Luna looked down at Shadow. “Are you sure you want to do this?” the larger mare asked.
“There are some things that are hard to do but I have to do them. Now that I know he’s alive I can’t stay away,” Shadow said. A tear ran down her cheek.
“I had to tell you as soon as I discovered him,” Luna said. She wrapped her wing around the smaller mare. “I don’t want you hurt any more and I don’t want you tempted to stay with him either.” She levitated a pentagonal crystal pendant on a chain around Shadow’s neck.
Shadow shook her head. “I just need to see him again,” she said. She turned away and stepped into the chariot. Its golden wheels rocked as it moved on its suspension. One of the armored pegasi harnessed to it turned his head to check on the new passenger.
Luna stepped into the vehicle between Shadow and the other pony, a wizened gray unicorn stallion with a green growing vine on his flank. The chariot slowly rose into the air and winged its way north from Canterlot and higher into the mountain range in which the city sits.
The landscape passing below slowly changed from benign mountains girdled with forest to forbidding snow-covered peaks capped with permanent snow. As the group traveled further North the clouds closed in and became a continuous ceiling above the mountains. All three put on coats that had been stowed in the chariot. Luna’s was much larger than the others and fitted for her wings. Shadow discovered a second crystal pendant in the pocket of hers. She looked up at Luna who just smiled benignly.
The chariot wound its way through a maze of peaks with the ominous layer of clouds above. Each pass was higher and narrower than the last. The craft flew toward a cave with massive overhang curved like a stallion’s flared nostril. It gained altitude and mounted the overhanging ridge. Ahead loomed a vast rock face in the shape of an eye with a shocked expression, its top half lost in the clouds. It sufface was covered with snow-filled cracks. Shadow gasped. “The left eye is eight-thousand hooves from bottom to top,” the elderly unicorn said, “Ahead lies the pass of the nape.” The chariot rounded a shattered cheek. The outline of a broken ear became visible rising from a layer of fog far below.
Ahead lay the narrowest pass of all. The snow-covered rocks on both sides were shaped like the flowing lines of a mane, but riven with great cracks with a huge split that formed the pass. Its top was spanned by a bridge of cloud topped with vaporous guard towers.
Flashes of light flickered from the top of the central tower. The wizened unicorn responded by producing a series of flashes from his horn. More flashes came from the tower in response. The chariot continued through the narrow opening in the mountains. Armored pegasi watched it pass below them. Some stood ready at ancient looking ballistæ. A green unicorn standing on the battlements saluted them with his hoof as they passed.
The flight entered a wide valley filled with a river of ice. The sunlight that filtered through the clouds shone on the vast glacier. The tiny chariot flew down the valley, following the glacier until a great gray stone plateau came into view. It stood out like an island with ice flowing around both its sides. A strange light shone down on it. The short pillar looked like a gigantic hoof, complete with the tracery of a serrated war shoe. Shattered cylinders of stone lay near it in the valley, ice chipping away at their edges.
As the chariot rose above the cliff edge, towers and a broad field of green could be seen on the plateau. “The prison sits on the right hoof. It is a nunatak, an island of ice-free land in the midst of the glacier,” the ancient one explained, “Nopony can leave this artificial paradise except by air or teleport. Those who live here don’t want to leave. A powerful enchantment holds them here. The talismans will protect you from the enchantment but you may still not wish to leave.”
The landscape passing below transformed suddenly from the endless world of ice and snow to green gardens and trees. Sparkling lakes and cottages with thatched roofs passed by below. The sun appeared and shone down warmly for the first time in hours. On the highest point of the plateau sat an ancient fortress that looked oddly friendly despite its high curtain walls. Ivy and flowering vines climbed the walls and fruit trees grew atop the battlements. The fortress was surrounded by smaller more modern buildings like small palaces. A few looked like they were under construction.
All three removed their coats as the chariot circled. Shadow slipped the second talisman around her neck. The icy wasteland still lay on the horizon but as they descended it was quickly forgotten. “You can see why they call it the land of eternal spring,” Luna said, “It’s so beautiful that the enchantment only adds to the attraction.”
The chariot touched ground on a neatly raked gravel path. The ancient unicorn directed the stallions in his scratchy voice. “Turn left and go over the bridge past the koi pond. No, your other left!” he cackled. A wooden sign on the side of the road read “Sparkleville — Population Twenty-Six.” The word ‘six’ looked recently painted and was slightly mismatched with the rest of the lettering.
The vehicle drew to a stop outside a thatch-roofed cottage with an incongruous turret attached to one end. A rose arbor led into its front garden. Tears came to Shadow’s eyes as she caught sight of a deep purple unicorn stallion nipping suckers from an apple tree with his teeth.
She jumped out of the chariot and ran into the garden. She collided with him and they both tumbled into a bed of impatiens. Shadow wrapped her forelegs around him and squeezed him. Tears streamed from her eyes and wetted his neck.
Luna ducked her horn under the arbor and stood in the gateway looking strangely dark, backlit by the sun. She said, “I’ve brought your daughter.”
“My little Shadow!” he cried. Tears rolled down his cheeks too.
A golden-maned unicorn with a six-pointed golden star on his flank peered over the hedgerow at them. He immediately grabbed a piece of charcoal in his teeth and started sketching on a pad he levitated in the air.
Shadow sobbed loudly. Tears ran down her muzzle.
“You’re so big!” he said, “My little shadow is a fully grown mare.” He touched her flank. “And you’ve finally found your place, haven’t you? You always thought you didn’t have a place in the world but you do!”
“Oh daddy,” Shadow sobbed, “I thought I’d never see you again!”
Shade looked up at Luna from where he lay in a heap with his daughter. “Thank you so much Princess!” he said, “I never wanted anything more than to see my daughter again.”
“Oh daddy please,” Shadow begged, “You have to come with me.” She held an amulet with a five-sided crystal in her teeth.
He shook his head. “No no no,” he said, “Not yet. Just stay here with me for a while. Equestria isn’t ready yet.” He wrapped his forelegs around her and lifted her to her hooves. “You must know the truth. All of us here know. That’s why we’re here. I’m a silly old stallion who can’t keep his muzzle shut.”
“I want you to come with me. I’ve wanted you with me for so long and I thought you were lost! I love you so much and I haven’t been able to tell you!” She slipped the amulet around his neck.
He shook his head. “I still don’t want to leave, my love. There will be a time, but not yet.” Shadow threw her forelegs around his neck and sobbed.
“I’ll leave you two to your reunion,” Luna said, “I’ll be in the scriptorium. I’d appreciate it if both of you would join me for dinner in the great hall at the fortress. I’ll send some caretakers to fetch you this evening.” She stepped out of the garden and climbed into the chariot.
• • •
Virga circled the perimeter of the island. He moved quietly, his hooves not making a sound and his well-oiled armor moving with his body without a squeak. He avoided the wet margins where he would start to sink into the muddy banks of the stream. A silvery figure watched him from the pavilion. Despite the cool evening he was sweating under his armor.
The stallion spotted some movement among the reeds. He didn’t slow, knowing it could be another duck. This time he caught a glimpse of something more. He could see a faint outline in the moonlight. It was the silhouette of a head with a pointed horn. He didn’t reveal his attention at first. He suddenly turned and performed a courbette then flapped his wings twice. He dropped directly in front of the silhouette. “Ha!” he shouted.
“Ha!” he heard behind himself a moment before he was struck on the hindquarters with a swift kick. The stallion sprawled into the reeds. He struggled to his feet, covered with mud, his right wing soaked. A duck flew out of the reeds quacking angrily.
The sound of hollow clopping came from the pavilion. “Excellent, my lady,” Sir Gilead said, “A most effective feint.” His ghostly hooves rang strangely on the wooden floor. He stood there wearing only a silvery jerkin.
Virga shook his wing, sending globs of mud flying. Some of them struck something unseen right in front of him. He reached out and touched the invisible mare with his hoof. “Gotcha,” he said.
“You got me, Blue,” Trixie said. She nuzzled his cheek, bumping her nose on the cheekpiece of his helmet. The unicorn became visible beside him in a flash of pale blue light. The pegasus stallion bowed toward her, then toward the ghostly unicorn standing in the pavilion.
Trixie’s horn glowed and droplets of water and mud rose from her side as well as from Virga’s body and wing. They evaporated into puffs of dust and vapor that floated away on the evening breeze. His blued steel armor shone again. Dark blue crescent moons were reflected on the surface of each piece.
“Thank you, Virga,” Sir Gilead said, trotting toward them, “I think you’ve had enough fun for this evening. You can go back to the stable.”
The pegasus bowed again and took off. He turned and winged his way toward the palace.
“You’re progressing very quickly my dear,” Sir Gilead said, “I dare say faster than Princess Luna did when she was learning.” He stood about twenty hooves from Trixie, his silvery coat sparkling in the moonlight. “The illusion was very effective. It may not have fooled an experienced unicorn, but with anypony else it would be perfect.”
“Thank you,” she said, “It’s beginning to feel natural slipping in and out of visibility and keeping myself unseen and unheard. It feels almost as natural as playing for attention on stage.” She smiled.
“Indeed, you have a natural ability for illusion, as your mark would indicate,” he said quietly.
Trixie looked puzzled. “I didn’t know it meant anything in particular beyond the silver crescent and wand. It appeared when I started performing illusions on stage. But I’ve never seen anypony with a crescent quite like this one.” She thought back to the thrill of an audience cheering. It made her warm inside on a cool night.
“Ahh, my lady,” he said, “But you can’t read the ancient language very well yet. The crescent on your flank is in the cursive form of the letter te, the first letter of Theria’s name. She bore a similar mark.”
“I didn’t know that.” Trixie twisted to look at her mark.
“You’re quite the image of her and you’ve demonstrated similar abilities tonight.”
Trixie hung her head for a moment. “I don’t think I’d have wanted the mark of the Weaver of Lies on my flank.”
“It’s something you should be proud of, my lady. She is the only pony who ever fought Queen Bo to a standoff. Neither had the power to finally defeat the other. She was the only match for the mistress of magic herself.”
Trixie shook her head. “This is a bit too much.”
“The magic chooses the pony, my dear,” the wraith said, “and you must learn to use it or it may use you. A power so great could lead you to greater things than you can imagine or terrible things that haven’t been seen in Equestria in centuries. I’ve seen great power lead to both.”
“Even the power to create illusions?” she asked.
“Don’t underestimate it. An illusion can defeat raw power much greater than itself.” Sir Gilead’s ghostly horn glowed. A wispy dragon of vapor materialized on the island and looked around. It stood taller than a two-story gazebo nearby. It looked down at them and spread its wings threateningly. A second more feminine looking dragon swooped down from the sky and made a strange twittering sound. It landed and looked over its back at the other dragon then fluttered its eyelashes. It raised its tail for a moment before taking off. The first dragon bellowed hollowly, then lifted off and followed the second. The two dissolved into the night air.
“The power to mislead is the power to lead,” he said, “The illusion of power or romance or normality can lead anypony astray and keep them there as long as you can maintain the illusion. The keys are mastering your power and knowing your subject. If you know what ponies want, you can lead them anywhere.”
Trixie nodded. “I’m still working on that first.”
“Aah, perhaps another lesson,” he said. His horn glowed again. The pavilion transformed into a rustic tower with a thatched roof. A thin curl of smoke rose from its chimney. If it hadn’t been a pavilion moments before, nothing in its appearance would reveal that it hadn’t been there for centuries.
“That’s amazing! It’s so perfectly real.”
“Thank you, my lady,” Sir Gilead said, “If one’s imagination is well-honed, illusions can become convincingly real and solid enough to interact with.” He trotted up to the well in front of the tower and turned the crank with his ghostly teeth. He sat a bucket full of water on the ground. A duck waddled up and splashed in it. “In this case the tower is a fond memory of my colthood.”
“Hmm,” Trixie said. Her horn glowed and something coalesced in the night. A wagon, it’s brightly painted colors looking faded in the moonlight, appeared on the grass. Beside it an old mare with a braided mane washed laundry in a wooden tub. She hummed a roundabout song. In another moment the whole thing vanished.
Trixie snorted and stepped backward. She hid her face behind her mane. Tears welled in her eyes.
“A memory that’s too emotional can be harder to maintain, or you may be lured into your own illusion. It’s similar to the danger of losing yourself in transfiguration,” the old stallion said.
Trixie nodded. Her horn glowed again. This time a smaller wagon appeared. It bore hearts on it shutters and a purple crescent on the front. A sign with Trixie’s cutie mark surrounded by stars hung above its door. The symbol sparkled in the moonlight. She smiled. “It’s like an old friend,” she whispered.
Sir Gilead trotted up and tapped a wheel with his hoof. It made an odd tinging sound. “Most excellent,” he said.
“Sir Gilead?” Trixie asked, “Can I ask you something?”
“You already have, my lady.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” she said, stumbling a bit, “How have you changed your appearance? When I first saw you you were wearing armor and had a horrible wound. Now your wound is gone and you’re wearing a jerkin.”
“It is an illusion,” he said, “In fact my whole existence is illusion.” The stallion changed to his armored form in a moment. He gleamed in the moonlight. “During my long stay in the cave I never thought of changing my appearance, but after you freed me from bondage the lady Luna encouraged me to try to change it.” His armor vanished in a moment and the jerkin reappeared.
Trixie nodded. She thought a moment and her blue coat turned gray. “You were a gray stallion, were you not?” she asked in an oddly deep voice. Her flowing silver mane shortened and grew coarser. The symbol on her flank changed, but not that much.
“A perfect likeness, lady Trixie,” he said, “Exactly the stallion I was accustomed to seeing in the mirror, when I still appeared in mirrors.”
Trixie resumed her usual form. She shook out her silvery mane, then looked at the ancient knight and smiled. “I wonder,” she said.
A coil of rope hanging on her wagon slithered off the peg it was hung on. One end stood up in the grass and a forked tongue of hemp fiber flicked out. The faintly glowing rope moved through the grass toward Sir Gilead. He watched as its end stood and flicked its tongue at him.
Suddenly the rope jumped out of the grass and wrapped itself around his legs. He tumbled to the grass as it tightened and tied itself in a neat square knot. The stallion rolled onto his back, struggling against his bonds. The tower wavered and vanished, replaced by the pavilion. The duck landed on the grass and waddled away.
“This is most unexpected,” he gasped as he struggled.
“Can’t you absorb the magic that’s manipulating the rope?” Trixie asked. She stepped closer.
“It seems not.” He bent his head to bite at his bonds. It did him no good.
“I can’t believe that worked. It was just a crazy idea.” The rope suddenly vanished, leaving the wraith struggling to right himself.
“Sometimes a crazy idea does work,” he said, “This is magic that has never been tried before. Even the instructors at the school didn’t think of such a thing.” He shook himself off. Bits of grass fell from his translucent flank. His mane and tail rearranged themselves into flowing silvery strands.
“I saw that you could touch the wagon and you didn’t drain the energy out of it. I wondered if it could touch you. It looks like it can.”
“It most certainly does. I think we should keep this between ourselves and the lady Luna,” he said, “Such knowledge could be dangerous.”
Trixie nodded. “I won’t tell Molly or the other students.”
In the distance a clock chimed the half-hour. “Isn’t it time to go back to the palace?” Trixie asked. She trotted to the pavilion and picked up a heavy silver necklace in her teeth. The wagon dissolved into a cloud of vapor.
“I suppose it is,” Lance said, “but I think I want to spend some time alone in the moonlight first.” He gazed upward for a long while. Then the wraith sprouted wings and lifted gracefully into the night sky.
Trixie was left standing on the little island holding the necklace. “Tho much for not crothing moofing wader,” she said to herself. She smiled and flipped the necklace around her neck. “At least I know he’s not invulnerable,” she said. She walked across the bridge off the island, her hoofbeats echoing through the night.
• • •
Twilight Sparkle read through a sheaf of manuscript pages and sipped green tea from a raku-ware bowl. A gentle breeze blew a few dry leaves in circles on the balcony of the library tree. The sounds of the William Tell Overture echoed from the town square. A concert had been going on all day.
Down below she saw Lyra and Bonbon walking down the street. Snips trailed behind them with a harp case on his back. Twilight looked at a biography of her ancestor Dawn among her stacks of books and thought of something she had meant to do. She closed her eyes and winked out. She appeared in a flash beside the green unicorn. Lyra was startled for a moment and whickered.
“I’m sorry I startled you,” Twilight said, “but I wanted to ask about something.”
“Yes?” Lyra asked. Bon-Bon looked uncomfortable. Snips looked bored and idly twirled his mustache.
“Ahem, well,” Twilight began, “Everypony tells me you know a lot about, well, disappearances.” Twilight looked a bit embarrassed. “Other than tabloids and some peculiar books I can’t find much about ponies that have vanished mysteriously over the years. You’d think somepony would write a serious book about it but I can’t find one.”
“Aah, well, Twilight…” Lyra began. Her golden eyes darted from side to side. “I’ve got an appointment I forgot about. I gotta go!” she said and suddenly galloped off. Bon-Bon followed her and they disappeared around the side of Sugarcube Corner.
Twilight stood in the street looking stunned. “Well, I’ve never gotten that kind of reaction before.” She turned to Snips who was still looking bored. “What was that all about?” she asked.
“Aah, she’s always talking about missing ponies and all that stuff. I guess she didn’t want to say anything to you because of the Sparkle Curse.” Snips shrugged, causing the harp to wobble on his back.
“She says members of your family disappear all the time, especially when they’re close to Princess Celestia. Like your uncle Shade and Dawn Sparkle and Frost and Snow Sparkle and now Aurum Sparkle.” He looked around. “I guess I should take Lyra’s harp to her and Bon-Bon’s house but I don’t have a key.” He slowly walked down the street. Twilight followed in his hoofsteps.
“Uhuh, last week,” he said, nodding, “He was supposed to be painting a portrait of the Princess in Canterlot and nopony saw him again.”
“I didn’t know that. I just talked to him… I guess that was over a month ago.”
“Bon-Bon says she took a picture of the pony in black coming for his stuff. Lyra thinks you’ll be next since you’re the Princess’ favorite student. But hey, you haven’t vanished yet, right?”
“And I don’t expect to!” she said forcefully, “What a bunch of craziness.” Out of the corner of her eye Twilight saw a golden eye peering around a corner. She sidled over to a stand selling sunglasses and looked into a mirror. In the reflection she could see Lyra and Bon-Bon peering around a corner, staring at her from behind. “Oh, it is so on,” Twilight whispered.
“What?” Snips asked. He was admiring his mustache in another mirror.
“Don’t you want me to take that silly thing off?” Twilight asked.
“What? No!” Snips protested. He hid his muzzle with a hoof.
Twilight shook her head. “Never mind,” she said. Snips lowered his hoof and discovered Twilight was no longer there.
“I didn’t see where she went,” Bon-Bon whispered.
“Me either,” Lyra said, peeping around the corner, “She just… vanished into thin air.”
“Maybe she teleported again?”
“But we would’ve seen the flash when she winked out. She was just there one moment and gone the next as if she stepped around a corner, but she was in the middle of the street!” Her eye twitched.
Bon-Bon stroked Lyra’s mane. “At least she’s gone. It’s so awkward trying to avoid her.”
“Is it really?” said an icy voice from behind them.
They slowly turned their heads to look behind them. In a moment they were both on their hooves. The ponies galloped away full-speed down the middle of the street.
Twilight bounced around next to Sugarcube Corner. “This is too much fun,” she said, “Now I know how Pinkie feels. I just hope my mane doesn’t frizz out like hers.”
The top half of a dutch door opened. Pinkie Pie peered out. “Did somepony call my name?” she asked.
“Oh hi… Pinkie… Pie…,” Twilight said, still bouncing. She bounced over and landed next to the door. “I was just having fun like you do, Pinkie,” she said.
“Ohhhh?” she asked, “With somepony I know?” Pinkie winked at Twilight.
“Just Lyra and Bon-Bon,” Twilight said, giggling.
“And I thought they were exclusive,” Pinkie said, “Excuse me, Twilight, I think I have some special party invitations to send.” She grinned and closed the door.
Twilight laughed until she snorted then started bouncing in the street again. A purple unicorn filly with a golden mane came and bounced with her. Twilight smiled down at the filly then bounced higher and never landed. The filly looked around, confused.
Bon-Bon nuzzled Lyra’s mane. The two sat side-by-side on a park bench. Lyra shuddered. “That was just too freaky. Some kind of weird magic freaky,” she said. Her flank twitched. “Oh, that feels so good,” she said, “I’m so tense, I need a good massage.” Bon-Bon held her hooves up, looking puzzled. Both of them tumbled off the bench and ran.
Twilight grinned where she stood behind the bench. “This is too easy,” she said.
A pony with a quill and sofa on his flank walked past. “What’s this all about?” he asked.
The stallion watched the galloping mares vanish around a corner. When he turned back to the bench Twilight was gone.
Lyra and Bon-Bon leaned against each other in the alley. They stood side-by-side, facing in opposite directions, watching both ends of the alley. They panted hard, their sweat sticking them together.
“There’s no sign of her,” Lyra whispered.
“Not on this end either,” Bon-Bon responded.
“Definitely not up here,” came a voice from directly above them.
Both ponies bolted, heading out of the alley in opposite directions.
Twilight stood on a fire escape snickering. She sniffed a pot full of chrysanthemums that sat on a windowsill and closed her eyes. She hummed the Winter Wrap-Up song and sat on the steps for a while. Her horn glowed faintly. “Dress up?” she said to herself, “Aah, it’s a classic. It’s too bad Spike isn’t watching this. He’ll love to hear the story later.” She grinned. In a moment she was gone.
Lyra stood very still. She was still sweating and trying not to breathe too hard. The grass skirt was sticking to her flank and the girth strap holding coconut shells to her chest cut into her side uncomfortably. She tried not to blink. A purple pony stopped in front of the shop window to stare at her. She nearly squealed and ran before noticing it was Nadermane, the best harpist in Equestria. He must have recognized her standing in the costume shop window in the ridiculous hula girl outfit. She held her breath. He moved on, blathering away to a flautist beside him named Tootsie.
Lyra let out her breath. “Phew,” she whispered. The mannequin in a clown costume next to her turned and smiled. The other pony’s horn glowed and her nose beeped. Lyra fainted dead away and fell over sideways.
• • •
The nurse looked up from her watch and removed her hoof from the green unicorn’s fetlock. “She seems fine now,” she said gently.
Twilight gently touched Lyra’s mane with her hoof. “I’m really sorry I freaked you out.”
“It’s okay,” Lyra said, “I just… I didn’t mean to…” Bon-Bon nuzzled her mane from the other side of the bed. “I won’t try to avoid you any more,” Lyra said, “and apparently I can’t.” She smiled weakly.
Twilight shook her head. “I shouldn’t have chased you like that.”
“It’s okay,” Lyra said, “I really shouldn’t have run away from uncomfortable questions. I’ll tell you everything I know.”
“Are you sure?” Twilight asked.
“I’m sure. I think you might be in danger and I shouldn’t have avoided you and said nothing in the first place. We’ve been neighbors in Canterlot and now here and I should have acted like a better pony and a friend.”
The nurse stepped out of the room and closed the door.
“I just don’t get it,” Twilight said “My grandmother used to call it a curse too. She said that Sparkles vanish all the time. I always thought it was because we’re an adventurous family. But thinking about it, uncle Shade rarely left Canterlot and he supposedly disappeared in the mountains outside the city.”
“And your cousin Aurum rarely left his studio except to paint landscapes. Now it’s empty. He never returned from Canterlot.”
“That is puzzling. I teleported into his place to look for him while the doctor was checking on you and it’s completely empty. All his paintings and equipment is missing. Even the furniture is gone. I can’t believe he hauled his whole house full of furniture to Canterlot to do a sitting for a portrait.”
Lyra shook her head sadly. “That’s the way it always happens. Somepony goes missing, then a pony in black comes in the night with a moving wagon and takes their personal things. They just disappear completely. I’ve been following this since I was a filly and don’t know much more about it now than I did then. Many ponies near the princess have disappeared over the years. These days that includes Celestia’s relatives too.”
“What? Who?” Twilight asked.
“Prince Blueblood for one. He vanished in a yachting accident last month.”
“I’ll have to tell Rarity,” Twilight said sarcastically, “She’ll be so sad.”
“It’s no joke. They say the place the Princess banishes ponies to is terrible. If that’s where they go to, it’s awful. At least they’d be banished and not…”
“Don’t worry, Lyra,” Twilight said, “the princess wouldn’t do that to anypony. There hasn’t been an execution in so many centuries I don’t think they’d know how anymore. I mean stomping and decapi…”
Lyra’s eyes looked watery. “Dawn Sparkle was Celestia’s closest companion for years and she disappeared. They say she was the first pony to disappear. After Luna was banished the two were never seen together again and Dawn disappeared soon after.”
“I’ve read about that. There was some kind of falling-out between them but historians disagree over what it was about and don’t know what happened to her.”
“Some say it’s a curse that follows your family. Others think it’s…”
“Celestia?” Twilight asked. Lyra winced when she mentioned the name. “It’s bad enough to think there’s a curse, but to blame the princess?”
“Yes,” she said quietly, “That’s what they say. They say she secretly banishes ponies who are too good with magic or find out some secret about her. Others say she and her sister have lived so long by doing something to other ponies to extend their own lives.”
“Oh seriously,” Twilight said, stomping her hoof, “I don’t think Celestia and Luna are vampire ponies. Celestia certainly isn’t. She raises the freaking sun every morning. Vampires are no more real than zombies or goblins or wraiths.” Twilight’s eyes went wide for a moment. She shook her head.
“But the disappearances are very real. Bon-Bon got a picture of the pony in black taking your cousin’s furniture just a few days ago. He was real. It was a big dark pegasus like some of Celestia’s guards.” Bon-Bon nodded.
“It’s all a bit hard to believe,” Twilight said, “but I suppose my uncle and cousin really are missing.” She stood by Lyra’s bedside thinking. It was too crazy. She remembered uncle Shade from when she was a filly. He was so nice and he worked at the palace. Then he went missing in the mountains. She didn’t remember her aunt mentioning any ponies in black.
The manuscript Lance Gilead had written mentioned Dawn but everything so far took place long before Luna’s banishment. The parts she was reviewing hadn’t reached the time of King Hrolf’s death yet.
Still, the Celestia it portrayed seemed like a completely different pony. Twilight had a hard time believing the same princess she knew would lead brutal attacks and order executions. She wasn’t sure of the account’s veracity either.
Was his account untrue? It accorded with other history books in everything but the level of detail and the portrayal of Celestia’s personal role in the violence. By comparison other accounts placed the princess at a distance from the action, even when she was right there on the battlefield. They didn’t portray her as directly involved in battle and in lethal actions. Were they the stories that were untrue?
Was Celestia’s kind image a front or had she really changed so much over the centuries? If the account of her past was true Twilight was inclined to believe the latter. Who knows how much a pony could change in a thousand years? The whole thing made her head spin.
“Thank you for answering my questions,” Twilight said, “I’ll leave you alone now. Please stop by the library some time. We’ll have tea.”
Lyra nodded. “I’ll stop by with some books for you when I’m a bit more together. They’re not the kind of books you’d find in a library,” she said.
“Thank you.” Twilight nodded and stepped out of the door. It looked like her cousin really was gone. The pony who could do such amazing things with his art was gone from Ponyville. He could see and paint the true appearance of things and paint portraits of ponies that looked more real than real. Where was he now? What was the explanation?
She’d have to write a letter to Celestia. But should she? If Celestia really were involved in these disappearances would that be wise? She stood and thought for a long while. There were so many questions and so few answers. She made a decision and in a moment she winked out.
The golden-maned Aurum Sparkle is the pony also known as Ponet whose canvas Applebloom ruins in Call of the Cutie. I noticed he has a cutie mark very similar to Twilight’s and thought he needed a more interesting name and lineage. Aurum is latin for gold. Those six-pointed stars pop up everywhere. There’s also a pegasus with a similar mark in Sonic Rainboom.
Snips still has the mustache from Boast Busters? Why not?
I had to sneak Dinky in there. She’s so cute in Winter Wrap-Up.
Nadermane is the pony playing the harp at the gala. I’m not going to call him Harpo.