Twilight Sparkle had been troubled ever since the battle against Discord. It wasn't about anything that he had done to her or her friends, rather, it was about something he said. "Did you miss me, Celestia? I've missed you. It's quite lonely being encased in stone. But you wouldn't know that, would you, because I don't turn ponies into stone!" Twilight had tried time and time again to push the thought from her mind.
Twilight had spent many days in and around Canterlot Castle when she was growing up. She had always marveled at the large statues placed about the royal gardens, but she had never asked about them. They were just statues, after all. Or so she'd assumed.
But after Discord's comment, Twilight began to wonder if there wasn't some hidden truth in it. She could never bring herself to write to Princess Celestia and ask, and so the question stayed, nagging at her day and night.
So, hoping to find answers, Twilight Sparkle pays a visit to Canterlot Castle and Princess Celestia. After a few days, she finally worked up the courage to go and speak with her mentor and teacher. Twilight knows that her mind will never be at ease until she doesno matter what the answer may be.
* * *
"Princess Celestia?" Twilight peered in through the princess' bedroom door, unsure if she was intruding on something important.
"Oh!" Celestia whipped her head around in the direction of the voice. Celestia had been sitting on a rug, staring out the window at the landscape and mountains beyond. She smiled when she saw who it was. "I didn't hear you come in. How can I help you, my faithful student?"
Twilight gingerly stepped inside the princess' private quarters, closing the door behind her. Celestia's smile faded, and her expression was replaced with a quizzical look. "I must speak with you privately, if you have the time." Twilight's voice was soft, almost timid. Celestia could tell that something wasn't right.
"I always have time for you, Twilight. Come." she gestured by her side.
Celestia watched as Twilight approached, her slow steps lacking their usual gusto. Twilight did as she was bid and sat beside the princess, though she wouldn't meet her gaze. Twilight pawed at the floor with a hoof, fidgeting slightly. Celestia simply waited, wondering what could be bothering her pupil. Twilight cleared her throat, and Celestia's ears perked in anticipation.
"It's about" Twilight paused nervously. "something Discord said." Twilight sighed, still unsure of herself. Maybe she should just leave and come back another dayor simply never ask at all. But she was ever so curious, and perhaps even a bit frightened, about what the answer might be or even how Celestia might react.
Celestia herself sighed and gave a small smile, her eyes continuing to rove over Twilight's face. She wrapped a wing around her in a comforting embrace. "You don't have to worry about him, Twilight. What he didit was hard on everypony. But I promise you, he's not"
All of a sudden, in a seeming burst of courage, Twilight turned her face toward Celestia, looking her straight in the eyes. "HHave you ever tturned anypony into stone?" Just as quickly, Twilight covered her mouth with her hooves, and turned away from the princess. Her body was shaking, her mind racing through a hundred punishments she could receive for being so impudent.
The smile faded instantly from Celestia's face, and she stared blankly at Twilight for a moment before slowly removing her wing and tucking it neatly to her side. Twilight flinched, expecting a rebuttal, but there was none. She slowly turned her head toward the princess, watching her out of the corner of her eye, still fearful.
Celestia had turned away, glancing about the room as if she might find some escape, or to ensure that somepony else was not watching. Then she turned back toward Twilight, but her eyes stopped before she reached her pupil, instead fixating on the floor. She stared at the woodwork, perhaps hoping to find a suitable answer there, but realizing the truth was best left unavoided.
Celestia gave a heavy sigh, and paused a moment before she spoke. "Yes, Twilight."
Twilight turned to face her mentor, immediately seeing the defeated look on Celestia's face. "Butbut why princess? You're always so kind and understanding and generous and caring an"
Celestia raised a hoof to stop her. Then she turned to Twilight, her face trying to be all seriousness, but Twilight could see a hint of sadness.
"I wasn't always."
Twilight felt conflicted. She'd practically spent her whole life with the princess. She was never short on patience or understanding or kindness. But Twilight had expected an answer opposite to what she had been given. She had expected Celestia to smile, perhaps laugh even, at such a notion. She wasn't supposed to confirm Discord's words, she was supposed to debunk them!
But, thinking about past events, there was that whole banishment ordeal. Princess Luna had been banished for a thousand years, and she was Celestia's sister. If Celestia was willing to give such a harsh punishment to somepony so close to her, what deeds was she capable of doing to other ponies in Equestria?
There had been silence in the room for several minutes. Celestia finally looked over at Twilight, and could see that she was deep in thought. Celestia never would have brought up past incidents if she could help it. Everypony made mistakes that they regrettedeven she.
Twilight looked up at Celestia, and their eyes locked. "But princesswhy?"
Again, Celestia looked away, staring out toward the horizon. Her eyes closed as she focused, her face contorting as she worked to bring back long buried memories. All of a sudden, her eyes shot open, going wide. Her breathing increased rapidly, until she was almost gasping for breath.
Twilight Sparkle backed away in fear; she could tell that Celestia was no longer with her in the room. "PrincessPrincess Celestia?" Twilight called to her, unsure of what she should do. Again and again, she repeated the name of her leader, struggling to pull her back into reality.
Celestia suddenly shook her head, closing her eyes and quivering. Her breathing was shaky, but it was becoming steadier. Twilight still stared at her from across the room, though no longer making any sound. Celestia looked at her, giving a last sigh before her breathing was under control again.
The princess opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again. Instead, she stood up, approaching Twilight slowly with a grim look on her face. Twilight's expression changed from scared to relieved, as she realized the princess was back. She stood, awaiting the princess, before she couldn't contain herself.
Twilight rushed forward, pressing herself against Celestia's chest. Celestia was surprised at first, but gently wrapped her wings around her student. They stayed like this for a few minutes, and when Twilight looked up at her, the princess saw fresh tears on her face.
"II'm sorry! I'm sorry I asked! I didn't realizeI didn't think"
"Shh..." Celestia whispered, smiling down at the purple unicorn. With one wing, she wiped Twilight's tears away, while the other stroked her back soothingly. "You did nothing wrong."
"Areare you alright?" Twilight sniffled.
"Of course. I'm sorry if I frightened you." she continued to comfort her faithful student.
Twilight quickly wiped her eyes, reluctant to show weakness to her teacher. She was a grown adult, she should have been able to handlewhatever just happened. "What did youwhere" Twilight tried to form the question into words, but her mind was still racing.
Celestia leaned down and nuzzled Twilight. "It was just a memory. Alicorns never forget, and our memories never fade. Remembering something can sometimes be like reliving it all over again. What I sawit's not important right now."
Twilight was of course curious as to what had caused Celestia to make such scene. But she knew better than to delve into the princess' private matters. As it was, that was technically why she was here in the first place. There was no need to delve further into the past. Not yet, anyway.
Princess Celestia thought hard before she spoke again. "Do youdo you really want to know, Twilight? Do you really want to know why" she hesitated. "why I would turn anypony toto stone?" Her expression was firm and resolute, prepared for whichever answer Twilight gave.
"II don't know. Are you sure thatare you sure that you're ready?" Twilight stepped back, examining Celestia up and down with her eyes to be sure she was alright. Celestia turned, moving back to her original position and settling herself onto the floor, her eyes now barely level with the bottom of the window.
"I was never ready." Celestia began. "The throne was given to me when I was far too young and inexperienced. Times were a lot different then. I ruled with an iron hoof. It was really the only way I knew how. At the timewell, it was after the incident with Nightmare Moon. I was angry with myself, and I took it out on everypony elsein the most cruel way. Even those beyond pony lands heard my name and feared it. I was not a princess then. I was a tyrant." Celestia flinched at the word, an indication that it was one she was all too familiar with.
"Twilight, I have to show you something. I can't really explain it. You'll just have to see." Celestia reached a hoof toward Twilight, who was still across the room.
The purple mare edged forward, gulping visibly. She wasn't sure of what was about to happen, or what she would see. But she had a feeling it wasn't going to be pretty. Upon reaching Celestia, she cautiously placed her hoof onto that of the white Alicorn. Nothing happened.
"Twilight." Celestia looked at her seriously. "What you're going to see is a memoryMy memory. Try to remember that it's not real, and there's nothing you can do to change it. It's in the past."
Twilight nodded, still unsure. But, she knew this was what she had come her for. She wanted an answer, and this was how she was going to get it. Twilight slowly closed her eyes, wondering what secret Celestia was going to revealand what others she might be hiding.
Twilight Sparkle suddenly found herself far beyond the castle, in a town that looked much like Ponyville. Before her stood Princess Celestia with several guards, and Twilight almost called to her teacherwhen she remembered that this was not real. One of the guards was hauling an empty cart. Twilight wondered what it was for, but assumed all would be made clear in due time.
They were all standing in front of a house, the guards surrounding it on all sides. Twilight moved forward to be closer to Celestia, but as she did so one of the guard's headed for the front door. He would have bumped into Twilightexcept that he walked right through her instead. At first, Twilight was confused and frightened, before she realized that she was not a tangible part of the memory, and was not restricted by objects or ponies in her way.
The unicorn guard pounded on the door with a hoof. Twilight could hear scuffling inside, and she peered her head into the building to see what was going on. A mare and stallion were hurriedly pushing three foals underneath a bed in the second room of the small house. Twilight was quite bewildered by these actions, but she continued to observe.
She clearly heard the guard outside as he yelled, "OPEN UP, IN THE NAME OF CELESTIA! ALL MEMBERS OF THIS HOUSEHOLD ARE UNDER ARREST, BY ORDER OF THE PRINCESS!"
Twilight gasped, backing into a corner. She turned toward the family, and her breath caught in her throat at the sight. The mare and stallion were holding each other close, standing in front of the bed under which the foals could clearly be seen from Twilight's viewpoint.
She turned toward the door again as somepony banged against it. A second bang, and she saw the back legs of the earth pony who had kicked the door in disappear. Then, Celestia herself appeared in the doorway.
For once, Twilight was really and truly terrified of the princess. Her eyes stared down at all those before her, a permanent glare on her face. Her expression mirrored her eyes, showing nothing but contempt and hatred.
She moved to the next room, where the couple were quivering. Her cold eyes bored right through them, and Twilight felt herself shiver. She knew what was comingbut nothing could have prepared her for the nature of the outcome.
"Please your highness! We haven't done anything wrong!" The stallion cried out. "Please, have mercy!"
His wife (Twilight assumed) had kept her face buried into his fur, not even daring to look at the princess' menacing gaze. He had a hoof wrapped protectively around her, but Twilight knew that even if Celestia had been powerless, she was still much bigger and stronger. Yet this stallion, in the face of all odds, dared to raise his voice against her.
Celestia continued to glare down at them. The only sound in the room was Celestia's irritated breathing, and the shaky breaths of the other ponies present. Twilight could feel herself growing nervous as the seconds ticked by, even though she was not in any danger.
"No." Celestia said flatly.
Before they even had time to react, Celestia's horn glowed. Twilight flinched at the burst of magical energy, though she did not feel it. The couple were thrown away from each other, but as soon as they regained their senses, they got up and made a beeline for each other.
But they never made it. Their hooves became like lead, the stone slowly creeping up their bodies. They each reached out a hoof to each other, their wide eyes longing for a last touch. And that is how they stayed, two ponies frozen in time.
"GUARDS!" she roared, so loudly that Twilight was sure the walls shook. The guard who had first knocked on the door appeared almost immediately, followed by three others. He saluted stiffly, awaiting orders, and the other guards followed suit.
"Bring them with us." Celestia stepped aside to reveal the pair. "I want to put them in the garden, as an example." She stared at them for a moment, and then her eyes moved to underneath the bed, where the foals still lay.
Twilight gasped. She couldn'tshe wouldn't! But Celestia, whether or not she had seen them, turned and left the building.
The guards just stared for a moment, their features blank. Twilight saw one of them shed a tear, and then quickly wipe it away. Even the leader was still for a few moments, before he took a shaky step forward.
"Come on, you heard her. Let's get these two outside so they can be loaded." All of the guards followed suit, moving slowly forward. They poked and prodded and ran their hooves over the still, stone bodies in disbelief.
"Here, you two." said the apparent captain. He lifted one of the statues with his magic. "Carefully carry this one. We'll get the other." He indicated to the fourth guard. The two earth stallions stood next to each other, ready for the heavy load. One statue was placed upon their backs, and they made their way outside to the waiting cart.
"This isn't right and you know it!" the fourth guard said, a little too loudly. The unicorn hadn't picked up the second statue yet, as he was recovering from the exertion lifting the first.
"Keep quiet!" he said. He glanced about the room, making sure there was nopony around to hear. None of the guards had noticed the foals.
"But what she's doing, it'sit's tyranny!" he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
The unicorn guard slapped the pegasus across the face. "I told you to shut your trap!" He glared at him angrily. But then his face softened, watching the other guard rub his face with his hoof, and seeing the red mark he had left. His voice grew quiet as well as he said, "She'll hear you. Do you want to end up like them?" He gestured to the statue before him.
"Look, I've got a family, and maybe you do too. I'm going to do what I have to to provide for them and keep them safe." The unicorn said firmly. He picked up the statue, and the Pegasus moved next to him.
"But what if they had a family?" The other guard said, pausing before they left the room.
"I guess they're on their own now." the unicorn replied.
As they left the room and began to turn towards the door, the unicorn guard glanced over, checking over the room once again. He had thought he was just being paranoidbut his eyes were drawn to a quick movement under the bed.
He stared down at three sets of eyes, his heart leaping into his throat in surprise. He hadn't entirely meant what he had said before. He figured if these ponies did have any other family, they were old enough to take care of themselves, or being taken care of somewhere else. Punishing adults was one thingbut these foals wouldn't have anypony to take care of them.
The unicorn guard stood aghast, before his partner prodded him to move forward. The guard turned away sharply, deciding not to alert Celestia's of the foals presence. If she found them, their chance of survival was zero. If she didn'ttheir chances were still slim, but there were other ponies around in other houses. Somepony would take care of them, he told himself.
Twilight stared at the helpless foals, all of them still too shocked to cry. The smallest one broke free of the others, crawling out from under the bed. The apparent oldest of the three grabbed at her hoof in an attempt to stop her, yelling for her to come back. Then he, too, left the refuge, followed by the last.
Twilight stepped outside to observe once again, her stomach already in knots. She was in disbelief that Celestia was capable of such deeds. She had always been nothing but kind and generous to Twilight. But now the unicorn was seeing an entirely different side to her mentor.
The foals all rushed outside, one right after another. The youngest cried out, "Momma! Momma!", her tears finally bubbling to the surface. The oldest wrapped a hoof around her, holding her close. Celestia continued on, pretending not to hear.
Each of the guards in turn looked back, each cursing themselves for doing nothing. There were things in life that they all valued more, whether it was their own lives, or the lives of their families. Even if they had done something, they were just suffer a similar fate as those they were bringing back to the castle. Standing up for what was right would do no good. It was not worth it.
Twilight found herself in Celestia's private quarters again, staring up at the princess as she slowly breathed out, bringing herself back to reality as well. She looked down at Twilight, her eyes sad, but the unicorn could no longer see the loving face of her teacher. All she saw was a menacing glare.
Twilight backed away, shock and horror written across her features.
"Twilight?" Princess Celestia said, concerned. She stood, taking a tentative step toward her student.
Twilight backed up more quickly, smacking her rump into a vanity and causing the contents on top to jostle. She looked up in surprise, both at the sudden noise and at the sudden impact. Glancing to the side, Twilight spotted the door, and began backing up towards it, keeping her eyes on Celestia.
"Monster." Twilight whispered.
"Twilight, please" Celestia hadn't heard her, and began approaching again.
"YYou're a monster! Stay away from me!" she yelled.
Celestia stopped dead in her tracks.
Tears began to fall down Twilight's face as she reached the door, flinging it open. She gave a long look at Celestia, trying to find the pony she once knew. But with a shake of her head, she disappeared.
After a moment, her head peered around the door at Celestia. "How could you?" she said, her voice cracking, before she turned and ran as fast as she could down the hallway.
Celestia stood dumbfounded. She waited so badly to chase after Twilightto try and explain. But she knew there was no excuses for her past sins. They were her burden to bear, for as long as she lived. She had tried to hard to bury those memories, both in her own mind and from the history books. But she could never truly forget.