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Merely a Mare Chapter 6, Part 2: Magic

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As soon as Luna and Celestia disappeared from the image in the pool, it faded. Twilight Sparkle blinked at the clear water as the sudden silence weighed on her. She did not remember having fallen to her haunches, but the mare found that she was sitting on the loose pages that carpeted most of Ever Free's library.  Her mentor's words echoed in her mind, and something deep inside of her threatened to claw its way out. She clenched her throat and held it in; she did not know whether it would have emerged as a laugh or a scream.

The librarian flinched at the impact of a hoof on stone behind her. It was followed by another strike, then more in slow and even rhythm as Ever Free broke into a grim applause that echoed through the cavern. His voice dripped with a droll venom as he spoke, "Oh, good show. The crocodile tears of immortal tyrants are always so very moving."

"What reason do you have to doubt our sincerity?" Luna asked from her place on the other side of the scrying pool. The princess of the night stood next to her sister, who had regained the warm glory to which Twilight Sparkle was accustomed. A ghost of a smile crossed the unicorn's lips as she gazed at the waving rainbow of Celestia's mane.

Ever Free allowed his hoof to drop a final time, grinding it into the floor as he sneered at the new arrivals. "What reason do I have to believe you? I trusted you in the past, and it brought only grief. You won't pull the wool over my eyes so easily now. You only act for your own benefit; your appeals to virtue are hollow."

He gestured to the five from Ponyville with a wing as he glared across the pool at the sisters. "Loyalty, to you. Generosity, to those who have served you. Kindness, to those you favor. Laughter, at those who oppose you. Honesty, when it suits you. You twist these blessings to suit your own ends. I pity the bearers of your tools."

Ever Free ignored the pointed glares and hurt looks of the mortal ponies. His twisted face softened as his smile became genuine. "But" he continued, "I do not believe that Twilight Sparkle is as easily manipulated as most of these sycophants. Am I right, little one? Do you accept their royal lies at face value? Are you like your  poor friends here?"

Twilight glanced over her shoulder at Ever Free, meeting his gaze for a moment before looking across the pool. The intent curiosity in Luna's eyes was familiar; the librarian had often seen it in the mirror. Celestia's visage held only the same hopeful pride that had always filled it. The mare could not bear to look at her friends. She did not know whether she was failing them or they were failing her, but the doubts remained all the same. Her eyes dropped to her hooves and she studied them intently as she answered, "I... I don't know."

"What I showed you," Luna called out, "was not a trick! The image was true, the words were true, and I felt the sincerity of my sister's answers. She cares for you, not as a means to an end, but as a pony. You are very dear to her, oh Bearer of Magic," her eyes swept across the mortal ponies, lingering for a moment on Applejack as she continued, "and you are all very dear to me."

Twilight Sparkle forced herself to meet her mentor's eyes. They held the same joy and pride that always filled them when the alicorn looked at her. Celestia opened her mouth as if to speak, but no sound came. The princess merely nodded once, slowly.

For the first time in weeks, she felt a spark of hope.

"You are a pawn to her, Twilight," Ever Free hissed. "Never forget that. She used you and she would use any of us. We are just her creations, toys built to serve her purpose."

For the first time in Twilight Sparkle's memory, princess Celestia raised her voice. Indignation filled the shouted words, "Not anymore! Much has changed since you took your leave of the world; I am not as I was. I care for the race of ponies as a mother cares for her children."

Ever Free reared and neighed, drawing all eyes as his own rolled in rage. With a powerful beat of his wings, he leaped over the six mares from ponyville and landed in the middle of the scrying pool. The splash shattered the serenity of the water, but the shallow basin barely wet the stallion's matted fetlocks. He began to take a step toward the princesses, who watched his rage impassively, but he stopped, trembling. He put his hoof down and spoke, his voice building from a whisper to a roar as his words spilled forth, "You dare? You dare speak to me of children? After what your sister did to us... you dare!?"

Celestia dropped her gaze, but her eyes flicked to Twilight before they settled on the ground. "I am not proud of it. Never think that, whatever else you believe of us, my little pony. It was my failure and my fault, and I'm sorry."

Luna placed a hoof on her sister's side, looking up at the other mare as she spoke words of comfort, "You did the best you could. Falling short of perfection is not failure, sister."

The princess of the day smiled down at the other alicorn. "In this, Luna, I believe that it is. My imperfection caused them so much suffering." She sighed. "I cannot shrug off that blame so easily."

"Nor," the dark mare countered with a frown, "should you take the blame upon yourself for something that you could not have foreseen."

Ever Free snorted. "And so the fault disappears entirely in this divine cup game? Do you think that a few switches and some slight of hoof can make atrocities disappear like so many grifters' tokens? Whatever fault Celestia bears, yours is far greater, tyrant of the night. Whatever else I may forget, I will not forget that it was you that dealt the deathblow to my race. You are the one that turned our children into these...," the stallion gestured to the mortal mares behind him with a dismissive hoof, "beings. You took their strength, their grace, and their magic, and left them with a feeble shadow of one of their three birthrights. Worst of all, you took their immortality, as limited as it was in the hooves of my race. You made us watch our children die. A generation born feeble, that passed on so quickly. Is it any wonder that we finally collapsed? I have scryed, Luna. The few alicorns that remain are not in so fine a state as I have managed to keep myself." He took a final look over his shoulder at the assemblage of unicorns, pegasi, and earth ponies that were the bearers of the Elements of Harmony and shook his head in silence.

"I am sorry," Luna replied, "What more can I say? My intervention was not all that I had hoped. I erred in judgement; I did not know your kind as well as I thought I did. In hindsight, I see many of the mistakes I made. Still, I had to do what I could to save the alicorns, when the research my sister was doing with-," she cut herself off as Celestia shot her a warning glance. The dark alicorn nodded up at the other princess and continued, "When my sister's research failed."

Ever Free turned and began to pace in the basin, each step sending ripples through the water with an audible splash. "Why? Why did you take it upon yourselves to attempt to 'save' us? Do you think we would not have seen our doom approaching? Do you think we would not have acted on our own until the last of us was dead?" The stallion looked from Luna to Celesta and back. "Why didn't you just leave well enough alone?"

"The plight of the alicorns was my fault," Celestia said. "I could not 'leave well enough alone' as you say. I anticipated the extinction of your race due to a flaw in design. As your designer, I felt as though it was my problem to fix."

Ever Free turned to the mortal ponies and threw a hoof toward the princess of the day. "There it is, my little ponies. There is the unbridled arrogance that is the essence of our goddesses. They flaunt the power they have over us. In their eyes, we are not worthy of true consideration. They care for us not as equals, but as a project, a hobby. Their concerns are above our own, and our desires are taken into account last, if they are considered at all. You have all been pawns in their petty squabble, Twilight Sparkle most of all. She is not the first nor will she be the last. I have written of it, I have read of it, and now I see it before my very eyes, as I no doubt have many times before." He stared for a few heavy seconds at the six before spun to face the princesses.

Luna and Celestia frowned, but neither spoke.

"It was our problem," the stallion continued. "We were the ones dying. We were the ones that felt every loss. Even if when we could no longer remember their faces. Especially then..." he trailed off, falling silent.

"I felt every loss as well," Luna whispered, "and that is precisely what drove me to act."

"To act like a fool," Ever Free spat. "We watched our children die because of you."

Celestia took a step into the pool as her eyes filled with compassion. "I have experienced that pain as well, Ever Free. I watch all of my children die."

The stallion snorted. "You watch all of your creations die. It is not the same thing. You have never lost a mate. You have never lost a naturally-born child." He ran a hoof slowly across the surface of the water, watching the ripples for a moment before shaking his head. "I feel little for the beasts of this forest, but the heartache of two deaths filled this library. These shelves are an epitaph. Read the books and know my pain, if you can, but do not speak as though you understand me until you have." He turned away from the sisters, and his head drooped as his eyes closed.

It was the first time Twilight had seen any emotion other than frothing rage, manic glee, or smug self-satisfaction on that face.

Celestia spoke, her voice soft, "The lines on a page can never be more than the faintest echo of what true feeling is. All the pain of all the words in all the libraries in the world add up to far less than a single broken heart." She sighed, long and slow. "If you could feel what I feel instead of hearing what I say, and I could do the same for you, then perhaps we would truly understand each other. In any case, you're wrong. I have lost a mate to Luna's blessing. Even today, nearly five centuries later, I still feel it. The only thing that truly scares me," she paused, her eyes flicking to Twilight Sparkle for a fraction of an instant, "is the idea of ever feeling it again."

"If that is so," Ever Free replied, "then why don't you want her punished? Have you not also suffered from her actions?"

Celestia snorted. "I forgave my sister for that. It is an example you would do well to consider. Even if I were to punish Luna, what would you have me do? What penance would you demand from her that would fit what she has done?"

"Demand?" the stallion questioned incredulously, "You ask what I demand? You humor me, but we both know that I am in no position to demand anything from you. There is no higher authority. I have no means by which to resist your wills. Compared to yours, my magic is but a candle against the sun." He sighed and fell to his haunches with a light splash. He gazed into the clear water before him, his eyes wide. "I've waited five thousand years for this confrontation, Celestia. I thought that you would come for me sooner. I thought that I would have more to say when you did, but I know that I cannot make you pay for your crimes. I can only appeal to whatever decency you may have, if there is any within that flawless shell.

"Perhaps these witnesses," he said, tossing his head toward the mares behind him, "are enough to make you pretend that you do. You put on a good show of benevolence for them, princess, even if your true self slips through now and again. I suppose this is the best I could have hoped for, even if it's a grim chance. What do I demand, Celestia? I have no ground to stand on for demands, but I do ask one thing of your sister. It is the same thing I would ask of you, for your role in all of this. I want you both to do what you should have done a long time ago. I want you to abdicate." His gaze grew sharp as he met Celestia's eyes, and his words hardened to match it. "I want you to leave the Equestria, and never return."

"No!" Applejack's voice rang out, and all eyes turned to her.

The farmer adjusted her hat, pulling the brim down as she looked away from the rest of the ponies. She said nothing more, but her outburst seemed to break the spell of magic or psychology that kept her fellows silent. Their voices rose in an unintelligible cacophony, protests jumbling together into a horrified objection.

"Enough!" Ever Free roared over his shoulder at them, "did I not tell you that you were to be silent?"

"Let them speak," Luna said, "They have a right to be heard."

"What right?" the stallion asked, "This discussion is beyond their ken. I have lived long enough to learn all they know, and far more."

The dark alicorn snorted. "I could say the same of you, young one. Even if you were as old as me, that would not mean you'd have all my knowledge, nor I yours. I've lived as long as my sister, near enough, but we did not learn the same things at the same time."

Luna looked up at Celestia as she continued, "My sister taught me how to manipulate the building blocks of all things and I taught her how to manipulate the space between. Each of us knew one of these things for a longer time than you can fathom before we finally shared that knowledge with each other. If we had never tried to learn from each other, the world would be a very different place, and ponies would not exist.

"More to the point," the mare continued, turning her gaze back to Ever Free, "if she had not created your race, my sister and I would not have the knowledge that we do now. We were ancient when she formed the alicorns, but we learned from them. It was your people that taught us language, for example. There is no reason to speak when only one pony exists to communicate with and limitless time and power with which to show them what you mean. That method was sufficient for millions of years, but our conversations, such as they were, spanned centuries. Language distilled feelings and impressions and doubts and hopes and fears that I could not have expressed in all the eons my sister and I spent together into a simple sound that represented so much more. I cannot describe the joy I felt when I first called this pony 'sister'." She nuzzled Celesta and other alicorn beamed and returned the gesture.

Ever Free's mouth twisted in contempt, but he did not speak.

Luna favored the scarred alicorn with a nod of respect. "Necessary or not, speech is useful, eloquent, and beautiful. I have your kind to thank for that gift. We never would have come up with it on our own. A difference in perspective, priorities, or experience can yield unique insights." The princess pointed a hoof across the pool and smiled at the mares from Ponyville. "These ponies are different in so many ways, and there is great value in that. In the last few weeks, they have taught me more than I would have considered possible a thousand years ago. If I can find value in their words," she said, addressing the stallion, "then you can as well."

Celestia nodded. "Absolutely. I still remember fondly the mortal stallion who taught me so much about ponies, and about myself. You too should try to learn the lessons that these mares can teach."

"Fine," Ever Free huffed, "but save the vapid objections. There is little to learn from a pony shouting 'no' at me. The point remains: you two need to leave."

"Why?" Luna asked, "What purpose does it serve? It would prevent nothing; I have no intention of making the same mistake twice. I will be the first to admit that I should not have taken the fates of all ponies into my hooves so casually, but I have suffered for it and continue to suffer. Why ask for more?"

"It would be justice," the stallion spat.

Celestia tilted her head. "Justice for what crimes?" she asked.

"The slaying of somepony very dear to me, for one," he replied, looking from one sister to the other and back. "I accuse you both of the murder of Golden Rose. What do you have to say for yourselves?"

Twilight's eyes widened and a shock passed through her as she heard the too-familiar name. As she had so often in class, she found herself blurting out a correction to a misrepresented point of history. "They didn't kill Golden Rose, Ever Free! Heavens Sparkle did."

Celestia hung her head, shaking it slowly. Luna just looked on, her brow furrowed in confusion.

Ever Free turned just far enough to fix one glaring eye on the librarian "What?" he asked, his voice low.

Twilight Sparkle trembled. Something in the stallion's tone caused her eyes to widen and her vision tunnel. The mare's heart began to pound in her chest as her breathing quickened. She felt the primal urge to bolt, to run, to put as much distance as she could between herself and the ancient being before her. She found that she could not; his unwavering gaze seemed to pin her in place. She swallowed, pushing her instincts to the back of her mind. She was a rational pony, and she was right about a fact. That was enough.

That had always been enough.

She looked over her shoulder as her horn began to glow. A matching aura appeared around her bag, which rose from the reading table and deposited itself in front of her. She reached a hoof in and poked around, moving books aside until the telltale glint of gold alerted her to the volume she wanted. The unicorn levitated The Journal of Heavens Sparkle out of its pocket, and turned the gilt-leaf flower on the cover toward the alicorns. "Was... was this her cutie mark?" she asked, flinching slightly despite herself.

Luna gasped and raised a hoof to cover her mouth as her eyes widened in horror.

Ever Free nodded slowly. "It is." He frowned. "What book is that and what does it have to do with her?"

Twilight Sparkle swallowed and opened the journal, flipping through it as she began to babble, "This is Heavens Sparkle's journal. He's... a distant relative of mine who lived a long time ago. Most of the text is about his mentor, his family, and his friends. The last few entries, though, are very dark. His son was born deformed, passed the deformity on to another generation of children, and died young. Heavens Sparkle went mad with grief. He blamed it on his mate, Golden Rose, and killed her. But he was wrong, it wasn't her. When he learned that, he passed the journal on to his grandson before going into seclusion to keep himself from hurting anypony else." The librarian looked up and gave Ever Free a hopeful half-smile as the glowing pages continued to turn themselves.

"His mate? What do you mean his mate?" the stallion asked, his tone split evenly between confusion and anger. "Golden Rose was my mate!"

The librarian and the pages both stopped. Twilight's eyes widened, then flicked from the book to one of the papers that covered the floor and back as she compared the lines of ink. The hornwriting was identical. The mare's ears folded back as realization overtook her. She gazed across the pool, and the pity in the eyes of the princesses confirmed her worst fears. "You're right," she replied, her voice weak.

"Of course I'm right." He frowned. "So who is Heavens Sparkle?"

Twilight shook as she considered whether the alicorn would be more angered by silence or by her response.

Celestia sighed. "It's hard to say this, Ever Free, but you deserve to know. You are Heavens Sparkle," Celestia replied. "You wrote that journal."

For a few heartbeats, nopony spoke.

"Lies," Ever Free whispered. "This is a trick. I loved Golden Rose. I would never have... I could never have killed her. It was you!" he shouted, jabbing a hoof at the other alicorns, "I know it."

"How do you know?" Luna asked.

The stallion drew himself up to his full height. "I wrote it down, so that I could never forget. I read it every day, so the words stay fresh."

"An' how," Applejack called out, "do you know you wrote the truth?"

Ever Free frowned. "Why would I lie to myself?"

"Why wouldn't you lie, if the truth were so," Rarity paused, shuddering, "absolutely horrible?"

Rainbow Dash scoffed, "It wouldn't change what he did. What's the point?"

"It must have hurt so much, to know," Fluttershy said, "I mean, if it were me I might..." As all eyes turned to her, she disappeared behind Applejack with a squeak.

Pinkie Pie scratched her head with a hoof. "It's like a surprise party, but backward. Or maybe sideways or inside out. Hide something bad so you don't know about it 'till one day you open the door and it all hits you at once." Her ears folded back. "I've never said this before, but I wish we hadn't been invited to this party."

"This is foolishness!" Ever Free shouted, "and I will not stand for such defamation. Even if I were this 'Heavens Sparkle', that story is just a way for them to frame me for the crimes that they committed."

"Why would they do that?" Pinkie Pie asked.

"Well... well," the stallion stammered, "it's quite clearly a trick. A way to make it look like my accusations are unfounded. To turn you against me."

"We were already against you," Rainbow Dash said, rolling her eyes, "duh."

"It all just seems like so much trouble to go through to deflect only one accusation," Rarity added, "How did they know that Twilight would bring the book? Or that you would go after Twilight? Or any number of things, for that matter."

"The tyrant of the sun plans so far in advance that you could not possibly imagine the scale," Ever Free insisted, "She twists every eventuality to her own end, and leaves nothing to chance. I would not be surprised if you all being here now was her plan all along."

Celestia sighed. "I wish I could be as competent as you think I am, Heavens Sparkle. I would not have made so many mistakes, overlooked so much, failed so destructively. Even if I was too familiar with power in the past, my days of heartless manipulation are behind me. I no longer have the desire to be a tyrant. This meeting is your doing, not mine."

"Lies, it is all lies," the stallion murmured, his eyes wide as he stared at the ground. "You cannot trust anything that she says."

"You are Heavens Sparkle," Celestia insisted. She took a few steps into the pool and stopped in front of Ever Free as her horn began to glow. "You can deny it, you can run from it, you can hide for thousands of years as you cover yourself with scars to disfigure what lies beneath, but you cannot escape it in the end. You are who you are, Heavens. The things you have done do not go away when you lie to yourself. You have committed an unspeakable crime, but it need not define you. I have seen the good within you, the joy and the life." She smiled at the stallion, and the white aura around her horn grew.

The other alicorn refused to meet her gaze. He clenched and unclenched his jaw as he frowned at the water beneath her.

Celestia reached out a hoof and placed it under Ever Free's chin, raising his muzzle until she could look him in the eyes. "You have shrouded yourself in darkness, putting distance and ground and scars and hatred between yourself and any who could help you. You covered your pain with vitriol and tried to forget the wounds inside of you instead of treating them. It is all buried so deep, but who you truly are never goes away. No matter how black you make your heart, the light inside can still shine through."

The brilliance of Celestia's magic grew, and Twilight raised a leg to block the glare just before a final flash hit. For a few moments the unicorn was struck blind, but as she blinked her sight began to return.

The pair of alicorns in the pool had not moved. The only thing different was Heavens Sparkle's flanks: a yellow, five-pointed star marked each one.

"Even as I speak, the events I showed to you are fading from your memory, Heavens Sparkle," Celestia said, "but it should be enough to see that what I said was truth; you saw what you did on that day."

The stallion nodded mutely, his eyes wide as he stared past the princess.

"Princess Celestia?" Twilight asked hesitantly, "what did you do?"

The alicorn turned to smile at her student. "I showed him what happened, all those years ago. I showed him who he was, and he responded." She glanced at Heavens Sparkle with a quizzical frown. "I did not expect the process to restore his cutie mark, though," she added.

The stallion gave his head a shake as he blinked, seeming to come to his senses. He stood, water dripping from his coat, and a red aura surrounded his horn. With a flash, he dried himself, then turned toward Twilight. The alicorn's scarlet aura surrounded the Journal of Heavens Sparkle, wrenching it from the librarian's magic grasp. It floated to Heavens, who gazed longingly at the rose on the cover for a moment. He flipped the tome over and studied the five-pointed star that adorned the back of the tome and matched his cutie mark. "I... have reading to do, and much to think upon."

Celestia smiled at him. "When you are ready to talk about this, old friend, please pay me a visit in Canterlot."

"I don't know if I will ever be ready. Not for this." The stallion sighed. "I can't bear to look at your face. On some level, I still believe you did it, even though I know that's not true. I was so sure. Talk? To you? Not this century. Maybe I'll be able to write." He glanced at the crowd of mortal ponies. "I'm sorry that I wasn't strong enough." With a final burst of red light, the alicorn and his journal disappeared.

For a heartbeat, the library was silent.

"Wahoo!" Rainbow Dash yelled, pounding her hooves into the floor in applause, "Way to go princess!"

"Oh, good show indeed your grace, well done," Rarity added, bringing her hooves together politely to add to her friend's ovation.

"That was just about the best light show ever," Pinkie Pie raved, "You're awesome, princess!"

Celestia nodded in acknowledgement at the celebrating ponies, a slim smile upon her lips.

"So... is it over? Did that put everythin' to rights?" Applejack asked.

"No," Twilight stated, "I don't think it did." She addressed her mentor, "Princess, who was he?"

Celestia smiled at her student. "As you saw, he was Heavens Sparkle."

"Not his name," the unicorn replied, her voice a dull monotone. "Who was he to you? How did you know him?"

"He was her research assistant and personal student," Luna said, and her sister nodded.

"How long have you known he lived here?" Twilight asked.

"I knew where he disappeared to as soon as he left," Celestia replied

The librarian frowned. "Why didn't you do that," she paused, gesturing with a hoof to the space that Heavens had occupied at the center of the pool, "thing before?"

"Because I didn't know that he blamed me for the death of his mate," the princess answered, her brow furrowing in confusion.

"You would have known," Twilight snapped, "if you had talked to him."

"I suppose...," Celestia trailed off as she tilted her head. "What are you asking, Twilight?"

"But you didn't talk to him, did you?" the unicorn asked.

"Twilight," Celestia began.

"You just didn't care," the mare spat, interrupting her mentor.

"That's not true," Celestia insisted, stomping a hoof in frustration.

"Then why didn't you go and comfort him when he realized what he did, try to help him get better, recover for his madness?" Twilight asked, "Or if you were a tyrant, why didn't you lock him up?" Her voice fell. "He just didn't matter one way or another to you, did he?

Celestia looked away from her student. "I was different in the past. My priorities with regard to ponies were not what they should have been, were not what they are now."

The unicorn tilted her head. "Then what were you thinking?"

"I believed...," the alicorn hesitated, her eyes running over the forest of bookshelves that filled the cavern, "I believed that he deserved to get the space he wanted."

Twilight snorted and spoke in the sardonic tone that had come so much easier to her before she'd made any friends, "Well it clearly wasn't what he needed."

Celestia's face fell. "I could not have known-"

"And if your priorities are so far improved now," the librarian cut in, "then why haven't you contacted him recently? Reached out to him?" She paused. "Told him about his descendants?"

"I've been... stubborn." The princess sighed. "In hindsight, I ought to have acted sooner," she added with a nod.

"Acted!?" Twilight Sparkle shouted, leaping to her hooves as righteous indignation overtook her. "You shouldn't have acted! You should have talked. How could you think that it's okay to just appear out of the blue and sweep away five thousand years of bitter feelings and ignoring each other?" She pointed a hoof at her mentor and jabbed it forward to punctuate her points. "He had every reason to distrust you; if he forgot killing his mate and you haven't seen him since then, then it seems certain he's forgotten everything he really knew about you. It would have been hard, but you could have talked to him, convinced him. You could have tried! Didn't he deserve that much, at least, despite what he did? You could have saved your friendship, or built a new one. Isn't that what's important? Friendship is new to me, but I know that you can make magic with friendship. I don't think it works the other way around. You barely let him process what he'd learned before you stepped in and zapped his concerns away. Now he's gone. Do you know where he is?" She glanced around, an exaggerated expression of vapid ignorance on her face. Her visage hardened as it returned to Celestia. "Because I don't. Did you think that maybe I'd want to talk to him, now that I know he's my however-many-times-great grandfather? Did you even think about it?" She snorted in derision. "I guess not. What's a personal student one way or the other? You'll always have another one in a generation or two."

Twilight sighed. The look of hurt growing in her mentor's eyes tormented the unicorn, but it did not stop more words from spilling forth. "Could that have been me? If you can let one personal student rot away alone in a library, stewing in misplaced bitterness, why not another? Would you have simply left me there?  If I'd ever gathered enough courage to send you a letter, would you have answered it? He didn't remember what he'd been to you, but you did. I don't have the words to express what you are to me, but with your knowledge, you must. Why didn't you try to remind him? Why didn't you try to teach me?" She sank to the ground, lying at the edge of the scrying pool, and dipped a hoof in. For a moment, she just watched the ripples spread. "You know me better than I know myself, but I feel like I don't know you at all. There's just so much to you that I can't see it all, and I can't tell whether I'm looking at part of a face or part of a mask." When the water stilled, Twilight studied her reflection. She didn't think that scars would have looked good on her. She wondered if she had any choice in the matter; perhaps they would find her whether or not she sought them out

Twilight put a hoof through the image in the pool, banishing it. She spoke again, weary defeat heavy in her words, "How do we know that you did what you said? How do I know you didn't just cast a spell of obedience or show him something untrue? Would you do the same to me?" Twilight looked up at her mentor and stared at the torque around the alicorn's neck. She couldn't force her gaze any higher. "How can I ever look you in the eyes again?" she whispered.

"If I explained myself," Celestia replied, "would you believe me?" There was no hope in the alicorn's voice, only resignation.

Twilight closed her eyes as her head lowered. "I wish I knew."

The librarian started as she felt a hoof on her shoulder. She looked up to see Luna smiling down at her, and Applejack standing at the alicorn's side. The others from Ponyville clustered around Twilight, concern plain on all their faces. The princess of the night spoke, her voice low and kind, "Bearer, you have doubts. I understand. We all have doubts; even I have doubts about my sister, as she has doubts about me. We have spent a long time together and have not always been in accord. We have lied to each other, insulted each other, hurt each other. I even betrayed her, becoming a twisted shadow of my true self in the process. I could have ruined all that we worked together to achieve. She knows that I still have the capacity for that sort of act, and after seeing her today, I know that she has that capacity as well. I don't think either of us will succumb, but neither of us can truly be sure. Even with that knowledge, I trust her."

"Why?" Twilight whispered.

Luna looked across the pool at her sister. "A month ago, I wouldn't have been able to answer that, but now... now I think I can. There are many reasons," she said, turning toward Rainbow Dash. "I trust her because she is my sister, the only being I can call family, and that bond is worth preserving."

The princess nodded at Rarity, who bowed at the acknowledgement. "I trust her," the alicorn continued, "because I must. The balance of this world is disrupted when we are at odds, and we cannot accomplish anything for anypony if we cannot work together with confidence."

Pinkie Pie beamed as Luna's gaze fell on her. "I trust her because I want to. It makes me happy to do so because she makes me happy. We cannot enjoy each others' company if we cannot trust each other."

Luna smiled at Fluttershy, who averted her gaze, hiding behind a curtain of pink mane. The alicorn giggled. "I trust her because it hurts to be distrusted, and I don't want her to feel that pain."

Applejack blushed as Luna nuzzled her neck. The princess of the night looked back down at Twilight. "Most of all, I trust her because she is an honest pony. She does not always tell the whole truth. She did not always tell the truth at all.  I thought that such things were dishonesty, but a wise mare once told me that honesty isn't about telling the truth; it's about being worth trusting. You trusted my sister your whole life. Think of what she gave you, what you learned, how much you enjoyed being her student. Look at what you have now," Luna said, her hoof pointing to each of her friends in turn.

"We're here for you Twilight, no matter what you decide," Rainbow Dash insisted with a cocky grin. The other mares nodded, and the librarian felt a pair of hooves wrap gingerly around her neck as Fluttershy pulled her into a hug. Twilight Sparkle opened her mouth, but she was too overcome to say anything; she didn't know what words could have expressed her appreciation even if she had been able to speak.

"The question to ask is not 'can I trust her?'" Luna said, "the question is: 'is she worth trusting?'"

"What do you say, Twilight Sparkle?" Celestia asked as the other ponies moved aside to let her approach her student. "Will you give me a chance to explain myself? Will you let me try to assuage your doubts?"

Twilight smiled up at her mentor and stood. "No," she said, "I won't. More words for me to pick apart? I would only see what I wanted to see in them anyway. I'll trust you, princess. If anypony is worth trusting, it's you."

Celestia stepped forward and hugged the unicorn, pulling the other mare close as she whispered, "Oh, my most faithful student... I cannot express how much I missed you."

Twilight Sparkle did not doubt that the words were true. She simply smiled, and trusted, and the moment glowed like magic in her heart.
Edited by ::iconsosweetntasty::
© 2012 - 2021 EbonMane
Comments17
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So Luna is not called out for her genocide? A sterility plague would have been more merciful. And Celestia is not called out for the even greater crime of having the monumental arrogance to think that she had the right, and worse, the ability, to create sentient beings? I hate everyone in this story.
EbonMane's avatar
Every one of your direct human ancestors by definition created (or helped create) a sentient being.
ItsTheWhinyGuys's avatar
Ooh, I wasn't expecting Ever Free's identity, though looking back at some of the hints from earlier, it makes sense. Also, Luna's speech to Twilight really felt right. Nicely done!
madman12000's avatar
Poor Heavens. I guess that would explain a bit of Twi's impressive power, though.
So none of the mane six is going to call them out on the creation of "mortality" ? and if the Alicorns were becoming violent because of their short memories (IE those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it) then why not IMPROVE it instead of genocide-by-proxy?
mlpMaconMixx's avatar
So happy! Such a happy ending! At first, I was like, NO, this is going WAY TOO QUICKLY! But then Twilight said the same thing, and it was dealt with in-story. Not resolved, but dealt with. Very clever.
chinlamp's avatar
That reveal almost came out of nowhere. I knew that Heavens Sparkle was an alicorn from how the journal was described in earlier chapters, but the fact that the main antagonist was him was completely unexpected.

I like how you didn't do what most fanfic authors have done so far. So many fics have happy, clean resolutions when the characters involved and the events leading to the climax demand for a sloppy, angst filled conclusion. I know that goes against the theme of the show, but sometimes it's called for. A lot of lesser writers would have had Celestia show him the past, say it was true and leave it at that. You had Twilight call her out on that. Kudos to you. Although I still feel that after that, it was a little to cut and dry. I know you wanted to wrap it up, but I honestly feel like you should have left it open and ambiguous as to whether or not Twilight forgave Celestia and let people wonder if Celestia spent the rest of Twilights life trying to prove herself. That's probably just me though :P
Total-Brony's avatar
Oooh, is that...? I think there is a piece over there.

And, wait a second. Is that another piece?

Sorry everypony, could you watch your feet please? I am just trying to pick up various pieces of my heart.

Ebonmane, could you pass me that piece please?
Kirkwood89's avatar
I cried at when Ever Free was revealed to be Heavens Sparkle. Thanks for that. lol
ragnad's avatar
"What do you say, Twilight Sparkle?" Celestia asked as the other ponies moved aside to let her approach her student. "Will you give me a chance to explain myself? Will you let me try to assuage your doubts?"

Twilight smiled up at her mentor and stood. "No," she said, "I won't. "

- My heart damn near stopped when Twilight said, "No".

Especially after rebuking her mentor for her treatment of Heaven's Sparkle...

...then I read the rest of the paragraph.

Way to go!
KawaiiFeather's avatar
I loved to see a story where Twilight actually doubts Celestia over something
EbonMane's avatar
Without doubts, devotion means little.

Thank you for reading!
Lurks-no-More's avatar
Oh, wow. Ever Free's identity? You completely blindsided me with that.

The confrontations here were really good, and very powerful, both the one between Ever Free and Celestia, and the one between Twilight and Celestia. The part about leaving your personal apprentices rot in resentment in a library somewhere... harsh, but justified, especially with the connections there!

And yet... it works out well, in the end. Seems like you were worth trusting as a writer. ;)
EbonMane's avatar
Honestly, I consider the reveal to be a bit of a failure, since I didn't want it to be a shock, even if it was a bit of a surprise. I don't think I foreshadowed it enough, and I certainly didn't foreshadow Golden Rose enough.

Oh well, lessons learned. I'm glad you found me worth trusting, in any case.
Lurks-no-More's avatar
I think that you were aiming for a feel of inevitability, the way that once the reveal comes, the readers aren't startled but go "Of course, what else could that have been?" even if they hadn't already figured it out.

Perhaps it would work better in that regard when people read all the chapters and interludes in one go?
Santafer's avatar
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