Making Beginnings Meet (/nmp/)

Nov 17th, 2019
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  1. >Equestria is a rather strange place. Ponies control the weather and can set it to anything they prefer.
  2. >That's why you still can't understand why there are days here that are so hot you'd rather not go outside at all.
  3. >Of course maybe it's just you, Anonymous, the only human in Equestria, who feels that way. Ponies don't seem to mind.
  4. >But at least the evenings here aren't that horrible. And standing in the shade of the mighty branches of a tree in the center of this rural town finally makes the outside world feel bearable.
  5. >You're not going to hide here forever though. Just a swift reprieve before entering the humble abode of the one and only Ponyville librarian.
  6. "Hey, Twilight," you immediately spot the purple unicorn in the center of the room.
  7. >"Oh, Anon!" she reacts with a smile right away. "Come on in."
  8. >You sigh in relief letting yourself take in the much more comfortable mild atmosphere of the giant hollow tree.
  9. >Twilight is a mare after your own heart in that regard, keeping it cool even during the summer.
  10. >Well, maybe not just in that regard. You discover something new about her every day.
  11. >The little pony is reading right now, of course, but her quill and inkwell are also in place, meaning she's fully prepared for your visit.
  12. >Formally you're here to simply read some books for your leisure, this is the only library in the whole town after all, but your visits never involve just reading.
  13. >The unicorn is very curious about you: everything concerning you is so strange to her, you're like a mystery she just has to unwrap, an old history book she wants to read cover to cover.
  14. >You've been visiting her unusual house for a while now and she's been documenting most things you reveal about yourself. It's like a research project to her now. She even reports on her findings to her teacher she calls a 'princess'.
  15. >You can't imagine she actually knows such royalty though. You're aware that Twilight is originally from a big city but she just seems so down to earth you can hardly believe she was raised in high society.
  16. >From what brief information you were given on this place before you got to Ponyville you honestly couldn't tell what kind of pony you'd meet, or who Twilight is going to be, so figuring her out is now entirely on you.
  17. >At least she does look like the pony on that ID card so you're pretty sure it is her.
  18. >But it feels a bit weird, to be subjected to such a study, being peeled carefully but thoroughly to expose the very core of what makes you tick, all the while the unicorn herself is still as enigmatic to you as ever.
  19. >Today shouldn't play out any differently as far as you can tell. Twilight goes back to reading after you close the door behind you but you know she'll find a way to start a conversation.
  20. >The tome you've been going through lately is resting nicely in its own special place, on the highest shelf where you can reach it without any problem but hardly any of the ponies can. Picking it up you think about changing the pace a bit.
  21. >Couldn't hurt to start a conversation first for a change.
  22. "Twilight?" you call.
  23. >Immediately the pony turns her head to you like she's been waiting for you to speak up.
  24. >"Yes?"
  25. "Is it really fine with you that I come here almost every evening?"
  26. >You sit down on the chair that is here just for you - ponies have no problem sitting on the floor. You tried that too but your back starts to hurt after a while.
  27. >"Of course. It's no problem. Why do you ask?"
  28. >She is already preparing to write down anything she deems important and her quill is levitating above the inkwell impatiently.
  29. "Well, other ponies don't really feel comfortable having me around, maybe I'm imposing here too?"
  30. >"Huh?"
  31. "I mean, there's barely anyone here at any time. Is it because I hang out here now?"
  32. >"No, certainly not!" Twilight is quick to reassure you. "Ponies here aren't exactly the avid reader types. Which, to be honest, I don't mind, less distractions when I'm studying. Not like you're distracting me or anything though."
  33. >Naturally, because you're the one she's studying when you're around.
  34. >"Ever since I moved here I couldn't really find anypony to read together with, so... I am glad that you visit."
  35. "Thanks, Twilight," you look away and an involuntary smile crosses your face for a moment.
  36. >"Ponies here are very old fashioned, nothing like those in Canterlot where I'm from," she boasts. "Give them time, I'm sure they'll get used to you before long. They don't see a lot of different creatures here like zebras or griffons..."
  37. "But you're used to them?"
  38. >"Not exactly, but I at least know that one only has to be reasonable to know that just because somepony is different from you doesn't mean they-"
  39. >She stops for a moment and then her face lights up with inspiration.
  40. >"Wait, I've finally got it! Hold on, I'll be right back."
  41. >Twilight almost jumps up and gallops to her bedroom. From there you hear her voice:
  42. >"Spike, take a letter to the princess!"
  43. >Judging from the mumbling she gets in return the baby dragon was already dozing off. It takes them a good minute of bickering to get to the actual writing.
  44. >"Dearest Princess Celestia..."
  45. >Muffled voice of the unicorn describing her epiphany about getting to know you makes you smile again.
  46. >Looks like Twilight has finally found the right words to describe the discovery she has made with you.
  47. >The way this little mare is fascinated with the world around her inspires even you. She's obviously new around here just like you, from what you estimate you've arrived here not long after she did.
  48. >And you think she's still moving her stuff here from her home in Canterlot, so she must've been here for no more than a month.
  49. >It makes sense, of course, that you were sent here exactly at this point, but you've been left to your own devices without any further instructions and you've been growing exponentially weary about this whole affair. It's like you're stranded on an alien planet without a damn thing to do.
  50. >The instructions were so unclear they might've not existed at all. You're not even a hundred percent sure you have the right pony. It's not like anyone has explained to you how those colorful brands on ponies' rumps work, what if there are others with that one?
  51. >The candy-maned mare said that the less you know, the better, so that's her fault. She sounded so sure that you'll figure it all out, and you're... You're not sure of anything anymore.
  52. >Maybe this is how it's supposed to be, you being thrown in here completely blind and left to do whatever you want with zero direction in your new life in an alien world. Maybe this is exactly what they wanted you to feel.
  53. >That's a bit scary, now that you think about it.
  56. >This has got to be a mistake.
  57. >Pacing back and forth you, princess Mi Amore Cadenza, struggle to keep your thoughts in one place in order to concentrate.
  58. >The metal of your horseshoes strikes the solid floor and a certain rhythm of your steps is only interrupted by you stopping at the window every time you pass it.
  59. >Witnessing the calm city below the castle gives you confidence for exactly one lap until you get back to the window.
  60. "Maybe the Heart is broken?" you mutter to yourself.
  61. >One glance back at it is enough to confirm that nothing is wrong with it.
  62. >It is clearly a challenge for you to overcome. Maybe it is testing you?
  63. >With so many human males already on the streets you were starting to get complacent. Is this the Heart's way to take your arrogance down a notch?
  64. >No, this can't be right either. You are only happy to provide, to be a guide to those who bring so much magic to Equestria despite being outsiders.
  65. >And also, the thing can't think for itself, as far as you know.
  66. >Then, perhaps, it is a test of that ability of yours to execute its will.
  67. >Those men walking the streets will soon join their mares all across Equestria. It was never a problem to either procure the man or to locate the mare he's destined to be with.
  68. >Even though the Heart initially only gives you a cutie mark and a dream-like vision of that pony, your brilliant analysts always find the right pony in a matter of days.
  69. >From then it's only a matter of snatching the man, and the squad of your brave mares formed just for that purpose has never failed to do that.
  70. >But in this case, the challenge is not to locate the mare or to extract her soulmate. The problem is getting them together.
  71. >Walking around and looking at the happy people doesn't solve it.
  72. >You return to the Heart and glare at it, as if that's going to accomplish anything.
  73. "Why do you have to make this so difficult?" you ask the heart-shaped rock.
  74. >Nothing happens, obviously. It frustrates you that you seemingly can't solve this mystery on your own.
  75. >Maybe this is the lesson it wants you to learn? In that case it's doing a bad job conveying it.
  76. >You gaze once again upon the picture you yourself has asked the Interpreter to draw.
  77. >There's always a risk that you understand the image of the mare and her cutie mark wrong, after all it's like a premonition that you get out of the blue.
  78. >How you wish that this thing would print the picture on its own, but it only works through you, adding another layer of responsibility to your new job.
  79. >Not like cutie marks are that complex anyway, and the general vision of a pony allows you to know if she has a horn or wings.
  80. >It's elusive at best, and no one would ever believe you if you weren't connected to the Heart. Yet this whole operation runs on you waking up in the middle of the night with a nagging feeling in your heart and a fleeting memory of a pony you've never met before in your life.
  81. >This one, however, isn't somepony nebulous and distant. It's a pony you know closely. A cutie mark of a six-pointed star with five smaller stars encircling it can't really point at anypony else.
  82. >Only in your vision it wasn't princess Twilight Sparkle. Just Twily. The little unicorn prodigy that had saved your wedding and this empire long before ascending to the princesshood.
  83. >And even though you're happy to remember those times, this image has been nothing but headache for you.
  84. >On top of the big, giant, enormous "HOW" question, there's also a smaller but no less important "why" question.
  85. >Thinking about this one more time you yet again arrive at the same conclusion - you alone can't figure it out no matter how you try.
  86. >Or it's simply your work taking the best of you so you can't even think straight anymore.
  87. >In any case, this is one pony you can't let down. The one this whole Initiative was basically built upon, the one who had the interdimensional spell ready when this project was just starting despite having nothing to work with, the one who has brought Star Swirl the Bearded back and roped him into helping with research of the portals...
  88. >But why exactly does it have to be young Twilight? And why now?
  89. >You've matched so many mares yet somepony this important to the project didn't have a match herself. Maybe it has to do with Twilight moving away from the Initiative because things were going smoothly and so she didn't have to be actively involved anymore, and so the Heart thought it was the right time?
  90. >Or could it be that the Initiative just wasn't ready for this task before?
  91. >You put the picture of the fated cutie mark on the table and decide to head out. That's right, this whole thing wasn't built by you alone. It was time to call upon those who once before have made the impossible happen, to make it happen one more time.
  92. >Your sister-in-law will have a human, and she's going to have one a decade earlier than any other mare in Equestria.
  95. >Twilight's well-kept sleek coat glistens in the dim light coming from the window she's sitting at.
  96. >A book at her hooves is opened, but the pony isn't reading the words it holds; her gaze is set upon the vista of Ponyville in the rain.
  97. >You, Anonymous, should be reading right now too, a candle lit at your side, yet the purple unicorn's dreamy expression interests you more.
  98. >Certainly, her thoughts don't seem too dark, no frown hanging low on her face. She is just lost in thoughts extending way beyond this current moment.
  99. >The rain is tapping on the window gently, almost as if in reverence to the mare's meditative state.
  100. >You can understand Twilight right now: staying in her cozy library, safe and dry while the weather does its job outside is the perfect opportunity to reflect upon serious or, for example, nostalgic thoughts.
  101. >And to prove that you find yourself in this trap as well: when you become aware of your surroundings again you notice that Twilight isn't looking outside anymore and is instead staring right into your eyes.
  102. >Your glance was on her still, and you two look at each other for a while in complete silence. Doesn't seem like anything needs to be said. Perhaps each of you would like to pretend you don't notice the pensive gaze of the other to prolong it.
  103. >Twilight's big, kind eyes lose yours first. The reflected glow of the outside world in them fades when the pony looks down, still in contemplation.
  104. >"Anon?" you hear her quiet, almost weak voice.
  105. "Yes?"
  106. >"Do you..." she gathers her strength to ask a question she was no doubt trying to answer on her own before. "Do you miss your world? Your past life?"
  107. >It's rare to see her so serious and genuine. The weakness in her voice was probably due to concern: she could be opening a barely closed wound, or maybe even asking a question she isn't prepared to hear the answer to.
  108. >What is she going to do if you say 'yes', that you'd rather not be here and the only reason you are here is because you literally have nowhere else to go? Would she feel guilty? Would she cry because it's exactly what she expected and that you're so honest with her, maybe due to your desperation or annoyance?
  109. >You feel bad for imagining such a situation. After all it couldn't be farther from the truth. But you won't lie to her either.
  110. "A bit, yeah. Some things are hard to replace."
  111. >Twilight is slow to ask you to elaborate, but she presses on:
  112. >"Like technology of your world?"
  113. "Like not being a complete alien in a small town and making others nervous all the time."
  114. >"O-oh..."
  115. >Sometimes this pony overthinks simple things. But you probably shouldn't have been this blunt with her either.
  116. "But on the other hand this life has its perks. Like having someone to talk to without holding what's on my mind."
  117. >This time Twilight doesn't respond. And so you have no idea if she picked up on your little compliment.
  118. "What about you, do you miss Canterlot?"
  119. >A smile finally appears on the pony's muzzle.
  120. >"Everything there was familiar. But here there are so many new things to learn I don't really have time to be homesick. Most of the times."
  121. >You nod and hope that the similarities of your answers don't escape Twilight's attention.
  122. >"If anything, I think Spike misses it more than me."
  123. >The pony's eyes are on you again and her smile is shared by you now.
  124. >After that Twilight resumes looking at the soaking wet Ponyville, but you feel like she's still curious, so you decide to continue your explanation:
  125. "All I can say is it could've been a lot worse for me here if it wasn't for you."
  126. >You then hear something that sounds like 'I'm glad to hear that' in a very small voice, but that is erased by Twilight clearing her throat to say something similar yet different:
  127. >"I'm glad I'm able to help," she closes her eyes. "But I'm sorry I can't help you more than that. No matter how much I search for any spell that can at least find out where you're from-"
  128. "It's alright, Twilight. Really, it is," you nod a few times to get her attention again. "I'm still getting used to things around here, that's all. I..."
  129. >You really want to ask her to not blame herself but you can't seem to push those words out of your throat.
  130. >There is so much this pony doesn't know it's almost criminal. The real thing you're still getting used to is lying to her.
  131. >Lying that you don't know how you got here. Lying that it was all an accident.
  132. >The truth is, you're not sure yourself what is and what isn't up to you here.
  133. >All your instructions were 'meet this pony and stay close to her', and the only thing you know about her is how she looks like on a mugshot taken for some sort of ID with an picture of her cutie mark glued to the other side.
  134. >But for what it's worth, not everything is a lie in your life. Little by little you're starting to get some idea why you are here.
  135. >"I miss Canterlot sometimes but I can return there at any time. I can't possibly imagine how you must feel, not even knowing where to return to, or how."
  136. "Well, that just means I'll have to get comfortable here for the time being." you try to reassure her.
  137. >Twilight nods to you but it doesn't really lift her spirits.
  138. >This rainy mood seems to be getting to her, but it also means that it won't last too long.
  139. >She'll be back to her cheerful curious self in no time.
  140. >That's the Twilight you prefer to see, you think to yourself admiring the pony from afar while the quiet library bathes in the calming blanket of the rain outside.
  143. >"Are you sure it's not a mistake?"
  144. >Starlight looks down on the picture and then back up again. She's trying to watch for your reaction. That maybe you're hiding a smile and it's just a prank.
  145. >Alas, you, Cadence, hasn't called for the unicorn's aid just to see the look on her face when you tell her that Twilight has a match now.
  146. "I am, trust me."
  147. >"I mean, what if you saw something different and not her at her library without wings?"
  148. "Starlight!" you're starting to lose your temper. "Would I summon you all the way from Ponyville to just tell you that 'maybe' there's-"
  149. >"Okay, okay, I get it," she backs away a little. "It's just..."
  150. "Yeah, I know!"
  151. >"But are you sure that-"
  152. "Yes, I am absolutely sure. I've been seeing that exact vision every day and night for three days straight!"
  153. >The unicorn stares at the picture of Twilight's cutie mark again and sips the tea that's probably cold by now.
  154. >Your offerings of comfort didn't seem to make things much more pleasant for Starlight.
  155. >"And I guess there's no explanation to why exactly it has to be this way?"
  156. "Precisely. I just know that it has to be done. That's the whole story."
  157. >You know that nopony, especially Starlight, probably the worst skeptic in Equestria, would've believed you just like that, so you're prepared to stand your ground for as long as it takes to convince this stubborn mare. You're here for the long game and you have enough tea to keep her here for at least a week.
  158. >But thankfully, Starlight seems to be flexible enough to at least pretend to believe you and work together with you.
  159. >Aside from that she's Twilight's former apprentice, she cares about her. And, of course, her very specific experience makes her the perfect assistant in this undertaking.
  160. >Starlight herself figures it out right away:
  161. >"So, I guess it has to be me because of...that spell?"
  162. "Yes. Even if you didn't invent it yourself you still have more experience with time-space travel than anypony else here."
  163. >"Well, I've been to the past once, I guess," the mare blushes. "Less than Twilight, but she is obviously out of question, so... who else but me?"
  164. >She laughs nervously and looks at you, wearing an apologetic expression of a caught prankster. You're getting mixed messages from her reaction but you think she's agreeing to help?
  165. "If you're up for it then it's best that we start working immediately. I personally have no idea where to begin. I haven't even started looking for the human yet!"
  166. >That one came as a realization to you just at this moment. Maybe you're the one who should be acting nervous now, all you've done so far is tried to come up with an excuse to consider this whole thing a mistake.
  167. >"I know you probably can't answer this," Starlight frowns and her voice gets quieter. "But aren't we messing with things way beyond this organization's competence? It's one thing to bring someone here from another world, and-"
  168. "You're right, I don't have an answer for this," you cut her off.
  169. >She probably notices your dejected expression and drops the subject.
  170. >"I guess the Heart knows better?" you can almost hear her mocking you but you dismiss that feeling.
  171. "Love and destiny are strange things, Starlight. Sometimes even I don't understand them."
  172. >The unicorn harrumphs and takes another sip of her tea, levitating the cup slower than usual.
  173. >"I'm not really a fan of that explanation, princess. I don't think we can just write it all off as 'destiny' and do whatever we want without looking any further, disregarding consequences."
  174. "Why not? Destiny is everywhere around us. Our lives are already pretty determined, with our cutie marks and-"
  175. >You promptly stop yourself there, remember that Starlight is probably not the pony to discuss this particular subject with.
  176. >But the unicorn just chuckles watching your confused face.
  177. >"I understand what you're trying to say. But don't you think it's too convenient? We're talking about changes that will surely have repercussions within our timeline. Destiny or no destiny, we are the ones who will have to take responsibility for what happens."
  178. >Her reasoning makes you frown, partially because you can't really disagree with it.
  179. "Even so, the Heart, the Love magic it represents, aren't demanding past Twilight to be matched for no reason. It's just so very specific this time... Maybe in this case having a little faith could go a long way."
  180. >You try really hard to make your smile to not seem condescending at all. Starlight looks away and you see how she rolls her eyes a little. You have failed in that endeavor, it seems.
  181. >That's what you get for teaming up with a powerful unicorn who overanalyzes everything.
  182. >And that's probably why Starlight doesn't have a match.
  183. >You almost smirk at that passing thought but stop yourself in time. That's not the right mindset to have right now. After all, Twilight doesn't have a match either. At least didn't have, until just recently.
  184. >Your own cup of tea almost reaches your lips when you suddenly realize that something is very wrong with that sentiment.
  185. >If Twilight is going to be matched in the past, how come she isn't matched right now?
  186. >Sudden cold locks you in place as it travels down your body and you can't move a muscle. A horrible image flashes in your head. Did something happen to Twilight's match? Is this why this is all happening?
  187. >The ringing of thoughts in your head is so loud you barely hear Starlight's musings on the very subject, but once you notice how radically different her interpretation is your focus shift entirely on her.
  188. >"What I don't get, and it may be stupid, but..." the unicorn perks her lips in contemplation. "What I don't get is why Twilight is getting a match when she already has a human right now."
  189. "What are you talking about?" you don't even recognize your voice anymore. "Twilight doesn't have a match."
  190. >"Well, technically he's not her 'match' because he's been with her way before the Initiative was formed..."
  191. "Wait-wait-wait! Hold the scroll, are you saying Twilight already has a human? Are you trying to trick me into some kind-"
  192. >"Huh? No, I'm just- Didn't you tell me yourself that he's the entire reason this Initiative was founded in the first place? Remember? Cadence, are you alright? You look really pale, like Celestia pale, maybe you should rest for now?"
  193. >You hear her calling to you but you don't comprehend any words after this.
  194. >It sounds like a joke but why does this suddenly make so much sense. Have you just simply forgotten all about it? YOU? The princess of Love?
  195. >This could be it, you are burnt out on the job, you were the one overthinking it. There's no way you could just miss such a crucial detail.
  196. >Something feels very wrong about this.
  197. >"Gosh, you've really been wearing yourself out in here, I'll get you some more tea."
  198. >Or are you stupid? Stupid and forgetful at the same time?
  199. >You would've remember something as important as...
  200. >No, that's not it.
  201. >That's it!
  202. >"Uh...princess? What's so funny?"
  203. >You don't know. But you now know what you must do. The sign has been given and you welcome them with a smile. And maybe with a silly giggle or two.
  204. >You are starting to remember now. They are like mist, your memories and recollections, but the more you waddle along the path deeper, the more they are revealed to you.
  205. >You know now what must be done. Maybe. Probably.
  208. >The tea you, Anonymous, have been offered is great as usual. Spike's service is once again acknowledged with gratitude from both you and Twilight.
  209. >In the center of the library, at the round table the two of you enjoy your usual evening chat.
  210. >"So that's pretty much what I came up with," Twilight resumes her explanation once the baby dragon leaves back to the kitchen. "What do you think?"
  211. "It looks... Nice, I guess?"
  212. >Before you is a crude drawing of a blanket that is somehow, by some miracle, is supposed to become...Twilight's dress?
  213. "Isn't this just a star chart of some sort?"
  214. >From Twilight's reaction you know you are absolutely correct, because her face lights up in a big smile.
  215. >"Exactly! It's a constellation-themed dress. I want to make sure it's as accurate as it can possibly be since I'm going to be wearing it on such an important occasion."
  216. "Well, you know, I can't exactly tell if it's accurate or not."
  217. >"Huh?" Twilight frowns but realizes right away. "Oh, your stars probably look different from ours..."
  218. "Yeah, sorry."
  219. >"Oh, it's no problem."
  220. >Twilight sips her tea from the cup suspended in the air by her magic.
  221. >"Actually, maybe it is. You know what that calls for?"
  222. "What?"
  223. >"An extra educational field trip!"
  224. >The unicorn reads your flummoxed expression and explains:
  225. >"Don't want to brag, but I consider astronomy one of my main fields, I can familiarize you with Equestria's night sky in no time," she looks up and her horn points directly above, her balcony with a telescope being the crown of this massive tree.
  226. >"All we have to do is stay up late on a clear night," she nods to herself and looks at you.
  227. "Sounds fun, actually."
  228. >"Really? That's good to hear! Oh, I'll prepare all kind of books and charts, it's gonna be great."
  229. >Twilight notices your smile and her cheeks get a bit rosy.
  230. "You sound really excited about this."
  231. >"How can I not be? Nopony here is even remotely interested in astronomy. I've never had a chance to discuss that with anypony ever since I've moved here."
  232. "I'm sure others would like at least something about it."
  233. >Twilight shrugs while drinking.
  234. "So... that 'field trip' is going to be somewhere out of town? Or were you really referring to your balcony?"
  235. >The unicorn looks upwards again and says without even batting an eye:
  236. >"Why not? This is best telescope in the whole town. And I don't really feel like dragging it for miles, magic or not."
  237. >You can't help but to smirk at the pony's priorities.
  238. >To be honest, it was kind of silly for you to expect her to see this as anything other than something educational.
  239. >Now you sense traces of shame in your heart. You're still spending time with her, doesn't really matter where. There's no need to go somewhere else and stay completely alone with her to do that.
  240. >Why are you even having these thought in the first place?
  241. >Having a nightly picnic out of town just for two of you does sound more...romantic. You can't believe you're looking at it from this angle.
  242. >It's Twilight who is thinking about it the proper way, not you. The shame in you grows.
  243. "Yeah, you're right," you hide the bitterness in your voice and Twilight doesn't pick up on it.
  244. >"Don't expect too much though," she instead clarifies. "It's not exactly a proper scientific tool."
  245. "It's fine," you look at her and give her your best smile. "I'm sure you can make up for that with your commentary."
  246. >Now the unicorn blushes a bit and catches your contagious smile.
  247. >"W-well, I'll try my best, of course," she answers with all the confidence she has. "But you should've seen the kind of telescopes we had in Canterlot, now that was something else..."
  248. >Visions of proper scientific apparatus, the obligatory part of every little filly's life in the capital, make both of you fall quiet in contemplation.
  249. "Maybe one day you'll show me," you say before thinking.
  250. >Surprisingly, Twilight doesn't pick up on your tone this time around as well.
  251. >"Oh, you'd love it," she immediately replies. "The lenses are actually custom fit and treated with crystal magic to make the image clearer, I've even learned the spell to maintain them myself so-"
  252. >Twilight gallops down the memory lane and you keep smiling at her being her little diligent and dedicated self.
  253. >Only then you feel something swelling inside you. Near your heart.
  254. >Something you've never felt before. The cascade of her neat, clear voice makes you imagine for a moment, just a brief moment, that this cadence is turned upon you, not some distant subject.
  255. >So unfamiliar, that feeling overwhelms you for a split second and you feel like you're going to lose consciousness.
  256. >Her eyes are on you and her lips have finished their mystifying dance and are now put together in a smile again.
  257. >Twilight takes another sip from her cup and asks if you're alright.
  258. >"Anyway, you'll see for yourself someday," she concludes after your nod.
  259. >You want to see. Right now, after that sudden surge of unknown energies, you want to see anything she says you'll like.
  260. >But most of all you want it to be her who shows it to you.
  261. >The promised 'field trip' to the balcony quickly becomes an event you look forward to, passionately so.
  264. >"Here, all set!"
  265. >Twilight beckons you to come up to her.
  266. >You can't really say that you trust this whole thing - the balcony you're now standing on doesn't look like it was built with humans in mind.
  267. >The kind mare has taken steps to make you feel more comfortable though. Conveniently, a soft looking pillow is waiting for you next to the telescope. Twilight is already seated right next to it.
  268. >You cautiously approach your place and squat right in front of it to keep your balance, only then taking your designated place.
  269. >Apparently, your performance was strange to Twilight, because she giggles softly at your clumsy movements.
  270. >But once you're safe on the pillow, everything falls silent. Almost too silent.
  271. >A sense of awe overtakes you the moment you start paying attention to your surroundings.
  272. >You've never really been out at night. At first it was because your job was keeping you tired at all times, later - just out of habit.
  273. >Now that you can actually afford staying up, you wonder how much you've been missing out on up until this point.
  274. >The nightly Ponyville is so drastically different from its daily self, or from anything you've seen in your life.
  275. >You wonder if all rural towns are like this, because the unprecedented serenity of this night seems like more of a product of Equestria's overall enchanting vibe.
  276. >There's barely a wind in the leaves next to you; overlooking the streets of Ponyville from your comparatively high lookout you notice how actually small it is.
  277. >No one is around. Only one or two lights are lighting up the windows. You are almost deafened by the drumming of your heart in your ears because there's nothing else to listen to.
  278. >Everything is somehow...different now. The air itself is clearer. Every movement feels strange, every shape you see mystifies you.
  279. >Your movements here are deliberate and all the sounds around you feel intimate. Like there's a bubble around this balcony and there's only you and Twilight within it.
  280. >She is right beside you. In her eyes the moon shines at you even brighter than it does from the sky. Up there, the blanket of thousand pale dots threatens to bury you under its magnificence.
  281. >A sudden wave of dread washes over you from head to toes once you take a look up above; just as suddenly it is gone a moment after. It is because you see Twilight looking up too.
  282. >The unicorn is smiling. She looks back at you again and asks in a hushed voice that sounds so close it might as well be a whisper directly in your ear:
  283. >"Do you like it?"
  284. "I-" you fail to form an actual thought for her. "Yes, it's..."
  285. >"It is pretty great, even from here."
  286. >A child of a big city, you don't really have any experience with the humbling vastness of cosmos. You feel so vulnerable and exposed under the glare of so many shining lights, like eyes of the deep space all focusing on you.
  287. >That's a lot of attention to withstand and you feel a bit uncomfortable, that's all. Luckily, you have a distraction.
  288. >"Shall we begin?" your companion asks nonchalantly, innocent gaze on you once again.
  289. "Sure, where should we start?"
  290. >"We can go over some of the constellations that are going to be on my dress since that's what started all of this... If you want, of course."
  291. >She's not fooling you. Twilight's been counting on going through them all in an exact order so you can compare her drawing - or, more accurately, schematic - to the real thing.
  292. "Sounds good to me," you nod to her, confirming her excitement.
  293. >"Great. We can start with Orion's belt, the three stars that form it are-"
  294. "Wait, I recognize that name," you say to your own surprise.
  295. >"Really? Maybe our skies are not that different after all. What about...say, Canis Major?"
  296. "I think I've heard about that one too somewhere."
  297. >Even though you don't sound too sure, Twilight is already fired up with even more enthusiasm than before.
  298. >She names a few more and some you do recall hearing about.
  299. "I just don't know much about astronomy, that's all," you admit. "Even if it sounds familiar and similar to our stars, I don't anything about it, or even if-"
  300. >"Oh, that's not a problem," Twilight moves closer to you and adjusts the telescope with magic. "After all it's never too late to learn all about it."
  301. >You just have to get yourself a teacher who's willing to be patient with you. Looks like you've got that covered.
  302. >It is a bit hard to figure out how to put the stars you are observing together to actually notice the constellations in them, but as you keep going you get better at following Twilight's explanations.
  303. >Some are still hard for you. At some point you get so into searching for the right place to direct the telescope to find one of the chart's locations on your own, you notice that your unicorn guide is unusually silent.
  304. >Hiding your interest, you turn your head just a little to see what has happened to the mare. She is staring up above with a calm expression on her face.
  305. "Twilight?" you call for her quietly.
  306. >"Oh!" she returns to the waking world. "Did you find it?"
  307. "Not exactly, I-"
  308. >"Let me see..." she gets closer to you and looks into the eyepiece herself.
  309. "Were you thinking about something just now?"
  310. >"A bit," she turns to you and then looks upwards again. "I was just thinking that these similarities couldn't be accidental. I mean in our skies."
  311. >You look up too and take in the cold brightness of the canvas of space once again.
  312. >"All this time we could've been looking at the same stars even being in different worlds. I just find it..."
  313. >She tries to look for the right words but nothing comes out of her already opened mouth. So instead, she smiles bashfully.
  314. >"...interesting," she finally concludes and swiftly returns to tinkering with her telescope.
  315. >That kind of sentiment is strange to hear from her, yet pleasant in a way you can't quite describe. It feels warm to think about it.
  316. >Twilight adds after a bit:
  317. >"Maybe our worlds aren't that different after all."
  318. "No, they certainly are," you smirk.
  319. >"Well, I mean in a broad sense."
  320. "Ours didn't have you, so that's one thing it lacked..."
  321. >Twilight is quick to hide her eyes in the eyepiece again while you are left to feel your brain catching up to your tongue to fully realize the connotation of what you've just said.
  322. >To make it worse, Twilight responds in tune, in a nervous and feeble tone:
  323. >"T-then it's fortunate that you're here now and not there. I mean, if that's what you-"
  324. >She cuts her thought off and you see her muzzle scrunching up. She's trying to hide her face behind the tube of her device but she is so close you can't just not notice the blush on her cheeks, visible even in the night.
  325. >What is up with you being so brash around her and saying these things?
  326. >And more importantly, why is she responding to them like that?!
  327. >The wind is picking up in the leaves behind you, the tree library giving a resounding murmur of its greenery as if it's trying to tell you something.
  328. >At least that flow of fresh air cools your head (mostly cheeks) a bit.
  329. >It's not the first time you two are caught in such a entanglement of awkward words that keep spinning you out of control in a clumsy dance. You feel so silly after that but Twilight is no better, like both of you become little kids for a moment.
  330. >Two airheads trying to convey complex concepts and lacking the words to explain what they want the other to see...or maybe avoiding a direct explanation on purpose.
  331. >So silly. You've never expected Twilight to be so silly. You've never expected yourself to be even sillier.
  332. >Maybe that's how it's supposed to be. Maybe that's why you are here.
  333. >To be more precise, maybe that's why you are here NOW.
  334. >The night keeps on going and the darkened Ponyville stands still while two silly individuals keep close together finding imaginary shapes loosely made by stars that are somehow significant to some totally not silly people and ponies.
  335. >That's rather silly, but it's not like you're smart enough to prefer being anywhere else right now.
  338. "So then what happened?"
  339. >You, Anonymous, are on the edge of your seat while your unicorn friend tells you all about her unexpected adventures at that big party in the capital.
  340. >"Nothing, really," Twilight giggles. "The Gala was basically over by that point, we just stayed together and talked for a while."
  341. >The mare's once gorgeous dress is all flabby and dirty on her coat, and her mane, despite obvious attempts at taming it is still wild and all over the place.
  342. >You can see the spots where it was combed a bit, but your bet is that Rarity was the one who tried to do that, because Twilight doesn't look like her looks are a priority of hers right now.
  343. >She still has the dignity to cover her mouth with a hoof when she yawns so passionately you start feeling sleepy too.
  344. >Twilight was just on her way back to the library to do just that when you've noticed her on your usual rout to work.
  345. >She looked happy despite all the things that happened, at least that's what you've gathered from the short explanations of hers.
  346. >The mare smiles at you again after she subdues her yawn.
  347. >"I'll catch you later, alright?"
  348. "Sure," you nod to her.
  349. >The pony goes on her way and you wonder how she actually feels about all this.
  350. >Going there like royalty with so many expectations, coming back with nothing but disappointment, taking the earliest morning train from Canterlot...
  351. >It's hard to imagine she's actually happy about her dream event turning out like that.
  352. >You keep thinking about this throughout your whole workday; pushing paperwork at the town's hall isn't all that stressful and time consuming so there are plenty of openings to just sit down and think.
  353. >It wasn't easy to land this kind of job, but ponies respect hard honest work, and being friends with the Mayor (who apparently had a soft spot for aliens in desperate situations) also helped.
  354. >You really want to know the truth behind Twilight's story, and when evening comes you decide to pay the librarian a visit. She's already up on her hooves again after catching some sleep but Spike is still recovering.
  355. >It's also too early for Twilight's feathered assistant to become active, so the mare is pretty much all on her own.
  356. >Twilight is writing something on a parchment and you wonder if it's another letter to princess Celestia already. After all this pony has seen her mentor just recently in person.
  357. >On the other hand, they never got to actually talk about things Twilight wanted to discuss. You remember how excited she was telling you about her plans on this Gala, and apparently none of that came true.
  358. >What is she going to do now?
  359. >The mare notices you right away and she looks rather happy, all fresh and clean again.
  360. >"Anon!" she greets you loudly, but immediately blocks her mouth with a hoof and looks at the still sleeping dragon.
  361. >You can't help but smile and she shares your reaction.
  362. >"Maybe we can go out for a walk instead," the pony suggests more quietly.
  363. "Already writing about another lesson learned?" you ask her when you're out of the library.
  364. >"You could say that. I just realized something and wanted to ask her advice on it."
  365. "What would that be?"
  366. >"It's... Well, it's kind of complicated."
  367. >You nod in agreement, secretly imagining what could be 'complicated' for a pony like Twilight.
  368. "If you say so."
  369. >But the truth is, even if Twilight did say that, she obviously wants to tell you more about it.
  370. >"It's nothing too important, but I don't really know what to do about it. It's about you."
  371. "Me?"
  372. >This is taking an unexpected turn and you feel a bit too agitated about it.
  373. >"Remember what I've told you about the Gala earlier today? It got me thinking."
  374. >You slowly walk down Ponyville's main street while Twilight goes on recounting the events of the big failed party, where she and her friends never got what they wanted in the end.
  375. >While she's recalling it, you notice how the evening Ponyville is filled with ponies. You recognize most of them and they recognize you.
  376. >Sure, they might be waving and smiling to Twilight but you prefer to think that their friendly reaction is at least somewhat directed at you.
  377. >You nearly get lost in that thought and lose Twilight's line of thought for a moment.
  378. >"Talking to Celestia about my lessons was important to me, of course," the unicorn's musings reach your ears again. "But what has happened instead also turned out to be important. Even if it was a doozy."
  379. "That's one way to look at it."
  380. >"So what I think is: it's important to realize what really is important."
  381. "Huh."
  382. >You smile at that thought, deeming it a bit silly. But when you look at Twilight you notice how her proud and beaming expression turns into a frown when she sees your reaction.
  383. >"It's not silly!" she fires first before you even get to say anything. "Just think about it."
  384. "No, no, I'm not saying that it is..." you start explaining but Twilight cuts you off immediately.
  385. >"You were thinking it! I know it!"
  386. >Her puffed cheeks serve her little frustration with a pinch of sweet innocence, letting you know she's not really angry at you.
  387. "I am sure Celestia is going to like your wordplay there."
  388. >"It's not even a wordplay," the mare mumbles and looks away from you.
  389. "Alright, alright. I understand what you mean. Finding value in an unexpected and even unpleasant turn of event is a useful skill. See?"
  390. >Twilight sighs heavily, begrudgingly agreeing with you.
  391. >For some time you walk in silence and let the town's sunset guide you.
  392. >Moments like these make you appreciate the simplicity of life here. Hearing passing conversations, knowing that each and every pony here has a place in this village and knows that nothing will change that.
  393. >Everyone knows everyone, everyone repeats their day again and again, yet it's not boring for them. Not when they enjoy what they do here and accept it as their way of life.
  394. >Maybe that's why you still feel like a stranger here. Despite ponies accepting that you're a part of their town now, something just doesn't click.
  395. >"But as I was saying, it reminded me of your predicament here."
  396. >Twilight is finally back on track with her thoughts, no sign of anger on her face; but your track through Ponyville has meanwhile come to an end at a fence, placed there to somehow mark the end of the pony realm.
  397. >Beyond it stands the mighty Everfree forest, home of everything a regular pony should by all rights be scared of.
  398. >You and your pony companion stare at the trees and the only thing diving the safe zone where you stand and the wilderness is less than a mile of nothing but gentle evening breeze playing in the grass.
  399. >The forest is dark and unwelcoming, but once you turn around and lean on a fence you almost feel transported to a completely different world full of cozy lights and smiling faces.
  400. >"I know I've made a promise to you back then..." Twilight's voice is hushed to suit the soothing vibe of the place. "That I'm going to find a way to lead you home so you can return there safely."
  401. >This again?
  402. >Every time she brings it up you curse the vow of silence the princess of Love had made you take.
  403. "Twilight, it's fine, you know? You don't have to-"
  404. >"I've made a promise, didn't I?" she insists. "And despite my-"
  405. >The mare just sighs with frustration in her voice, throwing away her formal attitude for good.
  406. >"I just can't find a single thing that could help," the unicorn admits.
  407. "Then forget about it, it's not like I'm struggling in any way here."
  408. >Twilight does pick up on your choice of words immediately.
  409. >"Struggling, no, you've made all kinds of efforts to be everypony's friend. And you've been a great friend of mine too."
  410. >You sense a 'however' coming...
  411. >"So maybe it's just how it is."
  412. >You don't know what to think about this turn of events. Twilight always takes your situation seriously, but you look at her now and she's beaming.
  413. >"I think I get it now, Anon."
  414. "What do you mean?"
  415. >You are kind of scared to hear her revelation since you weren't expecting things to change all of a sudden.
  416. >"I know that getting back is important to you but...maybe being here could be important as well. It's not a waste of time to make friends, I know that now. So even if you look forward to getting back home, maybe this could be your home? At least for now?"
  417. >Your heart is pounding so hard that you open your mouth to somehow quell this inner tremor.
  418. >Twilight was always assuming you're going to go one day, leave Equestria forever. That you're just an accidental passerby. She didn't know the entire reason for your arrival here was to stay here by her side.
  419. >It dawns on you now, like a puzzle piece falling into its place, that this nebulous mission of yours is finally starting to take shape.
  420. >You smile weakly but you can't say anything to that. You just chuckle awkwardly and that makes Twilight laugh.
  421. >"I'm not saying I'm giving up on this search. But I just wanted you to know that if you're going to be here for a while..."
  422. "That I might as well accept it," you finish her thought.
  423. >"You make it sound so dramatic," Twilight laughs it off but you feel like she doesn't know if she's striking a nerve right now and is ready to back off.
  424. >Thankfully this time you react in time.
  425. "No, I agree with you, Twilight. And you're right. I've been thinking about that too."
  426. >"Really?"
  427. "A bit. I mean, I'm here with y- you all, all the ponies, you know? That's not too bad."
  428. >Almost. You almost showed your hand too soon. Luckily, Twilight doesn't notice your stutter and thanks you for understanding.
  429. >You exchange a few pleasantries after that and head back before long.
  430. >Even though your mood has been improved by that walk, the second you enter your room you just drop on the bed and let your thoughts scatter and crawl away like scared spiders.
  431. >Twilight has managed to turn something within you, something you've almost forgot about by this point in time.
  432. >Remembering Cadence's briefing now you can't help yourself. You only feel frustration.
  433. >It's easy for you to recognize that this IS your home now. There is no going back, there is no home to return to. You wouldn't go back even if you could.
  434. >But even so, you aren't here just to take it easy. You have a mission. You just don't know what exactly that means.
  435. >What if your mission is actually to take it easy?
  436. >You grunt and roll on your side, striking the blanket with your hand in a lazy display of uncooked wrath.
  437. >You've been over this so many times you've lost count. After so much time spent here, nothing is made clear. As soon as one pice of puzzle aligns perfectly, it just reveals that there's more of the puzzle to solve.
  438. >Damn that Cadence. She knew perfectly well this is how you'd feel and she has still thrown you in here, and for what reason?
  439. >But you've decided long ago, to hell with her 'mission'. If you're over here with not an ounce of explanations, you'll just going to keep doing what you think is right.
  440. >Maybe you're here to let Twilight think of the way to send you back home? Without you she'd have no reason to find or invent a spell for that.
  441. >Or maybe she was always going to and you're just here to hurry it up?
  442. >Or maybe to prevent it? To make her think it's not worth it, that you want to stay here?
  443. >Because you do.
  444. >Whatever you think about this, Twilight is right. This is your home.
  445. >You feel at home with her.
  446. >Those kind of thoughts always make you feel better and tonight is no exception.
  449. >You have to see him. You have to SEE.
  450. >You have to see them together.
  451. >Grabbing Starlight and taking the first train to Ponyville, you, princess Cadence, are ready to solve this mystery.
  452. >"Are you absolutely certain this is going to help?" Starlight asks you again, for the fifth time probably.
  453. "It's going to make things a lot more clearer at least," you explain again. "Once I see them with my own eyes, together and happy, I'll know what to do next."
  454. >"Well, you're the princess here..." the unicorn shrugs.
  455. >Oh, this puny faith in the magic of Love should outright be criminal, but that's not on the menu today.
  456. >You have a sister-in-law to visit. Or, to be exact, to spy on.
  457. >Knowing Twilight she won't be very open with her feelings in public, so to get the full picture, to measure the scale of her attraction, you need to observe her in her natural state.
  458. >That is, in her man's arms.
  459. >One more time you look at the picture of her match. You're certain you'll recognize him but it never hurts to check again.
  460. >Twilight would've approved of that notion if she were in Starlight's place. Shame you won't be able to talk to her today.
  461. >Whatever, this comes later. You're so excited for this you can't distract yourself with anything else right now.
  462. >For the first time in days you have something to look forward to, and getting away from the castle is a blessing in and of itself right now.
  463. >After kissing little Flurry goodbye, promising her to return very soon and entrusting the Initiative business to Sunburst and Shiny while you're absent, you feel confident and focused again.
  464. >The trip is taking almost too long, but when you eventually get off the train, Starlight takes you to a path through the back alleys so you attract less attention to yourself.
  465. >"Should we use a chameleon spell to look like different ponies?" Starlight suggests on your way to the crystal castle. "That way we can follow them as much as we want without raising suspicion."
  466. "That would still mean they've been watched. No, we need to be discreet."
  467. >"Hmm... Maybe a cloaking spell then?"
  468. "Let's find them first, alright?"
  469. >"Fine. I'll just keep it ready if anything goes wrong."
  470. >Not like any kind of spell would save you if Twilight notices you. She'll figure it out right away. No, only true stealth will do it.
  471. >It doesn't take you long to find them. Making their way to the center of Ponyville they talk about something and walk side by side.
  472. >They both look happy.
  473. >And this man is definitely the one on your picture.
  474. >"See? I told you it really is him," Starlight mumbles, finally convincing you that this man has been living with Twilight all along.
  475. "Anonymous..." you whisper his name.
  476. >Once again you look at the photo and you notice how the human at Twilight's side looks older. That's to be expected, but it also confirms...well, everything you needed this to confirm.
  477. >The only thing left to do is to see them together, closer, more intimate.
  478. >It's only after you and Starlight follow them to a few shops they stop at your companion voices her concern:
  479. >"Cadence, isn't this enough? This seems awfully like...stalking."
  480. "It just seems that way," you casually wave your hoof. "No harm done."
  481. >The unicorn grumbles something under her nose but continues walking with you, hiding in the shadows like malicious spies.
  482. >Twilight's last stop was at Sugar Cube Corner: she and Anonymous walk way off the main road for some reason.
  483. >"I think they're headed to the hill," Starlight hisses quietly.
  484. "Let's go."
  485. >This is where the best part is going to start. However, in order to get there you have to cross a pretty open space.
  486. >The only other way is to take a wide path along the edges of the town hiding in the bushes. Or just use Starlight's cloaking spell. Which you don't want to rely on unless you have no other choice.
  487. >And it so happens that the route you take brings you quite close to the couple that is seated next to each other under a tree using Anon's jacket as a ground cloth.
  488. >You can watch them from behind without being noticed, yet still hear their conversation a bit.
  489. >So both you and your accomplice are all ears, breathing slower just to catch the words being said.
  490. >Twilight is in the middle of explaining something to Anonymous. They are both already finishing a cone of ice cream each - you were taking too long to get here on time it would seem.
  491. >"Fine, you were right," Anonymous says in agreement to something.
  492. >"We should've gone sooner," Twilight nags him.
  493. >"Yeah, yeah."
  494. >His fingers slide into the pony's mane on her withers and you can notice Twilight trembling under his touch.
  495. >Your heart almost stops beating in anticipation. You can practically feel it, something way beyond your perception but still quite real.
  496. >Twilight nearly falls on her side - she is stopped by the human's arm that she starts nuzzling right away.
  497. >"Yeah, spread the ice cream all over..." Anon chuckles and that prompts Twilight to jolt up in indignation.
  498. >"Hey! It's not dirty! Look," she points at her mouth and the next moment her lips meet Anon's. "Mmmph-ff!"
  499. >It takes her a moment to finally relax as the human gently hugs her; Twilight eases herself into his sudden kiss and her hooves slide up his arms, asking for closer contact.
  500. >The human reacts immediately and soon the mare's body is held up in his embrace. He places Twilight on his lap and you can only see hooves and wings crawling onto his back from the front, encircling his neck.
  501. >Muffled moans can be heard from them both until the power balance shifts and Twilight pushes her man down onto the grass, suckling on his tongue with passion even you're impressed with.
  502. >You notice in the corner of your eyes that Starlight is paralyzed by the view. It's probably something she has never seen before, not from Twilight, and was probably actively trying to avoid ever seeing.
  503. >In all honesty, you don't really know how to feel about this too.
  504. >It's definitely...something.
  505. >Then it all changes again: Anonymous rolls to the side and Twilight, still close to him, follows that motion. Now her back is on the ground, wings spread far apart, and the human is above her.
  506. >The man pins your sister-in-law down and starts kissing her even more passionately than before, prompting the affectionate mare to caress him with her hooves everywhere she can reach.
  507. >If Starlight was astounded before, now she's downright steaming with a mix of feelings of every nature.
  508. >And you find yourself in the same situation soon.
  509. >Unable to watch any longer, you lower your head below the bush again and take your first deep breath in what feels like forever.
  510. >Starlight follows you example - as if she needed it to actually stop watching. You can't blame her for being unable to look away from something this forbidden and intimate.
  511. >"Y-you think this is gonna do it for you?" she asks you in a shaky voice.
  512. "It's not quite...what I..."
  513. >You can't really find the right words for it. Starlight doesn't actually need an answer anyway.
  514. >Both of you sit like there for some time, but when you finally find courage to look up again, you find that Twilight and her human are just lying in the grass on their backs like nothing happened.
  515. >Now you're scolding yourself for thinking that 'something' might transpire here, something no pony should intrude upon, but you're kind of relieved that it didn't.
  516. >What you see now, what your heart sees now, is a couple deep in love, still passionate about each other, but...calm. Balanced. Beyond the first sparks, the initial supernova of feelings.
  517. >This may have happened in the past but now, the man and his mare are just happy to be with each other. The way they talk about nothing while looking up above at the clouds, the way they touch, you see now this isn't empty.
  518. >A certain experiences is needed to reach this state. A certain understanding unique to just them, a road they've walked together that has made them inseparable.
  519. >They laugh about something, Twilight playfully smacks Anon's arm with her wing. You can imagine how none of this is ever seen by any pony ever.
  520. >A faint glow in your chest tells you without doubt, this is one of those sources of magic you and the Heart so enjoy. Like all other matched men, this one is doing his part correctly.
  521. >It is something you can not deny. The Heart wasn't malfunctioning. This is the right thing to do. What a relief.
  522. >Now that you know this, all you have to do is trust this feeling and tear down the wall of time between ages to make this, this love you've just witnessed, happen.
  523. "Yes, I think I've seen enough now," you state with confidence.
  524. >"Seen enough what?" a familiar excited voice rings out right beside you.
  525. >Both you and Starlight immediately turn your heads to see the intruder who's this close to blowing your cover.
  526. >"Pinkie?!" your companion whisper-yells.
  527. >"Oh!" the pink pony reduces her voice to a whisper and ducks in cover between you and Starlight. "Are you guys playing Spies and Pies? That's my favorite game right after my another thirty five favorite games! Or was it thirty four? Do we count different editions of O&O as different games or-"
  528. "Pinkie, what in the world are you doing here?" you whisper too.
  529. >"I was just on my way to deliver some sour crunchy-lunchies to Fluttershy, some of her pets have been going crazy about it," Pinkie takes a few small lunchboxes our of her puffy mane. "What about you?"
  530. "We-"
  531. >"We were just about to leave," Starlight confidently states.
  532. >"Aw, I missed the game already?"
  533. "Yep, that's right. But we still need to get out of here without being seen."
  534. >"Say no more! Follow me."
  535. >Pinkie drops to the ground, somehow placing her lunchboxes onto her head, and almost slithers away along the bushes, the way you came here.
  536. >You and Starlight look at each other and let out a sigh of relief. It was definitely the right time for you to finally get out of this dangerous and possibly cursed place.
  539. >The walls of the solemn tree library are warm and dry.
  540. >Walking alongside natural cavities made bookshelves, you, Anonymous, wonder why they feel so different now.
  541. >You've been practically living here for the last few months...or maybe a year already.
  542. >Then why is it suddenly so strange to walk on this cozy wooden floor heading to Twilight's 'room' upstairs.
  543. >Maybe it's that burnt star on that floor, or the smell of burnt wood, or the still air without a sound in this usually lively place.
  544. >It's almost too quiet here now.
  545. "Twilight? Are you there?" you call, unwilling to proceed uninvited.
  546. >She wouldn't throw you out, it's just... Maybe it's just not the time.
  547. >For a while you stand completely still and just listen. Only after a few seconds you hear shuffling of pages around the corner.
  548. >"Anon? Yes, come on in."
  549. >She doesn't sound particularly happy but she's not sad either.
  550. >You can only imagine what she's thinking about right now.
  551. >When you get up to her bed, you notice that Spike is already sleeping in his.
  552. >The mare is on hers as well and she is surrounded by lots of books.
  553. >She notices you glancing over her almost complete book fort and lets out a weak chuckle.
  554. >"I didn't think there would be so many books on...this subject. Princess Celestia has told me there's gonna be time for this later but it never hurts to be prepared, right?"
  555. "Of course," you give her the validation she seeks with her almost scared eyes fixated on you.
  556. >When she sees you looking at the bed, she immediately picks up a stack of books with her magic and levitates them aside, setting them on the floor instead.
  557. >This makes plenty of room for you to sit next to Twilight.
  558. >You only now notice that it's pretty dark in here to read, and the book that is opened right next to the mare is opened just on the first page, the introduction.
  559. >'Introduction to Princesshood, Part One: So, You Want to Be a Good Princess', to be exact.
  560. "Are you alright? How are you holding up?"
  561. >"I'm fine!" Twilight answers immediately. "I'm good. There's a lot to study and I'm all set."
  562. >She's using her nervous 'it's fine' voice and if anything is enough to make you worry for real, it's that.
  563. >The mare catches your disapproving gaze and sighs.
  564. >"I... Well, I don't know."
  565. "You've been sitting thinking about it this whole time, haven't you?"
  566. >"I was- Yes, you could say that."
  567. >She looks down on the page she's at as if to point that out.
  568. >You can't really fault her for overthinking this one. Being the voice of reason for this pony has been your second day job for a while now but you don't really know what to do here.
  569. >"I know things are going to be fine, after all if princess Celestia trust me this much I won't let her down."
  570. "Then what's the matter?"
  571. >"I don't doubt her judgement. But was this always... Was it always in store for me? Was this supposed to happen?"
  572. >Twilight's wings slide down her sides, completely relaxed. It's so strange to see them on her smoothly arched back.
  573. >"I wonder, if this really is my destiny, would it happen under any circumstances, any at all? Maybe not at a set time, but eventually. So it would only make sense for princess Celestia to guide me towards it. But did she know that right away? Was this really the reason she had taken me as her pupil?"
  574. "It's hard to say, you know," you feel a bit intimidated by those grand questions.
  575. >"I get that, I'm better off asking her. But I don't really know if I should. It's more of a rhetorical question, you know? Destiny is something you can never avoid even if you try. And sometimes you don't even know it's there until something happens."
  576. >Both of you stay silent for a while, letting Twilight's question float around without an answer.
  577. >You know you can't just do nothing about it.
  578. >Twilight looks so vulnerable now. Probably because of her wings - she reminds you of a weak, helpless baby bird that can't fly yet.
  579. >A little chick straight out of her protective shell, thrown in a new, strange world of different duties, different responsibilities, different expectations.
  580. >Your heart threatens to collapse upon itself when you look at her, and so you outstretch your arm without even thinking about it and put your hand on the mare's withers.
  581. >Twilight tenses up for a moment, probably from the unexpected sensation, but she doesn't shake it off. She actually smiles at you and her wings tremble as she musters the strength to control them again.
  582. >Your reassuring pat on the back seems to be working. And the way her mane and coat feel under your finders also gives you all the determination you need to press on with your attempts to help brighten things up for this newly made princess.
  583. "If you can't know it beforehand, why fret about it? It's not something you control anyway. All you can do is try your hardest to do the right thing."
  584. >You tell her that, but it's something you'd like to tell yourself too.
  585. >The mission you're supposed to be on is just as enigmatic to you as ever, and so you've promised yourself right away that this is exactly what you're going to do - just act like you think you should.
  586. >"I guess you're right. Thanks," Twilight smiles at you.
  587. >Her wings finally fold back and your hand awkwardly falls down to the blanket. The alicorn turns towards you and you see that she's almost back to her older self now.
  588. >"The destinies of my friends, my destiny... It's something we'll discover together. And maybe..."
  589. >Twilight looks down with a smile that warms your heart.
  590. "What is it?"
  591. >"Maybe it's destiny that has brought you here as well."
  592. "Could be," you shrug.
  593. >"What if your destiny really is to stay?"
  594. >Twilight is almost frightened at the thought. She still remembers her promise to you, something you've already stopped thinking about a long time ago.
  595. "Then I'll just have to keep making the most of my life here, that's all," you try to calm her down.
  596. >She nods and turns her head to the window, where the evening Ponyville is getting ready for the good night's sleep.
  597. >Hard to believe that this place has been your home for a while now and nothing has really changed here.
  598. >Only there's a princess living here now. And you feel somewhat responsible for that. You've been a friend of hers too, after all.
  599. >Changes like these are hard to deal with, but if it's Twilight, you know she'll be fine.
  600. >"Anon," she calls for you sheepishly. "If your destiny, your place is really in Ponyville... Then I'm happy that you're still here."
  601. >It's not the perfect way to say it but you know what she means.
  602. "Thanks, Twilight. I'm happy for that too."
  603. >The moment you look into her eyes something overwhelming swells inside you, almost making you lose your breath for a moment.
  604. >The magnitude of this situation washes your thoughts away like an enormous tidal wave of feelings you don't even recognize.
  605. >A tremor of something mighty replaces your heartbeat, a star pulsating wildly in your chest like it wants to break free.
  606. >The purple depths of Twilight's eyes stare back at you with the same feeling, you just know it. An abyss of unfamiliar warmth that beckons you from somewhere so far away, so intriguing.
  607. >A promise of journey that you want to take, together with her.
  608. >Something wild and unpredictable that only she can make safe and cozy.
  609. >You want your destiny to be here, at her side. So that you live with this feeling every waking moment of your life.
  612. >Pinkie's secret basement would be creeping you out right now if it wasn't so exciting. A well of knowledge that's used for the good of all ponies.
  613. >You, princess Cadence, are sure that if somepony knows extremely specific facts about Twilight's life, it's gotta be Pinkie.
  614. >"Let me just...Got it!" the pink mare already has a file out on the table.
  615. >It bears the unmistakable color of your sister-in-law and you're having a nice feeling about this.
  616. >Recruiting Pinkie Pie was a good idea.
  617. >"Wow!" Starlight's awe is genuine. "You must've been collecting and categorizing so much data over the years."
  618. >"Just doin' what I can!" Pinkie's modesty is eclipsed by her giant proud smile. "I bet I can tell you everything you never knew about our local princess. Come on, shoot me a question."
  619. "Well, if you really know everything... First of all, can you tell me the exact date when she came to Ponyville?"
  620. >"Easy, it was on the thousandth-s Summer Sun Celebration, or a day before it if you want to be specific," Pinkie grins. "I don't need to search my records for that one, I met her on that day!"
  621. "Oh, right. Of course."
  622. >It's something you could have definitely remembered on your own if you were more focused.
  623. "Then can you tell me the date she met Anonymous?"
  624. >"Hmm... Let me check..."
  625. >It only takes a second for Starlight to catch up to your idea and while Pinkie is flipping through her records, the concerned unicorn turns to you with a darkened expression on her face.
  626. >"Don't you think that's sort of...cheating?"
  627. "What? Cheating? I don't know what you're talking about."
  628. >That's right, you're a simple pony of Love, you have no idea how time travel is supposed to work. You're just curious, that's all.
  629. >"If you learn too much right now, you might change too much if you try to match it without know how exactly-"
  630. "I don't know, Starlight," you block her thoughts in your head. "I just want to check, that's not against any cosmic law, you know?"
  631. >The expression on the unicorn's face sours even more, and you see a hint of disappointment in it (which may be deserved but is also irrelevant right now).
  632. >Before your discussion can progress, Pinkie Pie turns up with an answer.
  633. >"I don't have an answer," she comments. "I didn't exactly record their personal life there."
  634. "Oh. That's fair."
  635. >"But if you want to know something about Anonymous, I can find-"
  636. "No, there's no need."
  637. >"For example," the energetic party pony is already hopping around to fetch a green-colored file with a question mark printed on it. "Did you know that Anonymous prefers vanilla to chocolate in all cases except when it's on the cream souffle cake, and if the chocolate is dark enough in other instances like-"
  638. "Pinkie, please, that's fine," you make sure to stress this enough.
  639. >Thankfully, this time she listens. Now you have to get back on track again and you don't even remember what you wanted to say next.
  640. >"Why is there a question mark on his folder?" Starlight uses the formed pause.
  641. >"It's because I don't know his cutie mark."
  642. >Ah, yes. That makes sense.
  643. >Pinkie still doesn't give up. She's remembering things so hard her muzzle scrunches up.
  644. >"Let me see... He has arrived here after Twilight but before Applejack started her harvest, because he tried to help there and couldn't do much."
  645. "So it was during late summer. That's already something."
  646. >You have no actual idea how you're even going to get him there at that specific date but it wouldn't hurt to know anyway.
  647. >"Alright, Pinkie, thank you for your help," Starlight suddenly says. "Me and Cadence need to talk in private for a bit."
  648. "Wait, I wanted to-"
  649. >"We'll catch up with you later, alright?"
  650. >"Oh? Alrighty, if you say so!"
  651. >Looks like the party pony is just as confused as you are when the unicorn starts quite literally pushing you to the slide, the only possible way outside.
  652. "Starlight, what-"
  653. >The mare doesn't answer you until you are back up in the shop again.
  654. >"Look, princess, I'm not really sure this is a good idea."
  655. "What exactly isn't?" you're starting to get annoyed.
  656. >"The whole interrogation thing. Maybe it would be better if we don't know every little detail about what happened? You know, had a little...faith?"
  657. >She did not just-
  658. "That's just ridiculous! It has already happened, knowing it isn't going to change anything."
  659. >"But what if it does? What if by doing specific things you actually end up changing how they happen."
  660. "That makes so sense. And here I thought you're the expert on the time travel subject! They way things happened already happened the way they did, if they WERE changed, it would be obvious to us because that was in the past and we're in the present."
  661. >You have no idea why Starlight is frowning, in your head this makes perfect sense. Or are you that stupid and that's why you're so confident you're not?
  662. >"Normally I wouldn't disagree," Starlight nods, to your surprise. "But thinking about how this whole predicament is developing I just think something isn't right."
  663. "What are you talking about?"
  664. >"The way you couldn't even remember that Twilight had a human. It was so obvious. You couldn't have just forgotten it out of nowhere. Twilight was the one who brought him before you, explained her findings in the portal magic and you had the idea of your whole organization from that."
  665. "I- Well, I did remember it eventually, right?"
  666. >You don't want to admit it, but this does make sense in some way.
  667. >This feels straightforward enough right now, but it might not be - and if it isn't, you can't notice it anyway.
  668. >"All I want to say is that maybe we don't see the whole picture yet, so there's no need to rush it."
  669. "Or maybe that picture isn't even formed yet."
  670. >Starlight doesn't reply to that but she looks like she gets your drift.
  671. >You have a feeling there is at least some truth in her words. It is like fog, as you've noted before. A fog something could be lurking in.
  672. >Something you have forgotten, or simply haven't been reminded of. When the facts of your past, of Initiative's past, are now brought up by anyone, they appear like some kind of revelation to you.
  673. >You can't deny that it has happened before and maybe it's going to happen again. How much you should worry is another matter, but the fact can't simply be ignored.
  674. >There has to be a better way to do this.
  677. >The halls of the crystal castle echo your footsteps. Traversing this massive but still empty structure still feels strange to you, Anonymous, but you know you'll have to get used to it whether you like it or not.
  678. >Solid, hard floor and the crystal walls feel cold. They haven't yet absorbed Ponyville's mild summer ambiance and for the moment it almost seems like they will forever remain like this.
  679. >Without knowing its nature it's hard to tell. And no one really knows yet. Not even the princess who resides here.
  680. >The one you're after right now.
  681. >You have no idea what you want to talk about with her, nor if she'll even be in the mood for a chat. You just have a feeling you should see her.
  682. >The only problem is it's hard to say where she even could be. You stop for a moment in attempt to hear some echoes that could guide you, but everything is silent and still.
  683. >The empty grandeur of this place is unnerving you, as if you don't really belong here, in a place seemingly created just for Twilight.
  684. >Only after passing a few more halls and hallways and asking yourself if you could possibly get lost here, you stumble upon the only place where something is happening in this whole castle.
  685. >A room with a whole lot of books decorating its walls. A library of sorts.
  686. >And the librarian is here too. Twilight is up in the air, flapping her wings and reaching with her magic to put the tomes in their places.
  687. >Seems like a job that Spike usually does but the dragon is nowhere to be found.
  688. >Twilight is silent but your arrival isn't attracting her attention. She looks lost in thoughts and the way she slowly works with her books only reinforces that idea.
  689. >Her forehooves hold some books close to her as she absentmindedly puts them on their place one by one.
  690. >Looks like something she could've done in a matter of seconds if she were to get creative with her magic, but you know her well enough to understand that if she really wanted this to be dealt with, she'd do just that.
  691. "Twilight?" you call her softly, trying to avoid startling her.
  692. >But she isn't too lost to the outside world. As soon as the mare hears you she turns to you and smiles.
  693. >"Oh, Anon! Nice to see you found your way here."
  694. >You're not too surprised to hear that she was expecting you to lose your direction on your way here. She's just as much of a stranger here as you are.
  695. "Yeah... It wasn't easy."
  696. >"Well I'm glad I didn't have to go look for you," the pony giggles and squeezes another book into its designated position between the others.
  697. >You are glad to hear that she still maintains a bright and cheerful mood right now. But you didn't spend years around this pony to not realize when she needs help.
  698. >"So, what brings you here all the way from the outside?"
  699. "Nothing in particular," you admit playfully. "Just thought I'd come visit, see what kind of creature this labyrinth has."
  700. >"Sorry to disappoint but it's only me," Twilight responds in tune.
  701. "Gonna be hard to make this things cozier at this rate, even if you're on it. Where's everybody?"
  702. >"After we've cleaned this place up and got tired of how shiny it is I guess everypony else just left," she then adds with a nervous laugh. "Of course I couldn't because this is my home now."
  703. >She sighs and jams the last book she was cradling on the shelf, then hovers lower to land right in front of you.
  704. >"I think you're the only one here aside from me now."
  705. "What about Spike?"
  706. >"Oh, he's probably at the Sugarcube Corner. We're still technically celebrating," Twilight shows you her most convincing smile.
  707. >That is true. Defeating villains never gets easier and Equestria is ever so happy to be free from a threat that almost destroys the whole world.
  708. >Or drains their magic leaving them completely empty, as husks without any color in life.
  709. >And Twilight is once again the one who stopped it.
  710. "I see," you nod. "Well, you certainly look like you're settling in nicely here."
  711. >"I guess... Though I was going to take a break anyway, before you came."
  712. "Sure," you nod. "You wanna talk?"
  713. >She could use a distraction as you figured, and the pony only confirms it.
  714. >"I'd like to. Though maybe we could do it outside." she suddenly suggests.
  715. "If you're certain you can find the way out."
  716. >"No, that's not what I mean," Twilight laughs. "Come with me."
  717. >A change of scenery could do her some good and you have a feeling she'd appreciate getting a distraction.
  718. >Soon you learn what Twilight actually meant by 'outside'. Guiding you with confidence of someone who has been in this building once or twice, she brings you to the balcony.
  719. >Here you have to admit, this is a much bigger balcony than she had in the tree library. You can chill here however you want, have a god damn picnic if you so desire. And that's just one of the balconies, there's another one that's even bigger.
  720. >Twilight isn't so ambitious though. You see her walking up to the edge. The pony rears back to put her hooves on the railing and looks at the vista of early evening Ponyville.
  721. >You soon join her. The way this pony is standing right now makes her head almost reach your chest level.
  722. >Standing together with Twilight you observe the lively town from afar. Looking from here it's like nothing happened to it at all.
  723. >"Nice view, isn't it?" the princess notes. "You can see it so clearly from here. Makes me happy that it's the same Ponyville as before and nothing happened to it this time around."
  724. >You can't sense the catch here in her voice so you play along.
  725. "And we all have you to thank for it."
  726. >"Oh, come on," Twilight rolls her eyes with a little timid smile on her muzzle.
  727. "I guess one thing isn't the same anymore."
  728. >You feel kinda bad for bringing this up but it has to be done. You know that it's on her mind, you just do.
  729. >"Well, at least it's the only thing that has changed around here. I'd hate to see something else here destroyed, like Rarity's boutique or Sweet Apple Acres."
  730. >You hate that her words make sense in a practical way when she personally has lost something as precious as her own home. You hate even more the possibility that she feels the same way.
  731. "Yeah, Rarity would bury Tirek alive if anything happened to her dresses," you smirk and Twilight can't help but do the same.
  732. >"And nothing would have ever replaced it. At least this thing is a roof over my head."
  733. "This thing-"
  734. >"And also it has more place for my books than ever before," Twilight rushes to continue her praise. "I could move some of my collection from Canterlot here now... Now that I don't have that many books left over here."
  735. >This one was over the line for you. Your heart sinks when Twilight just falls silent and looks farther beyond, nowhere in particular.
  736. >You can't stand this.
  737. "Hey, maybe we should go join the party while it's still going?" you point at the Sugarcube Corner in the distance.
  738. >"I should really finish with that room first," Twilight still doesn't turn to you.
  739. "Come on, you can do it any time but your friends are probably still there, you can probably catch them before they leave."
  740. >That really could've been worded better in this situation but Twilight doesn't seem to interpret it in such a grim way.
  741. >"Well, they seem perfectly fine on their own there."
  742. >Instead you get a different kind of grumble from her. Great.
  743. "Aw, Twilight, you know it's not like that. And they wouldn't say 'no' to you if you'd invite them to help you settle in."
  744. >"They'd... Well... You're probably right, I just-" Twilight sigh. "I just don't really know what to do with myself now, this castle is a bit weird - no, it's REALLY weird - and I though I'd spend time here to get used to it but..."
  745. >And now you're getting to the core of the problem.
  746. "It's fine if you can't yet, it's not your fault. But you really shouldn't do it alone."
  747. >"I wouldn't blame anypony for not wanting to be here," she's trying to find the right words and pauses to sigh again. "Even Owlowiscious hasn't returned yet. Spike is probably avoiding it too, he'd never stay away for so long without a reason."
  748. "Maybe he's just waiting for you over there?" you offer, pointing at Ponyville again, but to no success.
  749. >Twilight lowers her forehooves back on the crystal floor and looks down at it.
  750. >"It's just so sudden. I don't really want others to be forced to be...here so soon."
  751. "Twilight, I'm sure they-"
  752. >"If I were them I'm not sure I'd want to stick around too."
  753. >You give her time to gather her thoughts again. The princess of friendship looks lost. When she finally shifts her gaze back at you, her eyes plead with unknown passion.
  754. >"And even you..."
  755. "Me?" you feel out of place all of a sudden.
  756. >"Even you'll eventually leave. Once I discover that spell to bring you back home, you'll..."
  757. "What?"
  758. >You thought this topic to be mostly forgotten. But bringing it up right now, and in this context - it kind of makes you mad. Mad because it's totally something Twilight would think. Because she doesn't know and you never brought it up.
  759. >The same reason this portal topic was left untouched for some time has made you forget that the mare still has no idea why you're even here.
  760. >"Isn't that what you-"
  761. "No!"
  762. >You don't even know how to explain it, but you need her to know right now that you're not leaving. If there was any time for you to say it, it's now.
  763. "Just forget about this, Twilight. Alright?"
  764. >"But I promised you."
  765. "Look," you squat down to look into the mare's eyes. "It's not something that matters anymore. You don't have to worry about this."
  766. >"What about getting you home?"
  767. "Home?"
  768. >Your throat gets so dry you almost feel it burning. Feels like you're being betrayed right now.
  769. "Do you think that after all this time I- Or do you think I'm still a stranger here?"
  770. >"Huh? No, that's not what I was trying to say!" Twilight nearly starts panicking right away upon realizing how you're interpreting this.
  771. "I don't want to go 'home', or anywhere. This is my home, I want to be here. I don't want to leave you."
  772. >The thoughts are swarming inside your head and all of them try to leave your mouth at once. No matter how much you try to make sense of them you can't. All that's left to do is just spill them all.
  773. >Twilight looks like she's about to cry hearing your confessions. Everything pent up inside you over the years is finally finding a way out of your heart.
  774. "Do you honestly think I'd be able to just pack my things and get away from here, wave my hand and forget about you and everyone forever?"
  775. >"No, Anon, I didn't mean to-"
  776. "I can't even imagine leaving, leaving you, I-" you almost choke on your words, but force yourself to go on. "I can't imagine my life without you anymore."
  777. >You want to say something else, so much more, explain everything, but you are interrupted by a hug. A simple hug that perishes every thought from your overloading brain in a moment's notice.
  778. >Twilight's hooves wrap around your neck and her face brushes against your cheek, leaving a trail of something warm and wet where her eyelashes tickle your skin.
  779. >Only after a second of being completely stunned you return the gesture. The soft coat of the princess caresses your hands and her silky mane veils your face, buried now in its lavender aroma.
  780. >You are quite used to touching Twilight, mostly to patting her on the back reassuringly, but never before have you felt this mare so close.
  781. >So amazingly real, so alive right in your arms, she overwhelms you with such a powerful sensation you can't hold your emotions back any longer.
  782. "I'll never leave you, Twilight," you barely manage to whisper.
  783. >Only when you feel her whole body trembling as the mare sobs just one single time you notice how tense she is.
  784. >She's giving in to the stress as well. You've been there for her in so many shitty situations but never before has it been this personal to you.
  785. >Acutely you feel the strain in her. This body has endured so much, and not only in the latest battle for the future of Equestria.
  786. >This is the mare that's been holding the magic of the other princesses; the mare who's been beaten only to get back into the fight again.
  787. >Yet she is so fragile. So soft you can hardly believe it's really her you're holding, someone you know so well yet seemingly don't know at all, not in this way.
  788. >Not in a way that could make you understand her, truly know what she feels.
  789. >But you understand now that despite being so powerful, so stoic and brave, she's a pony who needs to be protected just like everyone else.
  790. >No one is here to do it but you, and when you hug Twilight closer, you know that she embraces it. She wants it to be you too.
  791. >The tremble of her wings under your palm, the heaving of her chest; the slightest push, the smallest touch sends echoes through your very being, towards one particular spot, one notion that forms and grows inside.
  792. >That you want to remain like that forever, with this mare. This is where you're supposed to be. At last the entirety of the grand plan opens up to you. The convoluted path towards this one moment that you want to feel for as long as it will last.
  793. "Twilight-" you almost start, but the mare's incoherent cooing interrupts you.
  794. >She leans in further, pressing her chest against you, leaving herself hanging on you, secure in your hold.
  795. >"I'm sorry I said that," the mare softly says next to your ear. "You're right. And I'm happy that you feel that way."
  796. >Twilight is almost fully lying on you, but right now you both don't really care about holding back. The emotions you feel make all formalities obsolete.
  797. "I'm happy too," you assure her.
  798. >Everyone needs certainty in their life. Maybe you can be that someone who she can always count on to be there for her.
  799. >With everything changing so fast you have no choice but to look for an anchor, lest you become lost in the wild current of changes that goes too fast to react to it reasonably.
  800. >Twilight needs to know that she can rely on you to never turn your back on her. Thankfully, you're sure now that you're getting that message across.
  801. >Of course, even the most sincere hugs don't last and the pony releases you. A pensive look in your eyes reveal Twilight's uncertainty, but once she confirms that it's fine by you, she just gives you a little nod.
  802. >You take a moment to stand up again and both you and the mare look back at Ponyville.
  803. "Do you think that party is still going?" you ask Twilight.
  804. >"It probably is."
  805. "Should we go check?"
  806. >"Alright, fine," Twilight finally agrees. "You really want to get me out of here, aren't you?"
  807. "It wouldn't hurt," you shrug.
  808. >"I suppose that's true."
  809. >Twilight hesitates to take action but your confident stare convinces her that it's alright to move on now.
  810. >She starts walking back into the castle but stops to check if you're following. You see her eyes gleaming in the sun when she smiles.
  811. >"Thank you, Anon."
  812. "Always a pleasure," you grin back.
  813. >In the hallway your voices start spreading all around, echoing throughout the castle.
  814. >"I guess I'll have to get used to how big this place is either way, staying here longer won't change much right now," she rationalizes her decision to follow your advice. "Spike will totally hate walking so much to get around. And until Owlowiscious comes back I have no nightly assistant either."
  815. "Well, you know..."
  816. >You stop yourself there but you think Twilight already got what you were trying to say.
  817. >Maybe it's something that shouldn't be said out loud but it is still understood. Of course you want to be closer to her and spend more time that way.
  818. >It is something that's obvious now, even if before you'd say it's just rushing things.
  819. >You know now that there's a difference; when everything else around you is changing, changes for the better are a welcomed change of pace.
  820. >Other changes leave a mark that won't soon be forgotten. You realize that when you finally find your way outside and stare back at the castle.
  821. >Those kind of changes leave you longing for something that will never be. You can almost see the branches, the shade they create that you so loved.
  822. >The smell of wood you always sense stepping inside for the first time in the evening. Hearing clatter in the kitchen, knowing that Spike is there and that you're right on time.
  823. >The familiar shapes in the grain of wood that you know by heart. The squeaking of your chair if you sit back a bit too far.
  824. >Three candles that light the room from inside when the moon shines from the outside. Twilight's whispers revealing secrets of the world to you; excited bottomless eyes consuming every movement of your lips when you tell her stories about Earth she can't believe are true.
  825. >Quiet, intimate laughter shared only with you. Flipping of the pages sounding in unison from both sides of the bed.
  826. >The taste of tea and fresh pastries, humble yet natural.
  827. >Going thought seasons without a care in the world. Visiting Twilight's library without even imagining that it could all end in a matter of seconds.
  828. >Twilight feels it just as you do.
  829. >You and her, you both know. It's something only you know between one another and it connects you in a way others may never notice.
  830. >This is why you can never leave her.
  831. >What else will there be left in your life then?
  834. >"So, Cadence, what did you want to hear?"
  835. >Twilight Sparkle is sitting across the table with her tea and she's just as curious as you, princess Cadenza, are.
  836. >It was Pinkie's idea to invite her here.
  837. >You and Starlight couldn't keep the all-hearing pink party mare form learning your secret.
  838. >To be fair, you were arguing in the middle of her shop in broad daylight using normal voices.
  839. >So you had to explain everything to her and she got so excited she just had to come up with a plan of her own immediately.
  840. >It was obvious to her than instead of sneaking around and trying to guess what has happened, you should refresh your memory just by asking the matched mare herself.
  841. >You said yourself that there has to be a better way to learn the truth, this could be just as good as anything else.
  842. >And so that brings you here, sitting with Twilight in the Sugarcube Corner, not even knowing what you should ask her first.
  843. "Well, I simply wanted to ask you... Um... About Anonymous."
  844. >"Oh? Are you- I mean, you're not asking because of the reason I think you're asking?" Twilight suddenly gets nervous.
  845. "Huh? What are you talking about?"
  846. >"Nevermind, I got carried away there," she tries to hide her unrest. "Just forget everything I said, let's start over."
  847. >You are so confused right now.
  848. "What do you mean, the reason-"
  849. >"No, no, forget about it! Let me tell you all about Anon. Just ask your questions."
  850. >Twilight is happy to move past that accident and you're quite sure you aren't getting those explanations out of her. So instead you nod for her to continue.
  851. >You notice how both Pinkie and Starlight sneak behind your sister-in-law and silently take a seat behind her, right at the next table.
  852. >If them hearing you was actually a concern you wouldn't even start your interview here in the Sugarcube Corner, so their attempts are pointless either way.
  853. "I guess I simply wanted to know how... What brought you together, you know? Why was it him?"
  854. >It's hard to dance around the real question, but you think Twilight got what you mean.
  855. >"Anon has always been a special case, not just because he was so different. Human or not, I've never seen anyone so desperately in need of learning friendship."
  856. >You silently note Twilight saying 'anyone' and reaffirm your interest with a smile.
  857. >"It's like he knew nothing about how to actually live among others. He was an alien here, true, but to see him struggle, it was almost... Inspiring."
  858. >She notices your confusion and elaborates immediately. You also notice how Pinkie and Starlight are trying to slurp the smoothies they got for this show as quietly as possible, yet you can hear them do it all the way from behind Twilight.
  859. >"I don't mean it in a bad way, I'm saying that you couldn't just watch him make mistake after mistake. He so obviously didn't know why he was here, looking back I think he was so lost, without meaning in his life, that everything was the same to him. I knew that talking to me distracted him for a while so I kind of...asserted myself. Insisted that he visited the library as much as he wanted, talked to him about anything he wanted. And in time I came to know him better, and, well, fell in love."
  860. "How fast did that happen?"
  861. >You know you shouldn't really be asking this, but you've already convinced Starlight and Pinkie that it can help, so there's no point in denying your curiosity further.
  862. >"I can't tell, it was subtle. At first I thought it just curiosity, you know? Wanting to know more about his world, his life. But he could never say much about it like he didn't really know himself. He was distant but I really wanted to help and with time I just made it a habit to involve him in most things I do, because otherwise I don't know what he'd do. It was almost uncomfortable being near him at times and sometimes I felt like I'm forcing him to stick around but I couldn't help it."
  863. >She almost sounds sorry for that. Now it's easy to remember these things as a distant echo, but living through this must've been horrible for Anonymous.
  864. >You can practically sense it when you imagine it, his confusion and reluctance. Just what are you condemning this man to if it was so dire for him?
  865. >Yet through Twilight he has found a reason to care. Almost sounds like he never even had a choice.
  866. >Attempting to block Starlight's words about destiny you only make them stronger.
  867. >Destiny is a pretty word; the real ways of it are twisted and sometimes cruel. It shoves you on the path it deems necessary no matter the cost, sometimes leaving you no choice at all but to go that way, out of desperation if nothing else.
  868. >You're certain your other matches don't experience things like these.
  869. >But the honest truth about it is that the end justifies the means. Knowing how happy Twilight and Anon are right now you reluctantly admit that it was, in the end, worth it.
  870. >It is these trials that forge Love. Something far deeper than any happy consequences could do.
  871. >It could be that this is what was necessary for Anonymous and Twilight to get to this point.
  872. >Meanwhile Twilight continues her explanation:
  873. >"It was also uncomfortable because I promised I would lead him back to his world. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized he can't go back. Whatever horrible place made him that way, I couldn't let him go back there. And at some point I realized that I don't want him to be gone at all. I guess the rest is obvious. Unless you want me to recite that too. I think I've explained that already when I came to you with that spell I discovered."
  874. "Right."
  875. >Now you sort of remember it and connect the dots. Twilight's story with Anonymous indeed leads directly to the Initiative.
  876. >Finally your own memories emerge like they were always there. You can't even doubt them, no matter how much you try.
  877. >It's something that has definitely happened and everything else is just a delusion.
  878. >Is this what Starlight was talking about? The changed past manifesting itself like it was always the one true past.
  879. >Because it is - right now you can't even remember how things were before the supposed change. If there was one at all.
  880. >How else could all of this have happened? You have no idea because you don't remember anymore, because there's nothing to remember because it never actually happened.
  881. >This kind of reasoning suits you perfectly, in a bizarre way. Your head will split in half if you try to untangle this mess, so what you need to do is focus on the things you can help with, like making Love happen. You'll let Starlight worry about all the might-have-beens.
  882. "So you wouldn't have even created the spell if it wasn't for your previous research."
  883. >"Exactly. All that research of ways to traverse dimensions had to go somewhere, and seeing you so impressed with Anonymous I figured out... Well, you know how it went."
  884. >A barely visible blush appears on Twilight's cheeks and she tries to hide her muzzle by drinking some more tea. She continues after that:
  885. >"Once I had Star Swirl helping me with that spell it was no problem to finish and test."
  886. "Nice timing that was, huh? If it wasn't for you rescuing him about a month prior to that this whole thing wouldn't have taken off."
  887. >"I don't think he was the deciding factor. I've been searching for a solution for years but I wasn't exactly eager to make it work. That would mean Anon had a way to leave. Maybe I purposely stalled the research so that wouldn't happen."
  888. >And once she had a reason to finish the spell for a good cause she's managed to fully dedicate herself to it, and that's when Starlight and Star Swirl got involved.
  889. >"I was so proud that you were happy for us," Twilight continues. "I knew that of all ponies you'd understand why me and Anon were together."
  890. "And I wanted others to have a chance at experiencing that too."
  891. >Now you finally have a good picture in your mind. Even watching Twilight with her human from afar you knew there's magic all around them. You couldn't mistake it for anything.
  892. >You notice that Pinkie is already finishing her third cup behind Twilight's back and decide to let the princess go for now.
  893. >Pondering Twilight's words you can't even remember how you could have misremembered something as obvious as that. Her whole story is something you knew clearly, yet for some reason you got confused.
  894. >Maybe Starlight was right and you're just overworked. But you also know it's just a convenient excuse to deafen yourself to the still present echo somewhere in your heart.
  897. >Stars above, merciful in their glow, don't bother interrupting Twilight's little nap.
  898. >You, Anonymous, were here with her to see them, but after a while your stargazing session has turned into a snuggling session.
  899. >The balcony of the crystal castle is silent, wind lazily playing with Twilight's mane, and the night all around you two keeps things between you as intimate as they can get.
  900. >The telescope you have brought here on this big castle's balcony is standing there alone without any purpose for the rest of this night.
  901. >It's been a tradition of you and the princess, a common activity you both enjoy. But lately you've been spending more time together cuddling and kissing than just watching the skies.
  902. >After all no one is here to prevent that from happening, and you're more often than not feel starved for privacy, with Twilight's busy princess life separating you for whole days sometimes.
  903. >Tonight though, tonight she's all yours and she won't miss a second of being as close to you as possible.
  904. >"Anon?"
  905. >The mare on your lap looks above to see your face.
  906. >You're almost asleep now, sandwiched between your comfy chair and the warm pony with a big blanket covering both of you.
  907. >Twilight's head is below your chin and she's been warming up your shoulder with her calm smile for half an hour already.
  908. >Indeed, this night isn't the hottest this season, so pursuit of heavenly knowledge was postponed in favor of coziness.
  909. "What it is?" you reply in a whisper.
  910. >"Are you nervous about the trip to the Empire?"
  911. >That's right. You're scheduled to meet princess Cadence 'for the first time' this weekend.
  912. >Needless to say, this is something you're really unsure of. Especially because so many things depend on that.
  913. >But Twilight doesn't know the real reason.
  914. >She wants to introduce you to her so that the princess of love can witness the feelings between you and your little pony.
  915. >While you are sure that it's going to be fine, the thing that bothers you more lies outside Twilight's comprehension.
  916. "Not really, no."
  917. >This answer won't cut it for the curious pony. Of course she knows that something it up.
  918. >"You've been zoning out a lot tonight. What's on your mind?"
  919. >How do you even explain something like that?
  920. >The reason for this meeting is clear to you, but that's exactly what worries you, even if you disregard the fact that you'll have to pretend that you don't know Cadence already.
  921. >So much is at stake here. The whole organization that isn't even in plans just yet will find its roots in the impression you're going make on the love princess.
  922. >Twilight was so eager to show you to her, and yet you know you're nothing special.
  923. >You have no doubts in your feelings towards Twilight but... For something so important, so unique in its effect on the future, aren't they supposed to be more special?
  924. >They are special to you. But there's nothing extraordinary about you as a couple aside from the difference in species.
  925. >You're quite sure this isn't what makes it special.
  926. >Then how do you convince Cadence that it is worth being invested in to the point of making an entire company out of it?
  927. >Twilight doesn't know too, but she also doesn't know what's at stake here.
  928. >If Cadence doesn't make the organization that has sent you here in the first place, if you're not impressive enough, will this end?
  929. >Will you disappear from here forever, or will it seem to you like you were never here at all?
  930. >The thought of that alone makes you hug Twilight closer, enclosing her in your embrace so that her presence here overrides the feeling of sudden dread.
  931. >"What's the matter?" she notices your unrest. "Come on, you can tell me."
  932. "I'm not really sure, Twilight."
  933. >It's not even a lie. It's hard to tell what exactly do you think could go wrong. What specifically is expected of you.
  934. >The future is such a fragile thing it shouldn't be relegated to someone like you.
  935. >Though you're handling one other precious thing right now and she seems completely fine with your crude hands on her body.
  936. >Twilight is completely at ease in your arms which support her on top of you.
  937. "What about you, are you worried about pitching your idea to Cadence?"
  938. >"A bit," the mare admits without any shame. "I think she'd be interested in it but who knows. Maybe she'll just think it's too far fetched, portals and cross-dimensional travel isn't exactly her forte."
  939. "It's not too far fetched at all."
  940. >Your sudden surge of confidence makes your pony smile.
  941. "It definitely is possible and Cadence can make it work. I mean, in my opinion it can work."
  942. >"I'll keep that in mind."
  943. >You need Twilight to be as sure of this as you are yourself.
  944. >Once you wanted nothing to do with this shady organization that's been keeping you prisoner, a specimen under guard, and you wanted nothing more than to escape it.
  945. >They've lured you in with promises of a paradise and it was anything but. It was hard to admit that your stay there wasn't much different from your life on Earth, but at least that had the Internet.
  946. >And now you're the one who wants that organization to succeed the most. You depend on it.
  947. >You were far beyond guessing your purpose here but you're starting to see another perspective on it.
  948. >Now that you're madly in love with Twilight there's fear of losing her. So, by forcing you to become invested in the success of that extraction program, Cadence had ensured that you're going to be the one who defends it the most.
  949. >When you think about it this way it sounds manipulative as hell, almost cruel.
  950. >But preserving your happiness with Twilight outweighs the feeling of being mistreated and used. Perhaps you're glad to be blindly guided and used as a tool when there's nothing but positive emotions to gain from it.
  951. >"Don't worry, Anon. Cadence is always opened to new ideas. She knows I'm not just wasting her time."
  952. "Yeah, I realize that."
  953. >"And if you're worried that you won't impress her enough, I am fairly certain that at least seeing me in love with someone is going to."
  954. "I- Well..." you feel cornered. "I guess I'm just not sure if she is going to deem us... You know."
  955. >"A real couple?"
  956. "Something like that."
  957. >Your fingers dig deeper into the mare's silky coat and she recognizes that is a worrying subject to you.
  958. >"I promise you it won't happen. Cadence knows all about love. And we're not there to just be 'measured', that's not the point."
  959. >Twilight smiles and drops her most convincing argument:
  960. >"Cadence doesn't know what I know. And I know how you feel, I see it every day. I'm not seeking her approval, only her agreement to my idea."
  961. >Your hand reaches up to cup the pony's cheek; Twilight stares at you with conviction, ready to disperse any shadow of doubt you may have.
  962. >But you want her to know something too.
  963. "Thanks, Twilight. And I want you to know, no matter what Cadence is going to say, I will never stop loving you."
  964. >Your mare smiles and inches forward to your face. You meet her half-way to deliver what she desires, a gentle kiss on her lips.
  965. >Twilight's satisfied exhale washes your cheek over with pleasantly hot air and her head falls onto your shoulder again.
  966. >There Twilight rests without a care in the world and with her mouth half-opened, allowing you to tenderly caress her lips and tongue with yours.
  967. >You have no reason to rush; in the silence of the night every inch of Twilight's mouth, cheeks and muzzle are pampered with kisses.
  968. >The stars up above you sing their lullaby to the pony. Up on the crystal castle balcony she smiles, entrusting herself to the one she loves.
  969. >Wonders of the young alicorn's feelings are for her man to discover and to handle with utmost care. And you know she treasures you no less than you do her.
  970. >"I love you, Anon," her whisper is sweet honey to your ears.
  971. "I love you too," you mumble while giving her own ear a tender rub.
  972. >So maybe you are worrying for nothing. At least you are here right now, that means nothing is ruined yet. That means you can savor this bliss, the love of a mare so wonderfully perfect, for as long as it lasts.
  973. >With her nothing is impossible to you. Even making history just by remaining at her side.
  974. >If you're right here with your beloved Twilight, there's nothing at all to worry about.
  977. >There he is.
  978. "What is he doing now?"
  979. >You, Cadence, have been watching Anonymous for a few minutes now. Not the one that's with Twilight right now back in Ponyville, no.
  980. >The one still in his own world. The one you've seen in your visions. The one who just now has received the invitation.
  981. >Mirror analyst next to you points her hoof at the blurry human figure and explains:
  982. >"He seems to be looking up some information or watching videos while eating his dinner."
  983. "Any changes in the channel's bandwidth?"
  984. >"Barely a 4% improvement today."
  985. "Plant the third evidence somewhere in the apartment when he goes to sleep."
  986. >"Understood."
  987. >You nod to the mare and already get up to leave when she calls you back.
  988. >"Look, princess!"
  989. >The image in the mirror becomes clearer all of a sudden. You feel so strange seeing the same man you've already seen in Equestria in a completely different environment.
  990. >He's staring at the opened envelope on his desk, thrown lazily in its corner. Even if the letter isn't there, the concept this otherworldly arrival represents is enough to make him think.
  991. >A message from a different dimension. An invitation to leave his life forever.
  992. >"Channel stable at 65%," the analyst mare comments.
  993. "Good."
  994. >Not like you don't already know that he's going to allow you in.
  995. >The more he thinks about it, the more powerful the connection between this room and his room grows.
  996. >Once he accepts that this is real, starts hoping that a mare is going to hop into his room and take him away, you will have a connection strong enough to make that happen.
  997. >That's the actual invitation here, not your little postcard with nice words on them.
  998. >A single spark from his side, a beacon of faint natural magic every human still has to this day, is all you need to pinpoint his location beyond the Fold of this reality.
  999. >There are many ways to incite such reaction, but everyone needs a personal approach. That's what the analyst is here for.
  1000. "Stick to the plan and alert the Green team. When you're ready, put Violet team on stand-by and contact me."
  1001. >"Yes, princess."
  1002. >It's only a matter of time now.
  1003. >Time...
  1004. >You decide to check on Starlight, who came back to the Empire with you. She wanted to start working right away even though Star Swirl still hasn't arrived.
  1005. >Of course you don't need to wait for the time travel spell to be ready to extract the human, but you really hope this won't take too long.
  1006. >The more he stays here, you assume, the more uncomfortable it's going to be for him. You'll need to keep him completely oblivious to this world until he's released into it at the right time - that is, in the past where none of this exists.
  1007. >How do you even explain to someone that he has to travel back in time to meet some mare and expect him to act naturally while keeping the whole operation a secret?
  1008. >What if it changes the history again?
  1009. >Would you even notice that? If he changes it, it already has happened so you're not aware that anything has been changed at all.
  1010. >So every mistake he makes is already accounted for right now?
  1011. >Even you, who was so eager to prove Starlight wrong in her doubts, can't help but feel strange about it. It almost makes you feel powerless.
  1012. >Starlight immediately notices your worried state and asks you about it, putting down a scroll full of some formulas and notes, and one big schematic with some sort of window frame and a circle near it.
  1013. >"Any problems with the extraction?"
  1014. "No, it's nothing like that... But even if there were, would it matter?"
  1015. >"Huh?" the unicorn frowns, completely unprepared for that sort of question.
  1016. "It's completely impossible that we fail because Anonymous is already here, so it's proof that we didn't fail in the future."
  1017. >"I guess you could think of it like that."
  1018. "So if the Initiative was to shut down right now he'd still be able to get here somehow, and then hop back in time, all on his own."
  1019. >"Well, you can say that all you want but you won't shut it down."
  1020. "I could."
  1021. >"Yes, but you won't," Starlight starts smiling. "No matter what you say, you won't. You could say that it's your destiny, princess."
  1022. >You can only manage a sigh in response to that.
  1023. >Oh, that destiny, making sure that it's in your best interest to work towards its goal. Because it's your goal as well.
  1024. >If such a thing even exists at all. You're just confusing yourself now.
  1025. >Time for you to get some tea and relax for a while, maybe forget this operation for a moment.
  1026. >"What's really on your mind?"
  1027. "I don't know... If things work out in the end, does it really matter how exactly we get there? If anything went wrong with Anonymous we wouldn't even know. Because we don't know how it should've been the 'right' way."
  1028. >"Like with your supposed memories of times before you found a match for Twilight? I still don't believe that was real."
  1029. >You want to explain this to her but you don't know how. You're not even sure yourself.
  1030. "What if everything has changed but you don't remember it changing and don't recall anything from before the change?"
  1031. >Starlight struggles for a moment to hide a smile, but it the end one little giggle breaks through her mental blockade. Full blown laughter follows.
  1032. >"You're not making any sense anymore. If things have changed but I don't remember that, nopony remembers that, nopony can tell what exactly has changed and nopony can tell why... Then why does it matter?"
  1033. >She doesn't expect you to answer that question and goes back to writing something on her parchment.
  1034. >Even though she is right, something inside of you still struggles to accept that everything has happened exactly like you now remember.
  1035. >How the tables have turned. Now it's Starlight who ridicules you for assuming something is wrong with this whole thing. Now she's the one on the destiny's side all of a sudden!
  1036. >Maybe she just stopped caring about it. Maybe you should too.
  1037. >The echo is barely there anymore, after all. Soon you'll forget what exactly have you forgotten in the first place.
  1038. >Or the fact that you're forgetting something at all.
  1039. >And maybe Starlight is right. You have way more significant things to worry about. You should get back to worrying about them right after adding some more tea into your system.
  1042. >You hear Twilight entering the room. Quietly, carefully.
  1043. >She hopes that you, Anonymous, are already asleep. That you won't notice her late arrival despite her promise.
  1044. >It's not the first time this happens. But this time you specifically asked her to go to bed earlier.
  1045. >Your train leaves early tomorrow and it won't do her any good if she's sleepy all the way to the Crystal Empire.
  1046. >For you personally it's going to be the first visit after Cadence's Initiative has been established, but Twilight's been bragging about how much things had changed since your last time there.
  1047. >Yet you're not there to check on it, far from that. That's why both you and Twilight are excited about it. That's why you think going to bed early - or, as others would say, at normal time - could benefit you both.
  1048. >Clearly, the moment for that is already lost.
  1049. >When the princess finally gets onto bed, she stops for a moment, probably trying to guess if you've noticed her yet.
  1050. >Without any help of magic she moves the blanket and squeezes herself under it.
  1051. >Then another pause. The mare is watching you closely.
  1052. >"Anon?" she whispers in the most hushed voiced she can manage.
  1053. >You don't respond and instead just turn on your side. Away from Twilight.
  1054. >If she thinks you won't be disappointed with her, she's wrong.
  1055. >"Anon, I know you're not asleep."
  1056. "You aren't either," you mumble.
  1057. >The disgruntled tone you give her says everything. She doesn't respond immediately and you figure it's because she only now remembers that she told you she'll be joining you in five minutes.
  1058. >That conversation happened almost an hour ago. This pony knows exactly what to expect, because this isn't the first time this happened either.
  1059. >"Aw, I'm sorry," she tries to sweeten the deal. "It's just that human literature is so...captivating. It's so close to ours I can't just stop in the middle of the book when comparing similar stories between your world and ours."
  1060. >Of course, she's the one who has almost unlimited access to it now as a form of recognition of her enormous efforts from Cadence.
  1061. >You know that she can spend hours chirping about this, so instead you just prop the blanket higher to cover everything up to your ears.
  1062. >It's cruel, but it has to be done. She has to get at least some sleep.
  1063. >"Not even going to hug me good night?" you hear a playful voice behind you.
  1064. "I'm already asleep."
  1065. >A hoof touches your side and the next moment warmth spreads across your back. Shortly after your neck feels a wet smooch landing on it from behind.
  1066. >"Then I'm the one spooning you tonight."
  1067. >She hears no reply from you and after some times tries again:
  1068. >"Are you sure you don't want to turn around? I'd love to poke your puffed cheeks, mister grumpy grump."
  1069. >You can feel her smile on your skin when she pushes herself closer against you.
  1070. >This pony is like a little heater and feeling her soft coat against your skin you can't help but get sleepy yourself.
  1071. >The wonder of having a little mare by your side is something you'll never tire to appreciate.
  1072. >"Mmm..." Twilight pulls the blanket to over herself with her magic and completely relaxes in her attempted snuggle position.
  1073. >There's gonna be time to cuddle tomorrow, because she won't be able to stay awake in transit.
  1074. >And there's another thing you're forgetting: yawning.
  1075. >It never stops when she's this late to bed. Today is going to be no exception.
  1076. >The moment Twilight opens her eyes in the morning, first thing that escapes her mouth is a tired yawn.
  1077. >Only then a giggle follows it when your hand slides down her neck to her wings and you put a good morning kiss on her cheek.
  1078. >Twilight doesn't allow you to move away after that, not before she returns the gesture. And then, finally, a third kiss happens when your lips lock in a soft sleepy greeting.
  1079. "Are you ready to miss the train and write a letter of apology to Cadence instead of the invitation?" you smile at your cozy mare.
  1080. >"You underestimate my excitement to meet her," Twilight parries and yawns again, prompting a chuckle from you. "I'll be on my hooves in no time."
  1081. >She does get up quickly, however that's just the beginning of today's challenge. Yawning during breakfast, on the way to the station and finally taking place in the train, Twilight only proves to you just how hard it actually is for her to keep her on her hooves.
  1082. >The pony is happy to finally plop her butt on the seat next to you. She doesn't even take the place near the window, that alone tells you that she accepts her sleepy fate.
  1083. >For a brief moment the princess gazes into your eyes attempting to guess if you're going to scold her for proving you right, but, of course, she only finds proof of the opposite.
  1084. >You were never actually angry at her and you doubt you'll ever be for any reason.
  1085. >With one decisive motion you put your arm around Twilight and drag her close to your side.
  1086. >The mare smiles happily and closes her eyes resting against you.
  1087. >She leans into your hand that's now petting her cheek and neck, and her smile of relief is warming your heart.
  1088. >Not a lot of ponies are on this early morning train. Those three who share the car with you don't pay any attention to the princess and her human traveling somewhere.
  1089. >Could be official business for all they know. Or it could be just a trip to visit the facility where lifelong bonds are forged.
  1090. >Twilight insisted that she wants to visit in person. Turns out that unbeknownst to you Cadence herself has visited Twilight recently, and Twilight wants to pay her a visit back, after all it is a special occasion.
  1091. >The princess of Love is going to love this, you're sure.
  1092. >Since Twilight wanted you to meet Cadence too, having your own agenda you had no reason to disagree, but suggested a change in the date and time of the visit before it was set.
  1093. >Now, remembering this, it makes you a bit anxious.
  1094. >It's such a stupid idea, a sentiment that is supposed to mean something, but actually doesn't. You don't know what you're going to find there, what you even want to find.
  1095. >What exactly were you thinking, that this would be an excellent prank or something? That it's symbolic?
  1096. >Truth is, you don't even know yourself.
  1097. >You couldn't sleep last night thinking about it up until Twilight came back from reading. You were playing scenarios back to back, what could happen.
  1098. >What has already happened at that very specific time on that very specific day, all these years ago - today.
  1099. >Now that nothing is here to distract you, your precious pony fast asleep next to you, those thoughts return.
  1100. >It's not like you don't want to do this.
  1101. >Maybe it's just too important of an occasion to you. A date that simply holds some sentimental value to you. Years and years of pulling your hair, trying to figure out the grand plan, your place here, your mission here...
  1102. >Now it's all about to come to an end. A full circle.
  1103. >Will she congratulate you? Is she going to smile at you and say that you did a good job?
  1104. >It's like you're going to meet your maker. In some way, Cadence have had her hoof in creating the current you.
  1105. >You want to know so much, yet you don't even know what you can or should ask, and whether or not the answers are going to be enough for you to put all of your worries to rest. If you can call these feelings worries at all.
  1106. >More like echoes of something distant and now long since irrelevant.
  1107. >What you do know is that you have to do this now. This is your best chance.
  1108. >It would probably seem so silly to Twilight if she knew, but this may very well be the culmination of your whole life, at least of nearly a decade of it.
  1109. >But Twilight is still blissfully unaware of anything related to your arrival to Equestria. The importance of it was lost in ages.
  1110. >"Anon? Are you alright?"
  1111. >The alicorn is looking at you worryingly. It seems that you've been lost in your thoughts for a while now - the view outside is already gleaming with brightness of the snow covering everything as far as eye can see.
  1112. "Huh? Yeah, why?" you mumble.
  1113. >"You're shaking a bit."
  1114. "Oh, that's just... It's a bit colder here, that's all."
  1115. >"Hm-m..."
  1116. >Twilight accepts this explanation and her head once again leans towards you.
  1117. >Her hoof touches your fingers and you feel how warm it is. Which probably means you are actually cold right now.
  1118. >The mare keeps her hoof on you. It's not long until the snow valleys are replaced by the evergreen fields just past the protective shield.
  1119. >The Crystal Empire is just like you remember it. Just like the last time you remember seeing only its skies and roofs from the high window of your room. But your imagination always painted a vista just like this.
  1120. >You are returning here to Cadence as a victor, with proof of your victory right by your side. That's something you can be happy about at least.
  1121. >But you already know that the princess of love won't be there to meet you. She has other things to tend to right about now.
  1122. >For Twilight it is unexpected though.
  1123. >"Huh? Nopony is here to greet us? That's strange," she notes when you're out on the platform.
  1124. "Cadence is probably busy."
  1125. >"I guess. This place seems more lively than I remember."
  1126. >The city of Love is in full bloom. For Twilight it's nothing new but you've never seen this many people in Equestria.
  1127. >Actual people. Humans.
  1128. >They are walking around with crystal ponies at their side. Some look happy, some look scared, but all are real.
  1129. >In Ponyville you have like what, three humans? And that's including Honeypie (as Pinkie lovingly calls her husband), who easily counts as a man and a half.
  1130. >You never knew the scale of the project that has brought you here. You never thought you were such a small part of it.
  1131. >It makes you feel like your whole idea is even more stupid now. This is so important to you yet it might be completely mundane for Cadence. How many humans does she extract a day, how many she has dealt with at this point? You're just one of many.
  1132. >You can't back away now in any case. Might as well roll with it.
  1133. >"Twilight? You're already- I mean, w-what brings you here?" you hear a voice coming from your left.
  1134. >It's a voice of an older stallion and you think you recognize it. Seems like Twilight does too as she reacts immediately.
  1135. >"Star Swirl?! You're here?"
  1136. >The sorcerer is approaching you from the sidewalk and you notice there's a bench with a stack of books behind him.
  1137. >"I..." he tries to explain himself. "I've been summoned by Cadence just recently to...fix a few things around here."
  1138. >"Really? But if you're here... Did something happen? Is it an emergency? Nopony told me anything about it!"
  1139. >Of course. Now you remember. This guy was directly involved in getting you through that other portal, back in time.
  1140. >"It's nothing to worry about, Twilight," he assures the princess.
  1141. >"Was it the void capacitor? I told Cadence it could act strange from time to time. Or...don't tell me, the portal scaler's scale is actually wrong just like I've suspected?"
  1142. >"No, no, calm down," Star Swirl is nearly sweating, unable to tell her the truth.
  1143. >Twilight is nearly panicking and the stallion is looking at you as if asking your for help.
  1144. >A mask of uneasiness adorns his face when your eyes meet. He just now figures out who you actually are.
  1145. >"Uh..." he backs away slowly. "Why don't we just-"
  1146. >"Twilight!" a voice suddenly erupts between you and Star Swirl.
  1147. >A rift in space shields the lucky wizard from Twilight's questions, instead redirecting all of her attention to the mare emerging from it.
  1148. >"Starlight?!" Twilight gasps.
  1149. >Frazzled mane and exhausted but nervous gaze - yes, this is without a doubt the Starlight you remember from your initial arrival here, not the freshly converted Twilight's student Starlight that was always so suspicious of you before she graduated.
  1150. >"So glad you're here, Cadence can't come greet you yet, wanna grab some ice cream, it's a local brand of crystal fruit ice, you'll love it!" the unicorn showers the princess with words, dragging her and Star Swirl away without even using magic.
  1151. >Just a good old hug to secure their necks. Starlight is brutally efficient as always, this time at distracting the unwanted visitor.
  1152. >You know perfectly well she has a good reason to do it so you can't fault her for taking your mare for a walk.
  1153. >Twilight looks back at you with a helpless expression and forces Starlight to stop.
  1154. "You go, Twilight, you have some catching up to do, right? I'll just take a walk here for a bit."
  1155. >"A-are you gonna be okay out here?"
  1156. "I'll be fine," you wave your hand to your mare.
  1157. >Starlight nods in approval and Twilight just shrugs.
  1158. >So you're not a factor here, just Twilight. Interesting.
  1159. >Is Starlight that sure you won't try to interrupt Cadence?
  1160. >Well, actually, you already know the answer. It's just a fact.
  1161. >Twilight finally gives in:
  1162. >"Alright, I'll see you a bit later, let's meet up at the castle!"
  1163. >She's already being pushed by the eager Starlight, so it's your cue to go.
  1164. >Wasting no time, you move towards the castle, the center of the city. You know exactly where to go.
  1165. >Only now you figure out that maybe Starlight was creating a diversion for your sake too. If Twilight was here with you, this wouldn't be possible at all.
  1166. >You're certain the purple unicorn will guide your princess here when the time is right.
  1167. >In the meantime, you have someone important to meet.
  1168. >Your legs carry you with unprecedented lightness, as if you're sleep-walking. Your heart is beating so fast you can't help but oblige its rhythm and move even quicker.
  1169. >By the time you reach the fated door, you're almost sweating. Trying to restore your breath you stop and try to guess if you're here on time.
  1170. >Little by little you return to your senses and you're able to hear passing conversation behind the shut door without your heartbeat drowning it out.
  1171. >As far as you remember there's another door leading out of that room. You just have to wait until you hear it closing.
  1172. >But once again you find yourself lost in thoughts. The restless heart of yours doesn't get a lucky break - fueled by your fear it once again starts its race.
  1173. >What is going to happen? What if you open the door too soon?
  1174. >What if-
  1175. >The door opens before you, unwilling to wait for your trembling fingers to touch it.
  1176. >Before you stands an equally terrified pony. The expression on her face was already reflecting unrest, but once she sees you standing right in front of the door she just opened, that expression turns into horror.
  1177. >"An-" the princess of Love stutters and steps back, metal clacking upon the crystal floor.
  1178. >Without saying a word, still in a dream, you follow her.
  1179. >You don't even know why your legs carry you inside. Nothing makes sense anymore.
  1180. >The room is just the same as you remember it. Oh god, how well you remember it. Every inch of the crystalline wall. Every spec of dust on the floor.
  1181. >You make your way to a chair near the wall. It's still warm when you collapse on it.
  1182. >Your eyes find the calendar and the clock on the opposite wall - the very same, like you remember. Like you've never even left this place at all.
  1183. >Seconds flow slowly. Just like then, nearly a decade ago.
  1184. >No, not a decade, not even a year. It's now. It just happened.
  1185. >Slowly you turn your head to find the far door, and you know, you remember; if you were to just go up there and open it up, you know who you'd find right behind it.
  1186. >Because you remember. When you were standing there, trying to hear what's going on in this very room all this time ago, scared and confused.
  1187. >You remember wondering, why did Cadence so suddenly let you get out of this horribly plain office, who is she talking to, why is everyone so nervous, why did you have to go alone.
  1188. >What a joke of an answer this is. You wouldn't have believed it yourself if anyone told you. But you had no way to know.
  1189. >It feels like if you try hard enough you can feel that unsure figure standing there, wondering what is going to happen next. You've lived with that feeling for years, only for different reasons.
  1190. >This is when it finally dawns on you. Your eyes meet with Cadence's unsure gaze.
  1191. >She sees something that seemingly brings her on a brink of tears in a matter of moment. She lets out a strained exhale, unable to hold the pressure building up inside.
  1192. >You just look down at the floor. Nothing you were planning to say matters anymore.
  1193. >All your witty remarks are lost, scattered like ashes above a heartless sea.
  1194. >Nothing makes sense anymore, but at the same time you realize that it's not a big deal.
  1195. "I'm back," you mutter and dish out a weak smile.
  1198. >"So how long do I have to wait here?"
  1199. >You, Cadence, walk around the small room, anticipating good news at any moment.
  1200. >He, Anonymous, is sitting in the corner without much to do.
  1201. >His eyes are glued to the clock in the wall. It's like he's counting seconds until he can finally get out of here.
  1202. >There's nothing else to look at here. A clean desk, some potted plant in the other corner, a calendar on the wall. It's pretty much a bare-bones checkpoint for people passing through to the portal room.
  1203. >So the only thing to look at is the clock. And Anon has been indulging himself for some time now.
  1204. >The news of Twilight's visit have caught you off guard. You were just transferring Anon to the main quarters when you got notified that she is going to come here for an undisclosed reason.
  1205. >That was barely two days ago and you thought you'd be done with this time travel thing by the time your sister-in-law arrives, yet it just had to be this morning that the portal was finally ready to be opened.
  1206. >You thought you could make it before long but you have no idea how soon the portal is going to be ready. Now Anonymous simply has to wait until the final confirmation.
  1207. >You wish you had more instructions to give him, but the truth is, you want to be present when he's going to go through that mirror.
  1208. >Seeing the process for yourself is the only thing that could alleviate the unrest you've been feeling ever since you've seen Twilight as your next target in your dreams.
  1209. "Not long now," you reply absentmindedly. "I'm just waiting for the signal."
  1210. >His expression darkens with doubt.
  1211. >"You mean I'll have to go like this? Are you sure you can't tell me anything else?"
  1212. "I- It's complicated," you give him an honest answer.
  1213. >"You've been keeping me here for like a week, I thought..."
  1214. >Apparently he's losing track of time now like a lunatic, because it's been no less that ten days since he had arrived here. That's just fabulous.
  1215. >He's tired and disgruntled, and you really can see why.
  1216. >But there's nothing you can do about it. It was already decided that Anon can't have access to any information on the current year Equestria, or on his match.
  1217. >Or that he's been matched at all. Or that matching mares and men is what you do here. That the reason he's here isn't just to be saved from a world he feels like a stranger in.
  1218. >Since Twilight is a big deal in the Initiative, instead of just regular welcome to the Crystal Empire, Anonymous was surrounded by agents specifically instructed to keep everything about the lavender princess or the operation of the Initiative secret.
  1219. >Especially knowing that she won't be a princess when he's going to see her for the first time.
  1220. >The guard team also had to watch over him so he doesn't stumble across any information for himself. That meant keeping him indoors and under close watch.
  1221. >In theory it should've been fine - it was supposed to be for a few days only at worst. But those days turned into a week soon and this is now looking more like detention than a welcome to the paradise Anonymous was promised.
  1222. >After all he can't even go outside, because he'd see other people. He can't freely move around the compound or the city, he has to be under surveillance constantly, and kept in the dark.
  1223. >If he were someone else, it may have been fine, but you've seen his life on his Earth. You know he wanted to escape exactly this kind of stagnation.
  1224. >He was so excited to arrive here. To breathe the fresh air of freedom. To live his life to the fullest, to have a second chance. Unfortunately, his enthusiasm has already fizzled out, almost giving way to paranoia.
  1225. "Look, I've already given you everything I can. It is a special case, and I apologize for the delay, it wasn't our intention to keep you here for so long."
  1226. >"You've managed to pull me here, how hard can it be to throw me somewhere else through that mirror?"
  1227. "It's not just 'where', it's-"
  1228. >"Yeah, I remember. A different time, no mention of you, this and that," he sighs.
  1229. "I'm sorry," you repeat.
  1230. >He'll understand some day. You just hope you aren't ruining anything by this delay.
  1231. >Even thought you know there are no mistakes to be had, it still makes you anxious. This little office isn't making it easier for either of you. You wish you could just leave him in the portal chamber and take a walk outside, or something just to get your mind off of this.
  1232. >Maybe if you-
  1233. >"She's here!" a little explosion of magic tears reality asunder in the middle of the room, making Anonymous jolt up in terror.
  1234. >Starlight is standing right in front of you.
  1235. >Without her even saying anything you glance upon the clock and realize it's already past 8 a.m.
  1236. >"The train has arrived! I- I've asked Star Swirl to look out for them but I don't know if he can stall them."
  1237. >So you won't be able to send Anon on time now. You need to see this through and talking to Twilight will take some time. Especially since she apparently has something important to tell you.
  1238. "Starlight, go there and keep Tw- Keep her away from here for as long as you can, alright?"
  1239. >"What? Cadence, you can't just hide here, there's no way you'll be able to go through with this before she arrives. Let's just do this later."
  1240. "Just... Just give me ten more minutes, okay? She has some catching up to do, get her ice cream, go!"
  1241. >"Ugh... Fine! But I'm not responsible for any paradoxes!"
  1242. >When Starlight teleports away in a flash that in such a small room is both blinding and deafening, you realize that even though things before now have been fine, there's no guarantee you won't mess up in the last moments.
  1243. >The past is fool-proof, but the future is yet undefined.
  1244. >If Twilight does see this young Anon now and realize what's happening, things will never be the same around here.
  1245. >You can just blame it on destiny, but if there's a way you can change it, you'll try.
  1246. >"What was that about? Are we in danger?" Anonymous is close to panicking, confused and wound up.
  1247. "No, it's all fine, Anon."
  1248. >"Are you guys even doing this legally?!"
  1249. "What? Of course! Me and Tw- and other princesses are in charge."
  1250. >"Then who are you afraid of that's coming for you now?"
  1251. "I know this isn't perfect, but please, just stop for a moment."
  1252. >"The more I'm here the more it looks like you guys were just bluffing all along. Are you just some sort of aliens who wanted to abduct me?"
  1253. "What? Of course not!"
  1254. >"Then why can't you just tell me the truth?"
  1255. "Because... Because you have to figure it out on your own. You have to trust me."
  1256. >"Oh, really now?" he crosses his arms on his chest. "I've seen you only two or three times, I don't even know what you're doing around here. Or what- what I am even supposed to do here."
  1257. "As I said, it's a special case. It will become clear later. Please, just be patient."
  1258. >Anonymous lowers his gaze again and you see not frustration, but simple bewilderment. He just can't understand what's his part in all of this is. Partially because his special edition of the invitation didn't include any information on his match.
  1259. "There is just one thing I can give you."
  1260. >"What is it?" Anon is looking at you once again and his hopeful tone only serves to break your heart.
  1261. >His thirst for information won't be quenched with this, but it's important.
  1262. "It's something I want you to keep. There's a certain somepony you'll have to look out for once your jump is complete."
  1263. >You levitate a small piece of carton to him.
  1264. >On one side there's Twilight's cutie mark, and the other one has...
  1265. >"What is this mugshot, is she a criminal?"
  1266. "No! What?!"
  1267. >You take a look yourself and you see a smiling little Twilight. It was a picture taken for an ID long ago, so maybe this is why he makes such a leap of logic.
  1268. >The only place you could find a good photo of Twilight about that age was in Canterlot library.
  1269. >Copying it with a spell Twilight herself has invented made you wonder if the studious unicorn had ever used it to copy her test answers too.
  1270. >Though that would've been too obvious for a pony like Twilight. If she wanted to cheat on a test, she'd invent some convoluted spell like switching bodies with a book so it can solve questions concerning its contents perfectly, or something of that caliber...
  1271. >Thinking about this now makes you smile, and Anonymous frowns in response.
  1272. "Great. More mysteries. Thanks, I guess."
  1273. >He puts the ID in a pocket of the pants he had arrived here in, but not before flipping it in his hand like it could have a third side and he just didn't notice it before.
  1274. >You want to say something in return, but you suddenly hear footsteps outside. Not hoofsteps. You'd know if this was a pony.
  1275. >That means your time might be running out.
  1276. "Uh, listen, Anonymous, I think it's time for you to go to the next room."
  1277. >You're prepared to force him out since his difficult attitude is getting worse by the minute, but to your surprise he's happy to hear this.
  1278. >"Oh, finally!" he agrees immediately, willing to do anything to leave the office.
  1279. "Yes-yes, just go through that door, they're waiting for you...in the departure chamber."
  1280. >You didn't really want to say 'test chamber', even though it's what it is - the Initiative conducts portal research there. But the human is already paranoid about this thing, the last thing he needs to hear is a word 'test'.
  1281. >"What, alone?"
  1282. "I'll be joining you soon, don't worry about it, go."
  1283. >You almost push Anon through that door and shut it close. You lock it too for good measure and really hope he won't be knocking on it at least for the duration of your distraction.
  1284. >Preparing for unavoidable explanation Twilight will probably ask of you, you go through your alibi once again in your head.
  1285. >With a light sigh, you open the front door. What you see there kicks everything you were going to say straight out of your head.
  1286. >The human you just sent to the portal chamber is now standing in front of you, only in a different kind of attire and visibly older.
  1287. >He seems to be alone here. Which is a relief, but not for your confusion. It almost feels surreal.
  1288. "An-" you barely manage to squeeze out of yourself, but find no words to start a conversation with.
  1289. >You even step back a little bit, expecting him to jump at you or something. But nothing of the sort happens.
  1290. >He walks in, slowly, like he's just as dazed as you are right now.
  1291. >Anonymous looks like he's going to fall down at any moment. He does, but on the chair his younger version was occupying not even five minutes ago.
  1292. >It's like watching someone sleepwalk; you can't even tell what he's going to do next.
  1293. >His eyes find the door him from the past has just went through. You only now remember that he probably knows that.
  1294. >What if that was the whole reason he's even here? Would he be that sentimental?
  1295. >Almost like he's reading your thoughts his gaze shifts at you and you feel a slight unsettling cold going down your spine.
  1296. >That look in his eyes, it's like a mixture of despair but also...gratitude. Like he just wants a hug now. He looks like he's moments away from bursting into tears.
  1297. >You let out a sigh and only now notice you've been holding your breath for some time now.
  1298. >Anon just lowers his eyes, breaking your staredown. He looks like he's about to say something but he just shuffles in his chair looking uncomfortable.
  1299. >At last, after almost a minute of hesitation, he looks up and says:
  1300. >"I'm back."
  1301. >A smile that befits a prisoner finding freedom again adorns his face now.
  1302. "I'm...glad."
  1303. >You don't even know what to say right now. Just like you couldn't tell his younger self anything.
  1304. >It would be funny if it wasn't so strange. What does he even want?
  1305. >"You know..." Anon finally starts explaining himself, albeit slowly. "I always thought it would be funny to... Just walk in here right after you send me to that room."
  1306. >He points at the back door and smiles again.
  1307. >"But man, that... This wasn't funny at all."
  1308. >His smile is frozen on his face and now it just looks contorted and uncanny. His stare far, far beyond this room only reinforces this unsettling image of someone so deeply shaken you can't even imagine what's on his mind.
  1309. >You don't know if this impression would've been better if you didn't know how Twilight has described his first years in Ponyville. Like you've condemned him to something horrible even if it is in the past.
  1310. >What can you say to him when you don't even know how he feels now about it? Do you apologize to him or point out that you were right?
  1311. >"If I go there right now I know I'm going to see him... Me, standing there. I can do that right now."
  1312. "Um..."
  1313. >It sounded like a threat but you're not sure if he's serious or not.
  1314. >"But I would've remembered if I did. So... I guess even if I tried I wouldn't be able to."
  1315. "Yeah, it does work like that, I guess," you nod awkwardly.
  1316. >That smile finally disappears from Anon's face and he just looks dejected now.
  1317. >"I'm sorry, I... I'm just wasting your time. I thought I wanted to say something or ask you something, but things are so different now."
  1318. "I know, and I feel the same way."
  1319. >This reassures him a little and he elaborates on this more:
  1320. >"I've been keeping those questions inside my head for so long they just don't mean anything anymore."
  1321. "Maybe you have found the answers along the way?"
  1322. >He looks at you with the same tired expression.
  1323. >"I guess I have. Seeing everything for myself I think I understand it now."
  1324. "You probably realize that I wanted to tell you a lot of things today..."
  1325. >The man nods.
  1326. >"Pfft," he lets out a disappointed chuckle. "This isn't at all how I imagined this meeting would happen! Believe it or not, I didn't take the earliest train here just to play a prank on you or mope about years going by."
  1327. "Oh? What's the occasion?" you cautiously ask.
  1328. >"You'll hear it from Twilight once she gets through."
  1329. >This time you smile at him. Now that everything has passed this all seems so ridiculous. Perhaps this is how he sees it too.
  1330. "Can I get you some tea?"
  1331. >"Sure, nothing better to do until she gets here."
  1332. >You walk up to the door and already start opening it when you hear hoofsteps outside.
  1333. >It was too late to stop the motion already and now before you stand princess Twilight Sparkle.
  1334. >"Cadence!" she exclaims happily.
  1335. >Behind her are Starlight and Star Swirl, smiling at you meekly, hoping that they've done their job at stalling Twilight well.
  1336. >You don't get to confirm it to them because Twilight is already striking a familiar pose.
  1337. >You're not getting out of this one, and in front of Anonymous too...
  1338. >"Sunshine, Sunshine, ladybugs awake, clap your hooves and do a little shake!"
  1339. "Sunshine, Sunshine, ladybugs awake, clap your hooves and do a little shake!"
  1340. >You both burst into laughter and for a moment you feel relieved that all of this tension is finally over. Twilight is here and that means there's no need to be cautious anymore.
  1341. >You just have to not look at anypony else here and not even imagine their reaction to what happened just now. You're not certain if any of them had ever witnessed this ritual before.
  1342. "So, what brings you here?"
  1343. >"Oh, I just wanted to visit you again and give you a little present," Twilight explains and looks at Anon with a smile.
  1344. "What could that be?" you try to sound excited.
  1345. >"It's nothing special," Twilight's smile betrays her dishonesty. "Those two already got theirs, so you're actually the last to know."
  1346. >Now you are actually getting interested.
  1347. >Out of nowhere, with a flick of her magic the pony materializes a scroll and floats it to you.
  1348. >You take it into your own magical grip and unfurl it. Gold tooling make it look really official, like a decree.
  1349. >Though it become obvious right away - it is an official invitation.
  1350. >You are invited to a wedding. Twilight Sparkle and Anonymous.
  1351. "Huh?"
  1352. >You notice Twilight's grin as she watches your reaction, and turning to Anonymous you see the same thing.
  1353. >Only then you read the lines a few more times to confirm you're not mistaking this for anything else.
  1354. "I- That's-"
  1355. >You can't even find words for this at the moment, so you just do the next best thing and go for a hug, which Twilight immediately reciprocates.
  1356. >It shouldn't be a surprise for you, after all it's been a long time coming, but the circumstances are affecting you a bit too much.
  1357. >And Anon knew all along that this is going to happen. He got you good.
  1358. >All the stress has left you on edge, but you're not concerned with your reaction right now. You're just happy that this situation has taken a pleasant turn right now, all you feel is relief.
  1359. >"This place is getting crowded, let's go," Anonymous suggests.
  1360. >His voice is calm and you're glad that he's fine now too.
  1361. >You nod immediately, thankful for an opportunity to get away from this office. This calls for a celebration, but not here.
  1362. >Taking one last look at the back door, you sigh, but this time with relief.
  1363. >He's going to be fine. Now you're certain of it.
  1365. >The darkest corner of an abandoned warehouse explodes with shimmering light coming from an inconspicuous mirror standing there, covered by tarp all over.
  1366. >It's like a tent in there: when you, Cadence, exit it after Starlight and the whole team Violet, it feels kinda cramped in here even when the team lifts the cover up a little with what diminished magic they have.
  1367. >Inhaling this air always feels suffocating. A pony can't stay here for long. That's why the second mirror is already installed here for your convenience.
  1368. >You know it's impossible to get used to this feeling no matter how much time you spend in this world.
  1369. >Team Sky Blue, who's been tasked with constructing this whole thing had to wear special rebreather masks with crystals in them just to filter the putrid air of this planet that saps magic out of you with every breath you take.
  1370. >Short term exposure is fine though, so everypony else just frown and scrunch their muzzles, hoping they'll be safe back in the portal test chamber in a matter of minutes.
  1371. >"Everything's clear, princess," one of the mares reports.
  1372. "Bring him in."
  1373. >Team Violet goes back into the mirror and in the meantime you inspect the other mirror.
  1374. >It couldn't be more different from the one you came through from Equestria: there are wires coming up to it from that first mirror, and the crystals that bind the surface itself emit a barely noticeable glow.
  1375. >You assume that it is powered from the chamber itself; there are other devices standing next to and behind the second mirror, notably a sizable translucent glass ball on a big metal stand that has some switches and flickering lights on it.
  1376. >Magic of that caliber doesn't really interest you and you'd prefer to stay away from it, even if you do deal with dimension hopping. Starlight is checking on the device right now and you'll leave it to her.
  1377. >The light clopping of hooves behind you indicate that the team is back. Anonymous, the finally free freshly matched human, proceeds behind them, and the last one to leave is Star Swirl.
  1378. >"I just want to double check on the probability inverter...and the portal scaler," he explains and walks up to the ball Starlight is already gazing into.
  1379. >"Wait, this is...Earth, right?" Anonymous immediately notices. "Why are we here?"
  1380. "It's hard to explain, but we have to send you from your initial world."
  1381. >You couldn't tell him that you simply don't want the portal to be traced back to the Crystal Empire.
  1382. >Twilight is going to spend years searching for a way to send Anon back to his world, so she is bound to analyze the residue of the portal Anon was using.
  1383. >If she can somehow track this magic back to you, it's going to raise a lot of questions.
  1384. >You don't know for sure, but reverse engineering this portal spell could've been the very thing that has guided Twilight to creating the spell that now powers it in the first place.
  1385. >Such a strange convolution of causes and effects might've caused you a few minutes of confusion if you still had the mental capacity to be surprised by something like this anymore.
  1386. >As you ponder the irony of time travel, the second mirror is being activated.
  1387. >Its surface starts to ripple and glow, and the crystal frame around it is glowing even brighter.
  1388. "I guess that's it," you nod to Anonymous. "You can finally leave."
  1389. >"So...you really won't explain anything to me."
  1390. >You notice how he's holding Twilight's ID in his hand. The only thing that he knows about the place he is about to enter.
  1391. "One day you'll understand."
  1392. >"Are you sure about that?" the man cautiously asks.
  1393. "Absolutely positive."
  1394. >Maybe your tone was just that convincing, but Anon composes himself and looks straight forward.
  1395. >"Reverse approximator is set, probability inverter operational, back-scrying ball...at full capacity," Starlight comments, pointing at the glowing sphere. "We're all set, princess, Anonymous."
  1396. >Anon is determined to have the last word here:
  1397. >"Well, your pony gods won't help you if you're lying now, because I swear I'll find a way to-"
  1398. "Yes, yes, I know."
  1399. >You smile at that sentiment knowing what ended up happening in the end. And Anonymous smiles too, obviously just acting out of anxiety.
  1400. >It's going to be hard for him, you both know it. But it's going to be worth it. More worth it than he realizes now.
  1401. >"Here goes nothing..." the human sighs.
  1402. >The mirror looks like it's boiling already, the surface of it bubbling and one minute away from spitting liquid glass all over the place.
  1403. >Of course that's just an illusion and it is as cold as ever, but Anon is still very cautious approaching it.
  1404. >His hand goes in first, disappearing into the raging sea of violently bursting reflections.
  1405. >The crystal ball flares up, nearly blinding you. A low pitched hum is coming from it but it gradually gets higher and louder.
  1406. >Once Anon's body is half way though the mirror, the ball finally reaches a note you can't even hear anymore and everything falls silent.
  1407. >A second later the human disappears into the mirror entirely and the ball disintegrates. Quite literally.
  1408. >With a loud clap similar to a thunder concentrated in this warehouse it explodes in a millions of pieces. You instinctively cover your face with your hoof and so do the members of the mare teams, but the shards never reach you or them, or anypony else.
  1409. >They are hovering in the air in a magic aura you immediately recognize as Starlight's.
  1410. >The mirror is calm. The frame around it is dark. It's like nothing ever happened here at all.
  1411. >"Everypony alright?" Starlight asks while nonchalantly levitating the remains of the crystal ball away from its stand. "No worries, it was supposed to do that and I've already pre-casted the containment spell. These things really don't like looking into the past instead of future, so..."
  1412. "Sweet Celestia, Starlight, at least warn us next time!" you catch your breath.
  1413. >"Sorry! I couldn't just break your moment like that, and Anonymous would've been scared too. It all worked out, see? We've tested this like ten times already, right, Star Swirl?"
  1414. >"Indeed," the bearded unicorn nods.
  1415. >You sigh and shake your head.
  1416. "I guess it's over now..."
  1417. >But it has only just begun.
  1418. >Right now, Anon steps into Ponyville for the first time. It won't be long before he finds Twilight and his story will start, even though it was so long ago.
  1419. >A story you as a princess of Love should be thankful for, you recon.
  1420. >In a way, the Initiative has created itself. The Heart sure has chosen an elaborate plan to allow all of this to exist.
  1421. >Maybe it has directed all of this just to create more Love magic to feed on. Or maybe it really was destiny and this was always supposed to happen.
  1422. >You can't help but stand still for some time, listening to your surroundings like something is supposed to change. But in a way, nothing should. Everything went exactly as it should have, it would seem.
  1423. >Stepping back into the portal to Equestria, you find nothing out of ordinary. No new memories. No strange echoes in your heart.
  1424. >You realize now that it's not your position to discern the reason, nor to find out how exactly things were before Twilight got matched. It has only brought you head ache.
  1425. >Love's ways are convoluted. What seems impossible, illogical and just plain weird at one point proves to be necessary at another.
  1426. >Maybe Starlight understands that now too.
  1427. >And you, you just hope you're going to get just regular matches from now on, unless everything else in this world was also built upon powerful ponies getting humans at certain times in history.
  1428. >But even if that was true and you had to re-write this whole reality to suit the new, Love-filled Equestria, you'd probably be ready to do that.
  1429. >Everypony would only benefit from more Love in the end.
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