as more trouble than it was worth and kept it brief. She took the sisters among the unicorns responsible for preparing food and had them pick tree-ripened fruits or gather edible leaves as education on the system of distribution and collection.

But throughout the afternoon, matters weighed heavily on Celestia's mind and pressed down her thoughts. Craft heads, ponies, elements, what she learned had given her a great deal to digest and sort. But with the steady work of picking fruit –and the sneaking of an occasional apple for her and her sister— came a clarity of mind that allowed her to think and chat about her thoughts to Luna.

By the end of the day, she came to a decision.

The sun had fallen behind the mountains before the pace of life here gave her another spare moment. Luna laid down on folded legs to give them rest after the long day, enjoying the touch of the cool, earthen, forest floor. But Celestia couldn't sit still. She paced back and forth, mouthing words to herself of random thoughts as restlessness prohibited any relaxing.

Phantom would pass by here. She left a message with Silver Spear that she wanted to address something further with Phantom, and she was confident that Silver was reliable. Phantom had to come here anyways on his return from responsibilities.

So, they just had to wait. Maddening, slow, horrible wait.

She tossed up a pink light that hovered in the air and danced like a fairy. Under the thick leaves of the Everfree Forest, moonlight seldom reach this low. It was in that light that that she saw the first shadow of their approach.

Luna jumped to her feet, and Celestia faced the pair of ponies. Only to find that it was more than a pair, but a full half dozen. She swallowed before she spoke. "Phantom? I'd like to make an . . . announcement. Of sorts."

"I trust this is urgent as you implied to Silver." He said in a level tone.

"I believe so, but hear me out and see what you think." She cleared her throat, having prepared the basics of what she'd say many times over. "It's come back to me that the craft heads are bickering over where I should go. And that you, Phantom, are caught in the middle."

Phantom narrowed his eyes to regard her.

"I want to tell you that I'd like to take the decision out of your hands. My sister and I, we will return to the Earth ponies, after you feel our teaching is complete." She paused, knitted her brow, then hastily added. "Oh, we'll work long enough so you, you know, didn't feel you wasted your time. But after that, we want to go home."

The half dozen unicorns murmured to each other in bewilderment, yet still sat back as mere spectators. All save two, Silver Spear, who stood quiet and impassive as a rock, and Phantom, who lifted his forelimb to his head and rubbed before replying. "That's ridiculous. This is your home. What is the point of such a decision?"

"Well, chief Phantom." Her knees shook beneath her and she prayed to Moon and the stars that it wasn't noticeable. "The unicorns here, you have it all together with your systems and things. But the Earth Ponies who raised me, the smallest amount of magic I bring back would do them far more good there then having all my magic here. So, uhh, just sparing two unicorns isn't all that much anyways." She kicked at the ground with her front leg. "So it seems better. Generous and all."

"No, absolutely and unquestionably no." He planted his hoof on the ground and stood firm and unmovable as an oak. "We cannot and will not spare you."

Anger, hot and pent up, boiled inside her. "Don't I get to decide where I go? What is my home?"

Cold, dark eyes stared back at her. "Filly, that is simply a luxury. And a dangerous one."

Something about the situation, about the trade with Phantom Spell, brought a memory to surface from within her. Words echoed, in her father's voice deep and pleasant. But forcing a pony to stay when he wants to go, or work for what is not his . . . that just wasn't natural. The thought lent righteousness to her anger and she pounded a hoof on the dirt. "Well, we are going back."

"Celestia," His voice carried harsh warning, like a biting winter wind. "You belong with your kind."

She planted her hooves firm and shouted without thinking. "You aren't my kind!" Whispers exploded around her, barely contained. When they quieted, she added in a determined  voice. "I was born and raised an Earth pony. With no horn. It just came one day." With pride swelling, she stood up straight and tall as a chief, tail arching in defiance.

Phantom raised his hoof to his head and breathed a deep exhale. "Just how thoroughly have they got to you? I was sure the Earth ponies had some plan, but this is perverse by any standard." There was a slight gestured he made to Silver as he lowered his hoof. A shifting of his eyes and a tiny nod.

Luna screamed. In fright and panic rather than pain.

Celestia whirled around, breath suddenly lost and chest tight at the sound. Roots, aglow in silver, burst from the earthen floor and coiled around her sister like snakes, tying legs, waist, and mouth, clamping it shut from sound. A second shimmer, black as water at night, engulfed her horn and snuffed out any light it could emit.

"No, Luna!" Before Celestia could move, the roots broke themselves from the earth and Luna was drug to Phantom's side by an invisible force, kicking and squeaking muffled protest all the while.

"Listen here, filly unicorn." Phantom leveled an intense gaze, harsh and inflexible as frozen iron. His horn didn't glow like others, it only reflected light across its surface in the texture and color of his black eyes. "I had hoped against hope that there was no deception in the Earth ponies bringing you here. But now I see their abomination of a scheme."

Silver already faded into the foliage of the woods, Luna in tow, as the other ponies closed the gap. Celestia surged to follow the gray light, but a level, steady stare from Phantom stopped her, cold sweat breaking out at what she saw. Droplets streaked across his face from that horn, like blood in moonlight, from whatever spell he channeled. Words soft spoken were all the deadlier. "We'll undo what they did to you in time.  But until then, you'll have to remain for this simple fact. If you run away or disobey me, your sister will never be seen again."
For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

This picture also done at request from Madmax. [link]

Chapter 2 [link]
Chapter 3 [link]
Chapter 4 [link]
Chapter 5 [link]
Chapter 6 [link]
Chapter 7 [link]
Chapter 8 [link]
Chapter 9 [link]
Chapter 10 [link]


And more to come!
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Change, even that which we most desire, is bittersweet. It's our dual nature to long for the past, while trying to leave it behind.
—Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia as recorded by her friends


Leaves crunched beneath a dozen hooves. A small party surrounded Celestia and her sister, three stallions in all. Charging Hoof, and Little Apple (Uncle Apple's young nephew who Celestia felt earned the title) took place along the young mare's sides, while Whip guided them deep into the Everfree forest. The trip had gone under way in a silence that grew uncomfortable for Celestia. Last thing she needed now was a chance to think. But despite her feelings, the chance at conversation seemed remote, all consumed in their tasks and Luna as quiet as ever.

Instead, the rhythm of the steps at all sides lulled Celestia into a sense of daydreaming. Her mind wandered over her situation, taking her back to that early morning. Saying farewell to friends was easier than she expected. The little pangs of sorrow were overwhelmed by the excitement at going to see the mythical unicorns. She hugged some, made promises to others, and for the best of friends, even shared a teary departure. But even under watering eyes, her smile beamed.

With Lightning Kick, that changed. They both embraced and tried to wear their smiles, but Lightning's mood began to rub off on Celestia. Sure, a mother expected a stallion to leave the herd at that age when wanderlust took them, but she was losing both fillies she had expected to keep to old age. For the first time, Celestia felt the sadness extinguish her enthusiasm.

"I will come back, mom." She buried her face in her mother's neck. "I will come back, I promise."

"My dearest Celestia, don't be so quick to give your word." Lightning's wet cheek pressed up against her daughter. "You have a unique life, and it may carry you far and wide before it brings you back here. Promise me instead that you will make good on that gift the stars have given you. That you won't let sentiment be your guide."

"Okay," Celestia sniffled, but did not let go of the embrace. "I promise that."

Lightning shared a similar teary eyed farewell with Luna. At first, Celestia thought that Luna's composure—that of a distant observer— would win out, but after only a few minutes, her younger sister was bawling and Lightning was drying her tears. What words they exchanged were private, as was  Celestia's time with her mother.

And then, with the three stallions, they plunged into the forest at dawn.

She kept her head low to the ground, wishing that something would distract her. Excitement to see the unicorns gradually turned into anxiety. Doubts plagued her mind, growing in strength as each hour passed and she stewed in the silence. Would they like her? What were they like? Did she have any actual magical talent or was that little spark all there was? More and more, she began to chew her lip in apprehension.

Finally, she could stand it no longer. "Are we close?" She forwarded the question to Whip at the lead.

"We're here, actually."

Surprise shook her and she raised her head over the backs of her escort. Yet, all she found was an empty, still forest, answered only by  the chirps of a bird.

"I—uh, don't understand?"

"They're probably watching us right now." Whip kept his deep voice low. "Checking us out before they show themselves."

She gasped, recalling the stories shared at home when the sun drew down. Unicorns could turn invisible? She had doubted that bit of lore, yet now . . .

"Luna? Celestia?" Whip looked over his shoulder and gestured form his neck for the two to come closer. He then spoke at a whisper. "When we meet them, don't reveal you were born as Earth ponies."

"Why not?" Celestia blinked, bewildered. Luna looked between them with curiosity in her blue eyes.

"One day, you may understand more. But for now, just accept that sometimes it's better to wait before you tell your whole story to those you don't know. Only when you feel it is absolutely safe should you reveal the secret of your birth." Having said all he planned to, Whip continued the slow walk with his head forward.

Celestia paused her step, the concept hitting her from somewhere unexpected. Luna stopped next to her, still following the lead of her big sister unthinkingly. Among the close knit herd, there was never room for secrecy, and a secret was always a temporary state. To harbor one? So different from her life in a familiar herd. She marched forward with that on her mind.

"That's far enough." A sharp male's voice called with a tone of one accustomed to being obeyed.

"Well met, unicorn ." Whip halted, those behind him following suit.

A full day and more leading to this. Curiosity surged in Celestia as soon as her hooves stopped, and she peaked around Whip's flank, trying to steal her first glance at the mysterious pony. The unicorn must have been average male size, except he stood erect, much in the manner of the chief mare back home, only that his spiral horn made him appear taller still. His coat of faded gray was so heavily spotted with white that the gray appeared as mere lines between milky spots. The mane and tail, a dusty off-white, flowed behind him well groomed. Celestia would have called him a mere pony with a horn on his head, except for a sheen that made the colors almost imperceptivity richer.

"Three Earth ponies, and two filly unicorns come wandering into the forests. Such an unusual arrangement. And far from an Earth pony's home." No jest could be found in him. Dark eyes approaching black marked them with suspicion.

"We come with a matter that concerns your herd." To the unicorn's tone of command, Whip responded plainly and with his own kind of dignity. "We've come to return two of your kind who were among ours." Whip stepped aside and revealed his daughters.

Celestia felt exposed as those dark eyes fall on her. A flush came over her face and her knees wobbled despite the fact she tried to stand straight. She felt as much as saw that Luna sidled a few inches closer to her side once Whip left.

It became easier to stand once she saw the surprise on the unicorn's face. "What's with her colors?"

"That is a mystery to us." Whip answered.

His eyes narrowed, aggression filling his voice. "She is well into her years as a filly. Why was she not taken to us as a foal?"

"That's complicated."

The unicorn shot Whip a glare, but turned his attention back to the girls. "Your names."

"Celestia," She hoped her voice didn't betray her nervousness. "and Luna."

The midnight blue unicorn shuffled out but remained quiet, the question answered for her.

His eyes narrowed again, this time in contemplation. The chief turned to a unicorn next to him who Celestia only just noticed. Quiet, and stoic as a rock, he was easy to miss.  Short for a stallion, with a curly mane and tail, a gleaming horn of silver sat upright on his head. Flank and shoulders slim, he held himself strangely for his stature: his gaze brimmed with an inner intelligence and he stood like a pony twice his size.

The chief unicorn whispered to his partner who nodded and exchanged a brief word. To the guests, he turned again. "We will accept Celestia and Luna into our herd where they belong, despite their age. You three Earth ponies may return to your fields."

Whip gave the chief a curt nod then went to Celestia and Luna. In turn, he wrap both in a hug, his neck to theirs. "Take care of each other. Who can you trust more than a sister?" He chuckled, though his amusement was darkened by the moment.

Luna might have teared up again, but pursed her lips and tried to appear strong as Whip and Luna exchanged one last glance. Celestia's chest tightened at the sight and when Whip turned to her, but she fought off any more reaction than that.

"I love you both." With that, he turned away and the Earth ponies left.

"Come." The chief's commanding voice gave no tolerance for delay and the sisters jerked their heads toward him. Impatience marked his gait, a hurried trot. When they came along behind him, he spoke again "Why did the Earth ponies wait so long to bring you here?"

"Uhh, it's complicated?" Celestia grinned wide, innocent only in the fact she felt clever remembering Whip's answer.

The chief grumbled under his breath and stopped before the trunk of a massive tree. With a magic glow of gray, the bark on one side of the great trunk folded away and rumpled with a property like hair and ease of brushing aside a leaf. Beneath that covering rested a hole large enough for a pony to slip in with ease.

Celestia had to pull her jaw off the forest floor. She rubbed her eyes with one forelimb and stared agape once more, looking from folded faux-bark, to the hole and back again. Luna exchanged a glance with her, blue eyes wide in wonder and astonishment.

It took a nudge from the small, gray unicorn to get them moving, and they both filed in, wonder not diminished in the slightest. Inside, she found the seams where wood joined wood. Three, or possibly more lesser trees had been molded into the appearance of a single great tree, hollow on the inside, but with a ramp that spiraled up to the top.

"Ebon Swift!" The chief's voice echoed in the confined space.

The sound of hooves clopping on hard wood came from on high and a black unicorn trotted down the ramp.

"Ebon, I need you to babysit these fillies. I need to call a council. Until then, they are under your care."

Fillies! Celestia spat the word in her mind. Blood boiled within her. Babysit! She glared at the chief's backside when he left the trunk.

The façade of bark fell over the hole, but the inside remained lit by a soft, yellow light that Ebon sent high above them with magic.

"Babysit?" He said with a good natured laugh. His light aloft, Ebon smiled to both of them wide and friendly. Compared to the chief or Whip, he was young, but unmistakably into an age where he could be called a stallion. A black mane fell long around his black shoulders, suiting his name. Ivory teeth appeared all the brighter set into a dark face. "These two young, beautiful mares?"

The glare was wiped off Celestia's face, and her cheeks flushed red. "Th-thanks you." The fumbling of her words only made the blush brighter. Luna shuffled a forelimb on the floor and averted her gaze, but stole a glance at Ebon with her own light flush.

"Don't mind ol' Grumpy Gus, he can be like that when he has something on his mind." The momen the words left him, he winced and made his way over to the hole to peek out. "Don't tell him I said that, or Silver Spear for that matter."

"Who?"

"Silver Spear."  Ebon let the disguised tree bark close again. "He's the quiet one always next to the chief. That chief would be Phantom Spell, the Grumpy Gus you just met. My name, I am sure you have heard only a second ago, is Ebon Swift." He inclined his head to the sisters, a playful grin ever present. "It's unusual for me to not recognize two mares around here. What would your names be?"

The white unicorn composed herself, remembering the dignified tone her father took. "I am Celestia. Well met."

"Luna." The midnight blue pony attempted to make her announcement strong, but her voice squeaked out her word under the strain of her shyness. Embarrassed, she drew back a single step, letting her sister stand at the front.

"Well met. Two beautiful names for two beautiful mares.  So, tell me." Ebon's eyes glittered in magic light and he leaned in just a hair with interest. "What's your story? If I am to guess, you are new."

Celestia returned a short nod. "We were raised as—" She stopped and recovered without missing a beat. "—by  Earth ponies. They  just brought us here only a moment ago."

"Is that so?" The exclamation was more for surprise than an actual question. He sat back on his haunches at the thought. "Then you know nothing of the unicorns?"

"Only the stories passed down."

Luna, who had slowly been moving forward from her sister's side, gained her voice. "Which isn't much."

"Hmm, perhaps I understand now." Ebon nodded his head, and raised a hoof to his chin in thought. "That explains Grumpy's grump, alright." He hopped from his haunches and turned to walk up the spiral ramp. "Whelp! There is a lot I need to show you, then. If you don't mind, follow me."

The dozen of hooves thudded on wood and echoed across the chamber as they climbed higher and higher. Turning an ear and an eye, Ebon spoke to the mares behind him while leading. "May I ask something, Celestia?"

"Sure."

"Is that mane color natural?"

Celestia tilted her head up at the stallion. "I'm . . . not sure what you mean?"

"The pink. Is it . . ." Ebon took a moment to rephrase. "Was it the color you were born with?"

"Oh, ha, ha!" Her cheeks pulled back in a smile. "Yeah, I was a pink-haired filly."

Ebon nodded his head up and down in a slightly exaggerated motion. "Very interesting! I don't think I've seen anything like it."

"May I ask you a question?"

He turned his head with a broad smile. "Any question at all, and I'll answer."

"Can unicorns," Her voice dropped low, in a sense of awe. "turn invisible?"

"Ha, ha, ha!" The black stallion stopped as the ramp ended at another hole. "Oh, no! That'd be way to much effort. Especially, when we have—" With a white glow of his horn, he pulled back the hole's cover. "—this."

Light, natural light, poured inside the tree, smothering the magic glow provided by Ebon, who wore a giddy grin. Celestia and Luna walked past the black stallion and stood at the edge of the tree, staring out.

Neither could hide their gasp. They had travelled up into the forest's canopy and into a whole new world. In front of them, a wide, long branch extended forward with a flat, wide base large enough for two ponies to cross comfortably. That branch met far ahead by other branches and tangled together in smooth transitions like the joining of strands in a spider web. Down, up, this way and that, the web stretched on in the canopy, unicorns coming and going from tree to tree on their own business.  All of this in a world swimming in green leaves, above, below, either side, and bathed in cool shade as the sun trickled through.

"Welcome to the unicorn herd." Ebon's said in supreme smugness. "And this is how we hide."

Celestia stole several more breathes, still taking in all she saw. Timid at stepping forward, it felt as though the world would vanish once she touched it.

"C'mon," Ebon trotted gaily between them and the branch creaked with his passage. "I'll show you around."

Luna stared down at the pathway and tentatively placed her hoof on its smooth surface. Next, another hoof, than three. Finally, she stood high above the ground, on this living bridge. A smile parted her features and she looked up to Ebon for approval.

Kind eyes met hers, then turned to Celestia. "You are quite safe, I'll catch you if you misstep."

Taking a deep breath, she willed herself forward all at once and found her hooves clopping on a strong surface.

"There we are." He turned back and led the sisters along the pathways, showing them bends and turns that extended far in all directions of the canopy. "Phantom Spell did have some reason to call this 'babysitting,' even if the word is a bit harsh. You two don't know our ways and until you do, it's best you stick close to me. With a little time, you'll pick it up. Otherwise, it won't be safe. The first thing you need to know about is the birds."

"Birds?" Luna asked.

"Birds. We use them to give warning. Different bird calls, different warnings. Ahh, here we are." Ebon stopped and gestured up with a hoof. High in the branches sat a mare of brown, her head going back and forth in a pattern Celestia recognized as similar to the sentries of her own herd. But over her, a waved mesh of vines and leaves camouflaged her from the sky. "This is just one such look out. This one is responsible for making sure no crazy griffin accidently chooses to rest here. If one does," Ebon pointed to a series of birds of several shapes and sizes, that snoozed, preened, or rested on a branch close to the mare. Tied about the ankle with a vine, none attempted escape. "the lookout uses one of them to send out a call. Other lookouts will echo the bird's call until the rest of us know what's going on, which lets us know where to go for cover. We have these all over, guarding the sky, watching the ground . . . so if you hear a bird's call, do as I do and stay quiet."

The talk of griffins caused a lump to form in Celestia's throat and she nodded with a swallow.

The warning system taught, Ebon spent the rest of the day showing the new unicorns routes around the forest to different places of safety hidden inside the hollowed trunks of trees. The nature of the forest and need for concealed entrances made the task difficult, so Ebon taught and retaught the locations until the memories formed strong, stressing the importance of remaining hidden.

"Do wolves or cougars try to sniff us out?" Through the day, Luna had just gained enough knowledge to become inquisitive.

"Those little guys?" Ebon laughed and shook his head. "No, nothing that small. They were chased out of this side of the forest years ago. Occasionally, a lone coyote might try to wander through, but a quick zap of lightning sends him on his way."

Her pupil grew enormous, and her lips curved into a silent oooh. "You can do that?"

"Not myself, heh, heh. But some can."

Celestia narrowed her gaze. "Then who do we hide from?"

For the first time in a long while, Ebon stopped smiling. "There are creatures out there far too dangerous to confront, even with magic."

"Like who?" Luna asked again.

"Hydra, ursa, when griffins travel in groups, wyvern, manticore, loup garou, trolls, gnolls, occasional human explorers, dragons, well maybe not so much dragons. Dragons aren't much interested in ponies, but it's best to play it safe. Nothing quite as scary as a dragon that I know of."

"Oh." Luna all but whispered, blue eyes wide.

"But, that's why we have built this place, and so far, so good."

The rest of the day passed adding routes and safe areas, for either on the ground or in branches—for all the complicated cultivation of the trees, walking the forest floor remained just as vital and it had its own set of hiding holes. Eventually, the sun crested the horizon, and the colors of dusk settled into the sky.

"Enough for today? I think so." Ebon nodded his head, and trotted along the tree-paths to another hole in a wide trunk. "Make sure to stay only in places where you know the route to another safe room. You'd never want to get caught outside when a warning goes off." He chuckled to himself, peeling back the covering with a glow from his horn. "Here we are. It'll be where you can rest for tonight." Ebon lifted another magical light aloft to the low ceiling.

Celestia filed in, Luna right behind. At the word "rest" Celestia breathed a long sigh.

"Been a long day for you, hasn't it?"

The elder sister nodded. Thinking back, the single day felt like many as a memory. The early rise, departure, long and nervous trek through the woods. And then, here, paths to memorize, a new herd, and unfamiliar ways, words, concepts. Her legs ached, her mind fatigued in retaining what she learned, and emotionally she was used up. "It has."

"Time to rest those eyes, then." Ebon gestured with his horn. "I'm sure you need no guide to your beds, but if you need anything, just walk down that ramp and ask. Tell them you are the new arrivals, and that should be enough. Sleep well."

The cover closed in a ruffle, and Ebon's magical light already began to fade without his presence.  "Beds?" Celestia asked herself aloud as she shuffled to a pile of leaves that had a quality of being knitted together with magic. "Like river 'bed?'" " Ebon didn't think to explain what he meant, and what did a river bed have to do with sleep anyways? Earth ponies slept on soft grass, not "beds." Touching a hoof to the leaves, they gave the feeling of cushion and Celestia promptly flopped herself hard into its embrace. Close enough.

She expected sleep to come quickly. It did not.

"Celest?"

The light had long since faded. Only pitch black greeted Celestia's groggy eyes, and she debated if there was a purpose in opening them at all. Enclosed in a room up in a tree, not even moonlight softened the night. To her sister's call, she groaned.

"Celest, I can't sleep."

The elder sister groaned again, in agreement.

"It's . . . weird here. It's too high up. And I can't see."

Thoughts of the cool earth filled Celestia's mind. Thoughts of peaceful nights on the field of grass.

"And no one is here. Everyone is sleeping  all separated in other trees, instead of together. Celest?"

"Yes, Luna?"

"Can I sleep next to you?"

"Of course,"

The woven leaves across the room ruffled, the sound of hooves approached. A moment later, she felt the brushing of a warm body against hers and Celestia adjusted to make room so Luna curled against her side.

"Luna?"

"Yes?"

"Are you thinking of home?"

"No. Why?"

"Maybe I miss it."

"Oh,"

"Do you miss it?"

Luna's mane rustled as she shook her head. "No,"

"Why not?"

"I don't know. Maybe I miss mom and dad. And grass. But not home."

Celestia closed her eyes and rested on the leafy pad once more. A long sigh left her. Luna's chest lifted in her own. Sleep still did not come easy, and her night was filled with the dull ache of knowing what she left behind.
For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

This picture also done at request from Madmax. [link]

Chapter 2 [link]
Chapter 3 [link]
Chapter 4 [link]
Chapter 5 [link]
Chapter 6 [link]
Chapter 7 [link]
Chapter 8 [link]
Chapter 9 [link]
Chapter 10 [link]


And more to come!
Show
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    Sweden had planned many words for this moment even though it wasn’t in his character, he had even found a few poetic words but now all of that meant nothing. His blue eyes studied the smaller nation who stood partway in the ocean with his pants rolled up. “Tino,” Sweden said softly and carefully walked down the long beach so that he stood beside the smaller Nordic nation. Finland jumped in surprise at the sound of his name and peered up at the taller nation with a smile. “I thought you didn’t want to come into the water,” Finland said with a flash of surprise in his violet eyes while the smile remained on his face. Berwald grunted in reply and stuffed a hand in his pocket before turning his eyes to stare at the incoming waves.

    Finland tucked a few blonde strand of hair behind his ear as a breeze blew sand against his face. “Marry me Tino, I love you so much.” Very slowly the small Nordic turned to face Berwald with wide eyes. Gently the giant nation took Finland’s hands in between his and placed the ring against the palm of his hands. Nothing could make the proposal any more perfect – the sky was blue and clear, the sun was bright and warmed the smaller nation to his soul, and the nation whom had started calling Finland his ‘wife’ had the tiniest of smiles on his usually blank face. “The ring has sand from my country and your own,” Sweden muttered when his small companion didn’t reply right away, seemingly shocked and at a loss for words.

    “I-I… of course Berwald,” Tino stuttered and gently placed the ring back in Sweden’s hand. Berwald understood the unasked request and gently slid the ring onto Finland’s finger. A squeak escaped from Tino’s lips and his violet eyes met blue ones before he buried his face in the taller nation’s chest.

    “I love you too.”

---

Berwald, the representation of Sweden, will you have this man to be your wedded husband? (I will)

---

“That is the seventh time you have failed to tie that properly.”

    Sweden met the other nation’s eyes in the mirror and gave a grunt in reply. Norway stood from his chair in the corner of the room and approached the large nation. Carefully with quick fingers he assisted Berwald and adjusted the tie that the other nation had been working on for what seemed like ten minutes straight. Dull blue eyes met Sweden’s own blue eyes before Lukas stepped back.  “You are really getting married,” Norway said with a small shake of his head before returning to his seat. Lukas had decided to guard Sweden’s room to keep the obnoxious Denmark out. A smile crossed Sweden’s face and his eyes widened a bit. ‘I’m getting married to Tino,’ Berwald thought to himself and his heart swelled with love and anticipation. Norway tilted his head as he adjusted his own tux. “Good to see that you aren’t immune to nerves,” Lukas said and glanced towards the clock hanging up in the room.

    “I’m happy for you Berwald, the two of you deserve happiness… it’s time to go.”

---

Will you love and comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live? (I will)

---

    Finland paced about his room and flashes a nervous smile towards Denmark. The other nation grinned and sat upright before tilting his head at Finland. “You know what Tino?” Mathias asked. Finland stopped pacing for a moment and turned to face Denmark with surprise on his face because of the serious tone in the other Nordic’s voice. “I bet Berwald is nervous too but he really loves you so the two of you will be okay, I promise!” Mathias said with a grin as he jumped up from the couch. Finland was touched by Denmark’s thoughtfulness and care. It was odd that he would act so mature even on a day like today. The loud nation headed towards the door and then paused.

    “Oh yeah! Sealand took it upon himself to be part of the decorating committee so there will be a lot of blue and boats. He may be small but when determined he is a force to be reckoned with. The only thing he would allow Sweden to change was the flowers. Berwald picked purple lilacs while muttering something about your eyes.”

    Tino’s heart skipped a beat and a fond smile crossed his face.  “Thank you Mathias, I feel a little more prepared now,” Finland said quietly and allowed for the excited nation to pull him out of the room.

---

Tino, the representation of Finland, will you have this man to be your wedded husband? (I will)

---

    All the nations had gathered to witness the wedding and were instructed to be under their best behavior. Even America seemed to have calmed down a little bit, but everyone knew that he’d let all his energy return during the after party and dancing.

    Sweden walked silently up the aisle and took position after taking a deep breath. The music started and caused Berwald’s heart to beat a bit faster as he studied the doors at the other end of the aisle. Iceland and Norway took their positions as Finland’s best men while only Denmark stood in as Berwald’s best man. Each of them offered the support that the other two needed and appreciated greatly. The doors opened and the small nation Finland walked in with bright red cheeks. He hurried down the aisle so that he stood in front of Berwald. His tiny hands automatically latched onto Sweden’s hands to steady his rush of emotions and thoughts. Sweden blinked his blue eyes and leaned forward a little bit so that his lips were near Finland’s ear. “I love you Tino.” Finland squeaked quietly and hugged Sweden close to him so that he could rest his head against Sweden’s chest.

    Their hearts seemed to beat in sync which soothed Tino. Finally Finland gave the priest a small nod, a signal to go on and that the two were ready to be united.

---

Will you love and comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him as long as you both shall live? (I will)

---

    All the countries had gathered at Sweden’s house for the after party and presents. England thought the ceremony went wonderfully and the vows had been recited with nothing but love. Nothing seemed to go wrong and more love filled the usually quiet house than he had imagined. Tears pricked at the corner of his eyes and he quickly went to wipe them away. “Ohonhonhon mon ami, are you crying?” France whispered quietly and England swatted his hand away with a look of disgust. Arthur shook his head which caused America to grin.

    “Of course not you git, I got something in my eyes.”

    America pointed a finger right in England’s face causing the Brit to lean away from him. “Did you see who caught Finland’s bouquet?” he asked with a grin. Arthur frowned and shook his head, he had been busy wiping tears away. Alfred grinned and motioned over to Denmark who had taken the bouquet to the after party with him and was currently waving it in Norway’s face.

    “You know what this means?! I’m going to get married next!” Mathias told Norway enthusiastically and waved the flowers around a bit more causing leaves to fall onto the floor. Lukas glanced at the flowers then away, choosing to remain silent on the matter. Denmark wiggled his eye brows at Norway and moved closer to the other Nordic. Lukas sighed and grabbed onto Denmark’s tie before tightening it around the flailing country’s neck. “Idiot, I’m not going to marry you yet,” Norway scolded and released the tall blonde. Denmark fell down on the ground while attempting to loosen his tie. Lukas stepped over him and started walking towards the newest couple. “You said yet! So you will marry me some time right?!” Denmark called after him.

    Finland loved each gift but what he looked forward from the most was the gifts from Sweden and the rest of the Nordics. Norway was the first one to present his gifts after escaping from Denmark, with a light shade of pink on his cheeks and refusing to meet the eyes of the new couple. Tino slowly took the gift and unwrapped it under Sweden’s careful supervision. “Oh!” Finland said in surprise a smile crossed his face. He held the photo album up a little higher so that the taller nation could see better. “Where did you get all the pictures?” Finland asked as he flipped through it with care and admiration. Sweden grunted in agreement.

    Norway shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve collected pictures from over the years, the idiot Denmark suggested it but for once he had a good idea. Don’t tell him I said that,” the emotionless Nordic stated and shoved a hand into his pocket. Norway pulled out two small boxes and held it out to the couple. “Ear plugs so that you won’t have to hear Denmark teasing the two of you.” Finland laughed and the corners of Sweden’s lips lifted slightly.

    Iceland was next to hold out his gift in a small purple bag. “It’s not much but I think you guys will like it,” he said and handed the bag to Sweden. Berwald gently pushed the tissue paper aside and pulled out a box of licorice, a small cook book, and two small bracelets. Sweden handed the cook book to Finland and then gently clasped the bracelets around his wrist and his husbands. “Not much? Just you being here was enough, this is more than I could ask for, thank you,” Finland assured the shy Nordic. Iceland nodded his head. “Good job little brother,” Norway said. Iceland narrowed his eyes. “I won’t call you big brother!”

    While Norway followed Iceland around insisting that the smaller nation call him ‘big brother’ Denmark approached with his usual lop-sided grin. “You will love my gift Finland, it’s the best one!” Mathias insisted with a wink and he shoved a bag into the unprepared nation’s hands. Tino nearly dropped the bag but managed to get a grip on it just in time. Slowly he eyed Denmark then stuck his hand into the bag and pulled out a tube. Finland blinked his violet eyes and turned the label to face him, but before he could read it the tube was snatched out of his hands.  “What is it?” Tino asked with wide innocent violet eyes.

    He had figured that maybe it was some sort of lotion but the pink on Sweden’s cheeks made Finland feel a little bit queasy and unsure. Sweden’s pale blue eyes met Denmark’s fierce joyful blue eyes. “Nothing,” Sweden muttered and Denmark let out an obnoxious laugh, almost as loud as America’s laughs.

---

I, Berwald take you  Tino to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live.

---

    Finland closed the door as the last of their guests left the house and let out an exhausted sigh. He walked back into the living room and laid down on the couch. Tino grunted when their small white dog Hanatamago jumped onto his stomach and curled up into a ball. Sweden walked into the living room and paused for a moment to watch the light and shadows from the fire dance across Finland’s form. A small smile crossed the tall Nordic’s face and he continued into the room. Carefully Berwald set the two mugs of coffee down on the small table and turned to face Tino. “Tired?” he asked and placed a soft kiss to his husband’s forehead. Carefully Sweden lifted Finland’s head and took a seat before resting Finland’s head against his thigh.

    “Very,” Finland replied honestly and smiled up at Sweden. Sweden picked up one of the mugs and took a sip while he gently stroked Tino’s hair with his other hand. “Your gift,” Sweden said suddenly out of the blue and pulled a pamphlet out of his pocket before handing it to Finland. Violet eyes widened and then met serious blue ones. “We are going to stay in a beach house?” he asked quietly with excitement. Sweden nodded and took another sip of coffee. Finland absentmindedly began to stroke Hanatamago’s fur. “T-Thank you,” Tino sputtered with a content smile. Sweden put down his coffee mug and looked down at Finland’s face with a smile. Finland’s nerves caused his hands to shake a bit and his face went bright red. Sweden blinked. “What?”

    Tino pushed all thoughts aside and quickly reached up to wrap his arms around Sweden’s neck.  Berwald’s eyes widened for a brief moment in surprise when Finland’s lips were pressed to his. Gently Sweden wrapped his arms around Finland and pulled him close causing Hanatamago to squirm and jump off of Finland’s warm, comfortable stomach.

    Honestly he hadn’t bought a present for Sweden because he couldn’t find anything he thought would be worthy enough for his husband, yet he knew Berwald would be happy without a present because just having each other was more than enough for the quiet nation and all that he ever wanted.

---

I, Tino take you Berwald to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, as long as we both shall live.

---

    Love comes in many different shapes and sizes but the love between Finland and himself had always been there – simple, honest, and true. Sweden gently tucked Tino into bed and slipped his own glasses off. The gentle giant climbed in beside his husband.

    No worries kept either of the nations up that night; love soothed and coaxed the two nations into a content and deep sleep - A sleep that would prevent either Nordic from noticing how the smaller nation scooted back into the warmth behind him and how the taller nation wrapped his arms protectively around the other.
I don't usually do pairing stories but I made an exception for :iconroleplaycrona13: who requested a fluffy SuFin story. I'm not all too familiar with all the Nordics yet so they are probably OOC which I apologize for but I did my best and I like how it turned out.

Comments are appreciated and I read every single on of them and reply to most.



I don't own Hetalia or the preview image, the image was found on google - if some one on DA made it just let me know and I will happily give them the credit they deserve.
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Much of what the unicorns did hurt: myself, Luna, their own kind. I understood why.
                     —Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia as recorded by her friends




Do not enter the forest at night.  Do not ever. Always return to the fields before Sun touches the ground to rest.

Whip Scar's grave, deep tone impressed upon Celestia the importance of the rule. The look on his face scared the young filly. Never would she be tempted to disobey. The more she learned, the more the temptation shrank, and turned terrifying.

Many prey, ponies included, used keen sight as their chief defense against predators. Night shifted the balance toward the predator's favor, especially those that favored stealth. They were built for darkness with strong noses, silent paws, and eyes that pierced the veil of black. Such creatures arose at dusk when the light changed and stalked the forests, on search for food caught where their senses were weak. One of the reasons the Earth pony –having no ability in magic— favored the fields was that Moon's light aided their vision and their enemies were less apt to hunt in the open, sticking instead to deep shadows. While the Everfree Forest was dangerous under the Sun, it was death under the Moon.

And here they were, far from home, the shadows growing long and the sky going dark.

"Celestia?" Luna's voice strained under a sense of helplessness, nearly to tears.

The pink-maned mare jerked her head to the young sister and stared in silence,  heavy breathing shaking her frame. The mocking calls of the monkeys, still fighting over the figs, echoed from some distance away, laughing and cruel.

"What do we do?"

Regret, sullen and bitter, sunk down to her stomach. This trip had been ill thought out after all. Luna tried to give warning, but Celestia –the elder and confident— just short of ridiculed her for it. She should have listened. Should have thought this through. It had been nothing but problems from the start.

The younger sister lowered her head, eyes pinched shut.

Should have listened. My fault. Gone back home or to the—Unicorns! Celestia gasped, pieces falling into place faster than she could think. "Luna!"

The excitement in her elder sister's voice steadied Luna and she rose with hope.

"How did the unicorns survive so long in the middle of the forest?"

Luna drew in a breath, her eyes alight. "By hiding in the trees!"

"Quick! We need to find a big trunk, or several close together."

In a gallop, Celestia shot off through the forest, Luna at her side. With the days of separation and imprisonment still fresh in their mind, they stayed together. Splitting up now was inherently dangerous, besides.

They raced against time, Sun ever lowering to her rest and the sky ever darkening to orange, then violet. The trees, uncultivated by the unicorns, stretched out their roots and drove other saplings to distance, or simply did not grow wide enough to make a safe shelter. Eventually, Celestia skidded to a stop, kicking up loose leaves. Too much time had passed already. Hunters were waking.

"We'll have to make do!" she shouted, eying three thick trees that stood marginally closer than the rest.

Stopping next to her sister, Luna looked up at the darkened sky. "How?"

Lower lip bit between teeth, Celestia concentrated on the first tree and called up her will. It warped and moved like a fresh, green stem, finding a new position along ground. "Follow my lead."

The darker horn glowed and the second tree moved very much like the first. Luna fell to her knees, teeth gritted with the effort.

"That's enough!" Celestia broke Luna's concentration and the blue glow vanished. "You're still drained." The spell that gave her strength enough to trip an Ursa Major, after all, came from Luna just earlier that day.

The third tree bent down and joined its near-cousins. Silently, she mouthed thanks to Arcane Pride for the lessons in the elements of harmony and summoned thoughts of loyalty. Luna sprang to mind, tired and in danger. Whip Scar and Lightning Kick, who had two lost little fillies. All the Earth ponies, still in the field, unknowing of the gift Celestia wanted to bring. All waited. All needed her. She lent those feelings to her gathered will.

The spell changed, a new kind of power imbued. The trees meshed together, bark merging with bark, wood with wood.  Three trees, separate but entwined. They stood like a bulb at the base, wide and odd, thinning at the top and jutting upwards like a massive onion plant. Luna stared at it as if her sister had just summoned a foul-smelling weed.

"I know, I know. But this will still cover us."

Skepticism wrought on her features, Luna glanced at her sister. "I think it might attract attention."

"It just needs to pass for tonight. We're not living here. It'll still fool a coyote, or manticore. C'mon! Inside."

Quietly, Luna obeyed, squeezing in the hole on the front. Slipping in next, Celestia summoned her magic and closed it behind.

The orb-like dwelling encompassed all sides, except for a slender hole at the top that followed the shaft of the merged trees, opened for light and air. Already, stars flickered, showing through twilight, Sun nearly gone. Celestia called a faux-fairylamp with her horn and sent it to hang on the roof, washing the interior in a pale pink glow. Finally, she breathed out a sigh of relief, though it was only partial. The adrenaline still coursed through her veins.

A crunch, loud and sudden, of dead leaves startled Celestia and she whipped her head around to find Luna, frozen stiff at her sister's gaze. She shifted for balance and her hoof crumpled more underneath, the snap of dried plant reverberating off the wooden walls in a sound shattering silence.

"Shhh!" Celestia hushed out harsh and desperate. Luna flinched at the sound and her ears folded flat at the reproach. A flicker of pink magic brushed the leaves into a corner and left soft dirt underfoot.  "We can't make a sound, not even leaves. If anything outside hears, there will be no point in hiding." Celestia shrugged her shoulders, trying to loosen her taut back. "C'mon." She breathed out at her most quiet whisper. "It's been a wild day. We'll just rest here until morning and move on."

The thought of the day spent in fleeing the unicorns sent a fresh awareness of the little aches and pains she'd collected. Bruises throbbed on her face, her chest reminded her of the buck she received on her ribs. As she folded her legs beneath her, she felt the little complaints of sore muscle and an eerie drained quality at all the magic she expended little by little.

Luna chose a spot of dirt close by her sister and folded her legs as well. She shifted her weight to one side and settled heavily, head lowered at the effort it took to hold it aloft. While Celestia felt the injuries of a fight, Luna sagged with an exhaustion far greater.

But as Celestia glanced up to extinguish the light, her eyes caught sight of the violet sky and all the aches and pains washed away under a surge of chilled fear. In the end, they were still trying to survive the night in the Everfree Forrest, alone, herdless.

Having built the shelter, she knew how slight a protected it offered. The wide spacing of the trees meant the wood stretched so thin that it offered only concealment and little else. She counted the creatures that would break it at a slight effort. Hydra, ursa, tiger, dragon, chimera, bear, manticore, even a swift buck would smash a hoof through, or perhaps a storm's wind would topple the whole thing.

In the darkness of the shelter, her eyes had no distraction and she kept them squeezed shut. Instead, her ears stood erect, keeping pointless sentry of the outside. The ice of her fear turned even colder in her veins with the thoughts of latent danger that lied just beyond the thin walls.

Time slowed to a crawl with nothing to tell its passing. Minutes could have been hours, or hours minutes. But sleep, peaceful and serene, was as far away from that place as they were from home. She yearned for her mind to slow the troubling thoughts and allow rest for the day that would come tomorrow. But the knowledge that they slept in Everfree could not be shaken.

A sound, rhythmic and lazy, sent her heart into her throat with a jolt. Feet, wide and padded for silence, stirred over the brush outside, each isolated beat coming closer to where they hid.

She sensed more than saw her sister start and raise her head, alert and listening. Reaching with one hoof, Celestia touched her on the shoulder, a reminder to keep quiet. Luna squirmed under the touch and turned, trying to maneuver close while taking great pains to remain silent. Lips and breath tickled Celestia's ear as Luna leaned up to whisper.

The sounds were unintelligible at first, Luna hardly giving them voice. But after a repetition, a pair of words came into startling clarity as a thought. The smell!

A gasp came dangerously close to leaving Celestia's lips before she bit them to keep silent. In setting up this shelter, she had not done a thing to hide their scent!

The padded feet circled the enclosure. A moan –low, deep and rumbling in a huge throat— called through the wooden walls.

Terror seized her body and mind. She wanted to scream right then. Cry out in her terror for no reason other than that she was afraid. Run, too. Run far and fast and without ceasing. It was what she always did, what ponies did. Flee from danger and harm. An antsy feeling filled her legs, nearly rising of their own volition to get up and bolt away from this place. The impulse grew in her mind out of something instinctual. All she had to do was let go of the control for an instant and she'd scream and run. She'd fly out of the tree . . .

. . . into the Everfree Forest at night, something huge and deadly on her heels as she condemned her sister to die in the broken cover.

Celestia locked herself down tight to stay put. Uncontrollably, she quaked with the suppressed need, the shudder encompassing her whole body. The halting only amplified her terror, the control over instinct so tenuous that it could slip at any moment and a choked whimper would reveal their presence.

The creature moaned again in agitation. Claws bit into the tree, wood cracking as the sharp nails pierced the outer bark.

The pink-maned unicorn threw her face into the soft dirt, wishing that the thing outside would just go away, wishing it over and over. Cool earth rubbed her forehead, that fearful whimper rising so close to being uttered. Any moment, the claws could bite too deep, the beast could press too hard, and once a small hole started, the beast would dig its way inside on just sheer curiosity. She threw her head back and watched the walls, afraid that she'd see a pinprick of moonlight that would mean the animal-of-prey found them.

Instead, the pale glow from the hole hidden at the top illuminated Luna. The midnight blue pony curled in on herself, a wing covering her face and her chest heaving as if she cried. Celestia crawled forward and reached a forelimb around her sister, drawing her into an embrace. Luna buried herself against her sibling's shoulder and Celestia pressed tight in hopes that any accidental sob would be muffled. Blue wings and forehooves enfolded the pale unicorn with a desperate cling. After only a moment, a wetness soaked through Celestia's coat where Luna's cheek lay.

Outside, whatever lurked circled, clawed, circled again, occasionally uttering a moan so low that it approached a growl. The instinct still remained inside Celestia, the urge for a terrified scream and frantic flight, but they no longer pressed. With Luna clutched in her arms and her chin resting comfortingly on her baby sister's neck, the impulses merely existing as objects in her mind, and nothing more.

After a time, the sounds of padded footfalls faded into the night. Silence enveloped them, only disturbed by a creak of wood or rustle of branches in the wind.

Three more times, they were visited that night, each a variation on the same encounter. One scratched with dull claws scraping over top the wood. Another made not a sound except for the touch of feet on the forest floor. But each one soon passed and disappeared into the night, silence again returning inside the trunk. After surviving the first, the next three could be endured.

Celestia realized she had fallen asleep only when light tickled her senses. Her eyes rolled open slowly, feeling as if they were set in sand. Daylight trickled in from the hole on top of their shelter and settled in a bright circle off the tip of her nose. Luna still laid in her arms, softly sighing in peaceful sleep. She had adjusted herself, sometime last night, resting her cheek in a more comfortable position along her elder sister's shoulder.

Carefully disentangling herself from Luna –who, though now woken, nevertheless resisted the pull of day by curling in on herself and never opening her eyes— Celestia began to stretch out her limbs. The sleep came with great relief. Pain had been downgraded to merely sore, tired muscles had become simply stiff. The time of separation, imprisonment, and betrayal of the unicorns was now just a memory, with Luna once again hers.

"Come on. Up, you sleepy-head." Celestia nudged her sister with a hoof, then peered up at the sky. "It's well into morning. We're late getting up. I'd rather not spend another night here if I can help it."

Though Luna did not rise that instant, what Celestia said had a definite effect. She stretched out every hoof at the mention of another night in the forest and slowly found the way to her feet, stretching out both broad wings with a groan.

"How are you feeling?"

"Mehh . . ." The blue pony exhaled, eyes still half closed and adjusting to the light. Celestia had opened up a peek-hole in the tree by the time Luna composed herself enough for an answer with actual words. "Better . . . I think I can do magic again."

Pressed up against the tiny hole, Celestia held off her remark until she got a clear view outside the tree,. Nothing lurked now that the day broke, just an empty forest with tall trees and barren floor. "Sleep has always been the best cure for that," she said absently while widening the hole to stick out her head. If something had yet been waiting at the edge of their scent and now heard them, she was prepared to use the thin walls as a shield against a lethal pounce. But glancing this way and that revealed still nothing but birds casually chirping their songs that filled the void in the trees. Finally, Celestia chanced a exit and slipped outside. Wordlessly, Luna followed. The birds continued thier cheerful noise unabated by their presence and not a thing stirred to meet them. The hunters had left with Moon.

The thought melted her tension and a deep sigh expelled it. Her rump fell to sit, finally feeling a measure of relaxation. Luna took the opportunity to sit as well, patiently observant and tucked her tail tidily close. Craning her neck, Celestia traded a glance with her younger sister, piecing together what came next. A shadow of a pang in her belly quickly guided the direction. "Well, breakfast it is."

Luna rose and stood with a perky posture at the word. A split second later, she huffed out a breath and pouted off to the side.

"What is it?" The white mare rose and a four-beat walk propelled her forward.

The pout melted away as she was addressed, blue eyes regaining their distant quality. "Oh, I forgot the figs when we were searching for shelter last night." The corners of her lips curved up in blissful memory. "They were so good."

A brief snerk left the elder and she shook out her mane, attention returned task. She called to mind the method of finding food she had used yesterday. The instinctual understanding of the Earth guided her, and the pale mare led her sister down paths that promised food. All the while, she kept one eye on the woods.

"Keep careful." She flipped back an ear to pay attention to Luna. "I think the safety of the unicorns made us forget how dangerous this place really is." A glance back confirmed that Luna gave a nod and she was keeping sentry to both sides and above. Celestia swallowed, her next thought voiced. "Not everything will have gone to bed with Moon."

"I know." Luna but whispered the words.

Standing straight, Celestia marched forward. "After breakfast, we'll press hard. I want to be at the mountains before nightfall."

The trot of her sister faltered a split second, then redoubled to catch up. "Before nightfall? Half the day is nearly gone already."

"We'll have to make it." Celestia's neck drooped in a feeling of dread. "We're simply not safe here at night. The trees here just are not good for protection. Our only hope is seeking shelter with the pegasi. So, we need to make the mountains."

"If the pegasi are even there," Luna said flatly

This time, Celestia's trot faltered. "It doesn't matter anyways. A makeshift cave in the mountain will still be better than any of these old trees." She resumed her trot.

"Until we have to come back."

The pony with the pink mane gritted her teeth and withheld a biting answer. After all, just yesterday, Luna had been right about her worries. With a sigh, she released the building annoyance and continued her walk without replying. "Ahh, here we are!"

The change in the forest had been subtle, unnoticeable to those who paid little attention to flora. Standing overhead, a slightly different tree had taken root, an outlier on territory its species would claim. What mattered to Celestia, though, was that the leaves were highly edible and contained no poison. Licking her lips, she plucked a bundle from the lower branches with a pink glow. Luna did the same and they both hoisted down a small pile which to eat.

The leaves quickly vanished into greedy mouths, each sister getting her fill with a sense of hurry. After breakfast, both went about the task of navigation with little pause, the pattern established from the day before.

"Up you go." Celestia parted the branches of the canopy above while Luna took to the air to find the mountain range and came down with a hoof outstretched in the direction.

"That way."

With a short nod, Celestia set out, leading Luna as they weaved through the trees.If they were to have a chance of making their destination before sunset, the pace had to be brisk and Celestia set the gait at a clipped trot. Remnants of fear birthed from the night before remained ever present as a sense of urgency.

The haste gave little chance for idle conversation or to appreciate what they found in the depths of Everfree, where few ponies had tread.  Wonders of colors passed, flowers, butterflies and poison frog. Of form, too, strange spider webs and vines. Life as well, with the small animals going about their business. This and yet more all  passed by where little attention could be spared and absolutely no time. Ambient sounds of birds, insects, and occasional larger life were the only back drop.  Deeper and deeper they plunged into the diverse landscape, eyes always watching for danger.

Sun completed her rising arc overhead and began the long travel to the western horizon. Celestia and Luna paused sparingly and only when opportunity arose. For a drink as they crossed over a river. Food as they spied a tree of nutritious leaf, or where a hole in the canopy allowed grass to grow. Every so often as she felt need, Celestia sent Luna up to view the sky and regain their bearings.

"Not that much farther!" Luna's voice beamed with excitement. "We're really getting close now."

By the shadows cast on her sister, Celestia saw that Sun slowed for no one. There'd still be a push over the last bit of ground.  "Alright, let's hurry the last leg."

"W-wait!" Luna called down seemingly distracted, her gaze fixed far away. "I think I see something."

Apprehension at any pause bubbled with an equal share of curiosity. "What is it?"

"Just—just a minute!" Luna made a quick placating gesture with a hoof, her wings already prepping to race. "Let me go see."

Celestia parted her mouth to answer but before a word could be uttered, Luna darted away from the hole and out of sight. Taken off guard and too late to say anything else, Celestia yelled to the vacant hole. "Be careful!"

"Okay . . ." The answer already drifting from some distance away as Luna chased the object of her curiosity.

"Tssh!" Celestia huffed out a breath between clenched teeth as she let go of the magic that parted the canopy. Branches whipped back in place with a rustle and the sunlight closed with them, leaving Celestia alone in cool shade. Annoyance and frustration rose in her chest, contracting her brow and putting some tension in her shoulders. Later, she'd have a talk with Luna about that tendency to run off.

At the moment, however, there was nothing for it and nothing to do. After a deep breath inwards, she sighed and released a tension she held since from that morning unthinking. Shoulders and neck relaxed, drooped, and she lowered her hindquarters to sit. The muscles in her legs burned with a dull complaint, no restful walk today for them. Yet, the burn was faint and they had strength yet to spare as they closed the last miles.

The relative quiet and rest of the moment set her mind to thinking. It found little to consider in the trip itself, she was already doing all she could to keep them both safe and make it to the pegasi, and confident in that. Instead, her mind wandered around the forest and all its curiosities.

Tall, straight pines stretched high above the earth, branches fanning out above with thin, needle-like leaves. Cloves sprung forth all along the ground, as thick as grass but many times more vibrant, half burying the scattered fallen bows of trees from past generations. The thin leaves allowed sunlight to brighten the pines and the cloves until the whole world seemed to glow with green radiance. A delighted smile crept across her lips as she saw the beauty, luminescent greens rolling with earthy browns, surrounding all the eye could see above and below. Like all things of beauty for Earth ponies, she absorbed the feeling and committed it to a memory she could revisit or tell in a story.

Birds chirped their song, a pleasant and ambient noise that she realized she missed more than she thought. Among the unicorns, who used their call for warning, the forest was bereft their presence. The singing, then, reinforced the feeling that she escaped. Swept up and glad to be so, she listened to them sing and watched the forest's rolling colors. Though, as her attention turned to the birds, she found a strange absence of sound behind her. Curiously, she craned her neck around and—

Yellow eyes met hers in a passionless gaze. A wolf –black and trimmed with gray— stood eerily still, just watching her, one paw lifted in stalking.

In that instance, a time so short as to be instantaneous, her mouth parted in shock and fear. Her heart leaped out of her chest and beyond even her throat while her stomach turned into weightless mush. Every part of her body coiled as taught as a scared snake, while thought and sensation melted into a slurry bathed in panic.

She bolted. Celestia was aware of the intention to run a few heartbeats after her hooves were already on the move, churning dirt and clover with a furious thunder. Somewhere inside, a part of her wordlessly knew exactly what such a creature would do to her with its jaws and teeth, the images of that being one of her strongest memories.

Rip her to pieces and eat her bit by bit.

It was written in those yellow eyes, how they regarded ponies so emotionlessly, that killing for food was as a part of them as eating grass was toward ponies. How could a pony feel mercy toward grass? How could a wolf feel mercy toward a pony? The utter unfeeling of their gaze was the part that gave Celestia her nightmares.

A chuffing breath followed close on her heels, the wolf giving chase with the same instinctual suddenness that Celestia fled.  The instinct to scream half asserted itself, every quickened breath her lungs exhaled holding with it a sound of half girlish-squeak, half terrorized scream.

Seldom had she ran this fast, only times when extreme danger had gifted her legs with near magical speed. Her pink mane and tail whipped behind her as she plunged headlong into the forest, and she may have outrun the wolf then. She was a young mare in her physical prime, moving at full gallop and driven by fear for her life. On a field, escape was certain.

They weren't on a field. They were in the heart of the wolf's domain.

Celestia never had a clear line through the forest. Every few paces, she plowed through some low-hanging branches or shrubberies, leapt over logs strewn in her path, or weaved around the never ending obstacles of trees, her hooves kicking up clumps of dirt and cloves at each shift of her momentum.

While Celestia handled this well, the wolf simply handled it better. Its long-legged swiftness deftly navigated the forest without slowing, padded feet pushing off logs and dull claws digging into dirt with equal ease.

Together, they weaved the forest in a contest as old as Everfree itself. Unable to turn her attention away from directly ahead, lest she run deadly fast into the bough of a tree, Celestia tracked the wolf's chase with her ears. She weaved her trail always in response to his— never thinking, simply doing— placing a tree between them, or an out-thrust rock, or a rolling hill, or anything that would force the wolf to take a slightly longer path, winning a few inches of lead, a few more seconds of time, until the predator would have to give up—the prey too clever and troublesome. In turn, the wolf did the opposite, always looking to cut his path short and close on Celestia until she could be brought down by his jaws.

In the end, it was no contest.

Wolves never work alone.

More chuffing breaths entered her awareness, closing on her flanks. She chanced a quick glance and saw a wolf, a new one, running parallel to her and closing its way through the forest, waiting for its opportunity to sweep in and snare her.  A scream ripped from her throat and she veered away. Her ears spied yet another's sound, cutting off that retreat and she had to correct her turn to keep from letting it close.

Her chest contracted, breath coming rapid with a fearful whine on each exhale. With each new wolf she sensed by eyes or ears, her terror grew, until now it was its own adversary that sapped her strength and snuffed rational thought.

The wolf on her flank made her move, darting in from the side. She heard it coming and the terror erupted like a geyser, freezing her breath in place.

She seized her magic. As it closed, Celestia rammed will into a raw intention.

Get away!

The air at her side thumped with a sudden influx of power. Magic, raw and unfocused, cascaded out like a gale-force wind. Pines creaked loudly and popped, swaying back under the push. Branches snapped, twigs and leaves tore from their anchors and thrown like feathers. The she-wolf was lifted off her feet, eyes wide in surprise.

But the magic remained as unfocused as the intent. Without a thought-construct to give magic form, the power —even as much as Celestia could call— dispersed everywhere and what little hit the wolf washed around her like a strong wind. Sent ungracefully back to the ground only few lengths away, the wolf tumbled end over end, mostly uninjured. She found her feet again and resumed the chase undeterred.

Her unicorn magic had failed, some part of her realized in that flight. If she threw power out like that over and over at each wolf, she'd sap herself of strength before she'd scare any of them off. In the height of fear, she simply could not organize effective magic.

A despair came with the failure, a slow sinking feeling that made itself known even at that moment. Still, she ran, never stopped running and relying on her speed to stay ahead of the wolves.

Though, of course, the wolves knew that about a young and healthy pony. Their hunting tactics were too varied and clever for a simple solution.

That realization struck only as she saw yet two more close off her path. They had herded her, using their numbers to press her flanks and guide her retreat. They turned her around so their pack mates could head off her run and entrap her. She was surrounded.

Immediately, Celestia dug in her forehooves, reared back, and bucked with all her might. The first wolf, the one that chased her from the beginning, did not have time to react. Celestia struck out blindly, but one of her hooves sunk into something fleshy and giving. A pop of bone, wet and disturbing, coincided with a sharp, high pitched yelp.

The wolf hit so hard that Celestia was thrown off her forelimbs and stumbled forward, mouth coming up with the taste of dirt she planted into. When she was up, the wolves already enclosed her.

They circled her from all sides, all of them, taking a position to bare teeth and growl ferociously, only to take a new position at some other angle. Celestia threw her head around, trying to look all ways at once. The wolves assumed this tactic in perfect coordination, harassing every side with their presence, distracting her with noise, shuffling as to add more confusion and keep her within the circle of teeth.

When cornered, a wild Earth pony fights. Without magic, Celestia fought like a wild Earth pony. She raised back legs, intimidating the canines with a chambered kick. She reared and brayed in equal parts fury and fear, pressing the circle with the threat of a painful stomp. Each side she approached fell back just out of her range, still growling with sharp teeth on a long, snarling snout and shuffling so no single wolf ever faced her alone.

She never heard the quiet one that sprinted in from her flank. That might have been the point of the growling and noise. The wolf came from an angle behind, avoiding the chance of a kick from the rear legs, but only on the outskirts of peripheral vision and easily missed in the confusion. Teeth sunk into the back of Celestia's thigh. She screamed in pain. She had never experienced it like this before. The teeth had sunk deep and tissues that had never been touched, so deep beneath the skin, suddenly cried out in fresh agony.

Without thinking, Celestia tried to whirl around and gore the wolf from her leg with her unicorn's horn. The instant she did, the wolf peeled off and rushed back into his pack mate's circle, blood still on her lips. Her blood.

The instant Celestia's attention changed, another silent wolf swept in and bit down on her other rear leg. Startled again, she screamed. The teeth weren't the only pain. The strength of their jaw clamping down pinched her thighs, though "pinched" seemed hardly a word to describe just how much it hurt.

Her injured leg came down to save her balance. It stumbled. A third wolf came in for her forelimb and jerked it out from under her.

She fell. The motion seemed to last forever. Her body hung in the air for several terrifying moment as her legs were swept out. Then, she hit the ground. They rushed in. All she could see behind her eyes was Painted Hoof, that scene of him being torn to pieces as the wolves rushed her. Her mouth parted in wordless horror.

"Ha, ha, ha, heh, heh." Snort.

Bubbly, girlish laughter stopped all of it. The wolves froze, heads whipped around in surprise. Even though two still held her legs, their eyes darted nervously to the sound of the laugh.

"Hee, hee, hee, ha, ha, ha!" Snort.

Celestia held deadly still –dead still, even—afraid that the slightest bit of movement would draw their attention once more and they remember their hunger.

Hoofbeats, casual and carefree as a stroll through a field, carried forward the figure of a pony, concealed in an earth-tone cloak. Only one such pony ever wore such a thing. The shaman! Celestia resisted sucking in a breath in surprise.

One of the wolves –a male larger than the rest towering over the mare— leapt out from the pack and interposed himself between the new pony and their won meal. The alpha bristled his fur into something huge, widened his stance, and growled low and intense. The rest of the pack followed his lead and began to close ranks just behind, leaving Celestia where she laid.

The shaman burst out giggling again as if the wolf just told her a really great joke. She raised a hoof to her chest and padded it to calm herself down, then stepped forward as if Alpha was an old friend, closing to a mere outstretched hoof away. Celestia's hope died at that instant, waiting for the shaman to be killed before her eyes by the pack of wolves.

But Alpha stepped back, his growl redoubled, ears pinned to his head nervously. Sensing his apprehension, the rest of the pack let out confused, anxious whines. Some of the smaller broke a few steps away, including one that badly limped.

The shaman didn't hesitate, moving as if oblivious to danger. She lifted a hoof and touched it to Alpha's nose, loudly declaring, "Honk!"

Celestia's jaw fell agape, and she wasn't even sure who was more shocked, herself or Alpha. The wolf stopped growling, ears shot straight up in complete surprise, his own jaw slackened like Celestia's. After blinking surprise several times, his ears pinned down nervously and he bolted backwards. The pack began to scatter, then stopped in front of the downed pony. Shaman resumed her walk forward, ignoring them. The pack broke before her, fanning out into the woods with their tails between their legs.

The mare with the pink mane, laying on the ground in utter confusion, searched desperately for words. "Wha- . . . how. . ."

"Hi, Celi! Good to see you again, and all growed up!" The shaman lifted a travel dirtied hoof and pulled back her hood. She was an old mare, though younger than the elders of the unicorns. Wrinkles lined her face, already deep with laugh lines. Her coat was predominantly brown, except for a grayed mane, and it held a subtle quality to it that made it unique; very much like the unicorns' richer colors, yet different. A tiny hint of strawberry underneath the brown, perhaps. But her eyes, those were the most unique of all. Pale blue irises like that of a little filly's, retaining all vibrance and wonder of childhood unmarred by years. Patiently, the shaman waited for Celestia to collect her thoughts, a smile on her the whole time.

"How--" Celestia didn't know whether to stare in awe or fear. "How did you do that?"

"You mean the wolfies?" The shaman giggled, a sound it seemed she made often. "Oh, old shaman trick. All the animals that eat other animals think everyone is scared of them. If you're scared, they know you're food! If you growl, they know you're scared and will fight. But if you don't growl or run, then they're scared because you're not. "

From all the exertion, Celestia's breath came hard, though she felt the tendency to hold it, staring confused. "What?"

"If you aren't scared of wolfies, then wolfies are scared of you," Shaman repeated with infinite, seemingly oblivious, patience.

"But . . . laughing?"

"When I laugh, I'm not scared. So, I laugh at them." She giggled again.

Celestia knitted her brow before flopping her head on the ground in defeat. "I still don't understand."

The old mare's face became almost motherly, like an expression an aunt wore for a cherished niece. "Oh, you will, after it sinks in. Go ahead, ask me another!"

Though she lay there, confused, ragged, aware of some small wounds still bleeding but not life-threatening, the shaman just played games! Stranger still, she found herself playing along. A question popped into Celestia's mind and she raised her head. "How did you find me?"

"I'm a shaman, of course!" Laughter came like punctuation with her. "I followed Shaman Sense!"

"'Shaman . . . Sense?'"

"The message in the ground! Earth talking to me. Little tickles, or itches, or twitches, or wiggles, or giggles, or acheys, or shakeys, that's how she talks. I was out looking for you when my nose began to itch. That was Earth telling me that some pony would be chased by wolves."

Celestia creased her brow in worry, rolling to a more comfortable position upright. The thought occurred that the shaman might, as another pony once put it, 'drink the wrong kind of water.' Mad, in other words. Though she had met the shaman once, twice counting birth, and heard plenty of rumors or stories, this was the longest conversation they'd ever had and she was witnessing firsthand where some of the rumors came from.

And yet . . . she showed up exactly when Celestia needed her and chased away a pack of wolves by laughing at them. Part of Celestia wanted to believe. After all, it was the shaman who had first said Celestia was special. "You were looking for me?"

"Uh-huh!" The shaman nodded. "My back is prickily. A message!" In a blur, the old mare was upon Celestia, holding the white pony's cheeks between her hooves. The sheer speed startled young pony, who found herself staring at those blue eyes, unable to turn away. Their youth was gone, replaced with a frightening intensity. "Know your limits."

Her heart pounding in her chest all over again, Celestia swallowed.

The intensity melted like a snowflake on a warm patch of grass. A smile grew on Shaman's features. "That's the message! 'Know your limits.'" She gently let go of the startled pony and took a step back to reach underneath her cloak.

"Wh-what?"

"It was something I received from the stars, meant for you." The shaman spoke with her face buried underneath the earth-toned fabric, still searching it. "My prickily back meant it was super-important. Make sure to remember it!"

Celestia let out a sigh to calm herself down. Even if not of unsound mind, Shaman was still odd.

"C'mon!" The shaman came out with a weaved basket's handle in her mouth and spoke with it between her lips. The basket was not unlike that of unicorn make, except that it was still fresh and green rather than dried. "Now, show me the bites. They might get sick if we don't put on ooie-gooy."

Incredulous, with a hint of anxiety, Celestia repeated. "Ooie-gooy?"

"Ooie-gooy." She gestured with a bob of the basket. "It feels all icky, but it'll stop the sicky! It'll fix some of the oww as well, so you best let me do it, little Celi."

Celestia sheepishly outstretched her bitten forehoof, pure white of her coat streaked by blood that slowly ran down the length. Seeing the injury for the first time, Celestia's eyes welled with tears, her lips pouted, and she felt like a silly foal for that reaction.

"Oh, there, there." With  surprising gentleness, the shaman applied some of the goo and smothered it with soft, furry leaves before binding it all tight with longer, flat ones. Where the shaman got her cloak, and her never ending supplies for healing or mischief remained a mystery to all. Some said it was of unicorn make, others that she traded with many non-ponies. But seeing the hooves tie off the plant securely about her forelimb, Celestia could believe she made it herself. "There we are, little Celi. Now, isn't that better? You remind me of my own daughter."

A jolt sent Celestia choking on swallowed saliva and threw her into a coughing fit. "Wait!" she managed between coughs, "Shaman take mates!?"

"Of course, silly!" She waved off the matter. "How else would us sha-mares have little sha-foals?" She leaned in to whisper covertly with Celestia, a just-between-us-girls tone. "Don't tell him we're mates. I don't think he knows it yet that I'm just a little bit crazy!"

"Oh," Celestia tried to hide her smile and did a poor job of it. "He doesn't, does he?"

"Nope." The shaman began work on Celestia's rear legs, smearing more goo. "So far, so good. All the way to grand-foals and he hasn't run away scared yet, so I think it's working."

Celestia chuckled.

It seemed to be the reaction the shaman was hoping for. "You can call me Granny Pie."

"Huh?"

"Ever since my daughter had her foals, she calls me Granny Pie. It's a little more catchy and less weird than calling your momma 'The Shaman' or 'the Shamom.' If we meet again, you can call me that too." Granny Pie finished the binding on the last leg. That seemed the closest thing to an explanation Celestia would get. "Oh, one more thing before I go." Reaching under the cloak, she pulled out several pieces of white bark with her lips and set it in front of Celestia. "Chew on this before you begin your journey again. If you're going to make it, you'll need to."

"Shaman Sense tell you I'm on a journey, too?"

Granny Pie laughed. "No, silly. You wouldn't be in the Everfree Forest if you weren't trying to go somewhere else! Now, tell little Luna and her new friend that I said hi."

Celestia looked confused. "Luna's new friend?"

Granny Pie scratched her side like a dog. "Itchy flank. It means that someone just made a friend."
For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

This picture also done at request from Madmax [link]
She is an awesome person. Go check her out

Special thanks to Lightsideluc for editing this chapter with me. [link]

Chapter 2 [link]
Chapter 3 [link]
Chapter 4 [link]
Chapter 5 [link]
Chapter 6 [link]
Chapter 7 [link]
Chapter 8 [link]
Chapter 9 [link]
Chapter 10 [This one]

And more to come!
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There are things we overlook in our youth, I was no exception. I neglected to realize that one vital step to growing is to uncover the mystery that resides in ourselves
—Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia            as recorded by her friends

Above the rolling leafy expanse of the upper canopy, the mountain range cut off the horizon. Rising up into the sky, they weathered the clouds with granite.

"Not much farther!" A smile parted Luna's lips as she felt a thrill. The mountains were so very large at this distance, sitting high above Everfree with a sense of stubbornness; old, powerful chiefs towering over the tumult below. "We're really getting close now."

"Alright, let's hurry the last leg." Worry mixed with determined hope in Celestia's words.

About to answer, a tiny hint of motion caught Luna's eye. At first hidden against the backdrop of mountains, a dark speck passed into blue sky, where it stood contrast. "W-wait!" Luna focused her gaze, nearly able to make out a rhythmic movement within, like the beating of wings. "I think I see something."

"What is it?" Celestia clipped her question, unsure.

The doubt in her elder sister sent a jolt of unease through Luna. "Just—just a minute." She reflexively gestured to stall for time, several thoughts all warring for attention at once. The speck was large enough to be a flying creature—a pegasus, even— and  Luna tried to study it. If it was not a pegasus, it was still something and Luna wanted to know. Celestia, already hesitant, could overrule Luna's desire to explore. Words fought for place to be spoken and justify herself, in a mind already preoccupied. All of this and her chance was slipping by. The creature flew fast, faster than anything she had ever seen. "Let me go see," she mumbled. Wings, already prepped for flying, launched her, escaping before Celestia could refuse.

A surprised and probably displeased Celestia called from behind at the last second, powerless.  "Be careful!"

"Okay!" she yelled back, putting on speed.

The realization of how little she had flown came as soon as Luna applied her wings. Celestia had not liked the casual use of gliding, calling it "weird," so her experience was not much more than two days of brief hovering hops and one haphazard escape. Another realization came intertwined. Flying –that was actually beyond hovering— was hard.  The moment Luna threw herself forward, she dropped like a tossed stone and nearly dove headfirst into the upper branches of the forest. With a startled noise, she flared her wings and jerked back, halting and avoiding disaster by a mere nose lengths. Carefully this time, she concentrated on her new limbs and willed herself up. They flapped furiously, yet oddly gave very little lift, their movements inefficient. Slowly, she rose anyway, and began to flutter forward. Catching sight of the speck once more, she flew in pursuit.

The roaming dot streaked across the sky like a comet. Literally streaking; a long, fading tail of the same unclear color trailed behind, evaporating like dew in the Sun as it went. A wave of urgency doubled Luna's efforts, the opportunity to investigate vanishing as fast as that tail.

Unsteadily at first, she tried to hurry along the tops of the trees, faltering and dropping mixed with quick recoveries and smooth gliding. By not thinking, using pure instinct, her movements became smoother and she gained speed. Luckily, the creature did not fly directly away. Luna closed and it became clear.

It IS a pegasus!

Her insides danced with butterflies. Shock killed them a second later. The pegasus flew so swiftly that it would be long gone in only a minute.

"HEY!" Luna shouted to the distant flyer and saw no reaction. "HEY, uhh, PONY!" She called up will to the tip of her horn and sent it to glow bright blue with white crackling sparks, anything to get attention. "Hey, pony, over here!" Rising higher above the treetops, she flew straight up and waved her forehooves. "HEY, YOU!"

She dropped. A split second of weightlessness and she was falling. In struggling to get the pegasus' attention, she forgot that small bit of concentration required to keep her wings in motion. With a yelp, she plummeted, flailing all limbs in panic. A quick thought sent a spell into a tree below, stretching out its branch and expanding it wide to catch her. The tree creaked, bent, and groaned as her hooves clattered against the wood platform. Feeling only a mild pain in her ankles from the fall, her heart remained aflutter at the scare and Luna panted for a gasping breath. Losing little time, she turned her attention to the sky for the comet-like pony.

And found nothing. The sky was empty and clear of all but sparing clouds and Sun on her journey to the west.

Dismay flooded her insides. She scanned the sky again in quick jerks, trying to catch a last glimpse before the pegasus slipped away. Nothing. The pony was long gone. Her shoulders went slack, the dismay congealed inside in her belly. She sat down quietly and tucked her tail close, staying that way for a long moment as disappointment buried her.

This was her fault. She was simply slow and unable to keep up, just like in the old games of Griffs and Ponies. Thoughts turned to Celestia and reporting what she had found. The sight of the pegasus meant something, at the least.  She turned and took to her wing, heading back to where she last saw her sister, a weight lightening in her stomach.

"What do you want?" A young colt's terse voice sent a jolt through Luna's body.

Her wings snapped to her flanks and stuck there. Without warning, Luna fell into the treetops, only able to yelp in surprise.

Her face buried into the sea of green, leaves thwacking it on all sides. Thin branches bent and whipped her chest and legs with stinging force, others snapping as she fell through them. Thicker branches caught her like rough fingers and she laid sprawled on her back, limbs splayed all directions.

Opening her eyes and peering up the hole her tumble made, she caught sight of a colt peering back down. A fraction of a second later, his wide, young eyes smiled. He burst out in loud, ridiculing laughter, throwing himself back away from the hole with the force of it.

"Wait!" Luna called, struggling to right herself. "Wait!" Half climbing, half flying, and half swimming through the trees, Luna fought her way back up through the canopy until she burst through the top. "Don't go yet . . ."

He hovered on his wings, on his back as if solid ground had been there, still clutching his sides with the last of his laughter. From head to hoof, his body was splotched brown and white, even his mane and tail, as if someone had thrown balls of color on him which never washed off. Likewise, his wings were both brown feathered and matching his coat, as unquestionably a part of him as horns were on unicorns.

"What?" He spun around and faced Luna, the question still terse when he noticed she was staring. The colt's eyes, blue as the sky, held what Luna could only call a youthful transparence. Guileless at hiding anything.

"You're a pegasus!"  

"Uhh, yeah." He drew his brow down as if he'd just spoken to an idiot and he turned to go. In the space of a blink, his wings launched him away, leaving a brown trail in his wake.

"W-wait!" Luna yelled and hurtled herself forward. "Don't go yet!" She hadn't a prayer of catching him, even as she flapped as hard and fast as her wings possibly could.

The colt continued on ahead, Luna in failing pursuit for several agonizing heartbeats.

"I need to ask you something!" She took in a deep breath and nearly screamed to make herself heard. "Where are the pegasi?!"

He peered back over his shoulder in an effortless motion, an eyebrow quirked in curious confusion. Luna's hope rose, then crashed as he turned back ahead and continued on. Until she noticed thought turning over in his head. Reluctantly, he slowed and allowed Luna to close the distance. "You really don't know?" He sounded surprised.

A sigh relaxed part of her, even as her wings strained with furious flaps to keep up this pace. "Yes, I need to find them."

The colt looked her over from head to hoof, having no ability to hide his scrutiny.

Self-awareness, lost in the tide of Luna's eagerness, forced its way back with a kick. The colt taking stock of her, Luna parsed exactly what was to be taken stock of. Sap from the fall matted her coat in sticky lumps and ruffled the feathers of her wings distraught. Her mane and tail—which she kept so neat and pretty ever since Crescent Change showed her how— had twice the problem. It's own helping of sap knotted her hair into wild, messy shapes and twigs lodged themselves everywhere, green leaves often still attached. If she had been placed next to the shaman at this moment, Luna guessed she'd appear the madder of the two.

Despite maintaining a distant look, she felt warmth gather at her cheeks.

Then, there was the matter of her horn. Though perhaps that could be lost in the quite literal fray.

"You don't need to kick your legs like that." The colt pointed down to her hooves, which she realized she unconsciously pumped through the air as if she was running.

Luna pulled them back and tucked them underneath her, trying to mimic the colt. "Oh,"

He regarded her again, a hoof to his chin. "You look like a foal on his first flight. Clumsy and dumb."

The words pricked Luna and she narrowed her eyes in contempt. A brief flash of her horn sent a stream of summoned water leaping out of the forest and into the colt's face.

The liquid cascaded across the stunned pegasus, splashing in all directions as his flight carried him down the length of it. Giddy laughter from Luna turned into a full belly laugh as the pony's surprised yelp turned into a prolonged gurgle.

Luna still grinned as the colt shook out his mane in violent jerks, sputtering his lips to spit the unexpected taste from his mouth.  Then, his eyes found her again.

The colt could not have missed her horn now. If she had meant to keep it a secret, she had dashed that plan for her little jab. An impulse rose in her, to shrink away. To meekly weather his rebuke and wait for it to pass. Though he was a colt, he was also a pegasus and his acceptance mattered.

But another impulse rose as well, one far more powerful.

Her ankles itched, remembering the roots that leapt from the ground and ensnared her legs, and the unicorns that dragged her off into the night. The thought occurred of this colt's reaction being somewhat similar now that she revealed herself. The threat stirred something deep inside, a buried thing she had felt twice before. Once when she stood up to Phantom Spell at her escape, and again when Crescent Change accidentally brushed upon it, asking her feelings about Ebon Swift. It peeled her lips back in a snarl, vehemence coursing through her veins.

The colt evaporated all that unease in a flash, modicum of respect dawning in those transparent eyes. What was more, the respect wasn't directed at the horn, but at her. "I guess we're even, now. You looking for where we gather?"

"Yes." Luna nodded, feeling a great deal of relief. And a growing fear of her own emotions.

"You can follow me back." The colt rolled gently to the side and began to pull away.

"Wait! No, I don't think I can."

He returned to her wingtip. "Why not?"

"I have to go bring my sister. If you could tell me where to go instead, I'd be very grateful."

"Your sister?" The colt digested the information, thoughts turning over in his head again. It lasted just long enough to make Luna suspicious, except for how poorly the colt hid his thoughts. "The mountain with the cloud."

"There are clouds everywhere."

"That mountain with that cloud." He lifted his hoof and pointed to a tall White Cap with a snow-crested peak. It sat in the middle of the range with a cloud nestled to its side just below the treeline. "That cloud will always be there."

"Alright." Luna stared at sight before her, committing the details to memory with the tricks she'd learned as an Earth pony.

The colt began to fly past her.

"Wait!"

He slowed and yelled behind him. "What?"

"What's your name?"

"Rebel Bolt."

"Rebel Bolt?"

"No!" He rolled to his back, a childlike pout to his lips and his brows drawn down in offence. Even upside down, he glided effortlessly. "Not Rebel like what somepony is. Rebel, like something you do. Rebel Bolt!"

"Oh, Rebel," Luna repeated. "I'll see you at the pegasus herd?"

An odd look passed over the pegasus at her last statement. "Sure." With that, he rolled again and shot off like a star, that same trail from before appearing in his wake.

No longer having to move at the colt's pace, Luna slowed to a hover and watched Rebel's form shrink further and further, brown splotched coat disappearing among the colors of the ground.

Then, it all sunk in. She sucked in a breath and with it a rush of giddy glee. "Yes!" In the air, she bucked out her hooves, then reared and kicked her forelimbs in a rocking motion of pure joy. "Yes, yes, yes! I found them! The pegasi are here! They're here, they're here! Celestia, I found them!"

As if responding to her mood, her wings flapped excitedly and she dashed off the way she came. A moment passed that nearly put a damper on her spirits. She was lost.  All the forest looked the same from above.  She darted left and right, looking for a landmark, a visual cue of where Celestia and her had parted ways, only to find the canopy stretching out endlessly in rolling green.

"Oh, duh. Magic!" She pressed a hoof to her forehead. Just some days ago, she'd experimented with a hundred ways to find Celestia. Calling one to mind, she summoned a dragonfly construct of blue magical will, one that would seek all the traits of her sister. The luminescent blue insect floated in the air, large eyes searching, antennae twitching. After only a heartbeat, the agile dragonfly zipped off a few pony lengths at a time, always waiting for Luna to approach before skipping forward again.

The dragonfly led her a long distance. Evidently, she had covered a lot of ground in her chase after Rebel. As Luna crested another hill, something attracted her attention away from the flitting dragonfly. A star of pink light rose from the canopy, resting at the center of a hole where the branches had been brushed aside in a unicorn's magic glow. A wide grin stretched her cheeks and she let her concentration lapse, the dragonfly fading into the air.

"Celestia!" The winged unicorn plunged into the hole at a dive, passing into the shadows of the Everfree forest once again. "Celestia! I found them, I--" She paused midsentence.

Her elder sister slowly opened her eyes, dispelling the will she called to her horn. One of her cheeks puffed out, hiding something she chewed with methodical motions of her jaw. Three bandages bound tight on three of her limbs, and her hair had not dried completely from the sweat it had gathered.

Curiosity galled the blue pony. "What happened to you?"

"I could ask the same thing." Celestia's lips curved wider and wider with suppressed laughter.

Luna glanced down at herself, aware again of the twigs and sap in her mane. "Oh, this?" Her smile beamed and she hopped in place on all four legs. "I met a pegasus!"

A knowing nod gently shook Celestia's pink mane. "Ah,"

Confusion stopped her hopping. "Isn't that great news? We're on the right path!"

"It is, it is." Celestia turned and began a slow trot. "It's just that I expected some news like that."

"That way." Luna jumped ahead and pointed with an outstretched hoof. "The mountain with the cloud."

"First," Celestia glanced over her shoulder with an arched brow. "We're going to a stream to clean you up and get a drink." Her voice grew chastising, from elder sister to younger. "You shouldn't have left like that. It was foolish."

"But the pegasus, he was leaving."

"No, that doesn't matter." Celestia's pace grew brisk with a restrained anger. "If he had been unfriendly, then what? You left without asking, off alone, flying high above the forest. Just days ago, the unicorns kidnapped you. What if something else happened? A manticore or a gorgon found you? How could I help? How would I know?" She paused and leveled a glare back at her sister. "That tendency to run off you have is going to get you into trouble. Bad trouble."

Luna shrunk under Celestia's gaze, ears folding flat, gaze cast leaves on the ground. Quietly steaming, Celestia resumed her walk forward, ever so slightly limping, drawing Luna's eyes back to the leaf-bandages that wrapped around her rear legs. "What happened while I was gone?"
*                                               *                                               *

The anger Celestia had built on Luna's reckless, foalish actions evaporated as the question hung in the air. Her steps paused, and she found a crossroad before her in the answer.

A pack of wolves attacked and nearly killed me. She knew what that would do. Guilt would crush Luna, she'd blame herself for leaving. Never again would she run off, always keeping Celestia in her sight, always afraid of leaving her elder sister vulnerable.

No, the choice was easy. Keeping Luna by her side through guilt and helplessness was the opposite of her desires. She wanted her little Luna to feel safe and protected, to protect her in reality as well. For that, she needed to know where Luna was and not have her run off without telling. "Granny P- . . . The shaman was looking for me." Celestia shrugged her bandaged limbs. "She gave me this stuff to help me keep going."

In any event, Luna might have been able to help with the wolves. Or she might have been as scared and helpless as Celestia was herself. The scene of Painted's end appeared in her mind, only it was Luna in his place, Celestia pinned and helpless as the wolves—she shuddered. The thought was disturbing. Disturbing down to her very core.

"What stuff?" Luna's head held high again, eager curiosity written all over her features.

Thankfully, she allowed the question to distract her. "Just these bandages where I was hurt, and this. Bleehhh--" Celestia opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue, resting the white bark she had been chewing on the tip.

Luna giggled. "Gross, stop it."

Celestia brought the bark back inside her mouth and grinned. Her sister was here, safe and sound. It calmed the nerves that her previous thought frayed. With any luck, Luna would assume the injuries came from their flight from the unicorns and not question them more. "Oh, and a message. Know your limits!" She parodied the shaman's intensity.

Both Luna's brows rose. "What does that mean?"

"I don't know . . . but she said it was important."

With that for their minds to chew on, it wasn't long before they found the shallow stream and sat at its edge. It flowed languidly between muddy banks, having failed to carve through all the sediment last it was fed by rain. Yet, it wasn't stagnant or soupy, safe to drink for ponies and clean enough.

"Can't stay long." Celestia's horn held a pale shimmer as she gathered water in a ball and used it to dowse Luna's mane. "Sun was already far on her journey. You met a pegasus? Tell me what happened. Did you find their herd?"

Luna soured as the water flushed over her and soaked her mane. It loosened some sap, but the sticky mess pulled hairs as Celestia scrubbed at it with a magical touch, intent on not staying longer than need be. The question brought back some of the blue pony's former excitement. "Yes! I did, he told me where. I met Rebel Bolt, he's just a colt, but old enough, I talked to him and he told me where the herd is."

"And the sap?"

"I-uhh," Luna's voice trailed into a shy whisper and she used her wet bangs to hide her eyes. "I'm not good at flying yet."

Celestia dowsed her with another splash of water and separated twigs and leaves from her blue mane, hiding a small smile of amusement. "Can we make it to the pegasi before nightfall?"

Luna pursed her lips to think. "I think so. It'll be close, maybe at Sunset. And you'll have to climb part way up a mountain."

On injured legs, no less. Celestia paused the cleaning to give that thought. "Alright." She resumed, a tad rougher than she meant. "As soon as you're cleaned and presentable to the new herd, we'll push hard. Will you be ready?"

Luna opened her wide, distant eyes to stare at her elder sister. "Between the two of us, I have the wings."

After the wash, they quenched their thirst and drank a little extra. Celestia took the lead and crossed the stream, soaking her legs to the knee. Luna cared little for the water, already being soaked, and splashed her way through. At the other side, she spared a little magic to play with her sopping mane, laying it about so it would dry in a dainty, appealing way.

Despite the injured legs, Celestia moved at a brisk trot. In truth, she did not feel their pain over much. Anxiety damped the sensitivity, for the memory of the wolves was still fresh in Celestia's mind.

"Keep careful watch." She reminded her younger sister again that day, yet it held more gravity than before. "The forest . . . it's far more dangerous than we thought, daylight or no." Celestia could hear the worry in her words as her eyes darted through the forest that had lost its luster. Now, she only saw the potential danger around every bend, where things might stalk.

The change was not lost on her sister. Luna stretched her neck tall, looking over the white mare with close attention.

Celestia glanced back. "I saw a wolf," she answered to quell curiosity. It was true, at the least, and would keep Luna's senses sharp. She did see one, after all. And they might come to stalk her once more, now that the shaman they feared had gone. With her spare attention, she prepared a few spells and kept them ready in her mind. She'd not be caught off guard again.

One more time on that trip, Luna flew above the trees and regained their bearings. After that, they were so close for it not to matter. It was more important to make good time.

With the sky turning orange, and Sun taking a lazy shade of red, they came to the foot of the mountain. Staring up the incline, Celestia swallowed a growing lump in her throat. The ground leaped up from a flat plain and began to reach into the sky. Trees nestled where they could, clinging to dirt and earth that had settled in all the crevice, but within sight from the foot, they lost their footing. Jagged, harsh rocks, gray or brown and dusty, forced all but the spare weeds from their face, hopping up the mountain in a series of uneven sheer cliffs. For a moment, Celestia's head felt light the enormity of the task which she was about to undertake.

"We don't have to go all the way up." Luna came along side her sister. "Just to the cloud up there." She pointed with her nose to a large and slightly out of place puff of fluffy white that rested atop a cliff. "Just . . . most of the way." She paused. "At least the mountain's steepness will mean no wolves will be able to follow."

"I suppose that's why the pegasi chose this one." Celestia took her first steps up the side. "C'mon, before nightfall."

In truth, it was too steep for plains-bound ponies to cross. Almost exactly where the trees lost, Celestia had to stop as she had no footing to scale the first cliff. After a moment's silent deliberation, she called forth will to her horn and unleashed a spell. The rock molded like clay, rising up in a steep ramp. The attempt proved flawed, and her hooves slipped out from under her on the smooth stone. A second spell and she added to the ramp a series of ripples for her hooves to find purchase.

Thus began the real journey to the summit. "Luna?"

"Mhm?"

With a thought, she sent another spell to undo the ramp behind her. Leaving a walkway straight to the pegasi's home seemed rude for a new comer, if they wished to keep it hidden. "Keep watch of the sky. I'm not exactly well hidden from griffins out in the open."

Luna nodded her acquiescence.

Not far into the journey, the worry of predators vanished from Celestia's awareness. The unease she felt evaporated in a relative security of being so high on the cliffs. Walking was fine. She could walk for days. It was leisurely, restful. It gave one time to think and occupied antsy energy in the legs.

This wasn't walking.

Exhaustion slipped in where the unease left. Every step she made, she could feel her leg hauling her entire weight up against the pull of Earth, groaning in protest and struggling to lift the load. It strained her concentration, sapped her energy, sweat broke out all down her body and she gasped for breath in air that grew thinner and thinner.

The bites marring her legs, though, proved less a problem. They were there, still. She could feel them with every working of her leg in a tactile sense. But even without the anxiety to dampen the pain, something else did. They were no more trouble than the bandages that bound them.

Mindful of that, she turned the white bark over again in her mouth. It made sense, then, what Granny Pie said. Chew on this before you begin your journey again. If you're going to make it, you'll need to. Wordlessly, she thanked her.

Her little sister had taken to flight once her legs grew tired, hopping up from ledge to ledge in a single bound. She spent more time sitting and waiting for her sister than climbing.

"Look, pegasi!" Luna's cheery voice grated on Celestia's nerves, not a hint of effort in it.

Never before had the white unicorn felt such intense, juvenile jealousy as she did right then for those wings. "That's . . . nice." She couldn't hide the irritated grumble in her voice. Yet still, she glanced up and saw five winged ponies leave the cloud.

Perhaps out of sympathy, Luna took up disassembling the ramp behind Celestia's progress.

Finally, Celestia's hoof touched the last ledge underneath the cloud. Unable to bring herself all the way up, she rolled over the lip and on to her back, panting for all she was worth. Sun's last rays peaked over the horizon far too the west. Violet overtook the sky, stars glimmered high above, and Moon began her journey, giving pale light to all the creatures below in lieu of Sun.

They had made it. And before night fall.

Luna laid down close by to her sister, waiting patiently for Celestia to catch her breath. The pink-maned unicorn gathered some small bit of magic into her horn and started to sweep away her sweat and the dust from the journey. In only a moment, they would meet a new herd, and a new kind of pony.

Rested sufficiently, Celestia rose to her feet and faced the telltale cloud. It stretched over what she could now make out to be a massive cave, concealing it from prying eyes The cloud apeared to be constructed of two layers, the top fluffy white and solid, while the bottom was merely a thick mist. Comparing this work to what she learned under the fastidious unicorns, the cover was sloppy. Very sloppy. The entire thing had blown too far to the left, revealing the edges of the cave on the top and bottom. The shape was strange, slightly unnatural for a cloud in a way that caught attention longer than it should. The passage of many creatures on the ledge left a clear trail, guiding the curious intruder right in.

Noting all this, she hesitated. Nervous energy crawled back into her skin. When they had gone to the unicorns, they were able to hide their identity. Blending in had garnered them acceptance, Revealing their true nature, suspicion. Here, she could not hide. Even with wings, Luna wore her heritage on her head, and using magic to conceal it would only work until they had to sleep, at best. Celestia, though? She had nothing. She was coming as a unicorn into a foreign herd. How did the pegasi feel about other ponies? True, they often rested with others, but that was a far cry from accepting a wingless mare with unheard of colors, and a blue pony of confused breed. Would they be barred from entering? Or worse, open hostility? Luna, who had wings, seemed to imply the colt was friendly. What if the pegasi allowed Luna and rejected the elder sister? And a colt could be ignorant of his parents' ways, as well.

Luna drew up to Celestia's side and waited patiently. Swallowing that tension, Celestia marched forward and plunged into the mist.
Hello! :iconsqueak-anon: again, Sly asked me to put the newest chapter up here for you guys, and sends his best! Art to accompany it coming soon!

Edited by :iconslightsideluc:

Hope you enjoy this wonderful story!

For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

Chapter 2 [link]
Chapter 3 [link]
Chapter 4 [link]
Chapter 5 [link]
Chapter 6 [link]
Chapter 7 [link]
Chapter 8 [link]
Chapter 9 [link]
Chapter 10
[link]
Chapter 11
[This One]
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One part of growing up is realizing that the idols you've constructed of gold are merely gilded granite.
                              —Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia as recorded by her friends

The nature of Celestia's stay among the unicorns had shattered that evening. Phantom motioned to two of the others to take her away before he turned to his own path. They used their bodies to press Celestia back, shouldering and nudging the mare the other direction. She resisted as water resists a brush, holding still and trying to seep through the cracks, all to keep her eyes on the silver light of magic that took Luna away. But Phantom's unicorns won out and she lost track of where the light faded.

Her heart sank deep into her chest, finding a hole in her stomach to settle. Dread and fear raced through her mind and chased away clear thought. Too sudden, too fast did everything change, too much to know where to resist and where to comply.  Celestia let herself be guided for that lack of knowing what else to do, and her chaperones—that title unbefitting them now, were they even friendly?—took her into a tiny, dark room where they stayed and watched, trading shifts through the night. The herd had to sleep , after all.

But Celestia found none. Curled into a tight ball atop her bed, she clutched the mattress of leaves between her forelimbs and stared into empty space, shivering. The first night she ever spent truly alone; her insides ached at that fact with a visceral intensity, almost physical, as if her flanks had been slit open. In the open fields of the forest, Earth ponies always slept next to one another. Coming here, Luna had always been at her side. Luna was gone, now. Life as she knew it gone, with a threat than hung over her head like a boulder. Slavery, her father had called this feeling, stripped of choice to go home, forced to compliance. She longed for another, longed for Luna, to be here to ease her suffering. Occasionally, she cooed softly to herself to nurse the pain.

Confused, tired, and scared, Celestia could only wallow as the hours passed, each one feeling as if she was slowly mauled. After a time seeming an instant and eternity all at once, the curtain parted and Phantom Spell stood at the door, sunlight streaking in through the cracks.

"Get up." His voice had an unusual wariness, confidence that she'd follow orders lost and replaced with an edge of threat.

Without hesitation, Celestia got to her hooves and headed to the door in a determined trot. Phantom came as a relief, ending the hell of the night. She'd meet his challenge head on and take her first steps through this new situation. In grim silence, she watched and he led.

Their hooves pounded across the dirt and over the roots of the forest floor, each one having their own reason for the impatience gait. Phantom took a route leading to one of the larger tree-homes of the unicorns, composed of six or more converted forest woods. As a student, Celestia never ventured inward, having no business to be at the meeting hall of the craft leaders . But as what she was now, whatever that might be, she'd make her debut.

Phantom filed in and held the curtain. Fearless, Celestia hopped over the threshold and into the magically lit interior, though as her eyes adjusted to the paler light, she hesitated. The hall reminded her of an oversized classroom, same sloped floor, same indentations for seats, only the focal point was the dead center of the room rather than one side. However, what made her hesitate was that it was filled to capacity. Most were varying degrees of old, when compared to herself. Mares, stallions, coats of all natural colors, and many speaking in a turmoil that hushed and died at her entrance. All eyes turned to her, and her pink mane, and her pure white body. Celestia shrank back from their stare. Her head lowered and her hind quarters bumped against the wall at her back peddle.

"Forward, filly." Phantom's harsh tones cut the silence and echoed off of the walls.

Taking a hesitant step, she felt every grim face follow. Mane drooped forward, she did her best to hide behind bangs of hair.

"To the center." He directed in that same tone and Celestia took a seat on her haunches there.

Off to the side, Phantom gave a nod. The lights dimmed, the crowd disappeared behind a veil of black, all except the center focal point, and one lone mare hoisting a bright, white light high toward the ceiling.

Celestia considered her old as well, though not as old as some. An unadorned tan coat with brown hooves, mane, and nose prompted Celestia to dub her Sandy. Sandy's horn shimmered with a faint magenta from the hoisted light and continued to shimmer subtly as she questioned. "Would you please state your name?" Like her coat, her voice was plain, though nasally in delivery.

"C-Celestia, daughter of Whip Scar and Lightning Kick, sister to Luna." Curling her tail close to her body, she scanned the darkness, trying to make out any sort of shape.

"Please, pay attention." The brown mare said with polite insistence. "Now, who are Whip Scar and Lightning Kick?"

"My . . . parents," She hesitated, unsure of what exactly was being asked. "Earth ponies from the herd that brought me."

Whispers passed back and forth around the room. The mare looked off to the side for instruction, then focused back on Celestia. "Such things are impossible. Unicorns aren't born from full blooded Earth ponies.  Now, tell us what you know of your birth."

With a sigh, she closed her eyes and did her best to search her memories. Lightning and Whip had told her the story long ago, and the details had to be collected and pieced back together.

"Shaman?" Sandy repeated when Celestia came to that part. The mature mare raised her eyebrows. If she did not know the Shaman herself, she at least knew the word's meaning.

"Yes, she visited my parents and gave them a message. That I had been touched by the stars."

"And did she explain your horn?"

"Horn?" Celestia shook her head. "I was born without one."

Whispers and murmurs doubled, someone laughed and a loud hush was given. Celestia frantically looked left and right, trying to make out anything among the darkness.

"I'm afraid that's impossible. Continue, please, with your next earliest memory."

Celestia sighed in frustration and began to relate her life story as best she could recall. Perhaps in the telling, some may be convinced and release her sister. But periodically, especially on the subjects of the stars, horns, or her parentage, Sandy would interrupt and calmly stress that such things just didn't work that way. Each interruption threw Celestia off balance again in her recall.

The back and forth lasted hours. Fatigue set in from lack of sleep and blurred her concentration. Thoughts became fuzzy and her eyes burned. Losing  attention, Celestia got lost in a daze and wondered when the questions would end, or if it would drone on for yet hours more.

Finally, Phantom raised the lights and stepped past Sandy. "That will be enough for today. Celestia is past usefulness here." With a gesture, he motioned for Celestia to follow.

Groggily, she stretched stiff limbs and swayed as she got to her feet, following with lids that occasionally closed in an inescapable desire to nap.

"Celestia!"

She snapped awake from her sleep walk, with a mane frizzed in surprise to find Phantom glaring at her. "Huh, wha-!?"

"Despite your predicament, you still share our protection, our food, and out shelter. As such, you will be expected to share in labor, like all others. Until you are made well, I will dictate your tasks. I need not remind you what refusal will cost."

"No, sir." Her gaze fell away, thoughts carried on fatigue and daydream.

"Today, I expect you to till these earth paths." With a gesture of his nose and pointing of his horn, he singled out several winding trails where horseshoes compressed dirt. "Make it appear as no pony has tread over the forest. Make it disappear and keep us hidden and safe. Food will be brought shortly."

Without a further word, Phantom trotted away, returning to the craft hall.

Celestia gave a broad yawn at his back, half in need and half in contempt. When she closed her mouth, she froze an instant, noticing that the chaperones –two mares who whispered to each other but spoke seldom to her— had seen the act.

Fine by her, she thought while drawing will into her horn. Needed the time to think anyways.

The task moved at a snail's pace. The forest was complicated in its chaos, several times did one of the chaperones point to a mistake she missed in tired inattention. Pausing, she rubbed her eyes. The sun traveled lower on the horizon but would not set for some time. Upturning dirt and rearranging plants took little energy or concentration, so she reserved as much of her mind as she could to assessing the situation.

She wanted Luna back.

That was the thought that kept returning. She wanted Luna back, and wanted to take them both home.

And to nap, though that was more an immediate concern. She kept circling back over those few facts, fatigue ever growing.

By an act of mercy, the Sun when it finally set and Celestia whispered thanks to the sky turning orange. They finally led her back to bed and she collapsed into the soft leaf mattress, nuzzling it like a friend. Yet, it was not a friend. Celestia slept, but only in fits. Anxious feelings jolted her awake several times, and she clutched the bed tight between her limbs as she tried to fall back into dreams. Until then, she passed time in thought. Celestia knew what she wanted. Knew her situation. Now, she merely had to plan to reach her goals.

The tasks Phantom set her on would work to her benefit. The unicorns had to care for Luna. At the least, taking water and food to wherever they hid and imprisoned her. With an ear to the ground and a careful eye while she worked, Celestia could construct a mental map of where mysterious food was going and what different trees were being used for. That would narrow down where they kept her sister. Just like looking for Ebon.

It seemed reasonable enough. With that in mind, she drifted off.

Phantom Spell woke her again the next morning, and the day unfolded much as it had before. This time, the meeting hall was nearly empty. Far fewer old ponies sat and watched, though what few were there still disappeared all the same when Sandy hoisted her light.

"Tell us again of your earliest memory."

Already feeling the routine and bored with it, Celestia drew on her vague recollections of yesterday, and rushed out the same answer. "I chased a colt in a game, yelling that I was a dragon—"

"Stop!" Sandy's nasally voice cut her off, then resumed in polite insistence. "Dig deep, reexamine your memories, and tell us again without drawing on what you said yesterday. Add to it what you can."

Celestia sighed at the task and searched her mind. "Sunny day, I was just a little filly and chasing a colt, Painted Hoof I think was his name . . ." And from memory again, she began to relate her life story.

"Stop!"

Startled, she bit her sentence off.

"Are you sure you didn't see a horn on Luna's head?"

"Very," Celestia gritted her teeth. The interruptions were already getting under her skin.

"I am sure such a detail is easy to miss. Please continue."

But even as Celestia did so, Sandy questioned the veracity of almost everything, interrupted her even more than yesterday. To make matters worse, Sandy began to give suggestions to the story, ones she hinted were more plausible, but not going so far as insisting. Everything ground to a halt every time she yelled, "Stop!"

And on and on it went until Celestia began to mumble her answers in sleepy exhaustion, only half listening.

"That will be enough for, today." Phantom stepped forward, raising the lights. "She has use elsewhere."  He guided her out of the hall, leading her to a new chore. "Tree mending." He gestured to a thick trunk that housed a few rooms and a path to the canopy. "This one has over grown its last correction and is now at a risk of being found. When you are done with this one, there are others. Corona Blaze will show the rest." Without saying more, he left her to the chaperones.

The pattern repeated. A new day rolled around. A day after. A day after that. Sandy questioned her in the morning over her past and Phantom took her to some new task in the afternoon. Each time the sun fell,  Celestia added to her mental map and tried to think of more ways to narrow where Luna was hid.

The pattern repeated. And grew worse. Sandy threw Celestia off balance more and more with interrupting suggestions, and the process wore her down. Phantom's task became more and more challenging as he tailored better to her level of skill. The map grew in size and complexity as she added location after location. Sleep alone seldom brought rest.

Celestia shrieked in frustration, a high pitched, girlish screech that hurt her ears as it was loosed. Hurtling the bed against the wall of her room, she screamed again. One chaperone tensed, and the other started awake. Tears streamed from her eyes and Celestia buried her face in her forelimbs. It's hopeless. Her mental map descended into fog. The details converged, mixed, became blurred. Too much to recall, too much to keep track of, it all slipped beyond her tired grasp.  The despair wound its way around her heart and sank it low. I'll never see Luna again, I'll never see home again. She bawled and felt like a tiny foal. The tears soaked her cheeks and her hooves and came unending as her voice descended into sobs and sobs carried her into another night of restless sleep.






Luna kicked and squirmed against the bindings that dragged her away. The magic-imbued roots only tightened under the struggle, painfully grinding bone on bone. Mouth pinched shut, her screams of fight came as perturbed squeaks. Summoning a spell, she sent a surge of will to her horn only to find it impeded part way there.

"Sun and Moon!" A pony cursed but she couldn't arch to see who. "She won't hold still."

"Quickly. Phantom Spell can't suppress someone of her power very long." Silver Spear's voice. Calm in delivery and matter of fact in tone.

"I'm trying!"

Doubling her efforts, Luna kicked and screamed anew, surging more will to her horn and lashing out in all directions. An alien touch brushed her forehead, a nearly gentle thing. Gasping, she screamed again and heard her voice ring clear. "Noooo!"

Luna flew to her hooves, her breath panting under the exertion. The binds were gone. The hold on her magic as well. A shining blue light from the will channeled to her horn illuminated a plain and comfortable room.  A bed sat at one side, sizeable and sewn with more leaves than others she had seen. Water collected from rain fed into a bowl via hollowed bamboo, smelling natural and refreshing.

The curtain to the door rustled, sunlight washed in. Silhouetted except for his gray horn, Silver Spear peered in, resolute. Seeing the midnight blue unicorn, his features softened with calm. "Luna, you are awake." He was soft-spoken and quiet as a small stream broken over a rock.

"Yes," Luna nodded, chest still heaving. "I am." Gathering her composure, she sat on her haunches and brought her tail to her side.

Turning to look outside, his horn took on a brighter glow, levitating a bowl and sending it inside as well as holding the curtain aloft. "You are likely hungry. It's been some time since you last ate." Fashioned like a large bird's nest but built from living wood, leaves still budded at the bowl's edges.

Blue eyes shimmered in lust of what she saw. Apples tucked inside, a fine variety of leaves tossed in a salad with hay sprinkled on top. Her stomach growled with the thought of hunger and she looked to Silver with embarrassment.

"You may eat as you are ready." He simply stated with a nod of his head toward the bowl. "Were you hurt in the struggle?"

Luna bent to the bowl and took a large bite from the apple. Food still chewing in her mouth, she shook her head. "No,"

"You have been confined to these quarters for the foreseeable future." From Silver, the statement came as a mere fact, carrying no veiled threat. "There is an enchantment around the walls. I suggest you don't test it."

"Okay," Luna swallowed the bite she had taken. Her stomach replied with great satisfaction.

"You may be here some time." Silver quirked his lips as if addressing a problem. "Would you like some company?"

"No, thanks." Luna shook her head. Silver was no Crescent or Ebon and she dismissed the thought of asking for either of them. What she needed most right now was time to think.

Silver Spear gave a quick nod, accepting the answer. "If you require anything, a sentry will be at the door. Knock for him. The enchantment will otherwise contain sound." Closing the curtain, Silver's hooves trotted away.

Luna took a mouthful of salad and chewed with leaves sticking to her lips.

Where was Celestia?

She sent a bright yellow light into the room and floated it like a fairy, adjusting it so it could mimic the intensity of being in forest shade at high noon. Luna replayed the events of the night before.

Celestia had just revealed the uniqueness of her heritage. Phantom Spell reacted with disbelief, then . . . that's when the roots came out of the ground. In the struggle, things became disorienting. Next thing she realized here, she woke up here.

Calling new will forth, she shaped a spell to reach out and feel along the walls and enchantment. Like the antennae of an insect, the invisible fibers swept over the room and sent back a sensation, both tactile and magical. As Silver had said, a spell had been in place to confine her, her magic, and any sound she made. A strong, thick bubble, very elastic in construction but not invincible.

Forming a new spell, Luna shaped her will into a forelimb with a needle-like hoof and pressed it against the barrier's side. It flexed and held as expected. Gradually, she pushed the hoof deeper, until the magical construct threatened to tear under the pressure.

In the thinness of the stressed bubble, she felt the second spell. Yelping, she jerked back the forelimb and nearly knocked herself over with her own magic.

"Stars and Moon!" She gasped and worked herself back to calm. A binding enchantment layered over the barrier. If the barrier is broken, the spell will swoop in and bind her legs and feet.  Undoubtedly, it'd alert the sentry and she'd be subdued before she could break free.

Mulling over the thought, Luna stood up and refreshed herself on the water. At the wall, a voice caught her ear.

"I don't get it." One chatty mare said outside the tree. "Why only that other crazy one? This one Phantom just keeps locked."

Luna sipped silently and kept her ears up and angled for the sound.

"Because Phantom has a system, he always does." A stallion. Could it be the sentries? They must be changing watch. "He's just made another to fix this problem."

"Only one of them. After that pink one is helped, we got her insane sister still locked away."

"What am I, a mind reader? I can't explain everything Phantom does."

The mare laughed. "Your innocent act won't work on me. I know how you are about gossip."

A pause. "Okay, fine. I may have heard something." The voice grew quiet and Luna used a little magic to draw the sound to her ear. "They say the pink one is the older of the two. Wherever she goes, lil'sis goes. So, they help Pinky, and Blues follows."

Luna slowly sat back on her haunches, realization dawning on her. Pieces fell into place, one after the other. While Phantom kept Luna safe-but-caged, Celestia was subject to this mysterious "help." A memory from the night before became clear. If you run away or disobey me, your sister will never be seen again.

"Stars and Moon." She spat and glared at the wall where the voices came from. Phantom was using their bond to manipulate each in their own way. A sick feeling gripped her stomach and she scooted the bowl of food off to the far side of the room.

"So, wherever Celest goes, her little sister follows?" With sound confined, no reason to not voice her thoughts aloud. "Let's see what happens when little sister cries for big sister."

Using the bed as a seat, Luna started to shape a complicated spell while musing in thought. Eyes closed, and lips moving silently, she planned her escape. The first part felt easy enough.

The binding spell that sat around the bubble. If she could bring Celestia here, her sister would have no problem destroying it from the outside and they could break free. All the defenses were facing the inward, it would be a cinch.

If she could bring Celestia here. That was a big if.

No magic, no sound, no way to signal. But, constructs could be flawed. Perhaps there was a weakness in the barrier she could exploit.

Luna turned her spells to feeling and testing her room, poking at the walls, prodding the enchantment's elasticity and thickness. Each time she felt she learned something new, she added more and more to a complicated spell she built up in the reserve of her mind.

The going was slow, and lasted the rest of the day. When she grew stuck or fatigued, she turned to her salad and ate, or refreshed in the water. At a regular interval, Silver Spear peaked in, checked her condition, and took the bowl to gather more food. Politely, she thanked him at each turn. For all his aloofness, Silver was diligent in seeing to her needs, almost managing to soften her disgust at Phantom's ploy.

When the cracks at the seam of the curtain darkened with nightfall, Luna extinguished her faux-fairy lamp and curled up on the leafy bed. Sleeping alone for the first time, she began to shiver and moan softly with unease, but constructing that spell kept her occupied until sleep whisked her away.

The next morning, she awoke with Silver bringing her breakfast. "You've been alone for a full day. Would you like company?"

The blue unicorn giggled to him with a smile. Only Silver Spear could managed to say those words in such a way that it did not imply flirting. "No, thanks. I'd prefer privacy, today."

The short stallion nodded and closed the curtain.

She spent the morning perfecting the spell she came up with the night before, drawing her will forth and letting it assume the intended shape. It was complicated. Very complicated. It needed to serve a variety of purposes at once and very specifically. First, the spell had to find Celestia. Luna shaped that aspect like lightning seeking the tallest tree from miles away in the sky. Knowing her sister well, she merely had shape it to strike her rather than a tree. Next, it had to draw them together. This part proved more challenging. The signal had to be invisible, and untouchable to outside harm in case a unicorn found it and tried to sever it. It also had to guide Celestia. She went through several ideas before settling on a root. A root sifted nutrients to a tree, likewise Luna could send messages along the tether. If she could "bury" it in the air, then it'd be hidden from attack.

One final problem. Getting it out the bubble without popping it. Feeling the barrier carefully, Luna tried to soak her spell in another layer of magic that would mimic the texture of the enchantment, like soaking a stick in water so it wouldn't burst a bubble it poked through.

Taking a deep breath, she summoned will to her horn. "Here it goes . . ." She brought the idea fully realized to that will, felt it take shape as she desired, then unleashed its reality-altering power.

Her magic arched like lightning, then grew like a vine. Reflecting off the bubble, it crawled across the wall, up and around, the tether disappearing in the wake. Eventually, it faded out, expending itself of all energy.

"Blast!" She eyed the wake in disappointment. "Something wasn't right."

With little more to do, she closed her eyes and felt along the barrier again. The day unfolded quickly in Luna's mind, full of more experiments and failures. And so did the next, Silver Spear always prompt with a delicious meal.  But that was the only thing that went her way. Something about her plan wasn't compatible. She tried new aspects to her spells, substituting the lightning for a curious and slower dragonfly. The roots for spider-silk strands. Soaking the magic different shades of enchantment. Even adding what elements of harmony she could.

Nothing worked.

A deep sigh lifted Luna's chest, and she held her head low, thinking of no magic and no spells. Just a solemn emptiness that filled her mind. Like being submerged and staring into the abyss of a lake at night. Stillness.

"Was this hopeless?"

Silence answered her.

"This spell was perfected by a herd of unicorns and I'm trying to break it in only a couple of days. Am I a foolish foal?"

Soft quiet of the sheltered room.

"Perhaps it's time I ask Silver if he could bring Crescent here. If she still has her instrument. That'd be nice." She answered for herself. "Yes. Maybe I'll ask."

Rising onto limbs weak with lethargy, she walked for the door. But a little visitor caught her eye. "Oh, hello. I remember you."

A black and turquoise butterfly fluttered at the seam of the curtain, passing into the room.

"Come to visit me? I'm glad to see it." She smiled as it landed on her horn, investigating her with its curling mouth.

Luna's eyes widened into saucers and she inhaled a deep breath. "Oh, butterfly, you are a true friend!" With all the gentleness she could muster within booming excitement, she trotted to the center of the room, butterfly in tow. "I can't pass through the barrier, but Silver Spear has many times now in giving me food." She paused. "Do you know what this means, butterfly?" She grinned wide. "You can pass through the barrier as well."

Sitting down on her haunches, she lowered the insect to the remains of an old apple. It settled there, flashing its wings open and closed.

"A friend like you needs a name." Luna lifted a hoof to her chin. "How about," She pointed to him. "Flutter Brave. Because you will bravely carry my message to my sister." Unable to sit still for her excitement, she stood up and arched her tail proudly before leaning down to whisper. "Don't worry, Flutter Brave. I'll give you a little guidance and magic. Then you can signal my sister."
For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

This picture also done at request from Madmax. [link]

Chapter 2 [link]
Chapter 3 [link]
Chapter 4 [link]
Chapter 5 [link]
Chapter 6 [link]
Chapter 7 [link]
Chapter 8 [link]
Chapter 9 [link]
Chapter 10 [link]


And more to come!
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Answers are always elusive. The fun part is in the searching.
—Excerpts from the Candid Sayings of Celestia as recorded by her friends

The rain from the dark cloud sprinkled into her open mouth, small respite from a growing thirst. Not quite getting her fill, Celestia swallowed a gulp and sat there with hunched shoulders. Though the water soaked her all the way through and chilled her to the bone, she made no move.

The pegasi's laughter and jeering slowly died away once their amusement from the prank dwindled. The trouble makers, those bent on antagonizing Celestia, slung a barbed comment or two at her, hoping to provoke her to new heights. In a gesture not entirely unfeigned, Celestia did not respond, or even glance up. Her frustration at the pegasi felt pointless and her attempts fruitless. Her only recourse was to take their barbs and wait until they gave up.

The cold wasn't entirely evil to her. The pitter-pat of the droplets across her back worked to soothe some of the myriad of bruises she had collected on this journey. A small blessing, though. At the same time, knowledge of just how much hurt—her back, her legs, her neck, her ribs, and the bruises on her face—made her feel beaten down and weary.

At that moment, she'd have given anything for a friend to be there.  She needed to vent, to lay out all her frustrations and problems with another, to feel the relief of their support. Her thoughts trailed to Ebon Swift. A small ache went with him, the memory of the last exchange they had when he signaled the alarm and nearly foiled her sister's rescue. She'd have been eager to forgive him, were he here now. She had other friends too, and felt a longing for them. Other unicorns, and even childhood friends, Earth ponies like Crimson Coat.

Or Whip Scar and Lightning Kick.

The yearning turned into an outright ache for home and belonging. She wished to spill everything that happened to her parents, and hear their advice. They'd have known what to do. Lightning Kick would have remembered a story from the Earth pony past that shed light, or Whip Scar's strength and wisdom would have supported her.

Then, there was Luna. She let out an exhale, half frustrated and half amused. A companion, yes, and something more complicated: a sister. Celestia could have unfolded herself to Luna, too, had Luna's quirky and stubborn personality not driven her to careen down the cave to explore by herself. Celestia muttered at the timing of Luna's stubbornness, leaving her to contemplate the situation by herself.

The question of why still galled her mind. Her skills and magic prowess made her invaluable to both Earth ponies or unicorns. Even here among the pegasi, she saw so much she could do for them with only a tiny bit of effort. She could brighten any stretch of cave with magic light, repair the cloud that concealed the entrance, removed the obvious trail signs outside, organize the glowing bugs and mushrooms into a more effective or appealing pattern. Yet, the pegasus ponies' chief joy with her talent was either tricking her or teasing her into lashing out and avoiding the blows. Why didn't they want her help?

Even her strange colors should have garnered some kind of reaction. Sure, many had seemed curious who approached her, but that was all: curious. Both Earth ponies and unicorns regarded her pink mane and pure white coat with a mix of trepidation and awe. Why would a pegasus pony make so much less of it?

Why would a collection of ponies all coexist and have no chief?

Why were all the pegasi in smaller groups instead of a whole?

Why did they fool their own kind and not care instead of supporting each other?

Why, why, why, why?

Her frustration mounted again, wanting to boil over and spew out. Antsy energy filled her legs and she stood up, looking again at the surroundings. The trouble makers had left, which had been her hope in sitting under the cloud. Seeing that she had reached her limit and would react no more, they grew bored and left to occupy themselves some other way. It would let her travel again without their horseplay.

Celestia felt shivers crawl down her back and she resisted the urge to curl up against the cold while underneath the rain. Teeth beginning to chatter, her sight was drawn to the cave entrance and she forced herself into a trot. The thought of bathing in Sun's warmth at midday—relaxing in golden light with the familiar view of green forest's trees, escaping her worries and the atmosphere of barren stone—proved the most pleasing idea she had since arriving and she immediately made her way to the lair's entrance.

Emerging from the mouth of the cave and onto the rocky mountain shelf outside, she breathed in and filled her chest with the scent of fresh air. Though the wind was cool so high on Earth's brow, Sun's touch was all the warmer.

Crafting a spell in her mind and drawing it to her horn, Celestia wicked the water from her coat and mane a bit at a time by constructing a greedy root out of her will and guiding it across her. She watched the water collect into a ball and felt cleansed by the drenching she underwent. Despite being a little thirsty, she tossed the ball down the side of the mountain. Stars know what sort of grime she collected on her journey to the pegasi.

Now, she closed her eyes and let the warming rays work her body into placidity. She needed this. Needed this more than she even realized. Ever since Luna had been stolen from her those days ago by the unicorns, Celestia hadn't found the chance to relax this deeply. Between Phantom Spell, that Ursa Major, Silver Spear, wolves, and the Everfree Forests, where was the time? Luna was safe now, at the least, and she could afford this moment.

As she rested her chin on crossed forehooves, a sound perked her ear. Close by, she heard the play of ponies carried on the brisk mountain wind. Not that of the other pegasi she met, these voices were much younger, fillies and colts' shrill screams of excitement and joy.

A desire to go over rose up inside and she lifted her head to contemplate it. As comfortable as she was here, surrounding herself with others seemed all the more gratifying. Also, fillies and colts were very poor at lying. They'd have very little luck at fooling her, and if she wanted answers about the pegasi, they seemed the most likely to be bluntly honest.

Gathering her hooves under her, she trotted curiously in their direction. The high shelf that housed the cave's mouth curved around the mountain, stretching flat and level, before tucking into a partly obscured crevice. A mostly-hidden spot for the ponies to run.

And run they did, a score of fillies and colts with no overarching game, cantering, leaping, hopping, pouncing, or taking a break in between. Celestia tilted her head, noting that none of the pegasus fillies and colts were flying and no older sentry guarded them. Yet still, to be around so many innocent and excited faces made her smile.

Moving closer, she looked over the side of the shelf in a habit of vigilance. The platform fell away into a sheer cliff face, straight down almost to the base of the mountain. The height played havoc on her senses and Celestia pushed herself away before vertigo took her balance. Taking a deep breath to recover, she supposed it made sense. What was a bluff to a race of flying ponies but extra protection? Celestia gave ample distance between herself and that drop before folding her legs and lying down to watch the play.

With a pink mane and white coat, she should have known it'd only be a moment before they noticed her.

"What are you?" A brave, little, brown pony approached her, looking every bit the young colt in his curiosity. Having been spotted, more ponies turned to look and ventured close themselves, a herd instinct to follow. In an instant, Celestia realized she had gathered a crowd.

"I'm a unicorn."

"What's a unicorn?" One filly's question came on the heels of her answer.

"Why do you have a pink mane?" Another little pony jumped forward, too exuberant to wait between answers.

Yet, Celestia found one matter too pressing to ignore. "Where are your parents or nurse ponies?"

They looked at her in confusion, but one pony smiled gleefully, ignoring the parts she evidently didn't understand. "Momma is getting food, which means we get to play."

"She lets you play outside of the cave?"

"No." The filly skipped along a faint line in the stone, attention divided between it and answering Celestia.

"My momma isn't here," another pony added in singsong. "So she can't stop me!"

"What's a unicorn?" a colt repeated, changing the subject back to the strange mare.

The idea worried Celestia, that all these fillies and colts would be allowed to play outside unguarded. The pegasi's ways were still strange, and a bit unsettling. Yet, looking at all their eager and innocent faces, a warm and saccharine feeling pulled Celestia's lips to smiling. It seemed that no matter what breed, fillies and colts changed little across herds.

At that thought, an idea leapt to the front of her mind, feeling complete and whole, like a final thread was given to her and wove many together. She stood up and flashed her eyes with mischief, donning a storyteller's grin. Celestia thought of Lightning Kick and tried to mimic the nuance with which she recounted legends. Even of all the Earth ponies, with their pride in keeping of history through story and legend, her mother was the greatest teller Celestia knew.

Then, she stole a trick she learned from the pegasi. "A unicorn is a keeper of secrets!"

The young ponies let out sounds of awe, eyes dazzled and attention wrapped.

It was true enough, and that protected Celestia's sense of honesty. The unicorns were secretive, hiding in the woods. After being on the receiving end of lies and tricks, she wanted nothing to do with how the pegasi treated her. This was, however, truth given with a purpose.

Celestia continued to grin. "Do you keep any secrets, pegasus ponies?"

The adventurous, brown colt that first greeted her bounced eagerly and shouted. "The clouds!"

"O-o-o-oh, that is a powerful secret." Celestia gave him an approving nod.

Her actions played out exactly as she hoped. They all leapt forward, all wanting to impress and gain the mysterious mare's approval because she was an adult and that made her revered. They fought for attention, speaking over each other and crowding around while Celestia kept her ears perked for subjects she needed to know more about.

"The cave!"

"Storms!"

"Flying!"

Celestia raised a hoof for silence and called will into her horn. The act stalled their competition and they fell quiet to gaze at the horn and wow at the glow.

"Flight?" she said while dispelling the gathered magic. "What is the secret of flight?"

"My mom says you flap your wings like this!" A little filly cleared a space around her and stuck out her tongue in intense focus. Tiny wings flapped methodically in the air, careful with each stroke.

"Nu-uh!" a colt shouted in equal parts enthusiasm and prideful self-assurance. "My mom said it's not how you flap your wings but the magic in them!" His own pair stretched out and buzzed like a hummingbird. Slowly, precariously, he lifted from the ground and hovered for a few hoofbeats.

"The power of flight is a wonderful secret!" Celestia exaggerated her motions in performance, but did not need to feign the curiosity or interest. "What more did your mothers tell you?"

One by one, Celestia chose an excited, bouncing filly or colt and listened to what they had to say or show. At each turn, the rest would fall silent before redoubling their efforts to be chosen next when the previous pony finished.

In only a few moments, Celestia had learned more about the basics of flight than she had since Luna's wings appeared. While some accounts contradicted, between all the fillies and colts, she had memorized a wealth of knowledge which to test and perfect with her sister.

As the young ponies continued one after the other, Celestia noticed that the first two who spoke, the filly and that rebuking colt, had disengaged from the cluster of young. The filly glared at the colt with an angry pout, while he maintained a haughty stroll. A few others instinctively sensed the tension and turned to watch. Celestia, too, perked one ear to listen to the exchange.

"Uh-huh!" She breathed out with intense, offended fury. "You do flap your wings like this." The tiny wings stroked again in the practiced motion. "Momma told me."

His upturned nose eluded any eye contact. "My mom told me it doesn't matter, and she is right."

"She is not."

"Is too."

Celestia nearly ignored the rest of the argument, hearing the familiar stalemate that every foal has experienced a hundred times over and knowing how it'd play out. Despite this, the growing heat of the debate still distracted a number of the young.

"My mom is right, because I can fly and you can't."

The filly's lip curled into a sneer. "You can't fly."

"Can, too!"

Celestia saw the filly's anger evaporate in a flash and the little pony's demeanor changed, words coming out as smooth and sly as a fox. "If you could fly, then the cliff wouldn't scare you."

The colt flinched. The comment stunned him. Glancing at all his peers watching him, he hid his reaction and puffed out his chest. "It doesn't."

"Why don't you go up to it then?" The filly rocked her shoulders and hips, replying with mocking and smug smile.

"No!"

She scoffed and turned to walk away. "Told you he couldn't fly."

Aware of the position he was forced into, of the choice between embarrassment and fear, the colt gritted his teeth and chose what he'd endure. "Fine!"

The practice reminded Celestia of a game young Earth ponies played. Told of all the fearful things that resided in the Everfree forest, the young and rowdy routinely dared each other to get as close as possible to the forest's border. The dared pony would stalk closer and closer before nerves overcame resolve and they'd go shrieking back with a playful thrill. The adults knew of this practice and tolerated it. The borders of the forest were not necessarily more dangerous than the field itself, so it was reckoned harmless.

The cliff must have been their version of the forest's dare and Celestia watched it curiously. Either predators could see the edge of the cliff, or there was some thrill to the risk of falling for pegasi who had not mastered their wings.

The colt swallowed, his mounting trepidation showing with the unwitting transparency of the young. Step by step, the colt willed himself to march forward and approach the daunting drop. As he came within pony lengths of the bluff, he all but crawled with how far his shoulders cowered. Front hooves touching the edge, he shuffled his rear legs close as well, pulling up alongside the mortal fall. Assured that his feet wouldn't slip, he timidly straightened, gained his confidence, then stood with his tail arched proudly, and head raised in triumph.

"See! Not scared."

Realizing her defeat, the filly's nose contorted with disgust. "That's still not flying!"

Fear kicked Celestia in the chest as she saw the colt's spirit rise to the challenge. Unconsciously, she raised one forelimb, a grass width away from bolting to stop him.

His tiny wings buzzed away, again sounding like that of a hummingbird, and his hooves left the rock. With an utterly careful ascent, he rose to a tail length from the ground on nothing but the furious beat of his feathers.

Then he looked down.

From his new vantage point, recognition dawned on his face. He could see down the dizzying height and how he left the sure, safety of the ground. The whites of his eyes flashed in panic and the colt listed uncontrolled to the side. In the span of a heartbeat, he dropped from view.

The bottom of Celestia's stomach fell out from her. She surged forward at full gallop, only narrowly stopping at the cliff's edge to peer over the precipice. The colt had vanished among the visual confusion of the clouds, mountain side, and forest.

There was no time to think. She threw herself over the edge.

The world stalled as she teetered on the edge of her upward bound and coming fall. Her insides tried to leap out her body, a fluttery feeling as she crested her jump. In that span, an odd thought struck her. Even if she had wings like Luna or a pegasus, she had neither the skill or ability to save herself from such a long drop. Then, the wind whipped across her face, through her hair, and she plummeted.

Everything began to happen so fast. The safety of the ledge fell away. The cliff side rushed by in an indiscernible streak. Wind gripped at her body, dried her eyes, pulled at her mane and tail so that they whipped wildly. The ground's ungiving presence began to grow and enlarge, threatening to break her on its surface. She had never experienced anything like this. Never imagined, never wanted to, never thought she would be falling so far and so fast. It threatened to overwhelm her senses. She fought through the intense fluttering of her belly, balanced on an obsidian edge of panic, desperation, and determination to save this young colt. With too much happening at once for her to comprehend, Celestia simply acted. From a place of intuition and instinct, she moved, while thought grew silent.

Celestia angled her body into a dive, forelimbs outstretched, reaching, and searched for the colt's plummeting form. The errant clouds and the colt's own coloring obscured him. Each heartbeat that passed drove Celestia to new heights of dread. She screamed out her fear and exhilaration, blinking to keep her eyes moist and searching.

There, in front of her, the colt tumbled. His wings fluttered furiously and he twirled about, flailing with his limbs to try to right himself. His panic undermined him, but what skill he had slowed his descent and allowed Celestia to close in.

Instantly, she cast a spell that bathed him in a pink glow and drew the colt into her limbs. He clung hard to her neck and uttering scared cries. She held him tight against her body while she raced to save them both. Calling will into her horn in preparation, Celestia threw out her magic again and haphazardly summoned a great wind. Clouds that lay scattered all around the mountain found themselves scooped up in a gale and drawn to the cliff side.

A few thudding heartbeats passed with nothing below her but the rocky ground, coming ever closer. Using the growing fright to strengthen her resolve, her will, she forced even more magic through her horn and a yet-greater wind whirled beneath them, collecting every lumpy white shape possible.

She shoved the colt, hard enough to break his grip around her neck. For a moment, she saw the look of betrayal and confusion in his eyes. It constricted her throat to see his helplessness.

Then, she threw him with all her might. A pink aura of magic guiding her aim, she threw him off of her and onto a thick, bulbous cloud.

The cloud deformed with the impact, a small smattering of white puffs scattered to the air, but it held the colt and Celestia soared past, losing sight of him.

The act twisted her around. She fell facing the sky. Her mane whipped past her vision, blurring the edges with flailing pink strands. The mountain shot into the sky, seeming to grow without end. The cliff side raced by, too quick for her to contemplate. She struggled uselessly in the air to right herself.

This had not been suicide. She had not leapt from the edge expecting to die. What thoughts came to the surface told Celestia of her intentions. When she jumped, she fully expected to catch herself. To use her skill in magic and improvise a spell that would soften her landing or catch her and the colt.

On her back, she could see nothing but blue, mountain, and the blur of that cliff, could think of no solution when there was so much to take in. Some distant, quiet part of her knew she'd hit the ground, and that doing so would hurt. It would hurt a lot. She tightened up and braced herself. Scared, she waited for the painful shock.

When she struck, the ground caught her in an embrace lighter than feathers, more giving than water, and more pliable than a brand new sapling. She drew in a startled breath as it folded, stretched, and bent around her, slowing her fall degree by degree until she thought it'd never quit stretching. Her stomach shot back into place, her mane settled, all the overwhelming sensations ceased except a sense of heaviness until she almost collected herself.

Something told her an instant before she halted that the ground felt unusually taut, like a pine taken to the edge of flexibility. Then, it snapped back into place. It slung Celestia helpless through the air. She shrieked in startled confusion, flailing wildly as she went, unsure what was happening, just that she was hurtling over the ground.

The cliff face loomed before her and she threw her hooves out. The impact sent shocks through her legs as they reduced the crash, though she escaped serious injury. For a harrowing moment, Celestia found herself bouncing off in rebound with nothing to catch herself. She flailed and screamed again, the air opening up around her. A snap decision sent a spell into the rock. Granite grew from the cliff face like an overeager branch seeking light, and a long, thick bough reached out beneath her.

Celestia landed on that round thrust of stone and wrapped her all her legs around, clinging harder to it than anything before in her life. Wiggling her hind and forequarters like an inchworm, she scrambled up the length and back to the solid mountain. Only once her nose brushed against the cliff did she let go, forming another spell which molded the stone into a wide, secure ledge for her to nestle her back against the wall.

Her heart pounded furiously, pumping blood hard and thick in her temples now that she laid down. Her whole body quaked with horrified thrill, and she stared fixedly at the ledge, afraid to step forward and view the bottom. She needed to wait and let the lingering feelings pass, to vent them out with her breath now that she was grounded.

Sharply, Celestia's thoughts turned to the colt she had left behind. She looked up and searched through the clouds her spell's wind had collected, eyes darting from one to another. High above and peeking over a fluffy edge, a tiny pony's head peered out and watched her with an unreadable expression.

A smile burst forth on Celestia. Then, a laugh erupted from her throat. "He's alright. We're alive." The remaining horror melted like a snowflake in Sun's gaze and left behind pure exhilaration. "We're alive! We're alive!" She clattered her forehooves on the stone, that fact both wonderful and hard to believe. The laugh was joined by more, uproarious and noisy. As she craned her neck to stare the distance she fell, she could not stop and it felt more a product of madness than joy. She had fallen many hundreds of pony lengths—an experience that felt instantaneous in retrospect despite so much having happened so fast— and survived by the width of a hair. A sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach came with that realization, even as her face split into a wide smile.

Unable to sit still, Celestia stood up with a skip in her trot. Her entire body sang with life and energy in abundance. She lived. She whooped loud and clear with victory. The colt and her were alive. It felt like reason enough to be happy. Out of curiosity, she approached the edge of her granite platform, to peer at what odd thing she landed on that cradled her fall so effortlessly.

The smile stopped. Abruptly, the laughter silenced on her lips and she stared down. The Earth was still fifty or so pony lengths below her, an easily lethal distance.

Nothing.

She had not fallen all the way to the ground. Celestia had landed on nothing. Empty air had caught her and thrown her against the cliff.

"Luna?" Celestia stared wide eyed as she shifted her gaze left and right. She had felt something, she had known for sure. Felt it against her back, her legs, saw it out of the corners of her eyes. Magic seemed the best answer, that Luna had been there and weaved a magical construct to save her from the fall.

Yet, the blue pony's shadow was nowhere to be found. All that she could see was—

A cloud.

In front and just below her, one of the clouds swept up in her spell-cast wind sat idly, as if waiting for another gust to send it on its way. It stretched long and thin, flat with fuzzy edges except for a single dimple at the center, where something had bruised it. Or some pony.

But if she could touch a cloud, that would mean . . .

Celestia scarcely breathed as she looked over her shoulder, quivering at the thought of what she might find. Folded at her side, a pegasus wing nestled against her body.

A gasp ripped from her throat and she stared in shock, a new height of elation coursing through her veins until she felt her skin could scarce contain it. The wings fluttered against her in response. With a thought, they stretched and Celestia beheld two broad, pegasus wings, feathers shimmering beautifully in a pure shade of white that matched her coat.

"O-o-o-oh my!" Gingerly, she touched one with a shaking hoof.

Luna was right. They did feel odd. Suddenly, extra limbs. Celestia knew this day would come ever since she saw her sister's wings. Why would it not? They were always a pair, even before their horns appeared. Yet, this was different. When Celestia gained her horn, she became a unicorn, a kind of pony known and revered. Now, what was she? Not unicorn, not Earth pony, not pegasus. Celestia and Luna were things never before seen.

Right now, though, none of that mattered. In what felt all too natural, her wings responded to her desires. She moved them up, down, tilted one way, then the other. They moved with unparalleled dexterity, able to manipulate themselves in tiny, precise ways for flight.

"Yes!" Celestia shouted and reared up, flaring her wings to either side. "Yes, yes, yes, yes!" No longer did she come as unicorn in a foreign herd, but as fellow pony of the air. If not a pegasus exactly, something very close, something equal. It changed everything.

Placing four hooves on the ground, she trotted in place with uncontainable glee. "I have wings! I have wings! Now, I'll get them to teach Luna how to fly." The next thought stopped her and she smiled broadly. "And I'll fly! And we'll both learn how to be with the pegasus ponies!"

Looking up, she caught sight of the colt, still staring down at her from far off. "Hello, you silly foal!" She laughed and spoke knowing full well that her voice would never carry the distance. "Just stay up there and you'll be fine. I think the other young ponies will have spread the word by now. Help will come soon to scoop you off the cloud."

Which left Celestia. A thought striking her, she craned her head over her shoulder and stretched one broad wing. "No. Oh, no." The wing snapped back into place and she shook her head, scattering the temptation away. The completely untried ability of flight risked killing Celestia at this height if she fell, and she could not trust her life to it. If anything, the colts and fillies had taught her the danger of an inexperienced flier. No, she needed a safer way to return

Leaning against the cliff face, she let loose an unrestrained groan. Without flying, Celestia had to scale the mountain the way she had previously: magic and a steep climb. Memories of the hardship returned and deflated all her enthusiasm.

In some ways, this time it had been easier. She did not have as far to go and had the spells for the task perfected from yesterday. Molding her granite platform like clay, she extended it all the way around, to the side of the mountain she had climbed the day before. As she came to the series of graduated ledges, she forged a ramp, climbed, dismantled it behind her, and repeated the process with thoughtless efficiency. The air did not grow thin like last time, which seemed to be another benefit of pegasus wings' latent magic.

Though, she had new problems. Luna was not there to undo the ramp and share the strain. That, and Celestia had not eaten since arriving. As boredom set in, her stomach began to complain with pangs and groans of hunger, making the ascent all the more miserable.

Twice, she had to do this. Twice climb this mountain, and that took its toll of energy. With her spare attention, Celestia contemplated the problem of food for herself and Luna while living in the cave.

An alternative way to scale the mountain tempted her. After coming near the top, the burning in her legs and drained quality to her mind wore her down. With a nervous swallow, she stared up at the next ledge. Only a few pony lengths high, a fall that would bruise but not kill. Slowly, and methodically, Celestia tested the motions of her wings. Sorting through all the advice the young ponies had shown or spoken, she took their directions one by one. Starting with the physical movements of the wings, she raised, turned, stroked down, and repeated the motion until it came effortlessly.

Diverting her thoughts away from the physical, she contemplated her need. Up. To hover. A gentle ascent to the next ledge. The wings themselves couldn't carry her the way such things worked for birds or bugs. But the magic in them had to be connected some way to both their actions and the pony's need.

Faster, and faster, her wings beat at the air. They were far too broad to buzz like that colt's and instead swept great swaths, swirling little eddies around her hooves. Firming up her resolve, she stared fixedly at where she wanted to go and let the wings do their work.

In an instant, she felt lighter. The weight on her shoulders and knees, so accustomed to holding her as to not be noticed, lifted. In only a breath, they weren't even touching the ground and it sent giddy, nervous excitement though her, where she couldn't help but utter a loud, "Heeee!"

But she couldn't let that distract her. She tossed the feelings aside and concentrated on her goal: a smooth hover yet higher. Celestia continued to rise in that deliberate manner, slowly progressing until she saw herself on level with the ledge.

That giddy excitement redoubled and she held her breath as she tried to drift forward.

"Celestia!" Luna's voice ripped through her concentration.

Her wings faltered and Celestia squealed a high, helpless yelp as she collapsed, only half way on the ledge.

"Oh my, I'm sorry!" Luna's apology came as she hurriedly tried to land.

Celestia scrambled on the stone, hooves trying to find purchase in which to hoist her rear up from hanging over the ledge. Instead of replying to Luna, she grunted with the effort and a touch of annoyance.

The blue mare galloped to her sister's side, clutched a bit of coat between her teeth, and helped haul Celestia onto solid ground. Uncomfortable, but the only feasible way to bring her up.

Once there, the elder sister rolled onto her back and let her chest heave for breath. Sweat collected on her brow, beading off in droplets.

"I came as soon as I heard!" Luna broke the silence still carrying a sense of urgency.

Collecting her thoughts together, Celestia rolled upright. "What did you hear?"

"Not much," The urgency faded, Luna's expression returning to that of the observer, recounting what she saw. "I overheard the pegasus ponies talking about a unicorn who leapt from the cliff. I hurried away after that." A relieved smile spread her lips and she let loose a pent up breath. "I didn't know what I would find. They didn't mention your wings." The smile turned subtle, but genuine. "They're beautiful, Celestia."

Celestia sat up on her haunches, silent only a beat in introspection. "Yes. Yes, thank you." She looked over her sister. "They were right, for the most part. A colt had fallen off the cliff before he really knew how to fly and I went after him. I was going to use my magic to save us . . ." She shrugged, her wings carrying the motion to their tips. "I didn't expect this to happen. They appeared during the fall."

Luna stared fixedly at the new limbs, lost in thought. Then, she asked, "How?"

The question caught Celestia off guard and she did not answer right away. Between the terrifying fall and the elation of their appearance, she did not think to wonder. "I needed them, I guess?" she said out loud, before she shook her head. "No, I would have needed them before when—" the wolves attacked, nearly fell out of her mouth in a lapse of judgment. It was not yet time to tell her little sister and burden Luna with the guilt that knowledge would bring. "When I fought Silver Spear. They would have appeared then."

"So it is something else?" Luna stated as she lifted a hoof to her chin. "What was different?"

"It's not fear," Celestia mulled her thoughts over out loud. "Or need for one's life."

"What were you thinking about when you fell?"

"Huh?"

"Magic comes from within, so . . ." Luna's eyes fell away, searching something inside. Celestia reminded herself that Luna had gained her wings first and had more time to think about these things. When Luna spoke again, her voice came low and heavy. Whatever she found had a deep and powerful place. "What were you thinking about when the wings appeared?"

Attention turning inward, Celestia closed her eyes. Experience fresh, the answer leapt to her tongue and simply felt right. Even if the events occurred too fast to understand all at once, she knew this had been part of her motivation. "The colt." She opened her eyes. "The colt was even younger than Painted Hoof, when he died. I thought of this pegasus' friends crying. I thought of them asking their mothers 'why,' as I had. I didn't want them to have to ask, or be answered."

Luna stared with a solemn frown and no words to speak.

Celestia regarded her sister, and found she did not like the silence, or her own feelings brought up by Painted Hoof. "When did yours appear, again?" the white mare asked with a slight turn of her head.

"Oh, I was fighting Phantom Spell," Luna said without pride, just stating facts. "And a few other unicorns he had brought with him. The battle got heated and magic was being thrown everywhere. They wanted to move me to a different tree, but I refused because that would ruin my plan."

"Aww!" Celestia felt her mouth stretch with a wide, almost teasing grin. "You wanted to be with your big sis!" She pecked Luna's cheek with a kiss and the grin turned into a laugh.

The blue mare's brows furrowed, looking entirely unconvinced.

As far as ideas went, Luna's felt plausible. "Maybe you're right, though." The laugh fell away. "Since magic does come from within, and these wings are clearly magic …" Celestia let her thought trail off. The need to save that colt had indeed been powerful, in ways she felt very hard to express. Powerful enough to awaken another part of the gift from the stars, perhaps?

A young male's chuckle interrupted the train of thought and both sisters looked up to find Rebel Bolt winding effortlessly through the air. "There you are," he said while coming to a gentle landing. "I knew it was a good idea to bring you here." With an expression smug as Celestia had ever seen a pony, he trotted to them. "Everyone is talking about it."

"Rebel!" Luna beamed at the sight. "We've been looking for you, too."

Inhaling a deep breath, Celestia let out a relaxing sigh and regarded Rebel with the shadow of a smile. "Yes, I imagine they are. What are they saying about me?"

The pegasus replied without missing a beat. "It's the funniest thing any pony has ever seen."

Celestia froze solid in disbelief. "…What?"

"They nicknamed you Pink Plummet. No one can stop laughing."

Her jaw went slack before she snapped it closed, anger rising in her blood like a burbling spring. "And the fact I saved someone's foal from falling to his death in front of his friends?!"

Bolt regarded Celestia as if she took leave of her senses. "You jumped off a cliff without any wings." The statement brought another short laugh and he tried to speak through a smile. "Really, who is that dumb?"

The burbling spring swelled and flooded, and Celestia thought she might begin foaming at the mouth. Her lips worked sporadically, trying to form words over meaningless sounds as Celestia's frustration mounted beyond language.

"You have wings now." Bolt remarked mildly before he shrugged. "The story is already too funny, so I don't think that matters."

Whatever impediment had been placed over her tongue vanished, and curses flowed without end. "Of all the Sun scorched, Moon forsaken, foolish, idiotic herds I've ever seen of in my life!" Celestia marched back and forth with her hooves pounding the ground, bucking at the air, or rearing back and flailing her forelimbs in impotent ire. "These pegasi are the most backwards in the Everfree Forest! The wings are sucking the wits out of their heads! The cave is smothering their Sunless thoughts! They are all mad ponies, goat-headed! A topsy-turvy herd of chuckling fools!"

Luna kept her distance, watching in silence as the tirade sent Celestia from one end of the ledge to the other with her pacing and flailing. Rebel Bolt smiled with amusement, using his wings to hang in the air with a relaxed ease, forehooves crossed.

"I save one of their kind and they think it's wolf-begotten hilarious!" Most of her anger worked out, she whirled on Bolt. "So, what now? How do I find help as a joke? We need to learn to fly!"

The pegasus gave her a peculiar look, some part of her statement striking him as strange.

The tide of emotions emptying from her, Celestia felt drained and exasperated beyond her capacity. "Will no pony help?"

"Ugh," Rebel's face contorted with disgust. "Teaching an adult pony how to fly? That sounds boring, and weird."

"What about you?" Celestia cantered beneath the hovering pegasus and looked up, face pleading out of sheer desperation. "Luna called you a friend!"

A pair of midnight blue ears shot up and Luna's neck straightened with sudden, intense interest.

Bolt's mouth parted in surprise, his sky blue eyes clear as summer day and just as transparent. Pain flashed through them and stayed as Celestia saw her comment had stumbled across tender ground. The humor had left Bolt and he settled his wings to land, folding them at his sides.

"I can't help." Remorse, thick and genuine, colored his voice. "Not with all that. But I know someone who might help you understand."
For the description, see chapter 1 [link]

This picture also done at request from Madmax
:iconcsimadmax:
She is an awesome person. Go check her out

Special thanks to Lightsideluc for editing this chapter with me. :iconlightsideluc:
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