Celestia's Visit (Complete)

Mar 28th, 2016
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  1. > "Princess? Are we almost there yet?"
  2. > The sleepy little voice on your shoulder makes itself known again, her question accompanied by a foal-sized yawn as she shifts from her spot nestled between your wings.
  3. "Yes, Twilight. We're just about there."
  4. > The sound of hooves on the ground must have woken her, as she'd slept peacefully throughout the flight that had brought you here.
  5. > Carefully you ruffle your wings when Twilight stands from her perch, little hooves digging in to your back as she tries to peer around your head.
  6. > The woods that you were talking through had a sharp slant to them - the hillside they precariously clung to rising up off to your left.
  7. > On the opposite side they fell away into a valley shrouded by late-afternoon mists, something Twilight notes with a nervous squeak as she pulls back down against you.
  8. "It's okay, Twilight. I'd catch you."
  9. > No reply comes, but soon you can feel her moving around again - insatiable curiosity having overcome her instinctive fear.
  10. > Presently the trees thin a bit, coming upon an old path cut through them.
  11. > Stones had once been laid to pave it out - a task you remember fondly - but now they presented more of a hazard than an assistance:
  12. > Seasons passed had seen them washed aside when rain turned the hillside to mud or pushed from their place by thriving weeds no longer cut back.
  13. > Your hooves dance over the jagged, uneven pavers with practiced poise, horn flickering to remove a few of the move dangerous obstacles from the path.
  14. > Not for your need, of course, though you wondered if he ever came this way anymore anyhow.
  15. > Twisting and dodging around trees that had proved too reluctant to make way for it, the path turned up the hill; sometimes it turned to stairs - though by now they could barely be recognized as such.
  16. > Familiar warmth rises in you as the end of the path become visible.
  18. > A shining gateway of golden sunlight pouring in from beyond - welcoming, beckoning you forwards.
  19. > You're unable to keep your legs from springing into a joyful little trot, Twilight making a surprised noise from your back.
  20. > That sound turns to wonder as you pass through it into the clearing beyond.
  21. > In sharp contrast to the forest surrounding it, the grassy field was kept clear and clean; the forest's siege turned back at its edge and allowed to proceed no further.
  22. > A bubble of peace, in contrast to the liveliness of the chirping, scuttling, growing forest around it.
  23. > Even to you, there was something magical about the place.
  24. > Stopping a few paces in, you close your eyes and allow the sunlight streaming down to bake in to you.
  25. > Instead of slowing, your heart thrums a little more powerfully in your chest.
  26. > In the corner of your vision, a tiny purple hoof points past your head.
  27. > "Is that where we're going, Princess?"
  28. > You didn't need to follow where Twilight pointed to know what she was asking about.
  29. "Yes, my student. That is."
  30. > The cabin stood not at the center but near the higher edge of the clearing, allowing it a good view out across the valley it faced.
  31. > Despite the lateness of the afternoon, its windows were darkened against the encroaching evening.
  32. > To another it might have seemed forbidding - hostile, as if you were unwanted.
  33. > You only feel a warmth swell in your chest.
  34. > Hooves are set into motion once more, first across grass and stone and then thudding on the wooden decking of the cabin's porch.
  35. > Up close, the signs of age were clearer:
  36. > Here and there, paint peeled back where the weather had taken its toll on it.
  37. > The siding showed a few cracks, pieces split where freeze-thaw had done its work.
  38. > Yet the door's handle was polished, a brassy shine showing on it and the call-bell mounted to its side.
  39. > "Here's where you get off, Twilight."
  40. > She slides down your side, laden foal-sized saddlebags following close behind her.
  42. " Twilight, I'm just going to warn you. my friend we've come to see can be a bit... different, but please, please be polite and listen if he tells you something."
  43. > Her muzzle screwed up an expression of seriousness completely out of place on a foal, Twilight nods dutifully.
  44. > "I'll be absolutely sure, Princess Celestia!"
  45. > Trying to hide the grin that threatens to break out on your own face, you rise again and, reaching out, take the bell-pull in your magic.
  46. > In contrast to the lightness of the pull, the heavy tolling it sets off sounds more in place coming from the top of a tower than a wooden cabin.
  47. > But you aren't listening for that anyway.
  48. > Your ears perk instead at the sound that comes with the third tolling of the impossible bell, an uneven thunk-thud, thunk-thud that grows ever closer.
  49. > Glancing down tells you that Twilight Sparkle has jammed her ears flat against the sides of her head, but is keeping herself steady - legs spread wide in a ready stance.
  50. > Thunk-thud, thunk-thud; ever closer it comes; the door's latch clicks aside -
  51. > And can hold back no longer, your face splitting into a wide grin.
  52. "Ano-
  53. > "Starswirl?!"
  54. > Twilight's voice, awe-struck and amazed, interrupts you.
  55. > Anonymous peers down over his enormous, white beard; he raises one wrinkled hand to adjust the massive spectacles mounted over his eyes - and then looks back at you.
  56. > The gears turn in his head, and your ears fall in preparation for-
  57. > "What an adorable little hellspawn, Celestia. Wherever did you find it?"
  58. "...hello to you too, Anonymous."
  59. > Not in front of Twilight, please-
  60. > "Well?"
  61. > His cane - black oak now; he'd changed since the last time you saw him - is wave at your muzzle.
  62. > Twilight gives an outraged squeak that anyone would dare do that.
  63. > "Are you going to step inside already, or did you want to pull over a chair so you can sit in front of my door instead?"
  64. > With a sigh and a warm smile, you nod.
  65. "Follow me, Twilight."
  67. > The interior rivals Canterlot Palace in the absurdity of things scattered about it.
  68. > But while the palace was the beneficiary of both innumerable gifts granted over a dozen lifetimes by a hundred dignitaries, where Anonymous found his collection remained something of a mystery to you.
  69. > ...the palace also had the benefit of several talented interior decorators, which Anonymous most certainly did not have anyone remotely close to.
  70. > And so a pair of griffon claw-gauntlets sat crossed above a tarnished basoon - not his, of course - and directly adjacent to a clock that had run backwards for as long as you'd seen it.
  71. > A dragon's egg, carefully pieced back and forth together, lay balanced on a shelf against a gently humming transparent fragment of the lost Crystal Empire.
  72. > ...the Wonderbolts' flight suit, though, was new.
  73. > All of this, of course, is utterly lost on Twilight.
  74. > "P-Princess? Is that really-"
  75. > "No, I'm not bloody Starswirl, you great fool. Do I look a thousand years old? There'd not be much of me left but bones if I did!"
  76. > Softly you sigh.
  77. > Perhaps more exotic and absurd than all his collections, the curator of this madhouse himself.
  78. > Your friend.
  79. "...Anonymous, this is Twilight Sparkle; she is my student. Twilight, this is Anonymous - a very old and very dear friend of mine."
  80. > Peering over his shoulder, Anonymous glares over the hook of his nose down at Twilight.
  81. > She squeaks and tries to slip back into the flowing curls of your tail, which might have been more effective if not for the bulging saddlebags still on her sides.
  82. > "...not a lot of guts in her, Celly."
  83. "Twilight is quite intelligent, Anonymous. You shouldn't judge her so quickly."
  84. > His reply is interrupted by a heavy, hacking cough.
  85. > When it clears he rubs his throat - frowning sharply.
  86. > But nothing more comes out of it; instead he turns away and thunk-thuds away towards the kitchen.
  88. "Twilight, why don't you go look over some of the things Anonymous has collected? I'm sure you'll find something fascinating."
  89. > "...but don't touch anything!"
  90. > Wincing at the cry emanating from amid the metal clanging in the kitchen, you shake your head.
  91. "Go ahead. He'll be fine. Though... not touching anything is probably a good idea."
  92. > The kitchen itself appears to be doing double-duty as a chemistry lab, a labyrinthine maze of half-completed arrangements of beakers and boilers scattered across several tables.
  93. > A different kind of chemistry is currently ongoing over the stove, where Anonymous is crouched over a pot that is only just beginning to warm up.
  94. > Without looking up, he waves his cane in your direction - somehow missing a line of test tubes by inches.
  95. > "You'll have to wait a few minutes longer if you want your tea, Celly. Going to take a few minutes for this to get warmed up."
  96. > Sighing fondly, you nose up next to him and light your horn.
  97. > Magic flows into the teapot, and within seconds it has begun to whistle softly.
  98. > A beleaguered sigh emerges from Anonymous.
  99. > "I've always said doing that is cheating."
  100. "And yet you've never refused any tea I've ever made for you."
  101. > Anonymous turns to face you, and a warm smile finally makes its way onto his face - curling deep wrinkles into his cheeks.
  102. > "No, I haven't. It's bloody well good to see you again."
  103. > Laughing softly, you reach up and slip a wing around him.
  104. > So, too, does he circle his arms around your neck - fingers digging tight into your coat.
  105. > Somehow you don't mind; feeling that reassuring, bony touch is reassuring - a sign of life, however aged it may be.
  106. "It's good to see you too. I'm sorry it's been so long-"
  107. > "Oh, do stop making excuses."
  108. > He releases - pausing to give a light scratch around one ear, earning a soft coo from your lips.
  109. > "I know you've got your reasons. Besides, I'm not going anywhere quite yet."
  110. "...on that note, what exactly is all of this?"
  112. > You gesture about at the half-dozen experiments in various states of completion spread around the room.
  113. > "Oh, that? Fooling around with a spot of alchemy. Found a nice zebra war-alchemists' kit, figured I'd try and poke my little finger into it and try to figure it out."'
  114. "Ah, I see. But... why is it up here? I thought your labs were downstairs, in the-"
  115. > Anonymous cuts you off with a sharp shake of his head as he searches through the cabinets for a proper teacup.
  116. > "Stairs, stairs. It was all taking too long to get up and down, so I had the servant drones bring it up here."
  117. > That gives you pause, and forces you to take another look at Anonymous.
  118. > His wrinkles have deepened and spectacles thickened, yes, but now you see other things.
  119. > The cane is not just new, but thicker, as though it needed to support more weight now.
  120. > There's a tremble in his hand - his real hand, not the metal and electricity you knew was concealed beneath the black glove over his left.
  121. > Thank all the stars Twilight hadn't noticed and asked about that...
  122. "I truly wish you would come back to Canterlot with me, Anonymous."
  123. > "So what? So I can be around those sneering and laughing horned snobs again? I'll take my home, thank you very much."
  124. "So you can be close to me, Anonymous. I wish I could get over here to visit you more, but things are becoming so busy again. Just because I can't come doesn't mean-"
  125. > "I said no bloody excuses, Celly! I know you have every reason to be busy; it's not a strike against you."
  126. > Biting and sharp, his tone sends you recoiling.
  127. > A retort forms on your lips, and dies there.
  128. > This isn't about excuses anyhow.
  129. > Not yours, anyhow.
  130. "...I see."
  131. > "Besides, what's up with that little filly you're towing around."
  132. "Twilight?"
  133. > "Mmm-hmm. Whatever happened to the last aid you had? Rabid-something-"
  134. "/Raven/ is doing just fine."
  135. > "Eh, that so?"
  136. > As Anonymous turns to face you, the look on his face sends your stomach plunging.
  138. > "Don't tell me then - had a nice little liason with some fine young stallion, spent a nice night together-"
  139. "Anonymous!"
  140. > Heat flows to your cheeks; you shake a hoof angrily at him even as barely-concealed laughter still flows in your voice.
  141. "Twilight Sparkle is not my daughter! She has lovely parents and a very nice older brother!"
  142. > "Izzat so?"
  143. > Setting the teacups down and stroking his beard, he gives you a mischievous look.
  144. > "Don't tell me - setting her up with a fine young stallion of her own and-"
  145. > This time you bat him over the head with one wing.
  146. > Anonymous tries to duck, laughing, but doesn't manage and gets a face-full of feathers for his troubles.
  147. > "Fine, fine! I yield!"
  148. > Unable to restrain your own chuckles, you shake your head.
  149. "Twilight is my student. A very important student, but still only a student."
  150. > "Celly..."
  151. > His voice has turned more serious again as he loads the tray up with the last few things.
  152. > "I know you, and I know what that means. What is she?"
  153. > Even with him, you hesitate to answer.
  154. > Not because of how he'd react - well, actually, exactly because of how he'd react.
  155. > Because he'd try to /help/.
  156. "...the thousandth year is coming."
  157. > His skin has gone pale with his years, but Anonymous manages to turn even paler.
  158. > "She's coming back. And Twilight-?"
  159. "Twilight has a role to play."
  160. > Your voice is lowered, even though you could sense the distant hum of Twilight's magic and knew she had no chance of hearing you even if you spoke with your full voice.
  161. > "The flashes again? The visions?"
  162. "Yes. I can see - fragments. Even more scattered than normal. I don't know what will happen, but she is important. I will do what I can for Twilight, but..."
  163. > "...if you wanted me by your side when the time comes, you could have just asked."
  164. "No!"
  165. > You're unable to keep the sharp retort out of your voice.
  166. > Looking away in shame, you swallow and try again in a softer voice.
  168. "No, Anonymous. I can't have you there when my sister comes back."
  169. > "Bloody hell, you can't. I may be getting on in years, but I've got a few tricks left in my sleeve."
  170. "She's cruel, Anonymous. And more dangerous than you understand."
  171. > "I understand plenty well enough!"
  172. > His arms fold across his chest, a frown stamped on his lips.
  173. > "It may have been a few years since we had our little adventures last, but I'm not so senile I've forgotten what you are like in a fight!"
  174. "It's been thirty-seven years since we did anything like that, Anonymous."
  175. > "Oh, shove off..."
  176. > Sighing, he finally finds a chair - slipping down into it with a heavy, weary sigh.
  177. > "Don't treat me like one of your little ponies. I'm not afraid of standing up there beside you-"
  178. "She would tear you aside in a moment if she saw you, Anonymous."
  179. > "And maybe I don't care! I'm two-hundred and forty three years old, Celly."
  180. > His voice is surprisingly snappish, and despite the need to sit down he still manages to raise his cane to wave in your face.
  181. > "That's well beyond twice what any of my species can expect to get. It's been long enough; I'd rather go down by your side than spend my days rotting away..."
  182. > He trails off, looking around at the unfinished chemistry surrounding him.
  183. > "...I'd rather go down with you."
  184. > Settling on your haunches in front of him, you reach out with one wing to stroke his cheek.
  185. > Anonymous closes his eyes, trembling slightly at that touch.
  186. "You've got many years yet, Anonymous."
  187. > "Don't patronize me. Even with all the magic you've pumped into me and half my body being machine these days, I see what's happening."
  188. "And that doesn't mean you should throw aside everything you have still. Let the magic run its course, and things will be fine."
  189. > Anonymous gives you a long, hard look and sighs.
  190. > Mirroring your actions, he reaches out to set his hand - his real hand - against your cheek.
  191. > You lean into it, letting his fingers run down your neck.
  193. > "Said that about that dragon business, too. I can still feel the scars from that, no matter how much you try and hide them."
  194. "Please, Anonymous. Trust me on this."
  195. > "Trust you - but who are you trusting - that little purple runt?"
  196. "Twilight Sparkle is extremely intelligent. She's just... young."
  197. > "She thought I was Starswirl the Bearded, Celly."
  198. > Your ears fall at his deadpan tone.
  199. "...well, your beard-"
  200. > "I'm not a pony, Celly."
  201. "...yes, Twilight can be - excitable."
  202. > For a few moments, nothing is said.
  203. > Finally, Anonymous sighs.
  204. > "Fine. You know I wouldn't do anything stupid without you anyhow."
  205. "Funny, I seem to remember you doing plenty of stupid things."
  206. > "Funny, I seem to remember that dragon business turning out alright because I did some very stupid things."
  207. "I will give you that one."
  208. > "...well, then."
  209. > Standing and smoothing out his clothes, Anonymous snatches the tea platter up you can take it in your magic.
  210. > "Let's go see what the little cretin has managed to break while we're in here."
  212. > Twilight had, in fact, not managed to break anything.
  213. > That doesn't keep Anonymous from startling her with a roar as soon as he catches sight of her.
  214. > "Oi! Put that down! Didn't I tell you not to touch anything?!"
  215. > The orrery that had been floating in her magical grip - its planets and moons whirling wildly - nearly falls to the ground as Twilight leaps into the air with a squeak.
  216. > The golden glow of your own magic slips in to keep it from shattering against the ground, leaving the filly free to dodge back beneath to hide beneath your belly.
  217. "Anonymous, please!"
  218. > Snatching the orrery out of mid-air, Anonymous replaces it on the shelf it had come from.
  219. > "I told her not to touch anything! What if she'd broken it?"
  220. > "I didn't touch it, Princess! I swear, I was just looking with my magic-"
  221. > Hushing Twilight the a gentle nuzzle - brushing your nose to the top of her mane - you shoot a sharp glare at Anonymous.
  222. "Really, Anonymous. She was a filly."
  223. > "I filly who can't follow bloody simple directions, apparently."
  224. > He peers down at her with one eye squinted, as if trying to inspect a specimen to his category.
  225. > Twilight peeks out, her purple eyes wide, and vanishes behind your hoof again with a tiny, fearful noise.
  226. > "Is this really your apprentice, Celestia? I thought they would need a backbone to pass into your service. Or brains. Or both."
  227. > Another squeak - this one more of anger than fear - issues from somewhere beneath you.
  228. > "I'm not stupid!"
  229. > "Oh? Coulda fooled me-"
  230. > "That's not our solar system. The planets aren't timed right, the continents on Equus are wrong, and there are too many moons going around it."
  231. > When Anonymous does not interrupt her again, Twilight goes on:
  232. > "But the planets are all geared correctly; they've even accounted for the gravitational interactions of the two larger ones. I've never seen anything like it!"
  233. > In the silence that follows you let out a soft breath of relief.
  234. > Maybe now he would-
  236. > "Are you tutoring an apprentice, Celestia, or a walking encyclopedia?"
  237. > Now your breath rushes out in an exasperated sigh.
  238. "Really, Anonymous."
  239. > "Yes, really."
  240. > Picking up the tea set, he continues on.
  241. > "Well, are the two of you coming for some tea, or are we going to all just stand around here?"
  242. > Twilight peers out from beneath you as Anonymous teeters off with the tea tray.
  243. > "Princess...?"
  244. > Sighing gently, you lean down to nudge her forward with your muzzle again.
  245. "Come. He will be less upset once he sits down and eats a little."
  246. > He'd better be.
  247. > Places are already set out by the time you arrive - the fading whisper of the hover-module of the drone responsible barely audible to your ears.
  248. > Of course he wouldn't dare let you see him letting them do the work, but out of sight...
  249. > Twilight struggles into her seat beside you, while Anonymous settles across the table.
  250. > "Now, then, Celly. How else holds Canterlot these days? Is Gallant Shield still leading the guard?"
  251. "Ah, no. He retired fourteen years ago."
  252. > "...pity. That old gelding had a kick to him. I liked him."
  253. > Silently you stifle a groan as Twilight pipes up:
  254. > "Princess, what's a 'gelding'?"
  255. "...something you will learn about another time, Twilight."
  256. > It's a good thing she'll find something else to research before then.
  257. "In answer, no - Stalwart Stand holds the post now."
  258. > Anonymous screws up his face, muttering softly and rubbing his beard with a free hand.
  259. > "Stalwart, Stalwart... I don't know that name. Is he any good?"
  260. > Sipping your tea softly, you nod.
  261. "I believe so. A bit aggressive, perhaps, but I am sure he will come to mellow out in time."
  262. > "Could he beat me? Maybe I should come down and test him."
  263. "Anonymous, a half-trained cadet could beat you. You do not have to test everypony who stands at my side."
  264. > A sour look is shot in your direction, to which you simply smile and again raise the teacup to your lips.
  265. > "...that's not the question, Celestia, and you know it."
  267. > Setting down your teacup, you sigh and offer a small nod.
  268. "Canterlot's defense stands strong, Stalwart Stand is a strong pony, from a good line of-"
  269. > "A good line?"
  270. > Cane thocking against the floor, Anonymous shakes his head.
  271. > "You know what I think of that bloodline business."
  272. "-I was going to say a good line of cadets. All of them performed well, and he most of all."
  273. > "Would he kill for you?"
  274. "Excuse me?"
  275. > Setting down his teacup, Anonymous selects a long, thin cookie and uses it to jab at your chest.
  276. > It's with his gloved hand, you notice - not the one still with flesh and blood beneath it.
  277. > "If I came down there now and announced I was going to depose you, would he be willing to put a blade through my throat? He himself?"
  278. "I do not recruit my captains of the guard solely based on their willingness to end lives, Anonymous."
  279. > "Then maybe you should."
  280. "It is their job to guard the realm, not to commit murder for me."
  281. > "I had to. Repeatedly, as I recall. And I frankly question whether a soldier who's never bloodied his blade and a walking astronomy book-"
  282. > Here the jabbing finger turns in Twilight's direction.
  283. > "-is enough to keep you safe when Ni-."
  284. > You hiss softly, cutting Anonymous off before he can mention... that.
  285. > Catching your meaning, he simply concludes his statement again.
  286. > " enough to keep you safe."
  287. > So that's what this is about.
  288. > Your face falls, as do your ears.
  289. > "I'm quite serious, Celestia. I've been gone for too long, I think; should go back down there and slap some sense into everyone again. Maybe slap some sense into you."
  290. > Your mouth opens for a rebuttal, but before the words can come another voice speaks up:
  291. > "Stop being mean to Princess Celestia!"
  292. > Twilight had stood up in her seat, her forehooves planted firmly on the table, eyes narrowed, and nose scrunched up.
  293. > "You're a bully. A big, fat bully and being mean to Princess Celestia.
  294. > Anonymous regards her with a tilted head.
  296. > "So I am. How about that."
  297. > "Well-"
  298. > A moment of hesitation; Twilight clearly hadn't been expecting that and needs a moment to gather herself.
  299. > "Well, you shouldn't! She's the nicest, kindest, smartest pony there ever was and you're not being fair to her."
  300. > "Life generally isn't fair."
  301. "Anonymous, Twilight-"
  302. > "Then she should just leave and let you be a big bully alone."
  303. > His face drops, going flat.
  304. > "What."
  305. > "That's why you're all the way up here alone, isn't it? Because you don't like anypony, and nopony likes you. But Princess Celestia came up here anyway, so you should be nicer to her!"
  306. > "Well..."
  307. > A slow grin creeps onto Anonymous' face.
  308. > "Well, the bookworm has a backbone after all."
  309. > The cookie he held is placed on Twilight's plate, leaving the filly peering back and forth between the two of you with a confused look.
  310. > "Take it, Twilight Sparkle. You've earned it; it's been a while since anyone hit me with something that stung quite like that."
  311. > "I - I don't -"
  312. > Folding his hands in front of her, Anonymous actually smiles at her.
  313. > "You're right, by the way. Many ponies are... reluctant to approach me. You mentor is, as you said, the exception."
  314. > "Then - why?"
  315. "Because he cares for me."
  316. > Extending a wing across, you let it settle on Twilight's back.
  317. "Sometimes he cares so much that it gets a little bit in his own way."
  318. > "I don't get it."
  319. > "You ever have a pet, Twilight?"
  320. > "I have a baby dragon I take care of sometimes."
  321. > Anonymous' eyes bulge as he looks at you.
  322. > "You gave her a baby dragon?!"
  323. "Spike isn't showing any signs of their normal greed instincts. And his fire breathing is well under control."
  324. > "Of all the ridiculous - you know what, nevermind."
  325. > Sighing, Anonymous drops both hands to rest on his cane.
  326. > "If you ever do get yourself a pet, Twilight, you'll find a time where you start to worry a great deal about them."
  327. > "Princess Celestia is not a pet."
  328. > "Oh, I don't know. There was this one time with a bridle-"
  330. > Coughing heavily and flushed, you cut that particular line of discussion off hard.
  331. > "Right, well. No, she isn't a pet. Which honestly means I get to worry even more, because princesses tend to get in an alarming amount of trouble compared to pets."
  332. "I will not argue with this..."
  333. > "See, take the time I met her. Pets do not get trapped in pocket dimensions between realities with strange aliens. Princesses do."
  334. > You can see the questions practically pouring from Twilight's ears.
  335. > "Trapped...?"
  336. > "In a pocket dimension, yes. Beautiful big island, some kind of blend of things leaking in from both our realities - where she came from, and where I did. Would've found her way home in time for afternoon tea I'm sure-"
  337. > Anonymous flashes you a grin and a wink.
  338. > "-but my ship got nabbed along as well, and so the whole thing turned into a big adventure instead."
  339. "I'm not sure I would wish it to have ended any other way than it did, though."
  340. > "Even the part where I said hello by shooting you?"
  341. > This time it is Twilight's turn for her eyes bug out.
  342. > "You shot Princess Celestia?!"
  343. "Unfortunately."
  344. > "Oh yes. Right in her royal flank."
  345. > Little strangled noises emerge from the filly, to which Anonymous gives a cackle.
  346. > "Didn't know she was a princess at the time, mind you. I just wanted answers as to what crashed me on this awful deserted island."
  347. "That he immediately attempted to save my life after that may have somewhat affected my opinion of him."
  348. > "Here I thought you just liked it that I waited on you hand and foot for a week while the hole healed up."
  349. "That was part of it."
  350. > "The point, anyhow - the point is, I am hard on those around her because I want to be damn well sure that they are going to give Celestia the absolute best."
  351. > Already, however, you can see the thoughts whirling in Twilight's head.
  352. > A new set of questions has come to her, the old ones being filed away for future investigation.
  354. > "You - you said that you came from a different reality."
  355. > "Yes, I did."
  356. > "...where did you come from, Mister Anonymous?"
  357. > "Ah."
  358. > A real, true, wide grin spreads on Anonymous' face.
  359. > "Well why don't you go get that orrery and the set of maps rolled up next to it down again and I'll show you."
  361. --------
  363. > Be Anonymous.
  364. > And be thoroughly entertained.
  365. > Not that you'd ever show it.
  366. > The little purple filly Celestia had brought with her was devouring information at an alarming rate
  367. > If she could just knock some common sense into her skull, there might be hope after all.
  368. > Maybe get her some training from their better tacticians, rig up a simulator space with your own equipment to test her...
  369. "...and so when I tried to make a jump to the next star system, and Celestia tried to teleport at the same moment - well, I don't pretend to get it. We ended up... crossing paths."
  370. > "That... violates everything I know about Clover's Second Theorem on Teleportation! Alternate realities should not be-"
  371. > Tuning her out for a moment, you let your gaze wander over to Celestia.
  372. > The princess has her forehooves crossed on the table, eyes focused in that way you were all too familiar with.
  373. > That was her thinking face.
  374. > Except for her, 'thinking' meant more like 'calculating'.
  375. " I get to know what's going on between those ears of yours or do I have to pay a toll for your thoughts?"
  376. > "Is there a price on my ideas now?"
  377. "Absolutely! One sugarcube for the pony."
  378. > Picking up the sweet between finger and thumb, you wiggle it meaningfully - and laugh a moment later when the cube is torn from your grip and bounced off your forehead in a cloud of golden magic.
  379. > "I am thinking that I will be going outside for a few minutes. Lower the sun, spend some time with - them."
  380. "Mmm, that time already? What about-"
  381. > You glance meaningfully to Twilight, her nose still buried in the maps.
  383. > That they were of a world she had never and would never lay eyes on did not appear to enter into her consideration.
  384. > Celestia simply smiles.
  385. > "I believe I can trust you to keep her safe for a time."
  386. "Then you clearly haven't learned anything at all."
  387. > Laughing that warm, gentle way she did - that way that even now left your heart beating slightly faster - Celestia rises.
  388. > "I will be outside."
  389. > Your head unabashedly follows her as she struts for the entrance - tracing over her coat, seeing the tiny ruffles and distortions in it all too clearly despite your aging eyes.
  390. > You'd seen many of the scars they hid added to her, after all.
  391. > Waiting until the windows dim with the last vestiges of fading sunlight, you heft yourself upright.
  392. "Twilight, come with me. I want to show you something."
  393. > Wrenching herself from the maps, the little filly follows after you heavy footsteps and thudding cane - tiny, rapid hoofbeats on the wooden floor.
  394. > Halting beside the window, you pat a chair set in front of it.
  395. "Climb up here. I hope you've wiped your hooves, though - this is my favorite chair."
  396. > "Simply rolling her eyes, the filly clambers up and onto the seat, settling her forehooves on the back.
  397. "Look."
  398. > Beyond the back porch, Celestia stood with her wings spread and head held high and proud.
  399. > Light blazed from it, and in the distance the ivory sphere of the moon rose.
  400. > Despite her regal pose and intense magic flowing through her, Celestia's wings drooped.
  401. "Now. Watch."
  402. > For a few moments her head lingered upright - nose pointed to the moon above.
  403. > Then it fell, and Celestia advanced with careful, heavy steps.
  404. > A little gasp issues from Twilight, and you know she has spotted her mentor's destination.
  405. > "A-Are those...?"
  406. "Gravestones, yes."
  407. > "Who are they?"
  408. "Ponies who died for her."
  409. > Twilight tries to bring herself to repeat what you'd said, but can't quite bring the words out.
  410. > "D-Die-"
  412. "Yes. Ponies who gave all they could for her. Not the only ones, of course, but some of them - the ones who didn't have anyone else to claim them."
  413. > Silence falls between the two of you as Celestia approaches each gravestone in turn, head lowering to touch them with her horn.
  414. > At last you speak up:
  415. "If you listen to one thing that I tell you, Twilight Sparkle, listen to this. She's putting a lot of trust into you. You're her student now, but soon you're going to be a lot more."
  416. > Leaning forward on the cane, your joints popping softly, you motion to the distant alicorn.
  417. "But if you're going to be what she relies on, there's one thing you have to keep in mind: She's a princess, but she's also a pony. An individual. She has loved, lost, raged, cried, and everything in between."
  418. "She is beautiful, yes - magnificent, even - but if you're going to be close to her, don't ever forget that she has a life as well. Do not treat her as a thing, but as a being."
  419. > "But - she's - Princess Celestia!"
  420. "Princess Celestia whose mane I once held back as she vomited out a Changeling poison throughout a night."
  421. > A touch of amusement lingers in your voice.
  422. "It is extraordinarily hard to find someone a visage of immutable perfection when she is heaving her guts out on the ground in front of you."
  423. > To this Twilight remains quiet a while longer.
  424. > Finally, a question works its way up to her lips.
  425. > "...did they love her? The ponies out there?"
  426. "Some of them, I expect. I can't know for sure; I only knew one."
  427. > "Oh..."
  428. > Then, a moment later:
  429. > "Did you love her?"
  430. > Smart little runt.
  431. > Maybe too smart for her own good, until someone could teach her to keep her mouth shut.
  432. > But you answer anyhow.
  433. "Yes."
  434. > Your voice is soft as a whisper, a hiss of breath that sounds as old as you feel.
  436. "I did. I do. And I won't be around to look much longer, Twilight. I'll find my place out next to the rest of them sooner or later, and someone else will have to be there to stand for up for her - for Celestia the pony, not Princess Celestia."
  437. > "You - want me -"
  438. "I want someone, and she obviously thinks you're the right one. But all that knowledge - all that studying I can tell you do - it isn't going to mean squat if you can't push yourself to give her what she actually needs."
  439. > Another hesitating pause before she goes on:
  440. > "...will I have to die too?"
  441. > Your lips begin to form an automatic answer, but you halt it before it can come.
  442. > Would it be right to tell her that?
  443. > She would have to face death sooner or later, but now...
  444. "No. Not for her, not have to. But you will have to be willing to risk yourself, or all that studying isn't going to be worth crowshit."
  445. > "Is that how your arm...?"
  446. > Being forward now, wasn't she?
  447. > Considering that she'd barely been able to face you only a few hours before...
  448. > Pulling off the gloves that covered it, you regard the dulled metal glimmering beneath - servos whirring gently as your fingers flex.
  449. > To your surprise, Twilight doesn't flinch from it - instead regarding the prosthetic with a mix of awe and fascination.
  450. "Yes. Your perfect princess cut it off."
  451. > "Cut it-"
  452. "Right off, just beneath the shoulder. Dragon had burned it too deeply even for her magic. Blood all over the place; must've taken her ages to scrub it out of her coat. Not the only thing I've lost either."
  453. > "Will I have to...?"
  454. > Sighing gently, you shake your head.
  455. "You're missing the point. It's not about will you get hurt or not - it's about will you be there when she needs you, whether that's to listen to her and not judge her as a princess or to stand in harm's way for her. It's about if you're going to be able to push yourself when I'm not around to be an abrasive ass for you."
  457. > Twilight considers for a long moment before answering:
  458. > "I think... she could probably use another pony out there for her now."
  459. > Celestia probably hadn't expected Twilight to see this in the first place, let alone join her.
  460. > But you had just told Twilight to act on what Celestia needed, not just what was expected...
  461. "...let me open the door for you."
  462. > Long after Twilight had shot off into the darkness to join the distant form of her princess, you stand at the window still.
  463. > Your gaze drifts upwards, to the moon and the horse's head imprinted on it.
  464. > Celestia had long ago told you about the one imprisoned within it, but for the most part you hadn't thought a great deal about it.
  465. > That sort of thing was distant - something begun long before and something you'd expected to end long after you'd passed on.
  466. > Now, though...
  467. > Her visions - her flashes - hadn't been wrong in the past, and so you didn't doubt when she said that filly was important.
  468. > But that didn't mean the things that had happened hadn't cost Celestia her scars, or you even more of your body.
  469. "If she doesn't want me to face you..."
  470. > Your voice is a soft, hissed whisper.
  471. "...then I won't face you. But I damn well won't sit around on my ass waiting."
  472. > The moon, of course, does not reply.
  473. > You shoot another glare at it anyhow before turning and thudding off back towards the table.
  474. > Dinner would have to be made for both of them, considering the hour.
  475. > Besides, your bones - those that are still actually bone - ache, and you need to sit down.
  477. --------
  479. > Long after dinner was reduced to the last cold remnants clinging to the side of its pots - long after the inquisitive little filly she had brought with her had been sent packing to bed in one of your spare rooms - you and Celestia remain awake.
  480. > The outside air still had a chill to it, summer's impending arrival not yet forced back the vestiges of winter's grasp.
  481. > Once - many years ago - that chill had left your bones aching and joints swollen but now you've gotten used to it,- the cold more an old friend than an insidious, creeping foe.
  482. > Of course, it also helped that there was a solar princess curled on the couch at your side, warmth radiating off her ivory coat like that of a long-dimmed fire.
  483. > Your hand - your real hand, the one that could still truly feel the softness of her coat and silky smoothness of her feathers - rests across her withers.
  484. > No words had been spoken between the two of you for some time, the contact speaking enough on its own.
  485. > Similarly, no light fell across you but the cold, pale moonlight coming in through the window the couch faced.
  486. > This was a long-familiar ritual for the two of you, a rite set in stone by days long-passed.
  487. > And like all such things, it cannot last forever.
  488. > The first sign is when Celestia stirs, her wings twitching and head turning about fix you with her gaze.
  489. > You hold out as long as possible, but there's no way to avoid her look - nor what it signifies.
  490. > Sighing gently, you speak first.
  491. "You'll have to go in the morning, then."
  492. > "Yes."
  493. "I'll be sure to have something prepared to see you off early, then. I'm sure your charges would begin to worry if you were not back for lunch."
  494. > "Oh, don't be like that, Anonymous."
  495. > Despite her scolding tone there is laughter in Celestia's voice as well.
  496. > Waving dismissively with one hand, you chuckle softly.> Long after dinner was reduced to the last cold remnants clinging to the side of its pots - long after the inquisitive little filly she had brought with her had been sent packing to bed in one of your spare rooms - you and Celestia remain awake.
  497. > The outside air still had a chill to it, summer's impending arrival not yet forced back the vestiges of winter's grasp.
  498. > Once - many years ago - that chill had left your bones aching and joints swollen but now you've gotten used to it,- the cold more an old friend than an insidious, creeping foe.
  499. > Of course, it also helped that there was a solar princess curled on the couch at your side, warmth radiating off her ivory coat like that of a long-dimmed fire.
  500. > Your hand - your real hand, the one that could still truly feel the softness of her coat and silky smoothness of her feathers - rests across her withers.
  501. > No words had been spoken between the two of you for some time, the contact speaking enough on its own.
  502. > Similarly, no light fell across you but the cold, pale moonlight coming in through the window the couch faced.
  503. > This was a long-familiar ritual for the two of you, a rite set in stone by days long-passed.
  504. > And like all such things, it cannot last forever.
  505. > The first sign is when Celestia stirs, her wings twitching and head turning about fix you with her gaze.
  506. > You hold out as long as possible, but there's no way to avoid her look - nor what it signifies.
  507. > Sighing gently, you speak first.
  508. "You'll have to go in the morning, then."
  509. > "Yes."
  510. "I'll be sure to have something prepared to see you off early, then. I'm sure your charges would begin to worry if you were not back for lunch."
  511. > "Oh, don't be like that, Anonymous."
  512. > Despite her scolding tone there is laughter in Celestia's voice as well.
  513. > Waving dismissively with one hand, you chuckle softly.
  515. "You're right, you're right. Forgive an old man for hoping he could spend more than a single evening with someone he misses so dearly."
  516. > "You could always-"
  517. "I will come stay in Canterlot when you have finally managed to wrench the nobility's heads out of their rears."
  518. > "I can only guide them, Anonymous. Not grant miracles."
  519. > Your laughter unexpectedly turns to a heaving cough, leaving Celestia staring with a deeply concerned look in her eyes.
  520. > Unbidden, her horn comes to lay across your chest; gentle, golden glow illuminates the room turning everything soft and relieving some of the aching pressure in your throat.
  521. > "It's becoming worse. Your lungs..."
  522. "Yes, I will have to print out a new pair soon. Bloody inconvenient."
  523. > "Inconvenient-"
  524. > Exasperation evident in her tone and on her features, Celestia lowers her head back to rest against your thigh.
  525. > "Inconvenient was not what I was getting at."
  526. "I know."
  527. > The small smile returns to your face.
  528. "But then, inconvenient is not what I would call those walking fungi you call nobles, yet you seem to think they're only a mild nuisance as well."
  529. > "They are ponies, Anonymous. As flaws as you or I."
  530. "Yet you seem to have managed to keep your head screwed on straight all these years. God knows how."
  531. > When no response comes immediately, you add:
  532. "Though I will admit - I do dearly wish you could stay a little while longer."
  533. > Celestia's smirk increases a touch at the small victory, and she nods.
  534. > "As do I, Anonymous. But I'm afraid I can't see things becoming any easier soon. With only a few years left to prepare... And then I will have to be there for her, to help her come back to who she was."
  535. > Abruptly Celestia peers upward at you.
  536. > "I hope you're not thinking I don't care for you any longer-"
  537. > Snorting gently, you shake your head.
  539. "Don't be so nervous, Celestia. I understand - she is your family, and you must be there for her. I'm not jealous - though I will at least hope to meet this 'Luna' at some point."
  540. > "Should everything go according to plan - once she has gotten to her hooves again, I think she would be most interested in meeting you."
  541. > What might happen if everything does not go according to plan is not even mentioned, something that does not escape your notice.
  542. > "...and besides - if it is any consolation to you, Luna's return will have quite the affect on the nobility as well."
  543. "Oh?"
  544. > "She was always far less tolerant of their scheming than I - far more willing to confront them directly. I will have to blunt her bite a bit, but even so - they are in for a rude awakening."
  545. > You feel a slight grin touching your lips; one hand rises to stroke at your beard and hide the expression.
  546. "Hrmm, hrm. Maybe, then. Maybe - it would be a shame to miss seeing their faces then, I will admit."
  547. > "Is that what it takes you to lure you out for a visit? The humiliation of others?"
  548. > Her scolding tone nets her a sharp glare from the corner of your eye, though both of you cannot hold it and soon dissolve into laughter.
  549. > Unfortunately, you once again find yourself quickly doubled-over and hacking what remains of your lungs out.
  550. > Magic gently grasps you, laying you out on the sofa.
  551. > Pride demands you struggle some-
  552. "I'm fine, Celestia! I swear, clear your throat around you and it's like you're coughing up blood..."
  553. > -but in the end, there's little point.
  554. > Besides, the spot she had been laying on is nicely warmed.
  555. > "You're sick, Anonymous."
  556. "Oh, this isn't that bad. You've seen me coughing blood, too - you know it isn't."
  557. > Eyeing you flatly, Celestia shakes her head.
  558. > "...I think, Anonymous, that if you are going to come teach Twilight - let alone meet Luna - you will have to stay in Canterlot permanently."
  559. "Threats? Low blow, dear - low blow."
  561. > Pausing, as if the idea was only just forming in your head, you raise a finger.
  562. "And what if I just say no?"
  563. > "Then I suppose will simply have to tell them of your escapades myself."
  564. > Feigning outrage, your tone rises.
  565. "I'm not even dead yet! At least let me get into the ground before you start turning me into a legend!"
  566. > Celestia lowers herself back to her belly - face now level with yours as you lay there.
  567. > "Then come to Canterlot, and tell them yourself."
  568. "And keep me around all the time? Aren't you afraid I'll corrupt the poor little thing - let alone your sister?"
  569. > "A risk I am willing to take."
  570. > Leaning in, her lips brush softly against your cheek.
  571. > "You shouldn't be alone like this. Trust me, please - I know you, and I know alone."
  572. > Once more things go quiet between the two of you, leaving only the soft brushing of wind against your home and the occasional creak of wooden flooring to be heard.
  573. > Finally Celestia speaks again.
  574. > "I'm going upstairs. Will you get some sleep, if you're going to be up to see us off in the morning?"
  575. > You are prepared to say no, you'll be right ready to sleep when you're ready - but a particular creaking has just caught your attention.
  576. "...oh, fine. I'll be up when you come back."
  577. > "Thank you."
  578. > Celestia smiles softly, rising to her hooves again.
  580. --------
  582. > Be Twilight Sparkle
  583. > Filly spy extraordinaire!
  584. > They thought you were in bed, but you fooled them!
  585. > Towels were bound tight around your hooves, muffling them against the wooden flooring.
  586. > Your saddlebags were tightly wrapped around your barrel - not for your books, but for Smarty Pants.
  587. > He held silent watch, head poking from the buckled saddlebag cover and making sure no one could come up behind you as you crept from corner to shadowed corner.
  588. > Your ear flicks as Anonymous' voice rises again, protesting vehemently:
  589. > "I'm not even dead yet! At least let me get into the ground before you start turning..."
  591. > He was still talking to Princess Celestia, then.
  592. > Good - you could get in and out without them ever knowing!
  593. > Normally you wouldn't dare skip bed like this - books could still be read by the light of your horn beneath the covers, after all - but this was a unique chance!
  594. > Who knew what wonders awaited you?
  595. > There'd be plenty of time to sleep on the trip back home, after all.
  596. > Now, the test of the descent to the first floor passed, the holy grail was before you:
  597. > Stairs dropped away into the dark, promising treasures unheard of beyond.
  598. > The bookshelves and display cases of the living room held no interest for you now.
  599. > Everypony knew that the truly interesting, truly remarkable things weren't out in public after all.
  600. > Even treading carefully with your muffled hooves, you can't avoid the creaking of the stairs entirely - but that's okay, the house is noisy enough you can match your steps to the groans and pops it makes on its own.
  601. > Daring Do had taught you to do that!
  602. > Lighting your horn at the bottom of the stairs reveals nothing but another doorway at first.
  603. > Creeping through it, however...
  604. > Your jaw falls in wonder at the contents of the vast hall beyond.
  605. > It was huge - the stairs had dropped far further than you'd realized at first, to hide something like this beneath the hilltop - but every inch of floor seemed to be covered in treasure.
  606. > Not gold or jewels, but...
  607. > Some of it you recognized; chemistry was chemistry, no matter who had built it..
  608. > Other things your eyes lay on - gleaming bodies of unknown items illuminated in the pale luminescence of your horn - take your breath away.
  609. > Creeping forward once more, you inch towards one particularly curious construct set atop a high table.
  610. > That it was morbid - resembling nothing so much as the body of a large pony eaten away along its length by huge bites - did nothing to deter you.
  611. > Unfortunately it wasn't nearly low enough to be seen clearly.
  613. > Merely jumping in place wouldn't help; instead you climb an impromptu ladder of nearby seats, boxes, and tables until you can take a running leap to arrive on the same table it rested on.
  614. > From this close angle it is even more ghoulish - mouth filled with razor fangs, eyes capped by unseeing lenses, and a gnarled, jagged horn protruding from its head.
  615. > That does not stop you from coming even closer, approaching until your muzzle nearly touched-
  616. > "Ahem."
  617. > With a whoop you go falling - flailing, spinning, sliding on a suddenly slick surface until you land with a winded thud on the unforgiving floor.
  618. > The macabre trophy comes down after you, landing on the floor with a hollow rattling sound.
  619. > At least your fall had been cushioned by Smarty Pants - selflessly sacrificing himself to ensure your safety.
  620. > That, however, still leaves one pressing matter...
  621. > "I was not aware, Twilight Sparkle, that sleepwalkers were such adept climbers."
  622. > Hunched over and leaning on his cane, Anonymous still seems impossibly huge in the dim light - his beard and whispy remnants of hair form a halo around his softly-glowing eyes.
  623. > "I didn't think that sneaking around in other people's homes was a habit nice young fillies kept for that matter either."
  624. "I'm sorry! I didn't break anything, I swear-"
  625. > "Oh, do stop cringing like that. We already went through this once; can we just get to the last bit and skip all the unimportant parts."
  626. > You blink owlishly; he wasn't angry?
  627. > Hobbling past you on his cane, Anonymous certainly doesn't seem upset - though he does check the thing you'd been studying closely, feeling it over with one hand.
  628. > Halfway bent over, he moves to lift it again - but halts, instead straightening as much as he can.
  629. > Instead a pair of humming machines descend from somewhere above to collect the thing in grasping claws.
  630. "...what is that...?"
  632. > "A changeling protoqueen's exoskeleton. She would probably hate to know that I kept it, but it's really quite fascinating to study."
  633. > A changeling?!
  634. > They existed?!
  635. > Seeming to sense the questions threatening to erupt from you, Anonymous holds out a single finger.
  636. > "No, none of that. Not right now - contrary to what little fillies believe, you do need your sleep and so do I."
  637. "...aww..."
  638. > He turns and starts back towards the entrance.
  639. > By long experience you know to not argue, and instead simply fall in by his side.
  640. > "Besides - if you wanted to see some of my collection, next time just ask. Though you might not always like what you find."
  641. "...not like...?"
  642. > Halting momentarily, Anonymous glances down at you.
  643. > "...I've known Celestia-"
  644. "Princess Celestia."
  645. > "-Princess Celestia for a very long time, Twilight Sparkle. What I've collected here reflects that."
  646. > Now your attention is firmly fixed again.
  647. > "Do you remember what I was telling you? About seeing her as a pony, not just a princess?"
  648. "Uh-huh."
  649. > "You go looking deep enough, you'll find out she's not as pure or innocent as you ponies like to think. She means good, yes - but sometimes, hard things must be done for a good purpose."
  650. > Was - was he saying Princess Celestia was a bad pony?
  651. > Impossible!
  652. > Princess Celestia was - the goodest of good ponies!
  653. "I don't believe you."
  654. > "You should. She came to terms with it a long time ago. You're going to have to, eventually."
  655. "You're just trying to scare me into not coming down here again."
  656. > "Am I?"
  657. > Anonymous glances down, and in the vague light from your horn you can see that he looks almost...
  658. > Disappointed.
  659. > He mutters under his breath; your ears twitch and turn, catching a few words.
  660. > "...too young, maybe. But not enough years until..."
  661. > Shaking his head, he sighs.
  663. > "I am anything but trying to keep you from investigating. But - to prove this - if you go upstairs and back to bed now, I will give you a gift when you leave tomorrow morning."
  664. > A gift?
  665. > Your ears perk and tail twitches at the thought of it.
  666. > A gift for you, from this pile of priceless mysteries?
  667. "You swear?"
  668. > "I do indeed swear, Twilight Sparkle. But you must actually go to bed and try to sleep."
  669. > Then you wouldn't even get to read...
  670. > But...
  671. "...okay, I promise."
  672. > "Good. Now do go get on, I have to lock up down here. Oh, and Sparkle?"
  673. "Yes?"
  674. > Unexpectedly, Anonymous' face breaks out in a smile nearly hidden beneath his beard.
  675. > "Good idea with those towels. I almost didn't hear you."
  677. --------
  679. "You will be visiting Canterlot soon, Anonymous. I will not stop pestering you until I have at least that out of you."
  680. > Be Celestia.
  681. > Standing just beyond the doorway in the newly-risen sun's illumination, you look back one last time at Anonymous.
  682. > "...pfah. Maybe I will say no just to keep you coming back to me."
  683. "And then maybe I will carry you to Canterlot."
  684. > His eyes narrow in challenge, and you smile sweetly in return.
  685. > "Dear lord, can't you at least let an old man have his dignity?"
  686. "Not if it interferes with his health."
  687. > "Pfah."
  688. > Chuckling softly, he suddenly perks up - pointing to the still half-asleep filly resting between your wings.
  689. > "Oh, yes! I did nearly forget - I did promise you a parting gift, didn't I?"
  690. > Twilight immediately perks up, the words having a prompt affect on her.
  691. > "Gift - I - you remembered!"
  692. > You, meanwhile, merely cock one eyebrow.
  693. > When, exactly, had this gift been agreed on...?
  694. > Anonymous reaches into his robe - producing a tiny black hemisphere studded with crystalline dots.
  695. > "This is a complete star map for the entire sky - north and south hemispheres. Just tap it once to activate, then use your magic to turn the projection. You can move it backwards and forwards in time too - you'll figure it out. "
  697. > Twilight's eyes grow wide as she accepts the device into her saddlebags.
  698. > "Woah..."
  699. > "And - if you should complete the puzzle I've built into it - you'll find it also holds the /other/ star maps I was showing you yesterday. Just put it in the sun every few days, and it should keep working."
  700. > You can nearly feel Twilight's breath quicken at both the prospect of the challenge and offered reward, while you merely shoot an accusatory glare at Anonymous.
  701. > He couldn't have simply had that laying around; he must have put it together after he had 'gone to bed'.
  702. "...really, Anonymous, I don't know which among the two of you is more foalish."
  703. > "Her, clearly."
  704. > There is a sharp twinkle in his eyes.
  705. > "I am a dignified old man, and deeply insulted you would suggest anything otherwise."
  706. > You can't help but smile, reaching out with a wing to brush his cheek one last time.
  707. "Goodbye, Anonymous. Until we can see each other again."
  708. > "Until then, Celestia, I'll keep the vigil here and tell you if I see anything else cropping up."
  709. > Long after you had turned away from the door - long after you had taken to the air again and begun the trip back to Canterlot - Twilight's voice pipes up behind you.
  710. > "Princess Celestia? What's he keepin' a vigil for?"
  711. "...that, my student, is a story for another time."
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